The war was over. Voldemort was vanquished. The Prophet labeled them heroes. That held little comfort for Harry Potter and Severus Snape as the other Order members drifted away like ghosts. One by one they Disapparated back into the lives they'd put on hold, grateful to put the War behind them, grateful to have lives to which to return. They didn't look back. They didn't want to remember. Neither Harry Potter nor Severus Snape thought they could ever forget. They were the only ones left at the table when the final crack of Apparition sounded.

Grimmauld Place was as dark and foreboding as ever. Harry couldn't wait to be rid of it. He couldn't wait to be rid of so many things. There was one last duty to attend to before he could leave, though. Killing had been easier than having to say the words now lodged in his throat.

"Snape," Harry spat as his fingers traced a gouge in the table made by Kingsley Shacklebolt only six months prior, when things had still seemed grim. It was the same table at which Harry and Sirius had shared jokes and mischief before the War had become real; where he'd learned that Ron and Hermione were gone; where he'd poured out his grief in the middle of the night, alone, for everyone he'd lost.

"Potter," Severus sneered as he crossed his arms and waited.

"You're still a bastard," Harry began.

Severus inclined his head but didn't comment.

Harry licked his lips. Inside he was seething. He would acknowledge that this man, this loathsome, foul bastard, had been instrumental in the downfall of Voldemort, because he had to. That didn't keep the words from burning his tongue and tasting of sulfur as they languished, stuck as they were. "You helped, though. We wouldn't have won without you," he said, glad to have the words expelled from him. He'd swallowed more bitter potions than this. He could do this. He could finish this. "Thank you," he said finally, the bitterest words of all. He thought he might choke.

Severus pursed his lips. "I did this for myself. Not for you."

Harry laughed and shook his head. "Doesn't matter."

They sat in silence. Time passed.

Harry pushed his chair back and snatched his wand from the table, pocketing it as he whipped his robe around him. He turned to leave. Snape said nothing. Harry prepared to Disapparate. He hesitated. It still felt unfinished. His hands gripped the chair in front of him, turning white at the knuckles. "You aren't the man I believed you to be," he said. He breathed. His grip loosened. Warmth he'd not known he was missing settled into his bones. There. Now it was done. Now it was finished. Debts paid. Slates cleaned.

Harry took another step forward. He closed his eyes and pictured where he was going as he prepared to become a ghost himself. There was a small puff of displaced air behind him. A velvet voice startled him.

"Neither are you, Mr. Potter," Severus said. His chair creaked. He'd moved. "I loathe you on your own merits now," Severus said before he Disapparated with a soft snick of sound.

Harry smiled. It made his lips crack and burn. He Disapparated.

Harry stood on the same tall parapet he visited whenever a familiar undefined ache overcame him. He stood with his arms outstretched, his palms facing up, his face thrown back in defiance at the overcast sky. The wind churned around him and held him in its savage embrace. Despite the wildness of it, the danger of it, Harry found a peculiar kind of peace knowing that he was the sole focus of the wind. That it would do with him what it chose to do was a bonus that left Harry breathless.

Until the end of the War, life for Harry had been a dizzying string of moments—events characterized by spectacular leaps from the fanged jaws of death, each colored with tension, anger, and fear. The world watched him through every moment. Harry bore its scrutiny.

But the War was over. Voldemort vanquished. Friends and family—his connection to a world he'd hardly gotten to know—gone. He was anonymous. Forgotten. He had no one, save himself and the wind. Emptiness clawed at him. When he could stand it no longer, he came here, and cast his fate to the fickle winds.

"Is today the day?" Harry taunted as the wind pushed and pulled at him. His breath caught in his throat as the wind pushed harder and knocked him off balance. A frisson of panic flooded him, followed by a spike of bone-deep relief when his body compensated. He shuddered with delight. Harry's laughter barked and bit at the wind. His heart hammered in his chest. He was terrified. He felt alive. "Is that the best you can do?" he screamed.

The wind pushed harder. Harry fell.

A dizzying sense of unreality overcame him as his body rushed through space. He didn't know if he was up or down, left or right, alive or dead, as he tumbled. His eyes were shut tight, and his teeth gritted as his hands and legs kicked and scrambled unconsciously for anything to stop him. There was nothing. A whoosh of adrenaline slammed into him and made him feel as though could fly.

He was about to die. Today had been the day. The wind had won.

Before the wind could collect its winnings, the weight of Dark magic rushed around him, capturing him in its sticky net. He stopped moving. The sensation of freefall tore through his flesh and bones as it continued without him, his cheated death hurtling after it. He couldn't breathe. The endorphin dump made his body twitch and writhe as the net pulled him back towards the sky.

His body slammed into the cold, rough-hewn stone floor of the parapet. His breath was ragged. Every nerve ending felt alive and abraded. Long-fingered hands dug into his shoulders and shook him hard. The sensation was immeasurable. He hadn't opened his eyes.

"What are you doing? Have a death wish on your own time!" a dark voice rasped as the hands shook him harder. Roughened velvet—that was what the voice sounded like. Asphodel and lavender assaulted him, along with other scents he couldn't identify, but the combination was unmistakable. Harry knew these hands, that voice, this combination of smells.

"Snape," he barked with a cough, the endorphin rush dissolving. "I thought you were dead," he said as he tried to loosen himself from Severus's grasp. He would have thought Severus a ghost, but for the pain in his shoulders. Surprising that these were his first words to a man he'd not seen or heard from in five years.

Harry opened his eyes.

His breath caught in his throat. He scrambled to suppress the mad urge to giggle. For a moment—a flash—Snape looked like a dark knight, with his long hair swirling in the wind, his beetle-black eyes piercing Harry, and his black, woolen robes enfolding Harry as too-strong hands continued to grip him. For a moment, Harry felt warm. He never felt warm anymore. Emptiness left him cold. For a moment, he wanted to gather that warmth and never let it go, but then he remembered this was Severus.

"Let go of me," Harry hissed as he pried the hands from his shoulders. "You're a bastard," he snapped. "I thought you were dead," he repeated. It was as though there were no filter in his brain, still addled and upended as it was.

"Not yet, Potter," Severus said with a sneer. "Though, you do like to try and push me into an early grave at every turn, don't you?"

"Why are you here?" Harry asked, not comprehending what Severus had just said, or what it meant, or how unlikely it was that Severus Snape was on this parapet, in the middle of a Scottish moor, by happenstance.

Those same long-fingered, cruel hands gripped him again. Harry refused to cry out. "I am here, you galling, reckless twit, because, once again, I am forced to keep you from yourself," Severus spat as he shoved Harry back into the wall. "I must have been exceedingly evil in a former life to have merited minding you for the rest of my days."

Harry's head knocked hard. The clarity of the pain was welcome. "What?" he asked. "Go away. I don't need minding," he snapped, even as a tendril of warmth settled in his gut.

"You don't have a choice."

"The hell I do," Harry roared, feeling white-hot anger bubble up and push through every pore. It was a clean, passion-filled anger, far different from the poisonous, festering kind he'd lanced and drained away at their last meeting. "Why the hell are you here? Tell me."

Severus sneered. "You are not authorized to know."

"It's my life. I have a right to know!"

"It has never been just your life," Severus said with one final push before Disapparating with a loud crack.

Harry screamed.

The door looked as though it had been through Muggle and Wizard wars alike, what with its deep gouges and scrapes and patchy sections of peeling blue paint. Harry checked the address again. He looked around the gray, murky street called Spinner's End. He smirked as he withdrew his wand and blasted the door from its hinges.

It had taken him three weeks to track down Severus Snape. He'd thought about him every free moment, wondering why Severus had been there that day on the moor. He'd come to the realization that Severus had been watching him—watching him for a long time. A paradoxical jumble of emotions bubbled and gurgled through Harry every time he thought about Severus stalking him like a deranged angel of death, watching over him. Protecting him. For now, though, he wanted to know why. He would get his answer.

Harry strode through the door, smirking at his imaginings of a cowering, surprised Snape. Perhaps Harry would find him crouching behind a settee, trembling with fear? Delightful images whipped through his mind's eye as he stumbled into a cramped sitting room.

To Harry's dismay, Snape was neither cowering nor surprised by his visit. Instead, Harry found Snape sitting in a large armchair, sipping brandy, and reading a book. He didn't look up. It was as if he'd been expecting Harry.

"If you wanted to come for tea, Potter, you should have just owled me," he said as he set down his glass with a delicate clink. He still didn't look up. "Repair my door. Now," he said, as he turned the page.

The world lurched a bit to the left. This was not the way this was supposed to happen. Harry wanted to scream, to strangle, to … to … oh, fuck, not that—he didn't want to do that, not with him. Harry stopped breathing for a moment as he felt a strange squirming sensation low in his stomach. Bloody fuck! That tendril of warmth had returned. With friends. Harry shifted uncomfortably. He couldn't sort it out. He reached out to stop the world from tipping a little more, but snatched only air, and anger. "Why are you following me?" he demanded, focusing on the anger. The squirming sensation abated.

"That is none of your affair."

"It most certainly is, you miserable sod. You don't have the right to follow me around, skulking in the shadows. What are you? Some sort of Auror? Unspeakable? A human bat?"

Severus put his book down with a sigh. He looked up. "And what if I was an Unspeakable, Potter? What would you say then, hmm?"

Harry floundered. Harry didn't like floundering. After all, he'd killed Voldemort and battled foul spirits and magical creatures before breakfast. He was a man—not a wide-eyed schoolboy whose head was stuffed full of fey tales about love and protection. Those were make-believe. This was reality. And yet Severus Snape always, always sent him reeling. "That's impossible," he said.

Severus snapped his book closed, his finger still marking the page. "Is it?" he asked in that dangerous whisper of his. "I most certainly could be an Unspeakable, and you," Severus began, saying the word 'you' as if it were a disgusting thing, "make for a prime long term assignment. Imagine, Potter, that the Ministry thinks you too valuable to leave to your own devices, what with your cavorting with danger. As long as you continue to make the same, stupid decisions, there will always be cause to watch you. I've spent the better part of my life keeping you from doing yourself in. Perhaps the esteemed Minister didn't think another hundred years or so of the same would be much of a chore for me. He obviously hasn't met you." Severus retrieved his book and began reading again. "Repair the door on your way out. Do not return," he finished, punctuating his words with the turn of a page.

Harry stood there and swallowed, feeling the ground beneath him slip away. He looked down, surprised to see his feet still planted on the shabby carpet. His mind raced as it worked through everything Severus had just said. He was an Unspeakable, assigned to track Harry. He didn't understand. The Ministry had given him his medal and promptly turned its back—he was a reminder of a time the world would rather forget. Why assign an Unspeakable to him?

"You may leave, Mr. Potter," Severus said as he turned another page, the smug satisfaction of dismissing Harry dancing across his thin lips. "A nice mahogany will do for the door, if you believe your permanent transfiguration skills up to task."

"Sod the door!" Harry roared, taking another step into the room, surprised again when he didn't tumble into ether. "Unspeakables work in the lowest level of the Ministry, mucking about with brains, and time, and things. They don't follow Wizards to Scottish moors. What are you really playing at?"

Snape put his book down again, as if it were a great inconvenience. "That is where you are mistaken, Potter. Unspeakables research the imponderable and impenetrable mysteries of existence and magic. Unspeakables explore those mysteries. You have the good fortune of being quite imponderable."

Harry heard the insult buried in the words.

"Your magic, your very existence, is quite perplexing." Severus sniffed. "One would think you'd be quite used to being pinned under the glass. Now, get out. Mahogany, remember."

Harry fumed and thought about how satisfactory it would be to drive sharp knives into Severus and the sodding book meriting more of Severus's attention than he. The tick-tock of some faraway clock became infuriatingly loud, as did the rustle of the damned delicate pages. Harry sputtered silently, his jaw working up and down as if trying to dislodge a large piece of taffy. He turned on his heel, cast a permanent transfiguration spell without looking back, and left. So Severus was assigned to him. Permanently. Well, Harry would make sure that the good Minister got what he paid for.

Severus didn't move until the last echo of Harry's Apparition faded. He put down his book and swallowed. For once fate had smiled on him and he'd had the drop on Harry. He shuddered at the thought of being caught unawares by such an impossibly cheeky brat.

Severus slumped into his chair. What was he doing? This was a dangerous game he was playing—had been playing for all these years now, watching Harry, protecting him from one reckless stunt after another as he drifted from assignment to assignment with little more than reckless swagger. Harry was addicted to the danger, Severus guessed. And why not? His whole life was held together by a long string of near-misses and spectacular escapes, all occurring under the obsessive watch of the Wizarding World.

There was no one watching now. No one left to care. Except for Severus, though Harry didn't know that. Severus snorted. There was such kinship between them, though neither would admit it. Both simply carried on doing all that they knew to do. Harry continued to rid the world of dangerous things. Severus continued to watch and keep him safe.

It had started so innocently—the watching, the guarding. It was the only way he was useful. Severus longed to be useful. It became something altogether different as time went on. The reality of what he was doing made him shudder with madness and delight. He wanted to hate Harry, but he couldn't. He couldn't let him go. Nothing worked the way it was supposed to, or went the way it was supposed to, or felt the way it was supposed to, when Harry Potter was there, invading Severus's thoughts and his dreams.

Severus shifted in his seat and growled. He retrieved his book and took his brandy in hand. He stared at the page. He saw nothing, save the memory of Harry's flushed skin, the snap of fire in his eyes, his pink lips twisted in outrage. He snapped his book closed at idle thoughts about what those lips would look like twisted in pleasure.

Harry thought he might have liked the breeze from the swaying palms under different circumstances. He'd gotten a call. Someone wanted something done with a Lethifold in a small Muggle village in Barbados. One thought of Severus suffering through Barbados heat in black wooly robes was all the incentive he needed to take the job.

Lying in the sand, alone, pretending to be asleep, Harry wondered if he should have done a little more research. The paragraph or two he'd read now seemed a bit thin. How exactly was he supposed to see a half-inch black cloak skimming along the ground in the pitch black? He tried to take solace in the thought that Severus was somewhere, lurking, sweating, and no doubt cursing Harry's very existence. There was no solace, however, in the itchy, sticky sand.

Harry heard a rustle of underbrush in the distance followed by a low, slurry swish. His heart started thumping. His body vibrated with tension. His hand gripped his wand. He could feel the adrenaline rush about to hit.

"Ready to play, Snape?" he whispered, preparing to cast his Patronus.

Something slimy and heavy began to slither up his legs. The Lethifold had fallen for his ruse. Harry smirked at his cleverness as he prepared to cast. It was then that he realized just how much he'd underestimated the situation. There wasn't one Lethifold, there were two, possibly three, and one of them clung to his right hand and weighed it down as it slowly began to devour him. He struggled to move his hand, but he couldn't. He couldn't cast.

Harry wanted to scream at his own idiocy. He'd done no research. He'd taken the client at his word. He'd been too focused on Severus's discomfort when he'd accepted this job. He would pay for his spite this time. The Lethifolds advanced. Harry's breath went cold in his chest. He couldn't move, he couldn't speak, he couldn't do anything but feel the weight of those phantom creatures as they devoured him. By sheer force of will he tried to cast a wandless, nonverbal Patronus, but his concentration was wrecked. He could do nothing but feel as things began to gray out.

Jarring images assaulted him. Bright white lights surged and whirled. Spikes of pain tumbled through him. The sound of bells, the rush of the waves, the erratic thump of his own heartbeat, and the boom of a voice, spun around him as if distorted through a jumble of sea glass.

And then the world rushed up to meet him with one thrilling, excruciating whoosh. Cruel hands, familiar smells, comforting, wooly robes, and a roughened velvet voice cut through the fog.

"I am tired of this. Do you hear me? Tired," the voice was yelling as the hands shook him hard.

The voice sounded plaintive to Harry, and the hands felt anguished, not angry. But that didn't make sense. He couldn't catch up; things kept slipping away. The hands shook him harder. The voice spoke with more urgency. "You are a loathsome child with no regard for others. I'll not have it! Not anymore!" Severus bellowed with a hard shake.

"Snape. I thought you were dead," tumbled from Harry's mouth, his mind unfiltered and blank as it gloried in the dizzy sensation of being snatched from the jaws of death once again. An overwhelming sense of relief washed over him, leaving behind warmth and pleasure in its wake. Harry leaned into the hands holding him. He had to get closer to those hands, to that warmth. He nuzzled his cheek against sharp knuckles. "I thought you were dead," he said again, not having any idea why he was saying such a thing.

He felt himself jerked to his feet. His sagging body was pulled close into hot, scratchy robes. Long, thin arms embraced him. He thought about protesting, but the warmth called to him like a siren's song. He pressed himself closer still, until he could feel the fine tremors racking Severus's body. He wondered where they'd come from.

"You want a thrill?" Severus hissed in Harry's ear.

Harry made some sort of sound in response. He tried to twist away, but he felt shaky and uncoordinated and Severus's warm, protective body was too enticing. He moved closer. He rubbed against the scratchy robes, delighting in them—their texture sent wave after wave of tingling chills. He couldn't stop himself, even as he was becoming aroused, he couldn't stop himself. He had to be closer. This body had saved him again, and again, and again. This body, he, Severus was always there. The reason why didn't matter.

Harry rubbed harder. He pressed. He moaned. He was hard. Harry should have been horrified, but he found he didn't care.

On some distant level, he recognized the moment Severus realized he was aroused. Severus's body stiffened. He inhaled sharply and held it as if deciding what to do. A hand left the small of Harry's back and snaked between their bodies. Harry shuddered. The hand closed over his cock and squeezed. Harry moaned and rubbed harder.

"You want danger?"

Harry moaned again. A million pins pricked his skin, ice water shot through his veins.

"You want to walk on the edge of death? You'll know that walk by the time I'm done with you," Severus hissed again, before pulling Harry tight against him and Apparating them to his bleak little house on Spinner's End.

Before Harry could register the nausea from the Apparition, the shock of coming down from his adrenaline rush, or that he'd become hard in Severus's arms after he'd saved him from the Lethifolds, his clothes were stripped from him and a length of silk wound round his neck. Severus pushed him into a chair, stood behind him, and pulled on the silk. Harry's hands drew up instinctively. They were slapped away.

"Oh no, you don't. You want to play? Let's play," Severus said as he pulled tighter still.

"Please," Harry gurgled, though he didn't know what he wanted. The silk tightened. Harry couldn't breathe. Only the barest whisper of breath whistled and wheezed through him. He struggled and tried to pull at the silk, only to have his hands slapped away again.

"I am tired of watching you fling away your life as if it didn't matter," Severus barked as he used his magic to tie Harry's ankles to the chair. He was rough. It hurt. But that only made it better. Harry licked his lips. He struggled. He couldn't say anything.

"From now on, when you want to dance on the edge you'll come to me, is that clear?" Severus asked as he pulled the silk at Harry's throat tighter. "No more parapets. No more Lethifolds. No more assignments for which you are grossly unprepared. Do you understand me?"

Harry nodded as he reached up again. His hands were knocked away.

"Stop that. You'll need those hands soon enough."

Harry was lightheaded. His heart thumped uncomfortably in his chest. He had no idea what was happening or why, but didn't care once something warm and wet moved up and down his cock. He was hard again. A frisson of sexual excitement interwove with his terror. Sex had never been a party to his private dare-deviling, but Harry didn't think he could imagine it any other way now. His head lolled back into the silk twining around his throat. He was freefalling through time and space and never wanted it to end.

Severus curled Harry's hand around his cock. "Move it. Make yourself come," the voice, Severus, barked as he rhythmically pulled and twisted the silk, never giving Harry respite.

Harry complied, completely unconcerned that Severus Snape was choking him with silk while forcing him to masturbate.

"That's it. Just like that. You stop and I stop, do you understand, Harry?"

Harry did understand. It was to be a race, then, a glorious game of chicken. Excitement burned through him as his hand slid up and down. Severus understood him—understood what he needed.

He attacked his task with gusto. There was no resistance—something slick and warm covered his cock while the dry, chaffing silk twined around his throat and rubbed with the same insistent pressure. He drew his hand up and down again and again and again and again. Harder. Faster. He couldn't breathe. He was dizzy—by Gods, he was gloriously dizzy. He wanted to let go, he wanted to breathe properly, but then his balls tightened. Harry would not be the first to let go. The silk pulled harder, choking him further, as if reminding him of the stakes. Harry struggled, but he didn't let go. He didn't stop.

"You want to hover at the gates of death?" the voice asked as the silk drew tighter still. "I'll take you there myself, you ungrateful bastard, and then I'll haul you back just the same. That's it. Shameless, aren't you. A dirty, shameless little boy too addicted to danger to know what's good for him."

Harry wheezed and shivered. His chest heaved and his heart threatened to burst. But not before he came. This was a level of excitement he'd never known. One pull, two more, and finally, finally, finally, he came. His world splattered and bounced and whirled. His back arched until it was bent almost double and his mouth gaped open in a rictus of pleasure as the silk squeezed impossibly tight and his ankles strained against their lashings. His throat closed completely. As the last pulse of pleasure was wrenched from him, he tumbled into the pleasant haze of unconsciousness thinking, surely, he was dead.

Harry woke surrounded by soft white covers and pillows. He thought he might be in heaven, but with one swallow the previous night came rushing back. His fingers ghosted across his throat. He winced. It hurt to breathe.

"Awake, are we?" the roughened velvet voice called from the other side of the room.

Harry turned towards it. "Snape," he croaked.

"Yes, yes … you thought I was dead," Severus said with a hint of amusement.

Harry snorted and then coughed, both actions making his throat hurt more. "Dunno why I keep saying that," he rasped. He laid back and closed his eyes. It was easier to deal with the world when he didn't have to look at it too closely. He heard the creak of the wooden chair and the clink of potions vials. A small goblet was shoved into his hand.

"Drink. It will help."

Harry did. "Thank you," he said sometime later. "Why?" he asked later still.

Severus sighed. "Because you needed an object lesson."

Harry snorted. It didn't hurt this time. "What? In kinky sex play? Never figured you for the type. I didn't know that Unspeakables were trained to take their jobs so, ah, personally."

"Unspeakables are trained in a great many things. As for your question, however, I was required to dispose of three Lethifolds last night because you thought it more fun to make me miserable than to actually take your 'job' seriously. Don't deny the reason you took that ridiculous assignment."

Warmth settled in and made Harry's cheeks flush. "I didn't ask you to do that."

"No, you didn't, but you would have died, otherwise. Devoured, Potter. Nothing left. Or, did you skip that bit in your haste to make me miserable in the tropics?"

Embarrassment joined the other heat suffusing Harry's cheeks. He was glad his eyes were still closed.

There was a slight rustle of fabric. The bed dipped. The voice was much closer now. "Do you remember what I said?"

Harry tried to turn away. What felt like long, thin pincers grasped his chin and turned his head. "Do you remember? Do you?"

Harry struggled to remember anything concrete. "Dancing . . . something about dancing," Harry murmured, when the pincers shook him. The hazy memory sped up, doubled back, and hovered, waiting for Harry to catch up. Harry gasped. He shook his head and opened his eyes. "You want me to come to you?" he asked, questioning Severus's motives as well as his sanity. "Once was enough, thanks."

"You think so," Severus said as he pushed a small length of blue silk into Harry's hand.

Harry's breath sped up and he could feel arousal curling deep, crouching, waiting to spring. He clutched at the silk. He couldn't stop staring at the silk.

"When you are feeling particularly reckless, you'll come to me, here, with that, and I'll take you where you need to go. You'll have my complete attention."

Harry was trembling. He felt cold. "Why would I do that?" he asked.

Severus's only response was a sneering smile. Harry could see it out of the corner of his eye.

"Why would you want that?" Harry clarified.

Severus's smile threatened to cleave his face in two.

Harry nodded as if he understood, though he didn't, at least not why he was still aroused. By Severus. "I don't understand. This makes no sense," he said as much to himself as to Severus.

"That's what makes it fun. Exciting. Dangerous," Severus whispered. "See yourself out," he said before leaving.

Harry didn't watch him go. His eyes hadn't left the blue silk spilling into his hands and across the snow-white duvet.

Harry didn't want to go back. He didn't want to need Severus—or anyone—like that. He told himself every morning that he didn't need it, didn't need Severus, even as the gnawing emptiness grew. He told himself lies as he slipped the little piece of blue silk into his pocket every morning. He ignored the fact that he caressed the silk in his pocket throughout the day, staggering from the jolts of electricity he felt from the sense memory of that night.

Small tremors of desire gave way to unquenchable thirst. Still he denied himself. Then, he found himself on the parapet. The wind felt cold, distant, inadequate. Harry swore under his breath as he fingered blue silk and pretended not to notice the warmth curling in his gut. He left. He couldn't avoid it any longer. He went back to Severus.

"Mr. Potter," Severus said as he opened the door.

Harry pressed the tatty bit of blue silk into Severus's palm and stepped back. He begged with his eyes and his trembling body. He couldn't say the words. Severus didn't make him.

"Come inside."

Harry licked his lips and glanced around, not quite willing to cross the threshold.

"It must be your choice," Severus whispered in the roughened velvet voice that made Harry shiver and feel hot at the same time.

Harry closed his eyes. He took a step forward and felt the world tip a little to the left. He couldn't breathe. Why could he never breathe around Severus? Just as dizziness started to overtake him, Severus swooped down, covered him, drew him in, and anchored him to his new reality.

"It's all right," Severus said.

Harry nodded. He allowed himself to be led back to that snow-white room.

"Undress," Severus said as he turned and rummaged through a wooden trunk pushed against the far wall.

Harry stood there for a few moments, processing the command—for that was what it was, a command. He knew he could ignore Severus. He could walk through the door and leave. His feet felt rooted to the floor—good thing, since the world was starting to spin again. He nodded and then rolled his eyes. Severus couldn't see him. It hadn't occurred to Harry to say anything.

Harry removed his robe and let it drop to the floor. He took a deep breath. His hands were sweaty. He eyed the door. His fingers trembled as he began to unbutton his shirt.

"Not the shirt. Leave the shirt," Severus said as he found what he was looking for in the trunk.

Harry nodded again, wondering, vaguely, how Severus had known he'd started with his shirt. Harry undid the zip of his trousers and pushed them down. Slowly. There was nothing remotely erotic about this so far, and yet, Harry's cock stirred in interest as he pushed his pants down as well. Nervous, he lost his balance as he tried to shuck his trousers over his shoes. He fell against the side of the bed. Severus turned, a silver dagger in one hand and a length of black cloth in the other. Harry's breath sped up and burned in his chest. His gaze darted to the door again. Competing desires to leave or to stay and find out what that dagger and black cloth were for left him disoriented. He tried to stand, but overbalanced again, landing against the bed.

Severus strode forward, a calculating gleam in his eyes.

Harry pushed back against the mattress and shook his head "no." Still no words were exchanged.

Severus laid the dagger on the bed and moved forward. Harry didn't notice the movement. His eyes were focused on the dagger. He started when cold fingers trailed the side of this face. The touch was gentle. Harry didn't know what to make of it. He looked up into beetle-black eyes, begging them to release him. Severus stared back, his gaze hard and unflinching.

"You must trust me," Severus said.

Harry swallowed. He shivered as he swiped at the sweat at his brow. Severus hadn't told him that he wouldn't hurt him, hadn't told him that this was just an erotic game, hadn't reassured him in the slightest. He asked only that Harry trust him. Harry snorted, though it sounded more like he was choking. He bit his lip. His gaze darted back to the door. He had that moment—only that moment—to decide whether he trusted Severus Snape.

He looked up and stared into Severus's eyes, as if he could See. Before him stood a man who made no promises he couldn't keep; a man who made no apologies for who he was. He was a bastard, but an honorable and loyal man. He watched over Harry. He kept him safe. No one else had ever done that.

Harry licked his lips. "I trust you," he croaked. He thought he saw a flicker of warmth, of joy, pass through Severus's eyes. He told himself it was a trick of the light.

"Very well." Severus moved closer. "Settle yourself in the middle of the bed."

Harry did as he was told. Seconds later, silver bindings shot from Severus's wand and bound Harry's hands and feet to the bed. They pulled until Harry groaned from the pain. The pain, he noticed, suppressed the terrifying panic shooting through him. He was pulled taut, like a string on a fiddle, waiting to be played. He was at the mercy of this man——the man Harry trusted. Excitement mingled with panic and fear. Warmth flooded him.

Severus palmed the dagger with sharp, efficient movement. He held it in his hand. He turned it so that the back side of the blade faced Harry. He drew it down the side of Harry's face in a mock caress. Harry panted as cold steel and silver grazed his cheek. His head fell back, as if cut away. His eyes closed. The dagger slowed its descent. He felt the heavy weight of it rest on his chest. Before he could open his eyes, heavy cloth wound round them, blinding him. A tight knot at the back of his head jerked his body, jostling the dagger.

The sense of danger, of fear, of excitement, increased ten-fold in the darkness. He shuddered as the dagger skimmed the lines of his body. His cock ached and jumped as the dagger's silver hilt circled it. Harry cried out—his voice rough, his words incoherent.

Severus said nothing as he brought the dagger to Harry's shirt and, one by one, removed each button with a sharp, controlled flick of steel and silver.

Harry's world dissolved as Severus gave him what he needed. He took Harry to the edges of his senses, his boundaries, and pushed past them with abandon. Harry smiled as he cried out again in adrenaline-fueled fright. He relished every hellish, terrifying, orgasmic moment.

Severus stared at the flushed, naked body sprawled on the bed. He trailed his fingers over Harry's eyelids and whispered a spell to bewitch his sleep for a little while longer. He couldn't do these things while Harry was awake. He would never be able to explain them or justify them. With gleeful selfishness, his eyes roved over Harry. For once, Severus felt he had all the time in the world.

He started by repairing Harry's shirt. He took his time. He folded it neatly along with the rest of Harry's clothes. He ran a bath and gathered potions and salves. He ran his hands over Harry's skin, checking—he told himself—for any unseen injury. Harry's wrists and ankles were red and sore from straining against his bonds. His chest and stomach still bore remnants of his completion. Severus's cock twitched at the memory of Harry's gasps, the way his head had tossed back and forth as if it would fly off, the way his body bowed and undulated as the dagger's dull edge traced the lines of his body as it circled and circled his cock until Harry had come. Harry had never been in danger—Severus made sure of that—but he'd given him the illusion of danger, had given him what he needed.

Severus's fingers carded through Harry's damp hair, pausing to trail around the delicate shell of his ear. His hand wound its way to the back of his neck, the other arm snaked under Harry's bottom. He picked him up, enjoying the weight of him in his arms. He took him to the waiting bath and washed him with a soft sponge and soap that smelled of spring. He took his time.

He returned Harry to the soft, white bed in the guest room—Harry's room, now. He rubbed liniment in his wrists and ankles and anywhere he thought Harry might be sore. He dressed him in a soft nightshirt and enfolded him in the soft, white, downy covers.

He watched him sleep for a time. The moon began to set. He hadn't much time. He left before morning.

Harry woke later. Morning, perhaps. Alone. Swaddled in the soft, white duvet. He felt the bit of blue silk folded and resting in his palm. He lingered, remembering the shattering orgasm he'd had at Severus's hand. His cheeks flushed. His stomach squirmed in a delicious way. He smiled, enjoying the duvet's soft embrace—Severus's embrace. It hadn't occurred to Harry to consider that he was engaging in erotic sex play with another man. Sexual preference hadn't factored into this decision and didn't bother him now. Severus satisfied an ache in Harry that no one else could. It was Severus who had ensnared him—not a man, not a woman, just Severus. Harry let the weight of that admission settle around him, enfold him, and cover him like the warm, soft duvet Severus had swaddled him with.

The soft chime of a familiar, faraway clock roused Harry. He arched his back and stretched. In no hurry to leave, he glanced around and took note of things he'd missed before. It was a guest room, Harry figured. The furnishings were too nondescript to suggest otherwise. A hard, wooden chair stood innocently in the corner. Remembering what had happened on that chair only weeks before made Harry's stomach lurch and his cock perk up in interest. He looked away. The trunk that the knife and black cloth had come from the night before stood in the opposite corner. Harry wondered what else was in there. He was sure he'd find out.

The room—the house—was still and quiet. Harry focused on the cadence of his breathing as his eyes continued to scan the room. He lay there until the rustle of the sheets from his flexing feet became too loud. With reluctance, he unwrapped himself, shivering as cold seeped in.

He noticed he was clean and smelled of some liniment of Severus's making. He looked down. There were no marks from the previous night. He smiled. If there were any—Harry couldn't say for sure what had happened—Severus had healed him. Severus had taken care of him. Lost warmth returned to him.

He dressed in the quiet. He took his time, not anxious to leave. He felt as though he had all the time in the world. His shirt had been repaired, he noticed. His body hummed with contentment. He put the silk back in his pocket. He took a final glance around before leaving. As he left, he called out, "See you," to the empty rooms. He knew that Severus had heard him, though. He knew he'd come back.

It was easier to go back the second time. Easier still the third. Harry went back again and again and again, no longer noting how many times he'd been there before. Harry found he no longer cared that Severus was only doing what he did out of some bizarre devotion to duty.

Harry wasn't sure when things between them shifted. He wasn't sure when he began to linger afterward while they shared a drink and conversation. He wasn't sure when they began to touch each other outside of their games, when they began enjoying companionable silence. He couldn't say when the desire to go to the edge of his senses with Severus became as important as the desire to simply be in his presence. That was the most shocking thing of all.

When Harry started daydreaming about sharing a meal with Severus while they discussed the day, he knew things were different. When he noticed that the flashes of joy and warmth in Severus's eyes were more frequent and were always, always directed at him, Harry knew things had changed. The daydreams weren't idle thoughts; the glances weren't mere tricks of light. They cared about each other. That realization sent Harry into a spiral of emotional asphyxiation that, when he'd recovered, left him feeling as though the world had begun anew.

It was a conversation that confirmed their status as lovers, though. It happened on an otherwise mundane night. They'd shared a meal together—nothing more. They sat before the fire as they'd taken to doing. Barely touching. Staring into the flames. Harry happened to look down. Severus's forearm was bared, the Dark Mark still marring translucent flesh.

"Why did you become a Death Eater?" Harry blurted.

Silence answered him for a long while, occasioned only by the snap and crackle of the fire. Severus stared into his glass. Harry was sure he'd not heard the question. He hadn't the bravery to repeat it. He looked away.

"How did you feel," Severus began, still staring into the glass as if Seeing, "when that bumbling oaf Hagrid knocked down your door, told you that you were a wizard, and whisked you away from the Muggles?"

There were times that Harry wished he'd not shared so much of his past with Severus. "Like for the first time I belonged," Harry tossed off, irritated that Severus had sidestepped his question to ask his own.

Why bring the Dursleys into this? He'd not confided in Severus so that his secrets could be flung in his face later. He was so caught up in his ruminations, he nearly missed Snape raising his glass in salute before he swallowed its contents. It took a few minutes to work out, but Harry realized what Severus was trying to tell him.

"You can't—look, those two things—How dare you compare those things! They aren't remotely the same. You knew the world around you, you knew, and still you made your choice," Harry said.

"Did I?" Severus wondered aloud. He slammed his glass down and turned towards Harry, pinning him with his gaze. "Let me tell you what I knew, Harry. I knew that the Dark Lord offered me something that no one—no one—had ever offered me before. We lived in a world with a stodgy government overrun with ideas that tore at the fabric of our world. It was a world that never did me any justice, never gave me a moment's consideration."

"You are a half-blood, same as me. How could you… how could you follow him knowing what he meant to do?" Harry cried, feeling rancorous anger bubble up within him.

"It wasn't just about the Muggleborns, or the Muggles, or the half-bloods," Severus roared. He leaned forward, almost touching Harry. "It was about a return to when the Wizarding World was glorious and I was invited to be a part of that. I was… I was–" Severus halted. He leaned back. His body sagged.

Harry closed his eyes. "You were accepted," he murmured.


"That doesn't make it right," Harry said without rebuke.

Severus swirled what remained in his glass. He turned and faced the fire. "This isn't about that," he said cryptically.

Harry wondered just what it was they were doing, what this was really about if not a dissection of right and wrong. Harry looked at Severus. He wondered what they were doing. What this was about. Who this was about. He wondered if this was about them.

"How did you know you were right?" Severus questioned, jarring Harry from his whirling thoughts.

Harry started to toss off, "Of course I was right," but didn't. He couldn't do that, not if this was about them. "I just… I mean…." Harry shifted in his seat. He chewed the inside of his cheek. He knew the answer; he just didn't want to give it. "I just believed," he whispered. "It sounded right," he said, wincing at how naïve the sentiment was in retrospect.

Severus nodded. His fingers traced the rim of the glass. "You forsook the world you knew, the authority you knew, the truths you knew, because someone offered something better, someone made you feel special, someone made you feel that you belonged, even though the entire world you knew told you that you were wrong."

"That world hurt me," Harry lashed out without thought. He turned away from Severus's nodding head. "That doesn't make us the same. I would never have followed a maniac like that."

"No, of course not. You would only follow a man so excruciatingly noble in his sacrifice that," Severus cut a sideways glance at Harry, "you would force him to drink poison because he asked it of you… or, perhaps, send him hurtling from a tower with an anguished Avada Kedavra because he begged for it," Severus said, trailing off to a bare whisper.

They sat in silence for several moments.

"Of course, it was all for our own sakes rather than his own. Forced to kill so that you may live. Nothing maniacal about that." Severus swallowed what was left of his drink and slammed the glass down.

Pain cut deep into Harry. His hands balled into fists as his face flushed with anger and hurt. A ragged, "How dare you?" tumbled from his mouth before he could stop himself.

"I am not casting blame, Harry," Severus said in a soft voice that brought Harry short. "I am merely explaining."

"You think we're the same. We're not the same."

Severus laughed. It was a throaty, rich sound. Harry liked it, though not in this context. "Quite right, Potter. We are not the same, but we are not so very different, are we?"

"Hmm," Harry said, conceding a truth he'd long avoided. Warmth settled around him at the admission. It was rather like the feel of Severus's heavy cloak that he'd found himself wrapped in a few times.

"You were on the right side. And you struggled for years to prove it, didn't you? I'm afraid we made it rather difficult on you," Severus continued.

Harry didn't respond. He stared into the flames.

"Do you ever feel like the world has left you behind?" Severus asked, a circumspect tone to his voice.

Harry looked down. He knew exactly how that felt. "Yeah. Yeah, I do."

Severus nodded as he poured another glass and offered some to Harry. Harry took it. They sat there for a long while saying nothing. The warmth of the brandy, the fire, Severus—lulled him. He felt settled. He cast a glance in Severus's direction and, once again, saw a different man than he thought he'd known. He cared for him. The world spun a bit and Harry almost giggled.

Harry shifted closer. "You switched sides, though," he said, meaning it as a measure of comfort.

"Yes. I traded the wrong master for the right one," Severus said, still peering into the flames.

Harry had the sudden urge to touch him, to comfort him, as Severus had done for him. His words, his thoughts, felt fumbly and chaotic, though, so he leaned forward instead. He touched Severus's hair and wound a few strands in his fingers, tugging gently. Severus turned to him, startled by the gentle touch, his gaze questioning.

"Doesn't matter. You changed sides. You gave it up when you saw where it was headed, where it was really headed. That was far harder than anything I ever had to do." Harry hesitated. He pecked the side of Severus's head because he felt like it. "You're… you're a good man," he said, surprised that the words came as easily as they did.

Severus inhaled sharply. Harry nodded to say that he meant it. Severus's hand grazed the side of Harry's face. His fingers trembled as they ghosted across. Harry shivered.

"But I'm still a bastard," Severus whispered with a quirk to his lips.

Harry laughed, not caring a bit that the world he'd known was fading away. "Yes, still a bastard."

They stared at each other, both thinking the same thing. Harry accepted Severus; Severus accepted Harry. Something flared between them. The world receded in soft ripples until only they remained.

Harry moved first. He caressed the side of Severus's head for a moment before attacking him with a spontaneous kiss full of confusion and sorrow and joy and acceptance. It was the first time he'd kissed Severus. For a moment, he was terrified that Severus would push him away.

Harry relaxed as thin, strong arms twined around him and pulled him closer. He sighed as long fingers carded through his hair and pulled gently. He moaned as Severus's tongue darted in and out and took over.

The kisses became frantic, the pulling less gentle. They panted, they moaned, they tore at each other's clothes, they knocked over glasses of brandy as they rolled onto the floor. They stopped. For all of the things they'd done—the forced masturbation, fellatio, breath play, knife play, and everything else—they'd not done this, they'd not pleasured each other for pleasure's sake.

Green searched beetle-black. They decided. No games this time. No stages on which to play their parts. Though not ready to open themselves to each other completely—too many barriers still existed—they were ready for this. They tumbled towards ecstasy as they kissed, and moaned, and touched, and licked, and drew pleasure from each other as their bodies rubbed and their cocks slid against each other. They soared as they frotted and cavorted, they came with roughness and incoherence, they floated down in a mishmash of flesh and bone.

Harry looked over at Severus's sleeping form, marveling at the beauty he saw there. His hand reached out and ghosted across his cheek. He took his time as he catalogued each line, every scar, every quirk of his lover. Lover. The word made Harry feel giddy and dizzy and completely out of his mind. It was a far lovelier feeling than he would have expected. He wondered how far they might fall together. Harry wondered for the first time in a very long while if fey tales could come true.

He smoothed the white duvet and tucked Severus in. He wanted to make sure he was warm. Severus deserved the same amount of warmth he gave Harry so freely. He clutched Severus to him, closed his eyes, and slept.

Harry crept along the dark corridor. The house was like a tomb. A fetid breeze assaulted him from the left. He checked the grip on his wand. He was looking for a banshee, but something felt off. But he was here now, he'd come this far, and he had Severus.

"This one's going to be fun, isn't it?" Harry whispered. He'd been having his one-sided conversations with Severus for months now.

A creaking floorboard to his right startled him. Harry swallowed and licked his lips. "What was it you told me about banshees? That's right, don't listen to her. Cast a sound muffling charm straight away. How does that one go again? That really fancy one," he asked the silent hallway, taking comfort in the thought that Severus was lurking somewhere, keeping him safe.

A door slammed. Harry spun to the right. He raised his wand and the Muffling Charm was on his lips, but there was nothing there. The real threat came from his left. The banshee had caught him unawares. Ice-cold, skeletal hands gripped his shoulders. Harry turned and knocked the hands away. The banshee was less than a foot from him. Her floor-length black hair began to sway in tandem with her tatty, soiled robes as she opened her mouth. Her discordant warbles assaulted Harry, stunning him momentarily. It was as if every ounce of warmth, of life, of existence, began seeping out of him in hazy, off-color tendrils. He shivered. He struggled to raise his wand, tried to think of the Muffling Charm, kicked at her ghostly visage in hopes of fighting her off physically, but it was no use. Her warbles were morphing into cries, soon to become the screaming lament that would kill him. Harry started to panic. "Severus will come," he thought to himself as his heart pumped faster and the banshee advanced. "Severus will come," he thought again, willing it so.

Severus didn't come. Severus wasn't there. Harry was alone.

Harry couldn't think about the implications of that at the moment. He broke free of the stunned sensation wrought by the banshee and the realization that Severus would not help him that day. He gritted his teeth, thought of the Muffling Charm, raised his wand, and put every ounce of power he had behind it. Purple light shot from the tip of his wand and circled the banshee, creating a web of light. The web snapped tight just as she began to scream. Harry jumped to the side as she advanced again, intending to ensnare him within the web.

Death was closer to him now than it had ever been. His body was shaking and cold sweat had broken across his brow. His legs felt rubbery and his lungs burned.

She took another step and Harry shook himself.

He had to finish this. He backed away and fumbled through his pockets for the potion that would dissolve her. He couldn't find it. He couldn't find it!

She continued to advance. His back hit the wall. She was almost on him, her gnarled hand reaching out to grab him and pull him under.

Finding the bottle at last, he threw it at her feet and screamed, "Consummatum mortem! Ad undas!"

The banshee wailed in agonizing silence as the vapors from the broken vial curled around her like tight bands of steel and squeezed and squeezed until she was nothing more than a trail of silver and purple flecks. It was the most surreal thing Harry had ever witnessed. And then a great roar of sound swirled around them. An ill wind swept through the hall, nearly unseating Harry as it blew around him. It gathered the trail of silver and purple flecks, twisted and twisted and twisted until it was a tight spiraling vortex, and then shot through the closest window taking the banshee to the waves, back to hell. The echo of her screams lingered for a moment before dissipating.

Silence crashed through the manor, forcing Harry to brace himself against the wall. The world seemed hazy. Bright spots of purple and silver danced in his vision. Harry realized he wasn't breathing. He forced himself to take in great gulps of air. His lungs burned anew. He slid down the wall, the weight of what had just happened slipping down and settling over him like a mantel. He closed his eyes and pressed his arms around him. He couldn't stop shivering.

Anguished, impatient fists beat at Severus's door as if the hounds of hell threatened to consume the person on the other side. That was the only way Severus could describe the sound as he left his sitting room and sauntered towards the door. He knew who it was. Harry was the only one who came to him. "Back again, are you?" Severus asked in a teasing voice as he opened the door to Harry.

"You weren't there!" Harry screamed as he pushed through and rammed Severus into the wall. He held on tight, refusing to let go. "You weren't there," he cried. Gut-wrenching, dry-eyed sobs racked him. His hands scrabbled for purchase as he fisted Severus's robes. "You weren't there," he said before sliding to the floor, dragging Severus down with him. "Why weren't you there?" he whispered.

"What's happened?" Severus snapped, as he tried to calm Harry and loose himself from Harry's grasp.

"You weren't there," Harry said again. "You're supposed to be there. You're the only one who's ever been there!" he babbled into Severus's robes.

"Harry! What's happened?" Severus asked again as he snaked his hands in between their bodies and grasped both sides of Harry's face. "Look at me, Harry. Are you all right? What's happened? Are you hurt?"

Harry shook his head "no," before hesitating and shaking his head "yes." "Banshee," he finally choked out.

Severus's hands fell away. Cold dread filled him. "Tomorrow. You were supposed to go to the manor tomorrow."

Harry took a deep breath and licked his lips. "Owl. She needed it done tonight," he said before swallowing. His hands relaxed as the hysteria left him. He settled against Severus's chest, not caring that they were sprawled against the wall of Severus's sitting room. The world was spinning off its axis at the moment and only Severus kept Harry from falling off his precarious perch. He sighed when a long-fingered hand carded through his hair and thin lips kissed his forehead. The world slipped back into focus.

"I'm sorry. I didn't know," Severus whispered. He wondered, idly, when holding Harry like this, caressing him like this, kissing him like this, began to feel as natural as breathing. "I'm so sorry," he said again as he pulled Harry closer. Harry felt so very cold in his arms. Severus pulled him closer still, hoping to warm him.

Harry relaxed with each feathered kiss, each murmur of apology, each whispered promise. But it wasn't enough. Harry was still cold. He needed something else. He needed Severus. He pushed his body closer, but it still wasn't enough. "Severus, please," Harry pleaded. "I—I need you."

Severus trailed kisses along Harry's crown. "Are you sure?"

Harry nodded. "Please?" he asked again. There was no offer of silk. There was no need—hadn't been for a long time. The trunk had sat untouched for a very long while.

Severus stood, pulling Harry up with him. He led him to the guest room and seated him on the bed. He gathered Harry in his arms and let his fingers trail down to Harry's erection.

"No, not that," Harry said. He licked his lips. "Just you. Just us."

Severus stared at him, searched him. "What are you saying?"

"I want us to be together." Severus's brows knitted together. Harry hastened to explain further, though he fumbled the words. "I—I want us to, to… make love," he finished in a bare whisper. "Have real sex," he added, in case Severus thought he sounded like a blushing virgin. "We haven't done that. I want that. I need it." Harry couldn't bring himself to say that he needed to feel Severus in him, that it was no longer enough just to press his body against Severus's.

"And what about what I want?"

Harry cocked his head. "You want it too."

Severus felt as if the wind had been knocked from him. It was true, of course, but it wasn't something they'd talked about. Not directly. It… it meant something to them both. A change. A nakedness. No more barriers.

Severus quirked his lip in question. Harry nodded. Severus stepped forward. Harry's mouth turned up at the corners as he scrambled back to make room for Severus. He started to remove his jumper. Severus stopped him. Harry looked up. It was his turn to cast a questioning glance.

Severus stood there. In an uncharacteristic display of indecisiveness, he chewed the inside of his cheek for a moment. The silence was deafening. "Not here," he finally said.

"What?" Harry asked, even as Severus pulled him to his feet. "But the bed's soft," Harry said, hoping that they weren't going to do this on the floor.

Severus shushed him and pulled him from the bed. He led him down the hall, his fingers intertwined with Harry's.

"Where are we going?" Harry asked.

They paused in front of a closed door at the far end of the hallway. "Here, we're going here," Severus whispered in Harry's ear as he opened the door. Severus stepped across the threshold and turned to Harry.

Harry stared at him. He craned his neck so that he could see into the room. It was another bedroom. Unlike the snow-white room, this one was filled with pictures, books, scraps of paper, and personal items. The bed was rumpled and the room looked lived in. It was Severus's bedroom. Harry gasped. He jerked his head back and stared at Severus, asking with his eyes if he was sure. Severus nodded. He meant it. Harry stepped forward.

They stood in front of each other. Waiting. At once, as if they'd choreographed ahead of time, their hands came up, each intent on undressing the other. Harry smirked. Severus's mouth quirked on one side. The tension broke.

"Great minds," Harry said, trailing off. He shivered.

Severus stepped closer, held Harry in the circle of his arms, and slid his hands to the small of Harry's back. "Are you cold?" he whispered with concern as his lips brushed the side of Harry's head.

Harry shivered again, this time from the lingering heat of Severus's kiss. "Not anymore," he said as he leaned into him. His hands crept up and began to unbutton Severus's shirt. Severus didn't stop him.

Harry took his time undressing Severus, kissing and touching every bit of him. Severus moaned as nimble fingers danced and darted across his skin. When his shirt hung loose and open, his hands skimmed Harry's sides and rose up and began their work. Harry's eyes never left his as his fingers undid each button.

Soon they were naked. Just Harry and Severus. Severus leaned in. His lips ghosted across Harry's, tentative at first, then again, again, and again, becoming more insistent each time. Neither could get enough of the other as the air around them churned with anticipation and desire.

Harry moaned as Severus's sharp tongue stabbed and cut through his nervousness. He groaned as he pushed himself closer, desperate to get closer to Severus, to be a part of Severus. His hands scrabbled across Severus's back. They fisted in his hair. Harry kissed back, willing Severus to understand what he needed.

Severus broke away. He stared into Harry's eyes as his trembling fingers skimmed Harry's cheek. One step more and there was no turning back.

"Yes?" Severus asked.

"Yes," Harry said with a soft smile. He tugged on Severus's hand and led him to the bed.

Severus smiled. His eyes lit with joy. He covered Harry's body with his own and kissed him again.

They undulated, they danced, they coupled with fearlessness with every cry, thrust, nip and kiss. They were in each other, part of each other, about each other. There was a sense of recklessness in the way they moved that belied the deliberateness of what they were doing. They opened themselves to the other completely, invited the other in, and enveloped each other in heady warmth. Teeth bit into soft skin. Velvet bed hangings swallowed cries of agonizing delight as the light of the fire bounced across desire-slicked skin. Completion came in riotous color and sound and touch.

After they were spent and sated, their bodies coupled anew, never wanting to be free of each other. A sense of benediction surrounded them. Harry and Severus slept.

Harry woke. Time hung, suspended across the blue velvet bed hangings. Severus's warm weight surrounded him and held him close. His steady heartbeat and rhythmic breathing held Harry in their hypnotic sway. He felt safe. Wanted. Loved. His fingers traced the creases in the soft sheets as he took in everything he saw. There were pictures he couldn't quite see. He made a mental note to examine them later. Severus stirred behind him. He pulled Harry closer and nuzzled the back of his neck. Harry smiled. He never wanted this feeling to go away.

Harry's fingers stopped their tracing.

He never wanted this feeling to go away! Harry gasped. His stomach gave a pleasant lurch, as it so often did in Severus's presence, and Harry clung to Severus's arm, his face split wide with mirth. He was in love—in love—with this man. He was in love. He loved Severus Snape. As Severus's arm curled around him and as supple lips brushed the nape of his neck with soft kisses, Harry knew Severus Snape loved him too.

He made a decision.

Harry strode down the Ministry corridor towards the lift. His heavy black robes snapped behind him, alerting everyone to his presence. Severus would have been proud, Harry thought, as people sputtered and spun and twisted upon catching sight of him. Harry figured that they thought he was dead—after all, he'd not been a part of polite society in years. Or, perhaps, it was his large, silver badge proclaiming that he was visiting the Department of Mysteries that had put people off. He entered a waiting lift. The other man caught sight of him and stared at his badge, gasping. Then, as his eyes drifted upward towards Harry's forehead, the sound of his gasp increased tenfold. He took a step backward and pressed himself against the lift wall. With a smirk, Harry barked, "Level Nine, Department of Mysteries."

A man named Croaker was waiting for Harry at the plain black door to the Department of Mysteries. He looked Harry over and gave a half-grin. "To what do we owe the pleasure, Mr. Potter?" Croaker asked.

"I'm here to speak to whoever's in charge. I've a request to make."

Croaker eyed Harry again and motioned him away from the door. "Come with me, Mr. Potter. I'm the one you need to speak with. There's a small meeting room upstairs that we can use."

Harry looked back at the door to the circular room he'd seen in his fifth year.

Croaker chuckled. "It hasn't changed since you last saw it, I assure you, Mr. Potter," he said as amusement played at his lips.

Harry flushed and ducked his head before remembering that, for today only, he was "Harry Potter," and "Harry Potter" was going to get his way. "Of course, Mr. Croaker," he said with a practiced sniff as he strode towards the lift.

"What can I do for you?" Croaker asked, after they'd settled themselves in the small conference room.

"I'm here about Severus Snape."

Croaker hesitated. "All right."

"I want him taken off his assignment. It's no longer necessary."

Croaker narrowed his eyes. He studied Harry's face. "Forgive me, Mr. Potter. I wasn't aware that you'd become the Minister."

Harry flushed. He fought the urge to rear back, stung as he was. He puffed out his chest instead. "I'm far more important than the Minister," he said with false swagger, cringing inside.

Croaker chuckled. Harry got the distinct impression that he'd seen straight through Harry's ruse. "I suppose you are, Mr. Potter, but what I meant was, only the Minister, or his deputy, has the power to decide where and when Ministry employees work."

Harry sighed. "Yes, but shouldn't the assignment get a say in all of this? Look, I'm telling you his duties are no longer required."

Croaker cocked his head to the side and pursed his lips. "I'm afraid," he began, pausing to shake his head, "you've lost me, Mr. Potter. It's been a long time since another wizard has managed to do that."

Harry blinked. He opened his mouth and promptly shut it. He blinked again. Was Croaker going to make him come out and say it? Well, fine, then. It wasn't as if he had anything to hide. "What I'm saying, Mr. Croaker, is that Severus Snape and I have… have… well, you see, we've begun a relationship, if you must know."

Croaker stared blankly at Harry. He cleared his throat and looked at Harry in such a way that Harry was sure the man thought him a nutter. Harry took umbrage at that. "Look, it's not your business to judge other people's feelings," he snapped.

Croaker moved back a bit. His eyes darted towards the door. "Of course not, Mr. Potter. Tell me, how are you feeling?"

Harry blinked. That was an unexpected question. No wonder people thought Unspeakables were spooky. Harry was tired of this and cut to the heart of it. "I'm fine, except you're driving me mad with these inconsequential questions. Look, I want Severus Snape removed from watching over me or guarding me or, or, whatever it is you Unspeakables do! There is no need for it any longer, especially since we started sharing a bed. I love that man, do you hear, and I'll not be his assignment! Take him off. Now."

Croaker slumped in his chair. His mouth gaped open. His eyes roved Harry's face. "You're serious," he said after a long moment.

"Well, of course I am!" Harry snapped.

Croaker hunched forward and drummed his fingers on the table. He looked like he was trying to find the best way to deliver terrible news. Harry thought of everything Croaker could say and prepared his counterarguments accordingly. Harry braced himself and let the adrenaline wash through him.

"Mr. Potter, Severus Snape isn't an Unspeakable."

Harry hadn't prepared for that argument. "What?" he asked, choking.

Croaker sighed. "Severus Snape isn't an Unspeakable. He is a liaison in our department. He performs invaluable potions research, but he is not an Unspeakable." Croaker hesitated and mulled over whether to say the rest. "And, to my knowledge, Mr. Potter, neither Mr. Snape nor anyone in the Ministry has been assigned to," Croaker coughed, "to guard you."

Harry's stare was incredulous. It made no sense. None of this made any sense. The white walls grayed out as the last fifteen minutes doubled back and played themselves over in some warped parody. Harry's vision slipped a bit and he automatically reached out for Severus. He wasn't there.

"I'm sorry, I think I misunderstood you," a very gray, very unstable Harry murmured.

Croaker gave a sympathetic sigh. "No, I don't think you did. I'm sorry, Mr. Potter," he said as he stood to leave, uncomfortable. "Take all the time you need. Everything we've talked about will remain confidential," he said as he left.

Harry nodded as he tried to focus on the table. He fought the urge to scream, or send a blasting curse at Croaker, or do anything else that would prove he was as unstable as he'd probably sounded. Harry sat there for a long time turning over everything in his mind. Severus wasn't an Unspeakable. That meant Severus had lied to him. Harry loathed liars. His hands gripped the edge of the table in silent rage.

Severus wasn't an Unspeakable. No one was guarding him. The Wizarding World had truly left him behind. Harry's hands loosened their grip.

Severus wasn't an Unspeakable. That meant—well that meant that he'd been watching over Harry, taking care of Harry… loving Harry because he wanted to. Not because he had to. Harry's hands fell away. He started chuckling at the inanity of the situation. Yes, Severus had lied to him. But the purpose of the lie left Harry feeling oddly comforted. Only Severus could make him feel this way. He threw his head back and laughed long and loud, grateful for the Silencing Charm in place.

After a long while, Harry stopped laughing and slumped in the chair. The world was still and quiet. Waiting. He closed his eyes. He drew in a deep breath. "The real question is," he said aloud, "does this change anything?"

Harry's mind turned that question over and over and over. Hours seemed to pass before a wry smile passed across his face. "Severus Snape, you are an unmitigated bastard," he said as he left the Ministry.

Small fists beat at Severus's door in such rapid succession that he was sure his door was being assaulted by a killer band of overlarge hummingbirds. He smirked as he sauntered to the door. He knew that impatient knock.

"Harry," he began as he opened the door, but got no further. A blur of wild, black hair and swirling robes attacked him and knocked him into the wall.

"You sanctimonious, supercilious, smug, lying bastard!" Harry screamed as his hands dug into Severus's shoulders. "Did you think I wouldn't find out? Did you?"

Severus's world tilted to the left and then to the right. Panic gripped him. He didn't know what Harry was talking about. He stalled. "If you're going to insult me, please at least do so without resorting to repetition. You'll find, Harry, that 'smug' and 'sanctimonious' mean much the same thing and 'sanctimonious' and 'supercilious' are kissing cousins, as the phrase goes. Kindly unhand me," he said as he tugged Harry's hands from his shoulders.

"Fuck the vocabulary lesson, Severus. You are little more than a lying bastard, and you know it."

Severus swallowed and turned away. "You call me a bastard so often, Harry, it's hard to know what precisely you mean. As for lying, I have been less than truthful about a great many things. Care to enlighten me as to my transgression?"

Harry's eyes narrowed. "Why are you talking like that? You only talk like that when you're nervous." Harry laughed. "You do know what this is about, don't you?" Harry crowed.

A flash of anger turned Severus around. "I haven't the slightest clue, you moron. Tell me and stop this bandying about!"

"You're not an Unspeakable."

"I never said I was."

Harry's mouth fell open. He looked around, as if trying to discern if he'd come into the right house, if this was the right Severus. "You most certainly did, you miserable sod! We had a whole conversation about it. Right here. While you drank your brandy and read that effing book! Ignoring me."

Severus stepped closer. "You are mistaken. I never said I was an Unspeakable. You inferred that. I simply chose not to correct you."

"So this is my fault, is it?"


"You are unbelievable. Fucking unbelievable!"

"Yes, so you've said, on multiple occasions, but with a different inflection, usually."

"Stop making light of this. I'm angry with you! You betrayed me. You lied to me. You lied, Severus, whether with words or by omission, you lied to me."

Severus stopped and turned away. His heart thumped in his chest. He couldn't breathe. The walls were turning an alarming shade of puce and he felt as though he might sick up. This is what it felt like, then, to lose someone you loved. "So what if I did," he barked at Harry, still turned away from him. "Get out."


Severus turned around. "No? No? Might I remind you that this is my house, Harry. You have leveled your transgressions against me. I've no need to listen to any more. Get out!"

Harry stepped forward and fisted Severus's robes. He pushed him against the wall, knocking over a portrait of some great-aunt. "I will not," he roared. "You can't get rid of me that easily, you bastard. You drew me in, played your little game, you gave me what I needed, you understand me, you are the only one who has ever been there. Ever! So let me tell you something, Severus Snape, you have me forever. Do you hear me?" Harry shook Severus hard. "Forever!" His voice broke, "You have me forever." He laid his head against Severus's chest even as he pulled and twisted at his robes. "You can't make me give you up. Not now. Not after—after… I'm not giving you up, you miserable bastard. You're stuck with me."

Severus blinked and stared down at the mop of wild hair shaking against his chest. He peered around making sure he was, in fact, in his home and had not been unwillingly Apparated to another dimension. "But I lied to you."

Harry reared back, jerking Severus with him by the robes still held within Harry's tight fists. "Yes, you did. You did. But so has every other person in my life. You think lying to me is enough to send me away? Huh? Do you? Dumbledore, the Dursleys, practically everyone in the Order—there isn't a single important person in my life who hasn't lied to me. Consider yourself worthy of the list," Harry snapped. "I only want to know why. Why? Why did you pretend? Why!" Harry's hands loosened.

Severus's robes fell back in place. He righted himself and smoothed them. "I…." Severus's eyes darted to the threadbare armchair beside him. "I'd prefer to have this conversation somewhere a bit more comfortable."

Harry sighed and gestured for Severus to lead the way.

They sat facing each other. Severus had to look away from the green eyes boring into him. He looked into the flames instead.

"I spent the better part of my life as a spy. Every moment of every day was a dangerous game. One slip of the tongue, one wrong glance, and I would have been dead. There was a certain… attraction to that life. It made me feel alive."

Harry nodded. He understood that well.

"And, of course, I was saddled with keeping you alive. You tested me—sorely—on many occasions. Your recklessness nearly got us both killed more than once. And then, you killed the Dark Lord. His followers were rounded up and sent away to Azkaban. There was no need of spies. I… was no longer… useful."

Severus paused. Harry fought the urge to say something.

"That night—the last night we spent at Grimmauld Place—you forgave me a bit, I think."

"I did," Harry whispered.

Severus nodded. "I forgave you a bit as well. And then I left. I started a new life, devoted to potions research for the Ministry. But… I missed… I missed my old life."

"You started following me."

"Yes. I told myself, at first, that it was little more than prurient interest. I wanted …well, I don't know what I wanted. I suppose I wanted to sneer at your good fortune or smile at your misfortune, as the case may be." Severus paused. "You seemed so lonely. It didn't make me as happy as I thought it might."

Harry chuckled.

"And then I noticed that you did the most reckless things—stupid, idiotic, moronic things. You made my blood boil, my heart seize, and my hands tremble with fury. You left me reeling and dizzy—like some demented sense of vertigo—the way you threw your life away at every turn, and for nothing. For nothing!"

Severus swallowed and turned to look at Harry. "It was then that I saw a chance to be useful. The Dark Lord may have been dead, but the great Harry Potter was as reckless as ever, he still needed a keeper. He still needed me. The world still needed me."

"And then?" Harry prompted when Severus seemed as though he might stop.

Severus looked down. "And then it became rather personal, didn't it? I—I started to… think differently about you, I suppose. After the Lethifolds…."

Harry squirmed in his seat, his stomach lurching at the thought of what happened after the Lethifolds. "Yes, the Lethifolds," Harry whispered.

They both looked away.

Harry bit his lip. He closed his eyes. He could feel it inside of him, desperate to escape—words he could say to strangers but never thought he could say to Severus. He was standing on the parapet, taunting the fickle winds of emotion. Would he take the chance? Would he? Yes, he would. He felt as if he were floating. Vertigo, indeed, though this was far stronger, far more potent than anything he'd felt before.

"I'm rather glad about the Lethifolds," Harry said, looking down at his hands. He heard the rustle of fabric and knew Severus was staring at him. He cleared his throat and drew in a deep breath. He looked up and stared into Severus's beetle-black eyes. "Without the Lethifolds," he continued, "I…. I would—" Harry hesitated, the words sticking in his throat. A final gulp of effervescent air dislodged them. "I would never have fallen in love with you, you see."

Severus gasped. His eyes darted over Harry's face, searching for artifice, for mockery. There was none. His body trembled from shock, from panic. From joy. "You… you–"

"Yes, I love you," Harry said again, enjoying the way the words gave him pleasant jolts of dizziness. Mirth bubbled up and popped out of him in soft laughter and smiles. His eyes closed and his head fell back as he floated.

Harry's eyes snapped open at the feel of fingertips grazing his temple. Severus was kneeling before him. The expression on his face made Harry smile all the more. Harry grabbed the hand and brought it to his lips. He kissed it. He laughed. He tumbled to the floor and brought Severus with him. It seemed to take a long time to land. He looked up. Severus was leaning over him. His fingers were grazing the side of Harry's face again. The touch was tender and sweeter than it had ever been.

"But I lied to you," Severus murmured.

Harry grinned. "I know. I never said you weren't a bastard. I just said I loved you."

"Cheeky, cheeky boy," Severus's roughened velvet voice growled as he gathered Harry in his arms and kissed him with insistent lips.

Harry drew back, lightheaded from the snogging.

Severus leaned in. "Harry, I… I…."

Harry reached up with a hand and covered his lips. "I know. You don't have to say it. You just have to show me. Show me that you love me, Severus," Harry said. His chest tightened at the words. He was beginning to fall and this time he was taking Severus with him. "Show me."

Severus leaned in again and kissed Harry. "I will," he whispered in his ear before he nibbled at the shell. "I will," he repeated as he lay Harry down and tumbled after him, falling, falling, falling.



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