Title: Love Is Not Required

Author: Nemesis

Pairing: HP/SS

Rating: R

Feedback: None of them belong to me, I just enjoy playing with them.

Summary: Severus has to marry Harry to protect him. Over time, they realize many things about each other… one of them being they don't mind living together that much. Not at all, in fact.

Beta: My girlfriend, who grimaced and winced and whined and did it anyway. Thanks.

Challenge: Coming Out Challenge

Archive: Dawn-to-Dusk Fuh-Q Fest Wave IX

"You want me to do what!" Severus cried.

Albus looked at him over his half-moon spectacles. "I want you to marry Harry Potter," he repeated calmly.

Severus stood up abruptly, pacing around. "Why?" he snarled.

Albus reached into his tin of candies and pulled out a lemon drop. "Lemon drop?" he asked Severus, who shook his head vehemently. Albus shrugged and popped it into his mouth. "Because Harry needs a guardian."

"He's got those relatives of his, doesn't he? After all, you were the one who convinced us that they would be such good guardians!"

Albus coughed discreetly, embarrassed. "Yes, well, I did not account for certain problems… They aren't, actually, very good guardians."

"They abused him, Albus!" Severus snapped.

Albus blushed faintly. "In any case, I'm not sending him back there. But, well, I can't really let him stay here at Hogwarts over the summer without a very good reason. Plus, the Dursleys are neglecting some of the fundamentals of guardianship which I think another person could better do. And the only way to remove him from his blood relatives' care is…."

"Marriage," Severus finished.

"Plus, it will help in the fight against Voldemort. It gives stability to the magic and strengthens it."

"Fine, I understand the marriage part. Why me?"

Albus blushed again. Severus was amused despite the situation. He had never seen the venerable old Headmaster that uncomfortable. "Well, I figured since you are… well, how to put this…"

"I'm gay, can we get past that little detail?" Severus snapped. "There are straight females on your staff as well, why pick me?"

"Yes, my dear boy. That wasn't the point, actually… Um…"

"What I want to know, Albus," Severus snarled, frustrated, "Is why you thought I would be the ideal candidate for this farce! Why not someone else?"

"I did not want to… hm… force it onto someone with sights elsewhere."

Severus untangled the implications behind that sentence. "You mean you're trying to get me to agree to this because I am the least likely professor to get involved in a romantic relationship with a fully consenting, willing adult!"

"Well, yes," Albus admitted, relieved Severus had said it that bluntly.

Severus' eyes darkened impossibly. "And if I were to drag a lover in here right now, what would you say then?" he hissed. "Am I really that… disposable that you think you can do this to me? You're not just taking away that boy's freedom, you're taking away mine!"

Albus raised an eyebrow. "Severus, I thought you cared about the boy."

"I do!" Severus answered. "But that doesn't mean I want to bind my heart, my magic, and my life to him!" Both men knew marriage was irreversible in the magical community and not to be taken lightly. "And you're forgetting you're denying Potter his freedom to choose. How do you know he would want to bind his heart, magic, and life to me?"

Albus blushed again. "I don't. But, well, I was hoping the two of you could put your differences behind you and go through with this. It would be a good match, Severus. You would always be able to protect him. You would be able to ground him, watch him carefully, care for him…"

Severus kept pacing. "He wouldn't be able to stray, wouldn't be able to experiment with other boys or girls, depending on his preferences, he'd have to forever live with me because of this. He won't be able to find the one person he loves more than anyone else in the world and spend his life with him or her. You're taking that sacred right away from him!"

Albus bit his lip. "I know, Severus. But I'm worried if I let him stay with the Dursleys any longer, he won't live long enough to do that anyway."

"You don't even know if he's gay!"

Albus twiddled his thumbs. "True," he conceded.

Severus whirled around suddenly, having mentally reviewed the marriage ritual. "I'd have to have sex with him the night we got married!" he cried. "Which gives him no time to adjust to life with me! And he's not even sixteen yet!"

Albus nodded. "I know, Severus, I know. But I think this is necessary. Why don't you bring young Potter here and we can talk about it?"

Severus snarled. "Fine, Albus. I will marry him if he consents. But if you try to force him into it, I'll make your life a living hell."

Albus nodded, knowing very well Severus was serious.

The next day, Severus decided to wear Muggle clothes to go talk to Harry, and he apparated to a secluded spot near Privet Drive. He knocked on the door and stepped back politely to allow someone to open the door. A fat, young boy opened the door, with food in both pudgy hands, and demanded, mouth full, what Severus wanted.

"I am Professor Severus Snape, an instructor at young Mr. Potter's school. I would like to speak with Mr. Potter," Severus answered smoothly.

The boy paled and turned around, screaming loudly, "Mum, Dad, there's one of those freaks at the door!"

A reproving female voice scolded him immediately. "Dudleykins, don't scream that so loudly. We don't want the neighbors to hear."

A large man appeared in the doorway, drawing Severus' attention away from the voices inside.

"Who are you?" he snapped.

"I am Professor Severus Snape, an instructor at young Mr. Potter's school. I would like to speak with Mr. Potter. You must be Mr. Vernon Dursley."

The man snorted. "I am. Mr. Potter indeed. More like freak. Get in here, don't want the neighbors to see you."

Severus entered, ducking his head slightly to avoid hitting the top of the doorframe. "Where is Mr. Potter?" he asked.

Vernon turned around and hollered, "Harry, get down here this instant!"

Within seconds, Harry appeared, running down the stairs quickly to avoid displeasing his uncle. "Yes, Uncle Vernon?" he asked.

"How dare you bring freaks to our house?" Vernon shouted, his face red in anger. "This man here claims he's from your school."

Harry turned to see whom Vernon was pointing to.

"Professor!" he cried. "I'm sorry, I didn't realize you were here, sir."

"So you do know him," Petunia answered, coming out of the kitchen. "You frightened poor little Dudleykins." Severus fought to keep a straight face. Nobody in their right mind would call that boy little.

"Yes, Aunt Petunia. He's one of my teachers."

Severus cleared his throat. "Excuse me, but I must speak to Mr. Potter."

Vernon turned to face him. "You stay out of this. This is a family dispute."

"Sir, I appreciate and respect the nature of this dispute, but Headmaster Dumbledore is waiting for the results of my talk with Mr. Potter, and he is not a patient man."

Vernon shrugged. "Fine. Be quick. You, boy, use your bloody room to talk to your freakish teacher."

Harry nodded and led Severus up the stairs. "Sorry, Professor," he apologized as he opened the door to his room. "You should not have had to see that."

Severus accepted the apology gracefully and entered Harry's room. Harry entered after him and shut the door. "Um, sir, what is this about? I mean, I hope you have a good reason, because my relatives aren't very happy with me."

Severus nodded and pulled his wand out of one of his pockets. "No, I'm not going to kill you," he snapped when Harry paled slightly. "I wouldn't spend nearly six years of my life saving your life just to kill you now." He pointed his wand at the door and muttered a strong locking charm, then cast a general silencing charm around the room.

"Now, as for why I'm here…" he sighed and took a deep breath. "Potter… Harry, Albus has a plan."

Harry raised an eyebrow.

"He's found a way to get you away from your relatives and to strengthen and ground your magic."

Harry grinned. "Great!" he cried. "What's the catch?"

Severus sighed. "Well," he said hesitantly. "You have to get married."

Harry's grin didn't falter. "No, seriously, Professor, what's the catch?"

Severus glared. "I was being serious. I wouldn't joke with something that important. You have to get married."

"Right, to who?"

"Whom," Severus corrected. "Well, Albus doesn't want you getting married to anyone of your age, since they haven't come of age yet and would be unable to ground your magic…"

"Professor, with all due respect, I would appreciate it if you would just tell me. I mean, it can't be that bad."

"Very well," Severus sighed. "Albus wants us to get married."

"Us, as in you and me?" Harry demanded.

Severus nodded.

Harry raised an eyebrow. "You're not having me on, are you?"

Severus shook his head.

Harry sat down on his bed, pale. "I have to get…" He looked helplessly at his hands. "I have to get married…" He looked up at Severus. "Isn't marriage one of the most sacred institutions of the Wizarding world?"

Severus nodded.

"And I have to get married to you?"

"Only if you're willing to."

Harry bit his lip. "Dumbledore is willing to corrupt one of the Wizarding World's most sacred rituals in the name of protection?"

Severus nodded again. "I'm afraid so."

Harry shoved his head into his hands. "I… oh, sweet Merlin, I have to think about this. I didn't know I would have to make a life-changing decision today."

Severus gingerly sat down on the bed next to Harry. "Harry, you don't have to do it. I told Albus yesterday if he forces you into it without any regard for your feelings, I would make his life a living hell. And I will. If you can't imagine yourself tied down like that, if you can't imagine yourself married, then you can say no. And I'll respect your decision as yours and belabor the issue no further."

"And if I say yes?" Harry whispered, picking his head up slightly.

Severus sighed. "You will be married to me the day immediately after your sixteenth birthday."

"Two weeks from today exactly," murmured Harry.

Severus nodded. "Your magic will be grounded after the… consummation of the marriage."

Harry blushed fiercely. "I have to have sex?" he whimpered.

"Yes. You'll have to have sex with me the night of the wedding."

Harry nodded stiffly. "And?"

"Until your eighteenth birthday, you will also be under my care not only as my husband but also as my ward."

"You mean you'd be both my husband and my guardian?"

Severus nodded again. "After your eighteenth birthday, you'll be your own guardian, but you'll still be married to me."

"And that will last the rest of our lives," Harry mused.

"Yes. Also, because of the ceremony, you won't be able to hide any of your thoughts or emotions from me. I will know everything about you, and you will know everything about me. We will be able to sense everything about each other."

Harry paled slightly.

Severus took a deep breath. "Harry, I… I have to tell you. If you do choose to go through with Albus' ridiculous plan, I swear to you, here and now, a Wizard's Oath, that I will not harm you in any way. You will be respected and treated as my equal. I will not attempt to make your life a hell because you have chosen to go through with it. I won't abuse the bond because of petty grievances."

Harry nodded. "Thank you," he whispered. "But… I don't love you. Isn't love required?"

"No. Love is not required. Nothing is to get married. One must only follow the ritual."

"I… I still have to think about this. I dunno what to do."

Severus took a deep breath. "That is entirely up to you, and all counsels would be ill-advised. Even the best-intentioned advice can lead you down the wrong path, and it is your life we're talking about here."

"And yours," Harry added.

"I have made my decision already; only you're left."

"And what's yours?"

Severus rolled his eyes. "Do you honestly think I'd be sitting here right now if I didn't already decide to marry you if you agree?"

"No," Harry answered.

"Good," Severus muttered. "I'll leave you now. Owl me with your decision."

Harry nodded. Severus turned and left, walking through the house past dumbfounded Dursleys and onto Privet Drive. Hiding behind some bushes, he Disapparated quickly.

"What did the boy decide?" Albus asked later that day.

"He hasn't yet," Severus answered lightly. "I didn't force him to make a decision right away. It's the rest of his life you're talking about here."

"I know," Albus sighed. "Did you try to point him that way?"

"No," Severus answered firmly. "It's his decision, and I will not influence him to choose the one you want."

Albus leaned back instinctively from the bitterly hostile tone in Severus' voice. "You're right," Albus conceded reluctantly. "I have been influencing the boy far more than was right of me. I'm not sure he has any idea any more which ideas and opinions are his and which are mine."

Severus nodded once. "He will owl me with his decision. I will let you know then."

Albus nodded. Severus stood and left.

He walked down to the dungeons, where a snowy owl was waiting for him. Upon seeing him, she held out her leg. Severus took the letter and gave her a treat. The bird still didn't leave.

"Are you to wait for a response?" Severus asked.

The owl hooted.

"Very well." Severus unrolled the letter.

"Professor Snape,

I will go along with this foolhardy plan. What do I have to do now?

HP"

Severus sighed in relief, having planned this part out already with Albus. He pulled out a piece of parchment and wrote:

"Mr. Potter,

Albus will retrieve you from your relatives' house on your birthday at nine p.m. sharp. Be completely packed. You will not see me again until the day of our marriage.

SS."

He tied the letter to Hedwig's leg and sent her off.

Two weeks later, Albus calmly walked to the front door of Privet Drive Number 4 nine p.m. He rang the bell and stepped back politely.

Petunia opened the door. "Who are you?" she asked frostily, taking in Albus' long, silver hair and beard, half-moon spectacles, and eccentric robe.

"I'm Professor Albus Dumbledore, the Headmaster at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I am here to retrieve young Mr. Potter," Albus introduced himself pleasantly.

"Get in here this instant!" Petunia hissed, and Albus stepped in.

"There'll be trouble from this," Vernon roared, having overheard them. "Not two weeks ago another one of you freaks was here, looking for that bloody boy!"

Albus nodded tranquilly. "That would have been Professor Severus Snape, I presume. I sent him here on an assignment. Now, which way is Mr. Potter's room?"

Harry appeared at the top of the stairs. "I'll show you, Professor."

"No need, Harry. Just bring your things down, and we can leave immediately."

Harry nodded and returned to his room.

"Now," Albus continued, turning to Vernon and Petunia. "You will not be seeing him again. He is, from this moment on, effectively out of your care."

"He's not yet eighteen!" Petunia cried.

Albus nodded calmly. "I am well aware of that. However, due to certain extenuating circumstances, Mr. Potter will have to remain at Hogwarts year-round."

"Are there any papers we have to sign?" Vernon demanded.

Albus shook his head. "The magical world will register the change of guardian by itself; it needs no papers from you."

Vernon nodded gruffly. "Then take the bloody boy already!"

"I will," Albus answered.

Harry finally came out, dragging his trunk. "Sorry, Professor. I forgot to pack one of my books and my nightclothes."

"No problem, Harry. But let me give you a hand with that." He shrunk the trunk and pocketed it.

"Come. You have much to do before tomorrow."

"What's tomorrow?" Petunia asked.

"None of your business, as he is officially out of your care. Upon leaving with me, he immediately becomes in my care, and it will remain so until my death or until he turns eighteen."

They left the house and disapparated to Hogsmeade. They started walking up towards Hogwarts.

"I procured some dress robes for you," Albus announced suddenly. "I hope you don't mind."

"Not at all," Harry answered, relieved. "I wasn't quite sure my old ones would fit."

"These are the most appropriate for such an event," Albus continued. "How are you feeling?"

"Kinda nervous," Harry admitted. "Professor Snape promised me he'd be… well…"

"Tolerable," supplied Albus helpfully. "Pleasant is a bit too strong."

Harry nodded. "What do I have to do now?"

"You have to go through a ritual… well, cleansing. Now, I'm sorry to have to ask you this, as I believe it is a highly private matter, but the cleansing ritual does change depending. Are you a virgin?"

Harry blushed and nodded, looking at the ground.

"It's nothing to be ashamed of," Albus reassured him. "The cleansing ritual changes slightly because of it. Or rather, it changes if you aren't one."

"Why?" Harry asked.

"Because then it needs to cleanse you of your previous partners to make you pure for your new spouse. More simply, it simply wipes away any magical trace that you have ever had sex – although the memories and all such stay, but then the bonding ritual is strong and sturdy. There are those who choose to bond without going through that part of the cleansing, and it wreaks havoc on that bond."

Harry nodded in understanding.

"You will have to sleep with a guardian sitting next to your door tonight."

"Who will be my guardian?" Harry asked. "Will it be you, Professor?"

Albus shook his head. "No. I am Severus' guardian. Hagrid has agreed to be your guardian today. He is to make sure your sleep is undisturbed by any external factors."

Harry nodded again.

"You cannot see Severus before the wedding."

"Why not?" Harry asked curiously.

"Tradition. A couple may not see each other beginning the day before they get married to the wedding itself. I am not quite sure when and why this tradition was started, but wizards follow it very strictly, and so must we. That is all that you must do before the wedding."

"Thank you, sir," Harry answered.

Harry woke up the next morning, nervous.

"There's nothin' for you to be worryin' about, 'Arry. 'E'll treat you good, 'e will," Hagrid said encouragingly.

"Thanks, Hagrid, but the idea's making me nervous, not Snape."

A knock resounded on the door. "Who is it?" Hagrid demanded in a loud, booming voice.

"Albus Dumbledore. May I enter?"

"Professor!" Hagrid cried, opening the door and stepping back.

"Good morning, Hagrid, Harry. I have your dress robes here, Harry, and will assist you in putting them on if you wish me to."

"Thank you, sir."

Albus helped Harry dress quickly. "Come. You would not want to be late to your wedding."

Harry reluctantly entered the room he would be married in. Severus was already there, resplendent in dark green. Minerva and Remus were also there, and Hagrid entered seconds later. Harry walked to the center of the room, blushing fiercely.

"Your blush matches your blood-red robes," Severus commented dryly.

"Sorry, sir," Harry mumbled.

Remus laughed, tossing his graying head back in mirth.

Severus seemed to be containing a smile as well.

"Harry, that was a compliment," Remus explained when he got his breath back. "Severus is rather incapable of giving straight-forward compliments."

"Oh." Harry blushed an even deeper shade of red. Severus thought it was positively fetching.

Albus swept into the room. "I have the ribbon," he said, "So we can begin now."

Remus stood next to Harry, Minerva next to Severus, and Hagrid stood two feet back.

Severus offered his arm to Minerva, who laid her hand on it. They took three steps, until they were standing exactly one foot away from Albus.

Albus turned to Minerva. "Who do you bring before me today?"

"I bring before you Severus Alexander Snape," Minerva answered.

"Why do you bring him before me today?"

"I bring him before you so that you may bind him in matrimony to his partner."

"Then leave your charge with me, for he will be safe here."

Minerva nodded and let go of Severus, who let his arm drop. She walked back to where Hagrid was.

Remus offered his arm to Harry, who accepted it. They took three steps, until they were exactly one foot away from Albus.

Albus turned to Remus. "Who do you bring before me today?"

"I bring before you Harold James Potter."

"Why do you bring him before me today?"

"I bring him before you so that you may bind him in matrimony to his partner."

"Then leave your charge with me, for he will be safe here."

Remus nodded and let go of Harry. He walked back to where Hagrid and Minerva were.

Hagrid took five small steps forward, until he was half a foot away from Severus and Harry.

Albus turned to Hagrid.

"Do you bring before me an objection to this matrimony?" Albus asked.

"I 'ave no objection to this matrimony," Hagrid answered.

"Do you bring before me another?"

"I bring before you no other."

"Do you rain blessings down upon this matrimony?"

"I call down all of the luck, 'appiness, and bliss to crown the nuptials."

Hagrid returned to where he had been standing before.

Albus turned to Severus.

"Whom do you intend to marry today?"

"I, Severus Alexander Snape, intend to marry Harold James Potter on this day."

Albus turned to Harry.

"Whom do you intend to marry today?"

"I, Harold James Potter, intend to marry Severus Alexander Snape on this day."

Albus turned to Severus again.

"Do you, Severus Alexander Snape, promise to faithfully serve and protect Harold James Potter?"

"I do."

"Do you promise to care for and aide Harold James Potter throughout his and your natural life?"

"I do."

Albus turned to Harry again.

"Do you, Harold James Potter, promise to faithfully serve and protect Severus Alexander Snape?"

"I do."

"Do you promise to care for and aide Severus Alexander Snape throughout his and your natural life?"

"I do."

Albus pulled out a small box and opened it. Two matching rings of gold and silver bands twisted together were in it.

Severus took out one of the rings. "With this ring, I intend to show to the world that you have become my mate." He slid the ring onto Harry's left ring finger.

Harry followed Severus' lead and took out the other ring. "With this ring, I intend to show to the world that you have become my mate." He slid the ring onto Severus' left ring finger.

Albus pulled out a long, thick, white ribbon.

Severus held out his hand, and Harry put his on Severus'. Albus wound the ribbon around their hands.

"Do you, Severus Alexander Snape, now tie your magic and abilities to Harold James Potter?"

"I do."

"Do you, Harold James Potter, now tie your magic and abilities to Severus Alexander Snape?"

"I do."

"Do you, Severus Alexander Snape, now bind your body to Harold James Potter?"

"I do."

"Do you, Harold James Potter, now bind your body to Severus Alexander Snape?"

"I do."

"Do you, Severus Alexander Snape, now bind your mind to Harold James Potter?"

"I do."

"Do you, Harold James Potter, now bind your mind to Severus Alexander Snape?"

"I do."

"Do you, Severus Alexander Snape, now bind your heart to Harold James Potter?"

"I do."

"Do you, Harold James Potter, now bind your heart to Severus Alexander Snape?"

"I do."

"Do you, Severus Alexander Snape, now bind your life to Harold James Potter?"

"I do."

"Do you, Harold James Potter, now bind your life to Severus Alexander Snape?"

"I do."

"Do you, Severus Alexander Snape, now bind your soul to Harold James Potter?"

"I do."

"Do you, Harold James Potter, now bind your soul to Severus Alexander Snape?"

"I do."

Albus pulled out his wand and tapped their ribbon-encased, joined hands. "Then I now pronounce this bond complete. Severus Alexander Snape and Harold James Potter, you are now bound to each other in every way and are married for the rest of your natural lives. I wish you all of the best." A gold and silver light encased Severus and Harry, and both of them gasped as they were bound.

Albus unwound the ribbon.

"Thank you all for coming," Albus said.

Harry and Severus shook hands with the four other people in the room. They left slightly reluctantly.

Severus opened the door to his rooms. "Did Albus tell you that you would be living here during the summer?"

Harry shook his head.

"Well, come in," Severus said as Harry stood on the threshold. Harry entered the room hesitantly. He shut the door behind him.

"What you will have to decide, though, is whether or not you want to live here during the year as well. If you want to live in the dorms, you are free to."

Harry nodded. "I'm not sure yet. I barely know you, sir."

"Severus," Severus said firmly. "You're my husband now."

Harry nodded again.

"And you may sit down."

Harry sat. "I'm kinda bewildered, to be honest," he admitted.

"About what?" Severus asked.

"I dunno… the whole business, I suppose."

Severus nodded slowly. "I can understand that," he answered.

"I'm worried, too," Harry confessed.

"I can feel it," Severus replied. "But what about?"

"Sex," Harry whispered.

"I swear to you that I will be gentle tonight. And we only have to have sex after tonight if the bond demands it."

Harry nodded. "Thanks," he whispered almost inaudibly. He wasn't sure why he was thanking Severus, just that he felt a need to.

Severus sighed. "We really should get to know each other," he pointed out. "We will be spending the rest of our lives married."

Harry shuddered suddenly. "Sorry," he mumbled. "I'm just not used to that yet."

Severus smiled slightly. "I can understand that," he answered. "Barely sixteen and already married. Doesn't even matter to whom, does it? The very idea of the rest of your life…"

Harry nodded.

"I hope you won't mind it if I ask you a question," Severus continued. "It's about what I saw at your relatives' house when I went to tell you of the plan."

Harry blushed. "Ask. Eventually, you'd find out, wouldn't you? Being married to me and all."

Severus nodded. "The more time we spend married, the more we know everything about each other. It's the nature of the beast. I want to know exactly what was going on."

Harry took a deep breath. "They don't like magic. They never talked to my mum after she graduated, especially after she married my dad."

Severus' face contorted briefly at the mention of Harry's father. Harry frowned.

"Sorry. I am going to have to get used to it."

Harry nodded in acceptance and continued. "Then Voldemort killed them, and Professor Dumbledore took me to live with them."

Severus snarled. "A bloody farce, that was! We told him it was foolish!"

Harry raised an eyebrow. "What?" he asked, bewildered.

"Minerva, Hagrid, Remus, and I all told him that was the most idiotic thing to do. Minerva thought that you should be raised in the Wizarding World, since you 'defeated' Voldemort. Hagrid thought Lily and Pot… James," he forced out with some difficulty. Harry was grateful that he did. "Would have been happier if you had been raised with one of us," he finished.

"What about Remus and you? What were your arguments?"

"Remus, who was one of P… James' best friends, knew that the Dursleys did not like them, and you by extension. He argued that P… James would never have wanted his son to go there. But he couldn't do anything about it. He suspected Black of having betrayed them, but he wasn't fond of Pettigrew. He couldn't raise you himself, because of Ministry laws about werewolves."

Severus took a deep breath and looked at Harry. His eyes were wide, waiting for the end of the story.

"I thought that no Muggle would be able to educate you to take your place in society when your time came. Also, I knew Lily very well. I knew her family wasn't very friendly towards wizards. I argued very fiercely with Albus to keep you in the Wizarding World. I offered to take you in myself and raise you."

"You did?" Harry asked, shocked. "But I thought you…"

"Oh, I loathed your father. But I loved your mother. She was a wonderful friend, and at that moment, I looked upon you as my friend's son, not my enemy's."

Harry's eyes began to tear up. "Thank you," he whispered. "Ever since I can remember, I thought that no one wanted me. That I was just with the Dursleys because they were the only people who would take me in. I thought that none of my mum or dad's friends wanted me. I didn't know they were wizards, but I figured they had to have friends. And I thought that none of them cared about me."

Severus shook his head vehemently. "Remus would have fought tooth and nail to raise you if the laws allowed him to. Minerva offered it at one point. I fought exceptionally hard to raise you. I had already forsaken Voldemort, and I knew the dangers involved. But I knew there were ways to get around that danger. I knew I could have raised you safely and well. And if Albus had let either Minerva or me to do it, you would not be married today."

Harry nodded. "But then I might not have been sorted into Gryffindor since you're the Head of Slytherin, then Ron and Hermione would not be my best friends, then I might be in the same house with people trying to kill me, then I might not have accidentally led Cedric to his death, then I might not have been able to kill the basilisk and destroy that diary… We can always say, if that had not happened, then this wouldn't have either. But then so many things would not have happened, and a whole new life would be there, and who is to say that that would have been any better than the one we're in now?"

Severus stared at Harry. "You're entirely right. Funny, I never thought of it that way. I always thought that maybe if I did something differently, everything would be better…"

"But you can never know. If I hadn't married you today, then I wouldn't be here right now, talking with you. Then maybe I'd be back at the Dursleys, being beaten up for some small transgression. Maybe I would be killed sometime this summer because that place isn't safe enough anymore. Maybe my magic would not have been grounded and the final battle wouldn't go the same way. And maybe right before Voldemort killed me, I would have thought, 'If only I had married Snape.' And even then I would have no idea if that would have been better, only different."

Severus gaped.

Harry chuckled. "You didn't expect that, did you?"

Severus shook his head. "It makes a lot of sense. A ton of sense."

Harry smiled.

"So that's your life philosophy? No regrets?"

Harry shook his head. "No. I regret a lot of things. I just never wish things could have been different. Because I know that if they had been, it wouldn't always be for the better. In my third year, we saved Buckbeak and Sirius with a Time-Turner. That's when I realized that changing things didn't always mean things would turn out for the better. Because maybe I did save Buckbeak. Maybe I did save Sirius. But who knows if I was messing with something I shouldn't've been messing with?"

Severus nodded, then frowned. "I knew it!"

Harry rolled his eyes. "You did say that eventually we would know everything about each other."

Severus nodded reluctantly.

"Y'know, I used to wish that Sirius hadn't convinced my mum and dad to make Pettigrew their Secret-Keeper. Because then Voldemort wouldn't've found them, and they'd still be alive, and I wouldn't've had that horrible childhood and all this fame that I hate. Then I realized that if they had lived, then my life would be entirely different. Who knows what could have happened?"

"You never did finish telling me about the Dursleys."

Harry sighed. "Well, they knew I was a wizard. Probably since both my parents were. They never told me. They always told me my mum and dad died in a car crash."

"A car crash!" Severus roared. "They didn't have the guts to tell you that your parents died facing the Darkest Lord the world has seen?"

Harry shook his head. "No. They told me that my mum and dad died in a car crash. I lived in a cupboard under the stairs for the first eleven years of my life. Sometimes I did magic by accident…"

Severus gaped again. "You did magic prior to coming here?"

Harry nodded. "Why?"

"Only the most powerful wizards can do that. Eleven is the age where the magic powers start to bloom. That's why kids can go to Hogwarts at age eleven. But in the most powerful wizards, magical powers bloom much earlier, sometimes as early as birth. What kind of magic?"

"Oh, small things. Once, Aunt Petunia cut my hair really short 'cause she hated the messiness…"

"I can understand that," Severus muttered. Harry shot him a dirty glare.

"And by the next day, it had grown back entirely. Or she tried to make me wear this absolutely revolting sweater that had been Dudley's, and it kept getting smaller and smaller until it couldn't've fit on a newborn. Or once I was being chased by Dudley and his friends, and I ended up on the roof of the school."

"Amazing," Severus whispered. "Absolutely amazing."

"Could you do magic when you were young?" Harry asked curiously.

Severus nodded. "It freaked my mom out entirely. She was always worried that I was strange in some way. Then Albus told me what I just told you."

Harry nodded in understanding. "Then the letters started coming. Finally, we 'took a vacation' and went to some god-forsaken place. The letters went there too. Then Hagrid came to pick me up, and that's how I ended up here. 'S it, really."

Severus shook his head. "One of the greatest wizards of our time treated in such a manner. It boggles the mind."

Harry frowned.

"I'm not saying it because you're Harry Potter. I'm saying it because you are one of the most powerful wizards of time. You defeated Voldemort when you were one."

Harry nodded in understanding. "I have a question that I really want to ask you. How much did you hate my father and his friends?"

A look of pain crossed Severus' face.

"No, never mind," Harry quipped quickly. "You don't have to answer."

"No, Harry. You deserve an answer." He took a deep breath. "He was a school nemesis. Something like your relationship with young Mr. Malfoy, except that they weren't working for Voldemort."

"Malfoy's joined Voldemort?" Harry asked incredulously.

Severus nodded. "Quite young, too. A pity, really. Such a wasted life. In any case, Pot… James, Black, and I played many tricks on each other. Pettigrew I never trusted, and with good reason, too. Remus I respected deeply, although I never told him so. I knew he was a werewolf before his friends did. It all made so much sense to me, you see. I loathed Pot… James and Black because of what they did to me during my school years. And ever since then, I've been a stupid pig in never forgiving them. The dead are so much easier to hold a grudge against than the living. The living people can do things to make you feel justified or unjustified. But the dead… all you have left are memories, and nothing changes. I grew a grudging respect for Black over the years, although we could not even attempt civility. He tried to kill me, and I couldn't forgive him for that. Pot… James I hated with that stupid schoolboy passion. After his death, all I knew of him was what I remembered, and nothing could change that."

"What kind of tricks were played?" Harry asked curiously.

Severus smiled slightly. "A lot of those were fun. Once, I charmed Black's Transfiguration essay into a lascivious love note to Minerva."

Harry laughed. "That's hilarious."

Severus smirked smugly. "I thought so. Of course, Minerva thought that Black had written it – that was my plan, after all – and he got into so much trouble. Something about how dare he assume that she would break the moral code just to have sex with him."

Harry was still grinning.

"Then they somehow sprinkled this love-dust on me so that everyone was tripping over me. Unfortunately, I had absolutely no idea what was going on and went around with a bewildered expression – which is exactly what they were counting on."

Harry nodded in understanding.

"Once, we had this huge argument over which house was better, Gryffindor or Slytherin. The next day, Black entered Potions with his hair crimson with gold-highlights. Well, not to be outdone, I charmed mine to green with silver-highlights. I must admit, it made me look like an aging punk."

Harry laughed again.

"But it still looked better than Black's. The best part was that over the following two months, Black's hair faded and faded into nothing. Our hair became black on the same day, but his looked progressively worse. Mine was always that bright green and silver of the first day."

Harry roared with laughter. "I'd love to see you with green and silver hair."

"I'd do it if Minerva would charm hers red and gold," Severus deadpanned. "Unfortunately, I doubt she would. But we can ask."

"Pity. These tricks are highly amusing, though."

Severus sighed. "All of that changed when Black played that last trick on me. The week before, I had sabotaged one of his potions. It was so easy for me to do so. I could feel how they worked and what would happen if I dropped this or that in. I could mess it up in spectacular explosions or subtle ways. That one had been a fairly explosive change. Then he tried to kill me by leading me down to a transformed Remus."

Harry bit his lip.

"I've come to terms with it, Harry, and so has Remus. It took me nearly a decade to forgive Remus. I didn't realize that Remus had nothing to do with it. Black I could never forgive. But now, it's dinner time. Albus will be expecting us to make an appearance. Do you want to change out of your wedding robes?"

Harry nodded, and Severus pointed to his bedroom. "Your clothes are in the wardrobe there. I'll change after you do."

Harry went into the bedroom nervously, not sure what he was afraid of.

He changed quickly into his normal robes and left the bedroom again. Severus changed, and they headed to dinner together.

"How are you two doing?" Albus asked pleasantly.

Severus and Harry sat down. "Fairly well, thank you," Severus answered. He looked over at Minerva and then at Harry, nudging Harry's leg with his.

Harry smiled slightly and nodded.

"Are you two plotting something already?" Albus asked. "Really, I had hoped you would put your differences behind you, but to be plotting something…"

"Oh, nothing," Severus assured him with a straight face. "We just wanted to ask Minerva something."

Minerva pulled herself up slightly. "Well then, ask away."

"Well, you see, I'm sure both of you remember the time Black charmed his hair red and gold and I charmed mine silver and green."

Minerva and Albus nodded slowly, not seeing where it was going.

"I related that story to Harry, and we were wondering whether you would be willing to charm your hair red and gold in Gryffindor pride while I charmed mine silver and green again in Slytherin pride."

To their surprise, Minerva laughed. "You're on, Severus. The first day of school, we'll see who has the better hair-do."

Severus blinked in surprise.

Minerva laughed harder. "You don't honestly think I'd miss a chance to see you do that again? Even if it means I have to charm my hair?" She shook her head and laughed.

"Well, then, I suppose that's settled," Severus answered, still taken aback.

Harry grinned. "I can't wait to see this!"

Albus' eyes twinkled warmly. "It could be the beginning of a new tradition," he smiled. "Although I must say it was highly amusing when you and Sirius did it."

"Another in that long line of tricks they played," Minerva added fondly.

Dinner was over far too soon for Harry's liking. He and Severus left the table and headed back down towards the dungeons.

Severus gently laid a hand on Harry's shoulder. Harry stiffened slightly, not sure where that touch could be leading.

"Shh…" Severus reassured him. "I'm not going to do anything until I feel you're as ready as you can be."

Harry relaxed slightly, and Severus stroked his arm softly. They continued walking towards Severus' rooms, with Severus gently caressing Harry's arm the entire way.

They entered Severus' rooms. Harry stood near the door uncomfortably. Severus ran his hand through Harry's hair. "Come here," he murmured, leading Harry to the couch.

Harry sat down dazedly.

Severus looked at him questioningly. "Is there anything I can do to help you feel better?" he asked.

Harry shook his head, tears collecting in his eyes. Severus sat down next to him and stroked his arm kindly.

"It's just that… I don't love you," Harry whispered.

"Love is not required."

"No, I know that. But I always imagined my first time with someone I loved and who loved me."

"Ah," Severus said in understanding. "Then why did you agree to this plan?"

"Because I knew that it was for the best."

Severus was hit by how much Harry had sacrificed, again and again, to save the Wizarding World. Severus wasn't sure what to say.

"And now I'm confused, because you're acting so weird around me, and…" he trailed off, tears rolling down his face.

Severus reviewed his actions quickly and realized that Harry had meant the kindness he was showing.

"Harry, I'm only acting 'weird,' as you put it, because I'm married to you and I have to spend the rest of my life with you. I'm not going to spend the majority of my time snapping at you. I'm trying to make this as peaceful and calming as possible for you."

Harry nodded slowly, still crying. Severus enveloped him in a hug.

Harry looked up a few moments later and announced, his voice wavering only a little, "I'm ready."

He half-expected Severus to jump him then and there. Instead, Severus lowered his head slowly, carefully, until his lips just brushed Harry's.

Harry pulled back, scared and shocked. Severus raised an eyebrow.

"Just not what I expected," Harry mumbled.

Severus smiled slightly. Harry reached a hand out slowly, wanting to touch Severus' face. Severus stayed entirely still, letting Harry explore the contours of his face. Harry drew his hand back finally.

"I'm nervous," Harry admitted.

"I'd be worried if you weren't," Severus answered softly. He reached a hand out slowly, cupping Harry's face easily. He stroked Harry's cheek with his thumb.

Harry slowly began shifting closer to Severus on the couch. Severus lowered his head again and pressed his lips to Harry's. Harry felt a tongue swipe his lips, and he opened his mouth slightly.

Severus explored Harry's mouth carefully, not wanting to scare Harry.

Harry decided the only way he would be able to get through it was if he would stop thinking, so he shut his brain down and did what Severus told him to do.

He only started paying attention to what was going on around him when he and Severus were both naked and in Severus' bed. Instead of hyperventilating, as he thought would have been, he unfocussed his mind again.

Severus ran his hands along Harry's thighs. Harry's skin was silky smooth against his rough palms. And really, it shouldn't feel so good to rob that boy of his virginity. Shouldn't feel so good to have that creamy skin surrender to his touch, shouldn't… Severus stopped analyzing it.

Harry surfaced again at the keening cry Severus gave as he entered Harry's body. Noticing a burning sensation and a slight pain, Harry let himself go under again. Severus was so caught up in the pleasure that he did not, could not, notice Harry's mental absence.

Severus began to move, slowly at first, but harder as his passion mounted.

Harry surfaced again when a shock of extreme pleasure radiated through his body. And then again, and again, and again. Severus reached for Harry's cock and stroked it almost roughly.

Harry came suddenly, stunned, "Severus" tumbling from his lips unexpectedly. Severus followed moments later, then cleaned them up with a wave of his wand. He sunk down next to Harry, who rolled to his side. Severus suspected he was crying.

"Harry?" he asked tentatively.

Harry sobbed harder.

"Did I hurt you?"

Harry shrugged and continued crying, unsure why he was crying. Severus wrapped his arms around his young husband.

"I'm sorry," he murmured, as unsure about his apology as Harry was about his tears, but somehow feeling that it was needed.

Harry sniffed and nodded.

It was many minutes later that Harry fell asleep, the occasional shudder still working its way through his body. Severus watched Harry most of the night, concerned.

He finally fell asleep, his arms still around Harry. He woke the second Harry moved. His black eyes searched Harry's face. Harry's eyes opened blearily. They were still red and puffy from the previous night.

"Oh, Harry," Severus sighed, not sure why. For some reason, everything surrounding Harry made no sense. "Oh, Merlin, Harry," he sighed again, wrapping his long, pale arms around Harry and pulling him close. It hit him suddenly that they were both still naked, and he wondered if he would scare Harry again. Instead of pulling away, however, Harry curled up against Severus' body.

Severus rested his head on Harry's messy mop of hair.

"Severus," Harry sighed, having no idea why, but knowing that it felt right.

Severus stroked Harry's cheek gently. Harry leaned into the touch.

"Did I hurt you? Last night, I mean?"

Harry shrugged. "I don't really know. I can't remember anything."

Severus looked down into Harry's impossibly green eyes, confused. "Don't remember anything?"

Harry shook his head. "It's a technique I learned while with the Dursleys. Unfocus the mind, and go through everything mechanically. Feel no pain, have no memories. Occasionally I have to surface, 'cause once I did it too long, and I fell into a near-coma. The only way anyone got through was to burn my fingers. It's why I have trouble with the little finger on my left hand."

Severus gaped at him.

"So last night, I just unfocussed my mind and did everything you told me to do without stopping to think. It's like… it's like I short-circuited my mind. Went straight from auditory receptor to the action center. I don't really remember anything."

"Oh, Merlin, Harry," Severus repeated, his tone betraying all of the sorrow he felt for the young boy in his arms, barely sixteen, with enough painful memories to make most wizards cower in terror. All of the sorrow he felt for him, sixteen and married, without a free moment to explore the new world before him. All of the sorrow for all those sacrifices.

Harry frowned in thought. "I don't see why it's so surprising, really."

Severus' heart ached with echoed pain. Pain he was sure Harry couldn't feel yet. Pain he was sure Harry was immune to by now, from the way he talked. Pain… Severus' head swam, his heart ached…

"What do you remember?" he forced out.

"I remember everything up until you kissed me for the second time. Then I surfaced when we were naked in your bed. I went under again to avoid hyperventilating…" Harry paused, thinking.

Severus was sure if his heart ached any more, it would burst. Harry was sitting there, a speculative look on his face, trying to recall fleeting glimpses of his first time. All delivered in a tone that suggested nothing odd about the situation, nothing strange about missing memories, missing moments, missing sensations…

"I remember I surfaced when you cried out. Thought you were in some kind of pain. Your face was twisted up something awful. But you relaxed, and then I noticed this burning feeling in my ass and a sharp twinge of pain, so I let myself go again."

Severus buried his face in Harry's unruly mop of hair, not wanting Harry to see the tears clouding his black eyes. Tears for a boy he would have sworn he hated only a month ago. Tears for a boy he never really knew, not until now, not even now, sitting naked in bed with him, listening to the curiously flat monologue. Tears for a boy that could not be a boy for all of the horrors he had lived through. A single one of those tears fell onto Harry's hair.

"Kept waiting for that smack which brought me back to reality," Harry murmured. "Across my face," he clarified a second later. "Aunt Petunia always smacked me when I started getting too dazed for her liking. When I started looking like I'd fall into a coma if someone didn't do something. Instead, this odd shock of pleasure shook me. Shook me right back into reality for moments. Then I kept coming and going, going every time the pleasure subdued, coming back every time it returned sharply. Then I distinctly remember coming – orgasming – and then I fell again. I came again when I felt the magic of your cleaning spell. And then I stayed."

Another tear joined the first on Harry's black hair, then another.

"Of course, I remember rolling over and starting to cry for what seemed like absolutely no reason. I remember you trying to soothe me…" Harry trailed off. "Then there was that blissful darkness of sleep after the terrible purge of a cry."

More tears rained down onto Harry's hair, tears of anger, of sorrow, of pain… Severus' heart felt like exploding, his head swam, his eyes burned from the tears flowing onto Harry's hair…

A shudder worked its way through Severus' body.

"Severus?" Harry asked uncertainly.

Severus breathed heavily, trying to control his voice.

"Are you okay?"

Tears streamed from Severus' eyes, unable to believe that anyone could be so jaded and so innocent at once. Corrupted youth, jaded innocence, naïve corruption…

"I'm fine," he managed to answer.

Harry stared ahead. "It's not your fault, y'know."

Severus' breath hitched in his throat painfully.

"Not your fault that I'm a freak who can't stay in one place mentally."

Severus' heart threatened to burst. Funny, he didn't think he had a heart. Not before now, anyway. Not before he listened to the absolutely tragic facts falling from Harry's mouth in a tone that suggested nothing was off about it. Not before he realized that he had been wrong all along, so dreadfully wrong about everything he thought he had known about Harry.

"Not your fault that you had to… to have sex with me. I mean, you just went along with Dumbledore's plan too."

Severus felt sick to his stomach. That had been it, hadn't it? Dumbledore's plan. The words had a nice, final ring to it. Dumbledore's plan. Explanatory. Professional. Acceptable. Dumbledore's plan.

But it hadn't been just that. It had been more. He had wanted to do it, and he hated himself for it. Wanted to have that young body underneath him, wanted to bury himself in it, wanted to hear his name tumble from those red lips. He had wanted it, wanted it all, and he had known that, somehow known that, when he agreed to go along with Albus' foolish plan. Dumbledore's plan. It was all that. It was just that. But it couldn't be. Because it wasn't. Severus wanted it, hated himself for it. Hated himself that he had taken so freely without realizing any of it. Any of the painful scenes playing out before him now.

"Not your fault that you married me. Not your fault that Dumbledore thought of it, not your fault that you agreed, not your fault that I agreed…"

Oh, but it had been his fault. Severus had agreed. He hadn't fought Albus' idiotic plan like he should have. He should never have told Harry about it. He should have lied to Albus, straight-faced. He should never have put Harry through it. Harry would not have been faced with that decision if Severus had had the balls to stand up to Albus for once.

"Not your fault that you didn't know that I'm a freak."

Severus nearly threw up. It had been his fault. He should have realized it, realized that something wasn't quite right about the glazed expression in Harry's face. Should have realized that it wasn't pleasure.

"Not your fault that you were my first and that you will be my last. Not your fault that I can't remember anything from last night."

Severus cried out in pain, having no idea which way was up and which way was down. How ironic, he thought, that it would be Harry who finally managed to disturb his mental calm in such a way. Nothing was simple when it came to Harry. Nothing.

Harry didn't seem to be paying attention anymore, his mind entirely focused on that odd monologue he seemed determined to give.

"Not your fault…"

"Yes! Yes, it's my fault!" Severus screamed, the pain that had been spiraling through him for the better part of an hour finally finding its way out. Harry looked up at him, his green eyes wide and confused.

"But, Professor, it's not your fault. It isn't. It's mine. I should have warned you. Anyway, I'm the freak here."

Harry was speaking as though he wasn't really there.

"It's my fault that I didn't notice, that I married you, that I had sex with you… It's my fault, mine!"

Harry smiled suddenly. "It's not your fault that you're made of flesh and blood, that you have your own emotions, desires, wishes, fantasies, not your fault that you wanted it last night, not your fault that you gave into the pleasure coursing through you. How could it be your fault? You're only human."

Severus' pain tripled while his anger deflated suddenly. He gave a low, keening cry and buried his face in his hands.

"Not your fault that you agreed to this farce because it gave you that opportunity you had been looking for, as much as you hated yourself for it. Not your fault that you couldn't stand up to Dumbledore, no one can, I'm sure. Not your fault that you went through with it. Not your fault. You're only human, an over-taxed one at that. You have so much pain from your own life, two maniacs tugging invisible strings, and you thought," Harry continued, not a trace of scorn in his voice, only a calm, almost pleasant, narration, "That you could take what was being offered to you without thinking it through thoroughly. You wanted something, and you were offered it, and you took it, because, after all, you have received so little, so very little in your life. Instead of life's pleasures, you've seen its pains, instead of receiving life's gifts, you've given, and given, and given. You've sacrificed so much, so, so much, and you never received anything except for a cursory, 'Good job, thanks,' from Dumbledore. Voldemort would never thank you for any work that you had done. And you can't stop yourself from sacrificing."

Severus' tears erupted again. What about Harry's sacrifices? What about all of the pain Harry had felt? Why had he contributed to it?

"Really, I don't see why you're punishing yourself so. Someone had to take charge last night, the bond demanded it, and I certainly was in no condition to do so. Do you really think that I mind that you took that charge? We had to consummate the marriage, and you guided me through it so skillfully that I could hardly complain."

"Don't you see?" Severus answered, his voice thick with pain. "I enjoyed it. I robbed you of your purity, and you weren't even there, and I enjoyed it."

"Perfectly acceptable," Harry countered. "You wanted it. Why should you hate yourself for it? You wanted it so badly, and yet you were careful enough to alleviate any discomfort you thought I might be feeling. You went slow so that I wouldn't be too scared. You took all of my crying in stride. You caressed me gently, as though it was more than just mindless sex for the bond. Like you cared. You soothed me afterwards. You gave me so much, and here you are, angry at yourself for taking a little in return. Angry for enjoying yourself. Angry that you could ever have lost even a little of that iron control with which you run your life."

"How can you sit there and defend me so reasonably?"

"How can I not?" Harry shot back. "If it weren't for you, I'd probably be in a deep trance right now. I'd probably be suffering something or another at the hands of my relatives. I'd be in some kind of trouble again. And because of you, I'm here, safe. Why would I be angry? Why wouldn't I defend you?"

Severus deflated slightly. "I don't understand…"

"No one does, Severus. No one can ever understand another, because everything is relative. Therefore, what you see in me is not what I see in me is not what Dumbledore sees in me. Likewise, I cannot claim to understand you, privy as I am to all of your thoughts and emotions. You see, I read these thoughts and emotions with a flair that is unique to me. And thus I create a 'Severus Snape' in my mind, though it be far removed from the real thing. For my 'Severus Snape' is not the real Severus Snape, nor is your 'Harry Potter' the real Harry Potter. So you cannot understand what I tell you about why I can defend you, because all you can see is yourself in my situation, and your reactions, which would be anger, and pain, and hate. You cannot understand that I went willingly into this marriage, since I knew it was for good, and that I allowed you to do to me what you would. You cannot understand why I find nothing wrong in having no memories of my first time. You cannot understand, no matter how hard you try, because every interpretation of my actions and my words are uniquely you, and similarly, how I explain myself is tailored to what I think you want, but not the real you, but the you that I have created in my mind. But if we could not relate to other people's images, the world would freeze upon us all, and so we move through that minefield of communication and misinterpretation. We have to relate to other people's images of ourselves as we create images of those people."

Severus gaped at Harry. Really, he had to get used to such philosophical statements from the boy – young man – if he was going to survive this marriage. He had been prepared for blind acceptance, rage, loyalty, anything, everything except for the coolheaded certainty that radiated from the young man. Certainty about things he shouldn't've been certain about.

Harry chuckled and stood, casting a charm on himself to return his puffy eyes to normal. He dressed quickly.

Severus got up and did the same. "I have to meet Albus," he informed Harry.

"I'll be here," Harry said, a smile on his lips. Severus found himself staring at those lips and quickly diverted his gaze, not wanting to go there.

Severus left, and Harry shook his head. "Really, Severus shouldn't feel so ashamed about his feelings," Harry mused to the empty room.

Severus knocked on Albus' door and entered when Albus told him to. He sat down.

"How is he?" Albus asked.

Severus frowned, trying to figure out what to tell Albus. "How is who?" he asked, attempting to stall for time.

Albus frowned sternly. "Harry. How is he?"

"Fairly well, considering," Severus answered, having decided to leave out their morning conversation.

"I was fairly worried that he was unhappy, but I guess I was wrong. He doesn't love you, you see."

"Love is not required," Severus answered sharply, knowing that Albus would know that.

"I know, my dear boy. But I was worried when he said yes. Then I realized that he was doing it out of a sense of duty, and I was worried about how he would react to living with you. But I see that my worry was misplaced."

Severus' blood boiled again. All he had said was that Harry was fairly well, and Albus took that to mean that Harry was exuberant.

"And your marriage…" Albus asked tactfully.

"Is consummated," Severus snapped. "I know the ritual."

Albus nodded serenely. "I never thought you didn't, my dear boy. Still, I had wondered. With Harry's psychological background…" He shook his head slowly.

"You knew?" Severus cried, infuriated.

"Knew what?" Albus asked blandly. "Knew that he suffered a lot of abuse at his guardians' hands? Yes, I knew that. That's why I asked you to marry him."

"Nothing else?" Severus asked sharply.

"Nothing else," Albus answered firmly. "Harry has not been very forthcoming with me."

Severus remembered the revelations of the morning, and the pain he had felt then bloomed again.

"But by the look on your face, Harry has shared more with you."

"Yes," Severus answered simply. "He has. We are married, after all."

Albus nodded. "I had hoped he would share more."

"Is there anything else, Albus?"

Albus shook his head. "I just wanted to be sure that the two of you were fine."

Severus nodded and swept out of the office and down to his rooms.

"Hi," Harry greeted him. "How did it go?"

"Fairly well," Severus answered.

Harry chuckled, shaking his head in bemusement.

"What?" Severus demanded.

"You can't tell?" Harry queried, his eyes curious. He headed over to the kitchen, where he was apparently cooking some stew. Severus looked in, interested despite himself.

"Tell what?"

Harry fell pensive. "Push. With your mind."

Severus raised an eyebrow, but did so. Nothing happened. "Well, Mr. Potter, what colossal thing was supposed to occur?"

Harry bit his lip. "I can read your thoughts and feel your emotions. You were in pain up there. What was it?" He stirred the stew absent-mindedly.

"How?" Severus demanded.

Harry shrugged. "I woke up this morning, feeling everything you were. Hearing everything you thought. I can block it if I want to, though."

Severus raised an eyebrow. "It was nothing," he said shortly. "Talking with Albus can be emotionally exhausting."

Harry nodded and didn't belabor the matter further. "Also, I was thinking…"

"Oh, sweet Merlin."

"Shut up. I was thinking that we shouldn't exactly proclaim our marriage. I mean, Voldemort and all…"

"Can rot in hell," Severus answered. "Look, if you don't want your friends to know, that's fine. But if it's a question of Voldemort… He'd find out quickly. It's registered at the Ministry."

Harry smiled. "I guess then I'll head every assignment with 'Harry Potter-Snape.'"

"And I'll ask Albus to introduce me as Professor Potter-Snape," Severus answered, smiling.

"You'd risk your reputation as the snarkiest, most unfeeling bastard in this school?" Harry teased.

"My dearest Harry," Severus half-growled, "With you, nothing is simple."

"Ah, then I suppose the answer to my next question is obvious."

"And what would that be?"

"What to answer when my friends demand of me, 'But do you love him?'"

Severus stopped, stunned. He hadn't thought of that. "What will you answer?"

"Nothing is ever as simple as that."

Severus sniffed. "I prefer my answer."

"You would."

"Love is not required."

"So I've noticed."

Severus sighed. "Do you mind?"

"Mind what?" Harry asked, his attention on his stew.

"Mind this? Being married? Tied down forever?"

Harry turned the heat off. "In a way, no. And in a way, yes. But I suppose that would hold true for anyone I married. In any case, I don't mind as much as I thought I would."

Severus watched, pensive, as Harry lifted the heavy pot off the hot burner and moved it to a cool one.

"Why not use a cooling charm?" he asked. "In fact, why cook at all?"

Harry shrugged. "It helps take my mind off things."

Severus quickly caught on to reading Harry's thoughts and emotions, although they rarely did so, respecting each other's privacy.

Severus learned a lot about Harry during that summer month. Again and again, Harry surprised him with some new detail he had never known. The original skin-and-bones explanation of his childhood had started to fill out. The facts came at odd times: during dinner, while reading, while Severus was tutoring Harry in Potions…

And every time he had shown surprise at the matter-of-fact tone of Harry's voice, Harry had chuckled and given some philosophical explanation for it.

"Life throws at you whatever it wants, and feeling sorry for yourself won't get you anywhere," Harry explained three nights before the first day of school. "It chose to throw at me the death of my parents, my defeat of Voldemort, my childhood, my fame, and my death-defying experiences. And I didn't get out of any of it by feeling sorry for myself."

Severus stared at him, dumbfounded. He had spent many nights wallowing in self-pity after particular bad rounds with either Dumbledore or Voldemort.

"Self-pity's gotta be the oddest thing. There are hundreds of people, thousands, worse off, and they pity themselves, but there are thousands of people worse off, and sometimes they pity themselves…" Harry shook his head in bewildered bemusement.

"Oh, and don't forget that you have to charm your hair silver and green."

"That reminds me. Where will you be living during the year?"

"Down here, with you."

Severus' eyes widened.

"Severus, I've formally changed my name to Harry Potter-Snape. I've already headed my summer work with that name. You're no longer Professor Snape, but rather Professor Potter-Snape. Our bonding-rings are on our fingers and will stay there. Why would I live in the dorms?"

Severus shook his head at Harry's crisp logic.

"Although I might spend a few nights there, just for a feel of the old days."

Severus nodded. "I expect you miss your old life."

Harry shrugged. "I dunno. I liked it, but I'm okay with this, too. Why would regret something I'm okay with?"

"You continue to shock me, Mr. Potter," Severus drawled.

"Mr. Potter-Snape to you," Harry shot back. He stopped, deep in thought. "What do I have to call you in class?" he asked.

Severus paused and thought. "Either, I suppose. Either way you'd be rubbing it in their faces that you're married to me."

"Severus, then."

"How did you get Severus from that?" Severus demanded.

"It's more assholish. Y'see, all of them have to call you Professor Potter-Snape. But only I get to call you Severus. Can't wait until Malfoy mimics me."

"He would," Severus sighed.

"He would," Harry agreed.

Three days later, Ron and Hermione boarded the Hogwarts Express. They immediately began looking around for Harry, but found no trace of him.

"Bugger," Ron muttered. "Bugger."

"Oh, come off it. Maybe Dumbledore needed him or something."

"Bugger. I wanted to tell him all about this absolutely brilliant summer."

Hermione hummed noncommittally and turned to her book. She wondered if Harry had had an okay summer, knowing that his home life wasn't easy.

Neville entered their compartment. "Hey," he greeted them. "How was your summer?"

"Bloody brill," Ron sighed happily.

"Wonderful," Hermione answered.

Neville looked around. "Seen Harry?"

They shook their heads. "Have you?"

Neville shook his head. "Maybe he's hiding."

"I just hope nothing's happened to him," Hermione mused.

"Don't worry, he's fine," Ron assured her.

They entered the castle, somewhat worried still. Harry was already at the Gryffindor table. "Hey, guys!" he called happily. "Great to see you!" He hugged them briefly.

"You weren't on the train," Hermione began slowly.

"No, I spent half of my summer here."

"How?" Hermione began, and Harry silenced her with a look.

"All in good time."

Hermione and Ron sat down. Harry seemed to be hiding a grin, something that worried them immediately.

"Are you plotting something?" Hermione asked.

"Am I plotting something? No." Harry's grin broke out. "Is someone else?" He laughed. He had seen both Minerva and Severus with their hair charmed, and he hadn't been able to stop laughing.

"Blimey, he's mental," Ron whispered to Hermione.

They looked around curiously. Hermione started snickering, then full-out laughing. Most of the Great Hall was starting to catch on.

"What?" Ron demanded.

"Look up at the Staff Table," Hermione answered.

Ron did so, his eyes widening. He began laughing.

"Red and gold… and green and silver! Brill!"

Hermione looked at Harry. "You knew?"

Harry nodded. "I saw them earlier. It was bloody hilarious. I mean, I knew they were going to do it, but to see it…"

Hermione smiled, her gaze running over Harry assessingly. She was worried about her friend. A glint of silver and gold caught her attention. She looked at Harry's left ring finger. His bonding-ring winked up at her.

"Harry, what's that?" she asked curiously.

Harry looked down at his finger and smiled slightly. "Later," he promised.

That 'later' did not come until the next day. Harry had slept in the dungeons. Truth be told, he was growing very accustomed to life with his new husband. They shared a bed, even though Severus had mentioned many times it wasn't necessary. Harry loved the feeling of his husband's body while he slept. He loved the security it brought.

"Ugh," Ron groaned as he checked the time-table. "We got Double Potions first."

Harry's eyes were amused. He was curious to see how it would go.

They headed down to the dungeons, worried about being late. Harry took his usual seat and arranged his things precisely. He sat back and waited for Severus to enter.

Most of the class filed in, the Slytherins smug, the Gryffindors reluctant. Severus entered in a flurry of black robes. He looked around.

"Back for another year, I see. Well, let's see how much your pathetic minds retained from last year. I want a Pain-Reducing Potion from each of you by the end of the class."

"Greasy git," Ron muttered. It was just like Severus to pick the most difficult one to jog their abilities with.

Everyone began to gather their ingredients. Harry stirred his potion tranquilly, having reviewed it with Severus during the summer. He reached for the moth antennae and watched in horror as five slipped in instead of three.

"Severus!" he screamed, ducking quickly to avoid the explosion. Severus had his wand out and most of the explosion stopped by the time the last 's' fell from Harry's lips.

He sighed in relief.

"Now, do you think you could get through the rest of my class without blowing something up?" In his worry, he forgot to deduct points from Gryffindor, causing a lot of speculation.

Not ten minutes later, Malfoy's voice carried above everyone else's, addressing Severus. "Severus," he drawled. "I'd like to know whether or not…"

"You're being rather presumptuous, assuming you can call me that," Severus answered. In his mind, he was grinning. Harry saw it and hid his own smile.

Malfoy decided to change tack, not wanting to challenge the Potions Master. "Professor Snape…"

"And now you've gotten it very wrong," Severus interrupted.

Malfoy's face contorted in puzzlement. "But, sir…"

"Well, now we're on the right track."

"Then what is it?" Ron demanded. "After all, unless you want us to call you 'greasy git,' we really should know."

"It's not like you don't call me 'greasy git' even when it was Professor Snape," Severus answered.

Harry bit back his laughter. Instead, he joined the fray. "But Professor, how do you expect us to respect you properly when your hair's that color? You look like an aging punk."

Severus glared at him.

"You are being extremely rude, now aren't you?"

"So what will you do, Severus?"

The class gasped as a whole. Harry was facing Severus, defiance written all over his face.

"Well, now, Harry, I don't think there is any way to control you."

Harry clucked his tongue sympathetically. "So I've been told." He turned back to his potion.

Severus returned to the front of the room.

"That's it!" Malfoy cried before he could censor himself. "You're not going to do anything, Professor!"

Severus turned to Malfoy, a wicked smirk on his face. "No, Mr. Malfoy. I'm not. Not here, anyway."

"Professor Snape, sir," Hermione began.

Severus turned to her. "I would have thought you would have had the necessary wit to make the logical conclusion," he sneered. "It's not Professor Snape anymore, I'm afraid."

"Blimey," Ron breathed. "It's Professor Potter-Snape, isn't it? It explains why Harry's been calling you 'Severus.' It explains why you aren't calling him 'Mr. Potter,' but rather 'Harry.' It explains why he was here for half of the summer, why he wasn't on the train, why he knew about the hair-colors. It explains the bonding-ring on his finger, and the one on yours."

The gold and silver bonding-ring glinted at Ron.

"Yes, Mr. Weasley. It is Professor Potter-Snape. I suppose I must congratulate you."

Hermione turned to Harry inquisitively. Harry nodded.

Malfoy's face contorted in sheer rage.

"Now, enough of this ridiculous speculation about my personal life. You have potions to make."

Harry turned to his potion.

"And Harry," Severus called.

Harry looked up. "Yes, Severus?"

"Five points from Gryffindor for calling me an aging punk."

Harry rolled his eyes.

"And Mr. Weasley," Severus called.

Ron looked up. "Yes, sir?"

"A point to Gryffindor for figuring it out. I am duly impressed."

Ron's shoulders slumped for a moment before he figured it out. A point to Gryffindor. His demeanor brightened.

"Really, Professor, you're becoming lax in your marriage," Malfoy drawled.

"Which would be ten points from Slytherin for disrespect towards a teacher," Severus answered snidely.

That night, Harry sighed in relief as he sunk into one of the large, leather armchairs. "I managed to avoid all questions," he explained to Severus.

Severus smiled at him. "It was a brilliant performance in Potions, barring the fact that you nearly caused an explosion."

"You didn't take any points for it," Harry pointed out.

Severus reviewed the class in his mind. "Damn. I had been meaning to."

Harry chuckled. "I'm sure. How were your other classes?"

"They went well. I didn't do this whole shenanigans over what my name is now. Really, Harry, you have a terrible sense of drama."

"No, I just didn't know how to tell Hermione and Ron."

Severus chuckled and turned back to his book. Harry pulled out one of his texts and began reading. An hour later, he looked up suddenly.

"You can, you know."

Severus looked up, bewildered. "What?"

"You can, you know," Harry repeated. "I can feel it. You want to, but you don't want to hurt me. You can. I wouldn't mind."

"Me hurting you?" Severus guessed, confused.

"No. You want to have sex with me. I can tell. But you don't want to hurt me. I'm telling you that you can."

Severus' demeanor changed quickly from confused to indignant. "No! I refuse to have sex with you again if you don't want it."

"I'm not sure I'll ever want it. But I know you want to, and you can't satisfy yourself elsewhere. I don't see why it's an issue, really."

"Because you don't want it. It would be tantamount to rape!"

"Uh, no, it would be rape if I said 'no.' I'm saying 'yes.' I want you to."

"Do you yourself actually want to have sex?"

Harry shook his head. "No. I didn't care much for it myself. But I wasn't in serious pain after it. I wasn't in serious pain during it."

"I won't have sex with you unless you, yourself, want to. Unless your body desires it, and not your mind to 'aide me.'"

Harry shook his head in amusement. "Then I won't push you. I was just telling you I'm not averse to the idea."

He stood up and sat down next to Severus on the couch, snuggling up.

"What the…?"

"Shh…" Harry answered, curling up next to Severus' side. "Just because I'm not fanatical about sex doesn't mean I hate being touched. I love hugs and snuggling."

Severus smiled and stroked Harry's hair. "Nothing is ever easy with you, Mr. Potter-Snape."

Harry smiled. "Nor with you, Professor Potter-Snape. I suppose that's why I'm here now. I can't imagine the olden days without the shot of… you in my life."

Severus laughed. "You've gone balmy," he teased.

"No, Severus, I've gone downright insane," Harry deadpanned.

Severus laughed and ruffled Harry's hair. "What am I ever going to do with you?"

Harry smiled. "I'm sure you'll think of something."

Severus' laugh softened into a smile.

Three months later, they had settled very well into their routines. Christmas was drawing near, and Harry wanted to get something for his mate.

"Severus," Harry began slowly. Severus looked up from the papers he was grading.

"Yes?"

"Can you take me down to Hogsmeade sometime? I need to buy some presents."

Severus nodded. "Tomorrow's Saturday, I'll take you then, 'kay? Now, let me finish grading."

Harry smiled brightly and kissed Severus' cheek. He brushed a lock of Severus' hair out of his face. "Thank you," he said sincerely.

Severus smiled back at him. Harry headed out to leave Severus alone when he heard Severus call his name. He turned around again.

"I am also willing to take Mr. Weasley and Ms. Granger along if you so desire," Severus said.

Harry grinned brightly. "Thanks. I'll go tell them." He left.

Severus hid his smile as he looked down at his work. Harry was addictively bright and happy, even with all life had thrown at him.

Harry opened the door to the Gryffindor common room. He had been in there precious few times, having spent most of his free time in his rooms with Severus.

Hermione was working hard while Ron was beginning a game of Exploding Snap with Dean.

"Ron, Hermione, do you two have a minute?" Harry asked excitedly.

Ron apologized to Dean and went immediately one of the armchairs near the fire. Hermione followed, leaving her work there.

"What is it?" Hermione asked, worried.

"Nothing bad," Harry reassured them. "Severus said he'd take us to Hogsmeade tomorrow."

"Us, as in Hermione, you, and me?" Ron demanded.

Harry nodded.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa, let me get this straight. Snape –"

"Potter-Snape," Harry corrected absentmindedly.

"Is taking us to Hogsmeade tomorrow?"

Harry nodded.

"The hell?"

"I asked him to take me, since I need to get presents for you guys and for him. He then offered to take you two as well."

Hermione gaped. "He offered?"

Harry nodded. "Shocked me a bit, too, although he knows I care a lot about you guys. So, what do I get to tell that scary Potions Master I'm married to?"

"We'll come!" Ron cried. "It might be with Sn… Potter-Snape, but hell, it's Hogsmeade."

Harry smiled. "I'm just trying to figure out what to give him."

Hermione smiled. "Do you love him?" she asked, startling him out of his reverie. She had asked the question once before, but all he had said was, "Nothing is ever that easy."

"Love is not required," Harry murmured, still thinking.

Ron gaped. "How can you talk about the rest of your life that way? You're married to him and yet you can't say 'I love him.'"

Harry shrugged. "Life isn't simple, Ron. Love is not required. We get on very well together, and yet we don't love each other."

"Get on very well?" Hermione asked.

Harry nodded. "He understands me very well."

"There's something I never would've expected," Hermione answered.

Harry smiled. "Neither did I. But… Well, it's not heaven with him: he does have his moments, but it's comfortable."

"I'm just worried what will happen when you find someone you do love. Your… arrangement with Professor Potter-Snape won't be as pleasant then."

Harry shrugged. "I'll dive off that bridge when I come to it. If I come to it."

He stood. "I should go, since I don't have an after-curfew pass, and Severus'll have my head if I wander the halls after curfew." He left.

The next day, Harry and Severus waited for Ron and Hermione to show up in the Great Hall. Severus sighed.

"Remind me why I ever offered to take them."

"Git," Harry answered fondly. "I have no idea why. Maybe to make me happy?"

Severus' eyes darted around quickly. When he was sure no one was around, he gave Harry a small smile. "Malfoy was right: Marriage is making me rather lax."

"Only with me, Severus, only with me."

Ron and Hermione rushed in. "Sorry we're late!" Ron cried.

Severus drew up and schooled his face into a scowl. "Funny, you have never shown this remorse for being late when it's Potions you're late to."

Ron blushed. "Sorry, sir."

Severus nodded stiffly. "Then let's go. I have spoken with Professor Dumbledore and have secured permission for this outing."

They left and headed to Hogsmeade. "Now, endeavor to stay with me. Merlin knows what we could run into."

They nodded.

"Where would you three like to go first?" Severus asked.

"Honeyduke's," Ron answered immediately.

Severus inclined his head slightly. "Then we shall go there. Come along, all three of you."

Somehow, Ron and Hermione fell back a step. Harry and Severus were talking animatedly about something (Ron and Hermione couldn't hear what), and occasionally, they bumped each other as they walked.

Hermione smiled. "I think I understand," she murmured to Ron.

Ron raised an eyebrow. "Understand what?" he hissed back.

Hermione nudged Ron's arm with hers and nodded to Harry and Severus. "Look at them. First, I thought that it would be terrible, y'know, with Snape being such a git and Harry saying that 'love is not required.' But he's right. They get along so well."

Ron looked over at them. "You mean that they're actually talking to each other?"

Hermione rolled her eyes. "No. Look at the way they interact. Like they understand each other really well. Like it's more than they'll tell us about."

"Do you think they love each other?"

"I think if Harry loved Snape, he'd tell us, so that we would think the best of Snape. I don't think he would have told us things like 'love is not required' and 'nothing is ever that simple.'"

Ron nodded slowly. "Yeah, I suppose I see that."

They reached Honeyduke's. Severus and Harry immediately stopped their animated discussion.

Unbeknownst to Ron, Hermione, and Severus, Harry slipped out of the chocolate shop again. He needed to buy Severus a present, and it wouldn't have been a surprise if Severus was there. Harry looked around and ducked into the bookstore quickly. He walked up to the proprietor, whom he knew very well, and asked in a low voice, "Do you have the book I asked you about?"

The proprietor nodded and turned around. "Been holding it for you, Mr. Potter."

Harry didn't bother to correct him. "Thank you," he said simply. "How much do I owe you?"

Harry paid for the book quickly, and the proprietor wrapped it in brown paper. "Thank you, Mr. Potter."

Harry left quickly and headed back to Honeyduke's, hoping Severus hadn't noticed his absence.

Meanwhile, Severus had noticed Harry's absence. He swept around the shop furiously, attempting to find his husband. He turned to Ron and Hermione. "You two stay here while I go look for him. If the two of you move, I'm testing Longbottom's potions on you for the rest of your schooling."

He stormed out of the chocolate shop. "Harry, why do you insist upon doing this to me?" he muttered.

Harry chuckled. "Hi, Severus. From the look on your face, I take it you did notice that I disappeared."

Severus scowled fiercely. "Where in hell were you?"

"Picking up a present for you."

Severus' ire softened at that.

"You risked my anger and whatever danger could be lying here to get me a present!"

Harry nodded. "Well, sure. It wouldn't've been a surprise if you were there, now would it?"

Severus tried to remain angry at his husband, although the green eyes and bright smile were quickly calming him down.

"Fine, but if you ever do that again…"

Harry laughed. "Oh, come off it. You and I both know you wouldn't do anything to me."

Severus tried to deny it.

Christmas rolled around quickly. Harry woke and stretched luxuriously, inadvertently bumping into his husband. "Mm…"

Severus smiled, pulling Harry close. Harry snuggled closer and yawned. "What time is it?" he asked.

"Six."

"In the morning?"

Severus nodded. Harry felt the movement more than he saw it. "Should we get up and open presents, or go back to sleep?"

Severus shrugged. "Whichever you want."

"Sleep," Harry decided and dropped his head down onto the pillow.

Severus pulled the quilt over them, and soon he was sleeping again.

They woke again a few hours later.

"Now let's open presents!" Harry cried enthusiastically. Severus smiled at Harry's joyful attitude.

Harry sat down on the floor while Severus sat down on the couch.

"No, join me," Harry asked. "Here."

Severus chuckled and sat down next to Harry.

Harry opened the usual presents (a green sweater and a cake from Mrs. Weasley, inedible fudge from Hagrid, a book from Hermione, and sweets from Ron), then came to one that puzzled him. He opened it slowly and smiled.

"You git," Harry sighed fondly. "Yelling at me for disappearing to get you a present while that's exactly what you did here."

Severus raised an eyebrow. "Ah, but I'm an adult. And I went to my house."

"You would've been annoyed even if I were an adult."

"True," Severus admitted. "But that's only because I care about you, and you know it. Now, would you please finish arguing with me over it and just look at the present?"

Harry laughed and looked at it. He gasped and hugged Severus. "Thank you," he murmured.

Severus smiled at Harry. "You're welcome."

Severus had given him his mother's diaries, in order and perfectly preserved.

"After she died, they suddenly appeared in my safe. She wrote to me that she wanted them to be kept, to know that she had made a mark of some sorts on the world. And now, I want you to know what kind of a person your mother was."

Harry smiled brightly through his tears. "This means a lot to me."

"I know," Severus answered simply.

Harry wiped his tears and gently laid aside his mother's diaries. "But aren't you going to open your presents?"

Severus nodded and turned to his pile. "Now, this is odd," he murmured.

"What?"

"I can tell you that I got one from Albus," he pointed to a brightly colored green and pink package, "one from Minerva," he pointed to an elegant red package, "one from Filius," he pointed to a purple one, "one from Hagrid," pointing to a package that Harry recognized immediately as Hagrid's handiwork, "one from my mother," he pointed to a black one, "one from you," he pointed to a silver and gold one, "but I can't for the life of me figure out whom this is from," pointing to an oddly shaped, bulging package.

Harry grinned. "Mrs. Weasley," he explained.

Severus frowned. "You're kidding. Why would she send me a package?"

"She's been sending me one ever since my first Christmas at Hogwarts. She counts me as part of the family. And now that you're married to me, I think she counts you as a member of the family, too."

"Dear Merlin," Severus sighed.

"No complaining," Harry ordered mock-strictly. "She's a wonderful woman, Severus," he added a minute later.

Severus smiled and began opening his presents. Severus rolled his eyes.

"What?" Harry asked.

"Every year, Albus gives me a new robe. He's been trying to find a color other than black for me."

"What's it this year?" Harry asked.

"Cherry blossom pink," Severus read aloud from the note. "He thinks it'll bring out something, apparently. Can't see what."

"Let's see you in it."

Severus glared at him.

"Wait a minute. This'll mean you have a lot of them. Can I see all of them?"

"You're assuming I keep them."

"Severus, I know you do," Harry answered.

Severus sighed. "Yes, you may see all of them."

He continued opening his presents. "Ah, Transfigurations and Potions," he commented, opening Minerva's present. "Excellent."

From Hagrid, Severus had gotten something inedible, and a charmed cauldron from Flitwick.

"Brilliant!" Severus exclaimed. "Filius found a charm that will keep the cauldron from melting if I mess up an experimental potion."

He turned to the one from his mother and chuckled. "She and Albus are working together, I swear. She's been getting me dressing-gowns every year."

"And the color this year?" Harry asked.

"Sky-blue. She always goes for the softer colors; Albus just gets whatever and hopes I'll wear it."

"But you wore green once," Harry pointed out. "Our wedding day. You wore green."

Severus nodded. "They're hoping I'll wear something other than black more often."

"Ah," Harry said, understanding.

Severus turned to the package from Mrs. Weasley with some trepidation. He opened it. He had gotten a black sweater and some treacle tart.

"At least she isn't trying to change your style," Harry commented.

"It's very nice of her," Severus admitted. "Now, let's see what you got me."

He opened Harry's present and gasped. "You didn't!"

"Obviously I did," Harry answered.

Severus gingerly pulled the old book out of its packaging. "'A Text on Olde Potions, by Salazar Slytherin,'" he read aloud reverently. "Okay, let me amend that question. How did you get it?"

Harry grinned. "I bought it in Hogsmeade."

Severus stood up and very carefully put it away. "I can't believe it," he murmured. "I had been trying to get that book for ages. How did you get him to sell it to you?"

"Fame," Harry sighed. "I hate using it, but if it's for a good cause…"

Severus smiled widely. "That, Mr. Potter-Snape, qualifies as an extremely good cause."

"I'm glad you like it." Harry leaned forward and kissed Severus.

Severus pulled back, worried. "Are you doing this just because you think I want to?" he asked.

"No. I dunno, but I want to too. I guess I've changed."

Severus smiled. "As long as you want to, I'm perfectly happy."

"Severus Potter-Snape, happy? Record the date, everyone!"

"Brat," Severus sighed.

"Git," Harry answered fondly, nuzzling Severus' neck.

Severus captured his lips again, tactfully not referring to the first time they had sex. He didn't want to hurt Harry in any way. His hands moved gently over Harry's back and face.

Harry sighed happily as Severus kissed him.

Severus stopped suddenly. "I thought you said that…"

"I wanted to have sex with someone I loved and who loved me. Well, I'm half-way there."

Severus raised an eyebrow. "How in hell did you ever guess that?" he demanded.

"Guess what?" Harry asked, genuinely puzzled.

"That I love you?"

Harry blushed Christmas red. "I meant that I love you. I never thought… I mean, I had hoped, but I never thought that you loved me, too."

Severus grinned, something that shocked Harry greatly. He stood and tugged Harry with him. "C'mon."

Much later, Harry sighed and snuggled up next to Severus again.

"Y'know, I think I kinda like sex," Harry murmured.

Severus smiled. "I'm happy to hear that."

"But most of all, I love you."

"And I love you," Severus answered honestly, planting a chaste kiss on Harry's lips. He lay back on the bed, still holding Harry. He had never imagined he would fall in love with his husband. Never imagined that he would hold him so willingly, so dearly, so near his heart.

Harry smiled as Severus opened the bond and let Harry feel all the love crowding his heart. No, love had not been required, but somehow it had crept in anyhow. He found he didn't mind one iota.

-- End.