Janus Nonogenus
by Rakina

Harry stared balefully at the paperwork. He hadn't joined the Aurors for this. He'd sought action, and found enough of it at first, but between major expeditions to catch known Dark practitioners and bursts of activity against more ordinary law-breakers, there had been hours and hours of planning, of reporting in both written and verbal form to his managers and superiors, and of dealing with the fallout from each case. No, he hadn't joined for this, but this, he'd soon discovered, was the job. The paperwork, like the very Darkness he combated, was always with him.

Harry sighed and sat down at his desk, pulling the first folder to him.

The Pendulus case. Harry's chest ached at the sight of the wad of official forms that outlined what had happened so far, scraps written in many different hands which must be brought into order, collated and transcribed into some kind of logical progression to be passed on to the Wizengamot. Harry must produce the tale of Old Mother Pendulus, a witch of the old school, and her three sons. He must make it convincing, or the case would never be tried. It would have been nice to pass it over to Hermione, as he'd done at school, with puppy eyes and a helpless expression guaranteed to win her help. Her logical mind would have been perfect for this.

For years the Pendulus family had operated a forger's workshop, passing on their own creations as original Dark artefacts. These dubious products were traded among a series of genuine deals. It had taken the attentions of a major collector to unmask them, and of course the word of a Malfoy was no longer quite good enough to convince the wizards' court there was a case to answer. Understandably, the plight of collectors of Dark memorabilia having lost some of their Galleons to a clever forger was not high on the Wizengamot's agenda. Lucius had had to work hard to get the Auror Division interested in the first place, and Harry had no doubt the man's experiences here had been uncomfortable, perhaps as uncomfortable as Old Mother Pendulus' might yet come to be.  Sadly, because of the high profile of the complainant – who still had enough money and contacts to be influential – and the difficulties of proving the Pendulus family knew the artefacts were forgeries when they sold them, the case required reams of paperwork. Old Ma Pendulus claimed the workshop and its stock of materials were 'for restoration purposes' and only used on the most fragile objects to ensure their survival.

Harry snorted. The witch was almost believable. Her products were brilliant; only a collector of such long standing and wide experience as Lucius would have noticed anything 'off' with them, and those feelings were so subtle he'd had the devil's own job persuading anyone else of it. The spells the old girl wove into the fabric of her creations were both Dark and dangerous, sometimes downright deadly, and would identify her as a practicing Dark witch if Harry could prove she had cast them. Lucius had recognised the spells as newly-crafted, lacking the minor imperfections ancient spells acquired over centuries of being housed in an object; such imperfections could not be reproduced with new spell-casting. Harry certainly had felt no difference when Lucius gave him an original and a forgery to compare. But Harry had been forced to acknowledge Lucius' expertise, and he even admired the passion he held for his subject; it reminded him of the fiery look Snape used to get when he talked about Potions or the Dark Arts. He hadn't wanted to admire the elder Malfoy for anything, yet, distasteful as the whole subject was, Harry had come to admire Lucius Malfoy in this, however reluctantly.

Harry shook his head at the pile of papers; that was another reason the report was going to be difficult to write: he was not an expert on ancient Dark materials. Harry had learned a lot from Lucius Malfoy, and Merlin knew that had rankled, but he was still no expert. He'd had a long series of uncomfortable meetings with the man at Malfoy Manor, and he was glad that was over. If he never went back there it would be soon enough.

Harry leaned over the papers to start. Suddenly he gasped in distress, amazed at having such an extreme response to his dark thoughts.

Ignoring his body's reaction, Harry began to fill in the front page. This was the easy bit – the official form that would cover the book he was about to write, a page with blank boxes for case number, list of Aurors involved, complainant/victim, date of offence, date of involvement of Auror Division, date of report. When he reached the final box Harry's hand was shaking and the tip of the raven-feather quill danced before his eyes, tracing little circles in his vision, circles which filled to become dancing black dots. Harry shook his head. His chest felt so tight; he tried to gasp, draw in more breath, but no... the dots remained before his eyes, expanding, joining, blacking out his vision as his ears buzzed and the breath wheezed painfully in his throat, refusing to go where it would do any good. The quill slipped from his fingers, and Harry slipped from the world.

Since that first attack Harry's duties had been adjusted. He'd been given more office work; the remaining active cases in his file had been given to Dean Thomas and Aubrey Harrington, next in seniority. Harry was put on full-time desk duties, and he hated it.

It wasn't all doom and gloom; part of his new job that he actually enjoyed was lecturing trainees and first-level Aurors about things they'd not yet encountered; things that they might never see. Harry had been in the job for ten years as the department's most magically powerful Auror; his long experience had certainly brought variety and it helped make him an excellent teacher. He'd always been good at it; Once he started to lecture he was quickly able to capture and keep his students' attention. In a way he liked teaching as much as anything he'd done. He liked it a lot really, he thought, as he paced before his latest class expounding on the Stealth spells he'd used throughout his career. Which spells were best for which scenario and why he thought so, how they'd worked out in practice in different situations. His eloquent gestures and his body language were entirely intuitive; he would have been surprised had someone commented and called him graceful. Harry thought he was never graceful unless airborne. He was wrong about that.

Harry's voice flowed, his thoughts falling over his lips like a river of ideas, to merge into a copious flood of things worth listening to. As he paced in front of a room containing young, fresh faces, all looking up at him with rapt attention, he began to feel the first signs of that tightness he dreaded, and hurried his words to get the session done before the constriction could get worse.

Harry's Healers at St Mungo's had run all manner of tests and found nothing wrong. They told him there was no reason they knew of that would explain why his body should decide to deny him the breath of life at random times. So far, thankfully, it had only been for brief periods, short attacks that he'd survived. But Harry knew better than the healers. He knew in his heart this was long overdue; that the last ten years since Voldemort's death, and therefore since his own, had been borrowed time. He hadn't been due another try at life; it went against nature. And now Harry felt the looming inevitability of that other world, that afterlife, approaching; it was closing in on him. Sometimes the feeling of its proximity receded, letting him have a little more life, tempting him to believe this wasn't the end. But Harry knew; he knew life was only temporary.

Harry's breath began to wheeze loudly, his battle to get enough oxygen into his lungs was becoming obvious and several students moved agitatedly. Harry bent over, hands on his knees, and waved a hand at them indicating they should stay in their seats. But he gave up on trying to lecture them – it wasn't going to happen now. One student at the back gave up and left, Harry heard the door open and close. He grabbed a sheaf of parchments from his desk and thrust them at a young woman in the front row; she began to pass them round. Harry had prepared copious notes for the group; at least they'd have that to take from the room. His shoulders heaved as he battled for breath.

The door clanged open.

"Clear off, you lot!" The order came from Harry's deputy, a tall black man with an open, pleasant face. Despite his equanimity, Dean Thomas was not shy about giving orders and the students left quickly, casting concerned glances back at Harry and clutching their papers and books to their chests. Dean turned to Harry, greatly concerned.

Harry had collapsed into the chair at the front of the class. His head was thrown back against the wall; his lips were blue now, colourful testimony to his condition as his chest heaved.

"Harry, this can't go on. It's happening more and more. You need to see the Healers."

Harry just shook his head and waved his hand as if trying to repel Dean like a pestering insect. Dean looked worried as Harry's colour remained cyanic, his breath now so noisy that Dean's throat ached in sympathy. He turned and placed a cushioning charm on the floor, then conjured a large blanket from a piece of chalk. He levitated the struggling man onto it. Dean was no Healer; Harry would have been better left upright. Once laid flat Harry struggled for breath even more – he just wasn't getting enough air into his lungs. Dean knew he was achieving nothing standing and watching his friend suffer, so he hurried out to the nearest Floo, situated in the admin office down the corridor, to call a Healer.

The Healer left after half an hour. She had cast clearing spells on Harry's lungs and relaxing spells on his throat, but she told him it was only coincidence he could breathe better now, not a result of anything she'd done. Apparently the case of Auror Potter, the Saviour of the Wizarding World, was well known among the Healers at St Mungo's. Known, and lamented, for they'd tried it all, everything in their repertoire. Once the mainstream Healers had given up, Healers from unrelated areas of medi-wizardry as diverse as Maternity and Mind Magic had tried using spells from their own areas of expertise, hoping they might somehow combat this mystery illness. All had drawn a blank; the attacks lasted as long as they would, irrespective of their intervention. No cause could be detected – the deepest scans had discovered no lingering curses, no disease processes, nothing alien inside Harry's body. Harry should have been healthy – he was twenty-eight years old, physically fit, mentally alert and active. And he appeared to be dying. A longer episode of shortness of breath could easily become permanent.
Dean watched the departing Healer Floo away. Harry was now sitting in a chair in the admin office and Dean turned back to him. "You can't keep on like this, Harry. The Minister is going to insist you take time off. You need to get well."

There was a bitter chuckle by way of reply. Harry sat in his chair, looking down at his hands clasped in his lap. He was thinking; his thoughts so clear and loud in his mind he was surprised the man standing nearby could not hear them.

Don't you think I know that? Don't you think my Healers know that? Who is left to help me? The only help will be the peace of oblivion, that final peace I should have found when I met Voldemort for the last time. Whatever strength I had then to return to this life has run out, my life force has finally deserted me. Perhaps it was only borrowed anyway, though I've no idea how. It's strange how things look different when the world greys out, when immediacy slips away, leaving another world to fade in. Another realm, that of death, lies so close to us and yet we know nothing of it until our end.
Once I would have laughed at such thoughts, but there's no laughing when you feel yourself losing the very breath of life.

Even as he thought of that wonderful breath, the feeling of blessed air moving in and out of his body effortlessly – a feeling most people never stopped to consider – his lungs began to operate smoothly again. He had slightly more breath to heave in and out, breath that actually accomplished something inside of him instead of merely staving off unconsciousness. The world, the immediate, real world, slipped back into its place again, offering peace and normality, and the other world disappeared for now. But his return was accompanied by raging pain in his abused chest and throat and a thumping headache. Harry could only moan; he'd had too much of this recently.

When Harry could stand up again, Dean side-alonged him home. Harry swallowed a general pain-relief potion from his medicine supply and, defeated by his own deteriorating physiology, retreated to bed.

"Harry Potter! Come in, come in, my boy. What a great pleasure to see you again."

"Thank you, professor. How are you?"

"Oh, I'm well enough. Feeling my years, I have to admit. But I keep in touch with people; so many people, you know; so many wonderful young people."  

The fat, elderly wizard gestured to the framed pictures on his mantel shelf, which was wider and longer than most, presumably enlarged to make room for the gallery of celebrities who kept in touch with Horace Slughorn. Harry almost cringed to see a picture of himself standing on a lawn, looking heroically determined if rather at a loss as to what he was doing there, wherever it was.  

Slughorn caught his eye. "Perhaps you would sign your picture, Harry. It would make it more personal. It would mean a lot to me."

Harry wanted to roll his eyes; having Harry Potter in his gallery of people he'd influenced would be a real feather in Slughorn's cap. But as he'd come here to ask something of the man, and he was pretty sure Slughorn knew it, he couldn't really refuse. "Of course."

Slughorn smiled rather tearfully as Harry wrote a greeting across the picture. "It is so good to be remembered by one's old pupils. And I have been lucky to have had so many great witches and wizards learning from me."

Harry recognised the preamble to a list of notables, and headed Slughorn off at the pass: "Do you still create potions, professor?"

"There was… what? Eh? Oh… potions. Well, I make all my own: headache cures, Pepper-up, hangover cure, stomach calmer, the usual things. I don't brew anything too complicated these days; I know my power has lessened with age. I am an old man, Harry, as hard as it is to admit it. Why do you ask?" the gooseberry eyes looked sharply at Harry, vagueness dispelled by suspicion.

"I need someone who might be able to make a potion. I have a medical problem." Slughorn looked interested, and Harry suddenly realised this was a mistake. The last thing he needed was Slughorn's list of contacts being told of his problem. "I wondered if you could recommend someone."

"Well, St Mungo's is the best place for healing draughts, no doubt of it. They have links to the best Potions masters available."

"I have been there; they have tried with no success. I had hoped you'd still be active."

"I was never an innovator, Harry; a wonderful brewer, to be sure; an influential instructor, but never a creator of new potions. Alas, I could not have helped you even when I was younger. Had you come to me ten years ago I would have sent you straight to Snape. If he had lived, he would be the one to ask. He was quite brilliant at spell creation and brewing, both disciplines. And powerful, too. But he's gone, along with many others; a pointless death for such a young man."

Slughorn looked a little tearful again, and fumbled about in his pocket, pulling out a large handkerchief. Harry looked away, pretending the pictures were really interesting while the old man pulled himself together.

"I taught him, of course. The pupil exceeded the master there."

Harry nodded. "Well, I just thought I'd ask, that you would know the best contacts. It seems I have met an impasse. I must leave, places to go, you know." He stood and Slughorn got up too.

"I quite understand, dear boy. It was good of you to sign my picture."

Harry suddenly felt it was the least he could do. The old man seemed smaller than he remembered him, and it did no harm to add to his gallery of celebrities. "Goodbye, sir. I'll come and see you again." If I live.

"Oh, I would appreciate that immensely, dear boy. Do come back. I'll serve tea if you let me know beforehand. And I hope you get well soon."

"Goodbye, sir." Harry turned and hurried down the garden path, his emotions in turmoil.

Snape. So it had come back to him again. If he had lived… a pointless death for such a young wizard. Snape had been thirty-eight when he'd died; Harry was twenty-nine now and seemingly fated to be another pointless death. They had always had strange things in common, he and Snape, points where they could have touched each other's lives had they stopped sniping long enough to do it. Slughorn regretted Snape's passing, but Harry had a feeling no one regretted it more than he did.

Harry Apparated home, feeling woozy as he did it. He slumped into his chair, hoping to regain his energy. It didn't seem to be working; he felt tired out, almost faint. He swore under his breath and gave in, heading for bed even though it was only lunchtime.

Harry opened his eyes as a voice called from his sitting room. One of the few people his wards allowed to Floo directly into his house had arrived, and Harry couldn't help smiling. "In here, Luna."

Luna Longbottom breezed in, every inch the young, mystic witch. Her multi-layered, colourful robes were a cross between Dumbledore's and Trelawney's styles, and like the latter she wore a mystic amulet around her neck, shaped like the moon, its crescent pointing down. She held a bunch of Michaelmas daisies. "I brought you these, they purify the air. It will help."

Harry smiled; he no longer disbelieved her every utterance, though well aware most were dubious, to say the least. Some of Luna's beliefs worked though, and hopefully the large daisies would be one of those. "Thanks, Luna. There's a vase in the kitchen."

"I'll arrange them in there and be back in a minute. Do you want tea? Ginger would help your chest."

Harry, still smiling, nodded. It was immeasurably comforting to let someone who knew him so well just take over, and hot tea would be nice. He let his eyes drift shut as he listened to the sounds from the kitchen: water being drawn into the vase and the kettle, crockery arranged, tea found and used. Harry had never felt lonely in his flat until recently. It had been his home, his haven from the bustle of work and the outside world, the scrutiny of folk who still regarded him as some kind of public property. But since his own fragility it had become too quiet, and the absence of someone here to help felt like a real lack all of a sudden, a deficiency in his life that looked like it was here to stay.

It wasn't that Harry hadn't tried relationships. He'd had a few live-in lovers, but never felt he wanted to make any of them permanent. They'd drifted off after a while, frustrated by his lack of commitment. He knew he was being an arse, but none of them had felt right. He'd begun to wonder if anyone ever would, and mourned the loss of his dreams of waking in someone's arms, feeling happy and settled.

His first house-mate, soon after they left Hogwarts, had been Ginny Weasley. She'd had the advantage of knowing him for who he was, but Harry had not been comfortable with her. He'd finally admitted his discomfort and told Ginny. She'd been angry and hurt at first, but deep down she'd known it wasn't working. These days they could at least attend Weasley celebrations without avoiding each other. His next serious girlfriend, Jemima Patterson, had been too nice, just too eager to please. Eventually Harry had seen it as sycophancy, something of a fan syndrome, and despite the fantastic sex he'd had to end it, unable to live permanently with someone who saw him as the hero, not the man. Emma, his next live-in partner, had proved to be a different sort of fan – she had been a Slytherin who'd wanted to increase her own status by allying with the most powerful young wizard in Britain. Ever since Emma had left in the midst of a spectacular row caused by the use of Harry's fame as a way to get the stellar promotion she'd wanted, but probably hadn't deserved, Harry had been alone. He'd got used to it remarkably quickly; he'd even enjoyed the peace and safety of being single, unwilling to take the risk of trying another serious relationship. In the last year he'd not really met anyone he wanted to date anyway. It was just that now, in his weakened state, his flat suddenly felt empty.

Luna breezed in again with a tray of tea and biscuits, the vase of daisies hovering alongside. She directed it onto the corner table, where the lilac flowers with their bright yellow centres made Harry smile. "Thanks, Luna."

"It's no trouble, you know that, Harry. But really, you should have someone to take care of you. Have you considered a nurse?"

Harry shuddered. 'Nurse' always conjured images of Hogwarts' hospital wing or St Mungo's wards, and he wished to spend no more time in either. He took the cup of tea Luna was passing him.

"But they haven't found anything to help you, have they, Harry? Here…" Luna rummaged on the floor at her feet, pulling a magazine from her shoulder bag.

Harry sipped his tea and restrained his laughter. Luna still thought the Quibbler held the answers to all life's mysteries. "Don't tell me there's an article about mysterious breath-stealing diseases in there."

Luna gave him a scolding look, which wasn't very fierce as she was never in a fierce mood these days. "Look in the classified section. All sorts of people take out advertisements there. You can find everything, you'll see. Perhaps you'll find a nurse."
As he still looked dubious, Luna added rather slyly: "Some nurses are quite young, you know."

Harry grinned and opened the magazine at the back pages and proceeded to scan the columns. There were small boxes and lines of text ordered into sections: Magical Homes for Sale, Pets and Familiars, Lonely Hearts (Harry passed over that section quickly), Divinatory Services (which got the same reaction), and finally, Health and Wellbeing. Harry sipped his tea as he read each advert.

Father Lazarus' Erumpent Elixir! Guaranteed efficacious against every ailment known to wizardkind! Only 5 sickles a phial – order today.

As if anything could be efficacious against everything. That was easily passed over.

The Mystic Pendant of Merlin. This pendant is made in the same shape, inscribed with the exact same runes that were on Merlin's! Overcoming many difficulties, I researched this pendant carefully and I only use the correct stones – mystical gems that make all the difference. If I'd used the wrong ones the spell would not work.. I guard my secrets, but I'm prepared to share the fruits of my labours with my fellow suffering magical folk for a small sum to cover my expenses. If you wear this wonderful pendant you will find it imparting Merlin's powers of health and healing! Your magic will get stronger, your body will be more powerful and fight off all ills! Dragon Pox and Wizard's Flu will be a thing of the past! No more failed healing spells, no more forgotten incantations! The Mystic Pendant of Merlin ensures your proficiency and health! Only 2 Galleons (and don't forget, for this modest sum you're getting semi-precious gems inset in silver, and secret, sacred spells woven into the fabric of this marvellous jewel. Buy now while stocks last!

Harry sighed. So it was as simple as that? Wear a disgustingly garish pendant that looked like it was made of pewter and glass, and everything would be better. Yeah… as if. He shook his head and moved his eyes to the next ad.

A large, fancy-bordered box contained: Your local spell-craftre. This was: A list of 'Approved Spell-craftres, licensed by the Guild of Spell-craftres of Great Britain and Ireland'. All work undertaken in confidence at standard Guild rates (which was apparently five Galleons per hour, which seemed mighty pricey to Harry). Official reports submitted to the Control of Magic Office at the Ministry of Magic. Harry shuddered; the Ministry had its fingers in so many pies, he had no wish for his weakness to be known to them. If he was going to die he was going to do it without their input. But the spell-craftres' services sounded promising – 'spells woven specifically to fit the ailment. Many successes where mainstream medicine has failed'. Harry had actually heard reports of that; a colleague at the Division had been at his wits' end after his wife's rheumatic condition had become chronic and she'd developed an immunity to the potions. He'd hired a spell-craftre. The cocktail of spells and the ritual used by the spell-craftre had cured her. The man had spoken highly of the service and recommended anyone to go that way instead of hitting their heads against the brick walls of St Mungo's. The hospital was great for certain conditions, no doubt about it, but there were still things they couldn't cure, conditions that dragged on into chronicity, and that's where the spell-craftres could take over. Spell-crafting was considered a rather dubious activity; many people believed it bordered on Dark magic, which was why St Mungo's did not use spell-craftres.

"Spell-craftres. They sound really promising," he told Luna. "But I don't like that reporting to the Ministry stuff."

"No, Father says they're involved in a conspiracy with the Heads of the departments of Magical Law Enforcement and Control of Magic. They plan to control as many people as possible, and they include a spell that tracks magic in everyone's spell ball."

"Spell ball?"

"Oh, it's the way they work. They make combinations of spells, some old, some new, and weave them into a ball. Then they make you swallow it."

Harry's eyes bugged out. He couldn't imagine this; it was off the wall even for one of Luna's ideas. She was still speaking, so he forced himself to concentrate instead of trying to imagine the spell ball getting stuck in his constricted throat.

"Of course, it's only the licensed ones who're involved in the conspiracy. There are still one or two who are truly independent."

Harry looked excited. "Yeah, that might work. Where do I find them?"

"Keep reading," Luna said, smiling her vague, fey smile. "Everything worth knowing is in the Quibbler, how many times have I told you that?"

Harry chuckled. Of course, he should have known. He picked up the paper again and moved on from the box of names of 'Approved Spell-craftres'. At the foot of the column, easily overlooked and squashed in almost invisibly, were three short lines of text. But they were three lines that might offer a thread of hope, however slender:

Janus Nonogenus – Spell-craftre.
Owl Box 9, Diagon Alley, London.
Discretion guaranteed.

Harry smiled and finished his tea. He was feeling better already. He'd get up, have a shower, get dressed and then write a letter. His tawny owl, Mercury, would be getting some exercise today after all.

The tall, dark wizard known as Janus Nonogenus poured himself another cup of tea and settled into his kitchen chair, putting his feet up on a stool. Life was good. He was independent, free of anyone's direction and he worked just enough to pay his bills. It took about fifteen hours a week, and the rest of his time could be spent reading, researching, and generally doing whatever he liked. He'd lived like this for the past ten years, yet he never stopped being grateful for it. To wake up each morning and realise, with a flood of relief, that he was his own master, never got old.

Severus Snape took another Hob Nob biscuit, dunked it in his tea, and ate it appreciatively. He smiled quite often these days, and if he was the only person around to see it, that was no matter. His face had relaxed; the severity of his sharp features ameliorated by happiness. A tap at the kitchen window disturbed his current contentment, a state that a nice cup of tea and a biscuit or two always created in the afternoon. He looked over to see a tawny owl perched on the windowsill. This being a standard wizarding house, the windowsills were extra wide to accommodate post owls, who were directed here automatically from his Owl Box address. Severus sighed, put down his cup, and got up to let the bird in.

"Your timing is atrocious," he told the tawny owl as it flew over to his kitchen table. It settled next to his teacup, looking at the plate with a speculative eye. Severus took its letter, picked up the final Hob Nob and broke off a piece for the bird. "Here you are, you wretch."

This greeting was practically a declaration of love from Severus Snape, and this was because Severus liked post owls. They were clever, sharp-eyed and sharp-beaked. They were like avian versions of himself. The odd post rook or crow he occasionally received he liked even better; their glossy black plumage made him smile. He had toyed with the idea of acquiring one to give Diogenes, his post owl, a break from time to time. The tawny swallowed its bit of biscuit, hooted its appreciation like a well-mannered bird, but did not fly off. Instead, it settled at the corner of the table, watching him with its bright black eyes. Severus returned to his seat and his tea.

When he'd taken his last sip of strong Yorkshire tea, Severus turned his attention to the letter. Another commission, no doubt. The only post he received was business; he had no correspondents of a more personal nature. That was the way he liked it. People were a complication he could do without. Life was settled just as it was, thank you, and Severus was endlessly grateful for it, revelling in the peace he'd found after the war.

Dear Mr Nonogenus,  the note began,
I am writing to you in the hope you can help me. St Mungo's Healers have given up, stating my condition is beyond their help. I have tried alternative therapies, all to no avail. If you could meet me, I would be happy to fill you in on my condition. I require confidentiality, however, and your advert promised that.

Severus sneered. Another sexual disease, no doubt. Wizards with Prick-drip were responsible for half the contents of his Gringotts' vault. Really, what idiots. Hang around with rent-boys and tarts without using protective spells on your sexual organs and you got what you deserved! But when he read on, the final paragraph made him realise this wasn't another case of infected genitals:

I hope you can meet me soon. My last attack lasted longer, and if the trend continues I will not survive. Please help me.

In hope,
H J Crocker.

Prick-drip could be annoying and painful, but 'attack' hardly described it – it was more of a constant irritant. This was something else; something interesting, something challenging if he was lucky. Severus summoned parchment and quill immediately.

Harry looked up as Mercury returned. He couldn't help a surge of hope at the sight of the letter attached to the bird's leg. It was foolish to hope, he'd been let down by everyone else who'd examined him, but still it seemed that the old adage 'where there's life, there's hope', was true.

Mr Crocker
I will accept your case. My terms are:
Consultations held in your home or other appointed place.
Immediate payment at the end of each visit, to include the costs of the consultation time plus any time spent on research or creation, or other expenses as logged by me.
My fees are ten Galleons an hour. This is more expensive than the Guild rate as my fees include a consideration for the extra confidentiality I offer, and the risks that entails. Treatment usually involves an initial consultation, creation of spells to combat your ailment, application of said spells and follow-up consultations as necessary. Most cases do not require more than one follow-up visit.
I keep my clients' details strictly confidential. All transactions, proceedings and details disclosed to me will not be shared with another, most especially not with the busybodies at the Ministry.
If this is acceptable to you, I can call at your address at 10.30am tomorrow. Please reply with your decision and, if you accept, your directions.
Janus Nonogenus.

Harry wrote a quick reply on a scrap of parchment:
Fine, come to 10 Front Street, Mavis Enderby, Lincolnshire. I look forward to meeting you.
He attached the scrap to Mercury's leg and sent him back to his Spell-craftre. He knew this was his last hope, but still it was hope.

"Mavis Enderby!" Snape snorted in amusement. Surely this was a hoax. He consulted A Wizard's Atlas and Gazeteer, and no, it was no joke. Mavis Enderby was a small Muggle village with a hidden, wizarding adjunct. So Mr Crocker lived there, did he? Keeping himself very much to himself. Severus felt an immediate rapport, and was pleased. That rapport between supplicant and craftre was important; if there was no link, nothing in common, it was almost impossible for the spell-craftre to get the feel of his client, and it followed that the spells he chose to work with would probably not be ideally suited to the supplicant's condition. Yes, this was a start. Severus began to look forward to the morning.

Harry hurried to open the door on the first knock. He was excited and scared in equal measure. He knew Janus Nonogenus would not be expecting Harry Potter to answer the door, but he knew equally well that the man would need to see the real him if he was going to help him. He opened the door and came face to face with a tall, dark-haired wizard in a long, black, hooded cloak over equally dark robes. For an instant he was reminded of a long-dead man, a man he'd have liked to claim as his friend, but they'd never been that while Snape had been alive. Harry repressed the pang of regret that always accompanied thoughts of his old Potions master.

"Mr Nonogenus? Please come in."

The man was frowning at him and did not enter; he just stood on the step, glaring. Harry swallowed and took the bull by the horns.

"I know I was not honest with you about who I am, but this is a confidential matter and I did not want to give away my identity until you accepted the case."

"You could have told me in your last note, the one giving your address."

The man's voice was deep and smooth… reminiscent of… Harry shook himself and concentrated on making the effort to placate Nonogenus.

"Please, I really need your help, sir." He stood back, inviting the man inside.

The wizard seemed to make up his mind and stepped over the threshold into Harry's small house. Harry smiled in relief and closed the door. "Let me take your cloak, it's a cold morning but it's warm in here by the fire." He became aware he'd been speaking too quickly so far, almost gabbling. It had been a habit of his since boyhood, but he'd worked hard to defeat it at work and was surprised it was resurfacing in the face of this visitor, mysterious though he was. He took the cloak as Nonogenus shed it and hung it on the coat tree. The wizard looked equally dark and forbidding without it, standing in his black, closely fitted robes, so Harry ploughed on, determined not to give in to his unease. "Please, come and sit down; I'll fetch some tea."

"Very well." The dark man sat in one of the armchairs before the sitting room fire.

It was indeed cold outside, a bright, bitter winter day, and Harry liked nothing better than to sit in front of the fire on days like this. He bustled off to the kitchen where he'd left everything ready to make tea. He was nervous about what the man would ask him, and that was pretty daft because his ailment was not embarrassing in any way. The dark man was obviously a wizard of few words, and that always made him nervous. It was making him feel much younger than his age, which was ridiculous in a wizard of his experience, in his own home.

"Here we go," Harry said, placing the tea tray on the small table between the armchairs. "Please help yourself to sugar."

"I do not take it, but thank you, Mr… Potter."

"Yes, I am Harry Potter, and I'm sorry for the deception, but I have to be careful. There are still people out there who have unfinished business with me, for good or ill. I prefer to keep myself to myself, except in my workplace and among a few trusted friends. I expect you to keep my address confidential, in accordance with your advertised terms."

"Your friends…"

The dark wizard sipped his tea and said nothing more. Harry was confused by his attitude and his half-sentences; maybe all spell-craftres were odd, perhaps it was the nature of the work that made them that way. He sipped his own tea and tried to settle his thoughts.

"Mr Potter, your letter spoke of a condition that you fear will become fatal. That sounds rather extreme. I must say, you look perfectly fit to the casual eye."

Harry put his teacup back onto the saucer and looked at the man sitting opposite. Janus Nonogenus appeared to be about fifty years old – a wizard not yet middle-aged, but mature, about a third of the way through a wizard's lifespan. His dark brown eyes held Harry's unwaveringly; he seemed the sort of man who'd heard much and was rarely shocked. His face was long and thin, again reminding Harry of Snape's, but it lacked the gaunt, chiselled look of the spy, with its fuller lips and smaller, straight nose. It was rather bland, despite the fierce intelligence in the eyes that were fixed on him. In fact, Harry couldn't help thinking that Nonogenus would be far more impressive if he had features like Snape's. It wasn't the first time he'd thought of his old protagonist with such fondness, and it always confused him.

"I have been ill only a short time. The onset was extremely sudden. The first attack happened at work, and most of the attacks since then have also been during working hours. Thankfully never at night time or when I've been alone."

"You are rarely alone." There was something in the spell-craftre's voice that Harry could not identify.

"No… I mean, I'm alone in the evenings quite often, and every night. But I work in the Auror Division full time; it's a busy job, long hours. I socialise with my colleagues and friends too, not every night, but quite often. But it seems the attacks always take place in the daytime."

"Describe these attacks."

"It starts with no warning, just a tightening of my chest. My muscles don't seem to want to work, my ribs seem rigid, unwilling to let me pull the air into my lungs. My windpipe seems to cease cooperating with the process of breathing as well; it's as if my body fights its continued existence. It's a very scary feeling." Harry broke off, considering what he'd said. Yes, it was just like that. His maudlin thoughts that life was something no longer due to him came back in full force.

"A breathing problem, then. You have been to St Mungo's? They are usually adequate at dealing with respiratory ailments."

"But there is no disease, and no other cause they can find. I have had every Healer in the place looking at me. You can imagine, Mr Nonogenus, that the opportunity to treat Harry Potter drew them all to me."

Nonogenus snorted. "Indeed. Sycophants, the lot of them."

Harry grinned back. He liked the man's sarcasm, his dour outlook on life. Again, he was reminded of Snape, and his smile widened. "Even the Maternity and Mind Healers came to see if they knew anything to help."

"I take it they did not," the spell-craftre said, sneering in derision.

Harry chuckled and shook his head. "No."

"Then we are dealing with something unusual. Not a recognised condition. Intriguing. Can you tell me anything else, anything at all, that might give a clue about the origin of this problem?"

Harry wondered if he should tell of his death and resurrection experience, but that was public knowledge. It was always difficult to speak of, he avoided it wherever possible. He shook his head.

"Then stand please. You need to be away from the furniture, somewhere where I can walk around you."

Harry got up and went over to the space in front of his sideboard. "Is here okay?"

Nonogenus followed and paced around Harry. "Yes, I have enough room to cast the diagnostic spells. Now you must stand still, and do not speak during the process."

Harry nodded and the spell-craftre raised his wand. The man moved his wand in front of Harry from his head down to his feet, the movement slow and controlled, his lips moving silently as he concentrated. Harry felt a wash of spell-power like a cool breeze as the magic covered his front, top to bottom. Nonogenus then moved anti-clockwise around him, presumably doing the same around there as Harry felt that same, engulfing wash of coolness as the spell surrounded him. It was like standing in a column of cool air by the time Nonogenus came back around the front, and Harry's hairs stood up on the backs of his hands. When the man's wand completed the circle a grid appeared surrounding Harry, silver threads woven around him. He felt like a sapling, a baby tree encased in a protective sheath.

Nonogenus raised his wand again and said clearly: "Periclitor primus."  A golden light streamed from the wand, a line which connected with the grid and ran from top to bottom, the silver briefly glowing gold then returning to its own argent glow. Above Harry's chest, it did not fade, however. The golden light settled and glowed there, telling the craftre something. The man paced around him again and Harry could not see if there was any change around the other parts of the magical mesh.

Nonogenus returned to the front again and stood awhile as if thinking, or perhaps recovering his magic for the next phase. Harry could tell there was more to come and he stood patiently and quietly as instructed. Nothing hurt, but the atmosphere was intense, the spell-craftre obviously deep in thought. His dark eyes were fixed on the crossed lines of the mesh and his wand moved slightly, like the flickering flame of a candle, as he stood otherwise still. The slight movement mesmerised Harry as he looked at it; the tip of Nonogenus' wand still glowed with a faint, golden light. He could feel it was altogether benign and promised only good things: healing, comfort and freedom from pain. It made Harry trust this man, a man he'd only just met, a man who was not one of the Spell-craftre's Guild's 'Approved Wizards.' Was this to be his final, impetuous foolishness? Why was he putting his trust blindly in this man's hands? Nonogenus could be a Dark wizard, an ex-Death Eater for all Harry knew. But that light, those gentle wand movements were nothing a Dark wizard would use, and it felt right. Harry had always gone with his instincts, and he was doing so now. His lips lifted in a faint smile he was unaware of.

"Periclitor secundus," the spell-craftre said, and a green light came from his wand and linked with the mesh. The green was altogether beautiful – like summer leaves, like grass, like life. Green spell-light had made Harry nervous for years after the Battle of Hogwarts, but he'd seen many other spells since then, a few of them green, and his mental connection with green as the colour of the Killing Curse was now, thankfully, severed. He was glad, or he'd have moved under the spell-craftre's onslaught as the green touched him, or rather touched the spell-created mesh encasing him. Somehow he knew that would have been disastrous: it was important to keep still during the magical weaving. Harry didn't want to disrupt Nonogenus' magical mesh and lose what it could tell the older wizard.

The process was gradual and time-consuming. Harry's mesh began to glow in several places with different colours – gold from the first pass, green from the second and blue from the third. By the fourth, when Janus was using an orange-tinged spell to test his client, Harry felt like he was being wrapped in a rainbow. It was too fascinating to close his eyes, too intense to miss a moment of it. He could only imagine how focussed Nonogenus must be, how magically tiring this process probably was. Finally, the spell-craftre stood before him and lowered his wand.

"It is done.  Finite." The magical mesh and its glowing patches of colour fell away, dissolving into nothing. "Please, let us sit." The dark wizard gestured to the chairs.

Harry sat down, suddenly aware how wobbly he felt, how weakened. "Phew! That was intense," he admitted.

Nonogenus sat in his chair. He looked far more in control of himself than Harry felt, which made him wonder.

"Don't you feel weakened?" It was a personal question, impolite. It was considered bad form to quiz a wizard on the state of his magic, but Harry felt this relationship was so different from the norm it might be acceptable here. At least he hoped Nonogenus would not storm off in an outraged huff.

Nonogenus merely gave a quirk of his lips, not enough to be a smile, but he didn't look offended. "No, Mr Potter, not greatly. You are feeling the effects far more than I as you were the one encased in the diagnostic mesh. It fed into your body and your magic to seek out your woes. I, as the caster, only felt the drain of the requisite power to weave the mesh. I feel perfectly fine, I assure you."

Harry nodded, relieved.

"Let me pour you some more tea," Nonogenus said, and he leaned forward and made a fresh cup, passing it to Harry. "You need to settle yourself. Just listen while I tell you my results; there is no need to speak."

Harry was grateful as he sipped the warming tea. It seemed to strengthen him, and the fact he didn't have to make conversation was truly a relief at the moment.

"Your chest showed up as an affected area. It is not the seat of the problem, merely the target, if you like. There were bursts over your back, similarly affected by your condition. You must have felt pain across there during and after the attacks."

Harry nodded, but Nonogenus continued, not needing Harry's input. "Your throat, too, has signs of damage due to spasm. There is nothing wrong with you in that area; the damage is the result of the attacks, not a sign of underlying disease.

"Lower down your body there is some disruption over your genital area. This would not show up under normal scans or diagnoses, but my spells catch many things the Healers miss. Later, when I have summed up, you must tell me why you are affected in that area. I can tell your generative organs are not abused by trauma or rough handling, but they are somehow wrong, as if they are a source of trouble to you. It needs examining, but again is not the source of your problem, Mr Potter. That, as the Healers said, is far from obvious."

Harry's face fell. So the spell-craftre had not found it either. It was just his time, as he'd feared.

Nonogenus looked at him, a look that read his emotions, Harry knew, even though he'd tried to keep them to himself. The man spoke again: "Not obvious, oh no, but not hidden from me, Mr Potter. My own diagnostic procedure, which I invented and is unique to me, is far more proficient than the simple procedures you will find in St Mungo's. The curse you carry is so subtle it is unrecognisable as a curse. It manifests so cleverly as an ailment coming from your body that even you believe that is what it is."

"The best curse-breakers have examined me. St Mungo's has several of the best in Britain. There is no curse," Harry protested.

Nonogenus' lips quirked. "No? Then why are you like this?"

Harry, who had been looking at him, challenging him, dropped his gaze. "Because it is my time, Mr Nonogenus. I have been living on borrowed time, quite literally. When I was returned to life, it was not truly my life – that was over. I do not know how it worked exactly, but the past ten years has been a gift, a bonus. Why I got it, I don't know that either, but it was given to me. And now it is coming to an end, that's all."

"That is a strangely doom-laden and defeatist belief for the Saviour of the Wizarding World." The voice was almost venomous, dripping with sarcasm, reminiscent of another man and another time. Harry gasped and looked up, feeling angry because he was employing this man to help him, not insult him. "And yet that is not the truth, or not all of it," the spell-craftre added.

"What do you mean? I don't lie!"

"No, I see you do not, and I do not accuse you of it, I merely said there was more to it. You are a Gryffindor still in everything you do, Mr Potter. As I said, there is more to your thoughts or you would not have contacted me. You would have lain down and died before now. And yet you fight it, do you not? You fight for life, no matter how much you say you have none left to fight for."

Harry realised Nonogenus was right. The man seemed to look inside his mind, his very being, each time his dark eyes bored into him. It was intense, and it should have been very uncomfortable, but for some reason it was not. Harry accepted the man's insights and scrutiny.

"So, if there's a curse, can you lift it?"

"Hm. It is… difficult. As I said, it is very, very subtle. The wizard who cast this was a master, far beyond the skills of the mundane. It hides, but now I see it I have no doubt it will resist me when I try to move it. It will require much strength and many onslaughts by curse-lifting charms. I have a multitude of them, and only the strongest, but still, it disquiets me, I don't mind admitting that to you."

Nonogenus' voice was deep, introspective. Harry wasn't even sure he was speaking to him. There was more to come, he was sure of it, so he kept quiet and waited. When it came, his reward was both sweet and bitter.

"There may be more to it than a spell ball can achieve. I feel a rite, a joining between craftre and supplicant might be needed to break this deep, insinuated hold the curse has taken on your body. It is rooted throughout your muscles, branching along your nerves and burrowing into your bones. It is part of you, Mr Potter, as much a part of you as the oxygen you inspire, and thus it can displace it from your body. That is how it fights your life, your very breath. To defeat it, we must be stronger and even more subtle than its caster. Do you have any idea who that might have been?"

"I have dealt with many Dark wizards, Mr Nonogenus, both in my career and before it. I suppose it could have been any of them."

"Stronger and more subtle than most, remember. And a long time ago, I think. For this curse is so embedded I believe it has been inside you for years. At first casting it would have been localised, sitting in your chest cavity, say, or your belly. Over time it sank in, grew into you if you like and became one with your body, but that takes time. For the curse is pure magic, and magic usually flows within us, does it not? To embed, become fixed and unmoving, is alien to the very force of magic, which is alive and moving at all times, even when we hold it still. It roils; it stirs within us, running along our limbs or around our chests, or pulses like a heartbeat. This curse is stable and fixed, virtually immovable, and it would have taken years to take such a hold. Whether it was timed to start manifesting after a fixed number of years, or whether it has just started working now because it is finally fully embedded, I cannot say, and it hardly matters. So you must look farther back for your curser, Mr Potter." Nonogenus' dark eyes glinted with some message, and the glint was even darker than the brown of his iris, more like a spreading of his pupil, a hint of the darkest jet.

"A Death Eater, then," Harry murmured. He spoke quietly, but his guest heard him clearly and nodded agreement. "Most likely Lucius Malfoy or Voldemort himself. They were the most common casters of unusual curses at that time. Malfoy is learned in ancient curses held in his collection of Dark artefacts. It could easily be him."

"Malfoy…" the spell-craftre said, his deep voice full of venom. "Yes, a wicked man indeed. But is he strong enough for this, to cause a curse to embed itself in Harry Potter, one of the strongest wizards alive? Your magic would have resisted this curse, just as your immune system fights infection. Would Malfoy have that strength? Perhaps…" The man fell silent again, musing.

"If it was Malfoy, I can get him to tell me," Harry said excitedly. "He's working with me on a case; I've had to visit the manor many times."

Nonogenus looked disbelieving. "You expect an ex-Death Eater to own up to his curses? If he admitted it, you could throw him straight into Azkaban." Nonogenus caught the look on Harry's face, and sneered. "You would, wouldn't you? And he will know that. Look for no help there, Mr Potter. He will not lament your end."

"Then what next, spell-craftre? You have spoken of something no one else has found, and yet you seem unsure what to do about it. It feels like one step forward and two back."

"Time, Mr Potter. I must return to my humble abode and consider what I have learned. I will choose the spells for your spell ball, and ponder what else may expel this curse. It will not be easy, that is the only thing I know. I must be able to manipulate your magic to work against it, and there are very few ways to do that, even for a spell-craftre. A wizard's magic is his own concern, but yours must become mine."

Harry wasn't sure he liked the sound of that, but what choice did he really have? "Okay, well… when will I see you again?"

The man stood up, and Harry noticed just how tall and slender he was as he walked over to retrieve his cloak. The man swept it around his shoulders and the billowing, fuller effect made him seem broader, less vulnerable. Harry shook his head at himself. He was pretty sure Janus Nonogenus was anything but vulnerable, even to Harry Potter.

"When I have worked out my plan of action; I do not know when that will be. In the meantime, our consultation took two hours, so that will be twenty Galleons, if you please."

"Oh, right." Harry blushed at forgetting about the payment. He summoned his money pouch and counted out twenty gold coins.

"Thank you," Nonogenus said, dropping the coins into a hidden pocket in his cloak, before adding: "Look for my owl."

"Thank you for coming," Harry said as he saw the man out. They had not spoken of the problem with his genitals, and Harry wasn't sure whether to be relieved or disquieted.

Once he was outside Nonogenus looked back at him, locking gazes as he'd done in the house. He gave a slight nod, but his features remained as if carved in stone. "Goodbye, Mr Potter. For now."

A crack, and the man was gone.

Severus Snape was not a man who was easily surprised. He never had been, and following his wartime experiences and subsequent retreat into this alter ego, he considered himself unflappable. But he had to admit that the visit to his new client had been nothing short of shocking. From the moment the front door opened and he discovered that 'Harry, Mr Crocker', was in fact Harry Potter – and why he hadn't suspected the rather obvious aliases at the time he wouldn't stop to consider – to the description of the breath-stealing ailment and the discovery of the masterly curse the boy was carrying.

Masterly... that was what it was: an elegantly structured curse that had remained undetected throughout the succeeding years as it burrowed its way into his very being, becoming one with his magical core. Snape, as a spell-craftre of no small talent, knew how difficult that was to achieve. He also knew that there were few alive today who would have been able to find it, to recognise Potter's illness for what it was – a time bomb that had gone off recently and wouldn't take long to complete its work. The boy could have a longer, fatal attack at any time. Snape could only hope there was time to do something to change his seemingly inevitable fate. It wouldn't take him long to craft a potent spell-ball, he knew the requisite strategies that might, just might be able to fight and destroy the curse. He also knew those strategies would cost Potter a lot, and wasn't sure the boy would even want to go that way. But at least Snape would be able to offer him a choice. As things stood now, Potter had been quite right, his only option was death.

Snape considered his new contact with Potter as some kind of inevitability – an elegant symmetry to the circle of his life that he had not expected, but now saw as rather obvious. He should have expected it. He had been in Potter's life from before the boy's conception, and constantly throughout his schooldays and during the war, even though Potter had been largely unaware of his presence at that time. The last ten years had been an absence, a gap in their interaction, but it had come to an end now in no uncertain terms. Whether Potter lived or died, the coming period they would spend together would be intense, as all their interactions had been, from the time he heard of the boy's conception to the many detentions and arguments during the Hogwarts years.

Severus made himself a pot of tea and settled in front of his own fire, so similar to the position he'd occupied in front of Potter's, whose house reminded him of his own in many ways. He would start going through his books about linking and controlling another wizard's magic. Snape knew full well there were few ways of doing that, and some of them were too Dark to contemplate. A couple of hours later, after poring through the books, he knew there were only two options open to them, and one of them was simply destructive. Firstly, he could take Harry's magic, pull it into his own, feed off it in the way that a leech or a vampire takes the blood of its host. During the process he could separate out the curse and destroy it, using his own, specially created spells. This process would remove the threat to Potter's life, but it would leave the boy a squib. The question was, would Potter prefer to live as a squib, or die as a wizard?

The second option was, in its way, just as extreme. They could fully integrate their magics so Snape could manipulate Potter's and so destroy the curse using his spells, this time while the curse was still attached to Potter's magic inside Potter's body. The only way to do this was by bonding with Potter. Bonding, or marriage as it was in all but name, with the Saviour of the Wizarding world. Potter would likely be just as aghast at the thought of this option as the previous, squib-creating one. Yes, both solutions were extreme, but 'needs must when the devil drives' as the Muggles had it, for Potter's situation was extreme, and the solutions could only be the same.

And from Severus' point of view was the second option, bonding with Potter, any less extreme for him? He'd never faced a case like this in his career as a spell-craftre, he might never do so again, but did he really want to bond with a younger man, and such a public figure? Did he want to lose his blessed silence, his long yearned-for peace and autonomy? Because he would have to reveal himself, his true self, as Severus Snape before the bonding or it would not, could not, work. And that would surely overwhelm Harry. For Severus, that would be the worst part of all, the revelation of his true identity to Potter. The bonding itself would not be so bad, in fact, it would be welcome were it not for the task that would await, the destruction of that curse. Severus was pretty sure it had been crafted by Voldemort himself, who had been a spell-craftre of consummate skill and power. He was not remembered for that now, and Severus thought, not for the first time, that it was a shame the man's megalomania had led him down such unacceptable paths, for Tom Riddle could have been great, his memory cherished and respected by his peers.

Did Severus think his own spell-craft was up to the task of defusing Voldemort's time bomb? Perhaps... only the crisis would tell, if it happened. The moment when he grasped the curse and began to tug, to unwind, to send his own spells along that thread and see if it would dissolve or pull free. If Potter chose the bonding route, Severus knew he would have to do the spell-casting during sexual intercourse to ensure the closeness of their magics, which was another complication. He might end up with a corpse in his arms. Severus' face twisted in disgust and distress. In that event, would he have killed Harry Potter? Please, Merlin, no. He'd had enough of killing great, publicly-loved wizards.

Severus had suspected this commission would be intriguing; he'd not expected it to be cataclysmic.

Later, Severus bent over the table, quill in hand, marking symbols on parchment in a design that would have looked random to anyone but a spell-craftre.  Opposing, and balancing elements, conjoined spells, brief snatches of incantation, all had their own symbols and all had to be set just right in the diagram so they worked in an integrated, logical way. Working out the spell ball was a large part of most of his cases; he had some basic structures mapped out for the most common ailments, but this one was unique. Severus loved the challenge of crafting the right mix for Harry Potter. If he did it well it would help support the boy, whatever his decision about trying to destroy the curse. Even if Potter chose to do nothing, to live out his remaining time in whatever way he could, this would help prolong his life, stave off the attacks for as long as possible, and give him the strength to withstand those episodes until the end. What it could not do was deal with the curse within Potter, which was inexorable. To his diagram Severus added spells for healing, some for bodily and spiritual wholeness, one to support Potter's magic, and those for clear breathing, clear thinking and brightness of mood. All would help, and Severus was anxious to help. He rarely felt such an urgent need to aid a client. Normally he took care in his crafting from pure professional pride in his art, feeling relatively little empathy with his clients; but this was Potter, and Severus had always been there for the boy when he needed him, hadn't he? He felt that huge sense of rightness, of an unavoidable fate, flooding him again, that he should be here now for Potter.

Hours later it had gone dark outside. Severus hadn't noticed; his lights were spelled to come on automatically in response to the dwindling light levels inside the house. He still brewed potions frequently, and sold some special ones of his own devising through an outlet in Diagon Alley. He did not want to be disturbed in the middle of a creation, whether of a potion or a spell, because of lack of light, lowering temperature or any other mundane cause. His house largely looked after itself, even without the benefit of a house elf, equipped as it was with household spells of his own devising.

Severus straightened up, his back complaining as he did so. His stomach was empty and grumbling too, but he looked down at his finished plan with satisfaction. He was ready to contact Potter. It was time to give the boy his options.

The boy, he thought as he hurried to his kitchen to prepare a quick supper. Just why did he still think of Potter as a boy? Harry was so far beyond that, they were both so far beyond those schooldays, that adversarial relationship. Harry was a man, as strong and admirable a man as any, but to Severus he was still Harry, the pest, the bother. The boy. He smiled; it was so easy to sneer, as he'd done today at Potter's house. He'd had to rein it in a bit, sure he'd seen a flicker of recognition on the boy's face at one point. No, his next move was to set the choices before him. If Harry chose the bonding, Severus would reveal himself. That would probably result in the boy throwing him out in disgust. Harry had accepted him into his life as Janus Nonogenus, but Snape had no illusions about being accepted as Severus Snape. Severus would have to Obliviate him. But if the Gryffindor proved strong enough to swallow all these indigestible truths – and this was Potter, the archetypal Gryffindor, so maybe he would – and to overcome them, maybe he would still want the bond. Then Severus would really be in trouble.

This magic would have to be so finely tuned that any disruption, however minor, would cause it to fail. Severus suddenly remembered the single problem in Potter's diagnostic mesh that wasn't curse-related – the genital disturbance. He needed to know about that urgently, for the bonding, if it was attempted, would have to be the strongest and most perfect form of joining, and that would require mutual sexual release at consummation to fix it in place. If the boy was impotent that would be a real problem. Spells or potions could not be used during the bonding because they could disrupt the curse removal. Severus took another piece of parchment and quickly penned a note. "Diogenes!"

Dear Mr Potter,
I am sure you will be pleased to know I have crafted a potent spell-ball for you. I have also reviewed what options there may be to remove your curse. They are few, and they are problematic, but I will place the options before you when I next visit. For now, I have need of information to finalise those options.
Your diagnostic mesh showed a problem in your genital area which I neglected to address at our previous meeting, for which I apologise.
Please tell me precisely what the problem is so I may proceed with your treatment. Do not be coy or hide anything from me, for such dishonesty or secretiveness, which you may well consider minor, could nevertheless cause my spell-casting to fail. Describe the condition frankly and use whichever words are comfortable for you; you will not shock me for I have dealt with many genital cases in the past. I do not require you to know medical terms. I merely seek knowledge of what is wrong with that part of your body.
Janus Nonogenus.

Harry stared at the spell-craftre's letter, aghast. He'd known it would have to be faced, but seeing the request in black and white gave it more impact somehow. He sat down, the note in his hand, and wondered what to write back. He'd have to reply, to do otherwise would be stupid and probably end their association. But really, it was awkward. What could he say?

Severus unrolled Harry's reply impatiently. The boy had taken his sweet time, and the parchment was marked with ink blots, smears and what looked like spills from a cup of tea. Really, couldn't he have taken the time to write it out neatly? Potter hadn't even been this messy at school.

Dear Mr Nonogenus,
Thank you for contacting me. I'm glad everything is proceeding so quickly; I didn't expect a letter so soon.
As for my problem (ink blot) well, please be assured it's nothing medical. I didn't realise it would show up on your scan. It's nothing, just a little (smear) tension in that area.
I get  (teacup ring) urges. But I deny them. I don't want to consider that part of myself right now; my life is at a stage where I've chosen to be single for a while, so anything there is an inconvenience. That's all there is to it.  (large blot)
Harry Potter

Snape frowned down at the letter Potter's tawny owl had just brought. "All there is to it? I sincerely doubt that, Mr Potter. What the hell do you mean?"

Snape grabbed a quill and scrawled another, rather more acerbic note on the back of Potter's, his quill nearly piercing the parchment in his agitation.

It is most certainly not 'all there is to it'!
Things that show up on the diagnostic mesh need taking care of. If it remains as it is, it will disrupt the removal of the curse from your body. That is the point of doing the diagnosis in such a careful way. I did not cast those spells for the good of my health, Potter, but for yours.
Now, be precise about your 'tension' and your 'urges', and just how you 'deny them', for Circe's sake!

"Oh, blimey," Harry murmured, and poured himself a firewhisky as he set about replying. "The bloody git isn't going to give up, is he?" he asked Mercury. His hand shook as he penned his reply, taking slugs of whisky after particularly difficult sentences.

Dear Mr Nonogenus (may I call you Janus?),

Severus harrumphed, well able to imagine the boy's sheepish expression as he wrote this.

I have not had a sexual partner for some time. I have been getting inconvenient erections before work and during my time there, as well as in the mornings and evenings. I spell them away. It leads to a sort of ache down there, but that's better than trying to deal with it at the moment. I prefer to ignore it so I can remain single.
That's all there is to it, I promise.

"Idiot boy! Even a schoolboy knows that denying erections with magic merely causes pain and tension in the genitals. Done repetitively it can lead to satyrism and delayed ejaculation, which can ultimately lead to impotence. Where were you when the personal education classes were taking place?"

Snape suddenly stopped ranting and pacing around his sitting room as it struck him that it was highly possible Potter was in the hospital wing at the time. He had certainly spent enough time there during his Hogwarts career. "Merlin, he needs taking in hand!" he muttered, then snorted at his unintended witticism.

The knock at the door was sharp, impatient. Harry got up to answer it, wondering who would arrive without contacting him first. Most of his friends knew better, or had access via Floo.

"Mr Nonogenus!"


"Come in, I wasn't expecting you."

"Time is of the essence, Mr Potter."

"Er, well yes. I just…"

Nonogenus pushed past him impatiently and hung up his cloak, turning to look at Harry who was still standing hesitantly by the door. "Perhaps you would make some tea, and we can talk?"

"Oh, yeah. Sorry." Harry shut the door and headed for the kitchen. 'Talk' always sounded ominous, he hoped Nonogenus wasn't here with bad news; he hadn't taken the time to make an appointment so presumably it was urgent. Although how bad could it be, when Harry already knew his time was short?

Once seated with their tea, Nonogenus got straight to the point of his visit: "You must stop denying your orgasms, Mr Potter. Repeated use of such spells results in pain and eventual dysfunction of the sexual organs. I am sure a young man like yourself would not wish that to happen."

Harry's eyes widened. "What?"

Nonogenus sighed and spelled it out again: "You will become impotent, or else you will get an erection that cannot be dealt with in the normal manner. Very painful, as I think you can imagine."

"Oh. I… well, I didn't know. It was just inconvenient, so I spelled it away."

"Yes. A first year's mistake, if I may say so."

"You talk like a Hogwarts' teacher," Harry observed, feeling an odd sense of déjà vu.

"An idiom, nothing more," Nonogenus said, making a dismissive gesture with his hand. "When was the last time you had an orgasm?"

"What? I'm not telling you that!"

"Why not? I am your spell-craftre, and I am very discreet. You are paying for my discretion and may tell me anything."

"Ugh… well, it's just... private."

Nonogenus sighed. "Mr Potter, if I am to work with you-"

"Oh, very well," Harry interrupted snappishly before the man could start a lecture. "About six months ago, I suppose," he said through gritted teeth.

Nonogenus just glared. "Why on Earth haven't you masturbated, you idiot?"

Harry was offended by this. "Look, what I do with my sex life, or lack of it," he added bitterly, "is my business. You've no right to chide me, and certainly not to call me names!"

"If it impacts on your health, I have every right. You employed me to do so."

"Did I? I had the strange idea I employed you to help." Harry was definitely angry now, his cheeks flushed and eyes flashing. Nonogenus, had he stopped to consider, would have appreciated the younger man's male beauty. He did not stop to do so, however, as he was beginning to feel rather irate himself.

"I am helping, you imbecile!" Nonogenus snapped. "Now, I suggest you take a nice warm bath, relax in the suds and masturbate until you have a long-overdue climax. Do so as soon as I leave, Mr Potter. Indeed, do so repeatedly; every morning and evening at the least. As I said earlier, time is of the essence."

Harry pouted, but nodded. "All right. I just wanted to avoid all that sort of thing. Thinking about sex, it makes me realise how…" he paused, but Nonogenus just waited, his strangely undefined face impassive. Harry finished it, his heart and voice sinking: "…lonely I am."

"Well," Nonogenus said quietly, almost gently now, "masturbation is the recourse of the lonely man, and there is no shame in it. Fantasy helps one get through the day."

Harry looked across at the slim, dark wizard. A look of understanding passed between them, and Harry nodded. He'd take the man's advice; as Nonogenus said, that was why he'd employed him.

"Now," Nonogenus continued, "to the real point of my visit. I have, as I said, crafted a spell ball for you, and I will give it to you now, if you are amenable?"

"Oh, wow! You're really efficient, aren't you?"

Nonogenus smiled – or rather he gave the strange quirk of his full lips that Harry interpreted as a smile. He wondered what the man would look like if he really let go and laughed.

"Please stand where you were when we did the diagnostic mesh."

Once Harry was in place Nonogenus stood in front of him. He started pacing around Harry, and he spoke quietly, little more than melodious muttering, as he went. Whatever the spells were, Harry could not recognise them from the snatches of the words he overheard, some of which were not in Latin. Harry looked down to where the wizard was pointing his wand at the floor. Patterns began to appear, strange symbols Harry did not recognise, connected to each other with lines of power. They formed an enclosing circle, like the numbers on a clock face, but they were at different heights. The symbol at eight o'clock floated at chest height, that at five was on the floor, and the connection between them was steep, like a tall staircase. Others floated around him, the patterns joined by an undulating wave of magic, connected as the diagnostic mesh had been, but this time so randomly scattered it was like an abstract work of art rather than the defined grid of the previous working. The light was uniformly silver, glowing brightly even in the day-lit room.

Nonogenus stopped pacing behind him. Harry could just turn his head to see he was standing at twelve o'clock – midnight or midday, the hub of the clock as Harry was thinking of it. Harry knew instinctively he must not turn his body, must not move his feet from this pivotal point. Nonogenus cast a spell he recognised then: "Sano." It was a general healing spell, and Harry saw a glow of golden light at the edge of his vision. It felt warm behind him, hovering in its place.

Nonogenus stepped clockwise until he stood at Harry's left shoulder, at three o'clock. He pointed his wand at the symbol which looked like a bull's horns, hovering around neck-height. "Perpetro corpus tuus." This time Harry could clearly see the blue spell-light and the way the symbol absorbed it all, glowing brightly. Harry felt a wash like a warm wave buffeting his body again and again in a rhythm like a magical heartbeat.

"What's that for?"

"Be silent, I will tell you all when I have finished," the spell-craftre said without looking at him or disturbing his movements.

Nonogenus moved to the front of Harry, to approximately five o'clock had this really been a clock. The symbol there was on the floor, hovering just above the carpet. Nonogenus chanted: "Fulcio." The symbol, shaped like a number eight lying on its side, glowed deepest red.

Next Nonogenus moved to the symbol at eight o'clock, the one hovering at chest height. It was a spiky, strange glyph that Harry couldn't have described. The dark wizard spoke another spell: "Respiratio facilis," and the glyph turned purple.

Nonogenus took one step, only one point further on the circle. At nine o'clock the symbol was hovering beside Harry's head. It was a perfect circle divided with an S-shape, something like a yin-yang symbol, but not quite. "Sententia plano." The symbol turned pale green.

Harry liked this kind of magic; not only was it beautiful to look at, but he felt surrounded by a warm, nurturing power. The throb of the symbol by his left side was still pressing at him, insistently demanding he let it into him. Harry smiled, feeling lighter than he had in weeks.

Nonogenus stepped a little farther around the circle, almost out of Harry's field of vision now, even if he turned his head. He gave up and looked to the front, smiling and relaxed, trusting the man. He'd trusted him throughout, he realised, and it didn't feel wrong. He heard the final spell, "Lucidus," spoken softly, almost lovingly, until a faint, greyish glow came from behind him, not mixing with the other light to make new colours, but mingling with them like the swirls in a Honeydukes' gobstopper.

Nonogenus came around in front of Harry and looked at him. "Now I can speak a little. Clockwise from behind you the spells I have here waiting to form into the ball are for healing, bodily and spiritual wholeness, to help support your magic, for clear breathing, clear thinking and finally, for lightness of mood." Nonogenus pointed to the points on the surrounding circle as he spoke of each spell. "Once woven into the ball, I will introduce it into you, where the spells can flow through your body and do their benign work for the next few months. Before they fade we should have solved your problem, one way or another. All you need to do is stand still and be quiet while I weave the ball, then, when I approach you with it, you must open your mouth as wide as you can to provide a conduit for it to enter. That gesture is also a granting of permission, which such Light magic needs in order to function. Do you understand?"

"Er… yes, I suppose… um, do I have to swallow it?"

Nonogenus smiled. "You may feel you need to swallow, if so, do so by all means. But the spells, once they enter your mouth, will find their own way."

"Oh, right. Well, okay."

"I will proceed." Nonogenus raised his wand again, and called out to the spells: "Commisceo!"

The colours all started to move, up and down, and then around Harry's body, some clockwise, some anti, swirling in a dizzying light display. Then they began to come together, taking the same path, moving towards the spell-craftre who was standing with his wand upraised. Nonogenus was concentrating hard, Harry could see, to direct these many spells at one time, pulling them to him. The lights became brighter, more intense as their sources contracted as they joined together, pressing against each other but never mixing, maintaining their original colours until what hovered at the tip of Nonogenus' wand was a dense, multi-coloured ball like a magical marble, spinning constantly, hypnotically. Harry gaped at it, completely fascinated by the little spell ball.

Then Nonogenus took a step closer, and the spell ball was right in front of Harry's face, making him squint to see it. Harry blinked in the light which was almost blinding this close to him, and he felt as well as heard the hum of the power in front of him. Nonogenus was looking at him, his gaze as intense as the spell-light. Suddenly, Harry remembered what he was supposed to do, coming back to reality with a gasp. He opened his mouth wide.

The spell-ball, obviously awaiting permission and an entrance point, rushed towards the open mouth and Harry felt the magic pass over his lips, his teeth, and onto his tongue like the tingling touch of a feather brushing across his skin. Almost like that, but not quite, because the magic was pure power, without substance even as light as a feather's. It was warm and it was cool, it was sweet and acidic, it was harsh and gentle, and it felt like everything in one encapsulation. He gasped again at the realisation, and the magic pushed into him, all of it, and he swallowed instinctively at such an insertion of power.

And now it was inside him, he could feel it rushing down, in, through his lungs and his stomach, his veins and his nerves. Everywhere. His body began to feel vibrantly alive, aglow. He smiled at Nonogenus, who merely gave a little bow and stepped away from him.

"It is done. You should feel the benefits for a long while."

"Thank you," Harry said sincerely, feeling better than he had in months, no, in years. He felt young and strong, healthy and powerful. It was hard to believe he was dying while he felt like this.

Nonogenus must have seen it in his face. "You are not cured, Mr Potter, merely supported to the best of my ability."

"Then your ability is awesome. It's hard to realise I'm still ill."

"You are not ill, you are cursed, but I have done nothing to change that."

"Yeah, that." Harry sighed, deflated.

"Come, let us have more tea. I am tired, and there is more to discuss."

Harry nodded. Nonogenus must be drained after working such complex, powerful magic. Harry realised what a powerful wizard his guest was and counted himself lucky to have found him. He blessed Luna for handing him the magazine that had led to this. Luna was a good friend, the best.

Harry served more tea and a sliced fruit cake. The sugar would help his guest regain energy quickly, and Janus ate gratefully. Once he'd finished his third slice, the older man put his plate down with a happy sigh.

"I must tell you what your options are, Mr Potter. Basically, you have three."

"I'm surprised I have that many," Harry admitted quietly.

Nonogenus smirked. "How real those options are you have yet to decide. You may only have one worth considering. However, I will place them all before you.

"Firstly, you can do nothing. You can remain as you are, and for a while, perhaps a few months, you will feel quite well because of the spell ball. I could renew it, should it become necessary.  However, the curse will still lie within you and will begin to overcome the effects of the benign spells I have just inserted within you. That curse is completely integrated within your body and your magic now, and will continue its work. I've no doubt its purpose is to kill you, and it may do so quite suddenly in the end. You will simply be unable to breathe. You are aware of this, and I am telling you nothing new, offering you nothing beyond palliative care via the spell ball."

Harry nodded to show his understanding. "Okay, that's the first option. There are two more."

"Indeed. Secondly, I can take your magic, pulling the curse out along with it. Once it was free of your body and exposed to my power I could destroy it. I cannot destroy it while it lies integrated within your magic; for no unallied wizard can alter another's magic without killing him. You would be healthy and safe after the procedure, but you would be a squib."

Nonogenus paused and allowed Harry time to absorb this, seeing the shocked realisation on his client's face.

Harry felt quite ill at the prospect. He'd have a normal lifespan, he would have gained many years, but he would have no magic. The curse would have robbed him of everything that made him Harry Potter, the Saviour of the Wizarding world and a powerful wizard. He had no doubt Voldemort, or whoever had cast the curse, would have thought that as satisfactory a punishment as his death. "Oh, Merlin," he whispered.

"Indeed. As I said, the choices I am offering you might be no choice at all."

"You… thank you; your honesty is refreshing."

Nonogenus chuckled at that. "I have always been considered a dour, ill-omened individual, Mr Potter. To be thanked for it is unusual."

Harry poured more tea and sipped it, finding it helped ground him. His hand trembled on the cup and he knew Nonogenus saw it. He also knew he was comfortable with it; the man had seen much, he could tell, and appeared to be completely non-judgmental. The silence stretched while Harry got control of himself again. Nonogenus had been right; so far the choices were no choices at all. "There was a third option?"

"Yes. It is… difficult. For me as well as you, Mr Potter."

"Please, call me Harry. This relationship of ours, it's… well, it's intense. And all this Mr Potter stuff is unnecessary. I have to trust you – I do trust you – and it seems silly to keep being so formal."

"Then you may call me Janus, as you requested in your note."

"Thank you. Please, go on, Janus."

"Very well. As you have realised the difficulty we face is that I need some way to manipulate your magic in order to remove and destroy the curse. Taking your magic out to destroy it results in you losing it, I cannot put it back. There is one way, and only one, that I could reach inside to do the manipulation and destruction while your magic remained part of you."

Harry looked at Janus face with hope on his face. The other man saw it and seemed uncertain, hesitant. Harry knew that whatever Janus was going to propose it was serious, but it had to be better than the options so far. Harry hadn't really expected there would be a third option, or even a second, so he looked encouragingly at Janus. "Please, go on."

"I… we would have to be bonded, our magic linked. You would have access to my magic as I would to yours. We would be as closely linked as two wizards ever can be. Anything less would not work."

"Okay," Harry said, nodding. "Bonded. Yeah, right. That's a ceremony, isn't it?"

Janus seemed a little taken aback by Harry's ignorance, but he recovered quickly. "Yes. It is a ceremony. A wedding ceremony, Mr Potter."

"We would be, to all intents and purposes, married. Permanently."

Harry was stunned; he'd no idea two wizards could be married. "Um… all right. It would just be a marriage, like going through the ceremony, yes? A marriage of convenience, I suppose. You're not already married, are you?"

"I am not married, no. But you are mistaken about the ceremony. Yes, there is one, but there is far more to bonding. In order to control your magic, we must be inextricably linked, so closely, more closely than other magical means can provide. To do so, the marriage must be consummated in a rite of power. Both partners must reach completion during the consummation, only then can the magic be linked. Should one or either of us fail to do so the link would not be fully formed. Yes, we would be married, but the bond that is needed in order for me to manipulate your magic has to be the fullest possible. There is no avoiding the intimacy, and I do not want you to agree to something without being aware of everything involved."

Harry gulped. "Um… sex? I mean, I've never been with a man. I've no idea what is involved."

Janus sighed. "I see. Well, I think the best thing would be for you to do some research, Mr Potter. A little reading will help you understand what is involved."

"Is it just the sex then? I mean, a wedding ceremony and then consummation. Is that it?"

"That is most of it. But the point of it is to destroy the curse, which means that during sex, either at the consummation, or more probably subsequently, I would have to reach into your magic in order to separate the curse and destroy it. It is asking a lot for me to do that during the consummation when the bond is being formed. It would be more likely to succeed during a subsequent sexual encounter when I could concentrate solely on the destruction of the curse without having to worry about the state of the bond. So you see, our… marriage, would have to include sexual activity. In order to achieve the full bond there must be penetration by the senior wizard, and both partners must achieve orgasm. If you are unused to homosexual sex, you might find the prospect as unpleasant as the other options."

Harry laughed ironically. "Somehow I doubt that, Janus. How bad can it be? I mean, my other options are certain death or becoming a squib. Are you telling me the sex will be that bad?" He quirked a grin at the dour man.

Nonogenus shook his head, amazed by Harry's accepting attitude. "Of course not. Not to me, certainly, but it has always been my preference. I am aware, from reports in the press, that it is not yours."

Harry winced. "Yeah, well… as I said earlier, I've been single for a while."

"About that: you took my advice on your genital problem?"

Harry blushed, and was amazed that he did so; he'd not been sexually coy since his teens. This situation, however, was something new to him and he was very much the novice. Nonogenus, obviously, was not. Harry couldn't help wondering how experienced the older man was. Such a mature wizard should know what he was doing, but the man was not really attractive. He wasn't as ugly as Snape, that was true, but his demeanour was similar.

Harry mentally chided himself for thinking of his old teacher again; it was something of an obsession. Had he had some kind of sexual attraction to the man after all? Hermione had told him that everyone had some homosexual tendencies; he'd never considered it until now when the possibility faced him. And Snape? Would he have wanted such a man? Harry felt a frisson of something pass through him – whether fear, excitement or anticipation he couldn't have said. The question was academic, because Snape was dead and his future possible partner was Janus, a man who resembled Snape in some ways, but that was all. That must be why he was thinking of Snape so often lately.

Janus coughed, looking pointedly at Harry, and Harry remembered he'd been asked a question. "Oh, yeah, I did. I feel a lot better."

"Keep doing that. However, if you decide to go ahead with this course of treatment, you should refrain from reaching release for at least two days beforehand."

'Course of treatment'. What a way to describe a marriage, Harry thought. But then, Janus was right, wasn't he? Neither of them would look at the other if it weren't for Harry's problem; indeed, they'd have never met. That the spell-craftre was willing to offer him this option was nothing short of generous in the extreme. He hadn't had to do it; he could simply have removed Harry's magic or treated him palliatively. "I… I want to thank you, Janus," Harry said haltingly, "for offering me this opportunity. I don't think many people would have gone this far to help me."

"You underestimate your allure, Mr Potter. There are few in the wizarding world who would not jump at the opportunity to marry you, I am sure."

Harry sighed. "Yeah, I know. Sycophants and fans, the world's full of them. But I don't class you among them, and I know you didn't have to do this."

Janus shifted in his chair, looking uncomfortable. Harry thought about this and it came to him that maybe the man was offering because he genuinely wanted to marry him. That was something he'd not have considered, and it was rather disturbing. Had the spell-craftre been attracted to him all along? Did he really trust this man? Was this all some Slytherin plan to get himself a famous husband? Harry had been through that once and didn't want to face it again. And how much did he know about Janus Nonogenus anyway, except that he could be contacted through an Owl Box in Diagon Alley?

Janus must have seen something of his disquiet, for he spoke again. "Harry, I will be honest with you: I find you attractive. But it is not your fame and fortune that attract me, though I've no way to prove that to you; it is your face, your body, your personality. Marrying you will be anything but a hardship for me. That may make you distrust me and my motives, but I hope it will not stop you making the right decision. Your life is on the line. I offer you a future as a wizard."

Harry nodded and let out a sigh. "Yeah, I know. I'm sorry… it's just… this is all so complicated, such a lot to consider. But at the end of it all, the choice is whether I want to live or die, and if I choose life, do I want to be a squib? I'm pretty sure I'll accept your proposal, Janus, but please, would you give me some time to think?"

The spell-craftre got to his feet. "Of course. You know where to contact me when you decide which option to take. I will take my leave. Our session today, and my research, has taken eleven hours."

Harry realised the man was asking for payment. "Oh, right. Look, that’s a hundred and ten Galleons. Just give me a moment to fetch it."

At Janus' nod, Harry hurried out to his study and took out a stack of Galleons from a warded cupboard. Some of the coins were stacked in hundreds, so he took one of those and then added ten more gold coins, and slipped them into a small pouch. Hurrying back to the sitting room, he handed the pouch to Janus. "Thank you so much," he said.

Nonogenus cast a quick assessment spell on the pouch causing the figure 110 to glow briefly above it; he nodded his approval. "Then it is goodbye, for now. What happens next is up to you. I will await your owl."

Harry closed the door after the spell-craftre. Whatever happened from now on would be major; his life would be completely changed: death, loss of his magic or marriage and a full bonding with a man. All of those were major life changes. It was not just any man either, but a dark, mysterious spell-craftre Harry had only recently met. A man he'd trusted from the beginning, despite the room for deception and plotting. But what would such a plot have achieved? Harry was dying anyway. Unless the man cured him, even marriage would avail him nothing, just a husband for a couple of months. Harry was rich enough, so perhaps it was a simple money-making scheme. Harry frowned at that, and chewed at his nails awhile. Janus' work was costing him ten Galleons an hour; how much did marriage cost? Harry thought ironically.

Harry had never thought about having a permanent relationship with a man; he'd never even considered a man as a sexual partner for that matter, though he knew some of his friends had. Hell, the great Albus Dumbledore himself had been gay, so it was obviously something people accepted in the wizarding world. Harry knew he still carried Muggle baggage in his attitudes and mannerisms. It was something he'd have to overcome.

Severus Snape Apparated away, choosing to visit the Blacksmith's Arms, his local near Spinner's End, rather than going straight home. In a blink of the eye he transfigured his robes into dark grey Muggle trousers and a thick jumper, and went into the pub and ordered a pint with a whisky chaser. Damn, he needed to think, but he was loath to be home alone for a while, and he bloody well wasn't going to analyse why. This was deep; Harry was going to go for it, he knew it. The Gryffindor wouldn't be scared off; he'd even asked Janus 'how bad can it be?' Ironically, Severus knew if Harry went for the bonding option, and he was thus forced to reveal his identity, it would be he, Severus Snape, who had the problems, not Harry Potter. Everything in his life would change again. This was the kind of turning point Voldemort's death had been, and Severus recognised it.

He didn't want to face the wizarding public, but he would if he had to, for Harry's sake. Harry had ensured that Snape was honoured as a hero of both Voldemort Wars, and he would be able to live as a respected member of society. But like Harry, he would be public property, and he dreaded the thought. It was part of the reason he'd opted to create Janus Nonogenus, and he'd been happy enough since then. True, he'd been alone, but Severus had always been alone, at least since he'd lost Lily's friendship through his own stupidity.

Lily Potter, his beautiful, clever, lively friend, had never been a romantic interest, but still he had hated seeing her with James Potter.  Severus knew he'd have hated seeing her form a special closeness with anyone but him, but it was doubly painful to see her with Potter, his eternal tormentor and worse, a man he owed a life debt. Now he was faced with bonding to their son. He took a deep drink of his ale, and frowned.

Harry opened the door immediately the knock was heard; he'd been waiting. He knew Janus would come as soon as Mercury reached him.

"Please, come in."

Janus swept inside, hanging up his cloak without further ado. The man seemed to inhabit Harry's house quite naturally. "You've made your decision, Mr Potter?"

"Yes. I want to bond with you, if you're still willing."

Janus nodded. "I am. I must say I half expected this. You are not a man to shrink from a challenge, are you?"

Harry laughed. "I never have been, so I don't think I should start now. And in the end, I'm too fond of my life to simply give up. And I'm a wizard; ever since I discovered that at eleven years old I've never wanted to be anything else. Having had control of my magic I couldn't just give it up willingly. It defines me."

Janus nodded. "I understand. I, too, am my magic. So, as you have chosen that course, there is something you should know." The spell-craftre, who had not sat down, paced to the open area where he'd worked his magic on previous visits. He stood a moment or two, then turned away with his back to Harry. Harry waited, wondering what would happen next, somehow knowing he should not interrupt the intense man. It was instinctive, this way he interacted with Janus. Again, it reminded him of his reaction to Snape, and Harry fruitlessly wished for the umpteenth time that he'd had chance to interact like this with the spy, to talk to him as an equal, wizard to wizard.

Janus' voice, when he spoke, was deep and resonant. "The name I chose when I started spell-crafting was Janus, chosen for the two-faced god. It was very appropriate for me, don't you think?"

Harry flinched as a feeling like an ice cube trickled down his spine. He thought he recognised that voice, but how could he? No, it must simply be because he'd been thinking of the man. A tall, slender man in black robes stood there with his straight, black hair tied back in a leather thong, falling down his back like a dark river. It was natural that these things made him think of Snape. He could not see Janus' face now, turned away as he was, and so the illusion was complete. But that was all it was, an illusion. And yet Harry's skin was goose-fleshed, his scalp prickling as his hair began to stand on end.

"Always the dual role, always the subterfuge," his visitor continued in that almost familiar voice. "And I chose Nonogenus as my surname, for the ninth. You might think I chose it because I come from a large family, but it is not so."

The air around the tall wizard shimmered; Harry felt magic draining away. So Janus had been wearing a glamour, so subtly and well woven that Harry had not even suspected its presence. As an Auror, he should have done so. This man must be a great wizard; his manipulation of form that had fooled Harry proved that. Janus spoke again, quite eerily, because this time he spoke in Snape's voice, and there was no doubt about it.

"Nonogenus was chosen because of my birthday, Mr Potter. I was born on the ninth of January, in the month of the two-faced god.  So simple, is it not? Anyone could work it out if they chose to, and yet none has ever done so. January the ninth is my birthday; but somehow I think you know that."

Nonogenus said nothing more; his back was still turned to Harry, his head slightly bowed. He was waiting for something. He had given his clues and now Harry had to work out the puzzle. And really, Harry knew the answer already as the man had said; he hardly had to think. "January the ninth was Severus Snape's birthday."

The dark robes billowed, swirling as the man turned in an entirely graceful way long remembered and sorely missed, and suddenly Severus Snape was looking at Harry, approvingly, acknowledging his answer. At last the student had gained his professor's approbation.

Harry's knees gave way and he sank into his chair, totally overcome. When he could find his voice, he said: "No… no… you're dead, Snape; you're dead."

"No, I am not. And nor are you. Nor will you be if we do this correctly."

"Oh, my God," Harry whispered, still shaking his head. A hand holding a small glass appeared in front of him and Harry took the whisky reflexively. He drank and the fierce burn pulled him back to himself. Severus Snape came and sat beside Harry in the guest chair, holding his own glass of whisky in his lap. He was so close, so real, the lines of his sharp features cutting through Harry's disbelief.

"Merlin, I couldn't stop thinking about you," Harry blurted.

Snape chuckled at this. "I hardly thought of you, unless you were plastered all over my morning paper. I thought our paths had finally diverged and there was no point dwelling on you. I now realise I was foolish to do that. You have been part of my life since before your birth, Mr Potter, and I should have realised you would always be part of it."

"Oh, gods, call me Harry, please. How can you call me anything else now?"

Snape inclined his head. "Of course. I apologise. If you choose to proceed with this bonding, we will be closer than we are to anyone in this world, or can ever be. In light of that, I think payment is a thing of the past."

"Choose to proceed? I have already chosen, Severus. Did you expect me to run away when I saw who you really were? Your true identity merely makes me trust you more. How could it be otherwise? You saved me time after time, and worked behind the scenes to change things, facing Voldemort far more often than I did. I'm just glad of the chance to say thank you, Severus, a chance I always regretted missing."

Snape closed his eyes, letting Harry's words sink into his mind. Harry was going to bond with him. Potter with Snape, how ironic, how unexpected! <i>How powerful</i>.

Harry was feeling oddly numb now, whether from the whisky or the shock. His thoughts came out in a mumbled rush, but had to be spoken: "I've thought about you for years, Severus. I missed you more than you can know."

"You feel guilty, Harry. Do not. There is nothing for you to feel guilty about."

"No, it wasn't guilt. It was regret, which is different, but no less painful."

Snape raised a brow in puzzlement. "What did you regret?"

"Not knowing you, not having the chance to really know you."

"We knew each other for six years of your education. I would say you knew the Greasy Git as well as any."

Harry gave a wry chuckle. "Oh, but that wasn't you though, was it?"

Severus looked away.

"Please, don't pretend with me any more. Let Janus go, Severus."

Snape did not answer right away; he was obviously struggling with his thoughts. Finally, he said, "I will. I have to do that for our bonding, for to be successful you must bond with me, not the mask that is my alter ego. But it will not be easy for me. I have always been hidden, always kept my real self from view. It is not safe to let others see who you really are."

Snape's voice was solemn, and endlessly sad. Harry knew a world of pain lay behind his words and his outlook. Harry understood it only too well. "For me, it is not possible either. They see the name and the scar; they see the Saviour, not me. I've never been just Harry. When I first found out I was a wizard, I told Hagrid I was 'just Harry'. But I was wrong, so wrong, and what happened thereafter brought little more than pain during my school years, except for the joy my friends gave me. But it will be better for both of us now, for when we're together we can do it: we can be ourselves, Severus, wearing no masks. You always saw me as I was anyway, and treated me that way. Please give me the chance to do the same. To finally let go of my regrets."

Severus gave a hesitant nod. "I must," he said firmly, telling himself as much as Harry.

Harry leaned forward and placed a hand over his. Snape gave a deep sigh, and the tension wiped from his face.

"So," Harry said, caressing Severus' hand with his thumb, liking the feeling of the warm flesh he was holding. It was just like holding anyone else's hand. They were to be bonded, and physical closeness was a must. If it felt like this, it wouldn't be awful. Harry smiled at his future partner. The sharp, harsh features of Snape's face were just as he remembered. The man was ten years older, some of his lines a little deeper, but otherwise he seemed just the same as he'd been at school. Harry could freely admit he liked what he saw, and admitted to himself the strangeness of that. For Severus Snape was not attractive. His nose was too large, his lips too thin; but his eyes were beautiful, dark and intense, and his hair, which Harry was pleased to note was clean and well cared for, was long and glossy. "Severus, what will happen after we bond?"

"For the magical manipulation to be as easy as we can make it, it would be best if you think of me as the head of the family. I would be the senior partner in the bond and you would take my name, officially at least. That way, the bonding ceremony will start the process of allowing me to influence your magic. You will be able to access and influence mine in return, but I would be the final judge, if you like, should there be some dispute. It will not happen, Harry, I assure you of that. I have no wish to manipulate you in any way, except to free you of the curse."

Harry nodded. He knew Severus was sincere in what he said, but he wondered if having the ability to do so would alter Severus. The fact that he could control Harry in future might be something he could not resist. But Harry knew there was a price to pay for defeating Voldemort's curse, just as there had been to kill the evil wizard. If this was it, so be it. "Yes, I agree."

Snape's eyebrow rose and he tightened his hand around Harry's. "You are the bravest wizard I ever met," he said.

Harry shook his head. "That's my line, Severus. Didn't you read your epitaph?"

Snape smirked. "That's where I got it from. You were most generous."

"Nowhere near generous enough; I should have recognised you, respected you earlier. Dumbledore always told me to, but I was too full of spite to listen."

"It was understandable. I was a bastard; deliberately so, and you had enough on your plate."

Harry shook his head in bemusement at Severus' easy acknowledgement. "So, you will be head of our family and I will be Harry Snape. It sounds weird. Won't people know if there's a record?"

"No. A magical contract is formed at the bonding and kept at the Ministry, but it is only accessible with our permission. Rather like the Hall of Prophecy, there is a Hall of Weddings and Bondings."

"Oh, that's a relief then. Anything else I need to know?"

"Just that it should be done soon. We will need a celebrant and at least two witnesses. The bond will then form and bind us tightly; it has to be that way. Once we consummate the marriage that bond will settle and become the strong link we need to defeat the curse. You do realise we will have to remain faithful to one another once we are bonded; you can have no other lovers after me."

"Of course, Severus, I realise what it means. I would never be unfaithful to my spouse in any event. I just didn't expect it to be a man."

Snape chuckled wryly. "That is probably the least of it. Not only a man, but one you hated, one you'd considered long dead. I must have been at the bottom of a very long list, Harry."

"You weren't even on it," Harry said, and laughed.

"Hermione, I need your help." Harry coughed and spluttered for a while; sticking his head in green flames always made him do that, however often he'd done it before.

Hermione waited patiently while his coughing fit subsided. "What do you need this time?"

"Don't be like that; you make it sound as if I'm always asking for help."

"Well, you are. But that's okay; at least it means I see more of you." Hermione hurried on before Harry could disclaim that or start feeling guilty. "Is it something to do with your illness? Luna said you were really ill. Look, we meant to come round-"

It was Harry's turn to interrupt. "It's okay; I'm fine at the moment. Look, I need your help researching something for my treatment. I've found an alternative practitioner, and he's really helped me already. And he thinks he can cure me."

"Really? That's great. Look, I'll come through."

Harry beamed at her, which just started another coughing fit, so he pulled his head out of the fire and moved away so Hermione could get through. Hermione, dressed in a smart, navy blue robe, stepped through elegantly – Harry hated people who emerged from Floo journeys looking freshly pressed – and slapped his back until he could breathe again. "Hello, Harry. I'll just put the kettle on and we can have a chat. Ron's off playing Quidditch; it's the Ministry team against the French Ministry, so he won't be back early however long the game lasts."

Harry sat, watching his friend make tea. "Ron's good, you know. He could have had a career in Quidditch before he joined the Ministry."

"Yes, a minor league career. You know he wouldn't have made it to the best teams or permanent positions. It's for the best that he enjoys it this way."

"I suppose so." He felt rather sorry for Ron, who'd missed out on a Quidditch career and been rejected by the Auror selection board. He'd finally got a job in the Control of Magic office. Harry saw him at the Ministry sometimes when they passed cases back and forth, but he'd visited his friends often during the evenings before his illness had intervened, and he hoped to be able to do so again.

"Anyway," Hermione was continuing, "I wanted to come and see you today because I've got some news for you, and it sounds like you've some for me."

"You could say that," Harry said, nodding thanks for the tea she placed in front of him. "Mine's a bit complicated, so you go first."

Hermione sat down with her hands wrapped around her mug and beamed at him. "I'm pregnant, Harry!"

"Blimey!" Harry quickly put down his mug, which had been halfway to his lips, sloshing some of its contents in the process. "Tell it like it is, Hermione!"

"No point beating about the bush. I'm having a baby, Ron's a puddle of goo, and I'm due at the beginning of August. Ron's already booked paternity leave. Talk about eager!"

Harry laughed. "He can't help it, Mione, he's a Weasley! So you're ready for a redheaded baby, are you?"

Hermione rolled her eyes. "Everyone assumes it will have red hair; it may have my brown hair."

"Not a chance," Harry sniggered, picking up his mug again.

"So, my news was easy. Yours, I take it, is not."

"Ah, well, no. It's a wee bit complicated. Are you ready for a long visit?"

Hermione nodded as she picked a biscuit out of the tin. "I'm already fascinated; go on."

Harry did. He quickly reiterated what St Mungo's had said, which Hermione had already known, then mentioned Luna's idea about consulting a spell-craftre.

"I agree with that, disturbingly," Hermione said with a grin. "It always alarms me when I think Luna's talking sense. It makes me wonder if I'm going quietly mad."

Harry chuckled. "I know what you mean, but really, she does come out with genuine facts and good ideas from time to time, and I liked this one too. Auror Phillips' wife was cured by a spell-craftre; St Mungo's had given up on her. So I thought it wouldn't hurt to try."

"And you found one, I take it?"

"Yep, but it wasn't that easy. Most are members of the Guild of Spell-craftres, and that means they report all their work to the Ministry. I had to agree with Luna that that was suspicious."

"The Ministry's different since the war, you know that. And Luna sees conspiracies everywhere. Only last month it was the Owl Post authority that was diverting owls and prying into everyone's business."

Harry shook his head. "I know, she's off the wall most of the time. But I don't want this reported to some Ministry official. If I'm going to die, I want to do it with dignity and not see it splashed all over the Prophet while I'm doing it!"

"Oh, Harry," Hermione put her tea down and reached across to hug him tightly. "Oh, no. We'll find something, you'll see. You can't die, not now, not after everything."

Harry shook his head against her shoulder. He felt himself tearing up; it always happened as soon as someone offered comfort – he just wasn't used to it. His childhood, his formative years, had been devoid of comfort, and he had no way of coping with it. Hermione patted his back soothingly, and Harry gulped as his tears fell. Swallowing, he pulled away, swiping angrily at his eyes.

"I've no intention of dying," he said, realising that was true. That was what had driven him into Snape's arms, metaphorically and literally. He just hoped he could get Hermione onside and willing to cooperate with a man who had kept away from all his old contacts, letting everyone believe he was dead. "I think I… we… have found the answer."

He told Mione of the diagnostic visit, the discovery of the curse and the proposal for destroying it. Hermione was fascinated by the hidden curse and how the craftre had discovered it. Harry could tell she was itching to talk to 'Janus'; he felt rather sorry for him – Janus would be questioned to within an inch of his life once this was over.

"Well, you must do it! And isn't it wonderful he offered the bonding? I can't wait to meet him – what a fascinating man he sounds."

"Yes, he is. And you can keep your hands off my future husband, Mrs Weasley!" Harry laughed.

"Oh, not like that," Hermione laughed, slapping playfully at her friend, relieved to see he had recovered from his tears. "But what do you need me to help with?"

"Well, I was hoping you and Ron would be my witnesses at the bonding…" Harry didn't get to finish the sentence because Hermione cried out in pleasure, clapping her hands excitedly.

"Oh yes, we'd love to!"

Harry grinned. "Good, but that was only part of it. I need your help beforehand."

Hermione calmed a little, though her eyes still sparkled with excitement. "Before? D'you mean buying robes and such?"

"Well, yeah, I suppose. But really… look, Hermione, I've never been with a man. I've no idea what it involves." Harry blushed as red as a rose when he realised what he'd said. "Well, that is, I know what the consummation involves, just not how…um." He stopped, realising he'd been digging the hole deeper.

"Oh, right. No problem! I'll get right onto it. I don't know if there's much wizarding literature about gay sex, but I can find plenty online. Don't worry, it'll be fine. Loads of wizards go that way; you know Dean and Seamus finally got together, don't you?"

"No, wow! But I suppose that makes sense, they were joined at the hip."

"Yes, and rumour has it that Draco Malfoy has a secret lover. He has to keep it low profile because of his wife, but the whole world knows about it. You know what an appearance they always put on at Malfoy Manor; all those balls and soirees." Hermione snorted. "Pretentious idiots. Draco should have been able to choose a man to marry if he'd wanted to."

Harry really couldn’t drum up much sympathy for Malfoy, but he was glad to hear Hermione could help him out with his research. He supposed he could have found something online for himself, but he didn't own a computer and it was easier to ask his friend; she'd select something better than he would, anyway.

"Here!" Hermione plonked a tome onto the kitchen table next day with a mighty thwack, which reminded Harry of his squashed fingers from first year. Hermione had chucked a huge book on them when she'd been all excited about finding Nicolas Flamel, and the sound of a heavy book being plonked onto a table always reminded him of it, so much so that he rubbed his fingertips against his hips.

Harry peered at the title on the subdued-looking book. It was the sort of book that looked so dull you'd pass it by if it was left out on someone's table, but the discreetly-printed title promised far more: Gay Sex Explained. He opened it and looked inside. It was all very tastefully done: text and pictures were laid out attractively on each page, and neither looked pornographic. Not in Harry's opinion anyway. The book was Muggle, so the pictures were still, but for some of the scenes there was a series of pictures showing each stage, a sort of do-it-yourself guide to the more complex procedures, and Harry was fascinated. He felt his cheeks heating a bit when he realised Hermione was watching him with a small smile on her face. "Did Ron see this?"

"Yes, he did. It's hardly small enough to hide and frankly I didn't see the point. Charlie's gay, you know, so Ron's hardly going to have a fit about it. He even spent the evening flicking through it. There were one or two 'ugh' sounds, but mostly he was fascinated."

Harry laughed. "Well, this will take some reading. But I'll get right to it. Janus said time was of the essence."

"Yes, you really should do the bonding as soon as you feel comfortable, Harry. This is a huge change for you, though, so don't expect it to be easy. You've only had girlfriends in your life, and you've not any of those lately." She frowned.

"Hey, it's okay. I mean, Janus is a bit intense, but he's not awful, you know. Not attractive, but not terrible." Harry realised he was beginning to sound desperate, so he went on: "And he knows what to do, he hinted he was gay. So all I have to do is lie back and think of Quidditch."

Far from calming Hermione, this seemed to make her more alarmed. "But didn't you say you had to have an orgasm during the consummation? You have to be actively involved!"

"Oh, er, yeah; I'd forgotten that. Well, hopefully he'll be able to manage."

"It would be better if you were a more eager partner, Harry. That book should give you some ideas. And maybe you and Mr Nonogenus could start getting used to each other. Have you kissed yet?" Harry's blush answered that one. "Well, I suggest you start. When are you seeing him again?"

Harry felt discomfited now. Kissing Snape, seeing Snape, as if it was a date rather than a medical consultation? He decided to change tack. "I'm just waiting for his owl, or I could owl him. Either way, we've nothing planned immediately. Look, there's something I haven't told you about him."

Hermione immediately looked suspicious, narrowing her eyes and fixing them on Harry. "He's not a Dark wizard, is he?"

"No, not exactly. No. It's… it's just that Janus Nonogenus is his spell-craftre name, not his real one."

"Hm, I wondered about his name; it's pretty odd, even for a wizard. 'Nonogenus' means 'ninth-born' or 'ninth type', something like that. But Janus is pretty normal for a wizardly name; they're really into those old Roman ones. Last week I had to write to a Jupiter Fullcrum, I ask you!"

Harry snorted. "Yeah, I thought that was all it was, a really weird old-fashioned wizarding name. But there's a reason for it: he was born on the ninth of January. You see, you know this wizard; we all know him. We thought he was dead."

"What?" Hermione looked suspicious again. "In the war, you mean?"


"He's a Death Eater! That's it, isn't it?"

Hermione was on the edge of her seat, ready to jump up and start pacing. Harry put a hand over hers. "Calm down, he was on our side."

Hermione let out a huff. "Thank Merlin! So who is it? We didn't lose that many…"

Harry could see her mentally going through the list of dead wizards. "Please, Mione, you have to keep it quiet for now. It'll probably all come out later, but for now… I mean you'll have to tell Ron, but no one else, okay?"

Still frowning, still pondering, Hermione looked at him and nodded. "I promise. But who is it? Is it Remus?"

Harry felt a pang of distress at the werewolf's name; he still missed Remus. A lot.  "No. It's Snape."

Hermione's jaw dropped and she gaped. It was not a good look for her, and one Harry had rarely been able to cause. He smirked.

"No!" she managed.

"Yes. It's Snape. Severus Snape, all-round sarcastic git and dark, intense, bloody brilliant wizard."

"Do I detect an edge of admiration there?" Hermione teased, recovering magnificently. "And Snape? That's wonderful! He can collect his Order of Merlin now, he always wanted one. Why on Earth did he change his name, and how did he survive?"

"Privacy, Hermione. He's a very private man. I think he always hated being under someone else's control. Since the war he's been his own man. He's been alone, but he's been happy." Harry wondered how he'd managed to work out all this about Snape. He seemed to understand the dark wizard very readily, and that had to bode well for their future. "I didn't ask about his wounds, I didn't have the time and anyway, it's a bit personal."

At this Hermione looked at him oddly. Harry was about to get really personal with Snape. "But damn, Harry, that's a bit of a task, marrying Snape. I can't imagine what he'd be like in bed. He's gay, you say?"

"Yeah. And he was decent to me even when he was Janus. Perhaps he no longer sees me as an impertinent brat who doesn't respect his betters."

"I hope so, for your sake." Hermione was still looking confused, shaking her head from side to side.

"What's up?"

"I can't do it, Harry. I just can't."

"Oh, Mione, you said you would. I suppose I could ask Neville and-"

Hermione slapped his arm. "Oh, don't be daft! I mean I can't imagine the wedding night, you and Snape, not that I can't be your witness. Of course I can do that, I can't wait! You wouldn't be able to keep me away now I know it's Snape. Should I tell Ron?"

"You'll have to. Can you imagine the scene if you brought him along to the bonding and Snape was there in his dress robes? He'd faint!"

Hermione laughed. "Oh, Harry, I can see it now! I'd have to revive him, and he'd take one look at Snape and you in your dress robes and he'd be out again!"

"Talking of robes, have we got time to hit Diagon Alley?"

Hermione stopped laughing, but she was clutching her sides where they ached. She looked at Harry's wizarding clock, which now read 'the afternoon to kill'. "I think so. Oh dammit, let's do it!"

Harry returned on Saturday evening with a large, elegant bag from Fosse Frères, Wizardly Outfitters to the Nobility, dangling from his hand. Harry didn't think there was much wizardly nobility these days, in fact the only titled people he could think of were the Malfoys, and they were no recommendation as far as he was concerned. But Hermione had insisted Fosse Frères was the place to get dress robes for a bonding. The rest of their afternoon had been spent buying Ron's (Hermione did so without asking him, it was easiest, she said, and would have the best results), then onto Gladrags for her own. Harry plonked the bag in the guest armchair where Snape had sat before, and headed for the kettle. He returned with tea and his book, and settled in for an evening's enlightenment of just what he should expect on his wedding night. 'Penetration by the senior wizard, and both partners achieving orgasm', Snape had said. Right…

An hour later Harry had wanked twice and was feeling rather boneless, but also decidedly jittery, an odd sort of state he'd never been in before. He was glad that Snape was the senior partner and would be in charge of all this. Although Harry now had a good idea of the theory, he'd prefer not to be the top first time. Tops had all the responsibility to ensure their partner enjoyed the experience, and Harry wouldn't be sure he could satisfy Snape. Yep, it was better this way. But looking at the pictures he really thought he'd like to top later on, once he'd got used to all this gay stuff.

Harry headed for the kettle again, and maybe a slice of Luna's latest gift, a cherry loaf cake, would go down nicely. Halfway to the kitchen he realised he'd just been thinking about continuing to have sex with Snape. He came to a halt and said, "Wow!"  and: "Blimey!" and: "sex with Snape, eh? Who'd have thought it?" And he wondered, he really wondered, why he wasn't feeling bothered that it was Snape.

Harry laughed rather raggedly and grabbed the whisky bottle, adding a splash to his tea to try and get rid of his odd mood.

Severus had refused to visit Diagon Alley's clothes shops, or any other shops for that matter. He had several sets of dress robes that he hadn't worn in years, and the deep purple ones would create the right mood for this bonding. And he would finally get to use the Prince bonding rings. He ought to go and tell Harry about these details, or the idiot boy would probably dash out and buy some, and that would be both wasteful and foolish. It was for the senior partner to provide the rings, though Severus doubted Harry knew that. He called for Diogenes.

The sudden sound of the owl pecking at his window made Harry jump. "All right, I'm coming." He threw open the kitchen window and the owl flew onto his worktop, conveniently within pecking distance of the cherry cake which it was eyeing quite ferociously. Harry didn't give the cake much of a chance, so he took it and put it back safely in the cupboard, much to the bird's disgust. Harry had rarely seen a more demonstrative owl; there was something in its head carriage, the gleam of its eyes, that almost made it speak. "Are you an animagus?"

In reply the owl half-spread its wings, ruffled its feathers and stuck out its leg. The note was obviously from Snape, his spiky writing distinctive.

"You're not Snape, then? I mean, I was slow over the Janus Nonogenus thing, so I don't want to miss something obvious, like he's an owl animagus."

The bird looked annoyed now at his delay, shaking its leg irritably, so Harry took the note.

Potter, are you free? We have things to discuss and I have a couple of hours available.

Harry's eyes widened. "Now? He wants to come round now? Well… I suppose, but it's late. Not that it would bother you, eh?" he said to the owl which was looking at him dispassionately now.

Harry scrawled: 'Yes, I've added you to my Floo wards so you can come that way. The address is Crocker's Retreat.'

"Here, take this for your trouble." Harry pulled off a chunk of his cake and gave it to the bird, which took it, swallowed it quickly as if it was hardly worth thinking about, then turned its head 180º and stared pointedly at the cupboard where Harry had stashed the rest of the cake. It looked back at Harry, its expression clearly saying 'cheapskate', before flying off, back to its equally abrupt master.

Harry popped the last of his cake into his mouth, made a fresh pot of tea and had just settled into his armchair when Snape whooshed through the Floo. Harry smiled and said, "Tea, Severus?"

Snape went to the guest chair and glared at its current occupant, the Fosse Frères bag. "I see you're nearly ready." With a wave of his wand the bag flew over and settled on the floor beside Harry's chair. "I came to tell you not to buy rings or other fripperies; I have the Prince family rings and we will use those. As senior partner in the bonding it is my responsibility to provide the bands."

"I didn't realise we'd have rings. It's very like a Muggle wedding, isn't it?"

"It is nothing like a Muggle ceremony," Snape said disapprovingly, "except in its intention. Some families have bracelets, a few still use collars. The Princes happen to have rings."

"Oh, right. Look, I don't know a lot about these wizarding traditions, so keep your hair on. I'll leave it up to you. I've got our two witnesses though."

"Who?" Snape sounded wary.

"Ron and Hermione."

"I should have expected that." The edge of sarcasm was obvious to Harry, but someone who'd never known Snape might well have missed it. Harry realised the man was trying to avoid upsetting him.

"Hermione said they'll keep quiet that it's you. I know they'll be fine."

"It is acceptable. As I have no family, and no one I wish to be present, it is entirely your choice. So, have you thought about who should be the celebrant?"

Harry was briefly lost in thought, feeling quite sad; Severus' last few sentences had told Harry of the loneliness he'd already suspected Snape's life consisted of. Harry knew better than to comment on it, but he thought maybe Severus would come to find this bonding less than onerous in time. Maybe it could work out well for both of them. Harry would never in a million years have considered bonding with a male, but since he'd accepted the necessity of it, it had become something he was beginning to consider without fear. And the book he'd read… He shook his head; now was not the time to dwell on images of two men masturbating each other.

"I thought maybe Luna could do it. She completed the Spiritual Magic courses; I believe she's qualified as a celebrant for all kinds of ceremonies."

"Luna? You mean that Ravenclaw who was away with the fairies?"

"She's my friend, Severus," Harry said with an edge in his voice.

Severus did not reply at first, but merely looked at him then gave a slight nod. "If she is your choice, I concur. I really have no preference about it. You merely surprised me, Potter."

"Harry, please."

Severus inclined his head again. "So when do you wish to do this?"

Harry fidgeted in his chair, then took his tea and sipped at it. "I know it has to be soon. I know that. But…"

"What is troubling you? We have everything ready. Is it… me?" The older man sounded uncertain, and that was something Harry had never heard in Severus Snape's voice before, and doubted it was ever part of Janus' either.

"No. No, it isn't. Which might sound odd, but really, I've admired you for so long – for ten years. Ten years in which I couldn't tell you that. I hated that our interactions had always been so fraught, so horrible back then before your 'death'. I hated that I never got to tell you how much I appreciated what you did, all of it, before, during and after the war, heck, during both wars. Severus, I…" Harry paused, blushing. "To me, you're larger than life. You're special already. It's not you that's the problem."

Snape had been watching Harry, amazed at the words he was hearing. Potter admired him? In some way wanted him? "Then what is troubling you?"

"I know it's pathetic, but it's the sex. I told you, I've never…" Harry trailed off again, looking down into his mug, avoiding Severus' gaze.

Severus put his tea mug on the table and leaned forward. He put his hand over Harry's, pale skin over warmer tones. "Don't be. I will not hurt you. It will not be dreadful; I promise that you will get pleasure from it, Harry."

Harry's eyes came up at that, at the touch and the reassuring words. He'd never have expected either. But this was Severus, the real Severus, here in his sitting room, and he was not the Greasy Git of Harry's schooldays, nor was he the Headmaster of Hogwarts who'd worked with Death Eaters. He was a man, an amazing man, and Harry's regrets were about to be a thing of the past. Harry leaned closer, and Severus moved to join him. Their lips brushed – a gentle kiss of benediction, of promise.

When they drew back, Harry smiled gently. "Yeah, I know. So let's do it next weekend. I think everyone can attend who needs to. It'll just be us, with Ron, Hermione and Luna. We'll be bonded, and my cure will begin."

Severus nodded. "It will; and I hope your life can begin again, this time without interference. There is only this one active curse. If I can remove it, you will be fit and well. And if I can give you that, I will be happy."

"Severus, I… thank you." This time when Harry leaned closer, the kiss was more than a brush of lips. Harry wanted to try a real kiss; he found himself being pulled close, embraced and held in strong arms, lips and mouth being used, tasted. Severus' slightly stubbly face was against his own, and their kiss was strong and hot. Harry was happy to be transported by it, and he would have smiled had his lips been free, as he realised it was Severus Snape who was making him feel so good.

When Severus pulled back, looking into Harry's eyes with his deep, black gaze, so much darker since he'd dropped his Janus glamour, his lips were kiss-swollen and parted. Harry realised he'd become aroused during the kiss, his prick pressing uncomfortably against his trousers. He hadn't had sex with anyone for a year, and he'd never considered a man could excite him like this until he'd read that book. The descriptions had made his cock twitch, and now Severus, the real man who had just kissed him so deeply and well, had made him hard instantly. "Gods, that was brilliant."

Severus' eyes glinted, and his lips twitched in his almost-smile, the smile Janus Nonogenus had first shown Harry. "Indeed. It seems we are of one mind, Harry, and the bonding will not be a problem."

Harry smiled. "So we're set?"

"Yes. The only question now is where do we do it?"

"Your place or mine?" Harry laughed.

"I think it should be here, if you are happy with that. It is traditional for the bonding to be at the junior partner's estate."

Harry chuckled. "This is my estate, Severus. So how about we use the garden? It's bloody freezing out there at the moment, but I can charm it."

"So, finally you realise you're a wizard," Severus taunted, rolling his eyes. "And yes, the garden will do. Would you show me?"

Harry stood up, adjusting his clothing as he led Severus through to the kitchen, opening the back door to show the chilly vista of the garden. It was mostly lawn near the house, but there were half a dozen fruit trees at the bottom by the fence line which Harry thought of as his mini orchard. Harry loved it there, he often sat there in summer with his small fish pond to one side and the trees surrounding him, it would be a nice place to have the bonding. He looked at Severus, who nodded down at him. "Indeed, it will do nicely. Down there by the pond, I think. Do you agree?"

Harry smiled up at him. "Great minds think alike, Severus. It will be ready next Saturday. Tell me a time and I'll charm it for then. Hermione said something about setting up a wedding bower."

"The trees will work well for that. Miss Granger will do it all perfectly, I am sure."

"She's Mrs Weasley now, Severus. She hates being called Miss Granger, so don't do it, all right?"

Severus' lips quirked, but he nodded. "As you wish, Harry."

"So, what time?"

"It still gets dark early, so we should be finished before then. Is three o'clock acceptable?"

"Suits me. I'll let everyone know. I'm sure Hermione will be here early, and I'll end up being dressed like a mannequin."

Snape smirked again. "I cannot wait to see it. Well, it is late, and I should go. I will see you next Saturday at three, unless you need to speak to me sooner."

"Yeah, fine. I… thanks." Harry, suddenly embarrassed at the size of the debt he owed the man, looked down. He thought he felt Severus' hand briefly touch his hair, but he wasn't sure. When he regained his equilibrium and looked up, Severus had gone, and the sound of the Floo from the sitting room felt like the end of a chapter in their relationship, but it was not to be the end of the book.

Harry went back to the room, gathered up Gay Sex Explained, and headed for bed. Thank Merlin Severus hadn't noticed what he was reading.

Even in January, magic can conjure spring. The bonding bower was situated in Harry's mini orchard, the trees linked by woven garlands provided by Luna, and it brought the warmer season into being as it awaited the joyful celebration of a bonding. Luna had been helped by her husband, Neville, and Harry had added him to the gathering that would watch the two men join their lives and their magic, knowing it would make a symmetry in the circle.

Harry had charmed the atmosphere himself. The air was warm here, and the gusty, cold winter winds could not penetrate the peace of the marital bower.

Severus Snape had not trusted his best purple robes to the Floo. He cast a Disillusionment charm and Apparated to Front Street, hurrying up the path to number ten. There was no one about on this chilly January afternoon; the post-Christmas period was always quiet in this already quiet setting, and Severus knocked on the door and was admitted without incident. Once inside the hallway, Severus cancelled the spell, and Hermione, who had answered his knock, gasped at the sight of the wizard standing there.

Harry's spell-craftre Janus Nonogenus, or rather Severus Snape stood there. Either way he was an impressive wizard: tall, with long black hair tied into a glossy tail hanging halfway down his back. His sharp features did not detract from the impression he made; they were so much part of him that the people who greeted him for his bonding recognised him immediately, hardly noticing the size of his nose or the yellowish tinge of his skin which were just part of him.

"Professor Snape," Hermione gasped. "Please come in. You look fantastic."

"I am entirely real, I assure you, Mrs Weasley."

Hermione beamed at him, pleased he'd not called her 'Granger', and amused by his play on words.  Snape had always made her name sound like an insult while she'd been at Hogwarts, but now he sounded genuinely pleased to greet her. She knew this man to be Snape but saw him as very different from the man she thought she knew: this was the spell-craftre Harry had spoken of with such awe, not the bullying teacher. "You are so different, sir. I cannot help thinking of you as Janus Nonogenus. It's such an evocative name."

The dark man smiled at her, a smile Hermione had never seen in her life before, more proof that this was a very different man from the terror of the dungeons. "You may call me that if you prefer. But for the bonding I must be in my true guise."

"You must indeed." A soft voice spoke from behind him. "You come to be joined to Harry. It must be done in total trust and honesty or the blessings of the Goddess will not reach out to you, nor will you be able to form the strong bond you need to cure our friend."

Severus turned to see a tall, blonde woman with garlands of flowers and foliage in her hair and twined around her robe. Trailing ivy made a sinuous pattern up her arms, tiny periwinkle flowers winked between her fingers like living rings. She was every inch the Goddess' representative, and Severus was awed by how perfect she looked.

Luna's voice was lilting, soft and pleasant, but there was steel underneath, and Severus inclined his head respectfully to the power she brought to the bonding. "Mrs Longbottom. It is good to see you."

Luna smiled then, and her face lit up like the brightest of suns. "Be welcome, Severus. Come, Harry is waiting for us."

Severus and Hermione followed Luna through the back door into the garden. The pathway to the bottom was protected from the elements and it was necessary, for Luna's delicate, beautiful costume and Snape's long, elegant silk robes were too delicate to stand such a buffeting as the January wind was sending over the Lincolnshire wolds.

It was January the sixteenth, one week after Snape's forty-ninth birthday. January was the month of the two-faced god, of him to whom nothing was hidden, who looked to front and back, past and future, and knew the significance of the present moment more intimately than any other. Severus, who had chosen this god as his personal avatar, also knew the significance of what was happening here. He was to be stripped of all pretension, to be returned to his basic, inner being as Severus Snape, survivor of the war. It was terrifying, and he envied Harry his poise as he caught sight of the strong young man waiting for him in the charmed circle of the wedding bower. Harry faced a change of life too; he faced an alteration of his sexuality and after, a treatment that was dangerous and probably painful, and yet he stood calmly, smiling as Severus approached. Severus felt he was approaching a new role – finally he was to be himself, truly himself, for the first time since his childhood. He'd thought he'd lived that when he'd adopted his spell-craftre persona, and yet he hadn't. Janus had been yet another cover, a way of hiding from the reality of the wizarding world as it was after the war, armouring himself not with the many layers he'd worn at Hogwarts, nor a Death Eater mask, but with a whole new identity. Now that must be left behind too; here he was Severus Snape, and Severus Snape had once died in the war and now had to come to life again. The huge change that was being wrought made Severus nervous, and he did not doubt he was far more fearful than his husband-to-be.

Luna stood to one side of the circle. "Gather around me, friends, for we have come to attend the happiest of events, to witness a bonding."

Everyone made a small circle; Luna and her husband Neville, Hermione, pregnant and bringing extra blessings by her fecund state, her husband Ron, and finally Harry, who stood next to Severus and smiled up at him with eyes filled with hope. Severus straightened his shoulders and stood tall; he would not fail Harry now.

"Join hands, Severus and Harry."  

Severus took Harry's hand, still paying attention to Luna. The priestess' tall husband stood at her side, his kind, strong face looking at his wife with love and admiration. Severus couldn't help smiling at the sight. He'd never thought Longbottom would amount to much as a wizard, but he'd been very wrong. It was humbling to watch the couple now.


Severus led Harry the few steps to the smiling Luna, who was holding out her hands for them. They stood in front of her while she called on the gods and goddesses of the land to watch over them and strengthen their union and their vows to each other. The power began to build as Luna chanted, and Harry's hand tightened in Snape's. Neville, acting as Luna's acolyte, passed her a strong vine, a length of young honeysuckle raised magically to be in leaf and flower in January, and charmed to be supple. Honeysuckle made the strongest thongs and Luna wrapped the plant around the men's linked hands, chanting all the time. Once it was in place, forming an intricate plait of greenery and beautifully fragrant blooms, Luna cried out: "Great Mother, I have joined these two with honeysuckle, for its sweetness and its strength. Offer your acceptance to them, if that is your will."

The vine tightened and the rich scent of its flowers surrounded them as if a sweet presence had joined them. Harry and Severus gasped at the strength of the binding, the tightness of the plant pulling their hands together closely, and they watched entranced as the vine faded from existence, vanishing with a gentle rustling of its leaves.

"It is done, dear friends; the Mother has accepted this bonding to herself. Severus and Harry, you are blessed. May you live a long life together in this land."

Luna touched Severus, placing her hand on his forehead. "Severus, you come here to be Harry's husband and Head of Family. Will you protect him, care for him, support him and abide with him all the days of your life?"

"I will."

"Will you be honest and true, faithful and loving, all the days of your life?"

"I will."

"Then blessed be, and go in peace." Luna took her hand from Severus' forehead and Severus stepped back, surprised at the strength that had flowed into him at her words. He could do this; he could take Harry and change him, make him love what Severus would do to him. Severus would do it in support and protection, in love, and he would be Severus Snape as he did so.

Luna turned to Harry, touching his forehead. "Harry, you come here to be Severus' husband and his Family. Will you help him, care for him, support him and abide with him all the days of your life?"

"I will."

"Will you be honest and true, faithful and loving, all the days of your life?"

"I will." Harry's voice was strong and determined, and those who watched, who may have doubted his willingness to do this, were comforted.

"Then blessed be, and go in peace."

Luna took her hand from Harry's forehead, and he too stepped back, revelling in the strength that had flowed into him. Harry wanted to do this, to start a new life, a better life, with someone who would be there all the time. Someone amazing, someone interesting who knew him, the real Harry. It felt good and right, and it was powerful; Harry threw back his head and laughed aloud.

Severus turned to face Harry then; he was still holding his hand. "My husband, I greet you." He took the bonding ring and slipped it onto Harry's finger, then pulled the man to him, and they kissed. It was a joining of lips and so much more, the power that had filled them at Luna's touch now jumped inside them, recognising its complement.

When they parted, Harry said, "My husband, be welcome always." He slipped the companion ring on Severus' finger, and the golden bands shone in the late January sunlight that had broken through the overcast day and now shone weakly, but bravely, upon their bonding. Harry smiled up at the taller man, and Severus, to the amazement of some present, looked down into Harry's green eyes and smiled back.

Once back in the house and tackling the buffet he and Hermione had prepared for them, Harry was riding a tide of confidence. This would work, he knew it would work, and it wasn't going to be dreadful. Snape was here, alive and somehow more real than ever, and now Harry could finally bury all those regrets left over from the war and show Snape just how much he admired him, how much he accepted him. This wasn't only about sex; it was about all the unfinished business that lay between them.

Harry smiled at his friends, but most of all at his husband, and he could see it was making the man nervous. He took Severus' arm and walked him over to the french doors to look out at the garden where the wedding bower still stood among its protective charms. The garlands and trees looked secretive and haunting in the grey light of the early January evening. As they stood watching, fairy lights began to twinkle in the half dozen trees at the end of Harry's garden. "I'm making you nervous, aren't I?"

"I must confess your enthusiasm has rather taken me aback," Severus admitted, watching the lights shimmer as if they were moving in a gentle breeze. The magical folk knew it was the fairies moving from twig to twig, but Muggles, if they looked out their windows and saw anything, would consider it the effect of the rough January wind buffeting leftover Christmas decorations.

"Why shouldn't I be enthusiastic, Severus? I have confidence that you can cure me."

"Ah. Yes, of course."

Harry heard the edge in Severus' voice and it told him a lot about the way the man was thinking. "And I am about to have my wedding night," he added quietly.

Severus' eyes moved to look into Harry's face. Harry could tell he was suspicious, searching for jests and cruelty. It made Harry's heart ache that the man should automatically react that way, even after the beauty of their bonding ceremony. How much had Severus been hurt as a young man? Stupid question, Harry knew, because he was well aware that the answer to that was a lot.

Severus must have been satisfied by what he saw in Harry's eyes. He gave a slight nod. "I am still rather mystified, Harry. You told me you had never been with a man. I would have expected you to be nervous, if not downright miserable."

Harry chuckled. He squeezed Severus' arm where he held it, knowing he needed to keep the man close by him. "I've been doing a little reading."

Severus' eyebrows rose, his eyes glittered with fascination. Harry loved it; capturing and holding the man's attention had always felt good. At school it had often been followed by shouting or arguments, but it had still felt like an achievement. Harry had always recognised Snape as a powerful wizard who scorned the mundane. That he could hold Snape's interest was something he felt really good about.

"Shall we retire?" Severus asked, his resonant voice pitched low. It made the blood shoot down through Harry's body and awaken parts of him that had merely been slumbering.

"I'd like that." Harry turned and clapped his hands. "Thank you all for coming," he began. "We would like you to stay as long as you wish. Eat, drink, catch up with each other's news. But Severus and I have a task to perform before my healing can begin, so we know you will excuse us if we leave you to it."

"Of course," Luna said, smiling. She held out her hands to Harry and Severus, who each took one. "You will be perfect, you'll see," she added, and the comment was addressed to Severus, though she held both men's hands.

"Congratulations, Harry and…Severus," Neville said with only the slightest pause, offering his hand for Snape to shake before giving Harry an exuberant hug. He stepped back and looked at Severus. "Thank you for saving Harry. Again."

Severus was feeling all at sea. He'd expected the well-wishes to be aimed more at Harry; these were Harry's friends after all. But they seemed to be talking more to him, and Severus got the impression they now thought of themselves as his friends too. The whole day had thrown him off-balance more than a meeting with Death Eaters could have done.

Ron was hugging Harry now, slapping him on the back as he let him go. "Go get him, tiger," he said, giving a little growl.

Harry responded with a mock punch. "Keep your animal play in your own bed," he teased.

Ron became more serious then, he stood straight and looked Severus in the eye. "Sir," he began, but Hermione, standing behind her husband, gave him a judicious prod in the ribs so he tried again. "Severus… I hope you'll be very happy. I'm sure you will. Harry's a great guy; one of a kind."

"I can certainly agree with that," Snape said ironically, before quirking his lips into his almost-smile. "And thank you, Ron."

Harry beamed at all the interactions, pleased that Severus was calling his friends by name.

"Be well, Harry," Hermione said, hugging him tight, her head buried in his neck.

Harry knew she'd have tears glistening in her eyes; she could be so emotional. He hugged back, tight, then stepped back and smiled at her. "I hope to be, Hermione. And with Severus working on it, I'm pretty sure I will be. Did you ever know him to fail at anything he'd set his mind to?"

Hermione chuckled. "No, of course not. He hid himself brilliantly all these years, didn't he?"

"Yes, he did. And I'm so grateful he's abandoned all that for me. It's far more than I could have expected." Harry addressed this as much to his husband as his friend. He took Severus' hand and nodded to him.

"Good evening, everyone."

"Good evening," Severus echoed, and Harry led them out of the sitting room towards the stairs. Harry was never more grateful to be a wizard than now; the silencing charms would turn his bedroom into a separate world, he would neither hear his guests spending the evening talking, drinking and eating, nor would they hear him.

Once in the bedroom, Harry turned to Severus and lifted his hands to the beautiful silver buttons that fastened the neck of his wedding robe. "I'd have never expected you to wear this lovely colour." He watched the dark purple silk parting to expose the pale neck beneath, the contrast beautiful. The robe had fitted Severus' slender form so well, accenting his height and presence. The line of buttons ran down to the waist and Harry slipped them all open, making his fingers move down quickly, though he'd wanted to linger and track his fingertips over Severus' chest. He'd do that later; first he needed to get the man out of his clothes.

Harry had expected Severus to be reticent about exposing his body. That was a reasonable assumption based on the fact the man always wore such all-encompassing outfits. But Severus stood calmly, watching Harry with hooded eyes. Once the buttons were undone, Harry slipped the robes off Severus' shoulders, and Severus helped by taking his arms out of them. The heavy purple silk slid down, its weight pulling it to the floor. Harry gasped – Severus was naked beneath, and his heavy, semi-hard penis was suddenly exposed to Harry's gaze.

"I have surprised you." Severus' voice was full of dark amusement. "I am pleased; you have been surprising me all day."

Harry chuckled and following an impulse reached forward to grasp his husband's penis, feeling its heat and weight within his grip, assessing it. "Wow," was all he said. He looked up into Severus' face; his husband was smiling now. "You could have warned me."

"About what?"

"That you have such a lovely body." Harry's voice had gone husky and Severus smirked.

"I'm glad you think so, Harry, because it's the one you'll have to live with for a long time."

Harry shivered at the prospect of what Severus was offering; what he thought Severus was offering anyway. His hands were still cupping Severus' cock, stroking idly as he stood close looking into Severus' eyes. He'd never touched another man's cock; he'd not even experimented at school, having had so many other concerns at the time he'd been unable to give his sexuality much thought. He'd got himself a girlfriend rather automatically, almost without effort as Ginny had very much done the pursuing, and that had been that.

"You have me at a disadvantage," Severus teased. "And I am a Slytherin; I cannot bear that." He reached out to the fastenings of Harry's robe and smoothly and swiftly undid them.

"I'm not quite as ready for action as you were," Harry said a little shakily as he felt himself being undressed. He hoped Severus wouldn't be disappointed; he was a smaller man physically than his husband – in all ways.

Severus got Harry down to his boxers and took his time looking at the younger man's body. Harry was nicely shaped – toned but not muscle-bound, fit from his years as an Auror. His illness had not been of long enough standing to have detracted from his athletic physical appearance, and Severus felt a jolt of pleasure at the sight of him. Yet again, he wondered how he'd got so lucky. He ran the flat of his hand over Harry's chest, appreciating the firm muscles and the sprinkling of hair between Harry's nipples, following the trickling run of it down to his navel, where it parted and continued on in a broader swathe. The trail was interrupted by the white boxer shorts, so Severus slipped his long fingers beneath the elastic and swept them off, letting Harry's hardening erection spring free. Severus smiled happily and looked up. "You're beautiful."

"Wh… what?" Harry sounded about ten years old.

"Beautiful. In proportion; firm and unmarked. Lovely," Severus said as he took hold of Harry's cock and squeezed.

Harry's eyes flew wide and he gave a little groan. "Oh, gods."

Severus smiled at Harry's incoherence. "Come along." He let go of Harry's cock and turned away, walking over to the bed.

Harry watched him climb onto it, admiring the tall, slender form and the way Severus' arse moved as he walked. "Oh, blimey," he muttered to himself, and followed.

Harry wasn't precisely nervous, not really. He was full of anticipation, knowing he was about to find pleasure but not knowing exactly what it would be like. He also knew there might be pain, but he was ready for that and it hardly detracted from his desire; because he did desire this man. Hungrily, he climbed onto the bed and took Severus in his arms, his lips latching onto Severus'. Gods, he needed to kiss the difficult bastard right now! Severus had been such a revelation today; he had really tried, and Harry had been so pleased when his friends had done the same as well. The bonding had been wonderful, everything was just more than Harry had expected. The surge of positive feelings Severus' effort had given him throughout the day had felt something like being pleasantly drunk.

As Harry started to kiss him Severus felt how much Harry needed to act rather than wait passively for whatever was to come. Severus was happy to let his husband do this; he had to lead later on, but for now this was fine. He loved having a strong partner, and with Harry this would be something unique for him: Harry was a strong man, confident enough to take Severus and do with him as he would, and he was a man Severus could trust. He melted with pleasure in his husband's strong arms. After tonight it would not matter who was senior bonded partner in their bed; their sexual arrangements were no one's business but their own. But for tonight, Severus knew he had to lead the lovemaking.

Severus had always been careful to retain control in every sexual encounter he'd ever had. In his youth he'd dared not let his guard down around the men he met, who had been Death Eaters, dangerous wizards or prostitutes. Severus had been lonely enough and desperate enough to have to pay for sex often, and he would not trust such men with any measure of control over him. But Harry, who was as powerful as a wizard got, was also the man he trusted most in this world. It was heady to be able to do this, to give over control, and he thoroughly enjoyed the heated kisses Harry was bestowing on him.

When they paused, regaining their breath and pausing to stroke each other's bodies, familiarising themselves with each other, Severus, still panting after the deep kisses, spoke. "You are not hesitant about this, I see."

Harry chuckled. "I'm confident about this bit, Severus; at least I'm familiar with kissing."

"Perhaps you are familiar with this as well?" Severus leaned down and took the head of Harry's cock into his mouth, stroking all around with his tongue to familiarise himself with Harry's shape and taste.

Harry gasped and looked down, and seeing Severus' dark eyes looking up at him he slid his fingers into the man's long hair, one hand appreciating the silken feel, the other pulling at the leather tie to free it. He smiled down at Severus. "A little, yes… mmm, that's good." Severus had taken more of the length into his hot, wet mouth and was suckling on it; Harry was finding he liked it very much. He'd received blow jobs from Ginny, who'd been enthusiastic about it as long as he reciprocated, but Jemima hadn't liked it after trying once, and Harry had never pushed her again. Emma had been keen enough at first, but once they'd had disagreements about her use of his fame, she'd stopped, obviously withholding favours. Harry couldn't remember when he'd last had such an accomplished, eager mouth around his cock; he'd never had such pleasure, and he moaned his appreciation. "Oh, that's so good, Severus."

Harry felt Snape's lips stretching around his cock, and he could see the man was smiling at his words. As the hair tie finally loosened and Snape's long, black hair fell around his cheeks and tickled Harry's belly, Harry let his eyes drift shut. The sight was beautiful, he'd wanted to memorise it, but the feelings were so intense he couldn't keep his eyes open. "Oh, Severus, I'm not going to last if you keep doing that."

Severus did keep doing it, bobbing his head up and down, sucking firmly and pressing against the underside of the shaft with his tongue, swiping up and down. Harry bucked, but Severus had his hands on his hips and he went nowhere, and unable to find relief he had no recourse but to submit to Severus' will. "Oh…" Harry's hands clasped the strands of Severus' hair tight as he started to come, and he felt his husband swallowing him down, swallowing his come and his prick as well. "Oh, gods!" he cried, the word stretched out into a heartfelt cry of release.

When Severus released his softening cock and raised up, looking at Harry lying there boneless and hardly able to open his eyes, the older man knew he'd already proved that pleasure could be shared between two men. And he'd hardly started. He couldn't prevent the smirk that Harry saw when he finally managed to open his eyes again.


"You enjoyed my attentions?"

"Merlin, you can attend to me whenever you like! I'm not sure how good I'll be in return, I've never done it, but I'll try." Harry sat up, intent on offering as much pleasure to his partner as he could in return for the wonderful orgasm he'd just experienced.

"No, not this time," Severus said, putting a hand on his shoulder with real regret. "This has to be for the consummation." He gestured down at his hard cock.

Harry realised Severus must be desperate for release. "Right, of course. Well we'd better get to it. You must be ready; you've been hard for a while."

"Yes, I am," Severus said with a bit of a grimace. "But first I must prepare you."

Harry nodded; he was ready for this. He lay back and spread his legs invitingly. Severus' eyes widened, and it was Harry's turn to smirk. "I told you, I've been reading about it. Go ahead, I'm ready."

Amazed, Severus pulled out a pillow and pushed it under Harry's hips, then took the pot of lube that had been set ready on the bedside table. He had planned to stroke Harry's body, to gradually approach Harry's entrance, taking care for fear of spooking his previously straight, virgin husband. But that obviously wasn't going to be necessary and he thanked both Merlin and Godric Gryffindor for Harry's courageous nature. He slicked a finger and slipped it inside Harry's entrance, so conveniently presented for him. He watched Harry's face as he did so.

Harry didn't flinch, didn't look worried; he obviously knew what to expect and that made Severus a lot happier. He moved the finger about, getting Harry used to the sensation of having something inside there. He soon added another, and this time Harry gasped, feeling the intrusion far more. Severus continued the movements, fucking Harry with two fingers and then starting to scissor them apart, stretching the passage in earnest now. Harry looked a little puzzled by the sensations, but he did not protest. "All right?"

"Yeah, it's okay, just a bit odd."

"It is new to you; you will soon get used to the sensations. And there will be pleasure." Severus had located Harry's prostate, and now he stroked his fingers over it, intent on proving his point by pressing slightly.

"Gods! Oh… yeah, that's good."

Harry's eyes were bright with surprise and eagerness and Severus could only smile. "Think how that will feel when I am inside you, when I stroke my cock over it time and time again."

"I can't imagine," Harry admitted, "but I can't wait for you to show me. Am I ready yet?

Severus was amused by Harry's eagerness; he'd thought he would be the one to be impatient to start the penetration, but it seemed his husband existed to keep surprising him. "Just a little more." Severus slid three fingers inside and saw Harry's jaw clench. It was likely uncomfortable now, but hopefully not painful. "You will ease, Harry."

"Yeah, I know. It said that in the book."

Thank Merlin for the book, Severus thought. Harry's face looked less tense now, so Severus turned his final movements into firm thrusts, and when Harry didn't object he knew it was time. He pulled out and slicked his cock. Harry watched every movement, eyes fixed on Severus' cock like a hunter on its prey. "You are ready now."

Harry just nodded. "Where do you want me?"

"You can stay there if you are supple, if it is comfortable for you?"

"Yeah, I think I'll manage. Plus I want to see you."

"I too, wish to watch your face, Harry. I have always loved your eyes."

Harry nodded; he'd known that. Severus was moving now, positioning himself between Harry's spread thighs, pushing the head of his cock against the loosened entrance. Harry felt a large, blunt pressure. It felt surprisingly good and he pushed towards it, not seeing any reason to hold back now.

Severus looked down at him, lips parted in surprise or passion. The black eyes were hooded and Harry wasn't sure which it was. "Yes, please…"

Severus didn't need asking twice, he pushed forward slowly but determinedly and the head of his cock slipped inside. In, and further in he pushed, and Harry opened to him, his green eyes locked on Severus' dark ones all the while. Severus could only gasp at the rush of pleasure as Harry's tight heat surrounded him, seeming to pull him further inside. It was truly like coming home; for the first time in his life he felt this was his, truly his, and no one would take it from him. Harry was offering himself, freely and fully, and the rush Severus felt as he accepted was making him feel light-headed. "Oh, yes…"

"Yes, s'good," Harry agreed. It was. It was a stretch, something of a burn, but it was a completion in a way nothing else had ever been. To have someone – his husband – inside him was an awesome experience. Harry had never considered it happening to him, but now he embraced it with open arms. It was being done for necessity, true enough, but it was something he was glad of, and he wanted to keep feeling this.

Severus' head drooped; his eyes were closed in concentration. The physical sensations were joined by a great upsurge of his magic, swelling inside him as it hadn't done since his childhood and the uncontrolled rushes of wild magic that children sometimes experienced. His forehead began to prickle as sweat formed, he took deep breaths to try and ground himself. He wanted nothing more than to impale himself to the hilt and thrust, but he held back, continuing the slow, sweet slide into Harry.

Harry, who'd been a virgin in this, had no idea what to expect, so although he felt the roiling up-rush of his magic, he had half-expected something extraordinary and he accepted it easily. A drop of sweat fell from Snape's forehead onto his chest, and the almost-pained intensity visible on Snape's features made Harry's growing excitement even fiercer. He shifted his hips, pushing back against Snape's slow slide, seeking more, and Snape lost it. Severus began to thrust into him, and Harry thrust back, gasping as the rising feelings swelled inside him. Snape's cock was stroking across his prostate; Severus was obviously transported by the sensations of fucking Harry, and the roiling magic between them began to manifest visibly. Harry forced his eyes to stay open, watching both Snape's fantastic expression and the build-up of power.

Snape opened his eyes, which had been closed in the face of what was an almost religious experience, and their gazes locked. "Harry…" he managed, thrusting and pulling back. Their movements were now in perfect synchronisation, a harmony made real in the sparkling, crystal cloud of visible magic that had formed between them.

"Severus, you're amazing," Harry told him, somewhat surprised by their compatibility, their like-minded approach to this as to so many other things. "We're amazing," he added, watching the drifting swirls of magic that flowed between them, joining their bodies, shrouding them as within a cloud or a cocoon.

Neither man knew whether this first time was short or if it lasted for hours; it was engulfing their minds and sweeping them away on a magical tide that skewed everyday perceptions. Their orgasms built – quickly or slowly, it didn't matter – they built and were aligned, just as their magic and their movements were. The two men cried out together, cried out the other's name as their faces became taut, their eyes screwed shut in the end. The magic flashed brilliantly, a golden burst which they saw only behind their eyelids, for by the time they could open them again the magic was being absorbed back into their bodies, the last golden-silver wisps disappearing before their eyes. The magic felt warm and sparkling; powerful and bright. It settled into a presence inside them that was more palpable than it had ever been. It had its counterpart in the other man; Severus could feel Harry's magic as if it was his own, and he had no doubt Harry could feel his. Their magics had reached out to each other and had joined, just as their bodies had, cementing the bond that had begun in the bower. Severus knew the bond went even deeper; he was now soul-bonded to the wonderful young man beneath him. Just when did I get so lucky? he thought again.

Harry helped Severus slip out and off of him, but held him possessively and pulled him close, nestling the tall, slender man around him before curling into his arms. They lay side by side then, content to be together as each got used to the magical changes in their bodies.

Later, Harry opened his eyes and looked into Snape's dark gaze, fixed on him for who knew how long. "Severus," he muttered. "Just… Severus."

"Yes; and you are just Harry now. We are open to each other; no more hiding is possible. I do not know whether I like it or not." Snape's lips twisted in uncertainty.

"I like it."

Severus leaned into the offered kiss, taking the younger man's certainty into himself.

"You will stay with me?" Harry asked, his arms tightening their embrace. He'd wanted to make it sound more like a statement than a question, but his voice had betrayed his fear that it wouldn't happen.

"You want that?"

"Yes, of course I do." Harry poured his desire into his voice, hoping Snape could hear how serious he was. "I want you to live here with me; or I will come and live in your house. I really want it, Severus, and not just because it ought to happen because we are bonded. I want it. You can come out to the world as Severus Snape, or stay as Janus Nonogenus if you prefer. I don't mind, but I imagine it would be more difficult to live the lie now."

"I will consider it." Snape still sounded thoughtful.

"I am your husband, and that's permanent. We should be together now, and really, I want that."

Severus, still the cautious Slytherin, doubted the evidence of his emotions. He'd never allowed himself to rely on emotions since his teenage years, when he'd been dreadful at judging people and paid for it many times over. He knew he wanted this, so badly, but if he was wrong that meant he had so much to lose. He tried hedging; searching for words that would have double meanings, being Janus to the end, but his mouth would not form them. Then he tried lying, telling his husband he wasn't sure, despite his heart telling him to take what Harry was offering, that it was genuine. But again, the words would not form. Finally, he gave up. Their bond would not allow him to do anything but speak the truth: "So do I, Harry. I want that too."

The men had not had sex again as they prepared for the curse removal. Both were well aware that this was the purpose of everything they'd done so far. If Snape's manipulation of Harry's magic was not completely successful the curse would remain in his body. In the end, it would kill him.

Severus was in a constant state of anxiety. To him fell the task of getting it right. This process would test his magic to its limits. Manipulating another's magical core was something that had been attempted very rarely in the past and only in the direst of circumstances. The possible death of his new husband was now unthinkable. Severus hadn't realised how important Harry had become to him after their wedding night until he contemplated losing him. For most of his adult life Harry had been part of it. Now he was Severus' life, it was as simple as that. And it was downright terrifying. If Severus got it wrong, sooner or later Harry would die. Severus wasn't sure it wouldn't happen right then and there if he botched the curse destruction – would it trigger something, like a bomb going off? He'd thought of the curse as a time bomb when he'd described it to Harry, and now he could only pray that wasn't literally true.

Severus knew what was involved. He was a spell-craftre and although Harry's case was the most intriguing he'd tackled, it was not the only difficult situation he'd faced. Snape had always had huge talent at understanding magic and creating spells. He knew exactly how the curse that inhabited Harry's body had been shaped by its creator. He knew exactly who that creator had been: only one man had the power and patience to play with magic that way, only one man had possessed the sheer gall to do so. Tom Riddle, known as Lord Voldemort, had cast a spell on Harry Potter; he had probably done so wordlessly, for Harry had no memory of it. Now Severus Snape must be cleverer than Voldemort and untangle the curse from Harry's body. If he could do that he would destroy it, and gladly. The last legacy of the Dark Lord would be vaporised, banished into the nothingness the man himself had been consigned to.

There were no rituals needed here; no mystic runes or magic circles. It was primal, basic magic. Seeking deep within another's core, inside his body and his very soul, until you found what you needed and took it. Severus would take it away from Harry before destroying it. Would Harry feel the process? How could he not feel his husband interfering within his very magic, deep inside him? Severus wondered if he should give Harry a pain killing potion, or possibly a calming draught. But that might make it all more difficult, make Harry's magic less responsive and so more difficult to examine and manipulate. No, Severus needed all the help he could get this time, and Harry would have to be fully conscious and responsive for that to happen.

"You're brooding again."

Severus looked over his shoulder. He had been standing looking out the window to the garden where they'd bonded. He hadn't heard Harry's approach.

"You're ready, aren't you?"

Harry's question was asked softly, if indeed it was a question at all. "Yes."

"Then what are you waiting for?"

Severus turned and looked at Harry. The young man looked solemn but determined. At that moment he looked an odd mixture of Slytherin and Gryffindor – determined to press ahead, but doing so having examined the situation from every angle. Severus knew Harry was aware of what he needed to do. Harry was also aware of the risks. As if to confirm it, Harry added: "What do I have to lose? I'm living under the sword of Damocles as it is."

"You are correct, Harry. And yet I linger, loath to finish it. If we succeed, I will have been foolish, truly cowardly this time."  Harry looked as if he was going to protest, so Severus raised a hand. "Yet if I fail, and it is a real possibility, I will have thrown away our time together. It might only be days, or it might be months. I am, understandably, reluctant to lose that."

Harry smiled gently, a true smile, the only kind the younger man was capable of. He raised his hand in reply, tracing the line of Snape's sharp cheekbone with gentle fingers. "I know it is hardest for you, Severus. But I need to do it now. No more hesitating. It is truly agony living under this curse, this suspended sword. Whether you succeed or you fail you will release me from that. It is the greatest service you can do for me, if you love me."

Severus gasped. Harry was asking him something he would normally never consider, or certainly never speak of. Something he didn't think he was fit to speak of. Yet Harry deserved it, and Severus owed it. "I... yes, I will do it for you. Because yes..." It was so difficult, and yet it was just words which the bond was not preventing him saying, for they were the truth. But still they were words he'd never considered speaking. It felt like trying to climb over an obstacle infinitely large, too large for a mere man to conquer. And it felt like the merest wisp of smoke to be banished with the tiniest flick of a finger. It was as deep as a well and as insubstantial as gossamer. "I love you."

Harry slid his arms around Severus' waist and pulled him close. He rested his head on his husband's chest and listened to his heart. Severus' heart, which belonged to him; Severus' heart, which had just spoken. Harry did not underestimate what it had cost Severus to say those words. They were words which were often bandied about by idle lovers, but which meant so much when they came from Severus Snape's lips. "We will succeed, Severus," Harry said, looking up finally. "There is no other option, you will see." He leaned up and kissed the thin lips of his husband, thin lips that had given so much.

"Then come." Severus took Harry's hand and led him, like an obedient little boy, up the stairs. The time had come and they need speak no more.

In the bedroom, both undressed quietly. They were both eager to have sex again, but both wished they could do so without such great weight attached to the act. Their first time had been to create the bond they now shared, and it had been spectacularly successful because now they could feel each other's emotions and magic, and if they both concentrated they could share more complex thoughts. Severus believed that one day the link would be like true telepathy; then they would be able to communicate fully through their bond. For now, what they had was awesome enough.

Although they'd been under pressure to be successful on their wedding night, for they'd had to be compatible to successfully create a bond, this second joining of their bodies would be far more serious. Now naked, the men climbed onto the bed.

Harry immediately pulled Severus to him, aligning their bodies and kissing the older man's face gently, reverently. Harry poured all his love into the act, assuring Severus with his lips and his mind that he loved every inch of the man's sharp features, that Severus was beautiful to him. Severus allowed the act, sighing happily as Harry's love and sheer admiration for him sank into his mind. The positive thoughts and security it created made him feel stronger and he recognised he was as ready as he could be. Gently, he laid a hand on Harry's cheek, stilling him. Harry looked into the dark, dark eyes of his husband and gave a slight nod. It was time.

Harry lay back, inviting Severus to prepare his body. Severus summoned the lube wordlessly and began, touching Harry just as reverently as he had done earlier.

Harry looked down at Severus while the man's gentle but firm attentions opened him. Only a week ago this act would have seemed unbelievable, incredibly scary, now it was just the start of a fearsome journey that would be filled with love as well as great effort.

Severus kneeled up and leaned back on his heels to look at Harry.

You are ready. On your hands and knees now, love.

Harry immediately got into position. This was work, and the pleasure of getting lost watching Severus' face during their lovemaking was not for today. He braced himself physically and mentally, determined to offer Severus all the help he could during the act. He heard Severus slicking himself and then Severus was against him, pressing in. Harry concentrated on opening his body and Severus was soon sheathed. There was little pain, which Harry was glad of, though it was irrelevant. This was work. Severus' hands braced him, holding his sides, and they began.

As their movements began to raise the power within them, Harry was aware of another intrusion into his body. This was his husband's magic pressing into him, just as his hard flesh occupied him. It was the weirdest sensation – like a spear of power thrusting into his magical core; it was not real, not three-dimensional, but there with such immediacy and reality to the feeling that Harry gasped, his magic suddenly feeling over-full.

Accept me inside you, Harry.

I'm trying, Severus. It's hard…

Harry gasped at the feeling of having Severus' magic inside his own. It was so strange that he hardly noticed the man's long, slow strokes into his body. He was aware of a build-up of magical strength engendered by their sexual joining, but his mind was in his core.

Think of our love-making; it will help. You are too present alongside my magic, I cannot move.

Harry knew he must stop holding onto Severus' magic, that he was impeding it, but it was so hard to accept another person's magic inside him, reminding him terribly of the time Voldemort had possessed him. But Harry and Severus were different people. They were bonded, real or elected soul-mates, although they were still two separate individuals with different genetic make-up and different magical signatures. Severus' power felt darker, denser than his own; Harry's was bright and diffused, wanting to reach out to the world and change it. Severus' was internalised, hard and fierce, wanting to create and excel, but for his own pleasure, not the world's. And yet he was not selfish, for Harry could feel he wanted to share it all with him, and it was Harry who was resisting. As he realised this Harry took a leap of faith, he stopped restraining the force thrust inside his own magic and opened up, turning his mind back to the action of their bodies, to the harmony that already existed there.

Severus' long, slow strokes were perfect; Harry was open and relaxed, enjoying every thrust and withdrawal. He began to answer with movements of his hips, dancing a perfect pattern to his husband's lead, and he kept his mind, as much as he could, on that dance. It was light and perfect, it was deep and strong, and Harry wanted it to last forever.

Severus gasped the sound one of pain rather than surprise. Harry's mind checked back and he felt Severus' magic probing his body, finding something.

Severus had found something cold and hidden, something of which the true, frozen core was hidden beneath the camouflage of a layer taken from Harry's body and magic. But the alien presence was there beneath and Severus had recognised it right away, for it was completely alien to Harry's own magic. Until Severus had been able to enter Harry's magical core the thing had been invisible to him, but now it was very, very obvious. The light, warm magic that swirled within Harry was completely disrupted by this… this thing inside him. How had the Healers and Curse Breakers missed it? To Severus' probing magic it was obvious, an Everest looming from a plain. Yet they could not have searched this way, they had no way to insert their magic inside Harry's own; only Severus could do that. Well, now he had found what he sought, and the alien was not just out of place, it was scary.

Severus gently probed along the length, following a line of bright green that denoted a nerve. A magical conduit ran alongside, and the alien was inside that, hiding beneath its blanket of Harry-ness. Severus grasped the tendril and pulled, and Harry's magic slid off easily. It was never part of the intruder which had just burrowed beneath it to hide. Severus mentally sneered: so crude. And yet effective; his sneer fell away. He probed further, always pulling the layers of Harry's magic away from the thing that hid beneath. The veneer was thin; it did not need much to hide from outsiders, and even from Harry himself, as it became part of him. As Severus worked and the alien curse, a bolt of Voldemort's magic, was exposed, Harry gasped in pain.

Harry fought not to react to what was happening inside of him. But it hurt so much, it was awful. Severus was filling him with some kind of Dark magic.

What is that you are putting into me?

I am not putting it there, just revealing it. It has been there for years, settling in, growing, finding stronger conduits to inhabit so it can cause maximum destruction when the time comes. It has hidden, covering itself with a veneer of your own magic so it is invisible to outsiders and to you. It was probably quite small at first and you would not have noticed it in the midst of battle.

How did you find it?

It is Dark, Harry. It is so much not part of you that it showed clearly through its bright cover, a dark core. It hurts now, but I will destroy it. Be patient, hold on while I expose it all, only then can I take it out.

I'll hold on…

Harry moaned a little at the pain. Severus paused in his manipulation and swivelled his hips, teasing Harry's prostate as he moved. Harry gasped again, this time in pleasure.

Try and stay down there, in your mind.

Yes, Severus, I'm trying…

Severus began again. He had no idea how far this thing went inside Harry. He hoped it was one linear thing, however stretched. He did not want to find branches and tendrils. And yet at the end of the line he was currently stripping of Harry's magic, he found just that: a fork. One cold, Dark branch led left, one right. Severus snarled. The alien in Harry's body seemed to pulse in defiance, and Severus plunged on to the left, stripping the camouflage away as quickly as he could, wanting to end Harry's torment soon, for he did not think his husband could stand this much longer.

Thank Merlin the branch was short, ending in a solid attachment. This line had led to Harry's heart. Severus mentally cried, because it would pull at his husband's very life force to remove it. But there was no other way. He pulled back for now, seeking the other fork.

This was longer, and though he stripped Harry's magic from it quickly, always hoping to find its end, it turned right and back on itself, looping crazily around Harry's body. Finally it turned up again and headed off straight as an arrow. Severus ran along it, his magical hands pulling at it in a blur of movement, stripping it bare. He snarled and growled at it, promising it destruction and pain. He saw its end, and his heart nearly failed.

Harry's brain. The final tendril met its end in a mesh like the top of a tree, like a many-fingered hand with its fingers buried into Harry's mind. You bastard, he thought, damning Tom Riddle to outermost perdition, even though he knew well the bastard was already there.

Harry's body and magic squirmed beneath Severus' dark thoughts.

Hush, love. I am angry, but never at you.

It hurts, Severus.

I know. I am sorry. Even as he thought it, spoke it wordlessly to Harry, he grasped the tendril just below its branching, and pulled.

Harry howled, threw back his head and cried out. He collapsed down, but Severus managed to hold himself inside him, his hands around Harry's waist.

Do not repel me, keep us together!


I know, I know, Severus didn't know what to say, but it had to happen now because neither of them could continue this much longer. The sex was failing, Severus' movements jerky, his cock threatening to soften under the magical onslaught and Harry's distress. He willed it hard, replaying dirty thoughts resurrected from a much earlier time, of having young Harry Potter in his bed. It served to bring him back to full hardness. He would have stopped to sneer at himself had he the time, but there was no room for such indulgence here. This was love-making only in name; it was the hardest work he'd done in years.

Severus pulled, wrenching with the full power of his insinuated magic against the thing buried inside Harry. It had had years to bed itself, but still it was alien. It did not belong here, and Severus used that against it. He twisted the thread and the thing howled, even though it had no voice. The sound was Riddle's anguish as he was banished from his body; a sound the universe did not need to hear again.

Straining his magic almost beyond bearing, Severus pulled again.

Push it out, Harry, reject it!

Harry was losing consciousness, the splitting apart he could feel happening inside was just too disruptive for him to survive, he knew it. He heard Severus' mental call, vaguely knew what his husband needed. His vision was gone now, but he could still hear. He could still feel. He pushed against the thing inside. It hurt, it would split him open to eject it, but there was no other way. It was that or death, and all along Harry had fought for life. He pushed with all his remaining mind and magic.

The afternoon light was dim, yet the setting sun sent a shaft of wintery light into the bedroom. Two pale bodies lay on the bed, arms sprawled, limbs entwined. They could have been lovers replete with the results of passion; they could have been corpses laid out in death – tragic lovers in a suicide pact.

They were Harry Potter and Severus Snape, two of the most powerful magic-wielders on the planet. And they still breathed. The air in the room smelt of ozone, of a magical discharge similar to a thunderstorm. The two men breathed, but shallowly.

Severus Snape was lying on his back looking up at the stars. He had little strength except to move his eyes and blink. He breathed, but shallowly. He was filled with happiness, his heart overflowing with joy. He was with Harry now, and Harry was full of bright magic, his own magic and no one else's. Severus had withdrawn, pulled his magic back into himself, but before he had finished he had cast one more spell: <i>Erado</i>. A simple thought, a single word that defined the spell he had created. A beautiful spell that would surround everything that remained of Tom Riddle on this plane, surround it and totally destroy it. A simple spell that cost Severus nearly everything he had left. His magic was now drained to the lowest level he'd ever felt. Faint traces remained inside him, like smears inside a cauldron after a thick potion has been poured out, leaving smudges where the ladle had missed.

Severus almost didn't care. He looked at the bright light of the stars that shone like Harry's magic, hope on a field of eternity. He felt his bonded beside him, his magic intact, if battered, and smiled.

Harry Potter was lying in a warm bath. He was surrounded by warmth and light. Candles burned above and around him and everything was pleasure. Inside and outside there was nothing to hurt him; Severus had made him perfect.

"Severus?" Harry opened his eyes, raised his head. He was tired, but that did not matter. Severus mattered now. He could feel his bonded beside him, but only just. Severus was there, his long limbs tangled in Harry's, but yet he was barely there, Harry could feel just wisps of his magic in corners of his being. "Wake up. Tell me what I can do to help."

Severus heard Harry's voice. It seemed to come from afar, drifting through the universe that surrounded him. It was a thread, a connection with life, and Severus knew he could hold onto that thread and be attached again to his life, or he could stay here and watch the stars. For here was peace, and here was love. Life offered change, and change could only disrupt perfection. Perfection never lasted in life.

How would you know? an inner voice sneered. When did you ever know perfection, Severus, except with Harry? That's Harry calling to you.

Severus opened his eyes, lids fluttering under the effort.

"Severus, thank God!" Harry said, holding the man gently in all-embracing arms. "Tell me how I can help you."

"Strengthening potion, on the table." Severus moved his eyes to the left.

Harry reluctantly let go. He didn't want Severus to drift away again and he feared that happening if he lost contact. He held on to Severus through the bond, gripping tightly.

After the strengthening draught was given, Harry held Severus again. He hadn't taken any of the potions, even though Severus had said he should. He wasn't that bad, just tired and a bit knocked about inside his magic. It had hurt like holy hell, pulling his mind and his heart apart, or so it had felt. But it was over; all he had to do was heal. Severus, however, was in a different state. The faintness of his magic, mere traces in a few, scattered places, scared him.

When they woke again, Harry could have kicked himself. He hadn't meant to simply fall asleep. Yet Severus breathed more strongly now and he was still in Harry's arms. Perhaps it had been what they needed then; what they needed still. Sleep, rest, and peace. No dreams – or at least no nightmares.

Harry looked at Severus' arms, now held up against his chest. Severus had strong, black hairs on his forearms and wrists. Harry had never seen it while he'd been at school; Severus had always been so covered up, as if he'd been ashamed of his body, even such innocuous flesh.

Harry gently stroked his arms. "You're beautiful, Severus."

Severus' eyes had been like slits, only open the tiniest bit. Now they opened fully and looked into Harry's, sensing truth, feeling it. Finally, Severus believed it. And smiled. Here was where he belonged, with Harry. Had always belonged, had been destined for this. His fragmentary magic pulled itself together into a weak, tiny ball inside him; it was like a small child's power. But it was building, Severus could feel it. It would be slow, but it would come back. He had to believe that, and the strength Harry would give him through their bond would help it come back.

One month later:

"I received an invite to the Ministry ball this morning. I think we should attend, don't you?"

Severus had been reading quietly. His life this past month had been one of quiet companionship with Harry; a peace more perfect than he could have imagined. He closed his eyes, examining his heart and the bond.

Harry stood beside his chair, waiting.

"Very well, Mr Snape. We will go." Severus used Harry's new name, as Harry had asked him to.

Harry gave his husband a sunny grin. "And I will announce our marriage and my change of name. It's going to be all right, you know. We're together, no one can part us. Not even Tom Riddle's curse could do that. And I'll keep the idiots away, if that's what you want. You know I can."

"I know you can. You are a mighty wizard, Mr Snape."

"As is the original Mr Snape."

Harry had always been certain Severus' magic would regain its original strength. It wasn't there yet, and Severus wasn't sure it ever would be, but it would be enough.

Severus quirked his lips, then gave a full smile.

Harry leaned down and kissed those smiling lips. He felt such pleasure each time he saw Severus smile, pleased and amazed he'd managed to free the man from the ghosts of his past so Severus could smile and laugh, which he did often since the curse removal.

At last the world would be introduced to the real Severus Snape. He was Janus no more.


Glossary, from the Latin, very bastardised:
Periclitor primus/secundus – to test, make a trial; the first/second
Sano - heal
Perpetro corpus tuus – complete your body, make it whole
Fulcio – to support, uphold
Respiratio facilis – easy breathing
Sententia plana – clear thinking
Lucidus – lightness
Commisceo – intermingle, mix.

Click 'Back' on your browser to comment

DISCLAIMER: Neither this site nor any of the authors or artists represented here have made, nor will make, any attempt to infringe on the copyrights held by the Corporations or Individuals that are part of Harry Potter. This site is purely for the enjoyment of the fans and no monetary gain is made from it.