The air was thick with heat and fumes, combined with the aromatic scent of many different ingredients-the remains of which lay scattered across the surface of the worn wooden table in the centre of the windowless room. Studying the simmering potion carefully, Severus scribbled a few more notes onto the parchment beside it and then removed the cauldron from the heat to cool, satisfied with the progress he'd made.
Severus' personal laboratory was hidden behind a thick wooden door adjacent to his quarters and well protected. His safe-haven from the madness that thrived beyond its walls, it often served as his retreat after a difficult day, when he would gain solace from the fine art that was potion-making. At present, however, such measures were not necessary.
Every year, the summer holidays transformed Hogwarts into a haven of peace and solitude-no banging doors, no incessant murmur of mindless chatter, no wayward spells, the castle blissfully devoid of the hundreds of students who would normally traipse its corridors and fill its classrooms with the noise and chaos of undisciplined minds. As such, it was the one time of the year that Severus actually looked forward to-it left him free to brew, research, and write without distraction.
While the other professors generally took the opportunity for a well-earned holiday, this year there was one other member of staff who had elected to remain behind over the summer months-much to Severus' chagrin. Potter-Hogwarts' newest Gryffindor head of house, Charms professor, and Quidditch coach-had also decided to take advantage of the tranquillity, supposedly to get ahead with his planning for the next academic year. However, the twenty-five year old had assured Severus that he wouldn't disturb his work and, so far, they had crossed paths only once, exchanging nothing more than a courteous nod.
Severus was forced to admit that Harry had matured with age and, in the wake of the war, something of a truce had descended between them, founded on a mutual yet unspoken respect. They still crossed swords occasionally-such as a customary war of words within the Quidditch stands when their two respective houses played-but that was to be expected. No matter his years, Harry would always be an impetuous Gryffindor.
They were now two weeks into the holidays, and Severus was relaxed as he ever could be. He had some promising results with several new potions, and had made good progress on the paper he was currently writing for the Potions Journal. If all went as planned, he would be able to present his findings in person at the potions conference later that year in Switzerland.
After replacing an array of different ingredients in his potions store and clearing up the detritus from his experimentations he withdrew to his rooms-pleasantly cool after the hot vapours that had surrounded him in the lab. Sinking into his favourite armchair, he reflected on a most pleasant and productive morning while relishing the silence that rushed back into the room. Yes, a good day indeed.
Almost in the echo of that thought, as if determined to set this irregularity right, a harsh alarm blared, signalling that the castle wards had been triggered. Severus scowled and swept from the room. If this was anything to do with Potter, there would be hell to pay.
Briskly walking to the Entrance Hall, robes billowing behind him in his usual dramatic fashion, he passed through the huge front doors and out into the grounds towards the main gates, which, according to his quick scan of the castle's defences, were the source of the attempted ward breach. The July sunshine was almost blinding after the dim light of the dungeons, stabbing viciously at his retinas and making him squint as his eyes struggled to adjust to it.
As he drew further away from the castle and nearer to the gates, a new sound drowned out everything else and his steps faltered slightly upon recognizing it. He approached the gates cautiously and saw the proof that he had not been mistaken. There, in the shadow of a winged boar to one side, lay a basket, and tucked inside, under the soft folds of a blanket, was a pink-faced and loudly crying baby. Severus immediately looked around for any sign of its mother, but to no avail: the long drive winding outwards between flanking trees utterly deserted. Wonderful.
Cursing silently, he reached for his wand and, in a flash, something silvery had sped away towards the castle. Then, reluctantly, he opened the gates and passed through the wards-wand in hand, just in case-to pull the basket inside. The baby faltered in its wailing for only a second at the sudden movement before resuming at an even higher decibel level.
Ensuring that the entrance was re-secured, Severus investigated the basket more closely. There was no sign of a note—nothing at all to identify the child or indeed give any information at all. He was at least able to ascertain, by means of a quick spell, that the child had a fairly strong magical signature but for what reason it had been left remained unclear.
The child seemed to calm under his gaze, its cries reduced to whines and gurgles. It was clearly very young, but not a newborn. There was a fine layer of soft, almost black, hair on the baby's head and equally dark eyes met his own curiously.
"Does your Patronus have to be quite so insistent?" a slightly put-out voice said behind him. "I was in the shower."
Severus rose fluidly and turned. Harry Potter was striding towards him, black hair dripping and T-shirt clinging to his damp torso above low-slung jeans, emerging from the shadow of several trees into the sunlight like some sort of Adonis. If any of his simpering fans had been around, they would have fainted on the spot. Severus absolutely refused to acknowledge the part of himself, deep inside, that appreciated the sight and stirred with sudden interest.
"I require your assistance," he said, dismissively.
Harry opened his mouth, no doubt to question him further, but a renewed outbreak of crying stopped the words on his lips. His expression would have been amusing, had it not been for Severus' growing headache.
"You have a baby?"
"No, I don't have a baby," Severus snapped. "A baby has been forced upon me-upon us-by persons unknown."
Stepping around Severus, Harry peered at the wailing infant. "Well, it looks like you," he commented, a grin forming. Severus was on the point of offering a scathing retort when Harry continued with, "Boy or girl?"
"Judging by the over-abundance of pink flowers on the child's outfit, and until further investigation confirms it, I must assume that the child is female but that is hardly the most important question." His voice had steadily grown louder whilst speaking, to counter the increasing volume of the baby's cries, until he was almost shouting, causing the dull throbbing at the front of his skull to flare painfully. "Here," he growled, picking the basket up and quickly passing it to Harry.
"What am I supposed to do with her?" Harry asked in surprise, the basket still suspended in mid-air between them.
"You have a godchild, do you not?"
"Well, yeah," Harry conceded, "but he's eight! I don't have any experience with babies."
"I am hardly an expert in that particular department either," Severus replied drily, thrusting the basket into Harry's arms so that he was forced to take it, and briskly setting off back to the castle. There was a moment's pause before Harry caught up with him, the baby's cries effectively drowning any further protest.
The motion of walking seemed to have a soporific effect and, by the time they reached the Entrance Hall, the baby's eyelids were drooping. Seeing no feasible alternative, Severus led them down to his private rooms in the dungeons-they were the nearest, and he intended to sort this matter out as quickly as possible in order to regain what was left of his peaceful day.
Severus noticed Harry's curious gaze pass over everything the moment they stepped through his wards, his expression transforming into one of honest surprise at the warm colours and inviting furniture.
"Were you expecting bare stone, bats and manacles?" he asked, amusement lacing his voice.
Harry's head snapped back towards him with the swiftness of a child who's been caught with the cookie jar. "No!" He paused as Severus continued to pin him with a look, and a smile finally broke through. "Okay, maybe a little." The baby, forgotten for a moment, started to stir at the voices, causing Harry to cast a weary glance back down at her and quieten his voice. "So, what are we going to do with her now?"
"I must go and inform the relevant authorities," Severus said, walking past Harry towards the door.
Harry whipped around, jogging the baby in his haste-forcing him to speak through a renewed bout of crying. "You're leaving?"
Severus turned, his hand on the door handle, and sneered at Harry's horrified expression. "You survived the Dark Lord, Potter. I'm sure you can cope with an infant until I return."
Harry didn't look so sure, but Severus didn't give him a chance to argue any further. He closed the door behind him with smirk of savage satisfaction.
The meeting did not go as planned. When Severus returned to the castle an hour later, his mood had declined even further while his headache had steadily built to a raging storm behind his eyes, flashing fire each time he blinked.
He approached his quarters, bracing himself for the crying that would no doubt assault his ears the moment he opened the door. However, as he moved closer, the only audible sound that reached him was a high-pitched squeaky voice within-certainly not Potter. It appeared that he had company.
"That's it, sir! Master is getting it now."
With no warning, Severus swept inside, causing the house-elf in his front room to visibly jump and then bend low in an exaggerated bow. Harry was on the couch with the baby in his arms, who was sucking happily from a bottle. When he looked up, a wide victorious smile on his face, Severus quickly averted his gaze.
"Turns out she was hungry," Harry explained, his gaze slipping back down to the baby.
"Indeed," Severus muttered, moving towards a cabinet where he kept a stock of certain potions for personal use.
The house-elf was still bending low, but was sneaking wary looks up at Severus every so often.
"Thank you, Mitsy," Harry said, diffusing the cold silence with the warmth in his voice. "You can go back to the kitchens."
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."
A crack signalled her departure.
"Mitsy's been helping me," Harry continued, despite Severus' obvious lack of interest. "Unfortunately Mrs Weasley is out of the country visiting Charlie, and Andromeda is on holiday with Teddy."
Harry placed the drained bottle on the table and moved the baby up to his shoulder, rubbing her back in smooth circles. "So, what time is someone coming to collect her?"
Severus swallowed his mouthful of potion. "They're not."
Harry frowned. "What do you mean?"
Although the pain in Severus' head was finally eradicated, bringing some relief, his temper was still blazing unchecked. He replaced the bottle and slammed the cabinet door shut, rattling the hinges.
"Exactly what I said, Potter," he snapped. "Perhaps you require a hearing test."
The baby looked startled at the sudden noise, letting out a small whimper, and Harry had to soothe her before answering, in an infuriatingly calm tone. "Just tell me what happened."
Severus folded his arms across his chest, his lips pressed into a thin line. "I had to endure an utterly futile conversation with a witch who clearly had little knowledge and even less intellect-unfortunately she was the highest authority present at the time of my visit. It appears that many of the staff at the Department for the Protection and Welfare of Magical Children are on leave, and the remaining members are working on other cases. The current waiting period for new non-urgent cases is three weeks."
"Three weeks?" Harry repeated, looking shocked. "So, what now?"
Severus eyed the small patch of vomit on Harry's shoulder with distaste. "It seems we have little alternative but to care for the child ourselves until they see fit to collect her."
"Unless you're volunteering to take care of her yourself," Severus replied wryly, "in which case you are more than welcome."
"No," Harry said quickly. "That's fine." He looked down at the baby, now gurgling happily into his shoulder. "We can do this."
"We can't do this!" Harry yelled in exasperation later that afternoon, pacing up and down the room with the loudly crying baby. "I don't know what's wrong with her. She doesn't want any more milk."
Severus watched Harry pace from his armchair, massaging his temples as his headache threatened to return. "Perhaps you should turn your attention to what comes out, rather than what goes in."
Harry stopped and blinked at him, his mouth falling open to form a silent oh. Then, very gingerly, he turned the baby around and sniffed. It was almost worth enduring an hour of screaming to see Harry's face screw up in utter repulsion.
"God, that was worse than cutting up potions ingredients in detention," Harry muttered, as he re-dressed her.
Severus held out the next piece of clothing. "And yet you didn't complain nearly so much with this task."
Harry scowled at him. "Yeah, well. It had to be done, didn't it?"
"Well, well, it seems you're finally learning, Potter."
Harry picked the baby up and then turned on him. "Don't patronize me, Severus-you have a few lessons to learn yourself."
Severus drew himself up to his full height, pinning Harry with the look he reserved for terrifying first years. "Indeed? And in what, pray, does the great Harry Potter, saviour of the Wizarding World, believe I need further tuition?"
"Positive human emotions for a start," Harry replied, not looking in the least bit intimidated by Severus' gaze. "Try being pleasant for a change, Severus. It won't kill you."
Severus turned away from the intensity in the familiar green eyes, choosing instead to return to his desk. "Do not assume that I cannot be pleasant when I choose, Potter, simply because I do not wear my heart on my sleeve like a foolishly sentimental Gryffindor."
Harry adjusted the baby in his arms and approached the desk. "Really? What would you say if I told you that the Sorting Hat wanted to put me in Slytherin?"
Severus was momentarily taken aback but quickly recovered himself. "Obviously it was the Dark Lord's influence."
"You can say Voldemort, you know. He's dead."
"I am aware of that," Severus replied sardonically.
Harry rolled his eyes and looked back down at the small child curled against his chest. "Anyway, at least we know she's definitely a girl now." He smiled at her before abruptly rounding the desk and depositing her in Severus' arms. "Here."
"It's your turn," Harry said, immediately heading for the door. "I'm going to grab some work from my room, and maybe something to eat. I'm starving." He paused with his hand on the doorknob and turned, the trace of a smirk visible. "I'm sure you can cope until I return."
Severus gave him his best withering look and Harry departed, chuckling quietly. The room became almost quiet once more, except for the unintelligible sounds that the baby was making. Severus looked down at her, startled when she immediately lifted a hand to grasp his nose. He wasn't used to allowing such a liberty-he was sure no one else would dare-but there was nothing but innocence in the child's touch so he held still as she mapped his face with tiny fingers.
When Harry returned some time later, Severus was still seated at the desk, writing some more of his potions paper with one hand while the baby slept against the other, nestled amongst his robes. Looking up from his work, Severus caught Harry's expression and his eyes narrowed.
"Suppress that burgeoning smile this instant, or I will not be responsible for my actions."
Harry attempted to cover his amusement with a neutral expression, but only ended up looking rather pained.
At a quarter past eleven, the baby fed and asleep in her basket, Harry yawned and headed for the door, but any departing words were halted before his lips could properly form them as Severus swept past him and swiftly shut the door.
"Where do you think you are going, Potter?"
Harry blinked. "Erm… to bed?"
Severus' hand remained firmly splayed against the door. "If you believe that I will allow you to leave me to care for this child overnight alone, then you are sorely mistaken."
"Okay," Harry said slowly, "then what do you suggest? I'm not sleeping in your bed."
"No, you're most certainly not. You can sleep on the couch."
Severus flicked his wand towards it and, instantly, it became a spacious bed-in Slytherin colours, of course-with several large pillows.
Harry's protest died in his throat. "Fine," he sighed, walking over to it. When he kicked off his shoes and began pulling off his T-shirt, Severus' eyes widened.
"What are you doing?"
Harry paused and looked back, his T-shirt bunched in both hands around his torso. "I can't sleep fully clothed."
Severus found that he was quite unable to tear his gaze away from the expanse of smooth, pale skin and clearly toned muscle steadily revealed as the top was removed. It was fortunate that Harry was facing away from him. By the time Harry turned, Severus had replaced the mask and smoothly bade him goodnight.
Over the next few days, with some trial and error, they managed to establish a routine that worked. During the day they looked after the baby in shifts, enabling each of them to get some peace and carry on with any work they needed to attend to, and, after a few sleepless nights caused several loud arguments, they decided to cover nights alternately so that at least one of them would be well rested the following day. It was decided, with some reluctance on Severus' part-for his own space was precious to him-that Harry should move down to the dungeons temporarily to facilitate this.
Severus' study was turned into a makeshift nursery and he transfigured several old pieces of furniture into more suitable items, including a crib and an assortment of toys, and Harry visited Fleur to ask if she could lend them some of Victoire's old baby things. He returned an hour later with enough clothes to last them for several months, a batch of freshly made cookies, and a slightly traumatized look.
Upon seeing Severus' inquiring look, he shook his head and said, "She's living up to her married name."
The child, whom Harry had decided to name Raven because of her jet black hair and dark eyes, settled into the routine fairly quickly and, despite first impressions, Severus found her to be generally content and even-tempered. He was also finding, to his surprise, that Harry's company was not as disagreeable as he'd feared. Harry did, at least, respect Severus' privacy and his need to work uninterrupted. There was also something about him, about his near-constant cheerful disposition, which seemed to work its way under Severus' defences and lighten his mood, almost against his will.
Then there was Harry's way with Raven-his seemingly effortless ability to make her smile and squeal with delight. Severus would never have admitted, even under a hundred Cruciatus Curses, that he'd actually paused to observe the two of them unseen on several occasions, his lips twitching upwards of their own accord.
On the fifth evening, Severus watched as Harry carefully laid the sleeping baby down in her crib, tucking the blanket around her and smiling as a fist worked its way into her searching mouth. For all the younger man's initial protestations, it was clear that fatherhood came naturally to him.
As if reading his thoughts, Harry murmured, "I never thought I'd get to do this."
Curious, Severus moved closer. He had always assumed that Harry would add to the already over-populated Weasley family, a feat that his closest friends had already managed to successfully achieve. "You don't intend to have children of your own?"
Harry tugged the blanket up a little. "I'd love to, but… I don't think it's likely," he trailed off awkwardly.
Severus didn't need to be a master in Legilimency to read the truth in Harry's face, and was surprised to find that some part of him welcomed it-if only to imagine the expressions of his devoted female fans. "There are ways in which two wizards can procreate," he said delicately, "if they so wish."
Harry looked up sharply, his eyes searching Severus' face-no doubt for signs of mockery or duplicity. Finding none, he offered a small smile. "I'll keep that in mind."
The dreams started after a week had passed: always the same, night after night. Harry lay beside him in a meadow of long swaying grass, bathed in sunshine, his face a picture of happiness and mirth as he lifted Raven above him, her hands reaching for the blue sky overhead. Then he would place her back in her basket and turn to Severus, his smile morphing into something infinitely more tender as he cupped Severus' face and leaned in. The moment when Harry's lips would have touched his own, Severus always woke up.
The first time he'd been utterly horrified by the experience but that feeling had gradually lessened as time went on, to be replaced with acute frustration at their continuation. He was forced to start taking sleeping draughts on the nights he wasn't caring for Raven, in an attempt to prevent them, but still the dreams persisted. While Severus told himself that his frustration was born of not being able to rid himself of such a ridiculous notion, in truth, with each time that he sat up in bed having awoken from it, the tiny part of his brain that longed for the dream to continue became a little more insistent and a little less easy to dismiss.
On the Thursday of the second week, Severus returned from a blissful afternoon's brewing-during which his mind had been solely occupied with his work-to find both Harry and Raven asleep on the couch. He softly stepped closer, tilting his head to better study their sleeping forms. Harry's arm was curled protectively around the child, her face against his neck, their black locks intertwining; both of them were breathing deeply, pink lips slightly agape. They could almost have been father and daughter. As Severus stood gazing down at them, a vision from his dream arose, unbidden, in his mind, and with it a distant echo of laughter.
Without thinking, Severus stretched out his fingers to brush a stray lock of hair from Harry's forehead. Millimetres away, he abruptly realized what he was doing and quickly snatched his hand back again, balling it into a fist as a wave of anger swept over him. This was reality. Dreams were for fools.
He strode back out of his quarters purposefully, his destination anywhere but that room.
That night, Severus was awoken abruptly: not by a dream this time, but by extremely loud, high-pitched crying. He lay in darkness for several long minutes-it was, after all, Harry's turn-but when the crying continued relentlessly, he threw back the covers irritably and padded out to the nursery.
Harry was pacing up and down the small room with Raven in his arms, rubbing her back and murmuring soothingly. At least that's what Severus presumed he was doing-he could only see Harry's mouth moving, everything else was drowned out by the baby's cries. Harry looked more tired than usual, leading Severus to wonder how long he'd been up before he, himself, had awoken.
When Harry looked up and met Severus' gaze, there was both relief and desperation in equal measure within his eyes.
"I don't know what's wrong with her. I've tried everything, but she won't stop crying."
Firmly keeping his eyes above Harry's waist, Severus ran his wand across Raven's small body. He was by no means a healer, but he had gained enough knowledge over the years to ascertain certain health problems.
"She has a slight fever, but I suspect that is due to her prolonged state of agitation." A thought occurring, Severus gingerly slid his index finger into Raven's open mouth and felt around. His theory was soon proved correct, as the pad of his finger brushed against something hard embedded within her gum. Withdrawing his hand, Severus looked up at Harry, who was worrying his bottom lip with a tense expression. "She is cutting her first tooth-a painful process by all accounts."
Harry's frown deepened, his gaze flicking between Severus and Raven. "A tooth? What can we do?"
"I believe I can ease the pain sufficiently enough to allow sleep-for all of us. I shall be back shortly."
Turning on his heel, Severus strode out of the room, returning to Harry several minutes later with a small round jar. He lifted the lid to reveal a greenish paste, which smelled distinctly of chamomile.
Predictably, Harry wrinkled his nose. "What is it?"
"A salve, generally used in the treatment of non critical wounds," Severus replied, the teacher in him coming to the fore. "It will reduce the inflammation and ease the pain."
Collecting a small amount on the tip on his finger, Severus gently rubbed it around the affected area and then waited. Sure enough, within a minute, Raven's cries had subsided enough to make normal conversation possible. Harry's body sagged in relief.
"You're a miracle worker."
"No, just an extremely under-appreciated potions master," Severus smirked. Then, noticing that Harry was almost dead on his feet, he held out his arms. "Now, go back to bed; I shall stay and settle her down."
Looking immensely grateful, Harry passed the baby to him. As their fingers brushed against each other for a fraction of a second, Severus was shocked to feel a tingle of magic pass between them-nothing more than a fleeting whisper, but nonetheless unmistakeable. His eyes darted up to Harry's, and he saw that the younger man had felt it too, as indeed had Raven, whose soft whimpers had ceased abruptly. There was a brief moment of tense silence as their gazes remained locked, Raven staring up at them curiously. Then Harry smiled awkwardly and turned away.
Severus watched him walk away, his mind full of questions yet feeling strangely empty. "Goodnight… Harry."
Raven remained agitated for several days as the tooth continued to emerge. While the salve proved indispensable in providing a degree of relief, the experience took a physical and emotional toll on all three of them and Severus was too tired even to dream.
However, his recurrent dream returned the following Monday night, more realistic than ever, and, once again, he awoke at the same point, disorientated by the abruptness of it and thoroughly frustrated. He sat up, scrubbing his face irritably. Then, as the images from the dream slowly faded into darkness, he heard a loud moan from somewhere outside his bedroom.
His curiosity piqued, Severus listened intently as another moan sounded. Too deep to be Raven, it was either one of the Hogwarts ghosts or Harry and, seeing as the Bloody Baron knew better than to disturb his rest, Severus had to assume it was the latter. A nightmare, perhaps-he knew that Harry had been plagued with them for many years. Another moan, louder this time, had him throwing the covers back and swinging his legs out. He wasn't going to get any sleep until he'd investigated further.
Lighting the tip of his wand, Severus opened his bedroom door and lightly stepped towards the transfigured bed that had earlier been his couch. In the soft glow of light, he saw that Harry had kicked the covers off in his agitation, his hands clenched around the rumpled sheets as he moaned again, his head thrashing from side to side.
Severus moved closer, fully intending to wake him from whatever nightmare was plaguing him, and, as he did so, the light revealed something else to which his gaze was drawn-a prominent bulge in Harry's boxer shorts. Severus stared at it, then back up at Harry's face, suddenly seeing his expression for what it was. Desperate, yes, but filled with desire rather than fear. Clearly not unpleasant in the slightest.
Feeling his own body begin to react to the auditory and visual stimulation, Severus stepped back. He was on the point of quietly returning to his room when a single word broke through Harry's moans.
Severus froze, his eyes flying to Harry's shadowed face while his brain scrambled to find adequate words of explanation for why he was standing over him in the middle of the night, but it soon became clear that the younger man was still sleeping soundly. Only then did the full connotations dawn upon him, and his semi-erection fully blossomed to life in a matter of seconds at the thought of what was playing inside Harry's head.
Harry emitted a soft gasp, his body writhing, muscles slowly undulating in the grasp of imaginary pleasures. Severus closed his eyes, clamping down on the urge to take Harry into his mouth there and then-thus making the dream a reality. Instead, exhibiting a great deal of self-control, he turned away.
Severus knew better than anyone that dreams did not accurately reflect true feelings and, with the amount of time they were spending together, it was only natural that his presence would invade Harry's dreams. It didn't mean anything.
Extinguishing the light, Severus returned to his bed but, despite his throwing up a charm to block out further noises, sleep was a long time in coming.
Two days later, in the midst of Raven's morning feed, the wards blared once again. Harry's eyes flew to Severus, the bottle slipping in his hand.
Severus stood, placing his cup down on the table. "Or another baby, perhaps?"
Harry's anxious expression lifted as a snort of laughter escaped. "Maybe." He looked back down at Raven, who was busy mouthing the bottle, and Severus saw the laughter fade from his eyes.
"I shall be back shortly."
It was a very different walk to the one he'd undertaken a few weeks earlier. The sun was hidden behind thick clouds, dulling the summer colours, and his steps towards the gates were slower this time, less purposeful, but, more important, he felt different. Changed somehow. While he should have been glad of the reprieve, his heart bore a heavy weight that he wasn't sure could be lifted.
A cheerfully smiling witch stood beyond the gate, leather briefcase clasped in one hand. Despite the smile, her appearance was that of someone whose working day was rushed and stressful-strands of hair awry, and deep shadows under each eye.
"I'm Belinda Braithwaite, from the DPWMC. I believe you have a child for us."
It passed in a blur. Conversation, explanation, a new placement found for Raven, a more suitable environment to better meet her needs. Harry seemed to find it necessary to go over Raven's routine, her favourite toys, and the way she liked to be rocked to sleep, while Belinda nodded dutifully and praised them on a job well done. Then, when the time came, Harry hugged Raven close before reluctantly giving her up, his eyes shining perhaps a little more than usual. Severus didn't have it in him to mock his Gryffindor sentimentality-not this time. His own resolve weakened as he bade the child goodbye.
"We did our best," Harry sighed, watching the green flames in the fireplace flicker and die. "I think she'll turn out to be a fine young witch."
Severus inclined his head. "Indeed." He looked sideways at Harry. "It seems that the last baby who was left on a doorstep exceeded my expectations."
Harry looked slightly taken aback, but smiled broadly at him. "Careful, Severus. That was dangerously close to a compliment."
"Do not let it go to your head. Any good traits are negated by any number of Gryffindor tendencies."
Harry chuckled. "Well, you'll be rid of me soon enough. I'm sure you're dying to get back to your potions."
"It will be a welcome relief," Severus replied, wishing that his words held a little more conviction.
It took a surprisingly short time for everything to return to how it had been, and Severus was left sitting in his favourite armchair once again. It afforded him little comfort, however. The silence that he'd always coveted now felt oppressive, the reacquired space cold and bare. Everything reminded him of the family he'd briefly found and then lost. He told himself that he simply required a period of readjustment, throwing himself back into brewing potions and writing, but the feeling remained, like an icy hand around his heart.
Then, picking up a quill that had rolled onto the floor a few days later, Severus found a piece of parchment half-hidden beneath his desk, the handwriting upon it a familiar untidy scrawl. Seizing the opportunity, he abandoned his work and swept out of the room with the parchment in hand.
"Severus! To what do I owe the pleasure?"
Scowling, Severus stalked past him into the room. It was, unsurprisingly, untidy yet still managed to feel welcoming, despite the abundance of Gryffindor colours.
"Come right in," Harry added sarcastically, closing the door.
Severus turned to look at Harry, put off slightly by his half-open shirt, close-fitting jeans, and bare feet. Harry met his gaze curiously.
"I discovered more of your detritus littering my rooms," Severus said, holding up the parchment.
Harry's expression cleared, but there was a flash of something else for a moment as he took the parchment back. Almost disappointment… or did Severus imagine it?
"Oh, I've been looking everywhere for that!"
"Clearly," Severus replied, casting another glance around at the mess.
Harry grinned, placing the parchment onto a pile on the cluttered table. "Thank you."
Severus nodded, feeling intensely irritated by his own sudden lack of vocabulary. When the silence stretched uncomfortably he swept past Harry, back towards the door, needing to get out of there as quickly as possible.
He paused and turned, raising an eyebrow questioningly.
Harry stepped closer, his hand settling on Severus' arm, the hint of a frown creasing his brow as he searched Severus' face. Curious, perhaps even a little hopeful, Severus allowed the scrutiny, feeling the warmth of Harry's hand slowly seeping through his sleeve as they stood facing one another. Then something within Harry's gaze changed, as if he'd found the answer to an unspoken question. Slowly, he edged closer still, like a man approaching a wild animal that could bolt at the slightest wrong move.
It was clear that Harry was giving him the time and opportunity to step away but Severus found that his feet were stilled by something infinitely stronger than pride or fear, and he was powerless in the grasp of it, any words of protest that he could have formed dying upon his lips. Harry was so close now that Severus could distinguish every dark eyelash around his vibrant green eyes. He sucked in a breath, suddenly back within his dream, willing Harry's lips to meet his own, yet knowing that, the moment they touched, he would be lost.
A feather-light touch instantly broke both the dream and Severus' state of involuntary paralysis. Closing his eyes, he leaned into the kiss, rejoicing when Harry opened up to him without hesitation, deepening their connection. His hands reached up to cup Harry's face, fingertips brushing the tangle of black locks, and he felt the answering smile against his lips. It was everything he had been dreaming of and more.
Severus had never had any reason to believe in dreams, and had openly scorned those who were foolish enough to hold onto them. In this case, he was more than happy for Harry to prove him wrong.