Joie de Vivre
by Ivylady

A ferocious battle raged in the Department of Mysteries.  Magic was heavy in the air, sucking the energy out of everyone and the life out of some.  Spells flew haphazardly around the room—no one knew if their hex hit friend or foe.  Severus found himself ducking more than once to avoid an errant curse.  Concealed in darkness as he was, the Order spy was not completely safe from the turmoil that was this fight.

Across the room, Harry Potter—the Boy Who Lived and Defense Against the Dark Arts apprentice—and Albus Dumbledore—Headmaster of Hogwarts and leader of the Order of the Phoenix—fought Voldemort.  The two wizards were only just able to hold their own against the Dark Lord.  Voldemort enjoyed having both Potter and Dumbledore at his mercy, and he couldn’t resist taunting them.

“Harry Potter, so-called Savior of the Wizarding World.  Nothing special to me, just the misbegotten spawn of a foolish Gryffindor and his Muggleborn bitch!” the smile that twisted Voldemort’s lips was ghastly.  

“You’re no better than me, Voldemort, or should I say Tom?  You’re a half-blood yourself, spouting all this pureblood garbage,” Harry replied.

Voldemort bristled, firing several spells in Harry’s direction, “Give up, Potter.  You’ll never defeat me.  I am the greatest wizard to have ever lived!”

“No, you’re not the greatest, Tom.  You’re just a pathetic little half-blood trying to be more than he really is,” Potter returned.

Severus was surprised at Potter’s retort.  It seemed the boy was learning more than just defense from him.  He was also learning how to goad his opponent into making a mistake.

“Don’t call me Tom!” Voldemort screamed.  “I am Lord Voldemort!”

Voldemort’s spell misfired, allowing Potter to counterattack.  

“You are Lord of nothing,” Potter returned, sending a blasting hex toward Voldemort.

“I will prevail.  Nothing you—or that doddering old fool protecting you—can do will stop me,” Voldemort sent a slashing curse toward Harry.

Harry dodged, but the hex clipped the top of his shoulder.  It was a flesh wound, but the way he carried himself showed that it hurt.  Dumbledore fired against Voldemort, taking his attention away from Harry before he could do more damage.
 
A startled cry from his other side diverted Snape's attention.  Severus turned his head to find Sirius Black engaged in deadly duel with his cousin, Bellatrix.  The madwoman had him pinned in a corner, at the mercy of all her "creative" spells.  Severus gave a thought to helping Black, but remembered Dumbledore's warning to reveal himself only if absolutely necessary. The Order couldn't afford to lose its spy, not with the war rampaging into its fourth year.  Severus kept to the shadows, noticing Black had escaped the corner by turning into his Animagus form and biting Bellatrix.
 
Nasty, but effective,’ he thought, turning his mind once again to the main event.
 
Dumbledore and Potter were still hard pressed to defend against Voldemort, but something had changed.  The Dark Lord had moved into a vulnerable position without even realizing it.  He was but scant feet from the opening of the Veil and was at such an angle that the right move would push him through.  Severus thought about his options for a split second before going ahead with his plan.  He knew that the Dark Lord needed to be defeated, and he was willing to do anything to achieve that goal, even give his life.
 
Casting a heavy concealing charm on himself, Severus gathered his magic as quickly and quietly as he could.  It wouldn't do for anyone to find out what he was doing before he’d done it.  He kept to the shadows, skirting away from the larger skirmishes and dodging the occasional stray hex.  When he was perfectly positioned to the side of his opponent, he started to chant.
 
"How does it feel, Potter," Voldemort sneered, "knowing your entire, worthless existence is due to your parents' sacrifice?"
 
Harry said nothing, unwilling to give Voldemort even the tiniest ammunition.
 
"Your parents were fools, boy!" he spat.  "They should have known better than to think that they could win against me.  I am the strongest, smartest wizard that has ever lived.  I will never be defeated!"
 
At that moment, Severus struck.  He thrust his magical core through his concealment charm, binding the Dark Lord and blasting everything out of his way.
 
"What is this?  Some cheap trick?  It won't stop me," Voldemort boasted, waving his wand and trying to dispel the magic gathering around him.
 
"It will not work," the smooth voice of Severus Snape stated.
 
 Potter and Albus stood dumbstruck as Voldemort was forced toward the void.
 
"Traitor!" he screamed.  "I gave you everything and this is how you repay me?!"
 
"You gave me nothing," Snape spat.  "You took everything from me and kept demanding more.  I do not owe you anything!"
 
"Kill him," the evil wizard screeched.  "Kill him."
 
The battle that had died down started again as the Death Eaters as one moved toward Severus Snape.  The Order formed an impenetrable line behind Snape, with Harry Potter leading the defense.
 
"I will take you with me!" Voldemort raged.
 
"Then I will die a happy man knowing that you have died as well," Snape said, expelling as much of his magic as he could.
 
"Nooooooooooooo!" screamed the Dark Lord.  "I can't die!  I will live forever!"
 
"You will die, you bastard," Severus growled, tightening his magic's hold on Voldemort and pushing the two of them toward the Veil.
 
The Death Eaters were incensed.  Their Lord was struggling and they were trying everything they could to get to his aid.  Bellatrix Lestrange managed to break free from the Order and headed straight toward Severus.
 
"Avada Ke--" she started, before a loud voice cut her off.
 
"Inflammare!" Sirius Black shouted, sending his cousin to a fiery death.

Voldemort saw that intimidation was not going to work on Severus, so he tried a new tactic.
 
"Severus," he cooed, "do you really want to die?  Are you prepared to give your life for those who have turned their backs on you?  You won’t be a hero.  You’ll always be a Death Eater, a miserable waste of magic to them."
 
Severus simply chanted louder.
 
"I took you in, gave you a family, nurtured your gifts.  What have Dumbledore and those other fools given you?  Contempt, scorn—nothing more.  They are not worth your death," he cajoled.
 
"Anything is worth your death," Severus stated.
 
The Potions Master gathered his remaining magic and energy and lunged at Voldemort.  The Dark Lord was unprepared for a physical attack, so he stumbled backward.  The two men fell Voldemort first, into the Veil, Snape after him.
 
"No!" Albus Dumbledore yelled.  "We must save him."
 
Harry and Albus rushed toward the Veil.  Snape had forced Voldemort through, and was slowly being dragged in as well.  All that was outside of the Veil were his legs, and less of them showed as time passed.  Only Voldemort’s wand remained.
 
The two men chanted furiously, trying their hardest to keep Severus with them.  The rest of the Order was busy rounding up the Death Eaters who were shocked into inactivity at their Lord's defeat.
 
Harry could see the magic enveloping Severus.  There were hands coming from inside the Veil, greedily grabbing onto the older man, refusing to let him go.  Voldemort himself had wrapped his energy around Severus, dragging him farther and farther away from the living world.
 
The Boy Who Lived knew that there was only one way to save the professor—give the souls something to hold onto.  Looking at his feet, he noticed Voldemort's wand.  A wizard's wand is an intimate connection, a part of him.  Harry realized that the wand still retained a portion of Voldemort's soul.  Thinking quickly, he grabbed it and summoned the soul to the forefront.  He then threw the wand into the Veil, to the waiting hands of the dead.  They swarmed around the wand, snatching at the living soul, leaving Severus alone.  Albus and he yanked as hard as they could, dragging Snape out of the Veil.
 
The Potions Master looked dead.  His skin was cold and clammy, and he was scarcely breathing.  His lips were blue and the front of his hair had turned white.  His hands were clutched into fists at his sides, and tremors shook his body.  All in all, he looked like a man who had stared Death in the face and lost.

~*~

Severus felt as if he were floating on a cloud.  His body felt no pain as he drifted along the nothingness.  It was if he were as light as a feather.  There was no sun, but the sky wasn't cloudy.  It was a marvelous shade of blue that brought peace to the most despairing soul.  The Potions Master did not know where he was, but he knew he didn't want to leave.  It was the first time in years that he felt safe and secure.  Severus Snape didn't have a care in the world.

He didn't know how long he drifted; he only knew that the farther he went, the more at peace he felt.  He was able to forgive himself his mistakes, and look at his past decisions objectively.  He shouldn't have joined the Death Eaters—that was a huge mistake—but he should have been able to be safe at school.  It wasn't the Marauders' faults that he made the choices that he did, but they did help push him in the wrong direction.

When Severus felt himself stop moving, he had finally come to terms with his entire life.  Every decision he had made until the very end he had acknowledged as his own and moved on.  He had learned to accept himself, faults and all, but more importantly, he had learned to accept the faults of others.  As he looked around the field where he landed, he was quite surprised to find that he could happily live by himself in the empty space for the rest of the afterlife.

"Severus," a voice came from behind him.

Severus turned and saw someone he'd thought forever lost to him.

"Lily."

~*~

"It's so good to see you," she smiled.

"Lily," he breathed, still unable to believe his eyes.

"Is that all you're going to say to me after all this time?" she teased.

"I've missed you," it was the truth.

Tears gathered in her eyes, "So have I."

"Lily, I…I feel I must apologize for my actions years ago," Severus started.  "I should have never called you such a derogatory word.  Even though I said it in the heat of anger, my words and the pain they caused were inexcusable."

"Oh Severus," she sighed, hugging him, "you don't have to apologize for anything.  Your protection of my baby has more than made up for whatever differences we had.  You've watched over him, kept him safe, and taught him how to survive."

"It was my fault that he was endangered in the first place," Snape rebutted.

"Everyone makes mistakes, Severus," she told him.  "I could have been a better friend to you and realized how much James and Sirius's pranks hurt you."

"It's not your fault, Lily.  We were just kids," he said.  "You were in love with him.  I hated him, but that was still no reason to take it out on you."

"Then it's not your fault either," she smiled.

Lily always had loved to turn his words around.  The stubborn set of her jaw and the fierce determination in her eyes told Severus that he was not going to win against her.  Remembering their arguments from their childhood, he decided that maybe she had a point.

"Ok, Lily.  Neither of us are to blame," he sighed.

Lily beamed.
 
"Now that we've gotten that settled," she began, "let's work on getting you out of here."

~*~

Once Albus and Harry had freed Severus from the Veil, the Ministry started to shake.  The Veil began to move, slowly at first, like it was blowing in an invisible wind.  As it gained speed, it started folding on itself until it disappeared.  In its place, a scroll appeared with the names of its victims.  The first name was Mordred, so it was only fitting that Voldemort be the last name.

After the dust settled, Tonks and Moody went over to investigate the remains of the Veil.  The rest of the Order continued the clean up process while Dumbledore, Shacklebolt and Harry worked on Severus.

"Quickly!" Dumbledore yelled.  "We must get him to Madame Pomfrey."

Harry Potter and Kingsley Shacklebolt levitated a broken and unconscious Severus Snape to the Hospital Ward.  Madame Pomfrey had heard the commotion and was already waiting for them in front of an empty private room.  She had her medical kit ready and was casting spells before they could even get him settled in the bed.

"Goodness, what happened to him?" she asked as she poured rejuvenating and replenishing potions down his throat.

"He used his magic to force Voldemort beyond the Veil," Harry supplied, staring at the Potions Master as if he'd never seen him before.

"Really?" Madame Pomfrey questioned, spelling off Snape's clothes and placing him in a hospital gown.

"Yes," Shacklebolt responded.  "Unfortunately, he partially fell behind the Veil himself.  We were just barely able to rescue him."

"He went beyond the Veil and lived?" Poppy's voice was incredulous.

"Indeed," Albus chimed in.  "It seems there is more to our dear Severus than any of us imagined."

"Yes, there is," Poppy said.  "However, if you want him to live, you'll leave and let me do my work."

Everyone understood the dismissal.

"I have to return to the Ministry anyway to give them a brief report on what happened tonight," Kingsley mentioned.

"I should probably come with you, my boy," Albus muttered.  "I'm sure you will face a lot of opposition to the truth of the events."

The two men headed toward the Floo in Poppy's office to depart.  Harry stood silently for a few minutes longer before giving Severus a lingering look, then leaving.  He had a lot of things on his mind, the foremost of which was Severus Snape.

~*~

"Getting me out of here?" he questioned.

"Yes, Severus.  Returning you to the real world," she explained.

"Aren't I dead?" he asked.

"No, you're not," Lily said.  "You're in a coma.  When you pushed Voldemort through the Veil, you were sucked in as well.  Albus and Harry were just barely able to retrieve you before your soul was lost."

Severus sat quietly as she explained.

"You've used up quite a bit of your magic, and that just made a bad situation worse.  You're currently in the Hospital Wing with some very concerned people worrying about you," Lily told him.

"I'm not dead," Severus's voice was full of wonder.  "What am I supposed to do now?  I always thought I would die in this war, and now that it's over, and I'm alive, I don't know what I should do."

Lily was saddened by his words, but not surprised.  Severus did have a bit of Gryffindor in him, what with all his self-sacrifice.

"Live, Severus.  Live and be happy.  That is all I've ever wanted for you," his childhood friend smiled.

"I haven't been happy in so long that I don't think I can be," he admitted.

"You can," she said enigmatically.  "In fact, happiness is waiting for you.  All you have to do is wake up and take it."

"What do you mean?" he asked, genuinely confused.

"Oh Sev, I can't tell you everything.  You've got to figure it out yourself."

"Lily you know how much I detest riddles," Snape groaned.

"Life is full of mysteries, and it's time that you let things happen," she chastised.

"The last time I went with my gut, I ended up here," Severus reminded her.

"But what a good thing you did for the world.  Follow your instincts just this once.  Don't try to overanalyze it or you'll never be happy," the look on her face told him that she spoke the truth.

Severus thought about what Lily had said.  Ever since he'd let his emotions lead him to service under the Dark Lord, he'd carefully studied any and all possibilities before deciding on a course of action.  He took the safest path between two powerful wizards, walking a tightrope to keep all aspects of his life balanced.  He had shunned all emotional entanglements because of his affections for Lily and their disastrous consequences.  Essentially, he was a solitary man who didn't believe that happiness or love belonged in his life.  He’d become quite accustomed to living alone and didn’t know if he would be able to adjust to a permanent presence in his life.  The spark in Lily's eyes, however, told him that whether he liked it or not, change was coming.

"All right Lily.  I'll try to be more open, only for you," he sounded resigned.

"Not for me, dear Severus, but for yourself.  You deserve a life filled with love and happiness," Lily smiled at him again, like she did when they were children, and he couldn't help the spark of hope that appeared in his heart at her words.

"If you say so," he grudgingly muttered.

"I know so," she smirked.  "If you can let go of old grudges and open yourself to the love that is waiting for you, you'll be happier than you ever dreamed."

She gave him a kiss on the cheek and hugged him one last time, "I have to go now, but I'll always be watching.  Tell my darling baby boy how proud of him I am, will you?"

"Of course, Lils," her face lit up at his use of her childhood nickname.

"Goodbye, Severus.  Take care," with those words, Lily Evans Potter faded before his eyes.

~*~

The next morning found Harry Potter sitting beside Severus Snape.  He couldn't explain what he was doing there—Harry and Snape had never had the best relationship.  Who was he kidding?  The two didn't have a relationship at all, unless sarcasm and spite counted.  That's what confused Harry so much.  This man that Harry spent the past fourteen years of his life thinking as a traitor, an ardent Voldemort supporter, did what he and countless others could not: killed Voldemort.

For the life of him, Harry couldn't understand why.

Severus Snape risked it all on a foolish gamble that even most Gryffindors would not have taken.  He gave all of his magic to ensure that the Wizarding World—a world, which in general viewed him with scorn and suspicion—would be free of the threat of the Dark Lord Voldemort.  Harry found himself staring at Snape as he slept, oblivious to all that was going on.

Madame Pomfrey said that Snape's body was in a healing coma.  He had undergone tremendous shock and trauma and his body simply needed time to recover.  They had no idea what he would be like when he awakened, and there was some fear that he would have long-term damage, but he would live and regain his magic.  Albus had sat with him all night after returning from the Ministry.  Minerva and Poppy had to resort to threats of physical violence to get him to rest.

Now, as Harry sat with Severus Snape, he realized that he didn't know the man at all.  He was even more surprised to find that he would like to change all of that.

~*~

Severus sat in the grass mulling over his friend's words.  He could be happy, and would be if he accepted the love that was waiting for him.  In order to accept this love, however, he had to let go of old grudges.  There were many that faced his wrath, but the only people he could imagine were Black and Lupin.  If either one of those fools loved him, they would be sorely disappointed.  He didn't care what he would be relinquishing—he refused to have anything to do with Sirius Black and Remus Lupin.  There was too much bad blood between them for him to ever be comfortable around the two men, but he no longer hated them.

Hatred was a useless emotion that took more out of the person feeling it than the persons to whom it was directed.  Severus had spent his life holding onto resentments, hatreds, and grudges and all it had gotten him was a miserable, lonely life.  He would no longer harbor such emotions.  They were useless to him, especially as he know understood so much more about himself, magic and the universe.

No, he wouldn't hate Black or Lupin, but he wouldn't befriend them either.  He could be cordial, but that was all.  He just hoped that one of them was not his destined.

~*~

Six weeks had passed and Severus was still in a coma.  He had made no movements or noises to alert the Medi-Witch and his well-wishers to his state of being.  Madame Pomfrey was not concerned as she said it was perfectly normal for a person with magical exhaustion and physical trauma to take their time healing, but Harry was getting worried.

He'd spent the past month and a half trying to find out all he could about Severus Snape.  His first trip was to the Headmaster, and it was an embarrassing, if useless experience.
 
~*~

"Hello Harry.  What can I do for you?" Headmaster Albus Dumbledore asked of his Defense Against the Dark Arts professor.

Harry stood uncomfortably in the older man's office.  He hadn't actually thought of questions to ask or what he wanted to know.  He just knew that something about Severus Snape compelled him and he wanted to find out more information.  He looked at Dumbledore—lost for a minute—before he found his voice.

"I...ah, wanted to know...that is to say," he stuttered, trying to form coherent sentences.

Harry was thankful Severus (for that is what he called him in his mind) was not there.  He would have laughed at Harry's stupidity and derided him for his shortsightedness.

Dumbledore chuckled, "Ah, dear boy, come to hear about Severus, have you?"

The older man had been waiting for Harry to visit him.  He knew that his junior professor had been infatuated with the Potions Master for some time, even before Voldemort's defeat.  Harry would constantly try to talk to Severus or get his approval, failing miserably most times, but he didn't understand why he was doing those things.  Now that Severus was laid up in a coma, Harry was beginning to question his feelings about the man.  It only made sense that he would come to Dumbledore first, as he was Severus's oldest and closest friend.

"Yes, if it's not too much trouble," Harry blushed.

"Very well then."

Albus then launched into a long narrative that told Harry about Severus's life.  How Severus had come to Hogwarts knowing more magic (not just Dark magic the way the Marauders claimed) than any child he'd seen since Tom Riddle.  Albus told him how he was friends with Harry's mother, how they helped each other, and how they fell apart.  He touched on his treatment by the Marauders, not wanting to delve into those memories for various reasons.  Harry's father and godfather were the main tormentors of Severus's childhood, and Albus had done little to stop them.  Dumbledore did not like to revisit his failures, and he saw his passivity toward the Slytherins—Severus especially—as a failure. The older man thought it was best to gloss over that unpleasantness.

Dumbledore told Harry of Severus's defection from the Death Eaters and his work for the Order.  He spoke highly of the man's skill as a potions master (one of the premier brewers in Europe, in fact) and of his achievements in defense (a dual mastery with potions).  Finally, Albus told Harry about Severus's home life.  How his father was a Muggle who loved his mother but hated her magic and detested the fact that she had "infected" his son with her unnaturalness.

Severus's father beat both him and his mother for their witchcraft, prompting the young boy to learn as many spells as possible to protect himself.  Dumbledore had hoped things would get better once Severus was away at school, but apparently they got worse, and the spring of Severus’s fifth year, Tobias finally killed Eileen.  Severus was heartbroken.  Shortly thereafter, the incident with the Marauders happened and Severus lashed out against Lily, losing his only friend.  It was inevitable that he would join Voldemort.

"So you see, Harry," Dumbledore concluded, "you and Severus are very much alike."

"I guess we are," Harry mumbled, thanking Albus and leaving the office.

He had a lot to think about, and he might as well do it in the relative quiet of the Infirmary.

~*~

Just as Severus was about to wonder how long he was going to be stuck in the field, he heard footsteps approach.  These footsteps were soft, hesitant even, yet they were also determined.  Severus wondered who could be coming now, so he stood up to greet his visitor.

Not even his wildest nightmares could have compared to his shock.  There, in front of him, looking as she had when he was a child, was his mother.

"Hello, son," she greeted.

Severus couldn't speak; he couldn't breathe.  He had missed his mother so much after she had died.  He didn't let the others know for fear that they would ridicule him, so he grieved her quietly.  Every spring, he placed his favorite flowers—stargazer lilies—on her grave on the anniversary of her death.  Every fall he placed her favorite flowers—blood roses—on her grave on her birthday.  It was little things like these that kept her memory alive in him.  It was also these small reminders that brought home to him all of the devastation and pain he suffered because of her weakness.

"Mother," he stated.

"You're all grown up now," she mentioned, motioning to his adult body.

"Yes.  The passage of time only stops when you're dead," he said pointedly, trying and failing to contain his hurt.

Eileen sighed.  She knew this day would come.  One day, she would have to atone for the sins she committed against her son.  She had brought him into the world at a disadvantage and hadn't done anything to make his life easier.  Eileen knew that her Severus—her strong, proud, brave son—thought she was weak, and if she were honest with herself, she would admit that she was.  She loved him, she loved herself, but she loved Tobias more and that was her downfall.

"You should probably say whatever it is that you want to say," she said, knowing that Severus would not listen to her until he'd aired his grievances.

"What is there to say?  You stayed; I went to school.  You died; I lived.  Life goes on," he sniped.

"You could at least be honest with me!" Eileen demanded.

"Fine," he ground out.  "You want me to be honest, then I'll be honest."

"How could you stay with him?" he yelled.  "How could you share a house, a life with such a monster?"

Eileen had no words, so she didn't respond.

"You let him beat you for your magic when a flick of your wand could have saved you.  You let him beat me for my magic, for being a freak, when all I had done was summon a glass of water because I was hungry but there was no food in the house because he'd drunk away all our money," Severus said without taking a breath.

"Mother, you let him break your spirit and take your magic all because he couldn't love all of you.  You withered away to nothing until he beat you so badly that you just gave up.

"You gave up!  You left me alone with him!  Life was too hard for you to live with him, but you wouldn't live without him.  You took the easy way out.  You died and left me all alone.  You were the only one who loved me, and without you, I had no one," he finished, tears in the corner of his eyes.

"Severus," Eileen started, "you must know that I didn't want to leave you."

"I do not know any such thing, Mother," he said coldly.  "Why should I?  Whenever a choice had to be made in the past, you had always chosen him.  I figured you finally died so you wouldn't have to live life without him."

"You can't believe that!" she cried, staring into Severus's eyes.  "I loved you.  You are still the most important person to me."

"Then why did you stay with him?  Didn't you care about the way he treated you?  The way he treated me?  Why didn't you leave and take me with you?" Snape asked.

Eileen looked away from her son.  She couldn't bear to tell him the truth of her actions for fear that he would never forgive her.  She closed her eyes and pictured Severus as he was when he was a little boy.  His eyes always lit up at the sight of his mother, and she held onto that image in order to get through the conversation.

"I was ashamed," she said quietly.

Severus scoffed.

Eileen gathered her nerve and looked her son in the eye, "It's true.  I loved him, as much as a woman can love a man.  I was honest with him—I told him that I was a witch and that our children would most likely be magical.  He said it didn't matter and I believed him.

"You have to understand, Severus.  When we first got together and got married, it was wonderful.  He'd bring home little gifts—cheap things—but they meant so much to me.  We'd go out for dinner and dancing.  We would take long walks talking about our hopes and our dreams.  To me, coming from a family life where my mother was cold and my father was absent, it was paradise," she admitted.

"Having a man degrade and demean you, beat you within an inch of death was paradise?" Severus was gobsmacked.

"No!  Not then, but it was before you were born," Eileen said, then realized how her words sounded.

"So it was my fault, then.  I see.  Of course, I would ruin perfection.  It seems all that I do is make life miserable for others," he told her with a far away look in his eyes.

"My sweet baby, my darling son, it was never your fault," Eileen soothed, gathering her son close.  "It was always your father's problem and my inaction.  You were always wanted, Severus.  Never think differently."

"Then why did you leave me with him?" he wondered, willing back his tears.  

Severus had not cried since he was a boy watching his father beat his mother.  His sniffles had drawn his father's attention to him, leading to the worst beating Severus had ever suffered.  The little boy decided then and there that he would never cry again.  Forty years later, and he hadn't broken that promise to himself.  Seeing his mother, hearing the words that he had longed for, would not change that vow he made to himself.  Even the repressed emotions from his horrid childhood and mother's death could not break his resolve.  

"I'm so sorry, Severus.  So very sorry," Eileen cried, hugging her son.  "I never should have left you alone, but I was so tired of living life the way it was that I couldn't see past my own pain.  I didn't forget you, but I couldn't help you."

She gave a mirthless laugh, "Part of me thought I was saving you.  I thought that if I died, your father would treat you better and you would have a better life."

Eileen held up her hand to prevent him from speaking, "I know that isn't true, but that's what I thought then."

Severus didn't say anything to his mother, but he had a new respect for her.  She was able to look at herself and admit her failings, much the same as he had done once he entered this place, and she was able to explain to him more about his childhood and herself.  Severus also realized that he and his mother had a lot more in common than he thought.  He was so willing to sacrifice his life because he thought the others would be better off without him much the same way that his mother thought his father would treat him better if she were not around.

"If I could do it over again," she started, "I would have left him as soon as you started showing signs of magic.  I would have been more confident in myself, and I would have been a better mother to you."

"It is too late for second guessing, Mother," he stated, hoping to ease her suffering even though he was upset with her.  "If you had done things differently, I would not be who I am.  I would be someone else."

"And who you are now is a wonderful person.  I'm proud of you, Severus.  You are a hero.  Children will know your name for centuries as the Vanquisher for Voldemort.  You've restored the honor he took from the House of Slytherin," Eileen beamed.

"I am not a role model.  I am simply a man who tried to make the best out of his life in atonement for the wrong choices he made," Severus said.

"Say what you will, but you are a hero, Son.  You will be celebrated whether you like it or not.  It would be easier to accept your new circumstances than to fight against them," Eileen told him.

"If you say so, Mother," Severus said.

"It's true, Severus.  Now if only you had someone to share your life," she lamented.

"Mother, you are dead; therefore, you are not allowed to criticize my non-existent love life," Severus sniped.

"You know I'm not criticizing you, Severus.  I just want to see you happy."

"I am happy, Mama,” he said, touched.  "My potions keep me busy, and while the vast majority of my students are the most thick-skulled, imbecilic dunderheads ever to breath air, there are the rare few on whom I make a difference and show them the art of my science."

"Rubbish!  Just because you're good at what you do and don't hate your job doesn't mean that you are happy.  Listen to me, Severus," she hurried as he opened his mouth to speak.

"You are too young and handsome—" he snorted here, "to be so lonely and bitter.  Severus, I don't want you to live my life.  I want you to be happy with someone who loves you.  Maybe have some children and treat them the way you should have been treated."

"What is it with you people trying to pair me off?" he asked.  "First Lily and now you.  Do you know something that I don't know?"

"I know that you deserve love even if you act like a miserable human being," she replied.

He mulled over her words and realized that she had a point.  He could continue to live alone, studying and refining his craft, or he could take a chance and open himself to the "great love" that his friend and his mother so clearly believed was waiting for him.

"Fine.  I will tell you the same thing that I told Lily—I will not close myself off to the possibility of a relationship," he stated.  "However, if it's someone that I cannot stomach, I will not force myself to like them."

"All I ask is that you try," Eileen gave him a brilliant smile.  "Now, we have to get going.  We don't want to be late."

"Late?" he asked.  "For what?"

"Your portal home," she said, walking into the horizon.

Severus hurried his steps to follow her.

~*~

Four months after Severus Snape defeated Voldemort, Harry Potter realized that the man was more of an enigma than even he imagined.  The Headmaster's knowledge, while vast, only told of Severus's surroundings.  Albus didn't tell him much about the man himself.  Even worse, none of his coworkers seemed to know anything personal about the man.  Harry had learned that Severus liked his tea black with two cubes of sugar.  Apparently the older man had a hidden sweet tooth.  He discovered that Severus used calendula and lavender in a specially blended shampoo to remove the potion residue from his hair.  Harry also found out that Severus was in excellent condition as he took a swim in the lake every morning after running for an hour.

Unfortunately, that was all Harry could uncover about Severus Snape.  Harry realized that most people—with the exception of the Headmaster—only knew the man on a superficial level.  In some ways, it made sense.  Severus Snape was a triple agent, a spy for Dumbledore pretending to be a spy for Voldemort spying on Dumbledore.  It was a very complex and precarious position, and Harry imagined that Severus couldn't have people getting too close to him for fear of exposing his secrets.  On the other hand, it made Harry sad.  He knew that Severus Snape wasn't the most likable person, but the fact that his colleagues for the last twenty plus years knew less about him than Harry did grated on the younger man.  He thought that they should at least know some personal tidbits about their resident Potions Master.

"You really are a master of deception," Harry said to Severus's still body.

The older man remained in a deep healing sleep, slowly rejuvenating his magic and recovering his energy.  He did twitch occasionally, letting the Medi-Witch know that he would awaken soon.

Harry put his hand over Severus's limp one, "I wish I knew more about you.  I want to know who you are, and there is only one way that I know to find out who you are.  I just hope you don't hate me when you realize what I've done."

The young man brushed a kiss against Severus's forehead before leaving the infirmary.  He was headed toward the dungeons to unravel the mystery that surrounded Severus Snape.  So intent was he about his goal, Harry never noticed the smiling Headmaster lurking in the shadows.

"Well, Severus.  It seems like you've finally met your match," Albus practically skipped out of the Hospital Wing.

He had to inform the castle of the newest developments and make sure that Harry could easily enter Severus's chambers.

~*~

It took Harry an hour to work his way through Severus's wards.  The man really was paranoid if he took such measures in a school full of children.  Harry looked around the rooms.  There was nothing remarkable about them—no manacles hanging from the walls, no bats flying in circles—but the room screamed Severus Snape.  Three of the four walls were covered in bookshelves filled to capacity.  There were books on potions (of course), defense, herbology, spellcrafting, spellweaving, and others.  There were also novels, both Muggle and Magical, which had been read quite often.

The décor was sparse but comfortable.  In the center of the room in front of the fireplace, there was a large sofa with a throw rug.  On the wall next to the fireplace sat Severus's desk.  Harry knew that was the place he should start for clues about Snape.

Walking over to the desk, he rifled through the drawers.  He found a few interesting papers about Severus's family, notably his father's death and the fact that Severus had inherited everything, but nothing really telling.  He kept searching until he accidentally found a hidden panel on the floor underneath the desk.

Harry was forced to pry open the floor with a knife.  It was hard work, but he managed to open it.  Inside was what he was seeking.  Setting on a bed of green blankets was a gorgeous blue bowl.  It had swirling decorations on the side of it, tricking the eye into thinking it was moving.  A pale mist rose from the top of it.  Harry bit back the nagging voice in his head that told him he was committing a gross invasion of Severus's privacy as he picked up the bowl and set it on the desk.

There, in front of Harry, was Severus's pensieve.  Harry took a breath before diving into the first memory he saw.

~*~

Harry was bombarded with images as he fell into the scene.  A young Severus was hiding in the cupboard under the stairs quietly playing with a ragged but well-loved teddy bear.

"We have to be quiet, Asphodel," the little boy whispered.  "We don't want Father finding us here."

The words jolted Harry and he craned his ears to hear the faint sounds of an argument.  From the looks on Severus's face and the way the child behaved, Harry believed what was happening was a normal occurrence.  He felt an odd pang of sympathy for the solemn child, knowing what his life would hold.  He wanted to reach out and touch the boy, comfort him in some way, but before he could act on his impulse, he was whisked away to another memory.

This time he was faced with an older Severus, a Severus already at Hogwarts.  He saw James, Sirius and Remus coming toward Severus and a funny feeling happened in his stomach.  He knew something bad was going to happen, but he didn't want to see it.  His eyes were glued to the scene—his father and Sirius taunting and beating Severus while Remus looked on.  Harry didn't know if he could ever think of the two surviving men in the same way again having seen one mercilessly beat a student while the other passively looked on.  Again, Harry wanted to intervene, and again he was taken into another memory.

Harry was in the pensieve for what felt like days, but was only two hours.  When he emerged, his face was pale and his hands were shaking.  Severus had put all of his important memories in that pensieve—his childhood, his school days, and his Death Eater activities.  The horrors the man had seen and committed had terrified Harry.  He was conflicted—part of him wanted to soothe the man and the other part of him wanted to strangle him.  He didn't know what to do, so he replaced everything as quickly as he could and left Severus's chambers.

Harry had some serious thinking to do and he would rather be in the comfort of his own rooms with a large glass of whiskey.

~*~

"Are we there yet?" Severus asked, tired of the endless walk through the field.

"Ready to leave me so soon," Eileen joked.

"No, just tired of walking.  It seems so far away," he commented.

"That's because we're moving against the magical current.  Once you're here, you're supposed to stay here.  Beyond the Veil, everything is peaceful.  The farther you float from the opening, the more complacent you become.  You, son, had a lot of issues to work out so we've traveled quite a ways from the entrance," she explained.

"I see," he said.

The two continued talking during their journey until Eileen abruptly stopped in front of a swirling dark vortex.

"This is the end," she said, a tearful smile on her face.

"I must leave you here?" he asked.

"Yes, Severus, for I am dead, and the dead must stay gone," she smoothed down his hair.

"Mama," he whispered, not ready to let her go.

Eileen pulled him to her in a fierce hug," It'll be all right, Severus.  The world is waiting for you—go and live your life."

"I love you," he choked out.

"I know.  I love you too, Severus.  Let go of your anger; you don't need it any more.  You're a better man than your father and a better wizard than anyone alive.  Be happy, Son.  You deserve it," Eileen said, her body disappearing from his view.

Severus stepped into the darkness.
 
~*~
 
Two weeks after the pensieve incident, Harry Potter was once again at Severus Snape's bedside.  He'd thought long and hard about everything he'd seen inside the older man's head before finally coming to a conclusion.  He cared for Severus as he was, not in spite of his character.  The man was prickly, demanding, argumentative, and terrifying, but Harry wouldn't have him any other way.
 
"I know I shouldn't have done it, Severus.  I'm sorry, but I had to find out more about you," Harry explained.  "No one around here really knows who you are, and I just had to know more.  I hope you don't hate me when you find out.  I don't hate you...at least, not any more."
 
He loved the man.  As hard as it was to come to terms with his feelings, Harry finally realized that the burning desire he felt to have Severus's approval, the aching need to impress the man, and the funny feeling he got in his stomach were symptoms of his affliction.  Harry Potter was a man in love.  Now, he just had to find a way to get the one he loved to reciprocate.
 
"I think I love you," he whispered for the first time.
 
It was strange loving someone like Severus.  Harry had several relationships in the past and more than a few flings, but none of them were as important to him as his relationship with Severus.  He knew the older man wouldn't be awed into his bed like others before him.  From what Harry saw in his pensieve, Severus was more impressive than Harry.  Potter also realized that older man would be very wary of any dealings with him.  Severus was an intensely personal and extremely suspicious man, and his paranoia seemed to increase whenever he had dealings with Harry.  The younger man wondered at Severus's reaction to him, but knew that he couldn't get any answers until Severus awakened.
 
"Please wake up, Severus.  I need to know you're okay," said Harry.  "You shouldn't have done it—risking your life to get rid of Voldemort.  That was my job.  I'm so tired of people protecting me.  For once, I want to be the protector."
 
Severus didn't make a noise, but his hand tightened on the sheet.
 
"Severus?" Harry asked.  "Are you awake?  Can you hear me?"
 
Snape moved his hand again, groaning with the effort this time.  It was clear the man was in pain by the way his face scrunched at the small movements.
 
Harry ran out of Severus's room to the Medi-Witch's quarters.
 
"Madame Pomfrey!" he shouted.  "Severus is waking up!"
 
The Healer rushed toward Severus's room, bustling about casting diagnostic spells.
 
"Mr. Potter, I would appreciate it if you left," Poppy said.  "I don't need you hanging about making my job more difficult."

"But I can help!" he protested.
 
"Yes, you can.  You can help me by leaving," she said, pushing him into the hallway and shutting the door in his face.
 
It felt like Poppy had been checking on him for hours, but only thirty minutes passed.  Harry paced the infirmary, cursing the Medi-Witch under his breath.  He needed to know that Severus was okay, but she wouldn't let him stay.  When Poppy finally opened the door, he practically bowled her over getting to Severus's side.  Harry was disappointed to find the older man asleep.
 
"He's fine, Harry," the Medi-Witch stated, knowing the young man's feelings.
 
"But why's he asleep?" he asked.
 
"He's tired," she said.  "His body has been regenerating its energy and magic during his coma, but he's still exhausted.  It will be a while before he's up and about."
 
"He's okay, right?"
 
"Yes, Harry.  Severus will be back to his cantankerous self before you know it," she grinned.  "Now go get some rest, young man!"
 
Harry looked like he wanted to argue, but then thought better of it.  Nodding his head to the Medi-Witch, he turned and walked away.
 
"Poor Severus will regret waking up once he has to deal with a worried Harry Potter," she snickered.
 
~*~
 
The next morning, Severus Snape fully awakened.  He knew what had happened, and from his surroundings had a good idea where he was.  He wasn't surprised when Madame Pomfrey came in to check his vitals, but he was surprised to find Harry Potter holding his hand.
 
"What's going on?" he rasped.
 
"You've just recovered from a magical coma, Severus.  You almost killed yourself sending Voldemort beyond the Veil.  It was a very foolish thing you did, so of course the Ministry wants to reward you with an Order of Merlin," she lectured.
 
"I only did what was necessary, Poppy," he said.
 
"Yes, well drink up," she handed him a putrid smelling vial.
 
Harry laughed as Severus grimaced at the foul tasting brew.  Severus turned and raised his eyebrow, wondering why Harry Potter was in his room.
 
"What's he doing here?" Severus asked.
 
"Don't be rude," Poppy chastised.  "Young Harry has been here everyday, waiting for your recovery.  He's been very anxious on your behalf"
 
Harry blushed.
 
"Why?" Severus was confused.
 
"Why not?" Pomfrey challenged, her eyes clearly stating that she knew something that he didn't.
 
Severus thought back on the spiritual voyage he undertook during his coma.  It was weird thinking that Potter had been there the entire time.  He'd never known the boy to care about his well-being before, but he was being unfair.  After all, the young man looked genuinely happy to see him awake.  Severus could think of no rational explanation for the young man's actions.
 
Suddenly, Severus thought about Lily's belief that love awaited him.  He looked at Potter with a strange expression.

Oh no.  Not him.  Anyone but such a self-important, arrogant little shit like Potter.  Severus had rather thought that his life would calm down now, but being around Potter was only asking for trouble.  The boy—no man—would either drive him insane or murderous.  

Looking at Potter again, Severus noticed a speculative gleam in the man's eye that hadn't been there before.  He regarded Snape with something akin to awe and Severus had never been the recipient of such a look before.  Both Lily and his mother told him to open himself to love, and clearly this love was going to come from Potter.  Well, it was better than Black.
 
~*~
 
"Potter, stop staring at me," Severus felt uneasy with the young man's eyes glued to him.
 
Harry ducked his head in embarrassment.  He'd spent so much time sitting by Severus's bedside and hoping that he'd wake up that he didn't think of what he would say to him once the man awakened.
 
"So...er, how are you feeling?" Harry felt dumb, but it was the best he could do.
 
"Eloquent as usual," Severus snarked.
 
Harry gave him a look that he could only describe as hurt.  Severus was baffled by the young man's actions, but felt he should answer his question.
 
"I am doing as well as expected for a man who almost lost his magic and spent four and a half months in a magical coma," Severus responded.
 
"That's...good," Harry stuttered.
 
"Potter, is there some reason you are here?" Severus didn't want to waste any more time with idle chitchat.
 
"I just, I don't know.  I can't explain it.  I just need to know that you're okay," the young man admitted.
 
Severus was shocked.  No one had cared about his well-being in such a long time that he didn't know how to respond.  He wanted to say something sarcastic and bitter, but his mother's words came back to him.  It was time he was honest with those around him, and if not warm, then at least cordial.  He could do no less for the man who had refused to leave his side.
 
"Very well.  If you insist on staying, you can catch me up on all the happenings in the Magical world."
 
Harry beamed, happy to have something to do.  He spent the next few hours telling Severus everything that had happened since Voldemort's demise.
 
~*~
 
The next several days passed in such a fashion: Harry would arrive after breakfast, chat with Severus, read to him, eat lunch with him, run errands while Severus slept, have dinner with him, and bid him goodnight.  At first, Severus was overwhelmed with all the attention and didn't know how to act.  He found himself slipping into old habits and insulting Potter's intelligence.  Remarkably, the young man didn't react the way he normally would.  Instead of getting angry and mouthing off, he simply smiled and kept talking.  Needless to say, Severus was impressed and amazed because Harry was beginning to grow on him.
 
Two weeks after he'd awakened, Madame Pomfrey decided that he was well enough to leave.
 
"Finally.  I shall enjoy sleeping in my own bed tonight," he mentioned.
 
"Severus," came the stern voice of the Medi-Witch, "don't overdo it.  You're not completely healed and too much activity could set you back."
 
"I assure you, Madame that I will be fine on my own," he huffed, trying to discourage the Medi-Witch from keeping him.
 
"I would feel better if someone were with you," she said, pointedly looking at Harry.
 
Harry piped in to save both Severus and Poppy the argument, "I can stay with him, Madame Pomfrey."

Severus shot him a nasty glare.

"If you don't mind, that is," he added.

Severus wanted to protest, but one look at the Medi-Witch's face told him that he wasn't getting out of the Hospital Wing by himself.  Looking at Potter, Severus decided he could be worse off for a chaperone.  He could at least boss around Potter; Albus never listened to a word he said.

"If I must," he acquiesced.

Poppy beamed, although she was puzzled at his quick agreement, "I'll get your clothes.  You are not to perform any magic until I have cleared you.  You should rest as much as possible, and eat several small meals a day to get your stomach used to food again.  Nothing too spicy or acidic, mind.  And no stress.  Your body has withstood a terrible ordeal, but it is very fragile.  I want you to take care of yourself Severus."

"Thank you Poppy," Severus said.  "I do appreciate all you have done for me."

Madame Pomfrey was shocked.  Severus Snape was not a man to show gratitude, let alone in front of a witness.  She looked at Harry who had a similar expression on his face.  Maybe his journey beyond the Veil had changed Severus in ways that they would never know.

~*~

Once the two men reached Severus's chambers, the older man seemed to recover more of himself.

"Potter, while I thank you for helping me escape Madame Pomfrey's clutches, I hardly think it is necessary for you to remain here," Severus told him in an obvious dismissal.

"Are you sure?  You still look pretty weak to me," Harry bluntly stated.

"I am fine.  I am not a child and do not need a keeper," Severus railed, swaying slightly.

The older man's look dared Harry to mention his infirmity, but Harry wasn't a Gryffindor for nothing.

"Sure you are, Severus.  In fact, you're so fine that you're about to topple over.  You need help and I'm here to give it.  Suck it up," Harry snarled, walking over to the man and putting his arms around him.  "It's okay to need help, Severus.  It's not a sign of weakness."

"If you say so, Potter," Snape muttered.

He was unused to having others help him without expecting something in return.  The last time someone had helped him just to help him had been years ago.  Lily had given him her handkerchief when he had a cold.  Ever since his friendship with her deteriorated, he had kept to himself.  People only did something when they needed something from him.  Voldemort accepted the half-blood for his expertise at potions; Dumbledore took him in so he could spy on Voldemort and do all the dirty work that the Order refused to do; the Death Eaters sucked up to him because he was in Voldemort's favor.  It was a twisted web of favors and backstabbing in which he lived, and it was so hard for him to realize that someone would want to help him just because.

"I do, Severus," Harry said.  "Now, I think a nice bath is in order and then a nap.  I'm sure you want to bathe yourself after months in the Hospital Wing?"

"A bath sounds perfect right now.  Thank you, Harry," Severus's appreciation shocked Harry once again.

"You're...er...welcome, Severus," Harry stammered.

Harry ducked his head and went to the bathroom to prepare Severus's bath.  His cheeks felt hot and flushed from Severus's words of gratitude.  He knew he felt something for the man, but he'd never suspected a few simple words would have such an effect on him.  Severus Snape was even more interesting than Harry had imagined, and he couldn't wait to unlock more of the man's secrets.  For now, though, he had a bath to prepare.

~*~

That night, Harry moved his belongings into a room that Hogwarts and the House Elves generously provided.  Severus was not at all happy to have Potter invading his personal space in such a permanent manner, but the cunning brat threatened to go to Albus and Poppy if he didn't agree.  Not wanting to have those two on his back, Severus backed down.  Besides, one thing he learned from his time beyond the Veil was that arguing about trivial matters was pointless.  It wasn't worth the effort.

After Harry got settled, he and Severus established a routine.  Harry would awaken the older man in the morning, helping him to the bathroom to prepare for the day.  Then the two would have breakfast before Harry would help Severus with his physical therapy.  Severus's muscles were weak from inactivity, so Madame Pomfrey had given him a list of exercises to help strengthen his body and get back into shape.  Harry provided the balance and resistance Severus needed to improve.  After physical therapy, Severus had his shower and then took a nap.  The man was usually exhausted and slept for a few hours.  When he awakened, the two men had lunch, discussing what they were going to do with the remainder of their day.  Some days, when it was very nice, Severus would go outside.  He would have Harry place a blanket on the lawn and he would just sit, staring into nothingness.  Those times bothered Harry because he felt like Severus saw or knew something that he wouldn't understand, but as Severus was always refreshed after his time outside, Harry never said anything.  Sometimes they would read quietly, simply enjoying the silence.  Other times, the men would have discussions—some heated—about potions, Quidditch, politics or whatever topic interested them.  Dinner would follow their afternoons, and the two men would retire soon after.  Severus to bed as he was still easily fatigued, and Harry to his room.

As much as Severus protested Harry's presence in his life, he reluctantly found himself considering the young man a close friend.  Harry was always civil to him, even when he was at his nastiest, and took great pains to ensure that Severus lacked nothing.  The Potions Master knew the younger man had strong feelings for him; they were plain to see in his eyes.  He was still wary of a relationship with Potter, but having lived with the DADA teacher, Severus found that the idea no longer repulsed him.

Three months after his release from the infirmary—just as school was about to be in session—Madame Pomfrey pronounced Severus completely recovered and allowed him to resume his activities as usual.  While he was happy to restart his life, Severus was also sad.  Now that he was well, Harry would have no reason to stay with him, and he really enjoyed the younger man's company.  As he returned to his rooms, he wondered if their changed relationship would stay that way.

"What did she say?" Harry asked as soon as he opened the door.

"She said that I am fully recovered and able to resume all normal activities," Severus answered.

"That's great Severus," Harry said with some enthusiasm, but his eyes betrayed his sadness.

"Yes, it is," Severus mumbled, a plan forming.  "I suppose you will be returning to your quarters?"

"I guess.  I mean, I only moved down here so I could be close to you when you needed me," Harry couldn't keep his unhappiness out of his voice.

"Well, it was nice having a roommate at my beck and call, and I could use some help preparing the potions for this year," Severus mentioned, gauging Harry's interest.

"Sure," Harry answered, not giving Severus a chance to rescind his offer.  "I'll just leave my stuff here for the time being."

Severus smirked as Harry walked toward his bedroom.

~*~

The two men had little time to talk during the next week as they rushed to make the potions stores for the infirmary.  Harry, who despite all of his wonderful qualities never learned how to make more than an acceptable potion, prepared ingredients and labeled bottles for Severus.  Neither man discussed it, but they both found something comforting in the companionable silence.  Harry spent much of his time remarking all of Severus's changes.  The older man was slower to anger and faster to let something go.  Severus was still snarky and sarcastic, but warmth and friendliness tempered his barbs.  He was also extremely shy.

That surprised Harry the most.  Severus Snape had always derided him for his fame and arrogance, seemingly jealous of Harry.  Now that all the praise and adulation was heaped upon him, Severus appeared to retreat into himself.  He rarely left the castle because of the stares and whispers that followed him.  He visibly cringed whenever someone thanked him or asked for an autograph.  It seemed as if now that Severus had what he always thought he wanted, he was still unhappy.

Severus noticed that Harry reserved a certain shy look for him.  It always made his heart flutter and his mind wander to places better left alone.  He had to admit that it was flattering to have such a handsome young man pay attention to him, but he was afraid that Harry would be disappointed with what he found.  He would rather keep Harry as only a friend than risk their friendship on a relationship.

Severus discovered that the young man was eager to be helpful, and slightly starved for attention.  Severus had heard rumors of Harry's upbringing, but didn't put much stock in them.  Now that he was spending so much time with the young man, he could tell that the rumors were fact.  The slightest acknowledgment or praise made Harry's eyes light up.  A quick touch to his hands or a brush of fingers made him blush.  For all the experience he had (and Severus was certain the young man wasn't a virgin—the Prophet had made sure to report his exploits), he was still so innocent, so much like a child.

Severus shook his head—now was not the time to daydream.  They still had a lot of work to finish.

~*~

Harry and Severus finally finished the potions, and just in time.  It was the first day of school for the year, and Severus had to admit he was nervous.  He hadn't really seen anyone other than Harry, Poppy, Albus or Minerva since his momentary lapse of Slytherin judgment and slip into Gryffindor folly, or so he called his foolish plan that rid the Wizarding World of Voldemort.  Having kept to himself after his disastrous outings earlier in the summer, Severus was apprehensive of being around all those people.

"It'll be fine, Severus," Harry said, seemingly coming out of nowhere.

"I am not worried, Harry," Severus stated.

"Sure you're not.  That's why you just called me 'Harry' instead of 'Potter', isn't it?" the younger man snickered.

Severus sighed, "I might be somewhat reluctant to have all those harebrained ignoramuses staring at me slack jawed."

"Don't worry.  I'll be with you," Harry smiled and Severus found himself oddly happy about that.

Taking a deep breath, Severus opened the side door to the Great Hall and walked forward.

He only made it to his seat by sheer force of will.  Hundreds of eyes stared at him; some with suspicion, but most with awe.  Whispers followed his progress, and his keen hearing picked up several conversations.

"They say he killed Voldemort," one child whispered.

"Why's his hair white?" another asked.

Severus was never more relieved to have a friend by his side than he was this night.  Once he took his place, Harry sat next to him.  Albus smiled at the two men then watched the sorting.

After the sorting, the Headmaster got up to give his annual speech.

"Students and teachers, welcome to another year at Hogwarts," he paused for their applause.

"This year should be more exciting than some, but less exciting than others.  A lot has happened in the Wizarding world during the last 8 months," all eyes turned to Severus, "so we hope that this new period of peace and prosperity will continue."

The students clapped, and listened halfheartedly to the introductions.  Albus always started with the newest teachers first before moving on to the veteran staff, and finally the Heads of House.  Severus tuned out the Headmaster's words, thinking about his lesson plans and research pursuits when he noticed that everyone was staring at him.  He decided now would probably be a good time to pay attention to Dumbledore's speech.

"Not only is he Head of Slytherin house," here most of the Slytherins hissed their approval, "but also, he has recently become the hero of the Wizarding World.  In a daring and dangerous maneuver, he managed to cast out Voldemort from our world.  Thanks to his heroics, we can all live much more peaceful lives.   Our Head of Slytherin House and Potions Professor, Professor Severus Snape!"

The children (and many of the adults) jumped to their feet, cheering and clapping.  Severus was astonished.  He'd never been on the receiving end of so much approval in his life.  He couldn't believe it, and to be honest, he was slightly overwhelmed.  Having always sought validation of his efforts in the war but never receiving it, this sudden burst of recognition from the Wizarding World was too much.

Harry sensed Severus's discomfort.  As he was sitting next to the Potions Master, he was privy to the blush staining the man's cheeks and the tremor shaking the man's hands.  Harry put his hand on Severus's thigh, rubbing soothing circles on his leg, easing the tension.  He saw the brief but grateful nod the man gave him as permission to continue his ministrations.

Harry couldn't describe how good it felt to be touching Severus in such a way.  He knew he loved the man, but he'd been in love before and it had never felt like this.  It was almost as if the two men were already connected, and their magic sparked when they touched.  Severus wouldn't acknowledge what was happening between them, but Harry knew that Severus understood.  The way he relaxed into Harry's touch was affirmation enough.

Severus endured their praise for what felt like forever before Dumbledore restored order and the feast got underway.  He found himself talking more to his colleagues at this one meal than he had in the previous twenty-five years.  He was slightly offended that he was only worthy of their consideration now, but he didn't dwell on it.  There were more important things to consider, like how he felt when Potter touched him.  Severus hadn't felt that safe and secure since he was in the afterlife.  Harry's support and understanding had made an unbearable situation tolerable.

After the feast, Severus had his customary talk with his snakelings.  It was much longer than usual, but there was more to discuss this year.  He told them about his expectations of their behavior.  Many of the older students were surprised because he laid out more rules than he had previously.  He explained to the younger students about the available resources and how they should come to him or a prefect if they had any problems.  Finally, he explained his actions for and against Voldemort.  He stressed to his children the importance of analyzing everything and taking nothing at face value.  They asked him many questions late into the night, so by the time he was free to join Albus for their customary start of term chat.  Severus, normally perturbed by these meetings, didn't care.  He strolled toward the Headmaster's office with the assurance of a man who had seen much worse than anything Albus could devise.

"Good evening, Severus," Albus greeted him.  "I wasn't sure you were coming as you usually arrive before now."

"My start of term speech ran longer than usual," Snape commented.

"I daresay it did.  How did your charges handle the fact that a Slytherin defeated Voldemort, another Slytherin?" the Headmaster asked.

The question offended him, but Severus didn't let it show.  He tented his fingers as if in thought and looked directly at his mentor, master, and friend.

"They handled it very well, Headmaster," Severus drawled, his disdain apparent.  "They are pleased now to belong to such an illustrious house of wizards and witches.  If anything, they are happy that Slytherin is receiving positive attention instead of just scorn and ridicule."

"Slytherin has always held a lofty place in this school, as do all the Houses," Albus said.

Severus scoffed, "I wonder how many of those sherbet lemons you ate to induce such delusions.  Slytherin has been blacklisted as the harbinger of dark wizards and scoundrels.  The teachers rarely do anything to encourage my snakelings, but are always quick to take points.  My students are outcasts whose only option is to form a tight, close-knit community within the House."

Severus shot Dumbledore a challenging look.  He dared the old man to explain away the treatment of Slytherins in society and school.  Yes, they had brought much of it upon themselves, but the wider Wizarding world had a hand in maligning them as well.

"Now Severus, do be fair," Albus started, but was cut off.

"No, I won't!  I have had to deal with this shit from the beginning of my time here at Hogwarts.  People always look at Slytherins with suspicion.  If something goes wrong, we're the first ones they blame," he ranted.

"Some of it is true," Albus said quietly.

"So some bad apples spoil it for us all?  What did I do that was so bad that I deserved the treatment I got at this school?" he asked the man the question he'd been wondering for the last thirty-five years.

"You gave as good as you got most of the time," the older man defended.

"Answer me!  What did I do, other than being sorted into Slytherin, to deserve being tortured by the Marauders?  Was it because I was disposable?  Not as useful as your golden boys?" Severus had worked himself into a rage.

"I care for each child that comes to this school," Dumbledore stated.

"Not equally.  Your vaunted Gryffindors can never do any wrong, while the Slytherins are constantly persecuted.  Draco Malfoy, bad as he is, would have died his sixth year if I hadn't cast the counter curse."

"It was your spell," the Headmaster pointed out.

"That you gave to an impetuous, rash, foolish boy!  You let Potter run wild around the school, doing whatever he pleased, with little or no repercussions.  You let all the Gryffindors do that!" Severus shouted.

Albus looked all of his one hundred and fifty-eight years by the time Severus finished his tirade.  He knew he had made mistakes, one of them standing in front of him, but he was only a man and had acted in what he thought were the best interests of the school and the students.  He told Severus just that.

"My dear boy, I do know that I have made mistakes, but I am just one man.  What was I to do?  The children are eleven when they come here.  They already have their prejudices firmly ingrained in their personalities.  I did what little I could to change it, but it was too late.

"You have to understand that if I had known how bad it would get, I would have tried harder.  You were so bright and powerful, Severus that I was afraid you would turn out like Tom.  You held such anger, and it drove your desire for knowledge.  Every time that I allowed the Marauders to get away with their treatment of you, I was punishing you for my fears.

"I know that I should have done more for you when you were a student, but I was so proud of Sirius for rejecting his mother's teachings that I didn't want him to return to the Dark.  He had a dark side that was frankly frightful, and I thought that you would have been able to handle the alienation better than he would have," Albus explained.

"Thank you," Severus whispered, looking at Dumbledore.  "Thank you for admitting that you chose them over me, that you choose the Slytherins last."

"Why are you thanking me?" Albus was puzzled.

"Because now, after all these years, I know that there was nothing I could have done to change my time here.  I spent years wondering what I had done wrong to deserve such treatment when in actuality it was your shortsightedness that ruled my school days,"

Albus looked devastated.  He could see and hear the disgust Severus held for him, and he was afraid that the younger man would never forgive him.

Severus looked at the old man, and instead of boiling anger, felt only pity.

"If there is one thing that I have learned from my experiences—and I have encountered much during my time as a spy and beyond the Veil—it is that we must let go of the grudges and prejudices of the past.  The anger and hatred that I used to hold was only hurting me.  After a lifetime of doing others' bidding, I want to live my life free and clear for myself.

"I don't hate you, Albus," he heard a sigh of relief, "but it will take me some time to forgive you for your actions and repair our friendship.  You had the chance to make my life a lot easier during a crucial period in my development, and it is going to take some time for me to get over the fact that you did nothing."

Albus gazed proudly at his protege.  Severus was always one to hold a grudge, but here he was telling him, the man who so badly misjudged him, that he didn't hate him and would eventually forgive him.  Before him, Albus saw not a student, but a peer.  Severus no longer required direction.  Whatever he had experienced in his brief time beyond the Veil had changed the man.  He still had a brusque personality, but he was much more open and to the point.  He was also calmer, and more amenable to allowing the unknown to happen without much stress.  His changes were most evident in the blossoming relationship he shared with Harry Potter.  The Severus Snape that sat in front of him was now his peer.

"You've changed, Severus," Albus said, looking at his friend with wonder.

"I suppose I have," Severus told him.

Albus smiled, "I'm glad, Severus.  Now people will understand why you've had my undying faith since the beginning.  I'm not as gullible as they think."

The two men shared a laugh.

"I don't much care that they understand anything," Severus stated.  "I've just done what was best for me.  Getting rid of Voldemort was in my best interest.  The ghoul was only getting more and more maniacal, and soon he would have turned on his followers.

"Too much power can consume anyone," Albus said.  

"Yes it can, and he was filled with hatred and power.  I don't want to be like him, so I've changed my outlook on life.  Holding onto the past was only hurting me and it is time I made myself a priority," Severus told him.

"Yes, you're right," Albus stated.  "You deserve some happiness in your life, and I'm glad that we remain friends.  It means I get to nag you about taking care of yourself and pester you about your love life."

Severus mumbled under his breath, "We aren't that good of friends."

"So," the Headmaster started, "how's young Harry?  I know you two have been spending a lot of time together, and clearly you have feelings for the boy."

Severus groaned again; he had wondered when Albus was going to ask him about Harry.  He knew the older man broached the topic to sate his curiosity and change the discussion.  Snape wasn't sure if remaining friends with Albus was worth the discomfort.  He didn't quite know what was happening between himself and Harry, but he knew it was a good thing.

"I'll need more whiskey if we're going to talk about that," Severus said.

Albus grinned.

~*~

It was late that night before Severus returned to his rooms.  He and Albus had talked about his relationship with Harry, his trip beyond the Veil, and his thoughts before implementing his plan.  Albus told him that he had wanted to ask him these questions earlier, but he could sense that Severus wasn't ready.  Severus was grateful for Albus's restraint; the man could be trying when he wanted to solve a riddle.  He needed time to process what had happened and think about things. He'd changed in such a fundamental way, but it was only slightly visible.  Severus was just himself and he needed to get back to that point.

When Severus opened the door to his chambers, he saw Harry Potter sitting on his sofa.  He shouldn't have been surprised—the man hadn't left his rooms since Severus got out of the infirmary.

"Good evening, Harry," he asked, removing his outer robe.

"I just thought I'd stop by for a chat, but it seems you've already had one of those," Harry smiled.

"You don't have to explain.  You've practically moved in.  I should start charging rent," Snape joked.

"Hey!" Harry exclaimed.  "You don't own the place."

"No, but you're taking up space in my space.  Your stuff is strewn everywhere," Severus pointed out.

"Sorry," Harry said sheepishly.

Severus stared at Harry.  He could tell the young man was nervous, but he didn't know why.  .

"What's wrong?" he asked.

"Sit down, Severus.  Please," now Severus was starting to get worried.

"What's this about?" Snape demanded, sitting in his armchair.

"I have something to tell you.  I'm hoping you'll forgive me, but I'll understand if you don't.  What I did was unforgivable, but I'm not sorry about it.  If I hadn't done it, I wouldn't have realized that I love you," Harry babbled.

"You love me?  Potter, have you lost your mind?" Severus couldn't believe the words.

"Yes, I do love you," he replied.

"Well, it's not the most horrible thing in the world.  Why are you so worried?" the Potions Master was still confused.

"I'm not upset because I love you.  I'm upset because of what it took for me to realize how I felt," Harry said, stalling for time.

The silence stretched for several minutes before Severus spoke, "Whatever it is, tell me.  I have much better things to do than sit here while you find your courage!"

"While you were comatose, I looked into your pensieve," Harry muttered.

"Come again?" Severus asked.  "I couldn't quite understand you.  I don't speak mumbling idiot."

Harry straightened, gathering his courage as he looked Severus in the eye, "I said I looked in your pensieve when you were sick."

Severus couldn't say anything.  It felt like his heart had shattered.  Harry had seen everything—his most private moments, his personal humiliations, his despairing weakness.  Everything.  There was nothing left to hide.  He felt violated, like someone had ripped his soul from him.  He could hear Harry talking, begging him to understand.

"...please, I'm sorry.  I wanted to know so much more about you, but no one could answer my questions.  I know I shouldn't have looked, but please, forgive me.  I'm so sorry," Harry cried, tears streaming down his face.

Severus still didn't speak.  He felt so empty.  He loved Harry.  He had accepted Harry into his life.  He was ready to have the love that his mother and Lily said was waiting for him, but it was all a lie.  Harry had stolen from him his most private possession--his thoughts and feelings.

"Severus?" Harry tentatively asked.  "Are you okay?"

"Get out," he whispered.
 
Harry looked like he wanted to object, but thought better of it.  He gathered his cloak and robe and walked to the door.  Before he left, he turned to look at Severus one last time.

"I'm sorry.  If you can find it in your heart to forgive me, I'll spend the rest of my life making it up to you."

Severus spelled the door shut.

~*~

At breakfast the next morning, everyone knew something was wrong between professors Snape and Potter.  The two were at opposite ends of the table when they had sat together the previous night.  Harry kept throwing Severus remorseful glances.  Severus pointedly ignored him.  The staff was even more concerned.  They had all been privy to the closeness that had developed between the two men, so to see them at such odds was disheartening.

Albus, ever the meddler, sent Severus a look that clearly said 'come see me.'  Severus ignored him as well.

When he was finished with his meager breakfast of coffee and toast, he stormed out of the Great Hall.  Harry's eyes followed him mournfully, but the man didn't turn around.  The students held their breath—they didn't know what to expect from one of the most powerful wizards alive.
 
~*~

Severus didn't know how he made it through the day.  He gave each class his grade appropriate speech on potions, but also had to field questions about his defeat of Voldemort.  Potter was looking at him like a kicked puppy.  Albus was worried, Minerva was catty, and everyone else was nosy.  By the time he arrived for dinner, Severus wanted to strangle someone.

He took his customary place next to Albus, hoping that the man would leave him alone at least until after dinner.  He ate his meal mechanically, trying not to think of anything.  Thinking only led to Harry, and thoughts about Harry were painful now.  Just as he was about to leave the table, an owl came flying into the Great Hall and landed in front of him.  Tied to both of the owl's legs was a package.  Severus had no idea who would have sent him something, so he hastily yet thoroughly checked the parcel for any harmful spells or curses.  Finding nothing, he grabbed his package and left.

Once in his rooms, Severus opened the box and found a beautiful robe.  It was dark green, so dark that it appeared black.  Silver trim etched around the hems and a gold clasp held the neck closed.  It was gorgeous, and very expensive.  It was a battle robe with extra protection against potions, perfect for a man who taught hormonal idiots the delicacy that is potions making.

Severus admired the robe for several minutes before he moved to place it back in its box.  He couldn't wear it, no matter how much he wanted.  It was from a stranger, and he didn't want to give anyone ideas.  

At the bottom of the box, however, he found a letter with Potter's familiar scrawl.  His first instinct was to throw it away, but he decided that he should at least read the missive.  After all, Potter had gone through a lot of trouble to get him such an extravagant gift.

Dear Severus,

I know you don't want to talk to me, and I don't blame you.  I have no words for my actions.  I shouldn't have invaded your privacy, but I can't feel bad for learning more about you.  I'm only sorry that I hurt you.  For that, I can't apologize enough.

I do love you, Severus, and I want to prove it to you.  Allow me to make amends, publicly, for the hurt I've caused.  For the next four weeks, an owl will arrive with a gift for you at dinner.  Even if you decide not to accept my apology, please keep the gifts anyway.

Severus, I am sorry.  Please forgive me.

Love,

Harry

Severus didn't know what to think.  Part of him was still so very angry that Harry violated his privacy.  The other part of him just wanted to forgive the young man.  He'd been foolishly in love once himself, and the disastrous consequences of his actions still haunted him.  He didn't understand.  He was usually the one to hold onto grudges, but his heart urged him to forgive the younger man.  He'd been young once as well.

He would forgive Harry, but he wouldn't tell him.  He was going to make Harry squirm for the next two weeks.

~*~

The next morning at breakfast, the Great Hall was shocked into silence.  Professor Severus Snape, dungeon monster, walked into breakfast wearing an exquisite green robe.  None of them had ever seen him out of his traditional black robes, and they were speechless.  The robes were very flattering, and while no one would ever accuse Snape of being handsome, they did accentuate his best qualities.

Harry was gobsmacked, and couldn't help staring at Severus throughout breakfast.  He kept trying to catch the older man's eye, hoping they could talk, but Severus was studiously avoiding him.  He gave up and focused on getting through the day.

At dinner, the same owl from the first day arrived bearing another package.  Snape gave the owl a treat and excused himself from the table.  Back in his rooms, he opened the box to find a very nice quill and ink set.  He looked at the gift, before placing it on his classroom desk.

The next two weeks followed in the same manner.  Severus would wear, use or display whatever gift Harry gave him.  People would comment on the new item.  Harry would look at Severus for confirmation that he was forgiven but would only find an impassive mask.  

The fifteenth gift came in a different way.  Severus arrived and ate dinner as usual, awaiting his gift.  The staff and pupils chattered around him, but he paid no mind to them.  He was anxious to see what Harry had gotten for him, although he would never admit it.  He looked toward the end of the table to find the other man, but didn't see him. When dessert came and went without an owl, Severus began to grow worried.  Maybe his stony silence had discouraged Potter and he no longer wanted forgiveness.  Maybe Potter was quit of him completely?  

Just as he was about to worry, Harry Potter arrived, decked out in a bright red robe with a silver sash.  Every eye in the hall turned toward him, wondering what he was about to do.    By now, all of the school had figured out that something was going on between Professors Snape and Potter, but none of them quite knew what.  When they saw the Harry, they all craned their heads and quieted down to see if they could hear what was happening.  Potter, however, made all their covert spying unnecessary.

"Professor Severus Snape," he said, striding up to the man, "please accept this simple token as a measure of my sincerity.  I deeply regret offending you, and I hope this gift will go a long way toward repairing our rift."

Harry pulled a long, cloth-wrapped parcel out of his robe and laid it directly in front of the potions professor.  Severus desperately wanted to escape the public spectacle, but seeing as Potter was blocking his exit, he had no choice but to open the gift.  

Severus was speechless.  There, on the cloth, was the Prince family sword and shield.  The blade was made of the high-quality Damascus steel, its edge and tip sharpened to deadly perfection.  The hilt was hand-carved from a basilisk fang with rubies and emeralds inlaid to represent hibiscuses, the family flower.  The shield was even more magnificent than the sword.  It was carved from fine mahogany wood, the details painstakingly etched onto its face.  Hibiscuses and snakes twined their way around each other and the edge of the shield, representing the silent and dangerous nature of the family.  A knight on a horse stood atop a multicolored cross representing the four elements.  All of this finery was laid over a sheet of steel.  The articles were truly impressive and Severus wondered how Harry had gotten his hands on them.

Severus had never seen them before, having only looked at pictures of them due to his mother's disinheritance upon her marriage to his father.  Snape was not a sentimental man, but he found himself filled with gratitude for Harry.  He went to thank the younger man, then noticing that everyone was staring at him, excused himself and Harry from the table.

In the privacy of his rooms, Severus turned to Harry and kissed him.  

Harry didn't know what he was expecting, but it most definitely wasn't a kiss.  He wasn't complaining, however.  The kiss was everything he dreamed it would be.  It was slow, sensual, and titillating.  

"Thank you, Harry," Severus said sincerely.  

Harry smiled and nodded, "You're welcome."

The two men stared at each other for some time, until Harry firmed his resolve, "I should go."

"Yes, you should."

~*~

The next two weeks passed as if the two men hadn't shared such an intimate moment.  Harry still sent gifts with the owl and Severus still ignored him.  Finally, the four weeks had passed and Harry sent Snape his final gift.  The last box contained a liter of fine scotch, aged twenty-five years.  Severus couldn't help smiling at Harry's thoughtfulness.  I t was his favorite drink.  Fortunately, he was in the privacy of his rooms where no one could see.  After Harry's public apology, Severus took extra care to conceal his gifts from prying eyes until he was ready to display them.  Setting aside the bottle, he opened the letter.

Severus,

My four weeks are up.  I've noticed that you used the items I've sent, and I've respected your desire for solitude while you make your decision.  I understand if you're still angry.  I just want to know if I have a chance of being with you.  I've missed you, Severus.  If you have forgiven me, please meet me in my rooms after curfew.  The password is obsidian.

All my love,

Harry

Severus smiled; giving Potter the silent treatment had worked.  Figuring he'd tortured the poor young man long enough, he gathered the bottle of scotch and his courage and walked to Harry's rooms.

~*~

Harry was surprised when his wards alerted him to Severus's presence.  Although they had shared a kiss, Severus still remained distant.  After not talking to the man for the past two weeks, Harry honestly didn't know where he stood with the potions professor.  He was nervous about meeting with Snape, something that hadn't happened around another guy in a while.  Usually, men approached Harry and hit on him.  He made the decision to talk to them or not.   This time, Harry had to make the first move and wait for Severus's acknowledgement.  

Once the older man was seated with a drink, Harry started talking.

"How are you, Severus?  How are your classes going?" he rambled.  

"I am fine, Harry, which you already know," Severus said.

"What do you mean?" Harry tried, and failed, to sound coy.

"I was a master spy for twenty-five years.  Do you really think that I would not find out that you've been quizzing the Headmaster and other staff, especially Madam Pomfrey, about my well-being?" Severus raised his eyebrow.

Harry blushed, "Well, I just wanted to make sure you were okay."

"I know, Harry, and I appreciate the concern.  I also am grateful for your understanding.  I am a solitary man; I deal with my problems by myself.  I needed time away from you to think about the situation, and as difficult as it was for you, you gave me that," he explained.

"I couldn't do anything except give you what you needed.  I violated your privacy, so the fact that you were even willing to allow me this chance to apologize was more than I expected," Harry stated.  "I am sorry, Severus.  Very and truly sorry."

"I know you are, Harry, or else you wouldn't have made such a public spectacle of yourself.  I have to ask, however, why you even did it in the first place?"

The defense professor knew that this question was coming.  He'd thought about it the whole time they were separated, hoping to come up with a better answer than he'd given Severus the night he told him, and he couldn't.  All he could think about was learning more about the mysterious man.

Harry knew that Severus could tell when he was lying, so he decided upon the truth.

"I had to know more about you," Harry started.  "You'd just killed Voldemort, a seemingly impossible task that had been laid upon my shoulders ever since I entered the Wizarding world, and here you dispatched of him like he was nothing.  You almost killed yourself to get him, and you would have died had Dumbledore and I not pulled you out in time.  No one really knew anything about you beyond superficial facts, and I was more than a little enamored with you."

"I'll say," Severus interrupted, snorting.

"Anyway," Harry continued, "I wanted so badly to know more about the real you.  I couldn't find any information from the others, and I knew you had a pensieve from our lessons during my fifth year.  I thought that if I could just know more about you, I would understand you.

"It took me an hour to unlock your wards.  You're really paranoid, do you know that?" Harry asked.

"Well, as my pensieve was discovered and viewed while I was comatose and unable to resist the intrusion, I would say those wards are warranted," Snape drawled.

Harry winced, but continued his narrative, "Anyway, after getting into your rooms, I rifled around for a little before I found the loose floorboard.  I pried it up, pulled out the pensieve and looked."

Severus thought about Harry's explanation for a while before finally asking, "Did you find that for which you so desperately and illegally searched?"

"Yes.  I discovered more about you than I ever wanted to know.  I've learned my lesson, Severus," Harry leaned forward, placing his palm on Snape's knee, "and I will never look at another's pensieve again.  Unless they ask, that is."

"Hmmm.  One would have thought you would know better after your fifth year when I so violently evicted from your Occlumency training," Severus said.

"Well, I didn't then, but I did now.  I fully understand and respect the use of pensieves, and if you forgive me, vow never to violate your trust again," Harry told him.  

"You still want to be with me?" Snape asked.  "After all you've seen me do?"

"Yes, Severus.  I meant it when I said I love you.  You've done some horrible things, but I know you regret them.  If you didn't, you wouldn't have willingly risked your life to atone for them," Harry stated confidently.

"Your loyalty could be misplaced.  I could be a terrible person and treat you badly," Snape warned.

"I know you won't do that, Severus," Harry said.  "I trust you."

With those three words, Severus made up his mind.

"Very well then.  We will continue our association and see where it leads."

A weight came off Harry's shoulders, and he nodded at Severus.

"You will accompany me to the first of a series of Ministry balls this Saturday.  Dress appropriately and pick me up from my chambers at 6:40 sharp.  We don't want to be late," Severus said, standing up and walking toward the door.

"What?" Harry was confused.

"Why, Mr. Potter, we're going on our first date," Severus informed him before leaving his chambers.

Harry watched the door close with a goofy grin.  Severus had accepted his apology and was now dating him.  Things were definitely looking up.

~*~

The Ministry ball was just as boring as Severus expected, but having Potter with him made things tolerable.  Fudge got up and pretended like he believed in Severus all along and that the final battle was his idea, but the audible scoffs from Harry and Severus told the audience the truth.

After accepting his Order of Merlin, First Class, Severus was paraded around the room and forced to converse and dance with people whose intelligence could be measured with a spoon.  If it hadn't been for Harry cutting in whenever he became so incensed that he wanted to throttle someone, he would have been in Azkaban for several murders.

"Enjoying yourself?" Harry smirked as they waltzed around the ballroom.

"Of course not, Harry," Severus replied.  "All of this socializing and conversing with imbeciles is dropping my intelligence and trodding upon my loafers."

Harry laughed aloud, drawing even more attention to him and Severus.  Severus rolled his eyes, muttering about hangers-on and idol worshippers.

"Keep laughing like that Potter, and everyone will think you're my lover," Snape murmured.

"Would that be so bad?" Harry questioned.  "After all, we are very close."

"I would prefer for my private life not to be splashed across the tabloid for the idiotic masses to read," Severus replied.

"Too late for that," Harry said, pointing to a corner.

There, with quills moving furiously was Rita Skeeter and others of her ilk.  Flashbulbs were constantly exploding, taking many pictures of the new couple.

"I can already see the headline," Severus moaned.  "Boy Who Lived and Vanquisher of Voldemort in Illicit Love Affair!"

"Well, if that's the case, we should at least give them something to talk about," Harry whispered, capturing Severus's lips with his own.

The entire room turned to goggle at two of their heroes, but neither Severus nor Harry noticed.  The two men were wrapped up in their kiss.  Harry kissed Severus with all the love and desire he felt.  Severus, unused to such a depth of emotion, eagerly returned the kiss, greedy for more.  He melted into the kiss, his arms tightly gripping Harry.  

The two had stopped dancing as they exchanged languid, liquid kisses.   Their touches weren't obscene, but incredibly intimate.  Some of the onlookers turned away, feeling as if they were intruding on a sacred rite between the two men.  Eventually, Severus regained his senses and broke the kiss.

"I think we've given the gossipmongers more than enough fodder," he panted.

"Shall we go?" Harry offered Severus his arm.

"Yes, we shall."

The two left the ball's attendants in stunned silence.  

~*~

After the Ministry ball, everyone knew that Severus and Harry were together so the two men didn't try to hide their relationship.  They were always cordial and professional in front of their students and colleagues, but in private, they were very intense.  

They dated, they danced, they laughed, and they enjoyed themselves.  Harry told Severus about his miserable childhood, and Severus discussed in depth the memories that Harry had seen in the pensieve.  They often dined together in Severus's chambers, discussing their day away from prying eyes.

Dumbledore was more than pleased that his two favorite boys had gotten over their animosity and found love.  He knew that Severus needed other people in his life besides him, as much as he mourned the lack of their previous closeness.  Minerva, on the other hand, was a little baffled, but after watching the two men together, came to the conclusion that they were made for each other.  The rest of the staff either smiled at them or ignored them.  It didn't matter one bit to Harry and Severus.

At the end of the school year after the students had left, Harry and Severus took another big step in their relationship.

The two men had been walking through the Forbidden Forest looking for potions ingredients when Harry looked at Severus and realized that he'd rather be muddy and smelly and searching the dirt for roots than anywhere else.  

"Severus," he called, halting the potion master's progress.

"Yes?"

"Marry me," he said.

Snape turned around, shocked that Harry would ask him such a serious question in such a dreary place.  He stared at his lover, his eyes searching Harry for any hint of amusement.  He found none.  Harry was serious.

There was only one thing to say.

"Yes."

~*~

"Potter, why in the devil did I let you talk me into such meaningless frippery?" Severus complained.

"Because at the time, I didn't know Molly and Hermione would turn into such insane wedding-obsessed harpies," Harry sighed, falling onto the couch.

"We should just elope," Severus said off-hand.

"I would, except you know that neither one of them would ever let us live it down," Harry muttered.

"Too true," Severus agreed.

Wedding planning was more exhaustive than either man had imagined.  Hermione Weasley and her mother-in-law had specific ideas of how their nuptials should be.  There were handmaidens, groomsmen, attendants, celebrants (they only really needed one), and vows to be discussed.  The food, flowers, and music had already been decided.  It was mid-November, and the two men were immersed with class work and detentions so they were not looking forward to their bonding being so difficult.  

"It shouldn't be this hard," Harry whined.

"No, but it's your fault, Potter.  You're the one who insisted that they help us plan the blasted thing!" Severus railed.

"Hey!  I thought they would help," defended Harry.

"Well, you got us into this mess, so figure a way out," Severus told him.

"Yes, Dear.  We're not even married and you're already giving me orders," Harry smirked.

"Get used to it, Potter.  I like commanding you," sneered Severus.

"You know," Harry breathed, "you could order me around in the bedroom."

Severus groaned.  His brat of a fiancé had been making subtle and obvious innuendo for the last three months.  It was getting harder and harder to resist him, but Severus was determined to hold out, at least until their wedding night.

"As tempting as that sounds, Harry, I must decline.  I have a mountain of paperwork to complete," Severus reluctantly pulled away from his lover.

"Why, Severus?  You keep putting me off every time I try to take things a step further.  Don't you want me?" asked Harry.

"Of course I want you, you idiot!" snapped Severus.  "I just don't want to have sex until after we are wed.  I made a promise to myself a long time ago that I would save myself until then, and I've made it forty-six years, so a few more months won't kill me."

Harry was gobsmacked.  His fiancé had just revealed that he was a virgin.  Harry had to make sure he understood Severus.

"Wait, do you mean to tell me that you've never had sex?" he asked.

"Yes, you dolt.  I am still chaste.  Having given my innocence and purity to a mad megalomaniac, I decided to save something for myself.  My chastity is my gift to you and myself," explained Snape.

Harry was beyond moved at his future husband's words, "Thank you, Severus.  I will treasure you gift always."

Eyes rolling, Severus pushed his lover away from him, "I must leave or else I fear that I will never get work done."

Harry gave his lover a quick kiss before swatting him on the behind.

"Goodnight, Severus."

~*~

Harry and Severus eventually enlisted Minerva's aid in containing the two over-exuberant Mrs. Weasleys.  McGonagall's no-nonsense approach to the two women's plans fit nicely with what the two men actually wanted.  She helped them trim the elaborate affair down to an intimate celebration for close friends and family.  

The school year passed once again with no problems other than the usual inter-house rivalries.  It was a nice change from the yearly attacks by Voldemort and his crazed band of Death Eaters.  People were finally starting to relax and move on with their lives.  Harry and Severus were doing the same—planning their bonding for the summer solstice.

Their wedding day dawned clear and beautiful.  The two men spent the night before together, eschewing tradition that they separate.  They always spent the holidays wrapped in each other's arms and were not about to stop because of some superstitious nonsense.  Besides, Severus's mother had always said that it was the night before the wedding that was the most important.  If he could sleep next to his intended without problems, it would bode well for his future.  She had followed the Muggle superstition, much to her everlasting regret.  His father had always ridiculed his mother, but Severus took her words to heart.  Eileen was a practitioner of Old Magic (even if she didn't use it on her husband), and if anyone would know about bad marriages, she would.

Severus and Harry entered the clearing in the center of the Forbidden Forest hand in hand.  Severus was wearing a royal blue robe with silver trimmings while Harry was dressed in a light blue robe with gold trim.  They walked down the aisle toward the stone altar where Albus was waiting.  Dumbledore's blue eyes were twinkling so brightly they almost outshone the sun.  They knelt at the stone altar as Albus blessed and bound him.  A few words of affirmation later, and the two men were lawfully wedded and bonded husbands.

The reception seemed to drag on forever.  Harry kept touching and teasing Severus all through the festivities.  The older man wanted to drag his younger husband into a dense copse of trees and have his way with him, but Severus managed to resist temptation.  Eventually they were able to escape their friends' clutches and took their portkey to a secluded island in the South Pacific.

"Finally," Harry sighed as they sunk onto the sofa in their beachside bungalow.  "I thought we would never get out of there."

"Indeed," Severus agreed.  "They were more excited than we were."

"They were just happy for us," Harry said, turning to his lover, no, his husband.  "We're finally married."

"Yes, we are," there was a touch of wonder in Severus's voice.

"It feels like a dream," Harry admitted.  

"It is a dream, Harry.  Two and half years ago, neither one of us thought we would survive the war with Voldemort, and now our lives are completely different.  I must admit that I am quite pleased with how my life turned out," Severus smiled.

"You'll be even more pleased tonight," Harry leered, leaning in for a kiss.

Electricity ran through them as their lips met.  Harry gently licked his tongue against Severus's lips, asking for entrance.  His husband obliged him, opening his mouth and moving his tongue to meet Harry's.  Their tongues danced as their hands moved all over each other's body.  Severus broke away, trailing wet kisses across Harry's jaw to his ear.  He licked around the lobe, tentatively sucking the bottom into his mouth.  A moan from Harry told him his attention was appreciated, so he teasingly traced the shell before darting his tongue inside.

"Oh Severus," Harry moaned, enjoying the sensation.

Severus moved to his husband's other ear as Harry worked frantically on their clothing.  

"You wear too many buttons," whispered Harry.  "We'll have to fix that."

With a muttered spell, Harry vanished both of their clothes.

"Potter!" Severus barked.  "Did you just destroy our wedding robes?"

"No, Severus.  They're safe and off you," he said, attacking a nipple.

"Merlin," Severus groaned.

Harry grinned wickedly.  Severus was so responsive to his touch.  Running his hands up and down Severus's sides, Harry lightly nipped and sucked the nipples.  Once they were rock hard, he ran his tongue down Severus's chest to his navel.  Licking the edge, he stuck his tongue inside, delighting in Severus's moans.  

"More," pleaded Severus, "more."

"As you wish," Harry smiled.

Moving lower, he turned his attention to his attention to Severus's engorged cock.  He wanted to give Severus a blowjob to remember.  Harry engulfed his husband's erection, causing Severus to arch off the bed.

"Oh gods, Harry!" Severus keened.

A few deep sucks to Severus's cock had him coming like a teenager.  Severus was mortified at his quickness, and turned his red face away from Harry.

"Hey, what's the matter?" Harry asked as he looked at his dejected husband.

"Nothing," Severus muttered, his face still turned away from Harry.

"Did I do something wrong?" Harry was concerned now.

"No, I did.  I can't believe I came already," he sounded so dejected.

"It's okay, Love," Harry smiled.  "It's your first time.  I'm surprised you lasted this long."

Severus gave him a skeptical look.

"Honestly.  My first time, I came after a couple of touches," he admitted.

Severus seemed suspicious, but eventually nodded his head.  Harry took that to mean his husband was ready for more.  With his eyes holding Severus's attention, Harry slowly licked every drop of semen that trickled down his husband's penis.  Harry looked like he'd stepped out of an erotic fantasy, and Severus quickly felt his cock hardening.   

He had never felt such pleasure in his life.  Harry moved slowly up and down his cock, sucking lightly.  His hands fondled Severus's balls then moved lover, grazing against his entrance.  Severus was too absorbed in the pleasure that Harry's mouth was giving him to pay attention to his husband's hands.  

Harry silently summoned the lavender lubricant that Severus brewed especially for this night.  He dipped his hand into it before slowly working his index finger into Severus.  He moved it around, slowly stretching the tight ring of muscle.  As he inserted a second finger, he felt his husband tense.  

"Harry?" questioned Severus, a little apprehensive.

"Shh, relax Love.  It's all right.  Just relax," Harry advised.

Severus did what he said and found that the fingers went in more easily.  Harry moved his mouth downward, kissing the apex of Severus's thighs and laving his legs with his tongue.  His other hand continued to pump Severus's arousal as he loosened his husband's entrance.  

When Harry deemed Severus sufficiently prepared, he slicked up his neglected cock.  Harry moved up Severus's body, kissing him breathless.  Harry delighted in Severus's unique flavor.  His husband tasted of cinnamon and sweetness, a delicious combination.  Harry closed his lips around Severus's tongue, sucking the tasty morsel until it became swollen.  Harry opened his mouth wider, trying to devour Severus whole.

As his husband sighed under the attention, Harry slowly began to penetrate his lover.  Inch by agonizing inch, Harry pushed forward.  Severus tensed again, and he could see the discomfort in his love's face, but the man bore it without complain.  Once he was fully seated, Harry had to stop for a minute and gather his breath.  Severus was so tight and warm.  It felt like coming home.

"Are you okay?" Harry asked.

"I'm fine," Severus replied.  

Harry peppered Severus's face with kisses, murmuring words of love and devotion as he began to move.  He thrust slowly at first, getting his husband used to the movement.  Severus was awkward at first, just lying on the bed as Harry thrust above him, then he moved clumsily, meeting his lover.  Harry held his hips, guiding him, as he sped up.  

They moved together slowly and sensually for what seemed like hours until they reached their peaks.  Severus went first, years of sexual repression manifesting themselves in fast orgasms.  Harry held out a little longer.  Severus felt so perfect around him that he came hard, shouting his lover's name.

Time had no meaning to the two men.  They existed on a separate plane.  Blue and green lights danced around them, but they didn't notice.  All they felt was a pulsing love for the other coursing through their veins.  The bond that had hummed after their nuptials burst to life, feeding them information about each other.   A spark lit inside of Severus, but he was too sated to notice.

An indeterminate amount of time later, the two men came down from their orgasmic high and cuddled with each other.

"I love you, Severus," Harry whispered.

"I love you, too," Severus said.

A wave of Harry's hand had them clean and covered with the blankets.  As he fell asleep, Severus finally realized what Lily and his mother had been trying to tell him.  There was a joy to living, to being alive, and he needed to find his.  In the last two years, Severus had made his peace with society and himself.  He'd found love and friendship in the most unlikely of places.  Most of all, he'd found the other half of his soul.  

He was thankful for his second chance and no longer wished for death.  Without it, he would have never discovered the joy of living.

~*~

The End



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.