Please say you'll come. I know how much you hate these things – I'm not crazy about them myself - but the Headmistress threatened to sic Trelawney on me at the next faculty retreat if I don't show up (in costume!) and I don't want to be the only bent bloke in the room. Please - I'll make it worth your while, I promise.
Snape reread the hurried scrawl for the umpteenth time and heaved a sigh. He had successfully avoided returning to Hogwarts for three years running, and he didn't fancy breaking his streak with a Halloween masque celebrating the founding of the school - especially since it promised to have a fair number of Ministry officials in attendance. It occurred to him that, of all people, Potter should understand his ambivalence about this particular celebration… but, then, he was uniquely aware of its negative associations for his persistent pen-pal, and he couldn't help but feel a twinge of empathy.
Truth be told, corresponding with Potter over the past few years had been no great hardship. He had found that, with the distance that parchment and owls afforded, Potter was tolerably amusing, and Snape had to admit – to himself, if no one else – that he rather looked forward to the weekly arrival of Potter's bedraggled owl (orphaned, rather like the boy himself, when an errant curse effectively destroyed half the Hogwarts' owlery during the final battle). He couldn't help but feel just a bit of curiosity about how the boy had turned out, and this kind of public setting might keep the conversation between them from becoming too maudlin.
But it had been three years since he'd seen anyone from the past – three years since he'd allowed himself to be seen outside the confines of the small seaside hamlet where he'd recovered from his injuries and eventually established an owl-post potions concern. He rather thought he looked better, all told, than he had in the past; a certain dark je ne sais quoi that had dogged him throughout his life as both student and professor at Hogwarts had lifted in the years following the war, and he'd even found himself on the receiving end of an appreciative glance or two whilst he went about his day to day activities. No, he had little to fear on that account, and yet he remained somewhat wary of exposing himself to the prying eyes of those who had known him before - before the war, before Dumbledore, before the boy.
Snape sighed again, then stood and crossed to his wardrobe. He flung the doors open and rifled through the few items of clothing he found within. Black… black… and a little more black. Oh, he thought, pulling out a circa-1984 waistcoat, that's almost grey…, and then he flung the garment onto his bed and rolled his eyes. It was ridiculous, and he could only imagine what his former colleagues and – god forbid – students would think if they saw him preening like a peacock before the mirror.
Finally, concluding that he was better off playing to type than against, he grabbed a midnight-black cloak and spelled his one black cravat blood-red, then stalked over to his desk by the window to pen a quick note to Potter.
I'll be there. Look for me. - SS
"Really, Severus," said Minerva, coming up alongside Snape and glaring at him over her half-moon glasses. "A vampire? You might as well have come as yourself."
Snape's eyes widened in disbelief. "If memory serves, you're standing there in the very robes you were wearing when last we met, and you're telling me that I am unoriginal? And hello to you, too, by the way."
McGonagall snorted in a decidedly unladylike manner. "It's about time you returned to Hogwarts. I've only been owling you for five years."
"Three," Snape sniffed, "as well you know, you old tabby. I've been otherwise engaged."
"So I hear, Severus, so I hear."
The pair stood along a far wall in the Great Hall, in sight of the heavy doors through which the students of Hogwarts, both old and new, flowed. Their heads – one more grey than in years past, the other a softer, cleaner black than had heretofore been seen within these walls – inclined towards one another in unspoken amity, sharp-tongued jibes notwithstanding. Nonetheless, Snape's eyes narrowed at the older woman's arch tone.
"And what precisely is that supposed to mean?"
"Why, nothing, Severus. I've followed some of your doings through young Potter, of course…"
"Of course. And just where is our erstwhile Boy Saviour this evening?" Snape drawled, looking out over the sea of students, staff, and guests with a studied casualness. There was, he noted with irritation, a distinct lack of messy black hair and ridiculously old-fashioned glasses amongst the crowd. "I was assured that he would be in attendance."
McGonagall's mouth dropped open as she looked up at her companion.
"Why, he's – " she began, casting a quick glance out over the hall before clamping her lips shut. Then, mischief sparkling in her eyes, she answered, "I have no idea," and wandered away, leaving Snape to glower at the mass of youth alone.
It was just like Potter, he thought irritably, to leave him in the lurch like this. Weeks of ceaseless pestering about this ridiculous affair - please promise me you'll come, Snape, he'd written. Don't leave me to fight off the sharks on my own.
Snape gave a disdainful snort; leave it to that pint-sized son of a Marauder to -
Wait just one minute, Snape thought suddenly as his wandering eyes came to rest on a lone figure loitering in the far corner of the hall. Tall, well-proportioned, and with long, wavy hair. There was something of the Blacks about him… a touch of the mongrel, perhaps, but more Regulus than Sirius, and outfitted much like a Victorian gentleman – light grey frock coat with brocade waistcoat and matching cravat, high top hat, slender walking stick, and a pince-nez with tinted lenses that obscured, but didn't completely hide, his eyes.
As if sensing hungry eyes traveling over his body, the gentleman turned his head towards Snape and gave him a small, tentative smile, then began walking across the hall in his direction. Snape's first instinct was to flee; but before he could effectively communicate his intentions to his feet, the young man was standing next to him looking down at the floor, his hair falling forward to obscure his face.
"Hello," the gentleman murmured, and his low, soft-spoken greeting slithered down Snape's spine. Risking a glance to the side, he observed that the man wore soft kid gloves on his hands, one of which was grasping reflexively at the brass lion's head of his cane. Snape swallowed and offered a curt nod.
Obviously there was something in the gesture that amused the gentleman, who smiled broadly and said, "So, a vampire? I guess that makes two of us, then."
Snape couldn't discern any of the traditional accoutrements associated with vampires in the young man's attire.
"Is that so?" he managed to say – rather clearly at that, Snape thought – and the young man nodded. His hair, black and delectably soft-seeming, swayed with the movement, and Snape felt some small part of himself swoon in response.
"Muggle film vampire. Apparently all the thing a few years back."
The conversation seemed to die then, and for a long moment the two stood shoulder-to-shoulder in uncomfortable silence. Finally, Snape turned to face the man and, holding out a thin hand, said, "I'm afraid we haven't been properly introduced. Severus Snape."
The gentleman turned to him then, looking from Snape's face to his outstretched hand with a startled expression that would have been comical under less strained circumstances.
"But –" the young man started, and Snape hurriedly withdrew his hand, his face flushing in angry embarrassment.
"My reputation precedes me, I see," he said shortly, and the young man shook his head.
"No! I mean…" he paused for a moment, then held out his own gloved hand. "Snape, you say?" Snape took the offered hand, gratified to feel his own enclosed in a firm grip. "The war hero?"
Snape scoffed, turning back towards the crowd as he brought his hands behind his back. "Hardly."
The young man cocked his head to the side. "From what I've heard -" he began before Snape cut him off.
"I am no hero," he said curtly, giving the man a perfunctory half-bow and moving as if to leave.
"Wait!" the gentleman cried, and Snape turned to look at him. His pale cheeks were flushed and, despite his pique, Snape found himself wishing that he could get a better look at the man's eyes.
"Do you..." the young man took a deep breath. "Do you dance?" He removed his gloves and held out a slender hand, palm up. Snape stared blankly at it for longer than was seemly, but just when the man appeared ready to take it back, he grasped it in his own, cool fingers sliding smoothly over warm.
"I do," he said, and the gentleman gently tugged Snape to the dance floor. The sea of students parted, watching with something akin to awe as the two men drew close. The young man tentatively laid a hand on Snape's shoulder, smiling slightly when Snape's hand came to rest on his waist. They clasped their free hands together and, after waiting for the beat in a waltz that had just begun, they whirled away together, Snape's Dracula cloak swirling around them.
His apparent polish notwithstanding, the young man was uncertain on his feet and, for reasons that he chose not to interrogate too closely, this provoked nothing in Snape so much as an inexplicable desire to save him from his own clumsiness.
"Sorry," the young man mumbled after stepping on Snape's feet for the third time. "I've been practising, but I guess it's different with a -" he swallowed, then amended, "with you."
Snape frowned. There was something so familiar about the man, yet he was certain he would have remembered this particular combination of good looks and guilelessness had he encountered it before.
"Excuse me," he said, "but, have we met?"
Eyes fixed on his wayward feet, the young man smiled to himself and answered, "Once or twice."
"I'm almost certain I would have -" Snape countered, before being silenced by his partner.
"Please," he interrupted with a soft insistence. "Let's just enjoy this?"
A pause, then Snape nodded and tightened his grip on the man's waist and hand. Pulling him closer, he smoothly guided their bodies through sweeping steps and spins that had the young man grinning by the time the music ended.
Flushed with the pleasure of the dance, the gentleman stepped away with a light laugh. "Where on earth did you learn to do that?" he asked, and Snape gave a small smirk.
"Would you believe, my mother?" he answered.
"I wouldn't have thought..." the young man began, then closed his mouth and reached out to grasp Snape's hand lightly. "That's a really lovely image, you know," he said after a moment, and Snape felt a soft thumb brush over his fingers. He leaned close for a fraction of a second, taking in the elusive scent of wax and wood and youth before pulling back.
"Who are you?" Snape asked under his breath.
Giving Snape's hand a light squeeze, the young man dropped it and stepped away.
"I didn't know - I mean, I never thought -" he stammered, then quickly leaned close and planted a soft, dry kiss on Snape's cheek. "Thank you for coming," he whispered, and then he turned and rushed out of the hall, leaving a stunned Snape in his wake.
Bewildered and slow to react, Snape looked around to find the eyes of those gathered in the hall trained on him. He scowled and stalked over to the table where Minerva was standing with an unspeakably smug expression.
"What are you so happy about?" he growled, grabbing up a cup of some pink swill and downing it in one gulp.
She smiled archly. "I see you found Potter," she said, and Snape froze.
Minerva arched a thin eyebrow. "Harry," she said. "Potter?"
Bereft, for once, of words, Snape simply gaped at her, his mind helpfully supplying reminders of the young man's (black) hair and the way it fell around his face, effectively masking any telltale scars... his eyes, their true colour tantalisingly hidden by the tinted pince-nez... his soft, self-effacing manner. Snape's heart thudded painfully as he recognised in his nascent desire to lead his young dance partner a newly charged, and not entirely unwelcome, iteration of that desperate protectiveness he had always felt around Harry.
Yet, when he could speak, all he could say was, "I don't understand."
Minerva looked at the man quizzically.
"Surely you've seen Potter recently enough to recognise him?"
Snape shook his head slowly. "We've corresponded over the years," he replied. "Frequently. But I haven't seen him since..."
"The war ended," McGonagall supplied, and Snape nodded.
She gave Snape an uncharacteristically gentle smile then, shaking her head.
"Oh, Severus," she said. "That boy has talked about you nearly every day for the past three years. Everything we know of what you've been doing since the war, we've learned from him. I thought - I was sure - that there was something between you."
Snape was quiet for a moment, lost in thought. When he spoke, it was to say, simply, "There may be." He looked up at Minerva and asked, "His rooms?"
"Rolanda Hooch's old quarters," she replied with a sly grin. "Near the Hufflepuff common room."
Snape nodded once and whirled away, his black cloak billowing behind him.
"Severus!" He stopped and turned back to face Minerva. "Tread lightly," she said. "He's still so young."
A retort rose to his lips, but Snape quashed it, knowing that what she said was true.
"I will," he replied, then left the Great Hall.
Harry opened the door on the third knock.
His hair was short and as unkempt as ever, his glasses crooked, as though they had been thrust onto his face hastily. Instead of the elegantly tailored suit he had sported in the Hall, Harry wore a maroon jumper and jeans, looking every inch the boy that Snape had left behind when he'd departed Hogwarts for good. Only his body - tall and broad in a way the boy had never been - and the bright blush on his cheeks betrayed him, emboldening Snape to step through the doorway and into his quarters.
He glanced around, taking note of his surroundings before turning back to Harry. Battered leather sofa. Crocheted afghan in autumnal colours - a Molly Weasley creation, no doubt. Cold fireplace and warm wooden bookshelves stacked carelessly with memorabilia, photographs, and - oh yes - the occasional book.
Snape, unsure how to begin, was on the verge of venturing closer to one of the bookshelves when Harry cleared his throat.
"I'm sorry I left like that," he said quietly, looking at the floor.
"Why did you?" Snape asked, then amended, "Why didn't you tell me who you were?"
If possible, Harry blushed an even brighter pink and turned away. Snape took two long strides around him, and Harry looked up, stifling a sudden laugh. When Snape's brow lowered in the beginnings of a glower, Harry held up a hand and laughed out loud.
"It's not you," he said between guffaws. "It's - you're still Dracula!" Snape scowled and untied his cloak, casting it onto a nearby chair. With a slight flourish of his wand and a murmured spell, Snape removed the glamour that had cast a pale pall over his features, then unknotted the crimson cravat encircling his neck. His hair, loosened from the tie with which it had been bound, fell around his face.
"Better?" he asked, and Harry nodded.
"Much," he said. "Not that - you looked good. But I like this better." Quieted again, Harry silently cast iIncendio/i at the fireplace, and a warm light filled the small sitting room. He gestured towards the sofa, then took his own seat in a worn easy chair, leaning forward with his elbows resting on his knees.
Snape sat on the soft leather and asked again, "Why did you not tell me?"
Harry glanced up quickly, then his eyes slid to the side as if seeking out some small distraction to distance himself from his thoughts and words.
"I've wanted to see you again for ages - you know that." He looked at Snape, who nodded in return. "I've enjoyed our letters so much. It was so hard, those first few months after everything happened, and you were the only one who seemed to know... how it felt. And then -" Harry drew a deep breath, speaking on the sigh, "when I realised I was bent... you were truly the only person I knew who could possibly understand."
"That doesn't explain why -" Snape began.
"It does," Harry interrupted. "In a way. I just wanted to see you - maybe talk a little, try to, I don't know, see if we could be as good friends in the same room as I've felt we were apart. But when I saw you... when you saw me..."
He blushed then, and Snape felt a desperate flutter of his heart that left him breathless.
"I've never felt like that before. Wanting... someone. Being wanted," he said softly, then looked up to find Snape studying him with an inscrutable expression. "Or maybe," he swallowed, "you liked me better -"
"No," said Snape, cutting him off. "I prefer this - you, like this - as well."
The conversation lapsed into silence then, broken only when Harry stood and crossed to sit next to Snape on the sofa.
"So, what do we do?" he asked softly. Snape placed a hand on the boy's knee in answer, and Harry quickly covered it with one of his own, weaving their fingers together in a tight clutch. He shifted on the edge of the sofa to face Snape.
If ever there was a point of no return, this was it. Snape knew that this was the moment to walk away; to tell Harry - regretfully - that nothing could ever come of this strange attraction and leave him to a younger, more suitable kind of man.
But instead of leaving, Snape succumbed to the allure of Harry's lips, slowly leaning in to brush his own against them in a tentative kiss.
When he pulled back, he found Harry weaving slightly with his eyes still closed, and he took a moment to drink in the sight. A small smile played on Harry's lips, and Snape slid a thumb over the lower before he could stop himself. Harry opened his eyes and flushed at the clear intent in Snape's eyes.
"This isn't -" he stammered, "I mean, I've never actually -"
"What?" Snape asked. "Harry, tell me what you want."
Indecision played over Harry's face; then, after a moment, he turned on the sofa and brought his leg over Snape's, shifting to straddle his lap. Harry slid his hands up over the muscles of Snape's arms, his fingers seeking out the contours of Snape's chest, the ravaged skin of his neck, his face.
Each new sensation was reflected in Harry's expression: surprise and sympathy. Wonder. He smiled appreciatively as he gently squeezed a firm bicep and looked up to find Snape watching his reactions with nearly as much fascination. Snape reached up with both hands and, with a murmured "We won't be needing these," pulled Harry's glasses from his face and placed them on the side table. Harry's eyes, when they met Snape's, were wide, green as the forest on a bright, beautiful day and nearly as deep, and Snape expelled a small huff of air at the sight.
Harry's lips were swollen with arousal when he brought them slowly to Snape's high cheekbones, his mouth dragging lightly over the sensitive flesh, his soft, ragged pants punctuating each press of skin against skin. It was almost more than Snape could bear; Harry's mouth was waking parts of him he had long since believed dead - his skin, thrilling with fresh life under Harry's fingers, his prick, aroused for what seemed like the first time in years. His heart...
"Is this all right?" Harry murmured, and Snape gripped his hips tightly, pulling him close.
"Yes," he growled, grinding himself against Harry's pelvis, and Harry let out a low moan, wrapping his arms around Snape's neck. His mouth turned ravenous, teeth nibbling, tongue lapping at Snape's lips; Snape parted them in response, his tongue sliding over and around Harry's, sucking, entwined. His hands slipped under Harry's jumper to slide over the taut skin of his back, and then he brought his hand to the nape of Harry's neck and leaned in, his lips suckling at the hollow of his collarbone...his jaw...his earlobe...
Then Harry was pulling back. "Wait," he gasped suddenly, and Snape froze, panting hoarsely against the skin of Harry's neck.
When he had calmed enough to speak, Snape asked, "Are you all right?" and Harry shook his head.
"No, I mean, I'm fine. I just -" he flushed and looked away.
"It's too soon," Snape guessed, and Harry nodded. After a moment, he slid off Snape's lap and onto the sofa beside him, his shoulders slumped in chagrin.
"I'm sorry," he mumbled, but Snape shook his head.
"There is nothing to apologise for," he said, meeting Harry's eyes. "Nothing."
Harry sighed and slouched back against the cushions; a moment's hesitation, and then Snape took Harry's hand in his own and began to rub his thumb over the ridges of his knuckles.
After a moment, Harry said quietly, "Maybe there's something wrong with me."
Snape scoffed. "Because you wish to take your time with someone you have not seen in over three years?" he asked. "If anything, I would call it an uncharacteristic show of common sense."
Harry gave a soft laugh.
"You mean, my inexperience hasn't driven you away?" he said lightly, though Snape could hear the anxiousness that underlay Harry's words.
"You must be joking," Snape answered bluntly. "When I saw you there in the Great Hall - and then, when I discovered that it was you -" he tightened his grip on Harry's hand. "Perhaps it was my own lingering prejudices that led me to expect a boy this evening, but in that moment I wanted to know you, as you are now. To know the man that Harry Potter had become."
"I hardly know myself tonight," Harry whispered, and Snape sat forward to face Harry, turning his hand over to trace its lines with his fingers as he spoke.
"I have known you in two incarnations now: the eminently irritating Boy Who Lived -" Harry scowled, "and the far more appealing young man with whom I've been corresponding. But tonight... you are a mystery to me. An undiscovered country."
Snape lifted Harry's chin with his fingers and drew his face close.
"I mean to explore you, Harry," he said, low, rewarded when Harry's eyes flashed with desire. "Bit," he brought his lips to Harry's left cheek, feeling the soft pant his mouth elicited warm against his own face. "By bit," he kissed the right, and Harry's eyes fluttered shut, accompanied by a nearly imperceptible moan. "By bit." Snape brought his lips to Harry's, tasting them, his movements slow and sure.
And when, after a few delirious moments had passed, he drew back, Snape found Harry gazing at him with a dazed smile on his face.
"I think I'd like that," he said, nestling close to Snape. They sat together in quiet companionship, the fire playing over their faces and dancing in their eyes as they talked quietly of times gone by and those yet to come.
And later - eventually - they slept.