Of Indeterminate Viscosity
by Drachenmina





Blood is thicker than water – traditional English and German proverb.

Family isn't about whose blood you have. It's about who you care about - Trey Parker and Matt Stone, South Park, Ike's Wee Wee, 1998


Prologue

Harry carefully placed the red block on the blue block.  The tower wobbled a bit, but didn’t fall down.  Mummy and Daddy were quarrelling in the kitchen like they always did.  Something went bang.  Harry picked up the green block.  He had to stretch up on tiptoes to put it on top of the others.  Next the yellow block.  Daddy was shouting again.  Harry heard his name and paused for a bit to listen.  “How do I know he’s even mine?  For all I know he’s bloody Snivellus’ brat!”  It didn’t make sense so Harry stopped listening.  It was time for another red block.  Frowning, Harry tried his hardest to stretch so he’d be tall enough to reach the top of the tower.  And he did it!  He made an Oh of surprise as he realised his feet were off the ground!  Gurgling with laughter, he wiggled his dangling toes experimentally.

“Harry!  Oh, Harry!”  Mummy had a funny face on – she was smiling and crying at the same time.  “What a clever boy!  Come to Mummy, my clever boy, we’re… we’re going on a trip.”

“Dadaduh?”

“No, Harry.  Dada won’t be coming.”

*


Of Indeterminate Viscosity

“Harry! Good to see you, mate!  How’d it go, then, with your dad this summer?” Ron hauled his trunk onto the Hogwarts Express and grinned sympathetically at Harry, who’d already bagged a window seat.  Ron was well aware that his best mate’s holidays with the distant father he hadn’t even met until he was eleven weren’t usually a barrel of laughs.

Harry shrugged.  “Oh, you know.  Same as usual, really – except we had Sirius to stay for a few weeks, so at least I had someone to talk to.  Although most of the time him and Dad were knocking back the firewhiskey and talking about the good old days.  He did – ” Harry paused.  “He did say something, though.  He – ” Harry broke off and looked at the door.  “Look, I’ll tell you later, all right?  It’s not something I’d want just anyone hearing.”

Ron’s face creased in concern.  “Yeah?  Wait a mo.”  Standing up, he frowned in concentration, giving him a slightly constipated expression, and waved his wand in a complicated pattern whilst muttering Taedium.  “That’ll do it.  Fred’n’George taught me that one – anyone who looks in will see a compartment full of really boring people.  They said it’s great for when they want to snog their girlfriends.”

Harry grinned.  “So shouldn’t you be saving it for when Lavender gets on the train?”

Ron made a face.  “Yeah, well this charm’s also good for when you’re trying to avoid people.”

“What, have you two split up already?”

“Not sure, to tell you the truth.  Start of the summer she was sending me all these letters telling me how much she wuvved me, all covered in sixty zillion little hearts, but last week she sent me a bloody howler!  Said I was an insensitive, shallow, immature – you get the picture.”

“Bloody hell, Ron, what did you put in your letters to her?”

Ron frowned.  “You think I should have written back?  I thought she just liked writing letters, you know what girls are like.”

Harry laughed. “Ron, you berk, of course you should have written back!”

“Hey, I sent her a postcard from Bognor.  It was a funny one, too.  It said Weather’s here, wish you were great on it.”

“Oh, I’m sure she loved that!”

Ron looked a bit miffed.  “Anyway, what were you going to tell me about your dad?”

His face suddenly serious Harry leant forward, but still hesitated.  “It’s – well, I don’t think he is my dad.”

“Blimey, mate!  Why not?  I mean, you look like him and everything – he’s got to be your dad!”

Harry laughed bitterly.  “Apparently there’s charms to fix that.  I heard him and Sirius talking about it one night…”

*

Harry lay in bed, unable to sleep.  Whilst it was fun having Sirius staying with him and his dad – Harry really liked Sirius, and his dad was always in a much better mood when his old schoolfriend was there – it also really pushed home how awkward the relationship between Harry and his dad was.  His dad was just, well, different with other people.  More natural, somehow.  And sometimes, Harry’d hear him laughing with Sirius in another room, and when he’d go in hoping to share the joke, Dad would fall silent and he wouldn’t look at Harry at all.  Harry’s gut tightened.  Maybe he was the joke.

They were laughing now – probably half-way through the bottle of firewhiskey, to judge by how loud they were being.  Coming to a sudden decision, Harry slipped out of bed and padded softly down the stairs.

“Look, Prongs, I think you ought to try a bit harder, that’s all.”  The conversation appeared to have taken a serious turn.  “So Lily left you – that’s her loss, not yours.  But it’s not Harry’s fault, so don’t take it out on him, mate.  He’s a good kid – bit quiet, but you can’t have everything.”

There was a silence, then Harry heard his father’s voice, sounding tired.  “It’s not that simple, Pads.” He sighed.  “You know why she left?”

“Always thought it was the whole culture-clash thing.  You know, her being Muggle-born, not understanding our ways, that sort of stuff.”

“Well, that was part of it, but – I think she cheated on me.”

“What?  Lily?  No way, mate!  She’d never have done that!  And who with, anyway?”

Harry held his breath waiting for the answer, an ice-cold feeling in the pit of his stomach. His mum would never have – would she?

“Who’d you bloody think?” His dad snarled.  Harry heard the clink of a glass, then the glug-glug sound of it being refilled.

“What?  You don’t mean Sniv, do you?  That bloody pansy?  Come on, Prongs, she had more taste than that!”

James laughed, a harsh sound that made something inside Harry twist painfully.  “She used to talk about him all the bloody time.  How unfair it was I wouldn’t let her see him.  How I ought to trust her.  How – ” his voice caught “ – how she wanted Harry to know him.  Tell me, Pads, why would she be so struck on that?”

Sirius’ voice was so low that Harry had to strain to make out the words.  “You don’t think – James, you can’t think that – ”

“That Sniv’s Harry’s dad?  That, Pads, is exactly what I think.”

“But… but he looks like you, mate.  Stupid hair, glasses and bloody everything!”

“What, and you think witches over the years never had occasion to develop charms to make sure their kids looked like their husbands?  I looked it up, mate.  It’s not even that difficult, if you do it young enough.”

“Bloody hell, Prongs!  But hang on, why don’t you get a test done?  Find out once and for all?”

“What the fuck would I say to Harry?  Sorry, mate, but I think your dead mum was putting it about a bit, just want to make sure you’re really mine?  You know he’d have to be there for the test – and if the charm showed I wasn’t his dad, what then?  He’d want to know who was – and what’s the chance of getting Sniv to do a paternity test?  And anyway, Pads, what’s that going to do him?  Finding out his mum was a slut and that greasy bastard’s his dad!”

Sirius snorted.  “Yeah, wouldn’t do a lot for his self-image, that.”  He sighed.  “So you’ve been keeping this quiet all these years?”

“Yeah.  And you’re not to say a bloody word, right, Pads?  No good’ll come of it getting out – I’m not going to brand Lily’s boy a bastard for no reason.  It’d be different if I’d married again, had kids of my own – but as it is, he might as well get my Galleons when I’m gone.  He’s seventeen now, he’ll be leaving home in less than a year.  And I do feel responsible for him – whatever else he may be, he’s my wife’s child.  Like Dumbledore said, I should have looked after him when she died, instead of leaving those bloody Muggle relatives of Lily’s to shove him in a cupboard and neglect him.”

“Come on, Prongs, you didn’t know that’s what they were doing.  Nobody did.  That wasn’t your fault.  She’d gone back to the Muggle world, hadn’t she?  It was only natural to assume she wanted him brought up by Muggles.  You can’t blame yourself for doing what you thought she wanted.”

“Yeah, mate, I know.  C’mon, bottle’s empty.  We going to get another?”

Heart pounding almost painfully in its intensity, Harry fled upstairs noiselessly before they could open the living room door.

*

“Bloody hell, Harry!” Ron exploded when Harry had finished his relation of what he’d heard.  “So do you think it’s true?”

Harry punched the seat, leaving a small dent and raising a cloud of dust.  “What the hell am I supposed to think?  He thinks it’s true, and he’d have a better idea than I would, wouldn’t he?”

“So who do you reckon your real dad is, then?  I mean, do you think you’ve met him?”

“How should I know?  All I’ve got to go on is that they called him Sniv and they didn’t like him.”

“Yeah, what was that other stuff they said about him?”

“Dad – I mean James Potter – called him a greasy bastard, and Sirius said he was a pansy.  Good thing I never got around to telling them I’m one, isn’t it?” Harry added bitterly.

Ron’s brow furrowed in thought.  Suddenly it cleared and a curious pallor spread over his face.

“What is it, Ron?”

“It’s, um, nothing,” Ron explained hastily.  “Just a stupid idea, couldn’t possibly be right.”

“Well, what is?  Come on, mate, if you’ve got an idea you’ve got to tell me!”

Ron’s face twisted.  “Look, it’s a stupid idea, and you’re not going to like it – ”

“Just bloody tell me, all right!” Harry got out of his seat in agitation.

“Oh, for – Snape, all right?  What if it’s Snape?”

Harry sat down with a bump.  “Snape?  You’re not serious – are you?  Ron?”

“Look, I said it was stupid.  It’s just – well, we’ve called him a greasy bastard, haven’t we?  And you know everyone says he’s queer.”

Harry bit his lip.  “And he’s always hated me, hasn’t he?  Because he hated James Potter when they were at school, I always thought – but maybe it’s because of Mum, too?  Because she married James instead of him?”  Harry looked at his friend.  “He can’t know, can he?  That I’m his son, I mean – he must just think I’m James Potter’s boy, like everyone else does.  I mean, he’s thrown it in my face often enough.”

Ron grimaced.  “Well, to be fair, mate, we don’t know for sure yet that you’re not.  And it was just an idea, right?”

“But it all fits, doesn’t it?” Harry sighed heavily.  “What a fucking mess.”

“So are you going to do anything?  Try and find out the truth?  Do you want to know the truth?” Ron grimaced again.  “I mean, no offence, mate, if he is your dad and all, but I reckon if Snape was my old man I’d be better off not knowing!”

Harry’s jaw set.  “Why?  Because he’s queer?”

“No, you stupid sod, because he’s Snape!  Come on, mate, you know I haven’t got a problem with that sort of stuff.  Although I still think you and Ginny - ”

Harry smiled apologetically.  “Never going to happen, Ron.”

“Right, right, I know.  But you can’t blame a bloke for trying.  She’s been bending my ear about you all bloody summer.  Course, I’ve no idea what she sees in you - ”

“Git!” Harry retorted, throwing a Pumpkin Pasty at his head.

“Thanks, mate!” Ron smiled, catching it and tearing open the wrapper.

Feeling hungry at the sight of his friend munching away, Harry grabbed a sandwich and for a while the two of them just ate, occasionally talking about Quidditch, school, and other non-controversial stuff.  But as their stomachs filled, conversation turned back to more serious matters.  Ron was the one to bring up the subject of Harry’s parentage once more.  “So anyway, if he’s sure he’s not your dad, why’d he take you in after you started at Hogwarts?”

“Dumbledore,” Harry replied darkly.  “You remember, I told you how Dumbledore called me into his office a week into our first term and introduced me to James?  I reckon he’d just been giving him a good talking to.  Telling him to shoulder his responsibilities and all that stuff.”

Harry remembered the scene in painful clarity.  He’d made his way up to Dumbledore’s office nervously, wondering how on Earth he’d managed to get into trouble in his first week, and half certain it must have been Snape who’d dropped him in it.  But instead of a bollocking, he’d been confronted with a tall bloke in glasses and with the sort of hair Harry recognised instantly from hours spent in front of the mirror trying to comb it down to Aunt Petunia’s exacting standards.  Dumbledore had been twinkling away, but the bloke – James – hadn’t smiled at him.  Actually, he hadn’t seemed at all pleased to see him, just looked at him and muttered Merlin, I’d forgotten those eyes.  Harry had been so unnerved by it all he hadn’t really taken in until later that this was his dad and he’d be leaving the Dursleys forever.

“Yeah, well, I s’pose your dad – oh, you know what I mean – wasn’t going to say no to the man who defeated Grindelwald and Voldemort.”  Ron’s face grew slightly awed as he contemplated their outwardly batty headmaster’s past feats.  Even Harry, who’d grown up completely ignorant of the wizarding world until he was eleven, had heard the story a hundred times, how Dumbledore and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named had faced off in the grounds of Hogwarts in a battle that had left several dead, including poor old Neville’s parents, but had ended in a victory for the Light.  It had all happened when Harry had been a few months old.  His mum and dad had still been together then, he thought with a twinge of pain.

“Hard to imagine, innit?” Ron put in.

“What?”

“Dumbledore, with his sherbet lemons and his nitwit, blubber and tweak, doing in two of the most evil wizards of our times, of course!”

“Oh, yeah, that.  Yeah, he doesn’t look like it, does he?” Harry agreed.

Ron looked suddenly uncomfortable.  “Um, Harry?  You haven’t forgotten all the rumours about Snape having been, well, a Death Eater?”

“Well, obviously they weren’t true, were they?  My mum’d never have hung around with a Death Eater – I mean come on, she was Muggleborn, wasn’t she?  And why would Dumbledore have hired him as a teacher anyway, if he was on the wrong side in the war?”

“S’pose you’re right.  So how are we going to find out if he’s really Sniv?  I don’t reckon it’d be a good idea to just ask him – dunno about you, but I like my gonads just the way they are.”

Harry grinned.  “I’ve been thinking about this.  We need to ask someone who was at school with them – but not Sirius, obviously, or he might guess what it’s all about.  So…”

“Remus!” Ron grinned triumphantly.  “Yeah, of course – you can just write to him, can’t you?”  He frowned, suddenly.  “But, well, what are you going to do when you do find out?  Assuming it is Snape – are you going to tell him?”

Harry made a face.  “Can’t imagine that going down too well, can you?  Hello, Professor, I know I’m your least favourite student after Neville, but guess what? I’m your son!  And he probably wouldn’t believe me, anyway.”

“Yeah, but – well, if it is true, he’s got to know it’s possible, hasn’t he?”

Harry shrugged. “S’pose he thinks if I was his son, he’d have heard about it by now,” he said at last.  “Anyway, I thought maybe I’d just, well, try and get along with him.  Get to know him a bit better. And then tell him.”

“Blimey, get to know Snape better?  Rather you than me, mate!” Ron’s grin turned to concern at the look in Harry’s eyes.  “Sorry – I mean, if he’s your dad, of course you want to get to know him.  It’s just hard to take in, you know?  Snape being your dad.”  He snorted.  “Snape being anyone’s dad, come to that.  S’pose he’s not as queer as everyone thinks.”

Harry shrugged again.  “There’s plenty of people who swing both ways.  And no, before you get your hopes up about Ginny, I’m not one of them.”

Ron grinned.  “So if you’re so bloody gay, mate, how come you haven’t had a boyfriend yet?”

Harry smiled slyly.  “Sure about that, are you?”

Ron’s eyes grew wide.  “Bloody hell, mate!  You meet someone over the summer, then?”

“Might have,” Harry teased, then relented.  “Yeah, but it wasn’t anything serious, you know?  Bloke called Marcus, works in London, but was down in Godric’s Hollow over the summer helping his mum and dad do up their new house.  We just messed around a bit, really.  He looked bloody great with his shirt off, all sweaty after a hard day’s work,” he added with a wistful smile.

“Um, I think I’ll take your word on that, no offence, mate.  So you’re not seeing him again?”

“Nah – well, he said to look him up if I was in London, but it was just, well, you know.”

“Yeah.  So we’re both footloose and fancy free, then?”

Harry grinned.  “Ronald Weasley, are you trying to chat me up?”  He laughed at Ron’s sudden appalled look.  “Don’t worry, you’re not my type.  Although I might make an exception if you asked nicely…”

“Bugger off, mate!  I’m straight and proud of it,” Ron told him, grinning back.

What with unpacking his trunk and catching up with people he hadn’t seen all summer, Harry didn’t have time write to Remus until after lessons the next day.  He sat by the window trying to think of how to put things, whilst Ron lay down on his bed waiting for his lips to return to normal size.  Apparently he’d been catching up with Lavender, and she wasn’t the forgiving sort.

“Rurry he’, don’ see why she ha’ to hi’ me wi’ tha’ enhor’hen charn,” he mumbled indistinctly.

Harry grinned.  “Well, she’s right, you know – I can’t see you snogging anyone with lips like that!  Come on, it’ll wear off by tomorrow.  Now, how the hell am I going to put this so Remus won’t get suspicious?”

Fed up with trying to talk, Ron just gave a supine shrug.

Harry eventually went with just asking outright if Snape had been called Sniv when they were at school, filling up the rest of the letter with as much cheerful chat as he could dredge up about the summer holidays.  He ended it with write back soon, and gave the letter to Hedwig, who flew off in a flurry of snowy feathers.

*

It was over a week before Remus wrote back, and although Harry hadn’t really expected it to be any sooner, what with Remus’ job at the Werewolf Liaison Office, which took him out at all hours, and the new baby to boot, he still tore open the letter with unconcealed impatience.

Remus’ tired-looking scrawl filled several pages with details of little Teddy’s momentous achievements, which Harry skipped over guiltily in his eagerness to get to the bit he was really interested in.

Where did you hear the name Sniv? Sirius, I suppose.  I haven’t heard that in years.  It’s short, I regret to say, for Snivellus, a rather nasty name your father and Sirius came up with for (as you guessed) Professor Snape when we were all first-years.  I hope I can trust you to be mature about this and not torment Professor Snape with a hated schoolboy nickname – I know you’ve never seen eye-to-eye with him but he really doesn’t deserve that, whatever Sirius may try to tell you!

Dora is feeling much better now…

Harry closed the letter with hands that trembled imperceptibly.  So he was right.  Snape was his father.  Now… he just needed to get to know him better.

*

Harry waited until the end of their next potions class before trying to put his plan into action – although he’d seen the Potions Master stalking the halls of Hogwarts plenty of times in the preceding few days, as there was a very good chance that Snape would give him extremely short shrift he hadn’t fancied going up and attempting to start a conversation where just anyone might see them.

“Excuse me, Sir?  Can I ask you a question?” Harry tried to sound as polite and respectful as he could, but Snape still scowled at him suspiciously.

“Yes?  What is it, Potter?”

“Um, I just wondered if you could explain why we needed to add the mungwort to the Heartsease potion?”

Harry blanched a little at Snape’s sneer.  “I was under the impression, Potter, that I had assigned reading on this very topic before today’s class.  Although it should not surprise me that you regard reading assignments as optional.  Perhaps if I required you to write an essay upon the subject, you might bother to spare some time from your no doubt pressing social engagements?”

“Look, I did the reading, all right?  I just didn’t get all of it, that’s all,” Harry defended himself, struggling a bit now to sound polite.

“I can readily believe that that is hardly a novel experience for you, Potter.  However, if you feel your intellect is being strained by the requirements of NEWT level potions, I am quite sure I can arrange for your withdrawal from the subject.”

Harry had had enough.  “Or you could just try bloody well teaching it!  Look, I did the reading, I’ve got a question.  Would it kill you to just answer it?” Bugger! This wasn’t going at all as he’d planned!  He held his breath waiting for Snape’s answer, certain he’d just earned himself a detention.

Snape’s lips had tightened into a mere gash in his face.  At length he spoke.  “You recall the other ingredients of the potion?  The mungwort, Potter, is necessary to ensure that the ashwinder extract does not react adversely with the heartsease, causing a potentially fatal toxicity.”

Harry gave a huge involuntary grin of relief.  He hadn’t totally cocked it up.  And the point had been puzzling him.  Actually, in finding a question he could plausibly ask Snape, he’d been spoilt for choice, really.  “Right!  So why didn’t they just say that in the book?”

“Because, Potter, the book was written by an imbecile and a charlatan who knew little more about the theory of potion-making than you do,” was the surprising reply.  Snape had never said anything like that about their textbook before, although Harry had heard Hermione Granger moaning about it plenty of times.

“Why don’t you write your own book, then?” he asked, genuinely curious.

Snape snorted.  “Because I have no wish to waste my time, effort and parchment.  Misleading and execrably written it may be, but Advanced Potion-Making has been the standard NEWTs text for over a century. Have you any idea how reactionary most of the governors of the school are?  The chances of them endorsing a book written by anyone who has not been dead for at least fifty years are so minute as to be negligible.”

Harry grinned.  “Yeah, but think how grateful next century’s students would be!”

Snape stared at him, obviously suspecting Harry of mocking him somehow.  Harry wasn’t sure what to say – they’d been, well, almost getting on, but the mood seemed to have changed all of a sudden.  Feeling his face grow hot, he stammered his thanks for the explanation and fled.

*

Harry felt a lot more prepared for his next move in Getting to Know Snape.  He’d not only done the preparatory reading for the week’s potion twice, he’d discussed it with Hermione Granger so as to get an idea of what might be an intelligent question to ask.  She’d been really helpful, actually, suggesting further reading and then, when she saw his face at that, rolling her eyes and tut-tutting but nevertheless going to the library with him, grabbing the book and then reading out relevant passages.  Harry was left wondering why he’d never bothered to get to know her before – she might be Head Girl and the house swot to boot, but she was evidently quite happy to help others less diligent than herself.

Snape stared at him searchingly as he approached the desk after class.  Harry remembered uneasily all the rumours about Snape being an expert Legilimens, then reminded himself he didn’t, actually, have anything to feel guilty about this time.  “Another question, Potter?”

“Er, yeah.  It’s about the Draught of Living Death… ” There followed a discussion on the best way to prepare ingredients and the importance of using a silver knife to crush the sopophorous beans that Harry was amazed to find quite fascinating.  He’d never really got potions before – it had all seemed so boring and pointless, just following instructions from a book – but now he could see there was a reason for doing things in a particular way and that there were lots of different factors to weigh in making a decision on ingredients, methodology, and timings, it all seemed so much more interesting somehow, and he found he was enjoying the conversation for itself, not just as a means to an end.

Snape still seemed suspicious, however.  “May I ask, Mr Potter, the reason for this sudden and, it must be said, extremely uncharacteristic interest in Potions?”

Harry had been dreading that question – not that he didn’t have an answer ready, but he knew from experience that he was completely and utterly shite at lying convincingly.  “Um, well, it’s NEWTs year, I thought I’d better, you know, take things a bit more seriously,” he stammered, feeling uncomfortably certain he was blushing furiously.

Snape just gave him a long look, and then nodded.  “Commendable,” he murmured with just a suspicion of a smile.

Realising he’d got away with it, although he was honestly unsure how, Harry smiled back.

*

By the time they were halfway through the term, Harry felt like he was really getting somewhere with Snape.  It wasn’t just one-sided any more – Snape would come up to him during potions class and make helpful suggestions, and when he asked Harry questions these days, it felt like he was giving Harry an opportunity to shine, not trying to make him fall on his arse.  Harry found he was actually starting to think of potions as his favourite subject.

He’d even told Snape he was gay.  They’d been talking late one night and Snape had turned to him with a familiar curl of the lip and raise of the eyebrow upon noticing the time.  “Are you sure you wish to continue this discussion?  I feel sure there must be an army of young ladies awaiting your pleasure.”

“Um, I’m not really – I’m not really into, er, young ladies,” Harry had admitted, feeling his face grow hot and on tenterhooks for Snape’s reaction.  God, what if he thought Harry was taking the piss because of all the rumours about Snape being queer?  But then, if he was queer (bi, Harry reminded himself, your mum was a girl, remember?) wouldn’t Harry’s admission bring them closer?

“I… see,” Snape had said finally, his eyes seeming to pierce right through Harry and into the wall behind him.  “And how does your father view your preferences?”

“Um, I haven’t actually told him.  Yet,” Harry had added hurriedly.

Snape’s face had hardened.  “I should advise caution when you do so,” he’d said.  Remembering Sirius’ comment about bloody pansies, Harry had felt horribly certain James Potter and his mates had ripped the shit out of Snape for being queer.  Whether he was or not, he’d reminded himself.

“Thanks,” he’d said.  “For the advice, I mean,” he’d added when Snape had looked at him strangely.  And thanks for not judging, and for probably being queer too, he’d thought to himself, feeling a stronger connection than ever with the man in front of him.

*

“Potter, one moment,” Snape said at the end of one potions class as Harry turned to go.

“Yes, sir?” Harry smiled.

Snape cleared his throat.  “It occurred to me that this might be of use to you.”  He handed Harry a battered, well-thumbed copy of Advanced Potion-Making.  “This is my own copy.  There are extensive annotations and I have been through it recently adding explanatory notes where necessary.  You should find it illuminating – although I hope you will not be discouraged from continuing our little chats after class.”

Harry could hardly believe it.  “Are you sure you want to give me this?” he faltered, handling the dog-eared old textbook as if it were inscribed upon gold leaf.

Snape raised an eyebrow.  “I am, as you have no doubt forgotten, a Potions Master, Mr Potter.  I imagine I shall be able to function tolerably well without recourse to a schoolboy handbook.”

Harry blushed.  “Er, yeah, obviously.  Sorry.  But – thanks, you know.”  He hugged the book to his chest protectively, beaming and wondering if Snape had any idea how much this meant to him.  It was what he’d always dreamed of, back in the days of his cupboard: him and his dad doing stuff together, and his dad teaching him stuff and passing on things he’d found useful in his younger days.  Dreams that he’d tried hard to forget when he’d gone to live with James Potter.  “Thanks,” he said again.

Snape looked pleased at his reception of the gift.  “I wondered also if you might wish to join me on a trip I have in mind for the purchase of ingredients?  The school stocks have become regrettably low in many areas and so I shall have occasion to visit Oddbottle & Salters, the wholesalers, next weekend.  There is, I may say, quite an art to the buying of ingredients – one must, for example, be able to tell fresh ingredients from stale – and it occurred to me that you might find this an interesting excursion.”

Harry didn’t need persuading.  “That’d be great!  So where are they based – they’re not in Hogsmeade, right?”

Snape smiled.  “Indeed, no.  They are located in the Wizarding Section of Covent Garden Market.”

*

When Harry got back to Gryffindor Tower that evening, he couldn’t keep the grin off his face.  Ron was in the common room, playing chess with Neville, and Harry fidgeted on a chair until they’d finished and he could drag Ron aside and pull Snape’s gift out of his bag with a flourish.  “Look at this!  Snape’s own potions handbook!  I’m going to ace the potions’ NEWT with this!” he enthused.

“Yeah, well, throw a few crumbs to us lesser mortals, won’t you, mate?” Ron asked a little coolly.

Harry was wounded.  “Hey, of course I will!  We’re partners, right?”

Ron grinned at him, mollified.  “Long as you remember that, mate!”

“Harry, can I have a word with you?”  They both turned in surprise at the interruption.  It was Hermione Granger.

“Yeah, OK,” Harry shrugged, wondering what this was all about.  Maybe she had overheard and wanted to borrow Snape’s book too?  Well, she’d certainly earned it, what with all the help she’d given him.

They moved into a corner.   “Harry, I want to know what’s going on with you and Professor Snape,” she said severely without further preamble.

“What makes you think there’s something going on?” Harry asked cautiously.  She’d been a real help, but that didn’t mean he wanted to tell her about Snape being his dad.

“Well, how come you’re suddenly so interested in potions?  Don’t tell me it’s because of NEWTs, because I’ve been watching you in our other classes and nothing’s changed there.”  She put her hands on her hips and Harry wilted slightly under her steely gaze.  “I want to know if you’re planning some mean trick on Professor Snape.”

What?  No!  No way, Hermione!  I’d never – no, honestly, Hermione, it’s nothing like that. It’s just we’ve, er, been getting on a lot better, lately.”

Hermione’s face cleared.  “Oh! Oh, I see.” She smiled at him warmly.  “I’m sorry, Harry, but I had to ask, after I’ve been helping you.”  She patted Harry on the arm, rather to his surprise.  “Good luck, Harry.  I hope it works out for you.  I’ve always thought it was a shame Professor Snape seemed so lonely.”

Harry stared after her, bemused, as she left for the girls’ dorm.

“What was all that about?”  Ron asked when Harry made his way back over to his mate.

Harry shrugged.  “Dunno, really.  Still, she’s happy now, so who cares?”

Ron looked thoughtful.  “Yeah, she’s got a really nice smile, hasn’t she?”  He winced at Lavender’s glare as she walked past just at the wrong moment.

*

Harry could hardly sleep on the night before his trip to Covent Garden with Snape.  Daft really, considering how old he was, but well, it was his first trip out with his dad – didn’t he have a right to feel excited?  He felt he was grinning like an idiot as they walked through the Hogwarts grounds to the boundary and Apparated to the market.

It was enormous.  Stall after stall of jars, bottles, and sacks of ingredients.  Harry wouldn’t have known where to start.

“What’re those?” he asked, pointing to a stand of jars of what looked like oversized pickled onions.

“Dragons’ testicles,” came the amused reply.

Harry boggled.  “What do you use those for?”

“I, Harry, do not use them at all.  The credulous use them in various quack remedies for impotence.”

Harry couldn’t help smiling, although he could tell he was blushing as he spoke.  “Don’t they work?”

“To an extent, yes.  However, acromantula testes are far more efficacious.  Now, we need to seek out the dried insects.”

Snape led the way to an array of stalls selling every insect Harry had ever heard of and thousands more besides.  Lacewings, beetles of every hue, moths, butterflies – the list was endless.  Snape strode confidently to a stall labelled Skimmers.  “Do you recall, Potter, the use of such insects?” he asked, back to Professor mode.

“Er, you crush them and they’re used to create a potion that, when applied to the soles of the feet, enables the user to walk on water,” Harry replied, grateful that he’d actually read all the books Snape had lent him.

“Precisely.  As famously misused by Pius Frustrari in medieval times, as part of his long-running and frankly incomprehensible quest for canonisation by the Church.”

“Yeah, what happened to him in the end? The book didn’t mention.”

“Burned at the stake, I regret to say.”

“Yeah, right.  I can tell your heart’s just bleeding for the poor sod.  Anyway, I thought that never worked?”

Snape gave an evil smirk.  “It does if it’s wizards doing the burning.  Now, Potter, how do we tell the difference between the Gerridae and the Veliidae, which are far less effective as potions ingredients?”

“Erm…”

“In the Veliidae, the segment immediately behind the head is wider than the rest of the abdomen – observe?” Snape held up a bug for Harry’s inspection.  “This, Potter, is an example of the inferior species.”  He glared at the stallholder who immediately began to apologise profusely for what he called an oversight and fetched a sack of insects that made Snape nod in chilly approval.  After a vicious bout of haggling, they moved on to reptiles.

It was fascinating to watch.  Snape, it seemed, knew all the tricks of unscrupulous traders – and although he drove a hard bargain, Harry noticed the traders all seemed to respect and even like him for it.  After Snape had concluded his business, and an unbelievably large array of parcels had been wrapped up ready to be transported to Hogwarts, Snape asked Harry if he would care for a stroll around Covent Garden.

“Um, are we actually there?  I thought the market had moved to Vauxhall,” Harry said doubtfully.

Snape smiled.  “The Muggle side, yes.  Wizards, as I believe I have mentioned before, are reactionary creatures.  And in any case, with other methods of transporting goods and the availability of wizarding space, there was no need to move.  Come, this is the door to the Muggle Covent Garden.”

He led Harry through a small, nondescript doorway – and abruptly they found themselves in the middle of Covent Garden Arcade, stepping out of a tiny shop bearing a tastefully hand-painted placard announcing it was Closed for Refurbishments.  Harry stared at the scene around him.

“Try not to gawp at the tourist tat, Potter,” Snape admonished him.  Reluctantly, Harry tore his eyes away from the enticing-looking boutiques that lined the arcade and followed Snape outside. It was, he had to admit, just as interesting outdoors as in.  Throngs of people dotted the sunny square, watching jugglers, comedians, dancers and people pretending to be statues, and an old-fashioned merry-go-round blared its music into the air.  There was nothing like this in Little Whinging or, it had to be said, Godric’s Hollow.  Harry felt like he had on his first trip to Diagon Alley, and he had a fleeting wish that he was young enough to insist on a ride on the merry-go-round.

Still, watching the street performers was entertainment enough.  Even Snape had a smile on his face, Harry noted.  Actually, as he was in his teaching robes, quite a few people kept looking at Snape expectantly, obviously wondering when the show was about to start, but he didn’t even seem to mind that.  Perhaps he was used to it.  Harry, however, was grateful he’d put his jeans on for the trip.

After they’d watched for a while, and chucked a few coins into hats and instrument cases, they set off on a leisurely stroll around the area.  Harry didn’t care that he looked like a tourist, he was too busy drinking it all in.  When he left home, he told himself firmly, he was going to go and bloody well see some places.  Seventeen years old and he’d never even been to London properly!

An imposing building with enormous pillars round the entrance caught his eye. “Bloody hell, that place looks posh!  What is it?”

Snape smirked.  “That, Potter, is the Royal Opera House.  And yes, it is indeed posh, although in that peculiar sense of the word that precludes all modern comforts.  Still, I doubt you would have any interest in the productions therein, so the cramped seating and lack of air conditioning need present you no problems.”

Harry felt a curious sense of regret, looking at the imposing building.  “You’re probably right.  Don’t know a bloody thing about opera.  I wouldn’t mind going, though, even if it’s just to say I’ve been.”  He sighed.  “There was a school trip to the Royal Opera House when I lived with the Dursleys, but Aunt Petunia wouldn’t pay for me to go.”

Snape’s face grew stern.  “You should never have had to live with those Muggles.”

Harry got a warm feeling inside at his words. “Hey, it’s OK,” he shrugged, trying to pretend it wasn’t that important.  “I got out of there eventually.”

Snape snorted, but he didn’t actually say anything about James Potter, and they turned back to the Market, from where they could Apparate back to Hogsmeade.

*

It was a couple of weeks later that Snape came up to Harry after breakfast, and asked him to see him later that day.  After supper, Harry made his way down to the dungeons excitedly.  Was Snape going to ask him on another buying trip?

Snape looked up with his usual faintly superior smile as Harry entered his office.  “You are late, Mr Potter.  I asked you to be here at seven; it is now three minutes past.”

Harry grinned.  “Sorry.  Had to make a detour round the first floor corridor – I don’t know what Peeves has been up to, but anyone who goes in there seems to turn green and have to dash for the nearest loo.  So what did you want to see me about?”

“I wondered, Harry, if you might be free next Saturday evening?”

“Er, yeah – any special reason?”

“I was hoping you might wish to accompany me on a trip back to Covent Garden – to the Royal Opera House, to be precise.  It is the ballet, rather than the opera, but I can assure you that the music is quite enthralling and the choreography inspired.”

Harry could hardly wait for Snape to finish speaking so that he could give him an enthusiastic “Yes!”  He couldn’t believe Snape was doing this for him.  Maybe Snape had started to realise what their true relationship was?  “But isn’t that, well, really expensive?” he couldn’t help but add, feeling a bit guilty about Snape shelling out so much after Harry had been so obvious about wanting to go.

Snape smiled.  “Well, if you’re expecting seats in the royal box and champagne and caviar in the interval, I’m afraid you are doomed to disappointment.  But I think one can get the general feel of the place from the balcony.  So you will accompany me?  Excellent.”

*

“We’re going to see the Royal Ballet do Romeo and Juliet.  It’s the Nureyev choreography, you know,” Harry reported excitedly to Ron later in the dorm.

Ron snorted.  “Like you have any more idea what that choreography thing’s all about than I do!”

Harry grinned.  “Who cares?  Sounds like it’ll be fantastic, anyway.  I mean, loads of fit blokes in tights – what more could a man ask for?”

“Yeah, right.  All sounds a bit bloody gay if you ask me!”

“Homophobe!” Harry grinned, throwing a pillow at him.  “There are girl ballet dancers too, you know.  And I hear they wear very short skirts.”

Ron grimaced.  “Those aren’t girls, they’re bloody stick insects! Nothing to grab hold of.  Give me a woman with a bit of meat on her bones, that’s what I say.”

Harry looked at him slyly.  “Hm, our Head Girl is a, er, well-rounded individual, wouldn’t you say?”

“Haven’t noticed,” Ron said, not looking at his mate as his ears turned a lurid shade of pink.

*

Harry was on tenterhooks all Saturday.  He couldn’t help feeling that this evening could be the ideal time to tell Snape he was his son.

“How d’you think he’ll take it?” Ron asked when Harry confided his plans to his mate.

Harry shrugged a little ruefully.  “Don’t know till I try, do I?  But I’m hoping he’ll be pleased.”

“Well, you certainly seem to be getting on well.”  Ron choked back a laugh.

“What?” Harry asked suspiciously.

“Well, I probably shouldn’t tell you this… but Justin Finch-Fletchley cornered me last night and asked if it was true you and Snape were shagging!”

What?  Bloody hell, mate, I hope you put him straight!”

“Course I did!  Although I’m not sure if he was convinced, seeing as I couldn’t tell him the real reason you and Snape are so chummy these days.  Hey, are you going to tell everyone, after you’ve told Snape?”

“Dunno.  S’pose it depends on him, really.”

Ron grinned suddenly.  “Hey, maybe he’ll want you to change your name!  And it’d be a bit funny, you calling yourself Harry Potter if everyone knows you’re a Snape really.  Harry Snape,” he tried out thoughtfully.  “It’s a bit weird, but I reckon I could get used to it.”

Harry wasn’t so sure he would.  It felt strange, to think of losing that part of himself – after all, he’d been Harry Potter for years before he’d even met James Potter.  Still, it was probably only like changing your name when you got married, wasn’t it?  And women did that all the time, didn’t they?  Harry wondered if they ever felt weird about it.  Maybe he’d ask Ron’s mum, next time he saw her.

*

When Saturday evening finally rolled round with maddening slowness, Harry fairly bounded down the stairs to the dungeons after dinner to meet up with Snape.  The Potions Master was already dressed in a dark Muggle suit that made him look younger, somehow, and more human – not that he looked weird normally, or anything, but well, he wasn’t that approachable when he was all billowed up in his robes.  Harry felt really scruffy beside him, although he’d remembered to put on a proper pair of trousers instead of his jeans, and a dark green shirt Ginny had once mentioned he looked nice in.

Snape gave him what looked like an approving glance, however, and they set off, walking through the castle grounds so that they could Apparate to London.  It was a mild, clear night, the stars twinkling merrily in the sky like Dumbledore at a feast.  As they strolled along, Harry hesitated, then asked something that had been troubling him for a while.  “You, um, must have been good friends with my mum – how come I never met you until I went to Hogwarts?”

Snape scowled.  “Upon my first attempt to visit your mother whilst she stayed at your aunt and uncle’s house, it was made abundantly clear to me that I was significantly less welcome in their home than would be a cockroach.  Needless to say, I did not repeat the endeavour.”  A strange expression crossed his face.  “You will not remember, now, but I met up with your mother and you a few times after that at a local park, before she became too ill to go.  You enjoyed playing on the swings, as I recall.”

Harry was stunned.  “You knew me when I was a toddler?  But – how come you were, well, such a git to me when I started school?”

“Because, Mr Potter, you had by then grown into a mocking double of your father, and I had no doubt that you had been brought up by him in his own conceited, arrogant image.”

“Yeah, right.  I didn’t even meet him until a week into term!”

“It may surprise you to learn, Potter, that I am not aware of everything that passes within or without these walls.”

“No, I s’pose even Slytherins have their limits.”  Harry grinned suddenly.  “Hey, did you push me on the swings?  Oh my God, you did, didn’t you?  You’re blushing!”

Snape bristled. “It was the most effective way to cease your childish babble so that I could converse with your mother,” he said defensively.

“You pushed me!  Oh my God, did you hold me on the seesaw as well?  Did we play football?  Did you chase me and tickle me?”

Snape glared.  “I can assure you, Potter, that I have never tickled anyone in my life.”

Harry grinned mischievously.  “I bet you wanted to, though.  Hey, was I cute when I was a baby?”

“You were a typical snot-nosed, foul-bottomed brat, Potter.  I would certainly not have used the word cute to describe you.”

At this point they reached the boundary of Hogwarts, and Snape took Harry’s arm and Apparated them to Covent Garden.

*

If Harry had thought the outside of the Royal Opera House imposing, he was bowled over by the theatre itself.   “Wow, it’s so… big!” was all he could manage.

Snape smiled indulgently.  “Yes, it does appear so from here, doesn’t it?  I have, on rare occasions, sat in the stalls, where one gets the impression of a far more intimate atmosphere.  I imagine that is even more pronounced if one is able to afford a box.”

I bet James Potter could afford a box, Harry thought resentfully. Trying to distract himself, he grinned cheekily.  “I see they’ve done it all out in Gryffindor colours!”

“An oversight, I feel sure,” Snape murmured with a smile.  “Now, you may find it prudent to read the synopsis – Hogwarts may teach you many things, but regrettably an appreciation of the works of this country’s finest dramatist is not one of them.”  Dutifully, Harry turned to his programme.

As the performance ensued, Harry was so enthralled that he was almost disappointed when the curtain rose for the interval.  Almost, but not quite – those seats were fine when you first sat in them, but after an hour and a half he was desperate to stretch his legs.  Snape must be in even worse shape, he thought, glancing at the Potions Master’s long limbs.  “Shall we, um, go get a drink or something?” he suggested.

“An excellent idea.”

As they made their way down to the bar, Snape asked Harry how he’d found it all so far.

“It’s brilliant!” Harry told him.  “The music’s incredible – all that Dah-de-dah-de-Dah-de-dah-de-dah-de-dah-de-dah-dah!”

Snape looked at him, amused.  “Yes, it is one of the more recognisable scores.  But you did not find the dancing boring?”

“What? No! I mean, I always thought ballet was really girly, but it’s actually quite macho, a lot of it, isn’t it?  All that strutting around by the rival gangs, and all that.”

“Indeed.  I have occasionally amused myself by imagining yourself and young Mr Malfoy as leaders of the Montagues and the Capulets respectively,” Snape told him teasingly.

“Ugh! Wouldn’t that mean I’d have to marry Malfoy?  I mean, no offence, I know you like him and all, but he’s really not my type!”

Snape smiled.  “I am pleased to hear that, Harry.”  They’d reached the bar, now, and Snape hesitated.  “Before we join the scrimmage for a drink, there is something I should like to say to you, Harry.”

Harry’s heart missed a beat.  Snape did know he was Harry’s dad!  “Yeah, well, I – I think I know what you’re going to say,” he managed, with a strange fluttery feeling inside.

“Is that so, Harry?  Well, then, I should like – ” He broke off suddenly, and Harry turned to see what he was looking at.  It was Malfoy’s dad – Harry had seen him before, at the Quidditch World Cup, although they’d never spoken.  He’d have known him anyway from his resemblance to his nasty little sneak of a son.  Talk about bloody awful timing!

Lucius smiled at Snape, contriving to look far more reptilian than anyone so classically handsome should be able to do.  “Ah, so this is your little protégé, Severus?”

Harry squirmed uncomfortably under Lucius’ appraising gaze, which somehow managed to give the impression it had not just stripped him naked, it had found him distinctly less than prepossessing under his clothes.  “Harry Potter,” he said shortly, sticking out his hand to see what Lucius would do.

Lucius regarded the hand curiously, as if it had scuttled away from some Victorian freak show.  Embarrassed, and furious with himself for being so, Harry let his arm fall to his side.

Snape sighed.  “Don’t you ever tire of playing these games, Lucius?” he asked mildly.

Lucius raised an elegant eyebrow in a gesture so reminiscent of Snape that Harry felt an icy chill go down his spine.  “Games, my dear Severus, are what makes life worth living.”  He smiled sardonically.  “But I can see that I am not the one with whom you wish to sport this evening, so I shall take my leave.  Do enjoy the rest of the ballet, Severus.  Mr Potter,” he added, inclining his head in a gesture so refined Harry was extremely tempted to deck him.

“Can we go and get that drink, now?” Harry muttered furiously as Lucius wove his graceful way back to his wife.

“Of course, Harry,” Severus smiled a little ruefully.

By the time they’d been served, and had moved away from the crush near the bar, the bell had rung for the end of the interval, and it all seemed a bit of a rush to be getting into serious conversations.  Resignedly, Harry settled down to enjoy the second half, thinking that at least they’d have more time to talk at the end.

*

“Well, did you?” Ron demanded, as Harry paused in his relation of the evening’s events.

“Did I what?”

“Tell him, you berk!”

Harry sighed.  “No, because just as the final curtain went down, someone came in with a message for Snape and we had to hurry back to the school.  Some Slytherin common room prank that went a bit nasty.  They had to get the parents in and everything, ‘spect we’ll hear all about it at breakfast tomorrow.  Still, could have been worse – at least we got to see the end of the ballet.”  He yawned.  “Aren’t you tired, mate?”

Ron shrugged.  “Yeah, s’pose we’d better turn in.  It’s funny, though.”

“What is?”

“Well, sounds like Snape and Malfoy are pretty matey, doesn’t it?  No wonder everyone’s always saying Snape’s a Death Eater – I mean, everyone knows Malfoy was one, he was just too slippery to pin anything on, that’s all.  Did you ask him how they knew each other?”

“Well, they were probably at school together, right?  And both Slytherins, so naturally, they’d know each other.”  Harry couldn’t see why Ron was making such a big thing out of it.

“Nah, I know Malfoy doesn’t look it, but he must be a fair bit older than Snape – I remember Mum saying she knew him when he was a scrawny little first-year, and she and Dad left Hogwarts years before Snape and your mum got there.  So Snape and Malfoy could only have crossed by a year or two at most.”

“So what?  You’re saying Snape must have been a Death Eater, then?” Harry felt a surge of anger.

“Bloody hell, mate, take it easy!  I’m just saying, they probably weren’t close mates at school, that’s all!”

Ron looked a bit taken aback, and Harry felt ashamed of his outburst.  “Sorry, Ron.  Think I’m just tired.  C’mon, we’d better get some sleep – it’s McGonagall first thing tomorrow, we don’t want to be dozing off in her class.”

Ron blew out the candle and they settled down for the night, but it was a long time before Harry could sleep.

*

There were only a couple of weeks left until the end of the autumn term, and to Harry’s annoyance they seemed to be the busiest weeks of the whole year.  It proved impossible to get any time to talk to Snape after classes – they were forever being interrupted by Slytherins anxious about returning home, or Ravenclaws wanting holiday reading lists, or teachers and even bloody Hagrid demanding a wholly unreasonable amount of help with the Yule preparations.  And Harry’s weekends were filled with parties and pub crawls he didn’t feel he could miss, as the seventh years celebrated their last Christmas together.

It wasn’t until the very last day of term, after Harry had rushed through his packing, that he finally had a chance to go and speak to Snape.  Seated, as usual, at his desk, Snape looked up as Harry entered the dungeon.  “I assume you have come to take your leave of me, Potter?”

Harry smiled.  “Yeah.  Trunk’s all packed, the carriages’ll be off in under an hour.”  He ambled over to Snape and perched on the desk.

“If you knock over that bottle of ink I’ll rub your nose in it,” Snape threatened mildly.

Harry grinned.  “So what are you up to for Christmas?  Potions conferences, writing papers – or are you planning to dress up as Santa and deliver pressies to all the good little children?”

“As, Potter, in my view the phrase good little children is an oxymoron, I doubt I need trouble the costumiers upon this occasion.  In fact I shall be spending the holidays at home, catching up on my reading.  You might do well to take note.”

Harry frowned.  “Reading?  Hang on, I’ve heard of that somewhere… no, it’ll never catch on.”

“Much as it pains me to do so, I find myself forced to agree, at least as regards the students at this unfortunate institution.”  Snape laid down his quill with a sigh, and pushed his chair back.

Shifting the papers a little, Harry shuffled round on the desk to a more comfortable position where he was facing Snape, his legs dangling over the edge of the desk.  He smiled.  “You know, I think I’m actually going to miss you,” he said teasingly.  “No one does world-weary sarcasm quite like you do.”

Snape looked at him then, with an expression Harry couldn’t quite interpret.  Harry took a deep breath, suddenly sure that now was the time to tell Snape he was his son.  Probably.  But before he could think of the words, Snape was speaking again.  Looking intently at Harry, he said in a low voice, “I believe I shall miss you too, Harry.  I have grown quite… attached to you, these last few months.”  As he spoke, Snape moved his hand up and started to caress the top of Harry’s thigh.

What?  Horrified, Harry half-fell off the desk in his haste to get away.  “No!  That’s not – I mean, I don’t want – “ He stuttered to a halt, appalled at the sudden storm in Snape’s eyes as he rose and stalked towards him.

“So what the hell do you think you’ve been playing at, you damnable little tease?” Snape spat out.

Harry found himself grabbed by the shoulders and slammed painfully back against the dungeon wall.  Frightened, now, he recoiled at the look of twisted fury in Snape’s face.

“Answer me, damn you!”

“I just,” Harry managed to gasp, “I heard my – I heard James Potter talking.  He said he’s not my dad.  He said you are.  That’s why –
Harry broke off at the look in Snape’s face.  It was the sort of expression he imagined someone who was being Crucio’d might display.  Snape’s fingers were still gripping Harry’s shoulders so tightly that for a wild moment Harry thought they might pierce skin and bone and meet in the middle.  Abruptly Snape released him and Harry almost fell at the sudden lack of pressure.

“James Potter is wrong.”  Snape had turned away, right away, and seemed to be staring at the opposite wall.  His voice sounded hoarse and broken.  “I am not your father, Potter.  It is entirely impossible.  Your mother and I were never more than friends.  Now get out.”

The last part had been said so softly, so calmly, that for a moment Harry doubted whether he’d really heard it.  He simply stood there, unsure what to say.  Was it true?  Was there really no chance Snape was his dad?  Harry felt like he’d lost something truly precious, as if he’d just heard someone he loved had died.

Snape turned, very slowly.  He still didn’t look directly at Harry.  “I told you to get out.”

The tone was still calm, but Harry started, as if he’d been caught doing something he shouldn’t.  Suddenly he felt appalled at the way he’d behaved – he should have told Snape at the start what he believed, not let him think Harry was, well, interested in him. “Sir, I – “

“GET OUT!”

Harry ran.

*

He didn’t have time to talk to Ron before they got onto the train, and they weren’t able to get a carriage to themselves this time either.  For most of the journey, Harry just sat and stared out of the window, watching the fields and forests rush past.  He could tell by Ron’s anxious reflection when they went through a tunnel that his mate knew something was up, but there was no way they could talk about it with Dean and Seamus in the carriage chattering excitedly about their plans to meet up for a New Year’s Eve party in London.  To be perfectly honest, he wasn’t even sure he wanted to talk right now.  He’d been so certain Snape was his dad, and he’d thought they’d been getting on so well.  They had been getting on so well.  And all that time, Snape had been thinking Harry fancied him.

Harry waved aside Ron’s offer of a chocolate frog.  Just the thought of it made him feel ill.  Had he behaved… inappropriately?  Had he led Snape on?  Snape had obviously thought so.  Had he thought they were going out together?  That trip to the theatre – had Snape seen that as a date?

Ron managed to corner him at last when Dean and Seamus nipped off to see where Neville was, and if he really was chatting up Loony Lovegood like they reckoned.  “Right, mate, out with it,” he said with no preamble and obviously no intention of being fobbed off with an excuse.

Harry sighed, and told him.  “Snape’s not my dad.  I went to say goodbye to him and – well, he told me it was impossible.”  He didn’t mention Snape trying it on with him – it made him cringe even to think about it.  How could he have been so bloody stupid as to not realise how Snape felt about him?

Ron looked at him steadily.  “You’re gutted, aren’t you?  Bloody hell, I’d never have believed it before this term.  So… you reckon your dad really is your dad?”

“Must be, mustn’t he?  Unless Mum was really putting it about,” he added bitterly.

“Don’t be daft, mate.”  Ron placed a solid, comforting arm around his shoulders. “You’ve no reason to think that – just ‘cos your dad’s the jealous type, doesn’t mean there was anything in it.  And, well – nobody gets to choose their family, do they?  You can still carry on being friends with Snape, can’t you?  Although I’m buggered if I know why you’d want to, of course,” he teased with a grin.

As Seamus and Dean burst back into the carriage and put an end to any further conversation, Harry just wished it were all that simple.

*

By the time they pulled into King’s Cross, Harry had come to a decision. As he stepped off the Hogwarts Express onto the platform and James Potter gave his usual half-smile, half-grimace, Harry’s resolution grew even stronger.  “Right.  Bit of a detour, Dad.  We’re going to St Mungo’s.”

James looked baffled.  “Why?  Someone hexed you on the train?  I’ll be able to sort that out, it’s only schoolboy spells –


“No,” Harry interrupted firmly.  “We’re going to see a midwitch and have her perform a paternity test.  I want this settled once and for all.”

James stared.  “What – has someone been talking to you?  Wait a minute – has Snape said something?”

Blanching a little at the angry snarl on the man’s face, Harry nevertheless stood his ground.  “I heard you and Sirius talking last summer.  And now I want to know.”

James paled.  “Harry, Merlin, I didn’t mean for you ever to find out –


“Don’t you think I have a right to know?  How could you just keep it a secret from me all these years?  And not even find out the truth?  You’ve been keeping me at arm’s length for years because you think I’m not yours and you don’t even know if it’s true!  Well, I don’t want to live like that any longer!”  Harry’s heart was pounding furiously as he glared at the man who might be his father.

James seemed to sag.  “You’re right,” he said at last.  “Come on.”

They didn’t talk much on the way to St Mungo’s – what was there to say?  The witch at the reception desk gave them an frankly curious look as they explained what they wanted and directed them to an upstairs waiting room, where they sat down amongst witches in varying stages of pregnancy.  One of them nudged Harry.  “Your first one, is it, dear?” she asked in motherly tones.

“No!  I mean, I’m not – we’re here for something else!” Harry stammered.  Could wizards even get pregnant?  And if so, wasn’t it about time someone told him about it?  No wonder witches were always getting married so young, with the state of sex education in the wizarding world so bloody abysmal.

“Potter?” a pretty young midwitch called out, breaking Harry’s train of thought, for which he was rather grateful.  “This way, please.”  She led them into a small treatment room.  “Now, paternity test, is it?  Where’s the baby?”

“Um, here.  I mean, I’m the baby.  Sort of – look I just want to know if this is my dad, all right?”

“Oh!  You know, normally we do this sort of thing soon after birth.”  She smiled.  “Still, curiosity killed the cat, that’s what I always say.  Now, you sit down here, Mr Potter, and you here, Mr, ah?”

“Potter,” James said shortly.  He had a grim expression on his face.

Harry took a deep breath as the midwitch waved her wand in a complicated pattern.  “Is this, um, foolproof?  I mean, say if my mum had done some charms to make me look different, would that affect it?”

The midwitch smiled.  “No, dear. This looks at your essence, not what’s on the outside.  Now, if I could just concentrate for a second…”  

Harry shut up obediently, although his heart was pounding so loudly he half expected her to shush him again.  Coloured lights appeared in the space between him and James, whirling around each other faster and faster until they coalesced into a vivid purple glow.  The midwitch put her wand away, smiling, as the light began to fade.  “There.  No doubt about it, you’re father and son.”

Harry risked a look at his – his dad.  James looked stunned.  “Dad?” he asked uncertainly, only to find himself abruptly clasped in a bear-hug.

“Harry!  Merlin, Harry, you’re really mine!”  Harry was taken aback by the strength of his father’s reaction.  Breaking away from his son, James turned to shake the midwitch’s hand exuberantly.  “Thank you, thank you so much.  Harry! Come on, son, this calls for a celebration!”

*

Lying in bed that night, stomach uncomfortably full from the celebration dinner James had insisted on taking him out for, Harry tried to work out how he felt.  He’d been pleased, definitely, that James had been so obviously happy Harry was really his son – but, well, what if he hadn’t been?  Would he have been kicked out to fend for himself?  Sent back to the Dursleys?  And while he could sort of see how James felt – well, how could one simple test make the difference between James loving him and hating him?  Harry hadn’t changed – so how come James felt so differently about him?

For some reason his thoughts turned to Snape.  Over the last few months, he’d seemed to change his mind about Harry – had really seemed to see Harry for himself.  And he’d liked him.  Liked him a lot, as his actions had proved.  Harry felt his face grow hot in the darkness as he thought of Snape’s hand on his thigh – and hotter still, as he recalled what had happened immediately afterwards.  God, he’d been a right prat.  And Snape – no wonder the poor bastard had been so upset.  He must have been mortified to have mistaken Harry’s intentions like that.  Harry’s gut twisted.  He’d have to find some way of making it up to Snape.

But by the time he fell asleep, much later, Harry was no nearer to thinking of a way to do this.

*

Next morning Harry woke up late, feeling like he’d hardly slept.  Loud voices were coming from downstairs.  Pulling on his jeans and a t shirt, Harry followed his ears to the kitchen, where he found Sirius and his dad sitting at the table with their hands wrapped round steaming mugs of coffee.  Both of them gave him wide grins when they saw him.

“Harry!  You’re up at last!”  James walked round the table and hugged him.  Harry felt a bit awkward – they never did that sort of thing normally.  “We’re just making some plans for the day – thought we’d go have a look at that new Firebolt that’s come out, what do you say?  About time you had a new broom, isn’t it?  And the Cannons are playing later, Sirius reckons he can get us tickets for the match.”  He beamed at Harry.  “Thought we could have a bit of father-son time.”

Harry had been feeling more and more uncomfortable in his father’s embrace and suddenly he snapped.  “Think that’ll make up for seventeen years of neglect, do you?  Just buy the boy a broom and he’ll forget all about it?”  He pulled roughly away from his stunned father.  “Do you know what it was like for me at the Dursleys?  They didn’t want me – everyone knew you didn’t want me – and Mum was dead.  And now you get this test done – which you could have got done any time in the last fourteen years if you’d cared enough about it – and I’m supposed to just pretend all that never happened?  It’s like – it’s like you don’t even see me, all that matters to you is who my parents were, not who I am!”

“Harry, listen – “

Harry shook off his father’s hand.  “No.  I’m sick of listening to you.  Go play happy families with Sirius, I’m too old for it now.”  With a loud crack, he Apparated away.

*

When he reappeared in a street he’d never seen before, Harry felt a rush of relief that he hadn’t splinched himself.  He hadn’t really thought about where he was going, which wasn’t good news when Apparating.  Fortunately no one was around to see him pop into existence.  But where the hell was he?  Looked a bit run-down, this neighbourhood – Muggle, without a doubt.  The houses were narrow, terraced, and grimy, with peeling paint upon doors and window frames.  And it was decidedly nippy round here to be out in just a t-shirt.  Harry couldn’t recall thinking of slums when he’d Apparated… he stopped, suddenly remembering.  Snape.  He’d thought of Snape.

Gritting his teeth, Harry knocked on the nearest door.  It opened a crack, held by a security chain.  Suspicious eyes peered out at him.  “Yes?  What do you want?”

“Excuse me, but is this Spinner’s End?” Harry asked politely.

The eyes seemed to consider whether it would be safe to admit this.  “Might be,” their owner muttered grudgingly.

“Do you know where, er, Mr Snape lives?  He’s tall, got long black hair – “

“Number thirteen,” the voice told him curtly just before shutting the door in his face.

Right.  Number thirteen.  Harry looked around.  It was the end house, distinguished from the others only by its air of even greater dilapidation.  Well, fair enough, Harry thought – after all, it was only lived in three months of the year.  Palms uncomfortably sweaty, Harry walked up the short garden path and knocked on the door.

Snape scowled when he saw him, but stepped aside in mute invitation for him to enter.  Relieved, Harry walked into number thirteen and followed Snape through to a tiny living room with a small fire burning brightly in the hearth.

“Do not make the mistake, Potter, of imagining from my allowing you inside that you are welcome here.  I merely dislike providing entertainment for the neighbours.”  Snape’s voice seemed even colder in the warmth of the little house.

Harry swallowed.  “Look, I just wanted to say I’m sorry.  I never meant to, you know, lead you on.”  He could feel himself blushing as he said it.  “And I thought you might want to know that we had the test done and, well, it turns out I am James Potter’s son after all.”

Snape sneered.  “Apparently I am the only one who never doubted it.  Your father evidently had a very poor opinion of his wife’s morals, but I can assure you that Lily Evans would never have passed off another man’s child upon her husband.”

Harry looked up at him.  “Thanks.  For telling me that, I mean.”  He shrugged helplessly.  “I didn’t want to think of her that way, you know – I mean, she died when I was three and I can hardly remember her at all.  I didn’t want the few things I can remember overshadowed by thinking she was, well, you know.”

“A slut? She was not.”

Harry smiled faintly.  “Good.”

“Well then, if you will excuse me, Mr Potter, I do have things to do.”

“Um, could I stay for a while?” Harry held his breath.

Snape curled his lip.  “Selfishness was always one of your father’s more prominent qualities, as I recall.”

Harry flushed guiltily.  “Sorry.  I’ll be off then.”  He started walking towards the door, then hesitated and turned back.  “It was nice seeing you again, anyway.  And I’m really sorry about the, um, misunderstanding.”

Snape nodded slightly, and head down, Harry turned once more to go.

He heard Snape sigh heavily behind him.  “Wait, Potter.”

Harry turned hopefully.

“You may stay – for a short while only.  And you will make yourself useful.”

Harry beamed.  “Yeah?  Great!  What do you want me to do?  Help you with brewing, stuff like that?”

“Actually – and I realise that as you have no doubt only recently emerged from that malodorous lair that I imagine passes for your bed, this may seem strange to you – I was about to make lunch.  You may peel the potatoes.”

In the end, Harry not only peeled the potatoes but the carrots as well, and grilled the lamb chops, whilst Snape slammed cupboard doors open and shut and muttered to himself whilst scribbling down a shopping list – whether for groceries or for potions ingredients, Harry wasn’t entirely sure.  When Harry set the meal out including, he announced proudly, gravy that was almost entirely free of lumps, he thought he saw a ghost of a smile on Snape’s face.

“Why is it, Potter, that whilst you can rustle up a meal with such evident ease, you find potions so damnably taxing?”

Harry pouted.  “Hey! I’ve been loads better this year, you know that!  Anyway, eat up, it’ll get cold.”  Not waiting for an answer, he tucked in with obvious relish.

Snape watched him for a moment, then set to his own lunch with rather more measured enjoyment.

“So… it’s shopping after lunch, is it?”  Harry asked, once his plate was empty and his belly full.

Snape frowned.  “I find it a sad comment on the youth of today if you can think of nothing more exciting to do in your school holidays than a trip to Tesco’s with your teacher.  Will your father not be expecting you home at some point?”

Harry made a face.  “We, er, sort of had a row.”  He looked away.  “I really don’t want to go back there just yet.”

An eyebrow arched skywards.  “I should have thought all would be joy and harmony in the Potter household following confirmation of your paternity.”

“Well, James – er, Dad – was really pleased.”  Harry sighed.

“And you were not? Don’t tell me you were hoping for evidence of your bastardy?”

“No!  I mean – oh, it’s just difficult with Dad, you know?  I mean, all these years he’s acted like he didn’t really like me and now it’s like I’m his favourite person?  I just got a bit sick of it, that’s all.”  Harry bit his lip.  He wanted to ask Snape how he’d have felt if it’d turned out Harry was his son – but God, how could he?  Sick and disgusted at myself for perving over you would probably be the gist of his answer.

“Yes, I can see it must be difficult to discover that a person’s regard of you depends entirely on their perception of you as a blood relative.”  Snape’s tone was more bitterly sarcastic than Harry had ever heard it and he looked up, appalled.

“That’s – that’s different, all right?  I mean, I didn’t know you before – “

“Before you made the foolish mistake of taking James Potter’s belief as fact, you had no wish to know me!”

“I – “ Harry felt guilty and confused.  Was he acting just like his dad?  Bloody ironic really, after all the times in the past Snape had unfairly accused him of doing just that.  “No!  I mean, yes, I wanted to get to know you because I thought you were my dad, but I haven’t stopped wanting to know you now I know you’re not!  I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t, you know, care about you.”  He realised as he said it just how true it was, and just how relieved he was that the friendship they’d developed hadn’t been irreparably broken.  Gripped by a sudden impulse, Harry laid his hand on Snape’s arm.  “Thanks for letting me stay,” he said, and then didn’t know how to continue.

It seemed Snape felt just as awkward as he did, as he abruptly stood up and started to clear away the plates.

*

They didn’t go to Tesco in the end – instead, Snape lent Harry a scratchy black woollen sweater that came down halfway to his knees and took him round the grimy little town where he’d grown up with Lily, showing him all the places where they’d played.  It was the best day Harry could remember in a long time, although he kept feeling guilty about Snape.  Was he being selfish, hanging around with Snape when he didn’t want what Snape wanted?  But, well, he just liked being with him.  And Snape didn’t seem unhappy – in fact, he seemed just as relaxed as he had been when they’d spent time together at school.  More, even.  It looked good on him.

It was growing dark by the time Harry finally, reluctantly, headed back to his dad’s.  He was greeted with a scowl by his father.  “And just where have you been all day?”

“I was at a friend’s, all right?” Harry really didn’t want to argue with his dad, but he had a strong suspicion that was where they were headed.

James frowned.  “You weren’t at the Burrow.  I floo-called.”

Harry rolled his eyes.  “I know it must seem unbelievable to you, but I have got more than one friend.”

James’ scowl deepened.  “So who was it, then?”

Harry looked at his dad.  “No one you’d like.”

The tension between them was almost tangible, and Harry was unutterably relieved when Sirius walked into the room.  “Harry!  Bloody hell, mate, you were gone long enough!  Half expected to read in the Prophet tomorrow you’d splinched yourself halfway across Britain.  You had tea?  No?  Well, it’s beans on toast unless you fancy cooking something proper, ‘cause I’m buggered if I’m going to.”

Sirius’ easy manner went a long way towards defusing the tension.  Harry had always liked Sirius – he’d never treated him like an unwanted burden – and he found himself relaxing as they ate and Sirius rambled on about some girl he’d met who he reckoned was using an engorgement charm on her tits.  After the meal, James came over to Harry.  “Listen, Harry, I’m sorry about earlier.  Like Pads said, we were worried about you.  You’ve only had your Apparition licence a couple of months and we had no way of knowing if you’d got where you were going safely.”

Harry felt ashamed of himself, the chip on his shoulder he’d come home with nothing but a guilty memory.  “Sorry, Dad.  I think I just got out of the wrong side of the bed this morning, all right?”

James beamed.  “That’s my boy!  And you know, I meant it about getting you that broom – how about we go tomorrow?”

“That’d be great.  Thanks, Dad,” Harry smiled, reminding himself he should be grateful his dad wanted to be with him now, not brooding over the past.  Although he couldn’t help a pang as he thought of Snape, alone in his run-down terrace in that depressing little street.  It would have been nice to spend another day with him.

*

What with Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day intervening, bringing with them family dinners and drinks with neighbours, it turned out to be the best part of a week before Harry next had a day to call his own.  It had been weird – he’d have given his right arm, a few years ago, for a Christmas like this, with his dad so obviously proud of him and glad to have him around, but he hadn’t been able to really enjoy it, somehow.  He supposed it was because it had all happened so quickly.  After all, what if something else happened, and his dad went back to the way he was before?

And he’d missed Snape.  He’d got used to seeing Snape, chatting to him, enjoying his sly and sometimes downright nasty jokes, and it just felt, well, like something was missing in his life.  Harry had owled him on Christmas Day, and Hedwig had come back with an elegantly penned message wishing him the compliments of the season and advising him not to let James and Sirius drink too much brandy – as if he’d be able to stop them – but it hadn’t been like having a proper natter.

So when he went down to breakfast one morning and found to his relief that there was nothing planned for the day, Harry didn’t waste time owling to see if Snape would mind him popping round for a visit; he just said goodbye to his dad and Apparated straight over.

When Snape opened the door, Harry almost literally stepped back in amazement.  The Potions Master was dressed all in black – not, admittedly, an unusual occurrence; but instead of his customary wizarding robes he wore a black Muggle suit, white shirt and narrow black tie.   

“Bloody hell, Snape, are you off to a funeral or something?”

Snape looked disdainfully at the excrescence on his doorstep.  If nothing else, Harry had to admit that hanging around with Snape was doing wonders for his vocabulary.  “As it happens, yes.”

Harry was mortified.  “Oh, God, I’m sorry!  Was it someone you were really close to?”

Snape smirked.  “My Uncle Onias.  And no, I despised him heartily.”  He looked at Harry.  “You may accompany me, if you wish.”

“Are you sure?” Harry asked doubtfully, looking down at his jeans.  “I mean, I’m not exactly dressed for it.”

Snape shrugged.  “I doubt he’ll mind.  Not, of course, that it would bother me if he did.  Come along, it wouldn’t do to be late.”

Taking Harry’s arm, Snape Apparated them to a run-down street bearing an uncanny resemblance to Spinner’s End.  “Um, Snape?  Have we actually gone anywhere?” Harry asked uncertainly.

“Of course.  This, believe it or not, is the right side of the tracks as far as this wretched town is concerned.”

“You know, if you hate the place so much, why don’t you just move?”

A look of pain crossed Snape’s face.  “Memories, Potter, are not to be tossed aside like so much chaff.”  He strode to the nearest house and rapped sharply on the door.

Harry frowned.  “I’m fairly sure I’ve never tossed any chaff in my life,” he began, then fell silent as a heavy-set man in late middle age opened the door.

“Severus!” the man wheezed asthmatically.  “So good of you to come.  I’m sure he’d have been touched.”

“Bloody was touched if you ask me,” Snape muttered to Harry’s amazement as they accompanied the red-faced man into the house.

Immediately they were enveloped by a crowd of unhealthy-looking, rather squat individuals in various shades of mourning.  Snape stood out among them like a weed in Uncle Vernon’s lawn, at least a foot taller than anyone else present.  “Are these all your relatives?” Harry asked doubtfully.

“It would be mendacious to deny it,” Snape conceded.

“You know, a simple yes would do just as well,” Harry grumbled.  “So how come you look like you’re from different species?”

“Wizarding stock, Potter, tends to breed true.  Ah, let me introduce you to Aunty Mavis.  Aunty Mavis,” Snape suddenly bellowed at three times normal volume, “this is Harry.  He’s a pupil at the school where I teach.”

A particularly stout lady with grey hair in unfeasibly tight curls beamed at them both.  “Sevvie, dear!  Is this your young man?” she cooed, making Harry blush, although admittedly the thought of anyone calling Snape Sevvie provided a welcome distraction.   

“No, Aunty, he’s one of my pupils,” Snape repeated, even louder than before.

“Lovely, dear,” she trumpeted.  “So young, though.  Are you sure he’s legal?” To Harry’s horror, she winked at them both.  “Still, mum’s the word!”  As this last was pronounced at roughly the same decibel level as one of Molly Weasley’s Howlers, Harry cringed and wondered if even now the neighbours were dialling 999 to report a case of child abuse.  It occurred to him, too, that Snape might be feeling a bit uncomfortable – after all, he’d wanted Harry to be his, for want of a better phrase, young man.  Feeling bad for Snape, he sent him a sympathetic glance – but was surprised to see only amusement in the older man’s face.

“You’re doing this on purpose, aren’t you?” he muttered to Snape, as they were leered at by a succession of sturdy Northern types with childbearing hips – particularly the men.  To be honest he felt a bit miffed, although he wasn’t sure why.

“Naturally, Potter.  Where would be the fun if I were not?” Snape smirked at him.  “Now, I believe we should pay our respects to dear Uncle Onias.  If you would step this way?”

Feeling that staying with Snape was probably marginally safer than being left on his own with Aunty Mavis and her ilk, Harry followed resignedly as Snape led the way to the back room, where he was horrified, if not entirely surprised, to see a pale, stout, dead person laid out upon what looked like a dining table.  “Um, not that I’ve actually been to a lot of funerals, but don’t dead people usually come in coffins?” Harry asked uncomfortably.

Snape snorted.  “My family, Harry, are traditionalists.  Although they are now staunchly C of E, the Snapes are supposedly descended from Irish Catholics, and indeed the family name is said to derive from their putative point of origin, a village on the Southwest Coast of Ireland called An tSnaidhm, or Sneem in its anglicized form.”

“So you’re really Severus Sneem?”

“I think not.   In any case, a wake is always held at Snape family funerals – particularly since, as family legend would have it, the sad case of Great-great-uncle Lazarus, who was laid to rest one day in 1827 and then hastily disinterred after the verger heard a knocking sound coming from the grave.”

Harry shuddered.  “You mean he was buried alive?  That’s horrible!  Didn’t anyone check to see if he was still breathing?”   

“Clearly not adequately, at any rate.  Or perhaps it was merely an instance of the wish being father of the thought – he was, after all, comparatively well off.  But in any event, since that sad case, Snape funerals have always included a wake – a chance for all present to perform their own checks on the state of the putatively deceased.”

Harry frowned.  “But why was it sad?  I mean, they got him out again, didn’t they?”

“Regrettably, not hastily enough.  There is, after all, a limited amount of oxygen that can be contained within an occupied coffin.”

“Wait a minute – how did they know he hadn’t been dead all along, and the verger had just been hearing things?”

Snape gave a thin-lipped smile.  “According to the story I was told, when they opened the coffin, dear Uncle Lazarus was found with a look of horror upon his face – and bloodied knuckles.”

Harry narrowed his eyes.  “Are you sure you’re not making this up?”

Snape looked at him archly.  “I am astounded, Harry, that you would consider me capable of doing such a thing.”

“Yeah, right,” Harry muttered.

They stood in silence for a moment, Snape showing no sign of wishing to leave the vicinity of his uncle’s corpse, much to Harry’s discomfort.  Lost for something tactful to say, he eventually went with “So, that was your Dad’s brother, was he?”

“Apparently.  Half-brother at any rate.  There was more than a whiff of scandal attached to Granny Snape, I’m afraid.”

Harry half-laughed.  “Bit like my mum, then.”

He was taken aback by Snape’s furiously hissed response.  “Nothing at all like your mother, Potter, and you would do well to remember that!”

“Sorry!  I mean – I’m sorry, all right?”  Harry wasn’t even sure what he was apologising for – it was his mum they were talking about, after all.  But he didn’t want Snape to look at him like that – like he’d turned into his dad, or something.

Fortunately at that point the wheezy bloke who’d welcomed them in chose that moment to start rounding people up for the journey to the church, as the undertakers arrived to box up Uncle Onias and take him away.

*

The service seemed to go on forever and the church was ice-cold.  Wishing he’d thought to ask Snape if he could borrow his sweater again, Harry amused himself trying to blow smoke-rings with his steaming breath, grateful that they were sat at the back.  The sermon, or eulogy, or whatever it was called, was actually almost interesting as Harry soon realised the vicar, a rather apologetic looking, sandy-haired young man with a Southern accent, was tottering unsteadily along a tightrope between honesty and not speaking ill of the dead.  Nevertheless, Harry had to nudge Snape awake at one point, although Snape hissed his denial that he’d been asleep, insisting he’d merely been thinking.

The wind seemed to be blowing straight from the North Pole as Uncle Onias was lowered unevenly down into his final resting place in the weatherbeaten old churchyard, although Harry felt a lot better once Snape had noticed him shivering, rolled his eyes and cast a surreptitious warming charm, leaving Harry kicking himself for not having thought of that.  Finally, after they had all paid their last respects (Snape looking very clearly to Harry’s somewhat scandalised eye like he was resisting a strong urge to spit on the old man’s grave) it was back to the terraced house for the spread, which was laid out in the dining room much as Uncle Onias had been earlier.

“Um, they did give this table a wipe-down with some Dettol or something, didn’t they?” Harry murmured uneasily to Snape.

Snape raised an eyebrow.  “I can’t imagine why you should be so worried.  Unless of course you haven’t been routinely casting sterilisation charms on everything before you eat it?”

Harry gave his half-eaten sandwich a worried look.  Actually, now he thought about it, he wasn’t the only one looking concerned, although he didn’t think the food was the reason the grey-faced old matron by the door kept casting him disapproving glances and muttering to her husband.  Maybe she just hated queers – after all, Aunty Mavis had done everything but hang a bloody sign round his neck saying Sevvie’s bit of rough.  He couldn’t for the life of him think why she felt it necessary to stand guard over the cutlery, though.  “Does she think I’m going to get up to something kinky with the spoons?” he whispered to Snape, who was eating a vol-au-vent with obvious relish, although Harry thought it was a bit spooky to be served up something that looked like a prawn in a little coffin at a funeral.

Snape looked amused.  “I wouldn’t give her credit for that much imagination.  She thinks you are about to steal them, Harry.”

“What?  Why?”  Harry checked his clothing.  Nope, he wasn’t wearing a hoodie.

“My relatives, Harry, are under the impression that Hogwarts is an approved school for criminals too young to go to prison.”

“What?  So now they think I’m a bloody young offender?  What’ve you told them I did, then?”

“As yet, they’ve all been too polite to ask.  But as this will undoubtedly change under the influence of Uncle Onias’ appalling home-brewed ale, I was thinking of something along the lines of knife crime.  Unless you would prefer indecent exposure?”

“Why can’t I be an embezzler or something?” Harry complained.

“Harry, it is necessary to have some semblance of plausibility.  One can tell by looking at you that white-collar crime is hardly your milieu.”

“Git.”

“It is also confirmed every time you open your mouth.”

“Um, insufferable ignoramus?” Harry hazarded.

Snape seemed to be fighting an urge to laugh.  “There are some people, Harry, who should never attempt to rise above their station in life, as the essay is doomed to ignominious failure.  You, I regret to say, are one of them.”

“Yeah, well, I was quite happy calling you a git anyway,” Harry grinned.

They managed to make their escape soon after that, yelling their goodbyes to Aunty Mavis, who gave them another wink and a leer and admonished Harry to “Mind you take good care of young Sevvie!”

Harry grinned wickedly as they walked down the street to a safe spot to Apparate from.  “Hey, can I call you Sevvie too?”

“Certainly, Harry.”

Really?”

“Provided of course that you are happy to be joining Uncle Onias in the afterlife in very short order, yes.”

*

“Well, that was erm, unusual,” Harry commented after Snape had Apparated them back to Spinner’s End.  “Sort of funny, really, to think of you having this big Muggle extended family.”

Snape snorted. “I suppose you imagined me to have been grown in a cauldron somewhere, or put together out of potions ingredients?”

“Nah, dead body parts, actually.  That’s the Gryffindor rumour, anyway.  Although I’ve never believed it really.  After all, if you’d had your pick of body parts, wouldn’t you have gone for something a bit more like Gilderoy Lockhart?”

Snape shuddered. “Merlin forfend.”  He hesitated.  “Harry?  This unsavoury and, I might add, unflattering discussion of my genesis reminds me.  There is a cinema in Bury that will be showing old Hammer Horror films tomorrow, for which I confess I have a fondness.  You would be quite welcome to accompany me, although I fully realise such old-fashioned fare is likely to hold little appeal for one so young.”

“You joking? I’ve always wanted to go to the cinema!  Can we have popcorn?” And sit in the back row, he almost added, then wondered why on Earth he’d thought that.

“Harry, you were raised by Muggles until you were eleven.  I refuse to believe that you have never been to the cinema.”

“Yeah, right, like the Dursleys were going to waste their money taking me there.  I always got locked in my cupboard or sent round to Mrs Figg’s.” Harry was grinning, but he stopped when he saw Snape’s face.  “Look, it’s all right, it doesn’t really bother me any more,” he told Snape earnestly.  He hadn’t been after pity.

“Harry…” Snape trailed off, looking away.  He sighed.  “I feel in some way responsible.  Your mother and I talked about your care, once she realised that she would not recover from her illness.  She told me not to worry, that her sister would look after you until your father came to his senses and reclaimed you, which she fondly imagined would be soon after her death.  However, if I had insisted upon taking you…”

Harry had a strange sensation in his gut that he didn’t much like.  If that had happened, Snape would have been his father.  Not by blood, maybe, but in all the ways that really counted.  Which would have been good, right?  He’d never have had to sleep in a cupboard or be called a freak by the people he lived with. So why did he feel like he’d just had a narrow escape from something?

“Look, you just did what she wanted, didn’t you?  So there’s no point worrying about the past, right?  I mean, we’re friends now, right?  So we’ll go to the cinema tomorrow and not worry about the bloody Dursleys, yeah?”

Snape nodded, and Harry Apparated back to his dad’s, hoping he wouldn’t be asked too many questions about how he’d spent his day.

*

As he wasn’t meeting Snape until after lunch, Harry took the opportunity to have a lie-in – and then felt guilty when he did get up, remembering Molly Weasley telling the twins off for “treating the house like a hotel”.  His dad didn’t seem to mind too much when Harry told him he was going out to see his friend, however.

In fact, James gave him a knowing smile.  “You know, I think it’s about time I met this friend of yours.  Is she pretty?”

“What? No, I mean, it’s not a girl.  It’s just a, a mate.”

James raised both eyebrows.  “Harry, you’re seventeen years old. You’re allowed to have a girlfriend.  So come on, tell me about her!”

“It’s not a girl, Dad.”  Harry sighed, and hesitated.  Should he tell his dad he wasn’t into girls?  Now was probably as good a time as any.  And if it was going to be a problem, was going to mean James didn’t like him any more, well, it was better to get it over with, wasn’t it?  “Look, I’m not – I’m gay, all right?”

James’ face for a moment looked as if it had been carved out of stone.  Then his brow furrowed.  “What?”

Harry felt himself blushing and tried to will himself to calm down.  “I’m gay.  I like blokes, not girls.”  He had to stop himself saying I’m sorry – after all, why should he apologise?

“Oh.”  James sat down heavily in the armchair.  “How long has this been going on?”

Harry felt a surge of irritation.  “It’s not something that’s going on.  It’s just how I am.  How I’ve always been.”

James frowned.  “But you’re seeing someone.  A boy.”

“Dad, you’re not listening!  I’m not seeing anyone. I’ve just been with a friend, that’s all.”

“Is he gay, too?”

Harry rolled his eyes.  “Does it matter?” he asked, Sirius’ dismissal of bloody pansies ringing in his ears.

“So he is, then.” James’ voice was hard.

“Dad!  I told you, we’re just friends!” Harry found his fists were clenched and unclenched them shame-facedly.

James let out a heavy sigh and turned away.  “I’m sorry, Harry.  This is just… a bit of a shock for me, that’s all.  I mean, a father has hopes… And don’t you think you’re a bit young to be making such a big decision?”  He looked up.  “Maybe it’s just a phase you’re going through?”

“Dad, it’s not just a phase.  It’s – it’s me, all right?  It’s how I am.”

His father tried to smile.  “So does anyone know?”

“Well, just Ron – and the friend I’ve been seeing,” Harry said hesitantly.

“So how come this friend doesn’t have a name?”

Harry wished he’d had the foresight to think up a good excuse in advance.  “He, um, doesn’t want anyone to know he’s gay, because he hasn’t told his family yet,” he lied, hoping his face wasn’t giving him away.

James nodded.  “I can understand you wanting to respect a confidence,” he said, “but I would like to meet this friend of yours.  Perhaps you could have a word with him.  I can promise I won’t tell his parents.”

Harry smiled ruefully.  If only the problem was that simple!  “I’ll see what he says,” he lied again.  “Look, I’d better go, I’m going to be late, and we’re going to the cinema.”

“Oh? What are you going to see?” James’ tone was determinedly neutral.   

“Don’t worry, it’s nothing gay.  Hammer Horror films, they’re showing them in Bury.  I’ll see you later, all right?” Relieved to be escaping from the interrogation, Harry Apparated to Spinners End.

*

Snape welcomed him in with more than his usual curtness.  In fact he seemed in a bit of a bad mood.  Hoping it was nothing to do with him, Harry was about to ask what was the matter when Snape informed him shortly that he had a visitor who was however just leaving, with an emphasis on the final words that Harry didn’t reckon was there for his benefit.  So he just shrugged and followed Snape into the sitting room, where he stared in shock at the visitor.  It was Lucius Malfoy.

Malfoy senior was just as slimy as he’d been at the Royal Opera House.  Planting an insincere smirk on that too-handsome face of his, he stood up as Harry entered.  “Ah, Mr Potter.  Curiously enough, Severus and I were just talking about you.”

Glancing at Snape, Harry could see his lips were pressed into a thin, tight line.  “Um.  Right.  Well, it was nice to meet you again, Mr Malfoy,” Harry lied.

Lucius actually laughed at that.  “Indeed, Mr Potter?  You really need to work on your sincerity, I fear.  Well, I shall not trespass upon your time together any longer.  Good day, Harry.  Severus.”  And with that tilt of the head that never failed to make Harry’s blood boil, he was gone.

“What the hell was that smarmy git doing here?” Harry exploded, once the door had shut behind the departing guest.

Snape pressed pale fingers briefly to his forehead.  “He was attempting to engage me as nursemaid for his son,” he said curtly.  “Which information, by the way, you will not repeat to anyone at Hogwarts.”

Harry frowned.  “Erm, I know Malfoy acts like he’s still in nappies a lot of the time, but isn’t it a bit late to be getting him a nanny?”

“I was, as I am quite sure you are aware, Harry, speaking figuratively.  In fact Lucius wishes me to consider Draco for an apprenticeship.  He feels his son would benefit from an additional period of disciplined, supervised study, a view with which I can only concur.”

Harry didn’t know why the thought of it bothered him so much.  “So you’re going to do it?” he asked, not entirely succeeding in keeping his tone neutral.

“I have told Lucius I will consider it.”  He paused, seeming to consider.  “However, it is unlikely I will oblige him in this matter,” he said at last.

Harry smiled.  “Good!  I mean…” he trailed off, remembering guiltily that Snape had always seemed fond of Draco.  “Er, shouldn’t we be getting off to the cinema?”

Snape’s face cleared.  “Indeed we should.  Come along, Harry.”

*

Harry had never realised just how many couples there were in the world.  The whole cinema audience seemed to be paired off – boy-girl-boy-girl for the most part, but there were a couple of older blokes in matching turtlenecks sitting rather close together in the back row too, sharing a big bag of Revels.  It made him feel a bit lonely – which was daft, wasn’t it, as he was here with Snape?

Harry risked a sidelong glance at Snape, who didn’t appear in the least uncomfortable to be in the midst of so much coupledom.  It was good – after all, a lot of blokes, after what had happened at the end of term, wouldn’t have wanted to be just mates.  Obviously that was the good thing about more mature men – they were, well, more mature.  Harry sighed, feeling for some reason an uncontrollable craving for chocolate.

The films were actually quite fun – they saw The Curse of Frankenstein and Dracula back-to-back, Snape telling him that films were generally a lot shorter when those were made, not that Harry had anything to compare them to.  Harry, who’d been expecting them to be in black and white like the old films he’d occasionally seen bits of on the Dursleys’ TV, was quite impressed with their rather lurid goriness, although you could hardly call them scary.

“Your mum and I used to come to the pictures in the school holidays, when we had the money,” Snape whispered during one of the slow bits.  His breath felt awfully hot on Harry’s ear, and smelt strongly of popcorn, which Harry was finding not exactly delicious but somehow really addictive.  No wonder they gave you such large bags of the stuff.

“What did you come and see?” Harry whispered back.

Snape shrugged, causing the popcorn bag to rustle. “Oh, whatever was on.  Quite a mixed bag, as I recall.  Jaws, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and one rather bizarre one about a youth with a disturbing fixation on horses, amongst others.”

“Well, you’ve heard the expression hung like a horse, haven’t you?”  Harry grinned, then squirmed in his seat.  For some reason his jeans were feeling a bit tight and he was glad when the film got all gory again to distract him.

At the end of the afternoon, as they came out of the cinema Harry started for a moment, catching sight of something out of the corner of his eye that gave him a moment’s unease.  It did not escape Snape’s keen gaze.

“Harry? You seem distracted.  Is something amiss?”

“What? Oh, no, I’m fine.  I just thought I saw someone – but I don’t think it was them.”  After all, he told himself, there must be thousands of large black dogs in the country.  Snape’s eyes narrowed, but he didn’t say anything more about it, and they said their goodbyes, Harry realising he’d be late for dinner if he hung around any longer.

It was great, Harry thought as he walked through his dad’s front garden, that despite everything, despite the embarrassment of the last day of term and all the regrets of the past, Snape and him had been able to put it all behind them and stay friends, without other feelings getting in the way.  He sighed.  For some reason he was feeling a bit flat now – maybe he’d just read a bit after dinner and get an early night.  He pushed open the front door and walked into the kitchen, hoping he might find dinner already on the table.  What he found were James and Sirius sitting there drinking beer and looking like they wanted to kill someone – and from the looks they sent his way, it seemed Harry was top of their hit list.

“Er, sorry I’m late,” he began.

“Too busy sucking up to Snivellus, were you?” James said nastily.

Harry recoiled.  “What?”

“Are you going to deny it?  Taught you the fine Slytherin art of lying, has he?”

“No, I’m not going to deny it – but what I want to know is how you know who I was with!” Suddenly comprehension dawned.  “Bloody hell, Sirius, it was you, wasn’t it?  Outside the cinema.  You were waiting to see who I’d come out with, weren’t you?”

“Good thing too, as it turned out, Harry.”  Sirius’ voice was cold.  “Considering the company you’ve fallen in with.”

“Look, first of all, I can’t believe you followed me – and secondly, why the hell shouldn’t I be with Snape?”

James gave a short bark of incredulous laughter.  “Why? Where do you want me to start? He’s twice your age, he hates me – in fact, a Knut gets you a Galleon he’s only got his filthy claws into you to get back at me!  And what the hell you can see in him I have no idea!  He’s old enough to be your bloody father!  He could have been your father!”

“No, he couldn’t!  Mum and him were just friends.  Just like him and me are.  Why the hell is it such a bloody big deal to you that we both like someone you don’t get on with?”

“Well, of course that’s what he’s told you!  He’s hardly going to come out and tell you he was shagging your mum while she was married to me!  Merlin, he’s probably laughing himself sick at screwing both my wife and my son!”

Harry had never in his life felt so much like he wanted to punch his father.  “For fuck’s sake, will you just stop thinking it’s all about you?  Mum liked him.  I like him.  Neither of us have fucking slept with him!  I don’t know why you even married Mum – you can’t have loved her if you thought she’d be off sleeping around all the time.  And I don’t know why I’m staying here listening to your bloody lies!  Severus Snape is a good man, whatever you think.”  Practically shaking with fury, Harry Apparated to Spinner’s End and banged energetically on Snape’s door.

“Potter! What on Earth has happened?”

“Dad,” Harry told him breathlessly.  “Found out I was coming here – can we go somewhere?  Somewhere he can’t find us?”

Snape nodded.  “Come inside.”  Locking the door behind them, he took Harry’s arm and Apparated them to a gloomy alleyway Harry didn’t recognise.

“Where are we?” Harry asked, looking around.

“London.  There’s a pub round the corner that serves an acceptable pint of ale.”  Snape led the way to a dingy-looking pub that was nevertheless rather crowded and barged to the front at the bar, getting served so quickly that Harry strongly suspected he’d Imperiused the barman.  His suspicions that magic was being employed weren’t allayed when a couple at a corner table abruptly vacated it at their approach, looking like they’d suddenly remembered an urgent appointment elsewhere.

Settling in his seat, Harry was embarrassed to find his hands were still shaking as he picked up his pint.  He took a hefty swallow, hoping it’d calm his nerves.

Snape sighed.  “I take it, then, that your father’s reaction to the news of our friendship was predictably unfavourable?”

“Too bloody right.” Harry set his glass down unsteadily on the pockmarked table.  “And he wouldn’t believe me when I said we were just friends.  And he – “ Harry broke off, not at all sure he wanted to repeat James’ slander of his mother.

Snape nodded.  “I should have warned you that this was the likely outcome of our association.”

Harry shrugged unhappily.  “’S all right.  Not your fault he’s a stupid, pig-headed, jealous bastard who thinks the worst of everyone.”  Snape was silent as Harry continued, “He thinks it’s all about him, you know?  Thinks you’re only after me to get back at him.”  He coloured.  “Um. Not that you’re, you know, after me anyway.”

Snape was looking at him oddly.  “Am I not, Harry?  You cannot so easily have forgotten what happened at the end of term.”

Harry stared.  “That – well, you thought I – I mean, you wouldn’t have – ” His heart was pounding furiously.  Snape still fancied him?  He’d thought they were just friends.  Just really, really good friends.  Who were both gay…

Snape gave a twisted little smile.  “I regret to destroy your illusions, but I am by no means so accepting of your lack of interest in my rather doubtful charms as you appear to believe.  I confess I had hoped that, once the horror of incest was no longer an issue, you might have developed other feelings for me beyond the merely platonic.”

“Oh,” was all Harry could manage.  His mouth felt as dry as one of Binns’ lectures so he took another swig of his pint, spilling a little as he set it down again.  Snape still fancied him.  Not knowing where to look, he fixed his gaze on the little puddle of beer he’d left on the table.  “They’re not, you know.  Doubtful, I mean,” he said impulsively.

“I beg your pardon?”

Harry blushed.  “Your, um, charms.  You shouldn’t put yourself down.  OK, so your hair isn’t your best feature, and your, er, nose is a bit big for your face, and you’re way too thin, but, well, you still look, um. Very you.”

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun,” Snape quoted thoughtfully.

“What?” asked Harry, baffled but relieved Snape hadn’t taken Harry’s, now he came to think about it, rather unflattering summing up of his appearance too badly.

“Poetry, Potter.  Just one more of the learned arts that remain a regrettably closed book to you.  No matter.  Another drink?”

Looking down, Harry was surprised to see he’d almost finished his first pint.  “Er, yeah, OK.  Sorry I came out without any money – I was in a bit of a hurry.” He was grateful for the break in the conversation whilst Snape went up to the bar, although he couldn’t seem to sort his feelings out at all.  Why did it feel so weird, so exciting, knowing Snape still fancied him?

“Have you eaten?” Snape asked upon his return.

“No, actually,” Harry told him, his stomach starting to rumble now he’d been reminded of its existence.

“Indian all right?”

“Yeah, fine.  Thanks.”  Harry downed his second pint as quickly as he could, and they set off to a restaurant a couple of streets away Snape seemed to know where, once again, a table became available with suspicious speed.

Dinner in the dimly lit Indian restaurant, where flickering candles cast ever-shifting shadows upon blood-red walls and the aroma of spices was almost overpowering, felt surreal.  Snape still fancied him.  This could be their first date, if Harry wanted it to be.  Did he want it to be?  But then wasn’t it just like all the other times they’d gone out together, without actually going out together?  And shouldn’t he be calling him Severus, if they were going out together? And how come he’d never noticed how long and slender Snape’s fingers were, more like limbs than digits?

Harry began to suspect that having two pints on an empty stomach, then some weird strong Indian beer and a curry hadn’t been the best idea he’d ever had.

Snape glared at him over the mushroom bhaji.  “Potter, you are miles away.  Kindly return.  If you are concerned that I will attempt to molest you, I can assure you I have no such intention.  I find rejection to be invariably bad for the digestion.”

Harry looked up with a guilty start.  “Sorry.”  His heart was thumping.  It looked like Snape was leaving the Quaffle firmly on Harry’s side of the pitch, as far as their relationship was concerned.  “Can I call you Severus?” he blurted out.

Snape looked surprised.  “If you wish.  Although I should prefer that you refrain from doing so once we have returned to classes next week.”

Classes.  Bugger.  They had to go back to school next week.  How on Earth had Harry managed to forget that little detail?  Still, at least he’d be free of Dad and Sirius constantly checking up on him.  Harry’s heart sank as he remembered that sooner or later he was going to have to go back to face them.  Maybe he did need another bottle of that Indian beer after all.

*

“Potter, you are drunk.  I told you not to have another beer,” Snape chided him, sounding exasperated as they meandered down the street after their meal, Harry feeling a desperate need for some fresh air before he even attempted to Apparate anywhere.

Harry grinned.  “’S all right.  You’ll look after me!”

Snape snorted.  “If I deliver you back to your father in this state I suspect it is I who shall require looking after.”

“So don’t deliver me.  Send me by owl.  Big, big owl with lots of big… feathers.”  Harry gestured expansively to indicate the general dimensions of the bird he imagined, whacking his hand painfully into a lamppost as he did so.  “Ow!”

“Idiot.” Snape rolled his eyes as he took Harry’s hand to inspect the damage.  “Wonderful.  Bruised knuckles.  Now your blasted father will imagine I’ve been introducing you to the delights of fist-fighting – either that, or you’ve been making a valiant attempt to defend your virtue from my depraved advances.”

“Haven’t been a right lot of depraved advances lately,” Harry complained.  “Think my virtue’s died of boredom.”  He stopped walking and looked around, finding himself unexpectedly alone.  “Snape?”

Snape had stopped dead in the middle of the pavement.

“Sneverus?” Harry asked, with a feeling it might not have come out quite right.  He could see a muscle in Snape’s jaw twitching.

“Potter.  I will excuse your behaviour on the grounds that you are inebriated.” He looked upset.

“Don’t want to be excused,” Harry muttered rebelliously.  “Want to stay with you.” He walked back to Snape, who stood stock still as Harry put his arms around him.  “Always want to stay with you,” he repeated.

Snape sighed, and Side-Along Apparated him back to his Dad’s.  Harry took one look at James Potter’s furious face and threw up on the doormat.

*

Harry woke up fully clothed on top of his bed feeling utterly shite, and that was before the memories of the previous evening flooded back to shame him.  Crap, crap, bugger and crap.  He’d totally bollocksed things up with Snape and his dad would probably never speak to him again.  He wondered miserably if he should just not bother to get up ever again.

Unfortunately, his bladder was reminding him that that wasn’t really an option.  Head throbbing painfully, Harry made his way to the bathroom.  After he’d used the loo, Harry looked in the mirror to check the damage.

“Rough night, was it, dearie?” the mirror asked him archly.  “I’d change that shirt if I were you,” it added, its tone dripping with amused distaste.

Harry glanced down at his clothing and shuddered at the stains.  He hurriedly stripped, trying to ignore the mirror’s saucy comments, and grabbed some clean clothes.  He was painfully aware he needed a shower but he wasn’t certain his head would stand up to water pounding down on it without exploding.  Gritting his teeth, he headed down to the kitchen hoping to find something to settle his stomach.  Dad and Sirius were sitting at the kitchen table with mugs of coffee, and both looked up when he walked in.  Harry thought he saw Sirius nudge James, who sort of sighed, and pushed a mug over to Harry.

“Thanks, Dad, but I’m not sure I’m really up to coffee yet,” Harry confessed, wincing.

“It’s Hangover Potion.  Drink it quick or it’ll come straight back up.”  James sounded more resigned than angry.

Surprised, Harry did as instructed and almost groaned in relief as the pain in his head receded to distinctly bearable levels and his stomach stopped feeling like it was about to jump ship at any moment.  “Thanks Dad, that’s really helped.  Um, I thought you’d be really mad at me this morning…”

James shrugged grimly.  “Yeah, well, we’ve all been there.  Although some of us had a lot better taste in drinking companions – “

“Prongs!” Sirius broke in warningly.

“Right, right.  Anyway…” James broke off, looking away for a moment.  “I realise I haven’t exactly been the world’s best dad and I’m sorry about that, all right?”

Harry was completely baffled.  He’d expected to get into all kinds of trouble, and now his dad was apologising to him?  “Um, that’s OK, Dad,” he said awkwardly.

“Right.  Think you can cope with some breakfast, then?  I’ll do you some toast.”

*

Harry knocked on the peeling door of number thirteen, Spinner’s End, wondering not for the first time why Snape apparently couldn’t be arsed to get it painted once every few decades or so.

Snape didn’t look very pleased to see him, although he allowed him in nonetheless.  “Is your father aware that you are here?” he asked.

“Er, yeah.  He suggested I come round, actually.  Said I should apologise to you for being an idiot last night.”  Harry dithered, then asked, “You haven’t Imperiused him, have you?  Because he’s really not acting like himself.”

Snape sighed wearily.  “It appears, Potter, that your father has somewhat late in life discovered reverse psychology.”

“You what?”

“It means he is under the impression that your association with me is merely an act of adolescent rebellion and that if he appears to endorse it, you will quickly tire of it.  He is quite probably right.”

“What?  That’s bollocks!”

“Is it, Potter?  You have certainly of late evinced no genuine respect for my feelings.”

Harry couldn’t believe it.  Here he’d been thinking that they were, well, getting closer, and Snape was acting all miffed.  “What did I do?”

“Oh, the blame is all mine, I have no doubt.”  The bitterness in Snape’s tone felt like Bubotuber pus in an open wound.  “I was foolish enough to confess my continued regard and should have expected a boy like you to trifle with my feelings for his own amusement.”

Harry frowned.  “Have you been reading Jane Austen again?  I wasn’t trifling with anything!  I’d never treat something like that as a joke.  I – look, I think I do like you.  That way, I mean.  It wasn’t just ‘cause I was pissed.”  Harry wiped his palms on his jeans and then stopped, embarrassed, when he realised what he was doing.  Way to look adult and self-assured, Harry, he told himself, cursing.

Snape’s gaze skewered Harry to the wall.  “You think?  You had better be very sure, Harry, that this is indeed what you want.”

“I – I think I am,” Harry stammered, relieved to find the cool, comforting hardness of the wall against his back.  “I mean, yes, I am.  I want us to be – more than friends.”  Fuck, he’d said it!

Snape’s eyes seemed to glitter in the dim light of the hallway.  There was a weak shaft of sunlight coming in through the fan-shaped window at the top of the front door, letting dust motes sparkle as they danced around them.  There was a cobweb high in the corner of the ceiling and Harry wondered if Snape had used the spider in one of his potions as a pale hand came up silently to caress his face.  Its warmth was surprising yet Harry still shivered as it traced his jawline, one finger ghosting over his lips.

“Have you ever even kissed a man before, Harry?”  The voice was soft, neutral, and for a moment Harry felt like he was sitting in a Potions class from years ago, with not a bloody clue what the right answer was.  If he said no, would Snape tell him to go home and grow up?  If Harry said yes, would he fly into a jealous rage?  Either seemed equally likely, so in the end, Harry decided to go with the truth.

“I – yeah,” he said finally.

“And?”

And what? Harry thought furiously.  And I liked it? And we jerked each other off afterwards?  “It wasn’t anything serious,” he went with finally.

“Good.”

Harry started to breathe again, and stopped abruptly as Snape leant forward and, still cupping his face with one hand, gently drew him into a kiss.  It was nothing like the casual, matey kisses he’d shared with Marcus over the summer in Godric’s Hollow.  This was deeper, more passionate, feeling like souls were meeting, not just lips and tongues.  You had better be very sure, Harry, that this is indeed what you want, Snape had said, and he hadn’t really understood why, but now he realised – all the time Harry had thought they’d just been friends, Snape had been keeping this passion, this need, locked up inside him, but now it was unleashed, and Harry suspected there would be no subduing it now it had been roused.  It was an exhilarating thought.  Their kiss seemed to go on forever, but Harry still felt cheated when Snape moaned softly and pulled back, breathing hard.  “It would be prudent if we were to… slow down a little,” he murmured regretfully.

Bugger prudence, thought Harry – and it must have shown on his face as Snape smiled knowingly.

“I am not so old, Harry, as to have entirely forgotten what it is like to be seventeen.  However, strong passions have been known to lead to strong regrets.  It is less than a month since your feelings for me were… of a quite different nature.”

Harry couldn’t help flushing a little at that.  “Sorry I was such an idiot about that,” he muttered.

Snape put his hand on Harry’s chin and once more turned him so that they were facing.  “You were not an idiot.  You merely made the mistake of listening to someone who most certainly is an idiot, that is all.  I… am the one who misinterpreted your actions.”   

“Well, you didn’t misinterpret me this time,” Harry said firmly, trying to pull Snape down into another kiss.

Snape gave him a knowing smile.  “Trying to make up for lost time, are we?  I regret to inform you, Mr Potter, that I do not have the entirety of every day to devote exclusively to your undoubted attractions.”

Harry blushed a bit at that.  Undoubted attractions?  Yeah, right.  It might not look it from the state of his hair, but he did occasionally look in a mirror, and he’d resigned himself long ago to having to get by on personality.  “So what are you up to today, then?  If you’re not just saying that to stop me getting big-headed, that is?”

Snape smirked.  “In fact, Harry, I have business at Wurzmangle’s.”

“That’s that new wizarding nursery, isn’t it?  Neville’s hoping to get a job there after NEWTs.  You know, I wouldn’t have thought you’d approve of places like that – I’d have thought you’d be all Potions Ingredients must be gathered personally, by hand, by the light of the full moon.”

Snape frowned.  “Given my experience of what comes out at the full moon, I confess myself in favour of anything that keeps me safely inside on such nights.”

Harry sighed.  “You’re never going to forgive my dad and his mates for that prank they played on you, are you?”

“Not in this life, Harry.”

*

After Apparating them to the nursery, Snape disappeared into the office to talk to the manager and Harry looked around Wurzmangle’s with interest.  He’d never been to any kind of nursery before, let alone a wizarding one.  It seemed to cover a vast area; the foreground covered in greenhouses, with beyond them fields of various crops, some of the plants fenced off to stop them fighting with one another.  Right by the main building were displays of potted plants – he spotted a whole row of miniature Whomping Willows in sturdy stone pots, bearing the legends Excellent pets and Good with Children.  After one of them lashed out at him unexpectedly viciously, Harry hurried on to the flowers.

There was a fine display of red-hot pokers and some deep purple flowers with the tag Rhodochiton Volubilis which for some reason reminded him of Kingsley Shacklebolt, whom he’d met once at the Burrow and crushed on for months afterwards.  Moving on swiftly, Harry paused at a display of unfeasibly large vegetable marrows, with a sign next to them saying Never be disappointed with Tumessence™, and frankly boggled when he saw the coco-de-mer, the fruit of which resembled nothing more than a well-rounded arse.  He’d never realised plants could be so bloody suggestive.  He was just wondering if there was a loo round here he could sneak off to, when a hand clapped him on the shoulder and he practically jumped into the Devil’s Snare in fright.

It was Neville.  “Harry!  Having a good Christmas?  Didn’t expect to see you here!”

Neville was wearing a heavy green apron and the longest pair of gardening gloves Harry had ever seen.  “Hang on a minute, Neville – I thought you were going to wait until you’d got your NEWTs to apply for a job here?”

Neville blushed.  “Well, it turns out Professor Sprout knows Hector Wurzmangle quite well and she wrote to him and suggested I do a bit of work experience over the holidays.  It’s been great!  They’ve even let me prune the Venomous Tentacular!”

Well, that would explain the gloves.  “Good for you, Neville!  Sounds like you shouldn’t have too much trouble getting that job in the summer, anyway!”

Neville smiled, obviously a little embarrassed but also very pleased.  “So, are you here with your dad, then?” he asked.

It was Harry’s turn to blush faintly.  “Er, no.  I’m here with Snape.  We’re, um, together.  Sort of.”

Neville frowned, puzzled.  “But why would you go shopping with Snape?”

“No, I mean we’re together together.  We’re going out.” He beamed.

That apron must be reflecting the light, Harry thought, as Neville’s face had a definite greenish tinge.  “You and, er, Professor Snape?”

“Well, do you know any other Snapes?  Actually, come to think of it, I’ve met about a couple of dozen, but he’s the only one I fancy.”

“That’s… really nice, Harry.  Good for you.  Um, I think I can hear the mandrakes calling, so I’d better be going…” Harry watched as Neville scurried off.  They were clearly working the bloke too hard here – he was definitely acting a bit off.

He was relieved to find that it wasn’t too long before Snape emerged, wearing the smug smirk that spoke of a bargain hard driven.

“Got what you wanted, then?” Harry asked cheerfully.  Snape favoured him with a long, appraising look.  “Not yet, but I hope to shortly,” he murmured, leaving Harry blushing once more.

*

Harry’s arm had seemed to tingle as Snape took it to Apparate them both back to Spinner’s End.  He felt the loss of the contact keenly after their arrival back in Snape’s sitting room.

“So, um, here we are.  Home.  Well, your home, not mine, well, not yet, although it’d be nice if, you know, some day, but I’m probably getting a bit ahead of myself here, but you know what I mean…” Harry trailed off, blushing, as Snape’s lips quirked up in his own version of a smile.  “Right.  Stop babbling, Potter,” he muttered self-consciously.

Snape smirked.  “Indeed.  So, Mr Potter, what do you suppose we should be doing now that we are, as you so expansively remark, home?”

Harry took a deep breath.  Snape was close enough to touch so, hesitantly, Harry reached up a hand and put it on his waist.  Briefly, Snape’s eyes closed and Harry would have snatched his hand away if it hadn’t appeared to have developed a mind of its own and started to pull gently at the man in front of him, encouraging him to step closer.  Obviously feeling uncertain of victory, it had called in reinforcements, Harry noted fuzzily as his other hand went to Snape’s hip.  Snape gave a heavy, shuddering sigh and then his whole body was pressed against Harry, crushing him into the wall as supple fingers found his chin and turned his face upwards into Snape’s kiss.  Harry stopped breathing – Snape’s lips were steel in velvet, demanding entrance for his tongue, and Harry could feel the older man’s erection hard against his belly.  Clearly Harry’s hands now had ideas way below their station as they dropped to Snape’s bum, pulling him urgently against Harry.

Snape moaned into Harry’s mouth, his hand pulling up at Harry’s t-shirt and then snaking underneath and making his skin tingle with desire.  His other hand was running through Harry’s hair now, somehow feeling far more intimate than anything more overtly sexual could have done.  He shifted slightly so that Harry’s cock was grinding against his hip.  It felt amazing, incredible – even after all this time spent with Snape, Harry felt he didn’t have the words to even begin to describe it.  Bloody hell, he thought slightly hysterically, he was glad Snape wasn’t his dad.

Harry broke away from the kiss, gasping – it was all too much – but then Snape’s teeth were on his neck and those dextrous fingers pinched his nipple hard and Harry was bucking and coming in his jeans, mortified at how quick he’d been.  Harry stood there for a moment, gasping, held up by the wall behind him and Snape in front.  Snape hadn’t come yet, he thought, as his head started to clear, and Harry started to fumble at the man’s trousers.

“Harry, you do not have to – “

“Bugger off, I want to,” Harry said, finally getting the zip undone and pushing Snape’s pants down over the head of his cock.  Maybe it was because the rest of him was so thin, but his cock looked enormous.  Harry wrapped his hand around it and gave it a cautious pull.

“It very rarely bites, you know,” Snape commented dryly.

“Git,” Harry said, taking a firmer grip.  From the sound of Snape’s shuddering intake of breath, that was definitely the way to go.  Harry sped up his strokes – then on impulse dropped to his knees and took the head into his mouth.  He’d never done this before but he was fairly hopeful that short of biting it off there wasn’t a lot he could do that was actually wrong.  Snape seemed to agree with him on that as his breathing was really ragged now.  He’d braced himself against the wall with one arm, leaning over Harry as he sucked away.  As he couldn’t get a lot of it in his mouth, Harry wrapped one hand around the base of Snape’s cock and worked it with that as well as his tongue.  Snape moaned again, and Harry experimented with flicking his tongue over the crown.  Abruptly he found himself pushed away – and then Snape was coming, pulsing out spurt after spurt of unexpectedly hot spunk right onto Harry’s face.  Blinking a bit – some of it had gone in his eyes, although he’d closed them instinctively as soon as he’d seen it, ahem, coming – Harry stared up at Snape, not sure how he felt about the picture he must make, on his knees in front of the man with jizz all over his face.  “Might have warned a bloke,” he began, only for Snape to stop his words by pulling him up and into a deep, tender kiss.  Suddenly Harry didn’t care what he looked like.  “That was fantastic,” he breathed.  Snape smiled.  It made him look a lot younger, although the smear of come on his face from kissing Harry probably helped.  “Um, maybe we should get a cloth?” Harry suggested.

*

It felt weird, going back to his dad’s house that evening.  Harry couldn’t shake the paranoid idea that his dad would take one look at him and instantly know exactly what he’d been up to.

James gave him a tight little smile when he walked in.  “Have a good day with Snape?” he asked, managing to sound only slightly pained.

“Er, yeah, thanks.  Didn’t do much,” Harry replied, sure his face must be beetroot red, particularly when his dad seemed to wince slightly and look away.

There was a pause.

“You and Sirius have a good day?” Harry asked awkwardly.

“Yeah.  Got the attic cleared out,” James replied.

Harry felt guilty.  He should probably have been helping with that.  “Um, sorry I wasn’t around.”

“No, no, that’s fine.  It’s your holidays, you should do what you want.”

For some reason, Harry felt even guiltier now.  He picked at his dinner and made an excuse to have an early night.

*

Harry hadn’t made any firm plans for the following day with Snape (who he still couldn’t manage to think of as Severus).  He’d just said he’d play it by ear.  So when his dad suggested that they spend the day together painting his bedroom, Harry’s conscience wouldn’t let him refuse.  It was actually quite fun – Harry had never been afraid of a bit of hard work or, if he had, the Dursleys had beaten it out of him – and somehow he felt a lot closer to his dad after a day spent decorating, which was a lot more fun with magic – James had bought pots of AnyColour Paint, which still had to be applied the usual way, but once on could be easily charmed to a different colour or set to change according to the occupant’s mood.  Right now it was a sort of abstract pattern in orange and yellow, as were large patches of Harry’s shirt and hair (at least they’d thought to spell their glasses so that paint wouldn’t stick).

“Not bad, is it?” James asked, grinning.

“It’s brilliant!” Harry enthused, grinning back.

“You know, we should have done this years ago,” James continued.  The vibrant tones muted slightly as Harry thought about just why they hadn’t.

James sighed.  “Look, Harry, I’m sorry I was, well, such a git.  I honestly thought – but it doesn’t matter now.  I’ll make it up to you, I promise.”  He busied himself for a moment, activating the self-cleaning charms on the paintbrushes and putting lids back on pots.  “And, well, this thing with you being friends with Sni – with Snape.  I’ve had a chance to think about it now, and I realise I shouldn’t try and dictate who your friends are.  You’re a grown man now, after all.  So, well, I was thinking – how about we invite old Snape round for supper?”

Harry winced as the walls turned a sickly shade of green.

*

The next day, Harry had mixed feelings as he made his way over to Spinner’s End.  On the one hand, it felt bizarre and exhilarating to be going to see Snape with his father’s blessing.  On the other, he felt a considerable amount of guilt over the fact that firstly, he hadn’t told his dad he and Snape were now considerably more than friends, and secondly, his dad was making a huge effort, issuing an invitation that must have been mortifying, just for Harry.  True, if Snape was right, and Harry reckoned he usually was, James was only doing it because he wanted to split them up – but still, it was for Harry, wasn’t it?

Snape greeted him with a raised eyebrow.  “You have paint in your hair.  Which keeps changing colour.”

Harry groaned.  “Still?  I thought I’d got all that out.  What colour is it now?”

“Gryffindor red,” Snape told him with a look of distaste, taking out his wand and pointing it at Harry’s head.  “Much better.”

Harry gave him a sideways look.  “Do I need to go and check you haven’t turned it Slytherin green?”

Snape smirked.  “Why, Harry, don’t you trust me?”

Harry grinned.  “I probably shouldn’t answer that, should I?”

It felt a bit weird, being with Snape after what they’d done the last time.  Harry wasn’t quite sure how to behave now that they were – whatever they were.  He’d been dying to see Snape again, to touch him, kiss him – but now that he was here, Snape seemed to be treating him just like he always had, like they were just friends.

“A problem, Harry?”

Harry jumped guiltily.  “Er, what?”

“You seemed lost in thought.”  He frowned.  “I hope you have not come to regret what passed between us on your last visit?”

“What? No!  It’s just, um, I – shouldn’t we, you know, kiss or something?”  He flushed at Snape’s sardonically raised eyebrow.  “I just wasn’t sure if you, um.  You know.”  Harry turned away, feeling like a total idiot.  He breathed a shaky sigh of relief when he felt Snape’s arms snake around him from behind.

Warm breath whispered across his neck and an amused voice rumbled in his ear.  “I should chide you for your youthful impatience to revisit the joys of the flesh, but I suspect there is something more to it than that.  You are uncertain where you stand, hmm?”

Leaning back into Snape’s embrace, Harry found it hard to remember precisely what he’d been so worried about.  “Er, yeah?”

Snape chuckled, a low sound that did interesting things to Harry’s groin.  He shivered as soft lips kissed his neck, his ear – and abruptly were gone.  “Hey!”

“Patience, Mr Potter, patience.” Snape had whirled away from him, and now stood three feet away, arms folded and looking like he was struggling not to laugh.

Harry glared at him.  “You’re really enjoying this, aren’t you?  Right, I get it – you like to make me wait.  So, got anything planned for this morning or are you just going to stand there and smirk at me all day?”

Snape raised an eyebrow.  “Well, that is tempting.  Although not, perhaps, terribly productive.  Hm, I wonder– have you ever visited the wizarding quarter of York?”

“I didn’t even know there was one!”

“It is not so large as Diagon Alley, but for certain specialised items, it is the only place to go.  And York is an attractive city in its own right.  Would you care for a visit?”

“Yeah!”  Harry hesitated.  “Or if you don’t want to go that far, we could always, you know, stay here and think of something else to do…” He flushed.

Snape was looking at him with an affectionate, although still rather evil smile.  “York it is, then.  Come along, Harry.”

*

“Where are we?” Harry asked, as they emerged from the Floo into a place that looked a lot like the Hog’s Head in Hogsmeade, only with rather more in the way of horse-brasses and strange, obsolete agricultural equipment hanging from the rafters.

“The Dog’s Bollocks,” Snape told him with a look of distaste.

“Pardon?”

Snape rolled his eyes.  “Another victim of the trendy renaming of pubs, I regret to say.  It used to be known as The Pig’s Pizzle, until it was taken over by a Muggleborn with progressive ideas.  These days, they even serve lager.”  His expression made it clear what he thought of that, although Harry wasn’t sure what the problem was.  He liked lager.  “At any rate, much like the Leaky Cauldron in London, this is the entrance to wizarding York.  Out there,” he indicated the front entrance of the pub, “is the Shambles, which has the unenviable reputation of the most tourist-clogged street in Britain, and out there,” he gestured towards a rather more nondescript door leading out on the opposite side, “lies Ambling Gate.”  This saying, he strode off towards the rear exit, giving the barman a curt nod as he passed.

Unlike in London, there was no moving wall to navigate – they emerged directly onto a claustrophobic little street, sunk in stygian gloom despite the brightness of the day.  Harry looked up and saw that the buildings either side overhung the street so much that it would be quite literally possible to step from one roof to another without breaking stride.  “Does the sun ever get down here?” he wondered aloud.

“For about an hour around noon, yes.  However, trust me, the place looks better in semi-darkness.”

Something else was bothering Harry. “So where’s the gate?  And does it actually, you know, amble?”

Snape looked at him pityingly.  “Gate, Harry, is an old Norse word for street.  York was, for almost a century, under Viking control, having been conquered by Ivar the Boneless in the ninth century.”

“Ivar the Boneless?  Had a run-in with a medieval Gilderoy Lockhart, did he?”

“Somehow I doubt it, Harry.  No, Harry, it is thought that he suffered from brittle bone disease – he could not walk, and was reputedly carried into battle on a shield.  Although as an alternative translation of Beinlauss is legless, it is possible that he had some other disability of the lower limbs, whether congenital or suffered in later life.”

Harry grinned.  “Or maybe he just like to get pissed before going into battle?  You know, Dutch courage?  Or you know, the Viking version.  Norse courage, or something.”

Snape looked at him patronisingly.  “Harry, this was the age of the berserker.  They all got pissed before going into battle.  Now, come along – I want to get to Bloodeagle’s before they close for lunch.”

*

Bloodeagle’s turned out, rather than the exotic and somewhat stomach-churning poultry merchant Harry had vaguely imagined, to be a tiny silversmith’s where everything seemed to be covered in runes.

“Finest runic silverware in the country,” Snape murmured to Harry as they entered.  “The designs have been passed down the family since the Dark Ages.  Some of his wares hold runes that it is said only Smidr Bloodeagle himself knows the full translation for.”

Harry gave Snape a sidelong glance.  “Isn’t it a bit, well, dangerous to buy stuff with runes on where you don’t know what they mean?”

Snape nodded approvingly.  “Indeed.  However, there are many customers who are willing to take that risk.  A top of the range runic knife can increase the efficacy of potions ingredients chopped with it five-fold – and there are, of course, many darker uses which may also be enhanced.”

“What, you stab someone with it, they end up five times as dead?”

“Not… precisely, Harry.  However you are closer to the truth than you think.  There are far worse things than simply dying.”

Harry shivered.  “So what are we here for, then?”

Snape merely smiled and strode up to the counter, which Harry saw was manned by the largest bloke he’d ever seen who wasn’t Hagrid.  Tall, well muscled and blond, the man had a generous beard and small, greedy eyes.  He greeted Snape with a curt “Professor,” and the two of them bent their heads together and started muttering.  Harry wasn’t close enough to hear what they said and in fact he wasn’t even sure it was English they were speaking.  Feeling a bit left out, Harry wandered round, looking at the displays of vicious knives, axes and amulets.

“Harry?”

Finally.  Harry trotted over curiously to the other side of the shop, wondering what Snape had been haggling over.  Bloodeagle nodded to them and strode to the other end of the counter to serve another customer.  “So, you done, then?” Harry asked.

“Not quite.  Harry… I should like you to accept this.  As a belated Yule present.”

Harry looked at the article Snape held out to him.  It was a cloak clasp – an intricately worked silver clasp in the shape of a phoenix.  It was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.  Turning it over in his hands, Harry noticed some runes inscribed upon the back.  Surprised, his eyes darted up to Snape’s face, which he was astonished to find held spots of colour in the usually pallid cheeks.  “I…” he faltered.

“The gift is somewhat symbolic.”  Snape’s voice was uncharacteristically hurried.  “In centuries gone by, a Nordic wizard would make a gift of such a clasp to one he considered himself bound to by ties of… friendship.”

The pause Snape made before the final word didn’t escape Harry and his heart beat a little faster.  He was almost certain Snape had been about to say love.

“The runes” – Snape’s colour, impossibly, heightened – “the runes spell beloved.  They are charmed to be visible only to you.  The silver, by the way, is of a type traditionally used in gifts of this nature.  It will tarnish only if the giver is untrue.”

Harry beamed up at Snape and impulsively threw his arms around him.  “That’s… thank you!”  The words were wholly inadequate, but Snape seemed to know what he meant.

“Come, Harry – let us find some lunch, and I can teach you how to charm it invisible for when you return home.  Whilst I consider it unlikely in the extreme that James Potter knows the first thing about Viking wizarding traditions, given his bullish nature I should not advise any unnecessary waving of red flags.”

*

They had lunch in the tiniest café Harry had ever seen, which snuggled in a side street just in sight of the Minster.  Harry only realised it was a wizarding place when a large party arrived and the walls slid back with a wince-making grating sound to accommodate them.  “Don’t the Muggles notice when they do that?” he asked, slightly perturbed.

“Leaving aside the fact that most Muggles wouldn’t notice Albus Dumbledore if he Apparated in front of them clad only in our Deputy Headmistress’ underwear, there are strong Muggle-repelling charms on the place.  Obviously, with such a prime location, they can afford to cater to a purely wizarding clientele.”

As he soaked up the last of his venison stew with a bit of crusty bread, a thought occurred to Harry.  “Um,” he began.

Snape raised an eyebrow.

Harry coloured faintly.  “Well, it’s – Dad asked if you’d like to come round to dinner.”  He busied himself chasing a particularly elusive bit of carrot around the bowl.

Snape made a strange sort of coughing sound.  “Tempting though the invitation is, I regret I shall be otherwise engaged.”

“Oh.  Wait – I didn’t tell you what day!”

“I am afraid that I shall have to return to Hogwarts tomorrow, to prepare for the coming term.  And in any case, Harry, when it comes to breaking bread with James Potter, I shall always be otherwise engaged.  Now, eat up – they do an excellent plum duff here.”

After lunch, they had a wander around the city until even Harry had got fed up of all the tourists, and returned to Spinner’s End.  Harry’s heart was thumping as he stumbled out of the Floo.  Last time they’d come back here from a trip out there’d been, well, sex.  Surely a repeat performance wouldn’t be too much to hope for?  After all, this would be their last chance before going back to school.  He blushed as he realised Snape was looking at him and trying not to laugh.

“Harry, your eagerness is doing wonders for my self-esteem.”

Giving in, Harry grinned.  “Well, now that I’ve massaged your ego, do you think I might get a crack at massaging something else?”

Snape smiled and, stepping up to Harry, slid one arm around his waist, using the other to pull his face in for a kiss.  Harry responded eagerly, parting his lips and pressing his body against his lover.  He could feel Snape’s cock growing thicker and harder against his belly and tried to press himself even closer.  His own cock was achingly hard already and he frotted joyfully against Snape’s thigh.

There was an amused chuckle.  “Have I ever told you just how much I dislike small dogs, Harry?”

“Git.”  Nevertheless, Harry pulled back a bit.  “So what do you suggest we do, then?” he challenged.

“Mm, I was thinking we might try this in a bed, for once,” Snape purred.  “Come upstairs.”

Harry didn’t need a second invitation and allowed Snape to lead him by the hand up the steep, narrow staircase and into an austere, but comfortable bedroom with a heavy iron bedstead in the centre.

Harry swallowed.  Somehow the sight of that bed was conjuring up all kinds of kinky fantasies he hadn’t even known he’d been harbouring.  He wondered what Snape would say if he commented on how the bars at the head of the bed seemed just made for tying someone down to.

“Sometimes, Harry, it is extremely tempting to use Legilimency on you,” Snape murmured in his ear.

Harry blushed.  “Probably not a good idea right now.  Might shatter one or two illusions.”

“Indeed?  And what, Harry, makes you think that I harbour any illusions as to the contents of your filthy little mind?  But I do wonder precisely what you are thinking about right now.  Perhaps you’d like me to just bend you over the edge of the bed, pull down those disgracefully tight denim trousers and take you, hard?  Perhaps there are in fact a variety of positions you would like to explore?  Or maybe you have simply spotted the intriguing possibilities for a little light bondage?”  Harry swore he could feel Snape’s smile against the hairs on the back of his neck as he jumped slightly at the word bondage.  “I see it is the latter.  Well, Harry, I suggest we get you out of those clothes,” he breathed.

Harry scrambled to obey, fingers absurdly clumsy on zips and buttons.  He really hoped Snape would get his own kit off as Harry reckoned that the state he was in, he’d make a right pig’s arse of it.  He jumped as cool fingers slid around his waist from behind.  “Let me take that,” Snape said with an amused undercurrent Harry didn’t quite understand until he realised the shirt Snape had plucked from his fingers was changing shape, was lengthening, was – God, turning into a soft green rope that snaked itself around his wrists and bound them together in front of him.  Helpless, now, to do anything more to undress, Harry allowed Snape to gently remove his glasses and ease his jeans down – and then yelped as he was unexpectedly pushed face down onto the bed.  Sure fingers stripped him of the remainder of his clothing and gently parted his legs.  He could feel those hands caressing his buttocks, kneading and parting them – and then he felt hot breath there too.  Harry gasped as something wet began to move into his crack.  Was that Snape’s tongue?  Harry whimpered as he felt Snape licking at his hole, teasing it with his tongue.  Bloody hell, how could something so filthy feel so bloody amazing?  Come to think of it, maybe he had the answer right there.  Scrabbling around with his bound hands to try and get some leverage on the bed, Harry was torn between wanting to press back against that wicked tongue and the almost unbearable need to grind his rock-hard cock into the bedcovers.

“Mm, like that, do we?” Snape murmured evilly.

“God, yes!” Harry panted – and then groaned as Snape suddenly ceased all contact.  “Bastard!”

Snape chuckled.  “Surely you know that by now?” he teased – and abruptly Harry was flipped over and lifted slightly so that he lay fully on the bed, on his back and staring up at his tormentor.  “Your hands, Harry, are in the way.  We shall have to do something about that,” Snape murmured as, still fully clothed, he straddled Harry and gently raised his arms above his head until his hands touched the bars of the bedstead.  Harry felt his bonds loosen and slither sensuously around his wrists, and swallowed convulsively when he found himself secured to the bed.  “Much better,” Snape breathed.  Kneeling up, he began slowly to unbutton the black shirt he wore, revealing a pale, sparsely haired chest that Harry ached to touch, to caress.  Once the shirt lay open, he moved to unbuckle his belt, pulling it free from his trousers with a relish that did strange things to Harry’s insides.  Hooded eyes regarded Harry intently as long, pale fingers caressed the leather of the belt in a way that Harry found frankly obscene.  One corner of Snape’s mouth quirked upwards and looking down at the belt in his hands, Snape murmured a few words that Harry didn’t catch.  At once the belt came alive, twisting and writhing in Snape’s hands in much the way Harry wanted to.  Harry watched enthralled as Snape set the belt down on his stomach, where it slithered ticklishly then rose, considering, and flicked the central prong of its buckle at him like a little brass tongue.  Harry shivered, making the serpentine belt writhe once more.  He would have sworn he could hear it hiss as, buckle down, it slithered up his chest – and paused to flick each nipple in turn with a teasing prong.  Harry’s hips bucked upwards, trying to get some contact for his desperate prick, but Snape was tantalisingly out of reach as he slowly undid his trousers.

“Bastard!”  Harry gasped again, twitching as Snape’s leather-and-metal serpent resumed its ministrations.  Snape leant forward to caress its buckle with one dextrous finger.  “Kinky bastard!” Harry amended.  He could make out the bulge of Snape’s erection, frustratingly hidden by the cloth of his underwear.  “I want to see you!” he whined.

Snape smirked.  “Then you are, I regret to say, doomed to disappointment.”  Gracefully the belt ceased teasing Harry’s nipples and slithered up towards his face.  It was getting too close to focus on, but Harry thought he could see it changing shape – and when it slithered over his eyes, he realised what was happening.  Snape had transfigured the sodding thing into a blindfold.

“God, you really get off on being a git, don’t you?” Harry complained.

“Hm, I don’t think this is too upset by it,” Snape countered, amusement in his voice, as he gave Harry’s needy prick a light caress that left its owner gasping and writhing.  Harry could feel Snape’s weight shifting above him and could hear what must be Snape taking his trousers off.  Then Snape straddled him once more, his bare legs warm against Harry’s sides, but much higher up this time, his knees practically at Harry’s armpits.  God, that cock must be so close to his mouth… Harry strained against his bonds, lifting his head as far off the pillow as he could.

“Eager, aren’t we?” Snape teased.  Harry could smell him now, the familiar musky odour acting as a strong aphrodisiac, as if he needed it.  “Have you any idea what you look like, Harry – tied to my bed, straining blindly for a taste of my cock?  Quite the little slut, aren’t you?  I wonder what your father would say if he could see you now?”

Harry stilled as Snape’s words rushed over him with the force of a cold shower.

There was a moment’s silence, then Snape shifted, moving down Harry’s body, and the blindfold loosened and slipped from his eyes.  He blinked up at Snape’s face, inches from his own.  “Forgive me, Harry.  That was… petty of me.”

Harry wasn’t sure if petty really quite covered it, but with Snape’s naked cock now pressing firmly into his own, their whole bodies aligned and melting into one, he wasn’t really sure what he thought about anything any more.  “I…” he began uncertainly, but Snape cut his words off with a gentle kiss that gradually gathered force and heat until Harry was hardly aware of anything except the man on top of him.  Force of will proving insufficient to free his arms so he could draw his lover more closely to him, Harry did what he could and pressed his hips upwards into Snape’s groin.  Snape raised his head and looked at Harry, stroking his cheek tenderly, the soft material of the open shirt he still wore falling on Harry’s body like a caress.  Still with the same gentle reverence, Snape began to kiss his way down Harry’s body, pausing to lick and suck at Harry’s almost painfully erect nipples, swirling his tongue around Harry’s navel, until centuries later he arrived at Harry’s cock and, after stroking it a couple of times with one long-fingered hand, enveloped it with his mouth.

Harry stifled an incoherent cry and arched upwards into that divine mouth as best he could.  He was almost frightened to make too much noise lest Snape judge him too eager again and stop what he was doing – but when Snape without warning slid one inexplicably slippery finger into his anus Harry couldn’t help crying out.

“You must tell me if I hurt you, Harry, and I will stop,” Snape admonished him, all trace of amusement now vanished from his demeanour.

“I – God – I’m fine,” Harry managed to gasp out.  “Don’t stop,” he added hurriedly as Snape’s finger seemed to be withdrawing.  Harry let out a moan as he realised it was merely being joined by another.  Snape carried on working him with his fingers, every now and then lowering his head once more to take in Harry’s desperate, leaking cock.  Harry was almost delirious with pleasure – and with the knowledge of where all this must be leading.  Snape was going to fuck him.  This thought coincided with the descent of Snape’s mouth upon him and it was all Harry could do not to come there and then.  Gritting his teeth and telling himself how hideously embarrassing it would be to come before Snape’s cock had even touched him, Harry managed to stave off his orgasm.  “Not – going to – last,” he warned Snape breathily.

Snape regarded him piercingly.  “Then are you ready for more?”

“Yes!  God, yes!” Harry babbled and watched enthralled as Snape sat back on his heels and started to stroke his own cock, belatedly realising that what the bloke was actually doing was coating it liberally with some sort of lubricant he’d got from God-knew-where.

“You will tell me if I hurt you,” Snape cautioned him again sternly.

“Yeah,” Harry lied.  He couldn’t imagine anything making him want this to stop.  Seeming satisfied, Snape gently raised Harry’s legs to his chest, positioned himself and slowly but firmly pushed his way inside Harry’s virgin body.

It hurt.  A lot more than Harry had thought it would, if he was honest, but there was no way on Earth he was telling Snape that, because it also felt bloody unbelievable.  He was thankful though when Snape stilled, giving his overstretched entrance time to recover a bit.

“Breathe, Harry,” Snape told him softly.  “And bear down as I push in.”

Bracing himself for another onslaught, Harry did as he was told and found it did, in fact, make Snape’s inexorable progress more bearable.  He felt a fierce jolt of triumph when he finally felt Snape’s balls slap against his arse.  He’d done it!

Harry looked up, awed, at his lover, all black hair and black shirt and white skin.  Snape looked almost like he was the one in pain – his jaw was tense and the cords of his neck stood out.  “All right?” Harry gasped.

The corner of Snape’s mouth quirked once more.  “I should be asking you that.”

Harry grinned.  “I’m fine.  So are we going to stay like this forever or were you planning to move at some point?”

“Impatient brat!” Snape scolded him, and as Harry had hoped, pulled out almost fully and then slammed back into him.  This time, however, his angle was subtly different and Harry was left gasping, as he reflected that the prostate was one of the few things in life that definitely was all that it was cracked up to be.

“Fuck…” Harry couldn’t manage any more words, but thankfully Snape seemed to be able to tell the difference between fuck, that hurts so stop right now and fuck, that’s bloody amazing and don’t stop ever.  At any rate, he carried on slamming into Harry with a bruising force that left them both gasping.  Harry could feel the pressure building up in his balls and wondered if he was about to come from Snape’s cock in his arse alone, but he never got to find out as at that moment Snape grasped him with one hand.  That simple touch on his cock was all it took to leave him shuddering out his orgasm, arching against the bonds on his wrists.  He was barely aware that Snape was coming too, his thrusts growing erratic and finally ceasing altogether.

Gentle hands eased his legs down and Harry felt his hands slip free of their loosened bonds.  He wrapped aching arms around the body of his lover, sliding them inside the Snape’s shirt.  He felt safe, warm and protected.  Snape rolled over onto his back, pulling Harry with him, and they lay there together, Harry’s come smearing messily between them, as heartbeats slowed until Harry had to fight the urge to simply fall asleep.

When he looked at the window and saw that the sky was already fully dark, Harry realised he hadn’t been all that successful.  Snape was smiling down at him, wand in hand, and from the state of their bodies Harry reckoned it must have been a cleaning charm that woke him.  “You should probably leave soon.  I should not like your father to come looking for you,” Snape murmured.

Harry smiled ruefully.  “Yeah, you’re probably right.”  He sighed.  “This is the last time I’m going to see you, isn’t it?  This holiday, I mean.  What’s it going to be like when we’re back at school?”

Snape grimaced.  “Intensely frustrating, I have no doubt.  However, you are of age, and whilst student/teacher relationships are not precisely encouraged, neither are they subject to unreasonable censure.  So long as we are appropriately discreet, there is no reason we should not continue to enjoy a moderate amount of time together.”

Harry grinned.  “You could always give me detention.”

Snape nodded approvingly.  “Hm, I may just do so.  After all, given the appalling ineptitude of the first-years there are always cauldrons that require scrubbing.”

“Git,” Harry told him, still grinning.

“Your git, Harry,” Snape said with a seriousness that filled Harry with a warmth he’d never before experienced.  And as he walked back down his dad’s garden path a short while later, hand clutching the cloak clasp firmly inside his pocket and a twinge in his arse at every step a pleasant reminder of the afternoon’s activities, for the first time Harry truly felt like he belonged to Snape.

*

Harry got up early on the last day of the holidays.  He had butterflies in his stomach as he got ready for the trip to London to catch the Hogwarts Express back to school – and Snape.  OK, so it wasn’t like he’d be able to see Snape all the time at Hogwarts, what with all the students and teachers around and the little matter of Snape having to teach and Harry having to study for his NEWTs.  But at least he wouldn’t have to feel so bad about sneaking around behind his dad’s back.  And while he and James had got on loads better this holiday, it still felt a bit weird, being treated like, well, a son.

They Flooed down to London first thing and popped in to Fortescue’s even though it was way too early in the morning for ice-cream, really, and the bloke was only just setting up.  Then it was a mad dash to King’s Cross as they’d lingered too long, James chatting with determined cheerfulness about anything that wasn’t Snape.  Harry climbed hurriedly onto the train – Ron had been hanging out of the window yelling at him to get a shift on –and then leant out of the window himself to say goodbye to his dad.  Seeing him standing there all alone, Harry felt a surge of affection mixed with guilt.  James was obviously doing his best for Harry and it was clear he felt bad about the past.  And here Harry was, well, not exactly lying to him, but not being completely honest either.  He came to a sudden decision.  “Dad?  There’s something I want to tell you,” he began.

“Yes, Harry?” His dad looked at him, with a smile.

Yeah, this was definitely the right thing to do.  “Dad, you know I said me and Snape were just friends?  Well, we were, when I said it, but we’re, um, a bit more than that now, so I just wanted…” He trailed off as all expression left his father’s face, to leave a pale mask that slowly darkened into fury.  “Dad?” he asked uncertainly, but his father appeared incapable of speech – and with an ear-splitting crack, Apparated away.

Sickeningly certain he knew where he’d gone, Harry stood there for a moment, appalled at how badly he’d misread his father – and then turned to Ron, and with a hurried “Look after my trunk, OK?” Apparated to Hogsmeade.

The distance to Hogwarts from the village had never seemed so long – Harry didn’t see any sign of his dad and cursed himself for not thinking to bring his broom.  Fat lot of good it was doing him stowed on the luggage rack in the Hogwarts Express.  Panting and out of breath, he ran into the castle and headed down to the dungeons.  He heard them before he got there, enraged voices easily audible above the clamour of the portraits over the duelling in the dungeons.

“ – make you feel like a real man, does it, instead of the cowardly little Death Eater you really are?”

“You abdicated all claim on him when you left him with those Muggles, Potter, so don’t try and claim the moral high ground now!”

“ – filthy, disgusting pervert!”

Harry skidded into the Potions Classroom.  His dad was there, blood streaming down his wand arm, facing Snape, whose face was twisted in fury and loathing but who at least appeared unharmed.  Both of them had their wands drawn upon each other. “Stop!” Harry blurted.

“Stay out of this, Harry!” his dad snarled.

“What?” Harry shouted in disbelief.  He looked at Snape, but the Potions Master kept his eyes fixed upon the enemy.  Harry turned back to his father.  “I can’t believe you’re bloody doing this!  I’m seventeen, for fuck’s sake – surely I’m old enough to decide who I go out with!”

“You’re not old enough to see that this bastard is just using you, Harry!  Do you really think he’d be with you if you weren’t my son?”

Harry stood as if Petrified.  How could his dad say that? How could he even think it?  But what if it were true? A nasty little voice inside him insisted upon raising the question. “S-Snape?” he asked uncertainly.

Snape still wouldn’t look at him.  “Harry, these are the egotistical ramblings of a madman.”

Harry looked at his father.  James’ eyes narrowed.  “Bet he keeps his shirt on when he’s buggering you, Harry.  I bet he’s never let you see his arm.”

It was true, Harry realised.  He’d never seen Snape naked.  Or with his sleeves rolled up.  It was pretty obvious what James was implying Snape was hiding.  Harry looked back at his lover.

Whose face was ashen.  “Damn you, Potter!” he hissed.

“He was a Death Eater, Harry – and a turncoat, as soon as he realised which way the wind was blowing.  He’s a coward and a traitor who’d have been thrown into Azkaban with the rest of them if Dumbledore hadn’t been so bloody soft-hearted!”

Harry’s head was spinning.  Why wasn’t Snape denying any of this? He swallowed, about to say something – although he didn’t know what – when he was startled by a familiar kindly voice.

“Harry, my boy, you’re here rather early!  The Hogwarts Express isn’t due in for hours! Ah, I see your father brought you.  Excellent, excellent.  Now, I do hope I haven’t interrupted anything, but I seemed to hear my name mentioned?  Renewing old acquaintances, are we?” The blue eyes twinkled, but Harry was sure there was steel hidden under the surface of that watery gaze.  He almost sagged in relief as his father and then Snape put up their wands.

“Dear me! I do believe the Infirmary beckons for you, James, my boy!  Perhaps, Harry, you would be so good as to escort your father there?  Good, good.  Now, Severus, if I might have a few minutes of your time…?”

Harry could hardly look at his father as they made their way up interminable staircases.  He didn’t know what to think.  Was it possible his dad was right about Snape? No, no, he couldn’t be.

“Right, I’ll, er, leave you here, Dad,” he mumbled, having deposited his father in the care of a disapproving Madame Pomfrey.

“Harry, wait,” James said urgently.  “I know you think I’m interfering, but he’s poison, Snape is.  If you don’t believe me, make him show you his arm.”

Not trusting himself to make a proper answer, Harry mumbled something indistinct and fled to Gryffindor Tower.

*

He was still lying on his bed staring up at the canopy hours later, when Ron and the others burst in chatting.

“Harry?  Mate, what happened?” Ron asked him in a low voice, with a sidelong glance at the others.  “Mate?  Bloody hell, Harry, have you been crying?”

Harry rolled over and hid his face.  “No. And bugger off.”

Ron was undeterred.  “Don’t give me that.  What happened?”

“I told Dad I was sleeping with Snape,” Harry muttered, rolling over onto his back again and getting a prime view of Ron’s face as it took on a distinctly greenish tinge under the freckles.  “And you look like you’ve got the bloody dragon pox,” he added uncharitably.

“Bloody hell, mate, are you serious?” Ron hissed.

“What, that I’m sleeping with him, or that I told my dad?” Harry asked sourly.

“Well, both, mate – but bloody hell, how did your dad take it?”

“Badly.  Where d’you think I went, when I left you on the train?  I came here to stop them killing each other!”  He sighed.

“But… you did, right? I mean, nobody’s dead, are they?  And I know your dad’s not going to have been pleased about it, but he’ll get over it, won’t he? I mean, it’s not like he was ever that attached to you, was it – sorry, mate, but he wasn’t, was he?”

Harry laughed bitterly.  “All changed after I got that bloody paternity test done.”

Ron frowned.  “Yeah, talking of which – wasn’t it only three weeks ago you thought Snape was your dad?  Isn’t it a bit blooming quick to be, well, shagging the bloke?”  The stab of pain Harry felt must have shown on his face.  “Oh, bloody hell, mate – are you in love with him?” Ron asked, unable to keep the disbelief out of his voice.

“Look, just leave it, all right?” Harry was ashamed to feel his voice breaking.  “He – Dad accused him of being a Death Eater.  Asked if I’d seen his arm.”

“Oh, bloody hell,” Ron repeated.  “But you don’t know it’s true,” he added in a more optimistic tone.  “I mean, no offence, but your dad’d probably say anything to get you to split up with Snape, wouldn’t he?”

Harry could feel a tear trickling down his face.  “But he’s right – Snape’s never let me see his arm.  And he didn’t deny it, Ron.  He didn’t deny it.”

*

Harry didn’t leave the dorm for the rest of the evening, and Snape didn’t come looking for him.  He didn’t see him until Ron dragged him down to breakfast the next morning.  Snape looked tired and unhappy, and avoided Harry’s eye.  Harry found he didn’t have much appetite for his bacon and eggs, and was glad when Ron had finished and they could get up and go.

“Mr Potter?  I wonder if I might have a word with you, my boy.”  It was Dumbledore.  “Don’t worry about being late for class.  Mr Weasley, you will explain Mr Potter’s absence to Madame McGonagall?”

“Er, yeah, Professor.  See you later, Harry.”  Ron looked as worried as Harry felt.  Was this where he got a talking to for messing around with a teacher?  Harry felt like a lump of ice had just Apparated into his stomach.  Was Snape going to lose his job over Harry?

“Now, Mr Potter,” Dumbledore began, once they’d reached the solitude of his office.  “Do sit down.  Can I offer you some refreshment?”

Harry, who’d just had his breakfast and in any case felt slightly queasy with nerves already, shook his head.

“Well, then.  To business.  I must confess, I was somewhat concerned by the scenes that heralded your arrival here after the holidays.  It is, I must say, most regrettable that your father and Professor Snape have been unable to put aside schoolboy rivalries after all these years.  All the more so, given the sacrifices Professor Snape made during the war against poor Tom.”  Noticing Harry’s confused look, Dumbledore beamed at him.  “You would have known him as Voldemort, but he will always be Tom Riddle to me.”

He paused, leading Harry to ask impatiently, “Er, what sacrifices?  Sn- Professor Snape’s never really said anything about the war.”

Dumbledore sighed.  “Many people, Harry, do not like to speak of painful memories.  And Professor Snape is by nature more reticent than most.  He was a spy during the war, Harry.  At very great personal risk, and for more than a year, Professor Snape masqueraded as a Death Eater in order to obtain the very information that enabled the forces of Light to eventually defeat the Dark Lord.”

Harry was gobsmacked.  “But… how come no one knows about this?  He’s a hero – shouldn’t he get public recognition?”

Dumbledore smiled.  “I believe I just mentioned his reticence, Harry?”

Harry bit his lip.  “So… who does know about this, besides you?”  He swallowed.  “Does my dad know?  I mean, he called Snape a Death Eater.”  How could his dad have done that if he’d known what Snape had really done?  And why hadn’t Snape just told Harry he’d been a spy?

Dumbledore gave a sad sigh.  “Harry, as I am sure you realise, your father is merely trying to protect you.  I think, my boy, that before you come to any conclusions about your father’s actions you should talk to Professor Snape.”

“Why?”

“That, Harry, is for Professor Snape to tell you, not me.”

*

Harry’s heart was in his mouth as he made his way down to the dungeons, hoping Snape wouldn’t have a class on.  He probably should have waited until the evening, but he just couldn’t face a whole day of lessons not knowing what was going on.  He passed a few Slytherins with a free period on the way, and they stared at him and immediately started whispering.  Obviously news of his dramatic arrival yesterday had got around already.

The door to the Potions classroom was slightly ajar – there was evidently no class in there right now.  Harry made his way through to Snape’s office beyond, hesitated, and knocked.

“Enter,” came the toneless voice from within.

Harry did so, to find Snape sitting at his desk, a cold expression on his face.  “You have come to follow your father’s instructions, I take it?”

“What?”

“I assume you are here to demand that I show you my arm.”

“I – look, first of all, I’m not planning to demand anything.  I just want to hear the truth from you, that’s all.”  He took a deep breath, not knowing how Snape would react to the next bit.  “Dumbledore told me you were a spy in the war.”

Snape looked away.  “I was.”

“Then what’s the big deal?  Dad was lying – you weren’t a real Death Eater, so it doesn’t matter whether you got the Dark Mark or not.”

Snape’s jaw tightened visibly.  “It is not so easy, Harry, to fool a wizard as powerful as the Dark Lord was into letting you join his followers when secretly you oppose him.”

“Yeah? But you did it so, you know, good for you!”

Snape stood up abruptly.  His next words were so low Harry had to strain to hear them.  “I did not.”

“What?”

“I said I did not!  Yes, I was Dumbledore’s spy, but that came later.  Your father, curse him, was right, Harry.  I was once a Death Eater.”

The room seemed to waver around Harry – surely it was only the flickering of the candlelight?  “You – were a Death Eater?  But they killed people – ” Horrified, Harry thought of poor Neville.  Had Snape been there when they killed his mum and dad?  Had he killed them?

Snape seemed sort of hunched in on himself, far from his usual imposing figure.  “I give you my word, Harry, that I never participated in murder.”

Well, that was something, wasn’t it?  “But why?  Why would you join them? I don’t understand.”

Snape’s face looked ghastly.  If Hammer were casting nowadays they’d have snapped him up on the spot.  “My final year at Hogwarts, Harry, was not an easy one.  You know that your father and his merry band did their best to make my schooldays miserable.  After Lily had finally succumbed to his constant importuning he became insufferable, and she and I were for a while estranged.”  He looked directly at Harry, his face a study in proud misery.  “I think you have some experience, Harry, of how it feels to be utterly friendless.”

Yeah, but I never joined a band of murderers.  “How…”

Snape took a deep breath.  “Lucius returned to visit me.  As you have surmised, we were always… close.  He persuaded me that there was a group of wizards who would truly value my talents – and my friendship.”  He gave a twisted smile.  “As, indeed, they did – but it was not long before I discovered how worthless was their esteem.  It was at that point that I sought out your mother once more.  She persuaded me to throw myself upon Dumbledore’s mercy.”  He laughed bitterly.  “But by then, I had already received the Mark.  A pretty adornment, is it not?”

Harry stared as Snape unbuttoned his cuff and pushed up his sleeve.  The Dark Mark stood out, raised and black, hideous against Snape’s pale skin.  Harry felt ill.  The same mark that had been sent gleefully into the sky to announce a murder was etched into his lover’s arm, the same arm that had been wrapped around him as he’d slept.  He was almost grateful, now, that Snape had kept his shirt on.  The thought of that mark touching his bare skin sickened him.

“But… you didn’t go to prison for it, did you?  Because you swapped sides, and helped bring down Voldemort.” Harry’s mind was whirling.  Had Snape ever really repented of what he’d done – or had he just seen which way the wind was blowing and decided to switch to the winning side?  A thought struck him.  “What about Lucius Malfoy?  Did he change sides too?”

Snape seemed to be avoiding his eye.  “No.  He did not.  But in the end, there was insufficient evidence for him to be convicted.”

“But you knew!  You knew he was a Death Eater – did you tell that to the Aurors?”

Snape didn’t answer.

“Fuck, Snape!  How could you – how could you not tell me all this?  How can you carry on being friends with Malfoy…”  Harry trailed off, horrified at the realisation that had just struck him.  “You weren’t friends, were you?  You were lovers.  God, are you still lovers?  Is that why he thinks I’m so fucking funny, because I didn’t know you were sleeping with him behind my back?”

Snape had risen from his chair and was leaning on the desk.  “Harry, listen to me.  There is nothing of that kind between Lucius and myself any more.”

Harry found himself backing away.   “Why should I believe you?  You – you kept this all secret from me.  Why would I trust anything you say?”  Tears stinging at his eyes, Harry turned and ran from the room.

*

Gryffindor Tower was mercifully deserted when Harry blindly made his way through the common room and into the dormitory, where he flung himself down on the bed, wishing Ron was there to cast a Stunning Spell or Obliviate him so he wouldn’t have to bloody think any more.  His dad had been right.  Snape had deceived him all along – maybe it was all about shagging James Potter’s son.  The pain in Harry’s chest felt like it was going to suffocate him.

Snape had said he’d never murdered anyone.  What had he done, though?  Had he used Cruciatus, Imperius?  Had he brewed up poisons, forced Veritaserum down unwilling throats?  Had he tortured Muggles, burned their houses and terrorised their children?  Because that was what Death Eaters did.  Had he and Lucius fucking Malfoy laughed about it, later, as they lay in bed, white hair on black, limbs entwined… Harry’s bile rose.  Did they still laugh about it, laugh about Harry?

Harry wasn’t sure if he was glad or sorry when Ron came back to the dorm at lunchtime.  His mate had worried lines on his face which only got deeper when Harry filled him in bitterly with what had happened that morning.

“Bloody hell, mate!” His brow furrowed.  “But I don’t get it.  If he really was a Death Eater, how come Dumbledore’s so bloody chummy with him?”

“He’s a turncoat, Ron,” Harry spat at him.  “Spied on his own side so that he wouldn’t go to Azkaban.”

Ron grimaced.  “Yeah, but from what you’ve said, if it hadn’t been for him, Dumbledore might not have been able to defeat Voldemort.  So I mean, he didn’t have to change sides.  Maybe he really did have a change of heart – realised what they were all really like and that he didn’t want to be like that.  I mean, Dumbledore’s not thick, you know.  I reckon he’d have known if Snape was just out for himself.”

“How come you’re on Snape’s side all of a sudden?” Harry asked mulishly.

Ron stared.  “In case you haven’t noticed, mate, I’ve been on your side all through this!  And no, I’m not that keen on Snape – but you know what?  I’ve seen you coming back from trips out with him and stuff – even back when you thought he was your dad – and you’ve, well, you’ve been happy.  All excited and stuff.”  He was blushing a deep red as he said this.  “And ever since you heard about him being a Death Eater you’ve been practically bloody suicidal.”

Harry pillowed his head on his arms.  “I wish my mum was still alive,” he muttered, half-hoping Ron wouldn’t hear him and profoundly grateful when the only response he got was a sympathetic hand on his shoulder.

*

Harry went down to dinner with Ron and picked half-heartedly at his cottage pie, looking at Snape’s empty seat and wondering where he was.  Shoving his hand in his pocket, Harry found himself fingering the clasp Snape had given him.  He pulled it out of his pocket and looked at the runes inscribed on the back.  Beloved.  There was no sign of tarnish on the silver.  Coming to a decision that robbed him of the remnants of his appetite, Harry stood up.  “Ron?  I’ve got something I need to do.  I’ll see you later, all right?”

Ron just looked at him and nodded.

The dungeons were even more dimly lit than usual, but the shadows cast by the solitary, flickering candle on Snape’s desk weren’t doing him any favours.  He looked more than ever like the vampire each new generation of first-years believed him to be.  Harry’s heart clenched.  “Snape?” he said softly.

Snape looked up, although Harry was sure he’d been aware of Harry’s presence since the moment he stepped through the door.  “Yes?”

“Is there anything going on between you and Lucius Malfoy?”

Snape made an odd little jerky movement of his head, as if that wasn’t the question he’d been expecting.  “There is not, and has not been since the Dark Lord’s fall.  I will swear any oath you choose – or take Veritaserum, should you prefer.”

“And – the other stuff?”

Snape just looked at him.

“I mean – you’re not just with me to get back at my dad, are you?  You wouldn’t do that, would you?” Harry fought to keep the pleading out of his voice.

Snape hesitated a moment before answering.  “Harry, do you honestly imagine I should sacrifice my private life for a long-delayed revenge upon your father?  I give you my word that my wish to be with you is sincere.”

Harry nodded jerkily, feeling almost weak with the release of tension, and pressed on.  “What about becoming a Death Eater?  Did you really regret that?  Before you knew they were going to lose?”

“Harry, there is nothing in my life I have ever regretted more.  Save, perhaps, allowing you to discover my shame in the way that you did.”

As Snape looked at him, a horrible fatalism etched into his features, Harry’s heart suddenly seemed to shatter.  He strode over to Snape and clasped his disfigured left arm in both hands, cradling it against his chest.  “Look, it was a shock, all right?  I’m not going to lie to you and say it wasn’t.  But all that was years ago – I really don’t reckon you’d do it again now, would you?  And what Dumbledore said – you risked your life to bring those bastards down, once you realised what they were up to.”  He paused, the feel of Snape’s icy flesh, the cold seeping through Harry’s shirt and into his breast, making his head spin.  “I’m not  - I’m not going to stop loving you over something you’ve already paid for!” he whispered.

Snape had a strange, unreadable expression on his face.  With a shock, Harry realised he’d just told the bloke he loved him.  With an even greater shock, he realised it was true.   Suddenly he knew what to do.  Fumbling in his pocket, Harry brought out the clasp Snape had given him and pinned it awkwardly above his heart.  Drawing his wand, he pointed it at the clasp and cancelled the charm keeping it invisible.  “I’m not ashamed of anyone knowing I’m yours,” he said defiantly.  Snape’s eyes were dark, fathomless and Harry knew he wasn’t imagining the tremor in the man’s hand as he raised it to Harry’s face, laying it softly upon his cheek.

Snape seemed to be struggling to speak.  “You choose this?” he asked hoarsely, at last.  “You choose…me?”

“Yeah,” Harry told him, feeling absurdly like he wanted to cry.  “I choose you.”


Fin.


Epilogue

“So, we ready then, Harry?  Ready to sign your life away – you haven’t forgotten that bit about forsaking all others, have you?  Still time to reconsider, mate!”

Harry grinned.  “Shut up, Ron.  Anyway, it’ll be you next, won’t it?  You can’t have missed the way Hermione keeps going all dreamy about anything to do with weddings!”

Ron blushed.

Harry stared.  “Ron!  You haven’t!”

“Er.  Well.  Look, it was last night, and we were getting stuff ready for today, and I don’t know, it just slipped out, didn’t it?  And then she’s going YES! and she’s on the phone to her mum and talking about rings and stuff, and then she floo-calls my mum… I’m not going to be able to get out of this, am I?”

Harry grinned again, and clapped him on the back.  “Nope, not a chance – not if your mum’s involved already.  Welcome to the ball and chain club, mate.”

Ron gave him a sidelong glance.  “I don’t want to hear about what you and Snape get up to in private, all right?”

Harry rolled his eyes.  “It’s just an expression.” He gave a wicked grin.  “And anyway, silken cords are much more romantic!”

Ron shuddered.

“– and it’s Severus, remember?”

Ron grimaced.   “It’s against nature, that’s what it is.  Being on first name terms with a professor.  Even if we have left school.”

“Oh? Haven’t noticed you calling Hermione Professor Granger.”

“That’s different!  She’s, um…”

“If you’re about to say young, you’d better hope I don’t tell Severus!  Anyway, you’ll get used to it,” Harry comforted him, hoping he’d get used to it himself some day soon.  “Come on, I think it’s time we went in.”

*

The register office wasn’t exactly packed – neither Harry nor Severus had wanted a large wedding.  Dumbledore, who was acting as Severus’ best man as Harry had flatly refused to have Lucius Malfoy in any prominent role at his wedding, sorry civil partnership, twinkled at Harry and Ron as they entered.  Malfoy himself looked round and glared at them as they walked in – Lucius had never forgiven Harry for being the reason Severus had been reluctant to take his son on as an apprentice, even though from what Harry had heard Draco was doing perfectly well with his Arithmancy research.  Harry realised guiltily that up at the front, Severus also had his arms folded and an impatient look on his face.  They weren’t that late, were they?  Severus looked bloody great in his rather retro, tight-fitting Muggle suit though, so Harry decided he’d have a fun time making it up to him.

They hadn’t planned to bother with the traditional bride/groom (or rather groom/groom) seating divide, letting the guests sit anywhere they chose, but it seemed some traditions just wouldn’t die as all of Snape’s Muggle relatives were sitting as far on the left hand side as they could get from the weirdoes on the right, with the exception of Aunty Mavis who was sitting next to Lucius Malfoy with a big grin on her face and might just possibly have been another reason for the wizard’s glare.  From the second row, Remus gave Harry a big grin whilst Teddy tugged on his moustache.  Beside him, Tonks looked as big as a whale.  Harry breathed a silent prayer she wasn’t about to drop sprog number two in the middle of the service.  James and Sirius were at the front, as befitted the groom’s father and godfather: James with a giggling blonde witch hanging on his arm presumably as part of what Ron called his ongoing campaign to convince everyone that Harry “didn’t get this gay thing from me.”  Sirius hadn’t brought a guest, but his gaze kept straying to the row behind them.

“Bloody hell, is your godfather eyeing up my little sister?” Ron whispered, outraged.

“Either that or it’s your mum, mate!” Harry whispered back, grinning.

Ron paled.  “Ginny’s seventeen, now.  She’s old enough to go out with who she wants,” he said firmly.

Harry felt a warm tingle in his stomach as he walked up the aisle and the recorded strains of some classical music Severus liked filled the air.  Severus’ face seemed to soften as the chords rang out and Harry approached, and he caught sight of James’ helpless look of appeal to Sirius, who just shrugged.  Well, at least they’d come.  He just hoped they wouldn’t get too pissed at the reception and start hexing his husband.

His husband.  Smiling, Harry took the last couple of steps up the aisle and stood next to Severus, ready to say his vows.






My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red:
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.

I have seen roses damask'd, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.

I love to hear her speak,--yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go,
My mistress when she walks, treads on the ground;

And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.

- Wm Shakespeare.  But you knew that anyway.
 

AN: The film Equus actually came out in 1977, possibly a little late for Severus and Lily to still be going to the cinema together, as she was by then in James Potter’s evil clutches.  But I couldn’t resist!



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