Story Note: A novella is a short novel, which at 20k, this story seems to fit that definition. Also I released this as a oneshot because it was written to be this way. There may be many different scenes, but I never wrote this intending to put it into chapter form. I apologize to those of you who would prefer reading it in chapter form. As the story was not written in chapter form, I would rather not break it up into such.
A/N + Betas: Thank you so much to igtow for being such a wonderful beta and helping me iron out some of the wrinkles. Also thanks to sansa for helping in the preliminary draft! And thanks to Team Postwar for helping me decide my plot line! It's been a long time since I've written in the HP fandom (over a year), and I'm glad I managed to actually finish something that I'm happy with despite the limited time I had to write this. I hope you enjoy reading this.
Disclaimer: All belongs to JK Rowling, only borrowing for a little storytelling.
A CONSCIOUS CHOICE
by Nenya Entwhistle
"Happiness is a conscious choice, not an automatic response." - Mildred Barthel.
The war was over and Harry Potter was missing. He had disappeared sometime during or after the final battle. Severus did not care if the boy were dead, it might even be better, then at least Dumbledore's possessions—including a very important Pensieve—would not be gone. Potter was Dumbledore's heir. No one else could have taken the Pensieve except him. Potter was alive and had simply vanished with everything. Severus was infuriated. When he got his hands on Potter he would personally wring his neck. There was a particular satisfaction in inflicting violence with one's hands which magic simply could not replace.
Severus had thought, for certain, the Burrow would be the first place Harry Potter would retreat. He should have known better. Molly Weasley was not herself. Severus shuddered. Losing all her children had done something to her that was not natural. How her husband coped with her was a mystery, but Potter would have been insane to stay there. His mental stability would have slowly eroded over time. Arthur, Severus figured, was probably halfway there.
Hogwarts then seemed like the logical alternative. Actually, Severus knew it was his best bet, but it would not be as easy to obliviate Minerva as it was to erase Molly's memories of having ever seen him. He was a wanted wizard, thanks to Potter and his Pensieve-stealing ways. Severus had gone there, quick and sly as a spy should be, but he was still caught by Minerva. He swore she was more cat than human. He had been so quiet... yet she had heard him. Her hearing was extraordinarily good for a mere human. He had the nagging suspicion that she retained her heightened senses even when she transformed back.
Minerva could have turned him into the Aurors for any number of offensives he had committed during the First and Second Voldemort Wars. But she hadn't. She simply turned her back on him and walked away. In her own way, Minerva was giving him her understanding and support. Severus had no desire to see any member of the Wizengamot. He knew exactly what they would charge him with—the murder of Albus Dumbledore.
Severus gritted his teeth and crumbled his list of all possible places Potter might be. Godric's Hollow and Grimmauld Place... even an unlikely voyage to Knockturn Alley had turned out as expected, no Potter in sight. He did not know where else to proceed to. He had already spent a year searching for the blasted boy. Who knew Potter would be so hard to find?
He had originally estimated it would take less than a month to track Potter down. Severus had grown impatient a month into it, and now he was beginning to resign himself to an alternate plan. Instead of proving his innocence and sneering in the face of all those uppity wizards that had once looked down upon him and pointed their fingers at him, he would forgo wizarding society and avoid their presence altogether. Severus did not care if he never saw those horrid faces and their equally hideous expressions again. The only thing he did mind was that to do that, it meant he would have to live in the Muggle world.
Muggles, Severus thought with disgust, Muggles!
4 years later...
No inventions Muggles could ever devise would replace magic, but Severus was starting to have a grudging respect for all their fancy devices, even the utterly useless ones like the telly. Soaps were an especial favorite of his. Severus found the antics and personalities absurd and positively addicting. Too bad his favorite soap had been canceled, not that he was terribly surprised. Homosexuality was as looked down among Muggles as it was with wizards. Severus snorted. What was so great about procreation anyway? There really was no need to populate with the world with any more idiots.
Severus switched the telly off and stretched lazily on his couch before he got up and headed to his bedroom. He still missed the dark and ominous atmosphere of the Hogwarts dungeons, but his small flat was not a bad living situation. Far better than Spinner's End, to be sure. Too bad he hadn't been able to sell the house to some hapless fellow. The income from that would make his life much easier, not that Severus minded working. Unfortunately, even with his potion-making skill, he had a hard time selling his work on the black market. Still he derived much satisfaction in brewing potions and occasionally fiddling around with spell creating. He just had to be very careful about using spells to hide his magical signatures, and ensure he had no unfortunate explosion, thereby preventing the pesky Ministry officials from poking their nose where they did not belong.
Severus was about to sprawl rather inelegantly on his bed when he heard a bird tapping at the window. He knew without looking up that it would Minerva's goshawk. On occasion, Severus now expected Circe to appear with a letter from the Headmistress. That had not been the case the first time it had happened. He had no idea how Circe managed to get through all his spelled wards to find him. She was a damned intelligent bird, just as her owner was a sharp witch. Severus opened the window and Circe extended her leg so Severus could untie the letter from Minerva.
Circe bobbed her head and immediately took off. Severus watched her go, wondering why she hadn't stayed for a response like she normally did. He unrolled the letter and quickly read it:
The package was delivered somewhere near Soho, according to D.P.
All reported sightings of Potter reported by the Daily Prophet had been useless thus far, but Severus still had not given up. Living in the Muggle world might suffice for the moment; however, he fully intended to prove his innocence and return to the wizarding world. Severus looked at the letters he had posted all along the walls of his bedroom...
D.P. reports the letter was delivered to Westminster Abbey around 2 o'clock.
The shipping information should arrive today at Diagon Alley.
D.P. is sorry to inform you the package has been delivered to the wrong address. It will be redelivered to Bond Street at 4 o'clock.
And so on and so forth, Severus had been to all the suggested places at the recommended time and he had never caught sight of Potter. The locations had been rather vague and happened always to be crowded, yet Severus did think the Daily Prophet was on to something with the mostly Muggle sightings. Harry Potter was definitely not in the wizarding world anymore. The problem was where in the vast Muggle London could he be?
Was he even in London? Severus paused. Was it possible Potter had left the country?
Several months later...
The food was decidedly the only thing Severus had enjoyed in his journeying to the Continent. The French were snobs and what was so romantic about their language? It sounded perfectly horrid to his ears. Their baguettes, however, were completely palatable. The Germans were a rather unfriendly people and Severus quite preferred the English manners in comparison. Their foodstuffs, though, especially their sausages, were delicious. Italy had smelt a lot like cheese and garlic and it had given Severus a headache, considering his sensitive nose. He had almost been sure the overwhelming cheese smell had ruined his nose for potion-making. Luckily, his fear had turned out to be false. The worst place Severus had gone to was Spain. He had gotten mugged on the first day there and it had only traveled downhill from there. How was a tourist supposed to bloody know a certain street was used for ridiculous bull chasing from 7th to 14th of July?
He had snuffed out every alley, while keeping out of the wizarding authority radar. It was a pity leaving Britain would not allow him to live as a free wizard. He could tolerate a Germanic existence from his forays into that wizarding culture. France was a definite no, as was Italy and Spain. Severus had been tempted to travel to Belgium and Denmark before heading back home when Circe had found him with a note which simply said: Return.
Severus had not been expecting Minerva to be waiting in his dingy flat for him. She looked ridiculous in her Muggle outfit. Her fashion, he presumed, had been influenced by Albus. Figures, he thought and sniffed in disdain. Still Minerva was a practical witch and she must know if purple and orange didn't go together in wizarding robes, what made her think it was acceptable for Muggle clothing? Severus prided himself in having a serviceable sense of fashion. He might be a tad formal and black, but he always looked put together.
"Severus," Minerva said and inclined her head.
"Minerva," he murmured, gesturing for her to take a seat on his black leather couch, "you are looking rather worse for the wear. I must say I don't envy you the continued misery of teaching children who refuse to learn."
"As biting as ever, I see," she remarked, looking remarkably awkward when she sank into the couch. Severus found Muggle furniture to be rather comfortable without any additional spellwork required. It was quite a convenience. "Nice work," she commented. "What charm did you use?"
"Bought it," Severus said and when he saw her confused expression, he smirked. "I bought the couch in a Muggle furniture store. It came like that. No charm necessary."
"Fascinating," Minerva said and wiggled around in her seat. "I might need to inquire the name of the shop. This is quite pleasant."
Severus nodded and folded his arms in front of his chest. "As much as I'd like to further discuss my Muggle amenities, I first would like to inquire the purpose of this visit."
Minerva pushed her glasses up her nose bridge. "I believe my source is reliable this time." Severus arched an eyebrow as a strange tension thrummed through his body. "You'll likely find him somewhere in America."
Severus wanted to laugh and maybe sarcastically ask where he should begin. North or South? East or West? America was a sprawling country, even narrowing down to a region would help. Severus bit his tongue. He would not chastise his only friend for helping him. He would appear grateful, even if he wasn't.
"In New York City, specifically," Minerva added. "And using his own name, too." Severus noticed her eyes had a funny glow to them he didn't think she used to have. Maybe there was something about being the Head of Hogwarts that did something odd to one's eyes. "Now shall I tell you his address?"
Severus hated to admit it, absolutely hated to, but his jaw dropped. He was gob smacked. No wonder Minerva had come to deliver this bit of reliable news. She knew exactly how he would react. Of course, any sensible wizard would do the same, even a Muggle! He'd been looking almost five years for the boy. It was about bloody time.
A couple of days later...
New York City
Transatlantic Apparition was another thing Severus was determined to add to his long list of hated things. He was nauseated, tired, and he sported a headache which felt larger than his head. If Minerva was wrong about Potter being here, he was going to squeeze her neck until her beady eyes popped out. No matter that she was just trying to help him, he would not forget she had made him suffer through this awful experience. Yes, he would admit (only privately) that he was a petty individual. Oh what he would like to do to the blasted boy when he got his hands on him, but of course he wouldn't. He wasn't stupid. Potter was a bloody war hero. Severus was not about to jeopardize true freedom for a momentary bout of sadistic pleasure.
Severus opened the telephone booth door and stepped out. He was immediately bumped into by a fat American Muggle and then another and Severus backed up into the telephone booth again. By Merlin's balls, why were there so many people on the street? It was worse than London and Severus had detested walking the streets at any hour when he had to brush against another human being. He was very much of the opinion more space was better. Minerva might be right. He was paranoid about his space.
Severus reached into his pocket and drew out the small bit of paper where he had written Potter's address:
25 Central Park West
He peered out the telephone booth, a bit daunted by the sea of people walking around like it was acceptable to be this close to each other. Severus drew himself up and pushed the door open again. He walked out, his back straight, and marched to the street where he saw some Muggles waving their arms frantically for a taxi. He bumped into more than a few people, but he ignored the impulse to get away from the crowd, now! He joined the overly frenzied Muggles, keeping his arms to himself and waited patiently until a taxi stopped. It wasn't for him, but Severus was not going to wait any longer to get away from these annoying people. He glared at the young woman and got into the taxi.
The taxi driver turned around to him and said, "It's her taxi, mister, will you please—"
"Look," Severus snarled, shoving the piece of paper at the taxi driver's face, "you drive here now."
He didn't need to see a mirror to know he looked terrifying. His eyes were dark and they were cruel, and he wasn't feeling particularly nasty. His lips were thin and ready to throw an expletive at the damnable Muggle if he didn't start driving soon as in right now. Severus had never been patient, he had to learn when he had to serve Voldemort and Dumbledore and he hadn't liked it one bit. They were both dead now, so it had paid off.
The taxi driver looked like he was going to protest again, but Severus narrowed his eyes and the Muggle didn't say a word. He just shut his yappy mouth and started the meter. Severus glanced out the window and smirked at the furious expression on the girl's face. It was so utterly delightful to ruin someone's day already and he hadn't even been in New York City for an hour yet.
An hour later...
Central Park West turned out to be hell. Had he known this, Severus would have taken the underground. Certainly that would have taken less than the hour this incompetent taxi driver had wasted. Severus sniffed and counted out the exact fare and no more. Tipping was a waste of his money and he had lost enough exchanging his galleons for pounds then converting them to dollars. Why Gringotts refused to do any international exchanging, Severus did not know. He could have waited until he got to America to change his money, but that meant he had to go to the wizarding places here and he preferred not to take unnecessary risks in an unknown location. He might venture forth later, when curiosity got the best of him. Until then, Severus got out the taxi and slammed the door shut. The loud sound was satisfying music to his ears, especially if it irritated the driver.
Severus studied this place where Potter lived and then looked up, and up. It was a very tall building, and it did not look like any of the flat complexes Severus had considered before settling on his. Why, Potter was living in absolute luxury. Severus clenched his fists and hated the world so fiercely for being so unfair! Why did the boy always get everything? Why him!!! Lucky bastard.
Severus brushed imaginary lint off his suit, glad he had decided to wear it. He had presumed he would be overdressed, but now he might be under dressed. He figured he could count on Potter to be his normally uncouth self. Severus used his long legs to walk to the flat building and he was about to reach for the door handle when it was pushed opened for him. Severus stared at the man holding the door for him and didn't say anything. Instead he kept on striding ahead, heading straight for the man behind the information desk.
It pained Severus to be polite, but Muggles always cooperated much more if you were nice. "Could you tell me where to find a Mr. Harry Potter?"
"Is Mr. Potter expecting you?" the Muggle asked, looking far too distinguished in his suit than his job required in Severus' opinion. He was just a servant, and he was better dressed than Severus was. It was absolutely unbelievable.
Severus sniffed and struggled to keep his face blank and his voice polite when he said, "No, but I'm an old friend of his... I wanted to surprise him."
"Mr. Potter doesn't accept visitors who aren't on his expected list," the manservant said, looking apologetic but that was probably all just for show. Severus knew how the servants of the wealthy were—they were just as uppity as their masters. "I'd suggest you give him a call and see if he'll extend an invite to you, sir."
The voice might be respectful, but Severus heard the underlying suggestion in the Muggle's tone... he might as well not call Potter and try because it was unlikely an invitation would be extended to the likes of him. Severus clenched his fists and then relaxed them. He would not let the Muggle see how much his words had affected him. Severus hated giving anyone an advantage over him, especially a visual one. At least, he had magic at his disposal.
It would be a tricky Apparition to get to Harry's penthouse, but Severus had always been quite good at Apparating when he did not exactly know where he was going. Voldemort's meetings were never very easy to reach It was a rather convenient way of separating the idiotic wizards from the competent ones. Apparating was, after all, a very basic skill. Severus was tempted to just disappear in front of the blasted Muggle, but he had a feeling this magical disturbance would find its way back to Minerva and she would hardly appreciate it. She would just tell him to stop being so childish.
Severus nodded to the muggle and asked with a semi-strained voice, "Might I inquire where the lavatories are?"
The muggle pointed and Severus almost skipped to the toilets. He was finally about to get his hands on Potter.
Five minutes later...
Severus very nearly splinched himself because he had been concentrating so hard on building the image of what a bloody penthouse that Potter owned would look like that he hadn't fully visualized himself. It would have been a disaster to leave his legs behind. He would be literally a bloody mess; luckily, he had caught himself in mid-Apparition and transported his lower limbs without any problems. He had reassembled himself quite nicely when he reached Potter's posh penthouse. No one would know and that was precisely what Severus wanted.
Potter's penthouse was nothing like Severus had expected, if indeed he had even apparated himself to the right location. There was a bare minimal in furnishings, though he would admit it had a certain stylishness to it. The couch was black and stood out starkly in the faintly silver walls. The coffee table was silver and looked sturdy enough for the huge marble chess set positioned on top. Severus recognized the telly as a flat screen and obviously expensive. Likely the latest technology, Severus shook his head, nothing but the best for Potter.
"Of course, you'd make it through without getting splinched," Potter said, sounding flat and different. His voice was strangely hoarse and definitely older. Severus almost did not recognize the voice.
Severus turned around and was not surprised to see Potter standing there, looking like he had just woken up. His hair was a mess and he wore only boxers. Severus was horrified to find himself checking his former student out. It was hard not to when Potter was a very nice male specimen. He had nice pecs and his abdomen was mildly defined and... By no means was Potter that attractive, but he was not unattractive. Severus would consider Potter attractive enough to be out of his range, not that he would even consider Potter. He hated the boy.
"What do you want?" Potter said, not seeming bothered that Severus had appeared unannounced in his penthouse.
Severus was incensed Potter even had to ask. Didn't he know? That fool! That ignoramus! He must know. It was impossible he did not. Actually, Severus thought, it was not all that surprising. Potter had been a rather unworldly boy, content to remain uninformed. It would not be too shocking if Potter had not sorted through Albus' things, but what of his Gryffindor curiosity? Would that not compel him to dip his nose into the Pensieve?
"You know what I want!" Severus roared. He was impressed by the volume and the sheer power behind his words. He felt the atmosphere rumble. It was a certainty that if he had used this tone with a student, even a seventh year, they would cry. "Now if you will quit wasting my time and fetch the Pensieve, I will leave you to your indulgences."
"I have no idea what you are talking about," Potter said calmly. Severus was annoyed Potter wasn't reacting. It was utterly unlike him. Potter was an emotional fireball, much like his father. They were suited to be Gryffindors, acting first and thinking later. "Now leave."
"Albus' Pensieve!" Severus exclaimed. "You're his heir. The Pensieve has to be in your possession and I need it as proof!"
"Proof of what?" Potter asked nonchalantly as he sprawled over his couch. "Proof you weren't a Death Eater when you were? Proof you didn't kill him when you did? Proof you were not double-dealing when you absolutely were?" Potter paused. "I know he left explicit instructions to trust you, but I didn't. I don't know if it was the right thing to do. Maybe I should have blindly trusted all the information you sent me." His eyes were so dark they no longer looked green. "Maybe then my best friends would have been alive."
Severus was not willing to admit that not all his information had been accurate. He was not always told correct things—Voldemort was paranoid—he was not always trusted. Most of the information had been good and if Potter had used it, there was a chance more people would be alive. But that was a huge if, and it might just be the same or worse. Who knew? All Severus was willing to allow was the war was over and Voldemort was dead. Harry Potter had killed him and saved the world, just as the prophecy had stated. It had not made the world a better place, maybe it had made it a little worse, but a power mad wizard was destroyed. Severus did not like to think of what the world would have been like if that had not occurred.
"I want the Pensieve, Potter," Severus said stiffly, not liking to ask for anything. "I think after all I have done, I deserve my freedom."
He had been prepared to demand the Pensieve from Potter by brute force, but Potter was a strong wizard for all that he lived in the Muggle world. Had Severus not been a wizard of some power himself, he would never have made it through Harry's wards. They were so cleverly placed, he'd not even spotted them. The problem was he knew he couldn't force Potter to do anything and he was irritated with the idea that Potter might be able to defeat him easily in a duel. Severus knew when he smelled a necessary change in strategies.
"So you don't think you should be punished for the crimes you committed whilst you were a Death Eater?" Potter asked, his eyes widened with such innocence, though his voice was steely. "You may not have been the worst, but you did some awful things."
"Many people do awful things," Severus grumbled. He had never been an advocate of justifying his actions. It was in the past and Severus did not care to think of it. A guilt-complex was more of a hero characteristic. Severus was always ready to forget his sins. He was more concerned with getting ahead or saving his own skin.
"They do," Potter agreed. "They also don't get punished enough."
"Where is the Pensieve?" Severus asked, really tired and exasperated where this conversation was going. He didn't want to examine himself carefully! He had done that enough when he was a young, ugly, miserable schoolboy. His dreadful poetry was a memorial to those days. Luckily, he had burned them to ashes ages ago. "Give it to me and I'll leave you alone."
"I can't," Potter said and flicked his fingers and everything warped. Severus found himself in his hotel bathroom, sitting on the toilet, shitting. He had no idea how Potter had just done that. It almost made him wonder if he had just dreamt everything up, but Severus was confident of his sanity. What Severus doubted was his ability to retrieve the Pensieve at all anymore.
The next day...
Potter let him in without any difficulty when Severus decided to Apparate from his hotel room to the penthouse. Severus found Potter lounging on the couch, reading a book which looked like it was about to fall apart. It had to be a very old magic book and it was not written in any language Severus knew when he had sneaked a peak. Severus had stood there waiting for Potter to acknowledge him, had even waved his hand and shouted, but Potter had persisted to ignore him. It was infuriating.
Severus decided he might as well wander around the penthouse while Potter was busy reading. Severus liked the kitchen. It was clean and looked professional. Severus would like it more if it looked like it was used. It was apparently all for show when Severus had snooped in the cupboards and the refrigerator to discover there was no food to be found. How odd Potter had all the utensils a chef might use on one of those cooking shows. Severus decided it was wasteful.
When he was through with the kitchen and about to make his way into a bedroom, Potter stopped him. "You're wasting your time."
"I don't understand why you can't just give it to me," Severus snapped. "Nor why you must persist in being a rude host and ignoring me! You must have noticed I was here and yet you kept on reading your book. Did anyone teach you manners?"
Potter looked amused. It was an actual expression instead of the bland, blank face Severus had gotten used to seeing. "Guests usually ring before they pop into a home."
When had the stupid boy become so sharp? Severus felt the beginnings of a migraine settling behind his forehead. "Stop this nonsense and just give me the Pensieve."
"I've already told you once I don't know what you're talking about," Potter said, sounding very bored.
"Even if you don't know what it is, you must have it!" Severus said. "I've looked in the Headmaster's Office and the Pensieve and all his belongings are no longer there. The only one who can move his things would be his heir and that would be you."
Potter blinked. "But I haven't." He sounded so young when he said it, like the Potter boy Severus had taught, and had been expecting when he finally tracked him down. "Now will you leave me alone?"
Severus was about ready to explode, and he was not surprised to find himself transported back to his hotel room. Before he left, he really needed to learn the spell Potter kept using on him. It would be really handy in getting rid of pesky people.
Two weeks later...
Tea and biscuits were on the coffee table when Severus arrived at the penthouse. Potter was conspicuously absent, though. Severus knew because he had searched all the rooms with the exception of the master bedroom. The warding spell was so strong that Severus had not even bothered to try to breach it.
Severus had helped himself to the treats and had decided to lie down on the couch a bit because he felt tired and old. He did not realize he had fallen asleep until he felt someone tapping on his shoulder. Severus swatted it again, muttering, "Another hour, mum."
"I'm afraid I am not your mum," Potter declared.
That was all it took for Severus to tumble off the couch and knock Potter down with him. For all the power Potter had and exuded, he was rather small. Severus liked that Potter was smaller than him. At least in one thing Severus had the upper hand. He was on top, too, and Potter was pinned underneath him. The lean, muscular body felt good and Severus banged various parts of his body against the furniture to scramble off the boy. He had no wish for Potter to discover that not only was his professor greasy, he was a fairy, too.
"Sorry," Potter said, and it was one of those rare moments when he looked like the schoolboy he used to be. Severus shuddered that he found it attractive. He was not anything like a Muggle pedophile. He did not like young boys. He liked his men mature and worldly, none of which Potter was. "You've been sleeping for a while. It's dinner time."
"What?" Severus said. He looked around until he saw the clock and it indeed was time for dinner. He couldn't believe he had slept four hours! "I'll be off, then." He smoothed out his wrinkled shirt. "I'll return tomorrow unless you'd like to return to Hogwarts and retrieve the Pensieve, then formally bestow it to me."
Severus had realized a week ago that Potter did not have the Pensieve hiding somewhere in his penthouse. It really was at Hogwarts and Potter had never touched his inheritance from Albus. It was a pity, considering what wondrous books Albus must have collected. Severus was sure there were some spells in there Potter could perform that would gobsmack the wizarding world.
"Do you want to go out for dinner with me?" Potter asked. "I wouldn't mind the company."
"Potter," Severus began, because there was no way it was proper he should eat out with his student in public even if the young man was no longer his student.
"Harry," Potter said. "My name's Harry and considering that you barge into my home everyday, don't you think it's about time you call me Harry?"
"Harry," Severus said because he was beginning to realize that Potter—Harry was as stubborn as he was and if he wanted to get anything out of him, it was best to do things his way. Maybe if he went to dinner with Harry he might finally be able to convince him to return to Hogwarts as a friendly favor, although Severus did not understand in the slightest why Harry would want to be his friend. However, it was the only reasonable explanation Severus had reached for why Harry kept allowing him to disturb him day after day. "Dinner would be satisfactory."
Half an hour later...
A Japanese restaurant
Sushi was interesting and appalling. Severus was not an adventuresome eater and raw fish was not what he considered a normal dining experience. So while Harry ate his raw fish and other uncooked seafood, Severus had udon noodles. He liked it a lot. Japanese food, he contended, was not half bad if it had fine stuff like this. Why it had raw fish, too, was puzzling. Who would want to eat something uncooked and possibly poisonous when the cooked dishes were so good? Severus rather thought Harry was insane.
"How do you like your food?" Harry asked as he dipped his sushi into a muddy mixture of soy sauce and wasabi. "You certain you don't want to try some?" He held out a piece of raw fish with his chopsticks.
Severus vehemently shook his head. "I don't see how you eat that. It looks repulsive."
"Never took you to be the superficial type," Harry said, continuing to eat his sushi as if it were normal food. Of course, it was anything but. "And it's not repulsive so much as different."
Then Severus could perfectly do without raw food. Rather than continue with this conversation, he decided a change in topic was recommended. "I don't understand why you can't return to Hogwarts and transfer the Pensieve to me. It won't take much time at all."
Harry was about to put the sushi into his mouth when instead he placed it back down on his plate. "Unfortunately for you, I want nothing to do with the wizarding world."
Severus was beginning to get exasperated by this answer. He did understand a little the reasoning behind it, but he didn't think it was any good justification for not doing what was right when Harry Potter was such a do-good Gryffindor. Although... the more Severus spent time with Harry, the more he was starting to see that Harry was not a typical Gryffindor. Oh yes, he was stubborn, but there was a bit of snake in him. He wasn't just a one-dimensional griffin.
"Are you afraid?" Severus threw out as a way to engage Harry's ire.
Of course, Harry proved unpredictable. "I think you might enjoy a hot sake." Harry lifted his arm and a waiter immediately came to their table. "Two hot sakes, please."
So much for attaining a friendly favor tonight, Severus thought. He would have to try tomorrow and the next day and who knew how long Harry would remain obstinate?
A week later...
The Metropolitan Museum
There was a magical treasure or two Severus was tempted to spirit away when Harry took him to the museum. After all, it was not like Severus could afford a Sumerian pot for brewing relic potions. Severus doubted even Harry's purchasing power. The Sumerian pot was priceless. Severus was sure there were not more than five of brewing quality left in the world. It was unfortunate the process and the ingredient list had been lost.
"You look sad," Harry remarked.
Severus rolled his eyes. He was not sad. He was just... lamenting lost potion arts. "You look bored," he countered.
Harry smiled and said cheerfully, "I am bored."
Severus pinched the bridge of his nose. "Then why did you take me here?"
"I thought you might enjoy it."
Severus stared at Harry's back as he walked away. The boy was strange.
"You know what I'd really enjoy?" Severus shouted after Harry, drawing a few disapproving looks from ugly old biddies.
Harry look over his shoulder. His facial profile was becoming more attractive each day, much to Severus' alarm. "I'm afraid my answer is still the same."
Severus raised his eyebrow, asking implicitly, why?
Harry shrugged his shoulders. He didn't have an answer. Or he didn't want to give one. Either way Severus was just left with the same response day upon day. He wanted to strangle Harry on some days and others he wanted to do unspeakable things to him. Severus was personally disgusted with himself. He had always considered himself to be a petty man, but he had never thought he was a nasty one, too. His mum must be rolling in his grave, muttering obscenities.
Later that day...
Pigeons were vermin compared to owls. They were sorry birds with dowdy feathers and dumb eyes. They also allowed themselves to get so fat all they could do was waddle to escape from being stepped on by a careless human. Severus did not understand why Harry liked walking in the park, but he did. Severus was agreeable enough today to accompany him on his walk. It was nice enough, Severus supposed, if you liked that sort of thing.
There were too many people about for his own personal enjoyment, though. Severus preferred solitude and quiet. Central Park was anything but in the middle of the afternoon. There were children around, leading their parents around, and dogs of various sizes that liked to sniff at him. Severus hated dogs. They were loud and slobbered too much. Harry, of course, would crouch and pet them much to Severus' annoyance.
"You don't have to be here," Harry said randomly in the middle of the walk. Severus thought it was a bit late to mention that.
Severus shrugged. "I don't mind."
"Did you like the museum?" Harry had already asked this question twice before. It was only five o'clock, far too early for the boy's mind to be addled from fatigue.
"Why do you avoid magic?" Severus asked. He had been noticing for a while that Harry only used magic when it was absolutely necessary. What a waste of magical talent! If he had Harry's abilities, he'd be doing all sort of experiments to figure out what his limits were.
"I don't avoid it."
Severus snorted. They both knew what that wasn't true. "Don't lie."
"I use magic, how's that avoiding it?" Harry retorted.
"There's a distinct difference between using magic freely and using it sparingly." Severus paused. "Your magic usage is the latter."
"Why do you care?" Harry snapped, his green eyes were flashing wildly and Severus thought his eyes did rather look like the Killing Curse.
Severus shrugged. He didn't really care all too much about what was going through Harry's head in regard to magic. He thought it was a senseless waste of talent, but it was Harry's magic and it was his life. He could do whatever he wanted with it. But Severus suspected this avoidance of magic was an underlying reason why Harry refused to return to Hogwarts with him to retrieve the Pensieve. That did concern Severus.
Something occurred to Severus, though it seemed a tad preposterous, but considering what he knew and understood about Harry—it was plausible. "Why are you afraid?"
"What do you mean!" Harry shouted.
He was a little loud and he drew looks from the Muggles around them. Harry flushed and dragged a hand through his messy hair before he started walking faster. Severus found it easy enough to keep up as long as he lengthened his own stride.
Severus waited until they were in a different vicinity of the park to broach the matter again. "Are you afraid of your magic?"
Harry didn't answer. He kept on walking and Severus assumed he meant yes.
Severus had followed Harry to a French restaurant for dinner and had almost vomited when he had received his bill. He would be brewing for a week to pay that off his credit card. He was already in deep debt from his hotel bills, but those were expenses he had expected to pay. An extravagantly overpriced dinner at an opulent restaurant had not been on his list of necessary expenses. The dinner bill pained him. Severus rather thought Harry had deliberately chosen it just to rile him, except Harry had dug into his meal with such relish it was clear that he really liked the food there.
Severus had continued to tag Harry as he wandered the streets of New York City and persisted in ignoring him. Severus had never thought Harry would be good at this, but he was terrific at it. Severus was going crazy. He hated it when anyone avoided him. It was probably a leftover peeve from his school days at Hogwarts when he had been both scorned and ignored.
No matter how much Severus wanted to confront Harry, he waited until they got back to the penthouse. It would hardly do to make a scene in front of all these Muggles. Severus hated having to be careful about everything he did (not that he wasn't naturally careful already, having been a spy for so many years...) But he really couldn't afford to make any mistakes whatsoever, unless he wanted to be caught by the wizarding authorities and tried for crimes which he had purposely planned to escape.
He had not played this game of being a servant for both Voldemort and Albus to be condemned to the losing side. Severus Snape always won (even when it wasn't an obvious victory).
"We need to talk," Severus declared, only to get the door slammed into his face. Severus was not a quitter by any means and that was how Albus had gotten him to keep being a spy even when Severus was sure Voldemort was going to win. He might have, too, Severus thought, if he hadn't told Albus certain things that had kept the Light side going. "Potter!"
Harry opened the door and glared at him. "I thought I was Harry."
"Invite me inside," Severus said, knowing he couldn't get into the penthouse otherwise. "Harry..."
"Come in already," Harry said and stepped aside.
Severus quickly walked in before Harry might change his mind, not that Harry couldn't remove him if he wanted. Severus still didn't know how Harry did that so easily when he didn't really seem to do much magic at all. Severus was fairly certain Harry had invented a new spell...
"You are afraid of your own magic," Severus declared as he circled the living room. Harry was watching him from where he usually lounged on the couch. "Are you afraid of hurting people? That's preposterous. Do you think you could become another Voldemort? That's ridiculous. You're too disgustingly good, for all your stupidity. Maybe being good and stupid go together. Either way, you're better than anyone else I know and that includes Albus. Albus was too crafty. I can't believe he was a Gryffindor," Severus muttered. "He should have been sorted into Slytherin, but his propensity for foolish bravery was entirely suited to Gryffindor."
Silence didn't usually bother Severus, but he knew Harry. The boy never knew how to keep his tongue to himself. He always had something to say and with Severus, it was never agreeable. Severus expected Harry to deny all he said and bemoan that he was going through this crisis where he thought he might turn evil. Harry ended up doing no such thing. He stayed quiet. It bothered Severus a lot.
"Power isn't a bad thing," Severus said to say something. He didn't really know what he was going on about, but it sounded like something good to say. He just wanted Harry to stop lazing around and actually do something useful! He had invested years of his life into finding the boy and his reward was rather slow in coming. If Severus thought about (but he didn't because it would depress him), he had spent most of his life in servitude trying to get ahead and ended up now just wanting a normal, free life. He could have stayed in the background and been free if not for his stupid, foolish childhood ambitions. "Not if you use it well."
To say you could do a lot of good was too much of a cliché for even Severus to stomach and he had put up with a lot to be where he was now—standing here, very much alive. He had come too close to death a number of times to take life for granted now. Each day, as terrible as it might be, was still worth it. Severus might live plainly and rather boringly, but he liked the certainty of life than the vagueness of death. Albus might think death was the next great adventure—Severus personally thought he was a crazy old coot and that death was simply death. No breath, no thought. He would hate to give up using his mind.
"You always think you know everything," Harry remarked. "I'm not afraid of my magic. You have seen me use it, when it's useful. I don't see what the big deal with using magic and returning to the wizarding world is. I am rather happy where I am right now. I don't think you or Minerva or the rest of them ever thought about that."
"What?" Severus said because it was all he could think to say.
"Magic is nice," Harry said. "I don't deny it, but Muggles have been able to get around not having it perfectly fine. You told me you've lived as a Muggle for a while. You must know they get along with their lives just as well as wizards, if not better in some ways. Of course, they aren't perfect and neither are we.
"To be honest, I like the anonymity. Muggles don't think I'm anything special and it's nice to fade into the background and just be Harry Potter without all the Boy Who Lived shit hanging over my head wherever I go." Harry sat up and Severus braced himself, knowing exactly what was coming. "I'm nobody's hero anymore. Go ask someone else for help."
Severus was not surprise to find himself back in his hotel room, completely in the dark.
That same night...
The hotel room
Severus did not want to think about Harry when he was lying in his bed trying to sleep, but his thoughts kept maneuvering back to him. Severus personally thought what Harry had said was a load of shit, although if he were a bit more open-minded he might concede Harry had a point. What he didn't get was why Harry wanted anonymity. Severus would like to be famous for the right reasons (being a Death Eater and murderer of Albus Dumbledore being far from what he desired). Who wouldn't?
Harry Potter it seemed. Severus had decided a long time ago that he generally hated genuinely good people. Albus Dumbledore, fortunately, had not fallen entirely into that category. Yes, the old coot had come off as being a good wizard, but there were some tricks and agendas up his sleeve that did not have entirely clean motivations. Severus quite admired how Albus had worked the system until his death. That had just been a badly made move.
It rather irked Severus how Harry nearly always removed him from his penthouse through a translocation spell. He had no idea how Harry did it or even how Harry knew where to drop him off! Severus cursed loudly. Unless there was some automated spell back-weaved into the translocation one, but somehow Severus doubted Harry would have thought of that. Besides, Severus had felt the spell enough times to know it wasn't intricately worked as much as it was just sheer power. Harry knew what he was doing and where Severus was going. There was no way Harry would be able to get him back to his hotel room unless he knew beforehand that Severus was in New York City and where.
Severus was beginning to suspect he wasn't here merely to collect what he wanted anymore—he was being used. Minerva McGonagall! The cheek of that witch! She had probably told Harry he was there and was probably hoping he would get Harry to come back to Hogwarts, for what purpose he had no idea. He wanted to firecall her—even though the cost would be astronomical—but he did not have the option. His hotel room lacked a fireplace.
He didn't have an owl either. Owning creatures you had to feed and care for were bothersome, except in the few instances when they were useful. Oh cursed curiosity! He had the itch in him to demand answers and no resources to speak of in which to question. Life was so frustrating.
The next day...
Severus found it impossible to get into the penthouse through Apparition, so he did the only sensible thing he could do—apparate as close as possible—then try his luck physically. He banged on the door with his fists and screamed at Harry until his hands and voice were sore. Severus really hoped Harry didn't have a soundproofing charm on his penthouse, then his efforts would have been for nothing.
"POTTER," Severus shouted, "YOU OPEN THIS DOOR RIGHT NOW OR ELSE I'LL—"
Harry opened the door and tilted his head. "Do finish what you're saying."
"Don't you dare close that door!" Severus exclaimed. "And..." He was so relieved Harry had finally opened he door he couldn't remember what he was about to say. Probably something about doing unspeakable things to Harry's body. "I won't tolerate you ignoring me and my problem when you're the only one who can fix it. For all that you might have been a hero," Severus spat, "you're an incredibly selfish one. Have you ever thought about anyone besides yourself?"
"Have you?" Harry asked softly.
This was not about him! Severus did not like that this Harry could turn his words around and fire them back at him. Again Severus had to remind himself that as much as he might like to take his anger out at Harry, it would not be his best idea. It was a rather dumb one and if there was one thing Severus didn't like doing—it was making stupid mistakes.
"Why must you always be so selfish?"
Harry shrugged and poured Severus a whiskey. "Maybe because it feels nice to think about myself first for once."
Severus drained the glass and the alcohol burned going down. "As if you have much to snivel about. Try my wand on for a day and see how you like it."
"I doubt anyone would want to," Harry admitted wholeheartedly. "However, I'm under no obligation to help you."
Severus was about to sputter, but he controlled himself. "Not even for Albus' sake?"
"Especially not for him," Harry answered.
Severus was taken back. He had counted on bringing up Albus' name to work magic on the stubborn boy. After all, Harry had always been so willing to do what Albus had wanted without asking any questions. What Severus had really been betting on was that Harry had retained his instinctive need to be a good-doer. It was obviously the wrong assumption.
Would a bribe work on Harry? Severus scraped that idea as soon as soon as he thought of it. Even if he did have large quantities of money (which he didn't), there was no evidence Harry was in need of any funds. If anything, he could donate a lifetime of leisure for Severus and not even miss it.
"Life hates me," Severus grumbled, not even bothering to hide his excessive bitterness. "I finally do the right thing and I'm being punished."
Harry had the gall to laugh. "Were you good when you killed Albus?"
Severus could have lied, but considering Harry was very unlikely to help him—why bother? "Neither good or bad."
"Playing both sides," Harry murmured. "Albus was always so sure about you."
"So was Voldemort," Severus muttered.
Harry tilted his head. "You really didn't care either way, do you?"
"Why?" He sounded genuinely curious.
"Because either way I was at someone's beck and call."
"You didn't have to be..."
"Everyone makes stupid mistakes," Severus said, wondering why he was talking so much or why he was telling this to Harry Potter of all the people. Knowing Harry, bemoaning his life and its hardship might not be a bad idea. Maybe it would win him pity. Severus generally despised sympathy, but he had his exceptions. "I just happened to get myself into a situation where I had no choice but to get on my knees in servitude for someone. I was... foolish and young. I thought Voldemort would give me power and respect. I was delusional."
"And Albus gave you a way out?" Harry asked.
"He offered me redemption," Severus stated. "I wasn't interest in that, but he did promise me I'd walk away a free wizard if I spied for him. That was a safety net I couldn't refuse, and yet he gave you what I must have to clear my name."
"I don't care what his reasons were." Severus jabbed his finger into Harry's chest. "I did what was required of me and I will see that I receive my due. Do you understand?"
"Of course," Harry said.
"I've no intention of ever returning to Hogwarts."
"I've a question," Harry said. "Will you answer honestly?"
Severus nodded stiffly.
"Do you need the Pensieve to live your life happily?"
Severus slowly shook his head because it was true, he didn't. It might even make his life more miserable, to have to live in the wizarding world, constantly being pointed at and whispered about—the one who got away. Severus already knew the contents within the Pensieve would not lift him to hero status or garner him an Order of Merlin, but it would buy him freedom to conduct himself in public. Did he even want that?
"But you want it anyway," Harry remarked.
That was an unnecessary and redundant thing to say. There was no question of him wanting the Pensieve, even when Severus would fully admit he didn't need it. He had survived quite well in the Muggle world thus far and could do it for rest of his life if he must. He didn't know if he liked living as a Muggle, but it wasn't half-bad. There was one convenience he would like back, though. The ability to buy extremely rare and expensive potion ingredients legitimately. The black market was ridiculously overpriced and the quality was generally uneven.
"Wouldn't you?" Severus said sharply.
"I don't know." Harry looked toward the window at the gloomy sky. "Probably."
Severus took a deep breath very carefully and asked, "Will you help me?"
Harry sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. "I really hate Albus."
An Italian restaurant
"Are we in agreement then?" Severus asked. He had dug even deeper into his wallet to take Harry to a nice dinner. From the looks of the place, it was going to cost him a very pretty penny. Severus just hoped the food was worth half the price. He didn't like restaurants that were all about presentation and had completely mediocre food.
"I don't think you'e leaving me much of a choice," Harry said dryly as he perused the menu. "What are you thinking about getting?"
"Does it matter?"
"Well," Harry remarked, "I don't want to order the same dish as you."
Severus looked up from his menu and raised an eyebrow.
"That way we could share." Harry shrugged. "I like trying new things."
"Always the adventurous one, aren't you?"
The waiter arrived then with the house wine Severus had ordered earlier. He poured a small amount into a sample glass and handed it to Severus. Severus sipped the wine and let it settle on his tongue before he swallowed. It was a pleasant, if dry white wine. Severus nodded at the waiter and he began to pour the wine into the glasses with all the finesse of a person who had been trained to do exactly that and Severus had no qualms about his performance. When he was done, the waiter left the wine bottle in the ice bucket and said, "Are you gentlemen ready to order?"
"I'll have this," Severus said, pointing to the pasta with tomato, basil, mushrooms, and onions.
"And you, sir?" the waiter asked, turning to Harry.
Harry looked up at Severus and raised his eyebrow. Severus rolled his eyes and said, "I ordered the second item."
Harry smiled and Severus felt something tingle inside. "I'll have this then."
Severus had no idea what Harry had ordered and he really didn't care. For once, he wasn't thinking about the money.
New York City sidewalks
They were walking somewhere. Severus had no idea what direction they were going and he didn't feel compelled to ask Harry either. He liked walking besides Harry, talking about random things, since he no longer had an agenda in mind. He was relaxed. He knew he was going to be a free wizard soon and there was nothing he needed to accomplish anymore. It had taken him a long, long time to get to this point, but he was there.
"How did you know I was here?" Severus asked. "Did Minerva tell you?"
"How could she?" Harry said. "I haven't talked to her in years."
"Then how did you do the translocation spell?"
"It's quite easy, you know. All you have to do is use your magic to thrust someone back to where they belong," Harry remarked. "I thought it would transport you back to London, but it seems it didn't work."
"You kept sending me back to my hotel room."
"Did I?" Harry looked thoughtful and Severus thought he looked good. "I don't know then. Maybe I didn't use enough magic to send you back to where you truly belong."
Or maybe Severus was where he was supposed to be, but he would not let his mind rest on that preposterous possibility. "What do you do?" Severus asked, realizing they never really talked about Harry.
"This and that."
"Charity work, mainly," Harry said. "Mostly orphanages. It suits me."
Severus laughed. "Can't be bothered to be a hero in the wizarding world and yet you're doing good works for Muggles. Can't ever seem to get away from doing 'great things,' can you?"
"I could do more." Harry shrugged. "But I don't."
"Everyone heaps too much expectations on you."
"It's to be expected." That Harry didn't seem particularly bitter about this which confused Severus, especially when he considered the reasoning why Harry wanted nothing to do with the wizarding world anymore. Merlin, the boy was confounding.
"I don't get it."
"What?" Harry asked.
"Why Muggles and not wizards?" Severus grabbed Harry's shoulder and stopped him from walking any further, forced him to look him in the eye. "Why do you avoid the wizarding world?"
Harry smiled. "I like being just a normal Harry Potter."
Severus didn't know why he bothered asking. Harry never made any sense. "When can you leave?" Severus asked. "I need to make preparations to secure our spot."
"Soon." Harry brushed some lint off Severus' coat. "I promise."
Severus supposed Harry's promise was as good of a sure thing as he was going to get. His stomach didn't feel too good. Promises, for him, had never really come out the way they were meant to. But Severus had no choice but to believe in Harry and hope.
A night later...
"We can leave in a day or two," Harry remarked after dinner. He had actually gone grocery shopping and cooked for Severus. It had been a surprisingly enjoyable meal, considering the firsthand experience Severus had had with Harry's potion brewing abilities. Although cooking ability and potions didn't precisely correlate. It was possible to be good at cooking and bad at brewing. Harry was obviously one of those cases.
Severus grunted and took a sip of the red wine. It was expensive and appropriately good. "How was your day?"
"It was good as it usually is," Harry said, smiling. "There's this one girl who's entirely too adorable for her own good. I think she'll get adopted pretty soon and she deserves it. She's a darling."
"That's good," Severus responded for the lack of anything better and he didn't think a grunt this time would be an acceptable reply. "I never quite imagined you being a child person."
Harry tilted his head. "Why not?"
"You seem more the type who would go off to do something more adventurous and foolhardy," Severus said dryly. "You don't seem to be the mothering type."
"I suppose I've changed."
Severus wouldn't argue with that statement. Harry had changed and for the better. Severus would say Harry was still essentially himself, just more mature and less hormone driven. Five years was a long time, especially when you were young. Even a year was a long time. Severus knew he had changed greatly during that period of his life. Why should Harry be any different?
Their situations were different yet somehow not.
"What is happiness?" Harry asked quite randomly as he leaned against the railing of his balcony which had a magnificent view of Central Park and the city skyline.
Severus hardly knew how to answer the question, so he didn't bother.
It was the first time Harry had said his name. Severus looked at Harry with the city lights bouncing off his dark brown hair, glittering in his green eyes. "I'm not a person you should ask." Maybe that would keep Harry from persisting. It was a vain hope.
"Do you think happiness is all a mindset?" Harry turned toward him and Severus glanced away.
"I think it has more to do with freedom." At least, with him, it did. "Freedom to choose what you want and what to do."
"It's just what matters to you, I suppose," Harry remarked. "I'm pretty happy right now." He paused. "Are you?"
"I'm not unhappy," Severus stated. "I'll be happier when I get the Pensieve."
Severus didn't like Harry's tone. It sounded like Harry didn't believe him. What did Harry know about what would make him happy? Harry didn't know anything about him and that was the way it should stay.
Lunch the next day...
A French Bistro
He didn't know anyone other than Harry in New York City and it was the only reason why Severus joined Harry at noon for food most days. It didn't hurt that Harry paid every time either. Severus normally didn't like to owe people something, but he was running dangerously low in his savings from the amount of time he had spent trying to wear Harry down. It wasn't that this city was expensive, it was cheaper than London from a monetary exchange viewpoint, but the problem was Severus kept spending money without earning any. Hence, Severus was perfectly willing to let Harry buy him lunch without any remotely guilty feeling. It was Harry's fault, if you thought about it. Severus was supposed to be in one day and out the next. But no, it had ended up being nearly a month.
"The baguettes are good," Harry commented, looking up at the menu plastered to the wall. "Do you know what you want?"
"Of course not," Severus said sharply. "I haven't even had the chance to look at the menu yet."
"Being rude to the one who's treating you," Harry chirped cheerfully much to Severus' annoyance, "that's exactly what's expected. I wonder..." Harry tilted his head. "Do you enjoy being predictable?"
Severus didn't think being predictable was a bad thing, although he wouldn't personally have described himself that way. It annoyed him the way Harry said it made it sound like a fault of personality. What was so wrong with being predictable? It was a good and reliable trait! Severus crossed his arms over his chest and said, "I'll have the chicken salad baguette."
Harry nodded and turned to the server who had her notepad ready to take their orders. "One chicken salad baguette and one ham and cheese baguette. Two iced teas please."
Severus didn't like the way the girl was smiling at Harry. It was fake and ugly. But Harry, being Harry, just had to smile back at her. He probably thought she was nice. Severus didn't like women in general, but girls were worse. They weren't mentally mature and they were horrendous creatures. Severus was quite relieved when Harry paid the bill and they walked over to another area of the restaurant to wait for their order to come out.
"Made another fan already," Severus muttered as Harry got some napkins. "You probably don't have a problem screwing around." Severus didn't know why he was being so biting all of a sudden. This was worse than he normally got, but Harry did seem to bring out the worst then and now.
"Can we not talk about this here?" Harry said with an edge, his entire body seeming to tighten like a too tightly coiled spring.
Severus glanced down at Harry, surprised. Harry didn't usually get defensive when he got critical. "I didn't mean to offend," well not that much, Severus amended silently, "but you do have to admit as a heterosexual, it is easier to partake in certain activities." Severus pursed his lips together. Why had he just said that?!
When Harry's body relaxed, Severus supposed that was the reason. He was a bit disgusted in himself, but soon it would be over and he would be rid of Harry's presence for good. He must remember not to offend Harry, not when he still needed him. Yes, he had gotten the promise. It didn't mean things were set in stone, even if Harry was a Gryffindor. He could still go back on his word. Severus wasn't safe until the Pensieve was in his hands.
"I see," Harry said and Severus had no idea when he had gotten the baguettes, but they were there in his hands. "Do you want to sit outside or inside?"
Severus gave Harry a look and Harry gestured to a table near the back of the restaurant in a more isolated corner than the rest of the place. Severus took his baguette from Harry's hand and unwrapped it. He opened it up and peeked inside, hoping it looked as good as it smelled. That seemed a likely sign. Severus took a small bite and chewed thoughtfully.
"Well?" Harry asked.
Severus nodded. "Good."
"Good," Harry said for some inane repetitious reason.
Severus took his time to eat, enjoying his baguette, which reminded him of the ones he had had in Paris. Harry ate faster, but he wasn't quite wolfing it down like a teenage boy. Then again, he was past that. Harry was much older, in his late twenties now. How time did pass. Severus was beginning to feel old.
"You're wrong you know," Harry said randomly.
Severus had no idea what he was talking about... then he choked. Harry couldn't possibly, could he?
"When did you know?"
Severus was resting on Harry's couch staring up at the blank white ceiling. Severus couldn't decide if he liked the bare minimalism. He didn't even know if Harry had really intended to design his place like this or just hadn't finished decorating yet. Still it was a nice penthouse and certainly looked a lot better than his flat.
"Severus?" Harry asked.
"I knew at Hogwarts," Severus said, hoping that would satisfy Harry's curiosity and he would let the subject rest.
Severus sighed and reminded himself that Gryffindors were naturally nosy. "Third or fourth year."
"I didn't know until 7th year." Harry sounded awkward and it was cute. Severus groaned. He didn't understand why he had to see Harry in a positive light when the boy used to be the bane of his existence. Severus wished life could be more consistent at times.
"Is that all you wished to talk of?" Severus asked sharply.
He sat up and started to stand when Harry placed his hand on his shoulder. "Is it so bad to want some company, sometime? Especially with a friend?"
No, it wasn't—Severus missed Albus because he didn't really have anyone he could talk freely to anymore—except there was one important fact Harry was missing. "We aren't friends and we won't ever be."
Severus hadn't meant that to say that. When he thought he heard Harry whisper something that sounded an awfully lot like I wish things could be different, Severus felt something like regret, but that wasn't possible. He was a cruel and mean wizard and he didn't care about the feelings of others! So what did he feel guilty? Severus decided it had to be his imagination because when Harry did speak he said stiffly, "I'm sorry to impose myself on you." Harry didn't sound hurt, but he wasn't as transparent now as he had been as a child. Severus couldn't see Harry's face at all. Harry had turned his back to him. "I'm tired. You should leave."
"I'll meet you tomorrow here at 9 o'clock sharp," Severus said before he apparated out of Harry's penthouse.
The next morning...
JFK International Airport
"Boxers or briefs?" Harry asked with complete randomness as they walked to the toilet stalls designated for their departure. Severus had been slightly concerned Harry would be offended by his remark yesterday about them not being friends, but Harry seemed fine—absolutely fine. That was good. Severus didn't understand why Harry would even want to be friends with him. There was no other motivation. It wasn't like Severus could do anything for him.
"You're impossible," Severus said and pushed Harry into one of the stalls before taking the other one. "I assume you know how this goes?"
"You haven't answered my question."
Severus sighed with much exasperation. "Briefs."
"Boxers," Harry said and flushed the toilet. "See you there!"
Severus flushed his toilet and followed right behind.
The same morning...
"Green or black?" Harry asked. He sounded absolutely fine and Severus felt completely nauseated.
Harry opened his stall door and popped his head in just when the contents of Severus' stomach decided that now would be the appropriate time to remove themselves. Severus was embarrassed and pathetically grateful when Harry grabbed him by the hair and kept his head steady as he heaved his breakfast and a good deal of bile out.
"All right?" Harry was stronger than his slender build suggested when he was quite able to lift Severus up so he could use him as a wall. "Would you like a cup of tea?"
Severus shook his head. He didn't even have the energy to snap at Harry for making such a ridiculous suggestion after he had just thrown up. His stomach still felt bad, but not nearly as much as it had before. Severus normally would be alarmed at showing any sign of weakness to anyone, except it was all right in front of Harry. Harry might not be the heroof the wizarding world anymore, but he still had a very good heart. He just hid it a bit more carefully so people couldn't take advantage of him. That was smart.
"I hate you," Severus said because it sounded like something he would say.
Harry could be smiling for all Severus knew (considering he was still staring the toilet bowl in the eye) when he said, "I know."
Severus threw up one last time into the toilet for good measure.
Later that day...
Minerva was awaiting their arrival at the entrance of Hogwarts with a welcoming smile that looked an awfully lot like Albus' on her face. At least her eyes did not have the same persistent twinkle. Nor did she say something strange as a greeting that Albus would have. Instead she crossed her arms over her chest and said, "I've been expecting you two. Follow me."
She turned around and Harry glanced at Severus. Severus raised his eyebrow and gestured for Harry to go on in. Harry shrugged and went ahead. Severus took a deep breath and followed behind Harry. They walked down the main hall and then took several winding turns, climbing a few stairwells before they finally reached the Headmaster's Office. Well, Headmistress', Severus corrected himself as he inclined his head toward Minerva when she opened the door and motioned for them to go ahead.
"Feel free to look around," Minerva said. "I have no idea where Albus would have kept his personal things."
"It's on the bottom shelf of that bookcase." Harry pointed at what he was talking about. "Don't you see it?"
Minerva shook her head and Severus said with much exasperation, "Of course we can't, you imbecile! Why else would I ask you to come here if I could find it for myself? Don't you think I know what a Pensieve looks like?"
Harry rolled his eyes with enough exaggeration that Severus knew it was on purpose. "How do I allow you to see it then?"
"You declare something along the lines of, I, Harry Potter, Albus Dumbledore's heir, relinquish possession of this Pensieve to Severus Snape." Severus was annoyed Harry lacked even basic knowledge of wizarding traditions. He was so... banal.
"I, Harry Potter," Harry said with an almost mocking tone, "do declare as Albus Dumbledore's heir, this Pensieve should belong to Severus Snape."
Of course, Harry wouldn't follow his wording. Severus pinched the bridge of his nose. Harry always had to do things his way. Didn't he realize by now that his way wasn't always the best? Severus thought Harry had learned this by now, with all the maturity he seemed to have, but it seemed Harry really was very much still that Harry. Severus didn't know if he was disappointed or relieved. It wasn't like he was obligated to be nice to Harry anymore now that he'd gotten what he wanted. No more pretense of conversing as friends any long. He was free.
Severus knelt down and carefully picked up the Pensieve. The contents were swirling a beautiful dark silver and Severus could already see the memory he wanted, where Albus had ordered him to kill him to fulfill the Unbreakable Vow he had made to Narcissa Malfoy. It was better in the long run. He would have concrete proof of his loyalty to Voldemort and then Albus' own death wouldn't go to waste since he was already poisoned and dying.
Once he submitted this particular memory in the Pensieve with a few select others to the Aurors, his name would be cleared and he would be able to walk in wizarding society as a free wizard. He would still be pointed at, he knew, but there wasn't anything anyone could say that could hurt him anymore. Severus had already heard it all.
"I know you don't like children," Minerva said suddenly, catching Severus' attention. "But I don't believe anyone is more qualified than you to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts."
Severus had been expecting her to say Potions. He almost dropped his jaw. It had been the position he had coveted ever since he had first begun teaching at Hogwarts. Now to finally get the chance, he would do it—even if it meant dealing with unruly brats.
"You don't need to give me your answer now," Minerva continued. "You can think about it until summer break, but I'll need your answer by then."
Severus nodded, not inclined to tell her immediately that he would take the job. He didn't need her to think he was desperate. It was always best to hold the upper hand in such things, even this—this dream come true. Maybe if he held out long enough, he could extract a larger salary from her. Money did matter, dream or no dream. Severus was a realist and he wasn't going to be suckered into something that didn't pay decently even if it was what he would like to be doing. It wasn't like he was always going to want to teach (or willing) and being able to put aside a sum for his later years was imperative.
"I guess I'll be going," Harry said softly. "Now that you've got what you wanted."
Severus didn't even get a chance to thank Harry. He had already disappeared. Severus just looked at Minerva and they both looked at the spot where Harry had been. It was impossible, impossible to apparate in or out of Hogwarts. Impossible!
Harry Potter was the obvious exception.
A month later...
Goodbye to Muggles and their noisy lifestyle. Severus was more than ready to go back to the wizarding world, especially Hogwarts. It was unfortunate the school year wasn't up yet. It would be soon and Minerva had already written back and said that he was perfectly welcome to stay at the castle during summer break as he normally did. Severus was already looking forward to being back at his... home. Hogwarts was just that, although it had taken him an extended leave of absence for him to realize it. Severus looked around at his empty flat.
He had sold most of his belongings and what he hadn't been able to, he had given away to a shelter nearby. Severus knew he'd missed watching his soaps on the telly, but he missed being able to do magical freely much more. He wasn't cut out for the Muggle world. He was a wizard and he belonged in that society. Severus didn't understand why Harry chose Muggles over his own kind. It didn't make sense.
Severus sometimes wondered what Harry was doing. He hadn't seen or spoken to Harry since he had retrieved the Pensieve. He had almost been tempted to write a thank you note to Harry, but dismissed the idea as ridiculous and unnecessary. Why should he thank Harry for something he should have been done years ago?
Severus clutched his wand and pictured the alleyway to Diagon Alley and apparated.
During the School Year
To Mr. Potter,
I do not know why I am writing this letter to your person, but it is time I thank you for retrieving the Pensieve for me. Hogwarts is much the same as it used to be under Albus Dumbledore's guidance. You will find, if you come for a short visit, Minerva to be an excellent Headmistress. The students seem to be acquitting themselves admirably under her, though their studies still seem to be an abomination.
To Mr. Potter,
I do not understand why simple defense spells are such a hardship for these students to learn! They are not challenging in the least. I suspect even you would be capable of learning this quite easily on the first go. I thought when I taught Potions that the students were incompetent simply because most students did not enjoy Potions. I see that is not the reason behind it at all.
I do hope you know Minerva mentions your name quite often and wonders if you might send her an owl. Do try and be polite, for once.
To Mr. Potter,
I hope you know it is sincerely rude not to return any of the owls sent to you. I know you have not had much of the chance to learn manners from a proper wizarding family, but I know Muggles have a similar tradition in their culture. You have no excuse. I expect a letter about your well-being sent to me posthaste.
The students, as you have already heard, are idiots. No matter what I teach, they do not understand—not even the simplest concepts! I am beginning to think that each generation is getting exceedingly stupider.
To Mr. Potter,
It has been over two months and I have been patiently awaiting your reply! I think you must be a severely untutored young man and I have no idea why I initially enjoyed your company! If you are still offended by my remarks of "we won't ever be friends." Do get over that. It is not mature of you to dwell on something said so long ago.
A year later...
Children were such troublesome creatures. How could he have forgotten? Obviously, he had or else he would not have agreed to come back and teach Defense Against the Dark Arts. His job might be worthwhile if any of them showed some talent in Defense, but no—his students were all dunderheads. Minerva kept telling him to go easier on his students. Like that would help. His material wasn't hard, his students were just mentally deficient.
"Severus," Minerva said as she walked into his classroom, "the results of the OWLs and NEWTs are out."
Severus didn't bother looking up from the textbook he had been considering for next year's 7th years. It hardly helped that the books available for Defense were trash. Severus had briefly thought about coming up with his own packet of study material for his students, but that would be far too much work. The scroll he had put together for their end of year exams was already a lot of work and he had other interests aside from teaching dumb children.
"Your results were excellent," Minerva said. "The best results in years." She shrugged. "Teach as you'd like, though I would like you to think about my suggestions."
Why should he even bother now that his results were in? He would keep teaching his own way and he wouldn't concern himself with what others thought. Their opinions were useless anyways. After all, hadn't the wizarding world always said he was an atrocious wizard without a good quality to him and he had been manipulating and cheating Albus Dumbledore all these years? They were wrong. And he didn't care what they had to say, not in the least (except a small part of him... did).
He looked up. "Yes?"
"Do keep up the good work," she said with a smile and turned to walk out of his office. Some peace, finally! Minerva had to pause at his door, though. She looked back over her shoulder. "It seems we've gotten rid of Tom Riddle's curse. Ironic, no?"
"Must you pester me?" Severus grumbled.
Minerva laughed and left him alone. He returned to the textbook he was perusing, her words still echoing in his ears. It was a little ironic that he, Severus Snape, had broken the curse. It would be even more ironic if it were Harry Potter.
Severus shut the textbook and buried his face into his hands. He missed the brat somewhat. Enough to wonder what might have happened if he hadn't thrown the idea of being friends back at Harry's face. Maybe then Harry would write back.
There was a stack of old lesson plans on his desk, but Severus didn't like to look at them. Even though he wouldn't need to create lessons from scratch anymore, it didn't mean the coming school year was going to be easy. Looking through the NEWTs and OWLs, Severus might have prepared his students well, but not well enough. He could still do better as a professor, but he didn't know if he wanted to anymore. He thought knowing he had done better than the other Defense professors would have lifted his spirits and make him want to teach something to the dunderheads, except he found he simply didn't care that much. It made him feel good, ego-wise, but other than that, it didn't mean anything.
He was also a bit sick of the wizarding world. Fingers were still pointed at him and voices were whispered behind his back about how he is a Death Eater! Wrong tense, he thought. It should be was. Severus didn't think it would matter what other people thought of him, but he was wrong. He did care, very much in fact and it was all he could do to ignore those damnable people and continue walking through Hogsmeade like he didn't care.
Severus turned to his window quickly when he heard an insistent beak tapping. It was a snowy white owl that looked like Harry Potter's owl, Hedwig. But it couldn't be Hedwig. Why would Harry bother sending him an owl now, after all this time?
Severus opened the window with a wave of his wand and the owl hopped in and extended her leg. Severus untied her scroll and he didn't even have time to open the note when the owl jumped out the window. He watched her snowy white form soar through the air, higher and higher, until she disappeared—blending into the fluffy clouds floating in the sky. It was a lovely day.
Are you happy?
That was all. Three words and no signature. Severus didn't know who it was from, but he had an idea. It was about bloody time.
A month later...
New York City
The city was much the same as Severus remembered—crowded, noisy, and dirty. He did not dislike it, which came as a surprise to him. Given enough time, Severus supposed, he would grow to hate the city again, but its throbbing noise was not as annoying as the chattering of whiny students. Severus walked up the stairs from the subway station closest to Harry's penthouse. In three short blocks, he was there.
Severus looked up and paused to take in the sight of the building before he marched forward and opened the door before the doorman could. He went straight up to the same muggle sitting behind the desk and said, "Harry Potter is expecting me."
"Your name?" the Muggle said.
The Muggle looked down at the piece of paper, no doubt a list of who was allowed to go up the buildings the proper way today. Severus knew his name was unlikely to be on the list, but he knew it was possible—considering the owl he had received. Actually it would only be proper if his name was on the guest list. Although knowing Harry, he would be remiss in his duty as host and would forget to tell the concierge to include the name. Severus clenched his fist and waited.
"You may go up," the Muggle said, gesturing to the right. "Take the elevators to the penthouse, Mr. Snape."
Severus liked the Muggle a tad more than he had when he had met him before, probably because he was getting what he wanted. Severus had, of course, been on an elevator or two in London, but the elevators there hadn't been anywhere this luxurious. There was actually a man sitting in the elevator on a plush red stool, who stood up and motioned for him to enter.
The man asked, "Which floor?"
What a waste of money, Severus thought as he watched the man push the button that would move the elevator car up to the penthouse. He wasn't handicapped. He was perfectly able of pushing a button himself. Americans really did know how to waste money. Severus snorted and didn't even acknowledge the elevator man when he reached the top floor. He simply walked out and right into Harry's penthouse.
It was different, yet familiar. There were black and white photos on one wall. They were pictures of Severus in various poses, in Central Park, wandering the streets, in his hotel room, and various other places. Had Harry stalked him?
"No," Harry said softly into his ear and Severus whirled around. "I paid a private investigator to follow you around when you first came to see me. I wasn't sure what you wanted and I wanted to be careful."
Severus grunted. It wasn't unreasonable or surprising that Harry had not trusted him. Severus just didn't know what to say about the photos of him on the wall. Did they mean something? What a stupid question. Of course, they meant something. But what, exactly? And if they were what Severus thought they might be, did he even want that? Yes, he had come to New York City, but it wasn't for that reason! He was only here to make a visit to Harry, as courtesy required.
"Are you happy?" Harry asked.
Severus looked away from the wall of pictures and at Harry. "What do you think?"
"I don't want to presume."
Severus rolled his eyes. "I asked a question; therefore, you should answer."
Harry raised an eyebrow and it reminded Severus of something he did. "Should I? Then should you not answer mine?"
Severus was effectively trapped. He had been caught off guard by Harry and now he could hardly retract what he had said. Severus gave Harry a mental toast on a well-timed, well-phrased, well-aimed rhetoric. "I suppose I should answer you." Severus paused. "I'm not happy."
"Was that so hard?"
Of course it was. Did he look like the type of person who told everybody how he was feeling? Severus was beginning to think Harry still had a lot of mental growing up to do, even though physical he was quite where he was supposed to be. Severus cursed softly when his eyes kept roaming back to Harry's slim, yet fit form. The boy was attractive.
"Why aren't you happy?"
Severus couldn't keep the irritation out of his voice when he said, "How would I know?"
"Who else would?" Harry asked in a perfectly logical manner. It didn't help Severus' mood that he happened to state something reasonable.
"I don't know!" Severus exclaimed. "I don't know. I don't know..."
And he didn't know. He thought being free would make him happy. He had pursued a missing Harry, following every lead, in hopes of finding the boy and claiming the Pensieve. He had finally located Harry in New York City (with help from Minerva) and it had taken much persuasion on his part to convince the boy to return to Hogwarts. The effort had been worth it in the end when he had possession of the Pensieve and cleared his name. He was a free wizard, no taint of revile to his name, and he had gotten a job he had most yearned for... Professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts.
Severus knew, he knew, he would really escape the whispers and gossiping about his past, but he didn't think he would care. It had surprised him that he did care and it had also surprised him that once he was the Defense professor, he had hated it. He had wanted it so badly when he was a Potions professor, but after teaching one year, he had given up. Children were stupid idiots and most of them would grow up to be ignorant results. Teaching another subject hadn't helped. He should have stuck to being a Potions master in his Muggle flat in London, selling out his trade to the black market. He had enjoyed life more then than he did now.
He guessed it was true... wizards always want what they can't have. Severus hated that he was somewhat the same as Voldemort and many other wizards he would like nothing more to do with. He didn't understand. He was a very smart wizard. He ought to know the answer to such a simple question. But he didn't know. What was his happiness?
"I suppose," Harry said, after a few minutes of silence, "I should be blunt."
Severus looked up. "By all means," he muttered with a little touch of sarcasm.
Harry took a deep breath. "Would you be happy here... with me?"
How was he supposed to answer that? Severus just stared at Harry, wondering.
"You don't have to give me your answer right away. It's just a silly thought that came to my head. I don't know what I was thinking," Harry babbled. "I'm just happy to see you again and it might be nice if you stayed in New York for a while. There's a lot to do here and I don't think you got to see the wizarding wards here. They're pretty amazing and it's easy to blend in with the crowd. So many different kinds of wizards here. Um..." his voice trailed off and Severus found it amusing how childish Harry sounded. It was endearing. "Consider it your well-deserved vacation."
Severus was thinking quickly about what he should say. It wasn't like he had anything in England to tie him down anymore. Sure he had a few very old and expensive books and such, but he knew there were plenty of drafty closets to store his things in until he returned. There was no reason to reject Harry's generous offer of a vacation. He certainly did deserve it after all the shit he had put up with. The only reason he should reject his offer was the unspoken reason behind it. Harry liked him. Severus was sure enough of this to gander that Harry liked him as more than a friend. Severus didn't understand it. Why would Harry want him?
But he did. Severus gave Harry a quick look over and wondered why such an attractive young man would want him. It made Severus want to scratch his head, except he didn't do things like that. Then again Severus had no other explanation for why Harry would be offering him a vacation in New York City or asking if it would make him happy to here with him. Severus wasn't stupid or oblivious. Harry was just strange.
"I assume all expenses are paid for?" he asked for the lack of anything better to say.
"Of course!" Harry exclaimed. "Will you be staying then? I have a guest room. I don't know if I ever showed it to you. Maybe you've seen it yourself when I wasn't here. That should be okay? If you're uncomfortable, I can get you a hotel room."
Severus was amused at Harry's continued anxieties. After all, Harry had sounded so confident when he had sent him the owl with the question Are you happy? Severus had expected Harry to know exactly what he was getting into, but he seemed very unsure of himself. It was better this way for Severus. He had control and that was exactly what Severus liked.
"Your guest room will be fine," Severus said.
Harry smiled in such an awkward and charming way. Severus didn't bother trying to look like he wasn't looking. He openly stared at Harry until he forced Harry to look away. Yes, that was much better. Severus was going to like this vacationing thing.
Three weeks later...
The 5th Wizarding Ward
Severus had decided New York City had a few things that were adequate about it. The 5th ward was pretty incredible for the amount of illicit potion ingredients you could get of such a good quality. Severus felt like every time he stepped into the ward he had to be careful or else he'd spend his entire savings on rare items. While he didn't have that many qualms about using Harry's generosity, he did have his limits to what he considered proper. Setting up a potions laboratory in Harry's other guest room was all right, allowing Harry to buy him every single exorbitant costing ingredient was not.
Severus glanced at Harry, who was looking at some frog legs with distracted fascination. Severus knew Harry didn't particularly find the 5th ward fascinating, but he still accompanied Severus here when he went on the weekends. It was rather companionable of him, especially when he was willing to carry what Severus bought so that Severus had the free hands in which to browse. Severus wouldn't admit to liking Harry around (he still told the boy they were not friends), but he would acknowledge to himself that having Harry around wasn't so bad.
"Don't you need some rhino eyes?" Harry asked, holding up a jar of the large and dark eyes. Harry smiled in a manner Severus knew was mischievous. "I don't remember which potion it's for, but I do hope it's not for anything perverse."
For all Harry's initial anxieties, he had reverted back to his mature and slightly sarcastic self within the week. Severus was glad. He liked this new Harry a lot more than the stubborn, young boy he had remembered Harry as. Another change Severus liked that he only happened to recognize recently was how nice it was to exchange conversation with Harry. It turned out Harry knew quite a bit about a lot of different things. What puzzled Severus was why Harry didn't socialize with anyone else. At least, Severus had never seen Harry with anyone but himself and Harry really didn't talk about others, except for the children at the orphanage. As much delight as Harry took in his charity work, chatting with children was hardly intellectually stimulating. Severus sneered and the wizard behind the counter quickly came up to him and asked, "Are the leech seeds not to your liking?"
Severus muttered they were fine and to give him a pound of them. The wizard gave him a look and glanced over his shoulder, obviously looking at Harry. Harry might be wearing a glamour, but there was still something about him that caught people's attention. Severus slammed his coins on the counter and grabbed his bag of leech seeds. He turned around and grabbed Harry's arm and promptly marched them out of that store.
Was it his imagination or had that wizard been checking Harry out?
Later that afternoon...
Walking around, doing nothing, talking with Harry was one of the better moments of the week. It happened fairly often and that kept Severus in a tolerable mood when he was waiting for Harry to return from his charity work. Severus wouldn't mind if Harry quit volunteering in favor of staying at home and assisting him with his research, but he knew Harry liked what he was doing. Severus could endure this, especially since Harry only worked part of the day. The rest was his.
"I never thought about combining the ideas of defense and potions together," Harry admitted. "But when I think about it, potions incorporates a lot of principles from other magical disciplines."
"You never did think much when you were younger," Severus remarked without any hint of derision. "You've gotten much better nowadays."
"A compliment from Severus Snape," Harry said, looking over at him with such green eyes. "I should treasure this."
"Don't joke," Severus snapped. Harry still could irritate him, just in another manner Severus didn't like to think too carefully about.
Harry grabbed him by the elbow before Severus could walk away. "I'm serious."
Severus looked back. "Do you know what you're getting yourself into?" Severus quickly pursed his lips together after he said that. Why had he said that? This friendship thing, he was only getting used to! Maybe Harry would misunderstand him. Maybe Harry would be oblivious.
"I'm not stupid," Harry replied, keeping his eyes firmly fixed on Severus'. "I know what I'm doing."
"You must be a fool," Severus muttered. "Or a complete Gryffindor."
"Maybe," Harry said as he took a step toward Severus. "Is it so bad I'd like to try to be happy with you?"
"Why, you crazy idiot?"
"Because... I'm a fool and a Gryffindor." Harry kissed him right there, in front of children and parents, in Central Park. That was how Severus knew Harry was serious.
A month later...
Severus was sure on most days that he understood everything about Harry, but there were certain days that were the exception. Today was one of them. Harry was acting bizarre. Instead of sitting down at the table and eating the fine breakfast Severus had thoughtfully prepared for him, Harry had dumped the contents of it into a bag and said he'd eat it on the subway as he headed to work. Then Harry had proceeded to ignore him when he had argued himself into calling his cellphone. This was starting to get ridiculous as Severus listened to the four rings before it headed toward Harry's voicemail. Severus hung up.
There was no way he was leaving a voicemail, not after he'd already left one. Severus glared at the clock. It was only 1. He at least three hours to wait until Harry would be back from his volunteer work at whichever orphanage he was at today. Severus didn't really bother trying to memorize the schedule, since Harry was more freelance than regular. The orphanages called whenever they needed him and they did seem to need him a lot more this past week than they had a few weeks ago. Maybe it was just his mind playing tricks on him, maybe it was because he just liked having Harry around.
Severus scowled and wandered back into the room Harry had converted into a makeshift laboratory for him. It was not sufficient for most of the potions Severus wanted to brew, but it wasn't a bad work area. He would need to upgrade it sometime, if he decided to stay. He still wasn't sure about this relationship thing, though he did like the kissing and the touching and the sex.
The sex was hot. Severus' mind went to pudding when he thought about fucking Harry and Harry fucking him. It was getting him hard just thinking about it. Had it only been a week when they had started having sex? It seemed like it had only been yesterday they were getting into bed together.
Severus glared at the wall where someone was making a whole lot of noises they shouldn't be. Harry had said something about maintenance work. Severus found it was highly aggravating and he hoped they finished it soon. It did seem the noise level had tapered down quite a bit since earlier this week, but there was still enough of a racket to give Severus a headache. He might as well nap until Harry got back.
Lucky for him, Severus was able to sleep in any kind of situation. Useful for a spy when you were in dire need of rest.
A few hours of sleep later...
Severus had a headache when he was woken up by a smiling Harry. If it were anyone else, he would have yelled a good deal. Since it was Harry, he smiled back. Severus felt like the idiot he kept calling Harry. It was too bad he couldn't help that he was so happy.
"Good evening," Harry said, taking Severus' hand and pulling him up from the couch. "Do you know what day it is?"
Severus didn't care. He just grumbled as Harry led him to the bedroom where Severus had initially stayed until moving into the master bedroom about a week ago. Harry stopped in front of the door and Severus had no idea why they were heading to this room when he would much rather be going to the other bedroom.
"You won't even guess?" Harry said, nudging Severus in the side with his elbow.
"It's a Thursday."
Harry rolled his eyes. "It's also one month since the day we got together."
"So?" Severus muttered. "You know I'm not sentimental."
"I think I may be a little," Harry remarked, not seeming perturbed at all. "I don't know if you'll like it, but..." Harry pushed open the door to the bedroom and Severus just stared.
He was pretty sure he had forgotten how to speak. The room—the laboratory was incredible. It had the latest innovations, everything Severus couldn't afford, and yet Harry had also incorporated some old-fashioned instruments as well. Severus didn't think there was much about the laboratory he didn't like. How had Harry even known how to create this?
"The noise," Severus said. "It was because of this."
"Yes." Harry nodded at the room. "I should have put a silencing charm up, but I was pretty sure you would be able to detect it if I did."
Severus inclined his head a little, still taking in his laboratory.
"You know you can go in," Harry remarked, stepping aside so Severus could enter.
Severus walked in and wandered around the room slowly several times before he headed straight for Harry and pushed him up against the door and proceeded to kiss the smaller man until they were both breathless.
Some days later...
The Master Bedroom
"I do believe you're cheating on me," Harry declared as he undressed from his Muggle clothes in his methodical way. Severus admired the way Harry took off his clothes, but he truly admired the body underneath. Of course, he couldn't be with Harry this long if he didn't like the mind inside. "Are you listening to me?"
"Hmmm?" Severus said, forcing his eyes to look up at Harry's face rather than other more interesting bits of his person.
"I said you're cheating on me."
"What?" Severus shouted. "Are you absurd? Who else would want me?"
Harry laughed, even giggled. Severus rolled his eyes. Harry could be extremely childish for all that he should be grown up. Then again Harry would always be the boy to Severus, even when he was old and gray.
"Explain yourself," Severus demanded when Harry didn't say anything. Severus noted, though, Harry was naked.
Harry walked over to Severus and pushed him onto the bed. "Did I say you cheated on me with a person?"
"Well," Severus drawled, highly distracted by Harry's fingers divesting him of his shirt and trousers, "I can't imagine myself fucking an inanimate object."
"I'm referring to your laboratory," Harry said as he shoved Severus' trousers down. "Your feet."
Severus lifted his legs out of his trousers and swatted Harry's hands away when they tried to go for his pants. "The laboratory?"
"You spend way more time in there than you do with me," Harry remarked.
"I could accuse you of the same," Severus retorted. His penis was erect and standing up, ready for Harry's keen attentions. "You're always, ah, at the orphanages."
Harry was stroking his balls and generally driving him to distraction. Severus wasn't sure he could form a coherent sentence now in range of his intellectual ability. He was reduced to moans and to his great embarrassment, high pitched squeals of delight. When Harry's finger reached his perineum, rubbing with enough friction in circular motions to turn his brain into pudding. Severus was certain he was the shame of all currently living Potions Masters. But who cared?
Especially since it was his turn to fuck Harry tonight.
Several weeks later...
There was no doubt. Severus was devoutly in love with his laboratory as he cleaned the wooden table of any ingredients he had happened to spill onto it. It was a perfect distraction while Harry was off doing his volunteer work. There was so much he could do now that it was hard, sometimes, to leave when Harry returned. But Severus made it a point to have all his work done before Harry came home. He rather liked it when Harry kissed him so enthusiastically in greeting every day he came home. Severus wasn't even worried he was going soft.
Severus was waiting in front of the elevator when the doors opened and Harry walked out. Harry didn't go to Severus as he usually did and kiss him. Something was wrong. Probably one of those blasted children had upset his Harry again. Severus wished he could make everything go right for Harry and those orphans, but he couldn't. All he was good for was researching and creating potions everyone said was impossible. He didn't care how long it took. He was going to invent a potion that would defend against Imperius!
"Are you all right?" Severus asked after Harry had plopped himself down on the couch. Severus waited patiently (for him) for Harry to answer, but Harry didn't for several long minutes. It was only natural that Severus got impatient and snapped, "I really don't like it when something bad happens at work and you take it out on me!"
Harry didn't look at him. He just got up from the couch and went to the master bedroom. Severus followed after him, thinking that everything would be fine once he did some unspeakable things to Harry. Harry turned around and said in a flat voice, "A kid died today."
Harry opened the door and slammed it shut. Severus didn't even try to go near the room. He had felt too many warding spells go up all at once. Severus backed up to the wall and slid down to the floor. He felt like such a bastard.
Some weeks later...
Autumn was here and Harry still insisted going out for their customary walk in the park, except he was an idiot and didn't wear enough clothing. Severus shrugged off his own coat and shoved it at Harry. "Wear this before you get sick."
Harry looked at the coat in his arms and then up at Severus. "Won't you be cold?"
"I'm not the one always getting sick," Severus snapped. "Just put on the bloody coat."
Harry put on the coat and he looked silly in it. Everything was too long, the length, the sleeves, but Severus liked it. He might yell at Harry when he wrinkled and dirtied his clothes, but he generally enjoyed seeing Harry wearing his clothes and looking small in them.
They walked in silence for a while until they came to the bench where they usually sat. Severus was not surprised when Harry wiggled close to him and rested his head on his shoulder. While Severus frowned upon public displays of affection, it was late enough at night that there weren't many people in the park. Severus, however, was surprised when Harry made him turn his face toward him so that he could kiss him fully on the lips. It was not a chaste lip-on-lip kiss, it was a highly sexual tongue-thrusting-into-mouth kiss. If Harry wanted him hard, Severus was most definitely up.
"What are you doing?" Severus hissed when he pushed Harry away.
"I love you," Harry said abruptly.
Severus knew it was the first time Harry had said it to him when he was conscious. Of course, Severus had heard it many times before when Harry had assumed he was sleeping in the mornings and at nights. Silly boy, Severus thought with affection.
Harry smiled and resumed leaning on him. Severus didn't say a thing, but he did reach to hold his hand. Together they sat there, hand in hand, watching the moon play peek-a-boo behind the clouds. It was not a beautiful night, but Severus would say it was completely satisfactory.
Severus decided that tomorrow he would owl Minerva and tell her he would not be returning to Hogwarts to teach again.
Many months later...
The London Eye
Their one year anniversary was celebrated inside a cramped capsule on the London Eye. Severus had gone all out, booking a private capsule, on the day of their try at happiness. It was supposed to be perfect. It ended up raining. Severus was in a foul mood, although he was trying very hard not to show it to Harry, who was standing by the railing looking out alternately at him and the dreary London skyline.
"Come here," Harry urged him. "You don't want to miss the sight of gray London, do you?"
Severus sighed and let his feet take him where he wanted to be—next to Harry. They watched for a good while the sky darken until it was night and saw slowly the lights being turned on around the city. It was a somewhat lovely sight. Severus just wished it could have been beautiful because he had wanted everything to be perfect.
"I'm glad you took me here," Harry remarked randomly in the middle of a conversation about one particularly boy at the orphanage who was always getting into funny trouble.
"I wish the weather could have been better."
"I like the rain," Harry said softly. "It feels like we're in England."
Happy that Harry wasn't disappointed, Severus said, "I love you," without thinking.
Harry blinked once before he broke out into a huge smile and said, "Took you long enough."
Severus supposed it had taken him long enough to say it when Harry had been saying those three words for the past few months. Severus had been thinking that he loved Harry, but he hadn't known how to say it. He never knew quite how to express his feelings. Harry had once told him he spoke better in his actions than his words when it came to any feeling other than aggravation. It was too bad Severus couldn't give him points anymore, for that had been a keen observation. Criticizing came easy, the other stuff was hard.
"I've been waiting a long time to hear those words," Harry murmured as he wrapped his arms around Severus' waist. "I know it's only words, but they mean so much."
Severus knew exactly what Harry was talking about. I love you from Harry was the sweetest music to his ears.
Very many years later...
New York City
There was an 'understanding' between Severus and Harry. They had worked their way to this, after many years together, since they knew their happiness and love would not last if they did not keep trying. On the days they felt like giving up, they only worked harder. There was a certain something about them, whenever anyone saw them together, that stood out. Severus said it was because Harry was too attractive for his own good and Harry would just retort that Severus was far too sexy (not that he believed that). Whoever had said love was blind was probably right.
Harry was not the fit young man he had been, instead he was sagging around the waistline and his hair had turned white all of a sudden when he had turned 60. It had been a surprised to both of them since Severus had only a few gray hairs and he was significantly older than Harry. Severus didn't care that Harry's physical appearance had deteriorated. Harry was still his Harry and his mind was as sharp as ever. Severus knew he loved Harry even more now.
Love still wasn't an easy word for Severus to swallow, but he did make a point to say it occasionally, especially to catch Harry off guard. Severus slipped up silently behind the oblivious Harry as he was cooking and Severus slowly wrapped his arms around Harry. "I love you," he whispered into Harry's ear.
Severus knew Harry was smiling when he said, "You're such a great old sap."
Severus scowled as was expected of him and immediately retorted, "I'm no such thing!"
Harry giggled like a child even though he was an old wizard. "You are too!"
"Am not!" Severus said, wondering how life had ever come to this... then smiled when quick flashes of their many years together flickered in his mind. Life had been quite miserable for him for a good number of years until Harry had changed everything. Severus knew they were the most unlikely of couples and he wondered what Weasley and Granger might have said if they knew. He hoped they would be happy for them.
Harry Potter and Severus Snape together might be more than a little strange—but who cared as long as they were happy?
Review please, it would be highly appreciated as this story is complete and this is your only chance!
I have several oneshots that will be coming out in the next few days/weeks. Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed it!