Harry woke up on the morning of his nineteenth birthday, mind already buzzing. He and Ron and Hermione were going to catch a Quidditch game today—not the Cannons, to Ron’s disappointment—and then spend some time around the neighborhood where Hermione had grown up. Apparently there was someone there who could get pigeons to do amazing tricks, and a small Indian restaurant that would set your mouth on fire for the rest of your life. It was exactly the kind of day Harry liked now that he was done with the war and NEWTS study and all the rest of it, lazy and slow and normal.
It was normal until he looked into the mirror above the bathroom sink, anyway.
Something was written around his throat in delicate, precise handwriting that looked somehow familiar, in what seemed to be red ink. Harry leaned closer and frowned, turning his head so that he could see the whole of it.
In the end, though, he had to conjure another mirror that would float behind him, because he honestly couldn’t read the whole thing.
Property of the Half-Blood Prince.
“Well, fuck,” Harry said, scowling.
“It’s a soul-mark. I’ve read about them. They’re really rare.”
Ron rolled his eyes at Harry from safely behind Hermione’s head, but then ruined it by saying, “Imagine, mate. She’s read about them.”
Hermione had grown skilled at conjuring pillows to hit Ron over the head with, which she did now. Ignoring the stares they got from the others in the Quidditch stands, she leaned forwards and whispered urgently, “It means that you have the potential to have something great and world-shattering with the person whose mark it is, Harry. How does it feel?”
“Well, it is.” Harry had finally found a spell that would conceal the whole fucking thing, which he had to use another mirror to see. He rubbed at his neck and sighed. Logically, the tickle of the magic was less irritating than the itch, but he still seemed to feel it. “And you say potential, Hermione. So there’s no magical law that Snape and I need to unite or die?”
“Unite or die.” Ron snickered. “What kind of novels have you been reading, Harry?”
This time, Harry was the one who conjured the pillow to hit Ron over the head with, while Hermione said, “Of course not. Soul-marks show up sometimes when a person’s already dead or on the other side of the world. Or you might be born in the same country and time as your soulmate and still never meet them. It just means potential.”
“So instead of world-shattering Snape and I could have something lab-shattering, like.”
“What are you thinking, Harry?”
“Just this,” Harry said quietly. “You told me that Snape doesn’t have a corresponding mark, that they only appear on one person at a time.” Hermione nodded. “I’m glad. He’s been branded enough for one lifetime. So there’s no need to trouble him with it. He’s struggled with being leashed and having masters who didn’t really understand him.” Harry loved Dumbledore, but he was still a little angry with him for what he’d done to Snape, forcing the man to participate in getting Harry to die. “So I’ll leave him alone now.”
“But—what if he finds out?”
“Who’s going to tell him?” Harry lowered his voice and glanced around suspiciously. “Is there someone hiding here under an Invisibility Cloak? Does one of you have a secret correspondence with him?”
Hermione looked on the verge of conjuring a pillow just for Harry. “Of course not! But things like this have a way of coming out. And you might need help from Snape sometime in the future, or he might need yours.”
Harry snorted. “He’s out of prison and living a quiet life partially thanks to my testimony. And I won’t go to him for help.”
“Because you’d rather die than do that?”
“No. Because he’s given me enough, and I won’t ask him for anything else.”
Hermione blinked, then said slowly, “Okay, I can see that. And that might even be why the mark showed up. Because magic knows that you won’t ask anything from him or try to use him the way other people might.”
Harry grimaced. “If that’s the only reason, I sure hope Snape has something in his life that’s not just me.”
“Harry, promise me one thing?” Ron waited until Harry had looked up at him and nodded. “If you ever decide to change your mind and start fucking Snape, then learn the Memory Charm well enough that you can Obliviate me.”
This time, Harry and Hermione’s pillows hit Ron at the same time.
“Mr. Snape wants me to serve as a—reference?”
It was still unnatural for Harry to speak Snape’s name without trying to put the title “Professor” in front of it, if he was going to use one at all, but that was the only reason he was hesitant. Still, the person on the other end of the Floo seemed to interpret it differently. “Not him! No, no. We just know of his recent past, and we’re contacting people who can testify to his good qualities before we hire him as a potions contractor for the Ministry.”
Harry smiled. “He has plenty of good qualities, but he doesn’t interact well with people. Don’t put him in direct contact with clients.”
“Yes, sir. One of our other references had already said the same thing. But what are his good qualities?”
“He’s great at brewing. He’s brave, so I can’t believe he would balk at unusual requests or be afraid to test out experimental ingredients. He’s detailed and meticulous and will return potions that have picky requirements done to perfection. He doesn’t let personal feelings interfere with his brewing—”
“You have proof of that, sir?”
It was still unusual for Harry to hear himself addressed that way, but he just shrugged. “Yes. He had to brew Wolfsbane for a werewolf he hated during my school years. He always did it on time.”
“Oh.” Enthusiastic scribbling. “That wasn’t an example our other references gave us.”
“They probably didn’t know about it.” Harry leaned back. “Do you need anything else to hire Mr. Snape?”
“Well…of course some of our people are reluctant to work with a former Death Eater even with Harry Potter serving as a reference…”
“It depends on what you’re hiring for. It’s true that he’s never going to be the most pleasant person to work with. But you’re looking for someone who will do his work on time and do it perfection, right?”
“Well. Um. We’d also like to have someone who doesn’t make the trainees assigned to collect his potions cry.”
Harry shrugged. “Tell them not to write notes rife with misspellings. And if they’re too scared to deal with his messages directly, have them pass them on to someone in your department who does have thicker skin.”
Watery laughter came from the flames. “You sound like you’re rather a champion of Mr. Snape, Mr. Potter.”
Harry looked evenly back into the anxious gaze. “It’s about time someone was, don’t you think?”
Pounding on his door woke Harry at the hour of—he squinted at the numbers hovering above his wand the instant he concentrated—five in the bloody morning. He hopped out of bed and swore as he wrapped a ratty set of old robes around himself. This had better be an emergency on the order of a heart attack for Mr. Weasley or something like that.
He was already composing tirades at Ron in his head as he reached for the door handle when he identified the harsh, husky voice coming through the door. “Open up this instant, Potter!”
Oh. shit. Snape. Harry shied back and stared at the door for a second, then raced for the bathroom and a mirror even as the pounding resumed.
He hastily cast the illusion spell that he and Hermione had designed to hide the soul-mark around his throat. It shimmered and fought him for a second. Hermione had said that might happen in the presence of the person whose “mate” he was meant to be, which was the only thing that kept Harry from panicking. He took a slow, deep breath and tried again, and this time, the mark gave a sullen gleam and disappeared from view.
Harry walked briskly back towards the door and opened it, just in time to duck a flying fist. “Good morning, sir,” he said, trying to sound no more than mildly irritated. Snape being offended was better than Snape wondering why Harry sounded like he’d woken up in a panic. “Given that it’s five-oh-three in the morning, what do you need?”
Snape only stared at Harry with his brow furrowed for a second. His face was extremely red, but the color was already fading. Harry just stared back, wondering what in the world Snape had thought he would do. Yell, maybe?
“What are you wearing around your neck, Potter?”
Once again, careful thought kept Harry from freezing. He just shrugged. “A few days ago, I met with a vampire who was upset about the bill that the Wizengamot is trying to pass that would require vampires to have a wizard ‘chaperone’ when they’re trying to visit Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade.” And that was even the truth, although the vampire, one Lucy Bloodfang, hadn’t exactly tried to rip Harry’s throat open. Letting Snape infer things from the truth was better than trying to lie to a Legilimens, though.
Snape grunted and swept through the door. “And you’re vain enough to wear an illusion even when you’re asleep and alone.” He abruptly turned and leaned so that he was looking through Harry’s open bedroom door. “You are alone.”
Harry felt his cheeks flushing, but he shut the outer door and ignored Snape. “I was trying to avoid stirring bad memories.” He stared pointedly at Snape’s neck, where the scars of his encounter with Nagini were still visible. That got Snape distracted, all right.
“I would hardly have come here of my own free will.” Snape’s folded arms and glare told the absurdity of anyone ever supposing he would. “I am told that I owe my recent contract with the Ministry to your good word.”
“They contacted me to serve as a reference.”
Snape sneered at him and prowled a step closer, looking as if he was going to draw his wand any second. Harry kept a cautious eye on it. The actions of soulmates close to a marked one were unpredictable, Hermione had also told him. Snape might feel the compulsion to remove the illusion even though he didn’t understand why. “And you told me that I was perfect for the job out of guilt, of course.”
Harry snorted. “Hardly. I told them you would be a bastard to work with and they should have sensitive trainees give your messages to superiors up the chain instead. But I also said you would be a brilliant Potions brewer and you could experiment well and always get your assignments finished on time. What, did they pretend they were going to hire you as a favor to me or something? Because that’s not how it was.”
Snape stared at him with his mouth slightly open. Harry raised his eyebrows. Maybe that made him look like his dad or something, because Snape promptly clapped his lips shut and sneered again.
“And you want me to shiver at your feet with gratitude.”
“Actually, no, I want you out of my house because you woke me up at an ungodly hour of the morning and I want to go back to sleep.”
Snape studied him carefully before he turned around and walked out. Harry relaxed, and then got his wand and cast a few spells to make sure that Snape hadn’t left any nasty hexes or jinxes behind.
No. Huh. Harry shrugged and went back to bed. If that was a side-effect of the mark on his neck that Snape would never know about, he’d take it. Just as long as coming to his door early in the morning and waking him up for no apparent reason wasn’t a side-effect. Auror trainees didn’t get to sleep in all that often.
“You do keep up an illusion spell on your throat at all times, don’t you, Potter? I want to know why.”
Harry rolled his eyes into the depths of the small cupboard where he was hanging the special set of robes that he wore as a trainee for mock battles. “Just because you want to know doesn’t mean you need to, Jensen.”
He turned around, and found Keith Jensen standing way too close to him. Harry stared at him impassively. Jensen looked a bit like Malfoy, at least in the coloring department; his eyes were a deep blue and his hair a pale gold. But his personality was nothing like. He seemed ready to worship Harry for his defeat of Voldemort, and made so many flirtatious comments Harry wasn’t sure how he kept his mind on Auror business.
But Harry felt no trace of attraction towards him. He wasn’t sure if that was the mark, or just because part of him was stubbornly determined not to be attracted to anyone who looked so much like Malfoy.
“But it’s an unusual thing, isn’t it?” Jensen said in what he apparently thought was a seductive whisper. He braced a hand on the side of Harry’s cupboard and leaned towards him. “Why can’t you trust a mate with it?”
“I have trusted a mate with it.”
Jensen’s face darkened a little, but he smiled and practically crowded Harry against the wall. “Your Weasley and Granger don’t count, Potter.”
Harry opened his mouth to tell Jensen that no one who referred to his friends in that tone of voice would ever know anything about the illusion spell on his neck, but a dark, cool voice interrupted. “Inciting violence among your classmates even in the Auror Corps, Trainee Potter? Whatever would your instructors think?”
Harry glanced up and blinked. Snape stood in the doorway of the storage room, his fingers drumming on the wall. He held a steaming vial of potion that Harry supposed was his excuse for being here.
Still, it was strange. It seemed that Snape agreed with the people who had contacted Harry to serve as a reference. As far as Harry knew, he spent most of his time sending potions and messages by owls and rarely visited the Ministry.
Jensen had backed away from Harry. His face looked like whey. Harry watched him with a faint smile as he resumed putting on his normal robes. Jensen had been a Slytherin, so why he would look so terrified of his former Head of House was a mystery.
It reinforced Harry’s beliefs about his resemblance to Malfoy, though. Both in the cowardice and the looks department.
“Pro-professor,” Jensen said. He swallowed. “I—I wasn’t inciting violence in any way. Neither was Potter, actually. I was just trying to get him to answer a question.”
Snape’s heavy gaze settled on Harry. “Is that true, Trainee Potter?”
Jensen gasped beside him, probably at the sarcastic emphasis that Snape put on what was technically Harry’s proper title, but Harry only smiled. Compared to the things Snape had said to him during school, this was practically friendly. “Neither of us was inciting violence in any way, sir, that’s true. I simply preferred not to answer Trainee Jensen’s question.”
Snape flicked another glance at Jensen. He gulped and ran away. Harry managed to hold in his laughter until he was gone. “Seriously, sir, what did you do to him? Did he try to cheat on his Potions OWL or something?”
“If that had been the case, Mr. Jensen would not be standing here today,” Snape said, in that dry drawl that had always made Harry unsure if he was joking or not. Then again, no, wait, Snape had never joked during Harry’s tenure at Hogwarts. Snape placed the smoking potion on a shelf near the door that was technically meant to hold dirty gloves and leaned forwards. “But I find myself curious about the question.”
“Oh.” Harry shrugged and adjusted the collar of his robe. “He wanted to know about things that weren’t any of his business.”
“The illusion spell about your throat, I presume.”
“You presume correctly, sir. Now, if you’ll excuse me—”
Snape reached out and caught his wrist as Harry attempted to press by him. Harry sighed. He was just glad that the stupid damn soul-mark wasn’t wrapped around his wrist. According to Hermione, they nearly always went mad when the person they belonged to touched them. “Last time, I accepted it as a matter of vanity, Mr. Potter. But it has been months since the ‘vampire attack.’ Tell me why you maintain the spell.” Snape made it sound as though he had actually written the inverted commas around the words “vampire attack.”
Harry gave him a bright smile. “It’s less a matter of vanity than a matter of privacy, sir. And you don’t have to worry that I’m sneaking around behind your back at Hogwarts and getting in trouble anymore. You don’t have to know about it.”
Snape’s eyes narrowed. “I need to know about everything involving you, Potter.”
Harry let Snape see his sigh, although no sound left his lips. “You still haven’t told me why, sir.”
“Merlin knows what you’re going to get involved in that might destroy the world at any moment.” Snape tightened his hold on his wrist as Harry tugged to get his hand back. “And I want you to dispel that illusion spell now, or I’m going to assume that you have a festering sore on your neck that’s host to a plague that could kill us all.”
Harry had to smile. Why had he never found Snape this funny when he was his student? Then again, being in constant detention with him and constantly compared to his father probably had something to do with that.
And that only strengthened his determination to keep the mark from Snape. Snape would hate being tied like that to Harry. Even if he only felt like society would expect him to be tied, Harry couldn’t do that to him.
So Harry told part of the truth. “I woke up on my nineteenth birthday and found out a soul-mark had showed up on my neck, sir.”
Snape stared at him, his lips parted as if he was the one who was going to sigh. He never let go of Harry’s wrist, though. Harry was almost sure that was the soul-mark’s fault. He tugged gently on his hand.
Snape released it at once. For some reason, he was now flushed as though someone had lit a fire under his skin.
Harry shrugged. Probably one more side-effect of the mark. “I found out that it referred to someone who I can—never be with. I didn’t want people gaping at it or deciding it referred to them or pitying me if they figured out the truth, too. I want to keep it hidden.”
Snape swallowed several times before he spoke, his voice unexpectedly rough. “Soul-marks are rare and precious, Potter. I am sorry that yours is a cause of more pain than it is honor.”
Harry stared at him, then nodded. “Thank you, sir.” It seemed that Snape was one of those people Hermione had told him about who really did think of soul-marks as the best thing that could possibly happen to you.
Come to think of it, that was probably why he’d blushed when he realized that he was holding Harry’s hand. Those rather traditional people who thought soul-marks a blessing also thought that you shouldn’t touch the bare skin of someone marked as another person’s—
Property, Harry thought wearily, and walked through the door that Snape held open for him. Snape kept watching him all the way down the corridor. It made the soul-mark burn and itch, and Harry reminded himself, again and again, why he was better off hiding the bloody thing.
Snape might respect the idea in the abstract, but it was rather different as a net he could never slip out of.
Harry had thought the address sounded familiar with Auror Forman burst into the training rooms shouting for instructors and trainees and anyone else who had legs and ears and Apparating ability to follow her. And it made sense that it would be an emergency but not a huge one. Most of the regular, trained Aurors were out on other cases. This had to be something trainees and teachers on desk duty could cope with.
Only when he came out of the Side-Along did he realize they were on a quiet little street outside Hogsmeade, and that the burning house in front of him was—
Snape’s Potions lab.
Harry promptly broke into motion, ignoring the shouts from behind him, and the orders that were telling him to do something different. The mark was humming like an agitated insect on his neck. He knew without asking that it would guide him towards his soulmate, and that it meant Snape was in danger.
A broken window loomed in front of him. Harry leaped, tucked into a sphere that shattered more of the glass. Shards scraped his sides, but he ignored them, dropping immediately to the floor once he was inside the house.
Smoke billowed past him. Harry cast a charm that would purify the air as it came into contact with his nostrils and mouth, and another one that forced the smoke off to the sides so he could see. Then he drew as strong a breath as he could and bellowed, “Snape!”
A faint sound came from off to the left. Harry promptly clawed his way towards it, moving on his knees and hands no matter how much he wanted to stand up. His little Purifying Charm would be overwhelmed in seconds if he got his head into that smoke, especially since it was tainted with purple and green.
Somewhere, Snape’s potions were burning, too, and releasing probably poisonous fumes into the air.
Harry managed to get into the small side-room that looked like it contained most of Snape’s finished potions. The walls were stone and not burning—yet—but the tables were all on fire, and so were the storage cupboards, and the glass vials had enormous, randomly-colored flames shooting out of them. Snape, his face wrapped in what looked like a version of the Bubble-Head Charm, was trying to rescue a huge stack of flasks.
Harry whipped his wand forwards and floated the flasks into the air. Snape turned and snarled at him.
“Sir! Come on!”
“These represent years of experimental work!”
“I’ll bring them!” Harry held out his hand, making sure that his sleeve dangled enough so that Snape could grab cloth instead of flesh. Snape would probably refuse to touch, as he thought, the skin of someone else’s soulmate, and get them both burned in the process. “We don’t have any time!”
Snape grimaced and crawled rapidly towards him, seizing his hand. Harry sighed in relief and drew him along. All in all, this fire wasn’t as dangerous as it could have been. Magic would prevent the worst of the damage, and—
Ahead of them, a warning roar meant the roof was about to fall in.
Harry didn’t even think. He flung himself sideways so that his arms were wrapped around Snape and his foot was touching the collection of floating flasks and Apparated.
They appeared in the alley outside the Ministry entrance. Snape sat up at once, his face wrinkling into another snarl, but Harry managed to pull back from him and point to the collection of flasks that were still floating a good few inches above the ground. “See? Everything is fine.”
Snape stared at him, then at the flasks, and then back at him. He said not a word. Shock probably, Harry thought. He needed to get Snape to St. Mungo’s, or at least to some place that the Healers could look at him. Harry stood and brushed some dust off his robes.
“How are you alive?” Snape whispered.
That startled a laugh out of Harry. “The same way I got through all my years at Hogwarts, sir. Good luck and good reflexes.” He summoned his Patronus by concentrating on the fact that Snape and all his work had survived, and smiled when the stag appeared in front of him. “Go to St. Mungo’s and tell them that I’m bringing in a wizard that needs to be treated for smoke inhalation and the effect of burning Potions ingredients.”
Prongs lowered his antlers once before bounding away. Harry bent down and carefully took only Snape’s sleeve as he urged him to his feet. “Come on. I don’t know for sure what the fumes of all those burning ingredients combined with the smoke would do to you, but I’m sure it’s not pleasant.”
“I can put them in my office and keep them safe that way, sir. That is, if you’ll trust me with them.”
Snape only studied him for long moments, long enough that Harry wondered if he was going to act uncomfortable again about someone else’s soulmate touching him. Then he nodded slowly. “I will trust you.”
“Great!” Harry conjured a stretcher and carefully slid it beneath the floating flasks, then canceled the charm that had kept them in the air. When they sagged and Snape took a step forwards, Harry shook his head. “That’s only to get them there safely. I’ll fly them to my office.”
“While escorting me to St. Mungo’s at the same time?”
“Ad casam,” Harry told the stretcher, rolling his eyes a little as it took off and Snape stared after it. “A charm I developed. It’ll take the potions directly to the office, and nothing will happen to them there. My door only opens for objects like this or my personal touch, and then locks behind them.”
Snape was quiet as Harry herded him towards a more usual Apparition point. Then he said, so softly Harry could scarcely hear him, “Whoever would refuse to be your soulmate must know only your public reputation.”
Harry shook his head, not liking to hear Snape put himself down. “It’s more complicated than that,” he responded.
Just before they Apparated, he thought he heard Snape say, “Isn’t it always?”
But this situation really is complicated, Harry thought as he sat on a bed in the same ward as Snape and watched the Healers treat him for the effect of smoke and fume inhalation. The Healers hadn’t been about to let Harry escape until he underwent the same treatment. He would hate me so much if he knew how he’d be trapped.
And avoiding Snape’s hatred was something that had become…important for Harry.
“So, as you can see, esteemed members of the Wizengamot, there is no evidence proving that my clients were actually involved in the burning of the potions lab of notorious Death Eater Severus Snape.”
Harry sneered a little as he watched the smug barrister standing in front of the Wizengamot. He was a man Harry had dealt with before, named Arnold Puffevin. Harry wouldn’t have despised him so much if he hadn’t made a point of representing only pure-bloods and curling his lip about everyone else.
And if he didn’t keep bringing up Snape’s Death Eater status, as if that had been the case for more than twenty years.
“Well, you certainly present an interesting case, Mr. Puffevin,” said one of the simpering members of the Wizengamot whom Harry despised for much the same reasons as he despised the barrister. “I don’t suppose the prosecution has another witness to call?”
“As a matter of fact, we do, Madam Smythe-Blyton. May I present Auror Trainee Harry Potter?”
Gasps and unhappy murmurs swept the room for a moment, along with the clicks of cameras. Harry ignored the reporters and walked into the light from the small chair in the shadows that he’d taken earlier on. Puffevin’s face tightened when he saw Harry, but his smile remained pleasant.
“I fail to see what evidence Trainee Potter could present that has not already been presented, Ms. Bones.”
Susan Bones smiled a little. If Puffevin had had any sense, Harry thought, he would have feared that smile, coming from a witch who had already completed the intense training necessary for a Ministry barrister and was already winning her cases. But he didn’t, so Susan just shook her head a little and said, “Trainee Potter was actually in the fire while it was burning, and was treated afterwards for smoke and fume inhalation at St. Mungo’s, along with former Professor Snape. It was the treatment that brought up an interesting issue.”
“Indeed,” Harry said, in his best imitation of Snape’s drawl, which made Puffevin jump, Susan look at him with a softer, more knowing smile, and Snape probably scowl behind him. “You see, one of the poisonous fumes that the Healers had to treat me for turned out to be the smoke of burning blueshade. Deadly in small amounts, not useful for most potions, so Mr. Snape didn’t have any in his stores. But, of course, the Aurors who arrested your clients found their hands covered in the dust. One has to conclude—”
“You planted that evidence!”
Harry turned his head, his eyebrows rising a little. This is a turn of events I didn’t anticipate. One of the clients Puffevin was representing, Yolanda Jacobs, had leaped to her feet after not saying anything during the trial, and was pointing at Harry with a trembling hand.
“I don’t believe that there’s evidence of that at all, Ms. Jacobs,” Harry said, politely but firmly. “If you wish to dispute that, then you will have to present—”
“We didn’t try to murder Snape! We hate him, but we didn’t try to murder him!” Jacobs looked around, but any sympathetic members of her audience didn’t care to identify themselves. “It’s ridiculous to say that we did! And I think this farce of a trial has gone on long enough,” she continued, voice firming as though she thought no one had interrupted her because she was stunning them with her genius.
Harry waited for a second, but Puffevin was too busy trying to stare his client to death to respond. “There is also the recognition of Mr. Gorman by the apothecary who sold him the blueshade,” he continued smoothly. “It might not have been relevant, but after the evidence of blueshade inhalation found by the Healers of St. Mungo’s, the Aurors looked into the records of apothecaries that had recently sold it. In addition, we have a witness who spied both Mr. Gorman and Ms. Jacobs near the site of the fire.”
“It wasn’t attempted murder!”
Harry cast a glance at Jacobs, and then at Hector Gorman. The man, a cousin of Jacobs, was sitting with his hands tucked between his knees and a carefully blank expression on his face.
Hmm. What she says could still be true if they didn’t tell her they were going to murder Snape.
“I do have a question for Mr. Snape,” Puffevin snapped suddenly, before the Wizengamot could ask to speak to the apothecary or the other witness. “I understand that you came out of the fire almost unharmed, with a large collection of experimental potions with you. How did you manage to escape if you were suffering from blueshade inhalation in the middle of the fire?”
Snape turned his head a little and studied the Wizengamot. “Permission to answer the honorable barrister’s question?”
God, his control, Harry thought in admiration. He’d learned how to hold back his temper and follow Auror reporting structures in a lot of instances, but he didn’t know if he could have been so calm when someone accused him of trying to stage his own murder.
It made him wonder what other circumstances Snape could demonstrate that control in, but he shook off the thought as Minister Shacklebolt nodded. “Yes, you may speak, if Ms. Bones thinks it advisable.”
Susan spent a moment examining Snape as if she questioned his control, but then nodded. Snape stood and faced Puffevin. “I survived and took the potions with me because of Auror Trainee Potter’s actions.”
Harry felt as if fire was trying to eat his face from the inside. He had not known Snape was going to say that!
Puffevin frowned. “What?” Susan just looked smug, rubbing her nails on her robes and studying Puffevin.
“Auror Trainee Potter came to rescue me, running into the building despite its burning state,” Snape said. His back was turned to Harry, so he might not be aware of the fact that Harry was blushing like a maiden. Thank Merlin for small mercies. “When I refused to leave without my experimental potions, Auror Potter Levitated them, and then ensured that he was touching both me and them when he Apparated us.”
“That shouldn’t have been possible, either,” Puffevin said quickly. “I understand there were wards preventing Apparition around your shop.”
“Auror Trainee Potter tore through them. He is—quite powerful.”
Snape turned his head then, and Harry made himself meet the man’s eyes. They had a depth of warmth for a second before Snape covered it. Harry was frankly relieved. It would make Snape’s case harder to support if people thought he was biased for Harry.
Also, and this was no one’s business but Harry, seeing emotions like that in Snape’s eyes made the mark on his neck itch and burn.
“Permission to call another Auror who can testify to the state of the wards on Mr. Snape’s shop?” Susan asked, turning to face the Wizengamot.
She received it, and other Aurors testified to the wards being torn, Harry’s “suicidal” charge into the building, and to the fact that they had seen Harry remove Snape’s experimental potions from his office later. Healers from St. Mungo’s also testified to the blueshade inhalation both Snape and Harry had suffered. Snape didn’t have to say anything else as Susan skillfully made her arguments for what the penalty should be and deflected Puffevin’s inept questioning of the witnesses.
Of course, he didn’t have to sit in his chair and watch Harry, either. But that was exactly what he did.
Harry felt as if he was standing in sunlight.
“I’m not sure why you wanted me to come.”
Harry hoped he didn’t sound as embarrassed as he felt, but, well, it was strange to be standing in the doorway of what was apparently a new lab Snape had set up. This one had an entrance that looked like a cave and so many protective spells around it that it was hard for Harry to breathe.
“I thought you should have the chance to see the new environment of the potions that you rescued from extinction,” Snape said over his shoulder. He was placing flasks and vials and what looks like glasses and mugs and cups of ingredients on new stands and in new drawers.
Harry laughed, and watched as Snape tilted his head down a little in acknowledgement of that laugh. His fingers flickered and danced like insects’ wings. Harry followed them with his eyes for a second before he looked away.
“I didn’t want you to feel that you owed me anything,” Harry said to the walls. “I mean, not another life-debt or something like that. I saved you because I wanted to.”
Snape was silent, but there were no more clinking sounds, either. Harry looked at him and found Snape frowning at him over his shoulder.
“I know you did. And what I feel that I owe you is my own.”
Harry nodded awkwardly. Then, because Snape had turned back to stocking his new cabinets but also hadn’t dismissed him, he stuck his hands in his robe pockets and started wandering around the room.
It was enormous, nearly a cavern, and mostly located underground other than a small section that was being sprayed with sunlight through a window. Harry suspected there were some ingredients that needed natural light. The wall was made of joined squares of flagstone, and the walls were spotlessly clean, probably Transfigured from earth. Harry touched a sleek marble table next to him and imagined it covered with bubbling cauldrons.
“Where did you find this place?” he asked Snape.
“It belonged to Mr. Gorman, my would-be assassin.”
“Really?” Harry turned around to stare at him. “Did he give it to you in exchange for a reduction in his sentence or something?”
“No.” Snape smiled, a faint press of his lips. “There were other charges I could have pressed against him. I chose not to press them. In return, he offered this to me for a substantially reduced press.”
“Hey, good for you.”
Snape paused for a second, his eyes sliding sideways to Harry. “The embodiment of law and justice is praising my underhanded negotiation tactics?”
Harry shook his head. “I was never that. I got into too much trouble as a student. And you didn’t do anything that put anybody else in danger. That means, as an Auror, I officially don’t have to care about it.”
“And do other Aurors feel the same way as you do?”
Harry tried not to close his eyes or betray himself with a shiver. Damn, Snape sounded—deep when he talked like that. Deep was the only adjective that Harry would let himself think of.
“Not all of them,” Harry chose to say instead, turning to the side to examine the cupboard where Snape had stacked some of the cauldrons, and what looked like kegs of butterbeer. Harry suspected it wasn’t, but then, for all he knew, maybe butterbeer was actually useful in some potions. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell them.”
“I do appreciate that, Harry.”
Harry swallowed and decided not to comment on the fact that Snape had given himself permission to use Harry’s first name. No matter how much things might have changed, there was still the fact that Snape had been bound by two masters and wouldn’t want to see the stupid brand on Harry’s neck.
“So,” Snape said, facing Harry at last with one vial in his fingers, which he considered against the light and then discarded, presumably because of some flaw too small for Harry to see. “Lunch?”
“I wanted to speak to you, Auror Trainee Potter. That’s all.”
“Yes, and I appreciate the tea, sir. But we’ve also been in this office for twenty minutes without you saying why you wanted to speak to me.”
Dawlish fussed with the edge of the teacup and frowned at his papers. Harry looked away from him and tried to read the titles on the bookshelves behind Dawlish. He tried to do that every time he was in the Head Auror’s office, and so far, he still hadn’t managed to read all of them. It might be his poor eyesight, or it might be the way that the books genuinely seemed to shuffle and shift around.
“Some of your peers have suggested that you might be compromised,” Dawlish finally choked out.
Harry turned to him in true astonishment. “Really? Why? I was excused for the curses I cast during the war.” There had been some people who hadn’t wanted to do that, but then again, they would have had to investigate every use of illegal curses in the war, Unforgivable or not, and no one wanted to open that sack of Kneazles.
“Because of your closeness to Severus Snape.”
Harry rolled his eyes. “So they think he might still be a Death Eater and I wouldn’t do my duty if called upon to investigate him? But then the Ministry shouldn’t be employing him as a brewer at all, should they?”
“He works here?”
“Yes, he does.” Harry managed not to roll his eyes again; it was a near thing. “You didn’t know that, sir?”
“I…” Dawlish dug for a moment and came up with a file. Then he read a few pages and frowned while Harry tried not to swing his legs. “Says here that you recommended him.” His eyes darted back to Harry, suspicious.
“The Ministry themselves called me and asked me to be a reference for him. Maybe they expected a negative one, but I told them the truth about his brewing skills and they hired him.” Harry stared back impassively. “Is there going to be an accusation at the end of this, sir? And what for?”
“Well, as a matter of fact, another Auror trainee has suggested that you may not have the clearest mind when it comes to Mr. Snape. Trainee Jensen said that he’s seen interactions between the two of you that imply a personal relationship. That’s the sort of thing you should have admitted at the trial, Trainee Potter.”
Harry let himself lean all the way back and laugh. “Then I know exactly where this accusation is coming from, sir. Trainee Jensen wanted a personal relationship with me. I rebuffed him because I have a soul-mark.”
Dawlish let his jaw droop a bit. “That explains the illusion spell on your neck.”
Harry looked down a little. “Yes, sir. And it’s someone who’s absolutely unattainable due to the war. I want to keep it private.”
“I can see why you would. So what happened? Trainee Jensen didn’t respect that you only wanted a relationship with your soulmate?”
Harry enjoyed, without guilt, the sight of Dawlish looking as if he’d like to discipline Jensen. “Yes. And Mr. Snape happened to be nearby, on a trip to the Ministry, when Trainee Jensen pushed the issue. Mr. Snape himself deeply respects soul-marks. He told Jensen to leave me be.”
“I see. Trainee Jensen mentioned none of this. I will of course be speaking with him.” Dawlish made a note on a piece of parchment in front of him.
“Thank you, sir. Will that be all?”
“It will, Auror Trainee Potter. Though, one piece of advice. And I don’t want to advise you how to conduct your dating life…”
“But if your soulmate is still alive and not in Azkaban, might I suggest approaching her? Soul-marks are rare enough that it’s not only people of my generation or Mr. Snape’s who admire them. She might be won over faster than you’d think if you reveal it to her and explain that you bear it, and you’ve waited for her.”
Harry half-smiled, appreciating the support at the same time as he saw everything that Dawlish had wrong in that statement. The gender was just to start with. “I’ll think about it, sir. Is there anything else you needed to know about my connection with Mr. Snape?”
“No. In fact, I think I’ll be asking Trainee Jensen to attend me the minute we’re done speaking here. Of all the disgraceful things, getting upset because someone with a soul-mark refuses to date you…”
Harry nodded to the Head Auror and walked out the door of the office again, his head bent a little and his eyes closed. God, if only the situation was as simple as Dawlish thought and he just had to convince a Voldemort supporter or someone who’d betrayed him that they should be together.
Instead of never being able to approach a man he was increasingly coming to care for without ending his freedom.
“Seriously, Harry. You know how he feels about soul-marks now, and you didn’t even have to ask him! Just tell him!”
“Look, mate, I think you should. I mean, yeah,” Ron had added in response to the way Harry raised his eyebrows, “I’m not comfortable with it and it’s going to take me a long time to get comfortable, but that’s my problem. You deserve to be happy. Soul-marks are rare things, and you’ve got close to Snape anyway without even telling him. What’s the worst that can happen when you reveal it?”
That the joy leaves his eyes.
And that, Harry couldn’t bear. He could have borne it if Snape was angry because Harry had lied to him—if only by omission—or if Snape had seen the mark and said that, all things considered, they were better off in the strange friendship they’d fallen into. But he would suffer far more than he did now if he snuffed out the joy Snape had barely begun to believe he could have.
Snape would accept the soul-mark as a duty, especially if he respected them. But Harry wanted to be held and comforted in love.
That, or nothing.
So he said nothing, even though his friends continued to urge him, even though Dawlish would give his disguised neck a disapproving look every time they met in the Ministry, and even though Snape’s eyes had come to linger on it with a deepening curiosity.
If he loved Snape…
If he could love Snape, Harry had added to himself hastily. He knew he wouldn’t dare describe his feelings as love just yet.
If he could, keeping him free and happy was worth more than snatching at some selfish happiness that wouldn’t be like he was envisioning anyway.
“Enough is enough.”
Harry looked up in surprise as Snape put his wineglass heavily down on the table. They were at an Italian restaurant in the Muggle world, and Harry had noticed when they walked in how dim the lighting was, how soft and romantic the music, and how whispery the Italian words that were mingled in with the music for no apparent reason. He wouldn’t have brought them here, but it had been Snape’s choice.
And now Snape was glaring at him in a way that made Harry’s heartbeat pick up. He sighed. He knew very well that that flood of adrenaline wasn’t related to fear.
“What’s enough?” Harry sipped his wine and looked around for distraction. It didn’t help. The people sitting at the tables nearest them were all couples, holding hands or grinning at each other like fools. A little further away with a solitary woman, who cradled her head in her hands and regularly blew her nose into a handkerchief.
“You have carried that soul-mark on your neck for at least two years, am I correct?” Snape’s voice was hard and precise. “Since your nineteenth birthday.”
“Yes.” Harry frowned a little, toying with his wineglass. “What about it?”
“Have you made any effort to approach this person?”
“I already told you, they’re out of reach due to the war—”
“It is not like you to be a bloody coward, Potter.” Snape’s voice roughened, lowered. “Unless they were dead, which you have not spoken of, I would have expected you to at least ask. There are people who might have hated you during the war and who would still be honored to know you were marked as theirs. You do not understand how often soul-marks are respected by our kind.”
“No, because no one bothered to bloody explain it to me,” Harry snapped, hoping to start an argument that would get him out of the one Snape was trying to start.
Snape didn’t follow his lead. “Because they are rare and not something that is part of the ordinary life experienced by most wizards,” he snapped back, leaning in. “There is no need to explain it in detail to children who may never have one or be part of a bond. But you…you are the only one I know who has received this gift and not at least tried to pursue it.”
“No more impossible than your saving my life and my not resenting you for it. Go, Potter,” Snape said, and stood up abruptly. “Find your soulmate. Try to at least convince her that you would spend your life with her and that the war need not stand between you forever.”
“That shows how much you know,” Harry said before he could stop himself. “It’s a him.”
Snape paused. Then he turned back around. “And what holds you back, then? Childish fear that the wizarding world would disapprove of you for having a male lover? Fears of your own, that you are less than straight?”
“I already told you it had to do with the war.”
“I want to know who it is.”
Harry hissed in astonishment before he could stop himself. The books he’d found had been pretty clear. It was the height of bad manners to ask about a soul-mark that someone had chosen to hide—which they did, sometimes, if the person they were soulmated to was already married or infamous or otherwise unsuitable. Someone who had been gifted with a soul-mark was already special enough, without being pressured to disclose it.
“I want to know.” Snape’s face was closed. “Is it the Dark Lord?”
“Are you insane?”
“You did not answer the question.”
“No, it’s not! And not Fenrir Greyback or Albus Dumbledore or Rabastan Lestrange, either, before you can ask about that.”
Snape’s posture softened enough that a laugh huffed out of his mouth. “Then I don’t understand why you would have such reluctance to reveal it. Someone who is separated from you by the war…It cannot be a Weasley whose marriage you are reluctant to disrupt, then, which would have been my second guess.” He curled his fingers into the edge of the table and then sat back down, probably because he was attracting attention. “Do you not trust me enough to tell me?”
“There are reasons I can’t.” Harry swallowed the last of his wine, and stood himself with a soft ache in his chest. This would probably be the last of his friendly outings with Snape. Honestly, he should have cut them off a while ago. It was getting close to him under false pretenses, to chat and let Snape call him by his first name and be his friend when he was carrying the man’s soul-mark on his throat. “I’m sorry. If I could tell you those reasons, you would understand.”
“But you have not told me, and I do not understand.” Snape was smiling, but there was an edge like a sliver of broken mirror to it. “Tell me, Harry.”
“I’m sorry.” Harry put enough money to pay for his meal on the table and turned away.
Part of him winced; it was a really bad sign that Snape was calling him that, when he had called Harry by his first name for months. But on the other hand, Harry didn’t call him “Severus,” did he? Everything about the relationship they had was, in the end, not as open and free and frank as it needed to be.
“I’m sorry,” Harry repeated. He walked out of the restaurant without looking back.
He intended to find a darkened alley that he could use as an Apparition point. What he hadn’t counted on was finding that alley only to have his arms gripped and his back almost slammed against the wall.
“Tell me,” Snape snarled, leaning down right into his face.
Harry started to kick out, but then he realized that most of what was going on had been a distraction. Snape had already got his wand into place and aimed it, muttering, “Finite Incantatem,” under his breath.
Harry closed his eyes as he felt the illusion spell above his mark dissolve. For a moment, he hoped Snape couldn’t see it in the darkness, but they weren’t far from the lights of Muggle restaurants and shops, and the alley was dim, not black.
Snape’s breathing stopped completely.
“I said you wouldn’t understand,” Harry said softly as Snape’s hands fell limply away from his arms. His chest hurt more than ever. He wondered if Snape would think that Harry saving his life and going to meals with him and arguing, as they had done, about Ministry policy was just a deception to get close to him. “I’ll—”
His eyes flew open as the grip was renewed, and Snape leaned right into his face and said, “We are going to go back to your home and we are going to talk, Potter.”
“Did you ever intend to tell me?”
Snape had asked the question before Harry could even close the door behind him. Harry gritted his teeth and shut the door, then kicked off his boots and walked into the kitchen, reaching for the cabinet where he kept his liquor.
Snape’s hand closed on his wrist and turned him around. He sure doesn’t mind touching me now that he can see his soul-mark on me. The thought darted through Harry’s head and gave him some clarity.
Whether or not he’d wanted it to happen, Snape knew about the soul-mark now. That meant he had to handle it.
He stared into the man’s eyes and admitted, “No.”
“So. These reasons that I wouldn’t understand.” Snape abruptly removed his hands and leaned back on the counter opposite the one Harry stood by, as if he was calm. Harry could look into his eyes, the darkness of them, and escape that delusion. “I would like them explained to me soon.”
“Of course.” Harry matched the calm tone as best he could. This was the last time he would stand with Snape like this. “Would you care for some Firewhisky?”
“No. I would care for some conversation.”
Harry swallowed, and nodded, turning away from the liquor cabinet. “Then we can go into the drawing room.”
Snape kept looking around even when he was seated in the most comfortable chair, the green one in front of the fire, as if he hadn’t already seen it the day he came to confront Harry about the Ministry reference. Harry clasped his hands on the arms of the chair and just watched him. He wondered why he hadn’t noticed how necessary Snape’s company had become to him.
Perhaps better that he only noticed it now, though, right before he lost it. He would have had to spend years anticipating the loss otherwise.
“Now.” Snape faced him again. “Why would you not inform me of your mark, especially once you knew how I felt about soul-marks?”
“Because you had literally carried a brand on your skin for years,” Harry replied softly, his eyes going to Snape’s left arm, “I couldn’t imagine you would want to be bound to someone else. Vows and necessity and the Dark Mark…you just had your freedom back completely when I found out about this mark. How could I use it to enslave you?”
Snape gave him an absolutely befuddled stare. Harry stared back. Maybe Snape felt differently now, but that was only because he had months of calm interaction with Harry behind him. Harry was still sure Snape would have felt like that if Harry had gone to him and told him about the soul-mark the instant he’d found it.
“You are mistaken,” Snape said at last.
“But bound to me?” Harry shook his head. “I know about the Vow that Dumbledore put you under to protect me. And of course I was part of that prophecy that helped ruin your life, too.” He took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. He would start pleading with Snape to understand if he went on this way. He had to let it be Snape’s free choice. “I couldn’t imagine the resentment you would feel.
“That only got worse when I found out how rare soul-marks were. How could I bind you like that? How could you accept a soul-mark tying you to the son of a man you hated?”
Snape leaned forwards a little. “It is a long time since I have hated you.”
“But when this first showed up, that wasn’t true. And when I started realizing that maybe you were my friend, all I could think was that I would end up destroying the life that you finally had if I ever said anything.”
“I think it may be simpler than that.”
Harry narrowed his eyes. “What might be simpler than that?” He’d told Snape the truth. It wasn’t his fault if the man decided to completely ignore him, but it did sting a little.
“I think that perhaps you achieved something that you did not expect, not with the manner of man you believed I was.” Snape had focused so entirely on Harry it was as if they were back at the trial for the idiots who had burned down Snape’s lab. “You achieved a measure of peace, of freedom, of friendship, and you could not see yourself risking that for an uncertain reward.”
“You’re calling me a coward, right?”
“In certain respects, I believe you are.”
Harry stiffened his shoulders. Don’t let on how much this hurts, don’t let on. It’s better if he walks away because you’re a coward than feels trapped later. “Then why would you want to be with someone like me?”
“Because certain respects is not all,” Snape said, and his face changed in an odd way. It wasn’t a smile, it wasn’t a smirk, but it was somewhere in between them, shining more from his eyes than lips. “And in some of those respects, you were indeed wise to wait. Now I cannot imagine being apart from you.”
Harry swallowed. Or tried. His throat was so dry he didn’t manage. Snape should have let me have that Firewhisky, he decided randomly.
“I had grown increasingly jealous of the woman that I believed possessed your devotion despite being on the opposite side of the war. But despite that, I could not imagine trying to break a soul-mark bond. I came to the restaurant tonight intending to urge you to try and find a way to her.”
“You just assumed I would be attracted to the person my mark pointed to? In love with them?”
Snape paused a moment, then said in a gentler voice, “Forgive me. I almost always forget now that you weren’t raised in our world and don’t realize how sacred a soul-mark bond is held to be. It’s not that you would have to be attracted to—whoever your mark referred to.” He swallowed, and held out a hand slowly, as though assuming he would scare Harry off. Harry let the hand rest on his knee, still looking at Snape.
“It’s that a soul-mark is so great an honor,” Snape continued in a low tone, “that the person whose mark you bore would be assumed to be attracted. Honored. Interested in getting to know you and overcoming whatever obstacles lay between you.”
“So you were urging me to find this person—”
“Because I thought this nonexistent other person would make you happy by striving to make you happy, yes. Instead,” and Snape’s fingers moved, caressing Harry’s knee and making him close his eyes with a shiver, “I find that you have been thinking of me. Is that why you defended me and gave me your reference and became my friend?”
“No.” Harry forced his eyes open. “I would have stood up for you anyway. But the mark did start me thinking in terms of what you’d experienced and made me more open to exploring things.”
“That, I think, is what they are meant to do.” Snape breathed slowly out. “And your interest in me kindled mine in you.”
Harry touched Snape’s hand back, running his finger slowly down the side and watching Snape shiver the way he had. “So you’re interested in getting to know me even though you thought I was a coward?”
“I think I do know you much better.” Snape’s voice was sinking, so much so that Harry had to lean closer and closer to hear. “Would you—be interested in continuing that theme?”
Harry swallowed. This time, it was possible. Perhaps hope eased the way. “Yes. Please.” And he tried something he hadn’t even tried in his thoughts before, not thinking he had a right to do it. “Severus.”
Severus stood up and moved around the chair. Harry tilted his head back, and Severus bent down to kiss him. The brush of his lips was gentle at first, but his hand also moved, fingers falling against the soul-mark on Harry’s throat at the same time.
Harry gave a startled gasp. The warm sensation that spiraled away from the mark had two parts. One dived to his groin in a wave of pure pleasure. The other rose up to his brain and made him fall into a memory of spending time with Severus as though he was living it again—a meal several weeks ago where they had disagreed on whether Muggleborns should know about magic before their Hogwarts letters arrived. Warmth, and the taste of good food on his tongue, and the way Severus’s eyes lingered on him.
He recalled, vaguely, Hermione saying something about what happened when a soulmate touched the soul-mark, but he had never known it would be this intense. He looked up at Severus as he came out of the memory.
The eyes he met now were no less warm than the ones in his memory.
“Come with me, if you will,” Severus said, and held out his hand.
It felt like accepting several futures at once as Harry stood up and reached out for it.
Severus cast several Freshening and Dust-Removing Charms when they came into the bedroom. Harry bristled a little. “It’s only because I’ve been busy with Auror training.”
Well, that and trying to decide if it was worth spending time around Severus when he knew he would never get what he wanted, what the soul-mark seemed to promise.
“You will have more time for them later, perhaps,” Severus said, and tossed his wand on the table beside the bed. When he turned around again, his eyes had gone from warm to scorching, and hungry. Harry shivered and began unbuttoning the shirt he had chosen to venture into Muggle London.
“Yes, I thought so,” Severus said, which didn’t make much sense, and came over to kiss him.
His mouth was still soft, dark, hot. Harry pushed Severus gently back against the bedroom wall, taking his turn this time. Severus opened his mouth and let him have control. Harry was shivering convulsively by the time he undid the robes. Severus had simply hidden his clothes from the Muggles with an illusion charm.
“Have you done this before?” Severus exhaled against his mouth.
“No.” Harry had decided that he could do worse than jump off a cliff of complete honesty. “Is that going to be a problem?”
“It means I will go a little more slowly.” Severus’s hands tightened for a moment on his arms, and then he helped Harry get his robes off, and Harry shrug his shirt off. Harry gasped as their bare chests pressed against each other. He could feel ropy scars, but the falling and rising skin underneath his, the soft breaths Severus let fall over his lips, and the beating heart meant more to him.
The scars had happened. But Severus was alive, and had come through.
“Lie down on the bed so I can undress you,” Severus said. His voice had turned into a harsh pant between one breath and another, it seemed.
“Sir,” Harry said, mocking, but Severus didn’t react other than one annoyed flicker of an eyelid. He was too busy staring at Harry’s erection under his trousers as if he had envisioned it before but never thought it would look so good. That sent a rush of flattery to Harry’s head so strong that he barely managed to get on the bed before he started undressing himself.
“I said I would do that.” Severus’s voice had the ability to descend to an erotic rumble when he let it. Harry gasped before he could stop himself. This was something he had only heard hints of before, in their conversations over lunch and dinner and bubbling cauldrons.
Severus gave him a faint smile and reached down to undo Harry’s trousers and then slide off his pants and socks. Harry knew he was flushed all the way to the tip of his cock. He just hoped that Severus liked what he saw, not only the soul-mark around Harry’s neck.
“Hmmm,” Severus said, and reached down to flick Harry’s shaft on the head. Harry hissed between his teeth. Severus flicked him one more time and then reached out to stroke him. He seemed to alternate his gaze between Harry’s face and his throat.
And that wasn’t fair, that he was already giving Harry a wank better than any Harry had ever had by himself without looking. “Come on, Severus,” Harry said, and reached out towards the pants Severus still wore.
They Vanished before he got there. Harry blinked and looked at his hand, which certainly didn’t hold a wand, then over at the table beside the bed. No, Severus’s wand was still there, too.
“Impatient, aren’t you,” Severus said. “Vanishing something with wandless magic normally takes more practice than that.”
“I’ve had all the practice I want on my own,” Harry said, and planted his heels on the bed and wriggled his arse at Severus. Severus had to let go of him when he moved, and now his eyes were so wide and dark that Harry imagined he must have trouble seeing at all. “Let’s go.”
“Impatient,” Severus repeated, and walked slowly towards the bed, giving Harry glimpse after glimpse of his heavy, hanging cock without bringing it nearer fast enough. Harry reached for it. Severus caught his wrist and kissed the bump of the bone there.
“Let me use the potions slowly at first. Since you have never done this with someone else before.”
There was still a hint of question about those words. Harry snorted. “You’re the Legilimens who’s supposed to be able to detect lies. No, Severus, I really haven’t done this before.”
“I trust you. I—simply cannot believe you could not find someone willing to indulge you.”
“I didn’t want indulgence. I wanted something real. You can say that I waited for you, if you want to call it that.”
“Yes, I will call it that.” Severus’s voice was restrained, muffled, but his eyes returned to Harry’s face, and Harry gasped aloud at the burn in them. Severus was holding himself back from showing how very, very much he liked that Harry had waited.
“Please, Severus. Don’t make me wait too long.”
Severus, of course, went back to get the robe that apparently had potions in the pockets. At least when he came back, he was close enough to touch. Harry reached up eagerly for him, shivering the way he had when Severus touched his mark as his hands came to rest on smooth skin. There were scars here, too, but he didn’t care. The leanness under them was also rolling and alive.
“Let me go, or we won’t manage to fuck at all because I won’t have lubed you up properly,” Severus murmured from somewhere within his hair.
Harry reluctantly did as he said, watching with half-lidded eyes that seemed to make Severus choke. He didn’t recognize the clear potion that Severus spread over his fingers and cock and Harry’s hole, but it was warm and slippery and would do the job nicely. And it both scorched him and made him want to laugh to see Severus concentrating on sliding his fingers into him the way he had once concentrated on marking essays.
“Stillness,” Severus murmured as his fingers finally slid in, and then he spread them wide. Harry lounged back with his arms behind his head. He’d done this to himself a few times, but it was pretty different to have someone else in there.
And Severus showed a lot more skill at finding his prostate than Harry ever had on his own, too. He jackknifed his legs wide with a cry. “Severus!”
“Yes, yes, I am coming.”
“Not until you’re in me.”
“Insolence,” Severus said, but there was no trace of haughtiness or scolding in his voice. His eyes traveled again from Harry’s arse to his face, and then the mark on his throat. There was awe hidden behind the way he was stroking himself, getting himself ready. Harry swallowed, reminded again of how Severus had acted when he first found out that Harry had a soul-mark.
Maybe I should have known then how he would react when he found out he was mine. It would have been all right. He would have been honored, just like he said most people who knew about it would have been.
But Harry wouldn’t let himself regret. If he had given in then and just revealed the mark to Severus, they wouldn’t have got to know each other as well, and he might never have managed to shake the lingering fear that Severus was with him only out of duty or because of what the wizarding world would think of him if they found out he’d rejected his soulmate.
“Too much thinking, Harry,” Severus said, voice thick with affection, and Harry returned to reality with a start. Yes, there was awe in his eyes, but also the same listening intelligence that Harry had seen during so many of their conversations, and the fondness that had been there when Severus had said that anyone who refused to be with Harry must know only his hero complex. “Are you ready?”
“Yes. Please. I’d like you inside me.”
Severus shivered, and began to slide himself slowly within Harry. Harry had to grunt in discomfort several times, and Severus always paused when he did, watching him carefully. Harry would nod, and they would go on until the next moment that Harry’s body objected to having a cock in him.
Harry had looked up a few of the legends about soul-marks on his own when Hermione had first told him how rare they were. He couldn’t say that he believed the ones about how the mark was supposed to ease sex along now.
But finally, Severus was all the way there, and the expression of joy and pleasure on his face mirrored the one that Harry knew was on his own. Severus reached down and grasped his hands. Smiling, Harry held on tight.
“You are a wonder,” Severus breathed as he began to move.
Harry enjoyed it all: the thrusts, the way Severus’s eyes kept fluttering shut as if he wanted to hold them open and couldn’t, the soft grunts pulled out of both of them, how their breathing became harsher and faster, the tightening clamp of Severus’s fingers around his. The pleasure that burned in him and danced up through his belly and chest.
The softer burning of the soul-mark on his throat, like something with a destiny fulfilled.
And Severus opened his eyes suddenly and reached out, freeing his right hand from Harry’s, to trace one of the letters of the mark, and Harry came.
It was a burst of white noise in his head, sudden orgasm sweeping over him and pushing him up to fever pitch and not letting him go, not as long as Severus’s finger rested there. Harry had the distinct impression that he shrieked. But he couldn’t hear himself. The room was full of dozens of streaks of light, and he gasped through it, and he thrust his arse back, trying to share the pleasure, trying to make Severus come with him.
Severus only came when it seemed he absolutely had to, and his hand jolted off Harry’s mark. Harry was just as glad; there was only so much wild pleasure he could take. He watched with a smile as Severus shuddered and pumped into him for a few moments, then caught himself on his elbows and hissed between his teeth.
“Worth the wait?” Harry asked.
“Yes,” was all Severus said, and Harry’s heart picked up a beat as soft and warm as the burn of the mark.
They were curled up in bed later, after an enjoyable shower and an even more fun handjob, when Harry felt Severus’s hand come to rest on his throat right below the mark. Harry had been almost asleep, but he turned to look over his shoulder.
Severus was staring at him. Harry saw his throat bob as he swallowed.
“The mere thought that I might never have forced the issue, and you might never have told me,” Severus said, and paused for a long while. Harry lay and listened to their hearts beat, a throb off the beat from the mark.
“It is devastating,” Severus whispered at last. “Promise me that you will never keep anything like this from me again.”
Harry touched his hand. “I won’t,” he said softly. “I would never have in the first place if I hadn’t thought your life would be happier without me, in the freedom you earned.”
“If I have earned happiness, I have earned you,” Severus said, voice suddenly harsh. “And I will do my best to guard your own happiness. I will love you. I promise that. I will promise that until you believe me.”
“I already do,” Harry said, letting his eyes fall shut. “And I’ll love you in return. But promise me anyway.”
Severus whispered the promise softly into his ear, again and again, and it was that, even more than the contented warmth of the mark, that let Harry drift off to sleep.