Actions

Work Header

dare not speak its name

Work Text:

Severus isn’t having a great day, but then again it’s the first of September, start of the new school year, the same recurring nightmare of every less than enthusiastic teacher. What makes it even worse is the badly concealed buzzing anticipation covering the teacher’s table like thick smoke: that kid. The Child. The change he will inevitably bring with himself. Witnessing History in the flesh.

With the same disgustingly ridiculous hair that his father once had, the eleven year old Harry Potter walks to the Sorting Hat. Severus, much like everyone else, stares at his back as the Hat ponders quietly. Severus’ first guess is Gryffindor, obviously, his grudgingly admitted second is Ravenclaw, and although less likely, Merlin save the Wizarding World if he gets sorted into Hufflepuff…

But the Sorting Hat shouts:

"Slytherin!”

And Severus thinks, oh .

*

After the initial talks with his new first years, Severus knows that the headache splitting his temple apart is merely a warning: beware, your wards are threatened. The carefully manufactured Occlumency he has no problem maintaining almost effortlessly these days is screaming at him to take a break, to retreat, maybe have a drink and let some frustration out.

Because it’s not enough that Severus never gets the easy kids – issues with their manners, ideologies, prejudices against the house of Slytherin, morons or inbred idiots – no, he now has to look after Harry Potter too.

The clearly abused, underweight Muggle child that half the Wizarding World sees as something he is (based on a few minutes of careful observation) clearly not. It hits a bit too close to home for Severus.

*

There is a list in Severus’ office desk, the second drawer, buried (but clearly not buried enough to let him forget about it) under some mainly useless guides he received when he had started to teach at Hogwarts. It’s basically one page, listing the signs of abuse and how to notice it in children's behaviours. There is a protocol to follow in case some suspicion is raised regarding a student - something Severus is sure nobody ever bothered to look at, let alone update in the last eighty years. They certainly didn’t do anything in his case. 

*

Interestingly, weirdly, and yes, Severus is suspicious because surprises start to happen when people let down their wards, so he is still waiting for the other shoe to drop, but… 

Everything goes smoother than expected. Young Potter is a gifted child, open where Severus was closed up, and so his social circle quickly forms. Severus first sees him hang around the Gryffindors, then he gets into fights with Draco’s lot, and in a quick flourish, as these things go with eleven year olds, several friendships grow, and by the end of the first month, Potter is not only a loyal Slytherin, but an accepted one. Somehow Malfoy, Granger, Weasley and Potter knock out a troll, and if the rumours are true, they are helping the groundskeeper raise a dragon in the Forbidden Forest. Severus refuses to put any effort into finding out about that last part, because he has enough things to worry about with keeping an eye on Quirrell. 

Dumbledore, of course, always looks away at the right time. He has regular Sunday teas with the young Potter, and Severus only wonders once if Potter complains about him, then puts a stop to that silliness. He treats Potter the way he does all his Slytherins, and if he is paying a bit closer attention, Potter’s home life requires that. 

The Dark Lord is lurking around, Severus can feel it through his Mark – of course Lucius tells him he’s only imagining it.

After the very hush-hush recounting on what happened to the children in the Dungeons looking for an artifact that Should Not Be Kept In A School. Because these four have to be in every trouble imaginable , and history is truly repeating itself, and it's always Severus who has to pick up the slack, he ends up busy answering countless letters from worried parents, assuring them this sort of thing will never happen again . Something that Dumbledore’s insane reward for miraculously not dying does not discourage at all. 

Harry Potter spends half of his summer holiday at the Malfoy Manor (because Lucius wouldn’t miss out on the opportunity, and Severus is too washed out to argue, and Albus has a weird calculating look in his eyes and Minerva just purses her lips and Severus doesn’t really care about anyone else’s opinion), the other half in the Burrow. Severus authorizes all the papers for the latter and convinces Dumbledore it’s the right chess-move in this game of his. He trusts the Weasleys to take care of him more than the Malfoys and their hundred house elves.

In reality, he just refuses to send back a kid to his abusers. Even if it’s a kid he doesn’t particularly like, in Severus’s experience, only Dark Wizards and life altering, horrible mistakes came out of that before.

*

Severus oversees all his Slytherin students' academic achievements (or lack thereof), and when Harry Potter is not in the top five of his classes, he gives him gentle nudges. Sometimes it’s a book from the library, sometimes it only needs a five-minute conversation and the 12-year old doubles his efforts to do better.

Most of his “snakes” lose the hero-worshipping look in their eyes when they look at him by the end of their second winter in Hogwarts, partly due to Severus’ sharp tongue and general unpleasantness. After experiencing the thinly-veiled hatred, or, in better cases, only cautious distance-keeping from all of Hogwarts’s other faculty members, his students tend to realize he is an adult fiercely in their corner, and so they worship the ground he walks on, for a limited amount of time. It’s not surprising: Severus is the only teacher who rather blatantly favours them, while also making sure they’re alright. 

But somewhere along the second year, where the children realise they’re not the youngest anymore, accept the fact that they’ll always be seen as villains, and decide to milk that for all it’s worth, Severus’s figure changes from what’s been a strict but reliable uncle to a cautiously respected figure of an elder.

They know he’s there, and most of them perfected the art of stayingon his good side, but the childish attention-seeking, the whole intensity of them imagining they can rely on him is gone. They mature quickly, his Slytherins. They understand early enough that the only person they can truly trust is their own selves.

It all works out rather well, because Severus doesn’t have enough time for all 60 to 80 of them. It’s bad enough to find time to deal with his sixth and last year potioneer students, the troublemakers, the ones experiencing learning difficulties (that’s currently Crab and Goyle, and Lynch and Denise from 5th year) and the current first years.

But Potter… well, orphans are always slower in this. Perhaps. 

Harry still approaches him with Potion or Dark Arts-related questions after class – he is an adequate potioneer, mostly keeping his head above water by Granger’s and Malfoy’s help – he has enough wit to study everything that’s required, but constantly loses his concentration when dealing with actual brewing.

Severus doesn’t… no, he doesn’t like the boy, that would be strange. Lately, however, he comes to expect seeing that unruly dark hair pop up around the corner. The child’s smile, once so rare to appear, is nowadays almost a regular addition to his ruddy cheeks and his almost physical eagerness to learn and play and fly and stick his nose where it doesn’t belong.

He and his little gargle of friends fight off a giant snake at the end of the year, and Severus is shaken enough to give all of them detentions that last for years. Potter has to spend the first fortnight of his summer holiday in the Infirmary, and Severus refuses to visit him, something he always does when one of his Slytherins has to stay for more than a night. He will not reward stupidity with attention. He gets a long handwritten apology and an uncertain promise to behave not too recklessly in the future; it's heartfelt but amusing, Severus knows how to spot a troublemaker. Once could have been a fluke, with Nicolas Flanel’s stone, but to willingly seek out a Basilisk without informing an adult first? 

The worst thing, what eats away at him at night, is that he failed them somehow. Sure, Lockheart is a useless sack of shit, but he must have been doing something well if the kids went to him to ask for help. Is it perhaps… because he is nice?

No. 

Severus shan’t be nice. That’s nonsense. 

*

By the time Lupin (and later Black) turn up, Severus had essentially forgotten that Harry was the son of that Potter. It’s not a welcome reminder. 

Lupin doesn’t seem to understand at first what Harry is doing in Slytherin, and Severus could scream at him, make him see images of the abused child walking into Hogwarts three years ago, compare it to the healthy, happy student running around making friends and daring to be loud and take up space.

Lupin might be able to get there, though, Severus loathes to admit it but he was always intelligent. Once Severus observes him finding Harry and friends studying quietly in the library one evening, and after Lupin warms up to him, Potter takes to him with an embarrassing clinginess. If Severus thought Harry Potter had hero-worship for him with the way he behaved around him, the boy's excitement for Lupin's attention is ten-fold. 

So now Severus is jealous of a freaking werewolf, and he is vehemently denying it even to himself, and the bloody creature accidentally forgets to take his Wolfbane (never mind that Severus worked on it for a solid week ) and then, naturally, all hell breaks loose. They somehow manage to sedate the wolf, drive away the Dementors, but all of them suffer smaller or bigger injuries. Pettigrew is gone, Black becomes Dumbledore’s responsibility, and it’s not exactly decided whether he’ll get kissed, which is just as well, because Severus just wants to strangle everyone . Instead he has to seek out Lucius Malfoy and explain to him how his boy (his One Heir, as he is always mentioned in these sort of conversations) got permanent scarring on his arm by a werewolf.

Thanks to Lucius, Lupin gets fired, but that doesn’t really improve Snape’s mood.

Dumbledore lets Harry spend the summer with Sirius Black (and no doubt, Remus Lupin, thick as thieves, those two), and when a certain Potion Master raises his concerns, he dismisses them, making a promise to check on the bloody Gryffindors every other week. 

And so after destroying half of his office, Severus decides not to care about it anymore. Surely, when Potter comes back from this holiday, his whole demeanor will be changed. There is no love lost between Black and him – and as his newly discovered godfather, Snape is quite convinced he would have the boy turned against him in no time. It's still a better alternative than sending the boy back to his abusive family – at least Black and Lupin will only spoil him rotten, they will not hurt him. Not on purpose, at least, although how any child could be left in a care of a man right out of prison and an irresponsible werewolf, Severus might never fucking understand. 

The summer ticks away, with its heavy heat and occasional rainfalls. Severus attempts to brew new things and utterly fails.

*

It’s that same year, just at the beginning of October, when Severus realises that he loves Harry Potter. The thought comes late, but brings all the more embarrassment. How could this happen? A fourteen year old child , for Merlin’s sake. It’s wrong to notice his young beauty, even if Severus firmly puts a stop to that type of thoughts, and, truly, he doesn’t lust after the boy, he just… wants him to live. And be happy. Which, considering what Harry Potter’s role is in the Wizarding World, is almost impossible.

Potter comes back for4th year with a bit of a mouth: it’s not truly in his nature, just Black rubbing off of him, and he loses it within the first few days. He also keeps his distance more than he used to and Severus figures just as well, because it’s already too unhealthy to form such a connection to a child as he feels building inside of him. Even more so because said boy is Harry Potter. It’s fucked up from every angle, Severus being best friends with his mother and hating his father and ultimately causing both of their premature deaths.

Outside of class they only meet when they randomly run into each other in the dungeons, and on Snape’s mandatory once-every-two-months interview that the Slytherin children get. (Harry, as one of the troubled ones, started out weekly, but that was such a long time ago.) It’s only an hour, and Harry acts like he doesn’t care and is tight-lipped about everything except his studies. Severus assumes it’s going to be like this from now on and even if it’s better, he still blames that bloody Sirius Black an awful lot. It’s in the last five minutes of their third stilted meeting that the finally boy blurts out what’s been bothering him.

”Were you really my mum's best friend?”

It’s not unexpected, so Severus has a thought out and practiced answer.

”Between ages nine and fourteen, yes, we considered each other to be.”

”What happened when you were fourteen?”

”I called her a Mudblood.”

It’s easier to say it than to not divert his gaze, to make himself look at the boy's reaction afterwards. It is the final kindling in the bonfire under his feet that Black built for him throughout summer and now Severus pulled out a match himself to light it up, but the only option is honesty here. Some mistakes have to be paid for twice: some over and over again.

Harry’s expression doesn’t change much, though: he acts like he already had the information. It was a test then, and Severus has no idea what to do to pass (or if he even wants to).

”Thank you for your time, Professor.”

Severus nods as the messy-haired student steps out of his door. Sometimes, these days, it's hard to think of him as Potter, and sometimes Severus wishes he wasn’t Harry Potter at all. 

*

Just after the Christmas break is over, Harry’s name is announced in the Triwizard Tournament.

It takes a very long night of Severus shouting alongside with Black to get the Headmaster to remove him from the chosen ones. They call out every sort of bullshit excuse the headmasters throw at them, and by dawn Harry is officially not a champion anymore.

Black is slighly breathless from yelling at the top of his lungs multiple times that ”Then I’ll fucking take him out of this school!” which seemed to do the trick after some time, but Severus likes to think his presence and reasoning was helpful as well.

By Black’s muttered „thanks” when they part, he’s apparently not the only one who thought so.

(So what if Severus is secretly delighted by the fact that Dumbledore’s plan to clear the dog's name and let him bully him into essentially adopting Harry backfired so spectacularly? Oh my, my. That old fox deserves to be proven he is not as omniscient as the rumours he spreads about himself say. A right shame, truly.) 

*

Naturally, Potter gets kidnapped a week later. Severus isn’t even surprised anymore. 

If anything, this really brings the slowly regrouping Order back together. Black and Lupin are almost mad with worry and Severus is not having the time of his life being the go-to person for the whole sack of Potter's friends - they are disgustingly many in number and they are from every house. 

Granger, Weasley and Draco are the worst of all, of course. Severus catches them once trying to sneak out of the castle, Hagrid finds them another time almost by the Forest. They can’t seem to understand how four missing teenagers is worse than only one . They really should teach children some basic sciences before Hogwarts.

Lupin and Black are searching for Harry all over the country, trying to find him through whatever limited information they can squeeze out of the ministry through Kingsley, tracks that are quickly lost or never were right to begin with. At the end, it’s not needed: Harry Apparates back to their Grimmauld Place home, goes through the fire to the Headmaster’s office and passes out on the carpet.

After a few hours, when he regains consciousness (when Poppy allows the frantic men to wake him up) he tells them that Voldemort is back, with a brand new body, no less. Severus is teaching when it happens, but the slowly burning mark on his arm is unmistakable. The story of his escape, Severus only later learns, much later, from Dumbledore's account, because the Dark Lord doesn’t talk, just takes his revenge for the failed plan. Severus is punished on top of that as well, for being Dumbledore’s lapdog . He has a week to deliver Potter to him, and prove his loyalty.

Which is fun , because that means Severus has one more week to be free to walk around or leave the Castle, afterwards he either hides in Hogwarts or he hides on the run. He’s not too ecstatic about either option, and they spend the first two nights of his remaining freedom arguing about the issue with Dumbledore, then the Order.

To his utter bewilderment, Lupin and Black offer him a room on Grimmauld Place. Well, Lupin offers and Black murmurs something that’s not a no. But he’s looking at them as shocked and disgusted as he feels, because they both smile. Even Albus gets on board with this, tries to sweeten the deal. 

“You’d be free to brew and could teach Harry Occlumency and organise duelling practices for the Order. We will provide you with anything you might need.”

Harry is also taken out of school until further notice: it’s also sort of summised that Snape could home-school him along with Lupin and Black.

Severus would rather have the exile, thanks. But being more useful to the cause and less dead in a ditch seems to be what is expected of him by literally everyone. Begrudgingly, even by his own rational self. 

So he spends as much time outside as possible, shops in Diagon Alley and elsewhere, actually has a pint with the other Head Teachers in the Three Broomstick (they’ve been inviting him along since forever) and sits by the lake until dawn. After that, he packs up all his essentials and everything else he doesn’t want ruined by the elves ‘cleaning’ and bids goodbye to his quarters and steps out of the fire at Black’s place.

Severus has been in this house before, almost a lifetime ago: there was a time when Regulus invited him, after Sirius had already been disowned. Their study group didn’t fit together as well as they expected, so Severus didn’t come over more than a handful of times though.

They’ve changed the drapery since: it is light and flowery now, very, very different from the last one that was predominately Slytherin colours and a rich, flowing material. This looked like it belonged in a young couple’s summer home. Which makes him wonder about Lupin and Black. He knows they had a fling back in their school-years. Was that sparkle rekindled?

Not that he cares one way or the other, but there never was any harm in getting some blackmail material.

*

“Severus,” Lupin greets him, and Severus wishes for the Dark Lord’s torture instead of this forced politeness suddenly. ”I trust your journey was all right?”

”I stepped into a fireplace,” Severus drawls, and he almost feels Black grinding his teeth somewhere in the kitchen. This is it, the life he will have now. Locked together with two Gryffindors and one of his own who adores them. It shouldn’t bother him that much, he knows. 

He gets a room and is left alone to unpack. The wallpaper is horrible, and anything besides sleeping through the next century feels unappealing as fuck. 

*

Severus is pretty sure this will be the most uncomfortable dinner of his lifetime. He isn’t too far off.

All four residents have a whole side of the table to themselves, and since the table is big enough to sit two and two people next to each other, Severus detects some desperate attempt at their seating arrangement – Lupin clearly didn’t want Black and him sitting next to or opposite of each other. Which is not physically possible, as long as they're pretending to be polite, so as a second best chance, he is seated really far away from the two Gryffindors, and moderately far from Potter. Who still avoids his gaze as if Severus is unbearable to be looked at. 

That is fine by him, really. He is indifferent in the matter. 

A mocking voice sings in his brain, Severus Snape, always trying way too hard. 

So yes, Severus is in a foul mood. And Black is so visibly restraining himself, and Potter is not looking at him, and Lupin’s chatter isn’t helping things. (The werewolf voices his opinion on how their side was trying to spread the gossip that Dumbledore caught Snape trying to kidnap Harry, therefore discovered his spy-status and made him disappear, while Potter had been quickly delivered to safety. This was a half-hearted attempt to preserve Severus’ credibility in front of the Dark Lord, which, if he got lucky, could give him a chance in the future to avoidthe Asshat’s immediate Killing Curse. It is a concern for the future, however, and Severus' long term plans at the minute are all about getting through this dinner without getting hexed.)

“Will you be forcing us to keep up this charade of good camaraderie every evening, Remus ?” Severus asks in a honeyed tone. He observes, out of the corner of his eye how Black’s posture changes and his right hand curls on his knife more forcefully, but the man-dog doesn’t speak – and wow, Severus is honestly amazed how much Lupin must have him by the balls if he isn’t even allowed to talk , and he complies

“I wouldn’t mind eating in my room,” Harry pipes in quietly. This is the first time Severus hears his voice in weeks, which is absolutely not something he should have noticed. But he has made it a point to notice everything about Potter in the previous years, and its a hard habit to break. 

Lupin frowns.

“Won’t that be awfully lonely?” There is so much concern in his voice that Severus loses all his remaining appetite. He slides his hands in his lap and squeezes them together painfully. It is perfectly natural, he tells himself, Gryffindors are allowed these emotions. They are free to care about the boy and show it . Everyone knows Lupin is on good terms with Harry. He is, most likely, his guardian's boyfriend. Almost a stepparent, that. Severus is the ex-Head of House in a school which they fled. Nobody, basically. 

Potter shrugs. He seems drained and disinterested. It is not a good look on him; is he depressed? Who wouldn’t be, when told they need to stay guarded in an ancient house for the foreseeable future? 

“I don’t want you always eating alone, Harry,” Black says, not entirely authoritatively, “The traditions we made in this house…”

As he trails off, Severus notices the glances Potter casts around the room, and identifies the boy’s problem in the end. He could free the child of his enforced politeness toward his Head of House.

“We’re all aware of the elephant in the room here, so let us not dance around it anymore. Black and I despise each other. While it is honorable to indicate that it would be your own preference to dine alone, Mr Potter, we all know you’re just attempting to be well-mannered. I wouldn’t want to impose ‘ family time ’, and I certainly don’t wish to make you choose between respecting your Headteacher or your guardians’ wishes.”

After his short monologue, he stands up to depart. However, Potter looks up at him with so much… burning misery in his eyes that Severus automatically stumbles a step forward. What is wrong with him? He thought that’s what he wanted.

As Severus stares at him, searchingly, Potter bows his head again. This new habit annoys Severus to his core. How is he supposed to find out what is going on with the boy if he can't see his expressions?

He becomes aware of Black and Lupin silently communicating with each other through eye-contact and head-motions alone. It is somewhat comical, but Snape envies the connection all the same: he never had a friend he’d been so close with. Dumbledore and him could communicate like this, but that was mostly aptly applied legilimency, not real familiarity, and they both tried to avoid it as much as possible lately. 

“How about a compromise?” Lupin says after a long, tension-filled moment later. “Since you’ll practice with Harry in the daytime, it would be logical if you ate lunch with Harry, Severus, and then we could have the evening meals as a family. Of course, if you’d like, Severus, you could join on…”

„Fine,” Severus interrupts, not waiting for the end of that awkward not-invitation. “Assuming Mr Potter agrees?”

After Harry’s nod, he goes back to his room to finish unpacking (stare at his ugly ceiling) and absolutely not muse on (overthink) those sad expressions.

*

Planning their first lesson doesn’t require much of Severus's time. Decoding Potter’s behaviour is another matter. What is going on in the boy’s head?

The skinny, abused, but hopeful child arriving at Hogwarts four years ago that slowly became more filled out, made friends, even seemed to like Severus more than his other students. Perfectly normal behaviour, considering that he was the first adult in his life who was actively helping him instead of negatively impacting his physical and mental growth, while treating him with respect, and not as a celebrity, but a normal child. 

However, Potter had been delighted when Black proved to be innocent and was pardoned and allowed to adopt him. If he could believe the secondhand information from Albus, the youngster had a fantastic summer, they went to Spain and Potter returned in good spirits. In fact, he was in such a good mood he replied back to Severus cheekily a few times. It only took two detentions with Flinch to rid him of that unappealing habit, but afterwards, the boy started behaving more distant towards him. Was it the detention’s fault? He’d given him some before, various ones, with little effect. What changed things? Potter discovering his late friendship with Lily? Black’s no doubt high opinion of him? 

Severus thought of simply asking the boy. He, unlike most Slytherins, occasionally seemed to appreciate directness. Mr Potter, is there a particular reason for your hostility towards me? But hostility was too strong of an expression. Standoffishness?

That sounded ridiculous. He might as well say Mr Potter, why am I not your favourite adult anymore? Because that was the cornerstone of things. Severus got spoiled by someone actually liking him. How pathetic.

*

They start at nine, when Black and Lupin are both out of the house: Lupin is a local school-teacher, and Black honest-to-Merlin is doing some Muggle modelling work with clothes and motorcycles and tattoo artists and whatnot. (Severus only paid attention to get some fuel for future insults, but he couldn’t help but find this both disdainful and hilarious .)

Potter was reminded earlier to bring his wand and his duelling robes: now he is quietly waiting for Severus in the room next to the library, which Lupin and Black cleaned out the day previous for ’study purposes’.

“You won’t need to use your wand for the first part of this lesson,’ Severus says as soon as he steps into the training room. “We will alternately study Occlumency and Legilimency, the two parts of Mindmagic, and learn new spells while we polish your duelling skills. For the first few instances however—

“I will not learn Mindmagic from you,” Potter intercepts quietly, but with a strange certainty.

“You will--- Pardon?” Severus stops in his tracks to level a slightly shocked and mostly enraged look on him. He would hope he misheard. Potter looks back, determined.

Severus smiles at him. He calls it smiling, but it must be a terrifying sight. 

“I must be wrong, Mr Potter, but it sounded like you said you won’t be learning Occlumency from me. ” He makes sure his voice is positively dripping with honey; every Slytherin student was conditioned to blindly agree to anything that is uttered in this way . They knew better than to argue. Most of them did, at least. “I don’t imagine you would have endless possibilities regarding instructors.” 

“I’m quite happy to learn anything else from you, and I appreciate your willingness to teach me, sir,” Potter murmurs in a respectful tone, but not even bothering to look up at him, “But if the Headmaster wants me to learn mind magic, he’d have to find someone else, however hard that will be.”

Severus is so angry he can literally see stars dancing in front of his eyes.

“Mr Potter, you seem to be under a false impression that the Media and Black try to drill into you no doubt, which I assure you are completely untrue: you are not actually the person who hung the Sun and the Moon. If you think the Headmaster will cater to a child’s wishes you are foolish. 

Potter finally glances up, for only a second, and Severus is too slow to understand the emotions in his eyes. 

“It’s up to him to provide me with another teacher,” He shrugs. “I won’t learn from you.”

It stings, it cuts and although it smarts like hell, and Severus shoves that away. He won’t ask why, he doesn’t care. He wants to physically grab Potter and shake some sense into him. He holds himself back, but he does shout.

“For Merlin’s sake, it’s not the right time to play favourites like a spoiled child, Potter, we’re at war, this knowledge could very well save your life !”

Potter closes his eyes and sighs, as if he is the one behaving uncomprehendingly, irresponsibly. 

“My decision is final, Professor.”

Severus stares at him for a long minute, then lets out a growl as he pivots around and leaves the room, his robes billowing behind him menacingly. 

*

That evening finds Lupin, Black and Severus sitting around the kitchen table, all three of them nursing drinks. Severus hates his fucking life. 

“I spoke to Dumbledore,” Lupin says. “He interviewed Harry earlier tonight, and he… well, he basically said Harry is within his rights to stand by his decision, and we can’t force him.”

Black hums, but Severus doesn’t care to guess if he is in favour of the Headmaster’s opinion or not. His mind keeps ringing with one simple word. Why?

“He wouldn’t say why though, and apparently he was very clear about appreciating Severus’ help in all other subjects. But no Occlumency and Legilimancy.” 

Severus’ second best talents. How was Potter planning to defeat the Dark Lord then, by throwing a potion at him? 

“I’m not exactly surprised.’ Black mutters under his voice. “I wouldn’t like this bloody git snooping around in my mind.” 

Before Severus could react, Lupin very non discreetly kicks Black under the table. It is hard enough to make the man moan and tear up, but he hastens to add, 

“No offence, Snape.” 

The automatic passive-aggressive answer about smelly dogs and their understanding of the world slides right out of Severus’s mind when the idea hits him: Black is right. He himself is the problem, but not the way he’s been imagining it. Potter has some sort of a secret he wanted to be kept, at all costs; primarily from him.

“If that’s final, then let’s not waste any more valuable time whining about it,” he tosses back his drink (which is why he came in the first place, its Ogden’s) and he stands up. “Tell the boy to dress for a duel tomorrow. We will proceed with the rest of his curriculum as planned. Goodnight.”

He is out of the room so quickly, he ends up missing most of Black’s cursing, but he has a more pressing issue to think about.

What can be so enormous that Potter wants to keep a secret? And why from him? Severus knew him for years now, after the Dragon, the Car, and all that, does he honestly think he’ll be surprised?

Severus comes up with the explanation fast enough, and when he does, he feels frozen. Potter isn’t sure of his loyalties. There is no other explanation. He doesn’t trust him. 

No, Potter’s strange behaviour towards him started before that, although that could have been simply Black’s influence like he originally assumed. Or has Harry heard something from Draco Malfoy regarding his past? Was it Lucius who thought it would be a good idea to tell him? 

Severus doesn’t sleep much that night, but by the morning, he has a plan, and knows how to shed light on the issue.

*

Potter seems to be in an amicable mood when he arrives at the training room the next morning.

“Remus said to dress comfortably and bring my wand, are we going to…” He trails off when Severus swirls around to face him, wand pointing at the middle of his chest.

Legillimens! ” Severus suddenly sees himself through Potter’s eyes, wand aiming at him, and the confused shock of the surprise holds Severus’ spell at bay for a nanosecond. After a breath, though, images start to flash behind both of their eyes. First, there is a cupboard and a large man frowning at a burned bacon, then it’s the Slytherin common room with laughing children, and then in the Potions classroom, Potter stands directly in front of him and leans in for a kiss…

Both his shock at the memory that never happened and Potter’s panicked magic force the connection to break. Severus, not sure there is any air left in his lungs, but unable to take any more in, stares at the boy, who first goes dead-white then tomato-red, then simply bolts. 

Severus, finding his own legs shaky, sinks into a chair by one of the bookshelves. He runs a hand over his face. It’s shaking. He can finally breathe again, but now there is not enough air in the room, and he is so loud as he tries to collect himself. 

That wasn’t a memory. I would remember. And if it’s not a memory, it must be, by the process of elimination… a fantasy.

Sweet Merlin. He was wrong. It isn’t that Potter doesn’t trust him; it is much worse.

Severus never had to address… this sort of thing before. Oh, it happened once or twice earlier in his career. Students developing crushes on him. It is only a natural symptom of being in a boarding school, with young, horny teenagers and a relatively young teacher with a cryptic personality. Oh, Severus had no illusions about his looks, but still, sometimes he had caught signs of affection: students’ glances lingering too long, sudden eagerness to learn his subject, that sort of thing. But because of his nature, nobody dared to take it any further than one or two flirty lines, and every attempt or feeling was easily crushed by a healthy combination of humiliating said student and completely ignoring them for a few weeks afterwards.

He was never faced with it so plainly and unmistakably, though. 

He is terrified to have to deal with it, not only because of the awkwardness, but… Potter. Fuck, why does it have to be him of all the brats? Even worse… did Severus somehow caused this, unconsciously projecting his own feelings onto the boy?

Severus swallows and its painful with his completely dry mouth.

No. That couldn’t be. He never considered… No. He didn’t think about Potter as a sexual creature, because fuck, he was a child , and Severus wasn’t a monster . He may have… he may have liked Potter more than his average Slytherins, he may have thought he was more beautiful than Lily or James that age, but that was… That was not… was that... inappropriate?

He never imagined them… what Potter apparently had… kissing.

Bloody hell, what a mess. And they couldn’t just leave it alone and not talk about it ever again. This sort of thing needed to be addressed, and as soon as possible at that.

So Severus does the thing he most desperately wanted to avoid: he goes and knocks on Potter's bedroom door.

Harry doesn’t answer at the first knock. Severus tries again.

“Leave me alone.”

“Mr Potter, we need to talk about this.”

“No we don’t.”

Severus held back a snort. Merlin, he wishes. He raises his hand to knock again, but Potter surprises him by throwing the door open and advancing on him, cheeks clearly tear-streaked. Severus’ stomach starts aching in an entirely different way than before. 

“How could you do that?!” Harry demands. 

What is he…

“You broke into my mind after I SPECIFICALLY SAID I DIDN’T WANT YOU THERE!”

Severus winces, not only because of the volume of Potter’s shouting. He feels a shade of shame crawling towards him, then he puts a stop to it with logic.

“I assumed you were hiding the fact you didn’t trust me to be on your side,” Fuck. He meant to say “the Light’s side”. A little Freudian slip.

“What?” Harry sucks in a breath, and he is properly angry, Severus can tell. “That’s ridiculous!... But whatever, you still had no right to…”

“You are right,” Severus concedes, although he doesn’t mean it. But he needs to move forward from this point before they exhaust themselves arguing about semantics. “It was an invasion of your privacy and I apologise.”

That gets the desired effect: shocking Potter into silence. His expression is… now that Severus has the key to him, it is blindingly obvious. Potter is hurting, but still he can’t keep his eyes off him. The hero worship of his twelve year old self didn’t disappear, after all. It just… transformed. He feels almost sick for never noticing, for fuming about losing that connection, when something much more dangerous was blooming instead. 

“Mr Potter,” he starts quietly, taking a step closer to the boy, who automatically balances the distance by taking the step backwards (and this was Severus’ intention, not going into the bedroom, but planting a foot in the doorway so it can’t be shut in his face). “About what I saw.”

He takes a deep breath. Potter closes his eyes forcefully, but only for a second (more than enough time for Severus to wish to stroke his hair comfortingly and then firmly tell himself off for that), and he is  opening them again as Severus rushes through his next words.

“I assure you, it’s very flattering that a young boy like you holds me in his affections. And while there is nothing wrong with being attracted to someone who’s slightly older than you or is the same gender as you, I am much older, and your teacher, so I am in a position of power over you. Therefore it would be completely inappropriate of me to encourage your feelings. Which I don’t return.” Liar, liar. “So please forget about the notion and move on.”

Potter’s shoulders sag.

“Right,” he murmurs. “Supposed you’d say something like that.”

Severus gives him a minute to breathe, then braves the more important part.

“That being said,” he tries to change his tone to a matter-of-fact, distanced quality, and perhaps not failing as devastatingly as he thinks. “If this was the only reason you opted out of the Occlumency, I’d ask you to reconsider. The Dark Lord is a very skilled Legillimens: being able to shut your mind would be tremendously useful against him. You need to have this skill to protect yourself and the people you care about.”

Severus almost bites into his mouth. Sometimes Potter is gullible as a Hufflepuff. Severus thought of Malfoy and the herd of Weasleys, but after the kiss… the meaning of that imagined kiss... it sounds different, the people he cares about. Severus is cared about, and he immediately has to put a stop to that, especially standing in front of the boy. 

Harry hesitates, but Severus easily guesses his only remaining doubt.

“The Headmaster will be willing to lend us his Pensive. Using that, you can remove the memories from your head you don’t wish for me to see.”

The answer is easily readable in Potter’s face, and the boy’s words shortly confirm it. 

“Okay. As long as that’s… possible.” Then he seems to remember something else. “And I have two conditions: one, you never invade my mind like that without asking permission first.”

Finally, spoken like a real Slytherin. 

“That would defeat the purpose of practice,” Severus argues.

“Every other time that’s not practice then.”

I will not be in your company when not explicitly necessary for your survival, Severus thinks and nods. 

“And the other is… you won’t tell anyone about what you saw. Ever.” He is flushed again.

“Naturally.”

He shuffles awkwardly and something in Severus moves with him. He needs to get away from him. 

“I’ll send up a book you can work on,” Severus breaks the uncomfortable silence. “We’ll start the practical training tomorrow. And may I suggest we’d break the habit and eat separately today?”

“Oh, definitely,” Potter lets out a whoosh of air with great relief. He seems worn out, but at least at ease again.

“Splendid!” Severus says, then swears to never, ever use that word again. It makes him sound like Lupin. “Good day, then.”

Severus chooses a book from Black’s library, makes himself some sandwiches and locks himself in his room for the reminder of the day.

The image of the little scene doesn’t leave his head, whatever he tries. He tries brewing, reading, sleeping, decorating his walls, running, eating the sandwiches and drinking and pushing his head under the cold stream of the shower, just about anything he can think of.

Nothing helps erase the image of Potter thinking about kissing him in his own head.

*

It takes a few weeks, but they eventually settle into a rhythm. Potter duells and does concentration-exercises in the morning, then after lunch has a break and reads some. He spends the afternoons studying for the chosen few subjects he decided to take the O.W.L.s and later N.E.W.T-s  on ( if he will be allowed to do so safely). Lupin and Black help out where they can, and play (in Severus’ opinion, totally unnecessary) inane games with him. On the weekends, someone usually comes over from Hogwarts: Harry’s friends (no more than two at a time), teachers and once or twice even Molly and Arthur Weasley.

Despite using the Pensive before every Occlumency session, some of Potter’s fantasies seep through to Severus. They both steadfastly ignore them, although Harry gets embarrassed every time, and once or twice Severus feels his own face colour. But it becomes more sporadic with time and with Potter’s skills developing. ( Finally .)

They can work adequately together on most days, and an easy camaraderie sneaks upon them the way it often does with people working toward a common goal, but when either Severus or Harry has a bad day, they have the most spectacular fights. This is how Severus knows the quiet, calm conversations are just a sham. Their personalities clash. He can also admit to their pig-headedness, so similar to each other, neither can let go of their stubborn sulks easily. But they have to survive, and Severus forces himself into socializing with the Gryffindors daily and at least Potter is a Slytherin, a devil he thinks he knows. Time passes infuriating slowly, or other times, impossibly quickly.

Harry is fifteen by the time the Dark Lord manages to maneuver a Death Eater into the house. By coincidence, he’s alone in the house, Severus out on a rare but mundane errand; by the time he gets back, Harry has the intruder gagged and bound, while heavily bleeding on the ground.

Severus secures the Death Eater again and sends word to Dumbledore, then sets out to heal Harry’s injuries. The combined blood loss and potions make Potter slow and blabbery, like he’s high on Muggle Marihuana, because of course Severus was the one who found them even then last summer. 

It’s very amusing while he only talks about how funny-looking the living room rug is, but then he turns to Severus who’s bandaging his right arm manually, soaking the healing solution into the gauze, then putting it around the wound.

“You have warm hands,” Harry sighs, dreamily. Severus freezes. He should have used magic. ’’S nice. And eyes. I like them very much. But you’re not. Teacher.” He sighs again, this time more frustrated, childish and pouting. Severus’ heart beats unsteadily. “Not fair. I still fancy you, y’know? Bet we could do wooonderful things together.” Harry giggles, wags his eyebrows in a way he must think is sexy. He is wrong. What it is, is… inappropriate. 

“Potter, stop talking now,” Severus requests quietly, too aware of the red spots appearing on his cheekbones. Potter grew a bit in the last year, and Black brought him a few gym instruments they installed in the cleaned out attic, and Potter runs on a Muggle machine. While he’s not muscly, there is no excess weight on him either. His face has lost its round childishness, jaw and stubble more prominent now. Severus desperately tries to not notice all these details whenever they’re in the same room.

“Okay,” Potter agrees, then doesn’t even shut up for two seconds before adding, “Aww, you’re blushing!”

“I’m not,” Severus protests, way too loudly, shattering the intimacy. He leans back, angling his body away from Harry’s. “It’s warm in here.” He lies. “Would you please keep your eyes on that Death Eater and tell me if he wakes up?”

(He won’t. Severus threw three stupefies on his body when he was already unconscious. The man won’t wake up for the next 34 hours without magical help.)

“Righto!” Potter says and snaps his attention to the figure on the floor. He keeps talking while Snape patches him up, but thankfully it’s only nonsense again.  

 

The dreams start that night.

Harry comes closer and he kisses him on the lips. Something is not right, Severus feels it in his stomach, but he can’t figure out what it is as Harry’s hand sinks into his hair while he keeps pressing small, gentle, so very hot kisses -- this is wrong, Severus knows somewhere in the back of his foggy mind… but why? 

He wakes violently, aching, tangled in his sheets and sweat covering him - he feels disgusting, he is disgusting, a 15 year old child , Severus is a monster . No matter that Harry kissed him first, and only in his imagination, he doesn’t know what he wants, he is becoming a horny teenager of course he will do unthinkably misguided things. Severus has to know better. 

He takes an ice-cold shower and bullies himself back into sleep. 

*

There is an attempt to sneak a Death Eater into the house by Polyjuice Potion -- stupid Weasley for leaving his hair everywhere. He is caught before setting a foot on the premises. 

*

Severus keeps having nightmares. Because they are nightmares, erotic, disgusting, wrong, wrong, wrong nightmares. 

*

Time passes. Things get worse, things get better and so it continues. There are attempts to kidnap Harry, and they manage to get him back both times said plans succeed. Harry eventually stops looking at him from the corner of his eye, doesn’t tense anymore when Severus walks into a room unexpectedly, doesn’t forget his gaze on him during dinner. 

It’s a relief and it hurts. The universe plays a cruel game, giving Severus one person that actually desires him in any capacity and then making that person so much younger, untouchable

*

They have Harry’s favourite cake for his 16th birthday, and Severus can’t help it anymore, he will go crazy, truly lose his mind, almost two years of cold showers and self-flagellation and heartburn later he just has to. Has to. 

So he allows himself to touch his cock this one time, before sleep. In his room, alone, in the dark and the room covered in spells and the door locked tightly. He gives in and masturbates loudly, desperately, thinking about that pink mouth, the way Harry would feel curled up against him, fitting into his hollows. 

The horrible part of his brain whispers from time to time - 

Does it matter if he fails or not? Will it matter? The thoughts are in his head already, they won’t solidify into actions against the boy just because he admits… because he admits, only to himself, only now, only on this one night, that he wants him . Loves him.

Severus comes with a broken moan - a noise which turns into sobbing from one second to the next. The tears and the gasps and the hurt just keeps rolling over him, waves of shame, of the horrible loneliness, the unfairness of his life. 

He weeps himself into sleep, and at last, thankfully, it gets easier after that. 

He allows it to destroy him, this emotion. It cuts into him every time Harry smiles at him, hurts especially when he is alone, but it somehow becomes easier. Severus is a monster, fine, but he is only that in his own head. And he survives, because he survives everything, the aching in his insides included. 

*

More than a year later, the last supper is a terse affair. Tonks tries to joke the tension away, and some of the Weasleys half-heartedly join, but everybody knows it is the end.

They huddle up, closer to each other, wanting to seek out the warmth and comfort of their loved ones. Families and couples leave in bulks. Some of them refuse to hug Harry, insisting it is just another time they say goodbye, and not the last, no need to change anything. Some others cling to him for minutes.

When it’s down to the golden trio and the dogwolf couple, Severus picks up his empty plate and disappears to the kitchen. He’s certain BlackLupin will let HermioneRonDraco spend the night. For once, he doesn’t completely disagree. Harry needs his friends - Merlin knows he wouldn't have survived this long without Granger’s seemingly limitless knowledge, Weasley’s strategic mind and Malfoy’s unwavering loyalty. 

He hopes, but there’s no way to know. If Harry overpowers Him. If any of them will make it out alive.

He distracts himself by doing the washing up without magic. It’s somewhat calming, reminds him of his Mum, and Lily’s parents. Sunshine in the quiet kitchen, only the dishes clicking together from time to time. 

When the door opens, he expects it to be Lupin, bringing in the rest of the wine glasses, or maybe even Black, asking if he’d have a nightcap with them, just to exchange some comfortingly harsh words with each other, which is less effective nowadays because they both know the real feeling has been missing from behind them for some time. Not that they will ever be real friends, but after almost four years of living in the same house, they are... fine. Too busy with keeping Harry alive  and well to remember the reasons for their old animosity. 

But it’s Harry. He closes the door behind him, and leans back against it for a second, before propelling himself forward to step closer to him.

“Severus,” he says, nodding at him. There is naked emotion in his eyes, and vulnerability in his voice. It’s the first time he used his given name: they haven’t even discussed this before, not even when Harry turned seventeen months ago. 

Severus feels too tired to have this conversation. It’s past time to play games now, not when they are only a few hours away from the inevitable doom or whatever waits for them out on the battlefield. He keeps eye contact with the young man, even if his clear, deep green gaze makes his heart flutter uncomfortably. It’s not exactly a new development, but he can take it now. If the worst happens… at least he had a last, long look to satisfy the beast in his belly.

“Harry,” He answers, acknowledging the young man in front of him.

Something shatters in Potter’s eyes at that word, and Severus feels like he’s falling into his soul, not unlike the little girl on the telly, who broke through the mirror to arrive back into her own dimension as Lily and he watched, speechless. 

Potter’s whole… his whole heart is on display, offered to him to see, to read, to understand. After years of shielding himself, one way or the other - it's quite breathtaking. 

He is full of an emotion Severus never had directed towards him before, not in these large, monumental, earth-shattering ways. Different from that hurried, agonising fantasy years ago. 

Harry steps closer, and Severus is paralyzed by that emotion. He couldn’t run if he wanted to. He doesn’t dare name it in his mind. 

”This might be the last time we…” Harry swallows, his Adam’s apple moving. The air is thick between them, it’s hard to breathe in, and Severus forgets to breathe out completely, worrying he will miss the following words. ”I remember what you said. But… I don’t think it matters now.”

How can he so effortlessly continue a conversation Severus thought he put to death completely? He was supposed to fall out of That Thing and instead he managed to hide it and he didn’t let it go, he nurtured it and pulled it out now, presenting Severus with its blinding, unethical glory. 

Does it matter? When they are about to die facing a Dark Wizard? No, Severus doesn’t suppose it does. He hasn’t been thinking about this young man as his student for months now. Since the negotiations started - careful calculations of who gets to go where and who is more protected and who steps on the frontlines. Not children anymore, any of them. Not when they argue against their own survival, putting away their own future in hope of a more peaceful present. Potter...

Harry is still so maddeningly close. His eyes are gentle, all-encompassing, and he asks him quietly: ”May I kiss you?”

It’s like his words have the power to pour lava all over Severus’ heart.

Is this the moment to surrender? Severus wonders. Surely, it would be cruel of him to deny himself this fleeting… comfort. Does he deserve a chance for a hidden kiss in the kitchen of a gloomy house, his prison for the last few years, before he inevitably sacrifices himself tomorrow? Has he done enough to atone for his sins? 

He loves this boy, even if he’ll never admit the fact to anyone, even if it took years to be this honest with himself about the subject. To accept this attraction while keeping his strict distance.

There is no real reason to say no, besides the superficial.

He nods and his knees almost buckle, when something akin to fire starts to burn through Harry’s gaze, as he steps closer still.

Severus lets himself be kissed gently. Hot heaviness settles on his chest, Harry’s scent is enveloping him, and the feeling of soft lips upon his makes his toes curl. Harry touches his elbows lightly, and Severus realises his arms have been hovering half raised, somewhere between protesting, pulling him closer and pushing him away. 

It’s already over, by that point. Severus is certain, if the devil would appear in front of them that very second, asking for his soul, he wouldn’t be able to give it to him. Harry had it from the second he so sweetly asked for his permission to do this small, monumental thing. Letting Severus Snape know that he is loved, in this short second, in this bit of time. He is loved and wanted and desired and accepted and longed for. 

And because it really doesn’t really matter, in the grand scheme of things, he might as well press back, bring his arms around Harry’s waist, tug him into his space. He might as well kiss him with the desperation he carried in himself for so long. He might as well treasure these seconds before this beautiful boy realises he’s not worthy of all that. 

Harry gasps into his mouth. He takes a half-step back, and Severus’ heart starts to bleed. Well, at least he doesn’t have to live with the rejection for long. The battle starts tomorrow at dawn. 

Potter, ever the unexpected, reaches under his chin. There is naked wonder, and so much… so much love in his eyes that Severus’s heart attempts to climb out of his throat, and it’s too much and too real and he would run away, frightened, if his legs wouldn’t be so stupidly stiff.

”You too?” Harry whispers, and there is so much joy in his eyes Severus is sure one of them will have to tear up to survive the brightness of it. He knows he should answer something, but doesn’t trust himself to produce a non-embarrassing sound. 

He nods, minutely. Here they are, stripped bare in front of each other emotionally, and Potter grins at him like the idiot they both are.

Severus doesn’t even mind that, when Harry utters his name again with adoration, then leans in to kiss him anew.

This time, they keep kissing deeply. Harry’s mouth is warm and he tastes of pumpkin juice and chocolate, the things he had for dessert. Severus hates pumpkin juice, but on Harry’s lips, it's not unbearable. Maybe, perhaps, potentially… nothing will ever be unbearable anymore. 

The doorknob starts to rattle, some time later. The charm doesn’t allow the person in, of course, but it’s enough to break their love-bubble. Severus snorts at the ridiculous thought. He feels like crying. The last time he cried in another person’s presence was when Lily died. 

”Just a minute!” Harry calls out, his voice raspy. Whoever it is on the other side (it must be Black, he’s the only one with this terrible timing), they stop trying to get the door to open.  

Potter focuses his attention back on him.

”How long?”

Severus swallows. Shakes his head. Disgustingly long. 

Harry smiles sadly.

”It’s been some time for me as well.” He confides. It hurts Severus, being this see-through. It exhausts him, being this vulnerable. How does he know Harry won’t hurt him with his next sentence, with his next action? He probably wouldn’t intend to do it, but Severus has a better understanding of his own silly soul, his impossible needs, his bottomless pit of want

”If we… If we manage to survive, would you consider going on a date with me?” Harry asks.

There is a mad little voice inside Severus’ head that wants to answer that he’d happily marry him, if that were an option. He chockes back the stupid, pathetic words.

”You must realise, that’s a big if .” He snarls at the man. There is no real heat behind it, but at least it doesn’t sound as lost as he feels - and Harry only answers with a smile.

”It gives me another good reason to win this war.”

Severus knows his face must be truly hideously red by now, but it somehow gets even hotter. 

”Alas.”

”Thank you.” Harry breathes, and lifts Severus’s hand to press a soft kiss on his wand-wielding one. “Please survive, Severus, because I’d love to take you out.” 

Then he turns around and leaves the kitchen, thankfully not looking back to see how Severus’ legs give out from under him. 

*

He saves Lupin's life in the battle, but because of this, he’s too late to protect Potter.

After what seems like a lifetime of blood and running and curses and dust, they sit side by side with Black in the infirmary, the dogman holding Lupin’s hand, Severus fighting not to fall asleep of sheer exhaustion.

Some blurry time later, Pomfrey gives the all-clear on the werewolf, and suddenly Severus’s post-battle-lull is interrupted by Black grabbing his hand, thanking him, with tears in his eyes, and apologising profoundly for everything he ever did against him.

Severus doesn’t hate Lupin anymore, and he only slightly dislikes Black too, and that development annoys him to no end, just like the stupid dog himself. So he answers the drama with the only appropriate thing to say.

He nods at Potter, still lying there maddeningly unconscious, and tugs his hands free of Black’s grasp.

“If he ever wakes up, I’m going to fuck him that very day.”

He’s still laughing when Sirius’ fist connects with his face. He doesn’t remember the last time he laughed and it came straight from his heart. 

*

Harry doesn’t wake up. At least not until Severus’ bruise turns from black to light yellow. Of course, Severus could’ve used one of his salves to hurry the skin’s healing’s process, but he enjoyed Black’s slightly sickened expression any time he saw it. And Severus made sure he had plenty of opportunities. While Black has spent all of his time in the Infirmary, Severus has been doing something useful . He has been brewing, for the benefit of others, and has been taking short walks, for his own betterment. Spending the last four years in confinement has left its mark on him. And although he is quite certain Potter wouldn’t mind that he put on a stone or two, the limited physical activities soured Severus’ mood considerably. Not like he had a lot of time to do any specific exercise besides lifting cauldrons with his hands and not magically, but he missed open air and walking more than from his room to the cellars.

 

So Severus pops into Poppy’s territory two to four times, alternating checking on Potter and delivering potions to aid the wounded.

Poppy assures him it’s normal that someone who’ve drained their magic as spectacularly as Potter did gets out of commission for a few days, and also tells him she’ll stab Sirius Black if she ever so much as hears his voice again in the next four days (Lupin has been reluctantly discharged, mostly because of this, and because Poppy trusts him to take his medication, the gravest mistake ever made, where Severus is concerned). She immediately jumps into the first few favourite people on Severus’ list, though. There needs to be someone in the universe who despises Black, and if Severus cannot hold that title anymore, he will happily support someone who tries their best. She is always very thankful regarding the potions too, even if it’s the least he could do, and despite the fact they’ve been colleagues for the last ten years.

“He should be waking up any time now,” Poppy discloses to him, and Severus’s stomach suddenly takes a u-turn.

When Potter wakes up, they need to talk. There’ll be no excuse not to do so, although Severus could pull a more or less permanent disappearing act. He could go to Switzerland. Or he could just bolt himself into his dungeons, and trust Poppy to chain the golden boy onto his hospital bed until he recovers enough to walk. There will be a hundred and ten people visiting Potter’s side, of course. Severus doesn’t want a scene. The last thing he wants is anyone finding out about his feelings. Especially Albus. If he doesn’t know already.

It’s not just Potter’s age that is his concern, it’s also his status in the Wizarding world. Which will inevitably change more and has been changed for good the moment Potter killed the Dark Lord.

It’s foolish to expect that Potter will harbour the same feeling for him after the true fame kicks in. After his life really gets to start. Everyone will want a piece of him, people prettier, smarter, kinder than Severus. When he will finally be able to go out there and see other people, he will forget about him instantly. 

*

Still, when Harry wakes up finally, he smiles at him so that it makes Severus’ heart misbehave in his chest. 

“So I can take you out? Dinner, as soon as I’m discharged?”

Severus is frightened by his steadiness, the easy nonchalance as he waves Black’s concerns off. As if it was always meant to be. As if there is nothing nonsense, disgusting or immoral about this idea of them, together. 

“Please?”

Severus nods numbly. He feels so many things, and above them all, nothing at all. It cannot be. 

Harry takes him to a very nice restaurant, and Severus behaves like an arsehole trying to save himself the eventual heartache by being difficult. 

What he didn’t expect, or rather severely miscalculated was that Potter knew him. Seven years as a mentor and more than three years of essentially living together, and Harry sees right through him. 

Which is why, probably about halfway through the main course, Harry lowers his fork and pierces him with a look that says ‘ I’m annoyed because I know what you are playing at’

“So let’s talk honestly. I want you. What do you want?”

Severus snorts, but Harry shakes his head. 

“No, Severus. You’ve had the choice taken out of your hands more than enough times, and I am deeply familiar with how that feels. Think about it, please.” 

It’s a sign of his trust and desperation, Severus realizes, but he can actually give it a few minutes to reflect on himself in Harry’s presence. When he has it, he realizes he is throwing away his perhaps only chance at love and that kind of fairytale happiness others seem to find so easily. But some things are more important than happiness, and after living with regrets for more than a decade, he is done making bad decisions. 

“I don't want to feel like a monster anymore.”

Harry looks at him for a long time.

“You are not a monster,” he murmurs, but Severus knows better, there is just no point in disagreeing out loud. 

Harry kisses the back of his hand when they are done with the main course, and excuses himself to the loo. He doesn’t come back. Severus is informed their meal was paid ten minutes later. 

*

He receives the Order of Merlin, First Class a week later. By that time he reread Harry’s letter enough times that he imagines the letters are getting fainter just by how many times he dragged his gaze over them. It always says, at the very end, 

Goodbye, 

Harry.

He tells himself that he is going to be fine. 

*

Hogwarts is getting rebuilt, and he is free for a whole academic year in so, so long. 

Severus moves out of that dreadful house and into a small, clean, muggle apartment in East London. 

Fresh start, new place, a noisy neighbour who invites him over one day and Severus, for possibly the first time ever, makes friends without trying, gets roped into a community. It helps that he was -without realizing- actually starved for company that didn’t consist of Black and Lupin. 

Minerva’s letter comes mid-July, and it takes Joan noticing it to finally register to Severus that he used to have a completely different world that he somewhat belonged to that is beckoning him back. He has a hard think about it, and signs his resignation letter the next afternoon. He goes to Hogwarts to collect the rest of his belongings a day after that, drops off everything suspiciously weird to Muggle-eyes at his mother's old house, then settles back into his new life. 

*

It’s five years later that they are crossing the streets of Soho with Mary and Albert, going from one pub to check out another that promised better live music, when Severus sees him. 

Harry Potter, standing, in the flesh, staring back at him, a conflicted look on his face. Severus’ first reaction is to feel embarrassed that he is discovered with a goatee (he is trying it out, but it isn’t working, whatever his friends say), and dressed somewhere between a very slutty and obnoxiously gay wannabe rockstar. He really should have given that purple boa away at least to Margot when they were still together, it suited both their personality and outfit more. Severus had a few drinks, right, that’s why the boa and the glitter didn’t get spelled away sneakily in a bathroom, and Potter is coming closer and breathing “Hi” and folding himself into his arms gently but enthusiastically. He smells of the sea and something spectacular Severus can’t identify. He still fits, fits so well in fact that Severus doesn’t even think about sending him away. 

Harry is introduced to his friends and ends up joining them for the last three pints of the night. Severus’ friends are intelligent enough to not pry too much, even if most of them can’t help one or two teasing glances or pointed remarks at the way they behave around each other. Not that they do anything besides… being careful, staring but not touching, not even talking to the other when it can be avoided. Severus hasn’t felt this anxious since his first drag night three years ago. 

Harry goes home with Severus, who wishes he didn’t drink this much, because with the way his nervousness is twisting his stomach, he will most likely lose most of what he poured into himself.

Harry twists his hands in his lap, sits on Severus’ sofa, in the flesh, biting his mouth, not imagined , really there. Ramrod straight back, talking about traveling somewhere, about being away for… long enough. 

Severus realizes he is waiting for some sort of answer. Fuck, some spy he is, when he can’t even follow a one-sided conversation half-pissed. These years in the Muggle world really mellowed him, it seems. 

“What?”

“Has it been long enough?” Harry repeats. He looks like he is bracing himself for a dismissal, which Severus doesn’t understand. He was the one who left, not that it wasn’t the right thing to do. 

“What?” 

Harry waves around a fluttery hand, indicating Severus’ apartment, perhaps. 

“The distance. The wait. Am I old enough to be in love with you now?” 

Severus knows the answer to this is only one word, one syllable. One sigh. But depending on what shape his mouth takes, his future is changed. Will Harry come back in another five years to sit nervously on his couch, asking for another chance? (Not very likely.) Will he find someone else, fall in love, and forget about Severus forever? Are they going to run into each other in ten, twenty years of time, complete strangers living separate lives? Severus imagines how that hurts. Imagines Harry with a woman and five children, himself with a Muggle Man of his age. Hiding magic, forgetting the past. Never holding a Prophet again, never having tea with Albus and never seeing Harry Potter’s face ever again. His eyes, swimming with affection for him in his matured, still so young face. His beautiful soul, calling to his. He tries to imagine the opposite too. Of them meeting in a few years and having a short conversation, not feeling anything but surprise at the thought that they used to want each other so much they wished for a future together. He thinks about saying goodbye, and knows in his very bones that he doesn’t want to. He could survive without Harry, but what kind of life would that be? Because it’s so easy to envision Harry in his home. Meeting his friends, sharing his bed. Getting to see the grey hairs on his head years on, holding his hand when they walk through the forest to gather ingredients. 

Severus takes a deep breath, and steps closer - the first towards the uncertain, and it feels enormous, it is terrifying, but Harry is waiting for him with his arms open and smiling through his tears.