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Occam's Razor

To: Celandineb
From: Your Secret Santa

"All things being equal, the simplest solution tends to be the right one."
~~William of Ockham~~

The clock in the tower was striking midnight as shafts of summer moonlight filtered through the slit-like windows of the outer corridor of the castle.

Holding his light aloft, the caretaker moved almost silently through the narrow passageway, then stepped onto a staircase, waiting as it made its unpredictable swing. The students had left just today; he could almost believe that they were all still here, only asleep, but the utter silence belied this nonsensical quirk of his imagination. Even asleep, students in the castle imbued it with a vibrant sense of life that was now palpably absent.

Reaching his rooms, he pushed the door open, then directed his companion, "Mrs. Norris? In you go." After he felt the feathery brush of the feline against his legs, he held up the light for one last cursory look around, then Harry Potter extinguished his wand with a, "Nox."


It had only seemed natural that The Hero would spearhead the taskforce to repair and rebuild Hogwarts. After all, he'd been in a refractory period during the aftermath, needing time to adjust, time to realign his priorities, time to celebrate and be celebrated, and yes, time to mourn. He and a dedicated group of Ministry builders had put the castle to rights in a little over a year. But once the time came, Minerva McGonagall had not delayed the confrontation.

"So," she began, one morning last summer, when she and Harry were the only ones taking breakfast in the Great Hall, "now that the work here is almost done, what're your plans?" She peered at him from over the rim of her teacup.

"Plans?" Harry shrugged, then looked away as he buttered his toast. "Oh, I see. Well, at the moment, none." He studiously ignored her as he crammed his mouth full.

She reached over and pinched his arm. "Surely you must've thought of what you'd like to do? You have your NEWTs, you're young, I'll be happy to provide references, not that you'd need them."

Harry sat back in his chair, resigned, then finally looked up at her. Taking a deep breath, he threw himself into the fray. "I thought I'd stay on as caretaker." He held up his hand in response to the look of horror on her face. "You need one, I'm more than qualified, I know the castle inside and out. Besides, right now, I'm not particularly motivated to do anything else." He braced himself for the onslaught.

"Absolutely not! It's beneath you! As much as we need a caretaker, and I'll admit that you could more than adequately fill the position, it's out of the question! Argus Filch, may he rest in peace, would roll over in his grave-"

"Yeah, he would, wouldn't he?" Harry smiled at the thought, then sobered, ready to plead his case. "Listen. I'm asking you, please? I don't know what I'd do if I had to leave now. It's not like it'd be difficult. Having magic, like Filch didn't, this'll be a snap. And it'll give me...more time. That's what I need...more time."

He shot her an imploring look, one he knew she wouldn't be able to resist. "I promise it won't be forever. Just, please, let me do it. For now." He sat forward. "C'mon, Minerva, there are still things that need sorted out, you know that. And I'd be grateful, really. I can't stand the thought of staying at Grimmauld all by myself." He picked up his tea, trying to affect an air of unconcern. "Unless you have someone else lined up."

This seemed to take some of the wind out of her sails. Sighing heavily, she capitulated. "The Board of Governors will have to approve," she said hesitantly, "and I don't see a problem there. But Harry, you've got to promise me that you'll consider your options and then move on." She drummed her fingers on the tabletop, and for some reason this made Harry think of Snape. How often had he seen him do that, right here at this very table?

Shooting her an easy smile, Harry tried to hide his immense relief. "All right, then. I promise."

Last summer, he'd settled into the caretaker's rooms, inheriting Mrs. Norris, who for the preceding year had become the school mascot. Even though Filch had far from endeared himself to the student body, the sad specter of his lonely feline wandering the corridors, mewing pitifully, had moved the school, en masse, to adopt her. Hand-fed from the House tables, petted and tickled in between classes, snuggled up in laps on the settees of the common rooms, the cat had become pampered, spoiled and noticeably plumper. But on the first night Harry'd occupied Filch's rooms, she'd shown up promptly, refusing to be turned away. From that moment onward, she resumed her role as caretaker sidekick, and before too long, Harry found that he was genuinely attached to the animal, which seemed to accept him unconditionally as her new master. She appeared to have forgotten all about Filch, whose body had been found in the wreckage the day after the battle for Hogwarts.

Harry's closest friends, however, had not accepted his new position so readily.

Ron: "You need help, Harry. What about wanting to be an Auror? Or playing Quidditch? You defeated Voldemort, in case you've forgotten. You could do anything you want! And what about Ginny, huh?" All of which earned Ron a roll of Harry's eyes.

Hermione: "Perhaps you need to talk to someone. It's not healthy, this lack of goals. You're a powerful wizard, Harry; you've so much to offer the wizarding world. They look up to you-what kind of example are you setting? And what about Ginny?" All of which earned Hermione a roll of Harry's eyes.

Ginny: "You're joking, aren't you? Harry? You know I love you, but... I thought you had ambition, to be someone. You defeated Voldemort, so to stay here and clean up after students? It's ridiculous! You can't seriously expect me to come back here, after all that's happened? What about me, Harry?" All of which earned Ginny a roll of Harry's eyes.

It was a complicated matter for Harry. He didn't know why he was content to stay; he didn't understand his lack of motivation; he only knew that the thought of striking out on his own, making choices, taking risks, almost paralyzed him and made him hyperventilate. It was true what Ginny had said: one would think that there'd be so many reasons for him to want to escape the castle at last, now that the work was done. So many had died here; around every corner, there was a memory. But not all of them were bad ones, he could tell them, but that seemed such an insensitive thing to say. Fred had died here, as well as Remus and Tonks. Not to mention Snape.

But what it really came down to was that Hogwarts had always felt like home, and in his heart of hearts, Harry had to admit that this was still true. For some reason, too, he had a certainty inside him, although he knew that it would sound irrational if he were to share it: the castle held him in a stranglehold that he had no idea how nor inclination to break.

Pure and simple, he was not yet free to move on.

And a year later, nothing had changed; in fact, he was less inclined than ever to leave. He wouldn't say that he was unhappy, though. He admitted, but only to himself, that he was lonely, that the nights were long, and that the company of Mrs. Norris left him unfulfilled and yearning for something. What that something was, though, he had no idea.


The next morning, Harry, armed with a mug of tea, hummed as he made his way to the headmaster's office. He still thought of it that way, partly because Minerva had resisted from the onset the expectation that she'd move her rooms there, and partly because of the many memories, most of them good ones, that Harry had for the chambers. They were curiously unchanged from when Dumbledore had inhabited them, and Harry wondered, not for the first time, that Snape seemed to have left little imprint on the rooms. The large oaken desk was there, in addition to the mysterious instruments that Harry'd decimated once, as well as the portraits of former headmasters, and wall-to-wall bookshelves.

Minerva used the rooms, from time to time, when parents visited, or when a high-ranking Ministry official came to call. The rest of the time she held court from her expanded rooms in Gryffindor tower. So for the most part, Harry was the only regular visitor. He liked the variety of reading material, the soundlessness of the interior, and often chatted with the portraits, especially Dumbledore's. The only trace that Snape had left, as far as Harry could tell, was an old wooden trunk that no one had been able to open.

Oh, yes, and there was the matter of the bat. Harry'd noticed it just weeks after the battle. It flitted above their heads, crisscrossing the high ceiling; it hung from portrait frames, and regularly disappeared through a small window, open at the top of the room.

"Hmm, that's Severus' familiar," Minerva told him when he'd finally asked.

Harry'd guffawed in disbelief. "Snape had a familiar? Since when?"

Stacking student files onto a levitating table, she glanced at him. "It's odd. It was with him when he returned as headmaster." She motioned the table toward the door. "After he died, it...hung around. Literally." She snorted. "Sort of fits, don't you think? It doesn't do any harm, so I've left it alone."

Eyeing the creature, Harry shook his head. "Yeah, it fits. A bat. Good grief. I wonder why he got one? You know, he'd never had one before."

Minerva stopped at the doorway and turned back, making a face. "I wouldn't know. Perhaps he was lonely? Argus had Mrs. Norris, after all."

With a laugh, Harry waved her away. "Not even close. A cat's one thing, but a bat... Lonely? Yeah, maybe he was."

It was around this same time that Snape's portrait had suddenly materialized on the wall. Minerva wasn't surprised, as she'd expected it to put in an appearance eventually. Strangely, though, there was no trace of Snape to be found in the picture. Harry'd examined it when it first showed up, tracing his finger over the rough swirls of the oil-painted surface, and had noticed that there seemed to be a filmy glaze over top, as if the occupant had thrown a fine sheet of butter muslin over the interior.

Harry watched it often, and there'd been times when he would've sworn that the surface of the portrait rippled, but by the time he'd got to his feet, there was never anything to be seen. Minerva herself was stumped; as far as she knew, Snape didn't have any other portraits in the castle or even elsewhere. But the two of them had to agree that what little they knew of Snape couldn't rule out the possibility of there being another portrait that hung somewhere outside of Hogwarts' halls.

It had been two years now, and Harry had to admit that he'd've liked for the surly Potions master to occasionally honor this portrait with a visit. Enough time had passed for Harry to know what he'd like to say to him. He wasn't altogether certain that Snape would even listen, but all that Harry knew was that he'd at least like to have the chance. As more and more time passed, though, it seemed unlikely that Snape would ever show.

That morning, Harry looked up from his book at the tapping on the glass. He set down his mug, then made his way to the window, where a large honey-colored owl was already grooming underneath its wing, talons locked upon the perch.

"Who're you, then?" he asked kindly as he removed the small package from the bird's leg, then held out his hand, palm upward to deliver the treat, and waited while the handsome owl gobbled it down. Ignoring Harry, it resumed its grooming ritual.

The package turned out to be just several heavy sheets of parchment, folded and fastened. When he opened it, something cold and heavy fell out to land with a thud on the carpet. Picking it up, Harry was puzzled to see that it was a very ornate, silver skeleton key. He frowned as he smoothed the inside parchment down to read the short inscription within.


I came across this in a box of things that belonged to Snape. This was the only thing that seemed of any value. As you're there, I figured you might have whatever this belongs to. The rest of it was rubbish.

Draco Malfoy

The key was tarnished, so Harry muttered a cleansing charm, before turning it over in his hand and bringing it up to eye-level to examine the craftsmanship. The delicate silver was wrought in the shape of a snake, the loop of its coils fashioning the tiny handle. His eyes widened as he saw the "S.S" engraved at the junction of the loop and stem of the key, as he realized that he'd seen this very configuration before, on the trunk that still sat, pushed into a corner, in this very room. His heart began to pound as he headed for the Floo.


"Well, that's it," Harry said, disappointed, as he sat back on his heels, then looked up at Minerva. "It doesn't work."

Minerva straightened, then told him, "It may not work, but it clearly fits. There's something else keeping it locked. Knowing Severus, I'm not surprised. If he wanted to keep us out, I doubt we'll find a way in."

Harry thought for a moment. "Would you mind if I have Hermione take a look at it? She's quite good at puzzling things out."

Shrugging, the headmistress agreed. "Be my guest. Severus left no will that we've been able to find, so have a go at it. Filius checked it to make certain there weren't any anti-intrusion hexes. But still, be careful. You remember Severus' sense of humor?"

"Hmm, you mean the one he didn't have?" Harry muttered as he stood. "Well, let's see what she can figure out, then."


Harry watched her, as she crinkled her forehead and pursed her lips. She stood in front of the trunk, concentrating, casting spell after spell, muttering incantations, punctuated by, "Well, no, that'd be too obvious," "So, not that," and finally, "Hmm, not surprised."

Smiling, Harry sat forward to the edge of his chair, thinking to himself that some things never changed, in this case the look on Hermione's face when she had a mission: brow furrowed, the tip of her tongue poised against her upper lip, the way she rocked back and forth on her feet when she was deep in thought. And-he knew from their colorful past-not to be disturbed until she had finished.

She lowered her wand, then rolled her shoulders before turning to him. "Well, that was anti-climactic," she informed him.

"What d'you mean?"

Sinking into the chair opposite him, she tucked her wand away. "I'm surprised Professor Flitwick didn't discover it right away."

Harry sighed. "What didn't he discover?"

She looked over her shoulder at the trunk. "It's simple. No hexes or curses, no complicated warding, no time-lock. Nothing difficult at all," she said with a smile as she turned back.

"Hermione, would you just tell me!"

She paused, and waited, rather smugly, while Harry rolled his eyes, then pronounced the verdict, "Password-protected."

Harry's mouth dropped open. "That's it? A password?"

"Harry," she chided, "you say, 'that's it' like it's a simple thing. You do realize it could be anything, even something random that would be pure chance to hit on?" When Harry's face fell, she nodded. "That's it."

Harry rubbed his chin as he thought. "So, I just have to say the password, and it'll open?"

"Or passwords. It could be one word, or two, or a phrase. Who knows? But you have to hit it exactly for it to open."

Harry's excitement over her discovery suddenly plummeted. "This could take...a while. You have any idea, this being Snape...? I don't suppose you could..."

She leant forward in her chair. "No, I couldn't, and besides, you have all summer here to work it out-a project for you. A goal. Remember what that is?"

Harry ignored the jibe. "I suppose I could start with...say, potions, huh? That'd make sense." The magnitude of the task at hand was becoming evident. "This could take years..."

"Just remember, no incantations, because what you're dealing with here isn't a spell, and you don't want to end up casting one accidentally."

"Thanks, I'll try to remember that," Harry replied with a trace of sarcasm.

Hermione shot him a curious look. "Why all the interest in this now? Hasn't it been here since he died?"

Harry told her about Malfoy sending the key, and its failure to open the trunk, despite the fact that it clearly matched the lock. She seemed interested at first, but then Harry saw the shift in her expression, a look that he'd come to recognize, so he braced himself for what was to come. First, he made a valiant attempt to divert her.

"So, I wonder what Malfoy's up to these days," Harry finished.

Picking at a fingernail, Hermione commented, "Don't know." She looked up at Harry, then each of them broke into a grin, and said at the same time, "Don't care."

Harry threw back his head and laughed out loud, but when he caught her eye, he knew that the reprieve was over. He sobered, then decided, best to get it over with. "So, how's everyone? Ron's away again, I take it? And how're your parents?"

Lacing her fingers to clasp her knee, Hermione got directly to the heart of the matter. "Ron's fine; he's in Ireland; my parents were over last week for dinner, and they're good too." She barely stopped to take a breath. Harry was almost entranced by how predictable this had become. "So, Harry, everyone's still asking about you. What you're going to do next. In fact, I saw Ginny just yesterday; she asked me to say hullo-"

"Hermione," Harry growled, but she was as unstoppable as the Express.

"-and I was thinking that maybe the four of us could get together soon? I have this recipe for curry, and I know that you and Ginny always liked-"

"Hermione. No," Harry said slowly. "No," he reiterated emphatically when he heard the almost imperceptible waver in her voice. "No-oh." he drew the word out, as he made a chopping motion with his hand. Thus visually prompted, she finally stopped in mid-sentence, then let out a sound of frustration.

"I just want..." Her shoulders drooped. "...you to be happy, Harry. You've gone through so much, and I thought..." Her eyes filled with tears as she looked down at her lap.

Harry reached over and grabbed her hands and gave them a tug. "I'm not unhappy." He ducked his head to catch her eyes. She gave him a bleary, sardonic smile.

"You should know better than to play word games with me, Harry Potter," she chided him through her tears. "You didn't say you were happy-thought I'd not notice that?"

He squeezed her hands. "You have to stop worrying about me. I'm fine," he reassured her. "And I've told you before, Ginny and me, well..."

"Just lay off," Hermione completed the sentence for him.


Harry side-stepped along the bookshelves, running a finger along the books on potions. There were dozens: where would he even begin? His heart sank, as he realized that he'd been right when he'd thought it'd take him weeks...months, maybe longer. He sighed. If only Hermione had been willing to help; she was so much smarter than him when it came to things like this.

He could still see the look of gentle disapproval on her face. Well, get in line with the rest of the world, he thought. How many times had he seen her make that face? All those years when they'd been students, when he and Ron hadn't measured up. It reminded him of their sixth year, when she'd had her knickers in a twist over Snape's Potions book...

His hand froze on the shelf, and for a moment he didn't breathe. Snape's Potions book... In a flash, Harry was in the fireplace, calling out, "Harry Potter's rooms!"


Sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the trunk, Harry had Snape's copy of Advanced Potion-Making in his lap. He hadn't looked at it since the end of sixth year, when he'd retrieved it, surreptitiously, from the place where everything is hidden. Somehow, he just knew that he'd find the password within the text. It made perfect sense; Snape had personalized this book, made countless notes in the margins, detailed and described original spells on the blank pages between chapters. But even so, it was still a formidable task-Snape could've chosen any number of words: potions, incantations (although Hermione didn't think that likely), ingredients, potions implements. It would mean starting at the very beginning and working his way through, painstaking page by painstaking page. If only he had a clue as to what the man might've chosen...but he didn't, so he opened the book to the very first page and began.

Acromantula venom, Amortentia, asphodel, bezoar... He worked his way through the table of contents, then moved to the potions themselves.

Blood-Replenishing Potion, Billywig parts, Draught of Living Death, Hicupping Solution. He paused at each section, naming potions, then read through the list of ingredients for each one, darting his eyes to the trunk from time to time.

Widdershins, mortar and pestle, copper cauldron, extract, silver knife, cork-stoppered glass phial... He squinted to make out the words that Snape had scribbled in the margins.

Potion names, potion purposes, potion effects, potions bottling, potions storage... He moved slowly from one page to the other, until he winced at the crick in his neck.

He lay back on the floor for a moment and stared at the ceiling; he'd been at this for three hours, and he was only a third of the way through the book. What if Snape had strung words together, in a way that they would only make sense to him alone? How would he ever hit on the right combination or permutation? Harry groaned out loud, "Snape, do you see the irony in this? You're dead and gone for two years, and look at me-- up late at night with your sodding book!"

Well, there was his answer. No reason to continue on into the wee hours, when he had months to figure this out at his leisure. He didn't even know what was in the bloody trunk, for that matter. For all he knew, it would turn out to be robes and cloaks (all black, of course), and perhaps some disgusting phials of potions ingredients. He closed the book, and had just set it atop the trunk, when a flicker of motion from the portrait above caught his attention. Resting back on his heels, Harry stared up at it, and for the briefest of moments, thought he spied the glittering of a pair of eyes peering down at him. Stumbling to his feet, he rested both hands on the wall on either side of it.

"Snape?" he called in a hoarse voice. The portrait looked as it always had, a murky black background, slightly clouded over. "Professor Snape?" he queried, now starting to feel foolish. Swearing under his breath, Harry turned his back on it and muttered a, "Nox," when he was halfway to the settee.

He often slept here, comforted by the sounds of the clocks and the familiarity of the room. As he settled himself on his back, he stared up at the moonlit ceiling. He was tired, emotionally wrung out from the events of the evening. As he often did nowadays, being a healthy young man of almost twenty, he resorted to the age-old adolescent remedy for sleep. Stretching out, he undid the placket to his trousers, then took himself in hand. Turning his head to the side as he began to stroke himself, his mind wandered over his plans for the next day: there were still repairs to be done in the dungeons, the last damage to be repaired in the castle. Then in the evening, he'd have a go at the trunk again. He yawned as he arched slightly off the settee, melting into the sensation of warmth growing in his groin. He pumped faster, his breathing coming quicker, as he neared getting off. He moaned out loud, his mind now empty, as he felt himself about to come... close, oh so close.

He was almost there, and about to plunge over the edge, when for a brief instant, he saw in his mind that flash of whimsical impression from the portrait, of black eyes piercing him before they disappeared. With the sight of it, he jerked upwards, coming over his fingers in a sudden spurt. Gasping, his chest heaving as he tried to catch his breath, he wondered why in the world he'd seen the eyes just then.

"Damn Snape," he muttered. After murmuring a cleansing spell, he rolled over and, relaxed, drifted off to sleep.


"Why isn't Snape in his portrait?" Harry asked Dumbledore's likeness long ago.

"Who says he isn't?" was the infuriating reply.

"Thanks. That really helps," Harry retorted.

Dumbledore wagged a finger at him. "A portrait is the departed's domain. How he chooses to use it-to show himself or not-is up to him to decide. And remember, Harry, things are not always as they seem," the old man reminded him.

Harry'd spent the day working in the dungeons, then after a hurried supper in his rooms, he was once again sitting in front of the trunk, the textbook in his lap. He took up where he'd left off, reciting words from the pages as he slowly made his way through potion after potion, scrunching his eyes to read the almost illegible scribbling in the margin. It was slow tedious work, and after several hours, still with a third of the book to go, Harry leant back, resting his palms on the floor behind him. What would he do if he got to the end and still hadn't found it? No, he told himself, it's here, I know it is-I just have to find it. And if I don't, I'll start all over. He sat forward again and set back to work.

Two hours later, however, his certainty wavered. He'd reached the end of the volume, had read aloud each and every syllable in the book, including Snape's notes. The prospect of beginning again, combining words and phrases differently, made him suddenly weary. He shut the book and closed his eyes. Well, what had he expected? This was Snape: often difficult, usually oblique, most times unreadable, always unpredictable. Opening his eyes, he stared down at the back cover of the worn volume, then idly traced his fingers over the inscription on the back, as he murmured, "This Book is the Property of the Half-Blood Prince."

No sooner were the words out of his mouth, than the trunk before him seemed to shudder slightly. Harry sat up straight, his mouth hanging open as he flung the book to the side. He rubbed his eyes with his hands, then started again, slowly, "This...book..." Nothing. "...is...the...property...of...the..." Still nothing, but now Harry knew. "...Half-Blood Prince." It was unmistakable this time, as he was watching closely. The wooden chest definitely moved, although almost imperceptibly.

On his knees now, Harry shot off a volley of related words and phrases: half-blood, Prince family; my mother's name is Prince; Prince is a half-blood. Then, inexplicably, in one of those rare moments of a lifetime, when knowledge seems to come out of nowhere, bestowed or imparted, either by a higher power or perhaps just serendipity, Harry knew. He didn't care from where it'd come: he knew he was right.

His palms were sweaty, his heart hammered in his chest, and Harry paused, savoring the moment to come, then said softly but clearly, "Severus Snape is a Prince." He didn't know what to expect, but knowing Snape, he wouldn't have been surprised by fireworks, the shriek of a Banshee, or the even the appearance of a cloud of mist to accompany the occasion.

What happened, instead, was almost disappointingly unspectacular. There was the faint grinding as if a key were being turned in a rusty lock, then the lid of the trunk lifted an inch before it settled back down into place with a soft thump.

Slowly, almost reverently, Harry leant forward and lifted the lid upward; it creaked on its hinges and was heavier than he'd thought it'd be. Letting it rest against the wall, Harry took a deep breath and looked down into the trunk.

"Potter," said the man from the painting lying on the very top. It was large enough so that it just fit inside the trunk, its rectangular edges snug against the sides of the chest.

"Professor Snape," Harry breathed out, as he started to work his fingers into the small crevices between edges of the picture and the trunk. The man in the painting, seated behind a large desk covered with books and parchments, had already stood to his feet and fixed Harry with a scowl.

"I was on the verge of insanity, listening to you blither the entire bloody book!"

Freeing the painting finally, Harry propped it against the front of the trunk, then moved backwards to sit directly opposite it. "A little help wouldn't have hurt," he accused, frowning as he realized that the same filmy substance that seemed imbedded in Snape's empty portrait covered this one as well.

Leaning against the desk, Snape crossed his arms. "Oh, I considered that, but I wanted to make certain that you were properly motivated; besides, I knew you'd eventually get it."

Harry blinked. "You did? I mean, why me? It could've been anyone..."

Snape's eyes narrowed. "Do you really need me to lay it out for you, Potter? Who, at this point besides yourself, would have any interest in what I might've left behind?"

There was no point in denying it at all, so Harry didn't even protest. Snape was right. The Ministry had known the trunk was here, as had Minerva, but only a half-hearted effort had been made to open it. As for his own reasons, well, that obsession had begun the night he'd seen Snape's memories, the night he'd found out how wrong he'd been, the night he'd finally been able to dispatch Voldemort precisely because of the man before him. Or rather, a likeness...or a specter...not a ghost, certainly. What exactly would he call it? This wasn't Snape, in fact, he reminded himself.

"You put a painting of yourself in your trunk because..." Harry didn't finish.

"Because I didn't want to be doomed to spending all of my portrait-life in the company of..." Snape waved upward in the direction of the walls of the office.

Harry sat up straight, as he remembered what he'd seen last night. "But you do visit that portrait, don't you? I saw you! Last night, it was you, wasn't it?" he demanded.

Snape shrugged. "On a rare occasion I do shift to that location. Purely out of boredom. And to talk with Albus."

Harry turned and glared at the portrait of the old man, now conveniently empty. "All right. But if that's the case, why would you want me to open the trunk, then?" His eyes widened, just after the word 'trunk' had come out of his mouth. Rising to his knees, he carefully slid the painting to lean against the wall, then peered down into the trunk, ignoring Snape's, "What are you doing?"

There were only a few items, Harry saw, with disappointment. There was a silk Slytherin scarf, and as Harry lifted it out, a wand fell from between its folds. "Whose is this, then?" he asked, not really expecting Snape to answer. He fingered the length of it; it was shorter than his own, more slender, and had a small silver band around the grip of it. Setting it and the scarf aside, he reached in and withdrew a thick black book, tied with a piece of cord.

He used his thumb to fan across the edges of the pages, and decided that it must've been some sort of personal journal of Snape's, as he recognized the cramped distinctive scrawl. "Later, definitely later," he mumbled. "I've had enough reading for the night." He heard Snape snort from his picture, but ignored him to pull out the next item. This was also a book, and he recognized the title instantly: Secrets of the Darkest Art. "Why'm I not surprised?" He laid it atop the journal and bent into the trunk once again.

In a stained leather pouch, he found three potions phials, good-sized ones too. Each was at least the length of his finger, but slender enough that he could easily wrap his palm around it. The glass was opaque, though, so he couldn't see what they contained, but he'd learnt long ago not to unstopper a phial unless one had some idea of what was within. After carefully stowing them back in the pouch, he set it aside, then squinted his eyes at the bottom of the trunk. It was emp-no, there was something small, flat, and folded, lying there.

He lifted it out, then turned it over in his hand. It was a slim parchment, pleated to make an envelope, with nothing written on the exterior. As he broke the wax seal, Snape murmured, "Have a care." Harry furrowed his brow as he considered the contents without removing them. He shouldn't have been surprised, but nevertheless his breath hitched as he caught a glimpse of his mother's smiling face, and next to it, the portion of the letter that Snape had ripped away while in Sirius' bedchamber at Grimmauld Place.

"You kept it," he stated, looking up at Snape. But the man in the portrait kept his eyes downcast and offered no reply.

Harry's eyes swept the bottom of the now empty trunk. "That's it?" he asked, starting to feel the first traces of disbelief. He'd spent hours, talked himself hoarse, and for what? A few books and phials, an old wand, and this memento of his mother that he'd seen before.

Snape looked up. "That's it. You're disappointed, I see," he said sourly, as he shook his head.

"No! I just thought, y'know, because you'd locked it the way you did...that there'd be something..."

"Significant?" Snape prompted him with a familiar sneer.

"Well, yes, I guess so. After all, why would you leave these things for me?"

Snape rolled his eyes. "I didn't leave them for you. You just turned out to be the most likely one to find them." He stood and craned his neck to peer out of the edge of the picture. "You realize that when I placed them there, I'd no idea that I'd never see them again."

Harry followed Snape's eyes, and locked on to his other portrait. "Professor, why are your portraits different?" When the man raised an eyebrow, Harry elucidated, "Sort of blurry, like there's a coating of something over them?"

"Hmm, there is? I wouldn't know. Perhaps it's from the residue of potions on my clothing," he said distractedly, still trying to glance about the room.

Harry digested this possibility, but didn't think it likely; for now, he let it go. "So, what's it like? Being dead? I mean, you're somewhere else too, aren't you? Isn't there an afterlife where you are?"

Snape turned back to him and fastened him with a dark look. "I wouldn't know, Potter, as I'm a portrait, not a soul."

His brain suddenly fatigued by his two late nights, Harry struggled to his feet. "Well, we can talk tomorrow. I'm knackered and it's time for bed." He stood before the picture, staring down at Snape, wondering what the protocol was here-was he expected to say goodnight, or just go? Snape solved his problem for him, stiffly drawing himself up to his full height, which given the size of the painting, was about ten inches tall.

"As I've already a portrait in this room, it would be appreciated if you'd place me in a different one."

Harry stared at him. "Oh. I hadn't thought of that." Lifting the painting, he shifted it awkwardly under his arm as he made for the door. "For now, it'll have to be my rooms, until I figure out where to put you. Unless you have a preference?"

"Fine. Your rooms. I'll think about it and let you know," Snape replied.

As Harry trudged through the corridors, unable to take the Floo with such a burden, he marveled at how...agreeable this Snape seemed to be, all things considered, then laughed softly to himself as he remembered that this was a painting, not the man himself. And that thought still made him shudder involuntarily. Snape in his rooms...


The next morning, Minerva reminded Harry that she was about to leave on holiday. He hesitated, then decided he'd best tell her before she left.

"Severus Snape is a Prince?" she repeated, pursing her lips before she let out a snort. "Not something I would've guessed. Well done, Harry." She beamed at him, and then tilted her head to the side. "And...inside the trunk?"

Harry was honest, except for one glaring omission. "Some books, potions phials, a few papers. That sort of stuff. Nothing that makes any sense to lock up, at least to me."

"Well, Severus was a puzzle," she agreed, then her face softened. "As for being a prince, there's no doubt about it." After extracting a promise that he'd Floo her from time to time whilst she was away, she patted Harry's arm and took her leave.

Late in the day, Harry had finally tracked down and forcibly relocated two suits of renegade armor. He'd amused Hagrid with his tale of it at supper, then had firmly begged off Hagrid's offer of an evening of Exploding Snap.

"I'm a bit tired," Harry told him.

Hagrid squinted at him. "Yeh don't look tha' tired to me."

"All right." Harry grinned up at him. "I'm a bit tired, and I 'm working on something."

The big man cuffed him on the shoulder. "Well, I understand how tha' is-yeh shoulda jus' said tha'," Hagrid chided him. "Yeh know where I am in the evenins', then."

"Thanks, Hagrid. I promise, I'll be down in a few days."

Making an educated guess, Harry set off for his own rooms. Although his evenings were usually spent in the headmaster's office, tonight he wanted to talk to Snape. And he suspected that of the two choices, his rooms would be the more likely.

It had been awkward that morning, as he moved through his sitting room, wondering if he should say, "Good morning," or "See you later." But a furtive glance at the painting had shown the dark-haired man with his head resting on his arms as he softly snored.

Harry had smiled, and been relieved-he hadn't been ready, as of then. But now, having had all day to ponder...all day to summon up his courage...all day to dredge up what he'd wanted for so long to say...now he was prepared. He had to remind himself (more than once) that this was a painting of the man, not Snape himself. Even so, there was a feeling in the pit of his stomach that was familiar, one that evoked memories of waiting for Potions to begin, especially of those frequent occasions when he'd been unprepared for class.

As Harry quietly closed the door behind him, he heard the rustle of a page turning. He was heading for the sideboard for a drink when the voice startled him.

"You needn't tiptoe on my account."

A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth as Harry turned, a glass of wine in his hand. "I thought I was being considerate." He lowered himself into an armchair facing the painting still propped up against the wall opposite.

"I'm not a roommate, Potter. I'm a mixture of paint on a canvas."

Harry did smile now. "Oh, I'd say you're much more than that."

Snape propped his feet up on his desk and leant back as he straightened his cuffs. "Tell me, then."

Harry thought for a moment. "You've no soul, so you say, but you clearly have a mind...Snape's mind. You talk like him, pick the same words he'd use. You sound exactly like him. You look like him, have the same mannerisms and facial expressions." He leant forward, elbows on his knees. "And maybe I shouldn't tell you this-a testament to the fact that I know you're not Snape, per se-but you still intimidate the bloody hell out of me." He returned Snape's self-satisfied smirk. "And that's a bit of a tall order for a blob of paint on a canvas, isn't it?"

"Admirable assessment," Snape commented dryly, then sat silent, watching Harry.

Harry didn't know where to begin, so he decided to start with the most difficult.

"I've been thinking about you all day." He waited for the snide remark that was certain to come, but when it failed to materialize, he continued more confidently, "I have some things I've wanted to tell you, if you'll listen, that is."

"My schedule is free. Go on."

"Well, I...I...first I wanted to thank you. There are so many things-"

"You're welcome."

Harry gaped at him, then slowly shut his mouth. "You don't want to hear the list?"

"No. I imagine I know everything on it. What else?"

Harry swallowed hard. "And I wanted to apologize...sir."

"Hmmm, go on."

"What? So now you want the list?" Harry asked sarcastically.

"Oh, by all means, yes. I can't be entirely certain of all the countless ways you might've offended me, so enlighten me, if you will." The black eyes glittered, and Harry thought he caught a glint of malice...or mischief...he couldn't be certain which it was.

"We may be here a while..." Harry confessed, drawing out the final word.

Snape seemed to consider this, then waved a hand. "All right, just the major infractions, then."

Harry played with the glass in his hands. The major infractions...he'd had a list, but since Snape had put it the way he had, Harry was suddenly uncertain. How far back should he go...and how specific should he be? He didn't want to miss anything important, but he didn't want to appear overly scrupulous either.

Aware that some moments had passed, Harry stole a glance at the painting, expecting that Snape would tersely prompt him to get on with it.

Instead, Harry encountered something entirely unexpected, at least so far as his prior experiences with Snape: the man had laced his hands behind his head and was studying Harry, his face oddly neutral, his eyes devoid of even a trace of impatience.

Harry began with an explanation. "By the end of first year, I thought you hated me. Then during fifth year, I figured out the reason why, or so I thought. But by the end of that year, when Sirius died," he paused, his jaw tightening, "I hated you too." Snape dropped his hands into his lap, but said nothing, still listening.

"My whole sixth year, I was certain I was right about you. But every single time I asked the headmaster why he trusted you, he wouldn't tell me." Harry looked away as he softly continued, "I was devastated when you killed him, but I was glad it was you." Harry found Snape's eyes again. "Because it meant that I'd been right all along. Ron, Hermione, Arthur, Remus-they all had to admit I'd been right. The hardest part for me, besides losing him, was that it meant Dumbledore had really been wrong."

"Knocked right off his pedestal," Snape quietly affirmed.

"Yeah, I wanted to be right, but not that way. Then that year on the run-all the things we heard you were doing here...sometimes I thought about how it would feel...catching up with you...killing you."

Snape nodded, but Harry wasn't really paying him any attention. He was anxious to get it out and be done with it.

"In the Shack that night, when you gave up your memories like that, even before I got to the Pensieve, I knew," he finished, his voice barely audible, almost as if he were thinking out loud to an empty room.

For a moment, Harry felt paralyzed by the sheer remembrance of that epiphany.

"What did you know?" Snape's voice startled him.

"That I'd been wrong about you. I didn't know how...or why...what would explain it...but I knew."

For the first time, Snape looked away, his hand toying with the edge of a parchment.

"Your memories... I don't know what to say, sir. What you did...all those years...and I missed it completely, misjudged you by a long shot. I'm so sorry, Professor."

Snape's hand stilled, but he didn't look up.

"I'm sorry I called you a coward. I'm sorry I thought I had you all figured out the way I did. I'm sorry I believed for the worst in you, because in the end, if it hadn't been for you..." Harry shook his head. "I don't know how it would've all turned out."

Snape slid his feet from atop the desk, and swiveled in his chair to face Harry, his dark eyes solemn, yet still expectant.

Harry set his glass on the side-table and sat up straight. "Professor Snape, please accept my sincerest apology."

Something seemed to settle in Snape's face as he took his measure of Harry; his eyes and voice steady, he simply said, "Apology accepted."

The sound of those two little words faded to a silence between them: not the quiet of a space where the dearth of words provokes one to speak to fill it; not the lull in a conversation where one mentally casts about for what to say next; not the drawn out hyphen where there is a subtle glance to the side, a self-conscious, restless shifting of limbs, or a clearing of the throat.

And as the moment stretched out, Harry felt his heartbeat slow; the hitch in his chest that had been there since the night Snape died released with a figurative snap, and Harry took a long, quavering breath, his lungs expanding in full excursion as they filled to max capacity.

Harry felt free: free of guilt, free of regret, free of the simmering need and obsession to make things right. Because now they were.

Snape's ability to sit mutely through Harry's blissful contemplation had its limits, though. "Potter, I believe you owe me something."

"Hmm..." Wait...wait. Don't get too comfy in that sea of forgiveness.... "Owe you something?" Harry had to make an effort to keep the wariness out of his voice.

Pulling his chair to the edge of the painting, Snape reached out and caressed the inside of the frame, dragging his fingers along the gilded carving. "Yes. Tell me what happened that night. All of it." He eyes had lost their luster. "I've only been given the leanest of details by Albus."

Harry was confused. "Why? I told him everything. He knows it all."

"I didn't say he didn't," Snape said shortly. "I simply said that he hasn't told me much of it."

Still perplexed, Harry mused, "But why wouldn't he tell you?"

Snape plastered a longsuffering grimace on his face. "He thought it best I hear it from you. In his words, 'It will help to resolve your issues.' Some of which I believe we just did, but he must believe there are others."

Harry offered a feeble protest. "Issues? How can we have issues? You're dead."

Snape knitted his eyebrows together and pointed out, "But you're not."

"Oh...I see." Harry flushed slightly as he thought about what his issues might be. "You mean...my mother."

Snape waved a hand. "That can keep for another time, although I'm sure that is one of them. I believe he meant my scarpering on the night in question, leaving you in the lurch." He studied Harry. "An eyewitness account is always more accurate."

"I didn't think you ran away, at least by the end of it," Harry informed him. When Snape didn't speak, Harry said, "All right, then. I guess I should start with how we got into Hogwarts..."

"Aberforth. Yes, I knew about that little arrangement."

"Of course, you must've," Harry agreed slowly.

"So, you came through the tunnels from the Hog's Head. And then?"

Harry stood and gestured with his empty glass. "Mind if I...?" When Snape dismissed him with an uplifted finger, Harry stepped to the sideboard, then returned and retook his seat.

For the next hour, Harry talked while Snape avidly listened, interrupting often to ask a question or seek further explanation, sometimes to express disgust and, at one point, undisguised delight.

"I'd have dearly loved to see Sibyll do it," he murmured.

Harry watched Snape's face as he recounted his story, and realized, not too far into it, that the professor hadn't been exaggerating: Dumbledore had told him next to nothing. He could tell by Snape's reactions that he was hearing it for the very first time. Harry did find it odd that Snape didn't question him at all about the diadem-he only shook his head at Draco's narrow escape, then his lips compressed to a thin line when he heard that Crabbe had died in the fire.

After his account of the macabre scene in the Shrieking Shack, Harry stopped and looked away. It only seemed right that there should be a moment of silence, a brief pause for reflection and remembrance.

Snape was the first to speak. "I don't remember the pain-only the thought that all was lost-that I'd failed. I was dying, without having told you what I'd been entrusted to tell." His voice lowered with the admission. "I misjudged the circumstances-and you-and ran out of time." His voice was uncharacteristically hoarse as he finished, and Harry understood why: it was the first time he'd ever heard the man admit to failure.

Harry wouldn't disagree; in fact, when he'd thought it all over in the first days after the battle, he'd come to the very same conclusion. If he'd not been in the right place at the right time... But as it had turned out...

"Even so, you did manage to tell me..." Harry held out what solace he could.

Snape's eyes, which had been miserable and far away for a moment, found Harry's.

"Why did you...stay?" he asked softly, then added, "Why did you show yourself to me at all? I've wondered..." There was another change in the timbre of Snape's voice, also one that Harry'd never heard before: it sounded like desperation, with a faint hint of fear, and a whisper of wonderment.

How many times had Harry wondered over what he'd done that night? He struggled to put what he'd puzzled out into words. Clasping his hands behind his neck, he sat back. "The whole year, I'd had to face things about Dumbledore, bit by bit: mistakes he'd made when he was young, how flawed he was...how human. How wrong he'd been to trust you.

"As much as I hated you...when I saw what happened, how horrible it was, I couldn't stop myself." He shuddered as he remembered. "I think I wanted Dumbledore to have one last chance...I wanted to see...even hoped...when I stood there over you...that something would happen-I didn't know what-to show me that he'd been right all along...that he hadn't miscalculated...about everything. And you..." Harry's voice was so low that Snape sat forward in his chair, "you were his last chance to prove me wrong. And you did."

Neither of them spoke, until Snape gave him a curt nod. "Fortunate for both of us, then."

"Luck," Harry ventured unconvincingly.

Snape shook his head. "One way of looking at it. But I don't think so. It's a tribute-to Albus' confidence that you'd set aside your prejudices and trust him. Even at the last hour, you were still looking for some way to do that, albeit unconsciously."

Harry made short work of the rest of the story. He told of his lonesome journey into the forest, intentionally not embellishing the tale with the inner turmoil and anguish he'd suffered. For now, he left out any mention of the Resurrection Stone and its effects, and abridged his conversation with Dumbledore at King's Cross to the essentials only.

Snape didn't interrupt at all, perhaps sensing Harry's redundant agony in reliving the events as he related them. Harry was gratified by the spark of satisfaction in Snape's eyes when he heard of how Nagini had met her end.

By the time he'd finished, Harry had slid to the floor to sit with his back against the armchair. He was exhausted; he'd never talked it out this way before, from start to finish. He knew he'd skipped over many things, missed many details that he'd have occasion to tell at another time. He closed his eyes and rolled his head on his shoulders, working out the stiffness and tension that'd built over the past hour.

"Well done, Potter." Harry opened his eyes at the tone of approval, then felt the warmth spread through his chest, prompted by what he saw in the set of eyes in the painting: respect.

Harry was momentarily bemused; it was a novel experience, this short affirmation from a source that had heretofore been so dismissive and disapproving, even hostile.

"Thank you, sir. You know it wasn't just me, though. So many people...so many things had to come together so I could do it." He knew by the expression on Snape's face that he understood.

"True. But in the end, you proved yourself the penultimate member of your House. Fifty points to Gryffindor," Snape said soberly.

Harry laughed out loud. "Only fifty? I'd've thought it worth at least a hundred!" he exclaimed.

Snape almost smiled at him, a slight curving of his lips that sent a sudden and exquisite streak of pleasure straight to Harry's heart. "Indeed," was all that Snape said, obviously amused by Harry's response.

But Snape's eyes lost their glimmer as he became solemn once again. "How many dead?" he asked quietly.

Harry felt the warmth and good cheer leach out of him. "Fifty-eight, by the time all the dust settled and the castle was searched."

Snape wanted names, of course, so Harry listed as many as he could from memory: students, parents, Death Eaters, Aurors and Order members. "Remus and Tonks," he finished flatly.

The mirth of a moment ago, the sober calm during which he'd just memorialized the dead-all of it evaporated abruptly with Harry's last words. Harry took in the flash of shock and chagrin in Snape's eyes, the muscles of his face contorting as he seemed to grope for words, his chair tumbling backward as he stumbled to stand in his painting.

Snape the ever-impassive, ususally immovable, rarely shockable... Harry gaped at the man as he watched him struggle to regain his composure. Snape rested his hand on the desk to steady himself, then he leveled an almost thunderous expression on his living conversant, his eyes cold as ice and his voice a deadly calm.

"Lupin is dead?"

Harry started to speak but then stopped. Snape looked downright distressed. "Yes, he is."

Snape stared at him, a muscle twitching in his cheek. Then, before Harry could say anything more, Snape turned and stepped over the chair in his path, and exited out of the side of the painting, without so much as a by-your-leave or a backwards glance.

Stunned, Harry sat, mouth hanging open. Of all the things he'd said that night, this was the last thing that he'd've ever guessed would upset the man. He ruminated over what it could mean, and wondered, too, if he should sit and wait for Snape to return. And if he did, should he fish for an explanation? Of all the Marauder's, Snape had seemed to tolerate Remus more than the others. But still, Harry knew that there'd been little love lost between the two men. At least, that's what he'd always believed. Yet, there had been so much about Snape that Harry hadn't known; was this perhaps yet another instance of still waters running deep? Had Harry missed yet another important piece of the puzzle that was Snape?

After half an hour, Harry came to a decision. "Kreacher?" he called softly, keeping his eyes on the painting in case Snape returned. He didn't want to be caught at what he was about to do.

With a 'pop', the house-elf appeared. Harry could tell by the blinking of his large, bulbous eyes that the old elf had been asleep. "Master Harry Potter is calling Kreacher?" he asked, his ears flapping almost to his toes as he curtsied in a low, sweeping bow.

Giving the painting one last furtive glance, Harry instructed, "Kreacher, I want you to go to the headmaster's office and see if Professor Snape's in his portrait there. And if he's talking to anyone."

Kreacher's eyes widened. "Master Harry Potter wants Kreacher to spy?" The elf rubbed his hands together. "Kreacher is very, very good at spying."

Hearing it put that way, Harry hastened to correct the elf of his not entirely inaccurate description. "No, I don't want you to stay and listen to what they're talking about. Just if they are. Can you do that? Is there some reason you can use for being there so late at night, just in case?"

Nodding, Kreacher assured him, "Kreacher can bank the fire."

Harry frowned. "No, that won't do. It's June, and no one's there to need a fire anyway." He thought, then strode to his desk. Picking up several books that he'd borrowed from the headmaster's office, he bent down to hand them to the creature. "I want you to put these back on the shelf. That should do it."

Kreacher didn't look convinced, but he didn't argue. With another 'pop' he was gone. Harry waited impatiently, tapping a rhythm on the desktop. He was certain that Snape must be giving Dumbledore a dressing-down for not apprising him of the fact that Remus was dead. He would've liked to hear that conversation, but as Kreacher had mentioned, Harry couldn't justify 'spying' to satisfy his own curiosity. If Snape wanted Harry to know, then he'd tell him. Or...Harry could summon enough nerve to just come out and ask him, the thought of which made him shrink deeper in his chair...but not as deep as he once might've. The Snape he knew now...after seeing his memories, and talking with him over the past two days, was decidedly less threatening

He was startled by Kreacher's return, still with the books in hand. After bowing again, Kreacher delivered the message. "Yes, Master Harry Potter. He is there in his portrait, talking with Albus Dumbledore's portrait. Although they is talking very loudly."

So, Harry'd been right. Even in death, Snape wasn't able to countenance being left in the dark about something he apparently believed he should've been told.

Kreacher wasn't finished. "And Master Snape says to tell Master Harry Potter that, yes, he is in his portrait, and yes, he is talking to Master Dumbledore, and that no, it's none of Harry Potter's affair."

"Well, there's that question answered," Harry muttered to himself, then when he saw the hesitation in the house-elf's eyes, Harry smiled and said, "Thanks, Kreacher. It's all right about the books. They were only a decoy anyway. You can go back to bed."


Never a morning person, Harry rummaged in his wardrobe with his eyes half shut, then trudged into the sitting room in just his boxers. Dropping his clean clothes to the floor before he fell into the chair, he stretched out his legs, slouched for a moment, yawned loudly, then leisurely scratched himself through his boxers. Eyes still shut, he reached and fumbled for his glasses on the side-table. When the world came into focus, so did Snape, watching intently as Harry leant down for his socks.

Harry froze for a moment, then thought, He's not real, Harry. Pulling on his socks, he said amiably, "Good morning, sir." Standing, he self-consciously pulled on his jeans, then reached for his shirt. Tucking it in, he mentally berated himself for having forgotten that he wasn't alone. Good grief, I am alone.

He'd sat down again to lace up his trainers, when Snape finally answered.

"Is it?" he asked dryly.

Harry had to rewind the last few moments to understand. "Oh." Crossing the room, he looked out the window. "Yes, it is. Not a cloud in the sky."

Snape looked down as he fingered the edge of his book. "If you don't mind, I request that you...relocate me. Not that your little morning ritual was unappreciated," he paused meaningfully, and seemed slightly surprised when Harry only smiled without a trace of embarrassment, "but I'd prefer somewhere lighter and airier."

Harry felt a flash of disappointment, as he realized that he'd been looking forward to spending more evenings with Snape. He supposed it was because he still needed to talk about everything that had happened, while everyone else that he knew had closed that book and moved on to the rest of their lives. He and Snape, though, he suspected, were still hung up in that final chapter.

"Sure. Let's see. You have your pick of anywhere in the castle, really. It's only me and Hagrid and Sibyll right now, although I can't imagine you wanting-"

Snape interrupted, "Definitely out of the question. If it's all the same to you, I'd prefer to stay here. I meant that I'd like to be stood somewhere else, though; perhaps if you propped me on the desk near the window, every once in a while?"

A wave of relief washed over Harry. He would have his nights with the man after all. He carefully and respectfully resituated the painting on the desk, slightly angled against the wall. After eyeing the arrangement critically, he transfigured the legs of the desk to stand a little higher, so that the painting itself was half-bathed in sunlight.

Snape stepped to the edge of the painting, pressing to peer out of the window. He closed his eyes, and the expression on his face was as near to ecstatic as Harry imagined he'd ever see on Snape, and filled with such an open longing, that Harry experienced a sudden and unexpected ache in his heart. He remembered how it'd felt, when he'd believed he was taking his last walk through the castle, hearing the hum of voices from the Great Hall, feeling the rush of crisp night air on his cheeks, seeing the moon shrouded by clouds, all for the very last time. He recalled the regret that had cut like a knife-that he'd taken such precious things for granted, and was suddenly out of time, never to experience them again.

As he pensively studied Snape's face, how the obvious pleasure of such a simple thing as sunlight could transform his features, he wondered if Snape ever entertained similar regrets. Another thing for them to talk about, perhaps...

As Harry was turning to go, intending to slip away and leave Snape to his moment, the man spoke.

"But the way, Potter, in the future, you can assume that if I am not in this painting, then I am in the only other. On most occasions, to seek out Albus. You needn't send your house-elf to track me down."

Picking up the books Kreacher'd failed to deliver, Harry disagreed. "Not to track you down, sir. I figured you were there. Just checking to make sure you were all right." He didn't know why, but he lowered his voice. "You were a bit upset, and I wasn't sure why, so..."

Snape had opened his eyes and then turned, his back to the window; the light streaming from behind, Harry couldn't see his face clearly.

"Potter, you do remember that I'm dead? Deceased, done in, a painted rendering without a soul? Nothing can happen or be done to me, short of dousing me with solvent and setting me afire. I do believe you need to get out more. Perhaps an evening, now and then, in Hogsmeade?"

Harry snickered out loud. "Worried about me, sir?"

There was a pause, then the faceless figure gestured. "Go on. Out with you. You'll miss your breakfast."

At the door, Harry hesitated, then turned back. "Sir, I know you aren't...yourself. But I wish I'd had a chance to really know you when you were." There was no reply, so Harry let himself out, humming softly as he headed for the staircase.


Harry'd planned his summer well in advance. There were caretaking activities that were best carried out when the castle wasn't bustling with students. He serviced the mammoth clock in the Entrance Hall, polished armor, repaired mysterious damage to the House hourglasses. The Quidditch pitch and lockers needed tending, as well as structural improvements to several of the greenhouses.

In addition to all of these-and he often marveled over how Filch had managed as a Squib-Minerva had decided that Harry was more than qualified to assist her with some of her managerial duties: ordering classroom supplies, collating student schedules, and a task that Harry particularly relished-the preparation of the Hogwarts letters, soon to be sent out to returning students, the eagerly waiting eleven-year-olds of the wizarding world, and Muggle-borns.

His evenings, though, were reserved for the Slytherin currently sharing his living quarters. Well, most evenings. Snape sometimes did not want companionship, and dismissed Harry with a curt nod or a wave of his hand. Harry suspected that Snape did this for what he presumed was Harry's own good.

For those occasions, Harry was actually grateful. He'd secretly smuggled the journal and Dark Arts book from Snape's trunk in the office to the Restricted Section of the library.

The journal was clearly partitioned into sections, marked by blank pages in between. The first appeared to contain several complex potions, unnamed, many of the ingredients exotic ones that Harry didn't recognize at all.

Following were pages of names, places, and dates. Some were underlined, many were crossed out. Two of the names Harry knew straight off: Pettigrew and Lupin. Gringotts was mentioned, along with 'St James, lot 6418,' as well as the initials 'TDA' and what seemed to be a series of page numbers, with the words in the margin, 'Read carefully!' There were references to 'Bat'-Harry wondered if this was Snape's familiar-beside the words 'cauldron' and what looked to be a short list of apothecaries.

But by far the most interesting section of the journal was the list of dates at the back of the book. The words written under each date made Harry's skin prickle: Tottenham Court Road, Ministry, Phineas Nigellus per Albus, Godric's Hollow, Forest of Dean, Lovegood, Malfoy Manor, and lastly, Gringotts and Hosgmeade.

Harry instantly knew that Snape had chronicled his whereabouts, as if he'd been tracking him on his journey back to Hogwarts.

This particular evening, though, Snape had been in a rather expansive mood, and had suggested a game of chess, to which Harry had warily agreed, as he anticipated the outcome.

"Checkmate," Snape pointed out a half-hour later as he moved his bishop.

"No!" Harry's eyes rapidly scanned the board, considering each of his pieces. He sighed heavily for Snape's benefit, and hid the impulse to smile at the glint of satisfaction in Snape's eyes.

"That was quick," Harry mumbled as he reset the pieces. "Id've had a better chance at Exploding Snap."

"I'm not much for games of chance," Snape told him. "As for chess, it's only fair that I confess to having had an excellent teacher." When Harry cocked his head to the side, Snape confirmed, "Albus."

Harry laughed as he sat back. "Oh yeah, the master of strategy."

"Indeed," Snape muttered. Something in his tone prompted Harry's question.

"He played people rather well, didn't he? Sometimes that's how it felt."

"He had his reasons," Snape said cautiously. "Not that knowing that ever helped."

Summoning the carafe, Harry refilled his glass. "Some things would've been so much easier if he had just come out and, I don't know, given me a clue. That whole last year..."

Snape lifted and eyebrow. "On the hunt for Horcruxes?"

Harry's mouth dropped open. "What? You knew? But I thought...your memories...the night you brought the sword, you didn't know!"

Snape's eyes narrowed. "Not for certain. But I'd suspected for a long while, even before he pulled that foolish stunt with the ring."

Perplexed, Harry feebly protested, "But I didn't think anyone but Dumbledore knew about them."

"You forget, there was a reason I sought the Dark Arts position." He fixed Harry with a purposeful look. "I know the Dark Arts, Potter. And remember that the Dark Lord's return smacked of dabbling in dark magic to attain immortality."

"Why didn't you tell Dumbledore that you knew?"

"Because it wouldn't have made any difference. He'd have refused to deny or confirm my speculations." Snape considered Harry thoughtfully for a moment, as if deciding whether or not to say what was on the tip of his tongue. "I found proof of it right under his nose. On a shelf in his own library."

Harry caught on immediately. "Secrets of the Darkest Art."

Snape inclined his head.

"The same book that's in your trunk. But it's not the same book. We had that copy," Harry informed him.


"Ron, Hermione and me. She Summoned it at the end of sixth year before we left."

"Ah. I wondered on my return where it'd gone. Not a very good text to misplace."

Harry was curious. "Where did you get your copy? I got the impression they were...out of print."

Snape hesitated. "Malfoy Manor," he said, then added neutrally, "I lifted it from Lucius' private library."

"Oh," Harry mused, "not surprising he had it."

They talked at length and in great detail about the Horcruxes then, Harry describing them all and where they'd found them, sketching out for Snape how each one had been destroyed. "So, you sort of knew what we needed the sword for, then."

"I made an educated guess. That night, however, I couldn't resist giving Albus one last chance to tell me." He shrugged. "As I said, he had a very good reason for declining."

Harry suddenly remembered that he'd been sidetracked by the Horcrux story. "When I said it would've been easier if he'd told me some things, I wasn't just talking about the Horcruxes. Although," he muttered, "that would've been a big help." He sat, remembering how frustrated he'd been, when it'd been so clear that the old man could've been more forthcoming and spared them what had seemed to be needless grief.

Snape waited until Harry looked up, then prompted him, "Not just Horcruxes?"

Shaking his head, Harry made a face. "Have you ever heard of the Deathly Hallows?"

"Deathly Hallows? No. Tell me," Snape instructed, seemingly intrigued.

With a roll of his eyes, Harry asked, "You have a couple of hours to spare?"

Snape gave him a sardonic twist of his lips. "Potter, I have eternity."


When Harry finished, they sat together in silence, Snape with his head in his hands. Harry watched him worriedly, until he looked up.

"You did well to replace the wand in the tomb. Not many men would have the strength of character to relinquish such a treasure. Albus judged you rightly, so it seems."

Harry felt a familiar streak of pleasure. "Well, I kept the cloak."

"Yes, that infernal cloak. But it was your father's, so it's only right that you would want to keep it." He paused, seeming to reflect, then added, "As in other instances, the Dark Lord easily discounted things he was too arrogant to understand."

Harry pondered his words, then queried, "What other things? He did figure out the whole blood protection thing."

Snape waved his hand dismissively. "No, I was referring to Mr. Longbottom."

"Neville?" Harry asked, surprised. "You mean because of the prophecy?"

Snape looked pained for a moment, then shook his head. "No, not that. The Dark Lord failed to take into account what those who strove for power in the past learnt from hard experience." He stopped, then when Harry raised both hands in a palms-up gesture, Snape sighed.

"He forgot that the children of his enemies might well rise up to take their place. Emperors and kings and queens of old executed entire families, including infants, to forestall that very possibility. They understood that orphaned children might one day seek to avenge their parents' wrongful deaths, or in this case, mistreatment, which Mr. Longbottom did most admirably."

Harry smiled. "He did, didn't he?"

"He did indeed. And he holds a place of particular honor in my heart," Snape said as he fingered his neck.

"I didn't think you liked Neville," Harry teased.

Snape gave him a blank look. "'Like' has nothing to do with it at all. I did not like Mr. Longbottom in my classroom, and I know I need not elaborate." His face softened. "But in the end-no, even before the end, during his entire seventh year-he did his parents proud, and then some," he firmly stated.

"Hard for you to say that, wasn't it?" Harry asked quietly.

Snape's eyes slid up to meet Harry's. "Not at all. It's a late lesson, Mr. Potter, but I've learnt to give credit where credit is due. Yourself included."


As Harry headed for bed that night, he stopped to stand in front of the painting. He felt emboldened by Snape's startling willingness to be honest and, for Snape, uncharacteristically open.

"Professor...I've been reading your journal." Harry was curious to see Snape's reaction, even though he already knew that he'd continue on his current course, regardless of what the man had to say.

"No doubt you'll do as you please, but it's a waste of your time. Given what's transpired, its contents are irrelevant."

Harry stood with his hands in his pockets. "I don't suppose you'd care to explain some of it to me...answer some questions?"

Snape pursed his lips, then graced Harry with a rare smile. "You supposed correctly. You'd be better off getting out in the evenings, perhaps a game of Exploding Snap with Hagrid?"

Harry smiled in reply. "How do you know I play Exploding Snap with Hagrid?"

"You do like to win occasionally, I assume?" he asked with a meaningful look at the chess board.

"Yeah, you're right, I do," Harry agreed with a laugh. Shaking his head, Harry was at the door to the bedchamber when Snape, of course, had the final word.

"Have a care with the journal, Potter. There are books in the Restricted Section that like to eat other books."

It's true, Harry thought as he climbed into bed. Even in a painting, he has eyes in the back of his head.


In the week that followed, Harry became increasingly disturbed as he worked over Snape's journal. First off, the potions weren't just dark magic; they were dark, dark magic. Many of the ingredients were not even to be found in any of the potions anthologies, and he'd only discovered them after digging through some fairly frightening books that literally creaked when he opened them, and most of the information contained therein had been in a language that Harry could only guess at: Latin. He'd opined, not for the first time, that he couldn't ask Hermione to help him.

He snorted out loud at the very thought. He could just hear what she'd say: Do you have Professor Snape's permission to do this? You don't?! Harry, this is very dark magic. There's a reason why this is all in the Restricted Section! What's the point, Harry? Even Professor Snape said it's irrelevant, and for once, I'll have to agree with him. Don't you have better things to do? Shouldn't you be thinking about your future, instead of wasting your time on something that's over and done with?

So, he labored on, all on his own. He'd given up on the potions after two days of fruitless searching, although he did consider the possibility that the phials in the trunk might actually contain them. But then, there were three of them and only two potions, so he decided the phials must be filled with something else.

He puzzled over the names listed in the second section. Several of them were Death Eaters-no surprise there. Pettigrew...well, Harry figured that Snape had probably had frequent contact with the pathetic berk.

But it was Remus' name that really brought him up short, especially as he found the name associated with several dates during the year when Snape had been headmaster, which made no sense at all. Remus would've had nothing to do with Snape at that point. Harry agonized over what this could possibly mean. Had Remus known of Snape's convoluted loyalties? Was this one more trusted person who'd kept Harry in the dark about things that mattered?

He guessed that 'St. James' was either a church or a hospital, but had no idea which, or how to even begin to find out. The 'Bat', 'Gringotts', and several other isolated entries, didn't make sense either. At least not yet.

He'd hit on the possibility that the sequence under 'TDA' referred to the Horcrux book, which seemed more than likely, given that Snape had freely admitted that he'd done some research of his own.

And the list of dates and places that he assumed referred to himself seemed reasonable enough. After all, Snape had to have been looking for an opportunity to intercept him...given that weighty piece of information that he'd been entrusted to deliver to Harry.

There was a niggling question in the back of Harry's mind, as he mulled over the journal. Why? Why these two potions, why these particular people, why these dates and notations? All in all, the journal was only a quarter full. Why had it been important enough to Snape to put these all together in a journal, wrap it tight with a cord, then place it in a trunk that only the most motivated would even begin to have a chance to open?

There was a mystery here, Harry knew, one that he desperately wanted to unravel and understand, mostly driven by the unlikely and burgeoning relationship that he was in the process of forging with a soulless portrait that, strangely, seemed to have a considerable amount of soul, Snape's declaration to the contrary.


Harry lifted his head and sniffed the wonderful aroma of baking bread. He was perched on a stool at a table in the kitchens, reviewing with the chief house-elf the foodstuffs to be ordered for the upcoming term. At his elbow were an ice-cold butterbeer and a platter of assorted delicacies. The elves, who at one time had been suspicious of Harry, largely due to Hermione and her S.P.E.W endeavor, had become outright fond of him when they'd learnt of how Harry had honored one of their own, by personally digging a grave, then placing a stone marker inscribed with Dobby's name, not to mention that many of them had witnessed his defeat of Voldemort in the Great Hall.

He was almost finished with his work, and was reaching for his butterbeer, when the door to the kitchens was thrown open with a shout of, "Surprise!"

There stood Ron, Hermione and Ginny, grinning at him from the doorway.

"Hey!" he greeted them as he stood, reaching out to shake Ron's hand, then endured a crushing hug from Hermione, and a more timid one from Ginny.

"It's Saturday, and Ron's home for the weekend, so we thought we'd pop up and spend the day with you," Hermione explained enthusiastically.

"Great...that's great," Harry replied. "Let me just..." He shuffled his parchments together, then thanked the elves for their hospitality. "So, it's almost time for lunch," he told them as they left the kitchens. "Hagrid'll be happy to see you."

As he expected, the seating was maneuvered so that he was sitting next to Ginny.

"So," she began, "only you and Hagrid are here?"

"Filius is in and out, but Sibyll's here as well."

Ginny snorted. "Oh, Harry. What do you do in the evenings? Read tea leaves and play Exploding Snap?"

Harry smiled. "Well, you're half right. Sometimes Hagrid and I play. You know Sibyll-last time I saw her was at the Leaving Feast."

Ginny looked around the Great Hall. "It seems so empty," she said, then asked predictably, "Aren't you lonely?"

Harry thought about this for a moment. He knew he could be truthful without being entirely honest. "No, not really. I have some things that I'm working on, I read, I'm up early, so it's early to bed." Well, that was only half-true, but he wasn't about to reveal what kept him up late some nights. "How about you?" Harry prodded, deciding that the best defense would be a proactive offense. "I'm surprised you could get away."

Ginny reached over to cover his hand with hers. Harry stared in fascination as she laced her fingers through his. He hesitated for a moment, then gave them a gentle squeeze. It felt good...to touch someone, but...

"When Hermione called, I cleared my schedule. Got someone to cover my shift. I wanted to come. I wanted to see you. It seems like ages..."

"April." Harry supplied the exact month for her.

Her smile faded. "Two months, Harry. Two months. Remember, after the war, how happy we were? Nothing could keep us apart?"

Harry gently disengaged his hand, still wondering about what he'd felt when she touched him. "Yeah, well, that was then, Gin. Things have changed," he said without looking at her.

"Harry," Hagrid called as he leant back in his chair. "Hermione here'd like to see wha' yeh been doin' to the greenhouses."

Pushing away his plate, Harry shot Hagrid a grateful glance. "Everyone done? We're off, then."

They spent the afternoon wandering the grounds, viewing the greenhouses, even stopping to skip stones on the lake. After several meaningful glares, Hermione got the message and stopped trying to distance herself and Ron so that Harry and Ginny would be alone.

Hermione sat in the stands and watched as the others soared above the Quidditch pitch. It was sure to be the best part of his day, Harry thought, exhilarated as they took turns with the Quaffle, trying to sneak past the other two defenders. For an hour, Harry forgot about everything: he forgot about who he was; he forgot about his past and his future; he forgot about Ginny and Snape. When he flew, Harry just was: energy personified, joy distilled, streaking through the sky at breakneck speed, reveling in the sensation of the wind in his hair and the weightlessness of his body astride his broom.

As they headed, breathless, for the lockers, Harry grinned at Ginny. "You're still amazing."

She flushed at his words. "You're not too bad yourself."

For a moment, the tension of the past year was forgotten, and they walked the rest of the way, arm in arm.

After an early dinner, though, Harry ran out of diversionary tactics.

"Nah, I'll pass on the staff lounge. How about your rooms?" Ron suggested. "I've brought a bottle of Ogden's so we can have a nip before we have to head back."

As they took the stairs, Harry wondered if he should warn them. His mind raced as they drew nearer and nearer, then, suddenly, he was out of time; they were at the door.

After he let them in, he blew out a breath of relief. He'd been afraid he'd left the chess board on the floor in front of the painting. But there it was, pushed under the side-table, and even better, Snape was absent from the painting propped up against the wall.

There was Ogden's Old all around, and they were comfortably sitting when Ginny was the first to notice. "That's an odd place for a painting," she observed, then leant forward to take a closer look. "What is it anyway?"

Harry tried to affect nonchalance. "Oh, that. I found it...a few weeks ago, and haven't got round to finding a place for it."

Ron had sat forward too, wrinkling his forehead. "It's a bit boring, isn't it? Just some book shelves and a desk."

Hermione slid out of her chair and knelt on one knee in front of it, lifting a finger to dab at the surface, in an effort to see if the slight film on it could be wiped away.

Ginny and Ron weren't the problem, Harry knew, but Hermione... He waited while she scrutinized the painting, then inwardly sighed in resignation when she swiveled to him, a suspicious look in her eye. Harry judged by the expression on her face that he might as well give up and have it over with.

"Harry, where is he?" she asked him intently.

Before Harry could reply, Ron had looked up. "Where's who?" he asked, glancing from his wife to Harry.

Hermione answered, "The person whose painting this is. It's obvious-the chair to the desk is overturned, and there's an open book with the page bent down. Harry?" she demanded.

"In his other portrait, wouldn't you think?" Then Harry turned to Ron and answered his question. "It's Snape."

Hermione sat back on her heels, an 'I knew it' look on her face, Ron gaped, while Ginny let out a gasp of surprise.

"You figured out the password, didn't you?" Hermione asked.

"Yeah, and when I opened it, this was on top."

"Wait. What password?" Ginny asked at the same time that Ron piped in, "What trunk?"

Harry briefly explained about the trunk and how he'd come to open it, along with an abbreviated itemization of what lay within it.

"Bugger all," Ron muttered, "after all this time, he just decides to show up."

"So, what did he have to say? You've talked to him, of course?" Ginny asked.

When Harry'd answered with only vague details, he was relieved to see their interest in the topic wane. Well, at least Ron and Ginny's. Hermione still had that look in her eye.

They didn't stay long, and as Harry said goodnight to his friends, he wasn't surprised to see that there must've been some sort of prearranged agreement that Ginny would linger and be the last to leave. It was inevitable, so he gave up trying to avoid what most likely had to be said. At the door, Hermione had a few words of advice, once Ron was out in the corridor.

"Just remember. He's only a portrait."

"Yeah, I know."

She looked at him uncertainly, then threw an arm around his neck and whispered in his ear, "Remember what Dumbledore told you? About the Mirror of Erised?" Pulling away, he saw the genuine concern in her eyes.

Harry smiled. "Don't worry, I remember."

She patted his cheek, then hurried to catch up with Ron, already at the staircase.

Harry turned toward Ginny, still perched on the edge of an armchair. "It was a nice day," she commented, twisting a lock of hair with her fingers, a gesture that signaled to Harry that she was nervous.

"Yes, it was. Thanks for coming up," he said as he leant against the wall, the door still open.

She stood and walked to stand in front of him. "Harry, I know what you said back in April..."

Shoving his hands into his pockets, he reminded her, "And December, and before that, August."

She opened her mouth, then shut it abruptly, her eyes soft and pleading. "All right, that's true, but..."

"Has anything changed, then?" he asked. "With what you want? With what you want from me?"

"All I want is for you to be reasonable! You can't hide here forever. Oh, Harry, sitting in the kitchens, chatting with house-elves...is that what you want?"

Harry furrowed his brow. "I'm not hiding. But I'm not ready to leave yet. And if you can't understand that, then I don't have anything else to say," he finished wearily. "We've been over this god only knows how many times."

Ginny looked deflated, the hope gone from her eyes, as she said flatly, "I had to try one last time. I can't wait forever."

Harry reached out and stroked her cheek. "I never asked you to. I told you a year ago what I could give you, and that wasn't enough, so you do what you have to do."

Ginny trapped his hand in hers, gripped it fiercely for a moment, then let it drop to his side. She stood on tiptoes to brush his cheek with her lips, then turned to go. "Your choice, Harry."

Harry shook his head. "Yours too, Gin."

Harry watched until she reached the staircase, then stepped back inside to close the door. Resting his forehead against the wood of it, he thought, Well, it could've been worse. Not as bad as the last time, when there'd been tears and raised voices and things said that had shocked both of them. He felt strangely relieved, as he realized that this had probably been a permanent parting of the ways. He was only mildly surprised by his own lack of emotion. He would always care for her, but time and distance, along with whatever the hell was wrong with him in the first place, had blunted any sense of loss he might've experienced now.

The sound of a drawer being shut, and the thump of a book on the desk made Harry push off the door and turn toward the sound. He'd just pulled an armchair up close to the painting when Snape looked up, then back down at his book.

"Did you hear any of that?" Harry asked.

Snape licked the tip of a finger to turn a page, then glanced up again. "I saw no one, but I overheard you showing Miss Weasley the door...literally and figuratively, I believe."

"Hmmm," was all Harry had to say, then when the silence stretched out... "Thanks for leaving. It gave me a chance to...break it to them. That you're...sort of here." He eyed the empty glass on the table beside him, then Summoned the half-empty bottle with a wave.

"It's none of my affair, Potter, but I never pegged you as a recluse. And I understood, from other sources, that you and Miss Weasley were-in the words of your generation-an item."

Emptying the glass in one swallow, Harry tucked it between his thighs. "An item...a potential one, maybe." He shook his head. "We never spent much time together, to be honest." He stared morosely at Snape.

"This is your chance to tell me to sod off. Otherwise I'm afraid my boredom and curiosity will induce me to ask personal questions."

Harry reached for the bottle, then poured, the glass still between his legs. "Fire away."

"I noticed near the end of your sixth year that the two of you were...acting strangely."

Harry smiled. "Yeah, that's when it really started. A bit slow coming out of the gate, her being Ron's sister, and me not wanting her in harm's way."

"Ah. I see."

The full glass of Firewhisky was rearranged without Harry spilling a drop. "Then that whole next year, I only saw her once. But I thought about her...quite a bit."

"You thought about her."

"Yeah, and...well, fantasized too." He stared at Snape over the top of his glass. "You know."

Snape nodded, then said without a trace of derision, "I do know."

Harry finished the second glass and wiped his mouth with the back of his sleeve. "She was the first girl I ever wanted...that way. And she felt the same about me. After all the funerals, I stayed at the Burrow for a month, and that's when we started..." He faltered, wondering how to say it. Snape didn't help him out at all, but sat, completely immobile, for once a paragon of patience.

"We made love." Harry finally chose the words, then almost as an afterthought added, "Had sex. Not an easy thing to work out at the Burrow." His eyes darkened. "'Course, Molly was distracted then."

"Sounds like it started well."

Harry blew out a breath. "It started out fantastic, but..." He shook his head, then slid down to sit on the floor, his hands clasped around his knees. Resting his chin atop them, he took up where he'd left off. "Sex was never the problem, neither was not spending enough time together. And I thought I loved her...and for a while, everything was the way I'd thought it would be." Harry knew he must be slightly drunk, because he felt his throat constrict with maudlin emotion.

"What happened, Potter?" The voice was firm but soft.

Harry hadn't had an answer when it'd first happened; he hadn't had one for Ginny in the months that followed; he certainly didn't have one now just because Snape had decided to ask. "I don't know. We saw each other off and on that first year. They let her sit her NEWTs in the middle of her first year at St. Mungo's-they did that for quite a few of the students, who for one reason or another...well, you can guess. Coming back here would've been hard, especially for Ginny, what with Fred."

"But you were here, in charge of the rebuilding," Snape commented. "I would've thought that might've been a comfort to her, despite the unpleasant memories." Snape wondered out loud, "That she chose not to strikes me as unnatural, if, as you say, the two of you had an understanding."

"Well, the whole Healer thing came about because of Fred, I think. Wanting to do something for people who're sick or hurt. She really got into it. Took up all of her time. We still managed to see each other most weekends, usually in London. Then, when the rebuilding was almost done, that's when it started to fall apart."

"When you first discovered you felt a compulsion to stay?"

Harry lifted his head from his knees in surprise. "It's not so much a compulsion to stay as it is no desire to go anywhere else. I've tried, really. I have. And I couldn't for the life of me hit on one single thing that I wanted to do enough to get me to pack up my life here and set out to start something new. And over time, that unwillingness to leave has got even worse. When I think about it...it almost makes me physically sick sometimes."

"Sounds like a compulsion to me," Snape said, almost gently.

Harry gave him a withering look. "Whatever it is...I spent a month trying to figure it out, then I finally decided to just tell Ginny that I was staying...for a while. And she could've come here." He shook his head. "But that didn't go over very well."

"I imagine not," Snape commented.

Harry bit his lower lip, considering whether or not to reveal what had actually dampened his longing for Ginny. Then he saw, in a flash, the memory of a small, scrawny Severus Snape, and remembered that he'd long ago come to the conclusion that they were alike in ways Harry would've never imagined. "You know what she said? When I told her I wanted to stay...take some time...that I just didn't feel right about moving on yet? When she heard I was filling Filch's spot, she was furious. 'Are you mad? Where's your ambition? All the things you talked about wanting to do? You could be Minister one day if you'd put your mind to it. Don't you want to be someone, Harry?'" He buried his face in his knees, thinking to himself that he really shouldn't have had that last glass of Ogden's.

"She's a fool."

Tilting his head up, Harry looked at him. "Well, she's hot-headed, stubborn, impatient...and immature sometimes, but she's not a fool," he weakly protested.

Snape rolled his eyes. "Call her what you will. But the fact of the matter, hard as it may be to accept, is that if she truly loved you, she'd understand and wait for you, however long it took. Instead, she's self-centeredly issued an ultimatum, and is thus altogether unworthy of you."

Harry smiled. "I agree with all of that except the 'unworthy' part."

"Then you're a self-deprecating fool as well."

"Thanks." Now Harry grinned.

"I'm serious, Potter. Better to find this out now rather than later."

"Actually, as far as Ginny's concerned, I think I've moved on." When Snape looked disbelieving, Harry added, "I wasn't too thrilled when they showed up today, most of all because of her. And at lunch, she tried to hold my hand...and I felt...nothing. There was a time when her doing that seemed to connect straight to my..." Oh, what the hell. "...cock."

"Please, don't hesitate to speak your mind," Snape said with a slight smile.

Harry laughed out loud, and he realized that it was the first time that day that he had. It felt good. How odd, that it was Snape who'd inspired it...

"I do miss sex, though." He shot a glance at Snape. "In the interests of speaking my mind, it's a wonderful thing...sex."

Snape narrowed his eyes. "From what I've heard at night, you have a rather healthy relationship with your right hand."

Harry couldn't help it. His mouth dropped open in shock, even as he felt the blush beginning in his cheeks. "What?"

"Well, you are, aren't you?" Snape asked him, amused.

"Aren't I what?" Harry was still flummoxed.


"Oh. Oh, yeah, so I am." He gave up then and laughed at himself. "I'm sorry, sir. I didn't know you could hear me."

Snape waved away his apology. "You're a normal young man with a sexual appetite. Most men, at some point in their lives, must resort to...taking themselves in hand," Snape murmured.

Harry stared at the man. Was it just his imagination, or was that a flush creeping up above the top of his collar?

"So..." Harry began tentatively, "Professor, have you ever...I mean, I know from your memories that you...but did you ever...oh hell, forget it," he finished, flustered.

Snape's eyes flashed. "You know from my memories that I carried a torch for your mother. A conversation for another time. What I believe you wanted to ask was whether or not I'd ever had a sexual encounter. 'Had sex' is how you put it?"

Harry nodded, too relieved to risk using his voice.

"Yes. Once upon a time, I had a lover. Only one, mind you. So I'm well acquainted with the drama of passion. Not of the romantic variety, you understand, but the thrills and throes of the male libido, yes. You have my utmost sympathy in that regard."

"I can't believe we're having this conversation," Harry murmured, a smile still lingering.

"Why not?" Snape demanded. "Because you believed that absurd 'vampire in the dungeons' legend?"

Harry nearly choked, well aware by now that Snape actually seemed to be enjoying himself.

"No, no, although there was a time, back in third year when I seriously considered it." He stretched his legs out in front of him, feeling pleasantly squiffy and content. "No, what I meant is-and I've been thinking about this all week-you're so different from the other portraits."


Harry toed the frame of the portrait, causing Snape to startle. "Sorry. You see, I've talked to most of them, and they all can carry on a conversation." He groped for the words. "But they seem, I don't know, like they're not all there. Even Dumbledore. Sure, they laugh, they get angry, they know things. But there's something flat about them. I think it's because they're split between their portraits and someplace else."

Snape's face had returned to its usual pasty pale, but his eyes...his eyes seemed to glitter, even through that evasive white, wispy whatever it was that clouded the painting. Harry realized with a jolt that it wasn't nearly as noticeable when Snape was in the portraits. He was wondering why, when he was prompted by Snape's, "Go on."

"But you," Harry began, "you don't feel that way at all. There's a depth to everything about you-the sound of your voice, the way you look, and move, but most of all-and please, remember I'm slightly intoxicated, so cut me a break here-day by day, it feels like I'm getting to know you. Even after all the times I've talked to Dumbledore?" Harry shook his head. "I don't ever forget I'm talking to a portrait. With you," he lowered his voice, then confessed, "I rarely remember that I am."

Snape stood and re-shelved his book, then leant against the edge of his frame. "I suppose, in part, that might be due to the nature of the things that we've had to share."

Harry didn't think so, but instead he asked, "Professor, you still don't have any...recollection of what's going on with you now...I mean, wherever you've ended up...your soul?"

Snape straightened. "I told you before, Potter, I'm a portrait. As for what my 'soul', as you put it, is up to, I'm neither informed nor interested. It's not like I have a bloody book on the afterlife to reference." There was a familiar sharp edge of impatience in his voice.

"All right. Just thought I'd ask. Figured now that you've been out in the open, maybe you'd be more aware of it...or something." Harry watched Snape closely.

Snape made a harrumphing noise as he sat back against the edge of the desk. "Nothing changes for me. Nothing except what I might glimpse outside the edge of this frame. Or hear," he added pointedly, then rapped the frame with his knuckles to drive home his point.


That night, when Harry'd finished undressing, he thought briefly about closing his door. Then he remembered Snape's last words, and the haunted look on his face as he'd said them, and decided to leave it open.


Harry eased the door open, then quietly slipped inside. He relaxed when he saw that Snape's portrait, as he'd hoped, was empty. But the frame looked...odd. Crossing the office to take a closer look, he stopped suddenly in front of it.

Hanging from the upper edge of the frame was the bat-Snape's familiar. Harry craned his neck forward to see it more closely. Its wings were tightly wrapped around the creature as it slept, its head tucked out of sight. Harry'd never seen one from such a short distance before: he admired the tiny veins and bones that crisscrossed the paper-thin wings. He put out a cautious finger, just on the verge of stroking it, when a voice from behind him made him startle in surprise.

"Not a wise idea, Harry. It's sleeping, and you're bound to frighten it. Although, even awake, I don't think it would endure anyone's caress but Severus'."

Harry stopped to stand in front of the old man's portrait. "Sir, I've been talking to Professor Snape. Did you know about that?" he asked.

Parting his beard with his fingers, Dumbledore smiled. "Ah, yes, Severus told me. And about high time the two of you did." He paused, then peered over Harry's shoulder at Snape's empty portrait. The blue eyes drifted back to Harry's. "So, the two of you have sorted things out?"

"Yes, we have, but...there was something I wanted to ask you...about him."

Dumbledore squinted at him from over the top of his glasses. "Why not go directly to the source? Ask Severus."

Harry'd known that this was where they'd end up. "Well, you see, I have, and he doesn't have the answer, so I thought you might know, sir."

The headmaster seemed to relax, and graced Harry with a blinding smile. "In that case, ask away. Perhaps I can atone for all the answers I declined to give in the past."

So far, so good, Harry thought. "Remember you told me about how pleased you were with the 'grand adventure'? Where you are now? I know you see my parents, and Remus and Sirius."

"Ah yes, I have a standing order to send you their love each time I see you."

Harry smiled. "Tell them I love them too. It's nice to know that you see them." He silently thanked the old man for the perfect set-up. "By the way, sir, do you ever see Professor Snape there? Just wondering."

Dumbledore clucked his tongue. "What was it that you asked Severus? For which he didn't have an answer?"

Harry realized that even as a portrait, Dumbledore was nobody's fool, especially his. "I asked him about his afterlife," he ventured.

"And?" Dumbledore raised his eyebrows.

"He says he doesn't have the faintest idea. No knowledge or awareness of it at all." Harry paused, then added, "Is that unusual?"

The headmaster didn't answer for a moment, deep in thought. "I'm not certain. I've not come across him as of yet, but it's a vast dimension, Harry, which does not abide by earthly standards of time and space. But still... Are you certain he's not withholding something he perhaps wishes to remain private?"

Harry shook his head gravely. "Not about this, sir. I'm sure of it. I actually think he's a little cross that he doesn't know."

"Very peculiar indeed. But as you know, m'boy, I do not posses all the answers, nor do I even profess to know half the questions." He chuckled. "Is there anything else, Harry?" he asked gently.

Harry debated, then decided, why not? "There's one more thing. Why does Professor Snape seem...almost real in his portrait, compared to you, sir? No offense intended."

At Harry's words, something dark seemed to flit across the headmaster's face, and for a moment Harry thought he had taken offence.

"Real? In what way?" he asked softly, critically eyeing Harry.

Harry gave the same brief synopsis he'd given Snape, then was perplexed when the old man began to shake his head.

"Perhaps...perhaps...it is because you spend so much time with him. Be cautious, Harry. Too much time spent with a portrait means too little time spent elsewhere. Understood?"

Harry had no choice but to agree. "Point taken, sir." But he didn't fail to notice that the headmaster seemed distracted and disturbed as he turned to go.


It was dusk, Harry's favorite time of day. On this particular evening, he'd walked out to the Quidditch pitch to sit in the stands to watch the sunset. From the looks of the sky in front of him, it promised to be a glorious one.

It'd been several days since his talk with Dumbledore, and ever since, his mind had been in a turmoil. As he watched the moon rise above the horizon, he thought about Snape.

Earlier in the day, just before supper, he'd sat in the library, staring down at the journal and the several pages of notes he'd made, things he'd come across in the potions texts, as well as a cross-referenced list of the dates, places and people Snape had, for some yet unknown reason, found important enough to put quill to parchment.

He didn't know what to do next, was his problem. He'd racked his brain, writing down random possibilities and connections, no matter how unlikely or ridiculous. But he'd finally closed the journal, rolled up his parchments, and admitted: he was at an impasse.

The sun was now a perfect, blazing semi-circle in front of him, the surrounding sky streaked with crimson and purple.

Besides the puzzle of the journal, there was the enigma of the man himself. Despite their past history: even though Harry'd suspected that what Snape had actually done to redeem himself would not make him likeable; even though Harry'd expected to make his peace with the man, as much as it was possible to do such a thing with a portrait; even though he'd figured that that would be the end of it... Well, here he was, and he knew it was far from ended.

After weeks of talking to Snape, Harry considered what they had in common: the escape from miserable childhoods to Hogwarts; Dumbledore as mentor; dedication to a personal mission; and finally, they'd both 'died' at the hand of Voldemort. No small wonder that they'd talked for weeks, and still had not talked themselves out.

And although Harry still had many questions yet to be asked, he didn't think the answers would change what he knew: he liked Snape. Well, at least this version of him. It hadn't been lost on Harry that, several nights ago when he'd somewhat fearfully described his frustrating personal inertia, Snape had been the only one who hadn't urged him to 'move on'.

There wasn't one particular thing that decided him, in the end; it was the sum total of all of them: the journal and Snape's staunch refusal to explain any of it; the afterlife of which Snape had no awareness; the strange 'reality' of the man's portrait; the headmaster's reaction when Harry'd mentioned it; the potions phials in the trunk, which Snape had on yet another occasion instructed Harry 'not to meddle with'.

Taken all together, Harry had an overwhelming sense that something was 'off'. He supposed it was foolish, given that the subject in this case was definitely dead, and the person Harry was worrying over had only a portrait presence.

But he'd gone on gut feeling before, and it'd occurred to him, in a flash of clarity, that this conundrum with Snape might turn out to be part and parcel of why Harry had to stay at Hogwarts. There was something left undone, and Harry knew, in the same way he'd known not to race Voldemort to Hogwarts, that he was the one meant to do it.

He needed help, though. He'd come to that conclusion as he'd sat in the library, flummoxed by the complicated potions in the journal. He'd no idea whom he might ask for help; but as he watched the last of the flaming sphere sink below the line of trees, the sky at that in between state, a pearlescent mingling of sunlight and moonlight, the answer was just suddenly there.

His mind whispered, "Draco."


Harry squinted at the parchment, comparing the street number with the one on the door in front of him. Yes, this was it, there was the number, '43 Townsend,' on the plaque just under the words, 'Highfield Club.' The shop front windows on either side of the door were hung with dark blue curtains, with only a faint glimmer of light filtering through from behind them.

Folding the parchment and shoving it into his pocket, Harry hesitated at the door: should he knock? He had no idea what lay beyond, so instead opted to give the door handle a try.

He found himself in what appeared to be a combination eating establishment and bar. As he lingered in the foyer, a tall balding man stepped out from behind a small podium.

"Just yourself, sir?" the man asked.

Harry's eyes flickered over the half-filled room. There were tables in the center with mostly couples, a handsome mahogany bar that spanned the wall to the right, a row of booths on the opposite wall, and in the far corner of the room, a small staging area, where a band was providing a muted musical backdrop. After scanning the crowd, Harry turned back to the man.

"I'm meeting someone, but I don't see him," Harry said

"A table, then?"

Harry looked at the occupied tables and booths, and for the first time noticed that all the patrons were men. Men, who, it appeared, were intimately acquainted with each other.

"No, thanks. I'll just sit at the bar."

The man seemed surprised, hesitated, then gestured toward the bar.

"When the rest of your party arrives, let me know if you'd like a table."

Harry nodded, then wove his way in between the tables. By the time he reached the bar and situated himself on a stool near one end, he'd guessed that this was a gay establishment

The barkeep had given him a long, appraising look, waiting until Harry sat, then took his drink order. Harry had an uncertain moment when it came time to pay, having Galleons in one pocket and five pound notes in the other. He decided on the latter, which the barkeep took without comment. Damn Draco, Harry thought, as he turned on his stool so he could watch the entrance and the rest of the room.

It was already past eight, so Draco was late. He supposed he shouldn't be surprised. Making him wait fit somehow-it'd seemed bizarre that Draco had agreed to meet him at all. The response to Harry's tersely worded owl had contained only a date and time, along with the address of the place where he now sat.

As he waited, Harry wondered why Draco had chosen it. It seemed upscale enough, tastefully decorated, the tables hung with cloths, the low light achieved with fixtures recessed into the walls. The members of the band-a drummer, sax player, bass guitarist, and pianist-were well-dressed. Harry listened for a while, deciding after a few songs that it was blues or jazz. No vocalist, though.

He was on his second drink and still alone, when he figured out why the doorman had offered him a table. He'd just turned down his third offer of a drink from lone men who'd taken the seat next to him. When Harry'd refused, they wandered off; the last one had muttered, "Why're you sitting at the bar, then?"

C'mon, Malfoy, he thought to himself as he watched the rebuffed man relocate to the other end of the bar. If Draco'd set him up, Harry swore that he'd...he'd what?

He leant back against the bar, deciding that nine o'clock would be his limit. So he settled in to listen to the band and watch the other diners. Some had angled their chairs to face the band, some were eating and talking quietly, but Harry caught the other things too. There was touching-hands held across tables, hands that stroked faces, even hands beneath the tables, Harry could tell, although the cloths hid what they did.

In the booths on the opposite wall, the occupants didn't seem to be interested in food or the band at all. Harry's eyes wandered down the row of them, and saw arms wrapped around each other, long drawn-out kisses, roaming hands, and restless adjustments. Like the bar where Harry was sitting, the row of booths appeared to have its own set of rules. It was the last booth in the corner that snagged and fixed Harry's attention. He felt the heat rise in his face, but couldn't look away. His heart began to pound in his ears and he had to remind himself to breathe.

Oblivious to the room, the couple writhed against each other, their hands everywhere...dragging through hair...clenching, grasping, smoothing, all through clothing, sometimes frantic, sometimes slowly. Harry watched, mesmerized; there was no tablecloth to hide what happened next.

Trousers were undone, then one of the men slid to the floor beneath the table, his back to Harry, whose view of what happened next was blocked by the man's head, but the man sitting in the booth became suddenly slack-jawed, his arms thrown out sideways to clutch at the upholstery. As the head in his lap began to move, Harry had to stop his own hand from touching himself. He was achingly hard, and he wanted nothing more at that moment than to undo the flies of his trousers and slip his hand inside, to time his stokes to the bobbing of the man's head, now moving faster...

"That could be us, mate," a gruff voice said at his ear.

Cheeks on fire, Harry took a deep breath and swiveled around in his chair. God, what had he been thinking? In the mirror behind the bar, Harry saw the reflection of the man seated beside him, his head close to Harry's.

"No, I don't think so," Harry said as he signaled the barkeep. He was suddenly aware that the music had stopped and, he decided, it was definitely time to go.

He was startled when the man's fingers closed over his thigh. "Aww, you don't mean that. Look at you. All flushed and sweaty...and ready. I know you're ready." The hand moved up Harry's thigh and brushed against the tip of his cock through his trousers. Harry couldn't control the twitch, and was mortified when the man laughed. Definitely time to go, he thought, disgusted with himself.

Harry caught the hand and pushed it away, turning slightly toward the man. "One more time. Sod. Off," he said, his voice low and threatening. He has to be drunk or stupid or both, Harry thought, as he watched in the mirror. The man had moved his stool closer, and was just about to slide an arm across Harry's shoulders, when a face suddenly appeared between the two of them.

"Leave him alone, Clay," Draco said. Harry didn't turn, but stared at the mirror.

"Get lost, Malfoy," the man blustered. "I saw him first." But he withdrew his arm, looking uncertain.

"Sorry. He belongs to me," Draco said, and Harry felt the warm weight on his shoulder as he watched Draco rest his hand there.

"That so?" Clay slurred, pulling back to look at Harry.

"Yeah, that's right," Harry confirmed bemusedly, still watching Draco. "I'm with him."

The man looked from one to the other, then muttered a curse before he slunk away. Harry was eyeing the glass in his hand as he felt Draco let go of his shoulder. When he looked up to the mirror again, Draco was staring at him.

"You're late," Harry said without turning, then nodded, "Thanks for that."

Draco shrugged. "He's a miserable fuck. You deserve better."

Harry choked on his drink, then quickly recovered. "I belong to you, huh?" he asked sarcastically.

A slow smile spread across Draco's face. "You said it, Potter."

Harry felt the heat in his face again as Draco laughed and threw some notes on the bar. Harry watched, bewildered, as the barkeep handed Draco a bottle.

"Come on," Draco directed with a jerk of his head. "Let's get out of here."


Instead of heading for the door, Draco motioned toward the end of the bar. Harry followed, through the kitchens, up two flights of stairs, then down a narrow hallway to the door at the end. Draco muttered a barely audible, "Alohomora," then stood to the side for Harry to enter.

It was a one room flat with two slanted walls, and a dormer with a large window at the far end. Harry stood in the middle of the room, shocked by the squalor of the living space. Draco had set the bottle on the counter of the tiny kitchenette, unknotting his tie as he watched Harry's face.

"You live here?" Harry finally asked, after he'd looked it all over.

Draco looked around the flat, as if seeing it through Harry's eyes. The bed was unmade, there were books and magazines scattered on the floor, the curtain rod was askew, and the bare hardwood floor was marred, but clean.

"Yeah, most of the time." Draco turned to the bottle on the counter, asking over his shoulder, "You still drinking?"

"Absolutely," Harry said, then waited as Draco poured out two inches, neat, for each of them

Handing both glasses to Harry, Draco dragged the only chair in the room to face the bed. Lifting a cloak from the back of it, he threw it to the end of the bed, then took a glass from Harry. Motioning to the chair, Draco sat on the edge of the bed. He answered the question before Harry had the chance to ask.

"I stay here when we're playing. The rest of the time, I'm at the Manor," he gestured vaguely, "or elsewhere."

Harry frowned. "When you're playing?"

Draco looked surprised, then a look of slight disbelief settled on his face. "When I'm playing, Potter. In the band?" When Harry looked confused, Draco sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "The entertainment downstairs. As in music?" He seemed slightly exasperated, but also amused.

"That band?" Harry shook his head. "I didn't even see you," he confessed. "I was too busy watching the door...and..." He forced his voice to remain neutral. "It'd have been nice if you'd warned me."

"Warned you of what?" Draco asked. "Not to sit at the bar?"

"No...yes. Well, I didn't realize until I started to look around..." Once again, Harry felt the damnable flush begin in his face.

"See anything you liked?" Draco asked softly.

Harry opened his mouth to retort, then noticed the most remarkable thing: Draco didn't appear the least bit malicious, and although he could read amusement in the man's face, there was also just simple curiosity. Harry felt challenged to explore this new Draco.

"One or two blokes caught my eye," Harry said casually, watching for Draco's reaction.

Draco's eyebrows shot up. "Really?" he asked, mildly incredulous.

Harry tossed back his drink, feeling in control for the first time that evening. "Couldn't make up my mind," he said, deadpan. "The fellow blowing his mate under the table, or the piano player." Draco's mouth dropped open, while Harry congratulated himself for being half-truthful: the man under the table had certainly held his attention.

But the look in Draco's eyes made Harry think over what he'd just said. To his credit, Draco sat and waited for him, a delighted smirk on his face.

Couldn't make up my mind...fellow blowing his mate...piano player... Oh, shite.

Harry cocked his head to the side, then stated the obvious. "You're the piano player."

"Right in one," Draco confirmed as he Summoned the bottle.

Harry put his head in his hands and waited until Draco had stopped laughing.

"I didn't see you," Harry said as he looked up.

"Yeah, I figured that out."

Sitting back in his chair, Harry narrowed his eyes. "I didn't know you played."

Draco pushed himself back on the bed and stretched his legs out. "My mother taught me. Never thought I'd be making a living out of it, though."

"She taught you to...what was that? Jazz?"

Draco snorted. "It's jazz, but she didn't teach me that. I play by ear, so it wasn't hard to catch on. The money's good, and with the pick-ups, I do rather well."

"Pick-ups?" Harry asked.

Draco suddenly sobered. "Yes, pick-ups. I play two sets a night, then I sit at the bar, like you were."

"Pick-ups," Harry repeated, then his eyes went wide as he got it. "Sex for money?" he asked, scandalized.

Draco scowled. "Yes, sex for money. Don't look so shocked. I happen to like sex, and it pays well."

"Why would you..." But the question died in Harry's throat. He'd been about to ask why Draco would need the money, but then he knew. The Malfoy fortune was gone; the Prophet had reported the whole sorry mess during Lucius Malfoy's trial. Funny, he hadn't really thought of it at the time, how the father's conviction and confiscation of assets would affect the other Malfoys. The intensity of Draco's voice startled him.

"Don't you dare pity me. I'm managing quite well on my own."

They sat and studied each other, an uncomfortable silence between them.

Harry finally confessed, "You're not what I expected."

With that admission, Harry witnessed the return of the Draco he'd always known: haughtiness crept into his expression, the chin lifted, and the proud gray eyes became flinty and hard. Harry suddenly wished they could return to the humor of a minute ago.

"What did you expect?" Draco chided.

Harry gestured with his glass. "I take it back. Sorry. For a minute there, you were somebody different. My mistake. No matter, this wasn't a social call anyway."

Failing to hide the fact that he was intrigued, Draco crossed his legs. "So I gathered from your owl. By the way, Potter, I've been hearing things about you... How's Ginny?" he asked smugly.

"Fine. How's your mother?" Harry shot back.

Draco looked taken aback. "Touché," he muttered.

Harry pinched the bridge of his nose. "Look. How about we do it this way? I'm the caretaker at Hogwarts, and you're the piano player at the Highfield. Forget about all the other stuff for now? I'm here because I need your help."

Still not seeming convinced, Draco asked, "My help? What about your friends? Granger?"

Harry shook his head. "Not for this." He hesitated, then said, "It's about Snape."

Draco looked confused. "Severus? How can you need help with him? He's-"

"Dead," Harry finished for him. "I know it sounds stupid, but hear me out, won't you?"

It took almost an hour for Harry to tell it all, from opening the trunk with the key Draco'd sent, to the discussions he and Snape'd had, how the man seemed to crave sunlight and refused to spend time in the headmaster's office. He described Snape's reaction to the news that Remus was dead, as well as detailing how odd his portraits were, how he sensed that there was something 'off'' about them. Draco showed outright disbelief that Snape had a familiar, then frowned when Harry told him of the disturbing conversations about the afterlife. Harry noticed that Draco listened carefully when he told him of the journal and what was in it and in the trunk.

"Maybe it's just my overactive imagination, but I don't think so, I really don't. Something's not right." Harry paused, ready to reveal the reason that he'd come to him. "It all started with the key you had-maybe coincidence, but at this point, I'm not so sure. He planned a lot of things out, and it seems odd that he'd leave such a thing for you to find." He lowered his voice, causing Draco to sit forward on the bed. "You were with him for a year, Draco." Harry timed the use of Draco's first name, and he noticed the man look up at him suddenly. "If anyone knows anything about his frame of mind during that time, you'd have as good a shot as any."

Draco emptied the bottle, then set it on the floor. Harry was feeling slightly dizzy, and he had to admire Draco's stamina, as he'd drunk most of it.

"So, what d'you want me to do?" Draco asked him, leaning back on the pillow and shutting his eyes.

"Look at the journal. You were always good at Potions, and me, well, I just scraped by. Maybe you can make sense of some of the other entries too. And maybe Snape will tell you things he won't tell me-you're both Slytherins."

For a moment, Harry was afraid that Draco'd fallen asleep. But as the pause lengthened, Draco opened his eyes and came up on his elbows. "Snape...my father didn't believe it, but my mother and I...well, we realized he was protecting us...as much as he could." He fell back on the pillows and stared at the slanted ceiling. "All right. I'll give it a try. But I won't be able to come until the weekend. We have a break." He paused and turned his head. "Will it be a problem with McGonagall?"

"No, not at all."

Draco yawned and brought an arm up to rest across his forehead. "Good."



Harry could tell that he didn't have long to make his point. "Thanks for doing this. I don't know why it's become so...important."

Harry heard the amusement in the man's voice, but without any trace of malice. "It's Snape. He's got under your skin."

Harry shivered. "Wonderful imagery. Thanks. I'll have nightmares now."

There was a very drowsy snort and a yawn from Draco.

Harry struggled to his feet, then stood uncertainly by the bed. "I'll be going, then. You'll owl me when you're coming? I'll need to be at the gates."

There was an incoherent mumble in reply, as Draco turned to his side.

Undecided whether to say anything more, Harry hesitated, as he looked down at his former enemy. What he'd said had been true, that this Draco had been unexpected. The Draco'd he'd known before would've never fallen off to sleep with a former adversary in the room. That Draco had always been firmly in control, deeply suspicious, ever scheming, and annoyingly pretentious.

He thought of the last time he'd seen him, that night in the Great Hall after the battle. Huddled together with his parents, this Draco had been born into a world where he was just another casualty, a testament to how quickly the fortunes of life can change. And he'd escaped, but not unscathed, one parent imprisoned, the other one shattered. The child born in the lap of luxury was now a piano player, who appeared to be living hand-to-mouth, trading his body to eke out a meager existence.

Despite their history, it made Harry sad. He stared down at the man, now curled on his side, a shock of blond hair falling into his face. He was unnaturally pale, the sharp angles of his features painfully more prominent, and Harry was suddenly mesmerized, fascinated by the taut curve of his neck, and the long roped vein that throbbed slowly, blue and perfect. He looked so fragile, so vulnerable...the only sign of life that slow pulsation that testified to a beating heart, and the slow rise and fall of his chest, as he breathed, shallow, in sleep.

Harry had an unsettling and irrational desire to touch him...to stretch his hand out, and trace the blue cord with just the tip of his finger...to feel the warmth and bruit and thrill of the vessel, as if that would somehow connect him to the soul and life of this person. He experienced a moment of existential wonder-that life was so self-perpetuating, that it thrummed on, that it bared itself so often and innocently to disaster, but still managed to stream along, to continue undeterred, to find a way, despite all the odds stacked against it.

He caught himself just in time, his hand poised just inches away, and pulled it back as if he'd been burned. But for some strange reason that he was at a loss to fathom, Harry felt completely undone, as vulnerable and exposed as the sleeping form on the bed.

He turned on the spot and Disapparated, wanting only to find his way back to the castle and safety and sleep...

Just at the door to his rooms, he realized...and Snape.


The next morning, Harry overslept and had to take breakfast in his rooms. He sat in front of the painting with his toast and tea, resigned to the fact that he'd best tell Snape where he'd been the night before, as Draco would be putting in an appearance on the weekend.

"Late night?" Snape asked him.

Pushing his plate aside, Harry said, "Late for me, I guess. I went into London." When Snape didn't prompt him, Harry elaborated. "To see Draco Malfoy."

Snape didn't even try to hide his surprise. "Draco?" he asked with a calculating look. "Not someone I'd think you'd seek out."

Reaching down for his shoes, Harry said without looking at him, "Well, I've been thinking about him ever since he sent the key. It's been over two years, and I was curious, so..."

Snape had stood and rounded to the front of the desk to lean back against it. "Don't make me drag it out of you, word by word. How is he?" Snape growled.

Harry related the events of the evening, editing out some of the experiences in the bar, as well as slightly altering the reason why Draco would be showing up to visit.

Snape interrupted once or twice to ask a question, and seemed as amazed as Harry over Draco's musical profession, then sniggered out loud at how Draco had rescued Harry from 'Clay'.

"Did you know Draco was gay?" Harry asked.

Snape rolled his eyes. "It was hardly a secret. He didn't flaunt it, however. His father knew and was none too pleased."

Harry mulled over this for a moment. "I felt sorry for him. He's never had to fend for himself, and now..."

"He had any number of opportunities to not follow in Lucius' footsteps," Snape disagreed. "Although that would've required a strength of character that he sadly lacked at the time."

"Well, he's different now...mostly," Harry stated.

"So it seems," Snape said in a low voice.

It was time. "He's coming up this weekend..." At the look on Snape's face, Harry added quickly, "He's not been here since that night; he'd liked to see the rebuilding, and, if you're willing, talk to you as well, sir."

For the moment, Snape seemed to ignore what Harry'd just told him. "Tell me, this Highfield Club, despite your need to be rescued, what did you think of it?"

Harry sat back in his chair and noted, with dismay, the gleam of mischief in Snape's eyes. "You don't miss much, do you?" Harry asked warily.

"Rarely. It's one of my strengths, reading between the lines."

"All right. You tell me, then."

"And if I'm wrong?" Snape asked archly.

Harry thought. "You have to listen to the game-by-game highlights from Quidditch Quarterly."

"Perfect," was Snape's instant reply. "And if I'm correct?"

"Up to you," Harry said, as it was only fair.

Snape made a soft tsking noise. "You will answer ten questions of my choice. Truthfully."

"That's it?" Harry asked with a grin. When Snape nodded, Harry suddenly had the sinking feeling that he'd missed something altogether. Nevertheless, he knew he couldn't retreat now. "Fine. Give it your best shot, then."

For at least a minute, Snape didn't speak. He stood and walked to the end of the painting, then leant against the edge of it, dissecting Harry with his eyes, from head to toe. And even though Harry knew Snape wasn't real, he had to fight the urge to fidget under the man's scrutiny.

When Snape began, his voice was soft. "At first, you wondered why Draco had chosen such a place. You thought, perhaps, that he'd done it on purpose, to make you uncomfortable?"

Harry thought this an obvious assumption. "So far, so good. Go on."

"The first few men who tried to buy you a drink were just irritations. You were more concerned with the fact that Draco was late."

Harry felt the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. Trying to sound nonchalant, he said, "Go on."

Snape propelled himself away from the edge of the painting, and returned to the desk, pulled the chair out from behind it, then dragged it to the front and sat, facing Harry.

"You nursed your drink and listened to the music, a spectator watching the other patrons. You weren't bothered at all by the outward displays of affections-the arm around a shoulder, the touch of a hand...even, the occasional kiss. Watching it...you felt warm..."

Harry's heart began to beat a little faster. He should've known. He hadn't said a word. Had he been so transparent? Evidently, yes.

Snape leant forward in his chair, his eyes deep and shining, his voice low, rich and disturbingly confident. "Then you saw...something. Oh, in a place like the Highfield, it's bound to happen. Something protracted and exquisitely explicit...something that made that comfortable suffusion of warmth explode...into a heat and frenzy of desire so intense you almost forgot yourself." His voiced dropped to almost a whisper. "You were agonizingly aroused, Potter, and for a moment all you could think of was how desperately you wanted release."

Contrary to Harry's predilection to blush, he felt the color drain from his face. Snape's eyes had caught Harry's and refused to let them go. Harry opened his mouth to speak; he wanted to explain; he wanted to tell Snape how natural it had seemed; he wanted to tell him that, despite his being right, Harry wasn't ashamed; he wanted to confess that he'd known this about himself for a while, and that it was a relief to hear someone else validate it.

Instead, he whispered, "Yes. To all of it."

Snape sat back in his chair, then smiled. It was a smile of anticipation, Harry realized. Oh, shite.

"Question number one," Snape struck at once. "Before I ask it, I must say that it's to your credit that I entertain no doubts as to the truthfulness of your answer."

Harry was having some second thoughts, though. But he also had no doubts-he'd agreed to the terms of the wager, and hell would freeze over before he'd renege on a promise to Snape. "Go on," he said, for what felt like the umpteenth time in this conversation.

Snape was deadly serious now, his voice flat as he asked, almost as if he didn't relish the answer, "Before the end of the evening, no matter who or how or what the provocation, did you experience an attraction to Mister Malfoy?"

Before Harry even had the chance to see the loophole, Snape zipped it shut tightly with his addendum. "A sexual attraction?"

Harry could feel it, the instantaneous flush beginning at the base of his throat, rapidly rising to warm his cheeks. Once again, he wanted to explain; he wanted to tell Snape of that singular moment, that epiphany he'd experienced as he'd stood over the sleeping man.

"Yeah, you know I did," Harry admitted, and despite his embarrassment, he was still not ashamed.


Harry worked through the day, cycling from mortified, to bemused, to resigned, over what he'd let Snape see of himself. By the time evening came, though, he'd settled into a more philosophical frame of mind: by his own admission, Snape was rather good at reading people, and besides, Harry couldn't believe that the man intended to use any of what he'd learnt to taunt or humiliate him. Strange that he'd deduced this about Snape, though, who had delighted in humiliating him in the past. But Harry knew, thankfully, that they were well beyond that childishness now.

"Professor, I wondered..." Harry began, sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the painting. "About the bat. Minerva says it's your familiar."

"Ah yes. Bat," Snape echoed fondly. "I acquired Bat shortly after my...retirement from Hogwarts."

"Bat? That's its name?" Harry asked, biting back a smirk.

Snape gave him a blank look. "Yes. A perfectly adequate name."

"Well," Harry hesitated, "it's an odd choice, you have to admit. The name and the animal both. So, why a bat?"

The black eyes glittered, and Harry detected the slight twitch at the corner of Snape's mouth. "Most vampires have bats as familiars, I was under the impression," he stated dryly.

Harry was incredulous...and appreciative. "Did you...just make a joke?" he asked with admiration.

Snape was stone-faced. "You decide."

Harry snorted. "Bravo, Professor! Still, why a bat?"

Snape shrugged. "They're beautiful creatures, a marvel of natural acoustics, are they not? Blood-suckers, you know. A useful talent when its owner is a potions master. They're admirably mobile and, like owls, can locate their masters on command. And very loyal as well. Once a familiar, they'll bond to no other master in their lifetime."

Harry was intrigued. "It has a personality?"

"Of course, it does. I grew quite attached to it...it knowing my darkest secrets," Snape said softly. "I regret that it's been abandoned."

"Hmm," Harry said, "but it still sticks around, hangs on your portrait. Maybe it doesn't know you're gone for good. Seems to be getting on all right." "It was my only friend during my abbreviated year as headmaster."

Tough break, that, Harry mused, remembering that during the same period, he and his friends had at least had each other. As if he'd heard Harry's thoughts, Snape called him on it.

"I was surprised that Arthur and Molly allowed your friends to set out with you."

Harry realized then, how much Snape still didn't know. "Well, they didn't actually give us their approval. We were planning...when the Ministry fell, so we sort of took off, half-cocked. Thank god, Hermione was prepared," he muttered.

Harry told Snape of how the three of them had struggled: never enough to eat; never spending the night in the same place more than once. He detailed his friends' growing frustration that he didn't 'have more of a plan'; he outlined his own niggling doubts about Dumbledore, as more and more conflicting information about his life was revealed.

When he told of their narrow escape from Godric's Hollow, Snape's face seemed noticeably paler, even though Harry had previously given him the 'short version' weeks ago.

"Your own abilities aside, I believe you may owe Granger a Life Debt for that one."

After Harry'd told the tale of finding Gryffindor's sword, Snape admitted, "I did stay hidden until I was certain that you'd retrieved it. I was puzzled about your flailing about in the pool." He shook his head at Harry, his face grim. "Another Life Debt owed to your friends."

"I think I managed to repay all of those, given what I did," he murmured, and Snape didn't disagree.

They talked into the night, Harry fleshing out the rest of the story, of which Snape already knew large portions. At the end, Harry summed up the overwhelming emotion of that whole miserable year.

"I don't know what I'd've done without my friends. But even so..." He bit his lower lip, his eyes unfocused as he reminisced. He finally looked up at Snape.

"I was so lonely. I felt completely abandoned, mostly by Dumbledore for not telling me the things we had to work so hard to figure out. And on top of that, to realize that no one understood what I was trying to do-instead, I was 'Undesirable Number One'. The lowest point had to be when I was standing there looking at my parents' graves, wishing I could see him one last time, wishing I could remember the sound of her voice..." Harry fell silent, and was suddenly awash once again in the depth and intensity of the isolation he'd felt that Christmas Eve.

"No one could ever imagine how awful that year was...how all those things together nearly took the heart out of me," he finished quietly, looking down at his hands.

No one. No one could ever imagine...not even my friends. It was my task...my fate. Maligned...misjudged...unappreciated...no one could understand.

Except... Realization slowly dawned. Except the man sitting here with him now. Harry looked up and saw the mirror of his own misery in Snape's face.

"Except you," Harry said softly. "You...and I...miles apart, but...not so far apart, when you get down to it." He hesitated, until Snape looked up at him. "Well, I had my friends, at least, but you..."

Snape's lips twisted into the sad semblance of a smile. "I had Bat, and of course, the memory of your mother."


"Question number two," Snape announced the next evening, immediately after Harry said his hello.

"Go on," Harry continued, in the spirit of the question ritual.

"Had I shown myself in the Forest of Dean, would you have given me a chance to explain?"

Harry didn't even have to stop to think. "If you would've survived the Killing Curse and Stunned me? Maybe." He shook his head then. "I don't think I was ready."

"In any case, I wouldn't have told you then, if only because Lord Voldemort was still sending Nagini out on 'missions.'" He looked sharply at Harry. "I doubt your friends would've reacted any differently either."

Harry smiled. "Yeah, you're right. That's the great thing about friends, isn't it?" He peered at Snape, who was the picture, literally, of repose, his chair tilted back, feet atop the desk, his hands laced together behind his head. "You didn't have many, did you? Friends, I mean."

Snape scowled at him, but for Snape, good-naturedly, Harry thought.

"Tactful as usual."

"Seriously, sir. I'm just curious."

With a thump, all four legs of the chair were on the floor. "You understand, the Slytherins were a fraternity. We closed ranks and took care of our own. And still do. But as for friends-ones to visit, slug around Hogsmeade together, share confidences?" Snape shook his head as he paused, then added with a sigh, "There was only your mother. She was my best and only friend."

Harry nodded. "I got that...from your memories."

Snape waved a hand dismissively. "What you did not see was how much time we spent together. Especially the summers once we started school, and during our terms at Hogwarts."

Harry couldn't hold back the question. "Even though she was a Gryffindor and you were a Slytherin?"

Snape snorted. "Very perceptive. That became the sticking point as we grew older. But like you, your mother had a mind of her own. My loyalties-being young and mostly friendless made matters worse-naturally aligned themselves with the rest of my House."

Harry knew that wasn't all of it, though. "My father and his friends didn't help matters much, either."

"No, they didn't."

Even though Harry believed that he and Snape were past that point of generational confusion, he needed to say it. "Sir?" When Snape looked up at him, Harry reminded him, "He was my father, and I love him, but he was wrong." Snape stilled instantly, then Harry watched as the features of the man's face relaxed. He inclined his head slightly.

"You saw what happened...how I begged her. But it was, in any case, inevitable. I chose my own path, one that distressed and infuriated her."

"But still," Harry interrupted, "you'd been friends all those years."

Snape looked sad. "I always imagined that I'd end up alone, but to lose her friendship entirely?" He shook his head. "Never."

Harry hesitated, then decided he'd just have to ask it outright. "Did you ever think that you and she...did you hope that you and she...?"

Giving him a marginal smile of understanding, Snape said, "End up together? Not likely. Although, I did...fantasize of such a possibility during the summer between fourth and fifth year. But I knew it was only that-a fantasy. So, I was content just to be her friend."

Harry struggled with what to say next. Snape's obsession was a matter of record, they both knew, one of which Snape had to be well aware that Harry had seen the evidence.

Snape rescued Harry from his dilemma. "She was my friend. My best friend. My only friend. I idolized her. It's what one does with one's only friend."

"She couldn't have known how important she was to you."

"We were sixteen and, as I was certainly not her only friend, no, probably not. But through our two remaining years at Hogwarts, and even after, I held out hope that we'd eventually reconcile."

"Even after my father?" Harry asked.

"Even after," Snape murmured, stroking a finger along the quill he held in his hand.

Harry waited; he knew that Snape would explain this most difficult part when he was ready.

Finally, Snape folded his hands on the desk and looked up. "Can you understand why her death was a double-edged knife in my heart?" he asked in a toneless voice.

Harry took a deep breath. "You told Voldemort about the prophecy. But you didn't know that it'd lead to my parents!" he protested.

Snape held up his hand. "Very good. The second part, however, was the worst of it." He leant forward and skewered Harry with a dark look. "I lost any chance I'd ever have of redeeming myself in her eyes. She went to her grave, thinking me a scoundrel, or worse. No way, ever again, to see her, to undo the damage that I'd done to destroy our friendship. Game over." He sat back heavily in his chair, as if the admission had drained him. "So, as you witnessed, I was beyond distraught, determined to honor her, and do what she would've wanted me to do."

Harry swallowed over the lump in his throat. "Protect me."

Snape answered, but he seemed to be looking straight through Harry, his mind elsewhere, as he said, "There was never any real sexual desire, nor a romantic attachment. No, Lily became a shrine at which I worshipped. My only chance to undo...what I'd set in motion. Protecting you was part of it."

As Harry watched the emotion on Snape's face, he felt the resolution well up inside him. "But you know, sir, that she knows all this now? It's over, Professor. And the prophecy? That all might've happened anyway, even if it hadn't been for you. I don't know-it messes with my mind. But still, my mum...even though you can't see her...or know this...I know she's your friend again."

Snape's eyes were full of wonder, and for a brief, fragile instant, Harry believed the man might actually thank him. He wasn't disappointed, though, that what he received was something different.

As his face cleared, the lines around Snape's mouth and eyes relaxed. He traced his upper lip with his tongue, then inclined his head. "Perhaps."

The tension of the past half-hour gone, Harry leant back and Summoned an unopened bottle of Ogden's.

"I'd've thought you'd be a bit put off of that, given the state in which you returned last evening."

Harry laughed easily. "Nah, I'm fine. And you've lost track of time; that was the night before last."

Snape raised an eyebrow. "Indeed." In the next breath, he said, "Question number three..."

Harry spilled a bit of the Ogden's as he poured. "You're enjoying this far too much," he muttered.

"What have you done with the contents of my trunk?" Snape asked, ignoring Harry's remark.

Harry made a face. "You wasted a question on that? I'd've told you that anyway, if you asked."

Snape answered, "A truthful answer, no matter the circumstances, is never wasted. Answer."

"Tsk, tsk. Everything is still in the trunk, except for the books," Harry said smugly.

"And they are where?" Snape asked.

"Is that question number four?" Harry shot back.

Snape opened his mouth, then shut it abruptly. He harrumphed, "No, but you said if I asked, you'd answer."

"I already did, and that statement only applied to 'what have you done with the contents of my trunk?'" Harry watched as Snape graced him with an admiring look.

"But," Harry qualified, "I'll answer, if you agree to answer a question of my own." When Snape took too long to ponder, Harry reminded him, "How bad can it be? Respectfully, sir, you are dead."

This seemed to decide Snape in Harry's favor. "All right. One question only."

"You told me, after Ginny was here, that you'd had a sexual encounter," Harry pointed out.

"Your grasp of grammar is lamentable. That is not a question, so you forfeit."

"No. No," Harry said firmly. "I was just thinking out loud," he lied. When Snape frowned, Harry stopped to think for a moment more; how could he word the question to yield the maximum information?

"How did it happen that you had sex...with this person?"

Harry could tell that Snape's mind was working the question the same way that Harry had; how could he truthfully word the answer to yield the minimum information?

Then something in Snape's faced changed; Harry saw it, fleeting as it was: a softening of his features as he remembered, then it was gone. Whatever it was, Snape seemed to have decided to answer fully.

"This happened at Hogwarts. Once upon a time, there was someone I cared very much about, after your mother, and it was not just a sexual encounter." He wiped at the corner of his mouth with a fingertip, a gesture that betrayed his self-consciousness to Harry. "We were lovers..." Snape looked Harry in the eye. "...this man and I."

Harry had decided to try and slip in another question, just as Snape had done, but suddenly, looking at the somber expression on his face, he changed his mind. "That's good, then. I'm glad you had that," he said gently.

Snape tilted his head to the side, then agreed, "So am I."


Harry was pensive, thinking about how much he'd learnt over the past hour. Some of it he'd already known or guessed, but Snape had also laid a few surprises at his feet. They'd both been weary and lonely men, mourning the death of one great wizard, even as they labored, unappreciated, to bring about the death of a terrible one. This knowledge, late as it was, that the two of them had been similarly afflicted and motivated over that entire last year, Harry found oddly comforting.

But Snape's confession, at the end, that he'd cared for someone who'd cared for him in return, put flesh on the man in a way that the startling and personal revelations of the prior weeks had failed to do. Professor Severus Snape, master of the dungeons, always feared, ever loathed, stood in Harry's memory as a stark, bitter, hollow shell of a man. So how was it that the Snape of the painting-certainly two-dimensional and literally soulless and lifeless-had become a being of emotion and intellect, a holograph of color and warmth? For not the first time, Harry felt a pang of loss-that he'd never have the chance to meet this Snape that he now knew, in the real world.

"Potter?" Snape's voice broke into Harry's thoughts.

"Sir?" Harry looked up.

"My question...if you recall the bargain?" Snape reminded him.

Harry smiled tiredly. "Both books are in the library still, safe and sound."


Harry knew that it would be unlikely that Snape would forget that Draco was to arrive that weekend. Even so, as he was saying goodnight on Friday, he decided it was best to mention it again.


"At nine. I'll be meeting him at the gates."

"I recall the reasons you gave," Snape said, "but still. Draco here for a day, with you as his only host? I find it odd. However..."

Harry watched Snape warily. God, he hated when Snape did that...ended a sentence so Harry felt compelled to ask. "However what?"

Inclining his head to the side, Snape said cautiously, "Given your circumstances, and his, the two of you may be good for each other."

"You think so?"

"We'll see," Snape advised him. Harry had just let his guard down, when Snape struck without notice. "Question number four."

Harry thought he could guess, fairly accurately, what was on Snape's mind. He silently cursed his fool self for being so simple as to agree to anything Snape would propose in the form of a wager. He reminded himself to remember this in the future.

"I realize that Draco may be coming here for several reasons. What is the single most important reason for why you invited him here? Notice that I specifically asked about your motivations, not his." Snape looked at him expectantly.

There was no way around it, Harry knew, so even before he spoke, he braced himself for the caustic reaction that was sure to come. "I want him to look at your journal, see if he can make any sense out of it," Harry said with an audible sigh, resigned.

To Harry's surprise, what occurred was most definitely unexpected. Snape bent his head, then lifted a thread from his robe. "Haven't I told you all that you needed to know? It was a collection of private thoughts, unrelated to your 'here and now'. You're wasting your time." When Harry started to speak, Snape held up his hand. "However, if this is to be the instrument of bringing two erstwhile adversaries together and uniting them in common cause, be my guest. But I'd think the two of you could find far more satisfying things to occupy your time."

"Then humor me, sir. I'm trying to understand some things about you that don't make sense, things that probably aren't important, but I want to try."

"I have no objection, then," Snape said dismissively. "But...I'd like to offer a word of caution."

"Go on," Harry said.

"Draco may've changed, so far as allegiances, family ties, even in his assessment of the mistakes he's made so far in his young life. People can change. But there is something about Draco that you should bear in mind, if your association with him continues." Snape paused, his face solemn.

"Go on."

"There is one thing that would be very difficult, if impossible, for him to change. Above all else, Draco will always have his best interests at heart. Even unknowingly, he will always choose what is best for Draco, heedless of how his choices affect those around him. This may change, in time, once he's lived a bit more, but I'd be surprised. You'd do well to remember this, whatever the two of you are up to," he finished, his voice intent.

"Worried about me, sir?" Harry asked innocently.

Snape scowled. "I'm a portrait, Potter. I have no worries," he opined as he turned away, after one last dark look at Harry.

"Could've fooled me," Harry muttered as he headed for bed.


The next morning, Harry was finishing up his cuppa, poring over the Prophet, muttering, "Where do they get this stuff?" when the sound of the castle clock striking nine reminded him of his visitor due at the gates. With a,"Gotta go," to no one in particular, as the Great Hall was empty, he folded the paper and set off through the Entrance Hall. Hands deep in his pockets as he walked, he realized that he had mixed feelings about meeting Draco again. Although he'd been pleasantly surprised at the Highfield, he wasn't so foolish as to believe that years of ill-will and suspicion could be so easily swept away by a talk of several hours under the influence of a shared bottle of Firewhisky.

As he trod down the path to the gate, he smiled at the sight of Draco waiting.

"You're late," Draco said, peering through the ironwork.

As Harry unwarded the lock, he pointed out, "So, we're even, then." As he swung the gate open and gestured inward, Draco stepped through, then stopped suddenly.

His eyes on the castle, Draco told him, "You'll recall I wasn't late at all. Wasn't my fault you didn't see me."

Harry stood and waited while Draco inspected the sight before him. The man seemed taller than Harry remembered, broader across the shoulders, but it was the change in his face that struck Harry: the gray eyes were clear and serene, alight with his obvious pleasure at seeing Hogwarts again; his mouth curved in an almost-smile, a real smile, devoid of the smirk of contempt that Harry'd come to expect to see there. Taking a step to stand beside him, Harry looked up at the castle to share the view.

"You can see where most of the damage was...there." Harry pointed. "That was the hardest part-replacing the stones. The windows weren't so bad, but over there you can see what we had to do to make that weight-bearing again."

The two of them began to walk, making a circuit around the castle, as Harry explained what the builders had done, with Draco asking questions now and then. When they arrived at the point where the path to the Quidditch pitch veered off to the right, Draco stopped. He bit at his lower lip, then nodded toward the pitch. "Do you mind?"

Harry waved with his hand, and they were off, careening down the steep incline, kicking up rocks and rubble as they stumbled to a stop. Here Draco hesitated, looking for the way in. Harry gave him a tug of his sleeve, directing him to a small archway, then up the steps to the Slytherin grandstand.

They parked themselves in the front row, leaning over the railing. As they surveyed the sight before them, the House banners flapped in the breeze. The green grass of the perfect oval was lush, trimmed perfectly, the timbers of the structure painted in the bright House colors which gleamed in the summer sun.

"This must've taken some time," Draco commented.

"Hmm, well, it was completely destroyed. Giants...spiders..." Harry shuddered. "We spent most of the first year on the castle. It was more important, getting it sound and leak-proof. But in the spring, when things were just about done, I knew it was time." Harry warmed to the topic. "What's Hogwarts without Quidditch? Really, it's the soul of the school, and I couldn't stand another day seeing it this way. You know what I mean?"

Draco stood and leant over the railing, then looked back at Harry. "Yeah, I do."

Harry got up and stood bedside him, then the two of them were silent for a moment.

"We built it in a single day," Harry said softly. When Draco looked at him, surprised, Harry nodded. "All the materials were donated, and the Saturday after NEWTs, we had a reunion of sorts. Alumni, parents, students, hell, even Aurors and shopkeepers showed up. We worked from sun-up to sun-down, and it was...amazing." He smiled as he remembered. "I think it was something we all had to do. Not another memorial service. God knows we had enough of those. No, everyone getting together, fixing something that everyone knew stood for Hogwarts, well, it was just what we needed."

Draco had turned to look at him as he spoke, and when Harry finally finished, he gave him a crooked smile. "Save the wizarding world, then rebuild it? What else do you have up your sleeve?"

"Apparently not enough for some people," Harry said wryly. Before Draco could ask, Harry told him, "Don't ask."

Draco looked as if he were about to, then evidently changed his mind. Instead he sat down again, then lifted his feet and placed them on the lower rung of the railing. "My best memories of Hogwarts are here. Quidditch. Well, not the matches so much, but the practices were great fun." He reclined against the bench behind them, closed his eyes, then tilted his head back.

There was something about his posture, the way he lifted his face to the sun, his long blond hair tied back, his striking appearance, that infused Harry with a sudden sense of déjà vu; he wanted to reach out and touch him, just as he'd wanted to on that night above the Highfield. Irrational, libidinous attraction, Harry berated himself. He knew he should be wary and cautious, but the fact of the matter was, he just plain wasn't; in fact, what he was feeling at that moment reminded him that Snape, too, had warned him to be careful.

"You didn't enjoy the matches?" Harry asked. "God, you sure seemed like you did."

Draco opened his eyes to look at him, but otherwise did not move. "My father enjoyed the matches. That's part of why I didn't," he said with a shrug. "He expected me to win. I usually did, but when I didn't..."

Harry had a brief inner struggle; it'd been himself, after all, who'd suggested that they not talk about the past. But with the mention of his father, Draco had sent him a subtle signal that if Harry wanted to revisit that condition, then Draco was willing to as well. He supposed that now was as good a time as any to get some things out of the way, and besides, he was curious about a great many things, so far as Draco was concerned.

"How is he?" Harry asked quietly.

Draco looked out over the pitch. "It's a terrible place, Azkaban, even without the Dementors. What makes it worse, I think, is that he'd been there before, so he knew what to expect. But, in some respects, I think he was relieved."

Harry didn't understand. "Relieved?"

"Yeah, relieved. That last year, I saw something in him I'd never seen before." He looked at Harry. "He was afraid. More afraid of the Dark Lord than he'd ever been."

"Why? After all those years..."

"Family, Potter. For the first time, he was afraid for us. He realized we were all expendable."

"He was afraid for you?" Harry asked, comprehension dawning.

"He knew he couldn't protect us anymore. He was out of favor, ever since the end of fifth year."

"So...he wanted out?" Harry asked.

Draco laughed, a bitter sound. "That was the problem, you see. There never was a way out, once the Dark Lord owned you."

Harry was quiet for a moment, then said softly, "Well, I understand the family part."

Draco gave him a shrewd look. "Yeah, I imagine you would."

Harry shook his head slowly. "But Voldemort never did-what a force that could be, people caring about each other."

Draco snorted. "Lot of good it did us."

"You're alive-all of you."

"Yeah, we're alive," Draco spat out.

Harry gave him a hard look. "That's more than some people have."

Draco had the good grace to flush.

"And you're free," Harry pointed out.

Draco looked down at his hands. "Sometimes...I wish I could be there with him...to make it easier."

"He wouldn't want that for you. Would you want that for your son?"

"No, I suppose not."

"See," Harry said gently, "so make it count."


"Your life. Make it count, Draco. Then your father will know it wasn't all for nothing."

Draco stared at him, opened his mouth, then shut it. He looked out over the pitch again, then when he finally looked back, he said, "You aren't what I expected."

Harry smiled. "I believe that was my line, prat."

Pushing his tongue into the side of his cheek, Draco replied, "So, it seems to work for both of us, eh?"

"Seems so," Harry agreed, then added, "so far."

"Well, let's try not to disappoint each other," Draco suggested, with a hint of a smile.

Thinking that they might be off to a more than promising start, Harry asked, as he nodded toward the pitch, "Maybe later, we could throw out a Snitch, try out the new school brooms?"

Draco sat up on the bench as a smile split his face. "Yeah, that'd be great. God, I haven't been on a broom since..." His smile faded, as he leant his elbows on his knees and clasped his hands in front of him, then looked sideways at Harry. "Since I sat on the back of yours that night," he said softly, watching Harry closely.

Harry, who was facing him, straddling the bench, felt a flash of chagrin. This was too soon, too early to talk about that night; he'd decided to carefully circumnavigate that topic until the two of them were both ready, and he wondered now, who it was that might not be ready, and suspected it might be himself, if only because he'd worried that Draco might resent the idea that he owed a Life Debt, and he didn't want any such extraneous obligation clouding Draco's willingness to help him. He craved help freely given, not begrudging aid because Draco felt he owed him.

"Hmm, yeah, that was quite a ride," was all Harry said.

"Potter," Draco hesitated, "I've had plenty of time, years, in fact, and I've wanted to tell you-what you did-"

"Listen." Harry was shaking his head. "What I did was what anyone would've done. If it'd been me down there, you'd have done the same, so don't feel like you-"

Draco turned on the bench to face him. "I don't think so, remember why we were in there in the first place. We wanted to get you for-"

Still disagreeing, Harry barreled on. "I didn't even think about it, so it's not like it was some noble-"

Reaching over, Draco suddenly put a finger to Harry's lips to stop him. Without thinking, Harry moved with lightening speed, grabbing Draco by the wrist.

Draco seemed shocked, and tried to pull his hand away, but Harry held it fast.

"Not a wise move, considering who we are and where we've been." He looked at his hand, still squeezing Draco's wrist, and slightly eased the pressure, but didn't let go when he felt the man try to pull away again. "Sorry," he murmured, suddenly entranced by the bounding of the pulse below his thumb. He studied Draco's hand, and watched, fascinated, as the curled fingers relaxed. He wondered if that was his own heartbeat he heard in his ears, or if it was Draco's, pounding steadily against the flesh of his fingers.

"Potter." Harry's eyes snapped up to Draco's face, still without letting go. "I just wanted to say that I know I'd've been dead if you hadn't done what you did." His eyes drifted down to his hand, then widened as Harry began to move his thumb back and forth across the inside of his wrist. He swallowed visibly, then looked back to Harry's face.

Harry knew he should let go, but the look in Draco's eyes stopped him. They were beautiful, up close like this, gray and knowing, warm and rife with invitation. Harry was taken unawares as Draco suddenly twisted his arm and turned the tables; he now had a hold of Harry's wrist, but he held it loosely, massaging the base of Harry's palm with his fingers.

Harry knew he should pull away; it made no sense at all, why just the feel of those fingers would make him hard, why he wanted them to touch him more, why he would want to reach out with his other hand and touch the man's face, slide his hand along his cheek, perhaps trace that vein in his neck... He was finding it difficult to breathe, and didn't even care when he felt the usual warmth in his face. Draco had to know, just as Harry did...what he was feeling, what one look at the man told Harry that Draco was feeling too.

Harry wondered what Draco had read in his face, because he slid his hand down Harry's forearm, up the back of his upper arm, slipping under the edge of his t-shirt, then his fingers paused, before circling behind to cup his shoulder. Harry, who'd closed his eyes, his breath short and shallow, opened them slowly when he felt the hand slip out of his shirt.

Draco was staring at him, two spots of color in the middle of his cheeks. When he spoke, hands resting on his thighs, Harry felt a streak of arousal at the huskiness of his voice. "Definitely not what I expected."

Harry, still shaken, murmured, "Same here."


Hagrid, of course, was the only other person at lunch in the Great Hall.

"Hullo, Professor Hagrid," Draco said smoothly, then smiled when the man nearly shook his arm from its socket.

"Yeh can call me Hagrid," he said. Squinting at Harry, he winked at Draco. "He's never called me professor. So, Harry here's bin showin' yeh the fixins'? Yeh up for the day, then?"

Draco shot Harry a quizzical look, who answered for him. "He's here for at least the weekend. He's going to help me with...some decisions in the library."

Hagrid glanced from one to the other, then his eyes filled with tears. "I saw the two of yeh walkin' up from the pitch, an' I though' teh myself how proud P'fessor Dumbledore woulda bin, teh see the both of yeh gettin' on like friends." He wiped at his eyes.

At Hagrid's words, Harry felt a stab of sadness. The simple gamekeeper had always had an uncanny knack for distilling people and events to startlingly spot-on perceptions.

"You're right, Hagrid. I know he'd have been," Harry said as he patted the big man on the back. Harry looked up, and Draco gave him a sober nod of agreement.


They spent the afternoon touring the inside of the castle, Harry using the opportunity to elaborate on details of the battle that had taken place in each particular spot. He noticed that Draco had become more silent and somber as the afternoon wore on. When they reached the corridor where the Death Eaters had finally penetrated, Harry pointed out where Fred had died. The wall had been replaced, the seams carefully fitted and sanded, but the new stones stood out, their color lighter and their surfaces rougher than the originals.

Draco seemed to have paled considerably, and as he leant against the wall, Harry stepped forward in concern.

"You know, I was still here when that happened? I must've been out for a while; when I woke up, everyone had moved on, even Goyle." He shook his head, then said, "Lucky, I guess."

"Lucky all of us," Harry agreed, thinking to himself that the rest of the castle could keep until the next day.

As they walked the corridor to the caretaker's rooms, Harry gave Draco a sideways glance. "So...are you certain you're ready for this?"

Draco seemed to have recovered his aplomb. He made a face, then retorted, "Oh, come off of it, Potter. How hard could it be? He's a portrait, for god's sake," he muttered.

Harry smiled to himself, but said aloud, "You're gonna eat those words."

Mrs. Norris appeared out of nowhere, just at the door. "My roommate," Harry said dryly as he let them in. Draco stopped in the doorway and took in the room, then turned to Harry.

"Not bad. Not bad at all. I was expecting...chains and manacles...things of Filch's you might've felt an attachment for," he said, eyeing Harry, his own eyes sparkling, and Harry felt that by now familiar spark of warmth, which he ignored, especially considering whom they were about to face. It wouldn't do to present Snape with such instant ammunition.

"Oh, I keep all of that stuff in the bedchamber," Harry said in a stage whisper, then emboldened, he nudged Draco toward the painting.

It now was hung on the wall, two feet from the ground. Harry'd tired of sitting on the floor for so many hours at a time, and although he knew it would look odd to anyone else, he didn't have that many visitors to begin with. He'd rearranged the furniture so that two armchairs sat directly across from the picture.

Motioning Draco to a chair, Harry went for the sideboard, asking as he went, "Tea or whisky?" When Draco hesitated, Harry reached for two glasses, saying, "Personally, I'd go for the whisky. You're gonna need it, take my word for it."

"Whisky," Draco confirmed.

"Draco," said the occupant of the painting, causing Harry to smile as he returned with the drinks.

"Severus," Draco replied. "I've been looking forward to seeing you, ever since Harry told me you were...here."

Harry sat back and prepared to enjoy the show, for once feeling like he could let down his guard.

"Indeed." Snape looked from Draco, then to Harry, whom he fixed for a moment with his eyes, and Harry realized that he wasn't entirely off the hook. Harry returned the look, then was dismayed when Snape smiled slowly at him. Looking back to Draco, he asked him curtly, "Why did you not retreat with the rest of your House when you were told to do so?"

Draco choked on his drink. "You know precisely why," he answered when he'd recovered. "He had my parents in the forest-"

Snape interrupted him. "Your parents, how are they?" He'd pulled his chair to sit in front of the desk, a sign that he was going to be at this for some time.

Draco seemed disoriented by the sudden change in direction. Harry almost felt sorry for him, but not quite. He listened as Draco explained about his father, then moved on to his mother.

"I see her once a week. She never goes out, but Aunt Andromeda visits every weekend, and we still have a house-elf. Most days, she doesn't even get dressed, except on the day we visit my father."

Harry sat still, and thought of the proud woman he remembered from the past, the very same woman who'd, in the end, done him a great service, even though it had been out of concern for the man sitting next to him, not for Harry himself.

His mind wandered as the two Slytherins talked, and he realized from their conversation, that they knew each other fairly well. Then finally, it seemed that the information sharing part of the dialogue was finished, when there was a long silence, broken when Draco spoke, his voice strained.

"Sir, there are some things I'd like to say. Things I've never said, because I was too stubborn and proud."

Snape turned slightly in his chair, and said shortly to Harry, "Potter, leave us, if you will."

Harry shrugged, picked up his drink, thinking to himself that here he was, being ordered out of his rooms by a dead person. He didn't really mind, though. As he turned to go, he leant down to murmur at Draco's ear, "Told you so." Then, despite knowing that Snape was watching, Harry patted him on the shoulder for courage.


By the time Harry returned to collect Draco for supper, he'd already decided that he wouldn't ask what the two of them had talked about. He remembered his own 'debriefing' with Snape, and was certain that Draco's comments to the man would be no less personal than his own had been.

Draco was quiet as they made their way down the staircases to the Great Hall; he caught Harry casting him a furtive look. "I'm all right. It wasn't nearly as bad as I expected...at least by the end."

Harry made a small sound of commiseration. "Hmm, yeah, same here. It felt good, though, didn't it?"

Shoving a hand in his pocket as they stepped off the stairway, Draco stopped, staring up at the refurbished House hourglasses. "It did. I didn't know how much it would, but you're right. Felt good to come clean." He pointed to the counters. "He actually took five hundred points from Slytherin," he said with a smile.

Harry guffawed. "Yeah, he does that with me from time to time. And y'know, it still makes me want to argue; he's still so...Snape...and I forget we're not...there anymore." He nodded toward the Hall. "Sometimes I wish we were, at least for Snape's sake."

Draco disagreed, "He was miserable, I was miserable, and so were you. No going back. He wouldn't want that, and you'd have to be mad to even think it."

"Maybe just the Hogwarts part, then. Now that I know...more about him, I think it'd be different. Maybe not, but I wish, you know, some things could be done over," he finished as they took their seats.

Leaning in close to him, Draco told him, "I think you need to get out more."

Harry made a face. "You and Snape both, I should've figured."


"It's creepy," Draco agreed. They were standing in the headmaster's office, studying the bat hanging from the edge of Snape's portrait.

"Isn't it?" Harry asked, as he waved him forward. "I think Snape misses him, or it, whatever." They watched it for a moment, then Harry knelt to the side of the portrait and pulled the trunk out into the center of the room. "See," he said as Draco knelt beside him, "the clasp has the same design as the key you found."

Draco traced a finger over the tarnished silver. "Yeah, you're right." The two of them pushed the heavy lid up, then Draco leant in to look. "All that work for this?"

Harry pulled the scarf out and handed it to him. "That's what I thought-sort of disappointing. The books are in the library, but I kept the rest of it here." He watched as Draco fingered the wand.

"So, what d'you think? A spare?"

Holding it up to eye-level, Draco balanced it on his palm, then took it by the grip to examine the silver banding. "Could be, but...see how short it is, how slender. No," he paused as he scraped at the surface with a fingernail. "A woman's, I think."

"Hmmm, don't know who, though." Harry leant over and pulled out the leather pouch. "These, now, I've no idea."

Draco carefully removed the phials, then let out a low warbling whistle. "Now, these are very nice. Very nice," he commented, as he examined them one by one.

"They're potions bottles," Harry replied uncertainly. The look he received in reply told him he was obviously missing something.

"Not just any potions phials, these are specially made," Draco scoffed, then rolled his eyes. "I forgot what a dunce you were at Potions. Remember what our class phials looked like?" he asked impatiently, then continued, "These are heavier-did you feel-and see how the bottle has edges? Well, the inside is curved to protect the potion. I'd wager these are from Severus' custom-made stock." He hefted one experimentally in his hand, holding it up to the light, and then giving it a gentle shake. "This is unusual-it's sealed with an anti-reactant ring-see here? The wax set around the stopper?"

"So, you're saying what's inside is probably valuable?" Harry asked, watching as Draco continued to inspect the phials appreciatively.

Peering at the bottom of one of the phials, Draco shrugged. "Valuable to Severus, for sure." He squinted in the low light, then held the phial up to better see the underside. "Hey, there's a number here." He held it out for Harry to see. Sure enough, there was a miniscule number etched on the dark glass. Harry groped for the two other phials in Draco's lap; like the first phial, the others were numbered as well. He felt the goose bumps rise on his arms.

"There're numbers like this in his journal," he mumbled. Summoning a quill and parchment from the desk, he copied them down as Draco held them out for him. He was about to get up, when Draco surprised him by laying a hand on his arm. Despite what had occurred out on the pitch, Harry was still taken unawares by the gesture. But Draco hadn't seemed to noticed, his arm still restraining him as he leant into the trunk.

"There's something else in here-looks like a letter," he said as he drew it out, then seemed to realize what his other hand was doing, because his eyes drifted up to Harry's and stayed there for a moment before he let him go.

"Uh...that's sort of personal," Harry attempted, reaching out a hand.

Draco lifted the parchment out of Harry's range. "It wasn't in the trunk when you opened it?"

Harry sighed, "Yes, it was. But I don't think it's of any value." He realized that this had possibly been the worst thing he could've said.

"Potter, there were only a handful of things in there. I think everything would be of value." The gray eyes were alight with suspicion. "It's something you don't want me to see, and why is that?" he asked, but made no move to open the parchment, waiting for Harry's reply.

"It's...a picture of my mother," Harry finally admitted. "She and Snape were friends once...when they were at Hogwarts."

Draco cocked his head to the side in question. "Really?" When Harry nodded, Draco lowered the parchment, then asked him, "Do you mind?"

"Go ahead, I just don't want Snape knowing I showed it to you."

Hesitating, searching Harry's face, Draco unfolded the parchment, then stared down at the half-torn photograph, briefly glanced at the portion of the letter before refolding both of them inside the parchment. "You have her eyes," he said softly, his voice awe-struck.

"Yeah, I know." He lifted his green eyes to meet the gray ones studying him intently.


The two of them were sitting side by side at a carrel in the Restricted Section, where Harry pulled the journal and text from the shelf above.

He slid the copy of Secrets of the Darkest Art in front of Draco, then watched as he opened the cover. "Dark Arts," Harry said.

Draco's lip curled as he studied the table of contents. "Brilliant, Potter." He ran a finger down the page, then began to leaf through the pages for a chapter.

While Draco read, Harry looked down at the journal in his lap, running his hand over the smooth leather cover. He noticed for the first time that there was a dark stain on the corner, and wondered idly what it was-a watermark, a potion, or perhaps Snape had just spilled his tea. Not likely, though.

It occurred to him that of all the contents of the trunk, this was the most personal item. The man had no doubt purchased it from a shop-perhaps he'd hesitated over brown versus black, lined or unlined, a clasp with a lock or a tie-cord. He'd brought it back to Hogwarts and set it aside for a while, its purpose perhaps yet unknown.

Harry undid the cord, then opened the book to the middle. At some point, Snape had done what Harry'd just done-smoothed his hand over the leather, then cracked it open, pressing it flat before dipping his quill. Then he'd bent over and begun to write.

Tracing his hand over the irregular script, Harry could feel the barely perceptible texture of the words on the page. Snape's hand had rested just where his was now; his eyes had labored over the entries, just as Harry's had so many times in the past weeks. Part of Snape's mind was preserved in these pages-intellect distilled, intention and emotion, even hopes and fears perhaps hidden between the lines.

This was the crux of the matter-this was Snape, and Harry wanted desperately to decipher the riddle of the journal, if only because he believed that the man deserved to have his true character glimpsed and appreciated by another. Harry experienced a fleeting moment of whimsy, a pang of regret, that he was about to share this treasure with someone else. No matter that it was Draco, the one person who would perhaps understand why Harry felt the need to figure it out. No, it was the sense that the journal had been entrusted to him alone. But he realized that he could go no further on his own. He didn't understand exactly why, but he knew that Draco was the one to help him...

Harry came back to himself when he felt the warmth of Draco's leg against his own beneath the carrel. Not just a casual brush, but a steady, insistent pressure.

"Draco, what're you doing?" Harry asked, but he didn't pull his leg away.

"Reading," Draco said, then turned his head slightly and cocked an eyebrow. "And testing the waters."

"And...?" Harry asked, barely managing to get the word out.

"Oh, I think they're warm, definitely warm." Harry felt the damned flush begin, which seemed to prompt Draco's, "Am I bothering you?" A definite nudge accompanied the question, which Harry returned.

"No, not at all," Harry said quietly, then moved his chair closer as he laid the journal on the desk. Pushing it in Draco's direction, he said, "This is what I wanted you to see."

Draco laid a hand on the journal, but for the moment he ignored it, as he closed the text and tapped the front of it with a finger. "This is serious magic," he said.

"Dark," Harry corrected him.

Draco shrugged. "Depends on how you look at it. Longevity rites and potions, immortality rituals." He paused as he shook his head. "Even Muggles salivate over this sort of thing." He looked shrewdly at Harry. "A universal longing...to live forever." He pushed the book away, then slid the journal in front of him as he said, "But it's lengthy-it'll take me a while to get through it."

Harry nodded toward the journal. "Maybe if you start with the passages that Snape has listed."

Draco rolled his eyes. "Nice of you to tell me that."

For the next hour, Harry led Draco through the journal, at one point pulling down his notes from the shelf. He showed him his work of the past weeks, what he'd managed to glean from the books in the Restricted Section: the potions ingredients, mostly, then he moaned inside when Draco got hung up on the dates and places that represented Harry's wanderings that year.

"I'll explain that-you're right. It's all tied together, I think. But that'll have to keep for another time. It's late, and you're tired. And we still have Snape waiting for us, I'll wager."

Draco groaned. "It'd all be sorted out so quickly if he'd just explain the bloody thing. It's frustrating," he complained. Harry, thinking of Dumbledore, knew exactly how he felt,

Reaching back, Draco undid the clasp to his hair to let it fall loose. Harry gazed at him as he shook it out, tucked it behind his ears, then leant in over the journal.

"Birnum," Draco muttered. "Where have I heard that before?"

But Harry wasn't listening. He didn't think about what he did next. He reached over and caressed a length of the flaxen hair where it lay on Draco's shoulder, finishing by picking up a tress and rubbing the end of it between his fingers. He began again, drawing his fingers through the silky, fine hair, slowly working his way to the ends, repeating the motion again and again.

Draco had frozen in place, then relaxed as he hung his head over the journal. Harry sat slightly forward, to capture the stray hair that had fallen into his face, tucking it back behind the ear again as he continued to comb with his fingers.

"Potter," Draco mumbled, his voice deeper, "what're you doing?"

Harry didn't speak for a moment, until he'd dropped his hand, then he answered with a question. "Why is your hair so long?"

Sighing, Draco angled his chair and leant against the side of the carrel. "Because I don't cut it?" At the look on Harry's face, he pulled a handful of hair over his shoulder and studied the ends as he replied, "My father always said that long hair marks the passage of a boy into manhood." His eyes flicked up to Harry's. "At least for a pureblood."

Harry mused for a moment, then said, "I would've thought that serving Voldemort would be the dividing line." He strategically paused. "For a pureblood."

Draco stared back at him, then surprised Harry when he flushed slightly. "Yeah, well, there was that. This," he lifted his handful of hair, "is just a wizarding tradition."

Harry reached forward and swatted Draco's hand away, then pushed the lock of hair back in place. Close to Draco's face, he said, "Well, it looks good on you." For a moment, Harry hesitated, thinking to himself that all he had to do was to move two little inches, when Draco seemed to decide that question for both of them.

Angling his head, Draco made short work of those two little inches, as he brought their faces close together, and murmured against Harry's lips, "Funny how things turn out." Harry felt a hand at the nape of his neck, gently pulling him forward.

When Harry spoke, he felt a frisson of wanting as his lips touched Draco's. "Oh god."

Not a kiss of passion. Not a frenzied hide-and-seek kiss of discovery. Not a kiss of intimacy, either. It was a breath of 'hello', a tentative whisper of 'may I?' a delicate press of warm and soft and wet that promised 'more'. It lasted far shorter then Harry would've liked, but far longer than he'd've hoped. Considering who the two of them were, it shouldn't have even happened at all. Yet, here they were...

It was Draco who pulled away first, pushing Harry gently back from the edge of his chair, where he was almost precariously perched. Draco slid his elbow onto the desk, then rested his head on his hand, facing Harry. "Time to talk, Potter."


"So, that's where it stands," Harry finished. "She wants something I can't give her. She wants me to...be someone." He shrugged, then looked away.

"You are someone." Draco's voice made Harry look up. "And if she's not happy with that, then let her go. It's that simple."

Harry shook his head. "Sounds simple, when you put it that way, I guess."

"Well, that part of it is. What I'm really interested in..." Draco gestured between the two of them, "...is this part. This doesn't just happen so easily. At least with you, I get the sense that you've...played this game before." His eyes narrowed as he considered Harry. "Am I wrong?"

Harry stiffened. "Why would you call it a game? That makes it sound...I don't know, like something we're playing at." He shook his head. "I don't play, Draco. At least not where people are concerned."

Draco's eyes sparkled. "Poor choice of words. Mea culpa. Let's see...how to word it... You've liked a bloke before, haven't you? And by 'like', I mean as in sex. How's that?" he asked, seeming to repress a smile.

"That's better," Harry said, wondering why just the man's words had made him want to lean forward and kiss him again. "But you have to understand this has nothing to do with what happened with Ginny."

Giving a noncommittal shrug, Draco told him, "We'll see. You may have a blind spot there."

Harry hesitated, about to protest, then decided to let it go-it wasn't important at this point. "Remember I told you about the Ministry builders?" When Draco nodded, he went on. "They were here most of that first year, and in the spring, near the end, about five of them actually stayed at the castle. We suited them up with some rooms in the dungeons, and they kept to themselves at night, drinking and playing cards...sometimes went in to the Hog's Head." Harry slid his elbow onto the desk, then rested his head in his hand, mirroring Draco's position.

"There was one, though, who was younger, and didn't fit in. He used the library at night sometimes, and we got to talking, found we both liked Quidditch. Started out with flying around the pitch a bit, then having a drink afterward. Before I knew it, we were spending every evening together, passing the time. I was bit lonely, and so was he, I guess." Harry twirled a piece of hair in his fingers, his eyes far away.

"And then one night, in my rooms, it just...happened," he said softly.

Draco gave him a knowing look. "What happened?"

"We were spending so much time together...and..."

Pursing his lips, Draco said, "You were attracted to each other?"

Harry gave him a withering look. "You want to finish my sentences, or would you rather I tell it?"

Draco gave him a palms-up gesture. "Then tell it, for pity's sake."

Harry intentionally drew the pause out, then finally conceded, "It happened much the same way as you and..." Harry stopped; he'd almost said, 'as you and I happened', only it wasn't quite an accurate parallel, given what hadn't happened between him and the man sitting across from him. "This...what we're doing." He pointed at Draco and then himself.

"Oh, I see. Details, please," Draco smirked.

Typical Draco, Harry thought to himself, demanding and persistent. Well, he had no delusions that what he was about to say had any shock-value. "What specifically would you like to know? We had sex. We had it often. It was my first time with a man, and he was only slightly more experienced. I was happy and so was he." He smiled as he remembered. "We knew it was a lark-he'd be returning to London, and that would be it. Neither one of us wanted more, not that we talked about it." He gave Draco a pointed look. "I like sex too. And at the time, it was great just to have sex, without all those other things that get in the way," he confessed.

"Like commitment," Draco supplied for him,

Harry nodded. "Exactly. I was still seeing Ginny at the time, but this...thing he and I had? It didn't feel like cheating at all. It was something we both needed and wanted, and knew it wouldn't last for long."

"So," Draco drew the word out, "that makes you bisexual."

For the first time in the evening, Harry felt uncomfortable. "Hmm, I don't know. I guess that's the word for it. I liked sex with Ginny. But it was never like it was with...Nate. I always thought it was all the other stuff getting in the way that made it seem...less exciting with Ginny."

Draco was watching him, the beginnings of a smile on his face. "Being queer doesn't mean you never fuck women. You remember Pansy?"

Harry wasn't surprised. "Yeah, I do. She seemed sweet on you. So, you and she...?"

As the smile spread on his face, Draco nodded. "Yeah, we did. Mostly so I'd have something to tell my father." He stuck the tip of finger into his mouth and moved it in and out, watching Harry, who felt his cock twitch in response. "But I buggered Nott from the time we were fourth-years," he replied slyly.

"You and Nott?" Harry managed to croak out, still watching Draco's finger, fascinated.

"Yeah, me and Nott. I've always preferred men. Doing both doesn't mean I'm bi, though."

Harry shook his head slightly, forcing himself to stifle his reaction. "So, you think that maybe I'm not...bi? That I'm queer?"

Draco leant forward slightly, then used his wet finger to trace down the center of Harry's nose. "That's for you to figure out. It's a matter of which you prefer, given the choice." He withdrew his finger, then said softly, "As for you and me...it's up to you, Potter. I needed to know..." He paused, then finished, "before anything else happens."

Harry felt it again, the pleasant surge of fullness in his trousers, and answered honestly, "Well, you're sort of a surprise, but I think...whatever happens...happens." He didn't look away, but as he felt the heat in his face, he was struck by the notion that perhaps for him, passage into manhood might mean he'd eventually manage to control this bloody compulsion to blush at the slightest provocation. He sighed out loud, then smiled when Draco laughed softly.

"Fair enough. Believe me, I have a vivid picture in my mind...what's going to happen," he told Harry, his smile fading as he searched Harry's face.

Meeting his eyes, Harry said, "Like you said, funny how things turn out." He supposed it was outrageous, but given the past several weeks-finding himself mesmerized by a portrait, consumed by the obsession of the journal, spending most of his free time in conversation with a dead person-the prospect of what he and Draco had discussed, bizarre and unexpected as it seemed, was just about right.


It was almost ten by the time Draco closed the journal. "I'll start with the potions. That'll be the easiest part." He chewed the end of his finger. "You're right, though." He patted Harry's parchments. "Trying to tie all of this together is the hard part. You've done a great deal of work already-impressive, actually." He eyed Harry thoughtfully. "I can stay till Tuesday this time. I'm seeing Mother then, so I can make use of the library-we have books that aren't in the Restricted Section."

Harry was relieved; he'd been half-afraid that Draco wouldn't want to commit to the rather sizeable and time-consuming project. "You can come and go as you please. If I'm not expecting you, just show up at the gates and rattle them, and the wards will let me know you're there. Or owl me, if you can."

As they walked back to Harry's rooms, Draco advised him, "When I'm working, I'm usually done by nine. Is that too late for you?"

Shaking his head, Harry replied, "Not at all. I'm not on any particular schedule for now." Reaching the door, he said as he pulled it open, "I'm up late, most nights, as you-know-who seems to be deciding when I get to bed."

Mrs. Norris streaked from the corridor, from out of nowhere, through their legs to disappear into the rooms. Harry called up the lights, then Snape's irritated voice accosted them almost immediately.

"The Happy Wanderers return at last," he said with his usual sarcasm. Harry noted that he was leaning back against his desk, his arms crossed in front of him. "So, you've been abusing my privacy; no need to deny it." Fastening his eyes on Draco, he demanded, "How did you find my journal?"

Draco affected disinterest. "Boring, cryptic, even for you, and I don't know why Potter's bothering with it at all," he said as he threw himself down into one of the armchairs opposite the painting, Harry taking the other beside it.

Snape seemed to dismiss the comment, and moved on. "So...I'm curious. How have the two of you been getting on?"

Harry instantly knew that the man wouldn't hesitate to inflict question number five, if Harry didn't produce something to allay at least part of his prurient curiosity. "We're getting along...amazingly well. Just as you predicted," he told him frankly, watching as Snape's eyes dilated slightly, and his lips lifted with the beginnings of a sneer.

"Indeed. My congratulations to Mr. Malfoy, then. Rather more large-minded than I expected," he said snidely. "How long do you intend to stay?" he asked Draco.

Draco said evenly, "Until Tuesday. But I'll be back on Saturday, maybe even Friday."

"Hmm," Snape said, eyeing Draco thoughtfully. "What about your other money-making venture?"

"Sir?" Draco frowned. "My what?" he asked, perplexed, looking from Snape to Harry, then back again.

Snape rubbed his chin with his thumb. "How did Potter phrase it? I believe it was your 'pick-up' business."

Opening his mouth, Draco shut it suddenly. Reaching up, he pinched the bridge of his nose, then, ignoring Snape, he turned to Harry. "I may've stretched the truth a bit." Harry realized that this was the first time in their short reacquaintance that Draco seemed ill-at-ease. "It's not really a paying job. I accept money, but only because I buy the bottle." He cast an irritated look at the portrait when Snape snorted. "No, it's the truth, really. I only told you what I did to see if I could get a rise out of you."

"And instead, Potter here was worried about you," Snape scoffed. "But I knew...I knew that despite what you'd told him, despite how dire your circumstances might be, you'd never sink to selling yourself, your professed aptitude for sex aside." He made a tsking noise, but Harry had focused his complete attention on Draco.

"Get a rise out of me?" Harry pressed.

It was obvious that Draco was embarrassed. "Well, I didn't get the reaction I thought I'd get...luring you to the Highfield, so I thought I'd go one step further...and see if I could outrage you..." He dropped his voice, then sounded almost apologetic as he added, "with the 'pick-up' story."

Harry was bewildered for a moment. What he was hearing sounded like something the 'old' Draco would've done. But as he studied the Draco beside him, he realized how foolish a thought this actually was. As different as they both might be now, as odd as it seemed to feel an attraction for the man, this Draco would always be connected to the one of the past, just as Harry was tied to the person that he had been, once upon a time. He remembered that Snape had warned him of this only the night before.

Harry had to admit that he wasn't proud of all the things he'd done in the past, and even of some of the things that he still thought and did on occasion. He supposed that Draco wasn't any different. Personal change was difficult and unpredictable, often a journey of three steps forward, then two steps back. Even at almost twenty, he found that opinions and prejudices didn't just give up and die a neat painless death. They hung on, pled for mercy, whispered that they'd been a part of his life for so long, how could he just shed them without hearing them out, giving them a second chance?

"I wasn't outraged," Harry told him soberly. "Just a bit...concerned."

Draco inclined his head. "I apologize then."

"Well, isn't this touching?" came the voice from the portrait.

Harry ignored Snape again, telling Draco, "Remember what I said? About playing games? Please...don't. If you have a curiosity about how something would strike me, just ask. All right?"

The gray eyes grew large, and Harry guessed that Draco had expected something different. "All right...no games."

Snape cleared his throat dramatically, then commanded. "Now that that's settled, I've not had my update from the Daily Prophet. Potter, if you don't mind?"

While Draco poured them drinks from the sideboard, Harry settled himself in his chair while picking up the paper, shooting Snape a quizzical look. The man returned the look, measure for measure, situating himself in his chair behind the desk, propping his feet up on it as he usually did.

Draco and Harry took turns reading, Snape interrupting with questions here and there. When they'd finally finished, Harry turned to Draco and asked him, "Where would you prefer to sleep? You have your pick of the castle, even the Slytherin dormitory, if you like."

Casting a wary eye at Snape, Draco said, "If it's all right, I'd prefer to stay here. I spend so much time alone, as it is. So, here on the settee would be fine, if you don't mind."

"Sure, but we can make it more comfortable," Harry offered as he stood. In a matter of minutes, they'd transfigured the settee into a more spacious bed, with a coverlet and pillows; Draco smirked when Harry flicked his wand to turn them all a muted Slytherin green.

Draco sat on the edge and bounced several times, testing the mattress. When he looked up at the painting, he narrowed his eyes, then, out of the blue, asked, "Severus, what's Birnum?"

Bringing his feet down from the desk, Snape stared back at him. "An entry in my journal, of course."

"Of course," Draco replied sarcastically. "Forget I asked."

"Done," Snape retorted.

After exchanging 'goodnights', Harry paused at the door to his bedchamber, and looked back into the sitting room. Even though he knew he'd more than likely have to pay the piper in the morning, he decided that tonight, of all nights, he wanted his door shut. As he closed it, he saw that Draco and Snape were still talking softly.


It was morning. Harry carried his tea and sat down on the unmade bed in the sitting room, looking around for Draco, puzzled that he was up so early. Just as he put the cup to his lips, a sound from the painting made him look up in surprise. What he saw made him fumble his cup, almost missing the saucer.

Draco was perched on the edge of Snape's desk, clad only in his nightshirt, his legs spread wide for the man who was crouched in front of him. Draco saw Harry watching, and smiled seductively, then threw back his head with a moan as the head between his legs began to move, Snape's hands clenched on Draco's knees, holding on as he bobbed his head up and down.

Harry's breath became ragged. He set his tea aside, clutching for his cock as he watched, frantic to touch himself. Draco rolled his head forward, and when he saw what Harry was doing, he caught his eyes. "Care to join us, Potter?" he asked huskily, his hands moving to Snape's head, as if to hold him there.

"Gods, yes," Harry replied hoarsely, but when he moved, he found he was stuck fast to the bed. Flummoxed, he jerked his shoulders forward to free himself...

Harry's eyes flew open, then he looked around his bedchamber in confusion. By the light of the window, he could tell that he'd slept later than usual. His heart was still pounding in his ears, and he was almost painfully hard. He rested back on his pillows with a sigh, and did what was only natural. What was unnatural, he had to admit, was that this was the second time in the space of a single night.


"Good morning," Harry said as he closed his door behind him. The settee was back, with Draco sitting on one end with a cup of tea. Harry served himself from the pot, then just as he sat on the other end, Snape announced his presence.

"Question number five," he directed, causing Harry to roll his eyes, and Draco to look from one to the other.

"I figured," Harry said resignedly. "Actually, I expected this last night."

"Yes, well, I don't like to become too predictable," Snape informed him, in a self-satisfied tone that made Harry want to throw a pillow. "Why did you find it necessary to close your door last night?"

In the spirit of the game, Harry considered his options for dissembling. He glanced at Draco, who was studying him with curiosity. Well, there was a great deal Snape didn't know, although he might've guessed. Harry suspected that this question wasn't nearly as embarrassing as Snape hoped it would be.

Taking time to take a sip of tea first, Harry answered matter-of-factly, "I didn't want to disturb Draco."

Snape was impressed, Harry could tell; he wouldn't waste another question, Harry was sure, but while he was reveling in his mastery of the question, Draco tipped the scales slightly.

"Disturb me how?" he asked uncertainly.

Harry glowered at Snape, who looked like the cat who'd swallowed the cream on the sly.

"I believe that question was directed at you, Potter." Snape tried for neutrality, but failed miserably, the wicked gleam in his eye almost blinding, Harry noted. Well, two could play this game.

"Snape likes me to leave my door open so he can hear me when I wank," Harry told Draco solemnly. When Draco snorted tea up his nose, Harry added, "So last night, I wanted it shut...because...he expected me to shut it."

Draco looked confused, looking from Harry to Snape, then back again. "He did? Why?"

Harry leant across the settee, then in a stage-whisper that he was certain Snape would hear, he explained, "Because I spent the day with you...a wank-worthy occasion. And I wouldn't want you to hear and think it was because of you. So, I shut my door, and gave him the ammunition for his bloody question, of course."

The gray eyes grew wide, then settled to a simmer. Leaning across the settee so that the two of them almost met, he murmured, "Really?" Harry realized a split second before Draco did it, what he was about to do. Even so, he wouldn't have pulled away.

It was a brief kiss, with a bit of tongue for show, and even though Harry knew it was for Snape's benefit, and correction, he groaned when Draco pulled away.

Draco seemed to be biting back a smile. "So...I was wank-worthy?"

Harry laughed out loud as he straightened, remembering the bizarre dream of that morning. "Oh yeah, definitely wank-worthy." The sound of the slow clapping from the painting made both of them turn.

"Bravo, Potter. I believe Albus may've been correct. We do Sort too soon."


They went their separate ways for the remainder of the morning, Harry with work to do in the castle, Draco to the Restricted Section to begin reading Secrets of the Darkest Art.

After lunch, they returned to Harry's rooms where Snape was impatiently awaiting them with a message.

"Albus is in his portrait, Draco. I told him you'd be along shortly," Snape told him with a wave toward the door.

After escorting Draco to the headmaster's office, and a quick hello to the old man, Harry returned to find Snape perusing a large volume that nearly hid his face from view.

As Harry sat, a voice said from behind the book, "Having a good time, are we?"

Harry smiled and answered, "Yeah, I am. Nice to have someone besides you to talk to for a change."

The book lowered slightly, so that just the black eyes peered over the top. "And I suppose some credit is due me for being the catalyst that brought the two of you together."

Yes, this was true, but Harry was suddenly curious about something he'd meant to ask Snape several times before. "Professor, are those real books?"

The book was lowered even more, so that the scowl was completely visible. "Of course they're real. Did you think I'd sit here and spend hours with my considerable nose in them if they weren't?"

"Just wondered," Harry said, amused, then sat back when Snape set the book aside.

Snape looked to his bookshelves, then heaved a sigh of weariness. "However, there are other books that I'd dearly love to have here. Short-sightedness on my part. Although, how is one to know what will be needed or desired when death seems such a remote possibility?" he asked rhetorically.

This brought to mind another question that had occurred to Harry more than once. "Sir, this painting...it's rather unusual. The setting, I mean. Who painted it?"

"Ah, yes. This painting was done for the Hall of Portraits," he replied.

"Hall of Portraits?" Harry asked, lifting his eyebrows. "Here? In Hogwarts?"

Snape let out a noise of disgust. "It was one of Albus' harebrained schemes, to start a tradition of each professor having a portrait done. So far as I know, there were only a handful of us who actually did so, and the Hall itself never evolved beyond a dusty storage cupboard where the portraits and paintings are still sitting, probably abandoned for all eternity," he huffed.

"So yours..." Harry tried to prod him further.

"I was determined that if I had to participate in such foolishness, it would be on my own terms. So I secured the services of one of my NEWT-level students who was quite an accomplished artist-although she was mediocre at Potions-then was able to direct her to produce an acceptable facsimile of myself, in a natural habitat, if you will." He frowned as he looked around him. "However, if I'd known what I know now, I believe I would've had her portray me in my laboratory."

"You'd rather be making potions?" Harry asked.

Snape shrugged. "I should've incorporated both, it seems. As it is, I'm rather bored."

Harry leant forward and rested his elbows on his knees, his cheeks in his hands. "I wish there was something more I could do for you. I guess talking to you isn't a big help."

Snape seemed about to object, then checked himself. He considered Harry thoughtfully for a moment, then said cautiously, "There is one thing you might do."

Harry sat up straight. "Anything, sir."

"Tsk, tsk, Id've thought you'd learnt that lesson by now, Potter. Not to agree so readily, until you know to what you're committing yourself. However," he held up a hand to ward off Harry's rebuttal, "if you're so inclined, there are some books that I would like to read, currently housed in the Restricted Section. And as you seem to be spending so much of your time there of late, perhaps you could locate them for me." He looked suddenly uncertain as he supplied the last of his request. "Of course, you would have to read the selected passages aloud to me."

The urge to prolong the man's uncertainty, more than earned by his treatment of Harry in the past two days, faded when Harry realized how difficult this must've been for him to ask, evidenced by the clear apprehension in Snape's dark eyes.

"It'd be my pleasure, sir. If you'll give me the name of a book, we can start this afternoon." Harry was rewarded for his forthrightness by the sight of Snape unable to suppress a smile of satisfaction.

"Arudis Mehcohn's Treatise on the Ways and Means of Alchemic Logarithms."

"Great," Harry muttered, "I can hardly wait." But true to his word, he proceeded at once to the library, found the sizeable tome without difficulty, and in no time, was ensconced in his armchair, a strong cup of tea at hand to stave off the inevitable drowsiness, and reading aloud from Chapter Thirty-two, as Snape sat at his desk and took notes in a parchment ledger.

Harry'd yawned several times in the past half-hour, which had earned him a stern look, but now he seemed to have reached the limits of what Snape deemed allowable conduct in a proxy reading. "Potter, you're reading three times more slowly than you talk. Would it be too much to ask for you to pick up the pace a bit?" he asked archly, his quill poised above the parchment.

Harry finished his tea with a gulp, then sat up in his chair, shaking his head from side to side so hard his cheeks jiggled, all the while making a gurgling noise in the back of his throat. After rubbing both his eyes with his hands, he took up the book again. Ready to read, he looked up and saw Snape staring at him.

"What?" Harry asked.

"That was a truly frightening demonstration, one worthy of Peeves."

"Thanks, Professor. Whatever it takes to get me awake, 'cause this is such fascinating reading," he griped.

There were at it another fifteen minutes, when Draco knocked once, then entered. "Thank god," Harry mouthed at him as he set the book aside. Aloud he asked, "You're all set, then?"

Draco Summoned the teapot and answered as he began to pour. "Yeah, all sorted out." He shot a glance at the painting. "Thanks, Severus."

Snape pushed the parchment aside, then nodded his head at Draco. "Best to tidy up the past as best can be done; henceforth, especially in your mind, it will remain there-in the past."

Shooting Harry a meaningful look, a flick of his eyes in the direction of the painting, Draco began casually, "You know, Harry, you were right. Same old Dumbledore- knew everything I expected, all the facts, gave me advice and asked me questions...but still," he looked to Snape suddenly, "it wasn't like talking to you, Severus. He was unusually distractible, as if his mind were elsewhere, and his personality...was faded, like you'd expect in a portrait." He paused, watching as Snape looked away to straighten the stack of books on his desk. "You, though. I don't have that sense at all-that you're not all there. You're completely how I remember you. So...why is that, Severus? Harry's noticed it too, and I didn't appreciate it fully until just now. Severus?" he demanded, when it appeared that Snape had become preoccupied.

Snape glanced up at the two of them, then sneered, "I've no explanation, except that you've become infected by Potter's overactive imagination."

Harry and Draco exchanged a look, one that communicated that neither of them was satisfied by this brush-off.


In the Restricted Section early that evening, Harry and Draco divided up the challenges of the journal.

"So," Harry summarized, "I'll see if Bill knows anything about a vault in Gringotts. And I'll get in touch with Hermione and see if she can find out anything about the neighborhood where the Evanses lived, since Snape grew up there too. See if there's a St. James there."

"And I'll check with Mother about where Snape lived after Hogwarts. Where he might've spent hols or summers. I think he mostly stayed here, though, but it's worth checking out." He chewed on the end of his quill. "And next week when we see Father, I'll ask him about Birnum. I don't know why, but I'm certain that's a person. Wish I could remember that."

They'd also discovered that the numbers from the bottoms of the potions phials in the trunk corresponded, as they'd suspected, to several entries made about Pettigrew and St. James. The references to Birnum, as well as the ones to 'Bat' and the cauldron still remained a mystery.

Draco intended to earnestly apply himself to the textbook, along with the puzzle of the two potions, ones that they'd concluded Snape had no doubt concocted at some point, as the pages on which they were notated seemed more worn and handled than the rest of the journal.

The only thing left to address was the listing of dates and places that chronicled Harry's wanderings during that last year. Harry'd known it would come down to this, and after they'd replaced the books on the shelf, he turned his chair to face his companion, resigned that he would have to give an explanation, at the same time editing out parts that weren't applicable or simply too personal to share.

"This is complicated, and long," Harry warned him. "Some of it won't make sense until I get to the end, so bear with me, all right?" When Draco nodded, Harry took a deep breath and began.

He started with the night his parents were killed, how his mother's death set the blood-protection magic in motion; he moved to his years at Hogwarts, and each encounter with Voldemort.

He explained how Snape had heard part of the prophecy, and how he himself had learnt of it at the end of fifth-year. By this time, Draco's face had become even paler than his usual pallor.

"God, Potter," he muttered as he shook his head, his eyes wide with consternation.

"But Snape, you see, never returned to Voldemort. He'd made a promise, to both Dumbledore and himself." He elaborated on Snape's pledge to keep Harry safe, how it was rooted in a desire to honor Lily's memory; he intentionally diluted the strength of that devotion, not wanting to reveal most of what he'd seen in Snape's memories.

When he moved to the events of their sixth year, Draco's face became grim. Harry told him of the Horcruxes, of Dumbledore's fatal experience with Gaunt's ring, and of their journeys in the Pensieve, tailored to provide Harry with clues that he'd eventually need.

He made short work of that night on the Tower, where Snape and Draco had been unaware that he'd been hidden underneath the Cloak, but he used this opportunity to explain the importance of the Elder Wand, more specifically how Draco's disarming of Dumbledore had figured in to the defeat of the dark wizard. The other Deathly Hallows he edited out altogether.

By now, Draco was listening to him raptly, wide-eyed. Harry resisted the urge to reach out and remind him that this was history, that he was sitting there, in the flesh, alive to tell the story.

He told of their travels during seventh-year, each episode and location bringing them closer to the denouement. He sketched out the destruction of each Horcrux, especially the breaking of the locket and how Snape had provided the sword of Gryffindor. He didn't tell him about Dobby's death, nor of the talk with Ollivander, and as the escapade at Gringotts had soon afterward become almost a cult legend, he only mentioned it in passing. The events of the Final Battle were ones that they'd already discussed on their tour of the castle, so Harry moved straight to the fact of Snape's death in the Shrieking Shack, of the memories that had given him the final piece in the puzzle of how to defeat Voldemort. The rest of it, the killing of Nagini, and the last duel, were a matter of public record.

"So...you..." Draco struggled to get the words out. "You did it, knowing you wouldn't resist...knowing you were going to die." He shook his head, then wet his lips. "I can't even begin..." He faltered, took a long look at Harry, his eyes shimmering, then began again. "What you did... I could've never even begun to..." he choked out, then turned his face to the wall.

Harry sat in silence, watching as Draco dealt with his emotion, feeling strangely empty himself. This was the second time in a matter of weeks that he'd relived what he'd tried to push to the back of his mind, and he wondered over the fact that this time it had been easier. But Draco, unlike Snape, had been a true enemy, and he suspected the impact of the story was much more devastating because of it.

When Draco turned back, his eyes were wet with unshed tears. "Potter, how can I ever even dare to touch you..."

Harry moved then, grasping Draco's face between his hands. "Oh, no you don't," he growled, sliding his fingers through Draco's hair to cradle his head. Commanding attention, Harry leveled a stern look at the shaken man. "Half of what I told you was because I knew you'd never let it go, what with Snape wrote in his journal." He withdrew one of his hands and brushed at the wetness of Draco's eyelashes. "As for the rest of it, I had help along the way. Not like I was ever on my own, for the most part." He removed the other hand from the back of Draco's head, then placed both hands on the man's shoulders. "As for touching me," he smiled, "I remind you that I declared you wank-worthy, in front of Snape, so I'll be truly crushed if you-"

His speech was abruptly cut off, as Draco chose to take Harry at his word, and kissed the breath out of him.


Walking from the library to Harry's rooms, Draco was thoughtful, almost distracted.

"I've got to get to that textbook," he said. "Horcruxes, fine. Snape admitted he was digging on his own...but why would he put that in his journal?" he wondered aloud. "Unless he was thinking he could somehow help you? Find them, I mean?"

Harry shook his head. "I don't think so. He knew that was my task, and from talking to him I've never got the impression that he actually looked at all."

"I don't suppose it would help to come out and ask him," Draco muttered as they reached the door.

"You could try." Harry grinned as he paused with his hand on the latch. "I'll be there to put you back together."


That evening, they told Snape an abbreviated version of what they'd done with their afternoon, that Draco now knew about the Horcruxes and the part that Snape had played during that final year.

Snape looked surprised, but his only comment was, "Draco was already aware of my duplicity, as we discussed it yesterday afternoon."

Harry smiled. "But I definitely put a different slant on it, I'd wager. Probably gave you more credit that you deserved."

"It's a Slytherin quality, modesty," Snape huffed.

Harry guffawed, while Draco only shook his head. "Right, over the years I've noticed that, actually. Slytherins being tight-lipped about their accomplishments," Harry said, tongue-in-cheek.

The rest of the evening passed uneventfully; they discussed the events in the Prophet¸ Snape and Draco had a lively discussion about the merits of a potion technique of which Harry'd never heard, then, winding down, they had a single snifter of Ogden's, while Draco was appointed the unenviable task of reading aloud from Mehcohn's Treatise.

He was still at it, when Harry wished them both a good night. He smiled as he closed his door, hearing Draco mutter in his direction, "You owe me, Harry."

As he lay in bed, he thought of how far the two of them had come in the space of a weekend. It was true, neither of them had expected what they'd found in the other, but for Harry, the proof of that fact had been the sound of Draco saying at last, "Harry."


Harry awakened in the night, and for a moment he drowsily wondered why, until he heard the noise of something moving on the floor at the foot of his bed. As he sat up, he reached for his wand and muttered, "Lumos."

"Draco?" he asked, confused, seeing the man wrapped in a coverlet on the floor, just about to punch his pillow. "What...what's wrong?" he asked, sliding to the end of the bed.

Draco came up on an elbow. "Snape snores, is what. He did it last night, and tonight's even worse. I think he's doing it intentionally because I wouldn't read anymore." He sighed. "Sorry I woke you." He fell back to the floor, and pulled the coverlet up to his chin. "G'back to sleep."

Amused, Harry watched him for a moment, a mound of green bedding with a disheveled blond mop peeking out of one end.

"Nox," he whispered, then crawled back up and settled on his side. He listened for a while, lulled by the sound of Draco snuffling in his sleep.

When he awakened the second time, it was to the sound of Draco muttering. Harry lay, cocooned in his blanket, then had to smile at what he heard.

"No...no! Get...get out!" There was the sound of Draco rearranging himself, then a brief silence that didn't last, broken by a longsuffering sigh. "Oh god, you're a nuisance. Go...geroff!" Now there was a thunk, followed by more rearranging, but almost immediately, another round of negotiations. "Oh puh-lease, why don't you try...up there?" Harry felt the faint plop at the bottom of his mattress, but Draco's strategy had obviously failed, as he positively moaned, "I swear, if I have to Stun you I will..."

With those words, Harry was motivated to move quickly. He spoke the Lumos and was on the end of the bed in an instant, peering down at a wide-awake and annoyed Draco. "Don't you dare Stun her," he cautioned, watching with amusement as Mrs. Norris scratched at the coverlet, which Draco had pulled up to his ears.

"Well then, do something with her. I tried to put her out, but she scratches at the door. She keeps trying to lick my hands, and if she can't get at those, my face," he complained, then threw the coverlet aside and sat up, glaring at the cat, now innocently curled up at his feet. "Why won't she sleep with you?" Draco opined.

"Because she knows you don't want her with you," Harry explained. "It's the way cats are."

Draco rolled his eyes, then fell back to the floor, bringing an arm up to shield his eyes from the light. "Can't we put her out in the castle?"

"Just a different door to scratch. Then we'll have Snape to deal with, in addition to her." Harry watched as Mrs. Norris was covertly working her way up the coverlet to begin her next assault. He patted the bed beside him, and made kissing sounds, but to no avail. The cat was determined to conquer the unassailable.

Harry prodded Draco with a foot, causing him to remove his arm and look up at him.

"Listen, sleep in the bed with me-it's big enough. That way, she'll just settle down at the foot of it."

Draco hesitated for just a moment, then stood and climbed up from the bottom. Harry extinguished his wand, then lay back, waiting while Draco nudged aside the coverlet. Rolling to his side, Harry could just make out the silhouette of the man facing him. There was a loud yawn and the bed shifted as Draco found a comfortable position.

Minutes passed, without either of them moving, Harry's heart pounding in his chest. When he'd had enough, he murmured, "Draco, you're killing me here."

There was a soft laugh as both of them moved and met each other in the middle. After a brief interlude of hands in hair, light strategically placed kisses, and pressing together, they both had their nightshirts and boxers off, evoking a mutual groan at that first contact of bare skin against bare skin.

They rolled in the bed, frotting against each other, first Harry on top, then Draco. It was clear that Draco intended to have the upper hand, as he pushed Harry back into the bed, then pinned his hands to the side as he mouthed his way down Harry's body.

"Oh...ohhhhhh," Harry moaned as he spread his legs for Draco to kneel between them. There was a flash in Harry's memory, of a similar scene he'd dreamed just that morning, but he was pulled sharply to the present, as he felt his cock engulfed by the warmth and wet of Draco's mouth. He fought to free his hands, needing...needing...needing... "Oh god yes!" he panted out, as he buried his hands in Draco's hair, working his fingers through it as Draco mouthed over his cock.

Draco sucked the length of him, pulling back and plunging again, using his hands to roll Harry's balls at the same time, a maddening combination that made Harry arch off the bed to follow as he pulled away, then fall back as Draco pushed forward with his mouth. Harry's head thrashed from side to side, his mouth wide open in a soundless scream as he felt the spike of orgasm overtake him. Holding onto Draco's hair at the roots, Harry held his head in place as he pulsed, completely and blissfully, out of control.

Harry's body slumped, relaxed, into the bed. Draco kissed his way back up Harry's stomach to his chest, ending with a leisurely full-mouthed kiss that left Harry gasping and groping for more, when Draco finally pulled away. Sliding to the side of him, Draco slipped his arm beneath Harry's shoulders and pulled him in tight. As they lay there, recovering, Draco said softly, "You do like sex."

Harry laughed as he turned his face toward Draco. "I do."

Draco traced the line of Harry's shoulder, across his chest, then rested his hand gently on his hip. "Well, since we'll be working together, I suppose there are a few things I could teach you...so far as sex goes," he mouthed at Harry's ear, then flicked the lobe of it with his tongue, just before he bit down, none too gently.

Sensation anew streaked through Harry's groin, as he almost came off the bed. "That sounds..." He didn't finish, when without warning Draco twisted his nipple, then covered Harry's mouth to swallow his gasp, a mixture of both pleasure and pain. "God, Draco..." he muttered when he was finally able to speak.

"Hmmm," Draco sighed as he shifted to his back. "I think Harry likes a bit of teeth, a hint of pain...something...different for us to play with..." He reached out with a hand to find Harry's. Pulling gently, his head turned toward Harry as he said breathily, "Touch me."

Harry needed no further invitation. He rolled to his side, slipped an arm beneath Draco's neck, turning his head to kiss him, at the same time trailing his hand across the man's chest, lingering on one nipple, then the other, returning the favor by pinching harder than he thought he should, but Draco moaned into his mouth, obviously appreciative, so Harry put more force behind it the next time. Draco gasped and jutted his hips forward, his cock brushing against Harry's thigh.

Harry didn't hurry, moving his hand gradually lower, ever teasing, occasionally pinching up flesh to roll between his fingers. By the time he took Draco's cock in hand, Draco was short of breath, moving restlessly, his hands in Harry's hair, touching his face, his fingers probing Harry's mouth, prompting Harry to suck them greedily and noisily.

Harry was flush against Draco now, up on his side, with Draco still flat on his back. Harry rubbed a thumb over the softness of the foreskin, fingered the slit, then firmly gripped him as he slowly pulled down for his first stroke. Draco arched his back, but didn't make a sound.; as a result, Harry was determined to make him.

He pulled his hand up slowly, then forcefully down again. He studied Draco's profile, then smiled in anticipation when he saw the lips fall open as Draco threw his head back. Harry concentrated on being unpredictable, three hard fast strokes, followed by four gentle, longer ones. He altered the rhythm at whim, watching as Draco's body started to tremble, as he tried to force Harry to go faster, writhing in frustration, until he finally burst out in a gasp, "Damn it! Please...please..." He shut his mouth suddenly as Harry began to stroke in earnest, his grasp strong, his grip tight, his pace faster.

Draco was soon pumping his hips off the bed, so that he was doing half the work. Harry could tell by the dig of Draco's fingernails in his neck that he was close, so he leant down and, holding Draco's head fast by the hair, he covered his mouth with his own, just as Draco arched suddenly upward off the bed and seemed to stay there, his cry echoing in the hollow of Harry's mouth and throat, while Harry continued to stroke him until there was nothing left but the sensation of warmth dripping over his fingers.

Harry hung over Draco for a moment while they both recovered. After the requisite cleansing charm, Harry pulled up the coverlet, then turned on his side, reaching out for Draco, who came willingly, draping his arm around Harry's shoulder and pulling him close. Harry nuzzled in the hair at Draco's neck, inhaling the scent of sweat and jasmine. "You like sex too. I could tell," Harry told him.

Draco laughed softly. "I do."

They lay, their limbs entangled and entwined, just about asleep, when Draco mumbled almost incoherently, "Where's the damn cat?"

Harry smiled, but didn't answer.


The next morning, the two of them trod warily into the sitting room, certain that Draco's appearance in his nightshirt, with Harry fully-clothed beside him, would provoke question number six, or at least a snide comment from the master of the painting. They were pleasantly surprised when all that Snape gave them was a nod, and a civil, "Good morning."

Tea proved just as uneventful, even with Draco and Harry sitting almost side-by-side on the settee. Harry told Snape of his plans for the day; Snape declined to take the bait and didn't ask after Draco's.

They were on their way to the door, when Harry couldn't stand it any longer. Turning to the painting, he told Snape, "I'm impressed, Professor. Not a question, not even a comment."

Snape looked up from his desk, and Harry realized from the look on his face that the détente was about to end. "No matter. Mrs. Norris will supply me with all the sordid details."

Out in the corridor, Harry gave Draco a worried look. "Can he do that?" he asked.

Draco slapped him on the back and laughed out loud.

"Well, it's Snape," Harry muttered with a smile. "If anyone could charm a story out of a cat, he could."


Harry hummed his way through his work that morning, flicking his wand to levitate new cauldrons out of their cartons, setting mops to scrub floors, sliding desks and chairs into place. He smiled when he tried but couldn't whistle, his lips pleasantly plumped from the night before.

He felt more optimistic than he had in a long while, but he was almost brutally realistic as well; like Nate, Draco's sojourn here was a temporary one. He refused to consider anything beyond that time, when it would come. But who knew? Perhaps they'd keep in touch, see each other from time to time, whether here or at the Highfield.

All he was certain of for now was that he was enjoying Draco's company: it was a welcome distraction from the sometimes tedious routine of the castle, not to mention Draco's involvement in their now mutual quest to solve the puzzle that was Snape.

Snape. Harry realized, as he worked and thought, that he missed his private conversations with the man. He wondered if Snape felt the same way too. Although he and Draco'd spent time with him every evening, it fell far short of the hours that Harry had previously wiled away, sitting across from the painting. It's just a portrait, he reminded himself, as he set out for lunch.


By late afternoon, Harry was sitting in the headmaster's chair in the office, opening mail that had collected since Minerva's departure. Most of it, this time of year, was from students: thank-yous from newly-departed seventh-years, petitions from returning students concerning their OWL scores and why they should be overlooked for one reason or another. Complaints from parents were placed in a pile all their own. Harry dealt with those that he was able, making neat stacks of the others that required the headmistress' managerial expertise.

"It looks good on you." A voice from the door startled Harry. He looked up, confused at the words, then made a face when Draco dropped into the chair across the desk.

"No, definitely not something I'd ever want to do," he told him as he sealed an envelope.

Draco propped his feet up on the desk. "No?" he asked.

Harry shook his head. "I've watched what Minerva has to put up with-be a mother and a father, deal with the Board, fight with the Ministry, coddle parents, discipline students. No, not for me."

Eyeing him speculatively, Draco said, "Well, see, that's progress. Here's one thing you know for certain you don't want to do. That include teaching as well?"

"I'm not sure. I've considered it, but..." He paused as he thought, then gave Draco a wry smile. "This'll sound strange, since I'm still here, but I want Hogwarts to be a place I can come back to visit. No real ambition to end up here for the rest of my life." He looked around them. "It's a big place, but after a while, the walls can close in on you. I've had a few days like that," he confessed, looking down at the desk.

"You need to get out more," Draco said softly, but when Harry looked up to retort, Draco was already on his feet. "So...it's a beautiful day out there," he said as he made a sweeping gesture with a hand toward the door. "Care to join me in pursuit of a Snitch?" His voice was gently mocking and challenging as he threw down the gauntlet.

Harry capped the inkpot, slid on his shoes, and was around the desk, heading for the door. "Well, what're you waiting for?" he told a slightly amazed Draco. "Let's go!"

They started out at a rapid walk, but after casting a sideways glance at each other, they raced through the corridors like first-years, jostling each other for the front position, careening into walls, racing down stairs three at a time, even leaping from the moving staircase when they were still feet from their destination. Through the Entrance Hall and the great doors, around the side of the castle, down the hillside, by now trying to grab each other by the shirt to get ahead. Too out of breath for words, they stumbled to a stop at the archway to the pitch.

Bent over, hands on their knees, they grinned at each other as they caught their breath.

"Not bad for a piano player," Harry laughed, then motioned them toward the storage room for their brooms.

It was a glorious afternoon, even better than the one Harry'd spent with Ginny and Ron. The two of them tossed the Quaffle back and forth, for a while united against an imaginary adversary, then became serious competitors once they'd thrown out the Snitch. They streaked far above the pitch in their quest for the evasive prize, flying side-by-side at breakneck speed, then hovered near each other, exchanging the usual taunts and jibes as they waited to catch a glimpse of gold glinting in the sun.

They'd been at it almost an hour, and although both of them had come close, the Snitch was still out there somewhere. They'd lost sight of it, and the two of them flew in lazy circles and did loop-de-loops as they waited. The July sun beat down on them as they idled, and by this time both of them were drenched in sweat, pink-cheeked, but exhilarated and satisfied. Harry couldn't remember a time in the past two years that he'd enjoyed something as much as he had the past hour. Well, if he were honest, the entire weekend.

After fifteen minutes and no Snitch in sight, Draco cruised alongside of Harry. "Ready to call it a tie?"

Harry searched the skies first, squinting up at the sun. "Yeah, guess we scared it off."

They were walking through the archway, when Harry inclined his head to the side. "Shower here?"

Draco glanced down at his chest, then ran a hand through his hair. "Sure, why not?" He followed Harry through the locker room, letting out a low whistle when he saw the interior.

"Just wait till you see the showers," Harry told him as they stripped, watching Draco out of the corner of his eye, not at all surprised to find the man doing the same. Draco finished first, so he walked to the door to the showers, then stopped.

"Very nice," Draco said, then turned when Harry leant in the doorway beside him.

"Yeah, isn't it?" The floor and ceiling were done in black and white tiles, while the walls were done in the colors and crests of each of the Houses.

"No expense spared," Draco commented.

Harry didn't speak for a moment, thinking back to when this project had been planned and executed. "There were a lot of people who wanted to do something. So many of them felt guilty...once the dust settled. People who didn't stand up when they should've, people who were afraid...whatever. But this," he stepped into the room, "this was a way of saying thank you; some gave money, some gave materials, quite a few gave their time to do the actual work." He looked back to Draco. "Rebuilt Hogwarts. Healed people at the same time."

Harry turned on the tap of the nearest shower, watching as Draco stepped into the room. Strategically angling the shower head, he caught the man with a blast of cold water.

Draco howled and jumped to the side, skidding on the floor, then retaliated so quickly that Harry had no chance to defend himself. Grabbing Harry around the waist, he pushed him directly under the nozzle, bending himself backward to avoid the frigid water the best he could.

Sputtering, gasping, Harry reached forward and turned the other tap. As the water warmed, he gave up his struggle, and instead leant back into the arms still around him. He felt them relax, then a warm weight pushed at him from behind as Draco's arms crisscrossed his chest. They stood that way for a moment, letting the hot water sluice over them, then Draco reached in front to snag the bar of soap.

Pulling them both back out of the spray, Draco took his time to liberally lather them, taking care to coat every inch until they were slippery and sudsy. When he was finished, he circled Harry again from behind, then stepped them both back under the shower. Gripping Harry by the wrists, he leant them forward to place Harry's hands on the rail. Letting go, Draco slid back and frotted against Harry, who could feel the length of Draco's cock pressed up against him as they moved. He wanted desperately to touch himself, but Draco must've known what he was thinking.

Close to Harry's ear, Draco murmured. "Don't you dare let go." Suddenly, Harry's feet were kicked apart to widen his stance on the slippery floor. He lowered his head, reveling in the feel of the steam and the warmth and the fingers slipping in between the cheeks of his arse.

Draco told him, just as he slid in a finger, "This is the best...spur of the moment sex."

Harry moaned in agreement as he felt the second finger intrude. He felt full and uncomfortable, but it only lasted a moment, as Draco took his time, working his fingers in and out, at the same time attacking the flesh of Harry's shoulder with his teeth. Harry had to struggle to hold on to the rail, challenged by the treacherous floor and the need to take hold of his cock. He twisted his head to the side and begged, "Draco..."

He felt the tip of Draco's cock, then a streak of pain as he was penetrated in a single, swift push. He opened his mouth to cry out, but only managed a gurgling sound, half because of the water, half because Draco pulled him back so forcefully that it took his breath away. He didn't let go, though, but felt completely helpless, fixed to the rail, barely able to keep his feet, held secure around the waist as Draco began to move.

The sensations were delicious, Harry had to admit: the steady stream of the water, the mist that filled his lungs, the soapy sliding of the body behind him, the incredible feeling of fullness...emptiness...fullness...over and over. Draco was pulling and pounding him so hard that Harry felt his feet leave the floor at the same time as a firm hand took hold of him, and he almost cried in relief with that very first stroke downward.

Harry was gasping, his hands about to slip from the rail, his knees threatening to buckle, when Draco thrust deep and hard to the root, then stopped and stayed there, only his hand kept working Harry's cock, pulling up, milking downward, until Harry threw his head back and came, crying out for all the world to hear.

Draco gave him a moment to recover, his face buried in the hair at Harry's nape, then he pulled out and slammed into him so hard that Harry's knees finally did give way. But by then it didn't matter. His hands still on the rail, Draco held him up at the waist, dragging him back as if he were a rag doll, Harry slumping forward each time the man withdrew. After an increasingly frantic pounding, Draco pulled so hard that Harry had to let go, then felt the warmth on his insides as Draco grunted and growled, jerking Harry backward as he climaxed.

Reaching behind with his hands, Harry found Draco's, and held them tightly. They stood this way until Draco caught his breath, then without a word, they stepped back into the shower, taking their turns to clean each other. When the taps were finally shut, Draco pressed Harry against the wall and kissed him, framing his face with his hands, a long, tender kiss that was as light and gentle and sweet, as their fucking had been hard and rough and raw.


They must've looked ridiculous, Harry thought to himself. Garbed only in Quidditch tunics, which fell to just above their knees, and trainers without socks, they made their way up to the castle. Stepping into the Entrance Hall, their eyes adjusting to the lower light, they both stopped short.

"An impromptu Quidditch match, I see?" Minerva asked, hands on her hips. Glancing from one to the other, her eyes rested on Harry. "Who won?"


At supper that evening, Harry breathed a mental sigh of relief. He was slightly amazed as he listened to Draco and the headmistress. Draco supplied her with all the details about his parents, of his employment at the Highfield, and even told her of his talk with Dumbledore's portrait.

Harry spent most of the evening with Minerva, bringing her up to speed on the preparations for the term to come, going through mail, taking notes of what remained to be done. She hadn't demanded any reason for Draco's presence, for which he was grateful; in fact, she seemed to be pleased-Harry was certain that Draco's behavior had accomplished this no small victory.

She would be gone in the morning before breakfast, so they said their goodbyes in the headmaster's office.

"I'm glad he's here," she told Harry without preamble. "Someone your own age, although I must admit I was shocked at first."

"I guess people can change," Harry offered. "He seems to have."

She studied him for a moment, then said dryly, "Not my experience, but in this case I'm more than happy to be disappointed." As she turned back to the desk, she hesitated. "Anything else I should know?"

Should she? Should she know? Harry decided that, yes, she probably should know about several things he'd neglected to mention, namely that he'd spent the last several weeks talking to the dead and former headmaster, not to mention the real reason that Draco was at Hogwarts. "No, not for now," he told her.


Harry and Draco sat across from each other at a table in the library. Draco had collected a stack of potions books to take with him in the morning. Pointing to the text and journal in front of Harry, he asked, "Mind if I take those?"

Harry pushed Secrets of the Darkest Art across the table. "That one's...okay. It belongs to you anyway. Snape got it from your library."

Draco didn't seem surprised at all. "Really?" he asked as he leafed through the first several pages, then shut it and placed it atop the pile. He looked at Harry expectantly, eyeing the journal.

Placing a hand on the journal, Harry bit his lower lip as he deliberated. "Look, it's not that I don't trust you with it. It's...just that I don't feel right, letting it out of the castle." How could he explain it so that Draco would understand? He'd shared all of its contents, but physically handing it over felt like giving a piece of Snape away...a very personal piece with which he was loath to part.

Harry was relieved when Draco seemed to take his idiosyncrasy in stride. Looking up from the journal, he studied Harry's face, then pointed to the pile of parchments at Harry's elbow. "So, lend me your notes then."

Harry bundled them up in a roll, then shoved them across as he asked, "Can I ask you something?"

Draco raised an eyebrow, then said, "Uh-oh, asking permission is usually a bad sign, but go ahead."

"I was wondering what Snape was like that last year-your seventh year?" He rolled a quill between his fingers. "What I know is from sixth-year and before. His memories, of course, and how he is now. But still...I figured you must've known him fairly well since..."

Draco pushed back his chair, then said as he stood, "Because we were Slytherins." He rounded the table to perch on the edge of it where Harry was sitting. "Or because we served the Dark Lord?" He reached down and traced a finger over the back of Harry's hand.

Rolling his hand so Draco was tracing his palm, Harry watched as the delicate brush of a finger started a chain reaction of sensation that traveled up his arm, across his chest, then spider-webbed its way down across his belly. Looking up, Harry said, "Both, I suppose. You were his favorite student, after all."

Draco snorted as he pulled his hand away. "Problem student, more likely. You know, if it hadn't been for him, I wouldn't have returned for seventh year at all. I think he insisted to keep me out of harm's way...as much as he could."

Harry remembered his flashes of memory, where Voldemort had seemed to be using Draco. "Didn't manage it entirely, did he?" he asked softly.

Without looking at him, Draco shook his head. "No...I often went home on weekends, at the Dark Lord's request. There were things..." He trailed off, then looked up at Harry, distressed.

"No need. I can imagine," Harry told him.

Draco didn't speak for a moment, a far away look in his eyes. "Before the Ministry was taken, Severus stayed at the Manor. That month, after Dumbledore...died, I tried to talk to him. Every time I did, he'd stand there...look right through me. Then he'd nod his head, and walk away. He was furious-I knew that, and there didn't seem to be anything I could say to make him listen." He pushed himself up so that he was sitting on the table, his long legs almost touching the floor, as he slowly swung them back and forth.

"The night after the Ministry fell, there was a celebration at the Manor. Everyone was there, and I remember that Severus came in late. He was watching me, working his way through the crowd. I thought at the time that he'd finally settled down...such a victory might've mellowed him, so far as I was concerned." He let out a bitter laugh. "What a fool I was. When we were finally face to face, he looked around the room, then grabbed me by the collar and dragged me to my father's study."

"Sounds like Snape," Harry murmured.

Draco nodded. "He sat me down in a chair, and laid it all out for me. That my father was out, and so was I. The Dark Lord would use us when he wanted, but we were completely expendable. Some things, he told me, were never forgivable, and Father and I were both guilty of such crimes. I tried to argue with him, that I could show the Dark Lord, prove to him I could be useful, and you know what he did?" When Harry shook his head, Draco added, "He laughed at me. Do you know how often he laughs? And when? It's not usually because something's humorous."

"Yeah, I've only heard him laugh once or twice," Harry commiserated, suppressing a shudder.

"He shook me by the shoulders, told me I was going back to school where he could keep an eye on me. And that if we were lucky, the three of us might come out of it alive. He said that Father was beyond talking to, and Mother was almost sick with fear; it was up to me to act responsibly, for everyone's sake."

"So, you decided to do what he asked?" Harry prompted him.

"Not at first, but a month of being at the beck and call of the Dark Lord convinced me he might've had a point. You understand, though, I had no idea he wasn't loyal; I just took it for granted he'd try and keep us...safe.

"I went home on the weekends, something that Severus arranged for me specially. What I saw there...what I had to do sometimes...made me frantic, and sick, and ready to pack up my things for good and go home. My parents needed me."

"So, why didn't you?" Harry asked, slightly alarmed to see the tremor in Draco's hands.

"Severus seemed to know what I was thinking." He smiled at Harry. "Several nights a week, he'd send for me to spend time with him."

Harry had a sudden suspicion that he wasn't about to voice. He wondered over what he knew about Snape's 'sexual encounter' and the fact that Draco was queer. Draco seemed to guess what he was thinking, though. His face darkened as he said, "No, not that, although I wonder how you know about Severus?"

"He told me," Harry said simply.

Draco seemed surprised. "Did he, now?" He considered Harry with a bemused smile. "There's a story there, I'm sure."

"Later," Harry directed him, "go on."

"We just talked...about everything except the war. My classes, Potions, how I was sleeping." He shook his head. "Even talked about what I wanted to do with my life. Funny, that, when we both knew what was coming. But the best part," Draco mused, "was that he seemed to know when I needed to talk. Never anything to do with what was going on at the Manor, or what could happen in the future. A week at a time, he helped me stay in control of myself." Draco dropped his eyes to his hands. "Kept me calm, and gave me hope." He looked up at Harry and tilted his head.

"There were times when I thought he was a fool, but now I know-he had reason to hope, where my family and I had none. He could've just left me on my own...left me to make more stupid mistakes, but he didn't."

"He saved both of us, in a sense," Harry pointed out. "That's part of why we have to do this," he sighed.

Draco slid over, throwing a leg up on the table, then dropped it to the side, so that Harry's chair was between his thighs. Brushing the hair from Harry's face, he ran his thumb over Harry's lips, as he searched his face. "Listen. This is just a suggestion, but I think it might help things if you ask him about the journal again, while I'm gone."

Harry made a move to bite his thumb, but Draco pulled it away just in time. With a mock glare, Harry reminded him, "Won't work. I've tried before and he absolutely refuses."

"See, with Severus, you just have to push a bit more. Keep it up and don't stop-sometimes he'll just explode...tell you things to shut you up."

Harry looked doubtful. "I don't know..."

"Tell him what we know, what both of us are going to do. Be honest-explain to him we're going to figure it out, one way or another, and since there's more than an average chance of getting it wrong, he might as well just tell us."

"You'd be better at that than me," Harry protested.

Draco grinned. "Probably, but he'd figure I was manipulating him, but you...nah, not the honest, straight-forward Gryffindor."

"Sounds a lot like manipulating to me," Harry mused.

"Exactly," Draco confirmed. "What's the worst that could happen? He'll refuse to say anything, or he might just come out and tell you things that would put this all to bed."

Harry didn't like the idea of intentionally provoking Snape, but Draco had a valid point: if Snape would just come out and tell them, then they wouldn't be spending time and effort on things that he could explain in a heartbeat. Still, his past experiences, albeit accidental, of engaging the Potions master in a game of wits made him naturally wary. But this was a dead man in a painting, he reminded himself for what felt like the hundredth time, so how bad could it be?

Harry shrugged. "All right, I'll give it a try. It's not like he has a wand or anything," he muttered, dramatically banging his head on the table between Draco's knees, and was rewarded with a laugh and a total scalp massage.


That night they headed off for bed, after an hour's worth of talk and then reading to Snape from the Treatise. Harry paused in the doorway of the bedchamber. He heard Draco undressing behind him, and was just about to close the door when he changed his mind; he smiled as he left it open a crack.


Harry needed to catch up on his caretaker duties, so he worked throughout that day and most of Wednesday before he had a chance to sit down and talk to Snape for more than a few minutes at a time. This had given him the change to map out his strategy for tackling the subject of the journal with the man. By the time he was ready to broach the subject, he decided that he felt positively Slytherin about what he was about to do.

He'd retrieved the journal from the library and left it lying on the settee while he took his time to shower and pour himself a Firewhisky. At last, he settled himself in his armchair, laying the journal on his knees in plain sight.

When he finally looked up, he knew that Snape had seen that he had it, as a scowl was already in place. Good, he thought to himself, ready to take the offensive.

"Listen, you know why Draco was here. He's had a good look at the journal, and we're in agreement. We're going to do what we can to figure it out. Just wanted to tell you. It only seems right, as it belonged to you," Harry told him, seemingly neutral.

"I suppose telling you to piss off would be useless," Snape said as he crossed his arms and leant back against the desk.

Harry continued on as if the man hadn't spoken. "There's a mention of Gringotts here, so I'm owling Bill Weasley-see if he can track down if you had a vault or any other dealings there. Seems the reasonable person to ask, don't you think?"

Snape opened his mouth, but Harry barreled on. "And I've owled Hermione as well, asking her to look into the area where you and my mum grew up. You see, we think there might be a St. James there. She's quick off the mark when it comes to finding places, working out where people lived, family histories, that sort of thing. You know how she is..."

"I don't see how-"

Harry interrupted, "Draco has some things to ask his mother-he seems to think she knew you fairly well. I'm not sure when, but he's visiting his father and we hope he'll be able to tell us who Birnum is." It was a stab in the dark, since they hadn't actually decided that Birnum was a person.

"He was irrelevant," Snape bit out.

Oh ho! Draco was right. Birnum is a person, and I didn't even have to ask...

"Draco's reading through Secrets of the Darkest Art. I told him where you got the book-hope you don't mind? He's going to use the library at the Manor to do some more research on those potions-so much better at it that I am-he's already made some headway on ingredients I couldn't find in the Restricted Section." He stopped and looked up from the journal that lay open on his lap. "That is what's in the phials?"

Snape looked almost horrified. "Of course not! Whatever gave you that impression?"

"If that's not what's in them, then what is?" Harry pressed.

"It's no longer of any importance, least of all to-"

Harry cut him off insistently, "Then help me here. If it's not important, then why all the secrecy? What's the harm in telling me?" Snape had turned, and for a split second, Harry was afraid that he was leaving. But when he saw that Snape was only circling his desk to take a seat, he continued, "You locked this stuff in a trunk, then took great pains to make certain it was secure. Seems like something you'd do if what was inside was important." He stared at the stony face staring back at him, and suddenly felt cheated, if only because Snape wouldn't trust him on this. "Fine. You're dead, and we can do whatever we want with this. Chip away at it forever." He then laid his trump card.

"Unless...it's something you regret...something you're ashamed of..."

He saw it happen in Snape's expression before the man even spoke. A mixture of outrage and the desire to defend himself against this attack on his character were at war on his face. Then, suddenly it was gone. Harry watched, fascinated but alarmed, as Snape's facial features hardened and the eyes became icy, almost hostile.

"You had a mission, did you not?" Snape asked intently. When Harry slowly closed the journal and nodded, Snape added shortly, "So did I."

Harry knew that his time for talking had passed, so he sat back to listen.

"That summer, when you escaped the Dark Lord in your flight from Little Whinging, he was inconsolable in his wrath...for days. Many people suffered, one person lost his life." He stopped as he saw the look on Harry's face. "This was not your fault, you imbecile! When will you learn that you were not responsible for what he chose to do?" His voice softened when he saw Harry hang his head. "As we've both discovered, Potter, people can change. Perhaps this is one area you might need to consider-your penchant for assuming responsibility for the actions of others." Harry looked up at him, surprised.

"I'm working on it, sir."

"Good," he sighed. "In any case, during that time I realized that I had need of a contingency plan, in the not too unlikely event that the next time he lashed out at a victim, I might be well within cursing range."

Harry understood instantly. "So...if something happened to you, then someone else would've been able to tell me what I needed to know, at the end?"

Snape elucidated further. "Given the nature of the information, it was not something that I could tell anyone beforehand; you recall that the timing had to be precise? No, it had to be something arranged to occur in the event of my death."

"Tricky," Harry thought out loud.

Snape hesitated for a moment. "So, I selected someone I trusted, someone I knew you would trust as well."

"That had to be a short list," Harry muttered, looking down at the journal. Snape wouldn't have trusted many people on a good day; given that he'd killed the headmaster, Harry couldn't imagine who he might've... Wait, he thought suddenly, gripping the journal. He considered the possibility, dismissed it as too outrageous, then sat back with a sigh. He knew he was right.

"It was Remus, wasn't it?"

Snape inclined his head.

Harry was still incredulous, then shook his head. "Good thing you didn't need to fall back on that plan, seeing how he died at practically the same time as you."

A look of pain flitted across Snape's face, then was gone. "Nevertheless, he was the only one who would've trusted me."

Harry was fitting the pieces of the puzzle together in his mind. "So, the trunk...it was Remus who was meant to open it. But I don't see how...with what was inside...how would he know..." His eyes widened. "The phials...they're memories!"

Snape wouldn't look at him for a moment, and still sat studying his hands atop the desk as he spoke. "In the event of my death, I had an arrangement with Gringotts. It was a charm, triggered by my death, that would dispatch an owl to Lupin with instructions. Unlike you, he would've had the password and whereabouts of the trunk, along with very explicit instructions on what to do with its contents."

Harry's mind was reeling with the possibilities, as he guessed at what would've transpired. "He would've seen your memories and then found me, and told me all the things I needed to know," he said as he worked it out. He glanced up suddenly. "Wait. Why three phials? Are they the same memories as the ones I saw?"

Snape measured him as he seemed to decide what to say. "What would've made you trust me weren't necessarily the same things Lupin would've needed to know."

"Memories," Harry scowled, then looked more closely at Snape. "So, the ones in the trunk were meant for Remus, and no one's ever seen them?"

Looking more than slightly alarmed, Snape stood and rounded the desk in a flash. "And no one ever shall. Don't you dare open them!"

Taken aback, but perplexed, Harry reassured him, "All right, all right. What'd be the point anyway? I get it, sir, they're private."

Snape sighed. "It's all inconsequential at this point anyway. As it was, it wasn't necessary to drag Lupin into it at all." He sat on the edge of the desk, looking weary and defeated. Harry couldn't remember ever seeing him this way-either in real life or here in his residence of oil on canvas. He remembered the last and only time that the man had seemed so distraught...the night he'd learnt of Remus' death.

Harry's mind made the connection easily, now that the proverbial cards were out on the table. For some strange reason, he knew he was right, but as Snape would never freely acknowledge it, Harry would have to provoke it out of him.

"I didn't know you liked Remus," Harry said gently, knowing that he had to tread lightly.

"I would've thought your recent experiences with people might've taught you that there is a great deal you do not know," Snape chided.

Harry thought about this, remembering how Snape had been responsible for Remus losing his job at the end of third year; he recalled the tension between the two of them during fifth year at Grimmauld Place. He suspected now what this had been, but he still had to wait for Snape to say it.

"I think you're wrong, though. Remus wouldn't have trusted you."

"He would've, believe me," Snape disagreed, his voice sharp.

"I don't think so," Harry challenged.

"You think you knew him because of his association with your father? How much time did you spend with him?" Snape sneered.

"He was like family!" Harry declared hotly. "I knew him better than anyone!"

"Even better than his lovely wife?" Snape scowled maliciously.

"Don't you dare belittle her memory. Leave her out of this!" Harry shot back.

Snape seemed suddenly taken aback, almost mortified. Standing rigid and immobile, he stared at Harry, then moved to sit heavily in the chair beside the desk. He bent his head to the side, looking at the floor, whether to collect his thoughts or to avoid betraying his emotions, Harry couldn't decide which it was.

When he looked up at last, his face was calm, but Harry thought there might be misery in his eyes, then knew it to be true when Snape said quietly, "We were lovers, Lupin and I."

Harry stared at him and swallowed hard once. Given Harry's reaction, Snape seemed to think he needed to repeat himself.

"We were lovers and we kept our secret very well," he told Harry soberly.

Harry dared to ask, "How long?"

Snape shrugged. "From when he taught here...until just after Black's death."

That made sense to Harry, although he wondered...how it had started, how they had managed to hide it all those years. He was certain that no one in the Order knew; he thought back to the night when Dumbledore had been killed, how Remus had been so devastated... But they all had been, so his grief and outrage hadn't seemed out of the ordinary.

Harry's eyes drifted up to find Snape watching him. "So...he was your back-up plan?"

"Yes," Snape confirmed.

Harry shook his head slowly. "I still can't believe...you and Remus. No one suspected, that's for sure."

Snape stiffened. "It's none of your affair. As you've already pointed out in case I'd forgotten, we are both dead."

Knowing he had to do it didn't make it any easier. "At least now I understand why you were so upset. But still," Harry softly accused, "you're not telling me everything." He saw the storm gathering in Snape's face, so was anxious to ask what remained. "What is St. James? And why does the number beside that entry match the number on one of the phials?"

Snape's knuckles whitened as he rolled his hands into fists in his lap. "Stop it now. Stop all of it! I've given you more than enough. I owe you nothing further! Nothing at all!" he thundered as he stood.

Harry sat back, stunned by his fury, grasping both arms of his chair. His eyes wide, he fought the urge to flush, this time in shame for having manipulated the man.

Snape must've noticed Harry's consternation, for his face softened as he wearily told him, "Let it go, Harry."


That night, there was a full moon that filtered through the latticework of the window, casting a crisscrossed pattern onto the coverlet. Harry lay on his side, bemused by the strange turns his life had taken in the past month. He had two new friends, although he could imagine the look on Snape's face if he were to term him as such. Draco, though... He smiled at the pillow, where the indentation testified to where the man had lain just the night before. Who could've ever guessed...not just friends, but lovers?

His smile faded as the question echoed in his mind... Who could've guessed? Friends...and lovers? Once upon a time, he realized, on a night very like this one, Snape might've possibly entertained such a question, as he drowsily contemplated a similar dent in the pillow next to his.

Harry was suddenly awash with the heart-wrenching knowledge: of how much had been lost because of one man's insatiable thirst for power and immortality; of how twisted and torn and damaged they all were because of his pathological need to dominate; of the pain that would echo through the years because of his delusions and others' inability to resist him.

And yet...here he was, alone in a bed, two years after the war, but alive. And hopeful. In the past two days, he'd flown his heart out, fucked with an erstwhile enemy, heard a heart-breaking confession from a once-hated professor, and deep inside, felt the stirrings of a mission, once again imparted to him by fate. He suddenly knew who he was. Everything had changed, and nothing had changed.


Draco didn't appear until late Saturday afternoon. Harry'd experienced a moment's worry over whether he'd show at all, when noontime came and went, then shook his head at himself and went about his work in the castle.

"I would've been on time," Draco explained when he arrived, "but Mother decided we should have lunch together in the sitting room, which she hasn't done in ages, so I stayed."

"How is she?" Harry asked as they walked to the great doors.

"Same as always. She brightens up when I arrive, but after a while she's distracted. I've become used to it." They took the stairway toward Harry's rooms. "This time, though, I think I upset her with all the questions about Severus. She never wants to talk about the war...or people who were in it. So she had nothing to say when I first asked about him, but then at lunch, she gave me quite a bit, actually."

They stopped just outside Harry's door and leant against the wall. "Severus' parents moved to a place called Spinner's End, right about the time he finished Hogwarts. Mother remembered that Severus' father died, the summer before the Dark Lord...died the first time. She and Father went to the funeral. His mother was sickly at the time-couldn't have lasted much longer, Mother thought, from the looks of her."

Harry nodded, then told him, "Hermione owled today-she found the place where the two of them grew up-no St. James' there, so Spinner's End is our best shot. And I didn't even need to owl Bill. You were right, all I needed to do was push a little." At the look on Draco's face, Harry waved him to the door. "It's a long story. Let's say hullo to Snape, then get to supper."

Later that evening, they were once again in the Restricted Section. Draco listened, expressionless, as Harry told him of what he'd learnt from Snape during that extraordinary conversation.

"I'm a bit shocked." Draco broke the silence that stretched out after Harry had finished. "Severus and the werewolf. But the fact that no one knew doesn't surprise me at all-he was a master of stealth, and Lupin wasn't an idiot either."

Harry murmured his agreement, once again struggling to picture the two of them together, when Draco continued.

"I've finished reading the text and...it's disturbing. You do realize that almost half of it's about Horcruxes? How they're made, how they can be destroyed, how they can be undone? And the rest of it's even worse stuff." He suppressed a shudder. "Now I want to go back and reread the passages that Severus marked in the journal, see if I can figure out what he was up to."

"What about the potions he has listed there?" Harry asked.

Draco closed the text and slowly looked up at him. "I have a suspicion, but let me work on that a bit more. I could be completely off the mark."

"So...the only thing I can think of to do at this point is to keep talking to him," Harry offered, thinking that Draco was doing most of the work by far.

"There is something you might do..." Draco suggested. "Is there a place, like a storeroom or something, where professors might squirrel away things-things they don't use very often, things they don't want to discard?"

"You mean a place Snape might've used?" Harry asked.

"Yeah, I was wondering about the stone cauldron. It's not in the classroom cupboard; I was in NEWT-level potions, so I would've noticed it."

Harry rubbed his chin. "Yeah, there's a storeroom that's mostly potions stuff. I helped Slughorn put some balances in it at the end of term. It's deep, dark, I didn't see all what was in there," he confessed. "You think it's worth taking a look?"

Draco gave him a smile that Harry knew was forced. "Yeah, I do. Whether or not he had one might turn out to be important."


After supper, they returned to Harry's rooms. They'd been surprised earlier to find that Snape hadn't been in his painting, but this time he appeared to be waiting for them, his chair pulled to the front, where he sat almost imperiously, tapping an impatient foot as he watched them take their seats.

"Good evening, Severus," Draco said amiably.

"Good evening." Snape nodded at him, then fixed Harry with a look that made him instantly know what the next words out of the man's mouth would be. "Question number six," he informed him succinctly.

Harry groaned and leant forward, elbows on his knees, as Draco patted him consolingly on the back. "Get on with it," Harry muttered.

Snape tilted his chin up, giving the impression that he was looking down his nose at him. "What were the best and worst moments of your day today?"

Harry instantly had the answers, but felt there was a grammatical point worthy of contention. "That's two questions. So...which do you want to know more?" he attempted.

Giving him a not-so-nice curl of his upper lip, Snape disagreed. "No, it is not. It's one question with a compound object and a single question mark. Although it requires two answers, it is still a single question," he informed him smugly.

Draco leant in and whispered sotto voce, "Sorry, Harry, but he's right."

"Whose side are you on?" Harry asked him with a jab of his elbow. When Draco laughed, Harry sat up straight and glared at Snape, before giving him his answer, rapid-fire. "When the wards alerted me there was someone at the gates, and when Draco was late and I thought he might not show." He'd said the words so quickly that Snape frowned for a moment as he worked the answer out. When he did, he sat back, a gleam of satisfaction in his eyes as he waited for Draco to catch up.

When Draco seemed to realize what Harry'd just said, he pressed his leg against Harry's. "I was the best and worst part of your day?"

Harry gave him a sardonic smile. "Up until now."

Both Snape and Draco laughed out loud, until Harry rolled his eyes and said, "I need to get out more."


They passed most of the next day, reading; Draco worked his way through the passages that Snape had annotated from Secrets of the Darkest Art; Harry droned his way through first the Sunday Prophet, then on to the mind-numbing Treatise. They'd ended with a game of chess in the evening, Snape playing against the two of them, but they still managed to lose in less than an hour.

They retired early for once, Draco gracing Harry with an enigmatic smile as he closed the door. He was the first to have his clothes off and sat on the edge of the bed, watching as Harry undressed. Pushing himself slightly backwards, he patted the space between his legs. "Come here," Draco told him.

Harry felt a streak of anticipation as he spied the small velvet pouch in Draco's hand. "All right," he said as he positioned himself between Draco's thighs, then sighed at the feeling of warmth from the chest pressed against his back.

Draco's hands were in front of them, untying the ribbon of the pouch, then dumping its contents into Harry's lap. Harry picked up the soft leather strap. "What is it?"

"That," Draco's breath was hot on Harry's neck, "is a cock ring. Something I thought the two of us might enjoy." He took the strap from Harry's hands, then reached down, saying, "Have to do this quick-you have to be soft to put it on."

Harry placed his hands on Draco's thighs, then watched, fascinated, as the long slender fingers deftly secured the strap, circling it around the base of his balls and cock, then fastening it so that is was snug against his body. Just that small amount of manipulation, and Harry was already half-hard. "So...what does it do?"

Draco removed his hands, then Harry felt him move backward on the bed, as he tugged at both of Harry's shoulders. "Oh, the beauty of the cock ring is in what you can't do." He motioned with his hands for Harry to lie back on the pillows. Leaning in close, Draco brushed his hand over the head of Harry's cock, as he kissed him. Pulling away, he sat back on his heels, moving Harry's legs to either side of him.

"It's an exquisite torture, you'll see. You're going to want to come, you're going to want to come so bad, but you're going to have to work for it like you've never had to in your life," he said softly, running his hands along the inside of Harry's thighs.

Harry's cock was throbbing now, almost painfully erect, practically pointing to the ceiling between them. He let his legs fall open, as his chest heaved, suddenly stimulated by the ring itself, the sultry tone of Draco's voice, and the slightly wicked look in his eye.

"Go on, Harry," Draco softly told him. "I want to see what you do with yourself when I'm not here." He licked his lips suggestively, then reached to the side, snagged the jar of lube at the end of the bed and unstoppered it, his eyes never leaving Harry's. He held the jar out to Harry, who scooped out a fingerful, then lay back again. "I want to watch you wank. Show me," he murmured, as he began to palm the lube over his own cock. "I doubt you'll be able to do it, but if you ask nicely, I just might help you out."

Harry had already begun to stroke himself, his mouth hanging open, as he pumped his hand over his engorged cock-it felt harder and slightly larger than it usually did, and he wondered if this was because of the ring, or the fact that he was wanking on command with Draco watching him perform. Just the thought of which it might be aroused him even further, and he groaned aloud, watching as Draco lazily worked his own cock, his smile almost taunting as he observed Harry's growing arousal.

Harry's knees were shaking, his feet flat on the bed, his head and shoulders bent upwards as he tried...tried...tried but couldn't come. He felt himself right on the edge...he was going to come... Just on the verge...he was going to...almost there... He could almost feel himself about to...almost...

"Unnnnnh!" he cried out in frustration as he pumped faster, biting his lower lip.

"The ring won't keep you from coming," Draco said dreamily, watching him, his eyes glittering gray. "It just makes you last longer. Some find it...distressing, but others like that feeling, of being on the edge...forever. Which are you, Harry?" He laughed softly as Harry's groan seemed to give him his answer.

Moving quickly on the bed, Draco rolled Harry onto his side, then slipped in close behind him. Nudging a thigh between Harry's legs, he snaked one arm beneath his shoulders. Harry could feel Draco's other hand, slick from the lube, caressing his arse, then, after a brief pressure, Draco penetrated him in one slow, smooth thrust.

For a moment Harry saw stars, the blissful full feeling making him forget to stroke himself. He groaned as he was rocked from behind, as Draco buried his face in his neck, nipping at the flesh of it. It was sublime, it was pleasure, it was pain, it was sensation so acute that Harry cried out from the intensity of it. He needed to come, he wanted to come so badly. "Draco...Draco...I have to...I can't..." he babbled as he found his cock with his hands again.

But Draco swatted them away, then took up a furious stroking, timed to his none-too-gentle thrusting from behind. "Do you want to come?" Draco gasped at his ear. "Do you? Ask me nicely." Then his mouth was sucking noisily at the skin of the soft spot just below Harry's ear.

Harry hardly had enough breath for the words, but he threw his head back and begged shamelessly, "Please...please...want to come need to come oh god let me come," he stammered.

Without missing a beat, but with a soft laugh, Draco released the ring. Harry felt the 'pop' of the leather as it slid away, then there was no more time for rational thought, as he erupted with a cry of abandon, vaguely aware of Draco letting go and clenching his shoulders, letting out a muted sound of his own as emptied himself into Harry.

It was a climax like Harry'd never before experienced, as he seemed to pulse on and on; the warmth flowed over his fingers, plopped up on his chest, and spurted to his chin. He felt disconnected from his body, unable to move for a moment, his arms and legs still vibrating from that violent discharge of energy. He was hot, sweaty and sticky, Draco still draped over him as they lay there, scotched together, trembling and panting.

"So..." Draco was the first to speak when the room was finally quiet, "what do think of the cock ring?" Harry could hear the amusement in his voice.

Harry turned slightly, and said over his shoulder. "I think it's your turn next." Then he rolled all the way over, so they were face to face. "It was brilliant."

Draco spoke the cleansing charm, then reached down to pull up the coverlet. "I wasn't sure... I know you said you don't like playing games with people," he teased, then leant over to plant a kiss on Harry's forehead.

Harry reached out and trailed his hand down Draco's chest, then twisted a nipple, hard. Draco let out a gasp of surprise. "That wasn't what I meant, and you know it," Harry muttered.

Draco pulled Harry closer. "So... I have other things...we can try," he ventured. "Are you game?"

Harry shivered, but he had no choice but to agree, "I'm game."


In the morning, the two of them poured their tea, then sat on the settee, this time so close that their legs were flush together.

"Interesting phenomena," Snape remarked. "I've noticed that the distance between the two of you on the settee appears to be inversely proportional to the number of times the door to the bedchamber has been closed."

Harry lowered his cup, then tilted his head to the side. "The...what?"

Draco sputtered, choked, then laughed out loud. "He thinks our sitting closer together has something to do with our shutting the door at night."

"Oh, well..." Harry shot a dark look at Snape, in anticipation of question number seven. "'Spose he's right, then." Snape only half-sneered, half-smiled, but didn't ask anything further. He seemed to content himself with Harry's lack of comprehension.

"It must be a Slytherin thing, not making sense," Harry muttered. "Speak English, for god's sake, both of you." But he smiled as he tipped his cup.


The days seemed to pass more slowly, Harry noticed, now that he had something, and someone, to look forward to on the weekends. Not that he didn't have work to do, now that mid-July had come. He spent his mornings in Minerva's office, finalizing the list of names of children who'd be receiving their Hogwarts letters. The first-year letters were the most complicated, of course. Although the contents of each letter were identical, it was the address that proved the most challenging. Every day Harry received an update from the Ministry, and it wouldn't be until the night before they were to be sent out that the actual address would be magically imprinted on the envelope. The letters for the higher years were easier, but even these required that Harry adjust the list of supplies to the classes that each student would attend.

It wasn't until Wednesday evening that he set out on his mission to explore the dirty, cluttered storage closet in the dungeons. Because of its location, it was only used by the Potions master of the moment. He didn't relish the task, remembering how boxes and books and rusty cauldrons had come tumbling out when he and Slughorn had opened it in early May.

He stood in front of the double doors of the cupboard, idly wondering if he shouldn't call Kreacher to help, or to at least be available in the likely event he was buried under the rubble the instant the door was open. Pulling out his wand, he leveled it at the door, then said, "Alohomora." As the bolt slid open, Harry stood back, then flicked his wand to unlatch the doors. Cautiously, he reached out and pulled on the handles, opening the door, inch by careful inch.

Although everything thankfully stayed in its place, Harry sighed at the sight before him. Jam-packed, dusty, oddly smelly, and something from within seemed to be making a hissing sound-never a good thing. Rolling his sleeves up, he muttered, "Draco, this could possibly be worse than what you have to do." Raising his wand, and putting a safe distance between himself and the junk pile, he set to work.

An hour later, the cupboard was almost entirely empty, its contents arranged in sloppy piles on either side of him. He'd just removed what appeared to be a camp tent, of the variety that the Weasleys had commandeered for the World Cup, when he saw it, stuck in a corner in the back, its insides overflowing with yellowed scrolls of parchments, ladles, and stirring rods.

"Well, bloody hell," Harry muttered as he levitated the contents to an empty box. He crept inside the cramped space, then got down on his knees to examine it more closely. It wasn't a large cauldron-not even as large as the standard size two pewter ones that the students used. Its surface was rough and hewn, discolored by what appeared to be moss stains, and other stains that Harry didn't want to even consider, and it stood on a pedestal, instead of the rounded bottom and feet with which most cauldrons were usually fitted.

He couldn't budge it on his own, so levitated it to a nearby classroom, where he lit his wand to take a closer look. The lip of the cauldron, as well as the bottom of its interior, was engraved with runic symbols which Harry could not decipher. Draco had taken Ancient Runes, so perhaps he'd be able to sort them out.

When he returned to the corridor, he felt suddenly deflated by the prospect of replacing all of the untidy piles back into the cupboard. The house-elf seemed to be a very good idea, now that he'd removed the item in question.

Kreacher eyed the stacks that towered over him. "How would Master Harry Potter like Kreacher to organize it?"

"Just get rid of anything that's wet, smelly, or hissing. Other than that, do it any way you like," he told the elf.

Kreacher's eyes grew wide with anticipation. "Oh, Kreacher loves to sift and size and sort and stack," he said gleefully.

Harry smiled at his excitement, then, setting out for his rooms, muttered, "Good thing one of us does."


In the evening, Snape had been brooding and uncommunicative, so Harry'd gone down to see Hagrid. The two of them had taken a walk around the lake, the large man amazing Harry, as usual, with his stone-skipping skills. They'd shared some obscure Firewhisky that Hagrid had tried to explain the lurid tale of how he'd come by it, but Harry had told him he'd rather not know. In the morning, his head informed him that in the future, it'd perhaps be best if he got the story before he drank.

By Thursday afternoon, Harry knew he was definitely looking forward to Saturday. Despite the hangover potion, his head throbbed whenever he bent over, he was seeing ghosts in the castle that weren't part of its usual population, and worst of all, he found himself thinking of Draco...and even talking out loud to Snape as he worked. It was the first time that he could remember having felt so restless, being alone. He didn't much like the feeling and refused to think about why it was happening.

After supper, he headed for his rooms, anxious for the company of his tenant in residence, irascible and irritating as he sometimes was. Tonight, Harry couldn't have cared less. He felt maudlin and lonely and sex-starved, and for some reason, all he wanted was to talk to Snape for a few hours, wank off to a fantasy, then wake up in tomorrow.

He actually welcomed the familiarity of it, sipping his drink, as he read to Snape from the Prophet. He didn't mind the ever-running commentary, heard in snippets when he paused to take a breath. Snape's eyebrow lifted when Harry picked up the Treatise without prompting.

Harry read through an entire chapter, then looked up at the end of it to find Snape considering him as if he'd grown a second head.

"What?" Harry asked him.

"We're finished with that for the night." Snape dismissed the book with a wave of hand. "Top off your drink, if you like." Harry narrowed his eyes, then shrugged and Summoned the bottle. He'd just turned back to the painting when Snape proved once again that he missed nothing, so far as Harry was concerned.

"Why the long face?" Snape asked him directly. "I'd think you'd be on top of the world."

"Why would you think that?" Harry asked, understandably wary when Snape broached such a personal topic.

"You're young, healthy...with love on the horizon," Snape told him.

Harry snorted. "Love on the horizon. Yeah, right, that's me," he replied glibly.

Snape didn't respond for a moment, but the solemn look on his face made Harry cringe on the inside. That never boded well. When Snape finally spoke, his voice was surprisingly gentle. "I'd think that you'd have a rather stunning capacity to love."

Now, this was something new, Harry thought to himself. They'd bantered on about sex and noble dedication to an ideal, but never love. "Yeah, well, one thing I've learnt is that life'll disappoint you every time." He took a swallow of his whisky, then added, "So far as love is concerned."

Snape looked shocked. "Why would you of all people say such a thing?"

Harry sat forward, his chin in his hands. "You'd think life would've left me at least one of the people I loved."

Snape's expression softened. "Ah. I see." After a lengthy pause, he reminded him, "You have your friends."

Harry stared back at him. "That's the thing, see. They're my friends. Don't get me wrong, I love them and they love me. But they're still only friends." He sat back in his chair, and when he spoke this time, his voice was harder. "But my parents, Sirius, Remus, even Dumbledore...? Life didn't seem to give a rat's arse. One by one...here today, gone tomorrow," he quipped cynically. "So pardon me if I feel a bit skittish." He tipped his glass bottoms-up, then caught Snape's eyes as he finished, "So far as love is concerned."

Snape pulled his chair closer to the edge of the portrait, still considering Harry. "How old are you?"

Harry sighed; he knew what was coming. "Twenty this month."

"Hmmm, so jaded...at twenty," Snape said softly.

"I'm realistic," Harry disagreed quietly.

"You're pathetic," Snape shot back immediately as he leant forward. "If anyone deserves to have love in his life, it's you."

For some reason Harry had difficulty getting the words out, as that same warm feeling spread through his chest, the one that occurred every single time Snape said something remotely resembling approval. "Oh right. The love expert speaks," he said mockingly.

When Snape finally answered, his eyes narrowed intently, part of Harry marveled at how the man was able to command attention by the simple action of lowering his voice. "I did not die so that you could live your life alone, cynical and bereft of love."

Without thinking, Harry reacted, then regretted it almost instantly. "Did you practice what you're preaching? No, you died, alone, to keep a promise to my mother," he said with a bitterness that surprised even himself.

Snape shook his head, then the creases around his mouth relaxed as he sat, looking at Harry, who had slid to the floor in front of the painting. "That was only part of it."

"Really? Because that's the part you told me," Harry reminded him.

Snape looked down at his hands for a moment, then looked back up at Harry. "I believe, then, that I did not make myself sufficiently clear. And given your astounding ability to discount your own personal contributions and worth, I'm going to say this so that even you can understand." He paused.

"All right...I think, go on," Harry said uncertainly, vaguely aware that he might've just been subtly insulted, but at this point he didn't care.

"Before the end came," Snape said, "despite my mission to protect you, and my promise to the headmaster to relate those terrible tidings, long before the end came, I respected and admired you for yourself. For you alone." He leant forward and placed his palm outward against the surface of the painting, as if he were leaning on it for support. His voice was low and intense, but Harry caught every single word. "And if you don't realize that by now, there's nothing more to be said. I do not dispense respect either lightly or unreasonably."

"So," Harry said hesitantly, wondering when it had become so important that he know, "there at the end, when you looked at me, it wasn't just because of my mum?" Almost reverently and definitely without thinking, he lifted a finger and gently placed it against the surface of the portrait where the hand seemed suspended in midair.

Snape startled in surprise, but didn't move his hand. He stared into the green eyes which were now the topic of the conversation. "I saw both of you, but you...you I was seeing for the very first time." He dropped his arm, then took a step backwards and slowly lowered himself into his chair.

"Are you drunk?" Snape asked him, watching as Harry advanced on his knees to sit almost face-to-face with the painting.

"Noooo," Harry replied as settled to sit cross-legged. "Two drinks. Well within my sobriety limit."

"Hmmm," was all Snape commented, "but it's early yet."

"Ah. So it is," Harry said as he threw a hand back and Summoned the bottle, then decided to dispense with the glass. "I don't even begin to get drunk until after four, five if I have food in my stomach."

Snape shook his head as he watched Harry upcap the bottle. "Fascinating... I must admit I do miss a good jolt of spirits now and then."

Harry took a short swig, then set the bottle on the floor beside him. "Wish I could oblige you," he said sincerely, then studied Snape for a long moment, who returned the look, sober and unflinching. "May I ask you something, sir?"

Looking slightly wary, Snape said, "Go on."

"Did you...like sex?" Harry blurted out, then elaborated, "I mean, when you and Remus...well, when you two were," he stumbled with the words, "together. Actually, I mean when you weren't together. Oh hell," he paused, took a deep breath and another swallow from the bottle. "Did you think of it all the time when you weren't together?"

"Ah. I see. I think you're asking me if I anticipated being together when we were apart?" he clarified, frowning.

"Yeah, that's it. The reason I'm asking is I seem to think of it...a great deal when he's gone," he said, relieved.

Snape pursed his lips. "Only natural, I would think."

Harry rubbed the side of the bottle against his cheek. "All right, then. Didn't know if that was just me..."

Snape laughed softly. "No, I don't think it's just you."

Harry narrowed his eyes for a moment, considering whether Snape was laughing at him or not, then decided, yes, he probably he was. Undeterred, however, he offered an explanation. "Draco says I'm a bit...kinky," he confessed, surprised at how easy it'd been to actually say it. "Just wondering if that's..."

"Normal?" Snape asked, obviously amused. "Variety is the spice of life, so they say, and I'd imagine that would be true in a sexual relationship as well." He watched as Harry chugged from the bottle again, then asked with an indulging smile, "Kinky...are you?"

Harry shrugged. "I don't have much experience to say one way or the other. But Draco should know, I guess." His eyes were slightly glassy. "But that's private," he mumbled. He held the bottle up to eye the level of liquor. "Oops, that's my limit, I think."

"I should hope so," Snape murmured in agreement.

"Anyway, I wanted to ask you, since you've had experience...you and Remus...was it just sex? Or did you ever think about, I don't know, settling down?"

"And why would you be wondering about 'settling down'?" Snape asked him seriously.

"Oh, I'm not," Harry reassured him. "I just like the sex-same for Draco. No love or other such rot. No, I was just thinking about you..." He sat back against the armchair, then angled a leg to either side of the painting. "You have to admit, the two of you together...so, was it like Draco and me? Just the sex, or was it something more?"

Snape eyed him suspiciously. "Not that it's any of your affair, but no, no thoughts of a happy household. Remember who we were and where we were. I was a spy with questionable loyalties, he was a werewolf, and any permanent liaison would've proven disastrous."

Harry shook his head. "Not being entirely truthful, methinks. You were distraught when I told you he was dead." He wagged a finger at the man. "I think it was more than just sex."

Seeming hesitant, Snape took a moment to answer. "It's true that I cared for him, and he for me. We both enjoyed sex and the distraction it provided. Sometimes that is all that two partners want from each other. The prospect of 'settling down' was never even discussed, as we both knew it to be an impossible one."

"I'd like to someday," Harry said almost soberly, undermined by the slight slurring of the word 'someday.'

"Settle down?"

"Yeah, don't look so surprised," Harry groused.

Rolling his eyes, Snape spoke to him as if he were a child. "You recently declined that very chance-to settle down with someone. After a two week lark with Mister Malfoy, you've suddenly done an about face. Unless this is an alcohol-induced proclamation."

"Not with Draco," Harry corrected him. "We like sex," he said, as if that explained it all.

"So, if not Draco..." When Harry failed to take the bait, Snape continued. "What would you look for in a partner, then?"

"First, let's get this straight-he'd have to be a man," Harry said, then sat bolt-upright, a grin splitting his face. "Ha! Get it? Get it straight...have to be a man?" He held his sides as he snorted and snickered, earning him a look of disgust from Snape.

"You're as drunk as a lord," Snape told him.

Harry's smile faded, as he looked at the bottle beside him. Sighing heavily, he looked back to Snape, then guffawed like a donkey. "I think you're right," he almost crowed, then doubled over with laughter once again.

Snape waited until Harry was making only slight sniggering noises to ask, "Now that we have that established, a man, what else?"

Harry stared at him. "Isn't it odd how being pissed makes some things clearer?" He shook his head. "Easier to say?"

"If you've realized that, then I'd advise caution," Snape warned him. "Although, embarrassing oneself in front of a portrait would not ordinarily be cause for concern."

"You're not just a portrait. Draco and I know that," Harry said with a shrug, then before Snape could reply, he moved on. "Tall, dark, and average-looking."

Snape seemed to realize that Harry was back to his list. "A tall, dark, average-looking man. Go on." He'd settled back into his chair, his fingers steepled in front of him.

Harry furrowed his brow as he thought. "Intelligent, good conversationalist, able to talk about ideas." He looked up at Snape, a mischievous look in his eye. "Books too."


Harry nodded, as if the word was self-explanatory. "I like books."

"So, he'd have to like to read..." Snape finished for him.

"And good in bed," Harry said conspiratorially. "A bit kinky as well."

"You have yet to explain...what you mean by kinky," Snape pointed out.

"Tsk, tsk, I told you, that's private," Harry chided him.

Giving him a dour look, Snape said, "Go on."

Harry shook his head. "Wait. Do you like kinky sex?" he asked, his eyes wide.

Snape seemed to struggle to restrain the urge to laugh. "That depends. I think that sex games in the bedchamber..." He watched Harry's face. "...and select accessories possess a certain provocative allure, for both partners, if they're in agreement."

"That's good," Harry said at once. "So what'd I leave out?" He mulled for a moment, strumming his thumb back and forth across his lower lip. He stopped suddenly, then looked up, the levity abruptly gone. "He'd have to've been in the war," he said quietly.

Slowly lowering his hands to his lap, Snape cocked his head to the side. "Why?"

Harry's sight blurred slightly. "'Cause that way we'd never have to talk about it. Unless we really wanted to...and if one of us had nightmares... No questions," he finished softly, seeming all of the sudden sober.

Snape regarded him sadly before remarking, "There you have him...your mystery partner. Quite an amalgam."

"One more thing. Simple things," Harry said solemnly. When Snape looked doubtful, Harry explained, "A simple life. A modest home, with a cat," he smiled, "staying in, most nights. Food and drink. Sex and reading by the fire. Simple things," he stressed.

"An admirable domicile," Snape agreed.

Harry looked up at him blearily. "Soooo...let's see. I wanna remember this-this is good...to remember." Struggling to sit up straight, he held up a hand and spread his fingers. "Tall, dark and average-looking," he bent a finger down, "intelligent and can carry on a conversation," two more fingers folded in, "books, kinky in bed," the last two down to make a fist. Opening his other hand, he went on, "In the war, and likes the simple life." He stared at the remaining fingers, as if mesmerized. "All together, wrapped with a bow, my dream wizard."

His mouth fell open as he looked up slowly at Snape. The flush drained from his face, his eyes startlingly sober as his lips quivered. He tried to speak, but it took him several attempts, as his mouth suddenly didn't seem to want to work

"You...you..." he stammered as he moved forward on his knees so that he was just inches from the painting. He leant down and almost pressed his nose against the canvas. "I'm pissed, I know. But I'm not that pissed," he said urgently, bringing a hand up to place it against the frame. His eyes were bright with tears.

"You know what I wish? You know what I wish more than anything?" He drew a finger of his free hand along the outline of the figure in the painting. "I wish you weren't dead. More than anything," he almost whispered.

"Harry, I think it's time-"

"No! I'm serious here! Don't you see? You're all those things. And you're...you're never coming back. You're dead! Just think about it...you're trapped, and I..." He shook his head. "It's not fair. I should've done something. Maybe you wouldn't have died. But what did I do? I went off and left-"

"Harry, stop it this instant. There was nothing you or your friends-"

"No, no, you can't know that! Stupid...stupid...stupid. And now you're stuck in there, and how I wish to god you weren't." He sat back and hung his head, his arms dangling at his side. He didn't look up at the sound of Snape pushing back his chair.

"Good night, Harry." He heard the soft voice from the painting.

Seized by the senselessness of it all, Harry got up to his knees again and held on to the edge of the painting. "NO! Don't leave... God, I'm sorry, but...no! Come back!" he cried into the empty two-dimensional room. Suddenly angry, he shook the frame as hard as he could. "Severus! Come back...Severus!" he groaned, but the man did not reappear.

Leaning his head against the empty painting, intoxicated by the whiskey, his mind sobered by the startling revelations, Harry gave in and for the first time in years, he cried.


"So, I've not seen hide nor hair of him since," Harry told Draco. "I know he's angry, but criminy, it's not like I meant to offend him."

They'd stopped just outside the Great Hall, Harry having told the tale over a late lunch between just the two of them.

"Doesn't sound like something that would offend him, either," Draco said as they headed for Harry's rooms. "He's a complicated man, Severus is."

"If I said that, he'd remind me he's just a portrait," Harry sighed.

At Harry's door, Draco reached out and stopped Harry's hand on the latch. "Wait a second. I've an idea. You go on to the office and wait. If he doesn't show in a minute or two, then come back. I think we can flush him out that way."

Sure enough, when Harry stepped into the headmaster's office, he saw a fleeting ripple in Snape's portrait, and then it was empty. He stood and waited for a short while, but when the man didn't return, he smiled grimly and set off for his rooms again.

He could hear the murmur of soft voices as he let himself in. They fell silent, though, as he made his presence known, crossing to the sideboard to pour himself and Draco a cup of tea. He handed one over the back of the settee, then rounded it to sit close to Draco. After taking his leisurely time to stir, he set the spoon aside, took a casual sip, then lifted his eyes to the painting.

"Severus," he said with a nod.

Tit for tat, Snape nodded back. "Harry."

Draco rested a hand on Harry's thigh. "Severus was just explaining why he's sulking."

Snape was sitting behind his desk, but didn't speak.

"He's angry with me. I figured that part out," Harry muttered.

Looking up, Snape frowned. "Angry, yes. But not with you."

Harry was perplexed. "With who, then?

"I was angry, full stop." He picked at the frayed edges of a cuff. Harry didn't prompt him, knowing that it was time to just listen. Still fingering the cuff, Snape glanced up again. "Your description of your 'dream wizard' did not leave me unaffected. No, it brought home to roost quite a few things that I'd pushed below the surface and refused to consider."

He crossed his arms, spearing Harry with look full of anguish. "Do you realize how ironic it is? You said you wished I were alive, and it occurred to me with sudden clarity, how it would be if I were. Free of guilt, free of the debt to your mother, free of my promise to Albus, free of any compulsion to do anything other than what I desire. Free to live the life that I was urging you to live." He made a wry face. "I've no delusions about how I would've been received by others, given my past, but at this point, I've learnt not to care what others think. So yes, I was angry. Angry that the Dark Lord, fully mistaken, took my life foolishly and for nothing."

"Why didn't you tell me?" Harry asked softly. "Why let me think...?"

Snape looked uncomfortable. "I'd rather thought you'd spent too much with a specter in a portrait. Your distress over my predicament...was unsettling."

Harry cocked his head to the side. "Seems to me we were angry over the same things," he observed. "Not pity, sir, just a wish that it could've been different."

For the first time in his history with the man, Harry thought he saw regret in his face.

"It was not my intention..." Snape stopped, then began again. "I apologize..." He glared at Draco. "...for retreating instead of telling you the reason why."

Harry felt Draco's hand squeeze his thigh, so he covered the hand with his own. "It's all right," he told Snape awkwardly. "Severus?"

When he knew he had the man's undivided attention, he said, "Drunk or not, I meant what I said there, at the end. Wishing you weren't dead...and the rest of it."

Snape looked chagrined for a moment, opened his mouth as if to speak, then shut it, his face settling into a weary acceptance. The room was quiet for a few minutes, none of them speaking, the only sound that of Mrs. Norris purring in between Harry and Draco.

When the mantel clock chimed three, Draco leant over and kissed Harry on the cheek, then whispered at his ear, "Time to stir the pot a bit." When Harry turned his face to kiss him fully on the mouth, they heard a snort of derision.

When they pulled away, Draco casually said to Harry, "I saw my father this week."

"Oh, that's right, I'd forgotten you were going."

"We had an interesting talk about Birmun." He glanced at Snape. "You knew him, didn't you, Severus? He was a Death Eater, a new recruit, in fact. A Muggle-hater. Do you remember him?"

Snape didn't reply, his face expressionless.

"Edwiss Birnum, mid-twenties. Joined up mainly to torture Muggles. Went on a few raids, then something peculiar happened." He squinted at Snape. "You're sure you don't recall him?"

"I remember him," Snape said flatly. "Sadistic little bugger. Earned a reputation quickly. Didn't just want to kill Muggles; he liked to play with them," he spat out.

"Yeah, that was him. My father said he was downright vicious at it. Then one night," he said as he turned to Harry, darting his eyes meaningfully at Snape, "he was killed in a raid. Odd, that, because there'd been no resistance. When they came out of the house, he was just lying in the garden. No physical damage, just dead. Killing Curse, they assumed."

Harry's eyes widened. "One of the Death Eaters had a gripe with him, then?"

Draco shook his head. "None that was known at the time, and the Dark Lord was so furious he had Priori performed on the wands of all the others who'd been there. Came up clean, every one of them. Never figured out who did it. Did they, Severus?" he asked, as he turned back to him.

"I seem to recall it remained a mystery, yes," Snape ground out.

Draco didn't hesitate. "Why's his name in your journal?"

Snape shrugged. "It was a diary. Perhaps I'd been thinking about him at the time."

"Hmm, speaking of your diary, all those portions you marked in Secrets of the Darkest Art are ones about Horcruxes. I suppose that's because you wanted to know more, since you figured that's what the Dark Lord had done..."

Nodding stiffly, Snape said, "As well as suspecting that Albus had charged Harry with finding and destroying them."

Draco seemed to ignore this, as he said, "What I don't understand, then, is why the potions in the journal-you know the ones I mean? The two at the beginning that I'm positive you brewed-are ones used to create a Horcrux." In the next breath, he changed direction. "Why the familiar, Severus? After so many years, and so many times I heard you flat out scoff at students who had one. Why'd you change your mind?"

Snape leant forward, slamming his fist atop the desk. "None of your affair! I'll remind you that I was a potions master. As for the familiar, I had a use for it." He narrowed his eyes as he sat back, still glaring at Draco.

Harry looked from one to the other, then back to Draco, who was staring straight ahead. Something in his posture, in the way his head was angled, made Harry lean forward in concern.

"Draco?" When there was no reply, Harry put his hand on his shoulder. "Draco?"

Alarmed Harry stood and knelt in front of him, passing a hand back and forth in front of Draco's face. "Severus, what's...Draco!" He shook him roughly by the shoulders.

Draco seemed to shudder, then his eyes focused on Harry. "What?" Seeing Harry on his knees in front of him, he shook his head as if to clear it. "What happened?" he mumbled.

Sitting back on his heels, Harry shot a suspicious look at Snape. "Did you do something?" he accused.

Snape looked shocked. "Certainly not!" He looked over Harry's shoulder, his eyes so worried that Harry suddenly felt sheepish. "Sorry," he murmured, then studied Draco worriedly. "You were just...gone for a minute there."

Rubbing the bridge of his nose, Draco grumbled, "Must've dozed off-haven't got much sleep lately."

Harry rose up on knees, then draped his arms around Draco's shoulders, bringing their foreheads together. "Well, you'd best take a nap now-I have to water greenhouse three before supper." Their lips almost touching, Harry said, "Cause you're not getting much sleep tonight, if I can help it."

Just before they gave in to a long kiss, too long delayed, Draco laughed, "You can count on it."


Harry returned to collect Draco, now rejuvenated by a nap, to take supper in the Great Hall with Hagrid. As they passed the painting, Draco stopped to tell Snape that they'd be out for the evening.

Not even looking up from his book, Snape replied, "You needn't inform me of your itinerary."

Draco studied him for a moment. "I know we don't. Just thought you'd like to know we're going to check out Spinner's End. See the sights," he said casually.

Snape did look up then, glanced at Harry and back to Draco. "Not much to see. Only Muggles. Have a good evening." He returned to his book.


"Why tonight?" Harry asked as they left the Great Hall. "It's nearly seven."

"I've been there already-yesterday. I found St. James," he told an astonished Harry. "It's a church. I'd like to take a look at it; it won't take long."

They Disapparated just outside the gates, Draco Side-Alonging Harry, pulled snug against him.

It was a small church with a single steeple, built with stone that'd been blackened by the local mills of the town. The two of them read the plaque to the right of the door, then walked cautiously around the structure to the right of it. It reminded Harry of the small church in Godric's Hollow, with the cemetery at the back, enclosed by a wrought-iron fence with a gate. It creaked ominously as they swung it on its hinges and then passed through.

They walked through the rows, stopping every foot or so to examine the tombstones, most of them darkened by age and the elements. They were perhaps a third of their way through the rows, when there they were, two tombstones smaller than most that they'd seen thus far.

"This is it," Draco said softly as he fell to his knees to push the leaves away from the base of the stones. Etched into the granite were the names: Tobias Snape...Eileen Snape. There was no inscription on Snape's father's stone, only the dates of his birth and death. His mother's, however, bore the words, Grant to her Eternal Rest. Harry stared at the words and dates, thinking to himself that Snape had lost both his parents in the space of only a few years.

"Look at this," Draco muttered urgently. He'd found a flat plate, recessed slightly into the ground in front of the father's stone. Overgrown with weeds and caked with dirt, it took several moments for him to scrape it clean.

Harry felt a surge of surprise, even though it was what they'd hoped to find. Roughly carved into the flat rock were the numerals: 6418.

"That's it, then," Draco said grimly. They stood, side-by-side, looking down at the weathered stone and its numbers.

"That's it," Harry echoed. "Question is, what is it?"

Draco shook his head. "I've an idea, but let's leave it for now. I need to talk to Severus again."


Snape was strangely gone from the painting when they returned, so the two of them sat on the settee and talked about their week. Draco told him of his visit to Azkaban; Harry related how he'd found the stone cauldron.

When an hour had passed and Snape still hadn't put in an appearance, Draco sighed and stood, reaching a hand out to Harry. "It can wait until morning. I'm knackered, and I've been waiting all day to get you into bed."

Harry didn't need any further encouragement.


"Draco?" Harry asked as they held each other, the moonlight streaming in from the window. He watched, then smiled as Draco used a finger to lift his own eyelid.

"What? Aren't you tired?" Draco asked as he opened both eyes. "God, you should be."

"More sore than tired," Harry admitted.

"We'll have to work on that, then," Draco murmured, running a finger along the curve of Harry's shoulder, making Harry shiver.

Draco's eyes started to drift shut, then opened suddenly. "You were about to say...?"

"Oh, yeah, got distracted," Harry accused. "I was wondering...what made you change?" He watched as the dreaminess left the gray eyes as they slowly refocused.

"You've changed too," Draco pointed out.

"I know, but not as much as you have. So, what was it?" he persisted, using a hand to twirl a lock of blond hair.

Draco sighed and rolled to his back, and stared up at the ceiling. "I almost ended up dead, more than once. You might've got used to that experience, but it was an eye-opener for me. Especially the last time."

"So...it scared you," Harry said.

Turning his head to look at Harry, Draco admitted, "Yeah, it did."

Neither of them spoke for a moment, then Draco rolled to his side again to face him. "In that position, a man has two choices, I think: become a coward and be afraid of everything, or start over. Make the most of the time he has left." He reached out for Harry and pulled him closer. "So that's what I'm doing."

"That's a good thing, then," Harry murmured, shifting a bit so that their legs were tangled together.

They slept that way until just after dawn. Harry awakened, then gently extricated himself to sit in the chair by the window, watching as the sun rose above the horizon.

He thought about what they'd discussed after returning from Spinner's End. He wasn't looking forward to the confrontation to come, much as he wanted to know the truth, once and for all. Draco'd pointed out that there still might be another explanation, but Harry didn't think that likely at all.

Snape had made a Horcrux. It boggled his mind when he allowed himself to think the words, even after he and Draco'd talked about the possibility. There was still the chance that Snape had made the potions for someone else-he himself had pointed out just yesterday afternoon that he was a potions master. But Harry couldn't imagine Snape brewing those for anyone. And the evidence of what they'd found at St. James was especially damning.

He remembered the horror he'd felt when Dumbledore had first detailed for him what a Horcrux was and how it was made. It was, as the textbook declared on its cover, the darkest art, magic performed in the quest for immortality, a magic so dark that it required the caster to commit murder.

He wondered, too, about what Snape had told him concerning his so-called 'back-up' plan. Remus had been involved somehow, but for the life of him, Harry couldn't believe that Remus would've had anything at all to do with magic as dark as this. There weren't many things that he was dead certain about, but this was one of them.

Draco stirred in his sleep; Harry looked to the bed, then smiled as he listened to the man snore. Whatever was to come, he was glad that he wasn't in it alone.


Standing shoulder-to-shoulder at the sideboard as they poured their tea, Draco asked quietly, "Ready?"

Harry nodded. "As I'll ever be."

"Remember, whatever happens, it's for his own good. He might be angry..."

Harry harrumphed. "Snape angry? You jest," he muttered as they turned toward the settee.

They took their time over tea, even reading the Sunday headlines to Snape, who once again seemed to be his usual self. Harry felt a fleeting regret, that they were about to provoke him, then remembered Draco's words. No, it was best to get this out in the open, whether or not there would be a resolution.

Oddly, it was Snape himself who gave them the opening, and when he did, Harry stared at him, thinking that Snape wasn't this stupid, surely.

"So, how did the two of you find Spinner's End?" he asked nonchalantly, pushing his chair to the front of the portrait, then carefully straightening his coat before he sat.

Draco and Harry exchanged a glance of surprise. Harry said cautiously, "Muggle, as you said. And quiet, especially the cemetery."

Snape used a finger to lift a strand of hair from his face. "Ah, not surprising, as its occupants are dead."

"Severus," Draco paused, then said solemnly, "we know what you did."

Snape looked suddenly weary. "You do, do you?"

"You killed Birnum, late in the summer, just before you became headmaster. You'd already made the potions, had everything in place. His death made your Horcrux."

Harry pointed to the textbook between them. "You weren't just interested in Voldemort's. You marked the pages for yourself-how to make one..."

"And how to bring a person back, once he's dead...if he has a Horcrux," Draco finished for him.

"We haven't figured out what you chose for the actual Horcrux, but that's not important anyway. But your familiar..." Harry glanced at Draco, who gave him a nod of encouragement. "Your familiar is where your spirit is."

Snape's eyes widened, but he kept his tongue.

"It makes perfect sense. You didn't have it sixth-year, but when you returned in the Fall, it was always with you. You wanted to make certain that you'd have it close, a willing host in the event that you were killed," Draco said, fixing Snape with a firm look.

"Which is what you did. I don't remember seeing it in the Shrieking Shack, but I'd wager it was there," Harry told him, surprised that Snape hadn't even raised a hand in objection.

"The question, of course, is why, Severus," Draco continued, after Harry'd finished. "Knowing what I do of you...what motivated you, I think, had something to do with Harry," he posited.

"The trunk, sir. Everything in it was selected for a reason. It's clear that the contents of the phials were meant for the...the ritual to bring you back. I was witness to one of those, you remember, although the one in the book is a bit different. But with what we found at St. James'..." Harry paused, hoping that Snape would give in and provide the missing details, but he remained silent, looking from Harry to Draco as they spoke in turn.

"The phials," Draco mused, "bone of the father, unknowingly given. You collected that at some point from St. James. As for the flesh of a servant and blood of an enemy, it appears that Wormtail provided both of those, didn't he? I don't know how you pulled it off, one given willingly, the other forcibly taken, but I'm certain I'm right."

"So, why, Severus?" Harry almost pleaded. "I'm sure you had a reason, a plan set in place, but something's not right...who would help you, if were you killed, and why in the world would you sink to such a level?" Harry knew the disappointment was clear in his voice.

Snape had leant forward and placed his head in his hands; Harry's words, however, seemed to decide him that it was time to speak. Looking up, he spoke to Harry, as if Draco weren't in the room at all.

"You remember I told you I had a contingency plan?" he asked, his voice low and gravelly. When Harry nodded, he continued, "I underestimated your...tenacity, it seems. The phials," he emphasized the word, "never contained memories. They contain precisely what Draco proposed."

Harry's mind reeled, as he played back their conversation of weeks before, of how Remus would've received a letter, of how Snape would've instructed him to... Harry gasped out loud, his mouth dropping open, his eyes wild. "Remus...he was your back- up plan..."

Snape nodded, his eyes glittering. "That part was the truth. Where the actual plan diverges from what you so willingly concluded, was in what my instructions to Lupin contained."

Outraged, Harry said, stunned, "You lied to me!"

"I did not!" Snape shot back. "I let your mind go where it decided to go. If you'll recall that conversation, you'll find that I never corroborated that the phials contained memories, only that Lupin would do what I asked. In this case, perform a relatively simple ritual, according to my precise instructions," he said intently, glaring at Harry.

"No! That's not what you..." Harry trailed off, as he became distracted, his mind groping for the details of that discussion. Snape had said that what Harry and Remus would've needed to know wouldn't have necessarily been the same thing. He remembered that it'd been himself who'd made the assertion that they were memories, but Snape...Snape hadn't agreed...or disagreed, come to think of it. But still...Snape had let him believe...had let him persist in that misapprehension. His thoughts were cut short by the sound of Snape's voice.

"Humor me for a moment, Harry. If I'd done as you believed...left the memories for Lupin. What would he've done? Hmmm?"

Harry sat mutely, shaking his head. He glanced to the side at Draco, who was sitting, staring raptly at Snape.

"I'll tell you what he would've done. He would've done anything in his power to change what had to occur! He would've consulted with the Order, pulled out every book he could find, designed cockamamie schemes. He would've done anything but tell you the truth!" He lowered his voice. "He would've tried to find a way out for you. I knew Lupin well, you remember. And he didn't have it in him to do what needed to be done. So, I took what precautions I could to protect myself, and my mission. In the event of my death, he would've followed my instructions to bring me back, because I knew I was the only one who could be trusted to convince you of what you had to do."

His voice softened. "What Draco said is true. Making the Horcrux had everything to do with you, and nothing at all to do with a desire to save myself. You'll appreciate, I'm sure, that I'd never been overly attached to life, as it was."

Horrible as it was to consider, the reasoning part of Harry's mind had to admire what Snape had done. The rest of him, still in shock, had some objections. "Remus would've never done it...the ritual," he said softly. "He wouldn't have. I know you think differently, but it's dark magic; he wouldn't have approved, and he just..." He shook his head.

Snape stood and leant as far forward as the painting would allow him. "He would've, believe me, I know."

"I don't think so," Harry still disagreed. "He would've-"

"He would've done anything to protect you! Anything to keep you alive! Consider that, Harry. You know it's the truth, and with what I laid out for him in the letter, counting on his knowledge of...my character... He would've. There aren't many things of which I'm certain, but this is one of them."

"So, he'd've brought you back," Harry was startled by Draco's voice, "and then you would've gone on with business as usual."

Snape's shoulders slumped slightly, but he seemed relieved to have the question to answer. "Yes, in a nutshell. It was always my mission, and making the Horcrux is evidence of how willing I was to see it to the end. For personal reasons, of which Harry is well aware, along with no small desire on my part to see justice finally prevail, so far as the Dark Lord was concerned."

The minutes ticked by, the room utterly silent. Snape sat again, staring straight ahead, and for a brief flash, Harry almost thought that the portrait had lost its animate host.

"Sir, what of the Horcrux?"

Snape shook his head. "It's inconsequential what it is. I did have a plan for its destruction, but it doesn't matter now."

"And the bat..." Draco said. "That's where the rest of your soul is," he said, almost to himself.

Snape smiled grimly. "Bat served its purpose, so I'll thank you to let it be. As I've told Harry, I grew rather fond of it."

Harry sat up with a start, his heart pounding. 'Wait...wait..." He held out a hand to Draco, and pointed the other at Snape. "Wait...if this is true...it's true, I know, I believe you. Then...then..." He looked wildly from Snape to Draco. "We could...couldn't we? Everything's here. All we need to do is..."

"Harry, let it go. For all our sakes, especially mine, let it go. Everything that I did was for one reason only. As it turned out, what I set in place was not needed, so, let it go," he repeated, with a threatening finality. Harry looked at Draco, who gave him a look of warning as he shook his head slightly.

Suddenly deflated, Harry studied the man in the painting. "All right...but I don't like it."


"I tried to warn you," Draco said, kneeling behind him on the bed.

Harry pulled his shirt off over his head. "I know. I guess I had to hear it from him." He shook his head. "So, what do we do now?"

Draco began to massage Harry's shoulders. "That depends. You heard what he said. What he wants."

Harry didn't answer for a moment, his chin on his chest as Draco worked his fingers against the tight muscles. He rolled his head from side to side, as he felt the tension begin to fade away. Turning on the bed, he faced Draco. "Well, I'm going to sleep on it. My mind's a little numb right now."

"It explains a great deal, though, doesn't it? At least we know we weren't imagining things. He's not your average portrait, that's for sure," Draco said as he stood. Harry watched him as he undressed and tossed his clothes into a corner of the room. Clad in only his boxers, he turned to Harry and said, "How about I distract you?"

Harry smiled. "Give my mind a rest, huh?"

"Hmmm, wasn't thinking about your mind, but come to think of it, this might do the trick." He motioned at Harry's trousers. "Off with them, while I fix the bed."

Harry stood and slid his trousers off, watching as Draco piled the pillows from the bed into a mound in the middle of it, then pulled down his y-fronts and kicked them away when Draco pointed to the pillows.

"Here," he directed, as he stood at the end of the bed. "On your stomach."

Harry clambered onto the bed, and started to lie down, when Draco landed a playful smack on his behind. "No, not your head," he laughed, as Harry moved up in the bed. "I want your arse in the air."

After some rearranging, that's exactly how Harry was situated. He looked back over his shoulder, no small feat, given his neck and face were on the downward slope of the heap of pillows. "All right, so this is a bit humiliating," he grumbled.

Draco knelt on the very end of the bed, then none-too-gently pushed Harry's thighs wide apart, hiking him even higher up when he bunched another pillow under the pile.

"You'll forget all about that in a minute," Draco promised, as he leant in and slid his hands along the planes of Harry's back. "Head to the side...and relax. This'll put you right to sleep."

Harry sighed, and obeyed, letting out a soft moan as Draco kneaded his shoulders, his hands doing a soft effleurage as he worked his way downward. He felt Draco's breath, hot on the skin of his face, followed by the trail of a tongue that started at his neck, drawn down along the line of his spine, no detours, into the crack of his arse, where it lingered.

Harry wriggled, then opened the eye not scrunched in the bed. "Draco...what're you doing?" Hands replaced the tongue, then he felt himself being spread wide. Draco's voice was muffled as he pressed his nose in.

"I can talk or I can lick," Draco muttered, the vibration of his voice making Harry shiver.

"Oh...lick, then," Harry groaned, pushing up with his knees.

His breath hitched as Draco began to circle his hole with his tongue. Harry'd figured it out, and his body tensed with anticipation. The sensation of it was so perversely arousing that Harry could barely stand it as Draco teased, drawing and dragging his tongue across the sensitive flesh. Harry's face flooded with heat, his mind's eye full of the picture of what the two of them must've looked like. He jerked suddenly upwards off the pillows as, finally, Draco breached him, then plundered, pushing and sucking and hooking that wicked tongue in his arse. He was instantly hard, suddenly torn between two fronts of agonizing stimulation, as he tried to grind himself into the pillows and push back against the face torturing him, pinned to the bed by the wet and warm and insistent intruder.

When Draco pulled back, Harry moaned in frustration, then rolled off the pillows to the side of the bed to grab the jar of lube. Kicking the pillows away, Harry shot Draco a look of smoldering intention. "Come here," he growled, as he coated his cock and his hands.

Draco stared at him as he hesitated for a moment, then did a half-roll on the bed, ending up face-to-face with Harry. In an agile turnabout, Harry flipped Draco in the opposite direction, then sidled in close behind him, forcing his legs apart with a knee as he slipped an arm beneath his shoulder.

For a moment, Harry took his time to revel in the feel of their bodies pressed together. He buried his face in Draco's hair, breathing in the familiar scent of jasmine and something else that was just...Draco. He smoothed the hair out of the way, then fastened on the skin of his neck, sucking, as he moved his hand along the curve of his shoulder, tracing the callus of his elbow, down onto his hip, fingering the bone that jutted out there. He felt Draco's body respond to him, a gentle arch backwards, a bend of the neck to bare it further. And then a definite moan...

His hand slick, Harry cupped Draco's arse, then drifted into the crack of it, insinuating his fingers to find...

Draco reached back with a hand to stop him. "No fingers, just you. Now," he murmured huskily, as he drew his upper leg toward his chest.

This was something they'd never done before: perhaps it was because their day had been so full of melodrama; maybe it had something to do with the fact that they were both exhausted; but more likely, Harry supposed, it had to do with what they both needed on a night like this one.

Slow measured passion built as they coupled, as they moved on the bed, but barely moved at all-an economy of motion, a fluid rhythm that found them never more than an inch apart. They concocted a syncopated and seamless symmetry, fashioned of two bodies that were one for the moment. There was no grasping or thrusting, no gasping or moaning, no begging or pleading. They were on a silent but sensuous, mutual and intensely intimate journey toward completion. And when it arrived, they were still, except for a slight bowing of the melded figures, a soft sigh at the spilling of warmth on the insides, a muted exhalation at the pouring of warmth over fingers. And just before falling off to sleep, in benediction, a kiss to the neck, and one bestowed to the palm of a hand.


Draco was gone after a late breakfast, and Harry was left with his usual Monday tasks. He worked in the greenhouses for a while, but his mind was far from the place, his thoughts on what he'd learnt over the weekend. He smiled, too, as he remembered the night before; sex was great, he decided, free of romantic entanglements, but more than this, he appreciated that Draco was a friend, one who seemed to accept him as he was.

After lunch, Harry thought about his list of things yet to be done that day, but couldn't seem to muster the motivation to begin any of them. He wandered up to the headmaster's office and verified that 'Bat' was still adorning the empty portrait; he strolled up to the Astronomy Tower, and stood on the parapet and looked out over the grounds, watching as Hagrid bustled in his garden; he lingered in the corridors, running his hand along the rough stone walls as he walked; he looked in at the empty classrooms, smiling as he remembered the hours he'd spent in some of them; he opened the doors to the Great Hall and slipped into a seat by the door.

He inspected the neat rows of tables and benches, then gazed up at the magical summer sky, replete with fluffy white cumulus clouds. He remembered how long a walk it had seemed, making his way to queue up in front of the High Table, on his very first night at Hogwarts. What promise his life had seemed to hold, on that night as he waited to be Sorted.

Harry thought it wise...that providence didn't allow mortals to see what lay in store for them... What would he've thought of this magical world, that night, had he known that he'd have to defend his life, not too many years in the future, standing in almost the very same spot? And not just his own, but the lives of countless others?

So many memories in this Hall...in the classrooms and corridors; some he would always remember fondly, but others, well, he didn't have a choice, as they were etched in his memory. Disturbing pictures that haunted his dreams, painted in vivid colors that evoked sounds that evoked smells. There wasn't a day that went by that he didn't relive some part of his life here. Most days it was just a flash in his mind, but on others, he found himself pulled into a full remembrance. He wondered what it would be like to be free of it...to have Hogwarts as just a place from his past, sometimes a pleasant memory, sometimes something darker...

Restless, he dawdled in the Entrance Hall, thinking of how Sibyll had almost been ousted from the castle. He rather thought that her tenure here would rival Binns', in the end. Without thinking, he was on the staircase, traipsing up the steps. It wasn't until he was standing in front of the Fat Lady that he realized what his destination had been.

"Password?" she asked him with a yawn.

Harry shoved his hands in his pockets. "It's summer, Maeve, there's no password," he told her with a smile.

"Oh dear." She looked slightly dismayed, placing a pudgy hand at her throat. "Is it really? I've lost track of time again. Very well," she crooned sweetly with a gesture as the door swung open.

Crossing through the common room, Harry took the steps to the boys' dormitory two at a time. He cracked the door to his old room open, then swung it wide. The beds were stripped of their linens and hangings, giving the room an unlived-in look. He could detect the faint odor of a Dungbomb in the air, and couldn't help but grin as he made his way to his favorite spot in the room.

Perched in the window seat, Harry looked out over the lower battlements of the castle and on to the lake. He settled back against the casing, closing his eyes and stretching his legs out, the motion of it so familiar that it felt like slipping on an old glove.

He opened his eyes and glanced back to the room. Everything was in its place: beds and bookshelves, mirrors and rugs, wardrobes and cupboards. Everything that was here belonged here, and in not too short a time, there'd be four Gryffindors enlivening the room, with as much right to be here as he had.

He sobered as he looked around the room-it seemed smaller, somehow, its walls closer, and the air strangely stale. Suddenly, he knew with an almost breathtaking clarity that he didn't belong here. He realized, then, what his nostalgic tour though the castle had been about. Yes, he'd spent the happiest moments of his life here, but it was time...

Time indeed.

He felt the castle almost sigh around him, as the tendrils that'd had a hold of him slipped away, much like the tentacles of Devil's Snare in the face of fire.

He didn't know why-why now, of all times, he suddenly felt free to go. He didn't know exactly when or how, but he knew he'd be leaving soon, that come September, Hogwarts would be opening, filled to the brim with students, but without him. He wasn't sad, or anxious, or regretful; in fact, he was relieved. He'd waited patiently, and now that the time had come, he didn't intend to overstay his welcome.

There was still work to be done, though-there was still that small matter of the not-dead-not-alive Snape in his rooms, but Harry's step was lighter as he made his way there, humming to himself as he went.


On Tuesday, in the spirit of breaking free, Harry owled Draco and asked him if it would be all right if he joined him in London for the weekend. By day's end, he received a reply, and his plans were set: he'd meet up with Draco on Friday evening at the Highfield, just in time to catch the piano player's first set.

He smiled as he folded the parchment and reached for his tea, totally unprepared, preoccupied as he was.

"Question number seven." The voice from the painting made him look up in dismay.

"You have incredible timing," Harry muttered as he set the parchment aside.

"If I do," Snape told him as he leant against the desk, "it's your fault. You've been avoiding me for the past day and a half, so I'm taking advantage of the opportunity."

"Not avoiding you," Harry disagreed. "I've had work to do, and..."

"And in the evenings?" Snape asked, his eyebrows raised.

"Start of term letters," Harry murmured, thinking to himself that putting off Snape was like putting off a toothache-postponement usually wasn't a wise course of action. "All right, go ahead," he told him, resigned.

His voice unusually soft, Snape struck. "Of all the people you've lost over the years, whom would you bring back, if it were possible?"

It wasn't what Harry expected, so for a moment he was bewildered. "Bloody hell of a question," he mumbled, already beginning to think. Snape didn't comment, but let him be. Harry stood and walked to the sideboard, thinking to himself that if anything warranted alcohol, this sure as hell did. Drink in hand, he stood at the window, watching the sliver of moon over the lake, and the ripples on the surface of the water.

Turning back, he retook his seat, then looked up at Snape, his face clear and purposeful. "This isn't what you want, I'm sure, but it's the truth. Just so you know. First, it wouldn't be my mum or dad. They wouldn't be happy...one of them being here, with the other one gone.

"Same with Remus and Sirius. I like to think the two of them are happy, pulling pranks in the afterlife." He looked away, suddenly feeling awkward about what he was going to say. "And Remus wouldn't be happy...without Tonks, and vice versa."

He slid his eyes up to see Snape's reaction, but the man's face was its usual impassive moue. "Makes sense. Go on," he directed.

"Dumbledore-not him either. He'd say it wasn't natural...always keen on that 'grand adventure.' No, I think he's moved on..."

Snape nodded. "Very good. I'm inclined to agree with you thus far."

Harry gave him a withering look. "I didn't realize there'd be a right or wrong answer. You asked me what I'd do," he accused. When Snape sighed heavily, Harry ignored him to go on.

"Not Moody or anyone else from the Order, although Fred is tempting," he said, then delivered his coup de grâce. "Hands down, it'd be you," he said firmly. He was about to hold up his hand to ward off the protest, but then didn't, when Snape suddenly became very still, his face mask-like.

"Me. I find that unbelievable," Snape said, his eyes blacker than Harry'd ever seen them before. "There's no love lost between the two of us, and although we've said more in the past month to each other than in the six years you were a student, I can't see why-"

"You're dense, you know that?" Harry retorted. "All those people are dead, Severus! While you...you have something they'll never have! A chance to live. And knowing that, well, that makes you the logical choice." His voice echoed in the room, the words seeming to reflect back to him from the walls. "They belong where they are, while you, you aren't...anywhere. It's unnatural."

Snape seemed to regard him with a mixture of resignation and wariness. "It must seem that way, I know."

Harry waved a hand. "I don't like what you did-forget all the reasons why you had to do it. What it comes down to is that you killed a man for me. Not for me, exactly, but close enough that it bothers me. And now you're trapped. Also because of me," Harry finished, the disgust apparent in his tone. "Does that answer your bloody question? Pardon me if I'm a bit put out here, because I am."

"I did what I promised to do, in the only way I knew to be foolproof," Snape told him intently with a glare. "Just as you did what you were destined to do. Like it or not, we both did what we had to do."

"Yeah, well, and now it's time to undo what you did. Draco and I...we could try. Why not? What would it hurt?" he asked, intending it to be a rhetorical question, but Snape took it to heart.

"I'll tell you why not. I think I know you well enough to count on the fact that you wouldn't disturb my afterlife without my permission?"

Harry picked up the Treatise from the table, turning to where they'd last left off, signaling that the discussion was over, but just before he began, he shot Snape a pointed look over the top of the page. "That's the problem, Severus, you don't have an afterlife."


On Thursday evening, sitting on the settee, the pile of books scattered beside him, Harry was reading when Snape interrupted him impatiently.


Looking up, startled, he answered, "What?"

"The purpose of having you procure them from the headmaster's office was to read them to me aloud," Snape reminded him.

"You want me to read this stuff aloud?" he asked

Shooting him a look of affront, Snape sniped, "It's not stuff. It's poetry."

Harry was reading again, and said absentmindedly, "Some of this is good." He looked up at Snape. "It's...I've never read any before...poetry. Didn't get any of this, seeing how I came to Hogwarts when I was eleven."

"Ah. I suppose not."

Chewing on a fingernail, Harry said without looking up, "Some of it's hard to understand...but some of it's, I don't know, full of soul." He glanced up. "Not something I'd ever imagine you reading."

"Why not? I have as much soul as the next person," Snape defended himself, then shut his mouth abruptly, as he seemed to realize what he'd just said.

"See. Words right out of your mouth. You said it, not me," Harry said with a sly smile.

"Harry," Snape growled, "read."

"Oh all right," he groused, flipping through the books beside him. "Which one first? Rilke, Baudelaire, Donne, or Shakespeare?"

Snape sniffed and shrugged. "Let's try the Baudelaire."

"Right, ze frog stuff first," Harry said as he picked up the volume, then laughed when Snape rolled his eyes.

Harry read to him for the better part of an hour, Snape interrupting him once or twice, instructing him on the nuances of reading poetry aloud.

"Try again; remember to pause where the punctuation indicates; otherwise it makes no sense at all."

"Hmmm, all right, how's this?" he asked, then continued.

"I am afraid of sleep,
Afraid of it as one might be afraid
Of some enormous hole: where does it lead?
I stare through windows at infinity,
Longing for death's insensibility.
Or for a world of Form and Being, made
Not of the winds that blow from that strange sleep
Nor any part of me

"Wow," was all that Harry had to say, staring at the words on the page.

"Indeed," came the soft reply.

"It's all in what you wish for," Harry advised him without looking up.


Harry arrived at the Highfield on Friday night promptly at eight. Although there was a queue of patrons waiting just inside the door, the doorman had obviously been forewarned to be on the lookout for Harry. Motioning him forward, the man asked him, "Harry Potter?" When Harry nodded, the man unhooked the velvet rope from the post to let him through. "This way, sir."

The band was already warming up as Harry took his seat at a table not too far from the tiny stage. Seated off to the side, his back to the booths, Harry had a perfect view of the performers, in particular the piano player.

He'd just ordered a drink when the band paused before beginning the first set. Draco made a beeline for the table, smiling when he caught sight of Harry. Leaning down, he brushed his cheek with a kiss.

"You're all set then?"

Harry grinned. "Drink with a little umbrella in it. What more could I need?"

Draco squeezed his shoulder, then bent to murmur at his ear, "Oh, I have an idea." Standing, he nodded toward the stage. "First set's about forty-five minutes. Then there's a twenty minute break. Try to stay awake," he taunted as he turned to leave.

Harry followed him with his eyes as he wove his way between the tables, thinking to himself, god, he's sexy as hell, noticing that he wasn't the only one watching, several heads turning as Draco passed by. The band was uniformly dressed: tight black trousers, midnight blue shirts with something sparkly on them, billowing sleeves gathered into a cuff at the wrist.

Without fanfare or announcement, the four musicians, led by the sax player, counted down and began to play. Chairs turned as the music began, and the noise of the restaurant quieted as the soft strains of the jazz music filled the room.

Harry relaxed back into his chair, listening raptly as they segued from one number to another. He'd not paid too much attention the last time he'd been here, but now...now that he had a vested interest in one of its members, his admiration overflowed. He didn't know much about music in general, but he knew enough to know what he liked. Some of what he heard puzzled him, but much of it took his breath away...such skill, such dexterity, such ability to read one another, taking cues from each other almost as if by intuition.

The center of his attention, of course, was the piano player. Bench pushed back, his long legs extended to reach the pedals, head bent forward toward the keyboard, his long blond hair almost obscuring his face, Draco was a picture of pure concentration.

Harry watched as he played, awed by how flawless it all appeared to be, how totally absorbed the man was by the sheer act of creating something beautiful. Even Harry's recent adjustment to the 'new' Draco was challenged by the passion and pleasure he saw in the man's face, by the almost ecstatic expression when he threw his head back and closed his eyes, his fingers gliding effortlessly over the keys, and especially during a slow mournful interlude when Draco looked out into the crowd and caught Harry's eyes, smiling for a instant, before angling his head downward to finger a particularly difficult passage.

When the set finally ended, Harry clapped enthusiastically with the rest of the patrons, grinning widely as Draco made his way to the table. Looking up at him, Harry told him, "You're incredible."

Pleasure flashed in the gray eyes. "You're biased," Draco laughed.

Harry shook his head. "No, well maybe, but it's still true." He was surprised when Draco held out his hand.

"All right, I won't argue with you." He jerked his head toward the bar. "C'mon. We've only got twenty minutes."

Tailing him through the crowed, Harry followed Draco to the exit at the end of the bar, up the steps, then down the corridor to his room. Once inside, the door firmly closed, Harry moved in a flash and pushed Draco up against the door. Pressing in against him, just before he kissed him, open-mouthed, Harry murmured into the skin of his neck, "God, I want you." After a frenzied moment of frotting, and sucking and teasing with their tongues, Harry pulled back and looked into Draco's face, brushing his hair away with hand. "You're beautiful, y'know."

Draco smiled. "Sooo, I don't make the list, then?" When Harry looked puzzled, he chided, "Tall, dark and average-looking." Sliding his hands behind Harry's back, he watched realization dawn.

"Well," Harry said softly as he leant his forehead against Draco's, "You're tall. You're definitely dark, in a different way, but..." He smiled as he shook his head. "No, not average-looking by a long shot." He pressed his crotch against Draco as he groaned, "Why only twenty minutes? I want you now," he growled.

Draco gave him a smack on the behind. "Later...only an hour...and then," he rubbed his hand against Harry's cock through his trousers, "then, I'm gonna fuck you till you scream." When Harry moaned, Draco let out a soft laugh, then pulled away, taking him by the hand to lead him to the bed. "C'mere-know what these are," he pointed to the two objects lying on top of the coverlet.

Harry looked down, then shook his head. "No. Not a clue." He glanced up to see Draco watching him with undisguised glee.

"These," he said as he picked up the objects, one in each hand, "are anal plugs." At the look on Harry's face, he clarified, "Butt plugs."

For a moment, Harry stared at them, then felt the damnable heat in his face. "Butt plugs..." His eyes widened as understood why Draco was looking at him the way he was.. "Oh...you mean...you want me to..." He couldn't take his eyes away, fascinated by the idea. "So...how does this work?"

Draco moved his hands up and down, as if testing the weight of the two plugs. "You put one in now...we go back for the second set, then when we come back here; believe me, you'll be ready for me...begging, is my wager," he finished, his voice husky and suggestive. "Are you game?"

Harry flicked his eyes up, and although he was apprehensive, he could feel himself harden even further, just at the thought of it. The look in Draco's eyes, though, was what convinced him: the glint of challenge, a hint of playfulness, the outright lust. "All right," he muttered, feeling his cheeks in full flame. "Oh, I'm game. So...which one?"

Draco smiled as he sat on the bed and set the plugs to the side. "Up to you."

Looking down, Harry considered them. One was short and thicker than a cock, with a slight flaring before the knob on one end. The other was at least twice as long, but more slender, with a similar flange, but flat on one end. He shook his head. "I don't know. Which would you say?"

Picking up the longer one, Draco made a circle with the fingers of one hand, then slipped the plug through the opening, pushing it in and out. "Oh definitely this one-has an added feature, you see," he said, breaking into a grin at the look on Harry 's face.

Harry didn't need any further encouragement. "All right. So...how do we..."

"Drop your trousers," Draco directed, watching as Harry obeyed, then patted his lap. "Down. Bend over and spread your legs."

Harry awkwardly complied, wriggling so that he was draped over Draco's lap. He heard the muted, "Accio lube," then watched as a hand picked up the longer plug. He tensed his arse in anticipation, as he felt a few drops of the cool lubricant drip onto his skin.

This earned him another slap to his behind, and he startled reflexively.

"Relax," Draco murmured as Harry felt his hand fumbling in between his crack. There was a brief pressure, then he gasped as Draco slowly pushed the plug in, inch by inch. He felt an instant of burning as he was breached by the flange, but that was the worst of it. Draco gave it an experimental push inward, making Harry groan from the fullness, then pinched him soundly on a cheek, as he gave him a nudge with his knees. "That's it. Up."

Harry struggled to his feet, then stood with his feet askance, trying to adjust to the feel of it. It wasn't painful, but he wasn't altogether sure it wouldn't be when he tried to walk. He winced slightly when he bent to pull up his trousers.

Draco stood and pulled him in close. "You're gonna love it, believe me. And that added feature...well, you'll see." They stood closely together, Draco kissing Harry for all he was worth, Harry acutely aware of the plug up his arse, and that time was running short... By the time Draco pulled away, he had already adjusted to the feel of the solid rubber plug. As for the added feature, it struck suddenly and without notice.

Harry lurched, and let out a groan. "What was that?" he managed to croak out, as the streak of pleasure nearly took him to his knees.

Draping his arm around Harry's shoulders, Draco steered him toward the door. "That, my dear Harry, is a little stimulator, set to jolt your prostate. No predictable intervals, so it'll take you by surprise." Before he opened the door, he kissed Harry one more time, then said by his ear. "I'll be thinking about you...sitting there...with a plug up your arse. Just for me. And when the set's over, I'm gonna fuck you... and fuck you...and fuck you..."

Harry leant in to him, groaning, "I'll be ready, that's for sure."

They were on the stairs, when the sensation hit Harry again. He had to stop and grab onto the rail, casting a withering look at Draco, who laughed as he waited. As they entered the restaurant, and took their own separate paths, Harry had to admit to himself that the butt plug was pure genius. He didn't know how he'd manage the next half-hour, but he was already desperate with need and want...for the deceptively winsome-looking piano player.

Fifteen minutes into the set, Harry wondered if this was what using recreational drugs felt like. Buzzed by the alcohol, and by the unpredictable strum of the plug up his arse, exhilarated by the crescendos of the piano and the wailing of the sax, slightly befuddled by the glare of the lights and the smell of cigarette smoke, all topped off by the knowing looks that a certain piano player was sending his way, Harry felt on the verge of imploding or exploding-he wasn't certain which-by the time the set ended.

When the lights brightened, as the musicians took their bows, Harry was already on his feet. Dragging an amused Draco by the hand, Harry literally pulled him up the steps and hurtled them both down the hallway to the room.

Once inside, Harry had his clothes off in a heartbeat, and just as Draco had predicted, there was begging. First on the bed, watching Draco as he undressed, Harry's eyes were glazed with lust, his breath shallow as he pleaded, "Take it out and fuck me. Fuck me...fuck me..."

In the spirit of not breaking a promise, Draco did exactly that.


They were sitting at a stainless steel table in the kitchen of the club, eating a cobbled together breakfast of au gratin potatoes and toast, leftovers from the evening before.

"So, you've decided. I can tell," Draco said when they'd finished.

Harry stood and fetched the whistling kettle from the burner. As he poured, he admitted, "For the most part. But," he qualified, "since it's not something I can do on my own, you have a say in it as well." He sat, staring off into space as his tea steeped.

"Well, I'm in. I think you know that."

Harry refocused his eyes, then smiled. "Thanks. I was hoping you'd be."

Draco seemed to hesitate, then said as he stirred his tea, "I'm saying this as a friend, you understand? Not saying we shouldn't do it. Just so you've thought of this." When Harry nodded for him to go on, he added, "You have to consider what Severus wants."

Harry made a face. "Well, there's the problem, you see. He killed a man, Draco. And don't tell me it wasn't just for me; I know all of that." He leant forward and rested his head in his hands, not looking up as he said, "On the one hand he says, 'Let it go,' but did you hear him? What he said about why he was so angry? All the reasons he gave...the life he could've had, free of all the things that made him such a miserable cur... Remember how he sounded. He practically said it-he wishes he were alive." He looked up as he scratched his chin. "Sounds to me like someone who might just want to have a second go of it."

Staring at him for a moment, Draco slowly nodded. "What he says and what he wants...two different things. It's not like Severus, though."

Harry drained his cup. "Well, if he's not going to do what's best for him, then someone has to. And that would be us." He motioned between the two of them. "Whether he likes it or not."

"So...we're not telling him?"

Pondering for a moment, Harry shook his head. "No, not for now. He and I...we're just getting back to normal. I don't want to mess with that. Upset my bloody routine, it did," he grumbled.

Draco's eyes went wide, making Harry glance to either side of him before he asked, "What?"

Laughing, Draco reached out and patted his hand. "Nothing. Just the way you said that." He gave Harry a speculative look, then said, "I think you're sweet on him."

Harry guffawed. "You're daft. Me and Severus," he muttered as Draco continued to smile into his cup.


They returned to Hogwarts in time for lunch, after which they stopped off in Harry's room to shower and change before going into Hogsmeade for the afternoon.

Harry came into the sitting room, carrying his shoes, to find Draco thumbing through a book.

"What's this?" Draco asked him, a strange look on his face.

"Oh, that," Harry mumbled as he bent to tie his shoes. "Poetry."

Draco shot him a look of disgust. "I figured. You're reading this?"

Harry didn't look up. "Yeah, well, Snape asked for it."

Draco snorted. "You know what this means, don't you?"

Resigned, Harry sat back and stretched his legs out. "No, but I'm sure you're about to tell me."

"Who reads poetry to each other?" Draco asked, nudging him with an elbow.

Picking up the Prophet, Harry slapped him on the knee with it. "We're not reading it to each other. I read and he listens."

"Same thing," Draco teased.

"No, it's not."

"Is too."

"Is not."

When Draco laughed out loud, Harry looked up and saw Snape watching. For some reason, he blushed, then shook his head, mostly at himself. Snape stared at him for a moment, then returned to his book.


It was a beautiful day, hot but not nearly as humid as the past week had been, so they decided to walk the road down to Hogsmeade, bantering back and forth as they strolled.

They took their time in the village, stopping in several shops, including Honeydukes. Harry pulled Draco into the booksellers, then after a ten minute deliberation, he bought a plain leather journal, much like the one Snape had. If Draco wondered about his purchase, he didn't say a word, for which Harry was grateful.

They ended their outing with a stop at the Three Broomsticks. Madam Rosmerta greeted them cordially, and if she found it strange to see the two of them together, she didn't let on about it at all.

"So," Harry began once they had their butterbeers in front of them, "where do we start? You said this wouldn't be difficult."

Draco shook his head. "The ritual itself isn't. I don't think it's exactly the same as what you described, what the Dark Lord did, but it's close. No, the only part that's not clear is the phials...which to use in what order. We have two that are Pettigrew's. So which is which?"

"Hmmm," Harry mused aloud, "we have to be sure. 'Flesh of the servant' has to come first."

"Yeah, we can't muck that up," Draco agreed. They sat in silence for a moment, then Draco suggested, "We could just ask him.''

Harry scoffed, "Oh right, he'd just clear that right up for us, I'm sure."

"Harry," Draco chided, "let me handle it, all right? Trust me."

Harry remembered how adept Draco'd been at tricking Snape into confessions so far. "Sounds fair. Just...don't tip our hand. I don't want him coming out with something like, 'I forbid the two of you, blah blah blah.'"

They stopped talking while Madam Rosmerta brought them a second round.

"The only other problem I see," Draco said softly, "is the bat. Is that really where he is?"

Harry'd thought of this, and although he realized it was a valid concern, he couldn't see any other alternative. "You saw his face when you said it. It was as good as a 'yes'; he actually looked proud of himself. Bat," he muttered.

"We'll have to trap it or something," Draco told him, then when Harry looked dubious, he said, "We don't want it to go off on its own. Severus might do that, if he could."

Harry traced the rim of his glass. "I don't know. He would've done that by now, I think, if he were worried. No," he said, shaking his head, "no, he's fond of it."

"Still, we can't take any chances. We'll just cage and feed it till it's time. Insurance," Draco added.


That night, after Draco was asleep, Harry slipped from the bed and sat in the chair by the window. There was no moon, so he called up a, "Nox," then anchored his wand on the window ledge as he opened the journal he'd bought that day. The smell of new parchment wafted up, and Harry smiled as he bent over to write.


"Sssshh," Harry warned as they stepped into the office. Draco slid in behind him, then quietly shut the door. "Remember, not too much force."

The two of them trod softly to the empty portrait, where the bat hung from its usual corner. Harry carefully opened an end of the small wooden cage, then held it just beneath the portrait. Both of them in place, Harry gave Draco a nod.

"Relashio," Draco muttered under his breath as he barely flicked his wand.

The bat dropped like a stone into a bucket. Harry slammed the lid atop it, then the two of them bent in to look. The creature had unfurled its wings, and was huddled into a corner, trying to shield itself from the light of the room.

"I thought it would...I don't know, screech or something. You don't think it's sick, do you?" Harry asked worriedly.

"Nah, he's just scared. Think how you'd feel, kicked clean out of bed without warning," Draco said.

"Precisely so," said the headmaster's voice behind them. They both startled, then turned guiltily to face the portrait on the opposite wall. "Watch your fingers," Dumbledore admonished them. "I'm curious as to why you'd cage the poor thing?" When they glanced at each other, he prompted them, "Severus is rather fond of it, you know."

Glancing down at the cage, Harry said, "Yeah, I remember that, sir. We...we thought we'd relocate it to my rooms. Severus spends most of his time there, and...like you said, he's fond of it, so..." he finished, lamely, he thought.

"Yes, he was just saying so the other evening," Draco confirmed, nudging Harry toward the door.

"Was he, now?" the headmaster asked, eyeing them thoughtfully. When they both nodded, he shrugged. "Perhaps it will be happier there, although I doubt it. It misses its master, not just his likeness." He paused, as he combed through his beard with his fingers, studying them.

"We'd better be going, sir. Nice to see you again," Harry said, feeling the insistent pull on his sleeve.

"Good day then, and give my regards to Severus. I've not seen him in days," Dumbledore replied.

Heaving a sigh in unison, they were almost to the door when the old man's voice stopped them. "Oh, and Harry? I've just remembered something you should remember as well."

Harry turned back. "Sir?"

The headmaster had already turned too, and said over his shoulder, just before he disappeared. "Everything in Severus' trunk was there for a reason. Everything," he stressed, then was suddenly gone.

Out in the corridor, they leant against the wall. "What was that all about?" Draco asked.

Harry put up a hand to stop him. Out loud, he reviewed the contents of the trunk. "Journal, textbook, potions phials-three of them-my mum's picture and letter, painting, wand in the scarf." He looked up at Draco, his eyes wide. "The wand!"


After securing their captive in a classroom, the two of them sat beside each other in the Restricted Section, staring at the wand on table before them.

"How did he know?" Harry asked, still flummoxed. "Do you think he knows what we're up to?"

"I'd say so," Draco agreed. "But that's good, don't you think? He didn't say anything to stop us."

Harry brightened. "Yeah, you're right. And you know what else? Severus thought of everything. He knew he'd need a wand when he was brought back."

Draco frowned, then reached out to trace a finger along the wand. "That's part of it," he murmured, then sat up straight, turning to Harry. "Not the most important part, though. Think, Harry. He'd have to have known that Lupin wouldn't want to use his wand to do the ritual...a werewolf using his own wand in a Dark Arts spell. Too dangerous, if Priori were ever performed." He picked up the wand, gave it an experimental flick toward the table. "Repello." The Slytherin scarf sailed across the room.

Smiling grimly, Draco Summoned the scarf and caught it in his hand. "It's a good thing, too. I'm forbidden to cast any Unforgivables or Dark Arts spells, as part of my...agreement with the Ministry." He gave Harry an appraising look. "And I wouldn't think you'd want to cast any with yours either. So, yes, he thought of everything, it seems."

"Typical, down to the least detail," Harry said wryly, taking the wand and rewrapping it in the scarf. "We'll have to remember to thank him when this is over," he said, his voice thick with sarcasm.


That afternoon, Draco followed Harry down to the Quidditch pitch. After a brief game of one-on-one with the Snitch, which Harry managed to snag this time, the two of them sat and serviced the last of the school brooms, readying them for the term to come.

After supper, they walked down to Hagrid's hut, unable to put off the man's persistent invitations to visit any longer.

Draco was warily eyeing the raisin tart on his plate, while Harry went to great lengths to avoid Fang, and made small talk with the gamekeeper.

"Hagrid, are there any parts of the forest that you'd say are safe?" Harry finally asked him.

"Safe? Well, I don' righ'ly know. Lemme think abou' tha'," Hagrid replied, eyeing Harry suspiciously. "Yer not thinkin' 'bout wanderin' round in there, are yeh?"

Harry shook his head. "Just curious."

Stroking his beard for a moment, Hagid thought, then sat back in his chair. "Well, not the west part, that's fer sure. Aragog's brood still lives there. And the north, all of tha' there's where the Centaurs stay." He darted his large eyes toward the window, then lowered his voice, as if what he was about to say could be dangerous, if overheard. "Jes off the main path, to the east, yeh know where I mean?"

Harry felt an involuntary frisson of foreknowledge. "Yeah, I do. Where Voldemort and the Death Eaters were that night?"

"Yeh, tha's tha place," Hagrid muttered, his eyes still flicking to the window and back. "When I go lookin' fer ferrets fer Buckbeak," he paused as he shuddered, "I stay clear. Nothin' lives there anyways. Like they're afrai' o' it or summat."

"Makes sense. There're probably enchantments and wards still there-ones that they cast," Harry mused out loud.

Hagrid shook his head. "Nah, t'ain't it. The Ministry and P'fessor Flitwick made sure 'o tha', summer before las'."

"It's just creepy, then," Harry muttered, shooting Draco a meaningful look.

They stayed for almost an hour, and just when they were about to leave, Harry noticed Hagrid staring at Draco, his forehead wrinkled. Harry knew that look well, so braced himself for something outrageous. Hagrid didn't disappoint him, Harry discovered, when they followed the man out his back door to 'take a look at summat.'

"Buckbeak," Hagrid called to the creature, "look who's come teh see yeh!"

Harry moved down the steps into the garden, watching as the shimmering gray creature struggled to its feet. He glanced over his shoulder to see Draco rooted to the spot, a foot behind him. Smiling, Harry turned and bowed to the creature, which immediately bowed in return, then gracefully slid back to a standing position, taking a few steps toward them, its brilliant orange eyes fixed on the figure between Harry and Hagrid.

"Draco," Harry warned, "get it right this time. Bow," he gritted through his teeth.

Shooting him a terrified look, Draco bowed, swooping low, his head almost to his knees. "Draco," Harry whispered urgently, "look at him." Draco's head came up at that, and Harry held his breath, as Buckbeak cocked his plumaged head to the side, seeming to consider, then finally bent his knees and sank into a bow.

"Tha's it, Draco! See, I was jes' tellin' Buckbeak here tha' yeh jes needed a second chance, was all." Taking him by the hand, Hagrid pulled the reluctant man toward the creature, then placed Draco's hand on a wing, instructing him, "Go on, touch 'im."

Harry watched, amused, as a paler than usual Draco stroked the silvery feathers. Then in a flash, before Draco could react, Hagrid was coaxing him upward, guiding his leg onto the wing, then shoving him further as the mighty beast stood.

"Hagrid, I don't think this is-"

"Mind his feathers, tha's all yeh need to know," Hagrid warned as he slapped the hippogriff on the behind.

With a swoosh of powerful wings, and a yelp from Draco, the duo was airborne, circling once over the hut before it swooped off in the direction of the lake.

Harry shaded his eyes from the setting sun, watching until they were out of sight. "Think they'll be all right?" Harry asked, not really worried.

Hagrid let out a belly laugh. "Righ' as rain, s'long as he holds on teh 'im."

The two of them walked through the garden, Hagrid showing off his prize vegetables, some of them questionable varieties that Harry'd never seen before. When one large crimson blossom snapped at Harry's hand, Hagrid cautioned, "Careful, tha' one's not bin fed yet."

They sat on the porch, waiting for Buckbeak and Draco, who'd been gone almost half an hour. When the dot in the sky reappeared at last, Harry stood and walked to the middle of the garden, watching as they gracefully flew in ever narrowing downward spirals, finally touching down in a soft landing just feet away.

Draco's hair was wild and wind-tossed, his cheeks rosy, his eyes gleaming as he slid from Buckbeak's back. Without prompting, he bowed, keeping eye contact until the hippogriff bowed back. Reaching out, Draco patted his beak, grinning as he said, "Thanks, Buckbeak. That was amazing." When the creature closed its eyes and nuzzled at Draco's hand, Draco added, "Sorry about...you know. I was a berk."

Watching the two of them, Hagrid said quietly to Harry, "I was righ' abou' im. He's changed his spots, tha' un."

Harry smiled, still watching Draco. "Yeah, he has."

When they were saying their goodbyes, Hagrid said to Draco, "P'fessor Dumbledore told meh yeh were makin' amends, an' I though' 'bout yeh and Buckbeak here."

Draco nodded his head soberly. "Thanks, Hagrid."

They were already out of the front garden, when Hagrid called after them, "Yeh two be careful in the forest, wha'ever yer up teh."


They passed the evening in Harry's rooms, taking turns reading to Snape from the by now dreaded Treatise. As Draco took the last shift, Harry sat and read from the Rilke anthology, lost in the emotion and pathos of the man's poetry. He looked up when he felt Draco nudge his bare foot with his own.

"Severus, I was wondering about Pettigrew," Draco said as he closed the book, then set it to the side.

Snape looked wary, glancing to Harry, and then back. "Pettigrew."

"Yeah, no sympathy lost on that one," Draco said. "But how'd you do it? Get...flesh and blood from him?"

Narrowing his eyes, Snape told him, "Pettigrew often provided the human elements needed for the Dark Lord's potions. The flesh was given willingly enough, but the blood...that took me months more to procure." He paused. "Does that answer your question?" he asked softly, intently watching the two of them.

Draco looked non-committal. "Sure, just curious." Leaning over Harry's shoulder, he peered at the poem that Harry had selected to read, then said under his breath, "There. Wasn't so hard."


That night, they stayed up later than usual, Snape in a rare and jocular mood, entertaining them with stories of run-ins with students they had known, until Harry and Draco dissolved into snickers and snorts.

Alone in the bedchamber, Draco sat on the edge of the bed and watched, stroking himself, as Harry undressed. He stood, then nodded toward the wardrobe.

"You still have your school clothes?" he asked, trailing a finger down the middle of Harry's chest, his tongue stuck out at a provocative angle.

"Sure," Harry replied, puzzled. "Why?" He craned his neck forward for a kiss, but Draco stepped to the side.

"Ties-Gryffindor ones? Four would be good."

"Four...oh," Harry breathed, his voice dying out as he got it.

Draco smiled slyly. "Are you game?"

Already rooting around in the wardrobe, Harry's reply was a muffled, "Am I ever."


Hours later, Harry sat in the chair again as Draco slept. He smiled at the way the man lay helter-skelter in the bed, arms and legs askew to take up most of it. The Gryffindor ties were still knotted to the four wooden posters, and Harry's cock twitched just at the memory of how he'd strained against them, as Draco'd had his way with him.

He wondered, as he fingered the journal in his lap, what lay in store for them-this fragile relationship, barely a month old-once they finished their plan. He had no doubt that they'd remain friends, but as he knew he'd be leaving soon, he could only hope that they'd manage to stay in touch. The reality was that Harry didn't have many friends at all, and as Draco seemed to be the only one these days who seemed to accept his idiosyncrasies without question, his absence would be sorely felt.

Sighing, Harry opened his journal, lit his wand, then paused with his quill at his lips.


Draco looked up from the wizading almanac. "This is it, then. The waxing gibbous moon's a week from Friday. Has to be then, or we wait another month."

Harry sat back in his chair, taking a moment as he looked around the library. Shaking his head, he said, "No, we can't wait. Too complicated, come September. It's now or never," he decided firmly, thinking to himself how fitting it was, that he'd be ending his tenure at Hogwarts with a ritual in the Forbidden Forest. "Can we do it by then?"

Draco shrugged. "I don't see why not. We have everything we need. We should check out the forest this weekend, though," he finished with a frown. "Wouldn't want any unpleasant surprises."

"Yeah, Severus starkers will be enough of one," Harry said darkly, making Draco laugh.


Harry walked Draco down to the gates, then let him through. "So, see you Saturday," Harry told him a bit forlornly.

Draco tipped his chin up and stared into his eyes. "What's this?" he mocked. "Going to miss me?"

"Well, your competition is a ten-inch man who forces me to read poetry," Harry opined. "So, yeah, I guess I will...a bit."

Pulling him close, Draco wrapped his arms around him, murmuring at his ear. "You don't fool me, Potter. You love that stuff, the two of you wooing each other with someone else's words."

Harry opened his mouth to protest, but Draco took advantage of the moment to practically smother him with a heated kiss, holding Harry's head in place with both hands as he did.

They were winding down, just about to pull away, when the distinctive 'pop' of Apparition made both their eyes go wide. They stood stock still, arms still wound around each other, their faces cheek to cheek, staring in shock at the couple in front of them.

"Harry...I...what in..." Hermione stammered, Ron standing rigidly beside her. She took in a deep breath, then said, "Happy Birthday."


The three of them walked up to the great doors in silence. Harry was about to take them into the Great Hall, when he decided, what the hell, he was tired of being on tenterhooks around the two of them. "Let's go to my rooms," he muttered, still furious with Ron for the way he'd lit into Draco, and especially for his words just after Draco'd Disapparated. 'You stay away from my sister.'

Hermione had bit her lip and wisely said nothing, having to walk double-time to keep up with the two angry men as they climbed the staircase and strode down the corridor.

Harry didn't even care what they'd no doubt think of the state of his rooms, although he did sweep up the books from the settee and set them aside, not wanting a third degree from Hermione about his choice of reading material.

Snape looked up in surprise as the couple perched uncomfortably on the settee, Harry in the armchair to the side. Closing his book, he looked at Harry first, then back to the settee. "Mr. and Mrs. Weasley," he greeted them coolly.

"Hullo, Professor," Hermione practically chirped in relief. "How are you, sir?"

"Fine," Snape said, seeming not to want to encourage a conversation as he stood and turned to leave.

"We've just popped up for Harry's birthday," she explained, "and to bring him a cake." She gestured to the box beside her, her nervousness obvious.

Snape turned back to pin Harry with a stare. "Ah. Yes, the twentieth one, I seem to recall. Happy Birthday, Potter," he said formally with a bow, then disappeared into the edge of the painting.

"Blimey hell," Ron muttered. "No wonder you've gone daft in the head. Malfoy and Snape both, huh?"

Harry bristled as he leant forward, the dam about to burst. "As for your sister, I've tried to stay clear of her. It's you two who've been the last to get a clue."

Hermione put a firm hand on Ron's knee to make him shut his mouth. "Actually, Ginny's already told us...to lay off. That's why she isn't here, Harry."

"It would've been nice of you to let me know you were coming," he accused. "Seeing how offended you are."

Ron couldn't hold his tongue any longer. "So, explain exactly why we shouldn't be offended, huh? The last time we were anywhere near the bugger, he tried to kill us!"

"Ron, I think we should-"

"Hermione, shut it! It's a perfectly good question." He glared at Harry. "So? I'd really like to hear it. How you went from hating him just like we did to...to..." he sputtered, gesturing wildly. "What the bloody hell was that? Are you out of your bloody mind? Tell me, I really, really, want to know!"

Harry's eyes flashed and he felt his face flush, this time with righteous anger. "Which part really bothers you, Ron? That it's Draco, or that we're queer? Cause, come to think of it, you were never very tolerant of either. So..."

Ron waved a hand in disgust. "So, you're queer now. Nice of you to figure that out, before you married Ginny. It's your life, and you're gonna do what you're gonna do, I can accept that. But Malfoy? That's just..." He groped for words, then when he failed to find them, he shook his head in exasperation.

His voice low and intense, Harry gritted out, "It's been over two years, and he's changed. And if you're honest, you'll admit it-a great deal has changed, for all of us. He's no different on that account."

"Harry, it's not that we don't want to believe you...it's just that it's a bit of a shock," Hermione placated. Ron made a noise of disbelief. She must've squeezed his thigh fairly hard, because he sat up straight, then brushed her hand away.

"If you give me a chance to explain," Harry began, watching the two of them, "it might make more sense. Probably won't make you want to welcome him with open arms, but at least hear what I have to say?" His mind was already working on what he could tell them without giving away what he knew must remain secret.

Hermione nodded, while Ron grumbled, "'Spose we owe you that much."


"So, the two of you aren't a permanent thing, then?" Ron asked, a half-hour later.

Harry answered wearily, "I doubt it. Like I said, we're friends, we both happen to be queer and like sex." He bit back the smile when Ron grimaced. "Not in love, though."

"Well, I suppose it could be worse," Ron said, taking the plate of cake that Hermione handed to him. "But still... if there ever was a bloke I'd swear would be a git forever, it'd be him. And you can't tell me you don't understand why I feel that way."

"I do understand. But you're going to have to trust me on this one," Harry said, eyeing the generous portion of cake, for which he had no appetite.

Ron said with a mouthful of cake, "We're just worried about you, mate. You've been sort of strange, this last year, but you know we only want you to be happy."

"He's right, Harry," Hermione told him, handing a napkin to her husband with a disapproving look. "It might take some...adjustment on our part, but whatever you want, well, that's what friends are all about, aren't they?" She smiled over the top of her teacup.

Harry relaxed back into his chair, thinking to himself that he'd missed the two of them, that with Ginny set straight, he suddenly felt as if a wall had dropped from between them. "Thanks, Hermione. I've...not been the best of friends, I know. But I hope that now, with everything out in the open, we won't have to...avoid each other," he finished, slightly ashamed for some reason.

Hermione glanced at her husband, then smiled at Harry. "We're friends for life, Harry Potter, no matter what. Even Malfoy couldn't change that." When Ron nodded his enthusiastic agreement, Harry smiled for the first time since they'd popped in at the gates.


Of course, Snape wanted a detailed account of what had happened.

"So, it wasn't a particularly happy birthday," he commented when Harry finished.

"You know, I'd forgotten it was my birthday until they showed up," Harry admitted. "As birthdays go, it wasn't the best one, that's true."

Snape considered him for a moment. "They're your friends; they'll adjust."

Harry shrugged. "I think they will. Still, I had a hard time explaining."

"Which part?"

Leveling a look at him, Harry said, "That it's just sex. Not love."

Making a tsking noise, Snape turned back to his book as he said, "So you say."

Harry stared at him, then snorted. "So I know, and so does Draco."

Turning a page, Snape shot him a look over the top of the book. "Often, those in thick of it are the last to know."

"You're wrong. Believe what you like," Harry said dismissively as he picked up a book to read. But moments later, when he glanced up he caught Snape studying him.


If they were to perform the ritual at the end of the next week, Harry knew that he had to work non-stop until then; he was behind schedule, so far as the castle was concerned, but catching up wouldn't present a problem if he worked from sun-up to sun-down for the next week.

Minerva would be returning ten days after he and Draco and Snape had their little appointment in the Forbidden Forest, and as he had no idea of what to expect in the aftermath, should they succeed, he wanted to keep that time free, in case Snape...required something.

Just the thought of it was world-tilting...that in two weeks time, it would all be over. And Snape...would either be flesh and bone once again, or forever relegated to the confines of two comparatively small oil-based paintings.

In the back of his mind, there was another worry: what if Snape returned not quite himself, but perhaps as something or someone foreign, strange, or even worse, uncooperative and combative? Harry supposed they should have a 'contingency' plan of their own, but at this stage of things, he decided that he'd drive himself mad with attempting to plan for every possible outcome. If this fear were realized, then they'd just have to figure it out the best they could.

By Wednesday, the castle had come alive. House-elves where everywhere, scrubbing, polishing, dusting and arranging. The floors and windows shone like mirrors, the classrooms had been aired and ordered, the common rooms were immaculate, and coverlets were plumped on the end of each dormitory bed.

Harry oversaw it all, as he checked the kitchens, the dungeons, the turrets and the owlery. It felt as if a giant beast were slowly reawakening, as day by day the start of term drew closer. Harry was pleasantly taxed, working from dawn until dusk, sufficiently tired at night that he should've been able to fall asleep when his head hit the pillow. For some reason, though, sleep proved elusive on most nights.

At mealtimes and when he took breaks during the day, he'd take out his notebook and write. He'd find a nook or cranny and settle in for a half-hour, then commit the thoughts of his morning or afternoon to the parchment. In the evenings, he spent his time with Snape, reading or talking, and sometimes, when Snape was away or otherwise occupied, Harry'd pull out the journal to read over what he'd written that day, sometimes to revise or tweak, sometimes to erase or embellish. He knew that Snape had been watching him all week, and so wasn't surprised when the man finally asked.

"What is it you're writing? You've been at it for some time," Snape queried, eyeing the journal on Harry's lap.

"You gave me the idea, actually. It's a diary," Harry told him, then looked back to the page.

"A diary...so you're writing about your days?" Snape asked.

Harry looked up. "Well, yeah, I do...and...things I think about," he added, trying to be truthful.

It seemed that Snape had caught the scent of something. "What sort of things? The past? The future?"

"Well, not exactly. It's...more like a way to clear my head," Harry attempted, but knew that this wouldn't be enough.

"So, you write about things that bother you?" Snape pushed.

"Yes, well, no...I mean, maybe both," Harry muttered, staring at Snape. There was a subtle and silent contest of wills that lasted until Harry was the first to cave. "Oh, all right. Most of it's poetry," he confessed, looking down at the words on the page.

"Poetry?" The soft voice made Harry glance up warily.

"Yeah. Poetry. Don't look so surprised."

Snape graced him with a small smile. "But I am." He studied Harry for a moment, stroking his chin, then sobered. "Of all the things I'd like to give you, a love of poetry, no, even more, the desire to express oneself in verse, would be beyond what I'd hope to impart. I'm immensely pleased," he finished gently.

"You are, huh?" Harry couldn't help but smile in reply.

"Oh yes. There's a catharsis that comes with keeping a journal of one's thoughts. But I must ask...because poetry," he shook his head, "poetry is hard work. So...why poetry, Harry?"

Harry'd thought about this for himself, when he'd first begun, so he didn't have to struggle for how to put it into words; they just tumbled out.

"Writing poetry makes you think about what you feel. And for me, at least, what I feel is sometimes just a jumbled mess. It's love, it's hate, it's happiness, it's grief, all rolled into one." He paused as he warmed to his subject. "But if you want to put it down on parchment, then you have to untangle it bit by bit, so that maybe, just maybe, when you put it all back together, someone else who comes along and reads it might have half an idea of how you feel, of what you are." He stopped, out of breath, then added quietly, "Of who you are." He gave Snape an uncertain smile. "But probably not."

Snape was sitting up straight and stiff. "Still...I'm surprised. I wouldn't have thought you to have such..."

"Depth?" Harry asked wryly.

"No, I know there are very deep parts of you. What I meant to say is that I'm surprised you'd have a desire to share such a personal part of yourself with someone else."

"While I'm sober," Harry smiled.

"That too."

Harry sighed. "Well, I suppose it's my week to surprise everyone. Why should you be spared?"

"Why indeed?" Snape murmured, eyeing him critically.


Draco arrived late on Saturday afternoon, and was immediately apologetic.

"Crisis with Mother," he muttered as they took their seats in the Great Hall.

"Oh, there a problem?" Harry asked, concerned.

"There's always a problem. Usually money ones. I fixed it this time, but I don't know how much longer I'll be able to bail her out."

Harry passed him the porkpie. "And when you can't?"

Draco met his eyes. "We'll have to sell. She's known it all along...just postponing the inevitable."

"That'll be hard for her," Harry said as he shook his head.

"You're telling me-I don't even want to think about it. Neither does my aunt, because that's where she'll end up," Draco said matter-of-factly.

They ate in silence, until Draco turned to Harry with a smile. "Could be worse. Enough of that. How was your week?"

Harry rolled his eyes.


After supper, Harry and Draco retired to the Restricted Section, where Harry now figured he'd spent more time than he had in the library proper during all of his years as a student.

They sat at the end of a row of shelves, seated at the carrel where they'd begun this journey only a month ago. Draco had a single piece of parchment in front of him; they reviewed the items they'd need to take with them that night, less than a week away.

"We'll stash it all in the cauldron. Let's see...the wand, the phials, the text with the incantation, even though I have that memorized..."

"And 'Bat'," Harry added, then said a little mournfully, "I really don't like what we're going to do to it. It's...starting to grow on me."

Draco nudged him under the desk. "Yeah, but look what we're getting in return."

"Right, the bat-master," Harry snorted. "God, I hope Severus isn't upset about it."

"Harry, if he's upset because we had to kill his bat to bring him back, I'll Stun him myself."

Stretching, Harry yawned. "Be my guest. So...tomorrow we'll do a walk-through, pick the place, last minute details." Pushing back his chair, he leant down to touch his toes, then stood again and twisted his waist from side to side, groaning at the soreness of his muscles.

Draco watched him, sliding his chair back to lean against the wall. "Hard week, huh?"

"Yeah, it was. You remember how it started...Ron and Hermione, then all the loose-ends to tie up here-Minerva'll have my head on a spit if I'm not ready, and I'm sore as hell. Even with magic, there are just some things you have to do yourself," he complained, then was startled when Draco reached over and pulled him onto his lap. Harry laughed out loud, then rearranged himself so that he was straddling the chair, Draco beneath him.

"I might be able to help you with that," Draco said as he untucked Harry's shirt, then slid his hands along Harry's sides, causing an involuntary shiver.

"I was hoping you would," Harry said, grinning. Draco smiled and cinched him closer, making Harry slump forward and lay his head on his shoulder as the two of them ground their hips together.

"You still have the cock-ring?" Draco asked, his breath hot on Harry's neck.

"Yeah," Harry mumbled, just the thought of it making him flush.

Draco angled his head so that his mouth was at Harry's ear. "Good...so, want to hear what I have in mind? Hmmm?"

Harry's hand found Draco's hair and twisted a lock of it. "Tell me," he said huskily.

There was a slight shifting of them in the seat, as Draco pulled him closer. "First things first. You still have the ties? " When Harry only groaned in reply, he went on. "This time, you'll stand still while I undress you...and tie your hands behind your back. You liked that...being tied...remember?"

Harry nodded; it was a vivid picture in his memory...how the ties had felt on his wrists. "I do...like that...so what else?" He twirled the strands of hair faster.

Draco moved his hand in between them, and cupped Harry's cock through his trousers, provoking a moan. "So helpless, standing there with your hands tied behind you, while I slip on the ring-this time a little tighter. And who knows...maybe it'll stay on a little longer."

"Hmmm, sounds like torture," Harry mumbled, arching into the hand between them.

"Then, something new...something I think you'll like." There was a pause as Draco moved his hand up and twisted Harry's nipple. "Are you game?"

Harry was hot, he was hard, he thought he'd come just from the sound of Draco's voice. "You know I am," he managed to mumble. Another twist and pinch to his nipple. "I'm game," he croaked.

Draco laughed softly, still rubbing Harry's cock between them. "Oh, I know you'll be. Once the ring's on, I'm gonna bend you over my knees and...spank you. Hard. Ten to start...maybe more...it all depends on you."

"Maybe more," Harry echoed, the thought of it bringing him nearly to the edge.

"We'll have to see. Such a fine line between pleasure and pain, hmmm?" For a moment neither of them spoke as the frottage shifted into high gear, Harry barely able to stay on Draco's lap. He had to reach around the chair to hold onto the back of it.

Draco still managed to keep his mouth at Harry's ear, biting at the lobe of it. "Your arse'll be such a pretty shade of pink. All clenched and hot and ready for me. But...no." Harry almost moaned in disappointment. "No, first...you'll blow me. Hands still tied, of course."

"Of course," Harry said in ragged little breaths.

"On your knees, in between my legs. I want you to suck me off. Slow...no hands for you, only mine...mine on your head, making sure you don't slack off..."

Harry shook his head on the shoulder. "No...never..."

Draco pulled his hands from in between them, sitting up abruptly and wrapping his arms around Harry, pinning him to his chest as he growled, "I'm gonna fuck your mouth till I come, and you're gonna swallow all of it...clean up every last drop," he warned throatily, "or I might just have to teach you another lesson."

Just the words, just the tone of Draco's voice, just the way he was being held...made Harry come, his face pressed into the skin of Draco's neck, his hands clutching at the back of the chair. He felt Draco hold him tighter as he flailed in his lap, making the chair rock slightly. As the warm dampness spread in his trousers, Harry relaxed, but moved his hands to Draco's shoulders to hold on.

"God...that was...mmmm," he practically purred.

When they finally stood, Harry tucked in his shirt, wincing at Draco's more than adequate, "Scourgify."

Harry pulled his benefactor into an embrace for a kiss. A long, sensuous groping of tongues, mouths slipping to cheeks and throats, and back again.

When they finally pulled apart, Harry looked into the gray eyes. "I liked that game...talking me into coming."

Draco's eyes grew wide, then he smiled slowly. "You think that was the game?" he laughed softly. "No, the game is...we're going to do all of that." He nodded at the mixture of apprehension and lust on Harry's face. "Oh, and the last part I didn't get to...the part where I fuck you until you beg me to let you come." Grabbing Harry by the hand, he pulled him toward the door.


The next afternoon, they set off for the Forbidden Forest, taking the main path, until Harry signaled with a hand for them to turn off into the brush. It was a sultry day of oppressive heat, made worse by the cover of the trees that pressed the humid air down around them as they walked.

They stopped in the clearing where Harry had surrendered himself that night; Draco seemed to understand that there was nothing to be said, as the two of them stood for a moment, before setting off to the east again.

When they'd walked for several minutes, they came upon another, smaller clearing. The sky was visible through the break in the trees, the ground flat and strangely devoid of undergrowth.

"I think this is what Hagrid meant," Harry said after they'd stood for a few moments, eyeing the clearing. "Listen...no sound, no animal droppings," he pointed to the trees at the edge, "no nests...no birds...no nothing." He pulled out his wand, Draco following suit, and they moved away from each other, stepping sideways on a circular path, checking for charms and enchantments, until they met again at the center.

"So...it looks good to me," Harry said, glancing at Draco.

"Creepy. But you're right. There's nothing," Draco answered. "Might as well set up the circle, then."

They fanned out, looking for sizable rocks to construct the boundary of the ritual circle, levitating them into position in the center of the clearing. It took them nearly an hour to find enough to make the ten-foot diameter ring of stones that lay end-to-end, touching each other.

They sat just outside of the ring of stones, reviewing the plan for the following Friday: where the cauldron was to be placed, how high the water level in it, who would set it to boil, how they would add the contents of the phials, when they would need to step out of the circle, at precisely what moment the Stunned bat would be added to the mix.

"It seems so simple," Harry said as he chewed on a weed.

"Well, our part is," Draco agreed. "Severus did the hardest parts. If we'd had to track down what's in those phials," he shuddered, "we wouldn't be where we are now. Maybe never."

"Yeah, I guess so." Harry stood and reached down a hand. As Draco grasped it, Harry asked him as he pulled him up, "Do you think we should tell him?"

Draco didn't hesitate. "Oh, I imagine he suspects. How couldn't he? He knows what we've been up to, and I think..." he paused, squinting at Harry.


Draco smiled. "You're not very good at hiding things."

Harry frowned, thinking carefully. "I haven't said a word. We've not talked about it since he told me not to 'disturb his afterlife'."

"Maybe he doesn't, then. But he has a way figuring things out, even when you don't tell him. Know what I mean?" Draco asked as they headed back toward the path.

"Yeah, unfortunately I do," Harry agreed grimly.


Harry awakened, gradually aware that he'd fallen asleep in the chair by the window, his journal still open on his lap. He rolled his head toward the bed, and was surprised to find Draco, lying on his side, his eyes open.

"Hey," Harry said softly. "It's early. Go back to sleep." When Draco waved lazily with a hand, Harry shut the journal, then deposited it on the chair and moved to the bed. Sliding in beside Draco, he sighed at the pleasurable sensation of winding arms and legs together.

"I know you get up at night," Draco said softly. "I've seen you...writing."

"You didn't say anything..."

Draco smoothed Harry's hair away from his face, and although Harry couldn't see his face clearly, he could read concern in the gesture.

"If you'd wanted to talk about it, you would've."

Harry kissed him suddenly, fiercely. When he pulled away, he came up on an elbow to face him. "Thanks for that."

"What?" Draco asked, sounding confused.

"It's poetry. Sort of personal."

"Ah. Glad I didn't ask, then."

Running his hand through the silky hair, Harry lay down to face Draco again. "I wish you could stay another day. I've got used to having Sundays with you."

Draco shifted in the bed, throwing an arm around Harry's shoulder. "It's Sunday. And I'm still here. Plenty of time to make up for me leaving early."

Harry smiled. "Let's get to it, then."


As the days before the ritual wore on, Harry felt like he was caught in the eclipse of several events threatening on his horizon: the preparations in the castle, along with Minerva's impending arrival; the necessary steps he'd have to take soon, considering his decision to leave; the translation of a harmless painting into a rather formidable person; the inevitable change in his and Draco's relationship, at least so far as the amount of time they spent together.

It seemed like he'd drifted along for the past two years, allowing the demands of his position to form his circumstances and acquaintances. In stark contrast, he felt as if he was out of time, out of space, hurtling headlong into a future that had no solid ground or assurances. Change, he thought to himself, he'd never liked it much, and here it was again, knocking insistently on the door of his life.

Amidst all the turmoil within and without, he wrote furiously, often and at great length. It seemed that the more confused and bewildered and torn he was, the more the words spilled out of him, words into verses into stanzas into poems.

It was Wednesday evening, and having already read a mind-numbing chapter of the Treatise to Snape, the two of them were now occupying themselves, Snape with a book, Harry sitting moodily on the settee, his journal open on his knee. He was so distracted that Snape had to repeat himself.


Startled, Harry looked up. "What?"

Snape drummed his fingers on the desk top. "I said, question number eight." His expression was quizzical, as he watched Harry sit up straight.

"It figures," Harry muttered.

"Pardon?" Snape asked, a gleam in his eye.

"Never mind. Go on, I'm ready," he lied, thinking to himself that he should've known. It'd been over two weeks since the last one.

He was further alarmed when Snape stood and dragged his chair to the front, to sit flush against the outer surface of the painting...never a good sign, that. He watched warily as the man took his time to sit and rearrange himself comfortably before looking up.

His face neutral, but his eyes betraying...was it cunning or interest, Harry thought it might be both, Snape asked him, "Of the poems that you've written in that journal of yours, what are the words to the one that you'd least like to read to me?"

Harry took a moment to admire Snape's adeptness at forming a question that left him pinned like a specimen to the cutting board-no wiggle room at all. Admiration that lasted only a moment...as he realized with distress what was being asked of him. Again...oh god, when would he ever be able to control this...again he felt the heat in his face. His hand moved over the open page of the journal as he considered. There was no way out; he knew exactly which poem it would be, and he knew as well that Snape would somehow know if he made even the slightest attempt to choose another in its place.

His eyes slid up to find Snape's, and they sat there, Harry not making a move to comply. He knew he was only making matters worse, it was his own fault, he should've known that the man would...

"I see there's a difficulty," Snape observed, watching him shrewdly. "Would you like to renege?" This hope of a reprieve was quashed before it even had a chance to take a breath. "Of course, if you renege, then that will add five additional questions to the tally."

"Five? That's...that's not fair. Who made that rule? I don't remember..."

Snape shrugged. "You didn't ask. Unfortunately for you."

For a moment Harry was outraged, his mouth hanging open as he stared at the man. But then it occurred to him...what did it really matter? He and Draco were about to subject the man's soul to the unknowable, contrary to his express wishes, although Harry still harbored a suspicion that Snape, deep down inside, wanted a chance to live again.

As he considered, it was oddly the notion that something could happen to the two of them, never to be undone, that they'd 'lose' each other, in a sense, that made it suddenly important to Harry that Snape hear the poem. Not that he'd let him know that, of course. Oh hell, it was bloody infuriating, though, to have no choice in the matter.

"Harry? Read or renege," the voice directed him.

"I'll read," Harry said quietly. He flipped through the pages to find the poem, although he had it memorized, the words bled from his heart, ripped as they were from the depths of him. He kept his eyes on the page, though, needing to anchor them somewhere besides the eyes of his listener. He began softly, stroking the verse with his tongue and his memory.

"I think about you there
Asleep, innocent, benign, but briefly so.
I picture how you lay,
Your form in random disarray, your breath
The rise and fall of life, your sacred rhythm.
I image what your dream may be,
You, who mine have lately stolen.
What cruel contemplations rip
And tear the fabric of your being?
What colors float and drip
To fill some empty part of you?
Or what of sound enhancing
Dreamer's ears with no power to awaken?
O wretched reverie that shuts me out!
Would that I could lie there too.
N'er to disturb but pressing into you,
A thief. I'd take your innocence,
The essence of your dream I'd bear away.
The treasure, You distilled, I'd hoard
To gaze at will, to touch, to drink,
To taste you to the full, complete
My longing to be known by you
And say of you, "Him I have and know."
It is secure, not even awakening can steal away
What now I know and hold of you, and love.
But truth persistent whispers what my soul well cries,
All reverie inflames and fills but never satisfies."

When he finished, he closed the journal, but didn't look up, suddenly feeling afraid and vulnerable. The ticking of the mantel clock seemed to sync with the pounding of his heart, as he waited for what Snape would say.

"That was..."

Harry was awash with dread, not wanting to hear the man pick apart his poem, belittle his choice of words, find fault with what he'd struggled for days to put-


Lifting his head slowly, Harry was afraid he'd misheard him.

"Extraordinary," Snape repeated softly.

Relief coursed through him, as once again he felt himself flush. "You think so?" Harry asked tentatively, biting his lower lip, studying the look of wonder on the man's face.

"I do," Snape confirmed, his dark eyes flashing. "Does...Draco know? Of your sentiments?"

Harry was bewildered as he stared at Snape. "No, he doesn't know. He knows I'm writing poetry, but..." Oh god, he thought, as he suddenly got it. Smiling wryly, Harry shook his head. "It's not about Draco. Is that what you thought?"

Snape sat very still as his eyes dilated to completely black. "Yes."

Shaking his head, Harry said, "You asked me why I'd write poetry, remember? And I told you it was so someone else could understand...something complicated. So...now I hope you understand." He leant forward, setting the journal aside. "Would you've asked that question, if you'd known what you'd hear?"

Snape cocked his head to the side. "You chose to read it."

Harry stood, then stayed a moment longer, his hands deep in his pockets. "Yeah, I did." With a nod, Harry turned as he said, "Good night, Severus."

He was at the door to his room, when Snape's voice made him turn. Harry couldn't see him, given the low light in the sitting room.

"The poem. Does it have a title?"

Of course, Snape would think of that. "Hollow to a Kindred Spirit," Harry said softly, then stepped into his room, leaving the door open.


Draco returned that Friday in time for lunch. Harry didn't know what'd come over him, but from the moment he arrived, there was only one thing on Harry's mind. When Draco dallied over dessert, making idle chatter, Harry finally lost patience. Taking his spoon away from him, Harry set it aside, then took Draco's hand to tug him up. Muttering an excuse to Hagrid, Harry pulled the surprised man after him, uttering only one word of explanation once they were in the entrance hall, "Shag."

Laughing, Draco kept up with him, jumping from the staircase to the corridor, then following as Harry took the lead. Through the sitting room, ignoring the painting, into the bedchamber, then a blur of frantic activity as clothes were shed.

Nothing between them but skin, they rolled onto the bed, scuffling with each other for dominance, rubbing against each other, pinning arms and legs, fixing mouths, hissing out from pinches of fingers and scrapes of teeth, gasping and groaning, in a frenzied, comparatively short, sweaty and desperate race to mutual completion.

They both lay on their backs beside each other, not speaking while they recovered. The room was warm, the sun streaming in through the window, its beams catching the dust motes they'd disturbed from the coverlet.

Draco turned onto his side. "Want to talk about it?" he asked, trailing his hand across Harry's chest.

Rolling to face him, Harry took in the sight of him for a moment. The blond hair hung in damp strands, framing the high cheekbones, the lips full and almost purplish from kissing. The gray eyes shone out at him, radiating warmth and undisguised affection.

"When this is all over, I'm leaving," Harry told him, his voice almost a whisper.

Draco nodded. "I figured. So, this was a goodbye, then?"

Harry shook his head. "No, I just needed you." He smoothed the hair from Draco's face, taking deliberate care to tuck the loose strands behind his ears.

"Where will you go?"

Sighing, Harry said, "Grimmauld at first, until I find someplace more to my liking."

"Why now?" Draco asked gently.

Well, yes, that was the question, wasn't it, to which there was no simple answer. "Part of it's Severus, I guess. I mean if we manage to pull it off, then there's no reason for me to stay-I think that's why I felt stuck here. Couldn't move on until he was...free. Unfinished business. I didn't realize that until we decided to do...what we're going to do," he added.

"Makes sense," Draco said softly. "And Severus'll need someplace to go."

Harry came up on an elbow as he frowned. "He'll probably go back to Spinner's End, I'd imagine."

Draco smiled as if he knew something Harry didn't. "Maybe. But I think he's a bit attached to you."

Staring at him, Harry considered the possibility, then snorted. "He'd have to be-you and me, we're the only ones he has right now." He shook his head. "No, he'll have some sort of plan cooked up in that head of his."

Draco's smile faded. "I'll miss you," he said soberly.

"Draco, I...you and me, it's been the best summer of my life, and I..."

"But it's just sex, Harry, remember?" Draco chided him, reaching out to pinch Harry's nipple, but Harry grabbed his hand first.

"Great sex," Harry murmured, lacing their fingers together. "I'll see you around, I hope."

Draco squeezed his hand. "That's a promise. You know where to find me."

They lay a little while longer, then when Harry rolled off the bed to dress, Draco followed him. As they sat side by side to pull on their shoes, Draco said without looking at him, "Best sex of my life."

Harry smiled. "Mine too." He pulled at Draco's shirt to keep him seated when he tried to stand. "Not just sex, though," he told him self-consciously. "Severus thinks we're in love. I told him we weren't, but it's not only sex, is it?"

Draco shook his head. "Somewhere in between. I can only speak for myself..." He hesitated, meeting Harry's eyes. "There's affection. I care...a great deal," he confessed.

"So do I," Harry admitted, then leant over and tipped up Draco's chin to kiss him.


The day, or what was left of it after they exited the bedchamber and faced Snape's tongue-in-cheek, "Good morning," dragged on slowly. They attended supper out of habit, neither one of them hungry as they pushed the food back and forth on their plates and half-heartedly laughed at Hagrid's animated details of his latest creature conquest.

The evening was agony, as they attempted to spend it as they usually did: a game of chess, with even more than their usual disastrous results, their dimwittedness surprising even Snape; a discussion of the latest edicts out of the Ministry, heralded in that day's Prophet; then they took turns reading to Snape, gifting him with two chapters each, causing Snape to raise his eyebrows and look from one to the other with suspicion.

When it was Draco's turn to read, Harry slumped in his seat and closed his eyes, lulled by the sound of his voice. For the first time that week, except for the brief interlude in the bedchamber, Harry felt content and relaxed.

He smiled as he listened to Draco read and Snape interrupt, irritably and often.

This was his life, he thought to himself, and it wasn't so bad, now, was it? He had two friends whose companionship he enjoyed: one relationship where he felt needed and challenged, and another that satisfied him physically. He opened his eyes, his breath hitching in his chest, as he realized that this was all about to come to an end, in the space of hours.

He wondered wildly if they were doing the right thing; why not just let things go on as they were, a dysfunctional ménage à trois, where there was little risk, but, he had to admit, little chance of growth for any of them? He was fighting the urge to hyperventilate, when he realized that Draco'd stopped reading.

When Harry looked up at Draco, he read it in the man's face: he knew what Harry was thinking, uncanny as it was. The gray eyes were compassionate but held a warning as well.

"Harry? Why don't you get us a drink? Just a small one?"

"Yeah, good idea," Harry muttered, as he went for the sideboard. When he returned and leant over the back of the settee to hand Draco his drink, Draco snagged his sleeve and pulled his head down close.

"Stop thinking, all right?"

Harry didn't answer, but squeezed his shoulder before taking his seat. Once he sat, he looked up to find Snape watching the two of them, his face impatient.

"Is there a reason you stopped mid-sentence? I'd like to finish this before the two of you lollygag off into..." He waved in the direction of the bedchamber.

Draco and Harry exchanged a glance, one that spoke all that they understood but couldn't say: yes, they'd both miss this routine of comfortable evenings spent with Snape, nights where they sweated on the sheets, days with their heads together as they planned. But the prize at the end, Severus alive, would be well worth it.

They laughed out loud.


When the clock struck eleven, Draco read to the end of the paragraph, then closed the book. "That's it for tonight," he announced. He and Harry stood and moved into the bedchamber to change into clothes that would protect them from the brambles and insects of the forest.

They were ready to leave, when Draco put a hand on Harry's arm. "I just thought of something. We should take a cloak...for Severus."

Harry stifled a groan. "God, I'm glad you thought of that," he grumbled as he pulled one from his wardrobe. He held it up as he smiled. "Think he'll mind being a Gryffindor?"

Draco snatched the cloak and draped it over his arm. "God, I hope so." Jerking his head toward the sitting room, they looked out to see Snape still sitting at his desk.

The man didn't look up as they crossed the room, behind the settee. They were almost to the door, when Harry stopped; Draco turned to look at him, seeming puzzled, then sighed resignedly when Harry mouthed the word, "Wait."

He felt Draco try to restrain him by the sleeve, but then he let go. Harry returned to stand in front of the painting. "Severus?"

Snape looked up at him, cocking a quizzical eyebrow. "Harry."

There was so much Harry wanted to say, but knew he couldn't. He thought that Snape understood it all anyway. "Draco and I are going for a walk."

The man dissected him with a searching look. Standing, he rounded the desk to stop in the center of the painting. Craning his neck toward the window, even though Harry knew he couldn't see, his gaze then drifted back to Harry's face. "There's a three-quarter moon, I believe?"

When Harry nodded, Snape's visage seemed to darken. "Have a care, then."

The sound of Draco clearing his throat made Harry startle. He reached out and touched the place in the painting where Snape was standing. "See you later, sir."

He barely heard the words, soft as they were, as he reached the door.

"I should hope so."


"He knows," Harry muttered as they navigated the corridors toward the classroom.

"Of course, he does," Draco replied blandly. "You noticed he didn't try to stop us."

Harry's face was grim. "Yeah, I noticed that. Slytherins," he said with disgust.

Draco laughed and pulled him along by the hand.

In the classroom, Harry moved to the cauldron, placing the folded cloak on top of its contents, making a face as he heard Draco's soft, "Stupefy," behind him, then the creak of the hinges as the cage was opened.

Appearing at his side, Draco laid the bat, wrapped in the Slytherin scarf, on top of the cloak. They stepped back, Harry with his wand out, when Draco turned and took hold of Harry's shoulders. Rubbing his hands briskly up and down Harry's arms, Draco commanded, "Take a deep breath."

Harry smiled and complied, then threw his arms around Draco. "This is it," he said, his voice steady and sure. Pulling back, he kissed him quickly.

It seemed to take forever, the trip through the empty hallways of the castle, down the steps and out though the great doors, Harry levitating the cauldron and its cargo, while Draco lit the way with his wand. Once outside the gates, they cut a wide berth toward the forest, so as to avoid Hagrid's hut and the remote possibility that Fang would howl their presence to the moon.

They heaved a joint sigh of relief once they were within the forest, no longer worried about detection, although there was a slight anxiety about what might take offense at their intrusion into the mysterious and slightly malevolent woodlands.

They walked silently, their wand arms out, working their way in deeper and deeper. The three-quarter moon above them peeped through the break in the trees, but provided little light, and absolutely no comfort, an ever-present reminder of what they were on their way to do.

On the inside, though, Harry felt at peace about all of it. He remembered similar treks into the forest at night. He smiled as he recalled the first one, when he and Draco had covered similar territory as first-years.

The last time when he'd ventured in on his own, though not entirely so, he'd experienced a similar sense of purpose, but on this night there was no fear or regret, only hope and a sense that they were doing the right thing.

As they reached their destination and stepped into the small clearing, the moon was unveiled as the tree cover fell away, casting a glimmer of light that reflected off the stones of the circle they'd set there. Draco muttered a, "Nox," then stepped inside the ring of rocks, directing Harry where to position the cauldron, at dead-center.

After they'd carefully removed its contents to lie outside the circle, Harry picked up the strange wand, then moved to the cauldron. "Aguamenti," he murmured, directing the stream with the wand until the cauldron was nearly full. After critically eyeing the water level, Draco nodded. "Incendio," Harry commanded, stepping away and watching the flames beneath the stone vessel for a moment.

Draco was already kneeling on the ground outside the circle, his wand lit and aloft again as he spread the phials on top of the scarf, the Stunned bat laid carefully to the side. Looking up at Harry, he nodded. "Unseal them," he directed as he sat back on his heels.

Tapping each phial in turn with the wand tip, Harry murmured the incantation, watching as the wax rings curled up and disappeared with a slight pouf of sound. Draco had wisely labeled them, '1, 2, 3,' so that they'd be able to add them in the correct and crucial order. The two of them exchanged a look of mute understanding as Draco handed them up to Harry.

Opening the textbook, Draco studied a page for a moment, then shut it and stood to his feet.

"Ready?" he asked solemnly.

"Ready," Harry said soberly.

They moved to the side of the cauldron, just starting to bubble. They stood, silent, waiting until it reached a full, frothy boil. Draco held his lit wand up so that Harry wouldn't miss the wide-mouth opening.

"It's time. Go on," Draco said.

He began to chant softly in Latin, as Harry moved the first phial to his right hand. Using his thumb, he unstoppered it, then tipped it to pour its contents into the center of the cauldron.

"Bone of the father, unknowingly given, you will renew your son." Harry's voice wavered slightly at the beginning, but a look at Draco quelled his nervousness.

As the dust hit the water, it ceased to boil suddenly as it gave off an eerie blue light that reflected on their faces. Slowly, it bubbled again, then came to a full boil.

At a nod from Draco, Harry popped the stopper of the next phial as Draco took up his chanting again.

"Flesh of the servant, willingly given, you will revive your master."

This time the surface of the water seemed to bow upwards, making the two of them shrink back as it radiated a pure yellow light. After a moment, the water receded to its prior level, and began to bubble and boil once again.

Harry waited until Draco began to speak, then unstoppered the final phial, shivering as he wondered again how Snape had obtained its contents.

"Blood of the enemy, forcibly taken, you will resurrect your foe," he finished, his voice strong but sure.

The surface of the cauldron let out a belch of steam as the viscous fluid hit water, throwing off a crimson hue that seemed to linger longer than the other two effervescences. This time, though, as it began to boil again, it threatened to spill over the brim of the cauldron, its surface blue, then white, then red, then rapidly cycling through all three, until it was a kaleidoscope of color.

Harry stared at it, fascinated, until Draco jerked on his sleeve to pull him out of the circle.

No extraneous words were to be spoken, so Draco pointed meaningfully at the familiar. With a nod of understanding, Harry levitated the bat from the ground, propelling it carefully to hover over the frothing cauldron. Draco was chanting again, so Harry held it there until he fell silent. After quick glance to the side to make certain that the time had come, Harry looked back to the cauldron.

In his mind, he cried out a plea, he called out an apology, he felt the hope of weeks spread through his chest like fire. With a flick of his wand, he dropped the creature into the steaming vessel. Dropping the wand, he took a step backward, vaguely aware of Draco taking hold of his hand and squeezing it tightly.

They watched as the rainbow of colors threatened to overflow the cauldron. There were a few sparks of red, then blue, then white streaks of light shot into the velvety black sky. Harry held his breath, straining to see through the gathering panoply of colors and mist. Then suddenly...incredibly...just when Harry was expecting that blinding flash of light that was sure to come...nothing.

Nothing. Nothing at all.

The water in the cauldron continued to bubble, the colors within still reflecting into what was left of the steam above it... The moments stretched into minutes, and when nothing more occurred, Harry felt the crush of disappointment in his chest.

Shaking his head, he muttered, "Fuck. Fuck! We did it exactly right, I know we did. It has to be the bat. Damn it! He knew that's what we thought, and he let us go on and-" He stopped short as Draco stepped over the stones into the circle.

"Draco," he said, reaching out to touch his arm, then was surprised when Draco ignored him, and shook his hand away.

"Draco, maybe it's not a good idea to get too close; it's still at a full boil-Draco," he growled as the man continued to ignore him. Swearing as he stepped into the circle, Harry pulled at his arm again. He managed to turn him, just enough to see his face...just enough to terrify him into action.

"Draco...Draco, what's wrong?" He shook the man's shoulders, but his face remained completely blank, his eyes unseeing, as he shook off Harry with a strength that laid him out on the ground, flat on his back.

Harry scrambled to his knees. "Draco!" he cried out as the man stopped to stand rigidly in front of the cauldron. Harry was on his feet and almost at his side, when Draco bent forward, seeming suspended above the frothing cauldron. Just as it seemed that Draco would fall forward, Harry reached him. He'd no sooner grabbed him by the shoulders, than there was an explosion of white-hot heat and light that propelled both of them backward.

They landed with a thud just outside the circle, Harry bearing the brunt of their fall. Draco was limp in his arms on top of him, but for the moment, Harry was mesmerized by the fireworks from the cauldron. The sky was lit up with the phosphorescent streaks of light, so blinding that he had to look away, hugging Draco tightly as he waited for it to be over.

Just as suddenly as it'd begun, it stopped, the cauldron seeming to suck the light and steam back into itself with an audible vortex of sound. Peeking over Draco's shoulder, Harry stared at the lingering mist, then his mouth dropped open as the unbelievable occurred.

A figure spiraled up from within the cauldron, twisting eerily on its axis, as it rotated the man to full height. For a moment, he seemed suspended in space, head on his chest, arms dangling at his side. Then he pitched forward, crumbling to the ground, his feet catching on the edge of the cauldron and spilling it over as he fell. The ground hissed as the bubbling fluid seeped into the earth, dry with leaves and twigs.

Harry couldn't move for a moment, paralyzed, his heart pounding so loud that he thought his ears would burst. Gently laying Draco to the side, he crawled on his hands and knees to the prone figure just feet away. Pushing the wet hair aside, he stared down at the man's face.


There was no reply, but the man breathed in a steady rhythm, gurgling faintly as fluid trickled from his mouth. Sitting back on his heels, Harry pumped a fist.

"It worked! It worked, bloody hell, we did it!" Looking back to Snape, then over to the still-unconscious Draco, Harry's next shout of victory died in his throat as he considered their less than favorable conditions. "Great," he muttered at both of them, crossing to Draco on his knees, "just great."


Immensely relieved when Draco revived only moments later, Harry returned to kneel beside the newly-resurrected man. Draco sat up, staring with wide eyes, his mouth hanging open as Harry bent over Snape.

"It worked," Draco gasped as he struggled to his feet.

"Yeah, seems so. Help me, would you?"

Snape was moaning something indecipherable, as they sat him up, trying to wrap the naked man in the cloak. His eyes were open, wildly looking from one to the other as they pulled him to his feet.

"Severus, can you walk?" Harry asked. There was no reply, just a shuffling of his feet as Snape tried to comply. "Good enough. Draco, you get his other side."

With Snape snug between them, Harry Side-Alonged the three of them to just outside the gates. They half-walked, half-dragged the disoriented man between them, through the great doors, up the staircase, down the corridor to Harry's rooms.

They were soaked through, a combination of the cauldron's contents and sweat, covered in a grimy muck from the floor of the forest.

"Shower," Harry croaked out as he steered them toward the bath.

Draco and Harry stripped first, taking turns to hold up the sagging, half-conscious Snape. Once in the shower, they lathered him up, holding him in place under the warm spray, as they scrubbed to clean the filth from the three of them.

Dripping a trail from the bath to the bedchamber, they toweled Snape dry, then tucked the unresisting man into the bed, fitting the covers up to his neck as he started to shiver uncontrollably. Pulling on boxers and t-shirts, Draco and Harry stood by the bed and took their first good look at the reincarnated man.

"Well, it's Severus," Draco said. "But he looks...I don't know, would you say younger?"

Harry looked down at Snape. "Yeah, younger...but it's him." He looked up at Draco, then gave him a weary nod toward the sitting room. "C'mon, you're next." Leading Draco by the hand, Harry installed him on the settee, then knelt beside him, worriedly examining the burns on his forehead and cheeks.

"What happened?" Draco asked, batting Harry's hands away.

Harry stood and shook his head. "I'm not sure, but that can wait. You need some burn-healing paste. Stay put, all right?" Harry asked, his voice a command.

Sinking back into the settee, Draco didn't resist. "Yeah, go right ahead. I'm not going anywhere."

Using the Floo, Harry raided the infirmary, grabbing burn-healing paste, painkilling potion, then, as an afterthought, some Dreamless Sleep Draught.

Although Draco resisted, Harry insisted on the painkilling potion, waiting as Draco drank it down. Sitting beside him, he swabbed the paste onto the man's facial burns, smiling as Draco complained about its bright orange color.

"It's not pretty, but it works," Harry chided him as he worked the paste into his skin. Summoning a coverlet from the bedchamber, Harry tucked it in around him, Draco already half-asleep.

"We did it," Draco mumbled as he turned onto his side.

"Yes, we did," Harry said, for the first time the realization fully sinking in: they had done it. He settled back on the settee, Draco's feet in his lap, then Summoned a bottle of Ogden's. Taking a swig from it, he closed his eyes and let out a pent-up breath of relief. He wasn't certain exactly what had happened, though. Something had gone wrong, but whatever it was had thankfully righted itself. When Snape was...himself-Harry smiled at the thought-he had a few questions that he suspected only the man could answer.

Although he knew that it was Snape who slumbered in the bedchamber, Harry held his breath as he opened his eyes, his head coming up to seek proof-positive of their success. And there it was. Even though Harry'd known that it would be so, he felt a twinge of loss.

Staring at him from the painting just three feet away was Severus Snape, Potions master, seated behind his desk, posed with one hand on the book in front of him, the other resting on the arm of his chair, his eyes unseeing, his features immobile, devoid of the animation to which Harry was accustomed.

It was simply a painting now, frozen and fixed in the time when it'd been painted, the hues and glaze of the oil-painted surface now free of its gauzy white coating.

Harry tipped his glass upward in a toast. "Here's to the real you."


After two drinks, Harry was fading fast. He considered sleeping on the sitting room floor, but first, he had to take a look at the occupant of his bed. Gently slipping from the settee, he retucked the coverlet around Draco, then quietly walked to the bedchamber.

The light from the sitting room spilled in over the bed, allowing Harry to inspect Snape fully and at his leisure. Sitting slowly on the edge of the bed, Harry pulled the coverlet carefully away from his chin; the man lay curled on his side, his black hair still damp and plastered against a cheek.

It was Snape alright, but...not the same Snape whom Harry remembered. His face was slightly fuller, the skin stretched tauter over the features that Harry knew so well. There were no careworn lines about his mouth and eyes, and the overall effect was exactly as Draco had pointed out-this Snape appeared younger. Harry wondered why that would be so, then counted all of them lucky, considering how Voldemort had looked on the night he'd been resurrected.

There was something in the way that Snape slept that tugged at Harry's heart. He seemed so fragile, so vulnerable, so...dependent, none of them words that Harry would ever associate with the Snape he knew. But he realized that the three of them were now definitely in uncharted territory...past associations aside, this would now be a relationship where Snape was not a Death Eater, nor a professor, where Harry and Draco were no longer students, nor even enemies. He wondered and worried a bit about the morning to come, when the three of them would have breakfast together, with Snape at his three-dimensional début.

Snape stirred in his sleep, and Harry watched, fascinated, as a long slender hand circumvented the coverlet to scratch behind an ear. He eased himself off of the bed, still watching as the hand fastened on the coverlet and pulled it up around the shoulders.

Harry was just at the door, when he hesitated. Looking into the sitting room, he could see Draco, feet hanging off the settee, the bright orange color on his cheeks, his breath blowing a few stray strands of hair as he snuffled in his sleep.

He looked back to the figure in the bed. Snape seemed peaceful enough, his head a black blob atop the pillow, shoulders hunched, his hand still clutched on the coverlet. Harry could see the rise and fall of his chest, but otherwise his sleep was soundless.

Looking from the bedchamber to the sitting room once again, he was struck by the contrast between the two of them...one so fair, one so dark. Both of them Slytherins, Harry thought to himself, as he himself was the one without a place to sleep. He considered his options, glancing between the two rooms...

Harry sighed, then made his way, past the bed to the chair by the window. Tucking his legs beneath him, Harry laid his head on the wing of the chair, then closed his eyes, for the first time in weeks, falling into a restful and dreamless sleep.


When he awakened, Harry found himself twisted sideways in the chair, his head wedged at an uncomfortable angle. Groaning, he straightened to sit up, then stretched out his arms and legs as he yawned. He rolled his head slowly to the side, then sat still when he found he was being watched.

Snape had rolled onto his side, facing the window. The coverlet was bunched at his waist, revealing a pleasantly muscled and hairless chest. One hand beneath his head, the other lay relaxed on the coverlet in front of him. He blinked lazily, his dark eyes still fixed on Harry.

Harry stood and stretched again, then stepped to the side of the bed. "Severus?" When there was no reply, just a shifting of the eyes upward, Harry bent down, his hands on his knees. "Do you know where you are?"

When the lips curled in a sneer, Harry was certain that Snape did indeed know where he was, confirmed by his answer.

"I believe I'm in your bed. I don't think you'd have located me elsewhere."

Harry harrumphed, then straightened, still looking down at him. "Well, that's a relief. So..." It was odd, but he'd not thought about what they'd do the morning afterward. The rumbling in his stomach decided him, though.

"I'll get us some breakfast." He crossed to the wardrobe and threw open the doors. After a moment's hesitation, he pulled out his black trousers and shirt. Throwing them on the end of the bed, he directed, "Get dressed. These should fit you, though the legs might be a bit short. Come out when you're ready."

They breakfasted in the sitting room, Draco and Harry on the settee, Snape in an armchair to the side. Over tea and toast, Draco was a veritable chatterbox, filling Snape in on the events of the night before. Snape didn't hesitate to stop him, digging for details, requiring Draco to supply him with the exact sequence of steps they'd taken.

Harry listened, marveling over the evidence of simple things: the blink of Snape's eyes, the torsion of his wrist as he stirred his tea, the low timbre of his voice, the sheer mass and reality of him, seated, incredibly, in a chair just a foot away.

They'd finished, and were on their second round of tea, when Draco came to the end of it. "And that's all I remember; from there..." He shook his head, motioning to Harry.

Harry fixed his eyes on Snape. "What the bloody hell happened?"

"I'm not certain I understand," Snape said as he returned the look, unintimidated.

"What we did...with the bat. It didn't work," Harry said firmly.

"It didn't?" Draco asked, perplexed. "But it had to've. He's here," he said emphatically.

Harry shook his head. "No, it wasn't the bat. The whole thing...stopped. Nothing. Then you," he pointed to Draco, "did that thing again. Remember when you zoned out, lost a minute or so, a couple of weeks ago?"

Draco sat up straighter, but Harry noticed that Snape had suddenly become interested in the leaves at the bottom of his cup.

"You went right for the cauldron," Harry continued. "Pushed me away when I tried to stop you. And here's the oddest part. When you got close to it, all bloody hell broke loose. You were about to fall in, I swear, when it exploded, and I barely managed to pull you away. That's when it happened," he finished soberly, his eyes still on Snape.

"When what happened?" Draco asked, his head tilted to the side.

Harry flipped a hand in Snape's direction. "Him is what happened."

Draco put a hand up to his forehead, fingering the almost healed burn there. "I don't remember," he murmured.

"Severus," Harry demanded. "What happened?"

Snape's eyes slid from the cup to meet Harry's. For a moment, there was an almost hostile standoff, then Harry saw it happen...Snape making his decision to speak truthfully. Setting his cup to the side, Snape sat back in his chair and crossed his arms in front of him, a gesture that seemed defensive to Harry.

"I suppose I owe you an explanation," he acquiesced, looking to Draco, then nodding at Harry.

"Yeah, I think that's a bit overdue," Harry agreed sarcastically.

"It would be best if you hear me out. No interruptions," he cautioned.

Harry snorted. "We'll see."

Snape stared at Harry for a long moment, but Harry didn't feel the least bit cowed. When he didn't look away, Snape sighed. "Bat was not my...host."

Harry'd already figured that part out, but to hear Snape say it aloud sent a chill down his spine.

"When I died," Snape continued, "the infernal thing wasn't anywhere nearby. I drifted along the tunnel, out onto the grounds, then up into the castle, looking for an appropriate substitute." He paused, but neither Harry nor Draco prompted him, both of them listening raptly, literally on the edge of their seats.

"Time was growing short. A newly released spirit has a limited duration of time to find a suitable host; otherwise it must lie quiescent and garner energy to move once again. I found myself in a corridor that had been reduced to rubble. There were bodies strewn about, some of them dead, some of them living, many gravely injured, others merely stunned unconscious." He stopped and wet his lips. "With the last of my will, my intellect, my drive to survive, I fixed on the most likely...candidate." He dropped his eyes to his lap, then looked slowly up at Draco.


Draco jumped as if he'd been jolted. "Me?" he asked, incredulous.

Snape waved a weary hand in dismissal. "You. What good would it've done me to choose a Death Eater, or someone I did not know? If I had any hopes of being...resurrected, it would have to be someone who'd be free, and available... You were my best choice, at the time. I knew there might be at least the ghost of a chance with you..."

Harry and Draco were both speechless, so Snape took the opportunity to move on quickly.

"As Harry was able to accomplish what he did with the memories I left him, it turned out to be moot...whom I chose to occupy. As it was, I was helpless for over two years. I'd given up all hope or desire for...reconstitution, until someone," his voice lowered as he looked at Harry, "sympathetic happened upon my trunk." He folded his hands in his lap. Inclining his head at Harry, he finished, "The rest you know."

Draco worked his mouth open and shut, apparently unable to make a sound.

Harry, however, spoke his indignation. "You should've told us! Draco could've been killed with that fool stunt of yours!"

Snape leant forward in his chair, his slow, measured story-telling meter gone. "Had I told you, Draco would've done it out of duty! Out of a debt he'd felt he owed! And he was never in any real danger, I assure you." He sat back in his chair, his body still tensed, but his voice more controlled. "At least this way...you both chose to do what you did, free of any compulsion. You recall my stance on the matter?" He studied Harry for a moment, then asked softly, "Was it out of duty that you did it?"

Draco spoke before Harry had the chance. "So...what I did, that was you...?" he asked, a look of horror on his face.

"I commandeered your will, just for the moment to get you near enough to the cauldron. Once there, it was just a matter of putting...that part of myself into the mixture, in a manner of speaking." He seemed mildly apologetic for a moment, as he watched Draco struggle with what he'd just said. Looking back to Harry, he repeated his question. "Out of duty, Harry?"

It was too much: the anxiety of the evening before; his nerves on edge as they'd performed the ritual; the rush of adrenalin until the three of them had been safe in his rooms; and now, now the mother of all outrages, that Snape had, despite what he'd said, put Draco in harm's way. He jumped to his feet, his hands in fists at his side.

"Duty," he scoffed, "yeah, that was part of it. As for the other part, you bloody well know what it was!" He was almost shouting, when he realized that Draco had paled and slumped back into the settee, holding his head.

Shooting Snape a disgusted look, he knelt in front of Draco. "You all right?" When Draco looked up at him and gave him a wan smile and a nod, Harry turned to Snape. "Make yourself useful and give him some painkilling potion. I have to clean up your mess in the forest." With a gentle tap to Draco's knee, Harry straightened, and without a glance at Snape, made for the door.


This time, Harry made the trip to the forest on his broom, soaring over the treetops, letting the wind clear his mind and wipe away his lingering exhaustion.

The clearing was as they'd left it, although the ground was now dry. He made short work of the ring of stones, levitating them to drop randomly about the clearing. He hesitated over what to do with the cauldron, as the stone vessel had split neatly in half. In the end, he decided that it was Snape's property, and he'd return it, a little worse for wear, to the storage room where he'd found it.

He took his time, once he'd replaced the broken cauldron, to return to his rooms. He'd have liked to stay away longer, given the darkness of his mood, but he reckoned that wasn't fair, knowing how he'd left Draco to...amuse their guest.

Just about to push open the door, he paused, pulled up short by the murmur of voices from inside the room.

Two voices...familiar ones, ones that had both become precious over this past summer. Despite what Snape'd done, even though Draco had been injured, Harry felt the lump grow in his throat as he listened. He didn't know what it said of the state of his heart, but the two people inside had become the most important people in his life. They'd weathered a storm and come through, and now...now wasn't the time to bail out, when they both needed him, just as he sensed he needed the two of them.

Family. Well, of a sort, he supposed with a sigh.


It was evening, supper long over, and they'd returned to the disturbing topic of what Snape had done, choosing Draco.

"So, all that time, you were in my head?"

"For lack of a better description, yes. More like in your mind."

"You knew what I was thinking, what I felt, what I did?" Draco asked darkly.

Snape's eyes were full of caution. "No, not precisely. I Occluded, for the most part. Kept myself as unaware as possible. Slumbering, in a way. Although," his voice softened, "there were occasions when I couldn't help but sense you... When your emotions were strongest...when you were extremely...agitated."

Draco's chin came up. "Like when?"

"Sometimes when you played...arguments with your mother...visits with your father...a few other instances," he finished, his discomfiture evident.

Harry had been watching Snape carefully, and had the sense that something was off. "That's all there was to it, then?" he asked, glancing from Snape to Draco, whose eyes widened as he met Harry's.

Draco gestured from himself to Harry and back again, his eyes flashing. "You didn't influence me, did you? Exert a little pressure so I'd do things I mightn't have done, if you hadn't been...there?"

"Never," Snape snapped at him, shooting Harry a look full of disdain. "It was a point of honor I did not violate."

But the look on Snape's face told Harry that he wasn't being entirely straightforward-not lying, but not altogether truthful. "What about this summer? Once Draco and I were..." he said softly, watching Snape's eyes.

There was a brief flash of chagrin, then Snape shrugged. "I confess, since I had a vested interest in what the two of you might do, I allowed myself more awareness."

Harry was grappling with the man's audacity. "You heard what we talked about..."

Snape nodded curtly and looked away.

"All our plans...how we were trying to figure things out?"

Draco held up his hand for Harry to stop. With the beginnings of a smile, Draco asked Snape, "May as well say it outright. Did you enjoy it? Huddled up there in my psyche, while we fucked each other? All those weeks... Severus?"

The answer was barely audible, and Harry was thrilled to see that Snape was finally embarrassed, as well he should've been. "I was aware of it, yes."

Draco bit his lower lip, studying Snape. When he looked at Harry and raised an eyebrow, Harry shook his head.

"I...don't know what to say. I'm...I'm..." Harry faltered.

For the second time that day, Harry felt he had to get away before he imploded. He fled his rooms, leaving Draco to deal with his erstwhile possessor.


Harry sat in the Gryffindor stands, watching the path of moon across the pitch. He thought to himself that this had been a day of eye-openers, insult added literally to injury, at least for Draco, for whom he'd easily taken offense.

But, he regretfully had to admit, although Snape had used them, the man had been right about a number of things, actually. Draco would've insisted on doing it...a debt owed, even if just to get Snape out of his head. He remembered, too, how Snape had steadfastly refused to help them...or had he? He remembered the things that they'd been overjoyed to think they'd tricked out of the man, but he wondered, who had tricked whom?

The worst of it, though, was the thought that Snape had been there, all those weeks, a voyeur, at the same time as he'd pantomimed a soulless subject in a portrait.

It made Harry's head hurt, struggling to balance his already waning outrage with his considerable pleasure that Snape was at the moment in his sitting room, a real live Snape with the promise of a future because of what they'd done. Even knowing what he did now, he couldn't say that he'd have done it any differently, given the fortunate result.

This time, it was Draco who rescued Harry. Harry watched as the man picked his way through the stands to sit beside him.

"How's your head?" Harry asked, putting out a hand to move the blond hair. The skin was only faintly pink now, but his cheeks still glowed orange from the paste.

"I'm fine," Draco said, taking his hand and threading his fingers through Harry's. "What're you thinking?" he asked, leaning his head on Harry's shoulder.

"Oh, giving him detention, and taking a million points," Harry told him.

Draco laughed, and nudged him. "Tempting, isn't it?" They sat for a moment in silence, then Draco said, "Listen, as much it's possible for him, he's sorry. Well, remorseful would be a better word." When Harry snorted, Draco nudged him again. "He's right and we're right. That whole possession thing-I'd've done the same thing. My mind turned out to be a good choice. But...I wish he would've told us, mostly for your sake. I know how you feel about him."

Harry turned to him, ready to protest, but Draco brought up a finger and put it against his lips, provoking an eerie sense of déjà vu.

"You need to talk to him, and remember this is the same Severus you...came to know from the painting." He ducked his head to catch Harry's eyes. "And if I can forgive him...then how can't you?"

"I've already forgiven him," Harry muttered. "Much as I'd've liked to drag it out."

"Well, I've known for weeks, bizarre as it is, that there's an attraction between the two of you."

"Maybe me...but him? I don't think so."

"I know so. You forget, I've sat there, week after week, watching it happen. All the innuendo, the questions, the poetry..."

Bizarre was an apt word, Harry thought, feeling miserable.

"Talk to him. He's miserable." Tilting Harry's chin up, Draco kissed him chastely, then pulled away and stood. "I'll stay until tomorrow, but then I'm going. And as much as I'd like a farewell fuck...well, I just can't."

Harry looked up, alarmed. "You'll come up next weekend? We have to-"

Draco shook his head. "No, you only have a week, then the old biddy's back. Make the most it. Besides," he smiled, "three's a crowd."

"Severus was wrong about you," Harry said softly. When Draco raised his eyebrows, Harry told him, "He warned me you'd tend to look out for yourself first. But look at you," he mumbled as he shook his head, his eyes bright with tears.

Brushing Harry's hair from his forehead, Draco let out a low laugh. "He'd've been right, except for one thing."

"One thing?" Harry asked.

Draco tapped Harry gently on the tip of his nose. "You. Amazing what caring about someone can do." He stepped back and gazed at Harry solemnly, as if memorizing him. "For the first time in my life, I'd like to find someone, just like you and Severus have. Where it's not just sex."

Harry felt the urge to shiver, just the thought of sex with Snape. "Well, we're not quite there yet, he and I."

"You will be," Draco told him as he turned to go.

"Draco!" Harry was out of his seat in an instant, then grabbed the surprised man by his collar and pulled him close, wrapping his arms around him, as he murmured in his ear, "I don't know when or where or how-but there's someone out there, just waiting for you. I'm sure of it."

Draco pulled away and searched Harry's face, then his face split in a smile. "Yeah, you're right."


The next morning after breakfast, Harry walked Draco down to the gates. They stood facing each other, suddenly awkward.

"You'll let me know where you end up?" Draco asked.

Harry nodded. "First at Grimmauld, then wherever I settle on. Count on it," he promised.

Draco reached out and cupped Harry's cheek with his palm. "Not what I expected, Potter."

Leaning forward, Harry kissed him goodbye, a kiss that was redolent of all they'd shared that summer. Pulling away, Harry grinned. "Me neither, Malfoy."

After Draco was gone, Harry walked up to the great doors, and it just might've been hope that he felt.


Small steps, Harry would later think to himself, small steps were how anything in life worthwhile began...

He and Snape were having their after-breakfast cup of tea, Harry with the Prophet on his lap. "Here's something interesting. 'The Department of Magical Law Enforcement has just announced that the head of the Auror Department might've been involved in the recent-'"

"Harry," Snape interrupted him.

Looking up, Harry was puzzled. "What?"

Reaching out, Snape took the paper from him. "I can read it for myself, thank you."

"Oh, yeah. Habit," he muttered as he picked up his cup.

"There is something that I'd like to say," Snape continued, setting the paper aside, his face solemn.

Harry was intrigued. "Go on."

Snape shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "It's occurred to me that I've...mistreated you in the past. Several times," he paused at the look on Harry's face, "more than several times, in fact. And I'd like to...make it right," he finished, his voice strained with what Harry knew was the unfamiliarity of confessing a wrongdoing.

Harry's mouth dropped open, then he shook his head.

"What?" Snape asked cautiously.

Still shaking his head, Harry answered, "Nothing. It's just...considering what you've recently done, it's odd that you'd...think of," he waved vaguely, "something that far back."

Sitting up stiffly, Snape said, "I recall that you made similar amends, at the start of our reacquaintance. I'm about to begin a new life, and wish to clear the slate, much as you have."

Harry hid his surprise, then mused aloud, "A good decision. You know, someone once told me that when life gets turned upside down, a man has two choices: become a coward and be afraid of everything, or start over. Make the most of the time he has left."

Snape stared at him, then inclined his head. "A wise man."

Harry smiled. "Draco," he said softly.

"Indeed?" Snape's tone was surprised.

"Yeah, and he's doing exactly that. You know, he left so that you and I could...figure things out."

Snape's lips curled upward with the slightest hint of a smile as he reached for the paper again. "I must confess it sometimes feels good to have been wrong about someone. Good for him."

Harry considered him as he refilled his cup. Oh well, he thought, now's as good a time as any. Since we're a roll of clearing the slate...

"I understand why you didn't tell us," he said conversationally, watching as Snape once again set the paper aside, a look of resignation on his face.

"So you've said," Snape answered, crossing his arms.

"But I want you to know that I understand what you were doing." Harry narrowed his eyes. "You had to know that not telling us just pushed us further. It was manipulation of a different sort. I actually believe there's a word for that. Passive-aggressive, isn't it?"

Snape looked as if he'd been caught with his hand in the till. "True. But there came a time when I decided to stop."


"When I saw what you and Draco were becoming...friends, and, I suspected, more. I decided to let it all go."

Harry was skeptical. "Live your life in a painting, bottled up in Draco's mind?"

Snape shrugged. "I'd had my chance at life, and believed you should have yours. Both of you."

This was the delicate part, Harry sensed. "But then you changed your mind again. Why?" he pushed.

Looking decidedly pained, Snape told him, "You recall your drunken profession, what you wished for me?" He traced a finger along the edge of the table. "From that moment on, I began to wish it for myself as well. I watched the two of you as you figured things out, and began to believe, even, that you just might pull it off, but still...I would've easily accepted it had you not. Until..." he paused, then looked away abruptly.

"Until...what?" Harry could tell that this was difficult for Snape, but knew that it had to be out in the open, and soon.

Snape's eyes drifted up to his, his face a picture of confusion. "You read your poem. Then...I was almost desperate for you to succeed."

"My poem..." Harry said dreamily, then refocused on the man across from him. "How did it make you feel," he dared to ask gently. It was only fair; after all, hadn't Snape dared to ask Harry similar things, delving into his feelings with his bloody questions?

For a moment Snape seemed to grope for words. He opened his mouth to speak, then shut it, then repeated the cycle again. Harry realized suddenly that the man had most likely never had such a conversation once in his sorry life.

"Like I wanted to walk in the grass again," Snape hesitated, his eyes with a far away look, "...feel the wind in my hair...read all the books in the world...touch someone's skin with my fingers...have a life," he finished, almost in a whisper.

Harry closed his eyes for a moment, and let the warm, satisfied feeling wash over him, that words he'd penned had made Snape feel such things, let alone voice them. When he opened his eyes again, Snape was staring at him strangely, stroking his lower lip with his thumb.

"And what about me...wasn't I in there somewhere?" Harry ventured to ask, knowing that he was right, but still...still afraid that he was wrong, that he'd somehow misread him.

Snape pressed his lips together, then sighed, "Of course, you were. At the very top of the list. Once I realized that you and Draco were just..."

"Just sex?" Harry asked.


It was more than Harry'd allowed himself to hope. He felt as if a sizable weight had suddenly lifted from his chest. They had miles to go, though, before they slept...especially since Snape seemed slightly dazed by the turn their conversation had taken. Small steps, Harry thought, small steps...

"I'm sorry about your bat."

Smiling, Snape seemed relieved. "Don't be. It was my Horcurx, did you know? As I was sufficiently remorseful by the time you...did what you did, the dark ritual destroyed both it and poor Bat."

"Ah." Harry eyed him with amusement, taking advantage to snag the Prophet. "You owe me, big-time," he murmured, then smiled when Snape rolled his eyes.


With only a week before the headmistress would return, Harry had a list of things to accomplish before she arrived; he spent some of his time in the kitchens, monitoring the delivery of the massive quantity of foodstuffs that were appearing daily. Potions supplies would be arriving later that day, requiring an afternoon spent in stocking shelves, as well as moving potions from storage to the infirmary. Harry thought about asking Snape to help him with the latter task, but although he trusted Kreacher, he knew it would be foolish to put the man on display to the other house-elves. They were guileless creatures with notoriously loose lips, unless otherwise directed.

Returning to his rooms, Harry was puzzled when he couldn't find Snape. He glanced into his bedchamber, then stood in the middle of the sitting room. "Severus?" When there was no reply, Harry walked to the loo, its door slightly ajar.

He was about to knock, when he spied Snape through the crack between the door and the jamb. Pushing the door open, he entered the room, then stood just to the side of the man, who was intently inspecting his reflection in the mirror.

Snape saw him, but didn't turn. "Harry."

Harry nodded in reply. "I couldn't find you," he said, feeling as if he should make an explanation for his presence.

Turning his head slightly from side to side, Snape eyed himself critically. "It's an odd thing. Looking in the mirror. I look like myself, but..."

"You do look like yourself. Same hair, same facial features, same height, even, but..." Harry paused. "But younger. It makes your face less...I don't know, severe. Cheeks are fuller, and no crow's-feet. You look...softer."

Snape inclined his head to the side, still studying himself. He caught Harry's eye. "Less forbidding?"

Harry snorted. "Hardly. You're still the same person on the inside, aren't you?"

"I think so," Snape mused. "I've not noticed any...missing parts of myself, but then again, I wouldn't, would I?"

Stepping back to lean against the wall, Harry said, "But I would. I'll keep an eye out."

Snape bent toward the mirror and fingered the bridge of his nose, then turned and rested back against the washbasin. "You know me as well as anyone." When Harry had nothing to say, he added, "The change-looking younger has to do with Birnum, I believe."

"Birnum...the Death Eater? Oh," Harry said, as he considered the possibility.

"He was in his mid-twenties, as I recall, so add a few years, and the general effect would be for me to appear ten years younger, or thereabouts."

"So, the people Voldemort killed to make his Horcruxes had something to do with the way he looked?"

Snape made a hands-up gesture. "Who can say? I think it did, but you must remember that he split his soul into seven, and that too would be a part of it, I'd imagine."

"And you only split yours only once. So...you look like you always have...just younger," Harry summarized.

Snape did something then, something Harry couldn't remember ever seeing before. He smiled, a genuine smile that reached to his eyes and made them glitter. "My guess is that if I'd looked the least bit unnatural, you'd have left me lying in the forest to fend for myself."

"We did wonder about that. With good reason," Harry muttered, then couldn't help but smile in reply.

Stepping to the door, Snape held it open for Harry. "Well, then, I suppose I owe you...how did you put it-big-time?"

Harry didn't budge for a moment. "Nah, I'd say we're about even."

"Would you, now? Not as Slytherin as I thought."

"All paid up. Clean slates," Harry told him as he stepped through the door.


Tuesday night, Harry knew that Snape needed a change of scenery. Long after the house-elves would be asleep, he took him on a tour of the castle, reminiscent of the one he'd given Draco over a month ago. Snape took much more of an interest in the details of the renovation, which seemed logical to Harry; the man was a scientist and had been headmaster for a time. It didn't seem odd that he'd ask about dimensions and brittleness, timber age and specifications. In fact, Snape seemed surprised that Harry had all the answers. Perhaps even a bit disappointed, but then Harry figured he was imagining that finer nuance.

They ended up in the headmaster's office. Snape seemed to take it as a matter of course that they would, turning into the corridor when Harry did without breaking stride.

Once they entered, Harry stood to the side and gave Snape a moment. He walked around the room, running his fingers over the chair backs, nodding to the portraits who gaped at him in surprise. He frowned slightly at the piles of parchments on the large desk.

"Minerva has her hands full, I see," he murmured, then turned resolutely at the sound of his name.

"Severus, my boy, here you are at last," Dumbledore greeted him. "Harry, how are you?"

"Fine, sir," Harry said as the two of them moved to stand in front of the portrait.

The old man beamed down at Harry. "I see you sorted things out."

Harry nodded. "Yes, sir. Draco and I did. You knew," he chided the headmaster with a smile.

"Of course, I did. But unlike your past adventures, this was an entirely elective pursuit. I did not want to interfere with what you chose to do."

The blue eyes shifted to Snape. "None the worse for wear, I take it?"

"None that I can discern...yet," Snape said dryly, shooting Harry an enigmatic smile.

"What are your plans, then?" Dumbledore asked, glancing sharply from Snape to Harry.

"I haven't finalized anything, as of yet. I suppose my only option, for the time being, will be to return to Spinner's End. As long as it's still standing," he finished wryly.

"Actually, sir," Harry addressed the headmaster, "since Minerva will be back on Sunday, I was planning on taking Severus to Grimmauld Place." He turned to Snape. "Spinner's End is a hovel, and you're not going back there," he told him firmly.

When Snape seemed about to protest, Dumbledore held up his hand. "Severus, I think you'll have to agree that Harry's done right by you thus far. I agree, Grimmauld Place would be best, until you have alternate arrangements."

"I'm not certain that I can-"

"Oh, no you don't," Harry told him shortly. "I've thought about this for weeks. It's the best plan all around."

Snape still looked doubtful, on the point of protesting further when Harry turned and let out an exclamation. "Look, your portrait."

They both examined the opposite wall. There hung Snape's portrait, its oil-painted surface unmarred by the wispy white film that had been there earlier, but still lacking an inhabitant.

"Alas," Dumbledore said, causing them to turn back, "it appears that your gain, Harry, is my loss. That portrait will not be occupied again for many years to come. As it shouldn't be." He studied them both for a long moment, then said as he turned to go, smiling, "I must content myself with current company, and rest assured, they are a tight-lipped lot, so not to worry."

Out in the corridor, Snape finally spoke his mind. "Out of the question."


"I'm grateful for what the two of you did; however, you are not obligated to provide me with room and board. I'm perfectly capable of-"

"I'm leaving soon, Severus," Harry interrupted him.

Snape stopped mid-sentence. "Leaving Hogwarts?" he asked, seeming stunned. "Leaving to where?"

Harry shrugged. "Just leaving here. For now it'll be to Grimmauld. I don't know...beyond that. Haven't figured it out," he confessed, giving Snape a guarded look.

Snape leant against the wall of the corridor, watching Harry's uncertainty. "Why now?" he asked.

Harry sighed. "It's complicated. More than one reason, I suspect. It wasn't until Draco and I decided what we were going to do with you that I felt...free to go. Don't know exactly why, but it's as if...I had to stay here until you could leave as well. So..." his voice became surer, "Grimmauld is the only place I have to go, at least for now, and I can't see where you can afford to be nit-picky either."

At the look on Snape's face, he said more urgently, "It's not like we're strangers. It's a huge house, and till term starts, I'll Floo down in the evening and on weekends. You'll have it all to yourself. Time to sort things out...figure out what you want to do next. Please, Severus. The offer is sincere, from one...friend to another." He lowered his voice. "I can't stand to think of you at Spinner's End. So, humor me."

Snape seemed to scrutinize Harry's face, then pushed himself from the wall, jerking his head in the direction of Harry's rooms. "Very well. It's appreciated." He paused and squinted at Harry. "Please tell me that Mrs. Black is no longer spewing obscenities and insults."

Harry smiled, mostly in relief. "Gone. Hermione," he said, knowing he need not explain further.

Snape snorted. "Fifty points to Gryffindor."


Although Harry's days were full of activity, he visited his rooms often, checking on Snape, eating lunch with him, then supper as well, before the two of them settled in for the evening to read and, in most cases, talk into the wee hours. And even though they'd spent many such nights together before, this was somehow different. Snape was a person of substance now, flesh and blood and bone, one of which Harry was acutely aware: the same measured tones, only deeper and richer; the almost identical facial expressions, but, fleshed out as they now were, they carried nuances that had Harry staring at him, sometimes to his own embarrassment when caught at it.

It was Snape's physicality, the sheer fact that he was there that fascinated Harry most of all. Only a foot away, Snape breathed, and moved. Harry sometimes had a wild urge just to reach out and touch him, feel the texture of the tendons in the back of his hand, smooth his fingers along the line of his thigh. What had so long been a dreamlike and flat reverie had become an almost poignant and hypnotic reality.

By Friday evening, however, Harry decided that for both their sakes, they had to do something different. When Snape seemed restless, setting his book aside to pace in the room, Harry smiled to himself.

"I do believe you need to get out more," Harry said as he innocently turned a page.

"Easier said than done," Snape told him curtly.

Closing his book with a snap, Harry stood. "It's almost eleven. Care for a walk?"

Snape stopped short. "Is that wise?"

Harry shrugged. "Can't always do what's wise. Sometimes you have to take a risk. You're stellar at Disillusionment Charms, I'd wager. So just be ready, in case we run into Sybill...or Hagrid," he warned.

Snape looked hopeful. "Hagrid? You mean...outdoors?" he asked.

"Sure. How about a walk along the lake? If you're up to it," he said, making a mostly futile attempt to feign disinterest.

Already at the door, Snape tapped his foot impatiently. "I'm up to it. Let's go."


The moon was full and unfettered by clouds as they left the castle and skirted around it to the side, through the gardens to the top of the hillside just above the lake.

The perfume of flowers was thick in the humid air of August as they came to the end of the stone walkway. Harry put out a hand to hold Snape back.

"Sit," he told him. Without waiting for a reply, Harry sat on the edge of the walkway to untie his shoes. Snape hesitated, then sat down beside him. Without a word, he removed his shoes and socks.

"Leave them there," Harry said as he got up and waited for him. When Snape stood and looked at him questioningly, Harry motioned with his head, then struck out, down across the field of lush green grass. He could hear Snape padding almost silently a step behind him, so he slowed until the man was just beside him.

They walked in silence at the edge of the lake, staying off the path in the grass at the side, the moon blazing a shimmering white trail across the water, the sky dabbled with scintillas of stars.

At the far end of the lake at the turnaround point, Harry finally turned to look at Snape. "So, grass under your feet, wind in your hair. How you remembered it?"

Snape stared at Harry for a moment, then looked off over the lake. "And then some," he admitted.

They started to stroll again, walking in step with each other, making Harry want to smile. They slowed and stopped, watching as something large broke the surface of the lake, then arced to splash in again.

Standing side by side, Harry said softly, "I remember how it felt, thinking I wouldn't have a chance," he waved toward the lake, "to enjoy any of this again. What a miracle it all is...we all are."

"Facing death is usually the first time any of us truly appreciate such things," Snape agreed as they began to walk again. "One never thinks of how precious life is...until it's gone-a failing of human nature. And most men never have a second chance, as I do."

They sauntered along, talking about Slytherins and what some of them Snape had taught had become. They sat and dangled their feet into the lake for a time, commiserating softly over their experiences with Dumbledore and Minerva. They set out once again, slowly, discussing books and poetry, Baudelaire and Rilke.

"I confess I chose Rilke because I believed he'd challenge you."

"Well, you were right, he does. The idea of describing physical objects the way he tried to do...is what set me off."

Harry could sense Snape looking at him as they walked. He smiled as he canted his head to the side to look at him. "So what's left? I seem to remember...reading all the books in the world."

Snape laughed softly. "Spoken by a man who had a very inadequate collection of his own."

"That's one thing about Grimmauld," Harry pointed out. "The library is huge. A little dusty...and maybe dangerous, but I think it'll keep you busy for a while."

"I wasn't aware of the library, although I supposed there was one," Snape said, unable to hide his interest. "I'd be willing to sort through it while I'm there. Weed out any...undesirable volumes."

"Sure. Suit yourself. I don't think anyone's been in there in decades," Harry confided.

They'd reached the point where they'd begun their loop, so after one last look at the lake and the moon, they began the trudge up the hillside, Snape cursing when he stubbed a toe on a rock.

When they reached the walkway where they'd begun, they sat down beside each other to put on their socks and shoes. Gazing out at the panorama below them, they didn't speak as they drank it in. Harry thought to himself that just a week ago, at about this very same time, he and Draco were in the midst of the one of the darkest arts, on a mission to rescue the man who sat beside him.

As if reading his thoughts, Snape said quietly, "How much can change in one short week."

Harry nodded, his elbows on his knees, chin in his hands, angling his head to the side. "And here you are, already halfway through that list of yours. What was next?" he teased.

Snape seemed to think for a moment, then slowly, almost reverently, reached out his hand. "To touch," he said softly, his eyes catching Harry's, "someone's skin with my fingers."

Harry watched, transfixed, as the slender finger traced over the top of a knuckle, down the bone of his hand, lingered on his wrist, then drew a line along the length of his arm. When Snape pulled back his hand, the tingle in Harry's arm continued as if the man were still touching him, up to his shoulder, spreading a warmth across his chest, then down like a fire into his belly.

When he finally felt it safe to attempt to speak, Harry said, "And then, I remember...have a life." He glanced at Snape. "Baudelaire's dilemma, wasn't it? Whether to stare through windows at infinity-which sounds sort of boring and lonely-or choose a world of form and being."

Snape stood and held out a hand. Harry hesitated for a moment, then grabbed a hold of it, allowing Snape to help him up. Standing face to face, Harry laid the choice before him. "So...that's what it comes down to. To dream of death...or to live. Be safe, or take a risk."

Nodding soberly, Snape had nothing to say in reply.


Before retiring for the night, Harry brought out the Ogden's Old and poured them both a healthy measure. Snape took the glass from Harry's hand, then when the glass was halfway to his lips, he paused.

Tipping his glass, he clinked it against Harry's. "L'chaim," he said, his dark eyes glittering.

When Harry looked puzzled, Snape clarified, "To life."

Harry smiled and tapped their glasses again for good measure. "To life."

They'd already had the discussion about who would sleep where, on the night when Draco'd left for good. Harry had absolutely refused to budge, insisting that he rather liked sleeping on the settee, and as Snape hadn't actually slept in a bed for two years, then by rights he should have it.

Snape was almost at the door when Harry stopped him. "Here," he said, crossing the distance between them. "I'd like you to read this." When Snape's eyes grew wide, Harry explained, "Really, I've thought about it, and...I'd be honored if you would."

Still seeming somewhat reluctant, Snape took Harry's journal. "Such a personal...thing." He ran his hands over the leather, then looked up. "Are you certain?"

"Yeah, I am."

With a nod, Snape tucked it under his arm. "It's in good hands, then," he said as he turned toward the bedchamber.

Making up the settee, Harry smiled when he heard Snape's soft, "Good night," just before he shut the door.


The next morning over breakfast, Harry swore he couldn't help himself. It been weeks in the making, he figured, so he took a breath and let himself go.

"So, I noticed," he paused strategically, waiting until the Prophet was lowered, just enough so that Snape could see him, "that you shut the door last night." He innocently reached for the butter. Glancing back up, he saw the wariness in the man's eyes. Good, he thought, then added, "Any particular reason why? You haven't before. And you always made such a big production when I did it."

The paper lowered to lap-level, Snape obviously trying to decide what to do with his mouth: to scowl, to sneer, perchance...to smile? Harry had to admire the man's self-control when he did none of these, only graced Harry with an assessing look, tinged with just a hint of admiration.

"Touché," he said as he flicked the paper back into place.

Harry hummed good-naturedly as he poured his second cup.


"We'll get you some clothes of your own, once we're in London," Harry said apologetically the next evening, as he sorted through his wardrobe and trunk. He turned to the bed, and seeing that Snape was about to protest, he added, "Don't even start about it. It's not charity. It's necessary. Whenever you're able, I know you're good for it."

Stuffing it all into the carpetbag, Harry motioned with his head toward the box in the sitting room. "Can you get that one? So you don't starve," he added sarcastically.

"Ready?" Harry asked, as he headed for the Floo. When he turned, though, Snape was still standing in the middle of the sitting room. "What's wrong? What did we forget?"

Snape shook his head. "Nothing. I was just...making a memory of the place, I suppose. I can't imagine that I'll ever be back," he said, staring at the painting still suspended just feet from the floor.

"Oh," Harry said, slowly walking back to stand beside him. "I hadn't thought of that."

"For so many weeks, I had just one perspective of the room," Snape said thoughtfully. "And you...you were the focus of my world." He turned to Harry and positively sneered, sending a jolt of delight to Harry's toes. "There were times when I thought I was losing my mind."

"I'll take that as a compliment," Harry grinned in reply.

"As it was meant to be." Snape nodded curtly. "I'm ready. Shall we go?"


As Snape already knew Grimmauld Place well, there was only the matter of his choosing which bedchamber he preferred. Harry wasn't surprised when his only stipulation was, "Not Black's," then chose one adjacent to the library.

They spent the evening there, Snape seeming right at home amongst the tomes and volumes of the neglected collection. He muttered cleaning charms, dusted bookshelves, arranged the desk, until Harry was coughing and sputtering in protest. Snape shot him a withering look, then returned to his near scrupulous organization of the vast room. Harry watched him, glad that the man seemed content to occupy himself with such an undertaking.

Before they said goodnight, though, Harry knew there was one detail he'd best get out of the way.

"So, there's food for tomorrow. I'll pop down for lunch, then come back for the night. I'll have told Minerva by then, so she won't expect me in the Great Hall." He paused, then took a breath. "But on Monday, Kreacher will be here." He shook his head as Snape startled. "We can trust him. I've sworn him to secrecy, not that I needed to. He's devoted to me, really."

"Kreacher," Snape growled.

"Just...be civil to him, please?" Harry pushed. "He'll do anything you ask, since I've told him to treat you...as he would me."

Snape sat at the desk and put his head in his hands. "So much has changed," he murmured.

Harry felt a flash of sympathy. He crossed the room, and perched on the edge of the desk. "I know. I can't imagine how hard this must be. But, it'll get easier," he told him firmly. "Trust me," he urged, the intensity of his voice making Snape glance up at him. Their eyes connected, and Harry put all the goodwill he had into the look that he returned, then sighed in relief at Snape's reply.

"I already do, and as Albus so delicately put it, you've done right by me thus far. Besides," he said dryly, "I couldn't cook an egg to save my soul."

Harry laughed. "Well, that's good then, for both our sakes." He was rewarded with a genuine scowl.


"Where?" Minerva asked him, sitting stunned behind the desk.

"Grimmauld for now. Later, I don't know. I've got my solicitor checking out a few properties for me," Harry said, then added slyly, "Wales, I think."

"Wales?" she asked, her voice laced with contempt. "There are perfectly good properties, much more suitable ones, I'd think, in Scotland."

"Aye, aye, there's a Scottish lassie for yeh, pining for the moors and the heather!" Harry jested.

Minerva waved her hand at him. "Tis true. Scottish to the core," she laughed. Eyeing Harry, she said, "Not much notice, so I must admit I'm surprised. But relieved. What will you do?"

Harry slid his feet from the desk. "I'm not sure. I'll figure something out." He leant forward in his chair. "Just between you and me, I'm not going alone."

"Ah. Mister Malfoy, then?" she asked, her eyes shrewd and bright.

"No, someone I met over the summer," he corrected her. "We've hit it off, and we both...sort of decided to give it a try," he finished, his cheeks flushing, more at the dissembling he'd had to do than over the admission that he was going to live with someone.

"I see. Well, you know I wish you the best. If anyone deserves it, you do," she said thoughtfully, seeming to try and read what lay behind his embarrassment.

"I'll be here until the end of the month. Everything's nearly ready, but I know it's not much notice, so if you need me beyond then, I'll see what I can arrange."

Opening a drawer in the desk, the headmistress pulled out a slim sheaf of parchments. "There's a Hufflepuff, who was in your year. He applied two years ago, after Argus was killed. I think he'd be delighted to have the post." She pulled out a page, then adjusted her spectacles. "Here he is. Yes, I think he'll do nicely." She looked up at him. "Not as well as you, but nicely."

Setting the parchment aside, she Summoned a bottle of sherry from the shelf. When they both had half-full glasses, she tipped hers toward Harry, then took a sip. She tilted her head to the side. "I'm not much given to sentiment, Harry. But I must tell you-I've seen many students pass through this halls, but you...you are the one of whom I'm most proud." Her eyes seemed to become slightly misty. "And if I'd ever had a grandson, well, I wouldn't have been put out if he turned out half as well as you have."

This time Harry flushed with outright, undeniable pleasure. "Thanks, Minerva. I'll miss you as well. If I'd ever had a grandmother, I wouldn't have been put out if she were just like you," he said sincerely.

Tossing back the rest of her drink, Minerva muttered, "Go on. Out with you." But Harry wasn't fooled. He stood and rounded the desk, then leant to kiss her on the cheek.


The days seemed to fly by, as Harry split his life between the preparations at Hogwarts and his guest at Grimmauld Place. The castle was in full-tilt now, the professors trickling back, more faces at lunch in the Great Hall. Harry stayed once in a while, knowing that Kreacher was with Snape. The news of his departure was common knowledge now, and he said his goodbyes, one by one, as the opportunity presented, promising to return now and then. Strangely, the person he'd worried over most had immediately understood and wished him well: Hagrid.

Snape seemed content enough: Harry usually found him in the library, devouring book after book, making copious notes, muttering over what he frequently termed 'inanities'.

After supper, they sat in the drafty drawing room or in the library, talking over Harry's day, what Snape had found, what Kreacher had done or failed to do. They argued over current events, haggled over sections of the Prophet, took care to read the same poetry so that there would be lively discussion. But sometimes, they just sat quietly, wordless, a companionable silence that was neither contrived nor uncomfortable.

As for anything more...Harry had to admit that at times he was impatient. But a short, impromptu conversation over breakfast one morning did much to explain what he worried over, and allowed him to set his concerns aside.

"You don't say much," Harry remarked, after a meal when getting Snape to utter more than a 'yes' or 'no' had felt like conversing with an inanimate object.

Snape looked up quizzically, then set his cup aside. "You'll recall I usually have quite a bit to say."

"I know. That's why...since you've come back, I've been...surprised."

"Remember what I said about you being the focus of my world?" When Harry nodded, he continued, "Well, you no longer are. I'm a bit distracted with...catching up, if you will. Things I've missed, things I've wanted to know, things I've wanted to do...read...mull over."

Harry wasn't entirely certain how he should feel, seeing that he'd just been usurped by all the things that Snape had missed. The man seemed to intuit his thoughts, though.

"You're still very much on my mind," Snape told him gently. "It's just that you're not the only thing I think about."

"I used to be the only thing you thought about?" Harry asked with a hint of a smile, still slightly incredulous.

Snape rolled his eyes. "As evidenced by my words, 'focus of my world.'"

"All right, that makes sense, and I suppose that's healthier. Just so long as you don't forget about me..." he murmured, now smiling outright.

Sitting back in his chair, Snape stared at him so intently that Harry had to fight the inclination to blush. "Oh, I've not forgotten. You've become, rather, a future event on my horizon," he said obliquely.

"God," Harry muttered, "sounds like a bloody conquest."

Snape only smiled slyly as he picked up his tea, but held Harry's eyes. "We'll see."


"I know tomorrow's Saturday, but I have some things I have to do. Some people I have to see. I'll only be gone for the afternoon, and be back for supper."

"Fine with me. I'm not going anywhere. This afternoon was melodrama enough for one week, thank you."

Harry bit back the smile, thinking of their foray into Muggle London for Snape's new clothing. They'd managed it all in the space of several hours, Harry scandalized when Snape found a pair of trousers and a shirt that he deemed acceptable, then tried to blithely order five identical sets.

Exasperated, Harry'd tried to convince the man that variety was the spice of life, but Snape had only sneered, and reminded him that what was true in one's sex life didn't necessarily translate to one's wardrobe. Stunned, embarrassed by the giggling sales clerk, Harry'd given in, but had noticed that Snape had reluctantly put back two of the black ensembles, and selected one in green and one in dark blue. A rather hollow victory, Harry'd thought as he paid, his cheeks still pink.

The fiasco of a mission to clothe the man had Harry remembering how he'd felt at the beginning of the summer, when he'd first tried to figure out the puzzle of Snape's journal on his own.

"God, I was dense," he muttered.

Snape looked up from his book, his face blank. "Which time?" he asked neutrally.

"Ha ha. Very funny," Harry retorted darkly.

There was a heavy sigh from beside him. "All right. When were you dense...this time?"

Harry turned to face him, suddenly serious. "The Horcrux." When Snape closed his eyes wearily, a trifle dramatically, Harry thought, he added quickly, "You know, when I first started to read your journal, I thought of that possibility...that you'd made one."

"You did?" Snape seemed interested now, setting his book aside.

Nodding, Harry went on, "But then I decided, no. It was too obvious...too easy...too, well, horrible. I spent weeks, trying to figure it out, why you were stuck, you see. I thought there was some reason I was missing, for why you seemed...stranded, with no afterlife. Sort of like Sir Nicholas, I thought, but not a ghost." He shook his head. "Turns out I'd been right, but look how long it took us, Draco and me."

"Occam's Razor," Snape told him smugly.

"Whose...razor?" Harry asked, frowning.

"Occam's Razor," Snape told him patiently. "It's a scientific principle that says, 'all things being equal, the simplest answer, or most obvious one, is usually the correct one.'"

"Ohhh..." Harry tried to puzzle it out. "So, you're saying that..."

"I'm saying that Occam's Razor would posit that the reason I seemed like I had a soul was because I had one."

"Ah. I see, sort of." Harry shrugged. "Might've helped, had I known that at the time." He thought for a moment, then looked up. "Who's Occam?"

"He was a logician, a monk, I believe, who lived a very long time ago."

"Hmmm, and the razor?"

Snape narrowed his eyes. "You're beating a dead horse."

"No," Harry protested. "I'm trying to understand here. It's Occam's, I get that part, but the razor?"

Sighing, Snape sat back, shaking his head. "I would guess that it's because a razor has the potential to cut to the quick, to lay bare the essentials."

"That makes sense," Harry agreed.

"So comforting to know that a centuries-old philosophical maxim now has the Harry Potter seal of approval," Snape muttered as he took up his book.

"I aim to please," Harry said softly, earning himself an expertly thrown settee pillow.


The next afternoon, Harry set out with three destinations in mind. The first, the one he'd dreaded the most, turned out much better that he'd dared to hope.

Ron seemed to take his leaving in stride. Harry suspected that once he'd heard that Harry wasn't taking off for parts unknown with Draco, he'd been more than willing to heartily wish him well. Hermione, though, had been a tougher nut to crack.

She eyed Harry suspiciously. "Someone you met this summer?"

"Yeah, just this summer."

"And we don't know him."

Well, in a sense, Harry could say that was true. "No, like I said, just met him in June."

"Harry, do you think it's wise, seeing that you've only known him for...what? Two months?"

He shrugged; what more could he say but the truth? "It's a trial run, and if it doesn't work out...who knows? But I don't think that'll happen. Hermione," he said firmly, "in any case, I'd decided to leave. I'll be at Grimmauld, off and on. But for the most part, I'm happy with where I'm going."


"Yes, it's secluded, and near the sea. It's perfect," he assured her.

"What will you do with yourself?" she asked.

Harry was able to answer honestly. "I'm not sure. I've thought about writing a little. You remember, I have a story to tell."

Hermione's eyes softened. "That's...wonderful, Harry!"

As they said their goodbyes, with promises from Harry that he'd keep in touch, he thought to himself how predictable Hermione was: Harry doing something intellectual was all that it'd taken to win her over. He smiled as he Apparated to his next destination.


He met his solicitor on the boundaries of the property. The first thing he noticed was that he could hear the ocean; his mind already half made up, they toured through the modest cottage, checking the wood stoves and windows and roofing. It was simple, but with room enough for an adequate library, and a study for each of them. All it needed were a few magical enhancements, and Harry knew it'd be perfect.

The larger headache occurred once he'd made up his mind: signing papers for the transfer of funds from Gringotts to the Muggle bank; signing papers to register the deed; signing papers to enroll him in the county records; signing papers ad infinitum ad nauseam. But at last, all that Harry cared about was that come the first of September, he'd be a property owner with deed and key in hand.

Strangely, it was his last venture of the day that proved to be the most satisfying.

He Apparated to just outside Malfoy Manor. There was no lock on the gate, and as he let himself through, he noticed that the outside, at least, was in a sad state of disrepair, needing paint, ivy pulled from the windows, and some serious work in the garden that was threatening to overtake the house. The last time he'd been here, it had been dark and he'd been terrified, of course, and hadn't paid any particular attention to his surroundings, but he could well imagine what the Manor had looked like in its better days.

He waited for a good while in the spacious foyer, then was led by an elderly house-elf into the drawing room, a place that he grimly realized he'd seen before. The large chandelier had never been replaced, he noted, as he approached the ornate fireplace where Narcissa Malfoy sat stiffly in a chair. She seemed smaller and much older than Harry remembered her. But then he recalled what Draco had said, how she'd refused all companionship and locked herself away from the world. The once proud and beautiful woman was just a shell of her former self, her beauty faded, her vitality drained away. The arrogance, Harry remarked, was still there, as she lifted a hand and motioned him to a chair, her eyes cautious and suspicious.

"Mr. Potter," she said, her voice low.

"Mrs. Malfoy," he replied as he took his seat.

She frowned then. "Draco is not here."

"I know. I came to see you, actually," Harry told her.

"Me?" she asked, unable to hide her surprise. "I can't imagine..."

"How are you?" Harry asked, noticing when she seemed slightly disarmed by the question.

Pulling her robes in around her, she sniffed, "I'm well, thank you." But her eyes...eyes that were so very like Draco's, showed the first traces of interest.

Harry pulled the parchment from his pocket. "I won't keep you long-I know I came without notice." He stood and handed the scroll to her, then took his seat, waiting while she unrolled it and skimmed its contents. Her hand suddenly developed a tremor, but other than that, she showed no outward sign of emotion. When she finally looked up, though, Harry saw in her eyes the first crack in her aristocratic veneer.

"What is this?" she asked, glancing back at the parchment.

"It's the deed to a Black family vault. And I was hoping...well, it's actually been done already, so I wanted to give it to you." When she looked up at him in shock, Harry sat forward in his chair. "By all rights, it should be yours. I only ended up with it because Sirius was my godfather. And I don't know what to do with it." He shrugged. "I have all that I need, what with the Potter fortune."

The woman was once again reading through the parchment, her lips moving silently as she moved from page to page. Two bright spots of color had appeared on her cheeks. Finally finished, she rolled the parchments together. "I cannot accept," she said, her voice strained as she tried to hand the scroll back to Harry.

Although he'd hoped that it'd be simpler, Harry had prepared himself that she would resist. "Mrs. Malfoy, please, for my sake, and for Draco's, would you reconsider?" He pulled his chair closer, so that they were sitting directly opposite one another.

He leant forward, his forearms on his thighs. "You know what I said at your trial. But, it was woefully inadequate." He watched as a pale hand crept up toward her throat. "If it hadn't been for you, I don't know what would've happened."

"My only thought was to protect my son," she said stiffly.

"I know," he agreed softly. "But whether or not you meant to, you saved me as well." He sat back in his chair. "I'd've done this for Draco, believe me, but you and I both know how proud his is. He'd never accept."

She nodded. "So, whatever made you think that I would?"

"Because," Harry said slowly, accentuating each word, "this is not just for your own good. It's for Draco's as well." He watched as she digested this. "I don't know what he's told you, but the two of us, well, we've come to care a great deal for each other."

"I was aware of that, yes," she admitted reluctantly.

"So, if you can't do it for yourself, then please, do it for him? And for me, if you can stretch it that far. I really, really want to do this, Mrs. Malfoy. It's not charity-far from it. You'd be doing me a favor, actually. You have to understand," he lowered his eyes and his voice, "I've never wanted any part of this. When I inherited, I was only fifteen, and no one asked me what I wanted." He looked up at her. "This is what I want, and it's the right thing. It's blood money, in a way, and I'll be glad to be rid of it. And it makes sense to me that someone in the Black family should have it."

She looked uncertain now, and Harry thought for a moment that there were tears in her eyes, but decided that it must've been a trick of the low light in the room.

"Please, Mrs. Malfoy. It's already done. At noon tomorrow, the vault is set to revert to you. All you need to do is accept the key." He shoved a hand in his pocket and pulled out the tiny golden object

She stared at him, glancing from the key to his face, then to the key again. Slowly, her hand trembling, she reached out, her palm upward.

As Harry dropped the key into her hand, he felt a suffusion of warmth on the inside. Draco...Draco would be taken care of, his pride still intact. He refused to even think about what his mother would tell him, but he was fairly certain that she'd do anything in her power to help him preserve his dignity, even at the expense of her own.

"Thank you," Harry said as he stood. Looking down at her, he said, "Grimmauld Place I'll keep. I hope you don't mind, but as I've left Hogwarts, it's my home now."

"I never much cared for the house," she said slowly as she withdrew her hand, her fist still wrapped tightly around the key, as if it might disappear at any moment.

"Well, I'll be on my way, then. When you see Draco, would you tell him...I'm happy."

Nacissa Malfoy stood, staring at him strangely. "I remember, after the Dark Lord fell, when we were sitting in the Great Hall...thinking that had you a mother, she'd have been very proud of you."

It was so very far above and beyond anything that he would've ever expected from her, Harry couldn't help himself. He grinned. "Thanks. I like to think she would've been." With a nod, Harry took one last look around the room, then took his leave.


They had just sat down to supper in the kitchen, when Harry caught Snape eyeing him from the other end of the table.

"You appear to be in high spirits. Your afternoon went well, I take it?" Snape asked him.

"Yeah, it did."

He briefly outlined his visit with the Weasleys, then told him of his trip to Malfoy Manor. Snape had sat back in his chair when Harry'd begun to describe the Manor, but by the end of it, he seemed shocked, his mouth hanging slightly open.

"You're generous to a fault," he chided, his eyes suddenly warm. "You did more good than you know."

"Well, it was the right thing to do." He was just on the verge of telling Snape about the cottage in Wales, when he hesitated, suddenly uncertain. Snape was looking at him expectantly, so Harry dropped his eyes to his soup. "A good day," he finished quietly.


That night, Harry lay awake in his bed long after he'd turned in for the night, wrestling over what he knew to be the problem. He'd realized, just as he'd been about to share the news about the property, that he'd perhaps presumed more than he had any right, so far as Snape was concerned.

Attempting to look at it objectively, it struck him how fast events had occurred. He'd had a raucous and extremely satisfying sexual relationship with Draco; he'd become enchanted and obsessed with the Snape of the painting, and much as he'd disagreed with Draco at the time, he'd lost his heart and soul to the man, weeks before the flesh and blood part of him had put in an appearance.

Harry had laid his plans, and it had seemed like the most natural thing in the world to do, to plan for both of them, something that now seemed terribly presumptuous. They got on well together, but was that enough?

Poignant conversations, insinuations, veiled as they were by rhyme and meter, more than a few heated looks, a casual brush of the hand. Enough to assume that Snape would want to go with him? Sadly, Harry knew the answer. There would have to be more...and soon. But he was loath to force the issue, and knew, deep down inside, that the only thing he could do was wait.


The new caretaker arrived promptly on Monday morning. There were only four days till the start of term, so Harry took the man through his paces at almost breakneck speed, knowing that time was short. But by Thursday evening, Harry'd done all that he could do.

He stood in his rooms and looked over the empty interior, now ready to receive its new occupant. He realized, suddenly, that it'd been here, within these walls, that he'd come to know two of the most important people in his life. Both of them Slytherins...he had to smile at the irony.

The last thing he did was feed Mrs. Norris, who would be staying on with her new owner. Scratching the cat behind her ears one last time, Harry cast one more look around the room. The castle had been more than home; in fact it had been, and always would be, a very dear friend, one that he hoped he'd visit from time to time.

Standing, he picked up the last box and made for the Floo, for the first time leaving Hogwarts with no regrets.


They were sitting in the library, Snape reading, Harry pretending to read as he brooded. Snape seemed to catch his mood, however, as he set his book aside after a while.

"So, what will you do now?" he asked.

Harry shrugged. "I'm not sure. I thought I had an idea, but..." He shook his head, refusing to look at Snape. "Perhaps write a little. About my life." He did look up when he felt the settee shift as Snape stood to his feet and then strode to his desk. Harry watched as the man retrieved the journal, and returned to sit on the edge of the settee just beside him, then turned to Harry.

"You write well enough to do it, although you'd need a bit of help with the nuances of prose. I could help you, if you like." He held the journal out to Harry.

Harry sat forward to take it, but then stayed where he was, both of their hands on the journal. "How...did you like it?" he asked, suddenly acutely aware of their close proximity.

Snape slid a hand forward on the journal so that their fingers touched. Harry felt a jolt of sensation, and all of a sudden, he was fascinated by the fullness of the man's lips, as the moment was drawn out, neither of them speaking.

Snape moved a fraction closer, his hand now covering Harry's completely. Harry stared at him, then leant closer too, so that their faces were just inches apart. Harry closed his eyes, and angled his head, his heart hammering in his chest. When Snape finally answered, Harry felt the breath of the words against his lips.

"I found it intriguing," Snape whispered. "So full of longing and want...raw and visceral."

Harry tilted his head slightly...oh how he wanted...then he felt the warmth of the lips against his, sending a shudder of desire through him. He had just opened his mouth, ready to greedily take what he'd wanted for so long, when the man spoke again, the words vibrating against Harry's lips.

"Question number nine," he murmured, Harry feeling the movement of Snape's lips with each and every syllable.

Harry sighed, his mouth still pressed to Snape's, when the words finally connected with his brain. Pulling back sharply, the journal fell to the floor between them, as Harry stared, slack-jawed at Snape, who returned the look unflinchingly, his eyes like black pools.

Bringing a hand up, Harry touched his lips where Snape had touched them. "Not fair. Not fair at all," he said as he dropped his hand, the frustration of the last two weeks suddenly on the tip of his tongue. "You get to ask all the bloody questions! Week after week, I've had to tell you things I'd've never told you!"

Snape nodded gravely, his eyes flicking to Harry's lips, then back to his eyes. "Yes, and I'm glad that you did."

"You are?" Harry asked, feeling a small part of his outrage seep away.

"Oh, yes. Otherwise, I wouldn't be here. Knowing what I know, however, has given me a sense of direction..." he finished softly, but it was the color in his normally pale cheeks that doused what remained of Harry's indignation.

Harry pursed his lips, studying Snape for a moment before he spoke, immensely enjoying the almost imperceptible flicker of uncertainty in the man's eyes. "All right, I'll answer. But only on one condition."

Snape frowned, all uncertainty gone. "I don't recall there was any provision for conditional answers in our original agreement," he told Harry cautiously.

Scowling, Harry replied, "I'm assuming this question is more important than the other ones, seeing how you almost kissed me to trick it out of me, so...if you want the answer-and I think you do..."

"What condition?" Snape asked impatiently.

"Once I answer," Harry stipulated, "you'll answer the exact same question...for me."

"Deal." Snape's reply came so quickly that Harry had to wonder if, once again, he'd been had, but before he had time to think any further, Snape had moved on to the question.

They were still sitting close together on one end of the settee, Harry trapped in a corner of it, with Snape just beside him, angled so that their knees almost touched. Literally pushed into the corner, Harry found himself figuratively skewered by Snape's question.

"At the end of it, if you and Draco succeeded, what were you hoping would happen between the two of us?" His voice was neutral, as if he were dictating a question for a Potions class, but his eyes...his eyes were relentless, pulling Harry into them, so that Harry knew he was helpless to look away. Whatever he answered, he knew that Snape would read volumes more, through this window into his soul.

"I wanted...you," Harry said softly, then added almost urgently, "Not just for you to be alive. I wanted you...away from Hogwarts. I wanted a life with you. One that you wanted with me. I can't explain how it happened...or what would make it possible, but I understand why." He paused and swallowed visibly against the dryness of his throat. "You read my journal...I said it there, in bits and pieces. Put them together, and there's your answer."

Snape moved then, and although Harry was already trapped in the corner, Snape fixed him there with no chance of escape, not that Harry would've wanted one. His forearm on the arm of the settee, the other behind Harry's neck, Snape leant in, still staring at him as he replied.

"Passion," he quoted from Harry's journal, "begins first and foremost in the soul, spills out in words, and then, and only then, can it be expressed by the body." Snape finished softly, his voice low and sensuous. He moved his hand from the armrest to touch Harry's face, his eyes searching Harry's, a question in them.

"That's it," Harry murmured, barely able to breathe, wanting to close his eyes and lose himself in the sensation of Snape's fingers on his cheek, but knowing he couldn't look away. Not now.

"That's more than an adequate answer," Snape answered, curving a finger to trace the line of Harry's jaw.

Which reminded Harry. "Your turn now. Answer the question."

Snape removed his hand, but still kept Harry where he was. There was a flash in the black eyes, making Harry want to squirm in place, as he felt how achingly hard he'd become.

"As you know," Snape began, pulling slightly back to better see Harry, "I'm by nature outspoken...a man of action. I've been adjusting, these past weeks. But now...now I'm feeling more like myself again."

Harry felt the flush in his cheeks grow deeper, but at this point he didn't care. "Severus," he growled, "the question?"

Snape smiled, and made a tsking sound at Harry's lack of patience.

"What could a man, such as myself, an average-looking, tall, dark-haired wizard hope for? Could a man like me, who is intelligent and converses well," he moved marginally closer on the settee, "who thrills in the discussion of ideas," his hand slipped from the back of the settee to find the hair at the nape of Harry's neck, "who loves books, and poetry, although you did not specifically require this, who is good in bed," his other hand moved from the armrest to lie on Harry's chest, worrying the top button of his shirt, "and I am a bit kinky, so be fair-warned," his eyes were directly in Harry's line of sight, smoldering, "who'd like, as you do, to never speak of war again," he popped open the button and slid his hand inside to tangle in the hair of Harry's chest, smiling almost wickedly when Harry gasped aloud, "who'd settle willingly for a simple life, a modest home, a cat-definitely a concession on my part-the pleasure of meals by the fire," he moved his body closer, so that their thighs were pressed together, "as well as reading and...sex..."

The man paused to take a breath, and Harry sat completely still, his heart about to beat out of his chest, the blood pounding in his ears and in his cock, his muscles almost screaming with the effort of holding himself back.

Snape's head hung forward, his hair in Harry's face until he drew slightly back to finish. "Could such a man ever hope to capture the heart of a brave, attractive, sensitive and sexual being such as yourself?" Snape angled his face and moved closer once again. "Could I dare to presume...'to gaze at will, to touch, to drink, to taste you to the full, complete my longing to be known by you, and say of you, 'Him I have and know'?'" The excerpt from Harry's poem brought them back to where they'd started, words once again spoken against Harry's mouth.

Harry ran his tongue across his dry lips, then boldly did the same to Snape, who gasped at the touch of it. Harry smiled, then answered, returning the favor, as he mumbled the words against Snape's lips.

"That was a question, not an answer, you Slytherin," he breathed out.

Harry could feel the lips quirk into a smile. "Yes, it was. Sometimes the best answer to a question is another question."

Harry's answer was immediate. "Then I'd have to say yes. Yes, to every part of it."

For a moment, neither of them moved. As they remained, suspended in this torture of passion...passion that'd begun in their souls, and spilled out into words, Harry knew what would come next. He felt as if he'd waited forever...but he sensed that it was crucial that he wait a moment longer, for Snape to complete the tactile part of the triad.

Snape pulled back and searched Harry's face again, his dark eyes dilated and shimmering. He smiled as he tipped up Harry's chin. When their lips met, finally, their mouths opening hungrily to each other, Harry's last rational thought was that it'd been well worth the wait.


"Wales?" Snape asked as he casually undressed in his bedchamber.

"Pembrokeshire," Harry told him, already nude and sitting on the edge of the bed.

"I like the seaside," Snape said as he stood in front of Harry, relaxed, without a trace of self-consciousness.

"I was hoping you would. So, you'll go with me?"

Snape nodded slowly. "Nothing could keep me from it."

"Nice to finally have that settled," Harry muttered as he reached out for him, then was surprised when Snape slapped his hand away, looking stern.

"I am not Draco," he told Harry as he pushed him backward on the bed and straddled him at the hips.

Harry tried to push upward with his cock, feeling the weight of Snape atop him. "Yeah, I noticed that," he managed to croak out.

Snape bent down to frame Harry's head with his arms. "What I meant is...this will not be some wild and precipitous romp in the sack. Although there's a certain charm in such an impetuous-"

"Severus! Enough talk!" Harry pleaded, grabbing Snape by the shoulders and bringing their mouths together. Snape resisted, of course, as he'd not finished what he had to say.

"This. Will. Be." Snape managed to get the words out in between kisses, then pulled his face out of reach. "A slow, measured..." He groaned as Harry found his cock with his hands. "Harry...wait..." He threw his head back, then looked down at the smiling Harry. "Journey of discovery. I don't want to waste or squander it," he said soberly.

Harry reached up and pulled Snape down so that they were face to face again. "Then stop wasting time," he growled. Snape gave him a look so full of lust that it made Harry's insides quiver and his knees wobble, then the mouth that had taunted and teased him, almost to distraction, made good on its promise, as it silenced him most effectively.


As Snape had warned him, it was a journey of discovery that took them the entire night. Of course there were brief rest stops, where they talked, or slept, or just lay quietly wrapped up in each other.

Harry realized that what Snape had said at the beginning was true: he wasn't Draco. Not only because the pace of what they did was so different, but because Snape himself, physically, was another animal altogether. Animal would be a good choice of words, Harry thought lazily...a predator, more likely. A predator who liked to stalk his prey, play with it a bit, make it think there was a hope of escape, then pin it down again for a new bout of torture, teasing it exquisitely, until the helpless and trembling victim gave in and lay still, knowing that the end was near...only to begin it all over again.

As they moved in the bed, Snape was all angles, elbows and knees, fingers and hipbones, with little flesh on them. His skin was rough, scarred, like leather in some places, but in others unbelievably soft, mostly hairless. He was agile but graceless, as he poked and prodded to get what he wanted, when he wanted it, how he wanted it. His mouth was a marvel of articulation, able to swallow Harry whole in one fluid movement, his tongue an instrument of dexterity that had Harry begging, on more than one occasion, for mercy and for more. Harry felt blissfully used, surrendering himself to the man's mapmaking, shivering slightly at the thought of how Snape might use all this information in the future.

Harry himself drank in all the sensations and sounds and movements deep into his memory. He knew they'd be making this trip again...and again. But for now, there was only this one night to savor, and he gave himself up wholeheartedly, crying out at the sheer pleasure of all that he'd imagined, all that he'd expected, all that he'd been given, when he came...at the almost overwhelming ferocity of it. Harry smiled and bit his lip, holding on tightly, as he knew that Snape had hit his own personal nirvana.

They flew high...holding on to each other, surrounded by the sweat of the sheets, the smell of their bodies, the heat from their skin, all the tangibles of passion intertwined with a mutual wonderment and tenderness.

There was no one like Snape, Harry realized, as they lay pleasantly tangled together, their hands clasped in between them. And there never would be.

For so many years, 'home' had been an elusive concept, a dream of something he'd always wanted, the desire to belong somewhere. He'd caught glimpses and felt undercurrents of it at the Burrow when he'd been younger; he supposed the closest he'd ever come to 'being home' had been his attachment to Hogwarts.

A cliché, to be sure... the sentiment that home is where the heart is. Although it could be a physical place, one that Harry had taken steps to arrange for his future, he knew that for him, 'home' would forevermore be a person.


The first journey of many was over, by mutual agreement and exhaustion. Clean and warm beneath the coverlet, Harry lay with his back pulled snug against Snape's chest. The man's breath tickled at Harry's ear, making him smile.


"Hmm, aren't you asleep yet?" Snape stifled a yawn.

"I was thinking...since there's only one question left, maybe we could just...forget about it. Y'know, given that we've..."

"Been shamelessly passionate?"

"No," Harry nudged him with an elbow, "not just that, but I don't see where you'd need it." He moaned as Snape twisted his nipple hard, then was surprised when the man let him go, moving away so that Harry lay flat on his back.

Snape leant in over him, his hair framing his face. "I think I'd like to keep that in reserve. One never knows when such a thing will be useful," he said softly, then kissed Harry thoroughly, working their tongues together in an insistent game of hide and seek.

When Snape pulled away, Harry was breathless, but the look in Snape's eyes made him gather enough of it to ask, "What's wrong?"

Snape shook his head, then rolled Harry back to his side, tucking his face in behind Harry's ear to murmur, "You're not what I expected." He draped an arm over Harry's hip, pulling him possessively close again.

Finding the hand at his waist, Harry squeezed it as he said softly, a smile on his face, "Me neither."


Optional Epilogue~~Nineteen Years Later

The Hogwarts Express flew through the misty countryside, the swaying motion long ago putting the lone occupants of the compartment to sleep. Reminiscent of a pieta, the dark-haired wizard was propped up in a corner against the edge of the window, his head hanging forward, his long black hair almost touching the spectacled face of the man in his lap.

They were on their way back to Hogwarts, to darken its doors for the first time in nearly two decades, despite Harry's frequent intentions to visit, always thwarted for some reason or another. Minerva had invited both of them, and as neither of them, due to circumstances that had played out in the interim, worried much these days about recognition or repercussions, they'd decided to make the trip and revisit where it'd all begun, or ended, depending on one's point of view.

When the door to the compartment was violently thrown open, they both startled, Harry sitting up suddenly, while Snape shook his head, then rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand.

"Oh. Sorry...I was looking for..." The child stopped, terrified by the glare of one wizard and the fact that they were strangers on the train. Slamming the compartment door, hard enough to make Snape wince and cause Harry to smile, the child was gone.

"If that wasn't the spawn of a Weasley, then I'm a Crumple-Horned Snorkack," Snape muttered as he rubbed his forehead.

"Yeah, you're right, he was." Harry propped his chin atop Snape's shoulder, then ran his fingers along the line of the man's nose. "We have hours to go yet. What would you like to do?"

With a lazy flick of Snape's hand, the blinds snapped shut and the bolt in the lock slid home. He smiled for a moment, then turned his head to speak the words against Harry's lips. "I have an idea..." he said as he slipped his hand to the front of Harry's trousers. "Are you game?"

Harry groaned as he caught the hand and pressed it against himself. "I'm game."



1. 'The Abyss', poem by Charles Baudelaire
2. 'Hollow to a Kindred Spirit', original poem by the author.

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