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ONE

When Harry first heard about the accident, his first reaction was to assume that it was his fault. His second reaction was to cringe inwardly at his first reaction, because all roads did not lead to Harry Potter, though he couldn’t be blamed for such thoughts when his informant was a very worried Gryffindor Prefect.

“Headmaster Dumbledore’s called you and Professor Sinistra to the infirmary to look-over Professor Snape’s condition, sir,” Prefect Frampton told him.

“I thought you said no one got hurt,” Harry said.

“That’s what I was told,” Frampton replied with a shrug.

To be honest, from Harry’s new vantage point on the other side of the staff table, accidents didn’t happen nearly as often in Hogwarts as one would expect from a lethal combination of hormones and magic. Still, most of the time it was the students who bore the brunt of the mishaps; they knew better than to involve the teachers. Whoever dared involve Snape was downright suicidal.

“It happened during third-year Gryffindor-Ravenclaw Potions,” Frampton told him. “Whitaker is in the Headmaster’s office right now and Professor McGonagall’s arguing his case, but don’t mind me saying sir, it’s not even his fault. Belper and Cardullo were having a disagreement that got out of hand and… Whitaker just happened to be there.”

The eye of Harry’s mind jumped back a few hours to breakfast, recalling in vivid detail the sight of young Whitaker – a skinny boy with perpetually-wide blue eyes – choking with terror as his grandmother’s Howler greeted him over his spilled sausages.

“Ah,” Harry said, nodding. “Short on his nerves, overreacted, instant potions accident?”

“I believe so, sir,” Frampton said. “And Professor Snape’s beyond livid. Erm, as I’ve been told. Sir.”

Harry didn’t doubt that for one minute, so when actually arrived at the infirmary he was taken aback by Pomfrey’s whisper of, “He hasn’t said a word since he got here. If it weren’t Snape, I’d say he’s in shock.”

Harry didn’t have enough time to digest that piece of information as he was quickly ushered to the slightly more private corner of the infirmary reserved for staff and visitors. Behind the curtain, sitting on the edge of a pristinely starched bed, was Snape.

Or someone who looked like Snape.

The head shifted slightly and the eyelids opened to stab him with a familiar glare. Definitely Snape, then.

“Not a word, Potter,” was Snape’s greeting.

As magical accidents went it was pretty harmless. Snape was still the right shape and had all the right limbs. It was certainly not bad enough to merit the way that Snape’s upper lip curled as he no doubt contemplated the deaths of two Ravenclaws and one Gryffindor. Harry decided to tell him so.

“Shut up, Potter,” Snape replied.

Sinistra took that moment to make her entrance, and Harry watched as her facial expression of concern turned into one of surprised relief.

“Oh, is that all,” she said. “Was your class working on glamour potions?”

“No, it wasn’t,” Snape snarled. “That’s the problem.”

Harry still did not see the problem, if it could be considered a problem at all, even during the later emergency staff meeting that Dumbledore called to order in his office. Harry and Sinistra had obliged in helping Snape reach the office while avoiding all students from seeing him in his ‘condition’ (as he’d called it). You’d think the man had grown a second head or something, from the way he’d wrapped Pomfrey’s sheets around his person and shuffled to the Headmaster’s office, muttering inaudibly all the way.

But once he was within the confines of Dumbledore’s office with none but staff members present, he was back to being Snape again, handling it with his own Snapeish way by debating the merit of eternal detention for the three students responsible for his condition. But Dumbledore was not Headmaster without good reason, and easily detoured the topic to another point of consideration.

“Don’t be daft,” Snape said, then added, “Headmaster.”

“Barring the circumstances that lead to this, surely even you must see the magical advancements to be made,” Dumbledore said. “Although glamour magic does have its advantages, you said yourself that what your class had been handling today had nothing to do with glamour.”

“Certainly not, we were making hide-dissolving potions for the treatment of dragon scales,” Snape said. “Nothing whatsoever to do with glamour.”

“Indeed,” Dumbledore said, “Yet somewhere along the way you discovered this. About twenty years off the clock, perhaps? What do you think, Minerva?”

“Definitely,” McGonagall agreed. “Post-graduation, pre-apprenticeship I’d wager.”

Something went ping in the senior staff’s heads.

“Oh my,” Flitwick murmured. “Twenty years, y’say?”

Harry, being the only one present barely past the twenty-year mark, could not appreciate the sentiment. What did the loss of twenty years really mean, anyway? The only thing really different about Snape was the way his collar hung looser around his neck. The pinched lines of the face were gone too, but it was hard to make out all the exact details, for Snape looked like he would bite the head off anyone who tried.

“Do you have any idea what might’ve happened to cause this?” Dumbledore asked.

Snape chose not to acknowledge the headmaster’s question, and at the back of the room there were whispers.

“It is our responsibility,” Dumbledore was talking to everyone now, “To document and attempt to duplicate such a unique discovery. The best moments of pure genius tend to happen by accident, and we cannot let such a venture be forgotten as just another daily mishap.”

“Not when I’m the guinea pig, no!” Snape snarled. “Don’t tell me we’re going to promote such juvenile idiocy now?”

Somewhere behind him, Flitwick was murmuring, “Twenty years,” and stroking his beard thoughtfully.

Dumbledore sighed. “I’m surprised at you, Severus. I’d though you jump at the chance of developing a new discovery.”

“I suppose I wasn’t planning on doing anything after classes anyway,” Snape muttered dryly. “And what about my classes?”

“What about them?” Dumbledore asked, peering over the rim of his spectacles. “According to Pomfrey you are in perfect health, and you are clearly functioning normally, so unless something else pops up, classes should go on as usual... Unless you believe there’s a reason they should not.”

Snape’s expression was like steel. “No, there’s no reason I can think of.”

“That’s settled then. Perhaps you should form a research team to help with this,” Dumbledore suggested.

“Out of the question,” Snape said. “I don’t need more fools puttering around my dungeons and causing another accident, thank you very much.”

“You’re talking about your own colleagues, Severus,” McGonagall said sharply.

“Your point being?” Snape made an irritated but resigned noise. “It will be faster if I can work on my own.”

“Oh, and do try to find out whether it’s permanent,” Flitwick suggested.

Snape’s shudder was barely visible, but Harry saw it anyway. Maybe Snape was concerned about other long-term messing about with the body’s natural clock. Harry was trying to figure out how to wrap his mind around that when he was suddenly aware of Dumbledore’s blue eyes looking straight at him. “Sorry, what was that?”

“I asked whether you’d like to supervise the trio’s detention sessions,” Dumbledore asked. “High time you had a go at it.”

“Potter, supervising detentions, hah,” Snape muttered, retreating into the protective cocoon of Pomfrey’s sheets. “Probably give them all a pat on the head.”

“I think that would be just fine,” Harry said. “My classroom does need a little cleaning up. How long will they be in for?”

“Three weeks should suffice.”

“Hah,” said Snape, though he didn’t argue the statement. Harry made a mental note to talk to Whitaker about the affair, since the kid could probably use some advice from someone else who’d wandered on to Snape’s bad side due to unfortunate luck.

Harry got his chance before breakfast the next morning when he briefed the three students on their detention schedule outside the Great Hall. Upon summoning them, Harry was surprised to see that Whitaker, who’d been a nervous wreck the night before, now had a slight spring in his step and a jut to his chin. The two Ravenclaws on the other hand, slumped forward and kept their eyes on the floor. It took a moment for Harry to realise that the innate natures of their Houses were the reason for this: Whitaker had probably been patted and applauded the whole night long, while the Ravenclaws torn apart for bringing their House down the points tally. Just to prove right this line of thought, a fifth-year Gryffindor strolled by at that moment and gave a silent thumbs-up at Whitaker.

Harry had to stop himself from rolling his eyes. “All right, you know why you’re here,” he said. “An accident involving a teacher is no small matter, and I’d rather expected more from you.”

Whitaker’s face fell; he’d probably expected praise from a former Gryffindor. Harry felt a pang of pity, but went on with, “There’ll be detention every odd night of the week for the next three weeks. Bring reading material or your homework, though I can’t promise you’ll be able to focus on either. I expect you lot to be outside my classroom at 8 sharp, understood?”

The trio mumbled their acknowledgements. Two turned to leave, but Cardullo, one of the Ravenclaws, did not follow. “Sir?”

“Yes?” Harry asked.

“Is… Is Professor Snape all right, sir?” Cardullo asked, and Harry realised that the fear in her eyes was for more than just her own hide. “No one’s told us what happened to him, or if he’s okay.”

“He’s not in the infirmary, if that’s what you’re asking,” Harry said. “And his classes will go on as scheduled.”

Cardullo exhaled softly, and then nodded. “Thank you, sir.”

Harry gave her a sympathetic smile, and then followed her into the Great Hall, his eyes jumping up automatically to the teacher’s table. Snape was not there, though Harry hadn’t really expected him to be. He was probably still in the dungeon licking his wounds, or perhaps devising some new way to torture the munchkins so they’d be sure that nothing had changed despite his reduced (so to speak) appearance.

As Harry sunk into his chair and tossed g’mornings to the rest of the staff, he found a smirk playing on his lips. Munchkins, indeed. It’d be a few more years before Harry would forget what it was like to be a munchkin himself, but right now he had fond nostalgia buffering him from the not-so-slight itch of jealousy that most of the young’ins would never know the shadow of Voldemort hanging over their every move.

“I’m rather disappointed—” Vector said, leaning over to his elbow and cutting through his thoughts, “—that Snape’s not joinin’ us for breakfast. I’dve liked to see him in a little sunlight, didn’t get too clear a look at last night’s meetin’.”

Harry did smile right then, though it was aimed at the toast he was buttering. “I doubt he’d want to be gawked at, Septima.”

“Gawked at?” Vector repeated, sounding offended at the word. “No, certainly not, he’s no specimen in a jar. I knew him back in the day, you see. Naturally, he was a few years my junior, though it was ages before I saw him again, and when I took Dumbledore’s offer to teach he’d already sent up camp in the Potions department. I just thought that since I have the clearest memory of what Snape looked like as a youth, I’d be best be, um…” Did Vector just giggle?

Harry blinked, and focused on chewing his toast.

The morning’s double session with seventh-year Ravenclaws and Slytherins went as smoothly as could be expected, with only two casualties and more points gained than lost for the lot. Harry spent about ten minutes carefully going through the consequences of the class’ mistakes, which all in all was a far less duration than what had been needed for the Gryffindor-Hufflepuff class, so that was some consolation.

When the class was over, the students milled out in usual disorderly fashion while Harry sorted the submitted essays on his desk, clucking his teeth every so often at the spelling mistakes that taunted him from the parchments.

Student voices wafted over from the corridor.

“…and then Snape threw the cauldron at her!”

“I don’t believe you, what would they…”

The voices blurred over into each other, and Harry could hardly have picked out to whom it belonged to and thus could not order the accuser into his classroom to clarify the accusation. His curiosity was tugged, but Harry stayed where he was and trotted obediently through a session with a lethal fourth-year Gryffindor-Slytherin combo.

But after that it was lunch, and Harry was off to the Great Hall for the day’s report – the kind perpetuated by Hogwarts’ apparent hive mind and natural osmosis of the latest school news. Lightning lips had ensured that none were in the dark over Snape’s new condition, and Harry was not at all surprised to learn from a disgruntled McGonagall that Snape had made a Gryffindor girl cry.

“Probably checking to make sure he’s still got it,” Harry said, and that got a few titters from other members of the staff. McGonagall gave him a glare, though there was reluctant amusement behind it, and Harry settled comfortably into his chair.

A sudden hush fell over the Hall, and Harry tilted his head to one side to watch Snape appear through the side entrance and stalk to his chair.

“Nice hairdo, Snape,” Flitwick said as Snape sat down next to him.

“At least I have one,” Snape said, flicking his napkin open with a snap. Whatever stupor that had befallen the students melted away into chatter, though perhaps it was more furious than before.

“You’re not fooling anyone,” Harry said, lifting his voice to travel over Flitwick’s head towards the Potions Master. “And you won’t be able to eat with that curtain over your face.”

“Some of us aren’t clumsy oafs who need both hands and the elbow space of a troll to eat our food,” Snape said. Sure enough, even with a curtain of dark hair obscuring all but one eye and the inevitable unhideable nose, Snape lost neither grace nor style in feeding himself. It helped that lunch consisted mostly of meat and solid greens: items that could easily be cut into small pieces and steered to Snape’s mouth, which Harry guessed was still under that dark curtain somewhere.

Harry continued to smile around his greens, which he chewed thoughtfully.

“Amusing thoughts, Harry?” Dumbledore asked from the high chair.

“Not really,” Harry said. “I was just thinking of the novelty of having someone my age on the staff.”

Snape made a choking sound. “I am most certainly not your age, Potter,” he snarled, though the effect was somewhat lost due to having to travel through a layer of hair that puffed out with each spoken syllable. Harry vaguely remembered seeing something like this on television once, though the hair had been more brown than black and the voice more high-pitched than sonorous. The effect was about the same, though.

“If you say so,” Harry said easily, and popped another forkful of peas into his mouth. To his left, Vector was coughing daintily into her napkin, and trying not to look like she was leaning around to catch a glimpse of the Potions Master.

It was only when Snape downed his drink and stalked back to the dungeons that Harry realised that he’d just used the words “grace” and “style” in describing the greasiest Potion Master this side of Great Britain.

“Damn it,” said Vector, who hadn’t moved from her seat despite having finished long ago. “Can’t see a ruddy thing with that hair of his.”

“I think that’s rather the point,” Harry said.

“Reminds me of my youth,” Dumbledore said wistfully. No one rose to the bait, and Harry surreptitiously excused himself to prepare for the afternoon’s classes.

There was no sign of Snape later at dinner, but in the hours between, the chatter had distilled down to reveal the central truth, which was Snape’s apparent reduction of age. It was worth noting that the youthful babble lost no bite in its regard for the Potions Master whom, it was reported furiously, had become trigger-happy with the school’s points tally. Through snickers and giggles, Harry made out the rumours that still circulated: it was an accident, or the accident had been a cover for something Snape had done on purpose. Jokes also ran rampant that if it had been on purpose, it had backfired anyway, because there had been no physical improvement whatsoever on Snape’s appearance (here Harry wondered what they had been expecting). At one point Harry thought he heard some sixth years joking that they’d hunt down the 1978 Yearbook to see if Snape had ever been without the nose that was his calling card.

Harry pondered what he considered the overreaction of both staff and students on the matter, then brushed it aside as just wizards and witches clamouring on the first available thing to gawk at.

Still, there were people who would find the whole thing interesting and get annoyed if he didn’t tell them about it personally. So, during that night’s detention session where his trio of charges were busy polishing the desk and chairs, Harry sat at his table up front and wrote a letter to the Weasleys.

I’m settling in, it’s all really much easier than I thought it would be. Lesson plans are actually pretty easy to come up with, and the best part of the whole thing is the marking. Don’t scoff, this is a sample of what I got from a seventh-year paper, I’m not bluffing I swear.

Harry permitted himself a soft chuckle and surreptitiously copied a paragraph of complete bullshit written by a Slytherin in a submitted essay right in front of him. Harry quite liked this part of the job.

By the way, there was an accident in Potions yesterday, Snape’s been thrown back a couple of years, literally. People seem to find it pretty funny.

Harry looked at the words on the parchment. He couldn’t really find anything else to say on that, so he changed the subject to the oncoming Quidditch World Cup and whether it was a good idea to hold it in China.

An unseen bonus of the detention session was that he could send one of the students to the Owlery for him when the letter was finished.

The reply came sooner than Harry expected: a neat thin envelope landing on top of his breakfast omelette the next morning.

“I hope you’re not expecting a tip for that performance,” Harry said, but he tossed the owl a piece of bacon anyway.

“Anything interesting?” Flitwick asked, trying to peer over. The chair on the other side of him, usually occupied by Snape, was still empty.

“It’s not the lotto, if that’s what you’re thinking,” Harry said. A Daily Prophet landed on Flitwick’s lap, leaving Harry free to open his letter.

As expected, Hermione rattled on about the repercussions of Snape’s age reduction, and voiced her disappointment over Harry’s complete and utter lack of details. Ron, however, just wanted to know about the immediate response of the Hogwarts audience, and by the way, that paragraph was never from a student essay, no one could be that stupid unless they were Slytherin haha, Harry should so share more if he found any.

Harry made a mental note to copy for Ron a particularly hilarious essay he’d received just a few weeks earlier from a third-year.

“Happy thought, Harry?” Dumbledore asked.

“Just thinking about how my students seem to forget I was a student once,” Harry said.

“Finding your own tricks being pulled against you, Potter?” came Snape’s voice, from somewhere to his right.

“Something like that,” Harry said.

“Snape!” Flitwick said, thumping Snape on the back as he sat down. “Any progress on the You-Know-What?”

“For Merlin’s sake, I’m not going to reproduce it overnight,” Snape said as he cleanly de-scalped his half-boiled egg with a knife.

“Oh,” said Flitwick, disappointed.

Vector was leaning towards Harry again, trying without much success to get the attention of someone further down the table. “Snape? Oh, Snape? Can you – bugger. Potter?”

“Hmm?” went Harry.

“Ask Snape if he’s going for the Quidditch match later,” Vector said.

Harry tilted slightly towards Flitwick’s side. “Vector asks Snape if he’s going to the Quidditch match later.”

Flitwick turned and said, “Vector wants to know if—”

“Of course not!” Snape barked.

“Snape says—”

“I heard,” Vector said, and drank her coffee.

Harry felt mildly alarmed that he’d forgotten all about the Quidditch match. It was Slytherin versus Hufflepuff and he’d agreed to help Hooch referee the game, what with him having his own broom and being not-too-shabby a flier. Harry glanced down the table guiltily at Hooch, who was drinking heartily from her mug. Hooch saw him look over and waved.

Whoops, Harry thought, and quickly excused himself. He’d spent so long writing the letter last night that he hadn’t finished marking his essays. He laughed to himself as he jogged down the hall to his classroom, thinking about the nature of homework and how it went around the block more times than a Bludger. Bloody hell, it would take becoming a teacher to force him to deal with homework on a Saturday morning.

Marking the remaining essays went by quickly, leaving enough time for Harry to remove his dusty Emberspur from its box and give it a quick polish before—

“Professor Potter?”

Harry looked up at the tall Gryffindor that had come to collect him. Harry was pretty sure her name started with an L, but it could anywhere in the spectrum of muggle-ish (Lauren?) to witch-ish (Lagomorna?) and honestly, how could Harry be expected to memorise the names of 200+plus students in barely two months? He’d barely known that many people when he’d been a student.

“Yep, I’m coming,” Harry said, and began the walk to the Quidditch pitch.

He was almost there when he realised that he’d forgotten to bring a scarf for the chilly weather, but Hooch was ready for that and tossed over an overcoat, gloves and matching goggles.

“Glad to see your reflexes are still in order,” Hooch told him with a grin.

“Somewhat,” Harry said, and followed her into the sky.

He didn’t get to stay there very long though, what with a mid-air collision between two Chasers that would have lead to some unfortunate students in the stands becoming collateral damage, if it hadn’t been for Harry’s afore-praised reflexes. As soon as Harry saw was going to happen, he swooped down, knees locked around his broom and arms out to catch whatever part of the two Chasers that he’d be able to get a hold of: in this case, an arm and a waist.

Grunting from the impact, Harry pulled the two players away from the stands and gently set them down on the ground, where Hooch had a quick look over and then announced to everyone that both teams would have to continue the game with each a Chaser short. Harry, of course, had to bring the two to the infirmary for Pomfrey’s inspection.

Thus, Harry found himself back in the infirmary within 48 hours. Though that had never been an unusual occurrence in itself, he still found it novel whenever he walked in there of his own strength.

Pomfrey was there to greet him, and tutted as she took control over the unconscious young boy that had been levitated in. Harry helped the other shaken Chaser sit down on a bed, patting him on the shoulder and telling him it would be all right.

A flash of black caught Harry’s attention, and he turned to see Snape standing on the other side of the infirmary, scowling down at a hand mirror. Said hand mirror had been lifted up close enough to make fond acquaintance with Snape’s substantial nose, and the dark hair had been pulled away from his face, revealing an expanse of pale skin that looked devoid of its usual lines. A shiny silver stick protruded from one corner of his mouth, like a cigarette.

As though sensing that he was being watched, Snape’s head snapped round to glare at Harry accusingly.

“What?” Harry said. Then he frowned. “Why are you in the infirmary? Are you all right?”

“All right?” Snape said, his voice hitting an unnaturally high pitch at the second word. He seemed to recover, and bit out: “None of your business, Potter.” Snape turned away, revealing a ponytail held together by green string.

Harry felt his frown grow. Though there was no helping the sallow of Snape’s cheeks, upon closer inspection the little dips and lines that had once made a good home of themselves beneath Snape’s chin had cleared away to smooth tautness. Harry touched his own chin for comparison, and felt guilty with relief that he was still free of bags.

“Hey look, even your robes are looser,” Harry said, tugging the shoulder of Snape’s cloak.

Snape jumped at the closeness of Harry’s voice and swung around, his wand arm up in a declaration of personal space as it smacked Harry’s hand out of the way. The little silver stick jerked up and down, as though Snape were grinding his teeth. “I’m not a sideshow attraction.”

Harry shrugged easily. “It’s been what, two days? Try a decade or so. Being gawked at is never fun.”

Snape paused, and Harry dismissed the brief unreadable expression as a facial tick.

Just then Madam Pomfrey swept into a view in a flurry of white and beige, her hand reaching out to pluck the stick from Snape’s mouth. She squinted at it and then said, “You’re still in the pink of health. No signs of reverting either way.”

Snape scowled. “Thaumometers aren’t known to be completely accurate—”

“Exactly,” Pomfrey said, waving her wand over the stick and then sliding both items into her apron pocket. “So come back in a week, and we’ll see if there are any further developments. And don’t ask me for an NSN, you don’t need it.”

Snape bared his teeth in a soundless growl – barely any yellow tinge on them now – and swept towards the infirmary exit. As he passed by the shaken Chaser, he snapped, “Five points from Hufflepuff for staring!” causing the Chaser to promptly pass out. Snape appeared to be minimally cheered by that reaction, and disappeared down the corridor without once tripping over the robes that were now too large for him.

Harry looked at Pomfrey. “NSN?”

“No-Show Note,” Pomfrey said, sighing. “He doesn’t need it, so I don’t know why he’s so wound up about it. Although… maybe it’s because he doesn’t want the Ministry to find out about the age-reversal before he gets the potion properly documented and patented.”

“Patented?” Harry echoed.

“Patented. But you didn’t hear it from me,” said Pomfrey, tapping a finger against her nose.

“Oh, of course,” Harry nodded. “Hush hush. Is it a big deal? Age-reversal, I mean?”

“Of course it is,” Pomfrey said, her eyes wide. “Even the Philosopher’s Stone, as powerful as it was, could only extend life, but not renew it. Wizards and witches have been trying for millennia to find the Fountain of Youth, as it’s been called. That someone should find it completely by accident, and in a classroom of all places, is… unthinkable. The staff’s reaction and curiosity is perfectly understandable.”

“Could it be that he’s worried about side-effects?” Harry asked.

“Side effects?” Pomfrey asked, eyebrows wrinkling. “Oh, yes, I suppose so. There have been stories of mishaps in trying to achieve the same thing, I believe there was one fellow in Cardiff who underestimated the strength of the reverse charm he’d come up with and disappeared completely, although that was years ago and it’s as much urban legend as it is fact. Oh look, he’s waking up.” Pomfrey flittered off to attend to the fallen Slytherin Chaser.

Harry made a mental note to ask Hermione about it in his next letter.

The weekend breezed by, and Harry spent a part of it in his rooms reading Ginny’s newest novel, and another part of it haunting the corridors of Hogwarts in his Invisibility Cloak. On that second part, Harry kept a piece of parchment on his person, upon which he marked a new stroke of ink every time he successfully scared the crap out of a student who was loitering around where no students ought to be.

Sunday night brought the weekly staff meeting with it. Harry settled into his seat early, nodding a thank you to the house elf who placed a hot cup of tea at his elbow. Harry sipped the warm Darjeeling and eyed the four hourglasses above the entrance to the staffroom. Ravenclaw appeared to have a small lead, though the other houses weren’t that far behind.

“Let’s settle down,” Dumbledore said as he entered the room. A small pile of parchments appeared in the centre of the staff table, and each one flew out of the stack to the open hands of the sitting staff members.

Harry listened and nodded throughout the meeting, once or twice adding something to the discussion. But mostly the meeting involved Minerva and Delphi arguing over the new Ministry-approved N.E.W.T.-level syllabus, Flitwick repeating his complaint on the delayed renovations of his classroom, Binns refusing any sort of advice from Babbling on updating his curriculum, and Snape glowering half-hidden behind his curtain of dark hair.

“One more announcement, before we adjourn,” Dumbledore said, and nodded in Sprout’s direction. “Pomona will be taking on an apprentice, due to arrive in…?”

“Some time in November, once he’s been cleared from his previous post,” Sprout said, beaming.

“Yes,” Dumbledore said, and Harry watched the parchment in front of him note down the minutes. “I hope everyone present will welcome Mister Longbottom’s return to—”

“You can’t be serious,” Snape cut in. “Longbottom is going to be your successor, Sprout? We just saved Hogwarts from peril and you want to bring it back down on our heads?”

The inevitable argument followed, though there was little venom to it as Sprout looked like she was on the verge of bursting with laughter every time she looked at Snape. Harry couldn’t see why, since the glare really hadn’t changed much, even if the lines around the eyes had faded away.

“You really shouldn’t scowl so much,” Harry said, jumping into a pause in the discussion. “Now you’ve got a new face, you should take care of it better.”

Snape gave Harry a blank look, probably the result of his train of thought being thoroughly derailed. Then he scowled harder.

Dumbledore chuckled under his breath. “Why, Harry’s right about that, dear boy,” he said. “How’s your new project coming along, by the way?”

“Recreating the exact circumstances of childish folly are heinously difficult, Albus,” Snape huffed. “I will report to you the moment I find anything, I assure you.”

“Excellent, excellent,” Albus said, clapping his hands together. “If that’s all, let’s call this a night.”

Harry was all for that, but as soon as he stepped out of the staff room, McGonagall cornered him into a shadowed area away from the other staff members who were going on their merry way.

“You do know you can talk to me about anything, Harry?” she said.

Harry nodded. “Of course, Minerva, thank you. Actually, there is something I’d like to talk to you about.”

Minerva drew in closer, placing a gentle hand on his shoulder. “Of course, anything.”

“I was wondering whether I could hold the practical classes outside,” Harry said. “For the fifth-years and above. They should learn how to spell in the open air, dealing with wind conditions and that sort of thing. Should be good for practice.”

Minerva’s face fell, but it was only noticeable to those who’d known her long enough. “I think that can be arranged.”

“Thank you,” Harry said gratefully. He walked off back to his rooms, not noticing the way McGonagall shrugged helplessly at Dumbledore.



TWO

Snape had long ago learned to dread Dumbledore’s summons, and it was only recent complacency that lead him to be taken by surprise by the latest one. It arrived when Snape had just retired to his rooms after another frustrating evening in the dungeons cursing his destiny of being surrounded by people who glorified lunacy.

He took his time responding to the summons, taking a moment to pause in front of the sitting room mirror to snarl at his reflection. He had to make sure that he wouldn’t get comfortable with it, after all.

Dumbledore didn’t seem to mind, and when Snape arrived at his office, the Headmaster merely smiled and tapped his wand on the teapot, which obediently poured two cups of tea.

“Albus,” Snape said, “If you want to ask yet again about the progress on the project, I should tell you that—”

“It’s not about that, dear boy,” Dumbledore said, and gestured for Snape to sit. “Although you are all well, I hope?”

Snape reluctantly sat down in the stuffed chair opposite Dumbledore’s desk, his hands in his lap and nowhere near the proffered tea. “I’ve had my second check-up with Pomfrey. She said that there are no signs of my reverting in either direction.”

“That’s certainly a relief,” Dumbledore said.

“A relief?” Snape echoed. “Albus, that might mean that this is permanent!”

“Don’t worry, you’ll catch up on those two decades soon enough,” Dumbledore said easily. “I actually wanted to talk about Harry.”

That took Snape by surprise. “Potter? What’s he done now?”

“No, it’s nothing like that…” Dumbledore said. He exhaled slowly, suddenly looking his full age. “Have you noticed anything odd about him?”

Snape steepled his thoughts now that he knew what the meeting was about. It wasn’t surprising that Dumbledore would be concerned about the faculty’s newest addition, and Snape was probably the latest in a long line of people he’d already talked to about the matter. Snape briefly wondered if Dumbledore had done the same when Snape joined up.

“Is there anything about Potter that isn’t odd?” Snape said. At Dumbledore’s expression, Snape continued with, “I hardly know the boy, Albus, I’m the last person you should be asking about this.”

“You have talked with him since he arrived, and quite amiably,” Dumbledore said.

“Potter is amiable with everyone,” Snape said, resisting the urge to roll his eyes.

Indeed, it was true. When Dumbledore had first announced back in August that Potter would be returning to Hogwarts, Snape had groaned and spent weeks bracing himself for the expected nightmare. Potter, the most undisciplined, troubled and unpredictable student Snape had ever known (even counting the time when Snape himself had been a student), returning as a faculty member? Surely it was a disaster in the making.

Yet, when Potter did actually grace the campus with his presence and Dumbledore made the perfunctory pre-term supper staff gathering, Potter had been polite, curious and asked legitimate questions on how he’d be expected to take on the Defence Against the Dark Arts class. Snape suspected that Dumbledore had only recruited Potter in the hopes of breaking the jinx on the job, and admittedly there were no signs of Potter screwing up enough to be booted out just yet. Not that that meant anything; there was the rest of the school year to go.

“Were you aware that Harry disappeared for a year after the… final events?” Dumbledore asked, pulling Snape out from his thoughts.

“I don’t follow the tabloids, Albus,” Snape said. He took the cup of tea, since it seemed that he’d be there a while. “That’s a no.”

“No one knows where he went, or what he did during that year,” Albus said. “I’m in correspondence with Ron and Hermione, and they’re just in the dark as I am.”

“Has it occurred to you that Potter might’ve told them not to tell you about whatever he’s confided in them?” Snape asked.

“I’ve considered that,” Dumbledore said. “I told them that I respect Harry’s need for privacy, and they’re under no obligation to tell me what they know. I just need to be sure if they, at the very least, are giving Harry the ear he needs. Apparently Harry hasn’t even deigned to allow them that.”

Snape realised that Dumbledore was hurt that Potter hadn’t confided in him. The vindictive part of Snape wanted to say that Dumbledore was no longer deserving of Potter’s confidence, after everything that Dumbledore had kept from the boy since the moment they met. Potter had more than enough reasons not to forgive the Headmaster, and goodness knew Dumbledore craved forgiveness above all things. Maybe even more than lemon drops.

“I don’t see what this has to do with me,” Snape said.

“Ah!” Dumbledore’s face lit up, causing Snape’s stomach to curl in reflexive fear. “Funny of you to mention that.”

“Albus…”

Twinkling eyes were a sign of bad things to come. “You are, you realise, the staff member who is closest to Harry’s age?”

Snape’s grip tightened around the tea cup. “No, I’m not,” he said, trying to get his voice as low and threatening as he could. His altered set of vocals cords were not cooperating as well as he would’ve liked. “One stupid potion mishap may change the shell but—”

“I’m not talking about that,” Dumbledore said. “Even before the accident.”

“What? You can’t be…” Snape mentally went through the staff roster. McGonagall, Sinistra, Flitwick, Hungbaur, Sprout, Vector, Delphi… “Hooch! Hooch is closer to Potter’s age!”

“But Rolanda does not have the same history with Harry,” Dumbledore said. “Like it or not, you’ve been a strong presence in Harry’s life from the moment he first arrived. It may not have been a conventional presence, or even a positive one, but you’ve seen the darker side of Harry’s choices and you have at least an inkling of where he’s been. Rolanda, sad to say, doesn’t.”

“If Potter hasn’t been talking to his ‘friends’ on the matter, what on earth would make him talk to me?” Snape asked, though he was not at all considering the ludicrous suggestion.

“If there’s one thing I’ve made sure of from the moment Harry arrived at Hogwarts, is that he would never be alone,” Dumbledore said, his voice suddenly serious. “I’ve yet to make up for Harry’s youth with his foster parents, but as long as he’s lived in these halls, I’ve ensured that he’s been surrounded by love and friendship. That’s what made him different from Riddle, and in the end, that’s why we’re both still living today.”

“Touching,” Snape said, trying not to feel uncomfortable at the mention of Riddle’s name. “But I’m not a substitute for his menial companions.”

“I suppose not, but if he won’t talk to me or his friends…” Dumbledore said, looking down at the papers on his desk, as though he were suddenly embarrassed to meet Snape’s eye. “I just don’t want Harry to feel that he’s alone. He’s returned to Hogwarts in a sort of limbo, neither student nor faculty. Surely you’ve seen him, walking the halls by himself, exploring the fields with his nose in a book, always near the wall every time we have one of our staff suppers? Don’t you think this is strange of the Harry we know?”

“No, I don’t.” That wasn’t exactly true. Upon Potter’s return, Snape had taken the first available opportunity to throw a scathing insult his way, as a form of orientation to his new post, as it were. Potter had merely nodded politely and smiled the almost-smile that was fast becoming his trademark, and then turned away. It was as though Potter had heard the words, processed them, and then forgotten about them. It creeped Snape out, but he wasn’t going to mention that. “If you were so worried about him being isolated, why did you offer him the post?”

“I didn’t,” Dumbledore said. “He asked. It was the first time I’d heard from him since he disappeared and…”

“And you couldn’t say no,” Snape finished. Something suddenly occurred to him, and he said, “Did you say Potter disappeared after the final battle?”

“Not immediately,” said Dumbledore. “But within the few weeks after, as we were starting to rebuild. I had to return to Hogwarts to deal with matters here, and I didn’t learn about it until Ron owled me.”

Snape’s mind jumped back to the final moments of the battle, or what of it he could recall. To be honest, Snape couldn’t remember much of the two years he’d spent as Hogwarts’ Headmaster, having spent so much energy tiptoeing the line with Voldemort and fending off students and staff that hadn’t been aware of his triple-agent role. He could, however, remember very clearly how Potter, back from the dead and crackling with magic, had held his ground in the face of Voldemort’s final Avada Kedavra, which backfired gloriously for a second time.

Snape tried to overlap that image of Potter with the man who now sat at the staff table every morning and smiled as he ate his breakfast.

“I see,” Snape said.

“I’m not asking for much,” Dumbledore said. “Just in case Harry needs an outlet, I need to know you’ll be there. He is a colleague now, after all.”

Snape took some comfort that Dumbledore was at the very least not asking him to actively seek out Potter, because that would just be cause for suspicion. Even so, Snape could see the meeting for what it really was: a little nudge for Snape to open his eyes. It would be like trying not to think about pink elephants, and Snape knew that the comfortable almost-bliss he’d had since discarding a career in intrigues would be tugged out from under his feet yet again. By the same man, no less.

The next morning Snape entered the Great Hall, hair carefully in place, and took his customary seat. Flitwick was already there to his left, pawing through the Daily Prophet, Hungbaur to his right methodically sawing his sausages into thin slices. Potter was there as well, stirring his cup of whatever it was he drank for breakfast, and looking out over the students’ tables at nothing in particular.

It was easier to move with a curtain of hair over one’s face than most people realised, and no matter what McGonagall or Dumbledore had to say on the matter, Snape was not going to budge. It was a matter of pride.

As Snape buttered his toast, a small owl swooped down from the ceiling and dropped a letter on Potter’s plate. Potter ate his eggs with one hand and opened the letter with the other. Whatever its contents were, it brought the same half-smile to his lips.

For all that Snape had never thought anything of that smile before, it now irritated him, for the sight of it brought to mind the prickling echo of Dumbledore’s concern. Still, once he properly thought about it, he quite liked that Potter no longer burst into random fits of childish anger. And that Potter no longer looked around every corner of the school with a suspicious glint in his eye. And that Potter had broken the habit of randomly stumbling into trouble and Gryffindor-ing his way out of it. Actually, he just liked that Potter no longer made his life a misery.

There was no reason to be bothered by it, not that Snape could see. If Potter was now quieter and minded his own business, the world was a better place as far as Snape was concerned. Let the busybodies worry themselves silly over the boy, Snape figured. He’d be no part of it.

If Dumbledore disapproved Snape’s lack of action, he made no mention of it, and there were no more summons. Snape’s days moved on in their regular fashion, trying on his nerves as Flitwick continued to poke at him, and on the other side students grew bolder upon seeing more glimpses of Snape’s refound youth. What were they thinking – that a younger Snape would somehow be more tolerant of their ignorance? Hardly. Snape compensated by cutting points wherever he went all day, all four houses be damned, and spent his nights hissing and snarling at his cauldrons as he tried to figure out exactly what had been the cause of the reversion.

No matter what ideas of patents and profit that the rest of the faculty had, it was the unknown quality of the reversal potion that bothered Snape. This was potion magic the kind of which Snape had never encountered before, and he’d gone over the ingredients of that class in every possible permutation, and nothing of it came anywhere close to being able to cause an intrinsic change to the human body.

At long last there was nothing for it, and on one of the nights Snape knew that the three perpetrators of his condition would be having detention together, he made his entrance.

Potter was sitting at the teacher’s desk farthest from the door, half-bent over a parchment and yet another smile tinkering harmlessly over his lips. At first he thought Potter had been so engrossed in whatever nonsense he was doing to not notice Snape’s entrance, but as he approached the table, the young man lifted his head up and nodded, as though he’d been expecting him all along.

It was still an unnerving sight to see, but Snape was going to hold on to his resolution of not commenting on it.

“Potter,” he said. “I’d like a moment with the students.”

Potter nodded, and gestured towards the trio without a uttering a word. Snape honed in on the Gryffindor, who went a pleasing shade of pale.

“What did you add to the potion? Speak up! I know you put something in there that you shouldn’t have!” Snape loomed over the boy. The two Ravenclaws hovered nearby, transfixed.

“Nothing, sir!” Whitaker quaked. “I… I would never dare…”

“Don’t lie to me!” Snape yelled. “There is nothing in the ingredients that could have done this!” He pushed his hair back, revealing his new face.

Whitaker, seeing the sight, briefly forgot to be afraid. “Is that bad?”

“Ten points from—”

“Severus,” Potter said, placing a firm hand on Snape’s shoulder. It was only the double shock of being touched and hearing his first name being used that cut Snape’s tirade short, enabling Potter to pull him back without resistance and give the Whitaker twit a comforting pat.

“Really, Professor Potter sir, I would never…” Whitaker’s lower lip trembled.

“I know,” Potter said gently to his fellow Gryffindor. Maybe he hadn’t changed that much after all. “But do you think that maybe something might have fallen in to the cauldron by mistake? When you’re talking with your friends, sometimes you can get a little distracted?”

Whitaker’s eyes flitted to the side, his expression more thoughtful than guilty. “I… Maybe.”

Potter took out his wand and gave it a quick flick, causing three pieces of empty parchment to come flying towards them from his desk. “All right, your assignment for the night is to write out a full description of what happened during Potions on the day of the incident, leave nothing out.” He glanced at the two Ravenclaws. “Both of you as well. Be as precise as you can, and if I find that you’ve left anything out, I’ll personally ask the Headmaster to extend your detention.”

“Gyah,” said Belper, who quickly sat down at the nearest available desk and began writing furiously. Cardullo and Whitaker took their own parchments and began doing the same.

“Taken a liking to supervising detentions, Potter?” Snape asked wryly.

“It’s no laughing matter,” Potter said, no hint of malice or sarcasm in his voice. “Harming a teacher is a serious offence. What if the effect had been different? What if you’d been poisoned, or turned to stone, or something worse? I’ll go over their reports and pass it to you tomorrow, I hope that’s all right.”

“That’s…” Snape found himself at a loss. “That’s acceptable. If only you were so thoughtful of the welfare of others when you were a student.”

Potter’s expression changed, and it was the first time Snape saw in it flash of pain – or was it anger? Snape found it oddly refreshing, especially when Potter said in a low voice, “Are you expecting an apology, Snape?”

“I don’t expect anything from you,” Snape said.

“Good,” said Potter. “Because I’ll only apologise to you if you apologise to Dumbledore for your student behaviour.”

“My my, how Slytherin of you,” Snape said, though he reeled softly against Potter’s accusation. If Potter was not going to lose his temper, then Snape would certainly not be the one to fold first. “I expect those reports by morning. If they are insufficient, I will use my own methods of extracting information.”

“Understood,” Potter said, and turned his attention back to the three students, signalling the end of the conversation.

Snape didn’t know what to make of it, but Potter’s business was his own and he was not about to go prying when he’d just decided that he’d do nothing of the sort.

The three reports did arrive as promised in Snape’s pigeonhole the following morning, carefully rolled up and with a note attached to mark whom they had been sent by. Snape had intended to read it after breakfast, but upon giving them a cursory glance, some suspicious details leapt out at him, and he decided to tinker around in the dungeons in lieu of attending the morning meal.

Naturally, that made him more irritable than usual in the first class of the day (first-year Ravenclaw-Gryffindor), which was further compounded by Vector’s unannounced visit in the middle of class to titter and give Snape a small tray of toast and coffee on the excuse that she “happened to be that part of the building”, as if Snape didn’t know what she was really up to. She was shooed off easily enough, but considering the whispers that erupted among the brats, the damage had been done. Snape cut off another ten points per house for good measure.

After that was double Potions with a seventh-year Gryffindor-Slytherin class, a session that Snape was starting to loathe even more than usual. The reason for that lay in a pair of Slytherin girls who’d started making cow eyes at him. It was a minor annoyance, and Snape didn’t put much stock in what was just another manifestation of childish stupidity, but it cut into the cold hand of fear that was pretty much the only thing Snape could be proud of in his academic career.

Hence, Snape was in right mood by the time lunch came around. Flitwick was missing for whatever reason, leaving a gap between Snape’s place and Potter’s, the latter already filled by its owner, who was busy working through his shepherd’s pie.

Upon sitting down, Potter remarked, “Hullo, Snape. Did you get the reports?”

“Yes,” Snape said, and started sawing through his own pie.

“I hope they help,” Potter said. “Just so you know, last night was the final detention session for those kids.”

“I was aware,” Snape said. A jostling at his elbow made him turn slightly. “What?”

Hungbaur was smirking toothily at him. “Don’t forget, you’re taking patrol duty this weekend.”

“Was that this weekend?” Snape asked.

It was a rhetorical question, but the intent was lost on the Care of Magical Creatures teacher, who just went, “You lost the draw, remember? Should be fun for you, maybe you should drop by Hog’s Head and ask for a pint – see if they card you for being underage.” Hungbaur’s laugh was quite probably the most revolting thing Snape had heard all day. And it was only noon.

The quality of Snape’s mood – which was already a fragile thing – decreased steadily. By the time the weekend arrived, Dumbledore had to give him a friendly but stern warning that standing around in the school corridors was not an offence punishable by detention, no matter what Snape insisted.

Patrol duty was just the icing on the cake. Back in the day, there had been a definite need for it, what with Voldemort and his endless minions hovering constantly in the background waiting for a chance to strike. The children, near-sighted and selfish as they were, barely noticed the teachers that had been assigned to patrol their route to, from and around the perimeter of Hogsmeade. Even if they did notice the teachers, they’d probably brushed them off as being there for personal reasons; not one thought to think that said teacher had had their name picked out of a (non-Sorting) hat for the unfortunate task of patrol duty, which in itself was a brain-sucking chore a gnome could accomplish. Dumbledore had insisted that patrol duty continue after the Dark Lord’s demise, and in the protests that followed, Snape and Sprout found that they could agree on one thing at least.

As it was quickly turning out to be the coldest October in recent memory, on Saturday morning Snape took the opportunity to wind a Slytherin scarf around his mouth and nose, comfortable enough in the knowledge that even with it on, he would still be recognisable. Mrs Norris was holding post at the East gateway, and he nodded at her before starting the walk to Hogsmeade.

It was every bit as mind-numbing as before, walking round the Hogsmeade perimeter again and again while trying not to look like an utter fool. Still, the morning shift was not so bad, since most of the young cretins preferred to waste their time and money in the afternoon.

Suddenly, there was Potter.

Snape slid into the shadowed lee of the closest building, his movement more automatic than conscious. Potter strolled on without making any sign that he’d seen Snape, his hands in his pockets and just generally looking like a manatee thanks to the dozen or so layers of clothing wrapped about his person. A simple grey scarf was wound around his neck and there was no sign of Gryffindor colours anywhere on him.

A few students walked by him, chirping their greetings and getting a silent nod of acknowledgement, but Potter did not slow down his purposeful stride. Snape watched as Potter headed straight for and entered Madame Caliman’s bookstore with the ease of someone going through a familiar routine.

Snape strolled as casually as he could in the direction of Caliman’s store under the pretence of eyeing the children scattered about. A quick glance into the store revealed Potter talking with the Caliman lady and then disappearing into the back room.

Ah, thought Snape. Then: Wait a minute.

Madame Caliman’s back room was known for having a healthy supply of books and magazines that appealed to the blushing needs of the young and hormonal. Snape seriously doubted that Potter was after literary contraband.

The bookstore door opened with a soft tinkle, and Caliman’s round face leaned out into the cold air. “Good morning, Severus,” she said cheerfully. “Do you mind not standing there, luv?”

Snape huffed into his scarf. “I’ll stand where I like.”

“Fair enough, fair enough. But it’s not good for business, y’see.” Caliman gestured meaningfully with her head. Snape didn’t have to look to see the way that students were carefully detouring away from the store. Caliman continued with, “Perhaps I can tempt you with the latest edition of Cauldrons Unlimited? Oh, do come in, it’s a tad nippy out.”

“I’m on patrol,” Snape said.

“Patrol the inside of me store, if you like,” Caliman said, widening the door further. “You should—”

“Professor Snape!”

Snape’s head jerked around. There were three – no, four – people walking very determinedly toward him. He vaguely recognised one of them but the other three were a complete mystery, though Snape had an innate distrust of anyone who walked that quickly with a notebook and quill in their hands.

Notebook and quill? Bugger.

“Let me in,” Snape said quickly, and ducked into Caliman’s store. Caliman, recognising the reporters for what they were, huffed out her ample bosom and marked her territory with choice words that were muffled by the now shut door.

Snape hadn’t been in Caliman’s store for years, but it looked the same, with rows upon rows of useless paperbacks with technicolour covers. The chit behind the counter was older, but still had the same narrow suspicious eyes.

There was a student in the store, a boy who, upon seeing Snape, suddenly started wishing furiously that he were somewhere else. Snape made a point of walking right up to him and peering pointedly at the books he’d been browsing.

“Nice to see you’re expanding your mind with such drivel,” Snape said. “Soon you’ll be quite the proficient.”

“Eeep,” said the boy, and fled down the aisle.

It was rather warm in the store, and Snape reluctantly loosened the scarf around his nose.

“I’m surprised you can breathe at all with that around your face,” came Potter’s voice.

Snape smoothly changed the motion into one of patting the scarf in place. He was about to bite out a mocking retort on Potter’s own fashion sense when he saw that the other man’s attention was not him, but focused on the scene outside the store window. Caliman had succeeded in keeping the reporters off her doorstep, but they’d resorted to hovering around the street and trying to look harmless.

“Damn it.” Suddenly he looked at Snape. “Hey. They’re after you.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Snape said.

“Your crow’s feet are gone,” Potter said suddenly. “Why do they call them crow’s feet? Do crows have particularly unattractive feet? Let’s go round the back exit.”

“The back—?” Then Potter’s hand was on his back and pushing him towards the curtained doorway. Caliman, who was by now back behind the counter, flashed a smile at the pair as they walked past her. Potter called out with a soft, “Thanks, I’ll see you again in a few weeks?”

“Always a pleasure, luv,” Caliman said.

“I’m not a trolley, Potter,” Snape said, sliding off the firm feel of Potter’s palm. Potter said nothing and brushed by him to lead the way down the narrow corridor, passing by the black-curtained room Snape was familiar with for containing books not on Hogwarts’ reading list, another room from which the smell of tea emanated, and then a final blue-curtained room at the back. Potter entered that last room, and Snape followed.

Snape had never been in this part of the shop, though he’d known about it and had always thought that it was a storeroom. On that part, Snape was right: the limited floor space was filled with stacks of magazines and books, most of which were tied with string or wrapped in newspaper. At one of the corners of the room was a door that was presumably the back exit Potter had mentioned.

Potter made a bee-line for it. Snape was about to follow, but halted when he saw that at another corner of the room, almost hidden by a tall stack of paperbacks, was a small table upon which sat a black Muggle contraption.

Snape detoured towards the Muggle thing, weaving around the piles of wasted paper, until he was close enough to poke at it with his wand. “Hmm,” he said.

“That’s not illegal, if that’s what you’re wondering,” Potter said, his voice coming from somewhere near Snape’s shoulder. “Uh, do you know what it is?”

“I know what it is, I’m not an ignoramus,” Snape said. “I’m just wondering what Caliman would need a telly-phony for.”

“Because there are Muggle-born students at Hogwarts, and they need some way to contact their family, that’s what it’s for,” Potter said. Then he added: “Muggle technology doesn’t work on school grounds.”

“I know that, don’t talk to me like I’m one your students!” Snape said.

“Then how should I talk to you like?” Potter asked.

Snape ignored the question, partly because he could feel the vein on his temple starting to throb, and partly because he didn’t have an answer. So he turned around and made his way to the exit, this time Potter being the one to follow. Snape opened the door, which revealed a full-frontal greeting of cold morning air. Gritting his teeth and muttering another curse, Snape stepped outside.

Potter shut the door behind them, dancing slightly on his sneakers. “Brr, you’d think it were already December,” he said.

“Hmm,” Snape said neutrally. The view from this side revealed the low stone fence that marked the outer border of Hogsmeade. Hogwarts was in the distance, though barely visible through cloud and fog.

“Shall I take patrol duty, then?” Potter said.

Snape looked at him. “What?”

“I like patrol duty,” Potter said. He rummaged around the onion layers of his clothes, eventually coming up with a small paperback. It did, luckily, have absolutely no sign of the pastels that were the norm of Caliman’s collection. Snape thought he caught a ‘Catacomb’ in the title, but it didn’t ring any bells. Potter said, “Besides, there’s not long before McGonagall will come out for her turn. I was going to hang around Hogsmeade anyway, there’s no point in you wasting your time.”

“And you know all about wasting time, right, Potter?” Snape said. He rather expected to get a reprise of the hurt look on Potter’s face, and was surprised when none were forthcoming.

Okay then,” Potter sing-songed, “When you bump into those reporters again, be sure to give them my regards.”

Snape shuddered. There’d probably be cameras and demands for Snape to remove the scarf. How did the news get out, anyway? It must really be a slow month if they wanted to hound a poor unfortunate Potions Master who’d fallen on the wayside of a classroom incident.

“That’s that,” Potter said, giving Snape’s back another gentle push with his knuckles. “Now shoo. I’ll tell Albus you got a cold or something.”

Well, far be it for Snape to deprive poor brain-damaged Potter of his moments. Potter himself seemed to forget about Snape entirely, and began walking the Hogsmeade perimeter in small, unhurried steps. Snape shrugged, and as he made his way back to Hogwarts, he went through the various possibilities of why Potter would want to use a telly-phony, and apparently on a regular basis.

A thought arrived in Snape’s head, as neat as could be, though it was a circumstantial guess built on nothing more than guesswork and theory. Dumbledore would definitely not appreciate such an insubstantial piece of information, so Snape decided to keep it to himself and forget about it.



THREE

Harry counted to ten, slowly and silently. The sixth-year Slytherin girl still hadn’t finished her rant by the time Harry reached the final number, so he raised a hand to silence her.

“Miss Kikkebocker,” Harry said. “I understand your argument, I really do, but I can’t increase your marks if you have very clearly ignored the title of the assignment.”

“But—”

“I appreciate students who are able to think outside the box,” Harry said. “But you took your genuinely good thread right here, and then went completely off-tangent. If I were an Auror, and had to use your paper as a guideline on how to ward off vampires, I’d have a set of fangs in my neck before I could say Vladimir.”

“But there—”

“If you’d like to re-do the assignment, you’re fully welcome to, but you won’t be getting anything higher than an Acceptable,” Harry said firmly. “You should get going to your next class.”

The girl sighed, but didn’t argue any further. “Thank you, Professor,” she said, and dejectedly left the classroom.

Harry exhaled slowly through his mouth, and the resulting almost-whistle echoed through the empty classroom. It had been one of those days, punctuated by the bottomless energy of students who were still on a high from Halloween. Harry had spent Hallow’s Eve away from Hogwarts, visiting Godric’s Hollow and dropping by Tonks’ place to see his godson, but upon coming back, he’d been overwhelmed by the sheer energy of the population majority. Dumbledore had twinkled, patted him on the back and said something about youth being for the young, or something else just as irrelevant.

There was a weariness in Harry’s shoulders, and he knew that if he went straight to bed after dinner, he’d be out like a light and soaked in lethargy the next morning. Harry reminded himself that it was much better to be buoyed by a purpose instead of being dragged down by it, just as it was better to be plagued by students who wouldn’t shut up than nightmares that wouldn’t end.

Harry didn’t feel like basking in the usually welcome mindless chatter of the Great Hall, so he had the house elves send his dinner straight to his rooms. There, he ate while writing another letter to Ron and Hermione, rambling about the usual topics: students, teachers, the weather, all was well. He was about to sign his name at the bottom, but he paused and then thoughtfully added another few lines.

I was just wondering if I could visit the Burrow for Christmas. I don’t want to impose, so let me know what your plans are. I’d love to see Victoire, if Bill and Fleur are still in the country.

Lots of love,

Harry

Suddenly the fireplace flashed green, and a small piece of parchment flew out from the flames and landed on Harry’s desk. Without looking at it, he knew that it would be an invitation from Dumbledore for supper. The invitation would sometimes use the excuse of a staff gathering, or a review of Gryffindor activity with McGonagall, or some other variation of a theme. Harry had replied to the earlier invites, if only to be polite.

“Incendio,” Harry said, and the parchment burst into flames, creating a happy little square of charred dust on his desk.

It wouldn’t be long before Dumbledore himself would appear to personally request for Harry’s presence. As a pre-emptive gesture, Harry leapt from his seat, grabbed his Invisibility Cloak, and fled from the room. It wasn’t very Gryffindor of him, but he had no problem with that.

There were students milling through the corridors, since curfew was still a long way off. Harry navigated around them easily, not really knowing where he was going, and not feeling particularly worried about said lack of direction. For the fun of it, Harry walked straight through the Happy Friar, who felt his presence but merely rumbled happily. Harry thought about this, the nature of ghosts and the new ones who’d come into existence since the end of the war, and decided to pay one a visit.

There were no students on that side of the castle, because even they knew better than to mess about here. Harry found the empty corridor easily and removed his cloak, which he carefully folded and hung over his arm.

It wasn’t long before Filch floated past, right on cue. Mrs Norris trotted across the floor near where Filch’s feet would have been.

“Good evening, Filch,” Harry said.

Filch looked at him and smiled maliciously. “No students allowed, Potter.”

“Not a student anymore, Filch,” Harry said.

Filch looked at him, confused, and then floated down (no need to bend, when floors didn’t get in the way anymore) and conversed with Mrs Norris. After a while, he eyed Harry suspiciously. “You sure about that?”

“Pretty sure, Filch,” Harry said. “You doing all right, then?”

Filch looked disgusted by the suggestion that he was doing anything but. He cooed something at Mrs Norris, and the pair went off down the corridor, as though nothing had changed.

Moaning Myrtle’s head appeared through the floor near Harry’s feet. “Hullo, Harry,” she said.

“Hi, Myrtle,” Harry said.

“Come to visit our lowly corner of the castle again?” Myrtle said, floating up and circling Harry’s head. “Awfully nice of you. Not that any of them appreciate it.” She sniffed delicately.

“Are you sure there’s nothing I can do for you?” Harry asked.

“Hmm…” Myrtle made a thoughtful sound. “Do you have any new pieces of gossip? No one tells us anything.”

“Sorry, that’s one thing I can’t do,” Harry said, shrugging.

“Oooooh,” Myrtle sighed, sinking back down into the floor. “It’s so boring, Harry, so boring… No one’s died in ages. There’s been no big accidents, no moments of peril, no nothing… And it’s so easy to scare the students nowadays, they jump at anything. I could blow in their ear and they’d start crying for mummy. I don’t even have to flood their toilets while they’re on it anymore.”

Harry laughed at that. “Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

Myrtle made another wailing sound of pure sorrow. “You’re so cruel, Harry Potter. Maybe I shouldn’t tell you, then.”

“Tell me what?” Harry asked.

Something,” Myrtle said, glad to have Harry’s attention. “I could tell you, but you’d have to tell me something back. Something about you.”

“Okay, then,” Harry said, happy to be able to do something for her. “I’ll tell you something about myself.”

Myrtle floated close, her eyes ghostly bright behind her spectacles. “This is a doozy!” she said. She looked around surreptitiously with the pleasure of someone about to impart something important. “Snape got a love letter.” Myrtle squealed and did a somersault, screeching all the way.

“What? When?” Harry said.

“Just this morning,” Myrtle chirped. “A Slytherin girl put it in his pigeonhole eaaaarly in the morn, but he doesn’t know that. He took one look at it and burned it.” Myrtle cackled.

“Then how do you know it’s a love letter?” Harry asked.

“One knows these things,” Myrtle said. “I am a girl, I know what girls look like when they write love letters. She was giggling and doing this.” Myrtle’s face turned red. Harry hadn’t known that ghosts had the ability of taking colour when it suited them. Myrtle laughed again, and returned to her normal grey colour. “Poor thing. Poor, poor thing. I was here, you know, when Snape was a student. I remember it well…”

“Of course you do,” Harry said.

Myrtle looked disappointed. “You’re not going to ask me about it?”

“No,” Harry said.

Myrtle pouted and crossed her arms. “Now you have to tell me something about yourself. Fair’s fair.”

“What do you want to know?” Harry said.

Myrtle tapped a finger against her chin. “How about… Why do you sometimes sit on the Hogwarts roof before breakfast all by yourself? Does Harry Potter have his own demons that need to be chased away by sunlight?”

Harry looked Myrtle straight in the eye. “Do you want the truth, or the reason I tell Dumbledore?”

“The truth,” Myrtle whispered.

Harry gestured for Myrtle to come closer. When she complied, he whispered, “It’s because I like to watch the sun rise.”

Myrtle was enraptured. “And…?”

“And what?”

“That’s it?”

Harry shrugged, grinning. “Sorry to disappoint, but that’s it.”

“Don’t lie to me, Harry,” Myrtle moaned, lower lip trembling again.

Harry laughed softly, and tugged the Invisibility Cloak back around his shoulders. “I wouldn’t lie to you, Myrtle.”

Myrtle wailed again. Whether she really didn’t believe him or was just pretending not to, Harry couldn’t say. Myrtle floated up to the ceiling, went right through it, and there was a faint tink tink sound that signalled her re-entrance into the building’s piping system.

Harry lifted the hood of the Cloak around his head and decided that it was probably safe to return to his rooms now. Although he took the long way back, he discovered that he’d been mistaken on that account, because Hooch was standing outside his rooms. Harry quickly ducked into a nearby corridor, removed the Cloak, and then walked into view like he’d been having a casual stroll.

“Harry!” Hooch said, relieved.

“What’re you doing up and about, Rolanda?” Harry asked. “Something about the next Quidditch match? I won’t be late again, I promise. I even got a clock for it.” Harry muttered the password to his door, which swung open to reveal his rooms. Harry stepped inside, Rolanda close behind him, and he gestured to the clock above the mantelpiece, where one setting had “Time For Quidditch” clearly printed on it.

“Oh, that’s good, Harry,” Hooch said, her mind clearly not on that. “Actually, I just wanted to know if you were all—”

“Stop.” Something inside Harry, the part that he’d been working so hard on – so hard on, couldn’t any of them see that – went click. “Am I doing anything wrong? Have any of the students complained about me?”

“No, of course not,” Hooch said, clearly uncomfortable. “They adore you—”

“Then what is this about?” Harry said. One. Two. “Dumbledore sent you, didn’t he?” Three. Four.

“Well, actually…” Hooch looked at him guiltily. “Yes.”

Five. Six. Seven. “Tell Albus that you talked to me, but I was mum and tired and wanted to go to sleep,” Harry said. Eight. Nine. “He won’t ask you to do this again.”

Hooch’s face fell. “We’re just worried about you, Harry. You know that, right?”

Ten. “I appreciate the sentiment,” Harry said, a little sharper than he meant to. “Please, I’d like to call it a night.”

Hooch nodded, and left without another word. Harry sat at his desk for a long while, taking slow, measured breaths and staring at the fire. It was going so well, he hadn’t lost his temper at all for months, but Dumbledore was still breathing down his neck, wanting something, anything – just like all the others – and waiting to see him trip up. Meddlesome old man, meddlesome, meddlesome, why couldn’t he just…

One. Two. Three. Four.

Harry exhaled slowly, hand twitching over his wand.

Five. Six. Seven.

He stood up and walked over to the bookshelf. Pulling at a seemingly random book, the lower shelf tilted open to reveal a hidden compartment. Harry had installed it on the very same day that he’d moved in. Sure, he’d already taken great pains to keep his rooms safe and secure, but here he’d needed a little something extra.

In the hidden compartment were a few items, but the one currently needing Harry’s attention was a small porcelain bowl that had been an ornament in its previous life. In fact, it had been a cat ornament, a present from McGonagall to celebrate his arrival back at Hogwarts. Harry hadn’t been keen on letting a clay feline watch his every movement, so he’d put it to better use.

Eight. Nine.

Harry lifted his wand to his temple. Slowly, he tugged out a silver thread of memory and let it slide gently among the others already in the Pensieve. Harry didn’t need a big one, because he kept very few memories in there at any given time. He was uncomfortable with letting memories lie about the place, even if they were in a hidden compartment in a locked room, because that meant that they weren’t in his head. As far as Harry was concerned, people were defined by the memories they kept in their heads.

Ten.

Harry shut the hidden compartment, and went to bed.

The next morning, he woke up early, had a quick shower, and then spent some time reviewing last night’s memory. Harry immediately felt bad for Hooch, who had been recruited against her will to become an Agony Aunt when she was more comfortable being a real-life Bludger. He decided that he had reacted as well as he could have, but the unfortunate side-effect was that Dumbledore was still far from placated. There was no helping that, at the moment.

Harry took the long way to breakfast, stopping by the Owlery to send the latest letter to Ron and Hermione.

Upon reaching the Great Hall, most of the staff were already there. Harry went straight to his chair, not making eye contact with Hooch nor Dumbledore. Breakfast consisted of French toast, which was a little salty, but not bad once slathered with a healthy helping of syrup.

Harry finished breakfast quickly, and left the table without a word to anyone. However, as soon as he left the Great Hall, he felt a hand grab his arm. Harry spun, wand at the ready, and then relaxed when he saw that it was Snape.

“Good morning, Snape,” Harry said.

Snape looked troubled. So troubled, in fact, that he’d forgotten to comb his hair forward to obscure his face. “Potter, a word.”

“Of course,” Harry said, and followed Snape into an empty classroom.

Snape made a quick lookover to ensure that there was no one around, and then said, “I need…” He looked pained. “I need your help.”

“Ah,” said Harry, knowing full well what this was about, but trying not to let it show. “What is this about?”

“You have experience fending off amorous students,” Snape said. It wasn’t a question. “I find myself in the unfortunate position of… of…”

“I see,” Harry said, knowing that it would take forever for Snape to finish that particular sentence. “Hasn’t this happened before? You’ve been Potions Master since, what, the 1980s?”

“Yes, but at the time I did not have the presumptuous labels of supposed heroism and self-sacrifice hovering above my head,” Snape said. “I made sure students hated and feared me, and for all intents and purposes, they had every reason to. Now they’re harbouring the mistaken notion that I’m a cuddly creature with prickly thorns, just craving a hug from the first available person.”

“Yeah, I can see where that’d come from,” Harry said. He was thoughtful for a while. “What you have to do is let them know that that’s not what you are, and be clear about it. Just taking away points or assigning detention won’t help, because you’ve been doing that for years. You have to do something different, so they know that just because you’re a little skinnier than before, you still mean business. I had to do that when I came in, so the students know that I’m not one of them anymore. You really haven’t changed at all, except maybe in the way you stand.”

Snape looked faintly surprised. “The way I stand?”

Harry almost laughed at the notion that such an obvious thing would startle Snape. “I guess it’s because you’d spent years mastering the way your body moves, that’s why you could do the looming thing so effectively. I positively pissed my pants that first year, you’ll be glad to know. Now you’ve got to re-learn your body all over again, and it just looks like you’re a Prefect-wannabe trying to intimidate them. Any seventh-year student worth their salt would be able to see right through you. Look at your robes.”

Snape looked down at his robes, now definitely surprised. “My robes?”

“Didn’t I tell you they were loose? Look.” Harry reached out and tugged at Snape’s sleeve, the material flopping easily away from his wrist. “It looks like you’re wearing a hand-me-down. If I were a student, I’d think that was adorable.”

Snape bared his teeth in disgust. “You must be joking.”

“Get robes that fit you better,” Harry said, nodding firmly. “I’m not sure what you can do to discourage that student, though… Or was it students, plural?”

Snape glared at his sleeve, but didn’t answer.

“Well then, what you definitely have to do is not reward them with your attention, since that’s what they want,” Harry said. “Give them the opposite of attention and they’ll move on soon enough, schoolgirl crushes usually do. It’s a sad thing, but they’d probably be happy to lose House points if it meant that you would glare at them – yeah, just like that!”

“Oh, sweet Merlin…” Snape said, burying his face in his hands. “Why me?”

“Because some people find unusual features attractive,” Harry said, shrugging. “You’re not handsome, but your features are rather striking, especially now that all that awkward weight’s gone. Did you really eat so little when you were younger? You’re practically gangly, and at your height that can’t be healthy.”

“Don’t criticize my eating habits when your own aren’t worth mentioning,” Snape said.

That line, the last one Snape said before he swept out of the room without bothering to say thank you, gave Harry the idea. It was an irresistible hook, and rather foolish of Snape to leave it out there. Harry didn’t mention anything of it to any of the staff, and it took him a few visits to the kitchens to get the plan into motion.

That is why, a few days later at breakfast, Snape found himself staring down at a plate of oatmeal.

“Looks like a first year’s attempt at a joint-locking potion,” Snape remarked, and Harry watched him lift out a spoonful and then let it drop back into the bowl with a soft gloop. “Has the same consistency, as well.”

“It’s good for you,” Harry said, optimistically scooping up a spoonful and swallowing it. It didn’t taste great, but it delightfully bypassed the need for chewing.

Snape glared at Harry over Flitwick’s head. “Laughter is supposed to be good for you as well, but you don’t see me indulging in that either. Why the hell does everyone else have sausage and eggs?”

“You gave me the idea,” Harry said. “Since we’re the youngest on the faculty, we should make a good example and take better care of our bodies.”

Hungbaur was further down the table, but Harry could hear him say to Snape in a soft mocking tone, “Yeah, Snape, eat your greens like a good little boy.”

Pretending he hadn’t heard that, Harry continued nonchalantly with, “Since you’ve got an extra twenty years added on to your lifespan, I thought you’d appreciate the sentiment. Not many people get a second chance at living what should be the best years of adulthood.”

A strange meaningful silence fell on their side of the staff table. Flitwick had stopped snickering, and quietly pushed away his plate of remaining sausages. Snape’s own face became calmly blank, and he ate his bowl of oatmeal without another protest.

Harry knew that he was only assuming. He had no idea whether the accident really had added an extra twenty years to Snape’s life, and for all he knew, the man would revert back to his forty-something self the very next day. But right there and then, at breakfast, the accuracy of statement didn’t matter.

Harry did hate the oatmeal, though, and resolved to look up more appealing alternatives.

The following week brought with it Neville’s entrance at Hogwarts, primed and ready for his apprenticeship with Sprout. To mark the occasion, Dumbledore held a supper gathering (as usual) in the staff room, where Neville nodded and blushed, Sprout chatted and gushed, and Harry drank his tea quietly as he watched all of that unfold.

There was an uneasiness growing in Harry’s stomach as he stood there and listened to Dumbledore’s speech welcoming Neville to the staff. He hadn’t thought much about Neville since the announcement, but right now, in the current situation where Harry and Dumbledore were awkwardly dancing around each other, Neville’s arrival seemed suspect. It was a terrible thing to think, because Neville deserved his apprenticeship far more than Harry deserved his current post.

Neville’s eyes flitted around the room uncertainly, but when they landed on Harry, the nervousness gave way to relief. Harry smiled above the rim of his teacup and nodded a welcome.

“With that, let’s start on the tarts, I hear they’re excellent,” Dumbledore said, and the room erupted with chatter. Neville stood in the centre of it, accepting the welcomes of the various staff who laughed and immediately re-introduced themselves to Neville with their first names, just as they had done to Harry some months earlier.

Harry walked over to the refreshments table to re-fill his cup. Snape was there, sipping his own drink and looking quite passive. Harry had rather expected him to be scowling daggers at Neville and muttering about the lax standards of recruitment.

“Hmm,” said Snape, his tone neutral.

“I agree,” said Harry. Cup refilled, Harry left the refreshments table and walked up to Neville. The staff members who had been crowding around him mysteriously gave way, and Harry walked the cleared path up to his former classmate.

“Hi, Harry,” Neville said, his voice betraying his nervousness, though it was tinged with excitement. “What a world, eh?”

“Both of us back here in the same year, you mean?” Harry said. “Yeah. You’ll do great.”

Neville nodded gratefully. “Thank you. Gran’s really proud of me for getting the offer, but I don’t want to do it just for her, you know? I want this, I really do.”

“Yeah, I understand,” Harry said, and he did.

“Uh… Hope you don’t mind me asking, but what happened to Snape?” Neville said, briefly glancing in Snape’s direction. “I read something about it in the Quibbler—”

“You read the Quibbler?” Harry said.

Neville’s cheeks were pink-tinged. “Luna’s practically running it now.”

Harry laughed behind his cup. “Ah. It’s just an accident, Neville, and so far not much in the way of side effects. I reckon that if you keep to your part of the school, and he keeps to his, there’ll be no problems.”

Neville nodded, and drank his own cup of tea thoughtfully. In a soft voice, he said, “It’s good to see you, Harry. None of us heard from you for—”

“Yes,” said Harry. Manoeuvring the teacup of harm’s way, Harry leaned in to give Neville a partial hug, and once close to Neville’s ear he spoke in a tone no one else would hear, “All is well, Neville. I hope we can leave it at that.” He pulled back, and to his relief, Neville nodded with an understanding smile.

Not much changed upon Neville’s arrival, the only obvious thing being that the staff table had to be extended to enable him to sit at the far end with Sprout. Harry’s prediction was correct, and as long as Neville and Snape kept out of each other’s way, Hogwarts was a peaceful place. The only change in Harry’s routine specifically was that he occasionally met up with Neville for weekend tea or suppers, in which they laughed, Harry reported student mishaps, Neville discussed his favourite words (like “pullulate”), and they reminisced over the good ‘ol days, respectfully avoiding all topics associated with the battle. Harry was thrilled that Neville had found his niche, taking to Herbology with more fervour than anything Harry had ever seen him do before, other than perhaps cutting off a certain giant snake’s head, but that wasn’t the sort of thing they talked about.



FOUR

On the night before the Christmas break, Harry Potter turned up at the entrance to Snape’s personal rooms. It was the last thing Snape expected to see when he opened the door, save maybe Voldemort himself back and hungry for revenge. Still, the final effect was about the same, and Snape was taken aback by the sight.

“What?” Snape said.

“I’m off to the Burrow to visit the Weasleys,” Potter said. Before Snape could ask why he would care, Potter continued with, “I wanted to give you this before I left.”

Snape looked down at the package. It was reasonably well-wrapped, and Snape conceded that the colouring was more acceptable than the usual garish tones associated with the season. He looked up, confused. “Pardon?”

“Christmas present, sort of,” Potter said, and grabbed Snape’s hand to take a hold of the box. “Mostly it’s a thank you.”

“A thank you?” Snape repeated incredulously. “If you’re thinking about whatever life debts we’ve had to each other, I consider those well and truly dealt with.”

Potter looked surprised, as if he hadn’t considered that line of thought. “Oh, no, it’s not anything like that. I want to thank you for this year. It means a lot to me, and I don’t want to be ungrateful.”

“This year?” Snape said, even more confused than before. “I haven’t done a thing for you, Potter.”

“Exactly,” Potter said, and he grinned. A genuinely wide, happy grin – none of the usual half-smiles that so infuriated Snape. “You don’t pry, you don’t push, you don’t suffocate.” Potter’s words were filled with frustration, the first real show of emotion Snape had seen from the man the whole year.

“Let me get this straight,” Snape said, sardonical laughter threatening to work its way up his throat. “You’re giving me a present because I don’t care?”

“Something like that,” Potter said calmly. “I’m off.”

With that, Potter was gone, and Snape was left standing alone in the middle of his doorway holding a present. It was a new situation for Snape, so he had to take a moment to decide on the next course of action.

Said course of action involved retreating to his rooms, locking the door, and staring suspiciously at the gift all evening.

What could Potter have possibly meant by it? They weren’t friends, that was for sure. They were amiable at best, able to have civilised conversations without either blowing their top off or hexes being cast. Even so, they didn’t have anything in common; no fond memories to reminisce, no private jokes to laugh at, no hobbies to be shared.

And yet, Potter was apparently of the belief that Snape had done something worth appreciating. Snape didn’t do anything worth appreciating, not if he could help it. Maybe the boy was brain-damaged after all.

Snape decided not to think about it, because there was nothing to think about.

But then he had to go and open the present, the result of which was that there was plenty to think about again. For starters, there were two parts to the present. The first, which technically was not a present at all, was Snape’s own old Potions journal. He flipped through it, nostalgia (some bitter, some not) cascading through him. It was not as unpleasant as he’d thought it would be. The second, which was placed under the first item, was a later edition of the exact same journal, released just recently. Snape’s current copy was a few years old but still perfectly acceptable for guiding the students towards their N.E.W.Ts, but this newer version would prove to have its usefulness.

All in all, the two items were not of earth-shattering significance. They wouldn’t have been particularly difficult to get, and Potter wouldn’t have required much thought in deciding on them.

Snape placed both journals on his shelves, and the thoughts that they generated followed him throughout the grimly cheerful days where Snape had to tolerate Dumbledore’s twinkling and the endless moping of the few unfortunates who hadn’t any place to go.

“Suffocate” was the word Potter had used. He felt suffocated? But by whom? He was alone here at Hogwarts, and not particularly attached to any of students nor any of the faculty, save maybe Longbottom, but he’d only just arrived. Snape didn’t know what Potter did during his days and nights, besides the few times they crossed paths during meals, in corridors, at Hogsmeade or at staff meetings. Snape guessed that Potter was in constant correspondence with his friends, but the extent of those friendships was unknown to him. This was only the second time Potter had left campus, apparently having decided to visit the hell of red-heads (i.e. the Weasleys’ Burrow) for Christmas, though most of the other staff took whatever opportunity they had during alternate weekends to visit friends and/or family. Snape didn’t, of course, but that was because he was Snape.

So, it seemed that Potter had decided to make Hogwarts his sanctuary. It made sense, for Snape felt somewhat the same way, having spent as much time as possible here during his youth using whatever excuse he could take. Hogwarts had been the first taste of happiness for many young witches and wizards of unfortunate backgrounds, and Potter was not unusual in that regard. This place probably held many happy memories for him. It also held many not-so-happy memories, but perhaps the good outweighed the bad.

If Hogwarts was Potter’s sanctuary, then he’d chosen to come here to be safe, and maybe even to be happy. So the last thing that he’d want was to be pushed, pried and prodded like a thing to be examined under a spying glass.

Potter had come back to Hogwarts to find peace.

This was an unusual line of thinking for Snape, for he’d always thought of Potter as part of a unit: incomplete without the attachments of Weasley middle and Granger know-it-all. Dumbledore was right that Potter had never been alone during his time as a student. He’d always been surrounded by fawning admirers and people who’d trip all over themselves to make him happy or miserable (or both). That he’d choose of his own accord to isolate himself –

No, that wasn’t right. Potter wasn’t isolating himself, for he was in contact with his friends.

However, Potter had gone missing for a year after Voldemort’s fall, and Snape’s suspicion was that he had gone into hiding in Muggle society. That made sense for a boy who’d done everything he’d been forced to do. It must’ve been too much to take, and Merlin knew Snape had never believed Potter capable of dealing with any of it, and the no doubt monumental attention swathed upon him in its aftermath must’ve driven him to drop everything and leave. Potter had probably adopted Muggle society as a sort of Invisibility Cloak, giving him the breather he’d never had.

Upon thinking about it, Snape was surprised that Potter had chosen to come back at all.

Snape’s subsequent thoughts on Dumbledore called forth a strange mix of superiority and pity. The old man had been so consumed by guilt that he’d tried to overcompensate, smothering Potter when he’d long passed the age when that would have been welcome. Dumbledore had obviously underestimated the man’s ability to heal.

Well, not heal completely, because Potter was obviously still a few bristles short of a broom.

The attitudes of Dumbledore, McGonagall and the others probably hadn’t helped as well. Snape was sure that Dumbledore had talked to others about the matter just as he’d talked to Snape. Snape had probably been the only one who’d chosen not to comply with the idiotic request. Dumbledore may have even approved Sprout’s request for Longbottom to join the faculty in the hopes that a familiar face would bring Potter out of his (supposed) shell. Fat lot that helped, as nothing had outwardly changed and Potter remained the same ambiguous self he’d been since the start of the term.

Snape made the decision to confront Dumbledore on the day before Potter’s return. It would be Snape’s Christmas gift to the latter, even if he would never know about it.

They met for tea in the Headmaster’s office, wherein Snape spoke using carefully measured words of how Potter was a grown man, and Dumbledore had to respect the choices of said grown man, especially since he’d once borne the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Dumbledore looked surprised, and then sad. “I see,” he said. “Are you sure of this, Severus?”

Snape nodded. “One does not go through an event like that and come out unchanged. He’s no longer a little boy in need of your protection.”

“But he knows that we’re here for him?” Dumbledore said, pressing again.

“He knows where to find you. So if he needs you, he will,” Snape said. He didn’t add that Dumbledore was lucky to have been able to see Potter again at all. “I advise you to leave him the hell alone. Once upon a time it would have been unhealthy to leave Potter to his own devices, but I think that time has passed.”

“I feel like an old man,” Dumbledore said.

Snape refrained from pointing out that that was what he was. Instead, he changed the topic. “By the by, I believe I’ve found the cause of the accident.”

“Accident?” Dumbledore said.

Snape pointed a finger at his own face. “This. The reason I’ve not been able to detect the reasons for or reproduce the potion malfunction is because it didn’t lie solely within the physical ingredients that were present that day. I suspect that human emotion played a part – not my own, of course, but of those who were responsible for the explosion. You do realise, Albus, that we are extremely lucky that I bore the brunt of the incident. If any of the students had been at the centre, they’d have disappeared completely.”

Dumbledore nodded, the solemnity in his eyes evidence that he’d thought of it, and not wanted to.

“I’ll be doing a few more experiments on my own, and I’ll summon the three culprits once I’ve narrowed down the possibilities,” Snape said, and he left Dumbledore to his thoughts.

Potter’s return the next day didn’t bring with it any stark new insight. Snape saw him at dinner, flushed from asinine Christmas activities. He looked a little frazzled, but mostly happy and even a little relieved.

“How was Christmas, Harry?” Flitwick asked him.

“Oh, you know,” Potter said, sounding a little breathless. “Hermione sends her regards. She’s chuffed that she’s been invited to be the keynote speaker at the Eastern Europe Conference on Charms, says that it’s all thanks to you.”

“The E2C2, that’s marvellous!” Flitwick exclaimed, clapping happily.

Potter turned his head, and his eyes met Snape’s over the top of Flitwick’s head. Snape inclined his head slightly in greeting. Potter responded in kind.

The New Year brought on most of the same old. Some children excelled, many made mistakes, and Snape did what he could to work on either. Seventh-year classes were becoming tolerable, now that the hopes and dreams of two foolish little girls had been thoroughly quashed. As for Vector, Snape felt no need to discourage her, as he found her breakfast delivery services quite convenient.

He did cross paths with Longbottom on occasion, something Snape tried to avoid whenever possible so that the boy would not realise just how much height and girth he had over the Potions Master now. Not that that sort of thing should matter to Snape, but he’d never been a nice person, and a shallow reason to be annoyed was still a reason to be annoyed.

The closest he’d had to a conversation with Longbottom yet came one Sunday afternoon, when Snape had to go out into the grounds to collect some things from the Forbidden Forest. He saw Longbottom out there, arguing loudly with Hungbaur and the new grounds caretaker whose name Snape had never bothered to remember.

On the way back, he found himself crossing and joining the same path as Longbottom leading back up to the school. Longbottom had looked at him, shuttered his face into careful blankness, and continued to walk on.

“Hungbaur giving you trouble, Longbottom?” Snape asked.

“The man’s a git,” Longbottom said. The words had jumped out without forethought, if the sudden blush was any indication. “Just because my subject specialty doesn’t necessarily behead people with a single bite, that doesn’t make them any less dangerous. Um.”

“Hmm,” said Snape. “I’m in need of roundwort, if you and Pomona can spare any.”

“Yes, I believe we have some,” Longbottom said slowly. “The cold weather has made it easier to keep them fresh.”

Snape nodded and told Longbottom that he’d send someone to collect it shortly. With that, Longbottom detoured on to another path that lead down to Sprout’s greenhouse. Snape continued the rest of the trek alone, looking at nothing in particular, until he saw a fleck of movement in the distance over on the other side of the castle.

Students wandering around the grounds were not unheard of, especially on weekends, but on a cold day like this, anything that could lure a student out from the comfortable warmth of the castle would surely be cause for a teacher’s concern. Snape figured a little exercise wouldn’t hurt him, especially if he could get another name on the Detention Roster before the day was out.

Despite the snow, it was a pleasant afternoon to walk.

Once he’d reduced the distance between himself and his target, Snape discovered that it wasn’t a student at all. It had been a fair mistake, because no other Hogwarts teacher would go out of their way to find a slightly raised portion of the campus grounds, spell it free of snow, and then lie down on it.

Snape looked down at Potter, whose eyes were shut. There was a small hexagonal heating well on the ground not far from his head.

Potter opened his eyes. “Hey, you’re not…” He waved a finger in an indecipherable pattern.

“Articulate as always, Potter,” Snape said.

Potter fell silent and interlaced his fingers on top of his chest. After a moment of silence, Potter sat up, waved his wand over the heating well, and then lay back down.

The area cleared of snow increased slightly, maybe enough to allow Snape to sit on the revealed grass. He did, and put his basket of collected items on his lap. After a while, he said, “The scarf was too stuffy. I couldn’t breathe properly.”

“Ah,” said Potter, who was otherwise perfectly still.

Snape remembered this particular spot from his own student years. As it was slightly raised over the regular turf, it provided a strategic view to see any oncoming people from the school building. He’d spent quite a bit of his spare time reading here, before cretins had hounded him into abandoning it.

But there was no reason to think about that today. Besides, it was too cold to be bitter. Snape took his hands out from his robe pockets and patted them together. The warmth emanating from the heating well was a welcome.

Suddenly Potter moved. His hand reached out – not with the lightning reflexes of a Seeker, but with the casual stretch of someone who had all day – and his fingers wrapped around one of Snape’s clothed wrists. Snape allowed Potter to pull the wrist, holding back his I’m going to be needing that comment just to see what the other man would do.

Potter tilted his head slightly to look at Snape’s hand. Then he said, “Do you think it’s permanent?”

“It’s been almost three lunar cycles, and we’ve passed the winter solstice,” Snape said. “If you’d paid attention during your Potions classes, you’d know that any automatic reversion to a potions incident, especially related to the body’s physical nature, would have happened by now.”

“Must’ve been strong magic, then,” Potter said. He was staring at the sky again, and absent-mindedly brought Snape’s hand down to rest on his chest, almost like he’d forgotten that he’d been holding on to it. “Not that Whitaker has displayed any talent in that arena. If anything, quite the opposite.”

“It could have been a combination of more than one student,” Snape said. Potter’s heart thumped in slow beats, almost regular enough to time a clock to. “I’m going to try and reproduce the event that caused it.”

“That’d be dangerous,” Potter said. “You can’t afford to lose another twenty years.”

“The alternative would be to sift through mountains of letters every day for the foreseeable future,” Snape said. When Potter’s eyebrows scurried into a frown, Snape continued, “I’ve been getting letters about it ever since my condition was leaked to the press. Everything from begging to praise to suspicious threats that I’m holding out on the wizarding world for my own selfish gain.” Snape didn’t add that he’d redirected his mail to Dumbledore’s office.

They were silent again, and Snape felt no desire to fill it up with awkward nothings. Neither did Potter, it seemed, for he was busy staring up at the featureless grey sky thinking about whatever it was that Potter thought about these days.

After a while, Snape started to get uncomfortable from sitting on the hard ground. Instead of trying to make himself at ease, he stood up entirely, pulling his hand away. Potter let it go easily, maybe because he had forgotten about it being there at all. Cotton for brains, this Potter. Hit with one too many curses, maybe.

Snape walked back to the castle without a word or a glance back. If Potter minded, Snape wouldn’t know.

Some days later, Snape realised that he should have known what Potter had decided to do. During one of the afternoon classes, the unmistakable sound of someone approaching at a dead run made Snape stop mid-sentence. He ordered the entire class to be quiet and quickly walked to the door and yanked it open. The running culprit was a Ravenclaw Prefect.

“Stop!” Snape shouted, stepping into the corridor. “Explain yourself.”

“An-accident-in-DADA,” the Prefect said, the words rushing out to tumble over each other. “Have-to-collect-Prof-Flitwick.”

“What on earth for?”

“A-Ravenclaw’s-involved,” the Prefect said, practically dancing on his toes.

“Go,” Snape said curtly, and the boy was gone. Turning to the class behind him, Snape said, “Blackmore! Up front, make sure everyone stays put and working.”

“Yes, sir,” said Blackmore, who was a Slytherin.

Snape shut the door behind him and was off. Potter’s class was two levels up and slightly to the west side at an easy distance. Clusters of students parted like skittish birds as Snape made his way there, thinking about Ravenclaws and stupid children and Potter being the stupidest of them all.

Snape arrived at the classroom with his wand out. The children parted way for him, revealing Potter standing very still inside the class and looking at something with his serious face on. One of Potter’s hands, which was down by his side, beckoned surreptitiously to Snape.

With cautious steps, Snape entered the room and took in the sight. All the other students had fled to the farthest walls of the class, and some had even ducked under their desks for good measure. Standing in the very centre of small smoking crater, was Cardullo, third-year Ravenclaw girl and one of the three students who’d been involved in Snape’s own accident.

She was trembling, and tears were streaming down her face. There appeared to be faint tendrils of smoke rising off her head.

“Potter…” Snape said softly.

Potter’s hand moved to a stop gesture. He spoke to Cardullo in a clear and firm voice, “Tabitha, can you hear me?”

Cardullo made a half-choked sound, like her throat was full of mucus. “P-p-prof…”

“Tabitha, this is Professor Snape,” Potter said.

Cardullo’s eyes were glowing a faint yellow, and Snape fancied that he saw a hint of madness in them. “P-p-professor Snape. It was accident, sir. An accident, I didn’t mean it sir, I didn’t mean to hurt anyone—”

“He’s not hurt, Tabitha,” Potter said, in the same clear voice. “Look at him. Does he look hurt to you?”

The yellow eyes struggled to focus on Snape. Cardullo appeared to be in pain, and Snape saw that her wand hand was bleeding. “It was an accident.”

“I’m not injured, Miss Cardullo, I can assure you,” Snape said. At that moment, Snape sensed movement above and saw that there was a student suspended mid-air high above Cardullo’s head. Well, that accounted for Potter’s decision to stay as still as possible. Recovering quickly, Snape said, “I bear no ill-will to anyone who caused the accident.” That was actually a lie, but the truth would have been less than conducive for the moment.

Potter nodded slightly, as though approving Snape’s choice of words. He said, “Hear that, Tabitha? No one’s been hurt. If you stay calm, we can keep it that way.”

Cardullo sniff-choked again, but she was trembling less. Her head jerked up and down in something that could have been a nod.

“Now let’s bring Freddy down, shall we?” Potter said.

Snape kept his wand at the ready as Potter slowly approached Cardullo, whose eyes were starting to return to a regular human colour. Flitwick and McGonagall chose to arrive at that moment, breathing heavily from running and watching the ongoing scene with mouths open. Potter put a comforting arm around Cardullo’s shoulder and manoeuvred the literally suspended student (who’d passed out) down to the floor.

Potter was talking softly to Cardullo just the way one would talk to a scared animal on the brink of fleeing. He patted her on the head, and she leaned forward to bury her face against Potter’s chest, breathing deeply. Potter raised his free hand up to make a silent gesture at the three teachers.

While McGonagall and Flitwick tended to the unconscious student, Snape gestured firmly at the rest of the watching students in a manner that unmistakably meant, Get your sorry asses out of here as quietly as possible, or that’s detention for the lot of you. The students fled, none daring to speak until they were well and truly away.

Potter, still moving slowly as not to startle the student in his arms, took out his wand from his robe pocket and muttered a soft spell. Cardullo fell limp in restful sleep, and McGonagall took over in levitating both unconscious students to the infirmary.

“What was that about?” Flitwick asked. “Tabitha’s never been a troublemaker.”

Potter, to Snape’s surprise, looked a little guilty. “I may have pushed her a little, Filius, I’m sorry. I had my suspicions for a while, since she’s been performing quite poorly in my practical classes, which was surprising because according to the exam records, practical spells have been her speciality since first year. Turns out her problem has been in keeping her power under control, not the other way round.”

“So maybe next time instead of a Dark Lord, we’ll have a Dark Lady,” Snape said, and he knew even as he said it that it was in bad taste. Still, Flitwick’s scandalised expression was worth it.

Classes for the rest of the day were cancelled and all students confined to their dorms while the teachers puttered around like the complacent old rusts they were. Cardullo was isolated in the infirmary where she slept peacefully and undisturbed.

The emergency staff meeting held that evening revealed answers that confirmed Snape’s suspicions.

“I’ve come to learn that Tabitha Cardullo’s mother, the Missus Cardullo, was formerly a dragon,” Dumbledore announced. McGonagall sputtered into her tea. “I’m sure it will turn out to be a long and complicated story involving a lot of very illegal magic, and unfortunately both parents have been detained by Ministry. Filius, I hope you will be able to give young Tabitha the ear she needs in this trying time, she has a lot on her plate as it is.”

“Are we keeping her here, Albus?” Flitwick asked, looking nervous at the thought.

“Tabitha cannot help being what she is,” Dumbledore said. “And I doubt that there are any institutions with experience in dealing with dragon-human offspring. We’re as good as any. Additionally, Tabitha is still enrolled here as a student, and her welfare is our responsibility.”

“Poor thing,” said Delphi, dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief.

“Harry,” Dumbledore said. Harry sat up. “Good work keeping the situation under control, it could have been much worse.”

Well, that was that, it seemed. Snape didn’t feel particularly glad or disappointed in the certainty that there was no undoing the dragon magic that had reverted him, but he was certain that he didn’t want to know what had been going through Cardullo’s mind when she cast the spell. There was a certain measure of relief to be had, though, since there would be no more wondering about the ifs and hows. And there would most certainly be no more letters addressed to him demanding that he reveal his secret stash of Youthful Potion. If anyone felt like reproducing said chain of events, they were more than welcome to on their own time.

Potter patted him on the shoulder as they all walked out of Dumbledore’s office. Snape did not acknowledge it, but he did not shrug it off either.



FIVE

Harry arrived at Madame Caliman’s store at his usual time, which was a little before ten on a Saturday morning. Felicity Caliman, who had been expecting him, smiled and gave him a cup of tea “for being a dear”. Harry sipped at the cup as he entered the back corridor, ignoring the alarmed looks of students already perusing the shelves back there, and headed straight for the last room.

He cast a silencing spell around the dusty old room and sat down on his makeshift chair, which really was just a stack of old magazines.

He knew the number by heart, and dialled it without looking.

After a few rings, there was a click and the sound of a woman’s voice, “Hello.”

“’Morning, Carol,” Harry said. “It’s me.”

Good morning, Harry,” Carol said, a smile in her voice. “I was expecting you last week. Busy with work?

“Yeah, rather,” Harry said, setting the cup down. “There was an accident at the school. No one was hurt, but one of the kids involved, she… I think she’s going to be all right, but it won’t be easy.”

Did you know her? From before?”

“No, she’s new,” Harry said. “But I’m talking to her when I can.”

About her, or about yourself?” Carol said.

“Mostly about her,” Harry said. “But she seems to like it when I tell her stories about before. I think it makes her feel that she’s not a freak. Which she isn’t. But I can’t talk about those… with her. It’s difficult enough talking about it with Ron and Hermione.” Harry laughed wryly.

Yes, how was your Christmas visit? How did you feel when you saw your friends?

“It was overwhelming,” Harry said. “Both in a good way and bad way. The Burrow has always been a busy place, and it was nice to be in the middle of that again, but it was a bit too much at one go, I think. I’m glad that they’re all happy, but they kept trying to make me happy the way they’re happy and that’s not… That’s not what I am.”

Are you angry with them for trying? They haven’t seen you in almost two years, and they have respected your request in asking for time.

“No, I’m not angry with them,” Harry said, twirling a finger round the telephone cord. “They mean well, I know. But I feel bad. Ron misses me, I can see that he does, and he’s still upset that I left without telling him. Hermione’s more tight-lipped about it, but I reckon she’s upset as well.”

Was Ginny there?”

“Yes,” Harry said, cringing again at the memory. “It was awkward, but not… bitter. She looks happy, and I’m glad of it.”

Did you tell any of them where you went?

“No, I don’t think I’m there yet.” He wiped a hand over his face. “I’m such a fucking scaredy-cat.”

No you’re not, Harry,” Carol said. “Remember what we talked about: small steps. It’ll take time to re-forge the bonds you’ve broken, and they will not be the same as what you had before. That’s what you need, and what your friends will have to understand. You must give them credit, for they are hurting too, and be patient with them as they have been patient with you. You’ll tell them when you’re ready. I’m very proud of you for getting this far, you must know that. Who’s next on your list?

“Seamus and Cho,” Harry said. “I wrote to Seamus last week, but there hasn’t been a reply yet. I’ll write to Cho next week.”

That’s good, Harry. How about Snape?

“Snape’s… good,” Harry said. “I still owe him that last part I mentioned.”

How about Dumbledore?

“Dumbledore’s stopped, actually,” Harry said. “I think he’s taken the hint. I’ll go to him when I’m ready, but I’m not yet.”

Why don’t you tell me a good thought?

“Yesterday I had asparagus, and it was really good and buttery. I like buttery asparagus,” Harry said, and smiled. “Carol, I… I think I’m okay. I’ll be okay, I mean. I’m still reviewing my memories, like we said. It’s helping a lot.”

I’m glad. Harry, are you happy?

Harry paused. “I think so. Yes. I won’t run away again.”

You’re home, Harry.

“I know,” Harry said, his voice dropping to a whisper. “Thank you, Carol. I’ll call you in two weeks. Three, if anything comes up.”

I’m here for you, Harry.”

Harry set the receiver down. As with all the previous times he’d made that phone-call, he let out a long, shaky breath. His hands were trembling slightly, as though all the emotion he thought he’d dealt with and discarded had suddenly flooded back. He sat there for a while and slowly counted to ten.

Once he’d steadied himself, Harry returned the empty tea cup to Caliman and paid her for the call. Caliman never asked whom Harry called week after week, and whatever her guess it was, it could probably not be further from the truth. What self-respecting witch would suspect that a wizard would have to resort to help from a Muggle? There were spells to deal with this sort of thing, and goodness knew that St. Mungo’s had a repertoire as long as its residents list.

But that was one of many reasons Harry had left in the first place. He’d become so saturated by the fabric of this world and seen magic cause too much damage to respect it for what it was. The wonder he’d felt as a child visiting Diagon Alley for the first time had withered away into cold realisation that he had become the wizarding world’s greatest weapon. He’d practically collapsed in on himself, a human singularity threatening to take down everything and everyone with him, but a small part at the back of mind had recognised the danger that he’d posed. At the first available chance, he’d fled the British Isles, tail between his legs, to enter a world where he was a blissful nobody.

They’d tried to find him, of course. Owls and seeking spells followed his trail, but Harry had spent eight years honing his resourcefulness, and had been able to elude them easily. It helped that Harry had become too terrified to use his own wand.

Harry couldn’t remember exactly when the idea had come to him, only that it had, and there was nothing to lose. That was when Carol entered his life, introducing herself with a thin white card with small printed letters: Dr. C. F. Beach. The best thing she had going for her was that she had no premeditated ideas on who Harry was.

Among the many things Carol had given him was the realisation that for all its faults, Harry could not leave the world of his origins forever. He’d been bogged down by bad memories and burdens shunted across his young shoulders, but there was no way he could completely flee from that: history made him what he was, and he had to deal with it. Carol told him to go through his memories one by one, in which he would have to try and see every point of view and accept that there was no changing what was in the past. Carol didn’t know that Harry had taken to the task literally, just as there had been little that was metaphorical in Harry’s recounts of wizards and dark magic.

From there, Harry had to close each bad memory and move on. At the same time, at her suggestion, he would find good memories to keep. The smallest things became wonderful treasures, like breathing fresh air through an open window, the smell of fresh parchment, and the taste of buttered asparagus at dinnertime.

Harry kept a list in his head, because no matter how strongly he warded his rooms, the only place he really trusted was the space behind his eyes. In it, there were names and events crossposted with a secondary “To Do” list.

Snape was on that list, and though he’d originally started somewhere in the middle tier, he’d steadily migrated upwards to the point where Harry was starting to think that maybe things would be all right between them. It was asking too much, Harry knew, because one school year of shared nothings could not forgive all wrongs. But after being privy to a smorgasbord of revelations regarding the Potions Master, Harry had to forgive himself for being completely blind to the best part of Snape, even if it had been hidden beneath a meticulously constructed collection of barbs and sneers.

That is why, that night after returning from Hogsmeade and finishing with his routine, Harry made the trek to Snape’s personal rooms for the second time.

As before, Snape opened the door, adjusted his eyeline, and then glared. “Potter,” he said. “Having a bootsale?”

“This is for you,” Harry said.

“I sincerely hope that this will not become a habit,” Snape said, but did not take the proffered tin.

“It’s not biscuits,” Harry said. “It’s inside the tin, let me show you. Wait, can I come in?”

“Fine, fine,” Snape said, and allowed Harry to enter, shutting the door behind them.

It was much warmer down here than Harry expected, which was good, because his fingers were threatening to tremble again. Muttering the password, Harry opened the charmed tin box. Its insides were glowing an unearthly silver-blue.

“The password is Couch Potato,” Harry said. He thrust the box out again.

Snape eyed the tin’s contents suspiciously. “What is it?”

Bypassing the smart remark, Harry said, “It’s a memory of mine. I saw one of yours, so you should see one of mine.”

The memory was of one of Harry’s earliest sessions with Carol, when he was still shouting, cursing and crying in random cyclic intervals. Standard fare, and Snape would be sure to appreciate it.

Snape sighed and rolled his eyes. “I don’t want it.”

“It’s not about you, it’s about me. It’ll make me feel better,” Harry said. “I’m selfish that way, sorry.”

“For heaven’s sake, Potter,” Snape said, and crossed his arms across his chest. “You are not the same person as the imbecile who fell into my Pensieve. I won’t have anything to do with this, so get out.”

Harry’s thoughts skidded to a halt. “Excuse me?”

“Out, Potter, out!” Snape said. His hands landed on Harry’s shoulders and started steering him forcefully towards the door, which swung open as they approached it.

Harry’s free hand caught the doorframe and his feet braced the floor. He turned to look up at Snape’s face, scowling furiously close to his own. Snape’s hands were a welcome weight on Harry’s shoulders, because he suddenly felt like he was about to fly away.

It wasn’t a far distance, so Harry leaned up and kissed Snape’s mouth. Nothing fancy or deliberate; it was a peck at best.

When Harry pulled back, Snape’s eyes were wide as though he’d been Petrified.

“Good night, Severus,” Harry said, and walked away. His shoulders felt lonely without hands to brace them, but their warmth lingered. Harry returned to his rooms feeling like he’d accomplished something amazing, but at the same time destroyed something precious. This was ten shades of fucked up and he sure had a new topic to discuss with Carol now.

But it had felt natural to kiss Snape. Just as he knew that he was a wizard, that he loved to fly and that his favourite flavour was chocolate, Harry knew that he’d wanted to kiss Snape. The idea hadn’t arrived with any fanfare, and it had simply fallen into a peg-shaped hole in Harry’s conscious mind.

Once in his rooms, Harry left the tin box on his desk, having decided to deal with it in the morning. He considered removing the evening’s memory for study as well, but it was better appreciated in own his head for the moment.

That night when Harry slept, he dreamed about Buckbeak, oatmeal and flying without a broom.

He woke early, like he usually did. After brushing his teeth and washing his face, Harry entered his sitting room for his morning custom of reviewing another memory.

That’s when he heard the knock at the door.

Harry checked the wards to make sure that it wasn’t someone who shouldn’t be in Hogwarts. When all was well, he opened it.

There stood Snape, his robe partially open to reveal a rumpled grey nightshirt, and his normally lanky hair up in disobedient tufts.

Harry’s laughter was cut off when a fist grabbed his shirt and he was suddenly and very thoroughly being kissed. It was sudden and disorienting, and the glide of firm lips determined to become acquainted with his own made Harry’s stomach suddenly go in about ten different directions at once. Quite like flying, really.

Harry stumbled back into the room, Snape’s weight on his front and a warm hand steady on Harry’s lower back. Harry heard one of Snape’s legs move to kick the door shut, showing that perhaps the other man hadn’t really lost all cognitive thought.

Then Snape’s mouth slowly closed the kiss, and Harry opened his eyes to watch him pull away.

Snape was frowning at him. “Hmph. Good morning, I suppose,” he said, as though they were merely crossing paths at the staff table for breakfast.

“Good morning,” Harry said. Neither one of them moved. One of Harry’s arms had in fact looped around Snape’s torso and was getting comfortable against the intriguing firmness of a body that could give as good as it got. “Had second thoughts?”

“Yes,” Snape said. “You’re still an idiot.”

“I’m not disagreeing,” Harry said. He trailed a hand up Snape’s chest, brushing his curled fingers against the angles of Snape’s chin. There was now only one line trailing the path from nose to chin, and Harry kissed a corner of it before detouring back to Snape’s mouth. This time it was slow and languid, like they had all the time in world. The firm slide of Snape’s tongue against Harry’s own made his knees buckle shamefully, but Snape’s hand was still there to hold him in place.

Still, Harry was not in the mood to do this standing up, and he was doubly not in the mood of booting Snape out. They retreated to the bedroom between kisses, Harry almost tripping on yesterday’s robes that he’d thrown on the floor. Snape was in no position to comment on Harry’s hospitality skills, as he dropped his own robe to accompany its fallen comrade.

The covers were still a little warm, and as soon as Harry was under them, there was Snape, right on top of him. Snape used his wand to flick Harry’s spectacles away, and then descended again for another long kiss. There was a measured amount of sensory overload involved, what with the sudden press of (what seemed like) endless miles of skin against his own, but Harry didn’t have the time to focus on that just yet.

Warm chocolate. Snape probably wouldn’t appreciate being compared to chocolate, but that’s what it felt like to have warmth all around him, the man’s hard lines and welcome weight pinning Harry against the mattress. The kiss moved from one mouth to another, and Harry was perfectly happy to trace each and every one of Snape’s teeth.

Harry felt like he could do this all day, but one of Snape’s hands had insinuated itself between their two bodies and was very slowly brushing over one of Harry’s nipples. The warmth changed and Harry gasped, breaking his hold on Snape’s mouth. “Oh!” His stomach tightened at the unexpected pleasure, and he started to move. Snape took the cue, one knee fitting neatly in between Harry’s and parting it with gentle purpose. He moved a little more and then – “oh god” – there was contact.

Snape was looking down at Harry, the frown between his eyes filled with intent as he moved, getting their bodies to fit against each other. Harry felt himself start to blush, for there were embarrassing sounds working up his throat, and he was quickly losing the ability to hold them back.

Then Snape got the angle just right, forcing Harry’s erection into glorious contact against the angles of Snape’s hip, and he couldn’t help but moan.

Snape’s nostrils were flaring and his lips held tightly together – presumably to hold back his own embarrassing sounds. That actually made Harry feel better, but on the journey from his stomach, his laughter transmogrified into a soft keening sound. His eyes scrunched shut as though the motion could hold back to pleasure rolling through him. He couldn’t open them again, even as he felt Snape’s mouth take the offered throat and start licking and nipping.

Harry ran his hand up Snape’s back, trailing the dip of the spine and then gripping the shoulder blades for dear life. Surely it couldn’t get any —

Snape’s hand wrapped itself firmly around Harry’s erection and pulled gently. The alien fingers, so different from his own, mixed elegance with eroticism as it did all sorts of things to Harry, fingers and palm exploring thoroughly as Snape alternated pressure with smoothness in coaxing Harry higher. It was too much too fast, Harry couldn’t keep up, and when Snape curled his fingers firmly, Harry thrust against the tightness and let go, his body arching up to savour every offered sensation. His lips parted to growl soundlessly into the air, riding the wave and wishing it would never end.

Sadly, it did, and Harry collapsed back down with an undignified huff.

Snape’s mouth was on him again, no longer with intent, but simply pressing against a cheek where he breathed in quick, rapid breaths. Harry could feel Snape’s eyelashes brushing against his temple, and he fuzzily catalogued this as a nice new memory. Harry adjusted his hold on Snape, one hand holding on to the back of the other man’s neck, fingers tangling in the locks of hair.

A few more firm pushes, and then Snape stiffened against him. The sound he made was soft and surprised, as though he hadn’t expected that it would be like this. Harry quite liked that, and made a mental note to see what other sounds he could elicit pending further exploration.

Having braced himself, Harry was ready when Snape collapsed on top of him. After what he deemed was an acceptable pause, Harry carefully tipped Snape over on to his side.

“I think I pulled a muscle,” said Harry. “Serves me right for not stretching first, I guess.”

“Hmm,” said Snape, who had apparently decided it best to ignore the joke. One of his hands travelled across the pillow between their heads, and Snape tapped his fingers gently against Harry’s cheek. Tapping turned into a slow stroke, his thumb brushing over the cheekbones, perhaps memorising their form. “Only because I wasn’t stupid enough to fawn all over you.”

Harry sighed like a cat basking under a beam of sunlight. “You didn’t give a flying fuck,” he slurred, feeling sleepy and lethargic. Sure, it was a weekend, but Harry quite liked keeping to his routine… but maybe… it…

Snape’s laughter was barely audible. “Choice words, Potter. Unfortunately, not quite true anymore.” Harry was just about to nod off when Snape barked, “Aha!

Harry snapped awake. Snape practically jumped out of bed, grabbed his wand and quickly spelled both their bodies clean before running out into Harry’s sitting room.

“Bollocks,” Harry said. He really didn’t want to get up, for the covers were really very warm and snug. He found that he didn’t have to, because Snape was soon back in the room and sitting on the bed.

He was also holding the tin box Harry had left on the desk outside. That woke Harry right up.

“See, you completely made me forget what I came here for,” Snape said.

I made…?”

“Hush,” Snape said curtly. He raised his wand to his temple, and slowly pulled out a thin silver string of memory. A quick flick, and the memory fell into the tin box with Harry’s own. Snape looked at Harry and sniffed in mock disdain. “Now it’s fair.”

Harry crawled out from the covers and looked into the box. “Well, that’s one way.” He smiled up at Snape. “Yours first or mine?”

“Now?” Snape said, eyebrows jumping up. “Oh, all right. Where’s your Pensieve?”

“It’s in the… Oh wait, I’ll get it,” Harry said, reluctantly stretching. He stood up and took his spectacles from the bedside table, sliding them on. Snape’s hand brushed against his waist in a casual gesture, making Harry smile.

The smile remained as he walked into the sitting room, rolling his shoulders to loosen its knots. The hidden compartment in his bookshelves opened to his touch, revealing the small Pensieve. He was about to walk back to the bedroom when something in the wall mirror caught his eye.

Harry approached the mirror and stared. He lifted his spectacles up, then let them fall back on to his nose.

“Severus, what did you do to my eyes?” Harry called out. “They’re the wrong colo—”

“I have enough on my conscience, thank you very much,” came Severus’ yelled reply.

Oh yeah, definitely messed up. But when it came right down to it, what part of Harry’s life wasn’t? They’d just have to deal with it, just as they would deal with everything else.

They had the time to do it now, too.



SIX

If Snape had ever wondered what it would be like to have a Harry Potter-shaped chunk wedged into his life (which he hadn’t), the last thing he would have expected would be the learning curve involved upon the introduction of said person. There was a great deal about Harry that didn’t make sense. True enough, he hadn’t ever made sense before, but previously Snape had had the advantage of distance and indifference working for him.

Harry woke up at the crack of dawn, something Snape would never have guessed. Harry had a daily routine and stuck to it, something for which Snape suspected was a measure of (over)compensating for the unpredictability that was the norm of his past. Harry made extra effort to eat healthy, but he always conceded to his sweet tooth and – this was the kicker – he felt absolutely no guilt in doing so.

Additionally, Harry enjoyed flying, and though that wasn’t unexpected, his admission on the why captured Snape’s attention.

“I don’t have to think,” Harry said. He was moving as he spoke, lifting his Emberspur out of its case and adjusting the steers. “The first time I touched I broom, it was like something inside me woke up. Like maybe I was built to be in the air, and had just been waiting my whole life for the chance to fly.”

Snape, landlubber that he was, didn’t understand the sentiment and thus made no comment. He simply watched as Harry replaced his spectacles with ridiculous flying goggles that made him look like a near-sighted owl. Snape half-expected him to start hooting. Instead, Harry just said, “You don’t need a broom to fly.”

“No, I do not,” Snape said.

“Could you teach me?” Harry asked.

Then there was that: Harry liked to learn. He wasn’t a good student in the traditional sense, but he absorbed whatever fascinated him with the affinity of a very enthusiastic sponge.

“Perhaps,” Snape said. He turned away as Harry soared into the sky for a spin of the Hogwarts grounds. There were other things Snape had to do before breakfast, most important being preparations for the day’s practical classes, and if Harry wanted to work up an appetite by plunging head-first into the (still) chilly spring air, then he was perfectly capable of doing so.

Snape was very much attached to his own routine, and it was convenient that Harry’s schedule occasionally overlapped with his.

It was a delightful thing to hold to one’s chest, and Snape suppressed a smirk when, much later, he entered the Great Hall for breakfast. Harry was already there, changed into fresh clothes and drinking his tea. They did not look at each other, nor speak to each other.

“Flitwick, pass the salt,” was all Snape said at the table.

It had been a month since Harry had first kissed him, and the thrill of the moment had yet to fade.

This was an intrigue unlike any Snape had ever been involved in. It didn’t involve putting his or other people’s lives on the line, or secretly helping ungrateful wretches too ignorant to realise what was in front of their own noses, or any chance of immediate torture and/or death. It did involve knowing that but two chairs down, there was an extraordinary man who’d done something phenomenal, and not for the sake of the world that had put him on a pedestal, but for the sake of himself.

It made Snape feel unbearably superior.

It wasn’t unheard of for staff members to become attached, considering how isolated Hogwarts could be, and the only rule that really existed was the condition that said relationship not influence the ability of the involved staff to carry out their duties. As far as Snape was concerned, he taught his classes, Harry taught his classes, and whatever they did in the evenings was their own business. It adhered to the rule so accurately that the existence of what they had just made everything else seem that much brighter.

The day’s classes were filled with the usual mix of miscreant and indolence, the food at lunch minimally tolerable, and the Heads of Houses meeting with Dumbledore typically dull. Even so, the combination of the lot didn’t seem so bad to Snape, for he had this to hold over them. He had knowledge that superseded anything the world could throw at him, and by god, he was going to hold on to it for as long as the universe would let him.

Correction: he was going to hold on to it for as long as he wanted to.

When Snape returned to his rooms that evening, he was surprised to discover that Harry was already there, sitting at his desk and writing. Although they did have the password for the other’s rooms, they’d never showed up unannounced. Snape wasn’t in the mood to mind the intrusion, so he didn’t waste his voice pointing it out.

“You’re almost out of ink,” Harry said, not looking up from the parchment.

“Only because someone keeps forgetting to replace what they’ve used,” Snape said. He left the other man to his writing, retreating to the inner rooms to shed the day’s clothes and draw a hot bath.

He sank into the watery cocoon and shut his eyes, savouring the feel of water lapping at his neck and arms. He was just starting to drift off when he heard the door open and Harry’s feet tap across the floor.

“Whatever you want, the answer’s no,” Snape said.

“What makes you think I want something?” came Harry’s voice.

Snape opened an eye. “You always want something.”

Harry sank down on to the floor next to the tub, stretching his legs out in front of him. He appeared to be taking the statement under serious consideration. “I guess that’s true. But if you think about it, everyone wants something.”

“Please, no meta-philosophical discussion,” Snape said, rolling his eyes. “Sometimes a bath is just a bath, Mister Potter.”

That made Harry laugh a little. Without explaining what was amusing, Harry said, “Actually, Hermione’s coming to Hogwarts.”

“Ah, the Missus Granger,” Snape said. “Tell me again, why this would matter to me?”

“Because she was one of your brightest pupils, and is now one of the most influential up-and-coming members of the Ministry of Magic,” Harry said. One of his hands had migrated across the lip of the tub, and was idly playing with Snape’s damp locks. “Also because she’s one of my best friends.”

“Perhaps to the first, rubbish to the second,” Snape said, shifting his neck to get comfortable. “No comment on the third.”

Harry made a little huffing sound that could have been a sigh, and got up off the floor to brush his teeth. Other than the sound of the moving bristles, the bathroom was quiet, enabling Snape to bask in the moment and be thankful that Harry had finally remembered to bring his own toothbrush. After a while there was the sound of gargling, and then Harry spitting into the sink.

“Do you think Dumbledore knows?” Harry asked.

“About what?” Snape asked.

“About us.” Harry said, leaning against the sink and looking at Snape. “I think he does. You’re quite obvious about it.”

“I – what?” Snape sat up, precious warm water sloshing over the edge of the tub.

Infuriatingly, Snape’s reaction only served to make Harry laugh. Before Snape could demand a full explanation, the other man skittered out of the bathroom, practically running on tiptoes to get out of the line of fire.

Snape cursed as he pulled himself out of the bathtub, grabbing the towel from its rail to wipe himself down as he returned to the bathroom. He’d barely stepped through the threshold when he felt Harry’s arms wrap around him from behind, a presumptuous chin propping itself on Snape’s shoulder.

“I like this,” Harry said, and flattening his hands on Snape’s chest and stomach.

Snape tried not to roll his eyes at the non sequitur, and focused instead on pulling Harry round to capture his mouth in a kiss. Harry always shut his eyes a second or two after contact, another curious quirk that probably didn’t mean anything, but was there all the same.

It was only after Harry had manoeuvred him on to the bed and crawled on top of him that Snape remembered what he’d meant to ask. “What on earth are you talking about, me being obvious? You will confess to the nonsense of it this instant – stop distracting me!”

Harry looked up from where he’d been biting into the softness of Snape’s stomach. “It’s not nonsense.”

It was difficult to look threatening when one Harry Potter was gently palming his erection, but Snape was determined. “You do realise that I’ve had much more experience in subterfuge than you, and I’m not inclined to agree with any accusations you might make on the matter?”

“You smile a lot,” Harry said, trying to sound reproachful and failing spectacularly. “Not all the time, mind. Just sometimes, when you forget people are looking. You might as well cast a lumos above your own head.”

“That’s…” Snape considered. “Bollocks.” Then Snape forgot all about being annoyed, because Harry was sucking him into his mouth, the result of which was all he could think about was warmth and suction and that Harry had better not stop or else there would be hell to pay.

If anything, Snape hated that his new body didn’t require much to get off. All Harry had to do was hum a little, tongue a little, pull a little, and whoops he was off, gasping and moaning pathetically while Harry made comforting sounds, as if he were a pet to be soothed. He floated back down to earth feeling more than a little put upon, and pointedly turned away when Harry – an idiotic grin on his face – crawled back up the bed to poke Snape in the waist.

“Don’t sulk, Severus,” Harry said, snuggling close to Snape’s back.

“Being called obvious is an insult, Harry,” Snape said, silently revelling in the feel of Harry’s smooth skin against his own. “And I’m not sulking.”

“If it’s any consolation, I don’t think anyone knows what to make of it,” Harry said, adjusting himself to thrust gently against the angle of Snape’s hip. “You’re acting suspiciously, but since when does Severus Snape not act suspiciously? You’re just changing your modus operandi of freaking people out.”

It was a sad thing that Harry had to resort to such pathetic reasoning to justify himself. Snape let out a long-suffering sigh as he turned over and pressed a firm finger against Harry’s collarbone, pushing him flat on to his back.

They hadn’t done this before, but a month was a sufficiently long time to acquaint each other with the nuances of their bodies. Snape had never asked whether Harry had had practical experience with other members of the same gender, and he had no intention of ever doing so. Either he did, which meant that he knew what they were getting in to, or he didn’t, and would have to pick things up as they went along. After all, Harry was a very fast learner when it suited him.

As supporting evidence for both sides of the argument, Harry didn’t look confused not surprised when Snape crawled on top of him and summoned required anointments. Snape batted Harry’s hands away when they offered assistance, opting to prepare himself while Harry watched.

“It’s disconcerting to see you grinning like that,” Snape snapped, after a while. “Stop it.”

“Um, okay,” said Harry, who wasn’t trying very hard to oblige. “It’s just that you look…”

Snape lathered Harry’s erection, trying not to look like he was waiting for Harry finish that sentence.

“…like you’re really enjoying yourself.”

A part of Snape wondered if he’d ever get used to Harry’s strange comments, and if that ever happened, whether it’d be because he was too busy making strange comments of his own. “Enjoying myself, hah,” Snape said, and took firm hold of Harry’s upright prick. A moment of positioning, a deep relaxing breath, then he sank down carefully.

Harry looked shocked. That is to say, both his eyes and mouth were wide open.

Thighs quivering with effort, Snape let out another long breath and moved tentatively, working his way downwards as the burn spread and became familiar.

“Um,” Harry said, his voice choked.

“Don’t move, I’m concentrating,” Snape said sharply. Another little shimmy, another long breath, and he was set cleanly across Harry’s lap. He moved his calves inward a little in an effort to get (relatively) comfortable, bracing his weight on his hands as he leaned back, smoothing out a crick in his spine when he arched.

After a heartbeat or two, Snape looked down at Harry and raised an eyebrow. “Is this satisfactory?”

“Don’t!” Harry barked, his turn to be snappish. “I’m gonna – it’s too – I’m…”

Weight on his thighs and arms, Snape began to move. Harry’s mouth fell open again, but this time there were noises coming forth: a curious mixture of sounds new and old. Snape kept his eyes on Harry, not wanting to miss every gasp, every grimace, every moan, and he was so focused on his target that it took him a while to realise that he was hard again.

Snape conceded that maybe a body that could keep up with his sweet young thing was a boon after all.

Even so, it seemed that Snape was left to drive solo, what with Harry being so thoroughly out of it. Snape tugged his own prick as he ground himself against Harry, forcing the angle to accuracy and letting out a hoarse moan at the press of Harry against his prostate.

Harry echoed that with a moan of his own. His fingers reached out to grab a hold of Snape’s hips, encouraging a rhythm as Harry’s own hips began thrusting upwards to meet Snape part way. Snape let out an involuntarily cackle of satisfaction (one he would not confess to under pain of death) as he quickened his pace to one bordering on cruelty, his body all but ordering Harry’s to let go.

Snape saw it a moment before it actually happened, and quickly shifted one of Harry’s hands to cover Snape’s own erection.

Sure enough, Harry came with a rapid, “Oh oh oh oh oh!” His body stiffened against the mattress, and Harry’s chest arched upwards, the fingers of the hand on Snape’s hip digging in sharp, and the other squeezing Snape’s dick just shy of actual discomfort.

It was a moment to be marvelled at, with Harry under him, in him, holding him. A moment later Snape came with a hoarse shout of his own, holding Harry’s fingers firmly around him and mentally replaying Harry’s excellent repertoire of orgasmic sounds.

Snape was loathe to acknowledge the existence of afterglow, but he was basking in it as he pulled himself off Harry and collapsed face first on to the mattress. He inhaled through the pillow, letting his breath steady and his body stop with the tremors.

Cutting into the peace of the moment, Harry started to hum. Snape moved a hand to swat whatever part of Harry he could reach; he thought he caught a shoulder and part of Harry’s torso.

Harry stopped humming, but the sudden silence was somehow of more concern than noise. Snape reluctantly turned his head against the pillow to look. Harry was still flat on his back, fingers interlaced on his chest, and smiling at the ceiling.

Harry said, “Neville knows about us.”

Snape stiffened, and not in a good way. “What?”

“I didn’t tell, he just guessed. And I won’t lie to him,” Harry said, shrugging remorselessly. “He reckons that I’m a good influence on you.”

“A good…?” Typically, sex was supposed to be relaxing, not induce a barrage of other aggravations. “Merlin’s balls. Harry?”

“Mmm?”

“If you would like to have sex with me again in the foreseeable future, don’t mention Longbottom’s name in these rooms ever again.”

Though he took the little noise that Harry made as an acknowledgement, it didn’t settle the little curious little knot that had settled itself in Snape’s stomach. It wasn’t unpleasant, just unfamiliar, and tugged at Snape’s thoughts even as Harry’s breathing evened out and he fell asleep with typical ease. It took longer for Snape to coax himself to sleep, which was very irritating as his body insisted that it was tired from the night’s excursions and would like to use the nightly hours recovering, thank you very much.

Snape woke up the next morning feeling a tad restless. The space next to him was empty, though that was not unusual due to Harry’s aforementioned affinity for waking up obscenely early, and the absence of a note meant that he was off settling his own agenda somewhere.

Snape briefly toyed with the notion of skipping breakfast, but he reluctantly admitted that he was hungry, and something hot and filled with grease would not go amiss.

Half the staff table was empty, what with it being a weekend morning, and as soon as he sat down in his regular chair, Snape realised that he really was hungry. He ate his fill, running his thoughts in circles, thinking that maybe Harry did have something good going in his practice of analysing his memories in the hopes that they’d make sense.

Snape glanced up for a moment and saw Longbottom at the far end sans Sprout, and strangely enough, the sight elicited nothing more than casual blankness.

Harry arrived for breakfast just as Snape was finishing. Neither acknowledged the other, and after Snape was well and truly done with his tea, he stood up and glanced at Dumbledore.

Who saw the movement, turned, and did the twinkly-eyed thing.

Perhaps Harry’s madness really was contagious, because Snape found himself thinking, “Oh, fuck it” and smiled right back. There was the sound of someone’s spoon (Harry’s, maybe) clattering on the table.

Dumbledore’s expression was worth it.

Snape saw the perfect exit moment for what it was, and left the Great Hall without looking back.

Once outside, Snape told himself that the sensation frothing in his chest was not laughter, but gloating satisfaction. He rode on the high of it as he supervised a lengthy detentions session for a pair of fourth-years who practically pissed themselves faced with Snape in his current condition.

Being preoccupied thusly, Snape forgot all about Granger’s visit until, some time after lunch, he casually glanced out one of the many hall windows and saw Harry walking across the courtyard with her at his side.

It took a moment for Snape to realise exactly how he knew it was Granger, for the angle was wrong and all he could see was the back of a female with brown hair who, logically, could have been anyone. It was the familiarity of the scene that triggered instant recognition; the way she leaned towards him, her head tilting left and right as she talked and listened in turns.

Snape had witnessed the scene before, countless times back when circumstances had been different and there had been good reason for his watchfulness. There was an empty space where the red-head should have been, but the picturesque quality of the two bodies walking in tandem was not diminished.

All at once Snape felt like an outsider, looking from a distance in on something he could never touch.

How silly and melodramatic, he told himself as he shook his head and continued the walk to the library. Granger and Weasley were integral parts of Harry’s emotional landscape, well inside the bubble of Harry’s celebrity, with front row seats as they watched him gain memories that Snape would never dare touch without invitation. Snape was a new addition and subject to a completely different set of rules and regulations.

After spending some time browsing the staff section of the library and generally ignoring the few suicidally brave students who dared ask for hints on the upcoming exams, Snape finally picked a few choice tomes for reading and inspiration. He was in the process of signing them out when he heard Granger’s distinct voice (minus the shrill of her youthful enthusiasm, thank Merlin) saying, “…and I’d like to spend some time with her, if that’s all right.”

Flitwick’s voice floated over in reply, “I’m sure she’ll be thrilled to meet you, Hermione. She’s heard much about you through Harry, I’m certain.”

After adjusting the books in his arms, Snape turned, fully expecting (and getting) the double-take that still came from those who hadn’t seen him post-accident. Granger’s eyes were surprised and slightly fearful, but those expressions were quickly replaced by an unmistakable gleam of curiosity.

“Professor Snape,” said Granger.

“Granger,” said Snape.

“Good to see that you’re in… good health,” Granger said, awkwardly.

“Depends on your definition of the term,” said Snape, turning towards the exit. He was halfway there when the double doors swung open, revealing an out-of-breath Harry apparently mid-run. Snape moved past him, one eyebrow raised. “No running in the library, Harry.”

“Whoops, yes, sorry,” Harry said meekly, and walked away towards Granger.

Snape shouldered the half-open door to step out, and just caught Granger’s words: “Wow, he called you Harry, did you hear that?” The sentence was followed by an amused chuckle.

As the double doors clicked shut behind him, Snape realised that Granger didn’t know.

This surprised him far more than the possibility of the other Hogwarts occupants knowing. Harry kept a great many things to himself, it was true, but this was Granger, a constant in Harry’s side since he’d been a fresh-faced youngling. She’d had first hand experience in knowing Harry, something Snape required a Pensieve for.

And she didn’t know.

Who knew why Harry made the choices he did? Certainly Snape wouldn’t be the first to guess.

Snape returned to his rooms only long enough to drop off all the books save one that he wanted to read immediately, and that one book accompanied him on the journey to Harry’s rooms, where he sat in front of the fireplace and read. He didn’t expect Harry to return any time soon, but that was all right, because he wasn’t there looking for company. He was there because he was allowed.

Snape was finished with the book and starting to consider rifling through Harry’s meagre collection for a replacement when he heard the door open. Snape waited for the sound of footsteps approaching before he looked up benignly.

“Did you have dinner?” Harry asked, dropping a bag on a chair.

“Hmm, yes,” Snape said.

Harry rifled through his pockets for loose change, dumping whatever he could find on the shelf. “I found the Dursleys. Or rather, I got someone to find the Dursleys for me.”

“Granger, I presume?” Snape asked.

Harry looked up, surprised. “No,” he said. “Muggle agency. Dropped by Caliman’s during lunch to follow-up, apparently Aunt and Uncle have moved to Sheffield, and Dudley’s in East London, doing… something, they weren’t really clear about what.”

“Hmm, yes, and you plan to make a weekend trip soon?” Snape asked.

Harry’s eyes skittered downwards in an unexpected sign of guilt. “Actually… I was kinda hoping you’d come with me.”

Snape felt his back snap upright. “What on earth for?”

Harry smiled sheepishly. “Moral support?”

“Don’t you have other…?” The sentence trailed off Snape’s lips. He looked at Harry, some part of him just now waking up to realise that this was the strange, nonsensical man with whom he’d started a strange, nonsensical relationship.

“Is that a no?” Harry asked, looked worried and uncertain.

That is taking a moment to consider that the exams are coming up,” Snape said, standing up and setting to book aside to approach Harry. “Papers to set, practical exams to prepare, et cetera.”

“Oh, right,” Harry said. He lifted his eyes hopefully. “But afterward?”

“I suppose,” Snape said, fitting his arm round the shape of Harry’s waist and tugging lightly.

Harry made a happy sound as Snape leaned in for the kiss, fingers bunching in Snape’s robes and pulling in close. The suggestion that Harry was gentling Snape was ludicrous; Snape would never allow such an arrangement without due payment. As Snape coaxed Harry’s mouth open (not that he ever needed much coaxing), he thought of Harry as a sort of bird, nervous and angry in his distrust of all cages. Snape could never hope to have Harry, or to assume that he would always be there, but as long as he was, so would Snape.

He couldn’t continue with that thought, nauseatingly soppy as it was, so he distracted himself by sucking on Harry’s tongue.

Harry was turning out to have quite the fascination with Snape’s hair, because his fingers were threading through it again, twisting and tugging at the strands. Snape busied his own hands getting into Harry’s robes, reducing the number of layers between his skin and Harry’s, though admittedly not by much.

When Harry pulled his mouth away, it was to talk, not because of any need to breathe or interest in stopping the kiss. “Does it hurt?” he asked.

“What?” Snape asked, leaning forward to savour Harry’s scent.

“When I…” Harry’s eyebrows moved skyward in what one would assume was an attempt to say something without actually having to say something. “You know.”

“Yes. It does hurt, and there’s a great deal of discomfort.” Snape smirked into Harry’s shocked mouth as he kissed it quickly, and then moved to an ear to whisper, “But oh so very worth it.”

You—!” Harry shoved at him, eyes alight.

Snape made a show of being pushed away, eventually sitting down in a high-backed chair in mock disinterest. Harry eyed him from where he stood, and Snape could practically see the wheels turning in that incomprehensible head of his. Familiarity dictated that Snape allow Harry to crawl over his lap, forcing Snape to tilt his head back to keep eye contact.

“Could we have a go again, d’you reckon?” Harry asked.

“If you insist.”

That made Harry frown. “It wouldn’t kill you to sound happier about it.”

Snape found that anything Harry said could fit into one of two categories: perplexing or amusing. This came under ‘amusing’, and Snape helpfully guided Harry’s hands to feel just how Snape felt about the prospect of further nocturnal activities. While Harry kneaded the encouraging warmth in Snape’s lap, Snape himself stroked Harry’s thighs, appreciating the musculature that came from being a regular flier.

“Hmph.” Harry was still frowning, even as his cheeks flushed their tell-tale colour. “How about my desk?”

“What about it?”

Over my desk,” Harry said, blushing further.

“No,” Snape said firmly. “Sharp corners, hard surface and wood grain all together make for a very unpleasant experience for the one underneath.”

“Oh,” Harry said, crestfallen. After a few heartbeats, his face lit up with an idea.

That was how, after a few of Harry’s experimental spells, Snape found himself bent over the desk that had transmogrified into something softer than wood but slightly sturdier than mattress. He’d never fantasized about being buggered over the very piece of furniture where essays were marked, but apparently Harry had, and had no qualms about turning said fantasy into something substantial.

Harry also apparently really liked the space between Snape’s shoulder blades, because he kept alternating between stroking his palm across it and pressing his cheek against it. Of course, one would point out there was little point in focusing on what Harry was doing against his upper back when there was more interesting activity elsewhere, driving the breath from Snape’s lungs and straining the muscles in his thighs.

One of Harry’s hands was on Snape’s head, the lightest of touches pushing him down against the table. It seemed that Harry liked pushing just as much as he liked being pushed, so Snape surged up against him, forcing Harry to double his hold across Snape’s body.

Harry growled something, casting cool breath across the skin of Snape’s neck and shivers down Snape’s spine.

You,” said Harry, and bit down at the base of Snape’s neck. It was startling and new, and the unexpected pleasure went straight to Snape’s groin, curling in deep and forcing out a hoarse groan.

“Yes, oh I love this,” hissed Harry, lifting himself off Snape just enough to push back in.

“Glad—” Snape said between gritted teeth, “—that you’re enjoying yourself.”

“Only if you are,” Harry whispered, his other hand reaching round to pump Snape’s erection firmly. “Oh, if only… if only if only…”

“If only what?” Snape snapped, thinking fuzzily that if Harry didn’t make him come soon, they would be having words.

“If only I’d seen you before—”

Snape groaned suddenly, the angle hitting something glorious. He pushed up against Harry, who responded by pressing his forearm firmly across Snape’s shoulder blades. Good thing he did, too, for Snape felt like he was about to jump out of his own skin, his body not accustomed to such sensory overload.

Harry pressed his forehead to the back of Snape’s head, repeating the start of the sentence that had been rudely cut off: “If only I’d seen you before your accident. Seen your body as it was. What it must have been like.”

“Don’t like newer model?” Snape said, his best try at putting a coherent sentence together.

“I want to see everything,” Harry hissed. The low growl of his voice was the feather on the camel’s back, pushing Snape over the threshold, and he was coming frantically all over Harry’s hand and the table beneath. As he thrashed and twisted in desperation, Harry was right there on top of him, huffing with the effort of keeping him down.

Snape floated back down to earth feeling light-headed, and registered the goings-on just in time to squeeze down when it was Harry’s turn to let go. Soon enough Harry was gasping against Snape’s back, his last thrust punctuated by a soft moan that seemed to go on forever. Following this, Harry, in a show of consideration, collapsed on top of Snape.

Harry made no protest as Snape eventually heaved him up and lead them to the bedroom. Snape set Harry on the bed, leaving the other man free to whimper all he liked, while Snape set the outer room to rights, salvaged their clothing, and entered to the bathroom to clean up.

Over from the bedroom came Harry’s voice: “Hermione said something funny today about you.”

“Can’t say I’m surprised,” said Snape, his voice echoing off the tiles. Snape brushed his teeth in silence, and when he later returned to the bedroom, he saw that Harry was frowning up at the ceiling.

“I hope you don’t think I didn’t tell her about us because I’m embarrassed or anything like that,” Harry said, tilting his head towards Snape.

“That honestly never occurred to me,” said Snape.

“It’s just because I…”

“Need your space, yes, I understand,” Snape said, wincing as he sat down on the comforter.

Harry was looking at him in that familiar way, the look that Snape had never tried to decipher and was almost always followed by something bizarre coming forth from those lips. “But it’s okay if there’s anything you want to ask, I don’t mind. I mean, I’ve shown you stuff that I would never…”

There was something warm settling into the space behind Snape’s ribcage (heartburn, probably) as Harry reached over to place his hand gently on Snape’s forearm. Once upon a time that very place had been home to the Dark Mark, but now something very different seeped through skin and bone.

 

“You’re important to me,” Harry said, his voice small. “That’s all right, isn’t it?”

Words, in combinations both appropriate and not, wrestled for dominance in Snape’s throat. Harry had gone very still, and was watching Snape’s expression, though Snape himself hadn’t a clue what his face was actually saying. In the end he let go a breath he hadn’t known he’d been holding, and just said, “Yes, that’s all right.”

“I thought so,” Harry said, and lay back down to look up the ceiling. His smile was relaxed and contended, and Snape thought it best to kiss it off Harry’s face.



SIX AND A HALF

“Jones, Sierra!”

“Hufflepuff!”

Keeping his eyes on the row of shrinking first-years, Harry tilted his head slightly to the right and whispered, “Don’t you think this is rather cruel? I mean, really. You’re in a strange place filled with people you don’t know, and they’re so much bigger than you that it makes you feel about ten inches tall, and then they make you walk all the way up on to the stage where everyone stares at you, and then they drop a hat on your head like it’s some sort of test that, by the way, no one thought to warn you about. Do they have to make a damn show about it?”

Snape’s voice came back in an equally low whisper, “How else are we supposed to memorise all their names?”

“Preston, Theodore!”

“Gryffindor!”

“Can you really tell who’s going to be in your House just by looking at them?” Harry whispered. “That’s rather shallow.”

Snape’s robes rustled as the man moved slightly to get a better look at the children. “See the small one near the front who’s staring down at the floor?”

“No way,” Harry said, turning to look at Snape. “He’s supposed to be cunning and ambitious?”

“He’s been plotting for better things since he was in a crib, mark my words,” Snape said.

“Wadsworth, Timothy!”

“Slytherin!”

“That’s disturbing,” Harry said.

“Quiet. We’re supposed to pay attention to our new charges,” Snape hissed.

Harry let his eyes wander over the new year’s turnout. Quite a few had shot up over the summer, while others looked like they’d been overlooked by the Age-Dust Fairy entirely. Tabitha Cardullo was at a corner of the Ravenclaw table, sitting very still and holding hands tightly with another Ravenclaw girl. The year’s new Prefects sat at the very front, shiny badges glinting under candlelight.

“A few announcements before we begin our feast,” Dumbledore said. “The Forbidden Forest is off-limits to all students unless supervised by a teacher, no exceptions. Starting this term, Master Longbottom will be taking over the first and second year Herbology classes. We also have a new member of the staff, Professor Lavender Brown, who’ll be taking over from Professor Delphi, although she doesn’t seem to have arrived at the moment…”

Harry’s little finger moved across the tablecloth, just close enough to tap Snape’s hand. “Divination’s sure to be interesting now.”

“Don’t you ever shut up?” Snape muttered.

“You can just move right back next to Hungbaur, you know,” Harry suggested.

“And deprive Flitwick of the excellent company?” Snape was smirking. “It says a lot that he’d rather sit next to Hungbaur than next to you, you know.”

“…and no skinny dipping in the Lake,” Dumbledore was saying. “As much as the Giant Squid would enjoy the company, it would only…”

Harry whispered, “He only did it so that Vector could be closer to you.”

“What she really wants is to sit between both of us,” Snape whispered back.

You’re kidding.” Suddenly terrified, Harry turned his head marginally to the left. Vector was smiling benignly, her eyes looking at nothing specific. Harry told himself that he would not shudder.

Dumbledore’s voice picked up. “…without much ado, tuck in!”

Snape made a soft hmph sound, though it was barely audible over the sound of two-hundred over students simultaneously attacking their food. Leaning over so to make himself heard, Snape said, “Congratulations. You’re the first Defence teacher in nearly half a century to make a second school year. I suppose that’ll be your happy thought for the day.”

Harry’s small finger curled round Snape’s. “I’ll think about it.”