"What's he doing here?" Harry said, frowning down the green expanse of lawn as a once-familiar blond head popped in near the trees that bordered Bill and Fleur's garden.
"What? Who?" Ron followed Harry's gaze, shaking out an apron one of the twins had just given him that had "Grill Wizard" on the front in flaming orange letters, with a design just below the words--a wand that morphed into a spatula and back.
"That's Malfoy, isn't it?" Harry said, still watching as a small girl ran up to the new arrival, coming round the hedge . It was then that Harry noticed Malfoy wasn't alone.
"Oh," Ron said, sliding his arms into the presumably fireproof apron and fumbling with the long ties in back, finally drawing his wand and guiding them around into a knot. "Didn't Hermione tell you?" Harry shook his head, still eyeing the hedge suspiciously as if it should be held accountable for hiding two of his school-boy nemeses. "Women are hopeless at gossip." Ron's face brightened and Harry looked over again to where the blond head had vanished. "Well, there you are. There's your answer."
A woman, her long silvery-blonde hair swaying nearly around her waist had walked up to Draco Malfoy, kissing each cheek, her tiny fingers clenched in his robes. She looked enough like their hostess that Harry placed her at once even though it had been years since he'd seen her. "That's Fleur's sister?"
Ron, setting an outlandishly large chef's hat on his head, nodded. "Gabrielle, remember? She and Malfoy--" He waggled his eyebrows suggestively. "Hasn't married her yet though."
Harry took a sip of the lemon fizz George had handed him the same time he'd presented Ron with the apron. "He's dating someone who's not a pureblood?"
"More than dating, from what I hear," Ron replied, pulling a telescoping spatula out of the pocket of the apron. "Maybe he gave up that pureblood bullshit when he found himself changing a half-blood's nappies."
Harry was still looking at Gabrielle. "She's grown up very pretty."
"If he marries her and her sister is married to my brother that makes us--" Ron made a face trying to work it out. "Well, related anyway."
Before Ron could reply, the space between them cleared a bit and Harry got a better look at Draco's other companion, a small, pale dark-haired child, fingers tucked tightly in Malfoy's hand. "Is that--him?"
They stared openly. The child was as unlike Draco Malfoy as it was possible to be and still be the same species, let alone the same sex. Severus Snape at seven was still recognizable as the man Harry and Ron had known--the prominent nose, the black hair--though the latter had been cut close round his head. Yet, he was certainly a child--Harry himself had been the intended target of the curse that had been meant to de-age him out of existence during the battle fought in Harry's final year at Hogwarts.
"That's right, you haven't seen him since--" Ron started laying out patties on the oversize grill.
"Since the old git stepped in front of me and took that curse," Harry finished. The child was tugging impatiently on Malfoy's hand, rolling his eyes as Gabrielle leaned down and kissed both his cheeks. Harry couldn't help laughing as the Snape's arm came up and wiped both cheeks on his arm just as soon as Gabrielle straightened up.
"Stupid thing to do, really," Ron said, scratching the end of his nose with the blunt end of the spatula. Harry gave him an outraged look.
"Right, I know," Ron said, shaking pepper out over the patties. "Still, he's got to do it all over again, hasn't he? Grow up--with Malfoy as his dad." He shrugged. "Wait, if Malfoy marries Gabrielle and I'm related to Fleur, does that mean I'll be related to Snape? Since Malfoy adopted the gi--er, I mean, the kid. Will that mean I can give him detention?"
As Harry watched, the little girl who'd run up to Malfoy and Snape was tugging at Snape's other hand, trying to drag him off, he supposed, to some childish mischief. Gabrielle was beaming, as Malfoy leaned down and said something to Snape, who nodded very solemnly before turning loose Malfoy's hand and allowing himself to be dragged away. Malfoy watched after him a moment before turning back to Gabrielle, taking her arm, just as Bill and Fleur came up to them. Harry lost them in a flurry of cheek kissing.
Both Harry and Ron turned toward the sound of Hermione's voice and Harry saw at once what had caused her to cry out. While their attention had been fixed on Malfoy and this odd young version of Snape, Ron's apron had turned into a frilly pink one, complete with huge ruffles around the arm holes and bottom.
"How many times have I told you never to wear anything the twins give you?" she said, "Oh, hello, Harry," she added, with an exasperated smile.
Ron was nearly as pink as the apron before it suddenly changed back into its previous "Grill Wizard" incarnation. Only instead of "Grill" the words seemed to have rearranged themselves to say "Girl Wizard", and the flames around the letters had turned pink. Ron peered down at it. "There, that's not so bad."
Hermione made a frustrated noise and leaned over to kiss Harry on the cheek. "Snape is here, with Malfoy," he said, turning to the copse where they'd arrived, only to find they were no longer in sight.
"You haven't--" Hermione began, her eyes going very round, then looked up to Ron, who was in pink again and shrugged. "That's right, you haven't seen them at all yet."
"He was out of the country off at one of those races of his for Bill and Fleur's first lawn party, remember last year, the one with the cake?" Ron finished turning the sizzling patties and looked over at Harry. "Malfoy came to that one," he explained. "First time I'd seen him--and Snape--since, you know."
"First time any of us had seen them," Hermione said.
"I'm surprised Draco stuck with it," Harry mused.
"As much as it pains me to admit it," Ron said, "he has changed. He even shook my hand last year."
"Malfoy. Of course his hand was sticky at the time. I saw he and Mum thick as thieves after that but she wouldn't tell me what they talked about." He snorted, ignoring the patties. "Just said 'wait till you have children of your own'."
"He's really, well, sort of cute," Hermione said, almost apologetically.
"Cute!" Ron and Harry said almost in unison. Harry peered at her through his glasses. "Malfoy?"
"Snape, I mean Severus. He's just a little boy," Hermione said, sounding defensive.
"Sure, now," Ron murmured darkly. "He'll probably grow up to be just as big a git as he was before."
"He saved Harry's life," Hermione said, "Well, more than once, but you know what I mean. Harry would have been dust if Snape hadn't shoved him out of the way."
"Suppose I ought to thank him," Harry said, wrinkling his nose at the inoffensive lemon fizz.
"How? By giving him a lolly?" Ron said with a grin that earned both of them a dark look from Hermione.
"You might have remembered before now, that he did," she said, transfiguring the small plate she carried into a serving tray. Harry took one end as Ron started piling up the patties that hadn't already been charred to cinders.
"I did!" he said, realizing that he was no better now than when he'd been a student, of owning up his misdeeds to Hermione. This time both Ron and Hermione looked at him sternly.
"He's not a bad kid, I guess." Ron said, "especially now that Malfoy's, you know, cleaned him up a bit."
Harry didn't have a chance to see any improvements Malfoy's parenting might have wrought until the pudding was brought out. Bill and Fleur didn't believe in house elves--at least not while Hermione was around--so the task of guiding the floating trolley fell to four children, including Snape, who probably had been given the task because he was tall for his age. All the kids were bobbing excitedly as the cart glided between them.
Snape looked around into the crowd, gaze obviously searching for someone, shivering with excitement, a smile peeking out when he spotted Malfoy. Harry had to admit the haircut was indeed an improvement, making Snape seem more like an ordinary boy and less like the man he'd known. The smile showed that something had been done to improve his teeth, for they looked white and even. His skin, what Harry could see, had lost the sickening yellowish pallor and glowed as healthy and bright as any other child's.
Harry followed Snape's gaze back as Malfoy smiled back and waved. Gabrielle, right beside Draco, fluttered a handkerchief at him. It felt private, even among this crowd--for Bill must have invited half the Ministry and their families to the lawn party--as Snape smiled back, more shyly at Gabrielle but just as genuinely. It made Harry feel shut out and oddly isolated, even though he hadn't laid eyes on any of them for nearly six years.
He shook off the mood as soon as the trolley came to a stop in front of their hosts, Bill and Fleur. Fleur already had her wand out, and with a flourish, tapped the domed cover. It fell away to the delighted squeals of the kids and appreciative oohs from the adults.
Harry was immediately reminded of one of his aunt's sugared violet puddings, though this one was circled by a cascade of artistically arranged flowers. Granted it was larger than anything his aunt had labored over, but he didn't see what all the fuss was about. It was then he noticed the flowers were all covered with butterflies. There were dozens of them, nearly blending in because they were all perched on flowers with the same coloring, given away only by the slight flutter of their wings. Harry wrinkled his nose in distaste and looked around to elbow Ron and ask what sort of host his brother was anyway.
A gasp went up from the crowd, and Harry looked back at the trolley. The butterflies, moving too awkwardly to be real, he realized with a start, had flitted upward, forming patterns like tiny, winged fireworks. First a pinwheel, wings fluttering in synch as they spiraled over the heaps of frosted flowers. Then a shifting kaleidoscope of shapes and patterns until they began to twirl faster and faster all in a loop around the trolley until, with a burst of colored sparks, they melted back into sugar, raining upon the cake, making the flowers glisten as if just touched by morning dew.
"Almost too pretty too eat," Ron said over his shoulder, "Almost." The kids, who'd been given a front row view, were all clapping, already queuing up as Fleur started slicing off flowers.
Harry had just gotten his, a purple chrysanthemum with lavender sugar crystals when he sensed someone near him.
Harry hadn't seen Malfoy since the fall of Voldemort, very literally since that smoke-clouded afternoon. He hadn't realized Malfoy was even there that day until he'd pushed his way through the small crowd of stunned onlookers. He'd known Snape was there--breaking ranks with the Death Eaters, casting curses back toward them as he'd made him way between the lines.
After that final clash of curses, Harry had been too tired to even lift his wand, or to object when Malfoy had nearly shoved Remus aside to see what everyone else had been looking at. Puddled at their feet--his and McGonagall's and Neville's and Remus's and Tonks's--had been a black stain, as though a giant bat had been shot down and broken its wings at odd angles when it hit the earth. In the middle of Snape's robes--for so the stain had been--was not the gory mess Harry had been expecting when the curse had streaked his way, but a pink, gurgling baby.
"Is that--" Harry had said, though the child had lank black hair and a nose too large for its wee face and could be no one else.
"My God," Draco had said, going, if possible, even paler. He'd swayed slightly and been braced by Remus.
The baby had crawled from the gaping neck of Snape's robe, its chubby legs squirming free of the smalls clinging to one plump ankle. Both Tonks and McGonagall had leaned over, nearly at the same moment as if the bare bottom had stirred some motherly instinct to cover it.
"Leave him alone," Malfoy had shouted, shrugging off Lupin's restraining hand. Voldemort, now a smoking ruin, had been nearly forgotten as Malfoy had bent over to pick up the tiny, squirming child.
"There's no need to shout, Mr. Malfoy," McGonagall had said reprovingly, while others muttered about 'de-aging curses' and how lucky it was that Snape had been right there to take it, for surely the years it had taken off Snape would have de-aged Harry to dust instead of a mere infant.
Harry's stomach had twisted. He knew Snape hadn't exactly been 'right there'. He'd seen the man's eyes just as the pale blue light had streaked out of Voldemort's wand, had seen what he'd intended, just before he'd done it.
"Leave him alone," Malfoy had said again, gathering and tucking the trailing robes up around the baby's kicking legs.
It was the last time Harry had seen either of them until today.
"Severus wants to meet you," Malfoy said as Harry shook himself out of the memory. Malfoy looked over his shoulder and Harry followed his gaze. Snape was holding on impatiently to Gabrielle's hand, craning his neck to see them both.
"Oh," Harry said not sure why he was suddenly nervous of a seven year old, "Sure."
Malfoy looked like there was a lot more he wanted to say, but simply nodded, and with a gesture, beckoned Snape over. The child--Severus, for it was impossible to think of such an impatient, bobbing thing as the hateful man he'd known--wiggled beneath Malfoy's arm, leaning close to his body as he peered up at Harry.
"Severus, this is Harry Potter," Malfoy said, keeping one hand flat on the child's back.
"Hello," Harry said, still holding his slice of cake awkwardly and wondering if Malfoy had intended to catch him at such an inopportune moment.
"Dad says I saved your life," Severus said, voice accented more like Draco's now and so high and child-like that Harry couldn't help but smile at it.
"That's true," Harry said. "Er, thanks."
"Dad says I did a lot of things when I was older, but I don't remember," the child went on, rocking several times on the balls of his feet, still tucked close to Malfoy's side.
"I don't suppose you do," Harry said, feeling utterly out of his depth.
"Dad says I used to teach him stuff, and you too." He put his hand over his mouth and giggled. It was such an un-Snape-like thing to do that Harry found himself responding. "Millsy, that's our house-elf, lets me make pretend potions in the kitchen and I give them to my mouse."
"You do?" Malfoy looked down at him in alarm. Harry sensed a lecture later.
Severus tilted his face up to look at Malfoy. "They aren't real potions, Dad." He looked back up at Harry "That's good cake," Severus said abruptly, eyeing Harry's plate with an interested air. "Why aren't you eating yours?"
"Gabrielle made it," the child said, "She likes you a lot." Severus sniffed critically. "I don't see why though."
"That's enough of that," Malfoy said sternly, softening the rebuke by ruffling his fingers through the short black hair.
"Yes, sir," Severus said, his sulkiness that of a little boy.
"'Arry!" Gabrielle said, apparently unable to stand being excluded a moment longer. She gave each of his cheeks a flower-scented kiss. "You are all grown up!" She looked, just for a moment, uncomfortably like Mrs. Weasley did just before she pinched Harry's cheeks. Even more, she looked like she wanted to.
"He's older than you," Malfoy pointed out, with just a hint of his school-boy snideness. "He's my age." Severus's face turned up to look at Malfoy, then to Harry as if comparing.
"To me, he will always be zhe handsome boy who rescued me from zhose 'orrible mer-people."
Harry, who didn't quite know what to say about that, lifted his plate toward her. "Sn--, er, Severus tells me you made the cake?"
"Oui! I did! Why aren't you eating it?" She slid her hands to her hips.
There seemed no answer to that, not with all three of them looking at him, except to pop a forkful into his mouth. It really was good and he said so.
Gabrielle, like her sister, wasn't much for modesty. "I am still studying, but when I am through, I will be zhe most sought after pastry chef in zhe world." She eyed him again. "Though for you, when you marry, I will create your wedding cake and no other, agreed?"
Harry, who'd been unable to resist taking another bite, nearly choked on it. "Sure," he agreed weakly. Malfoy's mouth had been open and about to say something but he closed it and nodded almost approvingly, his fingers still resting in Severus's hair. He was fairly certain Gabrielle would be filled in on the exact nature of Harry's disinterest in the traditional trappings of marriage as soon as they were alone.
Ron came over as soon as Harry was alone again, polishing off his own slice of cake. His apron once again said, "Grill Wizard". It was still pink but the outrageous ruffles had been trimmed to a tasteful ruche around the hem. He had a bit of yellow icing on the corner of his mouth, probably from the sugary daisies on his plate. "He's not so bad, is he?" he said, his gaze following Malfoy, Severus and Gabrielle.
"Who? Malfoy or Snape?" Harry asked, diving back into his own cake as well.
Ron shrugged. "Both, I guess."
"Wonder why Malfoy did it. Take Snape on I mean. Can't have been easy, taking on a baby at his age, not with his own mother and father both gone. The Ministry cleared him--he could have had an easy life."
Ron had finished off his sugared daisies and was eyeing Harry's half-eaten chrysanthemum. "Probably handed him off to a battalion of house elves."
Harry, who saw how easily the affection had passed between them, didn't think so.
"I don't see what the fuss is about."
Harry, rushing into the church, looked around, then down. He'd got back to England an hour ago and found the invitation waiting on top of the pile of mail Hermione had stacked by his door. Severus, looking quite solemn in his formal robes, had come up silently beside him while Harry was sneaking into the back of the church. Glancing up front to where the ceremony had already begun, he slid into an empty pew, disconcerted when the boy followed him. Obligingly Harry slid over to make room.
"Have you ever been to a Naming Ceremony?" Harry asked in a whisper, but noticed the boy's attention had shifted forward suddenly. Harry saw Malfoy on one of the pews near the front looking back at them. Severus gave a little wave. Draco scowled at Harry disapprovingly and turned back around.
"First one. It's just a baby, isn't it?" Severus said, leaning over to whisper back, wrinkling his nose. Harry hadn't seen either Draco or Severus since Bill's lawn party summer before last. Fleur had gotten pregnant soon afterward so there hadn't been another lawn party this summer, since they were all getting together for the Naming Ceremony at the little church near Ottery St. Catchpole.
"Shouldn't you be sitting with your, er, father?" Harry asked, who'd been thinking it was just a baby too, even if it was Bill's and looked like nearly every other baby he'd seen save for the mop of ginger hair.
Severus looked up at him, looking much older than the nine or so years he must be. "Draco's not my father; he's my dad." He turned back toward the front. Fleur looked quite elegant in turquoise robes, Bill holding the baby. Beside them, Remus Lupin, who'd been appointed godfather, looked ready to burst.
"I told Dad I had to go to the loo," Severus said in a conversational whisper. "Babies are very dull."
Harry looked down again, slightly alarmed. "Shouldn't you, er, go?" he whispered.
Severus appeared to be quite interested in the large stained glass windows. Without looking up he leaned over and said, "Went."
Thankfully the ceremony was brief, owing, he supposed, to the nature of newborns not to be patient with such things that did not involve being fed or sleeping. Harry rose with the others, spotting Malfoy already coming down the center aisle in a flutter of blue robes.
"What are you doing with Potter?" he asked, with the sort of exasperated fondness Harry had always heard his aunt Petunia using with Dudley.
"I wasn't going to walk back in front of all those people. They'd all know I'd been to the loo." Severus explained, edging out of the pew but looking back at Harry curiously. "And Potter looked lost."
Malfoy sniffed and led Severus away by the hand. "He always did."
At the reception Harry cooed appreciatively over Luke, the guest of honor, dodged the vicar who'd already cornered him once about the perfect synchronicity of being both a wizard and an Anglican, accepted effusive kisses on the cheek from both Fleur and her sister and had more cake than he usually ate in a month.
"Good, isn't it?" Ron said, forking up his own slice.
"It's not that good," Hermione said, but Harry noted her plate was very nearly empty. "Showy, more like."
There hadn't been any butterflies on this one, much to Harry's relief, though he suspected from Hermione's disdain that Gabrielle had made it. Each slice instead had come with its own tiny fairy hovering over the ornately mirrored surface until the guest made a wish on the baby's behalf. Harry had murmured something vague about good health and watched his tiny golden fairy disappear in a shower of glittery dust.
"Does fairy magic really work?" he asked, after a mouthful of cake.
"Well, the principle is sound," Hermione admitted grudgingly. "Though I'm not sure they have enough brains to carry out each wish."
"Lots of them are probably the same," Ron said, eyeing Harry's swath of frosting. Harry, who liked cake more than frosting, traded plates with him. "Long life and a good marriage. That sort of…"
Harry looked up to see why Ron's voice had trailed off and realized Malfoy was nodding politely at them.
"I was wondering if you'd mind coming round to the house sometime," Malfoy said and Harry realized Malfoy was speaking to him. "There's something I'd like to discuss with you."
"With me?" Harry asked. It looked like Malfoy wanted to roll his eyes but refrained. Barely.
"With you," Draco said patiently. Harry tried to think of a suitable response that didn't include the phrase 'out of your mind'. Malfoy must have taken his silence for assent. "I'll owl with directions this week?" Still dumbfounded, Harry just nodded.
"What's he want you for?" Ron asked, as soon as Draco had gone. Harry stared after his former classmate and just shrugged. "He doesn't really seem like the Evil Scheme type anymore."
While Harry watched, Severus ran up to Malfoy with fingers laced together. When he opened them, one of the fairies, glowing wings fluttering, tumbled out, weaving as if dizzy. Severus and Malfoy laughed, while Harry, watching, tried not to.
"Yeah, not so much," Harry agreed.
Harry presented himself promptly as arranged at Malfoy Manor, greeted by a house-elf wearing crisply pressed gray trousers, a very small white shirt with precisely done up buttons and a green patterned tie. There was a tiny silver snake pin gleaming just where the tie tucked into his waistcoat.
"Right this way, sir," the elf said, though Malfoy himself was hurrying down the wide marble staircase to Harry's right. Harry was glad, seeing Malfoy, that he'd opted for simple jeans and a pullover shirt instead of robes even though the elegant house--and house-elf--seemed to call for it.
"That's fine, Millington," Malfoy said, "I'll show Mr. P--" His finely-boned hand slid over something on the banister that made his nose wrinkle. "Fuck it, can I just call you Harry? We don't stand on ceremony much around here." He scrutinized his palm and reached for his wand.
"Sure, er, Draco," Harry said.
Absently Draco Scourgified his hand and the banister then looked down at the waiting elf. "We'll be in the study."
"Odd sort of tea towel," Harry said, once the elf had scurried away. He followed Draco down the short hallway to the study.
"Blame Granger," Draco said, closing the door behind them. "Or Weasley, I suppose, now. She's got them all unionized. Though Millington's always been a bit starchy."
Harry laughed, though he wasn't sure he was supposed to. The study turned out to be a large airy room with large glass doors that opened out onto a wide patio. A low stone wall enclosed the patio. There was a white cat stretched out on the mossy stones, sound asleep. Like all people determined not to be impressed by good taste, Harry was. His house at Number Twelve looked gloomy and unlived in by comparison.
There were two short settees positioned to take advantage of the light, and, Harry supposed, the view of carefully groomed lawns and flower-bordered paths. Draco gestured to one settee and took the other one opposite.
"I'll get straight to it," he said, leaning forward. "I'm organizing a charity event--a ball--and I'm hoping you'll attend."
Of all the possible things Harry had thought Draco might want to see him about, this one hadn't even made the list. "I can't dance," he blurted out. He didn't think it was prudent to mention that the last time he'd been dancing, it had been in a large room with very loud music and most of the men had had their shirts off. "Well, not ballroom sort of dancing."
Draco looked as if all the possible things Harry might have said, that one hadn't been on the list either. He scrubbed his face with one hand and Harry noticed the silver Slytherin ring. "No one cares if you can dance or not."
"Why me?" Harry asked, thinking by now he and Malfoy both looked like they'd rather be anywhere but here.
"It's for charity," Draco said.
"You know the Ministry has a fund for students who qualify for Hogwarts but don't have the tuition? Muggleborns and such?"
Harry didn't, but he nodded as if he did, trying to get over the fact that Draco had said 'Muggleborns' and not 'mudbloods'.
"Since the war, a lot of…" He sighed expressively. "Children of former combatants--"
"Death Eaters," Harry said grimly. He'd heard the jargon too.
"Aren't going to school. Or not to Hogwarts. Which, despite its flaws, is still one of the best wizard schools in the world."
Harry frowned. "The Ministry isn't paying their tuition?"
"There's a lot more to going to a school like Hogwarts than just getting in," Draco said, getting to his feet as if he couldn't stand not to move. "Books, robes, cauldrons--" he listed off, pacing. "Do you know how many children of Slytherins enrolled this term?" Harry shook his head. "Three. And that's one more than last year. A lot of their parents still can't get work, not in the Wizarding World, or are still in Azkaban."
Or were dead.
Suddenly the door to the study burst open and the boy skidded into the room. Unlike the previous times Harry had seen him, Severus looked more like a little boy than a very small man, in shorts that left his knees bare and a t-shirt with a comic book character on the front. He was barefoot too, and one foot looked like it had been splashing in something. Harry wrinkled his nose. Something smelly.
"Have you seen Snowball?" Severus asked breathlessly before spotting Harry. "Oh, hello."
"Hello," Harry replied politely, but Severus was already moving past him to where Draco stood at the window.
"I told you not the let her out," Draco said, running a hand through his hair.
"I didn't!" Severus protested, only to be given the stern parental eye. "I mean, I had her in my pocket and--"
"What's a Snowball?" Harry asked, unable to contain his curiosity.
"My ferret," Severus said, glancing at him but clearly worried.
"He has a ferret," Harry said, "named Snowball?" He pressed his lips together to keep from laughing.
"Don't!" Draco said warningly, making Severus look around in confusion.
"She's usually really good, but she got out of my pocket and I can't find her. I looked outside by the fountain because she likes to chase the shadows on the stones and I looked in the pantry because she likes to play with the mice--"
"We do not have mice!" Draco said, laying one hand on the boy's shoulder, leading him over to the settee. Severus climbed up beside him, feet not touching the floor as he sat all the way back. "Where did you last have her?"
Severus shrugged. "All over. We were playing Salazar Slytherin banishing the snakes from Ireland and I was playing Slytherin and Snowball got to be all the snakes." He rocked back hard against the sofa cushion. "She's usually really good in my pocket," he said again, very quietly.
Draco cleared his throat. "Yes, well, we'll discuss that later. Do you remember what we talked about when we got her? About taking care of her and being responsible?"
"But--" Thin ankles kicked against the wooden frame in defiance. "Yes, sir."
"Then you'll also remember that we put a tracking charm on her," Draco said, pulling out his wand.
The thin face brightened immediately. "Then she isn't lost forever?" Draco shook his head, drawing a square in the air with his wand. Harry thought of all the tracking charms he'd used during the war, but had never seen anyone so eager to see the results as Severus leaned forward, practically climbing up onto Draco's leg as the outline began to take shape.
"No, she isn't lost forever," Draco said, bracing Severus's back with his other hand. "What did I tell you about names, son?"
"That they have great power," Severus intoned solemnly. He was staring at the shimmering frame hovering over the settee as if wanting to leap through it. "Oh!" The smile that popped out was shy but determined as he leaned forward, tipping precariously closer, held back, Harry saw, only by Draco's fingers on a belt loop of the shorts. "Snowball!" he called eagerly, activating the charm.
A tiny white dot appeared in one corner of the frame. Twirling his wand, Draco rotated the outline, brining the dot closer. "Looks like she's in the library, down on that wide shelf that runs along the bottom." Severus was already climbing off the settee in his eagerness to set off. "Back to her cage, don't forget!" Draco cried out after him.
"Yes, Dad!" Severus called back.
"Snowball?" Harry asked, when the sound of running feet on fine parquet floors echoed away.
"Snowball," Draco said firmly, running a hand though his hair again. "So, are you coming to the ball or not?"
"I don't know," Harry asked, welcoming the smirk back to his face, "is Snowball coming?"
When the invitation arrived, Harry did accept it, even though he hadn't worn his dress robes in so long that he knew they probably weren't in fashion anymore. He picked up new ones at Madame Malkin's, noting a poster advertising the event tucked in sideways behind the cluttered counter. He pointed to it as he was being measured, explaining why he was getting new robes. When he came back to pick them up, he noted that the poster was prominently displayed in the shop window.
Luckily the event turned out to be not quite as stuffily formal as he'd thought, though he realized at once he'd been right to update his formalwear. There were enough ginger heads bobbing across the room to let him know most of the Weasleys had been invited and probably most of the Ministry as well. Tents had been set up out on the grounds for the spill-over crowds.
He was just going to follow one of those red heads to see if Ron was beneath one of them when he heard his name behind him in a distinctive accent.
"'Arry!" Gabrielle called, cupping his cheeks as he spun around to greet her. "We are so pleased you have come!" She kissed each cheek, leaving behind a cloud of perfume before stepping back to survey him with a critical eye. "But surely you have not come alone?" She looked behind him as if expecting a date to materialize.
"Er--" Harry began, caught off guard without a suitable fiction.
Music drifted down from the second floor ballroom, gay and light in the summer air. Gabrielle lowered her voice as if there was the slightest chance of being overheard. "You could have come with one of your, how you say--blokes?"
Harry had opened his mouth to say it but it was Draco who spoke. He'd come from behind Harry, giving him an apologetic smile before clasping Gabrielle's hand.
"What?" she said, tossing her hair. "I am French. We understand zhose things."
Unfortunately there was no handy chasm opening up in the floor to swallow Harry up whole.
Draco lifted the hand he was holding in his, kissing the back of it, looking very gallant. "Understanding it doesn't mean Harry wants the whole room to know." Gabrielle made a dismissive gesture with her free hand.
"It's all right," Harry said consolingly. "I'm, er, between blokes at the moment."
Draco's lazy smile lifted up from Gabrielle's hand. "Thank you for coming," he said, sounding a bit more formal now, "We've raised lots of money for the scholarship fund." He sidled a glance at the groups milling around them. "Wouldn't vote the money out of their own pockets, mind, but for a chance to rub elbows with a war hero and a feeling of doing something worthy in the bargain--" One thumb was rubbing along Gabrielle's hand. "--And have some very fine pastries." His smirk was familiar to Harry, even if the tone--gently mocking instead of biting--was not. "They'll come."
Harry felt a nudge on his shoulder. "Mate! Have you seen that cake?" Harry looked behind him just as Ron noticed he wasn't alone. "Oh, hullo Malfoy. Gabrielle." Before Harry could explain that they all seemed to be on a first name basis, Ron looked at Draco curiously. "Did you know Sna--er, Severus is up at the top of the stairs with an overdressed house-elf?"
"What?" Draco craned to see past Ron, who'd always been the tallest of them. "He's supposed to have been asleep hours ago." Gabrielle giggled and Draco shot her a look but squeezed her hand before making hasty excuses and striding away.
Her gaze followed for a moment before she spoke. "Zhe professor is just a little boy now but he is still zhe same--always so curious and wanting to know what is going on."
Harry tried to imagine what his own personality would be like if he'd been hit by the spell. Would someone from the wizarding world have taken him in? He couldn't believe the Dursleys would want to go through rearing him again. He thought with horror that maybe Ginny would have taken him in and how weird that would be once he was old enough to be told that they'd once been a couple, before realizing certain things about himself.
He wondered too, with a sort of gut-twisting drop, whether Snape would have done it--taken that curse if he'd known he wasn't going to be de-aged out of existence, but have to become a child again. Or that he'd be taken in by Draco Malfoy?
Fortunately he was disrupted from this uncomfortable reverie by Gabrielle who sighed expressively and took his arm, offering the other to Ron, who glanced around furtively before taking it.
"Since I have lost my escort to zhe demands of fatherhood, I must insist zhat both of you dance with me."
It wasn't until later that he saw Draco again, childless, watching Ron step on Gabrielle's toes on the ballroom floor. Draco looked up, as if sensing he was being watched and made his way over to Harry.
"Wanted to say thanks again," he said without preamble, "For coming tonight, you know."
They both winced when Ron trod rather visibly on the toe of Gabrielle's no-doubt expensive slipper.
"Still think I should get to meet Snowball," Harry said, unable to bear the sight of Ron's dancing any longer.
Draco was chuckling. "You've but to ask Severus," he replied, making a face that Harry interpreted as another misstep for Ron. "He's usually got her in his pocket. Or one of the Ralphs."
"He's got three white mice, all named Ralph," Draco admitted. "Severus has told me why but I'm not sure I quite--oh, that had to hurt."
Harry's quick glance confirmed that yes, indeed, Gabrielle was limping. "No trouble getting him to go to sleep then?" Harry asked, more from a desire to divert Draco's attention away from the dance floor than from any curiosity about the art of getting young children to go to bed when they're told.
Draco made an inelegant noise. "Got him to go to bed. He's probably reading one of those ridiculous comic--" The grey eyes blinked as if just realizing who he was talking to. "Sorry."
"It's all right," Harry said, watching as pink tinged Draco's cheeks. He'd always been absurdly easy to read when they were in school--all that pale skin, he supposed. "You sounded exactly like--"
"Exactly like what?" Draco asked.
"A father," Harry said, and the suspicious intensity fled from Draco's face.
"I am his father," Draco said, some of his old arrogance lifting his chin. "In all the ways that matter."
Their gazes held a moment and Harry said. "So, if he wants a ferret, even a white one--"
"He gets one."
There was something soothing about riding a hippogriff. Harry gave Buckbeak more lead, soaring in lazy circles over the paddock until he spotted two figures far below.
He leaned forward, close to Buckbeak's ear. "They're here," he said, even though his words were blown back on the wind. "Remember what we talked about." The great grey head nodded in acknowledgement as Harry guided them both down, knees clenched around his mount's shoulders. Buckbeak had never allowed a saddle, though other members of his by-now extended family would for races and training.
They touched down in an isolated paddock near the barn, close enough to the fence so that it was readily apparent Buckbeak was behind it. Harry was hoping that even though everyone knew hippogriffs could fly, the visual evidence of the fence might reassure his guests, since he had no idea how Draco felt about hippogriffs now.
"You came!" he said, stripping off his riding gloves.
Draco was clutching Severus's hand, the little boy bobbing excitedly on coltish legs. "Did you see that, Dad?" Severus asked. "Can I ride one?"
"Absolutely not!" Draco said firmly.
"Not until you're older," Harry said, bending over slightly to look Severus squarely in the face.
"If then," Draco murmured.
Laughing, Harry ruffled Severus's hair, the way he usually did with the Ginny's children before realizing what he was doing and to whom. The boy himself didn't seem to realize anything was amiss, even when Harry jerked his hand back.
"Careful," Draco said, voice pitched for Harry's ears alone, "you might find out you like him."
Harry had the grace to flush. "Thanks for coming," he said again.
"Did it have to be here?" Draco said, accepting the change of subject without comment. He looked toward the barn from where the distinct odor of hippogriff manure wafted.
"I spend a lot of time out here," Harry replied, gesturing toward the empty paddocks. "I don't race hippogriffs anymore but I still breed them--with their permission--and take care of them."
"All very noble, I'm sure," Draco said, with a touch of his old impatience, eyeing Buckbeak. "But what does that have to do with me?"
Harry ran a hand through his hair. "I've been thinking--"
"Well, if that charity of yours already has enough money--" Harry retorted, trying not to feel guilty for falling back into their old schoolboy sparring. He'd done a lot of thinking after the ball, feeling ashamed that it had been Draco who'd seen the problem and done something to address it. Weren't there other things that could be improved, or fixed in their society, especially now after the war had left such a gap in families and resources? Until the ball, Harry had always assumed someone else would fix them.
He definitely had Draco's attention now. "No charity ever has enough money. When they get more than they need, they start a foundation." He sounded so much like Lucius that Harry grimaced.
"Can I go see it?" Severus inserted, obviously impatient with the conversation. The little body was leaning away from Draco's grasp, straining toward the fence.
"You can see it just fine from here," Draco said, dragging his attention away from Harry.
"No, I can't!" Severus insisted, tugging Draco's hand.
"Bu--Witherwings is perfectly safe," Harry said, regretting it immediately when Draco glared fiercely at him.
"Can I, Daddy, please?" The small, pale face turned up. "Please?"
With a renewed glare Draco allowed himself to be led over to the fence, Severus straining ahead as if actually pulling his weight the entire way.
"Can I ride him?" Severus asked, as if he'd forgotten he'd already asked once, no longer looking at them but at the hippogriff nuzzling the grass for field mice serenely beyond the fence.
"No," Harry and Draco said at the same moment. Draco hoisted Severus onto the middle rung of the fence, holding onto the slim hips steadily before looking back at Harry.
"Well, I was thinking you--well, me, I guess, might be able to hold a racing event, or exhibition, to raise money for your charity."
"Racing?" Draco looked mildly interested which meant, if Harry remembered correctly, that he was intensely curious.
"An exhibition match, you know. With a real prize," Harry explained, warming to his topic. "Get some of the top riders out of retirement, not just British ones. You could probably get some of those trick riders from America. The crowds do love those. We could sell out a stadium."
Draco's hand slipped automatically around Severus's belt loop as the boy made a move to scramble higher on the fence. "No higher!" he said warningly.
"Wouldn't the expense of mounting the event--"
Harry waved off his objections. "We can more than make up the expense with ticket sales and have enough left over--"
"To start a foundation!" Draco was practically rubbing his hands in glee. "Bill's been wanting to do some research on infectious bites and god, there's no end of equipment that could be updated at Hogwarts, and--."
"What's a foundation?" Severus was rocking against the fence boards as if hoping to knock one off.
"It's a sort of charity thing," Draco began, but the boy's attention had already turned back to the paddock.
"Oh." One trainer-shod foot knocked against the boards again and Harry noticed that the backs of the shoes lit up each time he kicked out. "Can I ride the hippogriff, Dad, please?"
Two voices rang out sternly again. "No!"
The news that Harry Potter was starting a foundation with Draco Malfoy made the front pages three days running, spurring ticket sales.
To Harry's great surprise, the exhibition and race sold out the stadium.
The next year, it sold out a bigger stadium.
Just after Christmas he Apparated to the front walk of Malfoy Manor, an inexpertly re-rolled scroll in his hands. Since he was not expected, he had to wait for the crisply groomed Millington to admit him. Harry was in and out of the Manor so much since going into partnership with Draco that he bounded to the study without waiting to be shown in. The elf would be rolling his golf-ball sized eyes about now but Harry knew he was getting on in years and didn't really mind not having to make the walk.
"You won't believe this!" he exclaimed as both Draco and Severus looked up--Draco from a large stack of correspondence and Severus from a coloring book. It was the one Harry had given him for Christmas, along with a box of Weasley Never-Dull Crayons.
"Is it something for my birthday?" Severus asked, getting to his feet like a shot and scattering crayons all over the floor. He eyed the rumpled scroll critically.
"Oh, is that coming up?" Harry asked with as much mock-innocence as he could muster. From the desk by the window, Draco snickered, though Severus clearly didn't see the humor and scowled. It had been nearly all the boy could talk about since before Christmas because this was the year he was to get his Hogwarts letter.
"You know it is, Harry, you promised to come!"
Harry ran a hand through Severus's short hair. "You know I will, pumpkin."
The child made a face at the nickname but didn't protest it as he usually did. "What are you going to get me?"
Harry laughed. "What could I possibly get you that your dad hasn't already?"
For a moment Severus's face looked mutinous. Then it smoothed out and he said slyly, "You could get me a baby hippogriff."
"Absolutely not," Draco said, getting to his feet and coming over. For a moment Harry thought Draco was warning him not to get the boy one. He was about to declare his innocence when he saw the look pass between them that suggested they'd discussed this before. When Draco looked back up, Harry knew the war, as far as Severus was concerned, was far from over.
"What have you got?" Draco asked, nodding toward the parchment.
"It's from America--a place in--" He unrolled the parchment and adjusted his glasses on his nose. "Wy-oh-ming. They want us to bring the exhibition race out there, as part of something they do called a rodeo."
"For the foundation?" Draco asked excitedly, scanning the message that Harry held out. "Ah!" he said and Harry knew he'd reached the relevant passage. "They want to get a glimpse of the boy hero!"
"Well, they didn't put it quite like that," he said, trying to look modest.
"All expenses paid, to organize and promote the event, twenty percent of the proceeds to the foundation." Draco made a noise and looked up. "Do they know how much of a prat you are?"
"Only if you told them," Harry said, waggling his eyebrows.
"Is Harry a prat, Daddy?" Severus asked, looking between them, then stretching his neck to see the parchment. "You told me he wasn't. You said he was--"
Draco cleared his throat ominously and thrust the parchment into the small grasping hands. "You'll donate your living expenses back to the foundation?"
Harry smirked. "Of course. And shame them into giving another five percent."
Draco got that look he always got when he was adding up sums in his head and the answers pleased him. "You'd have made a good Slytherin," he said admiringly.
"I'm going to be in Slytherin, aren't I, Harry?" Severus said, clearly bored with the parchment. "I'm going to Hogwarts as soon as I turn eleven. The hat won't even touch my head." He rubbed the top of his head as if brushing the Sorting Hat away. "Just like it did with Dad. Can I go to America?"
Harry had been chuckling over the glittering excitement in the child's voice and almost missed the abrupt change of topic.
"You'll be away at school by then, I expect," Draco pointed out.
Severus frowned for a moment, then brightened. "Harry and I can go in the summer. I can ride one of the hippogriffs over--"
"No!" Draco huffed in exasperation.
"Besides, they want me this spring," Harry said, ruffling Severus's hair consolingly.
"You're still coming to my party aren't you?" Severus asked, undaunted. "We're having a piñata and a fortune teller, not a silly old fraud, but a real one and--
"Wouldn't miss it." Harry said, laughing.
"God, have you seen Pansy?" Ron asked, showing rare discretion by making sure the person in question wasn't around before gossiping about them.
Harry finished swallowing a mouthful of cake. Gabrielle had outdone herself for Severus's eleventh birthday, constructing a confectionary Hogwarts complete with dark green swirls of icing dotting the Forbidden Forest and tiny sparkling sugared panes in all the windows. Harry had been given a substantial piece of Gryffindor tower, though he noticed Draco had given Ron a piece of the Dark Lake that appeared to be still be moving slightly.
"I didn't even know she was here," Harry admitted.
Ron made a noise and lowered his voice. "She looks like she's been on her broomstick a little too long, if you know what I mean."
Harry nearly snorted the entire Gryffindor common room out of his nose. "Hasn't she been married, uh, a few times?"
"Who are you two talking about?" The silky feminine voice made both Ron and Harry whirl around guiltily.
"Er, fabulous cake, Gabrielle," Harry said, taking a hasty forkful in lieu of having to make up something more intelligent.
Gabrielle's slender fingers waved his compliment away. "But of course. Now, who are you two whispering about?"
"Pansy," Ron ventured, voice lowering again. A tiny fin burst up through the silver mints that made the surface of the lake. He pulled out a candied mermaid and popped it, still wiggling, into his mouth.
"Oh, zhat one," Gabrielle said, eyes alight with the sort of delight really good gossip always inspires. "Still throwing herself at my Draco." She wrinkled her nose distastefully. "As if he would have her after zhe things she said about zhe boy."
Ron was leaning in so closely he looked like he'd topple over if Gabrielle lowered her voice any further. Harry didn't even pretend he wasn't paying attention any more. "What did she say?"
"She boasted to zhat cow--" Her fingers fanned the air as if trying to recall a bovine sort of name.
"Millicent?" Ron supplied helpfully.
"Yes, Millicent," Gabrielle said, "zhat she would give Draco his own baby so quickly that little Severus would be lucky to find himself in an orphanage as nice as the one his late master grew up in."
Harry and Ron exchanged horrified looks. Harry tried to imagine Severus growing up in an orphanage, or worse, with the Dursleys. Gabrielle's eyes slitted. "Zhis Mille, she told um…" She hunched over, arms held out from her sides like a gorilla's.
"Goyle?" Harry ventured.
Gabrielle snapped her fingers as though they were playing a game. "Zhis Goyle and he told Draco. Zhere was a huge row, he told me, and he saw her for what she was before--" She shuddered in that way that only the French can. "Before it was, as zhey say, too late."
They were all silent a moment, slowly leaning away from the conspiratorial knot they'd formed. Finally Gabrielle shook her head. "Me, I know he is devoted to zhe boy." She nodded to where Severus, surrounded by children, pointed a practice wand at a ghoul-shaped piñata festooned with brightly colored paper ribbons. The boy waved the wand once, twice, the grinning ghoul swaying in the alcove just out of reach of the grasping hands below.
Harry saw Draco, arms crossed across his chest, slowly slide one hand into his pocket. Just then the piñata burst apart, showering the kids with cellophane packets of Every Flavor Beans and tiny smoking cauldron cakes, wrapped wizard pops and packets of chocolate frogs still hopping in their foil.
In the mad scramble for sweets, Draco's hand slid back across his chest.
Later, Severus, wizard pop in hand, ran over to Harry. "What did you get me, Harry?" he asked excitedly. "I've gotten everyone's present but yours." The cherry-red stained lips pressed together. "You did get me something, didn't you?" he asked worriedly. "Dad says I shouldn't expect--" He hopped from one foot to the other, obviously torn between politeness and childish greed.
"'Course I did, pumpkin."
A quiver of excitement went through the thin body. Harry leaned down--though not nearly as far as he used since Severus seemed to be shooting up like a weed and spoke conspiratorially. "It's not a baby hippogriff though, so don't get your hopes up."
The little head hung. "I know, Harry," he said in a quiet, serious voice that might have sounded like the Snape of old save for the fact that his voice hadn't changed yet. Harry regretted the teasing instantly, his mind flying through all the ways to make amends, up to and including finding, in the next two minutes, a baby hippogriff. Another quiver went through the boy as he looked up. "Dad says I can't have one until I'm twelve," he said with a smirk.
Harry burst out laughing. Several people turned and stared at them as Harry ruffled Severus's hair.
"Brat," he said, nodding toward the portico door. "Come on, it's outside."
He pushed open the glass door, leaving it cracked since it was freezing outside and he didn't want the boy to get cold as he cast a warming charm by the balustrade. Once the soft red glow enveloped them both, Harry whistled softly, looking up toward the eaves of the Manor.
"Harry, are you sure it's not--" Severus began, then gasped as a tiny blot detached itself from the snow coating the eaves. A snowy owl, a little older than a fledgling, swooped down. Its wingspan was barely as large as Harry's outstretched hands as it landed on the stone balustrade beside them.
Severus had gone still, lips parted, staring as the little bird hooted softly, wings flapping as its claws edged along the stone.
"Is it really for--for me?" Severus said, looking up at Harry with the quickest possible glance before looking back at the owl as if afraid it had melted back into snow.
"Happy Birthday, Severus," Harry said, feeling a little nervous suddenly as the boy continued to stare. "He's one of my owl Hedwig's chicks," he said as Severus reached out one hand, fingers stretching as if not quite daring to touch the creature. "You've seen her--she lives up in the loft of the stable," With a flutter of wings, the owl lifted and landed on Severus's outstretched arm. The boy nearly shrieked and Harry was about to intervene when he realized the shriek had been one of delight.
"Oh, he's--" One finger tentatively rubbed over the glossy head and the owl hooted softly. "Beautiful."
Warmth flooded through Harry's chest as he pulled the shrunken cage from his pocket and enlarged it with his wand. "You'll have to learn to take care of him," he said, but he figured no one had been less prepared to take care of an owl than he'd been at the same age and Hedwig still put up with him.
Severus rolled his eyes without taking them off the owl. "Of course I will. What's his name?" The long finger had become bolder, stroking the curve of the owl's head and down its wing raptly.
"That's for you to decide," Harry said as Severus studied the owl more intently.
"Why don't you name it Albus?"
Both Harry and Severus whirled at the new voice, Harry already moving in front of Severus even before he recognized Pansy.
"I think you should leave, Pansy," he said, glad he still had his wand out, holding it lightly but in plain view.
"I was invited, same as you," she said, stumbling slightly as she took a step forward.
Harry reached behind him, grasping Severus's shoulder in case he had to Apparate quickly. Obediently the boy slid closer, and Harry felt the bird flutter against his back.
"Though I don't think it matters to Draco whether I'm here or not, not like his ticket out of Azkaban, the baby professor." She suddenly seemed to realize Harry was standing in front of Severus and took another stumbling step away from the door.
"You know that's not true," Harry said. "Draco was given a full pardon for what he did against--" He squeezed Severus's shoulder. "Against the Dark Lord." An inarticulate sound of outrage snarled out of her throat. "That's enough," he said.
"Oh, I'm just getting started, Potter--"
Just as she began to spew whatever venom had been building up inside her, a streak of light blazed from the doorway as Draco flung it open. Pansy slumped into a potted palm. From behind Harry a tiny head popped out and a giggle filled the sudden curse-free silence.
"You two okay?" Draco asked, prodding the awkwardly bent body rather more forcefully than necessary.
Harry started to say yes, only Severus, sliding from behind him, holding a squashed looking owl, beat him to it.
"Look what Harry got me for my birthday!"
After the owl, its feathers dutifully unruffled, was properly exclaimed over, Draco helped him put the bird in the cage and sent him back to the party.
As soon as the portico door had closed behind him, Harry slumped against the balustrade. "I need more cake."
"God, Potter, were you this weird at school?"
"Probably, yeah," he said with a grin.
"I gave you half of Gryffindor tower!" Draco was looking at him as if he'd grown the size of Hagrid.
"Right now, I could eat the other half. I guess adrenaline makes me hungry. You should have seen me after Voldemort died. I ate a dozen cupcakes." He rubbed his stomach nostalgically. "With sprinkles." He nodded at the crumpled form by the potted plant. "What are you going to do with her?"
Draco's nose wrinkled. "I suppose I should keep her warm until I can Floo her home or she'll die out here, then come back and haunt me." He cast a warming charm around her, the soft red glow not quite as bright as the one surrounding them.
"It could have been worse," Harry said with a shiver that had nothing to do with warming charms. He looked at Draco curiously. "How much does Severus know? About what happened? About…the headmaster?"
A heavy sigh dragged out of Draco's chest, puffing steam in the area not warmed by the charm. "The broadest strokes. I had to tell him was adopted, of course, since we look so dissimilar and people were bound--well, you of all people know what idiots people are. And I wasn't sure, back then, how much he'd remember."
"Does he remember anything?"
Draco shook his head. "No, I'm fairly certain he doesn't. Not even his real parents. I've told him things over the years, that he was once an adult, that he was involved in a great battle and harmed to save someone else." A flush edged up Draco's expressive cheeks. "He wanted to meet you after that--he'd heard of you, of course, what child hasn't? Never stopped asking me questions about you." He shook his head again. "The rest of it? I've been waiting until he's older. When he goes to school, I suppose." He glanced back in the ballroom where a cluster of children were gathered around an owl cage. "Soon."
"Soon." Harry stretched and flicked his wand to dissipate the warming charm around them. "Don't worry, it can't be any worse than having to tell him about sex when the time comes!"
With a groan, Draco pushed away from the stone wall. "Thanks, Potter, that makes me feel loads better. Come on," he said, "Let's go eat the Great Hall."
Harry was in America for three months, working with the organization that wanted to sponsor the event. He had a brief, undemanding affair with one of the committee members, a handsome young man given over to much wearing of flannel. The affair ended without rancor the night Cameron had come into Harry's hotel room from the loo wearing something he called 'chaps'.
"I don't think I'm, er, into that," he'd said, eyeing the complicated looking garment.
"How do ya know until ya try?"
Harry had sent Severus a postcard with a picture of an albino rattlesnake and got a letter back in return. Dear Harry, Dad wants me to tell you if you bring a poisonous snake back to the Manor he will do something unsuitable to you that I shan't repeat. I hope you are having a good time in the wilds of Wyoming. Yours Very Sincerely, Severus.
Harry looked at the signature for a moment, transported back to the first time he'd seen it, on a detention notice. It had been easier, somehow, to forget the man he'd known in the boy he'd befriended without reminders of what he'd been. Now that Severus was growing up, there would be more of them. Harry propped the envelope up beside his chap-less bed before writing back.
He also let Draco know that he'd managed, by virtue of having what USA WizardToday had called ' a dreamy British accent', to add another ten percent to the foundation's take on the wildly successful event.
He dispersed the menagerie he'd gathered for the event while he and Buckbeak took a leisurely southern route home, stopping for a week at some tropical island that the hippogriff seemed to know. Harry wondered if it had been one of the places he'd hidden out while on the run with Sirius. After Harry spotted a plethora of brightly plumaged birds, he decided it was.
A note caught up with him in Africa, where they'd stopped to let Buckbeak rest a few days after the ocean crossing. Harry suspected the note was from Draco by the glare the owl gave him when it stuck out its leg, and he wasn't disappointed.
You haven't gone native, have you, Potter? Have interest from Russia to discuss, should you ever deign to grace your auld sod again. I warn you, Severus is already picking out names for ermines.
Harry didn't send a reply back since he was, by then, ready to continue home.
It had been so long since he'd been out to the Manor that he didn't feel right just popping in unannounced, though he was certain the starchy Millington would enjoy announcing him. So he owled Draco as soon as he got back and spent a week out at the stables getting back into his own routine. Being surrounded by all the tack and leather made him think fondly of 'Chaps' and whether he should have given him another chance, then inhaled the scent of mink oil and decided he'd probably made the right choice.
He was mucking out a stall, surprising himself with how good the task felt when he heard his name being called out.
He popped his head over the wall of the stall, or tried to, slipping in something quite disgusting and managing to catch himself just in time.
"Do you sleep out here?"
A quiet giggle alerted him that Draco was not alone so he bit back his first response. "Sometimes, yeah," he called out, edging around the wheelbarrow he'd left parked at the stall door and setting the shovel against it. When he got closer to the pair he pointed to the closed off loft overhead. "There's a little room up there with a bed and a sink in case one of the colts decides to come in the middle of the night."
He smiled down at Severus. "How are you, pumpkin?" It felt like he'd been away longer than a few months since the angle seemed off again as he looked down. At the rate the boy was growing, he'd be taller than Harry soon. Of course Severus would be taller than Harry--he even knew exactly how much taller the boy was going to get. Inwardly Harry winced, noticing that Severus was staring at him curiously with none of the exuberant hugs forthcoming that he'd got used to.
"Very well, thank you," Severus replied, staying very close to Draco's side though he was well out of the hand-holding stage.
Harry straightened ruefully. "Have you forgotten all about me?" he said, glad now that he hadn't ruffled the jet black hair as he usually did.
Draco made an exasperated noise. "He's in a shy phase," he explained to Harry.
"Dad! Am not!" Severus said, color creeping up his pale cheeks.
"You've barely said hello," Draco said incredulously. He looked back up at Harry. "He asked when you were coming home from nearly the instant you left and now--" He rolled his eyes and looked back down at Severus, whose mouth was set in a stubborn line. "Harry won't give you your present if you keep being so disagreeable."
"I didn't ask for a present," Severus said with fierce practicality, but the dark gaze sidled up toward Harry.
"How's Sherman?" Harry asked, asking after the owl he'd given Severus a few months ago.
For the first time, a smile turned the corners of Severus's mouth up. "You won't recognize him!" He held his arms out to either side. "I bet his wings are this big!" He stretched up on tip-toes as if about to lift off. "Did you really get me a present, Harry?"
Harry laughed, and wiped his hands on his worn trousers before reaching inside his shirt. "I really did." He'd been wearing the chain because he'd been afraid of losing it, but was glad he had it now, lifting it over his head. He held it up as Draco and Severus both leaned closer to look. Draco saw the shape first and snickered.
"I should have known!"
Severus held up one hand and Harry lay the silver object against his palm. "It's a snake!" he exclaimed happily. Harry watched him rub his finger over the nearly white curves of the cunningly worked reptile. Harry had seen it in one of the shops that sold Native American crafts in Wyoming and thought of Severus immediately, remembering his warning not to bring anything venomous home. He spread the chain and draped it over the boy's head. Severus picked up the talisman and admired it.
"What do you say?" Draco said, leaning down.
Severus dragged his attention off the snake long enough to look up, lips quivering. "Everyone will be so jealous when I go to school."
"Severus!" Draco said, obviously gearing up for the Lecture On Manners. Even Harry had heard that one.
Before he could get going, Severus butted one shoulder against Harry. "Thank you, Harry," he recited dutifully.
"You're welcome, pumpkin." Harry turned his attention toward Draco. "Now, tell me about Russia!"
Harry didn't really fancy spending the summer away from home but realized his name and face were important factors to the success of these events.
After an exchange of owls with the Russian MagikBuro, they worked out a time for Harry to visit, with an eye toward coming for a longer visit to arrange the event in the spring.
"But that means you'll go away again," Severus said later when Harry stopped by to let Draco know how the negotiations were progressing.
Harry chuckled. "Only a couple of months, now that I know what I'm doing, and you'll be away at school."
"I don't really need to go to school," Severus said very softly and Harry's mouth dropped open.
"You most certainly do," Draco said grimly, his lips compressing to a thin line. An undercurrent of tension swirled between them and Harry realized it was part of some ongoing battle of which he'd only just become aware.
He had no idea what to say, no idea how to counter the tension when it was broken unexpectedly by the pop of a house-elf.
"Miss Gabrielle, sir, at the Floo," Millington announced, making her name sound like 'Gabriel' as the elf did not believe in things French.
Draco pushed away from the desk, looking from Harry to Severus uncertainly. Harry managed to catch his eye and nod, though he had no idea what he could do, only that Draco and Severus must have already tried and been left with this awful tension.
When they were alone Harry looked at the boy helplessly. After a moment, Severus looked up, his small face tight with defiance. "Come outside," Harry said, nodding toward the patio. It was a brilliantly blue day in August with just enough breeze to bring a whiff of the pale goat grazing down below on the lawn to his nose.
Harry leaned against the low stone wall at the edge of the patio, the same sort that bordered the portico outside the ballroom upstairs. "What's all this about not wanting to go to school. It's all you've talked about for--"
"But I don't have to go, do I?" Severus said, sounding quite as defiant as he had with Draco. "Dad could teach me, or you. I don't even have to be a wizard again if I don't want to." He scuffed his feet, then leaned back against the stone wall, arms folded across his chest, just like Harry.
Harry suspected he knew now what had changed. "Don't you want to learn magic again? Learn about potions and spells and magical creatures?"
One heel kicked back at the stone and for a long moment Severus didn't reply. "Dad…told me some stuff," he said at last. "About him, you know, the professor." He looked distinctly unhappy. "Me."
"And you think that means you can't go to school?"
Severus kicked the stones again. "Why'd he have to do such awful things? Everyone will hate me." He turned around, leaning on the low stone wall and staring out over the grass being cropped by the diligent goat.
"Draco knows all those things you did when you were older and he doesn't hate you," Harry pointed out.
A childish snort drifted up to his ears. "Dad has to like me--he's my dad."
"Seems to me he chose to be your dad," Harry said quietly. Severus still looked mutinous. "Didn't he explain all the reasons for the things you did--the things you had to do?"
Severus nodded as if the reasons were of no matter. "Nobody liked me then and no one will like me now!" He pushed away from the ledge, staring up at Harry and breathing hard as if startled by his own outburst.
Sympathy and hurt for the boy clenched in Harry's chest. "That isn't true, Severus," Harry said, certain the child he'd come to know couldn't become as bitter and twisted as the man had been. The war had changed him, had changed them all, so that even Harry had begun to doubt some of the things he'd believed while growing up. "I know what you were like then and I don't hate you."
Severus eyed him curiously. "You don't?"
"Course I don't," Harry said. "I'm going to bring you an ermine back from Russia, aren't I?"
"Couldn't you just make it an ermine jacket or something?" Draco's voice came from the study, as Harry and Severus looked up at the same time.
"Ew," Severus said, making a face. Draco strode onto the patio looking between them cautiously. "You wouldn't you make a jacket out of Millie, would you?" He nodded toward the placid goat who was cropping the grass under a willow tree, blissfully unaware of her potential as a blazer.
"Only if I could get away with it," Draco muttered under his breath.
Only apparently not under enough. "That's gross, Dad," Severus said, wrinkling his nose.
Visiting the Manor in the months that followed felt weird without Severus underfoot. Draco, who seemed a bit lost at first, threw himself into the foundation, generating a list of projects for funding, even writing letters to his old friends for ideas.
Severus had, according to a somewhat relieved looking Draco, been Sorted into Slytherin, and if the hat had rested on his head a moment longer than it had for Draco, at least the outcome had been to everyone's approval. Draco reported one more bit of information to Harry barely a week after Severus had boarded the train.
The night after the Sorting, Headmistress McGonagall had sent a note to the Slytherin Head of House, Augustus Meander, that she wanted to see Severus in her office. Instead of calling him on the carpet for some infraction, she'd made an introduction to a portrait in her office then left him alone in her office for nearly an hour.
Harry had looked at Draco after that report, the normally pale face looking drawn and tight. "How do real parents do it?" he'd said quietly. "Send their kids off? Let them--" A hand had dragged through his blond hair.
"Let them grow up?" Harry supplied, then punched Draco lightly on the arm. "You are his real parent, you git. Looks like you're doing okay with him so far."
Draco shook his head. "The thing about kids is, you never know if you're telling them the right thing or the stupidest thing ever. My father told me a lot of really stupid things--" He darted a glance at Harry.
Who shrugged. He'd realized a long time ago Draco had outgrown a lot of his schoolboy prejudices. "Draco, you're in a relationship with a girl who's got a Veela somewhere in her background and raising a half-blood." He rolled his eyes. "Oh, and friends with someone who used to regularly want to kick your arse."
"Oh, Potter, I could so have kicked your arse--"
They smirked at nearly exactly the same time, then laughed.
Harry did his best to fulfill the expanding list of worthwhile projects by making the Russian event wildly successful. Now that he had some experience organizing them, Harry was able to draft out guidelines when the next offer--for one in Brazil, where he did not fancy spending a hot, sultry summer--came in.
If he thought he might rest on his laurels, Draco quickly disabused him of that notion that summer during Bill and Fleur's lawn party. They were watching some of the kids, Severus included, flying brooms in and out of the orchard trees in an impromptu game of tag.
"I've had another inquiry from America," Draco said, eyes forward. The kids were only allowed to ride with adult supervision, but he still kept a close eye on the game. "A gentleman named Cameron Something was most interested to know if they could count on your appearance for their second annual event." His smile was sly and knowing when he turned to glance at Harry.
Harry waited until Ron, being hotly pursued by Hermione and Severus on one broom, whizzed by, allowing his cheeks to cool down before replying. "The foundation can have my face, not my arse."
He ended up later sitting beside Remus, sipping punch beneath an elm and well out of broom range. Over by the open space by the house, Ron, tying on a stained pink apron, tended the grill. Remus's frame had filled out considerably in the years since he'd been steadily employed at Hogwarts. After learning how to brew the Wolfsbane Potion on his own, Remus had let the headmistress recruit him to replace Horace Slughorn as the Potions professor and Remus had accepted.
"Sometimes around Severus I feel like I'm the one who got hit with an aging spell and Severus is--well, still the same as when we all went to school together," he said, leaning back in a chipped white lawn chair. "Only the Severus I knew then never laughed unless it was at someone else's expense."
Harry had no trouble imaging that, knowing what he'd grown up into. "It feels weird to remember what he was like back then," he said. "Sometimes I have to remind myself that they aren't two different people."
"You never saw a more serious child," Remus said, shaking his head and taking a sip of his own punch. "He was never just--just a little boy." He looked over at Harry. "Just like you."
"I'm sure he'd be horrified, in either incarnation, at the comparison," Harry said, feeling his face warming. Was that why they'd become such friends--both orphaned, both feeling lost and trying to find their way in worlds they never expected?
"I'm not so sure," Remus said. "One thing's for certain, I can't tell what's going on in that brain of his any better now than I could then. One minute he's improvising from the text and the next he's setting all the frogs free."
Harry laughed; Draco hadn't told him about that one. "Did you give him detention?"
Remus flushed guiltily. "I didn't have the heart."
They were interrupted by the subject of their discussion, who arrived looking breathless, color high on his cheeks. "Harry, Dad wants me to ask you--" Severus skidded to stop in front of their chairs, his gaze wavering uncertainly toward Remus. "Hullo, sir."
"Good to see you, Severus," Remus replied.
"Ask me what, pu--er, Severus?" Harry said as Severus rocked on the balls of his feet impatiently.
"Whether you intend to stay on your bum--well, actually he said 'arse' but I'm not allowed to say that--all day, or are you going to give him a go for the Snitch?"
Harry slapped Remus's knee. "What do you say? Two Gryffindors against two Slytherins?"
Remus groaned in mock pain. "Nymphadora will kill me if I fall off a broom."
"Then don't fall off, sir," Severus intoned solemnly.
By Severus's second year at school, Harry was more used to not having a ferret underfoot though he wasn't sure he'd ever get used to how much quieter it always felt. He wondered if it had been that way for Draco's parents. Neither he nor Severus were especially boisterous children but there was no doubt the house seemed gloomier when they were away.
He'd managed to spend this spring at home, focusing instead on learning the investment side of charity fundraising. He and Draco were sitting in the study, going over the books when Draco leaned back and sighed. "I think we're going to need some help keeping up with all this if you do another event as successful as Vladivostok."
Harry had pulled up his usual chair by the desk. "Hire someone you mean?''
"Lots of charities do--well, all of them probably. Most aren't run by such self-sacrificing young philanthropists as ourselves." He smirked and Harry laughed.
"You've been reading our cuttings again," he said. The last Daily Prophet article had made Draco sound as if he'd opened an orphanage for de-aged Death Eaters.
The both jumped when there was a noise at the glass door fronting the patio. It was an owl, just landing on the stone surface in front of the door. Draco sprang up to unlatch the door and swing it open. The owl looked disgruntled but stuck out its leg obediently, allowing Draco to slide the missive off.
"It's from--" He looked back down at the grumpy owl. "Go on, there's an owlery under the eaves in the east wing. There'll be treats for you there." He turned his attention back to Harry as the owl swooped off. "It's from Hogwarts." He slid the parchment open and read, growing slightly paler before reading it again.
"Is Severus--" Harry started to ask, remembering, in a sickening rush, all the horrible ways spells could go wrong.
"He's got himself detention." Draco looked up. "For fighting." There was an expression on his face that was parts anger and horror and relief. "He's sent another boy to the hospital wing."
"What?" Harry wanted to grab the letter from Draco's hand but managed to refrain until Draco sat down hard beside him, handing the letter over without a word.
The letter, thankfully, was from Severus's head of house, not the headmistress, which put the seriousness of the offense into manageable terms. Harry scanned the details.
"Where did he learn that thundercloud charm?" Harry hadn't learned it until fourth year.
Draco grunted. "My father taught it to me before I left for school." One side of his mouth curled up. "Just never used it on you."
"Says here he used it on another Slytherin." And caused quite some mayhem in the common room, to judge from the letter.
A dismissive shrug as Draco took the letter back and read it again. "Looks like I'll have to make a donation to cover the water damage."
"Any idea what the fight was about?" Harry asked, but before Draco could answer, there was another tap at the glass door.
"Sherman!" Draco cried, jumping up again and opening the door to allow the owl inside the study. The letter was brief:
You'll have heard by now that I've got detention for a week. Meander thinks I'm writing to tell you how awfully sorry I am that I sent that git Benes to the hospital wing but really he wouldn't be there if he hadn't tripped on a wet carpet and hit his stupid head. I didn't mean to lose my temper, and I remembered all the things you told me about stuff like this happening. He just deserved it. Yours very fondly, Severus.
PS. The thundercloud charm works just the way we practiced.
Harry was grinning by the time he got to the end of the letter, reading over Draco's shoulder.
"Sure you don't want to find some witch and settle down and have yourself a dozen children?" Draco said, unable, Harry noticed, to control his own grin.
"Oh, like you have?" Harry countered, sitting back in his chair as Sherman huffed his wings and took off toward the east wing.
"When I took him on, the closest I'd ever got to a baby was that horrible mandrake in second year, do you remember?" Harry nodded but he wasn't sure Draco saw. "I don't recommend diaper changing until you've had a house-elf show you how. There was one night when he wouldn't eat anything no matter what I tried that I had to keep telling myself over and over that this man had saved my life."
Harry knew Draco's mother had been dead by then, only a few weeks after her husband had earned Voldemort's displeasure. He couldn't imagine coming home to an empty house with a baby.
"That idiot Scrimgeour wrote to me and asked if I was going to take Severus to that dreadful house up north, to try to rear Severus as he'd grown up the first time." Draco gave off a dismissive laugh. "As if anyone would want to go through that again."
"He--Severus" Harry shook his head and started again. "The professor, I mean, he'd been cleared by then, hadn't he?"
"Thankfully." The slender white fingers played idly with the two letters. "I suppose I should write back straight away," he said, but instead of reaching for his quill, he looked again at Harry. "Severus writes to you, doesn't he?"
Harry was getting to his feet, reaching for the jacket he'd slung over the back of the chair. "Sure."
Draco looked like he wanted to say something else, but what he said instead was, "Good. If he doesn't tell you about his detention, could you--"
"I won't," he said, zipping up his jacket. "What did you tell Scrimgeour?" he asked suddenly.
"What? Oh." A grim sort of smile slid onto Draco's features. "I told him that this time Severus was going to have a happy childhood."
Severus's next letter to Harry didn't mention the detention but did mention that the courses for his third year were to include Care of Magical Creatures and wouldn't it be useful to have actually been acquainted with one, say, a hippogriff before term started?
It was a refrain he brought up again during visits out to the stables over the summer. "There's a teacher there--Hagrid," Severus said, hanging onto the fence while Harry brushed Moonwings, a pale grey female hippogriff. "Do you remember him?"
Harry chuckled. "Oh yes. He gave me--" He was about to say 'my very first present' but changed it to, "my owl Hedwig. Sherman was one of her chicks."
"Yes, Harry, I know," Severus said patiently. His voice had been breaking since he'd been home but was smooth enough now.
"Professor Hagrid," Harry corrected, then winced at himself, thinking how often he'd made the same mistake when he'd been a student.
"Professor Hagrid says it's all right for students to ride the hippogriffs. He said you rode one when you were my age."
"It isn't me you have to convince," Harry said, brushing Moonwings absently, "It's your dad."
He knew at once that he'd made a mistake of such crushing, monumental proportions that he'd be lucky if he didn't get a howler from Draco. Or a hex, since he was standing on the other side of the grounds, as far away from the hippogriffs as possible.
"So, it's all right with you?" Severus said, lips curled in satisfaction.
"I didn't say that--"
But Severus was already out of earshot, running on long legs toward the other side of the drive. Even from here Harry saw Draco's head snap up and an almost palpable glare aimed in his direction.
Oh yes, he was in trouble.
"What's all this about you giving Severus permission--" The shouts came closer as Draco, followed by Severus, strode across the muddy parade grounds.
"I didn't say--"
"You know how I feel about--"
Moonwings fluttered her wings at the commotion. Harry took a step back and Draco's arm went around Severus's shoulders protectively.
"That's quite enough young man!"
"I'm older!" Severus wailed. "Harry said I could ride it when I'm older!"
"You'll never be old enough--" Draco began, going white. Then his mouth stopped moving and he sagged against the fence. "To--" He shook his head.
"Dad?" Severus took a step forward, voice breaking in alarm.
"I sound--" Draco shook his head again. "Just like my father." He swallowed hard and pulled Severus against him Harry looked between them, something fluttering in his chest. Fingers sliding through the glossy hair, Draco tilted Severus's troubled face up. "I told myself I'd never be like him and try to hold you back. Go and have your ride, son," he said, so softly that Harry almost missed it.
"Do you mean it?" Severus said, pulling away impatiently.
"With Harry." Draco caught his gaze. "If you don't mind?" he said almost mockingly, but Harry was sure the mockery was turned inward.
"Of course not." He tried to look stern but Severus was nearly shivering with excitement. "A short one." He turned back toward Moonwings, bowing slightly now that he'd stepped away from her side. "Is that all right, girl?"
The feathered head jerked forward once, her back hoof stamping the ground. Harry nodded approvingly, then turned to Severus. "Climb over the fence," he instructed, waiting on the other side to help him down. "First you have to bow to her, like this." His bows with his own herd were much more perfunctory than this, but he showed Severus the proper way. Moonwings clawed the ground again and gave the showiest bow he'd ever seen.
"Good girl," he said, leading Severus around to one side. On the other side of the fence, Draco was leaning against the boards, hand near his wand pocket.
"Let me help you up," Harry said, making a step with his hands. Severus's trainers were muddy, but Harry probably had much worse things on his hands from working around the stables all day. "Slide onto her back," he said, as Severus wobbled on his hands, grabbing onto Harry's shoulder. "It's okay; she's as gentle as Snowball."
The legs went up and over, coming down hard amidst all the feathers. Harry boosted himself up easily, used to riding with or without a saddle, sliding around behind Severus. He knew Moonwings was being patient, standing stock-still until they were settled, Severus leaning forward, fingers sliding into the ruff of feathers around her neck. Harry wrapped his arms around the boy's waist, feeling the excitement still shivering through him.
"Let's go, girl," he said, pushing the side of his foot into her sides. The wings unfurled around them as Moonwings took a running start. With a soundless rush of wind, they were up, vaulting off the ground on powerful wings.
The paddock, Draco, and the earth fell away dizzyingly. Severus said something that ended in a wild laugh, blown back on the wind. Up they spiraled, in widening circles around the stables until the entire expanse of countryside lay beneath them, the paddock and barns just tiny blurs of color below. He was careful to keep them within the boundaries of the Notice-me-not spell he had around the property.
Harry nudged Severus's foot with his own, leaning over, close to his ear. "You guide her like this, just like a broom."
Severus nodded and jerked one foot against the broad flank, laughing again as Moonwings whirled in the direction. Harry let the hippogriff complete a lazy circle before squeezing with his thighs, guiding her down.
Draco was exactly where they'd left him, fingers tight on the boards of the fence. Moonwings brought them down a few yards away, the giant wings folding before they got close to the fence. Harry slid his arms free and hopped down, turning to help Severus. The boy turned, one hand lingering on the softly gleaming charcoal-gray feathers. "Thank you," he said to the animal, leaning over slightly. The hippogriff's head dipped in acknowledgement as she trotted off toward the open paddock and her well-deserved field mice.
"Did you see, Dad? Did you see me flying?" Severus ran over to the fence as Draco pushed himself away from it as if it was the only thing holding him upright. His hand dragged again through Severus's wind-swept hair.
"Oh, yes, I saw."
"I'm going to get top marks," Severus said, wrapping his arms around his sides as if to hold in the excitement. "I know how to guide it and everything."
Harry stood just a few feet away, unwilling to intrude and never feeling more like an outsider.
He wondered, the next time he visited the Manor, if anything would be different--if Draco's attitude would have changed. But everything seemed quite normal, save that Severus assaulted him at once with requests to go flying again.
Laughing, Harry allowed himself to be dragged into the study. "You don't want to show up the other kids in class do you?"
Severus looked at Harry as if he'd just grown a snorkack's crumpled horn. "Of course I do."
In order to make the prospect slightly less enticing, he consulted with Draco and asked if Severus would like to work around the stables. Not a proper job, of course, since Severus was so young, but he could handle a rake and a shovel a few days a week at his age.
"I know what you're doing, you know," the boy said, assessing him as Harry handed over his first week's pay.
"Do you really?" Harry replied, not really minding being so transparent.
Severus lifted his chin, very much the way Draco used to when he knew the answer in class. "You're trying to make it horrible for me, mucking out the stables, but I've been taking care of goats and ferrets and mice for ages and I don't mind getting my hands dirty."
Severus was too tall for Harry to be able to get away with ruffling his hair anymore so he settled for a clap on the arm, taking out his wand to seal the barn doors. Harry waved to Jesse, a young man he'd hired the previous winter, who was competent if not creative with the required magic. He'd discovered, talking to Jesse, that there were lots of young witches and wizards whose parents had held them back from Hogwarts because of the troubles with Voldemort. His family had tried to home teach him magic but either he simply didn't have the aptitude or the interest or seemed content doing things by hand or with simple spells. Harry had talked to Draco about adult classes in magic, sponsored through the foundation, as refresher courses or, in cases like Jesse's, to give them the first real instruction in basic magic.
"Want me to drop you at home?" he asked Severus who was waving at Jesse too, who waved back from the upstairs feed window. Harry looked at his watch. "I've got a few minutes and I'm sure we can get there before Draco pops out here to get you."
"Are you going out with Phillip again?" Severus asked with a sniff. "I don't like him."
"Why on earth not?" Harry asked, surprised. He wasn't entirely certain when Severus had become aware of the gender of his dates, but he wasn't about to deny it.
"He's a dunderhead," Severus pronounced just as Draco appeared with a pop to Apparate Severus home. Black eyes looked at Harry unflinchingly. "And he's scared of the hippogriffs."
"I--he--" It was true that Phillip always preferred to meet Harry elsewhere but he'd always assumed it was because the other man was somewhat overly fastidious about his shoes.
In the end, Harry dumped Phillip but only after hiring his sister, Morgana, who was a frighteningly competent witch, to manage the foundation's accounts. They'd been through three accountants and one outright fraud before finding Morgana.
"Are you mad?" Draco asked, once Harry let him know he wasn't going out with Phillip. "Go over right now and apologize!"
Harry sputtered his tea, thankfully not over the desk where they were going over a lengthy list of suggestions Morgana had owled over. Harry had been glad to note that his adult classes had a section all their own. "Apologize? What for?"
"I don't want to lose Morgana because you're waffling over her brother," Draco said, sitting back in his chair and staring at Harry.
"I'm not waffling over him--we just weren't right for each other," Harry said, doing a quick cleaning spell on his trousers.
Draco raised one eyebrow expressively. "You aren't right for anyone, Potter."
"Hey, that's not fair," he said, tucking away his wand. "If Phillip had half the sense his sister has, I'd go over and propose right now," he said bristling. "I mean the sex was good enough," he said, knowing he ought to be ashamed but quite unable to contain the flash of glee when Draco made a face. "But he's so…shallow. Can't think beyond which waistcoat to wear to the office." It had driven Harry mad to wake up and be ready for a nice leisurely tumble and have to watch Phillip try on outfit after outfit. "Besides, he's scared of hippogriffs," he added as if that settled it.
Draco sat back and crossed his legs. "You never struck me as the marrying kind."
Harry shrugged. "Why not? Just because I like men doesn't mean I don't want--" He shrugged again. "Happily ever after? I don't know, something more permanent." He'd wondered if he was being too hard on the men he went out with, or if there was just something missing in all of them. Or in himself. After he'd found himself free of the shadow of war, he'd found satisfaction and independence in his racing career, and fulfillment of another sort in the men he'd gone out--and gone to bed--with. His focus had shifted when he'd retired from racing, but it was still satisfying work, even if it was lonelier. Now, with the foundation, he'd found another sort of purpose.
"Like myself and Gabrielle?"
"Only with rings."
Draco's expression turned wry. "Don't think I haven't asked her."
Harry's eyebrows climbed into his fringe. "She turned you down?"
A languid smile pulled up the corner of Draco's mouth. "Not exactly. She said once I was free to lavish all my attention on her, she'd have me."
That sounded so much like Gabrielle that Harry laughed. "Once Severus is on his own then?"
Nodding, Draco said, "He'd have had her for a mother--they get on well enough. Especially when she came over for the first time when he was about six and didn't scream when he put a mouse--one of the Ralphs, I think--on her chair."
Harry could just picture it. "He didn't!"
"Oh, yes, he did."
"What did she do?" Harry asked.
Draco smirked, looking suddenly about twelve. "Picked it up by its tail and said it was too small for a stew so he'd have to keep it!" There was an odd gleam of speculation in his eyes. "Funny, he never did the same to you." A shrug. "He likes you, I suppose."
"Well, you know I never in this world thought I'd come to like Severus Snape, but I do. Or that he'd like me, even as a little boy."
Draco made an inelegant noise. "Not so little anymore--he was as tall as you are when I saw him over Easter break."
And was a good inch taller than Harry when he came home from school that summer, a fact that seemed to please Severus very much.
"Can I reach that for you?" Severus said, barely concealing a smile, one sticky July evening.
Harry glowered up at him, lifting up on tip toes to get some tack down. He liked riding at dusk and early evening, especially when it was so hot. "I can reach it myself just fine, brat," Harry said, dislodging the heavy leather harness and slinging it over Feathermane. Severus immediately positioned himself around the other side, catching the tack when Harry tossed it over.
"God, it's hot," Harry said, starting to sweat in the close stall. He ran a grubby hand through the back of his hair, though no breeze had the grace to stir. "Think I should grow my hair out like yours so I can tie it back?" Severus had come home from school with his hair long enough to be tied in a queue.
Severus bent down to tighten the harness around Feathermane's belly. "Dad wants me to cut it but I like it." He gave the leather a hard tug. "I think." He straightened, one hand sliding up beneath the ruff of feathers around the neck. "There's a portrait of me--of the professor, I mean--at Hogwarts. Did you know?"
"There is?" Absently Harry started stroking Feathermane's other side. "I've never seen it."
"It's in Meander's office. He said it used to be in the Slytherin common room but they took it down after…after what happened." He looked up at last but still avoided Harry's eyes. "I'm not…very good looking."
Harry huffed into the hippogriff's neck. Draco would probably know exactly the right thing to say, but Harry, as usual, was clueless. "Let's not have any of that nonsense," he said gruffly. "You're a fine looking young man."
He'd meant to simply be reassuring, but he realized it was true. Severus would never be handsome, and his nose would never look as though it fit onto his face, but the care Draco had given him had paid off in a genuine smile and eyes unclouded by suspicion.
Severus, however, looked openly skeptical now.
Harry thought a moment and said, "Have you ever seen pictures of your dad at your age?"
Severus shrugged. "Sure. Dad looked all right."
Harry leaned over Feathermane's back as if imparting a great secret. "Spots." The corners of the boy's mouth twitched, a sure sign that he was holding back laughing. Harry leaned back, nodding sagely. "True." Something happy gleamed out of Severus's eyes, reassured, for now, anyway, though teenagers were rarely reassured for long.
"He, the professor, I mean, looks very stern." Severus made a face and for a second, the Snape of old appeared before Harry, melting back into Severus's smoother, unlined features.
"Did he say anything to you?" Harry asked, wondering what a portrait of himself might say to a younger version of the Harry at that age.
"He said my hair was too short--that's when I started growing it, to see if I liked it." Severus held open the door of the stall, leading Feathermane out. "And he asked about you."
"Me?" Harry stared with open curiosity.
A brief smirk flashed across the expressive mouth. "He said Meander's too dim-witted to leave a newspaper lying about, and he wanted to make sure you hadn't got yourself killed in the last few years, now that he was too young to go around looking after you."
"Sounds like Snape." Harry flushed, realizing who he was talking to. "I mean--"
"It's all right," Severus said, "it's weird for me too."
Harry nodded gratefully, and gestured toward the back of the barn where Jesse was struggling with lifting charms. Harry took the hippogriff's lead as Severus turned to help with the bedding sacks.
He was just tying up Feathermane, to get her used to the bridle a bit before their ride, when Draco Apparated in, stepping away from the hippogriff hastily. "Am I early?"
Waving toward the barn, Harry stepped around the animal. "No, he's just finishing up with Jesse." They walked over to the open arch of the door, staring through the dimness where Severus stood close to Jesse, the older man waving his wand in exactly the wrong direction to Wingardium any Leviosas. There was something in the way that Severus was leaning into Jesse that reminded him of something….and he found himself staring. There was no denying Jesse was an attractive young man, and had the habit of working through the hot summer days without his shirt. He also had a lovely girlfriend in Kent, but Harry never minded looking occasionally.
And that's what it was, Harry realized suddenly, as Severus leaned forward slightly, just a little too close, as if he couldn't help himself. He darted a quick look at Draco to see if he'd noticed, then realized, as his heart sank, that Draco had indeed.
"I'm sure it's just--" Harry said, unable to explain exactly how he knew, all of sudden, that what'd he'd seen might mean something. He looked back at the two young men at the other end of the barn as if he could will Severus to step away and make this look more innocent. He'd been that way himself, over Cedric, and at about the same age.
"Severus is underage," Draco said, looking away, and leaning against the side of the barn, out of sight. "If that brute touches him--"
"Oh, no, Jesse's completely straight," Harry said, leaping to the young man's defense. "And about as thick as two bricks," he added, then said, "Wait, you know? That Severus might be--?"
Draco stared at him for a long moment. "He was the first time he grew up. I don't have any reason to expect he won't be this time around either. I'm reliably informed that a happy childhood won't have any effect on his predisposition." He smiled grimly. "I've been reading up."
"You know?" Harry figured his mouth was probably open but he wasn't sure he could remember how to close it.
Draco exhaled heavily. "Of course." His eyes narrowed. "If you say a word to him--"
Harry held up his hands. "You know I won't!"
"If he wants me to know, he'll tell me," Draco said.
"Wait," Harry said again, "How did you know Snape--the professor--" He made a face. As far as he knew Draco had always been straight, but the conclusion he was reaching made him slightly sick to his stomach.
Draco rolled his eyes. "I knew which professors were gay my first week at Hogwarts," he said. "Gryffindors are so thick."
Even though he had a pretty good idea how Draco had found out, Harry asked anyway, "Did your father know about Sev--I mean, the professor?"
Turning his face away from Harry's, Draco said, "I know you didn't like my father very much but he forgave things in people he cared about, tried to protect them. Tried to protect me." One heel kicked against the wooden planks of the stable. "He protected the professor at school. That's how I knew what a dreadful past Severus had, from things he and Mother said."
"You think they knew he was a half-blood? And…" The idea that Severus was gay suddenly made Harry feel too odd to finish the sentence.
"Almost certainly. Father liked knowing things like that about everyone." Draco gave a mirthless laugh. "Even back then I didn't wonder that Professor Snape had become a spy. He didn't fit in anywhere." Finally he looked back at Harry. "He fits in here, though."
Harry was about to respond when Severus's head popped around the barn door. "He's hopeless," he said, and for a moment, Harry thought Severus had overheard them. "He'll never be any good at spells," he added quietly.
"But he can lift heavy things," Harry said as Severus spotted Draco.
"Dad, you're early." Color rose in his cheeks.
"I'll, er, see you both tomorrow at the party," Harry said quickly and Severus shot him a grateful look.
Draco looked relieved too. "Don't be late. Gabrielle's got something special planned."
Harry had never been one to fuss over his birthday, having it ignored for so long. But he'd let himself be talked into letting Draco host a party for his thirtieth. Probably because it had been an uncomfortable shock to realize he'd managed to make it this far.
He was delighted then that Draco had done exactly as promised, keeping the guest list tolerable and the air casual.
"You made it--good," Severus said, striding up to him.
"Miss me?" Harry said, only to be met with an eye rolling of great feeling.
"I just saw you yesterday," Severus explained as if he'd just turned thirty himself. "I want to see your birthday cake--Dad won't tell me anything about it."
There was a trolley set up beside the buffet, draped in a rather simple silvery cloth, one too rigid not to be enchanted not to smudge frosting.
"Zhere you are!" Gabrielle said, as Harry made his way toward the display, amid well wishes and good natured teasing about his birthday. "I hope you will like it," she said, stepping back and studying him. Then she shrugged. "Well, we shall see." She told him to just tap the top of the drape with his wand. As he did, the shimmery veil melted away. Only instead of a cake--
"Cupcakes!" Harry cried out gleefully. A curved wrought iron stand held cupcakes like mushrooms nestling around a tree. Large ones, small ones, some in little half-cups, but all covered with rainbow-hued sprinkles.
"I heard you liked zhem, zho--" Gabrielle said once Harry's approval had been suitably cheek-kissed over.
"I do! I love zhem, er, them!" He picked one up to admire and suddenly realized the sprinkles spelled out Birthday boy! He took a swipe of the overflowing icing and noticed that the sprinkles now spelled, I'm cream filled! He took a bite. It was.
"Brilliant!" Ron said, taking a large cupcake from the top of the stand.
"Very nice," Hermione said, hesitating before taking a nice large one as well. Harry peeked over and saw that her cupcake read, Come on, we're much better than that.
"It's brilliant," Ron said again. After a bite he had cream on the side of his mouth. The top of his cupcake read: --ve him your present.
A happy round of swapping cupcakes and watching the sprinkles sailing through frosting to keep up began. Harry had eaten three cupcakes as he peeked at Remus's. It said, He likes his present!
"I do," Harry said, swallowing a bit of cupcake to get it out understandably.
Tonks, like so many witches, had taken up knitting and had presented him with a warm muffler and gloves from them both. She knitted furiously every time she got pregnant so Harry had about three sets, but since he wore them out to the barns, he didn't mind. She came up, bussing him on the cheek, holding out her cupcake gleefully.
It's a boy!
She giggled. "I'm not even showing yet!"
Harry offered his congratulations and got another butter cream-scented kiss in return.
"I don't see the point in having more than one baby," Severus sniffed later as Harry made his way to the buffet for another cupcake.
Harry was pretty sure Severus had already got the 'when a Mommy loves a Daddy' lecture so instead asked, "Wouldn't have liked to have brothers and sisters running around?"
"Not at all." He picked up a cupcake, one of the small ones, as the sprinkles scrambled to form a phrase. "Dad says I was a handful." He peered down at the rainbow design and frowned.
"What's it say?" Harry asked, half turning from his own perusal of cupcake options.
"N-nothing," Severus said, and swiped his tongue through whatever the impertinent pastilles had spelled out.
"Well, I'm sure you weren't any more of a handful than any other de-aged former professor of his," Harry said, trying to convince himself that one of the smaller cupcakes would be just as good as one of the large, no-doubt creamy-cream filled ones would be.
Severus had licked nearly all the icing off, leaving the rounded top in the paper wrapper. "Don't think I don't know he tried to get you to take my goat Millie out to the stables while I'm at school." Once he was satisfied that all the offending sprinkles had been consumed he peeled away a bit of the wrapper and took a bite.
"Well, a goat would be useful, er, for--" He picked up a cupcake while he tried to think, hardly noticing that it was one of the nice big ones.
He's got a present for you!
"Pardon?" Severus had some cream on the side of his mouth, wiping it away as Harry tilted the cupcake toward him.
"I have," he admitted then looked uncertain. "It isn't very much, really." He set down his denuded cupcake and reached into his pocket, pulling out a small box, hesitating before thrusting it into Harry's hand.
Harry had to set down his own cupcake to pry the lid off the box. Inside a small silver snake on a chain lay coiled on a black cushion. The tiny head lifted and the tail rattled, so softly Harry had to put the box close to his ear to hear.
"Do you like it? I like mine loads, the one you brought me from America. I never take it off."
"It's beautiful, Severus," Harry said sincerely. "Thank you."
"I bought it with my own money," the young man said, "Well, yours really, but I earned it myself. And Dad helped me charm it myself since I'm not allowed to do magic on my own. Do you really like it?"
"Oh, yes," Harry said, touched, since it meant Severus really had liked the snake pendant Harry had given him, to want to give him one of his own. "Will you help me put it on?"
"Yes, of course," he said, coming around behind Harry, hands sliding over his shoulders to receive the two ends and fastening the clasp.
Harry picked up the pendant, the tiny head turning as if the small green eyes could see him. "It's really beautiful," he said, only realizing after he'd spoken that the words had come out in Parseltongue.
"You--" Severus began, emerging from around back, blinking at him. "Did you just speak Parseltongue?"
"Yeah, sorry," Harry said, "It just slips out sometimes when I'm around snakes--even non-living ones."
"No, it's all right." Severus was looking at him very curiously. His intent gaze flickered down at the snake still in Harry's fingers. "Is it just snakes or--"
"Some small lizards," he admitted. "Tried it on a crocodile in a zoo once but it didn't work." He tucked the pendant into his shirt. "Thank you, Severus; I'll treasure it."
The boy's eyes had followed the silver snake until it vanished beneath Harry's polo shirt. "You're very welcome," he said politely, gathering up his cupcake and strolling off.
When Harry picked up his own cupcake, the sprinkles now read: He likes you!
"Well, I know that," he said, suddenly realizing he was talking out loud to a pastry.
A lot. the sprinkles said after a hasty dance.
"Cheeky tart," he said and took a big bite.
The stables seemed gloomier after the first of September, which might have been the fall weather moving in, or the fact that Severus had gone back to school. Jesse worked year-round but Harry had quite got used to Severus popping in three times a week.
Harry took to riding more often, and riding longer, surprising himself one night when the Irish coast came into view. Perhaps his birthday had hit him harder than he realized.
"Significant birthdays do," Hermione said, in a somewhat significant tone of voice when he popped round for tea. "You need to get out more--not those loud, silly clubs you like. You'll only meet lonely and pathetic men there."
"Hey!" Harry protested, "I'm not lonely." He made a face, trying to remember the last time he'd had a date. "Or pathetic." Or a date that hadn't been nine tenths sex and one tenth getting the know the other bloke.
Ron nudged his shoulder in sympathy. "'Course you're not."
Which really hadn't cheered him up that much.
Staring at himself in his dressing room mirror one morning after his bath, Harry took a pinch from his mid-section, pleased that it snapped back firmly. "Not bad for thirty," he said, sliding one hand over his still-flat belly, fluffing the hair between navel and cock as he spoke.
Impulsively he did a deep knee bend, checking to make sure his hippogriff-toned thighs still looked taut, then turning sideways and repeating the move to check out his arse. "Not bad for any age."
He got an owl from Morgana, their accountancy witch, asking in her usual, terse style, "What should I do with all these letters?"
"What letters?" he asked, having decided to visit her office. Morgana looked quite a bit like her brother, which, now Harry thought about it, wasn't very flattering for either of them. Phillip had been a little too stern around the eyes and Morgana a little too masculine everywhere else.
She picked up a fistful, each one slitted open precisely, labeled and sorted by date. "These. I've put the proposals of marriage, the scams for money and the lovelorn asking for advice in special file all their own. These are the ones that are left." When Harry looked at them blankly, she added, in what he supposed was supposed to be a helpful tone, "Requests for speaking engagements."
Harry had a picture in his head immediately of himself standing in front of a lectern, faces upturned toward his, notes reading "How I Defeated Voldemort" scrawled across a stack of note cards.
"Speaking engagements? What on earth would I talk about?"
Morgana snorted. She was the only female Harry knew who snorted as enthusiastically as any man he'd ever met. "You're a rich, young--well, relatively--young man with the most successful, most richly endowed foundation in Britain save for Hogwarts itself."
"Not about the war?" Harry hadn't liked talking about it directly after it had happened and the years since hadn't changed his mind.
"Goodness, no. About starting and running the foundation. Helping others raise money, finding worthy projects." Harry had opened one of the letters while she was speaking and discovered she was right. She usually was.
With her help he accepted a few of the offers and practiced his speech--written with her help--in front of Draco who was obviously trying not to laugh at first, but settled in and listened attentively and gave his approval.
"How much are they paying you for this?" he asked, when Harry was done. Harry explained the sliding scale he and Morgana--well, mostly Morgana--had come up with and Draco snorted. Just like she did.
The extra activity felt good, and he got better at is as he went along. He also liked not having to commit to months away from home as he had with organizing the larger events. And he had to admit, he met a better class of men, though nothing sparked beyond a date or two, at least he wasn't doing deep knee bends in front of his dressing mirror. Too much.
He heard from Severus regularly, though toward the end of his fourth year, the letters got decidedly more hurried. Draco told him in confidence that Severus had got detention again for hexing another boy, luckily this time with no visits to the hospital wing involved.
He wrote back enthusiastically as always, and after Easter break, renewed his offer of a job at the stables if he still wanted it. Severus's reply was more effusive in accepting.
Harry put more time in the stables in the spring, accepting fewer speaking engagements. Just as Severus arrived home from school, there seemed more work than three pairs of hands could handle.
Severus had filled out a bit, even since Harry had seen him last, at his birthday back in January. He was already nearly as tall as he would be as a man, but still gangly and unexpectedly awkward. His hair was fully as long as it had been all those years ago, though he kept it tied back and Draco had stopped asking him to cut it.
Harry trusted his skills with the animals enough now to help in nearly every aspect of their care, from calming a nervous mother-to-be to reporting back changes in molting before the males took off for their mating flights.
It wasn't until Jesse handed them both cream-colored envelopes that Severus showed any embarrassment at all.
"Getting married," Jesse said in his rolling west-country accent. "Like you both to be there." Harry grinned and pulled out his own invitation. "Severus, you can bring your dad if you like, or come with Harry here."
Severus's face flushed a dull red as he tucked his own envelope in his jeans pocket.
They'd got into the habit of saddling Harry's evening mount as the last chore of the day, and it wasn't until then that Severus brought up the subject again.
"Would you? Go with me to Jesse's wedding?"
"Don't you think Draco would like to go?" Harry asked, adjusting the stirrups. Honestly it wasn't the sort of thing he could really picture Draco at, but he and Jesse got on tolerably well.
"I'd rather go with you," Severus blurted out and Harry looked up, unsure, as he was so often these days, whether he could get away with teasing him. Clearly Severus realized more explanation was necessary. "Dad doesn't want me to ever grow up," he said, though this was obviously part of some larger issue between them.
"I'm sure he thinks no such thing," Harry said, watching Severus.
"It feels like it," Severus said unhappily. "It feels like he wants me to stay six forever."
"He's just protective," Harry began, but Severus interrupted him.
"I don't need protecting!" Feathermane started and it took Harry and Severus a moment to calm her. "I don't," Severus said, keeping his face close to the feathers around her neck. "I can take care of myself."
Harry jerked his neck toward the barn door and led Severus outside, leaning on the fence surrounding the paddock. "I didn't mean that you need protecting," he said finally, "Just that Draco will always feel like he should. I guess all dads feel that way."
There was a light breeze and they both lifted their faces to it to catch it, even though it brought the ever-present smell of manure with it. "I didn't ask to be this way," Severus said, "This…freak."
Harry turned to him in alarm but Severus wasn't looking at him. "You're not a freak. And I know Draco never said you were."
"I am though. Everyone knows it."
Putting a hand on the boy's shoulder, Harry said, "I'm sorry you had to go through this again, that you got hit with that curse instead of me."
Severus looked over at him finally, his eyes bleak. "That isn't--" He pulled away from Harry's hand. "What if there was something about me--something else." His chin went up with a quiver.
Harry's heart started thudding hard in his chest.
"What if he found out and…didn't want to be my dad anymore?" Severus said, looking hard now at Harry as if expecting him to look away.
"Oh, Severus," Harry said, "Draco would never do that, no matter what…what it is." Though Harry thought he knew exactly what it was. He'd thought the same thing about Ron, wondering if he--or any of his friends--would want to be his friend if they knew how different he was.
Severus slumped against the topmost rail of the fence. "He might."
"Not even if I'll never be--"
"Normal?" The dispirited head nodded without lifting up. "Normal is very overrated--look at me," Harry said. "I was a freak at school too for having done something I didn't even remember. Then I realized I was--" He took a deep breath, hoping he was doing the right thing. "--that I was gay, I felt even more out of place."
Severus's head jerked up, the dark eyes studying him with that intensity that had always made Harry feel as if Snape could read his mind. But Severus--this Severus--had never studied Legilimency.
"I think--" Severus began slowly, "That I feel out of place too."
Harry nodded in acknowledgement of the admission, more than he himself had been able to make at that age, to anyone, much less someone older. "No matter how out of place you feel, your dad will always be your dad. And I'll always be your friend."
"Do you think I should tell him--about this?" Severus said, pulling his bottom lip between his teeth.
"Only if you want to," Harry said, hoping Draco really had been reading up. "Only if you're ready."
"He might have an idea--I've been in some fights at school," Severus admitted.
"How'd you do?" Harry asked, hoping to coax a smile out of the young man.
"Flattened them," Severus said with his first real smile all afternoon.
Draco came alone to the barn the next morning, even though it was not one of Severus's days to work. "Potter!"
Harry climbed down from the loft where he was counting bedding sacks, stripping off his gloves.
"What's this about you taking Severus to some country wedding?" he asked, voice rising in anger. Harry had nearly forgotten the invitation that had sparked their discussion the evening before.
"And how do you know I'm going to stick by him? How do you know?"
Harry shook his head as if he hadn't heard properly. "Never tell me you've turned Severus out?"
"Of course, I haven't! He's my bloody son!"
"Wait, have you gone mad? If you aren't turning him out, why are you yelling at me because I told him you wouldn't?" Jesse had appeared, large and comforting, at the sound of upraised voices. "It's all right, Jesse."
"Because he bloody talked to you first!" Draco said, breathing hard. "I'm his father--"
"There are some things you don't want your father to know," Harry said quietly.
"He told me he talked to you," Draco said, breathing out hard. "Acted like I was making some sacrifice taking him in, like I might be looking for an excuse to send him away--where on earth would he go? Why didn't he--why did you believe I wouldn't when he won't?"
Harry untangled the rant and said, "Draco, in all the years I've known you, you never gave up on anything. Not trying to get the Snitch off me, not those stupid goons you called friends, not even that mad plan in sixth year. And you won't give up on Severus now, not just because he came to me first."
A deep breath rattled in Draco's chest. "Then what have I ever done to make him think I'd turn him out--just like that, just because he's…fuck…" Draco's head dropped into his hands and his shoulders shook once. "He's my son," he said, though the words were barely audible through his fingers.
"Is he all right?" Harry asked and Draco shook himself back upright, nodding tightly.
"Told him I'd love him no matter what, gave him some books," Draco said tersely. "That's when he said he could go live with Hagrid, help him with that ridiculous menagerie he keeps, if I didn't want him living at the Manor anymore." His gaze went level with Harry's. "How long has he been thinking like this, that I wouldn't want him anymore?"
"I--I don't know," Harry admitted, wondering if Severus had thought he too would reject him.
"Probably since he was two, or something, paranoid bastard," Draco said, half to himself. "I thought I could make it right for him, make up for all those things I--we both--did, but I've only made him hate me."
"He doesn't hate you," Harry said. "He thinks what every fifteen year old thinks, that he knows more than you do."
A reluctant smile turned up one corner of Draco's mouth. "He might at that--he's been fifteen twice now and I've only been a dad once."
Harry tugged him out of the barn. "Come on, let me buy you a cup of tea."
"Or something stronger." Draco drew himself up. "What was I thinking--there aren't enough books in the world to get me through Severus Snape as a teenager."
"Could be worse," Harry said, clapping him on the shoulder.
Draco moaned. "How?" Then he held up one hand. "No, don't tell me. The anticipation will only make it worse." He nodded briskly. "Tea."
"And sympathy," Harry added.
As a wedding present, Harry gave Jesse two weeks off with pay, plus a honeymoon to any destination he and his bride chose. Which led to much grateful hand-wringing and an unabashedly tearful Jesse repeating his thanks over and over.
"Aren't honeymoons really old-fashioned?" Severus said, once Jesse had finished crushing Harry's hand.
"What's wrong with being old-fashioned?" Harry replied, flexing his fingers to make sure they still worked. "I'd want a honeymoon," he said wistfully.
Severus looked at him curiously. "You never have anyone around long enough to get married," he said.
Harry winced at his perceptiveness. "Thanks for pointing that out."
Severus's innocent expression was altogether too innocent to be totally genuine. "Don't mention it."
On the Saturday of the wedding, Harry collected Severus at the Manor amidst a bombardment of last minute instructions from Draco. "Remember, one glass of champagne for the toast," he said, straightening Severus's collar.
"And if anyone asks you 'doesn't the bride look lovely', absolutely under no circumstances say anything but 'radiant.'" Draco smoothed down the lapel just under the collar.
A pained look and a sigh. "Yes, Dad."
"And if your dad doesn't let you go, we're going to be late," Harry said, earning a very grateful look from Severus.
Draco still looked uncertain, but resigned, leaning over and brushing a quick kiss over Severus's cheek. "Have a good time, then."
"Yes, Dad," Harry said, just as Severus's mouth opened. They were giggling like schoolgirls as Harry Apparated them both away.
Jesse's wedding was in a pretty country church and had everything Harry liked in weddings--a brief ceremony, a lovely bride--quite radiant, as Severus wound up saying several times, each time with increasingly feeling sighs--and enough food at the outdoor reception to feed a small herd of hippogriffs.
Or one gangly Slytherin. Severus seemed intent on piling one of everything on his plate as they made their way through the buffet. "We'll have to come back for cake," he said, studying his plate as though marshalling forces for an invasion.
"Seems weird not to have one of Gabrielle's," Harry said, adding a handful of carrot sticks to his own plate and skipping over the artfully arranged tarts with a mind toward his deep knee bends.
"Probably couldn't afford it," Severus said, balancing his plate and a cup of punch. "She's terribly expensive."
"Remind me to give Jesse a raise when he gets back from his honeymoon," Harry said.
"Are you going to give me one too?" Severus asked as they made their way through the crowd of assorted relations looking for a table.
Harry chuckled but thought it might be time. Severus did work as hard as the adults. "You're a dreadful opportunist."
Severus was obviously trying not to smirk. "I wouldn't be a Slytherin if I wasn't." He'd found a table to put his plate down on, sending the piled hors d'oeuvres swerving precariously. "Besides, I need a raise. I'm saving up for something."
Harry followed his lead and set his own plate down, mildly depressed that the carrot sticks had room to roll around in. "What?"
Severus waved his fruit tart around airily, as if the question were of little concern. "A hippogriff."
Harry's jaw dropped open, but before he could close it, a girl about Severus's age came up to him shyly and asked if he knew how to dance.
Severus looked pained. "It horrifies me to admit that I do," he said, setting down his tart manfully and following the girl to the clearing where the other dancers were lining up.
Harry watched for a little while, shaking his head over Severus's plans on expanding his own menagerie. He snuck a melting chocolate--or two--off Severus's plate, justifying the theft by telling himself they would be no more than puddles by the time the boy got back. Despite his protests, Severus appeared to be having a good time.
After draining both cups of punch, Harry cast a preserving charm on their plates and set off to find the loo. On the way he got asked twice didn't the bride look lovely and found himself trying not to laugh as he replied each time, "Radiant!" The second time was by an attractive young man who bore enough of a resemblance to Jesse's side of the family that he might be a cousin. It was with an excited little shiver that he realized he was being chatted up.
It was such a nice surprise, in fact, that he let himself flirt for much longer than he should have, finally excusing himself to make a more determined effort to find the loo. Once he'd found it and emerged, he looked around for his swain, swallowing some little disappointment when he was nowhere in sight.
Making his way back to the table, he found Severus happily inhaling hors d'oeuvres like he hadn't eaten for days.
"Enjoy your dance?" Harry said, still scanning the crowd. There weren't that many people, but since so many of them were related it was harder to pick out one vaguely handsome face among so many.
"I enjoyed it quite as much as I've enjoyed every dance I've ever been subjected to," Severus replied, gesturing to Harry's plate. He'd brought them both slices of wedding cake.
Laughing, Harry let himself indulge in cake. "Dancing is supposed to be fun. I'll teach you sometime, if you like. Well, not ballroom dancing since you've had that from your dance master and I'm rubbish at it." He waved his fork at Severus. "And I'll teach you to ride if you're serious about wanting a hippogriff."
"I am," Severus said earnestly. "I want one from Buckbeak, out of Moonwings," he went on, then blinked, tilting his head as if he'd caught sight of something over Harry's shoulder. Slowly Harry turned and saw his chat-up staring at him with an odd expression before turning away abruptly and all but knocking aside two couples on their way to get cake.
"Huh. Wonder what that was about?"
Severus took a bite of wedding cake. "No idea."
Draco did not seem at all pleased that Harry wanted to give Severus riding lessons.
"Better from me than one of the older boys at school who might not know what they're doing," he pointed out.
Draco made a choking noise over his tea. "What's the hurry? He's still so young."
"Sixteen his next birthday. And the year after that he can ride anything he pleases without your approval."
Though he still looked unhappy, Draco said, "I suppose you are the best choice."
Laying a hand on his chest dramatically, Harry said, "Your confidence overwhelms me; it really does."
They started the lessons the next day after working together to get all the chores around the stable done between the two of them, now that Jesse was off on his honeymoon. Harry led Moonwings, the gentlest of his herd out and supervised while Severus saddled her.
"You'd better let me climb in front, since you're taller than me now," Harry said. Severus, who looked nearly pale with excitement and nervousness simply nodded and followed Harry's lead in mounting. They took a very slow, very easy turn around the paddock while Harry explained the reins, then another while he let Severus handle them. Eventually Harry felt confident enough in his skills to take them higher, swooping over the barn while Severus guided them in lazy circles around it.
They were skimming along the trees that bordered Harry's property when a bird burst up through the heavy summer foliage and startled Moonwings. She veered away from the frantic flutter of smaller wings, tilting them both sideways. Harry was pushed back against Severus, fumbling for the reins in one hand and his wand with the other. Fortunately neither was needed; Severus had held on tightly to the reins.
It took a moment to catch his breath, and another moment to realize that something was pressing into his back that could only be an erection. He resisted the urge to press back, to make sure, knowing he'd only embarrass Severus further.
"You okay?" he said, turning his head over his shoulder to speak. Severus nodded tightly and Moonwings, as if to make up for her earlier skittishness, flew away from the trees.
"Let me guide her down."
Another nod, as if Severus was afraid to move any other part of his body, allowing Harry to thread his arms through the straps, sliding forward just enough to put some space between them and hoping it didn't look like he was trying to put some space between them.
They all three seemed much relieved when Moonwings finally touched down, Severus waiting until Harry--careful not to lean back again--had dismounted before hopping off.
"Did I do all right?" he asked, almost reflexively stroking the hippogriff's side.
"You did great," Harry said. He jerked his head toward the barn. "Go and rub her down and give her a treat."
It didn't mean anything, Harry told himself as he watched the pair disappear into the barn. Fifteen year old boys got erections all the time. Harry himself still got them sometimes while riding. Severus was probably mortified and hoping Harry hadn't noticed. Why then did he feel a little flush of guilt, if he hadn't done anything wrong--certainly he hadn't encouraged the boy?
They kept at the lessons until Severus could ride solo, though Harry didn't allow him to go higher than the barn roof.
"But I can control her," Severus had protested.
"No one can control a hippogriff if it doesn't want to be ridden," Harry had cautioned.
As the summer drew to a close, Harry asked Severus if he was going to try for a NEWT in Potions after he took his OWLs in the coming year.
"I suppose so," he said. "I'm good at them."
"You're good at a lot of things," Harry said, which made Severus's cheeks redden. He couldn't image Fate being cruel enough to trap Severus teaching Potions this time around, what with Remus happily settled in the job. "Ever thought about what you want to do after school?"
"Dad wants me to come work for the foundation," Severus said carefully.
"What do you want to do?"
"Think I might like to race hippogriffs," came the measured answer.
A frisson of shock went through Harry, shock and a weird sort of understanding all at once. "Have you ever been to a race?"
Severus was polishing the tack and didn't stop the smooth, gentle motions as he spoke. "Dad took me to one once when I was about five." He looked up, his eyes slightly guarded, even in the cool gloominess of the barn. "You were flying."
"Did I win?"
Harry found himself watching Severus's hands as they worked more oil into the long strip of leather. "You did. He told me afterward that I'd saved your life once, a long time ago. I played hippogriff over and over in my playroom, racing round in circles, sometimes until I fell down from dizziness. I used to tell myself that you'd won that race for me."
Harry leaned against the stall door, swinging slightly with it as it moved. "I must have stopped racing right about that time."
Severus was nodding, still focused on softening up the straps. "Why did you?"
"I liked it and I was good at it, but I like this side of it better. I think I drove myself to be, well, famous, for something besides being born with a scar, and once I was, it didn't turn out to be what I wanted after all."
They had never really talked like this--about the past, about the future. As adults. For all that Severus had always been mature bordering on precocious for his age, Harry had got used to thinking of him as a boy rather than a young man. A young man with ambitions and dreams Harry had only ever glimpsed until now. "I told the professor's portrait what I was planning to do." Severus looked up. "He said he was certain neither of our fathers would approve." He smiled and shook his head. "Which seemed to please him. He's a very strange sort of person, isn't he?"
"I never understood anything about him," Harry admitted, kicking once against the stable door.
"You didn't like him very much," Severus said, a statement rather than a question.
"Nor he, I."
Severus looked back down at the leather strap on the apron across his lap. "He must have liked something about you to have wanted to save you."
"I don't know if he expected he'd survive it," Harry admitted, "It was a very near thing. You were only a baby--barely a year old, Draco told me."
A shrug. "Then he must have thought you were worth dying for."
Harry rubbed his shoe against the wooden door again. "Have you asked the professor's portrait why he did it?"
Another long, slow stroke of oil on leather. "He pretended to get very sleepy and wouldn't answer any more questions."
Harry snorted. "That sounds like the professor all right."
Severus stood up, lifting the tack he'd polished, leaning up and storing it on the rack over the stall. "I think he approves of me finding my own way in the world--doing things differently than he did." He turned back around toward Harry. "But I'd do it even if he didn't."
Their lessons continued until Severus went away to school and picked up again in the brief flurry of his holiday break, despite Draco's protests about the cold. For his sixteenth birthday Harry gave Severus something he'd given a lot of thought about.
"I know it looks old and used--well, it is old and used," Harry said as Severus unwrapped it, "but it was used by you--the professor--and me, and your mum, I think." He'd dragged Severus away into the study to open his gift, in case he was offended at not getting something new or something that had belonged to his former life.
Severus's fingers splayed over the cover of Advanced Potions Making reverently before he opened it, flipping through the pages eagerly. "That's my handwriting," he said, peering into the margins.
Harry explained how he'd come by the book and how Severus wasn't to try any of the spells in it unless he knew what they did. Severus had turned to the back, spotting the inscription. "Property of the Half-Blood Prince?" he read aloud, rolling his eyes. "Lucky I wasn't a drama queen or anything." Color seeped up his cheeks. "I mean I am a--" He cleared his throat and flipped further into the book. "Look, there's a section here on potions for magical creatures."
Harry leaned over to look, helping him past the awkward moment. His gift, at least, seemed to be welcome.
"I'm going to specialize in that, I think, for my NEWT--if I pass my OWL in Potions, of course." He lifted his gaze away from the book and toward Harry, one hand lifting to cup the silver snake pendant that had flipped out when Harry leaned over and was dangling in front of Harry's shirt.
Harry became aware all at once how close they were sitting on the settee and then, overriding everything, how close Severus's hand was to his chest, fingers just brushing his collar as he tucked the pendant away. "I still wear mine, too," Severus said, touching a place beneath his shirt. "It's never said a word to me, though."
Letting out a forced laugh, Harry tried to get his brain working again, because his body had started to react to the close presence of another male, another male who was warm and close and smelled of beguiling things and whose voice was low and arousing and oh god, this was Severus and he didn't have any business, any business at all thinking these things about a boy who'd just turned sixteen.
He cleared his throat a bit desperately. "Is there a chance you won't get an OWL in Potions?"
Severus's tone was amused. "Not the remotest. Professor Lupin says I'm the best pupil he's ever taught in Potions." He looked at Harry through half-slitted eyes. "He says you were the best ever in Defense."
The almost-sultry look did nothing to help dampen the arousal surging through Harry's body. "I liked the subject."
"I like Potions too--though when I was eleven I didn't want to because everyone thought I should."
Harry found himself laughing--for real this time--and Severus was just a young man and close friend, not something…inappropriate and dangerous.
"Why potions about magical creatures?" he asked, noticing that Severus hadn't flipped quickly through that section as he had all the others but was turning the pages slowly. "For your NEWT?"
"Going to have a practice some day," Severus explained matter-of-factly. "Treating them, once I retire from racing, of course. I want to work on--" His mouth closed with a snap and a muscle in this jaw worked before he spoke again. "You'll think it's silly."
"No, I won't," Harry protested. "What?"
Severus closed the book in his lap and held it protectively in his hands. "Have you ever thought why it is that we--well, you--can talk to snakes but not to any other creature? Why not hippogriffs--they're loads smarter than snakes. Or dragons? Seems to me there ought to be a way--a potion perhaps--to talk to them as well."
"That's brilliant," Harry said earnestly, letting himself be drawn into the idea as Severus explained further until Draco found them to see what on earth was keeping them away from the party so long.
In the spring he realized he was counting on Severus working at the stables, but hadn't actually asked. With all the plans the young man had for the future, it might be best not to assume, he thought, taking up quill to write. Severus's own letters this term had been more hurried with all the revising for OWLs and this one was no exception.
Of course, it read, I don't see how you do without me.
He showed the letter to Jesse who laughed. Harry had forgotten, or told himself he had, his strange reaction to Severus on his birthday. The obvious solution should have been to exorcise the unwelcome urges with more conventional outlets. Even though he'd taken on another round of speaking engagements in the coldest months, he never found himself going beyond flirting.
In the flurry of spring colts, he nearly lost track of time, spending more than a few nights in the spare room in the loft. He was climbing down the ladder one morning to check on the latest addition to the herd who'd come into the world last night. Harry had sent Jesse home with instructions to sleep as late as he wanted, knowing full well he'd probably show up on time anyway.
He'd left his shirt upstairs and hadn't bothered to shave yet, making his way across the straw-strewn floor when he spotted something moving in the looming doorway of the barn. He fumbled in his jeans pocket for his glasses, putting them on before calling out. "Can I help you, sir?"
He'd realized it was a man as soon as he put on his glasses, and with a frisson of recognition saw Severus's distinct profile as soon as he turned around. "I think I like it when you call me 'sir'," Severus said, pulling the door the rest of the way open.
"Severus! I almost didn't recognize you with your hair down," Harry said, laughing.
Severus shook his head, the glossy black stuff flowing down past his shoulders. "I wear it down a lot now. I had Dad drop me off early so I could look around a little on my own. I just got back last night." His gaze traveled slowly down Harry's bare chest, lingering, he thought, on the silver snake charm around his neck. Harry blessed all those wretched carrot sticks that he didn't have to suck in his belly.
Except that was mad because this was Severus, for all that Harry's muzzy brain tried to tell him that Severus was looking very grown up.
"Let me show you our latest arrival," he said, clapping Severus on the back. They spent a happy hour admiring the new colt and the tired mother until Jesse arrived for work and the reacquainting began anew.
They resumed flying lessons, riding side by side now, Harry usually on Buckbeak and Severus on Moonwings or Feathermane, his two favorites, going further a field on their excursions, riding in good weather and bad, often racing back to the stables neck and neck.
They'd taken to riding a lot of Sunday afternoons to give Severus more practice. Draco complained about their erratic hours but came by sometimes to watch Severus ride. Harry heard the pop of Apparition outside, and the low hum of voices then another pop as Draco Apparated home. Harry pushed open the door, grinning with barely-suppressed excitement.
"We'll need different mounts today," he said. Frowning, Severus tried to look past him into the barn. "Not there," Harry said, inclining his head toward the skies. "Up there."
"What--" Severus followed Harry's gaze, spotting Buckbeak nearly invisible against the gray thunderclouds billowing the summer sky. "You let him out?"
It was clear Severus hadn't spotted the reason for Harry's excitement, so he took one arm and turned him slightly and pointed. Moonwings dipped in lazy circles, seemingly ignoring the snorting and pawing Buckbeak. There was a loud cry, carried all the way to the ground, as Buckbeak called out, unfurling his own wings, swooping around Moonwings.
"Is he--are they--"
"I think so, yeah," Harry said, realizing he was still holding Severus's arm when he felt the tremble of excitement ripple through it. "If it takes, you'll have your colt next spring."
They were standing very close, watching the magnificent animals enact their mating flight until, with a cry from Moonwings, she bolted into the clouds, Buckbeak in hot pursuit.
Severus turned toward Harry, excitement shining out of his eyes. For a moment they swayed slightly as if renegotiating the notion of personal space. Harry saw the flare of awareness spark in Severus's dark eyes and knew it must be reflected in his own, hesitating as the war between longing and sense raged up and down his spine. The hesitation was his undoing. Severus's lids closed partway, face tilting, leaning down, closing the space between them.
They both groaned as not just lips but bodies pressed together, pulled together by no force Harry could prevent. A desperate breath escaped his nose. Severus didn't move any further, standing with his mouth pressed against Harry's, fingers flexing into his shoulders as if he didn't know what to do next.
Harry knew. Even though his brain seemed to have stopped working, his body hadn't, lips brushing across Severus's until he heard another of those delicious groans and swiped his tongue between the sealed lips. Severus's lips were warm against his own.
Severus's mouth opened, whether in invitation or surprise, and Harry parted his own lips slightly, coaxing until Severus's tongue slid out to meet his. Harry could hardly think, pressed against this surprisingly gentle creature, one who stole his breath, stole his sense, his--
Clutching harder, Harry groaned again. This was delirious, good--so good--for all Severus's hesitation…Severus? Ohgod!
Forcing himself to pull back, Harry shook his head, in denial or to kick-start his sluggish brain. "Severus, we mustn't."
"Why ever not?" Severus was pressing his own lips together, still damp from Harry's kisses.
There were so many reasons this was wrong, but his unhelpful brain supplied, with a little prodding, the most pressing one. "You're underage," he panted, dragging his gaze away from Severus's mouth, those lips that seemed redder now that he…that they…"Oh god."
"I'll be seventeen in six months," Severus said, his own voice so ragged with need that Harry's libido asked, in the most urgent way possible, if he was sure it wouldn't be needed.
"It's still wrong." He took a deep breath. "I'm so much older than you and…"
"You're only sixteen years older than me," Severus protested, voice smoothing out but only with an effort that Harry could see reflected on his features.
Harry groaned as Draco's face swam into his vision. "And your dad will kill me."
Severus shrugged. "He'll kill any man who touches me."
"Why me, then?"
"You must know why. It can't be that hard to guess," Severus replied sulkily.
"We're friends," Harry said, wondering with a sudden punch of disgust if he'd ever done anything inappropriate, anything to encourage this. Just this kiss, his conscience whispered. "We've been friends since you were a child."
Severus straightened. He didn't tower over Harry but he did look very much like the man Harry had known all those years ago: the same intense gaze, the same piercing eyes. He didn't speak the words, didn't have to, with the visual evidence that he was very much no longer a child so obvious. "I'll be of age soon," he said.
"You've got to finish your schooling," Harry said, hoping he sounded like an adult himself.
"I'm going to. I want to be a wizard again and do all the things I've planned."
Still trying to sound like the responsible adult he was supposed to be, Harry said, "You'll meet lots of people. Lots of…men." Okay, being responsible was a lot harder than it sounded, especially when he started picturing Severus with an assortment of attractive--attractive younger--men.
Severus's expression had cooled. "You don't want me because I'm a freak. Because you think the professor hated you and you still see him when you look at me."
"No!" Harry wanted to take Severus's arm, to soothe away the hurt he saw on the young man's face, but he knew how dangerous that could be. "No, Severus, no. When I see you, I see a fine young man that I've been proud to count as a friend. A young man who's going to do great things."
"That isn't the same thing as being attracted to me," Severus said with awful practicality.
"I think that kissing you overcame that barrier," Harry said, rubbing the back of his neck where tension had bloomed, replacing the ache lower down. "I can't believe I did that. Severus, I'm sorry."
Severus was silent a moment, studying him openly. "I won't tell Dad," he said finally.
"You should. I deserve it." Guilt washed through him now that the arousal had leeched out.
"And have him hex your balls off?" Severus said, not smiling but closer than either of them had been to it for several minutes. "That won't do either of us any good."
Harry managed to keep his distance from Severus in the few remaining weeks of summer. He wrote in the fall, once the young man was safely back at school, that Moonwings was indeed gravid and not to expect his seventeenth birthday present in January, but in the spring.
Severus's reply had come with Sherman, who nearly always stayed a few hours in the eaves with Hedwig and the other owls nesting up there.
You can't just give me a hippogriff.
Harry scrawled back: Of course I can.
The reply was swift. Don't be ridiculous.
Harry grinned and wrote back, taking pity on the peaked looking Sherman and sending another owl. Don't be an ass.
He didn't receive a reply after that, though his owl came back looking very grumpy, nor any letters at all, which he took to mean that Severus was very put out with him. But there were animals to groom and exercise so he didn't let himself worry about it. Then there were gifts to buy for Christmas and plans to make for seeing friends and the ever increasing herds of children--Weasleys and Longbottoms and Lupins--arriving to them. There was really too much to do to spend time worrying over one irrational Slytherin.
That is, until that irrational Slytherin rose from the settee after Harry stopped by to deliver his Christmas gifts.
Both Draco and Harry froze, mid-greeting and turned to stare at Severus. Who'd never called him anything but 'Harry' not even when he'd asked if he ought not to be 'Uncle Harry' or something but had got the reply that Severus called Goyle 'Uncle Greg' and did Harry really want to be in that company.
Severus was in dark trousers and a coal gray jumper, missing only his tie to look as if he'd just stepped off the school train. He looked very correct and very angry, a piece of parchment clutched in one hand. "You can't just go around giving people hippogriffs!" he said.
Draco looked at Harry curiously. "You're giving him a hippogriff?" he asked, helping Harry load the decorated packages onto the sideboard.
"No, he is not," Severus said, tight-lipped.
"Sure, I am," Harry said and Draco made a moue of distress.
"A small one, I hope?"
"A baby," Harry reassured him, both of them ignoring Severus's increasingly loud snorts of indignation.
"Oh, well, as long as it's a baby," Draco said, visibly repressing his own smirk.
"You cannot just give people hippogriffs!" Severus said again and Harry turned to him at last.
"It's good to see you too, Severus, and I'm not giving them to random strangers, I'm giving you one," he said mildly.
"Tea?" Draco said as Millington popped in behind Harry.
"Oh, yes, please," Harry replied gratefully.
"They're outrageously expensive," Severus pressed, ignoring Draco's inquiring glance. With a shrug Draco held up three fingers to the waiting house-elf who nodded and popped out of sight.
"I know you've been saving up," Harry said, trying to sound consoling, "but now you can spend your money on something else."
"Like a shed for it," Draco put in helpfully. "They don't, er, breathe fire do they?" he asked, leaning over to Harry.
"Dad, how did you ever pass Care of Magical Creatures?" Severus asked incredulously.
Draco shrugged negligently. "Cheated off Granger like the rest of the class."
Harry made a shocked face at him just as Millington popped back in with the tea. "Am I not allowed to give you things?" he asked, accepting the perfectly-prepared cup. "Getting too old for presents?" He eyed the stack of gifts on the sideboard balefully. "That's lovely, thank you," he told the elf.
"Not allowed--" Severus sputtered. "You gave me a job, even a pretend one, when I was thirteen, mucking out stables." As he spoke, Draco took the rumpled parchment from his fist and pressed a mug of steaming tea into it.
"Oh, that's all right then," Harry said, taking a blissful sip. "I've already given you everything since I let you muck out manure."
"That's not the point!" Severus snapped, youthful indignation vibrating his frame, sloshing tea precariously.
"Drink your tea, son," Draco said, whipping out his pocket handkerchief and soaking up any misplaced tea. Severus drank obediently.
After a soothing sip, Severus stared into the mug, speaking softly, "You've always been good to me, and kind, even when we--"
Harry choked over his own tea, looking up in alarm. Draco froze, mid-blot and looked between them. Severus at least had caught himself before blurting anything out about the kiss, but didn't look like he could say anything else.
"Look," Harry said reasonably. "You saved me and I saved Buckbeak and we both want to give you this." He had taken a few steps closer, able to see the gratitude on Severus's face and the concern in Draco's. Harry kept focused on Severus and slowly Draco did too.
"If…if you're sure," Severus said at last and Harry reached out and squeezed his arm in what he hoped was an affectionate gesture, but not too affectionate, lest Draco think there was something amiss.
When the colt was born, Harry took about a dozen pictures of it a day for a week and sent them off in a packet to Severus at school.
Sherman arrived a few days later with a brief note. What's her name?
Harry took a few more photos of the tiny creature with one wing unfurled and the other stuck and sent them off with a note. Jesse has been calling her Severina so we're counting on you to save her from this fate.
He needn't have worried. When Severus came home that summer, he fixed his gaze on her eyes and bowed deeply and with great respect, despite the fact that he towered over the tiny animal. She wobbled, and nearly toppled against Moonwings, but bowed back, scampering over to him for the petting he had no trouble bestowing.
"How do you like our Severina?" Jesse said, his eyes twinkling as he leaned over the fence where Moonwings and her colt busted up turf, looking for stoat trails.
"You mean Narcissa?" Severus asked archly. The colt leaped, her tiny wings flapping awkwardly.
Jesse snorted. "That's no proper name for a hippogriff."
"She isn't very proper and neither am I," Severus said, with his own snort. "I think it suits her."
"You know that was--" Harry began.
"Dad's mum's name? I know." Narcissa must have spotted some motion in the grass close to them, for she scampered over curiously, pawing the grass with her clawed forefeet before losing sight of the mouse, or whatever it was and turning her steady gaze on them.
"Looks like she likes it," Jesse said, and that seemed to be that.
Though it was a joy to see the bond growing between Severus and Cissy, that summer, when Severus was seventeen but not finished his schooling was the most difficult summer Harry could ever remember.
Severus had lingered, his first day back, until after Jesse left for home, to thank him for the gift. The openly appraising look let Harry know that another sort of thanks was on offer. When Severus had stepped closer, Harry had backed away.
"You know we can't," he'd said, trying not to look at the line of disappointment on Severus's mouth and imagine what it would be like to kiss it away.
"You really don't want me?" he'd asked, plainly hurt.
"It isn't that," Harry had said, wishing desperately that it was. Or that Severus was twelve again and skinny and plain, not tall and sexy and interesting looking enough to be desirable. "You're still a student, and Draco--"
"Dad will kill you," Severus had sighed.
"Should it worry me how certain you sound about that?" Harry said, eliciting a sly grin.
Though Severus made no more advances, he took a page from Jesse's book and began working a lot with his shirt off. He was neither as tall or as broad as Jesse yet certainly no longer a skinny boy, but a man nearly grown.
A man who made Harry's mouth water. And other places on his body do things he wasn't happy about.
It was wrong, Harry tried to tell himself, to look at Severus that way, to wonder where that intriguing little trail of ink-dark hair went after it disappeared into his jeans. To wonder if he made those sultry little groans when pleasure overtook him. To wonder whether the cock Harry caught glimpses off in the folds of tight denim was long and slender like the rest of Severus, or thick and--
Stop it, stop it, he told himself, turning away when Severus bent over with exaggerated slowness to pick up a bucket of feed for the stoats they kept for the hippogriffs.
"Something wrong?" Severus asked, the picture of innocence. If a healthy, presumably horny seventeen year old with his shirt off and his jeans riding low on slender hips could ever be entirely innocent.
What he wanted to say was, "Put your shirt on and keep it on," though he didn't, because Jesse had been working shirtless for years now and Harry had never voiced any objection. So, he tried to look as if he didn't have an erection hard enough to perch owls on and said, "Of course not."
Fortunately, or un-, Severus had passed his Apparition test and could now get himself back and forth without Harry or Draco having to escort him. At least Harry didn't have to look Draco in the eye with the lurid thoughts running through his mind.
And, fortunately, or un-, Bill and Fleur's invitation arrived for their lawn party and Harry knew he'd have to see Draco sooner or later.
It would have been perfect if he could have shown up with a boyfriend for the occasion, but he met no one who caught his eye. Even his flirting mojo must have been off, because even when he did summon the energy to go out, no one approached him first.
"You're pathetic," Ron said, catching up to him at the lawn party. He was carrying his pink apron over one arm.
"I know," Harry said gloomily, averting his eyes from the shady trees where Severus was helping Gabrielle set up an elaborate drape that spoke well of there being cake later.
"You do?" Ron said, frowning at him. "I meant because you haven't even said hello, but I don't think that's what you meant."
"Oh right," Harry said quickly, pasting on an over-bright smile. "Hello."
An over-bright smile that would fool no one, least of all his oldest friend. "What's the matter? Didn't Severus like the hippogriff?" Ron asked, apparently working out what--or whom--Harry had been looking at.
"He liked it just fine," Harry said as a low burst of laughter from the trees made Harry look over. Ron crossed his arms and looked at Harry openly.
"Something's put a hinkypunk up your--" Ron began, then caught himself and leaned sideways around Harry to Severus and then back to Harry. "You dog."
"What?" Harry said, trying not to look over toward the trees.
"You know what," Ron said, nodding towards the shady trees. "Draco's going to kill you if he catches you," he said, sobering.
"He can't catch us if we haven't done anything," Harry said miserably.
Ron's mouth dropped open. "Not anything?" Harry felt heat, that had nothing to do with the day, seep up into his cheeks. "I thought so," Ron said smugly. There were obviously disadvantages to having a friend who knew you so well.
"No, really, just…just a kiss, nothing more."
Ron rubbed his chin. "Surprised he'd say no to you--always thought he had a bit of a crush on you."
Harry looked surprised. "He didn't. Say no, I mean," he replied.
"What's the problem then?" Ron said a little too loudly. Harry gestured for him to keep it down and Ron went on in a quieter voice. "Aside from Draco hexing your bollocks off?"
"Aside from the fact that I'm fairly fond of my balls? Just the fact that he's barely seventeen, still in school, Draco's pride and joy and Severus 'used to be my professor and yours Ron Weasley' Snape?" Harry said, stopping only because he'd run out of breath, not reasons why this would never work.
"Oh, come on, Harry, you know there was always something between you and Snape," Ron said with a shrug.
"Are you mad?" Harry's own voice had risen and several guests looked over at him. "The professor and I hated each other," he went on in an urgent voice.
Ron's smirk was almost as maddening as Severus's, though for quite different reasons. "If you say so, Harry."
Hermione cornered him next, at the punch table when Bill and Fleur's oldest, Luke was serving punch. She slid an arm into his after Luke, obviously proud to have been given such a responsible task, carefully sloshed green punch into their cups.
"Ron tells me you have a crush on Severus," she said, leading him away from the table.
"What? I do not!" he said, looking around guiltily. "He has a crush on me."
She patted his arm consolingly. "Of course he does. Only…" She took a sip of her own punch. "Why is he over there flirting with Vico Bagman?"
Harry stopped cold, nearly spilling punch over his hand. "Where?" He finally spotted them in the direction Hermione was most determinedly not looking in.
Severus and a young man stood very close together. Severus was leaning back against a tree. The other man had thick blond hair and a disconcertingly dimpled chin, one hand on the tree trunk just above Severus's head. They way he was leaning into Severus set off alarm bells in Harry's head.
"Who is that?" he asked, more sharply than he'd intended.
"Vico? Ludo Bagman's son. Works with his dad at the Ministry in Magical Games and Sports." She took an overly blasé sip of her punch. "Quite a fan of hippogriff racing, I hear."
While Harry watched, Severus laughed at something the ridiculous Vico said and Harry made a disgusted noise. Hermione hummed tunelessly and Harry looked at her.
"Hmm, good thing you don't have a crush on Severus, Harry. You know Draco will do, I don't know, something dreadful to you."
"Hex my balls off, I know," Harry said miserably.
Harry managed to find refuge with Draco and Gabrielle, seemingly the only people who didn't think he had a crush on Severus, sitting well out of view of Severus and Vico. The young men had offered to twirl some of the younger kids in a game of Broom Accident. Since it was hot work, both men's shirts had come off and Harry had fled to find more punch, though he wasn't sure until he'd downed two cups that he wasn't going to pour it over his own head. Luckily he'd spotted Draco and Gabrielle in lounge chairs beneath a clump of shady trees and had joined them gratefully.
"'Arry!" Gabrielle said, leaning forward and air kissing both his cheeks since it was clearly too warm for the real thing. "Zho," she said, after greetings were exchanged, "I am telling Draco that I have been chosen to design the Princess-to-be's wedding cake."
"Wow, a princess," Harry said, picking up a leaf and transfiguring it into a fan and taking turns fanning them all. "Er, what country?"
"Yours, of course," Gabrielle replied with a peal of laughter. "You have heard of zhe royal marriage zhis spring?"
"Well, of course, but, er--she isn't, and they certainly aren't…our kind." He looked at Draco for confirmation. "Are they?" He thought with horror of spun sugar butterflies loose in Buckingham Palace.
"Of course they aren't," Draco said, lifting his chin while Harry fanned it.
"Zhat is zhe challenge!" Gabrielle declared. "To make zhe most beautiful, zhe most elegant, zhe most…" She touched her fingertips to the air. "Perfect wedding cake without magic." She sighed deeply. Harry and Draco exchanged perplexed looks and just shrugged.
"After zhat, my triumph, I zhink I will only take selected commissions." She sat back in her lounge chair, looking content. "And my own wedding cake, of course."
"What?" Draco sat up, all attentiveness. "What did she say?"
"I think she wants to make her own wedding cake," Harry said, suppressing his own grin.
"Do you mean it?" Draco said, sliding forward on his chair.
"I do." Gabrielle covered her mouth with her palm and giggled. "If you will still have me."
"You know I will," Draco said, taking her hand and brushing his mouth over it.
It should have been a private moment but Harry was glad to have shared it, despite his own turmoil.
"Wait'll I tell Severus," Draco said, straightening and looking around. He frowned and stood, scanning the milling crowds for the young man.
"I think he's over--" Harry stood, but the place where Severus and Vico had been held only dizzy kids. "I guess he and Vico, er…" He frowned but neither young man, shirtless or not, was in sight. Harry sat down hard and the chair wobbled beneath his weight. He heard Draco settle back down into his own chair. No one said anything for a moment and only belatedly did he realize they were both looking at him.
"I didn't mean it like that," he managed.
Draco waved one hand dismissively. "Severus is of age."
"And he looks, how you say…mysterious," Gabrielle added. "Zhe boys like zhat."
Harry hadn't thought he could feel more miserable but discovered, with the swiftness of what felt like a hippogriff kick to his stomach, that he was wrong.
"You know," Draco said slowly, "I always thought Severus, well--" Harry forced his head up and saw Draco glance at Gabrielle before continuing, "had a bit of a crush on you."
"Oh, no," Harry said quickly. "That's ridiculous."
Draco regarded him steadily for a moment. "I suppose you're right," he said at last and Harry nearly sagged in relief. "Of course, I always thought the professor might have had one on you too."
Harry could not have closed his mouth with a sharp stick. "You're barmy," he said at last, "Severus Snape loathed me."
Another of those steady looks. "Professor Snape made a lot of people believe a lot of things about him that weren't true."
"This wasn't true," Harry protested. "He would have just as soon killed me."
"Except he didn't, did he?" Draco said, "That dreadful night after…after the Astronomy tower. I was so young and stupid back then that I thought I wanted him to. Waited when I should have been running for my life, to see him do it at last." He stared off beyond the trees. "You should have seen him afterward. Railing about how thick you were. I asked him why he hadn't just killed you then, when no one else would have seen."
Draco got quiet for a moment. Gabrielle reached over for his hand, holding it. "I thought he was going to kill me for saying it--after all the trouble he went to to save me." He gave Gabrielle's hand a squeeze. "He didn't hate you. Not anything like."
He looked like he was going to say something else but his face lit up as he caught sight of something over Harry's shoulder. "Severus!"
Harry turned to see Severus striding toward them. If he'd been romping in the hedgerows with Vico he looked remarkably unrumpled. He'd even, to Harry's enormous relief, put his shirt back on.
"I've got the best news," Draco said excitedly, getting to his feet and dragging Gabrielle up too. Severus stopped beside Harry, putting a hand on his arm, leaning down to say something but Harry, needing suddenly to be away from this family moment, shrugged him off.
Harry meant to make his excuses to his hosts and leave early. It was nearly sacrilege to leave before Gabrielle's cake was unveiled but he'd have to rely on reports from Ron, who was sure to have double helpings.
He was weighing the possibilities of owling Morgana to set him up with a long tour of speaking engagements that would take him away from England until Severus went back to school when Severus himself, thankfully still dressed, caught up with him.
"Harry, I need to talk to you," he said, sounding a bit breathless.
Almost hysterically Harry wondered what it would be like to get the 'dear John' speech for a relationship that had never moved beyond one guilty kiss.
"Vico says he can get me a race," Severus said, swallowing hard before continuing, "If I can qualify, but I just need a local race to do that and I don't even have to win." He stopped and frowned at Harry. "What's wrong?" He reached out as if to touch Harry's chin but Harry jerked away.
"That's lovely; that's fine," Harry said, too quickly.
"I thought you'd be pleased," Severus said, sounding uncertain.
"That you're offering yourself to some pretty boy in exchange for who knows what?" Harry snapped, watching the color draining from Severus's face but unable to stop talking, even when Severus's hand lifted as if to slap him.
"How dare you!" Severus said, his eyes narrowed to blazing slits, staying his hand, but only just. He puffed out a breath, the heated wisp of it blowing across Harry's face. "You don't want me but you can't stand it when someone else does!" He spun and walked away, indignation and outrage radiating from every muscle.
Harry didn't call out, though he wanted nothing more than to say something, anything. to bring Severus back. He didn't because Severus was right. Not about wanting him, because he'd be stupid to claim he didn't. The picture of Severus and his golden young man, Severus looking up at him, his smile shy, stroking his face-- Harry felt an almost physical pain go through him.
Severus was right to be angry with him. Harry was angry with himself.
Harry spent all day Sunday after the party brooding and tore up three apology letters because he couldn't think of anything to say except he was an ass and Severus already knew that. He worried that Severus wouldn't show up for work on Monday but he was there even before Harry arrived, working with Jesse, shirt safely on, though the day was already sultry.
He was, by sticking close to the other man, very obviously avoiding being alone with Harry, such a marked contrast that Jesse noticed and shook his head--though whether at Harry or Severus or the pair of them Harry didn't know.
"Severus, wait," Harry called out as the evening cooled and it was time to head for home.
Jesse called out his good-byes and it was obvious Severus was about to simply Apparate away as well, but stopped, indecision on his expressive face, when Harry called his name.
"I can't imagine you have anything to say that I'd like to hear," Severus said coolly.
"I was an ass," Harry said, out of breath from having run to keep him from leaving without a word.
"Except that," Severus replied, giving Harry the full measure of his chilly regard.
"I'm sorry," Harry said and some of the hurt eased on the young face.
"Keep going," Severus prompted.
"I've no right to be…be silly…."
"Jealous, you mean."
"Jealous over whom you…" The image was sudden and vivid and exquisitely painful.
"Give my nubile young body to?" Severus filled in for him, easing the tension further.
"Give your…" Really apologizing wasn't so bad with images like that to get him through. "Is it nubile?" Harry asked, hoping he sounded concerned rather than randy.
"Of course it is," Severus said smugly, reaching for the hem of his sweaty t-shirt as if to lift it. "Would you like to see?"
"You don't seem very angry at me," Harry said, gaze fixed on the tantalizingly tiny strip of skin showing between jeans and shirt.
"It did occur to me that I didn't mind you being jealous half so much as I should." He sniffed and let go of the shirt, covering even that scant inch. "And that I'll have to forgive you eventually if you're going to be my coach."
"Who said anything about--" His eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Were you ever angry at me?"
Severus tilted his chin haughtily. "Of course I was. You were terribly insulting." Harry lowered his eyes contritely. "Especially if you think I'd have sex with Vico Bagman."
Harry's head shot up. "You didn't?"
"I didn't," Severus said, now very close. "I'm waiting for you to come around."
"Severus, no, you mustn't," Harry said, trying not to seem as relieved as he felt. "A young man your age should be out--"
"With witches," Severus supplied. "Pity I don't want to kiss any of them. Now we've established that I'm not normal in any way."
"Well, yes, but at least someone your own age."
"I suppose you're right," Severus said, surprising Harry. "Especially since you seem quite adamant about not molesting me." He sighed. "You are adamant about it, aren't you?"
"I am," Harry said, trying to make himself believe it, especially when Severus was--finally--being so reasonable about things.
"And since I do want you to coach me and anything between us will have to be strictly platonic once you do."
"It will?" Perhaps the Racing League rules had changed since Harry had been on the circuit. "I mean, of course it will."
"Then I think you should kiss me, just once, before you agree to coach me," Severus said, with the air of someone making a great sacrifice. He still sounded so reasonable that Harry had to think a moment after he'd stopped talking.
"Kiss you?" He blinked in confusion.
"All right," Severus said, sliding in closer. They both smelled of sweat and animals and probably hippogriff manure but Harry leaned closer anyway, scenting something more elusive beneath the sweat. Something masculine and heady that reminded him of Hogwarts and classes and breaking rules and being happy, of being happy right this moment with Severus's mouth moving over his own. He groaned, letting breath and heat pass between them as hands pressed down his back.
Severus's tongue filled his mouth and Harry knew he'd been kissing someone in the year since they'd stood like this, breathless and needy, bodies straining closer, then groaning in unison when they met at last.
It was madness to want this and madness not to. Harry's head swam. His cock was hard and screaming all sorts of reckless suggestions. He was on the verge of dragging Severus off into the hay when Severus pulled away--not far, but enough so that their lips weren't actually touching. This close, their lips were the only thing not touching and it felt glorious to have another cock rubbing against his own reckless one.
"I think it should be Feathermane," Severus murmured, his voice so low and husky that Harry shivered.
"Feather--" he began, having a rather intense image of all the things he could be doing to Severus with a feather before he realized Severus was probably not thinking the same thing. "Feather what?"
"Feathermane," Severus said with a husky chuckle. "For my qualifying race." Harry could see the mischief lurking around his mouth. "Cissy's too young yet even to ride." He brushed his mouth over Harry's forehead and stepped back completely. "Now that you're my coach, you have to help me decide these things."
Now that Harry was Severus's coach, he wondered if it wouldn't have been better to be his lover instead, ball-hexing notwithstanding. He and Severus argued about nearly everything, from his diet to his training schedule.
They clashed hardest though on the qualifying race. Severus, of course, wanted to race as soon as possible, before the end of the summer when he had to go back to school. Harry insisted on training him longer and racing next summer.
"Next summer?" Severus asked, aghast. He nearly crumpled up the Racing League application in his hand. "That's ages away."
"Just don't plan it for the weekend I'm getting married," Draco put in, looking up from the Annual Fundraising Drive letters he was directing a quill to sign. "Especially since you're going to be the best man."
"Of course I'm not going to miss your wedding," Severus said, flinging himself on the settee and crossing his arms in disgust. "Harry wants me to wait until I'm 97 or so to do anything so I might as well start filling my social calendar for the next eighty years."
Draco looked like he was trying just as hard as Harry not to laugh. Harry leaned back against the opposite settee and scratched his chin as if he'd just thought of something. "Well, there is a race up north over your Easter break." He sensed he had the young man's attention now but pulled the race specs out of his pocket without looking up. "Fairly good field, some excellent mounts. Thirty miles--you could handle that easily on Feathermane." He made as if to put the specs away. "It'll be cold though."
"I can bundle up," Severus said, leaning forward with excitement.
"I suppose it might do," Harry said looking at Severus as if he hadn't already made up his mind. "Providing you're caught up on your studies," he added but he suspected Severus was no longer listening, fist raised in triumph as he pulled out the application and dashed over to the desk for a quill.
They had the paperwork settled by the time Severus went back to school and notes from Hagrid assuring Harry that he'd be grateful to let Severus ride some of the school hippogriffs to stay in practice.
By Easter the Manor was overflowing with wedding plans and that most dreaded of all creatures--wedding planners. So it was no surprise that Draco agreed to go with Harry to Severus's first race, despite his admittedly low tolerance for hippogriffs.
It was, as Harry had predicted, cold, but Severus looked quite splendid and warm in racing silks Harry had presented to him for his birthday. The race was being held on the local Quidditch pitch, though the Quidditch streamers had been replaced with fluttering racing colors.
"Really, it's not the getting married I mind so much," Draco was saying as they made their way to their seats in the lull after the field of racers had shot off. "It's the endless details that no one, unless they're getting coronated, should even care about." He took out his wand and enlarged a rug for their knees, casting a warming charm over it as Harry tucked up his own end.
"I mean, who cares how long the ribbons are on her bouquet or whether they should be all one color or the colors of both our wedding robes." He looked perplexed. "They spent an entire afternoon deciding that!"
"What did they finally decide?" Harry asked, gesturing for the drink seller to stop by their box.
Draco blinked. "You know, I have no idea." Harry passed him a hot chocolate. "You're well out of it all, not marrying."
Harry blew on his own chocolate, letting the warmth of the cup seep through his fingers. "Never met the right sort of person," he said, thinking wistfully of the kiss he'd shared with Severus last summer.
"Haven't you?" Draco asked, though a roar from the crowd prevented Harry from answering.
The racers were returning, tiny specks out past the goal hoops, the field now narrowed by half, the rest not even specks yet. Harry and Draco both had their omnioculars out in a flash as one particular charcoal-gray hippogriff darted past the lead mount.
The announcer was calling out but Harry could see for himself now as Feathermane, Severus clutched hard on her back, sped past the topmost goal hoop. His hair had blown loose somewhere along the way, streaming down his back as he touched down. First.
Harry surged to his feet, whooping and applauding with the rest of the crowd, then pushing with Draco out of the stands so they could get down and see Severus and Feathermane get their victory wreaths. Severus was still mounted when they got onto the ground, shaking hands with other riders, posing as a local reporter took his picture with the until-then local favorite.
Severus caught sight of them and waved, guiding Feathermane over toward the fence where grooms were waiting to tie the hippogriffs off. Severus slid off his mount, leaning over and saying something close to her head while he stroked the gray feathers. Feathermane cawed softly, and nudged against him.
Then he turned to Harry, who was waiting close by, and threw his arms around him, kissing him right there in full view of Draco.
For just an instant the world stopped, the excited titters of the crowd faded away and Harry kissed back, forgetting that he was Severus's coach and Draco--
Draco was going to kill him.
Harry jerked back, pressing his lips together as if he could take the kiss back. "I'm your coach!" he said, hoping he sounded stern.
"And I won!" Severus said with obvious glee before looking over to Draco. "Did you see me, Dad, I won!"
"Oh, yes, I saw," Draco said, and his tone froze Harry's blood. Telling himself that Gryffindors never backed away from a fight, Harry forced himself to turn around. Draco stood with his arms folded over his chest. Harry took a step in front of Severus, though the idea of shielding him, considering Severus was taller than he was, seemed slightly ridiculous.
"It isn't what it looks like," Harry said, sounding, he thought, remarkably reasonable for a man teetering on the brink of losing his testicles. Perhaps he could pass off the lapse as high spirits.
"It isn't?" Draco said, openly skeptical now as one blond eyebrow raised. "You haven't been mooning over my son and trying to be noble about it?"
"He does do noble well, Dad," Severus put in just behind him.
"Not well enough if he's going to just kiss you whenever he feels like it--"
"I felt like it too," Severus said, as if he was trying to be helpful.
"And not take any sort of responsibility whatsoever." Draco's voice had risen alarmingly on each syllable.
"I'm his coach," Harry managed. "We're not supposed to, er--"
Severus leaned over, and spoke into his ear, but still loud enough for Draco to hear. "I just made that up." Harry whirled around and Severus shrugged. "To get you to kiss me. I didn't think you would, otherwise." Harry made a defeated noise and turned back around to face his fate.
"You know that I would never lay a hand on Severus," he said.
"He's not good enough for you?" Draco shot back, looking quite unmollified.
"Of course he's--wait, aren't you going to hex my balls off?" It probably wasn't a good idea to even plant the suggestion in Draco's brain but the afternoon had swung past surreal and was veering into remarkable.
"Only if you don't kiss him again," Draco said, rolling his eyes. "He did just win his first race and some sort of celebration seems in order."
"Am I doing this right?"
Harry turned and pressed his lips together to keep from laughing. "It's a boutonniere, Severus, not a bundle of drying potions ingredients." He crossed the study, navigating around the mound of wedding gifts overflowing the settee. Outside he could hear the musicians warming up before the guests arrived.
Severus stood patiently as Harry righted the tiny rosebuds, smoothing down the collar of his dress robes. One hand came up and rested on Harry's shoulder, sliding down his arm, and Harry had the sudden intuition that he'd been set up. Again.
"I told you about this," he said, curling his fingers around the opening of Severus's robes.
"You didn't say I couldn't touch you," Severus said. He'd been back from school, a newly-minted wizard, for a week but both of them had been dragged into the wedding preparations and had barely spoken a sentence that didn't have the words 'bouquet' or 'buffet' in it.
"We aren't the ones on display today," he said as Severus's mouth hovered tantalizingly over his own. They'd had no time for more than a few kisses since March. Now that Harry counted himself free to imagine more than kisses, finding time to make it happen seemed elusive.
A sigh and the hand fell away. "I'm happy for them; you know I am." He and Severus were still very close, even if they were no longer touching when the door opened. Harry still felt like jumping away guiltily when he saw that it was the groom.
"Potter--stop molesting my son and help me with this," Draco said holding out a sprig of roses matching his son's. Harry started to protest but realized that Draco was nervous about his upcoming nuptials. His fingers actually trembled on the buds.
"Straight men are hopeless," he said, giving Severus a conspiratorial wink as he pinned the flowers in place.
"Just be glad Gabrielle's not making you wear orchids or tulle," Draco said, fingering the tiny sprig on his collar. Harry made a face, not certain he wasn't being set up again.
"I'm just the groomsman," he protested, stepping away to admire the two of them. They still looked as unalike as it was possible for two men to be, but Harry knew families were made up of more than endless seas of ginger hair. "You two are quite a pair."
They both straightened, then looked at each other and smirked, very nearly the only thing that would ever match on them. "Sure I can't persuade you to stay around the Manor this summer while I'm off on my honeymoon?" Draco said, wiping an imaginary speck off Severus's shoulder.
Severus eyed Harry speculatively. "Hmm, scrap my travel plans with Harry in favor of trying to keep a houseful of moping house-elves busy?" As if on cue, they all heard the crash of something outside and the furiously raised voice of Millington.
Severus cleared his throat. "I'll see what that was." He nodded to them both. When he opened the study door another voice, moaning in a French accent, joined the elf's.
Draco waited until the door was closed. "He's still my son, no matter what else he is to you."
"I know." Harry looked toward the door. "I never expected this."
"Who could have?" Draco said, chuckling. He held Harry's gaze then nodded.
"Let's go get you married, Malfoy, before she comes to her senses," Harry said.
"Ha! As if any woman could pass up my obvious Malfoy charm," Draco countered.
"Charm? So you admit you put a spell on her to get her to marry you at last?" Harry said as they made their way out of the study. In the lower hall the guests were beginning to arrive. They stood leaning around the corner, like two schoolboys watching the teachers. Harry caught sight of Severus and exchanged a hurried smile.
Draco caught him at it and rolled his eyes. "If I can wait until tonight, so can you," he said in a low voice.
"I'm not--" Harry swallowed hard. For all the unspoken promises they'd made, everything remained exactly that--unspoken. "We're not--"
Severus was holding open the door to the kitchen, trying to get something white off Millington's crisp vest. "Do try to be sensible," Draco said, pulling back from the corridor, not wanting to be seen yet by the guests. "He'll fall in love with you, if you let him."
Harry suspected Severus was nearly there, and felt the familiar remorse that he'd done nothing to discourage the feelings. He also knew he wasn't about to tell Draco any of that.
"He's fierce," Draco went on, before Harry could speak. "Fierce loyalty, fierce pride. He'll be that way in love too." He looked over at Harry. "If you have the brains to accept what he's offering."
"We'll be traveling. He'll be meeting lots of new people," Harry felt pained to have to point out.
Malfoys even snorted with good breeding. "He meets lots of new people here. He's only ever wanted you." He got the feeling Draco wanted to add 'you idiot' but because of the truce they'd forged over the years, refrained.
There was a quiet pop behind them and Severus adjusted his robes. "Dad, the minister is here. He wants to go over something with us," he said.
"Gabrielle's probably decided to have the ceremony performed in some language nobody speaks anymore," he said fatefully and let himself be led away.
Harry set down the drink he'd been nursing all evening, despite repeated attempts by both staff and assorted wedding guests to have him celebrate in a more liquid fashion. He'd never had much of a head for alcohol so he'd contented himself with one congratulatory glass of champagne.
He found himself scanning the crowd for Severus, but realized he hadn't seen him for quite some time. It would probably be the responsible thing to find him and tell him he'd be going straight back on his training diet once the wedding was over, but he really just wanted to see him. He swallowed down his disappointment when, despite his best efforts, he didn't. He tried to think of the last time he'd seen him, realizing it had been when an attractive waiter had been asking him what to do with a ferret that he'd found hiding under the stand set up for the musicians. Unthinkingly he found himself looking around for the waiter.
No waiter. No Severus. Harry's stomach clenched. It was his own fault for leaving things so vague. Perhaps he'd just taken advantage of the moment to steal a few kisses behind a topiary--Harry remembered that Severus's kisses had been more practiced from one summer to the next. He should be happy for him--except he wasn't.
He bade a few farewells to guests who were lingering after the newly-married couple had departed for their honeymoon. Trust Malfoy to give in to Gabrielle's request for a glass carriage to bear them off.
Since he was part of the wedding party, Harry had been given a room in the Manor to stay in overnight, but Harry wasn't sure he wanted to wake up wondering how Severus had spent him own night. So, he trudged up the stairs, unbuttoning his cuffs and shaking them out, trying not to feel resentful that Severus hadn't even wished him a good evening before slipping off to his tryst.
Harry closed the door behind him, resolving to be worldly and understanding in the morning, wondering if he could maintain the façade long enough to convince anyone, least of all Severus. Dejected he sat down hard on the bed in the dark.
Harry jumped up, already moving before the voice had rung out in the dark. "Lumos," he said, holding the wand away when Severus shielded his eyes from the glare.
"What are you--" Harry began, then cast the wand-glow over the Severus-shaped lump in the covers. "Are you naked?"
Severus lifted the duvet and peered beneath it. "I do believe I am," he said, dropping the cover as he wriggled up against the headboard. "You've been ages," he said.
"I didn't know you were--" Naked. "Up here." He put out the wand, letting his eyes adjust to the dim room. He could see the gleam of the necklace Severus wore around his neck, the silver serpent hanging just above his nipples.
"I don't see why not," Severus said, sounding very practical for a naked man. "If we're going to be traveling together we might be thrown into any sort of unexpected sleeping arrangements. Best get any awkwardness out of the way now."
"Is that what you call this, awkwardness?" Harry asked, sitting back down on the edge of the bed as Severus moved his legs away to give him space.
"Being a virgin is quite awkward," Severus said, leaning over so that he was close to Harry's back. Harry shivered as Severus's mouth brushed across the back of his collar. "Of course, it's just as awkward wanting you to make love with me when you're still all dressed," he said, rather pointedly.
Harry looked over his shoulder reprovingly and started unbuttoning his dress robes. Eager hands slid over his shoulders, helping tug the robes off while Harry stood to follow suit with his shirt and glasses. When it came time to undo his trousers, he found his fingers shaking more than they had any right to. It was like riding a hippogriff for the first time--you just had to close your eyes and go for it.
"That's better," Severus said, flipping the cover over to make room as Harry slid back onto the bed. Harry could tell by the slight quaver in his voice that he was not quite as confident as he appeared.
"Come here," Harry said, and Severus was wrapping himself around him as if just waiting for the invitation. Their mouths met hungrily as the air thickened around them, hormones flying between them comparing states of readiness. Just the notion that he wouldn't have to stop with just a kiss had already gone to Harry's cock. He'd thought of this moment nearly every minute since spring and wanted to make things as good for Severus as he could--in the expectation of having more nights like this.
Severus felt tense, for all that he was pressing against Harry with legs and arms and chest. Harry slowed the kiss down, nipping at one lip then the other and the corner of his mouth until Severus sighed against it.
"I can't--I want--" he said, oddly out of words.
"You want everything," Harry said, and Severus nodded against his cheek. They'd both shaved before the ceremony, but Severus's cheek still felt satisfyingly rough . "What do you want the most?" He shifted against Severus's chest, hands running down it, letting his thumbs pause on the peaked nipples before looking back up.
"I have what I want most," Severus said and Harry pulled him tighter against his chest.
"Lie back; let me look at you," Harry said, keeping his hands moving over warm flesh when he felt Severus tense again.
"You aren't…just going to look?" he asked, and Harry chuckled, guiding him down into the soft pillows, pulling on one arm to pull it away when Severus would cover himself with it.
"Oh no," Harry said, following his hands with little kisses, first on Severus's mouth, then moving down his neck, rubbing one cheek against the strong pulse point there before kissing his eager mouth again. Lower next, kissing each breastbone, tongue swirling down close to one nipple before returning to savor another kiss.
He looked, and tasted, always returning to the hungry mouth that whimpered into his with each stroke lower on his body, the noises just as delicious as Harry remembered. Severus's cock was satisfyingly long, and as slender as the rest of him, and when Harry could no longer resist he tasted that too.
Severus howled, bucking up into his mouth, spilling nearly the moment Harry's lips clamped around his prick. Harry hung on, letting the salty seed spread over his tongue. Gradually he felt Severus sinking back onto the bed, felt the cock twitching as it softened against his tongue before he lifted his mouth and kissed the wet tip.
"You know, I might have tried harder to get you to seduce me, if I'd known it was going to be like this." Severus's voice, slurred from arousal, drifted down to Harry and he couldn't help chuckling.
"I'm very glad you didn't--I was close to giving in more than once."
"You were disgustingly noble," Severus said agreeably, stretching languidly, sliding his legs over again when Harry crawled up to stretch out beside him.
"I'm not feeling very noble now," he said, hips pressing against Severus's, his still-hard cock nudging against one leg.
"I can see that, yes," Severus agreed, turning on his side and wiggling down the bed while Harry watched. "I'm going to like this, aren't I?" His tongue flickered out experimentally, tasting a drop welling from the tip, and Harry whimpered.
"I hope so," Harry said, resisting the urge to push his way past those tempting lips and let Severus find out for himself whether he liked it or not. By all appearances, however, he did like it. He went quickly from tentative to eager as Harry did everything he could to let him know there were very few things a warm mouth on a hard cock could do wrong.
"Do you like this?" Severus said, his voice a mixture of anxiety and renewed arousal. Harry was so far beyond 'like' that he couldn't work out what Severus was saying until his hand slid around Harry's balls. "I like this when I, well, you know," he said, the breath from his words ghosting over the damp tip of Harry's cock.
"That's really good," Harry managed, aroused from just the idea of Severus wanking and touching himself like this. Sliding his fingers down, he stroked one hand through the long black strands of hair splayed around his hip, combing through it while the head attached to it bobbed on his cock.
"Severus, god, going--" He moaned as a nail flicked behind his balls and there was no time for warning at all, though he did manage to slide his fingers through Severus's hair so he wouldn't think Harry was holding him down.
Severus's mouth didn't move. In fact he went very still, then choked a little and took a long breath as if afraid to move his mouth at all. Slowly his lips unclenched and his face tilted as if considering something. He ran his tongue along one lip. "Not as bad as hippogriff piss," he declared finally. Even in the soft light, Harry could tell that he was smirking.
"Brat. Come up here and kiss me and let me see," he countered, unwilling to be outdone. His mouth indeed tasted better than nearly anything Harry had ever tasted. He noticed too, as Severus wriggled into his side, that he was delightfully hard again.
"Feeling less awkward for you?" Harry drawled happily, unable to quite stop touching the firm strong body next to his.
"A bit." Severus liked touching him too apparently, hand smoothing down Harry's belly with less tentativeness, then back up to let a finger smudge over one nipple. "There's something about having wrapped my mouth around your cock that's defused it."
Harry groaned. "Severus, if you keep saying things like that I may not be able to keep my hands off you.."
Severus's voice sounded almost like a purr. "Then don't."
Harry's own cock, though interested, wasn't recovered, but he didn't think they were done with overcoming awkwardness tonight. He pulled Severus close, bending one leg up over his hips and grinding them together. Severus groaned and moved against him as if he'd already divined Harry's intentions.
"Harry," Severus said, voice laced with need, "I want--"
"I want that too."
"Please, show me." His body shuddered as it moved against Harry's, cock dragging across his belly, pushing up through the fan of hair.
Harry sought his mouth, rocking against him, knowing they'd need to slow down or Severus would spend himself just like this. "I need something from my kit," he said, easing back slightly.
"What--oh." A flush of color. "Oh."
"Do you want to try it?" Harry asked, sliding off the bed and getting the lube he'd packed in a bout of optimism. There was something more exposed about being naked standing up than in lying down. When he turned, Severus had his head propped up on one hand, studying him openly.
"Yes, I want to try it," he said, his eyes warming in appreciation as they raked over Harry's body as he climbed back into bed. From down in the courtyard he could still hear the sounds of lingering revelers. Severus pulled him against his chest. "And the other way round as well?"
Chuckling softly, Harry stretched out beside him. "Can you wait until tomorrow for that?" He looked down at his own cock, which was still interested but looked like a flobberworm compared to Severus's elegantly aroused cock.
Severus looked like he was thinking it over. "Maybe until tomorrow morning," he said, taking the lube Harry passed over. "You aren't going to do anything ridiculous like sending me back to my own bed, are you?"
Harry shifted over onto his back, plumping pillows up around his head. "Only if you don't use enough lube."
Severus's smile was unrepentant. "I'm going to like this, too, aren't I?"
"If you do it right, we're both going to like it," Harry replied, watching as Severus unscrewed the cap. One wet finger later and Harry knew he was going to like it, even if Severus didn't do anything else. Two gloriously deep fingers later Harry knew he was bloody well going to love it and if Severus didn't put his prick inside him right now--
Well, he might've said that last bit out loud.
Harry shoved a pillow under his hips and bent his knees, knowing he probably looked like an eager teenager, but he didn't mind since Severus certainly made him feel like one. Severus had his hand around his own cock, rubbing the tip around the slick entrance. "I thought you'd be telling me right about now something about how this is just as easy as riding a hippogriff," Severus said, voice laced with bravado. Closing his eyes, he pushed in, gasping when it sank past the tight muscles ringing the entrance.
"Much rather have you ride me," Harry moaned as Severus's eyes flew back open. They panted together a moment, adjusting. "Can you--"
"I'll come if I do," Severus grunted, but his hips drew back slowly. Harry waited until he'd done it again before rubbing one foot along the back of his leg.
"You--this--" There was a fine sheen of sweat on his forehead a few strands of hair were sticking to his throat.
"I know--good…so good," Harry said, arching as Severus moved a little faster, a little deeper, riding with easy grace as angled his hips to feel hardness and movement over the pleasure spot inside him. "Oh, S--" Another moan and Harry was sliding his hands down his chest, fingers curling around his unexpectedly eager cock. "S-severus…"
He knew Severus was close--color fanned across his chest, seeping over his shoulders. A tremor went through him, then another and they were both trying to hang on--one more stroke, one more thrust until Harry snapped his own hips into Severus, spurting over his own belly and fingers. Severus shook and gasped; Harry pulled himself into the shudders until they stilled. He let his fingers slide into the damp hair as a heavy noise like a sob rushed out of Severus's lungs.
"'sokay, it was good, so good," he crooned, holding and stroking and petting until Severus looked up.
"Not so much like riding a hippogriff, though," he said, smiling shakily.
Harry smiled back. "Not much, no." They sank into another kiss and though he felt sticky and sweaty, he couldn't remember feeling better in a very long time, not even when he'd eaten twelve cupcakes. With sprinkles. "You don't mind about, er, not doing it the other way right away?"
"Not sure I can move," Severus said, voice slurring slightly as his face burrowed into Harry's neck. "In the morning." The breath of a soft sigh wafted across his cheek, sending goose pimples down Harry's arms until he fumbled for the duvet and tucked them both under it.
He felt Severus's breathing slowing in the quiet, although outside he heard the commanding squeak of a house-elf, which meant the last of the celebrants had been rounded up and persuaded to go home.
"I never got any cake," Severus said, stirring enough to drape one hand over Harry's chest.
"Me neither," Harry said, wriggling happily at the touch. "I'm sure it was spectacular."
One shoulder lifted and settled back against him with a long contented sigh. Severus mumbled something, though Harry only caught one word.
"Our what?" Harry asked, finding pleasures in the dark silk hair.
"Cake." Severus shifted, his lips sliding over Harry's shoulder.
"Are we having cake?"
Another luxuriant stretch and Severus nodded. "'course… our wedding cake."
Harry went still. "Severus?"
Harry looked down and saw one eye snap closed hastily He reached over and pulled the eyelid back up. "Severus, do you love me?"
The other eye opened and didn't look remotely sleepy. "You must know I do."
Harry leaned back to look at him properly and spotted the softly gleaming silver serpent around his throat. He fingered it, turning it over and over. "This isn't something you think you should want because you and Draco have this mad idea that the professor was in love with me?"
Severus looked startled, scrambling up to prop one his head up with one hand. "Dad thinks the professor was in love with you?" He grinned. "He never said anything to me about it." His gazed drifted down to Harry's hand, toying with the pendant. "I expect it will take you a couple of years to believe it. Good thing I'm willing to sacrifice my nubile--" He wriggled and the charm slipped from between Harry's fingers. "I think we can both agree now that it is indeed nubile?"
"Nubile body to you while you come to your senses and admit that whether the professor did or not, I do."
Harry leaned over for a kiss, letting it linger on his lips before he spoke again. "What if I've already come to my senses?" He watched his own fingers walking up one shoulder, stroking over the curve of one cheek.
Severus rubbed his cheek against Harry's finger. "Then you aren't as thick as I thought."
Looking up at him from beneath his fringe, Harry said, "That's very kind of you."
Severus waved one hand magnanimously. "Don't mention it."
"Do you mind if I'm just the tiniest bit--" Harry held up his thumb and forefinger just slightly apart as if measuring out something. "In love with you?"
Studying the two fingers, Severus moved them apart several inches and nodded. "Then I'd have to take it back."
Harry's mouth opened in outrage. "Take back loving me?"
Severus rolled his eyes. "Take back telling you that you aren't as thick as I thought."
Harry's mouth closed, then opened again to protest when he worked out what Severus had said. "Why not?"
Severus's expression was smug. In face, his whole body was smug. "Why else did you try to not to molest--"
Harry made a pained face. "Could we use another word besides 'molest'?"
"Not to let me seduce you , then, if you didn't love me just a little?" Severus finished agreeably. He held up two fingers exactly as Harry had done. Harry leaned over and widened them, nodding in satisfaction.
It was Severus's turn to stroke Harry's cheek. "If he, the professor, had wanted you as much as I want you, he might have stepped in front of that curse and given himself another chance."
"If anyone loved me that much, I'd be a fool not to love them back, wouldn't I?" Severus's fingers felt warm on his skin.
"Just a little?"
Harry grinned and brushed his mouth over Severus's. "Maybe a lot. Gryffindors aren't so thick after all."