Harry hurried down the path to the lake, nearly tripping over a root. Lily was coming towards him and he smiled and waved at her.

"Hey, have you seen Severus?"

"Get out of my way, Dursley, before I hex you." Lily spat, pushing him out of the way, storming up to the castle and not looking back.

Wondering what that was about, Harry continued down the path to the lake to where he could make out a group of students crowding around some sort of spectacle. The wind carried their laughter towards him and he could not help but shudder at the unpleasant undertone.

Turning around the bend, he cursed and started to run.

Severus was suspended in mid-air, naked from the waist down and struggling against the magic that bound him into place, bubbles and tears of humiliation streaming down his face.

Black was levitating Severus' pants through the air to great laughter and the catcalling of the students around them.

"Oh Snivellus, you've not even started to pay for what you said to Evans." Potter flicked his wand, making Severus jerk up and down, as if suspended from an invisible rubber band.

"I think he needs a bath, doesn't he?" Black chimed in, nudging Pettigrew, who guffawed. "A bath surely would do him good, looks like he hasn't had one in years."

Harry came to a skidding halt, casting an out of breath finite incantatem at Severus, who crashed to the ground in an undignified heap. Then Harry turned towards Potter and Black.

"You just bought yourself a world full of trouble, Dursley," Black snarled, and ducked the Petrificus Harry threw at him.

"Funny." Harry said without humour, blocking Potter's Impedimenta. "I was about to tell you the same."

ooooo

Harry was never sure how it would have ended if not for Amelia Bones, this year's Head Girl.

Lupin had been down with a body bind and Pettigrew was smacking himself in the face when Bones and her boyfriend came around the bend, on their way to Hogsmeade.

She took one look at them, two down and Harry, who had just barely dodged a Petrificus, lying panting on the grass, his robes and face stained and sweaty, and pinched her lips in annoyance.

"What is it about you lot?" She frowned, her arms akimbo. Her boyfriend, Harry was not sure what his name was, put a reassuring hand on her shoulder and she turned her head to look at him and nodded. "You know what, you lot bloody lucky I can't be bothered to report this right now."
She took ten points from their respective houses with a wave of her wand. "Scram, before I change my mind and report this to the Headmaster."

Harry watched the Marauders limp back towards the castle. He offered his hand to Severus, who got up on unsteady legs, shaking visibly.

"Are you hurt?" Harry propped Severus' arm over his shoulder, supporting him.

Severus shook his head. "I don't wanna go back there." He gestured at the castle, his voice small. "Please, don't make me go back there yet."

"Let's go to Hagrid's." Harry suggested, his eyes still following the Marauders in the distance, making sure they were well on their way to the castle. "He usually nips down to the pub in the afternoon, the hut's gotta be empty."

Severus just nodded, head hanging, and Harry more carried than dragged him the short walk to Hagrid's home.

Just as Harry had said, it lay deserted, surrounded by freshly tilled fields and the bright green of summer flowers not yet ready to bloom. A morning glory was winding around the trellis on the porch, blossoms white and tightly closed in the late afternoon.

Harry sat Severus down on Hagrid's massive bench and told him to wait. He came back a few minutes later, carrying two jam jars and big earthenware jug with a cork rammed tightly into its neck, sealing whatever was inside off safely.

"Hagrid's homebrew." Harry grinned and worked the cork loose. A pleasant spicy aroma filled the area when he poured it into the jars and handed Severus one. "Hagrid says it's made from apples. Well, mostly apples."

They sat in silence for a bit, both nursing their drink, which turned out to have quite a bite to it. Then Severus sighed and seemed to deflate.

"I'm so stupid." Severus put his drink down, covering his face with his hands. "So, so stupid." He started to sob, his skinny body shaking. "She'll never forgive me."

"What happened?" Harry reached out and put an arm around Severus' shoulders. "I mean, before …"

Severus just shook his head, drawing deeper into himself. "She'll never forgive me…"

Harry waited till the sobs quieted a bit.

"You could try apologizing?" He reached for Severus' jar, putting it back into his hand. "Drink up. You need it."

Severus hiccoughed and nodded, leaning into Harry's embrace.

ooooo

Later that night Harry found Severus curled up on a chair in the deserted common room, glancing up at the underwater skylight, face waxen in the dim light.

He looked at Harry, face red and blotchy with tears. "When did it all go wrong?" His voice quiet in the empty room. "I thought we'd be friends forever."

Harry pulled up a chair and sat down next to him. "I'm still your friend."

"It's all Dumbledore's fault. They tried to kill me and he did nothing." Severus rested his head on his knees, his voice biting with sarcasm. "Let's all make Snivellus' life hell, it's fun. He should have died anyway." Severus hiccoughed and closed his eyes sounding defeated. "I wish I had."

"Don't say that." Harry snapped. "Don't you ever say that." He reached for Severus' hand and held on tight. "Dumbledore's wrong. They are all wrong."

He inched closer, resting his head on Severus' shoulder. "You're worth more than that lot combined."

ooooo

A couple of weeks later, Severus got an owl at breakfast. "It's from Mum."

He tore the paper open, read the contents and paled.

"Da lost his job." He whispered, handing the letter to Harry. "There won't be a birthday party this year. It's going to be only Da and me. Mum's working in Sheffield now, staying with her sister."

Harry didn't know what to say, looking down at his plate, pushing his scrambled eggs around with his fork.

"He drinks when he's out of work." He bunched up the envelope in his hand, his voice soft. "I don't want to be alone with him."

"I'm sorry. Maybe …" Harry read the letter and then brightened. "Maybe I could ask Hagrid if you can stay for a week or two." He punched Severus in the arm. "That would be awesome."

Severus smiled for the first time in weeks. "Yes, that would be."

ooooo

The day before Severus was due to arrive Harry had badgered Hagrid into cleaning the whole place by hand, and then, after a bit of whinging and the promise not to tell anyone, by magic. Harry'd even scourgified the curtains and under the cupboards.

Hagrid's armchair had been lengthened and widened and, after a few failed transfiguration attempts, did resemble a bed in most ways.

Harry was just washing the breakfast dishes when Hagrid came back in, carrying a bunch of daises from his garden. Hagrid grabbed an empty pitcher and filled it with water, crammed the flowers in and put it on the kitchen table. "There yeh go, nice innit?"

Harry wiped his sudsy hands on the towel he's tied around his waist and grinned. "Really nice!"

At noon, Harry was sitting on the porch, drinking iced lemonade from a jar. His feet were dangling off Hagrid's massive rocking chair, the sun was shining on his bare legs and all was well with the world. Hagrid was dozing in the shade near the pumpkin patch, yesterday's newspaper covering his face. They were supposed to pick up Severus at the Three Broomsticks later in the afternoon.

When Harry got back from refilling his lemonade from the pitcher in the cold-box, he noticed a lone figure approaching them from Hogsmeade. Severus was carrying a duffel bag and a huge grin, waving at him from the distance.

Harry put down his jar and hopped off the porch, running towards his friend, matching his grin. He skidded to a halt, throwing his arms up, intending to hug Severus, when he noticed the huge purple bruises on his arm and cheek. His smile froze on his face.

"What happened?"

"What? No 'hallo Severus, nice to see you'?"

Harry gently touched Severus' arm, not sure how many other bruises his long-sleeved shirt was hiding, drawing him into a gentle bear-hug and grinned, teasing him. "Hallo Severus, nice to see you."

"Prat." Severus tossed his bag at him. "Help me carry that, will ya."

"Do you need me to …" Harry offered tentatively, gesturing at his bruises, not sure how to ask.

"Yeah, could you? I'm pants at healing charms and Da smashed all my potions." Severus slung an arm around Harry's back, and they started walking up the path towards Hagrid's hut.

"He'd just have done it again if I'd healed it anyway," Severus replied to Harry's unasked question.

Hagrid met them at the back door, bits of leaves and grass still stuck to his beard. He frowned when he saw Severus but said nothing. Later, when they were all settled and drinking lemonade on the porch, Hagrid went back inside, taking down a small brown pot from a shelf. He held it out to Severus.

"Put it on before yeh go to bed. They'll be gone by tomorrow."

"Thanks." Severus pocketed the ointment.

ooooo

Harry showed him around the house and after they had put away Severus' things Harry suggested they go swimming.

When they floated dead-man style in the water, Harry, for the first time, got a real glimpse of the marks that night in the shack had left.

Pink welts, healed but still angry looking, stood out pink on Severus' pale forearms where he had tried to protect himself from the werewolf's claws. His back held similar, deeper looking wounds.

"I'm quite a sight, am I not?" Severus seemed to sense Harry's stare and turned his face away. "That night, and the bruises …"

"They're nothing to be ashamed of." Harry ran his finger along an especially thick scar on the side of Severus' neck, down to his shoulder. Severus shuddered under the gentle touch.

"I'm thinking about joining the Dark Lord." Severus turned to look at him. "What about you?"

Harry shrugged. "Don't know yet. Not sure I want to join anyone."

"Will you still be my friend?" Severus' voice was tense, determined and sad at the same time.

"Don't be daft." Harry splashed water at him. "Of course I will."

ooooo

Harry woke in the middle of the night, wrapped around Severus, skin touching skin, painfully aroused. He untangled himself, not certain whether any kind of affection from him would be welcomed and snuck out of the hut to have a desperate quiet wank behind the pumpkin patch.

He lay back down on their makeshift bed, wanting to touch but didn't dare. He watched the moonlight outline the fading bruise on Severus' cheek, worrying how he could broach the subject without potentially losing his best friend.

Sleep came late and deep. Harry woke to Severus kicking the bed. "Breakfast's ready."

"Who made it?" Harry rubbed his eyes and yawned.

"I did." Severus grinned. "Or would you rather Hagrid had?" He watched Harry make an ew-face and kicked the bed again. "It's tea and toast, you prat."

ooooo

The coming days they helped Hagrid around the grounds. Severus' bruises faded and he even developed a bit of a tan and some freckles around his nose. At night Harry still woke and snuck out, wishing it'd been Severus' hand bringing him off in the dark, not his own.

In the afternoon of the fourth day, they'd just settled amongst the cushions on Hagrid's enormous bench, escaping the worst of the day's heat with iced lemonade on the porch, when Hagrid came and sat with them. He was wearing his good shirt and had polished his boots.

"I got some business to take care of in Diagon Alley." He put a massive hand on Harry's back. "Yeh boys going to be all right for a couple of hours?"

"Sure we will." Harry looked slyly at the Gamekeeper. "You going to be back for dinner?"

"Nah, don't yeh wait up for me."

They watched as Hagrid's huge figure disappeared down the path to Hogsmeade. Then Harry nudged Severus.

"I know where he keeps the scumble." Harry grinned and got up. "You in?"

Severus spat out the blade of grass he'd been chewing. "You bet."

ooooo

They lay gazing up into the starry summer night, outside Hagrid's hut.

"Look, a falling star!" Severus pointed to the sky.

"Where?" Harry turned his head, trying to see.

"Right next to Uranus." Severus broke down in drunken giggles.

"Prat." Harry punched him in the arm, then reached for the jug and missed. He made a second attempt, and managed to refill their jars. Handing one to Severus their hands brushed and Harry, full of youth and Dutch courage, propped himself up on one elbow.

"Ever kissed a girl?" Harry asked, voice soft in the dark.

"You kissed Jorkins." Severus took another sip of his scumble. "What's it like?"

"Wet." Harry poked him with a finger. "Answer my question."

"Who'd want to kiss me?" Severus snapped.

You'd be surprised, Harry thought, but asked. "Ever wanted to?"

Severus nodded slowly. "Kinda wanna know the fuss is all about."

"You could kiss me." Harry tried not to sound too hopeful. He reached out and gently tugged an errant lock of hair behind Severus' ear. The tips of his fingers brushed against Severus' cheek.

Severus swallowed hard, his Adams apple bobbing up and down. "Why'd you want to?"

Harry smiled and leaned closer. "To know what all the fuss is about."

He leaned over and gently pressed his lips to Severus', feeling for a second the indescribable sensation of soft lips against his. He gently pulled back and looked at Severus, searching for any kind of reaction in his dark eyes.

Severus had closed his eyes and was licking his lips, pink tongue darting out between them. Harry's eyes followed it, mesmerized and without thinking he leaned forwards again, wanting to chase and catch that bit of tongue with his own.

Their lips touched again and Severus moaned. Suddenly Harry found himself being pushed backwards onto the grass, their fingers entwined, Severus' lips on his. Harry wrapped his leg around Severus' and held on fast, kissing him back for all he was worth.

ooooo

The next morning was less glorious. Harry woke, fully clothed, hot, sweaty and with a splitting headache. He wasn't quite sure how they'd ended up in bed, but right at this moment he didn't really care.

Severus, still passed out and drooling into the pillow next to him, had a rather telling bruise on the soft skin right below his ear.

Hagrid was at the stove, frying bacon and Harry's stomach rebelled. He was out of bed, out of the door and heaving over the porch rail with phenomenal speed.

"Morning Harry." Hagrid waited besides him, handing him a glass of water when Harry finished retching.

"Yeh did find me scumble, didn't yeh?" Hagrid clapped Harry on his back in a friendly manner. "Here this will make yeh feel better."

He handed Harry a mug with what looked and smelled like pond slime. "Drink up, boy, it ain't tasting better congealed." Hagrid grinned. "And it'll put hair on yeh chest."

Harry swirled the contents around in its mug, watching it gloop from one side to the other. Then, deciding that it could not get worse, downed the brew in one foul gulp.

He sat down heavily on the wooden porch, trying desperately not to heave it right back up. After a minute or so his head stopped spinning and the pounding and nausea eased to fade to nothing. Harry eyed the remnants of the hangover potion with new found respect. "Wow, that worked."

"Good on yeh, mate." Hagrid took the mug from him. "Had a bit of night yesterday, didn't yeh?" They walked into the house together. "I do remember me first time, was quite young, back then."

Harry's step faltered, guiltily looking over to where Severus still lay passed out and snoring a little, his nose an impromptu sundial. Harry wondered how much Hagrid had seen and why on earth he felt the need to discuss it like that.

"Why don't yeh wake yeh mate?" Hagrid started to heap eggs and bacon onto a plate. "It's a rite of passage really."

Trying to hide his red hot blush, he went to wake Severus. Resisting the temptation to kick the bed in retribution for all the times Severus had woken him that way, and saving it for a day when he would not get barfed on for his trouble, Harry gently touched Severus' shoulder.

"Severus?" Harry resisted the urge to run his fingers down the soft skin, his eyes coming to rest on the tiny purple bruise marring that pale skin. A pleasant shudder ran down his spine in memory of last night. "Severus, it's time to wake up."

Severus cracked one sleep encrusted eye at him. "Kill me."

Hagrid guffawed and handed Severus a mug of the same foul brew he'd given Harry earlier. "Drink up. As I told Harry here, it's a rite of passage. No need to be ashamed of yeh first hangover. Happens to the best of us."

Severus looked at Harry and mouthed: what's in that?

"No idea." Harry shrugged. "It helped and I really don't want to know."

ooooo

Breakfast was more than a tad awkward. Hagrid was making cheerful chatter, wolfing down huge amounts of sausage and eggs. Severus and Harry were sneaking glances at each other, not sure what had happened last night and how to deal with the consequences. Later, when they sat nursing their tea, Harry pushed part of a soldier around his plate.

"What are the chores for today, Hagrid?" Severus broke the silence.

"The Thestrals need feeding and a good mucking out. The coaches need a once over, some of them could do with a lick of paint and the lamps need a jolly good shining up, too ."

"We can do the coaches." Harry offered, not too keen on lugging rotten meat around in this heat. "And the lamps."

A little later they stood in the gloomy half-light of the storage shed, naked from the waist up, brandishing paintbrushes. They worked in silence, sneaking glances when they thought the other was not looking, neither willing to breach the topic that hung like a huge purple elephant in the dusty air.

"You got a speck of paint right there." Harry reached out and touched Severus' nose, leaving a black fingerprint on its tip.

"You just didn't …" Severus growled, looking for a reflective surface to check his face for spots. He studied his face in a carriage window then advanced on Harry, twirling his paintbrush between his fingers.

Harry let out a rather undignified squeak and backed away, trapped against one of the carriages. He was suddenly very aware of Severus' body, so close he could feel the heat of Severus' breath on his skin. "I surrender," Harry breathed, eyes on Severus' lips, not knowing how to ask for what was on offer.

He didn't have to. Hot lips covered his and Harry didn't hear the wet thud of the paintbrush hitting the dusty floor. Severus' hands were in his hair and sliding down his back, pulling him closer.

Harry moaned, running his hands down Severus' naked back, his fingertips sensually sliding over every bump scar and birthmark, coming to rest over Severus' arse. Rubbing against him, Harry grabbed hold and pulled their bodies against each other. Harry moaned and Severus slid his hand between them.

"Do you want to…?" Severus broke away, dark eyes hazy with lust, lips slightly parted, swollen from their kisses.

"Yes." Harry nodded, reaching for the fastening of Severus' trousers, making him gasp as Harry's fingers touched his skin.

Their trousers and pants around their ankles, Harry and Severus ground against each other with passion desperate for relief.

Hot, sweaty and high on the afterglow, they slid to the floor and Severus rested his head against Harry's shoulder. "I think I quite like the fuss."

Harry smiled, running his fingers through Severus' hair and down his spine. "I think I do too."

ooooo

Harry woke to billows of smoke coming from the kitchen stove and Hagrid nowhere in sight. He rushed over, opened the oven door, quickly cast an Aguamenti and closed it, cutting off the smoke coming out of it. He coughed.
Severus, eyes watering, opened the windows with a flick of his wand, casting a ventilation charm for good measure.
"Happy Birthday, Harry." Hagrid stood sheepishly in the door, kludging a bunch of daisies for the breakfast table. "Oh blimey. Forgot the cake, didn't I?"

Harry walked over to Severus and whispered: "Be very, very grateful that cake burned."

"Why don't yeh boys wash and I'll get breakfast going?" Hagrid suggested, pulling out the still smoking cake from the oven, cutting at it with the bread-knife. "Maybe I can save some of this…"

"Yeah." Severus whispered. "Why don't we go wash and I can give you your birthday present."

"I got a present?" Harry gave him a puzzled look. "You've never …"

"Yes, you do." Severus leered at him and pushed him towards the door. "I hid it in the cabbage patch. Get going, you dunderhead."

ooooo

The cake, to everyone's relief, was a total loss. Hagrid looked a tad sad but promised to take them to Fortescue later that day, after getting their school supplies.

Harry was frying bacon, watching Severus beat the eggs with a fork and trying not to get too excited over where those elegant fingers had just been minutes ago, when there was hooting outside the window.

"Must be yeh OWL scores." Hagrid snatched a piece of bacon from the pan, blowing on it to cool it a bit and offered it to the owl on the window sill.

"Vector? I thought yeh name is Dursley?" Hagrid handed Severus his envelope.

Harry sighed, trying to think of an easy way to explain the whole mess. "Remember when you took me to buy my wand?"

Hagrid nodded, refilling their tea mugs.

"There's something wrong with it, it always shows the previous owner's name." Harry reached for his letter. "Dumbledore told me not to worry about it, it'll fix itself once I buy a new wand." And a little voice in the back of his head asked: do you want it to?

Severus had ripped his envelope open, greedily studying his grades. "I got an Outstanding in potions!" He crowed. "And one in DADA. Full score, too. With all the bonus points."

"I got an Exceeds Expectations." Harry grumbled. "But an Outstanding in Arithmancy."

"How about DADA?"

"Exceeds Expectations, same for Herbology." Harry grinned sheepishly. "And an Acceptable in Transfiguration."

"Good on yeh, boys." Hagrid looked proud. "That way y'all can be Aurors one day."

Severus and Harry exchanged a glance, rolled their eyes and chimed in unison: "Sure we can be, Hagrid."

ooooo

Later that night, after a busy day in Diagon Alley, they sat on Hagrid's porch, sipping the two finger's worth of scumble Hagrid had allotted them in celebration of their scores.

"Vector is a good wizarding name, isn't it?" Harry pulled his feet out of his trainers, wiggling his toes, then propping his feet up on the balustrade.

"Yeah, why?" Severus snuck an arm around Harry's back, resting his head back against the bench. "You thinking about keeping it?"

"Yep." Harry leaned into the hand caressing his neck. "Never liked Dursley much. Stupid Muggle name of my stupid Muggle relatives."

"Wish I could change mine." Severus groused. "Mum's name's way better."

Harry took another sip of his drink. "I kinda like Snape." He let Severus' name roll of his tongue. "Sounds good together. Rather sexy, all those s-es."

Severus craned his neck, making sure Hagrid was still busy knitting a scarf by the wireless and not paying them any attention. "Sexy, huh?"

"Very." Harry leaned close and brushed his lips against Severus'.

"Is that so?" Severus kissed him.

ooooo

They saw Lily at the Sorting Feast. Severus pretended not to notice but Harry snuck a glance, every now and then, watching her deep in conversation with Lupin. He tried talking to her before classes, but found it impossible to catch even a minute alone with her. Pettigrew, Potter or Black always looming close by, always cutting him off.

One night, after getting hexed by Lupin and told to stop harassing her, he pulled out the photo album with the white bunny, running his fingers over the pictures that were all that was left of their friendship. He flicked through the pages of frozen images, wondering how they could ever have been so young and carefree. Harry slammed the album shut and hid it at the bottom of his trunk before Severus came out of the shower.

"Lucius sent me an owl." Severus said, sitting down, clad only in a towel, dripping water on Harry's bed.

Harry ran a nervous hand through his hair. "Are you?"

"Yes. I've made up my mind." Severus nodded, his voice grim. "I don't care what Dumbledore says. Or Lily." He hugged himself as if suddenly cold, belying his claim to not caring. "What have they ever done for me?"

The bed creaked as Harry inched closer. Not knowing what else to do, he put his arms around Severus.

"I don't want to be stuck at Spinner's End, with no power over my life. I don't want to be grateful for crumbs of what should be mine by birth." Severus went on, his voice barely above a whisper. "I don't wanna be my mum."

ooooo

The one comforting thing about the Hog's Head was that it never seemed to change.
Harry and Severus stood on under the dim light at the entrance, the pub's sign gently creaking with the breeze.

"Come on, hurry." Severus complained, making angry little huffy sounds at Harry. "We're going to be late for the meeting."

"Oh, piss off." Harry cast a cleaning spell on their clothes. "Don't tell me you want to wander in there looking like you just had a little romp in the meadow."

Harry leered at him. "Besides, you started it."

The typical bar smell of stale beer, sweat, deep fried food and goat greeted them when they stepped in. Aberforth was polishing glasses behind the bar and nodded in recognition as they walked by.

"The Dark Lord may come by later tonight." Severus observed excitedly. "I really hope you'll get a chance to meet him."

A giant patch of darkness got up from one of the booths and took on the familiar shape of the Gamekeeper.

"Another pint of ale, if yeh would Aberforth." Hagrid hollered at the barkeep.

"Hagrid," Harry greeted his friend, walking over to him. "Good to see you. How are you?"

"Harry? Severus?" Hagrid turned around looking them up and down, sounding mildy disapproving. "What are yeh doing here? Sneaking out after hours?"

"We're going to meet friends." Harry gestured towards the backdoor.

Hagrid stepped a bit closer, his face furious. He made a grab for Severus' left hand, pulling the sleeve up all the way to Severus' elbow, revealing the dark mark.

"Yeh are with that lot?" Hagrid bellowed, sounding betrayed. "How could yeh?"

Severus tried to yanked his arm free but stood no chance against the giant man's strength. "Let go of me, you big lump."

"I've made excuses for yeh for years now. Thought yeh were decent kids" Hagrid let go of Severus' hand, sitting down heavily on a nearby stool, disgust on his face. "Just shows, doesn't it."

"Shows what?" Harry looked confused and angry. "They're our friends." He tried to smile at Hagrid but it came out all wobbly. "Why don't you join us for a drink."

Hagrid slammed his huge fist on the table, nearly breaking it. "I ain't friends with Death Eaters."

"Is that how it is?" Severus backed up, his wand out. "Come on, Harry, the others are waiting."

"Don't bother coming round me place anymore. Yeh not welcome." Hagrid clumsily got up and walked over to the bar, turning his back to them.

"Fine," Harry yelled, furious and hurt by Hagrid's attitude. "Who wants to be friends with you anyway."

ooooo

The day Severus caught Potter and Evans holding hands near the lake, he went out and didn't come back till late that night, smelling of cheap whiskey and burned wood and the stink of Unforgivables.

When Harry asked him where he had been, Severus turned away from him and said: out.

ooooo

In seventh year James Potter was made Head Boy, under much applause from the Gryffindor table. Harry listened to Dumbledore's speech about the rewards of bravery, kludging his wand under the table an Unforgivable on the tip of his tongue.

Classes that year were strained, a war was brewing on the horizon, and with most people having chosen sides, classroom interactions became indefinitely more hostile, fractionizing the student body more clearly than House rivalries ever could.

ooooo

The day they stood in the Great Hall, in front of all the houses, listening to one of Dumbledore's rambling speeches, waiting to get their NEWT certificate and move on into the world, reminded Harry of his first day here at Hogwarts in more ways than one.

Not separated by houses anymore, they stood, alphabetically, just like they had at their sorting. He'd spent seven years with these people, many of them he'd never see again. And some he hoped he'd never lose. He surreptitiously grabbed Severus' hand and gave it a squeeze as Head Boy Potter climbed the podium under much applause and lauded his wisdom onto them.

"One more hour and we're rid of that prat forever." Harry whispered, then caught Severus' gaze lingering on Lily. "He doesn't deserve her, she'll realize what a prat he is sooner or later."

Severus squeezed back. "I just want this to be over with."

ooooo

Later that day, when they were back in their dormitories for the last time, packing up their belongings, Harry again opened the photo album he'd hidden over a year ago. Severus took it out of his hands, shook his head, closed the album and tossed it back into Harry's trunk.

"So, what're you going to do next?" Pritchard sat on his bed, his belongings still all over the place.

"I think I'm going to take that apprenticeship with Slug's and Jiggers." Severus said, closing his trunk. "They said they'd let me stay on for a Masters in Potions, if I work hard. What about you?"

"My Uncle's got me set as a clerk at the MoM." Pritchard leaned back, crossing his arms behind his head. "Not really what I want to do, but it'll tide me over."

"Yeah." Harry agreed. "Same here. MoM let me into the Spellcrafters. Always liked Arithmancy, so there's no harm done."

"Been sharing a dorm with you lot forever. Makes one kinda sentimental." Pritchard looked at them pensively. "Still see you 'round, won't I?"

"Who knows…," Harry said. "We might all end up here again, someday."

"Come on then." Severus shrunk his trunk down to pocket size. "Lucius is waiting and you know how Narcissa gets when we're not on time…"

ooooo

Fourteen years later, Harry was late for the Sorting Feast. He snuck past the high wooden teachers' chairs and Quirrell's odd garlic-heavy turban. Taking his seat next to Severus, Harry ducked under Dumbledore's disapproving stare, and dropped to his seat next to Severus.

"Sorry about that." Harry squeezed his knee under the table. "Got held up in Diagon Alley."

"Potter's spawn was sorted today." Severus pushed his peas around his plate, hiding them under his potatoes. "Thought you might want to know."

"Gryffindor?" Harry looked over to where the Headmaster was quietly talking to McGonagall. "Was to be expected, wasn't it?"

"Sadly, yes."

"It's a tragedy." Harry gently mocked. "Where's he sitting?"

Severus looked past Quirrell's absurd turban to the Gryffindor table and locked eyes with a boy with messy hair.

"Bloody hell." Professor Vector's mouth fell open. "He looks just like his father…"

-The Beginning-