Author's Note: I'm a truly reprehensible person. I'm lazy and there's just no excuse. I'm not really lazy. I work 55 hours a week, but I still should have had this up ages ago.
Disclaimer: No is mine.
Give Me Life
The Truth: Uncompromised
By: Luna Lovegood
This publication has a reputation for printing the truth when others do not, and we are happy to put to rest the rumors about the supposed relationship between Severus Snape and Harry Potter. While the implications made by The Daily Prophet yesterday are mostly false, we are happy to confirm that the two are in a mutually fulfilling consensual relationship and have been since the start of the school term this year when Harry was hired as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor. Valuing their privacy, the two have kept the relationship a secret from everyone, save a few close friends and family, but after the revelation of their relationship yesterday, they were willing to grant The Quibbler an exclusive interview.
I have known both of these men since I was a child, and, while the coupling may appear strange and unlikely to some, it came as no surprise to me. If the war had not called their time and attention elsewhere, the two may have found happiness together much sooner. In any case, after the many sacrifices they have made for the freedom and safety of the wizarding world, I cannot understand how the same public can begrudge them their happiness and privacy.
Upon entering Headmaster Snape's office for the interview, I was immediately struck by how comfortable my old friends were with each other. Throughout the interview, they continued to flirt and banter lightly as they answered my questions. After the interview, I have no doubt whatsoever that Harry Potter and Severus Snape are completely and genuinely in love.
Q: Who was the first to suggest that you should start dating?
H: That would have been Severus. I think it's the only time I've ever seen him fumble for words. When he couldn't come right out and say it, he finally just kissed me.
Q: Did you have any reservations? You must have had some idea of what the public's reaction would be to your relationship?
H: I didn't have any reservations. This is something I've wanted for a long time. As for the wizarding public,… I've already killed Voldemort. I don't know what else they want from me, and, honestly, I don't care. I'm ready to live my own life.
S: I did have reservations. There are reasons why our relationship isn't completely appropriate, and, while I was eager to take the next step at that point, I didn't want to do so without first addressing those concerns. After talking about it with Harry and clearing the air over our past, I felt that continuing to proceed was the right decision.
Q: Severus, you said "the next step"; does that mean that you already had a relationship to some degree?
S: Naturally. We had gone from being teacher and pupil, to allies, to coworkers, and then friends. Our friendship took a lot of forgiveness and cultivation before we could even consider a romantic relationship.
Q: What about you, Harry? How have your feelings for Severus changed? You said that this was something you've wanted for a long time. How long exactly?
H: Since back when our relationship really would have been inappropriate. Unfortunately, I didn't know where Sev's loyalties were back then, so I'm sorry to say that I hated him at that time. After the war, when the truth finally came out, I started to come to terms with those feelings.
Q: What was your first date like? You must have found it difficult to maintain your anonymity on a date.
H: We went to a restaurant and a movie in the muggle world. Homosexuality isn't as widely accepted there as it is in the wizarding world, but we were able to be together without it being all over the front page of the tabloids.
Q: After all that effort to keep your relationship a secret, how do you feel about the timing of the Daily Prophet article?
H: It's unfortunate. While I've told some of my friends and family, I haven't managed to talk to all of them yet, and I wish that I'd had a chance to tell them before they read about it in the paper. Also, I had hoped to keep Severus from becoming tabloid fodder so soon.
Q: The main problem that most people seem to have with your relationship is the age difference. How do you feel about it?
H: I love whom I love, and Severus and I will have many more happy years together, so everyone might as well get used to it.
Q: What about you, Severus? Do you feel strange having a partner half your age?
S: If it were anyone else, I would say yes, but I have been arguing with and protecting Harry since he was eleven. I find that little enough has changed.
Q: Is there anything else you want to say to our readers?
H: Severus is the bravest, smartest, most honorable man I've ever known, and I wish that I was half the man he is. The public would do well to recognize that and realize that I'm the one who's lucky to be with him and not the other way around.
S: And please stop sending us letters.
H: Yes. It's making a mess of the kitchen, and we'd like access to our table.
Reluctantly bidding my friends farewell, I returned to the office so that we could bring you this special edition today. I hope that it brings understanding and acceptance for these two extraordinary men.
Congratulations, Harry and Severus. All my best.
Sunday was spent cloistered away in Severus' rooms. There was an advance copy of The Quibbler waiting for them when they woke, and they had a chance to read it a few hours before it would be sent to anyone else. Harry owled Luna to thank her for her help and hard work, and then they had breakfast and waited for the owls to arrive.
Hermione had made good on her promise to find a way to send all their mail to Rita Skeeter, but after some consideration they decided to limit this to only the howlers. A howler, apart from being generally unpleasant, destroyed itself once its purpose had been fulfilled, and wouldn't leave anything for her to use against them. The last thing Harry and Severus wanted was for copies of some of their more defamatory fan mail appearing in the paper.
Once the special edition of The Quibbler went out, it didn't take long for the owls to start arriving.
"May we simply burn these unopened this time?" Severus asked, relieving a large barn owl of its burden- a letter, addressed to Harry, roughly the length and weight of a manuscript.
"I want to open a few so that we can gauge the situation, then we can pretend it's November fifth."
"Fawkes was looking a little under the weather. Perhaps today will be a burning day, and he can do the honors."
They finished taking the letters from the assembled owls, and when no more seemed forthcoming, they sat at the table and began reading through a few.
Professor Potter and Headmaster Snape,
I know you said that you didn't want any more letters, but I just wanted to say that I think you deserve to do whatever makes you both happy, and you shouldn't let anyone try to tell you differently.
Harry paled a little. "This one is from Damian Warrick's Ravenclaw friend." He looked around at the pile of letters. "You don't suppose these are all from students, do you? They did get here awfully fast."
Severus frowned. He plucked one of the letters addressed to him from the pile at random.
Way to go, fucking Potter! You're the tops, sir. Give the boy who lived a little show of what a real Slytherin can do.
Severus raised an eyebrow. "The author of this particular sentiment wisely left it unsigned, but I recognize the handwriting. It's from one of the Slytherin fifth-years- Lysander Troy. He's always been crude, but never possessed with much wit or common sense." Severus folded the letter closed. "I think it's safe to say that all of these have come from the student body, and none are fit for anything save firelighters.
Harry sighed. "I'm so sick of this shite." Harry tossed down the letters in his hand.
Severus looked over the pile and imagined all the others that would surely be coming in over the course of the morning and likely days to follow. He wasn't looking forward to the prospect.
"Dobby," he said suddenly. There was a pop as the house elf appeared.
"Hello Headmaster sir and Harry Potter," Dobby said, looking overjoyed to be there. "What can Dobby be doing for you?"
"I think we've had enough post for one day, Dobby. Could you see to disposing of any additional mail?"
"Of course, sir." Dobby shot a glance toward Harry. "Dobby is not reading, but he understands. You will not be bothered by anymore nasty mail. You will be having privacy." Dobby gave a firm nod. He snapped his fingers, and banished all the mail from the table, and then popped out of the room.
Harry sighed. "I guess that's taken care of," he said. "We still have today off. Can we just pretend like everything is normal for one day? Just stay here and forget about it all?"
"Yes," Severus said, "except for one thing."
"I think there's one floo call you should really make."
Harry thought over the long list of people he needed to talk to, but only came up with one call that really shouldn't wait another day. "The Weasleys?" he asked with a resigned sigh.
Severus nodded. "They're your family. You should talk to them."
"Can we do it together?"
"Do you think that's wise?"
Harry considered it for awhile. "I don't know, but it's what I want."
"It's up to you. I'll go along with whatever you want."
Harry made a thoughtful noise. "And put on an 18th century naval officer's uniform and make me breakfast."
"Eggs and bacon," Harry clarified.
Harry shrugged. "It was worth a try."
"Are you serious?"
"I like the brocade, and you'd look good in blue."
"Go call your family," Severus said in an admonishing tone.
"Sheesh," Harry said, getting to his feet and still smirking. "Forgive me for trying to add a little excitement to the relationship."
"Our relationship has had quite enough excitement, Mr. Potter, without the need to resort to tacky muggle costumes and role-playing."
"Not feeling any need to ream one of the deckhands, Captain?"
"I'd rather lash you against the main mast."
"As long as it's a tongue lashing," Harry shot back, smirking.
"Stop stalling, Harry."
"Can't I call them tomorrow?" he pleaded. "Or Christmas? People are always more forgiving around Christmas."
"Now, Harry," Severus commanded. "You've faced down a dark lord, and we've already dealt with your troublesome godfather. Surely you're not afraid of Molly Weasley."
"You didn't see what she did to Bellatrix Lestrange."
It was true, he hadn't, but he had heard it described in gory detail on multiple occasions. "Point taken. However, I really don't think this will be a problem if handled with the appropriate level of delicacy."
"Fine, but you're going to be right there with me."
"I've already assented to that."
"Hmph," Harry took him by the hand and led him past the fireplace in the sitting room and out to the larger one in his office. Harry spared him an angry look before tossing a handful of floo powder into the fireplace and poking his head in to call, "The Burrow," he reached back to grab the edge of Severus' robes and yanked the other man down beside him.
"Hey Harry," someone said as soon as The Burrow's kitchen resolved itself into view. It was Charlie Weasley, sitting at the table nursing a cup of tea. His lip curled into a licentious smile. "And Severus, what a pleasant surprise."
"Are your mum and dad around?"
"They went to the shop for a few things- big Weasley Sunday morning brunch, you know. You haven't been for a while," he glanced at Severus, "been busy, I guess."
"Yeah, okay," Harry mumbled. "I'll just call back later, I guess."
"Nonsense," Charlie said. "You'll come to brunch. Ron and Hermione, the twins, Bill and Fleur are all here already. Percy is even coming. Mum would be so happy if you came. Bring your old man."
"I don't find that particularly amusing, Mr. Weasley," Severus growled.
"Just an expression, Snape."
Harry was torn between an honest desire to spend some time with his family, and the all encompassing dread of both trying to explain Severus and dragging him into the chaos of a full-on Weasley clan brunch."
"You'll come?" Charlie prompted when Harry still hadn't answered.
"Yeah," Harry said, reluctantly. "We'll come. Just give us a few minutes."
Harry and Severus pulled out of the fireplace together.
"Are you okay with this?" Harry asked.
"I was the one who prompted you to talk to them. As daunting as I find the prospect of brunch with the Weasleys, I think I'll manage."
"Okay," Harry nodded. "Let's get dressed and head over then."
"Shall I don that naval uniform?" Severus asked with a straight face.
Harry smiled. "I think we'll have enough to explain as it is."
A crowd of Weasleys awaited them when they stepped out of the fireplace. Fred and George wasted no time in pulling Harry into a hug and making him into a Weasley sandwich. They ruffled his hair and clothes, leaving him looking thoroughly disheveled when they finally pulled away to focus their attention on Snape- patting him on the back a little too hard and taking generally more familiar liberty then the dour man was comfortable with. Hermione hugged Harry then and greeted Severus with a warm smile while Ron stood by looking disapproving of the whole situation. Charlie managed to swoop down on Severus and pulled him roughly against his muscular body for his own hug- one that lasted just a bit too long to be considered strictly decent.
"Glad you came," he said when he finally let go.
"Yeah," Fred piped in. "It's about time you met the family."
"Have a few things to answer for," George agreed.
"Lay off it, Ronald," Hermione reprimanded. "We're glad you came, Professor. And we've missed you, Harry."
"Time to eat, kids," Molly yelled from the kitchen, and Severus and Harry were treated to more pats on the back as they were ushered through all the chaos into the kitchen.
"Severus," Arthur nodded to him as they took seats at the table-wedged in between the twins on one side, Charlie on the other, and Ron and Hermione across from them. The kitchen seemed to be bursting at the seams with Weasleys.
The entire situation took Severus completely off guard. It hadn't been anything approaching the massive row that he'd been expecting. Most of Harry's adopted family already knew of their involvement of course, but Severus found himself being welcomed into their midst with little question. Arthur had managed a smile and hadn't made much comment over his presence, but Molly was still at the stove with her back turned to the table. Severus braced himself for whatever was coming.
When she turned to the table, her eyes automatically locked on his, and she seemed undecided over what her reaction to his presence should be.
Harry quickly spoke up to divert attention to himself. "Thanks for having us over, Mrs. Weasley," he said. "Sorry I couldn't have made it sooner, but we've been so busy with the school. I've missed you all so much. I wish I could have talked to you about all this sooner." He gestured from himself to Severus.
Whatever inner turmoil Molly had been fighting melted away, and she gave Harry a bright smile. "Oh, not at all, Harry dear. I know how hard it can be to manage so many children," she glanced over her own brood with a loving breed of exasperation. "And how many times do I have to tell you to call me Molly," she scolded, "or mum if you like. You know I think of you as one of my own."
Harry flushed and nodded.
"And you," she said, turning her ire on Severus. "You're lucky I have half of my children vouching for you, or I would have hexed you into your next life. You're to take good care of my son, and you're to have him here for brunch at least once a month, and you're coming to Christmas. I don't want to hear any argument, or I'll change my mind on what I think about all this."
Severus smiled. "Wouldn't dream of it, Molly. Thank you for being so accommodating."
She scoffed, but Harry thought he could see the shock that she was trying to hide over the genuine smile that Severus was favoring her with. She shook her head. "Well, I can't say I saw this one coming, but we're glad to have you with us."
"Great," Ron muttered. "Now that we have all that cleared up, can we eat?"
"Mind your manners, Ronald Weasley," she snapped, but platters of food started getting passed around the table all the same.
It was odd, Severus thought, how easily they all just accepted his presence. They ate and talked, and carried on as if he was just part of the family. He'd never quite experienced anything like it.
"And how is Damian Dragon-bane?" Charlie asked after they'd all had a chance to eat something.
"Adjusting," Harry answered.
"And the dragon?" Charlie asked.
"Dead," Severus said.
"That's a pity," Charlie said.
"Hardly. It's been dead for several centuries I would guess." Severus took a sip of his orange juice.
"The dragon was a corporeal manifestation of past events brought on by the boy's natural ability at magical field manipulation and amplified by the castle's magical signature."
Charlie frowned. "I think I understood that."
"The dragon attack was a memory from the castle. Damian saw it in a vision, and suffered the effects," Harry explained.
"From the castle?" Charlie pondered this.
Hermione's eyes darted back and forth between the three men. "What are you talking about?"
"Just a little problem we've been having with one of the students," Harry said, somewhat hoping she would let it go.
"That sounds serious."
"We have it under control," Harry continued. "We're working on it, and I'm not a complete idiot, I can figure this out on my own."
"I never said you were an idiot, Harry," Hermione said. She sounded hurt. "I was just interested is all. I thought maybe I could help."
"It couldn't hurt to get another opinion," Severus said.
Harry sighed. "Fine, but this is still my problem, Hermione. You can help, but don't get carried away."
She nodded her bushy brown head, and Harry launched into a long explanation of everything that had been going on at the school this term. They had all finished eating by the time Harry finished, having to ask for help from Severus in explaining just what a paradox potion was.
Ron made a long whistling noise. "Sheesh, doesn't anything ever change. It kind of makes you nostalgic for the good old days. Huh, Harry?"
"Megalomaniac dark wizards trying to kill me? Giant snakes? Dementors? Mermaids, and dragons, and blast-ended skrewts? Escaped convicts, and Death Eaters, and Draco Malfoy?"
"Yeah," Harry said. "I guess it is a bit like old times."
"You forgot greasy hook-nosed dungeon bats," Severus offered.
Harry smiled. "How dare you even suggest such a thing," he said, leaning over to kiss the bridge of the other man's nose. "I could never forget a huge git like you."
Nearly every person at the table had their eyes fixed curiously on this exchange. It wasn't such a surprise perhaps; they were starting to get used to being something of a curiosity.
"So?" Harry asked finally. "Do you have any suggestions that we might not have considered?"
Hermione seemed to be thinking rapidly, running through possibilities in her head. After a moment she seemed to collapse in upon herself with a kind of resigned surrender. "I have no idea."
"Well there's a first," Ron said.
Hermione reached over and punched him playfully in the shoulder. "It is very interesting though, Harry. If you'll permit me, I'd like to do a little research. I can pass along anything I find that might be useful."
Harry nodded. "Yeah, okay, that'd be great."
Hermione beamed, overjoyed to have another mystery to solve.
"Well," Mrs. Weasley said. "Just so long as the boy is alright." She stood and began to gather the dishes.
Fleur got up to try to help her, bracing one hand against the small of her back to support her pregnant belly as she rose carefully to her feet.
"Sit back down, you silly girl," Severus snapped. Harry could tell that it was playful, but there was a moment of shocked silence from the other Weasleys around the table. Fleur looked up at him with startled grey doe-eyes. "You're apt to pop at any moment," Severus amended a little softer with a small smile. "I can help Molly with the dishes. You should rest." He rose to his feet then and began to do just that, much to the complete shock of everyone save Harry- who had recently been receiving similar treatment from the potion master. And Harry had to admit that there wasn't a better looking house elf anywhere.
The others helped to clear the table and then left Molly and Severus to start the dishes to washing and tidy up the kitchen.
"Are you really okay with this," Severus asked her once they were alone.
Molly sighed. She didn't have to ask what he was talking about. "The last few years have been hard on all of us," she said. "You deserve to be happy as much as he does, I suppose. You are happy? Both of you?"
"Well I won't say that this isn't all highly… peculiar, but as long as it's what you both want, I have no grounds to argue."
"And what about Arthur?" Severus asked, flicking his wand at the plates to send them back to the cupboard.
"He's always liked you for some strange reason," she observed, "and Arthur generally thinks whatever I tell him to think where anything other than his silly muggle contraptions is concerned. It won't be a problem."
Severus smiled. "It's a relief to hear it," he said. "Harry needs his family. You're very important to him, Molly. You're the only real mother he's ever known."
Molly looked on the verge of tears. "He's very important to me too, so you'd better take care of him, Severus Snape."
Harry was emotionally exhausted by the time they returned to the castle. He'd been so worried over what the remaining Weasleys would think about Severus, that their easy acceptance had come as more of a shock than repudiation would have. They spent the remaining afternoon out in the garden, joking and helping to rake leaves and get the plants ready for the first winter frost.
"Thanks for making me go, Sev," he said tiredly as they got ready for an early evening. "I should have given them more credit. I don't know why I was so sure they'd be upset."
"They just want what's best for you, Harry."
He nodded. "I know. I just didn't think they would trust me to know what that is for myself."
Severus reached over to brush a hand across Harry's cheek and cup his jaw. "You'll always have me in your corner no matter what happens, and perhaps this Daily Prophet article was for the best. We don't have to hide anymore."
Harry shook his head, smiling sadly. "I don't think you know how this works, Severus."
He raised an eyebrow.
"Now we don't have a choice. We couldn't hide if we wanted to. The whole world is going to be watching our every move."
"Welcome to the limelight," Harry said. "Trust me, this time next month, you'll be wondering how you could have ever thought that I liked being the center of attention."
"I never really thought that. I'm sorry I had to feign constant disdain for you. I don't know if you'll ever believe it, but it always hurt me just as much as it hurt you."
Harry shook his head. "You don't need to lie for my account. I've seen your memories. I know what you thought."
"Only for the first month after you came to school," Severus explained. "By the time I changed my mind, it was too late to do anything about it. We suspected Quirrell was after the Philosopher's stone, and the dark lord's return was imminent. I couldn't afford to show you any positive consideration. It would have put us both at risk. My main concern was your safety."
Harry sighed and ran a hand through his shaggy black hair- it was starting to get long. "I don't care. None of it matters anymore. Can we just leave what happened back then in the past for once? I just want you as you are, here and now."
"You can have me anyway, anywhere, and anytime you want, Harry," Severus purred in his ear.
"Except against the kitchen table and dressed as a naval officer," Severus quickly amended.
Harry's face fell. "Prude," he accused.
"What if we went to the room of requirement and did it on the deck of an actual ship? Would you wear the uniform then?"
"No. What's your sudden obsession with this anyway?"
Harry flushed. "I've been reading the Horatio Hornblower books."
Severus' eyebrows shot up. "For entertainment?"
"Yes, for entertainment, you prat." Harry hit him in the shoulder. "I do occasionally do that, you know. I'm not completely illiterate."
"I never said completely…"
Harry hit him again.
Severus rubbed his arm. "Stop that."
"Stop being a prat then," Harry grumbled.
They couldn't stay hidden forever, and Monday brought with it the start of another work week. Things had gotten strange following the release of the Daily Prophet article and Luna's special edition of The Quibbler. The stares of both the staff and students they had expected, but it was something else… there was a strange feeling that followed them everywhere they went- even when they were alone in their quarters.
Kingsley had been sending them several owls a day since news of their new relationship had hit the press. These, along with letters from friends and family, had been diligently sorted out from the rest of their mail and left in Severus' office by Dobby. Harry decided he should make an effort to do something nice for the elf for all the extra trouble. They had mostly ignored the letters from Kingsley, but it was only a matter of time before the minister arrived in person.
To add to all of that, the Slytherins had been acting strangely. Harry hadn't noticed at first. He thought they were just staring at him like the rest of the students, but as the week progressed and the other houses began to lose some of their interest in Harry's love life, the Slytherins continued their staring and strange behavior. It wasn't until one of the Slytherin seventh-years asked him a question about a particularly obscure counter-jinx that Harry had only mentioned in passing a few days before that he realized what had been niggling at him: the Slytherins were paying attention. It might not seem like anything noteworthy, but after struggling all term to get through to them, the fact that the Slytherins were actually making some effort to listen to what he had to say was incredible.
And yet, something about this sudden change in attitude just didn't sit right with him. Harry decided that to get to the bottom of it he'd have to talk to one of them, and there was only one that he could trust to give him a straight and honest answer.
"Mr. Warrick?" Harry called after Damian's retreating back.
The boy stopped and turned around, adjusting the weight of his book bag on his shoulder. "Professor?"
"In my office for just a moment." Harry still hadn't gotten used to the way that any student he spoke to privately looked at him like they were awaiting the gallows. Damian was no exception. "You aren't in trouble," Harry assured him, but Damian only looked slightly less trepidatious.
Once they'd mounted the steps to Harry's office and closed the door behind them, Harry perched on the edge of his desk and fixed Damian with a considering look. "Want to tell me what's going on in Slytherin House?"
The immediate expression of guilt that crossed Damian's face was all the confirmation Harry needed.
"What do you mean, professor?" the boy asked innocently.
"I mean," Harry said. "That den of serpents has suddenly started treating me like some kind of messiah, and I want to know why."
"I have no idea what you mean, sir."
"Should I drop by the common room this evening and have a look for myself then?"
Damian startled at this. "I wouldn't advise it, sir."
"Then you'd better start explaining."
"I'm not sure I can."
"You're a bright boy, and you can know what everyone is thinking anytime you want," Harry said. "I'm sure you can find the words."
Damian shrugged. "They just like you is all. It isn't a huge mystery."
"Why now? Why all of a sudden?"
"Because of the Headmaster," Damian answered. "The Slytherins are protective of him. He's one of our own. Now that the two of you are in love, that makes you one of us too- sort of an… honorary Slytherin."
Harry stared at the boy in bafflement for a moment, and finally resolved that he'd have to ponder over that particular revelation at a later date- when he had more time and some alcohol. "Alright," he said after a moment. "Have you had any more visions?"
Damian shook his head.
"Would you actually tell me if you had?" Harry asked, suspecting that he already knew the answer.
Damian hedged, and Harry sighed in annoyance.
"We've agreed to allow the visions to continue as long as they remain just visions, but if you start to have any physical manifestations or side-effects, you need to tell either me or the Headmaster. I know you don't want to end up in the hospital wing anymore than we want to see you there."
Damian shook his head.
"Okay then, and keep on the lookout for any mention of something called a paradox potion in any of your visions. Severus thinks it has to do with what's going on. It could be important."
"Well, get to class then," Harry said. "You can tell Professor Malfoy to take it up with me if you're late, but I would prefer it if you weren't."
"Okay," Damian said, grabbing his bag to rush off. "Tell your boyfriend he owes me a chess game," he added just before he let the door close behind him.
"Cheeky little snake," Harry muttered, dropping his forehead to rest in the palms of his hands. He could just imagine how well Severus would take it if the students started referring to him as Harry Potter's boyfriend. He had to snort laughter at that.
And now he was an honorary Slytherin? What a fine mess this was turning into.
Harry had been distracted the rest of the day. He approached his few remaining classes with a kind of detached disinterest and only took some mild enjoyment from the groans of the students when he handed out their pop quizzes. He had to laugh at this; maybe it was the teaching that was turning him into a Slytherin.
He returned to Severus' quarters an hour or so before dinner, eager to relay the information he'd received from Damian that afternoon- if only to see the man laugh. But Severus was nowhere to be found, at least not in his quarters. Harry took a seat in the chair by the fireplace, and took up a handful of the mail stored in a basket there. This was the mail they'd received before turning Dobby into their private secretary, and Harry had refused to allow Severus to toss it all into the fire without at least sorting through it in case there was something important hidden amongst the midden of hate mail and hollow sentiments. So, he'd been systematically sorting through the pile of letters, occasionally opening a few and wishing he hadn't, over the last week. Only a few had been saved from the fire, and Harry had yet to find anything to vindicate the extra effort.
Until today, that is. He pulled a burnt-orange envelope from the pile and gave it a cursory glance. He was about to toss it into the fire when the name struck him as familiar, and he did a double-take. The letter was from a Master Alonzo Valora, and it was addressed to Master Severus Snape, not Headmaster- referring to his title as a potion master and not his position at the school.
He tore the letter open, glancing over the missive. The strange letters and numbers printed neatly on the page meant nothing to him, but the single line at the bottom that he did understand sent his heart racing. "Paradox potion a likely possibility."
Harry got quickly to his feet and left Severus' quarters at a near run to find him with the letter clutched in his hand.
The remaining letters that had been piled on Harry's lap scattered in a flurry of paper to the floor before the hearth- watching their fellows burn in the embers and awaiting their own fate.
Harry started down toward the dungeons. If Severus wasn't in his office, then he must be in his private lab. The problem was that Harry didn't know exactly where it was, and he kept getting disconcerting looks from the Slytherins as he wandered around looking for it. He considered asking one of them for directions, but wasn't sure he wanted to have an in-depth conversation with one of the students about why he was looking for Severus' lab or why he didn't already know where it was. He was about to ask the castle instead, looking for a suitable place to do it away from prying eyes, when a voice from down the corridor called to him.
Harry stopped walking and turned to see Hagrid behind him, seeming to fill the entire corridor.
"Oh, hey Hagrid. I was just looking for Severus; you haven't seen him anywhere, have you?"
"The 'eadmaster left a few hours ago ta go see Kingsley."
That was to be expected, Harry supposed. Shaklebolt had been breathing down their necks all week. "Oh, okay." Harry scratched the back of his neck, taking in the crossbow hanging loosely from Hagrid's hand. "What are you doing down here, Hagrid?" he asked.
"Ah, well Argus thought ee migh' 'ave spotted a few acromantula roaming around. Wanted me ta take a look."
Harry looked around, half expecting to see the massive spiders crawling up the walls toward them, but the hallway was blessedly empty of monstrous arachnids. By now he should be used to this sort of thing, monsters and dragons and darkness and just general madness and chaos, but he was still just a bit disquieted that the only attention given to a bunch of gargantuan man-eating spiders roaming the school was that the caretaker had casually mentioned it to the gamekeeper- who then took up his trusty crossbow and headed into the dark to fight monsters. Likely no one else would have even known about it if Harry hadn't run into him.
"Can I give you a hand?" Harry asked.
"That'd be 'preciated," Hagrid said. "'Fraid if it comes ta stunnin the buggers, I'm not much good."
It was true that, while Hagrid's name had been cleared and he was now legally allowed a wand, he had yet to replace the broken one concealed within his pink umbrella. Though, with all the lethal force of his giant heritage, he hardly needed one to handle himself in this kind of situation. "Oh, I don't know," Harry said grinning. "I seem to remember my cousin, Dudley, waddling around with a pig's tail for a few weeks."
"Ah, well," Hagrid said sheepishly. "That wasn't so much magic as jus' lettin' Nature finish wha she started."
Harry laughed. "Well, lay on, Macduff." He pointed off down the hallway, and squeezed himself in beside Hagrid as they began patrolling.
"Mus' be getting' boring, what with bein' a pr'fessor an all, if you're voulunteerin ta go monster hunting with me."
"I wish," Harry said, "but it's always something."
"Ever find that dragon?" Hagrid asked.
"It wasn't a real dragon," Harry said, hoping he wouldn't have to explain further. He was eager to discuss neither dragons in general nor a certain dragon called Norbert in particular. He quickly cast about for a subject change before Hagrid could ask any more questions about it. "The thing with Severus," he said, thinking that even a row over his new relationship would be preferable to listening to Hagrid coo over Norbert. "That's not going to be a problem with you, is it?"
Hagrid shook his great shaggy head. "Naw, Harry. I like Snape just fine, fer tha mos' part. An' you 'aven't been round long anough ta know this, but someone's always sleepin' with someone round here. Normally, we do a little better job hidin it from tha students, but in yer case I don' imagine it coulda been helped."
Harry had been told something along these lines once or twice before, but still couldn't quite picture any of his former professors or current colleagues off snogging in the staff room or stealing into empty classrooms for an afternoon quickie. For that matter, he didn't particularly want to think about it.
They turned a corner down a narrower dimly lit hall, and they were forced by Hagrid's bulk to walk single file- Harry in front so that his view of any danger before them, or a clear shot if such arose, would not be blocked by the half-giant.
"Did Filch mention how many of these things we should be looking for?"
"Reckons a pair, pro'ly lookin fer new nesting ground."
"Oh, that's just great," Harry muttered under his breath, and raised his wand a bit higher, casting light down the long dark hallway.
That's when the scuttling noise started from the other end of the hallway. Harry had enough time to glimpse two moving shadows when he felt the castle push against his senses. He stumbled and the light from his wand flickered as he lost his concentration. "Not now," he grumbled, pushing back against the castle and struggling to regain control of his senses. His wand burst into light just in time to see that the spiders were much closer now- a clear and present danger.
He had time to shoot off a stunning spell at the larger acromantula, even as the smaller leaped at Hagrid and was consequently grappled to the floor. The one Harry had stunned flew back several meters, but regained its feet in an instant, once more scuttling toward him. He cast a quick, "petrificus totalus," and the massive spider froze- three of its hairy, spindly legs raised in the air, and its body leaned forward in its momentum.
Harry turned, ready to do the same to the one that had attacked Hagrid, but the large man already had the writhing spider pinned to the ground and was using some kind of thin white cord to tie its legs against its body and immobilize it.
He grunted as he got to his feet and brushed himself off, barely winded. "They've become nearly unmanageable since Aragog died," he said. "Rather not kill em unless it's absolutely nec'ssary though. We'll plop these two righ' back in the f'rbidden forest where they belong." He then hoisted the spider, struggling but unable to move, up over his shoulder with as little care as a sack of potatoes.
Harry, still a bit shaken, hovered the other near at hand and followed Hagrid back the way they had come.
As they turned the corner and the corridor once more widened out before them, they passed by a large group of Slytherins, probably on their way out to the grounds to spend some time before dinner. The students flattened themselves against the walls on either side of the hall to let the two men pass. Harry turned to see wide eyes trained on him, and he flashed a wide grin at one of the third years. The boy flushed and grinned back.
"That is so weird," Harry said once they were out of earshot of the students.
"How's that?" Hagrid asked.
"The Slytherins," Harry explained. "Damian says that they've adopted me."
Hagrid considered that. "Acting what you'd call propriet'ry?"
"Ah, that's to be 'spected."
As they climbed their way up out of the dungeons and walked through the Great Hall, they were met by more students from the other houses, and they fell silent- walking along casually as if they were doing nothing more interesting than having an afternoon stroll.
They'd made it out onto the grounds and were heading toward the spot where the edge of the forest met the garden of Hagrid's cabin, rebuilt after the fire damage, when there was a shriek from back the way they had come, and Harry turned to see a streak of black robes, dark hair, and a Slytherin green tie, running toward them. Harry paused when he identified the shape as Damian Warrick, and waited for the boy to catch up to them, holding up a hand to stop the boy from getting too close.
"Careful, Damian, stay back," he said.
Warrick was quiet for only a moment as he gasped to catch his breath, and then he started babbling. "The castle was freaking out: just kept sending me images of giant spiders and dark hallways. Then I tried to find you, but the castle kept changing its mind about where you were. And I ran into one of the third years, said you were heading this way. Are you okay?"
Harry regarded him sternly. "I am just fine Mr. Warrick, but what exactly were you planning to do if that wasn't the case?"
Damian looked sheepish. "I don't know," he shrugged, "try to help."
"And endanger yourself in the process?"
Damian shuffled his feet.
"Oh, leave 'im be, 'Arry," Hagrid said. "I's no differ'nt than you'd've done a' his age."
Harry snorted. "That's what worries me." He sighed. "Well, come on, Damian. As long as you've gone to all the trouble, you might as well give us a hand."
Damian looked skeptical. "Where are you going, sir?"
"Don't tell me you were all set to rescue me from a couple of gigantic man-eating spiders, but you're afraid of a little walk in the forest?"
"No, sir." Damian shook his head, but he still looked trepidatious.
"We'll take the dog," Hagrid said. He whistled, and Fang came loping toward them from around the other side of the hut- his jowls flopping and trailing strings of spittle as he ran. He bowled into first Hagrid, and then gave over his attention to sniffing the strange new boy, practically knocking him over.
"Good boy," Damian said, scratching the boarhound behind his ears.
Harry looked to Damian and nodded approval, and the party made their way into the depths of the Forbidden Forest.
"I don't appreciate this," Severus said as he took a seat in one of the chairs before the desk in the minister of magic's office.
"I don't much care," Kinsley replied.
Severus tried to stare him down, but Kingsley met his eyes and didn't look away.
"What do you want?" Severus asked finally. "I'm busy. I don't have time to play games."
"You've put me in an awkward position," Shaklebolt said. "I expect some compensations for all the grief you've cause."
"I don't see-"
"Shut up," Shaklebolt cut him off. "You're going to listen to what I say, and then you're going to agree to my terms and be on your best behavior, or I will remove you from that school."
Severus regarded him skeptically. While technically, the minister of magic had the legal power to force any one of Hogwarts' staff members to resign. This was a technicality, because the castle itself could easily choose to ignore this. Severus had no doubt that the castle would not allow him to be removed from the premises without a fight. He didn't bother to mention this to Kingsley, just sat in his chair looking blandly at the other man. He should know better than to attempt a threat.
"Firstly, now that you have him, you are going to do everything in your power to assure Harry Potter's happiness. If he tells you he thinks you would look good in pink, you ask him what shade. Do I make myself clear?"
Severus said nothing, and Kingsley continued unfazed. "Secondly, you're going to agree to host the summer program that I've been advocating. It's the very least you can do for the children orphaned by the war, and with your own history, I can't understand why you've been hedging."
Severus still did not show any acknowledgement of what Kingsley had said.
"And thirdly, you and Potter are going to be the poster boys for wizard-muggle relations, house reconciliation, and the reconstruction."
Now Severus stood up. His full height towered above Kingsley seated behind his desk. "Your first two conditions I will ascent to- provided Minerva agrees to oversee the school for half the summer. The third… you should know better than to suggest. If Harry finds his picture on a billboard, or his name in an article, and discovers that you're behind it, I will not protect you from his retribution. He's been used enough, and he does not agree with the ministry agenda. In the interest of keeping him happy, I'm offering you this single warning. Don't press your luck."
With that Severus strode toward the door. He paused before leaving, the door half open. "And one other thing, Kingsley."
The minister turned to him, looking out of sorts from Severus' rebuttal.
"Don't ever threaten me again," he said, robes swishing out behind him as he swept from the office.
They left the spiders deep in the forest at the edge of the acromantula's main nesting ground, and hurried away before the monsters could regain their senses. Even at the pace they'd set, it was dark by the time they made it back onto the grounds, and the temperature had dropped so low that even the Fang was shivering.
"Back to my place for a cuppa?" Hagrid asked.
Both of the younger men nodded, teeth chattering, and they followed Hagrid toward the warm, inviting little cottage on the edge of the forest.
Damian was practically running, Fang nipping at his heels and barking, as they approached the cobbles leading to Hagrid's door.
"Go on inside," Hagrid called to him. He and Hagrid were back some distance, moving at a more leisurely pace. "Get the fire going."
Damian reached for the door handle, but the second his fingers brushed the wrought-iron, his eyes rolled back into his head, and he crumpled to the ground.
Harry sighed as he watched Damian fall. He closed his eyes, brow furrowed, and jaw clenched- giving over to frustration for just a moment. Then he jogged to where Damian lay and propped him against the door, snapping his fingers in front of the boy's face with no result.
"Is ee okay?" Hagrid asked, worry leaking into his voice.
"He'll be fine," Harry said, "just help me get him inside."
Hagrid lifted the boy easily, and Harry held the door open for him. Hagrid brought Damian in out of the cold and laid him gently down in the middle of his gigantic bed.
Godric slid the plane across the plank of oak he was working on. Thin curls of wood shaved off it like doll hair. He was so concentrated on his work that he didn't notice the other man watching him until a sharp bark of laughter drew his attention up.
Salazar stood there, wearing a worn black travel cloak despite the late summer heat. "What are you doing?" he asked, surveying Godric's work so far.
"I'm building a cottage," Gryffindor grunted.
"A cottage?" Salazar looked over at the loose stone foundation and rudimentary framework. "more like a large hut."
"Go away Salazar," Godric said, turning his back on the other man to resume his work.
Slytherin ignored him, taking a seat on the raised stone platform of the half-finished foundation next to Gryffindor's folded cloak and shirt. Godric's wand had been carefully placed on top of the pile, and Salazar picked it up and began twirling it between his fingers. "Wouldn't it be easier if you used this?" he asked.
Godric glanced over at him. "Put that down."
Salazar ignored him again, still twirling the wand back and forth like a baton. He studied the lines and muscles of Godric's back, the sweat standing out in beads on the tan skin, and the thick line of white scar tissue curled along the man's spine.
Gryffindor sighed; it took a great effort of will to return his concentration to the piece of wood before him. "It's not about being easy," he ground out. "I'm trying to keep my hands busy and my mind off you."
"It's not working very well then, is it?" Salazar asked, grinning.
"What do you want, Sal?"
"I missed you, so I came back early. I'd rather hoped for a warmer welcome. Aren't you happy to see me at all?"
"Of course I'm happy to see you," Godric said, a sad smile gracing his lips. "I just don't want to talk to you right now."
"That's fine," Salazar said, nodding. He rose to his feet, taking off his cloak and laying it beside Gryffindor's. "We don't have to talk." He walked over to the pile of fieldstone waiting to be added to the foundation of the cottage. Salazar pulled his wand out and pointed it at one of the larger stones, hovering it over and fitting it neatly into an opening in the foundation.
Gryffindor turned his back to him again, and continued laboring over the plank of oak. They worked on through the heat of the afternoon, Salazar eventually removing his sweat-drenched shirt and tossing it over to the pile of their things. He finished the foundation as Godric was ready to put the final framework up, and the other man finally gave up on the manual labor and took out his wand, slotting the beams and boards into the holes left in the foundation, and fixing them together.
"Well, what's it for?" Salazar asked, once this process had been completed. Their project now looked like the skeleton of a little cottage.
Gryffindor stepped in beside him and leaned against his shoulder, their sweaty skin sticking them together. "It's for us," he said. "I thought that maybe the next time you needed to get away from me you could go somewhere a little closer to hand. Or the next time I need to get away from you. That way when I change my mind, I'm not stuck in Spain, or up a mountain in Peru."
"And the next time we need to be together?" Salazar asked.
Gryffindor smiled. "We might want some walls first."
"Tomorrow," he leaned over and kissed the top of the shorter man's head- smelling his hair and sweat. "I suppose I should go check on the overgrown lizard."
"He's down in the chamber. I think he misses you."
"I'm home now, and I'm not going anywhere."
"That's what you always say when you come back, but it never lasts."
"No, but I'm back now."
Gryffindor nodded, and slipped an arm around Salazar's waist. "Things will be okay for a while. I guess that's all we can ever hope for."
Harry and Hagrid were sipping tea by the blazing fireplace when Damian's eyes flickered open.
"Your bed is a lot more comfortable than the ones in the hospital wing, Professor Hagrid. I think I'm going to come here from now on."
"Yer always welcome, but wha' happened?"
"See anything interesting?" Harry asked.
"Did you know that Godric Gryffindor and Salazar Slytherin built your house, Professor Hagrid?" Damian asked, sitting up.
Hagrid blinked in surprise at this sudden pronouncement. "I didn't know tha', Mr. Warrick."
"Yup," Damian said, swinging his legs out and hopping out of bed. "It was their love-nest."
Harry shook his head, laughing at the overly happy tone in Damian's voice. "Slytherin came back from wherever he went for the summer holidays early, and they argued like they always do, then they worked on the cottage, and they were going to check on Abby."
"Abby?" Harry asked.
"Ah," Harry said. "Nothing adult rated this time?"
"My innocence is preserved!" Damian crowed, cheeky grin plastered over his face, and plopped into the open chair by the fire.
"I had a dragon named Norbert," Hagrid said after a moment of silence, and Harry couldn't help but shake his head and laugh.
It was late when Harry finally escorted Damian back to his common room and headed up to his own rooms. He still needed to talk to Severus, and hoped that he was back from London. He'd been about to turn toward the gargoyle leading to the headmaster's quarters when he caught sight of something out of the corner of his eye and turned toward his own portrait instead. Rather than the twinkling smile of Dumbledore, he was met with a scowl.
"What are you doing back?" Harry asked.
Greggory harrumphed. "Albus has taken over my portrait in the dungeons, and I have been banished back here. He and Bertram have made some kind of arrangement- the details of which I would rather not consider."
"We share the body. Without my consent sexual favors given in trade may be considered not only prostitution, but also rape."
Harry's face crumpled in disgust and he gagged in his mouth. "I don't want to know about that."
"I wish I didn't either."
"Can portraits even have sex?"
"I assure you they can."
Harry gagged again, thinking about what went on in the halls of Hogwarts when the student were all safely in bed. "I don't think I want to know about that either."
Greggory shrugged. "I'd try to restrain him again before morning, but that could make it worse."
Harry didn't particularly want to know about that either. "Ew." He shook his head trying to rid it of the image. "Did you see Severus come in?"
"An hour ago," Greggory said. "He wasn't pleased to see me."
"Did you tell him about your sex life?"
"I was violated, Potter. I expect justice."
"Not my problem," Harry said. "I'm going to bed."
"You'd better make it your problem, or I won't let you in."
Harry nodded at him, smiling, then turned to the gargoyle, muttered the password, and left Greggory alone to solve his own troubles.
Severus was waiting in his office when Harry stepped off the staircase. "How did everything go with Kingsley?" he asked.
"It's handled," Severus said, getting up. "It's been a tiresome day, and now I wish to go to bed."
Harry nodded. "I guess you know Greg and Bertram are back."
Severus shuddered. "I know a great more than I would like to on the subject. Now, come, Potter, bed." He took Harry by the hand and led him through into what had pretty much become their quarters.
"I like it when you use the words Potter, come, and bed in the same sentence."
"Sleep," he amended. "Where have you been anyway?"
"Hagrid's, I helped him trap a couple of acromantula that had gotten into the castle."
Severus stopped. "Inside the castle?"
"Why wasn't I informed?" He paused. "Never mind, I guess I'm not surprised."
"Oh, and I found this in the mail." Harry pulled the letter from Valora out of his robes and handed it over. "I don't understand any of the potion's mumbo-jumbo, but it looks like we're dealing with a paradox potion."
Severus snatched the letter from him, and glared at the figures. "So it would seem."
"Also, did you know that Salazar Slytherin and Godric Gryffindor built Hagrid's hut to use as a love-nest?"
Severus glanced up from the letter to Harry, frown fading away to a blank stare.
"And I'm now an honorary Slytherin."
Now the frown resurfaced.
"You see what happens when you leave?"