Author's Notes: Many thanks to Lizabethy for her help and encouragement and to Abigail89 for being a wonderful friend. All remaining mistakes are my own.

The Tao of Diogenes

The Severus Snape of his memory was a formidable man, a man to whom black was a lifestyle: a persona, an ideal, a principle. He was bitter, vindictive, and -- in his malice -- found fulfillment. Severus Snape sneered and scowled at the world on his best day and could sear a hole through your heart with one look on his worst. The only time Severus Snape ever smiled was when he was inflicting pain, promising misery, or torturing whomever had the misfortune to cross his path.

In short, he was not a nice man.

It was difficult to reconcile the memory of his most hated professor of just seven years ago with the broken mass of bones and skin that lie before him today. To begin with, the bedding was blue; not even navy or midnight blue, but a rich cobalt, far too cheerful and bright for the occupant of the bed. The perpetual grimace was missing from a face relaxed under the influence of a potion-induced sleep. His sallow cheeks were colored by bruises and lined by raw-looking scars that he refused to allow the healers to mend.

He looked small. And he looked frail. And he looked shattered.

It was all wrong.

Ron Weasley walked as quietly as he could to where the Potions master rested and lifted his wand. He carefully pointed it at Snape's sleeping head, its steady tip centered between his closed eyes.

"You had better hope your skills are up to par, Mr. Weasley. Despite appearances, I can still hex a man into oblivion in less than two syllables."

Ron smiled. Now, that was more like it.

"Good morning, professor," he said cordially. "How are we today?"

Snape opened his eyes. "We would be better if we didn't have a wand pointed at our head."

"I need to perform a diagnostic scan, professor," he replied genially. "Want to make sure you're healing properly."

He gave Ron a withering look. "So Mr. Weasley, you are my new medi-wizard. What happened to the last one…what was her name?"

Ron gave a crooked smile in reply. "Madame Ignato had some…difficulties after working with you for the last month. She is currently taking a much needed rest at St. Mungo's Ward for Mental Restoration and Evaluation."

Snape's lip twitched, indicating a smile. "I didn't know St. Mungo's had such a ward."

"They do now as your last three healers needed special care."

Snape twitched again. "So you got stuck with this duty? You must have committed some sort of heinous crime. What are you being castigated for?"

"I volunteered, sir," Ron answered candidly.

"Volunteered?" Snape remarked, the surprise evident in his gruff voice. "You're braver than I gave you credit for, Mr. Weasley."

"I've known you far too long, professor," he said with a cheeky grin.


Ron shrugged. "Meaning I know your bark is worse than your bite."

Snape raised an eyebrow in response. "I take particular offense to canine metaphors, Mr. Weasley. I've never been fond of the filthy beasts."

"Duly noted, sir," Ron said with a small bow of his head. "Now may I continue with the scan?" A terse nod indicated approval and Ron slowly waved his wand over his patient.

A soft yellow light emanated from the tip of the wand, turning red over some parts of Snape's body and green over others. Ron occasionally furrowed his brow, or whispered a soft "Huh," and once paused to blink rapidly for several seconds. When the scan was complete, he picked up a clipboard and began to record some notes. Snape's patience ended when Ron reached the top of the third page.

"Are you going to give me a status report sometime this century, Mr. Weasley, or are you just going to continue writing your Russian novel?"

"One second, sir," Ron responded without looking up from his clipboard. Two pages and a dozen brusque huffs from Snape later, the Potions master was ready to wring Ron's neck.

"Mr. Weasley-"

Ron quickly cut him off by holding his index finger up in the air in the classic 'one moment please' stance, and continued to write. Three pages later he finally looked up, and Snape's face was red and shaking, his lips drawn in an angry thin line.

"What in Hell's namewere you writing?" he snarled through clenched teeth.

Ron answered coolly, "The first two pages were a quick assessment of your condition. You are healing nicely, but since you refuse magical treatments and will only accept potions, you willremain here for a few more weeks to make sure we got all traces of the hexes you sustained …and to fatten you up a bit. Honestly, this whole gothic scarecrow look is not very becoming."

Snape took short cleansing breaths -- a method used to survive his teas with Dumbledore -- and asked, "And what did you write on those other pages?"

"Oh those," Ron replied with a defiant smile. "Let's see." He began to leaf through the pages. "This is a shopping list for the grocer's - I am running dangerously low on pumpkin juice and we can't have that. This is a list of possible birthday gifts for Hermione - she threatened to flog me if I got her anything to do with Quidditch and frankly, I'm stumped. Oh, this is a picture of Martin the Mad Muggle I sketched quickly - not bad for someone who never really drew anything before-"

"Are you telling me I sat here and waited for you to scrawl doodles from your warped and pathetic little mind before you gave me a proper assessment of my condition?" Snape growled, teeth bared.

Ron squared his shoulders and looked Snape in the eye. "I'm telling you I have no intention of visiting St. Mungo's Ward for Mental Restoration and Evaluation, professor. I am in charge here, and unless you are willing to watch me complete an actual Russian novel before you are allowed to leave this ward, I am more than up to the challenge."

Snape blinked twice.

"Now, I am sending you some lunch and I expect everything on the tray to be eaten in its entirety by you. Every remaining crumb is another day you will be subject to my lists and my art, and I have been feeling rather creative lately. I'll return this evening with your potions--which you will take without argument. I suggest a nap sometime before then; you look like hell. Good day, sir."

Without looking back, Ron left the room, leaving Snape with both eyebrows raised. Only when he was sure no one was around to witness it did Snape allow himself a real smile.

"They really did a number on you, didn't they?" The healer performed his fourth scan of the day on his reluctant patient. "There's stuff in here that hasn't been seen in centuries. It was like they were saving the exceptional curses for you."

"Death Eaters, unlike Gryffindors, are very dedicated and thorough," Snape replied with a dramatic sigh. He was convinced Ron was just performing extra scans to make some sort of point. Snape was subjected to constant prodding and poking, and if his regimen wasn't followed to the letter, more atrocious artwork. For a Weasley, he was unusually vindictive -- and just plain mean.

"Gryffindors are dedicated," Ron responded. "We just have no sense of the finer points of torture and destruction."

"That's just lack of creativity and general laziness."

"What about Fred and George?" Ron said with a twisted smile. The twins' 'Special Products to Torment Your Potions Master' line made them a small fortune.

"They are pure evil," Snape replied with a vicious sneer.

"I'll give you that," Ron said, a lopsided smile on his face. "Just think," he continued, "the sooner you get out of here, the sooner you can begin plotting unmentionable forms of revenge. That should make you all warm inside."

Snape huffed. "I have better ways of spending my time."

"And how do you intend to spend your time? If I ever let you out of here, which is still up for debate."

Snape's instincts kicked in and his first thought was to tell Weasley -- in very colorful terms -- to keep his nose out of places it didn't belong. His impulses had him devising ornate and painful punishments for such a brash and presumptuous comment. His very nature was screaming at Ron for having the audacity to think, let alone ask, what amounted to a very personal question.

Snape suddenly felt very tired.

His instincts and impulses and very nature had not served him well in this life so far. Perhaps it was time to try a different tactic. Snape was silent for a moment, eyes fixed on the window at the far side of the room. With a sigh he began, "Once emancipated from this prison I plan to live a quiet and simple life, free from obligation and duty--and inquisitive Gryffindors. I plan to fervently avoid a society that would have me evaporated from this mortal coil rather than admit that they had any responsibility in creating me and those like me…I plan to live in peace."

"You've thought about this a lot, I see," Ron remarked, seemingly taken aback at the forthright response.

"I've thought of nothing else for twenty-one years."

Ron nodded slowly and picked up his clipboard, making a few quick notations. "I'll leave youto dream of your simple life free from the rest of the world."

"You think it a foolish dream, Mr. Weasley?"

"No," Ron replied softly before leaving. "No, I don't." He smiled before he left. It was a smile completely devoid of joy and Snape was left wondering, not for the first time, what had happened to Ron Weasley.

"If the boredom doesn't kill me, Mr. Weasley, then these substandard potions will." He crinkled his nose after sniffing the viscous grey liquid.

Ron smiled from behind his clipboard."Your whining didn't get you out of taking them yesterday, or the day before, or the day before that, professor. What makes you think it's going to start working now?"

Snape looked affronted. "I don't whine."

Ron's smile broadened. "No, whining would be beneath you; you merely voice your dissatisfaction with the ineptitude and general uselessness of the rest of the world on a constant and consistent basis," he said in a deep, clipped voice.

"I. Don't. Sound. Like. That," Snape remarked in a deep, clipped voice.

Ron let out a barking laugh. "That happens to be a spot-on impersonation."

Snape huffed and continued examining the night's potion. His eyes occasionally flickered to Ron who was still taking copious notes. "I don't remember you being this impudent in my classroom."

Ron looked up and cocked his head. "I was too busy dodging shrapnel from Neville's cauldron in your classroom."

"I don't remember you having a sense of humor, either," Snape said with the slightest hint of surprise in his voice.

Ron shrugged. "I suppose I'm not terribly memorable, then."

"I didn't say that," Snape remarked softly, turning his head towards the window and staring at the rain that had just begun to fall.

Five weeks passed in relative ease, or as easy as Snape decided it would. At some point he seemed to have determined that Ron was competent enough that he didn't need to be educated on the finer points of his job. As a result Ron did considerably less artwork. Other than the occasional tantrum from his patient, the most common sound in the private hospital room was:


"Damn and blast!" Snape nearly hurled his queen across the room. "How do you do that? I spent the last half hour carefully constructing my strategy, which you were falling into perfectly, and in three moves, you call checkmate."

"Don't be so hard on yourself," Ron remarked soothingly while stowing the pieces away for their own safety. "I've seen that strategy several times before, professor."

Snape sat back on his bed and gathered his blankets around his torso. "I am a sick man, you know."

Ron raised an eyebrow, a habit he had recently picked up. "It doesn't seem like you to play the infirm card, professor."

"I was doing nothingof the sort," Snape affirmed. "I was merely reminding you that in my current condition, concentration is difficult, and could be affecting my ability to play."

Ron shook his head. "You are a terrible loser."

"True, but I am an amazing winner," Snape drawled. "You should try to let me win once in a while -- for the novelty if nothing else."

Ron gave him a sideways glance. "I don't remember you being so humorous in class."

"Don't you? I remember laughing quite a bit in the classroom when you were in attendance."

"That I remember," Ron answered nostalgically while gathering the last of the chess pieces. "You were one snarky bastard."

"Snarky? Is that an actual word?"

"Sometimes there is just no other way to describe you, sir," he said with a laugh. "However, snarky as you are and probably always will be, you are a decidedly different man from the one I remember in the classroom." With a small nod of his head he bade his patient farewell. He left, the door clicking shut being him.

Snape stared at the closed door for long time, Ron's words echoing in his ears. "As are you, Mr. Weasley," Snape stated softly. "As are you."

"It's time for your bath, professor," Ron chirped. Two months into the routine, and Ron showed no signs of breaking.

Snape was not pleased. "Oh joy," he said with the vehemence one usually reserves for funerals.

"Careful now. Enthusiasm doesn't become you."

"I apologize for any sign of eagerness, I don't know what came over me. What is the appropriate reaction to 'It's time for your bath, professor'?

"Behave or I won't give you the present I have for you." Ron reached behind Snape's side table and pulled out his gift, holding it up for Snape's perusal.

"What in the name of all things holy is that?"

Ron smiled broadly. "It's called a rubber duck."

"A what?"

"A rubber duck -- I thought you might like to have some fun in the tub today." Ron gave it a squeeze causing it to squeak loudly at Snape.

"Your idea of fun in a bath is a yellow piece of rubber," Snape said with disdain.

"It's all you can handle at the moment -- and be nice to him, he's sensitive."

"Are you mad?"

"Not nearly enough," Ron said with a sigh. He gave the duck another squeeze and again it squeaked at the Potions master. "He looks rather regal, don't you think, his beak held high in the air like that? I've named him Diogenes."

"Diogenes?" Snape asked, his curiosity overriding his disdain.

Ron gave him a small smile. "A Muggle Greek philosopher who went out in the day time, with a lamp light, looking for an honest man. He had a total disregard for the conventional morality of what he took to be a corrupt human society. He believed in living a life of complete self-sufficiency and utter simplicity. I thought you'd like him." He tossed the duck to Snape who caught it without looking away from Ron.

He turned to stare at the bright aquatic fowl who haughtily stared back.

"Yes," he whispered. "Yes, I believe I would."

For almost an hour Severus Snape sat in the bath, the water scalding, nearly poaching him. Diogenes was perched on the tub's rim opposite him. Both eyed the other suspiciously.

Ron had just entered with a bathrobe ready to extract Snape who seemed mesmerized by the duck.

"I don't think he likes me," the Potions master remarked.

"He likes you just fine. You can take him in the tub with you, he doesn't bite."

"And do what with him exactly?"

"Discuss politics, share world views, recite poetry - he's fond of Keats."

Snape picked up the duck and placed him in the water, allowing him to float on his own. He turned to face the redhead with a look of bemused confusion on his pale features. "Were you always this strange?"

"No, I am substantially more odd now than I ever was before."

"Why?" Snape asked.

Ron didn't look up, choosing instead to study the tiles on the floor. "Did you wash your hair?" he asked, ignoring Snape's previous question.

"Of course I did," Snape replied, his annoyance at being ignored now replaced by his annoyance at having his hygiene questioned.

"What did you use?"

"My personal blend, I had the hospital's potions brewer prepare it for me."

Ron took the bottle and sniffed the thin green fluid. "This stuff is awful."

"It serves its purpose."

"I know you think so, but it doesn't. Allow me." He handed a bottle to Snape who eyed it warily before pouring a bit of the contents on to his forefinger and rubbing it with this thumb.

"What is this?"

"It's my personal blend."

"You made it?"

"No, I bought it and thus gained ownership."

Snape creased his nose as he smelled the bottle. "It smells of flowers and wax."

"It works nicely," Ron said with a smile.

"So does this," Snape said with a frown.

"No it doesn't, actually." Ron was still smiling. Snape was still frowning.

Ron retrieved the bottle from Snape and began to pour a generous amount into his palm.

"What are you doing?"

"I'm washing your hair."

"I am perfectly--"

"Oh, will you keep quiet for one moment and let me do this? Some people actually like it, you know."

"Some people like to have sex with animals. That doesn't mean I plan to court a sheep anytime soon."

"Interesting imagery. I thank you in advance for the nightmares that will cause." His smile broadened. "I'm going to wash your hair so just sit back and relax. This will work wonders, trust me."

Snape sat silently and brooded while Ron worked the shampoo into his hair. He closed his eyes as Ron's strong fingers massaged his scalp, concentrating on the feel of them weaving through his hair. Ron then began to gently pour warm water over his patient's head, careful not to get any in his eyes. Snape, feeling unnaturally at ease, sank back in the bath letting the water come up over his shoulders.

"Better than courting a sheep?" Ron asked.

"Slightly," was the silky reply.

Ron's eyes traveled to Shape's chest and the crisscross of lines etched across it. "Why won't you let us heal your scars?"

Snape tensed up. He had had his fill of Ron's rather personal questions, as well as his evasion of answering any of Snape's. If Ron wanted answers he had better be prepared to answer some as well. Why not start with the most personal? "Why didn't you marry Granger?"

"What?" Ron stepped back, completely taken off guard by the question.

"You seem so determined for me to answer your questions, you answer mine. Aren't Gryffindors renowned for their sense of equality, after all? Why didn't you marry Granger?"

"Because she wasn't my type," Ron answered honestly.

"Was Potter your type?" Snape asked, his eyes firmly planted on Diogenes.

"Very perceptive, sir," Ron answered with an upturned lip. "Yes, he was more my type than Hermione… but it would never have worked."


"Because Harry loved a different Weasley."

Snape turned to face him. "Your sister -"

" - And Harry are going to get married in the fall."

"I see."

"I don't think you do." Ron stopped to pick up the abandoned bathrobe and began smoothing it out with his hands. "I'm glad they're getting married. Harry was more a brother to me than anything else and now it will be official. Ginny will have gotten her heart's desire --which she deserves --and Harry will finally have a family that loves him, which he deserves."

"What about you?"

"What about me?"

"Don't you deserve happiness?" His eyes returned to the little yellow duck bobbing up and down in the cooling water.

"My happiness didn't lie with Harry." Ron's voice broke a tiny, tiny bit.

"And where did it lie?"

"Somewhere else."

A strained silence lingered in the room. "I suppose this conversation is over," Snape finally stated.

"I suppose it is." Ron left the bathrobe where Snape could reach it and walked out. Snape sighed and sank further into the tub, immersing himself entirely and splashing water over the sides. When he re-emerged he found Diogenes still bobbing in the rippling water, and still staring at him.

Snape picked up the duck and gave him a gentle squeeze. "I don't think he likes me any more than you do," he said.

The next week passed painfully slowly as Ron's visits became less social. Snape watched him work, clipboard in hand. Obviously,Ron was very skilled, and Snape wondered - once again -- how it came about.

"Why are you here?" he asked, well aware that he probably wouldn't get a straight answer. As things couldn't get more awkward than they were at the moment, however, he felt he had nothing to lose.

"Because you have frightened every other healer in the northern hemisphere," Ron said with a trace of a smile.

"No, why are you a healer? You have a head for strategy, as the constant trouncing I take in our chess matches would attest. If I recall correctly, you were commanding forces while still a student. Stories of your valor flooded the halls of Hogwarts with the same frequency as Potter long after you left. Then, they stopped. I hadn't heard about you for quite some time and then,I find you here. How did you end up here?"

"How did you?" Ron snapped venomously. "How did the top spy for the Order end up in a hospital bed for nearly six months? Why were you a spy at all, weren't you a top general in the Army of Darkness? Why leave? Or better yet why go there in the first place only to have those you once commanded torture you and leave you for dead? Why are you here?" He headed for the door.

"Is that your subtle way of telling me to mind my own business?" Snape called after him.

"Was I being subtle?" He slammed the door as he left.

Snape let out a long sigh and turned to Diogenes, perched on his usual spot on the night stand between a copy of Modern Alchemy and a neatly folded kerchief.

"Well, Diogenes," he said sadly, "it appears I was wrong. Things could get worse."

He wondered when it happened: when Mr. Weasley simply became Ron. Somewhere between a game of chess and a rubber duck, most likely. Somewhere between an odd joke and an act of kindness, perhaps. Somewhere between today and a decade ago.

The last two weeks had been tense and uncomfortable. Snape watched Ron more fastidiously now that he didn't have the distraction of conversation. He watched the way Ron moved across the room with a determined step, the way he held his head resolutely while he double checked his findings, the way he bit his lower lip when thinking.

He noticed Ron liked to take walks alone at the end of the day. That he sat under an elm tee just outside Snape's window, and tore at the grass at his feet.

He noticed Ron had bags under his eyes that grew darker by the day. He noticed that the soft lines of youth had been replaced by harder lines of age…of sorrow. He noticed Ron used his clipboard almost like a shield, and it was always just over his heart.

Ron either ignored his attempts at conversation or replied with the fewest words possible. Snape was astounded to find he missed their chess games and discussions. He missed Ron's unexpected wit and unusual sense of humor. He missed seeing the parts that remained of the boy he once knew, but missed even more discovering the man he had blossomed into. He missed the bright red hair that added color to the stark white room…to his stark black life.

He missed Ron and was afraid, actually afraid, that he might never speak to him again.

Snape looked at himself in the mirror, studying his reflection. He couldn't bring himself to wear his robes again; the thick and leaden robes that hadbillowed beautifully as he stalked about seemed to weigh too heavily on his shoulders now. He thought longingly of the endless rows of buttons, the embroidered cuffs, and the sleek dark lines that made up his history…and decided to leave them in the past. Instead he opted for black trousers and a grey sweater with a high neck. He had briefly considered blue, having grown accustomed to the color during his tenure in the hospital room, but voted against it. Change was only possible in small doses.

He continued to use Ron's shampoo, begrudgingly admitting he liked the way it worked. His softer, thicker hair seemed to soften the harsh lines of his face, which was fuller than it had ever been in his life. While still lean and trim he was no longer skeletal. Severus Snape looked and felt like a different person, and he needed that today. Not only was he leaving the hospital, he was leaving his former life. He sighed with the realization that he didn't necessarily want to leave it all behind.

He was gathering his courage to apologize, to try to salvage something he was not prepared to see end. He froze at the sound of the door opening and the scent of sandalwood and spice he had grown fond of.

"It was the end of sixth year," said a voice over his shoulder. Ron stood against the far wall, his arms clutched around his clipboard. "We were arguing, which was how we usually interacted. He was calling me a pathetic leech riding Harry's coattails. I was calling him a two-faced liar who would turn on us the moment things got difficult. There was a lot of yelling. Some pushing and shoving and then…and then Draco and I figured out why were at each other's throats all the time. I guess when you're feeling an emotion that seems to be tearing you inside out whenever you come into contact with someone, you assume it's hate.

"We were together for three years. No one knew -- not even Harry. It was too dangerous. Draco was a double agent and the only one who knew what he was doing were the two of us and Dumbledore. Somehow, someone found out, and I was taken hostage. After some Death Eater fun, I found myself at Voldemort's feet. Draco was brought in and ordered to kill me as a sign of his fidelity. Without hesitation he pulled his wand aimed it at his father and killed him. Before Lucius fell, a dozen curses shot at Draco until he was nearly vaporized. He died saying my name."

Snape stood immobile. He had heard of young Malfoy's demise and his sacrifice at saving someone. The details of that rescue were never made public. Not even the other members of the Order knew anything more than what the rumor mills churned out. Too many double agents and too many lives at stake meant too many secrets to keep. "How did you escape?" he finally asked, slowly and carefully.

"I don't know," Ron replied with a small shake of his head. "After I saw Draco fall the world went dark. I woke up in a hospital weeks later to find that three Aurors -- all friends -- died rescuing me. It all ended for me right there. I couldn't go back. I couldn't go back to that world. I had enough of the violence and of the fighting … and of the death. I couldn't bear it any longer so I became a healer because it was a way to facilitate life, not death. It was all I could do to help. It was all I could do."

Snape's throat tightenedat the sight of Ron, back to the wall and hands gripping his clipboard. "I apologize for prying," he said, his voice straining. "You were right; it wasn't any of my business."

"It's all right," Ron said with a shrug. "You couldn't have known. It was so long ago, I thought I had it well buried…but spending time with you…" He stopped suddenly and looked away, taking a deep breath before continuing. "You play chess the way he did. You mock the world and complain the way he did. You tease me the way he did. There was so much that reminded me of him that I started to think about the life I wanted, the one I couldn't have, and I took it out on you."

"I didn't mean-"

Ron shook his head and looked up. "You didn't do anything." Ron's grasp on his clipboard loosenedand he stood up a bit straighter after the admission. "I have moved on. I suppose I was just feeling guilty about it…about surviving at all."

Snape looked into the blue eyes which seemed to have gained back a bit of the brightness of youth he always associated with Ron Weasley. Ron didn't think of himself as memorable, but Snape was hard pressed to forget him. It wasn't often one came across a young man so loyal to the ones he loved, so willing to jump to their defense despite being unsure and afraid. He found courage when it mattered most and a strength of mind and spirit from someplace deep inside him on days darker than anyone of his years should know.

Snape stood no less impressed withthe man who stood before him now. One who was brave enough to redefine himself, to give what he could when he had so little left to give at all. A man who faced the world with dignity and grace. This man trusted him with his most private secret, and Snape felt it only right that he do the same. "I suppose it is my turn," he began.

"You don't have to -"

"But I do," he said softly. "Gryffindors are not the only ones with a sense of honor and fairness." Snape sat on the edge of the bed he had occupied for months . "I loved someone once as well."

"Remus Lupin," Ron stated more than asked.

Snape gave a small smile. "You are perceptive as well."

"You hated him a bit too strongly. It…it reminded me of someone I knew."

Snape nodded in understanding. Very perceptive, indeed. "We had the beginnings of a very tentative friendship in our youth," he continued. "A tentative friendship which his friends sought to destroy from its very inception. I wasn't looking for anything more from Lupin then, it was difficult enough for me to be that…vulnerable. We both ran in circles that wouldn't allow that sort of thing, but we tried. Then things got significantly worse and…I didn't take it well. I became withdrawn and angry….vengeful."

Ron looked at him appraisingly. "Is that when you joined?" he asked.

Perhaps too perceptive. "Like you, I was in pain, but whereas you sought to end suffering, I sought to cause it. To make everyone feel what I felt, to hurt as I hurt. It was never just a way to get revenge, it was a quest for power -- control. To take and not ask. To reign supreme because I was meant to. It wasn't long before I realized the truth. Just prior to the Potters' deaths I surrendered to Dumbledore and prayed for Azkaban. The old bugger gave me mercy instead."

"You wanted to die?"

"No. I just didn't want to live anymore."

Ron sat down next to Snape, placing his clipboard on the night table. Both stared silently into the mirror across from them, at the reflection of the Potions master and the healer, the student and the teacher, the past and the present.

"Did he know how you felt?"

"Lupin? I don't think so. "

"You didn't tell him? Why?"

"Revealing emotion is not something I do easily, Ron. Having emotions in the first place is a sign of weakness I could little afford in the life I've lived. Telling him wouldn't have erased history and might have incorrectly issued blame. I made choices, poor as they were, and I will not have anyone taking credit for them."

"He might have felt-"

"It wouldn't have mattered. I knew…I always knew he could never return my feelings. He suffered from terminal heterosexuality."

Ron huffed. "Nasty disease, that. You'd think they'd have found a cure by now."

Against his better judgment, Severus Snape laughed, taken by surprise at Ron's words.

"You should laugh more often; it looks good on you," Ron said warmly. "As does your hair. Using my blend, I see."

"It is adequate, yes."

"More than adequate," he said softly. "You are looking rather fit, if I might say, sir. Mostly."

"Only mostly?"

"Why won't you let me heal your scars?" he asked for what he was sure was the hundredth time.

The question hung in the air for some time before Snape stood and walked to the window, the window he looked out of almost every day of his occupancy in the room. He looked out over the courtyard of the hospital; the grass that was always green, the flowers always in bloom, the pathways where patients would stroll for a bit of air on the warmer nights. He was a man who spent the better part of two decades in a dungeon, who suddenly longed to feel the freshly cut grass beneath his bare feet.

"Do you know what the end of the war means for me, Ron?" he asked finally.

Ron didn't reply, probably afraid any comment might inhibit the response to the one question he had wanted answered for months.

Snape continued, "Freedom is something we take for granted. The ability to walk among our peers, come and go as we please, think our thoughts, live our lives…to simply be. Long ago I was young and arrogant, brazen and bold. At seventeen I thought I could rule the world. By twenty I was broken. The things I'd seen…done…I was offered a chance at redemption and I took it.

"But that acceptance only meant a change in Lord and Master, from being manipulated to being indebted. These scars are the result of the final battles for Hogwarts, the final battles against Voldemort, my last chance for freedom. They are the last remnants of who I was and a reminder to me of the person I hope never to be again. I earned my freedom, Ron. I earned my freedom, and it's written in every scar etched on my face and body. Every line is a battle fought, lost, fought again, and finally won. They are mine and I won't let anyone take them away from me. Ever."

Snape waited for a reply but Ron only looked past him, out the window and into the courtyard, and began nodding slowly as if it was the answer he was expecting all along. In one moment they seemed to reach an understanding. In one moment they found acceptance.

With all that Snape risked, the fact that he came out alive was a shock to most, including himself. He prided himself on his perseverance and aptitude, on his tenacity and strength. Yet for a man who lived the life he lived, who faced what he faced, he found himself growing increasingly soft-hearted. The walls that shielded him from the world -- that had protected him for so long -- wavered. When he looked at Ron Weasley, he suddenly felt as nervous as a schoolboy.

He stood silently as Ron walked over to him and reached out, gently tracing the scars along his face and neck. He said not a word as Ron's hands stroked his thick, soft hair. He watched breathlessly as Ron leaned in and placed a gentle kiss on lips that trembled slightly, his hand tenderly cupping Snape's chin.

Ron pulled back, his forehead resting on Snape's. "They are beautiful," he said softly.

"They are, aren't they?" Snape said with a smile.

Ron pulled back to stare at eyes as black as a moonless midnight. "What are you going to do now?" he asked. "I don't see you returning to Hogwarts?"

"No," he stated firmly. "I will not be returning to Hogwarts. I plan to travel and see the world I had a hand in saving."

"Sounds lovely," Ron said almost wistfully.

Snape's eyes softened. "And you? What are you going to do now?"

"The same as I have been, I reckon."

"The war is over, Ron. You have done all you can. It's all right to want something else. It's all right to have survived. "

Ron stepped back and turned to look out the window, resting his elbows on the ledge. The day was clear and from his vantage point could see for miles beyond the hospital courtyard. "What's out there for me?"

Snape moved to stand next to him, resting his elbows on the ledge as well. He made to speak but found himself unable to form words. He took a deep breath and finally stammered, "You can…you should…Paris is supposed to lovely in the Spring."

Ron turned as did Snape, and the two stood looking at each other for a bit before Ron finally answered. "What will I find in Paris, Severus?"

He placed his finger under Ron's chin and brushed his thumb over his lips. "How about a life of complete self-sufficiency and utter simplicity."

Ron smiled. "When did you get so wise?"

He smiled back. "When I got a rubber duck as a gift from an infuriating Gryffindor."

They began locally, a week in London. Much to Severus's vexation there would be a party full of well-wishing Weasleys and Gryffindors. It was nearly enough to make him call off the trip.

Once the shock of seeing them together wore off, most were surprisingly supportive. Molly kept pinching his cheeks and trying to feed him, telling him he was far too thin. Arthur gave him the most irritating smiles. He had expected them to be a bit more apprehensive - a death threat or two, a dozen hexes, a poisoning, perhaps -- but it seemed they worried about their youngest son more than they let on, and the smile on Ron's face was enough to ease any concerns they might have had.

It was the youngest, Ginny, who took Snape aside. After a vigorous interrogation as to Severus's intentions towards her brother, a stringent grilling detailing their trip -- destination, accommodations, itinerary -- and a promise to rip out his spine through his nose should Ron end up hurt, she gave her consent. Severus was impressed; she would have made an imposing Death Eater.

As the night waned, guests left, and Snape found himself in more bone crushing hugs than one man should endure. Hermione Granger – Weasley, rather, now that she married George - actually gave him a kiss on the cheek and whispered, "Just make him happy," in his ear. The emotion in her voice was enough to make his throat tight and he could only nod in reply.

The room slowly emptied until Severus found himself alone with Harry Potter.

"He means everything to me, you know," he said not looking at his former professor.

"Yes, actually, I do know," Snape replied softly.

"Then you won't be surprised when I tell you I'm worried about him."

"No…no, I wouldn't."

Green eyes, narrowed and fierce, stared hard into black somber ones. There was a lot that needed to be said, but all that came out was an earnest and sincere, "Take care of him." He gave a small smile and turned to leave.

It was Severus that called out after him. "Potter…Harry…he means everything to me as well."

Harry's smile grew. "Good. Then I won't have to worry about Ginny going to Azkaban."

Severus was appalled. What was it about these damn maddening Gryffindors that made him smile?

On a cloudless spring morning, Severus found himself on a balcony of the Hotel Villa d'Estrées in the center of Paris. Sipping his tea, he looked out over the Rue Gite Le Coeur and the tiny streets that made up the Latin Quarter. It was a spot full of history, untouched for centuries, and it felt like home.

"Why do you wake up so early?"

Severus smiled into his cup as he drank.

Ron Weasley stood in the doorway in all his naked glory. Severus instantly wanted to run his hands through the bright red hair, already beautifully tousled, and stroke the unshaven cheek of his young lover. He refrained, choosing instead to provoke him, which was nearly as enjoyable. "It is nine o'clock. Early was several hours ago. Unless of course you meant early afternoon."

"Can you think of nothing better to do this morning than mock me?" he said walking over to where Snape sat. He reached out and ran his forefinger down Severus's cheek. Involuntarily, Severus closed his eyes and leaned into the touch. "Come back to bed," Ron said gently.

Severus grabbed his hand and brought it to his lips. "Paris is a beautiful city, you know. I'd like to see more of it. We've been here a week and we haven't left the room."

"Your point?"

Severus smiled. "You are exasperating. Have I told you that?"

"Repeatedly. Now, are you coming back to bed or do I have to convince you?"

Severus raised an eyebrow. This sounded promising.

Neither said a word but it was obvious the gauntlet had been thrown. Ron smirked and walked back into their room leaving the balcony doors opened wide and giving Severus and unobstructed view of their bed. He sat against the headboard and gave a long, drawn out stretch before reaching down and taking his half-hard erection in his hand. Severus watched, his lips parted and breath hitched, as Ron lazily fisted himself to complete hardness.

Severus was mesmerized by the sight. Ron -- broad shouldered, long legged, solidly muscled, delightfully freckled -- his head thrown back, exposing the soft skin of his neck, a pink tongue licking his full lips. Severus remained in his seat, refusing to be drawn in by the wanton display. It was the sound of Ron's ragged breathing and the soft cry of Severus's name in that pleading, trembling voice, that was his undoing.

"You play dirty," he said silkily as he got into bed.

"Whatever works," Ron said as he grabbed Severus's head and pulled him into a rough kiss. Severus liked the way Ron kissed; the forceful yet slow movement of his tongue and the way his fingers laced through his hair. Ron liked to kiss hard but wouldn't be rushed.

He liked the way Ron tasted. He like the way Ron smelled. He liked the way Ron whispered gentle, soothing words in his ears while making love.

He liked that it felt like making love.

Severus wrapped his arms around Ron's slender waist, his fingernails scraping against the taut muscles of Ron's back. Without warning he felt something swell inside him-- his heart, he thought, if he remembered the feeling correctly. Ron's passion was infectious, and no matter how much Severus tried to resist, he always found himself in the same position-- clawing, biting, begging, needing and inexplicably happy.

He found himself underneath Ron; his long muscled body stretched over Severus's lean, lithe one. Ron entered him slowly, almost timidly, as if it were his first; as if he was still the student trying to please his demanding professor. With Severus's first cry of pleasure, Ron thrust faster. With each moan, he would push harder.

It always ended with Severus's head cradled in the crook of Ron's neck, sweaty and sticky and sated.

Severus reached up to push a lock of hair out of his lover's face. "I think it's time I show you how one is supposed to have fun in the bath," he said with a wicked glint in his eyes.

Ron laughed. "What about Diogenes?" he asked with a smirk. No matter where they went, the little yellow duck accompanied them and was always placed near the bathtub . "Won't he get jealous?"

"It's all right," he answered, almost lovingly. "He likes to watch."