Disclaimer: I am not JK Rowling, I don't own the characters.

A/N: Finishing up the next chapter of P&C and have just returned from the outskirts of civilization that is my parents' home. This was written for the SeverusSighs AVD Fest and I thought you all might like it. For those interesting, P&C should be finished in the next day or two and then will go off for a cleaning.

Thank you all for being so patient!

Severus sat at the kitchen table and slowly unfolded that morning's issue of the Prophet, savoring the feeling of satisfaction when he saw his own picture smirking up at him under the headline: Snape Cleared of All Charges and Given Hero's Reward.

It had taken two years, dozens of testimonies from Order members—even Dumbledore's portrait—and what Harry had termed 'the real fight of his life', but he'd finally been recognized for his part in the war.

He breathed a heavy sigh of relief and felt a knot that had been in his stomach for years untwist. He'd be free to live his life any way he wished now.

And the stipend he'd been given was nothing to blink at.

Out of the corner of his eye, he watched as Harry walked into the room with that bouncy step that amused Severus most days. "Happy Valentine's day," he said pressing a quick kiss to Severus' lips.

"Mmm," Severus offered noncommittally as he flashed the front page, knowing Harry would be just as pleased as he was.

"Oh!" Harry said, his smile bright and joyful. "A very happy day indeed." With awe he let his fingers trace Severus' picture, then laughed when it glared.

"Your picture doesn't like me," he said, sitting down and grabbing the plate of toast.

"Perhaps it doesn't like being manhandled," he replied. He watched Harry fix his tea exactly as he liked it, then took the offered cup.

After two years it still surprised him to see Harry Potter looking back at him from across the breakfast table.

"Lucky for me I know better. Really, Severus," Harry said, his mouth full of toast, "this calls for a celebration."

Sneering a bit, Severus passed over a napkin and said, "We could start by observing proper table manners." He returned his attention back to the paper, reading the article that briefly went over his Death Eater days before focusing on his efforts for the Order, then finally his life with Harry and current research.

"Harry..." he said, in what Harry called his 'scary' voice.

Harry looked up from his toast, but didn't say a word.

"How is the Daily Prophet aware of my ambitions to cure lycanthropy?"

Eyes wide, Harry quickly stretched an arm across the table and grasped Severus' hand. "I'm sorry," he said. "I might have let it slip to a reporter."

"I have no desire to fail publicly—"

"You won't!" Harry said firmly, and Severus could not ignore the hope and admiration that was present as he looked into his eyes. "You're brilliant and there's no way you can fail."

"Dozens of potion masters have tried over the centuries, Harry. Hundreds—"

"I have faith in you," Harry said softly. "You'll succeed where they've all failed, I know it."

Not able to remain angry with Harry looking at him like that, Severus grunted and allowed the argument to end, hiding his irritation. A few moments passed in silence, then Harry cleared his throat.

"So about tonight," he began, and Severus had to hide the roll of his eyes. "Really, I have a special night planned. We'll order a nice meal in, share a bottle of wine and really make a night of it."

A quiet night in sounded just fine to Severus, and he nodded as Harry returned to his own page and began reading. His attention elsewhere, Severus allowed himself a moment of gratitude for all Harry had done to clear his name. He wasn't exaggerating when he'd said it was the fight of his life, and even now Severus was amazed that he'd succeeded.

A moment later, Severus cleared his throat to relay his thoughts, then watched as Harry's face fell somewhat and his eyes focused on something beyond the headline.

"Has something happened?" he asked, curious as to what had upset Harry.

"Huh? Oh. Mr. Diggory got himself a promotion," Harry said plainly, his cheerful tone somewhat diminished so that Severus took notice.

"This bothers you?"

Frowning, Harry shook his head. "No, just...I hadn't thought of Cedric in a while." He smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes, and Severus wondered what he was remembering. "He was my first real crush, except...I really didn't realize it was a crush at the time." Smiling sadly, Harry looked across the table, his face so forlorn Severus put down his tea to listen.

"For a few years I'd even thought he was the one that got away, you know? My one chance at happiness. Of course in reality he probably wasn't even gay and even if he was..."

Severus gave an appropriately wistful smile while he tried very hard not to call to mind his own 'one that got away.' The name and face were on the edge of his thoughts and he forced himself—as he did several times a week—to keep his eyes and attention on Harry.

"Who's to say it would have worked out or not?" Harry said softly, putting down the paper and reaching for Severus' hand across the table. "Childhood crushes are a bit ridiculous, aren't they?"

"They can be," Severus said, his fingers entwined with Harry's, forcing himself to remain here at the table, in their home, and not have his mind meander elsewhere.

"Did you ever have a crush in school? Someone you thought you couldn't live without?"

His fingers grasped Harry's tighter as the wall he'd constructed around his mind collapsed and a name and face blasted through to the forefront.

Lucius Malfoy.

Severus thought the idea of love at first sight was ridiculous, but he had to admit he was enamored of Lucius from the very beginning. When Severus had been eleven, he was at the end of an awkward childhood and the beginning of an even more awkward adolescence. And Lucius had always been beautiful.

At seventeen, Lucius had been elegant, confident and had the world at his feet. His classmates either feared him or worshipped him, with few in between. And Severus had wanted him even then.

As the years went by, he saw little of Lucius, but his desires remained so when talks of joining the Dark Lord came about, Severus took very little convincing.

Never once did he blame Lucius for his decision, not when he'd been able to make up his own mind.

In the years of that followed, Severus had thought that the desire would fade when the struggle for absolution for his crimes fueled his every waking thought. And in his fatigue, it had faded to the background, but it was still there. And every time Severus saw Lucius with Narcissa, every time he'd had to pander to Draco, the knife had twisted a little deeper.

Looking towards Harry, looking through Harry, he once again accepted his life as it was. Perhaps he wasn't with the man he'd always wanted, the man who was perfect for him, but...

"Severus?" Harry asked curiously before brushing his thumb over Severus knuckles. And in that gesture, Severus reminded himself why he had settled.

Harry loved him. He really and truly loved him, and no one was more surprised by that than Severus. Despite all the misconceptions he'd had about him, Harry was a good, kind and, above all, loyal man. If he had settled for Harry—and Severus was forced to admit he had—then he could've done far worse.

He gave Harry a soft smile as a familiar twinge of guilt ran through him, but he put it aside. He'd never lied to Harry, never told him he was the love of his life, that he was perfect for him. His actions told Harry exactly what he felt: he was the perfect companion, a very good friend, an attractive young man whose sexual needs matched his own, and someone with whom Severus wouldn't mind spending the rest of his life.

Who said every relationship had to amount to earth-shattering love and romance? What they had seemed to work for both of them.

So why, he asked himself, was he averting his eyes as Harry gave him a bright, hopeful smile.

"Did I bring up a sensitive topic?" Harry asked, peering up at him from behind lovely, dark lashes. "I'm sorry—"

"Not at all, and no, there was no one worth mentioning," Severus lied, releasing Harry's hand and rising from the table.

"Oh," Harry said, and Severus heard the clatter of clearing up from behind him. "So what are your plans for the day?"

Mentally considering his Gringotts account, Severus said, "I think it's time I had some decent robes."

Arms wrapped around him from behind, a soft chuckle vibrating through his chest as Harry said, "I'm going to have to get used to seeing you in pretty clothes."

Moments like these were particularly trying, Severus thought, as he muffled the slight resentment that Harry's jibe had created. He'd never been a vain man, but he did believe in dressing the part; and teacher's robes—usually stained or burnt—were something he was more than willing to leave behind.

Not that he expected Harry to understand something that was, ultimately, simple and seemingly shallow, but was important to Severus.

"You'll look amazing in silk," Harry said, turning him around, then looking up and down Severus' body. "And that new style everyone's wearing—the one with the higher cuts?—that would look amazing on you."

Smirking, Severus released Harry with an inaudible sigh, repeating to himself that Harry was a good man.

"Well, I'm off," Harry said and placed another quick kiss on Severus' lips. "I'll see you tonight?"

Severus gave another grunt and didn't watch as Harry walked away.

As much as he acknowledged his pettiness, Severus' back was somewhat straighter as he walked through Diagon Alley. For the first time in his adult life, people were looking at him with something akin to awe instead of hatred. The article in the Prophet seemed to have changed public opinion of him immediately, and Severus had to admit he was pleased.

Looking at his reflection in a shop window, he breathed a satisfied sigh. He'd bought elegant, yet simple robes, not very dissimilar from what he'd worn all his life. And yet shedding his old teaching robes felt as though he were casting off the past and embracing his future—a future where he was no longer a pariah; he hardly knew what to do with himself.

Adjusting his collar, he continued on to Slug and Jiggers. He had less than an hour until he was supposed to meet Harry.


He heard his name called and immediately recognized the voice, his steps stilled instantly and his body tensed. Slowly he turned, forcing himself to remain passive though his heart had begun to beat madly in his chest.

"Lucius," he greeted with a nod of his head, betraying none of the nervousness he felt.

"For a moment I didn't recognize you," Lucius said, looking Severus up and down. "You're not dressed as a poor schoolteacher today."

Forcing a smirk, Severus offered a droll, "Perhaps it's escaped your notice that I no longer am a poor schoolteacher."

Lucius gave a polite chuckle and nodded. "Yes, I saw the paper this morning. Wonderful news for you." He continued his study of Severus' body, not even trying to hide his obvious interest. If this had been any other man, Severus would have cursed him and walked away.

But as much as he hated to admit it, he felt like an awkward adolescent again, just as he had the first time Lucius had examined him. Then, Lucius had found Severus wanting, unlike now.

"Would you care to join me for a drink?"

All thoughts of potions and Harry immediately left Severus, and he was walking next to Lucius before he'd even voiced his agreement.

"Two glasses of sherry," Lucius told the bartender as he came by their table, and before Severus could remind him that he hated sherry—much too sweet for his tastes—the man had left to bring the order.

The lack of consideration irritated him, but he was quickly mollified as Lucius sat back in his chair and gave Severus his undivided attention. He hated that Lucius had this effect on him, but he couldn't deny that he welcomed it all the same.

"So now that your name is cleared and the public has deemed you clean enough to grace their streets, what are you going to do now?"

Severus debated telling him about his ambition concerning lycanthropy, and was rescued from the decision as the bartender arrived with their drinks.

"Scotch," Severus said to him plainly, then watched as he looked over at Lucius before leaving.

"So?" Lucius said a moment later, happily sipping his drink.

Reaffirming that he was in fact an adult and had been for over twenty years, Severus decided to tell Lucius his plans. "I've been given a stipend from the Ministry," he started slowly. "After careful consideration, I've decided to pursue a curse to lycanthropy, a real cure, not just something to soothe the symptoms."

Encouraged by Lucius' curious look, he continued, "We're so close, Lucius, to finding a cure. There is so much we didn't know about the body that recent finds have revealed. I'm even considering having a healer as a consultant..."

He trailed off as he noticed a smirk marring Lucius' fine features. His irritation returned and he forced himself to ask, "Have I said something amusing?"

"Oh, nothing," Lucius said as he visibly tried to restrain a chuckle. "It's simply—lycanthropy, Severus? Every potion master who graduated from the academy has tried his hand at curing that...that blood disease."

Severus' hands gripped the table and suddenly his thoughts turned to Harry, though he had no idea why.

"Yes, many have tried, and all of their work has led us here, to a place where a cure may actually be attainable."

Taking a sip of his drink, Lucius turned a condescending smile on Severus and said, "Well, yes, I'm sure, but it's so cliche, Severus. You have the world at your feet at the moment. Why not work on something on which you could actually succeed?"

Clenching his jaw, Severus began to look past Lucius, and the irony wasn't lost on him that he usually did so in vice versa circumstances, while sitting with Harry. All those times he'd wished Harry was a fellow intellectual, someone able to appreciate his ambition, were suddenly brought to mind. Only now he wondered why he'd ever put that mantle on Lucius. Why had he sat with Harry wishing it were Lucius when Harry was the far better man?

And suddenly—out of nowhere, really—Severus felt his nearly lifelong desire for Lucius melt away. It was as though a light that had been burning for thirty years had suddenly gone out, and yet something was there in its place.

Sitting there, staring past Lucius, Severus was somehow freed to see things as they truly were. Free from his stupid childhood infatuation, the past two years passed through his mind's eye and he saw Harry for who he truly was.

"I have a business proposition for you, Severus," Lucius said, drawing his attention back to him. And just as Harry had been revealed, Severus saw the real Lucius—a shallow, disloyal husk of a man. The sudden knowledge only increased his desire to see Harry more.

"Perhaps you'd like to come back to the manor for dinner?" Lucius said, his eyes once again slowly traveling Severus' body, leaving no doubt what it was he was actually proposing. "Narcissa is visiting relatives, so we'll be able to...speak in private."

There it was. The one proposition he'd desired for years, the man he had wanted nearly all his life asking him to go to bed with him...

And all he could think of was Harry.

A moment passed and then Severus laughed, feeling a weight lifted off his chest. He looked at Lucius, all romanticism gone, then finished his scotch and stood.

"Thank you, but I have plans." He almost smiled at the look on Lucius' face as he turned to leave. He looked like a man who wasn't used to being turned down.

"The Potter boy?" Lucius questioned under his breath, then smirked. "Is that really who you'd rather be with, Severus?"

A dozen scathing retorts died as an image of Harry fixing his tea was brought to the forefront of his mind. He thought of Harry encouraging him to pursue his ambitions, of him fighting for the last two years for his freedom. He considered all the love that Harry has shown him, then his own actions.

Needing to see Harry now, Severus sneered and said, "Always," then Apparated on the spot.

With a strength of purpose he hadn't felt in years, Severus walked through their front door only to find Harry sitting despondently on the sofa, his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands.

His steps slowed as he watched Harry look up, a disappointed yet resigned look on his face, and felt a surge of guilt at having put it there.

"Hi," Harry said, avoiding Severus' eyes. "You're late."

"My apologies," Severus said, having no idea how to approach Harry after his recent epiphany. How did you inform the man you were in a relationship with that you were in love with him? "I was...delayed."

"Oh," Harry said, then looked him up and down. "You look nice." At Severus' nod, he continued, "Dinner's on the table if you want some. I'm not very hungry."

"Harry, I..." but he drifted off as Harry stood up and finally met his eyes. There was a touch of anger and annoyance, and he thought Harry had every right to feel those things, but then a strange thing happened. It was almost as though he could hear the argument Harry was making with himself. Severus had never made him any promises, had never told him he loved him, had never given him any indication that he was as important to him as Severus obviously was to Harry.

It nearly broke his heart to see Harry's shoulders slump and resignation set in.

"It's alright. We can have dinner any night." And with that he turned to go upstairs, Severus' heart twisting as he went.

Damn his pride, he thought, and damn any unspoken agreements. If Severus was beginning a new chapter of his life, he knew he wanted Harry to be in it. And not just as a companion, not someone to keep the sheets warm, but as the man he loved.

"Wait," he said, then grabbed Harry's shoulders and turned him around. Harry allowed himself to be manhandled, but his frown was enough to give Severus pause. "Perhaps it's time we talked about this thing between us before it goes any further."

Harry paled, and Severus stifled a groan at how unschooled he was at matters of the heart. Before his guilt overwhelmed him any further, he straightened his shoulders, swallowed the lump in his throat and said, "I feel as though I'm beginning a new chapter in my life." Harry frowned curiously at that, a little wrinkle forming between his brows that Severus only now noticed.

"All my old debts have been paid," Severus said slowly, letting his hands drift down to Harry's arms, then grabbing his hands. "I've decided where I want to take my career, I've set my path, and..." and he drifted as he looked into Harry's eyes, for the first time noticing how beautiful they were. "The only thing left to decide is who I want to spend my life with."

Cautious optimism caused Harry's face to lose its paleness, and Severus released his hands, only to cup Harry's face with his own.

"I've been a fool," he said in a fierce whisper and brought his face so close to Harry's their noses nearly touched. "I was so caught up in the past—in something that wasn't real—I hardly noticed what's been in front of me all along."

A small smile curved Harry's lips and Severus crossed the small distance between them, kissing Harry desperately, pouring all the things he couldn't say into it.

It was better than the first time.

A moment later, he pulled away, needing to say this—needing the declaration—before his desire for Harry became too much of a distraction.

"I love you," he whispered, then watched as Harry's eyes went wide, then glassy.

"Oh," Harry breathed and gave a long sigh. "You do?"

"Yes," He kissed Harry again. "Yes."

"I'd given up hope..." Harry said, his smile wide and his arms thrown around Severus. "I thought...I thought I loved you enough for the both of us. I'd have been happy just being with you, but..."

"Shut up," Severus said automatically, then lessened the harshness with yet another a kiss. "You deserve so much more."

Their feet shuffled towards the bedroom, Severus almost falling over himself in his haste to get there. As he unbuttoned his robes, Harry let his hands fall over the silk, then looked up at him curiously.

"What brought this on? What happened between breakfast and now?"

Breakfast seemed like a lifetime ago, the muffled desire he'd felt for so long having left him for good. Knowing that something needed to be said, he carefully said, "I simply had the opportunity to see a life without you, and I found it...wanting."