Disclaimer: I do not own "Harry Potter" and make no profit from this fanfiction.

Chapter One

Severus looked at the vial.

He nearly considered destroying the wretched thing, but something prevented him from smashing the glass and watching the contents fade away. It was foolish sentimentality and nothing more. There was no greater blasphemy than to allow his memories to exist in a real and tangible form, and – whilst that had been fine when he believed himself to be dying, knowing they would shed light onto dark matters – it was different now. The world now knew the humiliating truth, so what reason did he have to keep them further?

It felt . . . violating . . . to know that his memories had been revealed to the world. He lived his life in secrecy, valuing his privacy, but now there was not a single wizard alive that did not know of his true motivations. What had possessed that ridiculous boy to scream the truth in a hall filled with people? It seemed that Potter had not changed during that year away. True, it was not fair in the least, but he would not be so childish as to whine about fairness in such a world as they lived. Severus would endure this mortifying turn of events, for he had no other choice but to endure, but he would never forgive that boy – now a man – for revealing secrets that were not his to reveal. Harry held no right to divulge such information. No right.

How sweet it would be to obliviate his mind and eradicate his past from memory . . . he would no longer feel the disgrace of his actions towards Lily, just as he would no longer feel that vulnerable sense of self-consciousness as he knew the world now silently judged him. It was the knowledge that his regrets had shaped his person that stopped him, for without those regrets he would be no different to any Death Eater.

It was an easy decision in retrospect.

Severus took one final look at the glass vial. He lifted it high to turn it in the light, where it was easy to catch sight of the beautiful patterns reflected in the silver liquid, and – as it swirled and danced – he allowed his mouth to pull into a half-smirk. There was a brief sigh of resignation, before he carefully placed the vial into a small leather-bound box upon his desk, and in that box he knew the memories would forever remain. He placed that box within a larger one; it was crammed with various books, potions and tools, which was a depressing thought when he realised how many years worth of teaching could fit into such a small space.

"A lifetime with nothing but memories to show for it," he muttered.

The sight of his office laid bare instilled a sense of finality upon him. It had taken many years to collect the ingredients, potions and equipment that lined the shelves upon the walls, and now those same shelves had been reduced to nothing but dust and patches of mould. They had kept his office exactly as he left it, so it seemed; Horace never laid claim to it, whilst Minerva kept it as something of a shrine, in case he wished to return to his post. The room was humid and damp, which was something he would not miss in the least.

He would miss other things, however. He would miss the way the Gryffindor students would be so easily intimidated by the esoteric and arcane items, just as he would miss the firewhiskey stashed in his drawer for darker days, and he would miss the lingering scents from uncorked potion bottles. The room would now belong to some other man or woman, who would stamp their identity upon these four walls and erase his mark entirely. It was almost enough to make him reconsider. In a rather odd way he enjoyed shaping young minds, and – in a rather expected way – he had been thrilled at the control his job gave him, able to command and punish at his will. Yes, he would have preferred teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts, but simply being a teacher was at times pleasant.

'Professor? Are you there?'

It was then he heard the knock upon his office door. No, he heard the knock upon the door, for he could no longer claim ownership of the space he forfeited. He glanced to the wooden door and wondered who would be foolish enough to disturb him; it could be no student, for he was no longer a teacher. He was no longer a teacher, a spy . . . no longer a slave. A weaker man would have been felled by the sudden freedom, especially after having led such a life of servitude, but he was not a weak man and he would find a way.

"Enter," he snapped.

The door opened rather slowly, almost as if the intruder were afraid of what reception they would face, and – as the door finally opened – he saw just who it was that decided to disturb him in his final moments: Harry Potter. It should not have surprised him in the slightest, as who else would be so rude as to arrive unwelcome and without invitation? The rules never applied to Harry. He was a man that did what he wanted without regards to anyone else's feelings, this being one prime example that proved it.

"Ah, Mister Potter," Severus spat venomously. "To what do I owe this pleasure?"

"Why do you think? I mean it's not as though I expected any thanks or gratitude, because – come on – I think we both know that's not in your nature, but I did expect some respect considering everything that I did! You couldn't even tell me to my face? This is – what – the second time you've done this? You call me a child, but you're the one that keeps walking away without the maturity to even tell me!"

"In case you haven't noticed: I owe you nothing. I do not think it is the duty of a middle-aged man to inform his ex-student of his every move, thus I gave it no thought to let you know of my life decisions. I apologise to the Chosen One, if this offends you."

"So that's it? You're just going to leave Hogwarts?"

"Did Minerva put you up to this?"

Severus gave the young man as cold a look as he could muster. It was difficult to break a lifetime of habit, even if he thought fondly on some aspects of Harry, but there was such little change over the span of three years . . . it was almost as if Harry had not changed in the least, which – as such – made the anger easily to bring to the forefront. The younger man closed the door softly behind him, before he stood with a familiar rage to his expression.

How old would he be now? Twenty-One? There was a substantial increase of muscle to the younger man since the last time Severus saw him, although his childhood spent in neglect meant that he would forever be slight, and no longer did his clothes hang off him like an old wire-hanger. The one greatest change was his eyes: those eyes once held an inferno of emotions, but now they dwindled to a dying ember, so that indifference and cynicism had replaced the previous optimism. He appeared older than his years, which was enough to make even a man like Severus feel a pang of guilt. No longer did Potter seem sure of himself, but instead he appeared constantly on edge, as if he expected the worst to occur at any moment.

It may have been cruel, but Severus hoped that the change was permanent. The small lines to the corner of those green eyes, as well as the bags from sleepless nights, made him believe that Potter could still grow to be a reasonable adult. He could not help but gaze upon those eyes. They were as beautiful as ever, but with them were memories of the woman he once loved and the boy that he thought he would never see again, and – at that moment – he wished that he had died that night . . . he would never have had to look upon them again.

"Minerva told me you were leaving, yes," said Harry.

"How strange," Severus replies. "It seems I am no longer entitled to privacy."

"No, you're no longer entitled to secrecy. None of us are. I just -! You could have told me that you handed in your notice! You could have told me that you weren't going back to teaching! I had to hear it from Minerva? You owe me more than that, Severus!"

"You also owe me some respect! I may no longer be able to deduct house-points, but I was once your teacher and I am still your elder! I gave you no permission to use my first name, nor do I do so now, and nor do I appreciate your constant presence around me. I am not some fragile chick in need of a mother hen, but – even if I were – you would be the last person I would ask for help in protection! I wish to collect my things in peace. Good day to you."

"Damn it, Severus! You aren't long recovered! How are you going to get by? I have every right to be worried about you. You nearly died! You nearly died because of me! You can call me arrogant for making this about me, I don't care, but I can't lose you again after all that you've done for me! I – I was ungrateful, but now –"

"Now you care? You could not trust me before seeing my memories?"

"You know that I couldn't. You know why I couldn't."

"Then you know why I never told you."

Severus lifted the box into his grasp. The edges were rough and hard against his hands, whilst the weight of the contents placed a heavy pressure upon his left arm. It was difficult to endure, for the permanent muscle atrophy and severe scarring left him with a great pain, which was exacerbated by the new weakness upon him, but he bore with it well. The only sign of his suffering was a slight wince to his eyes and a tightening to his hands, whilst Harry glared darkly at him from the closed doorway.

The younger man pressed his lips into a tight line, so much so that they almost appeared white with the pressure, and it was enough to cause Severus to smirk at the sight. He had gotten a reaction from the man. He also noticed a few more subtle changes that previously went unnoticed; he now wore rather fashionable wizarding attire – although not as expensive or chic as what some wizards would wear, notably Mr Malfoy – and his glasses seemed far more flattering than before the war. He stood in a rather inelegant manner, but the way he kept his head raised and his back straight spoke of both power and anger in equal measure. The very fact that a mere child such as Harry Potter could dare to attempt a livid look was most amusing, after all what could a child like him know about true pain or anger?

"How will you get by?" Harry asked.

"I still have my house on Spinner's End," answered Severus. "I trust that Minerva disclosed to you my intentions, when she revealed my resignation? I shall work privately from my home in the potions trade. There is a small fortune to be made in custom-made potions."

"You could teach Defence Against the Dark Arts . . ."

"I could do a lot of things."

It was cold within the dungeons and Severus was in no mood to talk. The Scottish air in September was forever dismal and dangerous, enough so that at times it felt bitter enough to freeze one where one stood, and in the cold confines of the stony walls it was somehow made all the worse. He hoped to leave in time to avoid the students as they made their way to lunch, as well as to allow the new Potions Master time to settle in whilst the day was still in effect, and – honestly – he regretted not having moved his things during the summer holidays, although the small inconvenience to his successor did amuse him.

"Tell me: why are you here?"

"I told you," snapped Harry. "You owe me an explanation. You owe me at least some the opportunity to explain myself and to apologise to you. I visited you every damned day for the last three years, but you can't even afford me fifteen minutes to talk? What were you going to do, Severus? Just up and leave like you did at the bloody hospital? You have some nerve to call me immature when you just run from me like a – a –!"

"Like a what? Say it. I dare you to say it." Severus paused and then shook his head. "No if anyone is the coward then it is you. It seems all that fame and gloryhas gone to straight to your head. Was it not enough to defeat the Dark Lord? Is it not enough to have your face in every paper, your name on everyone's lips? You are as infuriatingly cocky as your father."

"Don't you dare bring my father into this! Not now, not ever."

"Oh? Did I touch a nerve? You always were rather protective of that arrogant sod. It amuses me that you present yourself as some heroic avenger, when you do nought but worship a heartless bully and a mangy mutt. What will you do if I insult them further? Cry? Shout? Curse? Ah, perhaps instead you will invade my private and personal memories in the pensieve in order to gain confirmation of the things that I tell you, my own word being worthless, I'm sure. Well, now you know everything, so what else can I tell you?

"I can only assume that it's sheer arrogance that brought you here. You must be amused at our reversal of fortune, but I refuse to stand here and let you laugh at my misery! If I left the hospital without telling you, it is because I did not wish for you to see me unable to stand without assistance or slurring my words, because – regardless of what you think of me – I have some dignity worth protecting. I opted to recover at home. It was a wise choice for my convalescence, because I did not have to endure your inevitable pity or your mockery. Like your father you assume you can go anywhere, do anything, and it's always 'Snivellus' that becomes the thing that you can point and laugh at. Do you truly have nothing better to do?"

"This isn't about my father, Severus, and it never was."

Severus let out a harsh sneer. There were two scars upon his body that were most prominent, both of which ran parallel to one another and ran from just below his chin to his hip-bone, and they currently stung as if dozens of needles pierced his skin. This man knew what pain was, scarred as Severus had become and knowledgeable of the pain that scars sometimes wrought, but he was still young. It felt disrespectful to be spoken to in such a tone, even if he was no longer a professor, and he would not allow such disrespect.

"I beg to differ," said Severus. "Unfortunately I have better things to do than debate matters of morality with a B-list celebrity, so please excuse me. I trust that this will be the last of our acquaintanceship? I wish you well, Mr Potter. Farewell."

It was difficult to walk whilst holding the box. He managed to keep his balance and retain his perfect posture, but his body screamed at him in protest. Severus ignored the pain and marched past Harry, where he opened the door quickly and exited into the dungeon corridors, as he tried to keep what little dignity that was left. The contents of his box rattled as he moved, and as he marched across the stone slabs he caught sight of his robes that billowed about behind him, an effect that still seemed to intimidate the students around him.

The first-years appeared terrified of him, as he swept by them with dark glares in warning, and that was likely due to his absence of three years after the end of the war, which meant that this would be their first – and only – time laying eyes upon his person. It became apparent after some time that Harry had chosen to follow him. The constant stares and wide-eyed looks of the students gave that much away, so that even after all this time the hero-worship of the Chosen One had yet to fade away. It infuriated him to see students stopping dead just to stare at their walking legend, almost as if he owned the damned place.

Severus wondered what such a man could want. He had not lingered in the hospital after regaining consciousness for any longer than it took to sign the discharge forms, but he managed to read the list of those killed in the war . . . those students he had taught, cared for and effectively raised . . . he had grown too depressed to care about much else, let alone the social lives and careers of those that had survived. The first thing that he heard was that Harry Potter had began training as an auror, whilst the last he heard was that this same young man quit his position in the ministry to instead work as a teacher, but Severus sincerely hoped his career change was not based upon any potential proximity to Severus.

It was only when he exited the dungeons – and made his way through the corridors above – that he grew tired of Harry's tailing of him, and after a few long moments he slowed his pace and allowed his ex-student to fall in line with him. There was a certain strange intimacy in allowing the younger man to walk beside him, enough so that he felt a sense of awkwardness at the change in their relationship. Severus drew in a deep breath and spoke slowly:

"What brings you here? If all you have to say is silence, I implore you to take it elsewhere."

"I thought you were dead, Severus."

"Oh? I knew you were inept at creating a simple potion, unable to even tell even wolfsbane from monkshood, but even I would have thought that you could at least believe in what you could clearly see. I may have slept, but I was alive nonetheless."

"You know full well what I mean, Severus! I never knew where you stood and I never knew what you'd done for me, but then I –! I saw it and I knew what you'd done! I was scared and I was angry and I even hated you for a while . . . I hated you, because you might have died and I might never have had a chance to thank you for all that you'd done, because you were – are – so damned selfish that you don't ever think anyone else's feelings matter!"

"I'm so sorry that my life interfered with yours," snapped Severus. "Next time I work as a triple-agent, whilst trying to ensure the safety of my pupils and colleagues, I'll be sure to have a heart-to-heart with you about my intentions. I'm sure I'll have time between developing an anti-venom that can be absorbed through the skin."

"You're still doing it! It's as if you're trying to make me angry, to push me away!"

"That's exactly what I'm doing, Mr Potter."

They wandered outside into the castle grounds. The sun was surprisingly high, considering the extremely cold weather that they faced, and it forced Severus to squint and try to adjust his eyes to the unpleasant beams of light. It seemed too cheerful weather for such an ugly moment, but the air was fresher and far more acceptable than the stale air of the dungeons below, which meant that it would be next to impossible to rid himself of Harry Potter. If there were a torrential downpour typical to Scottish weather, he doubted that the young man would remain by his side. He would have to be stubborn indeed, if he did.

"It's a long walk to Hogsmeade," muttered Harry.

"You intend to follow me that far? You can see that I am alive and well. The potion that I carried that day was experimental, I shall admit, and had it not worked I most certainly would have been dead. The recovery was made difficult by the severe blood loss, as well as that the potion and the venom itself wrought havoc with my body, but I suppose it is better to recover in a coma than to be conscious for such pain. I – alas – shall never be the same again."

"Yeah, they said. The healers warned me that they'd be heavy scarring, as well as that you might even be paralysed in your arm, but I guess we got lucky, huh? They told me – when you left – you were surprisingly well all things considered."

"Yes, but I would have been better if you had reacted better. If you had just thought to take a pulse to check for life, then to administer basic spells to staunch the bleeding and to call for help, then perhaps I would have healed faster than I did and to a better quality. I noted how quick you were to take my precious memories. You took what you found interesting, but never mind that my life was hanging in the balance."

"That isn't fair!"

"Life isn't fair, but in my observations I believe that I have been fair."

Severus began a slow walk towards the gates, whilst he focussed on maintaining perfect stability, as already he could feel the ice forming underfoot and the uneven form of the gravel and dirt along the path. He hoped to reach Hogsmeade as quickly as possible. It was difficult to be forced to consider what his life would now become, just as the reminder of how close he had been to death was something of a sobering thought, and – although he would never admit it to the healers – a part of him hated that he survived through the bite.

It would not be long before he could let the box down. The downside was simply that the relief from free his weak arm of the pressure would hurt, so that the muscle would ache for some hours after, and it was possible that he would loss some mobility in his fingers for the days that followed. He tried to constantly flex his left hand around the box as he moved, as well to hold it close to his chest with the weight predominately on his right arm, but he still needed to use the left and the left would suffer accordingly. This would affect his ability to make potions in large amounts . . . he would need many breaks, as well as to take longer during the process of each potion . . . he would never be the same again.

"You can't run away from me forever," Harry snapped.

Harry reached out to grab a hold of Severus' sleeve. The older man still retained his fast reflexes and astute powers of observation, and so he snatched his arm out of the way before any contact could be made. It threw him off balance slightly, so that he stumbled and was forced to put the weight of his body upon his left leg to prevent from falling, but that sudden pressure sent a sharp wave of agony through his body and nearly felled him. The pain must have been clear upon his expression, as at once Harry moved as if to take a hold of him, but – thankfully – the younger man had learned enough not to take such liberties.

"You make it seem as if I don't care," Harry snapped.

"Do you truly mean to say that you care about me? I bullied you during your time here, not to mention that you hated me regardless, because I was nothing more to you than some Death Eater and a rival of your godfather. I do not imply you don't care, I state it."

"You – you can be so infuriating! You blame me of being stuck in the past, but you're the one that can't look beyond that and see things for what they are now!" Harry quickened his pace to keep up with Severus. "Do you know that I dropped everything when I heard you were alive? You must have been told. I went straight to St. Mungo's and ran straight to your side. I owed my life to you . . . you saved me . . . I couldn't just turn my back on you."

"So you came to pay off a debt? How altruistic."

"I came because I care! Okay, so maybe I was wrong for judging you, but it's not as though you never judged me in turn, is it? You thought I was my father. I thought you were the enemy. We were both so – so stupid! I guess that may be why we argued so much, huh? We were far more similar than we'd like to admit. We're both stubborn and a little self-involved and we both take things for granted, but haven't we grown too? I know I have. The war changed me. It changed all of us. I can't go back to who I was, not now . . .

"You watched out for me all that time," said Harry. "I never knew, but you did. That was your Patronus . . . that was you that kept a rein on the Carrows . . . that was you that stopped Draco from doing something unforgivable. I can't deny that your personality can be really grating at times, but I don't know . . . I sometimes think you act that way on purpose, like you're trying to hurt people so they won't hurt you. I cleared your name, you know? I made them install your portrait in the headmaster's office, too. I'm not going to keep a grudge when you sacrificed everything to help all of us. You're the bravest man I've met."

Severus was unsure how to respond to such honesty. He felt partially honoured to be thought of as anything other than the 'greasy, old, dungeon bat', but there was a part of him that distrusted such words, especially when they came from the mouth of a man that once proclaimed to loathe him. It was an alien feeling for someone to deem him of worth; he had been too much of a 'Death Eater' to the Order, too much of the 'Order' to the Death Eaters. It seemed that Harry judged him solely by his actions and merit, not by what he could do.

The truth was that he never before considered his 'worth', for his worth was intrinsically tied to the services that he could provide for the Dark Lord and for Dumbledore, but now he was faced with a man that seemed to think him . . . good. Severus had never been handsome or beautiful; his hair would be forever greasy from potion fumes, whilst his skin was sallow and scarred, and he would always look gangly and somewhat shabby in comparison to his colleagues and closest friends. He knew, too, that he held far less wealth and status in terms of any other wizard alive, and that his miserable house stood in a less affluent area was testament to that fact. In all, he had neither money nor looks, and so he had nothing to give.

He knew that his personality was the greatest offence of all. There could be no greater judge of his moral fibre than himself, for he knew himself better than any other, and in those past forty-or-so years he had committed many unforgivable acts, beyond contrition or penance. It was Severus who had told the Dark Lord the prophecy, Severus who had cursed one of the Weasley twins into permanent disfigurement, and Severus who had killed Albus . . . no one could care for a man like that. No one could call a murderer brave.

"You look lost in thought," said Harry softly.

"Indeed," replied Severus. "If you have come to offer forgiveness, I cannot accept it. I can – however – express gratitude for your kind sentiments, which is more than a man like myself deserves. Now, you should return home to your fiancé. Leave me be."

"Ginny left me."

They reached the gates of the school. It would be easy to step through them and begin the walk into Hogsmeade, but there was something oddly pathetic and broken about Harry's words that forced Severus to pause. The Prophet had reported on the break-up of the century, with Minerva and Lucius seemingly fascinated by this new development, and yet Severus heard this from Harry's mouth for the first time. It was only because he knew what Harry said to be true that he attempted a perfunctory sympathetic remark, one that he hoped would not sound too out of character for a man of his stature and reputation.

"I am sorry to hear that, Potter."

"I think it was because I was visiting you so much." Harry jumped as the gates closed abruptly behind them. "Well, she never said that, but I knew that's what it was. I think it was the straw that broke the camel's back; really, I mean . . . we were just so different. I think we clung to each other during the war out of fear; we didn't think what we would be like in the long-term, because we didn't think there would be a long-term. I was angry at first, because I did love her, I honestly did, but . . . we're still good friends, anyway.

"It was about a year after the war that she left. I was just putting my life on hold; Hermione, Ginny and Draco had started back at school to finish their exams, whilst Ron went on to train as an auror with me, but I never really felt a passion for it. I quit before training finished. I was just . . . floating. I lost kind of the ability to feel passionate about anything, so my motivation went with it, but you were there . . . the one stable and constant thing in my life . . . and I was in this – this limbo! I couldn't apologise to you or start afresh with you in a coma, but I couldn't say goodbye to you when you hadn't gone. I spent every day by your side.

"Ginny kept talking about joining a Quidditch team, as well as what we'd name our kids, and how it was a shame that Percy couldn't have made up with their brother before his deathbed, how it'd be great to see him at Christmas . . . she blamed you a little, I think. She said that as long as you lived that I couldn't. She was right: I can't let go. If you had died along with everyone else then maybe things would have been different, but something would have always been missing. She knew that, and I think you know that, too."

"We seem to have reached Hogsmeade, Potter."

"Huh? Oh, yeah, I guess we have."

The village was cast in a thick layer of snow. It was untouched in places, but along the paths and roads the snow had been trodden into nothing more than tainted mush. There was a large amount of hustle-and-bustle from the local residents, as well as noise cast by the older students that foolishly left their heated dormitories to instead brave the cold weather, and – no matter where he looked – he saw nothing but people. He staved off a feeling of self-consciousness and reminded himself that it was only a short floo-ride home.

Severus stood still and clung to the box like a lifeline, where he felt a short spark of relief that he had not shrunk his belongings as he previously intended, for the ability to hold onto something gave him a chance to ground himself. If it were not for the box, he may have been forced to hold something else . . . such as his wand. This was hardly an appropriate time for them to be having such a discussion, but it had become obvious – from this and from the many owls sent to him – that Harry craved something akin to a friendship. He was suspicious of Harry's seeming kindness, as he knew well that no one would seek a friendship with a man such as himself, but they were in public and – as such – it forced them to be civil.

"I really must leave, Potter," said Severus.

"Wait – I – I need to talk to you. I know you have feelings for me."

Severus turned forcefully to face the younger man. Harry blanched a little and wrapped his arms around his body, almost as if to keep warm from the cold wind that struck. The wind whipped at his cheeks until they reddened like a child's, whilst his lips became so dry that he was forced to lick at them, and he seemed to withdraw into himself. Harry seemed truly taken aback by Severus' hard stare, as if he expected some profound or lengthy discussion, but there was nothing to be said and Severus would not break the silence so readily.

"You – you can say something now, Severus."

There was nothing to be said. It felt as if his every nerve were on fire, whilst he felt a great sense of conflict as he gazed into those green eyes. He wanted nothing more than to curse Potter, but his body had grown weak with the day's physical exertion. It infuriated him that this fool could state such things as fact, things that he did not understand, especially when he spent so many years despising Severus with every fibre of his being. The truth was that his feelings for Harry were strictly platonic, although that inane Dumbledore would often argue 'paternal' and the Dark Lord 'romantic', but he had never the opportunity to examine them further and – until late – Harry had been a mere boy. Did it matter how he felt? There would be no happy ending . . . as if they may all live happily ever after, like some twaddle written by Beadle the Bard or the Brothers Grimm . . . because there were no happy endings in life.

There was no way that idiot man could ever understand the complexity behind how Severus felt, especially not now when – despite his new maturity – he could only understand the concept of 'love' in black-and-white terms. No doubt, Potter could comprehend crushes and sexual desire, but love -? That was beyond him. Love was a killing curse. It was something people wanted, but that they could never truly obtain . . . an ideal in a world of imperfection. The truth was that when it came to love – when it came to whispering that one incantation of three simple words – people fell short, because one partner always loved more than the other, and the partner that loved less would be doomed to heartache. He experienced that with Lily.

No one ever meant to harm the person they loved, but they always did. Love was like the waters of a river; it was fast and powerful in its passion, but it would forever erode and wear down those that crossed its path, and soon the object of the love would be broken and misshapen beyond all recognition, like a rock in the waves. He had loved Lily, but that love had brought nothing but death and despair upon her, whilst the waters of his heart became polluted until he was as dark as any other Death Eater. He damned them both.

"Do not speak of what you know nothing about."

"Look, I'm not offended," said Harry. "I know some muggles have prejudices against bisexuality and homosexuality, but I've never really been like other muggles. I also really need to talk to you about it; you'll understand what I'm going through, and whom else can I talk to about it? I don't care if you make fun of me or belittle me, but we've both been through so much and have changed so much and I just need to –"

"How dare you? How dare you! I have never known you to be this presumptuous. Why . . . the Boy-Who-Lived has not enough admirers that he must invent one in the form of a man that he so despises? I cannot tell if you are insanely foolish or irreversibly arrogant."

"Damn it! You can pretend it's not true, Severus, but –"

"I do not believe I gave you permission to address me by my forename, Potter," snapped Severus. "Tell me, even if I felt such affections for you, what would that ultimately mean? I do not think that a young heterosexual can respond to the lust of a middle-aged bisexual, but I do think the knowledge of such a lust would be detrimental to any platonic relationship that they sought to create. It would be awkward to say the least. Honestly, when have I ever given you reason to believe such a hideous untruth?"

"If you'd just listen to what I'm saying -! I think I'm –"

"You are lucky I am in a well-humoured mood, else I may be inclined to curse you."

Harry conducted himself with great self-restraint, even if the students all about kept a large distance from them, as if they sensed his anger and offence. It forced Severus to turn his head slightly to look away from the younger man, as he felt an element of amusement that he could garner such frustration from Harry. Severus shook his head and made to move away, but Harry moved quickly in front of him and blocked the way. This began to grow tiresome.

"Listen, Severus," said Harry. "I know this is complicated. I'm not saying that you're madly in love with me, because I think we both know that would be a load of bollocks, but I think you feel something. It's just – it's just all confused with the fact that you were asleep for so long, but if you would just talk to me then you'd know I'm no longer some kid. I'd get if you'd never be able to see me as anything else, because you did teach me for all those years, but if you'd just give me a chance to prove to you I'm an adult now -!

"Let me guess, if you call me 'Potter' then you can pretend I'm my dad and not me? You're trying to distance yourself from the truth, because you just plain don't want to see me as 'Harry', because you're afraid – yes, afraid, Severus – that you might actually like me as a person and that I might be more than what you think I am. It might have been fine before the war, because we fought on different sides and had different agendas, and if anyone knew that you and I were fighting for the same cause . . . you'd have been killed. I was underage anyway, so I don't think for a minute you felt anything deeper than obligation, but –

"You watched me become a man," muttered Harry. "You watched me even as an adult, then when you woke up you must have seen me in the papers and followed my life, and – well – I think you know I've grown. Your Patronus didn't change because of my mother; it changed to complement mine! The doe to my stag, that's it, isn't it? Call me arrogant, but we both know that it was my eyes you wanted to see when you were dying. You've been avoiding me since you woke up and I've had enough, Severus! We need to talk. Properly!"

"You vain, conceited, arrogant -! I loved Lily, even if you think that –"

"It's possible to love more than one person."

Ah, there was James' arrogance! It just wouldn't be a conversation with Harry without the younger man's idle threats, rude commands, and egocentric attitude. Did it matter to him that Severus wanted nothing but silence? The only thing that mattered to Potter was Potter. No doubt he would make Severus' life a living hell until he gave in to his ridiculous demands for a 'talk'. He could not risk being the butt of some joke, which was likely all this was to the younger man, and yet this felt like something deeper and something sincere.

Surely there was some spell or charm or hidden bug eavesdropping upon their little talk? Didn't rumour have it that one of the reporters for the Daily Prophet was some sort of animagus? It was some sort of insect if he remembered right, bringing a whole new meaning to the muggle phrase of 'being bugged'. He wouldn't put it past Potter to have some sort of device in place to record his reactions, to later make his old professor's comments public and humiliate him nationwide . . . worldwide. That was the only way to explain it. Harry seemed sincere, and – in fact – he did not even try to prevent Severus from delving into his mind, although due to his ineptitude in occlumency that proved little.

"I am obliged to attend a party at Malfoy Manor tonight," spat Severus.

"I don't understand the relevance, Severus."

"Oh? You always were the slowest student in class. I am told that the party being held is in the spirit of a . . . truce. Trust my friend to turn an attempt to get back into polite society into a political statement for the 'greater good', but – nonetheless – I shall enjoy the chance to meet with former colleagues, students and companions. God forbid that you should comprehend a simple implication! Do you follow me, Potter?"

"Let me guess; you're inviting me to tag along? I'm not on the guest-list, Severus. I'm on much better terms with Malfoy, but he would rather die than see me at his party! I can't just turn up on his doorstep and expect to be let in!"

"It is a well-established fact that at these infernal affairs one always invites the spouse or partner of any given invitee, when there is not a spouse or partner then that invitee may instead bring a guest. I am allowed to bring a guest. I have never before brought one, as I have never before attended unless coerced, but – thanks to you – I have much to learn from my years spent sleeping in some dingy ward of a hospital. I will not give you the honour of private correspondence or private conference, but a dinner party inevitably leads to tedious talks in the drawing room afterwards. I would not object to your company should you wish to explain your feelings in depth, and the reasons to which that I should care."

"This is your compromise? You're too much of a coward to talk to me in private."

"I shall give you one warning: call me a 'coward' again and next time you may find your wand so far magically inserted into your rectum that you'll be coughing wood for weeks. I couldn't threaten you in such a manner before, but I can do so now. I am not – nor have I ever been – a coward. If you're seeking to win me over, you're doing a horrific job."

Severus turned quickly away and made towards the less reputable pub. He knew that there he would be able to use the floo to return himself home, although he could not help other than to note the forlorn and resigned expression that Harry wore, as if the protest of becoming centre of attention at a pure-blood's party wasn't a dream come true. It seemed that the boy knew how such a party could help raise his profile and make excellent connections, and so he followed Severus at once, struggling to keep up. Perhaps that was his intent all along.

"It's at eight o'clock. Meet me outside Malfoy Manor."

"I will. And you promise we'll talk?"

"Oh, I'm sure we'll make some small talk at some point in the evening . . ."

In truth, he was curious as to whether the younger man would attend. He viewed it as a form of test, for his treatment of Severus at the party would determine whether he was worthy enough of a private audience with the older man. If he were lucky, Harry would get distracted by the glamour of the rich and famous around him, which would perhaps allow Severus to wallow in the isolation he so craved. They were simply too different to even spend a moment together without violence occurring, it would be best in the long run for Harry to realise that.

"Well," Severus said, "I shall expect to see you later, Potter."

And, with that, he left before the boy could stop him.