Author's Note: I'm sure my constant readers are going to be mad that I didn't update Give Me Life, but I had this rumbling around in my head for the last few months and I wanted to write it before I forgot the good bits. This is DH compliant if you forget about the epilogue. Anyway, I hope you enjoy.

Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter or related characters, and I receive no profit from this story.

The Great Tragedy of Severus Snape

oOoOoOo

Severus Snape stood outside the door to the apothecary and breathed deeply to steady his nerves. It had been a long time since he'd had to do that. Now that Potter had finally destroyed the Dark Lord, he was free to live his life. It had been like a weight that had been steadily getting heavier and heavier over the last seventeen years had been lifted. It took him a while to get his bearings, but then he settled into a nice comfortable life. Minerva was managing the school for the next couple years, and then he would take over as headmaster when she wanted to retire. In the meantime, he was enjoying a much deserved respite. He'd repaired and renovated the house in Spinner's End- to the point where it hardly resembled the setting of all the bad memories from his childhood. So, life had been a walk in the roses, up until this moment.

He took another long breath and stepped through the door.

"Morning, Severus," the handsome wizard behind the counter flashed him a smile. "I suppose you have another challenging order for me to fill. You always need the most obscure ingredients."

"Um, no," Severus shook his head. "Actually, I just wanted to talk to you, Lex."

Alexander Previn smiled now and nodded, licking his lips in a thoughtful expression. "Do you want a cup of tea or something? The shop has been slow this morning. I could close for fifteen minutes or so."

Severus nodded, and stepped out of the way so that Alexander could lock the door and flip the open sign over to closed. He followed the other man into the back and stood awkwardly to the side in the little back room while Alexander busied himself making tea.

"I take it your trip to Peru went well," Alexander said, handing a cup of tea to Severus- made just the way he liked it. "Did you find everything you wanted?"

"Yes, the prilorne vine gave me a little trouble, but one of the locals showed me where to find some, so I only spent a week there."

"That's good," Previn said, sipping at his tea. "Did you get the custom potion orders that I sent over last week then?"

"Yes, I'll have them done by the end of next week, but that's not what I stopped by to talk about."

"So this isn't merely a social call then?"

Severus sighed. "It's possible I've misjudged things, and feel free to refuse if you don't think it would be appropriate. The ministry is holding a gala next week, and I'm expected to attend. I don't really want to go, but I was hoping that you might be willing to accompany me."

Previn's constant smile morphed into a slight smirk. "Are you asking me out, Severus?"

"Yes, that was my intention."

Previn seemed to consider it for a moment then he grinned even wider than before. "I'd love to go with you."

Severus nodded, somewhat briskly, drained his cup, and stood to leave. "The ball starts at seven next Saturday. I'll stop by here to pick you up at ten 'til, if that suits."

Alexander just smiled at Severus' obvious awkwardness, holding back a slight chuckle. "Okay, I guess I'll see you then if you don't stop by for anything in the meantime."

"Yes, well, good afternoon," Severus said and, buckling his cloak over his shoulders, left the shop.

Alexander just shook his head in disbelief after he left.

oOoOoOo

Severus stood before his bedroom mirror and fumbled with the last few buttons on his collar. He was willing to admit that he was nervous- if only to himself. He and Alexander had a longstanding friendship, or at least a good working relationship, and he didn't want to ruin that through this ill-advised foray into the realm of romantic entanglements- something he'd never been particularly comfortable with in the first place. He straightened his hair again, for the first time wishing he'd developed some kind of cosmetic potion to make it less greasy. He sighed. What was the point anyway? Alexander knew what he looked like by now and had agreed to go out with him anyway, so it must not bother him that much.

All of this only amounted to half of his nervousness. The rest was attributed to the fact that this would be the first time he'd seen Potter since the end of the war. There was no question that the boy had saved his life- had taken care of him in all his obstinate convalescent glory while he recovered. For the first time in their long history, they were equal. Severus wasn't quite sure how to deal with that. It was harder to dredge up his usual animosity.

He gave himself another look-over in the mirror, straightened his collar, and then finally gave up. It was past the point of changing anything anyway. The new dress robes were elegant and expensive. His hair was washed and combed, as clean as it was going to get, but still a little greasy. His skin had lost a little of its pallor, and he looked healthier than he had in years. No amount of primping was going to improve his appearance at this point, and he was due at Previn's.

He picked up the small red rose buttonhole that he'd bought that afternoon; it matched the one pinned to his own robes. It was nauseatingly romantic, and he was somewhat disgusted with himself. Nevertheless, he carefully cupped the flower in his hand and apparated.

Diagon Alley was deserted this late in the day, but the light was on in Alexander's shop. He lived above it, as most of the shop proprietors did, but the lights upstairs were all off. Severus walked in without knocking. Alexander was behind the counter, looking over the ledger while he waited for Severus.

He looked stunning. Alexander was a striking man to begin with; Severus couldn't imagine what Lex could possibly see in him. The midnight blue dress robes that he wore brought out the color in his indigo blue eyes, and his sandy blonde hair was tied back loosely at the nape of his neck with a matching blue ribbon. As soon as he saw Severus, he grinned like the sun. He was a complete contrast to Severus' dour blackness.

"Well look at you," Alexander said approvingly.

Severus frowned.

"You look nice," Alexander clarified, walking around the counter.

"Thank you." Severus wanted to compliment Lex too, but he felt it would seem obligatory and trite if he did it now, so instead he held out the rose in his hand. "I got this for you."

"How, um… traditional," Previn managed. He stepped forward. "Pin it on for me?"

Severus' breath hitched as he stepped closer to Alexander, close enough to smell him- soap and spice and sandalwood, and his hand trembled a bit as he pinned the flower to the lapel of Alexander's robes.

"I have a tintype of my great-grandfather on my mantle," Severus explained. "He's straightening the leaves on a carnation on his husband's lapel. I always thought it was romantic."

Alexander watched as Severus finished with the flower, and then bent his neck to sniff at the petals. "Your great-grandfather's husband? How exactly did that work out?"

"It's a bit complicated. This is my muggle great-grandfather we're talking about. Back then they would throw you into prison for being a homosexual. My great-grandfather's husband married a woman; I'm not sure if they had a falling-out or if it was just to alleviate suspicion. Anyway, he was sterile due to some injuries he'd received during the war, so my great-grandfather agreed to help them to have a baby. My great-grandmother died giving birth to my grandmother, so they were left to raise her together, comfortably under the eye of Scotland Yard. She always spoke well of them, and she gave me the tintype when I told her that I was gay."

Alexander put a hand on Severus' shoulder, and offered up a half-smile. "I'm not sure if that's a happy story or a sad one."

Severus shrugged. "I suppose it's both. It doesn't matter anyway. It happened a long time ago. I just like the picture."

Alexander nodded. "Thank you for the flower, in any case. I wouldn't have thought of it myself; I don't usually get invited to high-society Ministry functions."

"Nor do I," Severus admitted, "and, as you said, it's a bit traditional."

"Traditional isn't necessarily bad."

Severus tried to rein in his scowl but didn't feel like he really succeeded. He didn't like being patronized. "Well, in any case, are you ready to go now?"

"Just let me lock up," Alexander brushed past Severus as he walked to the door and turned the lock. He raised his wand and cast a few basic wards. It wasn't really necessary these days; Diagon Alley was a safe place, but sometimes old habits die hard.

Severus raised his wand, and they disapparated within a few seconds of each other.

They apparated into the lobby of the Ministry of Magic. There were already well-dressed witches and wizards milling around as they met up with each other and made their way toward the ballroom.

A pretty young witch in Ministry black robes was handing out programs. Severus scowled at her, but Alexander politely took the offered flier. He flipped through it as they walked toward the ballroom with the stream of the crowd.

"This says you're being awarded an Order of Merlin," Alexander said suddenly.

"Yes," Severus agreed.

"You knew?"

"Of course. I would not have come otherwise."

"Did you write a speech?"

"Certainly," Severus automatically patted the piece of paper to make sure that he still had it. It wasn't the most gracious of speeches, but he'd tried not to insult anyone too horribly."

As they stepped into the ballroom, Severus found himself scanning the room for Potter- a shock of unruly black hair or a flash of impossibly green eyes. He saw plenty of familiar faces, a whole passel of red-heads, Longbottom, Granger, Minerva, Draco was standing near the punch bowl, with Oliver Wood of all people, but no sign of Potter.

George Weasley surprised him by walking over as soon as they reached the foot of the wide ornamental staircase. He appeared to be unescorted and walked up to Severus with an easy smile on his face. Things with George had been weird lately; there was no other word for it. Following Fred's death, George had become something of a shut-in. He'd closed the shop, claiming a need for renovations, and by all accounts hardly left his bed. Still, somewhat convalescent himself, Severus had been compelled to drop by and offer up his condolences- he couldn't have explained why. When he had seen the state of things all of his intentions had flown out the window. Instead of offering comfort, he'd found himself, inexplicably, yelling at George. The flat was a disaster, George had broken almost everything in some kind of fit, the walls were covered in curse burns, it smelled terrible, he'd obviously stopped eating, stopped bathing, and there were empty liquor bottles everywhere. It was as if George had completely given up. They'd gotten into a screaming row. Severus had left feeling horrible about himself, but a week later he'd seen George shopping in Diagon Alley, and he looked better. A week after that, George had stopped by Severus' house and actually thanked him. He said that Fred wouldn't have wanted him to live like that, and his friends and family loved him too much to say what needed to be said. He needed to live for both of them now, and he couldn't do that in a drunken stupor letting himself wither away. After that, they'd struck up a reluctant sort of friendship- meeting for tea when Severus was in Diagon Alley and reliving the glory days (which mostly involved George letting Severus in on the details of any number of pranks the twins had pulled over the years, and Severus occasionally reveling in the remembrance of a particularly horrible or inventive punishment he'd doled out as a result of said prank.)

"Hello Snape," George said, almost sauntering over. "Introduce me to your handsome friend."

"This is Alexander Previn," Severus said. "Lex, this objectionable little sot is the bane of my existence, George Weasley."

"Ah, Sevvie," George cooed. "You always say such sweet things." He held out his hand to shake with Alexander, and gave him a conspiratorial look. "Don't let the acerbic wit and misanthropic nature fool you, underneath he's a huge softy. Well, not really; he's a greasy git, but he's one of the good guys."

"Thank you for the high recommendation," Severus sneered.

"Anytime, mate," George said, patting Severus on the shoulder. He glanced across the ballroom, "Oh, hey, there's Lee. I'll catch up with you guys later," he waved them goodbye as he set off to the other side of the room.

"Don't hurry back," Severus called after him.

"Is he one of the blokes from Weasley's Wizard Wheezes?" Alexander asked after he left.

"The only one now," Severus told him. "He lost his brother in the war, but try not to mention it."

Alexander nodded. "Should we find our table?"

They walked to the front of the ballroom, where a few dozen white clothed tables were set up in front of the dais for the award ceremony. Severus waved his wand and said, "Severus Snape and Alexander Previn." Two little orbs of light flew out of his wand and drifted over to a table directly in front of the podium and hovered momentarily over two of the eight chairs before dimming and going out.

They walked over and Severus glanced over the other name cards on the table. He would be seated between Alexander and Marcus Flint. Flint? What was Flint doing here? He must be someone's guest. He walked a little further along to see who he was with and was shocked to see that the name on the card was Harry Potter. He continued along the table to see if that was simply a mistake, but the next cards were Ron Weasley and Granger. Next to Granger was Neville Longbottom; Severus cringed. Longbottom seemed to be accompanied by the Lovegood girl, which brought him back to Alexander. Well, it was certainly going to be an interesting night.

Alexander took off his heavy outer robe and laid it across the back of his chair. This revealed his thin waist and well shaped bottom. Severus took a moment to enjoy the view and offered Previn an appreciative smirk when he turned around. Alexander even blushed a little. Severus was charmed; Lex was a few years older than himself, and Severus rather imagined that he'd matured a good way past blushing. "Er, was there anyone else you wanted to talk to?" he stammered out.

"My godson is here somewhere. I saw him when we came in. I suppose I should say hello; I haven't seen him in a while."

"Okay."

Severus was a little nervous as he reached over for Lex's hand, but Alexander seemed more than receptive to the small advance and allowed himself to be led over to the refreshments table where Draco was still having a quiet conversation with Wood.

"Hey Sev," Draco said when they walked up. "Big fancy award ceremony, did you write a speech?"

"Yes."

"You always were good with words. I just hope that someone knows what they mean."

"It may be better if they don't"

Draco snorted.

"This is my godson, Draco Malfoy," Severus told Alexander, "and Oliver Wood, one of my former students." Alexander held out his hand to shake with them. "This is Alexander Previn; he owns an apothecary in Diagon Alley."

They observed the niceties and stood in silence for a moment.

"We're at the front table with Potter and the Gryffindor dream team," Severus said, rolling his eyes. "It looks like he's bringing Marcus Flint. That seems like an unlikely match. Do you know anything about it?"

"Flint's here?" Wood asked, eyes alight with mischief. Draco spared him a disapproving glare.

"Not yet, I don't think." Severus glanced around the room. "I don't see Weasley or Granger yet either."

"Longbottom's cowering around here somewhere," Draco said.

"I'm a little surprised to see you here, Draco," Severus said.

"Like I'm going to miss you getting a first class Order of Merlin," Draco said, smirking again. "I can't wait to see the look on everyone's faces. Anyway, the Malfoy name's been dragged through the mud, but after all the donations I've made to the Ministry I still have enough clout to merit an invitation. I'm taking a position in the Minister's cabinet next year. Shacklebolt didn't seem too pleased with the idea, but he understands that he needs to diversify his council if he wants to maintain favor."

"I always did think you'd make a good politician."

Draco shrugged. "After the things my family's done, I have a lot to make up for."

"Don't we all," Severus said, and his expression darkened. "How is your father, anyway?"

"In Azkaban," Draco said. "How do you think? I don't want to have anything to do with him. Not right now anyway. I have control of the manor now, and I intend to make some changes."

"Good for you," Severus said.

He glanced around the room again then, and that's when it happened. He caught sight of Potter, walking down the grand staircase. Severus felt his breath catch, and his heart suddenly seemed to be beating in his throat. The war had hardened Harry, but the last year had served to grow him out a bit. The boy was beautiful; there was no arguing that, and definitely no longer a boy. Flint, on his arm, looked positively ugly in comparison. Potter's hair was tamed for the first time in his life. He'd grown it out over the last year and it was brushed back from his face in ebony waves and held with some sort of cosmetic spell. He'd finally bought a new pair of glasses- rectangle frames that made him look a little older. His forest green robes were tailored just right to show off his developing chest and slender frame, and swept around him as he descended the steps to show a pair of polished dragon-hide boots.

Harry caught his gaze across the crowd, and his eyes shone. He smiled a gleaming white grin. Severus smiled back before he could stop himself, feeling very self-conscience of his crooked yellow teeth. Why hadn't he ever taken the time to get them fixed? Those beautiful eyes held his for a moment longer, so much deeper and brighter than Lily's had ever been, and somehow older too, but then Weasley and Granger came in behind him, and Harry gave his attention over to them.

Alexander noticed his stare and followed his gaze. "Harry Potter's here," he said.

"Can we go talk to him, Drake," Oliver asked in his resonant Scottish burr.

Draco looked up at Potter and his posse and frowned. They were beginning to draw a crowd. "Maybe later," Draco said. Inwardly, he thought it would be good press, but, while Potter might be receptive of his company, the rest of the Gryffindors wouldn't be so welcoming- even if he brought Wood with him. "You can go over if you want."

Wood shook his head and favored Draco with a private smile: somehow knowing and romantic. It made Severus wonder how long their relationship had been going on.

There was a small chime from the podium, and Severus looked up to see Kingsley up on the dais. He put his wand to his throat and spoke to the crowd. "If you would please take your seats," he said. "We're ready to begin the ceremony."

Severus turned to Alexander, and this time he felt the other man's hand slide into his first. They wove between the tables to the front and were met by Potter, Flint, Weasley, and Granger. Longbottom and Lovegood were later in coming; Longbottom was probably trying to overcome his terror. Severus did the boy the courtesy of not looking at him; he'd earned at least that much. Instead he looked past Flint to Potter.

"Hello, Severus," he said as Severus met his eyes.

That was bold. Even when Potter had spent a week taking care of him, bed-ridden and hiding out in the Shrieking Shack, they hadn't made it on a first name basis. Severus couldn't quite manage it himself. He inclined his head. "Potter," he turned his attention to Flint, "Marcus."

Shacklebolt took the podium again as the last of the stragglers found their seats. "Today marks a year since the end of the war and the defeat of You-Know-Who. I can think of no better way to celebrate a year of peace than to honor those of us who were most instrumental in bringing it to fruition."

There was a round of applause, and Severus clapped along politely with everyone else.

They brought the Order of Merlin (second class) recipients up first. Flitwick came up first, and the podium magically adjusted to accommodate his stature. He thanked the Ministry for their recognition, and graciously accepted the award. Next was Aberforth Dumbledore. He spoke a few words about his late brother, accepted his award from Shacklebolt, and returned to his seat. They were followed by a procession of Weasleys: Molly, Arthur, Charlie, Bill, Fleur- looking very pregnant, and finally George. Ginny and Ron were being awarded first class Orders of Merlin, which left Percy as the only Weasley not receiving an award today.

George lingered at the podium as he was presented a posthumous award for Fred. He made a sad smile as he held up the award. He pointed his wand at his throat again and said, "This one's for Fred." He set his wand on the podium and held out his hand. There was a small metal ball, no bigger than a pea, in his palm, and he whispered something to it before tossing it up into the air. The tiny ball exploded into a display of fireworks that made their seventh-year farewell exhibition look like the work of children. It only lasted a few minutes, but by the end the crowd was in awe. There was an echoing round of applause, and Severus clapped louder than anyone. George grinned and returned his wand to his throat. "I love you, Fred," he said in a whisper that amplified around the room. His smile fell a little, and he returned to his seat near most of the rest of his family.

Hagrid came next, sobbing loudly as he stumbled through a speech that no one could really understand through the sobs and loud noises when he blew his nose into his handkerchief. Then was Olivander, still looking a little frail and unhealthy, Madam Pomfrey, Arabella Figg, dressed in muggle finery that had seen better days, and finally Luna Lovegood rose from their table to accept her award. She gave a speech listing off a number of magical species that had apparently been influential in winning the war, but could not be recognized for being invisible to the human eyes or otherwise camouflaged. She also used a number of words that Severus was sure she'd made up herself. She returned to her seat to scattered applause.

This moved them on to the first class Orders of Merlin. McGonagall was first. She spoke eloquently about the hardships of that final year and how proud she was when the castle had banded together that final day to fend off the unspeakable. Ginny Weasley accepted her award next, eyes shining with tears as she too lamented the loss of her brother. Longbottom next, dedicating his award to his parents.

Andromeda Tonks made her way slowly up to the dais, little Teddy- barely a year old, was balanced on her hip. She accepted the posthumous awards for her daughter and son-in-law with solemn composure. She spoke of their bravery and sacrifice, and said that Remus Lupin had been one of the bravest and kindest men she'd ever known, more than a match for her daughter, and that the indignities piled upon him for being a werewolf, something he couldn't help, were unforgiveable, and it was time for such prejudices to come to an end. Harry, as well as most of the others, clapped very hard at this. Severus agreed with the statement on principle, but he imagined that most of the people in the room had never come face-to-face with a fully fledged werewolf. Nevertheless, he clapped along with the rest.

Granger was next. Not surprisingly, she thanked her teachers for teaching her the things that she'd needed to know to keep herself and her friends alive during the final battle and the months leading up to it.

Ron followed her up to the podium, and, flushing like mad, announced to the gathered crowd that Granger had agreed to marry him before accepting his own award.

Severus was next. He walked purposefully up to the podium after Kingsley introduced him. He fumbled his speech out of his pocket and laid it out in front of him. He had it memorized, but he wanted it at hand in case he tripped up over something. He looked over the crowd and took a deep breath to steady himself.

"Albus Dumbledore was a great man. Killing him was the hardest thing I've ever had to do, and it was only my complete devotion and loyalty to him that allowed me to carry out the task he'd set for me. That moment will haunt me forever, and the only thing that allows me to sleep at night is knowing that it was the right thing to do, that it was the only thing we could do. Dumbledore believed in the good of the many over the good of the one, and he was willing to sacrifice himself to protect us all.

"I've spent nearly the last two decades of my life in an attempt to atone for my misdeeds, and the regret I feel over them. I had set aside any ambition I held for myself and become consumed with doing what was right above all else.

"Doing the right thing is seldom easy, especially when your motives are suspect, and sometimes in order to do what is right, you have to set aside your own values. But I did what I had to do, protected what needed protecting, and saved what needed to be saved, with little regard for myself.

"I feel a certain satisfied vindication at finally being recognized for this. I'm not a very emotionally open person. I am a Slytherin, and Slytherins have an instinctive tendency to play things close to the vest. I prided ambition above all else. I've had to set aside that ambition, but now I suddenly seem to have my life back. The Dark Lord is dead," there was a round of applause at this, "and now we must begin the process of rebuilding our world. I'm surprised to find myself still around to be a part of that reconstruction. I was willing to give my life for the cause, ready to in fact; the possibility that I would still be alive at the end of the war had never even crossed my mind.

"There have been a lot of thanks being bandied around, but no one has thanked the one man who deserves it more than anyone. Thank you, Harry Potter," Severus looked over and met those beautiful eyes. "Thank you for saving my life, and thank you for giving it back to me. Thank you for giving us a world where life is worth living. I would say that I owe you one, but I think that for the first time in our history we may actually be even; let us keep it that way."

Severus finished his speech and stepped down from the podium to ringing applause. He'd begun with the speech he'd spent weeks fastidiously preparing, but halfway though he had suddenly found himself saying things that he never thought he could have admitted to anyone other than himself.

Alexander clapped him on the shoulder as he returned to his seat, and Harry offered him a shy smile. It only lasted a moment, because Potter was called up to receive the final award of the night.

As he ascended the steps, Harry was met with a loud round of applause. He looked a little embarrassed as Kingsley handed him his award. His hand shook a little as he raised his wand to his throat and cast the sonorous spell.

"Voldemort is dead," Harry said, and there was a noticeable cringe through the audience. Harry looked disgusted. "VOLDEMORT!" he yelled, and the word reverberated around the room. He let out a loud audible sigh. "Voldemort is dead, and as long as you continue to be afraid of the name you're giving him power over you. It's not even his real name!

"I can share certain of Severus' sentiments. I didn't expect to be standing here now. I was ready to sacrifice myself. I didn't see any other way to…" Harry trailed off for a moment, frowning and cleared his throat. "I knowingly walked to my death, but I'm here now. Not everyone is, but we're the ones that are left. And the time has come to begin rebuilding, to undue all the damage that Voldemort has done, but that's not all. If we simply remake things as they were, we leave our world open for something like this to happen again. We must make changes. The old ways simply will not work any longer. We must somehow learn to work together: muggles, and wizards, and giants, and goblins, and elves, wizard-born, and muggle-born alike. The time has come to set aside old rivalries and work together to make our world one that we can all live in. It was hatred and prejudice that allowed Voldemort to gain power. We need to remember, so that it can never happen again, but we must also move on. Our peace has been very hard-won; please ensure that we do not waste it."

Harry lowered his wand, and there was an instant of silence before the applause began. Severus clapped absently, focusing on the look on Potter's face as he descended from the dais: supreme sadness. He'd replaced it with a mask of false jollity by the time he returned to the table, and none of his friends seemed to notice.

Kingsley spoke a few more words to bring the proceedings to a close, and food appeared on their plates to signal the start of dinner. The band played through, not so loud as to discourage conversation, but loud enough that Severus could use it as an excuse to stay mostly silent. Lovegood was attempting to extol the virtues of one of the imaginary magical creatures from her speech upon Alexander. She seemed to think that their potential value as potion's ingredients would persuade him to fund an expedition to search for the creatures. Thankfully, Previn wasn't falling for any of it, but he listened politely anyway. Severus just focused on his food, occasionally sneaking a glance at Potter- once or twice catching his mask of happiness beginning to slip.

Toward the end of dinner, Andromeda stopped by their table. The woman looked exhausted. Citing a need to use the loo, she deposited Teddy into Harry's lap and scurried off. Harry didn't seem to mind much. He smiled down at Teddy, and the little boy made a grab for his glasses. Harry carefully extracted his spectacles from the boy's pudgy grip and handed him a piece of cooked carrot leftover from dinner. Teddy munched happily on this for a few moments while Harry watched, but as soon as it was gone Teddy made another attempt at removing Harry's glasses.

"Teddy, you monster," Harry admonished playfully. "Whatever am I going to do with you?" He pushed his chair back from the table to give him enough room to lift the boy up to eye level. He proceeded to make funny faces at the child, which were met with an infectious chortling little giggle. This seemed to be a favorite game, because soon Teddy was making faces of his own, distorting his mouth or changing his nose as his hair flashed from purple to blue to green to gold and back to purple again.

This exchanged seemed to make Flint uncomfortable, and he excused himself from the table to use the restroom also. Harry didn't seem to notice that he'd left; he was so focused on Teddy.

"You're good with him," Severus heard the words leave his mouth before he was aware of any conscience decision to say them.

Harry looked up at him in surprise. "Er, yeah. I'm his godfather… I'm sure you knew that. So, I guess Teddy's the closest I'll ever get to having one of my own." He sounded regretful.

News of Potter's homosexuality had come to print about six months ago in the form of an exposé in the Daily Prophet detailing a raucous evening spent in Diagon Alley's only gay club. The article was accompanied by half a dozen photographs of a half-naked Potter dancing with a number of equally unclothed wizards in a manner that could only be described as risqué. This article was followed a week later by a public statement from Potter, saying that yes, he was gay, no, he wasn't seeing anyone, and his sex-life was his own business, thank-you-very-much, so would the Daily Prophet please just leave him alone. Miraculously, they seemed to have done so for a few months, but recently there had been a number of articles detailing Potter's supposed continuing sexual exploits and a seemingly endless parade of conquests. Not that Severus cared.

"I don't mean to sound indelicate, but the war has left no shortage of orphans, if you want a child of your own, I'm sure that the Ministry would give you your pick."

Something about this statement seemed to offend Potter. He gave Severus a hateful look out of the corner of his eye, but didn't say anything.

Severus wanted to apologize, but he wasn't sure what it was that Potter found so objectionable, and instead he found himself reacting defensively. "Of course, if it's the great Potter bloodline you're concerned over, I don't doubt that you'd be able to find half a dozen female sycophants willing to bear the children of The-Boy-Who-Lived-To-Defeat-He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named."

Potter turned to regard him stonily. Severus could sense the others at the table stiffening as conversation died away, but he was only aware of this peripherally as he focused on the look Potter was giving him. It held for half a moment, and then it broke, and Potter just looked sad. "I don't want to start in on this again, Severus," he said quietly. "Actually, could we talk in private for a few minutes?" Harry looked over Severus' shoulder. "If you don't mind, Alexander? It is Alexander, isn't it?"

"Yes, Alexander Previn," he said, introducing himself.

Severus didn't turn to look at his date, just continued regarding Harry as if the boy had suddenly sprouted a second head which had promptly begun reciting poetry in ancient gobbledygook.

"I don't mind," Alexander continued. "Do you want me to hold the kid?"

Severus watched as Harry passed Teddy over to Alexander and rose to his feet, waiting for Severus to follow him. He glanced at Lex and frowned, but got to his feet and followed Harry out of the ballroom into the lobby and then out into the Ministry rose garden.

"What's this about, Potter?" he demanded, once they were alone.

Harry looked around at the garden. They stood on a cobbled path that led between the rose bushes, lighted with little faerie lights every few feet. An enchanted stream trickled over rocks to their right and filled the garden with a tinkling sound. It was incongruously romantic to whatever argument Severus felt they were sure to have in a few moments. Instead, Harry looked as though he'd been deflated. "You've been avoiding me," he said finally.

"I've," Severus began it as a shout, but something about Potter's tone made him falter. "I've… what?"

"You've been avoiding me," Harry repeated. "I want to know why."

"I haven't been avoiding you," Severus said. "I've been living my life."

"Minerva said that you didn't want to see me."

"And do you suddenly just feel entitled to be on a first-name-basis with all of your former professors?"

"Don't change the subject, Severus," Harry said, rather boldly Snape thought.

"I didn't want to see anyone."

"You've been spending time with George."

Severus sighed and started walking down the path, slow enough that Potter knew that he was meant to walk with him. "That's different. It just sort of happened. George needed someone to talk to."

"George has plenty of people he can talk to," Harry said.

"No, George has friends and family. There are certain things that you can't say to friends and family."

Harry was quiet for a while as he thought this over. "Okay," he said. "I'm glad he has you to talk to then, but sometimes I need someone to talk to too. Why… I mean… after everything… didn't you need to talk to me too?"

Severus glanced sideways at Harry, trying to read him, but only saw innocent confusion there, that and hurt. He breathed deeply. "Look, Potter…" another deep breath, "Harry. I needed some time to think. Everything's changed now. I meant what I said. I suddenly have my life back, and I have you to thank for that, but it's been so long since I've been my own man; I'm not sure what to do."

"And you don't think that I feel like that?" Harry asked angrily.

"I was rather under the impression that you were out celebrating and fucking anything that crossed your path." Severus heard the bitterness in his voice.

Harry stopped walking. "What was I supposed to do?" Harry asked. "I saved your life. I took care of you for weeks in the fucking Shrieking Shack! You wouldn't even let me tell anyone that you were alive. Then you're finally well enough for me to take you home, and you completely cut me off! If I wasn't getting weekly reports from Minerva, I would have thought you died in your sleep. What do you want from me, Severus?"

"Nothing," he lied. "I just want to be left alone."

Harry ground his teeth. "Why bother to tell me the truth then?" Harry asked. "Why not just let me think that you were really a greasy evil bastard after all? Why bother to clear your name? Then I would have just left you there to bleed to death."

"Would you have?" Severus asked in a whisper.

"No," Harry admitted. "I…" Harry's eyes flashed up to him for an instant. "Anyway, you seem to be doing pretty well for yourself."

It took Severus a moment to grasp the abrupt subject change. "What, Previn? Well, like I said, I'm getting on with living my life."

Harry made a noise, but Severus wasn't sure if it was meant to be supportive or derisive.

"What about Flint?" Severus asked. "How long has that been going on?"

"A couple weeks," Harry answered. "Honestly, I would have shucked him by now, but I needed a date for this thing."

"That's harsh."

Harry shrugged. "Maybe, but I learned my lesson the first time, not to come to one of these ball things unattended." He shuddered.

Severus gave a sharp humorless laugh. "I'd think you'd be eager for the attention: a few more notches in your headboard; there can't be much of it left by now."

"My sex-life isn't any of your business," Harry told him.

"Then perhaps you should do a better job of keeping it out of the papers."

Harry scowled. "I didn't bring you out here to argue."

"Then why did you bring me out here?"

"I just feel like there's all this stuff that's gone unsaid between the two of us. I… after everything you've been through, I feel like I owe it to you to…"

Severus cut him off. "Save it, Potter. I'm not some injured little puppy for you to save. I don't need your pity. You gave me my life back, and I am grateful, but I refuse to allow you to turn me into some kind of pet project. You'll just have to satisfy your savior complex elsewhere."

"That's not what I meant! Would you just listen for a second? I mean, back in sixth year…"

"I definitely don't want to talk about that."

"I'm not talking about Dumbledore!" Harry practically screamed. "Would you just shut up and listen."

Severus scowled but didn't interrupt him.

"I never really knew you. You didn't let me, didn't let anyone, and I can understand why, but in sixth-year I did get to know you. Only, I didn't know that it was you at the time, did I? Then you tell me that you're the Half Blood Prince, and what am I supposed to think?" Potter stopped as though he'd just made some grand revelation. "Then all of that stuff with my mother, and we spent a week together, but we never really talked about any of it."

"What's to talk about?"

"I don't hate you anymore," Harry said.

"I would certainly hope not."

Harry rolled his eyes. "My point is that we can start over."

"No." Severus shook his head.

"What do you mean no?"

"We can't just pretend like the past eighteen years never happened. It's foolish to think that you can rewrite the past. It's naïve and Gryffindor to think that it suddenly doesn't matter."

"And it's cynical and Slytherin to think that you can't move past it," Harry ground out.

"Speaking of which, shouldn't you be getting back to Flint? If you're going to lead the boy on, you might as well do it properly."

"Don't talk about things that you don't know anything about."

"Well, I guess you'd be the expert on that."

"Fine," Harry said, "forget it. Let's go inside. You wouldn't want to keep Alexander waiting."

"No," Severus agreed, "I wouldn't."

oOoOoOo

Marcus Flint returned from the bathroom to find that Harry was gone and he'd missed dessert. The blonde man with Snape was holding Teddy, and he smiled at him with perfect teeth when Marcus returned to his seat.

"Where's Harry gone to?" he asked, looking around.

"He wanted a private word with Severus."

Marcus frowned. He glanced over at Alexander, holding Teddy as if he had any right to do so, and then got to his feet. "I'm going to get a glass of punch, if Harry gets back before I do, tell him I'll only be a minute." He didn't wait for Alexander's answer, but set off towards the refreshment table.

The band had started playing dance music, modern but slow, and the dance floor was starting to fill up. It was because of this that Marcus made it almost all the way to the refreshment table before he saw Wood standing there. As soon as he registered who it was, standing there with Draco Malfoy, Oliver looked up and met his eyes. Wood grinned at him, and his step faltered for a moment; he managed a crooked smile of his own and walked over.

"Hey Flint," Wood said. "I didn't expect to see you here tonight."

"I could say the same of you," Marcus responded, "and with my former seeker, no less."

"It only seems fair," Oliver said, slipping an arm around Draco's waist. "I hear you're here with mine. Where is Harry anyway?"

"I don't know, talking with Professor Snape somewhere."

"I'd watch out there if I were you," Draco advised.

Flint frowned. "What do you mean?"

Draco smirked. "Those two have a lot of history to work through; you heard their speeches. If you're anything to go by, Sev is just his type too: tall, brunette, Slytherin, crooked teeth."

Flint scowled. "I find it rather hard to believe that Harry and Professor Snape would ever…" He was unable to even voice the thought.

Malfoy shrugged in a way that made it clear that he thought Flint was being incredibly naïve, but didn't say anything more.

"I hear you're playing for England these days," Wood said, hoping to change the subject.

"Yeah, I was just a reserve last year, but they have me starting for most of the games this season. Are you still playing for Puddlemere United?"

Wood nodded. "I'd love to get on the National team though."

"Have you thought about trying-out? They have open try-outs every year before preseason training. You'd still have time to sign up. You're way better than most of the idiots who think they're good enough to make the team, and I could put in a good word for you if you like."

"Really?" Wood grinned. "You think I could make the team?"

"You always managed to block all of my goals," Marcus said. "You know, when you weren't unconscious."

Oliver chuckled. "Yeah, well that's fair enough I guess."

The band started playing "Pie in the Sky" by The Weird Sisters then, and Flint looked up. He glanced over to their table, but Harry still wasn't back. "Damn, this is my favorite song."

"Really?" Wood grinned, "Mine too, but why is that a bad thing?"

"Harry's still gone."

"Well, I'll dance with you. Come on, Draco won't mind; he hates dancing anyway."

Draco, who minded quite a lot, watched his boyfriend lead his former Quidditch captain out onto the dance floor without so much as a by-your-leave. He glanced around for Severus and Potter, hoping to commiserate the loss with someone, but they were still missing. He lingered around the punch bowl like the fat girl alone at the party. Draco Malfoy was not used to being the fat girl.

oOoOoOo

When Harry and Severus finally made it back to the table, Alexander had been joined by Andromeda, and everyone else had found their way out onto the dance floor. As Andromeda was in his seat, Severus took the one left by Marcus Flint and found himself sitting next to a very sullen Harry Potter. He did his best to ignore him, making eye contact with Alexander, who was busy discussing the child with Andromeda.

"Where's Marcus?" Harry asked.

"Dancing with my boyfriend," Draco Malfoy said, seemingly appearing out of nowhere. He took a seat on the other side of Harry. "You should keep him on a shorter leash, Potter."

"Who's your boyfriend?" Harry asked, narrowing his eyes. First Snape and now Malfoy, was everyone gay?

"Oliver Wood," he answered.

Apparently. "Since when?"

"A few months now," Draco answered. "What do you care?"

Harry shrugged. "That just seems like an odd coincidence; you're dating my old captain and I'm dating yours."

"This miraculous phenomenon has already been brought to my attention," Draco responded drily. "Now would you please go collect him so that I can have my boyfriend back?"

"You're awfully possessive there, Malfoy," Harry said. "Let them dance if they want; I don't care. If you're so worried, you go do something about it."

Draco grumbled and slumped back into his seat.

"Harry, darling," Andromeda said as she stood and took Teddy back from Alexander. "I think that I'm going to head home. Teddy's about ready for bed, and I don't want him to get fussy by keeping him up. I'll see you tomorrow for tea?"

"Yeah, I'll floo call you tomorrow morning." Harry rose to his feet to give Andromeda a hug and kissed Teddy on the forehead.

"Teddy doesn't live with you?" Severus asked as they left.

"Andromeda takes him every other week," Harry answered. "I offered to let her move in with me, but she wanted to stay in her home. With Ted and Tonks gone, I think there're just too many memories there for her to leave. Anyway, it works out alright."

"And, what about you then? No career in your immediate future? I suppose, between Black and your parents, you're sitting on enough gold to keep you lazing about in good comfort for the rest of your life."

Harry glared at him. "I'm considering a few job offers at the moment," he answered. "I just haven't made up my mind yet. Marcus wants me to take the offer from the English National Quidditch team, but I'm not sure I want to spend the rest of my life on a broomstick. It could be fun for a couple years though; I'm really considering it, but I have a few more weeks to make up my mind. Anyway, I don't think Ron would ever forgive me if I didn't play for the Cannons."

Severus scowled, but didn't say anything more.

The modern music the band had been playing gave way to something a bit more classical, and Alexander rose to his feet and offered his hand to Severus. "Would you like to dance?"

Severus accepted his hand, grateful for an excuse to get away from Potter. For some reason, his presence grated on Severus even more harshly than usual tonight. But, as Alexander led him out onto the dance floor, it didn't take long for the conversation to switch back to Potter.

"So what did Harry Potter want to talk to you about?" Alexander asked, slipping one hand around Severus' waist and holding his hand loosely with the other.

Severus wasn't exactly sure how to answer that. What had Potter wanted to talk about? There was an air of things left unsaid about the conversation, or had it been an argument? He got the feeling that Potter had been trying to tell him something, maybe something important, but he hadn't let him. Anyway, Potter was naïve if he thought that they could have a fresh start, that all their past was water under the bridge. Severus was a Slytherin. Slytherins didn't build bridges; they built dams.

"I'm not sure," Severus answered after a moment. "It's hard to tell with Potter, he couldn't have a concise discussion if his life depended on it."

"Well, it's a good thing for all our sakes that it never has then."

Severus snorted.

"His godson is cute," Alexander said, twirling Severus around as they moved across the floor. They painted quite a striking picture- both with their long hair tied back, Severus' robes twirling around them as they moved, Alexander looking lean and slender pared down to his shirtsleeves and waistcoat.

"I will have you know that Draco was adorable at that age," Severus said tersely.

The statement had the desired effect; Alexander laughed so hard that he shook a little and threw them off a step or two. He regained his composure in a moment, and pulled Severus closer to him. "I'm a little surprised you're letting me lead," he said honestly.

"You're taller," Severus answered, "and you asked me to dance. It's only natural that I allow you to lead. Don't be getting ideas just because I'm letting you guide me around the dance floor."

Alexander smiled, something in his eyes making it anything but innocent. "Oh, I'm sure you'll be more than willing to disabuse me of any misconceptions I may have acquired."

oOoOoOo

"Are you ever going to tell him, or do you just plan on continuing with this ruse indefinitely?" Draco asked.

Harry looked over to him. "What?"

"Severus, you're staring at him again. You should just tell him how you feel. Sooner rather than later; I think he might be getting serious about that guy he's with. Not that I blame him; Alexander's gorgeous. I don't know how Sev managed to score him."

"He looks like your dad," Harry grunted. "Anyway, I have no idea what you're talking about."

"Sure you do, and he doesn't look anything like my dad," Malfoy was narrowing his eyes at the pair dancing now, trying to see any resemblance. There wasn't any, not really, apart from them being roughly the same height and both having long blonde hair, but Previn's was much darker than his father's, and really they didn't look much alike otherwise. "Anyway, if you're not going to make a move on Sev, can you go extricate Flint from the arms of my boyfriend? I don't really like the idea of being dumped in the middle of a party that I invited him to."

"You haven't been dumped," Harry said. "They're just dancing."

"That's easy for you to say when you're over here making moony eyes at Severus, but I happen to actually like mine, and, as they're our boyfriends, don't you think they should be dancing with us, respectively, and not each other."

"I'll dance with you if you like, Malfoy."

"I'd rather dance with a troll," Draco sneered.

Harry shrugged, "suit yourself." He got to his feet and walked over to the Weasleys' table. George was sitting there alone with Charlie; all the others had made their way onto the dance floor by now.

"Oh, hi Harry," George said. "Have a seat." He pushed a chair out next to him for Harry to sit down.

"Hey George," Harry greeted, "Charlie." Charlie nodded his way. "George, can I ask you a question?"

"Anything, little brother."

Harry smiled at the endearment; it always made him feel warm inside to know that the Weasleys considered him one of the family. "It's about Severus. You've been spending a lot of time with him lately right?"

"A fair bit, I guess," George said. "Now that he doesn't have any authority over me, he's a decent enough bloke- good to talk too."

Harry licked his lips uncertainly.

George frowned. "What is it Harry?" Harry's eyes flickered over to Charlie, and George glanced over his shoulder at his older brother. "Better give us a minute, Charlie, if you don't mind."

Charlie shrugged and got up to wander around and mingle.

"Now, what is it?" George asked.

"Promise you won't laugh," Harry demanded, "or tell anyone, especially Ron."

"I swear," George said, frowning deeper, "now, what is it?"

"I think I'm in love with him," Harry confided in a whisper.

"What, Snape?"

Harry nodded.

George pushed his hair back away from his forehead and let out a gust of breath. "Wow, Harry. I'm not sure what to say to that."

Harry groaned. "I know."

"Did you tell him?" George asked.

"I tried to, but we just got into a fight."

George nodded sagely, and was quiet for a moment while he considered this revelation. Finally he said, "I think that he might be in love with you too."

"You… what?"

"He talks about you sometimes," George said, "when he's had a few."

"You go out drinking together?" Harry had been surprised enough to learn that the two had struck up a friendship, but he couldn't imagine the two of them out having drinks in the Leaky Cauldron.

"Sometimes," George answered. "My point is, maybe if you can manage to get him to listen to you he might not be entirely impervious to your advances."

"So what?" Harry frowned. "You think I should just jump him or something?"

George chuckled. "No, I wouldn't go that far. But I have a better idea," George leaned in conspiratorially and whispered a plan into Harry's ear. It was a simple plan, with all the subtle grace of the twin's best work.

oOoOoOo

"Do you want to go back to my place?" Alexander asked as the song ended and they moved off the dance floor.

Severus looked over at him in surprise. "You want to…" Severus trailed off, looking uncertain.

"Only if you want to, Severus," Alexander said. "We've known each other for years. I understand if you would feel uncomfortable, but I'd like to spend some more time alone together."

Severus considered it. He liked Alexander, obviously, if he didn't he wouldn't have asked him to the ball. He was attractive, and they got on well enough, but Severus wasn't sure he was ready for that. It had been a while since he'd been intimate with anyone. There had been sex. He'd done things as a Death Eater that didn't bear thinking about, but that wasn't the same thing. Was he ready for this? He looked into Alexander's eyes, deep dark blue looking at him expectantly, and he suddenly found himself agreeing.

"Okay, but I need to talk to George Weasley for a moment before we leave."

Alexander, looking as though all his Christmases had come early, said, "Anything. I'll just wait at the table until you're finished."

Severus watched him go over and strike up a conversation with Draco, and then he went over to talk to George. He didn't notice Harry sitting there too until it was too late. Harry looked up at him as he crossed the last few paces to where they were sitting. Something about the expression on Potter's face put Severus in mind of catching him out of bounds and up to something in the middle of the night back at Hogwarts.

"George," Severus said, trying not to look at Harry. "We're about to leave, and I was just hoping that we could reschedule lunch tomorrow, maybe for sometime next week instead."

"Sure," George shrugged, "is Tuesday okay. Ron's coming by, so I can have him watch the shop."

"Fine." Severus nodded. "Good evening, George," his eyes flickered briefly to Harry, "Potter."

As he walked back toward his table, he could feel Harry's eyes on his back.

oOoOoOo

"Still haven't reclaimed your date then?" Alexander asked as he took a seat beside Draco.

Draco gave him a spiteful look but said nothing.

"Does Mr. Potter not share your dismay?"

"I doubt it," Draco grumbled. "He's happy enough to see Flint off with someone else. It saves him the trouble of dumping him later."

"You don't seem to have a very high opinion of him."

Draco shrugged. "It's not that necessarily. I just have a pretty good idea of where Potter's true feelings lie."

"And what about you?" Alexander asked. "Do you think Oliver will come back to you, or have you lost him to Flint?"

Draco glared at him. "What do you care?"

Alexander shrugged. "I've known your godfather for many years. He's been through a lot, and he deserves to be happy now. I've waited for him for a long time- for him to be ready for a real relationship. I plan for us to have a life together. If he cares for you as much as I think he does, then you'd be a part of that, so I want you to be happy too."

Draco gave him a look that he couldn't quite read. "You might not want to count your chickens there," he advised.

Alexander misunderstood what Draco was saying, and was suddenly very concerned over Draco's happiness, when it was really Alexander's hypothetical future relationship that Draco thought unlikely. "You're a very attractive young man, Draco," he said. "I'm sure you can find someone else."

"Luckily, I can say the same thing for you," Draco said. "You can probably do better than Severus. I'll never understand why anyone thinks he's attractive."

"That's a little harsh."

"It's an honest assessment. He might not be a complete troll, but he's not as sexy as all you people seem to make out."

"All who people?" Alexander asked, suddenly suspicious.

Draco waved it off, "Oh, you know. Anyway, I can't see what you see in him. He's unpleasant at the best of times and not particularly attractive by any conventional standards. You're gorgeous, so you can't be hard up. What's worth waiting for?"

Draco saw Alexander frown for the first time. "Do you really think so lowly of your godfather as all that?"

"You misunderstand me. He's a wonderful godfather; I just frankly can't understand why anyone would want him as a lover. I'm honestly curious. What do you see in him?"

"He's intelligent. He's honorable. Yes, occasionally disagreeable, but I enjoy spending time with him."

"So be friends then," Draco advised. "What makes you want to sleep with him?"

Alexander smirked a little. "It's his voice, actually. And his lips, if you're lucky enough to coax a smile from him."

Draco snorted, "Right."

Alexander shrugged. "You asked. That's the honest answer."

"Well, I hope things work out for you," Draco said, not necessarily meaning it. "I'm going to go try my luck at retrieving my boyfriend from Flint's clutches." He rose to his feet. "Enjoy the rest of your night."

Severus passed Draco as he returned to Alexander. Draco nodded at him, but didn't say anything as he continued on his way, circling the dance floor.

"Ready to go?" Alexander asked, getting to his feet.

Severus nodded, and together they walked in silence out of the ballroom and into the lobby where they could disapparate.

"See you in a sec," Alexander said, grinning, and disappeared with a pop.

Severus raised his wand and joined him.

His eyes took a moment to adjust to the gloom , and then Severus realized that he was alone. He cast a lumos and looked around the shop. The bottles and bins of ingredients looked eerie in the dim. "Lex?" he called, walking into the back.

There was some noise from upstairs, and a door opened, casting light into the back room of the shop. "Severus?" Alexander chuckled. "You could have apparated upstairs. Come on up."

Severus ascended the stairs into the flat above the shop. Alexander stood aside to let him in. The door opened into a large well equipped kitchen, and Severus followed him through to the sitting room.

"Can I get you a glass of wine or something?" Alexander asked.

"Wine would be fine," Severus said.

"Sit down," Alexander gestured to the sofa. "I'll just be a minute."

Severus sat down on the sofa, feeling a little uncomfortable, as Alexander vanished back into the kitchen to get the wine.

oOoOoOo

Flint had forgotten all about Harry as he and Wood swayed back and forth on the dance floor. He was having more fun than he'd had in years. Oliver was wonderful to talk to, and they had enough history together to comfortably lubricate their interactions. Without the house rivalry standing between them anymore, there could actually be something there.

The song came to an end and Wood pulled away from him to meet his eyes. "Do you want to get a drink?" he asked.

"Yeah, okay," Marcus agreed and followed him over to the refreshments table, where there was a small bar tended by a goblin in a three-piece suit.

"What do you suppose our boyfriends have gotten up to?" Wood asked with a smirk.

Flint looked around for Harry or Draco but didn't see either one of them.

"Wouldn't it be funny if they hooked up while we were gone?" Flint asked, giving Wood a flirtatious smirk.

Oliver snorted. "That's even more unlikely than the two of us hitting it off."

"So, a definite possibility then?"

Oliver looked at him, eyes shining with something. "I guess it makes sense in a way," he said after a moment, accepting his drink from the goblin behind the bar.

"How's that?" Flint asked, but whatever explanation Wood was going to give was cut off as Draco Malfoy walked over to where they stood near the bar.

"Are you ready to go, Oliver?" he asked, barely sparing Marcus a glance. "I thought we could go back to the manor for the night."

"Um," Oliver glanced between Flint and Draco. "Actually, I'm having fun. You can go if you want, Draco."

"I was hoping we could find something a little more enjoyable to do together for the rest of the night," Draco said suggestively.

"I am enjoying myself," Oliver said, feigning ignorance of Draco's intentions. "You go ahead, Drake. I'll meet up with you sometime tomorrow, okay?"

Draco gave Flint a disapproving look before returning his glance to Oliver. "Fine. I hope the two of you are happy together." With that he turned on his heel and left them by the bar. He stormed through the ballroom on his way to the lobby, passing Potter near the door. He halted his step and turned to face him. "My boyfriend's decided to spend the night with yours instead of coming home with me. I'm sure you don't care, but I thought I'd let you know that he's not keeping you anymore. You can go ahead with whatever you're planning."

Potter looked up at him from where he was talking with Bill and Fleur Weasley. He stood there silently for a moment before excusing himself and walking over to Draco. "What do you mean, Malfoy?"

"Would you stop playing dumb already," Draco snapped. "I saw you plotting with George."

"Well," Harry's face fell. "It's no good now anyway. He's left with Previn. Whatever chance I had, I've missed it."

"Okay, well," Draco's face morphed into a reluctant scowl. "Don't ask me how I know this, but, whatever happens with Previn , Sev will be home tonight."

Harry frowned. "Why would he be… did you do something, sabotage it somehow?"

Draco scoffed. "No, I'm sure they're in the midst of having sex even as we speak, but Sev has a thing about sleeping in his own bed. He'll be home by morning."

"How do you know that, Malfoy?"

"He's my godfather. I know entirely more about his sex life than I have any desire to, but if you really want your chance, Potter, go to his house and wait for him to get home. He'll be too drunk to let good judgment get the better of him."

Harry gave him a perplexed look. "Why are you helping me, Malfoy?"

Draco shrugged. "If I can pawn you off on Sev, then you can stop interfering in my love life."

"In what way have I interfered in your love life?"

"If you go around just dating people for sex and leaving them unattended at parties it upsets the balance. Anyway, I don't like that Previn bloke."

"Why not? He seems nice enough to me."

"He's arrogant. He presumes too much. I just don't like him. Are you going to take my advice or not, Potter?"

"I'll take it under consideration," Harry said.

"See that you do," Draco said. "I'm going home. This party sucks."

"Have a better night," Harry called after his retreating back. Draco raised a hand to acknowledge his words, but didn't turn back.

As soon as Draco was gone, Harry let out a low sigh. He glanced around the room. It was starting to clear out now. Bill and Fleur were talking about sleeping arrangements with Arthur and Molly. They were invited to breakfast the next morning, and Molly wanted them to stay the night, but Fleur would rather floo over in the morning- as she was too pregnant now to disapparate.

Harry left them and made his way back out into the rose garden. Over the last year, he'd found himself at a number of ministry functions, everything from trials to fundraisers, and in that time he'd learned that he really didn't like being at the Ministry any more than he liked seeing his name in the headlines of The Daily Prophet or being stared at when he went out shopping in Diagon Alley. He'd spent a great deal of time in the rose garden during these visits. Despite its quiet beauty, the rose garden was almost always completely deserted. Harry attributed this to the fact that most people who came to the Ministry of Magic were there on important business, and thus far too busy to enjoy the simple pleasure of a walk through the garden, and so it had become his personal sanctuary.

As Harry wandered through the rows of flowers, he pondered over the argument he'd had here with Snape earlier. It hadn't gone at all the way he'd planned. He had hoped… he didn't know what he had hoped, but he hadn't wanted to get into an argument. Despite whichever of his sexual exploits had made it into The Daily Prophet, Harry had always thought that he'd been rather more discreet as to where his affections truly lie, and yet both George and Malfoy had seen right through him. He was in love with Snape; that much he was willing to admit to himself. He just couldn't think of any way to tell the man that he would possibly believe.

Severus was right. They had too much past together. It was naïve to believe that they could start afresh after all that hate and death. And yet, Harry's love burned so deeply and keenly within his heart that he couldn't believe that he would ever be happy without the object of his affections. Not that he could remember ever really being happy anyway, maybe for a short time here or there, and Snape was such a hard man to get along with that, even should things play out to his plans, it didn't seem likely that he would be happy with his love either.

And yet, every time Severus was near him, Harry's stomach twisted, and his heart began to beat faster. His palms would sweat, and, no matter how poor a mood he was in, a smile would find its way onto his face. Even if Severus was too frustrating to find true happiness with, just that was worth fighting for.

George's plan wouldn't work now that Severus had left the party, but perhaps it would be enough to simply go to Severus' house and wait for him- to tell him how he truly felt. One of the things that Harry most admired about Snape was his brutal honesty. In that much, Harry was doing him a disservice by not telling him the absolute truth in his turn.

Harry resolved to go to Severus' house and wait for him. He tried to do his best not to consider what it was he was waiting for Severus to finish doing. Before he left the garden, he used his wand to cut a single red rose from one of the bushes. Then he disapparated straight to Spinner's End.

oOoOoOo

Alexander returned from the kitchen with two glasses of merlot. He handed one to Severus and took a seat beside him on the sofa.

"You know," he said, sipping his wine. "I was beginning to wonder if you'd ever muster up the courage to ask me out. I thought all that flirting was going to go to waste."

Severus' brow furrowed. "It was not a matter of courage," Severus said, "but more of a matter of timing. I'm afraid I haven't had the luxury of a love life for quite some time, and so I've had to put such things on hold. Now that my relationships cannot be exploited and used against me, I have to admit, I find myself somewhat out of practice when it comes to these matters."

Alexander smiled then, slightly more lasciviously than usual. "You know, that's an easy fix."

"Sex isn't really what I was referring to," Severus said, somewhat more sternly than was necessary.

This didn't seem to bother Previn. He took another sip of his wine and leaned back into the sofa cushions. "Well, in any case, I'm sure you're well worth waiting for."

"Do you mind?" Severus asked, "Waiting, I mean."

"I can understand if you don't want to be intimate after our first date. We can take things slow. A man like you should be careful with his heart."

What sentimental drivel, Severus thought. I can't imagine what it is I possibly see in all these bloody Gryffindors.

"Let's drink this bottle of wine," Alexander suggested, "spend some more time together, and see how things go."

Severus gave a slight inclination of his head and took a drink of the wine which he found to be of a surprisingly good vintage.

oOoOoOo

Harry had been waiting in the cold night on Severus' doorstep in Spinner's End long enough to wish that he'd stopped home for a cloak first, when he saw that the lights inside had finally been lit. He steeled his nerves, rose to his feet, and knocked on the door.

It was a few minutes, and Harry was considering knocking a second time, when Severus opened the door. He was slightly flushed, and dressed in far less clothing than Harry had ever seen him in. This isn't to say he was undressed, merely without his outer robes and with the first few buttons of his shirt undone and his shirtsleeves rolled up. In addition, his hair was untied, and, having grown a few inches past its usual length, was rather thoroughly mussed. Harry tried his best not to think about what this look of dishevelment might mean.

"What do you want, Potter?" Severus demanded after a moment had passed without Harry explaining himself. "I would have thought that you'd had your fill of arguing with me tonight," he said while Harry stepped inside.

"It's morning," Harry said, "a brand new day."

Severus glanced at his watch, and Harry found his eyes fused to the movement of that pale delicate wrist. "So it is," Severus remarked, letting his arm drop. "What is it you wish to argue over today, Mr. Potter?"

"I don't want to argue."

Severus rolled his eyes. "Of course not."

"So, we can't start fresh," Harry said, "and we can't set aside old hatred. Is it possible we can replace it with something else?"

Severus frowned. "As much as I hate admitting such things to you, I think I've had a little too much to drink tonight. Though, I'm sure I'd have trouble discerning any meaning from your convoluted idea of simple reasoning, even if I were completely sober. Do try to phrase your words more concisely. I've had a long night."

Harry ground his teeth. He was tired of playing games and tiptoeing around it. If Snape was really as drunk as he claimed, maybe this was his chance to really say what he wanted to say.

"I love you," Harry shouted at him. As soon as the words left his lips, he seemed to recoil in on himself. He began to shudder.

"Your savior complex is showing, Potter," Severus sneered. "The great tragedy of Severus Snape," he intoned mockingly, "misunderstood, reviled, pining away for years for the love he lost. Do you really mean to save me, Potter? Do you operate under the mistaken impression that I need saving?"

"It isn't like that," Harry defended, still looking small and weak as Severus loomed over him.

"Then, by all means, enlighten me."

"The Half-Blood Prince." Severus cringed away from the name. "Sixth year, your textbook, I fell in love with you without knowing that it was you who wrote those things."

"I'm not that person anymore," Severus said, turning away from him. He thought about what he had been like at sixteen: impassioned, power-hungry, pouring his heart out on the pages of that book with all the naïve fervor of a teenager with the world at his feet. No, he wasn't that person anymore.

"I know that," Harry said, "believe me, I know that." He sounded bitter. "Do you think I'm anything like I was back then either? I've grown up, as had you; we've shared so much since then. Don't you see? It could only ever be you."

"What does that even mean?"

"It means that you can deny me tonight, go back to your pretty blonde boyfriend and never give me a second thought, and it won't change anything. I'll still love you. I'll play Quidditch next year, then Minerva's offered me the Defense Against the Dark Arts position, and I'm going to take it. I'll throw myself into my work, and I'll make that my life, and I'll think of you. Every time I teach a class, or sit down for a meal in The Great Hall, or stay up late grading papers, I'll think of you. There will be others; I still have needs. I might even care about them, but I could never love them. They haven't experienced what I have, and there will always be the problem of being the boy who lived. I could never find my equal in a muggle, and no wizard could ever see past the hero worship to see me as I really am- my shortcomings, my faults. So, I'll pine away, but I'll leave you alone and hope you're happy.

"Or, and I really hope you'll see this as the better option, you can share this bottle of champagne with me, toast Voldemort's death, get even more thoroughly drunk, have a night of hot incredible sex, and live happily ever after."

Harry held up the bottle of champagne he'd purchased at the corner store and the rose that he'd picked in the Ministry gardens. Severus regarded him as though he had just spontaneously combusted- as if, in fact, flaming human beings were commonplace next to Harry Potter.

"Well?" Harry asked, smirking. "Make up your mind. It's cold out here."

Severus, without making a conscious decision to do so, found himself stepping aside to let Potter in. He wanted to sneer at the foolish romance as he took the rose from Harry, but doing so would make him a hypocrite as he'd already given one to Previn earlier for similar reasons, so instead he remained quiet.

"Does this mean…" Harry didn't finish the thought, still unwilling to put what he really wanted into simple words.

"It doesn't mean anything, Potter. Only that I'm allowing you into my home."

"Well, I guess that's a start," Harry said. "Do you have glasses?"

Severus disappeared down the hall to the kitchen and left Harry standing uneasily in the sitting room. He'd been here once before on the day that he'd brought Snape home from the Shrieking Shack, but it looked different now. A year ago, the room had been a bit like a library that hadn't been used in a long time- everything was shabby and covered in dust, and there were books everywhere. There were still books everywhere, but Severus had bought new furniture or repaired what he had, and the room had been remodeled and magically expanded so that the books didn't dominate the room quite so much. It was nice. Severus returned with the glasses, and he held them while Harry poured the champagne. Severus gestured for him to take a seat on the sofa and sat down beside him. Harry felt himself flushing as he was acutely aware of the other man's proximity. They sat in silence for a long time, both staring forward into the fire and not looking at each other.

"Did you sleep with him?" Harry blurted out when the silence had stretched to the breaking point.

Severus turned to regard him coldly, looking a little surprised by the brash question. "I'm sorry, but I don't really see how that's any of your business, Mr. Potter."

Harry looked down and away, embarrassed. "Maybe not, but I need to know anyway. It won't change anything, not really, but, I just… need to know."

Something about the desperation in Harry's voice made Severus take pity on him. "No, I did not. I wanted to, but I thought it would be better to wait."

"Because of me?" Harry asked.

"I assure you, Mr. Potter, this sudden intrusion and subsequent admission comes as a complete surprise."

"Don't call me that. My name is Harry; you've used it before."

"Yes," Severus agreed. They fell back into silence for a while, and Severus finally broke it this time. "Harry, you don't know what you're saying, not really. I think it would be better if you left. You should be at home with Marcus."

"I'm pretty sure Marcus went home with Oliver."

"I'm sorry to hear that."

"Did you not just hear what I told you? I don't care that Marcus went home with Oliver. I'm relieved, and I wish them all the best. I feel guilty for using him like I did, because I don't care about him. It was just a bit of fun. I love you."

Severus shut his eyes and sighed. "Potter,… Harry, you don't-" He was cut off as he felt Harry's lips being pressed against his own, warm and soft. Severus' eyes shot open in alarm, and he brought his hands up against Harry's chest to push him away. The firm toned muscle beneath his hands brought him up short. He still hadn't returned the kiss, but he hadn't pushed Harry away either. Harry wrapped his fingers in Severus' hair and broke the kiss, only leaving a minute space between their lips.

"I do," Harry said in a whisper.

"You do what?" Severus asked.

"Whatever argument you're going to come up with for why this can't work," Harry said, "I've already thought of it on my own. I know exactly what I'm getting into. This is what I want."

"What about what I want?"

Harry pulled away at that. "What do you want? George and Draco made me think that…"

"It's been so long since it has mattered. I don't know."

"Do you love him?"

"Alexander?" Severus considered it for a moment. "I'm not sure. I don't think so, but I could grow to."

"And what about me?" Harry asked.

Severus looked at him. Harry focused on the tip of his tongue as it darted out to run along his bottom lip- a hair's breadth away from Harry's. "I don't know. There's a lot of history to consider. It's complicated."

"I know, but that isn't an answer."

"I don't have one."

"Would it help if I kissed you again?"

Severus didn't answer, so Harry set his glass of champagne aside, and moved over on the sofa to straddle Severus' lap. He leaned forward and brushed his lips against Snape's. The kiss remained chaste at first, but Severus responded this time. Harry maneuvered neatly around Severus' prominent nose. Having always had a bit of trouble with it himself, Severus found this extremely erotic. He moved his lips against Harry's lazily, enjoying the soft demand of the press of Harry's lips on his. The alcohol made Severus feel pleasantly warm and relaxed, and Harry's weight on his lap, pressing down on him and holding him to the sofa, was reassuring and seemed a perfectly natural thing.

As Harry ran the tip of his tongue along Severus' bottom lip, trying to gain entrance to his mouth, Snape considered what he really wanted. Harry was attractive. That had little enough to do with his appeal to most people- being a famous war hero was more than enough for his usual parade of lovers. But, Severus had never been interested in Potter's fame. And yet, he was interested. Why? Was it just because of Lily? No, at least he didn't think so. Lily had been his friend, his only friend for a very long time, and he had loved her, perhaps more than he'd ever loved another person, but he hadn't been sexually attracted to her. If the erection straining his trousers was anything to go by, that wasn't the case with Harry. And what was on offer here? Harry Potter's love? Severus found that oddly appealing. He'd always found the open sentimentality of Gryffindors both alluring and worthy of condemnation. And somehow he felt that Harry might actually understand him- understand him better than anyone he'd ever known.

Where did that leave him with Previn then?

Severus parted his lips to finally allow Harry access, and Harry's tongue darted in to brush across crooked angles of Severus' teeth.

Alexander had made no proclamations of love. Either he was too reserved for such things, or he didn't feel them. But, how did Severus feel about Potter? Did he love him? In a way, he supposed he did. Not the way that Harry loved him, but Potter had saved his life- had thought his life worth saving, and that fact alone engendered its fair share of emotions.

Harry broke the kiss, panting a little, looking disheveled, unhinged; he let out a moan and pressed his lips against Severus'again. Severus could feel the heat of Harry's erection straining against his own. He took a sharp breath and gave an involuntary buck of his hips.

Whatever else it may mean for the future, Severus wanted Harry now.

Harry leaned in and started trailing kisses up his neck. Severus allowed his eyes to flutter shut.

"For once, I think you might actually be on to something here, Potter," he said.

Harry laughed as he felt the vibration of Severus' throat against his lips. "I knew that I could convince you to see reason."

"Nothing about any of this is reasonable."

Harry pulled back to give him a wry smile. "No, I suppose there isn't, but, to be fair, neither one of us are very reasonable to begin with."

"As appealing as your earlier suggestion sounds just now," Severus began, and felt Harry's body stiffen in his arms with the suggestion of denial, "I think that if I drink any more alcohol, I won't be able to have any sex at all- certainly not… I believe it was hot incredible sex. And, just now, that sounds like a very good idea, so I think I'd like to forgo the champagne and take you to the bedroom. If, of course, you have no objections?" Severus raised an eyebrow.

"No objections," Harry said, grinning.

Severus wrapped his arms around Harry and held him tightly to his chest as he got to his feet, taking Harry with him. They made it a few steps before Harry decided that it would be faster to walk himself. Severus accessed another secret door behind one of the bookcases and led Harry up the stairs to his second-floor bedroom.

Harry couldn't be bothered to look at the bedroom; he was too busy taking in every inch of Severus' skin as the other man unbuttoned his shirt. The room was dark with the curtains drawn and Harry wanted to light the candles, but he'd forgotten his wand downstairs, and all the blood had drained from his brain to his cock, so he couldn't concentrate enough to consider doing it wandlessly. Anyway, he had much more interesting things to think about.

He could hardly believe that this was actually happening, but he wasn't about to question his good fortune. Severus had finished unbuttoning his shirt, and Harry brushed his hands aside and reached up to slide Severus' shirt and waistcoat off over his shoulders. Severus shivered a little as the cold air hit his bare skin.

Harry let his eyes wander over Severus' chest, followed a moment later by his fingers, sliding gently over the scant spattering of black chest hair. Severus gasped as Harry's fingers brushed over his nipple, and Harry snapped his head up to look at him. His eyes had fluttered closed and he was rocking back on his heels.

Harry smirked and did it again, and this time Severus grabbed him by the hips and pulled him roughly against him. They rocked together for a moment, reveling in the sensation of their erections brushing against each other through the thin fabric of their dress trousers. Harry let out a moan, and that was all the impetus Severus needed to push him onto the bed.

He laid there very still for a moment, trying to maintain some control so that he didn't embarrass himself before they could get to the good stuff, while Severus removed his clothes.

"Is everything alright?" Severus asked, noticing Harry's stillness as he was in the middle of removing the younger man's trousers.

Harry raised himself up onto his elbows and smiled at him. "No, everything's wonderful," he said. "It would be even better if you'd hurry up and get naked and ravish me."

Severus' eyebrow quirked. "Ravish you, Mr. Potter?" he commented drily.

"Unless you don't feel up to it," Harry said and slumped back onto the mattress.

Severus was naked and on top of him in an instant. Harry kicked his trousers off, and Severus pulled off his pants with one hand while the other cupped Harry's jaw, and he bent in for another kiss. Harry was desperate now, moaning and keening as he tried to touch every inch of Severus at once, rubbing himself against Snape for as much friction as he could manage.

Severus reached across Harry to the bedside table and fumbled in the dark until he found a tube of lubricant. He unscrewed the cap and squirted a generous amount into his hand. He hooked one of Harry's legs up over his shoulder, and Harry moaned as Severus ran a finger around his opening to spread the lubricant. The moan turned into a gasp when he slipped in two fingers. Harry's mouth locked onto Severus' shoulder to stifle the noises he was making as Severus twisted his fingers; Severus felt him gaping wetly against his skin, and Harry clung desperately to Severus' shoulders. Severus dropped a kiss on Harry's forehead. He removed his fingers, coating his cock with the rest of the lube on his hand. He hooked Harry's other leg over his shoulder and leaned forward to kiss Harry as he pushed inside him. Harry pulled away from the kiss abruptly and let out a whimper. Severus recognized the sound as one of pain rather than pleasure, and immediately pulled out.

"Did I hurt you?" he asked, breathless with the effort of restraining himself.

"A little," Harry answered. "It's okay, just … um, ravish me a little more gently. I've never done this before."

Severus pulled away completely at that, frowning as he looked down at Harry. "You're a virgin? But, The Daily Prophet said-"

Harry rolled his eyes. "The Prophet exaggerates my conquests. I haven't slept with most of the people that the paper says I have, but I'm not a virgin. I just haven't bottomed before."

Severus' frowned deepened as he processed this information. "I wish you would have told me; I would have prepared you better. Do you want to top?"

Harry shook his head quickly. He'd been dreaming about this for years; he wasn't going to back out now. "Just go slower."

Severus kissed him and wrapped an arm around his lower back for a better angle as he entered again, very slowly this time to allow Harry to adjust to him. Within a few shallow thrusts, Harry was moaning and begging for more. Severus did his best to ignore the desperate pleas, knowing that Harry wouldn't be able to handle it if he let himself lose that last measure of control. Instead of going faster or harder like Harry wanted, he reached between them to grip Harry's cock and fisted it in time with his thrusts. This seemed to satisfy his demanding lover, who promptly dissembled into a series of unintelligible noises and moans. Severus was panting with the effort of holding himself back when he felt Harry come over his hand and go limp. Severus held onto Harry tightly and allowed himself a few deep thrusts before he came with a jerk and collapsed onto Harry. He lay there for a second, feeling as though he'd melted into a warm happy puddle. Then he rolled over to the other side of the bed and pulled Harry against his chest.

They were both silent for a moment as they caught their breath.

"Please don't tell me that was a one off," Harry said, breaking the silence, "because I don't think I could handle that."

Severus looked down at him neutrally for a moment, and Harry felt his guts clench. Then Severus smiled, and Harry was sighing with relief even as Severus said, "No, I think I'll have to do that a few thousand more times before I'm satisfied."

"Better make it a few thousand more than that," Harry advised.

"You're very demanding, Potter," Severus said. "I wonder what I've gotten myself into."

"Something good," Harry answered.

"Go to sleep, Harry."

"Really?" Harry sat up a little. "Draco said that you always sleep alone."

Severus didn't even want to think about what conversation they had been having when this information had been given. "Not alone," he answered, "just in my own bed. I'm quite contented to share it with you," Harry grinned and snuggled closer at this, "provided that you can shut your mouth and go to sleep."

Harry had every intention of doing just that, but as he glanced at the window and saw the light coming through the gap in the curtains, the words were coming out of his mouth before he could stop them. "The sun's coming up."

"It's a brand new day," Severus remarked, using Harry's words from earlier. "Now sleep, Potter… Harry. You'll need your rest; I'm going to wake you in a few hours."

"Why, do you have things to do today?" Harry asked.

"A few thousand or so," Severus answered.

oOoOoOo

Author's Note: That's the end. The sequel (which I actually started writing first) is called Please Remember Me. It should be posted sometime this weekend. It's almost done. I just have a few scenes to finish and then some editing. Anyway, that's it, please review….and tip your waitresses.