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The potion swirled in the cauldron, obeying steady stirs of a glass rod. Harry observed the hand gripping it with familiar ease. Decades’ worth of ingredients etched themselves into the skin, calloused by knives and pestles. The index and middle fingers bore the yellow stains of a chain-smoker, and Harry imagined a cigarette smouldering between them, held with careless grace.

“The potion won’t be finished faster if you gawk at it, Potter,” the hand’s owner snapped irritably without looking up from the cauldron. “Please remove yourself from my sight.”

“I’ll be outside, then.”

“No need to attract any more of your fans down here and create a distraction for those who should be working.” His voice raised imperceptibly at the last words, and the two other people in the room, a man and a woman, snapped their heads back to their own cauldrons. “I’ll send the results to the Auror Department as soon as I have them.”

“Right. Thank you, Profe—Snape,” Harry said, lingering at his workstation for just one more moment, as he had been wont to do over the past few weeks.

Snape didn’t acknowledge him further, adding some viscous oily substance to the cauldron with measured drops. Now that Harry looked closer, it was not only Snape’s fingers that were thin. For all that the Ministry was underground, the laboratory was bright and shadowless under the cheerful sun from a magical window; a complete opposite of the dungeons in Hogwarts. In this light, Snape’s cheekbones appeared particularly gaunt among the angular geometry of face, and his shoulders, wrapped in the usual black fabric of his robe, were sharp. The circles under Snape’s eyes were not as deep as during the war, but dark enough to suggest a constant lack of sleep.

“You really look like you need to take better care of yourself,” Harry blurted.

Snape finally drew his eyes away from the potion. In a swift motion, his wand was drawn, and Harry nimbly zigzagged to the door, dodging the hexes. As he crossed the threshold—almost in the safety of the corridor—one of them hit home, making him bite his lip hard to stifle a yelp.

Face buried into the leather armrest, Harry suffered through the indignity on the newly transformed couch in Hermione’s office, which used to be a modest visitor’s chair ten minutes before, and tried to tap into his wandless magic to melt into it.

He ground his teeth. Even the slightest movement of the air as Hermione sat down beside him made the boils on his bare backside tingle painfully. Harry had spent an eternity in the bathroom stall trying to get rid of them, but none of the spells in his arsenal worked. Still, he wouldn’t resort to coming to Hermione if not for a meeting he had with Robards in an hour. His boss would want to know the reason for his refusal to sit down.

“Ready?” To her credit, Hermione’s voice was calm and business-like, so Harry could pretend he did not hear the mocking undertone. Without waiting for a reply, she muttered a spell that scalded the sensitive skin with a nauseating sizzling sound, like a frying oil splatter.

Harry sucked in his breath.

“One down, twelve more to go,” Hermione announced cheerfully, applying dittany from her first-aid kit.

He raised his head only to let it fall back with a thump—not at all satisfying—against the soft padding. He would never be able to look Hermione in the eyes again. At least Ron could not see him now.

The door to the office opened, and Harry attempted to scramble to his feet, covering himself.

“You said you put up a ward!” he cried.

“Lie back down, Harry,” Hermione said, putting her hand on the small of his back. “It’s just Ron.”

Ears red, Harry flopped back with a groan.

“What do I see here?” Ron gasped theatrically, banging the door behind him. “My own wife together with my best mate, caught with his pants down behind locked doors?”

Judging on the unintelligible sounds and Hermione’s ensuing chuckle, there was some pantomime involved. Without looking up, Harry flipped the bird in his direction.

“If I wasn’t such a soft touch, I would hex your scrawny arse all the way to Hogsmead,” Ron continued.

“Too late for that.”

“So I see.” Ron guffawed.

And this was a man who called himself his best friend. He could forget about the report Harry had promised to write for him this morning. Harry told him that, inciting another round of gleeful laughter.

“What happened here, exactly?” Ron asked. “Demelza from Accidents and Catastrophes is telling everyone that you called Snape the ugliest bugger in Britain, and Snape retaliated with a Cruciatus.”

“What?” Harry’s voice rose high, in part because Hermione chose that moment to apply a countercurse to another boil.

“Did you?” she asked sternly, dabbing dittany with a little more force than was strictly necessary.

“No!” Harry protested. “It wasn’t like that.”

Pointed silence met his words. Even with his eyes shut, he could feel his friends staring at a certain wounded part of his anatomy.

“Well, I told him he should take better care of himself. I meant it in a good way!”

“What possessed you to say such a thing to the Professor?” Hermione asked.

“Mum’s spirit?” Ron offered.

Hermione let out a suspiciously-sounding cough and punished Harry with another spell. “Even if you aren’t wrong, it’s not appropriate—”

“I know! I’m not a complete idiot.” Harry sighed. “Fine, maybe I am. I don’t know what came over me. He just looked so thin and exhausted, as if he doesn’t eat or sleep properly.”

The explanation sounded asinine even to his own ears. But he had been studying Snape over several visits to his lab when Harry would bring another potion for him to analyse, and the urge to say something had been tugging at the back of his mind since the very first one. Naturally, Harry being Harry, he could not quite articulate what exactly he wanted to say and ended up bursting out with the worst thing possible.

He twisted his head just in time to catch Ron and Hermione exchanging glances in silent communication.

“I should’ve gone to St. Mungo’s,” he grumbled.

“Yeah, why are you shining your pimply arse at Hermione and not the healers?” Ron asked, hopping up onto the desk and back off again under a threatening wave of Hermione’s wand.

“Are you kidding?” Harry asked. “It would be on the cover of The Prophet tomorrow, for everybody to see! The Seer Society would probably predict the next year’s pumpkin yield by the spacing of my... breakouts.” Every one of his visits to the hospital ended in the papers, with pictures and experts’ comments. The Prophet would milk them for days, weeks if they had nothing newsworthy at the time. Promises to sue and threats of violence did nothing to help. In fact, the latter wound up in the headlines too.

“Wouldn’t be the first time,” Ron fished out a pumpkin pasty from the Ministry cantine. It was wrapped in a piece of parchment that had definitely seen better times, and being kept in his pocket had done it no favours. “Minus the boils, of course.”

“Ron!” Hermione hissed.

“What?” he asked, biting into the pastry. “It’s true. Bloody French.”

Harry sighed. Unfortunately, it was true. Unlike his professional success as he rapidly moved up through the ranks of post-war Wizarding Britain: a Senior Auror by twenty-five, predicted to be the youngest Head Auror in the history of the DMLE, Harry’s dating track record was abysmal.

After the war, Harry got back together with Ginny, but quickly realised that things were not working out. A messy break-up and half a year of—as Hermione, bless her, called it—soul-searching later, he decided that the female form held no interest to him at all. Soon, he met his first boyfriend, Roger Davies.

Roger, Keeper for the Falmouth Falcons, was witty and charming, and introduced Harry to all the pleasures of being young and gay. He was also much more interested in loud parties and events than spending a quiet evening by the fire, calling Harry a bore for suggesting that. Still, Harry made an effort and compromised, dragging himself to endless clubs and drowning Pepper-Up the next morning at the Auror training. Until one day he decided to surprise Roger at his training camp and found him with his dick in some groupie’s mouth. Roger had the gall to deny any blame. The only reason he had stayed with Harry was to secure his position in the team, or so he yelled as his clothes were raining out of the window of their flat, paid entirely by Harry.

Without Roger’s things, he was left with only bare walls and empty shelves. Realising that he had never felt truly at home in this ultra-modern flat anyway, Harry returned to Grimmauld and spent the next year renovating it. With the project completed, he felt ready to chance another relationship. At that time, he worked closely with an Auror from the French Ministry, solving a series of high-profile heists committed both sides of the channel. The affair started there and continued after the case was closed. Unlike Roger, Louis valued discretion, and when they went out to some quaint Paris restaurant, nobody recognised Harry anyway. Harry, to the dismay of his friends, flooed every other evening to Louis’s Paris studio and considered a transfer to France, but Louis himself had other plans. One morning, an owl brought Harry a special edition of The Prophet fully dedicated to a tell-all about him with photos that left nothing to imagination, as well as a simple note saying ‘I’m sorry.’

After that, Harry decided that love and dating were not for him. Occasionally, he ventured into Muggle clubs, but the meaningless sex with strangers always left him with a sour aftertaste of regret. Nowadays, Harry filled the void with work, occasional ventures to a nearby pub with friends, and more work, and didn’t dwell that much on the issue. Unless, obviously, his friends brought it up.

“You shouldn’t miss your chance to be happy because of a bad experience,” Hermione said.

“Yeah. You need to get laid, mate.”

“Did you know that John Whittaker from accounting is single? I could—”

“Please, Hermione, no more matchmaking attempts.”

She had a rare talent in finding the dullest men to introduce to him. Which was doubly baffling coming from a woman who had married Ron, the exact opposite of them. Not that Harry was at all interested in the wholesome Ron’s type. He had a weakness for dark hair, cutting wit and personality of a complete arsehole, it seemed.

Before she could protest, Harry made to get up. “Thank you, Hermione, you’re a lifesaver. You’re finished, right? Robards is waiting for me in fifteen minutes.”

“Don’t think this conversation is over, Harry Potter,” she said with a slight frown, watching him fiddling with the fly on his trousers.

Harry wriggled in his robes. His shoulder blades were itching like hell, so much that he suspected that more than one of Snape’s hexes landed on him, but that he would deal with later. It was high time for a tactical retreat.

His watch had to be broken. The minute hand had moved only five points since the last time Harry had looked at it, and this could not possibly be true. Robards did his best Binns impersonation, droning on and on. Harry sat up straighter, stifling the urge to fidget, the smooth leather of the chair feeling like a metal grater underneath him. Psychotic bastard, Snape was. He could forget about Harry ever showing him any concern. Never again.

“Any questions?” Robards’s voice brought him out of his wallowing.

Harry eyed the other Senior Aurors gathered in the room. He would do some clandestine hexing of his own if anybody had the gall to answer. Clearly sensing Harry’s mood, nobody did, even Hobbs who had a maddening habit of checking back every piece of information he had heard at least twice.

“Return to your duties, then,” Robards said.

Harry stood up gratefully, hoping he did not appear too eager to leave.

“Not you, Potter. You stay behind.”

Steepling his fingers, his boss waited until the last of his Aurors left his office. Hobbs made it to the corridor on his second try, bumping into the doorframe, and Harry wondered whose Confundus it was this time.

“I heard you had an altercation with Snape from the forensic lab,” Robards said after the door clicked shut.

A sinking feeling settled in Harry’s stomach. He steeled himself for the coming reprimand. It seems getting hexed and making a fool of himself in front of Snape was not going to be punishment enough.

Without waiting for a reply, Robards continued. “Snape works here as a part of his parole. He is not allowed to sneeze in any honest Auror’s direction, let alone draw a wand at them.”

Oh. He should have known. “Just some harmless banter between old fellows in arms,” he ground out through his teeth, suppressing the urge to draw his own wand.

“Fellows in arms?”

“Without Snape, we wouldn’t have won the war. Sir.”

“And the spell?”

“A tickling charm.”

“Right.” Robards said dubiously. “Well, if that’s your position... Dismissed, Senior Auror Potter.”

Waiting for the lift to bring him to the Atrium, Harry wrangled with his sense of unease. Even if Snape was a git for cursing him over a stupid comment, the last thing Harry wanted was to get him in trouble, with so many at the Ministry out for his blood still. Lost in his unhappy thoughts, Harry barely avoided colliding with a giant bouquet as the doors slid open.

The smiling face of Dean Thomas peeked from behind the roses. “Whoa, Harry.”

“That’s a lot of flowers,” Harry said, stepping out.

“Ginny is mad at me for forgetting our anniversary.” Dean lowered his voice conspiratorially. “And now I have to make it up to her.”

Harry made a suitably sympathetic face, well-acquainted with his ex-girlfriend’s explosive temper. Snape was not the only one prone to flinging hexes and glassware.

The witch that entered the lift with Dean sighed impatiently, so Harry waved him goodbye. “Well, good luck, mate.”

He pictured himself thrusting red roses into Snape’s hands in apology for bringing Aurors on his head and snorted. That would go well. But what if he found some plant Snape could use in his potions? Harry slowed his pace across the Atrium, almost stopping in his tracks. Yes, it would be a nice and useful gesture.

A nagging little voice, disturbingly Hermione-like, chimed in to protest that Snape wouldn’t appreciate an offering of flowers any more than Harry’s earlier comment, but he squashed it firmly. Making a decision, he took a turn to the fireplaces lining the Atrium wall and flooed to the Leaky Cauldron.

With a quick hello to Tom, Harry dove into the bustle of Diagon Alley. His aim was the flower shop he had visited for the first time only a week before when investigating a smuggling ring lead with Ron.

Harry’s knowledge of Herbology and Herbologists came mostly from Professor Sprout and Neville, but the woman running the shop could not resemble either of them less. Instead, she looked like a robe-clad Aunt Petunia: thin, long-necked, and regarded Harry as if he offended her sensibilities. She must have still been miffed at Ron nearly crashing the stand with her prized Orphic Orchids.

“Umm, hello,” Harry said, trying and failing to remember her name. “Do you have any flowers that are also potion ingredients?”

The woman directed him further into the shop with a dismissive wave of her hand. Harry weaved his way past stands and vases bursting with colour, dodging the pots of singing violets hanging from the ceiling—a smashing hit of the summer. Now that was something Snape would be in his absolute right to hex him for.

A fanged geranium was snapping at an octopus-like cactus hidden in the deepest corner of the shelf. The cactus’s long and thin offshoots trembled in indignation, before one of the impressive thorns detached and propelled itself into one of the geranium’s leaves.

“You little wretch!” the owner shouted from across the shop.

For a short moment, the round green head seemed to fold on itself, its offshoots gathering in. As soon as the woman came over from behind Harry, however, the cactus sat straighter on its dry bed, every thorn on the ready.

“I’ll use you for mulch if you don’t behave!”

The words were met with dignified stillness.

“How much is it?” Harry asked as the women busied herself with consoling the geranium.

She looked at him strangely. “Two galleons. But you can’t use this species in any potion.”

The cactus wrapped its tentacle offshoots around its pot, offended at the idea of being used as an ingredient. Harry slowly reached his hand to it, palm up. Even though the plant had no eyes, he felt as if it was watching his every move, like a hippogriff ready to strike at the slightest provocation.

“I’ll make sure your new owner won’t cut you for potions,” he said soothingly. The offshoots released the pot, but remained hovering over his hand cautiously. Harry turned to the woman. “I’ll take it.”

The next morning found Harry standing with the cactus outside Snape’s lab, feeling rather stupid. His hands were covered with pricks the green fiend had left him with after Harry had watered it too much, and blood was drawn when he carelessly dropped a piece of toast on its offshoot during breakfast. Being held too close to the smelly flank of the Head of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes in the lift had been a fun experience on its own.

"Potter?" The rich baritone behind him said, and Harry whirled around. Some Auror he was. Predictably, Snape did not look happy to see him in the slightest.

"Do you have any more comments about my person to make?" Snape’s disgruntled tone made it clear that he would not escape with merely boils this time.

“Um, no, not at all.” Harry felt his ears heat up. “I actually want to apologize for yesterday. That was an inappropriate thing to say. Not that you had to go straight to curses, mind you. Anyway, here.” Feeling that his speech was going off the rails, Harry thrust the pot forward.

“What’s this?” Snape curled his lip.

The cactus, offended by his tone, raised one of his offshoots in warning.

“This is Bob.”


“Yeah. Bob is a bit defensive around new people, but he’s a very loyal and protective companion as you’ll see when you get to know him better.”

“This is a Cantankerous Cactus, Potter. The most disagreeable house plant in the Wizarding World.”

Harry looked at Bob. "I guess he is, a bit. But that just means he’s got character. Would you prefer some singing violets?"

“I would prefer if you left me alone,” Snape said, snatching the plant anyway.

A tiny purple flower popped up on its top.

“Look! He likes you!” Harry couldn’t quite keep jealousy from his voice. Well, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Bob would like a kindred cactus soul better.

For a second, Harry could bet Snape’s mouth twitched, but wrote it off to flickering sconces. With a tiniest of nods, Snape turned to his lab.

“Don’t cut Bob into any potions; I promised him you wouldn’t!” Harry called after him before the door closed. The woman in the shop might have said the cactus was useless as an ingredient, but knowing Snape, he would invent a whole new potion just for Bob.

“You have no game, mate,” Ron said as Harry related the story of Bob the cactus to him and Hermione. “No game whatsoever.”

They sat in Grimmauld Place’s drawing-room, surrounded by takeaway boxes. Harry and Ron had beers in their hands, while Hermione sipped her pumpkin juice. It was the second time she claimed she was not in the mood for anything alcoholic, and Harry suspected there was a deeper reason for that.

They were probably hesitant to share the news. In the past, Ron had mentioned his intention to quit the Aurors once they had kids, and they must have been worried about Harry’s reaction. The right thing would be to reassure his friends he was happy for them no matter what, but right now Harry did not feel very charitable.

“I’m not interested in Snape like that,” he protested half-heartedly, resenting the twin pity in their looks.

A knock on the window prevented the conversation from veering into the familiar waters of his pathetic love life. Harry let a ruffled owl inside and untied a package wrapped in plain brown paper from its leg. After stealing a chip from his plate, the owl flew away.

“What’s that?” Ron asked.

“Believe me, you don’t want to know,” Harry said, stuffing the package under the sofa.

Hermione’s eyes glinted with curiosity, while Ron turned a bright shade of red, misinterpreting the meaning. Just this once, Harry was happy to let him, because the truth was so much more embarrassing.

Hestia Jones had brought an owl-order catalogue to work to find a gift for her brother. There must have been some foul compulsion charms at play, because before Harry could even think of it properly, he already sent an order for a fancy potion knife. An eversharp potion knife made of mermish glass for a frankly scandalous price. Harry hadn’t touched a cauldron since the end of his Auror training, and whatever potion required this kind of advanced equipment was certainly beyond his skill level.

He had checked, and triple-checked, and then, to Hestia’s consternation, sent the catalogue to the resident cursebreaker to be sure, but no sneaky spells were found. Still, he refused to take that for an answer. Because if it was true, then he had felt compelled to buy an expensive gift for a certain short-fused Potion Master on his own accord. And Harry would not accept that. He had only recently admitted to himself that perhaps he did fancy Snape just a little, and wasn’t at the stage of losing his mind. Not like that, at least. And what prompted him to buy that knife of all things?

Unbidden, his mind provided a picture of Snape taking it out of the box with both hands, raising it reverently to the light. He’d run his calloused thumb along the glass blade, and then his fingers, long and slender, would wrap around the handle, just like they would around—

His face must have reflected some of his thoughts, because Ron sputtered and went about Chudley Cannons’ hopes this season.

The illegal potions case Harry had been working on proved to be more complicated than he had initially expected. Three weeks, and they were yet to have any breakthrough. Neither low-level dealers nor Harry’s usual informants knew anything. The one time he and Ron managed to locate the smugglers’ lab, it had already been abandoned when the Aurors came, clearly only a few hours before the raid. Despite Harry’s vehement protests, Robards had expanded the team. Harry was sure there was a mole within the Ministry, and more people meant increased risk of leaks, but his arguments fell on deaf ears.

The one perk of a larger team was its resident field expert.

“...After the potion was reversed back to its components—” Harry tuned out the exact words and concentrated on the cadence of Snape’s voice, flowing like rich honey right to the regions that should remain inactive on duty. How could the man make even a list of potion ingredients sound sexy?

His notebook filled with doodles instead of the actual case information, and Harry surreptitiously watched Snape command the briefing room as if it was his classroom back in Hogwarts. Buttoned up to his high collar, wand in hand, Snape cut an imposing figure indeed. The dark eyes zeroed in on Harry, and he looked away, feeling like a schoolboy again under that gaze.

After the meeting ended, Harry lingered behind. He watched Snape’s deft fingers put the dozen vials he had brought in his briefcase.

“How’s Bob?” Harry ventured.

“We get along.”

“That’s good to hear,” he said with a smile, which he suspected to be among his stupider ones.

“He understands the consequences should he misbehave.” Snape closed the briefcase with a loud snap. “Which puts him ahead of an absolute majority of my former students.”

With that Snape strolled to the door, the hem of his black robe brushing by Harry’s leg, light but electric. Following him closely, Hurry willed his blush down. This was getting ridiculous. Ron was right, he needed to get laid. Maybe a club tonight? But the prospect of a one-night-stand with an anonymous Muggle held even less appeal than usual.

In the corridor, Senior Auror Hobbs crossed their path. His double chin wobbled in time with his impressive belly.

“They say we need your expertise.” Hobbs spat the last word. “And I say that a dirty Death Eater can never be trusted.”

He bleated something else, but Harry was deaf to the words, too busy seeing red and charging ahead. His fist connected with Hobbs’s jaw before someone’s arms dragged him away.

"Easy here," Ron’s voice said in his ear, breaking through the haze.

“Severus Snape is a war hero, so you will treat him with respect,” Harry snarled as Hobbs was scrambling to his feet from the sprawl he had sent him in.

“Completely unhinged,” Hobbs muttered as he scurried down the corridor, cradling his face. Straight to Robards to complain, no doubt.

Still, Harry couldn’t bring himself to care. A part of him, the one responsible for blurting stupid things to Snape and buying him expensive potions-related gifts that would never see the light of day—a deluxe set of vials had joined the glass knife under the sofa—was ecstatic at the opportunity to show off in front of the object of his affection.

When he turned to Snape, the man’s eyes blazed with fire, although not the kind Harry had secretly hoped for.

“If you expect me to prostrate myself in gratitude for this little display, allow me to disabuse you of this notion,” he snarled.

“I don’t—”

“I am not a helpless maiden in need of protection, least of all from you.”

Snape whirled and stalked away, robes billowing as Harry hadn’t seen them since school. Harry watched him go with a helpless expression.

“He’s right, you know,” Ron said back in the office they shared. “A bird might appreciate this kind of chivalry, but for a bloke like Snape, you need something different.”

“You don’t understand." Harry winced. His shoulder blades itched again, and he arched his back in his chair, scratching them with both hands. “It was like an instinct, something telling me that Hobbs’s stupid face needed a good clobbering.”

“The chest monster strikes again?” Ron snickered.

Harry threw a stinging hex at him. “I was sixteen, you prat. I should’ve never told you about that.”

With a Quidditch-worthy manoeuvre on his chair, Ron dodged the spell and flipped him two lazy fingers. “On the other hand, maybe your inner Quintaped is onto something,” he mused.

“What do you mean?”

“Snape could have stopped you at any moment, but he didn’t. He just stood there, watching you as if you were a potion boiling in a student’s cauldron.”

“More like Neville’s or Malfoy’s cauldron?”

Ron creased his brow. “Hermione’s,” he said finally. “Like he knows it’s good, but will bash it anyway.”


“And he took the cactus, which was, for the record, the most pathetic courting gift you could find.”

“It wasn’t a courting gift!” Harry exclaimed, aghast.


“I think I might’ve been cursed,” he said, sharing his suspicions.

“Cursed?” Ron was understandably dubious.

“Maybe I have thought about Snape like that, once or twice,” Harry said, ignoring Ron’s snort. “But something makes me act all stupid around him. More than usual, that is.” He decided to wait on telling about the knife and vials. Enough teasing was waiting for him even without that.

Unfortunately, this meant that Ron didn’t realise the gravity of the situation. “You can compose a sonnet for him next, if you insist on going the old-fashioned route,” he said. He stood up and put a hand over his heart, affecting a solemn expression. “There was a mean bugger named Snape—”

“Stop it, Ron!”

“—Whom Harry just couldn’t escape.”

“Shut. Up.”

“Despite greasy hair
And a poisonous glare
He made Harry swoon for his shape.”

“That last line doesn’t even make sense,” Harry said, smothering a laugh at Ron’s antics. “And it’s a limerick, not a sonnet.”

“Well, for finer poetry, you need Hermione.” Ron flopped back onto the chair. “But if you really want results, just go ask him out.” He winced. “My sixteen-year-old self would be horrified at me right now.”

“Yeah, why are you so supportive of me pursuing Snape all of a sudden?”

Ron sighed. “I can’t believe I’m saying that, but even he is a step up compared to your other boyfriends. And honestly, I was prepared that this day would come for a long time.”


“The way you always—” Ron cringed, trailing off. “Anyway, relationship talk is also Hermione’s domain. Emotional range of a spoon here, remember?”

Harry conjured a ladle over his head to hit him with it.

“See?” Ron cried, sending it back to Harry with a flick of his wand. “You haven’t got in Snape’s pants yet, and you’re already catching his violent habits!”

Harry hadn’t seen Snape on the weekend, during which he bought a self-calibrated scale the man in the apothecary had raved about and a green bathrobe with silver trimming. The former was haphazardly stacked in the nearest drawer, and the latter found its place in the deepest corner of Harry’s wardrobe, because Harry rarely bothered with any special home clothing. Not to mention that it was way too long for him. No, he fully intended to forget that the thing ever existed.

On Monday, as he was going for lunch with Ron, a paper crane flew to him and started pecking him on his arm. Its beak felt vicious and sharp, not at all parchment-like.

“Ow! Stop it!” Harry snatched the note from the air. He unfolded it, revealing the familiar spiky scrawl.

The results are ready.

There was no signature, but Harry instantly recognised the handwriting.

“Snape’s finished analysing the potions,” he said.

“Right. You go, then.” Ron made to turn away. “I’ll go see if Hermione is free.”

“But what about lunch?”

Ron rolled his eyes. “You’re beyond hope, mate.”

The lab greeted Harry with a tense silence and the worst stench he had ever smelled: an unholy combination of rotten eggs, Hagrid’s stables, and that dye Aunt Petunia used on Dudley’s old castoffs the summer before his first Hogwarts year. A balding man was scraping greenish goo from the bottom of his cauldron with one hand, the other holding a handkerchief over his nose. The workstation between his and Snape’s was empty; its owner evidently escaped for some much-needed air. Snape himself was busy at the shelves in the corner, unbothered by the rank smell or the stink eye the man was giving him.

“Should I come back later?”

“Now is as a good time as any,” he said without looking at Harry.

Holding his breath, Harry stepped inside. To his surprise, when he couldn’t hold it any longer, the air around the shelves turned out to be fresh, better than the air in his own office.

“Here’s the report,” Snape said, thrusting a scroll into Harry’s hands. “But I suppose I’d better explain its contents to you using monosyllabic words now.”

Harry grinned, undaunted. “I’ve actually been going for a break.”

“How typical. Well, take it and go then.” Snape glared at him. “But don’t come running to me after you mixed Mandrake root and horseradish.”

“No, you don’t understand. I wanted to ask you to come with me and explain everything over some lunch.”

His stomach chose that moment to rumble, and Harry sent it his silent thanks. The man at the cauldron abandoned any pretence of scrubbing to stare at them.

“Still no progress, Jonathan?” Snape asked with a half-smirk.

“I’ll prove that you’ve had something to do with it, Snape,” the man whined in a loud nasal voice, glaring daggers over the handkerchief.

“Let’s go, Potter. I think I smell a rat here.”

“Why not just put a Bubble-Head Charm over your head?” Harry asked. The bigger the area, the harder it was to cast and maintain spells like that.

Snape shrugged, an elegant uncaring gesture. “Maybe I don’t like the feeling of an aquarium over my head. Sometimes, subtler magic is preferred.”

“Subtler, so that guy wouldn’t do the same and continue to sit in that stench.”

“It’s not my place to educate the esteemed head of the laboratory on the basics of brewing any halfwit in my N.E.W.T. class would know.”

“Do you miss teaching?” Harry asked as they entered the lift.

Snape looked at him, appalled. Harry laughed, drawing curious glances from a pink-robed witch, whom he dimly remembered from Accounting.

“Are we going to the Muggle side?” Snape asked as they flooed to the Leaky Cauldron.

“We can if you want. There’s a nice Indian place just across the Leaky. It’s run by Muggles, but the owners are so used to strange people coming by that you don’t even have to change from your robes,” Harry said, squinting at the blackboard behind the bar. “But Tom has steak and kidney pie today, so I thought we could just stay here?”

Snape looked at him strangely before giving a nod. They made their way to the table in the corner. Harry, long inured to stares and whispers, felt all the eyes in the pub on them, not all favourable. He understood now what Snape meant, although it did not mean he was fine with the treatment Snape received in the Wizarding World on a regular basis.

Throughout the lunch, Harry listened to Snape talk about the work he has done for the case, narrowing the location of the lab down to Cardiff just by analysing the potions. In the beginning, Snape half-heartedly peppered his explanation with jabs at Harry’s intelligence, but soon got carried away in his lecture mode. Harry nodded in the right places and even had his notebook out, but mostly he just enjoyed listening to Snape speak animatedly about something he cared about.

“Are you even listening to what I’m saying?” he asked as Harry got lost in watching him cut his food with the same meticulous precision as he would do the ingredients for his potions.

“Sure,” Harry said. “Those Mandrakes are native to Wales, and they had to be added right after uprooting," he dutifully repeated. “You did great detective work on those potions.”

Snape preened. “I’m glad you are finally able to appreciate something I do.”

“I appreciate a lot of things you do.”

The ensuing silence felt charged between them, and Harry longed for action: to say something profound or maybe cover Snape’s hand with his own. But the right words refused to come to him, and any displays in the middle of the crowded Leaky at their first da—business lunch were bound to backfire in one way or another.

"We should get back to the Ministry.” Snape stood up. “I don’t have unlimited breaks, unlike some.”

The lift was chock-full of witches and wizards coming back from their lunch, and so it was only natural to press closer than was strictly proper into Snape’s side. Harry studiously kept his eyes on the warning to refrain from hiccupping charms while the lift was moving, forgetting how to breathe.

Snape raised a questioning eyebrow when Harry followed him into the empty corridor.

“Aurors Headquarters are on the second level,” he finally said as they stopped at the door to his lab, squeezed between Muggle-Worthy Excuse Committee and Accidental Magic Reversal Squad office.

“I know.” Harry smiled. “I just wanted to thank you for your help,” he said, fiddling with the hem of his crimson sleeves. “Maybe—maybe you’d be up for grabbing a cup of coffee after we wrap up the case?”

“Why?” Snape narrowed his eyes suspiciously.

It was not the yes Harry hoped for, but it was not a no.

“I really enjoyed spending time with you today,” Harry said. “And I’ve been thinking about you a lot recently. I really suspect I might’ve been cursed.”

Well, maybe that last part was not such a great thing to say. Snape’s face went blank, something that Harry hadn’t realised had been open all this time shutting.

“I suggest you seek professional help, then,” he spat, spun around and threw the door open.

“Wait! I didn’t mean it like that!”

The door closed with a bang behind Snape’s back, refusing to let Harry in as he rattled the handle and then tried every unlocking charm he knew. Never one to give up, Harry tore a sheet out of his notebook, scribbled an apology and pushed it underneath the door. As he thumped at it, the dark wood glowed, heating up and scorching his fingers.

Back in the office, Ron took one look at him and got out the firewhiskey from his secret stash.

“How did you fuck up this time?”

Harry downed his glass and reached for a refill.

“Uh-huh.” Ron, the traitor, took the bottle away. “It’s too early for drinking your sorrows away, and Robards is still onto you for the Hobbs incident,” he said. “Now spill.”

After Harry recounted the events, restlessly pacing across the office, Ron hit his head against his desk.

“I know,” Harry said, flinging himself on his chair, a picture of misery.

“All right,” Ron said. “Let’s work with what we’ve got here.”

“I’m all ears, oh wise love guru.”

“Don’t try to contact Snape today unless you want any more boils; he needs the time to cool off.”

“I don’t want to put the conversation off for too long either. He’ll just take it as proof that he was right about me.”

“Fair enough.” Ron nodded. “You also might consider using pre-written signs instead of talking, like in that film Hermione made us watch.”

“Very funny,” Harry said, although he had to admit that words were not his strongest suit, especially when it came to Snape.

“You can’t be trusted to open your mouth at least until you have him safely handcuffed to your bedposts.” Ron paused. “I did not just say that.”

Harry smiled dreamily. The picture that Ron had painted was definitely intriguing, and dispelled his bleak thoughts somewhat.

“Stop,” Ron said firmly.

“Stop what?”

“Stop thinking what you’re thinking.”

“You started it.”

“And I’m regretting it deeply.” Ron made a show of taking out a case file. “What did Snape find out about the potions, if you could concentrate on anything other than your—”

“He actually identified the city where their lab and greenhouses are located,” Harry said, standing up. Maybe the case would provide a sufficient distraction. “I thought we could pop up there and look around?”

“Only us two or the whole team? If you still think there’s a mole, we need to be careful.”

“I’ll leave a note for Hestia.”

“Let’s go.”

Two hours of roaming around Cardiff brought Harry and Ron to a nondescript muggle block of flats. The roof was hidden under layers of poorly cast concealment charms, revealing spacious greenhouses as they restrained a guard at the top floor and went up inside. Rows upon rows of hellebore, belladonna and other doubtlessly poisonous plants Harry could not identify rose from their beds, and Mandrake leaves peaked up from crates lined at the glass walls.

Afterwards, they both would agree that it was all a little too easy. They searched the seemingly deserted greenhouses, and Harry noticed nothing wrong until he swayed over some discarded dragonhide gloves, his head spinning.

“Put up a Bubble-Head Charm, Ron!” he shouted before casting one himself. The almost-transparent walls of the bubble muted his colourful swearing.

A man and a woman stepped into the greenhouse, their features swimming. At his side, Ron raised his hand sluggishly and slid down the wall.

“Not so brave now, Senior Auror Potter,” said a nasal voice that somehow seemed familiar.

Harry fired several stunners in its general direction, followed by a Protego. One of the spells must have hit the crate with the Mandrakes, because the air suddenly rang with ear-piercing wails. The woman dashed to them, while the man shot a spell that broke the glass behind Harry.

Seconds from passing out from the Mandrake cries and whatever gas the smugglers used, Harry had to make a decision fast. Staying in the greenhouse was not an option. He looped his arm around Ron’s waist and stepped into the opening behind him, hoping against hope to stay awake for a moment longer.

Something slashed across his back, ripping his Auror uniform and cutting the skin. For a moment, Harry was sure that the smuggler’s curse had got to him, but no other spells followed. For some inexplicable reason, the ground slowed its advance enough for him to cast an Arresto Momentum on Ron before darkness and blinding pain swallowed him.

Harry swam up to the edge of awareness, bright light scalding his closed eyelids. Every part of his body was being attacked by a mad bludger, or at least felt like it. He was dimly aware of fingers stroking his hair and the smell of herbs that brought a smile to his face. Trying to smile hurt as well.

“Foolish boy,” a voice said before Harry drifted into unconsciousness again.

The next time he woke up to a grey-haired Healer waving her wand over him.

“Awake? Good,” she said. “How are you feeling?”

“Been better.” The pain was down to an almost bearable level.

“I’d think, with the amount of the Skele-Gro in your system right now.” She frowned. “Hopefully it will teach you not to rely on your wings in the future. What were you thinking, young man? You’re one-sixteenth at most! In your case, those things are purely for decoration!”

Harry looked at her, uncomprehending. The poisonous gas was probably still clouding his mind. “My wings? One-sixteenth of what? What are you talking about?”

“Your Veela inheritance, of course.” The Healer looked at him as if it was Harry who made no sense.

“I’m sorry. My what?”

“You didn’t know? Was it the first time your wings came out?”

Opening his mouth to protest, Harry remembered that odd feeling during his fall, which he had taken for a stray curse. “So I had wings out? Neat.”

“Does that mean you didn’t expect to fly and simply jumped out of that roof with no backup plan?” The Healer narrowed her eyes dangerously.

“The alternative was worse, believe me,” Harry said, his face heating. He hurried to change the topic. “How can I be a Veela? I’m not blond, and men don’t lose their minds after one look at me.” He did not need even more reasons for stares and creepy stalkers in his life. “And more importantly, both my Mum and Dad were human.”

“You cannot be more than one-sixteenth Veela, Mr. Potter, and thus don’t have all the attributes of a full-blooded creature. I’ll venture a guess that you get your inheritance from your grandmother, Euphemia Potter.”

“Dad’s mum?” Harry still knew little more than names of his grandparents on both sides.

“Yes. I was two years behind Euphemia in Hogwarts, and rumour had it she was half-Veela. I remember her as an exceptionally beautiful girl who had all the male population of Hogwarts following her like lost puppies. Of course, she was a Farley, and both her parents were purebloods tracing their lineage to the Founders’ times, so nobody dared to question them.”

Harry remembered a photo of a fair-haired woman with her arms around teenage James and Sirius he had found in his godfather’s things.

“But I don’t look like a Veela. And Dad didn’t either.”

“You both obviously got your looks from your other Potter side, but the creature blood is still there.”

“I wonder if Dad had wings too.”

“These kinds of inheritances often skip a generation or remain dormant. It’s almost unheard of for people with your fraction of Veela blood to grow wings outside extreme situation let alone use them. Mostly it’s just mating instincts.”

“Mating instincts?” asked Harry. So that’s what the Snape business was about. It was good to know that he wasn’t cursed, after all. “Wait a minute!” He struggled unsuccessfully to sit up, a thought niggling at his mind.

“Easy, Mr. Potter.” The Healer put her hand on his shoulder, preventing further painful movements.

“Does that mean Sna—the person I’ve been having those instincts towards is my destined mate, and I will die from grief if we are not together?” All the books Harry had found in the tent during their Horcrux hunt claimed so.

She laughed. “Only if you’re a character in a romance novel. In real life, they activate when you’re interested in someone compatible to help you gain this person’s affection.”

“Oh. Well, so far, they only made everything worse.” Harry sulked.

“You might be surprised yet.” The Healer gave him a twinkly-eyed smile and reached for a rack with multi-coloured vials on his bed stand.

After feeding Harry half dozen potions and warning him about brittle bones and bed rest for the next day, she left, letting Ron and Hermione inside.

“Don’t scare us like that, Harry!” Hermione made to hug him, stopped halfway and squeezed his hand instead, sitting on the edge of the bed.

“I’ll try not to.” Harry looked over to Ron. “Are you all right?”

“Right as rain. You should’ve cast that spell on yourself, mate.”

“I only had time for one. Besides, I have wings now!” Harry gave them a bright smile. “Did they catch anybody?”

“Yeah, Hestia brought the cavalry,” Ron said. “That woman from the florist shop was involved, after all, together with Jonathan Pryce, the guy from Snape’s lab. And you were right about the mole. Hobbs was feeding them information.”

“The wanker.”

“So you’re not in trouble for kicking his fat arse in defence of Snape’s honour anymore.”

“I thought Seve—Snape was there, or did I hallucinate that part?” Harry asked, aiming for nonchalance and failing miserably.

“Oh, he was,” Hermione said with a grin. “Professor brought your previous Healer to tears, requested this one, and insisted on brewing all the potions himself.”

Harry sunk deeper into his pillow, warmth spreading inside his chest. “Good. That’s good.”

“Signs, Harry. Don’t forget to cast Silencio on yourself and prepare the signs.”

Harry spent the rest of the day leafing through the books on Veelas Hermione had left him and, despite the Healers’ protests, discharged himself in the evening. He would not spend another night in the hospital bed if he could help it, especially with reporters predictably prowling around.

As he reached the foyer, panting after the short trip already, a familiar voice stopped him.

“And where do you think you’re going, Potter?”

He turned to find Snape standing behind him with his arms crossed.

“If I don’t get a decent bath instead of the freshening charms, preferably in my own tub and soon, I’ll start throwing fireballs.”

“And the Healers’ instructions do not apply to the Great Harry Potter?”

Harry’s face softened at the obvious concern Snape tried to hide under the brusque tone. “Thank you for all the potions. Your Skele-Gro works much faster, and I hardly have any bruises with that paste you left.”

“It doesn’t mean you’re up to being out of the bed,” Snape said with a huff. “Your bones are still brittle.”

“I have a bed at home too, a much nicer one than what they have here.” Harry looked at him with a daring grin. “You can come and make sure I’m staying there.”

Those were his Veela instincts speaking, or at least Harry resolved to blame them if he was getting hexed again.

“Has anyone ever told you that a well-placed Silencio is worth a thousand words?” Snape asked after a moment of searching his face.

“Only all the time.”

“I intend to see that you safely reach home, because you’re obviously a danger to yourself,” he said, herding Harry to the fireplace.

“Grimmauld Place!” Harry said in a low but clear voice, so that only Snape and no one else around could hear him. He twisted his head to make sure Snape was following before the green flames whisked him off in a nauseating whirl of motion and colour, and was even less prepared for the landing than usual.

He righted himself almost in time for Snape to come out of the green fire behind him and leaned against the mantelpiece, willing his head to stop spinning. Maybe he had overestimated his condition. Graceful greetings of a proper host would have to wait.

“See? Arrogant, as always.” Snape huffed. He looked Harry over to see if he landed in one piece and studied the drawing-room curiously. “I see that you redecorated.”

“I did.” Hopefully, the room still had enough green to meet Snape’s approval.

Harry took a step towards him, a little wobbly. Snape put his hand on Harry’s shoulder to steady him, and maybe for some other reason too. Leaning into it, Harry found himself a breath away from his face, and it was almost instinctive to sway even closer, pressing his mouth to Snape’s.

After a second of blind panic on Harry’s part, Snape’s lips opened, answering the kiss. By their own volition, Harry’s fingers wound in his hair, and he let the probing tongue explore his mouth.

"This is a spectacularly bad idea," Snape said into his lips as they came apart, Harry still all but melted into him.

“In my experience, those end up the best,” Harry breathed and dove back to kissing, noting how Snape’s hands tightened possessively on his shoulders. The Veela inside him purred in contentment. Or maybe that heady feeling rising from his chest and making his head spin for an entirely different reason was all him. Harry did not care one whit about the distinction at that moment.

With obvious reluctance, Snape stepped aside.

“I’ll get you upstairs, but only if you refrain from distracting me.”

Harry leaned into his side as they went up, partly because his legs did feel unsteady, but mostly because he enjoyed the feeling of Snape’s arm around his waist. Despite his words, Snape was not at all resistant as Harry stole a kiss or three between the floors.

The master bedroom had little in common with the time when it housed a hippogriff, dominated by his pride and joy, a four-poster bed, perfectly made. Harry resolved to thank Kreacher for the forethought, since it was definitely not how he had left it a day before.

To his disappointment, Snape left the bathroom before Harry could take off the robes he had transfigured from the hospital blanket. The rivulets of water running down his battered body felt heavenly, and Harry let himself just stand and enjoy them for a moment. He washed his hair and soaped himself, running his hands over his shoulders, his stomach, his dick that was half-hard from the kisses and the knowledge that Snape was there, behind the door, in his bedroom.

Turning off the shower, Harry realised that he had nothing to put on except for the transfigured blanket, all of his clothes still in the bedroom. Time for bold moves, then.

Towel wrapped across his hips, Harry eyed himself critically in the mirror. He was still compact, but his job had put some muscles on his previously scrawny frame. Most of his bruises from meeting the pavement were already gone thanks to Snape’s remedies, but the multitude of scars, old and new, remained. Harry traced the oval-shaped one where the locket Horcrux had burned his chest. Roger used to call this scar disfiguring.

He shook his head. Severus Snape was no Roger Davies.

When Harry stepped out of the bathroom, Snape was arranging some vials on the nightstand. As he turned around, his eyes ran up and down his body with a dark and greedy expression, dispelling Harry’s doubts.

“I shall be going now,” he said, voice low. “Here are enough potions for—”

Harry did not let him finish, crossing the room and capturing his lips in a kiss. Snape’s hand on his back felt electric.

“Strenuous activities are inadvisable in your condition,” Snape breathed into his lips, dragging his fingers just along the line of the towel.

Harry shuddered, embarrassingly breathless already. “Then you’ll have to do all the work this time.”

“This time, you say?”

“Yes.” He jutted his chin. “This time.”

Snape gave him a half-smile with a hint of teeth, eyes dark and bottomless. The towel slid down to the floor, and his fingers ventured lower, grasping Harry’s arse.

Harry’s hands found Snape’s collar, impatiently tugging at the first tiny button. “I’m naked, and you’re still done up to your neck. Unfair.”

“Life is not fair, Potter.” Snape batted his hands away, expertly undoing the robe.

“Harry,” Harry corrected and stifled a groan of despair at the sight of the shirt and trousers now visible underneath Snape’s robe.

Snape harrumphed. “I suppose you’ll want to call me by my first name?”

“Of course, I will, Severus,” Harry tried it out, pleasantly sibilant on his lips.

Severus shot him a heated glance as Harry got onto the bed to enjoy the view, hand moving to his erection. 

“Oh no, you don’t.” Severus intercepted his hand, mattress dipping under him.

Shivering under that fathomless gaze, Harry traced the scars Nagini left on his throat, stroked the smattering of hair on his chest, circling the dusky nipples and lightly grazing them with his nail. Emboldened by the catch in Severus’s breath, he removed his glasses, dropping it vaguely in the direction of the nightstand, and took his exploration lower, to his navel and the dark trail going from it.

“I thought I was to do all the work?” Severus murmured, catching his wrist to move it to his mouth. The feeling of teeth on the sensitive skin of his pulse line went straight to Harry’s cock.

In one swift movement, Severus was over him, careful to keep most of his weight off. Harry arched up, seeking more contact, and Severus obliged, latching his mouth to his neck, collarbone, the locket scar, a finger coming up to trace the lightning bolt over Harry’s heart where Voldemort’s second Killing Curse had hit. For a moment, Severus just looked at it, hair falling over his face.

“Does it bother you?” Harry asked, thinking about Roger again. His heart was beating madly under Severus’s fingers. 

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Severus said into his chest. “It’s just memories. We all wear our past on our skin.” 

He kissed it before moving his face to nuzzle Harry’s armpit, and oh God and Merlin, Harry could not contain his moan even if he wanted to.

Severus took his time there, so when he finally went lower, tongue swirling around his navel before moving to Harry’s cock, Harry was already panting and lifting his hips to meet those lips.

“Impatient,” Severus tsked and took Harry into his mouth, working his tongue in the most delicious manner.

Harry desperately held back from thrusting, and keened, spreading his legs wide. “There’s lube... In the drawer,” he said, catching his breath, reaching out blindly to the nightstand and the clever mouth disappeared, making Harry moan again at its absence.

“Why are there bronze potions scales in your nightstand?” Severus asked, bringing him out of his pleasurable haze. “You can’t keep such sensitive equipment in these conditions.” Apparently, even naked and with a raging hard-on, he could find the time and presence of mind to talk about potions.

Harry blushed, remembering his latest order, then covered up with a growl. “Something else is sensitive here. Come back and fuck me.”

Returning to Harry’s legs, Severus conjured a pillow under his hips and cast a preparation spell. A probing finger found its way inside Harry’s entrance, soon followed by another, making Harry thrash and fist the sheet as they stroked his prostate. He opened his mouth to say something silly about magical hands that made him lose his mind, but Severus added a third finger, and all words slipped from Harry’s head, reducing him to a moaning mess.

When the fingers retreated, Harry levered himself up with his elbow. He suddenly knew exactly what he needed.

“Can you lie down? I want to ride you.”

“This is not prudent,” Severus said in a low moan, already moving to comply. “Be careful, Potter.” Never taking his eyes from Harry, he half-sat against the headboard.

Harry straddled him, lowering his head for a brief but deep kiss. So far, it had been all about him, but now he wanted to make Severus gasp too. He took over the bottle and reached down to slick Severus’s cock, delighting in the catch of his lover’s breath. 

Harry raised himself slightly, and Severus’s hands came up to his hips, refusing to let him hurry, guiding him down, oh so slowly. Fully seated, they groaned in unison, foreheads resting against each other.

“Severus,” Harry breathed, lifting up and lowering himself down. Revelling in the stretch, he increased the pace. “Say my name, Severus.”

“Harry.” Severus thrust up, carefully gripping his hips, mindful of his injuries. His teeth found Harry’s neck, so very different from the earlier gentle exploration. “Harry,” he repeated with a punishing thrust.

At the sound of his name, Harry’s back arched involuntary, and a curious feeling, like a kink in his shoulders unwinding, settled over him. A rustle pierced the blissful fog clouding his brain, and below him, Severus let out a breathy, incredulous laugh.

“Only you,” Severus said as white wings cocooned them tightly. His hand found Harry’s erection, trapped between their bodies and smearing pre-come over his stomach, and managed to work in sync with Harry’s ragged rhythm. 

It was good, instinctive almost, to lower himself onto Severus’s cock that managed to hit his prostate every time, then thrusting up into Severus’s waiting fist; so good that Harry doubted he would last for much longer.

“Come for me, Harry,” Severus moaned, and with a last rock of his hips he did, white-hot pleasure exploding behind his eyes. Severus gripped his arse and directed his movements, sluggish now, thrusting upward once, twice, three times before coming too with a deep groan.

Breathless and reluctant to dislodge Severus just yet, Harry locked his arms around his neck and let his wings stretch out. This time, he could feel them if not control their movements perfectly. Unfortunately, he could also feel his legs cramping.

Noticing Harry’s wince, Severus helped him up and guided him to lie down on his side. “Are you in pain?” he asked, joining him at his insistent tug, putting his hand over Harry’s thigh and massaging it lightly. “We shouldn’t’ve been quite so—”

Harry pulled him close for a lazy snog. “It was perfect. Absolutely perfect.”

Obscured by clouds and layers of enchantments, they floated over the rooftops and naked tree crowns, moonlight glistening on Harry’s white wings—a bright contrast to Severus’s dark robes.

“You can let go now,” Harry said, unclasping his hand from Severus’s neck.

The arms disappeared from his waist, and Harry felt a momentary lurch in his stomach before righting himself with two jerks of his wings, flying a full circle around Severus. Together they flew to the roof of the nearest high-rise where he tumbled down onto the parapet and sat, legs dangling over the edge. Severus settled beside him, much more gracefully, and Harry beamed at him.

“Ron shouldn't have doubted my Veela powers. Hope he’s prepared to serenade Kingsley in the Ministry Atrium.” He grinned.

Ron was insultingly sceptical about Harry's flying abilities, and Harry had bet him that he would be soaring up on his wings before baby Rose was born. Armed with Severus’s advice on channelling magic to propel himself into the air, Harry had been training in secret for months. In truth, he suspected he owed his success more to Severus's technique than any tapping into his Veela side. Just that morning, he had managed to get upstairs without his feet touching the steps, no wings in sight, but Ron did not need to know that just yet.

He took Severus's hand and carded their fingers together, looking down at London bustling with colour and light still at midnight.

“I can’t believe I’ll have a goddaughter soon,” he said. “We’ll need to bring her here when she’s older.”

Severus’s fingers tightened in his. “Will the absence of Weasley at your side mean you are going to be less reckless, or more?”

Three months after they had gotten together, Harry had another accident that landed him in St. Mungo. It had been a point of contention ever since, both with Severus and Ron, who had even contemplated delaying his retirement before Harry put a stop to it.

“I’m a Senior Auror. I don’t have to do the grunt work and be in the field most of the time anymore,” Harry said with a sigh. “Kingsley has been pressuring me to start taking over the administrative side for a while now.”

“And will you?”

“I will. Already started, actually. It won’t be as fun without Ron anyway.”

Severus said nothing, but some of the harshness left his features.

They sat on the parapet for a while, watching the city underneath, until Harry tugged at their joined hands. “Are we going back up? My arse has turned into an icicle by now.”

“It’s even colder in the clouds,” Severus said, getting to his feet.

“With you by my side, it’s never cold.” Harry wrapped his wings around them both and waved his wand.

Severus’s lips twitched. “With me and those warming charms, you mean.”

“I might be a sap, but I’m a practical sap.”

With a rare unreserved smile, Severus pulled Harry close and led him up into the night.