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The Return of the Prodigal

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The Return of the Prodigal

 



1 Seventh year

When Harry returned for his seventh year at Hogwarts, he wasn't really sure what was occurring. Dumbledore, who at times could be seen as quite stable and others as madder than a hatter, seemed to be giving him unusually considering looks.

Passing the entire occurrence off to the existence of the emergency Portkey he'd been given at the start of the summer, Harry joined Ron and Hermione in their seats at the Gryffindor table for the sorting.

As he passed, a few of his classmates noted his new look. Over the summer, he'd allowed his messy black hair to grow out. Now that it wasn't cropped short, it stayed in place. That place being a ponytail tied off at the nap of his neck. This, combined with his time outside and heavy tan, made him seem a lot less the neglected orphan and more the secure young man of seventeen, which he was now.

***

Dumbledore had stopped him at the platform for the Hogwarts Express, just before he boarded to return to the Dursley's for the summer holidays.

"Harry," the voice came from behind and Harry waved Ron and Hermione on to find a seating compartment as he stopped to speak with Dumbledore.

"Yes, Headmaster?"

Dumbledore held out a small ring, and Harry took it with some confusion.

"It is a Portkey, Harry. While I know you still distrust such things, I made this for you personally. Should there be any problems with Voldemort this summer, speak the phrase and it will return you to my office."

Harry looked at the small ring and tried it on. It nestled quick securely at the base of his right pinkie finger.

"Thank you, Headmaster. What's the activation phrase?"

Dumbledore smiled, his expression clearly hinting that he knew things Harry would only find out later. "Love shall save me."

Harry nodded, it was appropriate. Love and loyalty had kept him alive this long. "Thank you. I'll keep it on at all times."

With a pat on the shoulder, Harry was released to the train and he'd joined his friends.

***

Focusing on those same friends now, those friends who seemed to be trying to get his attention, Harry pulled his mind to the present.

"It's our last year and I still don't know what I want to do professionally!" Hermione's complaint, first uttered in the station before they'd boarded the Express, was likely to be heard many, many more times before the year ended.

Ron and Harry had simply smirked at eachother and watched as the scenery rolled past the window. Harry absently played with the ring which was still on his hand, twisting it as he'd done many a time.

"I still say I've seen that ring before, Harry." Hermione had first said this on the trip home last year, and Ron rolled his eyes. Harry decided to give her another chance to tell him where.

"Okay, Hermione, take a good look and tell me where." Harry held out his hand, not taking the ring off, but letting her look at it. It was simply a geometric design, one twisted into a circle with no start and end. The silver ring looked vaguely Celtic in origin.

Hermione sighed. "I still can't remember who, but I know I saw a teacher wearing one just like it."

Ron spoke up. "Well, of course, Hermione. This can't be the first Dumbledore's made to keep someone safe."

They settled into easy conversation for the long trip back to school, the worries of a too quiet summer and the surely tumultuous school year ahead drifting away for the moment.

***

As Harry settled into his seat for the sorting, he noticed that the Professor's seemed even more stressed than usual. Dumbledore and McGonagall were starting to look their ages; Snape was glaring at him, wait... Snape was looking at him with something akin to absolute horror.

Harry nudged Ron. "Ron... What's up with Snape?"

Ron off-handedly remarked. "Who cares about the slimy git." He quickly looked over to the teacher's table at Hermione's exclamation of disgust.

"Oi, Harry, he's not glaring at you... He looks... I don't know, he looks like he's just been told Trelawney's his sister."

Harry laughed at the joke, but still didn't understand why Snape seemed to be so off center. Usually the man kept his expressions reserved, all reaction hidden.

Noticing Harry's return gaze, Snape flushed pink... That could hardly have been more a surprise than the fact that the potions master then got up from the staff table and left the Great Hall.

Harry noted McGonagall glaring at Snape's retreating back. But then he saw Dumbledore. The Headmaster had looked from Snape to Harry, shook his head slightly, and laid a restraining arm to prevent his Deputy from following the retreating Professor. The Headmaster looked almost sad.

Not really wanting this much confusion when the school year hadn't even started yet, Harry turned his attentions to his friends and ignored the possibilities occurring around him.

***

Snape had retreated not to his classroom or office, but to his private quarters. When he'd left the Great Hall, all he could focus on was the appearance of that spoiled brat. It wasn't right. There had to be some mistake.

His determined pace and fearsome expression were lost on the empty corridors as he quickly moved through them. Once in his private rooms, he went immediately to his bedside table. There, locked inside the upper drawer, was all that remained to him of the only person he'd ever loved. Harold James.

Remembering the name caused him to pause. "No, Dear Gods, No," he muttered quietly, whispering the spells which would unlock the drawer.

Ignoring his prayers, the truth inside the drawer could not be ignored. The silver ring... The one on which they'd based so many promises, the one he wore when memory haunted him dearly. The small treasures from their times together. He dug past these all, needing to know if his memory recalled the face of his young lover clearly.

There, at the bottom, he pulled free a wizarding photograph. It had been taken barely a week before his love had left him. A young Severus Snape, smiling in a manner he couldn't even remember crossing his face, arms linked around another young man of seventeen. That other young man smiled out to the camera as well, then they would turn to face eachother sharing a kiss before smiling back out at the world.

Through the jaded eyes of someone twice the age of his self in the photograph, Snape examined the detail. What he found caused him to slide down until he was sitting, leaning against his bed. He dug the heels of his hands into his head and tried to force the impending migraine away from him. But no physical action would spare him the evidence smiling up at him.

He couldn't accept it. The young man in the picture could not be Potter. It was not possible.

***

The empty corridors echoed the scream of rage and pain that streamed forth from the otherwise silent dungeon walls. In the Great Hall, the sound broke in faintly just at that silent break in time before a first year approached the sorting hat. The girl stumbled, obviously surprised and scared.

McGonagall gestured the girl forward and looked to Dumbledore. The Headmaster merely looked as if he was carrying some weighty thought and motioned for the process to continue.

Among the students, there was curiosity and quite a bit of silence.

Harry leaned over to his best friend, Ronald Weasley. "Did that sound like Snape to you?"

The shrug was all he got in answer as the sorting continued.

2 The Attack

Ron leaned back and watched Hermione talking to a group of first years about the lake and the squid, "I love it when term starts so close to a weekend."

Harry smiled at his friend and didn't budge from where he was sprawled on the grass. They hadn't been talking much, just laying about and enjoying the sun. Down by the lake was safely within the Hogwart's wards, but outside enough to lend a feeling of freedom.

Ron looked past his girlfriend and the first years to the sky beyond the lake, "Hey, Harry? What's that?"

Harry's gaze followed his friend's pointing finger to a dark blur in the sky, "Maybe a cloud?" His guess was quick, but he sat up and looked closer after a moment, "It's moving fast, Ron, I don't think it's a cloud."

Ron looked to Harry and then they both jumped to their feet. Ron raced for Hermione, yelling at her to get the first years inside. Harry stayed in his spot, watching the dark blur move up on the castle far too quick to be natural. A moving shape at the edge of the forest caused him to turn, spotting a Dementor moving out from the woods.

"Ron!" The yell got his friend's attention, "We're under attack!"

Ron looked to the woods, what were now clearly figures on brooms in the sky, and then helped Hermione chase the younger years into the castle. They were yelling for the Professors, and a few responded, moving to positions on the castle steps.

Harry pulled his wand, ready for this. He'd known it had been too quiet. "Accio Firebolt!" His spell would take awhile to become totally effective, and he began to move closer to the castle, trying to keep an eye on all possible enemies.

The attack moved onto them far faster than anyone had expected. Dementors, a group that appeared to contain fifteen to twenty, were moving from the forest. The figures on brooms had solidified to clearly be Death Eaters. It could be a scouting attack, a revenge attack, maybe that alone. It wasn't a full assault with only ten Death Eaters. But it was enough.

Harry joined the teachers in casting Expecto Patronum towards the Dementors, watching with satisfaction as his Prongs Patronus ran down and tormented the creatures. Spotting his broom racing towards him, over the heads of the others, he caught it from the air and flung himself on.

It wasn't a brave act, simply a tactical one. Harry knew he was a talented flier and likely better able to avoid mounted Death Eaters in the air, rather than on the ground. He raced through the air, dodging curses. On the ground, the teachers, with those seventh years who had come out of the castle, managed to knock at least one Death Eater from their broom to land on the ground with a sharp crunch.

As he raced over the water, he watched the squid beneath reach up and pull the Death Eater who'd been following him from the air. Two down, eight to go.

He made a sharp turn and started back towards the castle. What he hadn't expected was the sharp gust of wind, likely spell caused, which pushed him just into the reach of the Whomping Willow. The flailing limb struck the tail end of his broom, flinging him to the ground in a bruising dismount.

Harry rolled, moving himself out of reach of further limbs and leapt to his feet to run. The Death Eaters had managed to get him insolated from the others. As vines leapt from the earth to impede his progress, Harry cursed. At least they didn't know about his portkey.

He heard the faint exclamation of, "Avada Kedavra" from behind him and turned to see a Death Eater unleashing that deadly green light. As it rushed towards him, silent death, he concentrated on the ring on his hand; "Love shall save me." That familiar jerking sensation from behind his navel took hold and the grounds of Hogwart's disappeared in a cocoon of green light and nausea.

***

From closer to the castle, the teachers and students watched in horror as The Boy Who Lived was engulfed in green light. Rather than crushing their spirit, the sight angered them beyond imagining. Resistance built and continued until the last of the Dementors was destroyed and the Death Eaters either killed, captured, or retreated.

Several of the teachers restrained the students and coordinated cleanup efforts. They watched, trying to hide their concern, as the Headmaster moved towards the Whomping Willow and the last known location of Harry Potter.

The Headmaster reached the spot and surveyed the ground. The Killing Curse destroyed the soul, shattered it into bits, but did not affect the body. However, there was no body.

He sighed and looked around himself before turning back to the castle. That he approached alone concerned many. That he did not seem sorrowful gave faint hope. His path was unimpeded as he proceeded to his office, needing to know if the portkey had worked properly.

Dumbledore's assumptions were solidified when no waiting student was in his office, and nothing had been disturbed. The full circle had finally been completed.

He looked up just as the door slammed open and a wrathful figure in black entered, "Well?" The question seemed both demanding and concerned from his potions master.

"Harry Potter is not dead," Albus answered with a small smile, "Lemon Drop?"

The offered tin was ignored as Snape stalked over to the desk, "I think I've been played for a fool for long enough, Albus. Tell me what is going on."

"Do you know what happens when you combine the magical energy of an Unforgivable Curse with the vortex of a portkey?"

Snape hadn't been expecting the question, and pulled back slightly confused, "No one would be insane enough to test such a thing."

Dumbledore smile, "I didn't know either until a boy appeared in my office almost twenty years ago."

His suspicions confirmed, Snape blanched and seated himself before he fell over, "Harold James was Harry Potter."

A small nod from his mentor, "Yes, and if you'll excuse me, I must owl him... He can return now with no threat of paradox."

Snape looked confused, "What do you mean, return? Surely, if they were the same person you found some way to return him back then to now?"

Dumbledore shook his head sadly, "Alas, there was no way. But he could not remain in the wizarding world due to the paradox caused by his presence. He has been traveling, training these long years, waiting for his time to return. It wouldn't surprise me if he were already on the way. He did, after all, know the circumstances of his original departure."

The potions master looked like he might just have a heart attack, right there across from the Headmaster's desk, "He's been available all this time and you did not tell me?" There was a contained fury in the question, and prior to an answer being given, the youngest of the Professors flung himself from the chair and stalked from the office.

Dumbledore answered the quiet room, "I could not tell you, Severus. As much as that choice pained both him and I."

3 The Problem

Harry groaned as his abused body dropped to the floor of the Headmaster's office from a height of a few feet. The impact exacerbated those bruises obtained when he'd been knocked off his broom. Considering the general nausea caused by the portkey and the overall soreness he thought might be the effect from the closeness of the Killing Curse, he was not a happy, or comfortable, young man.

He groaned again, forcing himself into a standing position. He was slightly startled when he looked up to find Dumbledore staring at him with a curious expression from his desk chair. Last he'd saw, the Headmaster was in front of the castle defending against the attack.

"Did we get them all?"

His question was met with confusion, "All whom, young man?"

Harry looked at Dumbledore and then over to Fawkes on his perch, "The Death Eaters, Sir."

Dumbledore frowned, "I think you need to explain why you're in my office, young man. Along with who exactly you are."

Harry's eyes appeared to bulge slightly in his shocked expression, "Are you feeling okay, Headmaster?"

"I'm feeling rather fine today, though you appear a tad peaked."

The young man shrugged, "Doesn't hurt as bad as Cruciatus, I'll make it."

At this, the Headmaster looked a little shocked, "Perhaps you should sit down, I believe this explanation may take awhile."

Harry sat, still not knowing what was going on. Fawkes, sensing his distress, took flight and settled on his shoulder. Harry reached a hand across his body to lightly pet the phoenix's scarlet plumage.

"Always good to see you, Fawkes."

Dumbledore watched carefully, more comfortable with his decision not to pull his wand, "Have you met my phoenix before?"

Harry looked at his Headmaster with blatant confusion, "Sir... Maybe you should go to Madame Pomfrey."

The Headmaster chuckled, "We will both go, as soon as you've answered my questions."

"Headmaster, I'm Harry Potter."

Dumbledore tilted his head slightly, "Yes, I can see a resemblance to the Potter line... Are you a cousin? We have a James Potter in seventh year."

Harry shook slightly, an overall trembling, something was very wrong. "Headmaster, you know my father's been dead for sixteen years."

The headmasters eyebrows rose, and Harry had the isolated pleasure of truly surprising the older man, "What year is it for you, young man?"

"1997."

Dumbledore wrote a note on a scrap of paper and turned to Fawkes, "Take this to Poppy, please Fawkes." The phoenix took the paper carefully and then disappeared from the room. The older wizard turned to Harry, "I think you should tell me how you came to be here, in what is presumably your past."

Harry didn't even want to think about the connotations of being present in his own past. "The school was attacked. You had made an emergency portkey, keyed to your office and an activation phrase, at the end of my last school year. In the attack, a Death Eater cast the Killing Curse at me as I portkeyed away."

Dumbledore nodded, "Yes, that would cause an unpredictable reaction. It is not safe to use any magic in the vortex of a portkey. I imagine a lesser spell would cause a lesser effect."

Harry managed to control the slight trembling in his body, "What am I supposed to do? This could cause more paradox problems than that Time Turner almost did."

"You've used a Time Turner?" The question was stopped before it could be answered, "No, don't reply. It's best we limit the information you give me only to what I absolutely must know. I will research a way to send you home... For now, it may be best if you become a student here."

The younger man's eyebrows rose in incredulity, "A seventh year student in the same class with my parents and half the people I know as adults?"

Dumbledore smiled slightly, "Yes. It may be difficult, but it would be the safest thing. An attack has recently destroyed a small wizarding school in Wales; we will claim you survived and have been transferred here. Enough of our students have lost family that no one will question you if you claim to be orphaned. What is your full name?"

"Harry James Potter, Sir."

"Then we will announce you as Harold James. The name should be close enough that you would be comfortable with it, yet not quite obvious enough to cause a problem."

Harry smiled, the opportunities involved were unreal. He could get to know his parents, have more time with his godfather, torment some of his own enemies on their own school boy level. Be sorted again... Wait, that was a concern.

"Will I be sorted? Won't the hat see that I've already been placed?"

"I will speak with the Sorting Hat before dinner tonight."

There was a knock on the door and Madame Pomfrey entered. The woman was the same to Harry, but twenty years younger.

"You needed me here, Albus?"

"Yes, Poppy, young Harold here is joining Hogwart's. I'd like you to take him to the hospital wing and give him a check over. He is the last of the students from the Welsh school."

Pomfrey nodded soberly, "Of course, Albus. Come along, Harold."

As Harry was handed off to her, he decided to make the best of this time. It might be the closest he ever came to a vacation in his young life. After all, here Voldemort was not explicitly trying to kill him.

Harry watched the faces in the halls as Madame Pomfrey escorted him to the hospital wing. Most he did not recognize, some he did even in their younger versions.

Once ensconced in a bed, Pomfrey began to exclaim over her examination of him, "Dear lord, child, what have you been up to?"

Harry raised a questioning eyebrow, "What do you mean?"

"You've had bones broken and regrown, been hexed, and you're showing signs of Unforgivable curses," the nurse appeared indignant at these facts in a seventh year student.

Harry tried to think of an acceptable response, "Quidditch?" His answer was obviously not satisfying enough, so he added on, "And the attack on the school was fairly bad."

Madame Pomfrey continued to fret about him as she healed the bruising and other injuries, "Now you just lay there and relax until dinner. Dumbledore will come fetch you when he's ready."

***

A few hours later, while Harry was dozing in his bed, the noise of the doors being thrown open awoke him. He looked to the end of the hall and noted with some shock who had entered.

It was Professor McGonagall, younger of course, and she had a Gryffindor student's ear twisted in her hand. It was the identity of that student which shocked him so... Sirius Black. Harry sat still for a moment, caught in the sight of his godfather who'd been dead for two years. It was only when the young man spoke that Harry noticed another student.

"He hexed me, why aren't you ripping his ear off?"

McGonagall twisted her hand slightly, causing Sirius to rise onto his toes, "Because I expect better of a Gryffindor than the behavior you exhibit, Mr. Black." She left her charge on a hospital bed, the unnamed hex to be treated by Madame Pomfrey and turned to the other student who had followed quietly.

Harry almost didn't recognize a young Severus Snape. After all, he'd seen Snape under the effects of curses, but never with two black eyes and blood on his face. McGonagall gestured him to a bed and stood, looking fierce, "Will either of you be telling me what happened?"

The young men stared back with blank faces, Sirius looking mulish, Severus having perfected his inscrutable expression long ago. Harry managed to restrain his laughter and lay back on the bed, quietly listening.

"Since neither of you wishes to speak up, you will both serve detention. Mr. Black, you will come straight to my office after being released. Mr. Snape, you will see Professor Archanum. I will inform him of the circumstances so that your Head of House will provide suitable discipline."

Still facing silence, McGonagall left the room and the two in Pomfrey's care.

When she sent them off a short while later, separately and their departures staggered, Harry still lay quietly on that bed. He had things to think about... What he was doing here... How he'd keep his true identity hidden... When he would get home... And, whether in the process he would accidentally cause a paradox so severe that it might give Tom Riddle the advantage.

4 A Belated Sorting

Just before the usual dinner hour, Dumbledore had come to the hospital wing to retrieve Harry. As they walked through the castle, heading for the Great Hall, the headmaster provided a little more explanation, "The professors have consulted and agreed to provide you with a scholarship for this year, including all necessary equipment and clothing which will be delivered to your dormitory once you are sorted."

Harry could see the twinkle in Dumbledore's eye and shook his head at the falsehoods being created to cover him. He was used to having no money in the Muggle world, for now it was just true in the wizarding one as well.

"I want you to come to me directly if you have need of anything, Harold." The older wizard stopped him outside the doors to the Great Hall and looked at him carefully, "This will not be easy for you. You may come to my office at any time."

Harry nodded and followed the headmaster silently into the Great Hall. The four student houses turned to look at him, having been given a brief version of the reasoning behind his presence by Professor McGonagall. Harry looked over the faces in the hall, guessing names. Looking at the staff table was odd, some of the teachers were there that he recognized, some were not. But, that was partially a relieving thing... After all, he wasn't supposed to know everyone and everything about Hogwart's.

Dumbledore stopped them both next to the stool where the Sorting Hat had been placed and turned to the Hall.

"Mr. James joins us after a great tragedy. Welcome him to Hogwart's and treat him well as he adjusts to our home."

Then, with a gesture to the stool, Harry approached. He lifted the Sorting Hat and placed it on his head after sitting down. The voice came to him shortly.

"So, Mr. Potter... Decided to have another go round, have you?"

Harry winced, "Did Dumbledore speak to you?"

"Oh, yes... He spoke with me... but what I find most curious is here in your head. You fought me on your last sorting, did you?"

Harry thought about his first sorting and blanched. It wouldn't.

"Please not Slytherin."

"This time you don't get your way, Mr. Potter."

And Harry felt the chill in his body as the voice moved from his head to yell to the hall, "SLYTHERIN!"

He sat for a moment, not moving, not taking the hat off. Finally, Dumbledore lifted the hat and looked at Harry, who was in shock. There was minimal reaction from the hall, polite clapping from Slytherin, booing from Gryffindor, but it wasn't the insanity of his first sorting.

Harry stood after a moment and stumbled to the Slytherin table. He sat, not noticing where, and focused on the food, trying to put something in his stomach. The others left him alone for most of the feast, until a tallish blonde approached him.

He had a slight sense of deja'vu looking up at someone who was obviously Lucius Malfoy from his seated position.

"Welcome to Slytherin, Harold. My name is Lucius."

Harry shook the hand, not really knowing what else he could do. "Hi," the response was short, but he hasn't about to say what a pleasure it was to meet this man.

Lucius looked down at Harry for a moment and then his face hardened, "If you're going to survive in Slytherin, Harold, you'll want to remember that some of us are to be treated with respect." With that vaguely threat sounding comment, the young man turned to leave the hall.

Harry stood a few moments later and moved out of the hall. He knew where the Slytherin common room was, thanks to an adventure with Polyjuice potion in his second year, and that knowledge served him well now.

As he stepped from the doors of the hall, he heard a comment. One obviously pitched to carry to his ears, even if it would then seem accidental.

"At least now we know how he survived when no one else did."

Harry turned to see who was criticizing him and couldn't help but stare. Sirius Black approached him, Remus Lupin trailing after trying to stop him, "Sirius, don't... James..."

"James is too damn busy with his Head Girl to care, Remus." Sirius stepped up to Harry and looked at him with a sneer, "Watch your place, you damned dirty Slytherin."

Harry was still in shock when Remus pulled Sirius away. It was probably that lack of reaction, that shock at the treatment of his godfather, which saved him from a fight.

Minutes later, he stood outside the Slytherin common room staring in confusion at a painting of a Medusa.

"Password?" Her tone had sibilance, but wasn't quite Parseltongue. Harry was spared the embarrassment of not knowing the password, because he could hear it being hissed out by her twining hair.

He stated the password to the female figure who scowled, but let him pass. As he stepped into the common room, he looked around and mentally compared it to the one he remembered. A different generation of Malfoy, but the room looked the same.

The Malfoy in question strode up to him angrily, "Who told you the password?"

The question stopped all noise and traffic in the room as the occupants turned to watch. Harry looked over the other students and strongly suspected that Lucius had told them to lock him out. He looked at the blonde young man and just smirked. He wasn't about to give away the secret of something that may turn out to be an asset.

The smirk did not make the expression on Lucius' face any more pleasant, "Just make sure you don't turn out to be a disgrace to the name of wizards. We already have one of those in this house." A pointed glance to the figure of Severus, reading quietly in a corner, and Lucius was gone again.

Harry sighed. This was definitely not what he'd been picturing. Ignoring the creeping thoughts on exactly why Malfoy the elder seemed to hate Snape, he went looking for his dorm room. He found it after a few moments searching, deciding not to ask for help from any of the students casting him paranoid looks.

Once inside, he flung himself into the poster bed and drew the curtains. Casting a variety of ward and defense spells, he slipped his wand under his pillow and dropped into a disturbed slumber.

5 Unexpected Friends/Enemies

If Harry had been asked to guess the first thing he'd have to deal with in the morning, he might have said something about trying to find a loo if no one would tell you where it was located. He certainly wouldn't have guessed that failure to put a silencing charm around his bed would cause him to wake up to the sound of someone being hit.

Pushing back the curtains, Harry rolled out of the bed, wand drawn and pointed. But at the scene before him, he was definitely confused. Lucius was repeatedly slapping Severus, who was being held in a kneeling position by two goonish students who may have been the elder Crabbe and Goyle.

Harry's shock was so deep that he couldn't help his exclamation of, "What the bloody hell are you doing?"

Lucius paused in his abuse to look at the new arrival, "House discipline, Harold. Stay out of it."

Severus hadn't moved, or tried to resist, and Harry wondered why he was being held when he seemed to accept the punishment. But still, Harry wasn't the type to let someone be beat unless they had a good reason to receive it.

"Explain further, Malfoy."

Lucius raised an eyebrow, "Severus needs to be reminded of his place." The blonde man drew back his arm to deliver another strike when Harry interrupted.

"If that lands, I will make you regret it."

His wand hadn't wavered in the few moments he'd been standing there and Lucius' arm froze in its uplifted spot. He turned a cold look on Harry. Harry, however, was noticing the gaze of Snape, who was looking over at him. Harry recognized the look in the eyes... It was the same look he remembered from his own face any time the Weasley's offered to get him out of the Dursley's. It was expectant hope, combined with the knowledge that reality didn't have such things in store for him.

Harry might despise his teacher, grudgingly respect his compatriot, and avoid that fellow human being like the plague, but this wasn't Snape... This young man, this lanky youth that was still shorter than Harry, was Severus. He wondered for a moment how the two had gotten separated in his mind so quickly. Focusing on Malfoy, he spoke, "That's right, Malfoy, don't ever underestimate me."

Lucius turned from Severus to face Harry. He drew his wand slowly, "Do you want a duel, Harold?"

"I want you to stop, Malfoy."

Harry had barely finished the phrase when Lucius pointed his wand with intention and declared, "Imperio!" The gauzy pleasantry of the Imperius Curse crept over Harry's mind. Before it had fully grasped him, he was already fighting it. After all, when you've fought off Voldemort, Lucius Malfoy's teenage self was little comparison.

Disturbing the other boys, Harry started to laugh, clearly not under the control of the spell. The other boys stepped back, shocked. Severus continued to look at him silently, the expression containing just a little more respect for the idea that this new student may be someone worthy of alliance.

"I don't think so, Malfoy."

Lucius was quickly developing two spots of red high on his cheeks, "Then he'd better hope that Harold will always be around to save the day."

Harry rolled his eyes... Was Lucius Malfoy walking around using the same phrases he'd thought up when he was seventeen? Playing along, Harry gave the same response he'd given to that line once before, wondering if Malfoy the elder would be getting deja'vu someday because of it.

"Don't worry, I will be."

As Lucius and his cronies left the room, scowls aplenty on their faces, Harry turned to Severus who was trying to rise from the floor. He held out a hand, which was grasped only long enough for the other youth to stand, then released.

"He will attack you again," the comment was offered as a warning, someone feeling out their place in things.

"I'm not afraid of Lucius Malfoy," Harry managed to restrain his humor.

The young men studied eachother for a moment and then shook hands.

"Severus Snape."

"Harold James."

Harry wasn't able to restrain his curiosity any longer than that, though, "Why was Malfoy hitting you?"

Severus flushed, "He does not approve of me."

That was all he said, however, before turning and digging into a trunk. Inside, Harry was not surprised to see a stock of potions vials which would rival Pomfrey's collection. The young man selected several and downed them quickly. At his grimace, Harry spoke up; "Perhaps you should try to make them taste better."

Severus looked at him inquiringly before shaking off the implied compliment; "We are going to be late for class."

Harry shrugged and threw on his Slytherin insignia before following the other youth out of the dormitory and common room. Luckily, he'd managed to acquire a guide, since he wasn't supposed to know anything about this school.

At the entrance to the Great Hall, and a slightly late breakfast, Harry's feet slowed at the sight of James Potter looking around as if searching for someone. Finally, the gaze focused on his own and his father approached him.

"Harold..." The call froze Harry on the spot and he waited for this confrontation, "Head Boy, James Potter."

Hesitantly, Harry shook his father's hand as the other man continued to speak, "Dumbledore asked me to give you your schedule and tell you where classes are located."

At a sharp intake of breath from beside him, Harry turned to look. Just what he needed, his apparently more prejudiced than he realized godfather was approaching.

"James... Why are you talking with this scum?"

James Potter shook his head, "Behave, Sirius, I have responsibilities." Sirius just sneered and stepped back. The threat was obvious in his eyes. Harry resolved to avoid his godfather whenever possible, and make sure Severus did as well. He had a whole new perspective on those school boy pranks he'd heard about in supposedly harmless stories.

Harry spoke up, "Thanks for the schedule, I can find my own classes." With a meaning-laden look, he nodded to Sirius, "Wouldn't want to cause any problems."

James looked to his friend and then to the newest student, "Whatever, Slytherin." Turning on his heels, the Gryffindors left down the corridor.

Severus' voice recalled Harry from his wishful thinking, "Are you suicidal, or truly that skilled?"

He turned to look at the other young man and frowned slightly, "I'm not going to be pushed around." He started to walk into the Great Hall, intending to get some food even if his stomach wanted to rebel, "And neither should you."

6 Problems in Class

Harry's first week of class wasn't going the way he intended it to go. Ignoring his personal problems in the form of Malfoy, and his father and godfather, he had class problems. Predictably, not in Defense Against the Dark Arts. No, in that class, unluckily doubled with Gryffindor, he excelled.

On the first day there, the teacher had decided to test him with a little duel. When he'd slapped the Professor around the room, heartily inspired by his rage at his housemates, the Professor had declared himself satisfied. From that point on, Harry had been designated to assist other students. This being something he'd enjoyed, and after all, the DA was twenty years in the future, Harry agreed.

Potions was a different situation entirely.

Harry stared into the melted remains of his fifth cauldron for that class period and scowled. Neville didn't even do this badly in class, from what he remembered.

Looking up into the disapproving face of Professor Archanum, who also happened to be his Head of House, Harry shrugged, "Sorry, Professor, I have no idea."

The Professor looked around the dungeon room at his other students. Harry quickly thought to himself that at least there was precedent for Snape's choice of teaching environment as the Professor spoke.

"Does anyone know what Mr. James did wrong?"

Severus looked at him with a slightly apologetic glance before raising his hand to answer. At the Professor's nod, he spoke, "He added the ingredients on a rotating count of eight, rather than ten."

Harry looked incredulously into his cauldron, not having any clue why that difference would cause this meltdown, but respecting the potions knowledge of his future Professor.

The current Professor nodded, "Five points to Slytherin, Mr. Snape. You and Mr. James will see me after class."

Harry was slightly confused at the smirking glances of the other Slytherin's in his class and the muttered, "Trouble in paradise already, Harold," from Malfoy on his way out of the room at the end of class.

Their things packed away, Harry and Severus approached the Professor.

"Mr. James, despite the Headmaster's insistence, I cannot permit you to remain in my class unless you demonstrate improvement. All I can assume is that your previous potions master was incompetent."

Harry rose to the defense of his future Professor, "No Sir, I've just never been good at potions."

The Professor looked at Severus, "That's fine, Mr. James. This is why I asked Mr. Snape to remain. He will tutor you, three times a week, until you are competent in this classroom. You may schedule additional practice, but it will be at least three times a week."

Harry nodded, not really minding this situation. After all, Severus wasn't that bad a person to be around. He was moody, sure, but then again, Harry himself had been a raging jerk his fifth year. Severus waited to see Harry's reaction before showing any himself.

"Thank you, Professor. I'm sure that will help."

At the sincerity in Harry's voice, Severus smiled slightly. Harry couldn't help but wonder what turned this intense young man into the silent grumpy bastard that he knew from before.

With departing words for the Professor, the two left the room and headed for their common room.

Severus seemed confused when he spoke, "Why hadn't your Potions Professor made sure you were competent before now?"

Harry couldn't help the wide grin on his face... Oh, this was a conversation he was writing down for the future, he thought, even if he never got the chance to taunt Snape with it.

"I don't know. He didn't like me much, slight grudge against my father."

Severus nodded, "That is no excuse."

Harry's grin widened and he looked over at the young man who was fast becoming his best friend here. This was strange.

"Have you ever thought about teaching, Severus?"

The other man stopped and looked at him, suspicious, "Why do you ask?"

Harry seemed stunned at the sudden suspicion. The shock on his face at the sudden change in the tenor of their conversation caused Severus to relax, "I'm sorry... I would like to teach, but my father would not approve."

Curiosity flooding him, after all Snape was silent on most of his past. And, Harry had some suspicions after what he'd seen in the pensieve during his fifth year, "What's your family like?"

Severus looked around and then pulled Harry into an empty classroom, "Don't ask questions like that when anyone can hear you."

Harry was concerned, "Why?"

"I'm not particularly fond of my family. However, that is not something that I wish known as it could shorten my life span."

Knowledge came to Harry's eyes as he resolved what he knew, and what he was being told, "Your father's a..." He left the last word unsaid.

"Yes," the simple response was unemotional and detached. Severus waited, silently, waited for Harold's condemnation.

Harry reached a hand out and laid it on his friend's shoulder, "I don't judge people on their family, on themselves."

Relief was clear on the other young man's face and the tension bled out of the room slowly. Harry couldn't help teasing at the silence, "But you still haven't told me what Lucius is holding against you."

Severus looked at Harold for a moment, "If you have not figured that out, then I will not tell you." He ended the conversation by turning and leaving the room.

Harry was stunned for a moment, and then jogged slightly to catch up, "Come on, Severus, just tell me."

There was only silence from his friend.

When they reached the common room, Severus disappeared into the dormitory and Harry settled himself in front of the fire. His peace was disturbed shortly after, with the approach of Malfoy.

"What now, Lucius?" Harry looked bored as he addressed Malfoy. He was learning quickly that survival, and comfort, in Slytherin house was largely based on pretense.

Lucius smiled, "Is that any way to speak to a friend offering advice?"

Harry snorted at the word friend, but stayed silent to let his housemate speak. Which, after a short pause, he did.

"I just wanted to let you know that I'm always willing to listen, should anything shock you."

Harry waited, slightly confused, for clarification, which did not seem to be forthcoming. Severus came back into the common room from the dormitory and approached on silent feet.

"Stop, Lucius." The words were not as assured as they could have been. Harry was struck with the thought that this may have been the first time Severus spoke against Malfoy to his face.

Lucius looked like he'd been handed a prize and turned to Severus, "What's the matter, Severus?"

Severus was rapidly gaining two spots of color, high on his cheekbones. He ignored the blonde man and turned to Harold, "Harold... We should start on that work for potions."

Harry was only too willing to leave the discomfort of the common room behind, "Uh, sure." He jumped up from his seat, "Library time." He waggled his fingers at Malfoy, "Later Lucius."

Thankful for the excuse, a Professor sanctioned one at that, the two left the common room with the sound of Malfoy's snickers fading in the background.

7 It's a Strange World

A week after the assigned additional tutoring for potions, Harry and Severus had covered everything they could have from a book. Harry was searching the library for any additional books that might be helpful, and avoiding the Marauders who came in and out at odd times. He definitely did not expect to have to avoid his father and his friend's to this degree.

He looked up as Severus entered the library and sat across him with a disgruntled look on his face.

"What's wrong?"

Severus looked at Harold with a sharp glance; "You need laboratory practice. The Professor will not allow us access to his labs. Guess what is wrong?"

Harry grinned, "You're just upset because you think I'll make you look bad."

An exaggerated eye roll was his first response, then after a moment, "Fine, I admit it. But we still need access to a lab."

With a larger grin, Harry stood, "Then follow me, for I've discovered something."

Severus looked curious, but did follow. Harry led them on a winding path through the castle that was guaranteed to lose any followers. When they reached the third floor corridor, he stopped Severus to give instructions.

"Here's how this works. Focus in your mind on what you need in a lab, be specific."

As the young man settled into a clearly focused, detached expression, Harry had the bizarre urge to attack him with legilimency. But, that wouldn't be quite fair. He wasn't sure if Snape even was a Legilimens at this point. Clearing his own thoughts, he led them back and forth down the hallway three times, before opening the door to the Room of Requirement.

Severus stared in shock. The room, which at Harry's last use had been twenty years in the future and prepared for his DA meetings, was restructured into laboratory and classroom with attached sitting room. The lab was well-stocked, with hundreds of neatly labeled glass bottles and wooden boxes. There was a neatly stacked shelf of every bit of potions accoutrements Harry had ever seen, as well as two spaced tables. There also seemed to be a detached study table, and then the sitting area. Two chairs in mahogany wood and black leather sat on either side of a low table with a short couch just beyond.

Harry looked at Severus for a moment, "When I said specific, you really listened."

He pulled the other young man into the room and closed the door behind them, "Not bad, Severus."

Severus looked at him for a moment, "I have never seen this room before and I've been at this school for seven years."

Harry shrugged, "I was doing some extra reading in the library. There was a book with information about a room that became what you needed." He focused on the room, dropping the explanation as to why he knew this was here. Severus still looked suspicious, but decided that studying the room was a better option.

A few minutes later, Harry decided that if he was going to be friends with Severus, he was going to use this opportunity to find out some information that he'd been curious about for years. Despite Ron's assertions, he knew that his friend wasn't a vampire. He'd seen him in the sun plenty of times, seen him work with garlic and holy water for potions for no problem. But there was still one thing that he was damnably curious about...

"Severus... Why does your hair always look like that?"

Only the gentle curiosity kept Severus from sniping at his friend, like his expression said he so clearly wanted to do at that moment.

"Why do you ask, Harold?" The question was cold, and Harry flinched, thinking he'd stepped over some line.

"I'm sorry if it upsets you, but I was just curious."

He could hear the sigh from across the room and then the answer, "My father disapproves of curly hair on men."

Harry felt his eyebrow raising. That was not the answer he'd expected.

"Your hair is curly?"

"Ringlet curly, yes. No can we get some work done before Defense?"

***

Severus and Harry rushed into the Defense classroom, five minutes late. The Professor looked up from his lesson and surveyed the two who had dropped into chairs in the back.

"Ah, Mr. Snape, Mr. James. Thank you for volunteering."

They traded a look and then waited for the pronouncement, "Since you were late, but not abominably so, you may choose your punishment. You may either demonstrate for the class your strongest defensive spell, or you may lose fifteen points for your House."

Severus spoke up quickly, not wishing to demonstrate any of the spells he knew that would bring larger consequences, "Points, sir."

The Professor nodded, "Fifteen points from Slytherin, then Mr. Snape. Mr. James?"

Harry looked at his Professor, then at the other students. He stood slowly, pulling his wand, "If you would move aside, Professor?" It was hard not to be just a little arrogant about this spell. They'd had a lesson earlier that week specifying that the Patronus spell was Auror level and would be taught to only those students who were accepted into training.

With an intensity of focus, he narrowed his gaze to the front of the room and declared the words, "Expecto Patronum!"

Watching the faces of his classmates and teacher, he didn't know who was more shocked when the fully formed stag Patronus issued forth from his wand. There definitely seemed to be a pale face or two among the Marauders at the vision. And, his Professor certainly was impressed. Severus raised an eyebrow at his friend, who winked in return.

Harry concentrated on his Patronus, who noticing that there was no danger in the room, turned to him and bowed before disappearing. The Professor seemed to regain his vocal abilities.

"Thank you, Mr. James. Quite impressive. Fifteen points to Slytherin."

Harry dropped into his seat and watched as the lesson continued. He knew most of what the lecture covered, and was finding it more difficult to pay close attention these days. He probably should speak to the Headmaster before demonstrating those talents in the future.

At class end, Harry felt a hand on his elbow, which was Severus urging him along. The other young man pulled him to the side of the corridor to mutter quietly, "How did you do that?"

Harry flushed slightly; "I was showing off, sorry... I've been able to conjure a Patronus for four years."

"Four years?!" The mutter was harsh, "That's impossible!"

"Look, Severus, I'm sorry. I had to learn how to do it several years ago. There were Dementors, and I kept hearing my parents die." As his voice trailed off, his friend seemed less angry and more understanding.

The Marauders interrupted the moment, "If it isn't little Snivellus and his new bodyguard." Harry sighed, why oh why was a seventeen year old Sirius Black such a pain. Was it too much to ask that he be able to get happy memories about his dead godfather?

Harry turned, "What's the matter now?"

James looked at the two and then spoke, "Nice show in class..." Harry was impressed when that was the only comment before the level headed one and his girlfriend departed down the corridor.

Expecting restraint from the others was too much. Sirius spoke back up as his restrainer moved down the hall, "Or is he your bodyguard, Harold. I'm sure he's enjoying the idea." And with that snide remark, the others departed.

Harry turned, gritting his teeth. Severus' expression was shuttered again. Harry wasn't stupid, something was going on. The students knew something he didn't and he was tired of it. But he didn't want to talk then.

"Look, I have to see the Headmaster. Tonight, the Room."

At his friend's nod, Harry moved off down the corridor towards the Headmaster's office.

***

Harry stopped in front of the griffin and started to list off wizarding candies he could remember. The problem was that he wasn't sure which had been invented yet, so he was stuck whispering them and looking around. It was rather a suspicious looking situation.

After about five minutes had passed, Harry heard a throat being cleared behind him. He turned to see Professor McGonagall looking at him expectantly.

"Problem, Mr. James?"

"No, Professor, I simply need to speak with the Headmaster."

She raised an eyebrow and Harry reminded himself to chastise his future Professor. While she would complain that Snape treated the Gryffindors poorly, she had hardly a moment to spare for him as a Slytherin. Odd, considering he was her Gryffindor golden boy in the future.

"Then let us speak with the Headmaster."

She spoke the password, lower than he could hear it, and accompanied him up the stairs. The obvious lack of trust brought a frustrated look to his face.

When they entered, Dumbledore looked up from his desk, "Ah, Mr. James... I've been expecting you. A fully corporeal Patronus, quite an impressive feat."

Professor McGonagall looked shocked and Harry blushed, "That was what I wanted to talk about, Sir."

"A Patronus, Albus? Surely you must be mistaken."

Harry rolled his eyes; "I've been capable of a Patronus for four years, Professor."

She gave him a look that said she obviously thought he was lying and then addressed the Headmaster, "I'll leave him to you, Albus."

After she'd left the room, Harry settled into a chair across from the Headmaster.

"What was your concern, Harry?"

A few moments of fidgeting, then, "Should I be hiding how much I know?"

Dumbledore chuckled, "No, young Harry, I think not. Admit to your talents, as long as you admit to your weaknesses."

Harry grinned, "How's the work going on sending me home?"

The Headmaster's face grimmed, "I am still researching. I do not know if it will be possible to send you home."

His chest felt tight as Harry responded, "If I stay, eventually I'll cause a paradox even if I don't mean to."

Dumbledore nodded, "I am considering all your options. We will discuss them when I am certain of my findings."

Harry nodded, not able to speak an acceptable answer, "Yes sir." He sat in silence for a moment; "I'll just be going then."

As the Headmaster waved him from the office, Harry remained silent. The older wizard watched his retreating back for a moment, his thoughts busy. He thought for a moment that it was likely the world asked much more of that child than it had any right. And it grieved him that he was likely one of the people placing those demands.

8 You're What?

Harry had wandered the school for a few hours, not wishing to return to the common room and play Slytherin games, or even speak to the rest of the school.

He disappeared downstairs for a bit, raiding food from the kitchens. Once he had a packet for himself, and perhaps some to share later, he sought refuge in the Room of Requirement. That was where Severus found him later, sprawled on the short couch, nibbling at a biscuit and reading one of his textbooks.

Harry looked up as his friend entered, relaxed from his time alone. When Severus stepped into the light, his expression darkened with anger. There, on his friend's face, on the friend he'd promised to protect, was an obvious black eye. He rose from the couch and inspected his friend up close, Severus still silent.

"Who did it?" His voice was harsh and low, filled with the promise of retribution.

Severus looked at him for a moment, and then spoke quietly, "I hit Lucius first."

The response was enough of a surprise to make Harry step back, "Not that I haven't wanted to, but why?"

"I grew tired of his snide comments. I hit him, he hit me back. I may have a black eye, but I can brew a potion to fix that from here." Severus smirked, "As for he... He will have to suffer with his two black eyes, or admit to the behavior which caused them in asking Madame Pomfrey for a cure."

Harry laughed, "Bravo, Severus. I knew you were a sneaky bastard."

His friend grinned and moved to the work area to begin his own potion. As he started to work, Harry thought that it was time they have a chat about what it was he didn't know.

"What's Lucius' problem with you, Severus?"

Severus looked up from his brewing and studied his friend for a moment, "I do not want to tell you."

Harry was surprised. He'd been in his past for several weeks, almost a month, and his only real friend in that time was his future potions master. From what he'd experienced, he was fairly sure that the reverse was true as well.

"Why not?"

Severus worked for a few minutes more, until the potion was simmering, as it would need to do for almost an hour. Then, he moved to one of the chairs. Harry sat across from him, waiting.

"I count you as a friend, Harold," a hesitation, "I expect that if I tell you, that will no longer be true."

Harry was concerned, yes, but worried more so, "Severus. Just tell me." The words were quiet and sincere, an opening for trust.

The other young man leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes; "I have never understood girls. Abhorrent experiences with them, even when they would talk to me. Men, boys even, are much easier to understand and relate to." He cracked an eye open to look at Harry.

Harry looked confused, "Yeah, total agreement on that. So what's the problem?"

Severus sighed and continued, as if explaining this to an idiot, "I am not interested in the female persuasion... At all... Sexually."

Harry stopped for a moment, then began to laugh. A few moments rolled by as he continued to laugh, and Severus rose from his seat. One thing the intense young man had always had was his pride. As his friend reached for his school bag, Harry forced his laughter to stop. Reaching out for his friend, he grabbed his left forearm in a grip that wouldn't be shaken.

Distantly he realized that Snape had not yet joined with Voldemort. If he had, then this grip would have hurt him. But it was more important at the moment to reassure his friend that he did not scorn him.

"Is that all, Severus?"

Severus scowled, "Is that all? Malfoy and those Gryffindors have tormented me for four years because of this. Three more years before that for other reasons."

Harry smiled with reassurance, "Yeah, but they're prats."

The scowl did not lessen, so Harry continued, "Severus. I don't hate you. In fact, I know how you feel. Intimately."

A moment of thought went into that comment before Severus spoke hesitantly, "You are telling me that you..."

Harry interrupted him, "Don't play for the coed team? Yeah."

Severus' scowl lessened and he began to chuckle and then laugh. As Harry watched his friend laugh, he realized something he'd never noticed before. When he wasn't busy scowling around and frightening everyone, this was a beautiful man.

Severus dropped back into the other chair as Harry asked a question. "The friends I had who knew, they didn't care. Why does this piss Lucius off so much?"

"He finds it a waste of my bloodline. I am the last of the Snape line, and my parents cannot have any more children."

Harry raised an eyebrow, "Yeah, but we're wizards."

When Severus didn't reply, Harry clarified, "There are spells, potions, to make that not matter."

Severus nodded, "They are not common knowledge, but I believe it is simply Lucius being himself."

Harry nodded at that. After a few moments of surprisingly comfortable silence, he stood and moved over to the work area. Severus joined him and they began studying. Friends they may be, but Harry still had to learn how not to burn the bottom out of his cauldrons.

After the bruising potion had finished for Severus black eye, and he'd dosed himself, they moved back into the seating area to relax. Harry perched himself on the short couch, leg drawn up, and arm draped across the back. Severus hesitated a moment, before joining him in a mirror of his position.

Harry smiled, and stretched out his callused fingers to tease at the tips of his friend's long graceful hands.

"Harold," the warning was clear. When Harry looked into his friend's face, he saw a look that told him not to tease. He continued the motions with his hands. When Severus abruptly pulled his hand away, Harry spoke.

"Don't tell me you haven't considered it, Sev. I know I have."

With a touch of surprise, Severus turned to look at him, "Why?"

Harry shrugged, "Because I know you can be more than you allow yourself? Because I'm attracted to the intensity I see in you?"

Severus was silent for a long moment, and it was Harry's turn to assume he'd gone too far. He stood from the couch and gathered his bag, the silence from his friend telling him he'd crossed a line.

When he'd reached the door, a silent hand on his shoulder stilled his movement. He turned, to face Severus' considering look. Severus took his bag back to one of the worktables, and Harry followed. When his friend turned to face him, Harry stepped closer, trapping the other young man between his body and the table.

That damn eyebrow rose, driving Harry nuts, "You're so expressive." It was something he marveled at, knowing how impassive this young man's future self would be.

As they moved closer, Harry knew that he had every intention of taking this encounter as far as he could. He simply hoped at the end that Severus would have no regrets. He certainly had no intention to have any.

***

Harry woke first, confusion as to where he was disappearing as a warm, elegant hand, crept over his ribs and pulled him closer to a warm body. The euphoria of the night before lost, he was trapped in a single thought, 'Snape is going to kill me when I get back.'

The thought was enough to pull him from the makeshift bed of blankets and furs. After he'd dressed, he looked over to find Severus watching him with considering eyes.

"Regrets?" the question came quietly from his friend, now lover.

Harry thought for a long moment before replying, "Regrets, no. Awkwardness, yes. We're going to be late for breakfast." He smiled and leaned down to give his lover a last morning kiss before gathering their things. The other young man joined him, dressing and grabbing his bag.

"Are we going to hide this, Harold?"

The question was sincere and deserved a sincere answer. Harry thought for a moment, and then realized he wasn't ashamed. IF there were future consequences, then he would bear them. It was time for him to partake of a touch of the happiness that his sacrifices in dealing with Voldemort provided to the rest of the wizarding world. Perhaps, just perhaps, in his time here, he could convince Severus that he was sincere enough in his emotion to stop the man's future self from murdering him on sight. With a smile for his lover, he responded, "No." And deep inside he made a resolution. He would live his life in this time and deal with what may be in the future when he returned there.

9 A True Slytherin

Harry and Severus walked into the Great Hall in the middle of breakfast, the room was mostly full, and the Slytherins all seemed to be there. With a last traded glance, Harry and Severus walked to their House table and took seats together at the far end nearest the teachers. They had several open chairs between themselves and the other students, but could easily see Lucius' forbidding look. Harry smirked up the table at Lucius and then lifted Severus' hand that he'd been holding the entire time.

He lifted it until he was certain Lucius could see what he was doing, and laid a sweet kiss across the knuckles. A moment of silence drifted across the hall, the conversation picked back up again with this newest piece of gossip.

Severus looked at him and shook his head, "I revise my opinion. You are suicidal."

Harry just laughed and the two settled into their breakfast. Moments later, as he was reaching for the pitcher of pumpkin juice, it transformed before his hand into a viper. He looked down the table and saw Malfoy putting away his wand. Harry sighed and watched the viper move for a moment, tongue flicking out to taste this new world.

Severus pushed himself back from the table so fast, he fell over. As other students caught sight of the snake, and as it uncurled it revealed itself as a large snake, there were screams.

At the sound, accompanied presumably by the scent of fear, the viper splayed out its hood and hissed at Harry.

From behind him, he could hear Severus' saying insistently, "Harold," and what sounded like the Headmaster calling, "Move back, Mr. James."

Harry was focused on what the snake was saying. It was angry, uncomfortable, pissed beyond imagining. It hissed its displeasure at him and its intentions. He tilted his head as it wove back and forth, and watched it carefully to see if it would strike him. The snake turned, hissing loudly, it's fangs clear and dripping slightly, towards the other students.

Shifting slightly in his seat, Harry drew the viper's entire attention unto him as the closest person.

He reached inwards, looking for that concentration point which allowed him to speak in sibilant hisses and stops, and spoke. He spoke to the snake of comfort, reassurance, and apologies.

It halted its threatening gestures towards the other students and focused on him. Harry was relieved. His Parseltongue had become a lot better through practice, and he had made sure to practice this obscure talent. He was distantly aware that silence had fallen over the hall as he spoke to the snake in its own language.

The snake lunged towards Severus who had stepped towards Harry. Harry held out his hand, gesturing for everyone to move back, and stood from his seat, still comforting the snake in Parseltongue. The silence surrounded them both as Harry convinced the snake to curl itself in place.

He looked to the Headmaster then, who was watching him carefully. Harry looked around the room. It was just like his second year, shocked faces, disbelief, and accusations. Except this time he was a Slytherin, so it would be worse.

Dumbledore approached through the crowd and brought Harry back to the present with a hand on his shoulder.

"Mr. James?"

Harry looked at his Headmaster and then nodded, "She's ready, sir. She doesn't understand she was created by a spell. But, you can get rid of her without any further problem."

And it was true, the snake had held still, curled in on itself, its hood retracted and no threatening behavior since Harry had begun to instruct it so. That assistance didn't stop the whispers, which started in the hall as Dumbledore banished the snake back into the magical ether from which it had come with a softly stated, "Ipera Evanesca. "

Harry flinched as the snake dissolved, and looked to Severus. The young man, his lover, was watching him again with that impassive face which hid everything. Harry didn't know that experience could hurt so much once he'd seen what was underneath. He looked around the hall and focused on the Marauder's. They were staring at him in horror, except for Sirius Black who was saying, "I told you so," in a voice which carried.

Grabbing his bag, Harry began to rush from the hall. When he'd gone further up the table, Lucius grabbed him to halt his flight.

"You're a true Slytherin then, Harold."

The tone of voice was one he didn't recognize from the blonde young man. Harry stared at him in confusion, the inner pain drowning out his ability to understand the situation.

"We'll not trouble you or your catamite any longer. Slytherin house respects those with Salazar's gift."

Harry continued to stare, this time in shock, as Lucius did a short bow to him, accompanied by his goons. He pulled away from the restraining grasp and began to run, his shoes echoing in the halls.

He remembered what it was like in his second year, the jokes, the fear, and the paranoia. But here, in this time, there was still a basilisk in the chamber of secrets. And he'd be damned before he'd even whisper of its existence. Not to mention the bloody fact that Voldemort would probably love to try and recruit a Slytherin who was also a Parselmouth.

Against his will, Harry's feet had carried him to the Room of Requirement. It was still set as they'd left it and Harry tossed himself on the couch. It rocked slightly with the weight of his impact, but he simply lay there.

Harry wasn't sure how much later it had gotten when he became aware of a hand rubbing circles on his back. He stopped the impulse to say either 'Ron?' or 'Hermione?' realizing just in time where he was located. He breathed deeply and calmed himself, letting go of that instant adrenaline rush.

He turned his head slightly and looked into the eye's of Severus who was kneeling next to the couch. Harry turned his head away, burying it back in his arms with a muttered, "Please leave."

The rubbing didn't stop, "I'm not going to do that, Harold."

Harry pushed his head farther into the couch, the words barely making it past his arms and the fabric, "I can't handle this, Sev. It's too much, too often."

The hand moved from his back, to petting his hair, "Explain to me what's wrong, Harold."

Harry concentrated on the concern in that voice and pulled his head up, looking once again at his lover. Severus' face was no longer blank; it held his emotion and revealed it to him.

He shook his head, "That's just it, Sev. I want to, but I can't." Harry's face was anguished. He was stuck, trapped between the potentiality of paradox and his own needs. He dropped his head back onto the couch, not really knowing what he'd do.

There was a slight rustle of noise from beside him as Severus shifted, then he could feel the other man's head lying on his side, "Then I must accept that, mustn't I?"

10 Who Can You Trust?

Two weeks after the snake incident, as Harry referred to it, the school was still giving him a wide berth. It was like second year all over again, he'd walk up and conversations would stop. He'd step into a room and the students would stare. Even the Professors were acting paranoid around him. No one would talk with him without other people present, other than Severus.

But that wasn't something either he or Severus really minded, as it had been pointed out. After a study session in their lab, Harry had dropped again into his complaints about the situation. Severus had listened patiently and then simply said, "Would you prefer they follow you about and seek your favor?"

Considering the activities they were involved in when not studying, Harry definitely preferred not to have to avoid students to get some time alone with his lover.

Of course, Malfoy was acting oddly.

As he'd said, Malfoy had avoided both Harry and Severus since the incident. Harry found it odd, considering that Lucius had likely been responsible for the situation in the first place. He'd asked Severus about it, the other young man having more experience with this group of Slytherin.

Harry had forgotten that Voldemort actually had been recruiting Parselmouth speakers in his first reign of terror. The idea stopped him from wondering about it, and caused him to avoid Malfoy more than ever.

After dinner, the night before the Halloween Feast, Harry and Severus were going to return to the Slytherin common room. They'd spent enough time off by themselves to draw attention, and with the new respect from Malfoy the common room was comfortable again.

Harry didn't know what to expect, other than the usual, when Sirius Black stopped them outside the Great Hall.

"Can't you even be properly ashamed of yourself?" The question was critical and harsh. Harry rolled his eyes. He did not hold this behavior against the memory of his godfather. If he could separate both Snape and Severus in his mind, he could separate his godfather and this angry young man.

"What do you think I should be ashamed of, Black?"

A scowl answered him, "All ready to join He Who Must Not Be Named, I guess."

Harry sighed and yanked his left sleeve up his arm, shoving his forearm towards the other young man, "I am not a Death Eater, Black."

"Not yet," the answer was spit at him before his foe turned and stalked away.

Harry yielded to the insistent prodding from Severus and joined him on the way to the Slytherin common room. Not for the first time, he exhaled in frustration, "What is his problem?"

Severus shrugged slightly, "Black is disowned, from a family which has always been Slytherin and now he is Gryffindor."

Harry shook his head, not able to reveal he already knew what Sirius' problem was and that it would never be solved.

They settled into a corner of the common room, snagging two relatively secluded chairs for themselves. It was about an hour later when they were approached. Harry looked up from his transfiguration text to see Lucius waiting patiently for acknowledgement. He was definitely uncomfortable by the experience, if not slightly off put by the implied deference.

"What Malfoy?"

The acknowledgement was all the other man needed to step closer. Harry drew back slightly in his chair when Malfoy knelt beside it, darting a confused look to Severus across from him. Severus simply shook his head to show that he really didn't have any more clue than Harry.

"Harold, my Lord has directed me to bid you welcome and invite you to meet him."

Harry's eyes widened, an expression that Malfoy took for honored surprise.

"Yes, you see now. My Lord wishes to make the acquaintance of a brother of his house and gifts."

Harry managed to stumble out a reply, not needing to be attacked, but needing to get some time to consult with others first, "I must have time to consider this."

Lucius nodded, "I will carry your message to him when you are ready."

Harry watched, still shocked, as the blonde man bowed slightly and backed away from them, leaving them in privacy once again. He looked to Severus, who was watching them carefully.

"Sev, what's going on?"

The other young man shrugged slightly, "You're being recruited."

Harry shook his head, "I understood that... Why?"

Severus raised an eyebrow and looked over the room, to indicate the insecurity of their current location. "Go to our lab, I left a book out for you to look at. I'll join you in a few minutes."

***

Thirty minutes later, Harry was rereading the marked section of the charms text for a fifth time. He couldn't believe the spell that he was reading, a binding spell... He knew they existed, more elaborate versions were used for oaths of office and not surprisingly in the Dark Mark.

Turning at the sound of another person entering, Harry was still speechless. He'd grown accustomed to Severus' hair oiled into a lank mess around his head. But... Harry closed his slightly open mouth.

"Sev, you look..." He paused, unable to describe how delicious his lover looked. Severus had removed whatever he usually used to control his hair, leaving it in its natural state. That natural state being soft curls which looked neither pretentious nor overly groomed. It was a style that Muggle women often tried to achieve to impart a sexiness that couldn't be faked.

Severus flushed spots of color sticking to his high cheekbones, "You said we have nothing to hide from eachother."

Harry approached and hugged him tightly, "And I meant it." He petted the fresh hair for a moment, "I admit to liking this a lot better."

He pulled the other young man over to the table at which he'd been reading the book of spells. With their hands entwined, he stared down at the page.

"Sev, you know if we do this, it can't be undone."

A silent nod, "I am aware of that. It's a soul promise, a binding."

Harry looked to him, "Why me?"

"Because I trust you. Because my father has promised me to Voldemort and this will give me some freedom if I cannot avoid that fate." The additional thought of 'because I love you' went unsaid in the darkened room.

Harry nodded, "The Muggles would call this a hand-fasting, Sev."

Another nod, "I am aware of that as well. You need not fear it, Harold. The magic will not allow us to be bound if there will ever exist a time when we would not be suited. The spell has no opening for the Muggle concept of divorce because it has not need of one."

Harry took a deep breath, not knowing if what he was about to choose was the best idea.

"I accept your offer."

As they cast the spell, the magic bound their souls to eachother in a promise. The promise that they would protect and assist, love and cherish. The words were echoed in Muggle use, but this was between wizards and irrevocable by State or decree. When it was finished, Harry dropped into a chair from exhaustion but pulled himself back up with a startled cry of pain at pressure on his shoulder blade.

He pulled his robes loose and then removed his shirt, so that Severus could check the spot. He looked back at the other man with irritance when he chuckled.

"It's my family crest," the explanation reassured Harry, "it likely appeared to denote the success of the bond."

Severus turned and removed his own robes and shirt, showing his shoulder blade to Harry. Harry looked at it in shock for a moment, knowing that the magic hadn't been fooled. The spell had bound their soul and Harry's soul knew who he was. There, on the shoulder blade of his future potions master, was a clear and precise copy of the Potter family crest.

"You have one as well," Harry whispered.

They both reclothed themselves, intending to return to the common room. Severus stopped him before they left the room, "It would be best if no one knew of this."

Harry nodded, unsure of himself and the situation he'd caused. Was this going to be a paradox?

Severus reached out to him; "I'm not ashamed of us, Harold. But the ritual is not typically used since it is uncertain as to when it will succeed and when it will fail." He reached a long fingered hand into a pocket of his robes and withdrew a small golden item. It was a ring, designed like a twining golden snake, with emerald chips as eyes, mouth holding its own tail in a never-ending circle.

"As a public sign of our promise."

Harry accepted the ring, removing the silver one he'd received from Dumbledore, "This and my wand are the only things I have left that are me from before."

He pressed it into Severus' grasp and as they left the room there was a new comfort with eachother.

11 The Paradox of Paradox

The day of the Halloween Feast dawned clear and cold in the Hogwart's castle. It was a weekend day, the first Hogsmeade weekend combined with the glory of the evening ahead.

Harry and Severus set out with the other students from Hogwart's, the short walk into Hogsmeade a comforting reminder of the world outside the castle walls. Harry was amused to see which shops were present already. The absence of Madame Rosmerta was a touch odd to him, although he was amazed to see that Zonko's was not only present, it was doing brisk business.

He strolled with Severus down the streets before they settled on a bench in a small park. Idle conversation, insignificant and unremarkable occupied them for a few moments. Observations on classmates, on Professors, on classes, the usual chatter he remembered from his companionable times with Ron and Hermione, or the random boyfriend he'd sat with before.

It was that peace which was disturbed by an explosion.

Harry jumped at the loud noise, looking out over the buildings as the Dark Mark rose into the air several streets down. His face paled and he considered for a moment that he probably should have stayed in the castle.

Severus, for his part, had moved to his feet and pulled his wand. He backed towards the trees, "Harold, come with me. As long as we stay out of the crowds, they won't touch us."

Harry shook his head in shock. He couldn't help. He couldn't risk dying, in the here and now, because he had to be alive to defeat Voldemort in the future. It was a paradox of his morals.

He was still numb from the conflicting thoughts when Severus dragged him from the bench by his arm and out of the exposed park area. Breaking from his daze, he looked around quickly.

"The Shrieking Shack is a street over, we have to get to it."

Severus looked at him like he was delusional, but followed when Harry started to move. It was lucky for them that the attack, and most of the confusion of the attack, was centered on the other side of town where shops and students were more plentiful.

Once they reached the Shack, Harry moved around to the back searching for a door. When he found it, a quick 'Alohomora' dispensed with the lock and he went inside.

Severus watched him with confusion, but followed as Harry entered. Certain that someone had already reported the situation to the school, by owl or floo, Harry focused on getting out of the Shack and through the tunnel. It was a short trip, shorter than he'd expected at least, and he stopped by the darkened exit, his wand granting feeble light in the tunnel.

The light was enough to see the suspicion on his lover's face.

"How did you know this was here?"

Harry didn't know how to answer that question, so he tried the limited truth, "Sev..." It hurt to know he was lying to the person he really thought he loved. "I can't tell you, but you will eventually understand."

They triggered the exit and halted the movements of the still young Whomping Willow with the long stick that had been left inside for just that purpose. Together, they ran for the castle, hurrying inside past younger students who had not yet heard, aimed for the Headmaster's office.

Once there, Harry opened it with the password he still knew. At the top, the Headmaster was waiting, concerned. Harry attempted to force out an explanation through his wheezing lack of breath, but was interrupted.

"We've been told, Mr. James. Wait here until I return."

When the Headmaster had flooed away, Severus turned to Harry.

"I think it's time you told me what was happening, Harold."

Harry reached out as he spoke, "Sev."

Severus pulled back and sat himself in one of the chairs in front of the desk, "Sit, and tell me. No more lies." His voice was angry, his expression inscrutable.

Harry grimaced, but sat, "I can't tell you, Sev. I want to, by Merlin, I want to. I can't."

"Then tell me what you can."

There was a pause as Harry considered how to construct his explanation; "I have to leave. I can't stay here at Hogwart's any longer. I can't explain and I can't tell you where I'm going."

A pained expression broke through the emotionless mask; "You're just leaving?"

Harry closed his eyes, hoping this would be easier without having to look at the person he'd grown to care for so much.

"Yes."

"If you're not here, I will have no way to avoid my family's pressures."

They both understood what Severus referred to, but felt no need to be more specific in this location.

"I know," there was obvious regret in Harry's voice as he spoke, but he continued, "I love you, Sev. I know you'll come to hate me, but try to remember that I was always honest about that."

Harry could hear sounds that told him the other boy was moving. He opened his eyes when he felt the presence of someone in front of him. Severus leaned down and kissed him. It was gentle and sweet, and brought tears to both their eyes at the thought of goodbye.

"We are bound to eachother for eternity. Return to me when you can."

Harry sat, still silent, as his lover turned and left the office. Alone, he no longer tried to keep the tears in check. They tracked down his cheeks and were his only outward expression of the grief he was feeling.

Three hours later, the office had grown cold to Harry, even with the blazing fire waiting for Dumbledore's return. When the Headmaster did return, he looked silently at his young charge before taking a seat at the desk. Harry was the first to speak.

"It's time for me to leave. I know you can't send me back, but this is probably for the best."

Dumbledore nodded, "It will be difficult."

Harry's laughter had a cynical edge, "But Voldemort will expect the child and face the man instead."

The Headmaster nodded, "I have made the necessary arrangements. You will have money to help, and be able to graduate as of this class year. The legal request to merge your birth identity with this current one has been filed, sealed of course, and will be opened on the specified date."

It was Harry's turn to nod; "I'll remain in hiding as we agreed. Then, I'll travel. I know enough about what should happen to keep myself out of trouble."

The Headmaster stood, "As your Secret Keeper, I will guard you."

Harry stood as well, "As the Secret, I will remain hidden."

It was a verbal restatement of a pact. One that, while not pleasant, was necessary. Harry had gotten rather sick of doing what was necessary in life and was looking forward to the day when he could just be himself.

Stepping towards the fire, ready to floo to where he'd remain in hiding, he stopped. He didn't know if his next words would cause a paradox, or prevent one, but he loved Severus too much to take the chance.

"Albus... When he comes to you, when he repents, protect him. Keep him safe for me."

The Headmaster nodded, and laid a hand on the younger man's shoulder. After Harry had disappeared in a gush of green flame, he thought once again that it was improper that so much had been laid on those young shoulders.

12 The Hidden Years

Over the space of twenty years, emerald eyes had seen the world. They'd changed, from the knowledgeable but slightly nave eyes of a young adult, to the seasoned and measuring eyes of an almost forty year old man.

It hadn't been easy to remain hidden. And, occasionally, he'd broken his hiding to watch, under concealment glamour, as some bit of his history occurred. He'd kept track of the date, or the British wizarding papers, even when he traveled.

As a turban wearing Easterner, he'd joined the celebrations in Diagon Alley on the night that he, the one-year-old he, had banished Voldemort. It was a bizarre experience, watching these crowds celebrate fate.

Years later, he returned to Diagon Alley again. This time, he'd been absent as he studied meditation and magic in the Eastern lands. It was the turban that had given him the idea. And off he'd gone, to see how magic was dealt with and if there was anything new he could learn. His stay, upon returning, was short. For as he walked down Diagon Alley, covered under yet another concealing charm, he'd spotted his bondmate exiting from Knockturn Alley. The sight was a physical impact and it took most of his willpower not to approach. The experience drove him away.

That time he went to Egypt. Deep inside, he found it amusing to work with Gringott's and their curse breakers. To the professionals, he was an independent; someone hired on for the difficult jobs. After a young redhead by the name of Weasley was hired, he knew it was time to move on. But there, in those dusty lands, he found his companion.

In actuality, the phoenix found him. Scarlet and gold, as he remembered Fawkes, this one had slightly different markings and a similar attitude. He'd named her Isis and she accepted it. And when he'd readied himself to leave, she had followed. In dark times, when his memory overtook him and the longing to go home early was steep and sharp, she comforted him.

When he left Egypt, he went to South America. South America was hot; the same as Egypt had been, but the presence of water in the very air he breathed made his stay a short one. Short, for someone on a twenty year enforced absence, meant only a year or two.

This time when he returned, he chose to stay in England. Although the wizarding community was small, there was still enough room for an isolated eccentric who avoided others. It gave him the chance to walk in Diagon Alley, to shake his head over the press coverage of his youth spent at Hogwart's, and to wait.

For all that time, he was waiting.

Other than Isis, the comfort for his mind was his communication with Albus. They were coded, of course. Letters locked and sealed under protections and curses new and old. Carried, always, by either Isis or Fawkes. Neither wizard considered that anyone capable of removing a scroll from the grasp of a phoenix could likely defeat their protections. The protections themselves were an amusement. A way to trade knowledge and jest with eachother.

Those letters sustained him. They carried news, reassurances, and life giving faith that the world was waiting for him. He knew, deep inside, that most would not reject him. He knew that Dumbledore carried the whole story and would comfort him. However, he still wanted to return to his bondmate. Thinking about him was a physical ache, an absence that would not be healed. Part of him wondered whether Severus would kill him on sight. Part of him didn't care anymore.

And, finally, his waiting was over. As he prepared to close out his life as Harold James, Harry took stock of his things. He would give Dumbledore two weeks after his disappearance before returning, that they'd agreed. But that didn't mean he couldn't send presents.

13 The Return

Ron poked at his dinner and nodded with commiseration as his girlfriend continued to complain.

"He gave us two more feet today, Ron. Two feet!" She slammed her fork down on the table and glared at the high table, "I don't know what's wrong with Professor Snape, but I finally agree with you. He's evil."

Ron smirked and stayed silent. He'd tried suggesting she drop the class the first time, pranks and jokes the second, by the third day he knew well enough to stay silent.

Hermione settled down after a moment and Ron reached out to her. She sighed heavily, "I know Dumbledore said Harry would be back in a week, but I'm so worried."

Ron squeezed her hand gently, "I know, Mione, I am too."

They both looked up as the cry of a phoenix broke through the normal chatter sounds of dinnertime. In confusion, they noted that Fawkes was silently perched on the upper edge of Dumbledore's chair. Following the Headmaster's glance, they turned to see a new phoenix, appearing out of nowhere at the back of the hall, make its way to the head table.

The students below the bird leaned and moved. It was carrying what looked like a hugely heavy chest as it flew. No matter how many knew that a phoenix could carry the weight, it made them none the less willing to run the risk of having it dropped on them.

The phoenix coasted to a stop at the front of the Head Table, releasing the chest gently although it still settled with a heavy sounding noise and a slight rattle as the chain which had wrapped it, the point by which it had been carried by the phoenix, settled to the ground. Free of its burden, the phoenix offered the letter in its beak to the Headmaster.

Curiosity was rampant in the hall as the Headmaster read the letter. The silence was almost absolute as dinner continued, but everyone waited to see if they could find out what was happening. Minutes passed before the Headmaster closed the paper and tucked it into his robes. He rose from his seat and walked down the staff table to say a few words to Professor Snape. Then, rather than exiting through the staff doors, he walked out among the tables, headed for Gryffindor.

Ron's eyes widened slightly when Dumbledore stopped next to him, "Mr. Weasley, Ms. Granger, come with me please."

They stood and followed, shrugging at the inquisitive glances and questions from their housemates. The students watched as Snape levitated the trunk and followed the Headmaster and the two students.

Once inside the Headmaster's office, the two students took seats and watched, not knowing their place, as their potions master struggled not to say anything. Finally, the suspense was lifted when he failed.

"Albus, what is going on?" Rather than massively irritated, Snape sounded exhausted. Ron and Hermione turned to the Headmaster, still not knowing their part.

"The letter and chest are from Mr. Potter. He has asked me to distribute its contents prior to his arrival."

Ron and Hermione traded a glance and looked quickly at their professor. Dumbledore could have floated the chest, what was Snape doing here? Especially a Snape who had now dropped his head into his hands and seemed to be desperately trying to ignore the room.

It was an odd thing to think that you could forget about a phoenix, but they had. The bird, which'd apparently followed them all, hopped from its makeshift perch at the back of the room and moved to the potions master shoulder. Its trills echoed in the space as it rubbed its head on him.

Ron was aghast at the scene, but Hermione stilled, letting her thoughts move. She'd read something about phoenixes... Something that should explain this. The Headmaster interrupted before she could draw her conclusion.

"Since Isis seems to like you, Severus, perhaps you should care for her."

The Headmaster ignored the death glare that was coming out from underneath the dangling hair of his youngest professor. Instead, he turned his attention to the two students. With a wave of his wand, the chain fell away from the chest and the lid opened. There wasn't much inside. Hundreds of what looked like letters, and a few books on top.

"Mr. Weasley, Harry has instructed me that you are to keep his Firebolt. He has acquired a new broom."

Ron was shocked, but pleased beyond imaging, "Wow..."

The Headmaster continued, "Ms. Granger, the books are for you."

Hermione leaned closer and examined the three books that were lying at the top of the chest's contents. They were fascinating, ones she hadn't even seen in the school library, and at least one seemed to be written in an oriental language. She reached out and picked them up carefully, revealing a single letter that wasn't filed, but laying at the top. The outer part bore only a single word, "Severus."

As she picked up her gift from her friend, Hermione recognized the handwriting. It looked like Harry's, but not exactly... And since when did he address Snape by his first name? Hermione staunched her curiosity for the moment as the Headmaster spoke.

"You can return to your common room now."

Ron and Hermione departed the office quickly, leaving Snape and Dumbledore alone. Snape began to reach out for the top note, but stopped himself, huddling back into the chair.

"What are they, Albus?"

"Letters. I knew he wrote them, but I didn't know he kept them. One a week, for the last twenty years."

Snape reached out and closed the lid on the chest; "I'll take them with me."

The Headmaster nodded, allowing his potions master the dignity to peruse his personal issues in private.

"Shall I give your regrets to the Order, or will you attend with me tonight?"

Snape looked conflicted for a moment, but then resolved, "I will not avoid a meeting to wallow in the past." His voice was harsh, but Dumbledore suspected it was harshness directed more at himself than any outside influence.

"Then let us depart."

***

An hour later the Order of the Phoenix had gathered. They still met in the Most Ancient and Noble House of Black. It belonged, these days, to one Remus Lupin. In the absence of an insane house elf, it was now a quite pleasant and secure place for them to meet.

As Dumbledore called the meeting to order, the participants settled into quiet. The only unusual face was Bill Weasley, who was on leave from Gringott's and able to join them. Snape held himself in the corner, not able to bear the close camaraderie of the table.

"The issue before us tonight is Mr. Harry Potter."

The silent broke as Dumbledore spoke, several voices speaking at once. They were quite dissatisfied, not having gotten their answers. The babble was broken over by the voice of one Molly Weasley, "Where is the boy, Albus? Is he quite all right?"

Dumbledore held up a hand to gain silence, "Mr. Potter is fine. Although I am here to inform you that he is no longer the boy you remember."

More noise, more questions, and Snape smirked in the background. If Albus expected them to take this calmly, he'd been mistaken, and if Snape had to be in pain, he was certainly willing to have others inconvenienced. From the corner of his eye, he noted another person entering the kitchen meeting area and pulled his wand, subtly pointed as he turned.

At the sight of the person standing there, he froze, shocked into inaction. Harold had certainly aged well. He was robust, and handsome as someone approaching forty. Of course, considering the extended life spans of wizards, this was hardly a surprise. Harry turned a quick glance on his bondmate, raising an eyebrow at the pointed wand. Then, turning to the room, he interrupted the ruckus to spare Dumbledore.

"I know my coming out party wasn't for another week, but I thought you might need some help, Albus."

The room came to a stop as all the witches and wizards present turned to the newcomer. The long hair, drawn back at the nape, left his face and forehead clear. There, pale against his tanned skin, was the scar. The room might have burst into movement and attack, not believing the presence of an adult Boy Who Lived, if it weren't for Dumbledore's reaction.

"Welcome back, Harry."

14 Reunions

There was an outburst after Dumbledore's greeting, suspicions voiced, amazement shared, and a general noise level. Harry just shook his head and walked over towards Dumbledore. He looked over the Order, noting who was doubting him, who looked shell-shocked, and most importantly to him, the impassive visage of his bondmate.

"It's been awhile, Albus."

The older wizard smiled, "Far too long, my boy."

Harry reached out and pulled his old Headmaster into a hug, surprising himself with the fierceness of his emotions now that he was back. Deep inside, he suspected that part of the emotional upheaval was being in physical proximity after denying his soul bond for twenty years. He'd deal with that later, though. He didn't believe Severus would appreciate placing their private business on spectacle before the Order.

Turning from Dumbledore, Harry noticed that the only person who'd quieted down was Remus Lupin. He held his hands up, "Look, I know this is a shock. Does anyone have Veritaserum?"

There was quiet at that, and rummaging. Harry wasn't surprised when a throat was cleared at the back of the room and an elegant hand held out a clear glass vial. Harry swallowed; he missed this man so dearly.

"Thank you, Professor Snape."

The vial was passed to the front of the table and Harry settled into Dumbledore's seat. The dosage was measured, administered, and silence gripped the room while they waited for the serum to take effect. It was clear when it did, a goofy grin crept onto Harry's face, breaking the mask of casual amusement which he'd worn since he'd entered the room. The grin was unfocused, and none of those observing noticed that it was focused towards the back of the room.

Alastor Moody, suspicious as always, spoke quietly with Dumbledore before stepping up to conduct the questioning.

"What is your name?"

A rapid series of blinking before an answer, "I was born Harry James Potter, I have lived as Harold James."

"What happened one week ago when you disappeared from Hogwart's?"

"In the attack, I was knocked to the ground. I activated the portkey Dumbledore gave me. One of the Death Eaters had tried to use the Killing Curse on me. The two interacted and I found myself in the past."

"Where and When in the past?"

"Hogwart's. My father's seventh year."

"How did you return?"

Harry's dazed gaze didn't seem to focus on anything in particular, "The hard way. There was no way to send me back. I've lived since under the name Albus gave me. I couldn't come back until I had left."

Moody sighed and nodded, looking towards the others to see if they had any questions. Bill Weasley spoke up, "A few years ago, were you working in Egypt?"

A slow nod, "Yes. I had to leave. Saw him in Diagon Alley. Wanted to stay." Harry's voice began to choke up, "By Merlin, I wanted to stay, tell him, beg..."

His voice tapered off as Dumbledore laid a hand on his shoulder, "Stop, Harry."

Silence came from the man in the chair as Dumbledore looked over the Order; "There will be no other private questions." The forbidding glance quelled some of the curiosity, but it was obvious some still stayed.

The rakish elder Weasley son looked sheepish, "Sorry Harry... Some of the team thought you were rather hot. I just wanted to know for sure who we were drooling over and whether he was still available." A grin and shrug at the man's parents brought forgiveness on a sigh from his mother.

Harry, still heavily under the influence, spoke, "Never was available. I am bound."

What silence there had been grew deeper as the wizards stared at the newly reappeared Harry Potter. Molly Weasley spoke up before she could resist, "Harry, Why?"

The goofy grin widened, "Loved him... Love him still."

The members of the Order jumped slightly in their seats as the glass pitcher of pumpkin juice, which had rested in the middle of the table, shattered, showering them with shards and stickiness. Dumbledore gave a warning glance to his potions master to get himself under control, but took the opportunity to cast a silencing charm on Harry Potter to protect from further questions.

"That will be enough. He is both Harry Potter and Harold James. Legally, we entered the request to merge the two years ago. For now, he will hide at the school as Harry. The final battle approaches and Voldemort will not expect to face an experienced man."

There were nods all around, as the Order understood the importance of this secret. People took their leave, heading home to clean up, any minor cuts healed with whispered words of magic. Before much longer, only Dumbledore, Lupin, Snape, and Harry remained in the room.

Remus hadn't moved from his seat, but now he looked to the Professor and then to the Headmaster, "I was in that class, Albus. I remember him."

Dumbledore nodded, and let the werewolf continue.

"James... Sirius... We treated him like dirt."

A scoffing noise from behind him made Remus turn and face the sneer of displeasure, "You treated all Slytherin poorly, or don't you recall?"

Remus stood, "I remember enough to make a damn good guess about whom he bound himself to."

The two wizards moved closer, facing eachother and taking measure, "Do you have an accusation to make, wolf?"

"Did you take advantage of him?"

That soft, scoffing laughter again, "He was the one who knew us... Perhaps that's a question better addressed to Mr. Potter?"

Dumbledore interrupted, "Enough." The two shared a glance then stayed silent; "We have an enemy to face. One that Harry has yet again made great sacrifices to defeat."

Remus stepped forward, "He can stay here. I'll take care of him."

Dumbledore shook his head, "No, he must return to Hogwart's. Under disguise, he must resume classes until Voldemort can be lured out."

Snape shook his head harshly, sending his hair furling in all directions rather like he tended to do with his robes, "I will not teach him!"

The headmaster frowned slightly, "We must all act as if none of it occurred."

Unwilling to admit he wasn't sure if it was possible, Snape contented himself with glaring at his mentor. Dumbledore turned and waved his wand, releasing Harry from the silencing spell, "Remus, join me in the hall a moment."

Dumbledore and Lupin slipped out of the kitchen, the door closing firmly behind them, before Snape's growl of, "Albus!" could be translated into irritated action.

15 Confrontation

Silence stretched in the mostly empty room before Harry just couldn't take it any longer, "I missed you." The statement was met by more silence at first and then the irritated scrape of a chair on the floor as Snape sat himself at the far reaches of the tables.

"Don't be ridiculous, Mr. Potter. You've barely been gone a week."

Harry arched an eyebrow, "Don't be ridiculous, Severus, in my perspective, it's been twenty years."

There was no response from the other end of the table as Snape considered whether he could put an end to his misery and if the Killing Curse would work when cast on yourself.

"Severus... The last thing you said to me was to return. I can now, so this is when I'm back."

Harry's overture was met with anger, a clear rage shining in the eyes of the other man, "Was it a joke to you, Mr. Potter? Humiliate the boy who would be your most hated Professor?"

He flinched at the reaction and admitted to himself that this would be much harder than he'd expected, "No, Severus, it was never a joke."

Silence, again, weighty with the words that weren't being said.

"At first you were the only one there to be a friend. I was in Slytherin; the Marauders weren't going to accept me. And who else in Slytherin could I even trust to speak with?"

"So you chose to torment me?"

Harry shook his head, "I chose to torment myself. By letting myself fall in love with a boy who I knew would likely hate me later."

Snape stood, and began to pace at the far end of the room. Far from pondering whether the Killing Curse would work on one's self, he pondered whether Dumbledore would really be rather pissed if he killed their hope for defeating the Dark Lord.

Harry, however, was not above begging, "Severus, please..."

Snape halted, his robes swirling ferociously around him before settling, "Please what, Mr. Potter?" The comment was harsh and biting, the rabid snapping of a person too long neglected.

"To start with, please stop calling me that... I haven't gone by Potter for twenty years and it sounds odd to me."

A sharp sneer, "That is your problem, Mr. Potter."

Harry stood, leaning on his hands on the table, "Why must you be so difficult?"

A raised eyebrow to accompany the sneer, "Didn't you just state that you were aware I would be," a hesitation, "displeased with you?"

Harry sighed, "Making me more a fool to hope you would try to understand."

Snape stalked closer, his voice quieter, but no less intense, "What you should try to understand, Mr. Potter, is precisely what you did to me..."

Harry looked up, a creeping smirk making it obvious he remembered clearly the things he'd done to Severus. Snape continued, the only sign that he was aware of the double meaning of his own words, a creeping flush at the tops of his cheekbones, "Do you believe I was pleased to discover that the person I bound myself to was the same irritating brat who refused to seriously accept his fate?"

"I remember the first day of term, before I disappeared. You knew when I walked in the hall, didn't you?"

Snape drew back, as if struck. Harry continued, pressing the point, "You left the feast. That noise was you." His bondmate had drawn back, but Harry moved away from his chair, trapping the other man against the table. The position likely wouldn't have worked if Snape hadn't been trying to avoid physical contact. Where once Harry had been slightly larger, Severus had come into his full height and stood several inches over him.

The taller man flinched as Harry put a hand to his cheek, "Merlin, Severus, I am sorry." The grief was genuine in his eyes and Snape pulled away, his breath hitching in his chest. They could both feel the effect of the physical contact. The bond, that link which had lain dormant in their distance from each other, had sprung back to life.

It was familiar, and yet different from before. An awareness of eachother, their presence, their magical signature, their emotional state. The room was almost suffocating in its intensity as their minds adjusted to the reaffirmed presence of the bond. Harry felt the slight pain in his shoulder at the location of his mark, and suspected that Severus was experiencing the same ache. He wondered, not for the first time, if he could use the bond to banish Voldemort's claim on his love. Harry could feel, distantly, the constant ache that Severus experienced from the Dark Mark on his forearm. He felt the need to apologize for the headache the other man would likely have after a Voldemort induced vision. A slight snort as he realized that the Occlumency would really come in handy to preserve both of them.

"Since you will be returning in disguise as a student, Mr. Potter, you'd do best to keep your distance."

Snape crossed his arms, clutching his robes to himself as an anchor for reality. He sneered, but to Harry's observation it looked forced. Harry sighed and moved towards the door, "For now, Severus. Only for now."

It sounded like a warning, which it was, and Harry abandoned the point to step into the hall and join the Headmaster. They would all be traveling back to Hogwart's. It was time to lure their quarry.

16 Adjustments

The small group, minus Remus Lupin, flooed from the House of Black directly to the Headmaster's office at Hogwart's. Once there, Snape didn't even bother with pleasantries before slamming the door open and stalking back to the safety of the dungeons.

Harry shook his head at the action; "He's not too pleased with me."

Dumbledore smiled slightly, "I imagine not, Harry."

The older wizard sat himself behind the desk and Harry mirrored the action, making himself comfortable as his mind adjusted once again to the impressive aura of magic in the castle. Noting that the Headmaster wasn't going to start this conversation, he spoke up.

"I do have one request, Albus."

A slight nod encouraged him to continue, "I would like to be placed in a guest suite, rather than back into Gryffindor Tower."

The Headmaster seemed to consider it, "Your friends may find that unusual."

Harry snorted, "My friends are seventeen. I am not. I will have to operate continuously under a set of glamour spells until Voldemort's dead. I believe I can manage this for classes and general activities, but I will need some time to myself."

Dumbledore nodded, "There is a suitable space in the North Tower. You will need to reside in the dormitory tonight, but I will inform you tomorrow when the suite is ready."

Then it was Harry's turn to nod, "That would be fine then, thank you."

"Then it is time to change your look. The professors are all aware of the situation, and you may speak to them of it freely."

Harry took out his wand, and pulled a slightly battered leather case from an inner pocket of his robes. He opened it a moment, looking at the picture inside. He'd carried this picture for twenty years, now he had to make himself look like the boy in it once more. Concentration was the key in a glamour charm and concentration, not to mention willpower, he had.

Minutes later, he looked to the Headmaster, then stood and walked across the office, "How does it look?"

Dumbledore smiled sadly, "Like Harry Potter has returned."

Harry sighed, "I rather suspect answering to my name is going to be the most difficult part of this."

The older man crossed to his protg and laid a hand on his shoulder, "I do apologize, Harry. For all that you've had to bear."

Harry smiled, "Albus... I do it willingly. If I didn't, it would have been obvious long ago. I rather think of myself as keeping Neville from having to suffer through it."

Dumbledore smiled, "Then go reacquaint yourself with the school."

***

Harry strolled through the castle, knowing he had some time before curfew and none too anxious to go directly to Gryffindor tower. When he found his feet attempting to pull him to the dungeons, he forced himself to face his friends.

As Harry entered Gryffindor Tower, it took all his concentration and self control not to hex his over-enthusiastic teenage friends. He knew then that he'd spent too many years isolated from other people. Hermione's hug, the group of them babbling their concerns, it was overwhelming. Reaching inside, Harry had to lock his emotions away with Occlumency to avoid running then and there.

Concentrating, he made himself smile as he was led to one of the chairs by the fire and seated with his friends. It had been a long time since he last saw Hermione and Ron. To himself, at least, if not to them. It was awkward, but thankfully they were too excited to notice his rampaging and conflicting emotions before he'd locked them away.

"Where have you been?" Hermione's inquiry was part question and part demand. Ron just rolled his eyes and pulled his girlfriend down to sit in his lap as they sat across from Harry. The other Gryffindors had drifted away, allowing the trio their chance to regroup and rebond.

"Training," Harry answered with a slightly sly grin barely breaking across his face. He forestalled any further questions by continuing, "This will be my last night in the dormitory. The Headmaster is giving my private rooms tomorrow."

Ron seemed to be even more shocked than the female on his lap, "Harry, why?"

Harry shrugged and tried to formulate an answer which would both satisfy and be suitably vague, "The final confrontation's coming. I guess Dumbledore wants to show me a little favor before I rid the wizarding world of its Voldemort problem." Try as he might, the resentment seeped into his voice.

"But Harry..." Hermione started before Ron laid a hand on her arm, silencing her.

Ron spoke up, interrupting, "When?"

Harry sighed and slumped into the chair. He was too old for this charade. "Soon, I can't say anything more. Dumbledore suspects another Pettigrew."

The comment silenced his two friends as they glanced around the room with paranoia. Harry felt a moment's guilt for tricking them into silence, but shelved it. It saved him the trouble of lies that would be found out soon enough anyway.

Hermione was much quieter when she next spoke, "Are you going to be okay?"

Harry just nodded, "Yeah. It will all be over soon." He stood, feeling awkward and disconnected from these teenagers he hadn't seen in twenty years, "I'm going to get some sleep. I'll see you in class tomorrow."

They watched Harry leave the room, followed by echoes of goodnights. The general feeling in the Tower was much improved with their shining star back among them.

Ron waited a few moments, and with a communicating glance at his girlfriend followed his best friend. He opened the door to the seventh year boy's dormitory to catch sight of Harry's back as he pulled on a pajama top. What he saw stunned him and he quickly closed the door. Harry turned at the soft sound, but the door was already shut and he settled into bed. Once again in the castle, and here he was alone, several stories above where he really wanted to be sleeping.

***

Ron rushed back into the common room and grabbed Hermione, "Your room, now."

His harsh whisper hurried them through the room to the suite reserved for the Head Girl. After they entered, Ron cast a silencing spell on the area around them and turned to his girlfriend who was fast growing irritated.

"What's going on, Ron? I thought you wanted to talk to Harry."

"Harry has a bondmark."

Hermione seemed confused and Ron had a moment's pride in knowing something she hadn't read about before. "What's a bondmark?"

Ron sat heavily in the desk chair as Hermione perched on the bed; "It's a wizarding thing. A bond is like a marriage, but it involves souls and it's irrevocable."

Hermione gasped softly; "Do you think that's where he's been the last week? Why would he have gotten married?"

Ron ran a hand through his hair, mussing the red locks into clumps, "I don't know... Maybe it's something with the Order and Voldemort."

"What's it look like? Maybe we can research it and see what it might mean."

Her boyfriend's face tightened and it looked like he was clenching his teeth for a moment, "Hermione, it looked like the Snape family crest."

Hermione's intake of breath preceded a long moment of silence in the room, "You don't think Dumbledore would have made them?"

Ron shook his head, "I don't know... Snape's been even worse than usual lately. But no one should be able to force this. It has to be a willing act."

"How do you know about this?"

Ron looked insulted, "Come on, Mione... Is it so hard to believe I'd know something you didn't."

A sarcastic look was his only answer, so he continued, "My parents are bound. Not all married couples are, and Mum's always been so proud that she and Dad were able to make the spell work."

Hermione nodded slightly, and Ron knew what was coming next, "Why do our long research sessions in the library always revolve around Harry?"

Ron just grinned at the woman he loved.

17 Awkwardness

Sitting in the Great Hall for breakfast, across from Ron and Hermione, Harry felt distinctly out of place. He'd had to examine his schedule that morning, just to remember where he was supposed to be first and the order of his classes. Luckily, he had a decent enough memory so it was little trouble to recall the schedule.

"What?" He finally couldn't help the outburst at the latest of several odd glances from Ron.

The redhead flushed and was silent. Harry looked to Hermione, but knew she was lying when she answered because of the way her eyes shifted, "We're just worried about you Harry."

He ignored the exchange and focused on breakfast. He'd be much happier with the entire situation once he could be himself and not pretend to be seventeen again. As if it hadn't been bad enough the first time around.

***

Several hours later, Harry had the consolation of knowing that at least classes were easy. But, then again, they'd better be easy or Voldemort was going to fry him.

He skived off Divination to duck by Dumbledore's office for a short while. Giving the password ("Reese's Pieces") to the guardian, he rode the stairs up and was quickly beckoned inside.

"Albus," with a nod, he greeted the older wizard and took a seat until the Headmaster could spare his full attention. He glanced around the room, pleased to see Fawkes, but confused for a moment, "Where's Isis? I expected she'd be keeping Fawkes company."

Dumbledore looked up with a twinkling grin and Harry just knew what the older man was going to say, "Isis took quite a shine to Severus. I believe he's taking care of her. You don't mind, of course?"

Harry couldn't help the answering grin, "Not in the least. He won't harm her and she might just be my best persuasive tool."

The Headmaster shook his head slightly, chuckling, "How is your plan to confront Voldemort proceeding?"

It was the younger wizard's turn to chuckle, "Should be public news in a day or two. I believe a Ministry protest will follow it by mere hours, if that long."

Idle chitchat occupied the better part of a few hours, as Harry took comfort in not having to pretend and Dumbledore permitted him that respite. They both looked up at a slight knock on the door that was shortly followed by Professor McGonagall's entrance.

She looked to Harry with an expression of mild irritation, "Now we know why Mr. Potter was not in Transfiguration today."

Harry smiled sheepishly, "Sorry, Professor."

McGonagall waved his response off, "No matter, Mr. Potter. You hardly need the lesson. In fact, I was only looking for you because I owe you an apology."

Harry looked confused, and glanced at Dumbledore but no explanation was forthcoming.

"It was shaming, for me to discover that I had treated you so poorly simply because you were sorted into Slytherin."

Harry spoke up, "Professor, there's no need," but he was interrupted when she continued.

"There is a need, Mr. Potter. I have always been quite critical of those who favor their own houses to the point that they deride others. Finding myself guilty of that action brought me to a long overdue realization that I was far too judging of others. You have my apologies for that."

The man nodded, "That is good of you, Professor, but I held no ill will for it."

She smiled, "That's because you've always been a good person, Harry. I would be honored if you would call me Minerva."

He grinned, "The honor is mine. Hopefully soon I'll be able to cast off the disguise and not limit myself to doing so only in private."

The wizards and witch shared a moment of companionable silence before McGonagall spoke up again, "Speaking of disguise, aren't you late for Potions?"

Harry blanched, "Oh, bugger." Grabbing his bag, he rushed from the room with hurried good-byes.

***

Harry stumbled into the Potions classroom, noting with a silent string of profanity that the students were already seated and Severus had already begun to lecture. In fact, that same Professor noted his arrival with malicious delight.

"Ah, Mr. Potter... After your vacation, one might have thought you'd have learned punctuality."

Harry ruthlessly squashed the impulse to respond to his bondmate's criticism. Instead, he forced himself to remember his role, comforting himself with the idea that it wouldn't last too much longer.

"Sorry, Professor."

Snape's eyes lit up, "Indeed you are, Mr. Potter."

Harry clenched his teeth at the wave of righteous indignation flooding him and ignored the jolt of amused revenge coming from the bond. This wasn't helping. He had a passing thought that he should have insisted Dumbledore get him out of Potions.

Apparently some part of the emotions tied to that thought went through the bond, because Snape raised an elegant eyebrow, "Have a seat, Mr. Potter, and stop interrupting my class."

Harry moved towards what he recalled as his usual place with Ron and Hermione, only to be halted by further speech, "No, Mr. Potter. I think today you should work on your own."

The Professor was gesturing towards a long seat, slightly isolated from the others and Harry sat with a suppressed grimace. The lecture continued and he prepared his ingredients for the day's potion. At the end of the lecture start, he stared blankly at the board instructing them on the potion for the day. He was struck with sudden dilemma... Pretend inadequacy and save himself from demonstrating the potion, or complete it successfully and make a fool out of himself.

His pondering of the dilemma was interrupted by that silky, yet irritating voice, "Is there a problem, Mr. Potter?"

Harry looked up and met his bondmate's eyes. From the light dancing in them, despite the sneer, and the perverse pleasure coming through the link, Harry knew that Severus was aware of his problem.

"Sorry, Professor... But, Desirata? Is that a good idea to have us brew?"

The sneer got wider, "If my curriculum does not suit you, Mr. Potter, then perhaps you should have dropped Potions when you could?"

Harry pressed the point, trying to communicate his discomfort silently without breaking his enforced role, "Professor, my disagreement is only with the idea of having to test my creation. I don't wish to share my deepest desires with the class."

His answer was practically snarled back, and Harry considered that he really should have sent some of those letters over the years and damn the consequences.

"Then perhaps you should have considered that a long time ago, Mr. Potter!"

As his Professor and bondmate stalked away in a swirl of robes to torment others in the class, Harry got to work. He was going to make this potion and make it correctly. After all, Snape wouldn't dare have him sample it, as the result would humiliate him as well... Unless he doubted Harry, in which case the result would surely come as a surprise.

Those thoughts occupied his head and the rest of the room tuned out as he worked steadily and diligently. There were some confused glances from around the room as Harry worked. He'd barely demonstrated competency a week before, but now he was working as quickly and smoothly as the Professor himself.

Harry paused in his stirring and removed the fire, the potion having become a smooth crimson liquid. He smiled at the result, perfect to his eyes, and judging from the grudging respect coming from the bond, perfectly acceptable to his Professor and bondmate. He looked up and met the other man's eyes.

"Acceptable, Professor?"

There was a moment of silent communication, where Harry realized that Snape doubted his idea of having Harry test the potion. The snicker from Malfoy across the room broke their gazes and Snape turned with a scowl.

"Is there a problem, Mr. Malfoy?"

Draco looked confused; a week ago his slight snicker would have gone either unnoticed or ignored, "Nothing Professor."

He looked even further confused when Snape pressed the point, "Indeed, Mr. Malfoy?"

"I'm sorry, Professor, it's just the idea of Potter making a potion correctly."

Snape's sneer was critical, and if Draco had been a little more observant, he might have been concerned, "Then you shall test it for him, Mr. Malfoy."

Draco suddenly looked very concerned as he stepped over to the cauldron at his Professor's gesture. As a small ladle was taken and a goblet prepared, he glared at Harry. Harry, himself, was slightly curious. What was the deepest heart's desire of Draco Malfoy?

Moments passed after the blonde boy drank, his face contorted, first at the taste, then at his attempts to avoid speaking. Finally, the magic of the potion heavy in his veins, he couldn't resist its pull any further. The class watched with interest as Draco Malfoy swayed for a moment, then lunged across the table at Harry. There were several of the students that were completely certain, in that instant, that they knew Malfoy's deepest desire... That it was to kill the Boy Who Lived.

Moments later, as the blonde boy dragged the dark-headed young man into a kiss, they simply stared in shock. Harry froze, not quite believing what was occurring, and made sure to keep his mouth tightly closed. He couldn't help but be startled that Malfoy's deepest desire was to snog him.

He found relief a scant seconds later, as a tight hand came down on Draco's neck and dragged him away from Harry Potter. The Professor looked infuriated, "What do you think you are doing, Mr. Malfoy?"

Draco simply looked slightly dazed as he looked up at his head of household with confusion. The silence didn't ameliorate the Potions Master. "Twenty points from Slytherin, Malfoy, for your poor taste."

Harry flinched and decided he'd had just about as much of the potions class as he could take. With Snape's attention elsewhere, he quickly threw his possessions into his bag and hurried from the room. On his way, he refused to glance at anyone, teacher or student. There was silence as he left, a bewildered silence of young adults wondering what had just happened.

***

Hidden in his rooms later, Harry ignored the insistent knocking of Ron and Hermione. He was satisfied to have dinner delivered by Dobby, who stayed to share a few minutes of non-judgmental conversation. Once he'd judged it late enough, he exited the room. A long time ago, to him, Dumbledore had said he had ways of being invisible that didn't involve a cloak. Harry now shared those ways, his twenty years in the world having been put to good use.

Creeping through the halls, he was unnoticed when he settled himself into the office of his bondmate. He knew Severus would be returning from his evening prowl soon, and chose to simply wait.

When the dark-clothed man entered, his robes swirling furiously, Harry spoke up before his presence could be expounded upon with multiple invectives.

"I'm willing to test the Desirata now, Severus."

His bondmate stared at him for a few moments, his face closed and unrevealing. Harry thought that he must have been expending quite a bit of personal effort to do that, for the bond was telling him nothing at all either. With a few muttered words, Snape had sealed the room behind locks and silencing spells. Then, with a smooth movement, he pulled a vial from his pocket, the crimson liquid inside glinting in the torchlight.

Harry echoed the silent in picking up the vial and popping it open. He did his best to demonstrate his trust in this man by not smelling it, or checking the liquid in any way before swallowing the contents down. Severus took a seat, waiting, while the potion took effect. Finally, Harry smiled and whispered a few words, the glamour making him look seventeen falling away to reveal his true self. The self which was but months from being matched in age to Severus' himself.

"Petrificus Totalus," the two words took Snape by surprise and his eyebrow managed to lift a tiny bit before his body froze under the hex.

Harry stood and stepped over to his chair, "I know you're forgotten quite how Slytherin I can be, if you allowed me to drink something that forces me to act on my deepest desire."

The eyes, the only part of his bondmate that were mobile, shifted and darkened in anger. Harry ignored the gaze and continued to speak, "I know at least part of you hates me. I can live with that. I expect that you thought I might beg for forgiveness."

He paused and ran a slightly callused hand over his love's hair, "I liked the curls better." He removed his hand before continuing, "Severus, I'm sorry for petrifying you, but I don't beg and there's only one thing I couldn't live through at this point in my life."

A slight pause and he knelt so that he could lift the sleeve on the man's left arm, "When I kill Voldemort, all those connected to him will die. Everyone marked will follow him into the grave, because he will try and use their energy to keep himself alive."

The black eyes blazed with emotion as Harry continued, "I couldn't live with myself if I was responsible for your death." His hands were shaking slightly with the effort to resist the potion this long, and he laid one hand on the Dark Mark with a sigh of something that sounded like relief, "This will hurt, but it will free you from him, and me from the Desirata."

With a string of muttered Latinate words, the power in the room grew. There was a tug on each of the men, deep inside where their magic and souls resided in their bodies. The tug grew as Harry continued to speak and the room became stiflingly close in the presence of the magic he wove. Finally, with a last word, the wave of magic broke over them and Harry lifted his hand.

Beneath where it had laid was only smooth pale flesh. The Dark Mark no longer adorned his bondmate's arm. Harry stood, exhausted from the power he had called to banish Voldemort's grasp on his love. He stumbled slightly and then straightened, "I will inform Albus that you have need of him."

As exhausted as he was, Harry still had the presence of mind to replace his invisibility charm before exiting the office. Back in his rooms, he had only a quick floo call to the Headmaster in his way before relaxing with a bottle of Ogden's best firewhiskey and attempting to forget his problems.

18 The Challenge

At breakfast the next morning, first silence then continual questions greeted Harry. Luckily, a vial of hangover potion had rid him of the effects of his drinking the past night. He hadn't the time to answer anyone's questions, not that he would have, before being dragged to the Gryffindor table by Ron and Hermione.

He sat, looking at them for a moment, before finally Ron spoke, "Look, mate, we know something's going on. You'll tell us when you can, right?"

Harry sighed slightly, looking at his plate before answering, "Yes." He couldn't trust himself with anything further.

Ron, however, looked pleased, "Alright then, let's eat."

Hermione simply rolled her eyes at the all-consuming appetite of her boyfriend and concentrated on eating breakfast while also checking through her mail which had just arrived.

Harry had managed to ignore them both, along with the rest of the hall, until the side door of the Great Hall being slammed open echoed Hermione's gasp of shock. When he looked up, he wasn't sure which was more amusing, the look of horror being directed at him by Hermione as she reread the page of the Daily Prophet in front of her, and glanced at him. Or the cold fury coming from his bondmate who was currently stalking across the hall towards him.

Ron spotted Professor Snape and managed to choke on his last bite of breakfast, "Oi, Harry... Run, if I trip him, you might live."

And Ron's assumption may have been correct. No one in the hall, besides Harry himself, had ever seen the Potions Master in such a bedraggled state. The man had obviously been disturbed in the process of readying himself for the day, for he wore only black trousers with a white shirt whose sleeves were pushed up his forearms. Sans robes, the stalk was still striking terror in the students. That terror was probably the only thing keeping the students from commenting, en masse, about the soft-looking wavy hair which now adorned their Professor's head.

That same Professor came to a halt, mid stalk, next to Harry and pulled him to standing with a hard grasp on the back of the younger man's robes. Harry came to his feet, without resistance, and waited patiently for the explosion.

"Are you suicidal, Mr. Potter?"

The cover of the Daily Prophet being shoved into his grasp accompanied the harsh question. Harry gave the page a glance, confirming that it was what he expected. With a calm expression, he simply raised an eyebrow, "No, Professor, I'm simply that good."

The fluttering wings of a snitch could have been heard in the silence of the hall that met his statement. Some students stared, waiting for the Professor's glare to incinerate him on the spot. Others were wondering whether they should take bets on the situation. Time for neither was available.

The normally reserved Potions Master was visibly upset, with an edge that implied more than his usual anger. He reached out, taking a grasp of Harry's robes and pulled the younger man until they were nearly nose to nose. Harry had a moment to wonder if he had finally pushed his mate too far.

"If you die, Potter, I will personally resurrect you in order to make that death happen again, more painful than Voldemort could ever imagine."

The students had to wonder if Harry Potter really was suicidal the way he smiled widely at that comment. His whisper was so soft, that only his mate could hear it, "Knew you cared."

Snape released him so fast that Harry stumbled, and the Potions Master turned to stalk out of the hall, his exit as dramatic as his entrance. Only once the door had finally closed behind him did conversation resume in the hall. As Harry sat, Ron looked at him with equal parts shock and awe, "Blimey, Harry, you're crazy."

Harry met Hermione's eyes over the paper and nodded slightly at her to show it to Ron. Ron took the paper and read it over quickly.

"You've challenged Voldemort to a Wizard's Duel? Even the Ministry will have to respect the sanctity of a formal duel."

Harry nodded, "It's time. If he accepts, then it will all be over."

Hermione and Ron shared a glance before Hermione spoke up, "Ron was right, Harry, you're crazy."

Emotionally tied to the circumstances, she left the breakfast table, followed shortly after by Ron who spared Harry a few apologetic glances. He continued to eat his breakfast, calmly ignoring the other students who either shouted encouragement or edged away from him with fear. Ignoring them didn't mean he was totally unaware of the room, though.

Harry looked up after a person had stopped in front of him and stood there waiting. He was slightly surprised to see it was Draco Malfoy, looking decidedly ill at ease for the young Slytherin. Wondering what the young man wanted, Harry nodded, "Draco."

It was another moment before Malfoy spoke, "May I speak with you, Potter?"

Harry took a bite of breakfast and considered it... If Malfoy had his death in mind, the boy wouldn't succeed, as there was likely nothing he knew which Harry couldn't defend against, "Have a seat."

Draco glanced around the hall, noting the very obvious curiosity of the other students, "Somewhere more private than this, Potter."

Harry smirked, "Are you going to try and snog me again?" After the years of juvenile harassment, even his older self had to try and get some digs in at the youngest Malfoy.

Malfoy blushed slightly, "No, I just need to speak with you."

A slight shrug was the answer as Harry stood, "Alright then, come on."

As the two left the Great Hall, the conversation rose to a fevered pitch and then was cut off completely as the doors shut behind them. They walked in silence for a few moments before Harry led Draco into a smaller, unused classroom. He watched as the blonde placed both privacy and silencing spells before speaking.

"My father has informed me of the challenge. He is to be Voldemort's second."

Harry raised an eyebrow, "And you wanted to speak with me just to tell me this?"

The blonde flushed, "No, Potter." His voice was sharp and critical, then with what appeared to be a physical force he spoke again, more polite than he'd ever addressed Harry. "I want to ask your permission to stand as your second."

Harry was honestly shocked at this turn of events, but managed not to show it with more than a slight widening of the eyes, "Why would I take you rather than someone I can trust?"

Draco seemed to have thought this over a great deal, "I've never hated you, it just had to look that way to appease my father. I want the chance to kill the bastard."

He could certainly understand this, having spent some quality time with the elder Malfoy, but Harry was still confused and started to shake his head. Draco didn't permit him to speak, interrupting to plead his own case.

"You've always been allowed to be your own person and I've always been forced to be exactly what my family expects. But I won't back a losing side. Voldemort will lose when you kill him. I wouldn't take the Dark Mark over the summer, persuading my father that Dumbledore would be checking us all. If you fail, then I'm just another servant. Why would I want that, Potter?"

Harry took a deep breath, "Draco, I do need a second and I can't take the person I trust most in the world. The others don't know what I'll be facing, even if they think they do. If I take you as my second, then it will not be without a wizard's contract."

Draco paled slightly. The wizarding contracts surrounding a duel carried severe consequences. It was one of the reasons that the Ministry would be forced to allow Voldemort and Harry to duel, with only their seconds present. If he entered a wizarding contract as Potter's second, and failed in any way to fulfill all the duties of a second, then the magic of the contract would kill him.

Finally, the blonde nodded.

Harry held out his hand, "Then Merlin hope I've made the right choice."

As they shook hands, Harry spelled out the business end of things, "You're not going to be safe in Slytherin, go to Dumbledore and tell him what we've agreed. I'll meet you there and we'll complete the contract. The duel is set for a week and we'll have Voldemort's formal response soon."

Draco nodded, "I won't be the reason if you fail, Potter. I have too much on this decision."

Harry nodded in return, "I know, Draco. And you might want to start calling me Harry."

The blonde smiled slightly, "I'll consider it, Potter."

Harry was left to shake his head at the empty room after the blonde had left, not completely understanding his choice but knowing instinctually that he'd done the right thing.

19 The Duel

The Headmaster had officially excused Harry from classes, giving as the reason his preparation for the incipient duel. Harry was just thankful not to have to continue his charade with such pressing matters. He spent the time relaxing and making sure that he was in the best mental and physical shape for the situation.

Voldemort had sent his official acceptance, lengthy and much more verbose than would have been necessary. The contract was signed, carried about the countryside by Hedwig. It had been tested magically, and proved to be binding when filed at the Ministry. The portkeys had been issued which would take the duelists and their seconds into the dueling arena.

The morning prior to the duel, Harry toured the area set up as their dueling arena. The Quidditch pitch had been converted once again. Madame Hooch had not been pleased and she'd informed them all of such. But it could hardly be doubted that she was willing to sacrifice her pitch to see the Dark Lord fall. Harry checked the walls, magically strengthened with special wards to contain the fight. The usual viewing stands were closed, they would not be used. In some duels, you could watch, but this one had specified no observers. No one would know who had won until the victor walked out.

Finishing the checking of the arena, Harry sat on the short bleachers that had been erected just outside. Despite no direct observers, there would be people waiting on the outcome. Most of the seats were to be reserved for Ministry officials, there to congratulate Harry or try and broker a final peace with Voldemort, depending on who won. Representatives of family would be invited; Harry had offered the seats to Arthur and Molly Weasley. There was a separate section for any Death Eater who chose to attend, masked, most likely. The bounds of the contract prohibited any attacks until after the duel, which would ensure the safety of all observing. Of course, Harry had yet to disclose to anyone other than Severus or Albus that he believed the death of Voldemort would kill all bound Death Eaters.

His silent perusal and consideration was broken by footsteps across the grass. After a moment, the gaily-clad form of the Headmaster took a seat beside Harry.

"The last of the preparations are finished."

Harry nodded, silent for just a moment longer, "It's hard to believe it will be over in another day."

"It has been a burden of yours for much too long."

The younger man's eyes looked glassy as he considered all that he had both lost and gained due to Voldemort's effects on his life. When he spoke, his voice was choked slightly, "As much pain as he's caused me, Albus. I wouldn't change any of it. This life has defined me."

The Headmaster offered wordless comfort for a moment, before laying a hand on the man's shoulder.

***

The morning of the duel dawned clear and crisp. Harry avoided everyone, not looking for any distractions in the last minute. Early in the morning, he'd slipped to the Headmaster's office for what peace remained to him. Dumbledore had taken a glance at his expression and then surrendered the space to Harry and Fawkes.

Harry watched through the tall windows as crowds gathered. There were Death Eaters present, likely hoping to feast like vultures should their lord win. The stilted distance of discomfort hovered between the other viewers and the Death Eaters. The aurors who were present visibly chafed at not being able to attack them, but all who attended knew the sanctity of a formal duel. As he watched, he couldn't help but smile at the sight of a dark figure accompanied by a scarlet plumed bird. Since Fawkes was with him, it had to be Severus and Isis. He watched as his bondmate stopped and shared words with two redheaded figures that had to be the Weasley's. There was much comfort in knowing that after today, he would no longer have to pretend.

Silently watching the crowds, the hours passed until lunchtime. Draco joined him in the office, looking pale but determined. They shared no words, but didn't need to, each knew his place in the day. When Dobby arrived with lunch, there were a few awkward moments until the house elf wished them both victory. Dobby may have previously been a Malfoy house elf, but Draco didn't begrudge the loss of a servant and Dobby knew the blonde was now on the right side.

Finally, the hour had come. Draco and Harry stood, wands in hand, as they waited for the portkeys to activate. After a last long moment, they did, bring the men from the Headmaster's office, onto the grounds of the pitch. There was a final gasp from the crowd, barely heard, as the arena walls solidified and roofed over with magic. No more sound, no more interference at all would exist until the duel was done.

Obvious shock covered the face of Lucius Malfoy as he stared at his son beside Harry Potter, "Draco?"

The question was answered by the raised chin of the younger Malfoy, "Lucius." His voice was calm and his father's face hardened. Neither would allow the other any pity this day.

Harry watched Voldemort calmly. The figure was much less intimidating when viewed in the day, in actuality the older wizard looked rather ridiculous.

"Are you ready to die, Harry?"

Harry smiled, "No, Tom, but I'm ready to kill you."

A sharp hissing left the lips of the Dark Lord as the first spells were sent on their way. Harry banished the snakes that Voldemort had conjured and sidestepped the Killing Curse from Lucius. No one was pulling any punches, and he would have to trust in Draco to handle his father.

Magic, like heat across their skin, filled the dome as curse and hex, charm and spell were tossed through the air. The walls and wards shimmered in the effort to resist the onslaught.

***

For those waiting outside, silence had fallen. When the wards had grayed, blocking all view of the pitch, the only conversations left were quiet and whispered. No movement came from the Death Eaters, barely any movement came from the students or teachers. In that section of observation area left to family, Ministry, and close friends, Molly Weasley watched as Professor Snape grew progressively more tense with each passing moment.

Out of all present, Snape alone had any information from beyond the barrier wards as he concentrated on the bond and tracked his mate's progress. Feeling silent echoes of the pain and destruction occurring inside, he could not help the occasional wince, or clenching of his fingers in his robes. He looked up, surprise creeping into his eyes when a soft female hand grasped his right hand. Meeting the eyes of Molly Weasley, he found only understanding and compassion.

Her whisper was quiet, confined to their space; "He will win."

Confusion was obvious on the Professor's face, until he'd managed to clear it. Molly leaned closer, not wanting to disclose anything against this very private man's will. "Arthur and I are bound as well, Severus. I recognize the symptoms."

A quick, dark-haired nod to acknowledge the thought and she moved back to her husband. It was odd for him to know, in that instant of compassion, that others would grieve for him, not only for themselves, should Harry fall. But allowing that doubt was something he could not permit himself and the Potions Master concentrated to close off the bond link so that he would carry less of the burden of knowledge.

The Headmaster noted the easing of the tension from his youngest professor's shoulders and silently held out his tin of lemon drops. Surprisingly, Severus took one, desperate for any little bit of reality to concentrate upon which would free him from worry. As time passed, his demeanor started to face and his concern crept onto his face and the slight shaking of his hands. Those in the stands who were waiting for Harry's victory took comfort when Isis broke into a trilling song and rubbed her hand against Severus'.

There was little anyone could do other than wait.

***

Over four hours after the wards had solidified, a discomfited screaming started among the Death Eaters. Those watching could do little, bothered to do little, as en masse the Dark Lord's followers burst into flame. The Ministry was shocked, the Aurors startled, the students and teachers disgusted. Only few took comfort in this sight, those members of the Order of the Phoenix. Those who Harry had the chance to warn that Death Eaters would die with their Dark Lord... Those were the ones taking comfort in the sight.

Dumbledore watched with disgust as his latest Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher was outed and immolated with the rest. The man had been sitting with the other teachers, and none of the other fires had spread. He simply shook his head and turned to his potions professor.

"I really must start screening the Defense Professors better."

An arched eyebrow met his pronouncement, "Rather than hiring Death Eaters, Incompetents, and Dangerous Beasts?"

The Headmaster smiled slightly, "Do you still want the position, Severus?"

For a moment, the Professor's eyes were filled with emotion and then he turned back to watch the arena walls with a simple statement, "No, give it to Harold."

Their conversation was brought to an end when the opaque wards of the arena fell. First to bleed away into nothingness was the roofed section, followed shortly by the reinforcing on the walls. All that was left was the wooden partitions and they waited with held breath as the crowds watched the entranceway impatiently.

A few minutes later, a pair of limping figures were walking out of the arena. Harry Potter, no longer the Boy Who Lived, but now the Man Who Defeated Voldemort, was partially carrying his blonde companion. Neither was untouched, and it appeared that Harry had taken the brunt of the battle despite his second's apparently broken leg.

Cheering greeted their appearance, as the wizarding world satisfied itself that they were finally free of Lord Voldemort's presence. Ministry officials immediately moved to surround the two, but Dumbledore moved quickly for an old man. The Headmaster reached the pair at the same time as the Minister of Magic.

"Harry?"

The young victor looked to the Headmaster, "He's gone, Albus."

No one was willing to point out at the moment of success that the apparent seventeen-year-old should probably not be calling his Headmaster by his first name. That trouble was addressed moments later, when Harry interrupted the Minister's verbose appreciation.

"Minister, a sealed request to merge two identities due to accidental time travel was filed twenty years ago. I want my request to have the identities Harold James and Harold James Potter opened and processed with all due speed."

The Minister drew back in surprise, "What are you talking about?"

Harry smiled slightly and let Madame Pomfrey take Draco's leaning weight off him and onto a conjured stretcher. The hero of the wizarding world was not yet ready to be dragged off to the medical wing. "I mean, Minister, that I have not been seventeen for a long while and have no further intentions to pretend to such a charade."

For the first time since he'd returned, Harry dropped his concealing glamour. The resemblance was enough to satisfy most people on site, not to mention that the specially enspelled portkeys had allowed him inside the dueling arena. There were doubters, and those would have to be addressed later.

The Minister stared for a moment before nodding in shock. Harry smiled, thanked the man, and then handed himself over to Madame Pomfrey's tender mercies.

20 Coming Home

Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy had spent three days each in the hospital wing. At the end of that time, Draco had returned to classes. He was a hero to the majority of the wizarding world, the boy who'd stood beside Harry Potter for the final battle. Draco was satisfied to be the first Malfoy in centuries not to have purchased his Order of Merlin, First Class. That he was now head of his family, and in complete control of his future, was also satisfying. If he still carried any doubts over his share of responsibility in the death of his father, it was something he discussed in private with either Professor Snape or Headmaster Dumbledore.

In the week that followed the fall of Voldemort, more than two dozen students were expelled from Hogwart's. Not all of Voldemort's supporters had been marked Death Eaters, and the children of some took their parent's death particularly poorly. There were attempts made to kill Draco, various Professors, and the known friends of Harry Potter. All failed.

Harry Potter disappeared to the Ministry after his release from the hospital wing. It was assumed that he was getting the specifics of his life straightened out and no one at Hogwart's doubted that he would eventually return. He did, three weeks after the battle, whole again, with the legal right to acknowledge his life as Harold James and as Harry Potter.

His first meeting when he returned was with the Headmaster. Dumbledore had quickly disabused him of the idea of removing his belongings from the castle and back into his lonely house. At the offer of the DADA teaching position, Harry looked interested and then said simply, "Let me get back to you." While Dumbledore believed that the younger man would accept the position, there were many offers coming through Owl Post.

When Harry spoke with Ron and Hermione after Dumbledore, the conversation was awkward. His friends weren't quite sure how to handle an almost forty year old Harry Potter. While they parted on good terms, he suspected that this was simply the beginning of the end of their friendship. Perhaps it would survive, and perhaps not.

A week after that, he'd still been unable to corner his bondmate for a conversation. At breakfast, exactly a month to the day after the duel, Harry turned in shock when Professor McGonagall sprayed her morning tea over the Head Table and the steps leading down into the hall. He saw the copy of the Daily Prophet in her hands and turned away. They'd run almost daily stories on him and he'd stopped reading the thing.

Professor McGonagall moved from her seat and approached the just entered Potions Master. A quiet conversation that Harry was unable to overhear ensued, a fact that changed when Severus loudly protested, "They were supposed to make it a society page announcement!" and yanked the paper away from his colleague. Those in the hall who were expecting copies of the paper bartered with their friends to see what had upset their irascible Professor who had slammed out of the hall in disgust after his comment.

"Harry?"

Harry looked up into the face of the Deputy Headmistress when she approached him with the paper, "Yes, Minerva?"

She held out the paper, "Is it true?"

He looked down at the front page of the paper in front of him and the blaring headline 'Harry Potter Married?!' With a sigh, he flipped open to the inner story and saw the society announcement which had lead to the banner reviews, 'Professor Severus Snape, Potions Master at Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, extends a public announcement of the twenty year anniversary of his bonding to Harold James Potter.'

Shocked that his partner was willing to make such a public acknowledgement, and pleased at the implications for their future together, Harry turned a bright smile on his colleague as he rose from his chair, "Yes, Minerva, it's very true."

The Deputy Headmistress was left to stare at him, open-mouthed as he ducked from the hall.

***

Severus looked up from his cauldron when he heard the footsteps at his doorway. He had, as usual, retreated to his workroom when uncomfortable.

Harry spoke softly, not wanting to interrupt his concentration, "I would never have asked for a public declaration."

The other man put the ingredients he was working with aside; "I gave you one so that you would know my mind on the matter."

"So you forgive me?"

Piercing back eyes were clearly visible across the room, "Don't be an imbecile, would I have announced such a thing if I did not?"

Harry laughed as he came closer; "At least I'm not an impertinent brat anymore."

An eyebrow arched, "Did I say such a thing?"

Harry laughed again as he moved into an embrace with his bondmate. As they held eachother, the bond flexed between them and there was a mutual comfort. Even if Hogwart's were here for him, he'd finally come home to Sev.

"Albus offered me the DADA position," the phrase didn't have to be that loud, considering they were still wrapped in each other's arms.

"I know," came the equally soft response.

"Will you share it with me?"

Severus pulled back slightly so he could observe his mate's face, "What do you mean?"

Harry smiled at the confusion, "I want to teach the younger years and allow you to teach the upper levels." He halted the coming protest with his fingers against the other man's lips, "It would not give you more work. I would also take the lower levels of Potions."

He could not still the protest forthcoming at that, "You were always an imbecile at potions."

Harry laughed, "I can always trust you for the truth, Sev... But I was certified as a Potions Master almost five years ago. I didn't want to be so horrid at something you loved."

The appreciation was present on his husband's face for that, "Then I agree."

Harry settled back into the embrace and added, "I can't wait to see Albus' face when we tell him what we're going to do."

A chuckle came from Severus, then he added, "Freeing me from the Dark Lord could be considered a loving act, but sparing me from the idiocy of children in the coming years." His voice tapered off into silence.

Harry smiled, "Will we have years?"

Severus lifted his husband's head and whispered against his lips, "We have eternity." As the men kissed, no more conversation was to be had in the dungeon workroom.

Finis