The Cost of Living

"How do you remember it?"

"I remember lies and war and death."

"I remember Quidditch. I remember owl post. I remember the Burrow. Don't you remember anything good?"

"I remember that it was hard to forget."

"Denial ain't just a river in Egypt."

By the time he worked it out, the students he'd fought beside in the war looked older than he did. Not that the absence of wrinkles at the edges of his eyes and a lack of grey hair was unusual for a wizard of sixty – if life had been easy.

His life had not been easy.

He hid in the dungeon, venturing out only to teach and share an occasional meal with the staff. When even that failed to stop the curious looks, he resorted to a powerful glamour, changing it to suit the passage of time. As simplistic solutions went, it topped the list, and even carried the illusory benefit that he was normal. It worked well for a time.

As it had been with most things over the years, tedium undid him. One morning – a morning like countless ones before it – the spell refused to pass his lips. He stared at his reflection, willing himself to mumble the incantation, but his mouth refused to open.

"Cat got your tongue?" the mirror asked.

"I'm only prolonging the inevitable," he replied. Those words emerged easily enough.

"They don't call you brilliant for nothing," the mirror said. Then it cackled.

He resigned.

Rumors flew (that his hasty departure was suspect), accusations followed (that he was suspect), but he ignored them all. He purchased a small but functional piece of land outside Stroud, far from the people and places that had mattered.

The land boasted a cottage suitable for one, a smallish, but promising garden, and a dozen young oak saplings that would – with the patient passage of time – produce majestic canopies of gnarled branches.

He cut ties without exception. Even Minerva's owls were turned away. He suspected most people would forget about Severus Snape after a while, and think themselves better for doing so. Worse things than being forgotten had come to pass, and being swept under the rug of history was better than being immortalized as a murderer. At least Albus had always said so.

He made no special effort to alter his ways. Change would come in due time, he was sure.

He sketched a detailed plan for his new garden. It took a year to perfect, and when finished, it filled three ledgers. Unwilling to wallow, he began the transformation the following day, working the stubborn soil with tools and hands, rather than with his wand. There was no need to rush. The earth had time in spades. As did he.

He forgot about his life from before.

The day Potter appeared at the corner of the house, where the roses met the hedge, Snape was planting foxglove – page eight of the second ledger. Startled, he dropped his hoe.

Potter let loose an undignified snort. Hands on bony hips, he stared at Snape. "I should've known. When Minerva said you'd disappeared, I should've known."

Snape called the hoe to hand – ignoring the mud that now clumped to its handle – straightened his shoulders, and looked Potter over. "You too, I see."

"I've been using a glamour for some ten years now." Potter took a step forward. "And looking for you for five. It's why I'm here, obviously, so let's dispense with the pleasantries. I assume you're researching the counter-curse? What progress have you made?"

Snape clenched his muddy fingers and bit back the instinctive retort. It wouldn't do to forget that Potter's power, honed over the years, dwarfed his. Never mind that he looked no older than sixteen and half-starved to boot.

"You're going to be quite disappointed," he answered.

Potter deflated. He yanked his glasses off his nose and rubbed his eyes. "None, then."

"You misunderstand."

Snape placed the hoe against the garden fence and eyed the clay flaking off his palms in distaste. A few feet away, Potter shifted on his feet, mumbled under his breath, and the filth disappeared leaving behind only a tingle.

Snape smirked. "Still a show-off, I see."

"You really don't know how to counteract the curse?"

Potter had ignored the slur, Snape noted. He'd matured then, at least in some ways. "There is no curse."

"Ridiculous. Of course there is."

Snape shrugged. He turned toward his cottage and picked his way across the uneven flagstones. Potter followed, muttering about how things never changed.

"Snape," he called. "Look at me. Damn it, will you just…will you look at me?"

He supposed Potter thought him blind. "I've seen you," he said without turning around.

Potter jogged the last few steps and caught his arm. "I look nineteen!" he yelled. For the first time, Snape heard fear leak through the frustration.

"You act it, too."

Potter dropped his arm and hovered awkwardly. "And you. You look no older than forty."

"Flatterer," Snape said with a sneer.

The door swung open as he approached, and he stepped through without a backward glance. Boots were removed and placed in a niche beside the door before he strode to the sink. He waved his hand over the tap. Water, perfectly hot, gushed forth over his hands.

"Don't trust my cleaning charms?" Potter asked from the doorway.

"Little compares to soap and water." He scrubbed longer than necessary, but Potter was still a shadowy silhouette on the threshold when he turned to fetch a towel. "Close the door," Snape said with a sigh. "The air cools quickly this time of evening."

Potter snorted. "You have no idea what's happening, do you?" He stepped through, his expression bemused rather than worried. "Well, I do. It's a curse. There's no other explanation."

"No?" He sent the towel to its hook near the sink.

Potter shook his head. "No. I haven't aged a day in twenty years. It's a fucking curse!"

Oh, the irony. "I'm afraid not."

'Then how do you explain it?"

Snape pointed to a chair. He waited until Potter's arse hovered over the seat before answering. "You're immortal."

Potter landed hard enough to rattle his teeth. "I thought you said you couldn't explain it."

"I can't. However, I do know what it is."

"What…you…how…." Potter stammered.

"As predicted, you have nothing intelligent to add."

Potter clamped his mouth shut. He shot from his seat and pointed a finger at Snape. "I won't accept this."

"Irrelevant. It has accepted you."

He abandoned Potter to his shock and went walking.

The oaks were progressing nicely. Eight of the twelve now produced acorns. He squinted at each in the falling darkness, cataloguing size and health, not thinking about how seeing Potter again had unearthed his carefully repressed memories.

Potter joined him a few minutes later. "Draco sends his regards."

An acceptable apology. It wasn’t as though the boy practiced much. What did the Savior have to be sorry for, after all?

Still, he hesitated before answering. "How is he?"

"He complains constantly about his fading youthful looks."

Snape snorted. "A condition I'm sure your presence exacerbates."

"He misses you."

Snape closed his eyes. Thirty feet, emerging canopy, second year acorn growth, healthy leaf color…

"We didn't know why you left."

…soil acidity too low. A spread of granular sulfur would solve that.

"Would you…now that we've found you, would you let him come and visit? He counts you as one of the only true friends he has."


"No?" Potter blinked.

Snape swung around. "I will not see him. He— I've said my goodbyes."

Potter gave a nervous laugh. "You're not dying."

"No. But everyone else is."

Potter gasped, as though the idea were novel in some way. Perhaps to Potter it was. He'd been so worried about the living, he'd forgotten about the dying.

Potter's voice floated out of the dark. "No. I’m not going to let that happen. I'm going to find out what's happened to us. And I'm going to fix it."

Snape sighed. "You do that."

"When angry, count four; when very angry, swear."

"Draco's dead."

Snape paused, shovel full of damp earth. "Before his time."

Potter shrugged and sat down, unmindful of the mud. "He wasn't a healthy ninety." He picked at some roots, freshly exposed, and Snape frowned.

"Thank you for the information. I'm quite busy."

Potter's fingers stopped sifting through the dirt. Eyes cast downward, bottom lip between his teeth, he clenched his hand into a fist.

"You…unbelievable, bloody bastard."

A wave of icy magic rolled over him – bitter anger and grief – and before he could utter a word, he was on his back in the mud, staring at the sky. He took a careful breath, but his lungs filled without protest. His fingers and toes wiggled on demand. At least Potter hadn't seriously hurt him. Even if he'd meant to.

He sat up, expecting to be alone, but Potter was there. Close beside him in the dirt.

Potter swiped a hand across his eyes, though Snape didn't see any tears. "He died alone," he said, voice toneless.

"Weren't you with him?"

"Yes. The room was full of people. Strangers." A fat drop of rain splashed across Potter's cheek. Then another. "They thought I was his grandson!"

"Where were you?"

The rain began in earnest. It streaked Potter's face with false tears. "Spain," he choked. "We left England decades ago."

"When people started to talk."

Potter nodded.

"To protect yourself, you took Draco away from his home." It was hardly fair to sound so righteous. Especially after ignoring Draco's owls for all those years. He didn't care. If Potter wanted to cause him pain, they'd suffer together.

Potter glared at him. "He agreed it was for the best."

Since the only person capable of verifying that was dead, Snape let the argument go.

Potter sniffed and rubbed at his glasses with the end of his sleeve, streaking the lenses even more hopelessly in the falling rain. Finally, he gave up and stuffed them in his pocket.

He met Snape's eyes for the first time. "I wanted to grow old with him."

"He grew old with you. Content yourself with that."

It had been the wrong thing to say, apparently. Not even the spring rain flowing under the collar of his shirt and down his back could match the chill in Potter's eyes. "I hate you," he said.

"You blame me for this?" His own enmity woke, rising to meet Potter's. "You are the one who forged ahead, knowing the plan was unstable. You knew we might lose. You knew we might die. What you didn't fathom were the ultimate consequences, and I can't believe they would have changed your mind had you foreseen them."

Potter gave his head a violent shake. "You agreed with my idea. You never said that this would happen to us!"

"I will not be your scapegoat," Snape growled. He climbed from the mud, dignified despite the grime.

Potter stood as well. Shaking, still angry. "I'm not looking for one."

"That would be a first," Snape shot back – perfectly aimed, if the stunned silence was any indication.

"I hope you rot here." Potter's strangled whisper barely carried over the strengthening storm.

"That seems unlikely at this juncture."

"Does it?" Potter turned a slow circle, taking in the elaborate rain-soaked garden and the silent, empty cottage. He took his glasses from his pocket and pushed them onto his face, water spots and all. "At least I had someone. What do you have?"

The letter from Minerva meant Potter had betrayed his location at the first opportunity. Some form of cheap revenge, he supposed.

One hundred and forty years of life – nearly two decades of those in war and another fifty minding the brats at the school – had finally taken its toll. She was ill and dying.

Her letter was penned with her usual forthrightness as well as a touch of Slytherin-like cunning. Was it too much trouble, she asked, to share an afternoon with an old friend before fate stole the opportunity?

Albus would have come, she wrote. How typical of her to use guilt to forward her agenda.

Deciding to honor her request took no time at all. An image of Draco on his deathbed – white-haired, frail, and friendless – provided the impetus. Preparing himself to face her, choosing what to say, was another matter.

And while he debated, she died.

Potter sent the obituary, cut from the Prophet. A short note was scribbled at the bottom. "Did she ever contact you?"

Snape read it once. Then obliterated the parchment with an enraged, grief-stricken Incendio.

"To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war."

The last one died yesterday. The youngest Weasley girl. Snape did the math in his head and gave silent salute to the girl's longevity, though according to the paper, she'd died alone and raving mad at St Mungo's, pulling at matted silver hair and calling for her mother. At one hundred and ninety, she'd outlasted many others, but now it was done. There wasn't a person left alive who knew of him.

Save one.

He dreamt of Potter that night. And of Hogsmeade in the old days, before Muggle technology had changed the landscape of his world. The village brimmed with children he'd taught on the eve of the second war – a subconscious tribute brought on by the Weasley girl's death, he was sure.

As dreams went, it passed muster, nostalgic in its details.

From the center of the street, robes billowing and scowl in place, he dared each passing student to acknowledge him. None did.

"They don't recognize you," a voice said.

Snape turned to Potter. "How can that be?"

Potter shrugged, his Gryffindor cloak lifting for a moment from the muddy slush. "I suppose they've forgotten. Isn't that what you wanted?"

"Yes." He supposed it was.

"How are you, Severus? It's been a long time."

"Yes, it has," he agreed. His eye caught a shock of red hair. "Isn't that Weasley?"

Potter nodded and watched the figure move off through the crowd. "He died. A casualty of war."

"One among many," Snape felt compelled to say.

Potter snarled. "He got off easy."

Snape stepped back. "There's nothing easy in being a victim."

"Some suffer longer than others."

A jarring blow to his shoulder startled him from answering. He turned to steady his assailant, harsh reprimand on his lips, but Minerva beat him to it.

"Oh, my dear, I’m sorry," she said. She straightened her hat and stared down her glasses at him – no small feat considering his superior height. "Are you quite alright, young man?"

"Minerva," he whispered, unable to look away.

"Some suffer longer," Potter repeated, staring at the two of them.

With a sharp nod, he acknowledged Potter's wisdom. "Indeed, some do."

The garden had been finished for a century and fully mature for decades. The work continued, of course. Maintaining, thinning, pruning, but it hardly filled the day. He nearly smiled when Potter Apparated to the middle of his vegetable patch.

Potter had the grace to look sheepish as he wiped the remains of a tomato from the sole of his shoe. "This…didn’t used to be here."

"It's been there nearly seventy years," Snape said.

Potter flashed a cockeyed smile. "Right. Well, like I said. It didn't used to be here."

He picked his way through the tangle of tomato plants. "Sorry," he said when he'd reached the edge of the patio. "You heard about Ginny?"

"I read it in the Prophet." He couldn't resist. "The paper version."

Potter whistled. "Pricey."

"And it's delivered by owl." Let Potter chew on that.

"Really?" Potter laughed. "They must think you're mad. Some eccentric throwback who wants his gossip on parchment. You might be the only wizard left in Britain who doesn't own any Charmed Tech."

Snape shook his head.

"Not even a sat-phone?"

Yet one more fad that cheapened tradition. "No."

"Not even a Charmed one?"


Potter grinned. "As I said – eccentric."

"Money forgives eccentricity."

"And breeds it." Potter dropped into the chair across from Snape, reclining into the cushion with a sigh as if he belonged there. Which he did. Only one person ever joined him here – rare as those visits were. The chair might as well have had Potter's name scratched into it, twisted through the ornate ironwork like a signet.

Snape summoned a cup – Potter's cup – from his kitchen. "Your mood has improved from the last time we crossed paths."

Potter pursed his lips before sampling his tea.

"You didn't give me a chance to extend my condolences then. I would like to do so now." The oversight had haunted him through the years. Such a silly thing. Yet he couldn't shake the idea that Draco was looking down on him, irritated by his impropriety, even in the afterlife. "Draco. He was—"

"Please." Potter held up a hand. "That was…Draco's been gone over a hundred years now."

Truly shocked, Snape sat back. "That long?"

Potter's pained, puzzled smile said everything. That Snape should have known. That he'd just admitted to losing time – great amounts of time. And that Potter – for all his half-smiles and dulcet voice – still missed his dead lover, hundred years or no.

"Be that as it may, I'm sorry for your loss."

There. Mission accomplished. And only a handful of decades too late. He mentally rearranged his moral obligations from 'in arrears' to 'paid in full'.

Potter shrugged and slumped lower in his chair. "There've been others since then."

Snape rolled his eyes.

"They didn't mean anything, of course."

As though he cared. "Spare me the details of your fucking life."

Potter's laughter rang in his ears for hours afterward.

"We can work together to figure this out. You do want it reversed, don’t you?"

More every year. More and more every day. "Yes."

Potter carried on like a puppy, pacing in restless circles and bouncing on his toes. "We've got your talent, my power, and all the time in the world. We can do this."

Potter wanted to believe it, so Snape let him.

Muggles had advanced exponentially in two hundred years. His kind had become lazy. Dependent. Enamored of what science could accomplish that wands could not. Much of the ancient magic had fallen into disuse.

He told Potter which resources he thought would be useful. Though people didn't attend to parchment and binding as they had in the early part of his life. So much had been lost. "I have no idea where to start," he said. "Even fifty years ago, I might have known the location of these books. Now…."

Potter's lips stretched into a thin line. "I'll find them."

And he did. Though in the end they were useless. Snape brewed the suggested potion – the one that promised to set them on the path to the answer – but it failed. Frankly, he'd questioned its authenticity from the beginning.

"Why is this happening?" Potter swept the books from the table. Dejection made him look very, very young.

"Voldemort succeeded. Had he won, he would be immortal." Snape shrugged. "He didn’t win. We did."

"So it's nothing more than magical backlash? Because we were standing close to him in those last seconds?"

Snape shrugged. "We won his prize."

"Prize," Potter spat.

Stirrings of unease rippled through him, but Potter held his anger in check. "I hate this."

Which part, Snape wondered.

"I don't want to live forever." Potter's eyes glinted behind his glasses, twin shards of ice. "I want to grow old like normal people do. I want to die someday. And this isn't how I want to remember things when I do."

"That is an asinine statement."

Potter ignored him. "I've lost so much. More disappears every day."

Snape shifted in his chair, unnerved despite himself. "It is the way of time. I'm sure we are not the first to feel such things."

"Technology…" Potter muttered, "…is eating everything."

Since any comment he could make would cheapen such inspired imagery, Snape said nothing at all.

"I want things to be the way they were when I was young. The world wasn't just full of magic. It was full of magical things." Potter's eyes drifted closed. "It was perfect."

Snape snorted. "Time-tempered, fanciful drivel."

"How do you remember it?"

"I remember lies and war and death." Just as you should.

Potter walked to the window. He ran his hand across the sill as he stared at the garden. "I remember Quidditch. How it felt to fight the wind for the broom. I remember owl post. Getting letters from Remus and Sirius and, later, from Draco. And how Hedwig would always want two pieces of bacon for her trouble. I remember the Burrow. How Molly's table took up the whole kitchen on Christmas Eve." Potter stopped and swallowed heavily. "Don't you remember anything good?"

The truth tempted him, but it wasn't what Potter wanted. He wanted to drown in happy Pensieve memories, in smiles and laughter that never faded. In victories, not in losses. In the faces of friends and family long gone.

For himself, the sacrifices had been too great. He took his wand in hand and banished the ruined potion. The cauldron twanged with the sudden displacement of air.

Potter's eyes bored into his back, but Snape didn't turn. "I remember that it was hard to forget," he answered.

The sudden warm weight of Potter's hand on his shoulder was too much to bear.

It was all getting too much to bear.

He found Potter admiring the semicircle of old oaks that framed the garden.

Potter thrust his hands into his pockets and rocked back on his heels. "I remember when these were no taller than I am."

Snape strained to recall if that had ever been true. Too many intervening years clouded his memory. "I believe you're exaggerating," he said, calling Potter's bluff. "They were near twenty-five years old when you first began your irritating visits."

Potter cleared his throat and threw Snape a sideways glance. "Ever been up in one?"

He turned the question round in his head twice before the meaning registered. "You mean—" he pointed one long finger toward the sky, "up the tree?"

Potter's choked "yes" emerged though his laughter. "Yes," he said again after he'd composed himself. "That's what I meant."

"Certainly not."

Potter's tongue peeked out between his lips and he squinted up at the tree.

Snape scowled at him. "Don't even think to suggest it."

"Why not?"

"It's a ludicrous idea." He glanced around.

Potter made a show of looking about as well, then smiled when his search turned up nothing but bees and crickets. Mortified, Snape ground his teeth together and turned to leave.

"Who's going to see you?" Potter called out.

He glanced over his shoulder. "You will."

Potter smirked. "I don't count."

A more untrue statement he'd never heard. "You count," he muttered under his breath.

Potter's return smile confirmed he'd heard the quiet confession. Snape winced. Yet another blow to his dignity. Though he suspected the dependency went both ways.

"I'm going up, then," Potter announced.

Snape turned just as Potter jumped for the first branch and swung his legs up round it. "You'll break your neck," he snapped. Now he was channeling his mother. Would the day's embarrassments never end?

Potter's answer – open laughter – took its time drifting back to the ground. Snape watched, horrified, as he scaled the ancient oak, movements agile as a wood nymph's.

"Come on!" Potter called when he was twenty feet off the ground. "I'll bet you dinner I can make it to the top before you even get halfway."

Snape sneered at him. Some things never changed. Potter's idiocy, for one.

He waited for Potter to struggle to the highest of the stable branches, then Apparated himself to a comfortable place on the limb just above.

Potter gasped at the sharp sound and Snape's sudden appearance. For an endless moment, he lost his hold on the bark and teetered on his toes. Snape held his breath, imagining the boy as a broken heap at the foot of the tree, but Potter lunged for a handhold and steadied himself. He drew a shuddering breath before throwing a scowl in Snape's direction.

Snape ignored it. "I feel like roast for dinner," he said.

"You cheated."

"I did not."

"Apparating is cheating."

"You didn't make that a rule until just now. Creating rules as you go along is cheating."

Potter sputtered. "I didn't… getting here is half the fun."

"If you're a monkey, perhaps."

A gust of wind buffeted the branches, and the tree eased to and fro. Surreptitiously, Snape snaked an arm around the trunk as Potter swung up beside him. The maneuver brought their shoulders close, and Potter bumped them together as he settled himself on the limb. Snape's lips twitched.

Argument over, then.

Potter whispered a spell, and the last few leafy boughs parted, revealing the world beyond. His appreciative whistle drew Snape's attention.

"Amazing," Potter said, content with the trite adjective.

Snape disagreed. Riveting, perhaps, if one wanted to compliment the disgusting sprawl Muggles called urban development. His eyes swept the panorama. The once rural valley barely clung to its patch of green. The mirage of being in the country, far from the city, was just that – a carefully constructed illusion.

"Isn't it something?" Potter asked. "What a little perspective will do?"

"Amazing," Snape drawled. As predicted, the insult overshot its mark. Potter had always lacked the wit for wordplay.

He twisted his head around, squinting at the hazy shapes in the distance.

To the north, the great factories continued to spread, churning out more atmosphere-clogging smog each year while the quality of their goods declined. To the south lay the city – rushing outward on all sides like a river overflowing its banks. A benefit of the strong economy – or so he'd heard.

"By god," Potter said, "I hadn't realized. Are yours the tallest trees in the valley now?"

Apparently, though he'd only been peripherally aware of it himself. Time's march was steady, but progress…it came on stealthy, padded paws. Ripping and shredding with razor claws.

"They'll come for these eventually," Snape said. Now that he'd voiced the possibility, it seemed imminent. Agitated, he shifted on the branch.

Potter leaned closer. "Could you unplot the property?" he asked.

"I already have. It won't help in the end. The maglev already passes within five kilometers. Soon there won't be a speck of green in the whole bloody country." He closed his eyes as another gust set the tree to rocking. "I can't conceal it all, though the cottage and the small bit around it might be manageable."

But he couldn't imagine it'd be worth it. Hiding his comings and goings. Worried the disillusionment would fail at the wrong moment. Drawing the attention of the Ministry. That would be the worst, of course.

"That'll never happen," Potter said and for a moment Snape believed he'd read his thoughts.

"Never?" he spat back.

Potter didn't answer.

Snape let his eyes drift to the distant cluster of buildings – the first of their height to be built this side of the river. But not the last. Not by far. "Never," he said again, more quietly. "Be careful with your words, Potter. They don't carry the same meaning they used to."

Potter scratched at the stubble dotting his chin. "I suppose not."

The statement held a tone of finality, and Snape let the conversation drop. Potter shuffled a few inches closer, and, after a pregnant pause, placed a calloused palm on Snape's knee. "What about actions?"

As empty as words, Snape thought. They have the potential for being so, at any rate.

"Well?" Potter asked.

"I'm not beautiful like Draco," Snape answered, then spread his legs a bit when Potter's fingers slipped onto the inside of his thigh.

He thought Potter might say something untrue and embarrassing, perhaps that beauty is highly overrated or some other rubbish, but all he did was tighten his hold on Snape's leg and sigh. "Please, let's not talk about him."

Fingernails scraped slowly along his trousers, and Snape swallowed a mouthful of saliva. "You miss him still?" he choked out in a gruff voice.

"Yes." Potter opened his mouth to say more, then closed it. "Yes," he said again after a few moments of silence. He squeezed Snape's thigh. "Is that a problem for you?"

"Time will tell."

Romance was dead. People said so all the time.

Snape couldn't say he mourned it. It had never been his strong suit. "Top or bottom?" he asked.

Potter bit his tongue, but the wry smile won. He shrugged when Snape narrowed his eyes. "I'm…versatile."

Snape shrugged out of his robe. "You can bottom then, if you're indifferent."

"I didn't say that."

His shirt buttons wouldn't cooperate, but Potter stripping off three feet away might have been the cause. He appeared relaxed enough. Beauty eased the way for so many things.

He tried to turn away but Potter's hand against his cheek prevented it.

"Don't," Snape said, stepping back from the touch.

"Then don't hide from me."

Potter eased into his arms, sighed against his throat. Gentle hands gripped his hips before reaching between his legs. Potter held his cock in a firm grip, not stroking, just claiming. "What are you waiting for?" he asked.

Snape reached for him, shocked to find how close his fingers came to circling Potter's waist. "So small," he whispered.

"But not delicate." Potter nipped his neck. "It's been a while since I've had a proper fuck." Snape's prick leapt at the words, brushing Potter's. "You'll be a bit rough with me, won't you?"

He would've laughed if the plea hadn't held so much sincerity.

"You won't be disappointed."

Potter retained the beauty of a teenager. Smooth, unblemished skin. Sparse patches of hair. An eagerness that usually faded with age, but for him had lasted nearly two hundred years. And would last a millennium or more, at least in theory.

Snape already felt old enough for an army of men – the thought of another thousand years nearly buckled his knees.

Funny how the idea never lost its dramatic impact.

He lowered himself onto the bed to cover the shake in his legs.

Potter stepped close. "Relax."

In answer, Snape buried his nose in Potter's crotch.

"Fuck," Potter gasped. And then again, "Oh fuck," on the exhale. He scrambled to grab Snape's shoulders.

Ignoring Potter's cock for the wiry hair around his groin earned him another, "Fuck!" and an ungentle squeeze to his collarbone.

"Please," Potter keened.

Too perfect. Like every fantasy he'd ever had, compressed into one small, sweaty boy.

He nudged Potter's balls with his nose and licked, letting the damp flavor flood his mouth.

Potter rocked his knee against Snape's cock. "Come on. Please."

Snape obeyed. He licked once more before raising his head to hover over Potter's red, weeping prick. His tongue darted out, quick as a viper, and stole a taste.


Nothing compared to a mouthful of cock. It produced a combination of power and pleasure that came with its own set of rewards. Like that pull in his gut when Potter's mouth fell open. When his head tipped back and he moaned. When his slight body shook in Snape's arms.

Power and pleasure. The power meant he was alive, and as ridiculous as it sounded, he needed the reminder.

The pleasure kept him human.

He gave Potter what he wanted: a rough fuck with just enough tenderness to keep him off-balance and out of control. One that made him scream into the pillow when he came and curl their sated bodies together when it was over.

Not bad for an old man.

He'd forgotten that the aftermath was as awkward as it was sticky. Potter lay beneath him, limp, smiling, and unprotesting, though Snape couldn't imagine he was comfortable.

"Mmmm. Stay," Potter mumbled when Snape shifted.

"No, thank you. I prefer a real pillow."

Potter made a token protest, but relented when Snape squirmed away. "You didn't have to move. Really. I was fine."

Snape's fingers drifted to the cooling wetness at his groin. "Again, your comfort is not my concern." He grimaced at the sticky mess and gathered the will to sit up. "Mine, however, is paramount. I'm going to shower."

Potter caught him before he escaped, draping himself over Snape's chest, pushing him back onto the bed, spreading even more dampness. He pressed his lips to Snape's shoulder. "Stay. Please."

It took him a scant few seconds to decide. Potter's sliding kisses helped things along.

Awkward, sticky, and perfect.

Potter would disappear for days at a time before turning up in the middle of the night, clamouring for Snape's attention and touch. No better than a stray cat, truth be told, though more talented with his tongue.

He always brought old books and new theories.

Snape ran out of ideas after six months. He didn't say anything, and Potter acted unsuspecting – obeyed without question, brewing potions and searching out archaic references to Horcruxes and immortality. Snape studied. Occasionally, he pointed to something he was reading and said, "I've found another promising solution," and Potter would nod and smile.

It went on as such for a year. And except for the lies and subterfuge, Snape couldn't remember a more peaceful, satisfying time. Two centuries had matured Potter's ability to hold his own in conversation – to a degree. Enough to remind Snape that having a lover who could talk as well as fuck was a luxury that never grew old.

He knew it couldn't last forever.

"How do you think it feels to die?"

Snape shot him a warning look and gestured to the bubbling potion. "Mind your cauldron."

Potter resumed the hypnotic stirring, eyes unfocused. "According to the Prophecy, I was supposed to die. That's gratitude, isn't it? So maybe this is my reward. Fate's thank-you note. You think?"

"Do you?"

Potter's face screwed into a frown. An ugly, bitter frown. Snape braced himself.

"I was with someone before I came here," Potter said.


"For ten years, but I think he was beginning to wonder. So I left."

"Ten years and you just left. You didn't love him?"

Potter nodded, then shook his head. "I'm not sure." He stopped stirring. "I never got over the fact that he was just…passing through. I think he noticed."

"I’m sure he did." Potter wouldn't waste ten years fucking an idiot. Passing through, indeed. Passing through and a passing fancy – for Potter, anyway.

Barely aware of the years passing.

Potter dropped his ladle on the table, splattering useless potion. He looked at Snape with dead eyes. "I'm going out."

And not coming back, was Snape's guess.

After the first week, he stopped putting a second cup out with the tea. A month later, he made Potter's wrought iron chair the centerpiece of a lush potted garden.

Maudlin, but appropriate. And it did spruce up the patio.

He waited another six months before banishing everything else. Potter's notes on conquering the curse of immortality fed his fire that winter.

The years blended together after that.

"I drink to stay warm, and to kill selected memories."

He wasn't so far gone that the sensation of another body in his bed went unnoticed. The presence shifted, burrowed closer, and a bottle, perched precariously on the edge of the mattress, toppled to the floor.

Potter sat up. "Should I get that?"

"It was empty."

"Drinking in bed?" Potter settled beside him.

"I'm not prejudiced." The last word came out in an embarrassing slur.

A gentle hand smoothed a mass of stringy hair from his brow. "Does it work?"

Snape reached to push Potter away, but instead did the opposite. "It works sometimes." He swiped at his mouth. "Less and less," he admitted. He squinted at the Potter-shadow in his arms. "Still beautiful, I see."


A pair of hands dug into his hair. Suddenly self-conscious, Snape swatted at them, but Potter held fast. The tell-tale hum of magic, a tingle across his scalp, and the ever-present itch disappeared.

Angry, he jerked away. "I can manage."

"I can see that."

"It's been a hundred years. Where have you been?" The question was uncharacteristic enough that he found the strength to pull away. The room spun when he sat up. Frowning, hating Potter in that moment, he hid the alcohol-induced vertigo by bending to find his slippers.

"They're not there. I think—" Potter paused and sat up beside him. "I think I saw them outside the door, covered in mud. And it's been seventy-five. Seventy-five years."

It felt ten times that. He slumped against the headboard. Potter sighed and pulled the sheet over his bare legs. Snape didn't miss his grimace of distaste at the soiled bedding.


"I asked you a question," Snape muttered.

"Yes, I know. Lumos."

Snape squeezed his eyes shut against the meager illumination.

Potter gasped. "Severus," he said again. Not a question this time.

Snape gathered the last shards of his dignity and lifted his face to the light. "Am I to believe you're unscathed as well?"

A long pause, stretched even further by the flickering wand light. "No," Potter said.

He noticed then what he'd missed before. The liquor numbed some senses, but sharpened others. He'd yet to find a spirit that took the world away completely. Not that he hadn't tried.

Potter was alive. But the stench of depression surrounded him in a thick cloud and leaked into the room with his every exhale.

"And you belittle me my means of escape," Snape said, each word heavy with disdain. "My methods may lack drama, but they're no more pitiful than yours, I imagine."

Potter rubbed his hands over his thighs, but didn't answer.

Snape realized he didn't need one. "Did you slink into my bed for a reason? If so, let's get on with it." His skull hit the headboard with a thud. His eyes drooped closed. "I'm tired."

Potter sat dead still.

"Yes? No? Do you even fucking know why you're here?"

"Yes." Potter's hand crept into his. "I miss you."

It took so little to undo him these days. He swallowed his next insult and stared at their tangled fingers. When the puckered lines along Potter's wrist registered, he frowned. Fascinated and disgusted, he ran his thumb over the scars. "Are you truly that incompetent? Or did you lose your nerve at the last moment?"


Evasive and defensive. Even now, after everything. He held tight when Potter tried to yank away.

Potter gave up after a few seconds. Not a very convincing retreat. "Why do you want to know?" he asked.

"What happened when you made the cuts?"

"They healed. The faster and deeper I cut, the faster they healed."

Snape snorted, unsympathetic. "How horrible for you. I'm guessing you tried something a bit more adventurous the next time. A leap off the edge of a cliff, perhaps?"

Despite the subject matter, Potter looked grudgingly amused. "Off my broom, actually."

An image of Potter's fingers slipping from round the tree branch all those years ago flashed before his eyes. "Yet you seem to be in one piece."

Potter shrugged. "I don't remember hitting the ground. When I woke up, in the middle of the field, I felt fine."

Such powerful magic. Occasionally, the old urge to understand it reared its head.

"Poor Potter," he drawled. "No comfort to be found, not even death. Cue the violins."

"Don't tell me you haven't tried something similar."

"That compares to your histrionic behaviour? Certainly not."

"I meant, of course, besides pickling yourself with Ogden's," Potter continued, ignoring his denial.

"Whisky is merely my backup plan."

"Idiot," Potter mumbled, then laid his head on Snape's shoulder. "What was your initial strategy, then?"


Fingers tightened around his. Just for a moment. "Predictable enough. Which one?"

"All of them."

Next to him, Potter gave a short, hiccupping laugh.

Snape's face screwed up into an angry frown as he recalled that day. He'd drunk poison from sunup to sunset. "Not so much as an upset stomach," he grumbled. When Potter started to shake with suppressed laughter, Snape pulled away and glared at him. "What is so funny?"

Potter dove forward and kissed him, lingering despite the taste of stale alcohol. "I have no idea. But it feels good to laugh."

Potter had gone to look at the broken oaks. Seven of the twelve had been felled by a storm twenty years ago. The 'Storm of the Century', the Muggles had called it, though it hadn't been. Snape remembered worse.

The remaining five towered higher than ever, though the bottommost branches were beginning to die and break off. Scaly, rutted bark peeled away in places. Carpenter ants swarmed at the base. It was only a matter of time before they accomplished what the wind had not.

The storm had been the beginning of the end. The following summer, when bright sunlight penetrated the broken canopy, the shade-loving beds surrounding the stumps wilted and died.

Snape did nothing to stop it.

The vegetable patch went next, then the roses. The garden died little by little, as most old things did, becoming a shadow of its former self.

Snape didn't die. But he wilted.

And now – how satisfying to know he hadn't been the only one.

Potter shook his head when Snape approached, though his eyes never left the trees. "Dead."

"Not all."

"Perhaps not yet. But soon." Potter gave a sad sigh.

Snape figured another thirty to fifty years, which fit Potter's skewed idea of soon, he supposed.

"Going to plant more?"

Snape debated, then shook his head.

"You should." Potter leaned down and swiped a handful of acorns from the ground. He shook them in his palm before dropping them back onto the damp soil. "You should."

Snape said nothing.

Potter kicked at the acorns. He swept his eyes across the broken line of trees. "I'll miss them. Won't you?"

"At least they had the grace to die when their time was up."

Potter smirked. A grin followed. His laughter, when it came, gave Snape goose bumps. "So can I stay?"

Every possible answer would humiliate him. Luckily, Potter spared him the embarrassment. "Do you have clean sheets for that bed?"

"I'll Scourgify some."

"Good enough for me. For now." Potter stepped into his arms, but Snape avoided his questing lips.

"How many boys did you leave behind this time?"

Potter paused. "None." He started for the house, pulling Snape behind him. "None that lasted." He stopped at the door, glancing back into Snape's eyes. "You know why, don't you?"

"I know exactly why."

"'Cause it's a bittersweet symphony, this life."

"Have you seen this?" Potter handed him a rolled document, wax seal already broken.

Snape glanced up from his potion. "Is that real parchment?" His fingers played over the paper's surface. "It's been years," he muttered, holding the paper to his nose. The smell of it – fresh parchment – resurrected long forgotten memories. He turned it all around in his hands. "What is it?"

Potter's expression was grim. Most unlike him these days. "Open it."

Too curious to bristle at the order, Snape did as instructed. He read the message through twice before handing it back to Potter.

"It could be nothing."

"It will be something. It's only a matter of time. I've sensed this coming for years now." Potter chewed his bottom lip, eyes flying over the inflammatory words.

Snape extracted the paper from his hands. "This too shall pass."

"I don't know. I don't think so. This wizard, he has the ear of the young ones." Potter's frown grew. "And the not-so-young ones. How else could he afford parchment to print these?"

"Well any other method of delivering this rot would be rather hypocritical, wouldn't it?" Snape snatched the parchment back. "'A campaign for a return to the old ways.'" He rolled his eyes.

Potter squeezed in beside him, and Snape tucked him under his arm. "Boycott the Charmed Tech industry. Prohibit sat-phones. Purify the Wizarding world. Put an end to the Muggle taint." He glanced back at Snape and arched an eyebrow. "Sound familiar?"

Snape snorted. "I felt much the same a few hundred years ago. As did you. I wouldn't worry. He's not likely to gather a flock with that rubbish. Our kind has always appreciated innovation, no matter who did the innovating."


"Did you not enjoy modern conveniences at Hogwarts?"

Potter turned and nestled against him. "Depends what you mean by modern."

"You didn't shit in a pot, did you?"

Potter burst out laughing and the tension evaporated. "No, you have me there. I never begrudged indoor plumbing. This is a bit different, don't you think?"

Snape rolled the parchment and resealed it with his wand. It was too precious a commodity to simply discard. "Is it? I imagine the first flush was cause for much rejoicing among the house-elves."

Potter smiled.

A chime sounded and Snape stirred his potion. It was awkward with Potter crowding so close, but he managed. He replaced his spoon on the table and let the silence stretch.

Five minutes without a word from his normally verbose lover drove his own concern up a notch. He cupped the back of Potter's neck and squeezed. "You're disquieted."

"He believes in it." Potter pointed to the parchment. "He's making the children believe in it."

"What are you suggesting?"

"That it bears watching."

"You suspect this will lead to war?" Though he already knew the answer.

Potter shrugged.

Snape inspected his potion. "The first since Voldemort's second rising. I don't relish the thought of it."

"Neither do I."

His plan had been to let the conversation die. Incertitude, he found, disturbed him more than he realized. "Bears watching, you say."

Potter's arms slipped around his waist. "Yes."

"You have no plans to indulge your hero complex?" He reached to stir his potion.

"We'll see," Potter said, meaning he would if he felt compelled. He caught Snape's wrist before it found the spoon and pulled it around the small of his back, completing the embrace. "But…the fight took everything from us once already," he said. "Once is enough for anyone, don't you think?"

He did. Such was the cost of living. Surviving with the anger and the grief and the loneliness was its own brand of death. Once was enough.

Potter pressed their lips together, sealing his question with a kiss.

Snape returned it, welcoming the feelings that broke over him. Affection. Lust. And on their heels, acceptance – spreading peace and contentment like a warm blanket. He folded Potter against him and held tight.

He could pray the fight wouldn't need them. But if war came, so would its end. Eventually. There would be souls lost and souls left behind. Just as always.

He would live with the consequences. They both would.

*~* finis *~*
Want more? Check out Sansa's Nursery for a drabble she wrote for this universe
What Lasts


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