Actions

Work Header

Blackbird

Work Text:

~*~*~*~*~
BLACKBIRD
~*~*~*~*~

PART ONE

“God gives every bird his worm, but He does not throw it into the nest.”
-- P.D. James

 

Platform 9-3/4 was nearly deserted when Harry Potter removed the strong wards protecting his compartment and stepped off the Hogwarts Express for the final time. From a distance he could see the last of the straggling students leaving the platform with their friends and families. Harry paused, resting his hand against one of the carriages, giving a silent farewell to another fragment of his past.

The seventeen-year-old wizard shook himself from his reverie and strode gracefully to one of the only trolleys remaining on the platform. With a quick flick of his wand, the freshly-minted Hogwarts graduate shrank his slightly battered school trunk – the sum of his worldly possessions – and tucked the miniature case into the front pocket of his slim fitting black denim jeans.

From her cage, his beloved Hedwig gave a soft chirrup in greeting. Harry tapped the cage, removing a series of protection charms and placed a simple Featherlight Charm to the bulky wire monstrosity. He picked it up by its sturdy handle.

Harry’s bright green eyes gave one last sad look along the nearly deserted train platform and he slid his wand into a hidden pocket sewn into the sleeve of his white dress shirt. Alone and unwanted for much of his life, the elfin-like wizard was not surprised to find no one waiting to greet him, but at least no one remained to ridicule him either.

Hedwig gave a questioning chirrup and Harry’s attention was drawn back to the snowy owl. The memory of an old American film dropped suddenly into his head, causing a soft snort of amusement. Hedwig blinked her large amber eyes and Harry gave her a wink in return.

“Here’s looking at you, Kid,” he said affectionately, in a deliberately poor imitation of Humphrey Bogart. Hedwig blinked.

Schooling his features into a mask of indifference and fingering the tip of his wand just in case anyone was lying in wait for attack, Harry stepped through the magical barrier leading to King’s Cross Station in Muggle London, never looking back.

~*~*~*
Severus Snape brushed his long, black hair from his face in irritation and wished to return to the solitude of his dungeons. He always hated the first faculty meetings just prior to the start of a new school year. Merlin preserve him from those sanctimonious witches and wizards. He rubbed his temple, acknowledging the headache creeping behind his eyes. With Voldemort gone and the surviving Death Eaters imprisoned or reduced to mere Squibs, it was long past time for him to leave the hellish sanctuary that was Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Severus tuned back into the conversations swirling around him. He mentally shook his head, not really surprised at the myopia his colleagues held for the students of their particular house. He politely listened to the updates and gossip surrounding former Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff graduates, but Minerva’s arrogance about her Gryffindors set his teeth on edge. His mind drifted off on potential career possibilities as she prattled on about Wood, Spinnet, Granger and assorted Weasleys, but it snapped back into focus at the venom in her voice when the name Harry Potter was mentioned.

“And for all the hard work and extra hours we spent tutoring him for the Auror Training Program, how does he repay us? He didn’t even have the decency to show up for the training classes when they started last week. I simply do not know what went wrong with that young man…”

Albus Dumbledore was absent from the room, unfortunately delayed by a meeting with the Hogwarts Board of Governors. Minerva was always more vicious without Dumbledore to temper her tongue. Severus glanced down the table at the other faculty members. Hagrid’s fists clenched, but he said nothing, not wanting to attract Minerva’s ire. The dark wizard focused on the newest faculty member, Kingsley Shacklebolt, on a forced sabbatical from the Ministry of Magic to take the cursed Defense Against the Dark Arts position for a year. The Auror shifted nervously and then met Minerva’s glare with an almost sheepish expression.

“It…err…wasn’t the boy’s fault he did not report for Auror training.”

“What do you mean, Kinglsey?”

Kingsley shifted again. “Well…he was…sort of…disinvited. The Ministry received numerous owls about Potter’s…uh…questionable activities last year and…err…it was determined he lacked the…uh…moral character required of a Ministry of Magic Auror…The Minister of Magic issued a mandate declaring him to be ‘morally corrupt’. We were forced to withdraw the offer of training.”

Severus felt his jaw harden when he saw the nods of agreement from many other members of the Hogwarts staff. He steepled his fingers, fixing his black eyes on the Auror.

“The Ministry of Magic deemed the “Boy Who Lived” to be ‘morally corrupt’?” There was a dangerous edge to the Potion Master’s voice. “And when was he notified of their life changing decision?”

“I believe Mr. Potter was sent an owl the day before graduation…”

Severus snorted derisively. In the usual vitriolic tone he often saved for Hufflepuffs and Gryfindors, he impaled his associates. “An owl? You sent him an owl? So much for the vaunted Gryffindor courage…couldn’t even tell him to his face…that even after he defeated Lord Voldemort and graduated with honors, he still wasn’t good enough? I had wondered why he did not stand with his classmates to receive his graduation certifications. And may I inquire who filed these reports against the ‘Golden Boy’?”

Kingsley looked at Minerva, who had grown rigid. “A number of his seventh year classmates…from all houses I believe…”

“And the ringleader in his character assassination? A certain jealous red head?”

“Severus, you saw that disgusting photograph…”

“Ron Weasley made sure everyone saw it…sending it to ‘The Daily Prophet’ like he did. That wasn’t very nice.” Hagrid replied stiffly. Minerva resented their attempts to garner sympathy for the boy.

Severus’ smile was cold. “Ah yes, the Muggle advertisement…I confiscated several copies of the magazine it appeared in…And frankly, I would be more concerned about the moral character of someone who would be in possession of such a rag in the first place…

“Tell me, Minerva…did you ever ask Mr. Potter how he came to be in a Muggle advertisement for men’s cologne? Or did you just turn your back while you let the brave Gryffindors beat him, destroy the majority of his possessions and cast him out into the hallway naked as the day he was born?”

The faculty room was silent. They shifted uncomfortably in their seats and wished for dismissal. The “Potter Affair” was a shameful episode for Hogwarts and better left swept beneath the carpet.

“Why are you so well informed about the activities of another house? Don’t you have enough to do to keep your ‘snakes’ under tight rein?” The Deputy Headmistress’s voice was decidedly waspish.

“It became my concern when my ‘snake’, Millicent Bulstrode, stumbled across a sobbing bundle of bloody rags in a deserted corridor. All of you looked the other way. Only Hagrid and I offered him any support at all. None of you even cared how Potter survived his final months at Hogwarts after Ronald Weasley decided to enact some sort of personal vendetta against his supposed best friend. With the exception of Slytherin who remained neutral at my request, almost the entire school followed his lead…too afraid of Weasley’s wrath if they did not toe his line. As far as I am concerned, there were only two noble Gryffindors in last year’s graduating class…and Ronald Weasley sure as hell wasn’t one of them.”

“Severus?” Professor Sinistra asked tentatively. “Did Harry Potter tell you how he came to be in that photograph?”

Severus’ cold, black eyes glittered malevolently; the Astronomy professor blanched.

“If you were so curious about the boy’s activities, perhaps you should have asked him. Although I offered him a modicum of protection, I was not his friend nor was I his consul…” Severus smiled savagely. “I am hardly any child’s idea of a Father Confessor.”

~*~*~*~
Hagrid set his empty tankard of Old Ogden’s Firewhisky shakily on his scrubbed kitchen table. His eyes drifted to a small cot hidden in the rafters of his cottage, half-concealed beneath an abandoned Invisibility Cloak, and thought sadly of the missing young wizard who had spent most of a term sharing his rooms.

Trying to shake his melancholy mood, the half-giant called to his boarhound, Fang, for a walk around the Hogwart’s grounds. His dark eyes followed the flight path of several owls out for their evening hunt, hoping against hope that a familiar white owl might one day sweep down to say “Hello”.

~*~*~*~
The Potion Master reviewed his third-year course syllabus a final time before setting the parchment aside. He pulled out a clean scroll. It was the ideal time to ponder a new career. He rubbed his temple again. He could easily take a potion or two to ward off the headache and quell his ire, but he decided it just might be healthier for once to release his pent up anger rather than suppress it.

The dark wizard’s thoughts drifted to the final battle and the losses they had suffered. So many had perished and many of the survivors were so damaged it would take years for the magical community to recover. Severus mourned all the lost souls, no matter which banner they had carried into battle. He found his thoughts drifting to the horrors of the battlefield. He forced his thoughts away from the haunting images of death.

Severus’ mind was in turmoil. His usual diversion of brewing potions had not calmed him. He pushed aside his proposed course syllabus as well as the supply requisitions necessary to replenish the student potions supply cabinets. There was no satisfaction in teaching those who held no fascination for a gently simmering cauldron.

With a flick of his wand, the Potion Master summoned a dusty bottle of wine and a wineglass. Pouring a glass, he set the blood red liquid aside to let it breathe.

Severus taped a hidden drawer in his desk, removing an oversized book. With the new semester approaching, he would need to move the book back to his private suite; it would never do for a curious brat to stumble over a portion of his secret collection of erotica.

Trapped for the majority of the year in a school filled with gangly adolescents, the dark wizard needed some way to relieve his sexual tension. His collection of erotica and homoerotica had slowly grown over the years; the collection even contained a few specimens of Muggle origin.

As he sipped the vintage red, he noticed a folder tucked between the pages of the oversized book. He plucked the folder from its hiding spot and looked over a small collection of static images, all Muggle in origin and featuring the same model. This was Severus’ guilty pleasure, tracing the career of a single individual. In the earliest image, the beautiful creature was barely legal, but as the images progressed, the model’s fey coltishness matured into something even more exquisite.

Severus fingers tapped lightly along the edge of an advertisement cut from a Muggle magazine. He had long since disposed of the magazine itself, not at all interested in a publication named “Toi Boi”. His thin fingers traced down one of the two figures captured on the glossy paper. A slender, sexy, half-dressed sprite stared, lips slightly parted, into the camera, wrapped in the arms of a fully clothed older man. One of the man’s hands rested on the teenager’s flat stomach, the other slipped beneath the waistband of unzipped denim jeans. The man’s face was hidden, caught in the act of kissing a bare shoulder. Severus did not understand how this image was supposed to sell men’s cologne, but he could not dispute the image was erotic as hell.

He set the page aside, sifting through a scant assortment of department store catalog clothing advertisements before picking up a Muggle greeting card, obviously targeted to both adult men and women. The dark haired model was perched provocatively on the edge of a chair, wearing nothing but a python draped around his neck and positioned to barely conceal his manhood. The card, ironically enough, was part of a larger set - also in his possession - sold by some Muggle animal welfare organization as a fundraiser. The set featured other barely dressed men and women, concealing their private parts with strategically placed mammals, birds and reptiles. Muggles, he decided, were a strange lot.

Giving a final look at the cologne advertisement, the Potion Master closed the folder and tucked it back inside the book of erotica. He wondered what it was that motivated a person to pose nude for public consumption – simple exhibitionism or something far deeper.

The photographs caused Severus’ thoughts to turn to a certain dark-haired young man. He found himself wondering what had happened to Harry Potter. Harry had obviously returned to the Muggle world of his childhood, not that Severus blamed him, given the rejection and ridicule he had endured during his final year at Hogwarts. Not for the first time, the dark wizard wished that the Sorting Hat had ignored the pleas of a deceived eleven-year-old boy and placed him in his rightful house. Had Harry been sorted into Slytherin as he should have, Severus would have discovered the boy’s dysfunctional and abusive home life and seen the signs of trouble long before events exploded into the present situation. Harry would still be receiving the respect the wizarding world owed him, not hiding in the Muggle world as a social pariah.

He pulled a scrap of parchment from his drawer and penned a short missive to someone who might actually know if Harry was safe and sound. Task accomplished, he suddenly realized that his headache was gone.

~*~*~*
Severus eyed the flat square package halfway down the pile of his daily correspondence – a Potions catalog, perhaps. Not particularly wishing to deal with numerous parchments from parents concerned with their precious brat’s low Potions scores, the dark wizard slipped the flat, kraft paper wrapped package from the pile, not disturbing the scrolls above it. His eyebrows lifted. He recognized the handwriting as that of an old friend.

Unwrapping the package, he quickly read the short note attached to another layer of wrapping, this one a festive green and silver repeat of pine trees.

“S –
I have located our prey. Hope you enjoy your calendar. October is especially fine.
- B”

Calendar? Severus unwrapped the flat package, careful not to tear the shiny wrap. It was a Muggle calendar by the same charity that had issued the odd greeting cards. Severus’ tongue moistened his lower lip as he tore open the plastic shrink-wrap and flipped the heavy card stock through the months. Not surprisingly, October yielded another feast of Harry.

With one slender arm raised, caressing a snowy owl Severus recognized as Hedwig, a nude Harry faced away, looking over his shoulder, straight into the camera, with a shy, almost innocent smile. The dark wizard traced up the slender form from his bare feet to slightly muscular calves, past the slightly knobby knees to the finely shaped arse. His skin was smooth and nearly flawless, just a few freckles scattered here and there. Merlin, Harry was adorable. The Muggle camera loved him.

Severus flipped through the remaining months, but none of the beautiful women and handsome men drew his eye quite like his sprite. His sprite, Severus snorted – when had he started to think of Harry as his own? Reluctantly, he slipped the calendar into his desk drawer. It wouldn’t be wise to leave it where it could be seen by a student or the irritating deputy headmistress.

The Potion Master reached into his stack of mail, this time retrieving a thick envelope of fine quality parchment. The corner bore the logo of St. Mungo’s Hospital. Severus quickly skimmed the cover sheet, a satisfied smile softening his harsh features. He stretched the kinks from his long, slender frame before reading the contents of the envelope more thoroughly. He pushed down the excitement building in his chest; St. Mungo’s was offering him a position heading their Medical Research Department. Severus closed his eyes, thinking of gently simmering cauldrons and intelligent conversations, thinking of a day without explosions and insipid adolescent melodramas, thinking of a life without Albus Dumbledore and his infernal lemon drops.

Gathering all the parchments containing parental complaints, he sent them directly into the fireplace, watching their bright flash of ignition. Between the calendar and the job offer, Christmas had come early for Severus Snape.

~*~*~*
Bill Weasley stretched his long, jeans clad legs and placed his dragon hide boots onto an unoccupied chair beside him. His fang earring glittered with the candlelight as he leaned over to speak with his dinner companion, more than conscious of the looks of appreciation they had attracted from the other patrons in the Muggle pub. Tommy’s was a rather discrete establishment, catering to mostly same sex couples not desiring the anonymous sexual games of a nightclub.

The cursebreaker glanced around the dining area, the soft sound of jazz in the background. Snippets of conversation and occasional laughter filled the darkened room. High in a corner, above the bar, was a small patch of white. Bill blinked in recognition - a Postal Owl. The redhead ran his hand up his companion’s thigh to get his attention and nodded toward the half concealed bird.

“Apparently, we are not the only wizards in this establishment, Sev.”

Severus studied the owl for a moment, his concentration broken by the waiter arriving with their drinks and ready to take their dinner order. The waiter followed Severus’ glance. He smiled. “Don’t worry about her. She’s tame. Heddie’s just waiting for her blackbird to appear.”

~*~*~*~
Bill and Severus looked up from their mediocre appetizers as a couple entered the pub and stood beside the bar. Bill noticed the white owl creep slowly out of the shadows. His attention turned back, not to the tall young man, but to his smaller, female companion. He glanced back at Severus, his friend, his confidant, and occasional lover.

Bill smirked, watching the black eyes devour the young woman. She had drawn the appreciative glances of several of the other diners, and that perplexed him. They were dining in a Muggle gay bar; were all the other patrons bisexual as well? Or was the young woman a woman at all?

The white owl perched at the edge of her shelf as if waiting for a signal. The woman tossed back her sleek, black pageboy, subtly smoothing her short black dress. Bill took in her figure – from her black stiletto pumps, up her dark hose to the flounce of her black dress. He wished she would turn so he could see her face.

The other patrons returned to their previous conversation, but Bill found himself straining to hear the couple at the bar. The man kept caressing her shoulder, but she did not seem to reciprocate his advances. The bartender paused, watching them through the mirrored backdrop of his bar.

“Come on, Birdy,” the man whined, a hint of drunken frustration in his voice. “It’s early. Let’s go back to my flat and get horizontal.”

His companion shook her head. She spoke in a soft, husky voice. “That was not our agreement, Arthur.”

The man roughly pulled her flat against his taller frame, capturing her lips in an uninvited kiss, and holding her tight against him. He ground his hips against her struggling frame. She pushed him away, her hands flat against his chest. The white owl soared from her perch and batted the man with her massive wingspan before circling to land on the woman’s outstretched arm, a predatory gleam in her amber eyes.

“Are you all right, Birdy?” the bartender called over, reaching for a cricket bat hidden beneath the bar. A few of the other patrons looked ready to spring.

“Arthur is just leaving,” she replied, her eyes locked on her taller companion. The man reached into his pocket and pulled out a roll of currency. He peeled off two notes and roughly shoved them down the neckline of her dress.

“Thank you for dinner,” the man growled before stalking out the door. The woman turned, revealing her face for the first time, emerald green eyes dominating the elfin face. She stroked the agitated owl to calm her. The owl butted her head against the well-manicured hand affectionately. “Brave girl.”

“Sweet Merlin,” Bill said abruptly, rising from his chair. “Well, that’s a kink I never would have expected.”

Severus watched in curiosity as Bill strode toward the black-clad figure at the bar. Bill was never one to miss an opportunity and it always fascinated Severus to watch Bill’s “Weasley Charm” in action. The dark wizard wondered if he would, once again, be dining alone tonight. Hands shaking slightly as she tried to light a cigarette, the dark haired woman jumped when Bill plucked the lighter from her fingers.

“Hasn’t anyone ever told you smoking is bad for your health?” he purred, palming the lighter. “Or that it stunts your growth?”

Severus heard a bark of laughter from the small creature and Bill extinguished her cigarette. The tall redhead caught the figure up in a bear hug, nearly knocking her out of her pumps.

“Hello, Bill,” Harry said, a hint of amusement in his voice. “It’s been awhile.”

~*~*~*~

PART TWO

“To be alive at all involves some risk.”
- Harold McMillan – Statesman

 

Harry snagged his unopened beverage from the bar top and followed Bill toward his table. Severus watched the gentle sway as the sprite approached, wondering how Harry managed to make the movement look so natural without the pelvic structure of a real woman. Severus examined his former student, noting the expertly made up face and chin length poker straight black hair. The little black dress was finely tailored to give the slight young man the illusion of curves and the dark wizard wondered at the two pert breasts. A thick jet choker concealed Harry’s tell-tale Adam’s apple.

Harry smiled wryly and reached down the neckline of the dress with red dagger fingernails, extracting two crumpled twenty pound notes. His kohl rimmed green eyes met Severus’ dark ones without any trace of embarrassment.

“I’m not really surprised to find Bill in Tommy’s seeing that Gringotts is less than five blocks from here, but you…You’re a long way from Scotland, Professor, especially in the middle of term.”

Severus glanced at Hedwig, who was perched on the back on the unused chair and gave a measured look to Harry. “I resigned from Hogwarts at the end of the last school year. I now reside in London.”

“Sev’s the head of Medical Research at St. Mungo’s.”

“Congratulations,” Harry said honestly. “I always thought your talents were wasted at Hogwarts - had to have been frustrating, trying to teach imbeciles like me.”

If the statement surprised Severus, he did not let on. Conversation stopped when the waiter brought the wizard’s their entrees. Harry waved away a proffered menu and finally opened the sealed bottle he had brought from the bar. The red nails shredded the paper wrapping on a straw. Harry took a small sip of his ginger ale, his lipstick leaving a slight smudge of red on the straw.

“I don’t drink alcohol when I’m out and never accept a beverage from anyone but the bartender himself. I was drugged with Rohypnol at a pub down the street when I was sixteen.”

Bill looked at him in slight confusion, but Severus nodded his head in understanding. For Bill’s benefit, the Potion Master clarified Harry’s statement. “Rohypnol is known as a Muggle date rape drug.”

Bill looked at Harry in alarm, but Harry smiled another seemingly genuine smile. “He drugged me, but he never got me out of the pub. Let’s just say there are Gryffindor tendencies running through members of the Muggle population as well…but that is a story for another time.”

“You were extremely lucky,” Severus observed and offered a chunk of rare beef to Hedwig, who immediately snapped it up. “Were you dressed like this?”

Harry’s laugh was delightful. Neither Severus nor Bill ever remembered Harry being so relaxed in all the years they had thought they knew him. “Professor, are you trying to diplomatically ask if I am a transvestite? The answer to that is no. This was a one-off for a business associate whose cousin needed a date to a social function. His supervisors know the man’s a fag, but he’s the owner’s grandson so they can’t fire him. He occasionally hires transvestites as his dates just to pull their chains. But tonight was a really important meeting and his supervisors were relieved when I showed up.” Harry batted his eyelashes in exaggerated fashion. He gave a brief smile. “A ‘confection as beautiful as me’ couldn’t possibly be a man. Arthur just had too much to drink tonight and forgot the rules.”

“And the forty quid?” The Potion Master asked suspiciously.

“Paid for this kit. It’s not like I have this sort of thing hanging in my closet.” Severus’ eyes drifted again to the small breasts and Harry laughed again. “Amazing Muggle invention – the Wonderbra®.”

“The patrons are very protective of you. Are you a regular customer?” Bill asked.

“Not exactly.” Harry replied, tugging at the hem of his short dress. “I wait tables when Tommy gets short handed.”

“And if you don’t usually dress in drag, how did they all know it was you?”

“I needed one of the other waiters to help with my makeup and I had Arthur meet me here earlier. They all got the chance to critique my ensemble. Not too many people know where I actually live and I like to keep it that way. I’m the type everyone seems to want to either protect or to own…there was a customer here once couldn’t get it through his head I wasn’t the ‘Special of the Day’. Tommy put him in Hospital…Needless to say; it’s not wise to touch Tommy’s waiters without their permission.”

~*~*~*~
Severus smiled inwardly as he read the nameplate beside the security buzzer in the apartment foyer. According to the neat script, the occupant of apartment 4A was Corvus Corax – the Latin name for a blackbird.
The dark wizard remembered that the bartender had called Harry “Birdy” and the waiter mentioned Hedwig was waiting for “her blackbird”. The nineteen year old was becoming an even more elaborate puzzle.

Harry departed halfway through their dinner, citing the desire to remove the binding tights and uncomfortable brassiere. He invited them to dessert at his flat several streets away from Tommy’s. Severus and Bill agreed almost immediately, not wanting to lose the illusive savior, at least not until their curiosity had been sated.
Slytherin to the core, Severus wondered at the motivations behind Harry’s casual after-dinner invitation. The younger wizard had essentially cut off all ties to the wizarding world upon his graduation. The Potion Master did not miss the momentary flash of fear in the brilliant green eyes just before the protective wall went up and Harry gamely crossed the room to join them at their table. Severus was only mildly surprised that the young man had not bolted upon initial recognition.

Unlike Bill, Severus had not been taken in by the former savior’s pleasant and relaxed demeanor. Although the Potion Master had offered assistance to Harry during his final year at Hogwarts, they had not suddenly become friends. And with the exception of the passing mention of Rohypnol, Harry had subtly steered the conversation to Egypt, Cursebreaking and Potions Research. Why had Harry really invited two casual acquaintances to his apartment? Dessert was the excuse, not the reason. Severus shifted his wand for easier access. He wouldn’t put it past the disgraced Gryffindor to meet them at the door with an “Oblivate”.

The Potion Master looked around the shabbily elegant foyer. While not in the most fashionable of neighborhoods, he knew that a flat in this part of London would not come cheaply. Bill pressed the buzzer and identified himself. A buzz signaled the security door was accessible. The cursebreaker wondered idly what his father, with his fascination of everything Muggle, would think of the Muggle answer to security wards.

The gilded elevator was a reminder of a bygone era. It clattered up its cables and stopped abruptly at the fourth floor. Harry stood inside his opened doorway, freshly showered. He was barefoot, wearing softly worn blue jeans and a black t-shirt. The makeup and long painted fingernails were gone. His dark hair was once again short, his trademark mess of wayward curls and cowlicks. The lightening bolt scar was fading, but still noticeable.

It was a small flat, tastefully decorated in a mixture of antiques and modern pieces. They could see a small kitchenette tucked into a corner behind a row of bookcases. A door led to a bedroom and bathroom. Harry waved them toward an overstuffed sofa and matching chair. There were a few hints of magic scattered about the sitting room, but to the Muggle eye, they would appear to be whimsical antiques.

“Fortesque’s Orange Chocolate Ice Cream,” Harry announced as he carried in a tray with bowls of orange and chocolate swirl icecream, a plate of shortbread and a tea service.

“You’ve been to Diagon Alley?” Bill asked. “Word was you’d disappeared all together.”

“I haven’t stepped foot in Diagon Alley since the day after I graduated from Hogwarts. Hedwig, on the other hand, is a frequent visitor. There’s not much you can’t get through Owl Post…They may not want to claim me, but I am still a wizard and will be one even if they snap my wand.”

Harry settled his frame into the chair facing the sofa. He took a sip of his tea, eyes closing to prepare himself for the questions sure to follow. Unexpectedly running into Severus and Bill had shaken his sense of security. On some level, he always suspected that Bill played for both sides, but assumed Severus Snape to be as straight as they came. Never would he have expected the wizards to dine at an establishment catering to the clientele that frequented Tommy’s.

Harry wasn’t sure how he was going to counteract his unfortunate discovery, but he was used to thinking on his feet. As much as he wished he could just flick his wand and make them forget, he had used little magic in the years since his departure from Hogwarts and did not want to risk angering two powerful wizards after botching a spell.

Showtime, he thought grimly. Taking a calming breath, Harry smiled a smile he did not feel.

“I know you’re extremely curious about what the ‘Whore of Gryffindor’ has been doing with himself these past two years, but I have a question for you first.”

Bill protested. “Don’t call yourself that!”

“What?” asked Harry mildly. “Whore? I was also a freak, a slut, a faggot, a cocksucker, a shirt lifter, a ponce, a nancy boy, a queen, a bitch…I could go on, but if you frequent a place like Tommy’s then you’ve probably been called all those words yourself.”

“Harry…”

Harry held his hand up for silence. After letting cruel words damage his psyche for years, he finally realized, late one sleepless night, that Albus Dumbledore had been right about one thing, fear of a word did give it power and he, for one, was tired of others having power over him.

“Ask your question, Potter.” Severus leaned against the fireplace mantel. His eyes took in all the details of the room, cataloging them in his mind, no matter how minor the item appeared.

“I’ve seen some interesting relationships develop over the years and I am curious about yours. Are you friends or are you lovers?”

Severus looked at Bill, almost curious to see how the redhead would describe their relationship. They began corresponding shortly after Bill was hired as a Cursebreaker for Gringotts Wizarding Bank. At first, it had been a mutual exchange of information, acquisition of rare potion ingredients, and a sharing of knowledge about obscure discoveries in the Egyptian desert. Gradually it had evolved into a friendship of sorts.

When Bill returned to London at the start of Lord Voldemort’s Second Reign, he and Severus began a short, volatile affair that soon burned itself out. While they still shared a deep affection for one another, they realized their divergent personalities made a long-term relationship impossible.

And now, when Bill’s schedule permitted, he would spend several days with Severus, occasionally even ending up in the Potion Master’s bed for a friendly shag when he didn’t score younger, prettier prey while cruising the London pubs and dance clubs. Severus could have been hurt by Bill’s casual offers of sex, or he could have been insulted that Bill thought him desperate enough to accept scraps of affection, but Severus felt neither of these emotions. He used Bill for sexual gratification just as Bill used him. A Slytherin didn’t easily give his heart away. They fucked; they did not make love.

Severus stood behind Bill, resting his hands on the cursebreaker’s shoulders. Bill reached over and squeezed Severus’ hand. “We are very good friends…friends with occasional benefits, you could say.”

“My, my, Professor. You are full of surprises…” Harry’s eyes glittered in amusement. “I’d be willing to bet the majority of your students always considered you something of a eunuch.”

Severus laughed a rare laugh. He dropped onto the sofa beside Bill and rested his hand aside the cursebreaker’s knee. “I am curious about these rooms. With few exceptions, everything belongs to someone else. Do you share these rooms with another?”

Harry set down his mug of tea, the humor draining from his face. “The flat belonged to my ‘Uncle’ Leon.”

“I wasn’t aware you had any relatives other than the Dursleys.”

“Uncle Leon wasn’t my uncle by blood. He was my ‘uncle’ in a way no one wants an uncle.”

“What are you saying?”

“Uncle Leon was a man of peculiar tastes.”

“Peculiar tastes?” Bill asked, a feeling of dread growing in the pit of his stomach.

“Uncle Vernon rented me out to Uncle Leon when I was six years old. The second and forth weekend of every month, I would spend with Uncle Leon.”

Harry’s fingers played along the edge of a framed photograph in the side table beside him. He looked at the image a moment before holding it out. The two older wizards could see a tiny boy, obviously Harry, building a sand castle at the beach with a man who could easily have been his grandfather.

“How could you keep a picture of that monster?” Bills knuckles were white, clutching the wooden frame.

“It was the only time in my life I was ever at the beach. He used to take me places. Nice places.” Harry rescued the frame. “Of all his boys, I was his favorite.”

“How can you justify…”

Harry interrupted the red head. “I justify nothing. When I was a child, he destroyed my life, but when I was sixteen, he offered me protection. If it hadn’t been for Uncle Leon, I never would have lived long enough to kill Voldemort.”

Severus leaned forward, sensing not denial but acceptance in Harry, and the acceptance horrified him. “I recognize this man. He was a very important Muggle politician. How would Leon Shaw have ever crossed paths with Vernon Dursley? This wasn’t the kind of man to purchase drills.”

Harry Accioed a portfolio from the bookshelf wandlessly. He unzipped the leather case and opened the pages toward the other men. “To understand, you need to go back to a time shortly after I was left on the Dursleys’ doorstep. Aunt Petunia took Dudley to get his picture taken at a local Marks and Spencer. I was in the stroller with them. She had no intention of wasting good money on a photo of a freak like me, but she wouldn’t waste money on a babysitter either. There was a woman there, a talent scout from one of the London modeling agencies, looking for children of a certain age to model a line of infants’ clothing. She latched right on to me because of my unusual eyes and my passive temperament. Uncle Vernon didn’t waste a moment before signing the model release. He made good money off a freak like me. I was a photographer’s darling. With my fey looks, they could dress me up as either a girl or a boy.”

Harry flipped to a page in his portfolio featuring a toddler Harry in a fruit-patterned bubble and big ribbon bows in his hair and shoes. Another featured an older Harry, perhaps eight, dressed in a schoolboy uniform, wearing little horn rim glasses, standing beside himself wearing the girl’s version of the same school uniform, his hair in a short bobbed wig.

“It’s not everyone who can be their own twin.”

“When I was five, Dudley got sick and Aunt Petunia couldn’t take me to a photo shoot. My life would have been much simpler if Uncle Vernon hadn’t decided to take me – not wanting to miss any of my income.” Harry pulled his knees up to his chest, not looking at either man. He needed to get through his story without seeing their condemnation or their pity. Perhaps when they knew the truth, they would let him fade into obscurity. “The photographer was new, I’d never worked with him before. He pulled Uncle Vernon aside and hinted that more money could be made tax-free. Certain people would pay good money for naked pictures of pretty little boys…Uncle Vernon will always be a greedy bastard.”

“Your aunt…”

“Aunt Petunia didn’t know. Not for years. She kept taking me to the legitimate modeling photo shoots and fashion shows. Uncle Vernon would pull me out of my cupboard late at night, after she had gone to sleep and take me to private houses instead of studios. Uncle Leon’s current ‘boy’ had just turned twelve and he was looking for a replacement. He liked me right away. I was polite, shy and starved for affection.

“I continued to do the legitimate juvenile modeling, but the nude photos stopped. Uncle Leon wouldn’t put up with it. For all his perversions, he was always gentle. In his own bizarre way, I think the man loved me.”

Severus glanced down at the table, to the cold tea and melted icecream. Hedwig roused from her perch and soared over to an open window with a modified cat flap affixed to it, ready for her nightly exercise. Harry continued to talk, baring his secrets, almost as if once the door opened, he could not shut it until it had run its course. Bill was frozen beside him and Severus realized immediately how alien this must sound to the oldest Weasley sibling, having grown up surrounded by the love and the protection of his family.

“The letter from Hogwarts couldn’t have come at a better time. I was in the midst of that gawky stage children go through and my catalog work was becoming more and more sporadic. Uncle Leon took the opportunity to begin a search for my replacement. Hogwarts, or any other boarding school, would take me away from him for most of the year anyway.

“Uncle Vernon was displeased with the entire situation. They had never fed me much, keeping me rail thin for modeling work. Then they pretty much stopped feeding me, trying to slow down my growth spurts in an attempt to prolong my juvenile career. The Dursleys had grown accustomed to the extra income my body generated and were not happy to see it dwindle to almost nothing. When starvation didn’t have the desired effect, they ended their ban on abuse. It didn’t matter anymore if they left bruises or not – no one was going to see them. Dudley and his friends were given free reign to torment me. I spent more and more time locked into my cupboard.

“By the time I returned home after my disastrous fifth year, Uncle Vernon decided I was too much of a danger to them. The incident with the Dementors solidified his hatred for me. He didn’t care what Dumbledore ordered my aunt to do – I would not remain at Privet Drive any longer than absolutely necessary.”

“Why didn’t you ever say anything?” Bill asked. “We would have gotten you out of there.”

“Your mother tried because she knew they were starving me. Dumbledore said I had to stay there. The Blood Bond with my aunt was protecting me from Voldemort.”

“But if Professor Dumbledore knew the extent…”

“My Hogwarts letter was addressed to the ‘Cupboard Under the Stairs’ and after Sirius died, he admitted he knew the situation was abusive. No one ever checked up on me the entire time I lived with the Dursleys. He knew things weren’t all right and he didn’t care. He wanted his perfect Gryffindor. He wanted an unloved puppet to mold into his perfect savior. And when I proved to be human…he cast me out. His silence was even more devastating than anything your brother ever did to me.”

Harry abruptly stood up, clearing away the abandoned tea tray. He slipped into the kitchenette to dispose of the contents of the tray. Severus noticed there was no sway to his step. He wondered if the stiletto pumps had been charmed to alter the wearer’s gait.

The green-eyed wizard refilled Hedwig’s food and water bowls. He looked out the window into the city street below as if searching for his familiar. He had not intended to spill all of his secrets to the older men; he had wanted them to be so disgusted by his activities that they would never try to find him again. But, as was usual for his fricked up life, nothing ever went according to plan.

Instead of being repulsed by him, they were offering a non-judgmental ear to his confessions. Harry knew the conversation was well out of Bill Weasley’s circle of experience, but he had managed to reign in his discomfort. The slight wizard had been wary of Severus’ reactions, expecting the same condemnation his “deviancy” had sparked in the general population of Hogwarts, but then Harry realized that, as Slytherin Head of House for nearly twenty years, he was probably not the first sexually abused student the Potion Master encountered.

As the silence in the small flat grew, Harry turned away from the window. There was an unexpected calmness in him; his cathartic confession had loosened the stranglehold of fear that had imprisoned him for much of his life.

Harry curled back into his chair and met the serious faces of his companions. He waited to hear what the next question might be.

“You said Leon saved your life when you were sixteen. I know the wards around Privet Drive disintegrated shortly after your sixteenth birthday. What happened?” Severus could see the slight figure stiffen and Harry’s thin hand carded through his already messy black hair. “Did Leon save you from the Rohypnol?”

“Indirectly.” Harry toyed with the bric-a-brac on his bookshelves. “Uncle Vernon was trying to sell me over the Internet. He sent pictures of me out to anyone interested and received several inquiries. He got careless one night and Aunt Petunia discovered some of the e-mail correspondence. She started searching and found explicit photographs taken of me when I was small. She confronted Uncle Vernon with the proof and got a black eye for her trouble. He locked me into my cupboard, afraid to beat me incase his bidders wouldn’t accept damaged inventory.

“Aunt Petunia may not have loved me, but she was horrified at what he had done. She couldn’t understand how she had failed to notice the sick games he played with me. Aunt Petunia laced his dinner with sleeping pills and after Uncle Vernon fell asleep, she released me. Told me she was sorry there wasn’t more on such short notice and gave me 500 pounds. Said to run and never look back. I was afraid to call the Knight Bus, so I caught a Muggle cab to the train station. I headed into London, leaving my trunk with Tom at the Leaky Cauldron.

“I went to Gringotts to withdraw living expenses, enough to last until I boarded the Hogwarts Express September first. Not to brag, but I knew there were thousands of galleons in the Potter vault – more than enough for a lifetime – but I discovered that I was not permitted to draw from the vault until I turned twenty-one. The account I had been paying for my school supplies was the only one I could access, and not knowing this, I had never budgeted it properly. What remained in the account was barely enough to cover books and tuition for the last two years at Hogwarts. I somehow had to stretch the funds for five years.

“I arranged an appointment with one of the modeling agencies I used to work for – one of the agencies where their photographers never did anything improper. They were polite, but they really could not use me. I was too short. The agency only signed men and boys of a certain height. But one of the agents remembered me from when I was a child and knew I was a professional. She set me up with an indirect competitor for old times sake. Malcolm liked my fey looks and signed me on the spot. He said if I wasn’t averse to showing a bit of skin, he had a shoot scheduled for two days off. I wasn’t in too much position to decline the offer. It turned out to be the ad for men’s cologne that Ron used to destroy me.”

“I didn’t have a place to stay and I was steering clear of Diagon Alley because Dumbledore would have tried to force me to return to Privet Drive and my aunt’s blood protection. I had Hedwig in her cage and a backpack with a couple of changes of clothing. I’d been staying in a ragbag hotel, but it was too expensive so Malcolm gave me the address of a youth hostel to stay for a day or two until I found permanent lodging. Unfamiliar with the neighborhood, I stepped into the pub – more to ask directions – and decided to have a meal. Hedwig is a bit of a conversation starter so I didn’t think much when this bloke came over to chat me up. He was nice and caught me off my guard.”

Harry gave Severus a wry smile. “All right, I was an idiot. I told a total stranger I was alone in London. I didn’t know he’d laced my drink with Rohypnol. I just started to feel really strange. He started touching me and it was all I could do not to black out. There were loud voices and someone pulled me away from the man. I remember seeing Elliot’s face before I lost consciousness.”

“Elliot?”

“Uncle Leon’s driver. He recognized me from years before. I always liked Elliot – he taught me how to play football and kept me entertained when Uncle Leon was busy. I woke up in this apartment – my head in Uncle Leon’s lap.

“As I told you earlier, I was always his favorite. By this time, he was old and nearly impotent. He needed Viagra to perform, but I shared his bed in exchange for a place to stay. I was his guilty secret; he had a wife and family in the country. He used the apartment during the week when government was in session. I had the weekends to myself.

“He died a year ago of a brain aneurysm. It was a bit of a shock to his wife to discover he had willed me this flat. She didn’t know about his predilections…but her adult children did. When she met me, she remarked at my slight resemblance to Uncle Leon and decided I was a bastard child from a former mistress and that I had been kept hidden to protect her feelings. Her sons and I saw no reason to shatter her illusions.”

“How long have you gone by the name Corvus?”

“Forever…Uncle Leon told me Harry was a common name - that I was too wonderful for such a name. He called me his little bird, his little black haired bird. I was his Corvus Corax.” A small smile quirked at the corner of his mouth. “It was the first Latin I ever learned.”

“And that’s where ‘Birdy’ comes from?”

“Yes and no. When the wizarding world ripped their claws into me, I buried Harry Potter. I became Corvus Corax. Some of it was the play on ‘Blackbird’ – but another part was Hedwig’s fault. She doesn’t like London and hates to have me out of her sight. I became recognized as the boy with the bird, and it eventually condensed to ‘Birdy’.”

“So how do you support yourself? I can’t imagine waiting tables pays enough to cover your expenses. There are still two more years until you reach your majority.”

“I don’t know if you’re aware that I am a silent partner in Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes. I receive a small stipend monthly.”

“You’re the idiot that bankrolled their business?” Bill asked incredulously and Harry nodded. “I always wondered where Fred and George got the seed money.”

“I gave them my Tri-Wizard prize. I couldn’t keep it. It was blood money to me…When Ron started his smear campaign and portrayed me to be a slut to the entire wizarding world, I offered to dissolve the contract. I didn’t want my tarnished reputation to damage their business. They laughed in my face – told me the wizarding world could go piss themselves. I was the only one, besides themselves, who believed in them and their dream.”

Bill laughed. “That explains a few things. They have always been relentless in their practical jokes against Ron, but lately some of them have been positively vicious.”

Hedwig soared into the window and perched on the back of a chair, picking through the tidbits in her dinner dish.

“Hedwig is very photogenic,” Severus said casually, watching the large white owl preen her feathers. “I saw her in a calendar I received as a gift last Christmas.”

Harry blushed, a bit embarrassed. “Malcolm thought it would give me positive exposure, so to speak. It was a good career move, much more mainstream of an audience than my usual shoots. I’ve done a few more adverts for cologne but they usually run in a limited market – mostly gay publications and uh…those that cater to …uh…pedophiles. The calendar was a playful mix of men, women and animals. A few of the models were film actors. The calendar has become something of a collector’s item – Mr. June is up for a Golden Globe Award.”

The telephone rang several times. Harry excused himself to take it. Severus tuned into the one sided conversation. A spy’s curiosity never dwindled.

“Hello? Oh, Hello Malcolm. No, it’s not too late. I wasn’t asleep…. What? What happened? Is he all right? …Thursday? Let me look at my planner…” Harry flipped open the pages of a small leather appointment book. “What time would you need me? I have two Life Drawing classes at the Uni already scheduled, but I’ll be done by eleven. Not too late? Where? Cheaton’s Bodyworks? Have an address?”

Harry made notes in his book. He held one finger up to the two wizards, indicating the call was almost over. “Malcolm, you don’t need to apologize. Arthur had too much to drink. He didn’t hurt me and he’s not the first man to grope me. Look, I’ll see you Thursday…I need my beauty sleep.”

Harry hung up the phone. He cocked his head and looked up at the two wizards. “It’s getting late so let’s cut to the chase. I do hope you’re not planning to tell anyone where I am?”

“We wouldn’t betray your confidence, Harry.” He had trusted these men in the past; Harry hoped he could still trust them now. With his finances in their current tenuous state, he was in no position to leave the security of Uncle Leon’s flat.

~*~*~*
Harry did not attempt to stifle his yawn. It was late and he really wanted Bill and Severus to leave. The Potion Master gave Bill a nudge before standing up, smoothing the wrinkles from his trousers. Bill looked at Harry uncertainly, his brain still trying to process the information he unexpectedly learned that evening.

Bill caught Harry in an awkward hug. “Harry, if you ever need…”

Harry cut Bill off mid sentence as he pulled away. He didn’t want sympathetic hollow promises; he just wanted to go to sleep.

“It’s been really nice seeing you both again, but it’s time for you to go. I’ll have to trust you to keep your silence.”

“Harry…” Bill began again, but wasn’t sure what to say.

“Do me a favor, will you?” Harry looked up at the two tall wizards, straightening his elvan frame, his features sad. “The next time you go cruising Muggle gay bars looking for a third…If you happen to see me, pretend we’ve never met...You’re both professionals – respected in your fields. You don’t need the social repercussions of a relationship with me. The Daily Prophet would tear you apart. Please…just forget this little Gryffindor whore ever existed.”

~*~*~*~
PART THREE

“Choices are the hinges of destiny.”
- Edwin Markham – Poet

 

Severus blew the long strand of red hair away from his mouth. Bill rolled in his sleep, twining his legs with the dark wizard’s. They Apparated from Harry’s apartment to Severus’ townhouse and had shared a passionate coupling. Severus caressed Bill’s back. He was satiated, but not satisfied. He cared a great deal for Bill, but did not love him. Bill had been absolutely correct with his earlier declaration that they were ‘friends with benefits’.

Severus was at a point in his life that he acknowledged the desire to settle down with someone and devote his life to his beloved potions. Free from Hogwarts and the Death Eaters, he could finally live his life to his own desires.

But Bill was different. He was not content to spend his evenings curled up beside a fire with his lover and a good book and Severus doubted Bill ever could. The cursebreaker craved novelty and excitement. He enjoyed the thrill of the chase provided by the London nightlife, wizarding and Muggle alike. Revealing his true self to very few, Bill’s life was littered with one-offs and failed relationships. Severus wondered when Bill would finally realize that all his sexual conquests were nothing more than hollow victories.

He disentangled himself from the sleeping cursebreaker. Bill made a compatible sexual partner, but the Potion Master never envisioned spending the rest of his life with him. Their odd relationship survived because it was a long distance one; Bill was so rarely in Britain. Even though his job responsibilities emersed him in dark magic, Bill Weasley was a Light Wizard to his core. And if Severus was honest with himself, he would not be comfortable with a permanent partner firmly entrenched in the Light.

An insomniac, Severus slipped out of bed and pulled on a dressing robe. Quietly, he crept out of the bedroom and made his way to his kitchens for tea. His Postal Owl was waiting patiently for him, a “Daily Prophet” attached to her leg.

Tea brewed and owl fed, Severus perused the wizarding newspaper. The third anniversary of Voldemort’s demise was approaching and the newspaper was filled with stories to mark the event. Severus’ eyes narrowed. Rita Skeeter had written an article about the events leading up to the downfall of “He-Who-Apparently-Still-Couldn’t-Be-Named” and Harry, who had single-handedly destroyed the Dark Lord, was not even mentioned. Article after article extolled the virtues of this or that obscure witch or wizard and the boy who had suffered the most was omitted.

Severus snarled at a moving figure of Ronald Weasley flying by in a Chudney Cannons uniform gracing the top half of the Sports Page. It angered him that Bill’s youngest brother had been able to follow his dreams, but because of petty vindictiveness, his Harry was left with no dreams to follow at all.

Severus closed his eyes, seeing shattered green eyes looking back at him. Harry’s rightful place in history would be erased because of a risqué photograph and a jealous homophobic. After all the times the wizarding world had turned their back in him, that tiny, abused little creature risked his life a final time to grant them freedom. By all rights, Harry should have told them all to “go fuck themselves”.

His dark eyes drifted to the Muggle animal welfare calendar hanging on his pantry door. A curvaceous blonde smiled back at him from behind a strategically placed Shar Pei. With a flick of his wand, Severus flipped the pages up in the calendar, revealing the October model.

Corvus, not Harry, he thought. Harry was dead, killed by Vernon Dursley and Ronald Weasley.

Severus examined the calendar image. Those sparkling, playful eyes were just an illusion. It was hard to believe that those innocent eyes belonged to the same damaged little wizard he had met the evening before. How could he have been so wrong about the young man? All those years he had added to the young man’s torment, displacing the anger he harbored toward James Potter to an abused waif that held no memories of the man. No, he thought, Harry James Potter was not “just like his father”. He was nothing like the vindictive, arrogant waste of talent James Potter had been. Severus closed his eyes, the memory of James saving him from a deadly prank gone wrong. For the first time in years, the Wizard’s Debt he had once owed the senior Potter did not anger him.

The Potion Master thought back on his folder of images tracing Harry’s modeling career and he began to wonder at his own motivations. On one hand, the photographs represented a semi-perverse fantasy about sex with a student – a line Severus would never have crossed as a teacher. Another part of him realized that as long as he could continue to add new photos to the collection, he could assure himself that the missing savior was still alive. But if he was totally honest with himself, revenge against the Marauders also played itself out in the fantasy collection. He could well imagine Potter, Black and Lupin’s reaction to both the idea that Harry was forced to pose semi-nude for money and that the detested “Snivellus” coveted the images.

Severus let the pages of the Muggle calendar slip through his fingers, returning to that month’s blonde. A Wizard’s Debt. There was no Wizard’s Debt large enough to absolve Albus Dumbledore of his responsibilities to Harry. Severus regretted that Lupin was dead; there would be a savage sort of justice to setting the werewolf after Dumbledore during the next full moon.

Severus looked up as a Postal Owl entered through the kitchen window, depositing a second newspaper, “The Quibbler”. Severus smiled despite himself. “The Quibbler” held a dual reputation in the wizarding world. It appealed to the lunatic fringe, but hidden between articles on Crumple Horned Snorlaxes and tap-dancing Hippogriffs, was always a totally unbiased article or two dealing with information the Ministry of Magic did not want the public at large to know. Lovegood and his daughter did not disappoint him. Buried in the pages were articles dealing with Harry Potter’s destruction of the Dark Lord Voldemort and the Ministry of Magic’s subsequent assassination on the young orphan’s character.

Severus suddenly remembered Luna Lovegood had never once wavered in her support of Harry during his final horrible year at Hogwarts, no matter the ridicule his friendship brought her. Could her unbiased articles, published years after the scandal, now open eyes to the truth? Could her stories generate enough good will to permit Harry to return home? And did he even want to return?

~*~*~*~
Severus swallowed the last of the savory stew and crusty bread before pushing his plate away. He didn’t even blink when the discarded dishware disappeared, leaving behind his half-filled teacup and a pot of lukewarm tea.

“Severus.”

The Potion Master looked up, surveying his surroundings. The staff dining hall at St. Mungo’s was fairly quiet, the lunch shift changes almost completed. He heard his name called again and looked up at two Mediwizards seated several tables over.

“How soon can you provide the Surgery with more of that disinfecting potion? My staff can’t say enough about it…doesn’t dry out the skin as much as the previous batch.”

Severus sorted through his pile of notes, retrieving a battered leather book. He perused the entries. “It’s nearing the end of the month…many critical potions are already on the schedule…but I am sure one of the Senior Apprentices can fit it around this month’s brewing of Wolfsbane and Skele-Gro…Is Friday acceptable?”

The Mediwizard in the crimson robes of Surgical Mediwizardry nodded his head. Severus made a quick notation in his notebook. “Same quantity as last time…or will you require a larger batch?”

“Whatever is most convenient…I know your department resources are always stretched month end.”

Severus returned to his notes. He acknowledged a few greetings with a distracted nod of his head. He reviewed his notes while he finished off his tea. Thankfully his reputation as an unfriendly bastard preceded his move to St. Mungo’s and dissuaded most of his associates from bothering him with mindless social chatter, but there were still one or two who never seemed to get the hint.

From the corner of his eye, he saw the Mediwizard in charge of Sports Injuries approaching his table. The dark wizard began to swiftly gather his scattered notes, hoping to make a quick exit, but his intentions were thwarted when a roll of parchment slipped from his fingers and rolled across the floor. The parchment was scooped up by the athletic Mediwizard who proceeded to bound to Severus’ table.

“Hallo, Snape….what about those Harpies?”

Severus seized his parchment from the other wizard’s fingers and turned his attention back to his reference materials. If the man wanted to discuss the Greek mythological monster that was half woman half bird of prey, the Potion Master would have been a bit more sociable, but he knew the twit was discussing an all-female athletic team.

“Three hundred and twenty to forty against the Wilbourne Wasps…could have a lock on the championship if they beat out Puddlemere United next week…”

Severus glowered at the exuberant Mediwizard before pointedly examining the front of his own robes.

“Snape?” The other man was confused by Severus’ odd behavior.

“Just checking to make sure no one mistakenly pinned a team rosette to my chest.” His dark eyes bore into his unfortunate associate. “What ever gave you the impression that I remotely care about the current state of Professional Quidditch?”

The Mediwizard blinked, shocked to think anyone would not follow Quidditch as religiously as he did. A Pediatric Mediwitch called out a casual greeting as she passed the open doorway and he took the opportunity to bolt toward her.

“You know, Severus…it wouldn’t hurt for you to attempt to be a tad bit sociable.” The Surgical Mediwizard called over.

“And what would be the profit in that?” he replied; the older wizard erupted into a deep chuckle.

A clock on the far wall chimed the quarter hour. Severus rose, smoothing the wrinkles from his deep aubergine robe, the color-coding signifying to staff and public alike that he was a Potion Master. He missed his severe black robes, but the color-coded robes were essential in a hospital where any manner of emergency – medical or magical – could arrive at any moment.

The tall wizard gathered up several scrolls detailing some of his latest research and he strode across the almost vacant hall toward a 2:00 meeting with the head healer in the Curse Damage Ward. Of all the departments at St. Mungo’s, the Curse Damage wards offered the most interesting of his research projects. Due to the nature of the injuries, many could not be cured with magic at all. Even the potions had to be brewed in Muggle fashion – a time consuming and often frustrating process – the smallest amount of magic could prove fatal to the patient.

A tiny witch, who looked even older than Albus Dumbledore, smiled as he entered the ward; her bright green eyes disappeared into crinkled wrinkles. She motioned him into her small, but spotless, office. The walls were filled with rows of files and scrolls of parchment, each one plainly marked and readily accessible.

“Madam Jones,” Severus greeted her, his voice showing his deep respect for his colleague. Years before, while training for his Mastery, the dark wizard spent thirteen months studying under the tutelage of the diminutive witch.

“Sit, Severus,” Siobhan Jones ordered. “We’ve run into a small complication with the burn salve for Mr. Shunpike. It appears poor Stanley is allergic to aloe.”

~*~*~*~
Mind cluttered from a long day of research and supervisory meetings, Severus stepped out of the Muggle entrance of St. Mungo’s intending to take a walk in the crisp early evening air to clear his head. He often managed to troubleshoot difficult potions puzzles while enjoying the benefits of exercise and fresh air. This evening, his stroll took him in a different direction from his usual haunts and he found himself standing at a vaguely familiar cross street. A tasteful neon sign halfway down the block caught his eye - Tommy’s.

Glad that he had changed out of his distinctive Master’s robes and into something vaguely Muggle, he pretended to read the menu posted beside the door. Severus peered into the busy pub and recognized the white smudge of Hedwig up on her ledge. Harry could not be far away.

Casting a quick “Notice-Me-Not” charm, Severus followed a small group into the pub and tucked himself in an out of the way corner to survey the dinner crowd. Dressed in plain black trousers and a crisp white shirt, Harry deftly maneuvered through the crowded dining room with heavy plates laden with steaming entrees and mugs of lager from the bar.

Severus watched Harry and the other pretty boy waiters flirt with their customers and watched the customers flirt back. He knew it was only a game to get a larger tip, but the older wizard clenched his jaw as he watched men loop their arms around his Harry’s waist or rest their hands against his arse as they placed their orders. Harry gracefully slid away from most of the hands and Severus realized it must be a common occurrence for the waiters at Tommy’s to be touched. As long as everyone held to his rules, overprotective Tommy’s cricket bat would remain beneath the bar.

The dinner rush disappeared after a few hours and Harry removed his apron. Perched on a bar stool, he counted out his tips on the bar top, passing a percentage to the young man bussing the tables. Tommy exchanged some of the coins for notes and Harry tucked his earnings into his wallet.

“Tomorrow?” Tommy asked, but Harry shook his head.

“Can’t work tomorrow, Tom. Have a shoot in the afternoon…probably run quite late…” Harry made a soft clicking sound with his tongue and Hedwig landed on the slender shoulder.

Harry passed by the hidden Severus and grabbed a jacket from a coat hook near the dark wizard’s head. Hedwig turned her head, curious amber eyes looking directly at the charmed wizard. She chirruped softly.

“What’s the matter, Hedwig?” Harry gently stroked her feathers to calm her agitation. “There’s nothing there. It’s just a shadow.”

~*~*~*~
Severus ran his fingers down the calendar image of Harry as he nibbled on a toasted crumpet. His dreams the night before had been filled with beautiful green eyes and that shy, seductive smile. What in the name of Merlin was the matter with him? Why couldn’t he shake the memory of his former student from his mind? There were alarms going off in his subconscious and Harry’s parting words echoed in his mind – “just forget this little Gryffindor whore ever existed”. The dark wizard’s head ached; in requesting him to forget, had Harry condemned him to remember?

His attention was drawn away from the calendar as Bill entered the kitchen, dressed in a deep navy blue business robe. The Cursebreaker gave him a quick peck to the lips before snagging the half-eaten crumpet from his unresisting fingers. Devouring it in two bites, Bill gave Severus a wicked grin.

“I have back to back meetings scheduled for the entire day. I don’t know when I’ll be back. Don’t wait up.” Bill collected a briefcase from the kitchen countertop and Apparated to Gringotts.

Severus summoned his appointment book from his study and perused the entries. He had an unusually light schedule today, nothing so urgent it could not be rescheduled.

~*~*~*

Dressed in nondescript Muggle clothing and wearing a Glamour Charm, Severus Apparated into the alley beside Harry’s apartment building. He wasn’t entirely sure why he felt compelled to investigate Harry’s personal life and he hoped that it was not a sign he was becoming a besotted idiot. He had awoken that morning with a feeling deep inside that something was off balance - that something was going to happen that he needed to prevent. The tall man would just let his skill and cunning as a spy take over. Severus had learned years before never to ignore his sixth sense.

Standing in the foyer, Severus stared at the door buzzers and the names beside the buttons. A quick glance at his watch revealed it was nearly seven-thirty in the morning. Had the younger wizard already left for his first appointment?

Severus pushed the button to Harry’s apartment. After a moment, Harry’s soft voice came over the intercom.
‘Hello?”

“Edith?” Severus asked in a disguised voice, reading off a name at random from another nameplate.

“Sorry, no,” came the disembodied voice. “You have hit the wrong button. I believe she is in 3A.”

“Oh, my mistake. Terribly sorry to have disturbed you.”

Severus exited the building and took up a position across the street. Harry had not left yet and, hopefully, he would continue to act the Muggle and travel in Muggle fashion, allowing himself to be followed.

~*~*~*
Severus cast an invisibility charm and crept into the Life Drawing studio at a local university. The room was full of easels and drawing supplies, the smell of oil paint and chalk hanging in the air. A few students were trickling in as Harry introduced himself to the instructor. He was pointed to a small curtained alcove to disrobe.

Once the classroom filled and the students arranged their charcoals and pastels, Harry emerged wearing a bathrobe as a coverall and a pale gray thong concealing his genitals. Harry climbed a raised dais and twisted his body into whatever position he was instructed. Every ten minutes, he would change his pose. Severus was amazed at the control Harry had over his body.

Drifting unseen through the classroom, Severus peered over the shoulders of the art students. It was sad, really. Harry wasn’t human to the majority of the artists; he was just a disjointed set of body parts. Only a few of the sketches breathed any life into the stoic figure.

As the class began to pack their supplies, Harry retreated to the curtained alcove for a cup of tea, only to emerge at the start of the second class repeating the cycle of poses again.

At the end of the second class, the instructor thanked him and pulled a few notes from his wallet. Harry agreed to return at a later date to model again. The slender wizard emerged fully dressed from behind the curtained alcove to a deserted studio. As he headed toward the door, he paused for a moment close to where the invisible Severus was standing. Harry sniffed the air in puzzlement at a subtle herbal scent lingering in the room. Potions, he thought, and then quickly dismissed the notion. It was probably just a student’s cologne. His bright green eyes seemed to bore right through Severus before shrugging and heading down the hallway.

~*~*~*~
Harry returned to his apartment for a short while, re-emerging freshly showered, a messenger bag slung over his shoulder. Severus almost lost him in the Underground, but managed to catch sight of him at the last possible moment. The older wizard remembered the telephone conversation and was mildly surprised to discover Cheaton’s Bodyworks was not an exercise facility, but a large showroom of motorcycles, motor scooters and racing bicycles.

Harry made his way to the back of the large warehouse and through a milling crowd of curious spectators to where a photo session was set up behind makeshift privacy screens. A scantily clad redhead approached the small trailer tucked in the corner for a costume change as the technicians adjusted the lighting. A large street bike was pushed into the lighted area and attached to hidden bracing for support.

A large, tattooed mountain of muscle turned toward Harry, a pleasant smile softening his rough features. He caught the slender model in a one armed hug. “Well if it isn’t the ever adorable Blackbird…I wondered who Malcolm snagged to fill in for Stephan at the last moment.”

“Hello, Dil. It’s been ages. Malcolm said Stephan fractured his skull. What happened?”

“Went to go see Arsenal play with a couple cousins…you know what kind of crowd that attracts…got clipped in the head with a bat…bastard’s lucky it didn’t kill him.” Dil was matter of fact. You didn’t have to follow sports to know some teams attracted a violent following and you attended live events at your own peril.

An assistant called out for Harry, ready for a wardrobe fitting and makeup. Dil ambled toward the lit stage, another assistant brushing out an unattractive shine on the big man’s forehead. He studied the bike as he waited for the female model to return from her wardrobe change.

Severus settled into the edge of the crowd, his glamour charm firmly in place. With so many hangers on, he could easily escape detection. He was curious about the Muggle photo shoot and wasn’t entirely sure if the focus of the shoot was the wide variety of motorcycles Cheaton’s seemed to sell or their extensive line of leather and denim clothing.

Harry emerged in leather trousers so tight they were a second skin and an equally tight black t-shirt with a manufacturer’s logo across the chest. His always-erratic hair had been calmed into a deliberately tousled nest and just the merest hint of makeup made his skin and eyes glow. The tell tale scar was hidden beneath a layer of concealer.

Severus could see that Harry was on edge. The sprite reached into his messenger bag for his cell phone and punched in a number from memory, but whomever he wished to contact was unavailable. Harry tossed the phone onto the top of his messenger bag in irritation. Another cell phone chirped in the distance.

The photographer stalked over to where Harry was leaning against a column. He caught Harry’s shoulder and spun him. Harry noticeably blanched when the man leaned into his face, close enough for their noses to brush, hot breath on his cheek.

”I know you don’t like working with me Birdy, but we’re both professionals. Malcolm didn’t tell you I was running the shoot because he needed a model to fit the clothes and knew you wouldn’t come. Don’t try calling him again; he won’t answer….For some unknown reason, he still thinks enough of you to keep you on his books. Don’t you dare give me attitude or fuck up this shoot…”

Harry pulled himself up to his full meager height and returned a surprisingly effective sneer. “No worries, Quentin…as you say, we’re both professionals…and as long as YOU keep it that way…. Malcolm never told me what time you needed me, so I hope I haven’t held up your shoot…”

“No. Still have a few more indoor shots with Chrissy and Dil before we light the outdoor shots…” The photographer sipped from his water bottle. “Was rather surprised Malcolm sent you…you haven’t worked much lately…thought you’d retired.”

“You know there’s not a lot of call for me, Quentin. I’m too short and too feminine…I can’t imagine I’m going to do too much for Cheaton’s testosterone rich image.”

Quentin laughed, running a knuckle along Harry’s jaw line, ignoring the flinch. “Don’t be daft, Birdy…in a few hours time, you’re going to be the half-dressed bitch hanging off Dil’s bike…there’s still a market in some circles for your tight little arse.”

Severus could see the muscles in Harry’s back tighten as the photographer winked at him, conspiratorially. “Alistair’s offer still stands, you know…fifteen hundred quid’s nothing to sneeze at…he could make you famous.”

“No!” Harry replied sharply. “I’ve done a lot of shit I’m not proud of since I was thrown away at sixteen. I’ve been kept, but I’ve never been a rent boy. And I’ll starve before I accept fifteen hundred pounds from Alistair so he can film me being gang banged.”

Severus blinked. He must have misunderstood something in their conversation. Muggle slang was often hard to comprehend.

“Fair warning, Pretty Bird. Alistair’s got his mind set on you…you know his taste for little queens …and he doesn’t like to be disappointed.”

Chrissy sauntered by and Quentin followed her, shouting out directions. Harry reached for his cell phone, but drew his hand back before touching it. He worried his lower lip as he stared pensively at the exit sign.

The shoot moved outside to a mocked up street scene set up in a bright alley. At the photographer’s direction, Harry stood in the foreground, straddling a bright red motor scooter, looking enviously at Dil, astride a huge, chrome machine with the redhead in a tight cat suit perched on the back.

“Envy, Birdy,” the photographer shouted, “Show me envy.”

”And exactly what am I supposed to be envious of? The bike? The bird? Or the bloke?” Harry shot back to the amusement of the crew, giving an impish grin before schooling his features into a look of desire.

Severus was once again amazed at how perfect the masks Harry wore were. He began to wonder how many people had ever seen the real man and he was intrigued. He liked this most Slytherin of Gryffindors.

~*~*~*~
Severus cast a concealment charm and shifted uncomfortably from his hidden perch on a pile of motorcycle parts. The photo shoot had gone on for hours and through many changes of models and wardrobe. The theme of the shots had noticeably drifted away from heterosexual fantasies. Quentin banished all of the casual observers and had dismissed most of the assistants and the female models, moving in the privacy screens to create a proper barrier. Harry was currently half dressed, draped over the muscular Dil, looking for the world like a bitch in heat. Severus felt the unexpected burn of jealousy in his chest.

And finally even Dil left and the rest of the crew broke for dinner.

Harry looked at Quentin for dismissal, but the photographer smiled a feral smile. “Private commission, Pretty Bird. Two hundred quid, tax free.”

Harry shook his head. “No. I’m done with that.”

Quentin caught the slender model, his fists clenching the waistband of Harry’s tight black trousers. He pulled the young man roughly against his body. “No choice, Luv. You do this or I’ll make sure Malcolm blacklists you…you’ll be nothing but a rent boy in a month.”

~*~*~*~
Alone with Quentin, Harry was draped over the motorcycle, his trousers unzipped, revealing a tantalizing treasure trail beneath his naval. Slowly he peeled the trousers down, revealing more of his sparse but toned physique. When Quentin paused to reload film into his camera, Severus could see the haunted look in the dulled green eyes.

The Potion Master was struck by the desolation in Harry’s life. He was even more trapped by his reputation in the Muggle world than he was in the magical one. Harry’s striptease should have been erotic or playful, but knowing that it was coerced, it was horrifying.

Harry was naked, back arched, perched impossibly on the motorcycle seat. His finely muscled thigh hid his flaccid penis. Quentin was growing irritated.

“Fist yourself,” he ordered briskly. “No one’s going to pay to see that dead thing between your legs.”

Harry’s hand moved between his legs, wrapping his hand around his unaroused cock. Quentin continued to shoot. Severus found himself wishing the degradation would just end. His thoughts drifted toward hexing Quentin and bringing the shoot to a halt, but he knew Harry would be more horrified that someone knew how low his life had sunk than actually participating in the shoot. Severus reminded himself that a spy did not get involved, but his heart told him to “sod off”.

Severus drew his wand and directed a charm toward the last three rolls of film the photographer had shot. The simple illumination charm caused the film cartridges to glow softly, effectively exposing the rolls of film to light, obliterating the images they once held. He sent another spell to destroy the film still in the camera.

“That’s it, Birdy. Give us a show.” Quentin leaned in and adjusted one of Harry’s hips. Harry shifted his center of gravity so as to not fall off the bike. He looked over Quentin’s shoulder as boot heels echoed in the empty warehouse. Two men entered the vacant motorcycle dealership, one dressed in expensively tailored clothes with too many gold rings and the second, obviously hired muscle.

The color drained from Harry’s face and he scrambled off the motorbike. Off balance, he stumbled. He snagged the discarded trousers and tried to clothe himself, but the man with the rings had another agenda.

“Alistair,” Harry whispered, unable to evade the much larger man.

“It was so kind of Malcolm and Quentin to let me know you were here, don’t you agree? You’re a very hard bunny to find.”

Harry’s eyes flashed in utter contempt at the photographer. Quentin accepted a thick envelope from the bodyguard and hurriedly packed away his gear. Harry realized that Alistair had been the private commission, but the photographs were not his desire; Harry was.

“Don’t fight me, Pet. You’re not going to win.” Alistair wrapped his arms around Harry’s thin hips, pulling him into an embrace, but Harry had other ideas. With Seeker reflexes, he spun, his hands curled into fists. With a wild swing, one fist landed on Alistair’s face, causing blood to spurt from his nose. The bodyguard trapped the struggling wizard. Alistair smiled, blood staining his teeth. It was a frightening smile.

“You little bitch. You broke my nose…you’ll pay for that.” Holding a handkerchief in one hand to stanch the blood, Alistair stroked Harry’s smooth skin with his other.

“Leon’s not here to protect you. All he’s done is saddle you with a flat you can not afford and can not sell….I’ve watched you grow up Harry, and I’ve waited for you…You used to moan so prettily when you rode my fingers…I can’t wait to hear the sounds you’ll make when you ride my cock.”

Alistair grabbed the hair at the nape of the young man’s neck and forced his head up. Harry continued to struggle as the man violently claimed his mouth and throat. The bodyguard’s hands were not idle, the broad hands fondling Harry’s testicles.

A spotlight shattered as Harry’s wandless magic erupted, but he was too terrified to focus it properly. Quentin took one last look and bolted for the door, guilt creeping into the recesses of his brain.

Severus broke his vow to merely observe and not get involved. He quickly shed his obscuring charms and glamours. If he didn’t act swiftly, one, possibly two, men would rape his Harry.

~*~*~*~
Tears of frustration blurred the emerald eyes as Harry continued to struggle against the inevitable. All his nightmares were coming true and he was unable to stop it. He could not control his wandless magic and his wand was useless, tucked in his messenger bag. Alistair was known for keeping toys, using them to enact his violent sexual fantasies upon – often in front of a film camera. Harry knew of two former toys who committed suicide to escape the torture.

A heavy metal door slammed, causing the struggling trio to turn toward the sound. Severus stood, his most menacing Death Eater glare firmly in place. His hand clutched his wand, hidden in a shirtsleeve, but to the Muggles, it appeared to be a firearm.

“Get your fucking hands off my pet,” he snarled, using a voice that would make many adult wizards soil themselves. The bodyguard took a step back and Harry twisted free. Harry’s shock at the Potion Master’s unexpected appearance was overridden by a sense of overwhelming relief.

“Corvus,” Severus barked again, snapped his fingers once and pointed to a spot at his feet.

Harry wasn’t stupid, and was in no position to over think Severus’ strategy. Mindless of his nudity, the sprite dropped submissively to his knees beside Severus’ jean clad form. Never breaking his eye contact with Alistair and the bodyguard, Severus petted Harry’s head, carding his fingers through the sweat soaked locks.

“Brat,” he murmured affectionately and Harry smiled.

~*~*~*~

PART FOUR

“A rattlesnake that doesn’t bite teaches you nothing.”
- Jessamyn West

 

Hedwig perched tentatively beside Severus’ Postal Owl, Aconite. The two owls chirruped a short conversation before they leaned into one another and napped, heads tucked under wings. Severus was relieved Aconite did not decide to become territorial about her perch. He had a one hundred and fourteen pound blackbird of his own to contend with.

Alistair, thankfully, had stepped down, not wanting to lower himself to “fight over a whore.” Although Severus wanted nothing more than to curse the men, the dark wizard knew an open attack upon a Muggle, no matter how deserved, would bring the wrath of the Ministry of Magic Aurors down on his head. He had had a lifetime of dealing with their general distrust and didn’t desire a re-kindling of animosity. But that did not mean Severus planned to ignore the men either; it would grate against his Slytherin core.

Harry was curled up in the corner of his sofa, clutching a mug of tea liberally laced with Firewhisky. The aftermath of his assault left the young wizard understandably shaken. He offered no argument or resistance when Severus spelled clothing to cover him and Apparated them both to Harry’s flat to retrieve Hedwig and a change of clothing. Rather than risk a second Apparation with a caged owl, Severus sent the snowy owl ahead to his townhouse.

Harry was silent, his brilliant eyes taking in the room’s atmosphere. As expected, the bookshelves were overflowing, but the contents were varied. Although the majority of the text titles alluded to Potions or Dark Magic, there seemed to be a number that were of a sexual nature. Severus Snape as a sexual being was an intriguing concept.

Severus sat on the sofa beside Harry. His hand reached over to pat one of Harry’s bare feet, realizing for the first time that when he had dressed Harry in Cheaton’s he had neglected to give him shoes and socks. The foot was ice cold.

Hey,” he said softly. “Do you want more tea or a blanket?”

‘No, Professor.”

“Severus.”

Harry’s eyes flickered to meet Severus’ dark eyes before dropping submissively. “S-Severus, why have you been following me?”

Severus’ hand caressed the bare foot. Why had he really followed Harry? He wasn’t too sure how to answer the question and did not want to scare the young man. The longer he had watched Harry, the more he wanted to protect him from the harsh life he was leading, but he didn’t want Harry to think his motivation was based on pity or the Wizard’s Debt he once owed the deceased James Potter. He decided to change the subject.

“Alistair called you Harry as well as Birdy. How long have you known him?”

Harry wrapped his hands around his drawn up knees. He lifted his chin and rested it on one bony kneecap. “Alistair used to be a photographer before he became a cinematographer…he was one of the first to take those pictures of me.”

There was no need to ask what Harry meant by “those pictures”. “Did he ever do something other than just take your picture?”

“Yes,” Harry whispered. “He never stuck his cock in me because I was too little…but he’d stick other things up me…and he’d rape me with his fingers.”

“And your Uncle Vernon watched this?”

Harry began to rock. Severus pulled him into his lap, wrapping protective arms around him. “U-Uncle Vernon never touched me…well not sexually…but he’d masturbate while watching Alistair…It would get him excited.”

“And Leon Shaw put a stop to it?”

“Elliot snapped all of Alistair’s fingers and destroyed his photography studio and equipment.” Harry gave a crooked smile, an apologetic shrug. “I told you I was Uncle Leon’s favorite…he wasn’t a man who shared his toys.”

“Is that what you think you are – a toy?”

Harry looked away. It was obvious that he did. For all his masks and the illusion of confidence he carefully projected, the young wizard had no sense of self worth.

“You call yourself “Gryffindor Whore’ but you’re not, are you?”

“I am a normal, hormonal nineteen year old and I do enjoy sex. What I do not enjoy is being forced into it. I’ve been with other men besides Uncle Leon and a few women as well, but I can count them on one hand. I never traded sex for money.”

Harry snuggled against Severus’ chest. The dark wizard could feel the tension drain from Harry. They sat in silence for a while, watching the flames in the fireplace flicker and the owls sleep. Without thinking of possible consequences, Severus kissed the top of the smaller man’s head. Harry shifted his weight but did not pull away.

”Have you given any thought to your future? You must have realized your modeling options were limited.”

“And now they’re completely dead. I can understand Quentin would give me up to Alistair for money but I trusted Malcolm…” He paused for a moment. “I used to want to be an Auror.”

“Shacklebolt told me about the last minute withdrawal of the offer for training. Cowardly bastards.”

“The dream of being an Auror had pretty much died by then…I’d seen too much violence on the battlefield…But that training would have been invaluable, even if I eventually sought another path. I didn’t want to move back with Uncle Leon but I had nowhere else to go. Only he and Elliot seemed to care if I lived or died.”

“There was no one else you trusted to go to for help?”

You and Hagrid put your careers on the line for me seventh year and I wasn’t worth it. I couldn’t go back to Privet Drive and 12 Grimmauld Place was no longer a sanctuary. Remus died from silver poisoning shortly after the war and the Weasleys…I couldn’t…not after Ron.”

“You had offers to play professional Quidditch. Why didn’t you accept one of them? Your ban only lasted until graduation.”

“They didn’t want me for my Seeker skills. They wanted the notoriety of the name. Once they were done spinning their P.R., I’d have been cut loose. I am not a league caliber talent.”

”Rubbish!” Severus replied. “You were the youngest Seeker in a century. You rarely lost a match. The Quidditch ban left you rusty not worthless.”

Harry shifted his position so he was straddling Severus’ legs. He faced the Potion Master, their noses almost touching. “No offense, Severus, but after Cedric was murdered, there wasn’t any real competition. Draco Malfoy offered the best challenge, and he was all tricks and speed, no genuine talent…but that’s not the real reason I declined the offers.”

“You’re an amazing flyer, Harry, and with proper training you would be a strong asset to any team. What was the reason then? Fear of ridicule?”

“No,” Harry replied softly. He turned his face toward the glow of an oil lamp. “Look closely at my eyes.”

Severus looked at the familiar brilliant eyes and did not understand what Harry wanted him to see. The younger wizard tilted his head slightly and Severus could see Harry’s corneas were not smooth; there were hairline scars.

”What happened to your eyes?” he asked angrily, images of Death Eater torture or abuse from Vernon Dursley drifting to the forefront.

“It wouldn’t have mattered if Professor Dumbledore lifted my Quidditch ban or not. I would not have played anything but a pick-up game. Have you ever heard of Lasik surgery, Severus?”

“Lasik? I am not familiar with that term.”

“Muggle eye surgeons perform an operation called Lasik surgery to correct vision problems. They cut a starburst shaped incision that reshapes the cornea. Uncle Leon thought I looked better without my eyeglasses so he took me for an operation. It wasn’t entirely successful…

“I no longer require eyeglasses and my near vision improved considerably, but my long range depth perception was damaged and I am extremely sensitive to bright light. If I were foolish enough to attempt a Wronski Feint, I would most assuredly plow my broom into the ground before I realized how close to the earth I actually was.”

“Can the operation be reversed?”

“Madam Promfrey didn’t think so, and the Mediwitch she contacted at St. Mungos reaffirmed her initial diagnosis. They were afraid any attempt at repair could leave me in worse shape and possibly induce blindness…I never knew wizards sometimes reacted poorly to Muggle surgical techniques …but all in all, I am not unhappy with the procedure. It is enough to no longer need my eyeglasses.”

“But still, it is unfortunate. You loved to play Quidditch.”

Harry shrugged. “Quidditch is a child’s game and Professional Quidditch was a child’s dream. I never actually envisioned myself making a career out of it…that was Oliver Wood and Ron Weasley’s dream.”

“But it was one more option taken from your control.”

“My entire life was taken out of my control when Voldemort murdered my parents. I know you thought I reveled in my celebrity, but I never did. I hated all the attention. I just wanted to be normal.”

“You’re not normal, Harry. No Muggle-raised wizard is.”

“But I was never allowed to try…I was the Dursley’s freak or The-Boy-Who-Lived…what rubbish.” Harry cocked his head. “Do you know why I loved Quidditch so much? It was the only thing I had ever accomplished in my entire life that I was good at and didn’t involve sex.”

Severus felt a pang in his chest. He wanted to hold Harry and never let him go. He wanted to curse all the people who had damaged his beautiful little elf – wizard and Muggle alike. But instead, he said, “I’m sure there were other things you were good at.”

“Not Potions.”

“No, not Potions…but a fully formed Patronus at thirteen…Most adult wizards can’t perform that charm…and your work with Dumbledore’s Army…you were an excellent teacher.”

“Yeah,” Harry replied, a hint of bitterness in his voice. “And my ‘friends’ used all those curses I taught against me seventh year.”

“I have to admit I was rather surprised by Miss Granger’s behavior. She had always defended you in the past.”

“You really shouldn’t have been. She’d fancied Ron for years. Betraying me was the price she paid to secure his affections.”

“Not that I followed that sort of thing, but I was unaware that they were dating.”

Harry gave a bitter, mirthless laugh. “She thought they were, but they weren’t. Ron used her like he used everyone else…He kept her around to do his homework and to fuck…once he passed his N.E.W.T.S., he threw her aside rather publicly. He was not about to be tied down by a frizzy-haired Mudblood bookworm.”

“I imagine that was rather a shock to Miss Know-It-All.”

“Book smart…not street smart. That was always Hermione’s weakness…” Harry shifted his position. “A week after graduation, she sent me an owl…tried to apologize for her actions.”

“I take it her apology was rejected.”

“Damn straight. I’d forgive Ron before I’d ever forgive her.”

Severus’ eyes widened slightly at the venom in Harry’s tone.

“Ron wasn’t the one to destroy my Firebolt…it was Hermione. Out of anyone, she knew how important that broom was to me…it was all I had left from Sirius…when Hogwart’s turned on me, she was the most vicious…she’d had six years to learn all my weak spots…”

”But everyone did not turn on you.”

“No. Luna stood by me and Neville wouldn’t let them destroy my photo albums and my dad’s invisibility cloak…but they couldn’t save my Firebolt.”

“Longbottom graduated a fairly competent wizard…and that was all your doing. The skills you taught him in the D.A. enabled him to finally get past his fear and grasp his considerable magic. You showed a great deal of patience. You could consider a career in teaching…I think you have the aptitude for it.”

“And exactly what am I qualified to teach? Modeling?”

“I think you could teach anything if you put your heart into it. Give it some thought. You can stay here as long as you need. I won’t throw you out.”

Harry adjusted his perch on Severus’ lap. He studied the Potion Master for several moments before tentatively raising his hand and stroking the older man’s cheek with a feather light touch. His eyes were wide and expressive.

“So, that was you at the Uni this morning and at Tommy’s last night, wasn’t it? It wasn’t just my imagination? And Hedwig has not developed a fear of shadows?”

“I was there.”

“And you rang my flat early this morning pretending to be someone else?” Severus nodded. Harry’s upper teeth rested on his lower lip; he nervously nibbled on the pink flesh. “Are you stalking me, or is it something else? You never answered me earlier. Why are you following me?”

Severus brushed strands of wild black hair away from Harry’s beautiful eyes. “It was a mixture of curiosity and concern.”

“And?”

“I saw much more than I anticipated.”

Harry leaned forward and placed a soft kiss on Severus’ thin lips. “Did you like what you saw?”

“You have a very nice body, but it shouldn’t be on public display.”

Harry kissed him a second time, a little less tentatively.

“Harry, what are you doing?”

~*~*~*~
Harry’s kisses aroused and perplexed him. Harry said he never accepted money for sex, but how often had he exchanged it for shelter? Leon protected him, but had expected sex in exchange for that protection. Did the young wizard think Severus’ offer of shelter was contingent upon sexual submission?

Severus was torn. He had fantasized about having “his” Harry in his arms, hearing him call out his name in passion, and now that the elusive sprite was perched on his knees, he didn’t know what to do. The dark wizard’s logical mind told him he should not take advantage of a sexually abused child, but should offer him counsel. His heart worried that if he rejected Harry, he would never have a chance again. He remembered something said years before – that the only commodity Harry had available to him was his own flesh.

Harry kissed him again, and when Severus did not reciprocate, Harry’s scant confidence dwindled. Afraid Severus would push him away, laugh at him or call him a whore, Harry began to slide off the Potion Master’s lap. He wanted more than anything to Disapparate, but even if he knew how to do it, he no longer had a safe place to Apparate to. Alistair knew where he lived.

Severus took a look at the dejected little figure and made a decision. His thin arm snaked around Harry’s waist, stopping the movement. His other hand wrapped around the slender shoulders.

“Don’t pursue a sexual encounter with me because you think it’s required.”

“I don’t want a pity fuck.” Harry whispered. “You wanted me the other night when I walked into Tommy’s. Even before you knew it was me, you were devouring me with your eyes. You got off on my stilettos, the sway to my hips. Do you want me to dress up for you? Or did what you saw today disgust you?”

Severus entwined his fingers with Harry’s and brought their hands up, kissing the inside of the younger wizard’s wrist. “You didn’t disgust me. I was jealous of your friend Dil…I wanted it to be me you were wrapped around…I wanted your striptease to be for me.”

“You’d still want me? Something used?” Harry asked, uncertainly.

Severus captured the pink lips in a tender kiss. “Virginity is over rated.”

~*~*~*~
Bill brushed the floo powder from his clothing. He was mentally and physically drained from an all day meeting with the Gringotts’ staff that had dragged on into the night. At least his report on the Egyptian Branch had been favorably received. He could not say the same thing for the representative of the Brazilian Office. The head goblin reassigned that unfortunate wizard to a less than plumb assignment to collect a debt owed in Borneo.

Bill wandered into the study, expecting to find Severus engrossed in his research, but the dark wizard was not at his desk. Nor was he in his potions lab. There were two empty mugs of tea abandoned on a side table as well as a bottle of Firewhisky. The cursebreaker stooped down to pick up a white owl feather on the study carpet. Strange, he thought, Aconite’s feathers were brown and Severus did not permit general Postal Owls into his study.

He set the white feather beside the bottle of Firewhisky and quietly climbed the staircase. He entered the bathroom to wash his face and immediately felt the increased humidity. Severus had recently taken a shower; the tiles were still damp.

Reentering the hallway, Bill could see a soft flickering of firelight in the partially opened door to the master suite. Severus was probably reading in bed, but the redhead silently made his way toward the door incase the Potion Master was asleep.

Bill stopped dead in his tracks. The door was ajar. Through it he could see two pair of bare feet. His jaw dropped. He and Severus were by no means exclusive and Bill had a string of conquests in both Egypt and Great Britain, but never once had Severus taken another lover to his bed while Bill was visiting.

He heard a soft gasp of pleasure as he watched Severus kiss, nip, and taste every inch of his smaller lover’s body. The dark wizard shifted his position and Bill could see the flushed elfin face of Harry Potter.

Bill watched Severus’ tender foreplay and felt an unexpected pang of jealousy. He found himself becoming aroused. Severus was treating Harry as if he were the most precious object in the world. Harry keened softly as Severus began to tease the tender flesh of his inner thighs. Harry giggled and it struck Bill as such an intimate sound. He felt like a voyeur – a jealous voyeur – but realized his jealousy did not stem from either Severus or Harry, but from the stark knowledge that even if Severus was not aware of it, Severus was in love with Harry. Bill didn’t think anyone would love ever him as much as the passionate Potion Master loved the disgraced savior. He only hoped that the years of abuse has not rendered Harry incapable of returning that love.

Unseen, Bill backed away from the door and headed for one of the vacant guest rooms. He stripped down to his boxers and crawled into bed, painfully aware of his erection. Willing it away, Bill tried to get comfortable in the cold antique bed. He wasn’t used to sleeping alone – here or in Egypt – and he missed the comfort of another warm body.

He wasn’t angry with Severus and didn’t even view the older wizard’s actions as a betrayal. Given the chance, who wouldn’t want that beautiful little creature warming their bed?

*~*~*~
Harry’s eyes darkened in arousal as he watched Severus. The older man’s gentle seduction was totally unexpected. Harry was used to the perfunctory foreplay of his other partners – tweak a nipple, insert one, two, three fingers in rapid succession and impale. As Severus teased him time and time again, Harry did something he had never done in his life. Harry relaxed and let himself ride the waves of pleasure. He realized, with a start, that he trusted the former Death Eater not to hurt him.

Severus sat up and looked around; thinking he heard something, but there was nothing out of place. His hands caressed the smooth flesh of the younger wizard. Muggle photographs did not do justice to the beautiful elf beneath him. He could easily become lost in those expressive green eyes.

The dark wizard teased the tender flesh between Harry’s inner thighs and performed a spell of lubrication, relaxation and protection. Harry made a sound that almost sounded like a giggle.

“It’s cold,” he whispered with a rare shy smile. Of course, Harry knew about the spell Severus used – all boys fifth year and above did – but had never expected anyone to use it on him. Savagely ridiculed for his supposed sexual deviancy by his Hogwarts classmates, Harry never expected to exchange intimacies with a wizard.

Severus rested slender ankles on his shoulders and nudged Harry’s entrance. The young man willed himself to relax, fully expecting Severus to bury himself to the hilt in one thrust, but like the foreplay, Severus’ lovemaking was gentle. He penetrated Harry’s tight channel, forcing himself to take it slow. Initial penetration was always uncomfortable but Severus was careful not to make it painful.

When he was fully seated, the older man kissed and caressed his small lover until he was sure Harry’s body had adjusted to the invader. He varied his rhythm and angle, occasionally brushing the prostate and keeping Harry on edge. Severus had been afraid that with Harry’s background, he would be a passive “bottom” and fake his responses so as to not anger his “top”, but the younger man’s reactions were genuine.

Severus reached between them and wrapped his fingers around Harry’s hard cock. He pumped to the same lazy rhythm as his thrusts. Harry’s face was flushed and his eyes dilated in passion. The older man planted kisses along the slender shoulder. He quickened his pace when Harry moaned deliciously.

“You’re so beautiful, my Harry,” Severus whispered as he felt Harry tense against him. “Come for me.”

Harry pulled Severus down into a messy kiss, devouring the Potion Master as his small body shuddered out his orgasm. Severus could feel his own climax coating the pulsing channel.

~*~*~*
Bill sat up. His mind was in turmoil and he couldn’t sleep. Intending to head down to the study for a book to read, the cursebreaker paused at the door to Severus’ bedroom. In the soft glow of the fireplace, he could see his occasional lover and Harry asleep in the middle of the massive bed. Severus had Harry in a protective grasp, the small wizard tucked safely beneath his chin.

As if sensing his presence, Severus’ dark eyes opened. He shifted his position, making sure Harry was still asleep and secure. Bill stepped into the bedroom, uncertainly.

“I apologize, Bill.” Severus said softly.

“Don’t,” replied the tall redhead. “You’ve fantasized about him for a long time.”

“I have not,” Severus denied too quickly and Bill just smiled, thinking of a certain calendar hanging on the kitchen wall.

“You’re not angry?”

“No, Sev. You and I are friends. We both knew we were never going to be one another’s Grande Passion.”

Bill shivered in the cold night air. Wrapping his night robe closer to his bare chest, he looked fleetingly at Severus’ large warm bed. He wanted to crawl under the thick duvet and curl up against the dark wizard but his common sense kicked in. Harry was already in bed with the Potion Master. What would the damaged young man think if he awoke in a bed with two men?

“It’s late, Sev. I need to get some sleep.” Bill softly closed the door behind him and returned to his lonely bed.

~*~*~*~
Harry shifted in his sleep, perplexed when he could not move. Opening his eyes, his confusion abated. He was pressed against the length of the Potion Master’s naked body, held in place by a thin arm slung across his chest.

Other than Uncle Leon, Harry had never slept with another. He had always left his other partners shortly after sex, feeling too vulnerable to sleep with them. He wasn’t sure how he felt about his current situation.

Slowly, as to not awaken Severus, Harry wriggled out from the possessive arm. The young wizard rolled onto his back, staring up as the firelight cast odd designs on the ornate plaster ceiling. Severus reached out in his sleep, searching. He murmured something and quieted when he snaked one long arm around Harry’s waist.

Harry looked at the sleeping wizard beside him. He was confused. He had heard Bill’s voice in the bedroom late last night, but Bill wasn’t there. A part of him was relieved not to see the redhead. Did Bill expect Harry to have sex with him too?

Severus turned in his sleep, curling up around a pillow. Harry shifted toward the edge of the mattress. He needed time alone to think about what had happened the night before. What in the nine hells possessed him to initiate a sexual liaison with his former professor? Harry’s reality had definitely gone pear shaped.

A human Severus was even more confusing to him than the usual snarky git persona. Frightened by the sudden, unwanted appearance of Alistair back into his life, Harry was grateful for the security the dark wizard offered, but how had Severus known how to find him? Was he trading one stalker for another? Would the price of security come at too high a price?

He had expected sex with Severus to be cold and methodical, but Severus had made love to him, not simply fucked him. Harry could tell the difference. What did the Slytherin want from him? My Harry. Harry shuddered.

~*~*~*
The sound of the shower woke Bill up. He was alone in his bed. He rubbed the grit out of his eyes and looked at the alarm clock beside him. It was still early - plenty of time to have a leisurely breakfast and then a bath before his meetings at Gringotts in the late afternoon.

Stepping into the kitchen, Bill had expected to find it vacant, but the smell of fresh scones tickled his nostrils. Harry sat at the kitchen table, reading a newspaper. The green-eyed wizard looked up, a blush creeping up his cheeks.

“Didn’t know if you drank coffee or tea…so I made both.” Harry turned a page of the two-day old Daily Prophet and let out an amused snort. The picture of Ron Weasley in his Quidditch uniform had been tampered with. The former Gryffindor sported an inked-on mustache and beard as well as an obscenity scrawled across his chest. The moving image glared up at him, trying to rub the ink off his face.

“Your handiwork?”

“The twins aren’t the only Weasleys that think Ron needs to be hexed for the way he’s destroyed your life… Don’t waste your time on that rag, Harry. It’s full of rubbish anyway.” Bill ignited the newsprint with a casual flick of his wand. He hoped Harry had not read the articles about the war heroes, but he figured he probably had.

Bill poured a mug of coffee and buttered a scone. It was orange poppy seed. “You made these?”

Harry nodded as he toyed with “The Quibbler”, half expecting it to go up in flames as well. He stared off toward the animal welfare calendar hanging on the wall. Someone kept turning the calendar pages to October. What in Merlin’s name was Severus doing with a Muggle calendar? Especially THIS Muggle calendar.

Nervous at being alone with Bill and not wanting to fill the uneasy silence with idle chatter, Harry began to collect the dirty dishes into a neat stack. He pushed his chair back, wincing slightly as he stood.

Bill caught the wince and smiled. His long arm wrapped around Harry’s waist as the smaller wizard reached across the table to gather the stacked dishes. Harry froze when Bill’s hands rested on his hips.

“A little sore this morning, Babe? I can help take care of that for you.” The playfulness of Bill’s tone was lost on Harry who pulled away in panic. “Harry?”

Harry’s heart was beating rapidly. “So am I just part of your game?”

“Game? What game?”

“The whole friends with benefits game…Severus has had me so now its your turn? Share and share alike?”

Bill pulled Harry to his chest, wrapping his arms around the struggling young man. Harry had alluded to them sharing lovers the evening before, but Bill had shrugged it off, thinking he was trying to force their departure. Did Harry truly think he was merely a plaything to be passed around and shared? He rested his cheek on the top of Harry’s head.

“Sev does not take casual lovers, Babe. I don’t know that he ever has. His affair with me was a mistake…I can’t give him what he needs.”

Harry relaxed slightly as Bill continued to hold him. “Sev’s not like I am…I chase anything and everything… skirts, robes…you name it…but he’s selective…But don’t fret, Harry…once I realized it was you in that sexy black dress…strictly off limits.”

“Not wiling to lower yourself to shag the ‘Whore of Gryffindor’?” Harry could not conceal the hurt in his voice.

Bill released Harry from his embrace, but continued to hold him at arm’s length. It hurt to see the pain in the brilliant green eyes, but as Bill thought back to his initial meeting with the then fourteen year old Harry Potter, shadows lived behind those eyes even then.

“You couldn’t be further from the truth, Lovey. I want nothing more than to throw you over this table and claim your sexy little arse…to kidnap you and keep you mine forever…but that’s a fantasy that will never come to fruition…like it or not…you’re a surrogate Weasley…you’re family…and that’s a line I will never cross.”

Family. Harry mulled the concept over in his head. The twins had tried to tell him everyone didn’t hate him or think he was a cosmic joke, but at the time the pain of rejection by the wizarding world had been too raw.

“If…If I’m off limits…then what was that about helping take care of my soreness?”

“A pain potion, you little twit. I’ll go snag you one from Sev’s private stash.” Bill winked, but Harry did not smile. He just gave a short nod to his head. Bill cursed himself. He would need to choose his words more carefully; Harry’s emotional state was precarious at best. The silence returned to the kitchens.

Harry poured Bill another cup of coffee and gathered the forgotten stack of dishes. He set the plates in the sink and reached for a cloth to wash them in Muggle fashion. His eyes drifted to the calendar on the wall. Dropping the cloth in the slowly filling sink, he walked over to the calendar.

Bill watched him in curiosity, trying to judge Harry’s reactions as he lifted the much-turned pages and gazed at himself and Hedwig gracing the October slot, wearing naught but a smile.

“Harry?”

Harry looked toward Bill, hearing the cursebreaker’s words echo in his ears – “Sev does not take casual lovers”. His face paled. He glanced once again at his pinup and then back to the cursebreaker. “Where did he get this?”

Bill shrugged, not telling Harry that he had sent it to the Potion Master himself. Harry was ill at ease and looked ready to bolt. The small wizard’s heart raced. Was Severus truly any less dangerous than Alistair?

“Last…Last night…it was more than a one-off for him, wasn’t it?”

~*~*~*
PART FIVE

“A man must seek his happiness and inward peace from objects that can not be taken away from him.”
- Alexander Humboldt – Naturalist and Explorer

Severus followed the tantalizing scent of the orange poppy seed scones into the kitchen. He owned no house elves and knew Bill could barely boil water so he was mildly surprised to discover freshly baked goods. He hung his aubergine Master’s robes on a hook in the hallway and strode into the fragrant kitchen. The dark wizard greeted both of his house guests with a quick peck to their lips before helping himself to tea, juice and scones.

Breakfast in the Snape kitchen was a rather awkward affair. Harry was quiet, too quiet. Bill and Severus granted the younger wizard the space they thought he needed and spoke to one another casually about current affairs in the wizarding world. Aconite delivered “The Daily Prophet” and the older wizards conversed about mutual acquaintances mentioned in the news articles. Harry glanced at the front cover, but declined to read it.

Severus polished off the last scone. He complimented Harry on his culinary skills and then wondered aloud how Harry could cook so well, but be abysmal in Potions. Harry relaxed slightly at the unexpected but gentle teasing.

The last of the tea and coffee was poured as the wizards readied themselves for the start of the workday. Severus noticed Harry’s packed messenger bag tucked into a corner. He reissued his invitation for Harry to stay for a few days, mentioning several books in his library about career planning.

Harry tried to find a way to gracefully decline the offer of refuge but the proper words would not come. They all knew the situation was difficult for Harry. It was more than the awkwardness of waking up beside a one-night stand. Malcolm’s unexpected betrayal left the green eyed young man with an uncertain future.

Bill jumped when the first tinny stanzas of the “1812 Overture” chirped in the quiet kitchen. He stared at Harry’s messenger bag, the source of the noise.

“Cell phone,” Harry replied mildly. “Accio cell phone.”

Harry caught the flying cell phone in the same casual manner he had always caught a snitch. He activated the device.

“Hello?”

In the silence, they could hear an alarmed male voice at the other end. “Corvus? Thank God! You weren’t hurt, were you? You’re not injured?”

“Elliot? Elliot, calm down. Alistair didn’t hurt me. I’m fine.”

“Alistair? What the fuck are you talking about? Your whole row of flats is in flames…there’s casualties…I was afraid you were trapped.”

“I’m fine, Elliot. What happened?”

“It’s arson, Cory. I can smell the petrol a block away.”

Harry’s pale face paled even further. “Alistair.”

“Alistair? You think that fucker has something to do with it?”

“I don’t know…He found me last night… tried to force me to…but I got away.”

“Fuck. Look, you need to come down here. The police want to speak to everyone…Mr. Shaw has to know if there’s a need for damage control…We’ll meet you there. Don’t talk to anyone until you talk to Mr. Shaw…an hour?”

“Yes,” Harry replied distractedly. “I’ll be there in an hour.”

*~*~*~*
Harry stood just downwind of the ash and smoke as he watched all of his possessions disappear into the inferno. He felt cold reality pour through his veins. Homeless. Unemployed. Used. All he owned now was whatever he had thrown into his messenger bag the evening before, Hedwig and his wand.

Before panic could entirely cloud his thoughts, he was jerked back to a semblance of calm when a sobbing elderly woman flung her arms around him. She was covered in soot, dressed only in a nightgown, flannel bathrobe and quilted carpet slippers. Her body trembled from both shock and the early morning chill. Harry wrapped her in a blanket someone thrust into his hands.

“It’s all right, Auntie Edna.” He gently rubbed her back, feeling tears sting his eyes. She had lived in the apartment across the hall from Uncle Leon for as long as Harry could remember. The woman had always had a sweet or toy for him when he was a small boy and had taught him the basics of cooking as he grew older. He was gratified to hear a small yip coming from the pocket of the bathrobe. Edna’s miniature toy poodle peeked up at him. The old woman’s life revolved around her beloved canine as much as Harry’s life did around his Hedwig. “Gingersnap is safe, too.”

Severus stood beside them, his sharp eyes scanning the curious crowd for attack. His keen nose had picked up not only the odor of petrol but other accelerants as well. It was definitely an arson fire, but, not knowing the history of the other residents, he could not automatically assume Alistair or his bodyguard guilty of the deed although the timing of the event did lend credence to his assumption.

Bill rudely shoved aside still another news photographer, invading their personal space, trying to get the “poignant shot” of the traumatized fire victims. Muggle or Wizard, the press were parasites. He could tell by the way his young companion’s shoulders were shaking that Harry was also in tears.

A cry went up in the crowd as something exploded in the inferno. Bill could tell by the brilliant color tinting the flames that another of Harry’s magical artifacts was gone. The cursebreaker wondered if anything could survive the destruction and what questions would be raised by fire inspectors sifting for clues amid the remains.

A female officer escorted Edna to a waiting ambulance to have her checked for smoke inhalation. Harry declined the offer of medical assistance, stating he was merely a bystander, and had not been caught in the fire.

Severus wrapped his arms around Harry’s shoulders as the young man fought to control his emotions. Another explosion echoed off the surrounding buildings. The dark wizard handed him a handkerchief and Harry took it with a soft “Thank you.”

“It’s all gone…” Harry whispered. “All gone…the pictures of my mum and dad, my dad’s cloak…my modeling portfolios…my clothes…books…”

“But you’re safe, and Hedwig is safe. Everything else is just an object…” Severus consoled the young man for the loss of his possessions and his home. He thought of the photograph of Harry at the beach with his “Uncle” Leon and couldn’t help be a little pleased at its destruction. With Harry’s life and career in shambles, perhaps now was the time to plot his reentry into the wizarding world – the world he truly belonged.

Bill and Severus jumped protectively in front of Harry as a large man in a chauffeur’s uniform pushed through the crowd. He was shouting a familiar form of Harry’s alias, “Cory!”

Harry peaked around Bill. “It’s all right, Bill. That’s Elliot.”

Elliot nearly pounced on the small man, touching him, hugging him as a mother would a toddler who had fallen from a swing set. Severus felt an unexpected pang of jealousy as the man checked his Harry over. When Elliot assured himself that Harry was unharmed, he straightened up and stared at the two tall men beside his young friend.

Severus knew that they made an odd pair. He was dressed in finely tailored black wool trousers and a black cashmere turtleneck. His lank hair was tied neatly back in a low ponytail at his neck. Bill, on the other hand, had not had time to shower and looked as if he had just crawled out of bed. The bright red hair was in a messy braid down his back and his chambray shirt looked slept in. Elliot looked from Bill to Severus and back to the fang earring.

“Mr. Shaw is waiting to speak with you…and your friends.” He peered at the wizards.

Without hesitation, Harry jumped in with introductions. “These are two old friends from my boarding school days. I ran into them at Tommy’s the other night. Doctor Severus Snape now heads the medical research department at an East End hospital. He used to teach me Chemistry. And Bill Weasley…yes, Elliot, he’s Fred and George’s older brother. Bill is visiting from his home in Egypt. He is an archeologist, specializing in ancient Egyptian artifacts.”

Bill looked at Harry oddly. “He’s met Gred and Forge? You let them out in public?”

Elliot laughed, the tension broken, and muttered something about comedians and how nice it was to meet a normal Weasley for a change. Bill arched his eyebrow and Harry shrugged.

“We owl occasionally and meet on neutral territory several times a year to discuss new product lines at the joke shop. Silent or not, I am one-third owner and they, unlike others, have not abandoned my friendship.”

~*~*~*~*
Robert Shaw was an impeccably dressed barrister in his late forties. He spoke privately with Harry; Severus could not hear what was said, but could see Harry’s agitation. After several minutes, Harry was sent off with Bill and Elliot to a corner teashop. Leon’s son beckoned Severus into the back seat of the automobile.

“So, Dr. Snape…what is the nature of your relationship with my young half-brother? I hardly see where a medical researcher and a male model would travel in the same social circles.”

Severus looked down his hooked nose at the barrister. He could appreciate bluntness, but he did not like the insinuation in the man’s voice. Shaw’s inflection on the words “male model” held a note of contempt.

“Let’s not play games, Mr. Shaw. I attended boarding school with the young man’s parents and I taught him myself for seven years so I know he is not related in any way to you. I also, by the way, know the true nature of his relationship with your father.”

Shaw rubbed the bridge of his nose. “I have spent what seems like a lifetime cleaning up my father’s messes. This fire makes things very difficult…if it were just an electrical fire there would be few questions, but…arson…”

“You are afraid that in the course of the investigation the truth about your late father’s activities will come to light. Perhaps it is time to stop protecting a dead man.”

“The truth would kill my mother. And the press would tear Corvus and Elliot apart.”

“Elliot? How does he fit into this?”

“Aside from the fact that he brought Corvus to my father to molest every other weekend for years and did not report it? Elliot was also one of my father’s…’nephews’. I do not know how many other boys he had…an investigation will bring them out of the woodwork and destroy them as well…The Shaw name is an old and respected one…I will not have a dead pervert drag it through the mud.”

Severus looked into the man’s eyes. They held the same shadows he often saw reflected in Harry’s eyes. In a very quiet voice he asked, “And, were you one of your father’s ‘boys’ as well?”

Shaw’s shoulders deflated. “All three of us…my younger brother committed suicide…officially he lost control of his Porsche – he couldn’t face the shame…But Corvus, he was always Father’s favorite.”

“Do I detect jealousy?” Severus asked incredulously.

“No, relief. Corvus was the only boy he ever took back after he reached puberty…As long as Father had Corvus, he didn’t turn his attentions to his grandchildren or any other child.”

“You paid for your children’s innocence with the life of another innocent? Surely an intelligent man like yourself could have found a way to keep him away from your children.”

“But Corvus wasn’t innocent…he was already…” Shaw paused, at a loss for a word.

“Damaged?” Severus asked sharply. “He was six years old. How can you face him knowing what you condemned him to?”

“I was trying to prevent my children from suffering what I did…I didn’t personally know Corvus at the time so he wasn’t real…” Shaw stopped midstream. He shook his head. “It wasn’t until later I realized that in many respects I was no better than my father…”

“So you salved your conscience by letting him stay in your father’s flat? What are you going to do with him now? Cut him loose and hope he’ll remain silent? Hope Alistair doesn’t get his hands on him?”

Shaw reached into his pocket and handed Severus a bank cheque. The dark wizard looked at the tidy sum of the check. Snape reached over and tucked it back into the man’s breast pocket. He did not hide his distain.

The barrister stared out the automobile window at the milling crowd, expecting the trio to be returning soon from the teashop.

“Corvus is actually coping the best out of all of us, you know? I have been paying for him and Elliot to attend counseling sessions with a private therapist for years and I will continue to do so for as long as they think it is beneficial.”

“Don’t delude yourself. He is probably not doing as well as you think – Harry is an excellent actor.”

“Harry?” Shaw smiled. “Is that his real name? I couldn’t imagine his parents would have been cruel enough to name him Corvus Corax…figured it was my father’s weird sense of humor.”

“Latin for blackbird.”

“I thought it meant raven, but no matter. They are essentially the same thing.”

“It is an appropriate alias. So what is the next step?”

“You have all mentioned Alistair. There is a restraining order against him, but it’s obviously just a worthless piece of paper.” Shaw shook his head. “He’s such a pretty little thing and years with Father and his own uncle have left him with the self worth of a gnat. He truly believes that his body is his only asset. And that leaves him open as prey for pornographers like Alistair.”

“And we both suspect Alistair had something to do with the fire. What is your next move? Harry has become a target.”

“I could ring up a few of my contacts within the police department…But Corvus Corax needs to disappear. There are charred bodies in that row of flats…if we let the authorities assume he is one of them…”

“No.” Severus said suddenly. “Does Corvus have a legal identity or is he just an alias? And an alias attached to the Shaw name would trigger an official investigation. Actually Harry Potter would need to die…Alistair’s connection to Mr. Potter goes back to before Harry ever met your father - before Corvus Corax ever existed. But let’s not be too hasty, Mr. Shaw…Forensics will be able to identify the remains of the fire victims in short order. Harry, or Corvus as you call him, needs to disappear for awhile.”

“Protective custody? He testifies against Alistair and…”

“And what?” Severus glanced out the window. He could see Bill Weasley’s trademark red hair approaching in the distance. “Your police can not protect him. You said yourself that there was a restraining order in place… what protection is a piece of parchment?”

Shaw handed Severus back the bank cheque. “I want you to take him. Your colleague could take him back with him to Egypt. There’s more than enough to support Corvus for years. He needs a fresh start, maybe a new identity. He needs to be away from perverts and predators.”

“And what makes you so sure Bill and I aren’t perverts and predators?” Severus asked silkily.

“I saw how protective you both were of him. You care for him a great deal. Maybe you can convince him he’s worth something.”

~*~*~*~*

PART SIX

“Life is raw material. We are artisans. We can sculpt our existence into something beautiful
or debase it into ugliness. It’s in our hands”. - Cathy Better

 

Bill watched Severus for several minutes, the Potion Master deep in research. Dusty tomes and stained fragile parchment rolls were stacked in neat piles on his worktable. The dark wizard scratched notes onto a long roll of parchment.

“Meeting ran late?” Severus asked, wiping off the nib of his quill and setting it aside.

“No. Stopped off to have tea with the twins. In case they heard about the fire, I wanted them to know Harry was safe. They invited him to stay with them. That Muggle Elliot did, too.”

“He has a place to stay.” Severus’ voice was stiff.

“Sev, he needs to know he has options,” Bill said gently. “In the space of a day, he’s lost everything.”

“But he’s safe here. I can protect him.”

“So can they, love. In their own way, so can they.”

Severus straightened his already neat research materials and tucked his leather chair beneath the table. He glanced toward Aconite, alone on her perch and wondered vaguely where Hedwig had gone. Bill’s voice broke into his thoughts.

“Has he come out yet?”

“Pardon?” Severus answered distractedly.

“Harry. Has he come out of his room yet?”

“No. I gave him a potion to calm him. He was asleep when I last checked on him.”

“I picked up some take-away from The Leaky Cauldron. I’ll set the table and put on the kettle. Maybe you should see if he’s up for a bite to eat.”

Severus reached over and briefly caressed the cursebreaker’s shoulder. “When are you leaving?”

“After dinner. I had my last meeting with Griphook so I’m officially on Holiday. It’s been cut short by a week though. They unearthed a new tomb in the Valley of Souls and the goblins don’t want to risk the Muggles getting treasure first.”

“When do you catch the International Floo?”

“Not for three days. I’m going to The Burrow to see Mum.” Bill gave Severus a measured look. “I could take Harry with me. Mum would love to see him.”

“And Ronald? Would Ron love to see him as well?”

~*~*~*~*
Harry, dressed only in boxers and a Tommy’s Pub t-shirt, leaned against the headboard of the ornate four-poster bed. He pulled his knees up to his chin and wrapped his bare arms around them. Perched on a decorative finial, Hedwig gently groomed his rat’s nest of hair, giving him her comfort and affection.

Spread out on the duvet was the entire contents of the messenger bag and his pockets. Harry looked at his meager possessions – basic toiletries in a shaving kit, a change of clothing, two changes of socks and undergarments, his wand, his wallet with Muggle identification, forty seven pounds in notes and coin, a wristwatch, pens, notepad, cellular telephone, his Gringott’s key, and his photo album with photos of his parents and the Marauders. He didn’t remember packing the photo album the night before, but it had probably been a reflexive move in his distracted state. Beside his foot lay the bank cheque from Mr. Shaw.

Harry prodded the rectangular document. Blood money, he thought, no different than his Tri-Wizard winnings. The slight wizard closed his eyes as his vision blurred. Once again, he had been pushed aside when events grew too difficult or embarrassing. He read the sum of the cheque again, his stomach lurching. Shaw wanted to buy his silence, wanted him to disappear, and wanted him to protect Uncle Leon’s reputation. A salty tear leaked from beneath his closed eyelids, followed by others. Harry briskly wiped them away; tears never solved anything. Blood money.

Hedwig chirruped softly as Severus stood in the open doorway. Harry looked up, his dark eyelashes wet. It embarrassed him that Severus caught him crying again.

“I’m acting like a bloody girl.”

Severus admired him in his half-dressed state, a soft smirk quirking this thin lips. “No, definitely not a girl.”

~*~*~*~
Severus apparated directly into his study. The scent of oil soap and lemon oil tickled his nose. He sniffed, nostrils flaring. The unexpected smell was coming from the main hallway and foyer area of the townhouse.

As he approached the door, he saw Harry’s slender legs halfway up a tall wooden ladder, reattaching crystals to the Victorian chandelier. The freshly cleaned crystals glittered in the setting sunlight, causing little rainbow arcs to shimmer on the walls.

The dark wood paneling glowed behind the fresh application of lemon oil. The years of cobwebs and grime Severus had long ignored were gone. The Potion Master noticed a bucket filled with a murky liquid, a once yellow sponge floating in it. By the presence of Muggle rubber gloves, it was obvious Harry had not used magic; he had cleaned it in Muggle fashion. Harry must have spent hours scrubbing down the tall, narrow space.

“Hey,” Harry said softly as he clamored down the ladder. “Sorry if I’m in your way. I didn’t realize the time. Thought I’d hang the crystals before I lost all sunlight.”

“I’d forgotten how magnificent that chandelier was…it probably hasn’t been cleaned since the last Snape house elf died.”

“And that was in what…1900?” Harry asked, humor in his voice, and Severus swatted his arse. As the young wizard picked up his cleaning utensils, Severus realized that the younger man was calmer than he had been for days. Severus followed Harry into the kitchen where he saw several containers of Muggle cleaning products and additional buckets and sponges.

The odor of roasting meat filled the air. Harry set the bucket on the floor beside the sink and washed his hands thoroughly before reaching for an oven mitt.

“Dinner will be ready in a few minutes.”

“It smells delicious. What are we having?”

“Pork chops, a gratin of potatoes and onions and stewed apples. Do you think we need another vegetable? I picked up some broccoli.”

The dark wizard glanced around the kitchen, noting fresh fruits, vegetables and an assortment of groceries on the countertop in addition to the cleaning supplies in the corner.

“Picked up?” Severus startled. “You left the townhouse?”

Harry looked at the tall man uneasily, the sharpness of his voice startling him. Wasn’t he allowed to leave the house? Was he a prisoner? Severus had never actually said he couldn’t leave.

“We were running low on food and I needed stuff to clean the house…” Harry nibbled nervously on his lower lip. “Did I do something wrong?”

“Where did you purchase this? You didn’t go into Diagon Alley for this.”

“I nipped around the corner to the Muggle shops early this morning.”

“Without me? Weren’t you concerned Alistair or his hoodlums might see you?”

Harry relaxed. Severus wasn’t mad at him, just concerned for his safety. “Alistair would never be awake that early and he would have no idea where to look for me. I went out just as they opened…the only other people out were the shopkeepers and a few grannies picking up daily groceries…”

“How did you pay for this?”

“I had some Muggle money…my tips from Tommy’s.”

“But not enough to buy all those cleaning supplies…you had less than fifty pounds…”

Harry tilted his head. “I am a wizard, you know. I conjured the buckets, sponges and rags…used a Replication Charm on items I could not magic…bought only enough food for use for today.”

“I neglected to tell you I have an open account with several grocers in Diagon Alley. Make a list and I’ll send an order off with Aconite. I don’t want you wandering about alone again, even if it is just around the corner.”

Severus picked up an odd duster, at least he thought that was what it was. It looked like a sleeve of sheep wool glued to a dowel. “What in Merlin’s name is this?”

“A Dustbunny.”

“A dust…” Severus examined the odd item. “Bunny?”

Harry plucked it from his fingers and winked, pirouetting around the kitchen as if he were dusting. “Saw something like it in the shoppes…but they wanted 12 pounds for it…works like a feather duster, but better…”

“Twelve pounds?”

“I am not an idiot, Sev…I conjured it with a twig from the back garden and a bit of pillow stuffing.”

The dark wizard smirked as Harry continued to mimic dusting in an exaggerated manner. Severus was suddenly struck by the memory of Harry wearing the black cocktail dress the night he met him at Tommy’s and it easily morphed into the image of Harry wearing naught but a French maid’s uniform. Damn Muggle inspired sexual fantasy, he thought, shaking his head.

~*~*~*~
Harry was worried. Hedwig had gone out on her nightly hunt with Aconite but only Aconite had returned. Not for the first time, Harry wished, rather than have the ability to speak to snakes, he had instead been gifted with the ability to speak owl.

Aconite did not seem to be agitated so Harry took that to be a positive sign. Hedwig hated London; so perhaps, she had taken it upon herself to visit the countryside. The slight wizard hoped that was the case. In the past few days he had lost so much; he didn’t think he could also cope with the additional loss of his faithful familiar.

~*~*~*~
Harry set the open book on his stomach and signed in frustration. He kept leafing through the small pile of books and pamphlets on career options, but felt qualified for nothing. Maybe he needed to stop concentrating so much; he didn’t need to decide his entire life, did he? He just needed something legal to get him through the next two years until he could claim his inheritance. But he knew in his heart that he had to discover something that would make him happy. His life had never been about wealth, just about surviving for another day relatively intact.

The young man sprawled, legs dangling over the arms of the comfortable chair in the guest room he had claimed as his own. His few meager possessions had been supplemented by a foray into Muggle London. Not wanting to be even more in debt to Severus than he already was, Harry had taken them first to a charity/resale shop. While satisfied that the quality of some of the garments was superb, Severus refused to let his Harry even consider shoes and undergarments that had once belonged to another.

His Harry.

Harry stared up at the plaster ceiling, now devoid of cobwebs. He didn’t know what to think about Severus. The Severus that came home every evening from St. Mungo’s Hospital was not the same wizard that terrorized the students at Hogwarts. This Severus seemed to be more human and not at all the evil black bat of Harry’s memories. This human Severus was not perfect; his sharp tongue and possessiveness was both repulsive and comforting. He could be kind, he could be affectionate, and yet, he could still be the most frustratingly arrogant of bastards. Harry found himself drawn to Severus’ keen intelligence and his ability to think in more than one dimension

Harry marveled at how well the dark wizard had perfected his role as the greasy git, the slimy bastard, the Death Eater – Professor Severus Snape. How difficult it must have been for the solitary Potion Master to have kept up the role for twenty-odd years, to have survived playing a character everyone despised.

And then the slight wizard paused. Hadn’t he done the very same thing? He wasn’t the wide-eyed saint Harry Potter any more than he was the fallen angel Corvus Corax. If he was honest with himself, he was “Birdy”, a combination of the two.

He closed his eyes. My Harry. What exactly was he to Severus Snape? The man was surprisingly tactile; he liked to touch Harry, almost as if he needed to assure himself that Harry was real. They had had sex a few more times, but it was a mutual decision, unlike his past experiences with Uncle Leon and his other partners. He trusted Severus not to force him if he were unwilling. He did not seem to be a toy or a conquest to Severus, and for the abused young wizard, it was both a comforting and an unsettling realization.

Severus’ collection of erotica had come as a bit of a shock. Being in the trade, so to speak, Harry knew that a vast amount of Muggle pornography was available to satisfy every imaginable kink, but the wizarding erotica flabbergasted him. The images hidden between those sedate leather coverings moved, some fantasies were sensual treasures and others were more shocking than the most hard core of Muggle adult videos.

He knew Severus had a collection of photographs of him – from the first cologne ad to the animal welfare calendar and note cards. He even had pictures from a gentleman’s clothing catalog catering to men of short stature that had an extremely limited audience. The peculiar collection had frightened him at first, lending credence to his initial reaction that Severus was stalking him, but his fears quickly abated. Severus was possessive but not particularly domineering, so Harry decided to reserve judgment on Severus’ compilation.

But the question remained. What exactly did he mean to this human Severus? And what did this human Severus mean to him?

~*~*~*~
“You are supposed to be researching career possibilities…not cleaning my Great Grandmother’s home,” Severus murmured in Harry’s ear as he discovered Harry once again scrubbing the kitchen floor with a scrub brush.

Harry brushed back a loose strand of hair with a rubber glove clad hand. “You don’t really mind, do you? I keep looking at the books and it’s frustrating…I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up.”

“I certainly hope you are not aspiring to be a house elf.”

“Consider it in lieu of rent…an exchange of services for your hospitality.”

“It isn’t necessary. I told you that before.”

“Please, Severus, let me feel useful, ok? I need to feel I am earning my keep.”

Severus pulled the smaller wizard up into his arms. He nuzzled at Harry’s throat and purred. “You’ve more than earned your keep.”

Something in Harry twisted. He knew Severus was teasing him in his own bizarre way, but Harry wanted to feel as if he were valuable without having to spread his legs. Couldn’t Severus see that?

~*~*~*
Fang let out a curious bark as a Postal Owl soared through the open doorway of Hagrid’s cottage. His half-giant master was up at the school, dining in the Great Hall. He sniffed; the snowy owl smelled familiar. Hedwig landed on the back of an enormous wooden chair and chirruped a greeting.

The boarhound cocked his huge head as he watched Hedwig examine the contents of the single room cottage with her large amber eyes. With a delighted chirp, the snowy owl flew into the rafters, landing on the cot Harry had slept on in his final months at Hogwarts. Her chick was so sad; she needed to find something to cheer him up.

Using her beak, Hedwig gathered up the edges of the abandoned Invisibility Cloak and folded it atop itself into a more manageable bundle. Carefully, she scrunched the liquid fabric, wrapping her great talons around the precious keepsake

With a chirrup of farewell, Hedwig took flight. Fang ambled to the doorway in time to see an odd silhouette against the moon.

~*~*~*
Severus strode into his study. He hung his aubergine robes from a cloak rack and paused. Something was off. He breathed deeply and did not detect the scent of fresh lemon oil and oil soap. There was no aroma of food from the kitchens.

“Harry?” he called out but there was no answer.

The dark wizard climbed the steps to the second floor. He half-expected to find Harry napping in his bedroom, but the room was empty. Several sheets of paper lay crumpled on the floor and a number of the books on careers within the wizarding world were scattered across the otherwise neat desk. Severus picked up a battered but gaudy paper covered Muggle book with the ridiculous title of “What Color is Your Parachute? - A Practical Manual for Job Hunters and Career Changers”. Wondering vaguely if this was a forgotten book from his own collection, Severus leafed through it, realizing the book was an American Muggle workbook of sorts to help determine one’s personal strengths and weaknesses, interests and requirements. A sales slip from a secondhand book vendor used as a place marker caught his attention. So, not a part of his collection.

The Potion Master accioed one of the crumpled balls of paper, smoothing it enough to realize Harry was attempting to work through one of the manual’s surprisingly intelligent exercises. While gratified to see that Harry was serious about his search for a legitimate position, it was obvious that he was frustrated by the process. His eyes drifted through the window and a movement in the overgrown herbal and flower garden below caught his interest.

~*~*~*
Harry exhaled a thin haze of smoke hanging in the air around him. He stared out across the overgrown garden, mentally cataloging the various plants he could identify and wondering how many of the herbs were for cooking and how many were for potion brewing. He was rather surprised that Severus had let such a source of fresh ingredients fall into such ruin.

Harry flicked the growing ash from his cigarette, looking toward the back steps to the townhouse when he heard the creak of the hinges on the heavy oak door. He added “oil the hinges” to his internal “To Do” list.

Severus strode carefully through the moss covered brick and cobblestone pathway, stepping over several tangles of Devil’s Snare threatening to strangle the unwary. His eyes narrowed at the cigarette in his young houseguest’s fingers and at the small pile of butts ground into the bricks at his feet.

“How long have you been suicidal, Mr. Potter?” Severus inquired stiffly.

Harry blinked at both the odd question and the return to his former title. “I’m not suicidal, Severus. What gave you that impression?”

“Do you, perhaps, believe yourself immortal?”

“Not particularly…” Harry looked up through his thick eyelashes. “Is there a point you are trying to make or are you going to keep circling around it?”

Severus crossed his arms across his chest. Harry always found that stance to be rather intimidating. “Is…is it because I’m in the garden? I thought your wards extended to the garden…and anyway, no one could see me from the street back here…It’s such an overgrown jumble I doubt your neighbors could even see me from their rear windows.”

“I am not talking about the garden, you little twit. Do you think just because you are a wizard you are immune to the damaging carcinogens found in Muggle cigarettes? With every inhalation, you are slowly committing suicide.”

“Um…”

Eloquent as always…Why do you smoke?” Severus seized the nearly empty pack of cigarettes sitting beside Harry. He glanced at the wrapping. “Did you ever read the warning on the package? What ever possessed you to start such a disgusting habit?”

Harry flicked his half smoked cigarette to the ground and crushed it with the toe of his trainers. He did not want a lecture on the hazards of smoking. He sighed. “Many models smoke…it keeps you thin…”

“It also stains your teeth and your fingers as well as cause premature wrinkling.”

Harry’s eyes flickered towards Severus’ slightly yellow teeth and potion stained fingers, but refrained from making a comment. He was not, after all, suicidal.

“I only smoke when I’m nervous.”

“Bollocks,” Severus spat, wandlessly banishing the crumpled pack. He roughly pulled Harry to his feet. “You will cease this disgusting habit immediately. I refuse to permit it to continue.”

*I refuse to permit it*; the smaller wizard tried to process the words through his shock. Severus’ possessiveness flared at surprising times and the tone of his voice offered no chance at compromise. He was so angry he could not formulate a proper retort.

“But..” Harry finally sputtered, “I’ll get fat.”

He startled as a burst of mint exploded in his mouth – a breath freshening charm – followed by a quick cleansing charm on his clothing.

“It also makes your breath stink.”

Bat-like, Severus swooped down, capturing his lips in a brutal kiss. The long fingers teased Harry’s t-shirt from his jeans waistband and the cool fingers caressed the warm, smooth fresh beneath. Severus nibbled at his throat, warm breath tickling his ear.

“You are underweight, my love. You could easily stand to gain a stone or two…”

Harry keened softly as the fingers continued their explorations. He was offended that Severus was treating him like a recalcitrant child, but his hormones thrummed with pleasure under the sexual mistrations of the powerful dark wizard.

~*~*~*~
The goblet was smoking slightly as it was placed in his hands. Harry’s nose crinkled at the odor wafting over the rim. Severus peered down his rather large nose.

“It solidifies as it cools…I suggest you do not delay.”

Harry’s eyes clearly expressed his puzzlement.

“To eradicate nicotine addiction from your system…” Severus’ smile was evil as Harry choked down the vile liquid, his eyes bright with unshed tears from the fumes. “I would suggest you plan to take it easy today…it can be rather brutal as it cures.”

Several hours later a very green Harry wobbled from the bathroom for the fifth time since his ingestion of the curative potion. He looked tiredly at the smug Potion Master as he wrapped himself up in a soft wool throw to ward off the violent chills racking his frame.

“I hate you,” he whimpered softly.

“I am quite sure that you do,” Severus replied brusquely, but the hand smoothing back the wild black hair was gentle.

~*~*~*
Severus looked up from reading the morning edition of “The Daily Prophet” as he caught a blur of movement in his peripheral vision. A plate shattered as it slipped from a startled Harry’s fingers. The Potion Master looked from the broken ironstone dish to the younger wizard, head and shoulders suddenly invisible.

Eyes wide in astonishment, Harry pulled the silky dew damped waterfall of fabric away from his face, instantly recognizing his father’s Invisibility Cloak. The young man collapsed into a chair, clutching the cloak to his chest.

“Hedwig, where did you find this? I thought it burned in the fire with everything else.” He blinked away the sudden tears of happiness that threatened to overflow.

Hedwig simply perched on a curtain rod, chest puffed out, looking extremely pleased with herself.

~*~*~*~
Harry turned the parchment envelope over, cautiously, almost as if he were expecting it to explode. He eyed the return address apprehensively. At least it was not a Howler. Setting it on the library table, he prodded it with a quill. Severus snorted and Harry felt the heat rise to his face. He was being a coward, afraid to open an envelope.

The envelope contained an elaborate invitation that shot out little sparkles when it was removed. Harry ran his hand through his messy black hair. He was holding an invitation from the Ministry of Magic inviting him to a ball honoring all Order of Merlin recipients to be held in sixty days on the anniversary of the fall of Voldemort.

Harry tried to tear the invitation in half but the older wizard halted his action. Severus was holding an identical envelope in his hands. The Potion Master planted a kiss at the nape of Harry’s neck. Harry shivered.

“We’ll owl Madam Malkin with your measurements. You’ll need a proper set of dress robes.”

“No I won’t, Sev. I’m not going.”

Severus nibbled on an earlobe. “You most certainly are. It’s past time for you to be recognized for your part in the end of the war.”

“Don’t forget, I am ‘morally corrupt’. I am not welcome in polite wizarding society.” Harry’s eyes were bright. “Please, I don’t want to go. I can’t stand the finger-pointing and the ridicule…”

“Idiot boy,” Severus said affectionately. “Haven’t you been reading “The Quibbler”? Lovegood’s articles are working their intended magic. There’s a growing distrust at the history of corruption and misdirection at the Ministry. You are not the only wizard or witch to be scapegoated – just think of your late godfather. If you were still considered to be a pariah, the committee would not have extended this invitation – Order of Merlin – First Class notwithstanding.”

“But…”

“Just consider it? We still have a month to R.S.V.P.”

Harry truly hoped Severus was correct. He didn’t mind pretending he was someone he was not, but he had paid so dearly for Voldemort’s defeat and wanted some sort of recognition for his struggle. He also had no desire to live his life hidden behind the Potion Master’s billowing robes.

He would have to carefully consider the invitation. But he didn’t want to give in to Severus’ wishes too easily either.

~*~*~*~
Severus shifted in his chair, a most exquisite ache shooting up his lower spine. The muscles in his thighs throbbed, the result of being stretched into an unaccustomed position the evening before.

If anyone had been brave enough to ask, the Potion Master would have replied in no uncertain terms that he was exclusively a “top”, but after last night he would have to re-think the notion. At least with his current partner.

Bill had returned to Egypt, leaving Severus alone in his townhouse with Harry. For the most part, the small wizard was keeping his expected Gryffindor mind set, but occasionally he let his inner Slytherin out to play and those were the times Severus enjoyed the most.

He knew Harry was blatantly manipulating the situation, but the former savior finally agreed to attend the Ministry-sponsored ball on the condition that Severus willingly give up his control to Harry for the evening.

Severus was uncomfortable with letting another gain control of him, but decided that if he desired a true relationship with the sprite, he would need to trust him without reservation. He had expected shyness and awkwardness from the younger man. He had believed Harry, due to his size and circumstance, to be exclusively a “bottom” and nervously inexperienced in topping. He was wrong.

From the beginning, Harry took charge of their lovemaking, keeping Severus pleasantly off-balance. He began the evening with a deep massage, leaving the always somewhat tense dark wizard a boneless puddle on the bed. Harry teased, nipped and kissed his way over every inch of the long, lean body. Harry settled between the impossibly long legs and carefully prepared his prize.

Harry’s even thrusts altered slightly as he brushed Severus’ prostate. He enjoyed watching the former Death Eater loose control and the cry of “Harder” quicken his rhythm. Severus pushed up, meeting Harry’s trusts, taking him deeper. Through their mutual gratification, Severus realized Harry was not a fragile elf easily broken, but a man in this own right with a sexual drive to match. And he liked that realization. A passive lover would have quickly bored him.

~*~*~*~*
Harry looked up as Severus placed several books on the tabletop, beside the novel he was currently reading. The green eyes scanned the titles and looked up at his older companion quizzically.

“Massotherapy? What is that?”

“It’s a branch of Mediwizardry…although I believe the Muggles have something similar. It is a non-invasive form of healing. It might be a career option for you.”

Harry looked at Severus, confused. Severus smiled, leaned down and nuzzled his ear.

“It’s therapeutic massage. You are very good with your hands. It’s not a talent many wizards possess.”

Harry was silent. He perused a few of the books. One was a course syllabus.

“If I did decide to pursue this, what would I need to do? Is the schooling expensive?” Harry mentally calculated the funds in his Gringotts’ account He steadfastly refused to deposit the bank cheque from Mr. Shaw.

“St. Mungo’s has an accredited apprenticeship program and will absorb much of the cost of training. There is always a shortage of trained massotherapists and they are an absolute necessity in the Curse and Spell Damage Wards…especially since the war.”

Severus did not need to elaborate. Since the war, St. Mungo’s and all the other magical hospitals were overflowing with victims of dark curses and wayward spells. Many could not be treated with magic in any form and even the potions had to be brewed without wandwork or incantation. Severus’ mind drifted to the massage oil Harry had used the evening before and remembered Harry had said it was his own recipe.

“I work rather closely with the head healer in charge of apprentices. She could assess your skills and see if she thought you would be a good candidate.”

Harry studied Severus, his eyes bright with hope, but tempered with a dose of healthy cynicism.

“According to the Ministry of Magic mandate, I am morally corrupt. The wizarding population is not going to embrace me touching their loved ones…I might ‘molest’ them…” Harry could not disguise the bitterness he felt.

“Love, not everyone is as closed minded as Ronald Weasley…bisexuality, homosexuality and even pornography is not unknown in the wizarding world.” Severus kissed Harry’s forehead, just left of the fading scar. “If your skills can ease the pain of a loved one’s suffering, the majority of witches and wizards aren’t going to care if you are a troll or a trollop.”

~*~*~*~

PART SEVEN

“The most important thing is to be whatever you are without shame.” – Rod Steiger

 

Harry paced the study, pulling books off the shelf at random, flipping through several pages and then replacing the book back in its proper place. He had already cleaned and dusted every item in Severus’ vast collection and then reshelved them, sorted according to subject matter and alphabetized according to author.

Severus watched him from the corner of his eye. He knew Harry felt trapped within the walls of the townhouse. With the exception of several areas he had been warned not to enter, Harry had scrubbed and polished the entire structure. He was in the process of weeding the back herb gardens, but inclement weather forced him inside.

Harry pulled a book from the erotica section, read for several moments before setting it aside. He pulled another book from the shelf and cringed when he opened it. His expressive eyes looked at Severus and he opened his mouth as if to say something but seemed to think better of it.

Curious, Severus approached and plucked the book from Harry’s fingers. His lip curled in distaste at the contents. He returned the book to the shelves.

“A gift from Walden McNair.”

“This stuff is raw, Sev…It’s absolutely foul…does it..uh…” Harry stuttered, trying to phrase his question in a non-insulting manner.

“Does the subject matter excite me? Arouse me? No. As I said, that book was a gift from a former associate as were many of the others. They knew I collected sexual fantasies…I began my collection while still at Hogwarts…light schoolboy dreck…much like a Muggle boy hiding “Playboy” beneath the mattress. Worth a detention and confiscation if discovered by a teacher, but not grounds for suspension.

“Once I graduated and became a Death Eater, my collection did not stop, but it did grow more explicit. I’ve never been an admirer of ‘Bodice-Rippers’ nor am I a supporter of bestiality. More than half of my collection frankly turns my stomach.”

“Then why keep it?”

“As an active Death Eater or as Albus’ spy, I had to perpetuate a façade. A Death Eater craves power and feeds off the pain of others. In some of my ‘brethren’, torture created an orgasmic high. The owner of such a graphic collection as this would certainly be aroused by rape and torture, don’t you think?”

“You are no longer a Death Eater and no longer need to retain the façade for Voldemort…” Harry pushed the lank black hair from his lover’s face. ”Why don’t we pick an evening to cull through this collection and keep only those articles you actually enjoy. Merlin knows you could use more space on these shelves.”

Severus looked critically at his neatly organized collection. Harry was right. There was no reason to hold on to these nightmares. His stained fingers quickly plucked a series of books from the shelves, dropping them carelessly at his feet. Harry had never seen the man treat any book so disrespectfully before. He worked his way through the shelves, adding to the mess on the floor.

“Sev?”

“No time like the present…” He smiled a rare smile, his heart lightening as the pile grew at his feet. After a few minutes, he paused. “There may be a few more…but that is the bulk of them.”

With a casual flick of his wand, Severus sorted the discarded books into several stacks. Two smaller stacks were piled neatly and bound with conjured twine. “The booksellers of Knockturn Alley may have an interest in these…they are considered classics in the genre and many are first editions.”

“And these?” Harry inquired pointing to a much larger stack. Using the tip of his boot, he flipped closed a particularly graphic image.

“Incendio.” Severus gave his wand an abrupt flick. Harry jumped back at the bright flash and blinked at the pile of ash remaining. “Scorify.”

Harry lifted the two small book stacks by their twine bindings. He set them on a side table, pausing to read their titles. A thought came unbidden to his mind.

“Severus…the authors of these books…were they declared ‘morally corrupt’ and banished from ‘polite society’?”

“Possibly one or two of them…but on the whole, no.”

Harry’s hands fell away from the books. “Then why was I? I didn’t even have my trousers off…certainly it couldn’t compare to that.”

Harry’s finger pointed to the foot of the bookcases where Severus had incinerated the books. The Potion Master clasped the smaller hands in his, giving them a comforting squeeze.

“You really don’t know?” Severus pulled Harry in for a hug. “Put the Slytherin side of your brain to work…you’ll figure it out.”

Harry was silent, soaking in the warmth of the taller figure. Sometimes it frustrated him when Severus forced him to work out the answers to his own questions.

“Dumbledore could have stopped Ron, but he didn’t. He could have stopped Fudge, but he didn’t.”

“Keep going.”

“What did Dumbledore have to gain by discrediting me? I did everything he ever asked of me…I was his perfect little pawn…”

“And?”

“Once I killed Voldemort…he didn’t need his pawn…”Harry’s eyes widened in comprehension. “He thought I would die and he could make a martyr out of me…but I didn’t die. He was left with a living hero…a threat to his power…He’s afraid of me.”

“One hundred points to Gryffindor, Mr. Potter.”

~*~*~*~
Severus watched Harry methodically slice a bunch of carrots into even sections. Casually he slid the orange disks from the cutting board into a simmering pot of chicken soup before turning his attention to a bowl of green beans.

Harry’s fluid motions reminded Severus of watching a master brewing potions. The slender fingers crushed a handful of dried herbs and Harry brought the coarse powder to his nose, giving it a critical sniff before adding it to the soup.

The Potion Master continued with his research notes as he waited for a luncheon guest to arrive. He had told Harry that the Mistress he had apprenticed under was paying a visit to answer any questions Harry might have about applying for the Apprenticeship Program at St. Mungo’s, but he had not informed the young man that Madam Jones was also coming to evaluate him.

“Severus, does she know who I am?” Harry asked as he wiped his hands on a dishtowel. With the exception of Bill Weasley, Madam Jones would be the first magical person he would meet since moving into Severus’ townhouse. The slight wizard glanced around the kitchen, looking for some other activity to calm his nerves. He noticed the animal welfare calendar was missing from it’s nail beside the pantry and he was relieved.

“I mentioned to her that you were interested in an apprenticeship, but did not give her a name.”

Harry nibbled his lower lip for a moment before making a decision, reaching for his wand. Murmuring an incantation, he grew his wild hair out into the sleek pageboy Severus had first seen him wear at Tommy’s.

“Perhaps you should introduce me as Corvus Corax…”

“”If you wish, Corvus, although Madam Jones is a very unbiased witch. Her own history contains some very dark episodes. She did not reject me for my Dark Mark and I do not think her likely to hold a youthful indiscretion against you.”

Harry opened his mouth to reply, but silenced as the floo network came to life and ejected a wizened witch into the kitchen fireplace.

~*~*~*
Madam Jones savored the small forkful of mixed fruit tart, quickly categorizing the ingredients, her taste buds wrapping around a slightly unexpected blend.

“What did you use as a thickener? It is not corn starch.”

“No, Madam. Severus did not have any corn starch on hand so I substituted tapioca.”

The elderly witch nodded, examining Harry with her ancient green eyes. “So, Mr…Corax, are you Muggleborn?”

Whatever Harry expected her to ask, that wasn’t it. “No, but my mother was a Muggleborn. My Muggle aunt and uncle raised me after Death Eaters murdered my parents. Why? Would being a Muggleborn present a barrier to acceptance as an apprentice?”

“Oh no, my dear. It’s just that you made the luncheon as would a Muggle. I could detect no trace of magic used in any step of the preparation.”

“I only recently returned to the wizarding world. As I said earlier, I was raised by Muggles and, due to uncontrollable circumstances, I have lived exclusively in Muggle London for the past few years. I have watched others cook with magic, but I myself never have. I find cooking to be a relaxing experience.”

Madam Jones looked at her former apprentice, expecting him to comment, but he thoughtfully chewed the tart, washing it down with a sip of tea.

“Tell me, child. Were you any good at brewing potions?”

Harry laughed and looked at Severus to judge his reaction to the question. “I scored well on my O.W.L.S. and my N.E.W.T.S., but my class work did not impress my Potions professor.”

“You are more skilled at potion brewing than I ever let you know. You scored well on your exams because there were no distractions or sabotage. Did you really think I was blind to the interhouse rivalry and the destructive ingredients tossed into undefended cauldrons? If you noticed, there was never a fatality in my classroom – something that could easily have occurred with an exploding cauldron.”

Madam Jones hid a smile. She had been saddened when her apprentice was forced to curtail his breakthrough potions research to take a frustrating position teaching children at Hogwarts. She always thought it to be a terrible waste of his considerable talent, but understood that the young man’s foolish acceptance of the Dark Mark had effectively closed all doors except the dubious sanctuary offered by Albus Dumbledore.

The Mediwitch reached for Harry’s hands. She gently massaged them, feeling the strength in the fingers. “You have very nice hands, very soft. Tell me, Mr. Potter, how long has it been since you played Quidditch? I imagine your hands were once quite calloused.”

Harry startled at the use of his proper name. He graced Severus with a look of betrayal. Severus’ eyebrow quirked, but his face remained blank; he had not revealed Harry’s identity to the Mediwitch and wondered what had given Harry away.

“Don’t blame Severus, dear. He kept your confidences.”

“How?”

“How did I know you were Harry Potter? It was your eyes.”

“My eyes? But other people have green eyes. You have green eyes.”

The elderly woman smiled, pushing back the fringe of hair from Harry’s forehead. “I am a Mediwitch as well as a Potion Mistress, my dear. Many wizards do have green eyes, but not that vibrant a green, and their eyes do not bear the scars of a failed Muggle surgery.”

Madam Jones could feel the young wizard begin to withdraw. She saw him begin to erect walls to protect himself from her expected scorn.

“Your alias suits you. Blackbirds are intelligent and tenacious creatures. If I do accept you into the St. Mungo’s program, you will use this alias and continue any disguises you wear.”

Harry pushed back his hair nervously. “The Ministry declared me morally corrupt…not fit for polite society.”

“Your only crime,” she snorted in an unladylike manner. “…Was to force them to accept that their ‘anointed savior’ was a sexual being. You are no more morally corrupt than a fifteen-year-old witch seeking a birth control potion – all you are guilty of is poor judgment. Exactly how did a photograph of you being hugged by a man harm society? You are not the first or last wizard to seek comfort in the arms of another wizard. Pah, I say to the Ministry of Magic and their decrees. Homosexuality and bisexuality are a given in society – wizard and Muggle alike. It is expected that a certain degree of harmless experimentation occurs in the young.”

Severus casually banished the luncheon plates to the kitchen. He wondered if Harry would be angry at his deception, but he ferverently believed that the young man would be more relaxed not knowing Madam Jones was evaluating him as her possible apprentice. He only wished he knew what thoughts were spinning behind those beautiful eyes.

“Why do you want to apprentice as a Healer, Corvus?”

Harry shrugged and gave her his shy, crooked smile.

“I’ve seen so much death in the war…and I…” Harry paused. Madam Jones saw his cheeks flush. “I’ve been accused of having a ‘people saving thing’.”

“There is no shame in wanting to help another creature. I would be pleased to accept you as my apprentice, Mr. Corax, but, if I may be so bold as to suggest it – you should consider a dual apprenticeship. With your innate ability to think beyond purely magical solutions, you could bring objective insight to the brewing of potions for the Curse Damage Wards. Perhaps Severus and I could train you jointly – Potions and Massotherapy.”

Both wizards looked at her, but Harry was more surprised than Severus. The Potion Master had observed Harry cook in Muggle fashion for weeks and was often reminded how similar a science cooking and potion brewing actually were. Severus decided that the real reason his young housemate had failed at brewing most of his potions while a student at Hogwarts was that he never actually followed a recipe while he cooked. Harry would study the recipe and absorb the bare skeleton of the directions, but he added ingredients intuitively, improvising constantly. Creativity and basic potion brewing were polar opposites.

“As Corvus Corax.” Harry said flatly. “There is no record of Corvus Corax attending any magical school. Won’t I need to provide some documentation?”

“You leave that to me, child. You can purchase anything in Knockturn Alley, even a new identity.”

Harry ran his fingers through his straight hair. Was he really ready to finally ‘kill’ Harry Potter for good?

“Wouldn’t you enjoy anonymity, my dear?” The witch gave him a sly smile. “When I changed my identity years ago, I found it liberating. I could finally be myself, not the witch society demanded based upon my given name.”

“You changed your name?” Harry asked, suddenly remembering Severus’ comment about dark episodes in the witch’s past.

“You have perhaps heard of a wizard named Grindlewald?” Harry’s head shot up. Madam Jones graced him with a sad smile. “He was my brother.”

*~*~*~*

PART EIGHT

“I have a face I can not show.
I make the rules up as I go.
It’s try and love me if you can.
Are you strong enough to be my man?”
– Sheryl Crow – “Strong Enough”

 

Harry rested his head on Severus’ chest, listening to the steady beat of the older wizard’s heart. He idly toyed with a black curl of chest hair. He liked these quiet times with Severus; Uncle Leon only ever wanted to cuddle if the promise of sex was involved.

“I received my paperwork from Madam Jones this afternoon. I need to go shopping tomorrow in Muggle London.”

Severus’ dark eyes opened. “Muggle London? The supplies you require are all available in Diagon Alley.”

“I’ll need to visit my bank to withdraw enough funds to cover my expenses. I also need to pick up more makeup to cover my scar.”

The Potion Master’s fingers ghosted over the fading curse scar. With Voldemort dead, the curse was broken; perhaps it was possible to remove the scar, or at least cover it with a glamour charm. Makeup would be a too temporary and too dangerous of a solution; a mediwizard’s poorly directed “Scorify” charm could remove it.

“You do not need to concern yourself with the cost of the supplies. Madam Jones has already ordered and paid for your core textbooks – we will just need to pick them up at Flourish and Blotts. I will be purchasing your robes, potion supplies and incidentals.”

“But you have already spent enough on me…”

“You are apprenticing under Madam Jones and myself – it is expected that we will cover your expenses.”

Harry sighed. He hated to be in anyone’s debt.

“St. Mungo’s has dormitories for their apprentices. I’ll need to contact someone about a room.”

“You will remain here with me.” Severus replied bluntly.

Harry shifted his position so he could see the other man’s face. “I’ve invaded your privacy long enough.”

“You have not invaded my privacy. I enjoy your company.” A smile quirked the thin lips. “And my house has never been cleaner.”

Harry appreciated Severus’ attempt at levity, but he was not convinced. “But if all the apprentices are supposed to live at St. Mungo’s, won’t they question why I am living with you?”

“No, most of the apprentices do not live in the dormitory, especially the very young ones. Numerous novices live with their Masters and Mistresses. Because I am unmarried, they might question it more if you were a witch.”

“For fear it could become a sexual relationship? We already have one and I’m not a witch.”

“Can you get pregnant, Harry?’ Severus arched an eyebrow.

Harry laughed. “I think I lack the essential anatomy for that, Sev. Or can potions be brewed to work around that obstacle?”

“I can perform magic, love, but not miracles.” Severus rolled Harry beneath him, successfully ending the conversation for a more satisfying activity.

~*~*~*~
“Hold still, Dearie,” The seamstress admonished as Harry perched on a stool in the fitting room at Madam Malkin’s. Scraps of fabric hung haphazardly all across the room. The elderly witch checked the hem one final time before moving on to shorten the sleeves.

The young wizard stared at his reflection and grimaced. While not quite as hideous as some of Dudley’s hand-me-downs, the striped purple and turquoise – no, he corrected himself – aubergine and aquamarine – fabric would have been at home on a circus clown.

“Very handsome, Mr. Corax.” The witch said, standing back and admiring her design. “Best of luck on your apprenticeship.”

Harry stepped off the stool and hastily removed the offending garment. Severus handed him a black casual robe with aubergine and aquamarine inserts to wear as the witch moved the apprentice’s work robe to a rack with two other identical work robes, several casual robes and a dress robe for the Ministry of Magic ball. Beside the rack was a neatly folded pile of undergarments, socks and footwear.

The apprentice-in-training glanced longingly at a rack of under robe trousers and dress shirts, but Severus shook his head. Traditionally dressed wizards did not wear Muggle like garments beneath full robes. Trousers were worn only beneath open robes and dueling robes, neither style appropriate for the traditionally-cut apprentice robes.

Harry brushed his hair behind an ear and caught his reflection once again. An androgynous creature stared back at him. Severus’ reflection joined him in the mirror, fingers smoothing out an errant lock of hair in the sleek, shoulder length pageboy. Harry’s green eyes glittered in the sunlight streaming through the storefront window. A fringe of hair and Muggle cosmetics obscured his scar. Harry Potter was returning to the wizarding world, but he was doing so under the guise of Corvus Corax.

“Do the robes have to look so hideous, Sev…er…Master Snape?” Harry corrected himself immediately, hoping the witch was too busy totaling the purchases to notice the slip of his tongue. As far as anyone in Diagon Alley was concerned, Potion Master Severus Snape was accompanying his new St. Mungo’s apprentice on a shopping excursion. Severus signed a script authorizing Madam Malkin to deduct the price of the purchases from his Gringotts account.

“They are honorable, if colorful, robes. Not many healers attempt a dual apprenticeship. Aubergine for Potions, aquamarine for Massotherapy.” Severus sounded faintly amused. He remembered his own initial reaction to the aubergine robes he was expected to wear due to St. Mungo’s color-coding system. “Don’t worry, Mr Corax, you will find that as far as apprentice robes are concerned, you are wearing one of the more sedate fabrics. The surgical apprentices wear crimson and white – they look a bit like a peppermint stick.”

Harry tried to read the total on the receipt the witch handed Severus, but to no success. He was unhappy that the older wizard was paying for his clothing. He did not like feeling as if he were being “kept”, but Severus explained, once again, that as one of his “Masters”, it was expected of him to provide for his apprentice. If Harry paid for his own supplies, it would have raised unnecessary eyebrows.

Harry followed a step behind Severus as they made their way through the various shops of Diagon Alley, completing the list of required supplies for Harry’s apprenticeship. He adjusted the parcels of potion ingredients in his arms as the duo navigated the crowded alleyway. All non-potion purchases were being delivered to the Snape townhouse via owl later that evening.

Severus paused at the intersection of Diagon Alley and Knockturn Alley. He studied his smaller companion. They had passed many former Hogwarts students in the crowded shopping district, but no one seemed to recognize Harry. The dark wizard found it oddly amusing; remove his eyeglasses, obscure the trademark scar and grow out the young man’s hair and no one recognized the fallen savior. Idiots, he thought.

The Potion Master caught Harry’s elbow. “I need to pick up an order at an apothecary just down the way and the doorways are rife with thieves. They would not be so foolish as to confront me, but you would appear to be a defenseless mark – I would feel more comfortable if you would wait for me at Florien Fortesque’s Ice Cream Parlor. Do you need any wizarding money?”

“No. I have a few sickles and knuts – more than enough for a bowl of ice cream. Did you want me to order anything for you?”

“I am not in the mood for sweets. No one seems to have recognized you but keep on your guard. Have your wand ready just in case. I should not be more than twenty minutes.”

~*~*~*~*
Tucked into the corner of Fortesque’s Ice Cream Parlor, Harry watched the witches and wizards pass by the storefront, savoring his anonymity and his bowl of orange chocolate swirl ice cream. He perused his supply list, checking off the purchases that had already been made and re-arranging the potion brewing parcels into a more manageable pile.

Florien recognized the cut of the young wizard’s robes to be apprentice robes. He’d known Severus Snape for years, both as the Hogwart’s Potion Master and as a member of the Order of the Phoenix; he was somewhat surprised that the severe wizard had taken on an apprentice. The young man must be an incredibly strong and intelligent wizard to attempt a dual apprenticeship. Florien only hoped the small wizard had spirit – he would need every ounce of it to survive the Potion Master’s acidic tongue.

Florien found his eyes drawn to the solitary figure. The proprietor closed his eyes, trying to place the familiar looking young man. The memory of a small, green-eyed boy with his homework spread out on a table in the afternoon sunlight came to mind. He caught the attention of the intelligent eyes and smiled, knowing the name would eventually come to him. A family stepping up to the counter drew his attention away. By the time he was finished completing their order, the young man had disappeared.

~*~*~*~*
Severus traced Harry’s curse scar with a fingertip. He examined his lover’s features, eyes closed, long black eyelashes resting on his pale cheeks. A thick hair band held the black hair away from his face. Severus leaned down, kissing Harry’s soft lips. Harry did not respond to Severus’ mistrations; he was under the effects of a strong anesthetizing potion.

“Is the child asleep?” Madam Jones inquired as she carried a covered tray into the guest room. A flick of her wand brightened the room considerably.

“Yes,” The Potion Master replied as he sterilized his freshly scrubbed hands with an incantation. “Are you certain the potion will work? I would hate to think we would further disfigure him in an attempt to remove his legendary scar.”

“Don’t you worry, Severus, Amelia has never failed me with one of her potions. While she is not as talented as you, she does brew many niche potions that are unsurpassable. And with her clientele, she would know about curse scars.”

Severus held up a vial containing a specially ordered potion obtained from Amelia Bagshott’s Apothecary in Knockturn Alley. He held the tangerine liquid up to the light, watching it sparkle.

“Make sure he doesn’t move,” Severus hissed as Madam Jones held Harry’s head in a vice-like grip. Severus held the razor sharp blade of a ceremonial dagger against the unconscious wizard’s forehead. A part of him still couldn’t believe Harry trusted him enough to attempt the operation. Carefully, the dark wizard gouged out the lightening bolt-shaped curse scar and scraped raw the surrounding unmarked flesh.

Severus daubed away the bright red blood from the newly opened wound. When the blood flow slowed, the older man uncorked the potion vial and dribbled four precise drops of the tangerine liquid onto the raw flesh. The potion glowed a soft yellow before sinking into the wound, slowly repairing the injured membranes.

“We will need to repeat the potion in an hour.” Madam Jones arranged Harry’s unresponsive body into a more natural position, banishing the bloody toweling beneath his head. While covering the slender form with a blanket, the elderly witch noticed a scar marring the top of Harry’s hand.

“I will not tell lies.” She quietly read the spidery scrawl. Her aged green eyes looked up at Severus in shock. “What is the meaning of this? The Cutting Charm is classified as dark magic.”

“Delores Umbridge.” Severus said shortly, remembering the amphibian-like witch’s reign over Hogwart’s. “Cornelius Fudge forced Umbridge onto Albus Dumbledore as a DADA professor in what would have been Harry’s fifth year. He was not the only student she scarred in this manner. If the ‘Golden Boy’ hadn’t known to soak his hand in murlap, the scars would have been much worse.”

“But…what lie did he tell? What could he have possibly done to deserve this deliberate disfigurement?”

“He refused to deny the return of Lord Voldemort.”

Severus softly stroked the scar, listening to his lover’s deep breathing for several minutes. Picking up the dagger, he secured the smaller hand in his own and began to scrape away the marked flesh.

~*~*~*~*
Twenty-year-old Blaise Zabini neatly arranged his potions ingredients while keeping a furtive eye on his former head of house’s diminutive apprentice. Corvus was an intriguing puzzle and, like many Slytherins, the Portuguese-born wizard enjoyed solving puzzles.

In his second year of a seven-year apprenticeship, Blaise was mildly surprised when Corvus Corax arrived unexpectedly one morning to the daily Potions Brewing classes taught by a revolving group of St. Mungo’s potion masters, including Severus Snape. Massotherapy and Potions appeared at first to be an extremely odd combination for apprenticeship, but, as the former Slytherin thought about it, it made perfect sense for someone desiring a complete education in Curse Damage.

Beside him, Zacharias Smith slammed his ingredients carelessly onto his worktable as he scowled at the solitary apprentice setting up his workstation furthest away from the other students behind a magic deadening ward.

Harry looked over his notes a final time before extracting a wooden match from a box of Muggle matches and lighting the Bunsen burner beneath his cauldron. His wand was sticking out of the satchel at his feet, far enough away to prevent unconscious casual use, but close enough to summon in case of emergency.

“Look at that,” Zacharias hissed. “I can’t believe Snape denies me but is wasting his time on a Squib…. The little bastard can’t even brew a potion like a normal wizard.”

Blaise let the former Hufflepuff rant. To him it was another blatant example of the other wizard’s immaturity. Obviously his former Hogwarts classmate had been improperly sorted – Hufflepuffs were supposed to be loyal and kind – and Zacharias was neither. Angry that his petition to apprentice under Severus Snape had been out-and-out rejected without even a perfunctory interview, Zacharias turned his bitter tongue against Severus, not even realizing that his attitude toward the Head of Medical Research occasionally amused Snape, but angered the other Masters working with the apprentices. If they learned nothing else, an apprentice learned to be respectful and Zacharias was skating close to the edge of outright dismissal.

Blaise had discussed apprenticeship in general with Severus before leaving Hogwarts, but had never considered studying under his sponsorship. He was pleased with the Potion Master Severus had recommended. After learning from Snape for seven years, it was refreshing to examine potions from a different perspective. Unfortunately, Zacharias was blind to the priceless knowledge presented by the mixed skill set of the various St. Mungo’s Potion Masters.

Blaise lit a fire beneath his cauldron and carefully measured precisely three liters of distilled water into it. He began carefully preparing his other ingredients, ignoring the irritated wizard beside him. A small, smoky explosion and a soft sigh of frustration drew his attention back toward Corvus. Upon first meeting the quiet young wizard, Blaise’s initial thought was that Hades froze over and Harry Potter returned from the missing as Severus Snape’s novice, but he quickly rejected that notion. Although both wizards shared a similar build and had unusually hued eyes, Corvus did not wear eyeglasses or appear to have an insane desire to save the world, nor did he possess the trademark curse scar on his forehead. Corvus also possessed the startling ability to brew successful potions in a totally unconventional manner. And, unlike the unfortunate Harry Potter, Severus actually seemed to respect Corvus Corax.

“That idiot brews like Longbottom,” Zacharias sneered as Harry added unknown ingredients to his smoking cauldron to bring his brew back under control. “He’s just added anise seeds to his potion…and anise seeds aren’t even used in it.”

Blaise rolled his eyes, wishing he could conjure a gag for the irritating Hufflepuff.

“How do you know his potion doesn’t use anise seed? He’s not brewing according to our lesson plan. You obviously aren’t very perceptive. Corax shares a workroom with us, but only participates in the lectures. What he does is rare – that’s why Severus took him under his wing. Any other apprentice would bore him.”

Zacharias snorted. “What’s so rare about a Squib?”

“Get your head out of your arse,” Blaise snapped. “He’s not a Squib. He’s an intuitive brewer and they are exceptionally uncommon.”

~*~*~*~
Harry knocked on the door to Severus’ study. The dark wizard seemed pre-occupied and had not responded to Harry’s summons to dinner.

The young wizard was rather perplexed. The day had started off fine. A rare plant exhibition at the Arboretum sent Harry and Severus into Muggle London for the day. After a leisurely brunch, the pair spent hours visiting the various greenhouses and gardens and Harry was certain Severus nicked a few cuttings from some of the exotic foliage. It had been a relaxing, enjoyable outing for the master and his apprentice.

Upon their return, Severus settled into his favorite chair and began to read several Sunday Muggle newspapers they had picked up during their travels. Harry retreated to the kitchen to begin preparation for dinner. Harry didn’t know what had caused the older man to withdraw into his study.

“Severus,” Harry tried again. When Severus did not acknowledge him, the green-eyed man approached his chair and wrapped his arms around the tall man, resting his cheek on the man’s shoulder. Severus started, dropping the brightly colored tabloid insert that had rested in his lap.

“Sorry, Sev. I thought you heard me. Dinner will be a few more minutes.” Harry held out his hand, wandlessly casting a summoning charm. “Accio newspaper.”

Severus caught the tabloid before it reached his lover’s hand. He sorted through the jumbled pages and held out a full-page advertisement. It was an ad for Cheaton’s Bodyworks.

Harry examined the photograph. Dil and Chrissy were in the foreground with the street bike, Harry in the background on the motor scooter. He looked critically at himself and gave a soft snort. “I look about fourteen years old in this shot…I’ll have to drop Malcolm a line…bastard conveniently forgot to pay me for that photo shoot.

“Well, here’s another one for your collection…one of the last, I’m afraid as I’ve been forced into retirement…” Harry shrugged and handed the ad back to Severus. The dark wizard’s face wore an odd expression. “What?”

“You will not contact that Muggle. If he betrayed you to Alistair once, what will stop him from doing so a second time?”

“A day’s shoot was five hundred pounds, Sev.”

“And what is a ‘gang bang’ worth to you?” Severus asked sharply. “I may not know much Muggle slang, but I sure as hell know what a ‘gang bang’ is. You will NOT contact him.”

Harry glared at the Potion Master, but held his tongue. Turning on his heel, he stalked to the kitchen to put the finishing touches on a dinner he was now too angry to eat. How dare Severus order him not to contact Malcolm; it was easy for him to say “no” because it was not his bank account threatening to dip into negative balance. He had earned every one of those five hundred pounds – and earning it had cost him his home and nearly all of his possessions.

Harry slammed the steaming pan heavily onto the countertop, not caring where the contents sprayed. Why did Severus persist in thinking him an idiotic Gryffindor? There was no way in the nine hells he would have ever considered approaching Malcolm alone.

~*~*~*
Severus sat beside Harry on the Victorian settee in the parlor, settling a folder in his lap. Harry looked up at the older wizard with trepidation; he recognized the folder as the one containing Severus’ collection of photographs and advertisements featuring Harry as a model.

“I want a little information about these photographs. I saw the one shoot at the motor bike shop…did they always end up with you performing ‘private’ commissions?”

Harry held the folder for several minutes before opening it. The Potion Master told Harry he did not hold his dubious past against him, but Harry always feared Severus would cast him aside if the opportunity to pursue a ‘respectable’ lover appeared. The young man did not want to hold this conversation but if he hoped for any future with the dark wizard, he needed to convince Severus that despite appearances, he was not a whore.

“No. Most of my modeling was fairly legitimate. I was not in the habit of pornographic modeling…Quentin called it ‘Art House’ but smut is smut…it only happened when Quentin was the photographer…that’s why I had refused to work with him anymore…”

Harry handed back the folder, relieved that Severus had never seen any of the more graphic images of him Quentin and Alistair had on file. Harry was not outright lying to Severus, because the majority of his modeling work, while not necessarily benign, had been fairly respectable. There were episodes from his past that he was not proud of, but at the time, he had had very little in the way of options. If asked, he would not lie, but he dearly hoped that the questions would never come.

“What do you want to know?” he asked tentatively.

Severus held up the original cologne advertisement. “You were barely sixteen when this was shot…and the subject matter is highly suggestive. Were you frightened?”

“Yes. I had done fashion shoots before…but that was for juvenile clothing catalogs and that is rapid fire. In catalog work you are featuring the clothing, not the model. The model is fairly interchangeable, hired because they fit the clothes…But that photo shoot…that was important. If I fricked it up I would lose all chance at a legitimate career…and if the client liked me…”

“Did you know what they would ask you to do before hand?”

“No…I knew I’d be taking my shirt off or unbuttoning it because Malcolm asked to see my chest before he hired me in the first place…but when the photographer had me unzip my jeans…I was afraid it was going to be like those pictures taken of me when I was a child. The other model was really nice though, and he helped me…Modeling is a fairly cutthroat business so he was a bit of a surprise. But he was an older man and I was just a kid…we would never be up for the same kinds of shoots anyway so I was no threat…he was 100% professional…didn’t take advantage of the situation…his hand never went deeper than it did in the photo…”

Severus tucked back the cologne ad, skipping a few others for the same company as well as the clothing catalog and runway shots. Harry’s fingers touched the clothing catalog.

“This was a fairly obscure catalog, and you, obviously, would never order clothing from a catalog devoted to short Muggle men…how do you find these pictures of me?”

“As you already know, I read constantly and often visit Muggle booksellers and news stands. Some of these clippings, I actually found quite by accident.”

“And the others?”

“Bill has sent me many of them.”

“From Egypt?” Harry’s voice nearly squeaked. “How in Merlin’s name would he ever find them in Egypt?”

Severus smiled. He had wondered when Harry would finally ask questions about his collection and just not passively accept that it existed. “When you visited the ‘pyromaniac’ twins, did you ever show them any of your work?”

Harry’s jaw dropped. “Fred and George know about your collection? They send you pictures of me?”

Severus snorted. “Hardly. I would assume they think that it is Bill that fancies you.”

Harry just shook his head in bemusement. Severus sifted through the folder again. He indicated the animal welfare calendar and note card. “Tell me about these?”

“That was an unusual shoot…most of the time the photographer works with one or two models at a time, but they were on a fairly tight budget. Many of the more famous models and photographers were donating their time. Hedwig and I were paid a bit over scale; folks in the trade asked for me because they knew about my ‘tame’ bird.

“They jumbled us all in a bundle with a number of animals and just let things evolve. I was shot using several of the animals and Hedwig was used a few times as well, but we were most comfortable with one another and that’s why that shot came out so well.”

“And the snake?”

“Pamela was originally brought in to work with a film actress, but the tart was terrified of her.”

“Pamela?”

“The python…she was a pretty girl. A washed up rock star and I were the only ones not too scared to pose with her…Being a Parseltongue does have some advantages, you know.”

Severus picked up the Cheaton’s advertisement. “The photographer threatened you before you ever went before the camera…why didn’t you just leave?”

Harry paused. Severus was heading for dangerous territory.

“I needed the money…and if I left Malcolm would cut my contract loose.”

The room was silent for several minutes. Severus broke the silence with a question that had troubled him for weeks.

“What is a ‘rent boy’?”

Harry winced and looked away. “A street whore…a prostitute too poor to have a room. Quentin knew Uncle Leon ‘kept’ me…Malcolm probably did, too. Blackmail is easy when your target is vulnerable…and once Uncle Leon died, I became easy prey.”

“How easy?” Severus’ voice was hard.

Tired of the entire situation, Harry lashed out.

“Malcolm never fucked me, but he made me suck his cock. If I didn’t, he would not send me out on shoots.”

Harry tossed the folder across the room, watching the contents scatter.

“I don’t want to talk about this any longer.” He snarled. “I have done many things I am not proud of, but I did what I had to do to survive. Do you have any idea how many days I woke up wishing for it all to end? Wishing I had enough courage to kill myself? But I’m too much of a fucking Gryffindor…too much of a Don Quixote battling the fucking windmills.”

Harry inhaled a shuddering breath, past the point of calming himself. He plucked up the animal welfare note card and held out the image of himself wearing only a snake.

“If all I am to you is a folder filled with fantasies then perhaps I should leave you with them…In the end, I will only be a disappointment to you.”

Harry set the note card on the table and stalked to the door. He looked back at Severus, his eyes a mix of hurt and anger.

“I don’t know why I ever thought I could escape my past. I will always be nothing but a whore to you. I will owl Madam Jones tomorrow to officially withdraw from the Apprenticeship Program. Good night, Professor Snape.”

~*~*~*~*
Severus stared at his hands as he listened to Harry’s footsteps pace above him. His fingers drifted to the faded Dark Mark on his forearm. More than anyone, he understood what it felt like to fight for basic survival. Don Quixote, indeed.

“Accio. Accio. Accio.” He cast in quick succession, gathering up the scattered photographs. His fingers paused a moment on the October calendar image before he snapped the folder shut. Tucking the flat package beneath his arm, he followed Harry’s path up the stairs.

For several moments, Severus watched Harry gather his meager possessions into a messy pile on the bed. The dark wizard saw Harry’s hands pause on a thick anatomy tome; the thin fingers caressed the spine before leaving it on the desk. No matter how angry Harry was with him, the Potion Master would not let him throw away a promising future in Mediwizardry.

Harry pointedly ignored the older wizard as he checked the wardrobe for a missing trainer. His heart hurt so much; he felt as if the organ would explode in his chest. He was angrier at himself than he was at Severus. It was his own fault for hoping anyone would ever think he was more than a toy.

“You are not a disappointment…and you are not a whore.” Severus stepped into the bedroom and handed the folder to Harry. “These are yours to do with as you wish. Keep them as mementos of your professional modeling career or incinerate them…I do not want a fantasy lover…and I do not want you to leave.”

Harry cast him a wary eye.

“And my past?”

“Is the past,” Severus said quietly, wrapping the smaller figure up in his arms.

~*~*~*~*
The room was too bright, too sterile, and much too cheery. He now understood where Harry’s uncontrollable cleaning obsession came from. The Potion Master took a sip of tea, hiding his grimace at the poor quality of the leaf. Tea was not meant to be brewed from little paper bags, he thought. Muggles were barbaric.

He turned his attention back to the thin, nervous woman sitting across from him in the immaculate kitchen. The brightness of the room highlighting the bruises she was trying to hide beneath a layer of Muggle cosmetics. Her eyes drifted to a clock on the wall.

“When do you expect your husband home, Mrs. Dursley?”

“Vernon won’t be home for hours…I…I have to be at work in an hour. I…I’m a checkout clerk at Tesco.”

Severus’ eyes slowly blinked. He indicated the woman’s battered face. “And you would go out in public like this?”

Petunia Dursley looked away and Severus could see a dark bruise on her shoulder. Obviously once Vernon Dursley had lost his nephew as a target for his anger, his focus shifted to his wife. The dark wizard loathed men who beat their wives almost as much as he loathed those who abused their children.

“Why do you stay with him?”

“I have no place else to go. Vernon won’t let me work and he controls all the finances. When Dudley - he’s my son - went on to University, I wanted to go to secretarial school but Vernon said no wife of his would ever work. My…my place was here.”

“He doesn’t know about your job, does he?”

“No. He thinks I am volunteering at the church. He’d kill me.” Petunia set down her shaking teacup. “I’ve a little saved…but not nearly enough…”

Severus leaned forward, locking the frightened blue eyes with his own. “Harry told me that the day you helped him escape, you found a box of photographs. Did your husband keep them?”

“Yes…but he moved them to a trunk…and I don’t have a key…There are videos there as well.”

Severus casually drew his wand and nonchalantly tapped it with his index finger as if deep in thought. He ignored the hitch in Petunia’s breathing. He smiled a feral smile, causing her to recoil.

“I don’t think I’ll have any problems with a Muggle lock.”

~*~*~*~*
Severus rested his hands on the railing of the second level of the St. Mungo’s Medical Research Library and glanced down to the heavy oak tables below. He was gratified to see many of the hospital apprentices taking their studies seriously. He did not see his lover among them, but that was not too much of a surprise. A late arrival into the program, Harry had not yet found his social niche.

The longer Harry roamed the very public hallways in his minimal disguise as Corvus, the more his confidence level built. Early on, he had been terrified that someone would discover his true identity and call for his immediate expulsion, but he soon realized that the majority of witches and wizards were so absorbed in what ever personal drama brought them to St. Mungo’s in the first place to pay much attention to the slightly built apprentice. If questioned, Severus seriously doubted that many could have even remembered his gender.

But Harry was still wary to mix with the general hospital staff and especially to mix with the apprentices. Many were former Hogwarts classmates. Thankfully, of the apprentices Harry had direct contact with, none were from the Gryffindor House and the rigid class structure and political climate at Hogwarts had prevented much in the way of inter-house association.

Severus acknowledged the presence of Healer Hippocrates Smethwyck, the Head of the General Maladies Department. The middle-aged wizard stepped beside him, peering over the railing to check on his own departmental apprentices.

The heavy oak door to the library opened and Severus noticed the unique aubergine and aquamarine robes of his lover and apprentice. Picking a research table away from the general study group, Harry set down his satchel and glanced at a parchment listing several reference books. Madam Jones wanted him to fully research the side effects of an extended Cruciatus Curse and to develop a possible means to repair the long term mental and physical damage it caused to its victims.

Harry perused the shelves and soon located a section devoted to dark curses. He pulled one of his reference books from the neat shelves and continued on his search for the remaining tomes. As Harry reached the end of a long row, he passed a group of second year apprentices deep in a quiet discussion of an Advanced Mediwizardry assignment. Not wanting to draw attention to himself, the slight wizard eased behind the group intending to duck down the next row of shelves.

“Oh look,” Zacharias’ voice echoed in the silent library. “If it isn’t Snapsie’s catamite.”

~*~*~*~
On the floor above, several members of the senior staff looked on the scene below in horror. One of their own had just been publicly accused of an improper sexual relationship with his trainee. Healer Smethwyck began to speak but silenced at Severus’ upraised hand. The staff members approached, curious to see Severus’ reaction to still another attack on his character.

Beside him Smethwyck sputtered. “You can not continue to ignore him, Severus. His blatant show of disrespect has gone on long enough. It is time Mr. Smith was censured.”

The other staff members nodded in agreement, but Severus kept his hand raised as he leaned over the balcony to view the confrontation below.

“Oh, I heartily agree, Hippocrates, but let us see how Mr. Corax handles it first, shall we?”

~*~*~*~
‘Snapsie’s catamite’. Harry’s blood ran cold. He had had enough of Zacharias and his petty vindictiveness. It was time to take the Hufflepuff down a peg.

Harry looked around the first floor of the library, not seeing any masters or senior staff members to come to his defense or to witness the exchange. He licked his lower lip to moisten it before setting his research materials down on the nearest flat surface. He smoothed his hands down his striped apprentice robes, a calculating smile gracing his face as he decided how to best handle the situation. He held his wand loosely in his hand, as a precaution.

“Jealous are we, Mr. Smith?” Harry approached the Hufflefuff with the same cat-like grace he had used while waiting tables at Tommy’s. He stopped just inside Zacharias’ personal space. Harry tilted his head, his eyes looking the other wizard over in a blatantly sexual fashion. Zacharias audibly swallowed.

Harry reached up and ran a finger down Zacharias’ jawline, feeling the taller man tremble. In a voice that almost purred, he continued.

“But what exactly are you jealous of, love? Is it because Master Snape is supposedly shoving his big cock up my arse and not yours? Or…” Harry leaned forward, breathing in Zacharias’ ear. “Or is it because you want it to be your cock shoved up my tight arse?”

The apprentices were deathly silent as they observed the color tint Zacharias’ cheeks and watched the usually verbose wizard stumble over a reply, noticing he did not deny Harry’s accusation. But Snape’s apprentice wasn’t finished.

“You want to know how I keep my master pleased? Why he keeps coming back to me for more?” Zacharias nodded, dumbly. Harry cast him a seductive smile, years as a model paying off. “He has a healthy appetite, does my master…and I love to hear him moan as he bites into my nice, hot…”

Harry paused for effect, conscious of the rapt attention of their audience. It was time to go in for the kill. “…Orange poppy seed scones.”

As one, the apprentices jolted. Scones? Zacharias finally found his voice. “W-what?”

“Scones,” Harry repeated. “Master Snape just loves my orange poppy seed scones.”

“But you…he…” Zacharias sputtered.

“Share his bed?” Harry asked archly, needing to protect Severus’ professional reputation as well as deflect unwanted attention from their clandestine relationship. “Master Snape possesses neither a wife nor a house elf. Shortly after he resigned from Hogwarts to take the position of Head of Medical Research, I was hired to perform as both housekeeper and cook. I have always had my own bedroom and he has always had his own.”

Harry pushed his wand sharply against Zacharias’ ribs. “You will cease this daily assassination of his character and of mine.”

Zacharias sputtered, the only coherent words being, “orange poppy seed scones.”

Blaise’s sudden laughter echoed into the stunned silence of the library. The Portuguese-born wizard wrapped a muscular arm around Harry’s slight shoulders, almost knocking him off his feet.

“Biting your nice, hot scones…Brilliant! You really had us going there for a minute, you know. Corvus, I think you’re going to fit in just fine.”

Blaise’s laughter was infectious as the other apprentices began to laugh as well, breaking the tension. No one really knew what to expect from the always-shy Corvus Corax. Zacharias gathered up his belongings, trying to distance himself from the ridicule he had brought down on himself. He did not appreciate how easily the other wizard had bested him.

Up in the balcony above, Severus smirked and Smethwyck tried to stifle a snort of amusement.

~*~*~*~

PART NINE

“Real confidence comes from knowing and accepting yourself – your strengths and your
limitations – in contrast to depending on affirmation from others.”
– Judith Bardwick - Sociologist

 

~*~*~*~
Harry sank into the leather side chair in Severus’ St. Mungo’s office, his aching feet propped up on a stack of research books. After a long period of stagnation, his mind was exhilarated by the intellectual challenges each day now provided. For too long, his daily survival relied solely on his body and his sexual allure, but Madam Jones and Severus continued to challenge him, giving his keen intelligence a chance to emerge. He could easily grasp concepts that would have been alien to him months before.

He was mentally and physically exhausted, fresh off a week of fourteen-hour days. But, Harry thought, it was not the class work, lab work or the hands-on patient training that left him so drained, it was the constant fear of discovery.

Years of modeling and life with Uncle Leon had made him a consummate actor, but he had always known who he was beneath the role. Now he wasn’t so sure. In the very public setting of the hospital, he feared someone would finally look closely enough at the shy, diminutive Corvus Corax and discover the disgraced Harry Potter.

He was proud to be an apprentice; after untold years, he was no longer ashamed to look at himself in the mirror. He was building himself a respectable future and he feared it would all crash down on his head. He had tried so hard to remain in the shadows, but Zacharias Smith’s jealousy forced him into the spot light.

Severus entered his office at the end of his last meeting of the day, not surprised to find Harry curled up in the chair. He was proud of his young lover and the effort he was putting into his studies. Each day, Harry grew less tentative in his actions. Severus could measure the growing confidence in the younger wizard and he was delighted. Madam Jones and the other staff members had nothing but praise for the quiet young man. He only hoped Zacharias’ vindictiveness had not shaken Harry to his core.

Harry opened his eyes slowly. He tried to gauge Severus’ unreadable expression. Severus folded his long frame into another leather side chair. Harry felt nervous, his stomach clenching. Immediately after his successful confrontation with Zacharias in the library, Harry looked up as the murmur of voices drifted to the main floor. With shock, he realized his actions had been witnessed not only by Severus, but also by a majority of the senior staff - so much for discretion.

When Severus remained silent, Harry caught a shaky breath. “Blaise told me Zacharias has been dismissed from the program. Am I to be dismissed as well?”

“Mr. Smith was not dismissed.”

“But Blaise…”

“Mr. Zabini was mistaken. Mr. Smith has been re-assigned to a satellite hospital – St. Brigit – in Wales. As much as he deserved to be tossed out on his ear for conduct unbecoming a St. Mungo’s apprentice, he was given one final chance to prove his worth. Any additional infraction, however minor, will banish Zacharias Smith from the entire European Mediwizardry apprenticeship program.”

“And me? My conduct was hardly respectable. Am I to be disciplined as well?”

“While it would have been easy to resort to violence, your solution was deemed to be highly creative by the senior staff.” Severus smiled a rare smile. “Well done, Mr. Corax.”

~*~*~*~*
“Oh my God,” Petunia Dursley whimpered as she watched an amateur videotape shown to her. She wiped away the tears blurring her vision as one of the police detectives in the room handed her a box of facial tissues. “It wasn’t just Harry…he didn’t stop at just Harry.”

The detective paused the video, freezing an image of four little naked boys. They looked to be no older than four or five. “Can you identify any of the children, Mrs. Dursley?”

Petunia collected herself as best she could, her hatred of Vernon multiplying. She approached the television monitor and pointed to each figure in succession. “My nephew Harry…my Duddikins…that’s his best friend Piers…and…I’m sorry…I don’t remember this little one’s name.”

“Gordon,” said a deep tight voice beside her. Dudley rested a meaty hand on his mother’s thin shoulder. “I remember that…Dad let us have all the sweets we wanted…even Harry…and you know, Mum, Dad never let Harry have anything.”

“Do you remember any other occasions similar to this?”

Dudley’s small eyes stared at the frozen video image. “Never again with me…but you may want to talk to Piers Polkis…I remember Dad buying him video games…but they wouldn’t tell me why.”

~*~*~*~
A smile of satisfaction creased his usually impassive face as Severus perused a Muggle newspaper. Unlike most wizards, the Potion Master did not ignore the Muggle world that surrounded them. He often purchased newspapers from a news stand located a block from St. Mungo’s.

He was pleased with a multi-page exposé in “The Daily Mail”. His little visit to Privet Drive had blossomed most unexpectedly. Not only had Petunia Dursley’s police report caught Vernon Dursley in the web of a child pornography sting, she had managed to snare Alistair, Quentin, and an unknown number of others as well. Discovered amongst Vernon’s collections was a list of the dates, times, and names of every photographer he had taken Harry to as well as the amount of payment received. And since all the transactions were in cash, the Department of Taxation was aiding in the investigation.

In a plea bargain, Quentin spilled his guts. If he was going to go down, he would not go down alone.

And Alistair was caught in a stranglehold. When police arrived with a warrant to search his premises, they discovered him in the midst of filming the violent and non-consensual rape of a thirteen year old runaway. A thorough search of his studio uncovered materials linking him to the arson fire of Harry’s apartment building.

Yes, thought Severus, his revenge was shaping up nicely and there was no way the Ministry of Magic could trace back to him. He had brought Harry’s abusers to Muggle justice with the use of only one spell, a simple “Alohamora” to open a locked trunk and, with subtle “suggestion”, Petunia Dursley’s no longer dormant maternal instincts had done the rest. If what he had read about Muggle penal institutions was correct, the three men would find hell at the hands of their fellow prisoners. Child rapists and child abusers found little acceptance within a prison population, many prisoners the victims of child abuse themselves. They would experience a small taste of the pain and humiliation Harry had suffered for almost his entire life. How sweet retribution could taste.

Malcolm would be harder to snare. He ran a legitimate modeling agency and had no involvement in underage pornography or tax evasion. He had dabbled a bit in adult pornography itself, but that was considered almost a victimless crime and Harry had been over the age of consent when coerced to perform oral sex in order to keep his modeling contract. But Malcolm had caught the eye of investigators and Severus could only hope the man would one day soon slip up.

~*~*~
Severus Apparated into his study, searching for Harry. Madam Jones contacted him in the St. Mungo’s Research Laboratory to tell him “Harry Potter” received an unwanted owl bearing a Hogwarts seal that left him agitated. She dismissed the young apprentice for the remainder of the day so he could regain control of his emotions.

Aconite and Hedwig were asleep on their perch. Hedwig opened one sleepy amber eye before determining they were in no danger from predators and promptly settled back to sleep, tucked against her companion’s darker feathers.

The entire downstairs of the townhouse was bathed in a fragrant aroma. Severus watched flour speckled Harry viciously kneading a large ball of bread dough, small clouds of flour drifting up from the worktable. Behind the slender wizard, Severus could see an enormous pile of dirty pots and cooking utensils in the sink as well as several large pots simmering on the burner. His sensitive nose identified one as the beginnings of a savory stew and the second a tomato sauce for pasta. A stuffed chicken was roasting in the oven. Thank Merlin for food preservation charms. There was more food being prepared than the couple could eat in a month.

Harry acknowledged his lover with a nod before continuing his abuse of the elastic dough. Severus almost smiled; when Harry was upset or angry, he cooked. He buried himself in the preparation of complex and time-consuming Muggle dishes. The time it took to expend his excess energy gave him time to calm himself and think out his actions before acting rashly. When Harry was working out his problems, it was difficult for Severus to understand how the Sorting Hat ever thought the young man a good fit for Gryffindor.

Harry deposited the dough in an oil drizzled bowl, turning the dough over to coat it. He set the large stoneware bowl aside in a warm corner for it to rise a second time. Ignoring the pile of dishes, Harry washed his hands before finally giving Severus his full attention.

The dark wizard brushed a smudge of flour from the other man’s cheek. He wrapped him into a strong hug, nuzzling his nose into the soft black hair.

“Madam Jones said you received distressing post.”

Harry indicated several rolls of parchment and a flat black velvet box on the kitchen table. “That manipulative old bastard has gone too far.”

Severus didn’t need to ask what manipulative old bastard Harry was referring to - he knew.

“What has Dumbledore done now?”

Harry accioed a roll of parchment and Severus skimmed its contents, immediately understanding his lover’s reaction. Certain phrases made his hackles rise.

“…Since you are acting immaturely and have not acknowledged your invitation to the Ministry of Magic Ball…have accepted on your behalf…demand you sit at the head table…time to return to the wizarding world and stop hiding like a child…returning something you inadvertently left behind…” Severus stopped skimming. “What did you inadvertently leave behind?”

Harry pointed toward the velvet box. “Inadvertent, my arse. After receiving my Ministry of Magic decree stating I was morally corrupt, an embarrassment to wizardkind everywhere, and my presence was no longer welcome in polite society, I took a long walk around the Hogwarts school grounds to figure out my options. The Giant Squid likes pretty things to decorate her nest so I gave her my Order of Merlin – First Class medal. I resent that Albus Dumbledore stole it from her.

“If I wasn’t moral enough to become an Auror, and I wasn’t moral enough to be a respectable member of wizarding society, then I’m not moral enough to wear an Order of Merlin medal to a dress up party.”

Severus crumpled Dumbledore’s parchment without finishing reading it, incinerating it with wandless magic. He wasn’t sure who he hated more – Albus Dumbledore or Cornelius Fudge. Harry deserved to wear his Order of Merlin proudly; he did not disserve the manipulative bastards and their continued efforts to control him.

*~*~*~*
Severus looked up from the desk in his study and glanced over at his apprentice, napping fitfully on the leather sofa, a book on anatomy open on his chest. Harry twitched and let out a soft whimper, the heavy medical tome slipped to the carpet with a loud thud. Harry jerked awake, disoriented.

“Nightmare?” Severus inquired.

“No…not precisely a nightmare…” Harry sat up, tiredly rubbing his temples. “More like bad memories. What with the Ministry Ball, the newspapers and the old man’s repeated owls…the Anniversary isn’t a celebration for me…and it shouldn’t be one for anyone else either…so many dead…so many injured…”

Severus joined the younger man on the sofa. The slender figure curled up beside him, resting his head in Severus’ lap. Long fingers smoothed the wayward dark tresses, offering comfort.

It was impossible to escape the build-up to the Third Anniversary Celebrations, even in St. Mungo’s, where many of the casualties still languished. There would be no celebrations held in the Curse Damage Wards for decades; a wizard’s long life span was not a blessing on that ward.

Severus thought back to the Final Battle. October 31st, Halloween, First Hogsmeade Weekend, Sixteenth Anniversary of the death of James and Lily Potter, and the Sixteenth Anniversary of the orphaning of “The Boy Who Lived”.

Due to the heightened threat of attack, the four Heads of House, and three additional staff members were chaperoning the exuberant students on the first Hogsmeade Weekend of the year. Both Severus and Minerva had questioned the Headmaster on the unnecessary risk posed by the outing, but Albus Dumbledore’s eyes twinkled as he waxed nostalgic on the tradition. Severus seethed at the old man’s foolishness; more than one spy had reported on increased Death Eater activity.

When Lord Voldemort and his army of Death Eaters and dark creatures did attack Hogsmeade, a panicked call went out to the Ministry of Magic and the Order of the Phoenix. In the critical minutes before help arrived, the safety of Hogsmeade and the Hogwart’s students fell to seven professors, members of the D.A., untrained students and a few shopkeepers.

Madam Rosemerta was the first to fall, killed by an Avada Kedavra as she tried to shield a group of third year students on their very first visit to Hogsmeade. Although they fought bravely, the underage witches and wizards were no match against the fully trained Death Eaters. A Jelly Legs Curse, while debilitating, was no match for a Cruciatus Curse. Ginerva Weasley and Dean Thomas were the next to die, hexed as they attempted to rescue a fourth year Hufflepuff whose legs had been severed.

In what was either a move of sheer heroism or plain stupidity, Stan and Ern plunged The Knight Bus into the midst of battle, attempting to rescue the trapped children and the injured. While moderately successful in their rescue attempt, Stan Shunpike was caught in a cross-fire of curses, injured so severely he was still a semi-permanent resident of the St. Mungo’s Curse Damage Ward.

As the battle progressed and the death count rose, Severus saw Harry Potter face off against Lord Voldemort and his second-in-command, Lucius Malfoy. Too far away to be of any assistance, Severus looked on helplessly as Harry fought a losing battle. Severus shouted in denial as a disarmed Harry was brought to his knees by repeated Cruciatus Curses. The Potion Master could see the trademark Weasley red hair surge forward from several directions, but it was Draco Malfoy who took down his own father.

In possession of both of the “brother” wands, Voldemort cast a strong Shielding Charm around himself and the fallen Boy Who Lived. He could taste certain victory and instead of cleanly killing his main adversary, the insane Dark Lord chose to toy with his victim instead.

As Albus, Severus, Minerva and three Ministry Aurors tried to disable Voldemort’s defensive shield, they could only watch helplessly while the seventeen year old wizard writhed under repeated curses. Harry seemed to weaken; Voldemort shot Dumbledore a vindictive sneer. With his torturer momentarily distracted, Harry pulled out a hidden second wand from a holster on his left forearm.

“Avada Kedavra, you fucking bastard…” Harry cried out, freezing the Dark Lord in mid-laugh. The burst of dark magic tore through Harry’s already depleted reserves. The green glow of the Killing Curse faded; Harry crumpled to the cobblestones, unconscious.

~*~*~*
Severus’ mind drifted back to the present, focusing on the even breathing of his companion. He gently shook Harry’s shoulder.

“Wake up, Love.”

“Not sleeping,” Harry murmured and pushed himself up. “Remembering…I don’t want to go to the gala tomorrow night…I don’t need any more reminders of those we lost…”

“Merlin knows I am no more anxious to attend than you are…but duty demands…”

Harry arched an eyebrow and Severus halted mid-sentence. Since when had the dark wizard started to channel Albus Dumbledore? The green eyed wizard gave him a quick peck to the tip of his overly large nose. “I hear there is an outbreak of Dragon Pox in the Pediatric Ward…I’ve never had Dragon Pox, have you?”

Severus shook his head. “Won’t work. Incubation period for Dragon Pox is ten days…off to bed. It will be a long night tomorrow.”

“Stay with me?” Harry asked, uncertainly, almost as if he were afraid of rejection. Severus once again cursed those who had so damaged his lover. The dark wizard clasped Harry’s smaller hand into his own and led him from the study.

“I don’t want to be alone either.”

~*~*~*
On the morning of the Ministry Ball, Severus paused at the entrance to the townhouse kitchen. Harry had all the ingredients laid out to prepare ham and cheese omelets, but his attention was focused on the Commemorative Edition of “The Daily Prophet”. Page after page of the tabloid was filled with the names of the dead.

Severus rested his hand on Harry’s thin shoulders and read some of the names. So many underage witches and wizards had perished due to Dumbledore’s foolish decision not to cancel a Hogsmeade Weekend. Had a handful of Chocolate Frogs and a box of Bertie Botts Everyflavor Beans truly been worth the life of a child?

The center spread of the “Prophet” featured a collage of photographs, some taken during the final battle and others of important players. One photograph showed a glass case containing the “brother” wands of Lord Voldemort and Harry Potter on display at the Ministry of Magic under heavy security wards.

The Potion Master plucked Harry’s wand up from the middle of the kitchen table and casually examined it. He had never paid much attention to Harry’s replacement wand before and quickly realized he was holding the spare wand Harry had actually used to destroy the Dark Lord. The Ministry always assumed their savior used his holly and phoenix feather wand for the destruction of Lord Voldemort and had immediately confiscated it.

Harry reached for his wand. Severus looked at it one final time and handed it to the younger man.

“When did Ollivander provide you with a second wand?”

Harry tucked his wand up his sleeve. “I didn’t get the wand from Ollivander…at least not directly. The wand is almost two hundred and fifty years old…It belonged to my Great, Great, Great Uncle Aloysius Potter.”

“And you came by it…”

“I may not be able to remove any money or jewels from the Potter Vaults until I turn twenty one, but the Goblins occasionally turn a blind eye to family heirlooms valued at less than twenty galleons. I discovered a cache of wands one afternoon and this wand was surprisingly compatible.”

“When I held it, the magic felt strange to me. What is it made of?”

“Ollivander told me it was an unusual wand, with an unusual core. It is Black Forest oak with the tail hairs of a unicorn and a thestral twined about the feather of a newly reborn phoenix…Life and Death…Birth and Rebirth…the ideal wand for a Healer…wouldn’t you say?”

Severus’ response died on his lips as a raptor sailed through the Postal Owl entrance and perched on his shoulder.

“That better not be another effing note from Dumbledore. I’ve had it with his veiled threats and his offers of false reconciliation. I will no longer be his pawn.”

“Not from Albus…Tut is Bill Weasley’s bird…better suited to the climate of Egypt than a common owl.”

Severus made quick work of the binding holding a roll of parchment. Without waiting for a message or payment, Tut soared back out into the early morning sky.

“Sev,

Unexpected change in plans. I need to stay at The Burrow with Mum tonight. She’s never really recovered from losing Ginny in the war and all those “Prophet” articles have reinforced her grief. She is in no condition to attend the ball and we are afraid to leave her alone.

Since Dad and Percy work at the Ministry, Fudge has made their attendance mandatory so it has fallen to me to “Mum-sit”.

Keep your shadow close tonight. Ron will be in attendance and who knows what he’ll do once he samples the free alcohol. Percy has promised to try to keep an eye on him.

Bill”

Severus set the parchment beside the newspaper. “Damn,” he thought. Percy was a pencil-pusher, not capable of keeping Ron in check like Bill could.

Harry looked up from the omelets he was preparing. “Is Bill still coming to stay for a few days?”

“No.” Severus replied quickly. “Change of plans. He won’t be able to come to London after all.”

~*~*~*
Ron Weasley adjusted his Order of Merlin – Third Class medal on his expensively tailored dress robes. Now that he was a World Class Quidditch star, he no longer needed to wear ill-fitting hand-me-down and second hand robes. The deep blue of the robe played nicely against his reddish orange hair and his blue eyes. His ego swelled even larger as he swaggered through the crowds, hearing the awed voices of Quidditch fans. “Weasley is your King” indeed, he thought. How he’d love to make Malfoy eat his words.

The tall red head made his way through the slowly filling ballroom, glancing at the names on the placards. Anyone who was anyone in wizarding society would be attending. He paused, surprised to see the name “Harry Potter” on a white card between “Albus Dumbledore” and “Minerva McGonagall” at the head table. No one had seen or heard of Harry since his Hogwarts graduation; would the tarnished “Golden Boy’ actually make an appearance?

Ron wended his way through the round tables, each set for eight, locating his own name in a prominent table in the center of the room. He would be sitting with players from other Quidditch teams. He smiled viciously when he saw the seating arrangements at the table his estranged twin brothers were assigned. They had been relegated to a table in a dark corner away from the general flow of the room. He laughed when he read the names of their other dining companions. Ron couldn’t think for any better revenge than to have them stuck in the dark with the greasy git of a Potion Master and the supposedly reformed ferret, Draco Malfoy.

He looked at the other cards assigned to the twin’s table, all witches and wizards he knew from Hogwarts, except one. The name card to the right of “Severus Snape” caught his eye. It was an unfamiliar name – “Corvus Corax”. Ron snorted. He had always joked that Snape was nothing but an overgrown bat. Apparently his partner for the night was a blackbird. The witch must be extremely ugly or desperate to be willing to date the snarky git.

~*~*~*
The ballroom filled with witches and wizards in their best robes. The volume of the room was almost deafening as the guests conversed with colleagues they had not seen in years. The Weasley twins spoke pleasantly with Draco and his heavily pregnant wife, the former Susan Bones. Draco wore an Order of Merlin – Second Class in recognition for the dangerous role he played in the war – as a mole planted deep within the Death Eater organization. The twins had brought Katie Bell and Lee Jordan as their guests and their animated conversations soon spread to adjoining tables.

Ron, from his prime spot several tables over, glanced furtively toward his brothers’ table. It galled him that Draco received a higher award than he had and it irked him even more that his brothers were not appalled to share a table with the blond.

Ron clenched his fists, his knuckles white. He had promised his mother that he would be civil to them and the twins agreed not to hex him on sight. Of all his brothers, Percy was the only one still speaking to him and it was small consolation. The mid-level Ministry of Magic employee had tried to confiscate his wand the minute Ron ordered his first shot of Fire Whisky.

Snape and his mysterious date had not yet arrived and Ron wondered if the snarky bastard would be a no-show. One glance at the head table showed the telltale gap between Headmaster and Deputy Headmistress. Dumbledore looked furious. But guests were still arriving as officials tried to move the crowd to their assigned seats.

Ron noticed Professor McGonagall lean toward Professor Dumbledore and point toward one of the entrances. The redhead followed the direction of her hand, expecting to see Harry but it was the tall figure of the Potion Master.

Severus carefully steered his shorter companion through the crowded ballroom, pausing a few times to exchange pleasantries with former Slytherins and staff members from St. Mungo’s. Not a few witches and wizards paused in conversation as Severus guided his guest, his hand resting at the small of the back. A few whispered comments wondered how the severe wizard could get such an attractive date, but Healer Smethwyck, after acknowledging Master Snape and his apprentice, doused all speculation.

Draco’s arm shot up and Severus began to head in the direction of the table. Ron tried to get a glimpse of Severus’ date and was mildly surprised by the flat chest. Obviously, Corvus Corax was not a witch.

Ron’s jaw dropped as he got a clear view of Severus’ companion. Small and compact, he was dressed in expensive dress robes of black and emerald green, finely tailored to accent his slender frame. A thin hand brushed back the long black pageboy and Ron could see a beautiful face and vibrant green eyes. Harry Potter had returned to the wizarding world and no one seemed to realize it.

Ron abruptly knew the placement of the twins’ table had not been an insult but had been deliberate. Severus, Draco and the young wizard that might be Harry all sat with their backs to the wall, a clear view to the rest of the room. Fred and George were in perfect position to run interference and the remaining occupants had all exhibited strong defensive skills while members of the D.A.

The youngest male Weasley was astounded no one else seemed to realize Harry had returned. Any conversation that washed over him was more in surprise that Snape had taken on an apprentice, speculation on whether if you wanted to ask the pretty young wizard on a date you needed to ask Snape’s permission first, or that the two Slytherin war heroes were so comfortable being seated with the Gryffindor pranksters.

Oliver Wood watched his tablemate carefully. The Puddlemere United Player-Coach followed Ron’s glances and thought his brothers were the targets of his distain.

“Keep away from Fred and George, Ron. This is not the place to air family squabbles.” The keeper warned bluntly. He had been requested to sit at Ron’s table as a favor to the coach of the Chudney Cannons. Someone needed to keep the hotheaded redhead in check. Personally, Oliver hated Ron for what he had done to Harry years before.

“I don’t give a frick about the twins,” Ron snapped, downing another shot of Fire Whisky. “Who’s that with Snape and Malfoy?”

Angelina Wood leaned around her husband. “That’s Susan, you twit. Draco Malfoy’s wife.”

“Not Susan, the other one.”

“Oh, that’s Corvus. He’s apprenticing in Massotherapy under Madam Jones in the Curse Damage wards. He’s really shy, but I hear nice things about him.” Angelina worked in the Medical Records Department at St. Mungo’s.

“Then what is he doing with Snape?”

She laughed. “Corvus is Snape’s novice, too. He has a dual apprenticeship, poor sod.”

“Doesn’t he look like Harry to you?”

Both the Woods looked toward the other table. Oliver squeezed his wife’s hand gently. She had voiced her own suspicions to her husband upon first meeting Corvus Corax; they decided early on that if Corvus was indeed Harry, they would keep his secret. The former Miss Johnson laughed.

“Come off it, Ron. They are both small and they both have green eyes and black hair, but honestly. Even on its best day, Harry’s hair always looked as if it were groomed by doxies.”

~*~*~*
Harry blinked, trying not to dose off as the Minister of Magic droned on and on about sacrifice and bravery. The space between Professors Dumbledore and McGonagall remained glaringly empty, as Harry knew it would.

A murmur broke through the guests as a snowy owl soared through the open ballroom doors and landed beside Cornelius Fudge. Politely, Hedwig stuck out her leg, waiting for the pompous wizard to remove the message.

Without waiting for a treat, Hedwig launched herself off the table, pausing only to swoop down at the table Ron Weasley was seated and proceed to bat him on the head with her massive wingspan before disappearing out the door. Oliver tried not to laugh.

Fudge unrolled the small parchment and frowned when he read it. Those who recognized Hedwig knew the note was from the missing Harry Potter.

“Dear Minister of Magic,

I was thrilled to receive my invitation to the Ministry Ball honoring ALL Order of Merlin recipients and had looked forward to seeing the many friends and compatriots I fought beside in the second rise of Lord Voldemort. Unfortunately, at the last moment, I realized I would be most unwelcome to attend. Invitation or not, the Ministry of Magic has not seen fit to rescind their declaration against me and I can not in good conscience force you to break bread with a wizard still in disgrace.

As you stated yourself in Ministry of Magic Decree Twenty Eight Thousand Seven Hundred and Thirty One - I was morally corrupt, an embarrassment to wizardkind everywhere, and my presence was no longer welcome in polite society. So, even if “The Boy Who Lived” did kill Lord Voldemort for you, I knew “Harry James Potter” personally could not attend.

Kindly inform Albus Dumbledore that I was acting not from cowardice but from respect. He should not have tried to force the issue.

Sincerely,
Harry James Potter
Order of Merlin - First Class
AKA – The Boy Who Lived”

Fudge ground his teeth, crumpled the parchment into a ball and tossed it beside his goblet. He hastily re-composed himself, quickly thinking of a lie to cover the unexpected postal delivery. He knew many witches and wizards would have recognized Harry Potter’s trademark owl.

“Harry Potter…err…sends his regrets…a last minute family emergency has changed….um…his plans” Fudge picked up his extensive notes, continuing where he left off, never noticing the looks of disbelief on many members of the audience. Everyone knew Harry had no family. The pretentious man never realized that the crumpled message was accioed off the head table and diverted to a table filled with reporters and photographers from “The Daily Prophet”, “Witch Weekly” and “The Quibbler”. Swiftly the reporters made duplicate copies of the parchment and sent the unmissed original back to its spot beside the goblet.

Harry just smiled as his tablemates looked to him for explanation.

“I didn’t tell Hedwig to attack Ron, but she’s always been overprotective of me. He should be grateful she didn’t empty her bowels on him. I’ll have to remember to give her a special treat when I get home.”

~*~*~*~
Harry slowly chewed his roast beef and listened to snatches of conversation around him. It was difficult to remember that he was supposed to be a stranger, to not know certain histories. Hidden between Severus and Draco, no one paid much attention at all, a few staff members from St. Mungo’s acknowledged his presence with a quick nod of the head. He cautiously searched the adjoining tables for familiar faces and stiffened when Ron’s familiar form came to view.

Neville and Luna stopped at the table to pay their respects soon after dinner ended. The Herbology apprentice gave Harry a sly wink when introduced to Corvus. After inviting them to “pull up a chair’, George cast a subtle Silencing Charm around the table’s perimeter.

Luna was still the same deceptively vacant witch Severus remembered from Hogwarts, but the Ravenclaw’s seemingly oblique comments often hit dead on. She drew Harry into a rambling conversation that seemed to have no beginning or end or even a point at all. The dark wizard was surprised at the unvarnished honesty of Harry’s replies. Harry admitted seeking anonymity and escape into the Muggle world, and that, even as a Muggle-raised wizard, it was more difficult to gain his footing in the somewhat alien world than he first imagined it would be. Harry glazed over some of his miscellaneous Muggle jobs, not mentioning Leon Shaw or any of those related issues.

When Draco tentatively broached the subject of Harry’s modeling career, the slender wizard had them laughing at his description of the outlandish calendar photo shoot with twelve nearly nude male and female models of varying ages, and a menagerie of uncooperative beasties. At Susan’s look of shock, Harry made it a point to explain to the sheltered pureblood witch that Muggles often used sex or the illusion of sex to sell even the most mundane of products. He admitted that he had been totally unprepared for the moral backlash of his cologne advertisement in his seventh year. The advertisement had not raised many eyebrows in Muggle society.

George dropped the silencing charms as Luna and Neville left. Catching Ron’s glower, the freckled wizard returned the glare with a most evil smile. Ron abruptly changed seats, his back to their table.

Ron narrowed his eyes and focused on Angelina. “So, that’s not Harry? Then why are Neville and Luna being so friendly with him?”

Angelina sighed, tired of this thread of conversation. “You know Frank and Alice Longbottom have been patients of the Curse Damage Ward for almost twenty years. Neville visits them several times a week…don’t you think he might have developed a friendship with one of the healers taking care of his parents?”

~*~*~*
Ron leaned against the bar, tossing back another shot of Fire Whisky. He surveyed the crowd. Dinner had ended and couples were drifting onto the dance floor. The wizard everyone denied was Harry waltzed gracefully by with the pregnant Susan Malfoy. After a dance or two, Draco cut in to dance with his wife and Fred swept the small wizard away in usual Fred Weasley fashion, more enthusiasm than actual talent. Ron noticed the smaller man was being overly polite, not even complaining when Fred trod on his toes. When had clumsy Harry learned to dance?

Ron flirted casually with others at the bar. Earlier he had picked out a number of faces in the room, most of them one-night stands. Being a Quidditch star and a war hero, he never had any problems finding a willing body to fuck. He had even attended the gala alone, wanting to keep his options open. No one ever turned down Ronald Weasley, he thought, but he couldn’t seem to keep a lover for more than a few weeks. They claimed he was too violent or too possessive, but Ron didn’t believe them.

He had briefly looked for Hermione, but had not expected her to attend. The last owl his mother had received from his former friend had come from Bulgaria. After leaving Hogwarts, Hermione had attempted to rekindle her relationship with Viktor Krum, but the Quidditch Seeker had tossed her out when he discovered her hand in the destruction of both Harry and his racing broom. She had quietly married a Muggle accountant, cousin of one of Viktor’s teammates, and was expecting their first child.

His attention kept drifting back to the green-eyed wizard; he was back at his table, sharing conversation with Severus. It bothered Ron how comfortable they seemed to be with one another. Harry had always hated Severus Snape and Snape had always hated Harry. Perhaps Angelina was right and this wizard wasn’t Harry.

Although the other man shared many of his former best friend’s characteristics, in many – too many – ways this wizard was completely different. Harry had always been a little awkward, even backward around strangers; it was one of his most endearing qualities. This wizard, while outwardly shy, carried with him an air of quiet sophistication.

Ron ordered another shot from the bartender, ignoring Oliver’s attempts to steer him away from alcohol. The Ministry was picking up the tab and Ron was going to damn well take advantage of it.

Severus’ hand casually brushed back a wayward strand of his companion’s hair and Ron tossed back his shot. What the pair shared was obviously more than a business relationship and Ron wondered why it should bother him so much.

~*~*~*~
On his way back from the restroom, Ron paused. In a darkened corner a tall redheaded wizard was entangled with a smaller, dark haired lover. They were half concealed behind a statue of Merlin. Ron blinked. An unwanted memory of the only wizard to have ever rejected his advances jolted to the surface. Ron swayed slightly, the alcohol in his system beginning to muddle his coordination.

Several months after the fall of Voldemort, Harry’s terrified whimpers awoke Ron from a sound sleep. With his connection to the Dark Lord severed, Harry no longer suffered as many nightmares, but those he did have seemed somehow worse. Harry would never reveal what frightened him.

Ron crawled into Harry’s bed to hold him. He caressed the thin frame with calming motions, inhaling the scent of the smaller body. As much as he hated to admit it to himself, Ron missed the almost nightly nightmares Harry used to suffer. Ron didn’t care about his friend’s distress; he just wanted to touch Harry’s beautiful body.

Harry had never considered Ron in a sexual manner so he never attached any ulterior motives to his friend’s actions. Ron was simply Ron and the sometimes-odd caresses were simply that - odd. Feeling safe and protected, Harry snuggled against the muscular wizard, and fell into an exhausted sleep, without taking the sleeping potion he usually consumed after such nocturnal attacks.

Used to Harry being in a drugged state after his nightmares and not realizing he had not ingested any potions, Ron began to kiss his sleeping companion, acting out his fantasies. Harry’s body usually responded minimally, enough to give Ron the illusion of consent. This time, still deep in sleep, but unsedated, Harry became aroused by Ron’s actions. Harry returned the passionate kisses and moaned as Ron rubbed against him. Ron slipped his hand under the waistband of Harry’s sleep trousers, fondling the warm, hardening flesh between the smaller man’s legs.

Harry awoke with a start, shocked green eyes glowing in the moonlight. He was not in Uncle Leon’s bed and this was not Uncle Leon. Afraid his secret had been revealed, Harry bolted from the bed in a panic. What would happen if Ron discovered what a well-trained slut he really was?

At first, Ron was amused. Poor, shy, virgin Harry, he thought, never realizing the truth about his friend’s sordid hidden life.

Harry began to distance himself from Ron and avoided being alone with the redhead. While Ron blindly continued his unwanted sexual advances, Harry withdrew even further. Hermione, who had always harbored a crush on Ron, saw her chance to win the tall wizard. She callously tossed away her friendship with Harry.

And then the cologne advertisement surfaced, and Ron exploded. His illusive virgin became a whore in his eyes and every slight, real and imagined, built up in the red head’s mind until he decided Harry had played him for a fool. No one played Ron Weasley for a fool and did not live to regret it.

And so began the destruction of Harry Potter…

Ron stumbled back into the ballroom, the memories fresh in his mind. He ordered another shot from the bar and cast his unwavering attention to the green-eyed wizard having a casual conversation with Snape and his bastard twin brothers.

~*~*~*~
As the evening wore on, Harry relaxed slightly. He sipped on a glass of scotch, but not before having Severus check it for tampering. The dark wizard was deep in a professional conversation with Fred and George, trying to help them troubleshoot an unforeseen complication with one of the jokester twins’ experimental products. Hoping to lengthen the spell of their famous “Canary Creams”, their new formula unexpectedly left the victim’s skin a bright yellow for four days after the canary transformation wore off. Even though the Potion Master thought the pranks were a waste of obvious potion brewing talent, he was intrigued by the complexity of their creations.

Bored when the conversation droned on to the minutest of ingredients, Harry excused himself to use the restroom. On the dance floor with his wife, Draco noted Harry’s departure and realized Severus had not seen him leave. Moments later, Ron pushed off from the open bar and sauntered after the sprite. Draco exchanged a few words with Susan and led her from the dance floor. The blond wizard shifted his wand in his hidden wand holster and trailed Ron at a discrete distance.

~*~*~*
Harry hiked up his dress robes, trying not to crumple the fabric as he emptied his bladder. He really wished he were wearing Muggle trousers; it made urinating so much easier. Harry adjusted his underrobe and smoothed out the heavy black and green dress robe before exiting the restroom stall. He washed his hands, careful not to get water spots on the expensive silk.

The hair at the nape of his neck stood on end as his former best friend spelled the restroom outer door shut. Harry glanced around for escape, for help, but he was alone and a drunken Ron blocked the only exit. The young wizard slid his wand from an inner sleeve, watching the tall red head apprehensively.

“Look at you,” Ron snarled, reaching out to finger the heavy silk of Harry’s dress robes. “How many Muggles did you fuck to be able to afford your robe? Or did Snape buy it for you and he’s taking it out in trade, one button at a time?”

Harry held his tongue. He doubted Ron would believe the Corvus disguise, but that was the only card he currently had on the table. When Harry did not reply, Ron shoved the thin wizard and Harry struggled to regain his balance.

“What’s the matter, Harry? Too close to the truth?”

“Step aside. You have obviously confused me with some one else.” Harry said flatly as he tried to step around the taller man. “I have no quarrel with you.”

It still hurt Harry that Ron could so easily and vindictively turn on him. The red head constantly had a short fuse and was extremely jealous of Harry’s unwanted fame, but Harry always assumed Ron would outgrow his character flaws. He sometimes wondered if, at the end of their fifth year, when the brains in the Department of Mysteries attacked Ron that some of the damage was permanent. His personality changed drastically, seemingly overnight, and Ron’s combative demeanor had driven almost everyone away, even members of his own family.

Ron did not back away. Harry drew his wand. His movement was slow due to years of disuse and Ron’s Quidditch reflexes were sharper, despite his inebriation. Ron pinned him against the wall, tossing the oak wand to the floor. When Harry tried to defend himself, he found his wrists pulled over his head and trapped in a crushing one-handed grip. Reflexively, Harry kicked out with his feet, trying to distract Ron enough to loosen his grip, to cause any damage he could against his larger opponent.

“Get off of me! Let me go! I am not who you think I am.” Harry lied. He would valiantly hold to his new identity and deny being Harry Potter. “Please let me go and I won’t tell Severus you assaulted me.”

“Severus? On a first name basis with the greasy git? You hate Snape. What happened to you?” Ron hissed into his ear, pushing Harry’s struggling form flat to the wall with his hips. Harry could feel the hard bulge of Ron’s erection pushing into his stomach and memories of Alistair flashed through his mind.

“Some hero you turned out to be…Harry Fucking Potter…Golden Whore of the Battlefield.”

“I’m not Harry. My name is Cor..”

Ron savagely kissed him, his teeth smashing roughly against Harry’s. Shifting his hold, Ron kept Harry pinned by his wrists. He brushed back the long pageboy and froze. There was no lightening bolt scar on the smooth forehead. This was not Harry. But his hormones were racing; he was just drunk enough not to think of the consequences. He hiked up Harry’s robes, tearing away the silky boxers beneath, his fingers running up the soft fur of Harry’s thighs.

“So maybe you’re not Harry, but it doesn’t matter anyway. You’re pretty and I want you. I’m going to bury myself deep in your tight little arse.”

Harry shuddered as Ron’s hands slipped between them and he heard the sound of a zipper. Harry could feel Ron’s leaking cock against his bare stomach.

“Please…Don’t…I don’t..”

Ron kissed him again. “Don’t play the shy virgin, love. It’s not like I don’t know you’re banging Snape. If you’ll fuck that ugly old queen, you’ll fuck anything…Stop fighting me…I’ll show you what it’s like to be with a real man.”

Harry tried to calm himself, willing his panic down. His eyes darted around the tiled room. He thought he caught a movement from one of the stalls, but it was probably wishful thinking on his part. His eyes drifted to the door, wondering why in a ballroom containing hundreds of wizards, no one else had need to use the facilities.

Ron wrapped his hand around Harry’s naked hip, one muscular leg forcing his unwilling companion’s legs to open wider.

“Please…stop…” Harry gasped out again after another brutal kiss. He needed to get control of his situation; he had no desire to be raped in a public restroom by a man he once considered his best friend.

“Please…not like this…you don’t have to hurt me. I can make it good for you.”

Ron paused.

“Release my hands so I can touch you” Harry’s tongue flickered over his lower lip, tasting blood where Ron’s violent kisses had split it. He gave Ron a sultry look, thanking his years of modeling. He hoped the tall wizard was still too drunk to analyze his swift acquiescence.

Harry felt the burning tingle as blood rushed into his numb hands. The dull throb told him that his wrists were already bruising. He swallowed his revulsion as he forced himself to wrap his hand around Ron’s erection. His other hand fondled Ron’s testicles. Ron nibbled on Harry’s throat, moaning into the talented massage.

“You like that, don’t you?” Harry purred into his ear as Ron moaned in agreement. The smaller wizard cupped the sensitive organs in his hands. “Then you’ll just love this, my love.”

Harry squeezed, his small strong hands twisting and crushing his attackers testicles. Ron released his grip as the unexpected pain coursed through his body. Harry pulled away and bolted for the door.

“Accio wand,” he shouted and the oak wand flew across the room and into his outstretched hand. He pointed toward the warded door. “Aloha…”

Ron tackled him from behind. Harry crashed to the floor, feeling a sharp crack as his face slammed into the hard tile of the floor. Blood spurted from his nose. His wand flew once again from his fingers. Furious, Ron rolled him onto his back, pinning him at his shoulders. The silk robe was shoved unceremoniously under his armpits. Ron straddled him, pressing him to the cold tile floor with his weight.

“So, you like it rough, do you? Is that why you let Snape fuck you? You get off on pain?” Ron backhanded his already damaged face. “I can give you pain.”

“Severus has always been kind.”

Harry didn’t know why he felt compelled to correct Ron’s statement. He turned away as Ron tried to kiss him again. The angry wizard held Harry’s head immobile, forcing his tongue between the bloody lips. Harry bit down, drawing blood. He was about to be taken on a dirty floor and he couldn’t seem to prevent it. At the very least, he hoped Ron’s boast was an idle threat and the man wasn’t a sadist like Alistair.

~*~*~*
Huddled in the restroom stall, freelance photographer Colin Creevey took a series of photographs of the horrific scene unfolding across the room. He set his camera on auto shoot, floating it over the top of the stall, and reached for his wand. He wasn’t a very powerful wizard and Ron outweighed him by several stone, but the Gryffindor in him could no longer remain a bystander and watch the attack continue.

*~*~*~
Ron forced one of Harry’s legs over his shoulder, ignoring the dull pain of the booted heel kicking without much momentum against his back. The redhead held the tip of his wand against Harry’s anus and cast a lubricating charm.

“Ron…no…don’t.” Harry pleaded as a thick finger roughly forced it’s way past the tight ring of muscles. He screamed, “No!”

At the scream, Colin made his move. He held out his wand.

“Leave him alone, Ron,” Colin ordered, his wand arm trembling slightly.

Ron narrowed his eyes. “What are you going to do, Creevey? Throw your camera at me?”

“Stup…”

“Petrificus Totalis!”

Harry whimpered when Colin crashed to the floor, mid-curse. Even drunk, Ron’s reflexes were quick.

“Stupid Mudblood,” Ron muttered, turning his attention back to Harry, roughly shoving two fingers into him. He stared into the haunted green eyes and knew, scar or not, that this had to be Harry. Harry whimpered as a sharp fingernail scraped down his sensitive tissues.

“You should have stayed away,” Ron growled, flexing his fingers in the tight channel. Harry knew he needed to relax or Ron would tear him apart, but his muscles clenched, refusing to cooperate.

“You were supposed to be mine…pretty whore…mine. Even after I showed them what a little slut you were, they all still turned against me.” Ron twisted his fingers, brutally. “You even turned my brothers against me…tell me…did you fuck them one at a time or together?”

“Oh Weasel,” came a drawling voice from the restroom doorway. “They turned against you because you are a sadistic idiot. You may harbor sexual fantasies about Potter, but your brothers never did…Kind of view him as a black-haired Weasley, don’t you know? They might be into the perverse, but even they wouldn’t touch incest.”

Without releasing his grip on Harry, Ron glared over his shoulder to see Draco standing with wand drawn. He had easily disabled Ron’s locking charms. Behind him stood a few curious wizards, a few with wands also drawn, but most merely wanting to use the restroom.

“Before I summon Aurors and have you arrested for raping my godfather’s apprentice, I suggest you release Corvus.”

Oliver Wood forced his way into the room and plowed into Ron. The Puddlemere United keeper closed his broad hands around Ron’s freckled throat. He tightened them when he saw the other man’s blood streaked, lubricant coated fingers and knew he’d arrived too late. “You fucking bastard…”

Harry tugged down his robes, trying to salvage what little dignity he still possessed. He knew Ron’s rough handling had damaged him internally; he felt something tear and could see blood on his thighs.

Oliver dragged Ron to his feet, giving him a smile that promised pain if the younger wizard continued to fight. He glanced down at his feet, seeing a bloodied, pale face look up at him. Angelina was right - Harry had come home.

“Are you going to be all right, mate?” He asked gently, pushing away Colin’s hovering camera.

~*~*~*~
Alerted by Susan, Severus pushed through the crowd milling around the door to the men’s lavatory, the Weasley twins in tow. They saw Oliver Wood strong arm Ron through a crowd of curious spectators, a furious Percy beside him.

“You’ve always been a bit of an arse, Ron but you’ve finally fucked yourself up royally.” The Player-Coach hissed. “The Cannons aren’t going to try to bury your actions this time – attacking someone who’s smaller than a third year in the middle of a Ministry ball…”

Severus heard the words “assault”, “arrest”, “attempted rape” as he forced his way into the tiled room. “Mistaken identity”, “thought the kid was Harry Potter”, “also attacked the Creevy boy who tried to help.”
Draco was speaking softly to Harry, handing him back his wand. Behind a quickly conjured privacy screen, Healer Hippocrates Smethwyck was on his knees, his wand quickly cataloging the apprentice’s injuries.

Severus stalked across the tile floor, his robes billowing behind him. He shouldered aside a reporter and met the man’s protestations with a killer’s glare. Severus knelt beside Smethwyck, cupping Harry’s bruised face gently in his palm. His finger ran over his lover’s split lip, softly whispering a healing charm.

Harry’s haunted green eyes looked pleadingly at him, afraid to see revulsion in his dark eyes. Not caring who saw them, Severus wrapped Harry into his arms, feeling the damaged elf shake as sobs racked his body. The dark wizard looked up into the hardened blue eyes of the Weasley twins. George ran his hand down Harry’s disheveled pageboy, smoothing out the tangled locks.

“Professor Snape,” Fred said tightly, looking hostilely at the bystanders still hovering at the door. “You need to take Corvus home. Your apprentice does not need to be on public display.”

~*~*~*~
PART TEN

“I don’t know how one navigates this thing called life without having abiding faith in something
- Tavis Smiley, Television Personality

 

~*~*~*~
Severus awoke the next morning and reached for his lover, but the bed was empty and the sheets beside him were cool to the touch. Harry’s dressing gown was folded neatly over the arm of a side chair. Severus was mildly surprised; he was normally a very light sleeper, but the calming draught they both ingested must have caused him to sleep sounder than usual.

He cocked his head, listening carefully but he heard no sounds inside the townhouse, just muffled street noise beyond the window. His sensitive nose caught the scent of freshly brewing coffee. Harry must be cooking again.

He was concerned about his young lover. Smethwyck had followed them to the privacy of the town house and cast healing charms on the obvious internal and external injuries, but it was Harry’s sanity the Potion Master was currently worried about. Harry had suffered years of sexual abuse and Severus hoped that the incident with Ron would not send him over the edge. The wizard kept too much locked inside of himself and that was not good for his mental health. Severus decided he would give Harry a little time to cope with the assault before broaching the subject of counseling.

The dark wizard paused at the closed kitchen door. He could smell coffee and the heavy scent of charred paper. As he touched the knob, a ripple of magic tickled his palm – a silencing charm.

Severus opened the door, his wand in a loose grip. A thick haze of smoke, exploding Howlers and what sounded like the Hogwart’s Owlery, assaulted his senses. His jaw dropped. There were dozens upon dozens of Postal Owls filling the air and perched on all surfaces of the small kitchen, hooting somewhat indignantly for someone to relieve them of their burdens. Perched on a curtain rod were Aconite and Hedwig, both visibly distressed at the sudden invasion of their domain.

Harry stood in the middle of the kitchen, the remains of exploding Howlers at his feet. The slender wizard seemed to be somewhat amused by the chaos around him. As he relieved an owl of its correspondence, he gave each item a cursory glance before depositing it into one of three piles – “Severus Snape”, “Harry Potter” and “Corvus Corax”. Howlers he simply tossed into the air, ignoring their verbal explosions.

Severus brushed a stray feather from his lank black hair, taking in the mayhem. Harry gave him an impish smile.

“I could use a little help here, Sev.”

~*~*~*
Severus set aside the morning edition of “The Daily Prophet” and stabbed at his mediocre breakfast, express ordered from a Diagon Alley Take-Away. With the invasion of the owls, the kitchen would need a through cleaning before Harry would ever consider cooking anything in there again. Owls were still arriving, but at a much slower pace, not the earlier onslaught of thirty or forty at a time.

The Ministry of Magic controlled newspaper was filled with frivolous articles and photographs of the Ministry Ball. Severus skimmed these with little interest. He cared little what designer robe was worn by which society maven and Cornelius Fudge managed to insert himself into nearly every photograph. Severus noted with amusement that although he and Draco were one of the few wizards awarded an Order of Merlin above the Third Class, their presence was blatantly missing from the pages.

What did interest him were several side-bar articles buried in the inside pages. “Prophet” reporters were sometimes able to tuck in a story or two of actual relevance to the informed reader. The missing savior, Harry Potter, was featured in two of them – one a glowing account of his defeat of “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” and the second a complete transcript of both his letter to Fudge and Ministry Decree Twenty Eight Thousand Seven Hundred and Thirty One. A third article was a rehash of the original story run weeks before in “The Quibbler” listing the names of witches and wizards who had had their lives destroyed and reputations tarnished by callous M.O.M. actions.

The Potion Master blinked at the headline screaming from the sports page – “Drunken Cannon’s Keeper Suspended Pending Investigation”. Beside the article were several photographs headed by a warning to squeamish readers to not look. There was a moving photograph of a bleeding Corvus Corax pinned to the restroom floor by an angry Ron Weasley. Draco, with wand drawn entered the frame just before Oliver barreled in, tackling Ron.

The older wizard grimaced at the second photograph, showing Corvus being slammed face first into the tile floor when tackled from behind by Ron. From the angle of the graphic photo, it looked as if the attack was entirely unprovoked.

The article was filled with misinformation, but Severus was gratified to see that the attack was listed as an assault, not as an attempt at rape. Harry, in his guise of Corvus, did not need his private life splashed across the pages of a useless rag. Source after source was quoted citing Ron Weasley’s growing history of violent behavior. The owners of the Chudney Cannons expressed their regret and apologized to both of the victims of Weasley’s malicious attack – St. Mungo’s Apprentice Corvus Corax and Photographer Colin Creevey.

Harry rested his chin on the top of Severus’ head. He handed him “The Quibbler”.

“Luna and her father wrote some very nice things about you.” Harry’s finger pointed to a lengthy article listing Order of Merlin recipients by class, their contributions to the war effort and a brief synopsis of their post-war activities. For once, the article did not gloss over the personal danger, ongoing public hatred and moral crisis suffered by wizards selfless enough to have risked torture and certain death to spy deep inside the Death Eater organization.

A long article dealt with Harry, his war efforts and the personal demons that caused his withdrawal from the wizarding world. Lovegood was blunt about the questionable subject matter of the Muggle cologne advertisement that caused so much heartache. He quoted a number of respected Muggle experts who attempted to give insight into the bizarre Muggle practice of using the illusion of sex to sell products. To give his story balance, Lovegood also quoted outraged responses by the staunchly “moral majority”. But Lovegood did not blame Harry for his lapse of judgment; he portrayed the entire incident as a tragedy. A Muggle-raised orphan, thrust into a world he did not understand at the age of eleven, could not possibly have known the unwritten moral expectations drilled into a pureblood child from infancy. Lovegood ended his article with an admonishment, not of Harry, but of an educational system at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry that offered no real-life training for Muggleborn students.

“Mistaken Identity Leads To Arrest of Quidditch Player”, Severus read. “The Quibbler” used only one photograph – that of Healer Smethwyck kneeling beside a visibly bruised and bleeding Corvus, a protective Draco hovering in the background. Luna handled the article sensitively, with none of the gossip-rag mentality usually associated with “The Daily Prophet”. The dark eyes scanned the brief story.

“The diminutive Mr. Corax, who bears a striking resemblance to Harry Potter”…”Unprovoked attack”…Mr. Weasley, with his history of violence”…”Tried to reason with him, said Mr. Creevey”…”Use his fame to escape justice”…”Suspended pending thorough investigation”…”Mr. Corax was rushed to St. Mungo’s for treatment of two broken wrists, a broken nose and jaw.”

Severus looked up from the tabloid, meeting Harry’s bright green eyes. Although Smethwyck had cast healing charms, the bruising was still quite severe. The blue-black discoloration stained his pale skin. Harry swept his hair back nervously, thick purplish-black bruised bracelets marring both wrists.

“When exactly were you rushed to St. Mungo’s with broken wrists?” Severus asked conversationally and Harry shrugged.

“Creative license, I guess…under the guise of objectivity, Luna’s made Ron out to be even more of a monster than that “Prophet” photo showing me slammed face first to the floor. Wonder how Ron’s enjoying his fifteen minutes of fame?” Harry poured himself a cup of tea. “I guess it’s time to sort through all this correspondence.”

~*~*~*~
Severus looked up from his small pile of correspondence as a Postal Owl delivered still another Howler. Harry’s amusement had long since faded. Owls had been delivering mail sporadically all morning, the majority of the post addressed to Corvus.

As the Howler completed it’s tirade and exploded into a pile of red confetti, Harry looked up tiredly. “I am really beginning to hate Quidditch. That has to be the eightieth one berating me because Ron was suspended from the Chudney Cannons. It’s hardly my fault the Cannons may lose their chance at the championship because of it.”

“Is that the gist of most of those letters?” Severus asked, looking at the growing pile of unread parchment littering the library table. If that was the case, Harry could just as easily dispose of it all, unread.

“A few of them are from Quidditch fans expressing their outrage, not necessarily with me, but at the situation and the management of the Cannons has sent us four season passes to the Top Box as well as their deepest apologies. I am planning to send them to one of the Ministry Orphanages – the orphans will like to see a Cannons game – Merlin knows I don’t ever expect to attend one.” Harry tossed a handful of letters into the fireplace. “I’ve received a number of Get Well cards and vials of bruise reducing potions as well as a marriage proposal or three….Oh Merlin…”

Harry paused, inhaling a quivering breath, the color gone from his face.

“What is it, love?” Severus asked.

“This…um…fan…thinks I should be gang raped by members of the entire Professional Quidditch Association as a punishment to teach me not to seduce innocent wizards…”

“Give me that.” Severus barked sharply, examining the messily written parchment. He noticed it had, of course, been sent anonymously.

~*~*~*
Bill Apparated in mid morning to check on Harry’s condition and apologized profusely for his brother’s violent attack, but the Cursebreaker could not stay for more than a few minutes. The Weasley men attempted to conceal the news of Ron’s latest crime from his mother, but Molly had found out when The Burrow was flooded with Postal Owls and Howlers. Her already fragile emotional health crumbled; Bill didn’t know if the witch would shatter if she discovered Corvus Corax was actually her missing Harry.

~*~*~*
On his hands and knees, Harry scrubbed the kitchen floor in true Muggle fashion. Aunt Petunia would have been so proud. Severus had cast several strong Scorify Charms to remove all traces of the earlier owl invasion but Harry was not content. He desperately needed to cook to calm his frayed nerves, but he was not yet satisfied all traces of the avarian contamination were removed. Severus watched his young novice sadly, wishing Harry would lower the wall he had rebuilt around his feelings.

A haughty Ministry of Magic Postal Owl landed on Harry’s immaculately scrubbed countertop and held out its leg.

“Not another effing bird,” Harry cursed, nerves gone. Severus untied the scroll and broke the official seal.

“The Aurors have summoned you to the Ministry for questioning. We have just enough time for a quick shower and shave.”

~*~*~*~
Harry settled gingerly into a plain wooden chair in a Ministry of Magic interrogation chamber. Healing spells or no healing spells, his bottom was still tender. His wand had been confiscated as a matter of routine, so Harry could not cast a simple cushioning charm on the hard slats.

Beside him perched Madam Jones and Severus. A Junior Auror attempted to order the ancient Healer and the Potion Master from the room, but they steadfastly refused, citing their Master/Apprentice privileges. Madam Jones’ distrust of the Ministry bureaucracy ran even deeper than it did in the two wizards.

~*~*~*
Kingsley Shacklebolt mulled over his notes while idly toying with a teaspoon. Back from his forced sabbatical as a Hogwarts DADA instructor, the bald Auror sipped on herbal tea and tried to determine the best way to diffuse the latest debacle of Ronald Weasley.

Kingsley hated himself and the onerous task that awaited him, but Arthur Weasley was his oldest friend and he would do whatever it took to keep Arthur’s youngest son out of Azkaban. His eyes were drawn to “The Daily Prophet” photograph showing Corvus Corax being slammed to the floor and Kingsley felt uneasy. Growing up, Ron had always been quick tempered, but the boy had never been vicious. He did not understand what had changed Ron and each time the redhead tangled with the law, the charges grew more serious. It was getting harder for Kingsley to cover up the trail.

The burly Auror scowled as he leafed through a thin dossier. Investigators could find almost no information on Corvus Corax. The young man seemed to have appeared from thin air the moment he began his apprenticeship at St. Mungo’s. It didn’t give Kingsley much to go on; he needed to find a chink, a past history, a secret about the wizard that he could exploit. Fear of public ridicule had kept Ron’s last three victims from pressing charges.

Through a one-way glass, Kingsley examined the wizard in question. He was a tiny thing that looked as if a breeze would topple him, but the black wizard knew he had to be made of stronger stuff. Dual apprenticeships were extremely rare and Kingsley knew that neither Siobhan Jones nor Severus Snape would waste their knowledge on a fool.

“The Quibbler” article was correct. The young wizard did bear a striking resemblance to the missing Harry Potter, but Kingsley knew this could not possibly be Harry. Corvus’ hair was pulled back into a severe ponytail, revealing a heavily bruised right jaw and cheekbone but his forehead was unmarked by any curse scar. A discrete Revealing Charm cast by another member of the team showed the presence of only one glamour – a charm used to straighten and lengthen curly hair. A Glamour Charm might make a wizard vain, but it did not make a wizard evil.

The Auror examined the other two occupants of the room. He had known Severus for years. While an acknowledged Dark Wizard, Severus’ reputation as a master brewer was impeccable. Kingsley did not particularly like the tall man, but he had always trusted him. Siobhan Jones’ reputation as a Healer and Potion Mistress was unsurpassed in the modern wizarding world. There had once been nasty rumors that she was related to Grindlewald, but anyone meeting the wizened witch knew the rumors had to be false.

Both were considered to be the best of the best; Corvus Corax had to be an extraordinary wizard to have caught the attention of both of them. Why was it then that the young man seemed to have no past?

*~*~*~
Cornelius Fudge hid in his office, ignoring the growing piles of correspondence toppling over his In Basket. Beyond his door, his harried assistants struggled with a room filled with angry owls and exploding Howlers.

The Minister flattened the crumpled morning newspaper. How dare the Lovegoods defend that Potter boy? Couldn’t they see that what he had done was disgusting and immoral? The pompous wizard read the article again, a harsh smile twisting his features. He would foist all the blame squarely on Albus Dumbledore and Hogwarts. Then he could offer Harry Potter…he scowled. What could he possibly offer Potter? Certainly not an apology; the boy admitted he accepted money to pose half naked with a man.

A bedraggled assistant opened his door, bearing another basket brimming with parchments for the Minister’s attention. The screaming Howlers from the office beyond echoed off his walls. They condemned him for censuring a poor orphan, for not protecting their innocent savior, for being an idiot. Call after call came for his resignation.

An owl flew into the open doorway and perched on the Minister’s paper strewn desk. The bird seemed to dare him to ignore her. With a sigh, he removed the scroll of parchment. It bore the official seal of the Wizengamot.

~*~*~*~
Kingsley strode into the interrogation chamber, his face impassive. He indicated Harry should move to another chair, one away from his mentors and beside a sturdy wooden table. He cautioned Madam Jones and Severus not to move. He would permit them to stay in the interrogation room, against his better judgment, only if they remained silent. Master/Apprentice privilege notwithstanding, he could and would order them forcibly removed.

The large wizard placed a vial of Veritiserum on the table beside his pile of folders. The Auror noticed Harry’s eyes narrow at the sight of the potion. The young wizard had immediately identified what the vial held – certainly well versed in his potions knowledge.

Shacklebolt carefully measured the Veritiserum into an eyedropper. He motioned Harry to lean forward.

“Open your mouth and stick out your tongue, Mr. Corax.”

“No,” Harry replied. He looked to Severus for support.

“This is standard procedure. I just need to ask you a few questions.”

“I will not ingest the Veritiserum, Mr. Shacklebolt. I am the victim, not the perpetrator. I refuse to be drugged.”

Kingsley’s eyes narrowed at the open defiance. Seeing Severus begin to rise from his chair, Kingsley swiftly cast a charm placing Severus and Madam Jones behind a security ward. They could still hear the proceedings, but the ward was one-way. Harry could see them, but no longer hear them. Trapped behind the barrier, they were prevented from rushing to his defense.

Harry’s startled protest was silenced by the look in Kingsley’s eyes. In that moment, Harry realized what a dangerous man Kingsley Shacklebolt really was. The large bald wizard rose to his full height. He rocked back and forth on his heels.

“I will not play games with you Mr. Corax. If you are unwilling to answer a few simple questions, I will be forced to drop all charges against Ronald Weasley. I do not have all day – make up your mind.”

Harry’s eyes flickered to his trapped companions and then to the door behind the Auror. He was wandless and on his own. He licked his lower lip. How had he ever considered Kingsley to be a reasonable and affable wizard?

“I-I did not refuse to answer your questions. I am merely refusing to do so under the unwarranted use of Veritiserum.”

Kingsley ceased rocking. With surprisingly quick reflexes for such a large man, Kingsley pulled Harry over the back of the chair, trapping him in a headlock. He forced Harry’s mouth open and placed three drops of the potion on his tongue.

“Wrong answer, Mr. Corax. Swallow.”

~*~*~*
“Sit down.” Kingsley ordered sharply. He could taste Harry’s terror from across the table. Witnesses didn’t usually question the use of Veritiserum unless they were hiding something or lying and Kingsley knew Corvus Corax was not lying about being sexually assaulted by Ron. That could only mean the young wizard was hiding something he was desperate not to have revealed. Kingsley gave a predatory grin. Let the games begin.

Harry closed his eyes, breathing deeply in an attempt to find his center. He could feel the edges of his mind blur as the effects of the forced potion took control. Behind the barrier, Severus looked at Madam Jones. He could not bear to watch the terrified face of his lover and know he was powerless to save him. Madam Jones pushed against the invisible shield. Even her considerable wandless magic could not alter it.

“Please state your name.” Kingsley barked, a Quick Quotes Quill poised above a blank parchment. He wanted this interrogation over – victim willing or not.

Harry squared his shoulders, opening his eyes. The glassiness showed the Veritiserum had taken its desired effect. He licked his lower lip again, wishing for a glass of water.

“Please state your name,” Kingsley ordered again, this time a little less harshly.

“Corvus Corax.”

Severus and Madam Jones exchanged a look of veiled surprise. They had both seen the potion administered and it was impossible to lie while under its influence. How had Harry circumvented it?

“That is your full name?”

“Yes sir.”

“Are you a Muggleborn? I do not recognize the surname of Corax.”

“It is not my real name.” Harry replied, trying to focus his slightly glazed eyes. There was no hint of deception in his tone.

“What is your real name then?”

“I do not know.” Harry replied simply.

“You know that Corvus Corax is not your real name and yet you do not know your real name? How can this be?”

“Before I was two years of age, Death Eaters murdered my family. I was discovered injured, but alive by a Muggle, not a wizard. When no one claimed me, I was placed in Muggle foster care. If they gave me a name, I do not know it.”

“The family that fostered you – did they name you?”

“Not exactly. On good days they called me ‘Boy’ and on bad days they called me ‘Freak’.”

“Did you name yourself then?” Kingsley could not imagine a child brought up with no name. What kinds of creatures were these Muggles?

“No. Uncle Leon named me when I was six.”

Severus’ shoulders sagged. Depending upon how Kingsley asked his questions, Harry’s entire sordid history would tumble past his lips. He wondered how long it would take for Kingsley to discover he had the missing Harry Potter within his grasp.

“It was nice of him to finally give you a name.”

Harry shrugged. “He had to call his pet something, didn’t he?”

Kingsley’s eyes widened. He found himself staring at the angry faces behind the ward. The young man could not have just implied what Kingsley thought he did.

“Excuse me, Mr. Corax. His pet?”

Harry looked angrily into Kingsley’s face, unable to stop his tongue from answering the question. “A pet name for his rosy, cozy little kitten…my Uncle Leon was a pedophile.”

Severus heard Madam Jones gasp and saw Kingsley stare at the parchment before him. Harry had buried his face in his hands, ashamed he could not fight the Veritiserum.

“Your guardians permitted this to happen?” Kingsley sputtered.

“Of course,” Harry replied coldly. “Why wouldn’t they? I was nothing to them and he paid them very well…for years.”

Kingsley felt his stomach lurch. He had the damaging secret he had sought, but the secret was beyond his comprehension. Wizarding children were precious; they were rarely abused. At the height of their atrocities, Death Eaters murdered children, but even they drew the line at rape.

The bald Auror collected himself. There had to be another secret hiding behind those beautiful green eyes. His supervisors would have his head if he threatened to expose a victim of pedophilia to the public at large.

~*~*~*~
Harry could feel the effects of the Veritiserum beginning to fade, but not enough that he could control his responses. He could not look at Severus, still trapped behind the wards; the dark wizard must think him weak to spill his secrets so easily.

Kingsley positioned his Quick Quotes Quill above a fresh parchment. When Corvus Corax revealed his abuse by his “Uncle Leon”, Kingsley noted the reaction of the duo behind the wards. Madam Jones was suitably horrified, but Severus was livid. He had not been shocked by the revelation, but by its disclosure. Severus had already known about the years of abuse and Kingsley suspected that that was why Corvus Corax’s past was nearly nonexistent. People often thought the Potion Master to be heartless, but Kingsley knew that it wasn’t true. Severus must have used his numerous contacts to alter history, to protect his novice in any way he could and the assault by Ronald Weasley threatened to expose the distasteful truth.

Harry sipped at a cup of water, hoping it had not been spiked with additional serum. He waited for the bald wizard’s next line of questioning with trepidation.

“Mr. Corax, what is the nature of your relationship with Severus Snape?”

Harry bit on the inside of his mouth to slow the words that wanted to tumble from his lips. He looked at Severus and gave him a weak smile.

“I am his apprentice and his companion.”

“And this companionship? Is it of a sexual nature?” Kingsley leaned back, gauging the reactions of the other occupants.

“On occasion.” Harry wanted to bite his own tongue off.

“Did Master Snape offer the apprenticeship on the condition that you permit him sexual liberties?”

“Oh no, Mr. Shacklebolt. Severus is an honorable man. When he discovered I had been abused as a child, he tried to offer counsel, but that was not what I wanted.” Harry smiled. “I seduced him.”

~*~*~*~
With the effects of the Veritiserum dissipating, Kingsley lowered the wards, but kept his wand at ready against the unarmed trio. Madam Jones was indignant, huffing angrily at the Auror. Severus wore his usual emotionless mask, thinking of a suitable hex to use on his former comrade once his wand was returned. Kingsley debated whether he should just Oblivate himself and the trio and be done with it.

Harry skittered away from the table and tucked himself under Severus’ protective arm. He didn’t care if he looked like a child. He gave the Auror a calculating look.

“So, Mr. Shacklebolt…In the course of the past hour you have asked me a series of inappropriate and extremely personal questions and not one of them dealt with Ronald Weasley and his attack upon my person. If the purpose of this interrogation was to provide you blackmail material, I have unfortunately provided it to you by the bushel-full. So, let’s cut to the chase…”

“I…”

“Arthur Weasley is a very important wizard in the Ministry and you the godfather of several of his children. I imagine you are getting very good at damage control. It is clear that you have absolutely no intention of bringing Ron Weasley to justice…You’ve managed to silence all his previous victims. So tell me, Kingsley, what are you prepared to offer for my silence?”

~*~*~*~
Harry sat at a small table in the Ministry of Magic Atrium, sipping on tea and nibbling on a biscuit Madam Jones insisted he eat, to help counteract the side effects of the Veritiserum. She and Severus sat beside him in silence. They could hear snippets of conversation as witches and wizards hurried past, returning to work or late for appointments.

The glass dome of the Atrium, like the ceiling of the Great Hall at Hogwarts, was charmed to show the sky beyond. Harry could see swarms of Postal Owls, some circling and others perched on the decorative iron fretwork supporting the dome. From the ill-concealed mirth of the Ministry workers, it was obvious that both Minister Fudge and the prominent members of the Wizengamot were being inundated with postal owls, admonishing them for their heavy handed and cruel treatment of “The Boy Who Lived” and demanding the Ministry Decree be dissolved.

Harry found it hard to swallow the biscuit. He should feel grateful for the support being shown to him, but for Harry it was too little and too late. Where were these owls two years ago when he truly needed their support to fight his exile? He had no use for the opinions of the fickle wizarding population.

Madam Jones re-filled his mug from a large stoneware teapot and looked at him expectantly. Harry knew neither Madam Jones nor Severus would back away from their unspoken questions. He returned her gaze.

“We saw Shacklebolt administer the Veritiserum. You were under it’s influence, were you not? You have no innate immunity to the potion, do you?”

Harry set aside the biscuit; it tasted like so much sawdust in his mouth anyway.

“To my knowledge, there is no innate immunity or antidote possible against Veritiserum. Believe me, if I could have controlled what came out of my mouth, my ‘Uncle Leon’ never would have come to light.”

“Too bad that bastard is already dead. I would have loved to castrate him along with Vernon Dursely,” Madam Jones muttered softly as she squeezed a slice of lemon into her newly refreshed mug of tea. “When he asked you your name, you lied to him. That is not supposed to be possible while under Veritiserum.”

“I didn’t lie, Madam Jones.” Harry’s palm patted his chest. “Inside I am Corvus Corax. I have been Corvus Corax since I was six years old.”

“I don’t understand…”

“Harry Potter, The Boy Who Lived? He has never been real to me. He was just a freak who lived in the Dursley’s cupboard. He was the victim of child pornographers. He was just a weapon for Albus Dumbledore to use to win his war. I played the role of his tragically flawed savior to the best of my ability for seven years…”

“An award winning performance,” Severus interjected blandly.

“Yes, it was, wasn’t it? But Harry really isn’t me. Corvus Corax was loved and protected by Leon Shaw, even if the price of his protection was high. And Harry, poor Harry, used and abused, murdered by a wizard he thought was his friend.”

Madam Jones and Severus exchanged a look, wondering if this bizarre conversation revealed a young wizard finally driven over the edge of sanity into madness. The novice looked at both of his sponsors and understood their consternation. He gave them a short, mirthless laugh.

“I am not crazy, you know, although it appears that I am. I have divided myself into two distinct characters for years as a defense mechanism. My therapist is aware of my dichotomy and although he hopes I can someday merge the two, he does not view it to be signs of mental illness.

“Once I realized Kingsley meant to administer Veritiserum, and I would be given no right of refusal, I tucked Harry into the back of my mind to keep him safe. I forced my mind to segregate itself. If I truly believed I was Corvus Corax, then I could truthfully answer all of his questions. Unfortunately, both Harry and Corvus share an overlapping history of sexual abuse…”

~*~*~*~
PART ELEVEN

“Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life….You were only waiting for this moment to be free.”
- John Lennon and Paul McCartney, “Blackbird”

 

~*~*~*~
Harry toyed with a roll of parchment bearing the wax seal of the Minister of Magic. For years he had wished for Ministry of Magic Decree Twenty-Eight Thousand Seven Hundred and Thirty-one to be rescinded, and now that it had finally happened, he felt nothing. He did not feel happy. He did not feel vindicated. He felt hollow.

*~*~*
Blaise looked up as Harry began to set up his workstation in the Potions Laboratory. The stocky wizard ignored the fading bruises on his fellow apprentice’s face; he placed several rolls of parchment beside Harry’s cauldron.

“I made you a copy of my notes for the lectures you missed. I can go over them later if you want.”

“Thank you,” Harry said quietly, neatly lining up his potion ingredients.

“Are you all right?” Blaise asked casually. While on friendly terms, they were not exactly friends.

“Absolutely spiffing.” Harry gave him a quick smile to show that although he wasn’t offended, he really did not want to discuss it. Witches and wizards had been interacting with him as if he would break all morning and he was growing tired of it. More than ever, he desired to fade into the background.

Blaise could see Corvus emotionally withdrawing and decided he would try to irritate him enough to draw him out. The others might have wanted to coddle the young man, but Blaise knew that in the long run it would do more harm than good.

“So…the bastard’s getting away with it, isn’t he?” He looked up and saw the other apprentices in the room had grown quiet, trying to eavesdrop on the conversation. “Just like all the others, M.O.M. is sweeping you under the carpet to protect that fucking Quidditch twit.”

Harry looked up at the taller wizard through his thick, dark eyelashes. Blaise hitched a breath, although he didn’t swing that way, Corvus was absolutely stunning, bruises and all.

“Madam Jones is launching an official inquiry about unprofessional practices…Not that we don’t expect them to shut her down as well.”

“And Professor Snape?”

Harry smirked. “Well, you know Severus…Revenge is a dish best served cold.”

“You’re awfully calm about this. Are you sure you are all right?”

“I’ve been though so much shite in my life, this is hardly a ripple. I just wish it hadn’t been so public…Merlin knows what other photos Creevy took…I don’t need a drunkard’s attempt at sodomy haunting me for the rest of my life.”

“I hear you there, mate. You know, they say Creevy tried to help you…and Gryffindors are usually all about doing the right thing and all…maybe if you asked him…he’d give them to you.”

“Yeah,” called out a former Ravenclaw whose name Harry did not know. “Just tell him you’re Harry Potter in disguise and I’m sure he’ll just cough them up.”

Blaise and a few of the other apprentices laughed and Harry had to try hard to look confused. Anyone who had ever attended Hogwarts knew of Colin Creevy’s infatuation with the savior.

Not a few of the novices wondered if Harry’s fate at the hands of Gryffindor House would have had a different ending had the Muggleborn Creevy brothers still been at Hogwarts to defend him. If nothing, their knowledge of Muggle culture might have prevented the stigma of “sexual deviant” from being attached to their hero. Unfortunately, Colin’s Muggle father had learned of Lord Voldemort and his hatred of Muggles and he had withdrawn the boys from Hogwarts, emigrating his entire family to the relative safety of Canada. Finally an adult, Colin had only recently returned to live in England.

The classroom began to fill with the remaining apprentices as Blaise gave his comrade a calculating look.

“All kidding aside, Corvus, what are you planning to do? You never attended Hogwarts, but if you did, the Sorting Hat would have surely placed you in Slytherin. You must have something planned to get back at that red headed bastard.”

Harry looked up, his eyes wide in feigned innocence. “What makes you think I need to have anything… planned?”

“You don’t have anything planned…because you’ve already…” Blaise’s eyebrows arched. “What have you done?”

Harry looked up at him, his features taking on a concerned expression, his small hands wringing almost nervously. He blinked, his eyes sparkling with unshed tears.

“Oh, I agree, Minister Fudge, Mr. Shacklebolt…what happened to me was terrifying…I am very concerned about Mr. Weasley though…What if he attacks someone else? I dined with his older brothers at the fete last evening – very amusing gentlemen, by the way – and they expressed a growing alarm at the erratic behavior of their baby brother.

“In my capacity at St. Mungo’s, I work with a great many curse and spell damaged patients…and their behavior is often marked by odd, sometimes uncharacteristically violent outbursts. Ronald Weasley was injured in the war, was he not? Has he ever had a through medical examination to determine if the injuries had unknown lasting effects? A sudden change in personality is often a sign of brain trauma.”

Blaise clapped slowly. Yes, he thought, Corvus was definitely a Slytherin at heart. He flicked an imaginary tear from the corner of his eye.

“Bravo. I take it they bought the performance?”

“Of course. It gives them an out. You can’t prosecute someone who is acting under the influence of a spell, you know.” Harry smiled evilly. “And where but St. Mungo’s would you take someone to be examined? We do, after all, house some of the leading medical experts…”

Mandy Brocklehurst, wearing the pink and blue checked robes of a Pediatric Mediwizardry apprentice began to giggle uncontrollably. Harry gazed at her in amusement. Though quiet, the former Ravenclaw was always quick to string her facts. “And who would be more of an expert in curse damage than Madam Siobhan Jones?”

“And she will be bringing in her illustrious associates, among them Hippocrates Smethwyck and Severus Snape.” Harry’s eyes sparkled. “It will have to be a most through examination…much of it done without the benefit of magic or sedation…internally…externally…mental…physical…invasive…non-invasive. They will leave no hair unturned in their quest to discover a medical cause for his violent behavior…could take days…possibly weeks.”

The apprentices began to verbally list all the procedures that could possibly be performed and the room filled with laughter. Images came to mind of the uncomfortable days to follow for one Ronald Weasley. Even the lecturing Potion Masters added a few obscure procedures to the list.

“Settle down.” Severus clapped his hands once and the room fell silent. ‘Yes, we will, in the next several days be…how do the Muggles phrase it? Oh yes, killing Mr. Weasley with kindness…now turn to page 493 of your text…”

~*~*~
Wide awake, Harry curled up next to the gently snoring Potion Master. Severus’ heart beat the steady, calming melody that usually lulled him to sleep, but the young wizard’s mind kept turning over and over. It had been a week since the attack and the bruises were nearly faded. There were still a few greenish gray marks on his arms, but they no longer throbbed.

Upon his return to St. Mungo’s, those staff members he interacted with on a daily basis did so in a stilted fashion, not certain how to address the awkward situation. The general public pointed at him and whispered, recognizing his face from the various wizarding newspapers, but they kept their distance. Thankfully, as the days wore on and Corvus Corax did not break into little pieces, his co-workers resumed their normal attitudes.

Harry propped himself up on one elbow and watched his lover sleep. The attack seemed to have had a deep impact on Severus. Harry was not rejected, as he had feared, but it was even worse. Severus was not being his usual snarky self; he was being too accommodating, overly gentle. Severus treated him as if he was made of spun glass and Harry was growing frustrated by it. What Harry really wanted, really needed, was a rough tumble between the sheets.

~*~*~*
“Mr. Corax?”

Harry looked up from his patient charts. He would know that soft voice anywhere. His eyes darted around the darkened ward; it was the middle of the night and his charges were all asleep or comatose. He was alone. His fingers tightened around his wand.

Arthur Weasley stood awkwardly at the open doorway. He looked almost as haggard as he had during the war. “No need to draw your wand…I’m not going to hurt you.”

“What can I do for you, Mr. Weasley?” Harry hung back in the shadows. He didn’t think Arthur would attack him, but he had grown cautious in his maturity.

“We…my wife and I wanted to thank you…for not pressing charges against Ronald.”

“He is a very sick man, sir. He needs medical help, not Azkaban. You must realize that I am not the first person he attacked in that manner…Ron’s next assault could easily end in homicide…In trying to protect your family and your reputation, Mr. Shacklebolt has…”

“Yes, I have spoken to Kingsley…” Arthur interrupted and Harry could see that any remaining doubt had been stripped away from the older wizard. “And my sons Bill, Fred and George were quite vocal…please…can you stop hiding in the shadows so I can properly see you?”

Harry stepped into the light of the open doorway. Arthur smiled sadly. Scar or no scar, wild black hair or tame, he would know his “adopted” son anywhere.

“You are too kind hearted, Harry. Ron never deserved you as a friend.” Arthur watched the green eyes flicker apprehensively. “Don’t worry…your secret is safe with me…the Wizarding world never deserved the friendship of Harry James Potter either. Whatever the outcome…you are still welcome at The Burrow…as Harry or Corvus. Molly would love to see you…Good night, son.”

The older wizard walked softly down the hallway of the sleeping ward, the sound of his heels fading.

“Good night, Mr Weasley.” Harry whispered to the shadows. After taking a few moments to calm his rapidly beating heart, Harry returned to desk beside the neat row of beds and his patient charts.

~*~*~*~
“Full points, Mr. Corax.” Severus’ soft voice cut through the din of the Potions Laboratory. Harry looked up to see a wall of aubergine robes directly in front of his worktable.

“S-Sir?” he stuttered in confusion, his eyes watering as he removed the heat from his copper cauldron, blackened from a ruined potion. He coughed, trying not to breathe in the noxious fumes caused by a too late addition of an infusion of wormwood. Harry waited, half expecting a cutting remark from the Potion Master about “pulling a Longbottom”.

Severus’ lip quirked; he banished the smoke with a curt wave of his wand.

“We have completed our examination of Mr. Weasley. You were partially correct in your assumption that he is suffering the lingering effects of curse damage.”

“You found something?”

“Madam Jones discovered lesions and tumors on his brain. They would certainly account for his change of temperament and his increasing spurts of violence.”

“You can cure him?” Harry asked in a detached fashion. Although Harry could still remember when he and Ron had been the best of friends, the redhead’s horrible actions had tainted his memories of the other wizard irreparably. If Ron were suddenly cured, Harry doubted things could ever return to what they had once been. Even if some of the actions were not deliberate and were caused by events out of Weasley’s conscious control, Ron’s inherent jealousy of Harry’s supposedly perfect life still lay at the very core.

Severus handed Harry a parchment listing test results and diagnosis. The abnormal change in the structure of Ron’s brain had been caused by not one but a series of unrelated actions ranging from curse damage to alcoholism, to a bludger to the head. Some of the abnormal tissue masses were pushing against healthy brain tissue, exacerbating the damage caused by the lesions.

“This damage is beyond the scope of standard Turmoricidal Potion Therapy. Is there a way to control the rapid growth or is this fatal?” Harry looked up from the medical findings. Severus was pleased to see no signs of personal distress, just professional curiosity reflected in the beautiful eyes.

Severus plucked the parchment from Harry’s fingers. “We can possibly prevent the spread of the lesions and shrink the tumors, but the current damage may well be permanent. Healer Smethwyck has owled healers in Paris and New York that specialize in brain injuries so Mr. Weasley may soon be taking a trip in the International Floo. If, however, they can offer no solution, I fear Mr. Weasley may soon become a permanent resident at St. Brigit’s.”

“Not St. Mungo’s?”

“St. Brigit specializes in the more violent cases…and, untreated, Ronald Weasley’s episodes of irrational violence will only escalate.”

~*~*~*
In a noisy neighborhood pub, Harry nibbled from a shared basket of fish and chips while drinking a pint. Elliot sat beside him, flirting with a couple of giggling women at the next table.

Immersed in wizarding culture for the past several months, it seemed almost alien to be in a rowdy Muggle pub. Elliot was a comfort, grounding him to his new reality. The slender wizard had even accepted an open beverage from the waitress. The pub was filled with Elliot’s friends and extended family and he did not fear being drugged. Inebriation was another matter entirely.

Harry was on holiday. The junior apprentices had been given a week off while the senior apprentices were being evaluated on their progress. A grueling schedule of testing, interviews and practicals would determine if any were ready to attain their Mastery. Novices usually took from three to seven years to achieve their goals, depending upon their course of study.

Severus was testing four Potions apprentices as well as three others from randomly chosen departments. Their own master and their department head, as well as a pair of totally unbiased masters, must test each senior apprentice before their graduation from the St. Mungo’s Apprentice Program.

Harry emptied his glass, feeling the soft buzz of a minor intoxication. He was spending a few days in Elliot’s flat, needing to think clearly through the massive changes the past few weeks had caused in his life. Elliot was a perfect sounding board for the young man; he had known Corvus much of his life.

The chauffeur knew that after the fire, Harry had moved in with Severus. Elliot worried that Harry chose the safety of being a submissive in another relationship with a much older man and was pleased to discover that rather than keep him merely as a pretty ornament, Dr. Snape convinced Harry to further his education. Had Harry finally found someone who cherished his intelligent mind as well as the attractive outer package? He hoped his young friend could finally break the cycle of abuse and dependence that had crippled his youth.

Elliot was pragmatic about the uncashed Banker’s Cheque still in Harry’s possession. He understood Harry’s feelings that it was blood money to ensure his silence about the years of sexual servitude at the hands of Leon Shaw, but he could also look at the money in a positive light. What if Robert Shaw wasn’t trying to buy Harry’s silence, but was giving him a gift of freedom, a chance at a new life far removed from modeling and pornography? Dr. Snape opened the door to a legitimate career in alternative medicine; Mr. Shaw’s monetary gift could be invested until he was ready to set up his own practice.

It gave Harry even more to think about.

~*~*~*
In the silence of his study Severus evaluated his final recommendations on several of the senior apprentices. He was tired; the testing wore the Masters out just as much as it did the apprentices. He picked up a fork and captured a bit of potato from his dinner plate. The dark wizard smiled; before Harry left to spend a few days with Elliot, he pre-packaged a number of dinners so he didn’t have to worry that Severus would starve while he was gone. His lover’s thoughtfulness left a warm feeling in his chest. No one except Madam Pomfrey ever cared if he ate before.

Severus’ eyes drifted to the unoccupied chair Harry was usually curled up in and he realized that he really missed the younger man. For years he had lived a solitary life, deliberately pushing everyone away, and it had always suited his personality, but now the solitude did not rest so comfortably around his shoulders. Harry’s co-habitation of his townhouse and his bed had forced him to evolve into a more social creature. He could not wait for his sprite to return later that evening.

Severus heard the soft tap of a Postal Owl and opened the window, mildly surprised to see Hedwig glide in with a roll of parchment attached to her leg. She politely extended the appendage.

“Severus,
Meet me tonight at Tommy’s Pub at ten o’clock. Inform Tom you are looking for ‘Birdy’. If you are still tied up in the testing, send Hedwig back and we can reschedule. She always knows how to find me.
Corvus”

~*~*~*
Severus settled back into the dark corner booth, idly swirling the glass of the best House Red. For a Muggle pub, Tommy’s had an impressive wine list.

He was keenly aware of all the furtive glances he was given by the pretty boy waiters. Tommy, himself, had been gracious, handing him the glass of wine “on the house” and sending him to the quiet, dark corner. Severus glanced at his pocket watch. 9:58. He idly wondered if “Birdy” was any more punctual than “Harry” or “Corvus”.

Two of the waiters blatantly looked him over before leaning their heads together to exchange catty comments.

“That’s Birdy’s new bloke? Why does he always want to fuck something old? He could get anyone he wanted…”

“You mean like you?” was the vicious reply. “He’s tall…bet he’s hung.”

“But he’s ugly…and that nose…”

“He’s wearing cashmere, Jack. Birdy’s not stupid…He’s found someone to keep him…doesn’t have to peddle his arse around here anymore, does he?…I’d like a bit of that…who cares what the fuck he looks like?”

Severus smirked when a well-aimed, slightly damp bar towel hit one of the gossiping waiters. They looked toward the bar in shock, only to see Tommy scowling at them, arms crossed. They retreated to their assigned workstations amid the laughter of the patrons.

The dark wizard glanced around the crowded pub, wondering how may others thought Harry mercenary enough to use him only for his money. Obviously they didn’t know the young man at all.

~*~*~*
10:04. Severus’ dark eyes kept drifting unconsciously to the entrance. His glass was nearly empty and he was beginning to worry. Tommy’s was well known in certain Muggle circles; and while Alistair was still in custody, had one of his associates already discovered Harry?

The clink of stemware caught the former spy’s attention and his lip quirked in amusement. His Harry had appeared beside the bar in a most unexpected fashion.

With two empty wine glasses dangling in one hand and a bottle of the House Red in the other, Harry sauntered toward Severus, a seductive sway to his hips. He tossed back his sleek pageboy and gave a flirtatious wink with his kohl-rimmed eyes.

Severus licked his lips, his throat suddenly dry. Harry was wearing an almost identical outfit to the one he had been wearing the first night Severus and Bill stumbled across him in Tommy’s. Black stiletto pumps, thigh high black hose, and a short, flirty black dress. The dark wizard noticed that Harry had not bothered with the fake breasts this time and he realized it did not mar the illusion. Amusement glittered in the green eyes.

“Hello Severus,” Harry greeted him huskily, sliding in beside his older lover in the secluded booth. “Miss me?”

Severus reached over, his hand settling in the sleek hair. He pulled Harry toward him, capturing the rouged lips. His other hand rested on a nylon-clad thigh, slithering up to find silky lace and warm bare flesh. Harry’s breath hitched. Severus straightened, pushing Harry back at arm’s length. His eyes devoured his delicate sprite.

“I thought you told me wearing dresses was a one-off?”

Harry smiled, his eyes bright. “It was. But you seemed to get off on it…and I wanted to surprise you.”

Severus toyed with a thin emerald green strap that peaked out from the low neckline. Harry playfully slapped his hand away. Severus moved his hand to the silky thigh.

“You seem to be rather pleased with yourself. Your visit with Elliot went well?”

“I had time to think. I had some very…thought provoking conversations with Elliot and…” Harry’s eyes flickered to Severus’ face. “With my therapist. They…helped me to see a few things in a different perspective.”

Harry pulled his wand from a hidden pocket in his bodice and cast a quiet charm, his overnight bag enlarging in the shadowed seat beside Severus. He rummaged through the bag a moment before extracting a thin leather bankbook. “I have something to show you.”

Severus glanced down at the page Harry indicated, blinking at the amount totaled. His eyes drifted up to see the last few deposits. He saw an entry for 525 pounds; his eyes narrowed. “Malcolm paid you. I told you not to contact him, didn’t I?”

“I didn’t. I don’t care if I ever see him again. Elliot paid him a social visit a few days ago on my behalf. Malcolm…saw reason. The additional 25 pounds was for interest due.”

Severus remembered Harry casually mentioning the chauffeur once broke all of Alistair’s fingers and nodded, looking at the next entry.

“You cashed Shaw’s cheque,” he said flatly.

“Yes.”

“I thought you considered it blood money.”

“I thought it was…but Elliot made me see it in another light. He still works for Robert Shaw, you know, and sometimes…Shaw’s asked about me…worried I was safe when the cheque didn’t clear.”

“And you cashed the cheque to ease his mind?”

“No. Elliot thought maybe Robert wasn’t trying to buy my silence after all…was using his father’s money to buy me back my own life…”

Severus filled the wine glasses half full. His first reaction was that Elliot was full of shite but then he remembered on the morning of the fire, Robert Shaw had said something similar. The Potion Master looked at the total a second time.

“This isn’t all of it. The cheque was for more than this.”

“If Shaw’s going to buy my life back…I’m going to help buy Elliot’s life back as well…Uncle Leon twisted him just as much, if not more, as he twisted me.”

“You gave him more than a third of it…”

“No. I invested more than a third of it. I asked Elliot about his dreams and what he wanted out of life…he’s a sports fanatic…always dreamed of running his own sporting goods shop.”

“While an impressive sum, it’s hardly enough to start a business,” Severus pulled him in for a hug. “You’ve thrown your money away. “

“No, I don’t think so. Elliot has been saving up for the shop for years…and the amount I invested is more than enough to buy into a franchise…an established business…I don’t ‘throw’ my money away…I bankrolled the Weasley twins and I’ve more than made up that investment…Elliot’s no fool. He’ll not piss away this chance.”

“Foolish Gryffindor,” Severus said affectionately, wrapping his arms around the slender shoulders and pulling the warm body close. Harry snuggled up against him and Severus caught another tantalizing glimpse of the emerald green lingerie. He nuzzled Harry’s throat.

“Severus?”

“Yes, Harry?”

“Corvus. I don’t think you’d ever be comfortable calling me ‘Birdy’.”

“You are correct. It is a rather insipid name.”

“No worse than ‘Sevvie’,” he retorted playfully and then grew pensive. “I’ve decided Madam Jones was correct.”

“About?”

“How liberating it is to change your identity. I’ve decided that I like not being associated with ‘The Boy Who Lived’. I like being me. I like being Corvus Corax, apprentice healer, familiar to Hedwig and companion to one Severus Snape.”

“You’re killing off Harry Potter?” Severus asked incredulously.

“Not anything that drastic. Now that his name has been somewhat cleared, I am going to retire him. I may bring him out occasionally for a Grand Opening of a new W.W.W. location or a charity fundraiser or two…”

Severus was mildly shocked, thinking over the implications of Harry’s decision. He knew Harry never embraced his fame and always wanted to be just like every other wizard, but had he really hated his celebrity enough to sever ties to his own identity?

“This isn’t a sudden decision, Sev. I have been contemplating this for a long time. My life would have been so much easier if I had been able to be ‘Just Harry’ but ‘The Boy Who Lived’ will never be able to slide into the total obscurity I desire. Even though Fudge rescinded the Ministry decree, I would still be expected to publicly apologize for my actions and…damn it…I didn’t do anything wrong…it was a photograph – nothing more, nothing less.”

Harry took a sip of the wine. It had just the right bite to it – not too dry, not too sweet. He intertwined his fingers with Severus’ fingers.

“I don’t want to talk any more.”

“What do you want to do then?”

Harry brought Severus’ hand to his lips and drew one long finger into his mouth. He sucked on it suggestively for a moment before releasing it.

“What I really want is for you to throw me across the table and fuck me. To take me deep and split me open. I’m sure there would be no complaints from the other patrons.” Harry guided Severus’ hand beneath his skirt, maneuvering his hand so that the Potion Master’s palm rested on the panties cradling his awakening erection. “Please…stop being afraid to make love to me…”

“But Weasley…”

“Did not permanently damage me…I’ve been taken rougher by men who weren’t even trying to hurt me…Let Ron Weasley go, Sev, or he will always be a ghost in the bed with us…Take me home and claim me…or let me go.”

~*~*~*
Harry’s dark hair fanned out as he was laid down on the cool bed sheets. The black dress lay in a muddle where it had been tossed. Severus’ kisses trailed across the bare shoulders and throat as the older man examined his present wrapped in an emerald green silk and black lace camisole with matching panties.

“Close your eyes,” Severus whispered as he cast a gentle cleaning charm to remove the smudged kohl and rouge from his lover’s face. “Much better.”

The Potion Master ran his long fingers down the sheer hose, feeling Harry tremble beneath his touch. His sprite was exquisite in his finery, but as pleasant a sexual kink as this was, neither Harry nor Severus wanted it to be a permanent addition to their lovemaking. Harry had purchased and worn the garments more to shock Severus back to his senses.

Severus pulled off one black pump and dangled the object from its heel.

“I am curious about these shoes…did you charm them to alter your manner of walking?”

Harry smiled, kicking off the other stiletto. “Merlin, no. Years ago I read about an American Muggle actress. Her name was Marilyn Monroe. She cut one heel slightly shorter than it’s mate – said it gave her the trademark sway to her step…I had filed that tidbit away in my mind in that place one stores useless information. I remembered it when Arthur hired me to impersonate a woman. Guess Miss Monroe was right.”

~*~*~*~
Harry keened softly as Severus entered him in one sure stroke. He had missed this intimacy in a way he had never missed it with any of his other partners. The Potion Master’s hands held his hips steady as the older wizard claimed his body. Harry twisted his head and kissed the taller man. The lace camisole and panties had long been discarded and the thigh high stockings sagged, one pooling around his knee. Not at all sexy, Harry thought.

Severus pulled out and flipped Harry onto his back. The dark wizard carelessly tugged at the hose, not caring if he snagged them, releasing Harry’s legs from their silky confines. His broad hands ran up the flesh Harry had spelled hairless and Harry’s cock twitched.

“Finite Incantium.”

Severus cast the spell, wandlessly, and watched the soft dark hair reappear on his lover’s slender legs. Pushing Harry’s knees up and back, he spread the young man wide. Harry’s eyes were dark with arousal and his breath caught as Severus impaled him, resuming a much slower, much deeper rhythm.

“If I wanted to fuck a woman, I would have taken a woman to my bed,” Severus breathed in his ear before capturing the pink lips in a possessive kiss. Harry wrapped his legs around Severus’ hips and opened his mouth to grant entrance to the talented tongue.

He didn’t know how long they would be together but it didn’t matter. The dark wizard never actually said that he loved him using words, but his actions spoke far more eloquently. Severus made him feel as if he were the most precious object on the planet. Harry would no longer worry about things he could not control. He was grateful for the opportunities he had been given – a second chance at life – and could finally look to a future where he had some control of his own destiny.

~*~*~~*
EPILOGUE
~*~*~*
Twenty-one year old Corvus Corax relieved Aconite of her bundle. After a quick perusal of the tabloid, he set the morning edition of “The Daily Prophet” beside a plate of warm orange poppy seed scones and a teapot filled with strong black tea. He could hear his lover’s footsteps on the stairs and knew Severus would soon arrive for breakfast.

The green-eyed wizard smiled as he read the headline flashing across the front section of the Newspaper – “Illusive Savior Spotted at Diagon Alley Joke Shoppe”.

Severus leaned in for a morning kiss and unconsciously straightened the collar of his lover’s aquamarine Massotherapy/Healer robes. Although they occasionally still collaborated with research, the Potions apprenticeship had fallen by the wayside the year before. Intuitive brewer notwithstanding, Corvus realized he lacked the passion required to become a premier Potion Master. And Severus agreed – the Healer’s strength truly lay with Madam Jones and the St. Mungo’s Curse Damage Wards.

“Anything of interest in the morning “Prophet”, Love?”

“No Sev,” Corvus replied. “Nothing newsworthy at all.”

~*~*~*~
FIN