The Two Broomsticks Fall Fic-a-Thon
Better Late Than Never
by I Got Tired of Waiting

"Severus, I'm not certain you know how to be happy," Harry said quietly as he smeared jam on his toast.

Well, he certainly wasn't happy at the moment, given the turn this argument had taken. Again. "What is it you want from me, Harry?"

Harry sighed. "A smile would be nice, a laugh would be better," he replied, taking a bite.

"I do so smile," Severus retorted sharply.

"Do not," Harry shot back. "The best you've accomplished is a twist to one side of your mouth."

Severus counted to ten in two languages before replying calmly, "Harry, you know I don't do giddy and the last time I did delirious was when I came down with the Horntail flu ten years ago."

"I don't expect giddy, love. I know it's not in your nature..." Carefully placing his toast on his plate, Harry gave him one of those soft gazes that, were they alone, would normally precede at least a morning's romp in bed, but seeing that they were not... "I just want... Sometimes, I just need you to show me you're happy."

Good gads! Why did he always have to push it? Why did Harry need him to show to the world at large his contentment with their relationship? What had started as only mild annoyance with Harry's whinging, blossomed in to full anger as weeks of keeping silent finally took their toll on his patience. No more. He'd had quite--

Harry stared dolefully at his plate. "Of course, if you're not..."

--enough. "I am happy, damn it!" he roared into the sudden silence.

Mouth agape, Harry stuttered an apology before turning shame-faced back to his meal.

Severus ignored the stares of the students and staff in the Great Hall. Wonderful, another Snape-Potter morning production. If he didn't love the brat as much as he did, he wouldn't endure this another moment and fervently wished, to whatever gods might be listening, that Harry grow up soon. However, in the meantime, the best he could do was cope and mutely apologise as he covered Harry's right hand under the table, pressing his left palm firmly onto the back of it.

Understanding flowed between them and Harry gave him a small smile, his remorse written in his eyes if one only knew how to read it and, unfortunately, he had his fair share of practice. When Harry dropped his gaze and nodded, Severus broke the contact and asked evenly, "May I see the mail, please," holding his hand out for the envelope which had arrived via Owlpost shortly after they'd sat to breakfast.

Without comment, Harry reached for it, a strong surge of power exploding forth at his touch. With a blinding flash and a puff of green smoke, the latent curse contained within the parchment released, heading straight for Harry before Severus could even react. With a short scream of agony, Harry slumped in his chair before toppling unconscious to the floor, the remaining ashes swirling out of his limp hand.

"Harry? Can you hear me?"

Harry dreamt of a gentle hand stroking his hair. Was that a kiss to his forehead? Who was speaking in such a tender whisper? Surely not Draco?

"Please, wake up; I promise I'll even smile the way you want me to if you'll just open your eyes," the low voice pled. With him? Not Draco, then. Draco would never beg.

"Poppy?" the voice asked raggedly.

"There's nothing more we can do but wait." A hand grasped his tightly. "We've reversed the curse, but we won't know until he regains consciousness how much damage there is. I am sorry, Severus."

Severus? Snape? Harry's eyes flew open, a white ceiling his first waking vision. He turned his head to the side, the one where the voice had been. Snape. Sitting by his bed, holding his hand. Smiling. Grinning, actually. Harry closed his eyes tight against the ghastly sight and groaned. This wasn't a dream, it was a nightmare.

"Harry? Are you in pain?" the same low voice asked in concern. A hand cupped his cheek as a kiss feathered across his lips.

A kiss? From Snape? Harry rolled away, desperate to escape the menace sitting by his bed, but only succeeded in tangling himself in the bedclothes. Gentle but firm hands reached for him, stopping his flight. Weak, he could do little else than obey their command, and he soon found himself back where he'd started. With Snape.

"Harry, calm down. It's all right. You're at Hogwarts in the infirmary."

Well, where else would he be? Harry would have laughed if his head wasn't pounding so badly. Damn, that Bludger must have hit him harder than he thought. He felt the soft breath on his face before another kiss was bestowed on his cheek.

Pulling away sharply, Harry opened his eyes wide in panic and shouted, "Professor!" as he scooted as far away as the bed allowed. Wiping eyes watering from the pain, he watched his nemesis warily. Snape's stillness and silence had a certain quality to it, as though something had turned every bit of him, inside and out, into stone, a pulse beating furiously below his rigid jaw the only indication of life. And for some reason, it scared him deeply.

For several heartbeats they stared at each other, Snape's black eyes feeling as though he were boring a hole straight into his heart. A hand extended towards him, only to be pulled back. Closing his eyes, Snape drew a deep breath through his nose, but only whispered, "Harry?"

Potter, Idiotic Boy, Imbecile, Bloody Gryffindor--these were names he could expect from Snape, but never 'Harry' and certainly not said in such a manner one might think he actually cared about him; he already knew the undeniable truth about that. So, either he was dreaming--and he pinched himself to make certain he was not--or else... "Look, I don't know who you are, but you're not Snape. So just stay away from me."

The keen disappointment that he'd guessed right was unexpected; Snape's eyes would never open that wide or look so stunned because of him. "Harry, I..."

"Severus, just let me handle this, all right?" Poppy soothed, but Harry could see she was worried and puzzled.

"Very well," the man said shakily.

Harry gagged down the pain potion she handed him and, after the few moments it took to work, he endured her pokes and prods and wand-waving over his body, his mind fairly clear. Watching her glance over at the imposter every now and again, he began to realise two things. One, her worry was primarily directed towards the man on the other side of the bed, and two, he really must be Snape because she acted as if he were. Which was just weird.

"Well, aside from the knock to your head," she paused and stared hard at the Potions master, "you're physically fine, Mr Potter. Let's see what else we can see." She pulled up a chair and sat heavily on it, her eyes straying again to Snape, a message clearly passing between them, but Harry had no idea what it might be. "Now then, what year is it, Mr Potter?"

Year? Was this some kind of trick question? "1997," he replied testily.

Snape's sharp intake of breath was Harry's first clue that something was amiss.

"And what year are you?" she asked as if Snape hadn't reacted.

Doi. "Sixth," he responded fretfully.

"And why do you think you're here?"

Here? Now there was a mystery, but he did remember that Bludger. "Um, Hufflepuff game? I didn't duck fast enough?"

The rustling of robes almost covered the low groan next to him. Turning his head to regard the man he'd been so studiously ignoring, Harry was shocked by the raw pain shadowing his face. Or at least he thought it was pain. It was hard to tell at the best of times, but the grimace he wore did rather look like the few times he'd managed to block his professor during their Occlumency lessons. Occlumency. Wait a minute... Fifth Year? Umbridge. Sixth Year? Dumbledore. Wasn't he still off the team? Yeah, he remembered that.

"Or not? I'm not playing anymore, am I?"

His words might never have been spoken for all the attention the two adults were paying him. Madam Pomfrey stood, her hand out-stretched to Snape. "Severus..."

"No! This is imposs--" he croaked, looking away. He straightened and drew his robes around him. "I'll inform the headmaster."

And in a black swirl, Pomfrey's shouted, "Severus!" either unheard or ignored, he was gone. "Dear gods," she muttered, "what a mess."

Several minutes passed in which Harry tried to understand what had just transpired. "What's wrong?" Harry asked, eventually giving up his internal guessing game. "What's happening?" he repeated when she didn't respond. Had Voldemort invaded his dreams again? Was that why he was here? He struggled to sit up. "What the..."

"Shush," she admonished, gently pushing him back into bed. "I know you have many questions, but I think them best answered by your--" the door to the infirmary squeaked open "--or the headmaster. Yes, that would probably be better," she mumbled as the man stepped inside. With slow measured steps, Albus Dumbledore moved to Harry's side and sank with a heavy sigh into the seat Madam Pomfrey offered him. Harry couldn't believe how old he looked.

"Where's Severus?" she demanded almost immediately, her eyes sliding to Harry.

"Severus is understandably upset and--" he stopped and gazed at Harry sadly, his usual twinkle missing. He sighed. "I asked Professor Snape to wait... out of sight until I'd talked to Harry."

Dumbledore wasn't telling the full truth. Now why would he do that? And why all the long faces? Harry's heart started pounding as though he'd run a race. "Headmaster, what's going on?" he asked as politely as possible considering the uproar inside him.

"Let's see if I have this right. It's 1997, you're a Sixth Year, and you don't remember why you're here. Is that correct?" When Harry nodded, he continued, "What exactly is the last thing you do remember?"

Sitting on his arse on the floor of the Potions classroom, Snape's wand rising to cast another 'Legilimens!' Oh crap! So that's what happened. Why, that greasy... He reined in his temper enough to grind out, "My lessons with Snape last night."

"Professor Snape," Dumbledore corrected automatically.

Fine, whatever. 'Snape, Snape, SNAPE!' Harry chanted defiantly in his mind.

"Now, now, none of that, young man," Dumbledore admonished mildly and Harry had to wonder how the old man did it; he'd not said a word.

"And if I told you that lesson occurred almost twenty years ago, what would you think?" Dumbledore said gently.

"I'd think you're nutters," Harry replied without hesitation and added guiltily, "sir."

Dumbledore chuckled. "Under other circumstances, you'd probably be right, but for now, I'd like you to listen to yourself, Harry. Just listen to your voice," he urged.

"What are you talking about..." and then he heard it. It wasn't his voice. It was raspier, deeper than the light tenor he remembered. "How..."

Dumbledore placed his hand on Harry's. "I'm sorry, there is no easy way to say this... A week ago, you intercepted a letter concealing a memory curse--"


He raised a hand. "Harry, let me finish. I know this will come as a great shock to you, but the year is not 1997, you are not a Sixth year, and you did not get injured in a Quidditch match, nor in your Occlumency class."

"That's what you think," Harry muttered.

Dumbledore chuckled then sobered. "Harry, the date is January 10, 2016, you are thirty-five years old, and you are the primary Defence Against the Dark Arts Professor here at Hogwarts." Reaching into his sleeve, he pulled out a small compact mirror which expanded at a spoken command. Wordlessly he handed it to him.

Harry took it with shaking hands and held it face-down against his stomach while his mind struggled with what Dumbledore was saying. He was thirty-five? No way. Sure, his voice had changed, but wasn't it supposed to? And that didn't explain... "Why was Snape here? Earlier. Why did he," Harry gulped against a rising nausea, "kiss me?"

There was that same something--pain maybe?--only this time in the headmaster's eyes. "Severus has every right to do so, considering he has been your husband these past five years."

Harry's head pounded in agony as he sat up, the mirror falling forgotten by his side. "Husband?" he shouted. "You must be joking!"

Harry barely saw Dumbledore's small, grim smile as Madam Pomfrey fussed over him. A calming potion later and Harry was again tucked under the covers, shaking so hard his teeth rattled. "All right. Assuming I believe you, was it one of those forced bonding things I've read about, you know, to harness my magic or something?" he asked a bit hopefully. Gods! Snape! He couldn't imagine the man getting close enough to touch him, let alone... Harry swallowed the sudden bile filling his mouth.

Dumbledore laughed outright and waggled a finger in his direction. "You've been dipping into Madam Pince's Gothic romances again, haven't you?" Harry just stared at him. "You developed quite a taste for them the first year you were teaching here, which, by the way, was a bit over ten years ago."

Ten years? The numbers were staggering. Feeling something hard dig into his hip, he dug around the bedcovers and found the mirror. Before he could look in it, Dumbledore once again caught his attention when he said, "But to answer your question, no, it was not a forced bonding. If the level of your... involvement with Severus the previous seven years was anything to go by, it was purely voluntary and very mutual."

Him? Married to Snape? It was all he could do not to retch. "May I be alone now, sir?" he asked stiffly.

"Certainly, my boy," Dumbledore replied, although Harry could tell he really didn't want to leave. "When you need to talk, you know where to find me. The passward is 'Treacle Tart'."

"Thank you, sir," Harry replied absently, his fingers dancing aimlessly over the mirror pressed so innocently against his stomach. He waited until both Dumbledore and Madam Pomfrey had left before he tested the mirror--with spells he didn't even remember he knew--to see if it had been doctored. That alone gave him pause and it was with trepidation he raised it to gaze at the almost familiar, yet strange face staring back at him with such shock.

As Severus rode the stairway to the headmaster's office, he once again regretted he'd ever perfected the invisibility spell. Witnessing Harry's revulsion in the infirmary three days ago had been almost as painful as the stilted conversation they'd had the next day, the one in which he'd desperately endeavoured to convince Harry of his sincerity, while Harry did little but flinch away from him and offer him veiled insults. As he had no desire to repeat the experience, he'd since respected Harry's vehement wishes that 'Snape' leave him alone.

He'd evaded Albus as well, knowing the man had been enquiring about him, but other than sending him an Owl asking him to find a substitute for his classes, he'd managed to avoid all contact with him. Until this morning, that is. In his reply, Albus had been quite clear he would not be acquiring anything for him unless the request came in person--from his own mouth, no less. Damn the man! He should just tell him to sod off...

Straightening his spine at the landing, he stepped through the opening door, wincing at the jovial, "Severus! Do come in." How could the old man smile at a time like this? When he failed to respond in kind, he had the pleasure of watching the smile slide off Albus' face. In fact, he looked positively grim. Good.

Gritting his teeth, he snarled, "Albus, would you... please, find a substitute for my classes?" There now, he'd said it, in person. Business done, he turned to leave...

"No, Severus, I won't."

Severus stiffened and stopped in his tracks. So the headmaster wanted to play games, did he? Well, he was in no mood for it. Slowly turning around, he hissed, "What?"

"Sit, Severus. I know there's nothing wrong with your hearing," Albus stated implacably.

Severus sat, and glared, and waited, resentful that the man wasn't even a bit unsteady when he poured him a cup and offered it to him.

"Tea, Severus?" he asked patiently.

This was not a battle worth waging, so he grudgingly took the cup from the gnarled hands and sat back in the comfortable chair. Sipping the perfect brew, he steeled himself for the unpleasantness sure to follow before asking, "What is it you want to hear, old man?"

Dumbledore chuckled. "Only that which you don't want to talk about, old friend." His voice quieter, he asked, "How have you been?"

"How do you think I've been?" Severus snapped, the tea sloshing onto the saucer. A muttered spell placed the spilt portion back in his cup. "I've not..." he finally admitted with a shrug.

"No, I didn't think you would be," Albus said, shaking his head sadly. "I heard your conversation with him proved less than fruitful?"

Excruciating, more than like, especially explaining to Harry those he'd lost over the years--and why. Severus raised his head sharply, his thoughts as bitter as the brew warming his mouth. "You've spoken to him?" he asked, hating the hope in his voice almost as much as the ignorance.

"Only the one time. He asked we leave him alone for a while, and I've been respecting his privacy." He cleared his throat. "As I've been respecting yours, although, as usual, you've been a bit less communicative about it."

Severus startled; he'd thought for certain Harry would have spoken in depth to his mentor by now.

"Now, what is it you really want me to do, my boy."

"Find a substitute for my classes."

"Really?" Severus didn't know why Albus looked so surprised; it was, after all, exactly what he'd asked for.

Albus regarded him over the top of his steaming cup. "Why?"

Because he just couldn't face them, not their pity, nor their derision, not any of it. "I want time to research the curse. Perhaps there is a way to restore his memories."

"As if you've not been doing so for days," Albus muttered. He glanced out his window, studying the scuttling winter clouds. "A reasonable request; I can give you a week. Will that be sufficient?"

"Hardly, I was hoping for a month." It would take him at least that long to get his affairs in order.

Albus stared at him shrewdly. "Very well, a month it is. And if you're unsuccessful?"

Failure did not even bear thought; however... "Would you talk to him for me?" he finally asked, the plea burning acid in his stomach.

"About what?"

Damn him, he wasn't going to allow for subtlety. "About... our marriage... I tried, but..."

"Severus, you know I can't."

So, Albus wanted him to beg? He'd be damned before... "Albus, please. He's always listened to you far more than he should. He would believe you."

"No, Severus. I cannot in good conscience..."

Stubborn blighter! "Why not?"

"Several reasons, actually." He ticked them off on his fingers. "First, the boy has only had a few days to absorb his predicament and, despite his physical maturity, he is just that--a boy. Second, he may not gain his memories back in a day, or a month, or at all. This means that any effort in resuming your relationship must come from you because no one but you can tell him what he means to you. The most I, or anyone else, can offer him is conjecture and that is not the way to recapture his heart." He raised his third finger, but said nothing.

Severus slumped in the chair. "And third...?"

Albus had the grace to look away. Quietly he stated, "You know I had... reservations about your marriage."

Severus abruptly sat forward, the tea forgot in his hands. Cautiously, he replied, "I suspected it, but you freely bound us."

Serious blue eyes pinned him with their full regard, and Severus almost dropped the cup when Albus said, "Yes, but only because Harry convinced me when he said he would rather have a moment of perfection with you than a lifetime of mediocrity without."

Severus flopped back in his chair, undone. "So you hated his choice after all. I always wondered," he mused.

Shaking his head, Albus replied, "No, I always thought the two of you well suited for each other. My reservations came from Harry's... continuing emotional immaturity; I was more afraid of the consequences to your heart than anything else."

Hot, cold, all or nothing--yes, that was Harry and he'd once had all. Now he had... nothing.

"In many respects Harry doesn't know how to love."

Severus laughed mirthlessly. "And I do?"

"Yes. More so than he does. You well understand it takes work and compromise to gain anything worthwhile and keep it. You loved him for years; I watched you work hard to earn his love and trust. Make no mistake, Severus, unlike your detractors, I always knew the many reasons why you were together." A fourth finger joined the other three.

"There's more?" Severus growled. "Out with it, old man." When Dumbledore just raised a brow, Severus sullenly added, "Please."



"The young man came to me just this morning asking some interesting questions."

"Such as?"

"Such as the legalities of him courting Harry."

"What! He can't do that; Harry is married!"

Albus set the cup on the desk and sat back in his chair, his hands folded over his stomach. "Well, technically, you are, Harry's not, and Draco can."

"Why, that sneaky..."

"Actually, he's being quite open it about it. For now I don't think he'll pursue anything more than getting to know this Harry better. However, if Harry proves amenable..."

"Albus! You can't let him..."

"Unfortunately, I have no choice in the matter. The law is quite clear: you cannot prove the bond as long as Harry does not remember making it, nor should you force the issue--" Severus bristled "--not that I think you would. And until Harry renews it with clear, willing purpose, you're both free to court him. As Draco stated, a second chance for happiness comes only once in a lifetime, if at all, and our most Slytherin Charms Professor fully intends to take his opportunity while it's available."

"And my life... my happiness?" he whispered to himself.

Gently Albus replied, "You deserve happiness as much as anyone else, but so does Harry. By all means, do all you can to convince your husband, but if you love him, you'll let him to make his own choices based on the place he is now in his life. And if that means he moves on without you, then..."

Then-- "You've made your point, Albus. I'll pursue this alone." --he'd already lost before he'd even started.

Albus nodded, his eyes filled with a thousand sorrows. "I am sorry, Severus, but your moment of perfection may be over."

Even if Harry hadn't believed his own much-changed image in the mirror, he had to acknowledge the changes in the handsome man sitting so casually in the chair by the fire. He'd no more unpacked his things in the guest quarters Albus had assigned him, than a knock had sounded on his door. Thinking it might be Snape, he'd hesitated, but the cultured tenor calling, "Harry, it's me," certainly didn't sound anything like the Potions master, so he'd overcome his reticence to satisfy his curiosity.

It had taken only a few eternities for the white-blond hair and grey eyes to register before he'd joyously thrown his arms around the slender man in the doorway. "Draco!" he'd exclaimed, hugging him close.

Draco's hands, while slipped around him, were tentative and held none of Harry's zeal, a fact that dawned on Harry almost as quickly as the blush staining his face as he pulled away.

"Sorry," Harry murmured, stepping aside. "Would you like to come inside?"

"Sure," Draco answered, but when Harry made to close the door, Draco stopped him. "We should probably leave it open for now," he said, staring hard at Harry, his face inscrutable.

"Um, all right," Harry stammered, leaving it ajar.

Draco shook his head and opened it all the way. "I almost didn't believe the rumours, but this just proves it."

"Proves what?" Harry asked, much confused.

"Harry, you're a married man; I'm not. It's not proper to close the door if we're alone." He stepped into the room. "And while I thoroughly appreciated your enthusiasm," he added, his eyes glinting with mischief, "I'm quite certain Severus would not be happy were I to touch you at all."

Severus, I'm not certain you know how to be happy. Harry shook his head, the memory fragment gone before he could capture it.

"And would Snape keep the door open if it were just the two of you?" Harry asked sullenly.

Draco laughed. "Probably not. But then again, I'm not his ex-lover; that distinction would go to my late, unlamented father."

"Snape was your father's lover?" How disgusting was that?

"And he is your husband," Draco reminded him quietly.

"Technically, I suppose, but I don't feel married to him, not really. I don't even remember it."

"Harry, he is your husband; you can't just ignore it."

Actually, he could, but no one was letting him do so. It was all so confusing. Here he was married to a man he loathed, while the real object of his most recent affections was standing right in front of him, seemingly untouchable. And how was he to think about a man who'd once been his lover when he didn't remember breaking with him? Especially when he still wanted him as such and didn't remember a time when he'd not? Was he truly an ex-lover or just a lover once removed?

"It's just not fair," Harry muttered,

"Of course it's not, to anyone, especially Severus," Draco chided.

"Him! What about him? I just can't fathom how I could have ever been attracted to that man. One minute he's nice, if you can believe it, the next he's as cold as he ever is. Just yesterday he stopped by the infirmary and brought flowers, and then threw them in the bin when I set them aside. The man's unbalanced."

"Harry! He loves you. Of course he's off-balance," Draco explained patiently as if to a child. Harry's resentment grew as he added, "And it's rude to refuse a gift of that nature; it's not that hard to be gracious."

'I am not pouting,' Harry thought, schooling his face out of its sullen lines. "I wasn't trying to be rude; I just didn't want to... encourage him," Harry muttered, his gaze straying to two blood-red roses entwined in a narrow vase on his desk.

Attar of roses filled his senses, waking him almost as surely as the mouth questing down his body, filling him with a desire as pungent and sweet as the soft petals strewn over his sleep-warm skin...

Harry stared at the plain band on his right hand and wondered.

Watching him closely, Draco seemed torn. "Severus is a good man and he treated you well," he began, his face earnest. "It was obvious to anyone with eyes," he drew a deep breath as if forcing himself to continue, "how much he... cared about you. He's devastated with what's happened." He turned away, his voice sorrowful. "How awful for him to lose your love in one instant, to start over. How would you feel if your places were reversed?"

But they already were, Harry thought bitterly. To only watch Draco and know he was not supposed to touch him? It hurt. That Snape might be feeling the same way twinged his conscience with a bit of guilt similar to that which he'd felt when he'd rescued the roses out of the garbage after the Potions master had left in a huff, but he forbore to say any of it. Instead, he asked, "Not that I'm unhappy to see you, but... why are you here?"

Draco shook himself and smiled, a habit Harry knew he'd once exhibited whenever he chased his dour thoughts away; the sincerity of the cheer that usually followed varied. This time he meant it when he said, "Aside from the fact that I'm the Charms Professor? I came to make an open offer of... friendship."

"A friend?" Harry asked incredulously.

"A friend," Draco replied firmly, nodding his head.

"Only as a friend?"

"For now..." Draco hedged. He squirmed in his seat. "I've a bit of a conundrum here. Technically, what you said earlier is correct: you're not married. However, morally you are. So, technically, I could court you, but morally, I probably should not. But I want to, court you that is, very much, but I also do not want to interfere with your marriage either. Severus is genuinely devoted to you; if he were not, I never would have stood aside in the first place, but I'd made a horrible mistake and he... well, that's really unimportant--"

Harry thought it very important but set aside his many questions--for now.

"--but what is important is that I may have an opportunity now, but you're by no means ready to make any decision, so until you are, I offer you myself as a... friend, someone you can talk to since I know that all the others you might have chosen otherwise are all... gone now."

That had been another terrible shock as well, the grief still fresh in some ways, yet so easily accepted as if borne for many years. Sirius, Hermione, Ron, Remus--all dead. And Snape had been the only one to give him straight answers when he'd thought to ask the questions the day after he'd awakened into this nightmare. Harry would give the man at least that consideration; while the others who'd visited him had said nothing, Professor Snape had been the one to tell him the full truth of his situation and how all those he'd loved had... died. Except Draco. And again, his conscience contracted uncomfortably when he thought about how he'd pulled away so violently from what had been only an honest attempt at comfort.

But he'd never thought to ask, "Who are my friends now?"

Draco answered readily, "Well, obviously Severus is, but you also used to have long talks with Minerva and Poppy, sometimes with Albus as well. Outside of Hogwarts? I don't know; I was not privy to much of your personal life after you settled with Severus, but I assumed you stayed at Hogwarts to avoid all the publicity."

Curious, Harry asked, "What about you?"

Draco flushed. "You and I have always been on... speaking terms, but nothing more since..." He shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "Like I said, I made a mistake and by the time I realised just how big it was, you were involved with Severus and, out of respect for what you'd found together, I stayed away."

Somehow, something wasn't adding up right; he couldn't envision Draco maintaining his distance at any time. So, what did this quintessential Slytherin hope to gain now? Harry might still love him, but he also knew Draco rarely did anything not to his own advantage; he'd never been... altruistic. "Why are you telling me all this?" Harry finally asked, voicing his real question.

Draco sighed, and looked away. "One of the things you hated most towards the end of our relationship was how... secretive I was. You always wanted to know what was going on in my head, what I was thinking." Draco shrugged. "I always thought it none of your damned business, so I turned you away. Looking back on it, I now understand it was just your way of caring, something you needed, something to which I was unaccustomed. I'm trying not to make the same mistakes this time." He turned his regard back to the fire. "Harry, I loved you then, I never really stopped, and when I realised that Severus had won your heart..."

He turned back to Harry and the fierceness of his expression made Harry's heart leap. "I never interfered with your relationship with Severus, although I dearly wanted to. Through whatever blind happenstance, I have a second chance... and I intend to not waste it this time. And while I would never purposely do anything to hurt Severus...

Now this was the Slytherin Harry remembered. The true memories of his recent past merged with the imagined dreams of his slumber as Draco slowly approached him and drew him into his arms. Gods, how he'd missed this the last week, the ensuing kiss one of perfection, a melding of mouths and hearts so familiar and yet so achingly different; this older body was slower, less responsive than he remembered.

The kiss brought to mind one particular night when the chemistry between them had been perfect, with Draco pressing him into the mattress while he'd keened his almost mindless need into a pillow under his cheek; a true memory it was, and thus easily recalled. But as Draco deepened their kiss in this time and pulled him closer, all he could think of was the dream he'd had the other night of him pounding into his lover, the proof of their passion wetting his sheets when he'd awakened. Real memory or dreamt fantasy he knew, nor cared, not. But it did make him press closer to this lover, the moan escaping him like so many others he remembered and those he only thought he did. He felt Draco smile against his lips, a light laugh finding its way past their tangled tongues to land squarely in his aching groin.

And yet, as Draco pulled him down on the settee, their older bodies fitting together as well as their younger ones ever had, the seeming perfection faded as Harry wondered why Draco had walked away. What was this mistake to which he kept referring and--a warm hand threaded its way through his hair to tilt his head so the lips upon his could better nibble his bottom lip--and how could anything Snape had ever given him, entice him away from such bliss?

It took three tries over two days for Severus to find the infirmary empty enough that he could openly seek Madam Pomfrey. With less than a week to go until he had to return to his duties, and with no success in finding an outside solution to his 'missing Harry' problem, Severus was getting desperate. After hunting in all the infirmary's nooks and crannies, he finally found her in the storeroom taking inventory, her back to the door.

When it became apparent she hadn't noticed his arrival, he cleared his throat, perversely satisfied when she gave a little yelp and jerked around, her list held to her ample chest like a shield. "Severus Snape! You know better to sneak up on me like that."

"What, and miss getting hexed by your clipboard? Madam, you wound me," he chortled. "Besides, I did not sneak; I boldly walked to the door."

She waggled a finger at him while plopping her plump self onto a nearby stool. "I wondered when you'd show up. Any luck?"

"Would I be here had I made any progress?" Severus looked up and down the long ward. Once assured they were still alone, he asked urgently, "Poppy, how is he? Is he fully recovered?"

"Why don't you ask him yourself?"

"'I'm well, thank-you-very-much,' does not tell me what I need to know the most." Although the continuing distance with which those words were usually uttered spoke volumes of those things he least wanted to hear. "I have given him what he obviously wants--my absence."

She stared at him a moment before replying, "Physically, he's made a full recovery."

A straight answer, how unusual, but by no means complete. "And mentally?"

Poppy shook her head. "The healer from St Mungo's thinks he's remembered all he's going to. He's had some dreams here and there, but he's unable to tell whether they're real or his imagination."

"I see."

"No, you obviously don't if you avoid him all the time. He's confused and you are not helping your cause if you allow your rival full access while denying yourself any."

Thinking of the heated kiss he'd witnessed between Malfoy and Harry two weeks ago through the open door of Harry's quarters, Severus laughed, a harsh sound. "Rival? You make it sound like I've equal footing with Malfoy. I assure you, at this stage of Harry's life, I have none."

She tilted her head; he hated when women got that particular sly, 'I'm-about-to-go-for-the-jugular' look; it never boded well for any man. "So, you're a coward as well as a fool?"

And he hated it even more when they were right. Fuck, he didn't need this kind of assistance; he already knew what he was. Drawing himself up to his full height, he snarled, "Good day, Madam," and stalked out of the infirmary, his heart as heavy as his steps.

While this was just one of Harry's many visits to Dumbledore in the last five weeks, it was the first time he'd felt compelled to talk to him about... his situation, which was becoming nigh on intolerable. All he wanted were some answers, simple answers no one would give him the few times he'd asked. Oh, he could get gossip by the grapevine-full, but when he approached subjects of a more personal nature, the most he'd receive were veiled hints or a pat, "I couldn't say," even from Draco.

Since most of his questions concerned his former relationship with his 'husband', he'd thought about approaching Snape directly, but found he just couldn't, not yet, not unprepared. The man still irritated the pants off of him, although he had to admit this was somewhat irrational; Snape had been, for him at least, unfailingly polite and 'nice' (and something about that was just wrong, wrong, wrong). For the most part, Snape had been leaving him to his own devices, their chance encounters infrequent and always in public, but Harry still didn't completely trust him. For all he knew, the Slytherin might have arranged them to just appear that way.

Except for meals, that is. Harry knew better than to blame Snape for his close proximity during mealtimes in the Great Hall; given his stony silence and stiff carriage, it was obvious the Potions master was no more comfortable with the public exposure than he was sitting right next to Harry. With the way the staff went out of their way to ignore Draco, (and he somehow knew it had never been this way before) Harry suspected the increasingly awkward seating arrangements were more the result of a group conspiracy than the work of any one individual. It was grossly unfair; he wasn't a teacher anymore and had been quite content to take his meals alone in his quarters or with Draco, but the house-elves had refused. So he was stuck... at the head table... in front of everyone... for every meal... right next to Snape.

And people wondered why he only played with his food?

Well, that wasn't really accurate, either, but it sounded good in theory as his recent lack of appetite was more a result of the intrusive visions he'd been having almost every night and at odd intervals during the day, than anything to do with the atmosphere at dinner. He couldn't get them out of his head and instead of clarifying things, they muddied his impressions. It was all so confusing, like a play he was expected to perform, but no one had given him the script. While on the surface they appeared the same, the main characters--even himself--were so different than what he remembered, they didn't seem real. And when he tried to resolve his new impressions with his 'true' memories, everything blurred. They so crowded his thoughts--the fights, the sex, the talks, the times together with both Snape and Draco--the remaining amalgam was something he barely recognised, so out of context he couldn't quite grasp its significance, nor its place in his current life.

So, Harry decided Dumbledore was the logical person with whom to start. Everyone said he and Snape were close. Maybe he could help him sort it out--or give him some answers.

The pleasantries aside, he accepted an obligatory cup of tea from the headmaster before opening baldly, "I've heard rumours that Snape and I fought a lot. Is this true?"

"Yes," the headmaster confirmed reluctantly, then shocked him when he added, "and I would ask that you address him as 'Severus'... if we are to speak of your relationship with your husband, that is."

After several seconds, Harry nodded; it seemed fair--for the moment. "And?" he asked, dissatisfied with Dumbledore's less than explanatory reply.

Dumbledore frowned. "What do you want me to say, Harry? Excepting those held at the staff table, I was not privy to the subjects of most of your arguments."

Incomplete, but understandable. Maybe if he approached it from the other side? "Were Sn-Severus and I happy?

"Strictly from a public viewpoint," Dumbledore began, shifting in his seat, "it did not appear always so, that is to say... not really, no--"

They were sitting at a table with their heads together over a map as he excitedly pointed at something in the middle. When Severus' brows rose in surprised approval, Harry thought his heart would burst.

"--but it was equally obvious you could have, or it might have been."

"I don't understand."

"Harry, your... fights with Severus were not as frequent as some people might have you believe and when they went public, I think I can say with some assurance that you were always the one who started them. Quite unfairly, I might add. I'd always thought it rather Slytherin the way you used your intimate knowledge of your husband's personality to gain those things you wanted."

Stunned, Harry could hear the truth behind Dumbledore's assertions. "How so?"

After an interminable time, time in which even Harry couldn't miss the internal debate, Dumbledore replied, "While Severus has changed in many positive ways, he still remains intensely private about personal matters and would no more air your domestic differences in public than he would his dirty linen. It was your... childishness that brought those matters into a public arena where Severus' own disinclinations effectively gagged him from not only replying in kind, but prevented him from using other more... intimate means to end those arguments to your mutual satisfaction. Instead, he was left with only the impotent anger which always exploded in the face of your incessant demands."

"What could I possibly have wanted that he couldn't give me?" Harry asked heatedly. This conversation was not going as he'd anticipated, the headmaster's unexpected accusations burning a path of guilt deep into his stomach. Could he really have been that selfish?

Come now, Severus, would it hurt to hold my hand while we're on the castle's side of the lake? Perhaps sneak a kiss? I really don't think the giant squid counts as an audience...

"You wanted things... behaviours Severus couldn't give you. Or at least not in public."

Harry didn't know what annoyed him more: the whining quality of his voice in the fragment or that he'd had to beg in the first place. It wasn't like he'd been asking for the moon. "Wouldn't give me, more than like," Harry muttered sullenly.

Dumbledore made a noise of disgust. "Damn it, Harry! Stop acting like a sulky boy," he barked. "This is not a game you can just walk away from if you lose. You don't get to play it over if you make a mistake. This is for life. And not just your life; there are others whose futures hang in the balance of your decisions. Others I care about." He leant forward, his hands white-knuckled on the edge of his desk. "If you plan to resolve this in a reasonable, equitable manner, you are going to have to set aside the notions of your childhood. Grow Up. This is not 1997. You are not sixteen. The passage of time has changed us all. So, hear me well, Harry. Severus was not the problem in your relationship. You were. Frankly, I'm surprised he tolerated you as long as he did."

Harry was pressed back into his chair as though forced by an unseen hand. And given the way Dumbledore's magic sharply crackled throughout his office, maybe he had been. Calming himself with an effort, he asked the one question--and he'd not dared voice it to Draco--that no one had been able to answer with any conviction. "Were we happy together?"

"I believe you were. I know that, beyond your arguments, Severus was."

"But if we fought so much, how could we possibly have been?"

Dumbledore chuckled. "Of course you fought; all lovers do. The more passion between lovers, the deeper the stakes, the more volatile the arguments become."

Harry blushed with the word passion...

His limbs heavy and sated, Harry found 'his spot' on Severus' chest before snuggling in with a sigh of utter contentment. Life was good, life was complete and, with the feel of Severus stroking and lightly kissing his hair, his forehead, his own sighs echoing Harry's, he closed his eyes to sleep...

Harry came back to the present, the headmaster's shrewd gaze pinning him with its fierceness. "Yes, Harry, the more passion there is between two people, the more love they hold for each other, the more intense everything is."

One could always count on Minerva to have quality single-malt Scotch to hand, and this evening was no exception. With anticipation, he took the decade-old Talisker from her hands, the almost-sweet, peppery aftertaste lingering as it slid burning down his throat. He sighed; the Isle of Skye's best offering was perfect for his dark mood.

"You look miserable, Severus," she opened in her no-nonsense manner. "Have you talked to him?"

"No, not lately. He's made it abundantly clear how welcome my presence is."

She nodded, not seeming too surprised. "If you'd like, I will."

"No!" he exclaimed, almost spilling the liquid forgetfulness he held.

Obviously puzzled, she asked reasonably, "No? Why not? How is he to make an informed choice if no one informs him? Surely you want him to see both--"

"No, Minerva, I absolutely forbid it. If you are my friend, you will stay silent."

"Severus, this is stupid," she replied, her mouth a thin line of irritation. "Any idiot can see what he means to you."

"Anyone but my idiot," he murmured, willing the next sip to provide its promised oblivion. "Anyone telling him we... loved each other is wasting their breath if he doesn't believe or trust he was ever capable of it. With me." He set the snifter down. "He is not now, nor ever will be again the man I married."

Frustration was the least of the emotions flitting across her face. "And does that mean you don't want him anymore? Was your love so shallow, so dependent on the events at the end of the war that this Harry holds no appeal? Have you suddenly stopped loving him?" He knew the miserable answer was clear in his eyes. "Tell Him You Love Him!" she insisted. When he shook his head, she spat, "I've always known you could be foolish, Severus Snape, but I never thought you a coward. Until now."

"Perhaps you're right," he murmured, the folds of his robes pleating under deft fingers. "Did I ever tell you how I courted Harry in the first place?"

Brow raised at his change of subject, she replied, "No, but if I recall it was quiet."

Severus snorted. "Oh, it was quiet all right..." he stared at the fire, sipping the fine scotch. As quiet as a fog seeping over the lake in the spring and just as alluring. Sitting quietly by the fire, their shared histories fading into blessed obscurity as their present rewrote and discarded them. Laying quietly in each others' arms, their loving making their previous loneliness something not worth remembering...


He reluctantly surfaced from his memories with a soft grunt. When did it start? He had no clear answer anymore, but he supposed... He set his drink aside. "When he was under your care, were you aware that Harry was out of the Gryffindor Tower every night meeting Draco, well after curfew, for nearly two years?"

McGonagall's mouth dropped. "Are you certain?" When Severus nodded, she exclaimed, "And you didn't stop them?"

"No. No, I did not. And neither did Albus when I brought it to his attention. In fact, he ordered me not to interfere."


"Well, from Albus' perspective, why not? For all his lack of sleep, Harry's grades and skills improved, and he gained a new confidence in himself. He even mastered his Occlumency lessons. His apparent 'love' for Draco gave him a greater power and better control and honed Albus' tool into something better suited to his needs. Why would Albus give up such an obvious advantage?"

Her mouth thinned. "Because Harry could be hurt?"

Severus felt his mouth twist up into what he'd been told was not one of his nicer smiles. "True, but how often did Harry's comfort and well-being influence what Albus and the Order felt necessary to make him our best chance to defeat the Dark Lord?"

It was gratifying to see her with no immediate response, yet he half-expected her, "I've never known you to take Albus' word for anything without looking at it inside and out first. I can't believe you just rolled over and did as he bid without some kind of fight."

"To say I was happy with the situation would be like Filch saying he was happy to lose his thumb screws--" Minerva chuckled "--but as my own position grew more precarious with Voldemort, I also could see it as a reasonable gamble if we could orchestrate his defeat before Draco brought it all crashing down around us." He shook his head. "As you know, we obviously failed; Draco left Harry for Blaise towards the end of their seventh year. Although on the surface, Harry seemed collected, in reality he was slowly falling apart. If Granger and Weasley hadn't rallied around him those last two months, I don't believe he would have finished the year out. As it was, his NEWT's were abysmal."

Not that his performance on those tests had mattered in the long run. Not for Harry Bloody Potter, the Ministry's Golden Boy and Best Hope For Our Future. "Then, of course, the next year brought the final battle." He grabbed his glass and drained it, holding it out for a refill.

When she returned with a fresh glass, he settled back in his chair and sipped the scotch, its sting as sharp as the memories of that horrible day. Ron's unmarred face as he dropped from a stray killing curse. Granger's messy death while blocking a curse meant for her best friend. The haunted pain in Draco's face when Blaise went after Harry and fell beneath his lover's wand. Remus...


He shuddered violently, shaking the visions from his mind's eye before continuing quietly, "In the aftermath of Voldemort's defeat, when Harry's friends died and Draco disappeared, Harry just... melted away before my eyes. At the time, it angered me that no one else seemed to notice, but I suppose, with all the chaos the end of any war brings, it was understandable that the needs of the one receiving the most adulation were ignored. After all, he already had the lion's share of the attention and didn't need any more."

He regretted his bitterness when, with a stricken gaze, she whispered, "How could I have missed this?"

Severus waved his hand in dismissal. "There was really no way for you to have known; Harry is very good at hiding that which he doesn't want seen. Since my orders were to lay low and help behind the scenes, away from the eyes of the public, I had a certain... leisure to observe events at Hogwarts in greater detail than those of you who were rarely there. And what I saw was a young man in crisis. Each day Harry seemed to shrink within himself, he grew a bit paler... he didn't thrive as you all supposed."

"Yet, he survived. You always did underestimate him," she remarked quietly.

"Survived. Aye, he did, but barely," he rejoined softly, his eyes never meeting her gaze.

"Explain yourself."

The scotch burned a path through his memories. The night they'd received their Orders of Merlin. Watching Harry slip out as soon as he thought himself unobserved, checking twice to make certain. Following him outside in time to see him Apparate. His own swift decision to follow his instincts and a lucky guess as to where Harry might have gone. Severus didn't realise he'd spoken aloud until he heard himself say, "I found him at their graves. He'd hung his medal on Granger's stone and was talking to them, the knife already slicing into his left forearm."

If he'd ever wanted Minerva's complete attention, he had it now. "As you can guess, I stopped him. He was beyond angry, beyond grief, and we won't speak of the... 'heated' exchange between us that night. But out of it came the knowledge that he had choices, he was not alone, and that, if he wanted it, he had my friendship."

"Your friendship." It was said as a statement, but he could hear the wealth of questions behind it.

Severus chuckled. "My friendship... to be going on with. For four months he vacillated and bit by bit, as he realised I was truly giving him the choice in the matter, he began seeking me out. What began as only a one-hour visit a week became two became an evening, sometimes a weekend or a week, until he wasn't leaving at all. I don't know when it turned from friendship into love, perhaps on my part at least, there never was a transition, but by the time he completed the Auror's program, he had already moved permanently to Hogwarts and was commuting to London daily. That he decided to leave the work after only six months was again his own choice; I never interfered with things of that nature."

She leant forward in her chair. "Why did he leave? He never did say, although the Ministry's loss was our gain."

How best to explain his and Harry's somewhat unusual arrangements? "Minerva, would you say that before the final battle, Harry had many, if any, choices?"

"Well... No, not really," she conceded after a long pause.

"Precisely. Albus talked a good story to Harry about choices, but he never really gave him any, and when one has been given no real choices, one cannot make any real decisions. For Harry to meet me as an equal, and I assure you, we had issues over that in the beginning, I could not involve myself in his... individual life, so to speak, that part of his life he was expected to do on his own. It took time, but he gradually learned who he was, what he wanted, solely by definitions he himself created." And Severus knew just how difficult Harry's effort had been, for he'd only learned those same lessons one step ahead of his lover. "As his training progressed, I think he finally realised he was doing it because it was what was expected of him, not because it was what he wanted. Not that he wanted to teach, either, but it was closer to his desires than the other."

"But Harry's a good teacher."

"Was a good teacher, Minerva. Despite his inroads with Albus, I somehow don't think his heart is in it, nor do I think he'll return to it. If nothing else, his amnesia has stripped away much of the detritus that clouded his prior judgement. According to Poppy, he's not plagued by the same nightmares he once was. He has options now, ones not poisoned by all the war's flotsam and his part in it; it's washed him clean of the guilt and remorse. He's finally found the absolution he doesn't remember he once needed with a desperation that sometimes bordered on madness."

Minerva, damn her eyes, knew him all too well, something she demonstrated when she asked, "And you, Severus. What about you? Did you ever find your absolution?"

He had once, when held in Harry's esteem, the trust and love he'd given to him so freely a powerful vindication of his own existence. Now he wasn't so certain, although he had no intention of discussing it with her. So, in answer, he merely held out his empty glass.

When she returned with the bottle and poured him three more fingers, he was ready to face her again. "Do you see now why I must remain silent, Minerva? Why I can't plead my case with him? He has managed to find a measure of peace he's never had before, and the only way I can explain to him why he trusted me the way he did is to break it. He's had so little... I just can't." He held up his hand to stop her rebuttal. "Do you also understand why you can't tell him either? Why I can't allow you the privilege I cannot even give myself?"

"In one way I do, Severus, but in another, I can see no harm in telling him you love him. That you do without question is a totally separate issue from why you do so."

Perhaps, but there was also in issue of trust, and not whether Harry could trust him, but whether he could trust that Harry would come back for the right reasons if he was influenced by the opinion of others. His memory loss made him vulnerable to such manipulations again, all their hard work of the last twelve years come to naught--for Harry at least. "Perhaps you are right, but I suspect I will never know." He cleared his throat, willing her to concede to his wishes. "Nevertheless, do I have your word?"

"Oh, Severus..." she whispered, and he would never be certain what next she might have said, for in the space of an instant, her eyes turned from sad to bright, her frown clearing as something devious came to mind. With a small half smile, she averred, "Yes, my friend. I promise I won't tell him anything."

Slytherin craftiness was never a pretty sight on any Gryffindor's face, but he quickly decided it was probably wiser not to probe its cause and, with a small glimmer of hope making the evening a bit more bearable, he nodded as he left her study.

"So, Mr Potter, it's been two months. How are you feeling?"

'Like I want to hex a certain Medi-bint if she asks me that question one more time,' Harry thought loudly, but of course, all he said was, "Fine, thank-you-very-much."

Madam Pomfrey's brows finally settled halfway between her eyes and her greying hairline. "Now, now, Harry, you may get away with that with Albus and Severus, but not with me." She tapped her foot. "Well?"

He swore the woman's hips were that wide so she would have a perch for her fists, placed on either side of her waist as she scolded him. While there was a part of him immediately rebellious, there was the larger part who'd been well-trained to unquestioningly obey most older females--why was that?--and dismissing his own whimsy, he replied, "I'm well physically, although I'm still having trouble sleeping--and, no, I do not want any Dreamless Sleep--"

"Which is all to the good as I'd not intended to offer you any," she interrupted him pertly. She ran her wand over him. "I hear Paris is wet this time of year," she said conversationally.

"It was a bit drizzly, yes," he replied, but it had been glorious. A surprise Valentine's Day dinner with Draco on the Left Bank had been perfect despite the light rain, hardly felt as they'd walked hand-in-hand along the Seine. The only imperfection to the most romantic evening had been a pair of men's kid gloves they'd found on the stone floor outside the door to his quarters upon their return. After saying good-night to Draco at the door, he'd picked them up, wondering if they had anything to do with the letters and well-wishings he'd received the day before that he'd not yet opened. Rummaging around his desk, he'd slit envelope after envelope until he'd come to one note in a familiar hand. Pulling it all the way out, he'd read:

13 February 2016
I've managed to obtain a box to your favourite, 'Madama Butterfly' in London tomorrow night. Perhaps we can dine afterwards; I will meet you at your quarters at 7:00 pm, if that is agreeable.
As ever,

Muggle formal wear had been draped over the bed and, at the time, he'd put it away with nary a thought... or real regret, but in the month since, the incident made his cheeks burn, much as they were doing now.

"The weather's much better in Venice, or so I've been told. In fact, you said the sun shone the entire time you and Severus were there for your honeymoon, with the only rain in Vienna when you went to see... Oh dear, what was it again?" She stopped a moment and put her finger to her lips, her face a mask of concentration. "Hmm. La Tra-vi-something-or-other-Italian. It'll come to me. Anyway, you said it was one of your favourites, and..." Her voice trailed off. "And you haven't a clue what I'm about, do you?"

Harry shook his head; not one word she'd said had brought anything back to him. Opera? He liked opera? "I've never even heard an opera," he mused.

"Well, there's some folks who take to it, though I've not much use myself for all the screeching, but you liked it fine and if you did before, you'll probably do so again." She patted his shoulder. "It may come back yet, you know. Have you had any more of your dreams?" Her eyes lit with concern.

Harry wanted to look away; lying would be useful here, but he settled for half the truth. "Some, not as many as before, but I still don't know if they're real or not."

Poppy harrumphed as though she knew it wasn't the entire story, something she confirmed when she asked, "And the other?"

Harry snorted in genuine amusement; he was certain Albus had apprised her of their progress. "As if you didn't already know the answer to that."

"Nevertheless, what Albus says is not always what I'm needing to hear, so cut your lip, young man, and answer the question."

"Yes, ma'am," Harry said, shaking his head. "Yes, my knowledge is coming back in stages. Yes, Albus and I have been sorting through it all to see if there are any gaps. Yes, there are a few, but I should be able to return to my duties next term regardless." He swallowed hard, "No, I've not got my memories back yet, except in drips and drabs." And, no, he'd not found the knowledge he really wanted. He looked away, his sudden good mood fading with such morose thoughts. "There, satisfied?"

Poppy sniffed and when Harry turned back to her, it was to face her thoughtful eyes. "For now," she said quietly, then in a brisker tone, she added, "All right, then, is there anything else?"

Nothing he could admit aloud. Like the longing plaguing him, but it was something so nebulous, he couldn't define it. Or his frustration that until he figured out what he's about, Draco refused to touch him more than a few stolen kisses, saying it would be dishonourable to do anything while he's still officially joined to Severus. Or perhaps she had a cure for his indecision. Draco and Severus were both waiting for him to choose, once and for all, but he just wasn't ready to do so yet, and his very ambivalence was fair to driving him mad.

However, there were a couple of things... "Yeah," he said, pulling open his outer robe to point at his stomach and back, "how did I get all these scars?"

"If you're referring to the long cuts on your torso, those were from a series of Sectumsempra spells cast by some of The Dark Lord's minions as you drew near him in the final battle. The slices on your back were from a whip Lucius Malfoy plied hours before you killed him--three weeks before the final battle."

Her matter-of-fact tone did nothing to dispel the horror of hearing it. He still wasn't comfortable with the accounts of his role in the final days of the war, although Albus and Minerva had assured him it had been necessary. And Draco! How could he ever proclaim to love him, knowing he'd been the one to kill his father? Draco said it had been a relief at the time, that his father had been a horrid man, but Harry could see the pain hidden behind such bracing words and he knew that Draco had loved him, no matter how bad he'd been. The only one unwilling to discuss the particulars with him was Snape.

"Anything else?" she asked, drawing him out of his reverie.

He held up his right hand. Inside the palm was a perfect circle, almost like a scar, but shimmery; in certain lights it gleamed. "What's this?" he asked lightly. "What famous battle did I get this from?"

Poppy snorted, but didn't answer him, her eyes searching his face. Finally she sighed and said, "That is your bond mark. It is the magical proof of one's sincerity when making vows and always appears on the dominant hand; Severus has one just like it on his left." She hesitated a moment before adding, "It is said that those who bear their marks on opposite hands are brought together by destiny, their souls joined much like the two faces of a mirror. Their way may not always be smooth, but their lives are fuller and richer for it."

"And those whose marks are the same?" he asked, thinking of Draco.

"It is said they live unshadowed, uncomplicated lives with little strife." She sniffed reflectively. "Always sounded a bit boring to me."

Perhaps, but boring sounded fairly good to him right now.

Severus stretched in his chair, his spine cracking in protest from bending over his desk for too long with no break. Setting the quill down, he washed his hands over his face and through his hair, pulling it back to rest over his shoulders. He stretched his legs and resettled his arse into the chair while thinking the Sixth Year Ravenclaws this term weren't as dismal as the other classes. Sighing, he picked up the quill and resumed his grading. Halfway through the next essay, the last one on the pile, his concentration was broken by the creaking of the front door to his quarters. Annoyed, he once again reminded himself he needed to oil the hinges...

The quill fell from fingers suddenly shaking so hard, the ink splattered far into the margins. Only one person had unlimited access to his home. Harry. Harry was here. He quickly retrieved the quill and began grading again, though his eyes never took in any writing on the parchment as his mind reeled with the implications.

Hunched over the desk, the quill making a big blotch on the paper, the soft, nearly silent rustle of robes told their own story of Harry's location. He was searching, and Severus made himself sit still. The rustling stopped at the doorway; it took every ounce of his control not to leap from the desk and...

"Don't you think it's time you got spectacles, Severus?"

He startled despite himself and looked up to see his Harry standing in the doorway, a shy smile gracing his too-thin face.

"You're not eating enough," he responded without thinking and immediately wanted to kick himself. Brilliant, just brilliant.

Yet Harry grinned, and his heart melted. "Um, the door was open..."

Severus sat back in his chair, the quill now leaking a small puddle on the paper he'd been grading; he didn't care. "This is your home as well," he began tentatively, "the wards are tuned to... both of us," for once the words lacking his usual eloquence. "Do you remember any of it?" he asked softly.

Harry started to shake his head, but stopped. "Some of it? Maybe. I've been having these dreams..."

At a loss, Severus asked, "Would you like to see the rest of it?"

"Very much, if it's not too much bother."

Bother? He could bother him forever as long as he didn't leave again. Severus pushed his chair back and slowly stood, his joints protesting the movement.

"Is your back hurting again?" Harry asked and then his face blanched, his mouth opening and closing. Wrapping his arms around his stomach, he whispered, "How did I know that? I don't remember..."

"Perhaps you merely noticed my stiffness and pieced it together without really thinking," Severus offered, hoping to stave the urge to flee he could clearly see in Harry's eyes.

His shoulders relaxing a bit, Harry nodded. "You're probably right," then looking away, he added, "Thank you."

"My pleasure," Severus murmured, the irony of the statement almost making him smile.

The small talk was painfully stilted as Severus showed Harry around the comfortable apartment. How did one 'host' one's husband? One room flowed into another until they wound up in the sitting room, Harry scrunched in one corner of the sofa, while Severus stiffly offered him tea. Heartened that he'd accepted, Severus handed him his cup, made exactly the way he liked it. When Harry commented, "You know how I take my tea?" he couldn't stop the small chuckle and his immediate response, "Well, we were together for more than a decade. Credit me with some observation."

'And if ever there was a conversation stopper, that would top the list,' he thought sourly as he watched Harry wince.

"'M sorry," Harry murmured.

Taking his own cup, Severus deliberately sat opposite Harry in the other corner, partially facing him. Conscious of the small distance between them, he took a sip, eyeing his husband over the lip. The silence stretched between them as Harry looked surreptitiously around the room and Severus blatantly watched him do so. Finally, Severus set his empty cup aside and settled his back into the corner, his hands folded on his lap. "You have questions?" he asked, his words falling like lead weights thudding to the floor.

Harry startled and stared into his cup. "If you don't... If you have the time, that is."

As if he wouldn't make the time, but Harry couldn't know that. "I'm... available," he replied.

"Thank you," Harry began. He studied Severus' face; he struggled to keep it impassive. "When did we get married?"

"April 10, 2010," he replied without hesitation, but reluctantly added, "tomorrow is our sixth anniversary."

"Congratulations, us," Harry muttered darkly.

Severus was spared his rejoinder when Harry suddenly unfolded from his compact position and moved right next to him, leaning forward. Before he could respond, Harry took his left hand with his own and turned it over, palm up, exposing Severus' bonding mark. His thoughts coalescing into a flash of insight, Severus understood now why Harry had sought his company. The knowledge left a sour taste in his mouth even as he wondered why Draco had not enlightened him if only to prevent Harry from seeking him out. Perhaps Malfoy was slipping.

Regardless, Severus held his breath and shuddered delicately as Harry lightly traced his fingertip around the mark's circumference, the echoes of their vows rolling around his head, his body, making him yearn... "Harry, don't," he whispered. The sensations intensified until it was all Severus could do to hold his hand still and not take his beloved... so close... "Please... stop." It wasn't what he'd intended to say, damn his honour, but a part of him was thankful that some piece of him was still thinking and not lost to the demands of his heart.

Almost in a trance, Harry continued exploring the mark; now two fingers were touching it. Severus concentrated on the bemused expression on his face and knew then that Harry was not unaffected by the touch. The knowledge almost made him lose his rigid control. But it was nothing compared to the avid look on Harry's face as he moved to set his own mark over Severus', the movement tremulous as though he were fighting something within himself. Severus jerked back to his own reality, the sweat of his effort sliding cold down his back as he made himself grab Harry's wrist before it could make full contact.

"No, Harry! Stop!" he cried, forcibly moving the hovering hand to the side. Panting they stared at each other, the harsh words echoing between them, leaving a familiar bitter flavour behind. Harry held out his arm, his hand reaching to Severus seemingly of its own volition, as though reacting to a memory his mind could not create, but his body well remembered. Severus leant forward eagerly for one glorious moment before he realised there was no conscious intent in Harry's eyes. Pulling back, his body curled in on itself like a summer leaf kissed by Autumn.

As Harry's face crumpled, Severus noticed he was still holding Harry's wrist in a bruising grip and, shaking off the despair, he released it abruptly.

"My apologies; that should never have happened," Severus rasped. He left the sofa and the room, to pluck a potion off the shelf in his study. Holding it in his hand, he laid his arm across the front of the case and placed his forehead on his arm, taking deep, calming breaths. How much longer could he endure this?

When he returned, he half-expected to find Harry gone, but breathed a soft sigh when he saw his erstwhile husband still sitting shell-shocked on the sofa where he'd left him. Reseating himself, he gently took Harry's bruised wrist and, as impersonally as he could, rubbed some of the potion into the soft skin until the bruising disappeared.

Harry broke the uncomfortable silence. "Severus?"

Severus didn't need him to explain what he was asking. But how to do so? Haltingly, he began, "The marks are very... intimate. They were created by our vows... filled by them with our intent... and our essence. Had you joined them..."

Harry leant forward. "Yes?"

Severus couldn't say it, the words stuck in his throat, but from the expression on Harry's face, Severus thought he understood.

"Had I joined them, would it have given me back my memories?"

Would it? Severus reviewed in his mind everything he recalled about their bond marks and what it had done to them inside. "I don't know. It's within the realm of possibility, though."

"Then why can't we? Join them, that is?"

Severus closed his eyes for a moment to hide the emotions roiling within him. It would be so easy... but, no, he mustn't. Opening his eyes, he made himself hold Harry's puzzled gaze. "If we were do so, it would join us again, whether you remember anything--or not. I know you think me a cretin, but I refuse to tie us in a relationship only one of us really wants."

And the confusion on Harry's face as much as the way he snatched his hands away, told him he'd made the right decision. If only it didn't hurt so much.

Much later in the evening, Harry realised exactly what Snape had said. That Snape still wanted him despite what had happened, and retained enough of his honour to stop him before he'd committed to something of which he had no real knowledge, gave him the courage to return to the dungeon quarters the next day. Their anniversary, and Harry was determined to at least remain polite, if nothing else.

Shifting the bottle of wine he'd brought as a gift, Harry half-expected the door's wards to be changed, but his fancy proved groundless when it squeaked open to the slightest touch of his fingertips, only to close behind him with a soft snick when he entered the sitting room. Glancing around the empty chamber, he wondered if Snape were at home. His resolve faltering, he half-hoped he wasn't as he'd wanted to spend at least some of this time recapturing some of the fleeting impressions he'd experienced when he'd been here yesterday.

He set the bottle on the sideboard and stepped into the study. Books lined the room from the floor to the heights of the vaulted ceiling, a ladder leaning against them the obvious means of reaching the topmost. His eyes widened at the two desks in the room, the one cluttered with rolled parchments and three bottles of ink; that one he knew was Snape's. That left the messier one as his, he supposed. Curious, he stood in front of its wide surface and poked a few of the parchments littering the top. A lesson plan with check marks, an invitation to some ball or other, a stack of Owls unopened from months past. All undisturbed, a layer of dust puffing up in the air at his touch. No, he supposed there'd been no reason to give these to him earlier; they would have meant nothing to him.

He pulled out the leather chair and sat in it, realising as he did so that Snape's desk was exactly opposite his in such a manner that if he were to...

Looking up from a paper he was marking, Harry watched Severus grading his own papers in their study. As he was about to go back to work, Severus raised his head and smiled that half-smile Harry loved so much at him across the room. The message contained therein made Harry's heart sing.

Fragments--all he got back were tiny pieces of his life. He shook his head; while they helped, he fervently wished he could see more. He waited a few moments and when nothing more came to mind, he sighed and stood from the desk, giving the room one more thorough appraisal before he left to go to the next.

Taking a deep breath, he cautiously entered the bedchamber. Their bedchamber, and if he expected to be assaulted by a plethora of memories, he was sorely disappointed when none were immediately forthcoming. With one of those moments that frustrated him to no end, he knew the right side of the bed, closest to the fire, was his. While the thought of sleeping there--with Snape--was a bit unsettling, it no longer brought the nausea it had months ago in the beginning. Perhaps he was becoming accustomed to the idea, or perhaps he was remembering things without knowing them. Regardless of how he felt about any of it, he was expected to choose and lately, he'd been thinking more and more of not choosing either one of his suitors. He smiled. That it would knock both of them on their arses held a certain appeal.

However, whether he chose one of them or he chose to go it alone, he still needed to at least give Snape an answer. As time ticked by, he knew he was being grossly unfair to a man who was waiting with more patience than Harry would have credited just a few short months ago. No, even as just a person, he owed him that much.

He approached his side of the bed and leant on it, testing its spring, then fell forward as...

"No!" he screamed, sitting bolt-upright in the bed, the sweat running freely down his back.

Gentle yet hard arms wrapped around him as the visions of the dead still paraded before his mind's eye. Arms that pulled him close into a sleep-warm body, arms that held the rest of the horror at bay. Soft lips tenderly feathered across his brow, as a voice whispered, "Hush, love. It's only a dream. It's over, you're safe."

He knew that, but the tears still came and his heart still hurt and his mind still reeled from the carnage of the 'The Final Battle'. So many dead, so many wounded in body and spirit, so many families torn asunder by grief--on both sides. How could anyone find in that a cause for celebration?

The arms pulled him back into the downy softness of the bed, shifting him until he was cradled against the familiar chest. Snuggling in, he let the tears he tried so hard to suppress flow freely, wetting the skin beneath his cheek. Hands wandered soothingly up and down his back, while the voice whispered endearments, words he couldn't quite grasp, but nonetheless brought him comfort and absolution.

Harry gasped as the memory faded into his current reality. He'd not been plagued by anything like this since the accident, his restless dreams limited to more mundane, everyday fears, easily controlled. Perhaps not having his memories was not such a bad thing, after all, and he snorted as soon as he thought it. No, he'd rather have them all back and suffer this, than to live a half-existence where he knew not who he really was.

Struggling from the bed, he absently smoothed the covers, wondering if Draco had ever calmed him through a nightmare. He'd have to ask, for he couldn't recall. Any further thoughts he might have had on the subject were interrupted when the bathroom door opened and a half-dry, very naked Severus Snape walked into the bedroom. A million impressions crowding his mind at this new memory, Harry's face burned in the instant between Severus' shout of surprise and his own rapid escape to the other room.

Back in the sitting room, Harry caught his breath, the vision of Snape's rather nice form making it difficult. So this was his husband, and he couldn't help thinking he had good taste even as he told himself to stop looking. He briefly debated leaving, but something stubborn within him refused to give Snape the evidence of his cowardice. So with much trepidation, he settled on the sofa to wait, trying hard not to think of what had happened there the day before; the shivery sensations which had coursed through his body after touching the bond mark had kept him awake a good part of the night.

When Snape appeared a few heartbeats later, Harry thought he must have broken all speed records for getting dressed as he was covered from head to foot in his teaching robes, which Harry knew took forever to get him out of, assuming one didn't rip something in frustration. That stray thought alone gave him pause, but he didn't question this type of knowledge anymore--it just happened, although this one was a bit more... unsettling than most.

"Um, I'm sorry; I didn't know you were home," was spoken at the same time as "I'm surprised you returned." Grinning sheepishly, Harry finished, "I should have fire-called first."

"Nonsense," Severus replied calmly, "you do not need an invitation to visit your own home." Harry would have replied, but he was fascinated by the pulse throbbing in Snape's throat just above his collar. So, he wasn't as... unaffected as he appeared?

Suddenly Harry had no desire to remain here. It was the strangest thing, but he no more wanted this man to witness him remembering anything than he wanted Draco to see it. He knew it frustrated Draco to no end when he wouldn't tell him what he remembered, but until he knew what was real, what was his imagination, and what was wishful thinking, he didn't feel comfortable telling either one of them. They were Slytherins, after all, and he was the 'prize' they both sought. He might be a Gryffindor, but he wasn't entirely thick.

"Um, I was wondering if you'd like to go walking... around the lake, maybe. It stopped raining a while ago, so it's..."

"That will be fine," Snape said neutrally, and Harry realised he was going to have to stop calling him Snape, even in his own mind, if he were to take his bid seriously.

Severus warded the door behind them and soon they were out the front door into the cold spring sunshine. As they left the stairway and started on the path to the lake, Harry handed Severus his gloves, saying quietly, "I'm sorry about what happened on Valentine's Day. Your note arrived with a bundle of others, so I didn't open it in time, and then Draco came and fetched me... I didn't mean to leave you waiting."

He hazarded a glance at Severus, uncertain if the muscle jumping in his jaw was due to his truancy that day or that Draco had got there first. Nevertheless, Severus' voice was calm when he replied, "The mistake was mine; I should have issued the invitation in person, but with classes and such..." He placed his hands behind his back, but the pulse again beat visibly above his collar. "It's unimportant. I trust Paris was... adequate."

'Liar,' Harry thought, then realised how it must have appeared to the man to whom he was still married. "I never really got to see it; we were only there for the evening," Harry replied as if bored. "Nothing too exciting. We had dinner, took a walk, and came home. It rained."

Severus said nothing, but Harry noticed the wild pulse at his throat was gone. Eventually they turned onto the lake path and for a while he was distracted by the scenery, hoping to recapture something. All too soon, they'd made almost a complete circuit, when Harry asked, "Minerva tells me we used to walk this way almost daily--even in the winter. Were we always this silent?"

Severus gave it obvious thought. "Sometimes, but I never felt the need to fill any voids with idle conversation whenever it occurred." He hesitated and added, "Our time around the lake was usually before dinner. It was a time to... decompress from the stresses of teaching and we often compared notes about students and... other occurrences during the day."

Harry could sense there was more and, as he realised how private the far side was, he wondered if perhaps 'decompressing' involved something more... physical as well. The thought almost made him smile.

Later as they were walking back to the castle, Harry decided to voice some things that had bothered him much of the night. "Severus, can I ask you a question?"

"Only one?" Severus asked with a twist to his lips. Was he actually smiling? "Very well."

"They say we got together because of my break-up with Draco. Is this true?"

Severus looked like he'd rather fight a dragon without a wand than answer the question, but he gamely cleared his throat and replied, "I don't know; we never spoke of it."

Harry somehow knew this was only partly true, but decided not to press the issue. "Can I ask you something else? From yesterday?"

He glanced over in time to see Severus eyeing him warily, even as he nodded.

"Did the warning you gave me... about aligning the marks... did you say that because you don't really want me? I mean, Albus told me our relationship was... rocky, and it was mostly my fault. That I wanted things you couldn't give me, and I was wondering..."

"Albus talks too much," Severus snarled.

"...wondering if you tolerated me before because you loved me, or because being with me was just a convenience to keep you from being alone?" When Snape didn't reply, Harry pressed further. "I mean if we fought a lot and I was the cause... I'm not certain I'd want to be with me, either."

Severus looked uncomfortable. "Our... discussions were not as frequent as some would make out, and if anything, to a certain extent, I was as responsible for them as you ever were."

That made sense to Harry and sounded truer than what he'd been told. However, it didn't answer his question. "I can't make a decision until I know."

"There's no decision to be made," Snape snapped, although from his wince, Harry could see he immediately regretted it. But any regret he might have felt didn't stop him from adding, "We're married. That in itself should tell you all you need to know."

"No, I'm not that person anymore. I have no... anchor anymore. I need you to tell me!" Harry cried. "Did You Ever Love Me?"

Walking faster, Severus pulled ahead, and it was all Harry could do to keep up. This was so frustrating; he'd asked a simple question, why couldn't Severus... "Just answer the question! Please!" Harry pleaded.

Severus whirled and was suddenly there, his arms enfolding Harry in a tight embrace, his hands fisted in Harry's robes, digging almost painfully in Harry's back. The kiss was wild, savage, filled with a myriad of things Harry knew this man would never say aloud. There was no finesse here, only raw need. His senses reeling, the whimper he couldn't hold in resounded through his head, bringing with it the echoes of other such sounds, sounds he knew came from them, but from whom he couldn't say. Ebullient feelings filled him with an overwhelming passion and a heady sense of life so strong it threatened to burst out of him. He'd made vows with this man and the understanding of that was almost within his grasp... just a moment more and he would know--

Severus released him so abruptly, Harry staggered, barely registering the choked apology preceding his husband's fleeing form.

"Severus, damn it!" he yelled to the figure striding quickly across the lawn. "Damn you," he almost sobbed.

He'd been so close.

Gods, he'd done what he'd sworn he wouldn't do and, for the last two weeks, he'd paid the penalty as his dreams once again filled with the unreachable--Harry kissing him, Harry loving him, Harry never leaving him--all the things he'd managed to push aside since the accident, lest he never sleep again. Things he now knew he'd probably never again experience, for Harry had gone back to his former lover and, ever since the disaster at the lake, he'd moved his seat next to Draco's at meals and wouldn't look at him the rare times they encountered each other.

As he stood hidden behind a column near Harry's quarters, helplessly watching Malfoy lead Harry away down the hallway, their heads close together as they talked and laughed quietly, Severus fingered his wand and mentally reviewed his well-worn list of how many ways he could safely murder the blond without leaving a trace. Over the last several months, he couldn't count the number of times he'd almost snapped his wand curtailing the overwhelming temptation to permanently eradicate Malfoy's smug smiles. Of late it had been nearly impossible; Malfoy obviously knew about the incident at the lake; his blatant triumph strained Severus' endurance almost to the breaking point. In fact, Dumbledore had saved the Slytherin marauder just this morning, calling for the Potions report mere syllables before the curse had left his mouth. Meddling old fool.

And yet, despite his obvious advantage with Harry, Malfoy still remained cautious around him, all right; just because he'd decided not to force his company on Harry didn't mean he couldn't harass and discourage his competition. He supposed the conversation about obscure poisons with McGonagall last week in the staff room might be the reason Draco had begun carrying a Sniffer around with him again. He smiled grimly, patting his pocket where a tiny blue vial resided, one he displayed prominently to the side of his plate at every meal; it wasn't his concern that Malfoy didn't know the bottle was empty.

Waiting until they were gone, he debated a few moments before slipping into Harry's quarters, the smell of him on the air almost overwhelming his senses. Walking deeper into the space, he realised Draco's scent overlaid it as well, the combination of which spelled his continuing loneliness. And yet... there was no lingering odor of forbidden intimacy, and he wondered if Draco's veiled insinuations whenever they met in the hall were false. It didn't seem he'd crossed the line, the one which would spell his immediate dismissal if he were ever caught. Severus snorted; even if Draco had violated the sanctity of their marriage, would he have the temerity to possibly alienate Harry forever if he exercised his marital rights as the cuckolded husband?

Shaking off a sense of foreboding, Severus pulled out of his robes that which he'd come to deliver in person--a small album--and laid it on Harry's desk. Even as he placed it, his hand lingered on the cover; he was torn about leaving the only visual reminders he had left of their life together: a few photos of Harry, places they'd been together, and one rare photo of the two of them together on their honeymoon. With the way Harry had begun thawing to him, he'd originally hoped to show them to him and tell him the circumstance behind each one, but given what had happened at the lake, would he instead be leaving them for possible destruction?

He resolutely removed his hand. Even if Harry burned them all, it would still be preferable to his maudlin brooding over them like the last time, when he'd gone through the photos one by one while consuming the bottle of wine Harry had left the last time he'd seen him. Giving the album one last touch, he left as silently as he'd come, hoping it would be enough to bridge the gap his foolish impetuosity had created.

"Do you remember this place?" Draco asked him, his eyes sparking with amusement.

Harry glanced around the niche they'd just entered, sneezing at the dust their passage had stirred. Shaking his head, Draco handed him a handkerchief. "You never did remember to carry one," he said affectionately.

As he wiped his nose and watering eyes, Harry tried to remember, but other than a faint glimmer, the knowledge of where they were eluded him. "No, I'm sorry; I don't. Should I?"

Draco chuckled. "We used to meet here sometimes. This was my thinking space."

Harry's brows rose. "Here? Whatever could we have done..." He blushed. "Oh," and smiled at Draco's frank laughter. "It's really odd," Harry added, seating himself on the dusty marble bench in the tight space, "it's like they're right on the tip of my mind, but I just can't grasp them."

Still smiling, Draco replied, "What's really odd is that I know you're sixteen in your head, but you're not acting like you did at sixteen." The 'thank the gods' was almost as tangible as his words.

Harry leant forward and asked sharply, "What do you mean?"

Draco paled. "Um, nothing."

"Draco..." Harry warned.

The hand placed hesitantly on his knee was comforting as Draco explained, "Well, you used to..." And the words faded over the rush in Harry's head.

"Gods, what a fucking whiner!" Draco exclaimed in a harsh whisper. " 'Draco, I'm scared,' " he mimicked in high-pitched nasal voice, " 'Draco, hold my hand. Draco, I want my mummy.' Lord, Blaise, I'm so tired of it."

Harry felt his cheeks flame. Pulling the invisibility cloak tighter around him, he silently crept nearer to the pair standing close in the shadows of a hallway behind a column. "I didn't sign up to be Potter's security blanket," he continued acidly.

"Perhaps he just needs..."

"I don't give a fuck what he needs! What about what I need?" Draco asked heatedly. "Between my father and Snape and... Him, I don't need another burden."

"Maybe he just needs time..."

"Time for what? Courage? He's a Gryffindor, for fuck's sake."

"He's just a person..." Blaise began in a conciliatory tone.

"Why are you defending him?" Draco hissed, his eyes slit in anger. "Maybe you should be his lover."

Blaise smiled sadly and ran his fingers down Draco's face. To Harry's horror, Draco leant into the touch, his eyes closing in a contentment Harry never seemed to be able to draw out of him. "Now, now," Blaise soothed, "you know how impossible that would be."

Draco opened his eyes, searching the face so near his own. "Yeah, I know," he said softly, "and more the fool I."

Blaise's hand tightened on his shoulder, his head dipping fractionally before he pulled away, his head turning to glance wildly around the corridor. For a brief moment, his eyes stared unseeing directly at Harry. A host of emotions flashed across the youth's face, the least of which were pain and longing. Harry's insides swelled with an unfamiliar heat. So this was how it was.

"Look, we better get going before Snape or Filch catches us," Blaise said hurriedly.

Draco drew breath to reply, then let it out in a gusty sigh. "Yeah, you probably should. No sense both of us getting caught after curfew."

"Draco, I..."

Draco put his hand over Blaise's mouth. "Don't. Just... don't. All right?"

Nodding reluctant assent, Blaise sighed and was gone before Harry even saw him leave. Draco sagged against the column behind him and whispered, "I am so stupid." Pushing off with a noise of disgust, Draco slowly walked away in the opposite direction, further into the deserted corridor.

Harry trailed after him, trying to make sense of what he'd just seen. Some time later, Draco slipped into the shadows. Harry stopped, debating whether he should follow him or not; he knew how touchy Draco could be if disturbed in his 'thinking spot' without invitation. But he had to know, had to have the answers to the burning questions roiling around his head. Slipping the invisibility cloak off his body, he tucked it into his pocket before slipping between the columns into the deep niche beyond.

As expected, Draco was ensconced on a marble bench, his chin resting on his drawn-up knees. Harry watched him a few heartbeats. The thought of Draco and Blaise together ate a hole in his imagination, a hole through which he would fall, if it were true. Suddenly, he had to know. Had to know if, once again, his trust had been betrayed. Had to know if he truly had Draco's affections or if he was just another knot in the string of Draco's conquests. Damn it, why did these things always happen to him? Wasn't there anyone who could accept him just as Harry? Was there anyone who wouldn't judge him by his house or his purpose or by their own needs over his own?

Harry's feet sent up puffs of dust as he stepped fully into the cramped space. Draco startled, his wand immediately in his hand and pointing at Harry's chest before he could blink. Raising his hands, Harry smiled wanly. "I thought I would find you here."

"What the fuck do you want?" Draco asked sullenly, the wand disappearing in his robes.

"You missed our... appointment," Harry replied, his uneven tone betraying him.

Draco stiffened. "Yeah, I did. And your point?"

"Why?" Harry asked, the word out before he could stop it.

Draco's eyes narrowed. "I was busy."

"Were you...?" He closed his mouth with a snap, but the action did nothing to stop the rest of it from slipping out. "...with Blaise?" Gods, he was whining.

Draco stared at him, his face impassive, but Harry could almost see the debate raging in his lover's head. 'Tell me,' he silently begged, 'tell me that what I just saw meant nothing to you, to us.'

"If you must know, I was writing my Potions essay and lost track of the time." Draco closed his mouth firmly over what Harry knew would be blazing sarcasm. Draco swallowed a few times before adding mildly, "You were gone by the time I finished."

Harry's vision filled with grey; Draco had lied. So it was true. "It's all right--" Harry took a deep breath--he would be damned if he let Draco see his hurt, "--I'd... understand if you were."

"Harry, I..." His voice trailed off and he stared in front of him. In one fluid movement, he swung his legs to the floor and stood. Moving until he was well within Harry's space, he cupped his cheek and whispered, "One last time, Potter--I am not sleeping with Blaise." When Harry couldn't make his frozen mouth respond, Draco threw his hands up in the air. "Gods, I can't believe this!" he exclaimed, brushing past him. The draft of his passing made Harry shiver.

Harry blinked the vision away. Funny, he believed Draco now.

"You all right, love? Did you remember something?" Draco asked with sharp concern.

Harry shook his head, unwilling to voice what he'd just seen. "I'm fine, just got lost in my thoughts a moment. Sorry."

Draco raised a brow but said nothing. Harry wanted... "Whatever happened to Blaise?" he asked into the stretching silence.

His face impassive, Draco replied, "He's dead."

But Harry heard it, heard the shaky quality to his voice his face belied, heard the unspoken grief as surely as if Draco had wailed it aloud. Harry covered the hand resting on his knee, unsurprised by the tremor contained within it. "I'm sorry," he said with all the compassion at his disposal and knew without a doubt that this was the reason he and Draco had never stayed together; he'd loved another more.

"No reason for you to be," Draco rejoined, pulling his hand away. "Blaise made some stupid choices and paid for them in the final battle."

"Perhaps, but that doesn't mean you don't miss him," Harry said quietly, his eyes fixed on Draco's face.

Nodding, Draco replied, "I do." He took Harry's hand, the thumb rubbing gently across the back. "But I missed you more."

And Harry had to wonder if that were true. He thought of the bond mark on the other side of the hand Draco held and wondered if its fading appearance, each day a bit fainter, was any indication of the health of his so-called relationship with Snape. If so, he was running out of time to make his decision, or perhaps, if he did nothing, time would take away his responsibility in actually making it.

But that in itself was unsatisfying and went against his own deep moral code. In all fairness, he needed to decide soon; leaving Severus by default seemed dishonourable, a coward's way out of a mess not of his own making. He was better than this.

And yet... he was frustrated. He didn't have enough information to hand to make any sort of informed decision. Severus remained distant and silent, but Harry had to admit, even when absent, the man weighed heavily in his thoughts. On the other hand, he and Draco had been spending almost every open moment together and yet their time together was rather like eating a light snack instead of a full meal; it left him hungry for more substantial fare. But what that 'more' was, he hadn't a clue. Was his dissatisfaction borne out of the celibacy Draco continued to enforce? Beyond holding and kissing him, Draco refused to let it go further, saying there were some lines even he dared not cross. However, even when safely ensconced in Draco's loving embrace, this more mature body confounded him; it didn't react the same as it used to. Maybe that was a function of age, but this body said something vital was missing.

Which always led him back to Severus. Rumour said he'd gone to Severus' arms on the rebound, but now he was not quite certain. The flashes of his memories of arguments with both of them told, perhaps, a different story, but they were out of order, out of context, the only clue he had to a time frame was his own aging body. Instead of answering his questions, they left him confused, for he still loved Draco. Yet... as always, the more recent memory of Severus' kiss the other week intruded into his inner maelstrom and, when he compared it to Draco's lesser demands, he had to wonder if it was really this body after all.

Severus stared at the fading bond mark, knowing what it meant; Harry was leaving him. Filled with a strong sense of déjà vu, he let his mind drift back to the last time he'd given Harry a similar choice before they were married; Draco had returned to Hogwarts to teach and was making a serious bid for Harry's affections. When he'd told Harry he was free to go back to his former lover, Harry had just stared at him before asking, 'Are you going all noble on me again?' before dragging him off to bed for an entire weekend. Severus smiled. He'd proposed in a debauched haze of post-coital bliss that Sunday and Harry had replied by taking his fiancée to new heights of hedonism. They'd missed Monday as well.

He swallowed his smile. Unfortunately, Harry wasn't going to be taking him anywhere anymore, and he'd almost accepted it now. It was time to move on, time to reckon where he went from here. The first part had weighed heavily on his mind now for weeks, and as it was abundantly clear he couldn't abide staying where all his memories resided, he decided his first step would be to leave Hogwarts--and Harry--behind.

But to move where? And how? All the small details of permanently breaking their lives apart occupied his thoughts. Separating their assets would be difficult, but not impossible; their Hogwarts quarters had been mostly his with only a smattering of personal things Harry primarily kept in his old school trunk. He supposed they could split those things they'd acquired together.

As to their joint accounts, those would be the easiest to sunder as the lion's share was Harry's. All he had were the monies he'd managed to put aside from his years of teaching and he was fairly certain that once he and his soon-to-be ex-husband were separated, whatever remained would prove sufficient to buy him a small cottage and a basic lab. Supplying it would prove no obstacle; half of the Hogwarts Potions stores were his anyway; he and Albus should be able to strike a bargain on what he took with him. Beyond that, he would just have to improvise.

What happened after the dust settled in his new life depended entirely on how soon he could forget, how well he could submerge himself into his work. And failing that, there were... other things he could do to bring about a more... permanent solution.

Yes, that bit certainly required more thought.

On any normal day, while Draco taught and in-between lessons with the headmaster, Harry spent most of his free time in the library. What had originally started as a search for his own background, became much broader when a search for some out-of-print periodicals had led him to the Hogwarts archives, a musty old room filled with old parchments and ancient photographs. They so fascinated him, more so than any usage of skills he barely remembered, he'd seriously considered not resuming his career as the Defence Against the Dark Arts Professor, thinking perhaps he could research history. Given how he'd once considered Binns' classes the panacea for insomnia, he found the notion amusing; Hermione would have been pleased, though.

Today, however, rather than digging randomly through the past, he continued some more personal research which had occupied him this last week. To that end, he pulled all the tomes he'd found regarding marriage bonds. As he skimmed the third of five, Harry wished Hermione was still alive to help him; she would have known precisely where to look. Not that his research had proved unfruitful. He certainly understood Wizarding marriages better and now knew that, in order for their bond to form, the vows and commitments made between him and Severus had been serious and sincere. More alarming, he'd discovered that his time to decide was nearly gone. The mark had almost faded to a bare glimmer he could only see in bright lights these days, and once gone, he and Severus would be separate again, their union dissolved.

He set the books aside and slumped in his chair with a sigh. It was time to talk to McGonagall, something he'd put off in any depth for the last four and a half months, partly because she'd made it abundantly clear her door was always open to him for anything but that, and partly because the thought of asking her for help caused a deep insecurity within him. Why this was so he didn't know, but there it was. However, he was getting desperate; he needed answers he suspected only she would be honest enough to give him.

Sitting down in a chair in her study, Harry declined her offer of refreshments and cut to the chase. "Why hasn't he come to visit me?"

She studied a small glass of a deep amber liquid she held before replying, "I suppose it's Severus' way; he's giving you privacy and the time to adjust to your new situation."

"But why won't he talk to me?"

"I think he's tried..." She drew breath to add more and then released it all at one, her eyes widening in surprise. "Perhaps it's because he doesn't know any more than you do..."


Staring off into the fire, she whispered half to herself, as if he'd not spoken, "I think I finally understand what he meant when he said you'd never again be the man he married..." She shook herself and continued briskly, "Even at sixteen you knew how private a person Severus is; explaining that which should be self-evident has never been his way."

"What's self-evident? How can I know if he doesn't tell me?"

"You did marry him, Harry. Does that tell you nothing?"

Actually it did... to a certain extent now that he'd done his homework. "But does he love me?"

"I'm not at liberty to say," she replied primly.

"Why not?"

"Because I made a promise to him. And I keep my promises."

Confused by the answer, Harry watched her rise from the chair and pace to her desk. From the top, she plucked a framed photo and handed it to him. "Here, perhaps this will answer your questions--all of them."

Harry studied the photo closely, feeling faint. It was their wedding picture and Harry was shocked by the way Severus held him with one arm wrapped firmly around his waist, their hands with the marks joined palm-to-palm, fingers entwined. Severus held Harry's gaze with an unwavering expression of such open, intense emotion, Harry could almost hear it speaking to him of need and love and forever. And his own? He was lost in Severus' eyes, his face serene and sure. A face he almost didn't recognize when compared to his last view of it in the mirror this morning.

This was not as he'd imagined from his research; it was far more intimate than any mere words on a page could explain. This was different than the photos in the album someone had left in his quarters last month, photos that had brought such a rich fall of dreams so close, he'd almost touched them. This was so... real it frightened him with its intensity, and he wasn't certain he could live with anything so deep at this juncture of his life.

Handing the picture back to McGonagall with shaking hands, he couldn't meet her sympathetic eyes and left as quickly as he'd come.

With only three days before the end of the term, Severus hesitated at the door, drawing a deep, steadying breath before knocking firmly on the plain wooden surface. This was it, the inevitable moment he'd been dreading but, with all he held dear and honest, it was only fair.

Within moments, the door opened, Harry's frown turning into puzzlement. "Severus?"

"May I come in?"

Harry stood back. "Certainly," he said too quickly, closing the door firmly behind him. He gestured to one of the two chairs sitting in front of the fire. "Please, have a seat."

Severus took the one closest, perching on the front, and waited for Harry to seat himself before handing him a sheaf of papers he'd secreted in his robes.

"What is this?" Harry asked, skimming the contents, his eyes widening as he shuffled through the parchment.

"Divorce papers," Severus said as if this were self-evident.

"But... "

Severus desperately wanted to leave now that he'd delivered his own defeat, but remained if only to explain. "You were right, it's a new decision now, a new life; I was wrong to make assumptions."

"Why now?"

"It's your choice; you don't remember that which brought us together, what made 'us', why you chose the path you did. That circumstance doesn't exist anymore and I can't make you trust yourself anymore than I can make you trust me. I'll not beg, Harry, and even if I were so inclined, any explanation is irrelevant this time around."

"If it's my decision, then tell me. Please. Did you ever--"

"My personal involvement, whether now or in the past, is immaterial to your new present, or at least it should be, as the basis for your previous decision no longer exists within your own mind. I won't force myself on you now any more than I did the first time." But I won't ever stop loving you.

"Have I ever had a choice?"

"You did in this once. You now have it again." He gestured at the papers fluttering in Harry's hand. "I've endorsed them already; all you need do is sign them yourself and file them at the Ministry to make them official."

"But what about you?"

Severus snorted and stood. It was past time to go. "What about me?" he asked, barely managing to turn his grief into irony rather than the howl of loss his heart demanded. His rigid control stripped by the genuine concern in Harry's face, he reached out to touch the beloved cheek with his fingertips, "Harry, I--" and withdrew when Harry flinched the tiniest bit. 'No, it was not to be.' Sighing, he dropped his hand to his side. 'No, not even a goodbye.' "Never mind. I wish you... all the best, Harry."

Turning to go he, blast his heart, stopped when Harry held his arm. "Severus?" Their eyes locked, the question in them nearly begging.

"More than life itself," he whispered and fled, leaving his life and love behind him.

Bewildered, Harry stared after him, the breath caught painfully in his throat. If this was what he wanted, why did it hurt so much?

"Why should it hurt?" he muttered to himself, rising from his desk and following Snape--no, damn it!--Severus, out the door. He wanted answers. He was halfway to the dungeons, his quarry still well in sight when movement to the side made him slow and then stop when he recognized the familiar face partially hidden behind a column.

"Why are you hiding there?" Harry asked, the absurdity of the situation making him smile.

"I'm thinking I'm not exactly Severus' favourite person right now," he replied, his face a bit sad. "Is it over?" Draco asked softly, stepping out of the shadows, his eyes fixed on the Potions master striding off down the hallway, his robes billowing around him.

"I'm not certain. I think so," Harry replied, bemused. He glanced down at his freedom held so negligently in his hand and firmed his grip, not wanting to lose it.

Draco stroked his cheek with the backs of his fingers, and Harry was oddly reminded of Snape's hesitant touch. "What do I have to do to convince you?" he asked quietly.

"I don't know," Harry whispered. A picture of Draco sleeping peacefully passed before his eyes. Memory or wishful thinking? Maybe he'd never know. "I just need some time."

"You have that, all that you need," Draco said, kissing him. But Harry couldn't find it in himself to respond, to either of them he suddenly realised, an image of Severus chuckling floating into his head. He shook the vision away as Draco asked, "What's that?" pointing to the forgotten piece of parchment in Harry's hand.

"Nothing much," he replied folding the foolscap in half, the lettering facing inwards. "Just some paperwork I need to fill out for the Ministry to verify my identity."

And that was nothing but the truth. Regardless of what everyone had told him, regardless of what little he remembered, this Severus had changed over the last few months into someone unreachable, someone he couldn't envision himself ever spending time with. He'd tried, really tried to understand him, but he just couldn't...

Draco pulled him close, nuzzling his neck, his hands sure and firm on Harry's waist. "Well, you can take care of that later."

"Sure, later," Harry said, folding the paper one more time behind Draco's back. Reaching into his robes, he slipped it into a secured pocket, his continuing indecisiveness frustrating as it was inexplicable. 'Yes, it could wait,' he thought, wrapping his arms around the one he still loved.

Brooding was not going to buy him sleep, and while he knew sleep would not necessarily bring him peace, at least he wouldn't have to brood on it. He flopped on his side, hoping the gust of air he blew out of his mouth on impact, just like the hundreds before it, would be the one to finally rid him of the hated emotions making his breath hitch at the most inopportune times.

Whenever he thought of Harry.

Tonight was his last night in the castle, the last night he would have to watch Harry being happy with Draco, the last night he would wonder what they were up to behind closed doors, even though he knew they still resided in separate quarters. With the summer half gone, each day it grew increasingly more difficult to hide the pain behind a crumbling façade of indifference; it was time to go. Harry seemed happy in his new life, purged of the memories that had once haunted his deepest sleep. If the peace and oblivion Harry had found was all he'd ever wanted for his husband, then why did it hurt so much now that he had it?

He couldn't bear the looks of pitying sympathy from his friends any more than he could tolerate the smug smirks of his detractors, although he had to admit, he received more of the former than the latter. If he heard one more tired platitude from Albus, he would scream. He thought of his letter of resignation all ready to Owl to Albus on the morrow. The last act he would do as Potions master before he left to go to the small cottage he'd procured to do whatever he had to do to forget. Just how he would accomplish it remained to be seen. There were only so many ways, so many times a heart could be torn asunder before it lost the will to pull itself back together.

This settled in his own mind, he started walking the hazy halls of his slumber. A door squeaked open. In his dream state and from long practice, he easily controlled the urge to pull his wand. There was no need to fight whatever approached. Torn, he couldn't decide his pleasure tonight: a passionate reunion of flesh or the painful yet swift release of a coup de grace. He hoped it was the latter, someone coming to take him out of his misery. His dreams of this nature always brought sweet forgetfulness even if it were temporary, the pain of awakening harsher for the surcease. It wouldn't be the first time for either, though. Whether it was Harry's joyous homecoming celebrated in willing flesh, or the long arm of fate's retribution come to make him pay for past sins, the ending was always the same; he awoke and made his lonely way through what he laughingly called his life. Well, his days of self-pity were almost over; the thought made him smile.

A figure, barely visible in the way of all dreams, glided to the empty side of the bed. If this was his salvation, then he was a damned fool for his gut's clenching reaction to the dark apparition. The spectral hands raised in benediction and, almost happy for its retribution, he braced for fate's decision. Obliviate or Avada Kedavra tonight? Either one would be fine. Anything to take away the aching emptiness he couldn't escape while awake could only be considered a blessing.

He closed his eyes, awaiting his dream's pleasure, only to open them wide when, instead of the expected sting of a curse, the softest touches grazed his face and hands, soft as the butterfly wings which had once ghosted across his skin as a child, soft as the rose petals he'd once thrown haphazardly over Harry's sleeping body the morning after their wedding, soft as the kisses he'd once exchanged with Harry after their passion...

No! He closed his eyes tight, turning his head. This was supposed to be his night's salvation, the slumber of imagined oblivion, not the torture of yet another night alone. His fingers curled over a few of the dream remnants cupped in his up-turned palm. No, not fluttering wings or fragrant memories, these felt more like small petals of parchment with stiff edges, rough and uneven as if torn.

Hope was such an ugly thing when one was only dreaming.

When the covers pulled back and a body slid in next to him, its warmth in seconds chasing away the chill of months, he wondered at the strangeness of this dream. Surely he would never voluntarily summon cold feet insinuating themselves between his own, hot with sleep. Nor would he have anticipated the feel of the body settling against his chest; his fertile memories were filled with a miser's hoard of impressions of warm skin and hard planes of muscle, not the butter-soft cotton of a nightshirt. But the lips pressing against his bare skin? Those he remembered too well; their pliancy had not changed in the months since he'd last caressed them. Lips that hesitantly travelled up the line of his chest as if only half certain of its contours and texture, lips that lingered on the 'v' at the base of his throat only to move up, questing in gentle kitten nips until they feathered soft touches to his own. Lips as familiar as the solid form he wrapped in his arms, the needy noise of relief escaping him before he could stop it, draw it back. For this could only be a dream.

Couldn't it?

Then the apparition raised his left hand lying between them, to lie flat on the bed near his shoulder. As he opened his mouth in warning, the lips were back on his, silencing him with blazing intent before whispering, "Hush, Severus. This is my choice, my desire--" fingers circled the faint bond mark on his palm, "--heart to heart, I will walk my life with thee--" the fingers slid up his own "--heart to heart I will share my thoughts with thee--" tip to tip, the fingers pressed his into the mattress "--heart to heart, I will vanquish our foes with thee--" the palm descended onto his "--heart to heart, I will always love thee--" the final contact sealed between them.

In an instant, the bond flared anew, the sensations of joining and belonging and loving overwhelming his senses as surely as any potion he'd ever brewed. Memories flowed between them--his memories alone, eagerly consumed by the person nestling securely against him. The war, their courtship, a lingering foray around the circumstance of their wedding, the first time they'd made love, the arguments, the making-up, the joys, the sorrows--while incomplete, the experience joined their hearts into one whole again. He was united again with his husband and he damned the fates making this dream so poignant, so real he would never be able to drown it out of his memories.

A quiet voice split the silence. "Did I ever outgrow my stupidity?"

He cleared his throat. How did one answer an apparition? "You had your moments of clarity."

"Hmmm. Good." Reaching up to claim Severus' mouth again, it whispered, "This is better than my dreams."

Ah, the sweet slide of their lips and tongues tangling perfectly told the same loving story it had for years, but Severus could not lose himself in it as he once had and that, more than anything, convinced him he was awake and not dreaming. He never doubted in his dreams.

The joy filled him, but before he could revel in it, he needed to know... "Why, Harry? Why now?"

Harry slid closer, his hand still joined to Severus', lending a weight of truth to his words. "During one of my sessions with Albus, I was so frustrated I couldn't remember certain little details of this one spell and... Well, I guess you could say I had a bit of a tantrum." He chuckled wickedly and Severus could easily picture it. "Afterwards, he told me that when one gets to be his age, one sometimes appreciates the absence of memory more than the ability to recall it." The finger toying with the hairs on his chest stilled. "Then yesterday, Draco was grousing, whinging really, wanting to know when I would make up my mind. And as I made one more tiny excuse for his growing impatience, it dawned on me that you had never. Complained, that is. Not once. You never pressured me, never made the timeliness of my decision an issue. And after months of not understanding why you refused to talk to me and why you kept your distance, I... I finally heard your silence... and was glad for it. I listened to it and realised that if I had once accepted you and your ways, then maybe I'd also loved you. From there..." He burrowed his face in Severus' side, his voice muffled, "From there, it all just fell into place and I knew... where and to whom I really belonged."

His silence. So noble it sounded and, brave words to Minerva aside, he'd been terrified that any word, any complaint he voiced would only drive Harry deeper into Draco's arms; however, if this was how Harry wished to interpret it... "So, now that you've regained some of your memories, are you staying? Or was this just an experiment?"

Harry raised his head, his gleaming eyes barely discernible in the dark. "I'm sorry it took so long, love, but I had some issues... trusting myself, really... and I suppose I needed to grow up a bit. I researched bondings, you know, and saw just how serious they were, but I didn't really understand them until Minerva showed me a picture of when we made vows." His voice lowered to a mere thread of sound. "Your face, Severus... I could almost touch you. I wanted to, so badly. I wanted the forever I saw between us in that moment." He wiped his cheek on Severus' shoulder. "You have no idea how stupid I felt when I realised just how simple it all was. Here I was, chasing after my memories, when the only things I really needed to remember was that I'd once made a promise, and I should keep it."

So close, this new life, but he still had to know... "And Draco?"

"What about him?"

Harry's off-handed reply surprised him. "Are you not worried about his... welfare?"

"Certainly, but not half as worried as I was about yours." Harry chuckled. "For all his professed openness, Draco never would answer the one question I had for him--why did he leave me if he loved me so much--and I suspect my inherent dissatisfaction with him this time is the same as it was the last."

But... "I was referring to your promises to him."

Very serious, Harry replied, "I made him no promises."

Severus shifted uncomfortably, thinking of any number of chance encounters with Draco in the hallways and the comments he'd made in passing. Insinuations which had hurt because he'd no reason to doubt them... until now. "He said you did."

"Not in words." Harry snuggled in deeper. "Nor in actions," he added.

"So, you didn't?"

"No." Harry sighed. "I admit there were times in the beginning I wanted to, but Draco was adamant about 'observing the proprieties', although he later confessed Albus had more to do with that than any 'tradition'. However, in the last month or so, when he began hinting he thought it perfectly fine, I decided that, until I made up my mind, it wouldn't have been right."

Severus fingered the torn pieces of parchment still littering the bed and made a mental note to thank the old man--in the morning. "I see." He lowered his head and kissed Harry's forehead to take the sting out his next question. "And why would you assume I wanted you back?"

"Don't you?" Harry asked, the fear palpable in his voice. "You did leave the wards open for me..."

Severus tightened his arms as Harry tried to pull away. "Among other things," he murmured before he could stop himself.

"So, you were expecting me?" Harry asked, an edge of affront in his voice.

No, but he would never say he'd thought leaving the wards open a foolish sentiment on his part, not when all his hopes and dreams were laying warm and pliant in his arms. "No, you're just late, love."

The head pulled away from his chest, leaving a cold spot. "Late?"

His small chuckle was as rusty as the hinges on the front door. "It only took you four months to come to your senses the first time," he replied with as much equanimity as he could muster with the happy weight pressing him into the downy mattress. Happy? No, it must be the kisses; it certainly couldn't be happiness making his heart almost leap out of his chest. He had on recent good authority he didn't know how to be happy.

"Better late than never?" the lips asked smugly before reclaiming his own.

Oh, yes, indeed it was. The thought of this almost new life before him brought an ironic smile to his face; seemed he had to lose his husband to get him back.

Harry whispered into his lips, "Severus, are you smiling?" When he broadened it in reply, Harry licked it delicately, tracing the curving pattern from corner to corner, top to bottom. "Oh, nice. Very nice. See, I knew you could do it."

Maybe they both could now, and with the firm intent to make a lifetime of new memories for his beloved, Severus welcomed Harry home.