Severus only dozes for about an hour.
Potter—can sleep. And sleep. And sleep. He sleeps like he has been hoarding it all his life, and is finally cashing in all the saved hours. When he uses the word 'nap'—it does not quite describe the state of slumber Harry reaches.
Severus brings in the mail from the windowsill (it carries a minor sticking charm to prevent anything being snatched away by the wind). Every last piece of it is addressed to one Madame Aggrandizia Skoll, Potions Maker. The first name is from his grandmother, the second is the last name of his favorite childhood professor. The Madame is because it is statistically proven that witches sell more potions than wizards—also, when one pilfers a rubbish bin in the alley behind a salon for decent hair samples, one invariably comes up with something female.
The haul: two new commissions, a note from the recipient of an Immobilizing potion—assuring him that her payment will arrive any day now, and a cryptically-worded missive bearing unfamiliar initials. Severus sighs at the last letter, picks out the thinly-veiled moon references, thinks for a moment, turns it over, and scrawls on the back—'Yes. We do Wolfsbane.' He quotes an obscene price, though, in case it is Lupin. He accepts the other two commissions, one sizeable order of fabric-safe Lethifold killer and—surprise, surprise—more rat poison.
If he leans over in his chair, Severus can look through the doorway and just catch a glimpse of Potter's feet.
Potter wakes up in time for dinner.
They have chicken, pasta, and carrots. Severus wishes he had a bottle of wine to offer.
"This is great. I didn't know you could cook."
"It seems we have one shared skill."
"You fool no one," Potter announces with a raised eyebrow. "That was a disguised compliment."
"What do you usually do after dinner?"
"Work. Sleep. If I'm feeling especially daring, I might read. Have a drink."
"Whoa. Someone let me off this wild ride." Potter leans back in the desk chair, balancing it on two legs while he watches Severus work. "…You know. …I can go whenever you want me to. I don't want to be a bother."
"I am quite inured to your presence, Mister Potter."
He dices, chops, grinds—pinch of elderlilly—
"I missed you."
"Me, too," Harry says. He grins broadly and accidentally tips the chair over.
"Tim…" Potter warbles up and down the scale.
"Finnegan. Bloody Finnegan—the next word is Finnegan."
"I remember the words—I'm just astounding you with my vocal prowess."
"Unless you're able to transfigure your throat—which I do not advise whilst imbibing—or at any other time, for that matter—unless you knew a competent mediwizard—and even then—if you had it changed, would you recognize your own voice? Or would it always feel as if someone was standing over your shoulder and speaking for you…" Severus blinks. "What?"
"I don't know. How many have you had?" Potter wobbles a bit.
"How many do you usually have?"
"One. I haven't got any marshmallows. You're a terrible singer."
"You aren't any good, either."
"But I, Mister Potter, have a sensible allotment of shame. You do not. You'd parade yourself in front of the whole world and sing—just like that." Severus sits up on his newly transfigured couch. It is black, as requested, and the upholstery feels like soft suede or rough velvet.
"The only people who've heard me sing are you and anyone eavesdropping on the Gryffindor boys' shower."
"So—every greasy pervert in Hogwarts, then? Fair enough."
"Well, you're the only greasy pervert I'll sing for from now on."
"Pardon me while I swoon. Oh—no—I meant to say, have another." Severus reaches for the bottle of his special brew, only to have it swept out of reach. "Potter."
"You can't hold your liquor at all."
"And you can?"
"I'm doing all right." Potter steadies himself. "Can I sit with you?"
"It's your couch," he says.
"It's your cottage."
"It's your couch in my cottage—you are in my cottage—you shall sit with me on your couch in my cottage," Severus tells him.
Potter crashes down next to him. "…I didn't know this stuff was so strong. I'm supposed to be, like—one of the most powerful whatever—I made you a couch," he announces with conviction.
"Your couch. In my cottage."
"I'm giving it to you. As a present."
"It's my birthday, not yours." Potter edges closer.
"When is your birthday?"
Severus furrows his brows. "January."
"I missed it while we were in the room," Potter frowns. "I need to get you something."
"I don't have space for another couch."
"It won't be a couch. It'll be something good. Not that this isn't good. Especially for a first try. I've never done a couch before."
He watches Potter's mouth move and is absolutely entranced. "Oh?" Severus doesn't get any further.
It is not pretty.
All right—it might be pretty to Potter, who has a strange sort of blindness to the visual aesthetic. "Get them—off," he gasps, tugging at the fabric.
Severus peels Harry out of his trousers. Potter's stomach is even more pale than the rest of him—Snape takes the opportunity to lick the skin at his navel. He tastes a hint of salt.
"Oh, please," Harry begs, burying his hands in Severus' hair. He loses his balance as the older wizard yanks the trousers off one leg; it is the perfect opportunity to shove him down onto the couch and claim his mouth. Potter makes needy growling noises as Severus forces their lips together—Harry's tongue is in his mouth—the kiss is wet and messy and desperate. Fingers rip at the buttons on Snape's shirt and at his trouser placket. "Bed?"
"Here." He traps Potter in the cage of his arms and legs. Severus lowers his head, burying his face in the crook of Harry's neck, feasting on his scent.
"Bite," the younger wizard whimpers.
Severus tries to slow down, to be careful. He nips at the offered neck, at the inside of Potter's wrist, and finally closes his teeth around a stiff, pink nipple. Potter tenses at the sting, his hips thrusting against the older Severus' stomach. He lets out a low wail and twines his fingers with Snape's, gasping and jerking under the cruel, cutting mouth as it nurses his abused flesh.
And then Harry is pulling him up, guiding Severus until he sits astride. "Will this hurt your knee?" Harry asks.
An odd thought penetrates the haze. "Actually—it hasn't hurt at all. Not since—"
"Good." Potter hardly flicks his fingers and Severus feels a warm, penetrating slickness.
"Where did you learn that spell?"
"Got it out of a book—who knew they were good for something?"
Severus wipes the smug look from Potter's face by lowering himself onto the younger man's straining prick. He feels the slightest burn of friction as Harry thrusts upward.
Awkward, yes. Clumsy. The word 'undignified' comes to mind. Their rhythm is off.
It is fantastic.
All right, brilliant will do. "Your couch needs a headboard," Severus groans, bracing himself on Potter's chest.
"Critic—nh." Harry keeps a death grip on his hips, tugging at each downward stroke until Severus is slamming into each intrusion.
There isn't a fire. Light comes from a lamp near his worktable. The couch shakes and shudders along with them—Severus wonders if Potter has transfigured a piece of furniture that is structurally s—
The legs on the right side of the couch snap and send them sprawling onto the parlor floor. Despite conflicting evidence, Severus attributes the unmanly shriek that accompanies the fall to Harry.
"Sorry—are you—" Harry has the nerve to nearly choke on laughter. "Are you okay?"
"No. And if you fear violent retribution, Mister Potter, you will finish what you started. In," he cautions, "a less athletic manner than before, I think." Severus rolls onto his back.
"You know," Harry chuckles, "you could just admit you like it better when you're underneath."
In answer, Severus folds his arms and raises his knees. "If you'd be so kind," he drawls.
The hardwood floor is—soft?—against his skin. The parlor has a wine red carpet now. Harry crawls over him and places a kiss on his cheek, forehead, lips—
He enters Severus with a gentle push. There is no burn this time; only a slick, filled sensation as Harry's cock pierces him. "Harry?"
"Severus," Harry says, and Severus cannot tell if the look in his eyes is due to emotion or Gandismash's Best.
"Your hand is on my hair."
"Oh—g—sorry." Harry shifts his hand, combing through the tangle of mostly black locks.
"That doesn't mean stop," he growls, and then the both of them are rutting, Potter plowing into him with frenzied strokes as Severus arches into the relentless movement. Harry manages to hit every pleasurable spot in his body—a sweat-slicked hand works between them and around Snape's neglected arousal. He doesn't have to do much. Every caress of swollen flesh leaves Severus closer and closer to the brink.
"In—in—in," he chants until the word becomes a strangled keening high in his throat, his legs tense, and Severus comes, spurting his release into Potter's grip.
Oh, worth it.
Harry lifts his sodden fingers to his mouth and swirls his tongue around the digits. Potter's right nipple is reddened from Severus' earlier attentions—the sated man below reaches up with his free hand and pinches.
Harry cries out, clutches Severus' hand hard against his chest, and finds his release, humping madly into the older man's warmth until he collapses into a willing, waiting embrace.
It is a long while before either of them move.
"…They're going to need me for—" Potter sighs. He continues, but with a certain measure of care, like someone picking through a tangle of brush. "People need the Boy Who Lived right now. Don't—I know all I am to a lot of them is some sort of symbol. But symbols are important. And if it helps Hogwarts—if it helps St. Mungo's—I'll go out every weekend and wave, shake hands. They can have that. But I'm… I deserve to have a life. The rest of the time." Harry stares at the lamp above the bed. "I'm twenty-five, you know. It's time."
Snape arches a brow. "Time?" he echoes.
"It's time I had a proper boyfriend."
"I don't know why you think you'll find that here."
Severus wakes Potter with a nightmare. He is put to sleep with a kiss.
He remains at the house until the aforementioned Saturday, when he dons his golden robes and tells Severus that he will be back as soon as he can.
Alone for the first time in days, the potions maker decides that he will make a trip under polyjuice to town for groceries.
While he is there, he has tea at the bakery and leafs through a week's worth of old Daily Prophets. The news is not particularly interesting until he gets halfway through the week and the paper proclaims—
BOY WHO LIVED—MISSING!
It spins the rather exciting tale of six inexplicably confunded Aurors, a stolen broom, an open window, an unattended birthday party, and one vanished savior of the wizarding world. 'No comment' seems to be the only official quote, but from every other quarter comes wild speculation. The picture with the story shows off an uneaten birthday cake and some very annoyed guests.
Thursday's issue dares to ask—
WHERE IS HARRY POTTER?
And runs an article in which two leading experts (on what, it never specifies) both agree that Harry Potter has most likely been captured by Death Eaters. One claims that Potter is dead, while the other says it is probable that he is alive and that they will try to trade him for immunity and/or the release of prisoners.
Friday is a bit more gloomy—
THE BOY WHO—LIVES?
It boasts an interview with the muggles who raised him and with Remus Lupin, his godfather—
The article adds to the term, calling Lupin Potter's 'adopted godfather.'
Severus thinks that picking and choosing your own godfather defeats the purpose of the system.
Lupin tells the reporters that he is confident Potter will be returned.
All in all, though, Snape prefers today's headline:
—In which a Ministry official makes a comment. 'We are looking into the matter.' The paper interviews one of the confunded Aurors who tearfully confesses that he cannot remember the events leading up to the 'horrific attack'. It also mentions that Potter is not expected to appear at a scheduled event—the unveiling of a Veteran's Memorial in Ottery St. Catchpole.
"More tea, Miss?"
"Oh—no, thank you." Severus folds the paper and looks down at his hands to make sure he hasn't reverted back.
"Gripping stuff, idn't it? We're all wearing gold ribbons until they find him—bless his poor heart." The proprietress clucks her tongue and shakes her head.
It isn't until later, when Severus finds himself with an armload of parcels, that he thinks about a room full of Harry's friends and so-called family. He imagines the scene, using the newspaper picture as a basis. And he imagines Potter in a dark room donning the Golden Boy uniform. His owl arriving—redirected by whom?
Harry had known he had to go to a birthday party—his own birthday party.
And instead of simply accepting the gift, he'd chosen to cast against six Aurors, commit petty theft, and tail his owl through Merlin knows what—
He chose Severus.
Potter arrives back at eight fifty-three in the evening. He is carrying a small suitcase.
"Starving. You didn't have to wait for me. I didn't even know you were going to make anything."
"I was hoping the guilt would drive you to cook tomorrow. I have a batch of Widow's Curse due."
"See, I knew you needed a house elf. Help, at least. I've decided I'm going to make you dishes. You need them."
"I could use a set," he concedes. "How was—your day?"
Potter sits down at the table. "Long," he sighs. "How was yours?"
They discover they are as good at talking about shopping as they are about food. Combine food and shopping—the conversation flows easily.
"The cliff," Potter asks, "it's pretty much solid rock?"
Severus wakes with one skinny leg pushed between his own. An arm rests across his waist.
It still feels like some strange practical joke. Harry is in his bed, pressed so close that Severus can feel his heartbeat.
"Did I wake you?"
The arm draws back so that Harry's fingertips rest lightly on his hip. "Is this okay?"
"It's all right." Severus feels a breath on the back of his neck and resists the urge to whimper. Then fingertips ease under the fabric of his top and burn against bare skin.
"Yes," he answers the breath. Potter's leg angles further between his own and the invading hand rubs back and forth.
"I love your stomach. I love touching your stomach." Harry rubs his cheek against Severus' neck and sighs. "I missed your stomach."
"…It's nothing special."
"It's the softest part of you."
"You only like it because I let you touch it."
"No. I like it and you let me touch it. …Will you look at me?"
Severus edges onto his back.
"It would help if you opened your eyes," Harry says.
He does. Sunlight stripes the bedroom ceiling above Potter's head. Nearly black hair sticks up in every direction. The scar across his forehead is a jagged white line. The warmth of the bed has pinked his cheeks. "Hello, Mister Potter."
"Hullo, Professor—I should call you Master Snape now, shouldn't I?" His emerald eyes are bright in the dim light of the bedroom. Potter props himself on his elbow and runs his fingers over tender skin.
"Master—I might get used to that."
"Shut up," Harry chuckles and buries his face against Severus' shoulder. "Good morning."
"Yes. It is."
Harry plays with his owl, writes letters, helps in the kitchen, and transfigures him a set of stemware that would make Better Lairs and Castles green with envy.
"We don't really need all of that."
"Yeah. I got carried away once I figured out how. Maybe I'll give some of them as a gift. I owe one of my Aurors an apology."
"Why is that?"
"Well. We've all had a talk about me coming out here. They want to know where I'm going, everyone was upset, words were used, spells were cast—I was a little hard on one of them. But you've got to set boundaries. I'll let them guard me as long as I'm at Hogwarts—they'll let me come here alone. By the way—I was told that the person who passed on your gift was the Headmistress. She told me she expects a letter from you, so at least one person knows we're still in contact. And she asked me if you could avoid addressing it to 'the great shrieking harpy' this time."
"Isn't that her first name?"
Severus turns to the editorial section of the Prophet. "Live here."
"…We'll need to get on the floo network."
"Okay, then," Harry says, and goes on transfiguring a set of paper-thin, square, periwinkle dinner plates.
Ten minutes later, Potter starts laughing.
There are many things they do not talk about.
Any mention of the Headmaster, depending on the context, sends Severus into a rage, a sulk, or a silent, solitary bout of weeping. Talk of the Ministry, the War, Death Eater trials—all leave him uneasy and unable to make civil conversation.
Potter doesn't like talking about Albus either. He also hates discussing the War, the Ministry, Aurors, Death Eaters, former Death Eaters, his parents, the Dursleys, the Marauders, his school years at Hogwarts, Remus Lupin, Sirius Black, the Weasleys—"I don't like thinking about anything when I'm here."
"That would explain it."
"No—this is like—it's like—the outside world is out there—and we're in here. I don't like when the outside world gets in. …I told Ron and Hermione that I'm living with someone. They said they're happy for me. Word got to Remus. He wants to meet my 'special someone'."
"Ugh. You didn't call me that."
"Who said I was talking about you?"
Snape throws a cushion at him. He has quite a few, now, in almost every color. Some have tassels—one of Potter's transfiguration phases. They don't do much for the atmosphere, but they do make excellent projectile weapons.
The Wolfsbane inquiry comes back with a question—
"This is ridiculous."
"Why?" Harry asks.
"Because, Potter, you cannot store Wolfsbane. They want a discount for ordering in bulk—I could make forty doses of Wolfsbane, but unless they have forty werewolves to drink it…" He blinks. "You don't think—surely not."
Potter weighs in carefully on the issue. "That's a lot of werewolves."
It is a lot of werewolves. Madame Skoll meets with four of them in the back of one of the seedier Knockturn Alley pubs.
Apparently, a certain Lord had decided that it would be in his interest to have certain key figures in certain organizations under his control. A certain werewolf pack in league with this certain Lord had graciously donated the highly virulent saliva, and all certain lackeys needed to do was to walk up and inject these key figures. They'd all been blackmailed. Some had folded—some had not.
They insist on absolute secrecy. They have the gall to make vague threats against his life even as Severus knows he holds their collective future in his hands. They also hate other werewolves.
He likes them immediately.
He quotes a price per dose that is not so exorbitant.
"A week's worth of work for a month's worth of pay. A good month, mind."
"What will you do the rest of the month?"
"Research. My first love."
"Who can say?"
"You'd think you could. …Won't be much room to work in here."
"I'll need to rent a space anyhow—we cannot have werewolves traipsing up our front walk to collect their doses."
"They could floo straight to your laboratory." Potter smiles beatifically.
"Yes, when I've…" Severus casts a sidelong glance.
"I made you something. You might want to check out the back door. Happy Early Birthday."
Severus doesn't bother to tell him that there is no back door—because he knows there will be when he looks, and beyond that—"You cut it into the rock?"
"Should be perfect—except for ventilation. Which I figured you might want to sort out. You're the one who'll be breathing the air inside, after all. And if you need more space—tables—levels—I can fix it."
"Like you fixed the couch?"
"I did fix the couch. You look good today—take a bath with me."
Harry is at the cottage as often as he is not. The Boy Who Lived is still in high demand. Every week another argument occurs—either it is the assigned security that he keeps having to duck in order to get back to the cottage, the Headmistress, the Weasels, or Lupin—about his vanishing act.
Severus refuses most of Madame Skoll's requests. He sets up his laboratory (cave with lots of flat bits and some fairly decent shelves) and invests in a few more cauldrons.
Potter gets in the habit of leaving a handful of coins on the mantle whenever he comes to stay. He always mutters something about hating to carry around loose change. Neither of them acknowledges that all wizarding money could be considered loose change. It is Potter's way of contributing something other than shockingly opulent rugs, curtains, and towels to the household; Severus prefers it to Harry sneaking money into the tins below the sink and throwing off his accounts.
It isn't that he minds being Harry Potter's dirty secret. He much prefers it to the alternatives, i.e., not being with Harry, being savaged by Weasels—but he can tell that it wears on Potter.
Something is going to give. He knows it.
"I've got to go."
Severus watches him pull on gold robes—sometimes the ones with red trim, sometimes the robes that shimmer—and does not ask where he'll be going. He doesn't ask whether Potter will be back, either. If their positions were reversed, he knows Potter would ask bluntly. The most he can manage is—"Am I cooking for two this evening?" It is not subtle—Harry sees right through it. But he pretends not to.
"Yes," Harry will say, or, "it's my turn tonight." When the answer is no, like it is tonight, he will say something like—"Nope—you'll have the cottage all to yourself. Don't go throwing wild parties—and if you invite your other boyfriends over, tell them to clear out before midnight."
"Or I'll throw them out."
"It's my cottage," Snape says, just to be difficult.
"Well, then I'll just have to single-handedly overthrow the Ministry and crown myself Emperor—and then the house will belong to me and I can throw out anyone I want," he replies. Potter's boots magically adjust themselves snugly around his calves. "I'll try and be back as early as I can."
"Your life is your own, Potter—you do not belong to me." Severus returns to making sharp little marks with the quill.
"…Why do you do that?"
"You do want me here, don't you?"
"Yes, Mister Potter, and the sooner you go, the sooner you may return to regale me with tales of the outside world."
The bristles of the broom scratch the floor as Potter drags it towards the door. He mutters. "…Have to be such a git all the…"
"I'll leave supper cold in the icebox."
"You don't have to do that."
"Might as well. If I'm going to be cooking for eight anyhow—"
"The rest of my lovers."
"Shut up—greasy g—" Harry snickers and clatters out the front door—the thump of his boots, the swish of the broom, the door banging shut—
And it is quiet. Severus sets aside the ledger, sets his chin in his hands, and allows himself to smile.
At a fundraiser, someone makes an attempt on Potter's life. Harry hides out at the cottage for the next two weeks and refuses to talk about it.
Brewing forty doses of Wolfsbane should be more taxing than it is. Perhaps it is because he has no distractions—but he silently suspects that like Potter (who is able to transfigure a handful of gravel into a set of glassware), he has received some sort of strange benefit from the encounter with Voldemort.
The werewolves wear hoods and floo in to the laboratory at staggered intervals for the potion. Madame Skoll never knows who they are, but they pay on time.
Severus begins to keep up with journals again. He sends for EuroPotion pamphlets.
"EuroPotion? When is that?"
"Are you going?"
"I'm thinking about it."
"As Madame Skoll or Severus Snape?"
"I shouldn't enjoy taking polyjuice for a week. I'll go as myself—if I do go."
"Won't that be dangerous?"
"Well—one cannot hide forever." Which is an odd thing for him to say, he realizes, but maybe it wouldn't hurt to go somewhere just once in his life.
Severus ends up sending in an application and a proposal to present at the conference. He still doesn't know how to kill a dragon—but he does know techniques for brewing and tailoring the Wolfsbane potion. In a sudden burst of optimism, he checks the box marked 'and guest' next to his name.
He receives a packet a week later.
Severus Snape will be presenting an introduction to brewing the Wolfsbane potion Sunday morning at nine in the Auxiliary Brewer's room.
"Send me a postcard," Harry says.
"I thought you might find it in your schedule to come with me."
Potter blinks at him. "It's in June."
"I wasn't aware one needed to book you years in advance."
"No, it's… it's all the way off in June. You're inviting me to go away with you for a week in June."
"You might find it all terribly boring. Come down for a day, if you like. We'll disguise you somehow—and no one will be looking for Harry Potter in Vienna. For the love of—Merlin—what's wrong?"
Potter fastens himself around Severus' neck and holds on.
"Nothing. …It's nice to know that you're not getting rid of me."
Potter puts up a Christmas tree and two separate sprigs of mistletoe.
Severus is assaulted at all hours in the name of holiday tradition.
They spend Christmas Eve at the cottage. Severus gets an armchair for the laboratory, a few books he'd mentioned wanting, and Potter wearing a bow.
Harry goes to the Burrow on Christmas morning. He comes back with more gifts and hands one of the brightly wrapped parcels to Severus.
It is marked 'to Harry's special someone.'
"What is this...?"
"Uh. It's from—it's a Weasley sweater. And I think they think you're a girl. …Don't laugh so hard. You'll break something."
Harry brings a guest to the cottage on a gray Wednesday afternoon in January, a few days after Severus' quiet but satisfying birthday celebration.
Severus is not made aware of the visit before it happens. He retreats to the kitchen from a long morning in the cave to find Harry conversing softly with Lupin over tea. Harry wears his red robes and sits cross-legged on the couch. Lupin is dressed as usual—in a shabby cardigan.
"Severus," Harry says.
Lupin's eyes are wide.
"I'll open up a bottle of wine," Severus says.
It doesn't go well—but it doesn't involve bloodshed, so there is that.
"Don't worry about dinner. I'm not hungry." Potter shuffles into the bedroom and wriggles beneath the covers, boots and all.
It is a rare thing when Harry wants to be penetrated. He doesn't take to it the way Severus does. He needs to be held before and after. He only likes it face to face.
Harry bites his lip.
Severus moves with excruciating slowness while rocking into him, filling him as gently and completely as possible.
"Little more," Harry begs. His hands clasp behind Severus' neck. His legs wind around the older man's waist. "More—oh—there."
Subdued as he seems, Potter requires little encouragement. Harry spends himself quickly, clutching and clawing at his lover's back.
It takes Severus more time. Potter recovers his senses and watches. Severus has to close his eyes. "I like looking at you," Harry whispers. "Look at me."
Harry's irises are a perfect green—and then Severus is being drawn down inside. For the briefest instant, their minds touch.
Potter cups his cheek. "I'm not leaving."
Severus comes helplessly.
Afterward, he lies next to Harry and can't seem to drive back bad memories. Neither of them speak—but every few minutes, they exchange the mental equivalent of a nudge.
"…I meant it. I've faced worse than Remus. He'll just have to get used to the idea. They all will."
"Does that 'all' encompass the entire wizarding world?"
"Mm-hm," Potter says.
"You don't hear many crickets in the winter."
"No. …I haven't stayed in bed all day since the week after I bought the house. That may be on tomorrow's agenda."
"We could order in for supper. …Do you want the lamp tonight?"
Potter raises his hand. The lamp winks out.
He isn't what you'd call a recluse.
True, he spends most of his time in two places—Potter's suite at Hogwarts (in addition to being probably the most powerful wizard in Europe, he has risen to the lofty position of Assistant Quidditch Coach and substitutes during Lupin's 'sick days') and Snape Cottage (christened with capitals by reporters who'd never seen it, and assumed it was much larger)—but he insists on making the rounds for ingredients himself.
On a good day, he gets in a full hour of shopping before this happens:
"Master Snape—Severus Snape! Roy Spritely, Action Wizarding News—may we ask you a few questions—is it true that you and Harry Potter are on the outs?"
Severus selects beetle eyes individually. It takes longer, but is the only way to ensure quality. "No," he comments, filling up a canister with half an ounce.
"What do you have to say regarding the rumors linking Potter with socialite Galarya Galaxy?"
"Completely false," he says. "Get away from me."
"Just a few more questions, Master Snape," the reporter insists. He shuffles through a stack of cards.
Severus notes that the man has teeth like Gilderoy Lockhart. He sidles away down the aisle toward the counter.
"Any whole bats today, Master Snape?"
"Four—one in each size. And bring me three tails while you're going back—rat, and as long as you've got." Severus busies himself browsing through the seed bins next to the counter while he waits for the clerk to collect his order.
"Master Snape! Master Snape! Phoenix Steele, United Tattler—"
"Oi! We saw him first! Master Snape—Roy Spritely, Action Wizarding News—"
"Yes, you've said," Severus says, selecting a mixed bag of seeds.
"Your thoughts on Draco Malfoy's new book—'The Eater Inside Me'?"
"It's rubbish. A lot of overblown rumor presented as fact. I've no doubt it will sell millions. Now get away from me."
"Master Snape—the AAMDH have recently denounced your work—reactions, comments?"
"Who are the AA—"
"The Association Against Malicious Dragon-Hunting."
"I've never head of them—and I don't hunt dragons. They die, yes, but there's very little hunting involved."
The clerk returns and passes over a box and a wrapped packet containing the tails. "Stunned, sir, should be immobile for two hours or so. I'll put it on your tab."
"Thank you." He turns and walks smartly into another reporter.
"Master Snape—Severus Snape—Itza Fabuloso, Miraculous Mages Daily—what's it like to sleep with Harry Potter?"
Severus blinks. "Hard on the knees. Excuse me."
A wizard of rather ill repute tells a story to the papers about an extended tryst with Potter. Three days later, he develops stomach cramps so severe that he is hospitalized.
Potter puts down the Daily Prophet. "Can you explain this?"
"Most likely ate something that didn't agree with him."
"Tell me it isn't fatal."
"It isn't fatal."
"Don't do it again," Harry says. "Though I appreciate the thought."
He arrives by floo on Christmas Eve.
"Oh, Severus—you're here. Hey, everyone! Severus finally showed," Bill grins. "I'm just teasing—can I take your gifts? I'll put them under the tree."
"Ah—yes." Severus hands over the meticulously wrapped and labeled boxes. "Thank you," he adds. The Burrow is warm and cluttered. It carries the heavy scents of cooking.
"No problem. My Mum wants to talk to you."
"Whatever for? Hasn't that woman yelled enough?"
"She wants you to make Harry an honest man. Since he seems to have settled on you, and all. And she made you a sweater this year."
"I do hope this one isn't pink."
"It's blue. She refuses to do black. Wear it tomorrow and you'll avoid a battle." Bill nods sagely.
"Hey—no fair. Get your own." Harry enters the hallway, practically bouncing. He gives Bill a mock glare. "This one is mine." He snakes an arm around Severus' waist.
"Easy, now. I was just scaring him before he went and faced Mum. I'll leave you two lovebirds alone," he teases, leering at the pair of them.
"Shut up," Harry laughs.
Bill makes kiss noises and bears the gifts down the hallway into a bright room.
Severus stands very still. The Burrow might as well be another planet.
"How are you holding up?" Harry rubs his hand possessively over the small of his back.
"So far, so good."
"I'm glad you came. You look nice. I like the robes with the silver trim."
"You're just saying that so I won't leave."
"No. This year, you should stay. You picked the perfect year to ease in. I know I was a prat about last Christmas—but this is the perfect one."
"And why is that?"
"The twins are spending the hols in the Netherlands. So you don't have to worry about your meal exploding. What's more," Potter lowers his voice to a whisper, "Percy is here. For the first time since before the war. No one is even going to notice you. Except me. Kiss," he orders, and Severus obliges. "Which is the way I like it, confidentially."
"I know you own me, Potter—no need to provide reassurance."
"Come on. Let's go join the others. I'll be right there with you."
"Promise." Harry takes his hand and leads him down the hallway.
Severus squares his shoulders. "I bought Lupin some chocolate."