A/N: Long time, no update, but I'm finally back with a new chapter – just in time to see 2013 off and bring in 2014! I hope you all enjoyed the festive season and have a great New Year!

tainted-tash: I sent you a private message which you can view in your profile/account :-) Thank you and all my other readers for your eternal patience and wonderful reviews! I will try to update my blog more regularly, that way you can remain informed about my chapter-posting/updating schedule. Lots of hugs to you wonderful gals and guys!

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The end of the year was packed with major events: from the Wolfsbane Potion conference, training lessons in sai-throwing, Telepathy and Apparition to bringing in 1998…and, of course, exploring our marital-martial arrangements.

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The next night was indeed interesting, but not in the manner Harry had been anticipating. Severus was taciturn and not, to use a Muggle expression he disliked, "in the mood". He made this evident by informing Harry that he wanted to turn in early for the night.

"We have a time-consuming conference ahead of us tomorrow," he said. "It will probably last all day."

/I'll stay up a bit,/ Harry replied, bracing himself for Severus to usher him to bed as if he were a small child; but Severus merely mh-ed and proceeded to change into his pyjamas. Harry, who had been keen on interesting little diversions underneath the bedclothes, retired to the turquoise sofa with an engrossing book on Duelling (gifted to him by Remus and Tonks for Christmas), a Lumos orb floating above him while Severus lay in bed surrounded by darkness and even darker thoughts about the Wolfsbane Potion, allies and enemies, Voldemort, the danger to the whole world – and his desire for Harry Potter. He longed to reach down and, with the stealth and expertise of a skilled spy, pleasure himself discreetly; he was ideally positioned with his back towards his reading husband and shrouded in darkness besides; but spies like him also possessed unique self-control, and so he abstained while his testicles began to hurt with pent-up blood and his erection, hot and swollen between his thighs, begged for stimulation. An hour later, Harry was still reading, the only sounds from the sofa the occasional rustle of his clothes as he shifted and that of the pages as he turned them. Severus was in agony and suffering from what wizards called "blue Remembralls". He managed to calm down using the relaxing techniques at his disposition as a master of mental magic.

He was sleeping by the time Harry closed his book and joined him in bed, keeping to his side of the mattress.

In the meantime, Severus was reliving one of his very worst memories, his hands clenching and unclenching as scene after scene flitted across his dreamscapes.

Severus Snape received his first sexual kiss from Lucius Malfoy, when he was too young to be the recipient of such a kiss, yet too old to be unaware of its gross inappropriateness. The next person to abuse Severus sexually after Lucius was Lord Voldemort.

It occurred during his inaugural meeting with the Dark Lord. The waxy red-eyed face was already losing its human traits, devoid of pores, paler than the thing he, Voldemort, feared: death. Severus did not dare move as he stood in front of Voldemort like a statue, his body taut with repulsion, his eroded self-esteem, on the other hand, hungering for power. Voldemort stared at him, assessing his tool-worthiness.

"You will do, despite your tainted heritage," he announced finally, a sneer distorting his features – an expression Lucius Malfoy, ever the imitator, would learn to mimic to perfection over the years.

"Yes, my Lord," Severus whispered, mortified. Voldemort looked him up and down.

"I believe," he continued, "that you suffer from another unfortunate affliction."

The blood rushed to Severus's thin cheeks when he understood what Voldemort was implying.

"How unfortunate," Voldemort continued while the Death Eaters of those times, their ranks smaller than the present ones, snickered appreciatively. The hypocritical laugh from Lucius Malfoy was worse than Voldemort's taunts.

"Lucius, entertain us, will you?" Voldemort said, smiling a plastic smile as he drew back from Severus and sat down on his chair. Lucius approached.

"Your wand, if you would be so kind." His tone was mocking. Severus reluctantly handed over his wand.

Lucius grabbed him by his hair and sank his teeth into Severus's bottom lip, causing tears of pain to well up reflexively in the young man's eyes; then he detached himself from Severus's mouth and stared at him and spat a mixture of blood and saliva into his face.

"Strip, Snape," Lucius ordered next.

Severus stared at him numbly. "I cannot."

"Tut-tut! I haven't got all day, and it really goes against etiquette to keep our Lord waiting."

Severus's hands trembled slightly as he undid his robes.

"Everything, Snape."

Severus obeyed. Voldemort rose, and gestured to Lucius to withdraw. He studied Severus's thin body. Minutes passed. Appreciative snickering filled the dim room. He finally reached out and took Severus's penis in his long fingers.

"Nevertheless, you will do, my dear Severus. Your talents are quite considerable and will be a most valuable asset to me. In your quest for purity, even someone like you might be purified." His breath tickled Severus's face, and his fingers caressed and squeezed gently.

"You will join a league of eternal power. The weak will fall, the strong shall rise, and together, we will be immortal and mould everything to our desires. The unworthy will serve us, and thus justice will be implemented."

Severus, young, desperate and insecure, listened to the promises of power, seduced by the crafty words and fingers. He was panting and sweating. Voldemort smiled and suddenly sank his nails into Severus's genitals. Severus screamed with pain, doubling over, his pleasure ripped away at the imminent cusp of its peak.

"How very ugly you are, my poor Severus. You were born to serve me," Voldemort commented lazily, letting go and strolling back to his chair. He wiped his hands on his robes. The Death Eaters were completely silent.

There was blood in Severus's urine for two days. Moreover, he was unable to achieve orgasm for several years after the traumatic event. Not alone, and not with the most skilled prostitutes: his pleasure turned into ashes immediately before orgasm, and his erection would wilt and his testicles throb with dull agony for hours afterwards. His mind and body would shriek with despair at the lack of sexual release. When he started to work for Albus Dumbledore and learnt Occlumency, Legilimency and Telepathy from the wise Headmaster, he was finally able to achieve orgasm – but without pleasure. It was a strange rubbery sensation which simply happened to accompany his ejaculation. Until Harry told him that he was sexy. And touched him with respect and care, given him a taste of keenest pleasure – pleasure stemming from not only receiving, but also from giving. And if he was not mistaken, Harry was suddenly standing between him and Voldemort, a sai leaving his hand and burying itself in Voldemort's chest, and Harry was covering him with robes, and there were tears in his green eyes, and…

/Severus, you're okay now, I won't ever allow that bastard to hurt you again./

Severus shot up in bed so suddenly that Harry, who had been bending over him, was pushed back and nearly fell over the edge. His quick Quidditch-trained reflexes prevented him from losing his balance. Severus was gasping; and this time, he reached out for Harry's hand without shame. A gentle Lumos orb bobbed over them, and he could see tears on the youth's cheeks. They sat like that for a long time, silent, their hands clasped until Severus fell asleep, comforted by the mere touch and proximity of his husband; but there was no sleep for Harry, who knew instinctively that what he had witnessed in Severus's dream had indeed occurred and had left festering ulcers in its wake.

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Harry was used to Severus's frequently terse manner and even amused by it, much to Severus's annoyance; but it was a healthy annoyance, untouched by rancour or cynicism, mixed with a secret pleasure derived from Harry's knowing grins and the sparkle in those green eyes; but this morning was different. It was the day of the conference on Severus's latest masterpiece: the improved Wolfsbane Potion. Severus was tense as a stretched rubber band, ready to snap at anyone who disrupted his focus with redundant conversation or joking, however well-intended. Harry maintained a prudent silence while Severus muttered soft anathemas and leafed through a folder bulging with notes. He was still agitated by last night's dream, but he was also deeply impressed with Harry's natural talent of establishing a Dream Bridge, and, above all, with Harry's compassion and ability to care for someone like him.

Harry bumped into him by accident as they both moved towards the door at the same time. Severus, instead of reacting with impatience, quickly wrapped a lithe arm around Harry's waist.

"You first, Mr Potter-Snape."

Harry smiled; but there was sadness in his eyes as he looked at Severus, and something else; something so warm that Severus dared not hope that it was what he thought he had seen.

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Ginny, who was excluded from the conference because she was only sixteen, was dangling the latest Invisible Extendable Ears in front of the door, but the spells Mrs Weasley had placed on said door were too strong. She shook her head, collected Crookshanks and Arnold and paced about the house impatiently, waiting for everyone else to emerge.

The conference, as Severus had predicted, was very long. It was, some participants argued, ethically dubious to use the Wolfsbane Potion as a means to an end. Using it as a bribe to gain allies against Voldemort was offensive to those who truly needed it. After ten hours of arguing, Albus Dumbledore rose from his chair. He looked formidable, but he also looked tired. Harry, who was sitting between Hermione and Ron, drew a deep breath. Severus's face was impassive.

"I will refrain from tiring you further with a long speech. The destiny of the whole world is at stake. We have to use all the means at our disposal to win allies. The war is not before us; we are in the middle of it. The Wolfsbane Potion is a precious bargaining tool in its capacity to restore control and dignity to Werewolves, and to gain their alliance."

"Quid pro quo," Remus Lupin stated, a faint bitter smile touching his lips. Tonks slipped her hand into his, and he gripped it tightly.

"Yes," Dumbledore said simply.

"The concoction has to be fine-tuned, Albus," Severus observed. Harry tried to glean his thoughts through the Telepathic bond he shared with him. In contrast to what most people thought, Severus, as Harry knew very well by now, was a deep feeler: passionate, fiery and protective about those he could respect whole-heartedly on a level of equality.

"At this point," Dumbledore resumed, "I think we owe a round of applause to Severus Snape. He has achieved a milestone in the history of magic."

Everyone began to applaud without hesitation. Harry and the twins actually climbed up on their chairs. Severus merely curled his lip, but condescended to bow his head in a thoroughly embarrassed gesture of acknowledgement. He hated being the centre of attention.

Needless to say, the two wizards – like everyone else – were too exhausted to be kept awake by sexual desires or nightmares: after a hasty supper and a long shower, all the witches and wizards went to bed without further ado.

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The next day was the last one of the Old Year. Severus, ever the taskmaster, insisted on putting Harry through stringent lessons of sai-throwing and Telepathy.

/This kind of sai-throwing,/ Harry remarked, when Severus showed him how to fling the sai without actually using hand motions, /is telekinetic./

Severus sniffed haughtily. "Telekinesis is a Muggle concept for the magical processes which are beyond their comprehension."

/Well, the concept is not far off the mark./

"Just like the Muggle concept of mind-reading does not equal Legilimency, telekinesis does not equal spell-casting. Those concepts are invalid."

/Just because such concepts are approximations of what Muggles cannot understand, it does not mean they're automatically invalid,/ Harry said, sounding angry. /I thought you were in the process of overcoming your bias against Muggles. You did have a close Muggle friend at one time./

There was a small tense silence.

"Very well. You have a point," Severus said.

/Shit, I'm feeling hot,/ Harry remarked, swiping his arm across his upper lip.

Severus did not comment on the swearword. After all, he himself was not impervious to the change in his own body temperature – especially with a flushed and sweaty Harry parading before him.

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A sumptuous supper was enjoyed by the Order of the Phoenix, followed by games, laughter and fun. Even Severus remained downstairs, although he would have preferred being upstairs in his room. But Harry was downstairs, and Severus was becoming strangely sentimental about spending time in his husband's company. Albus Dumbledore was not present, having vanished on one of his mysterious expeditions to some unknown destination or the other and having wished everyone a happy New Year before parting.

Despite the anxiety about the war and fears concerning the future, hope, friendship and family bonds were foremost in the witches' and wizards' minds; and it was in that uplifting spirit that they brought in the New Year over mugs of Butterbeer and Firewhiskey and bowls of magical snacks (which included several pastilles Fred and George had managed to sneak into the receptacles).

Severus and Harry clinked glasses solemnly. Their eyes met in a determined gaze, in a strong intangible bridge spanning the Old Year and the New One, the past and the present, their differences and the things they shared in common.

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