Seven o'clock came and went, and the party was just about getting into full swing, Harry sat happily ensconced in one of the garden chairs that Niall had dragged from the shed with Neville's help and now he sat talking animatedly with his former classmate, catching up on old times and being filled in on some of his more sedate adventures while Hermione leaned against the side of his chair.
He checked his watch again, for what must have been the second time that minute, something that had not escaped the attention of those around him.
"What's up Harry? Got a date?" Neville laughed, genially accepting another beer from dean as the other slumped into another chair.
Harry laughed uneasily, "No, nothing like that." He said, offering up no further explanation. He smiled up at Hermione who looked at him shrewdly. Just as she opened her mouth, the far off sound of the doorbell drifted over the music and voices, and Harry's hands clenched the arms of the chair in a vice like grip. "I'll get it."
She left harry with the others and dodged her way through the small crowd to find Niall already at the door and showing Severus in. "Alright mate, always nice to see you." He clapped him on the back, mindful of his coal blackened fingers as he did so. "Harry's out the back." He smiled. "Gotta dash, left some burgers on that should be done by now." He pecked Hermione on the cheek as he moved back into the house. The short encounter had left Severus looking a little wide eyed.
"Sorry about him," Hermione smiled, "He gets a bit excited about party's, he never really gets much chance to host them. Let me take that." She took his coat from him and hung it up on the already over laden hat stand. "Harry told me about the research." She said happily. "He seems really excited about it, I think he's been a bit down lately with the lack of movement from the Guild, but he's definitely brightened up tonight. Even if he is a bit….jumpy." She finished her sentence carefully, eyeing the other man.
"Jumpy?" Severus frowned slightly.
"Yeah," she motioned him forwards into the kitchen where she busied herself with sorting out glasses. "Well, he's been bouncing off the walls all afternoon, and don't tell him I've noticed, but he looks damn near close to death every time the door rings." She laughed quietly. "Wine?" She held up a bottle.
Severus seemed to shake himself. "Er…yes, he's what?" he looked slightly perplexed, watching as she went through the motions of finding a corkscrew and opening the bottle, all the while looking as though she were having an argument in her own head. She muttered something as the bottle opened, carefully laying down the corkscrew, she looked fixedly at the glass on the counter.
"He's waiting for you." She answered softly, leaving the silence as long as it took to fill the glass and hand it to him with a significant look. He merely looked back at her, clearly unable to think of what to say.
"Look Severus, I don't know exactly what was said, and I'm fully aware that none of it is anything to do with me. But he's tearing himself apart. He doesn't know how to do right by you." She looked over his shoulder to where she could see Harry sat with Neville and Dean, his focus clearly directed at the kitchen where he could see them talking. She scowled at him which sent his attention back to the conversation, leaving her free to talk without being watched. "I just think that now the research can go ahead, now might be a good time to talk to him, maybe just try and relax the atmosphere. You're going to be spending more time together as it is."
She watched as Severus whirled his glass around, eyeing the dark liquid as though perhaps it might hold the answers. He was silent for a long time, and made to speak a couple times before silencing himself again. He casually glanced around to find Harry looking back at him, a minute glance that was abruptly cut off. He sighed heavily. "It's not that I don't want to speak to him, or that I can't." he said quietly, "I just can't help but feel that there is this distance between us now, some obstacle that I don't know how to get around. I'm not entirely sure where to start if I'm honest." He paused as he drank
"I think perhaps, that he feels the same way." Hermione added in a hopeful voice. "I don't know," she muttered, pouring herself a glass and topping his up, "maybe tonight is a good idea." She smiled at him, and took his arm, escorting him out into the garden.
Harry watched as Severus moved from person to person, talking and smiling with people that Harry could only assume he might have met, but had no recollection of. He seemed slightly uncomfortable, as if he weren't entirely at ease with the crowd of people, or the music, or how every now and then someone would laugh raucously, the sound grating in the cooling night air.
Harry tried to keep an ear on the conversation around him, his distraction evident but was left without comment as his eyes darted from the drink in his hand to the small knot of people standing near the lanterns. Twice he had made to stand up, to go over and slide in next to him. But his legs wouldn't follow what his brain was telling him to do, and each time he tried the panicked feeling fluttered in his stomach enough for him to have to drink half a bottle just to feel the cool liquid extinguish it.
He turned himself back to Dean who was busy retelling the very old story of when they had all gone late night swimming in the castle grounds, and Neville lost his shorts, he conveniently left out that it was because of a giant squid for the benefit of the few muggles at the party, but his spirited impression of Neville's girlish screams still made them laugh. Even Harry laughed genuinely, glad that he could finally join in on something he remembered, even tossing in his own remark. He drank the last of his drink, tipping his head back to finish it before he placed it on the floor and stood up to get another.
"Here." Another bottle was placed in his line of sight, and the proximity of that voice to his ear nearly sent him to an early death.
"Jesus." Harry gasped, turning round to face Severus. "I think you damn near killed me." He blew out a breath as he took the proffered bottle, taking a quick mouthful.
"Sorry, I could see you were nearly empty, and I was on my way over." He looked Harry over as the colour came back to his face. "Sorry I took so long, people just kept talking to me." He gave a small smile.
"No, that's…er, that's okay. Me and the guys were just reminiscing." He jerked his thumb over his shoulder where Dean was still making girly screams and being hit by Neville. "Well, they were reminiscing, I was trying to keep up." He attempted to laugh, but was hit by something indefinable as he looked up into dark eyes. It had been the longest they had actually looked each other in the eye for weeks, and the sudden feeling of vulnerability and nakedness made Harry want to run, but instead he clenched the bottle tightly in his hand and offered up a tremulous smile. "How have you been?" he asked quietly.
He saw the way Severus glanced around him, and that the conversation behind him had dimmed significantly, as though everybody else had picked up on the tension between them. And it was with a mixture of trepidation and relief that he followed Severus when he inclined his head to a quieter area for them to talk. "I'm good." He offered, "I haven't really done much apart from the set up, but you know about that anyway. I've just been trying to read up, that's all." He turned and leaned on the low wall that fenced the garden, and gave a reproachful look to Hermione who was not so furtively looking in their direction. "How are you?"
"Yeah, I'm good." Harry replied, "Been going a bit crazy cooped up in my house so much, I try to go wondering, but everything is still a bit weird." He shrugged and smiled. "But, hopefully that will get better soon."
"Well, as soon as the journals are released we will get started." He sounded hesitant and clipped as he said it, and Harry noticed the way he didn't look up at him, looked everywhere else but him.
"There you are!" Harry jumped as their quiet conversation was interrupted. He had to take a step back as a girl about Harry's age draped herself along one side of Severus, her hand gripping at the front of his shirt as she gazed up at him with a drunken smile. "I thought maybe you'd left, and you didn't come say goodbye." She pouted.
To his credit, Severus looked deeply uncomfortable at the interruption and had only just stopped his drink from spilling as she firmly attached herself to him. "No, I just came to talk to my friend." He said, again, looking everywhere but at Harry. The girl looked up and eyes him narrowly.
"Well, I'm sure your friend won't mind if I borrow you for a while." She whispered loudly.
"Actually…" Harry started.
"Good!" she yelped, her hand already tugging on his arm. Harry almost laughed at the expression on his face. "We need to finish that conversation we started." She purred.
Harry smirked at this, "I really think he…"
"What?" the girl turned on him, "What does he …?"
The conversations lulled, all focus on them. Harry reeled back, shocked at the sudden venom in her voice. He heard Hermione calling the girls name, but he couldn't make it out for the life of him.
"I just think, that perhaps Severus would rather finish our conversation before he finishes yours." Harry answered, only becoming fully aware at how drunk the girl was and how smoothly Severus was trying to extricate himself from her grasp.
"Do you?" she countered, her arm tightening its hold again, her drink sloshing merrily about in its glass. Harry could feel every eye on him. "Well, I think you'll find we were talking before you were talking, ya little fucking upstart."
A host of cries and laughs went up, the screech and thud of a chair being hastily vacated and suddenly Hermione was there, full of apologies, and trying to take the girl away. "Do you make all his decisions for him? Eh?" she carried on over Hermione's hurried words. "Who are you, eh? His boyfriend?" she laughed, and the group who had come with her joined in. "Ahh, do you love him!" she cackled, seemingly hysterical at her own wit.
Harry felt himself turning scarlet, not daring to look at anyone he knew, instead focusing on Niall as he tried to turn the girl around, and Hermione muttering that perhaps it was time she went home. Thankfully most of the party's attention followed the meandering track of the girl as she was escorted to the far end of the garden where she was told to shut up and sit down. Her derisive laughs and cackles still floated back through the air to Harry as Hermione rushed up to them.
"Oh, my God, I'm so sorry." She flustered, looking helplessly at them both. "I don't know what to say, I don't know how she got so drunk. Oh, I'm so sorry Harry." She gripped at his wrist. But Harry barely felt it. Couldn't even hear her, just the echoed remnants of the girl's laughter in his ear as she jeered at him, 'do you love him?'
He felt ill, his heart thumped sickeningly in his chest and his stomach felt like it would never stop sinking, and he was achingly, agonisingly aware of Severus looking at him. At his reddened face, and wide eyes that clearly must betray him.
"Harry?" Hermione squeezed his wrist again. The motion roused him from his stupor long enough for him to put his drink down, mutter an apology and make an exit quick enough to leave his friends staring after him in abject bewilderment.
By the time he'd made it halfway down the street, Harry wasn't even aware of whether he'd closed the front door or not, or how many steps he'd run down, or even how many houses he'd passed. He was only just aware of his senses coming back to him, of his laboured breathing that made the sick panic in his chest even more unbearable. How he crossed the road unscathed he didn't know, because he wasn't paying any attention, his eyes unseeing as his feet pounded a relentless rhythm on the concrete. His body leading him onwards as his mind ran round and round in dizzying circles.
He loved him.
It wasn't just any stupid infatuation, yes he'd known that. It was far stronger than that. I would have had to be in order to make him feel like he was going to pass out or hyperventilate whenever he saw him. He had always known within him, even in his denial, that it was more than that.
That's why he was terrified. Because this was it. Truly it. Because if he messed it up, there was no coming back. It was why he had spent the last few weeks so utterly inconsolable, and restless, and aching. It was why he had found it so hard to believe. That he could possibly feel so strongly for one person was a notion inconceivable to him, and yet the evidence had been throwing itself in his face since the day he'd woken up. He had been blinded by his own denial, of everyone else telling him how he should feel. He had never just taken a step back. He felt a sob rise in his throat, and with it brought the sting of tears. How could he be what he needed to be. How could he possibly be good for him now, so broken, so vulnerable.
But god, did he ache. To just turn around, and run back to him.
"Harry!" he stopped automatically, only now noticing that his feet had brought him to a nearby courtyard, its gates still open despite the waning light only just visible through the thick of trees. "Harry!" again he was called, as if he could run from that voice, as if he could even turn away.
Severus had only just caught up with him as he turned into the courtyard, his shout bringing him to a halt, his last few steps brought him up close, just as Harry turned, and Severus was pained to see the tears on is face.
He really was far too beautiful when he cried.
"Harry?" he could barely muster a whisper. "What's wrong?" he held out his hand, his fingers held a hairs breadth away as though almost afraid to touch. He could only watch as Harry's eyes found his, and something deep inside him break.
"I can't." he muttered brokenly. "I don't think I can be who you want me to be."
Severus couldn't help the frown that flickered across his face. "I don't understand." He said, shaking his head as Harry's face turned to the floor.
"It hurts. So much, and every day." His voice was thick with tears. "And I still don't know what to do, or what not to do." He shook his head.
Just another inch forward saw Severus's hand run smoothly up Harry's arm to rest on his shoulder as he remembered what Hermione had said to him earlier that evening. "I don't want you to be anything other than who you are." He whispered, feeling the way his slim shoulder jerked with his sobs underneath his hand.
"But I already am. I'm not who I was, I'm not the person you wanted." He said the words as though he actually believed them.
Harry felt the weight of Severus' hand joined on his other shoulder, the heat of his palms soaking through the light shirt he wore. Still he couldn't bring himself to look up again, even when the other man took another step closer, bringing them barely a hands width apart. And when he spoke, he could feel it. "I don't know how to convince you Harry. I don't know how to make you see yourself through my eyes, or what words I can use to make you realise that none of that matters, what does matter is you. And you are exactly the same. Just because things up here have changed," Harry's skin thrilled with the feeling of long, deft fingers carding into his hair and resting against his face, a sudden rush that made him gasp, his eyes closing of their own volition. "Doesn't mean you have here." The hand in his hair drifted softly, smoothly down his neck, over his collarbone until it rested firmly, persistently against the wild beating of his heart. "And its here, that matters." The words were spoken so lowly, so quiet in the gloom that harry leaned forward to hear them. "That's all that's ever mattered Harry."
Something smoothed over the aching cracks in Harry's heart, the unbearable agony retreating as he allowed his hands to reach up, fingers grasping and twining in the soft cotton of his shirt. Slowly, inch by inch he raised his face, eyes climbing up the details in front of him, of buttons, and light and shade, and the contrast his skin made against the dark of his shirt, until hesitantly they glanced upwards at eyes that were so much darker in the night. His mouth grasped at something to say, but his mind dismissed it as unnecessary as it registered the gentle heat of their mingled breath washing over his lips, a pull so undeniable there was nothing that could have stopped the way he leaned towards him, eyes sliding to a close with perfect precision as finally they met. And it was as though something exploded within him, but he needn't have worried, because soon enough, arms strong enough to hold him up and hold him together had wound around his waist, pulling him close. His lips parted and he sighed in submission, his body trembling as he fought to keep up with his racing mind, such a difficult task to do when hands previously at his waist smooth upwards to caress his face, running through hair to grip and pull him deeper into the most devastating kiss. So painfully wrought with emotion it was a wonder they could still breathe, all Harry could feel was a consuming passion, a flood of adrenaline that kept climbing higher and higher, pushing ever more forcefully through his veins until his entire awareness was of where their lips met, where tongue glided over tongue, and breaths wove around each other, to where it felt as though his soul was welling up, trying desperately to spill over, growing ever more frenzied until with a final motion of his hand, Severus pulled them apart, breath heavy and damp in the rapidly cooling air.