Harry bent over and blew the dust off a large case of documents. He was currently in his family vaults in Gringotts sorting out all his various possessions. His hand was hovering over a box of what was obviously family photos when Harry suddenly spotted a thin folder labelled IMPORTANT propped up against one of the walls.

Frowning, he walked over and picked it up. Opening it, Harry immediately noticed all the legalese. He squinted in the dim light in the vault for a few minutes trying to make head and tail of the document.

" i Lumos /i ," Harry muttered, holding up his wand, as it lit up with a warm glow.

Slowly, Harry read the document and as its meaning began to dawn on him, he paled.

"Hermione! Ron!" he shouted.

From where they were helping him search through his possessions in the depths of his vault, his two friends slowly came towards him, wiping their hands on the robes to get rid of the dust first.

"What is it?" Hermione asked.

Harry thrust the document into her hands. "Look at this!" he demanded. "Is that legal?"

Quickly, Hermione scanned the document. Harry watched as she bit her lip. She looked up and gave him an apologetic smile.

"Oh no," he said, shaking his head. "This cannot be!"

"I'm afraid it's perfectly legal," she said softly. "It seems to be the reason why most of the pureblood families marry early. They obviously i must /i ."

"But I'm not pureblooded," Harry snapped, grabbing the document back.

Hermione shrugged. "It said that your paternal grandfather signed these documents when you were a baby. It's perfectly legal."

"What is it?" Ron asked.

Harry waved the papers around. "I have to marry before I'm twenty or I lose everything I inherited," he said bitterly. "It's apparently a tradition that is very common among some pureblood families."

A small frown appeared on Ron's face. "I've actually heard of something like that," he admitted.

Harry rounded on him. "You have? Why didn't you tell me about it?"

Ron shrugged, looking helpless. "I guess we had more to worry about," he said practically. "What with You Know Who and all. Besides, I thought you would have known."

" i Voldemort /i ," Harry spat out the name, "has been gone for nearly a year now. And pray, who would have told me about this particular pureblood tradition? The Dursleys?"

Ron looked sheepish. "Sorry," he muttered.

"Well," Hermione said practically. "Look on the bright side! You have almost two years. Who knows, you might find somebody you love and who loves you?"

Harry glared at her. "Very likely," he said. "Most people can't even ignore this scar long enough to say good morning to me."

Ron and Hermione didn't answer.

-

Eating breakfast in his Hogsmeade apartment, Harry did not expect to be accosted by twenty owls all vying for his attention. He glared at them. "What, in the name of Merlin, do you all want?" The last time he had seen so many owls at his breakfast table was when he had defeated Voldemort. Hadn't the wizarding population gotten over that yet?

With a sigh, Harry took the letter from the nearest owl and slit it open with his butter knife. A pink, scented letter fell out. "What the hell?" he muttered as he picked up the letter.

i My dearest Harry, /i - the letter began.

i Your dilemma has come to my attention and I have come to offer myself wholly and unreservedly to you. Marry me and we could make beautiful babies together. /i

Harry stopped reading and stared at the letter in abject horror. The rest of it seemed to be more along the same vein. Some sort of declaration of eternal love. He looked briefly at the signature and couldn't even recognise the name.

Staring at the rest of the owls surrounding him at the table, Harry paled. "Please don't tell me that all of you carry similar letters," he pleaded.

Suddenly, he spotted the Daily Prophet owl. Taking the newspaper, Harry absentmindedly gave the owl a whole galleon and shoved it away. It gave him an angry look, but he ignored it as he unfurled the newspaper. There, staring at him as clear as day, was the heading: Harry Potter MUST get married!

"How the hell did they manage to find out so soon?" Harry spluttered. Then he shook his head. Somehow, The Daily Prophet always had a way. He glared at the other owls, clamouring to deliver their letters. Some of them were obviously bored and had begun to nibble on his toast. He had an idea. "Any owl delivering a letter from somebody I don't know, go away now!"

With grumbling and a ruffling of feathers, all of the owls except one flew away.

Harry eyed the remaining owl and reluctantly took the letter.

i Dear Mr. Potter,

It has come to our attention that you are currently unemployed. Because of your large practical as well as theoretical experience in both the Dark Arts and defending against them, Hogwarts would like to offer you the position of Defence against the Dark Arts instructor. If you would like to take up this offer, please come to Hogwarts as soon as possible to discuss the terms of your employment.

Sincerely,

Minerva McGonagall

Headmistress /i

Ever since he had left school, Harry had been virtually unemployable. He found it ironic that the Hero of the Wizarding World simply couldn't find a job. He couldn't be an Auror because that was too visible. He couldn't be a Quidditch player for the same reason. And no normal job wanted to hire him. He couldn't even work at a place like Flourish and Blotts because customers would stop and gape at him. In a way, Harry had been hoping to get a job at Hogwarts, but when he had asked around, he was told that there were no current vacancies.

Well apparently one had popped up.

Harry wondered what had happened to their DADA instructor of the previous year. He had actually been an okay teacher. Not as good as Lupin had been in their third year, but Harry suspected that he was somewhat biased. He hoped that the man hadn't been fired on account of Hogwarts wanting to hire the famous Harry Potter.

Plus, the most positive aspect of working at Hogwarts that Harry could see was that he would be away from most of his 'adoring fans'. Of course, an obvious negative side would be the severe lack of choice in marriage partners there. But Harry supposed there were always the weekends. There were no rules the faculty had to remain in Hogwarts all the time, were there?

Merlin's beard, why did he i have /i to get married?

-

"Professor McGonagall," Harry greeted the older woman with a polite smile as she opened the door of her private office. Apparently she had chosen not to take Dumbledore's old office but instead keep her own. Harry was glad of this for he didn't really relish the idea of standing in front of the gargoyle trying to think of possible passwords that McGonagall might have used. With Dumbledore it had always been relatively easy, but McGonagall wasn't nearly as predictable. "Thank you for offering this position to me."

She gave him a small smile that softened her stern visage for a second before it reverted back to its usual state. "Professor Davis chose to take an unexpected trip to the States. Apparently the native Indians there have some protective magic he would like to study. It left us with an unexpected opening." With a small frown, McGonagall continued: "There is somewhat of a shortage of candidates in Britain at the moment. Normally, I wouldn't consider hiring somebody of your youth, but considering the circumstances and your obvious knowledge of Defence?quot; she trailed off.

"You had no other choice," Harry finished softly.

McGonagall looked slightly embarrassed. "Harry, you're a good choice for the Defence professorship. I would have just preferred it if you were ten or twenty years older."

"Is there a particular reason why?"

Now she looked really embarrassed. "There have been some troubles in the past with some of our younger male professors?taking advantage of the older female students."

"I would never do anything like that!" Harry burst out, flushing red. i Besides /i , he added silently to himself, i my preferences don't exactly run that way /i . But nobody, not even his closest friends knew that yet. Harry knew that the wizarding world was somewhat more tolerant of homosexuality than the Muggle world, but he was also positive that they would prefer to see him settle down with a nice pretty witch in a house with a white picket fence and raise little babies together.

McGonagall gave him a brief nod. "I know you think you wouldn't, Mr Potter, but there are still possibilities for abuse. After all, there is only about a year's age difference between you and our oldest students."

"I promise you, Professor McGonagall," Harry said firmly. "I would never abuse the trust you have placed in me."

She gave him a faint smile. "I didn't think you would, Harry. It was simply a subject that needed to be mentioned. And please, call me Minerva. We're colleagues now."

"Okay, Minerva," Harry said. The name felt strange on his tongue and suddenly he felt as though he was eleven again and staring up at the tall, stern-faced woman who was telling them about the four Hogwarts houses.

"We don't have a set syllabus for Defence against the Dark Arts, but certain things must be covered each year. A list of these will be put up in your office."

"The normal Defence office?"

McGonagall nodded. "Will that be sufficient?"

"Yes," Harry said.

She reached over and shook his hand. "Welcome to the Hogwarts faculty, Harry. I'll get a house elf to come and show you to your quarters. We'll discuss the rest of the terms of your employment later. And please, join us all in the Great Hall for dinner tonight."

"Everybody is here?" Harry couldn't help the note of curiosity.

"Yes. It's two weeks until the beginning of term and we're beginning to put together our syllabuses and class schedules. It is a task more easily completed together than separately." Seeing the apprehensive frown on his face, McGonagall sighed. "You need to get used to this, Harry, if you are to become a staff member."

He nodded.

-

Looking around his rooms - which were located in the vicinity of Gryffindor Tower - Harry felt as though he had come back home. The rooms were decorated in the typical Gryffindor colours of red and gold and were already cosily furnished.

He looked at his watch and realised it was already almost dinner time. i No time to go back to my apartment to get my stuff /i , he thought absently. Not that there would be much stuff he'd need to get anyway. By the looks of it, just his personal belongings since the furnishings were already supplied.

With a sigh, he left the rooms and walked down to the Great Hall. Pausing at the door, Harry couldn't help but feel slightly apprehensive. This would be the first time he would be eating with the teachers as colleagues - as equals. A wry smile curled his lips. Some of the staff he could never think of as equals. McGonagall, for example. Snape was another one. How he could ever think of Snape as an equal when Snape had tormented him for seven years, Harry had no idea. Just the idea of calling the man Severus, gave him shivers.

He pushed opened the door and walked into the Great Hall.

The dull noise of chatter coming from the High Table immediately died down to a murmur. A few teachers turned their heads and looked his way as he made his way up to the table.

Harry gave a self-conscious smile and was grateful when a few of the teachers returned it.

"Harry," McGonagall greeted him. "I'm so glad you came down." She turned to everybody else. "Harry has accepted the position of Defence instructor." Turning back to Harry she motioned for him to sit.

He sat down on the first available chair, not noticing where it was. As the first foods began to appear on the table, he became aware of somebody giving him an intense look. Looking up, he saw that he was sitting next to Snape.

"Mr Potter," Snape said his voice even.

Harry waited, but it became apparent that Snape wasn't going to say any more. "Hello," he said awkwardly. "How have you been?" Immediately he berated himself for the stupid question. Since the war, Snape had been hounded by the media almost as much as he himself had been but for completely different reasons. The Daily Prophet seemed convinced that Snape was still a loyal Death Eater and thus deserved an Azkaban sentence. Harry had long ago let go of that misconception. Even though the man had deliberately tried to make his life miserable for seven years, he was pretty positive that Snape wasn't a Death Eater. After all, Snape had saved his life on the battlefield several times over.

"Well enough," Snape said neutrally. "You, however, seem to have garnered more admirers of late." He held up a copy of the Daily Prophet and Harry winced to see the garish front cover again.

"Out of no choice of my own," Harry said angrily. "It isn't my fault that I lose everything if I don't get married before I'm twenty."

"On the contrary," Snape said smoothly. "No doubt you wish to keep that extensive fortune of yours handed down by your father."

Harry glared at him. "If it was just that, I would simply rip the damn paper to shreds. But no, I lose i everything /i if I don't marry. Even photographs of my parents. Even their letters. They all get auctioned off." His voice had a bitter note. "Harry Potter memorabilia."

"The whole wizarding world wants a piece of their hero." There was a strange tone in Snape's voice.

Harry glanced at him, trying to gauge whether he was simply being nasty or not, but he couldn't tell. "It seems so." He picked up his knife and fork and began to eat.

"Potter," Snape said after Harry had been silently eating for a few minutes.

Harry looked up. "Yes?"

Snape looked awkward. "Do not marry for the sole reason of keeping your family possessions," he finally said after a long pause.

Tilting his head to one side, Harry regarded his old Potions Master through his eyelashes. "Why would you care?" he said curiously. "Not so sound rude or anything, but you didn't exactly like me or anything last year. Not even when we were fighting together. What does it matter to you?"

"I have my reasons," Snape answered cryptically.

"And what would they be?"

Snape simply raised an eyebrow at him. "You expect me to answer?"

-

Draco Malfoy stared at the cover of The Daily Prophet with undisguised glee. i Potter has to get married? Before the age of twenty? Or he loses everything? /i Part of him actually felt quite sorry for Potter, but it was a very small part. Draco was incredibly glad that his father's incarceration in Azkaban meant that all of the specifications in Lucius's will were no longer valid. i Otherwise /i , he thought wryly, i I would probably be facing similar terms. /i

i Knowing Potter /i , Draco thought with a grimace, i his fortunes most likely end up in the Ministry's hands. /i With any other generation of Malfoys, that would have been a pleasing thought as they usually controlled the Ministry, but since the Dark Lord had been defeated and Fudge left the office in shame, the current Minister - Arthur Weasley - wasn't particularly positive towards Draco and any suggestions he made. i Potter's probably waiting for some ridiculous notion like True Love /i , he thought in disgust. i That would be typical of the naive Gryffindor he is.

Unless /i

A slow smirk began to spread over his face.

-

Harry sat in the staff room on the day before classes began and looked blankly at his class schedule. He had absolutely no idea how he was going to actually teach students. Especially since some of them were only going to be a year or so younger than him. i Oh fuck /i , he thought suddenly, i I'm going to be teaching Ginny! /i

"I remember my first class."

Harry looked up in surprise and saw Snape standing next to him.

"May I sit there?" Snape asked gesturing to the empty seat next to Harry.

With a shrug, Harry nodded. Out of curiosity, he asked, "What was it like?"

"Not much better than yours is going to be, I suspect," Snape answered.

Harry glared. "Mine is going to be fine," he snapped. "I have it all planned out. I have the third year Hufflepuffs first. We're going to be studying werewolves and vampires. I'm going to assign them to read i Hairy Snout, Human Heart /i ."

Snape gave a short laugh. "That load of tripe?"

"Yes well," Harry said sarcastically, "we all know your opinion of werewolves, don't we?"

"That has nothing to do with it. Tell me, Potter, have you actually read the book in question?"

i I was going to! /i Harry looked very uncomfortable. "Not really," he answered.

Snape gave a triumphant stab of the air with his finger. "Well, Potter," he said, "I suggest you read it sometime and then tell me what you think of it. Just because a book is recommended in i Fantastic Beasts /i is not reason enough for you to make a class of hapless students read it without actually seeing the contents of it yourself. I'd be surprised if the author of that book had ever even known a werewolf in his life much less than actually be a werewolf."

Harry frowned. "Why?"

"He describes the Wolfsbane potion as being 'sweet with a floral aftertaste'." Snape sneered.

"Oh," Harry muttered. He picked up his pen and struck something off his list. With a small sigh, he massaged his temples. He was beginning to feel a headache coming on. "I'm going to so fuck this up, aren't I?"

"Language, Potter," Snape reprimanded but there wasn't the normal sting in it. There was a silence. Harry looked up and saw that Snape was looking rather uncomfortable. "As I said before, my first class was not exactly exemplary either."

Harry rolled his eyes. "So you call all of your other classes exemplary?"

Snape raised an eyebrow. "Were there any serious injuries?"

"Well no?quot;

"Precisely," Snape said, looking more uncomfortable than ever.

Harry had the distinct impression that Snape was trying?to comfort him? To reassure him? Albeit in an entirely Snapeish fashion, but still, it was weird. "So what?" he asked. "I'm supposed to be grateful if somebody doesn't blow up the DADA classroom?"

Snape snorted. "If that happens, then you'll be fired. Perhaps with seventh year Gryffindors, that would be quite likely to happen, but not with that lot of Hufflepuffs. But do be prepared for a certain amount of fawning ?quot; he made a general gesture towards Harry's forehead. "But doubtless you are used to it by now."

Closing his eyes, Harry let his head thump on the table in front of him. "I will never get used to it," he muttered into the table. Somehow the job in Hogwarts wasn't looking that good after all. Although if he was going to end up unmarried two years from now, then perhaps the small teacher's salary would be essential to his survival. And at the rate he was going, that would be very likely. It wasn't as though there were exactly a huge list of marriageable partners for him here at Hogwarts. In fact, as far as Harry could see there were none. i Except Snape /i , the little voice inside of his head chimed but Harry ignored it.

"It would be better here than outside Hogwarts," Snape said quietly.

Harry lifted his head off the table and tilted it to one side. If he wasn't hallucinating or something, he could have sworn that Snape was trying to be nice again. "I suppose." Maybe he had eaten something off?

There was an uncomfortable silence before Snape stood up. With a rather awkward nod, he left.

-

"No," Harry said, for what seemed to be the tenth time in only five minutes. "I don't want you to set me up with any of your female friends." i Especially since they're the wrong gender /i , he added silently.

"But why?" Ron looked puzzled. "You need to get married." He had come over to visit Harry the evening before his first classes and they were currently sitting in Harry's chambers and feasting on some of the delicacies the house elves had given them. It felt almost like they were students again.

"Yes, but I don't want you to set me up. Remember sixth year?"

Ron burst out laughing.

"Damn it, Ron, it's not funny. But you see my point." Harry rolled his eyes. Ron had set Harry up with Ginny in their sixth year and their one date had been an unmitigated disaster. It had been full of awkward silences and somehow Ginny had ended up falling in the Great Lake. They were now firm friends, but Harry had vowed never to go to Ron for matchmaking advice ever again.

"I guess." Ron shrugged and popped a mini-閏lair in his mouth. "But if you ever want?quot; Harry shook his head and Ron laughed again. "Okay, I see your point, but," he gestured around, "this isn't exactly the best dating scene."

"Unfortunately true," Harry admitted. "But I do have two years."

"Two years can fly past," Ron pointed out.

"True," Harry said, with a sigh. "Doesn't it just seem like yesterday that we were in sixth year?"

They lapsed into silence, occasionally broken by the sound of munching when there came a tapping at the window. With a puzzled expression on his face, Harry walked over to the window, unlatched it and watched as a magnificent eagle owl flew into the room. The owl flew around the room once before settling itself onto Harry's sofa, obviously using it as a perch.

"Hey, isn't that Malfoy's owl?"

Harry frowned. "It looks like it." He took the letter from the owl's outstretched talon and looked at the seal. It was an elaborate "M". Ripping open the letter, Harry extracted a single sheet of vellum.

i Dear Mister Potter,

You are cordially invited to Malfoy Manor for the Annual Ball on the 1st of October, 7pm. A Portkey will be sent to you on the night. Please note that dress robes are mandatary and that you may bring a date. Your response may be written at the back of this letter and given back to the owl.

Sincerely,

Draco Malfoy /i

"What is it?" Ron asked.

"I seem to be invited to the Annual Ball at Malfoy Manor." Harry handed the invitation over to Ron who skimmed it.

"Lucky you," Ron's tone was blank. "We've never been invited."

Harry wasn't sure what to say to that. Every so often when he was with Ron, something would come up that would remind his friend of his less than satisfactory monetary state and whenever that happened, it seemed to create a rift between them. Harry would honestly love to give half of his money to the Weasleys, but he knew that they would never accept it. Finally, he decided to ignore the bitter undertone to his friend's voice. "I'm actually not sure whether I want to go or not," he said.

Ron looked at him in surprise. "Why not? It's the social event of the year. Everybody who's anybody in the wizarding world - provided that they're over eighteen - gets invited. It's probably going to be even bigger this year because of the Malfoy heir."

"Why?"

Ron shrugged. "Lucius Malfoy is in Azkaban. Draco's organising this ball and he's finally over eighteen. Of course it's going to be big."

With a puzzled expression, Harry nodded. At times like this, he felt he would never understand the subtleties of the wizarding world as well as his friend. "But who would I bring?"

Ron grinned. "You could leave that up to me," he suggested.

"No, Ron, no," Harry said adamantly. "How about I bring Hermione? Not as a date, but as a friend."

"I don't think a Muggle-born has ever been to one of the Malfoy balls before."

Harry smiled grimly. "Well there is a first time for everything."

With an apprehensive expression on his face, Harry wrote: i Accepted /i on the back of the invitation, slid it back into the envelope and gave it back to the owl who flew out of the window. He watched as it flew away into the night.

-

The next month passed quite quickly to Harry's surprise. His classes were difficult at first, although that was mainly due to his lack of knowledge as to how to be a teacher, rather than because of awestruck students. It seemed that most people remembered him from the previous year and behaved accordingly. In fact, Harry had to take over fifty points from Gryffindor for misbehaviour between Ginny and her friends before they seemed to remember that he was a junior member of the faculty now. Even in this short time, Harry had developed a reputation of being scrupulously fair, although, he admitted to himself, this was more from him not wanting to be penalised for favouring Gryffindor in any way. Consequently, Gryffindor ended up with the most points removed from it during DADA classes.

Sticking to the simple syllabus he'd written was easy enough. He had plenty of practice with the DA, after all. In fact, he found himself over-estimating the ability of several year levels.

On the faculty side of things, Harry found himself feeling like an outsider. Most of the other staff had known each other - as adults, as equals - for years and although they tried to make him feel welcome, sometimes, he suspected that they had to deliberately stop themselves from calling him "Mr. Potter" and taking points from Gryffindor.

Strangely enough, Snape was still being relatively nice to him. Well, nice in a Snapeish fashion anyway, which coming from anybody else, Harry would have classified as barely polite, but coming from Snape was quite a lot. Then again, he was comparing this with the way Snape treated him through his seven years at Hogwarts, and frankly, anything would have been better than that. They seemed to have regular conversations over breakfast and tea - Snape seemed to rarely turn up to lunch - and Harry had to admit that these were interesting conversations. He suspected the rest of the staff were amused at their congeniality but whenever he turned to look at them, they would simply give him polite smiles.

He had even gotten to call the other man by his given name occasionally. Snape had raised an eyebrow at him the first time it had happened, but otherwise hadn't commented.

As Harry came down to the breakfast table on the first of October, he automatically sat down next to Snape.

"Good morning," he mumbled as he reached across the other man to reach the marmalade. Spreading some on his toast, Harry began to eat.

"Good morning," was Snape's polite response.

The owls had already flown in, and only a few were circling overhead, obviously confused as to who the recipients of their letters were. An eagle owl swooped down towards Harry and Snape, and to Harry's surprise, deposited a letter in front of each of them.

Harry slit his open with his butter knife, getting some marmalade on the envelope by mistake. He ignored the rather disgusted expression on Snape's face. He peered inside the envelope and extracted a short note.

i This piece of paper is your Portkey to Malfoy Manor. It will activate itself at 7pm exactly. /i

Looking over at Snape, Harry noticed that Snape was holding a similar piece of paper in his hands. "You're also going to the Malfoy Annual Ball?" he asked.

"Apparently," Snape said as he placed the piece of paper in a pocket inside his robes. "I have to confess to being surprised at receiving an invitation this year. Ever since," he paused delicately, "I fell out of the Dark Lord's favour, my invitation was withdrawn."

"Well I defeated him last year, remember?" Harry said, through a mouthful of toast.

"Mister Potter, I'm not as old and decrepit as to forget that momentous an event in the wizarding world," Snape snapped.

Harry was unfazed. "I was just saying, maybe that's the reason why."

"Possibly," Snape's tone was non-committal.

"So," Harry said, after a small silence. "Who are you bringing?"

Snape looked at him in surprise.

"As a date," Harry clarified. "I'm bringing Hermione."

There was a strange expression in Snape's eyes. "I am not taking anybody."

Harry was surprised. "Not even a friend? I mean, I'm not dating Hermione or anything, but I'm bringing her as a friend."

"Are you sure that is?wise?"

"Do you think I care?" Harry retorted. "There were no specifications on the invitation as to the bloodlines of my date. So Malfoy can sod off if he thinks that I can't bring Hermione."

"Ah," Snape said in a dry tone, "always the careless Gryffindor, I see."

"Well it isn't as if he's going to kill her or anything!"

"No," Snape said, "that is quite unlikely. After all, it would bring unnecessary negative publicity."

Harry couldn't think of a response to that ludicrous statement, so he was silent.

-

That evening, Harry stood with Hermione in his rooms, at 6:59 pm, both holding the piece of paper. He couldn't help but feel slightly ridiculous. He wondered whether Snape was doing the same thing in his rooms, just standing there and waiting for the clock to tick over to 7pm. Just then, he felt a familiar tug at his navel. Closing his eyes, Harry felt like they were whirling through space. When finally the world righted itself, he opened his eyes to see an expanse of green lawn in front of him.

"Welcome to Malfoy Manor," somebody said behind him and Harry spun around. Standing there in clean-cut dark green dress robes was Draco Malfoy.

"Thank you," Hermione said.

Draco gave her a polite nod before turning back to Harry. "I'm glad you could make it."

"Um, thank you?" Harry was surprised at how utterly gracious and mature Draco was being. "You have a lovely manor." And it was true. From what Harry could see of it, which was a very small part, Malfoy Manor looked enormous and seemed to have been built in the Middle Ages and not really updated since then.

"I'm glad you like it." Draco smiled and Harry was surprised how that expression softened his features.

"I'm sure Mister Malfoy should be greeting his other guests by now," came an icy voice from behind Harry.

Harry looked over his shoulder and saw that Snape had just Portkeyed in. "Hello, Severus," he said.

"Hello." Snape barely looked at him, but instead stared at Draco. He seemed furious at Draco for some reason.

Hermione took Harry's arm firmly and steered him away up the winding pathway. "We'll see you later," she called over her shoulder.

Harry could hear Snape's low, furious voice saying something from behind them, but he couldn't make out the words. "Severus seems really angry," he commented.

"It's none of our business," Hermione said.

Harry tilted his head and looked at her. "Are you okay?"

She sighed. "Did you see how Malfoy was looking at me? It's obvious that he still sees me as a Mudblood and therefore not worth knowing. I suspect I'm the first Muggle-born to ever set foot in Malfoy Manor." They crossed the terrace and entered one of the huge arching side doors into what seemed like a massive ballroom where people were milling around.

Harry didn't say anything but he thought that Hermione's suspicions were probably right.

"Would you like me to get you a drink?" he said to change the topic.

She smiled. "Sure."

He walked over to the bar where house elves were clustered and ordered two glasses of red wine. "Thank you," he said as the glasses were handed to him. It seemed that old habits died hard.

He walked back to where Hermione was still standing by the doorway, looking rather uncomfortable, and handed her one of the drinks. She took a sip. "Pretty nice," she said.

"Thank you," came the smooth voice from behind them. Draco Malfoy walked around and gave a small bow. "I'm glad you liked it, Miss Granger. It is still Miss Granger, isn't it?"

"Yes," Hermione said shortly.

"I have somebody who is simply dying to meet you," Draco said as he waved to somebody in the distance. The woman came over. "Patricia, this is Hermione Granger."

The woman's eyes gleamed. "The same Hermione Granger who wrote A Discourse on Magi-Muggle Relations?"

Hermione blushed. "Yes," she said. "I didn't think that anybody would have read it yet. I just got it published."

Patricia smiled. "Oh, but the Ministry is very interesting in budding young minds. We keep an eye on new publications." She looked at Draco. "Do you mind if I retire with her to the drawing room? I would like to discuss her paper with her."

"You don't mind?" Draco looked at Harry who shook his head. "Sure." The two women walked off.

Harry sipped his wine, feeling the liquid run down his throat.

"That particular wine comes from our own vineyards," Draco explained, nodding at the wineglass. "The Malfoy grounds extend for several miles in each direction and to the north of the property, we have vineyards." He gave a slightly self-deprecating smile. "I'm afraid we don't produce enough wine to go onto the markets, but it is enough for a few small functions like this."

"Well it is very, um, full-bodied," Harry said, after an awkward pause.

Draco gave a soft laugh. "Not much of a connoisseur of wine, are you, Harry? I can call you Harry, can't I? Don't you think it is time that we put our petty school-time fights behind us?"

"I suppose," Harry said, with a note of puzzlement in his voice. Instinctively, he suspected that the other man was up to something, but he decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe Draco had grown up?

-

"Excellent," Draco said, with a smile. He could sense suspicion in Harry's voice, but that was something that could be eased easily. "We're both adults now." He let his gaze slide down Harry's body and then back to his eyes again. "Surely we wouldn't let a silly school conflict get in the way of what could be?"

He watched as Harry turned a light shade of red. Draco was glad that Harry Potter was as attractive as he was, otherwise, he might have rethought this whole plan of his. Sleeping with an ugly man was not worth any amount of influence in the Ministry that could be gained.

"Excuse me."

Draco had to keep the scowl off his face as he saw Snape come up to them. "Yes?"

"Draco, I would like to speak to you." There was no mistaking the tone of barely suppressed anger in Snape's voice.

"Harry, you don't mind, do you?" Draco asked, with another smile. He was rewarded by a blush on the other man's behalf. i This could really be fun /i , he thought.

"No, of course not," Harry said, sounding flustered. "I'll just go over to talk to other people. I'll see you later?Draco." The name was added on at the end, and followed by another blush.

i Quite charming really /i , Draco thought idly as he watched Harry walk off.

"I would like to know," Snape began in an icy tone, "what you are planning to do with Harry Potter."

Draco looked up at his old Potions Master. "I'm afraid I don't understand what you mean," he said. Snape had tried this in the gardens just a few minutes ago and obviously was trying it again.

"Like Merlin you don't," Snape snapped. "You are planning something. I can see it from the gleam in your eyes. Don't try to hide it from me."

"Let's just say that it's nothing that you wouldn't approve of," Draco said. "You always wanted Potter taken down a few pegs, right? Well I know exactly how to do that."

"And how would that be?" Snape said suspiciously.

"Well you do know that he has to get married before he is twenty, right?" Snape nodded stiffly. "Well I plan on courting him."

"You plan on courting him?" Snape repeated incredulously. "What, with flowers and candy?"

Draco snorted. "Unfortunately yes."

"How do you even know he's gay?"

Draco gave a malicious smile. "I happen to have accidentally stumbled on something in my seventh year. I haven't had the chance to use it until now though. Lets just say Potter was doing something he really shouldn't have been doing in the Quidditch Changing Rooms."

"And what's in it for you?"

Draco shrugged. "Oh, prestige, the influence with the Ministry, plus the chance to make his life a misery once we're married. He's Muggle-raised. He doesn't know of the no-divorce rule in the wizarding world."

Snape raised an eyebrow. "I'm surprised you even know of that concept?"

"I'm not completely ignorant," Draco snapped. "Anyway, why do you want to know this? You seemed really furious with me before. I would have thought you wanted Potter to be miserable."

There was a slight hesitation before Snape answered. "That was before I knew what you were doing. Carry on, Draco." He nodded, before drawing his robes around himself and walking away.

Draco frowned. There was something that Snape wasn't mentioning. And he was going to find out what it was.

-

Harry jumped slightly as he felt somebody's breath tickle his ear.

"You don't look like you're having fun."

"Ma - Draco," he said. "I am."

Draco raised a pale blond eyebrow and Harry was reminded of Snape. Maybe Draco had copied it off the older man or something. Or maybe it was just a Slytherin thing to do. Raise an eyebrow randomly at things. Harry knew that he couldn't do it. "Yes," Draco said, "and that would be why you're standing here near the corner of the room all alone."

Harry glared at him defensively. Sure he was here all alone, but that didn't mean anything. Plenty of people had come up to him wanting to chat, but his monosyllabic answers had them all making their excuses to leave within minutes. He simply didn't want to make small-talk with the rich purebloods that were invited to this party. Besides, he suspected that many of them were only talking to him because of the possible marriage prospects but were too well brought up to say so directly. "I'm fine," he said.

"Come on. I'm about to make a speech in the other room. Surely you want to hear it?"

"I suppose," Harry said as he followed Draco into another large room. To him, it looked exactly like the previous room, but obviously Draco thought it was an atmosphere far more conducive to speech-making than the other room. The other man stopped and Harry almost ran into him.

" i Sonorus /i ," Draco muttered as he pointed his wand to his throat. He lifted his head and looked around. "Witches and wizards," he said clearly.

Harry winced slightly and took a couple of steps backwards, almost bumping into a witch. She glared at him, the dirty look softening slightly as she saw his scar. He gave a mental sigh. Around him, he saw other people also stepping backwards.

"I'm very glad that all of you could make it tonight to the Malfoy Manor Annual Ball. As most of you are undoubtedly aware, I came into majority this year and will be officially taking over the finances and running of this estate. This means any business queries henceforth will be coming to me and me alone." Draco paused. "In this new and far more enlightened climate, I would like to announce the start of a new Magi-Muggle venture, headed by my good friend Patricia Lovell and the rising new academic mind Hermione Granger. This venture will be mostly funded by me, although donations would be appreciated."

There was scattered polite applause.

Harry was surprised. He had no idea that Draco would support, much less fund, anything to do with Muggles.

"And now onto other matters. I hope everybody is enjoying themselves?"

There were general murmurs of what sounded like agreement.

"There are quite a few celebrities here tonight," Draco said, with a mischievous smile. Harry, with a sinking heart, realised where this was going. "We have Cornelius Fudge, our former Minister of Magic. We have Severus Snape, who you are all undoubtedly aware, is a war hero. And last but not least, we have Harry Potter who recently has taken up the position of Defence against the Dark Arts Professor at Hogwarts. We recently put aside our school-time animosity and are now friends."

Harry could feel his face flaming. Logically, his mind told him that Draco honestly didn't mean anything by this, and was probably trying to be nice to him, but he couldn't help but feel embarrassed by the number of people who were looking at him. Looking up slightly, he noticed Snape standing in the middle of a crowd of people, looking thunderous. He gave a small smile towards the older man, and was gratified to see a less-thunderous look being directed back at him. Obviously Snape didn't appreciate the attention any more than he did.

"And now," Draco said, "I'll leave you to your mingling. Dinner is at any time. Just call up a house elf."

When Draco had removed the spell from his voice, Harry walked over. "Did you really have to do that?"

"Do what?" Draco sounded surprised.

"Call everybody's attention to the fact that I'm here tonight," Harry said, a note of exasperation creeping into his voice.

"Was it some sort of secret?" Draco said lightly. "I'm sorry, if?quot;

Harry gave a forced smile. "Don't worry about it. I just don't really like this whole celebrity thing."

"It's fine," Draco said. "Would you like," he waved a hand around the room, "to go somewhere quieter then? We could talk."

A wave of gratefulness washed over Harry. "I'd love to."

-

i Perfect /i , Draco congratulated himself as he led Harry out of the room. Apparently that whole shy retiring hero wasn't simply an image after all. Draco was glad for the opportunity to introduce Harry Potter as his friend, and if Harry didn't like it, well it was just too bad. He was going to have to get used to it after he married Draco. After all, Draco was planning to have plenty of Ministry functions. The fact that Harry now wanted to get away from the crowd was a bonus. Draco couldn't really try to seduce the other man in front of so many people. That required a far quieter place. One where Harry would feel comfortable and be able to confide in him.

Draco wasn't sure whether he was maybe moving a little fast, but he didn't want to waste any opportunities. The quicker Harry was married to him, the better. After all, who knew whether Harry would find somebody else or not during the next two years?

He led Harry down a long corridor and into a small room at the end. "I'm sure we won't be disturbed in here. Guests rarely frequent this wing."

Harry entered the room and Draco could immediately see that he felt comfortable in it. i No wonder /i , he thought with a mental roll of the eyes, i this is furnished almost exactly like the Gryffindor Common Room /i . It was the precise reason why he chose this room. He wanted Harry to be at ease.

"You know," Harry said with a bemused smile as he sat down. "This room reminds me of somewhere. It's a nice room."

"Thank you," Draco said as he sat down as well. There was a short pause. "I'm sorry for asking, I'm sure you've been getting this a lot lately, but I was wondering what you were planning to do about ?the marriage thing."

Harry gave a surprisingly bitter laugh. "Actually, no," he said, "I haven't been getting that much lately. Not such polite questions anyway. People either seem to ignore it altogether or jump on me requesting my hand in marriage. But in answer to your question, I have no idea."

"Surely, you have some plans? A girlfriend or a boyfriend perhaps?" Draco had to admit he was intensely curious as to who his potential rivals were.

"No," Harry said, shaking his head.

"Any particular reasons why not?"

Harry shrugged. "Most people never seem to see past the fame."

"That's quite unfortunate," Draco said. "You do have a lot to offer, Harry, besides your fame." He slid closer to Harry on the couch.

The faint blush appeared on Harry's face again. "W-what," he swallowed before continuing, "what are you doing?"

Draco reached over and cupped Harry's face in a hand. "Announcing my intent to court you with a full wizarding courting ritual. But before I do that," he kissed Harry very lightly on the lips, "this is just a taste of what you're going to get if you accept." He kissed Harry again, sliding his tongue in and then biting the other man's lower lip slightly. When he pulled away, Harry was slightly breathless and very red.

-

"You want to court me?" Harry asked softly, once he had regained a slight modicum of his self control. That last kiss had sent tingles all the way down his body. Draco had tasted faintly of expensive scotch.

Draco nodded. "The full ritual. I was going to send you the card expressing intent tomorrow, but I thought that since you were here tonight, I would tell you now."

"But?why?"

Draco smiled. "You intrigue me, Harry. I've been intrigued by you ever since we first met and somehow along the line, it changed into attraction." He stood up. "I just wanted to let you know."

-

Harry didn't see Hermione for the rest of the evening. He suspected that she was talking to that Patricia person about Magi-Muggle relations. Snape also seemed strangely absent, but finally, just as he was lining up at the Apparation Point, Harry felt a light touch on his shoulder.

"Severus!" he exclaimed.

Snape looked strangely nervous. "Are you Apparating into Hogsmeade?" he asked abruptly.

"Yes."

Snape nodded. "May I join you on the walk back to Hogwarts?"

"Sure," Harry said, with a smile. "I'll be glad for the company."

As they both landed in Hogsmeade with sharp cracks, Harry suddenly felt this need to talk about what happened that evening. He wasn't sure about using Snape as a confidant of sorts, but he did feel like he could trust the other man. "Can I talk to you about something?" he asked.

"Talk away," Snape said.

"Draco said that he wants to court me," Harry said. The words came out all in a rush but he felt relieved after saying them. "I just don't know what to do."

Snape stopped and looked at him. "The traditional courting process?" he asked.

Harry stopped as well. "Yes."

They resumed walking.

"I suggest you wait and see," Snape said, in a curiously strained voice. "After all, the traditional courting process takes three steps. You do not need to accept until the last step. You weren't so imbecilic as to accept already, were you?" His voice was sharp.

"Of course not!" Harry snapped. "I barely know the man, except from school where we hated each other and then he suddenly tells me he wants to court me. How stupid would I have to be to accept?"

"You could have been desperate," Snape's voice was non-committal.

"Not that desperate. I have two years. I'm going to wait and see."

"A wise strategy."

Harry wasn't sure whether Snape was being sarcastic or not. They walked the rest of the way back to Hogwarts in relatively companionable silence.

-

The next day in breakfast, Harry was surprised to see that Snape wasn't there. The other man was usually at breakfast. i Perhaps he decided to sleep in /i , Harry thought as he buttered his toast with marmalade.

As the morning owls flew in, Harry looked up apprehensively. Draco said that he would be sending a letter of intent or something like that?so unless he was joking.

An eagle owl dropped a letter onto Harry's lap. It had a plain white envelope with only Harry Potter written at the front. He was about to open it when another owl flew overhead and dropped another white envelope in his lap.

Wondering what the second letter was about, Harry slit open the first one.

i Dear Harry James Potter,

I, Draco Lucius Malfoy, do announce with this letter, my intent to court you. The courting process, outlined below, will take place over the duration of one month where at the end of this month, you shall either accept or reject my offer.

There are three steps to the traditional courting process. Step one involves the delivery of a statement of intent to court. Step two is when the courter gives the courtee a gift or various gifts to express his or her love. Step three is usually a dinner where the courtee either accepts or rejects the courter. During this month, the courter and courtee may meet at other occasions but at no point may the courter press the courtee to accept. The courtee may accept freely, however.

It is my hope you will accept my offer,

Draco Lucius Malfoy /i

Harry stared at the letter. His first thought was, i there is actually a traditional method for courting people in the wizarding world? /i

Slowly, he folded up the letter and placed it in the envelope. Surely the other letter couldn't be as strange as this one, could it?

It was stranger.

In fact, it was exactly the same as Draco's letter except for three words. Instead of Draco Lucius Malfoy, the other letter had Severus Arius Snape.

Faintly, Harry realised that was why Snape wasn't at breakfast today. Snape wanted to court him? It was almost a ludicrous concept. Why, didn't Snape hate him? Although, Harry realised, Snape hadn't seemed to hate him much during the last month. Sure he was sarcastic but Harry was beginning to realise that was simply part of his personality.

i But why? /i Harry still wasn't sure.

He needed to talk to Hermione about this.

-

"I'm quite busy, Harry," Hermione warned as her head appeared in his fireplace that evening.

"Please, Hermione," he begged. "I really need to talk to you." Some of the desperation he was feeling must have filtered into his tone as her face softened.

"Okay," she said.

He stepped back and moments later, she walked out of the fireplace, brushing the ash off her robes.

"What is it?" she asked.

"What do you know about traditional wizarding courting?"

"Well," she said slowly, "it is a three stage process, if I recall correctly. And the courtee must be known to the courter. Plus, it is a tradition usually used by the ancient pureblooded families. I'm surprised you know of it, Harry, unless…" Her eyes grew round.

He nodded heavily.

"Who?" she asked, obviously unable to restrain her curiosity.

"Draco and Severus."

"Both of them?" she asked, surprised. "But, why?"

"That's what I'd like to know," Harry muttered. "Well at least now I know why I haven't received more of these courting things. Must I wait an entire month? Can't I just refuse now?"

Her brow furrowed. "No, I think you have to wait the entire month. Oh, Harry, think about it, both of them must really feel something for you if they're going through this ancient ritual. There is no backing out for the courter if they change their mind."

"But," Harry said, feeling helpless, "I just want to know why they're doing this."

She gave him a sympathetic smile. "Well, you'll just have to wait and find out."

That advice sounded suspiciously like Snape's from the previous night and Harry just realised why Snape had given it.

Wait and see. It sounded easy enough.

-

It wasn't easy.

Over the next few days, Harry found himself increasingly twitchy. He jumped at every owl that swooped past. In fact, he was getting so jumpy that one of his students asked whether he had a palsy or not. Gryffindor had the unfortunate experience of losing a hundred points that day.

Even the other faculty noticed.

"Harry," Minerva asked. "Are you okay? You seem a little anxious. Are there any problems with the students?"

"Oh no," he forced a smile. "The students are fine. The workload is fine as well. I'm just nervous about other things." Which was entirely true, but Minerva didn't seem to believe him.

"Well," she said doubtfully, "if you ever want to talk, my office is open."

"Sure," he said.

Snape also seemed to be avoiding him. Harry only saw him in the distance before the other man would hurry away in a swirl of black robes. He wished that Snape would stop and talk to him about this whole courting business. For Merlin's sake, if he agreed, then they would be married! Surely now wasn't the time for shyness.

Then finally, the fifth day after he had received the notice of intent to court, Harry received a package. It arrived mysteriously on his bed one evening. He glanced at the window and saw that it was open.

Opening the small box, Harry saw a snake pin nestled in cotton wool. As he picked it up, to his surprise, the snake turned its head and hissed a greeting at him.

"Hello," Harry hissed back.

The snake rubbed against his finger for a second before becoming still once more. Harry pinned the brooch on his robes and opening the note accompanying the gift.

i Dear Harry,

I hope you will like this gift. The brooch has been in the Malfoy family for millennia, and with luck will remain in the family. I suspect you will be able to talk to the snake.

Would you like to have dinner at Malfoy Manor tomorrow evening? Owl me a reply.

Love,

Draco /i

The note read almost like a love note. There was a feeling of over-familiarity in it that Harry didn't particularly like although he supposed that Draco was only trying to be friendly.

He wasn't really sure whether he wanted to accept the invitation to dinner. On one hand, he did feel real attraction towards Draco, especially when they kissed, but on the other hand, this all just felt far too quick for his liking. Especially, as his brain was fond of reminding him, since they were enemies only last year.

Still, Harry liked the kiss and had to admit that he was interested in finding out more about the other man. i Intellectually or physically /i , a little voice in his head said slyly, but he ignored it.

So, he picked up his quill and wrote:

i I'll be there at seven. /i

-

Harry was surprised when Draco met him at the Apparation Point outside his house at seven pm exactly. He hadn't expected that. "Hello," he said.

"I'm glad you could come," Draco said warmly. "And I'm very glad I haven't scared you off with the whole courting process. I can understand it would be very confusing to somebody who had never heard of it before. But I assure you, I intend to make the next three weeks very enjoyable and our entire married life - should you accept - equally enjoyable."

Harry felt himself turning red and berated himself silently. He always seemed to blush around Draco. Of course, that could be because Draco always seemed to be running his eyes over his body. "Um," he said awkwardly, "that sounds good."

Draco held out an arm, and after a moment, Harry took it. It all felt incredibly formal to him, but he couldn't help but notice the tingles that he felt where Draco's fingers were wrapped around his own. i Oh yes, there was definitely physical attraction. /i

-

i On the whole /i , Draco thought as he sat down with a tumbler of scotch at the end of that evening, i that was a pretty good evening /i . He was quite surprised that he would get along so well with Harry Potter, but apparently they had quite a few common interests other than Quidditch.

They had actually managed to get quite a lively discussion over dinner about the relative advantages of studying only Defence against the Dark Arts as opposed to the Dark Arts themselves. Draco had never realised that Harry actually wanted to introduce the Dark Arts into the Hogwarts' curriculum. It seemed the other man felt that to beat something, you had to truly understand it. A sentiment Draco thoroughly agreed with.

The other man was certainly promising as a good shag if - when, Draco told himself - they ever got that far. When Draco had given Harry what had begun as a chaste good night kiss, he had accidentally - mostly - rocked into Harry and was pleasantly surprised.

But the most surprising thing was that he was actually finding himself liking Harry.

-

The next day at breakfast, Harry noticed that Snape was sitting there. Determined not to show his apprehension, he sat down next to the other man.

After a few minutes of absolute silence between the two, Snape finally grunted and placed a small package on the table next to Harry. "Here," he muttered. And then, he got up and left the table.

Hooch leaned over the table. "What is it, Harry?" she asked, eyes alight with curiosity.

Harry hastily put it in his pocket. "Nothing," he said. He didn't exactly want to tell any of the other staff members about the courting thing, not did he particularly relish his students finding out. "Just a curse-breaker I asked for last week."

"Oh," she said, obviously disappointed and then turned away to talk to somebody else.

Wolfing down breakfast as fast as he could, Harry hurried away to his rooms so that he could open the gift before first class. As he ripped off the paper, he saw a small clear box sitting inside. Inside the box was a bottle filled with clear liquid. There was a piece of paper folded next to the box.

i Harry,

You are most likely shocked and horrified now that not only do you have to deal with Draco Malfoy, but you also have to deal with your old Potions Master courting you. I assure you, I have my reasons.

The bottle is filled with All-Purpose Medicinal liquid. It will not cure absolutely everything but it comes very close. It may be put on a cut, or ingested. Use it with care. The bottle is charmed to be unbreakable.

Severus

/i

Harry stared at the bottle. He knew that Snape rarely lied and never about potions, but if he was telling the truth, the bottle that now lay in the box on his desk was very, very expensive. All-Purpose Medicinal liquid was used in dire emergencies in the wizarding world and almost always worked. One of the main ingredients, Harry remembered, was Phoenix Tears.

"Wow," he said softly.

Draco's present was good, sure, but it didn't really compare to this. Not in value and not in practical use. There were still Death Eaters out there hunting for him, and this could prove invaluable.

Harry safely tucked the box away in his desk drawer.

-

The next few weeks were rather hectic for Harry. Draco had invited him over to Malfoy Manor several times, which Harry had accepted. He was beginning to enjoy his time with Draco immensely, even though there were small instances where the other man still annoyed him slightly. They had fascinating discussions and Harry had found that they had as many similarities as differences.

Snape, however, Harry still found to be an enigma. He still seemed to be ignoring and avoiding Harry, something that Harry found very strange since Snape was supposed to be courting him. They still saw each other at meals, but Snape seemed to be taking extra care to arrive after Harry each time and sit at the opposite end of the table to him.

Yet?Harry now knew that it was truly a bottle of All-Purpose Medicinal liquid sitting in his desk drawer. He had taken a tiny drop and taken it to Hermione for testing and she had proven it. If Snape didn't care - as he was doing a very good impression of - then why had he sent the liquid?

Finally, Harry - annoyed - decided to go and knock on Snape's office door. It was past ten in the evening so it was unlikely that any students would be there but he could see the light on underneath the door.

"Come in," Snape said briskly and Harry opened the door.

There was a flicker of surprise over Snape's face before it became blank again. "How may I help you?" Snape asked.

"Why are you courting me?" Harry asked bluntly. "I mean, you don't even seem to show a modicum of interest in me. So, why?"

Snape sighed and put down his quill. "Mister Potter, are you sure you want to know?"

Harry nodded.

"Are you aware why Draco Malfoy is courting you?"

"He says that I intrigue him," Harry said carefully. "What does that have to do with why you are courting me?"

"Patience, you should learn it," Snape barked. Then his voice softened slightly. "I have no doubt that you do intrigue him to a certain extent, but that is not the entire reason." He paused. "I learned at the night of the ball that he was planning to court you solely to gain influence at the Ministry. And that he plans on using your ignorance of magical marriage laws against you. You see, we have no divorce in the wizarding world."

Harry's mouth fell open. "A-and that," he finally managed to splutter out, "that caused you to come to the supremely ludicrous decision to court me yourself instead?"

Snape had the grace to look embarrassed. "Yes," he admitted.

"Why didn't you just tell me?" Harry demanded.

"I had to give you another alternative," Snape said quietly. "You were in a position of desperation. You may have accepted anyway and resigned yourself to a lifetime of misery."

"How stupid do you think I am?" Harry snapped.

"Oh the contrary," Snape said, "you are not stupid. But you do have a blind spot when it comes to keeping mementos of your parents."

"But?why court me yourself?"

Snape didn't answer but simply studied his desk intently, but Harry had already figured it out.

"Sort of like killing two birds with one stone, isn't it?" he said bitterly. "Thwart Draco Malfoy and you instead can make my life hell for eternity."

Snape looked up. "You're wrong," he said quietly.

"How?" Harry glared at him, his hands clenched into fists. "How the fucking hell am I wrong? You hate me. You always have. These last few months of civility, of almost-friendship, they've just been a farce."

"Damn it!" Snape stood up, scraping the chair back with a screech. He stalked over to Harry, his robes billowing despite the lack of wind. "Harry," he began, but stopped.

Harry held his breath, but was taken entirely by surprise as Snape seemed to swoop down on him. With a sudden, almost bruising motion, Snape had him pinned up against the wall, one long leg pressing between his own, and was kissing him breathless.

This felt nothing like when Draco's kisses, Harry thought dazedly as his own hands came up to slide through Snape's hair. He didn't even seem to care about the greasiness. It felt as though his entire body was alight. He had never felt this way with any of his previous lovers before.

Snape tasted of ice, of fire and of potions ingredients. Harry could feel himself hardening and could feel the responding hardness against his own stomach. Reaching down, he stroked Snape's cock through the silky material of his robe and heard Snape groan softly.

Finally, Snape seemed to relent, and ended up pressing tiny kisses over Harry's face.

"Didn't I tell you that you were wrong?" Snape whispered into his ear, his breath hot.

"Mmm," Harry agreed and turned his head so that he was drinking in those incredible kisses again. It felt like he was melting against the wall.

-

The next day, Harry woke up to find himself curled up in Snape's arms. Snape was obviously still asleep and since it was pre-dawn, Harry didn't want to wake him.

Examining his feelings, Harry couldn't find a single twinge of regret, which was a positive sign. However, he had no idea what the future would bring and wasn't so naive as to think that mere sexual compatibility - and boy were they compatible! - would solve everything. But he was hopeful.

He felt Snape stir behind him and a sleepy voice mumble in his ear. "Any regrets?"

"None," he answered honestly. "You?"

Snape chuckled, a low chuckle that went straight to his groin. "No. Now go back to sleep."

Harry complied.

That afternoon, Harry sent a short note to Malfoy Manor.

i I'm sorry, Draco, but I cannot accept. /i