(Variation I on a Dance Theme)
by Cayce Morris
"The focus of our study this term is a simple and timeless musical principle, ladies and gentlemen. It is this: that sometimes the most unlikely pair of instruments can make beautiful music together."
(transcribed from the first lecture given by Herr Wolfgang Lehrer, Visiting Professor of Music in the newly created Department of Muggle Integrative Studies at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, 2008)
Severus Snape was exhausted. That's all it was, he told himself firmly; that was all that was making him want to swear and snark and whip his robes around him in the most threatening manner he could muster. It was all that was making him wish that the mob of students—not to mention a few of the younger staff members—still crowding the Great Hall's dance floor would wear themselves out, already, and go to bed, for God's sake, as any decent human being would be doing at this hour, and as he was personally eager to do at the earliest possible moment. Wasn't four and a half hours of this insanity enough for these hellions? Weren't they exhausted as well? Didn't they have beds waiting for them as well, warm, cozy beds in their dormitories, into which they would eventually fall, and out of which most of them, in typical teenage fashion, would not be roused by anything less than the very hammer of Thor until after midday tomorrow?
With a sigh, Severus allowed himself to close his eyes, just for a moment, and to imagine his own warm, waiting bed…or at least, to imagine the moment at which it would become warm, when Harry joined him after chasing the last Gryffindor miscreants up the stairs from their common room. Harry…Severus sighed once more and opened his eyes reluctantly, lest he drop so far into a daydream that he'd do something embarrassing and give himself away. The young man—and Severus was making a conscious effort these days not to think of him as a boy anymore—was standing directly across the Hall from him. He was still as lean and smooth as any teenager, but his black hair had been salted with white ever since the Battle of Hogwarts. This made him even more lovely in Severus' eyes, as well as easily distinguishable from the students, an advantage when Severus was trying to keep an eye on him in a crowd like this one.
Harry looked much the same tonight, he thought, as he had a year after that final battle, on the night he'd first come to visit Severus at the convalescent retreat in which he'd been painfully and painstakingly rebuilding his mind and body, after their near separation from each other in the Shrieking Shack on that terrible day.
Severus kept his eyes open, though narrowed and forbidding, as he stood straight as a post and pretended to watch over the dancers. Inside his head, though, he allowed his thoughts to wander.
X X X X X
On the early summer evening of his first visit, Harry Potter had brought flowers, and a bottle of surprisingly good scotch somewhat older than Potter himself was. From his bed, Severus had given him a long, cool look and said, in a tone intended to communicate a complete lack of welcome, "Mister Potter. Minerva McGonagall is the only living soul outside this place who knows where I am. I hope she had an extremely good reason for sending you here."
"She did," he'd said softly.
"I told her I had to see you, or else I'd go mad."
Severus just looked at him.
"I knew they'd found you, she told me about it. I just had to see for sure that you were all right."
"Well, now you've seen. Will you please leave?"
After this brief exchange Potter had simply sat with him for a long time, mostly in silence. This was fine with Severus, as he'd had very little conversation with anyone for most of the year, and he'd not yet quite recovered enough strength and fluency of tongue to manage his customary acerbic wit. During the quiet hours of this visit Severus had managed to surreptitiously look at the boy several times, waiting until Potter was staring out the window or studying a newspaper he'd found on the bedside table to fill his eyes with the belly-warming sight of the healthy, beautiful young man. He'd been both relieved and sorry to see him go.
The next night Potter had returned, bringing cards—a deck of muggle playing cards, of all things—and he had taught Severus some completely juvenile muggle card games that had nonetheless kept them both awake, and surprisingly civil, until a very late hour. The boy—and he really was a boy then—had patted Severus' shoulder and squeezed his hand when he said goodnight, and it was at that point, Severus later thought, that things had begun to seriously roll forward. On the third night Potter, after drinking some of the surprisingly good scotch, had suddenly confessed that since the day he'd seen Severus' memories in the Headmaster's Pensieve, he'd harbored a deep longing for the man he'd previously thought of as, in his own unedited words, "…an evil, greasy, nasty bastard, one I'd sooner have seen in Hell than spent any time alone with." He'd kissed the dumbfounded Severus on the cheek when he left that night, his nose pressed warm against his old teacher's ear.
By the fourth night, Severus found he was feeling somewhat stronger, so he got out of bed and sat with the boy by the window of his room, looking onto the peaceful, park-like grounds outside. After they'd each drunk a pleasantly companionable amount of scotch and watched the sun set, they had mutually, though hesitantly on Severus' part, acknowledged the determined little nugget of memory that had led to them being here, together, tonight. This memory had been of Severus' favorite daydream, in which he imagined himself and Harry—against all odds and logic—as lovers. It was an elaborately detailed fantasy, and a much more tender, even sentimental, one than anyone else would have believed he could possibly have.
Severus, who had by this point begun to re-sharpen his tongue, admitted that yes, this particular memory had slipped out of his head and into the bottle quite against his will, but since he'd been busy dying he'd perhaps not had quite as much energy as he would have liked to manage the stream of memories he was trying to give Potter, which was, after all, intended mainly to save the boy's bloody life. "It really isn't so surprising, now is it," Severus had said with a sort of bitter desperation in his voice, "that when one has spent years trying to protect a foolish, reckless, idiot of a Gryffindor, one might develop a certain degree of attachment to the ridiculous child."
And Potter had just smiled, a shy smile of quite unnecessary loveliness, and had said that yes, he understood, and that seeing this particular astonishing memory in the Pensieve had quite unhinged him for some time. He'd been thinking hard on it for the last year, and also on how it had made every other passion in his life seem pointless in comparison, and how it upended all the things he'd thought he knew about himself. He had finally decided to just accept the powerful, intoxicating feelings that had developed in him for his former horrid git of a teacher. Being a Gryffindor, naturally, once he had accepted these feelings he was obliged to act on them, to boldly seek out and win the favor of the one he had chosen. That, he said, was really why he was here, and why he'd just got up from his chair and dropped literally to his knees in front of Severus Snape, and was asking with a slight tremble in his voice if he might really kiss the man. Severus hesitated for just a moment—to his credit, he thought—and asked the boy, "But your…your mother, Potter. Does that not disturb you?"
The boy had just continued to smile, and moved a little closer, working his way in between Severus' thighs, and said, "I saw it all, Severus. I know. You loved her, but it would never have worked. It was a mistake." He lowered his voice and leaned even closer, a conspiratorial smile on his face. "I've made a couple of those myself. And at least…" now the smile was beseeching, "you didn't break her heart." Looking at the beautiful mouth now so close to his own, Severus realized he could not possibly resist what was about to happen. He heard his own voice, warm and rich as melted butter, saying that if the boy was going to kiss him he'd better be quick about it, or else Severus was going to take the matter out of his hands and initiate the kiss himself.
So this unlikely pair was brought together at last, by a tiny wisp of thought stored in a fragile glass vial. That night Harry did kiss Severus, and quite thoroughly. He kissed him so thoroughly, in fact, that he stayed in the man's room until nearly dawn, when he was discovered there by a nightshift mediwitch who'd pretended to be shocked but had winked at Severus after sending Harry down the hall, hurriedly buttoning his shirt, with orders not to return for at least eight hours so Severus could get some rest.
That very day, while Severus slept, Harry had rented a flat in muggle London. Over the next week, he'd furnished the flat in a concentrated whirlwind of shopping, equipping it with everything he could think of to make it a place Severus would find comfortable. When the Healers overseeing Severus made their next assessment of his condition a few days later, they pronounced that he'd made remarkable progress of late—"It really is quite a miracle, Mister Snape, who would have thought?"—and was ready to be discharged. He left a scant hour later with Harry, who brought him to this flat, which became the first real home outside of Hogwarts that either of them had ever had.
It had remained their home for a lovely long year, a time full of discoveries and pleasures neither had thought he'd ever find. During that time they'd both fallen, hard, all the remaining distance on the way to love, though truth be told there hadn't been very far to fall. Of course, they'd had the typical ups and downs of any couple. They didn't agree on everything, but they'd agreed on hardly anything before. They didn't always understand each other, but they'd hardly ever done so before. What astonished them both was how often they could enjoy the same things; Harry was content to spend far more time reading than Severus would have believed possible, and Severus was quick to decide which professional quidditch teams he favored when he saw that a Harry with no schoolwork was a Harry who could happily spend an ungodly number of hours watching games on the magically enhanced television set he'd insisted on buying. This device was a newly invented thing that perplexed and irritated most wizards over the age of thirty, including Severus, but Harry seemed delighted by it, and Severus had quickly recognized that sitting very close to Harry on the sofa while they watched was quite pleasant. Inevitably, though, a time would come when books were closed and quidditch teams had been sent to the showers, leaving Harry and Severus with plenty of hours for mutual amusements of their own designing.
X X X X X
With a great effort, Severus wrenched his mind out of the pleasant memories he had been contemplating. A commotion in a far corner of the Great Hall had caught his attention, and when he looked closer he could see that two hulking, no-necked seventh-years were engaged in fisticuffs while a small but growing crowd egged them on. The combatants were both Gryffindors, he could see, so he decided to stay out of it, wondering when they'd started making Gryffindors who looked like bouncers from some disreputable pub. The idiotic children were fighting over a girl, no doubt. They didn't even appear to be using magic. How pointless.
He turned his eyes back to the spot where Harry had been standing, and saw that the Boy Who Lived was making his way through the crowd toward the fight. Don't get involved, he thought hard at Harry. You're not Head of House. It's not your responsibility. But he knew it would make no difference; Harry would put himself right in the middle of the conflict in an effort to stop it. At least, Severus thought, Harry was fairly sure to remember to attempt a magical intervention, rather than a strictly muscular one. His young lover stood taller now than he had as a student, but he was still a fairly small man—a fact that Severus found enormously appealing, though Harry didn't—and he would surely take the worst of it if he got physically between those two Neanderthals.
As Harry approached the scene of the fight, however, things appeared to break up. Hagrid had fortunately got there first—Severus made a mental note to be courteous to the man the next time they spoke—and was bundling the two boys off toward an exit, a huge hand on each one's shoulder in case they changed their minds about cooperating with him. He thought with relief that Harry would not get involved after all, but then as he watched, Harry reached the little knot of people who'd been cheering the fighters, and began to talk to a sixth-year girl who had stepped out of the crowd. She was crying mightily and pointing after the two fighters as they left the Hall. He kept watching, with growing dismay, as Harry pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and offered it to the girl, who wiped her eyes and then proceeded to throw her arms around Harry and bawl even harder.
Severus stiffened and felt a fierce frown coming on…but Harry was in control of the situation. He gently disengaged himself from the girl's arms—she must be only three or four years younger than he was, Severus thought uncomfortably—and patted her on the back, rather awkwardly. Then several of the girl's friends gathered around her and drew her away in their midst, leaving Harry standing there, holding a damp handkerchief and searching the room with his eyes, looking anxious. Finally he spotted Severus, and their eyes caught with a tiny jolt, and just for an instant they were connected, almost physically, in midair. Then Harry quickly glanced back and forth, as if to see if he were being watched, and when he looked back to Severus it was with a small, apologetic smile. Severus felt a million miles away again as he watched Harry wad the handkerchief back up and stuff it in his pocket, then look away and start walking back to the spot where he'd been standing all night, on the other side of the dance floor.
Damn these students and their precious sensibilities, Severus thought. It was so much more pleasant to simply think about time spent with Harry than to contemplate how hard he worked to hide the fact that he'd rather think about time spent with Harry.
X X X X X
Besides reading and watching quidditch and making love in the flat they shared, they had talked and cooked and made love some more, and taken walks and watched muggle movies and played cards and then made love still more. They lived in near isolation from the rest of the wizarding world, with the exception of regular visits from Ron and Hermione Weasley and the occasional owl from Minerva McGonagall; the new Headmistress, they gathered from her letters, seemed to fancy herself something of a matchmaker for her role in sending Harry to Severus' bedside.
Severus eventually built a small-scale potions laboratory in the spare bedroom. Harry had made a point of telling him that he'd rented a flat with two bedrooms in case Severus wanted more privacy, though Severus always scoffed at the idea that he might have wanted them to spend any nights in separate rooms. Harry also made rare visits to the Burrow, usually at holidays; Severus was always invited but always declined, not wishing to complicate Harry's relationship with his surrogate family by imposing his own ominous presence at such gatherings.
Severus protected Harry's privacy vigorously, so that the boy—nay, young man—could have a life not sullied by his inexplicable coupling with a former Death Eater, to the extent that he wanted one. He had observed, it was true, that Harry never seemed to want to go anywhere or do anything without him; still, he considered it a point of honor to keep the possibility open for him, just in case. It was the least he could do, he thought, in return for the affections of this beautiful young man.
Then had come the fateful day, six months ago, when a Hogwarts owl arrived bearing a very large sheaf of parchments. Headmaster McGonagall had asked—well, begged, really—them both to consider returning to teach at Hogwarts, which was at last fully rebuilt and ready to reopen with a full complement of students. She'd offered inducements such as extra time for research for Severus and quidditch coaching duties for Harry, flexibility to leave the school for nights and weekends whenever they wanted, and whatever housing arrangements within the school they wished to make; she'd have set them up in an entire tower of their own if they'd asked, Severus thought. Most of all, though, she promised the undying gratitude of the wizarding world, which sorely needed their skills and experience as it tried to raise a new generation in the aftermath of the war that had torn its people apart.
Severus hadn't cared about any of those things. What he cared about was what Harry wanted, as he was sure that in order to keep Harry interested in hanging around with him, he'd have to bend a bit sometimes to accommodate whatever other activities the young man needed to occupy himself. They didn't need the jobs, really; Harry had always had more inherited money than he knew what to do with, and Severus, having had no time to spend money on personal pleasures for years, had a comfortable sum saved. But a young man might need work to feel complete, Severus realized. So when Harry had read Minerva's letter and looked up at him with shining, questioning eyes, Severus had smiled, raised an eyebrow, and said, "Your call, Mister Potter."
And when Harry had hugged him and said, "I think we should do it, Sev, don't you?" Severus had kissed his cheek and held him close in affirmation.
So the London flat had become their home away from home, a holiday haven, a private place to which they returned for the occasional weekend to get away from school and students. At Hogwarts they had chosen to live in Severus' old dungeon quarters, magically enlarged a bit to accommodate two, though Harry also kept a public presence in smaller separate quarters in Gryffindor tower. Severus had thought this important for Harry's sake, though Harry had mentioned more than once that he was glad the separate rooms gave Severus the option of a bit more space and privacy. Social customs among wizarding folk being what they were—in particular there was pressure in the community to produce children these days, again as a sort of visceral response to the losses and trauma suffered in the war—neither man was sure that a publicly visible relationship between them would be good for the school. So though Minerva had never asked them to closet themselves, they tacitly did so. It was for the good of the students, they told themselves, as they spoke cordially to each other, but avoided any physical contact, during the daytime. "And it's more dignified, to behave that way around each other. I know that's important to you," Harry had said, though from a spectacularly undignified position on the couch in their quarters, curled up with his head on Severus' lap.
And it's for Harry, Severus told himself, as he found himself aching each day to return to the way things had been in their flat, when a brief brush of arms as they passed in the kitchen might ignite into a passionate, intimate embrace on the rug in front of the fireplace, right there in broad daylight in the middle of the afternoon. It's for Harry, he'd remind himself, and think of the evening hours that mercifully followed every day—you've only to wait until after dinner, you old fool—when they'd be alone together in his rooms, their rooms, and would reconnect, and would eventually fall asleep touching, always touching, both feeling whole again for a few hours.
X X X X X
Severus sighed again, deeply, willing the large clock on the north wall of the Great Hall to turn its hands faster. Half an hour more. It could not pass quickly enough for him.
Suddenly Minerva McGonagall appeared at his side. How the hell did she do that? He must have been so busy daydreaming, or perhaps glaring murderously at the dancing crowd, that she'd walked up without him noticing. You'd be a disgrace as a spy these days, Snape, he thought glumly.
"Good evening, Severus," she said, looking far less irritated by the lateness of the hour and the energy of the students than he was.
"Good evening, Headmistress," he said with a sniff. "You look almost as though you're enjoying yourself." There. That should pinch a bit.
"Aren't you?" She looked not the slightest bit pinched. "Ah, the students certainly are. Look at all the couples dancing…young love, what a beautiful thing, don't you think?" The smile she turned on him was nauseating.
"Most of them are jumping randomly in disorganized mobs, Minerva. I hardly see any evidence of young love on that dance floor."
"Well, perhaps not at this moment," she allowed. "It's fast, bouncy music, after all," she said, and he thought she was almost bouncing along with it herself. "But if you look off to the sidelines…" She pointed, and he saw she was looking across to the far side of the Great Hall, toward the spot where Harry was standing much as they were, watching the dancers. "Oh, dear. Professor Potter doesn't look too happy, does he?"
Severus frowned. "I'm sure he's fine. He's probably tired, as we all are at this late hour. Or perhaps irritated about the pair who were fighting."
She shook her head slowly. "No, Severus. I don't think that's it."
"I can assure you, Minerva, that Professor Potter is perfectly well. I spoke with him before the dance and he was quite healthy. Unless perhaps he has consumed some spoiled refreshments…" and he looked closer. Harry really did look unhappy, he realized. Grim, even. But he didn't look sick. More like…
"No, that's not what I meant, Severus. And I assure you, although I really don't mean to intrude…" then don't, he thought, but of course it did no good, "…did you ever consider that Harry might actually want to dance at one of these functions?"
It took Severus a moment to recover from his shock. "Your suggestion is out of line, Headmistress. And you are wrong, as well. Harry has no interest in dancing."
"Are you quite sure of that?"
"Of course I'm sure." Damnation. I have no idea whether he wants to dance or not, he thought. Great Gods, what if he does?
"You could dance with him, you know."
He looked at Minerva in horror. "I think not."
"Oh, don't look so shocked, Severus. It's the twenty-first century, even at Hogwarts. Men do dance together these days."
And she was right, even at Hogwarts. He had seen two male couples dancing earlier in the evening, and had judged them insane. But he said, "You cannot be serious."
"I certainly am serious. I am concerned about the welfare of all my students and staff, and right now Harry looks like he's wishing for a dance partner, and I assume you're the one he wants, but if you're not interested I could see who else might be willing to stand in for a bit…"
"You will not." The words came out sounding horrified and desperate, not at all what he had intended. He lowered his voice to an urgent whisper as he continued. "Minerva, you don't know what you're suggesting. I am attempting to protect Harry's privacy here. If he were to be seen dancing with me, it would instantly make public everything between us."
"Oh, really, Severus. Are you telling me you don't think anyone knows about you and Harry?"
Severus drew himself up tall. "I have taken great pains to make sure no one knows. Protecting Harry from being besmirched by association with me is my highest priority, I promise you."
She gave a ladylike snort. "Well, I'm afraid you've failed. Everyone knows, Severus. That cat is so far out of the bag, she's had kittens. I don't know how you thought you could hide such a thing."
How could people possibly know? What could they have seen? We have not touched in public, we barely even speak… His thoughts raced, and Severus felt the room begin to spin slowly around him. "How…we have been exceedingly careful, Minerva. I'm quite sure we have not been seen in any compromising…"
She interrupted, waving a hand. "You don't have to do anything but look at each other, don't you realize that? It's all there, for everyone to see."
Severus felt distinctly faint now. "Even the students?"
"Good heavens, yes. Probably the students first. They have an instinct for ferreting out the weaknesses in teachers, you know."
"Weaknesses." Yes, he thought, Harry is certainly my weakness. But I had not intended to be his.
She seemed to take pity on him, and put a hand gently on his arm. "There's nothing wrong with it, you know. You might have noticed that no one's criticized you for being with Harry, have they?"
She was right about that, he realized. He nodded.
"You might even think of yourselves as…role models, of a sort." He rolled his eyes, but she persisted. "No, it's true. For students who perhaps don't see their own orientations reflected in the more…traditional ones." She looked at him with raised eyebrows.
It was not a completely ridiculous idea, he realized, if one were concerned about such things as students and their psychological welfare, which he was not, particularly. "I…I will have to give that some thought," he said. "But still…" His stomach clenched at the greater, unsolved problem. "I am not…merely a homosexual, Minerva. I am also a Death Eater, and a…a murderer, for God's sake, and as such not fit to be linked publicly with Harry. I must still protect him from that." He swallowed painfully.
But Minerva threw up her hands and made a less ladylike, more exasperated noise than before. "Really, Severus, you are too much. Yes, you're a former Death Eater. Yes, you've made some bad decisions and done some very difficult things you were condemned for at the time. You're also a hero, an Order of Merlin recipient, and a highly respected teacher at this school. And if that isn't enough…" she leaned closer, slipping her hand under his arm, "you're a tall, dark and quite distinguished-looking older man. Yes, older. Some people would see that as quite romantic, you know."
He gaped at her. Was she really serious? "You think…" he tried, but he couldn't finish the thought. It was too incredible. Could it really be acceptable, in the eyes of the wizarding world, for him to be openly partnered with Harry Potter?
They stood there for a few moments arm in arm, in silence, Severus thinking hard and Minerva seeming to understand that at the moment he could say no more. At length she squeezed his arm and said, "I've got to go speak to the Prefects before the dance ends."
"I will…consider your advice," Severus said, not looking at Minerva, not wanting her to have the satisfaction of knowing how deeply her words had struck and found their mark.
"See that you do, Severus," she said sternly. You don't have to be so insufferable about it, he thought, but then she was patting him on the arm one last time, and smiling. "Remember," she said sweetly, her glance somehow taking in both him and Harry all the way across the room, "he's only young once." And then she sashayed off, in search, he supposed, of some other unfortunate in need of interference in his or her love life.
But she was right, and he had to admit it. Harry did look miserable. Perhaps it was because he was simply tired or hungry, but Severus didn't think so. In fact, as he watched Harry standing there across the Great Hall, looking grim, Severus thought of that very morning, when they'd discussed the dance briefly over a blessedly private breakfast in the dungeons. Tonight's affair was a Yule-season ball intended to foster school spirit and House unity among the new students, some of whom were still uneasy about living in the midst of a former battleground. In the days before, Harry had seemed enthusiastic about the purpose of the event, though a bit irritated that it was going to keep them both on duty, so to speak, for an extra few hours that night. But this morning, now that Severus thought about it…Harry had seemed perhaps a bit sad as well, not just resentful of the time, but as if the dance represented something he both longed for and dreaded.
Severus continued to think, his thoughts beginning to tumble together faster, of how every evening of late the young man would come home to him as if he'd been in a great rush to get there, and would push roughly into Severus' arms and then just stand very close, leaning slightly against his taller lover, breathing deeply. As if he had desperately needed the embrace. As if he wanted to warm himself in their shared breaths. As if he, too was feeling the loss of the easy intimacy they'd given up in choosing to hide the truth, which he'd said so many times he was willing to do for the sake of the students, and for the sake of Severus' dignity…
And suddenly Severus wanted to hex himself. Severus Snape, you are a blind fool, he thought. Bloody hell, why couldn't you see what he was doing? Then he said out loud, not caring if anyone heard, "Idiotic Gryffindor. Who the hell does he think he is, trying to protect a Slytherin?"
And Minerva thought they should dance together. Merlin's beard, what a thought…but it just might be the perfect opportunity to set things right. And though he would not have said that he wanted to dance, it wasn't that Severus didn't know how to dance, after all. He simply hadn't in years, and the last time he'd danced in the Great Hall was a particularly unpleasant memory. Of all the possible venues for this insane thing he was about to do, this would have been his last choice.
But it would have to suffice. And it was only a dance, after all. It wasn't as though he was going to suggest that they make love in the middle of the Great Hall. If Severus was wrong, things could get sticky, but he didn't think he was wrong about this. He didn't think Minerva had been wrong. He might not have been able to see what was going on before, but he liked to think he didn't have to have it shoved in his face more than once to understand the longing in Harry's eyes. And now that he'd decided, he was all business, and set himself to fixing this for Harry…for his Harry, for the young man who came warm and eager to his bed every night, who somehow made him smile every day, who had bent over backwards and sideways to make Severus comfortable. He could fix this, and he would.
First he made a quick check of Harry again: still staring resolutely at the dancers, that was good. Then he glanced at the clock: quarter to midnight. Yes. Just enough time. He turned and began to stroll casually toward the wall, and then around the perimeter of the room, keeping as many people as he could between Harry's eyes and himself. In half a minute he had circled round to stand behind the band. Now he had to make himself more obvious, but it couldn't be helped; he stepped forward and stood directly beside the bandstand, trying to look imperious with his arms crossed over his chest, while he waited to catch the attention of the bandleader. It didn't take long. The young man let his mates continue without him for a moment when he saw Severus glaring at him, and he came to the side of the stage and knelt down to talk to him.
"Anything wrong, sir?" he asked, more politely than Severus had expected.
"Not at all. I merely wanted to confirm that you'll be wrapping things up shortly?"
"Yes, sir. Midnight's in the contract. That still all right?"
"Yes. That's fine." Severus scowled at him, just for effect. "I have a request."
"A…request, sir? You mean, for a song?"
"Yes." Severus pulled a slip of parchment and a quill out of his robe pocket—how handy sometimes to be a teacher, he thought, always carrying such things around for emergencies—and wrote down the name of a song. "Can you play this, as your last selection?" He passed the slip of parchment to the young man.
The fellow's face brightened when he saw what Severus had written. "Ah, yes, sir, we know that one. We get requests for it a lot at parties for…er, excuse my saying so, sir, but…older folks. If you know what I mean." He looked apologetic, and a little afraid.
"Yes." Severus glared harder. "See that you play it well, then, young man."
"You've got it, sir, no problem." The bandleader looked at the clock. "We'll do one more number, then, and after that your song, and that'll be it. Fair enough?"
"Fair enough. Thank you for your assistance."
"Don't mention it, Professor." The fellow stood up and rejoined his bandmates, looking relieved, as Severus faded back against the wall and began slowly circling the room again.
Harry was still watching the dancers, his face unsmiling and his posture ramrod straight, when Severus silently appeared at his side a moment later. Harry turned briefly and saw him, and they acknowledged each other, as they'd been doing in this Hall for months now, with only a curt nod. Suddenly Harry jumped slightly. Severus' fingers had touched his, hidden in the folds of their robes, which hung loose and flowing between them. He looked up at Severus in surprise.
"I have been given to understand, Professor Potter…" Severus began, eyes straight ahead, "that you perhaps would like to…take a turn about the dance floor."
"What!" Out of the corner of his eye he could see Harry blushing. "I…I mean, no, Severus, that's all right." But his fingers clutched tightly at Severus', still hidden by their robes.
"I do not suggest this casually, Potter." Severus turned his head to look directly at Harry. "I would be honored if you would favor me with…the last dance." He bowed his head solemnly, in humility that was only partly play-acting.
Harry giggled, looking nervous. "You've got to be kidding."
"I assure you, I have never been more serious in my life."
"But…everyone would see!"
"Indeed they would."
"But…I thought you didn't want…"
"What I want, Mister Potter," Severus leaned sideways toward Harry and dropped his voice to a rather fierce whisper, "is for my lover to realize that his happiness is important to me, and that I can in fact bend occasionally to facilitate it." At last, he turned to face the young man directly. "Am I making myself clear?"
Harry's eyes were wide. "Very clear." He squeezed the fingers, hard. "Are you really sure about this? Because if you are…I've been thinking about dancing with you all day." Harry blushed harder and looked away, and Severus smiled. Minerva, you're an old busybody, he thought, but thank you.
At that moment, a deafening squeal of feedback—which apparently plagued even magical microphones—filled the room. It was followed by the voice of the bandleader, much louder than necessary, Severus thought, to be heard all over Scotland. "Thanks, you've been a great audience!" the leader said, causing an eruption of deafening cheers. "This will be our last number, so let's see everyone out on the dance floor!" The mob began to move, slowly congealing in the center of the Hall, dancers coming in from the sidelines for one last fling.
Severus turned his head toward Harry, who still looked shocked, and said, "It's now or never, Mister Potter." He put out a hand in Harry's direction with the palm up, the clearest invitation to dance that he knew how to give. And Harry slowly raised his own hand, and placed it palm down on top of Severus'. Severus smiled at him. With Harry's hand in his, the noise and press of the crowd slowly retreated from Severus' awareness; the world became only Harry, and Harry's hand, and the music playing softly in the background. Severus led them onto the dance floor, slowly, precisely, his walking steps almost a dance already, and he barely noticed that the crowd hushed and parted in front of them, making a path.
Finally they reached the center of the dance floor, and Severus turned so that they were face to face. He held their clasped hands at shoulder height, and put his other hand carefully on Harry's waist. "Do you actually know how to do this?" Harry whispered, looking back and forth at Severus' hands and seeming more than a little uncertain about the formality of their pose.
"In fact, I do." Severus had to admit he enjoyed Harry's stunned look. "One of the few advantages of having spent a great deal of time around Malfoys in the distant past." He tried to relax, and gave Harry another smile, this one spiced with a little teasing. "If you'd be so good as to follow my lead, I believe I can make this work for us, Mister Potter."
Harry's expression was grateful. "I'd follow you anywhere," he said, and Severus felt a flush of warmth.
"Very well, then. Put your hand on my shoulder. There, yes. Here we go."
And off they went, moving in slow, lazy squares, Severus stepping with deliberateness and Harry gamely following him. The music was slow, and a little bit sad, but not too much, not if you were hearing it while dancing in the arms of someone who loved you. It would have been altogether too sad to hear it right now if he'd not been in those arms, Severus thought. It was a song written nearly twenty-five years ago, one Harry might not even know, but one Severus had heard at many dances in his own youth, though often from a hallway or even a tower far from the dance floor. He'd chosen it partly because he'd always thought it beautiful in its sad sweetness, and partly because he thought it was slow enough that he could maneuver them around the floor in time with it, and could do so fairly competently even if Harry turned out to have two left feet.
The crowd around them gradually got back to their own dancing, though they left a bit of extra space around the two new dancers. Just in case, Severus thought, we turn out to be explosive. Or contagious. He soon saw, though, that although eyes were on them, those eyes didn't look critical. In fact, though at first he didn't believe it, they looked almost…admiring. As well they should be, he thought, allowing himself to feel a bit smug. I have the loveliest partner on the floor.
He gently drew Harry in a little closer, and the young man came willingly, with a delighted smile. "This is nice, Sev," he whispered. "Thanks."
"It's my pleasure, I assure you," he whispered back, spreading his fingers wide across Harry's back so as to press Harry's body more firmly to his own. Harry made a little pleased sound deep in his throat and leaned his head on Severus' shoulder. My pleasure, indeed. "You should have told me, you know."
"Hmm? Told you…?"
"That you wanted to dance. How can I know what you want if you do not communicate your desires?"
Harry chuckled. "Oh, I think I do a pretty good job of communicating my desires, don't you?" He gave a small, playful shove with his lower half that communicated quite clearly with the corresponding parts of Severus, who gave a little gasp of mock outrage.
"That's indecent, Professor Potter. What will the students think?"
"Don't care what the students think. Just one particular teacher."
"I'm certain he'll be shocked, too."
"Don't worry. I'll help him get over it."
"I'm sure you will." He pulled Harry all the way in, as close as their formal dance posture would allow, so that the hand holding Harry's was drawn in tight against his own shoulder and his arm was wrapped about Harry's waist. "There's nothing wrong, you know, with a young man wanting to dance. With his lover." He enunciated the last three words clearly, with a tiny bit of a challenge to them. Just to make sure, he thought.
And Harry took the challenge, as Severus had known he would. He pulled his head back to stare. "Who else would I dance with?" he asked. "What makes you…oh, I get it." He smiled knowingly. "It was Minerva, wasn't it?"
"Why do you say that?" Severus asked, trying to look innocent, though he could tell he wasn't convincing Harry.
"Because I saw her talking to you, and the two of you looking at me. At one point you turned white as a sheet, and I wondered what she was saying to you. And I know she likes to…get involved. She told you I wanted to dance, didn't she? And suggested that I might go dance with someone else?"
"She might have said something along those lines."
"Well, that's plain silly. Why would I want to dance with someone else when I've got you?"
"But you didn't have me. To dance with, that is."
"Well, I still wasn't going to go looking for someone else. You're what matters, not the dancing." He snuggled in close again. "You know that."
"Yes. I do." He decided this was the moment to make the final move, to give in to the intimacy of the dance. There had never been a girl with whom he'd have dared this, but he knew, or at least fervently hoped, that Harry would welcome it. He put both arms around Harry's waist and lowered his head to rest his cheek on top of Harry's grey-sprinkled hair. Harry quickly figured out the correct response, and put both arms around Severus' shoulders. Their steps slowed to just a gentle swaying. "Mmm," Severus murmured, making it rumble as deep as he could. "Very nice."
"You're telling me," Harry whispered in his ear. "Do that 'mmm' thing again."
"Mmmmm. Like that?"
"Hell, yes, like that. Do we have to stay until the dance is over?"
"Yes, we do."
"Bloody hell. Maybe you'd better not do that 'mmm' thing again."
"Mmmmm. I promise I won't."
"You're evil, do you know that?"
"I do. Have I just lost all the points I earned for dancing?"
Harry just shook gently with laughter in his arms, and didn't answer. Severus held him and smiled. He knew Minerva might very well be able to see them like this—probably was looking for them, the old bat—tight in each other's arms, acting like fools. He didn't care. Harry was happy. He could feel how happy Harry was, as he laughed, as he pressed eagerly against Severus' body, as he turned his face against Severus' neck and rubbed his nose there gently, now that his laughter was quieting.
Harry spoke, his voice still soft but serious. "You're really fine with everyone knowing?"
"I'm really fine with everyone knowing."
"Brilliant." He nosed around again for a bit, then was still. "You know I love you, don't you."
"I do indeed. And…you."
"Yeah. I know."
They swayed together for another moment. Severus knew the song was coming to an end, and he had one more surprise planned for Harry, and for the dancing crowd. He held Harry close and murmured, "Just a warning. I'm going to kiss you when the song ends, so be prepared." He felt Harry shiver, and it sent a thrill through him. I believe I've done this right, he thought, pleased. And as the last strains of music reverberated around them, Severus leaned down and kissed Harry, at first with chaste restraint but then with increasing earnestness as Harry opened to him and made it clear that this was very much the proper time and place for just this kind of kiss. Dear Merlin, he thought, we are, in fact, making love in the middle of the Great Hall. But it was too late to do anything else now. And the crowd, which had grown silent and still around them again, gradually began clapping, as if urging them on, mysteriously finding a beat together as crowds sometimes do.
And the band heard the clapping, and perhaps even saw the kiss, and evidently they approved of it too, because when someone yelled, "One more time!" they began playing the song again, from the beginning, and the crowd went wild, cheering and clapping and beginning to move in time to the music all over again…
Severus felt Harry's arms around him tighten and Harry's lips smile against his own, and he knew this had definitely—oh, definitely, he thought, feeling Harry's firm body now pressed full length against his—been the right thing to do. He closed his eyes and continued the kiss, knowing with a warm certainty that his dance with Harry would go on for a long, long time.
Thanks to Telanu for the wonderful Valentine Ball scene in her "Tea" series, which inspired me to write the set of variations that begins with this story.
Many thanks also to betas psi and OperaQueen!