Title: Of Hope Restored

Warnings: AU after Book 5, Rated M

Disclaimer: All Harry Potter characters herein are the property of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic. No copyright infringement is intended.

Summary: In order to gain hope for the future, Severus first needs to remember and accept what has been lost.

Author's Notes: Many thanks go to WhiteCotton for help formulating a plot, then helping it along, then going back and betaing the entire thing. Darling, I am so grateful to you. Written for leela_cat for the Snarry Holidays.

Severus arrived at the edge of the wards, stumbling, then took off at a run. In his haste he faltered, swearing under his breath as another bright surge of pain coursed through him, but he didn't stop running. Gasping, and nearly tripping over a root, he knew he was being far louder than anyone should be in the Forbidden Forest, but he had to get away.

They were coming for him.

Sure enough, as soon as he reached the end of the Forest, green spell-light flashed over his head and he ducked, then turned around to return fire.

Tripping over his feet, another surge of pain took him and he cried out, then turned again, not firing anything less than the killing curse, hoping for a stroke of luck that his blind casting would reach a target.

He looked up and saw Hogwarts, then continued his flight, his body aching, his lungs on fire and he swore he could feel himself fading. Perhaps whichever Death Eaters were pursuing him would be smarter than to follow him into the grounds of a stronghold. Perhaps salvation was at hand...

He should have learned better by now.

Green shots continued to fire over his head and he knew whoever had been sent to kill him wouldn't stop until he was dead.

Suddenly, he saw two figures approaching from the distance, red spell-light shooting over his shoulder towards his attackers. He ran towards them, not caring who they were, only that they were on his side. If he was about to die, he needed to give them the information he'd obtained—even though it would literally have killed him to get it—so it could get to Dumbledore. This information had to reach Dumbledore.

The two figures came closer, and he fell to his knees, another surge of pain ripping through him, and he knew he wouldn't be able to get up again.

"Professor!" a familiar voice cried out even as the darkness was threatening to overtake him. "They've gone back. What's happened? What's—"

Severus couldn't lift his head to confirm who the voice belonged to, he simply lifted a hand to pull the person closer, his fingers finding the collar of their shirt easily enough.

"Dumbledore—I must—"

"Let's get him to the infirmary, Harry," said another voice. "He doesn't look too good."

"Right. Okay, Professor, I know you won't like this, but it's the quickest way. Locomotor!"

Severus felt himself turn so he was floating like someone's luggage, then the wind blew by his ears as whoever was aiding him began to run.

Quickly, they ran—Snape floating along side them—up the steps into the school, Harry shouting at Ron to go get Dumbledore along the way. He sped through the Entrance Hall, trying to ignore Snape's screams of agony and hoping Dumbledore would be able to help in time. As much as Harry might hate the bastard, Snape was on their side, and he wasn't going to stand by and watch another die. Not if he could help it.

He took a quick glance at Snape and almost tripped up the main stairs in shock. Outside, there hadn't been time to really take in what condition Snape was in, but now he could see whatever had hit him was serious. He'd known he'd been cursed with something awful, but it had all happened so fast he hadn't realized how bad off he was. Everything had happened so fast.

One minute he'd been standing at the edge of the lake, skipping rocks and trying to enjoy the dusk. The war was escalating and, hating that he was at the center of it, he'd finally escaped the bodyguards the Order had designated follow him anytime he wanted to set foot outside the castle. He'd just wanted to get out of the school for a little while, hoping it would help him breathe a little and lift a bit of the worry from his shoulders, but it hadn't.

He'd sighed and looked around, keeping on his guard, knowing it was never a good idea to come outside the castle on his own—and so close to dark—but he'd needed to clear his head, alone, if only for a moment.

"Harry?" he'd heard Ron call out over his shoulder and he'd turned. "You shouldn't take off like that. Kingsley went a bit mad when he couldn't find you."

"Yeah," Harry had said blandly and threw another rock. "I just needed..."

"I know," Ron had said, but he didn't. He had no idea. "But...look, if you want to sneak off, just tell me and I'll sneak off with you, yeah?"

Harry thought that negated the concept of sneaking out, but he'd nodded, not wanting to argue. He'd just handed Ron a rock when suddenly they'd heard a loud noise in the distance.

The rocks had been immediately forgotten, their wands at the ready in a second, and they'd looked towards the Forbidden Forest where the sound had come from. Harry had recognized the figure that stumbled out of the trees right away, even if he was almost unrecognizable in his haste.

Realizing what was happening, Harry had broken into a run and charged to aid him, firing hexes and curses as he ran, Ron at his side. The two Death Eaters had soon turned back, perhaps realizing how close they were coming to Hogwarts or not liking the odds of having three men against them.

Harry nearly tripped up the stairs a second time, panting now, and so he slowed, not wanting to lose his grip on the Locomotor spell. Luckily, the infirmary doors were just ahead and he rushed through them.

"Madam Pomfrey!" he cried out as he carefully placed Snape on one of the beds closest to the door. He was just about to shout again, when Madam Pomfrey came out of her office, taking one look at Snape—twisting and writhing in agony—and began running diagnostic spells so complex Harry couldn't keep up with them.

"What'd they do to him? He was coming from the Forest—running—and there were men chasing him—"

"Quiet, Mr. Potter!" she growled, then turned to continue her spells. After a moment she paled and said, "Have you called the headmaster?"

Harry nodded and looked towards the door, as though speaking of him would have Dumbledore magically appear, but there was no one. He turned to look at the bed, to see how much damage had been done, and was shocked by what he saw.

Snape was in pain, that much he knew, but he looked...different. It was almost as though he was fading, and yet Harry had never seen him look so...good. The lines around his eyes and creases in his forehead had disappeared, and though Harry knew this was the man who'd taught him potions for the last seven years, he looked changed.

"Poppy, what's happened?" Harry heard as the doors to the infirmary slammed open, Dumbledore and Ron coming up next to the bed.

"Furari Vitalis, Albus. Looking at its progression, I think it was cast about half an hour ago..."

Dumbledore paled and ran a hand over his face, his features looking dark and defeated. "That doesn't give us many options, none of which are good." He turned from Harry to look down at Snape, and Harry could see him thinking, his eyes revealing how far away his thoughts had gone. He patted Snape's head, as though he was apologizing for something.

Harry looked at them—Pomfrey, Dumbledore, Snape—bewildered that they were just standing there and snapped, his voice panicked, "So what are you going to do? There's got to be something—"

"Harry," Dumbledore said, then came around the bed to place his arms on Harry's shoulders. "Voldemort used a very rare curse. It's very old and very painful and it never works the same way on two wizards. He's fading, Harry, and there isn't much that can be done to save him."

"But something can be done?"

Dumbledore nodded and rubbed his temples, his eyes looking sad and defeated. "Yes, but nothing that Severus would approve of. This curse is cutting the life away from him, literally stealing his life's essence..." His brow furrowed and he frowned and began pacing. "We'll have to bind him to something that could stabilize him and counteract the curse."

"Bind?" Harry asked, that word ringing a bell. "Bind to what?"

"An object," Dumbledore said, casting his eyes around the room before shaking his head. "But if the object was destroyed or harmed, then Severus would be as well."

"Albus!" Snape cried out in a hiss and Harry hardly recognized his voice. "Albus...the Dark Lord..."

Reaching out, Dumbledore took Snape's hand in his. "Severus, I'm trying to stop the curse, but you have to rest. Just lie here and let me help y ou."

Snape shook his head and Harry was horrified to find tears falling from his eyes.

"Oh, God," he whispered, somehow knowing that Snape was dying right in front of his eyes made the hatred he'd felt in the past seem childish, irrelevant.

Dumbledore didn't release Snape's hand, but continued talking, whether to the occupants of the room or himself, Harry had no idea.

"Hogwarts is a magical object. I could bind him to the castle..."

Harry frowned, horrified at what that might mean, and Dumbledore confirmed it a moment later.

"...but he would never be able to leave." He closed his eyes and shook his head in frustration.

Afraid, Harry approached the bed, taking Snape's other hand in his, silently praying for something, some miracle to reveal itself that would save Snape's life.

Slowly and out of the corner of his eye, he saw Dumbledore's head rise to look at him, his gaze penetrative, as though he was looking through him.

He met it and continued meeting it, waiting for whatever Dumbledore was going to say, going mad at the silence broken only by the occasional pained whimpers.

"A person...he could be bound to a person," Dumbledore said finally, moments later.

"A person?" Harry asked, confused.

Dumbledore's eyes fixed on Harry and Snape's joined hands, his eyes brightening and looking somewhat relieved.

"Harry, do you wish to save Professor Snape's life?" his voice grave but his demeanor strong again.

Harry nodded and glanced down at Snape. He looked paler and also...younger, his robes too big on his frame. If Harry didn't know any better, he would say Snape was the same age as Bill. He thought then that Dumbledore hadn't said what the curse actually did, but just as he opened his mouth to ask, Dumbledore spoke.

"Good," Dumbledore said, then beckoned Ron to come closer, Harry only now remembering he was there. "There are many magical bonds, Harry, but the one that would do the most good for Severus would be a marriage bond. Now, Mr. Weasley, you'll act as witness—"

"Wait, what?" Harry said, confused and distracted by Snape twisting his hand so badly he feared he'd broken a bone. Gritting his teeth, he said, "What do you mean marriage?"

"Harry, Severus is dying and the only thing that can save him while giving him any semblance of a normal life is a marriage bond. There isn't time to find anyone else. Now, are you going to allow him to die when you could save him?"

"Hey, wait a minute. That's not fair!" Ron shouted from behind him, always ready to take up Harry's defense. "Harry shouldn't have to give up his entire life just so Snape can live! And why does it have to be him?"

"Would you rather it were you, Mr. Weasley?"

Ron paled and took a step back, quiet now.

"But sir, married...I..." Harry stammered even as Snape's hand fell limp in his own, Harry reaching out to shake his shoulder, fearing the worse.

"Enough! There is no time for this. I'm sorry, Harry, but it must be done."


"Is it because he's a man? Are you not a homosexual?"

Harry stammered and looked towards Ron, who'd had a difficult time accepting his sexuality. "No, I am, but—"

"Good. So is Severus."

"Snape's gay!" Ron exclaimed before Pomfrey shushed him.

"Right, now simply keep hold of his hand while I perform the Rite. Severus," he said, then came around the bed, "Severus, I'm going to bind you to Harry; it's the only thing that can be done to save you."

Snape's eyes went wide for just a moment before he winced and closed them again.

"Severus, do you understand? This is the only way to save you."

Snape nodded and his breaths sped up, as though his heart was fading along with the rest of him.

"Good," Dumbledore said, then lifted his wand and began to chant.

Harry was breathing as though he'd just run for miles, his heart pounding deep within his chest. He could hardly hear the stream of Latin coming from Dumbledore, or see the lights coming from his wand, wrapping around their joint hands. All he could see was Snape's face twisted in pain—a face that was clearly getting younger by the minute now. The only thing running through his mind was that he never thought he'd be getting married in an infirmary to a man who hated him. He watched as Snape opened his mouth to give out a pained 'yes' before closing his eyes again. But what had been the question?

"Harry," Pomfrey said, putting a hand on his shoulder. "You have to say 'yes,' Harry."

Harry looked over to Dumbledore, who was watching him as though he was the only thing postponing Snape's suffering. Harry looked down at him and knew he couldn't let him die. Not when there was something he could do.

"Yes," he whispered, then watched a golden light erupt from Dumbledore's wand that came to settle over the both of them. He gasped and gripped Snape's hand firmer, feeling suddenly elated and complete, as though he knew everything was going to be alright.

The light faded and so did the feeling, leaving him panting and shaking, holding the hand of a man who hated him.

A man he was married to.

Harry looked down into the face of what he could only guess was a Snape in his late teens or early twenties, and groaned.

"Fuck," Ron said, taking the words right out of Harry's mouth. "So...did it work?"

Even if Harry hadn't known beyond a doubt that it had, the way Dumbledore sighed and then fell into a nearby chair would have told him, as did the fact that Snape had stopped his screaming and fallen asleep.

"Yeah," he said softly. "It worked. But what's...why does he still look like that?"

Pomfrey was already waving her wand, running more diagnostic spells Harry thought, before Dumbledore could even open his mouth.

"The curse diminishes a wizard, Harry," he started, sounding exhausted. "It doesn't always work the same way. I've read cases in which the wizard actually faded from existence, and one where he literally shrank until he could no longer be seen by the unaided eye. The affect on Severus seems to be the one more known...he has regressed in age, become younger, which is a far better fate than the alternative. However," he paused, rubbing his temples, fatigued, "this is not some elixir that makes the old young, Harry. This is a cruel curse, and what it is really doing is taking Severus' life—and Merlin knows what else—not renewing it."

Harry nodded, looking down onto Snape's face and over his body, amazed by how different he looked even from the time they met by the lake.

"But can it be undone?"

There was silence as Pomfrey finished her spells and Harry turned to Dumbledore.

"No," he said plainly. "I'm afraid it can't. And as much as many of us would like to turn back the clock, I know this will come as a blow to Severus. He did not have a happy youth." Dumbledore sounded sad as he said this last and his eyes drifted over Snape, coming to rest on his and Harry's hands.

Harry, unaware he'd still been holding on, quickly released it.

"But what about the rest of him?" Harry asked, backing away from the bed slowly. "Will he remember everything and..." he drifted off as he only now remembered what Snape had said down by the lake. "He had information. It seemed important."

"Oh, yeah," Ron said, he too only now remembering. "Even with everything going on, all he could think of was getting whatever it was to you, headmaster."

"Will he remember it?" Harry asked, worried and tired now that the situation had calmed.

Dumbledore looked thoughtfully at Severus and said, "He might, but I can't be sure. We'll know soon enough when he wakes up." He ran a hand over his face and turned to look at Ron. "Mr. Weasley, I think it's best if you return to your common room. Harry will join you...when all this is sorted out."

Harry paled and met Ron's eyes, both of them realizing the consequences of what had just happened, before Harry turned towards the bed. Snape didn't look half as intimidating younger as he had as an adult, his face lacking its harsh lines and his body looking oddly small in its too-large robes.

The reality of his situation suddenly threatened to crash down on him, but Harry forced himself to calm, knowing there was no way he could get through the next few hours if he allowed himself to panic. Pushing aside his own fears, he quickly pulled up a chair besides Snape's bed and sat down, taking Snape's hand in his.

Ron didn't say anything to this, just laid a quick hand on his shoulder before Harry heard him walk away, closing the door behind him. Slowly, Harry lifted his head in a mute request, asking Dumbledore what they would do now.

Dumbledore must have heard him somehow because he answered, "Now, we wait."

Severus awoke with a massive headache and groaned. His head was pounding to the beat of his heart, the pain so great he felt dizzy. He moved his head a bit experimentally and regretted it, the pain only growing.

He tried to think of where he was, where he had been last, but couldn't concentrate long enough to remember. His brain seemed to have melted, leaving him with barely-there sensations and memories. Confused and adrift, he tried to recall what had happened, why he was in such pain but nothing came to him. The images in his head were fleeting, whirling.

Disoriented, he felt his heart rate begin to speed up and adrenaline course through his body. What had happened and where was he?

Quickly the confusion jumped to fear, and Severus groaned as he tried to open his eyes, the harsh light bearing down upon him and causing his head to ache harder.

"Severus?" he heard a voice call his name, and struggled to open his eyes. "Severus, can you hear me?"

He felt something soft being pushed under his head and then looked beyond his feet to where someone was standing at the foot of his bed.

There was an old man with a long white beard standing there in a purple robe. Severus' eyes focused on him and his breaths became harsher.

"Everything is alright, Severus. Now, do you know who I am?"

Severus' eyes ran over the bright robes and the white hair as his mind searched for the answer. He knew this man.

"Dumbledore," he said after a moment. "Headmaster Dumbledore."

Dumbledore frowned a bit, but then whatever he was thinking was swept away and he nodded and smiled.

"Yes, that's right. Now can you tell me where you are?"

Severus' eyes scanned the room, as though he hadn't thought to wonder about his whereabouts at all. He took in the bright lights and the rows of hospital beds, the starched white cotton sheets looking pristine in their cleanliness and uniformity. Then he noticed the smell and a memory came rushing back at him.

"I'm at Hogwarts—the infirmary."

Dumbledore nodded and smiled again, but Severus hardly felt soothed by it. His fear was only growing as his mind tried and failed to come up with what exactly was happening and what had been done to him.

"Severus," Dumbledore called to him, focusing Severus' attention back to him. "Do you know who this is, Severus?" he asked, pointing to Severus' left, to someone sitting so close to his bed he wondered that he hadn't noticed him before.

Severus turned and immediately recognized James Potter, feeling his heart start to beat impossibly faster as instinctive hatred rolled over him. Potter looked nervous and leaned closer to him and Severus reacted by glaring and clamping his teeth together in a silent growl.

That was a mistake, the tenseness of his jaw caused his head to pound even harder, his vision blurring. Something wasn't right. Specifically, there was something not right about Potter being here. And then he saw it. Looking into his face, he saw green eyes—eyes that were achingly familiar but which seemed wrong on James Potter. Suddenly, what had been a recognizable face shifted into an echo of someone else. Looking into Potter's face, Severus suddenly saw two men, knowing somehow that this wasn't James Potter but unable to say exactly who it was.

He kept his eyes on him, his disorientation growing as he struggled to remember who it was sitting there, staring at him.

It was like looking past one person to see the shadow of another and Severus struggled with his memories. He found himself focusing on green eyes, the one feature that didn't belong to James Potter and then it was as though a mist had lifted.

"Harry Potter," he said finally and collapsed against his pillow, too exhausted now to be afraid. He closed his eyes, and then kind hands were pulling up his sheets and touching his face, Dumbledore...or one of the Potters saying, "It's alright, Professor."

Hardly caring who exactly was tending to him, he allowed himself to be cared for and let his eyes shut. Some time later, something nudged his lips, so he opened them and then drank the something without question. Whatever the potion was helped his heart to calm and his thoughts to slow down. His mind drifted for a moment before he fell into an exhausted sleep.

When he next opened his eyes, he saw a face that he definitely found familiar, but her name skirted on the edge of his memory.

To his relief, he heard Dumbledore ask from somewhere beside him, "Do you know who this is, Severus?"

His heart calming and his breathing slowing down when he heard the soft sounds of Professor Dumbledore, Severus was better able to answer. "No," he said, as she waved her wand at him, then handed him another potion.

"I'm Poppy Pomfrey, Severus. The school's matron," she said. As soon as she said her name, Severus knew it. More than that, he knew he could trust her as much as he trusted Dumbledore and so he drank the potion without question.

Immediately, his headache faded and he breathed a sigh of relief. Madam Pomfrey nodded in satisfaction and then turned and walked away, leaving him alone with Dumbledore and Harry Potter.

Potter, who he only now realized was holding his hand, stroking the top of it with his thumb. His head was no longer pounding and his body had calmed, but he felt no desire to pull his hand away.

"Severus, do you remember what happened? Do you know why you're in the infirmary?" Dumbledore asked, his voice even and calm.

Frowning, Severus tried to remember what had happened, tried to think of whatever accident had occurred to bring him here. His thoughts went first to the fifth-floor corridor, Black and Potter shoving him up against the wall, but he knew immediately that wasn't it. That memory felt...old. He saw an image of the potions classroom, only the details there were unclear, and he was just trying to tease it out when a flash of memory shot through his mind—someone in a Death Eater's mask, the Dark Lord shouting something at him, a feeling of terror as he ran. But it was all images and feelings, nothing substantial, and he was no closer to answering Dumbledore's question.

He looked up and shook his head, and Dumbledore gave him a wide, reassuring smile.

"That's alright. Severus, I'm going to explain what we know has happened, and you're going to be very confused. I'll ask that you continue to listen until I've stopped," Dumbledore said plainly and with enough authority in his voice that, in his turmoil, Severus had no desire to protest.

"Yesterday evening you were called to appear before Voldemort," Dumbledore continued and Severus clenched the hand holding his tighter, soothed by it gripping his in return. "We don't know what happened at the meeting, however, we do know the result. A few hours ago, you were discovered running towards the safety of Hogwarts by Harry Potter and his friend," he said, waving a hand at Potter beside him. "You'd been cursed with Furari Vitalis. Harry was able to get you to the infirmary in time to stop its ultimate goal, but not its progression, which explains your current state."

"Furari Vitalis?" Severus asked, confused, the name of the curse sounding so familiar, but he couldn't recall exactly what it did. He looked instinctively to Potter, but Potter looked just as frightened as Severus was.

"There's more, my boy," Dumbledore said and Severus felt his fear returning, muted. "The curse was diminishing you, quickly. You were dying and the only thing that would save you without constricting you in one way or another would be to bind you to another person."

He heard the words, but Severus couldn't process them, his mind unable to fathom what was being said, yet somehow knowing that whatever it was had great consequences.

"Severus, the only way to save your life was to bind you to Harry. He was the only person available and he was willing. I asked for your consent, but I fear in your pain you may not have fully understood the consequences."

Severus' heart sank into his chest as the words washed over him, his mind unable to comprehend the overwhelming facts yet something inside of him knowing nonetheless.

"You're married to Harry. Do you understand, Severus?"

Clenching his hands—barely noticing the pained groan as he did so—Severus willed himself to nod his head, hardly able to do anything else.

Dumbledore seemed to steel himself, and Severus felt his heart beat a bit quicker, waiting for him to get on with it.

"You've regressed, Severus. We've been unable to discover how much, but if my own memory serves, I would say you've regressed about twenty years."

Severus took in a deep breath and gripped the hand in his impossibly tighter, not truly understanding what he'd been told; not able to process the information, his confusion only growing stronger.

"What we're unsure of at this point is how much of your memory was affected by the curse...and how much was erased."

Severus continued to stare at Dumbledore blankly, his brain numb, unable to fathom the idea of regressing. Which was good, because he knew that if it wasn't for that and the potions he'd been given, he would be in a wild panic. He watched as Dumbledore seemed to take in his expression and the hand gripping Potter's, then came over to him and patted him on the shoulder, turning to Potter.

"He needs to rest now. A good sleep can help many things. I believe he'll feel much better when he wakes."

"But...here?" Potter asked, stopping Severus from lying back onto his pillow. "The infirmary's open and I...I don't really think anyone should see him right now."

"No, perhaps not. You'll help him, Harry?" Severus thought the question sounded more like an order but he said nothing. Potter only nodded, then wrapped an arm around his shoulder, helping him up.

Severus instinctively shrugged him off, but didn't have the will to do it again when Potter put his arm around him a second time.

"Come on, Professor. I know you can't like this place."

"No," Severus said absentmindedly as he was led towards the Floo, his body feeling both oddly heavy and awkwardly light as walked. "I don't like it here."

"Neither do I," Potter said, then cast a questioning glance over his shoulder.

Dumbledore responded by saying, "Just call out 'Severus Snape's rooms, Hogwarts.'"

Potter did so, and Severus thought there was something odd about that, but couldn't be bothered because then they were being carried down to the dungeons and Severus thought his head would explode.

They arrived in a heap in front a hearth in a rather plain but comfortable room.

Looking around, Severus felt as though he should know this place, but didn't. When Dumbledore had said 'Severus Snape's rooms', he had thought first of his dorm in Slytherin, but then of his own rooms, private rooms. This place was, he knew and felt it, his own home, but he was unable to grasp onto a memory.

"I'm sorry about that. Floos don't like me," Potter said nervously, lifting Severus up by the shoulders and leading him to somewhere left of the sofa.

"Oh," Potter said, confused. "Um, the bedroom?"

Severus looked around and tried to focus on the furnishings, tried to remember where exactly everything was, but only grew more disoriented. He saw a small desk by the corner and thought he could remember himself spending hours there, writing... grading, but the memory was so vague it slipped by him. He looked at the worn sofa and thought he could recall reading there, but couldn't pick up any specific occasion.

As though Potter knew he'd asked the wrong question, he suddenly said apologetically, "Hey, that's alright. Let's try this one here. It looks as good a guess as any." He led Severus to a door with a brass doorknob, and he knew upon seeing it that it had been a gift; he just couldn't remember from who.

"Hey, got it in one," Potter said, as he opened the door to reveal a bedroom furnished in dark tones, the bed large and the bedding comfortably shabby.

Potter turned back the blankets, then gestured for Severus to get in, so he sat down and watched as Potter sank to his knees to undo his shoes.

He shook his foot a bit and said, "I can do that," but his tone sounded weak even to him.

"It's alright, Professor. You're always looking out for me. It's only fair to let someone look after you once in a while."

Severus thought he should've been insulted by that, but then Potter's hands touched his feet and any protest he might have spoken died before they left his lips. His other foot was tended to and then he was tucked in, allowing it all with no protest.

"You should sleep now. I think—I hope everything will be better after you've slept. This has to be strange for you—I know it is for me—but...it'll be okay, I think. I...I'll be back because...well, I want to do this right. And I know it sounds weird, but we're in this together, you know?"

Severus didn't know. He had no idea what Potter was talking about, but his voice was soothing and he was speaking to him kindly so he nodded his head with a yawn.

Potter smiled and tucked his covers up higher, then made for the door.

"I'll be back later, I promise. Rest well, Professor."

Severus grunted and turned over, the feel of Harry's hands still playing over his feet.

There was silence in the common room as Harry told Ron and Hermione what had happened when Snape had woken up, how confused he'd been and how uncharacteristically pliable. Ron had already told Hermione about their run to the castle and Harry's marriage. That unpleasant task done, Harry was free to talk about his fears; both for himself and for Snape.

"You didn't see him," he said, staring in to the fire. "It—He was like another person. He was just so...scared."

Hermione nodded and patted his hand. "It's natural, Harry. He was in shock and his mind was just trying to catch up. You don't go through something like that and remain unaffected."

Harry frowned and shook his head, sitting by the fire with his knees drawn up to his chest, trying not to think about the rest of his life. "I don't know. I mean, he let me take his shoes off."

"You took his shoes off?" Ron asked, disgust apparent on his face.

"He'd have just worn them to bed otherwise," Harry said, trying to ignore the animosity Ron was able to put in such a simple question.

"They're married now, Ron. Harry has to take care of Professor Snape, just as he's taken care of Harry."

"I still can't believe this is really happening," Ron said, bewildered. "This morning things were normal. Hell, four hours ago things were... Well, as far as normal goes for us. But now—" he cut off and looked at Harry as though he'd never seen him before. "You're married."

Harry thought Ron made it sound as though he was either dying or had just announced he'd decided to hike across the Siberian wastelands.

"It was the only thing he could do," Hermione responded, growing frustrated herself. "It's not as though Harry chose this."

"Except he did in a way," Ron said under his breath, "you could've just let him die."

For a second or two Harry just stared at Ron. "No, I couldn't," he said in a low tone, astonished Ron could even think that way. "And neither could you."

"That's a terrible thing to say, Ron," Hermione said, chiding him.

Ron rolled his eyes and muttered something about not really meaning it. They were quiet for a few moments as the gravity of the situation came over them and Harry allowed himself a moment for self-pity.

Sitting there with his best friends, he wondered what could have been if he hadn't been the one to find Snape by the lake. Would Dumbledore have called him up either way or would he have died? Harry buried his head in his hands for a moment—just a moment—and closed his eyes.

He shuddered, then forced away all thoughts of 'why does it always have to be me?' and 'why can't anything ever be easy?' and 'Voldemort can kill me now if the rest of my life is going to be this way.'

He breathed once, twice, then opened his eyes and accepted his fate.

"I'll probably go down to see him in a few hours. Hopefully he'll be better, but if not—" Harry didn't want to think of what it would mean if Snape wasn't back to at least some shadow of his former self—or what it meant for him if he was. "Well, hopefully he'll be better so we can...talk."

Hermione gave him a brave smile but Ron just looked at him, bewildered.

"Wait, you're going to— Why? Just because you're married to the git doesn't mean—"

"Yes, it does," Harry said, putting his foot down. "We're married and...it's not going to go away. We're bound for life, we're...together," whatever that meant for him and Snape, "and I'm not going to go chasing anyone else when I already have someone."

Hermione said nothing, but her smile grew and became more genuine, making Harry love her even more.

"But...why?" Ron asked, seeming to be completely bewildered about the entire thing.

"Because, Ron," Hermione said, saving Harry from having to explain something he really didn't want to. "It's the right thing to do. And Harry always knows the right thing to do."

"Thanks, Hermione."

"Look, right or wrong you still need to have a..." he drifted off as he looked Harry over, then waving his hand around uncomfortably so Harry instantly knew what he was referring to. "You're just seventeen! You can't be a monk for the rest of your life."

Harry sighed and tilted his head back onto the sofa. "I don't intend to be, but I'd rather not think about that particular hurdle just now."

Turning a shade of red, either from embarrassment or anger, Ron hissed, "You don't mean you're actually going to...you know...with him?"

Groaning, Harry said quietly, "Well, I'm not going to be having sex with anyone else. I wouldn't do that, so eventually, yeah, if he wants to. But really, I'm not even thinking about that right now. I'm not even sure if he's—" he cut himself off and turned to Hermione for help, and she stepped in, putting her hand over his as she changed the subject.

"Just...go carefully, Harry. Start as you mean to go on. If you want to get to know him, good; just...be kind. Even if he's, well...even if he's the same towards you as he's always been."

Harry would welcome that if it meant Snape wouldn't be the frightened teenager he'd put to bed just a few hours ago. "And if he's not the same way towards me? What if he doesn't really remember me at all?"

Hermione smiled bravely and patted his hand. "Then be especially kind."

Harry nodded, ignoring a stammering Ron. He'd go to see Snape in a few hours.

Severus awoke abruptly, startled, then calmed at seeing the familiar room and bedding, smelling familiar smells.

He relaxed a bit, then laid back down on his pillow, rubbing his temples as memories from the last day crowded in on him. He recalled waking in the infirmary, remembered Dumbledore's explanation and his own shocked reaction.

His reaction...

Feeling more himself now, he turned back his blanket and pulled up his legs, taking in how he was still dressed in his trousers and socks, remembering in embarrassment who'd been the one to undress him.

Merlin, how humiliating!

He knew he'd been in a terrible shock yesterday, but this was unforgivable. That he would allow anyone to handle him in such a way was simply too embarrassing for words. He groaned at himself, then recalled exactly what had happened that had caused such a reaction in the first place.

He'd regressed...

He slowly brought his hands away from his face and looked at them, his heart speeding up in dread.

His fingers were clean. Gone were the potion stains that had made their first appearance at university and had only grown during his years at Hogwarts...although he wasn't quite certain how long he had been here. Was it five years—ten? While he could easily picture himself teaching, he had no anchor of time passing He looked at his hands again, turning them over. Upon further inspection, he noticed they looked younger and the slight pain he would have acquired from years of brewing was gone.

He lifted his arm up and noticed that his sleeve was now an inch or two too long for him and remembered exactly how far Dumbledore had guessed he'd regressed.

Leaping from his bed—barely noticing the lack of pain in his lower back—he quickly went into his bathroom and looked in the mirror, not able to keep the shocked gasp from escaping him.

A strange combination of what he'd expected to see and a memory was looking back at him.

Severus had never enjoyed having his picture taken and so he hadn't seen his young face... Well, since he'd been however young he currently was. It was like looking back in time...and yet not. It was extremely confusing, dizzying. The lines around his eyes and mouth he knew should be there were gone, his hair slightly longer and his teeth not as yellow. His cheeks looks thinner and a quick look at his body revealed the same. He hadn't filled out yet, still in the last stages of a very awkward youth.

His eyes, he thought, betrayed him. Leaning forward slightly, he stared into them. They didn't look like the eyes of an adolescent, instead they looked like the eyes of a world-weary man. He sat down on his toilet to gather himself.

He didn't feel like a teenager, he thought. He wasn't entirely sure how old he felt, but knew it was nowhere near the age of the adolescent in the mirror. Trying hard to remember how old he was, he soon discovered he could better recall events that had happened when he was seventeen than what had happened last week. He tried to remember his last potions lesson, but it was as though the memory was just out of reach. It was the same when he searched for something more mundane—his last staff meeting. Although he could recall the meetings in general, he couldn't pull up the memory of any specific one.

Taking a deep breath, he tried to calm himself and think clearly. He was no ordinary wizard, after all. It should be no problem retrieving his memories if he simply relaxed his mind and tried.

He tried to think of something simple: his last meal. Immediately, his thoughts went to the Slytherin table in the Great Hall, sitting next to his year mates and he shook his head, as though the memory would leave him that way. Concentrating, he tried to imagine himself at the Head Table, tried to imagine the wine the house-elves would have served with...whatever it was they were having.

He sighed in frustration. This shouldn't be so difficult.

Perhaps he was searching for something too common. Dumbledore had said Severus had been called to attend a meeting. He remembered which meetings he was referring to and could recall what went on there, but only in a jumbled rush of images and feelings. He remembered the Dark Lord, remembered his anger and Severus' own manipulations, but he couldn't recall even one conversation, not one distinct event.

His head hit the sink in frustration and Severus thought that perhaps he should go about his day without really thinking about the little things, hoping he would fall instinctively into what would have been his routine. Perhaps that would jar his memories. He removed his robes, which he noticed hung off his shoulders almost comically, then started on his too-large white shirt when suddenly a thought occurred to him.

Quickly undoing the buttons on his sleeve, he pushed back the cuff, his breath catching as he slowly folded back the fabric to reveal his forearm... Only to find the Dark Mark staring back at him.

Some magic went beyond flesh, beyond time, he knew and cursed himself a fool. Trying to ignore his disappointment, he showered and took care of necessities, his mind still trying to remember the recent past, achieving little to no results for his efforts.

After showering, he searched his wardrobe for something old—something he might not have thrown out from his younger days, but found nothing. Knowing he wouldn't have to leave his quarters for a while, he put one of his white buttoned shirts and too-large trousers, opting to wear his slippers instead of boots. The slippers fit him only a little too big and he counted that a victory.

He went out into his sitting room and tried to remember his time here, knowing it had been spent in reading and relaxation, but was only able to sense the feel of it, rather than an actual memory. He walked over to his desk, which had seemed so familiar to him last night, and began to sort through a stack of papers.

He had no idea how old his body currently was, but he felt as though he was under twenty. That, at least, gave him some sort of timeframe to grasp onto. His mind, however, felt more mature, but how much older he had no idea.

How old was he? He sorted through his papers, looking for correspondence, for some date that would tell him the year. There were potions lessons and a few essays from students that had been set aside, but no letters.

Finally, near the bottom of the pile, he found a note from Dumbledore, and saw the year.

It was nineteen ninety-eight, which meant he was thirty-eight years old. The relief he expected from having some reference for his age—mind or body—never came. Instead, there was only frustration at not being able to remember the details of the last twenty years. Cupping his head in his hands, he tried to remember his time at this desk, in these quarters, to let his memories come naturally. Closing his eyes to relax, he found it impossible. It was as though he was being bounced from one era to another, then back again. None of it made sense—knowing how many years he'd been here at Hogwarts, how old he had been before or how old his body was now. Without his memories, there was nothing to grab hold of. It was beyond frustrating; it was edging on terror. It was as though he were all these separate, fleeting memories and not someone who was composed of the whole of them: a floating, insubstantial version of Severus Snape who had no place anywhere.

Throwing himself into an armchair chair with none of his usual grace, Severus allowed himself to wallow in self-pity. Miserable, but thirsty, he sighed in frustration, then called a house-elf for a cup of tea.

It arrived soon after, but Severus simply stared at it. The look of it was off, he thought, and they had given him lemon in a bowl and not milk. He had no desire for Earl Grey, and somehow knew he hadn't acquired a taste for it until adulthood. He wanted something less harsh, something he could douse with milk and a spoonful of sugar. Closing his eyes, he tried to stave off the disturbing thoughts that not only had his mind and his body betrayed him, it seemed his tastes had too.

Even as he thought it, he sneered, feeling as though he didn't know his own mind and hating every moment of it. Giving up, he opened his mouth to request a different cup of tea when suddenly his door opened and he saw Harry Potter standing in the hallway, fist in the air as though he'd been about to knock.

"How the hell were you able to—" Severus shouted, his annoyance and frustration with himself immediately flowing onto Potter, before a memory of yesterday reasserted itself, as though it had been waiting for this moment before turning up.

Hands under his head and on his face, a warm grip around his fingers as he was told shocking news, someone taking him home, tucking him in like a child...

"You're married to Harry. Do you understand, Severus?"

An icy hand curled around Severus' heart and his teeth clenched at the reality staring him in the face. The curse had been destroying him, and in Dumbledore's haste to save him, he'd bound Severus to the only son of his childhood nemesis.

The boy he was sworn to protect with his life.

"You," he hissed, then stood up in a rage, bounding towards the door and pulling Harry inside before anyone could get a good look at either of them. He slammed the door, then tossed Harry onto the sofa, standing over him in what he knew was his most intimidating pose.

Only Potter didn't look so intimidated. In fact, he looked relieved.

"Oh, thank God," he said, wiping a hand across a brow Severus hadn't noticed was sweating. "I was so afraid— after yesterday, I was just terrified you'd been...damaged somehow. But you're not and that's...great. So great."

Severus frowned in confusion before he pointed a finger in Potter's face, his rage displayed in every part of his body, from the curl of his lip to his locked knees.

"You!" he repeated, his rage growing by the moment as it suddenly found a new focus, one he could deal with. "How dare you—"

Harry frowned, but hardly looked concerned. "How dare I what?" he asked, confused. "I haven't done anything to you."

Severus scoffed, embarrassment joining his anger when he remembered how tender the hands that had touched him had felt yesterday, how he not only allowed it, but wanted it. That the hands belonged to Potter's son made the situation even more humiliating.

"Do you remember what happened yesterday?" Potter asked, his eyes searching Severus' face.

Severus seethed and said, "Do I recall being bound to a stupid boy with more guts than brains? Yes, Potter, I remember. Do I remember you humiliating me, yes I remember that, too. Have you come here to gloat or to receive recompense?"

"What?" Potter asked, sounding confused.

"Did you enjoy seeing me at my lowest moment? Watching me cursed and in pain, knowing that you were the only one able to save me. Did it bring you pleasure to see me so low?"

Potter looked at him bewildered before shaking his head. "You were hurt—dying. It was the only way. Do you really remember what happened?"

"I remember enough."

Potter nodded, then asked, "Do you remember me?"

Severus opened his mouth to call Harry a fool, to remind him he had in fact recognized him as soon as the door had opened, that he knew who he was and why he was here. Before he could speak, Potter put up a hand and quickly said, "In my fourth year, you threatened me with something—a potion. Do you remember what it was?"

He was about to snap out the answer, when suddenly he realized he didn't have one. He searched his memories for that year. He could picture Potter in his mind: wild black hair, robes that were too big on him and a rebellious streak a mile long. But he couldn't remember an encounter with a potion.

"In my first year, someone tried to kill me, but you saved me. Do you remember what happened?"

Severus openly stared at Harry, no longer trying to hide the fact that he was wildly searching his memory or anything to provide the answer, something he could actually know and not just feel.

"In my fifth year," Harry said softly, for the first time looking contrite, "I did something I regretted later. I saw something I shouldn't have...and you were very angry with me."

Forcing his mind to calm, Severus looked into familiar eyes, eyes that seemed to be begging for...something. He slowed his thoughts down...and then he remembered what Potter was referring to.

"You looked into my pensieve," he answered, only now realizing that he had completely lost control of the situation. "Enough of this," he hissed, then took a seat, exhausted now. "What do you want?"

"A couple of things," Potter said into his lap. "I wanted to check up on you, make sure you were alright."

"I'm not your responsibility. If you feel some misplaced guilt over what was done to me, I can assure you I am fine. Now leave."

Potter shook his head and continued, "I'm glad you're alright, but that's not the only reason I came down. I wanted to... Well, I wanted to talk to you."

Severus scowled and said, "There is nothing that needs to be said. Do you require my heartfelt thanks for stopping the curse and saving my life?"

"What?" Harry said, shocked. "No!"

"Well, take it and leave. Thank you very much for marrying me, Potter. Please do me the favor of never entering these rooms again."

Potter shook his head. "That's not what I came down here for." He paused and looked down at his hands, then seemed to steel himself before looking Severus straight in the eye and said, "We're married."

"I realize that, Potter. What I don't understand is why you are belaboring the point."

Frowning, Potter opened and closed his mouth before shaking his head and saying, "This isn't turning out the way I hoped."

"Oh? And what had you hoped? That I was the same pathetic creature you saw yesterday? That you would be able to move me about and do what you wished with me?"

Potter just stared at him and Severus couldn't help but notice how disappointed he looked.

"Get out," Severus said, then put his head in his hands, his sleeves falling down to the middle of his forearm, hardly caring he looked like a fool.

"No," Potter said, then moved to sit on the edge of his seat, as though he wanted to be closer to Severus. "We're married...and there's no way we could ever get divorced. Being bonded is—"

"For life," Severus interrupted. "For however long that will be. I assure you I have no designs on either your body or your fortune. In fact, I have no desire for any of you. Now leave."

"No," Potter said again, and Severus again felt his anger surge inside him.

He clenched his fist and bit his lip, trying to hold back the rage that wanted to escape, and he knew he hadn't been this angry in a very long time. What did this boy want, did he think Severus was going to demand full marital rights? Or was that what Potter wanted? He groaned as something occurred to him and he reminded himself that while his mind felt thirty-eight, his body was still in adolescence.

"Listen to me, please," Potter said, his tone forcing Severus to look his way. "We're married and that means we're in this together. The war, Voldemort, whatever comes in between and after, all of it—we don't have to face it alone. I want to...to get to know you, make the best of this. I'd like the chance to talk with you, to be with you. You're not the man I thought you were, I know you're not. And you've been fighting for so long..." he drifted off, then looked Severus straight in the eye and said, "I think... I think we might come to understand each other. And that's got to mean something."

Severus felt every muscle in his body tighten and watched Potter's face for a moment, waiting for the prank to be revealed, for Potter to slip and begin laughing at him. The seconds ticked by and he continued to meet Severus' gaze and he realized what Potter was offering was genuine, at least to him.

And for the briefest of moments, Severus considered his offer. He knew that there was no way back to his life as it had been. He was no longer a spy and he had no desire to teach classes like this, not wanting any student to see him in such a reduced state. In a way, he had his entire life ahead of him and here was Potter, offering something Severus had always wanted, yet had never even considered a possibility.

They were already married, already bound together. Potter's sense of honor and stubbornness could win out over all of Severus' snark and sarcasm. The possibility was there, and Severus saw it lingering in the distance. A chance, a real chance for something that he hadn't dared to hope for.

He blinked and kept his eyes closed for a moment longer, cursing himself for a fool and reminding himself of the simple facts: Potter didn't know the first thing about him and any sense of honor over the sanctity of marriage was ill-placed.

But even if Potter were sincere, that didn't change what Severus knew. Though he could barely remember Harry Potter, he knew the boy was a spoiled, selfish brat, and he had no desire to know him, let alone spend the rest of his life with him.

"Get out," he said in a fierce whisper, no longer wanting to fight. He lifted his now cooled tea to his lips, not wanting to order something more juvenile while Potter was still here, then paused as he smelled it.

It smelled of lemon.

Severus looked to confirm what he already knew, that he hadn't touched the bowl of lemons to dose the tea yet and then realized what was happening.

He stood up and allowed the cup to fall from his hand, fear surging through him as he realized he'd almost been killed in his own home, and within Hogwart's wards.

"What?" Potter asked, standing to his feet as well. "What's happened?"

"The tea was poisoned," Severus said, his mind working on how this had happened. "It was poisoned by someone in Hogwarts, someone who knew my habits well enough to use a potion I wouldn't have detected!" he shouted and began to pace his room. He tried to remember which Slytherin students were sympathetic enough to the Dark Lord to try and kill their head of house, but he could barely recall any faces let alone names. The professors were mostly members of the Order... That left...

"Damn!" he shouted, adrenaline flowing through his body, his heart racing so that all he wanted was to beat something to within an inch of its life.

"Look, we'll figure it out," Potter said, but Severus had turned away from him. "I'll help you, okay? We're in this together if you'll just let me—"

"Shut up!" Severus shouted, turning and pulling Potter by his collar until he had flung him against a wall. "I don't care what you want, Potter. To me, you're just a stupid boy who loves playing the hero. No matter what you think, I do not need rescuing and I have no time for heroes! Now take your good intentions and get out!"

"No!" Potter said, throwing Severus' hands off him with far less effort than it should have taken. "I'm not leaving you, so just get it through your thick head!"

His blood pumping harder than it had in years, Severus pressed his body against Potter's, hoping that the inch or two he still had on him would be enough to force him from his room. He opened his mouth to speak, but then Potter's hands left his collar and traveled down his chest.

"What are you doing?" Severus said, pressing against him further, hoping Potter would realize that while he might look young, he was still dealing with a grown man.

Instead of answering, Potter pulled Severus closer, then gripped his chin painfully hard before putting his lips on Severus' own in a messy and unskilled kiss. Shocked, Severus allowed himself to be kissed and felt his body grind against Potter's, his cock becoming hard in an instant so that he added cursing teenage hormones to his growing list.

He pulled back and took in the flushed look on Potter's face and his own racing breath.

"What do you think you're doing?" he asked again, thinking his own voice sounded far more breathless than it had before.

"We're married," Potter said again, as though that meant anything. He leaned forward to kiss Severus again, but Severus moved back. "We're married," he said again, then pulled Severus closer, but not moving himself. There was an inch of space between them, and Severus took in Potter's full, reddened lips, the harshness of his breath, the feel of a firm, muscled chest against him and the hard cock pressed against his thigh.

Potter thrust against him, moving his erection to press against Severus' own and he moaned and thrust back, hardly able to help himself.

This was wrong, he thought, realizing through his anger that this was a student in front of him, his charge, the boy he was responsible for protecting. He tried to pull away, but strong arms were around his waist and the pressure of another body was so satisfying.

Potter pulled Severus' hair back, then moved his mouth by his ear, sucking on the lobe and pulling a gasp from Severus before he whispered, "We're married, Severus."

Any protest Severus might have had was undone in that simple gesture and he slammed Potter back against the wall, undoing his trousers while Potter undid his own. The cool dungeon air felt odd against the heat of his body, but then all thoughts left him as Potter gripped both their cocks and began his own thrusting.

Sex hadn't felt this good in such a long time, and something so simple shouldn't be so pleasurable, he thought in passing as Harry thrust his tongue into his mouth, their steady rhythm becoming erratic as they both neared completion. Though he could barely recall his past encounters, he knew he hadn't been this swept up in sex for a very long time, his body singing as he thrust against Potter. He moaned as Potter came up to suck on his ear again and shut down his thoughts, allowing himself to enjoy what was being offered.

Thrusting against a hard cock, the feel of a moist tongue on his ear, Severus came into Potter's hand. Potter followed a moment later, Severus leaning against him in the aftermath of such a powerful orgasm.

Gentle lips were kissing his neck and then his face, before coming around to his lips and Severus returned the kiss without thought, thinking that while the sex had been incredible, he'd never had an aftermath so...gentle and easy.

Potter kissed him slowly, as though words couldn't express what he wanted to say. The kiss was more tender and sweet than any he'd ever known, and though he was loath to admit it, he could almost feel Potter's hope in the way his lips moved, in the breath upon his cheek.

Finally coming to his senses, Severus pulled away slowly, then looked down to dress himself, Potter soon doing the same. A hand was on his shoulder and Severus looked up into an expression so impossibly sincere he didn't dare speak.

"Please, Severus," Potter said, and Severus thought he could possibly forgive the familiarity of using his first name if Potter kept looking at him like that. "I only want to get to know you. That's all."

Severus looked over Potter, his firm body and lovely face, then allowed himself to recall his own memories of the boy Potter had been. As much as he remembered loathing him, he couldn't help but feel as though Potter was telling the truth. He did want to get to know him.

Well, Severus thought, perhaps the idea wasn't completely without merit. Severus had been a pariah when he'd last been at his sexual peak, and the years hadn't been kind since.

And he was married. Married to Potter, who was willing and seemingly enthusiastic about taking Severus to his bed. His sense of honor and propriety seized him, but he reminded himself that while it meant nothing to him, their marriage was valid; that he was allowed to take pleasure in his husband and Potter in him. And if all Potter wanted was to spend time with Severus...well, that was as fair a trade as any.

"Perhaps your proposal does have its merits," Severus said, eyeing Harry up and down, his face still flushed from their rushed encounter. He wanted there to be no mistake on what he wanted from Potter. After all, he was no monster, and, as Potter had repeatedly said, they were married. "If you'd like to come down in the evenings, you would not be turned away. However, I believe I will be getting the better end of the deal."

Potter smiled at Severus and he scoffed and muttered something about romantic fools before Potter turned him back around and kissed him again. Hardly able to qualify why he was allowing it when there would be no sex again so soon, Severus relaxed into the kiss, this one no less sweet than the last.

When they finally parted moments later, Severus was breathless but Potter looked accomplished. "Thank you, Severus," he said. Severus nodded in response, then went to his Floo to call Dumbledore.

Severus sat at the little desk he kept in the corner of his sitting room. He remembered how he'd used this desk when grading when he had no desire to leave the comfort of his quarters for his office, so it had naturally acquired a few personal items, items he didn't want the student population to view.

There was a picture of his mother whom he'd earlier learned had died ten years ago, yet it felt as though he'd received a letter from her yesterday. There was an old quill that he no longer used, yet still kept in its stand because Dumbledore had given it to him when he'd first started teaching. That particularly memory had taken the better part of half an hour to fully form.

But the inkwell that was currently staring at him gave him no clue as to its origins. He remembered receiving it, or he thought he did. As he held it in his hands, he could recall feeling very proud upon first seeing it, that it was a gift to mark an occasion.

But for the life of him he couldn't remember what it was.

He turned it over in his hands for the tenth time and tried to remember, but all he could get was a general feeling of pride and nothing else.

Grunting, he put the thing down and let his head bang onto the desk. The situation was intolerable and growing worse by the hour. Yesterday, Dumbledore had called him up to his office and Severus' initial reaction had been to question what it was that he'd done. Ignoring the way his memories—or lack thereof—were playing him for a fool, he quickly went to meet him, wearing the same clothing he'd worn for the last decade.

Only they were still a size too large. This had only made the march up to Dumbledore's office more painful as every student he passed stopped and stared at him, whispering as he walked by. He pulled his robe closer around him, but there were only so many charms one could cast to have clothing fit better and he was no expert at Transfiguration.

Upon finally reaching his destination, he had suffered even more abuse at Dumbledore's hand—the man had actually called in a potions master to quiz him on his knowledge. Enraged, Severus had made to storm out of the office, but Dumbledore had been quick to remind him that potions was a difficult subject and if his knowledge had suffered due to the curse, the students could possibly be in danger under his supervision.

He'd debated telling Dumbledore that he had no desire to teach in his current state, but had known he'd be asked to be tested either way.

Defeated, he'd subjected himself to the test with mixed results. While his knowledge went far beyond NEWT-level potions, it seemed he had forgotten much of the higher-level material that only a master would know. Dumbledore had shaken his head sadly and told him it was only natural and that if he studied, he'd be back to his old level at no time at all.

He'd feigned disappointment and anger, but in reality he was relieved. While his body felt young and strong, able to handle anything that was thrown his way, Severus was tired. The war, his role as a spy and his position as a professor had taken its toll on him and a break from his routine sounded like something he sorely needed. He tried not to think on whether he would ever teach the subject again and if his last class before he'd been cursed—which he still could not remember—would be the last of his career. Dumbledore was allowing—insisting, really—that he remain in the castle, in his quarters, until further notice and especially until they had discovered who had tried to poison him, so at least he wasn't being asked to leave his home.

The visit had ended with Dumbledore again asking if Severus remembered the information he'd meant to tell him before he was cursed. Severus had scowled and barked that if he'd been able to remember, Dumbledore would have heard it by now. The sadness of his smile had been as annoying as it was patronizing and Severus had then quickly taken his leave.

He was almost glad as he left Dumbledore's office, only to find half the student population staring at him as he made his way back down to the dungeons.

Embarrassed, his ego damaged, Severus had returned to his quarters to read, only to find himself sitting at his desk looking at his knick-knacks for the better part of an hour.

He truly hated his life, he thought, then banged his head on the desk again.

Wanting nothing more than a bit of distraction for a time, he went to the little table that held his Scotch and poured himself a large drink, sitting down on his sofa and staring at the fire.

He tossed it back and immediately felt as though his throat had been set on fire, coughing as his nasal passages inflamed and his head swam.

He looked at the glass in his hand as though it had betrayed him, then realized he hadn't started drinking Scotch until his late twenties. Of course his body would be unused to it. He felt like a fool, but worse he felt unwelcome in his own skin. Frustrated, he threw the glass at his mantel just as his door opened.

"Fuck!" Potter exclaimed, fist still up in mid-knock as it had been yesterday as the glass shattered against stone. He was silent for a moment, but quickly walked inside and closed the door, realizing that, like yesterday, Severus hardly wanted anyone gawking at him.

His head still pounding, Severus rubbed his temples in his hands, frustrated and in pain. Potter slowly walked over to sit next to him and laid a hand on his shoulder.

"If you ask me if I'm alright I will hex you."

Potter sighed, then said, "I think it's a bit obvious that you're not. But what—I mean, what specifically happened just before I walked in?" He frowned then looked towards the door curiously. "And why does the door keep opening for me?"

Leaning back against the sofa, Severus lifted his eyes to something unseen and said, "The wards recognize you as my spouse. They're always going to let you in."


"And the thing that happened was simply me attempting to imbibe something I no longer have a tolerance for." He looked over to Potter, then realized the time and that Potter was carrying an overnight bag. "Come to stay, have you?"

Potter smirked, then hesitantly leaned over to kiss Severus, who for some reason allowed it. For a few minutes. He also allowed his robes to be removed and several buttons to be unbuttoned.

When Potter finally pulled away a few minutes later, he said, "Well, at least for the night. Thought that's what you wanted."

He decided not to tell Potter that sex didn't necessarily equate with sleep and that if Severus wanted it, Potter would be out on his arse the second after he'd come. But then he thought of his bed and how large it was and the memory of sleeping alone returned to him.

"It's fine," he barked, turning away and doing up his buttons again. "Do your homework or...something," he said while Potter opened up his bag to retrieve his potions book. A thought occurred to him and he asked, "What idiot did they get to teach potions?"

Potter frowned and said, "Someone from the Ministry. I don't like him."

"Yes, being forced to think is never fun."

"Ha," Potter said plainly, though he didn't seem to take the insult, which left Severus wondering when Potter had developed such a thick skin. "No, there's just something about him I don't like. He's...shifty."

"'Shifty?'" Severus repeated, trying not to sound as though he was taking Potter seriously, yet at the same time he acknowledged instinct for what it was. "How is he shifty?"

Shrugging, Potter responded, "He just is. It's nothing tangible, nothing he's done that makes me not trust him. Just a—"

"Feeling, yes," Severus said as he began to wonder just how far the Dark Lord would go to have him killed. The idea that a man sent to kill him was teaching just down the hall from where he slept did not sit well with Severus, but he said nothing to Potter. Instead, he got up and went to fetch a bottle of wine, thinking he should at least be able to drink that.

Potter watched him uncork the bottle, almost as though he was watching him kill a small animal, then lowered his head back down to his book.

Grateful that he always kept a bottle of his favorite handy, Severus sipped his wine, almost wincing as the harsh, dark red coursed over his tongue. Immediately, he wanted a glass of water to help it down, then realized that if he was going to have to get used to the taste again, better to start now. He finished the glass quickly and poured himself another, his head feeling thick and heavy.

"How are you?" Potter said softly, as though he'd been trying to work up the nerve to ask this question for some time. "I mean, I know you must be frustrated, but..."

Severus tightened his grip around his glass and took another sip.

"You don't have to just be silent and drink. You can talk to me. That's what I'm here for really."

"I thought you were here for sex," Severus said, his tongue feeling odd in his mouth.

Potter shrugged. "That's just a bonus. But really, we're married and married people talk about their problems."

"How would you know that?" Severus asked, meaning to point towards Potter's youth and wincing when he realized he was actually pointing out his upbringing.

"Makes more sense than the alternative. So what's it like?"

"What's what like? Make sense!"

"What's it like for you...remembering but not?"

Severus turned to tell Potter that spouse or not it was none of his business, but was stopped by the way he was looking at him. Green eyes were studying him, not with pity, much to Severus' relief, but with an odd concern, almost as though Potter truly cared about the answer and wouldn't judge him when he'd heard it. They looked at each other for a moment, and Severus almost hoped Potter would be bold enough to kiss him again, but the silence only stretched on, both men waiting for something to happen.

Finally, Potter placed a hand over Severus' and interlaced their fingers, Severus scowling and pulling away, but Potter holding on for dear life.

Feeling something like defeat—though defeat had never felt quite like this—Severus looked away from Potter's penetrative gave, watching the flames dance in the hearth as he started to speak.

"Imagine you're seventeen. You feel seventeen and you reason as though you are seventeen. Everything about you feels as though you're seventeen." Then he leaned over Potter and said in a harsh tone, "Then imagine you're not capable of remembering anything past the age of ten. Imagine you look ten and your body feels like it's ten. Imagine you can't get an erection, yet you remember liking sex. Imagine you're not old enough to attend Hogwarts, but you feel as though you should be there. Imagine you're a foot shorter than you should be and the world feels out of balance, as though it's your body that's betrayed you."

In his anger, Severus hardly noticed Potter's thumb stroking the top of his hand, or the way he had leaned impossibly closer so that his body was touching Severus'.

"Imagine your mind betrays you. Imagine remembering the shadow of a Summoning Charm, of being able to properly conjugate a verb, but not being able to. Try to imagine that, Potter."

"You remembered me," Potter said softly, as though it was a terrible thing.

"Images. Feelings. Hardly anything concrete, just stray memories I can barely string together."

Potter nodded as though he understood, then said, "I'm sorry. I know there's not much that can be done, but...is there anything I can do to help?"

With a scoff, Severus took in exactly how close Potter had leaned in towards him, then thought that was as good a transition as any. He pushed Potter back against the sofa cushion, kissing him roughly, passionately, making sure these kisses were in sharp contrast to how Potter had greeted him earlier.

Potter moaned when Severus ran his hands under his shirt, fingers tracing over a firm chest and stomach, Potter's hand pulling up his own to run over Severus' back. After a few moments, he pulled away and said in a coarse voice, "Can we go to your bedroom?"

Seeing no reason to stay on the sofa, Severus nodded and stood up, walking in his bedroom and removing his shoes, then lighting a fire in the smaller hearth. Potter did the same, then pulled his shirt over his head giving Severus a first look at his upper body.

He was broader than Severus, even, he thought, when he had been older and in his thirties, and far more pleasing to the eye. His chest was firm and muscled and mostly hairless. Potter looked at him curiously then gestured for Severus to remove his shirt as well, Severus growing suddenly shy at what he knew he looked like, thinking this was another area the curse really hurt him.

Severus was not a very muscular man, but he'd kept healthy over the years. His position as a spy—whether he was active or not—meant he had to keep his body in certain shape. He knew his physique was nothing spectacular, but neither was it something to mock.

His body in adolescence, however, was. He'd been thin and scrawny and awkward and it was like his own personal hell being back there.

Throwing his shoulders back with a pride he did not truly feel, Severus quickly removed his baggy shirt, then quickly attacked Potter's mouth before he could take a good look at him.

Moving so they could fall onto the bed, Severus quickly removed his trousers, then turned to Potter's, starting with the belt and then pulling his pants off with the rest. Potter groaned as their bare legs touched each other and pushed Severus' pants off as well, then took them both in hand again, the feel of velvety skin on his own causing Severus' body to soar.

But he wanted more and pushed Potter's hand off, putting a leg between his thighs. "I want to fuck you," he said darkly, half expecting Potter to decline, only to watch him look up and smile, then make himself comfortable on Severus' pillows.

"Alright," Potter said, looking around asking, "Do you have any lube here?"

Severus scoffed, trying to hide his panic. Did he have any lubricant in his side table? He opened his drawer and felt around—sleeping potion, parchment and quill, small bottle of—yes!

"Of course," he said snidely as he lowered his head to begin tasting Potter's chest. A hand began running through his hair almost affectionately as his tongue slid over a clavicle, then gripped it firmly as he teased a nipple, Potter's gasp causing his own cock to throb.

Though he could hardly recall any specific men he'd slept with over the years, he could recall the feeling, the memory of touch and that seemed to be enough to reduce Potter to a squirming, moaning mess in the next few minutes. By the time Severus was licking Potter's surprisingly thick cock, he felt as though he'd come any moment and once again cursed his wayward body.

"Fuck," Potter breathed, then shifted so his arse was higher up and his thighs spread further. Severus grinned and took the head of Potter's cock in his mouth before inserting a lubricant-coated finger into his arse.

Potter hissed and Severus slowed, withdrawing for a moment before applying more lubricant then pushing it back in more delicately.

"You've never done this before," he stated, already knowing what Potter hadn't told him.

"No," he said, his voice still breathless. "Go slow—fuck!" he said, moaning as Severus found his prostate. He moved his finger about a few more times before using another, the necessity of preparation only helping Severus to compose himself so he wouldn't embarrass himself by coming as soon as he'd penetrated him.

"Push back," Severus said and Potter complied eagerly, moving his hips so that he was fucking Severus' fingers. He continued for a few more minutes until Potter was begging for Severus to fuck him, then lifted his legs and positioned his cock at his entrance.

His body wanted nothing more than to push himself in and bugger Potter gracelessly, but Severus wouldn't hurt him. Forcing his body to calm, he watched as Potter looked at him with eyes lidded in pain and pleasure as he slowly pushed until he was completely inside.

He stilled, berating his lack of control as he realized if he moved he'd come and completely humiliate himself. He waited a moment before Potter began to shift and squeeze him and Severus thrust his hips experimentally.

"Severus," Potter moaned as Severus began with slow thrusts, finding his prostate and making sure to graze it with every stroke. He knew there was no way he could last long, so he took Potter's cock in hand and began to squeeze it in time with his jerking hips.

He concentrated hard so he wouldn't come before Potter, feeling somehow that doing so would mean failure. He rubbed his thumb in a circular motion over the head of Potter's cock as he stroked faster, relieved when he felt Potter's body shudder as he came.

Then he allowed himself to let go and enjoy the tight heat gripping him, Severus thrust three more times, then came inside him, falling on top of Potter, strong arms coming up to catch him.

Severus was shaking from exertion—mostly from energy spent keeping himself from coming—and barely noticed as Potter cleaned them up, then pulled up their covers.

He did notice a few minutes later when Potter wrapped himself around him and kissed Severus goodnight.

"You're ridiculous," Severus said even as he returned Potter's kisses.

Potter only laughed in response, then pulled Severus closer so his arms went around his waist. Severus thought to protest, then realized around Potter's waist was as good a place as any to keep his arms.

"No, I'm not," Potter said once they had arranged their limbs comfortably. "I've never been married, but I've heard you're supposed to take care of each other," he said, then moved Severus' face to kiss him again—longer this time, Harry's tongue in his mouth causing him to groan—then said, "as well as enjoy each other."

Severus scoffed, but couldn't help run a hand through Harry's hair as he laid down on his chest to sleep.

Suddenly, a thought occurred to him and he mentally groaned. They'd just consummated their marriage. It seemed as though something should have been said, or perhaps Severus should have done...something to make it more memorable.

As though Harry could read his thoughts and knew just what to say to make matters worse, a muffled voice asked, "Do you remember your first time?"

Severus thought that if he was going to remember his first time it would have happened as they were making love, but still he searched his memory. Images and feelings—these having come in handy—surfaced but no faces, no names, not even a rough age.

"No," he said, then picked up his wand to douse the lights. "I don't."

"Oh," Harry said sadly and it was quiet for a moment. Severus allowed his mind to wander before he was pulled from his thoughts by a kiss.

"Was there ever anyone for you—someone special, someone that meant something?"

This was something he knew instinctively, and Severus didn't have to search his memory for the answer. There were some things that were clear, that meddling with memory couldn't erase and the way he'd abandoned hope of ever having someone was one of them.

"No," he said plainly, barely realizing how tightly he was holding Harry or how Harry kissed his neck and held him right back.

And there, in the dark, for the first time in his life, Severus felt something like hope lying there with Harry in his arms. Every relationship in his life had been tainted with either sympathy or disdain. Even though he could hardly remember his colleagues, he knew how they felt about him. The pure-blooded Death Eaters had always looked down on him. And Dumbledore had never been able to veil the pity in his eyes ever since Severus had returned to Hogwarts as a spy.

No, there were some things a curse couldn't erase, and Severus felt for the first time as though he had a chance for something real, something evenly matched. A chance for a real companion; someone who wouldn't look at him with pity or hatred and Severus quelled the thought, not wanting to let it out lest it be damaged by the light of day.

Instead, he held onto Harry, held onto hope and tried to memorize every last detail of this new sentiment, not certain it would last.

Harry cautiously descended the staircase that led to the dungeons, a newfound skip in his step even as he looked over his shoulder while walking to Severus' quarters.

A box of chocolates was burning a hole in his pocket and he hoped Severus would like it. At first he'd just grabbed a bunch of chocolate frogs, figuring Severus would enjoy his favorite chocolate confection, then stopped. Severus' tastes were probably more mature than his. He'd had his eyes on a box of dark chocolate that would have soured on his own tongue, then remembered Severus had said he could no longer stomach some of the things he'd preferred in adulthood.

Not wanting to remind Severus of what he'd lost, but also not wanting to make an arse of himself, Harry had picked up a box of mixed sweets—some dark, some milk—and hoped it would be good enough.

Patting his pocket a bit, he smiled to himself and thought back over the last few weeks. Things were going well—far better than he'd ever dreamed—and he and Severus were getting to know each other, like each other even. The feeling of hopelessness that surrounded him had dissipated somewhat and Harry knew that was because of Severus. It was the idea that he had someone now, someone who understood, that gave him hope for his future.

For their future.

Still smiling, he opened the door and found Severus where he always seemed to be the past few weeks: on his sofa reading a potion book. He looked up and Harry thought he saw a light in his eyes at seeing him before he looked back down to his book in a scowl.

"Potter," he greeted him, and Harry smiled.

"Hi!" he said cheerfully, then went over to the sofa to say hello properly. Even weeks later, he was still amazed Severus allowed Harry to kiss him as much as he did. He'd been afraid Severus would mock him for being childish, but every time Harry wanted a kiss, Severus obliged.

This time was no different and they emerged from it a few moments later, a bit breathless.

"How's your day been?" Harry asked, noticing the stacks of old books on a side table.

"I believe Dumbledore was correct about my potions knowledge—it's coming far easier than I expected." He began to read again, then noticed Harry was still looking at him, and belatedly responded, "Yours?"

"Good. It's always good to get out of the castle for a while, even if Kingsley never lets me out of his sight."

Severus lifted an eyebrow. "Out of the castle?"

"Yeah, Hogsmeade. Good to let off a bit of steam—"

"Dumbledore allowed you out of the safety of the castle?" Severus shouted, closing his book with a loud thud.

"Kingsley never let me out of his sight and the other Order members were patrolling the town the entire time," Harry said calmly, not wanting to break the fragile thing that was growing between them.

"Do you have any idea how foolish your actions were? I cannot believe—"

"Nothing happened," Harry argued, hating the end of their easy peace.

"That's hardly the point. Anything could have happened and there would have been just one man defending you! One man is nothing against an army of Death Eaters!"

Sensing things were about to get completely out of hand, Harry shrugged and deadpanned, "I don't know. Kingsley's pretty big."

Severus looked enraged and opened his mouth, only to shut it with a click a moment later. "What do you mean 'big'?"

Harry could hardly help the laugh that escaped him while Severus grunted and turned away. Finding the entire situation hilarious, Harry wrapped his arms around Severus and said, "Look, I need to get out once in a while. I'll go crazy otherwise. Try not to worry, please?"


"I brought you something back. I—er—I'm not sure you'll like it, but I tried to find something you'd..." he broke off and took the box out of his pocket before he could completely stumble over his words. "Well, here."

Severus eyed the box curiously, then took it in his hands, opening it with far too much wonder that a simple box of chocolates deserved.

"You brought this for me?"

"Yes?" Harry said, hoping he hadn't done something wrong.

"Why?" Severus looked at Harry as though he'd never seen him before, as though no one had ever bothered to bring him something so ordinary it could hardly be called a gift.

Looking at Severus' bewildered expression and remembering everything he'd learned about him in the past few weeks, Harry realized that was probably true. No one had ever bothered with Severus, not even with something as simple as chocolate.

"Well," he started cautiously, not wanting to embarrass him, "you're stuck down here and I know that has to be terrible for you. And everyone likes chocolate, though I wasn't sure which was your favorite so I got you a little of everything."

Severus turned his eyes towards the box and ran a hand over the confections reverently, picking up a dark one and taking a bite. Harry smiled as Severus' eyes closed momentarily in pleasure, then closed the box, placing it carefully on a side table.

"Thank you, Potter."

Figuring this was as good a time as any, Harry gently prodded, "Harry."

"What?" Severus asked, turning to look at him.

"Call me Harry."

There was silence for a moment before Severus nodded his head and repeated, "Harry."

Smiling, Harry took out his potions book and homework, a warm feeling of accomplishment coursing through him. Putting quill to parchment, he began his assignment, comforted by the sound of the occasional page turning and Severus' robes moving against the sofa.

An hour later, he heard Severus close his book, then look over towards him. "What is that you're writing?"

Harry looked down at his work, then at Severus' scowl. "An essay on the uses of asphodel in healing potions."

A lift of an eyebrow and a scoff, then Severus said, "Shifty or not, your professor obviously isn't capable of handling the seventh year curriculum. There are far too many holes in your research."

Harry ran a hand over his face with a sigh, then stood up. If he was going to have to do further research, he'd do it clean. "I'm going to take a shower, then try to keep writing." Frustrated, he went into Severus' rooms and quickly showered, dressing in comfortable trousers and a plain t-shirt. He was a bit tired, but thought he'd try to work on his essay a bit more, then fix the holes Severus had found tomorrow.

As soon as he entered the sitting room, Severus stood up, stacking his books and unbuttoning his robes.

"I'm going to bed."

"Alright," Harry replied, smiling a bit at the simple domesticity he suddenly found himself in. "I'll be in in a bit."

Severus nodded, then for the very first time moved his head to meet Harry's lips in a kiss, Harry smiling into it as he responded.

Not able to keep himself from grinning, Harry watched Severus go into his room and close the door. With a sigh, he sat down thinking he'd much rather be in bed than here, but turned his mind purposefully to his work all the same.

He opened his book to where he'd left off and took out his parchment...

Only to find Severus' notes on top of them and an old, worn book on the use of asphodel in potions underneath. The warm feeling he'd had earlier returned in full force and only grew as he read the notes, Severus explaining exactly what he was missing in minute detail.

His spirits lifted, he closed the book and reverently placed the notes on top of the box of chocolates, then joined Severus in the bedroom.

Severus had no desire to attend the Order meeting Dumbledore had called, but made the walk up from the dungeons with Harry all the same.

"It's not going to be the entire Order, you know?" Harry said from beside him, his hand occasionally touching Severus'. "Just the Aurors, Remus, you and me. That won't be too bad."

Grunting, Severus thought that wouldn't be bad for Harry, no, but Severus was able to recall at least one of the Aurors he was referring to, and he had no desire for Alastor Moody to see him in such a reduced state.

"Plus, Remus will be there and he likes you."

His grunting turned to a groan and he wished Harry would just stop talking.

"I'll be there," he said quietly, perhaps finally taking notice of the way Severus was dragging his feet. The halls were devoid of any students at this late hour, so Severus watched as Harry looked around, then took his hand and dragged him to an alcove.

He stood there, looking nervous and Severus wanted nothing more than to get this entire thing over with. He made to walk away, but Harry held onto him, green eyes trying to say something Harry seemed incapable of articulating. He struggled to hold onto his irritation, but found it difficult.

Finally, Harry seemed to find himself. "I know you're not looking forward to...well...living this way," he said, waving his hands over Severus' younger body, "but you're not alone. I won't let anyone run over you."

For a moment, Severus allowed his hand to be held and almost smiled at the thought of Harry wanting to be so kind to him. When had anyone ever cared for his best interests, even when he had been young? That Harry would care for him this way gave him a sense of joy he'd never felt, before a thought occurred to him and he frowned.

He was neither a child nor an invalid, and yet that's how he was being treated. He was supposed to the one protecting Harry, not the other way around. To be spoken to in such a way—even if it was somewhat merited—was degrading and his anger surged as Harry's betrayal spread out before him.

In an instant, he felt everything Harry and he had shared fall apart as he realized the stupid mistake he'd made. He closed his eyes and cursed himself for ever thinking it was possible to find an equal, to find someone who wouldn't try to pity him or protect him. He felt his heart constrict with genuine disappointment before his anger found its voice.

He tore his hand away and snapped, "I'm not a child in need of a keeper, Potter!"

Harry looked shocked, but responded, "I didn't say you were. You protect me all the time—"

"As is my duty. But I'm hardly incapable of defending myself."

"I didn't mean it like that," Harry said, his face falling as he tried to take back his insults. "Really—"

Severus started to walk away, nearly at the staircase that led back to the main part of the castle, when suddenly green spell-light flew past his shoulder.

He spun around, then backed over to the wall to grab Harry and run, but Harry was already returning fire. He turned and saw Severus, then pulled him back into their alcove, shielding him with his body as the spell fire came again.

Severus tried to pull Harry back, tried to make it so he was protecting him, but Harry was stronger. An unyielding arm went around his chest and he was pushed back against the wall before Harry turned around and said in a hiss, "They weren't aiming for me, they were aiming for you!"

Fear and anger coursing through him, Severus bit back an insult and took aim over Harry's shoulder, firing nothing but the harshest of curses until he heard their attacker's retreating footsteps.

Harry took after them, running.

"Potter!" Severus yelled, pulling Harry back. "Idiot! They might not have left and there might have been more than one!"

Harry shook his head, "No, it was just the one person, I'm sure of it. We're right by the potions classroom, so it could've been that professor—"

He cut off as Severus pulled him by the cuff of his shirt, his anger raging out of control. "You idiot boy! Do you not realize that your life was in danger?"

"Your life was in danger!" Harry shouted, squirming away from Severus' grip. "They were aiming for you, not for me. I had to protect you!"

"I don't need protection, Potter. Why will you not let that penetrate your thick skull?"

"You're not invincible, Severus," Harry said, calmer now and strangely quiet. "I had to protect you. They could've killed—"

Not bothering to stay around and listen, Severus again pulled Harry by his collar, not letting go until they'd reached the stairs. "You're just as arrogant as I remember," he said in a hiss, ignoring the hurt look in Harry's eyes. "I have no desire to share my bed—my life—with someone as conceited or as stupid as you."

He shoved Harry towards the hallway that led to the seventh floor, then turned to walk out of the castle.

"Severus, wait!" Harry cried so loudly that the words reverberated across the stone walls. He walked up to Severus and put his hand on his shoulder, making to turn him around, but Severus brushed him off.

"Go to your meeting, then go back to your common room." He watched Harry's face fall, but hardly cared. Not in the face of such humiliation. "I believe I'm done with this ridiculous experiment. Goodbye, Potter."

Severus thought he heard a sob, but didn't dare to stop and look, making his way instead through the Entrance Hall and out the door, cursing himself a fool for thinking he could have ever accepted what Harry offered. He'd never dared to hope for a future before Harry, but just the short time he'd spent with him left Severus feeling desolate and lonelier than ever.

The evening chill invaded his light robes and he pulled them closer, feeling even smaller when they draped over him like blankets. Turning around, he saw light coming from the castle, and knew it would be warmer within, but couldn't find it in himself to go back inside.

The cold was exactly what he needed at the moment. The chill that began to seep into his bones only served to remind him that the past few weeks had been a farce and whether he remembered it or not, warmth was not meant for men like him.

Setting his shoulders so he stood taller, Severus decided that he'd allowed himself to hope for too long. All the time he'd wasted on Harry should have been spent in an attempt to regain his memories. Instead of acting like a besotted teenager, he should have been racking his brains and trying to fill in the gaps.

This half-life would drive him mad at the end. Being somewhere between his late teens and early thirties, his thoughts sometimes feeling as though they belonged to a jaded old man and then this damned need to feel hope, to feel something stemming from somewhere far more adolescent.

Where did that leave him? He turned around and tried to see Harry, but he'd gone, and Severus thought any hope for the future went with him.

He shivered, then started to walk around the lake, alone.

The meeting had been postponed once Harry had thrown open the door to Dumbledore's office and announced that he and Severus had been attacked. Tonks, Moody and Kingsley heard his story, then went to investigate on Dumbledore's orders, leaving Dumbledore alone with Harry and Remus.

He'd chatted with Remus for a while, trying to ignore the burning pain in his chest and the desire to know exactly what he'd done wrong. Apparently Dumbledore had taken it upon himself to inform the Order of his marriage, so there were no gaps in information to give; just a nod and smile and 'yes, we're getting along wonderfully.'

Feeling suffocated, Harry left as soon as Remus started to question Dumbledore on Order business, and went up to the Astronomy Tower, not caring how cold the night had become. He stood there, ignoring the stars and wondering if there was anything he could do to make things better, or if it was even worth trying.

"Harry?" he heard a familiar voice call out and turned.

"Hi, Remus."

Remus smiled and walked over to him, looking up into the sky and admiring the moonless night.

"You're a terrible liar, you know," he stated plainly with a smile.

Harry just grunted and turned to face the grounds.

"Would you like to talk about how things really are between you and Severus?"

"Not particularly," Harry said, having no desire to be rude but also wanting time to think. If he returned to the dormitory tonight, he knew there'd be questions, and as much as he appreciated Hermione, she would want to pat his hand and talk.

No, he really didn't want to have to explain himself, and he was just turning back around to tell Remus so, when suddenly a thought occurred to him.

"You knew Severus in school," he stated, as if only now realizing this.

Remus smiled and came towards Harry. "I did, yes."

"Was he always this..."

"Difficult?" he said with a laugh. "Yes, to say the least. But I've always respected Severus, even in school. And more so now. He's a good man, Harry."

"Yeah. He's angry with me."

"I gathered that. What happened?"

Harry sighed and ran a hand through his hair, then started to tell Remus what he hadn't told the Order—how Severus had reacted when Harry protected him and their subsequent argument. How angry he'd been and how Harry really didn't know what he'd done wrong.

Remus only smiled at the end of it and patted Harry's back.

"Severus has always hated showing weakness. He likes people to think he's made of stone and I don't imagine that's changed over the years," he said sadly and Harry realized they were probably thinking of the same event.

"Yeah," he said absentmindedly, cursing himself as he thought how embarrassed Severus must have felt at being protected by someone he'd always protected himself. "I don't know what I should do."

"Well, you can start by talking to him, but go gently. I don't imagine he'll be any kinder with a bruised ego."

Harry laughed darkly. "No, probably not."

"It'll be alright, Harry," Remus said, hand on his shoulder giving a friendly squeeze. "I'm sure—oh, there's Severus now."

Harry looked down and saw Severus approaching the castle, his steps slow and his arms wrapped around himself, Harry immediately thought how cold he must be after being out for so long.

"Right. Well, I think I'll go talk to him—" but he stopped when he saw a figure dash out of the castle to meet him, Severus stopping to listen to whatever the person had to say.

Suddenly, they both turned and started to run towards Hogsmeade, and Harry felt a chill run over his body.

He couldn't tell exactly who the figure had been from this height, but he knew it hadn't been a member of the Order. The figure had been small and slight with dark hair and Tonks had been pink again today.

Terror swept through him and he realized that Severus was being led away, that whatever had been told to him was meant to remove him from the protection of Hogwarts, and the assassin that had tried to kill him hours ago was trying again.

In a mad dash, he charged out of the Astronomy Tower, through the door and down the stairs as though death was chasing him, hardly hearing Remus' confused cry as he followed.

Severus didn't really want to go inside, but definitely didn't want to be found in an embarrassingly frozen huddle come spring, so started for the castle.

He was almost at the door, when suddenly a silhouetted figure came out to meet him.

"Severus?" the voice called out, familiar and yet Severus couldn't quite remember. He watched as she walked down the stairs, then closer so he could see her face.

He searched his memory for a moment, knowing that he knew this woman, feeling as though he'd worked with her for years.

"Septima Vector," he said a moment later, counting the fact that he could recall her full name and not have to resort to calling a colleague by her title a victory. "Was there something you required?"

Vector came closer, her hand closing over Severus' forearm and her face worried. "Severus, Potter's been taken."

"What?" Severus asked, his body stiffening in an instant, his heart beating loudly in his chest. "What do you mean he's been taken? Where's Dumbledore?"

"He's left. They tried to find you, but they had to leave to get to Potter. They asked me to tell you when I found you, but I didn't even think to search the grounds!"

Severus felt his heart clench in his chest, cursing himself for leaving Harry alone while he walked the grounds like a moody teenager! He shouldn't have let him out of his sight for a moment. He was Severus' charge, his responsibility, his atonement for the sins of his past...

And while all that was true, something undeniable...something more began to ring within Severus' heart, some feeling he could barely name for having never felt it before. The idea of coming home and Harry not being there left him feeling far colder than the wind could make him, his heart sinking in his chest at the thought that he would be responsible for it.

"Come, Severus," Vector said, leading Severus towards Hogsmeade. He began to walk with her with jerky legs, only his shock forcing him to move. He had to get to Harry.

They picked up their pace, Severus beginning to run as the thought of Harry being harmed became more and more real, when suddenly he heard Vector mutter something behind him. His body locked and he fell onto the ground, hard, his nose cracking as it hit the dirt. Then hands were turning him over and he groaned.

Vector's face was shrouded in darkness, but Severus could still make out her grim smile, the way her eyes shined in pleasure at seeing him helpless at her feet. He could barely recall any time spent with her, but Severus felt as though she'd been a kind and respectful colleague, yet barely worthy of mention.

"I'm sorry, Severus," Vector said softly, wiping the blood from his nose, "but my orders changed. The Dark Lord wanted you dead, but now apparently he wants you taken alive. He'll be in Hogsmeade soon—"

And as though she had timed it perfectly, Severus heard an explosion in the distance, looking up just in time to see Vector smile.

"Right," she said, standing up. "Well, we can't keep the Dark Lord waiting." She brushed some more dirt off his face and looked him in the eye. "This is nothing against you, Severus. I've always valued you as a colleague...at least far more than those other idiots. But you shouldn't have betrayed our Lord." She sighed sadly and looked truly regretful before pointing her wand at Severus, barely opening her mouth before the spell hit her.

"Stupefy!" he heard Harry cry, then watched as she fell over and Harry came into view. "Severus! Finite Incantatem!" Harry pulled him up, then embraced him, running his hands all over him, and Severus was so relieved to feel him, he didn't hear the explosions in the distance or feel his face throbbing. All he felt was the sudden warmth that surrounded him and the relief—sweet Merlin, the relief—at knowing Harry was alright.

"Oh, God," Harry said, holding Severus closer even as an explosion sounded in the distance. "We were watching from the Tower and— Severus, I'm so sorry!"

Severus winced as Harry's cheek brushed his poor nose, but said nothing, only holding him tighter, not willing to let go. He ran his own hands over Harry, needing to know that it wasn't too late, that he hadn't truly lost him, inhaling the scent of his hair, then pulling him away to look into his eyes.


"Severus, please—" Harry pleaded, but for what Severus had no idea. All he knew was Harry was here and it wasn't too late and his heart soared as he felt hope return.

And in that instant, Severus knew that his life would, thankfully, never be the same again. It didn't matter what he had lost of his old life; this was a new life and he could make it form any shape he wanted. He was overwhelmed and felt his throat clench as he looked into Harry's eyes, needing to tell him what he was feeling, wanting him to know how much he'd come to mean to him.

"Harry," he started, but had no idea what to say, his words leaving him when he needed them most. He put his hands on Harry's face and leaned down, trying to tell him without words exactly how he felt, hoping Harry would understand what he couldn't say.

"Yes," Harry breathed with a smile, then laughed, a sound of pure, unadulterated joy pouring out of him so that Severus knew he'd been heard. He laughed harder, then threw his arms around so Severus was so surrounded by his touch, his scent that he could barely contain his own smile.

He sighed and leaned his face against Harry's, grunting in pain as Harry's nose hit his, and he pulled away with his eyes shut.

"Oh God, I'm sorry! Episkey!"

"Thank you," Severus said, the pain having gone, and finally looked up, taking in the skirmish in the distance, belatedly realizing that this was the information he'd had to get to Dumbledore. His adrenaline running through him, he looked to Harry, then said, "You have to get to safety. They'll need me in Hogsmeade."

Harry shook his head, but didn't say anything, their argument no doubt still fresh on his mind. Severus frowned and then kicked Vector, and said, "You should take her back to the castle, while I—"

A throat cleared and then Severus realized there was another person amongst them, cursing himself for ignoring everything but Harry.

"Actually, my orders are to get you both inside," Lupin said, an idiotic smile accentuating his deeper scars. "Half the Order is already down there, Severus, and Dumbledore wants you both out of harm's way."

"Ugh," Severus grunted, knowing Lupin wouldn't be able to resist saying something. "Is there any particular reason you're grinning like an idiot, Lupin?"

His smile only grew larger, much to Severus' surprise, and he walked closer, his eyes scanning Severus' face with wonder.

"Hello, Severus," Lupin said, his face irritatingly cheerful.

"Oh, Merlin," Severus said, already annoyed.

"You have no idea how odd it is to see...you. I mean, really see you as a boy. My God, you look exactly as you did in sixth year—no, seventh!"

"Would you shut up?"

"Well, it's not every day I get to see an old friend...literally!"

"We are not friends," Severus said, taking Harry's hand while starting their walk to the castle, levitating Vector after them. After a few steps, Harry put his head on his shoulder and an arm around his waist. If Lupin said anything to that, Severus didn't hear him and couldn't bring himself to care. Not while he was walking with Harry.

Severus let Harry take the reins in bed that night. He was hardly able to stop him, not that he truly wanted to try. Never before had he felt so adored, so cherished as when Harry made love to him, slowly, gently, as he knew no one had before.

As they held each other afterward, Severus felt some empty part of himself being filled and exhaled a deep breath at the sudden sense of completion.

Later, in the middle of the night, Severus found himself staring at the ceiling, unable to sleep. His thoughts were in turmoil and he was still trying to grasp hold of memories that were doing their best to wrestle themselves away. Not wanting to wake Harry, Severus slipped away and stood in front of the mirror in his bathroom, contemplating his life.

His career as a spy was over, but he'd be a member of the Order until the Dark Lord was well and truly dead. He owed that to Lily. One last debt to be repaid.

His studying was paying off and he knew he'd regain his status as a potions master sooner than he'd hoped. If he wanted it, he could begin teaching again.

Only now that he was truly starting his life over again, he didn't know if that was something he wanted. In addition, there was another person to consider and did Harry want to endure being a professor's spouse?

He'd taken the job because Hogwarts was a refuge in a time of crisis, a way to fulfill the aching need for atonement that his betrayal had left him. But the war would be ending soon. He felt it in his bones and he thought Harry knew it too. Where would he be then?

And wasn't he a bit young to be settling into a teaching position for perhaps the rest of his life?

He sighed, then looked away from the youthful image in the mirror, trying again to recall more from his old life. Even after weeks, the memories weren't returning to him and he was beginning to think they never would.

He wasn't entirely sure he cared, now he had decided to start over from scratch.

One thing, however, was bothering him. Perhaps he'd been born thirty-eight years ago, but he wasn't thirty-eight. He was some other age, and the not knowing was driving him mad. How old was he?

"Hey," Harry said, walking up behind and wrapping his arms around him, his hair messy from sleep. "What has you awake and staring into a mirror?"

Severus realized the next words out of his mouth would be ridiculous, but said them anyway. "I have no idea how old I am."

The smile that was always present on Harry's face faded and he looked into Severus' eyes through the mirror. Not wanting to defend himself, Severus was about to leave, admitting that it was a ridiculous thing to bother him, when Harry stopped him.

"You're a bit taller than me."

Severus stood up straighter, the inch or two he had on Harry accentuated. "Yes."

"Well, when did you stop growing? When did you last have to be fitted for robes or those nice shirts of yours?"

Severus winced as he searched his memory, already knowing it would be futile.

"I don't know," he said, trying to keep the disappointment from his voice.

"Oh," Harry said, then seemed to analyze Severus' face, as if searching his own memory.

"You look a bit older than you did at the end of your fifth year," he said cautiously, "and Remus said you looked like you did towards your seventh year."

"Lupin is a sentimental fool."

"Right," Harry said with a soft laugh. "But..." he drifted off, then rubbed his cheek over Severus'. "You're older than sixteen, but not as old as you were when you left school." He stared at him, stared through him, as though he was trying to take a picture and was looking for the correct angle. "Why don't we say you're seventeen?"

"Seventeen?" Severus said while looking at himself, still not feeling like seventeen, yet seeing a seventeen-year-old staring back at him.

"Seventeen. Then we'll be the same age. We'll be equals."

Something in Severus' heart warmed at the thought and he looked at his own reflection, accepting it for what it was.

"Seventeen, " he repeated. "But as my birthday is in January, I will be older than you for half the year." He smiled, taunting Harry, then turned around to kiss him, Severus' head coming down to fall against his. He smiled and thought that this seventeen was going to be far better than the last. Closing his eyes, he realized what he would have to do in order to move on, and the thought of it wasn't as terrible as he'd imagined it. Not with Harry standing in front of him.

"I'm going to do a bit of work. Why don't you return to bed."

As though he knew Severus needed some time alone, Harry nodded knowingly and left him to it, kissing him lightly on the cheek as he went back to bed.

Severus walked out to his sitting room, went to his little desk, and sat in the chair. He used his fingers to trace the wood, to try one last time to remember his time here, but nothing came to him.

His hands wandered over to his inkwell, the memory of pride returning to him, but nothing else. Holding it in his hands, he accepted that a part of his life was over and that he would never get it back. He thought his failure should sting more, the loss of twenty years coming as more of a blow, but it didn't.

Instead he closed his eyes and thought of the life he was giving up, a life where he'd accepted hopelessness long ago, the lonely life of a bitter man. A life without Harry.

Slowly, he opened his eyes and released the past, running his fingers over the inkwell one last time before putting it back in its spot. He wouldn't ask again. A weight lifted off his shoulders and he allowed himself to see his future as it never had been, even the last time he was seventeen. The shadow of the past lifted and Severus breathed, then returned to the bedroom—Harry already softly snoring in their bed—and smiled.

Severus got under the blankets and fell into a pleasant sleep, the future shining brightly in the distance.