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Amortentia

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Harry rolls over and reaches out, but Gin’s side is empty, her pillow cold. The Harpies have begun two-a-day workouts in preparation for the start of the upcoming season, and she’s been out of the house before dawn each morning for the past week.

He reaches down below the covers to curl his fingers around his cock. The dreams started again three nights ago. They have nothing to do with Horcruxes or Dark Lords or left over bits of soul magic. But they are every bit as disconcerting. Harry strokes himself quickly, hand moving in short, rough tugs as his mind clings to the hazy images from his dream.

The dreams are always maddeningly similar. Harry gasping beneath some nameless, faceless lover, his legs wrapped around narrow hips, fingers clutching at pale shoulders. Sometimes the man’s hair is dark, sometimes fair. Sometimes Harry recognises the bed, the room. Sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes the man speaks, and Harry can replay with devastating clarity the deliciously filthy things he’s said.

He comes with a groan and lies there for a moment, spunk cooling on his skin while the guilt, the shame starts to creep in. Harry is used to the feeling now. This isn’t the first time he’s come to the thought of someone other than his wife. The dreams, the intrusive thoughts have been more frequent as of late. He attributes it to stress. The dreams always intensify when work is particularly hectic. After he’s been away for a case or pulled an all-nighter at the office reviewing case files.

And now, he’s sure it’s Gin’s stress rubbing off on him. She’d spent the previous week away at training camp and now her pre-season workout regime is in full swing. There are a lot of expectations riding on the Harpies this year, and Ginny’s already exhausted. It’s no wonder they’ve been cross with each other lately.

None of this, however, explains the very masculine subject matter of Harry’s recent fantasies.

He waves a hand, wincing at the cleaning charm, and then climbs out of bed.

In the bathroom, he starts the water for his shower and rummages through his medicine cabinet. He desperately needs a Pepperup. He’s not sleeping well. He’s been irritable and generally out of sorts. But aside from a half empty vial of pain potion and some long-expired Dreamless Sleep, his shelves are bare.

He checks Gin’s side.

Her cupboard is full of makeup and lotions, vials and jars. There are rows of colourful potions and delicate glass bottles of perfumes and powders. Harry scans the shelves and, there, in the back, he spots the vivid red of Pepperup. As he reaches for it, his hand knocks one of the taller vials. Fuck. Before he can stop it, pale, pearlescent liquid has spilled everywhere. It smells faintly of cinnamon.

Harry doesn’t recognise the potion. It must be one of Gin’s perfumes and, from the look of it, an expensive one at that. He’ll replace it, of course, but he doesn’t want to think about how irritated she’ll be with him.

He downs the Pepperup and manages to shower, dress, and Floo to the Ministry just in time for his nine o’clock meeting.

The day only goes downhill from there.

False surveillance leads to an altercation in Trafalgar Square in plain view of an entire tour bus of Muggles. Harry has to send out a team of Obliviators and spend an hour he doesn’t have writing up an incident report. They still have no leads on a double homicide that’s had Ron’s team occupied for weeks. The stack of case files open on his desk seems to have multiplied since the day before. And that’s not even taking into account how bloody awful he feels.

He works late. Gin is already home when he Floos back to their flat that night. From the look on her face, her day was every bit as unpleasant as Harry’s. She’s sitting at the kitchen table, but it doesn’t look as though she’s eaten. The table is clear; there are no dishes in the sink or on the worktop. She doesn’t even have tea.

“Long day?” he asks. When she doesn’t respond, he takes the kettle and fills it from the tap. Gin always makes tea in the evenings. Come to think of it, he can’t remember a night Gin’s been home that there hasn’t been a cuppa waiting for him.

“Is this the kind with the cinnamon?” Harry asks, pulling a tea tin from the pantry.

“Cinnamon?” Gin frowns, but then her expression hardens again. “Did you go into my cabinet? In the bathroom?”

Oh, right. Harry remembers the perfume. “Yeah, I did. I needed a Pepperup. I’m sorry. I knocked over one of your potions. I’ll replace it tomorrow if you’ll just tell me what it was, I—”

“It was irreplaceable!” Ginny cuts him off with a shout, voice harsher than Harry expects. “Why were you going through my things? You have no right.”

Harry sets down the tea, holding up his hands defensively. “I’m sorry Gin. Really, I am. I wasn’t snooping. I just needed a Pepperup. And it was an accident. If you’ll just tell me what I spilled, I’m sure I can get it through Owl Order.”

“No!” she yells, even louder this time, shoving back from the table. She disappears from the kitchen down the hallway into their bedroom. Harry knows he should probably go after her, but he can’t bring himself to do so.

Instead, he puts the tea tin away and takes a beer from the fridge. He heats leftover takeaway and sits at the table alone reviewing a file from work. It’s...nice without Gin peeking over his shoulder or demanding to know what he’s working on. He feels bad about the potion. He really does. But he didn’t mean to spill it and, frankly, he thinks her reaction was a tad unfair.

Harry finishes his dinner and opens another beer. He feels...strange. Typically after a fight with Gin, he’s the first to rush to apologise. Ginny can be stubborn to a fault, but Harry can’t stand her being upset with him. Tonight, though, he has no desire to deal with her. Rather, he works until he’s certain she’s asleep before heading to bed. He briefly considers sleeping on the sofa, but he’s got a long day ahead of him and knows his back won’t thank him if he does. So he slips into their room quietly and manages not to wake her.

***

Over the next few days, Harry feels progressively worse. He can’t concentrate, he’s got a persistent headache that even Pepperup doesn’t seem to help, and he’s mad at his wife.

Which, frankly, is weird.

In their four years of marriage, Harry can’t remember a time when he’s felt such lingering...what? Resentment? Anger? Distaste towards Ginny? Sure, they argue. All couples do. But their disputes never last long and Harry finds he can never stay truly angry. But now he is.

Gin apologised. Said she hadn’t meant to yell. And, when Harry asked, she assured him she’d been able to reorder her perfume. It was expensive, of course, she’d made sure to note, but worth it. She’d kissed him then. Brushed a hand along his thigh. And he knew she wanted him to take her to bed. But he hadn’t been in the mood. That upset her, disappointment flashing in her dark eyes, but she didn’t press, and she’d left the room, leaving him alone to his thoughts and his case files.

Harry shakes his head. He desperately needs some fresh air. He grabs his robes. There’s a witness in Soho that needs interviewing. He should send someone. It’s not the type of thing the Head Auror typically does, but he has to get out of the office and he might as well get something done while he’s at it.

***

The following day Harry makes a decision.

The Ministry’s Department of Potions is clinical and sterile with its whitewashed walls, tiled floors, and charmed fluorescent lights. The foyer is bare, save for a single desk occupied by a single wizard. Everything here—storage, forensics, experimentation, research, development—happens behind closed doors.

“Auror Potter!” the man says, jumping to his feet when Harry enters the room. The cauldron and wand emblazoned on his standard issue gray robes mark his division.

“Hi Simon, is Lee around?”

“Oh yes, of course, sir. Just give me one moment and I’ll get Potions Master Jordan for you.” He hurries off behind the double doors leading into the potions department proper.

Harry has been Head Auror for nearly a year now, and he still isn’t used to how everyone treats him. But he’s certain Simon Anderson never snapped to attention quite like that when he used to come down to the potions labs on routine Auror business.

After a few minutes, Anderson returns, followed by Lee Jordan.

“Harry, mate,” Lee says with a grin. “What brings you round here today?”

“You have a few minutes?” Harry asks, not looking at Anderson, though he knows the other man is listening, no doubt curious as to what business would bring the Head Auror to their department personally.

“Yeah, of course. Why don’t you come back to my office.”

Harry follows Lee to the double doors, feeling the wash of wards slip over him as they pass through. Lee completed his mastery after the war. The Ministry currently employs three Potions Masters and Lee heads the Department of Magical Law Enforcement Potions Division, so any forensics or consultations and all potions requests pertaining to Auror casework go through him.

Lee’s office is directly off the short hallway behind the closed doors. The junior labs and training centre are also on this level, but Harry knows all storerooms and advanced laboratories are two floors down. Potions, like several other secure Ministry departments, has its own internal lifts.

Lee ushers Harry into his office and closes the door. The room is cramped and small; it’s perhaps half the size of the offices up on level 2. But the walls are covered in Quidditch posters and the solitary window lets in plenty of natural light.

“Here,” Lee says, taking a file box off the one spare chair and setting it on the floor. He motions for Harry to sit before taking the seat behind his own desk, every inch of which is covered with stacks of papers, books, and scrolls.

“What’s going on?”

“I’d like you to run a full tox screen and blood panel on me,” Harry says.

Lee frowns. “You’re not up for your magical residue and spell damage assessment, are you?” He moves a mug from atop a pile of file jackets. The top one is stained with brown coffee rings. He sifts through the stack of registers below. “No,” he says, finding what he’s looking for. “You’re not due for another two months.”

“November,” Harry nods.

“But you’d like a workup?”

“Yes.”

Lee leans back in his chair, arms folded across his chest. “You think you were dosed with something?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Have you been to medical? There’s a virus going round. Two lads up in Improper Use got sent home just yesterday.”

“No,” Harry shakes his head. “It’s not that. I feel...off. But I’m not sick.” At this point, he wishes he were. It would be less troubling.

Lee gives him a long look and stands, walking around his desk. He draws his wand and taps Harry lightly on the forehead. Then he runs his wand down the length of Harry’s chest, watching as a string of silver characters materialise in the air between them. “Vitals looks good,” he says. “No temperature. White blood count elevated slightly, but nothing too concerning. What do you think you were hit with?”

“I honestly don’t know.” Harry lists his symptoms, briefly explains how he’s been feeling.

Lee listens carefully, perched on the edge of his desk. “Could just be stress, you know. You’re overworked—the entire lot of you. But you most of all.”

“I know,” Harry agrees. “But this isn’t stress.”

“Okay.” And Harry appreciates that there is no hesitation in Lee’s voice, no suggestion that he doesn’t believe him. Lee grabs a quill. Jots a few quick notes down on a scrap of parchment. “When did it start?”

“Thursday.”

“And were you in the field that day? Any unusual encounters?”

“I was in Knockturn with my Dark Arts Detection team. But nothing out of the ordinary occurred.”

“You didn’t find anything? This could be spell work, of course, not potion based.”

“I know. But I think I’d sense the magic, especially if I were hit with something. And no, the lead was cold.”

“And have you received any packages lately? Any suspect owls?”

“No.” Harry shakes his head. “My post all goes through the Ministry’s central mail. Their detection spells are better than they’ve ever been. I worked with Kingsley myself honing then.”

Lee nods. “True. And to your recollection, have you ingested anything that could have been tainted?”

“I‘m not sure.” Harry scrubs a hand across his face. “I don’t think so.”

“All right. We’ll get you checked out. If something’s affecting you, I’ll find it. Here, hold out your arm.”

Harry rolls up his sleeve, offers his forearm to Lee.

“This will sting a bit,” he says, procuring a vial from somewhere on his desk. Then he draws his wand across Harry’s skin. The cut doesn’t hurt until Lee presses against it, squeezes wine-red blood into the waiting vial. With one more pass of his wand, he heals the wound. Harry flexes his arm as the skin knits back together.

Lee pockets the sample. “I’ll have results sometime tomorrow.”

“Thanks, I appreciate it.”

***

It’s nearly lunchtime the following afternoon when Lee pokes his head around Harry’s office door. “Hey, mate, you got a few minutes?”

“Yeah,” Harry sets aside the case file he’s been staring at for the past half hour. “Come in.”

“Er…” Lee looks around behind him. “Might be best if we get some fresh air. Walk with me?” There is something about his expression, his tone, that sets Harry’s teeth on edge. He stands and grabs his jacket off the back of his chair.

“Of course.”

***

“Amortentia?”

They’re at a Muggle pub a few blocks from the Ministry. Harry is suddenly glad he ordered a pint. He takes a long swallow. “You’re serious?”

Lee nods, thumbnail picking at the red and gold label of his beer bottle. “I ran the test twice.”

“But that’s ridiculous,” Harry insists. “I mean, Amortentia isn’t exactly subtle. I would know if I were obsessed with someone.” He remembers clearly the incident fifth year with Romilda Vane and Ron. “I mean, sudden, uncontrollable infatuations aren’t the type of thing that go unnoticed.” He forces a laugh. “I don’t want anyone, Lee. Merlin, I haven’t so much as flirted with anyone aside from my wife in, well, in forever.”

Lee is looking Harry with something like pity and Harry doesn’t understand. “I know, mate,” he says and Harry thinks he hears sadness in his voice. “This wasn’t sudden. The results were conclusive for long term exposure.” He pulls a sheet of parchment from his pocket and slides it across the table, but the numbers all run together and Harry doesn’t know what he’s looking at.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t understand.”

“Amortentia builds up in your system over time. I can’t get a precise read on when you were first exposed, but I can tell that it’s been years, not weeks or even months.”

The words sink in, and Harry realises he’s shaking. He picks up his glass to have something to do with his hands. “You’re telling me that I’ve had Amortentia in my system for years?” He sets his glass down again. “That’s absurd.”

Lee is staring down at the table. “I know,” he says, deliberately avoiding Harry’s eyes. “I didn’t want to believe it either.”

“Believe what?” Because even though Harry knows what Lee isn’t saying, it’s too appalling to consider. “Gin wouldn’t do that. She couldn’t have. She loves me. I love her.” But Harry hates how, even as he says the words, a faint sliver of doubt creeps into his mind.

Lee takes a swallow of beer and doesn’t say anything.

“It’s not possible, though. Amortentia doesn’t create love.”

“No. Not typically,” Lee agrees. “But the drug is known to affect people differently. And this,” he says tapping the paper still front of Harry, “is exceptional quality. Nothing like that rubbish I used to make for Weasley Wheezes.”

“Maybe I’m immune,” Harry tries. “Lots of magic doesn’t affect me, especially stuff with mind-altering properties—Imperius, Confundus charms...”

“It’s possible,” Lee says, but he doesn’t sound as though he believes it.

“It has to be,” Harry says because he’s not going to consider the alternative. “Besides, if I’ve been affected for years, as you say, why am I only now feeling the effects?”

Lee runs a hand through his hair. “I don’t think you are, mate. What you describe, your symptoms are consistent with withdrawal from Amortentia, not exposure.”

“Withdrawal?”

“Yes. Is there anything you take at home...anything you eat, or drink, or swallow that your wife has access to?” He pauses, looks away again. “Anything you haven’t had in the past several days?”

Something cold settles in the pit of Harry’s stomach. The tea… “I... She makes my tea.” He swallows. His throat is suddenly dry, but when he picks up his glass, he finds it empty. “I spilled something of Gin’s a few days ago. It was in her cabinet. I didn’t know what it was.” He thinks back, mind racing. Is that when this all started? After he spilled the potion? “And there have been other times before...if I’ve been away on a case. Or when she’s travelling for a match...” He presses his fingers to his temples and thinks he might be ill. His entire world is spinning out of control. “Wait,” he says, realising something. “Why hasn’t this shown before? I’ve had at least half a dozen screenings since I joined the Force. If there’s really been Amortentia in my system this entire time and none of your tests caught it? That’s a massive bloody oversight, don’t you think?”

Harry knows he sounds accusatory, but Lee only shrugs. “Maybe. But margin for error aside, there’s myriad reasons why Amortentia didn’t pop on one of your previous scans.”

“Such as?”

“Unless we’ve reason to suspect poisoning—presenting symptoms, known exposure or elevated risk, et cetera—we focus assessments on magic and potential spell damages. And, considering the fact that Amortentia would have been present on your baseline scan, your subsequent tests wouldn’t have registered any abnormalities or variations from your norm. It’s understandable that it wouldn’t have shown on a general screening—unless it was a new exposure or, as in your case, the beginnings of withdrawal from your system.”

Harry nods, still trying to wrap his head around things, and then something occurs to him. Amortentia is a Class F substance. Not only is it restricted—not to mention illegal—due to its coercive properties, but it’s classified as a mind altering agent. “My job... When people find out...”

Lee must see the panic on Harry’s face because he reaches out, claps a reassuring hand against his shoulder. “No one has to know.”

“But that test.” He points to the incriminating piece of paper on the table in front of him. “I’m sure it’s already on file and, once the registrar and the Department of Records find out— Fuck. I’ll be relieved of my post. Every single one of my cases while I was allegedly under the influence will be reviewed. You know the damage this will do, Lee. If word gets out that the Head Auror was operating under effects of a Class F mind altering substance? The barristers will have a field day. Every lag I’ve helped put away will have grounds for appeal. And that’s before you consider the cases I worked on before I took over the department.” He signals to the waiter; he desperately needs another drink. “Gin and I’ve been married four years. We were together six months before that. Our relationship spans the entire time I’ve been on the Force. I’m not saying I believe it, but if people think this is true... I’m not sure our department can handle the repercussions.”

“I know,” Lee agrees. He looks around. The waiter’s still at the bar waiting for Harry’s pint. Lee draws his wand and casts a quick charm. The parchment with Harry’s test results flares brightly for an instant before disappearing in a puff of blue smoke. “But no one has to know. I’m head of my division. It’s my bloody potions lab. Every test that goes on record has to go through me first and that...” He waves at the table where the parchment used to be—if there’s a new scorch mark on the marred surface no one will be the wiser—“…did not go through me.”

“You could lose your job,” Harry says after a moment, because he understands the weight of what Lee’s just done for him.

“I could. But I won’t. No one knows I ran that test.”

“I...thank you.”

Lee shrugs. “You’d do the same for me. Besides, we need you. Don’t tell Kingsley I said so, but you’re the best Head Auror the Ministry’s ever had. We can’t afford to lose you. And I know as well as you that it would take a lot more than Amortentia to impact your ability to do your job.”

The waiter brings Harry his pint and motions to Lee’s empty bottle, but he shakes his head. “Besides,” he says, when the waiter has left again. “Just think of who’d replace you if you were sacked.”

Harry frowns. “After me, Ron’s got seniority.”

“Yeah, but he’d never get the position if this comes out.”

He’s right, of course. There’d be too much of a scandal. Ron wouldn’t lose his job, but he’d never be promoted if everyone believed his sister was dosing the former Head Auror and Boy Who Lived with an illicit love potion. “And that leaves…” Harry thinks for a minute. “Merlin’s tit. Zacharias Smith.”

Lee makes a face. “Exactly.”

Smith hadn’t fought in the Battle of Hogwarts and didn’t have the marks to enter the training programme. But his father held a position of some influence and managed to pull enough strings to get his son onto the Force. And he’s been nothing but a thorn in Harry’s side ever since. “So what can we do?” Harry knows enough about potions like Amortentia to know that traces will remain in his system long after he’s no longer being exposed.

“There’s nothing I can do about your semi-annual magical residue assessment. We need to make sure any Amortentia is completely cleared of your system by then.”

“Will that naturally happen in two months? Assuming I’m not exposed to any more in the meantime, of course.”

“Maybe. Maybe not. But it’s not a risk I’d take. The half-life’s long. And it’s unpredictable. It not only depends on the quality of the potion—which is top notch—but also on how your body and magic metabolizes it. And you’re so bloody powerful I wouldn’t even begin to know how to estimate residual effects. Not to mention you’ll likely feel like shit until then.”

“Worse than now?”

“Likely. Fever and chills, nausea as you detox.” Lee checks off the symptoms on his fingers. “Not to mention the confusion, the conflicted thoughts as your mind works to make sense of,” he pauses, looks down. “Of...things without influence of the potion.”

“Assuming it’s affected me enough to compel my thoughts.”

“Yes,” Lee says, though Harry knows he’s just humouring him. He pulls a scrap of paper from his pocket and jots down two names. “Here. Elliot Nguyen and Nathaniel Mason. I went to grad school with them. They’re good Potions masters and better guys. They both work in the private sector and, I’m sure if you tell them I gave you their name, one of them could help you.” He scrubs a hand across his face. “There’s a process. A series of potions over the course of three weeks. It’s complicated and rather unpleasant. But it will rid your body of all traces of that blasted drug.”

“Okay.” Harry takes the piece of paper.

“You’ll have to take time off work,” Lee says. “But it’s better than the alternative.”

Harry nods.

“I’d do it for you, mate,” Lee adds then. “It’s just... Well, I don’t have the resources or the facilities to brew that type of thing, not outside the Ministry, that is. And I can’t do it in my labs. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. I understand. And it’s fine. You’ve already done so much. Thank you,” he says genuinely. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“No doubt create the biggest scandal since Zebulon McAllister was caught trafficking Hippogriffs for less than upstanding purposes,” Lee says with a smile.

And Harry has to laugh, though he feels sick to his stomach.

“But Elliot and Nathaniel, they’re discreet. No one else will know.” Lee glances down at his watch. “I’ve got to get back. You gonna be okay?”

“Yes,” Harry says, only because he’s not sure how else to respond. He feels numb. He watches as Lee weaves his way through the maze of small tables to the door. Then he looks down at the scrap of paper with the names of the two Potions masters. Though, he already knows where he’s going to go for help.

***

“You’re serious?” Hermione says, eyes wide.

Harry looks down. He feels shaky, feverish, and out of focus. After Lee left him at the pub, he’d had another drink. Then he’d Apparated straight to Herminione and Ron’s flat. Ron won’t be home for hours; his team’s out in the field again today. And Harry couldn’t return to the office.

“Yes.”

“You think Ginny—your wife of four years—has been secretly dosing you with Amortentia this entire time?” Harry hears the utter disbelief in her voice. He understands. The entire scenario is beyond comprehension.

“There’s no other explanation.” The words taste like soot on his tongue; he can’t believe he’s saying them at all. This entire day has felt like a nightmare. He half expects to wake up at any moment to find it’s all been a bad dream.

“Surely there is,” Hermione says. “Someone else dosed you. A misguided fan, perhaps. You know you’ve had your fair share of those over the years.”

But Harry is already shaking his head. “I would know, Hermione. The effects of Amortentia are tied to its administration. You know that as well as I do. And I’ve felt nothing. I haven’t cheated on my wife. I haven’t even been tempted to. I’m not infatuated with anyone. Or even attracted to anyone else. Hell, Hermione, I’ve never wanted anyone but Gin since we’ve been together.”

Hermione takes a deep breath and walks across the room to where Rose is dozing in her swing. “You’ve been out in the field. You’ve got myriad open cases, people who might be looking to harm you. There has to be some other explanation.” But Harry knows from the sound of her voice that it’s only wishful thinking; she doesn’t truly believe it.

He doesn’t respond. He stares out the window. It’s starting to rain; drops slick the leaded glass. When Hermione sits down beside him, there are tears in her eyes. “So what happens now?”

“I—” Harry’s voice is choked. He swallows thickly, trying to ignore the knot in his throat, the ache in his chest. “There’s a potion—a series of them. Lee says it will get rid of the Amortentia.”

“It will,” Hermione says, wiping at her eyes. “Hard to brew, and it won’t be pleasant to take. But it will do the job. Can Lee prepare them for you?”

“No. Too risky to do it at the Ministry.”

She nods. “So who? I might know someone...”

“I’ve already owled Snape.”

If Hermione is surprised, she doesn’t show it. “And he’ll do it?”

He nods. Though Snape hasn’t had time to respond, Harry knows what his answer will be.

Hermione smiles, but her eyes are sad. “Of course he will. And you can trust he’ll do it right.”

“Yes. And I’m sure he’ll be thrilled to hear that my life is, once again, completely fucked.” Harry means it as a joke, but there’s no humour there.

“No, he won’t Harry,” Hermione says. “And it’s not. Everything will be—”

“Don’t tell me everything will be fine!” Harry says sharply, cutting her off. Because nothing about this is even close to fine. His voice is shriller than he intends, but he can’t help it. He looks down, wishing desperately that his relationship, his life wasn’t falling to pieces. “I love her, Hermione. She loves...” But Harry can’t manage to say the words. His voice is choked, his chest so tight he thinks it might crack.

“She does love you, I think,” Hermione says. “She just…” But she stops, clearly at a loss. She looks at Harry, rests a hand on the small of his back.

“What do I do?” he asks. “What do I do?”

“You go home,” Hermione says. “You talk to her.”

***

Harry spends the afternoon wandering about the flat, cataloguing memories, trying to distinguish between what’s real and what’s been fabricated. Though, rationally he knows that’s impossible to do. Amortentia’s very nature prohibits the victim from feeling anything that’s not, somehow, influenced by the effects of the drug.

He’s cast all the standard detection spells and quite a few illicit ones. But there is nothing here. No residual magic. No traces of spell work. But he hadn’t expected there to be. After all, there is no magic, aside from the potion itself, that would explain the results Lee found.

For the first time, Harry finds he feels out of place in his own home. It’s as though he doesn’t belong here. He feels like a voyeur into some other life—a life he thought was genuine. A life where he thought he was happy.

The hallway leading to their bedroom is filled with pictures, each connected to memories he must now question, must now accept would have been very different had Gin not deceived him. He closes his eyes, fights the urge—not for the first time today—to Apparate to somewhere far away, somewhere he can pretend this isn’t happening. Instead, he takes a deep breath and looks at photographs he’s looked at countless times before.

He’s sitting beside Ginny in front of the Christmas tree at the Burrow three years before. Gin holds their matching Weasley sweaters in the air, a wide grin on her face. Harry remembers how they fucked that night, curled together in the tiny bed in Gin’s childhood room, trying to stifle their moans so her brothers wouldn’t hear.

Ginny is smiling out at him the day she’d signed with the Harpies. He’d been so proud of her. They’d celebrated that night. He and Gin, Hermione and Ron. He can’t remember ever being so drunk. It’s a wonder they didn’t Splinch themselves.

He’s laughing. They spent a week at the shore for their honeymoon. They rented a cottage on an isolated portion of the beach. They’d spent their days drinking beer and sunbathing in the sand. Their nights skinny-dipping in the waves and curled together in the canopied bed.

He stands there, trying to reconcile the conflicting thoughts and feelings in his head, but it’s no good. Each memory falls into place—crystal clear and mirror sharp—but they’re all wrong. Harry feels his nails biting into his palms; he hadn’t even realized his fists were clenched. Suddenly there’s a loud crack and the glass in one of the frames shatters; shards falls to the floor. He takes a deep breath, forces himself to calm his anger, his magic.

***

That night, there is tea.

Harry has to fight the urge to throw the cup across the room or banish it to Merlin knows where. Instead he conjures a vial and carefully pours some of the liquid inside. The glass warms to his touch and he can smell the cinnamon, as well as faint notes of other scents he now recognises: The woodsy spice that reminds him of his broom handle, of the Quidditch pitch on a spring morning. The hint of treacle, so suggestive of winter, of Christmas at Hogwarts.

For a brief moment he imagines holding the cup to his lips, drinking down the potion he knows is there. He imagines the way it would make him feel, how he would love his wife again.

His stomach churns as walks to the sink to rinse the remaining tea away.

Harry’s still standing there when Gin comes into the kitchen. The relief that washes over her face when she sees the empty teacup on the counter is enough to make Harry feel ill.

“I’ve missed you,” she begins. “Training has been a nightmare lately and—”

“I have to go out,” he says, cutting her off.

She frowns, reaching out when he moves to walk past her, but he doesn’t stop, doesn’t let her touch him.

“What? Why?” She follows him to the small desk in the den, watching as he slips several papers into a file jacket and shoves it into his messenger bag.

“There’s a lead. It might finally be the break in this case we’re working,” he lies. “I’m sorry, but I have to go.” And with that, Harry turns on the spot and Apparates away.

He considers going to the Ministry. The department will be empty at this hour, but Ron will have no problem heading his open cases for the next few weeks and he’s got the files he needs anyway, so he walks a few blocks to his local pub and takes a seat at the bar.

He nurses a pint for the better part of an hour and ignores the bartender’s attempts at conversation.

The vial of not-tea is heavy in his pocket.

***

“Mr. Jordan is correct. My results confirm extended exposure to Amortentia with,” Snape looks down at his notes, “last subjection some twelve to fourteen days ago.”

Harry nods. It’s not as though he expected Snape to find otherwise. “And can you tell when I was first exposed?”

“I can guess. But, no, not precisely. The results do indicate a degree of exposure consistent with the length of your relationship with Ms. Weasley.” Snape regards him for a long moment. “I believe you’ve already accepted that probability, however?”

Harry looks down, hands dropping between his knees. “Yes.” The numbness is still there, but in the days since Lee’s initial test and, in the face of clear signs of withdrawal from the drug, disbelief has bled into reluctant acknowledgment. Now he can’t shake the feeling of shame that sits coiled in his belly like nausea. Shame that he didn’t know, that he somehow let this happen, that he allowed himself to be deceived by the woman he thought he loved—the woman he’d planned to spend his life with.

“You were correct about the method of delivery,” Snape says, interrupting his thoughts. “The sample of tea you provided contained trace amounts of high grade Amortentia. It would have only required one drop, administered daily, to maintain the spell.” The man’s voice is clinical, matter of fact. There is no derision or mockery there. And there is no pity. For that, Harry is grateful. “And, after such prolonged exposure, you could likely go a few days—perhaps a week—in between periods of sustained dosing without noticing counter effects.”

“She was away for training,” Harry says. He remembers a memory of Merope Gaunt, convinced her husband would still love her without the drug she’d used for so long. “And then, the day she returned, I spilled the whole bloody vial of the stuff.” He looks down, twisting the wedding band on his ring finger. “I didn’t know. Four fucking years and I didn’t know.”

“The drug was good,” Snape says. “And you, despite all you’ve been through, are a trusting person. Ms. Weasley was a friend. She is Arthur and Molly’s daughter, sister to the Mr. Weasleys you are so fond of. You had no reason to question her, to believe her anything less that completely honourable.”

He is not blaming Harry, nor is he saying things merely to make Harry feel better. He’s known Snape long enough to know this, and there is nothing that will make him feel better, anyway. “Can you help me?”

Snape gives him a look. “I am the best Potions Master in England. Of course I can help you.” And there, finally, is the familiar biting edge to Snape’s tone. It’s oddly comforting.

“Will you?”

“The potions involved are complicated. They must be delivered at precise times and in specific sequence. You must agree to follow my directions explicitly and without question.”

“Yes, of course.”

Snape considers him, as though searching for something in his expression. Apparently he finds it because he nods abruptly. “The first potion requires two days to brew. Return to my office at seven o’clock Tuesday evening and we will begin.”

“All right.” Harry stands. “Thank you, I—”

“Where are you staying?”

Harry frowns. He’s been avoiding the inevitable. He knows he must confront Gin. He’ll have to move out, file for divorce. The thought makes him sick to his stomach all over again.

“You are still at home?” Snape says when Harry doesn’t respond.

Harry nods, feeling his face redden.

“I shouldn’t need to tell you how imperative it is that you avoid another exposure to Amortentia, and I will spare you the details of what would happen should you come in contact with the drug while undergoing the detoxification process. That you would risk such by remaining in your home…”

“I know, I know,” Harry says, and he does. He’s been foolish and cowardly, putting this off because he knows that confronting Gin, saying the words out loud, will make everything all the more real. And once that’s done, there will be no going back. “I’ll go to Grimmauld Place.”

***

Harry is at the kitchen table when Ginny gets home. His duffel is packed; it’s on the floor by his feet. He’s holding an open beer, but not drinking. Condensation slicks its surface, dampening his palm. “How long?”

“I’m sorry?” Gin’s standing behind him; he does not turn to look at her.

“How long have you been drugging me with Amortentia?”

“What on earth are you talking about?” Harry knows she’s trying to sound nonchalant, but her voice is pitched too high and it wavers slightly.

He has to stop himself from slamming the bottle down. Instead he sets it down with exaggerated care before pushing his chair back from the table. He turns to look at Gin. She’s still dressed from practice. Her red hair is piled on top of her head in a messy knot. Her oversized Harpies sweatshirt is streaked with mud, and her cheeks are flushed, though he’s not sure if it’s from her workout or his accusations. She clasps and unclasps her hands; Harry sees the wedding band encircling her tanned ring finger; the diamond of her engagement ring glints at him.

“How long?” he says again, voice soft, deadly.

“Harry, honestly, I have no idea what you mean.”

“Stop. Just stop.” He pulls the vial of tainted tea from his pocket. “I had it tested, Gin. And my blood confirms prolonged exposure, so you can stop lying to me.”

“Well, there must be some mistake,” she tries. “I mean, obviously there is…”

“No.” It’s all he can do not to shout. “Both Lee Jordon and Snape found the same results.”

Gin’s pale now, trembling. “Lee knows?”

“Yes.”

“So the Ministry?”

“No, only Lee. And I’d like to keep it that way, but you have to be honest with me.”

When she sits down next to him, he sees wetness at the corners of her eyes. She wipes at them with the back of her hand.

“How long?”

Gin makes a strangled sound and, for a moment, Harry doesn’t think she’ll answer.

“Two months after the war.”

Though Harry already knew—of course he did—the words still feel like a Bludger to the gut. He takes a swig of lukewarm beer but it does nothing to loosen the knot in his throat. “Why’d you do it?”

Gin stares at him, brown eyes wide, disbelieving. “Don’t you know?”

“Know what?” His voice is sharp, but he can’t help it; he’s so angry he could spit. “Know why you would use a Class F mind altering substance—an illegal one, at that—with the intent to coerce me into a sexual relationship? A relationship in which you’ve continued to deceive me, to drug me daily through four years of marriage.”

“Harry, no…” Her face is streaked with tears now. She’s shaking her head. “No… That’s not how it was. You have to understand.”

“Understand?!” Harry’s yelling. His voice hurts; his throat feels dry, raw. “You want me to understand?”

“I love you! I’ve always loved you.” The words come as a sob and Harry knows—he knows—she means it. It’s enough to make him crave the Amortentia again. Anything to make this gut wrenching pain go away.

“And you love me. You do. I always knew we were meant to be together. All I did was ensure it happened. You have to see that. I just needed to make sure.”

Harry feels as though he’s unravelling. Sitting here beside the woman he thought he loved. The woman a part of him still desperately wants to.

“Don’t you see?” She’s pleading now.

“But you didn’t even give us a chance. You doomed us from the start.” Harry’s eyes burn and his chest aches. His arms, legs feel heavy as he stands, and for a moment he wonders if he might Splinch himself. But he picks up his bag and focuses his magic. And even as Ginny is crying out, is begging him not to go, he turns on the spot and disappears.

***

Harry arrives at Hogwarts a few minutes early. Rather than head straight to the dungeons, he takes a detour by way of the headmistress’s office. The gargoyle admits him without question; Minerva has become lax in her old age.

“Harry,” she says when he appears at the top of the stairs. She’s seated at her desk, looking up at him above her spectacles. “So good to see you. Tea?”

She’s already reaching for the teapot. His stomach lurches. “Er, no. Thank you, but I only stopped by for a minute. Professor Snape is expecting me.”

“Severus?” A smile flickers across her expression. “Do you have a case for him?”

“Yes, and from the look of it, it could take a while. I hope that’s all right.” Snape has consulted on cases before and, while Harry hates to lie to Minerva, he can’t tell her the truth. Still, as headmistress, she needs to know that he’ll be occupying a considerable amount of her Potions Master’s time over the next few weeks.

“Of course it is.” She takes a sip of her tea, delicate china clinking against the saucer when she sets her cup down again. “Severus already does more than his share for Poppy and for me, and I know it won’t distract from his teaching. Besides, it will do him good to have a bit of a challenge.”

“The potions involved are supposedly quite complicated,” Harry says. “Lee suggested I ask Snape for his expertise.”

“Mr. Jordon is still your resident Potions Master, then?”

Harry nods. “Yes. And he’s wonderful, but we’re overloaded and understaffed, as usual. Lucky for me, though, I’m allowed to consult outside sources per my discretion.” Harry glances at his watch. He needs to head to the dungeons. “I have to go,” he says, standing. “Thank you.”

“Any time. And Harry?” She stops him as he reaches the stairs. He turns back. “If you’re going to be hanging about the castle, I expect to see you in the Great Hall for a meal or two.”

He smiles. “Absolutely.”

***

He arrives at Snape’s office right on time. The door is open. A student stands before Snape’s desk. Snape is pointing at the textbook open between them, an exasperated look on his face. “Ah, Mr. Bonham,” he says, noticing Harry, “I’m afraid I have a more pressing engagement. We will have to finish this…scintillating conversation at another time.”

Mr. Bonham looks as though he might protest, but he apparently thinks better of it, grabbing his book and shoving it in his bag. “Thank you, sir.” The boy’s eyes widen slightly when he sees Harry, but thankfully he says nothing as he slips past into the hall.

“Sorry to interrupt,” Harry says, taking the seat opposite Snape.

“Not at all,” Snape says. “You were expected and Mr. Bonham had outstayed his welcome.”

Harry laughs. “Complaining about his marks?”

“Perpetually.” Snape shakes his head. “Mr. Bonham, in his constant need to seek validation, reminds me a bit of your Ms. Granger when you were students.”

The comment irritates Harry, and he feels immediately protective of Hermione. He’s about to snap back in her defence when Snape continues: “Though Ms. Granger was, even at that age, exceptionally talented and well-deserving of the praise she sought. Mr. Bonham is...”

“Lacking experience?” Harry offers when Snape seems unable or, perhaps, unwilling to label his Slytherin.

Snape snorts, the hint of a smile curving his lips. “To put things mildly. Now,” he says, taking a vial from his drawer, “your first potion.”

Harry takes it. The glass is warm to the touch, and the liquid inside a milky white. He holds it up to the light, turning it between his fingers.

“If you’re attempting to determine its taste based on sight alone,” Snape says, “I’ll spare you the trouble. It’s unpleasant.”

Harry grimaces. “Figured as much.”

“Drink it all.”

Harry does and has to force himself not to gag. “Unpleasant was quite the understatement.”

“In a quarter hour, you can have some water.” He is watching Harry closely, though Harry’s quite certain he’s more concerned about the potential waste of his potion should Harry sick up than Harry’s discomfort. Knowing what Hermione told him about the brewing process involved, however, Harry can’t blame him.

After a minute or two, Snape must decide that the potion isn’t due for a reappearance.

“You might feel some light-headedness, mild nausea, or cramping. Anything more severe, Floo me.”

“All right.” Harry nods. His head swims as he stands. He reaches out, steadying himself on Snape’s desk, aware of the man’s eyes on him. “When do I come back?” he asks, once the room has stopped spinning.

Snape looks at the clock. “I need to draw your blood tomorrow precisely at two. I have class at that hour, but I will step out to attend to you. Don’t be late.”

“I won’t,” Harry assures, turning to leave. He stops when he gets to the door. “Thank you, Professor.”

The man nods once before looking down at the essays on his desk. Harry slips out, closing the door behind him.

***

The results of his blood draw must be satisfactory, for Snape merely jots a note in the ledger on his desk and says, “I must return to class. You will take your next potion in one hour. Wait here.”

Harry does as he’s told. He considers scanning the bookshelf for something to read, but Snape’s worn leather sofa is comfortable and he doesn’t feel good. It’s nice to close his eyes. He must fall asleep because, in what seems like moments later, he’s startled by a hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry,” he says, pulling himself into a sitting position. “I didn’t mean to—”

“It’s fine, Potter,” Snape says, and his words sound almost kind. “I don’t imagine you feel well.”

“No,” he answers truthfully. “But I haven’t felt good in weeks. I don’t think yesterday’s potion made things any worse.”

“That will likely change. The potions become increasingly harder to tolerate, the side effects more severe. I’m afraid it’s unavoidable.”

“I know,” Harry says. “It’s okay. I’ve been through worse.”

“Yes, you have,” Snape says. And does Harry hear a twinge of sadness in Snape’s voice? Before he can analyze the man’s tone, though, he’s handed a vial. Today’s potion is a serpentine green. It would be pretty, if it weren’t smoking ominously.

“All at once?” Harry asks.

“Yes.”

He downs it. At first he tastes nothing. And then, fuck. His throat burns and his eyes water. “Shit,” he sputters. Snape hands him a glass of water. Harry gulps at it.

“Slowly!”

When he’s done, Snape takes the glass from him. Harry wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. “That was—”

“Unpleasant, yes. I’m sure it was,” Snape says dryly. “Now, I recommend staying still for the next half hour or so. You can rest on my couch if you like. I’ll be back after my class for your next dose.”

“Next dose?” Harry’s not sure he’ll recover from the first.

“Yes. There are three.” And with that, Snape turns, striding from his office, robes billowing behind him.

***

That night, Harry’s owl is sitting on the kitchen table when he returns to Grimmauld Place. Kreacher has got him a bowl of owl snacks; he has got one in his beak. When he sees Harry, he tilts his head back, popping the treat into his mouth, then he ambles over to nip at his shoulder, the collar of his jacket, affectionately.

“Hey, boy,” Harry says, ruffling the owl’s feathers. “It’s good to see you, too.” And it is. It was three years after the war, after he lost Hedwig, that he was finally ready to get another owl. He’d gone to Eeylops alone. And rather than gravitate towards the juvenile owlets as so many did, Harry found Alaric, an older brown owl who’d been overlooked by shopper after shopper. Where Hedwig had been boisterous and social, Alaric is quiet and reserved. But he is friendly and clever. He is devoted to Harry, and he filled a void Harry hadn’t even known was empty.

“What have you been up to?” he says, scratching Alaric’s plumage. “I haven’t seen you in a few days.”

Alaric hoots and stretches out his leg for Harry to take the letter. It’s Ginny’s handwriting; his name is neatly printed on the envelope. For a moment he considers ripping it in two, tossing the halves in the bin and forgetting about it. But he knows he won’t. Instead he sets the letter on the worktop and goes to the fridge. He ignores the beer: Snape said no alcohol. Instead he grabs a bottle of sparking water. He sits down again, takes a long swallow, and then opens the letter.

It’s brief. Harry, I love you. Please come home. We can talk. If you’ll let me explain, I know everything will be okay. Please. Love always, Gin.

Alaric is watching Harry expectantly. “No response today,” he says, more to himself than his owl. There are, after all, one hundred things he’d like to say to Gin, none of which he should. “You can deliver a letter to Hermione for me, though.” Alaric perks up at that. Harry knows he likes visiting Pig. Although the two owls couldn’t be more different, they’ve always got along swimmingly.

He writes a brief note to Hermione, letting her know where he’s staying and how the first two days of his treatment are going. He knows she will have an entire list of questions for him; no reason to get carried away now, when she’ll undoubtedly follow up with him later.

He Floo’d Ron the afternoon before he talked to Gin, before he moved out. It was nearly as difficult as confronting Ginny. After all, Ron couldn’t believe his sister capable of what she’d done any more than Harry could. But Ron was his best friend and he’d be there for Harry no matter what. Harry’s not sure how they’ll manage to get through this mess, but they will somehow.

“I was waiting for you to Floo,” Ron had said, when his face appeared in the flames. And the rawness in his expression told Harry he already knew.

“Hermione told you?”

“Yes.”

Harry had never wanted to hug Hermione more than he did then because even though he’d told her not to tell Ron, had made her promise not to tell him, he was so grateful she had—so grateful he didn’t have to be the one. Hermione knows Harry so well. She knew he’d never ask that of her—to share his devastating news, to have that heartbreaking conversation with her husband, to tell him things he would never want to hear. But she did it anyway because it’s exactly what Harry needed of his friend

“She wasn’t going to, mate,” Ron said, sadness and resignation plain in his voice. “But I knew something was wrong. I made her tell me. Fuck, Harry.” He’d run a hand through his hair and looked down; even in the green glow, Harry could tell he’d been crying. “I take it Snape confirmed the results?”

“Yeah.”

There’d been a long pause, but then Ron had nodded. “Okay. So what can I do?”

And that was that.

Of course there were a million things that could be said, but they didn’t need to be. Ron was Harry’s best mate and he always would be. So they talked about their open cases and about what Ron would need to do in Harry’s absence.

***

The following evening, Harry barely makes it back to the house before he sicks up all over himself. The third round of potions was brutal. He casts a quick cleaning charm before stumbling down the hall and into the bathroom. He spends the majority of the night hunched over the toilet. When he does manage a few hours of sleep, it’s plagued by bad dreams.

He knows that his mind is working to sort through memories now that his interpretations of them have changed. But it’s nightmarish, being bombarded by images from his old life, images that his dreams and the drug have distorted into strange facsimiles of what they once were.

He wakes in a cold sweat, pale morning light seeping through the curtains. For a moment, he thinks he’s going to vomit. But he manages one deep breath and then another and, while his stomach aches, the nausea fades.

Harry lies in bed staring at the ceiling for a long time. He doesn’t want to risk getting up, for fear of being sick again. Not to mention the headache that presses at the back of his skull. His body, his brain is treacherous. Even he doesn’t seem to know the footing. Not anymore at least.

The potions are affecting his memories. He knew it would happen, as his brain tries to make sense of things without the distortion of Amortentia. But it still feels as though he’s going mad. His interpretation of the past is changing. It’s subtle at first, as the cloud of manufactured love begins to lift. But he’s already starting to see things with a clarity he didn’t realise he was missing.

He knows now that there were experiences he missed, opportunities he passed because he wanted nothing but to be with Gin.

And he has to wonder how many of his relationships—his experiences with colleagues, friends and acquaintances—were dulled by the drug, by the blinders it created to everyone but Gin.

Harry tries to remind himself that he was happy—fake happiness is still happiness, after all—but it’s a hollow consolation.

***

“You look like death,” Snape says when Harry arrives that afternoon for his appointment.

“Death would be an improvement, I think.”

Snape frowns. “Are you feverish?”

“Yes, I think so.”

Snape moves from behind his desk and draws his wand. He taps it against Harry’s forehead gently. “Your temperature is high, but not abnormal for this stage of the detoxification process. As miserable as you, no doubt, are, it means the potions are working. Your body is responding appropriately.” He takes his robe from the back of his chair. “Come with me.”

He follows Snape down the hall. A few students mill about. They nod politely as Snape walks past, mumbling “Good evening, Professor,” and other appropriate pleasantries. Harry keeps his head down. He feels like shit and knows he looks even worse. He’d prefer not be the topic of conversation in the Slytherin common room later. After all, while it’s not entirely uncommon for Harry Potter to be at Hogwarts on official business, he typically looks more like an Auror and less like a poisoning victim.

“Tonight’s potion must be taken in two stages,” Snape says when they reach his lab. There’s a cauldron bubbling on the burner, steam wafting upwards. The room smells faintly of cinnamon; it nearly makes Harry retch.

“That’s not...” he says, taking an involuntary step backwards.

“No,” Snape says regarding Harry for a moment. “But you remember the basic principle to concocting antidotes.”

“Yes,” Harry breathes through his mouth, trying not to get a scent of the not-Amortentia simmering on Snape’s workspace. “Specifically tailored antidotes require a sample of the poisoning agent,” Harry says, repeating words from a textbook he memorised long ago.

“Correct.” He walks over to the cauldron, dips a ladle in. “You will likely be averse to those scents for some time. And, once we’ve completed your treatment, I imagine, you will find—should you encounter Amortentia again—it will smell different.”

Harry perches on the edge of Snape’s lab table, watching as the man adds something iridescent to the potion. “What do you smell?” he asks.

Snape looks at him and, for a moment, Harry doesn’t think he’s going to answer. After all, the question is rather personal. But then the man closes his eyes, breathes deeply. “I smell fresh herbs. I smell books. And I smell rose oil.”

“Rose oil?” Harry asks, curious.

“My mum,” is all Snape says. But Harry thinks he understands. He saw enough in the brief snapshots of memory to know that Snape did not have a happy childhood. But he also knows that Eileen Prince, despite everything, loved her only child desperately.

“I smell my broom. It makes me think of flying, of Quidditch. And I smell treacle.” He laughs. “I don’t even like it that much, but it makes me think of Christmas at Hogwarts. I never had a happy Christmas until I was here.”

At that, Harry thinks he sees Snape smile. “Treacle is repulsive. But I, perhaps, share your sentiments of the castle at Christmas time.” He stirs the potion three times before measuring a portion into a silver cup. Snape then walks to the fireplace, taking a pinch of Floo powder from the tin on the mantel. He hears him ask the kitchens for some ice and a pitcher of water. A moment later, a house-elf appears with a tray.

“Here is your things, Master Snape,” the elf says, setting the tray down and disappearing again with a loud pop.

Snape uses the silver tongs to take two cubes of ice from the bowl. He drops them into the cup one at a time. The potion hisses and still smells of cinnamon. “Here,” Snape says, handing it to him. “Sip it slowly.”

Harry does. Thankfully it tastes nothing like tea. In fact, it tastes like nothing at all. When he is done, Snape pours him a glass of water and Harry drinks that too.

“What else do you smell?” the man says. He’s turned back to his worktable; he’s stripping herbs off their stems.

“Pardon?”

“Typically people smell three—sometimes four—distinct scents when exposed to Amortentia. You only listed two.”

“Oh, yeah,” Harry says, watching the man’s hands as he chops small, green leaves. “Cinnamon. I smell cinnamon.”

When Snape is done chopping, he adds the ingredients to the potion and covers it; steam collects on the underside of the glass lid. “Cinnamon?”

“Yes.” Harry looks down, traces the toe of his shoe along the stone floor. “I don’t know why, but it makes me think of my mum.”

Snape is quiet for a long moment. He takes a towel and cleans the knife, wipes down his workspace. “Lily always liked cinnamon tea.”

***

“How are you doing?”

Harry shrugs. “Not great, but that’s to be expected. It’s not as though I haven’t felt worse.” He laughs. “I mean Snape’s potions have nothing on that bloody Horcrux, or half the curses I’ve been hit with, for that matter.”

Hermione smiles, but it doesn’t reach her eyes. She’s in the armchair next to the parlour window, feet tucked beneath her.

Harry’s sitting cross-legged on the sofa. The telly’s on. Some football match Harry has no interest in. “Fever’s gone for the moment, anyway,” he adds. “And I’ve got used to the nausea.”

She nods. “But how are you doing, Harry?” she asks again. And he knows she isn’t talking about his physical condition.

“It’s hard,” he admits, looking down at his hands. “Really hard. I loved her. I mean, obviously I did. That’s the fucking point, after all. But I think I could have loved her anyway. It just doesn’t make sense.” He looks up again. He needs some paracetamol...or a beer, but neither is on the evening’s approved list, unfortunately. “We were already friends. She’s Ron’s kid sister. I think people expected us to end up together. I’ll just never understand why she did it. Why she ruined any chance we could have had of having a real relationship.”

“I don’t know, Harry. I don’t know.” Hermione stares out the window. He can hear cars down on the street below. There’s a blare of a horn, the squeal of tyres.

“But then sometimes I think, maybe, she knew something I didn’t. A reason we’d never have ended up together had she not done what she did.”

Hermione doesn’t respond, but he thinks she might understand.

Harry’s been thinking more and more about the dreams. They’ve only become more frequent now that the potions are flushing the Amortentia fully from his system. And rather than bother him as he thinks they probably should, it’s as though those visions of himself with another man have shifted his perception and caused something he didn’t realise was out of joint to fall into place.

“How’s Ron?” Harry asks, changing the subject.

Hermione sighs. “He’s still furious at her, of course. He alternates between wanting to arrest her himself and admitting that would be a truly stupid idea.”

“Yeah, it would.” Harry isn’t going to press charges. He’ll divorce Gin quietly. Sure, it will be splashed around the papers. He is Harry Potter, after all. But no one can know the reason. She needs help, not Azkaban. And there’s no reason to destroy his own career—and likely Ron’s as well.

***

Harry spends the morning reviewing old cases.

Since he became Head Auror, his office has headed fifty-two cases that resulted in convictions. And of those, he personally took the lead on twenty-six of them.

His head is pounding, but he manages to get through four files before he has to leave for Hogwarts. It’s disconcerting how his memory is altered—not just from the passage of time—but from the absence of the drug. Still, in these, at least, everything checks out.

There are countless other cases, of course, in which he played an instrumental role before he took over the department. But on those his superiors reviewed and signed off on all final reports. Had he made any egregious mistakes or demonstrated an error in judgement someone would have, presumably, caught it.

He slips some files into his bag before Apparating; there’ll be time between his blood draw and potion for him to go over a few more.

Snape isn’t in his office when Harry arrives. He must still be in class. Harry sits down cross-legged on the sofa and pulls one of the manila file jackets from his bag. It’s a dark artefacts case. Nothing appears out of order or suspect. Two people ended up in St. Mungo’s after handling the same trinket at an estate sale in Kensington. Significant spell damage to both victims, ultimately resulting in one fatality—a Ms. Marjorie Moran, thirty-one, of West Sussex. The seller had no recollection of how the trinket ended up at her sale; she couldn’t even remember seeing the item before. Harry had run a trace on the magic, however, and his team had been able to run down the suspect fairly quickly.

Now, as he reviews the evidence report and the transcripts from interrogation, he remembers the decisions he made, the magic he used, and he can see the shadow of Ginny there. He knows a part of his brain was always focused on his wife, but he doesn’t think it clouded his judgment or obscured his sensibilities.

But then again, maybe it did. How would he know?

He leans back against the sofa cushion, pushing his glasses up to rub at his eyes. He’s used to the headache by now, but living with the perpetual pain is all too reminiscent of the years his scar ached constantly. And each throb in his skull sparks memories he’s worked hard to suppress. That fucking Horcrux… It’s enough to make him nauseated—if, of course, he weren’t already so.

The door opens and Snape is there. His teaching robes smell distinctly of smoke, and his scowl is even more pronounced than usual.

“Good class, I take it?” Harry says with a grin.

Snape rolls his eyes. “If I had my way, every Hufflepuff fourth year would be banned from my laboratories permanently.” He takes his robe off and tosses it over the back of his chair. “Minerva, however, does not agree. Arm,” he says without preamble, and Harry complies, offering his left forearm. Snape taps his wand to Harry’s skin. Blood wells up from the cut, and Harry grimaces as Snape collects it into a vial.

“I’ll be back in one hour,” he says, stoppering the sample. He grabs a spare robe off the hook by the door and leaves without another word.

Harry presses his palm to his arm, feels the prickle of healing magic as the skin knits back together. Then he pulls another file from his bag.

***

“What are you working on?” Snape asks. He’s crouched down in front of his bookshelf, scanning the titles. He must find what he’s looking for because he pulls out a slender text and stands again, turning to sit down at his desk.

“I’m reviewing old case files.”

“I thought you were on leave.” Snape takes a piece of parchment and bottle of ink from the drawer. He does not look at Harry.

“I am. I just—” Harry hesitates. Snape knows he doesn’t intend to press charges against Gin, knows the obvious repercussions he’d face should this...situation become public. But Harry’s not sure he wants Snape to know the extent to which he could have compromised the Auror department. “Well, it’s a mind alterant, isn’t it? I’ve been Head Auror for eleven months now. Do you know how many cases I’ve overseen? How many convictions I’ve secured?”

“Quite a few, I presume,” Snape says; he couldn’t sound more uninterested. He makes a note on his parchment and turns the page in his text.

“Right... Quite a few. And we’re talking people’s lives here, Snape. Their freedom. If my judgement was impaired, if I made a mistake or missed something because of that drug...” He closes his eyes, presses his fingers to his temples. “It’s not just my job—though I’d lose that for sure—but the whole department would come under fire, every case I’ve worked, every sentencing I’ve played a part in.” He shakes his head and picks up the file again. “I just have to make sure.”

Snape closes the book and looks up at Harry. “Mr. Potter, while it pains me to say this, you are a capable and talented wizard. I am reasonably confident in your ability to head that department of yours, with or without Amortentia.”

Harry snorts. “Reasonably confident? Thanks, Snape. From you that’s high praise.”

The man actually smiles, a slight curve of thin lips. “Any time, Mr. Potter. Any time.”

***

Harry likes watching Snape work. It’s calming and there is something incredibly soothing about the precise movements of the man’s hands as he slices ingredients, measures them carefully, stirs them into the bubbling cauldron. And, in contrast to the Potions classrooms, Snape’s personal lab is not musty. There are no noisome odors here. Rather, the air smells faintly of spice, of herbs, and of smoke.

He’s curled up in the solitary armchair by the fireplace, far enough back from the man’s workspace so as not to be in the way. Harry feels as though he’s come down with a bad case of the flu...or been trampled by a herd of Hippogriffs.

“An entirely normal and expected side effect,” Snape assures. “Though, do try not to sick up in my lab.”

Harry is here because this potion must also be administered in stages at precise points throughout the brewing process. Timing is of vital importance, so here he sits, waiting for Snape to ladle up his next dose.

***

Ron joins him for lunch in the Great Hall the following afternoon. A case he’s working brought him as far north as Aberdeen that morning, and he sent Harry a Patronus asking if he was at the castle. Harry wasn’t, but he’s spent enough time alone in the library at Grimmauld Place or sitting at the kitchen table while Kreacher frets over his lack of appetite. He needs to be at Hogwarts that evening anyway, so he Apparates to the point just beyond the main gates and walks across the wide lawn to the castle’s doors. Ron is waiting in the foyer and together they go to the entrance hall.

Minerva smiles when she sees them and Harry enjoys catching up with Hagrid and talking Quidditch with Madam Hooch. Ron is quieter than usual but it’s nice to sit beside him. They don’t talk about Ginny, of course, but he fills Harry in on recent case developments, and they get into a spirited discussion with Flitwick about the usefulness of certain charms in spell detection.

Harry doesn’t eat much. Snape has instructed him to eat what he can, but it’s difficult to do so, feeling as sick as he does. He sips at some vegetable broth and has a bit of bread while Ron polishes off several meat pasties and a large serving of boiled potatoes and greens.

Harry finds his eyes drawn to Snape. He sits at the end of the table next to Sinistra. Harry watches the man’s hands as he cuts his food, knife moving over meat and vegetables with the same graceful precision as Harry’s seen in the lab countless times before. He watches Snape’s mouth as he brings his fork to his lips, his throat as he swallows. Sinistra leans close to him, says something that makes Snape laugh. It’s a warm and genuine laugh. Harry finds himself irrationally jealous of her. Snape isn’t the type of man to have many friends, but he’s envious of the easy rapport Sinistra appears to have with him, the casual nature of their conversation.

“Harry? Harry?”

“What? Oh, sorry,” Harry says, realising Ron has been trying to get his attention.
“I’m a bit out of it these days.”

“No worries, mate,” Ron says, following Harry’s gaze down to the end of the table. “So, how’s the bastard treating you?”

“Bastard?” Harry frowns.

“Yeah, I know he’s helping you out and all, but having to spend so much time with Snape…” He shakes his head, the look of distaste plain on his face. “I know I’d prefer desk duty. Or Knockturn surveillance!”

“Oh...” His comments bother Harry, though he knows they shouldn’t. He and Ron have called Snape a bastard or worse for years. But now... “It’s not like that anymore,” he says. “It’s not as though he’s going to win any congeniality awards or anything. But he’s almost pleasant sometimes, now that he’s not playing spy to Voldemort and likely to die at any given moment.” Harry laughs, though there isn’t any humour there. “That alone can do wonders for your mood. I can attest to it.”

Something sad crosses Ron’s expression, but then he smiles and pats Harry on the back. “’Sometimes he’s almost pleasant...’ Now that’s quite the endorsement, there.”

And Harry has to smile too because when you put it like that... “I know.” He draws his thumb around the lip of his water goblet. “And he’s still Snape. But this process… Ron, you can’t even begin to imagine the potions involved. And the amount of work he’s done, the hours he’s spent.” Harry hears the anxious edge to his voice, but he can’t help it. Once again, he feels the sickening wash of guilt, of shame welling up—that he let this happen, that he’s been such an imposition on Snape, taken up all his free time and then some. And on Ron, too, who’s had to cover for him in his absence.

“Harry, mate, stop.” Ron’s voice breaks through his thoughts. He places a reassuring hand on Harry’s arm. “You’re worth it.”

Harry’s brow furrows as he tries to make sense of the words. Ron’s looks at him, his eyes kind. “You’re worth it.”

At the end of lunch, Harry walks with Ron to the main entrance, then he turns towards the dungeons. He catches up to Snape on the stairs.

“Mr. Potter,” the man says; he does not stop or turn to look at Harry. “I do not expect you in my office until this evening. Surely there is something else you could be doing in the meantime.”

Harry stops, nearly stumbles. “Er, I…no.” There’s the guilt again. Crap. Not only is Snape forced to endure Harry’s presence every day for his treatment, but now he’s taken to following the man about like a lost puppy when he should be giving Snape a bit of a break. Merlin knows he deserves it. How thoughtless could he be? “I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking. I’ll go spend some time in the library.” He can find a cushion by the window and take a little nap. He doubts Madam Pince will mind.

“No,” Snape says. “There’s no need to inflict your presence on Irma. You may come with me.” He still hasn’t turned to look at Harry, nor does he slow so Harry can catch up. But the words are not unkind.

“Apparition is hard on you,” Snape says as they approach his office.

It’s not a question, but Harry answers anyway. “Yes.”

“And the Floo?” Snape presses his palm to the door. Harry feels the now familiar wash of magic as the wards fall away.

“Don’t know. I haven’t tried.” He glances at the small fireplace when they step inside Snape’s office and shudders. He feels like vomiting just thinking about it. “Don’t want to.”

At that, Snape laughs. “I don’t blame you.”

***

“How are you feeling?”

Harry shrugs. “Better.”

“Are you shaky?”

“Not particularly.”

“Then make yourself useful.” Snape slides a chopping board across the table. “The stalks need to be diced. The leaves finely minced.” He turns back to his own work.

Harry takes the knife; the rhythmic sound it makes as he moves it against the board is soothing. “What are we making?”

Snape doesn’t look up. “I am making your next potion. You are preparing the base for a blood coagulant. Both are time sensitive.”

“Blood coagulant?”

“Yes. Two of your fellow Gryffindors thought it wise to test the anti-Apparition wards. Both were badly Splinched. Poppy will need a new dose of both the blood replenishing and coagulation potions at six o’clock.” He nods towards Harry. “That base, once prepared, must simmer for three hours, and…” He looks at his watch. “And you must take this potion in precisely forty-six minutes. I cannot finish both at the same time. Bring that cauldron—the copper one—to a boil.” Harry does so. “Now a temperature charm. The potion is heat sensitive.”

“I know,” Harry says. “Not to exceed one hundred and twenty two degrees at any point or else the proteolytic enzymes will breakdown and the potion will thicken prematurely.”

Snape actually sets down his knife and turns to stare at Harry. The disbelief on his face is nearly comical.

“What?” Harry says. “During the war I thought it prudent to research blood potions—among other things. You don’t have to look so shocked.” Snape shakes his head, but there’s amusement in his eyes.

“Add the stalks, Potter, one piece at a time, stirring three seconds in between.”

***

“I can’t believe I don’t actually know what love feels like.”

They’re in Snape’s rooms. It’s Saturday. Harry’s taken his potion, but he’s still here. After Snape watched him drink it down, he stood up and walked to the door at the back of his office. “I’m going to have some whisky. You’re welcome to join me—for some tea, that is.” He had stopped then, looked back at Harry. “Or coffee.”

Now Snape puts down the book he’s been reading and looks up. Harry avoids his gaze. He sounds pathetic, but the thought’s been weighing on him.

“You do.”

“I don’t.” Harry stares down into his mug; his coffee is milky and pale. He’s never cared for it much, but he’s not sure he’ll ever be able to stomach tea again.

Snape stands. He takes the bottle of whisky from the side table and pours a generous serving into his glass. “Yes, you do.”

“No. I thought I did. I thought I was in love. She was my wife, Snape. I asked her to marry me. We were going to spend the rest of our lives together, but—” He lowers his head, leaning forward to let his hands fall between his knees. “I don’t know.”

“Your parents loved you desperately,” Snape says. “And you have friends who would willingly die for you. Perhaps you’ve never experienced true…romantic love…” It sounds nearly painful for Snape to get the words out, “but you know what love is.”

He looks at Snape again, surprised by the sincerity he sees there. “Have you ever been in love?”

Snape doesn’t respond; instead he downs the rest of his drink. Harry is sure he isn’t going to answer. Why would he? The question is ridiculously inappropriate and Snape isn’t one to discuss his personal life with anyone—especially not Harry.

But then the man sighs and sits down on the sofa beside him. “I have,” Snape says, “but I believe you already knew this.”

Oh, right. “My mum.”

“Yes.”

“Did she love you too?” He shouldn’t ask; he knows he shouldn’t, but he wants to know.

“She did.”

This surprises Harry, though he doesn’t think it should. He’s seen enough of Snape’s memories, after all. “And were you—did you—” he stops. He’s already crossed a line. He doesn’t need to know the details of a relationship from a lifetime ago. It’s not his place, nor his business. An echo of a memory flits across his brain, tainted by the scent of sweat, of perfume.

“I’m not sure what you’re looking for, Harry.” Harry realises, with startling clarity, that Snape has never used his given name before. The word clings to the air for a moment, heavy and full of potential. “Your mother was my closest friend. For years she was my only friend. I never imagined marrying, but there was a brief time I thought that could change.” His voice is soft, and Harry can hear the sadness there. It makes his chest ache.

Harry takes a sip of his coffee, but it’s gone cold. He sets the cup down again. “Why didn’t you think you’d marry?”

Snape is looking off into the fire, expression unreadable. Harry wants to know what the man is remembering. “My parents’ marriage was miserable. My father made certain of that.” The words are flat, but Harry still hears the anger, the resentment there. “From an early age, I promised I wouldn’t let that happen to me.”

Harry isn’t sure if he means be unhappy in marriage or turn into his father, but it doesn’t matter.

“Besides,” Snape says, “I quickly learned that marriage wasn’t for people like me.” Harry doesn’t understand what he means by that either, but he doesn’t think it right to ask.

“My aunt and uncle were miserable people,” he says instead. “But they always seemed pretty happy together. Misery loves company, I suppose.” He laughs, but it’s full of bitterness. “Any my parents, I know they were happy. I know they were.”

“Yes,” Snape says, turning to face Harry again. “They were. Your father was an arse. He was arrogant and petty. He was spoiled and he could be cruel. But he loved your mother, and he made her happier than I could have done.” There is self-deprecation there and something else Harry cannot read. Snape turns back to face the fire; he doesn’t say anything more and Harry doesn’t press.

“I never thought I’d marry, either. My aunt and uncle raised me to think no one could ever love me. And then, when I was old enough to care about girls and relationships and sex, I was too busy trying to work out how to stay alive. And then there was a war and Horcruxes. I honestly never thought I’d live past seventeen—much less to get married.” Harry is rambling. He knows he must sound foolish, but Snape doesn’t laugh or look at him as though he’s an idiot. And it feels good to talk.

He doesn’t mention that he never found himself thinking about girls in that way. That there was Cho and he wanted to want her, but even then a part of him already knew…

“And then there was Gin.” He shakes his head. “Fuck, I was so stupid.” He looks down, rubs at the back of his neck.

“You were not stupid. You were deceived by someone you had every reason to trust. What she did was unconscionable.” Snape reaches out, places a palm on the small of Harry’s back. The warm point of pressure causes the air to catch in Harry’s lungs, but Snape pulls his hand away and stands.

“Was there anyone else?” Harry asks, after a few long moments. “After my mum?”

Snape actually laughs, one low bark of sound. “Yes, once. But that’s a story for another time.” He walks into the kitchen then, puts the whisky bottle into the cabinet. It’s clear that this particular conversation is done.

“Thank you.” Harry doesn’t know what, exactly, he’s thanking the man for. The potions, the discretion, the support…the friendship—because that’s what this is, friendship. He hopes Snape understands.

***

Harry’s head is pounding. He takes off his glasses and rubs at his eyes. He’s managed to work through half the stack of case files. And so far he’s found no discrepancies or loose ends. Nothing suspect, nothing to suggest any mishandlings of procedure or miscarriages of justice.

He closes his eyes and leans back against the worn brocade of the old wingback chair. Like everything else in the Black family house, it was once, surely, quite expensive. Harry opens his eyes again and massages his temples. He feels as though he’s in a fog or struggling to surface from somewhere deep underwater.

He looks out the window. Dust motes hang in the air. The sun is shining; it’s a beautiful day—crisp and clear. The type of day that’s perfect for flying. Harry groans. The thought sends a surge of vertigo through his body. He closes his eyes again, waits for the pitch and roil inside him to settle. For the room to stop spinning.

He sees stars behind his eyelids—hundreds of them. Pinpoints of light that swell and sparkle and burst in time with the pulse pounding in his ears.

Snape has assured him that after tomorrow’s potions he will start to feel better. His blood work looks good. His body seems to be responding to everything appropriately and, after this evening’s dose, only three days remain in his treatment.

Three days…

In three days he’ll be done with it. Done with the potions. Done with the convoluted memories. Done with feeling like crap.

And he’ll be done with Snape.

This gives him pause.

He should be pleased, right? Pleased to get out of Snape’s dungeons and back to his own life. His own life… But he doesn’t even know what that means anymore.

And he likes spending time with Snape.

In the years following the war, Harry and Snape developed a mutual tolerance based on grudging respect and shared experience. They were never friends, not then at least; there was too much history between them. But they worked together on occasion when Harry had a case that necessitated more expertise than the Ministry potions department could provide. And they understood one another.

And now… Now Harry finds that he enjoys the man’s company. His wit, his quiet humour, and his genuine concern for Harry.

He doesn’t want to give up this newfound friendship.

A sudden pop interrupts his thoughts and Kreacher is standing there before him.

“Master Harry,” he says, “I is sorry to be bothering you, but you is saying you wanting lunch before you is leaving?”

“Oh, yes, thank you.” In truth, the thought of lunch makes Harry’s stomach turn, but Kreacher enjoys doting on him and Harry knows he’s been worried.

He forces himself to eat a few spoonfuls of the soup Kreacher brings before Apparating to Hogwarts.

***

“I think I’m gay, Snape.”

Harry’s not drunk, but he certainly feels as though he is. The effects of this evening’s potion have left him feeling particularly lightheaded and loose-tongued.

Snape doesn’t respond. He doesn’t even look up from his marking. Perhaps it’s for the best.

“And isn’t it fucked that I’m just now starting to realise this?” He looks to Snape for confirmation, but the man doesn’t seem to hear. “But...before there was a war. And I always felt like shit because I was a Horcrux, and I was most likely about to die, so there is that.” He’s rambling, but it doesn’t matter. It feels good to put these thoughts into words, to say them out loud. “And then, after everything, just when I came up for air, there was Gin. And I just assumed that’s what love felt like.” He shakes his head. “How was I supposed to know? All my friends were coupling up, were moving on with their lives, and Gin and I, we did make sense.” He sighs loudly, flopping back against the cushion of the sofa. “Of course I’d be the one to mistake a drug for the way a relationship, love is supposed to feel. Talk about pathetic.”

“Your life has never been typical, Mr. Potter,” Snape says then. And there is no ridicule, no mockery in his tone. “I’m certain you’ll emerge from this experience, as you always do, reasonably unscathed.”

“And the liking men part?”

Snape sets his quill down and looks at him. There is something in his expression that sends a tendril of warmth curling around his spine. “There are worse things, Mr. Potter. There are definitely worse things.”

***

That night, as Harry lies in his bed in Sirius’s old bedroom, his thoughts drift to Snape. He wonders what the man is doing. Is he alone in his dungeon rooms, deep below the castle? Or is he wandering the halls, looking for students out after curfew? He knows Snape doesn’t sleep well; he never has. But the war is long over and he is no longer a spy, no longer subject to the demands of Dumbledore and Voldemort, no longer tasked with protecting the school in the face of such darkness.

Harry wonders if—when Snape does sleep—he dreams. Harry’s nightmares have subsided some over the years, but there are still times he wakes—sweat soaked and panic stricken, his heart pounding in his chest, the echo of a Horcrux throbbing behind his scar. On those nights, Gin will reach out…no Gin would reach out. Past tense. She would reach out and place a hand on his shoulder until his breathing calmed. And then she’d curl her body around his, press her chest to his back. ‘Shh, Harry, it’s all right. I’m here, and we’re all right.’

The memory stabs like grief, like loss. Even now, when the potions have all but washed the Amortentia completely from his system, he knows he’ll miss that. And he wonders if Snape would wake him when he dreams.

The thought is not as alarming or as astonishing as, perhaps, it should be.

***

“How is your magic?”

Harry frowns. This isn’t a question he expected. “Fine.”

“You are certain?”

Harry shrugs and waves a hand, wandlessly summoning the coffee pot. He refills his cup before adding sugar and cream.

Snape rolls his eyes. “Yes, because your ability to prepare coffee without your wand will surely prove essential should you come under fire in the field. What other spells have you performed?”

Harry thinks for a moment. Aside from Apparition and the occasional levitation or summoning spell, he hasn’t had the need for much magic during his recent hiatus. “Not much,” he admits. “Apparition, obviously. And minor household and personal spells. But nothing offensive or defensive since I took off work and started your potions.”

“You need to duel. That drug, with prolonged exposure, can attach itself to your magic. This is why it often becomes undetectable in basic spell assessments and, unfortunately, its removal can, occasionally, have unforeseen consequences.”

“Fuck,” Harry says because wouldn’t that be just perfect.

Snape glances at the clock. “You don’t take your next potion for twenty-four hours. By tomorrow afternoon you should feel...tolerable. Come to the castle at two. We will check your magic.”

***

If by “tolerable”, Snape means no longer feverish and vomiting, then Harry supposes he was right. He’s exhausted though. And what little sleep he got was plagued by bad dreams. He can’t imagine that, by week’s end when his potions are finally finished, he’ll feel like himself again. All Harry really wants to do is eat his approved bowl of noodle soup and curl up in his bed for a few more hours until his evening appointment in the dungeons.

Instead, he pulls an old Weasley jumper on over his t-shirt and Apparates to the spot just beyond Hogwarts’s gates.

***

Duelling with Snape is fun.

Sure, Harry feels like utter shit and can’t help but notice the curious students peeking through the glass in the classroom door, but it feels good to push his magic again. And it feels good to do so with Snape.

He’s duelled with Snape before, but the man’s magic never fails to impress him. Harry is stronger than Snape, his magic more powerful—though, perhaps not now in his weakened state. But Snape is talented as hell, and his precision, his creativity, are the best Harry has seen. The man seems to have an endless supply of magic at his disposal. Nothing is telegraphed, and no matter how hard Harry tries, he can’t predict Snape’s next move.

Snape deflects Harry’s blasting curse wordlessly, the force of the spell knocking a lab table on its side. Snape’s freezing charm shatters against Harry’s shield; it jars his teeth, but his shield holds.

“You maintain your shields wandlessly?” Snape asks.

Harry nods, funnels more magic into his shield. He’s out of breath. That Snape can carry on a conversation while duelling is absurd. The man casts a stunning spell; Harry deflects it with his left hand while directing an Immobulus towards Snape, but his shields are also firmly in place.

“And you feel as strong as you usually do?”

“No,” Harry says. “But it’s not my magic.”

“Prove it,” Snape says. Harry doesn’t recognise the spell Snape casts, but he wraps his own magic around it, neutralising its effect while absorbing it into the lattice of his own spellwork. Snape’s eyes widen slightly, but he pushes back, his magic colliding with Harry’s.

Their magic is all around them. It fills the room, electrifies the air. He’s certain the students standing outside can feel it thrumming against the walls. It’s intoxicating and overwhelming, and it feels so good. For the first time in over a month, Harry feels right again. His own magic pulses in his bloodstream and heats his skin. He feels it in his fingertips and down the length of his spine.

He casts an incendiary spell; it collides with Snape’s Confringo. He should throw his off. It should be easy enough. But Snape is strong and, where someone else’s magic would feel like a violation, twining with Harry’s in this way, Snape’s feels…enticing. He wants to draw it in closer, absorb it into his own magic, use it to amplify his own spell.

But that would be a mistake.

Instead he drops his wand, lets his spell collapse to the floor with a crack.

Snape gasps at the sudden loss of connection. It’s enough. “Expelliarmus” and Snape’s wand flies neatly into Harry’s outstretched hand.

Harry exhales. His heart is thudding and he’s out of breath. He’s exhausted, but his magic is pulsing through his body like electricity.

Snape runs a hand through his hair; his forehead is sheened with sweat. Harry holds out the man’s wand. Snape takes it and looks at him. Something in his expression makes Harry’s stomach tighten.

Afterward, they sit in Snape’s room. Snape drinks whisky, Harry coffee.

“So, how’s my magic?” Harry says with what he hopes is a winning smile.

Snape actually laughs. “Mr. Potter, I saw you perform exceptional magic when you were still an incompetent teenager. One would hope that, after years of training and practical experience on that Auror force of yours, you would have developed a modicum of skill.”

***

Harry finds himself thinking about Snape’s hands, his skin. He wants to see what he looks like underneath all those layers of black. He wonders if Snape would let him touch him, let him run his fingers down his arm, along the curve of his neck. He thinks about the scars he knows Snape hides behind the high collars of his shirts.

Harry remembers the blood—there was so much blood—sickly and warm beneath his fingers as he pressed his palm to the man’s throat. And he wonders how often Snape thinks of that night. The night they both died. The night neither of them should have come back from.

That night, when he dreams, Harry recognises the man in bed with him, and he wakes thinking about Snape’s magic. It’s familiar now—soothing, powerful, and dark—and he knows he could get lost in it. He wants to know if Snape thinks about him, if he craves the feel of his magic as Harry does his.

***

“All right, Mr. Potter, the treatment is complete.” Snape waves his wand. The blood in the silver bowl vanishes. Harry took his last potion three hours ago and Snape drew his blood. Harry waited on the stool in Snape’s lab, while he ran all the necessary tests.

“Everything looks good,” Snape says, and Harry lets out the breath he didn’t realise he was holding. “No traces of Amortentia in your system. I can assure that, whatever test those Ministry potions experts of yours see fit to run, they will not find anything.”

“Thank you,” Harry says, though words cannot express the gratitude he feels.

Snape puts the bowl back on the shelf. “I am sure you would have done the same for me.” He pauses. “If you had years of appropriate training and experience, of course.”

Harry laughs. “Naturally.”

“How are you feeling?”

“Good.” He means it. Harry rolls his shoulders, stretches his arms into the air; his back pops with a satisfying crack.

Harry notices Snape watching him, his eyes falling to the waistband of his jeans, to the thin slice of skin exposed there. Harry does not lower his arms or pull his jumper back down. Instead he twists side to side, notices the dull red that colours Snape’s cheeks, feels an echo of heat on his own skin.

Harry lowers his arms, tugs his shirt into place, but keeps his eyes on Snape.

“Right, er, yes, and you have not run a temperature in twenty four hours.” Snape stumbles over the words; it makes Harry’s stomach tighten and his skin warm further.

“No.”

Snape looks down, deliberately avoiding Harry’s gaze, and rifles through the notes. “Nausea? Dizziness?”

“Nope.”

Harry slips off the stool and goes to stand beside Snape. He feels the man tense; he’s still looking down. Harry wants to reach out, to touch him, but he’s not sure Snape would allow it, so he leans forward and presses his palms to the lab table. His hand is beside Snape’s. If he only moved a bit, their fingers would touch.

“I feel good,” he says. His voice is too high, too breathless. “I really do. Honestly, after all these weeks of feeling like shit, I can’t believe I feel as good as I do.”

“I’m glad.” Snape finally looks at him and there is something in the intensity of his expression that makes Harry’s breath catch. “You have been through a lot.”

“Yes,” Harry says, his eyes still on Snape’s. “But, perhaps, it could have been worse.”

***

“Mr. Potter,” Snape says, when he opens the door, “surely you’re aware that your treatment is over. I don’t need to see you for another two weeks for your blood draw.”

“I know, but I thought, maybe, we could get a drink. Now that I can have one, and all.” Harry smiles and tries not to act as though his heart is racing, as though it took everything he had to come down here tonight and ask Snape this. He holds his breath and waits for Snape to say no because why in Merlin’s name would he agree?

But Snape only looks at him for a long moment, mouth open in what must be surprise before saying, “Let me get my coat.”

The walk to Hogsmeade is pleasant. They are still a few weeks away from the first snowfall, but the air is brisk and cold.

Harry doesn’t say he missed Snape because that would be absurd. But his fingers itch to reach out, to touch him. He shoves his hands into his pockets and hurries to keep up with Snape’s longer strides. He thinks he can feel the heat from the man’s body as he settles into pace beside him. “I’ve filed for divorce,” he says; the words form small white puffs in the cold air.

“As you should have done.”

“She won’t protest. I mean—she wouldn’t—but it will be over soon. It will all be over soon.”

Snape’s arm brushes against his. Harry thinks it must be an accident, but the man doesn’t pull back, doesn’t step away. It’s barely a touch, but it sends a shiver of warmth down Harry’s spine.

It’s a Friday night; the village is busy. Music spills out of The Three Broomsticks as they walk past. People are gathered outside, smoking and drinking and talking with friends. Harry can smell the grease from fried pub food, and it makes his mouth water. In the week since he completed his potions, his appetite has returned.

The Hog’s Head looks the same as it always has.

There are a few other patrons here. A group of wizards play cards at one of the long tables. And there’s a couple in the corner. The man is a Muggle. Snape senses it too; he turns his head as they walk past; the movement is almost imperceptible, but Harry sees. The village is safe now, but Harry is always on alert. His job, his experiences in the war and since, assure that he never lets his guard down. And he knows Snape is the same. The man wouldn’t have survived two decades of playing the spy otherwise.

They take two seats at the bar. There’s an old man at the end, nursing a pint. He looks up as Snape and Harry sit down, but if he recognizes either of them, he doesn’t let on.

“What brings you two here, tonight?” Aberforth says, wiping down the counter in front of them with a grimy rag.

“Alcohol,” Harry says, and the man grunts in acknowledgment.

“You want your usual,” he says, and Snape nods. Aberforth takes a dusty bottle of whisky down from the shelf behind the bar and pours a generous serving into a glass. “And you, Harry?”

“Beer. Newcastle if you have it.”

Aberforth does. He pulls a bottle from the cooler and hands it across to Harry.

They drink in silence for a few minutes. The man at the end of the bar finishes his drink, puts a few Galleons on the counter and leaves.

“The Muggle?” Harry says.

Snape takes a sip of whisky; his lips are wet with it when he sets his glass down again. Harry feels the subtle press of his magic, knows he is reaching out with his mind. “He doesn’t know.”

Harry nods. While it’s not unheard of for a Muggle to be in Hogsmeade, it’s rare. Harry wonders if the man can feel the magic all around him. He’d have to, he thinks. Though, he most likely writes it off to the quaintness of the town or, perhaps, to the adrenaline of being on a date.

“She wants to tell him,” Snape says. “Though I don’t believe she’s stupid enough to do so here.”

“Let’s hope not,” Harry says. He’d prefer not to deal with that type of drama this evening. He takes a long swig of beer, enjoying the familiar burn of alcohol in his throat, his stomach. It’s been a long time since he’s had a drink.

“You are still feeling well?”

“I am,” Harry says. “Thanks to you.”

Snape grunts and downs the last swallow of his drink. Aberforth refills it without asking.

“Do you come here often?” Harry asks.

“Not particularly.”

“He used to be down here once a week,” Aberforth offers. “But it’s been a month, maybe more, since I’ve seen him. Minerva keeping you busy at that castle of yours?”

“Something like that,” Snape says. And Harry feels the man shift towards him slightly. Their thighs are nearly touching his now. It makes Harry’s throat go dry. He takes another sip of beer.

“You need another?” Aberforth says, nodding to his near empty bottle.

“Yes, please.” Harry should slow down. His head is already pleasantly light with alcohol and something else entirely. Aberforth opens another Newcastle for Harry then walks around the counter to check on the group of card players.

“When you come here, do you come alone?” Harry asks. He wants to ask something else. He wants to ask if Snape brings men…or women here to drink with him. If he takes them back to his rooms afterwards.

“Sinistra joins me, sometimes. Or Hagrid. But yes, usually I am alone.”

“You’re not seeing anyone?” Harry can’t believe his nerve. But after a beer and a half, he feels almost drunk. Besides, he has to know.

“No,” Snape says slowly. He takes another sip of whisky. When he sets his glass down, their fingers brush, a momentary flash of heat across Harry’s skin.

Harry realises that he doesn’t know how normal people do this—how they end up together. Does someone really just say, ‘Hey, I think there could be something between us. Do you want to give it a go?’ But neither he nor Snape is normal. And the thought is nearly as ridiculous as believing that maybe, just maybe, there could be something between him and Snape. After all, they’ve always hated each other, haven’t they? At least until a month—a week?—ago. So instead he says, “You told me there was someone else, once, you loved. Who was it?”

Snape is staring at the bottles lining the shelves behind the bar and Harry doesn’t think he’ll answer. But then he laughs, one quick burst of sound, and says: “Regulus Black.”

Harry nearly spits out his beer. “Regulus?”

Snape still isn’t looking at him. He’s resting his elbows on the counter, chin atop clasped hands. His expression is soft, fond, and Harry knows he’s remembering. But then he shakes his head. “Yes. Yet another reason, among many, why that godfather of yours disliked me.”

‘Dislike’ seems like quite the understatement, but Harry decides not to point that out. “Sirius always loved his brother,” he says, “despite everything.” He picks at the gold label on his bottle with a thumbnail. “I just wish he’d known what Regulus did.”

Snape turns to him; lines crease his brow. “What did he do?”

“He left Voldemort.” Harry frowns. “You didn’t know?”

“I did. He told me what he intended. And I told him he was an idiot and it would surely get him killed. Which it did.” Snape says the words bluntly, matter of fact, but Harry still hears the anger, the sadness there.

“He was really brave, though. And I still don’t know how he found that Horcrux.”

Snape sets down his glass. “Horcrux?”

“You said you knew.”

“I knew he meant to leave. Then he disappeared. I always thought the Dark Lord had him killed.”

Harry twists his bottle between his hands. “He found a Horcrux—Salazar Slytherin’s locket. It was the defences Voldemort wove into it that killed him. But he gave the locket to his elf. Kreacher escaped before the Inferi got Regulus.”

“Inferi?” Snape looks horror struck. “Regulus found a Horcrux?”

“Yes. It was at Grimmauld Place the whole time. Kreacher kept it safe.”

“How do you know this?”

“That night…” Harry’s chest aches at the memories. It’s been six years, but the details of that night are still clear as glass. “The night Malfoy let the Death Eaters into the castle, Dumbledore took me to find a Horcrux.”

Snape is tense beside him; his fingers are clutching his glass so tightly it could shatter.

“He knew where it was hidden—the locket—there was a cave with a lake. And, Snape, I’d never seen such magic. But I understand now. There was a blood contract; Dumbledore said it was an exchange. But it wasn’t what I thought it was. He had to die. From the moment he gave his blood to open that door, he had to die. Then he poisoned himself to get that locket, but it wasn’t the real Horcrux. Regulus had taken it years before.”

In the flickering light of the pub, Snape’s skin looks paler than usual. Harry wants to reach out, to place a hand on his arm, on the small of his back, but he doesn’t. He picks up his beer instead, takes the last swallow. “You cast the spell,” he says then, voice low. “But he was already dead.”

Snape shudders, sucks in an audible breath.

“I’m sorry,” Harry says. “I shouldn’t have said anything. I didn’t mean to upset you. But those spells… I still can’t believe Regulus, at eighteen, got past them. Even with Kreacher’s help.”

Snape takes a deep breath, and then another. “That’s all right. I’m glad I know.” He is staring down into his glass; he does not look at Harry. “Regulus always was an idealistic fool.” His lips curl into a hint of a smile. The words are not unkind. Rather, there is affection there and, yes, there is love. Snape picks up his drink, takes the last, long swallow. “And Dumbledore signed his death warrant months before that night.”

Snape’s memories, silver streaked and steeped in sadness, flit to the forefront of Harry’s mind.

“Gaunt’s ring.” Harry reaches out, places his hand on top of Snape’s. “It wasn’t our fault. It was neither of our faults.” Snape turns his hand over, laces his fingers through Harry’s.

Harry doesn’t think Snape believes it, is not sure he ever will. But it’s important to say the words.

Aberforth reemerges from the kitchens. He raises an eyebrow at their intertwined hands, but doesn’t say anything. Snape scowls and pulls away, leaves just an afterthought of heat against Harry’s hand.

Harry picks up his beer, but it’s empty.

“Another round?” Aberforth says.

“Why not?” Harry says and Snape nods.

“Oh! And a plate of your fish and chips,” Harry adds. “If you don’t mind.”

Aberforth grunts and disappears into the kitchens again.

***

Later, they walk through the village and down the path back to Hogwarts. They don’t talk, but Harry feels the warmth of Snape’s body beside his, watches the mist form from their breaths in the cold.

When they get to the gate, Harry should say goodnight; he should Apparate away to Grimmauld Place. But instead he leans forward, curls his fingers in the folds of Snape’s coat, and presses his lips to his. It’s barely a kiss. Their lips touch briefly, one dry press of heat. And he pulls away. “Come back with me,” Harry says. His stomach is in knots. He’s drunk, he must be. But he wants this.

Snape leans in again, and Harry thinks he’s going to kiss him—properly this time. But he only touches a hand to Harry’s cheek. “You are drunk, and I—I must be as well, since I considered your proposition…albeit briefly.”

Harry scowls. “Anyone who uses the word ‘albeit’ can’t be all that drunk.”

Snape laughs, then does kiss Harry again, one brush of lips to his temple. “Perhaps another time.”

***

Harry returns to work. Ron has handled things expertly in his absence.

He has not spoken to Gin. His solicitor is handling everything. Harry is letting Ginny keep the flat; he wants nothing to do with it. Otherwise, the process is relatively uncomplicated. Harry has signed all the paperwork; it will be a matter of weeks before the divorce is filed with the courts. Their separation made the society page of the Prophet, but it was only a small mention and neither he nor Gin had anything to comment.

Then, one afternoon, two weeks after he nearly kissed Snape, there is an owl.

It’s a big, tawny barn owl—a school owl. Alaric eyes him impassively from his perch in the corner of the kitchen, while he sits on the table eating the owl snacks Kreacher provided.

Harry’s fingers shake—just slightly—as he takes the letter off the owl’s leg. He recognises Snape’s thin, precise handwriting. Though, he’s forgone his usual red ink in favour of black.

The note is brief: ‘If you’re so inclined, I would like to request your company at dinner. S. Snape’

***

They eat at some trendy place in Soho with exposed brick, pale wood, hanging plants, and etched glass proclaiming things like ‘Bar’ and ‘Water Closet’.

Harry can tell Snape is making a conscious effort not to roll his eyes as their waiter—a bloke around Harry’s age with artfully arranged hair, dark skinny jeans, and a flannel shirt—shows them to their table.

“Where did you find this restaurant?” Snape asks, as they review the menu. It’s the type of place that serves blistered shishito peppers, baked feta with preserved lemon and herb toast, and cauliflower in curried yoghurt with pickled onions.

“Oh, Hermione suggested it.”

“You told Ms. Weasley Granger that we were having dinner?”

“No. I just said I had a date.” Harry runs a hand through his hair. “Though, on second thought, had I told her I was going with you, she might have recommended someplace else.”

“In all likelihood.” Snape picks up the drinks list. It’s printed on ecru coloured cardstock and lists at least a dozen ‘artisan’ cocktails. “At least there’s whisky,” he says. “Presuming, I can order it without egg whites, ginger syrup, or—” this time, he does roll his eyes—“sugar cubes.”

After Harry spills his overpriced IPA and manages to knock the tiny potted succulent off the table, Snape says: “You are still interested, then?”

“What?” Harry is busy wiping beer off his jeans and trying to signal the waiter for another drink.

Snape exhales. “You are interested in pursuing…” he motions at Harry, “a liaison between us?”

Harry smiles. “That’s not how I would have put it, but yes.”

“It would be unwise.”

“Perhaps.”

The waiter brings their meals. Snape ordered the ceviche, Harry the scallops with charred leeks. He cuts into a scallop; juice spills over his plate.

“You are still…recovering from the loss of your wife.” Snape says the words as though Harry is grieving. Though, honestly, that’s not far from the truth.

“I am. But never in my life have I been able to think so clearly—about this, at least. And, for the first time, I think I know what I really want.” The implication hangs between them, heavy with tension.

Snape brings his glass to his mouth, swallows, and sets it down again. Then he looks at Harry. “If you are certain.”

***

They end up Apparating to Grimmauld Place.

“Black’s room, seriously?” Snape says, the look on his face nearly comical, as Harry leads him down the hall.

“Would you rather be back in Regulus’s?” Harry asks and Snape grimaces. For a moment, he worries he’s said something insensitive, that he’s brought back another painful memory Snape shouldn’t have to relive. But then the man laughs.

“No, I think not.”

Harry presses his mouth to Snape’s jaw, and takes his hand, lacing his fingers through his. “Come on.” He doesn’t bother with the lights. Kreacher has cleaned; there is nothing to trip over, and plenty of silver moonlight filters through the open curtains. He sits down on the edge of the bed. “At first, I thought I should take Sirius’s parents’ room. But, as it turns out, they didn’t like half-bloods much. Or, according to Kreacher, anyone really.”

Snape laughs again. “No, they didn’t.”

And Harry smiles, toeing off his trainers. “Anyway, Kreacher and I have been working on clearing out the spells. But, bloody hell, there’s some nasty stuff in that room. We’ve made good headway, but I’m not sure I’d ever be comfortable actually going to sleep in there.”

“That’s likely wise.”

Snape sits beside him and begins unlacing his boots. Harry is distracted watching his fingers, his hands. His stomach is in knots; his pulse is pounding—a rush of blood in his ears. He can feel Snape’s magic, thrumming in the spaces between them; it’s intoxicating.

And then Snape turns towards him, cups his face in his hands, and Harry knows he’s going to kiss him. His mind is racing. Should he lean forward? What does he do with his hands? But Snape is pressing his mouth to his, and Harry can’t think of anything save the touch of lips, the taste of whisky on Snape’s tongue.

Snape’s palm settles on the small of Harry’s back, draws him closer, and the feel of Snape’s body against his is better than he could have imagined.

“You have done this before? Been with another man?” Snape’s words are a warm gust against Harry’s cheek.

“No.” Harry laughs. “But I’ve wanted to.”

Snape opens his mouth against the line of his jaw, the curve of his throat. “And what else have you wanted to do?”

Harry shivers, body tight with wanting. He’s already hard—so hard. He takes Snape’s hand, pulls it down between them to press at the bulge of his erection.

Fuck” Snape says, moving his hand, feeling the size and shape of Harry’s prick beneath the denim of his jeans.

“Yes, touch me.” Wanting tugs at his bones; Harry feels it in the palms of his hands, the soles of his feet, the core of his lungs. Nothing has felt this good in a very long time.

Snape lies down, tugs Harry down beside him. And when they kiss again, Harry thinks he might combust. Surely, the press of Snape’s lips—dry and chapped and perfect—is enough to tear him to pieces. Harry has been kissed before, but nothing like this. And again he notices, so plainly, the absence of the drug in his system—clouding his sensibilities, manufacturing emotion.

Everything is sharper now, clearer. It feels so real and it changes something fundamental in his very being. Snape’s tongue slips against his, and Harry thinks he feels the man shudder. He clutches at Snape’s shoulders, pulls him impossibly closer.

Snape is hard.

Harry is certain that nothing Gin ever did to him affected him the way that realisation does. It’s nearly enough to make him come.

Harry is intensely aware of Snape’s body against his, hard where Ginny’s had been soft. He is also aware of the extraordinary amount of power—perfectly controlled—just beneath the surface of his skin, his lips. He wonders if Snape feels his magic, too.

Snape is moving against him, rocking his hips as his hand continues to press against Harry’s cock. Oh god… “I could come like this.” The words come like a gasp.

“Yes…” And then Snape is unzipping Harry’s flies, reaching fingers into his pants to curl around him.

“No, you too,” Harry manages. “I want to touch you too.”

Snape stiffens, and for a moment, Harry things he might refuse. But then he sits up, begins undoing his shirt. His fingers move slowly, precisely down the line of buttons. Harry reaches out, trails a fingertip down the man’s chest. Snape’s skin is warm and soft and smooth under his touch, and he thinks he can feel the thud of his heart beneath his ribs. Snape inhales sharply, but slips his shirt off his shoulder, discards it on the floor. Harry pulls his own jumper up and over his head.

“You’re gorgeous,” Snape says, scratching a thumbnail against Harry’s nipple, smiling when he shivers. Harry feels his cheeks heat at the words. His prick is throbbing.

Snape puts a hand on Harry’s shoulder, gently pushes him back onto the bed, and Harry stares up at him. He is thin and scarred; Harry wants to trace the knobs of his spine with his fingers, his tongue. In the moonlit darkness, Snape’s skin is pale as milk. He extends a hand, touches his fingers to the puckered scar at his throat. “I’ve never seen so much blood,” Harry says, and Snape merely nods, covers Harry’s fingers with his own.

“Do you want me to make you come?” Snape’s words send a new rush of arousal coursing through his veins.

“Yes.”

And then Snape is undoing his belt, slipping worn leather through the battered brass buckle. Harry holds his breath as Snape pushes trousers and pants down his legs. The man’s cock is thick and hard and perfect, perfect. He wants to feels the weight of it against his palm. He quickly tugs his own jeans off and kicks them onto the floor.

Snape lies down on top of Harry, his body pressed against the length of his. Their cocks touch and Snape is moving, rocking his hips. Harry groans and arches up, wills the man to move faster, push against him harder. But Snape only smiles, a genuine curve of thin lips. “You like that?”

“Apparently so,” Harry says, breathless and trembling. “More.”

Harry’s entire body feels wire-taut as Snape reaches between them to wrap his hand around their cocks, stroke them together in short, quick tugs. He sweeps his thumb over the curve of Harry’s cockhead, smearing the wetness there, and Harry cries out because he’s close, so close. “Fuck, yes…”

Snape kisses him. It’s a bit awkward. Their noses bump; Harry’s tongue scrapes against Snape’s teeth. But it doesn’t matter because their mouths are wet and warm, and Harry feels the spiralling wash of pleasure in the pit of his stomach, the base of his spine. Then he is gasping and shaking, spunk spilling between them. Snape slicks his own cock with it, braces himself on his forearms, and thrusts against Harry’s stomach, the hollow of his hip. “Like you’re fucking me,” Harry says, “just like you’re fucking me.”

And Snape tenses, eyes closing, jaw clenched, as he orgasms, his come warm against Harry’s stomach, his chest.

Afterward, they lie curled together. Harry marvels at how they fit together—like puzzle pieces, like spoons. There is nothing unnatural or contrived here, and he realises how unusual, unfamiliar, and unexpected that is.

“Do you know what we should do?” Harry asks, mouth pressed to Snape’s shoulder.

“If you say anything other than sleep…” Snape says, eyes closed, voice softly slurred.

“Well yes, sleep first. But we should duel.”

“Duel?” Snape opens his eyes and rolls towards him, props himself on an elbow to look down at Harry.

“Yes. Admit it—that was fun, the other week. And now that I’m feeling better, we should give it another go.” He wriggles down beneath the covers. “I don’t really have anyone I can duel with, anyway.”

“You have an entire Auror force at your disposal.”

“I do,” he says, pulling Snape down to lie beside him again. He takes the man’s hand in his, twines their fingers together. “But it’s not the same. For one, who wants to duel the Head Auror? And no one’s nearly as strong as me, anyway. Well, there’s Kingsley, but he won’t fight me anymore.”

Snape laughs at that. “Now there’s something people would pay to see: The Minister of Magic versus Head Auror. You could sell tickets.”

“Maybe we should. My budget is appallingly small. But you’re missing the point. Your magic, our magic feels good together, Snape. And we should do it again, sometime.”

Hrmph” the man grunts, presses his lips to Harry’s temple. “We should do this again sometime.”

“Yes,” Harry agrees. “This too.”

***

Epilogue: Four months later.

Harry finds Severus at his desk. It’s late—well past office hours and the halls are empty.

The man looks up from his essays, and Harry thinks he sees the hint of a smile flit across his expression, though it could just be the light.

“It’s done,” he says. “The divorce is final. I thought we could celebrate.” He holds up the bottle of Firewhisky and Severus laughs, a warm bark of sound.

“Your idea of a celebration leaves a bit to be desired.”

“Oh, I have other ideas too.” Harry waggles his eyebrows in what he hopes is a debonair and suggestive way. Severus laughs again.

Harry waves a hand; the lock on the door slides into place.

Severus goes to object—he always does—but Harry steps towards him, reaches out to touch one finger to his lips. “Office hours are long over. I waited until I knew you’d be done. Any student still out, doesn’t have potions on their mind. Trust me on that.”

They end up in Severus’s rooms on the sofa. Severus sucks him off, allows Harry to thrust into his mouth, to come down his throat. Then fingers him open before fucking him in long, sure strokes that have Harry hard again in minutes. By the time Severus comes, Harry is breathless and shaking and it only takes a few quick tugs with his hand to come again, spunk slick and warm between them.

After, Harry pours himself a glass of his Firewhisky, and though Severus rolls his eyes, he does not object when Harry pours him one too. They sit curled together watching the fire. Harry is happy and, when he thinks about it, he nearly laughs at the wonder of it.

“Perhaps I should thank Gin.”

The look Severus gives him does make him laugh.

“I know it sounds crazy, but without her, without what she did, I wouldn’t have come to you for help, and then we wouldn’t have this.” He gestures vaguely between them.

Severus is still looking at him, though his expression has changed to something like fondness. “Your ability to find good in even the most dismal of circumstances never fails to amaze me.”

“I can’t tell if that’s a compliment or not,” Harry says, resting his head against Severus’s arm. “So thank you, I suppose.”

The man only grunts, which Harry decides is as close to confirmation as he’s likely to get.

“I still think about what could have been. The path my life might have taken...” Harry trails off, not sure what else to say.

“I believe that is to be expected,” Severus says. “Though, I imagine it best not to get too caught up in what ifs.”

Harry takes a sip of whisky, grimacing at the slow burn down his throat. “It’s funny, for years I thought I knew exactly what love was. That drug...” He takes another drink, ignoring the way his eyes sting. “That drug convinces you that you’re with the one person who can make you feel that way—convinces you that that’s how love really feels. But now I know how wrong I was.”

Severus doesn’t say anything, but he reaches an arm around Harry’s shoulder, draws him close to his side.

“You told me once that I did understand what real love was, that I would know when I truly felt it.” Harry thinks he hears Severus’s breath hitch, feels him tense beside him. He leans over, rests his head against the man’s chest. “You were right. You were absolutely right.”