A/N: Hi everyone, I'm finally back again! I was in and out of the hospital for scans and rehab during the last few months, and I needed a second cardiac intervention (fortunately no surgery this time) to close that pesky hole for once and for all. I'm doing fine now and my progress is being followed by the cardiologists. I'll post more about this on my Snarry blog.
This chapter is very short, but there's more in the making, and I didn't want to make you wait for another year or so ;-)

I'd also like to thank you so much for your wonderful comments and support. I'm keeping the notification chapter up, that way I'll always be reminded of all the encouragement you have given and are giving me. I love you all so much!

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The first day of the New Year was busy. Last moment preparations were made for our Apparition exams; we started to pack up our bags, getting ready to return to Hogwarts the next day; sai-throwing was somehow shoved into our already full schedule; and you became increasingly short-tempered as people kept bumping into each other, rushing up and down stairs and corridors.

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Harry, who had come across several ancient, beautifully penned and elaborately decorated wedding certificates stuffed away in one of the old dusty cupboards at Grimmauld Place, was thinking about how his own marriage contract had been stolen from the Ministry by Arthur Weasley and Kingsley Shacklebolt. Severus and he had been given a copy, which Severus had contemptuously shoved into some drawer or the other and warded with the strongest locking charms he knew.

/These are impressive despite all the inbreeding, Severus,/ Harry remarked, showing the documents to Severus. The Potions Master curled his lip.

"Do you think that ring and paper or whatever other ridiculous marriage ceremonies guarantee the stuff of equally ridiculous fictitious blunders commonly known as fairy tales? Marriage, Potter, is not sacred. It is sacrilege, and a privilege for the foolish who are willing to enter such bondage while suffering from delusions created under illusions. Marriage is merely a flawed homage to romance: its actual purpose consists of shrewdly branding the marrying parties as property – a rather degrading situation. And, Potter, it all boils down most pathetically to wield exclusive sexual rights over one's spouse, when, taking biological evolution into consideration, monogamy is the most illogical and nonsensical tool in existence. That is the straightforward logic behind marriage and its avalanche of bloated rituals."

/Marriage is what you make of it. There are even open marriages./

Severus turned and looked at Harry, surprised at his calmness, at how masterfully he was hiding the pain caused by Severus's harsh words.

"Astute statements indeed. But you have not heard me out as yet." His voice softened. "Wherever you are, Harry, there are exceptions. I do not quite know what our union is, but it can certainly be classified as an exception."

/Is that a good thing or a bad thing, or both?/ The weary look in the green eyes was yielding to a mischievous smile, taking note of Severus's shift from "Potter" to "Harry".

Severus sat down gracefully on the turquoise couch.

"I think a 'good exception' will do. Besides, I prefer our plain marriage certificate to those tacky things you're holding."

/Content over packaging. I agree. I'll just put them back./

They exchanged a long look before Harry set off in quest of the cupboards.

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The witches and wizards rose very early the next day; no one had time to indulge in passionate little adventures during the night; everyone slept. Harry decided not to turn the turquoise couch back into a bed. Sharing a room and the same bed with Severus held many precious memories for him.

It was a very cold morning, and he gazed wistfully at Remus and Tonks kissing each other deeply on the mouth. He longed to kiss Severus on the mouth; but this act, for Severus, was too intimate; a kiss on the lips seemed akin to a dangerous act of trespass.

Remus looked up and happened to catch sight of Harry's sad face.

On the Knight Bus, Remus occupied the seat next to Harry, while Severus and Arthur Weasley discussed the Wolfsbane Potion.

"Harry, why are you upset?"

/I'm fine, Remus. Really./

"I saw the way you were looking at me and Nymphadora."

Harry turned red and studied his gloved hands.

/I…Severus does not want to be kissed on the mouth. It's…it's just too much for him…Too much of a trespass./

"Harry, give him time. All relationships, and each step, require time. Considering the past between you and Severus, and the past beyond that, the two of you need to really take your time."

/We don't have time; the war is nearly on us. Voldemort-/

"Harry, rushing a relationship is the worst thing you can do."

Harry bit his lip.

/Remus…we…he and I…we might not live to take the time we need./

"I know, Harry."

/Everyone calls me brave, but I feel afraid…afraid for him; and afraid of something happening to him, hurting him, although he is such a formidable wizard./

"Everyone is afraid of something happening to their loved ones, Harry. And one of the most important components of courage is admitting fear. Give him time. Give yourselves time. You'll find time in the most unexpected of moments. Nymphadora and I did."

Harry smiled.

/Thank you, Remus./

"No thanks needed. And one more thing. Do not compare your relationship with other people's relationships. Each bond is unique. Trust and respect are what need to be common to all fruitful relationships, but there will be many things which will remain only between you and your partner."

Remus pressed Harry's hand gently, and Harry squeezed the reassuring fingers back.

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