Title: Waking Dreams
Other pairings/threesome: Past, non-explicit Harry/Ginny
Word count: 23,300
Content/Warning(s): a bond, explicit male/male sex, and quite a bit of whisky.
Prompt: Originally written for Snarry-a-Thon 2013, Prompt #61: "Harry and Severus meet once a week after the war for drinks. They find that talking about their nightmares helps them sleep a little better, and as each as has plenty they decide it would benefit them both to talk about them to each. But these dreams start to change after time. Is it still a nightmare to dream about the man across from you?"
Summary: Two men in a bar, a strange case, the Dark Mark, old relationships, and new beginnings.
A/N: Thank you to accioslash and badgerlady for the skilled, thorough, and beyond last minute beta. All remaining mistakes are my own.
Harry grabs a glass of wine off a passing tray and takes a large gulp. The wine is crisp and smooth and probably made by cloistered elves in some remote region of France. Pointy faced prat still has expensive tastes he thinks, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
Glancing around the grand ballroom, even Harry has to admit that the Manor looks lovely. He knows most of the house is closed off now—Lucius is still in Azkaban, after all—but one would never know it from the general splendour. No expense spared for the Malfoy heir's wedding. Even if he's made the unfortunate decision to marry a Weasley.
Harry thinks the reception is far larger than his and Ginny's had been. But with the Malfoys he knows he shouldn't be surprised.
Flowers adorn every available surface. Pink peonies spill out of silver vases. Freestanding arrangements line the walls, and garlands of oversized roses and lilies deck the ornate mantels at either end of the large room. Fairy lights twinkle from between the stems and petals and buds.
Harry spots Ginny across the dance floor. Her head rests on her new husband's chest. His arms are wrapped around her waist. They look very much in love. It's enough to make Harry feel ill.
He drains his glass and looks around for another waiter.
By the time the happy couple cuts the cake, the knot in Harry's chest has loosened slightly. He reminds himself that he is happy for Ginny; she should be with someone who can give her everything she deserves.
He knows that he can't do so anymore, but it still hurts.
After all, in some way, he will always love her, and never in his wildest dreams did he imagine she'd end up with Malfoy.
He watches as Gin feeds Draco his bite of cake, inwardly pleased by the look of horror that flits across his face when she smears buttercream on his cheek. He masks it expertly, though. James stands beside his mother, grinning ear to ear. Draco smiles down at him, and he ducks his head shyly.
Harry isn't entirely sure what James thinks of his new stepfather, but he knows that Draco treats him well. Ginny's and his separation was rough on him; such a change would be difficult for any child. But James, if anything, is resilient, and Harry knows he'll be all right.
No. He never expected his ex-wife to marry Malfoy, but perhaps he should have done.
Harry'd been in love with the idea of Ginny and marriage for as long as he could remember. But, in truth, they were shit at being together. And, ever since Draco had taken partial ownership of the Holyhead Harpies, he'd expressed an interest in their star Seeker. At first that interest was strictly professional. Draco, if anything, valued winning. But once it became public knowledge that the Saviour of the Wizarding World's marriage was in shambles, that interest became markedly more personal.
Harry sighs and swipes another glass of wine from a nearby elf.
Later, he dances with the bride for half a dance, kisses her on the cheek, and tells her she looks beautiful. She does. Her hair is down; it curls loosely around her face, and she's braided a strand of flowers through it. She's not wearing a veil. She'd worn one at their wedding.
Ginny's bright eyes search Harry's face. "I'm happy, Harry," she says. "Happier than I've been in a very long time."
"I know. I'm glad."
She purses her lips and nods. "I should find my husband. Where's James?"
"With your mum."
Ginny nods again, stepping back.
"Have a good honeymoon, love."
She narrows her eyes briefly as if about to say something. Correct his use of the old endearment. But then she thinks better of it. "Thanks," she says softly, turning away.
Harry stands against a wall, watching the festivities. He wonders how much longer he needs to stay before he can leave without being rude.
"Papa!" James practically knocks him over when he crashes into his leg, rubbing a no-doubt sticky cheek against the wool of his dress robes. Children can be rather revolting at times. "More cake?"
Harry looks down at his son. His cheek is smeared with icing, and there are crumbs down the front of his robes. Harry doesn't even want to think about his fingers. "How much have you had?"
James chews on his cheek. "Just a little bit."
Harry doesn't believe him for a moment, but he smiles. "Okay. One more piece. A small one, but then you're cut off."
James nods and practically drags Harry to the dessert table. Harry watches as he selects a piece of chocolate from the assortment of slices, but then he sees something out of the corner of his eye that makes his breath catch.
Dark hair, pale skin. The man is alone, fingers curled around the stem of an empty champagne flute.
Something slides down Harry's spine to twist in his stomach. He looks away.
Of course, he should have expected him to be there. Severus Snape is Draco's godfather, after all. Still, he can't help the thud of his heart, or the rush of heat through his veins.
It's been years since Harry's seen him, yet the man's mere presence still manages to conjure the same mixture of emotions. Tendrils of disgust and want, apprehension and fascination cloud his sensibilities. Harry sits down beside James; the child is noisily inhaling chocolate cake. Harry doesn't bother to correct his manners.
Ron appears at his side, a glass of champagne in his hand. Harry takes it gratefully.
"How are you holding up, mate?" Ron asks.
"As good as can be expected," he answers truthfully.
Ron was not best pleased when Harry had broken up with Ginny two years before, but he understands, perhaps better than anyone, how difficult the wedding has been for Harry.
Ron nods, staring across the crowded dance floor. Then he stiffens slightly, and Harry follows the direction of his gaze. Of course, he's noticed Snape.
Harry takes a large gulp of champagne.
"I'm sorry," Ron says after a moment. "Who knew the greasy git would actually put in an appearance?"
Harry shrugs, feeling miserable all over again. "It's his godson's wedding. We knew he was invited."
Ron's nose curls in disgust. "Right. But he could have done us all the favour and declined."
Harry shrugs again. "No one says we have to talk to him."
"True." Ron laughs.
Harry finishes the rest of his drink. "I think it's time for us to say our goodbyes." He puts a hand on James's back. The boy is licking chocolate off his fingers.
Ron smiles, but it does not reach his eyes. "It'll be all right, Harry. It always is."
Ron walks away, and Harry turns to his son. "You ready to go?"
"Where to, Papa? Where to?"
"Grimmauld Place. Remember? We packed your bag."
James bites his lip. "With Mummy?"
"No." He bends to pick the boy up. He's getting heavier, and Harry is oddly saddened by that. "We talked about this. Mummy's going to France with Mal—with Draco."
"Oh." James looks around, clearly searching for Gin. She's standing off to one side of the room, surrounded by a group of aging (and no doubt well-wishing) witches and wizards. Draco is at her side, his arm at her waist.
"Okay," James says finally. "Grimmauld Place it is."
Harry doesn't know what he's doing. Actually, that's a lie. He knows exactly what he is doing. And he also knows it's a horrible idea.
The Hog's Head is just as Harry remembers it. The bar is as small and dingy as it ever was. The windows are so encrusted with filth that he can barely see through them to the street outside. The only light comes from the stubs of candles on the battered tables. Harry pauses in the doorway, eyes adjusting to the darkness, before making his way to the bar.
Aberforth grunts in greeting and takes his order. Harry watches as he wipes down a pint glass with a grimy rag.
"It's been a while," the man says, placing Harry's drink in front of him.
Harry nods, and Aberforth walks back to the other end of the bar.
He is halfway through his second glass of cider when the door opens. Pale wintry light fills the room before the door bangs shut again; Harry doesn't look up as Snape takes the seat next to him. Aberforth is already reaching for a dusty bottle of whisky, pouring a measure into a glass. Snape takes it, examining its contents before taking a slow sip.
Harry holds his breath and says nothing; his chest feels tight. Twenty-eight years old and the man still unnerves him.
"I did not realise, Mr. Potter, that you still frequented this fine establishment." Snape's voice is rough, vocal cords irrevocably damaged by that blasted snake, yet the words still wash over Harry like paraffin.
"I could say the same to you," he manages, looking up at Snape for the first time. The man's hair hangs, dark and lank, in sheets about his face. His skin is sallow yet pinked with cold, and his eyes are as black and unreadable as always.
Snape raises one eyebrow in response.
Harry can't help the blush that spreads across his cheeks. Right. Snape's the most accomplished Legilimens alive. "I saw you at Gin's wedding."
Snape continues staring at him but says nothing. Harry's not sure what he expected; all he's done is state the obvious. "Yes, well," he continues quickly, "it was a surprise, that's all."
"Draco is my godson. You know this."
"Yes. I just…"
"I was invited," Snape continues. "Did I not have a right to be there?"
"No. Yes. Of course you did." Harry looks down, flustered. "I just haven't seen you in a while. It was…unexpected."
Snape nods abruptly and takes a sip of whisky. "That was your child?" he asks after a moment.
"Draco mentioned you had a boy. He…resembles you."
Harry smiles. "Yeah, he does." He downs the rest of his drink. "I actually have to pick him up from school now. He's at Hippogriff Hollow. In the early childhood program."
Snape couldn't appear less interested.
"So, I'll see you around then?" Harry says, sliding a few Galleons across the bar.
"I should certainly hope not, Mr. Potter."
Harry returns the following week.
Snape is already sitting in his usual spot at the end of the bar. "I thought we'd agreed to avoid these chance encounters?"
Harry ignores the comment and orders a cider. "Do you ever wish you could go back? Do things over again?"
Snape laughs, a harsh sound in the quiet room. "Tell me, Mr. Potter, what aspect of my life do you think I would possibly want to live again?"
"That's not what I mean."
Snape sips at his whisky and does not respond.
Images flash across Harry's mind. Some never seem to go away; at night they flicker white-hot and brilliant behind his eyelids when he tries to sleep. A dungeon classroom, furtive looks, a fingertip brushed along his wrist. He closes his eyes, takes a deep breath, and does not look at Snape.
That night is not the first time Harry has fantasised about his most hated professor.
There was a six-month period eighth year when they'd fucked nearly every night. Once, Snape sucked him off in the hallway leading to the dungeon classrooms. Harry still gets hard thinking about how he'd come in his hair.
No one knew, of course. And, at the time, the entire thing had felt oddly surreal, like he'd woken up from a nightmare into some sort of strange dream. Yet, somehow, ending up with Snape seemed the most natural thing.
The war changed everyone, but Harry still felt worlds apart from his friends and classmates. Even those who'd fought beside him—Ron and Hermione, Neville, Luna, Ginny, and Dean—couldn't understand what he'd been through.
But Snape could.
That weekend, he babysits for Hermione and Ron. He does not tell his friends that he's seen Snape. Instead, he sits Rose down in the den where James is drawing pictures of dragons on yellow construction paper. He kisses Hermione on the cheek, tells them to have a nice dinner, and watches as they Floo to Diagon Alley. Then he sits on the sofa beside the kids, goes over case files in red ink, and does not think about Snape.
James wants pancakes for dinner. Rose is only two and doesn't care for much of anything at all. So Harry has Kreacher scramble some eggs as well, and they sit on the floor by the fire eating breakfast foods and listening to a ridiculous children's program on the WWN.
But later that night, after Rose has gone home and James is safely tucked in his bed (two glasses of water and three bedtime stories later), Harry does think about Snape.
He remembers his own fingers twined in jet-black hair, a mouth slipping along his throat, and sweat-warmed skin pressed against sweat-warmed skin. He wonders how things would have turned out if he'd never walked away from Hogwarts at the end of his eighth year. He wouldn't give James up for all the world, but he still can't help but think about how different his life could be.
The dreams never really go away. They come in phases, and some nights are better than others. But they are always there, hovering around the edges of his awareness, threatening him when he sleeps.
Sleeping beside Ginny tempered the nightmares, but being alone brings out the worst of them.
Sometimes, it is like Harry is back in his old dormitory at Hogwarts or the tent in the Forest of Dean. He sees Voldemort's blood-red eyes and serpentine skin. He smells the blood and dirt of the graveyard, the damp decay of the cave, and dark spells that cling to the air like petrol. He sees Sirius and Remus, Tonks and the twins, Ron, Hermione, Teddy and Luna, and he wakes shaking and struggling to remember who is dead and who is still alive.
His scar hurts – the ache of a wound long since healed. But when he presses his fingers to his forehead, the skin is cool. And, when he looks at his reflection in the mirror, the lightening bolt is silvery smooth, not raw and red and inflamed.
"I still have nightmares, you know."
Snape tilts his head to the side, considers Harry for a long moment. "It is possible that you always will."
It's strange. Harry does not talk about his dreams. Ron and Hermione would only worry; it's better they don't know. But Harry feels comfortable confiding in Snape. After all, the man experienced the worst of his nightmares, and Harry knows he is plagued by bad dreams too. "Sometimes I wake up thinking that Voldemort is back, or that he was never gone at all. I have to remind myself that he's dead. The war is over."
Snape takes a slow sip of his drink and waits for Harry to continue.
"Two nights ago, I woke up screaming. I'd forgotten to put up a silencing charm, and James came into my room. He was terrified. He wouldn't go back to his own bed."
"Dreamless Sleep, Potter. I'm certain you've heard of it."
"Yes," Harry says harshly. "And I'm certain you're aware it's not recommended for extended use. Wizards tend to become addicted and all that. Not to mention the damaging effects prolonged exposure has on one's liver."
Snape downs his whisky in one long gulp. "I'll see what I can do." He puts a few Galleons on the bar and leaves without looking back.
Harry hides his smile behind the lip of his glass. Coming from Snape, that's practically an "I'll see you next week."
The day the Dark Mark is found in the sky is the first day the ache of Harry's scar doesn't fade.
He hadn't slept well – not that he does, usually. And neither the Pepperup nor the headache potion does anything to soothe the throb in his skull.
He's in a foul mood by the time he gets to the Ministry, and he wants nothing more than to shut himself into his office and ignore the stack of paperwork on his desk. Ron catches him before he reaches the lifts, though, and his face tells Harry everything he needs to know.
Harry groans and scrubs a hand across his face.
"Field team's already assembled," Ron says, voice grim. "We need to move."
Harry nods and listens carefully to the Apparition coordinates. Then they both turn on the spot, Disapparating to an isolated lot just outside Surrey.
He can smell the magic in the air the moment his feet hit the ground. It clings to his skin, dark and overpowering. His fingers tighten around his wand, as he listens to the pop of Apparition around him, assuring him that the rest of his team is in position.
Harry turns slowly, and his blood runs cold. He hears Ron exhale sharply, and he takes a deep breath, trying to quell the panic rising sharply in his veins.
It's been ten years, but Harry has never forgotten that sickly green.
Thankfully, his instincts take over. "Mackenzie, Parsons." He motions, and the two Aurors quickly move to the east side of the house. With a nod, Smyth and Aarons flank the west, while he and Ron walk their section of the perimeter, casting routine detection spells.
Aside from the Mark, the sky is bright and clear. Yet, there are no birds, no insects. It's deathly still, and it's enough to chill Harry to the bone. Silently, they work their way around the house, but the magic that lingers in the air has been there a while. Whoever cast the Morsmordre is gone now.
There are strict laws prohibiting the casting of Voldemort's mark, and, to Harry's knowledge, this is the first time it's been seen since the months following the final battle – the months spent engaged in cleanup skirmishes, mopping up the last remaining pockets of Death Eaters. The magic itself is inherently dark, and the Ministry monitors such things. But this particular spell, with its associations and implications, has been reclassified as practically Unforgiveable.
Once they are certain there is no one alive inside the house, the team moves to the front door. Harry murmurs an incantation and presses his magic out. There are no wards.
The door is secured only by a Muggle lock. If any wizards lived here, they have been dead long enough for their protective spellwork (assuming they used any) to disintegrate. A simple Alohamora is all it takes to unlatch the door. Harry pushes it open carefully.
The room is dark save for the thin slats of morning sunlight streaming through the shutters. A small red light is illuminated on a panel by the door. It's a Muggle alarm system much like the one Uncle Vernon set whenever the Dursleys would leave town, depositing Harry at Mrs. Figg's. It's still armed, but someone has cast a freezing charm, disabling it.
Harry signals, and his team spreads out, systematically checking the lower floor of the house for spell residue and casualties.
That it's a Muggle house does not surprise Harry. After all, much of the violence carried out in Voldemort's name was perpetrated against Muggles, families of Muggleborns, and those considered sympathisers.
Though Harry performs the required spells, forcing his emotions behind a mask of professionalism, he can't shake the feeling of dread each time they enter a new room. He has too much experience, has seen the Mark too many times not to know what to expect at the scene.
Anyone capable and willing to cast that spell is capable of horrible things.
In the years since the war, violence against Muggles has decreased considerably. Punishments are harsh, and, though prejudices remain, those who hold such beliefs are no longer in the majority and are, for the most part, quiet.
Still, Harry has seen enough atrocities committed against Muggles to last a lifetime, and he knows that whatever has happened here is no doubt ghastly.
But room after room checks out clean. Nothing is broken. Nothing appears to be missing.
The kitchen is spotless. Nothing is out of place.
Harry turns and heads back into the sitting room just as Ron comes down the stairs.
"Nothing," he says, wiping his brow with the back of his hand. "The bedrooms, bathrooms are empty. The beds haven't been slept in. There's nothing here."
Harry nods, mind racing. "Perhaps they're out of town. Whoever broke in was anticipating catching the family off guard, but the house was empty."
"Yeah," Ron agrees, "but why cast the Mark then?"
"I don't know." Harry looks around again and pushes his magic out, but he feels nothing. Aside from the stasis charm on the alarm and the lingering weight of the Morsmordre in the air, there is no residual magic, no remnants of spellwork. "It doesn't make sense," he says after a moment. "The Mark is traditionally cast after a murder. It is a sign of death. Yet, there is no crime here. Mackenzie, Parsons, go check the perimeter once more. Make sure we're not missing something."
Harry turns around. "There has to be something. Something we're not seeing."
But Ron is not looking at the surrounding room. He's looking at Harry, face pale. "Harry," he says after a long moment, and his voice is tight. "Your scar."
"What?" Harry brings a hand to his forehead. The skin is hot, swollen, and sore to the touch. When he drops his hand, his fingers are pinked with blood.
"I didn't realise it at the time, but that day—when we found the Mark—I haven't been that afraid in a very long time." Harry takes a slow sip of cider. The glass is cold and slick against his palm. "Afraid of who would be waiting for us. Afraid of what we'd find and what it would mean. Afraid that everything was about to start all over again."
Snape doesn't say anything, but the look he gives Harry is merely appraising, not judgemental.
"That chapter of my life is supposed to be over. I think I honestly believed I would never see another Dark Mark again."
"You know as well as I do that there is evil in this world," Snape says after a moment. "And people will always be capable of atrocious things."
"I know." Harry pinches the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger. He's tired. He's always tired nowadays. "But there aren't supposed to be any Death Eaters left. No one who could perform that magic."
Snape shrugs. "We found everyone officially connected with the Dark Lord. Everyone who'd taken the Mark and who had overtly participated in the war. But that does not mean there were not clandestine supporters. Men and women who agreed with Riddle's philosophies but for whatever reason never took a side during the war."
"Right. But why now? It's been ten years, Snape. Voldemort is dead."
"That's true." Snape nods and takes a slow sip of whisky, but there is something in his voice that Harry cannot place. Something that sets his teeth on edge.
Harry's been over the case a dozen times. There are no leads; he's had no luck tracing the magic used in casting the Mark. He stares at the photographs spread out over his desk, watching the ghastly snake slide through the skull over and over again.
He's about to go over the details of the crime scene for the third time that afternoon when Ron knocks on the door. "How about a drink?" he asks. "You're not going to solve anything today."
Harry wants to protest but knows he's right. "All right," he says, slipping the files back into their jackets. "Just give me five minutes."
The Leaky Cauldron is busy.
Harry snags a booth while Ron heads to the bar. He runs his finger along the battered tabletop and remembers when he and Gin would meet here after work. She used to say nothing was better after a long day of flying drills than Tom's fish and chips.
Ron sets two pints of Boddingtons on the table and slides into the seat across from Harry. "What are you thinking about?" he asks, taking a swig of his beer. He wipes the foam off his mouth.
"Not much," he says. "The case. The Mark. What it means." He does not mention Ginny.
"Yeah." Ron frowns, sliding his glass back and forth between his palms. It leaves a wet streak on the table. "You know, maybe Kingsley is right. No one was hurt. There was no evidence of any struggle. Maybe it was just a couple of kids with an old grimoire or something, playing a joke."
"Maybe," Harry says, staring down into his pint glass. "But that doesn't really make sense. The magic's too complicated. And for some kid to be able to cast that spell without being part of Voldemort's circle? I don't know."
Ron nods but doesn't say anything else. They sit and sip their drinks in silence.
"Besides," Harry says after a moment, "if it really was just a couple of amateurs, we should be able to trace the magic."
"Yeah," Ron agrees, drumming his fingers on the table.
The door to the pub opens, flooding the dim space with light. Harry turns his head only to turn back abruptly. He stares down at his hands.
Ron looks toward the door, then immediately back at Harry, lips drawn into a thin line.
Severus Snape moves toward the bar. When he gets to their table, he pauses briefly, nods once at Harry, and then continues on to the door at the back of the pub leading to the entrance to Diagon Alley.
Once he's outside, Ron gives Harry a long look. "Something you want to tell me, mate?"
Harry takes another swallow of beer, draining his glass. "No." He stands.
Ron puts a hand on his arm. "We don't talk about him. I know that. But I'm right when I say he's no good for you."
Harry shrugs out of his grasp and makes his way to the bar for another round.
Snape lifts the tumbler to his mouth. "The process is complicated."
Harry nods. "I understand the theory."
Snape isn't looking at him; he's staring across the bar. "Yes. But there's more to it than that. The magic involved is incredibly intricate. Casting the Morsmordre takes both power and precision."
Harry nods again. He knows this.
"But it also requires very specific intent."
"I'm not sure I understand."
"In order to cast the Morsmordre, your intentions must be in line with the Dark Lord's purpose."
"But I thought the magic existed long before Voldemort appropriated it."
Snape twists his glass between his hands. "Rumour has it that the Dark Lord imbued some of himself inside the very spell. That way only those truly loyal, truly working toward his purpose, could cast it."
"So the chances that the Mark was actually conjured by a couple of kids with an old grimoire?"
Snape downs the rest of his drink. "Highly unlikely."
Harry looks at Snape's mouth to avoid thinking about the implications of such a statement. His lips are wet with whisky, and it reminds Harry of the way he'd tasted the first time he'd kissed him.
It was late, and Harry couldn't sleep. He'd taken to his old habit of wandering the halls well after curfew. No one seemed to notice or care. Perhaps it was because he was an eighth year, or maybe it was because he was Harry Potter. After all, he'd defeated Voldemort; the halls of Hogwarts posed little threat after that.
But Harry could see light from Snape's office, a thin line spilling into the hall, and he'd knocked on the door without really thinking. Snape hadn't seemed all that surprised to see him. He'd only looked up from his stack of papers as Harry took the seat across from him. Then he'd reached for the decanter on the corner of his desk, refilled his glass, and summoned one for Harry.
The whisky tasted of spice, warmed Harry's throat, and made him cough. But Snape hadn't sneered or laughed or said anything at all. He continued his marking while they sat there sipping their drinks in silence.
Finally, when Harry's glass was empty, he spoke: "I couldn't sleep, sir."
Snape looked up. "That's hardly surprising."
"Yes. But I was wondering if, perhaps, you were the same."
How those innocuous words turned into Harry reaching out, tracing a line across the back of Snape's knuckles with his fingertip, Harry will never know. But somehow Snape, sitting there alive and not bleeding, did something to Harry. And, in the aftermath of the war and all he'd experienced, he felt some sort of connection with Snape that he didn't with anyone else. After all, Snape, like Harry, was alive when he should have died. And Snape, more than anyone, understood what that meant.
When Harry kissed him, cupping his face in his palms, Snape didn't pull away. Harry ran his tongue across his lips, and Snape opened his mouth, fingers digging into his hips, as Harry tasted the bittersweet whisky on the man's mouth.
"Mr. Potter?" Snape regards him curiously over his glass.
"You used to call me Harry, you know." Harry's voice is low and rough. "You used my name. And I think you liked the way I cried out yours."
Snape picks up his whisky but does not drink. "That was a lifetime ago."
"At least you haven't forgotten."
His dark eyes register a moment's disbelief, but his voice is clipped. "Forgotten?"
"I'd like you to do it again," Harry whispers, cutting him off, enjoying his rather sharp intake of breath. "Call me Harry." He nods. "I like the way you say my name."
Snape takes a slow sip of whisky; Harry watches his mouth, his throat as he swallows. "I'm not sure that would be wise."
"Potter, what are we doing?"
"I…I don't know."
They've met at The Hog's Head every week for months. Snape stares down into his glass, but does not drink. Finally he looks up again, his expression unreadable. "After you left, I was under the impression that your…experiment was over. That you had discovered what you wanted to discover about yourself."
Harry looks at him; anger coils in his gut. "It was never an experiment. I always wanted you."
The man shrugs and takes a slow sip of his whisky.
"Merlin, Snape." Harry closes his eyes, takes a deep breath. "I…I always wanted you," he repeats softly, looking down. He picks at a thread on the sleeve of his jumper. "But I didn't want to want you."
Snape nods. "And the extended bout of heterosexuality that followed?"
Harry chuckles darkly. "I loved Ginny. I always did." He traces the lip of his glass with a fingertip. "But that doesn't mean she was always what I wanted."
The dreams are changing.
The nightmares remain. Harry still wakes up to sweat-soaked sheets, the taste of blood, and the ghost of the Horcrux pounding in his skull. But these are mitigated by the influx of a new kind of dream.
Far too often, Harry's sleep is filled with images of a dark-haired man. Eyes that pin him to the wall. A tongue so sharp it can slice him to ribbons. And hands... Hands that are graceful and brutal and can make him come completely undone.
Harry wakes flushed and eager and aroused, hand slipping beneath his pyjama bottoms to grip his cock. It never takes more than a tug or two before he comes, breathless and shaking, caught somewhere between the shame of wanting what he should not want, and the thrill of knowing it's been ages since he's felt this way.
"Do you dream about my mother?"
Snape narrows his eyes. "Of course I dream about your mother. She was my best friend. I found her after the Dark Lord murdered her. It was…" he looks down, dark hair falling into his eyes. "It was my fault."
Harry reaches out, brushes a finger against the back of his hand. "Stop. You know that's not true. And…" He pauses, throat suddenly dry, and takes a sip of cider. "And that's not what I mean."
Snape looks up again.
"Do you dream about my mother? About being with my mother." Harry asks the question because he can't bring himself to ask if the man dreams of being with him.
"That question, Mr. Potter, is not only highly inappropriate, but also incredibly disturbing."
Warmth spreads across Harry's cheeks, but he does not look away. Snape holds his gaze for the space of several seconds. Harry feels the press of the man's mind, but it does not break the surface of his thoughts. The chill of the glass against his palm. The smell of stale cigarette smoke clinging to the air. Snape sitting beside him just a fraction closer than absolutely necessary. Snape pulls back; something flits across his expression but it's gone before Harry can read it properly.
"There was a time when I dreamed of Lily," Snape says slowly, twisting the tumbler between his hands. "You know I loved her. And, as a teenager, I thought I wanted her." He sets his glass down on the battered tabletop. "But it's been ages since I've thought of her in that way. You of all people, Potter, understand my…preferences."
Harry's cheeks heat further, and he nods, shifting uncomfortably on the stool.
"Still, it is normal I think," the man continues after a moment. "Have you been dreaming of Mrs. Malfoy?"
Harry blanches. He takes a gulp of cider to cover his consternation, but chokes, coughing until his eyes water. Snape regards him impassively.
"No. Merlin, no," he says once he's caught his breath again. "I mean, I did once. We were married, you know. We…I…" Harry motions vaguely with a hand. "We have a child together," he finishes.
Snape laughs. "Yes. Despite my rather limited experience, I understand the mechanics involved."
"It's just – even before we were separated – it's been a long time since I thought of Gin that way."
Snape twists his glass between his palms. Harry hates that he remembers the way those hands felt on his skin.
"I came out to Ginny."
Snape raises an eyebrow.
"I wasn't happy, and I knew it wasn't fair. I could never be the husband she deserved."
Harry takes another sip of his beer. "But I never cheated on her."
"I never suspected you did." Snape cocks his head, studying Harry; his skin feels warm under the scrutiny. "Your mother always knew I preferred men."
The man's lips curve. "I think the idea intrigued her at first." He sips his drink; ice clinks against the glass. "Don't get me wrong, I loved her very much. I always did." He looks at Harry. "But I never hid who I was."
Harry turns his pint glass around. It leaves a wet ring on the bar top. "I never told Gin about us," he says softly after a few moments. "I wanted to marry her. I doubt she would have taken me back if I told her I'd spent much of our time apart in your bed."
Snape nods. "No. That might have given her pause."
Harry laughs, a harsh sound.
"How did she react when you told her?"
"Not well." He pauses, tracing lines on the counter with his fingers. "She wanted to know if I was sure. She wanted to know how I knew. I told her there had been someone…once." Harry stares at Snape then. The man's dark eyes are shadowed in the flickering candlelight.
Harry downs the rest of his beer and nods.
Snape swallows thickly.
That night, Kreacher makes grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup for dinner. Harry flips through his case file while James blows bubbles in his milk and proceeds to drop half his sandwich on the floor.
Later, they sit by the fire in the den while Harry charms James's toy Auror men to dance in configuration. The boy laughs, slumped drowsily against Harry's side. He smoothes a hand over his hair. James has Ginny's pale skin and freckles but his own dark curls. "Come on," he says. "Let's get you to bed."
"No, Papa! No," James protests.
"I'm not." A yawn belies his assertion.
"All right," he gives in. "But this is the last one."
"Okay." James snuggles back against his side, fist curled against his cheek.
Harry sends a fleet of plastic Hippogriffs into flight.
Two months, then three pass since they saw the Mark. The case is still open, but nothing else has happened, so Harry allows himself to hope that it was nothing more than a terrible prank.
He meets Hermione at Fortescue's one afternoon. She is seated at a small table outside; Rose is in her lap, reaching for the cup of ice cream. Hermione deftly moves it out of her grasp, before spooning a small bite into her mouth.
"Go pick your flavour," Harry tells James, and he runs inside excitedly. A few minutes later, he returns, cradling a chocolate ice cream cone in his hands. He already has fudge sauce smeared down his arm.
He sits by Hermione, watching James and Rose eat.
"How are you?" Hermione asks after a few minutes. She is looking at Harry, dark hair gleaming in the sunlight.
"I'm fine," he replies, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees. "I'm good."
"Are you?" She frowns, the corners of her mouth curving slightly. "I feel like I haven't seen you in months. Since that horrible case began."
Harry shrugs. "We've been busy. You know how things are."
"Yes. But sometimes you work too hard."
Harry catches James's wrist in his hand and wipes at his fingers before the boy manages to smear ice cream down the front of his jumper. "We still don't have any leads, but I'm beginning to think that Kingsley might be right. Maybe it was nothing more than a couple of kids after all."
Hermione nods, running her fingers through Rose's curls. "Ron said as much, but I didn't think you believed it. And I know you were hoping to find who cast the spell."
"Yeah, well, there comes a point when there's nothing more you can do."
"Of course," Hermione says, but she doesn't look convinced. She scrapes the bottom of the ice cream cup with her spoon, giving Rose the last bite. The girl licks her lips, reaching for the empty bowl. Hermione quickly waves her wand, banishing it to the bin.
James holds his cone out, and Harry licks at the ice cream. It's melting, but the chocolate is creamy and rich. James laughs when Harry gets some on his nose.
"Why don't you let me set you up with Alfie Benson?" Hermione asks after a moment.
Harry has to stifle a groan.
"It would do you well to go on a date. And Alfie's a nice bloke. Good looking. Hard worker. It could be fun."
But Harry's already shaking his head. "No, Hermione. Thank you, but no."
"But why?" She leans forward. A strand of hair falls lose from the knot at her neck to curl around her throat. "It's been months since Ginny's wedding. You need to get out some. It's not good for you to spend so much time alone in that old house of yours."
Harry conjures a wet cloth to dab at James's hands but quickly gives it up as a lost cause. "I do get out," he insists. "Ron and I drink at The Leaky sometimes, and I've been spending some time in Hogsmeade recently."
"Hogsmeade…" She pauses, looking at Harry curiously, then her eyes widen. "Oh," she gasps, practically jumping in her seat. Rose laughs, as she bounces in her mother's lap. "You've met someone!"
Harry frowns; Hermione has always been far too perceptive for her own good. And he certainly doesn't consider Snape 'someone.' Not in the sense Hermione means, at least.
"Who is he?" she demands, shifting Rose to her other knee. "Because, so help me, if you're dating another woman after what you did…"
"No. It's a man."
And she's right, of course. Harry did not cheat on Ginny. He never would have done. But his sexual preferences were one of the main reasons their marriage ended, and one doesn't wake up one day to tell his wife of three years that their marriage is over because he's realised he prefers cock, only to turn around and fall for another woman. "But really, it's nothing." Because it's not; Harry hasn't fallen for Snape. That's absurd.
Hermione smiles knowingly. "Of course."
Thankfully, James chooses that moment to dump his remaining ice cream on the ground. He stares down at the chocolate puddle for a few moments before looking at Harry frantically. Harry scoops him up before he can start to wail. "That's okay, little man. We'll make sure Kreacher has pudding with dinner, all right?"
James nods. His eyes are bright, but it looks like they've avoided tears. "Dinner next week?" he asks Hermione.
"Yes," she says. "I'll make spaghetti."
She looks like she wants to say something else, but Harry stoops to kiss her on the cheek before she has the chance. "We'll see you soon, then," he says before turning on the spot and Disapparating to Grimmauld Place.
"I still think about you." Harry's had too much to drink. Why else would he be saying such things? He stares into his empty pint glass and does not look at Snape.
"Then your social life is apparently even more dismal than you've let on." Snape signals for another round. Aberforth, with a grunt, fills their glasses. "You clearly need to get out more if you spend your time rehashing trite and increasingly vapid conversations with your former Potions Master."
"That's not what I mean. You know it's not."
Snape frowns, looking down.
"Sometimes I can't help but think I was stupid for walking away. We had a good thing."
At that, Snape looks up again; his dark eyes are harsh. "Don't fool yourself. We had nothing."
Sometimes Harry wonders if Snape's tongue doesn't slice the inside of his mouth.
"It was a mistake." Snape's voice is cool, dispassionate, and the words sting.
"You were a student. I took advantage."
"I was eighteen, and I knew what I wanted."
"It doesn't matter." Something in Snape's voice twists in Harry's chest. "It was wrong."
Harry reaches out to touch the back of the man's hand but thinks better of it and tucks his hand back between his knees. He doesn't know what to say. They've never really spoken of what happened between them. Even when they were together, they didn't talk.
"I was using you," Snape continues after a moment. He sounds bitter. And old. "They didn't put me in Azkaban for my crimes during the war, but I deserved it for what I did to you."
Harry does touch him this time. Snape's hand is cool, and he looks down at Harry's fingers as though he's unsure as to how they got there.
"We were using each other," Harry says softly. "And I needed you. More than I think you know."
"I can't believe..." Snape twists his glass between his hands. "I don't—" Snape at a loss for words is incredibly disconcerting.
"Stop." Harry's fingers clench against Snape's. "It was a long time ago. Whatever you're thinking, just stop."
Snape nods abruptly, but his face is drawn. Harry hates that's he's clearly tortured himself over this for years.
"Do you regret it?" Harry isn't sure why he asks. After all, he doesn't think he can handle it if Snape says yes.
Snape must hear the desperation in his voice, though, because when he looks up at him again, his expression has softened. "Of all my regrets, perhaps, that is only a minor one."
It's a Tuesday when the second Mark appears.
It's in Wiltshire, and this time there is a body.
Harry's not sure how, but he knows what's happened even before Ron appears at his door, face grave.
They Apparate to a lovely two-storey country home. Rose beds line the front walk, their white and red blooms dewy in the morning sun. Dark magic clings to the air. It's enough to make Harry nauseated. The Morsmordre casts a sickly glow over their surroundings.
Before they even begin to search the perimeter, Harry can feel the remnants of spellwork. "Whoever did this," he says, testing the magic in the air, "hasn't been gone long." He casts several tracing spells, while his team performs the standard detection work.
The wards have been dismantled roughly. It's a striking contrast, Harry thinks, to the precision necessary to cast the Mark.
Inside reeks of death and decay. Avada Kedavra is as gangrenous a green as Voldemort's mark, and smells just as infectious.
They find the body in the parlour.
"Daedalus Doyle," Ron says, running his wand over the victim. "AK'd within the last hour."
Harry nods; he expected as much.
The rest of the house is clean. There are no other victims, and nothing seems out of place. Aside from the Morsmordre and the single Avada, no other spellwork lingers.
"All right," Harry says once he's satisfied they haven't missed anything. "Let's get back to the Ministry. See what connections we can find between Doyle and Voldemort."
Ron frowns, sheathing his wand. "You think there's a link?"
"There has to be."
A pale sliver of moon hangs in the sky, casting thin shadows over the wet grass. The night is cool, the air crisp and clear. He's careful not to make a sound as he moves across the lawn.
The house is dark; the inhabitants are asleep.
He hears a rustle in the bushes to his left and a black cat darts across his path with a startled meow. He pauses, listening, but hears no other sounds. The wards come apart easily at his touch. It's pathetic, really; he doesn't even break a sweat. People are far too complacent now, in the years since the war.
The marble floor in the foyer is polished to a sheen. Pictures adorn the entryway; wizards and witches glare down at him as he passes. The antique runner on the stairs muffles his steps as he climbs to the second floor landing. He passes three doorways on his way to the master suite at the end of the hall. Magic pricks at his palm as his fingers tighten around his wand.
O'Neal and his wife are fast asleep.
The spell is only a whisper, but it fills the room with a deadly glow. The woman wakes but does not even have time to scream before he raises his wand again.
He's down the stairs and out the door within moments. His heart is pounding in his ears; it's exhilarating and satisfying. Clouds hang in the sky now, obscuring the light from the moon. The night is dark and still. He closes his eyes, points his wand above the house, and centres his power and focus.
It feels as though Harry's scar is being ripped apart. He awakes gasping and shaking and barely manages to roll to the side of the bed before he retches, tasting blood and bile.
Quickly, he stumbles to his feet and pulls a jumper over bare skin. He shoves his feet into his trainers and grabs the robe off the back of the chair before dashing across the hall to James's room.
"Hey, James, love, wake up."
The boy sits up, rubbing his eyes blearily. "I'm sleepy."
"I know, I know, but we need to go to Uncle Ron's and Aunt Hermione's for a bit, okay?" He bundles James's pea coat hastily over his pyjamas and carries him downstairs to the Floo.
"Ron!" he calls, bending down to stick his head in the fireplace. "Wake up!"
Ron jerks upright in bed, wand drawn. "What's happened? What time is it?"
"Nearly three. James and I need to come through, all right?"
Hermione is tying her robe round her waist when Harry staggers out of the Floo, James held tightly in his arms. "What is it, Harry? What's wrong?" she asks, concern etched on her face.
"Send a Patronus to Kingsley. There's been another Mark. A couple, this time, in West Sussex."
Ron nods and does not question Harry as he relays the Apparition coordinates.
"How do you do it?" Harry slides the glass of whisky across the bar top. Snape takes it with a nod.
"Do what, Mr. Potter?" He takes a slow sip; whisky wets his lip, and Harry finds himself watching his mouth, his throat as he swallows.
"Go on each day as though nothing's happened?" Harry's not depressed. Depression comes in waves that saturate and overwhelm. This is something else—this feeling in the pit of his gut, the hollow of his chest. It's as though someone took a paring knife to him ages ago and, no matter what he does, nothing seems to fill the gaps or the spaces in between.
Snape sets his glass down again. "As though nothing has happened?" Somehow Snape manages to look incredulous and condemnatory all at once.
"Yeah," Harry says slowly, unsure of what he's done to earn the man's scorn.
"Is that honestly what you believe? That I live my life as though nothing happened?"
"Yes. No. I mean…" Harry looks down, feeling contrite. "When you put it that way…"
"How do you, after all these years, still believe that you were the only one affected by the war?" Snape's voice is cold, and it cuts more than any knife could.
"I don't," Harry says softly. "You know I don't. That's why we became…close after the war. I knew you understood."
Snape looks at him for a long time, and Harry half expects him to use Legilimency, but he doesn't. "Then how can you ask me this?"
"I don't know." Harry clutches his hands together. "It's just, you seem so…" normal, the same as you used to be, not about to fall apart at the seams… "stable."
"I could say the same about you."
Harry shakes his head. "No, I'm not. There are days when I don't even think I can get out of bed. If it weren't for James… And now there's this case and the Dark Mark…" he trails off again and looks at Snape. His chest feels tight; it's suddenly hard to breathe.
Snape places on hand on his back. It's calming. "Everyone has days like that."
"Do they? Because I'm not so sure."
Harry frowns. "But you're still at Hogwarts. You're teaching. You're there every day like everything is fine." He sighs. "I haven't been back in years. I can't, Snape. It's too much."
"I am there because I have to be, not because I am not affected by what happened in the past. Teaching and Hogwarts are part of who I am, just as being an Auror has become part of who you are."
"Then why do I feel like I'm falling apart?" His voice is not his voice. It's too high, too frantic, but he doesn't care.
"Because memories are a powerful thing. And your memories are the stuff of nightmare."
"You still haven't answered my question. How do you do it every day?"
For several moments, Snape is quiet, and Harry does not think he is going to answer. Then the man takes a deep breath and looks at Harry carefully. "Did you not wonder why I declined the post of headmaster?"
"What? No. I thought McGonagall…"
"Minerva was happy as deputy head. She enjoys being in the classroom teaching. She did not want the responsibilities of headmistress."
"She offered you your old position?"
Snape nods. "Yes. And I declined. Just as I declined her offer to resume teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts."
"I don't understand."
"No. It seems you don't." Snape takes a long drink of whisky before continuing. "I am teaching Potions not because I enjoy it or even because I am the most qualified or the most skilled. It does not take someone of my expertise and talent to teach basic brewing techniques to adolescents. I am teaching Potions because I could not stand the thought of doing anything else."
"But you always wanted to teach DADA. And I know you would enjoy the challenges of being headmaster."
"Perhaps. But I could not handle the memories, the associations of either position."
Suddenly it dawns on Harry with sickeningly clarity. "The war."
Snape nods. "I taught Defence because Albus needed me to, although I knew fully what that entailed. Although I had already vowed to murder him when he asked."
Nausea twists in Harry's gut. He pushes his drink away. "And you became headmaster at Dumbledore's design. You both knew all along that Voldemort would give you that post."
"Yes. And no matter what Minerva, what Hogwarts asks of me, I could never – I will never – step back in that office as headmaster, or back in that classroom as Defence teacher, again."
Over the next four weeks, the Mark appears three more times. There are five casualties, and Harry witnesses every one in his dreams.
James is nearly done with breakfast when the Floo buzzes. He squirms in his chair, flinging oatmeal across the table and nearly knocking his juice glass over.
"Enough, brat," Harry says, wiping his face with a napkin. "Let me go get your mother."
James smiles broadly when Ginny appears. "Mummy!" he cries, wriggling out of his chair. "I've been waiting for you."
Gin scoops the child up, swinging him around in the air before pulling him into a hug. James giggles.
"I've missed you," she says, kissing his forehead. "Did you and your Papa have great fun this week?"
James chews on his fist, considering. "Some fun, yes. No ice cream."
"Liar," Harry says, smiling. "We had chocolate last night."
Gin ruffles his hair and sets him down. "Go find your shoes, love."
James sprints from the room. Harry hears him calling for Kreacher as he stomps up the stairs.
Gin leans against the kitchen counter as Harry puts James's dishes in the sink and fills the porridgy bowl with water.
"How are you?" she finally asks.
"I'm all right, I guess," he answers truthfully. "I'm sure you've heard about the Marks."
"Yeah. Horrifying, isn't it? Draco won't talk about it, but I know he's worried."
"Of course," Harry nods. "It's been…startling for everyone, but especially hard for those of us who participated in the war."
"It'll be all right, though, won't it Harry?" He can hear the fear in her voice and it makes his heart clench.
"Yeah, of course. We'll catch the bastard responsible. Everything will be just fine."
She nods, and her eyes are bright. "We're taking James to the Cannons match this weekend."
"He'll like that. He's talked of nothing but brooms all week."
"You haven't given in, have you?"
He shakes his head. "Oh no. Absolutely not. No broom until he's six. Just like his mum."
Harry stares down into his pint. Snape sits beside him. He smells faintly of cloves and cigarettes. It's familiar, comforting even, but Harry refuses to allow himself to think about that. "You know," he begins slowly, not looking at Snape, "sometimes I wish I'd never come back."
"The night when I killed him. Before." Harry takes a deep breath. "Sometimes I wish I'd never come back."
Snape doesn't say anything, and Harry feels distinctly uncomfortable. He shouldn't have said anything. It was foolish. Snape won't understand. Hell, he hardly understands, and he's never told anyone before – not even Hermione or Ron. Harry's never been able to admit how selfish, how cowardly he can be. "I mean," Harry says when Snape still hasn't responded, "I know it had to be me, but I just…" he looks up, expecting scorn and derision on the man's face. But Snape's expression is carefully blank. It's unsettling.
"James is the best thing that's ever happened to me, and I'd never, never give that up. But sometimes I—" He scrubs a hand across his face, pushing his glasses up to his forehead. "In that place – King's Cross – after he killed me, for just a moment I was finished." Harry swallows thickly. Snape is still watching him. "And I knew, if I got on that train, if I went on, I could be happy."
They're quiet for a long moment after that. Harry is certain he's embarrassed himself. He feels vulnerable and exposed, and Snape, no doubt, now thinks the worst of him. He wants the man to laugh at him, or chastise him, or do whatever it is he's going to do, so he can get it over with, and Harry can go back to feeling miserable.
Instead, Harry is startled by the brush of Snape's fingers against his shoulder blade. It's brief; Snape's hand falls away again, but Harry can still feel the warmth of his touch on his back.
"I believe, Mr. Potter, that I know exactly what you mean."
"No. Nothing." Harry sets down his quill and leans back from his desk. "I can't find a connection between any of the victims, and, just as we thought, none of them have any obvious affiliation with the Order, Voldemort, or his inner circle."
Ron nods. "So we're back where we started."
"Unfortunately." Harry rocks his chair onto two legs. "I'm still waiting on the latest results from Magical Forensics, but I'm not optimistic. Whoever we're dealing with, he's careful. I can't imagine he'd start making mistakes now."
"No," Ron agrees. "And, while the Trace can detect when and where a dark spell is cast, it can't identify the spellcaster. Unless, of course, that person's foolish enough to leave magical residue behind."
"And our guy's not." Harry sighs. "I wish there was a way we could be alerted sooner. Our detection spells are precise, but there's too long a delay between casting and notification."
Ron runs a hand through his hair. "You and Kingsley updated the spellwork yourselves. The magic is strong."
"I know. But not strong enough" Harry purses his lips. "If only I could see things more clearly. I'm right there, Ron. I know where he is and what he's doing, but by the time I wake up, it's too late. The detection spell has gone off and we've missed the bastard."
Ron's frowning now and Harry knows he's not going to like what he says next. "Harry, mate, Hermione and I have been talking, and I know you don't think there's a connection, but we're worried."
"I know, I know, but hear me out. Your scar hasn't hurt in years, and now there's the Marks, and you're having visions again, and what if it's not just some coincidence?"
But Harry is already shaking his head. "I'm stressed. That's all. We all are. And my scar has hurt before. You know that."
"No," Harry cuts him off, voice harsh. He can't handle this. Not now. "Voldemort is gone, and the visions mean nothing. The Horcruxes were destroyed, Ron. All of them."
Harry takes a swig of cider and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. "Are you seeing anyone?"
Snape laughs, but there's no humour there. "No."
Harry knows his stomach shouldn't flutter quite the way it does, and he knows these thoughts should disturb him, but they don't. Not anymore. He wants to kiss Snape, to pull him close, curl his fingers in the folds of his robes. But he knows he won't get away with it. So instead he watches Snape's mouth as he sips at his drink, watches his hands, pale against the golden liquid in his glass.
He wants to tell Snape that he still thinks about eighth year. He falls asleep at night imagining himself on Snape's bed, awkward, naked, and aroused.
Harry takes a steadying breath, shifts in his seat, and tries not to think about the pulse of desire that flares in his veins and heats his cheeks.
They leave the bar together. Harry stumbles but doesn't fall. He notices the other man's graceful movements and feels schoolboy awkward in comparison.
"How you ever managed to stay on a broom…" but Snape's voice is amused, and when he looks at him, Harry feels something rise in his throat; his heart stutters obscenely, and he thinks he must be quite drunk.
Then he finds himself moving forward, and, in one quick impulsive motion, he kisses him.
It's over almost before it's begun.
Snape pulls back with a gasp, touches a hand to his mouth.
Harry remembers the chills that slid down his spine as Snape's fingers traced lines along his ribcage.
"I can't. We shouldn't," Snape says roughly. "I never should have touched you."
Harry's face is hot, even in the chill of the night air.
"It was wrong then. It is wrong now."
"No. I, please…" Harry reaches a hand out, as his tongue trips over the words.
But Snape is shaking his head, recoiling from his touch. "I never should have wanted you." He Apparates away without another word.
Harry stands there for a long time after he is gone. The kiss pounds in his mind, radiant and painfully sharp.
"Did you ever suspect that I…that Voldemort was a part of me before Dumbledore told you?" They're sitting side by side at The Hog's Head. Harry can feel the warmth of Snape's body and wants to reach out, to touch him, but he doesn't.
Neither of them has mentioned the kiss.
Harry thought it might be awkward, but it's not. It might actually be easier now that everything is out in the open, and Harry has other things on his mind anyway. "You knew about the Horcruxes. Did you ever think—" He hangs his head, presses his fingers to his temples. His scar has hurt for weeks, a constant, jarring ache in his skull. The skin on his forehead is angry and red, and Harry can no longer ignore what that might mean.
The thought is so terrifying, so gut wrenching, that he feels ill, and he's not sure what he'll do if his nightmares are true.
"No," Snape says after a long moment, and his voice is gentle and a little bit sad. "But, in retrospect, I think, I should have known.
Harry exhales loudly. "Was it obvious that I…that he was there?" He thinks he might be sick. His palms are sweaty, and his heart is racing, but he is cold and can't stop shaking.
"No. You were always you." Snape takes a sip of whisky, and Harry can feel him watching him. "Listen to me," he says, forcing Harry to look up at him. "That fragment of his soul did not alter your own. Your heart, your mind, and your character were always your own. Do not think otherwise. I only believe I should have known because of how often the Dark Lord tried to kill you and failed."
"What do you mean?"
"You faced the most powerful dark wizard of our time at eleven, fourteen, fifteen, and seventeen years old. And every time you survived when you shouldn't have. You are a powerful wizard, and you are lucky, but you were no match for Voldemort's power and skill."
Harry nods; he's thought about this before.
"I think," Snape continues, "that you survived because, had he killed you, he would have only weakened himself. And I think, that that part of his soul would not allow for that."
"I want to believe that," Harry says. "I do. But I can't help the part of me that wonders. When I found out about the Horcrux, I knew I had to die. And that wasn't nearly as frightening as believing that I had never truly been myself. That I had always been part of that monster." He wraps his arms tightly about his chest, trying to quell the rock of nausea in his system, but Snape's presence beside him is calming, and he's grateful. "And what about now?" Harry continues after a few moments. "I can still talk to snakes. I never lost that ability, though people thought I would. And my magic's stronger than ever. Hell, Snape, I'm one of the most powerful wizards alive." He laughs, a desperate and harsh sound. "Yet, the Dark Mark affects me the same way it always did. My scar throbs and I see things. Things I'm not supposed to see. Things I can't explain any other way."
Snape's face is pale, his lips a thin line. "That doesn't mean—"
"But what if it does?" Harry's yelling now, but he doesn't care. "I died, Snape. He killed me. What if that wasn't enough? What if the Horcrux survived?"
Snape doesn't have an answer, and that's far more terrifying than anything he could possibly say.
Two weeks pass and then three. There are no more murders and no Dark Marks in the sky. Though they still have no leads, the throb of Harry's scar dulls some, and he allows himself to forget about Horcruxes for just a little while.
"What we did," Snape says one evening, staring down in to his whisky, "what happened between us… I feel like I must explain. I had never…" he trails off, uncharacteristically at a loss for words.
Harry holds his breath; he can see the flutter of the man's pulse at his throat.
"I had never," Snape repeats, eyes still fixed on his glass. "I do not make a habit of bedding my students." He finally spits out the words, as if they are shards of glass on his tongue.
Harry reaches out, brushes his fingers along the back of Snape's wrist.
"You were a first, an only. I had never. I would never, again." He looks down at his hands. In the dim light of the bar, his face is shadowed. He looks exhausted and older than his forty-nine years. "I never expected to survive the war. Then afterwards, I—" Snape shakes his head. "It is no excuse."
"Do I remind you of things you'd rather forget?" Harry's voice is soft, choked, but he has to know.
"I, I don't know."
"I didn't expect to survive either," Harry says. "And when I did – for a while – I actually wished I hadn't. But with you, I think I realised I could be happy again.
They end up crowded in the narrow hallway leading to the loo. It smells of piss and sweat and stale beer, but Harry doesn't care because Snape is pressed against him.
He doesn't kiss him again, as Harry wishes he would. Instead, crooked teeth nip sharply at his earlobe. Harry hisses, head falling back against the wall. Snape mouths along his throat, biting and sucking and making Harry squirm. The man smells of whisky and cigarettes and the heat of his body, the warmth of his breath against his neck makes Harry so hard he sees stars.
He can't remember the last time it felt like this. Rushed and more than a bit wrong.
Harry's certain he'll come the moment Snape touches him. He feels like a teenager again, back in the dungeons below Hogwarts, Snape's hands on his thighs, his mouth whispering dirty things in his ear.
"Oh, Gods," he gasps, as Snape's fingers tug at his top button, slip under his collar to brush across hot skin.
Harry arches his back and pushes a leg between Snape's. Even through layers and layers of black, he can feel him, his erection a hard brand against his thigh. "Oh... Oh, fuck, I want..." He can't help the words that fall from his lips, but he thinks he sees Snape smile. Harry rocks forward, and Snape sucks at his collarbone. It will leave a mark, and that's nearly enough to send Harry over the edge.
Then Snape moves a hand between them, slides it between his robes to cup him through the fabric of his trousers. Harry leans into the touch; Snape strokes him once, twice, and Harry's coming, shaking and clutching at Snape's shoulders.
Harry reaches out to touch him, to pull him closer, but Snape is already stepping away.
"Wow," Harry manages, breathless and flushed and high from more than the alcohol in his veins.
"Still so easy, aren't you, Potter?" Snape says, and his voice is cruel under the slight breathless rasp. Something flashes in his eyes then that Harry hasn't seen in a very long time, and it feels like Snape has taken a knife to his gut.
Snape turns and walks away, leaving Harry slumped against the wall.
It's strange, walking through the halls of Hogwarts again. It's been years since Harry's been here, and the shadowed corridors feel foreign, unfamiliar.
Snape is not in his office, but when Harry presses his palm to the door to his private chambers, the wards give under his touch. He pushes the door open.
The sitting room is warm and brightly lit. Memories long since stored away flutter to the forefront of his mind. Snape sits on the sofa, a book open on his lap, a cup of tea on the table beside him.
Harry shoves his hands in his pockets and waits, but Snape doesn't look up, doesn't acknowledge him at all.
"You hurt me," he says after a moment that's stretched and stretched. "I don't want you to do it again."
Snape turns a page in his book. "Then I'm unsure, Potter, what you are doing here."
"Harry. Please call me Harry." His voice only wavers a little as he continues. "And I'm here because I don't think that's the way things have to be." He takes a step forward; Snape still hasn't looked up. "We had something good once, even though everything was in shambles."
Harry is standing in front of Snape now. Slowly he reaches out, takes the book from the man's hands. "I'd like to try again, see what happens."
Snape looks at him then, face shuttered and blank. "And if everything falls apart?"
Harry shrugs, but his heart is pounding in his ears. "That's a risk I'm willing to take. But," he says, forestalling whatever objection the man surely has, "I don't think we'll have to worry about that."
Snape regards him impassively for a long while. Harry feels the press of his magic and opens his mind. Just for a moment, but he hopes it's enough for the man to see.
"I am...unaccustomed to such things," Snape finally says, slowly, unsure, and the sound of it nearly wrecks Harry.
"That's okay." Harry sits down at his side. Snape does not pull away when his thigh touches his. "We'll go slow this time."
Snape nods, fingers clutching at the arm of the sofa. "And where do we begin?"
Harry smiles. "Kiss me?"
"So," Hermione says pointedly, setting the platter of chicken in the centre of the table. "How's Hogsmeade?"
Ron stops, serving spoon suspended over the bowl of mashed potatoes, and looks at Harry questioningly. "Hogsmeade?"
"Apparently, Harry's been spending some time there," Hermione responds, sitting down beside her husband.
Cold clenches at Harry's chest, and he takes a sip of beer. Ron watches him, brow furrowed, eyes appraising, and Harry knows that he knows.
Harry glances over his shoulder. Rose is dozing in her swing, and James is on the floor colouring, completely oblivious to what's going on around him. He takes a deep breath, steeling himself. "Remember eighth year when Ron and I had that fight?"
"Yes," Hermione says slowly. She suddenly looks weary. "How could I forget? I came back from the library to find you in the Common Room, wands drawn. You didn't speak for weeks."
Harry nods and soldiers on. "I was sleeping with Snape."
Hermione drops her fork with a clatter. Gravy splatters against the white tablecloth. "Professor Snape?" she says, voice incredulous and far too shrill.
Ron is glaring now, a thunderous expression on his face.
"Our Potions Master," Hermione continues. "The man you hated since we were eleven. The man who was our teacher."
"It wasn't—" Harry tries, tongue tripping over the words. "I mean, I—"
"Excuse me," Hermione cuts him off and stands. Her thighs bump the table, shaking their glasses.
Harry finds her in the kitchen. She has a full glass of wine in front of her, but she isn't drinking it.
"He was a professor," she says when he sits down beside her.
"And I was eighteen."
Hermione frowns, eyes narrowed. "That doesn't matter. He was in a position of authority. How could you?"
Anger twists in his gut, and it makes him uncomfortable. Hermione is his best friend; he hates fighting with her, but he also feels an overwhelming need to defend himself. To defend Snape. "This is why I never told you. You can't possibly understand."
Her eyes flash dangerously. "Understand what? Understand how you were taken advantage of by a man more than twice your age? By a man who was supposed to protect you?"
Harry stands up and walks over to the window. It's raining now. Water sheets down the glass. "I wasn't taken advantage of." His voice is harsher than he intends, but he doesn't care. "And he did protect me. He always has."
He hears Hermione's chair scrape against the wood floor, feels her move beside him, but he doesn't turn.
"What happened, Harry?" Her voice is softer now. "Explain it to me. I want to understand."
Harry bites his lip. "He was the only one who understood what I'd been through."
Hermione tenses beside him, and he knows that was the wrong thing to say.
"How can you say that?"
"No, Harry, you listen to me. Ron and I were with you for everything. You could not have defeated Voldemort without us. You know that."
"I do. Of course I do, and I didn't mean—"
"We lied to our families. We left school. We did everything for you." She hugs her arms to her chest, fingers clenching at her elbows. "We hunted Horcruxes for nearly a year with you, and we fought beside you until the very end."
When she looks at him, her eyes are fierce, and it tightens in his chest and in his lungs. "Do you?"
He nods, and she sighs. "Then don't ever say that we don't understand what you went through."
They stand there together for a long time. Hermione sips at her wine. Harry watches the paths the rain droplets make on the windowpanes.
"I died, Hermione," he says finally.
When she turns to him, there are tears in her eyes. "I know. We thought we'd lost you."
He reaches out to brush his finger across her cheek, catching the wetness there. "Snape died, too. We both died and came back, and, afterwards, I could talk to him. He understood better than anyone else. And I needed that."
"That doesn't make it right, Harry."
"It was right for me."
She's shaking her head. "What Professor Snape did… It's not your fault, Harry, but you were vulnerable. There is no excuse. He should have been fired. He never should have touched you."
Harry takes a deep breath, tries to steady himself. He wants nothing more than to take James and go home. He doesn't want to have this conversation. Not now. Perhaps not ever. But he needs her to understand. "He didn't want to, Hermione. It was always me. He never would have done anything, but I pushed. I pushed and pushed, and finally he had to give in."
"No. He didn't."
"Yes, he did." He forces himself to remain calm, patient. But his voice is edged with a frustration he cannot mask. "That year, after everything, there was a long time when I wished I hadn't come back. I thought that, maybe, it would be better if I hadn't survived."
Hermione frowns but lets him continue, and Harry hates that he's upsetting her.
"Then, with Snape, I realised that things could be okay again. And I needed that, Hermione. I needed that."
She must hear the urgency in his voice because she reaches out and takes his hand in hers.
"And now," he says, voice rough and not his voice at all, "well, I think I might be able to be happy with him.
She doesn't say anything, but squeezes his hand before letting go again.
"Do you hate me?"
She sighs. "It's been, what, ten years?"
"You never told me."
"Does Ginny know?"
She looks up at the ceiling, then at Harry once again. "Really? Professor Snape?"
She takes a deep breath. "And Ginny never knew?"
Hermione takes a large swallow of wine; her lip-gloss leaves a pink smudge on her glass.
"I loved her."
"I know. And she's going to have to find out sooner or later."
Sometimes they don't talk, and Harry likes the quiet companionship. Ginny always felt the need to fill the silence with chatter, but Snape is content to just sit beside Harry and sip his drink.
Snape lights a cigarette. Harry watches the match flare orange in his cupped hands. He watches the man's mouth as his lips curl around the filter before he exhales a thin stream of smoke. It has to be bad for his throat. Harry has told him this, but Snape only laughs. 'I think, perhaps, I've earned a vice or two.' And Harry can't argue with that.
A brief pang of nausea is all the warning he gets.
He cries out as his scar burns, an acute flash of blinding pain. Images skip across his mind like stones on a pond. He sees a shadowed figure and a red door. He feels anticipation that is not his own wash over his body, exhilarating and razor-sharp.
"Are you all right?" Snape asks.
"I—I don't know." Harry feels confused and out of focus, torn between two places at once, and he can't concentrate. Still, the pain in his scar has not dissipated, and fighting it is like resisting the urge to be sick. He leans forward, cradling his head in his hands, but he can't ignore the pain.
He feels a burst of anger, flaring sudden and intense against something far more deep-seated. He sees a small room, cosy and warm, lit only by a small fireplace. A young woman cowers in the corner. A taller figure stands over her, wand drawn. Harry hears him cast the spell; the room glows green.
With a feeling much like surfacing from underwater, Harry opens his eyes. The room is spinning, and he can't catch his breath. He still feels ill.
"You are injured," Snape says.
"I…yes." Harry touches his fingertips to his forehead. His scar is bloodied, swollen, and raw.
"You didn't tell me it was like this. Does it hurt often now?" Snape's voice is filled with genuine concern.
"All the time. I have to go," Harry says standing. He's a bit unsteady, and he takes a breath against the wave of dizziness. "There's been another murder."
Harry gets the idea while staring at case files he's already read a dozen times.
Ron looks up from his work when Harry passes his desk on his way to the lifts, but he doesn't say anything. Harry's glad. He doesn't want to explain himself now. Ron will only try to talk him out of what he's about to do.
The Potions Division of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement is clinical and sterile. The room is bare with its whitewashed walls, tiled floors, and charmed fluorescent lights.
There's a single desk manned by a young Auror with sandy blond hair and freckles. The cauldron and wand emblazoned on his standard issue gray robes mark his division. Everything here—storage, experimentation, development—happens behind closed doors.
"Auror Potter," the attendant says, standing. "What can I do for you?"
"A draught of Waking Dreams, please."
The boy nods and runs his wand over the ledger on his desk, checking Harry's authorisation and clearance. "Will this be for personal use? Or for a member of your team?"
"Personal," Harry says, "pursuant to case number 12608."
The Auror makes a note on his chart. "All right, one moment please." He turns and disappears through the double doors behind his desk.
He returns a few minutes later, a plain glass vial in his hand. The potion itself is a jewel-hued purple. "Okay. Sign here and here. Standard policy for release of a Class C potion."
Harry picks up the quill and signs the form.
"Read all the warning and dosage information before use," the Auror continues. "Two drops on the tongue before bed. Do not use for more than four consecutive nights."
"Got it. Thank you." Harry takes the vial and slips it into the pocket of his robes.
Harry wards his bedroom door and carefully secures his wand in his bedside cabinet. James is at Gin's this week, but he still has to be careful. He understands why the potion is a controlled substance. Many wizards have injured themselves or others under the influence of Waking Dreams. The drug blurs the line between dream and reality, and it becomes difficult to distinguish between what's real and what's imagined.
It can be dangerous, believing yourself a participant in what the mind dreams up.
Harry climbs into bed and takes the potion from the table beside him. It's warm to the touch and shimmers slightly when he uncaps the vial. It's bitter on his tongue.
The first night he dreams of war.
He's back on the battlefield at Hogwarts. He knows, on some detached level, that it's not real. Yet the ceiling has given way to a smoke-filled sky. He sees the flashes of spells—violent reds, deadly greens, and sickly blues—and he smells the magic in the air.
His fingers itch for his wand.
When Harry wakes, his body is stiff and aching. He feels the remnants of spellwork trickling through his veins, skittering across his skin. His head reels, and he must close his eyes against the rock and spin of the room.
He hasn't been this exhausted in ages. It's the type of tired that goes bone deep, and he feels like he could sleep for days.
Slowly, he sits up.
His sheets are torn; there are holes singed in the coverlet. His lamp is broken and spell damage mars the walls.
It looks like a battle was fought here, and Harry knows that's not entirely inaccurate.
His wand is still safely locked away, but he is highly skilled at wandless magic. Things could be much worse.
Harry stands with a groan, gets his wand, and dismantles the wards on the room. In the bathroom, he runs his fingers over his torso, tracing old curse scars. Though once long healed, the wounds are open and bleeding again. He casts a few healing spells, then rummages around in the medicine cabinet for some Dittany. If he goes to a Healer, they will document his injuries, and he doesn't want to explain the Waking Dreams. Not yet. Not until he knows if it will work.
The next night he dreams of Snape.
The dungeon room is as cold and dark as he remembers it, but Snape's bed is comfortable and warm. The man's hands, pale and graceful, trail paths along his skin. Harry arches up, needy and desperate, and Snape laughs, breath soft against his throat.
"What do you want? Tell me what you want."
"You have to fuck me," Harry gasps. "It's been far too long. Put your cock in me. I need to remember what it feels like."
Harry wakes aching and sore in places he has not been in a long time. His pyjama bottoms are stuck to his skin, and he closes his eyes, relishing in the afterglow for just a little while.
On the third night, Harry dreams of the Mark.
Even in his muddled in-between state, he recognises the magic, the way it clings to the air, his skin. He forces himself awake, keeping the dream in his field of vision. It requires power and focus, and Harry feels his magic bleeding through the fabric of the potion-induced spell.
He pulls on his robes, gets his wand, and Disapparates.
The night is cool, the sky a bruise-coloured mauve. Harry cannot tell if that's reality or the trappings of his dream, but it does not matter because he can see the man inside the house, wand drawn.
He feels drugged; the potion courses through his blood, and he knows he should call for backup, but there isn't time.
The wards are down. He pushes the door open slowly and stops to listen. The man is already upstairs. Harry must hurry. He ascends the steps two at a time and bursts into the bedroom just as the man raises his wand.
"Incarcerous." Cords spin from his wand like snakes to bind the man. He does not fight back, does not try to break the spell, though Harry knows his magic is strong.
Instead, he looks at Harry, eyes calculating and cold. "Why, Harry Potter. I feel honoured that you've come for me yourself."
Apparating to the Ministry feels a bit like shaking off the remnants of a bad dream.
"His name is Benedict Hunt."
"Yeah. Ravenclaw. Two years behind me."
Snape runs a finger along the lip of his glass. "Quiet, intelligent, yet unremarkable student. The family was decidedly neutral in the war, I believe."
"Yes, with the exception of his older sister, Agnes. She returned to fight at the Battle of Hogwarts."
"On the side of the Light?"
Harry nods. "She was killed that night."
"And the boy never demonstrated any Death Eater tendencies or alarming prejudices, if I recall."
"No," Harry agrees. "I did not know him personally, but everyone we spoke to said the same thing. No one knew he held such beliefs, and there was no indication he was capable of such a thing."
Snape takes a sip of his drink, his expression thoughtful. "What happened?"
"Best we can tell, his sister's death was the catalyst."
"You said she fought on our side. Was she killed by friendly fire or a rogue spell?"
Harry shakes his head. "That's what I thought at first, but no. I confirmed cause of death. AK'd by Antonin Dolohov."
Snape drums his fingers on the bar top. "Then what prompted him to adopt the Mark? To kill in the name of the wizard responsible for her death?"
"Well, he's mental for one," Harry says. "Certifiably. But apparently he still blames us. You see, Agnes would never have returned to Hogwarts had it not been for her loyalty to Dumbledore, to our cause." He gulps down the last swig of his beer, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. "It's absurd, of course. We only fought at Hogwarts because Voldemort attacked the school."
"Family influence?" Snape asks.
"Or lack thereof. They did not encourage Agnes to fight. In fact, they tried to dissuade it. The Hunts are an affluent, old Wizarding family. They do not believe in blood purity or superiority, but they do not disbelieve, either."
Snape nods. "Ambivalence is often as dangerous as devotion."
"Exactly. And Benedict grew up believing that change, in any form, was bad."
"The Dark Lord hoped to establish a new world order."
Harry shrugs. "Yeah. But nothing would really change for his family. Their place in society would remain secure."
"Albus and his progressive ideologies, on the other hand…"
Snape takes a swallow of whisky. "That does not explain, though, how Benedict Hunt came to be able to cast the Morsmordre."
"He's a barrister. Firm of Winston, Abernathy, and Drapier." Harry signals to Aberforth for another drink. "He was fresh out of legal training during the post-war trials but would have worked behind the scenes for many of the defence cases."
Snape frowns and waits for Harry to continue.
"Apparently, Winston, Abernathy, and Drapier expect their trainees to handle the brunt of the research work."
"Hunt would have performed interviews in preparation," Snape supposes.
"Parkinson, Yaxley, Davidson, Carrow…" Snape lists.
Harry nods. "Many of those cases hinged on the defendant's ability—or inability—to cast the Mark."
"Of course," Snape says. "Because the magic involved requires a link to Voldemort."
Aberforth sets another cider in front of Harry. The glass is cold against his hand. "Hunt would have had ample time to learn the magic. After that, all he needed was intent and alliance with Voldemort's purpose."
Harry shifts Rose to his other knee. She sucks on her fist, staring at the colouring book in front of her. James sits at the opposite end of the table, working on a puzzle Draco got him in France.
Rose grabs a pink crayon and scribbles on the page. Firenze would be mortified at the colour combination she's chosen for the centaur illustration, but Harry isn't surprised. He's watched her colour the phoenixes purple and the gnomes cerulean blue.
She turns the page; the blank illustration shows a tank with three grindylows. Harry picks up a handful of crayons: forest green, mint, jungle green and plum. "Green?" he suggests, holding them out for Rose.
"Green!" she says, taking the purple crayon from Harry. He sighs, wondering if Hermione is aware of her daughter's abysmal colouring skills. James, he thinks, was far more accomplished at her age.
He looks at his son. The boy's brow is furrowed in concentration as he examines the remaining puzzle pieces. "How's it going?" he asks.
"Good," James says, not looking up. He fingers a wooden piece; they are hand carved and painted. Harry's certain the puzzle cost a small fortune, but it's kept James busy for the better part of an hour so he can't complain.
He rubs at his forehead. Benedict Hunt is in Azkaban awaiting trial. He had no accomplices, and there have been no more Dark Marks. Still, Harry's scar continues to throb. The constant ache has not faded; the skin remains tender and raw.
Hermione has researched extensively. His death should have destroyed the Horcrux as surely as the sword of Gryffindor or Fiendfyre would have. There is no logical explanation for how it could have survived. And yet…
He pushes the thought away. He knows he can't ignore it for much longer, but he doesn't want to think about that now.
Harry presses his fingers under his glasses, rubbing his eyes. It's late. He needs to get the kids ready for bed. Hermione and Ron are at the shore for the weekend, celebrating their anniversary. They won't be back until the following evening. "Kreacher!" he calls.
"Yes Master Harry?" the elf says, appearing atop the table.
"Will you run a bath for James and Rose. It's nearly bedtime."
"Of course. I is doing that for Master Harry," Kreacher responds, nodding his head enthusiastically. "Would you like me to be washing the children?"
"No, that's okay. I'll do it. Thank you."
Kreacher nods again and disappears with a pop.
"Okay, little ones," Harry says. "Let's go upstairs."
James frowns. "But I'm not done."
"We'll finish at breakfast tomorrow. I'll have Kreacher make French toast."
James bites his lip as if considering. "I like syrup," he finally says.
"I know." Harry stands up, propping Rose on his hip, and together they head upstairs to the bath.
"How do I know? How do I know if part of him is still inside of me?" Harry knows he sounds desperate, but he doesn't care. It's been ten years. The thought of Voldemort returning once again is beyond terrifying.
When Snape looks at him, his eyes are dark, face drawn. "The Horcrux, if any part of it remains, is so intrinsically woven into your very being that no spell will reveal it."
Harry swallows. His hands are shaking. "So there's nothing we can do."
Snape is silent for a long time. He stares down into his glass but does not drink. "There is something that might work. But it is difficult and not without risks."
"I'll do anything," Harry says too quickly.
Snape looks at him sharply. "You do not yet know what you're asking of me."
Something twists in Harry's gut. "Dark magic."
"Yes. It is very dark. Riddle used some of the darkest magic known to wizards to create his Horcruxes. It is understandable that only equally dark magic could hope to unveil the remnants of such a spell."
"There's something more, then."
Snape nods. "I believe there is only one way of determining, once and for all, that the Horcrux is truly gone." He reaches out then to run a finger along Harry's cheek.
Harry looks up at him and holds his breath. Snape so rarely touches him that even the slightest brush of skin sends shivers down his spine and makes him all the more apprehensive of what the man is about to say.
"You must allow me," Snape continues finally, "to look into your soul."
"I don't understand."
Snape takes a long sip of whisky before setting his glass down on the tabletop carefully. "Imagine the strongest, most invasive Legilimency possible," he says slowly, "and you have not even begun to fathom what is involved in soul reading. I will see everything."
"All right." Harry is already nodding. It sounds intimidating, surely, but his mind has always been an open book when it comes to Snape. How much more difficult could it be?
"No," Snape says quickly, and Harry thinks he hears fear in his voice. "You don't understand. I will see and feel everything. I will know things you do not even know yourself.
"That's okay. If it's the only way, then it will be all right."
But Snape is shaking his head, and Harry realises that there must be something the man isn't telling him. "You will be completely open to me. Vulnerable and exposed."
"It will be worse than Imperius. You will surrender all control."
"I trust you."
In the flickering candlelight, Snape's skin looks paler than usual. "And do you trust me to relinquish that control once I've seen what I need to see?"
Snape nods, lips pressed into a thin line. "There are other risks to such magic."
"There usually are." Harry forces a smile, but his heart is pounding against his ribs.
"In order to see inside your soul, I must establish a connection between my soul and yours."
Harry nods. That makes sense.
Snape takes a deep breath. His fingers clench at his glass so hard his knuckles are white. "Sometimes, once established, such a connection is difficult if not impossible to break."
Harry swallows; his mouth is very dry. "A soul bond."
Snape's eyes widen. "You will do this, knowing the risks?"
Harry doesn't hesitate. He can't. He has to know. "Yes."
"Are you certain this is the course of action you wish to take?" Hermione's voice is calm, but he hears the undercurrent of fear there.
Harry groans, leaning forward to rest his elbows on the table. They've had this conversation a dozen times. "Yes. We've talked about it. There is no other way."
She chews on her lip, brow knitted in concern. It's just— She pulls the well-worn copy of The Darkest Arts from the stack beside them and flips it open. "Well, it's highly illegal, for one."
Harry laughs, a harsh sound even to his own ears. "Right. And who's going to arrest us? Me? Ron?"
Ron holds his hands up in the air. "Don't bring me into this, mate. You know my thoughts on the matter."
"I'm head of the Dark Arts Detection Force, Hermione. It's my job to track spells like this. The Ministry is not a concern."
"But that's not the half of it, is it?" She slides the book across the table to him. "You're talking about a soul bond, Harry."
Harry presses his fingers to his temples; a headache threatens at the corners of his mind. "James," he says, looking over his shoulder to where the kids are playing on the rug in the den. "Why don't you take Rose outside? I know Uncle Ron found some gnomes out there last week." James stands, smoothing his hands down the front of his jeans.
"Just stay on the porch," Hermione adds. "They like the garden patch with the tomatoes." James nods and takes Rose's hand.
Harry waits for the door to close behind them. "I can't go on like this. You know that. This spell is the only way, and Snape has agreed to cast it. I trust him, and I trust his magic. He can do it Hermione. It will be all right."
"But what if it's not?" Worry bleeds into her voice.
"You and Ron have a soul bond."
Hermione frowns. "Yes. We have a common matrimonial soul bond. That's about the farthest thing from dark magic I can think of and absolutely nothing like what you're attempting with Snape."
"I know," Harry says. "But if all goes according to plan, we won't have a bond at all."
"I'm not so sure about that." Hermione points to the page open in front of them, but Harry does not need to look. He's got the information memorised. "What you're talking about—this spell—I'm not sure it's possible without some sort of repercussion. There is always a balance, Harry. You know that. And with great power comes great sacrifice. I'm not sure you can get what you need out of the spell without giving something in return."
Harry picks at the label on his beer bottle. "I know. But it's a risk I'm willing to take."
Hermione pushes a curl behind her ear. She looks older than her twenty-nine years. Harry can see the lines around her eyes, her mouth. They're all getting old now. "And the spell itself," she says, "it's forbidden for a reason."
"You know as well as I do that most dark magic is only dark because of intent."
"Yes," she agrees. "But think of your intent here. This spell—what you're asking Snape to do—it's akin to rape."
Harry glares. "It's not rape if I consent."
"No. But it's still one-sided. As is the bond itself." Harry goes to interject, but she holds up a hand, cutting him off. "If something goes wrong, the bond will not be mutual. He will have all the power. He will be in control. He could walk away, Harry. But you, if something happens, you will always need him."
He sighs. "I know. And so does he. But I trust him. And there's no other way."
She nods, but her face is sad. Ron stands and grabs two more beers from the fridge. He slides one across the table to Harry.
"And what will you do," Hermione asks after a long moment, "if, Merlin forbid, he finds something? I know we've talked about this, and I think the Horcrux is gone, but what if it's not? What then, Harry?" Her voice goes rather shrill, and Ron reaches out to place his hand over hers. She takes it, lacing their fingers together. When she looks at Harry again, her eyes are wet. "What will you do then? K-kill yourself? Because I don't think we can stand by and let that happen."
Harry sighs and traces a line of condensation down the side of his beer. Of course he's thought about the possible outcomes, but he doesn't like to talk about…after. It makes him feel ill.
"What about James?" she continues. Her voice is choked with tears now. Ron moves behind his wife, wrapping his arms around her shoulders. He scowls at Harry, and Harry looks down.
"He's just a child, Harry!" Hermione tries. "You can't do that to him."
Anger coils with the nausea in his stomach. "And what would you have me do instead?" he practically yells; his voice is too sharp, too loud. "Would it be better for James if his father were the one responsible for bringing Voldemort back?" Harry is shaking. He takes a deep breath trying to calm down, but it's no use. "I will do everything in my power to prevent that monster from ever returning, even if that means..." He can't bring himself to say it, but he looks across the table at his two best friends, and he knows they understand. "I have to."
"Okay," Hermione finally says, wiping her eyes with a napkin. "Have you told Ginny?"
At that, Harry laughs. "Have I told Ginny what? That I'm worried I've been harbouring a piece of Voldemort's soul all this time after all? Or that I'm attempting to invoke a dark arts spell that will most likely end in my being soul-bound to Snape?"
Ron snorts, and the edges of Hermione's mouth curve into just a hint of a smile. "Right," she says standing, "I can see that going over very well. Are you and Jamie staying for dinner? I've got leftover pot roast I can warm."
That night, Harry sits beside James as he falls asleep. The even sounds of his son's breathing are calming, but they do nothing to ease the tension in his spine.
They've caught Hunt. He won't be able to harm anyone else, and, for the time being at least, there will be no more Dark Marks. But the case is only tangential to Harry's worries—one small drop in a lake of much larger concerns.
The ache of Harry's scar, the resurgence of visions, were both triggered by the magic of the Morsmordre. The implications of such a connection are too dire, too potentially devastating, to ignore.
Snape said Voldemort imbued some of himself into the very fabric of the Dark Mark spell. And, if that is true, it would make sense that the casting of the spell would reopen a link to the remaining portion of Voldemort's soul—dormant since his death.
Harry leans back in his chair and rubs his eyes. He's tired, excruciatingly so. But he knows he won't be able to sleep until he knows for sure, until he knows if the Horcrux survived.
Hermione asked if this was the course of action Harry wished to pursue, but, for the life of him, he can't think of another possibility. How could he live with himself knowing he ignored such an unspeakable threat? That he knew what could happen and did nothing?
Yes. The price of the spell is steep, the ramifications formidable, but what of the alternative? Sickness churns in Harry's stomach at the thought. He cannot not do something. For the same reason he walked into the Forbidden Forest to face his death ten years before. For the same reason he came back from King's Cross, why he left the comfort and certainty of that place, to fight a monster. He will go through with the spell.
A bond with Snape is nothing in exchange for a Voldemort-free world.
Harry smoothes a hand across James's forehead. The boy snuffles softly in his sleep and shifts against the pillow.
There are no alternatives; he does not have a choice.
"Now that Benedict Hunt is in Azkaban, where is the urgency?"
Harry traces lines across the bar top with his fingers and does not look at Snape. "The urgency?"
"To perform the spell. It should be a last resort."
"I know," Harry says sharply. "Believe me, I know. But it has to be done."
"Explain to me why." Snape's voice is patient, but it grates on Harry's already frayed nerves. "The threat is gone. There will be no more Marks. Nothing to aggravate your scar."
"Hunt was not the threat. Not really." Harry rubs at his temples. Snape is wary and methodical. Harry understands his caution, yet it irritates him all the same. He's tired of explaining himself, tired of defending his choice. "I have to know. The magic of the Morsmodre did something to me, and if that means the Horcrux is still there, it is not a risk I can take.
Snape frowns, brow furrowed in thought. "There is no logical reason to believe a Horcrux could survive your death. You know this."
"I've done the research."
"And yet nothing else makes sense. I don't believe in coincidence, Snape. Not like this."
Snape sips his whisky; his eyes are dark, troubled.
"I was eleven when my scar hurt for the first time," Harry says slowly. "That same year, Voldemort returned. Not in corporeal form, of course, not yet. But that was the beginning."
Snape exhales. "And our history has a way of repeating itself. Despite all odds."
Harry nods. "I cannot let that happen. I don't have a choice. We have to perform the spell."
Snape is quiet for a long time.
Harry takes a swallow of beer, but it's tasteless in his mouth.
"Have you not considered the Ministry?" Snape finally asks.
"The Ministry won't know. I'm in charge of dark arts detection. They won't find out about the spell."
"That's not what I mean."
"As loath I am to admit it, the Ministry has infinite resources at its disposal," Snape says. "Have you considered speaking to Shacklebolt? There might be another option, an alternative we have not thought of."
But Harry is already shaking his head. "No. We can't."
"Your stubbornness, your desire for martyrdom, is unappealing."
"That has nothing to do with it," Harry snaps. Sometimes Snape reminds him of the man he once despised, and Harry hates that.
"Then tell me why you refuse to consider that there might be another way."
Harry smears a line down the side of his glass, tracing the condensation there. "Kingsley knows of the Horcruxes, but even after the war, they were never common knowledge."
"I am aware," Snape says. "But even so, there must be others who know of the magic, others who would be worth consulting."
"No. The Unspeakables, surely, do work in soul magic, but even they are ignorant of my particular…situation."
"I did not realise you were able to keep the information so well hidden."
"Aside from you and Dumbledore, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny, no one knew. After the war, we explained what had happened, what Voldemort had done to Arthur Weasley and to Kingsley, but that's all. Privacy was essential."
"Your safety," Snape surmises.
"Among other things. But the Horcruxes were certainly not something we wanted to become public knowledge. Add to that the fact that their hero was one… Well, you can understand the concern."
"Of course," Snape says. "No one could know."
"They still can't," Harry says, finishing his beer. "There's too much at stake."
Snape downs the rest of his whisky. Harry watches as he turns the empty glass around between his palms. "And you truly believe that the Horcrux may have survived, that Voldemort could return?" Snape so rarely demonstrates emotion, and he never reveals apprehension or weakness. Yet there is an undercurrent of fear in his voice that chills Harry's blood.
Snape runs a hand through his hair. It's an uncharacteristically disconcerted gesture. "This bond…I cannot…I would never voluntarily submit you to such a thing."
"It's not like we have much of a choice," Harry says quickly.
Snape's glare is venomous. "We always have a choice."
"Right," Harry responds, chastised, "but there's a chance the spell won't result in a bond anyway."
Snape's expression reveals exactly how unlikely he believes that outcome to be. "Mr. Potter," he says, voice cool, "you cannot enter into this with your eyes closed. You must understand the risks."
Snape's expression is grave. "I am not sure you do." He takes a deep breath, presses his thumb and forefinger to the bridge of his nose. "The spell could bond you to me irrevocably. The attachment will most likely feel unnatural, yet you will not be able to ignore it."
Harry nods. He knows this, and though it's not something he likes to think about, it seems a relatively small price to pay in the grand scheme of things.
"It will feel like a compulsion." Snape spits the word out as thought it's physically painful. He sounds ill. "The magic is dark. It is designed to establish control, to expose one witch or wizard to another. It will not be mutual."
Snape hangs his head, dark hair falling forward into his face. When he looks at Harry again, his expression is bleak. "Then how can you agree to go through with this?"
"I trust you."
Apparently, that's not the right thing to say. Snape's eyes flash dangerously. "Enough that you would bind yourself to me in a relationship where you will never be equal?" His voice is harsh; it is grating and cruel.
Harry's breath catches, sickly and warm in his throat.
"I will not need you," Snape continues. "I could ignore you. I could walk away. You would be miserable, and I would feel nothing."
"I can't believe you would do that." The tremor in Harry's voice belies his confidence. Snape's comments gnaw at his insides, thin roots digging deeper and deeper into his skin, twisting like briars, sharp like thorns.
Harry looks at Snape for a long moment, but the man's face is a mask, emotionless and blank. "Are you repulsed by the idea of being bound to me?"
"The very nature of the bond repulses me."
"Of course," Harry says, "but that's not what I asked. Are you repulsed by the idea of being bound to me?"
"I…no." Snape sounds positively wrecked, but there is something in his voice that sounds like acceptance, and that's all Harry needs.
"All right, then."
Harry has only been to Spinner's End a handful of times, yet the memory of each visit is firmly etched in his mind. Nothing has changed at the old house.
The same worn sofa sits on the threadbare rug in the small sitting room. The same wingback chairs flank the hearth. The same bookshelves line the walls. Warm light filters through the leaded-pane glass of the windows. Dust motes hang in the air. Harry suddenly finds it difficult to breathe.
But Snape is there with a reassuring hand on the small of Harry's back. "Are you sure?" he asks simply.
The potion tastes vile and makes Harry feel rather drunk. He hopes Snape's doesn't do the same. The magic he must perform to complete the spell requires great power, precision, and focus. After a moment, though, Harry's senses are too clouded for him to be concerned.
Snape guides him to the shabby sofa, and Harry lies down. The cushion smells faintly of cigarette smoke, cloves, and bergamot. He turns his head, breathing deeply. "Smells nice," he says. "Smells like you."
Snape laughs, a short burst of soft sound. "That's just the potion. It alters your perceptions, allows your mind to open to me."
Harry shrugs. "I still like it."
Snape takes off his robe, folding it neatly over the back of the chair. Then he kneels down in front of Harry. "Harry, listen to me carefully. The spell will feel...invasive. I must go places I am not meant to be. And your body, your mind, your very soul will want to resist. You must not let that happen. You must let me in, even though it might feel as though you're losing something, as though you're giving something to me that you can never get back."
"I don't mind, you know," Harry says truthfully. "You can take whatever you need."
Snape starts to say something else but stops and sighs. "All right, then. I will be as quick as possible. Ignore your instincts and let the spell work."
Harry nods, feeling strangely content. He wonders if that's the potion or simply his trust in Snape.
Snape draws his wand and Harry holds his breath, waiting. But Snape stops and lowers his wand again. "If, at the end, I am...unable to let go, you must promise me to fight."
Harry nods because he knows it's the right response, though he's not terribly sure how he could fight anything right now.
"You must promise me," Snape continues, voice firm, "to put every ounce of your energy, every bit of your magic into an Occlumency shield if I need you to do so."
"Okay," Harry says. And then, "I trust you."
Snape raises his wand.
"I can hear your heartbeat," Harry whispers. It's strange; he can't quite tell where he ends and Snape begins, but he thinks he sees the man smile sadly.
The sensation is not dissimilar to falling under water.
Harry feels the press of the spell, and at first it's welcome, soothing, to have Snape's magic wash over him in wave after wave of familiar roil and crest.
The man's magic is always dark, but it's even darker now, tinged by the very nature of the spell.
Then the memories start.
They're innocuous at first. Nothing Snape hasn't seen before. A single light bulb in a cupboard above a cot. Harry playing with broken toy army men and talking to himself. A conversation with a snake behind the glass at the zoo. The look on Dudley's face. Aunt Petunia's screams. Ron's laughter on the train. The enchanted sky in the Great Hall. Snape's stare making his scar hurt.
The pressure changes then. Harry can feel the inhale, exhale of Snape's breath. He can taste the metallic bite of his magic on his tongue.
Snape presses deeper. The intensity of the spell tightens, then expands. Harry feels it in the lining of his lungs, the pulse of blood in his veins.
Snape focuses on his scar, unravelling layer upon layer of memory there. It's painful, and Harry feels his thoughts begin to close in on themselves. But Snape is there with a hand on his forehead, and Harry relaxes again against the invasive, prying influx of power washing over him.
The spell tunnels deeper and deeper still, Snape guiding it with the cutting precision of a blade. Harry feels himself coming unspooled as threads of thought bleed out of every crevasse, leaving vacant pools behind where substance used to be.
A child hissing at a snake in a language he shouldn't know. Whispers in the dark behind ancient stone walls. A chamber buried deep beneath a school. A diary sensing kinship with a locket, a ring, a piece of a boy's soul.
Pain slices deep, and Harry cries out as magic scrapes at the inside of his skull. Voldemort rising again from blood and flesh and bone.
The visions that spill across his vision are crystal clear yet rocked by vertigo. Harry sees Snape in the spaces in between his mind and a monster's. The shadow of the curse crosses his line of sight, indecipherable, then barbaric, then hidden once again. And Snape is there – lucid and inescapable – a brush against his skin and then, suddenly, his soul.
Voldemort inside his body and inside his mind on the floor of the Ministry foyer. The throb of a Horcrux behind his scar as Dumbledore unravels enchantments surrounding a lake, deep inside a cave.
The memories give way to feelings, give way to sensation and impressions that rise from places far below the contours of his mind. And Snape is there, touching against places that are far too private, far too intimate, but there's nothing he can do.
Souls are colourful. All texture in blue and bursts of green. Yellows stem to silver where the sparks of the spell fizzle, bleed, and run.
Harry can feel Snape more acutely now. It's more intense, more all-encompassing than anything he's felt before. And he thinks, perhaps, he could get lost in the swell of it, could let it simply overwhelm.
He hears Snape's voice at the core of him, muted and lovely against the pinks and golds and rosy sheens.
"Harry, now, please. It's time to fight."
He wonders what the man could mean. He wants nothing more than to be lulled to sleep amid the soothing wash of magic, the gentle thrum of power and spell. But Snape's voice is urgent now, an insistent prick against the calming energy surrounding him.
"Harry! Your Occlumency."
Harry thinks it might be best to listen, if only to make the voice go away. He focuses his power and his magic and pushes out.
Everything goes black.
When Harry wakes up, Snape is sitting beside the couch in his battered wingback chair. He's holding a cool cloth to Harry's forehead. It's soothing.
Harry tries to sit up, but the room lurches unpleasantly.
"No. Stay still. The spell drained you, magically and physically."
Harry nods and lies back against the cushion. Snape says nothing else, but he doesn't move from his side.
"What did you find?" Harry asks after a moment, remembering. His mouth is dry, throat scratchy and sore as though he's been screaming for hours. He may well have been.
Snape's expression is dark, unreadable. "Magic leaves impressions," he says slowly. "Footprints. You know this. You are adept at detecting the remnants of spells. You sense spell residue in the air, what is left behind once the magic is done."
"Yes." Harry's eyes feel heavy, but he forces himself to keep looking at Snape. The man looks tired, his face ashen and lined.
"Powerful magic always leaves its mark, be it on the recipient or on the caster itself."
"Of course," Harry says, carefully, not wanting to hope.
"I think you'll always be able to sense a trace of the spell that was left behind."
Snape nods. "Yes."
"So the Horcrux is gone? For good?"
"Yes." Snape smiles then, soft and warm. "Your soul is your own. Voldemort is truly gone."
The words wash over him like sunshine. He exhales, feeling the tension uncoil from his body and mind.
"I think I'll go make some tea," Snape says, standing.
"All right." Harry closes his eyes again. He thinks he could easily sleep for a week.
He hears Snape walk to the kitchen and turn on the tap. Harry turns, curling into the cushions of the sofa, but something twinges, sharp and unsettling. He jerks upright, panic rushing over him. The kettle whistles. Snape rummages in the cupboard, finds two mismatched teacups.
Harry takes a deep breath.
The tea is Earl Gray. The same blend Snape's mum preferred. The smell never fails to dredge up memories.
Snape returns to the sitting room and hands Harry a cup of tea. The chipped porcelain is warm against his palms. The panic he felt subsides now that Snape is seated in the chair beside him again. He sips his tea and tries to calm the pounding of his heart.
"I can still feel you," he says after a long moment.
Harry returns to work the following week. Things are slow. He will give expert testimony when Benedict Hunt is brought to trial, but that could take months. He flips through the open case file on his desk without really reading. The ache from his scar has subsided some, now that the magic from the Morsmodre is gone, but the pain that lingers is enough to distract him.
And he can't stop thinking of Snape.
That ache is also dull. It's muted and pale, and sometimes Harry can almost ignore it. Still, the undercurrents are always with him, and Snape thinks they might always be.
Ron knocks on his door. Harry looks up, startled. He doesn't know how long he's been staring down at his desk.
"No. Not today," Harry says, glancing at his watch. "I've got plans."
"Snape?" Ron asks, frowning slightly.
"It hasn't gotten any better, then? The feeling hasn't faded?"
Harry shrugs, reaching for his robe. "No."
Ron's still frowning when Harry steps past him. "And there's nothing you can do?"
Harry stops. "It's a bond, Ron. Not one we can break. And you know it's a lot better than it could have been."
"I know." Ron sighs, scuffing the toe of his shoe against the floor. "It's just strange you're okay with it, is all."
"Would you rather I be miserable?" He takes a calming breath; he knows Ron doesn't mean it. Not the way it sounds, anyway.
"No. No, course not. It's just—"
"It's just what?" He can't help the frustration in his voice.
"It's just that it's Snape," Ron answers after a moment.
"Right," Harry says. "It's Snape. And I think it's time you got used to it."
The Hog's Head is crowded, but Snape is sitting at their usual spot at the bar, a cider waiting for Harry. He takes it with a smile. "Thanks."
Snape nods, and they sit in silence for a while, Harry soaking up the comfort and pleasure of Snape's presence. It's soothing, intoxicating, in a way Harry is not used to, but he's sure he'll never get enough.
"How were you today?" Snape finally asks, and though the question is kind, his voice is clinical. Harry knows he's asking as a scientist, not a partner or even a friend.
"Fine. I'm fine." He hears the lack of conviction in his response and knows Snape isn't fooled.
Snape puts a hand on Harry's shoulder, and Harry leans into his touch before he can help himself. Snape sighs and pulls his hand away. "Perhaps it's best if we don't see each other for a while."
Coldness spreads through Harry's gut, sickening and terrifying. It feels like panic; it feels like loss. "No, I, please—" His voice is choked and desperate, but he can't. Snape can't.
"I think it's the only way. The bond is weak. We are lucky in that regard, but I worry we are only encouraging it." Snape drains his glass and reaches into his robes for some Galleons.
"Please," Harry says again. He puts a hand on Snape's arm, feels him tense under his touch. "Don't go."
Snape's eyes search Harry's face. "You don't want this."
"No. I do," he answers far too quickly. "I wanted you before. We were going to try, remember?" Harry hates the pleading edge to his voice, but Snape has to understand. He's not sure what will happen if he walks away. "We were going to try."
"Yes," Snape says after a moment, "but not like this."
"I don't understand why it matters." Harry wraps his arms around his chest. He's shaking now, and he feels like something precious is about to slip away.
"Because this…attachment you feel is not natural."
"That doesn't make it any less real."
"No," Snape says slowly. "But if we could break the bond…"
"I don't want to." Harry's voice is adamant, and Snape frowns, forehead creasing in confusion.
"Why in Merlin's name not?"
"Because I want to be with you. You know that. Why does it matter if we're also joined in this way?"
"It was a dark spell, Harry. The bond is the result of dark magic."
"Dark magic with good intent," Harry insists. "Dark magic that doesn't feel dark at all." Harry can't explain the feeling. Rationally, he knows Snape is right, but this need, this connection, is terrifying. It sears hot paths around his ribs to lick at his lungs like flame.
"Perhaps not," Snape says. "But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to dissolve it if we can."
"Is that really what you want?" Harry feels something breaking deep inside his chest.
"I think it would be best."
The words run like blood over Harry's skin, cloying and excruciating and almost too much to bear. He wonders if it will always feel this way—like everything he's ever needed has fallen apart, has unravelled into pale threads. He sucks in a ragged breath, lungs aching as they expand, and he rubs a hand across his face.
Snape's stare is devastating. "I don't understand," he finally says.
"I don't either," Harry admits, and his voice is worn. "But I know I can't let you walk away."
Snape's mind presses against Harry's thoughts for just a moment, but he doesn't say anything.
"Do you honestly feel our separation will weaken the bond enough for us to break it?"
"I don't know."
"You said the bond, once invoked, was irreversible."
"Yes," Snape admits slowly, "but the connection is tenuous now. It has not settled."
"But can it be broken?"
Snape's skin is paler than usual. Dark circles purple his eyes; he looks undeniably devastated. It's gut wrenching. He shakes his head. "In all likelihood, no."
"Then you would do what you promised not to? You would walk away?" Harry is pleased that his voice does not shake. Still, his chest aches; his entire body feels like it's been lit with fire. The air around them is intense and heavy.
"You do not deserve this."
"No," Harry says honestly. "Probably not. But I did not deserve to be targeted by a madman when I was just a baby either. This path, at least, I accepted willingly."
"I do not deserve this," Snape says softly. "I do not deserve you."
"We deserve to be happy," Harry says. "And I think we might have a chance together."
"This is what you truly want, then?" Snape asks. He sounds tired and resigned, but there is something else there that Harry cannot place.
Snape purses his lips, eyes on Harry's face. "So what happens now?"
Harry's heart flutters in his throat. "Can I come home with you? To Hogwarts—just for the night?"
"James is with Gin this week."
Snape nods. "All right."
Snape makes tea. They sit silently, awkwardly on the couch, close but not quite touching.
Harry sloshes tea over the brim of his cup. He shakes it off his fingers then sets the cup down on the coffee table. He takes Snape's from his hand and places it beside his.
This time when they kiss, it is cautious and hesitant, controlled. Harry's fingers twist in Snape's hair; Snape's hand curls around his neck, and when he pulls away, Harry is breathless and so hard he thinks he might combust.
"Oh…oh God," he breathes, hand sliding down Snape's chest. "Does it feel like that for you?"
"No," Snape says, "but I know how it feels to you."
Harry finds himself on his back, his head pressed against the arm of the sofa. Snape shifts over him, frames his face in his hands. His mouth is inches from Harry's.
"Is this what you want?" The man's voice is too rough, too low, as he looks down at him.
The kiss is awkward. Their teeth knock. Snape's hip digs painfully into Harry's side. But he can't get enough of the soft press of the Snape's lips against his. When Snape slides his mouth along Harry's jaw to lick behind his ear, Harry moans and clutches at his back, fingernails scrabbling at the smooth surface of Snape's shirt.
Snape's breath puffs against Harry's cheek, not overly fast but eager… wanting. Wanting him. Harry's body is tense, wire-taut, as he arches up, cranes his neck, presses himself against Snape.
They pull apart gasping. Snape's bottom lip is damp and pink; Harry wants to drag his tongue across it. But Snape is groaning, shifting, pulling Harry on top of him.
Then Snape's hands are between them, tugging at Harry's trousers. "Gods, yeah… Please… Touch me."
Harry shudders and almost comes the moment Snape's fingers curl around him. It's too much and not nearly enough. "Want to feel you too," he hisses, dragging his teeth along Snape's neck, thrusting through the loop of his fingers.
Then Snape's cock is out, against his.
"Say you want this," Snape gasps against Harry's throat.
"Yes…" Harry's hips are moving with Snape's hand. "Do it. Make me come." Harry looks down, watching Snape stroke them together. Then he cries out, tensing.
Snape's hand is sticky-wet as he shudders beneath him.
It takes a long time for Harry to catch his breath. He sits up, shifting off of Snape, smearing their cooling come across his stomach, onto his shirt. His cock hangs limp and sensitive against the placket of his trousers, but when he goes to tuck himself back in, Snape catches his hand.
"No. Leave it."
The roughness of the man's voice sends shivers down Harry's spine.
"I am," Snape says, eyes falling to Harry's lap before looking at his face once more, "not used to these things."
"That makes two of us," Harry says, "but I think I'd like you to take me to bed now."
The fire burns low in the grate, casting a warm, low light over the room. Snape's bed is unmade, cream sheets tousled and inviting. Harry takes a deep breath, but he can't slow the racing of his heart. He knows Snape can feel it; it's strange what the man can sense now through the bond.
Harry unbuttons his shirt, shrugs it off his shoulders, then bends to pull off his shoes. Snape is watching him, eyes dark in the flickering light.
"I am not..." Snape stops, looking down at his hands. His fingers pause at his top button. "I am older now. The years have not been kind."
Harry laughs. "And I have more scars than you. Remember? We counted once. And I've added a few since then."
Snape nods but does not move. Harry pushes his trousers down, kicks them aside. The he steps in front of Snape. His fingers tremble but he manages to undo the man's buttons, leans forward to press a kiss to the pale skin of his sternum. He thinks he feels Snape shiver slightly under his touch.
Snape sits to unlace his boots, movements precise, methodical. Harry watches his hands, graceful and elegant. Snape stands again, looking unsure, before turning his back to Harry to take off his slacks. He folds them carefully and hangs them in the wardrobe. Harry takes that moment to climb in bed, pulling the sheets up to his waist.
Snape's breath catches when he turns back around, finds Harry in his bed. "Do you mind the light," he asks, motioning to the fire.
"Good. I'd like to look at you."
Harry smiles at that, holding out his arms, and Snape joins him, pushing the covers back to slide beside Harry. His body is warm against his. "I've wanted this for a while now," Harry says, when Snape says nothing else.
"I…I know." Snape's stare is scrutinising, and Harry tries not to blush. The feeling is both foreign and oddly familiar. His mind replays, in bits and flashes, scenes from years before – himself on the bed, naked and perfectly at home.
It's odd, to be together like this for the first time in over ten years. Yet, it feels perfectly natural, and more right than anything Harry has felt in a very long time.
He loved Ginny. And he remembers the first time she let him fuck her, frantic and desperate in his bedroom at Grimmauld place. It felt filthy and unimaginable and positively blinding, but it was nothing. Nothing compared to how this feels now with Snape beside him, hand on his shoulder, pressing him back against the pillows.
Snape is looking at him, and Harry knows he's still all angles and limbs. But twenty-eight is better than eighteen, and he's grown since then, lost the traces of boyishness that he knows he used to have. He shudders and breathes; just Snape's gaze is making him hard again. "Please fuck me now," he whispers, mouth to Snape's cheek.
Snape rolls to the side to rummage in the bedside cabinet; even the sight of the vial of lubricant in his hand is enough to make Harry's stomach tighten.
"I need you."
"I know. Let me get you ready."
Harry parts his legs as Snape slips a hand between. The first finger slides in easily enough, and Snape groans as Harry cants his hips, throws his head back. The pleasure is sharp and bright like stars across his vision.
Snape nods, pressing a second finger in. "Fuck, you're tight."
Harry shifts a bit, adjusting to the pressure. "It's been a while, it might be…"
But Snape only inhales a shaky breath and kisses him, mouth open and slick.
When Snape slips a third finger in, Harry worries he might come again before they've even begun. But he moves his hips in one slow circle, exhales, and tugs at Snape's wrist. "Okay," his voice is shaky. "I'm ready. You have to fuck me. Not just with your fingers. I need to remember how it feels."
"Yes, yes," Snape says, slicking his cock, positioning himself between Harry's legs and pressing in.
"Oh…" Harry parts his legs, lifts his hips, forces Snape to sink deeper. Snape gasps and closes his eyes, fingers tightening in the sheets beside Harry's head. Harry's thighs are already trembling, his stomach muscles clenching, and he must bite his lip against the wash of pleasure that's threatening to overwhelm. It's all he can do to hold his breath and not come all over himself before Snape has thrust in a second, a third time.
But Snape shudders, and Harry clenches around him; he feels Snape's pulse against him, inside him, and he arches his back, cries out when Snape's hips snap against his.
"I can't…oh, Gods, I can't." Harry flings out an arm, shoulders pressing into the mattress, and lifts his hips again to meet Snape's thrusts.
"Come for me," Snape breathes against his neck, and he reaches between them to wrap his hand around Harry's cock.
"I'm…fuck…I'm going to—"
Snape cuts him off with a kiss, as Harry comes in a hot splash between them. Then, stomach slick with come, Snape thrusts his hips once more and shudders on top of him, pulsing into the tightness of Harry's body.
Afterward, they lie curled together, his head on Snape's chest, Snape's fingers drawing circles on his hip. Harry can feel the bond, pulsing between them stronger now. He knows Snape can feel it too, and he worries that Snape will regret what they've done. But the man only sighs and takes Harry's hand in his, lacing their fingers together. Then he kisses Harry on the temple, closes his eyes, and falls asleep.
Harry listens to the steady sound of his breathing, the thump of his heart, for a long time.
James holds tightly to Harry's hand as they make their way through the sea of white-and-red-checked tablecloths at Vincent's.
Snape is waiting at a table near the back. James clutches Harry's hand even tighter.
"James," Harry says, "this is Professor Snape. Remember? I told you he was my Potions teacher when I was a boy, and now he's my friend." James nods but does not let go of his hand. Harry pulls out the chair opposite Snape. "Why don't you sit here?"
James is apprehensive but well behaved, and he sits, feet swinging against the rungs of the chair. He's in his second-best robes—the ones Hermione bought him for Christmas with the Gryffindor red piping trim and the lion embroidered by the collar.
"It's nice to meet you," Snape says. "Your father has told me many things about you."
James nods, eyes wide.
"Is this all right?" Snape asks, looking at Harry. "I thought the menu would be suitable for the child."
"Yeah," Harry says. "It's great. I haven't been here in years."
Snape orders a bottle of wine—something with a fancy Italian name that Harry doesn't recognise—and they sit and sip their drinks while James colours in the colouring book Harry brought.
When the waiter returns, Snape selects the fish. Harry chooses lasagne and orders the spaghetti for James.
"Do you like brooms?" James asks suddenly, once their food has arrived.
Snape cuts a bite of fish, knife scraping against his plate. "I do. Not nearly as much as your father, though."
"Oh," James says, mouth full of pasta. "Do you fly?"
James nods, twirling his fork in his spaghetti. Sauce splatters on the tablecloth. "I'm getting a broom."
"Are you now?" Snape asks, taking a sip of wine.
"Not till you're six, though," Harry reminds him.
James frowns then, shrugs. "Well, I'm almost five now. We could fly together."
"Maybe," Snape says, and Harry nearly laughs at the hesitation in his voice. "Do you like potions?" he asks, twisting the stem of his wineglass between his fingers.
"Not like brooms or flying or Quidditch," James says.
"Naturally. Have you ever made one?"
"No," James says, another bite of spaghetti suspended on his fork. "Papa says that's what Aunt Hermione's for."
Snape laughs, raising an eyebrow at Harry.
"Traitor," Harry says, ruffling his son's hair.
James just smiles, slurping his pasta.
"Perhaps," Snape says, setting his knife and fork down and leaning back in his chair, "we could make one together sometime."
James bites his lip, considering. "Is it messy?"
"It can be."
They leave the restaurant together. The night is clear and bright; the moon is almost full. James yawns and scuffs his shoes against the gravel walk. It's getting late; Harry knows he's tired. "I, er, thank you for dinner," he says, suddenly feeling awkward and unsure.
"My pleasure," Snape says, eyes on Harry's mouth.
Harry wants to kiss him but isn't sure that would be appropriate. Instead he reaches out, takes Snape's hand and squeezes it briefly.
"Are you coming with us?" James asks then, staring up and Harry and Snape. "Tomorrow's Sunday. Papa makes pancakes on Sunday." He lowers his voice conspiratorially: "They're better than Kreacher's."
"I…" Snape looks at Harry, and Harry feels his cheeks warm slightly.
"If you want. You don't have to, of course, but there are pancakes."
"In that case," Snape says with a smile, "I'd like that very much."
Harry bends to pick James up then he takes Snape's arm in his. Together, they Apparate to Grimmauld Place.