Homecoming

By Aria

Pairing: Severus Snape / Harry Potter

Categories: Drama/Angst, Romance

Rating: PG 13

Disclaimer: I don't own the characters or anything else to do with Harry Potter. Just the warped storyline added. No profit, no gain, and all that jazz. Summary: Snape's POV: Harry vanishes into thin air immediately after the final battle, only to resurface 5 years later. Severus must deal with Harry's return.

Chapter 1: Prologue

The prodigal son is to return to Hogwarts tomorrow morning. The rest of the staff eagerly awaits the arrival of their golden boy, the champion of the Wizarding world, and the bane of my existence.

The past five years have been free of the terror of the dark lord looming above us. Harry and I had defeated him in a joint effort several weeks following the boy's graduation from Hogwarts. Thanks to the arduous training sessions Albus Dumbledore had inflicted upon the pair of us in the two years before the outbreak of war, Harry and I were trained to fight as a team. Even I cannot pretend the boy did not prove his worth far beyond any expectation I may have had of him. He had grown into a wizard with a great amount of raw power. The Dark Lord tried, for the very last time, to tap into Potter's powers, only to be annihilated by a curse thrown at him by both of us, simultaneously.

Then it was over.

For a split second we shared a glance A secret, relieved, almost warm glance shared by two comrades who realized they had succeeded where others had failed. Two comrades who had suddenly been freed of the shackles inflicted upon them by their superiors. Two comrades who had fulfilled their destinies.

Then he was gone.

The Aurors arrived swiftly and proceeded to take care of everything - including Potter. He was whisked away for his own protection, while I found myself being congratulated for my valor by the hypocrites who had conveniently decided to discard the animosity they had harbored all these years towards me. I was exonerated of all past accusations and honors were bestowed upon me.

Honors were bestowed upon Potter as well, but he never showed up to accept them. It was as if he'd vanished into thin air.

Albus had attempted to dissuade me from returning to my normal life at Hogwarts, for fear of retaliation attempts by renegade death eaters seeking "justice", but I refused. I did not spend 20 years of my life spying on Voldemort just so that I might spend the remaining ones hiding from psychotic killer attacks. Potter may have been too young and impressionable to demand his freedom and independence at that point, but I most certainly was not!

So I quickly found myself slipping back into my routine as the snarky Potions Master at Hogwarts, while concentrating on NOT reflecting on the war, Potter's whereabouts, or the haunting look in those piercing emerald eyes during that brief glance we shared, as the battle came to a halt. That's what I've been doing for the past five years.

Chapter 2: The Announcement

Last week Albus' voice trembled and his eyes gleamed with fatherly pride as he announced Potter's imminent return. The boy's whereabouts were still held in strict confidence, but the staff was informed that he had undergone extensive education and training, and was to return to Hogwarts to fill the position of Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. I must admit there's a certain poetic justice in this turn of events. The others gasped at the news and slyly shot questioning glances in my direction.

Fools! Did they still believe the rumor claiming I was pining for the position myself? It may have held some appeal to me years ago, but for the past five years I've grown content in my dungeons, with my potions to keep me company. I have no more desires, aspirations or hopes. I need nothing but peace and stability, both of which my current life provides in abundance.

Or it HAD until now.

As soon as the meeting is over, I rush outside. The presence of others has suddenly become suffocating and I seek out the solitude of my dungeons, where I can pour myself a nice neat scotch and mull over this startling bit of information. Harry, no.Potter is returning.

Seated in a rather comfortable armchair in front of the soothing fire in my chambers, I sink back and wistfully embrace the powerful surges of fury, rage, frustration, relief and exhilaration, which pulse simultaneously through my body, leaving me in confusion and disarray. I allow myself the indulgence of thinking back on our strained relationship: the first six years I spent looking out for the boy, while deluding myself into believing the accusations I hurled at him at every chance: spoiled, mollycoddled, stupid, infuriating, reckless wretch of a boy who thrives on turning my life into a living hell. The shift happened during his 7th year. We'd been spending 3 evenings a week in our special training program for almost a year by then. The venom and mistrust that used to define our interactions until then had dissipated greatly, though we kept the animosity up in public, for appearances sake. In the privacy of our dojo, which was deeply entrenched in the labyrinth that is this castle - we fiercely challenged one another's abilities, powers and wits to the limit. Potter's natural instincts surpassed those of any wizard I'd encountered before and were matched only by my cunning strategies. Albus had been correct in his conviction that as a team we'd be invincible. I've never admitted this to a living soul, but what began as a forced cooperation thrust upon us by the headmaster, gradually evolved into a comfortable intimacy. The dojo became our haven from the outer world where we permitted ourselves to remove the masks we assumed for the benefit of strangers. In our world we no longer played the roles of Professor Severus Snape and his loathed student, Gryffindor golden boy, Harry Potter. We were just two men working together for a shared cause. A team.

Now he is returning. My long lost teammate, my comrade, my Harry. Does he remember the past as I do? Has he wondered what I'd been doing in his absence? Why hadn't he tried to contact me all these years?

I need another drink but as I attempt to pour the soothing liquid into my glass I realize I'd finished the bottle. Reluctantly, I force myself out of the armchair and make my way to the bedchamber. Enough soul searching for one evening. It is not in my power to postpone the inevitable - Harry will return in several hours and I will simply have to deal with him, with our past and with our future.

Chapter 3: A Hero's Return

The morning arrives sooner than I expect, and I awake to a gray, chilly day, not unlike the day before. I wash and dress with great care, not wishing to acknowledge the sense of urgency that has seeped into my heart demanding that I rush into the Great Hall lest I miss his arrival. As I peer in the mirror to adjust my billowy black robes, I secretly thank the Gods for having allowed the peaceful years to remove the sallow, ghostlike complexion that used to adorn my visage. I don't claim to have become handsome, but judging from idle gossip whispered by giggling adolescent Slytherin girls, I believe the terms 'striking' and 'debonair' are commonly used to describe their head of house. I deem myself as presentable and saunter purposefully in the direction of the Great Hall.

As I stride gracefully towards the head table, I notice with relief that he has yet to arrive. Albus' chair is empty, so I assume that the wait will not be long. I sit in my usual chair and butter a piece of toast, hoping my unsteady hands will go unnoticed by my colleagues. My breathing is erratic, which is not surprising considering the emotional turmoil at play within. Two cups of coffee later I find my nerves easier to contain.

Still no sign of Albus or of Potter for that matter.

My eyes dance around the Hall, but find little to rest on. The students will not be returning for another 3 days, and with them the start of the new term. I regret that Potter is arriving so late, as I know I will have to share his attention with the sniveling brats that will gape in awe at their revered hero. I have but 3 days to examine the situation and draw my conclusions. Conclusions - which will, undoubtedly, outline the next few chapters of my life.

I am abruptly awakened from my reverie by my colleagues' unanimous sighs, gasps and cries of excitement. My head turns involuntarily in the direction of the main entrance to the hall, where they rest on a radiant headmaster twinkling joyously at his protégé. I take him in with a hungry gaze. He looks calm yet unsure of himself. Taller than I remembered, but still of average height, his build is firm and muscular and there is no reminder of the lankiness that had plagued him in his youth. He wears his hair shorter, which makes it more manageable and tame. And those eyes - those shy, timid eyes that hold so much power and courage behind them seemed to be transfixed back at me.

The two figures make their way over to where the rest of us are seated. As soon as they arrive Minerva flings herself at the boy, tears streaming down her face, as she fixes him into a warm embrace muttering an emotional "Oh Harry". The boy's.well not so much a boy anymore. Harry's mouth relaxes into a comforted smile as he rests his arms around Minerva's silhouette. The other teachers follow Minerva's lead as they take turns welcoming Harry home. So far I am the only one who does not approach him. Not for lack of desire, but my social graces have always been somewhat lacking when emotional displays were involved. Besides, I want a private reunion with him, not a hasty handshake as the last in the procession of schoolteachers. Once he extracts himself from the gentle grip of Felius Flitwick, he shoots a nervous glance my way, to which I respond with a courteous nod. I can only hope he understands the hidden meaning: "We WILL talk Harry, just not right now. Not with everyone else present."

Albus remains standing as the rest of us sit back down at the breakfast table. "I wish to welcome you, Harry, on behalf of the Hogwarts staff. We have all missed you terribly these past years, and are overjoyed to have you back in our midst. This is where you belong, my boy, and I sincerely hope you will be staying with us for a very long time." Eyes twinkling excitedly, gliding from Harry to the rest of the staff, Albus takes his seat and sinks his teeth exuberantly into a chocolate éclair.

Harry appears to be embarrassed by the outpour of emotion and attention, but he handles it gracefully. He smiles sheepishly at Minerva and asks her how the Gryffindor Quidditch team is doing these days. Minerva delights at the display of house loyalty and describes in great detail the lining of the current team as well as their achievements over the past years (they'd lost the House Cup to Slytherin two years running)!

The tension, fueled by anticipation and excitement, seems to have eased, as the rest of my colleagues proceed to question Potter and fill him in regarding events that had taken place at the school. It occurs to me that they are all avoiding mention of Harry's disappearance, his whereabouts over the past five years, and his sudden reemergence. Having endured enough mindless chitchat, I rise from my chair, straighten my robes, and make my way towards the exit. I can almost feel the heat of those green eyes burning a hole in my back as I stride away.

Chapter 4: Opportunity Knocks

Within moments I find myself trapped in my chambers, visions of Potter racing through my weary mind. I need to plan my strategy in advance, leaving nothing to chance. I must find a way to approach him privately. Of course this might prove to be somewhat tricky considering I do not even know where his quarters are. A logical place for them would be the vicinity of Gryffindor tower, not far from Minerva's quarters, but if I am to seek him out later, I would need to know his precise location. I cannot ask Albus directly since that would raise the nosey old coot's suspicions as to my unexplained interest in the matter. I sigh discontentedly and silently berate my foolishness for having excused myself from breakfast before learning all I could about the situation. I shrug and decide the only option is to wait for lunch, when I would focus on acquiring further details pertaining to Potter's living arrangements. Until then, I should find other methods of occupying my time lest I drive myself insane with these incessant reflections.

Brewing potions for Poppy's stores is the obvious recourse. Preparing these age-old remedies requires my undivided attention. Refilling the infirmary's supply of medicinal potions has always been my favorite chore of the summer vacation, and I'm pleased that I have yet to complete the task. It enables me to clear my thoughts of Potter for several hours while concentrating on more tangible, scientific phenomena, which can be dissected and analyzed rationally.

Several hours later I emerge from my lab reeking of gillyweed and ginger root. The fumes have dampened my long hair, making it appear as greasy as the student's claim it is. Hardly the image I'd like to impart on Potter when I see him next. After showering and washing the stench out of my hair, the clock over the mantle reads "Time for Lunch" and I quickly glide towards the Great Hall.

I grit my teeth as I take my meal in the presence of the blubbering chatterboxes I usually go out of my way to avoid. Potter hasn't shown up, but no one has mentioned his absence, which makes it impossible for me to broach the subject, considering the others are paying it no mind. Perhaps he'd mentioned an errand or chore during breakfast that would be keeping him from lunch. I finish my meal in haste and depart from the castle in order to take a brisk walk, and ponder what my next course of action should be.

I am deep in thought as I round the Quidditch pitch, when I notice someone hovering above. I instantly recognize Potter whizzing about on his old Firebolt. He appears to be enjoying himself immensely and I find myself glued to the ground as I marvel at his beauty and grace. I am overcome by emotion as my eyes linger on his every move. If only I could freeze time so that we might remain this way a while longer; him soaring wild and free through the clear sky and me watching him from a safe distance.

Drat! He must have noticed me staring. He slows down and flies directly towards me at a safe pace. I fidget nervously for several seconds before getting to grips and forcing an aloof expression. Potter hovers beside me for a short moment and proceeds to descend from the broom. He eyes me questioningly but says nothing. I glare back at him, as if challenging him to dare bring this wordless power struggle to an end. Luckily he takes the bait and addresses me, "Professor", I flinch inside upon hearing his formal demeanor and respond gruffly "I haven't been your professor in over five years, Potter". He says nothing but resumes eyeing me intensely and I can but wonder as to the thoughts that go through his mind. I force myself to hold back the myriad of burning questions that have been plaguing my mind for five years. This is not where I intend to question the boy.man, not out in plain view. I must come up with a plan that will either lure him to my chambers, or induce him to invite me to visit his - wherever the hell they may be.

Eureka!

"When shall I expect you in the dungeon for your annual staff vitamin potion, Potter?" I ask plainly, secretly commending myself for fabricating such a credible excuse. He regards me apprehensively and says: "the headmaster never mentioned a vitamin potion", then he shrugs and quietly adds, "I think I need a shower first, but I could be along in an hour or so". "Fine. I trust you can still find your way to my office?" I ask rhetorically and turn towards the castle with a dramatic whirl of my robes. I no longer need to intimidate the boy, but a measure of theatrics couldn't hurt. This time I sense his burning gaze on my back as I make my way back to the castle. I suppress the urge to turn my head, as I rush to my lab to prepare a simple vitamin potion for Potter.

Chapter 5: Confessions over a Potion

An hour later I hear his assertive knock on my office door and bid him enter. He is dressed in navy blue robes, that accentuate his deep green eyes. I notice, for the first time, that he's exchanged his thick awkward- looking glasses with a smaller, oval pair, which makes him look better indeed. "Hello again", he says in a deep voice that causes me to tense up instantly. "Drink this, Harry", I answer as I hand him a small vial. He sniffs the contents suspiciously then sends me an apologetic look, and drinks. "Working in this establishment exposes us to many ailments: of both muggle and wizarding variety, so we'd best have our staff prepared".

Brilliant Severus! The boy is standing in your office looking up at you, waiting for you to finally acknowledge his return, and all you can come up with is THAT??

"Thanks", he mumbles quietly as he places the empty vial on my desk. "So how should I address you now?" he asks with rising confidence. "You're not my professor anymore and I'm not quite sure what you'd prefer that I call you". Grateful that he's opened a more personal channel of communication, I manage to calmly reply "Considering we are now colleagues, you may address me by my first name, Harry". An amused grin escapes his lips and he walks towards the wooden chair across from my desk and sits down. I find my way to my own chair, behind the desk, and sit across from him in silence.

"So what now, Severus?" he asks coyly, causing me to wrack my brain in an attempt to produce a suitable reply to such an inane question, which as we both know isn't really a question, but merely the boy's silly technique of instigating a conversation. I decide to be true to my nature and to ask my questions directly, rather than engage in this childish game with him. "Where have you been?" I ask dryly. He furrows his brow as if trying to decide how to answer my question. "Away" is the unsatisfactory response he is able or willing to give me, for now. I nod reassuringly (I hope, as I have little experience at conveying such emotion) and say: "there's no rush, Harry". I pause for a moment and continue: "We brought him down together. I found it odd not to share the triumph with you." Harry seems flabbergasted by my surprising admission. I feel rather odd about having said it out loud, myself. He stares at me in disbelief and says nothing.

We sit in my office in silence, studying one another for several minutes, before Harry says: "I missed you. Not Professor Snape you, but how you were when we were alone, in our training sessions", his voice falters at the end of the sentence. I stiffen at his words and reply, almost inaudibly: "I missed you too".

Harry rises from his seat abruptly, blurts out a hasty apology and says he's late for a meeting with Albus. He leaves me alone in my office, wondering if I'd managed to scare him away before we even began getting reacquainted. I arrive at a conscious decision to let him be for the moment. I shan't make excuses to visit with him. I shall keep my distance so as not to crowd him. I will allow him the space he requires in the hope that he will eventually seek me out of his own volition.

Chapter 6: A Little Help From My Friends

The next time I see him is at dinner. I veil my emotions sufficiently so that he is unaware of my satisfaction as he chooses to occupy the seat beside me. We bid one another good evening and begin to eat our meal. Xiamora Hooch, who is sitting on Harry's other side, is eagerly updating him on the past few school Quidditch championships. I listen to their conversation half-heartedly and am surprised to notice Harry's replies seem less than enthusiastic. It sounds as if he's partaking in the conversation for the sole purpose of being polite.

As I get ready to leave the table I feel Albus' hand placed on my right shoulder, as he asks me if I would care to join him in his office for some tea and dessert. Obviously he wishes to discuss something with me, most likely a matter of grave importance, or he would have given me ample notice of this meeting.

I join the headmaster and we make our way towards his office. "It's been a while since we have had the chance to chat, Severus", he says. "I am usually informed of a meeting with you ahead of time", is my sardonic reply. "This isn't a formal meeting, my boy. I just felt a talk was in order." I shudder to think what this talk might be in reference to, and hope my suspicion will prove to be wrong. I learn that "Sourball" is today's preposterous password to the headmaster's office, as we enter his chambers. "Make yourself comfortable", he says as he gestures to the large recliner in the sitting room. He chooses the cream-colored settee and conjures up a pot of steaming chamomile tea. I accept the teacup he offers me and await his next move.

"I am sorry I did not inform you of Harry's return beforehand, Severus", he begins. "I feel that may have been an error of judgment on my part. You and Harry must have a great deal of unresolved issues to address, considering what you'd gone through together." I can imagine the ghostly shade of pale my complexion must have adopted as I heard his words. How does he accomplish this? He seems to know precisely what people are feeling before they realize it themselves. I do my best to hide my irritation as I retort: "Having Potter resurface just as abruptly as he'd vanished was rather shocking, I admit. But rest assured, I did not waste time or energy questioning matters that have little or nothing to do with me". Albus regards me with a knowing look and says: "Harry's quarters are situated near your dungeons. He requested solitude and I tried to accommodate him as best I could." His eyes twinkle mischievously for a second, and he adds: "I hope you find the answers to the questions you seek. You and him both." He pauses, smiles warmly and says: "Now, how about that dessert I promised you?" I decline, politely, thank him for the tea and head for the door. As I reach it, I turn to face him and state grudgingly: "You knew where he'd been all these years, didn't you?" The smile vanishes from his face as he answers coolly: "I knew what I had been told; same as you, Severus". With that enigmatic reply, I leave his office and hurry back to my chambers, wondering where exactly Potter's quarters have been set.

I spend my evening making last minute adjustments to the upcoming year's lesson plans. Each year I make a point of substituting as many potions from the previous year's plans as possible with new ones, so as to prevent my own untimely demise from boredom as I cover the same material with each passing year. When I finish the clock reads "Past your bedtime". I wash up and turn in for the day.

Chapter 7: Harry's Secrets

The next morning Potter greets me with a goofy grin at the breakfast table. He is, once more, seated beside me, but this time seems intent on striking up a conversation with me rather than be lured into one with Xiamora, or any of the other teachers, for that matter. He repetitively asks irrelevant questions such as how I am doing, how I am feeling this morning, how I'd slept, and so on and so forth. My responses vary from monosyllables to random grunts. I can't help but wonder if the boy had taken pepper-up potion, as soon as he rolled out of bed this morning.

I finish eating and begin to walk towards the exit leading to the dungeons. Within seconds I notice he's on my tail. I lengthen my stride only to hear his footsteps continue at a faster pace behind me. Once we are out in the hallway I turn around and glare at him. He freezes as soon as I face him and gawks at me stupidly. "Why are you following me around, Potter?" I ask sneeringly. "I'm not, Snape, I'm merely walking to my quarters. But now that you mention it, weren't we going to continue the conversation we started in your office, yesterday?" His response finds me completely unprepared and I say nothing. "I'd invite you in for a drink, but I haven't gotten around to stocking up for guests just yet, you understand", the boy says in an obvious attempt to unnerve me. "Follow me", I manage to exhale as I lead him to my quarters.

He allows me the privacy needed to unlock the passage using my password and we enter my rooms. Harry stands gaping, taking in the room, which is rather minimalist in its furnishings. There is a forest green sofa stood against the wall and two mahogany Victorian armchairs located in front of the fireplace. I motion for him to sit and he chooses one of the armchairs. I myself sink into the other and turn it slightly to face him. "Tea?" I ask almost automatically. "No thanks". An awkward silence ensues, which I break deliberately by asking: "Why are you here, Harry"? "I thought we were going to talk", is his immediate reply. "I mean here at Hogwarts", I whisper as I fix him with a chastising glance. Harry sighs, "oh" he pauses, wipes the amused expression from his face and begins: "After the final battle a squadron of Aurors rushed towards me and told me their instructions were to escort me to my hideout, where I would await the aftermath of the battle until it was safe to come out. Since Tonks and Moody were there, I joined them voluntarily.

Once we arrived at the ministry I was entrusted to 3 different Aurors and the others left. From this moment on things are a bit hazy in my mind, but I'll try to remember as much as I can. They gave me a potion to drink. They said it was a revitalizing potion that I needed in order to regain my powers, which had been drained in the battle. Don't give me that look, Severus. I know I shouldn't have agreed to drink some unknown potion handed to me by strangers, but there's no use reprimanding my stupidity now, is there?

So anyway, I guess the potion did just the opposite because from that moment on I felt as if I was floating. I think I was being carried by one of the Aurors and I couldn't manage to speak or think coherently. The next thing I knew, they had cast magical handcuffs around my wrists and had taken away my wand. They locked me up in a hidden garret, somewhere inside the Ministry building" he takes a deep breath and continues: "one of them, who claimed he was an Auror named Charon, became my only contact to the outside world. I was locked in there with a bed, an armoire full of books and magazines, and my wand, which surprisingly had been returned to me once I came to. Charon would bring me 3 meals a day as well as the Quidditch page of the Daily Prophet. I wasn't allowed to read the rest of the paper, because Charon claimed it would disrupt the mission. From what I gathered, the mission at hand was to put me through a battery of tests, exams and experiments that would ensure I was in no way linked to the Dark Lord anymore, and that he would never be able to rise again using his link to my body as an instrument.

At first this made sense to me, though I couldn't understand why it meant I had to remain hidden in that crammed little room. Charon claimed it was the only place safe enough to hide me since it had the most wards and Oblivious Charms surrounding it. I asked if I could relay messages or send letters to my friends or to Albus Dumbledore, but the reply I got was always the same - no one is to know where I was and asking to reveal my location was childish and selfish, as it would put my friends at risk as well."

Harry pauses and asks me for a glass of water. I realize my mouth is agape from what I'd heard. I get him some water, offer him a biscuit, which he refuses, and sit back down beside him. "This is inconceivable. Simply inconceivable, Harry", I manage to mumble before he rests his hand on mine and continues: "After several months of this routine I started doubting the validity of their so-called mission. I didn't believe it was unsafe for me to leave the garret anymore, and after getting absolutely nowhere in my attempts to persuade Charon to release me, I began to plan my escape. My first attempt was a complete failure. I managed to break through the locking spell that was cast on the door, but the second I stepped outside the garret, the wards alerted Charon and he Apparated back within seconds. My punishment was to have my wand taken away from me.

I'd begun thinking of the garret as my cell by then and of Charon as my warden". Harry lets out a quiet gasp as I squeeze his hand in mine. He lowers his eyes and goes on with his story: "They were still pricking and prodding me at odd hours of the day and night, under the guise of running further tests, but I was no longer as cooperative as I had been before. I began reading the books in my cell, which luckily covered a wide variety of subjects: from Herbology to Defense Against the Dark Arts, Wizard-Muggle Relations, Wizard Medical Training and even Potions. I spent my days reading and you'll be pleased to know that thanks to your training, the dire circumstances I found myself in, and the manual I stumbled upon in the cell, I finally managed to perfect my Occlumancy skills, which enabled me to block off my captors' constant experiments. I learned to substitute my own thoughts with made up notions I'd throw at them instead. They couldn't tell the difference anyway.

Not long after that I managed to turn the tables when I learned how to access their minds. I have no idea how I succeeded in this without their noticing, but what I found out confirmed what I'd believed in the first place. Charon and his sidekicks weren't working on a Ministry of Magic mission at all. They really were Aurors who had been entrusted with my security but they had been following their own agenda since getting their hands on me. They were Fudge's lackeys and were working for him". Harry must notice my confused expression at hearing his last sentence as he quickly explains: "It seems that Fudge held me responsible for having lost his position and standing within the Wizarding world. I found out that he was never actually a supporter of the Dark Lord, but was too much of a coward to believe me when I warned him about Voldemort's return. Once Fudge was deposed from his post as Minister for Magic and blamed for having brought on the second war, he developed a personal vendetta against me and became obsessed with getting back at me for having ruined his life. He approached these Aurors, who had remained loyal to him from his days in the Ministry, and made them all kinds of promises in return for their help. It was a risky plan since they had to make it look as if they had botched up their task of keeping me safely hidden. They reported me as missing and claimed I had overpowered them and fled, about a week after they first locked me up. In order to save face, the Ministry chose not to publicly acknowledge my disappearance, but rather to pretend I was being held voluntarily for my own protection. This façade, of course, enabled Charon et al to continue my imprisonment indefinitely."

His last comment flows with bitterness. His body appears to be rigid and tense as he falls silent and fixes me with a piercing look. I find I am speechless, yet overwrought with emotion. I want to kill those monsters, starting with Fudge. I want to take all the fear and pain out of Harry's voice. I wish to comfort him, but I don't know if he'd let me.

I notice that his hand is still clutched in mine, where I allow it to remain. "We had no idea" I manage to say while shaking my head in disbelief. He nods weakly but says nothing. Questions race through my mind as I try to steady my train of thought. I cannot overwhelm him by posing them. He has chosen to confide in me about his frightful ordeal and I know I must allow him to progress at his own pace.

"I thought about you a lot when I was in there, you know" he breaks the silence. "I kept wondering if something similar was happening to you. At times I even hoped you were being kept close by and that we'd find one another and escape, at some point". I tremble as these words escape his lips. "Other times I would try to imagine how you were handling your new position as the hero of the Wizarding world. I wanted to see it for myself". His voice is unsure and he seeks approval or sympathy in my expression. I offer him a warm glance, as I lace my fingers through his. "I did not seek out the glory, nor did I accept it when it was thrown at me. I always thought that position was designed for you, rather than for me."

We continue to sit side-by-side, fingers laced, looking at one another. Finally I cannot suppress my curiosity and I whisper: "how did you escape?"

Harry seems fazed by my question. He squirms in his seat and bows his head slightly as he begins: "Two years after they first locked me up and 4 failed escape attempts later, I decided I was as good as dead anyway so there really was nothing to stop me from doing whatever was necessary to get out. I figured things like ethics, laws and morals didn't matter anymore, all things considered. I'd been planning this course of action in my mind for almost a year, but something had been holding me back. I'd been hoping to be rescued or released by some unexpected twist of fate, but after being held captive for two long years, I decided it was time.

I made nice with Charon so as to win his favors in return. He hated taking care of my failed escape attempts and had to pay the price with Fudge when I'd misbehaved, so he gladly welcomed the change in my attitude. I started talking to him about his family, about Quidditch, anything really. He would, on occasion, join me in the cell for a game of wizarding chess. He even gave me some chocolate frogs for my 20th birthday. It felt strange to befriend my captor, especially because of what I had in store for him. One day, after weeks of requesting and pleading, Charon agreed to give me my wand for an hour. I'd convinced him that I just wanted to practice some of the new Illumination spells I'd picked up in one of the magazines he'd seen me reading. It took all the strength I could muster, but as soon as he placed the wand in my hand, I hit him with 'Imperius'."

Harry pauses and examines my expression, as if expecting a shocked reaction. I nod encouragingly, as if urging him to go on. "That's how I managed to get out of there. I cast a strong memory charm on him as I left, because the last thing I needed was to leave a trail. I Apparated directly from the Ministry building to the Burrow, which is where the Weasleys live. Aside from you and Dumbledore, they were the only ones I knew I could trust completely. It proved to be a wise choice thanks to Arthur Weasley's weird fascination with all things muggle. Luckily enough, Arthur had been spending time down at the harbor in the previous months, observing the ships dock and sail away. He knew their precise locations and routes. He arranged for me to ship out to sea before anyone even noticed I escaped".

Harry takes a deep breath and slouches back into his seat. I fear I am gawking rather stupidly in his direction, as I try to process all the information he has provided me with in the past hour or so. He is eyeing me nervously from the corner of his evergreen eyes, awaiting my reaction. My mouth is dry and I cannot find the appropriate words to convey how proud, stunned, and angry I am feeling. I am unfamiliar with the verbal ineptness that has suddenly swept over me. Before I can stop myself, I tug at the warm hand interlaced with mine, and hold my other hand over it, rubbing it gently, affectionately. Harry emits a low gasp as his eyes gaze directly into mine. "Thank you for confiding in me", my voice sounds coarse and overcome with emotion. "I can't imagine how dreadful this experience must have been for you. You've proven your bravery and courage yet again".

"You realize that by age 21 I'd already used all three Unforgivable Curses? I could be spending the rest of my life rotting away at Azkaban", he says with a thin sarcastic smile. "You used them in self defense, and for the greater good of the Wizarding world in its entirety rather than for personal gain. You should not feel shamed or remorseful regarding the choices you made", I say vehemently. Harry shrugs and adds, "The ends justify the means, eh Severus?" "In this case, most definitely".

At that moment the fireplace rustles sharply and Albus' head appears in the flames. Harry and I disentangle our hands instantly and face the headmaster with equally guilt-ridden expressions. Albus seems amused as he regards the pair of us, most probably resembling sophomoric adolescents who have been caught red-handed during a make-out session. He clears his throat and says, "Severus, Harry, I'm glad to see you two catching up. I imagine you have much to cover so you might as well make good use of the last 2 days before the students return. Which leads me to the reason I've called on you in the first place, Severus. The lesson plans you've handed in for my final approval are impeccable, as always. I trust the students will enjoy them as well." "Thank you, headmaster" is my reply, and Albus' head disappears with a quick smile.

I turn to look at Harry who is still flushed from the headmaster's veiled insinuations. "I should probably go now. I've taken up half your morning already", he chirps awkwardly as he jumps to his feet. "I have several things to finish up, so that might be wise" I respond self-consciously. He bumbles towards the door and just before he leaves, he faces me and says "Would you like to have dinner with me, in Hogsmeade, tonight?" I manage not to lose my composure as I noncommittally reply, "Dinner at Hogsmeade would be agreeable".

Chapter 8: The Brewery

We are scheduled to meet at the main entrance to the school at precisely 7 o'clock. We will walk to Hogsmeade and dine in a quaint out-of-the-way bistro I know, named 'The Brewery'. The rest of my day is spent in the lab, preparing the final batch of Skele-Grow for the infirmary's stores. I deliberately skip lunch so as not to appear too eager, in case I come across Harry in the great hall. Before I know it, I am showering and dressing meticulously for our dinner date.

I make my way to the set meeting place, hoping he is there before me. Upon approaching the entrance, I spy him leaning lazily on the stairwell banister, near the door. He is clad in flowing ocean-blue robes, which I imagine must have been custom made. As soon as I come into view, he straightens up and greets me with a smile. We exit the castle and head for the village, walking silently side-by-side.

The uneasiness ensues as we enter the dark restaurant, which is dimly lit by candlelight. A raven-haired witch leads us to a quiet table by the window, and we quickly settle across from one another. "I've never been here before", Harry says as his eyes wander aimlessly, taking in the décor. "It's not as flashy as 'The Three Broomsticks', luckily. It seems to attract a more sophisticated crowd", I explain. "The food is exquisite and the company slightly more endurable", I add. Harry giggles shyly and teases me by saying, "Glad I qualify as slightly more endurable company, Sev".

I've never permitted anyone to address me by that name, but somehow I don't mind it from Harry. It sounds promising. By the time we order the food and drinks, the atmosphere has become somewhat less stifled. I ask him about his lesson plans for the upcoming year, make suggestions of my own, and respond to his endless questions about the past few years of my life. I am actually enjoying conversing with him. Harry has turned into quite a scholar over the years and he has rather interesting opinions to offer on many of the topics we discuss.

Over dessert, I manage to divert the conversation to the matter that had left me wondering since he left my chambers, this morning. "You've told me about your two-year imprisonment, but have said nothing about the following three years, after you fled."

Harry pauses before replying and I can see he is choosing his words carefully: "I promise to tell you everything that happened in the three years that led to my arrival at Hogwarts, yesterday. But not right now. I'd rather not reminisce about the past tonight. The present and future seem far more interesting at the moment". His candor and openness take me by surprise. I look into his eyes and reply, "For once, Mr. Potter, I concur with your train of logic".

Chapter 9: Against My Better Judgment

Harry and I bid one another goodnight upon entering the long corridor that leads to our respective living quarters at Hogwarts. The evening had been most pleasant, but since we both had a good amount of wine, we agree it is best to part company before complicating matters further.

I fall asleep quicker than I had in a very long time, enjoying a sweet dreamless slumber of the sort I hadn't managed to accomplish in years. Upon waking and washing up for breakfast, I try to strategize the remaining day before term starts. I sincerely hope Harry and I will succeed in spending more time together over the course of the day, and that he might even entrust me with more information about his past.

I stride into the Great Hall expectantly and take my usual seat. Unfortunately Harry has yet to make an appearance, as the seat beside me is still vacant. Several minutes afterwards Harry and Albus enter the Great Hall together, conversing far too animatedly for this early hour of the day. As they approach the head table, Harry takes his seat beside me and greets me with a warm smile. I nod back at him, trying not to convey too much emotion with my slight gesture. Harry piles food onto his plate and digs in ravenously. Moments later, upon realizing I have been watching him rather intently, I pry my eyes away, for fear of arousing my colleagues' suspicion, and pour myself a third cup of coffee.

After sating his appetite, Harry's eyes dart towards mine and without beating around the bush, he asks: "Come down to the lake with me?" I grunt my approval and we rise and leave the hall together.

We walk quietly, side-by-side on the freshly mowed grass. From the corner of my eye, I can see that Harry is smiling in earnest. He appears to be happier than I ever remember. "You realize our joint departure will give rise to most preposterous rumors amidst our colleagues, don't you?" I say. He turns to me, surprised, and says, "I didn't realize we were doing anything we had to hide". "Of course we aren't, but idle gossip rarely relies on factual truths", I manage to hiss in reply. Harry plants his feet on the ground and turns to face me. "Severus, we aren't doing anything wrong, you know." I can feel my lip twitch as I study his serious expression. I nearly blurt out "and what, pray tell, Potter, ARE we doing?" but luckily I manage to control my frustration and merely nod, grudgingly.

We continue our stroll towards the lake, both deep in thought, never glancing at one another. Once we reach the lake I conjure up a picnic blanket, on which I sit, while Harry begins to disrobe. As he stands before me clad only in boxer shorts, he sends me a shy grin and suggests that I join him for a swim. Naturally, I refuse, and remain seated in the shade of a large Oak tree, as my eyes remain fixed on Harry splashing and swimming around in the water.

Twenty minutes later, he emerges from the water, his skin glistening under the warm August sun. Quicker than I like, he wraps himself up in his robes and plops down on the blanket, beside me. "I really missed it here", he says with a deep sigh, arching his back lazily, while gazing ahead, into the horizon. I do not know where I find the courage or the audacity, but a moment later, my left hand, as if by its own volition, moves towards Potter's wet hair and begins stroking it, gently. He stiffens for an instant, but almost automatically leans into my touch, letting out a soft moan. We remain this way for several minutes, before I realize we are allowing ourselves to be demonstratively intimate in plain view.

I quickly remove my hand from his hair, and rise to my feet. Harry seems to be awakened from a pleasant daydream by my abrupt movement, and he gazes up at me, questioningly. "I apologize, Harry. I seem to have forgotten my place", I mutter and the boy rises gloomily, looking as if I'd just slapped him across the face. "I think maybe we should talk, Severus" he suggests neutrally, and begins collecting the remainder of his clothing. "Perhaps that would be best" I force my uncooperative mouth to say.

Chapter 10: Welcome Revelations

We enter my quarters and I show Harry to the bathroom, so that he may towel off and dress. Moments later he emerges wearing the Muggle jeans and t- shirt he'd worn earlier, underneath his robes. He watches me preparing our tea as he seats himself on the green sofa. I offer him some tea and join him.

Our close physical proximity yields a mounting tension between us. Harry appears to be lost in thought, as he sips his tea quietly. I am sipping my own, wondering when the boy will finally speak up, when he manages to mumble, "I feel good when I'm with you". Trust Harry Potter to delve right into the heart of the matter without any build up to ease the way. My neutral expression must shake his confidence a bit, for he continues with a strained voice, "I really missed you when I was away. I thought about you more than I thought about my best friends. No matter where I was or what I was doing, your image would not leave my mind". He takes a deep breath. " I didn't know if you'd have any interest in me once I'd returned, but I am hoping that being with me makes you feel good, too." His voice trembles as he blurts out the last sentence.

I attempt to let out my signature derisive snort, but it comes out sounding like a muffled chuckle. Harry is watching me in utter silence, as if awaiting my verdict. I have never been an affectionate man and I find it most irritating to openly discuss my feelings with others. So instead of telling him what strong emotions he ignites in me, or how his presence seems to brighten up my life, I decide to show him. I gently pull him into a tight embrace, which I hope conveys the warmth, passion, and intimacy I feel for him. If he is surprised by my reaction, he doesn't show it. He melts into the embrace hungrily and allows his head to rest on my shoulder, his sweet warm breath on my neck, sending a tingling sensation through my skin. We remain locked in the embrace for several moments, neither wishing for it to end.

I am the one to pull away from him, eventually. I cup his right cheek in my left hand and draw his face closer until our lips touch. I press mine lightly against his and savor the moment. The kiss is tender, sensual and undemanding. When our lips part Harry's dazzling eyes peer into mine intensely. We remain this way, seated closely on my sofa, arms draped around one another, gazing deeply into each other's eyes until he can no longer bear it.

He breaks the eye contact and says, with a grin, "I never expected you, of all people, to act on your impulses like that". He pauses and continues with a smirk, "Come to think of it, it wasn't that long ago that I even acknowledged the fact that you might have impulses to begin with". I try to fight the formation of a smile and reply acidly, "I wouldn't get so cocky if I were in your shoes. Might I remind you, young Mr. Potter, that I have yet to admit to you making me feel anything other than nauseous and irritated?" Harry's predictable response is to stick his tongue out at me. He then stretches himself comfortably on the sofa as he lowers his head to my lap. I stroke his hair gently and we both sigh contentedly.

Several minutes later Harry asks if I'd like him to continue his story from where he'd left off yesterday. I nod, take his hand in mind, and wait for him to begin.

"The ship Arthur Weasley arranged for me to board was heading east. It was a holiday cruise ship en route from Dover, England to Israel but the best part about it, as far as I was concerned, was that it was full of Muggles who had never heard the name Harry Potter.

During the cruise, I befriended a young Israeli man named Dan, who told me about a cheap youth hostel I could stay at in Tel Aviv. It was rather fortunate that Arthur had been so fascinated by Muggle currency, since it enabled him to send me on my way with a considerable sum of Muggle money (which I learned is easily converted to domestic currency in different parts of the world). So once we arrived in Israel, Dan offered to drop me off at the hostel and asked if I'd like to meet him the following day for lunch. I agreed, thinking it would be wise to get to know some locals who might be able to help me in deciding where to go from there.

Considering the language barrier, I never considered remaining in Israel as a realistic option.

The next day I lunched with Dan and several of his colleagues. They all claimed to be lawyers, but for some reason I got the distinct impression that was not the case. In order to appear less conspicuous, I had fabricated a story about who I was and where I came from. I had overheard several English people, around my age, on the ship who had been backpacking around the world for several years, so that was what I told anyone who asked me what I was doing in Israel. I was just 'bumming around' for a while.

Two days later Dan came by the youth hostel looking for me. He asked me to take a walk with him and led me to a public park, where we were met by one of his friends, whom I recognized from lunch. The three of us were seated on a park bench when Dan and his friend, Judah dropped the bomb. They stated plainly that they knew exactly who I was. Let me tell you, that was the last thing I had expected. Here I was, halfway across the world, away from the Ministry, Hogwarts or anyone connected to my old life, and they STILL knew who I was.

Dan quickly explained that he and Judah were also wizards and were, more or less, the Israeli equivalent of Aurors. They were employed by the Israeli Mossad (Secret Intelligence Service), which in fact, was the Israeli Wizarding World's Ministry of Magic. It seems Dan had recognized me on the ship, and decided to deliver me directly into the Ministry's hands. Judah, who was much quieter and more intimidating than Dan (and I later found out was also his superior), suggested that they escort me back to Mossad Headquarters, where they'd interrogate me properly and decide what to do with me.

I was positively horrified, believing I would soon be shipped back to England and handed, on a silver platter, to Fudge and his lackeys. The interrogation at HQ was surprisingly lax and conducted in a relatively friendly fashion. My glory had preceded me and they knew all about the Boy- Who-Lived to rid the world of Darkness. I told them about Fudge, my two- year imprisonment, and explained my strong desire to simply disappear for a while.

They listened intently, then retired to deliberate about my case and decide how to deal with me. I remember sitting in the interrogation room alone, thinking my worst nightmares were about to be realized. I was so convinced they'd send me home, that when they returned with their incredible offer, it took me several moments to comprehend all they had said.

Judah, Dan, and a third rather striking man, dressed in stonewashed jeans and a loose green polo shirt, whom I didn't recognize, entered the room with poker faces that conveyed absolutely nothing. They joined me at the table, exchanged expectant looks, and Judah began his speech. He explained that Israel had known many Dark forces and Dark wizards over the years, and in fact, was facing some of the darkest forms of evil at the moment. A war was going on, both in the Muggle world and in the Wizarding world. Israel's borders were unsafe and Dark wizards were entering the country, wreaking havoc on its inhabitants, and ensuring instability in the region. The Israeli Ministry of Magic was investing a fortune on Defense Against the Dark Arts research, training, and infrastructure, and they were recruiting as many capable wizards and witches for their cause. They claimed I would be instrumental in their struggle, if I were to agree to remain aboard and help them rid their region of such terrors. The Ministry would vouch for my safety and keep me well hidden from their British counterparts. In return for my services, I'd receive a rent-free apartment located near Mossad HQ, a handsome paycheck, and the opportunity to be a part of cutting edge breakthroughs achieved in the DADA field. The official position I was being offered was "DADA Instructor and Researcher". I'd be spending half my time doing research in the field, and the other half, teaching my own techniques (most of which you taught me when we trained for battling Voldemort) to their new recruits.

As I said, I gaped at them with shock, upon hearing their offer. It sounded too good to be true. Not only were they treating me as a DADA expert, but they were also offering me a life! A solution to all my problems! No more hiding, no more lies, deceptions or shackles to my past.

Needless to say, I accepted their proposal instantly.

Dan helped me move into my new apartment, which was quite an improvement on the hostel I'd been staying at. He apologized for not having been honest with me from the start, but I assured him no apologies were necessary and that I was, in fact, very grateful to him, considering how well things had turned out.

On my first day at work, I learned that the third man, who'd showed up with Dan and Judah to offer me the job, was to be my partner. The research department worked in pairs, and Ori was assigned as mine. Ori was a serious, reserved man who was highly respected by others in the Ministry. We seemed to get on well from the very start. We'd work closely all day long, and within a short period of time, we began spending our evenings together, as well."

He pushes himself up from my lap, sits beside me, and whispers huskily: "It didn't take long for us to become lovers. Four months later he moved into my apartment, and we remained together until six months ago." He takes a deep breath, before continuing sadly: "I loved my life in Israel, and for a while, I thought I might remain there permanently. I had a job I enjoyed, a partner I loved, and most importantly, I had anonymity. Granted, memories of my life here and thoughts of you, Ron, Hermione, and others plagued my mind regularly, but I was content there. I had my freedom and no one was trying to kill me. I don't need to tell you just how intoxicating freedom is for people like us, who'd lived so long without it." I nod in agreement, enthralled by his tale. "Two years later, Ori was appointed General Commander of the new DADA troops. He would no longer spend his days researching and instructing with me, but would be out in the field, leading the battle. Naturally, I had tried my best to convince him to leave the fighting to others, but I knew him better than that. I was the first to understand his strong need to be out there, making a difference, taking risks..."

A long pause."And that's how I lost him." Harry's eyes are moist with unshed tears. "He was killed by a young Dark Wizard whom he managed to stop from casting a self-exploding spell on a bus full of Muggles. The Dark Wizard was apprehended, but Ori was killed in the process." I squeeze his hand in mine and gently kiss his forehead.

"After losing him, I just couldn't find a reason to stay, anymore. My Israeli friends are fighting what appears to be a losing battle, and since I knew they needed me, I agreed not to leave before a replacement could be found. That's also the time I first contacted Albus.

After learning the truth about my past, he immediately offered me the DADA teaching position here at Hogwarts, which I gladly accepted. By then, I knew I was more than ready to come home. To England, to Hogwarts, and to you." Harry reclines his head back and looks straight ahead, nervously, as if to imply that the proverbial ball is now in my court.

Once again, his recollections leave me moved, surprised, and at a loss for words. I scoop him into a warm embrace, as I search my mind for the right words to say. I should offer condolences for his loss, in the very least. I find it odd that he lost his first 'serious' partner to the Dark side, just as I had lost mine, at his age. I can also identify a surge of jealousy flow through me, which I do my best to overcome. I should have realized he would have returned to me with some romantic experience.

Did I just say he returned to me? What in the world has the boy done to me in the last three days? He's managed to turn my world around in its entirety. He's awakened emotions in me that had been buried for decades. He's brought me back to life, filling me with hope, dreams, and desire. These revelations both puzzle and please me. As I look at the remarkable young man seated at my side I can hear a small voice inside my head whisper He is back! He is here. With me.

Hogwarts' prodigal son, the champion of the Wizarding World is back to stay. I put my arm around him, gaze lovingly into his brilliant eyes and say, "Welcome home, Harry".

The End

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