At the Heart of Things

Severus sighed irritably as he kicked away the cold feet that were digging into the back of his calves. He had been bonded to Harry-bloody-Potter for five years now, and every night it was the same. The little limpet attached himself to Severus in some misguided and failed attempt to gather body heat. He despised the fact that he even had to put up with this. He certainly didn't want to be here. Dumbledore had forced the bond. Something about Potter needing to share Severus's magic in order to defeat Voldemort. They'd obviously both complied, albeit grudgingly. The irony was that it was that nervous little Longbottom boy who assisted Saint Potter in the Dark Lord's defeat. Of course, Longbottom's participation was quite accidental. While attempting to cast a stunning spell at a Death Eater during the final battle, he'd nervously jumbled up the words and pronunciation to the point that he'd unwittingly cast a very old, very dark spell that caused all of the Dark Lord's loyal Death Eaters to turn on him. Collectively, they sent him and themselves to Hell and back. Multiple times. On the last of the return trips, Potter trotted over, cast some spell in Parseltongue, stabbed the bastard through the "heart" with Godric's sword and "incendio'ed" him posthaste. Longbottom and Potter shared the victory. Why, then, couldn't it have been them that were forced to share a bed? A life?

Severus snorted and pushed Potter's sleep limp body to the other side of the bed. He took pleasure in the little mew Potter let out as he was rolled into the cold sheets. All he had left were these small moments of sadistic glee. Everything else had been taken from him. The bond was permanent. The bond required intimate physical contact unless both parties released each other from their obligations. Potter would never agree to that, Severus was sure. Not that Severus had lowered himself to the indignity of asking, mind you. So, they shared a bed and every Friday night they had sex. Severus always topped. Potter didn't seem to mind and always, always came with a beatific smile on his face and always touched Severus softly, hesitantly afterward. It was as if Potter thought he was actually trying to make it pleasurable for him instead of just doing what needed to be done so he could stay away for as long as possible. But then again, Severus was the only lover Potter had ever had.

Severus was stuck with Potter and didn't even have an Order of Merlin, First Class to compensate. Every morning Severus hoped beyond hope that it was all a potion-induced nightmare. But, no, every morning he woke to those pointy, little blocks of ice digging into him. It was no use. His life was forfeit and he was destined to wake every morning to cold limbs. What an apt metaphor for his pathetic life. Winter had nothing on his frozen heart. And because of it, Severus loathed Potter. Resented him every minute of every horrible day. He often wondered if Potter knew just how much he loathed him.

Thoroughly disgusted, as he was every morning, Severus threw back the covers and stomped off to the bathroom. After showering and dressing he sat down at the kitchen table. They lived in a small stone cottage on one of the moors far from civilization. While he'd showered, Potter had made his breakfast, just as he did every morning—strong black tea, whole-wheat toast with boysenberry jam and a poached egg. Severus snapped open the Daily Prophet and read as he nibbled his toast and sipped his tea. When he finished he left the dishes where they lay and walked outside. Potter was already digging in their sizable garden. He grew all manner of vegetables and flowers. When Severus decided to open a small apothecary, Potter even began growing potions ingredients. Whatever. Severus wasn't complaining.

"I'm leaving," Severus said stiffly.

Potter turned and wiped his brow, leaving a smudge of dirt. Severus's nose wrinkled in disdain. "Okay. Have a good day."

Severus noted with disgust that Potter had the audacity to smile at him. But then, he smiled every morning. Severus huffed, as he always did, and Apparated to his little shop. And, that was their routine. Sex on Fridays. Six days a week at the Apothecary while Potter stayed home, kept the house, made the meals, dug in the garden and stayed out of Severus's way. One day a week Potter cleared out and did Merlin knows what so that Severus could enjoy his "alone time." They shared a bed, but never a life. And, they never would. Not if Severus had anything to say about it.

Of course, the brat was always trying to worm his way in. Potter was courteous, sometimes bordered on cheerful, and was generally soft-spoken. After a few initial outbursts of defiance after the final battle, Potter had become remarkably subdued and introspective. Gentle almost. It was perplexing. Gentleness was at odds with the warrior Severus knew Harry to be. Severus refused to think on it, though. He was sure Potter had finally cracked and that soon enough he'd be forced to spend his money to pay someone else to wipe away the drool.

The brat did have his uses—the cottage was always clean, the food palatable—but that didn't mean that Severus wanted to know him. Potter even had the nerve to occasionally try to engage him in some sort of thoughtful discussion. On those few occasions, he would just stare at Potter as if he were some unsuitable potion ingredient until Potter blushed faintly from embarrassment and looked away. That didn't stop Potter from going out of his way to do touching little things for him, however, which only made Severus's teeth set on edge. How thick could the brat be? Of course, Severus had never put much stock in Potter's intelligence.

All of this routine changed one afternoon when Draco Malfoy swaggered into Severus's little shop. A few spoken words, a casual heated glance or two and far too many not-so-innocent touches were all it took to undo Severus. Draco was everything Potter would never be. Cool, worldly, experienced and sophisticated. It didn't hurt that he was dead sexy. Potter was, of course, attractive in that waifish, elven sort of way but he was nothing like Draco.

Draco left that afternoon with the promise of returning—the wicked smile on his lips serving as a parting kiss. That night, which coincidentally was a Friday, Severus took Potter like a man possessed. He imagined it was Draco underneath him, Draco making those sweet little sounds, Draco's eyes staring at him in befuddlement over the sudden heat of their fucking, Draco's flushed creamy skin, Draco's roaming hands. He imagined all of the exotic and forbidden things Draco would know and would be willing to do. Potter only knew what Severus had taught him. The mere thought of the forbidden delights awaiting him with Draco was enough to send him over the edge. It hadn't felt like that in years. Still riding high, Severus almost didn't mind Potter's tentative touches, his sweet, gentle kisses, the sickening adoration in his eyes.

Within days, Severus began a torrid affair with Draco consisting primarily of stolen kisses and hasty hand jobs. Draco whispered all sorts of illicit promises while his hands worked their own brand of magic. Oh, how Severus wanted him. All of him. To consume him and be consumed. Severus began staying away from "home" as much as possible. Within weeks, he'd stopped caring if Potter noticed his slightly dishevelled appearance or the lingering scent of expensive cologne. If Potter suspected, he never said anything. The brat seemed distracted by something.

After a particularly heady afternoon with Draco, Severus decided that someone like Draco Malfoy was exactly what he needed, what he was missing from his life. Someone like Draco would make him complete. Happy. So, cocksure and full of attitude, Severus resolved that tonight would be the night. He would ask Potter to release him. Right after dinner. Assuming, of course, he could get the brat's attention long enough.

Dinner had been a strange affair. Whatever was preoccupying Potter seemed to reach a fever pitch. He barely ate anything and was more fidgety than normal. Severus hated fidgeting. Not that Severus cared about the source of Potter's preoccupation, but it would make it more difficult for his simple little mind to understand that Severus had needs and Potter wasn't one of them. Needless to say, Severus was surprised when Potter looked up and spoke.

"Severus? I was wondering if we could talk about something this evening."

Severus put his fork down. Perhaps Potter suspected something after all. No time like the present. "Actually, there was something I wanted to talk about with you as well."

"Oh?" said Potter. "Well, you first then."

With a level stare Severus said, "I want to be released."

Severus watched as the color drained from Potter's face and his eyes fluttered shut for a moment. His eyes reopened before quickly looking away. He chewed on his bottom lip, likely contemplating what to say next.

After a minute or two, he took a deep breath and returned Severus's level gaze. "Why?"

"There is someone else."

Severus saw no reason to be anything less than forthright. He watched in horror as tears pooled in Potter's eyes. Dear Merlin, he'd never suspected that the boy was a crier. Potter had killed the Dark Lord with nary a break in his stony expression, but he couldn't handle rejection from someone he didn't love and who most certainly didn't love him? Strange, Severus thought. But, really, he didn't care to know the inner workings of Potter's mind. Thankfully, just as soon as they threatened, the tears retreated. Severus released the breath he was holding. He was in no mood for hysteria or dramatics.

Potter sniffed. He looked down at his plate and toyed with his fork. "Oh," was all he said.

The silence stretched.

Potter looked up with a deeply searching expression. The intensity of it was unnerving. "Is this truly what you want? In your heart of hearts you want this?"

Heart, groin. Whatever. "Yes," said Severus. He was only mildly surprised Potter hadn't asked for the particulars.

Potter's hands dropped to his lap and he sighed. A few more minutes passed. Severus watched as Potter played with the hem of his napkin. Great. More fidgeting. Finally, Potter looked up at him, deep sadness resonating in his eyes.

"I release you, Severus Snape. May you find happiness," he whispered before dropping his gaze once again.

Severus felt a tingle and then a small snap. Freedom! Sweet freedom found in the space of a few whispered words. For some reason he didn't understand, he felt compelled to remind Potter that they were still bonded even though Severus had been granted permission to dally with those more suitable. "The bond has not ended, you understand."

"I know that. I'm not as stupid as you believe," Potter snapped irritably.

It took Severus by surprise. He watched as Potter's shoulders slumped and one hand absently stroked his stomach.

"Just go," Potter said while staring at the far wall, "Leave whenever you're ready."

Severus nodded. He stood and turned to leave. He'd already packed his bag. Just in case. As he neared the door, he suddenly remembered that it was Potter who'd requested this little téte-á-téte. His curiosity got the better of him. "What was it you wanted to say?"

Potter turned his head slowly and faced him, grief and misery and a strange coldness swirling in his eyes. "It doesn't matter now. It's nothing," he said in a tired, broken voice.

Severus nodded and left without looking back. Giddy with excitement for the first time in a long time.

The giddiness wore off quickly, though. It wasn't that surprising. Not really. Nothing that hot can last for very long. And Draco was very, very hot. At least in bed. Out of bed was a different matter. Severus knew his new lover was demanding and high maintenance. While he tolerated it in bed (when something a bit south did most of the thinking) he was less inclined to indulge such behaviour out of bed. In that regard, his complete dissimilarity from Potter was unwelcome. Severus thanked the gods that Draco had an insatiable appetite for sex and that they rarely saw each other out of bed.

Severus was horrified to find that he actually found himself missing the peaceful silence at the little stone cottage. He longed for his whole-wheat toast and boysenberry jam, which he'd discovered could only be found in a small Muggle shop in East London. Draco had actually laughed when Severus asked him to stop by and get some for him. Severus hadn't thought the request that untoward. After all, Draco didn't work. He didn't need to. So, instead, he loitered elegantly all day. Either in his flat, at the local coffee market or at Severus's little shop.

Severus had grown tired of Draco's day-long visits to the shop, actually. He used to look forward to them. He used to think snide, vindictive things about Potter while Draco had his hands down his pants doing all manner of naughty things. Not anymore. What had started out as lusty, forbidden encounters were quickly becoming tiresome nuisances that pulled him away from his work and his customers. Severus was forced to hire an apprentice just to keep his orders from backlogging. Even more irritating, for all of Severus's compromises, he still didn't get his jam. As much as it pained him, Severus began thinking that Potter had been good for something after all. Potter always made sure he had his jam. Potter never visited the shop unless it was to bring fresh potions ingredients from the garden and, even then, he never lingered. Potter was not Draco, that was certain. A funny twinge hit Severus squarely in the chest when he thought about that. Of course, it made no sense so he quickly disregarded it.

The end of their rather tumultuous relationship came only a few months after it had begun. Severus had come home to Draco's flat to find him in a spectacularly sexy position. Severus wouldn't have minded so much if Draco hadn't been in that position with two other people at the time. Draco had looked up at him while some stranger kept steady on his task of pleasing various parts of Draco's anatomy. With a casualness of morality that only someone like Draco could possess he'd said "Oh. You're back. Give us a minute and I'll finish up." Severus really shouldn't have been surprised. Had he really expected Draco to be monogamous? Perhaps he had. Potter was. Potter looked at him as if he was the most important person in the world after sex. As if nothing else mattered. As if no one else existed. It was something else he found he missed. A little bit, anyway.

With a sigh and a grimace at the moans coming from Draco's bed, Severus packed his bag and left. He'd headed straight for the cottage. It was half his after all and he needed a place to light before deciding what to do. Maybe Potter still had some of that jam.

Severus arrived at the cottage and found the door locked. That was odd. The door was never locked. Huffing indignantly, he knocked. As the door opened he opened his mouth to make a scathing remark to Potter, but was startled to find Hermione Granger-Weasley standing in the doorway instead. "Ms. Granger, what are you doing in my cottage?" Severus watched as a similarly startled Hermione bit her lip and looked down.

"Kindly step aside. Now," Severus continued.

"Harry isn't here," Hermione blurted as she tried to close the door.

Severus's hand stopped her. "I don't really care whether Potter is here. This is my cottage. Now get out of the way."

Hermione was saved from responding by a rather large, rather angry Ronald Weasley storming to the door. As he gently shooed Hermione back into the cottage, he loomed dangerously in front of Severus. "I believe Hermione told you that Harry isn't here, Snape. Go back to whatever rock you slithered out from under. You aren't welcome here."

Really, this was getting to be too much. Severus sighed. Even if he could get in, the Weasleys weren't going away it seemed. He'd engage in discourse with Trelawney before spending any time with them. Where the devil was Potter anyway? "Fine, Mr. Weasley, fine. Tell me this, then. When can I expect Potter's return? I would like to enter my own home sometime this millennia."

If possible, the color of Ron Weasley's face surpassed that of his hair. "We don't know. Now leave," he said with a dangerous voice. With that, Ron slammed the door shut. Severus stood there, a foul mood brewing, before Apparating to his shop. There was a couch in the back room. It would have to do.

A week later, Severus realized he'd run out of nightshade stems. He needed it for the potion he was currently brewing and wouldn't have time to order it. Cursing himself for allowing his stores to get so low, he Apparated to the cottage, thankful that Potter had planted that potions garden after all.

When he arrived, he approached the cottage carefully, lest any Weasleys be afoot. He glanced around carefully. Satisfied that he was alone, he relaxed and walked to the back of the cottage. However, he was not prepared for what he found. The garden was completely overrun with weeds. The dahlias were spindly and forlorn. The runner beans had ceased their running. Severus had to wade through waist high stinging nettle to find the nightshade, which was a bit puny looking and partially hidden by some overzealous weeds. Why had Potter let the garden get to this state? It was always pristine. What was going on? He began cursing Potter as he battled the weeds for his few precious stems of nightshade. He was brought short from his ramblings by a soft, surprised voice calling out "Severus?"

Severus froze. He suddenly felt like a thief stealing a pie from the window. No, this was his cottage too! He wouldn't be made to feel that way. He turned, snarling all the way, but whatever invective he'd been ready to level at his erstwhile mate died on his lips as he took in Potter's frail form. It had been months since he'd seen Potter. He'd forgotten how his eyes sparkled in the summer sun. He was only reminded of it because they now seemed dull and lifeless.

They stood there for several minutes in complete, stunned silence. Severus noticed that Potter leaned heavily against a tall potting bench. He had a gray pallor and seemed generally unwell. He watched as Potter looked away, clearly uncomfortable with Severus's scrutiny.

"Are you all right?" Severus blurted without thought. It was neither kindly nor concerned. However, Severus was surprised that he'd asked and that he was truly interested in the answer.

"I'm—" Potter hesitated. He glanced up briefly and met Severus's gaze for a moment. He sighed. "I've been under the weather," Potter said distractedly while staring intently at a single gardening glove laid haphazardly across the top of the bench. "Why are you here?" he asked a few seconds later, returning his gaze to Severus.

Severus jerked his head towards the nightshade firmly clutched in his outstretched hand.

Potter nodded. "Well, I guess you'll be off then. I'd appreciate it if you'd let me know when you're coming around. I know you care to know little about me, but I know you know I don't like to be startled," he said as he pushed off from the bench. He shuffled towards the back door before losing his footing and stumbling.

Severus wasn't sure why, but out of instinct he ran to Potter and helped him up.

Potter pushed him away roughly. "Thank you, but I don't need your help. Please leave."

"No, I think I'd better help you in. You don't seem quite steady on your feet." Again, Severus was surprised by his concern for Potter.

Potter sighed and acquiesced. They shuffled into the house and Potter tried to pull away. Severus held firm. "Bed, I think," he said gruffly, pushing aside the funny little twinge in his chest. Potter stiffened for a moment, but not for the reason Severus imagined. "I just mean you need to go to bed, Potter. How thick are you?"

Severus watched as Potter turned slowly to him. "I know what you meant, you bastard. I gave up thinking a long time ago that you would ever willingly share a bed with me."

Severus felt as though he'd been struck. There had been so much venom in the quiet words. He could not imagine what had sparked such fire. Well, yes he could actually.

"And I don't need your assistance! I'm fine. The couch is fine," said Potter as he tried to wrench himself from Severus's grasp.

"You're not fine, Potter. Look at you. You can't even wriggle free," Severus said as he nearly dragged Potter to the bedroom. "I'd prefer not to return to my cottage only to find you lying in a dead heap. The smell would be atrocious. I'll help you to bed and then I'll take my leave."

Severus noted that Potter continued to resist, but as they neared the bedroom, his shoulders finally slumped in resignation. As they shuffled into the bedroom, Severus spied a number of potions vials on the bedside table. It took a moment for him to work out what he was seeing, but when he realized what the potions were, his breath caught in his throat. A cold sense of dread washed over him. They stood there in the doorway with Severus continuing to hold Potter's arm at an odd angle, both shocked by Severus's shock. Neither of them seemed able nor willing to move forward or back without the other.

After several long minutes, Severus dropped Potter's arm and turned to him, watching him sway slightly at the loss of support. Instinctively, his hands gently grasped Potter's shoulders to steady him. "When?" he asked with a bewildering sense of urgency.

Severus watched as Potter shot a glance at the potions and eyed him suspiciously before responding. "A little over a week ago. I'm not healing as well as they would like," he said softly.

Severus nodded and swallowed thickly. Neither seemed to notice that his hands were still grasping Potter's shoulders. "Why didn't you tell me?" he asked with a sudden flash of anger, his fingers now digging into Potter's shoulders. Severus relaxed his hands at Potter's wince. Then, they loosed completely when Potter looked up at him, his eyes as cold and hard as jade.

"I tried," Potter said bluntly. Flatly.

Severus looked at him bewilderingly for a moment and then he remembered. The night he'd left. Potter had wanted to talk with him about something. The flash of pain he'd seen in Potter's eyes when he'd asked to be released. It made more sense now. Potter had planned to tell him he was with child. With his child. But, he'd miscarried. The telltale purple and yellow healing potions on the nightstand screamed silently in mourning for the life lost.

Severus's eyes were darting back and forth between the healing potions and Potter. He felt a sense of desperation unlike any he'd felt before. It made no sense. None of this made any sense. "Why did you let me go? Why didn't you tell me?" Severus suspected the answer, but refused to acknowledge it.

Potter smiled a sad smile, his eyes brimming with tears as he looked away. "You told me it was what your heart wanted," he whispered.

Severus was beside himself with rage. Rage at what he didn't know. Or, didn't want to admit. "You selfish little—"

Potter pushed him away, nearly losing his balance in the process. "Selfish? Me? How dare you, Severus Snape. How dare you!"

Severus withdrew slightly as Potter stood there weak and trembling in body, but with ferocity and defiance in his eyes.

"There is not a being on the planet more selfish than you. When we first bonded I pitied you. I felt sorry for you. I assumed that you were cold and unfeeling because no one had ever shown you kindness or tenderness or love. So, I took it upon myself to show you those things. To give you those things. I planted your potions garden, I found special jam I knew you liked, I gave you 'Harry-free' days and I allowed myself to be completely open to you hoping that you would learn. Hoping that you would realize." Harry looked away. "Hoping one day you would want me the way I suddenly found I wanted you." Harry whispered. He took a shuddering breath before returning his gaze to Severus. "But you didn't." His voice was hard and flat now. "You never gave me a second glance. Even when we were in bed together. I. Gave. You. Everything!" Harry cried in anguish, "And, that wasn't enough, was it? Oh, I know you think me stupid, simple, unsophisticated. And, maybe I am all those things but I will be DAMNED if I allow you to call me selfish." Harry slid to the floor, the exertion from his efforts finally catching up to him. "I have nothing left. I loved you and suffered dearly because of it. Please leave me," he whispered.

Severus was stunned. He didn't know what to say. "Potter, I—"

"I SAID LEAVE!" Harry screamed as glasses and dishes rattled throughout the house.

Severus had forgotten—truly he had—about the raw power Harry held within him; how hard it was to keep that raw power at bay. The gentleness, the seclusion—they made more sense now. Severus watched as Harry's breathing evened out and he slumped further still.

"I released you, or have you already forgotten?" With a cruel twist on his lips Harry looked up at Severus. "I gave you what your heart wanted, what it desired. Please do me the courtesy of at least giving me what I ask. Please leave. If you truly want the cottage, I'll move. I just—please, just leave."

Severus felt a keen loss at those words. It was inexplicable. He didn't understand it. But, he could not bear to watch Harry lay there slumped on the floor a moment longer. The now familiar twinge gave way to something else entirely. His heart seized as if it had just woken from a deep sleep. It hurt with some foreign emotion and he'd be damned if he would stand there in torture any longer. Nightshade forgotten, he whirled away without another word and left the little cottage.

Days later, still brooding and out of sorts, Severus was surprised to see Draco Malfoy slink into his shop. "Oh, it's you," Severus said with a sarcastic sneer. His hands clenched when Draco cocked his head and chuckled.

"Yeah, it's me. I've missed you. Fancy a drink?"

Both knew why Draco was there. Severus sighed. He felt nothing for Draco. Not anymore. But, at the same time, why not? Why deny himself a chance to forget for a while? Damn Potter! He was always mucking things up. Making him feel things he didn't want to feel. Well, Severus could easily solve that little problem. He closed the shop and left with Draco.

After an afternoon of little more than perfunctory sex, Severus found himself sitting on the bed with his head in his hands. He felt worse now than before. He felt like he'd betrayed something. It hurt. His heart. It hurt.

"What's with you?" Draco asked in an annoyingly whiney voice, "That was certainly uninspired. If I wanted that, I could have just rung the kid downstairs." Draco snorted, finding himself exceedingly witty.

Severus paused. "Nothing. Everything. I don't know. Harry. Potter—he's ill and I'm not entirely sure what to make of it."

"Jesus, Sev, it was a rhetorical question. I don't really want to know the sordid details of your ongoing saga with simple, sad little Potty. Why do you care about him anyway? Don't answer that—rhetorical again." Draco looked down at Severus snidely. "He hasn't infected you with his funny little turns or anything has he? That bloke is cracked. I can't imagine being saddled with such a waste of magic."

Something in Severus broke in that moment. Completely snapped. The epiphany he'd been seeking for days hit him. Hard. Without thought and quick as lightening, he had Draco pinned to the bed, his hands squeezing hard around his throat. "Don't you EVER say anything like that about Harry ever again. EVER. Do you understand?" Severus asked, squeezing harder with each word. He had no idea where those words came from, or all of this emotion for Harry. He'd certainly never sat around thinking about Potter. Well, before a week ago, anyway. Well, before he'd started comparing Harry to Draco, if he really wanted to be honest.

Draco clawed at Severus hands and looked truly scared. Realizing what he was doing, Severus released him and jumped out of the bed. He dressed hastily and turned, watching as Draco massaged his bruised neck. He looked wide-eyed and pale. Severus watched as Draco scrambled backward in fear as he strode over to him, stopping mere inches from his face. "Harry is more of a man than you could ever hope to be. He is more of a wizard than you can even fathom. You. Disgust. Me. I cannot believe that I gave him up for the sorry likes of you." Severus left without giving Draco a parting glance and Apparated back to his little shop. Sitting heavily on his couch in the back room, his mind whirling with strange and confusing emotions, his heart feeling as though it were on fire—painfully so—he preceded to get absolutely, completely drunk.

The next morning dawned too quickly as far as Severus was concerned. The hangover potion had taken away the ill effects of his activities from the night before, but it hadn't taken away what was inside of him. It hadn't taken away the thing that had made him nearly kill Draco Malfoy in defense of Harry's honour. It hadn't taken away the concern he felt that Harry wasn't healing well. It hadn't taken away the thing that made his tea taste off and his toast less toasty. Even his poached egg seemed out of balance.

It hadn't taken away the painful reminder that he and Harry had lost a child.

It hadn't taken away the thing that made everything seem dreary and hollow. Everything except Harry. That was it then. He'd avoided it long enough. He wanted Harry. His brain rebelled at such treachery while his heart sung. It was truly disgusting. "Damn it!" he said out loud as he knocked his tea to the floor. This wasn't supposed to happen. He wasn't supposed to care about anyone. Especially Harry who had been foisted on him like unwanted day-old fish. He'd been trying to work through this rationally, but that hadn't gotten him very far—unless attempted murder, declarations of want, and profound drunkenness counted as rational thinking. No, it was time to chuck the brain out of the window and simply do what felt right. What felt natural.

So with that thought in mind, Severus found himself back at the cottage. He stood in the yard for a long while before moving around back. There was no sign of Harry. He wasn't entirely sure what to do. It was still early yet. He noticed that the garden was still in disarray. So he started there. What started as pulling a few obvious weeds quickly turned into an all-day gardening project. Severus had completely lost track of time and was, therefore, startled at the voice cutting through his thoughts.

"What the hell are you doing?"

Severus stiffened. It was Harry. Before he could turn around, Harry started talking again.

"I thought I told you to let me know before you came round. What are you digging for now?"

Severus turned and faced Harry. He was sad to see that he was still leaning so heavily against the potting bench. He looked no better. With a determined stride, he walked towards Harry. Harry bumped against the potting bench in an effort to scrabble into a defensive stance. He was obviously a bit scared and unsure of Severus's motives. Severus grasped Harry's hands. Harry tried to pull them back.

Severus had no idea what to do or say. Going with the obvious, he said, "You should be resting." He'd made an attempt at sounding soothing but was afraid that it might have come out slightly maudlin.

Harry looked at him as if he'd grown three heads. Finally yanking his hands free of Severus's, Harry said, "Well it's awfully hard to rest when you keep showing up unannounced and tripping the wards."

Undaunted, Severus carefully grasped Harry's hands again. Not as startled, Harry resisted more quickly and started to protest. Severus cut off whatever protest Harry sought to make by tugging his hands and leading him to a chair close to the edge of the small patio. Pushing Harry down gently, Severus took in his stunned expression. Scrambling for something to say, he opted for, "It's a bit chilly out. You're not dressed warmly enough. I'll go get a blanket." There. He'd bought himself a bit of time to sort through this mess.

Before Harry could say anything, Severus entered the cottage. A few minutes later he returned with a blanket only to find himself facing the end of Harry's wand.

"Who the hell are you and what do you want?" Harry snarled.

But for the shaking limbs and pale, clammy skin, Harry would have been a bit threatening, Severus thought as he was reminded of the warrior in Harry. He wondered if Harry loved as fiercely as he fought. "Harry, it's me. Severus. I assure you. Now put that wand away before someone gets hurt!" he barked.

This only served to infuriate Harry further. As he drew closer and brandished his wand more dangerously, he said, "You're lying. Severus Snape has never once in his life called me Harry!"

Severus was about to respond that Harry was being an idiot, but he was stopped short. It was true. He'd never called Harry, Harry. He had only ever called him Potter. Severus sighed. So far, this was not going well. Not well at all. "You're right, Harry. I've never called you that. But I can prove I'm Severus—you have three freckles on your left hip, right above an odd scar of some sort." Severus had no idea what the scar was from or how long he'd had it and was hopeful Harry wouldn't press for details. He only knew about the freckles and scar because his hand always seemed to drift over that scar on Friday nights. It had never occurred to him to ask Harry how he'd gotten it. It was amazing how much he knew about Harry and, at the same time, how little.

Severus watched as Harry abruptly dropped his wand. A look of pure panic replaced the previous fury. "Have you lost your mind?" Harry asked as he slowly backed away. "Have you hit your head or something? Poisonous potions fumes, maybe? Is that why you're here acting like this?"

"Acting like what, Harry?"

"Like, like a human being—like someone who has a vague interest in things and people outside of his own little circle of greed and selfishness. And stop calling me Harry! It's unnerving."

Severus figured he'd probably deserved that. He moved to wrap the blanket around him, but Harry stepped away.

"Please don't touch me," he said softly.

Severus's smile faltered. "I understand, Harry. Please. Sit. I—I would like to talk with you about something.

Harry rolled his eyes and muttered something that sounded a bit like "Doesn't that sound familiar," before flopping into the chair.

Severus felt a silly jolt of happiness when Harry allowed him to wrap the blanket around his shoulders. "How are you feeling?" Severus began.


"I said how are you feeling? You still seem weak. Your color's all off. Are the potions not working?" Severus watched as Harry hesitated. His head was turned to the side and he refused to look at Severus. He seemed unsure of whether to respond.

"I was further along than most. I guess it just hit me harder. The potions, are working I think." Harry sighed. "I don't know." Harry ran his hands through his hair before dropping them in his lap. "I've got another appointment with my healer in a few days." Harry's voice trailed off for a moment before his voice snapped in exasperation. "I really don't want to talk about this. If this is why you're here, out of some sense of duty or guilt or whatever, stop right now. I don't want it and I certainly don't want you."

Ouch. Severus would liked to have said that Harry's words hadn't hurt, but that would have been a lie. As it was, he had to bite back a retort about "guilt" and "duty." No, insults seemed unlikely accomplices to his acts of wooing. "I know. And no, that's not why I'm here, but I am concerned about you."

Harry still refused to look at him. He sat stiffly in the chair picking at the piffles on the blanket. Severus finally realized something. Harry was always fidgeting like that when he was uncomfortable. The hems of sleeves, the edges of napkins, the blanket. Why hadn't he noticed that before? Or, attributed his fidgeting to emotional discomfort? What else had he missed all these years? Still musing, he was startled when Harry spoke again.

"You'll forgive me if I say I don't believe you," Harry said quietly, but with a certain amount of resolve in his voice.

Severus didn't know how to respond to that. He was saved from having to do so.

"Why are you here then?" Harry asked.

It was now or never. Severus took a deep breath. He'd rehearsed this part, so it shouldn't be too hard to say. "These months that we've been apart—they made me realize something. I never should have left. You were right. I was the selfish one. I didn't understand how much you had given me. I'd like to come back and show you just how much I understand now. I'd like to share a bed with you again. I'd like the chance to love you." There. He'd said it. He stood waiting for Harry's reaction. He watched as Harry's chest began heaving. He heard little sniffles. 'Ah,' Severus thought to himself, 'This is the part where he tearfully welcomes me home!' So, it was with great confusion that Severus found himself looking into sharp, cold eyes and tear stained cheeks.

"You cruel sadistic bastard!" Harry whispered fiercely.

This was not at all what Severus had expected. His forehead wrinkled in puzzlement. "What?"

Harry leapt from the chair, threw the blanket on the ground and raised a hand. "Now? You say this now? After everything—" but Harry didn't finish. Instead, he started shaking his head, muttering something under his breath and nearly pulling his hair out. He raised his hand, palm out and open. Severus moved, thinking the idiot was about to strike him. He watched as Harry's hand made a jerky swipe while he screamed "GO AWAY!" The next thing Severus knew, he was sitting on his arse outside of his shop. Well. That hadn't gone well at all.

The next morning, Severus returned to the cottage, determined to prove to Harry that he wasn't being a "fair weather" lover. He went back to his weeding. He wasn't surprised when Harry poked his head out of the back door about mid-morning, an adorably cranky expression on his face. Severus couldn't believe he'd never thought Harry adorable before.

Harry's eyes narrowed. "What are you doing here? I told you to go away. Are you trying to drive me crazy?"

Severus rose elegantly and turned slowly, dusting off his robes in the process. "I meant what I said, Harry. And I will come every day for as long as it takes for you to believe that." Severus was surprised by his own sincerity.

Harry stared at Severus for several minutes before muttering something that sounded remarkably like "sodding prick" before shaking his head and slamming the door. And, locking it.

They repeated this jaunty little scene every day for almost two weeks. Severus was beginning to lose hope. But then, one morning he was surprised to see a cup of hot tea waiting for him. The little note beneath it said Harry had made too much and it seemed a waste to throw it out. Severus's lips quirked in a small smile. He didn't see Harry at all that day, but the tea—made just the way he liked it, mind you—was enough.

It was several days more before he saw Harry again. During that time, another cup of tea had appeared as well as a sandwich. The little hand written excuses were always the same. Severus worked later and later each day. He was finding that working in the garden was rather enjoyable. He understood now what Harry saw in it. He was glad he'd hired that young apprentice. It gave him more time here. Funny how he didn't mind spending so much time away from the shop when he was spending it with Harry. Well, in Harry's presence, anyway.

He was working diligently in the most tangled section of the garden when he felt Harry standing behind him.

"Careful that you don't pull out the myrtleroot. It took me forever to get that to grow," Harry said roughly.

Severus smiled to himself and nodded to Harry. He sat back on his heels for a second before rising and turning. He frowned at what he saw. Harry still didn't look any better. He resisted the urge to comment on it. He noticed that Harry had his arms wrapped around himself protectively and stood as if ready to flee at any moment.

"Are you planning on digging all night?" Harry asked irritably.

"No. I hadn't planned on it."

Harry nodded as he rocked back and forth on his feet. "I've got some extra roast if you're hungry. It will just go bad if it's not eaten tonight."

Severus's heart gave a little jump at the invitation. Harry didn't wait for a response as he turned and walked back into the cottage. Severus took a few minutes to clean up before heading in. He knocked lightly before entering, glad that the door wasn't locked. The table set for two and contained quite a bit more than just a bit of extra roast. "Thank you," he said softly, surprised at how much he truly meant it. Harry nodded while he put out fresh made bread and boysenberry jam. Severus's boysenberry jam.

They ate in silence. Every once in a while Harry would look up at Severus with a curious expression. When they finished, Harry stood to start clearing, but his movements stilled when Severus placed his hand over his. "Allow me," Severus said, surprised again that he truly wanted to do this for Harry. As he had all night, Harry merely nodded before moving to the couch. Severus cleaned in silence. Both men were lost to their own thoughts.

"I have to go away for a few days," Harry said while Severus put away the last of the bread. "Normally, I'd have Mr. Straithwaite from town check on the cottage, but since you insist on coming round every day, I thought perhaps you could keep an eye on things."

Severus nodded slowly before realizing Harry couldn't see him. "Yes. I'll keep an eye on things."

"You can come in, if you want. While I'm away, I mean."

Severus nodded again, but this time Harry saw him. Harry stared at him with that same curious expression before shaking his head. "I leave tomorrow," he said as he turned back.

"Where are you going?"

Harry hesitated. "That's really not any of your business," he snapped.

Severus didn't say anything. He watched as Harry's hands pulled roughly on the hem of the blanket draped across the back of the couch.

A few seconds later, Harry said quietly, "Tests. They want to do a few tests."

Severus couldn't say that he hadn't seen this coming. Wizard pregnancies were notoriously difficult. Miscarriage was always a serious possibility even in the best cases. The worst part was that, in addition to losing the child, the father's health remained compromised until the correct healing protocol was found. The broad-spectrum yellow and purple healing potions were a first line defense, but were not always successful. The only thing that surprised Severus was how long the healer had waited to take this step. "The initial protocol isn't working then." Severus said.

Harry twisted around in surprise. His hand stilled. It seemed, though, that he suddenly remembered that Severus was a Potions Master and, therefore, was familiar with these tests and what they meant. It could have been Severus's imagination, but Harry seemed to almost relax a bit knowing that he didn't have to explain anything.

"Want to talk about it?" Severus asked as he put away the dishtowel and moved to sit in the chair across from the couch. He noticed that Harry had graduated from the blanket and was now fiddling with the fringe on one of the throw pillows.

"Why are you doing this?" Harry asked quietly.

Severus's pat answer almost left his lips, but he found that it was… inadequate. "I want to know you, I guess. I feel like I missed so much with you and now I want to make up for that."

Harry sniffed. "What if I don't want you to know me? What if I don't want you? Had you never considered that?"

Truthfully, Severus hadn't. He'd assumed that Harry was still in love with him and that all he'd have to do was a little wooing. He was realizing, though, that as much as it might hurt, he'd rather Harry be happy even if it meant not being with him. "I'm sorry… I didn't—I'll leave." As he stood to leave, Harry started talking again. Severus stood stock still, waiting.

"She would have been beautiful, I think," Harry said as he stared off into the distance. "I was going to name her Eva. Life. Creation. Renewal. All that rot. No one knew that. I haven't—" Harry hesitated for a moment before he turned and faced Severus. "At first I was so resentful of her. I just knew that every time I saw her it would just be a reminder of you. I was afraid I'd hate her. But then, the first time I felt her move, something in me changed forever. She took my breath away. I was happy. So very happy for the first time in such a long time."

Severus felt the sting of guilt at those words knowing he was primarily responsible for Harry's unhappiness. He watched as Harry smiled, pregnant tears threatening to spill from his eyes. He watched as the smile faded and was replaced with a look of such profound sadness that Severus thought his heart would burst from the pain of witnessing it.

"But I wasn't enough," Harry continued as the threatened tears finally fell. "I wasn't strong enough for her." Harry's head shook back and forth. He drew his knees up. His arms curled around himself protectively. "I was so afraid of having her by myself. So afraid. I didn't mean to be. I didn't. At first I wished…." Harry let out a strangled sob. "I didn't really want her to go away. I didn't!"

Following his instincts, Severus moved to the couch quickly and sat behind Harry, drawing him to him. Cradling him protectively. At first, Harry fought it, but the tears were too much. The pain, the loss, the fear, the loneliness were all too much. He cried as Severus held him and told him it wasn't his fault. Severus told him that he was more than enough, had always been, in fact. Harry mourned his daughter as Severus held him and encouraged him to let himself go. For the first time in as long as Severus could remember, he cried, too. There was no shame in those tears. Only healing. He cried for Harry's loss. For his loss. For their loss.

When Harry could cry no more, he sat up and tried to pull away. Severus held firm, gentling him with soft shushes and hesitant touches. Harry looked at him again with the same curious expression he'd had all day before sighing and relaxing in Severus's embrace. Severus held Harry long into the night, long after he'd fallen asleep. Severus was surprised to find how much pleasure he got from the simple act of making Harry feel better. With that realization—the realization of pleasure in the giving—Severus Snape was undone. Forever this time. It was no longer about simply wanting Harry. It was about wanting Harry to be happy.

The next morning came in a rush. The blinding morning sun exposed the precariousness of whatever was happening between them. Things had seemed less grim, less tenuous in the softness of night.

Severus watched as Harry stood in the living room and fiddled with the clasp on his cloak. "I could go with you," he said.

Harry sighed. He didn't look up. "No. I'm all right. Really. It's just some tests."

Severus nodded as he bit back the urge to demand to go with him. To protect him from his foolish bravery.

Harry looked up and scanned the room, his glittering eyes lighting on Severus for a second—holding longer than he seemed to want to—before flitting away. "Thanks for last night…" he began hesitantly. "I was—"

"No need to say anything," Severus interrupted. He was struck by how much he hated seeing Harry distraught. It seemed like forever ago he'd enjoyed rolling Harry over into cold sheets.

Harry nodded morosely before leaving the cottage without a word or a backward glance.

Harry returned three days later, looking slightly tired and a bit off-balance. Severus was diligently working in the garden, pleased with how much he'd accomplished. The weeds were completely gone, the beds revitalized and replanted. While Harry was away, Severus contacted the Longbottom boy and got some special plants that he thought Harry might like. Once he saw him approaching, Severus stood as elegantly as always and moved to help him.

"You look tired," Severus said critically.

Harry rolled his eyes. "Good to see you, too," he muttered before stumbling on a small rock.

Severus braced Harry with his hand to keep him from falling. He didn't notice he done it. Neither had Harry. Both just accepted it as if it felt right, felt natural.

"Prognosis?" Severus asked.

Harry sighed in exasperation and ran his hands through his hair. "Jesus, Sev, let me get in the cottage before you descend like a killer fruit bat."

"I've been called worse."

"I know," Harry said dryly. "I'm usually the one doing the name calling."

Severus resisted the urge to smile at Harry's light little riff. When had Harry become droll? He led an unresisting Harry to the cottage by the elbow. Harry stopped once he got a proper view of the garden, though. He inhaled sharply, startled at the sight.

"I hope you don't mind," began Severus, "but I added a few new things. Longbottom recommended them."

Harry blinked repeatedly before swivelling around and fixing Severus with that same curious expression from before. "I—" Harry began, and then the curiosity was gone. "You shouldn't have," he murmured, eyes downcast.

"I…." Severus had started to say, "I wanted to," but changed his mind. "I thought you might like it," he said instead.

Harry nodded while he fiddled with the hem of one of his sleeves.

"Let's get you inside. I've made that soup you like."

Harry looked up sharply, a dumbfounded expression on his face. After a long moment he said, "I'm not dying, you know. You don't have to be nice."

Severus wished it hadn't hurt to hear the frankness of Harry's words. There had been no malicious intent behind them, which only made them hurt more.

"I have no doubts as to your longevity, Harry." Severus toyed with whether to continue, ultimately deciding to. "Besides, Fate would not live up to her reputation as a cruel mistress if the world were deprived of your ability to torment me so," Severus said theatrically—hoping that Harry heard the playfulness.

Harry looked at him with that soon-to-be-trademarked curious expression for a long moment before breaking into a small, soft smile. Severus thought he even heard a small chuckle. Harry shook his head and sighed. He held his elbow at an odd angle, clearly indicating that he was ready to go into the cottage.

It turned out to be a most enjoyable dinner. He'd relaxed after learning that Harry's prognosis was good. A new protocol had been prescribed. Further, for the first time in his life, Severus talked with Harry as if he were a real person worthy of Severus's attention rather than a thing only good for fetching jam, making poached eggs and growing nightshade. He was saddened by his surprised discovery of Harry's wicked, sly sense of humour and the fact that he was passionate about intellectual sorts of things like politics and spell theory. The evening stretched long into the early morning hours before Severus realized he should leave. He didn't want to. But, he knew he must.

"I should go. You need your rest," Severus said.

"Hmmm," Harry said in response as his fingers methodically brushed over the couch cushion and as he stared at a point just to the left of Severus's head.

As Severus was standing to leave, Harry called out to him. "Severus?" Severus turned and watched as Harry fished out several pieces of crumpled parchment from his pocket. "I hope you don't mind me asking, but umm…. Well, I've got some prescriptions for potions and thought that if you weren't too busy that you could make them for me."

It was Severus's turn to be dumbstruck. "Why?" he said before realizing the inanity of his statement. "Why me, I mean?" he amended.

Harry returned to staring at the point just to the left of Severus's head. He shrugged. "I guess I trust you when it comes to this," he whispered.

Severus nodded, his throat suddenly feeling very dry and thick. His heart was hammering in his chest. It was as if Harry had, in his own way, said 'I forgive you. A little bit.' "I shall have them made for you tomorrow," he said as he strode over and carefully withdrew the prescriptions from Harry's hand. As their fingers brushed against each other, Severus felt a tiny jolt. Harry seemed to feel it, too, if the shocked expression on his face was anything to go by. "Tomorrow, then."

"Tomorrow," Harry murmured.

As promised, Severus delivered the potions the next afternoon. He'd gone over all of the dosing instructions with Harry and wrote them out for good measure. Harry invited him to stay for dinner. Apparently, he was completely unable to gauge how much food to cook for one, if his excuses were anything to go by. Severus readily accepted. They had an enjoyable dinner. There was a thrilling undercurrent of expectancy—as if they were young lovers caught in the first bloom of love. Severus felt nervous. Harry seemed to both sense and like it.

Severus continued to come round every day, but had eased back into his life at his little shop. Usually, he arrived at the cottage late in the afternoon, ostensibly to make sure the potions were working properly and that Harry wasn't having any adverse reactions to them. Harry indulged him. Severus was pleased to see that the potions were working and that Harry was slowly coming back to himself. After his obligatory potions questions, they often worked in the garden side by side in an easy rhythm and comfortable silence. Severus couldn't recall when the garden had been as beautiful. Or bountiful.

They had dinner together nearly every night. Harry eventually dropped the pretense of having made too much. Severus always did the dishes, even though Harry no longer looked tired and drawn. After dinner, they usually wound up talking about this or that. They'd had many more conversations about Eva—Severus thought he'd never forgive himself after learning Harry had been alone when it had happened. He was thankful when he'd found out that the Weasleys had taken care of him in the immediate aftermath, but saddened that he hadn't been there. That he hadn't known.

There were, of course many wonderfully thrilling times as well. There was laughter and conspiracy. Good-natured teasing abounded. There had even been a few intentionally juvenile moments including a small tussle over errant string beans flying this way and that in a ridiculous "food fight."

Better than that, though, were the few times they'd almost kissed as they were held in the hypnotic sway of the night blooming jasmine Harry had insisted on training over the portico.

There were hesitant touches and soft brushes of hands. Significant glances were exchanged many times. Harry, though, always pulled away before things became too romantic. Severus figured Harry wanted to ignore their growing closeness.

Surprisingly, Harry's friends were never there. Severus had asked after Ron and Hermione one night and had learned that they were traveling the world courtesy of Hermione's post-graduate fellowship. They'd postponed leaving until Harry could get around without assistance after losing Eva. Severus knew Harry missed his friends, but he was secretly filled with glee that he had Harry to himself. Severus had become quite used to being the only one who was at the cottage with Harry—it felt like a beautiful secret that only they shared. It was a blissful world in which the hard questions weren't answered or even voiced. A world where the future was the here and now. A world in which only Harry and Severus existed. Severus would learn, though, that that world didn't really exist. As much has he wanted it to. Eventually, the hard questions would have to be voiced. And answered.

That day came all too soon for Severus's tastes. He was walking around to the back of the house when he saw them. Standing there. Smiling at each other. Severus thought the world had ended when he saw Harry's brilliant smile beam at the other man. How Severus longed for that smile to be directed at him. He noticed that they were standing closer than acquaintances but without the carriage of casual friends. Severus felt his stomach clench at the sight. His heart skipped a beat or two causing a painful crushing sensation in his chest. He watched as they chatted amiably about something or other before the other man touched Harry's shoulder, squeezed gently and Apparated away. Severus waited a few moments before joining Harry who was already busy deadheading the licorice root.

"Hello," Severus said stiffly. He wasn't sure what to say. The lush beauty of the garden seemed incongruous at that moment.

Harry twisted around. "Hello, yourself. Well, what are you waiting for? There are beans over there that need to be picked."

There was a lazy grin on Harry's face, but not that brilliant smile. The smile he'd given the other man. Resigned to the fact that Harry would never be his, Severus nodded and got to work.

Dinner was unusually quiet. It was obvious that there was something amiss. Severus knew Harry had caught wind of it as he watched him fiddle with the hem of his napkin. Severus closed his eyes. It was far too reminiscent of a similar night so many months ago. As he ate slowly, he thought about all of his wasted chances, his selfishness, everything he'd thrown away. What he would give to go back in time. To cherish what had been given to him so freely, what he'd thrown away in equal measure. It was too late now. Of that, Severus was sure. He decided that there was nothing gained by avoiding the inevitable.

"Who was that man?"

Harry dropped his napkin and looked up in surprise. "Man? What man?"

"There was a man standing in the garden with you just before I arrived."

Harry looked down and went back to fiddling with his napkin. "No one," Harry answered neutrally.

Severus huffed. "No one? Well, he was standing awfully close for no one."

"He's just someone from town, Severus. Mr. Straithwaite couldn't deliver the groceries today, so Matthew did."

"Ahh. I see. So he does have a name."

Annoyed, Harry shifted in his seat. "Of course he has a name, Severus. What is this all about?" Harry asked in exasperation, finally looking up.

The fire in Harry's eyes was mesmerizing. Severus hesitated. "Nothing," he said finally, not ready to do what he felt he must.

Harry sighed. "Fine then," he said as he stood and took the plates to the kitchen.

Severus didn't stop him or offer to help. He watched as Harry cleaned up from dinner, banging the pots and pans around in anger as he did so. Severus, for his part, was lost in thought. He wondered if this was how Harry had felt that horrible, horrible night that seemed like a lifetime ago. The pain was incredible. His heart felt as though it might rip in two, or simply burst. Severus couldn't imagine what it had been like for Harry to do what he'd done. Knowing he carried a child by a man who didn't want him. At the time, anyway. But, he couldn't hold onto Harry forever. Not if Harry didn't want him to. As awful as it would be, Severus realized that he cared more for Harry's happiness than his own. He now understood why it had taken Harry so long to respond that night. It hadn't been his simple-mindedness. No, it had been his compassion. His love. His selflessness. How Severus longed to feel such things. That settled it.

Severus watched as Harry shuffled back into the room carrying a glass pitcher, his lips pursed and his cheeks coloured in anger and annoyance.

"I release you," Severus said in a quiet, painful whisper.

The pitcher fell from Harry's hands and smashed into pieces on the stone floor.

Silence reigned.

Harry stared at Severus in shock.

Neither paid attention to the broken glass.

"What?" Harry finally asked incredulously, his voice breaking from surprise, or sadness, or both.

"I release you, Harry Potter. May you find happiness," Severus said again. He watched as Harry continued to stare at him, his face contorted in confusion, his mouth hanging open, his arm and hand still outstretched from holding the pitcher. When he could stand no more, Severus stood abruptly and walked to the door. He hoped, desperately hoped, that Harry would say something, anything. His hand curled around the metal latch, a rather bleak future waiting behind the door.

"I don't want to be released, you bloody fool!" Harry blurted just as Severus opened the door to leave.

Severus felt as though he'd just fallen fifty feet. The adrenaline rush left him shaky. He turned slowly and watched as Harry held himself close, tears clinging to his eyes, his chest heaving.

"I don't want to be released," Harry whispered as he shook his head and sniffed.

"But that man. I saw you with him. You seemed… happy."

Harry shook his head, and mouthed the word "no," while he leaned into his cradling arms. "I don't want to be released. For the love of all that is holy, I don't know why, but I don't want to be released, " he said so softly, Severus almost didn't hear him. Almost.

Severus took a step. Harry moved to take one back, but had no place to go.

Harry seemed to realize what he'd just admitted. "I hate you," he whispered in defense.

Severus heard the unspoken, 'I'm afraid that you'll hurt me again.' Undaunted, Severus took another step.

"I hate you," Harry said again, breathing hard and holding himself closer still.

Severus heard the unspoken, 'Letting go of the anger scares me. Trusting you scares me.' Severus took more steps, never breaking eye contact.

"I hate you," Harry said for a third time. Severus figured Harry really meant it that time—but not in the way it was said. He hated that he loved Severus.

Severus closed the distance and gathered Harry in his arms and kissed him soundly. Harry resisted at first but as the first moan escaped the back of his throat, his grip relaxed and he eagerly returned the kiss. It was a sloppy, unrefined kiss. Certainly not like the controlled and calculated kisses from Draco. Severus thought this one was beautiful and perfect. Like the sunflowers cheerfully crowding Harry's robust dahlias.

"I love you," Severus whispered when the kiss finally ended and Harry's eyes opened. He watched as Harry closed his eyes and let out a shuddering breath before slumping in his embrace.

After getting his breathing under control, Harry looked up. "Do you mean it? Do you understand it?"

Severus nodded.

Harry glanced up and looked at him with his curious expression before pursing his lips and huffing. "Sodding hell," Harry whispered under his breath before he braced his hands on either side of Severus's head and attacked him with fierce, passionate kisses, knocking him backward in surprise.

As they wobbled across the floor and landed unceremoniously on the couch, Severus decided that Harry did love as fiercely as he fought. He decided he rather liked that. He let Harry take the lead with his nips and kisses. He let Harry take control and was soundly rewarded.

That night, Severus made love to Harry for the first time. Severus didn't understand why he'd never done this before. The sheer joy of it was overwhelming. It was he who pulled those beautiful sounds from Harry. Who made his body sing. Who gave him such pleasure. Severus's pleasure was in the giving all over again. The look of adoration in Harry's eyes that Severus used to scoff at nearly made him weep now. That man, Matthew, would never see this expression. It was reserved for Severus alone. That Harry should gift him, Severus Snape, in that way was almost more than he could take. As the last bits of ice loosed their grip on Severus's heart, as the bond thrumming through them renewed, their bodies exploded in tandem. Exploded in heat, and want, and love.

Afterward, when Harry reached up with his tentative touches, Severus ghosted his hands over Harry's, shadowing their movements, guiding them silently and showing them what he liked. When Harry reached up with his gentle kisses, Severus repaid them in kind, murmuring "I love you" between each one. As they fell asleep, limbs still entwined like the honeysuckle in the garden, Severus marvelled at the realization that he was lucky enough to spend the rest of his life with Harry. He was humbled at the realization that Harry would let him.

Severus woke up the next morning to the feeling of Harry's ice-cold feet digging into his calves. He growled in irritation before stopping himself. A second later, he snorted in amusement. Who would have thought that he, Severus Snape, would find Harry Potter's ice-cold feet-sickles endearing? He rolled over carefully and watched Harry sleep. How had he never noticed before how beautiful he was? His flushed creamy skin and sleep tousled hair cried out for soft caressing. Severus complied. As Harry stirred slightly, his cold feet bumping against Severus's legs in the process, a wicked smile crossed Severus's face. Slowly, he peeled back the covers and sat up. He scooted down and pulled Harry's feet into his lap. With great delight, he began rubbing warmth into Harry's feet, leaning over every once in a while and trailing small kisses along an arch. Harry stirred again, inhaling sharply as he finally woke.

"What are you doing?" Harry's sleep thick voice called out. His eyes were still closed.

"Your feet were cold. I'm warming them up."

"Hmmm…." Harry said in response.

Severus knew Harry hadn't really comprehended what Severus had said. He leant down and rotated Harry's right foot so that he could kiss the inside of the arch.

"What are you doing? Are you kissing them? Why are you kissing them?" Harry asked in a high-pitched melodic murmur, eyes still closed, still mostly asleep.

Severus flashed a grin and shrugged. "Inspiration struck. Seemed like the right thing to do."

"Kiss my feet? That seemed like the right thing?" Harry mumbled.

"Yes," Severus said and illustrated the point by pecking the top of Harry's left foot.

"That feels weird," Harry murmured, still clearly half-asleep. He snorted and his eyes finally opened. Severus was surprised that he was continually startled by their intensity. "I never thought I'd see the day when Severus Snape was kissing my feet. Didn't you just usually chuck me over to the cold side of the bed?" Harry asked, arching one brow in a fair imitation of Severus.

"That was a long time ago. It feels like a different life. A different person," Severus said softly. Seriously.

Severus watched as comprehension dawned and Harry realized that Severus was talking about more than warming his cold feet. He heard Harry's breath catch in his throat.

"And what's different now?" Harry asked.

"I'm following my instincts."

"Your instincts?"

"Yes, Harry. Perhaps you've heard of them. Those things that make you do things that require no thought. They just feel right. They're natural. They just make sense," Severus said dryly.

Harry chuckled lightly. "And just what makes sense?"

"You. Me. Together. Always."

Suddenly awake, Harry moved to sit up. He bit his bottom lip and stared at Severus with his curious expression. He held it this time and Severus watched as it blossomed into something else. Somehow, a piece out of place had found its home in Harry's mind. Harry nodded. He drew in a breath, ready to ask a question, but hesitated a moment. Severus got the sense that Harry meant to ask something rather direct. Instead, he asked something else.

"And where do these instincts come from?" Harry asked softly.

Severus stilled his hands and looked directly into Harry's sparkling, yet still sleepy eyes. He could get lost in those eyes. Or, rather, find home in them. Find forgiveness. Redemption. Love.

"They come from lots of places," Severus said equally soft. Severus began moving with a sense of absolute solemnity. He dropped Harry's feet, crawled up and kissed him sweetly, possessively. He poured himself into that kiss. It left Harry breathless.

"Was that instinct? Harry asked as his eyes fluttered open.

"Oh yes. And from the very best place, too."

Severus and Harry were playing word games. Both knew it. Both knew they were dancing around the hard questions that, perhaps, didn't need to be asked anymore. Not directly, anyway.

"Where? Which place?" Harry asked as his hands lightly trailed over Severus's chest.

Severus stilled one of Harry's hands, covered it with his own and placed it over his heart while taking Harry's other hand in his and placing them over Harry's heart. With a gentleness he didn't know he possessed, he said softly, "From the heart, Harry. Mine. Yours. Always from the heart."

Harry bit his lip. "Is it ever wrong, Severus? This instinct?" he asked as he pressed his hand against Severus's chest.

Severus, of course, knew what Harry was really asking. 'Is this real? Do you mean it? Do you really love me? Can I count on you? Can I trust you? Are you going to leave me? Again?'

Severus squeezed the hands held fast by his and stared into Harry's eyes. "No, Harry. Not this one. This instinct is never wrong—only the men who are too stupid or selfish to heed it are." There. He'd done it. He'd finally said what he needed to. With flowery words, he'd made a rather simple statement: 'I was wrong. I am sorry. I don't deserve it, but please forgive me so that I can show you how much I love you for the rest of my days.'

At Harry's smile—the one that opened to only him, just like the shy morning glories trailing along the far wall of the garden, the one that spoke of forgiveness and understanding and love—Severus took Harry's hand and kissed the palm before whispering, "There is no instinct like that of the heart."


Want more of this universe? Check out:

The Thief and the Sorceress
Tea With the Sorceress


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