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The unexpected knock on his door ruined three hours of work. His arm jerked and three Doxie wings dropped into the bubbly blue liquid, instead of the required two. Severus glared at the cauldron, willing the contents to turn a light green, despite his error.

The potion turned pink and burped a splatter of glop onto his robes.

The knocking continued, more insistent. In the thirty seconds it took to walk from his lab to the front door, Severus whispered, "Crucio," repeatedly under his breath until the spell rolled of his tongue with the flair and ease it had in the old days. He stopped a full three paces from the arched, wooden entry and aimed his wand.

"Come in. Please," he purred.

The knocking ceased.

"Severus?" a voice called, tentative.

Severus snarled and cursed under his breath. The Ministry may be indulgent of him, but no manner of heroism or sacrifice during the war would save him if someone got wind he'd cast an Unforgivable on Harry Potter.

He itched to try, though. He missed a bit of danger in his life.

In slow motion, the knob on the door began to turn. "Severus?" Potter called again as the door eased open. "I'm coming in."

Severus smothered an amused snort.

Potter peeked around the door. Severus mentally chided himself when his eyes met the brat's chest instead of his face. Teeth clenched, he adjusted his gaze to the proper height. It said something that his psyche still considered Potter a child, weak and defiant.

Potter eyed Severus' wand. "Do you really think that would stop me?"

No longer weak. Still defiant. Severus held his arm steady. "Are you threatening me?"

Potter grinned and stepped around the door. "You'd like that, I think." He nodded towards Severus' wand. "Give you a chance to take a crack at me."

Severus flicked his wand and the door slammed shut. Not only didn't Potter flinch, he leant back, completely at ease. Severus didn't trust anyone he could intimidate and took an automatic dislike to those whom he couldn't. At some point in the past several years, Potter had traveled from one category to the other.

"To what do I owe this honor?" Severus asked. He crossed his arms over his chest, matching Potter's stance.

Potter ran his tongue along the inside of his cheek before speaking. "I'm here on Molly's behalf. She's inviting you to Christmas dinner."

"No."

Potter's mouth turned up in a smile. "Yes. I swear."

Severus opened his mouth, then closed it again.

Potter cocked his head, wry smile still in place.

"I meant," Severus growled, "'no – I cannot accept.' Not 'no I don't believe you.'" He dropped his eyes and flicked at the drying pink stain on his robe. "It may be rare that I receive a social invitation, but it's not unheard of."

A complete fabrication, of course. It had been years since he'd been invited anywhere.

Potter didn't even have the decency to blush at his misstep. "Please reconsider," he said. "I mean…I'd like you to be there." For the first time since he had invaded Severus' home, he shifted uncomfortably.

Severus dropped his wand to his side and stifled a groan. "Not this again. Every year at Christmas," he muttered. With a scowl, he turned and made his way back to his lab. A sour odor had begun to emanate from the drying stain on his robe, and he stripped it off with a muttered obscenity. Just looking at the bunched-up fabric reminded him of the ruined potion. He was in no mood for Potter's yearly ritual.

"We have coexisted peacefully for twelve months," he said, trusting Potter would have followed him, even though he hadn't been invited to do so. "Why must you ruin another beautiful Christmas with these clumsy overtures?"

The incredulity in Potter's voice carried down the hall after him. "Beautiful? You hate Christmas."

"Is it any wonder? With this to look forward to every December? And now you've enlisted Molly in your machinations." He tossed the soiled robe behind him as he entered the lab and was rewarded with a muffled "oomph" as it found its target. "Why do you continue to pursue this?"

He turned in time to see Potter pulling the sticky material away from his face. His glasses came with it, hopelessly fouled by the pink goop. With a sigh, Potter stuffed them in his pocket and rubbed his eyes. "Okay. Listen. I'm as tired of this as you are. Would you like to know why I ask every Christmas?"

Severus considered. "Not really."

Potter floundered. "You…just said you did."

Severus shrugged. "I lied. Go away."

"I-" Potter shook his head. He squinted across the lab at Severus. "Very well. If that's what you want. I'll just have to accept it…"

Severus tensed, already on guard, but even knowing that Potter was planning some sort of attack – really, the boy had no skill at subterfuge and was doubly cursed to be sorted into Gryffindor. (He'd be lucky to fool a three-year-old with his false capitulation) – Severus was unable to protect himself.

Three seconds later, he was pinned against his own lab table by a soft, but unyielding wall of magic. "Release me!" he hissed.

Potter cleared his throat, looking – of all things – penitent. "Er…no. First, I want to say a few things."

Severus struggled against his magical bonds. "And to do so, you must restrain me?"

"Yes," Potter said. "I think that would be best." He cleared his throat, ignoring Severus' warning glare. "I refuse to spend this Christmas alone, regretting that I spent yet another year letting you put me off." He planted his feet. "Why do you keep me at arm's length?"

Severus met Potter's entreating green eyes with his hard, black ones. "I. Don't. Like. You."

Potter blew out a breath. "Well, that's a bit better than last year. Last Christmas you said you hated me."

Severus thought back. The brat was correct. "Semantics," he said, refusing to give an inch.

Potter shook his head. "I don't think so. I think the idea's growing on you." He stepped closer. "Give me a chance."

"No."

"I know you want me. You've made it plain as day, though you enjoy pretending differently." Potter planted his hands on his hips. "You're scared."

Severus rolled his eyes. "Do you expect me to respond to such a childish provocation?"

"No." Harry sighed. "Severus…" He walked forward until they were toe to toe. "Give this a chance."

Wood splinters cut into his fingertips where he clutched the table and Potter's magic pressed unduly hard against his chest, squeezing his heart. "I refuse to," he said. "Nothing will come of it in the end."

"If all you think about is it ending, then you're probably right. Can't we just think of it beginning?" Potter murmured. He leant closer.

Severus leant back, jostling the ruined pink potion. "Release me," he demanded again.

Potter blinked in confusion before a smile spread across his face. "I already did. Couple of minutes ago."

A deep, surprised breath was all Severus managed before Potter kissed him. It bordered on chaste, a mere brush of lips. Regardless, the weight on his chest lurched, released, and sank to his groin.

"Was that so bad?" Potter breathed into his mouth.

He thought of ruined potions gone fluorescent pink, but Potter's mouth still beckoned. He dredged up memories of the brat's father, but even those had lost their sting over the years. As a last resort, he considered the true reason behind his yearly rejections of Potter's romantic advances.

Severus lifted his hands to Potter's shoulders. "You'll tire of me."

When he didn't speak further, Harry gave a nervous swallow. "Severus?" he prompted, voice quiet and filled with hope. "You don't know that." He eased his hands onto Severus' hips and gave him a lopsided smile. "It's all I really want for Christmas. All I've wanted for years now. Can we give it a go?"

In answer, Severus bent to taste him again, pushing past hesitant lips to test the truth of the brat's desire. Potter gasped and pressed forward.

It was dangerous, wanting Potter. But he'd been craving a bit of danger recently.

Severus ended the kiss, enjoying the way Potter trembled against him, just as he'd always imagined he would.

"What time shall I arrive for dinner?" he asked, and Potter smiled.

For the first time in years, Christmas held promise.

Fin



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