Title: Like Swallowing Hot Chocolate

Author: quixotic-hope (harrysev)

Beta: none

Pairing: Harry/Severus

Rating: PG-13 (T) for language

Genres: Romance, angst, fluff, AU

Words: 14,374 (about 36 pages in Word)

Warnings: some language, tired old premise with a (hopefully) new twist

Spoilers: None

Summary: Severus is the Prince of Hogsmeade and needs to find a husband. Harry is a former street urchin and needs someone to love. Who could ask for a better match?

Disclaimer: Harry Potter and Co. belong to the wonderfully talented JK Rowling. I mean no harm by using her characters in this story. I am making no money whatsoever; I merely hope to entertain people.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: I figured we could all use a nice, fluffy Snarry before the release of DH on Saturday. Hopefully this fic can cheer a few people after reading it, because I predict that no one is going to be very happy after reading the last book.

I will mention this later on, as well, but as no one reads footnotes, I'll say it here first: The spell mentioned in this story, "Mistaken Identity," is originally found in nat rulz's story, "The Fountain of Dreams." It is an incredibly entertaining, well-written version of Snarry Cinderella. I highly advise everyone reading this story to go and read/review hers, though of course after you read/review mine. grins

Knock.

A woman's voice: "Severus?"

Knock. Knock.

"Son?"

Knock.

BAM!

A man's voice this time.

"Severus Tobias Snape-you have precisely three seconds to open this door before I break it down. One—two—"

"What do you want?" asked Severus Snape, yanking his bedroom door open.

His father, thick robes lined with fur even in the middle of June, glared at him. His mother, wearing much lighter yet still elegant robes, stood behind him, concern easily discernible on her face. Albus Dumbledore stood behind both of them. Unless Severus was very much mistaken –and he never was – the old wizard seemed to be whistling.

"Don't you snap at me!" snapped Tobias Snape. "I am your father, I am the king, and I am in charge; do you understand me?"

"Yes, sir," sighed Severus, knowing better than to argue with his father when he sounded like that. "What I meant to say was, 'What can I do for you, Father?'"

"You know damn well what you can do for me," snarled the king.

"I'm not going to hurry up and marry some rich, obnoxious ponce who only wants to marry me to rule the kingdom," argued Severus angrily. They had, after all, just spend half an hour arguing about this downstairs. For the third time that day. Twelfth time that week. And it was only Tuesday.

"And what will you do—marry someone you love?" mocked the king.

Severus turned slightly red but held his ground. "I want to marry someone who wants me for some reason other than because I'm the prince of Hogsmeade."

"And you believe that's plausible?" laughed the king viciously. "You believe you have anything else going for you?"

"Tobias—" scolded the queen.

"Eileen, you know I'm right," interrupted the king. "I'm not saying it to be mean; I'm saying it to be honest: the Snape men are not attractive. That's why God made us kings, so we would be able to reproduce."

Eileen and Severus stared at him blankly.

"You don't believe me?" the king inquired. "Fine. Albus!"

"Yes, Your Majesty?" Albus stepped forward, bowing.

"I need your help. Cast the Mistaken Identity Spell on Severus." (1)

"The what spell?" asked Severus. Since very few people could actually perform magic, Severus had never really learned much about it.

"The Mistaken Identity Spell will make everyone around you forget your true identity—that you're the prince—except for the person who casts the spell and anyone he tells. In a way, it's like having a secret keeper for your identity."

"But I'll still look like me, right?" asked Severus, intrigued in spite of himself.

"Precisely," answered the king. "But, to be completely fair, you said you wanted no one who wanted you because you are the prince, and part of being the prince is having large sums of money at your disposal. Therefore from this moment on, you may only spend the money that you have earned."

"But I don't have any money," said Severus slowly, not liking the direction this conversation was heading.

"Is that so?" said Tobias, pretending that he had just realized this fact. "Well, I guess you will just have to find someone who's attracted to beggars, then, won't you?"

"Tobias—" the queen tried again, and again she was interrupted.

"Albus—the spell."

"Yes, Your Majesty." Albus cleared his throat and placed his hand over Severus's face. "Oubliez l'indentité!" (2)

Severus felt like he was being submerged in cold water for a moment, but by the time he thought to say something, the feeling was gone. He heard Albus talking to his parents, no doubt reminding them that he was their son, but he paid no attention. He looked down at himself, then up at Albus.

"I feel exactly the same," he said. "Am I supposed to feel different?"

"No." Albus smiled. "I would have to say the spell worked perfectly."

"He looks too clean," said the king. When everyone looked at him, confused, he explained, "He's supposed to be a homeless man. You can't be homeless and still be freshly bathed with such nice clothing on."

"What do you want to do, send me out into the street naked?" asked Severus.

"Don't be so dramatic," said Tobias, rolling his eyes. "Albus, do something about this."

With a wave of his hand and a few words Severus didn't hear, Albus managed to transfigure Severus's clothes into dirty jeans with a few holes in them, a faded black t-shirt that was a little loose, and worn out sneakers.

"Much better," muttered the king, a small smile settling over his face. "You have the rest of the year to find yourself a queen. If you have no one by that time, you will marry whomever I tell you to. You must be married before I die. The Snapes have ruled this kingdom for more than a century. I will not see that reign end now. Understood?"

Frowning, Severus nodded. This wasn't entirely what he had had in mind, but it would have to work. He sighed and looked around. Only his mother remained. She walked forward and wrapped her arms around Severus. He half-heartedly hugged her back.

"You know he would never force this upon you if he thought you had more time," said the queen softly.

Severus nodded stiffly. He supposed he should feel guilty that his father's illness was causing Severus more irritation than grief. After all, sons were supposed to be upset that their fathers were months away from dying, weren't they?

"It'll be fine, son," continued the queen soothingly; "you'll see. You'll find yourself a queen in no time."

"And if I'm not interested in women?" asked Severus.

"'Queen' has multiple meanings, son," she teased. "You know Albus can perform the proper spells to give you and any man you choose a child."

"I guess I should leave, now," said Severus, sighing. After kissing his mother once on the cheek, he turned and left the kingdom.

xxx

"That'll be seven dollars and sixty-three cents, please." (3)

Harry Potter handed the cashier ten dollars. Waiting for his change, he flipped through his newly purchased book: Traitor's Moon. (4) He didn't often buy new books, as there was a small library right down the street, but he knew he'd read this book multiple times, so he felt it was well worth the money. Besides, he rarely spent his weekly paycheck; he could indulge himself every once in a while.

Thanking the cashier and collecting his change, Harry left the bookstore and wandered toward the park. Most of his free time was spent either in the park, reading or in the book shop/library, looking for a book to read.

Maybe he would go home for a bite to eat, first.

As he walked through town, he saw the door of the Java Bean slam open, and a young man about his age was pushed unceremoniously out of the shop and onto the ground. Curious, Harry walked closer in time to hear the young man speak.

"But I'm the prince! I understand that you can't see that right now, but—"

"Stay out of this store!" roared the man who shoved him. "If I catch you in here again, I'll call the police!"

The man turned and slammed the door shut. Harry saw the young man stand up and wipe the dirt from his already rumpled clothing. Feeling a pang of sympathy for the young man, Harry walked over to him.

"Next time you try to get free food, make up a more believable lie," Harry suggested.

"What?" asked the boy, looking startled. "I didn't…I mean, I wasn't…."

"It's okay," assured Harry, recognizing the panicked look in the boy's eyes. "What did you want from in there?"

xxx

Severus hesitated. Being thrown from a store was embarrassing enough without anyone else realizing that he had been trying to steal. Severus was about to tell the boy to mind his own damn business when he paused and really looked at him.

He was wearing blue jeans that looked older than his own and a navy blue shirt that looked just as old. His shoes were scuffed up, and his hair was messy. His green eyes were vibrant, and the look he saw in them stemmed the nasty response he had planned. In those eyes, he didn't see anger or disgust or pity; he saw empathy and concern.

"I just wanted something to eat," he finally replied.

xxx

Harry saw the different emotions struggling through the other's eyes and knew exactly what he was thinking. You expected everyone was out to get you, so you were very hesitant about accepting help from anyone. He was glad that the other boy answered.

"Anything in particular?"

"It doesn't matter."

"Well, we'll get you some real food, then," said Harry, looking at the Java Bean in disgust. "I know a place that makes an amazing turkey sandwich."

"I don't have any money," snapped Severus. He had thought that much was obvious.

"It's on me," said Harry, brushing off the anger he knew was hiding shame. "I'm Harry Potter, by the way."

"Severus Snape," Severus introduced himself, still suspicious. As much as he wanted food, he couldn't understand why this boy was helping him.

"Well, Severus, I was just about to grab a bite to eat and go for a walk in the park. Would you care to join me?"

Severus felt he was fairly good at reading people's motives, but he couldn't figure this one's out. Why would Harry offer to help him?

His stomach growled, and Severus blushed. He supposed now wasn't the time to be demanding answers. Instead, he said, "Sure."

"Great." Harry smiled. "It's right this way."

Harry took him to the Coffee Corner, a little shop at the end of the street. Severus expected to wait in line, but Harry walked through a door next to the counter. When he saw Severus hesitate, he said, "Don't worry. I work here."

Surprised, Severus followed Harry behind the counter and through another door to the kitchen. Harry opened the fridge and took out all the necessary sandwich ingredients.

"I thought you said this place made an amazing turkey sandwich," said Severus.

"They do," said Harry. "I make them." He looked up. "There are some chip bags over there in that box. Would you grab me a bag of sour cream and onion chips, please? Pick out whatever you want for yourself.

While Harry finished making the sandwiches, Severus dug through the bag of chips. He had never had them before, but they looked good. Then again, he was starving; anything would look good right now. Having no idea what to choose, he figured he would try what Harry was eating.

After wrapping up the sandwiches, Harry grabbed a couple of water bottles. "Come on—we'll head over to the park to eat."

Harry led Severus back through the door. The line at the counter was gone.

"Hey, Mrs. Arnold," said Harry, greeting the woman behind the counter.

"Harry, what are you doing back here so soon?"

"We just came to get some food to take to the park. This is Severus Snape. I met him outside the Java Bean."

""You're such a kind boy, rescuing him from that dreadful place," laughed Mrs. Arnold, shaking Severus's hand.

"Rival company," explained Harry. Severus nodded in understanding.

"I'm Rose Arnold. It's a pleasure to meet you."

"The pleasure's all mine," returned Severus.

"I'll see you later," said Harry, wanting to hurry up so Severus could eat.

"Have fun," said Mrs. Arnold.

Harry and Severus walked to the park, which was located a block from the coffee shop. Harry quickly found a swinging bench and sat down. Severus joined him and tried to remain dignified as he wolfed down his sandwich.

Harry looked out over the lake as he slowly ate his sandwich. He gently rocked the bench back and forth. He laughed softly when Severus started.

"Sorry," said Harry. "I guess I should have warned you first."

"It's fine," replied Severus, shifting to get used to the swinging.

"So, why are you out here with no money?" asked Harry. "If that's too personal, you don't have to answer."

"You just bought me lunch," Severus reminded him. "You have the right to ask me whatever you wish."

"I get that free," Harry told him. "Actually, it's part of my paycheck, but still, close enough. You don't have to answer."

"My father kicked me out," said Severus. It was partially true, at least.

Harry felt another pang of sympathy. When the Dursleys had kicked him out, he had wandered the streets for several months before the Arnolds took him in.

"How are you going to make money?" asked Harry gently, even though he knew damn well how much the question hurt regardless of the volume at which it was asked.

"Honestly…I have no idea."

Harry bit his lip. He knew what he wanted to do, but Severus was still a complete stranger. Wouldn't he just be being stupid? Then again, the Arnolds still helped him out. They had given him food, shelter, and a job, and he had been a complete stranger. Plus, there was just something about Severus that made Harry want to help him. Now all he had to do was convince the Arnolds that it was a good idea.

"Severus, will you wait here for a few minutes?" asked Harry, getting up so fast that the swing jerked violently. Grabbing the chain to steady it, Harry looked imploring at Severus. "Please?"

Surprised and confused, Severus nodded. "Sure."

"Thanks." Harry smiled. "You can eat my chips; I don't want them."

And with that, Harry ran off.

xxx

Harry waited until Mrs. Arnold had wandered into the back room before approaching her. She looked tired.

"Busy day, huh?" asked Harry, trying to sound nonchalant.

"Most definitely," agreed Mrs. Arnold. "Where's your friend?"

"He's still at the park," said Harry. He bit his lip, unsure of how to ask what he went there to ask. What right did he have to ask anything of Mrs. Arnold after all she and her husband had done for him?

"What is it, Harry?" asked Mrs. Arnold, seeing how nervous Harry seemed.

"Um…I was just wondering…do you need any more help in the store?"

"Why do you ask?"

"It's, you see—what I mean is, Severus has nowhere to go, and he has no money. I was thinking he could work here for a while. I'd give him my $20, so you wouldn't lose any money or anything."

"And where is he going to sleep?" asked Mrs. Arnold.

"I thought I'd give him some money for a hotel room or something. You know…just until he gets on his feet."

"Harry, the cheapest motel in this town costs per night what you make in a week," said Mrs. Arnold. Seeing the dejected look on Harry's face, she continued. "However, we do have a pull-out sofa that we don't use, and I could use some extra help around here. He can have the same arrangement you and I worked out."

"You mean it?" asked Harry, a smile forming on his face.

"Have you ever known me to lie?" asked Mrs. Arnold, smiling as Harry's face lit up.

"Thank you so much!" cried Harry, hugging Mrs. Arnold. "I promise I'll pay for anything he steals if I'm wrong about him."

"I'm sure it'll be just fine," Mrs. Arnold assured him. "Go talk to Severus. Tell him he starts his training tomorrow morning."

"Okay. Thanks again!"

Harry ran back to the park. Severus was sitting right where Harry left him, looking extremely uncomfortable.

"Hey," said Harry, standing in front of Severus. He saw the surprise on Severus's face and wondered if he thought Harry would just ditch him after promising to come back.

"I just talked to Mrs. Arnold. She said you can sleep on the pull-out sofa at our place. You can work with me at the Coffee Corner. The store opens at seven, and we all eat before that. You can eat whatever you want from the store whenever you're hungry. You also get $20 a week. What do you say?"

Harry saw the blank look on Severus's face and immediately berated himself for being too presumptuous. Maybe he should have opened with the hotel idea…

"Never mind," said Harry. "You don't have to. Just an idea. Sorry."

Harry turned to leave. A hand on his shoulder stopped him. He turned around and was surprised to see a mix of gratitude, awe, and a little bit of suspicion in Severus's eyes.

"You have absolutely nothing to be sorry for," said Severus. "I was merely surprised. Why would you do so much for a perfect stranger?"

Harry considered not telling Severus the truth, but he wasn't comfortable lying.

"I was on my own for a few months when my uncle kicked me out. I had no money, no food, and nowhere to go. Mrs. Arnold gave me a job and a place to stay. She saved my life." Harry, who had been looking at the ground while he spoke, finally looked up at Severus. He was warmed by the compassion he saw there. "I know what it feels like to be all alone in the world, and I don't want anyone else to have to go through that."

xxx

Severus listened to Harry's story in awe. He couldn't' imagine having to live on the streets for months. He was amazed that Harry had done it and grateful that Harry had saved him from the same fate.

"In that case," said Severus, standing up and holding out his hand, "I accept your offer."

Severus felt pleased with himself when he saw Harry beam as he shook his hand.

"Great!" said Harry. "You'll love it there. Mr. and Mrs. Arnold are the nicest people you'll ever meet. Mr. Arnold's away right now, but you'll meet him in a few days. And working at the shop is so much fun."

"Mrs. Arnold invited me to stay without talking to her husband?" asked Severus.

Harry nodded. "She did the same when she invited me to stay. Don't worry; he won't mind."

"If you're sure," said Severus slowly. He paused a moment, then asked, "What am I going to do about clothes? These are the only ones I have."

"Oh—I forgot about that," said Harry, blushing. "I guess we'll just have to get you some new clothes, then, huh?"

"But I don't have any—"

"I'll pay for it," Harry cut in. When he saw Severus open his mouth, he added, "We can go to a thrift store I know. They have really cheap clothing."

"All right," agreed Severus. "But I'm paying you back as soon as I get money."

"Deal. It's on the other side of town. We should be able to get there in about ten minutes."

"Okay," said Severus, and they started walking.

"So, tell me a bit about yourself," said Harry. "You're going to be living with us, and I know practically nothing about you."

Severus sighed. This was going to be difficult."

"There's not much to tell. I'm an only child. My father is very…controlling. When he realized that I wasn't heading in the direction he wanted me to, he kicked me out. My mother seemed to think it was a good idea. She thought I'd learn something from it all."

"Growing up must have been fun," mumbled Harry.

"It did get rather…lonely at times," admitted Severus, "but it wasn't unbearable. What about yourself?"

"My parents died when I was a baby, so I went to live with my aunt, uncle, and cousin. They never wanted me there, and they made sure I knew it. They did give me a place to stay, though, so I guess I own them something. They kicked me out as soon as I turned eighteen."

"How old are you now?"

"Twenty-one," answered Harry. "I turn twenty-two at the end of next month. How old are you?"

"I turned 25 in January," said Severus.

They walked in silence for a while. Harry was wondering why a 25-year-old didn't have a job. Severus was wondering if what he said could technically be counted as a lie. Soon they reached the thrift store.

"Have you ever been here before?"

"No."

"You'll love it," continued Harry. He seemed to be saying that a lot today. "Okay, the dress code at the Coffee Corner is rather simple: tan pants and a polo shirt. Hmm…let's start with the pants."

"All right," agreed Severus. He headed over to where his size was. He and Harry started looking.

"How do you like these?" asked Harry. "They're missing a button, but we can fix that."

"You know how to sew?" asked Severus, impressed.

"Enough to mend holes and add buttons," said Harry, shrugging. Looking down at his own jeans, he added, "I usually don't bother."

Chuckling slightly, Severus took the pants from Harry and looked them over. Missing button aside, they looked fine. He looked at the price tag: $1.50.

"Is this really the price?" asked Severus incredulously.

Harry smiled. "Told you this place was cheap. You like 'em?"

"They're fine," said Severus.

"Great," said Harry. "Let's find you one more pair…."

Two hours later, Harry and Severus left the store with two pairs of khaki pants, a pair of jeans, four different colored polo shirts, three shirts to wear away from work, and a pair of pajamas. Severus would have protested had the entire purchase not cost more than $15.

"I'm still paying you back when I can," said Severus as they headed home.

"Whatever," laughed Harry, knowing that he'd never ask for it. "Come on—I want to give you a tour of the place."

xxx

"This is the Coffee Corner," Harry began. "You've seen this already, though. We start work at seven."

Harry led Severus through the door.

"This is the kitchen where I-and now you-make all the food. This door leads to our apartment."

They walked up a set of stairs that lead to a well furnished living room.

"This is your room. I'm sorry you can't have your own room, but there's only one extra bedroom, and it's not really big enough for two people. The sofa has a pull-out bed, though, so it won't be so bad," said Harry apologetically.

"It's perfectly fine," said Severus. Much better than a bench in the park.

"This is where we eat. We'll have to find you a chair."

Severus saw Harry from and smiled. He couldn't believe that someone he just met was working so had to make him feel welcome.

"This is our kitchen," continued Harry. "It's not as big as the one downstairs, but it's good enough. We like not having to carry our food up and down all those stairs."

"Understandable," murmured Severus, following Harry back through the living room and down a small hall.

"This is the bathroom. Here's the linen closet. Here's my room."

Harry felt nervous as Severus scanned his room, even though he knew it was clean. He grabbed his new book from his pocket, where it had been all day, and dropped it on his bookshelf.

"Do you mind if I look at your books?" asked Severus.

Harry shook his head. "Go ahead. You can borrow whatever you want."

"I might have to take you up on that offer," said Severus, reading the back covers of a few books.

"I'd recommend Luck in the Shadows," said Harry. "I just bought the third in the series. It's really good."

"It does sound interesting," said Severus after reading the synopsis. He went to place it back on the shelf.

"Take it with you," said Harry. "Keep it with the rest of your things. That reminds me…we should probably find you a dresser or something to keep your things in."

"I can keep them in the bags I have. Don't worry about it."

"Absolutely not!" protested Harry. "I should've thought of that while we were at the store. We can go back tomorrow."

"Please do not concern yourself with that," Severus argued. "I'll be fine."

"Nonsense," said a new voice. Harry and Severus turned around to see Mrs. Arnold standing in the doorway. "Severus, I have an extra dresser in the back closet that I never use. Harry, if you'd help me move it to the living room?"

"Please don't trouble yourself further on my account," said Severus.

"It's no trouble at all," insisted Mrs. Arnold.

"Come on, Severus," said Harry. "Give me a hand with the dresser, and I'll finish your tour."

xxx

Harry woke Severus promptly at six. It took a moment for Severus to remember exactly where he was.

"Breakfast will be reading in about twenty minutes. Go take a shower and get ready to eat. There's already a towel in there waiting for you."

"Thank you, Harry," said Severus sincerely. Harry just smiled and nodded. Once Severus was in the bathroom, he helped Mrs. Arnold make breakfast.

"What do you think of him?" asked Harry when he heard the shower turn on.

"He seems nice," answered Mrs. Arnold.

"Thanks again for letting him stay here," said Harry. "This means a lot to me. Are you sure Mr. Arnold won't mind?"

"He got used to you, didn't he?" teased Mrs. Arnold.

Harry smiled, thinking about how close he and Mr. Arnold had become over the past three and a half years.

Harry and Mrs. Arnold worked silently, preparing breakfast. By the time Severus came out, there was a huge pile of pancakes, sausages, and orange juice spread out around the table.

"I hope you like pancakes," welcomed Harry, holding out the chair for Severus.

Severus sat down. "Actually, I've never had them before."

Harry looked up from pouring his orange juice in shock. "Never?"

"Never," confirmed Severus.

"Well, today is your lucky day," said Harry cheerfully.

Severus fought to contain a smile as he saw Harry's enthusiasm. He helped himself to a pancake and mimicked Harry's method of preparing it. Then he took a bite.

"Liked it?" asked Harry.

"Excellent," said Severus.

"Ready for your first day of work?" asked Harry.

"I hope so," replied Severus, "although I'm not sure how well I will do."

"You'll be fine," Harry assured him. "It only took me a week or so to get everything down. If you take it all one step at a time, it's not so bad."

xxx

It was too so bad.

Severus had never been so overwhelmed in his life. There were so many different drink combinations to learn, and he didn't know how to use any of the equipment.

"Severus, calm down," soothed Harry as he saw the older boy start to panic. "You're doing fine. All of the recipes are right here. Focus on one drink at a time."

Severus took a deep breath and looked over the recipe carefully. He measured out two tablespoons of caramel syrup, half a cup of milk, and a cup of ice and poured it all into the blender that was already full of coffee. He turned it on for a few seconds and then poured it into a cup. He looked at Harry, who smiled.

"You did it!" encouraged Harry. "Now just put on the lid and add the whipped cream."

Severus did as he was told.

"Great. You can go give it to the customer now."

Harry smiled. He could tell how nervous Severus was, and he was delighted to be able to tell him what a great job he was doing.

"Harry, we're out of sandwiches," said Mrs. Arnold.

"Do you want Severus to help me, or do you want him to stay out here?"

"I think Severus knows how to make a sandwich," laughed Mrs. Arnold. "I'll teach him how to make a mochaccino."

xxx

"So, how was your first day of work?"

Harry and Severus were walking around the park as Harry did every day after work.

"It was rather…frightening," admitted Severus. "And I ruined three orders."

"Two orders," corrected Harry. "That last time I handed you the wrong syrup. Besides, it was your first day. I think I ruined five drinks my first day."

"How comforting," said Severus, smiling when he heard Harry laugh.

"I was sure Mrs. Arnold was going to kick me out," continued Harry. "She had to scream at me to get me to stop apologizing."

The two walked in silence for a few minutes.

"So, this is what you do with your free time?" asked Severus.

"Either this or reading," said Harry slowly. "Why? Did you want to do something else?"

"Oh, no," said Severus quickly. "I just thought a young man like yourself would…I'm not quite sure, actually, but this isn't it."

"There's a dance club down the street," said Harry quietly. "You can go there anytime you want to hang out with a more conventional crowd."

Severus could hear the hurt in Harry's voice and immediately tried to undo his mistake. "Harry, you misunderstood me. At home—or, rather, at my hold house—I would do nothing but read and walk through the gardens. I was merely surprised to meet another person who enjoys the same things I do. I never meant to insult you."

"You didn't." Harry gave him a sad smile. "I guess I'm just not used to talking to people my age, you know?"

Severus thought about the castle: his parents, Albus, and the servants. "I definitely know what you mean."

There was a long pause while Harry and Severus were lost in their own thoughts. Severus found his way out first: "What sort of books do you like reading?"

"Fiction," answered Harry. "I switch between some of the classics and…"

"And what?" prodded Severus when Harry trailed off.

"And gay fiction," said Harry, looking rather tense. "I mean, there's more to the story than their being gay, but it's usually an aspect of it. That's what that Luck in the Shadows is. I probably should have mentioned that before."

"Yes, you should have," agreed Severus, "that way I would have known to start reading it immediately."

"You don't have a problem with gay people?" asked Harry.

"That would be rather hypocritical," said Severus.

"You mean you're…."

"Gay. Yes."

"Oh." Harry smiled. "Good. I was afraid I was going to scare you away."

"Not likely," said Severus, returning the smile. "So, what's your favorite book?"

"Do you have any idea how difficult that question is to answer?" scoffed Harry. "There are so many great books….My favorite really depends on what I'm reading at the time. As such, my favorite book is Traitor's Moon."

"That's the sequel to Luck in the Shadows, right?"

"It's the third. The second one is Stalking Darkness. That one's good, too; it's just frustrating."

"How so?"

"Can't tell you. You'll have to read it for yourself."

"Give me a hint."

"It's just so annoying when two people are clearly supposed to be together and it takes them like twelve years to realize it."

"Ah," said Severus, understanding. "Yes, I agree. That does get rather irritating."

"What's your favorite book?" asked Harry. "What do you like to read?"

"I like to read fiction, as well," said Severus, "but my father always makes…made…me read books on history and philosophy. He wanted me to be extremely cultured."

"You don't need to read a bunch of books to be cultured," said Harry. "All you have to do is go to the World Market (5). They have food and clothes from all over the place. You can learn a lot about people's customs that way."

"That sounds highly intriguing," said Severus.

"You've never been?" asked Harry excitedly. "We'll have to go sometime. You'll have so much fun."

"I can't believe I missed out," said Severus.

"You haven't been to many places," observed Harry. "How is that?"

"I wasn't allowed to leave the house much," explained Severus. "I was home schooled, and all of my free time was spend around the house or in the yard. I was never allowed to leave the premise."

"You must have been right, then," mused Harry.

Severus started. Had he been that obvious? "What makes you say that?"

"People are only home schooled for two reasons. Either they're too poor to allow their kids to go off to school everyday when they could be earning money for the family, or they're too rich to allow a lowly public school to teach their precious kids. And since you're twenty-five and have never had a job before, I thin it's safe to say you weren't the former."

Severus was stunned. He supposed, when put like that, it was rather obvious.

"You caught me," he said. "What about your…relative?"

"They're a different sort altogether," said Harry. "They sent my cousin to private school and didn't bother educating me at all."

"You never had a professor or an educator of some sort?" asked Severus incredulously. When Harry shook his head, Severus demanded, "Why on Earth not?"

"They didn't see what the point was," said Harry, shrugging his shoulders dismissively. "They liked having me around to cook and clean and stuff. They figured school would be a waste of time. Probably thought I was too stupid anyway," he added.

"I don't see how they could have gotten that idea," said Severus seriously. Harry gave him a soft smile. "How did you learn to read then?"

"I looked over all of Dudley's homework assignments after everyone went to bed. Dudley caught me one time. From then on, he'd make me do his homework so he wouldn't tell his parents. But I was learning, so I didn't mind."

"Why would they have cared if you spend your free time reading?"

"I wasn't supposed to have any free time," explained Harry. "If they had learned that I had hours to spend reading, they would have given me more chores to do, and I never would have been able to read."

"Bastards," spat Severus before he could stop himself.

Harry laughed. "It doesn't matter anymore. Now I work for two amazing people who give me plenty of time to myself."

"But it's not time to yourself," corrected Severus. "You spend all of your time with me. I didn't mean to intrude—"

"You didn't," cut in Harry. "Don't worry about it. It's…." Harry seemed to be arguing with himself. Finally he said quietly and without meeting Severus's eyes, "It's nice having someone to talk to."

"I couldn't agree more," said Severus, stopping to look Harry in the eye.

Harry gave him a big smile that lit up his face. "Enough of this depressing talk," he said. "You never answered my question: what's your favorite book?"

xxx

The next month flew by. As predicted, Mr. Arnold was surprised at the addition to their family, but he wasn't upset. A fan of history himself, he would spend hours discussing and debating political event with Severus. During these times, Harry and Mrs. Arnold would make coffee and listen. Harry was glad that the two men got along so well, even when they were arguing.

Harry studied Severus closely while he argued. He was still slightly pale, his teeth were crooked, and his nose was large. Harry knew that these qualities weren't normally the most appealing, but for some reason he found them all attractive in Severus. The man was so elegant and graceful. Ass he may be, but Severus's father certainly succeeded with one thing: Severus was very cultured. Maybe too cultured. Everything he said seemed so intelligent. He was intelligent. And funny.

Harry rested his head on the table. He was so screwed. He liked Severus. He really liked Severus. When he was with Severus, he felt truly alive for the first time in his life. He found himself looking forward to each new day, wondering what Severus would say next.

Harry bit his lip and looked up at Severus. His life might be much better because of Severus, but was Severus's life better because of Harry? If Harry hadn't found Severus a place to live and a job, would Severus care about him at all? He couldn't possibly like spending time with him for his intelligence or his witty personality. And he definitely couldn't find Harry attractive. What would Severus possibly see in him?

xxx

Severus knew Harry was watching him and felt nervous. He had been here for a month, and he hadn't spoken to anyone his age except for Harry. Not that he wanted to speak to anyone else, but he was supposed to be looking for a spouse here.

He met Harry's bright green eyes and felt his heart skip a beat. He had never met anyone as beautiful or as caring as Harry was. He was also extremely intelligent, though he could tell Harry didn't realize it.

He had to realize that he could do better than Severus, though. Harry was so amazing. Severus wanted nothing more than to ask Harry to marry him, but what would Harry possibly see in him?

xxx

The next week was rather tense for both Harry and Severus.

Now fully aware of his feelings for Severus, Harry didn't know how to act around him. He tried to act natural, but he found that rather difficult. Every time they went for a walk, Harry had to fight the urge to hold Severus's hand. Every time he passed Severus a plate, he had to work extra hard to make sure their fingers didn't accidentally touch. Every time they sat at one of the benches in the park, Harry had to make sure he stayed strictly on his side.

Harry sighed. This was too hard. Why did he have to fall in love with Severus? Why did he have to go and ruin the only friendship he had ever had? He couldn't be content with what he had, could he? Oh no. He had to go and start wanting more. Maybe the Dursleys were right. Maybe he didn't deserve to be happy. Maybe he did deserve to be alone for the rest of his life.

xxx

Severus, on the other hand, was completely thrown by the way Harry was acting. He was always so tense. He barely spoke on their walks anymore. If their fingers accidentally brushed, Harry would jump and almost drop whatever he was holding. He always seemed to be trying to get as far away from Severus as possible. It wasn't possible that Harry found out about his feelings, was it?

The more he watched Harry, the more depressed the younger man seemed. No matter how hard Severus tried to cheer him up, Harry's smile never seemed to reach his eyes. Severus was getting desperate.

xxx

"Mrs. Arnold, can I talk to you for a minute?"

"Of course," said Mrs. Arnold, patting the seat beside her. "I was just preparing some tea. Would you like a cup?"

"Oh, yes. Thank you," said Severus, wanting to have something to do with his hands.

Mrs. Arnold stood up and poured the tea. Then she handed Severus a cup. "Now, what can I do for you?"

"Have you noticed anything odd about Harry lately?"

Mrs. Arnold was thoughtful for a moment. She looked deep into Severus's eyes and saw the sincerity there. "How do you mean?"

"He's been so depressed and skittish around me lately. I don't know what I did or if it's even me he's upset with, but he's never happy anymore. I don't know what I can do for him."

Mrs. Arnold smiled.

"I remember when I first met my husband," she began. Severus blinked at the apparent randomness but remained silent. "A friend introduced us. I thought he was the most handsome man in the room. He just had this air about him, like wherever he was, that was the place to be. Everyone wanted to be with him, so I was so surprised when he started talking to me. I was so nervous. I didn't want to say or do anything too embarrassing. Then he asked me to dance, and I knew I was going to spend the rest of my life with him."

"After one dance?" asked Severus. Mrs. Arnold frowned at him.

"I hope you took away more from my incredibly honest story than that," she scolded.

"What was I supposed to take from that?" asked Severus slowly.

Mrs. Arnold sighed. "Did you listen to my story at all?"

"Yes!" said Severus defensively. "You liked Mr. Arnold. You were nervous because you didn't know how to act around—"

Severus stopped. Mrs. Arnold smiled.

"I believe you understand my point now."

"You can't possibly be saying that Harry has feelings for me."

"Why can't I be saying that?"

"Because that's not possible. Harry's…he's…amazing," finished Severus softly.

Mrs. Arnold smiled sadly.

"What has Harry told you about his life before he came here?"

Surprised, Severus thought a moment. Then he said, "He lived with his aunt, uncle, and cousin. They didn't treat him nearly as well as they should have."

"No, they didn't," agreed Mrs. Arnold. "They never told him what an incredibly caring, beautiful, smart young man he is. Instead, they made him believe that he was worthless, that he didn't deserve happiness. It's been years since he's spoken to them, but their words still affect him. He still believes them sometimes. That's why you have to make the first move."

"But—"

"Harry's birthday is on Wednesday. We have reservations at that new restaurant down the street, Chez Alexander. They have a live band,"

"How…interesting," said Severus slowly. "But, Mrs. Arnold—"

"I her they have a nice dance floor," she continued. With that she got up and walked away, leaving Severus alone with his tea and his very confused thoughts.

xxx

"You want to go to the World Market?" asked Harry.

"Actually, I was hoping to do some shopping on my won today," said Severus. He saw the hurt look on Harry's face and added, "I have it on good authority that someone's birthday is this week."

Harry blushed. "You don't have to get me anything."

"I want to get you something," Severus told him.

"Don't spend too much," ordered Harry. He stood up. "I guess I'll go down to the market on my own then. If you get bored, meet me there."

"I'll do that," said Severus. "Goodbye." He finished getting ready and then headed into town.

What the hell was he supposed to get Harry? He had never bought a gift for anyone before, and he wanted to get Harry something really special. But what? Harry spent all of his time either reading or talking to him. Maybe he should buy him a book. But he already owned all the books he wanted, didn't he? But he was always looking for new books.

Suddenly Severus got an idea. He walked to the bookstore and began searching through the science fiction section. Finally he found Flewelling. Now where the hell was that book?

"Excuse me," said Severus, walking up to the cashier. "Is there a way to order a book from another store and have it shipped here?"

"Sure thing," said the cashier. "Just tell me the name."

"Actually, it's a series," said Severus. "It's called the Tamir trilogy by Lynn Flewelling."

The cashier typed some words into the computer and hit enter.

"Found it right here," he said. "You want all three of them?"

"Yes. How much?"

"About $25, but there's a $4 shipping charge per book."

"And when would I get them?"

The cashier shrugged. "Six to ten business days."

Severus sighed. That wouldn't do at all. "Is there any way you can get it here by Wednesday?"

"A bit last minute, don't you think?" laughed the cashier. When he saw that Severus wasn't smiling, he cleared his throat and continued. "We can have it overnighted if you want, but that will cost $12 each to ship."

"That's fine," said Severus. Granted, sixty dollars was a lot to spend on three books, but Harry was worth it. Besides, Severus had never spent any of his paychecks, so he could afford it.

"I'll need your address so I know where to ship them to."

Severus gave him the address of the Coffee Corner and paid for the books. Then he left the store and headed out to find Harry.

xxx

"This place is beautiful," said Harry as he sat down. Severus sat down next to him on one side, and Mrs. Arnold say at the other. Mr. Arnold sat beside her.

"I've heard this place has fantastic chicken," said Mrs. Arnold, looking over the menu.

"The lasagna looks good to me," said Harry.

"Way to branch off and try something different," teased Mrs. Arnold. Harry laughed quietly.

"Leave the boy alone," said Mr. Arnold without looking up from his menu. "If he wants to order the same thing every time we go out, let him."

"Who's stopping him?" argued Mrs. Arnold, though Harry saw the amusement in her eyes.

Harry looked between the two of them and smiled. He wondered what it must be like to be so comfortable around someone that you could tease them and not worry about them getting tired of you. Harry looked up at Severus and found the older man staring back. Blushing, Harry dropped his eyes.

xxx

Severus enjoyed listening to the older couple's banter. His parents never sounded like that. They were always so quiet around each other. Severus hoped his marriage ended up more like the Arnolds' and less like his parents'.

Severus looked at Harry and found himself looking into bright green eyes. He saw Harry blush and look down, and he thought about what Mrs. Arnold had said. Maybe Harry did have feelings for him.

For the rest of the night, Severus watched Harry for clues as to how he felt. He still blushed whenever their fingers touched, but he was no longer in danger of dropping anything.

After dinner, Mrs. Arnold kept giving Severus very pointed looks toward the dance floor. Severus pretended not to notice. Rolling her eyes, Mrs. Arnold asked her husband to dance. He accepted.

Harry watched Mr. and Mrs. Arnold dance and felt his chest tighten. They looked so happy out there.

"Must be nice," he mused quietly.

"What must be?" asked Severus.

Harry jumped. He hadn't realized that Severus could hear him.

"Having someone who loves you," he said quietly.

Severus made up his mind. The longing in Harry's eyes and voice was more than he could bear. He stood up and held out his hand to Harry.

"Could I have this dance?"

Severus saw the surprise in Harry's eyes, but he also saw the hope. When he saw Harry smile, he felt his throat tighten. He hadn't seen those eyes sparkle in a long time.

"I'd love to," said Harry, standing up and taking Severus's hand. Harry allowed himself to be led to the dance floor. He felt Severus wrap on arm around his waist and take one of Harry's hands in his. Harry placed his other hand on Severus's shoulder, and they started to dance.

At first, Harry was nervous. He had never danced before, and being this close to Severus without collapsing into his arms was difficult. Obviously they'd have to touch to dance, but how much was too much?

Severus hated how tense Harry felt. Hoping he was making things better rather than worse, Severus wrapped his arm more securely around Harry's waist and started running his thumb over the back of Harry's hand.

Harry felt Severus pull him closer and relaxed a little. Maybe he wasn't too close after all. When Severus started rubbing Harry's hand, Harry had to bite his lip to keep from whimpering. The act was just too…gentle. Hoping Severus wouldn't mind, Harry rested his head on the older man's shoulder.

Severus felt Harry relax and lean into him and smiled. He rested his head against Harry's and felt Harry relax even more. They remained like that for the rest of the song. Having Harry in his arms just felt so perfect.

When the song ended, Harry and Severus were reluctant to move. Harry pulled back a little and looked up at Severus. He meant to thank him for the dance, but he found that the words wouldn't come out.

Severus felt Harry start to pull away and knew he was about to lose his chance. He reached out and ran his thumb over Harry's cheek. When Harry leaned into the touch, Severus leaned forward and pressed his lips to Harry's.

As soon as Severus's lips touched his, Harry felt fire shoot through his body. Harry leaned forward and wrapped his arms around Severus's neck, kissing him back. He felt Severus's lip part and a warm tongue run along his bottom lip. Harry automatically opened his mouth and returned the kiss as he felt Severus's arms wrap around his waist and pull him closer. The kiss was clumsy and awkward and perfect. Neither wanted it to end. Eventually, they broke apart, and Severus rested his forehead against Harry's. They were both breathing as if they had just run a marathon. Severus grasped Harry's hands in his and pressed a quick, gentle kiss to Harry's lips.

Harry smiled. "Wow," he muttered softly.

Severus smiled at Harry's declaration. He was about to respond when the main doors burst open and a man hurried in and headed right toward Severus. It took a second for Severus to recognize Nott, one of his father's servants.

"Master Severus," said Nott, bowing. "You must come quickly. Your father is very ill."

"But I'm in the middle of—"

"Really, sir, I must insist. I was told you were to come immediately."

Severus sighed. This was the worst timing imaginable. He turned to Harry, who was looking very confused.

"I'm sorry, Harry," he said quietly, well aware that everyone in the room was staring at him. "I have to go. I'll be back as soon as I can. I'm sorry I ruined your birthday."

"You didn't," Harry assured him, smiling slightly. Severus smiled back and then followed Nott out of the building.

"What was that all about?" asked Mr. Arnold, coming to Harry's side.

"He had to go see his father," said Harry slowly. "But…his father kicked him out. Why would he then be asking for Severus?"

"Death bed regret?" suggested Mrs. Arnold, though she sounded doubtful. She looked at Harry and was sad to see that the joyful look had left his eyes. "Would you like to go home now?"

Harry shook his head. "You two were dancing. Don't stop just because of me."

"I'm all danced out," said Mrs. Arnold. "Let's go home."

Harry knew she was lying and felt immensely grateful. He hadn't wanted to say anything, but he really wanted to go home and sleep. Unfortunately, he still had cake to eat and presents to open. Normally such things made him feel happy and grateful. Now he just felt tired and annoyed.

xxx

Somehow Harry managed to get through the rest of the night. He forced down a little bit of cake and smiled when he opened the brand new jeans that the Arnolds had given him. He refused to open Severus's gift until they were together again.

As Harry lay in bed that night, he thought about everything that had happened. Severus had kissed him! Twice. Harry's heart skipped a beat just thinking about it. He had never felt anything so wonderful in his life. It had been absolutely amazing.

But where did they go from there? Did Severus consider it just a kiss, or did he want something more? What did it mean? How was Harry supposed to act around him tomorrow? Harry sighed. He really wished that that guy hadn't called Severus away at that moment.

Harry's insides squirmed uncomfortably. He had the feeling that something very bad was going on. From what Severus had said of his father, Harry doubted very much that he would suddenly feel bad about how he treated his son, but he supposed it was possible.

But why had tat man called him "Master Severus"? Harry knew that Severus's parents were rich, but this seemed a bit much. And how had he known where to find Severus in the first place?

xxx

"You have been following me?" asked Severus incredulously as Nott led him up to his father's bedroom.

"Yes, sir," said Nott. "Your father wanted to ensure that nothing happened to you."

Knowing that his father's concern was centered on making sure his heir took over the throne and not Severus's personal well-being, Severus said nothing and walked into the room.

"What happened?" he asked, looking at his father, who was lying in the middle of the bed. Severus had never seen his father so frail before.

"He's dying," said his mother. She wasn't crying, but Severus knew she had been. "Albus tried everything he could, but there's no cure. He doesn't expect him to survive the week."

Severus felt like a hand had just gripped his heart to prevent it from beating. However, he didn't feel sadness or anger. He just felt surprised and slightly guilty that he didn't feel worse. He and his father had never gotten along, and Severus got the feeling that his father had never liked him very much. In truth, the only thing that really bothered him was—

"That means you're getting married on Sunday," growled Tobias from his bed. Severus turned around.

"Excuse me?"

"You heard me. I'm dying. You need to get married. I've been told that you never leave the side of one boy. I imagine he's the one you want to marry."

"Yes, but—Sunday's too soon!" protested Severus. For Christ's sake, they had only just kissed! How could he possibly persuade Harry to marry him? "I need more time."

"You don't have more time!" yelled his father before breaking down into a coughing fit. After a long time, he caught his breath. "You will get married on Sunday. Either you convince someone to walk down that aisle, or I will."

Severus was about to argue, but his mother reached out and place her hand on his arm.

"Please, don't argue with him," she begged. I don't think he can take it."

Severus sighed, giving in.

"Thank you," she said. "Now, why don't you sleep in your room tonight, and you can return in the morning."

Wanting to return to Harry but knowing it was probably too late, Severus agreed.

xxx

Harry was worried when he woke up and saw that Severus hadn't returned. Mrs. Arnold reminded him that Severus's father was very ill and that they shouldn't expect Severus for a few days at least. Harry admitted that she was probably right. So to say that he surprised to see Severus standing outside the shop door at seven would be an understatement.

"Severus, what are you doing here?" he asked, hurrying to open the door for him. "We didn't expect you back soon."

"There was no reason to stay," said Severus.

"Is everything alright?" asked Mrs. Arnold.

"My father isn't expected to survive the week," Severus told them.

"Severus, we're so sorry," said Mrs. Arnold, pulling Severus into a loose hug. "If there's anything we can do for you, don't hesitate to ask."

Can you convince Harry to marry me? thought Severus bitterly. Aloud, he said, "Don't worry about it. I'm fine. My father and I were never very close."

"Well, we're still sorry," said Mr. Arnold as he and his wife went to set up for the day, leaving Harry and Severus alone.

"I'm sorry about your dad, but I'm glad you're back," said Harry, placing his hand on Severus's shoulder. He felt Severus tense up. Hurt by Severus's negative reaction to his touch, Harry quickly dropped his hand and mumbled, "Sorry."

xxx

Severus brushed off Mr. and Mrs. Arnold's sympathies. They meant nothing to him. The only thing he could think of was how he was supposed to talk to Harry. Severus was already so tense that when Harry touched him he basically flinched. He saw the hurt look on Harry's face and felt guilty. He reached out and gave Harry's hand what he hoped was a reassuring squeeze. He saw the uncertainty in Harry's eyes and smiled, hoping to quell those fears. He rubbed his thumb along the back of Harry's hand for good measure. Harry gave him a tentative smile, which Severus returned.

"I should go get dressed for work," said Severus.

"Good idea," said Harry, watching him go.

xxx

Severus argued with himself the rest of the day. What was he supposed to do about Harry? They had only known each other for a month, and they had only just kissed. Severus knew that he would be happy spending the rest of his life with Harry, but how could Harry feel the same? He had the rest of his life to find someone to marry. Would Severus be so selfish as to try to take away Harry's hope of a future just because he was denied one himself?

Then again, it wasn't like he was forcing Harry into anything; he was merely asking Harry a question. Harry could decide whether or not to say yes. In fact, not asking Harry was taking away his hope of a future. It would be selfish of Severus not to ask, wouldn't it?

Severus sighed. Had he been able to spend a few more months with Harry, this would have been easier. They would have had a chance to talk about that kiss, and Severus would know what Harry wanted from him. Severus was fairly sure that Harry would be pleased with a relationship, but he couldn't be certain.

He definitely couldn't be certain that Harry would want to marry him. In fact, he was certain that Harry would turn him down. That said, Severus wondered if he should just postpone asking Harry a few more days. After all, as soon as Harry rejected him, Severus would have to leave. The thought of never seeing the green-eyed young man again made Severus's chest ache. Was it so wrong to want to have a few more days with Harry?

Unfortunately, Severus knew he couldn't wait until Sunday to ask Harry. He might as well get this over with. Severus resigned himself to asking Harry after work, and when he did he would explain everything.

xxx

Harry saw how tense Severus was all day and was worried. Maybe Severus really did regret the kiss. But if that were so, why would he have held Harry's hand? It had seemed then that Severus was trying to assure him that everything was fine between them. Had Harry read him wrong? Had he been lying? He certainly seemed upset when Harry touched him, and he was a lot quieter that usual. Maybe he did regret the kiss and just didn't know how to tell Harry. Or maybe he regretted it but thought that he owed it to Harry to pretend that he didn't.

Harry's heart sank. That was probably it. Severus had probably just gotten caught up in the moment while they were dancing, or maybe he realized his mistake later that night, and now he figured he had to pretend to like Harry because of all Harry had done for him.

Tears prickled Harry's eyes, and he bit his lip hard to keep his chin from trembling. He'd better make sure that Severus knew he shouldn't feel obligated to be with him, that Harry would be perfectly fine with just being friends. Severus would still want to be friends, right? Harry cast one last longing look at Severus before promising himself he would tell Severus after work.

xxx

Four o'clock came too soon before either Harry or Severus would have liked. They walked around the park silently, each lost in his own thoughts. Neither knew how to say what he needed to say. Harry broke the silence first.

"I know that what we did last night makes you uncomfortable, and I want you to know that you shouldn't feel obligated to be with me. We can forget it ever happened, if you want."

Severus heard the sadness in Harry's voice even though he knew the younger man was trying to hide it. He saw how straight Harry stood even though his head was bowed, and Severus could see his jaw clenched tightly shut. Severus knew that he was bracing himself for rejection and felt his heart break. He stopped walking and grasped Harry's hands in his. He could feel the younger man's trembling. Severus pulled Harry closer and gave Harry a gentle kiss.

When they broke apart, Severus said, "Being with you would never be an obligation."

Harry saw the sincerity in Severus's eyes and gave him a small smile.

"You don't regret the kiss?" asked Harry softly.

"Oh, Harry," sighed Severus. He pressed a chaste kiss to Harry's forehead. "I only regret that I left before we got to talk about it."

Harry smiled and leaned into Severus. Severus wrapped his arms around Harry, and Harry snuggled closer. Severus pressed a kiss to the top of Harry's head. They stayed like that for a few minutes, simply holding each other, ignoring everyone around them. Finally, Harry pulled back and looked Severus in the eye.

"But, if you weren't upset about the kiss, why did you seem so upset with me all day?" asked Harry.

"I wasn't upset with you," he said quietly. "We need to talk."

He saw the fearful look on Harry's face and tried to smile. He led Harry over to one of the swinging benches. Harry sat down and looked at Severus expectantly.

"Harry, I'm afraid that I haven't been completely honest with you. You see, my father is the king."

"I thought I told you that you were supposed to come up with a more believable lie," laughed Harry, sure Severus was joking.

"Harry, I'm serious. I am the prince."

"Sure you are," snapped Harry. "Severus, whatever it is, just tell me! Stop fooling around."

"I'll prove it," said Severus, standing up. "Come with me."

Still suspicious, Harry stood up and followed Severus down the street. They walked in silence through the town and up to a giant gate. Two armed guards stood on either side of the entrance.

"I'm here to see my father," said Severus, knowing that by now all of the guards were able to recognize him. The guards stood back and let Severus and Harry through.

Harry was stunned, but he still didn't completely believe him. Maybe Severus's father simply knew the king, and that's why he was here. Not quite sure what to think yet, Harry followed Severus up the driveway, into the house, and to his father's room.

Inside, Harry saw a woman and an old man sitting around the bed of another man who looked extremely sick. This must be Severus's father.

"Severus," greeted his mother, looking up. She saw Harry and blinked in surprise. When she recovered, she said, "And who is this fine young man with you?"

"This is Harry Potter. He is the one I've been staying with all this time," said Severus.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Harry," said Eileen. She looked to her son. "What can we do for you?"

"Albus, can you remove the spell, please?" asked Severus. He saw Albus exchange glances with his father, who nodded. Turning back to Severus, Albus cleared his throat and said, "Souviens-moi!" (6)

Harry was confused for a moment. Then the spell worked. One moment he was starting at Severus Snape, the homeless young man whom he had fallen in love with, and the next he was staring at Severus Snape, prince of Hogsmeade.

"Oh my god," whimpered Harry. Severus really was the prince.

Harry suddenly felt very lightheaded. He stumbled a little. Severus rushed over and steadied him. Harry regained his balance and pulled away. Severus was the prince. Harry had kissed the prince! He could get in some sort of trouble for that, couldn't he?

"I take it you believe me now?" asked Severus quietly.

Harry numbly nodded. Then he looked down at his clothes. He was wearing the same old khakis he always wore and a faded green polo. Sure, they might be good enough for the Coffee Corner, but they were nowhere near good enough to be in the company of the king and queen. What was he supposed to do?

Severus could see how uncomfortable Harry was and wanted to do something to reassure him. He once again took Harry's hands in his and found that they were trembling even worse than before. When Harry refused to meet his eyes, Severus placed his hand under Harry's chin and gently lifted it. He saw the tears and doubts in Harry's eyes and felt horrible for putting them there.

"Why don't we talk somewhere private?" asked Severus.

"Okay," mumbled Harry.

"If you'll excuse us," said Severus to his parents and Albus. His mother and Albus nodded understandingly.

His father, on the other hand, looked up for the first time. He looked over Harry then said, "Have you told him about the wedding yet?"

Severus stumbled. Harry's eyes opened wide.

"W-wedding?" Harry stuttered.

"We need to talk," said Severus again, placing his hand on the small of Harry's back and leading him out of the room and down the hall to his own. He held the door open for Harry and then shut it behind him.

"So, you're getting married," said Harry in what he hoped was a curious and not heart-broken tone.

"That's what I wanted to talk to you about," said Severus. "You see, my father's--"

"You don't have to explain," said Harry quickly.

"No, let me. My father's very sick. He - I - I am to take the throne after my father's death. The only problem is that I must first be married--"

"You don't have to say anymore!" interrupted Harry. "This explains everything."

And it did. It explained why that man had shown up as soon as he and Severus had kissed. After all, you couldn't expect them to let the prince wander off on his own, could you? They probably hurried up and got Severus out of there to remind him that he was due to be married and therefore shouldn't be wasting his time with a former street urchin. It also explained why Severus had been so tense all that day. He hadn't known how to gently tell Harry that any relationship they might have had, platonic or not, had to come to and end.

xxx

Severus saw the defeated look in Harry's eyes and felt his heart clench painfully. Cautiously, as Harry was till upset, Severus walked closer.

"Harry, please listen to me. You really don't understand, and I only have the strength to say this once. Please just listen and don't say anything yet."

Harry nodded tearfully. Severus took a deep breath.

"I have to take the throne when my father dies, and to do that, I need to be married. My father was going to arrange the marriage for me, but I said no. I wanted to marry someone who would love me for who I really am, not simply because I am the prince. My father had Albus—you saw him standing next to my mother—cast a spell on me so that no one would recognize me as the prince. He also decided that part of being the prince is having money, so he sent me out of the castle without any. He was sure I would never find anyone even remotely interested, and I must say that I agreed.

"But then I met you. There I was, at my absolute lowest, and you decided to help me. I was a complete stranger, and you offered me a job and a place to stay. You offered me a chance to get to know you, and I fond that you were the most beautiful, caring, loving person I had ever met."

Severus had been inching closer to Harry while he spoke, so now they were almost touching. Harry looked Severus in the eye, awe shining in his own.

"You think I'm beautiful?" asked Harry softly.

Severus heard the disbelief in Harry's voice, saw the tears clinging to Harry's lashes, and smiled. He brought his hand up to Harry's face. Harry's eyes closed automatically, causing the tears pooling in his eyes to fall. Severus gently brushed them away with his thumbs.

"I think you're amazing," Severus answered in a voice just as soft. He paused, looking deep into Harry's eyes. He saw the love, but he also saw the fear. Making up his mind, Severus dropped to one knee and held both of Harry's hands in his. He heard Harry's breath hitch.

"Harry, will you marry me?"

xxx

Harry bit his lip and looked down at the man he loved. He saw no humor in his eyes, nothing to make Harry suspect that this was some sort of cruel joke, but how could it not be? How could this attractive, intelligent, witty older man possibly want to marry him?

Severus saw the longing in Harry's eyes, but the fear refused to go away. If anything, it seemed to have become more apparent after Severus proposed.

"Harry, please tell me what you're thinking," asked Severus quietly, standing up so he could brush a couple of strands of Harry's hair from his face. (Well, all right, the hair wasn't really in the way; he just wanted an excuse to touch Harry again.)

"If this is your idea of some sort of joke, it isn't funny," snapped Harry, trying and failing to sound angry instead of hurt.

"What are you talking about?" asked Severus, bewildered. "What's a joke?"

"Your wanting to marry me," said Harry softly.

Severus heard the pain in Harry's voice and was about to ask why when he remembered the conversation he had with Mrs. Arnold. He remembered that Harry had been mistreated most of his life, that he didn't see himself as the beautiful, intelligent, caring person that Severus did.

For the first time, Severus realized exactly how much those people had hurt his Harry. At the same time, he realized how strong Harry was that it had taken Severus this long to realize how insecure and hurt Harry was. He hadn't thought it was possible to love Harry anymore than he already did, but he was proven wrong. Hopefully he would have the rest of his life to prove Harry's beliefs wrong, as well.

"I fail to understand how my wanting to marry the most incredible person I have ever met is funny," said Severus.

Harry heard the sincerity in the older man's voice and longed to believe it. Biting his lip, he reached up and touched Severus's face, tracing his nose, cheeks, and jaw with his fingertips. He saw Severus's eyelids flutter shut and smiled.

"You could have anyone," he mused.

Severus opened his eyes and grabbed Harry's hands with his own, drawing them away from his face.

"I want you," he said, kissing Harry's hands without breaking eye contact.

Harry shifted his hands so that he was holding Severus's hands, as well. He saw the hope in Severus's eyes and gave him a tentative smile.

"I will," he said softly. "Marry you, that is. If you still want me to."

Harry's remaining fears disappeared when he saw the joy in Severus's eyes and face.

"I would love nothing better," said Severus, unable to stop smiling. He dropped Harry's hands so he could cup the young man's face. Then he leaned down and kissed him.

Needing something to hold in his now empty hands, Harry grabbed onto the front of Severus's shirt as he leaned in to deepen the kiss.

Breaking apart when they started to feel lightheaded, Harry and Severus kept their foreheads pressed together. Harry gave Severus one more quick kiss before leaning back so he could look Severus in the eye.

"I love you," he whispered, his eyes tearing up at the tender look Severus gave him.

"I love you, too," said Severus gently, smiling as he saw the happiness shining in Harry's eyes. He bent down and kissed him again.

Harry rested his head on Severus's chest and wrapped his arms around the older man's waist. Sighing contentedly, Severus wrapped his arms around the younger man leaning into him. They stayed there for a few minutes, simply holding each other.

"Won't your parents be upset that you're marrying me, though?" Harry finally asked.

"I am supposed to marry someone I love," said Severus. "My father never gave me any qualifications that needed to be met. As long as I'm married and rule the kingdom, he'll be…not unhappy."

"I guess we should go tell them, then, shouldn't we?" asked Harry.

"I suppose," said Severus, reluctantly breaking away from Harry and holding his hand instead.

"Is there any certain way I should act?" asked Harry nervously. "Is there anything I should know before going back in there?"

"Not that I can think of," said Severus, chuckling. "Why do you ask?"

"I was them to like me," said Harry. "I don't want to embarrass you."

"Harry, they're my parents; I'm going to be embarrassed regardless." Severus gave Harry's hand a reassuring squeeze and a quick kiss before adding, "Don't worry. My mother and Albus will absolutely adore you. Don't take anything my father says too seriously; he doesn't like anyone—not even me."

"So that part of your story was true?" asked Harry sadly.

"Harry, I never lied to you. I may not have told you everything, and I may have been deliberately vague at times, but everything I told you was true."

Thinking about all that Severus had told him, Harry said quietly, "I'm sorry to hear that."

They stopped in front of the door. Despite the older man's words, Harry could tell that Severus was nervous. He squeezed Severus's hand in the same comforting manner the older man always squeezed his and smiled up at him. He was pleased to see Severus return the smile."

"I love you," said Harry, leaning in to give Severus a quick kiss. "Ready to do this?"

"I should be asking you that," said Severus, pressing a kiss to the top of Harry's head. "After all, you will be the one answering most of their questions."

"What sort of questions?" asked Harry quickly. "Questions about the Dursleys?"

"Most likely," answered Severus, holding Harry close. "You don't have to tell them everything; just tell them enough to get them off your back. I'll help in anyway I can."

"Just don't leave me alone with them," pleaded Harry.

"I promise," said Severus. "Ready?"

Harry took a deep breath. "Ready."

Severus opened the door and led Harry inside. They stopped in front of the bed.

"Father, Mother, Albus, I would like to introduce you to my fiancé, Harry Potter. Harry, I would like you to meet my parents, Tobias and Eileen Snape, and Albus Dumbledore, our resident wizard."

"You're a wizard?" asked Harry excitedly, deeply impressed. He looked at Severus accusingly. "You never told me you knew a wizard! That's amazing! Do you think you could—"

Harry broke off, embarrassed and afraid. He had just snubbed the king and queen. And right after he said he wanted to make Severus proud!

"PPleased to meet you, Your Majesties," stuttered Harry, bowing at them both. Then he bowed to Albus, mumbling, "Same to you, Mr. Dumbledore."

"Please, call me Albus, dear boy," said Albus, his eyes sparkling as he reached out and shook Harry's hand. "And I would be delighted to show you anything you wish to see. I've been living with this family for decades; it's nice to be able to impress someone."

Harry smiled. He was glad that Albus wasn't mad. He cautiously turned to his future in-laws. Mrs. Snape seemed to be crying.

Severus noticed, as well.

"Mother, are you all right?"

"I am absolutely fabulous," she said. She could see how happy her son was. She pulled Harry into a hug. Startled, Harry froze before calming down enough to return the hug. "You must tell me all about yourself, Harry," she continued, pulling back enough to pull Harry onto the couch beside her. "Severus was so secretive about you when I asked him this morning."

"Harry's business is his to tell you, not mine," said Severus, moving to sit down on Harry's other side.

"So, Harry," said the queen, ignoring Severus, "tell me about your life."

Well, that was a very broad question, thought Harry. He said, "Well, I just turned twenty-two. I live with Rose and John Arnold. We work at the Coffee Corner, a little shop on the corner of First and Tucker. I've lived with them for three and a half years, and um…that's about it."

Severus smiled sadly. He knew that his mother would need more information than that.

"Arnold…so they're not your parents, then?"

"No, ma'am. My parents died when I was a baby. I was raised by my aunt and uncle until I turned eighteen. After that, the Arnolds gave me a job, and I moved in with them."

Eileen caught her son's eye over Harry's head and knew to leave the answer at that. She'd learn more information from Severus later.

"And how did you meet Severus?"

Harry felt Severus tense up behind him.

"I met him outside one of the shops in town. We had lunch in the park, and I found out that he had nowhere to go and no money, so Mrs. Arnold agreed that he could stay and work with us."

Eileen knew that there was more to the story than that but decided to add her questions to her things-she-would-weasel-out-of-Severus-later list.

"So, what attracted Severus to you?" she asked, smiling as she saw her son straighten up. She knew he wanted to know the answer, as well.

Harry leaned back so he could look Severus in the eye as he answered. He saw the curiosity in those obsidian eyes and smiled.

"I noticed his intelligence, first," Harry confessed, "that and his elegance. He just has this way about him that just…I don't know…seems to exude confidence and grace wherever he goes. He also has an amazing sense of humor. I can listen to him talk for hours at a time."

"Bet you could have done without that nose, though," muttered Tobias, speaking for the first time.

Harry felt Severus tense again and reached for his hands. "I love everything about Severus, including his nose," said Harry, a little more forcefully than he intended. "It's very dignified, just like the rest of him."

Severus smiled at Harry, touched by the honesty and protectiveness he saw reflected in those beautiful emerald eyes.

"What about you, son?" asked Eileen, pleased with Harry's defense of her son. "What made Harry stand out?"

Harry looked up at Severus, both curious and afraid to hear the answer.

"His eyes," said Severus, looking deep into said eyes. "They were the most beautiful eyes I'd ever seen, so open, so expressive. You can tell just how he feels by looking at them, see how they sparkle when he smiles."

Severus smiled as he saw those expressive eyes fill up with happy tears once more. He continued.

"Then they're his personality. I don't think I've ever met a more caring, generous individual. He never once made me feel bad bout the position I was in, never once asked for anything in return for all that he gave me."

Eileen smiled as Harry hugged Severus. Her smile brightened further when she saw Severus wrap his arms around Harry, holding him in place.

"What is the one thing you would change about Severus, if you could?" she asked.

"Mother!" Severus burst out, loosening his hold on Harry so he could look at his mother more fully. "What is this, twenty questions? I will not remain here while you continue to fling tedious, meaningless questions at us. Anything that we may or may not like about each other is our business, not yours!"

"Severus, I only—"

"It's getting late," continued Severus, standing up and pulling Harry up with him. "Mr. and Mrs. Arnold will be expecting us for dinner. Do not forget that we also have to tell them."

"Oh my god, I forgot about the time!" said Harry, looking down at his watch. "It's getting late; we probably should go. Unless, of course, you want us to—"

"Go ahead, boys," said Eileen, looking sadly at her son. "I wouldn't want you to be late. I suppose I'll see you both on Sunday."

"Sunday?" asked Harry. "Why then?"

"That's when you are to be married, is it not?" grumbled Tobias.

"It is?" asked Harry, turning to Severus, who blushed.

"I might have forgotten to mention the date," the older man admitted. He nervously returned Harry's gaze. "I assume the date is all right with you?"

"Of course, it is," said Harry, reaching out to grasp Severus's hand. "I was just surprised at its suddenness. Makes sense, I suppose, though…"

"Goodbye, Severus, Harry," said Eileen, giving them both a big hug.

"Welcome to the family, Harry," said Albus, shaking his hand. He turned to Severus. "I couldn't be happier for you, my boy."

Severus nodded, not trusting himself to speak, and led Harry away.

xxx

"Your being the prince," said Harry.

Severus started. They had, after all, been walking in complete silence. "What?"

"That's what I would change about you. That way, you would have had your whole life to find someone to marry, to make sure you found the right person."

Severus stopped walking and pulled Harry close for a long, gentle kiss. He saw Harry's mouth curve into a sweet smile and couldn't prevent the smile from forming on his own face.

"I would take away your pathetically low self-esteem," said Severus, "so that you would look at yourself and see the incredible, deserving young man I do."

Harry's smile grew even softer. He pressed another chaste kiss to Severus's mouth before he started walking again, refusing to let go of Severus's hand.

"I'm going to have to leave the Arnolds, won't I?" asked Harry softly after a few moments.

"You can visit them whenever you want to," said Severus. "They could even move into the castle with us if they wanted to."

"I somehow can't see them agreeing to that," said Harry. He paused. "Whenever I wanted to?"

"Everyday," promised Severus. "Several times a day, if you'd prefer."

Harry chuckled. "Okay."

xxx

Harry had been right. Mr. and Mrs. Arnold refused to leave the shop to move into the castle, but they insisted that Harry and Severus visit them frequently. Though surprised by Severus's revelation, they were both extremely happy for them. Mrs. Arnold immediately began cooking one of Harry's favorite dinners, and Mr. Arnold started asking all sorts of questions about the castle.

"And you said you were poor," scoffed Mr. Arnold when Severus was finished.

"Mr. Arnold, I want you to know that I appreciate everything you and your wife have done for me, and I fully intend to pay you back all the money you gave me—"

"Absolutely not!" scolded Mrs. Arnold. "You earned that money; you keep it."

Severus argued with them for several minutes before giving up. Besides, dinner was ready, and he didn't feel like arguing anymore.

xxx

After dinner, Harry and Severus sat in Harry's room. Severus was sitting on the bed, leaning against the headboard. Harry was curled up next to him. Severus's fingers deftly carded through Harry's hair. Harry sighed contentedly and snuggled closer to Severus.

"This is so weird…yesterday I wasn't even sure if you liked me, and now we're engaged!" he said softly.

"I'm afraid I put you through quite a lot of stress in the past twenty-four hours," admitted Severus. "I am sorry for that."

"Don't be," said Harry, smiling up at him. "It was most definitely worth it."

"I'm glad to hear it," said Severus, smiling back. He kissed the top of Harry's head and then rested his chin on top of it, his eyes staring blankly in front of him. Then they caught something, a package on top of Harry's dresser. It was the gift he bought for Harry's birthday. Pulling away slightly, Severus looked down at Harry and said, "You never opened my birthday present."

"Wh—oh yeah!" said Harry, pulling back as well. "I forgot about that. I wanted to wait and open it when you were with me. It didn't seem right to open it without you."

"Open it," encouraged Severus.

"Okay," agreed Harry, rolling off the bed and grabbing the present. When he returned, he sat cross-legged on the bed and slowly unwrapped his gift.

"Oh, Severus!" he gasped when he saw the books. The Tamir trilogy, written by the same author of his beloved Nightrunner series, was high on Harry's list of books-to-read. Unfortunately, his local bookstore and library didn't own it, so he had resigned himself to never being able to see it.

He turned tear-filled eyes to Severus. "How did you find these?"

Severus saw how touched Harry was and was shocked. He hadn't realized a book could cause such a reaction. "I asked the bookstore to order it for me," he said a little uncomfortably. "I knew you liked the other books, so I thought you would like these as well."

"You have no idea how long I've wanted to read them! Thank you so much!" cried Harry, setting down the books and flinging himself on Severus.

The older man caught him and pulled him close, laughing at Harry's enthusiasm. He was glad he had managed to find the right gift.

"I love you," said Harry, joy still evident in his eyes but his tone serious.

Severus pulled Harry down for a long kiss before saying, "I love you, too."

Fin

"Love is like swallowing hot chocolate before it has cooled off. It takes you by surprise at first, but keeps you warm for a long time."(7)

Okay, the ending sort of sucked. Sorry about that, but I've been trying to wrap it up for like a week and a half, and this was the best I could come up with. I hope you enjoyed the rest of it, at any rate.

Notes:

(1) the Mistaken Identity Spell: Again, this is the spell created by nat rulz, used in her story "The Fountain of Dreams." You can find a link to her story under my "favorite stories" tab. After you review my story, I highly recommend you go read it.

(2) Oubliez l'indentité!French for "forget the identity" (or at least I think it is).

(3) "That'll be seven dollars and sixty-three cents, please." Okay, they should really be in England and thus be using the whole pound/pence whatever system. However, I am far too lazy to look that up, so I am sticking with dollars. I hope no one minds too much.

(4) Traitor's Moon : This book, along with the Luck in the Shadows and Stalking Darkness, also mentioned in this story, are part of the Nightrunner series by Lynn Flewelling. I mention these in another story, but at that point in time I hadn't read them, so I didn't really know what I was recommending. Now I know. Great books. The end of the second one reminds me a bit of a scene from Harry Potter, but that contains a major spoiler, so I'll just let you all read that. The Tamir trilogy was also written by Lynn Flewelling, but I haven't read it.

(5) World Market : This is a place I visited in Minneapolis, the city I will live in during the next four years (college…woot!). It's really cool-there's food and collectables from all over the place. It's fun to look around.

(6) "Souviens-moi!" : French for "remember me." Rather uncreative, I know, but there you go.

(7) Source unknown, but submitted by Krystal Esplin to the following site: http // www . lovingyou . com / scripts / quotes / quotes . php ? cat love is