This story is now complete. It took three years to write, almost to the day. I wrote out the plot in my head after a long illness, and put it to paper (hard drive, whatever) while coming down from a fever. Chapters 18 and 19 and the last scene were written before chapter one.
It's been a long journey, but also a fun one. I've had such a wonderful time writing this story, even when it was trying to kill me, even when I couldn't write a sex scene or action scene to save my life. I learned how to write while writing this story. And while I won't say I'm incredibly good at it, I know I've come a long way.
Thanks must go to every beta who helped along the way, but most particularly to Torina. She helped with the plot and stayed up late with me trying to twist plot points that I wouldn't write for a year. She's an amazing beta and I'm so grateful for her.
Thank you to everyone who stayed with me over the last three years. Your reviews and well wishes have been wonderful. I'll most likely write ficlets in this little universe, but the story as it is is now complete. I do hope you'll join me in my next story. I'm not sure if I'll do it as a WIP (it won't be anywhere near as long) or as a one-shot, but I'm not done with Harry and Severus yet.
And when they finally part, Harry will ask him, "How do you end this story? How can you possibly?" Severus folds the letter neatly in his hand. "You don't." - excerpt from Mia Ugly's Rapture
Six months later
Harry let his shoe sink into the mud as he looked around for another stone.
"Here," Ron said, putting a smooth black one in his hand. "Use this one."
"Thanks." He stared at the sunset for a moment, admiring the beauty of Hogwarts on a lovely summer evening, before he threw the stone. It skipped three times before it fell in, and Ron gave a disappointed grunt.
"You can do better than that." He picked up his own stone and threw it, and Harry watched it as it skipped four times before falling.
"Hardly any better."
"You're just a sore loser," Ron said with smile, bending down to look for another one. "So how have you been? It feels like it's been ages since I've seen you."
Harry ran a hand through his hair as he considered his life and the path it had taken in the past few months since Voldemort's death. "Good," he said. "Really good."
Ron nodded and threw another stone. "And Snape?"
Harry hid a smile as he thought about Severus. He'd be in his lab right now with his latest project, trying to get it ready before they had to leave. "He's good, too. Yeah, really...everything's great." Without thinking he said, "How are you?"
Ron shrugged. "Still dead."
Harry put his head down and looked for another rock.
"And you're leaving then?" Ron asked, not looking at Harry. "Leaving all this behind?"
Leaving me behind, was what Harry heard—what Ron had intended.
"That's not how I'd put it," Harry said.
"Well, how else can you put it?"
He wasn't sure how he would put it, but Harry no longer feared leaving his old life behind for an uncertain future. His and Severus' lives were their own now, and whatever they did would be decided by themselves, not by anything or anyone else. And though Ron's words stung, he knew that embracing their lives was the right decision. "I'm not forgetting about you," Harry said, his tone forceful, and he knew it was partially to convince himself. "Ever. You were my best friend, Ron."
"You're leaving me behind," Ron said, and the accusation hit a soft spot in Harry's heart.
He took a deep breath and forced himself to calm down. "That's not what you would have said," he whispered. "That's just what I'm afraid you would have said."
He stared out at the lake for a few minutes, the soft song of the outdoors the only sound to be heard, before he looked over at Ron again.
He looked proud.
"You've been talking to Snape too much, mate."
"Definitely," Harry agreed. "Doesn't change the fact that this is a dream. I could never tell before, but I can now."
"Yeah." Harry was silent for a moment before he continued. "And this is probably the last time I'll talk to you like this...at least for a while."
Ron frowned into the sunset but nodded, not looking Harry in the eye.
"Leaving Hogwarts," Ron said. "It's a big day."
"Yeah. But I'll probably be back. I want to teach."
"Yeah? I think you'd be great at it."
Harry smiled with a knowing grin. "Yeah, I think so too."
They continued skipping rocks for a while, the silence companionable, before Harry turned to Ron for the last time.
"I miss you. It doesn't matter where I go or how many friends I make. I'm always going to miss you."
Ron smiled and punched Harry in the shoulder. "I miss you, too, mate." He looked up into the vastness of the clear sky, and Harry marveled for a moment at how large it all looked, and how small he felt under it.
"I'll see you on the other side then, yeah?" Ron said, bumping his shoulder again and smiling.
Harry sighed and looked down from the sky. "Is there another side?"
"Oh, yeah," Ron said, his smile never wavering. "There's definitely another side. Don't worry about that. That's where I'll be, mate." Ron smiled one last time and turned away.
Harry woke up slowly, his heart feeling oddly light for the dream he'd just had. He stretched out in the bed and first felt the coolness of the sheets, then the absence of Severus' warm body and, sighed. "See you on the other side," he said softly. He allowed himself the luxury of dozing for a while, his heart wistful as he mulled over this last dream. Knowing Severus was probably in his lab finishing his work and wouldn't be available for breakfast yet, he simply laid there until his mind caught up with his heart.
Today was a very big day. The Leaving Feast had been yesterday and all the younger years had already left the castle. Dumbledore had given permission to the students who had fought in the Final Battle to stay an extra evening, giving the chance for them to talk and relate their stories to each other without NEWTS and exams and anything else standing in their way.
It had been an interesting night to stay the least. The biggest surprise had been that no one had badgered Harry to talk or relate the story of how he'd defeated Voldemort. The papers had told the story for him, as well as the story of his and Severus' relationship. So he'd sat at the end of the Hufflepuff table in the Great Hall where his house mates as well as students from other houses had all come together to talk about that day before they scattered and got on with their lives.
Today they were all leaving. And while he wouldn't exactly miss most of his classmates fiercely, he knew he would miss Hermione something awful. The last six months had brought them far closer than they ever had been, even before Ron's death. Harry would miss her terribly while he was away, she and Remus both.
And while a part of him was sad, another part began to tremble with excitement at the thought of what leaving today meant. He stretched out onto Severus' side of the bed and his face rolled over a piece of parchment.
He blinked and picked up the paper, holding it closely so he could read Severus' spidery handwriting.
We're meeting the headmaster for a late breakfast after I've finished in the lab. If you haven't slept the day away, of course, you lazy sod.
There was no signature, but none was needed. Harry smirked, grabbing his glasses and wand off the table, and cast Tempus.
It was already nine-thirty. Chucking off the covers he quickly ran to the bathroom, made himself ready for the day, and was at the door in ten minutes flat.
He left their quarters and found Hermione on the other side of the door, hand raised as if she'd been about to knock.
"Hello!" she said, her face bright even if her eyes seemed a little sad.
"Good morning," he said, walking outside and closing the door behind him. He had half a mind to tell her he'd speak to her later, knowing that breakfast was most likely over, but then he noticed a tear in her eye. "Hermione?"
"We're leaving," she said with a slight tremble in her voice. "All the others that stayed—the Hogwarts Express is making that special trip in an hour, and..."
He felt his heart lurch a little and gave a soft smile. That seemed to undo any resolve Hermione had left because she made a whimpering sound and threw herself into his arms.
"Oh, I'm going to miss you so much!" she cried, and Harry held her back. "It's going to be so strange not seeing you every day. I don't know what I'm going to do with myself."
Kissing her cheek, he pushed her away just enough so he could look at her face. "I think you'll do whatever it is you want to do, and probably a little better than anyone else." He grasped her hand and started walking towards the staircase. "When does university begin?"
"September first, same as here. I have to admit, I am excited," she said, turning to him with a bright smile on her face, as though she hadn't been crying a moment before. "There are so many archaic wizarding laws and there really aren't that many people who are experts at them, and to be able to really use the law to help..."
She trailed off when she noticed the huge grin that had broken out on Harry's face.
"Shut up," she said. "Let's just say I'm looking forward to continuing my education. Are you sure you won't join me? I know you're looking forward to your trip—"
"Our trip, and yes I am joining you, just a year later." He sighed as they stopped at the edge of the staircase. "I need a break, Hermione. And Severus really needs a break. He's earned it, I think, and I think I might have too."
"Of course you have, both of you." She bit her lip and her eyes started to tear up again. "I'm just going to miss you so much."
"I'll miss you, too. But this isn't goodbye," Harry said. "Unless you're planning on not speaking to me when I get there next year."
She punched him on the shoulder playfully and shook her head. "You're a part of me, Harry. I could never—" She took a deep breath and smiled as she said, "I want to be your friend for the rest of my life."
Harry felt a tremble go through him at the sincerity of her words and knew that no matter where this year took him or whether he returned to Hogwarts or not, he would never, ever let Hermione go. "You will be," he said, his voice low and shaking. He took her into his arms and buried his face in her hair, memorizing the feel of her, how she always smelled so sweet. "I do love you."
"I love you, too," she said, laughing through her tears. She pulled away and said, "Now hopefully your partner will warm up to me, at least a little."
"What are you talking about? Severus likes you," Harry said, perhaps stretching the truth a little. "He's like that with everyone, even Remus, and he's his best friend."
"All I know is that friendships that don't meet with the approval of the significant other often end badly." Hermione crossed her arms and sighed. "I just want him to maybe not dislike me too much."
"Trust me, that will never be a problem," Harry said.
"The last time I was in your rooms he called me a—"
"This morning he left me a love note that called me a lazy sod. Trust me, he doesn't mean it," Harry said with a smile. He kissed her cheek one last time and said, "I have to meet Severus and Dumbledore for breakfast. Did you want me to walk with you to the Entrance Hall?"
Hermione looked back down the hall towards the potions lab and shook her head. "No, there's one last thing I want to do first." She squeezed Harry's hand and asked, "Write me?"
Harry nodded. "Every step of the way."
She smiled and held his gaze for a moment longer before she turned away and Harry ran up the steps toward Severus, his heart aching lightly but still freer than it had ever been.
"It's nine o'clock in the morning, Albus," Severus said as he watched Dumbledore pour them each a small glass of wine.
"Just a drop won't hurt. And after all, we're both on holiday," Dumbledore said, reaching over to set the wine glass on the breakfast table that had been set up in his office. "Although some holidays are longer than others."
"Yes," Severus said, considering the journey ahead of them. "It's going to be very odd not working for an entire year."
"You shouldn't suffer, either of you, especially considering your compensation from the Ministry." He gave Severus a fond look. "Although I doubt that was your meaning."
"Hardly," Severus said as he looked down into his glass and took a moment to consider his life.
No one had been more surprised than him to discover he'd survived the war. He had little memory of those first few days of drifting in and out of consciousness, and he'd thought he was dead when he'd finally seen Harry sitting over him. To discover that he and Harry had both survived was nearly overwhelming. He'd been absolutely certain he would die giving Harry the power needed to defeat the Dark Lord. After living so long with the assumption that he'd not see the end of it, to actually come out breathing on the other side of the war was disconcerting.
Not that he was complaining.
And now he was faced with the strangest problem. He'd spent his entire adult life striving for something—atonement. And now that he had it, he found himself in an odd place. He'd been living his life with one sole purpose for so long, and now that purpose was gone. What was left? he'd been forced to ask.
As if on cue, Severus felt Harry stir from his sleep. A wistful feeling and slight sadness filtered through the bond, and Severus recalled exactly what he was living for.
Life is for living, Harry had told him several months prior, when Severus had confessed his feelings about surviving. And what he and Severus had been doing before could barely be called living.
But all that was behind them now. The future shone brightly before them, with no certain path and no foreseeable goal larger than Harry's education. Whatever future they had now, it would be their own.
"I'm going to miss you, Severus; you and Harry both," Dumbledore said. "Although, if anyone ever deserved a holiday it's the two of you." Dumbledore looked down at his wine glass and asked, "Will Harry be joining us after all?"
"Doubtful. He's only just waking."
"Ah, well, I suppose I'll be having two glasses of wine this morning." He raised his glass to Severus and said, "To your next great adventure."
"Thank you, Albus," Severus said, taking a drink. "Although I believe I've had enough adventures for one lifetime."
Dumbledore smiled. "Something tells me that life with Harry Potter will be quite the adventure in itself. Where will you be going first?"
Severus sighed. "'Wherever the wind takes us,' he says. I haven't the heart to tell him that wherever we're going, it most definitely won't be by sailboat."
"The world is a very big place. Even if you are taking an entire year to see it."
"I imagine at least some of that time will be spent trying to find a new home for us," Severus said, remembering conversations on how with houses on both Spinner's End and Godric's Hollow destroyed, he and Harry were homeless at the moment.
"While I do understand the desire to have your own property, you do know that Hogwarts will always be available to you, regardless of whether or not the term has ended."
"Thank you," Severus said, grateful. Harry felt the same as Severus, that Hogwarts would always be home to them.
"I admit I was concerned I might be losing my potions master after the end of the war," Dumbledore said. "What with Harry being safe now and your duty fulfilled."
Severus cleared his throat and considered how much he should reveal. "I was surprised as well," Severus said, though he knew it was hardly the truth. As much as his struggle for atonement had been a burden, Hogwarts had been home to him for a very long time. He and Harry had their love for the castle in common. "However, I have no desire to leave my post permanently."
"Many things can change over the course of a year," Dumbledore said. "Just look at where we were exactly a year ago. Look how far we've come."
Severus cleared his throat and considered this. Thankfully, his current life didn't vaguely resemble what it had been a year ago. His eyes drifted over to Dumbledore's desk, where his chess pieces were set out, ready for two players to begin a game. His eyes closed of their own accord as he felt Harry still dozing in the back of his mind.
"Indeed," he said, tearing himself away from his thoughts. "However...Hogwarts is home. To both myself and Harry," he continued, taking another sip from his glass. "You needn't fear finding a permanent replacement."
"Speaking of Hogwarts and Harry..."
Here it comes, Severus thought.
"He's expressed interest in taking up the Defense position once he completes his mastery."
"He is young and Hogwarts is all he knows," Severus said, repeating things he'd told Harry when they'd had this exact conversation, wincing when he recalled the argument that had started. "Once he goes out into the world and sees he has other options he will most likely change his mind."
"It's possible, yes," Dumbledore said, considering Severus. "I believe you also thought he would change his mind about you."
"Hmph," Severus said, but could not deny it. "He is also quite possibly enamored of the idea of working with me. I'm trying to convince him that he can still live with me in the castle and work elsewhere during the day."
"Of course he could. But somehow I don't believe this career plan centers completely around you, Severus."
Huffing, Severus said, "Perhaps not. But I want him to make choices based on what he wants, not based on what he thinks I would like."
"Well, there's still time yet for him to change his mind. And a mastery in Defense will earn him several career options, Hogwarts being one of them." Dumbledore smiled as he finished his wine. "His future looks very bright indeed. Yours as well."
Severus had to look down at the table at that last statement. Yes, for the first time in a very long time he was optimistic about his future. The idea of living with Harry—truly living—caused his heart to soar, and he again thanked Fate for the path that had led them into a relationship.
And that was the largest surprise of all. That Fate had brought them together, that they had done what they were meant to do and still somehow had their entire lives ahead of them.
He sighed again and nodded, the awkward silence broken by breakfast for three being delivered by a house elf.
Dumbledore cast a stasis charm over Harry's bowl, and Severus winced as he looked down into it.
Harry really needed to have a discussion with the elves. When they returned, Severus thought as he picked up his spoon.
"What are you doing?" Dumbledore asked.
Severus continued spooning the raisins out of Harry's bowl and into his own, hardly aware he'd started. With a look to Dumbledore, he glanced down at Harry's bowl and gave a small smile at where his life had taken him.
"Removing the corpses of dead grapes," he said, and though he said it with a grumble his heart felt lighter than it ever had.
Severus carefully set out his strongest potions vials along a table in his lab. He had just finished it in time, and after six months of work Severus had to say even he was impressed with himself.
The potion had cooled overnight, and he began the long and tedious process of carefully pouring it into the vials. His efforts had taken so long to complete, and the goal had been of such import that he was not willing to risk an accident now.
Severus nearly dropped his vial when Harry's sorrow filled him through the bond. Knowing that he was likely saying goodbye to Hermione Granger, he did not allow himself to become too distracted. It was difficult, though; to feel Harry's distress, to know what was causing it, and to not immediately run to his side.
It was a difficult thing, he thought, to still be bonded after the war. To feel Harry's pain and know that some of it was the sort of pain Harry needed to deal with quietly. Or to feel Harry's shock or grief so suddenly and so strongly but know that it didn't mean he should end his potions class at that moment and run to aid him. That there was time now.
Time to speak about the events of their day while they ate their dinner at night. Time to talk about loss and wonder and dear Merlin, the war is finally over and we've won, we're alive until they were both so tired they fell asleep in each other's arms.
Severus continued decanting the potion into the vials because there was time now. He would ask Harry about it later.
His thoughts were interrupted by a knock on the door.
"Enter," he said, sure Harry had come to tell him about his farewell with Granger.
He did not expect the lady in question to peek her head through the door.
"Professor Snape? Hello! I'm not interrupting, am I?"
Be nice, he could hear Harry's voice echoing in his head, a request he had made a dozen times over the past six months. With a sigh. he turned away from his potions and said, "Harry isn't here."
Granger slipped through the door and closed it behind her. "I know. He went to go meet you and Professor Dumbledore for breakfast."
Severus lifted an eyebrow. The lazy sod had slept half the day away.
"How did you know I was here?" he asked.
"I heard you drop something on my way toward your quarters," Granger said, walking further into the room.
Merlin, the girl was going to try to talk to him. Severus forced himself to breath regularly and reminded himself that she had ceased being his student a day ago and it was certainly not becoming to throw a lady out into the hallway on her arse.
"Is there a reason you're here?"
"Well, I wanted to say goodbye," she said with a shy, hesitant smile.
"Goodbye," Severus said, then turned back to his cauldron.
He heard Granger shuffle her feet on the floor for a moment before he heard her footsteps come closer. Looking up to meet her eyes, Severus paused and turned away from his cauldrons. With her chin up and her eyes focused, he was forcibly reminded that this girl had fought beside him in the Final Battle, that she had saved his life and cut down Lucius Malfoy without pausing.
And she would never fear the likes of Severus ever again.
"I imagine we'll be seeing each other soon," she said, and to him it seemed that she was forcing herself to be polite. "I care very much for Harry, and I know you do as well. It would be nice if we could get along."
"What is it you want exactly, Miss Granger?" Severus asked, finally losing his patience. "As you can see, I am very busy. These potions must be stored very carefully and I must finish before Harry and I can leave."
"Please call me Hermione, Professor," she said softly. He raised an eyebrow and she faltered for a moment. "I don't recognize this potion. It looks very similar to wolfsbane. What is it?"
"It is wolfsbane," he said. At her disbelieving look, he continued, "For the past six months I've been working on altering the formula to make its potency last longer. This potion has the shelf life of six months."
"That's...incredible. My God, that's amazing! What exactly did you change—"
"I've published an article on my findings in Potions Quarterly. You can read about it there."
"Oh. Yes, of course." Defeat found its way onto her face and she smiled once more before she said, "I'm sorry to have distracted you. I'll let you get back to your work. I look forward to seeing you again soon, Professor Snape."
Severus sighed as he watched her walk to the door. He reminded himself that this was Harry's friend and someone who was likely to be in his life for quite some time.
And then he recalled that, though she may have had her own reasons, this was the girl who had saved his life. Perhaps Severus didn't enjoy owing another person a life debt, but a voice that sounded quite like Harry's said that it wouldn't hurt him to show her a shred of kindness.
And besides all that, she was Harry's friend, and Severus knew that hurting her would mean hurting Harry.
"Miss Granger," Severus said, clearing his throat. He could not qualify how her eyes lit up as he stopped her retreat. "I could use a steady hand if you'd like to offer your assistance."
"Of course!" she said, taking the gesture for exactly what it was. "Thank you," she said softly, looking into his eyes so he knew she wasn't talking about the potion. Severus hummed a reply and said nothing.
She asked a few questions about the properties of the potion as they were all poured into vials. He would leave the sealing for himself. He had to be absolutely sure this potion was bottled correctly.
"I'm glad I could help, Professor Snape," she said, washing her hands and walking toward the door.
"Miss Granger," he called back, and she turned around. "When next we meet, you may call me Severus."
The smile she gave him could have rivaled the sun's for all its brightness. "Thank you, Professor Snape." She took one last look around the lab, appearing pensive and uncertain of herself; of whatever she wanted to say next.
He gave her a moment—because he really couldn't see the woman who had bested Lucius Malfoy backing down from anything—and then she finally asked, "Professor? You made this potion for Remus, didn't you?"
Severus curled his fingers around a table and thought to deny the accusation, but realized he would fool no one. In an attempt to keep at least some of his dignity, he said, "Can you imagine the havoc he would create if he was left unattended? That man has all the responsibility of a five-year-old."
Granger was quiet for a moment before she said, "He must be a very good friend for you to go to all this trouble." He looked at her but said nothing until she smiled at him one last time and left.
He waited until the door was firmly shut behind her before he said to no one, "He's my only friend."
"Sorry I'm late, Professor Dumbledore."
Dumbledore waved him off and poured him a glass of wine, which prompted Harry's eyebrows to jump up near his hairline. "Um, it's ten in the morning."
"Yes, but we're on holiday," Dumbledore said. "And this is a celebration. You've completed your education at Hogwarts and are about to embark on a year-long adventure." He poured himself a small glass and said, "A part of me envies you, my boy."
Harry smiled softly and began to eat his breakfast, wishing he'd gotten up early enough to eat with Severus. At least the house elves had finally stopped putting raisins in his oatmeal. The silence between them was comfortable as Harry ate and Dumbledore nibbled on some leftover toast.
His eyes began to wander, and Harry's mind drifted back to last summer and where this year had taken them. The chess board still looked so odd to Harry with all its pieces intact.
Harry sighed. "This last year has been..."
Dumbledore raised an eyebrow.
"Well, it's been one hell of a year, sir."
Dumbledore chuckled. "To say the very least. Now tell me, Harry, how are you?"
The question stirred something in Harry that had been forgotten. Not sure how he was supposed to answer, he nodded and said, "Fine, sir. How are you?"
"No, Harry," Dumbledore said, smiling sadly. "How are you truly?"
The small part of Harry that would always look on Dumbledore as his first real mentor gave a shout of joy, and he waited to see if his more cynical side would present itself and want to ask what had taken Dumbledore so long to really ask this question.
It never arrived, and Harry thought that maybe that meant he'd finally forgiven Dumbledore for everything that had happened. A year ago he wouldn't have been tempted to answer Dumbledore with the truth. It was a testament to how far they'd come that Harry didn't think he could lie to him now. And more than that, he found he didn't want to.
"Honestly..." Harry started, then leaned back in his chair and considered the floor. "Excited, nervous...and a little bit frightened."
Harry held two fingers about an inch apart. "Just a bit."
Dumbledore nodded. "I believe 'excited, nervous and a little bit frightened' is exactly what you should be feeling. It's what I would feel were I you."
"So will you be gone for the entire year?"
Harry nodded. "We'll be back for the Christmas holiday. You know, spend some time with the Weasleys, see Remus and Hermione."
"And your old headmaster, of course."
"Of course," Harry said, smiling. "I don't think I could be away from home for so long anyway. Hogwarts is a part of me."
"I understand the feeling," Dumbledore said. "Severus seems to believe that your desire to return as a professor will pass as you gain some worldly experience."
Harry huffed. "I think I've had enough worldly experience if you ask me."
Dumbledore smiled and leaned back in his chair. "I believe he meant another kind."
"Yeah, well Severus always thinks I don't know my own mind," Harry said, recalling their argument. "And I really don't think I'm going to change my decision. I liked teaching. It was something I was good at, and I think I could be great at it if I tried."
"I believe you're right."
"And besides all that...Hogwarts is home to me. And no matter where I go or what I see or experience it's always going to be home."
Dumbledore smiled and looked proudly at Harry. "I'm very glad to hear you say that, Harry. I believe you'll do wonderfully at university, and you will be more than welcome to join Hogwarts' staff upon the completion of your education. However..."
Harry stopped eating his oatmeal and looked up, uncertain he would like what he was about to hear.
"Should you change your mind and decide upon another career path, you would still be welcome to live with Severus here in the castle." The smile left Dumbledore's face and he said, "Do not feel as though you will be removed from your home should you choose not to become a professor. You will always be welcome at Hogwarts, regardless of where your life takes you."
Harry's throat constricted for a moment before he nodded and said, "Thank you. That's good to—thank you. Really."
"I believe it is I who should be thanking you, Harry," Dumbledore said, gesturing at the room. "All of this is your doing. Yours and Severus'."
Harry shook his head. He didn't believe that. "We just did what we had to do, same as you."
"Yes," Dumbledore said slowly, "but that didn't make the journey any less difficult."
They were silent for a moment, Harry with a large lump in his throat and Dumbledore smiling proudly.
"No," Harry said. "For any of us."
The smile slipped from Dumbledore's face, and he picked up his glass. "No," was all he said. He wiped a hand across his face, his eyes lost in a haze of memory, and Harry recalled everything that Dumbledore had lost in his fight against darkness.
"I'm so very glad for you and Severus, Harry," he said finally. "You deserve happiness. Both of you."
"Thank you, Professor."
"Now go, my boy," he said, shooing Harry off. "Your life is your own." With a smile, he said, "Go live it."
Lupin opened the door to Severus' lab without permission and leaned on the doorframe. "Hello...darling."
Severus immediately fired off a burning hex, setting Lupin's robes on fire.
"Bloody—Severus, why?" he shouted before he was able to extinguish the flames.
"Why?" Severus repeated, seething. "I have asked you on no less than three occasions to stop mocking me in that manner, and on each of those three occasions I warned you that I would hex you should you not."
"Yes, but I didn't think you actually meant it!" Lupin came into the room and closed the door. His outer robes were in burnt shreds. "You know I only have a few sets of robes."
"You know I hate being mocked!"
Lupin opened his mouth to defend himself, then seemed to think better of it and snapped it shut. "There's a difference between mocking and a joke between friends," he said with a sigh. "But I suppose that's asking for too much, isn't it?"
"Talking to yourself now?"
"So it would seem." Lupin looked dismal as he took in the state of his robes, and Severus recalled those might be his nicest pair. He would not feel guilty.
"So was there a reason you summoned me...aside from setting me on fire?"
Severus turned back to his bench and continued sealing his potions, a knot suddenly acquainting itself with his throat.
He cleared it and said, "Harry was the one to call you to Hogwarts, if you recall." He had no idea why he was suddenly nervous, but he felt Harry cheering him on in the back of his mind and knew his deflection wouldn't help matters.
"The postscript of Harry's letter asked me to visit you in your lab." Lupin stepped closer to the bench. "You do remember, don't you? You know, they say that memory is the first thing to—" He stopped speaking abruptly, and Severus noticed the startled look on Lupin's face as he finally saw what Severus was bottling.
His footsteps light, almost as though he feared startling the potion away, Lupin approached Severus. "What is that?" he asked softly.
Severus cleared his throat again—damn knot—and said, "The reason I asked you to visit my lab." He considered drawing out his explanation, but seeing the look of cautious optimism on Lupins' face changed his mind. "When Harry and I first began discussing our plans to travel for the next year, a thought occurred to me."
Uncomfortable under Lupin's intense stare, Severus turned and resumed bottling. "There are few potions masters who can brew the wolfsbane potions successfully, and I doubt you would rely on Albus to find someone to produce it for you every month."
"I've...gone without," Lupin said, sounding lost.
"Yes, but—" But there was no need to go without, Severus did not say. He cleared his throat again, closed his eyes and allowed himself to feel Harry's encouragement. "It is unsafe for the wizarding population for you to go without."
"But I'm never—"
Severus banged his fist on his bench, and Lupin silenced. "For the past six months I have been working on modifying the wolfsbane formula so its potency lasts longer than a few minutes."
Lupin's eyes began to shine as he took in all the bottles littering Severus' benches.
"This brew has the shelf life of six months. It still has to be taken every day the week before the full moon, but I've brewed enough to last until the end of the year."
With a shaking hand, Lupin reached out to grasp one of the sealed bottles. He held it like it was a lifeline.
And Severus knew it was. Both he and Harry had felt the constant pain Lupin endured due to his condition. If the wolfsbane could help relieve even a small amount of it...
"Harry and I will be returning to Hogwarts for the Christmas holiday," Severus said, wanting to delay Lupin's show of emotions for a least a moment longer. "I will make another six months' supply for you then, and then again when we return for the summer."
"Oh, Severus," Lupin breathed, then looked up from the bottle to meet Severus' eyes. "I can't possibly— Thank you."
"It was purely for the sake of the challenge, I assure you."
"No, it wasn't," Lupin said, his words coming out in a rushed breath. "I'm not sure why you did it, but not—for Harry?"
The knot returned to Severus' throat, and he finished sealing the last bottles. Knowing his first reason would be denied, Severus gave another.
"You would have kept your promise."
He heard Lupin shuffling his feet along the floor. "My promise?"
"The one you made to me before the last battle. You would have kept it."
Lupin was silent for a moment, then said, "With my dying breath."
"That wasn't a question," Severus snapped. He was no good at this. "You would have kept it. I acknowledge my debts, Lupin."
Soft footsteps sounded across the stone floors, and Lupin came into Severus' view. "It wouldn't have been a debt, Severus. Taking care of Harry has never been a debt to me. You know that."
A dozen conversations with Harry about this very topic returned to Severus in that moment, and he could hear that little voice prodding him and Harry through the bond encouraging him to end his ridiculous denial.
"Call it what you like," he said, summoning a satchel and placing the sealed potions within.
"A gift between friends?"
There was a question in it, an out, and Severus could still deny it if he desired. But after all this time, he found he no longer wanted to. It was exhausting, and he felt as though he was starting a brand new life.
He grumbled to himself, but once again marveled at how much he had changed in a year.
It was all Harry's fault, of course.
Not looking at Lupin, he closed the satchel and said, "If you must."
Lupin seemed overwhelmed, but somehow knew Severus well enough to know he was floundering in all the long-denied regard. With a smile and a grateful look, he said, "I'm sorry I don't have anything for you."
"Well, you've never had any problem taking from me," Severus replied, sarcasm coming to him easily. "My good Scotch, hair from my own brush, my bondmate's time..."
"Oh, I do not."
"Really?" he asked, cleaning his equipment. "I am ready to leave now. Yet something tells me that you and Harry aren't going to have a quick goodbye."
Lupin shook his head, his eyes still shining. "I'm meeting him on the pitch."
Lupin shrugged and laughed nervously. "I've no idea. Severus—"
Knowing the sentimental speech Severus had feared was approaching, he cut him off. "Don't. Please, Lupin."
"Shut up. How is your work at the bookstore?" he asked, stumbling for something to distract from Lupin's gratitude and sentimental declarations that Severus would have no idea what to do with.
"It's...it's good. Quiet. The pay could be better, but I get to read all day." He smiled softly and leaned against Severus' desk. "Can't ask for more than that."
Severus nodded and placed the satchel in Lupin's hands. He cleared his throat and said, "And Nymphadora?"
"She's well," Lupin said with a grin. "Things are going slowly, but they're progressing...nicely."
Severus smirked, glad to be back on familiar ground. "You aren't getting any younger, Lupin. Who would have guessed I'd have been leg-shackled before you?"
"Merlin, don't I know it," Lupin said. "But we don't all have Fate pushing us together. I think...you'll be seeing her some time in the future. There's still hope left."
"Yes," Severus said, putting away the last of his stirring rods and walking Lupin toward the door and out into the hallway. "Hope."
Lupin turned and clutched the satchel carefully against his side. "I'll see you both for the holidays, then?"
Severus nodded, then straightened his shoulders and cleared his throat. Merlin, he'd already all but shouted it from the rooftops. The gesture would change nothing, but to Severus it did.
Slowly, he extended his hand. To his credit, Lupin only smiled half as wide as Severus knew he was capable of as he shook it. Extremely uncomfortable, Severus muttered, "You always were a bastard."
Lupin just laughed and let go of his hand, then patted his shoulder. "Try to enjoy yourself, Severus."
Severus grunted, then turned to walk—swiftly—to his quarters to retrieve his trunk and dignity.
"I'm grateful, Severus!" Lupin said, almost shouting. "You can't know what this means to me."
Severus sighed. He'd brought it on himself, really. "If you're planning on wetting my robes with your tears at Christmas you can forget the whole thing." Lupin had the gall to smile at him, and Severus scowled before he entered his rooms.
Harry winced a bit as he took in how flustered Remus looked as he dismounted. "Er, you almost beat me that last time."
"That's because...you slowed down to something approaching dragon speed." Remus said, hair almost as messy as Harry's. "Your father and Sirius were always the better flyers. I was the bookish one."
"You're a decent flyer," Harry said, then quickly backtracked when he saw Remus scoff. "Better than decent, good even. Really." Slowly, Harry turned his head towards the pitch and felt something like melancholy well up within him.
With a smile, Harry closed his eyes and took a deep breath. His thoughts left Quidditch and drifted to how different it was being bonded to Severus after the war. Fear and nervousness usually meant Harry had no idea how to answer a question on his Charms test, sadness meant he was missing Sirius or Ron, and anger was nearly always something petty.
Not like how it had been. Not like when everything had seemed (and had been) a matter of life and death. Not when Harry's fear had meant one of them was damn close to dying. Not when Severus' feeling miserable meant he'd believed himself so unworthy of Harry's love. Everything was so much quieter now, and it had taken Severus a while to realize that melancholy was something Harry would talk about with him. Just like it had taken time for Harry to realize Severus would always need reminders of his love and affection. But there was time for both now.
"It'll still be here," Remus said, distracting Harry from his thoughts. "And I'm sure there will be places for you to fly on your travels."
"Yeah, but I'll miss the pitch." He cast Tempus and realized Severus was probably already tapping his foot waiting for him. "You ready?"
Remus nodded, then went to collect Severus' satchel before they began their walk back down to the dungeons.
"Severus already gave them to you."
"Yes," Remus said, smiling. "Greatest gift anyone's ever given me."
"Severus likes to show his feelings through potions," Harry said, standing on his toes for a moment to demonstrate. "LIke, if he was a poet he'd write his friends and lover sonnets or something. Or if he was a chef he'd bake us a cake."
"Potions master, so—"
"It's still a marvelous gift."
"Yeah," Harry said, still amazed and so very proud of Severus' generosity. "It really is. So, what's this about?" he asked, toying with the frayed ends of Remus' robes.
"Severus still doesn't understand the difference between cruelty and gentle teasing, apparently."
"So he actually hexed you?"
"He actually hexed me."
"Huh. I know he always said he would, but I never believed he'd actually do it."
Remus held up his singed robes. "Physical evidence."
Harry couldn't help himself. He laughed. The laugh escalated when Remus frowned at him. "I'm sorry, but you have to admit it's funny."
Sighing, Remus said, "I suppose it is. So," he said, as they entered the castle, "where will you go first?"
"You know, I have no idea," Harry said, laughing at himself. "For months I thought by the time this day came around I'd know exactly where we would go first, second, third. I thought Severus would harass me into making an itinerary, but he didn't. He hasn't pestered me at all actually."
Harry smiled at the thought of how amazing Severus had been these past few months, so patient with him when Harry had been sure he'd drive him insane. But they'd learned how to live with each other and without the threat of violence and death hanging over them. To Harry, it was like the first time he was really living.
"I think he's still amazed to be alive," Remus said. "I know I am."
So was Harry, but he had no desire for dark thoughts today. "Yeah, but I'm pretty sure his patience has limits. Like, I've always wanted to go to a roller coaster park. But something tells me that if I were to try to drag Severus to one of those I'd get my eyebrows hexed off for my efforts."
"Somehow I doubt that. Something tells me that if you were to ask Severus to take you to Antarctica to pet the penguins he'd go out and buy a parka."
Harry laughed, and let himself enjoy the mental image of Severus surrounded by creatures that looked just like him, then laughed harder when he felt Severus' annoyance through the bond.
"You know, I didn't get to really ask him—I was too busy marveling at my potion—how he's feeling?" Remus gestured to his chest. "Is he—?"
"All better. At least until next winter, apparently."
Remus nodded. "And his shoulder?"
Harry sighed, then cursed the damned soul of Lucius Malfoy. "Marshall and Mildred are fine, but Dimitri will never be the same again, the poor bastard."
"Nothing. So what about you? How are you?" Harry asked, always a little ashamed at how their conversations always started with him. "Think you'll still be at the bookstore this time next year?"
Remus shrugged as they began the path to his and Severus' quarters. The castle was still and cool and Harry already felt a little homesick for it.
"I hope so. Reading books, shelving books, helping customers find books..." He sighed and put his hands in his pockets. "It's a very quiet life compared to the one I lived this last year."
"Yeah." That was an understatement. "I think that's what I'd like. A quiet life." Thoughts of returning to Hogwarts in a few years made his heart feel light. Severus was a warm, tender feeling somewhere in the back of his mind, and he closed his eyes and enjoyed him. "And what about Tonks? She's anything but quiet. She's...like me."
"She's clumsier than you, I think."
"You and Severus can commiserate when we go out together."
Remus laughed loudly, almost in shock, and ran a hand through his hair. "When we go out together... Like normal people." He shook his head and chuckled.
"What?" Harry asked, opening the door to his and Severus' rooms. "We're normal people."
"We most certainly are not normal people, Harry. Well...maybe I am, but you and Severus are most definitely not. In fact, I think this is the longest we've ever talked and not spoken about war or death or misery or other terrible things that no normal man would ever need to talk about."
Harry rolled his eyes, then went and sat on the sofa. "You want normal talk, fine? How's Tonks really?"
"Lovely," Remus said, smiling and sitting on the opposite side of the sofa. "It's—I thought it was too late for me," he said slowly. "I thought surely I'd never find..."
Love, Harry thought, and knew that was something Remus had wanted for a long time, past failed relationships be damned.
"That's great, Remus," Harry said. "Tonks is great." Feeling mischievous, he asked a question he'd wanted to ask for a while now. "So, I was wondering... When you and her are in the sack, does she ever...?" He waved his hands in front of his face and chest and tried to mimic the way Tonks could change her appearance.
"No! Merlin!" He looked somewhere between disgusted and amused. "Did Severus put you up to that?"
"What?" Harry said, laughing. "You wanted normal talk."
"Not that normal."
Harry laughed and leaned against the sofa heavily. "Damn, I'll miss this. Oh!" Suddenly a thought occurred to him, something brilliant that Severus would most likely kill him for later. "You should visit us!"
"While we're traveling. You should go with us for a bit. Do you think the shop will let you go on holiday?"
"Er, Harry...that's very kind, but my own finances aren't what—"
"Oh, don't worry about that."
Remus frowned at that and actually looked a little upset, which surprised Harry. "What I mean, is Severus and I both owe you so much. If anything this is something we should have given you a while ago."
"Neither of you ever owed me a thing," Remus said, still looking a bit upset. "But if you ever did, I'll take this," he patted the satchel, "as payment in full."
"Then come because I'd like you there. We both would. And Tonks too!" Harry said with a smile, relieved when the frown left Remus' face and he seemed to consider Harry's offer.
"Maybe for a few days in the spring. And somewhere close," he said, and the frown left his face at last. "I imagine it'll take at least that long to convince Severus."
"One week out of an entire year isn't asking much. Plus, you know he likes you. He made you a potion."
Remus sighed. "Yes, he did. Well," he said, casting a look around the room. "I imagine the house elves will have their work cut out for them keeping dust away from Severus' books. Shouldn't he be here?"
Harry looked around, then went into the bedroom and found only his trunk still sitting by the bed. Sighing, he took one more look around the room, then shrank the trunk and put it in his pocket. He gave the purple blanket a smile and goodbye pet, then closed the door.
"I think he's probably in the Entrance Hall waiting for me," Harry said, looking around the sitting room to make sure they hadn't left anything.
"Ah. I'll say goodbye then. Thank Severus for me again, please," Remus said, rising slowly. He smiled broadly and picked up his satchel. "I'll see you both at Christmas."
"Yeah," Harry extended a hand, his heart twisting just a bit. Remus shook it, then pulled him forward into a one-armed embrace.
"Enjoy yourself, Harry. And make sure Severus does the same."
Harry grasped his shoulder one last time before he let go. They walked quietly before they parted ways at the Entrance Hall, Remus apparently heading towards Dumbledore's office and Harry outside. A quiet ache filled him, and Harry said one more time, "Thank you, Remus. For everything."
Turning on his heel, Remus returned the smile, his expression happier than Harry had ever seen it and said, "Believe me, Harry, it was my pleasure."
Severus turned as he saw Harry—standing three quarters of an inch taller than he had six months prior—walk outside and into the shadow where he had been waiting.
Severus rolled his eyes. "Will you please stop calling me that?"
"Why? I'm the only person in the world who will ever be able to call you that." He approached Severus with a sly smile. "And live to tell the tale, of course."
"Is that so? I thought you'd just said goodbye to Lupin," Severus said with a smirk.
"That's what caused the burnt robes?" Harry laughed and shook his head, then wrapped his arms around Severus and held him tight. He returned the embrace, and knew he'd never grow tired of holding Harry in this way. "Poor Remus."
"Him?" Severus said, pushing Harry away, slightly put out. "I'm the one that was being mocked. Can you not feign some concern?"
"Ah. So sorry, Severus." Harry straightened his back and forced a straight face. "Do you want me to kill him for you?"
"Hmph. Are these the sort of juvenile antics I can look forward to for the rest of my life?"
"Probably," Harry said, smile returning.
Severus sniffed and forced a sigh. "I suppose there are worse fates."
Harry shook his head, smile gone. "Not for us. Not anymore," he said, wrapping himself around Severus again. "Mmm. Missed you," Harry said into his robes.
"Did you?" Severus asked, smile returning to him. He ran his fingers through Harry's hair, feeling foolish as he admitted to himself he'd missed Harry as well.
A hand found its way into his robes. "Haven't seen you all day."
"You saw me last night."
"Yes, but that was ages ago," Harry said, looking up into Severus' eyes and smiling.
And there, with the sun shining brightly and their uncertain future illuminated with so many possibilities, Severus held Harry in his arms, so grateful and bewildered his path had led him here. His heart light and the bond happy between them, Severus descended the short distance and kissed him.
Lips and tongues met slowly, the sound of moisture meeting moisture loud and Harry's soft sigh filling Severus' consciousness. The kiss was unhurried, unrushed, not at all like so many of their kisses had been before, when their future had been so uncertain. They kissed slowly now, and enjoyed each other because they could. Because there was time for it all.
There was time for everything now.
Harry sighed as the kiss ended, resting his forehead against Severus' nose. "I love you," he whispered softly.
Severus kissed his face and didn't release his embrace as Harry turned his head towards the ground.
"Are you all right?" he asked.
"Yeah," Harry said, smiling, looking back towards Severus. "It's just a little..." He trailed off and ran a hand through his hair. "I'm a little sad to be leaving, even though I'm really not sad all this is over." He gestured towards the ground where the last battle had taken place. "I'm nervous. Just a little bit. Is that odd?"
"Not at all," Severus said. "Your life in particular has always been written for you. But now—"
"Some things are meant to be," Harry said, repeating the conversation they'd had several times before. "And some things are left up to us."
"Yes." They had done everything they had to do, Severus thought. The rest of it was up to them.
"It's just that...it feels like something is ending."
"Something is ending, Harry," Severus said, placing a protective hand on Harry's shoulder, as he had when Harry had last needed him.
Harry smiled. "Sometimes you say 'Harry' the way I say 'darling.'"
Scoffing, and knowing he'd been discovered, Severus said, "You do have the greatest imagination." He held Harry's hand and said, "Something is ending, but something far greater is beginning."
"Right." The smile faded. "And it will be better," Harry said, then looked again towards the grounds and out into the sun. "You'll be there."
It was hardly a question, but Severus wanted to make the declaration, today of all days. "Always."
Harry nodded, then laced his fingers with Severus' and took a deep breath. "You ready?"
"Indeed. I've been ready for an hour now. You're the one who needed to say goodbye to your pet wolf."
"Yeah," Harry said, distracted by his conflicting emotions. His palm was sweaty in Severus' hand. He looked into his eyes and declared, "I'm ready."
Severus smiled and looked out into the distance. Their future, path untold, was set before them. Whatever they decided to do with their lives would be up to them. All Severus knew for certain was that all their tomorrows would be spent together. He smiled before he could help himself, and grasped Harry's hand tighter.
"Well, Harry," he said, looking to him again, "what would you like to do first?"
"I don't know," Harry said, looking up at Severus with a smile as they left the shadows, "but we'll think of something."