Actions

Work Header

In proportion to courage

Work Text:

Harry notices his potion is already orange just a second too late and swears as he sees the last newt’s eye fall in. He checks his notes and he knows he should vanish the whole potion before it explodes but runs to the storage shelves for a couple of mistletoe leaves anyway. He slices them up, keeping one eye on his potion which is starting to bubble suspiciously, and adds just a knifepoint’s amount of the mince of mistletoe leaves. The potion immediately stops roiling and returns to orange, and he sighs deeply. Now he has to – he looks up and stares right into the depths of Snape’s black eyes.

“I’m sorry,” he starts, “I know I should have – ”

“Detention, Mr Potter, after dinner tonight,” Snape drawls. “For endangering the class by not following instructions. This is a N.E.W.T. class; please behave like you understand what that means.”

Everyone in the class snickers, and Harry pushes the anger he feels back down. He fixed it, didn’t he? At least Snape didn’t take any points. The rest of the class passes without incident, and when they all bottle up a sample of their potions, Harry’s one looks even more pale green than Hermione’s effort. He remembers when he puts his notes back into his bag that he can’t make it to detention tonight, so he motions for Hermione to go ahead and walks back up to the desk. Snape waits until everyone else is gone before looking up from his writing.

“How can I help you, Mr Potter? If you are here to tell me it is unfair that you – ”

“No,” Harry interrupts him, “I get it. It’s just that I promised professor McGonagall that I’d help her tonight, and I was hoping I could serve my detention before dinner instead.”

Snape arches an eyebrow at that, “I’m a busy man.”

“You don’t have class before dinner on Thursdays though, so if you want me to chop something slimy quietly somewhere in a corner, I can go do that right now.” Snape manages to look halfway amused.

“Do you think ‘chopping something slimy’ is really the best use of your talents? Or even an appropriate consequence for endangering the class?”

Harry blushes deeply and opens his mouth to say that he doesn’t care what they do for detention as long as it’s over before dinner, but Snape is faster.

“I want you to tell me how you came up with using minced mistletoe leaves. If you’re done in time for dinner, then we can call it a day.”

“Oh,” Harry says unthinkingly, too familiar by far, “if you wanted to chat potions you could have just asked.”

Snape rolls his eyes and conjures a chair for Harry, and Harry feels around in his bag for a quill and some parchment. “I think better when I write things down,” he explains when he dips his quill into Snape’s inkwell.

“Make yourself at home,” Snape says drily, and Harry just grins.

“So you see,” he starts, drawing out a big circle, “we’ve been talking about the twelve standard ingredients and how they all correspond to different elements, and I’ve been thinking of them as a sort of continuum.” He lists them by heart, around the circle, then draws in a quadrant to correspond to the elements. “Mistletoe is opposite newt’s eye.”

“I can see that, but why did you go for the leaves instead of the berries?” Snape is leaning in now, clearly interested in what Harry’s come up with, while Harry doodles on, drawing mistletoe, letting it hang onto a branch, drawing leaves.

“The berries undo stuff right, like - like in the antidote to common poisons and forgetfulness potion,” Harry’s cheeks are red again, this is the part that he’s not too sure about. “And I know the leaves don’t do that and to add forgetfulness to a potion that’s supposed to restore a transformed person to their rightful body seemed...” He dwindles when he looks up to find Snape staring at him instead of at his drawing.

“Go on,” his voice is so low Harry wouldn’t have been able to hear had they not been entirely alone in the dungeons. Harry feels hot and uncomfortable and overexposed, he’s probably not making any sense. Actually his whole theory about berries and how removing memories works is probably wrong but - well. Might as well finish what he started.

“Cruel.”

“Thank you, Mr Potter,” Snape decides, leaning back in his chair. “I will not be taking points. You are dismissed.”

“Oh.” Harry’s breathing has sped up a little, but he had been hoping to... “Actually. Do you have two more minutes? I have a question.”

“About potions?” His voice sounds threatening, and Harry remembers the hot embarrassment of being kicked out of the infirmary for trying to find out what his mum’s middle name had been.

“Yeah. About this actually,” Harry taps the parchment between them. “We talked about how potions need heat to activate and water to dissolve, and I know we cook in pewter because it helps ground the properties, but how does air factor in?”

“Should have paid more attention in first year,” Snape says, “you might have come to the conclusion yourself.”

Harry is about to protest when Snape waves it away.

“I’ll tell you. Potion making is a mix of the magical and the non-magical, Mr Potter.” The look on his face tells Harry that he too is aware of how ironic that is for a half-blood Prince to say. “Fire increases kinetic energy and makes reactions happen faster. You could have turned down the heat on your too-dark potion earlier today and waited for it to turn purple like that.”

“Ah,” Harry breathes, and he scribbles it down in the corner of the notes he took in preparation for the class. “That would have been the straightforward solution.”

“You lack a lot of the more basic concepts,” Snape tells him, and it doesn’t sound accusatory. It doesn’t sound guilty either, but Harry’s willing to take what he can get. “Water dissolves the ingredients, as you said, and helps the non-magical elements mix. Pewter is extremely useful for preventing explosions by absorbing random flares of magic as well as absorbing the heat of the fire and distributing it evenly.”

“And the air?” Harry asks, writing little additions all over his notes.

“Some Muggles have a device that...” Snape holds his hands out and makes a screwing motion, “seals in the air. They use it for cooking faster; the pressure allows for higher temperatures.”

“I’ve used a pressure cooker before,” Harry feels one side of his mouth curl up.

“Of course you have,” Snape concedes. “Wizards don’t use them because magic doesn’t work in a vacuum.”

Oh. “Magic travels through air.”

“Indeed.”

Harry spends a minute or so writing all that down, and when he looks up, Snape is watching him, his hands carefully folded.

“Was that all, Mr Potter?”

“Yeah,” Harry looks through his notes for any stray question marks. “Thank you, that helps a lot.”

Snape nods. “If you should... Require additional information.” Harry’s mouth falls open, but Snape is stubbornly looking at a point just over his left shoulder. “I have office hours; you are welcome to make use of them.”

With a snap, Harry closes his mouth. “Yes, thank you. I will.”

“Off to dinner,” Snape decides, a little twitch in the corner of his mouth the only indication that he’s not being kicked out. Weird.

*

It’s only two days later when Harry has to take Snape up on his offer. Hermione betrayed him by going to see Ron for the weekend, and much as Harry would have loved to watch them slobber all over each other, he really has too much work to catch up on. Except that he was hoping to finish his Potions essay before dinner so he could spend the evening on Charms, and now he’s utterly stuck. He’s sitting in the library, tucked away in a corner, surrounded by books on magical theory and potions, and he can’t find a way to connect what he needs at all. He checks his watch, twenty more minutes of Snape’s office hours left, and packs up lightning-fast after checking he’s written down all the books he used and the page numbers of all the notes he took. Some mistakes you only make once, but he’s made this one at least a hundred times.

“Hello,” he starts, peeking into the office, five minutes later. “I know it’s late but I have a question and...”

Snape just jerks his head and Harry takes it as an invitation. He walks up to Snape’s desk and sets out the scrolls and scraps of paper all over the empty space.

“So you know how the assignment was to find a way to improve a potion, right?” Harry starts talking as he sets out his notes. “I was thinking first of something simple, and I could have obviously just stolen it, like peppermint to Elixir to Induce Euphoria, but then...”

The door clicks shut behind him and Harry looks up. Snape is staring at him intently. “What?”

“I’m making it clear that office hours are over to anyone else who might stop by.”

“Oh.” That explains very little. “Why?”

Snape raises a very sarcastic eyebrow at him. “I have a feeling this might take a while.”

“That’s probably true,” Harry chuckles, and he conjures himself a chair. “Anyway, I was thinking about what we talked about, about how water allows the non-magical ingredients to mix, and heat increases the thingy-energy.”

“Kinetic energy.”

“Yeah,” Harry smiles, writes it down on his notes, frowning when he tries to figure out the spelling as he goes. “And then I thought, shouldn’t it be possible to decrease cooking time by increasing the temperature?”

Snape smiles at him, or at least that’s what Harry thinks the little twist of his mouth means. “And where did you look to find the answer?”

Harry taps on his list of reference books, and Snape looks through it. He nods, seemingly satisfied, and reaches behind his desk to find a book that he then hands over to Harry. “Poisonous Potions: Ages 4 to 6,” he reads out. There’s an orange sticker on the front that reads ‘now with matching Potions kit!’ “Excuse me?”

“The answer is in there,” Snape nods. “You’re very behind on the basic theory, as I mentioned before.”

“I understand loads of things,” Harry is frowning now; he thought they were past the insulting part.

“And you also have large gaps. Explosions. The answer is explosions; that’s why you don’t increase the energy. At some point the pewter cannot sink the energy anymore, and your potion explodes. It isn’t in the books because you’re expected to know it already.”

“So that’s why cauldron thickness matters?” Harry asks, only half-serious.

“My least favourite Weasley,” Snape says, again twitching a little in the mouth.

“Really,” now Harry is serious. “I’d have thought it’d be the twins.”

“Oh no,” Snape says, “I rather like them, they’re creative and hard-working.” They look at each other and both realize at the same time, so Harry coughs a little to cover the awkward grief-silence that has become so stupidly common in the past months.

“Can I keep this book?” Harry decides to ask, only a little bit to just get through the uncomfortable quiet. “Or read it. I’ll return it to you in pristine condition of...”

“Yes,” Snape says. “My Muggle-born first years have all finished the series already. You can pick up the next book when you’re done with this one.”

Harry nods and gets back to his notes. “Alright, so if I wanted to shorten the brewing time of a potion, I would need to not only increase the heat, but also find a way to reduce the fire, so there aren’t any explosions. I could do that by adding something that’s earth-related right?”

“Yes,” Snape looks at where Harry is pointing, “but you would have to make sure it does not interact with the other ingredients.”

“Would it work to just use a much bigger cauldron? More pewter?”

Snape’s eyes flash with humour, “what happens when you boil water in a shallow dish?”

“Evaporation.” Harry looks at his notes again. Bites his lip. “I’d have to find a way to make it... Not dry out.” He writes.

“What potion were you hoping to improve upon?”

Harry looks up, “Wolfsbane.” He knows he’s blushing.

“Mr Potter,” Snape sighs. “Perhaps you should try to walk before running.”

“I... find this one important.”

“I know,” Snape sounds almost gentle. “Why do we teach Hiccoughing Potion to first years?”

“It’s useful?” Harry tries, but he knows that’s not it, he bites his lip for a moment. “It’s the only potion I can think of that is easy but uses all three cutting techniques. You have to slice, dice, and mince.”

“Indeed.” Snape watches as Harry doodles in the margin of his notes. A triangle with the symbols for slicing, dicing, and mincing on the corners. “Why are we working on the Restoration Potion right now?”

“Because it has a million steps and you love to watch us suffer?” Harry is still doodling and ducks his head when he realises what he just said, but instead of getting hexed or slapped he hears Snape chuckle. He looks up and can’t help the enormous grin spreading across his face, and Snape rolls his eyes.

“If I wanted to watch you suffer I would have you brew something of which all the in-between steps are lethal.”

“No,” Harry corrects him, “that’s how you’d get us to be quiet.”

Snape laughs again, quiet and contained. “The base for the Restoration Potion is the same as what you would use for most potions that allow you to undo magical damage. The action of making two separate potions and working them into each other is normally extremely dangerous, but the Restoration Potion’s second base is not very reactionary.”

“Alright, so it’s useful.”

“And it teaches you all the techniques in the safest and easiest way.”

“Professor Snape,” Harry teases, “I didn’t know you cared.”

“Your essay,” he taps on the notes. “I recommend you start with just one of the aspects of Wolfsbane. Tell me what you remember of the potion.”

“It tastes gross,” Harry thinks. “It allowed Remus to remember himself. It makes the drinker sleepy right?”

“Indeed. What would such a potion do in an ideal world?”

“Make the transformation painless,” Harry says without hesitation. The image of Remus changing is forever burned into his mind. “Or even optional. Keep the human mind at all times. Make the bite not infectious.” He thinks a bit more. “Taste delicious and be cheap to make. Or maybe even something that you take once and never have to take again.”

Snape nods, motions for Harry to write all that down. “If I told you that Wolfsbane has ginger root, armadillo bile, and scarab beetles, what would that tell you?”

“Wit-Sharpening Potion.” Harry draws a line from ‘keep human mind and memories’ to Wit-Sharpening. “I can make that potion faster to brew.” He’s already mentally running through the ingredients and preparation.

“I think you will find that your ingredients theory will help you there,” Snape points at the wheel Harry drew last Thursday, and Harry can’t help himself. He laughs.

“You bastard,” he says, unable to hide his admiration. “This is where you were leading me the whole time!”

Snape lifts one shoulder in the most elegant shrug Harry’s ever seen, “get out of here before I take points for failing to refer to me by my proper title.”

Harry laughs more and starts packing up his notes. “You’re just sour I figured out your middle name.” He hears Snape cackle and is just too late to see him do it. His mouth is already hidden by a pale hand. His eyes are twinkling though, and Harry sees a flash of brown in them for the first time.

“Out,” Snape tells him, so Harry winks at him and leaves.

He spends the rest of the weekend managing to get most of his work done, and when Hermione checks over his Potions essay, she’s blown away.

“How’d you come up with this?” She asks, going over it again, checking it against the book she’s holding. “It’s correct, but also very creative.”

“Well,” Harry has never been proud of his schoolwork before and decides to revel in this strange feeling, “I realised the main limiting factor of the brewing time of the Wit-Sharpening Potion was the time the magical ingredients take to get mixed. A drop of bouncing-spider juice will help with that, and it doesn’t interact negatively with any of the other ingredients.”

“Brilliant,” Hermione sighs, and she looks angrily at her own essay. “I just talked about the importance of adding a counter-clockwise stir every fourteen stirs when brewing plant-based potions.”

“I’m sure you’ll still get a better grade than me,” Harry soothes, but she doesn’t. They both get an O.

“Mr Potter,” Harry hears, when he’s packing his bag. He’s still a bit floaty over his first O in Potions since Slughorn. “Mr Potter?”

“Yeah?” He looks up and finds Snape frowning at him from the front of the classroom. “Professor?”

“Stay behind please.”

Some snickers are heard from a specific side of the classroom (fuck you very much Glynis Mexborough) but Draco hisses something and it stops. Harry smiles and waves at Draco as he leaves, and Draco rolls his eyes, but they’re friends now so it’s all good. Turns out that fighting a mountain troll together isn’t the only thing that makes it impossible not to be friends after.

“What is it, sir?” Harry asks when they’re alone and he’s standing in front of Snape’s desk.

“Well done,” Snape tells him. “You wrote a very well-researched paper.”

“Thank you,” Harry is glowing now, feels his cheeks heat with how pleased this makes him. “I have the book for you, I finished it.” He passes Poisonous Potions over and gets a slightly bigger one in return. The cover of this one is red, which clashes horribly with the orange sticker.

“Did you find it helpful?”

Harry nods, already leafing through the book. “It’s hard to know what I don’t know.”

“As it often is, in life.” Snape nods at him, and Harry feels like he’s being dismissed. He kind of wishes he could stay but turns and walks to the door.

“Thank you for your help,” he says over his shoulder, and Snape nods at him again.

*

It’s Halloween by the time he sees Snape out of class or office hours, which are apparently usually quite busy. Who’d have known. Hermione had to tell him that she got banned from Snape’s office hours in her first week, which Harry definitely didn’t know, and finds inexplicably hilarious. It’s still nice to come to the office and do his homework where he can ask questions, nicer still to notice that he can explain things to the other students that seek Snape out. But there’s no time for joking or banter when it’s Harry, Snape, and a gaggle of nervous Ravenclaw third years.

“Mr Potter.” It’s not loud, but Harry startles so badly he nearly falls out of the windowsill he was sitting in.

“I’m sorry,” he says, looking up into endless black eyes. “I know I should be at the feast but it’s just not easy and...”

“The feast ended three hours ago,” Snape tells him, gentler than he’s ever been. “It’s past curfew.”

“Oh.” Harry blinks and looks around. The sun sets early in October so it was dark before he’d sat down, but his arse hurts, and his legs are stiff now that he thinks about it. He uncurls a little and flexes his fingers and toes to get the blood flowing again. Snape steps closer and turns around, leaning against the edge of the sill. They’re not exactly close to each other, but they are closer than they’ve ever been. Unless you count the time that Snape had to haul Harry out of the Pensieve. Or the time that Harry thought Snape was dying.

“Stop.” Snape tells him. Very quiet still. “It’s no use to think of what might have been.”

“I wasn’t – ” and that’s not the whole truth, he had been, just not since Snape showed up. “I was. But I know. Just...”

Snape nods as if he knows, and he probably does, but Harry feels like this might be a soldiering on kind of moment.

“So much death,” he manages finally. And his voice sounds tight and strangled, but Snape doesn’t look up.

“Come,” Snape says abruptly, after another moment of heavy silence. Harry stares at him and Snape is standing, moving his head jerkily, “come along.”

Harry follows, awkward on sore legs, but he picks up speed fast as Snape rushes through the halls. They take a path Harry’s never seen before, and go up stairs Harry never knew existed, and suddenly they’re standing on the battlements. The wind is whipping Harry’s hair around, and when he turns to face it he can’t breathe.

“Where are we?” He manages when he turns back. Snape’s eyes are closed, and his hair is flying around, wild and free. He looks proud and confident.

“Defence Tower,” he says, and he walks around the tower, where they can hear the wind, and smell the night, and aren’t being harassed quite as much by either. They can see the whole school from here, lights everywhere still. “The veil is thin, Harry.” Snape says, and without warning he whips out his wand. A silver doe jumps out and races at top speed through the air. Harry joins him and the stag follows, running after the doe, between the towers, passing through the walls. It’s not all that long before another shoot of silver joins, though Harry can’t make out what it is, coming from the Gryffindor tower, and soon the sky is filled with all kinds of animals, some more clear than others, rushing through the castle, dancing in the air. They’re coming mostly from the directions of where Harry knows the dorms to be, though both of them snort when a cat jumps off the Headmaster’s tower, and laugh out loud when from the Astronomy tower a horse and a stallion rush out. Harry hopes Filch didn’t see that, hopes whoever is up there isn’t going to get caught over this.

The air is full all of a sudden, the vast emptiness of the sky irrelevant next to all the light, and it is the most beautiful thing Harry’s ever seen. It feels like joy. When he turns around to tell Snape, Snape has the most beautiful smile on his face. It literally takes Harry’s breath away, lighting up Snape’s eyes, bringing a flush to his cheeks. He looks whole, and Harry stands just a little closer. Lets their knuckles brush against each other.

It’s far past midnight by the time Harry makes it back to the Gryffindor tower. Neville is still awake, leaning against the post of his bed in the otherwise empty dorm, and he grins at Harry when Harry creeps in.

“Should have known it was you,” he says, and he looks proud.

“Did you join?” Harry falls down face-first on his bed.

“Yeah,” Neville grins, and he looks like he’s thinking really hard before saying, with force: “Expecto Patronum!”

A giant lion jumps forth, so clear it’s almost white, and it settles down when it realises there doesn’t seem to be immediate danger.

“It’s beautiful,” Harry decides, “well done Neville.”

“It’s easy, these days,” he blushes. “Since...” Since Ginny, Harry knows. They’ve been together ever since Harry told her last May that he’s not blind and not interested in being with anyone who’d rather be with The Boy That Slayed Nagini.

“Good,” he says. “I’m very happy for you both.”

They settle down and turn off the light. It’s still weird to be only the two of them in the dorm, but Harry prefers it over having to live somewhere else. Hogwarts gave them an extra dorm for the new first years, and he’s not going to look the gift horse in the mouth.

“I didn’t know so many people still had a Patronus,” Neville whispers finally.

“I was wondering the same,” Harry admits, “but then I thought it might be like... solace. Grieving together. Halloween’s a weird night when so many have died.”

“Especially when your Patronus is the same as someone else’s,” Neville mumbles.

“Yeah.”

“Mine’s my dad’s too,” Neville admits, and Harry gives up at that. He climbs out of bed and sneaks across the dorm to get in with Neville. He’s warm and soft. He smells like fire and magic. Harry’s out like a light in minutes.

The next morning Harry wakes up to the brightest grin he’s ever seen on Neville’s face. “There you are!” Neville teases.

“Shut up,” Harry groans, “you know I don’t normally sleep.”

“Someone here for you,” Neville goes on. And Harry summons his glasses, watches the world take shape. There’s a very pissed off looking bird sitting at the foot of his bed, so he counts to three and gets out from where it’s warm.

“Hello,” he tells the bird, “give me a second, I’ll find you a snack.”

It turns out the bird is an owl, with a note, and it doesn’t like treats very much. When Harry opens the note it has, all falls into place and he can’t help but laugh. Neville looks up, “what?”

Harry nods to the bird that’s still sitting on his bed, “tell me that bird doesn’t look like Snape.” It looks angry as hell, a little darker and skinnier than most owls, and still regal and strong. Neville laughs too, and Harry turns back to the note with the familiar handwriting.

‘I have a book for you,’ is all it says, and Harry thanks Merlin that it’s Sunday. He rushes down the stairs, pops by the still mostly-empty Great Hall, and goes off to the dungeons. Snape opens the door to his office immediately and rushes Harry out into the hallway. He seals the office door, then walks down deeper into the dungeons to a painting of Salazar Slytherin with an enormous snake. Really enormous.

“How was anyone surprised at the Basilisk?” Harry wonders, and Snape just shakes his head. The painting swings aside and they both walk into an extremely lavish reception hall. “Tell me you didn’t do this,” Harry urges, looking up at Snape, who seems amused at his surprise.

“Purebloods, Mr Potter.” He says and legs it down a corridor. “There is enough space in these rooms for twenty people, and the castle insists the Head of House occupies their rightful rooms.”

“Yeah well I doubt professor Sprout has to deal with this kind of bullshit,” Harry gestures at the chandelier that hangs in the middle of the very large library they’re standing in.

“You don’t want to know what the Headmistress is currently dealing with,” Snape confides, and Harry can imagine. They managed to find a Transfiguration teacher but McGonagall is still the only Gryffindor teacher, which is why Harry has been helping her with her Head of House duties.

“Oh,” Harry stares at the book that’s open on one of the large tables that stretch along the length of the library. It has a very similar drawing to the one Harry made, with ingredients filled in all around the outermost circle. He goes out to trace it, and Snape twitches so violently that it stops him in his tracks. “No touching?”

“This one should be alright,” Snape looks embarrassed at his reaction. “Most of the books in here have been spelled to some degree, many are supposed to be impossible to take off the shelf if you are not of age, some can only be touched by me. Most aren’t able to leave this room for reasons I’m sure we’ll never find out.”

“I can think of a million reasons,” Harry mumbles as he comes closer. “Maybe it was to prevent their kids from taking the books to their bedrooms. And just think what you’d do to the books if Slughorn would’ve been the one to follow you instead of the other way around.”

“It’s not so much the books I would have done things to,” Snape says, dry as ever, and Harry laughs.

“At least that explains why you summoned me here,” Harry says, still looking up at Snape, whose whole expression falls.

“My apologies, I should not have...” he says. “I did not expect you to come running, however the discovery was quite accidental and – ”

Harry puts his hand on Snape’s forearm, realising just a millisecond too late that it’s the left one. He doubles down and squeezes gently. “Thank you. This is fascinating.”

“Yes,” Snape rallies. “Of course you are not the first one to attempt to categorize properties rather than simply memorizing them.” He twitches his wand lazily, and two chairs close in. With long, elegant fingers he traces down the page, then closes the book, one hand marking where the drawing is, to show Harry the front.

“Phineas Bourne’s Potions,” he reads out. Snape then opens the leather-bound cover to show the first page, where swooping handwriting stands out in faded red ink. “Remember me when you write down your clever notes, darling,” Harry reads out. “I will be with you again, if not Here, then After. All my love, M.” They’re both quiet for a moment, and Harry feels a little overwhelmed. “Oh,” he manages finally.

“Yes,” Snape says, slow and low. “It seems these were his personal notes. Phineas Bourne is of course the – ”

“Author of Moste Potente Potions,” Harry nods. Snape shoots him a strange look and Harry just smiles. “I’ll tell you when you can’t take points anymore.”

Snape seems to decide he doesn’t want to know, and flips the book back open to where the drawing of the circle is. “You can take as many notes as you want,” he decides, and then he gets up.

“Wait,” Harry doesn’t want him to go at all. “Ehm, I left my quill and things in my dorm; do you have something I could borrow?”

Snape huffs a breath out of his nose and finds Harry a self-inking quill and another leather-bound book, which turns out to be an unused notebook. “Keep the whole thing,” he motions vaguely with his hand at the notebook, “I’ve plenty.”

Harry sets to work copying out different sections of the book as he goes through it, even if he realises after only seconds that he couldn’t possibly get all the information he wants out of it in one day. From the corner of his eye he watches Snape walk back and forth with several books, picking up one, walking over in the direction of a chair, then walking back to pick another. After four or five runs back and forth and some time spent leafing through different books, Snape sits down with a book in one of the comfortable looking chairs and taps the small table next to it with his wand. A tea tray appears, complete with a steaming pot, cups, and many sandwiches, and Snape looks at it in surprise.

“It seems the library noticed there are two people here,” he says, a little loud in the dusty quiet. “There is tea if you want it, but you’ll have to drink it here.”

Harry decides to finish out his sentence, then picks up the notebook and joins Snape, sitting down in the chair on the other side of the table. “Don’t trust me to drink tea without spilling?”

“Oh, no,” Snape looks a little bewildered still. “It’s. There’s wards for that too.”

“Is that what you were doing earlier?” Harry can’t help the grin, “testing what books are allowed to go into the tea section of the library?” Snape nods at him and the topic is too fascinating to let go, so Harry sketches out a floorplan of the library in the notebook. “Where are the wards?” He asks, holding it out.

“Around here,” Snape circles where they’re sitting, “only certain books can pass, but they’re not the same as the ones that can leave the library. I think different people set those wards.”

“Depending on what books they thought important probably,” Harry suggests, as he adds details of the library to his map, trying to change the colour of the ink as he adds different things. “What else?”

“Here,” Snape points to the fireplace, “no books at all. I think it’s the fireplace itself that has been warded. And this window too,” a pale finger indicates one of the windows. They’re almost at the surface level of the lake here, deep down the cliff. The view is rather spectacular. “My theory is that it leaked at some point in time.”

“So the Head of Slytherin always lives here?”

“With their families,” Snape nods. “I was perhaps exaggerating earlier, when I said twenty people could live here, but there are five bedrooms.”

“That’s still a lot,” Harry thinks out loud. “What do you use them for?” He doesn’t realise until he’s said it that that might be crossing a line, but Snape’s lips twitch.

“Why brewing of course, Mr Potter.” And Harry smiles, but he can’t help thinking of beds and desks and wardrobes that people used to use pushed aside for bubbling cauldrons, covered in dust. Snape seems to pick up on his mood and doesn’t say anything else. They share the tea and the sandwiches, and Harry asks him some questions about the things he’s been reading in Bourne’s book. He slinks back to his side of the library when he’s finished his tea, and they are both quiet for hours, except for the shifting of pages, the scratching of the quill, and every now and then, a crackle of the fire.

At some point Harry’s leg falls asleep, and he picks up one of the books that Snape couldn’t get through the wards around the chair. He walks around the library, and every time he bumps into something he marks the edge of it on his map. He’s still trying to transfigure the colours of the ink, but not having much success. Snape picks up on what he’s doing pretty fast and switches books with him, and Harry notices that many of the restrictions of the first book he tried don’t apply to this one.

“Hold on,” Snape says, when Harry’s done walking around again, and he walks back over to the chair. He picks up a cup and sticks out his hand, and immediately a tone sings through the library, unpleasantly loud. Snape pulls his hand back, and the noise stops.

“Is that the same perimeter as where the book can’t get in?” Harry asks, coming closer and showing Snape the map again.

“Seems like it.”

“Interesting,” Harry makes a note. “It can’t be easy to create a ward that does both things.”

“The warding books are over there,” Snape nods to an area that Harry wasn’t able to approach with either book. Harry walks over holding only the notebook and still cannot get closer.

“You know what,” he says as he’s writing that down too, “that’s probably smart. It’d be awful to be overruled by someone in your own library.”

“Watch,” Snape smiles, small but happy, and he waves his wand at Harry. Harry feels his toes tingle and then tries to approach again. This time he has no issues.

“Did you just,” he feels himself grin from ear to ear, “did you just key me into your wards?”

Snape’s lips thin immediately, and he looks like he’s angry with himself for forgetting.

“No,” Harry tries to stop that train of thought, “I wouldn’t abuse the privilege.”

“You’d better not,” Snape tells him. “The portrait is connected to these wards, it’ll let you in now.”

“You could have just not told me that.”

“And if you had been anything other than The Brat Who Goes Where He’s Not Supposed To, I wouldn’t have.”

“But now I can’t pretend I didn’t know?”

“Exactly,” Snape nods, and he takes a deep breath that seems like it’s supposed to help him relax. Harry notices all at once that it’s dark out, that the only light comes from the fire and the sconces on the walls. That Snape is wearing different robes than his teaching ones, and that his hair looks clean and beautiful.

“You look nice,” he flaps out, and then he has to close his eyes slowly and set his jaw to deal with the tsunami of embarrassment that flushes through his whole body. Snape just chuckles.

“I washed it,” he says, and Harry opens one eye to see Snape shake his head. He’s turned around, closing books and walking around to put them away. “I do that sometimes,” he adds, and his tone is more amused than offended.

“Am I being kicked out?” Harry asks, when Snape places a bookmark in the book Harry was reading, and Snape looks up, eyes wide and open.

“No, it’s – ” The gong sound that echoes through the whole castle is met with a 'there you go' hand gesture from Snape. “We ought to go before we’re late.”

We, Harry thinks, and he hangs on to the notebook, follows Snape out to the stupid entrance hall, which looks even gaudier without daylight, and Snape grabs his teaching robes, closes them with a tap of his wand. The buttons barely make a sound as they close themselves. Snape pushes Harry out the door when he just stands and stares.

“I had wondered,” Harry mutters to himself as he jogs to catch up, and Snape throws him an amused look over his shoulder.

“Get out of my sight,” he says, “and let me know if you want more time with the book.”

“I do,” Harry stands still, they’re in the Reception Hall, and there are students all around. “When can I come by?”

Snape rolls his eyes and shoves Harry in the direction of the Great Hall. “Baldrick will come to you.”

And really that’s too much. “Baldrick?” Harry blurts out, far too loud, and people actually are staring now, so he just makes a face at Snape and lets himself be carried to the Gryffindor table.

“Where’ve you been all day?” Hermione asks, not unkindly.

“Do you know Blackadder?” Harry asks her, and she gives him one of her patented what the fuck Harry looks, eyes pinched. “Never mind. Snape had a book for me about something I’m trying to figure out; I spent the day trying to get through it.”

“Professor Snape,” Hermione corrects, but she accepts the answer. “Did you finish your Herbology project?”

“Bloody sodding,” Harry swears, then catches the eye of one of the wide-eyed first years. “Sorry. Forget I said that,” he tells the first year. Annie? “I’ll be in the library the rest of the night then.”

Harry and Hermione sit side-to-side in the library until just before curfew, then continue in the common room. Right as the clock strikes curfew, Neville and Ginny run in through the portrait hole. Harry laughs at them, and Hermione looks scandalized but can’t help but match the happy grins on Neville and Ginny’s faces. Ginny gives Neville one last kiss, then runs up to the girls’ dorms, and Neville joins Harry and Hermione in front of the fire.

“What are you working on?”

“Herbology,” Hermione says, and she slides a book Harry’s way, “try this one.”

“The project,” Harry explains, “Hermione picked hybrid trees.”

“Oh, I have a book on that,” Neville rummages around in his bag and gives it to her, and Hermione snatches it away and starts reading it immediately.

“Thanks Neville,” Harry says, because he knows she won’t.

“All good. What are you working on?”

“Garden design. Muggles have gardens with layers and layers of flowers, and I was thinking that maybe there could be magical properties that enhance each other.”

“Interesting,” Neville draws Harry’s One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi closer. “You’d probably want to avoid all the plants that eat other plants and sort of group them according to the soil they need, although...”

“What?”

“Well, there are plants that you plant together because they exchange nutrients. I’ve heard Muggles do that, too.”

“Can you just tell me all the ones you can think of? I just need to make a case to Sprout that the project is worth doing.”

“Oh, she just wants to know that you’ve thought about a topic and are enthusiastic,” Neville tells him, but he rattles off plants and properties and soil types, and Harry takes many notes.

*

“Hey,” Harry says, lingering after class.

“What?” Snape keeps writing, so fast that his quill is splashing.

“Ehm,” this is so awkward, but it’s been five days. “The book, I was wondering if - ”

“Oh,” Snape looks up at him, and his eyes look bright and honest, deep brown. “I’ve been busy marking, but I could take the grading...” He looks around at the piles all over his desk.

“You should take an assistant,” Harry suggests. “Most of the other professors have a 7th year help them grade.”

Snape ducks his head, and his greasy hair swings down from behind his shoulders. “I could.”

“But you couldn’t before,” Harry realises, and he conjures a chair. Snape looks at the chair, and his eyebrows say how presumptuous. “Oh come on, we’ve been over this, you don’t have to teach anymore today.”

“Potter,” Snape says, and he looks at Harry with his back straight and his eyes narrow. “I’m going to give you a chance here to connect to your inner Slytherin.”

“Library time in exchange for grading your first years,” Harry decides.

“Your trial period is one month; if I find you favouring students or diverting from the marking scheme you will be dismissed.”

“There’s a marking scheme?” Harry can’t help but grin; he’s looking forward to this. “It’s not just a sticker saying ‘tear them down’?”

“Tear them a new one, more like,” Snape says, and the grin he shoots Harry is feral. It should scare him, and it really, really doesn’t.

“Blackadder,” Harry says instead. And Snape nods. “I watched it at night with the volume all the way down. But when did you see it?”

“Holidays, Potter. I own a television and don’t just freeze in place once students leave.” Harry grins at that image.

“What else?”

“What else do I watch on my television?” Snape makes a face, like he’s really been suppressing the urge to be extremely expressive all along. “Comedy, satire.”

“Monty Python?” Harry feels hungry for every scrap of information.

“Occasionally. I prefer to... I miss references.”

That Harry can understand, “me too. I was too young before, and now I don’t know enough about Muggles.”

“Let me show you how I usually grade; these are third years, but they’re only barely smarter than the first years so it’s not too different.”

Harry takes it that the conversation is over and walks around the desk to lean over Snape’s shoulder as Snape points out the list of answers with everything that needs to be included for an O. “I mark down for every point they miss and for every truly idiotic mistake. I will provide you with a list of those students that cannot be marked down on spelling, grammar, or handwriting.”

“Sorry, what?”

Snape looks over his shoulder, sarcastic and sharp. “Three never studied in English until now. Word blindness? A number who’d never held a quill until two months ago?”

“I’ll. I’ll keep that - in mind,” Harry says, and he vaguely wonders if one of the Gryffindor first years that’s been struggling to keep up in History of Magic and Transfiguration might be counted as word blind. “Sorry.”

Snape is still looking at him over his shoulder, and his whole face softens at Harry’s stammering. “I’m too sober to tell anyone what kind of films I like. Now go, don’t think I haven’t noticed how the children flock around you.”

It’s true, every time Harry makes it to the Great Hall outside of mealtimes, the students that are sitting there beg for his help, and he ends up walking around and explaining the same three things over and over again. It’s the same way this time, as soon as he walks into the Great Hall.

“You’ve got to structure your essays, Suzie,” he tells the third year Ravenclaw. “All your thoughts are good, but if you can’t put them in order I can’t understand.”

“Hey bug,” he tells the impossibly small Gryffindor first year.

He puffs out his chest as always, “I grow SO fast!”

“Sure you do, but if you don’t keep notes and do your homework you’ll find it harder to follow along.”

Millicent walks up to him, and he elbows her in the side. She punches his arm hard enough that he knows it’ll bruise, and they both laugh. “Telling the kids they should ask questions during class time again?”

“I haven’t had that one yet today,” Harry says. “How are you?”

“Getting very little work done,” she admits, “but I’m all caught up again on Futhark conjugations.”

Harry shrugs. If they wanted to get work done they wouldn’t be here; they’d be in the library with Hermione. He likes this better. “Are you helping Babbling out specifically?”

“Yeah,” she drags him along so they can sit down on the Hufflepuff table. “Draco finally worked out the contract with the new Defence professor.”

“You need a contract?” Harry wrinkles his nose.

“Not if you’re not a giant paranoid git,” Millicent laughs. “I doubt Longbottom has one. You’re with McGonagall right?”

“Not really,” Harry admits, unsure how much she’ll know if he tells her. Millicent is oddly perceptive. “Hermione’s actually been on Transfiguration; I just help her with homesick children. Is everyone else with a professor?”

“Macmillan’s been helping Flitwick out,” she says.

“Poor Flitwick,” Harry can’t help but say, and he claps his hand over his mouth while Millicent cackles. “Is it weird that everyone’s doing apprenticeships?”

“Not really,” Millicent wheezes, she's is still catching her breath. “Only Granger and you really never came back, most of us are redoing at least a part of last year. We have the time. And it’s not everyone, is it?”

“Who then?” Harry takes one of the plates of biscuits that floats by and apologizes absentmindedly to the startled house-elf that appears when he does. The house-elf pops away with a mortified expression, and Millicent laughs again.

“Goldstein’s with Vector, Brocklehurst with Hagrid. The Patils actually graduated. Who else is here?”

“Justin.” Harry knows he’s been having a really hard time. “Megan Jones, Oliver Rivers.”

“Ah yes. Finch-Fletchley has become suddenly obsessed with Divination,” her face and tone tell Harry what she thinks of that. “Rivers likes Muggles, like,” she gives him a meaningful look, “weirdly a lot.”

“I remember,” Harry wrinkles his nose, “he followed Hermione around. Super gross.”

“Jones has been into Astronomy since ever, so she’s probably doing that. I think that’s everyone, isn’t it?”

“History of Magic doesn’t have anyone.”

“Neither does Potions or Muggle Studies.”

“Flying. I want to help Snape,” Harry decides.

“Yeah,” Millicent hums. “Wait what?”

“I like Potions a lot now that I’m not constantly blind from headaches or worried Snape might actually kill me.”

“Ok?” Millicent tries. “Good for you.”

“Thanks, Mill,” Harry laughs. “Glad to have you on my side.”

Millicent shoots him a look and finally turns to the first year that looks like he’s been dying to ask a question while they were talking. He’s standing awkwardly far away so Harry tries to walk closer, but he just backs away further. “What’s your questions about?” Millicent asks.

“Charms,” he squeaks, and Harry motions for Millicent to go on. “You’re better at it than I am; we’ll talk later.”

*

“Can we make this a real apprenticeship?” Harry asks that night, before he’s even been let into the hall. It gets uglier every time, or maybe Harry just notices more ugly details.

“He said, not five hours into his trial period,” Snape drawls, but he steps aside and leads Harry back to the library. “I have another condition.”

“Dial it down on the personal questions?”

“You would have made a terrible Slytherin,” Snape decides. “Eaten alive before you’d made it to your dorm. You wouldn’t have lasted a single day.”

Harry smiles sheepishly; he knows he shouldn’t have brought that up.

“You are very lucky I’m tired of kicking puppies,” Snape promises, pointing right at him. “And I will not use this against you.”

Harry slumps in relief, and Snape just groans.

“Salazar help me. No. Exceeding expectations at least in all of your courses.”

“Oh,” Harry is smiling again. “I can do that.”

Great Salazar be by my side,” Snape hisses, and Harry realises after a beat that that was Parseltongue. It nails him to the ground, right in the middle of the library.

“You never said,” he accuses. At the look of confusion on Snape’s face, he continues, “that was Parseltongue!”

“Oh,” Snape looks even more confused, “I thought it was just something we say. A curse.”

“Make the noises,” Harry tells him.

“Hush-a shushu Shazazaa,” Snape says, slow and calm. “Huh. I can’t believe I never noticed. What does it mean?”

“Great Salazar be by my side.” Harry grins.

“Should have known. It actually works, you know. Sometimes when you say it you’ll find a new doorway, or the library here will give me a book.”

“That’s extremely cool,” Harry decides, and he tries it all over the library. Nothing happens. “Is it like the Room of Requirement?” He wonders out loud at Snape, who is standing in the middle of the library still, arms folded, looking amused. “You’ve got to think of what you need?”

“I don’t presume to know anything the great Salazar Slytherin was thinking,” Snape says sagely, and Harry giggles.

Oh great Salazar,” he tries. “Show me what you have hidden.”

“Implore him,” Snape urges. “As the heir or something.”

Harry can’t help but grin wider at that. “Great Salazar, the heir greets you! I humbly ask you to show me your secrets!”

The whole library shudders, and Snape’s eyes flash with fear and darkness before several books fly to the table. The empty wall above the fireplace shimmers, then shows a portrait of a mean-looking man sitting on a throne, surrounded by people of all ages.

Who are you? ” The painting hisses, and Harry and Snape look at each other before turning to the painting. Harry feels alive with discovery, and if the way Snape is practically vibrating is any indication, he does too.

“Harry Potter,” Harry answers, in English, but he makes a little curtsy.

“Professor Severus Snape,” Snape just nods his head, but he manages to strike the perfect balance between powerful and respectful and Harry is not going to think about where he learned that.

Your language is weird", one of the children in the corner pipes up.

“English has changed a lot,” Snape whispers at Harry, “just try Parseltongue for now.”

Harry interrogates the painting with the help of Snape and finds out that it’s been hidden, locking the occupants in, for pretty much as long as Slytherin himself has been dead. They all seem pretty eager to get away from each other, which Harry can understand, and he leaves them to roam around the castle before suggesting they pick up some modern English.

“Well that was an adventure,” Harry laughs, when they sink into the chairs. Snape taps the table, and it provides them with some very nice-looking whiskey and two crystal glasses. Surprise is all over his face again.

“My table is rebelling against me,” he mutters, but he pours himself some, and pours Harry about half of that.

“I’ve been an adult for a while,” Harry reminds him, and he gets a little more.

They drink quietly, and when Harry wants to walk around the library with his glass the alarming tone goes off again. “Oh come on, ” he argues, “I’ll be careful.

To his surprise the alarm stops, and the wards let him pass. Snape makes a choked noise behind him, and Harry turns around to find him slumped over, shoulders shaking - laughing?

“What?”

“You argued with my wards,” Snape manages, in between hitching breaths, “and you won.”

“Oh,” he probably shouldn’t be invading this much. “I’m sorry. I can ask them to listen to you too?”

“You’ll have to teach me Parseltongue first,” Snape laughs, and Harry remembers that he slipped right back into it when faced with snakey wards. Snape doesn’t look invaded though. He looks happy and relaxed, so Harry motions for him to come with. The tone sounds for one millisecond before Harry hisses stop, and it actually listens.

“What was that one?”

“Stop.” Harry tries to make it slow. “Stop.

“Hgash,” Snape tries. And again. “Hhgashh.”

“Almost,” Harry is walking over to the books that plopped down on the table and finds they are all extremely expensive and old. “Stop.

Stop. ” Says Snape.

“That’s what it means, now try it in – ” Snape makes a noise, and Harry realises. “Oh! Well done.” He smiles at Snape, and Snape just shakes his head.

“They’re family books,” he says, looking at but not touching the books. “The stories of Slytherins throughout the years. Absolutely invaluable to historians.”

“No way in hell the wards will let anyone take those away.”

“See what happens when you step closer,” Snape suggests, and Harry tries, only to get slapped across the face by some invisible hand. Snape doubles over behind him, laughing so hard that when he looks up his cheeks are red, and his eyes are tearing. “I’m so sorry,” he wheezes, but Harry is laughing too. “I had no idea that would happen.”

Harry hands his glass to Snape and tries again. This time nothing happens. “Wonder what would happen if you’d try to have a fire here.”

“The true extent of Slytherin wrath probably,” Snape has the hiccoughs now. It should be supremely unattractive and somehow it just makes him look alive.

“Death by a million papercuts,” Harry suggests.

Feeling like you’re going to die from a million papercuts but nothing ever showing on your skin,” Snape throws back, and Harry shudders.

“Makes me wonder if this would work for the rest of the books,” he ponders, squinting at the books on the table and the books all around. “I want to see all books on Potions, ” he decides, and a mighty fluttering sound starts.

Stop, ” Snape bellows, almost on time. Most books settle back on the shelves but a couple dozen are flying through the room.

Go back," Harry tells all the books when they’ve settled on the table. “I’ll have to be more specific.”

“Yes, please,” Snape sighs. “What were you thinking.”

Harry just winks at him. "I want to see all books on enhancing magical properties of plants by putting them next to other plants.

Three books fly out, and a fourth one follows after some hesitation, then opens in front of Harry on a specific page. Only one paragraph about it being technically possible, that explains.

“What is this for?” Snape is standing really close, looking over Harry’s shoulder. Harry can feel his body heat along his side.

“Your second requirement,” Harry explains, showing the cover of one of the books. “My Herbology project is on this.”

“Ah,” Snape brightens up and steps away from Harry again, and Harry wishes he hadn’t. “See if you can take them through the wards.” He motions at the door, and Harry snorts.

“Fat chance.” Snape gives him an odd look. “I’m not letting your wards slap me across the face again.” At this Snape relaxes, so Harry turns back to the books. "I want the books that I am allowed to take out of the library without altering the wards to glow.

A number of the books on the shelves start glowing, and Snape starts glowing too. “Very clever,” he praises, then immediately clacks his jaw shut. Harry is staring at him, can’t blink, can’t think, until Snape makes an elegant shoulder twitch his way. “It was bound to happen eventually.”

“No it wasn’t!” Harry sets aside the two books that he’s allowed to bring up to his dorm and finds a Finite cancels the glowing. Snape is sitting in one of the chairs, his back straight, and Harry sits down in the other chair. Gets the glass Snape’s been holding on to back. “You’re the one that’s always pointing out how stupid I am!”

Snape tilts his head, looks like he might reach out to touch Harry, and then impossibly sad for a second. “When is the last time I called you stupid?”

Harry chews on his lip and thinks it over. “Alright, my life was in danger then.”

“There you go,” Snape says, and this time he does lean closer. One of the books rushing about must have been missed by the elves for the last four hundred years or so, because Snape fishes a dust bunny out of Harry’s hair that looks large enough to be sentient. It leaves Harry’s head tingling, wanting to lean in and ask for comfort. He sits back instead.

“Thank you.”

“You are about to leave my quarters looking like I used you for a house-elf,” Snape points out. He fires a cleaning spell at Harry, and the dust on his clothes lifts off and evaporates. “There.”

“I meant about letting me in, and letting me stay. And the apprenticeship.”

“You’re a gifted educator,” Snape nods as he says it. “All you need is to find what you’d like to teach.”

Harry tries not to smile, but he feels his whole body crack open at that. This is what he’s been looking for. “Professor...” Is all he manages to say, and Snape looks at him. His eyes are deep brown, his pupils large in the low light, and his lips twitch into a little smile.

“Get out of here. I’ll teach you how to spell dunderhead tomorrow; you’ll need your sleep.”

Harry grabs his books and is still smiling when he says goodbye to Snape, who has walked him through the door and sways a little closer where Harry would have kissed Molly’s cheek, or hugged Hagrid hard. “Goodnight,” he says instead, and Snape gives him a little nod before closing the door. The painting hisses at him.

Thank you for releasing my family.

You’re very welcome, I’m glad you had a chance to see them again.” Salazar Slytherin bows to him, and Harry walks all the way back up to the Gryffindor tower without feeling his feet touch the ground even once.

In the boys’ corridor he notices right before he touches the door to his dorm that there are noises coming from inside. And... Yikes. He turns around on his heels, walks back down to the empty common room, then stands in front of the stairs up to the girls’ dorms.

“I promise I just want to see my friend,” he tells them. “Would you let me pass?”

He hears a clicking noise and walks up slowly, grateful that if he gets kicked down he’ll at least not be seen by anyone. The stairs don’t even shiver as he walks all the way up, then knocks on the door with the little 7 on it.

“Hey,” he says, when Hermione opens the door. “Anyone else in?”

She looks at him like he’s personally insulted all of her ancestors but lets him in. “Ginny is off with Neville, and the others have detention.”

“I know,” he tells her, “about Ginny that is.”

She looks at him again, full of compassion this time, and they lie down on her covers together. The girls’ dorms aren’t so different from the boys' ones, Harry thinks. Hermione moved in with the seventh years, preferring not to sleep alone, so it’s a lot busier with stuff here than it is with just Neville and him. There aren’t as many plants, and the lingering smell of Ron’s socks is missing.

“Does it bother you?” she asks finally, sneaking a hand into his.

“Ginny? Merlin, no. Neville and her are far better off together.”

“If you’re sure,” she says, but he can tell she doesn’t believe him. He turns onto his side.

“If I tell you something, will you promise not to ask invasive questions?”

He can tell it costs her tremendous effort, but eventually she nods. “What’s up?”

“I’m not big on witches,” Harry admits.

“Ah,” she sighs, and he can tell she has a million questions, and still she bites her tongue. Hermione is a good friend. They lie next to each other, holding hands, staring at the canopy for a while before suddenly the door bangs open.

“Shit,” Ginny’s voice sounds. “Sorry, didn’t realize you were in bed.”

“Hey,” Harry laughs, and Ginny freezes in place.

“What the fuck are you doing here?” she asks, not angry but definitely thrown off. “I can’t believe I was all worried about you walking in on us, and you were just hanging out here!”

“Which reminds me,” Hermione says, sitting up. “How are you here?”

“Oh,” Harry remembers he wasn’t supposed to be in the girl’s dorm. “I asked, and the stairs said click and then I walked up.”

“Is it because you’re...” Hermione starts, full academia mode, before clapping a hand over her mouth.

“No, by all means,” Harry is grinning now, and Ginny is rummaging through her trunk still. “I’m surprised you even lasted this long.”

Hermione punches his arm, and Harry decides it’s time for him to go anyway; so he gets up.

“Does that mean you’ll be in here all the time now?” Ginny asks, and she really can’t help but sound hopeful.

“That depends on how the stairs feel about letting me up next time,” Harry says, kissing Hermione’s cheek before leaving. Ginny waves at him, and the stairs let him walk down without shifting too. A very weirded out fourth year stares at him, and he just shrugs at her and walks up to his dorm, where he finds Neville snoring already. He means to go to bed on time, but the books he brought back from Snape’s library are exactly what he needs and he ends up reading and taking notes way into the night.

The next morning at breakfast he knows he looks awful, and at Hermione’s glare he hisses, “I was reading, you should be proud.”

She softens a little and fills up his mug with more coffee, and when Harry looks up to the teachers’ table, Snape is looking right at him. He looks disappointed.

Harry makes it through his classes and locks himself up in a quiet corner of the library so he can get all his work done. He finishes the Herbology essay, works through everything they need to read for Charms and Potions on Monday, and looks at neat piles of done work right as the dinner clock strikes. He decides to pass by his dorm to swap things out and makes it to dinner only a little late.

“What have you been up to?” Neville asks, and Harry tells him about the project. Of course Neville offers to look over his work. Harry knows he’ll be making a lot of changes, but he’d like to get a good grade for this one. He barely notices how time passes until he sees Snape leave through the side door of the Great Hall from the corner of his eye. He was done anyway, so he tells his friends goodbye and legs it, hoping he’ll be able to intercept Snape.

“Hey,” he pants, when he finally catches up.

“Mr Potter,” Snape nods at him. They’re standing still now, and that makes no sense, so Harry looks in the direction of his quarters. Thinks maybe he’ll get yelled at if he tries to invite Snape into his own library. “What did you need?”

“I finished my work for the weekend,” Harry tells him. “I’m here to help.” Why is this not obvious? Why aren’t they sitting in the warm library looking out over the lake instead of hovering in this dark draughty dungeon hallway?

“On a Friday evening?” Ah, that is right. Snape probably has plans. Harry feels his shoulders slump and thinks why didn’t I think of that.

“Apologies,” he manages. “I understand that you wouldn’t want to grade right now. What would be a more convenient time for you?”

Snape makes a noise, and Harry looks at him to find bafflement written all over his wide eyes and open mouth. He is so expressive when he’s not being murderous. “You don’t have plans?”

“I do,” Harry fishes out his planner; he finally learned the spells Hermione has been using since forever. There’s a block of ‘hurry up’ during his free hour, one of ‘get it done’ before dinner, and one that says ‘Snape time!!!’ after dinner. It’s absolutely embarrassing, but at least it’ll probably convince Snape that he really does want to be here.

“Snape time,” Snape mutters, but he’s flying through the halls again, so Harry runs after him. They don’t pause in the ugly reception hall, and go down a corridor Harry hasn’t seen before. “I was planning on restocking the Infirmary.” Snape explains, and he waves Harry into a really nice Potions laboratory. The equipment all looks well used and properly taken care of; there is a window overlooking the lake and a bit of the forest, and there are jars stacked all the way up the walls.

“Like an ingredients library,” Harry thinks out loud, and Snape turns around, robes snapping, to nod at him. His face is pale and serious.

“I will fetch the grading; you can set up on one of the tables, that way I am nearby if you have any questions.”

They spend the next few hours grading and brewing. Watching Snape at work is a delight, and at times it’s hard to focus on the, admittedly incredibly bad, essays the first years provided. They drink tea when Snape’s finished decanting the biggest cauldron Harry’s ever seen into tiny vials. “You could fetch me the second years,” Harry tells him, nibbling on a biscuit he’s not sure he likes. It’s spicy with cardamom and orange but not quite sweet enough for him.

“How far along are you?” Snape asks, crowding in. Harry explains his stacks and Snape looks through some of the ones he’s finished, apparently finding nothing wrong.

“Peters and Robinson,” he says when he hands Harry the second year’s essays.

“Sorry?” Harry looks up and has to suppress a flinch when Snape is a lot closer than he thought he was. Snape seems to notice and steps back, and Harry swallows down his disappointment.

“Keep them separate. I believe you’ll know why,” Snape walks away, and Harry has to tell himself to focus to stop staring.

“What do the letters in the top right corners mean?”

Snape is half-hidden behind clouds of smoke, “Farah?”

“Patel. Arush. There’s a circled S.”

“Ah,” Snape looks up, and Harry meets his gaze. He looks sad and a little worried. “Put him to the side, I’ll look at it.”

“What is it?”

“Sick. Probably his mother, she’s not been well lately.”

Harry feels his eyes sting for no reason at all and bends back down to his work. He doesn’t look up again until there’s the simultaneous sound of curfew and a hissed ‘fuck’ from Snape’s side of the room.

“What?”

“I didn’t realise the time,” Snape explains, and he sets his stirring rod down after carefully sniffing the potion once more. “This has to simmer overnight, I’ll walk you out.”

“I’m alright. I’d rather finish this; I’m almost done.”

Snape gives him a look and comes closer. “I can’t keep you here.”

“I have like two more,” Harry taps his last essays. “I’m also not eleven. If I run into Filch he can tell me politely that I should hurry along, and I’ll wish him a good night.”

“It is rather ridiculous to have you and the others adhere to the same old rules after what you went through last year.”

Harry makes a face at Snape, “as if you should be back on a full course load after what you went through. This pile is the ones that you asked me to keep apart. There’s another S and also a D.”

“Shit, who,” Snape takes the pile Harry pointed out and leafs through it.

“Daisy something.”

“Wilson.” He sighs. “Her grandmother then.”

Snape marks five essays in the time it takes Harry to do the last two and then he taps the table with his wand for another tea set.

“What happened to curfew?” Harry teases, and Snape startles. They were working side by side, and Harry could kick himself for breaking through the companionable quiet. “Teasing. Thank you, I’d love some tea.”

Snape narrows his eyes at him but pours them both tea. There’s more of the strange biscuits.

“What are these?” Harry asks as he’s biting into one of them. They might be growing on him.

“Oh.” Snape seems genuinely surprised by the question. “I made them. Orange and cardamom.”

“And vanilla?”

“I keep vanilla in my sugar jar.”

“Clever,” Harry takes another. They definitely are growing on him.

At night, in bed, Harry thinks that he should have paid closer attention to Snape’s brewing. He hopes he’ll get to see that again. He dreams of smoke and a complicated dance of stirring rods and swinging robes.

The weekend is a relief. Harry finished all his homework so he gets to work on projects and revision. He hasn’t figured out yet how to make ink change colours and can’t find anything on it either. Professor Jones keeps telling him that finding the information is a part of the assignment, and he just sighs and nods. He spends far more time in Snape’s library than necessary and hopes Snape doesn’t catch onto it, but he’s never been more on top of things. Even Hermione is proud of him.

“Hey, Harry,” Neville sits down next to him at dinner on Saturday. “I had a look at your essay.”

“Ah, thank you.” Harry turns around to look at him. Prays he won’t have to change too much.

“It’s good,” Neville promises, and Harry sighs. “Where’d you get these references though? I don’t think I’ve seen these books before.”

Harry feels his cheeks heat, and why should they? “Snape’s letting me use his library.”

To his great surprise, Neville smiles, “oh cool. Sprout’s got books too but her organization is a bit whack, and she doesn’t always have time to help me find the books I need.”

Harry nods as if he understands, but quietly he’s thinking that the purpose of a library is entirely lost if the books aren’t organised. “It’s nice. It’s a nice space too.”

“Good.” Neville whips out the essay, and they go through his comments, one by one, until Harry understands everything he should still look into.

“Thank you,” he says, as sincere as he can while aching to go downstairs and sit in the quiet with some tea. “Is there anything I can help you with?”

Neville blushes something fierce, “I’m not sure – ”

“No, say it,” Harry settles down to make sure Neville understands he’s serious. “Tell me.”

“The shield charms we did last week.”

“You did fine,” Harry promises. He pays attention to everyone he had in DA, and Neville’s been doing fine in class.

“I know; Per- professor Weasley said so too, but something was wrong.”

“What happened?”

“It made me tired,” his cheeks are bright red now. “Can you help me with that?”

Harry has no idea what the issue might be, but he nods. “We can practice tomorrow after lunch?”

“I’d appreciate that,” Neville sighs. “Thanks Harry.”

And with a wave to everyone else, Harry is off to the dungeons.

“Hi,” Harry grins when the door swings open, and Snape rolls his eyes. He’s wearing the nice robes again.

“Did you not waste enough of my time already today?” Snape complains, but he motions to the library.

“If you -” Harry feels really uncomfortable all of a sudden. “If I should go.” His stomach hurts with how much he doesn’t want to, but he wants to be too much even less. “I don’t mean to impose.”

“Oh, Potter.” Snape looks at him with a frown and a deeply unhappy mouth. “I’ve told you I’m done kicking puppies. I was going to grade and order new ingredients tonight. I can do that in the library.”

“I wouldn’t break anything,” Harry frowns. “And I also wouldn’t mind sitting in the lab instead.”

Snape looks at him like he’s the strangest person he’s ever met, and he pushes Harry into the library. He leaves Harry alone for a bit and returns with an enormous stack of scrolls when Harry’s set up on the long table. He sits down opposite Harry and starts grading, writing lightning fast with his red ink. Harry goes on with his Herbology work, consulting the books and writing down ideas on how to deal with Neville’s comments. When he catches Snape rolling his shoulders back for the third time in as many minutes, he sets his quill down. Snape looks at him.

“Tea?” Harry asks, and Snape huffs. He looks amused though, and so Harry sits down with him in the comfortable chairs. “Sorry, you looked like you could use it.”

Snape nods and taps the table. A tea tray appears, filled with biscuits and steaming tea. “We must’ve finished the other ones,” Snape says, as he picks up a biscuit. “These are cinnamon.”

Harry tries one. It’s good. “The flavour is less...”

“These are sweeter.”

“Yeah,” Harry can tell that much. “Complex I suppose.”

“I think it goes well with black tea, cinnamon.” Snape taps a finger on the top of the teapot, and it floats to fill their cups. “The other ones I prefer to have earl grey with.”

Harry’s never spent more time on thinking about tea beyond hot and wet and tries to remember the difference. He knows he’s pulling a face when Snape just snorts. “That looks like it hurts.”

“What?” He blinks up.

“The thinking,” Snape teases, and Snape’s mouth twitches as Harry laughs. “Why are you here?”

“I like it here.” Harry looks around, the light flickering, the black night outside the windows. Snape shakes his head.

“There’s a library, and the Great Hall, and your common room. All of those places are filled with your friends.”

Harry has to think on that; why does he prefer to be here? “People stare at me. I try to help them with their homework, but it’s strange that Harry Potter wouldn’t know the answer to a question, or wouldn’t understand some Transfiguration lesson.”

“And here?”

“Here I feel like just Harry,” Harry decides, and it’s true. Snape’s a minefield of topics he knows he shouldn’t bring up, but he never once thought of Harry as a hero. “By the way, can you think of a reason why casting spells might make someone more tired than usual?”

“Why do you ask?” Snape pours them both more tea and leans in.

“Neville said that during Defence, when we were practicing shield charms, that it wore him out. Percy, professor Weasley, said not to worry, but he used to do those easily.”

“You should find out what has changed then,” Snape decides. “Does he think of something else? Did he change wands or start leaking large amounts of magic to something else?”

“Like what?”

“These wards,” Snape gestures around. “Some of them are tied to the castle, they’ll be here as long as Hogwarts stands. Some are tied to me; if I die, they fall. That is intentional, but it does mean my magic is required to keep them up.”

Interesting. “I’ll talk to him. Do you have anything you’d recommend I read on the topic?”

“You could call for it,” Snape suggests. “I would try Introduction to Magical Reserves and Casting Fatigue.” Harry hisses for it and smiles when a book lands on the table. “If you’re interested in the topic from an academic perspective after you figure out Mr Longbottom’s problem, I’m sure you could convince professor Weasley to let you write your project about it.”

“I’ll see,” Harry shrugs. “I was thinking of writing about the Patronus charm.”

“Also interesting,” Snape nods. “Poorly understood, but definitely interesting.”

Harry yawns then, so wide his jaw cracks, and when he looks at Snape to apologize he sees a fond smile. “I promise you’re not boring me,” he whispers, but he smiles back.

“Potter,” Snape starts. “You are not obliged to spend all of your time with me, even if we embark on a formal apprenticeship.”

“I want to talk though.” Harry settles into the chair more comfortably, curling up around his legs.

Take your shoes off before you put your feet on my furniture, ” Salazar Slytherin hisses from the portrait over the fire, and Harry kicks off his trainers before the sentence is out.

“Sorry,” he tells Snape, when he notices he’s being stared at. “He told me to, and I just followed the order.”

Snape shakes his head, “I’ll move that painting to my classroom if that’s what it takes.”

“Have you told McGonagall about it yet?” Harry is more comfortable without shoes, enjoying the banter.

“I have, and she agrees that we should not tell anyone until summer. There will be plenty of time for interested historians to come in then.” Snape leans back too, “that means you, as well. Although I didn’t have you pegged as the type to send such information to the Prophet.”

“No,” Harry laughs. “But I might tell Bulstrode and Malfoy. Would that be a problem?”

“Not at all.” Snape sounds relaxed, he looks comfortable. “The subjects are running around, and we are not going to tell them to be quiet about their origins. We just think you deserve some quiet for as long as possible, and if they manage to pick up English before anyone finds out, then you won’t have to translate.”

Harry can’t help but smile, he’s not been this comfortable in ages, “you really thought about this.”

In the end there is no need for Harry to tell Draco or Millicent. He’s quite forgotten about the portraits when he opens the door to the Defence classroom, Neville right behind him, and finds Draco and Millicent circling each other.

“Fighting or practicing?” he asks, closing the door behind Neville.

“Started as one, now is the other,” Millicent says, stepping forward to shoot another hex at Malfoy. “He laughed so hard at my antlers that I had to help him.”

“They were enormous,” Malfoy sounds smug, but the next three hexes from Millicent all hit him.

“Wow,” Harry says, while is still putting his bag away safely in a corner. “You need help with those shield charms.”

Malfoy turns on him, shoots a well-executed Langlock, and stares in amazement when Harry deflects it without even pulling his wand. “Potter,” he whines.

“Is that why you’re doing the Defence apprenticeship,” Harry teases, closing in on Malfoy while Millicent and Neville laugh. “Because you’re pants at it?”

“Like you and Potions,” Malfoy throws back, still shooting hexes at Harry that are all easily deflected.

“Indeed,” Harry disarms Malfoy neatly and turns back to Neville. “Do you mind if he joins us?”

“Not at all,” Neville looks excited now; he’s taken his robes off so he can move more easily and rolled up his sleeves. “Mills, will you join too?”

“Sure,” Millicent shrugs. “What should we do?”

Harry spends all afternoon getting them to perfect their shield charms, starting from the pronunciation and wand movement. Millicent is already pretty good, so he conjures a target for her and has her practicing rapid casting.

“Is that better?” he asks Neville when they’re sitting down. “Without the unnecessary movements?”

“Yeah,” Neville drinks some water. “I still feel like I shouldn’t be as tired as I am.”

Draco perks up at that, he looks sweaty and dishevelled but actually managed to deflect most spells thrown at him since Harry corrected his elbows. “Have you been sleeping well? Eating well?”

“Eh,” Neville blushes. “Mostly?”

“He’s had a growth spurt,” Draco explains, when Harry looks very confused. “Magic and growing cost tremendous energy. You’ll need everything you can get right now.”

Neville splutters a little and looks down at himself, and Millicent immediately cuts him off. “None of that. If you’re healthy and you’re strong, the fat doesn’t matter.” She looks at both Draco and Harry with a very fierce look in her eyes, and they both rush to nod back.

“Regular meals,” Draco says. “And loads of vegetables and meat. If that doesn’t help you should ask Pomfrey to check you over; you might be bleeding magic.”

“Where would I be bleeding magic to?” Neville asks. “My gran’s still alive.”

That prompts a fascinating discussion on blood wards and being the head of the family that Harry can’t really follow, even with Millicent trying to explain.

They get back on their feet when Harry starts to get itchy and duel a bit, first separately and then in teams. Millicent and Neville are terrifying together, not fast but strong and determined, and by the time dinner rings, they’re all exhausted and sweaty. Harry laughs and leans back against a bookcase. “We should’ve kept an eye on the time, there’s no way we can shower – ”

Those books are older than your family name! ” Salazar Slytherin hisses from the portrait next to the door and Harry drops his wand as he jumps forward in surprise.

“Mother—” he sighs, picking it up again, trying to control his breathing. “You have got to stop scaring me like that.

Only then does he realize that the others are staring at him. “What the hell, Harry,” says Millicent, but it’s clear the rest is thinking it.

“Meet Salazar Slytherin,” Harry points at him. The original occupant of the painting is shivering in a corner, and Slytherin looks more pissed off than ever. “We found a new painting of his. They’re not great at English yet, but feel free to try.”

My daughter is the most talented linguist of all time, ” Slytherin scolds him, and Harry can’t help but laugh.

“You’re picking it up pretty fast too,” he says. “I’m impressed.”

They end up having to drag Draco away from the painting, he can’t even speak from being star struck, and spend all of dinner telling Hermione about the duelling and also Slytherin. They don’t even notice that they probably shouldn’t have all sat down at the Gryffindor table together until halfway through dinner.

“We should go,” Malfoy says, when he notices the first years staring.

“Like hell you will,” Hermione hisses. “Lead by example, asshole.”

BOY,” a painting to Harry’s left thunders when Harry is on his way down to the dungeons after his shower, and it doesn’t matter that it’s not the same language, the inflection is so Vernon that it punches the air out of his lungs. Suddenly everything is too warm, and there couldn’t possibly be enough oxygen in a castle so filled with people anyway and Harry kneels down so as not to fall over.

Not enough air, he thinks, gotta breathe in, not enough air. He feels himself get dizzy at the lack of oxygen and feels the tears come to his eyes, and his mind goes this is it this is a heart attack maybe you have a family history you wouldn’t know, would you?

He tries to breathe out but misses the air and there still isn’t enough, so he claws at the floor, which way is the hospital wing? Where is the Gryffindor tower? Right when he thinks he’s going to die here, right next to the Charms classroom, a warm hand settles on his lower back.

“Out,” Snape’s voice says, and he breathes out. “In, two three four,” he says, and Harry obeys. “Out, two three four.”

When the black spots in his vision fade, a warm hand grabs on to his clammy clenched fist and helps him off the ground. He follows numbly, tries to breathe in for four and out for four. He’s vaguely aware of being forced to sit down and then nothing.

When Harry wakes up, it’s to very furious hissing. He tries to make his brain do Parseltongue and realizes rather late that whatever is happening is happening in English. “He’ll wake up soon,” he hears. “Get out of my sight.”

Harry blinks his eyes open and finds himself on the carpet in front of the fire of Snape’s library, an afghan neatly draped over him. He’s on his side with his knees up, one hand under his head, the other stretched out, with his glasses in his palm. “Why ‘m I on the floor?” He manages to say, even though his tongue feels thick.

“You turned the sofa I transfigured out of the carpet back twice before I decided it was your nap, and you could have it however you want to,” Snape sounds from behind him, amused.

Harry works his glasses back onto his face and spells them clean, before looking up to find Snape, still in his teaching robes, sitting on a chair right behind him. Harry’s mouth tastes like lavender, and that helps him remember. He sits up immediately, sways a little as his head pounds. “Merlin I am so sorry,” he says, crawling a little closer to Snape.

“You’re alright,” Snape promises, but he looks tense and his hands are twitching. “That was a panic attack, right? Should I have brought you to Madam Pomfrey?”

“No,” Harry promises, “just a panic attack, no need for anything beyond a Calming Draught, and I can tell I’ve had one.”

“I put it in your tea,” Snape nods, and he sighs heavily. “I explained to Slytherin that you’ve lived through a war and loud noises are not a good idea, around any of the students.”

“It sounded like a right bollocking to me.” Harry has to smile when he thinks of how pissed off Snape had sounded on his behalf. “Can’t believe you chewed out a Founder like that.”

“Yeah,” Snape looks embarrassed. “I was very worried when he came into my quarters yelling about something and tried to make me follow him through several walls.”

“He’s not had to worry about that for a while,” Harry tries to smile and finds it wobbly. “I’m sorry to have worried you.”

Snape nods and taps the table for tea and cinnamon biscuits. “Here you go,” he offers, handing a cup to Harry. Harry puts in a sugar cube; that normally helps with the shaking.

“Anyway,” he tells his cup. “It wasn’t the war; he called me boy. I don’t know if you’ve ever met Petunia’s husband but...”

He looks up at Snape to try and tell him without words that Vernon was horrible and gets the distinct impression that Snape is trying not to cry. His whole face is pinched, his back straighter than ever.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” he says. “Forget I said that, I’m sorry. Please, let’s talk about something else.”

“Harry,” Snape says, gentle as anything, and Harry can’t help but shiver. He sits a little closer still and leans his forehead against Snape’s knee, which is bony even through five layers of thick robes. A heavy hand hesitates, then settles on top of his hair, and they sit like that until Harry can tell his tea is going cold. He sits back and finishes it in two sips, awkward and a little stiff.

“It’s the...” Snape takes a deep breath, doesn’t look at Harry at all, his eyes flitting between the fire and the window and his hands. “The.” He tries again. “The tone, isn’t it.”

Harry’s not sure where this is going, so he stays quiet. Snape seems to realize he didn’t say enough and takes another breath, squeezes his own thighs. “The tone. The assumption of authority. I... I have the same.”

“Yeah,” Harry whispers. Should’ve known Snape would get it. He probably also realizes now why Harry reacted so strongly to his berating in class, but they don’t need to talk about that.

They’re quiet for so long that Harry can’t stand it anymore. He’d rather deal with the awkwardness now too. Better that than letting it linger, so even though it’s late, he gets up and dusts off his robes. “For the project for Charms we get to pick any kind of spell sort we’re interested in,” he says, and Snape looks at him from under heavy brows and greasy hair.

“Flitwick doesn’t normally announce the project until after Christmas,” Snape says, his voice pitched oddly.

“Yeah.” Harry walks over to the wards section of the library. “But we have a number of people that already know all the theory he wants to discuss before the break, so he figured he could let us do both and then do better on the project.”

Snape nods. “I wonder if I should do the same.”

“Nah,” Harry shakes his head. “Our class had Slughorn for two years. I doubt anyone is current on the theory.”

Snape’s eyes crinkle, almost a smile. “You’d be surprised what can be achieved by reading the material assigned to you, Mr Potter.”

Harry laughs. “Hush.” He trails a finger over some books that look interesting and jerks back when one of them snaps teeth at him. “Fuck.”

“Language,” Snape drawls, but when Harry turns around to look at him, he seems to have relaxed a little. Leaning back in his chair in front of the fire.

“You know,” Harry decides. “This means that the wards were placed specifically on that table.”

“How so?”

“They moved when you moved it.”

“Almost,” Harry gets a real smile for his effort. “Wrong conclusion, but a good deduction. I simply asked Slytherin to tell the wards to be quiet.”

“That’s... smart.” Harry laughs when Snape looks at him, eyes shining with amusement, and moves on to the next section. “I was thinking I could do the Charms project on casting in Parseltongue because of the way the wards here respond to it.”

“But?”

“It got Hermione all excited about casting languages, and before I knew it she was off about runes and arithmancy and unbreakable rules of magic,” he rolls his eyes, “I don’t care for any of that.”

“I’ve always suspected that the only limit to magic is the ones we set,” Snape says.

“Hence the spell creation?” Harry turns wide eyes on Snape, craving more. “Is that why you got into that?”

“Please,” Snape sighs. “You have no idea how uncomfortable it is to know that you have read every thought that went on in my angsty teenage mind. Let’s not refer to it anymore.”

“Hardly,” Harry laughs. “It was all spells and potions. Nothing too personal.”

Snape looks at him like everything would be too personal, and Harry lets it go with a shrug. “So the project?” Snape urges.

“Yeah,” Harry turns back to the books. “I was thinking I’ll just do wards.”

“You know it is unlikely that these wards were cast in Parseltongue, right?”

Harry moves back to the carpet and sits down with his back to the fire, close enough to feel warm. “No?”

“It seems more likely to me that there is a list of commands, and someone very snobby created it.”

“Interesting.” Harry looks around for his bag and finds it on the table. He goes to it and opens his Charms notebook, leaning over to write down ‘wards and commands’. He underlines it three times and turns around to find Snape is staring off into the fire.

“Go to bed,” he says, low and grave, and Harry wonders what he missed, when the mood changed. “It is late. Let me know if you’d like to come here for a book.”

“Ah,” Harry can’t think of a good reason to stay, beyond it’s warm and you’re here and so I want to be too, “alright.”

“I’ll walk you out,” Snape stands abruptly, and Harry follows him to the door. They stand together in the hallway under the admittedly flattering light of the hideous lamp, and Snape is staring at him when he thinks why?

“If I’m going to be in and out,” he says. “You don’t need to walk me to the door every time. If you’re busy.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Snape says, and Harry knows he won’t. Maybe he just doesn’t trust Harry not to snoop on his way out. “Goodnight, Potter.”

“Goodnight professor,” Harry says, instead of calling Snape out on it. “Thank you for taking care of me.”

Snape bows his head low and walks away without another word, so Harry leaves by himself. In the hallway the painting of Slytherin that guards Snape’s door is filled with people, crowding around each other to get to the front.

“My apologies,” Slytherin himself hisses. “I did not know. The response after battle in one so young was uncommon in my time.

“It’s going to be uncommon again soon,” Harry promises. “And thank you for getting professor Snape for me.”

“He cares very deeply for you,” one of the children of Slytherin, who looks like she was around fifty when this painting was made, hisses. Harry steps back, checks that the hall is empty.

“What?”

“I say he loves him.” A young girl pipes in, and Harry leaves. I say he loves him, drones in his mind as he runs up all the way to the Gryffindor tower. When he gets ready for bed, even though it’s hardly late enough for that. I say he loves him, he thinks when he’s staring at the heavy red drapes around his bed.

He wakes up the next morning strangely refreshed and pitches his idea of ward work to Flitwick after class. Flitwick is immensely interested immediately and asks a good number of questions Harry isn’t sure he should answer. He needs to ask Snape about how many people have even been to his library at all, but is not entirely sure he wants to know the answer.

They settle into a rhythm a bit, over the next few weeks. Harry spends his free periods in the Great Hall, except when they overlap with Snape’s, then he spends them wherever Snape wants to do the grading. He spends his evenings in the library with his friends, and twice a week or so he asks to come to Snape’s library, where he does research and drinks tea. He’s just starting to like his new rhythm when Hermione plops down next to him in Transfiguration and looks around in confusion.

“Where’s the fan club?” she asks, and at Harry’s look of confusion, she pats his hand. “Of course you hadn’t noticed. There’s paintings following you around. There they are.”

“Ah,” Harry blushes all the way to his ears when a crowd of Slytherins settles into one of the paintings of McGonagall’s old classroom. “Hello,” he hisses. “How long has this been?” He asks Hermione.

“Weeks?” She thinks it over, counts on her fingers, “yeah, a couple of weeks. Why don’t you ask them?”

“I think I know,” Harry says, and he feels miserable. At that point the Transfiguration professor walks in, so he has to lean over to whisper, “they saw me have a panic attack, and Snape told them the whole story. About the war.”

Hermione looks at him with pure skepticism. “Aren’t they a thousand years old?” she hisses in his ear. “I’m sure they’ve seen a panic attack before; they probably just like you.” Then professor Jones looks at them very sternly, and they both shut up and start taking notes.

“Why do you follow me?” Harry asks, at the end of class, and the same daughter of Slytherin steps forward.

“Not just you,” she says, and before Harry can ask who else, they all leave.

The Potions classroom doesn’t have paintings they can visit, so after lunch Harry still can’t get to talk to any Slytherins. He’s a little preoccupied with what just happened still when they start the day’s brewing, and only realizes he’s messed up his potion when it doesn’t turn light blue as the instructions say it should, but instead gets darker and darker.

“Professor?” he calls, hating that he’s scared, hating that he still can’t do this. Snape rushes over and turns off the fire immediately. “I’m sorry,” Harry sighs, staring at the gross clump in his cauldron.

“What did you do, Potter?” Snape says, low enough that the rest of the class won’t be able to overhear.

“I...” Harry looks at the still-steaming mess. “I don’t know.”

“It won’t explode,” Snape assures him, and Harry takes a deep breath and looks up at him. He looks patient, like he does when it’s just the two of them in the library at night.

“Thank you,” Harry takes another deep breath and looks over his notes, then back at the instructions. “Alright, I added the goosegrass but didn’t remove the roots before cutting them.”

“And what would that do?”

“Goosegrass is fire,” Harry checks his drawings. “Yes. Did the reaction go too fast?”

“It did,” Snape uses the glass rod to poke the goo. “I daresay that you can think of a way to reverse this.”

Harry checks the ingredients and the steps of the potion again. “If I...” He looks up to check Snape’s face but can’t tell if he’s on the right track at all. “The belladonna, I’m supposed to add it when the potion is a very light blue, but if I add it now, and then swap the Exploding Ginger Eyelash...”

“Or?” Snape is almost smiling now, his eyes light and the corner of his mouth twitching.

“Or I could just add some water to help it dissolve.”

“Excellent,” Snape says, and Harry can tell by the way that his eyes dance that he would have laughed at the expression of shock on Harry’s face if they’d been alone. “Don’t turn the heat back on until that’s done.”

It takes the rest of the class to dissolve the clump of goo into a thick liquid again, but it is pretty blue by the time Harry bottles it. Darker than Hermione’s, but no longer almost black.

“Stay behind please,” Snape suggests when he sets the bottled potion down, and sodding Glynis laughs. Like Harry doesn’t always stay behind on Thursdays.

“Look,” Snape says, when everyone else has left and Harry has conjured a chair in front of the desk. He holds up Harry’s and Malfoy’s bottles and tilts them sideways. Malfoy’s potions are always perfect.

“Mine’s still thicker,” Harry notes. “And the colour is off.”

“Yes,” Snape nods. “But remind me to show you again after we’ve done the marking.”

They work silently together until it’s time for dinner, and then Snape finds the two bottles again. They’re almost the same colour now. “Oh,” Harry grins. When Snape tilts both bottles and Malfoy’s has gotten a lot more goopy, he grins wider.

“Tell me why you think that is while we walk up,” Snape suggests, and Harry packs his bag while Snape tucks the essays away.

“It was the heat, wasn’t it?” Harry asks as they leave. “Mine was colder when I bottled it, and because I took it off the heat long before the rest did, the reaction happened slower so the colour took a while to get there.”

“Indeed,” Snape nods, locking the classroom behind them. “Did you check what we’ll be doing next class?”

“We’re continuing with this potion,” Harry thinks back to the syllabus. “We have to heat this one up right? Boil water in the cauldron and let it sit while we prepare the arnica.”

“Why do we do it like that?”

Harry turns around to smile at Snape, “same reason we do it for chocolate, so it doesn’t burn.”

“I wonder,” Snape drawls. “If I could get you to understand potions if I just compare everything to cooking.”

“We can start with those biscuits of yours,” Harry laughs. He’s a little obsessed with them, and he’d ask for the recipe but he doesn’t have access to a kitchen anyway.

“I can show you how to make those,” Snape is almost-smiling again, and Harry wishes the students moving to the Great Hall weren’t making such noise. He’d like to give Snape a big sappy grin and suggest they skip dinner.

“I’d like that,” he says instead, and they nod at each other before going to their seats.

“Do you know if Percy is going to stay?” Harry asks that Saturday. The sun is just about setting, and he’s tired and stiff after not having moved much since lunch. He’s been hunched over the long table in Snape’s library for a bit too long.

“Professor Weasley?” Snape sits up from his marking, looking over the table at Harry. “I doubt it. He was quite comfortable at the Ministry; I’d be surprised if his teaching Defence is anything more than a favour.”

Harry hums, “hope he’ll stay on a bit, at least.”

“Why?”

Snape taps the table for tea and to Harry’s surprise about half off the books that were in front of them fly to the side, but a tea tray does appear. “You’ve been talking to Slytherin again!”

“I learn,” Snape hisses, slow and careful, and he smiles back when Harry’s grin opens his face up.

“You did! Well done,” Harry praises, and it could be the light but it almost looks like Snape’s cheeks turn a little pink at that. “This is great, are you resetting the wards? Or just telling them to listen to you?”

“Bit of both,” Snape looks so pleased and proud that Harry wants to climb over the table and hug him. “And answer the question, you.”

“Oh, I was just thinking how the kids deserve to have a Defence teacher for longer than a year.”

“Are you thinking of applying for the position?” Snape seems so interested now, leaning forward. “Have some tea.”

“Maybe,” Harry feels himself squirm under the intense gaze, and Snape seems to notice what he’s doing. He backs off a little. “If Malfoy doesn’t want it.”

“Malfoy wants to go to university,” Snape dismisses him with a wave of his hand.

“Yeah,” Harry grins. “Paris, I heard. But I wouldn’t take a job he wants anyway, especially since I’m not sure I want it.”

“How are your grades,” Snape is leaning in again. “Are you thinking of an apprenticeship?”

“Actually,” this is a little embarrassing. “I had a look at the exams over summer, I was considering taking them then. In the end professor McGonagall convinced me to come back first.”

“You could have taken them,” Snape wraps his hands around a mug. He says it with finality, like it was never a question whether Harry could handle the exams.

“I could have. They’re... not that hard.” It’s a little odd to admit that what some people take a private three-year apprenticeship to learn, Harry could have taken without a single N.E.W.T. “I’m fairly sure I would have passed.”

“No, no, you would have.” Snape is nodding eagerly now. “I took them, they really aren’t that hard, possibly a by-product of no one wanting to go into the field for the last however long.”

“And the format,” Harry takes some tea for himself. “There are questions about theory, but half of it is about a topic you get to choose yourself. I’m sure I know more about Horcruxes than anyone alive.”

“Yes,” Snape blinks, as if surprised. “Yes I think so. There might be an Unspeakable or two, but you never know.”

“And are you really alive if you spend your days buried underneath the Ministry?” Harry takes a biscuit. It’s delicious. “What is in this?”

“Marijuana,” Snape says, and Harry almost believes him. “Lime peel and cinnamon, I think.”

“Teach me?” Harry says, quite beyond caring what Snape’ll think of him. He just has to know how to make these. To his surprise Snape stands up and straightens out his robes.

“Come along then,” he says, with a little nod to the door, and before Harry knows it he’s standing in a small kitchen that was clearly never meant to be seen by visitors.

“The sugar and the butter,” Snape points at a bowl, and Harry does as he’s told. “Then the lime peel, and whisk it all together.” He’s setting out the ingredients Harry will need one by one.

“I’ll add cinnamon and nutmeg to the flour, as well as salt, you should add the lime juice now.”

“No eggs?”

“I think the original recipe calls for baking powder, but I dislike the taste so I never use it. We can throw in an egg yolk if you’d prefer?”

“No,” Harry’s arm is starting to ache, but the smell of butter and sugar and lime is amazing. “No, I like the ones you made.”

“Add the flour mixture, but not all at once,” Snape suggests, and Harry starts on that. “That’s good.”

“What comes next?”

“If you make balls about the size of a walnut, I’ll roll them through some sugar and put them on a tray.” They form a little assembly line, Harry rolling the balls, Snape rolling them through sugar and putting them on a tray. At some point a tray goes into the cast-iron stove, and they fill up another two with neat lines of biscuits.

“How much longer?” Harry asks, staring at the stove.

“That depends on how hot it is,” Snape says, kneeling down to check the thermometer. “Almost done, I should say.” He opens the door and peeks in.

“Oh, look at you!” Harry coos at the biscuits. “They’re beautiful.”

Snape just laughs and fills a kettle with water, setting it on the stove so it can boil. “No touching hot things, alright?”

“I’m not actually a child,” Harry protests, and then Snape easily switches one tray for another, setting the biscuits on the counter to cool down. Harry decides he can do some dishes, and for a while they putter around together.

“Do we go back to the library?” Snape asks, when he has a tray with tea and biscuits from a tin set up.

“We can wait here,” Harry suggests. The kitchen has a little table with two stools in one corner, and it’s small but a homelier space than the other ones Harry has seen so far. “Can’t believe I’ve seen your kitchen but not your sitting room,” he muses, and Snape smiles into his teacup.

“I don’t use it much, I prefer the library.”

“Have you changed much? Since you moved in here?”

“Not really,” Snape looks around. “It was rather well equipped, and I didn’t see the need to. It suits my needs well enough.”

“It doesn’t seem like your style though.”

“No,” Snape refills both their cups. “I suppose not. But I haven’t put much thought into comfort for a while.”

“Yeah, I can relate to that.” Harry gets up to check on the biscuits and finds they’re almost cooled down.

“Switch the trays,” Snape suggests. “The next batch should be done.”

It is, another tray full of beautiful biscuits. Harry puts the last one into the oven and sits down with a small stack of biscuits from their first set. “Delicious,” he decides, when he’s had one. “Even better than the ones you made alone, I’d say.”

Snape’s startled into a laugh but leans over to try one, too, all long elegant fingers and slim pale wrists. “I think you did an admirable job stirring. Tell me why we added the lime to the creamed butter and sugar first.”

“Is it because the lime peel has oil in it? To dissolve that into the butter?”

Snape nods, “one point for my theory on how to get Potter to learn Potions.”

“Should write a book,” Harry laughs. “Potions even Potter could comprehend. The new standard textbooks for first years to O.W.L.s.”

“And the accompanying N.E.W.T. level text: Potions that Put an end to Potter.”

“With an introduction by The Boy Who Lived Twice to fail his Potions N.E.W.T.s.”

“Not if I have any say,” Snape says, and Harry feels warm all over. He couldn’t stop his grateful smile if he tried. Snape notices and adds, not altogether without warmth: “If you’re to be my first apprentice I can’t have you sullying my good name.”

Harry winks at him and stands up to get the last tray of biscuits out. They have an almost obscene amount of delicious smelling biscuits now, sitting around the kitchen. The bells ring dinner right when he wants to ask if they should go back to the library, and he pulls his sweater back on with a sigh. “Will you come have dinner in the Great Hall?”

“I will,” Snape washes his hands and follows Harry out. When he puts his teaching robes back on and motions Harry out through the portrait of Slytherin, Harry realises why Snape had him do all the kneading. Everything that required rolled-up sleeves. “Potter?”

“Yes,” he turns around. They’re almost out of the dungeons, and it’s not busy but there are students around. “Sorry, what’d you say?”

“Will you want more time in the library? You’ve left your things.”

“Ah,” he’s not quite done yet. “Yes, if I could, I’m still working on Charms.”

“Of course,” Snape nods, and Harry feels his eyes drag down. “Is everything alright?”

“Yes!” Harry looks back up at Snape’s face and watches it go from concerned and interested to blank when they hear someone laugh nearby. “Yes, sorry. I’ll be there?” Snape looks at him like he doesn’t believe him but goes to find his seat and Harry hates that he couldn't stop himself from thinking about it for long enough to fool Snape. It’s not like he didn’t know Snape has the Mark. Why did he have to be thinking of it now?

“Shepherd’s pie,” Neville sings in his ear, and Malfoy crowds in from the other side.

“It is Saturday, and on Saturday we get shepherd’s pie,” Malfoy sings, trying to mimic Neville’s much lower voice, and Harry tries to laugh along. All throughout dinner he gets distracted by the flecks of flour on his trousers and the smell of cinnamon and lime that seems to linger around him.

“Harry,” Malfoy says, as they’re trailing out, and that snaps him out of it.

“Harry?”

“No,” Malfoy says patiently. “Draco.”

“Git,” Harry elbows him, but lets himself be dragged off to an empty corridor. “You never call me Harry.”

“You weren’t listening,” Draco shrugs. “What’s wrong?”

“Ehm,” how do you say something like this? “Feel free to punch me if I’m overstepping.”

“Not here,” Draco drags Harry further down the corridor, whispers angrily at the portrait of a cow, and takes Harry through a wall to a stone staircase. “Alright, what am I about to punch you for?”

Harry is a little baffled by this secret passage he’d never heard of but lets it slide. “Did you end up taking the Dark Mark?”

“Circe,” Draco swears. He pushes his hair back, seems to gather himself, and punches Harry in the arm.

“Fuck, sorry.” Harry rubs at the sore spot.

“I did,” Malfoy says finally. “Why do you ask?”

“I know nothing about it,” Harry admits. “Did it hurt? Is it fading like it did during the first war? I don’t even know what it looks like properly.”

“I will literally torture you to death,” Malfoy threatens, even as he is rolling up his sleeve. In the low light of the staircase it’s hard to tell if it’s faded at all, the contrast between Malfoy’s pale arm and the black is grotesque. “It did hurt. It moved, back – before.”

Harry reaches out slowly to take Malfoy’s hand, and he shuffles in a little. Can’t stop himself from touching. Malfoy shivers under him, but doesn’t pull away. “Remember when I stormed out of Herbology last week?”

“Yes?” Malfoy’s voice is higher than it should be, his face is pinched like he’s hurting, so Harry lets him go.

“I bumped my head, and I thought it was my scar hurting again. I had such a bad panic attack that I threw up in the bushes beyond the greenhouse.”

“I thought I heard something,” Malfoy says, but he doesn’t look so miserable anymore. “Now please, enough with the thirteen-year-old Hufflepuff bullshit. Has your question been answered?”

Harry thinks of still black ink against pale skin. Snape’s arms are probably more muscular than Malfoy’s, and his hair is black, but it should look about the same. “Yeah, I think so. Thank you.”

They leave the corridor together and walk down to the dungeons, where Malfoy has to turn away for the Slytherin dorms. “Potter,” Malfoy hisses, so low Harry has to lean in to hear him. “If you’re going to buy him flowers, pick something that’s useful for Potions, too.”

It has to be the strangest thing Malfoy’s ever said, and Harry probably looks very confused, if Malfoy’s cackling at his face is anything to go by. The sound echoes through the dungeons and follows him all the way to Slytherin’s portrait.

“Hello, snakeling,” Slytherin hisses, and Harry wrinkles his nose.

“I’m an adult, ” he says, “and a Gryffindor.”

“Please,” Snape opens the portrait gracefully and steps away so Harry can get in. “No arguing with my door.”

“He calls me snakeling,” Harry complains, following Snape into the library. There’s already tea and biscuits next to the chair.

“And you would argue with a thousand-year-old painting?”

Harry throws him a look that he hopes communicates how much he’d fight anything and takes one of the biscuits. “Did I make this?”

“You did.” Snape’s doing his half-smile thing again, and Harry wants to do nothing but stare at it and smile back forever. “I wasn’t sure you’d be coming.”

“And still you asked for two cups?”

Snape frowns at the table, “I’m not sure how this thing works yet.”

“Magic,” Harry grins. “Hermione would be able to come up with some explanation probably.”

“We wouldn’t know if it’s the correct one though,” Snape says almost absent-mindedly.

“What do you mean?”

“Think about it,” Snape shuffles in his seat, and his face is animated again. “Even if you find the original caster of the spell, that might still not tell you what you need to know.” He notices Harry isn’t following and sighs, “like with hexes. You know how to block hexes right?”

“Yes, of course.”

“The wand movement is in the shape of a hexagon, but we can’t ask whoever first wrote down this spell if it’s a hexagon because it stops hexes, or if they’re called hexes because they’re stopped by a spell in the shape of a hexagon.”

“Or maybe both these things come from symbolism associated with the number six.”

“Yes!” Snape’s hands move when he’s making his point, and Harry tries not to stare. “Or maybe it’s just an excellent pun; we will never know.”

“But we could ask right? The person who came up with the spell might have a portrait or notes or something left behind.”

“Sure,” Snape sighs, taking another biscuit and pointing at Harry with it. “But whoever that was, they were working based on a cultural and learned sense of magic, too. No one crawls out of a swamp fully formed and starts writing down spells, all of this is based on what you’ve come to know.”

“Hence your comment about magic being limitless.”

The comment genuinely surprises Snape, and his face falls back into an expressionless mask. Even his eyes darken.

“You mentioned it a few weeks ago,” Harry tells him, trying to get back to comfortable. “I remembered because it reminded me of flying.”

“How did it remind you of flying?” Snape is still stiff, but at least he’s not shutting down anymore.

“I know there’s limits to what I can do, but I am also aware that they’re different to the limits that exist for other people. Madam Hooch can’t do a Wronsky feint, but I can. Only I don’t push my limits because I know what people are supposed to be able to do.”

“But you used to,” Snape says, understanding on his face.

“In first year I did three impossible things per practice. Wood used to tell me it was like the rules didn’t apply to me. And they didn’t, I’d never even seen a match. I grew up not knowing you could fly on a broomstick at all.”

“Your mum used to fly, unsupported. Sometime during third year she stopped being able to do it.”

“If I’d actually fallen off my broom during that first match, I might have flown too.”

“But not anymore,” Snape concludes, and he leans back into his chair. “We should be learning from the children that grew up without magic.”

“Make it a compulsory class in first year,” Harry suggests. “Introduction to magic. Teach them it’s limitless, and they’ll find out for themselves how far they can go.”

“Write a lesson plan,” Snape suggests. “I’m sure Minerva would indulge you.”

“I don’t want to be indulged,” Harry promises, and he walks over to where he left his books and things. He finds a scrap of paper and writes down his thoughts from the conversation they just had. Lets his eyes wander over to Snape when he realises that was probably a rude thing to say. Snape doesn’t seem to have noticed.

“We’d best do some work,” Snape sits down next to him and draws a pile of homework closer. “These sixth-year essays are due back tomorrow.”

Harry smiles at him and finds his way back to his Charms project. Only remembers in bed that night that he still doesn’t know why Snape thought he wouldn’t be coming back.

*

“Potter,” Snape just walked into the library after leaving Harry there so he could finish the grading. “Where will you be spending the holidays?”

“The Burrow,” Harry looks up and sees Snape’s rounded shoulders, the way he is leaning his head to the side as if to release tension in his back. “I’ll be here for most of the break, but professor McGonagall is letting me Floo to the Burrow for Christmas. Why?”

“Wondering,” Snape lolls his head back and forth.

“Sit,” Harry suggests. “Have a drink.”

“He said, in my own damn library,” Snape says, but he’s smiling just a bit. “Did you finish the grading?”

“I did; I was going to suggest you give me the third years, too. I reviewed all my notes because I missed the whole bit on undetectable potions and flying seahorses.”

“I’m surprised you have notes.”

“Well,” Harry gets up and plops down next to Snape in the chair he’s come to think of as ‘his’. “When I say my notes I mean of course the notes I copied off of Hermione.”

“I’m not surprised anymore.” Snape is leaning back in his chair and his eyes are closed, so as an experiment Harry taps the table between them. A tea set appears, complete with biscuits. “You’re not supposed to be able to do that,” Snape says, without opening his eyes. “And I prefer Ceylon.”

“Tough luck,” Harry is grinning. “Your library likes me.”

They drink silently for a while, until Harry can’t resist the questions bubbling up in his mind anymore. “What are your plans for Christmas? Can I help you with anything? What got you so tired?”

“Hush,” Snape says, holding up his hand. “Staff meeting, Minerva asked me to chaperone, but I normally stay here anyway. There’ll be grading, exams mostly, which means I could let you do any year below fifth.”

“Perfect,” Harry grins, but he keeps his voice low. It seems Snape has a headache. “I heard there’ll be a lot of students staying behind, so I was planning on spending my days helping them with their homework and my evenings here.”

“Good thing I don’t have a social life,” Snape drawls, but he just sounds tired. Harry’s stomach hurts.

“I didn’t – I wasn’t implying,” he tries, looking for something in Snape’s face, but his eyes are closed. “If that doesn’t work for you that’s perfectly alright, whatever - works for you.”

“Shut up,” Snape sighs. And Harry listens, draws himself closer into the chair. What could make Snape feel better? He could ask the table for a proper drink, but he’s not sure that wouldn’t be overstepping. He could leave but he did want to talk about grading the third-year essays, and maybe Snape wants some company? A pain potion could – “Potter. I can hear you thinking.”

“Sorry,” Harry whispers, and he kicks his shoes off to draw his knees up. He’d offer Ron or Hermione a shoulder rub. With Ginny’s cramps he’d rub her feet and give her something warm to drink. He decides to make Snape a cup of tea. No sugar and just a splash of milk. He takes Snape’s hand, which makes him startle, and holds on for just a second so Snape can settle down before putting the teacup in his hand. When he looks at Snape’s face to see if he did good, Snape is staring at him, eyes dark, face pinched. “Sorry,” Harry says again, withdrawing back to his own chair. He’ll finish his tea and leave.

“Potter,” Snape sits up and looks from his tea to Harry. “Potter, look at me.”

Harry looks at Snape’s face again and sees more intensity than he’s used to; he draws back a little further, doesn’t dare look away.

“You’re not here to wait on me.”

“I know,” Harry protests, and Snape shakes his head, not taking his eyes off of Harry.

“Self-preservation, Potter. If someone holds up their end of the bargain, you do your part. If not, all bets are off. When I am rude to you, you should leave.”

“You took care of me,” Harry doesn’t understand this Slytherin logic at all.

Snape makes Harry a cup of tea, one sugar and a bit more milk than Snape likes but not so much that it makes the tea taste of it too much. “That’s different.”

“Is it?” Harry takes the tea. It seems neither of them realised the other knew how they take their tea.

“I’m not sure anymore,” Snape admits, and his eyes lighten as he sips his tea. It makes Harry’s shoulders relax. “I should not have talked to you like that, and the next time I do, feel free to tell me I can have my moods on my own time.”

Somehow that’s a little funny, and Harry feels his lips twitch. “You seem very sure there’s going to be a next time.”

“Know thyself,” Snape says, his mouth in a wry little twist.

“Bullshit,” Harry says, and at that Snape smiles, proper wide this time. “Know thyself is the worst advice to give anyone, especially yourself. Everything changes.”

“You never fail to surprise me,” Snape decides, his eyes bright even as his shoulders uncurl a little, and Harry’s never been complimented quite so sincerely before.

*

“You slept,” is the first thing Snape says when Harry walks into the Potions classroom for their shared free block. Harry closes the door behind him before answering.

“I took a Dreamless Sleep,” he confesses. “Yesterday I had a nap before Potions, and it just made me more tired.”

“How often do you take them?” Snape is looking at him like he wants to take notes, and for some reason it doesn’t make Harry uncomfortable. He steps closer to the desk, conjures a chair, and sits down.

“I try to save them for after really horrible nightmares,” Harry admits. “But these weeks have been regular insomnia more than anything, and I was worried about lying awake overthinking things.”

“If I can...” It seems to cost Snape effort to even say it. “Help.”

“Thank you,. Harry reaches over the desk to touch the tip of his finger against Snape’s folded hands, then leans back into his chair.

They work silently on their grading together; Harry is getting good at it, only needing Snape’s help once or twice for a whole class usually.

*

When the train finally leaves, Harry turns around with a sigh. He’d taken Hermione to the station, only partially because they weren’t done arguing over the best way to hold your wand in a duel, and no one else is left at the station. The miserable drizzle makes everything impossibly dreary, and Harry prepares himself for a lonely trek back to the castle. The younger students that are staying behind didn’t get to come to the station. Except –

“Professor Snape!” He trots over and down the steps to where the carriages are waiting and gets in with Snape without even thinking to ask permission. “Chaperoning?”

“Officially, yes.” Snape flicks his wand to dry his robes and then flicks it again to clean Harry’s robes too. “Unofficially, I was worried Miss Hamnett would refuse to get on the train.”

Harry can’t help but frown. “Would you have made her?”

“Absolutely,” Snape nods. “Wanting to stay with her boyfriend is not a good enough reason to worry her parents.” He seems to catch the look on Harry’s face and though nothing changes about his face or body language, Harry feels like he understands. He shivers from the cold and the deep black eyes, and Snape looks away, out the window. Sets his jaw.

The first few days Harry has to spend in the greenhouses, planting for his project, making cuttings and checking they have enough water for plants that already exist. He’s trying to prove that planting snakeweed next to sopophorous plants works just as well as fertilizing with mooncalf dung, but it’s a lot of work to set it up.

“You are still here,” Snape drawls sarcastically when he runs into Harry outside the Great Hall, and it’s a testament for how far they’ve come that Harry just rolls his eyes. No matter that the hairs on his neck are all standing up.

“I’ve been in the greenhouses,” he tells Snape, and Snape motions to his hands with a well duh sort of look on his face. Harry hadn’t even washed his hands yet in his rush to get to dinner. “Just trying to get the unpleasant bits over with.”

“The unpleasant bits of the planting? Are you still on the self-fertilizing plants?”

“No, they’d eat each other,” Harry sighs. He’ll have to do that some other time if he wants to test his other theory. “I meant the unpleasant bits of the holiday.”

“Ah yes,” Snape spells Harry’s hands clean, and they don’t feel dry like they normally do after a Scourgify. “I am glad to hear I rank above being elbow-deep in faeces.”

Harry snorts, and together they walk into the Great Hall, where everyone else is already sitting at the large table in the middle. “I also finished all my homework, and the gift shopping, and I’ve sneaked around after hours enough to last a lifetime,” Harry leans in to tell Snape, before finding his spot next to Hagrid. Snape spends the rest of the dinner looking away every time Harry looks up at him. Was that too much? Had he been too friendly?

The first year by his elbow chatters on and on about their parents don’t get time off for Christmas, but they’ll be allowed to go home for Lunar New Year, just them, the other students won’t have a holiday then, and Harry listens while trying not to stare at Snape. He only misses his mouth while trying to take a bite a few times.

“Harry?” Hagrid asks, before Harry can run off to the Gryffindor tower for a shower.

“Yeah?” Harry turns to look at him and is overcome with warmth. Hagrid looks worried. “What is it? Everything ok?”

“Yeah,” Hagrid reassures him, and he looks around before nodding to the doors that lead outside. “D’ya fancy coming with me for a cuppa?”

Harry thinks on that. He doesn’t want tea, but he also doesn’t want to blow Hagrid off. “Could you show me how you milk the giant squid instead?”

“I can,” Hagrid tells him, amusement and surprise curling up his beard, and he steers Harry to the lake with a heavy hand on his shoulder.

“Can I ask you something?” Harry asks when they’re standing at the shore, and Hagrid hands him a bucket of slimy dead fish. Soon they’re flinging the fish out into the water, watching it move as different creatures come up for a feed.

“’Course ya can,” Hagrid promises, lobbing a fish really far into the water and getting a lazy tentacle wave for it in return.

“What do you think about professor Snape?” Harry asks, and Hagrid turns around fast as lightning. Sets down his dirty bucket.

“Not this again,” he says, sounding more demanding than Harry’s ever heard him sound. “We been over this every single year, and I won’t listen to it again. Professor Snape is a good man, and he’s on our side and – ”

“Hagrid,” Harry stops him by getting a little closer. Hagrid always steps back when he’s angry, like he knows how he comes across. Wants to be smaller. “Hagrid, I’m doing an apprenticeship with him. I got him the Order of Merlin.”

“First class,” Hagrid takes a deep breath to calm himself. “Yeah, ya did.”

“I’m sorry,” Harry steps closer still and Hagrid lets him lean in for a hug. “I shouldn’t have said it that way.”

“Harry,” Hagrid rumbles. He seems to be deciding on something. They both end up sitting down next to the lake on some logs, just feeding the squid instead of demanding ink in return. That can wait. “I like professor Snape. Always have.”

Harry looks up just in time to see the blush on Hagrid’s cheeks and oh. Oh. “Really?”

“Not sure he knows,” Hagrid tells him. His eyes are so warm, his face so fond. “He’s good ter me. Brings me the sick’uns from the forest. Helps with my classes.”

“And last year?” Harry feels things starting to make sense, and his heart aches for Hagrid.

“He rebuilt my hut. Told the Carrows I’d need somewhere to live, and that was that. But it was all there.”

“How do you mean?” Harry throws out the last scraps of fish and very seriously never has needed a shower more than in this moment. Scowls when he looks down at himself.

“Everything. My mugs, my plants, my rugs. The bits and bobs. Everything he could fix he fixed; everything else he replaced.”

“He’s always paying attention, isn’t he?” Harry asks, but he knows the answer. Knows it from how he feels the way Snape looks at him as a physical presence.

“As a boy even,” Hagrid nods, and he stands up. Takes Harry’s bucket. “I’ll tell ya anything you’d like to know,” he tells Harry. “But you’ve got to remember he’s good to me.”

“He’s your friend,” Harry agrees, and Hagrid blushes a deep red. Nods.

“Don’t go thinking I’m not happy with Maxime now,” he tells Harry before Harry goes back to the castle. “I am. Now do you want to tell me what had you in a mood at dinner?”

Harry shakes no but finds a smile for Hagrid and gives him another hug, before getting sent back up into the castle.

*

“Why do you think they follow you?” Mathilda asks when Harry waves at the portraited Slytherins and crosses through the third ‘however’ in a row. Synonyms, he writes over it instead. He’s starting to see the appeal of having red ink to do this with.

“I don’t know,” Harry shrugs and looks up to see real interest shining in her eyes. “I’m pretty used to having strange things happen around me, but I wouldn’t mind at all if you investigated for me a bit.”

“Really?” she squeaks, and Harry just laughs.

“Yeah,” with a gentle bump of his elbow to hers he gets her attention away from whatever she’s thinking. “After you finish your Charms essay. Unless you have any other questions about finite?”

She grumbles but gets back to work, and Harry looks up to see Snape has entered the library. He walks with purpose and soon can’t be seen from where Harry is sitting anymore. Harry has a quick look around, but nobody seems to need help right now, and so he follows Snape.

“Hey,” he whispers when he finds Snape, well aware that Madam Pince will have his balls if he makes any noise in this part of the library. Snape startles violently and turns on Harry with his wand raised and his other hand around the book he was leafing through. When he sees it’s Harry, he steps back. “Fuck,” Harry hisses, holding his hands up. “Sorry, didn’t mean to – ”

“Quite alright.” Snape seems to force himself to relax, puts the book away and straightens his robes with jerky motions. His hands shake a little, but his voice comes out steady. “How may I help you, Mr Potter?”

“Wondering if you had plans tonight,” Harry talks low but feels the leftover adrenaline prickle across his skin. He breathes steadily to calm down.

“It’s Christmas Eve,” Snape says, one eyebrow raised.

“Yeah,” Harry sighs. “Of course.” He’d been hoping for a quiet night in front of the fire with Snape, before the chaos of the Burrow tomorrow. “Never mind.”

“Potter,” Snape urges. “Who would I celebrate Christmas Eve with?”

“Friends?” Harry tries, well aware that no one but him visited Snape when he was in St. Mungo’s over summer. “Family?”

“It gets cold at graveyards this time of year, Mr Potter,” Snape says, and Harry knows this tone.

“In the words of a dear friend of mine,” Harry grins up at Snape and is relieved to see his black eyes dancing with humour, even if the rest of his face reveals little. “Are you a wizard or not?”

“I’ll be here,” Snape says, pulling his gaze away with what looks like effort. “And I will not be working, but you are free to come by after dinner regardless.”

Harry thinks on what to say back to that for far too long, and Snape’s mouth twitches a little.

“I’ll see you at dinner, Mr Potter,” Snape promises, low voice, severe nod, and his robes snap behind him as he turns and walks away. Harry’s eyes are drawn to the book Snape just returned, ‘The Monstrous Book of Monsters Volume 2 (library safe edition)’. Can’t help but grin at the idea that Hagrid will be getting something good for Christmas this year.

Harry’s not sure why he decided to dress up for dinner, but as he rushes down the stairs he regrets it a little. What is he trying this hard for? He tells himself he can always go back up after dinner if it feels like too much and straightens his robes before stepping into the Great Hall. He’s the last one to arrive. Everyone stares at him.

A quick glance around tells him he’s not the only one to have made an effort and that no one took his seat next to Hagrid. Next to Snape, too.

“Merry Christmas,” he tells them both as he gets into his seat, and Snape mumbles something about 5 more hours, but professor McGonagall is already standing, welcoming them all. The food is delicious, and Harry ends up having a wonderful conversation with his professors about the new pen Hagrid is building at the edge of the forest, in anticipation of getting Abraxans coming in from Beauxbatons. Snape has a special gleam in his eye, and Harry isn’t sure what to think of that; but it’s a good night regardless.

“Now?” Harry asks, when Snape picks up his napkin from his lap and folds it neatly. Snape turns to him and jerks his head in a single nod, and they say their goodbyes. Most of the students have left, but professor McGonagall and Madam Hooch are arguing about Quidditch still and Hagrid is looking happy but tired enough to fall asleep in the remains of his dessert.

Harry follows Snape down the hall and to the dungeons, Snape always a little too fast for them to walk next to each other. He only gets a look at Snape’s face when Snape lets him into the hall. He looks nervous.

“Through here,” Snape motions for the corridor that Harry knows leads to the kitchen, and together they walk to a door that Harry’s never been through before.

The sitting room is as lavish as the hallway, set up to accommodate far more than one person, but a fire is crackling happily, and it smells like the enormous Christmas tree that stands in a corner near the window. Outside Harry can see the lake, the stars. “Is this a real window?”

“This is the view, yes,” Snape sits down on the sofa and leans back with his eyes closed. Harry pretends to enjoy looking at the stars reflecting on the smooth surface of the lake while contemplating sitting down on an armchair or on the sofa. And why should it matter anyway? He stomps down on the nervous feeling in his stomach and chooses the sofa. Not right next to Snape but close enough that they can talk comfortably. Snape offers him a drink, and Harry takes it gratefully. Something in his chest feels hot and itchy. The alcohol helps a bit, or - at least this burning is familiar. He grapples for something to talk about, but when he looks at Snape, Snape is leaning back again, eyes closed, his face slack with relaxation. The fire crackles and something twitches in Snape’s cheek before he cracks an eye open and looks at Harry.

“Are you up for a midnight adventure?” He asks, and Harry nods before he can stop himself. “Of course you are,” Snape snickers. “Gryffindors.”

“Where – what kind of adventure?” Harry tries, unsure if he just signed up for something more stupid than usual.

“Come with me,” Snape drains his glass and leads Harry through the corridor to another door. When they step into the room, it’s decorated like a nursery, except all the furniture has been pushed to the side, and there’s a rather large horse standing in the middle of the room.

“You got a horse?” Harry turns to Snape, and Snape’s eyes are shining.

“Have another look,” Snape suggests, and Harry does. This is not a horse, it’s a foal the size of a full-grown horse. The palomino colouring gives it away as an Abraxan, and –

“You got Hagrid a colt.”

The grin that spreads on Snape’s face feels real and authentic, and he hands Harry a bucket of wet slosh that smells like apple. “Beauxbatons is getting him mares; I figured this might get him started on a breeding program. He arrived yesterday.”

“The book,” Harry says, over the noise of the hungry colt eating eagerly. It finally clicks, and Snape directs a grin Harry’s way. It makes his elbows sweat, but he manages to smile back. “So we’re going to sneak this poor thing into a half-finished outdoor enclosure?”

“We are not,” Snape huffs. “I have a shrunken down shed in my pocket.”

The Abraxan slows down a bit now that he’s finished about half of the stuff in the bucket, and Harry takes the opportunity to pet him. He leans into Harry’s hand happily, his nose still wet as he sniffles Harry’s nice robes for treats, “won’t he be lonely?”

“That’s what the goats are for,” Snape promises, and his grin fades, but he keeps staring at Harry. “Will you help me?”

“Of course.”

It takes some wrestling with the Abraxan, and then some more wrestling with the goats that it is going to be sharing the enclosure with, but soon the shed is set up, warming charms have been cast, there’s fresh hay and water everywhere, and four goats are eagerly sniffling Arion.

“Arion?” Harry asks.

“Greek mythology,” and if it weren’t so dark out, Harry’d swear Snape was blushing. He ducks his head to hide his face. “It’s immortal.”

“That is lovely,” Harry promises, and he touches Snape’s hand. It’s very cold, possibly from being outside at one in the morning in the middle of winter. “Let’s go.”

In the Reception Hall, Harry tries to wish Snape goodnight and ends up saying, “do you think I’ve earned another drink with this adventure?”

“Cheeky,” Snape tells him, but he doesn’t say bye or goodnight and walks slow enough that Harry can follow him back down to the dungeons. In front of the fire in Snape’s library, they warm up with whiskey. Harry’s cheeks burn from the tension in his gut, the heat from the fire, the alcohol burning in his throat. He doesn’t make it to bed until almost three.

The next morning he has to leave in a rush, so he only has time for getting showered and dressed and just shoving his presents into his bag before leaving for the Burrow. It ends up being such a wonderful day that Harry doesn’t get to even think about the presents waiting for him on the spare bed in Fred and George’s room. George’s. He’s sharing it with Neville, anyways.

When he’s sitting on one of the beds, Neville fast asleep in the other, his teeth brushed, his pyjamas on, he remembers. He takes out the presents one by one and sets them out on the sheets, still a little surprised at the number of people that’d be willing to think of him, get him something. He starts on one side of the line and works his way to the right, grateful for the books, the Quidditch gear, the potions equipment. The last present is wrapped carefully in brown paper, small but heavy. A little scrap of paper is attached.

“For marking,” it reads, and when Harry peels off the paper, he finds a beautiful glass well of deep green ink. He falls asleep with a blush on his cheeks and a desperate prayer that Snape will love the present he got him half as much.

“A new sickle,” Snape drawls when he lets Harry into the hideous hallway the next day.

“Almost,” Harry looks over his shoulder to smile at Snape and sees him close the portrait door slowly, with care. “An old sickle.”

Snape jerks around, hunger gleaming in his eyes and mouth, “how old?”

“I found it with the potions things at Grimmauld Place; there’s no way to tell. I got the handle newly made, but the edge didn’t even need sharpening.”

Snape’s eyes sparkle as he takes them through to the library. They spend the rest of the evening trying to get Harry to understand exactly why it matters to have a sickle that was slowly imbued with magic. That and just how much Hagrid cried when he saw the colt.

“What’ll you do if I write my next essay on sickles now?” Harry grins as they both linger near the door to Snape’s rooms. He said he’d leave at least an hour ago.

“You’ll get a T,” Snape tells him, eyes light with humour. “That one is supposed to be on stirring techniques.” He thinks for a second. “The one after that, however, depends on if you manage to actually put down what we talked about on paper.”

“I’ll take that challenge,” Harry holds his hand out and realises a little too late that they’ve never done this before. Snape takes his hand though and so they shake on it. He’s cold, but firm and sure.

When Harry is in bed that night, he can’t remember how he got there at all. He feels like he must have floated right up.

The castle being full again after Christmas is a little jarring, and Harry has far more ideas for things he wants to do for his Potions apprenticeship than time. His personal project is even worse, and after the third time he falls asleep on the book he was reading in Snape’s library, Snape kicks him out. Makes him promise he’ll do something fun with his friends instead. He does. Teams up with Ginny to defeat Neville and Hermione at Exploding Snap.

When he knocks on Snape’s office door the next morning, Snape opens slowly. He’s holding a mug of coffee.

“You’re lucky the Slytherins got here first,” he offers in the way of greeting, and when Harry looks around he sees the one painting in Snape’s office is indeed filled with waving Slytherins. “I don’t normally open the door before I’ve finished my coffee.”

“Glad to be the exception,” Harry grins his widest smile, and Snape rolls his eyes before sitting down behind his desk and making a 'go on then' movement with his hand. “Yes.” Harry tries to remember what he’s here for. “I played Exploding Snap with my friends yesterday.”

“Riveting,” Snape drawls, leaning back in his chair, and Harry can’t help but laugh.

“You told me to,” he reminds Snape. “And I had a brilliant idea while doing it.”

They talk about how to test whether his Herbology experiment has worked until the first years start coming into the classroom next door.

“Potter,” Snape says, on his way out. “Are you sure you don’t want to do this professionally?”

“Arguing over plants?” Harry is confused but also absolutely certain that he wants nothing more than to argue with Snape about plants, if he could get paid for that...

“Research,” Snape corrects, his mouth twitching up in the corner. “You seem to be enjoying yourself.”

“Let me think on that,” Harry promises, when he sees a very small first year look at them curiously. They’ll have to finish the conversation another time.

At lunch that day professor McGonagall asks Harry to come see her, so Harry decides to bite the bullet and use his free hour after lunch to talk to her. He’s pretty tired by the time he’s standing in front of her office, but the door swings open and she’s sitting ready with tea and biscuits.

“I know you’ve just eaten,” she says, but tea is exactly what Harry wants right now, so he gratefully accepts a cup.

“What did you want to talk about?” Harry asks, and she sits up.

“Correct me if I’m overstepping,” and when has a nice conversation ever started like that? “But I have noticed your tutoring of the younger students this year.”

Harry doesn’t know what to say to that, so he just hums around his mug.

“Am I correct to assume you might want to pursue a career in education?” she asks, and he nods, his cheeks hot. “Is this something you’d rather not discuss?”

“No -” He flutters his hand, bites his lip. “It’s just.” It feels like saying it out loud would break it. Like if he tells people and then can’t or isn’t allowed to, it’ll hurt too much. “I’d love to.” He tries to tell her with his expression what he means by that, and she seems to get it.

“As luck would have it,” she says, quite warmly. “Professor Weasley has indicated wanting to stay only one year in the Defence position.”

Harry isn’t sure what she means by that. Luck?

“It’s yours if you want it,” McGonagall says, tone much softer, and Harry finds himself fighting down tears before he’s even fully done processing what she’s just said. “It is, of course, an unusual situation, and we would have to discuss your contract at a later date when I have approval from the governing board, but if you would be interested – ”

“How?” Harry finds himself asking. He has no experience, no N.E.W.T.s, no Defence mastery, and of all the people in the world who would hire him for his name, he knows McGonagall isn’t one of them.

“You’d be expected to pass your exams, of course,” she looks at him sternly over her glasses, and that Harry can do. “And professor Snape seems rather convinced the mastery exams should not be an issue.”

Harry is definitely not sure what to say to that, but McGonagall keeps going.

“As to your teaching experience, I can think of a course I could recommend you to, abroad. It may help you start on more - even footing. I recall several of our Defence professors in the past having taken a similar one at our Wizarding University.” But Voldemort had destroyed it the way only Fiendfyre could. Harry remembers the pictures of nothing but smoke where there used to be buildings. They’re apparently hoping to reopen in three to five years.

“Yes please,” Harry says, eventually. His voice is strangled; he wants to believe her, but it doesn’t feel quite real.

He doesn’t remember saying goodbye to McGonagall, but he does remember her fond smile as she told him to go. He runs to the library, only to realize when he’s almost there that he has class with Hermione in three minutes, and he could just talk to her there.

“Hermione,” he hisses, in between panting and wheezing. He checks quickly if he has his books and then follows her into the Charms classroom. “Just one second?”

“What is it?” she whispers, lingering near the door with him. “Everything alright?”

“McGonagall – offered. She offered me the Defence position,” he manages, and her whole face lights up. “No need to wait a year, she said,” he mumbles against her shoulder as she hugs him, tight and warm, until professor Flitwick clears his throat.

“I’m sure congratulations are in order, but I’ll be happy to find out after class what they are for,” Flitwick says, not unkindly, and they both apologize before hurrying to their seats. On their way to Defence after Charms, Harry explains the whole thing, and Hermione just radiates pride.

“And then – Hermione.” He stops her with a hand on her arm and waits to see if anyone can hear them, hisses softly, “she said that professor Snape had said I shouldn’t have any issues completing the Defence mastery!”

“Oh Harry,” she grins, and she hugs him again, then pulls him along, running so they’re not late to Defence. Percy winks at Harry when he sits down, and he nods back at him, knows his smile is ear-to-ear.

Harry is in front of Snape’s classroom door when it opens to let his sixth years out. He looks at Snape, who looks right back at him, the whole time that students are milling about, and strides in, closing the door behind him, once the classroom is empty. He keeps going until he is standing in front of Snape’s desk.

“Professor McGonagall asked me to teach here next year.”

“Defence,” Snape confirms, and his eyes glitter.

Harry wants to hug him, and he settles instead on a deeply heart-felt “thank you.”

“You’re very welcome, Mr Potter,” Snape answers. “I can’t think of anyone better suited to the position. If you choose to take it.”

That reminds Harry of the conversation they had in the morning. “I think research for me is a way to understand things better. I’m enjoying it, but I wouldn’t want to repeat the experiment. And at least a part of why I want to understand it is so that I can explain it to others.”

Snape bows his head in acknowledgement.

*

Harry tries to figure out why the Slytherins run from portrait to portrait only to stare and blink at him, but he doesn’t get very far with the school library and feels weird about using their own library. Like they’d know somehow. Besides, even though all his classes now focus on revision and projects alone, he’s still busier than he’s ever been. Enjoying it more than he should be probably, especially when he’s tired enough not to dream.

“Mr Potter,” Harry hears while stepping out of the Great Hall a few weeks of work, revision, and more work later. “Do you have a minute?”

It’s gone dinnertime and it’s the weekend so there really isn’t anywhere Harry should be. “Of course.”

He follows Snape down and into the library, where a tea set appears as soon as they walk in. Snape huffs but they sit down together easily, and Harry curls up, happy to be here.

“Do you have any plans for the Easter break?” Snape asks, over his steaming mug. Harry gets the impression that he’s trying to hide his face a bit.

“Not really,” he says, after thinking it over. “Revision, I suppose.”

Snape seems to steel himself and sets his mug down, his face carefully blank. “I was granted the time off, seeing how I chaperoned over the Christmas holidays.” Harry ignores the disappointment at being alone at Hogwarts without Snape. “I thought to go home.”

“Home?” Harry echoes, rather proud of how his voice sounds calm and steady.

“I have a house in the Midlands,” Snape explains. “It has a rather well-equipped Potions lab, and I have some books there I would like to consult for something I’ve been working on.”

“Alright,” Harry sighs, decides to be grateful that Snape is explaining why he’ll be gone at all.

“If you would – that is.” Snape takes a deep breath and starts again. “I’ve talked it over with Minerva, and seeing as you hold the position of my apprentice, it wouldn’t be – it would be acceptable if you were to come.”

“Home with you?” Harry can’t hide the surprise on his face, and somehow knows he’s doing a terrible job at hiding his excitement also. “Absolutely, would there be enough space for me to work on my projects? I was going to ask if I could brew during the break so I could – ”

Snape stops him with a raised hand. “Yes.”

“Perfect.” Harry grins, and Snape smiles back at him. He looks relieved; his eyes look tired. “Have you been sleeping enough?” Harry asks, genuinely concerned, right before he realizes that’s probably inappropriate. Opens his mouth again to apologize -

“Don’t worry about me,” Snape tells him; he leans back a little but his voice is warm and gentle. “I’ve had an idea for your beans.”

They talk the rest of the evening about Harry’s need for an elegant way to show that the beans he’s growing by using either mooncalf dung, snake plants, or nothing for fertilization have varying levels of efficacy. There’s no real way to compare memory loss, but –

“So if I make Draught of the Living Dead with crap beans, it’ll just stop working?” Harry summarizes.

“Only in mammals,” Snape reminds him. “But it’s a reversible potion, and if you fail to come up with a solution to your Transfiguration problem you could even compare real mice to Transfigured ones and make an argument for or against using Transfigured mice in Potions research.”

“Damn,” Harry sighs. That would solve all of his problems. “You’re sure you’re not helping me too much with this?”

Snape raises a single eyebrow, and Harry is already grinning before he answers. “I’m not telling anyone, are you?” Harry just laughs as a response, and he can tell by the way Snape’s eyes shine that he hasn’t said too much. Just helping where he can.

Harry is still not done with his Transfiguration project by the time Easter comes around, but he is getting more and more stubborn with it. He finished his Charms project right after the winter break, and for Defence he joined up with Draco, Millicent, and Neville to each discuss a different topic of reducing spell exhaustion. Which means he’s not done yet but only because they’re all trying to outdo each other. His beans are almost ripe for picking, and his Potions project is probably over-ambitious, but at least he’s having fun figuring out what potions bases can be combined in a pinch to get the highest variety of potions-based defence out of the lowest possible number of base potions.

Snape takes him through the Floo in McGonagall’s office and helps Harry through on the other side. Harry can’t help but gasp when he sees what surely must be the living room and promptly starts coughing.

“Yes, thank you,” Snape drawls, and now Harry is laughing too.

“Sorry,” he tries, while wiping away tears and getting his glasses smudged in the process. Snape just rolls his eyes and sends out a few cleaning spells here and there, which helps with the dust but not much else. “Can I?” Harry offers.

“Be my guest,” Snape holds out his hand to indicate the entirety of the dusty, faded living room, and Harry and him work together for twenty minutes or so to get it looking a lot cleaner and a bit neater. “Tea,” Snape says, looking about, clearly already sick of cleaning, and Harry puts down the towel he’d conjured to clean between the cracks in the wood of the mantelpiece.

When they’re sitting in the narrow but marginally cleaner kitchen, Snape seems to suffer for a long moment before clearing his throat. “I should’ve cleaned before taking you here,” he admits finally, and Harry can’t help his sappy grin.

“You’re alright,” he promises. “It’s been quite a year, hasn’t it?”

Snape sighs dramatically, “it’s been many.”

Judging by the state of the rest of the house, that statement is more true than anything else Snape’s ever told him, and while apologizing with cups of tea and even take-away, Snape lets Harry help him clean. The Potions lab is indeed well-stocked. The spare bedroom has everything in it Vanished as soon as Snape steps in for reasons Harry probably doesn’t want to get into, but a conjured bed and a spare mattress and a quick trip to the Tesco’s for new sheets later, it’s quite comfortable.

By the end of the day, Harry is so tired that he falls asleep immediately after a quick shower in Snape’s ancient but newly clean bathroom, so much so that he doesn’t wake up at all until the next morning. When he smells eggs.

“Good morning,” he mumbles through a yawn, running a hand through his stupid messy hair. Snape is looking up at him from the kitchen table, fully dressed, a bowl of scrambled eggs and a stack of toast in the middle. A large pot of tea.

“Good morning,” he answers. “I hope you slept well.” He motions for Harry to sit down and start serving himself and doesn’t speak until they’re both mostly done, nursing their last bits of tea. “I realized we might need to plan this week a bit, considering how we haven’t talked about it much yet.”

“Yes,” Harry can’t help his smile. “Is this because you didn’t know when to wake me up this morning?” He’d expected a steel-faced denial, but to his surprise Snape looks away, his cheeks a little pink, before clearing his throat.

“So I was thinking,” he starts, bravely, waving his wand to set the dishes to float over to the countertop and using the newly cleared space to lay out some parchment. He writes the days they have along the top of the parchment and then looks back up at Harry. “We’ll both have to spend at least one day on grading. I need to do some brewing and reading, at least a day’s worth as well.”

“I have to work on my projects,” Harry adds. “I’m hoping to have a final decision on what I will do for Transfiguration by the end of this week.”

“I have an idea for that,” Snape tells him, tapping the quill on the parchment twice. “And I have some thoughts on your Potions and Defence projects, if you’re interested.”

Harry nods, and Snape taps the parchment a third time, then releases the quill. Immediately, the quill scratches out a plan for the week. Snape looks through it and then hands it over to Harry, “does that suit?”

It does; there’s a lot of time for Harry to work on his own things, as well as... “Lunch and dinner breaks?” Harry jokes. “Don’t tell me you’re going soft.”

Snape just huffs out a laugh and pins the parchment to the wall. Then they get to work.

‘Lunch break’, it turns out, means weeding out the garden for an hour while having sandwiches. Harry finds he doesn’t mind gardening one bit if he gets to do it beside Snape, who keeps up a steady stream of comments about plants and the potions they can be used in, absentmindedly pushing his hair out of the way and ending up with a streak of dirt across his cheek more than once. Dinner, however, means cooking side-by-side, while listening to the Wizarding wireless. They eat in the garden together, enjoying the crisp spring air until it gets too cold. Then they move inside for a glass of wine or whiskey and a chat about what they’ve been up to. Harry feels an urgency to use this time productively too, until Snape gently questions him on it.

“Are you behind schedule on anything?” he asks, when Harry looks over for the third time to the stack of grading they haven’t done yet.

“No,” Harry admits; they got more done then they’d planned to today.

“If you’d rather not sit here that’s alright,” Snape tells him, eyes impossibly black in the low light. Harry shakes no; there’s rather nothing he’d like more than to sit here on Snape’s creaky old sofa.

“Not great at sitting still,” he decides to say out loud after repeating it over and over in his mind. Snape hums a little in agreement.

“Are you glad you are no longer taking History of Magic?” Snape asks finally, after seemingly combing through his mind for a topic to discuss that has as few minefields as possible. It’s not a bad one, as far as those go.

“Not at all actually,” Harry admits, and Snape looks at him quickly, sideways, before staring back into the fire and encouraging him with another little hum. “I didn’t like the course and felt I wasn’t learning anything, but in hindsight a lot of the cultural Wizarding world things are discussed in History of Magic.”

“As they should be,” Snape says. “I felt the same.”

“What N.E.W.T.s do you have?” Harry asks, sitting up all of a sudden when he remembers how many mundane things he doesn’t know about Snape.

“Potions, Herbology, and Defence, like you,” he says. “And Runes and Arithmancy.”

“For the spells,” Harry nods, before slapping a hand over his mouth. “Sorry.” He had promised not to bring that up again. Snape waves it away with a lazy hand.

They’re quiet for a bit longer, and then Harry rallies. “So if I knew Runes and Arithmancy would my Transfiguration project be easier?” and then Snape spends the rest of the evening explaining that no, probably not. It’s actually very interesting.

The day after that it’s time for ‘Transfiguration project’ according to the schedule, and Harry is very surprised when after breakfast Snape walks straight to the hallway and starts putting on a mostly Muggle-looking coat. “We’re going out?”

“Yes,” Snape nods, motioning at his coat like Harry is being especially slow, so Harry rolls his eyes and runs upstairs for his wallet and notebook.

“Will we stand out too much like this?” Harry asks, plucking at his long winter-uniform coat. It even has the Hogwarts crest on it.

“Not at all,” Snape promises, leading the way through the small town, he points Harry to a drab grey building close to where Harry remembers the Tesco being. “They’re all used to me being a ‘goth’ by now.”

Harry twirls around at that, brows fully confused. “Really?” He hisses, and to his astonishment, Snape just shrugs, a clever little tilt of his head.

Inside the small Muggle library, indeed, no one looks at them too strangely, so Harry follows Snape to the children’s section, where Snape asks the library attendant about physics. The most Harry remembers from physics is some very obvious statements like ‘things fall down’ and ‘when something is heavy you have to push harder to move it’.

“Didn’t know you have a wee one,” he hears.

“Lily Evans’ boy, actually,” Snape answers, and a soft ooh is all Harry catches after that. He has to hurry to keep up, as always, and finds Snape alone, standing in front of a colourful display. “I think these,” Snape mutters, more to himself it seems, stretching out to pick some books, fondly caressing their covers.

They set up at a table in the adult section (I’m too tall for children’s chairs, Potter, please) and go over the books together. “Here,” Harry says, pointing out the one page on colour in the book he’s being made to go through. Snape reads for a minute, then hums in a dissatisfied sort of way and tells Harry to give him a minute.

Harry spends his minute or so reading one of the books for very young children about atoms. When Snape comes back, it’s with a very heavy book.

“This one is for teenagers,” he explains, and Harry feels for Muggle teenagers. They move their chairs closer together and go through the index. “Colour,” Snape says, pointing at the word, then going to find the page. “Here it is.”

He passes the book down to Harry and lets him read, while leaving the table for what seems to be mostly pacing about. Hardly any of it is making sense to Harry, so when Snape comes back, he shoots him a look of despair.

“I was worried about that,” Snape says, sitting down gracefully. “Luckily, we’ve got time.”

“Yeah,” Harry draws a line under the notes he’d been trying to take, and Snape points at the pictures in the book.

“So basically,” he says. “What you really have to know, is that light from the lamp, candle, or sun hits the object, gets bounced around, and then hits your eye.” Harry tries to draw this, and Snape takes his sneakily Transfigured biro to do a better job. Sun, plant, eye. He draws eyes with a little tear duct-thingy in the corner, and Harry struggles not to find it endlessly charming.

“How does the plant know to be green?” Harry wonders, and then he looks up to find Snape staring at him with pity for the very first time. “What?”

“It’s... you’re missing a lot. I know it’s common, but I forget.”

“How do you know, then?” Harry asks, and he looks at Snape looking away before making a decision.

“I took my GCSEs,” he says, clearly unsure of how Harry is going to take that. “Would’ve taken my A levels too, but...”

“Yeah,” Harry understands that bit. “Did my - ” he swallows.

“She did,” Snape tells him, before Harry can tell him not to answer if he doesn’t want to. “And her A levels too.”

“So the plant is green because the shape of the... whatever. Because that bit reflects only green light from the sun’s white light?”

“Yes,” Snape’s mouth twitches happily, clearly surprised at his understanding and his willingness to change the subject. “Now, what does that tell you?”

“Gotta Transfigure the shape,” Harry grins. “But on a really small scale.” Snape nods, lighting up even further. Happy to have helped. “Oh I can’t wait to try it; can we check out this book?”

“Unfortunately, no,” Snape makes a face, taps the for perusal only sticker on the front, “you may however – borrow my very old ones. I was hoping for something more introductory, but I’m not sure we’ll find that here anyway.”

With the insight into the shape affecting the reflection of light and how that brings out different colours, it’s actually pretty easy.

“Is this how rainbow ink works, too?” Harry asks as he proudly writes in bright red, thinking back on the sort of novelty ink that changes colour every few seconds.

“That’s a charm,” Snape tells him, curled up in his chair with tea and a book. He’s squinting at the book a little, like it’s too late and his eyes are getting tired. “But in essence, yes.”

“Transfiguration will last longer, then,” Harry says, satisfied to have come up with the superior solution, and Snape looks up and over, a little smirk on his face.

“It will,” he admits, like he knows just how smug Harry was being by having figured it out. They grin at each other, then get back to work.

By the end of the Easter break, Snape and Harry are both quite on top of their work. Harry has been able to brew some and write a lot and get all his marking done. He’s also spent a whole week close to Snape, eating every meal together, spending literally every minute aware of how close he is. It makes being back in the castle feel weird. Like he was wearing a coat and nice and warm with it, and now he’s not wearing the coat and his skin is still adjusting.

He very briefly considers talking to someone about that and then decides against it for reasons he’s not ready to think about yet. His Defence draft is due soon. He should really work on that.

When he picks the beans and spends a whole weekend brewing, and then drugs some mice and gets very ambiguous results, Snape actually laughs at him. “Apologies,” he offers, as well as a cup of tea. He’s immediately forgiven, but Harry doesn’t tell him that.

“What will I write now?” Harry complains.

“About everything you’ve noticed with the plants, how tall they got, how many beans, and then at the end you just need to say that it needs to be repeated with a larger sample size to be sure.”

Harry writes all that down and then finally relaxes enough for tea.

It’s Neville, in the end, who solves the question of the Slytherins. “Professor Snape?” Neville tries, leaning around the doorpost of Snape’s office during office hours. “Ah, hi Harry, was hoping to find you here.”

“Come on in, Mr Longbottom,” Snape offers, and he even conjures Neville a chair.

“Hi,” Harry offers. “What’s up?”

“I was reading your Charms project on wards,” Neville starts, rifling through his bag. “It looks good, by the way. I think you can hand it in.” He puts two scrolls and a stack of books on the table. Turns to Snape. “We’ve been working for Defence on spell exhaustion, and I have been working specifically on wards because we realised I was sustaining the ones around the Longbottom family grounds now that I’ve reached majority.” Snape already knows all this, but Neville doesn’t know that, of course.

“So what brings you here?” Snape asks, politer than he normally is. “Should I be closing the door?”

“No,” Neville shakes his head. “No, that’s ok. I read up on familial magic and wards and realised that this might be what happened with the Slytherins.”

“We’re not Slytherins,” Harry says.

“You used to be, kind of,” Neville says, apologetic and frowning. “And that, with the right invocation, must have made it possible for you to release the bounds on the painting.”

“Could it not be that one of us is somehow related to whoever placed those bounds?” Snape asks, and it’s a very good question.

“Theoretically,” Neville says. “But since the whole room was built by a Slytherin originally I think that might be the stronger claim.”

“What’s more interesting,” Harry thinks out loud, remembering his own essay. “Is that it’d take greater power than whoever placed the ward to undo it without - ”

The door behind him slams closed, startling Harry and Neville both into jumping around to look at it. When Harry looks back at Snape, his lips are drawn in a tight line. The walls glow with what must be a privacy spell. Harry turns to Neville to see if he’s the only one that’s confused, but Neville doesn’t look confused; he looks determined.

“There’s no shame - ” he starts, and Harry expects Snape to stand up and start throwing at the tone Neville takes with him. Chiding, almost.

“I’m well aware,” Snape says instead, his voice quiet and deceptively calm from the way his fingers tremble. He looks at Harry when he speaks next. “It will be your choice whether anyone outside of this room hears of this.”

“Hears of what?” Harry finally manages, and Snape and Neville exchange a look.

“Sympathetic magic,” Neville offers. “Would be one way to explain why it cost you no effort to break a ward that must have been placed by someone reasonably powerful.”

“That means that our magic is similar enough that we are able to… borrow some from each other.”

“Borrow?” Harry repeats stupidly.

“In a sense,” Snape rubs his forehead, looking for words. “It is along the same sort of principle as oil dissolving oil and water dissolving water.”

“Except with thousands of potential properties,” Neville adds. “There’s myths and stories attached to it. But what’s important for you to know is that if both professor Snape and you were to, say, stun me right now, that would not count as two spells, but as one very powerful one.”

“That’s very interesting,” Harry says. It seems harmless enough, but he knows Snape to be enough of a cynical bastard not to trust anyone with information about himself. It’s rather sweet that he’s decided Harry and Neville can know, and that Harry can decide whether anyone else knows. “My head hurts a bit from the idea though,” he admits. “Is it ok if I come with questions if I have any?”

“Of course,” Snape tells him, his eyes warm and kind even if he looks worried.

“Yeah,” Neville says, laughs a bit. “N.E.W.T.s first, right?”

Harry agrees with a laugh. “Thank you for telling us, Neville.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Neville says, looking up when the dinner gong sounds. “At least this might explain why the Slytherins have been following you around! They probably think you’re their family.”

They all walk up to dinner together, chatting about their Defence project instead. Snape gives Neville some good advice, and Harry forgets about the Slytherins as soon as he’s faced with food and Hermione’s questions about her Transfiguration project.

Their exams start, and Harry misses the time where he could work on projects immediately. He doesn’t like memorizing, knows he needs to get good grades in order to justify being hired, wants to do well. Spends more time than he should wishing he could be brewing with Snape instead of staring at books and notes and then books again.

He sits in Snape’s library, where it is quiet and nobody bothers him, and occasionally asks for help. “It’s been a very long time since I’ve done that,” Snape admits at some point, looking over a Charms problem in one of Harry’s practice exams. “Give me a minute to read this.”

Harry nods and gets the mail he got this morning out of his bag. Fan mail, from people thanking him for ‘killing that bastard’, sugar-sweet mail from people that Harry knows were not on his side two years ago, and some mail that starts smoking as soon as he touches it. Those get Vanished. One letter he doesn’t recognize. “Ah,” he can’t help but say as he turns it over and recognises the crest of Kropfenstein. He opens it and reads through what he’ll need to bring and how he’ll need to pay.

Snape looks up from the Charms book when he makes a little noise. “Did you get in?”

“Yeah,” Harry answers, still reading. The silence is expectant, so he looks up to find Snape’s dark eyes on him.

“It’s very selective,” he explains, not unkindly. And Harry hadn’t known that at all.

“I thought - I thought professor McGonagall got me in?”

“I think she got you past the requirement of N.E.W.T.s and a completed first year of some sort of mastery or degree. Did you not need to write a motivation?”

Harry blushes. “Yes,” he admits. “And a… A draft of a curriculum.” He’d just written about what teaching means to him, and written out a better version of what he’d done with Dumbledore’s Army. More theory, of course.

“Congratulations,” Snape offers, now definitely amused. “Two months to decide what you’ll teach hundreds of children.”

Harry laughs, he knows he’ll be allowed to use professors Weasley’s plans, and even Snape’s, as a basis to start from. He’s not going to have to reinvent the wheel, even if it is a bit daunting. “Thanks.”

“Now about Charms. By its very nature, a Charm is about adding something.” He looks to see if Harry is following, and Harry nods. “You don’t fundamentally change anything about whatever you’re Charming, you’re just building on top of it. That means that in order to prevent something from being Charmed in a particular way, you add, on top of the object, an anti-Charm.”

The exams turn out to be not as bad as Harry had feared, and the practical exams go well enough that Harry isn’t worried about failing any N.E.W.T. But before he can find out what his grades are, it is time to go to Switzerland.

Hermione helps him with his suitcase, and McGonagall hugs him when he stands in her office, ready to go. “Your Portkey is at four,” she says, for the third time, and Harry laughs.

“I’m an adult now,” he promises, holding up the already-primed plant pot. “And I’ve been through worse than a Floo and a Portkey.”

“Oh, I know,” she chides, clearly feeling responsible for him still. “But do have a wonderful time, Mr Potter.”

The door to the office swings wide open as she says it, and Snape looks a little bright-cheeked but otherwise as if he intended to calmly walk in at the last moment. “There you go,” he says, handing Harry a small case that is heavy enough to be filled with lead. “Some books that might - prove to be useful,” Snape explains, and the way he swallows, the way his hand twitches before he holds it out for Harry to shake, fills Harry’s insides with liquid. Like they’ll slosh around if he moves too fast.

He grins with all the warmth he can come up with at Snape. “Thank you.” He says.

It’s a castle on a mountain side, which is no different than what Harry would have expected. Wizards all over Europe seem to prefer castles and little towns and being pretty well secluded. He tells Hermione this, and she comes with theories about how Wizards sorted out long-distance traveling long before Muggles did and therefore did not need to live as close together. Ron writes about his training, and Harry tells him funny stories about going for hikes in the mountains around the castle. He makes friends rather easily, to his own surprise.

“We heard about your trouble, of course,” Lana, a witch that takes the same course he does, tells him. “My older sister went to fight, but I was not yet of age.”

“Neither was he,” Bart says. His voice is always gruff, but it’s not hard to see that he cares. Harry is the youngest in the course; most of the others are at university, in Europe or not, looking to teach there or at a secondary-level school after they complete their degree. Harry agrees with an embarrassed nod, and Bart smiles, a kind little thing.

“Newbies,” Steffi interrupts them to say, and indeed, a small group of confused looking people stands near the fireplace. Headmistress Müller is with them though, pointing at things all around.

“Probably here for the week-long one on Beautiful Transfiguration,” Lana suggests. Hermione would have loved to do that, Harry thinks, but he’s drawn back into the conversation pretty easily.

He takes care to read the books Snape gave him and to write to him about what he thinks and finds and learns. Snape writes back with suggestions and ideas and small notes about things he himself is working on. Signs with Severus, or S.

When Harry finds out he got all O’s for his N.E.W.T.s, he has a good solid cry, and then he sends his owl on her way with letters for everyone from Molly to Hagrid. The little owl blinks at him, flutters her wings angrily, and settles down when Harry pets her gently. Theia was trained specifically to be able to recognize letters that have been spelled so that Harry doesn’t have to worry so much about explosive mail anymore. “Clever girl,” Harry offers. “You’ll be alright, won’t you?” Another ruffle. And off she goes.

“Bad news?” Steffi asks when she sees him. She is carrying a letter and gives it to one of the owls from the school. Tells it where to go in gentle German.

“I got very high grades,” Harry explains, tired from worrying, tired from fear, tired from trying to hold back on the little spark of proud he feels. Of himself, and of his friends.

“Aw,” she laughs. “I cried, too. Come here?” He lets her hug him but doesn’t cry again. Feels ready to celebrate, maybe.

The first letter that comes back is from Snape. Unsurprised but pleased. Well done. Is all it says, and Harry sticks it to the wall of the little room he has for the summer, way up in the castle but luckily not on the cave side of it. He rather likes the view over the valley, and much as it’s charming to live somewhere that clings desperately to a rock, it’s not all that fascinating when the rock is all you see.

Hagrid is the second one. It’s long and rambling, but it seems that he will be taking a two-week course called Making Your Case: How to Form and Defend Your Opinions. At Kropfenstein. Harry doesn’t stop grinning for the rest of the day.

In his letter to Snape, he writes about the plants he has been seeing around the castle, and in the back and forth that comes after that, Snape decides to come for a week to have a look at these plants while Hagrid is there too. Harry gets so eager that he writes a very long letter about the town and the little fondue place that is closed because it isn’t winter and the only hotel that the little town has with all three of its rooms, and Snape writes back to say he’s looking forward to it, but he’ll make his own arrangements. Harry blushes when he thinks of all the rambling he’d actually sent over and feels deep hot shame at his stupid eagerness until he remembers that Snape hadn’t cancelled his visit, so it can’t be that bad. Breathes through the tightness in his chest.

Steffi likes to climb mountains and fly, so Harry gets along with her best. They spend their weekends doing their best impression of mountain goats, clambering up things they wouldn’t be able to get down from without magic. “Nah,” Steffi laughs, one day as they are lying side by side, staring up at the blue sky. “Precision is an excellent way to measure skill.”

She waves her wand and sits up to look at the chair she’s conjured.

“Wow,” Harry drawls, and she elbows him in the side.

“See if you can do that!” She suggests. “Not any chair! But this one.”

Harry tries and tries, until he finally manages to get very close, and by then he’s panting and sweating. “Fuck,” he complains. He conjures a bed, and it comes out as a pretty solid copy of the bed from the Grimmauld Place master bedroom. Enormous, decorated, with silk and velvet drapings. No moth-eating fabric or Doxies, though. All the details are off now that he’s paying attention to it, but Steffi will never know that. He clambers onto it, settles down, and then tells Steffi: “Now how would you go about it?”

She walks around the bed once, narrowing her eyes. “Where on earth did you get this monstrosity?”

“I’ll tell you if you teach me,” Harry offers. She talks him through focus and the importance of getting the wand movement just right, of getting the speed of the wand movement to be even throughout. Definitely does not break a sweat. Her copy - of course - is perfect. She lies down next to Harry, and he tells her all about Sirius.

“I’m really sorry,” she says when he’s done and tired. “I want to offer something equally personal in return, but I’ve literally never gone through anything worse than a break-up.”

Harry laughs. “This is not a tit-for-tat.” Then has to spend a significant amount of time explaining what that means and how it has nothing to do with tits.

“Ah,” Steffi laughs, like she’s unable to stop herself after all the fun they’ve been having. “I do miss my ex’s tits.”

Harry turns his head to look at her, and she laughs at him. “You’re?”

“Either, really,” and Harry settles back down. Wasn’t really aware of that being an option. “And especially not, as it turns out, a maximum of one at a time.” Harry definitely didn’t know that that was an option, but he vows not to make it awkward. If Steffi could make his whole family being dead not awkward, surely this would be worth the effort.

They have sex on that mountaintop, on the conjured bed, and Steffi is as straightforward and level-headed about this as she is about everything else. It’s a relief, if Harry’s honest. And it’s nice.

Hagrid laughs at him, and ruffles his hair, and tells him the sun looks good on him, and all Harry’s friends love him immediately. When Snape arrives a week later, Harry waits for him in the little courtyard where the Portkey should take him. “Hi,” he grins, unable to stop himself. He’s been here a month now and feels utterly at home.

“Mr Potter,” Snape says, the corner of his mouth saying pleased.

“Harry, now, I hope,” Harry says, unplanned but from the bottom of his heart. “We’re to be colleagues, after all.”

They walk towards the dining hall together, and Harry nearly falls over when Snape says. “Severus then. If we’re to be colleagues.” The bastard timed it so that only Harry would hear, but he wouldn’t have time to react before Hagrid would see them. They go through a round of introductions, and Harry sits on his hands in order not to be too eager. He wants Snape, Severus, to get along with his friends; he wants it to be a good time.

“When you say walk?” Snape asks Lana eventually, when they’ve been chatting about what to see.

“Oh, yes,” Lana answers. “You don’t want to Apparate around here the first few days.” Harry has had no problems, but he’s heard other people complain of dizziness and nausea.

“Ah,” Snape nods as if he understands. “The altitude.”

“I tried it once below sea level,” Mary confides. It’s a stupid thing to do, of course, but Mary didn’t know she was a witch until she was twenty so she’s done plenty things she shouldn’t have. “In a submarine.” Harry makes a face, and she laughs. “Yeah don’t try that. It was awful.”

That evening they celebrate Harry’s birthday by piling into a booth at the little restaurant run by the lady that also owns the hotel. They share food with plenty of cheese and enough beer to make Harry feel like he’s floating an inch or so above his chair. Hagrid is talking eagerly to Arthur, who is writing a curriculum for the Magical Beasts course he hopes to be teaching, and all the Asian and specifically Chinese creatures he hopes to include. Snape is sitting on Harry’s left, and they’re talking about what Harry has decided so far.

“I’m just thinking,” Harry says. “That if we want them to ever understand intuitive casting, why do we spend so much time trying to get them to learn the by-the-book stuff?”

“Don’t forget,” Snape reminds him. “That many students do not continue on after their O.W.L.s. They are supposed to have a functioning magical education by the end of their fifth year.”

He’s right, and it’s not like craft or production would benefit from endless magical theory that only aims to strengthen the will-based spells. “It’d be unfair to separate them at eleven, too, I suppose,” Harry agrees. “I get you. I’m just wondering about what the ideal end goal is, and how we can get everyone there.”

“I think the most important thing to learn is how to find information you might need,” Severus says, with a little smile because they both know it’s a rare skill even for successful adults.

“Is that why you’re so focused on getting students to learn how to follow instructions?” Harry teases, and Severus almost laughs properly, his eyes shining.

“That,” he corrects, “is for the safety of us all and my own sadistic pleasure.” Harry laughs so hard that everyone looks at them.

“What were you talking about?” Steffi asks, cheeks glowing with the beer she’s had.

“The essential building blocks of an adequate education,” Severus says, and it is true, but everyone but Steffi rolls their eyes and continues their own conversations.

“Severus is trying to convince me to focus on getting everyone to pass their exams for my first year of teaching.”

“Horse shit,” Steffi claims, so clearly joking that even Severus gets it. “Magical control and precision casting, I keep telling you!”

The next day is a Monday, so Harry and Hagrid have classes to attend. Severus says he’s going to explore the library, but when Harry comes down for lunch, he’s surrounded by students and teachers, having a lively debate. Harry joins them and tries to follow the conversation, which seems to be about extremely obscure types of magic mixing.

“It’s not that the Potions won’t mix,” Severus claims. “It’s that they’d need to be made by the same person! And who would have the skill and power for both?” They both listen to the arguments being made around the table, until Severus turns to Harry.

“How are you?” Harry asks; he’s so glad to have Severus here.

“Quite well, thank you,” Severus answers, a little smile around his lips. “Would you have time after lunch? Somewhere private, perhaps? I did not have a chance to give you your birthday present yesterday.”

Harry fights not to grin, feels his belly warm from the idea that Severus’ visit isn’t his only present. Then raises a single eyebrow, the way he’s been practicing. And Severus… blushes? Or maybe it’s the heated discussion.

After lunch, and a drawn out shaking of hands and exchanging of information of everyone they shared a table with, Harry takes Severus upstairs to his room. “Come on in,” he offers. Not that there is much to see. The only places to sit are his desk chair and the bed, so he takes the bed and offers the chair to Snape. At least his room is mostly tidy, he thinks, when Snape lets a finger run over the row of books on Harry’s desk, touching all the scraps of paper that are sticking out of them, covered with notes.

“I hope it…” Severus swallows as he unshrinks a neatly wrapped box. Taps it once before handing it to Harry. There must have been a featherlight charm on it for Severus to have been able to carry it around all day. “Suits. Pleases.”

It’s all books, and judging by the titles, they’re about everything Harry and Severus have been talking about the past few months. Harry pets them gently. He’s never seen any of these books before, which means Severus must have gone through enormous effort to get them. When he looks up to thank Severus again, Severus isn’t looking at him. He’s looking at his own note, stuck to the wall of Harry’s room.

“Thank you for the books,” Harry croaks. He’s not sure he wants to talk about this yet. Severus looks at him like he - as if he’s scared.

“You’re very welcome,” Severus answers. His voice impressively normal considering the tremble in his hands. Then, luckily, it’s time for Harry’s next class.

Harry doesn’t have classes on Wednesday, and he’s made sure to get all his preparation for his classes done in advance anyway. Hagrid has only one class in the morning, and Harry almost tells him to just use a point me so he can find them after.

“We’ll meet you here after, then,” he suggests instead. “Severus and I will get something to eat in the village, so we can skip lunch, and then we’ll go.”

They Apparate to the Muggle supermarket and walk around by themselves. Harry gets bread and cheese and some fruit, too, and then two bottles of wine, just in case. When he meets Severus past the check out, Severus holds up a bag of chips triumphantly.

“Really?” Harry teases. “I thought you’d be the type to get us dried fruit or something.”

“Imp,” Severus says, not any less fond than Harry, and they Apparate back to the castle together. Shrink their things so they won’t have to carry them around all day.

“What’s your favourite food then,” Harry prompts, while they wait outside for Hagrid.

“Organ meats,” Severus says, so serious that Harry knows he’s joking. “And I had soup once, in China; they make it from fish skin, and it tastes just like cold cream.”

“Stop it,” Harry laughs, and then Hagrid arrives. They take off, the three of them, and spend the whole day searching for plants as they go higher and higher up the mountain.

“We should eat,” Severus suggests when it’s definitely past lunch time, and they’ve had some of the fruit Harry's bought, but not anything substantial yet.

“How ‘bout over there,” Hagrid points, and when they walk over, Harry realizes how close they are to the sharp face of the wall that Kropfenstein is built into. They settle near the edge, overlooking the valley. Hagrid walks off into a bushy area right after Harry and Severus sit down, so Harry takes out the bread and the cheese. When he comes back, his arms are full of dead wood.

“We’ll make a fire,” Hagrid says, as he dumps it all on the ground and uses his umbrella to push some of the wood to the side. Taps it to set it on fire and then nearly drops his umbrella to look at Harry and Severus.

“Please,” says Harry, as if he’d ever do anything that could harm Hagrid.

“Sit,” Severus urges. “I’ve always - I wouldn’t.”

“No,” Hagrid does sit down then. “No, I know.”

Severus, it turns out, bought sausages that they spear on sticks and roast over the fire. Eat with Harry’s bread and the wine, too.

Harry looks out over the valley as the afternoon gets late, and at Severus and Hagrid who are talking about some type of excrement they’d seen on the hike up. He feels a sense of desperate elation. Of true bone-deep excitement about what the next years will bring. It’s so new he ends up blinking away something stuck in his throat.

“If we want to get your grass and make it back on time we should probably get going,” Harry says at some point, and it startles Severus.

“I’ll stay here,” Hagrid offers. He’s slower going than both of them. Harry opens his mouth to protest, and Hagrid shuts him up with a chuckle. “I’ll enjoy the view for ya, don’t worry about me.”

Severus and Harry go on together. “Alpine scurvy grass,” Severus says, when they’re on their way.

“I know,” Harry promises. “You’re hoping to experiment with Befuddlement Draughts, and no one will sell you single-source scurvy grass.” Severus just inhales, slowly, and exhales. Keeps walking. “Do you think it being fresh will help?”

“Perhaps,” Severus is faster than Harry, always has been, and they’re rather high up by now. He is starting to struggle to keep up. “I will experiment with either variety regardless. That is why I am hoping to find plants I can extract seeds from; it would help to be able to grow some myself.”

“Don’t you - ” Harry tries not to pant to obviously and keep up and talk at the same time, “don’t you ever run out of space in the greenhouses?”

Snape huffs, but then he seems to notice how Harry is struggling and visibly slows down his pace. It’s the first time Harry can ever remember that happening, so he’s a bit stupefied. “We’re wizards, Harry,” Severus says, and Harry is too baffled to reply.

They plan another hike for the weekend, and on Friday Harry is pretty excited about it. Just Severus and him this time. He wants to talk about one of the books he’s been given for his birthday.

They’re sitting as a group by the water of the little river that crosses the valley. He’s been there most of the afternoon, reading alone for a while, then with Steffi until she had to go back up for a meeting with her tutor. People have drifted in and out, including some locals that brought a dog that Harry played in the water with for a while. He’s tired now, and nursing a sense of unease that he can’t place. Like he should be alert for something. Like he is guarding a tent in a forest, and they might be invisible but that does not make them safe. It’s going to be evening soon.

“Dinner in town?” he asks, and he’s surprised when Severus shakes no. “Sure?”

He won’t even look at him, but everyone else is eager for dinner, and it’s Hagrid’s last night. His Portkey leaves early the next morning; his course is done.

They have a lovely dinner, and Harry doesn’t drink much because he wants to be fit in the morning. Wakes up earlier than he’d expected because of it. Theia has a note for him.

I have decided to travel back with Hagrid, to save the cost of another Portkey. Apologies for the late notice. SS

He sits at breakfast twenty minutes later with shaking fingers in his hair. Snape already had a Portkey booked. He won’t get his money back for not taking it. He’s trying to decide if he’s making this up when Steffi arrives, greets him with a kiss, and sits on his lap.

“What’s wrong?” she asks.

He tries not to worry, and fails desperately, when none of his letters are answered. They start with confusion, but Harry doesn’t dare demand answers. Theia gently hoots in confirmation every time he asks if the letter made it across safely. Eventually he runs out of questions. Not of things to talk about though, his notebooks are full with little exclamation marks in the margins, where he thinks something is extra interesting. He learns that the little sign that looks like a Greek beta makes a double s in German from Steffi and uses it in his margins whenever there’s something he thinks Severus might particularly like. Still nothing comes back.

He finishes the course with a curriculum for each of the seven years. He’s scared, and only has a week between coming back to England and starting his career as a teacher. Needs all that time to get his rooms ready, get a whole new wardrobe, set up his classroom. Not to mention the day he spends at the ministry, filling page after page with everything he knows about Defence. He finds out three hours later that he’s passed, and McGonagall tells him Kingsley marked the exam for him. He feels a bit strange about it, but mostly very relieved.

Hogwarts feels just the same, empty because it’s a holiday, but filled with people that greet him happily, and treat him kindly. Harry’s had a lovely summer. And he’s happy to be home. But Severus doesn’t come up for meals, and he still doesn’t answer Harry’s letters, and he doesn’t open his door, even when the Map tells Harry he’s right inside.

*

Harry has, of course, hit the ground running more than once in his life. Figuratively, it could be said that his whole time at Hogwarts was just that. Literally, he was on the Quidditch team for years. This is no different, and no less exhausting, he tries to tell himself as he stares at another page of utter nonsense, produced by eager students he helped last year, that want to please him.

He misses Snape in a way that is physical. At night he can’t sleep, and when he is alone he wishes with an urgency that makes him worry his windows will start rattling that he was just a few floors lower, not in the rooms that have belonged to everyone from Quirrel to Umbridge to Lupin, but in front of a fire by windows that overlook the lake. He wants advice, and company, and someone that doesn’t give him a weird look when he jokes about not understanding things.

Days crawl but weeks pass faster than Harry can blink, and the things he was hoping to do surprise him at every turn. He sees the Slytherins from the corner of his eye as he rushes down to dinner, and remembers he’s been meaning to talk to them. They have settled into the castle well and hid the whole time the historians that were hoping to interview them had been about over summer, according to Minerva.

As he eats and half-listens to Gwenog tell him about the fourth years’ flying classes. “Am I boring you?” she asks at some point, and Harry shakes the thoughts of sympathetic magic and how he was hoping to ask Neville about it but now isn’t sure he wants to know the answer loose.

“Not at all,” he promises. “I agree, the students that are on the team end up missing basic flying techniques because of how match-oriented trainings are. Have you talked to Madam Hooch about this?”

It’s October when Ron and Hermione tell him that he’s to come to Hogsmeade to meet them for dinner, or they’ll come to him and demonstrate to all his students that the Great Harry Potter is ticklish. Harry asks if they can maybe make it a group thing. He’s barely seen anyone since he’s come back from Switzerland.

It ends up being such a crowd that Rosmerta lets them have one of the upstairs rooms, and Harry tries to catch up with everyone as they eat and drink and laugh. He’s missed them. Hogwarts is no fun without his friends. Millicent offers to walk him back to Hogwarts when they all leave.

“Sure,” Harry frowns. It’s cold already, this far up north, and very dark, and he’s glad to chat with her.

“We can keep going,” Millicent says when Harry stops at the gates. She blushes when she realizes Harry’s not taking her shit. “Oh sod off, Potter,” she groans. But she gives in as easily as always. “You have five minutes for your hand holding and swearing of eternal loyalty and then I’ll hex you.”

“Are you alright?” Harry asks, and she nods.

“Uni’s great, no heroes anywhere,” she says. “And before you ask my family is fine too.”

“What’s left?” Harry wonders out loud. “You’re in debt? In love - no.” He stutters to a stop when he sees the way Millicent’s face folds as he says it. “Who?” he demands.

“I’m not telling until you give me something at least equally juicy in return, arsehole.”

“Wow,” Harry says. “Is it like, Neville?” He doesn’t actually think it’s Neville. He really does want to know if his sneaking suspicion about Millicent’s preferences might be correct.

“No,” she says, not disgusted but definitely firm. “I’ll tell you right after you tell me what’s got you like this. I mean it.”

Even Hermione hasn’t dared ask yet, and Harry is grateful for how his friends have let him sort through his thoughts. He’s also grateful for the leap she is taking in pushing it, though.

“Not ready,” he says. “It’s not anything, anyways.”

“Yeah,” she says, soft heartbreak making her voice gentle. It takes Harry aback a bit, to hear her tone. “I know the feeling.”

Is heartbreak how he’s feeling? Harry wonders that night, alone in bed. The fire roars and he just wishes he wasn’t alone. He misses being in the dorm with Neville, the tent with Hermione and Ron, or even on the same corridor as all of his friends at Kropfenstein. He checks the map, sees all the people in the castle, some moving but most still, at this time of the night. It helps.

He learned a lot from Steffi about teaching, and more about Transfiguration, but it was Bart who taught him about the school system at Kropfenstein, and Harry can’t stop thinking about it. He’d been confused of course, at first, by the idea of eight subjects. It seems a bit much, but then… The definitions and separations of magic seem so arbitrary.

He wrote to Snape about it, of course. But he hadn’t gotten anything back. He tried to talk to Hermione about it, and she frowned at him and told him any separation would be arbitrary, might as well go with what you have. Hardly necessary to pick the best one if no one’s getting hurt. She visibly tuned out when he started talking about how it does hurt students to not get the best possible education, and by the way, did she not have to work her arse off to learn magical theory?

McGonagall only lets him talk for about three minutes before she asks him if this is going anywhere.

“It could be,” he says. “I’d like it to.”

“Mr - no. Professor Potter,” she says.

“Harry,” he corrects.

“Harry,” she agrees. “Please focus on your job. There is enough to do, and you will spread yourself too thin if you continue as you are.”

“But the - ” he protests, and she holds up her hand to stop him. She’s probably right, either way.

“I will allow you one thing on top of the teaching schedule per year,” she says. “And I really do hope you pick your Head of House duties.”

She’s right, of course. The Gryffindors need him. “And one new thing per year,” he says, “on top of teaching. So this year it’ll be Head of House, and I'll do one more next year.”

She narrows her eyes, flares her nostrils, but shakes on it. He’ll make a list right now, with the order in which he’ll take on new things.

“Cersei’s actual knickers,” Malfoy complains. “Can’t you talk to Severus about this or something? I can’t imagine anyone on this planet might care but you seem to have somehow absorbed his weird fascinations.” Harry glares at him, Malfoy knows the state of things; he’s just finished telling him all about it. All about everything, really, if he’s being quite honest. “Did you know,” Malfoy’s voice drops all the way, as if he’s not about to say the most boring thing in the universe. “That Muggles call that Osmosis?”

Harry groans but tries to listen to him all throughout his dumb and unnecessary and probably wrong explanation. Malfoy is trying and, after all, he went on for hours too.

Steffi sends a letter back with just three question marks, nothing else, and that’s when Harry really understands that he has a problem. So he starts writing all his things down in one place again. In between classes and marking but really mostly when he can’t sleep - he writes. About his thoughts regarding teaching and the curriculum and integrating students of different backgrounds.

It’s hard at first to find the right tone, he feels too familiar at times, and other times too academic. Even to himself. By himself. Then he starts to let himself write as if it’s to Severus, and everything slots into place.

He’d stopped the letters, of course; it started to feel too pathetic after Severus was proven to be ignoring him by also doing it in face-to-face interactions. And journaling is a thing, right? It is now.

It makes Harry feel proud and smart sometimes, when he’s had a good thought, and he writes it down. But most of the time it makes him feel lonely.

Halloween comes, and Harry is forced to be at the Feast and watch children laugh and eat. He can’t concentrate, hasn’t been able to think, really, all day. Thank Merlin it’s a Sunday. When all the children have left, Harry marches up and down the halls, feeling cold even in his teaching robes. His feet carry him to Snape’s door and the painting hisses at him softly.

“That’s alright,” Harry answers. He doesn’t need the map to know that Severus is inside. Leans against the wall with a sigh, and then sinks to the floor. He has a million things to do, and can’t seem to move at all.

He pulls out the map anyway, and stares at it without seeing anything until he realizes that that’s him, the little black dot on the corridor in front of Severus’ quarters. And Severus isn’t just inside, he’s right on the other side of the wall. It’s almost too much, and he claps his hand over his mouth not to make any noise. He should get up, what if a student walks past?

The thought that he is here, alone, and Severus is in there, alone, and so many people are dead, and maybe they’re alone too, freezes him in place. He shivers violently and bites his lip to stop from crying. It won’t solve a thing.

The portrait swings open right as Harry thinks he might be able to try to get up, and it turns out he can stand, even if it makes him dizzy. Snape is already walking away, but the portrait is still open, so Harry follows him through. Takes care to close it behind him, to hang his robes on the coat hanger.

He’s in the library, but the chairs have been dragged in front of the fire. The little table holds a glistening decanter and a single glass. When he gets closer he realises Severus is holding the other glass, his fingers tight and pale around it.

“This whisky is older than you, Potter,” Severus says. They don’t talk, but at least Harry is not alone.

Snape stops quite so openly not looking at him, and Harry is at a loss for what else to try. He misses talking to Snape and he misses everything else about being welcome in Snape’s home too, but he doesn’t want to intrude and he doesn’t quite believe he’d survive the mortification of being hexed for imposing. His thoughts have nowhere to go and when he isn’t teaching he is trying - and failing to - think.

He still writes in his journal, of course, but it feels like he’s not making any progress with it, considering the lack of response. Not that he’d actually want a response from a diary, he learned that lesson the first time.

It’s a few weeks later that Harry is invited up for tea with McGonagall.

“Minerva?” he asks, when he walks in, and she turns around from where she was standing by the window. She's looking better at least, not being the Head of House helps her schedule.

“Sit,” she offers. There’s a tea set by the sofa so he sits down there. Watches her settle in her favourite armchair. “How have you found your first months here?” she asks, when she’s taken her first careful sip.

Harry wants to give her an honest answer, so he thinks on it first. “Good,” he says then. He loves teaching, and although some classes are harder than others, he’s starting to feel like a teacher. It’s not the standing at the front of a classroom that’s giving him trouble. “It’s been a steep learning curve, of course,” he grins. He’s been busy but mostly just wishes he’d had the help he’d naively counted on when he’d taken Minerva up on the job offer.

“I’m glad to hear,” she says. “I’ve been very impressed with your dedication and skill.”

Harry feels his cheeks get warm. “Well I took the course,” he says. “It’s an excellent program.”

“It is,” she agrees. “Hagrid has made great improvements over summer too. I was hoping it would help him gain some confidence in standing up to bigotry, but I’ve been very pleased with the extent of it.”

“I think it’s really smart that they have this program, because they don’t have a wizarding university but this way they get to...”

Minerva agrees while he searches for words. “Participate at a level of academia that otherwise might not be available?”

“That,” he smiles.

“Harry,” she says, and she settles in a way that tells him the pleasantries are over. “I have noticed - well. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. I am finding it hard to continue to ignore it.” She says it delicately, and Harry swallows. Lets her speak. He could use some advice. “I won’t ask what happened, but would you let me tell you something?”

“Please,” he says. Her face softens as she looks at him.

“Severus is a dear friend, even if we have not always been good to each other,” she starts. “And I hope it might help you to - to know that when he first started teaching at Hogwarts, he had no friends and no allies. He reacted to each attempt at conversation as if it was a poor go at mockery.”

“And then?” Harry croaks. “Sorry, I mean. What changed?”

“I am not sure,” she says. “But it was perseverance on our part, the stubborn hope that he might make a good teacher one day. On his side, it was significant bravery.” She takes a deep breath. “Now I know that you might say that bravery is - ”

“No,” Harry interrupts her. “I think I understand.”

She nods. And they finish their tea. Harry thinks on what happened - he's not sure even when he's overflowing with theories. Too much, not enough, both? He decides on the way back to his quarters that he can be sure of two things. Severus would hate to have been spoken about in such a way. And since he’s an adult, he can change his wards if he cares to keep Harry out.

*

He only gets to impose once, before he ends up in the Hospital Wing. The one time goes about as well as he’d expected. He sits in Severus’ library and grades one horribly essay after another, while Severus pretends he isn’t staring at Harry. It’s… uncomfortable. But he does not get kicked out.

The next day, as he is walking from his quarters back to the library to check a specific reference, right after dinner, he gets hit square in the back. He’d follow the echoing footsteps, only his head is swelling extremely rapidly, and Harry knows better than to cast a hex reversal on himself when he doesn’t know what incantation was used. He makes his way down to the Hospital Wing, and Poppy tuts and fusses over him.

To his great fury, she even makes him stay the night. It’s not that he thought he’d be free from her authority as a teacher, it’s just that he’d hoped not to have to deal with it too soon after starting. “Harvey,” he says, when Minerva walks up to his bed. She nods. “Should’ve known,” Harry thinks out loud. The boy had been getting louder and louder about disagreeing with Harry.

“Do you want me to do it?” Minerva offers. He shakes no, and regrets it as soon as he does. Having his head reshrunk was not a pleasant experience at all. He wants Severus’ help. He doesn't have to wait long.

“There you are,” Harry whispers, when he wakes up in the middle of the night to find Severus standing by his feet. Severus startles as if he’s been bitten, but recovers fast. “Can you talk me through Harvey’s home life?” he asks, before Severus can do something stupid and unnecessary like leave.

“Living with his aunt now,” Severus says, but he takes a seat next to Harry’s bed. Perches at the end of it like a great big crow. “I have to admit I’m not sure what happened.”

“What should I do?” Harry asks, trying to process what he knows of the boy. “I was thinking of an essay on unintentional effects of hexes.”

“That does not seem - inappropriate,” Severus admits. Harry almost laughs, he knows it’s not much of a punishment.

“What else can I do? Will he learn anything from mowing the lawn? Or cleaning Myrtle’s bathroom?”

Severus sits up and looks at him, a glint in his eyes. “Moaning Myrtle,” he says. “Tell him he has to interview her, find out how she died. I know a spell we can use to see if he made his answer up and - ”

“That won’t be necessary,” Harry smiles, tries not to move his head too much, delights in how much more comfortable Severus seems now that they’re plotting. “I know what happened.”

*

“Professor Potter!” Harry hears as he’s trying to make it to the staff room in time for tea. He turns around, no tea for him then.

“How can I help you Mr Bigsby?” he asks. Dirk is a shy boy, but he always does his best. “If this is about your essays - ”

“No, no,” Dirk says. “It’s about the talk from Auror Sciarra. She mentioned keeping her family safe during the war and it made me think about my project, I think I’d like to do wards if that’s ok.”

Harry has to think on it, but only a second. “Of course,” he tells Dirk. “Make sure to take a Defence angle, of course. I wrote my Charms project on the same topic, I agree that it’s fascinating.”

*

“I don’t like the curriculum,” Harry says when he’s done working out all the details for all of his classes for after winter break.

“You’re the one that wrote it,” Severus says, and Harry knows how it’s supposed to sound. It doesn’t sound that way just yet but he’s trying to feel certain that it’ll happen. That it won’t sound just this side of awkward attempts at banter forever.

Harry rolls his eyes dramatically and gets a dark amused look in return. Nothing so obvious as a smile. “I’ve been thinking that it’s pointless to teach the students Defence if they cannot tell a charm from a spell.”

“You’re lucky not to have to worry about teaching them which side of the cauldron is up.”

Harry can’t help but laugh, it comes out too-loud and unexpectedly bright. “Add the newt’s eyelash now,” Harry says, in his best attempt at sounding as imposing as Severus does when he gives brewing instructions. “But sir,” he adds, in his normal voice. “Where?”

“Just like that,” Severus nods, he sounds like he could be smiling, but he is pretending to stare at his bookshelves and has his back to Harry.

“Do you think McGonagall will let me do basic wand techniques with my sixth years? I think that’ll help them with their N.E.W.T.s more than any duel practical could.”

“Flitwick might be convinced to give a demonstration,” Severus suggests, and Harry is glad he brought the topic back to work. It’s always easier to talk about work. And it’s a good idea.

“Do you have the same problem?” Harry asks as he writes down on his ever-growing list of to-do’s to talk to Flitwick.

“Certainly,” Severus sits down opposite Harry with a book. Perhaps he wasn’t faking his interest in the bookshelves earlier. “Especially with the students that don’t know any basic magical properties or herbology.”

“We should let them do something that transcends subject boundaries,” Harry says. He knows he’s blushing, he knows everyone is tired of hearing him talk about this. “We could pilot it with Potions and Defence, it’d be so interesting, they’d learn so much.”

To his surprise Severus doesn’t look tired of him, he looks interested. “We’ll talk to Minerva about it.”

Harry gets to McGonagall’s office first, and she makes tea for him while he tries not to fidget. He tried to order his thoughts before this meeting but it’s still mostly a large stack of notes. Severus arrives just on time, holding the door open for professor Jones and professor Doge. He seems surprised that Harry is there already, and lets Harry do all the talking too.

Afterwards Harry walks back with him, full of nervous excitement about the way they managed to sketch out the structure of an idea. Of how he gets to try this now.

“That was very impressive,” Severus says when they’re in front of the portrait, and Slytherin hisses at him. “Sure we’ll go inside, please be patient,” Severus tells the portrait and Harry is helpless to the grin. It nearly splits his face.

“You’ve gotten so good at Parseltongue,” Harry tells Severus when he gets a raised eyebrow. They settle in the library by the windows.

“You’ve gotten rather good at teaching,” Severus says, not looking at Harry. “And very insightful too - you did well today.”

Harry turns to look out the window as well. It’s not quite dark yet, and the drink he’s holding helps ground him. He blinks through the way it feels. Hot and too large, stretching muscles he wasn’t sure he had.

*

It’s a disaster, of course, at first. Half the students have no idea what they’re doing, and those are the ones that are eager to please. The ones that thought it would be easier not to have to follow one discipline are even more disappointed.

“We shouldn’t have made them present so fast,” Harry whines, his head on the table in the teacher’s lounge.

“Yes of course we did!” Elphias says, too loud and too eager as always. “They got a true sense of how far off they are from where they need to be, what a magnificent learning experience for the students!”

Harry feels like crying and knows at least half his students felt that way too, but he tries to be positive regardless. It’s not easy. “We could… we could let them try again?”

“I don’t think that’s necessary,” Severus says, from just by Harry’s shoulder. Harry looks up and gratefully accepts the steaming mug of tea Severus hands him. Earl Grey. “We gave feedback, we can offer special office hours for those who want another try, and we’ll talk through the requirements once more in class before submission. It will be enough for most, and we’ll help those for whom it is not.”

That sounds like a plan Harry can work with, so he breathes in his tea, and breathes out his worry. It will work.

*

“Do you know scarab beetles?” Harry asks one night as he’s working on a list of possible projects for his students to choose from in Severus’ library.

“Of course,” Severus says, a different tone than Harry was expecting. When he looks up from the book he’s been trying to read, Severus is looking at him with a strange intensity.

“They’re fascinating,” Harry says, and Severus jerks his shoulders back. Nods. “You use them in Potions right? I’m reading about how they’re used in different cultures in the Middle-East for Defence.”

It takes a while for Severus to get started, with these things. The ones he cares about. He looks at Harry like Harry might make fun of him, at first, but then relaxes into his fascination.

*

It doesn’t always work, being Severus’ friend through persistent friendliness like McGonagall had told him to.

“Nobody else understands,” Harry complains one night when he’s getting kicked out of the Potions lab. He’s only half-joking, and he will leave Severus alone to brew of course. “It’s hard to find someone that appreciates my genius insights on the applications of Divination in Defence, Severus.”

“What about your girlfriend, professor Potter?” Severus asks, his tone far too cold for the conversation Harry thought they were having. He is clearly just aiming to hurt, surely he noticed that Harry didn’t go anywhere during the winter hols.

“Steffi was never my girlfriend,” Harry replies, suddenly weary to the bloody bone. Is this what they've been dancing around? He was already packing his things but speeds up, tossing his quills into his bag. Severus looks taken aback, makes a little ‘but’ noise. “But what?” Harry stands up, starts losing his temper a bit. “But we slept together? That we did. Is everyone you’ve ever slept with your girlfriend?”

Severus glares, and his face is pinched, and he delivers what comes next like it’s a fatal blow, like this’ll be it. “They definitely are not girlfriends.”

His evil tone, the way he says it, the way he’s drawn himself up. Harry has no defense against that. “Thank you for telling me,” he offers, exactly the same tone he’d used when Millicent had stammered through her ideally not boys. “I personally find myself without a preference either way.” He says it as if it didn’t take months of shit oh no what now to come to that conclusion, not because he doesn’t want to talk about it, and not even because he doesn’t want to talk to Severus about it. He just doesn’t want to talk to Severus about it like this.

Severus looks like Harry’s called him a coward, again, and later, back in his rooms, as he’s writing to Hermione about something else, he thinks maybe in a way - he did.

*

“I just think it’s a bit sad,” Millicent says, as they walk up to Harry’s rooms together.

“Didn’t you invite – what was her name, Stacey? Doesn’t matter, didn’t you –”

“Yes,” she interrupts him to say. “So what I’m saying is if I think it’s a bit sad, imagine what Draco would say.”

Harry shivers. “No thanks. It’s hard enough talking about it at all, but really I am enjoying myself.”

“I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t be,” Millicent drawls sarcastically as Harry lets her in. The whole room is still covered in thick black smoke. “What have you tried so far?”

“Everything,” Harry sighs. He spent the night on Ron and Hermione’s couch in London because of the state of his rooms.

It only takes Millicent twenty minutes to clean up after Harry’s horrible potions accident, and she’s only moderately smug about it, which is a definite win. They celebrate with some of the whiskey Harry’d been sent for Christmas, and gossip about the Ministry.

“I know he’s very dear to you,” she says when they’re hugging goodbye, just tipsy enough to hang on to each other tightly. “But please don’t let him treat you as if you’re not dear to him?”

Harry sniffles into her shoulder and tries to find something to say to that. He fails, but Millicent doesn’t seem to mind overmuch.

*

“I’m grading Olivier’s paper,” Harry says, and he hears Severus respond across the room. Looks up to see him staring back.

“Yes?” Severus urges.

“He said he’d do something on protection spells and how the tea leaves could tell you what kind to use, remember?”

It’d been a really awful presentation so of course they both remember. They smile at each other, and then Severus looks away. “Indeed.”

“He shifted, like we told him to, and went with sympathetic magic instead. It’s actually - it’s very well written.”

“He’s been working very hard,” Severus says, his voice gentle. Olivier is a Slytherin, Severus would know he’s been working hard, and Harry feels proud of Olivier for it, proud of Severus for his devotion to his students.

“Severus,” Harry says, because much as he loves to talk about their students, there’s a reason he brought the topic up. “It says here we’re soulmates. Olivier says ‘akin to soulmates’ and cites that Rocksworth book you told him to read.”

Severus’ jaw works, and he doesn’t look up. It’s getting dark outside, Harry’s heart is pounding in his throat. Olivier writes a whole lot of stuff about sympathetic magic, and Harry never did manage to shake the feeling that Divination was not quite as rigorous as some other disciplines of magic. So he’d not taken it seriously. But now that he’s looking at Severus’ profile and the curve of his dark eyebrow, the unhappiness in the curve of his mouth, Olivier’s words are running through his mind.

Protective magic works exponentially better with sympathetic casters, it is theorized that the efficacy of familial magic is based on the commonly occurring sympathetic traits in blood relatives.

“Do you remember how Longbottom explained it?” Severus asks after some time has passed in breathless anticipation.

“He said it’s like hair colour, or shoesize,” Harry remembers everything about that day. Severus had looked at him with an urgency he hadn’t been able to place and everything had felt dangerous and exhilarating. “That someone might match you exactly for reasons you’ll never know, and families are usually similar but not identical.”

The strong lore surrounding sympathetic casters - those whose magic is closely related to such a degree that their signatures are identical and their casting can be combined for greater power, efficacy, and accuracy - has created a near-mythical cultural status of such magicians and their interrelatedness akin to soulmates.

Severus looks at him like it hurts and neither of them responds when the bell for dinner rings. “We don’t ever need to do anything with this knowledge - you mustn’t… You mustn't ever think that it means something you wish it wouldn’t.”

Harry thinks on that as they walk up the stairs to the Great Hall, side by side but with plenty of distance between them. He knows what it means, he knows why Severus phrased it that way. He’s not sure he believes it.

*

It isn’t anything in particular that helps Harry accept what he wants, and it isn’t anything in particular that helps him understand that he’s allowed to need things too. When he hears himself tell Flitwick no, not today, though, he blushes with surprise before he’s done saying it. For a moment he worries that Flitwick will be upset, but he just smiles and pats him on the shoulder. No harm done.

Other people have a similar response when Harry tells them he’s busy, he’d love to help them but cannot right now, he’ll be available next week at the earliest. They let him have his space, are friendly about it, help him with his overfull to-do list. Only Draco tries to push, but because he does it after Harry spent a whole day telling people he’ll be finishing his grading today and therefore cannot come to dinner, cannot help, cannot stop for a chat, it’s easy to tell him no a second time. And Draco does accept it, then.

Harry uses his journal for thoughts he doesn’t want to share with anyone now, and it makes it easier to settle into his own voice. I want to be a good teacher, he writes. A good friend, one day a good father. It isn’t that he reads back what he wrote, it’s just that it helps to have it out on paper rather than clogging his thoughts. I want Severus, he admits to only himself, alone and in the dark. It is true.

*

Harry is halfway through a story about catching Hagrid trying to coax something far too large into a cat carrier, and how he’d helped him take the unidentifiable but clearly injured beast to Grubbly-Plank, when he catches Severus staring at him. Not directly, but in the reflection of the large windows next to the fireplace in the library. It’s just light enough still that he can look out the window if he wants to, and just dark enough that he can see the room reflected.

“And?” Severus prompts, his tone giving away how amused he is, but Harry forgot where he was going with the story. He’s seen that look on Severus’ face before. Across the fire on a Swiss mountaintop - surely that was years ago?

“Turn around,” Harry says, and the expression is gone when Severus does. He looks quite relaxed, like he’s waiting for something but not altogether worried about what it might be. The corner of his mouth is still curled.

Harry stands up and walks closer, around the table, past the fire. He’s been careful about getting too close, and half-expects the library’s noisy alarm to stop him. But it doesn’t, and Harry gets to grab Severus’ elbow. “Harry?” Severus asks, very quietly.

He is looking at Harry, really looking at him, and when Harry doesn’t say anything he puts a warm heavy hand on Harry’s upper arm. As if he’s concerned.

The heat in Harry’s eyes is entirely unexpected, there before Harry feels it coming, and his nose prickles with it. His throat is sticky and he feels himself frown but is helpless to stop it. When he bumps his face into Severus’ bony shoulder it almost knocks Severus over and Harry laughs, wetly. “Sorry,” he says. “I’m alright, really.”

He’s not. He’s feeling flayed open and terrified of the possibilities. Like he’s been told he can fly unaided and now he has to practice in an enormous ravine. He’s been wanting for so long to be wanted, to be cherishable and cherished. Severus sits down in the window seat, the stone must be cold even through his robes, but Harry can’t bring himself to let go. His face is neatly hidden and the arm around him is steady and warm even as his breath bubbles out of him, refills with a gasp.

Harry thinks of the sea and of how it’s cold and endless and full of things he can’t name that no one has ever seen, until Severus rests his head on top of Harry’s. Then there is no room for thought, only just enough space in the circle of Severus’ hold to trace trembling fingertips over a sharp cheekbone. Harry leans back so he can see Severus’ face, and wants to lean in again but doesn’t. He needs to ask first. “Can I kiss you?”

Severus nods, the beginning of a smile in the corner of his mouth, and Harry does kiss him. Wetly. Warmly - and he has to sniffle for air but he is kissed back and it is just as he’d hoped it would be. Strange, perhaps, but rather lovely.

*

In May, while the air is filled with almost-warmth and the hope of sun should all this rain ever pass, they meet at the Ministry’s restored Atrium at what Harry would call just after dinner time. Unfortunately Ministry gala’s do not adhere to Hogwarts eating hours.

Severus looks, frankly, beautiful. Harry doesn’t dare tell him this, but it is true. They’ve both let Malfoy help them with their robes, and Hermione has promised several times that there will be fireworks, and Ron said he’s heard the music will be 'very cool', so perhaps it’ll be a good night.

Harry greets Severus with a kiss, tucks his hair behind his ear, admires the way his new robes look on him, and doesn’t realize until he’s stepped away again that this means they’re out. “Sorry,” Harry whispers. “Hadn’t thought about the reporters.”

Severus smiles, rumbles a low noise of that’s alright, and takes Harry’s hand as they keep walking. Perhaps everything will be okay.