A/N: This is for my co-writer, DaughterofAres, as well as everyone who has been so kind as to review along the way.
Five years later...
Severus Snape had to take a moment to quell the anxiety which immediately gripped him upon waking. The feat took scarcely a second, accomplished in the time it took to fully open his dark eyes. It had been the same every morning for the past year – for the majority of the past four years, were he honest with himself. He would awaken to wonder where one Harry Potter was at that moment and what evil would befall him that day.
Such worries should have been behind him, of course. After all, Voldemort was dead and Harry was home, safe, where he belonged. Nevertheless, Severus doubted if he would ever cease to fear for the well-being of the boy he'd come to think of as his own. He did not consider this a bad thing.
Sitting on the edge of the bed, he shook his hands in an attempt to rid them of the tingling which always resulted when he had been still for too long. When only his fingertips remained numb, he stood and went about getting ready for the day.
The hall light was on when he emerged from his room, which didn't really surprise him any more than the fact that none of the doors were actually shut. There had been a time when he was always the first one up, but now it was the other way around. Loosely gripping the banister with one hand, he made his way down the stairs.
Harry looked up from gazing out the window as Severus entered the small kitchen. Green eyes remained fixed on the man, watching him closely, so that he felt compelled to scowl at the boy. A small grin overtook the younger wizard's face. It was not half as bright as it had once been.
"You had all the doors closed," Harry said.
"I knew you would open them again after you returned home," Severus responded simply, pouring himself a cup of coffee. Again, Harry's gaze followed him as he moved to the table to sit down. Were it anyone else, he probably would have snapped at them. As it was, he took a sip from his cup, pointedly ignoring the unwanted attention.
"What if..." Harry began, breaking off when the man glanced up sharply from his mug. "What if I didn't open them?" he asked instead.
"Then, it would be the first time since you came here that you left them shut," Severus replied evenly.
Harry smiled a little before wrapping his arms about himself in a self-hug, pressing his lips together slightly. "How's your leg?"
"You were rubbing at it, just now."
"You do realize I am not an invalid. I am perfectly capable of looking after myself."
A mixture of skepticism and concern was apparent on the teen's features. "Your knee isn't hurting you, then?"
Severus allowed himself a small sigh as he set down his coffee cup. "If you must know, I have an itch and it happens to be beneath the brace. You're worse than Poppy," he muttered.
"Slept with it on, again, didn't you?" A faintly amused light entered the boy's green eyes.
"I did not wish to be bothered with it." The man brought the mug back to his lips, only to curse as its hot contents sloshed over onto his trembling hand.
The teasing expression on Harry's face abruptly faded as he watched the older wizard ball his hand into a fist in an attempt to cease its sudden shaking. "She got off too easily," he murmured darkly.
There was no need for him to say who he meant. Severus knew he was speaking of Bellatrix Lestrange, the one responsible for the damage to his nerves and the fact that his right knee could no longer support itself. "The woman's dead, Harry," he stated. "She can no longer cause harm to anyone else."
"Still," the boy growled.
A tapping at the window drew their attention and the teen opened it to let in several post owls. After they'd left, he started to flip through the assortment of letters, pausing as he came to a coarse, brown envelope.
Severus watched as Harry's mind slipped momentarily elsewhere, vibrant eyes fixed upon something in the past. It was not an unusual occurrence, particularly during the past two months since Voldemort's demise. Something would trigger a memory and Harry would be there once more, briefly checking out of the present. He was just grateful that the boy had not begun to have flashbacks again.
The teen blinked, the time his mind had ventured into the past so short that most wouldn't even suspect he'd been gone. He handed half the letters to Severus before sitting in a chair and tearing into the envelope.
"Voldemort?" the man guessed, causing the boy to look up at him.
Harry gave a short laugh. "No," he replied. "The Dursleys, actually. I was remembering when I got my Hogwarts' letter."
"I see," Severus uttered quietly, his expression darkening as it always did at the mention of the muggle family.
"That was when they gave me Dudley's second bedroom, actually. They were afraid they were being watched."
"Obviously, such a concern failed to remain with them very long."
One shoulder shrugged indifferently. "I didn't have to live with them much longer after that," said Harry. "I ended staying with you."
"I never did understand why you asked to stay with me, of all people," the older wizard remarked.
"Actually..." the teen admitted wryly, "at the time, you were the scariest person I knew – especially when I thought you hated me. I knew my relatives would be terrified of you."
"That is the reason you requested to live with me? Because you believed me to be sufficiently intimidating?" Severus smirked, amused.
"Well, yeah, that was part of it, but it was also because you worked so hard to help me when you figured out something was wrong," Harry elaborated. "I mean, you didn't even really like me, yet, but you still wanted to help. And... you never hurt me. I mean, you thought I was a spoiled little prat and you'd said a lot of things that weren't nice, but you never hurt me, and you made it clear that you were upset that somebody else had." He shrugged again, this time self-consciously. "I felt safe with you."
The man reached over and gave one of the teen's hands a gentle squeeze. "What's in the letter?" he asked.
"Oh," Harry picked up the parchment and skimmed it as he spoke. "It's a formal invitation to join Aurors' training. I'm going to decline, though."
Severus raised a brow at this. "I thought you wanted to be an Auror?"
"I used to, but now... I think I've had enough of fighting dark wizards to fill anyone's lifetime."
"Unjustly so," the man agreed. "What are your plans, then? You are sorely mistaken if you believe I will continue to support you indefinitely."
Harry grinned appreciatively, sensing the humor laced with the truth of the statement. "I still want to get my NEWTs," he replied seriously. "Then, I thought I might accept Professor McGonagall's offer to teach."
"You want to be a teacher?"
"It's not so bad, and I've always been good at Defense."
"That is true."
"What about you?" Harry inquired uncertainly. "What are you going to do... now?"
"I will also be teaching," Severus answered, tone matter-of-fact. Harry's eyes widened in alarm. "Just because I can no longer work as a Potions Master, does not mean I cannot continue to teach."
"But what if the students need your help?" the teen asked. "I mean, what if you need to show them how to do something? Couldn't that be a bit... dangerous?"
"Were I do so, myself? Yes," the older wizard stated bluntly. "That is part of the reason I will have an apprentice."
"I requested to be appointed one," said Severus, picking up one of his own letters. "A Miss Tiffany Brandt. She'll begin her apprenticeship with me just prior to the coming school year."
"Poor girl," said Harry, sotto voce.
Severus narrowed his eyes at him. "Cheeky brat."
Grinning unrepentantly, the boy rose from his chair. "I'm gonna go shower. I promised the Weasleys I'd pay them a visit after we were able to come home."
"Just don't run up the water bill." The Potions Master turned his attention to Tiffany Brandt's academic record from Beauxbatons.
He looked up to find Harry still standing in the doorway. "Yes, Harry?"
"I missed you," Harry said, "while 'Mione, Ron and I were looking for the horcruxes. I... I was afraid I'd never see you again."
Severus pushed back from the table and moved to stand in front of the boy. "I missed you, too, Harry," he admitted. "There wasn't a day that passed where I didn't hope the best and fear the worst for you."
Harry threw his arms around him and the man tightly returned the embrace.
"It was wrong of you to go off without my permission," he admonished, his tone a bit rough.
"I know," the teen mumbled into his shoulder. "I'm sorry."
They stood there like that for just a moment more before Severus pulled away. "Now, you'd best get ready and pay your visit, lest your friends think your grumpy git of a father won't allow you out of his sight."
"Yes, sir," Harry said with a grin, wiping a tear from one cheek.
Severus shuffled back to his place at the table to continue perusing his mail. He had just seated himself, when Harry's voice drifted quietly to him from the other room.
"Love you, Dad."
A fond smile softened the man's harsh features. "I love you, too, son," he replied.
And both of them knew it was true.
Author's Note: I realize this still leaves a lot left unsaid and many questions unanswered. I like to think of it as a study in the unsaid, letting what isn't shown be told through implication and deduction, the snapshots in these two altered lives merely showing various moments which brought the characters to change.
Will there be a sequel, set before the epilogue? I'm not opposed to it, though, it is doubtful I will ever write one myself. I've a legion of story ideas hopping around my brain, HP, original, and otherwise, and at the moment it appears that the Muse is well and truly finished with this tale. So, the official word is no. There will likely be nothing more in the Flashback universe.
Thank you, once again, to all those who have read an reviewed along the way - your feedback is greatly appreciated.