Harry hunched over the workbench in the back shed, horribly aware that his wife or children could wander out to investigate at any moment. He had already readied his defence.
"Nothing important," he would say, with his famous casual grin. "Just seeing if I can remember how to brew potions after all this time. That stuff old Snape used to try to force into our thick heads. Remember him, Ginny, the evil greasy bat of the dungeons? Those were the days, ha ha!"
He slid a slim glass tube out of his pocket and held it up, turning it in the shaft of dusty golden sunlight. The glass was spotless, quivering with the magical energy of a stasis charm. Inside it, small flakes of something dark fluttered as he gently agitated the vial.
"Snape," he whispered, "Do you remember the late, great Professor Severus Snape?" He pulled the tiny cork from the top of the tube and tilted it, very slowly, until a speck floated down onto the Polyjuice Potion. It lay on the surface until a bubble popped glutinously. From the point at which the tiny fragment had become submerged, the potion began to change colour. From something as thick as mud, it cleared and thinned, changing from grey to silver and from silver to a pale, fragile green like mint tea. Harry raised his wand and put out the flame beneath the cauldron then ladled the potion into phials and put them into a rack.
Harry expected the potion to be disgusting. When he had Polyjuiced into Goyle in their second year at Hogwarts, the potion had tasted like overcooked cabbage. Harry thought that he was ready for the flavour of Snape; he expected the Potions master to taste of Death Eater: of bile, spite and bitterness. When he sniffed warily, the potion smelled of Snape's potions prep room in the dungeons of Hogwarts; the faintly medicinal, clean scents of rosemary, mint and clove, with undertones of musk and earth. He double-checked the wards and the silencing charm on the door before tilting the phial to his mouth.
Essence of Snape slid down his throat, leaving behind a tingling numbness perfumed with a delicate spice, both sharp and sweet like coriander. Harry swallowed and felt the potion spreading out, pins and needles piercing his viscera as they began to writhe and mutate under the influence of the Polyjuice. He hurriedly slid off his shoes and collapsed, panting, onto the floor as his bones cracked and stretched and his skin melted. He felt the change most in his limbs and his face. His arms and legs lengthened, the muscles reforming in distinct but subtle ways. Harry kept fit playing Quidditch and keeping up with three young children; Snape had lived a very different lifestyle.
He reached up. Fingers slightly longer than his own explored the planes and angles of a face that he had known well, a lifetime ago. The sharply angulated cheekbones slipped under his hands, the proud nose jutted against his palm.
"Snape," he whispered, "So this is what it feels like, to be you. Will you lend me your courage, d'you think? Can you do that, Severus Snape?"
Harry got to his feet, aware of the increased length of his legs. He felt shaky and coltish as the extra height gave him a different view of the room and of his body. His clothes were too short, although Snape had been slender and the fit of robes and shirt across the shoulders had not altered by much.
He cast a mirror charm; an oval reflective prism formed in the air, and Harry stared transfixed at the dark eyes that stared back. Here he was at last, Severus Snape, the greasy git of Hogwarts.
"I'm sorry," Harry whispered, "I'm so sorry. If you were a coward, it was only when you were very young. You were the bravest man I ever knew. I wish I could have saved you. No one deserved to die that day, and if I had a giant time-turner, I'd go back and kill Voldemort while you were still living, just so you could know that you hadn't worked in vain all those years."
Snape stared back. A lock of hair - slightly oily, just as Harry remembered - tumbled loose across his forehead and Harry automatically flicked it back with a jerk of his head. That movement, sharp with irritation, was pure Snape. It was as if Harry was not looking into a conjured mirror but through a window into the past. The moment was gone again as soon as Harry recognised it, for Snape's expression had never softened and broken nor his eyes clouded with sorrow as Harry's did now. He reached out, placing his hand against the quivering lens of the looking-glass charm. Harry had always assumed that the marks on Snape's hands were from handling potion, only now did he recognise the yellowish stains on the first two fingers of the right hand were the signs of a cigarette smoker. Harry thought about blemishes and marks and then he rolled up the sleeve of his robe.
The Dark Mark had gone. Whether, like clothing, it failed to transfer over through the potion, or whether this minor miracle was a sign of the redemption of Snape's soul, Harry did not care to speculate. Perhaps Voldemort's Mark could not abide the skin of the Chosen One. He felt a confused sense of sorrow and relief, glad that Snape's body and his soul were again unmarked but filled with regret that the man had not lived quite long enough to witness Voldemort's end. Even the Resurrection Stone had not brought Snape's spirit back. Maybe the presence of James and Sirius had kept him away. Harry hoped that Snape had been skulking around to look for his friend Lily again and had been able to watch Harry's victory over death and Tom Riddle. He deserved to rest in peace, secure in the knowledge that Harry appreciated what he had done, on Lily's behalf if not his own.
Harry slowly removed his robe then the shirt beneath it to reveal the torso that he had never seen in real life. He had imagined this scene over and over, fantasising a strip tease, baring Snape's creamy flesh inch by tantalising inch. The reality felt more like snooping. Snape had kept himself covered for a reason. Harry wondered whether this was modesty or shame, habit or upbringing or even, as he feared, the result of the Marauders' bullying. Anyone who had been turned upside down to display his underwear by the jeering James Potter must have been wary of similar treatment from his son.
Snape was no beauty. He was skinny and pale, his ribs criss-crossed by old scars. Although he was too lean to have a potbelly, his abdomen was slightly flabby and his muscles were neither as defined nor as firm as Harry's. Only when Harry unzipped his jeans and lowered them over Snape's hairy shanks, was he pleasantly surprised. The long, dark cock reacted with a twitch as he reached to cup the heavy balls. Harry had to admit that if anyone deserved to be better endowed than the Boy Who Lived, that person was Severus Snape. It was a shame that Snape had not made more use of these particular assets when he was alive. When Harry remembered that the entire point of this exercise was to make full use of Snape's physical attributes, he experienced such a rush of arousal that he turned giddy and the ample cock unfurled like a snake scenting its prey.
"Well," he muttered, "Not so old that you can't get it up, you greasy git?" He turned back to the enchanted mirror hanging in the air beside him and gasped, momentarily disorientated by the vision of the tall, lean, black-haired man, standing with his erect cock in hand.
Harry's fantasies of anonymous bodies, disembodied mouths and free-floating rampant pricks, of swirling robes and appraising eyes, all coalesced and became solid. Here was the body that he had hungered for in his sleep; here were the sharp eyes and the critical mouth. The Half-blood Prince of his adolescent crush had been the larva; now Snape burst forth as the mature imago, no butterfly but a wizard in black. Harry moaned and gripped the cock that was both his own and Snape's, dragging the long fingers up and down its silken-steel length, fondling the sensitive head beneath the velvet foreskin. He was Snape, he felt Snape beneath his hands, he thought of Snape masturbating alone in his rooms in the depths of Hogwarts and he came hard, in a moment of completion and loss so profoundly intermingled that he howled.
Panting, he leaned on the bench and stared at the strands of ropy semen on his hands. Was this his own come, or was it Snape's? Then he wondered in a moment of giddy shame; if he slept with Ginny now and they conceived a child, would it be his own or Snape's biological offspring? This body was not his, it was stolen from a dead man and he ought to be disgusted with himself. No one else would understand his need to confront his past, even as he battled with the urge that was bound to affect his future. His life had always been tied up with Snape's and death had not cut that connection. Harry could not stop now even if he was hurtling on a path to destruction. He spent the rest of the hour caressing himself as if he was examining a new lover, learning all the ticklish places and imperfections, the tiny features that he would have ignored on his own body. When he changed back, he felt almost bereft.
He dressed and began clearing away the evidence of his brewing, the actions soothing in their mundane familiarity. Snape would have been proud.
Autumn brought mist and drizzle to London. To Etern Alley, the narrow winding passageway just off Diagon Alley, the season imparted an air of nostalgic melancholy. Harry felt like an actor in an old film, striding through the fog in his ankle-length cloak. He could have been Sherlock Holmes pausing beneath a gaslight to get his bearings before diving into a dark doorway to don his disguise, or, in Harry's case, gulp down a spicy green potion. He propped himself in a corner while his body underwent the change, gritting his teeth at the pain in his bones and the writhing of his guts. Once his heart rate had slowed back to normal, he touched his face, double-checking that the potion had worked, before settling his magically adjusted clothes more comfortably around his waist and shoulders.
This was the first time he had transformed into Snape outside his home. He hoped to feel liberated, free to do as he wished instead of living under the constraints of being the Boy Who Lived. He would be able to slide through London in the guise of a dead man, go where he wanted without fear of someone exposing his whereabouts to the press or - he admitted this to himself with a little shiver - reporting his activities to his wife. He loved Ginny and their children but this was something out of his past, this inchoate urge, this desire that he had suppressed for a very long time. He had hoped that it would die if he ignored it, but like a fungus it had merely gone underground, spreading through his subconscious and erupting in nightmares, irrational melancholy or unexpected anger. He wanted Snape. He had secretly revisited the memories that the Potions master had bequeathed him, tipping them into a Pensieve and immersing himself in Snape's life like a swimmer diving into the sea. He watched the man and listened to his spellbinding voice, seeing him now from the point of view of an adult, not an intimidated child.
He day-dreamed impossible dreams: of obtaining a giant Time-Turner and going back to rescue the man, or bribing someone to drink Polyjuice and become Snape for him. He found himself hoping that he could walk around a corner and bump into Snape's double. Failing to obtain a Snape of his own, he would settle for masquerading as him.
Harry allowed himself to get used to his altered body, especially the unfamiliar length of leg, before daring to approach the Branch of Thyme. The pub was an old building even by the standards of Etern Alley, with its upper storey leaning across the narrow street like a gossip trying to overhear her neighbours. Trendy wine bars and bistros had not yet infiltrated Wizarding London but the Branch of Thyme was of an even earlier vintage than the Hogs Head in Hogsmeade, and appeared no less dodgy. Illuminated only by candles, it was a place of dark, twisted wooden staircases, looming barrels, seats tucked into the chimneybreasts and inglenooks, pipe smoke, dark beer and old brandy. It was also the Wizarding quarter's most notorious gay bar.
This was not the only gay pub that Harry had heard of, but it was the one where he was least likely to meet anyone he knew. He turned up his collar and walked inside, trying not to look as if his heart was pounding madly. Harry attempted to walk across the room as Snape would have walked, with an arrogant, gliding swoop.
"Evening," said the barman. He had a pale, chubby face and droopy eyes; there was a softness about him that Harry found off-putting. He had always been very disconcerted by overt camp. Harry knew that his fears were foolish, that he was unlikely to be accosted by an androgynous person in pink spandex and accused of being 'one of us', identified by some inadvertently gay signal or scent. But he still felt uncomfortable around those who were brave enough to risk arrest by revealing their orientation.
Harry opened his mouth to ask for a Firewhisky and realised that he had never spoken while wearing Snape's body. He cleared his throat and whispered his order, afraid of speaking aloud, of how he would react when he heard that smooth, silken voice outside of a Pensieve for the first time in eleven years. The barman must have been used to diffident customers; he nodded and served the drink without even raising an eyebrow.
Snape's long, ratty locks were annoying, but they did allow Harry to look around without the scrutiny being obvious. The pub was half-full, so he selected a seat in a dark corner and settled himself with his drink.
He was very aware of what was going on around him, of being assessed even while he was doing some assessing of his own. Now that he was actually here, he was unsure what the rules were; whether he should accept that he was a new boy and keep quiet, allowing others to make the first move, or whether he should be bold and approach someone. What would Snape have done?
For a start, he would never have gone into any situation without doing some groundwork. Snape would have observed the clientele, noted how they interacted and probably selected his victim before even setting foot in the place. Would he have come here at all? Would Snape, who had loved Lily Evans, have visited a gay pub? Had he remained celibate, mourning his lost love, for the rest of his life? Had he been strictly heterosexual, had he visited prostitutes, had a succession of girlfriends, or fallen in love with someone beautiful and carried on a clandestine affair at Hogwarts? Harry wanted to know. He wished that he had paid more attention when the man had been alive, taking note of all the mundane details of his life. Had Snape sneaked out to some hidden courtyard, known only to the staff, for a quick smoke between lessons? Had he spent his spare time listening to jazz, collecting old potions texts, reading pornography or breeding pygmy grindylows? Harry tried to think of an excuse to ask Hagrid, Flitwick or McGonagall, the next time he visited Hogwarts.
Someone leaned over his table and he looked up into a pair of blue eyes.
"Hello," said the stranger, a tall, broad-shouldered man with straw-coloured hair and a foreign accent. "May I sit here?"
Harry nodded and indicated the empty seat with a shrug of one shoulder. He had no idea of the expected etiquette here; how one picked up a gay partner or what blunders he might accidentally make without realising.
"I'm Johan," said the other wizard, and Harry realised how desperately unprepared he was for this adventure. He had not even bothered to think up a name! He could not introduce himself as Harry Potter, but neither would he call himself Severus Snape. How could he? This subterfuge was to protect his own reputation; but he was too much a Gryffindor to sully Snape's instead, even if the man was dead. He had gone to considerable lengths to clear Snape's name after the war; he could hardly besmirch it now. His reputation was the only thing left of the dead man.
"Jim," Harry said. It was a name that he could respond to. The word rumbled in his chest, emerged as a vibrating growl that sounded odd to him, as if he was speaking with blocked ears or a sore throat. He wondered if Snape had actually been aware of the sensual power of his voice.
"Glad to meet you, Jim."
The way he was looking at Harry, his air of smug collusion, made Harry feel both unnerved and excited. He was being picked up, in a gay bar, by a tolerably handsome, husky blond wizard.
"Where do you," Harry cleared his throat, "Where do you come from, Johan?"
"Holland," Johan replied, "I am here on holiday, seeing the sights of your Wizarding London."
"Are you enjoying your holiday?"
"Very good," Johan nodded, "Yes, it is agreeable. I have seen some very good sights." He leered. "And you, Jim? Are you on holiday too?"
Harry felt slightly disorientated by the banal nature of the interaction, the unfamiliarity of it all and the alien sound of his own voice. Johan's hand, unseen beneath the table, suddenly clamped itself onto Harry's knee. He almost knocked his drink flying in shock.
"We could go somewhere else, yes?"
Maybe this was how it should be; anonymous, dealing with a bodily function as naturally as buying a meal or visiting the gents, yet it felt wrong on a very deep level. What was he going to do with this body that had been loaned to him? Would Snape have shagged this eager, straightforward Dutchman and walked away with a clear conscience?
Harry lifted his Firewhisky and took a deep swallow, giving himself a moment to gather his courage.
"Yeah, why not?" He felt the smirk curling his own lip and remembered what Snape looked like when he smiled. "Where shall we go?"
"I have a hotel room," Johan said, standing up and ducking to avoid hitting his head on the low beams.
Harry nodded. Something hot lay in the base of his stomach, excitement and trepidation all scrambled into a heady mix spiked with adrenaline and alcohol. He wondered if Snape had ever felt like this. "Lead on," he said, in Snape's voice, and patted the pocket that held a couple of small glass phials of potion.
Harry silently let himself in through the back door, automatically resetting the wards on the cottage. He came to a dead stop in the kitchen and stared. Ginny sat at the table, wrapped in a stained housecoat and nursing a mug in both hands.
"Hi," she said, around a yawn. "How did you get on?"
"Nothing much happened." Harry forced himself to wander across the room and drop a kiss onto the top of her head, then go to the kettle and make himself tea the Muggle way, as he always did after working overnight. "Another dead boring assignment."
"Wish you could get another job," Ginny remarked.
"I always wanted to be an Auror and I like my job." He sniffed at the milk and sloshed a little into his mug. "You didn't have to wait up."
"Lily was crying and by the time I managed to get her to sleep, I was wide awake. I mean it, Harry. Being an Auror sounds wonderful but the reality is that we never seem to see you. You work these crazy hours and we don't need the money, not really." She sounded wistful and distant. "It isn't quite like I thought it would be."
"I know." Harry poured his tea and then leaned back against the counter. "Nothing ever is."
"You could work for George," she said. "He'd love that."
Harry nodded and made a noncommittal noise as he sipped the scalding tea. He had no intention of putting himself under the watchful eyes of Ginny's family on a permanent basis, much as he liked George. The thought of working in the joke shop all day made him feel as if he was about to suffocate.
"Or politics," Ginny added, "You complain enough about the Ministry, have you thought of working to change things?"
"Everyone grumbles," he said, "Kingsley does a great job, I couldn't follow that. Why don't you go back to bed for a couple of hours? I want to get my paperwork out of the way before I can sleep."
"Mum sent a fruit cake, if you want some." She waved at the cake tin on the shelf, out of reach of inquisitive children. Harry reached up without thinking.
"You okay?" Ginny asked suddenly.
"You look as if you're in pain."
"Cramp," he lied. "Got cold, hanging around doing nothing." He rubbed his thigh. "Think I might have a hot bath. You go and have a kip while the kids are quiet, go on."
Ginny nodded and wandered out. Harry let out a silent breath. When had normality become such hard work? He hung up his cloak, removing the empty phials from the pocket, casting cleaning charms over them and sending them to his Potions kit, then crept up to the bathroom, shut himself in and cast a silencing charm before turning on the taps.
He poured foaming bath salts into water that was as hot as he could bear and stepped in. He lowered himself cautiously, wincing at the burning sensation in his arse. He felt grubby and used. Johan had been amiable enough but the experience had not been what he had hoped for. He had been too nervous to be aroused and had allowed the Dutchman to bugger him only because he felt guilty. He had appeared to be a cock-tease, leading him on and then being unable to perform. He had felt so foolish, so unworldly, even though the other wizard had shrugged and muttered about older men and performance anxiety. Harry had almost said something stupid about his age before he remembered that he was impersonating Snape, who had been in his late thirties when he died but appeared older, embittered and twisted by the life he had led. He had offered himself up to his temporary partner and then fled as soon as they were finished, not caring what Johan thought of him.
Why the hell had he done it? Losing that aspect of his virginity should have been significant, not an uncomfortable, embarrassing and unsatisfying experience with a stranger. He had been searching for something, groping in the dark for an experience that turned out to be sordid; risking so much, and for what? Nothing more than a sore arse, lingering humiliation and a narrow escape from arousing Ginny's suspicions. Even as he resolved to never be so stupid again, he remembered the feel of the long, lean body he had worn so briefly, the sharp angles of it and the way he had looked out at the world with a different attitude. Even though he had acted like a Gryffindor, he had been aware, in a way that had never occurred to him before, of how a Slytherin would have behaved. Next time he became Snape, he would be that Slytherin; next time he would make plans and start behaving in a manner worthy of the arch-Slytherin himself.
Lying up to his neck in sandalwood-scented bubbles, Harry allowed the heat to sink into his body, easing away the tension. He would be more careful in future, weave his campaign more tightly into his work schedule and be more proactive in his attempts to find sexual fulfilment. He was lucky that his superiors left him to his own devices, acting on the mistaken assumption that whatever the Boy Who Lived was doing, it had to be bright, white and on the side of the Light. Instinct warned him to be circumspect and avoid arousing any more suspicions. He had a great deal to lose: family, friends and social standing would all come to grief if anyone else found out about his adventure tonight. Compared with Rita Skeeter, Death Eaters were easy to deal with. He tried not to imagine what she would make of the story; she had never forgiven him for allowing Luna Lovegood to interview him for the Quibbler immediately after Voldemort's defeat. Even Luna would be unable to put a positive spin on Harry Potter disguising himself as a dead Death Eater and hanging out in an illicit gay pub, offering himself up for sex with a complete stranger.
Jedediah Crackle smiled beatifically at the man whom he knew only as Smith.
"I've found you a lovely Death Eater."
"Really?" The thin, greying wizard did not look up from his newspaper.
"A really big one, this time, one of the inner circle."
"The inner circle is all accounted for."
"Ah, but only if you assume that the ones who died remained dead."
"In general, the Dementor's kiss is satisfyingly final." Smith turned the page and sniffed, wrinkling his nose in distaste at the garish spread of Harry and Ginny Potter opening yet another charity gala. "Not to mention Avada Kedavra."
"But this one didn't die from a kiss or a curse," Crackle said, sliding into the chair on the opposite side of the table. "This one supposedly died from snake-bite and the only witnesses were two overwrought teenagers." He leaned closer, daring Smith's personal space. The man smelled of medicinal herbs: wintergreen or pennyroyal. "I've found you, Severus Snape."
At last, Smith looked at him. Crackle rather wished that he hadn't. There was something rather flat and impersonal in that pale grey gaze, as if the man looking out did not give a damn about anything.
"Have I ever given you duff gen? I saw him myself, he came into the Branch of Thyme. I can put the memory into your Pensieve if you want!"
"How do you know that this was Snape?" Smith asked in a reasonable tone, folding the paper. His movements were always deft and controlled. Crackle had seen him take down three Death Eaters at once with equal dexterity.
"I went to Hogwarts," Crackle said, reining in his exasperation. "He only taught me Potions for five years! Everyone knew that greasy git; he was unmistakable. Murdering bastard."
"I meant," Smith said, placing the paper precisely in the centre of the table, "How do you know that this was the genuine Severus Snape, rather than someone impersonating him?"
"It wasn't a glamour, he moved like Snape and he sounded too much like Snape."
"You claim to have been taught Potions by Snape but you have obviously never heard of Polyjuice Potion."
"Of course I have," Crackle said rather too vehemently, "But Snape died eleven years ago. Who in their right mind would have saved his greasy hair for that long and only just started to use it in a potion? It doesn't make sense."
"No," Smith agreed, "It does not appear to make sense, in that you are perfectly correct. Exactly when and where did you see him, who was he with, what did he do and where did he go?"
"I was working; I could hardly go gadding after him, could I?" Crackle gave his most boyish and appealing pout but might as well not have bothered for all the notice Smith took. "He went off with some big foreign bloke."
"'He went off with some big foreign bloke' is not the sort of information for which I am prepared to pay good money," Smith said in that crisp tone that Crackle had learned not to argue with. "You will keep a discreet watch for this person and you will signal me when he appears again - if he ever does so."
"I knew you'd want to get him," Crackle said in a self-satisfied tone. "Big wheel in the Death Eaters. Do you want me to stun him if he comes in again - discreetly of course?"
"Do you truly believe that you could?"
"You think this really is Snape, don't you?"
"No," Smith said, with what sounded like infinite regret, "I do not for one moment consider that this is Severus Snape. However, we could be dealing with a very dangerous man; a man who is prepared to take enormous risks. You would be wise not to tangle with him."
"Right. Okay then, I'll just let you know if he mooches into the bar, shall I?" Clearly Smith did not consider the question worth a response. Crackle wiped his palms down his robes and nodded. He walked out into the yard with its brick walls and dented dustbins. The tiny house was the perfect place to plot, hidden in plain sight, just one dingy Muggle dwelling among thousands. Crackle suppressed a shiver and Disapparated into the night with a crack.
The barman poured Harry a Firewhisky without asking. The Branch of Thyme was quieter tonight; the customers were mostly couples or small groups. The low rumble of voices rose and fell like the sea, a soothing background murmur punctuated by gusts of laughter and the clink of glasses. Harry once again selected a seat in a dark corner and settled himself to watch and listen. The barman went out of the back door, returning after a few minutes with a crate of what looked like butterbeer bottles, which he began stacking on a shelf under the bar.
A wizard came in, drawing his wand to flick a drying charm over his damp hair and robes and then walking to the bar. The barman nodded and pulled him a pint, which the stranger sipped before looking around. He was just an ordinary middle-aged man with greying brown hair, grey eyes and a lined face. Harry had seen his type scurrying around the Ministry, behind the counters of shops or scrambling out of the public Floos every working day; yet something about this man alerted his Auror-trained senses. Although he did not appear exceptionally vigilant, the wizard had scanned the entire room with one look. Harry had done it himself; he could tell where the man's gaze lingered, in the corners where the candlelight barely reached, the doors and windows, inspecting the exits and the staircase.
He had an air of self-sufficiency, of understated confidence and purpose that was not unattractive. It was the look that some experienced Aurors had about them. Thinking about Aurors and about being an Auror, made Harry realise that he had very nearly missed the most important thing of all. The man's gaze had passed smoothly over Harry himself, not lingering for an instant, and it should have lingered. Harry was either unknown to the wizard, thus worthy of at least minimal attention, or else he was recognised as Severus Snape, a dead man walking, deserving of a second look. Harry twitched his arm and his wand slid down his sleeve into his hand, just as the stranger walked across the room towards him.
His boots were almost silent on the stone floor and his plain woollen robe whispered around his ankles. His eyes were narrow with tired-looking lids and puffy pouches beneath them, yet the wizard who looked at Harry did not appear tired at all.
Harry nodded at the empty chair and the stranger placed his beer on a mat advertising The Weird Sisters' latest tour and sat down. Harry relaxed slightly. Perhaps the man had noticed him arrive and followed him in. Excitement trickled down his spine.
"I'm Jim," he remarked. There it was, the tiniest flicker of an eyelash, so subtle that he could not tell if he saw surprise or interest or regret.
"Smith." He had a tenor voice with a curiously sensual modulation to it that made the back of Harry's neck itch.
"That's a bit ... aloof," Harry said. The man shrugged.
"I doubt that either of us is looking for commitment."
Harry looked down into his drink and pulled Snape's thin lips into what he hoped was a cynical smile, but feared was more like a grimace. What was his own obsession, if not a commitment to the Potions master's memory?
"Yeah," he muttered, "That's right. No commitment, no regrets."
Smith leaned slightly towards him as if to impart a significant truth. "I suspect that most people who come here, come to escape their commitments, don't you?"
Harry looked around, at the groups of wizards and occasional pairs of witches, huddled together as if afraid that the pools of flickering candlelight would reveal too many secrets. "You're probably right."
"I know that I am." Smith leaned back again, satisfied, and lifted his tankard. The barman, having finished stacking his shelves and disposing of the empties, reached up and fiddled with an ancient-looking wooden radio. It crackled faintly. He muttered at it and tapped it with his wand, at which it gave a little squeak and began playing quietly. Harry shivered. Melrosa Marmion was singing 'Dark-eyed Wizard'.
"Cold?" Smith enquired.
"That song." Harry did not know why he felt a need to explain. "Always makes me sad."
"Oh, my dark-eyed wizard," Melrosa did not attempt to inject excess emotion into her words, making them all the more plaintive, "How I miss my dark-eyed wizard. I wish I could have told you, I wish I could have said, all the thoughts unspoken, trapped forever in my head."
"Very touching," Smith remarked, breaking Harry's mood.
"Perhaps if you'd loved someone very much and lost them," Harry said with some asperity, "you might find the song touching too."
Smith sneered. The look should not have suited his plain features, yet there was such passion there that it seemed at home. The soul looking out was that of a cynic even if the face was bland.
"How do you know that I do not have a lifetime of unrequited love? I would not choose to make a song and dance of it, if I had. Such sentiments are for unhappily married witches, Muggles and hormonal adolescents."
"You sound like a man who had his heart broken," Harry snapped. Smith stared.
"Do I, Jim? Or do I sound like a man who does not have a heart?" He lifted his tankard, drained it, wiped his upper lip with one finger and stood up. "I have rented a room upstairs. Are you coming, or would you prefer to remain here and drown in sentiment?"
Harry swallowed his whisky and nodded, sharply, glaring. "Git," he said under his voice. The barman watched the two wizards as they went up the narrow, twisting staircase.
Smith opened the door and Harry paused, automatically casting a revealing spell before stepping into the dark, low-ceilinged room. It was very basic, just a bed, a bedside cabinet, a wooden chair, a row of hooks on the wall and a rag rug. There was a door, half open, into an equally small and functional bathroom. The window was tiny and looked out over Etern Alley; Harry could hear feet and voices as people passed by on their way home.
"Satisfied?" Smith enquired.
"Yeah." Harry cast a locking spell and a one-way silencing charm on the door. Johan had never made Harry feel this edgy and alert at any time in their brief encounter, yet he sensed no forewarning of danger. His boss would have freaked out if he had known that Harry had allowed himself to be drawn into an inn's bedroom by a stranger.
"This is one of the house's best rooms," Smith remarked, "en suite."
Harry laughed. "What do you want to do?" he asked.
Smith walked across the room to the chair. His steps were precise, smooth and predatory, and when he turned to sit down, his brown robe swirled around his legs. "I want to know. Why did you choose Severus Snape?"
Harry paused in the act of loosening the buttons of his robe. "Choose?" he asked lightly. "What do you mean, choose?"
"You are not Severus Snape," Smith said quietly. "Why did you choose to impersonate him, of all people, after all this time?"
"Perhaps he's my obsession," Harry responded. He twisted his arm a little, loosening his wand in its holster.
"How easily you admit to not being him."
"Wouldn't I deny it, if I was?"
Smith leaned his elbow on the arm of the chair, stroking his lip thoughtfully. "Would you? That depends upon whether you believe him to be saint or sinner, Death Eater or spy for the side of the Light."
"He was Dumbledore's man."
"You say that with such conviction, Jim."
"I believe it to be true. What do you think about him? Everyone over the age of twenty has an opinion."
Smith shrugged. "I have no strong feelings on the matter. Saint Harry Potter exonerated him, that seems to have white-washed the man sufficiently for the rest of the world."
"Would you be prepared to act the part of Snape?" Harry's heart leaped in his chest at the very thought, and his cock lifted inside his robes. Here was a man who could impersonate Snape! Smith's sarcasm and cynicism reminded Harry so strongly of the dead man that they could be brothers.
Smith went very still. "What do you mean?"
"Would you be prepared to drink Polyjuice and become Severus Snape for an hour?"
"You want me to pretend to be Snape?" Smith shook his head and gave a snort. "You are obsessed."
"Well? Would you?"
"What would it be worth to you?"
Harry hesitated for a moment. "I - um - well, is there anyone that you'd like me to become? Someone you've fancied?"
Smith leaned back and stretched his arms behind his head, then clasped his hands at the back of his neck. "Who would you suggest, Jim? Whose hair can you procure? Harry Potter's, for example?" He cocked an eyebrow at Harry.
Harry saw that the man expected him to flounder. Two years of intense Auror training and nine years of operational experience had honed his reactions and encouraged his Slytherin side.
"Yes." He reached into his robe pocket and brought out one of his bottles of Polyjuice. "I have Harry Potter right here. And here -" he removed another tube, "- is Severus Snape." He was thankful that he had decanted the potion into brown glass phials. If Smith knew anything about potions, he would be aware that two versions of Polyjuice were never exactly the same colour or texture.
"Really?" Smith seemed to be suppressing amusement. "Both our heroes in two little bottles? How interesting."
"I'll be Potter for you if you'll be Snape for me. Just one hour."
"I suppose that Potter's hair would be easy enough to come by," Smith remarked, "He's always dashing about, opening galas and fetes to raise money for some good cause or other, I doubt if he'd notice someone in the crowd, plucking a hair from his robe. But Snape.... How in the world did you obtain anything of Snape?"
"That's for me to know and you to wonder." Harry thought of the tube containing flakes of dried blood that he had scraped from his robes, the blood that had soaked his knees as he knelt on the floor of the Shrieking Shack beside the dying wizard. "My Polyjuice is going to wear off in a few minutes. I'll take the Harry Potter potion as soon as it does." He nodded towards the bathroom. "In there. You can stay here and take the Snape potion."
Slowly, Smith reached out and took the phial of Polyjuice. "Very well. This once, I shall take part in your little play, although I think that it may degenerate into a farce."
"Yeah," Harry said. "Just do your best, and I'll do my best to be Potter."
He went into the bathroom, shut and warded the door, leaned against it and tried not to shake.
Harry opened the door and stepped into the bedroom. The only light came from a lamp outside, shining through the un-curtained window, and a single fluttering candle on the bedside cabinet. His heart raced.
"Snape? Severus Snape?" Harry stared at the dark figure on the bed. Smith had transfigured his robes to black, they pooled around him against the pale blanket. He lay with his legs crossed at the ankles and his arms folded, head propped up on the pillow against the wall.
As a child, Harry had wondered about the meaning of his family name, with its historical references to craftsmen and modern implications of dawdling and lack of commitment. He had heard it spoken with contempt by his uncle and with awe by wizards and witches. Voldemort's tone had been a subtle mixture; yearning to dismiss Harry Potter as nothing more than an irritant yet never quite managing to subdue his apprehension. Only one person had ever spoken his name in this deep, dark voice. Harry had heard it so many times at Hogwarts, promising dire punishments, scolding, informing or dismissive. He had dreaded it, cursed it and wanted it, knowing that Snape would neither understand nor empathise with his unwelcome and unasked-for desire. Now, in the guise of himself, he could say to this false Snape those things he had never dared to reveal to the man himself.
"Your voice," Harry said, "is so sultry. I used to sit in Potions class and let it roll over me. You could make a potion recipe sound like seduction."
Smith got to his feet and Harry gasped. It was as if the man had always lived in this body. Harry, Polyjuiced as Snape, had felt awkward and clumsy, but Smith had Snape's gliding walk down perfectly. No, not Smith, Harry needed to let go of the idea of Smith for an hour. Just for one precious, irreplaceable hour, he had Severus Snape to himself and he needed to make the most of it.
"Do you wish me to seduce you now, with my voice?"
The intonation was spot on, a mixture of amusement and cynical disbelief.
"Just for an hour," Harry said, momentarily dropping out of his assumed role, "I want to be Harry Potter and I need you to be Severus Snape. Do you know enough about them to do that?"
"I believe that I could manage," Smith purred. "The idea of seducing and depraving the great hero, Harry Potter, Hogwarts' most legendary celebrity, is not unappealing to me."
Harry nodded. "Let's make it up as we go along, then."
"Of course. Shall we assume that you had an interest in me even at school?"
"No one could be indifferent to you."
Smith's eyebrow rose in what must have been feigned surprise. "Really?"
"I dreamed about you and I admired you when I knew what you were doing for the Order. At the same time, I hated you for the way you treated me. I was a kid, I couldn't get past that, couldn't understand that you were playing a role that demanded we kept our distance."
"Perhaps I had reasons for my hostility that a teenaged boy could not understand."
"You hated my father and loved my mother."
"Again, I had reasons." Smith took a step to one side, as if prowling around Harry like a great black predator.
"My father was a snob and a bully."
"How kind of you to admit it, Potter." His voice sent shivers chasing along Harry's spine.
"I was always there, reminding you of how James treated you but looking at you with Lily's eyes."
"Why did you have to masquerade as me, yet call yourself by your father's name?"
The off-hand comment created a dissonance that shook Harry with the force of a blow to the gut. Smith removed them from their little world of make-believe by referring to Harry's disguise, yet at the same time he reinforced it with a comment that was completely and utterly Snape.
"I didn't think of that," Harry admitted.
"Gryffindors never think."
"And Slytherins never make mistakes?"
Smith sniffed and Harry knew with absolute certainty that the man had been in Slytherin. He had probably known Snape; he appeared to be of the age that Snape would be now, if he had lived.
"You have fifty minutes," Smith said, "Do you wish to waste the remainder in fruitless pondering?"
"Being with you is enough. Hearing you, seeing you again. Dark-eyed wizard."
"Sentimental fool." He had the sneer to perfection.
"I told you, I have an obsession. You should know all about that."
Again, there was that slight flicker in the black eyes, that feeling that he had taken the man by surprise; surprise not only at what Harry had said but also at his own capacity to be startled out of his equanimity.
"Perhaps I wish for more than simple conversation with a sentimental Gryffindor." Smith resumed his slow-motion prowl, his robes rippling in the uncertain candlelight. "Perhaps unlike the innocent Harry Potter, I came into the Branch of Thyme seeking physical gratification."
He glided closer. Harry breathed in and caught a faint hint of the other man's scent. He smelled of smoke and herbs, a mixture that could only enhance the illusion that this was truly Snape come back to life. "Do you still believe me innocent after this length of time?"
"Na´ve, certainly. You could have been whatever you wanted to be yet you allowed them to mould you into their golden boy."
"Perhaps I wanted that." Harry could hardly breathe for the tight excitement in his chest.
"Then why are you here?" Smith sighed, stepping so close that the edges of their robes brushed together. "You foolish boy."
He leaned in, always taller than Harry, always able to overwhelm him. The first contact of their lips was like nothing Harry had ever experienced.
Until they kissed, Harry had been able to delude himself that he was doing nothing that he could not explain away. Of course he used disguises, all the Aurors did. Naturally he investigated seedy pubs and watched suspicious people. Curiosity about Snape had made him use that particular persona.
But no mission, however sordid, had ever required him to kiss another man.
The sheer wickedness of it made his guts feel as if they were rolling over inside him. There was nothing soft about Smith's lips, nothing feminine in his kiss; it was brutal, unforgiving and filled with urgent lust. It was exactly right. This was how Snape would have kissed him. Harry wrapped his arms around the taller wizard and returned the kiss, groaning into the man's mouth, crushing their lips together and sucking on his tongue. Smith shifted, setting his feet apart so that Harry was pulled in tight against him.
Harry was aroused almost to the point of pain; discovering that Smith was equally hard, to feel the evidence of his stimulation digging against his belly, took him to a level of arousal that he had never known before.
Smith moved him backwards, pushing him down onto the hard, narrow bed and going down on top of him, bony hips and ribcage pressing against him. Harry grunted and began pulling at a handful of cloth, not even aware of whether this was his own robe or Smith's. Smith pushed himself up and drew his wand.
"Idiot." Grumpy and in character as it was, Harry could detect the slightest note of amusement in the word. Smith waved his wand and the clothing rippled away from their bodies to collapse into a heap on the floor. "Doubly an idiot," Smith remarked, "You didn't even hold onto your wand. I thought Harry Potter was supposed to be an Auror?"
Harry did not care. He was too busy running his hands over the lean torso, tracing the pattern of scars with his fingertips, arching his hips until his hot cock made contact with the equally solid cock above him.
"Oh god, yes! Please!" Was that his voice, so hungry and desperate? He thrust upwards, and Smith slid a hand between them, and the stained fingers - Snape's fingers - folded around him and began to pump in long, exquisite strokes. Harry cried out and came with a shudder.
Aware of time passing by too fast, Harry could not allow himself the luxury of languishing in the afterglow of the most profoundly moving climax of his life. "You. Your turn."
Smith reached down, a thin finger easing behind Harry's balls. "I want this."
Harry nodded. Smith reached for his wand and Harry recognised one of the basic protective charms for safe sex. The second charm was not one that he knew, but its purpose was obvious. His arse filled with something cool and squishy and his belly tightened with desire. He lifted his knees and watched the shadowed face and intense black eyes as Smith reached down and pressed two, then three fingers through the ring of muscle. Smith's dark cock bobbed against his belly, leaking, glistening in the glow of the candle. As Smith caught himself in one long fingered hand and lined up with Harry's tilted arse, Harry could only think that this was how it had been meant to be. He was putting right something that had gone wrong long ago. He was becoming himself at last.
Smith slid home with a long, slow thrust and a gasp. There were no words to be said, no platitudes, because Snape would have done this in silence. Snape would have stared down with a slight frown, Snape would have seen him like this, all in one piece, and accepted him for what he was. Harry ignored the tears that leaked from the corners of his eyes. This moment was for Severus Snape; let Smith think what he wished.
Smith began to fuck him with a series of sharp snapping jerks of his hips. Harry knew what to expect and was braced for the discomfort; what he did not predict was the electric spark that lanced through him as Smith adjusted his angle to brush Harry's prostrate. Johan had not attempted to do this for him and Harry had not expected it. He shifted so that it happened on every stroke, and slid a hand between them and grasped his own cock, fisting it in time with Smith's thrusts. Smith came first, and the sight of Snape's face, utterly transcendent in the moment of release, brought Harry to his second climax.
They lay together, panting, limbs lax and intertwined, until Smith pushed himself up.
"The Polyjuice will wear off shortly," he said. His voice was clipped and business-like, acknowledging that their performance was at an end. "I leave you with this thought. There are people on both sides who wish to kill or capture Severus Snape. You would be wise to find another persona for your little adventures, lest you find yourself in deeper trouble than even Harry Potter could escape from."
He gave that little smile, the superior twist of the lips that Snape had perfected over the years. Then he turned and flicked his wand at the heap of clothing, separating it neatly and directing his own garments as they floated up and wrapped themselves around the narrow body of Severus Snape.
"Goodnight, Mr Potter," Smith said, his last word in that rich voice. Harry froze, staring into the clever, narrow face and Smith gave the faintest suspicion of a wink. Then he strode to the doorway, dismantling Harry's locking wards as he went. They had not been built to keep Smith out, but even so, it was an impressive piece of off-the-cuff magic, worthy of the Potions master himself.
Harry reached languidly for the phial in his robe pocket. Smith had a point, but it was better that he made his escape as Severus Snape rather than Harry Potter.
The barman watched Harry as he left; polishing glasses in the age-old manner of bartenders everywhere. Smith, back in the guise of the nondescript, grey-haired wizard, emerged from the gloom and settled himself on one of the stools.
"Crackle," he murmured, "Let me know immediately if he returns."
Crackle cocked his head. "Fancy him that much, do you?"
"I pay you to keep your opinions to yourself," Smith said. Crackle sniffed and poured beer into two half-pint tankards, knowing better than to argue.
November, scented with bonfires and rotting leaves, tumbled downhill towards Christmas. Harry had always loved the season in the Wizarding world. He appreciated the lanterns and candles, the holly and the conjured snow after the tawdry plastic ornaments at the Dursleys'. Every year, Harry had looked forward to Christmas at the Burrow with a childlike anticipation that made Ginny laugh; every year except this one. He found himself forcing a gaiety that he did not feel, feigning enthusiasm for planning and shopping.
Harry's love for his children had taken him by surprise; he would die to protect them and he fully understood why his mother had sacrificed herself for her baby. Harry wanted Christmas to be wonderful for his children, even though only James, at five years old, was beginning to understand what the fuss was all about. They alone gave him the will to play his part in the preparations.
"If we go to the Burrow the day before Christmas Eve, I'll have time to help Mum with the cooking," Ginny said, sitting on the floor surrounded by wrapping paper.
"Mum invited Andromeda and Teddy to stay this year."
"And Bill, Fleur and Victoire have the whole week before Bill has to go back to work."
"And Charlie is getting engaged to the ghoul."
"After George marries Minerva, of course."
"You're not listening to a word, are you?"
Harry put down the Prophet, belatedly aware that he needed to pay at least a minimum of attention.
Ginny sighed. "Harry, what's the matter?"
"Nothing. Always 'nothing'. You're hardly ever here, and when you are you won't talk to me."
"What do you want me to say?"
"Oh, how about telling me what you want to do for Christmas?"
"'The usual'. That sounds really keen and enthusiastic. If you don't want to spend Christmas at the Burrow, why don't you say so?"
"The Burrow will be fine. The kids love it and Molly adores having a house full."
"But what do you want? You always say you want a family Christmas, yet this year you've about as much enthusiasm as a wet dishcloth. You're not ill or anything, are you?"
"No, silly, I'm fine." Harry forced a grin. "Really, I'm fine. Just tired, I suppose."
"I'm going to have a word with that Kingsley Shacklebolt next time I see him, he's working you far too hard."
"No, don't. I'll get the roster sorted. Kingsley's got enough on his plate at the moment."
"That's true," Ginny admitted, much to Harry's relief. "Did you see in yesterday's paper, about that clerk from the Department of Mysteries who committed suicide?"
"No, I missed it." Harry folded the Prophet and put it aside. "I didn't get a chance to see yesterday's news."
"Another mess for poor Kingsley to try to sort out; Conway was being blackmailed and passing information abroad, they're not sure where yet. Conway was..." Ginny pulled a face, "Apparently he was caught in a compromising position with another bloke. Stupid git."
"What happened to him?" Harry asked, with a horrible sick curiosity.
"His family disowned him, his wife got an instant divorce from the Ministry and he had nowhere to go and no job." Ginny shrugged. "Served him right, stupid bastard. I don't know how he could have done it. Yuk. D'you want a mug of cocoa?"
"No," Harry said. "No, I'm going to bed."
"I'll be up in a bit." Ginny smiled at him and he made himself smile back as if he was eager for her to join him.
Harry began visiting the Branch of Thyme on a random basis, but he went disguised under a glamour rather than Polyjuiced. He very quickly realised, on turning down the third offer from a perfectly desirable wizard, that he was hoping to see Smith again and persuade him to play the part of Snape. He was reluctant to share the secret of his obsession with anyone else, partly because of the increased risk of exposure but mostly because Smith had done it so very well. The character suited him; he was so very like Snape in outlook and character. Harry even began to wonder if he would come to desire Smith for himself.
Sometimes he found himself thinking of Smith, wondering where he was and what he was doing. He tried to clamp down on the surge of desire that came in the wake of such speculation and was depressed by his inevitable failure. In his more rational moments Harry knew that he was heading for catastrophe, yet this path seemed as predestined as his youthful headlong rush towards Voldemort and war. He was too used to living under the threat of annihilation to turn aside now.
The downhill slide began in such an ordinary way that he did not recognise it until it was upon him. He had just finished feeding Lily her breakfast when someone knocked on the front door.
"I'll get it," Ginny called.
Al banged his spoon on the edge of his plate and proclaimed: "Don't like cer-ul-ul!" at the top of his voice, and James decided that now was as good a time as any to revisit a long-running argument. "Dad, I want a Quidditch broom. Why can't I have a Quidditch broom, Dad? Please can I have a broom?"
"Not until you're seven," Harry said. "You have a toy broom; you're not big enough for a racing broom yet." Realising that she was no longer the focus of his attention, Lily set up a piercing fire-siren wail and Albus smacked his spoon repeatedly on the table.
"Someone for you, Harry," Ginny said. She picked up the baby and whipped away the dish of cereal before Albus Severus could redecorate the entire kitchen with milk and Weetabix. "Don't know him, wouldn't tell me what he wanted. He's in the dining room. James, that's enough! Go and wash your hands, please. Al, now eat your breakfast, there's a good boy. Open wide and the Snitch will fly in..."
Harry rinsed his hands and went into the hall, closing the kitchen door on the domestic chaos. He was accustomed to strangers turning up on his doorstep, asking his help for everything from legitimate charities to crack-pot schemes for turning the Ministry of Magic into a home for dispossessed hags. He had not expected to walk into his own dining room and see Smith. He was seated in the carver chair, elbows on the glossy table and fingertips pressed together beneath his chin.
"Good morning, Mr Potter." Harry could not hear that tenor voice without imagining a subtle, deeper echo beneath it, a whisper of Snape.
"Hello," he said, keeping his voice light. He was not supposed to know this man. They had never met, had they? It had been Jim, not Harry Potter. As long as he kept that in mind, he was safe. "My wife didn't tell me your name."
"Smith," he said with a little curl of his lip. "Simply Smith. A simple man, you might say, with a simple message."
"Yes?" Harry smiled politely, the expression that Ginny called his 'public face for nutters'. It was very similar to his 'public face for politicians' and not too far removed from the 'public face for sycophants'.
"I am self-employed," Smith said thoughtfully. Harry tried to keep his face Slytherin and inscrutable while his heart hammered. Not for one moment must he reveal his fear.
"If you're asking for money, you need to approach one of the charitable foundations -"
"You mistake me, Mr Potter. I am neither begging nor am I attempting to blackmail you." Surely the man could not possibly blackmail Harry Potter; there was no proof of any wrongdoing. Harry nodded for him to continue. "I am a vigilante. I spend my time hunting down Death Eaters; the ones who are never brought to justice, because there is no formal proof, or they are too cunning, or they have buried themselves in the Muggle world that they used to so despise, to save their own wretched hides. I do this, you understand, because I lost someone many years ago to the Death Eaters. It has become my obsession. Do you understand obsession, Mr Potter?"
Harry stared at him, dry-mouthed and unspeaking, but Smith seemed to read an answer in his stare. Smith nodded. "I need your aid."
"What," Harry's voice cracked and he cleared his throat. "What do you expect me to do?"
"Oh, be a Gryffindor," Smith said, "Break the rules; assist me in my honourable duty when I call on you for help." He stood up, moving with smooth alacrity. "Thank you for your time, Mr Potter, you will be hearing from me shortly."
Smith was no taller than Harry, yet he loomed like a bigger man, gazing down his nose with his head tipped slightly back. "You have always been a stickler for doing the right thing, have you not? Good day to you."
When Harry went back into the kitchen, Ginny had settled Lily in her pram for a nap, Al in the playpen with building blocks and James at the table with colouring books and pencils.
"Odd-looking sort of a bloke," Ginny said, deliberately imitating Ron's manner, "What did he want?"
"Not sure." Harry rubbed the back of his neck, wondering how much he dared to say. Ginny raised her eyebrows and he realised that he had to release at least a small part of the truth against possible future repercussions. "He says he wants me to help him hunt down Death Eaters in hiding."
"Well that's what you spend quite a lot of your time doing anyway," she pointed out.
"He's some sort of vigilante. The Auror office doesn't approve of that kind of thing. You can't go around killing people just because you don't like the side they were on in the war."
"Why didn't you arrest him then?" Ginny seemed to think that it was all so simple.
"I haven't any proof that he's done anything wrong. Look, if he comes back, be a bit careful. Just in case. If I'm out, send a Patronus for me or for Ron, will you? Don't let him in if you're on your own." Seeing her eyes start to darken, he added quickly "I know you can look after yourself but think of the danger to the kids."
"Okay," Ginny said, although she sounded dubious. "If you insist."
"Good. Thanks, love." He leaned to brush against her cheek in a swift kiss because she expected it, and because he felt the gnawing acid of guilt in his guts.
The spicy potion spread out through his system, twisting him, muscle and bone, into the shape that he desired with a sick, hot longing. Harry ran his hands over himself, the bony hips and scarred ribs.
"Not as pretty as your real body," remarked the bathroom mirror.
"It isn't meant to be pretty," Harry said. "It's just damned sexy." Harry leaned over to turn on the taps and poured bubble bath into the splashing water.
"Hm," said the mirror, "Nice arse, I agree, but can't you do anything with that hair?"
"The hair comes as part of the package."
"Really, dear, it might be good as a disguise but you don't expect to go out on the pull looking like that, do you?"
"What's wrong with it?" Harry demanded, turning around. "He's the sexiest man I've ever met in my life!"
"If you say so, dear. Oh. Oh my, perhaps I was a little hasty..."
Harry glared at the oval mirror with its carved wooden frame. Two small leaves at the top raised and lowered like eyebrows and the pattern of flowers twisted into what might have been a leer.
"See something you like?" he asked coldly, reaching down to grasp his cock.
"Perhaps I see the attraction. If you like big cocks."
"Yeah, well maybe I do." Harry turned off the water and stepped into the tub. He waved a hand at the mirror to tilt it, so he could see himself clearly. The surface began to cloud and he muttered a charm to prevent it steaming up. The long, lean body glimmered through the puffs of foam, darkly furred at the crotch but otherwise almost white. Staring at his transformed body, Harry slowly soaped himself, imagining that Snape was here with him, that he was in his own body, applying lather to this man, folding his hand around that heavy, red cock, stroking it to life. His breathing deepened as his hand sped up, until he came with a muffled groan, his come disappearing into the white suds.
"That was exciting," said the mirror.
Harry reached down and inserted the tip of a finger into his arse. He wanted to feel that virile powerful cock inside him again, filling him. He wanted the hands that had always worked for his protection to hold him once again, arouse him and fold him into their grasp, where he felt utterly safe and needed. He worked the fingers into himself but they were not the same. He languished for a while, soaking in the cooling water, until the potion wore off and he twisted back into Harry.
"That was fun, dear."
"Shut up. Obliviate," Harry said, and left the bathroom.
Blankets tangled around Harry's legs as he writhed. In the emotionally charged landscape of dreams, Snape was in his arms again, pulsing with energy and passion. He could hear the hoarse, strained rhythm of their breathing and smell the odours of sweat and herbs and smoke. Even as he began to come awake, realising where he was, he tried to hold onto the dream, all the edges and angles that defined Snape in his mind. He could see the black, greasy hair and sweaty skin, the scars and imperfections, as clearly as he had seen them in the light of that one candle.
Harry opened his eyes. Of course Snape had scars, why was he thinking of scars? Scars on his arm where the Dark Mark had once been, scars on his throat; Harry could see them still, perfect in memory. He sat up, swallowing a startled curse before he woke Ginny, asleep beside him. Why had he thought about the scars?
He groped for his dressing gown and pulled it on, padding barefoot across the bedroom, down the stairs and into the study. He closed, locked and warded the door before sitting down at his desk. God, was he going mad?
He tried to think of everything he knew about Polyjuice, which admittedly was not enough. He had taken blood spilled as Snape died. The man had been injured terribly, his throat torn by the snake, so there had been no scars there, no healing could have taken place. When Harry had taken Polyjuice, his forearm had been unmarked and his throat unblemished, yet Smith-as-Snape had carried scars in both places. Harry had not noticed at the time, yet his dream had revealed what his conscious mind had forgotten. What could have happened to cause Smith to react differently to the potion?
Smith had recognised him. He knew it now, felt the reality of it in his bones. Smith had known him well enough to see through his Polyjuice disguise to the ingrained Potter personality beneath. Very few people had that close connection with Harry, and none of them would be able to impersonate Severus Snape so adroitly; none save one, and he was eleven years dead. The possibility was so frankly terrifying that Harry felt sick. He needed answers and he could not wait to get them. He summoned clothes and shoes, wrote a quick note for Ginny and left it on the kitchen table.
"Remembered something very important about a case I've been trying to crack. Should be back later today, will send Patronus if not. Love, Harry."
Then he left the house, carefully replacing the wards, and Disapparated.
"Mr Smith's here, he said if you came in, I was to send you on up," Crackle said, barely glancing up from the mulled wine he was stirring in a cauldron on the bar. "He's in the same room as before. Mind the stuffed diricawl on the landing, she's broody." He fished out a cinnamon stick and ladled wine into his own mug before turning to serve a pair of pink-cheeked, giggling witches. Harry resisted the urge to check his glamour in the mirror behind the bottles of mysterious liqueurs. He tramped up the stairs. The diricawl clucked at him and settled more comfortably on a couple of stone hot water bottles and what looked disturbingly like a Muggle hand-grenade.
Harry knocked on the door, heard someone mutter something, and so he opened it warily, his wand in his hand and defensive spells prepared, already formed non-verbally and awaiting a single syllable to trigger his formidable defensive shields.
Smith had transfigured the chair into a padded leather office chair and the bedside table into a desk. He was sitting in his robes, the collar buttoned tight against the cold. Harry felt dizzy, breathless and exhilarated, almost immobilised by a rising tide of emotion.
"You," he said, "It is you; it was always you."
The tired, grey-haired wizard stared at him, face showing nothing other than mild interest. "I beg your pardon? Jim, is it not?"
"You know who I am." Harry shut the door, casting the strongest wards and silencing spells that he could. "Don't you?"
"If I didn't before, I do now."
"That doesn't matter because I know you."
"Carnally speaking, indeed, that is true." Smith replaced his pen in the inkwell and put aside the scroll he had been working on. Now that Harry knew what to look for, he could recognise the precise, delicate movements, the planes and angles of habit imposed upon a stranger's body.
"You always helped me, despite the names I called you and the things I did to you. I've always trusted you and I'm going to trust you again now, and I want you to trust me. You did once; you gave me your most precious memories. I still have them. Trust me again. Please."
Smith leaned back in his chair, placing his fingertips together in a manner that made Harry's throat catch. "Please," Harry repeated in a whisper.
"Then remove your glamour," Smith said in a low, steady voice. "If you trust me that much."
Harry raised his wand, turned it on himself and cast Finite Incantatem. He was watching Smith as closely as he had ever watched an opponent in a duel, his senses focussed and his reflexes on a hair trigger. He saw what he had expected to see, a flicker of amusement rather than surprise.
"Will you show me an equal trust and remove yours?"
Smith shook his head. Harry felt something inside him turn from heat to ice, before he understood, his brain lagging behind his instincts. "Polyjuice?" he asked and saw Smith's lips twitch.
"Mr Potter, you are paranoid. If you wish to continue our little... game, our dramatic one-act comedic tragedy, why don't you come out and say so?"
"You're a spy," Harry snapped, "A consummate actor." He strode to the desk and leaned his fists on it, for once taking the opportunity to loom over the other man. Smith did not recoil. "I bet you've been playing this part for the last eleven years. All that vigilante stuff, getting your revenge on Death Eaters, that's you, isn't it? You worked for Voldemort's downfall and you're still working."
Smith's tiny flinch would have been invisible had Harry not been watching his eyes. The brown lashes quivered as Harry spoke the Dark Lord's name. "I told you all this."
"Why did you come to my home?" Harry leaned closer, using Auror intimidation tactics, invading the other wizard's personal space. "Why did you do that?"
"No, I don't think so. You could have found out everything you needed to know without me even being aware of it. You thought you could put me at a disadvantage, didn't you?"
"Are you suggesting that I would resort to blackmail?" Smith sounded testy.
Watching closely, Harry saw his anger, swiftly suppressed.
"Is this your Gryffindor trust and loyalty, Potter?"
"You don't want money; you want me to help you. My assistance in return for - what? Your silence? Or is there more to it than that? You really did want me, didn't you?"
Smith surged to his feet. Harry took an inadvertent step backwards and his wand slipped down into his hand but Smith whirled away, striding across the small room and turning sharply.
"You say that you understand the nature of obsession, Potter. I am obsessed; obsessed with the need for justice, or at the very least, revenge."
"Obsessed with a memory," Harry snapped.
"Then what about you?" Smith's scorn was abrasive, like a dash of sleet in the face. "Hankering for a wizard who hated you, eleven years dead!"
"It didn't feel like hatred to me." Harry was proud of himself. He had grown beyond the adolescent temper that had come between him and Snape in the past, preventing their relationship from developing into anything approaching friendship.
"I might not hate you, but Snape did."
"How do you know that?"
This was a wizard's duel of words, probing defences, sending sharp barbs back and forth like curses.
"I have a vivid imagination."
Harry shook his head.
"If you really were an ordinary wizard named Smith, you'd have slipped up by now, but you never do."
"If I was a wizard named Snape, I'd have hexed you by now."
"No, you always protected me. For my mother's sake at first and then for mine."
"Go home to your warm bed and your pretty little red-haired witch and your children, Potter. I made an error; I should not have called upon you there."
"I would have come to you, in the end."
"The Wizarding world won't have it, you know. Once you begin to slide, your fall will be spectacular. They will not accept that you have these perverted desires."
"I don't owe them anything."
Smith snorted. "Your job, your marriage, your reputation, your money, your children, your house, your racing brooms and your friends. You will lose them all, Potter! And for what? A night of sweaty sex in a narrow bed?"
Harry stared at him with a kind of shivery triumph.
"And why should you be bothered about that, Smith? Isn't that the kind of thing only Snape would care about?"
Smith stared back. Outside, the last of the drinkers were calling goodnight as they left the tavern below. "Go home, Potter."
"You can't dismiss me that easily."
"What do you want from me? Sex?"
Harry mouth curled into a smile almost against his will, and his cock curled too, twitching under his robe. "That would be nice, but I'd like you to be as honest with me as I have been with you."
"Have I refused to answer a single question?"
"Are you really Severus Snape?"
"I am Severus Snape," Smith said, and Harry's heart thudded. Then Smith added, "For you alone, here and now, I am Severus Snape." When Harry opened his mouth to protest, Smith held up a hand, an imperious gesture with echoes of the arrogant professor in total control of his dungeon classroom. "You will have to be content with this, for now. For you, this is an amusement, a diversion that you can walk away from in an hour's time. I play a more serious game."
"I'm an Auror," Harry pointed out, "and you yourself told me exactly what I stand to lose. How dare you accuse me of not taking this seriously?"
Smith's mouth twisted into a smirk that sat uncomfortably on his bland face. "Who knows what I'll need to demand from you in the future? You agreed to help me, remember."
"I did and I'll keep my word, Gryffindor's honour. I fought for your good name; did you know that? I told Voldemort that you were Dumbledore's man, in front of everyone, I told everyone how you loved my mother and how you and Dumbledore arranged his death between them, how you had fought and spied for the side of the Light all along. If you came back now, you'd be acclaimed as a hero. You were posthumously awarded an Order of Merlin, First Class; I accepted it on your behalf."
"If Snape came back now," Smith said, "what place could there be for him?"
"You could make your own place. Hogwarts would have you back, or you could research Potions or Defence Against the Dark Arts, or join the Aurors."
"How trite," Smith said, "How unadventurous, Potter. Don't you think that Severus Snape might want his freedom, that he may have needs and ambitions that you know nothing about?"
"Of course." Harry shrugged. "I'd like to get to know about them, though. I'd like to get to know you."
"You are so trusting," Smith sneered. "I could be a murdering Death Eater with a grudge, luring you here to avenge the Dark Lord. All I needed to do was dangle a hint of mystery and a larger than average cock and you fell into my hand like a ripe peach. Potter, how the hell did you ever make it as an Auror?"
"Yes," Harry breathed, "Go on. That's Snape. When uncomfortable, go for the jugular."
"A normal human reaction."
"A very normal Snape reaction. You forget that you left me a bottle full of memories. I saw how you interacted with Dumbledore."
"Snape is dead."
"Snape is alive. I know."
"There's a simple way to prove to me exactly who you are. I've been inside your mind before, remember?"
In silence, Smith reached out and placed cool fingers on Harry's cheek, the nails rasping on the slight stubble as he drew the tips down to Harry's mouth, then traced his lower lip.
He spun on his heel, walked into the bathroom and closed the door.
Smith was nothing to Harry; a shadow, a flesh and blood ghost compared with the man who walked out of the bathroom five minutes later. Harry stared into the shuttered darkness of Snape's eyes.
Smith, or Snape, inclined his head in acknowledgement. The hanks of untidy hair swung around his face, densely black in the dim light. Harry reached out, slowly, as if gentling a unicorn, and lifted a strand of hair away from his eye, where it had caught on an eyelash. Then Harry raised his wand and whispered "Lumos."
Maybe Snape had gained a few pounds in weight and more tiny wrinkles at the corners of his eyes, or perhaps Harry had not looked quite this closely at himself when Polyjuiced. The proof he sought lay elsewhere, however.
"This is my proof," Harry whispered, "Here." He laid his hand on the high collar of the old-fashioned robe and began easing the buttons undone. "You see, Snape had not scarred when his blood was spilled. The Polyjuice recreates him as he was then, not as he would be now. When I took the potion to turn into Snape, I didn't have scars on my neck or on my arm, but you do." He lifted the collar away to reveal a line of old, puckered tooth marks.
"Perhaps I am a consummate actor," the deep voice murmured close to his ear. "Perhaps I play the part in every detail."
"But how would you know where these scars were supposed to be?" Harry traced them with his fingertip, aware of the blood moving beneath the fragile white skin, the pulse beating fast under the surface. "How would Mr Smith know that she bit him here, that her fangs tore forwards, that the smaller teeth left their mark? Hermione and I saw the wounds. I'll never forget, I know exactly where they were. This proves that you are Severus Snape."
"No, it proves nothing. It may suggest things to you but it proves nothing."
Harry could no longer think of this man as Smith. He was Snape, from the top of his lank hair to the toes of his black boots.
"You have to believe in something," Harry said, "And I believe in you." He seized Snape's head, pulling it down so that their mouths were crushed together. Snape's mouth opened beneath his own, tongue and lips working, nuzzling and sucking. Harry made a mewling noise in his throat and dragged their hips and bellies together, just so that he could feel that urgent cock pressing against him. "I want you, Snape."
Snape did not reply, only shoved him roughly down onto the bed. Then they were rutting against one another, grunting and biting, in a fierce wordless battle for dominance as each wizard tried to pull off the other's robe. It was childish and macho, savage and passionate; it was sex as Harry had never imagined it. Finally Snape succeeded in hauling Harry's robe up around his head and arms, effectively tying him up in a bundle and exposing his body and legs to the chilly air. Harry bucked and struggled, then fell still as the most exquisite hot, wet mouth closed around his prick. He felt an agile tongue and the delicate, dangerous touch of teeth and stroking lips.
Ginny had never done this for him. Ginny was part of a previous existence, melting out of his memories as Snape sucked him deep and murmured around him, vibrations that thrummed around his cock and made his balls draw up in response. Blinded by the folds of fabric around his head, helpless and vulnerable, Harry had never felt so wanted or so perversely secure.
He came hard, thrusting into that open throat and seeing stars. He struggled weakly in his impromptu bonds and felt hands unfastening the robe and peeling it away. Then Snape, naked and slicked with cold sweat and stippled with gooseflesh, dropped down into his arms. Harry wrapped his legs around the taller wizard, welcoming him and opening to him.
Snape reached for his wand and cast the protective and lubrication charms, and inserted his bony fingers to prepare Harry, before sliding home with a series of thrusts. Then there were only the sounds of their breathing and the light slapping of flesh against flesh, and the creaking of the bed, until Snape came with a grunt of effort.
Harry did not want to think of anything else, only the wizard who lay sated, naked and vulnerable, his warm breath against Harry's neck, his black hair strewn across the thin pillow, but he had never been any good at Occlumency.
"I love my children." The words tumbled from Harry's mouth; he bit his lips to keep back the next and possibly more damning sentence.
"I warned you."
"I know. But I still want you."
"Then you had better prepare yourself to be torn in two, had you not, Potter?"
"Can't you call me Harry? You've had your prick up my arse and you still call me 'Potter' as if you were thinking of my father."
Snape gave a delicate little shudder. Harry sighed against his ear. "You see? Mr Smith wouldn't know the first thing about your hatred for my father. How can you still deny that you're Severus Snape?"
"Severus Snape is dead and buried."
"How did you survive such terrible loss of blood or the snake's venom?"
"I have no idea." Snape paused and then whispered, "But if I really had been Severus Snape, I would have gathered knowledge from anywhere, including Muggle medicine. I would have injected myself with Nagini's venom, tiny amounts made less deadly by heating or treatment with formaldehyde, until I built up a resistance to her bite. I would have cast a glamour, making it look as if I was bleeding far more than I really was. I would have closed my mind to anyone watching, someone such as yourself or Granger, using Occlumency, to appear to be dead. I would have applied dittany and blood-replenishing potions from my first-aid kit as soon as you left, and once I had regained a little strength, I would have found some sort of organic material, wood and cotton, soaked it with my spilled blood and transfigured it into a semblance of my own body. The blood would have provided my scent and a residual magical signature if anyone bothered to check. I would have fled into the forest and rested until I was able to escape. If I was Snape."
"And if I was Potter, I'd believe you."
"If you were Potter, you would be on your way home to your ever-loving wife."
There was a faint hint of scorn beneath the precise enunciation, a tone in which Snape used to speak of Harry's father or of Sirius Black. Harry could not imagine what Ginny had ever done to earn Severus Snape's enmity and he felt mildly aggravated and protective on her behalf. Then he realised that Snape was jealous. The idea made him feel all warm and watery inside, although their involvement was far too new for him to risk a comment.
Once could be counted as error, a young man's experiment, a one-off. Twice was deliberate, twice was a relationship. He was embarking on a gay relationship with Severus Snape. He was hot and dizzy, overwhelmed by the implication of that knowledge.
"I want to see you again." Harry whispered the words in the candlelight on a frosty night in November, words that would damn him if this man ever decided to betray him. "Shall I meet you again here?"
"No," Snape said after a long pause. "Twice, we can get away with, more than that is too risky. The barman is one of my informants but if he ever found out your identity, Merlin help us if we didn't Obliviate him fast enough. You had better come to my house. It is in a Muggle town, you can Apparate into the back yard after dark if you're careful. We'll go there now so that you will be able to recognise the place and then you must leave. I have work to do."
They got up and dressed, commonplace actions of pulling on socks and shoes, donning shirts and robes and underwear. Harry imagined what it would be like to live with this man, to watch him brush his hair and clean his teeth. He wanted it with an ache like hunger. He wanted to reach out and touch the shoulder under the formal robe, to walk side by side into shops and pubs, to acknowledge to his friends that yes, he was in love for the first time in his life. Cold sweat broke out over his skin.
Snape lifted his wand and cast a glamour over himself, reverting to Smith. Harry peered closely at him.
"It wasn't a glamour before, was it? You were Polyjuiced. Who is he?"
Snape's lips ruffled into his familiar smirk. "My reality. This will suffice for now. You had better put your own disguise in place."
Harry cast the basic charm that he used in surveillance work. When Snape gave him a mildly quizzical look, Harry shrugged. "I use this one so often that I can hold it even while I'm being attacked. Like a cover story, the simpler you keep it, the easier it is to use and the less people question it."
Snape nodded. Harry followed him down the stairs. Crackle was supervising two brooms, a mop and a dishcloth as they cleared up in the bar. He smirked and raised his mug of mulled wine.
"Bye bye, darlings. Good night, sleep tight, don't let the bedbugs bite."
Snape merely glowered as he swept through the room. Harry hurried after him.
"Idiot," Snape muttered, obviously referring to the barman. The diricawl clucked at them from its perch on the landing then stuck its head under its stubby wing. Once outside, Snape looked around, grasped Harry's arm and turned, Disapparating into the night.
Now that Harry knew how to get to Snape's home, he rather wished that he had remained in ignorance. Every time he Apparated anywhere, a subtle force seemed to draw him towards that drab industrial town. He felt like a lodestone, helplessly turning towards the North Pole. Not an hour went by without memories of Snape; Snape in candlelight, a sketch in black and pale gold; Snape naked, stretched out on the bed in a grotty inn. He remembered the sharp, brief gusts of Snape's laughter and the curve of his hip. Snape's scent lingered in the folds of Harry's clothes. He made excuses to avoid putting his robe in the laundry; 'accidentally' leaving it in the bottom of the wardrobe in a heap so that the scent intensified and he could bury his nose in it, seeking the subtle hints of sweat and sex.
He lasted four days before he Apparated back to Spinner's End.
As an Auror, Harry had been taught to arrive without a betraying crack. He slipped into being between the narrow brick walls of Snape's yard. In daylight, he looked at the battered dustbins, broken bricks and empty paint pots, then he drew his wand and cast Finite Incantatem and grinned. The illusion popped like a soap bubble, revealing window boxes and tubs of rare magical plants, thriving under their frost-repelling protective charms. Harry replaced the glamours and went to the back door.
"Tea," Snape commanded. He pointed to the kettle without looking away from the cauldron bubbling on the old gas cooker. He sprinkled powder onto the potion with precise, tiny movements of his fingers, as if keeping count of the individual grains of material. Harry closed the door and crossed the room, sliding between Snape and the table to reach for the tea caddy and teapot. He controlled a smile as he noted the jars of ingredients lined up on the shelves next to the jam, tea and bread.
"Hello to you too."
"I thought that you were at work today."
"I am. I'm investigating sightings of an ex-Death Eater in northern England. Sadly, I seem to have found no evidence at all. A shame that I'll have to turn in such a boring report."
Snape Accioed a flask, tipping it until a single drop of liquid fell into the potion. A soft sound made Harry whirl around, wand out, only to meet the sleepy gaze of a long-eared owl on top of a cupboard. Snape sniffed but said nothing as Harry filled the kettle at the sink and charmed it to come to the boil.
"You're taking unnecessary risks, coming here without prior agreement," Snape commented eventually. He tapped his wand on the cauldron and the purple flames beneath it immediately died.
"What is that you're brewing?" Harry asked.
"Did I really teach you Potions for five years, Potter?"
Harry leaned over and sniffed.
"Smells a bit like a Wit-Sharpening Potion?"
"Half a point to Gryffindor." Snape cast a cooling charm on the potion. "This is a treatment for senile dementia; you covered it in your fifth year. If I remember correctly, Longbottom blew a hole in the base of his cauldron and drenched Thomas in the stuff."
Harry leaned his hip against the counter and watched as Snape decanted the potion into a series of small bottles. The kettle boiled unnoticed for a minute before waddling over and prodding Harry in the back with its spout. He hurriedly spooned tea into the teapot and poured in the boiling water.
"Milk? Sugar?" he asked.
"Milk, no sugar."
Harry shivered slightly as he poured tea into mugs. Such mundane details were precious snippets of the man's life, to be held as close as love-letters. Harry had never written nor received a love-letter; he had dismissed such romantic gestures as girlish fripperies. Now he understood that until now, he had never been in love. The thought both thrilled and horrified him. He sipped tea and watched as Snape's deft hands capped, sealed and labelled the bottles, packing them into a box which he then shrank.
"Are you here for a reason?" Snape enquired. His tone was casual, offhand, his dark eyes fixed on his task.
"I couldn't keep away any longer."
Thus he demonstrated his vulnerability before the one man who had never betrayed him, who had always told him the truth. Black lashes flickered and Snape crooked a finger at the owl.
"Euripides," he murmured, "here. Slug and Jiggers, insist on the payment before you return, peck them until they pay. You know the drill."
The owl seized the package and fluttered to the small window, shouldered it open and flew away.
"You brew potions for sale?" Harry asked, and then felt stupid as Snape lifted an eyebrow at him.
"How do you think that I live, Potter? On moonbeams, magic and dew? Slug and Jiggers have a contract with Mr Septimius Smith for a wide range of complex medicinal and veterinary potions."
"You said that you were self-employed, hunting Death Eaters."
"I had not noticed the Ministry offering many rewards lately." Snape Scourgified his cauldron and hung it on a hook on the wall, pulled out one of the Bentwood chairs and sat down at the table. Harry sat on the opposite side. The table was so small that their legs brushed together beneath it. The contact made Harry's skin quiver, like a horse irritated by flies.
"They did at the start," Harry said. "I claimed a few."
"It soon became clear that I needed a source of income. Gringotts allowed me to access my savings, once I had convinced them that Septimius Smith was Severus Snape's cousin and I displayed a will written in Snape's own hand. I doubt if the Goblins cared a jot. Then it was a question of building my new persona and adapting to a life outside Hogwarts. I was fortunate that I still had this house."
"Do you ever want to go back?"
The look Snape gave him was scorching. "What do you think?"
Harry grinned. "You never did enjoy teaching, did you? What about being headmaster, though?"
"Oh, that was a blissful time." Snape's voice rumbled, deep and hypnotic. "Trying to keep rebellious staff and students safe while being accused by them of murder, treachery and cowardice, placating an unpredictable master with an addiction to casting the Cruciatus curse, controlling the Carrows and preventing them from murdering the students - I was in my element. The opportunity to throw myself through a window and escape proved too much of a temptation. It is much easier to protect people when they don't hate your guts, Potter."
"You hated me," Harry said softly. Snape's glance held something unexpected, amusement perhaps.
"Did I? You, as a child, were able to read the thoughts and emotions of a very experienced Occlumens, were you?" Harry felt himself blush. "Exactly," said Snape with an air of finality.
"We were both used," Harry said, privately thinking that Snape could use him however he wanted. "Dumbledore was a master of manipulation."
"He over-reached himself in the end." Snape reached for the biscuit barrel and opened it, peering inside as if examining dubious ingredients. He picked out a custard cream and placed the barrel in the exact centre of the table. "Help yourself."
Harry selected a fig roll. "He was very old, he was already dying from the curse and he saw a chance to keep you at the heart of Voldemort's little empire. He was prepared to do anything to bring Voldemort down."
"Prepared to sacrifice anything and anyone," Snape muttered. "I was expected to offer up not just my death, but what should have been the best years of my life and in the end, my very soul." He darted a wary look at Harry. "Yours too. Neither of us was ever free."
Harry nodded, munching on his biscuit. "He did no more than a general would, sending his troops into battle."
"You're still his man, after all he made you go through?"
"Yeah, of course. My kids can grow up free to do what they like because of what Albus Dumbledore did."
"Unless, of course, they grow up to be homosexual, in which case they must live in the shadows and hide their natures as we do."
Harry cocked his head. "Sounds a bit like werewolves, really, and you never had a lot of sympathy for them."
Snape slammed his mug down onto the table, the dregs of his tea splattering across the scrubbed wooden surface. The sound was as loud as a gunshot in the small room, making Harry flinch.
"As much sympathy as Lupin had for me while he was attempting to tear my throat out?"
"You still hold such a grudge, when the man's been dead for eleven years? You can blame Sirius for that one; Remus was out of it at the time as you're well aware. He was devastated afterwards when he realised what Sirius had done."
"Don't start on about Black, if you please."
"They're dead, Snape." Harry suddenly felt weary. "My father was murdered, Sirius fell through the veil, Pettigrew died by his own hand and Remus was killed in battle. Voldemort is destroyed and the entire inner circle of Death Eaters is accounted for. Your enemies are all dead and you've won. I don't expect you to bounce up and down and celebrate, but you could try letting go of some of that bitterness. You'd feel so much better if you did."
If Harry had not known better, he would have thought that the faint blush rising over Snape's prominent cheekbones was embarrassment. Snape waved a hand to clear up the spilled tea and Accioed the teapot and milk jug to refill his mug.
"Did you come here to reminisce about the good old days, Potter?"
"Not really." Harry added milk to his tea and stirred it. "Talking with you again is great but I was rather hoping to persuade you to shag me."
Snape tilted back his head, looking down his long nose at Harry, his eyes narrowed.
"This is becoming a habit."
"A dangerous one, Potter. It only needs your wife and your boss to compare notes and someone will begin asking questions. I do not believe that the Weasley family will ignore the signs that someone is cheating on one of their own. Your wife has five protective older brothers."
"Ginny," Harry said. "Her name's Ginny. Short for Ginevra."
"Your wife," Snape said harshly, "is not a stupid woman. She will suspect and I doubt she'll rest until she has some kind of answers."
"I know. I'll think of something." Harry grinned. He knew exactly what his grin looked like; he saw it often enough on the covers of magazines and newspapers. He went for charming and slightly naughty in this instance. "I'll invent a cover story that should hold for a while."
"And when it doesn't?"
"I'll wing it like I usually do."
"Randy Gryffindor," he whispered, "Gryffindor who wants you like crazy, Gryffindor who wants to throw you down and ravish you from head to toe."
Snape swallowed. The movement of his throat, his Adam's apple and the pale scars entranced Harry, making him long to slide his tongue across the tender places beneath Snape's jaw.
"Do you want me?" Harry asked softly, seeing the answer in Snape's eyes. "Naked, laid out on your bed? Desperate for you? Wanting to feel your mouth on my nipples, your hands running up and down my skin, your cock nudging at my arse? Is that what you want, Severus Snape? Because you can have it, I'm entirely yours."
"Oh, god," Snape groaned.
Harry felt his heart give a triumphant skip. "Yes, I thought so."
"Do you understand what you're doing?" Snape asked, his voice hoarse.
"Trying to convince you to have a shag?"
Snape got to his feet. He was wearing an old robe for brewing, tied with a belt over Muggle clothes. The robe gapped open over the evidence of his arousal, his chunky cock pushing at the zip of his woollen trousers.
"I have reached the age of forty-nine," he said, "having always been reduced to snatching sexual gratification when and where I could get it. I am unused to the idea that a rich, famous and not unattractive twenty-eight year old is desperate to clamber into my bed, so excuse me if I fail to react in an appropriately romantic manner. I shall not change my ways on a whim."
"If you did, I'd probably die of shock." Harry grinned, a genuine grin this time. "Do you really think I'm attractive?"
Snape growled and seized him by the shoulders, slamming their bodies together and closing his mouth over Harry's in a way that snatched the breath from his lungs and made his knees buckle.
"Bed," Harry gasped when he was able to speak, and Snape grasped his hand and half-dragged, half-led him to the stairs.
Harry had informed Ginny that he was working overnight on a surveillance job and told his boss that he would Apparate directly home after work. As long as no emergencies arose, he was safe for the entire night. A whole eight hours in bed with Snape unrolled before him like a rich tapestry strewn with delights. Harry had intended to approach the feast with due reverence, but that was impossible when Snape flung him down on the bed and piled on top of him, clawing at his robes.
"Remind me to remove the evidence before the morning," Snape said, in between sucking enthusiastically at the side of his neck and nibbling at his earlobe. "You can't go home with scratches down your back and teeth-marks on your throat."
"Hnng," said Harry, thrusting upwards in a blissful state of anticipation and desire. Snape's hand slid down and pressed against his groin and Harry whined, jerking his hips.
"Do you wish to bugger me?"
The words did not make sense at first. Eventually they trickled into Harry's hormonally crazed brain.
"Do you want to bugger me? Penetrate my arse with your cock?"
"I'm sure that you can." Snape's voice was as sinful as a tongue licking his ears. "I'm even suggesting that you may, if you wish."
"Oh my god, yes!"
"Then what are you waiting for, Potter? Get to it!"
Harry ran his hand over the lean buttocks, grabbing handfuls of cloth and tugging downwards. Snape took the hint, managing to disentangle his wand and wave it, sending their clothes to the other side of the room. The delicious slide of skin on skin made Harry moan. Snape had small, crisp hairs on his chest that scraped delightfully over Harry's nipples as they rolled over. Snape hooked his feet behind Harry's knees, pulling their bodies together so that their cocks collided, pushing against one another in a hard, damp tango of desire.
"The charm you need," Snape said breathlessly, thrusting against Harry with sharp little jerks of his hips, "is 'lubricus.'"
Harry gasped out the spell then slid a hand around behind Snape and touched the puckered orifice of his arse. He felt the ring of muscles twitch and he shivered as he pressed his fingertip inside. Snape wriggled and seemed to suck at Harry's finger, drawing it into a warm, slick channel.
"Another," Snape growled and Harry obliged, sliding two fingers into the tight heat. He felt around, eventually touching something firm through the elastic wall of Snape's arse. Snape arched and whined as if biting back a howl behind his uneven teeth. "Want you in me." His voice was rough with need; Harry had never heard anything so beautiful. He rolled over so that he lay on top of Snape, bending the long legs up so that the gasping little mouth was exposed. Lining himself up, Harry began to ease inside.
It felt perfect. Hot, silky and smoothed with lubricant, clenching around him and tight, so tight that he wanted to go slowly because he did not want to hurt Snape, yet he felt a need to force himself in deeper still, to be surrounded and claimed. Snape's head dropped back, mouth wide as he panted, eyes rolling up. "There," he groaned, "Yes, there."
Harry began to thrust; nothing would have stopped him at this stage.
"You, yes, you, always you. Want you so fucking much. You wicked, sexy, sharp-tongued bastard, want you so very much."
When he came, it was with a shout and what felt like a blaze of glory, shooting deep into the man, jerking spasmodically and then sliding down into boneless helplessness. He felt Snape moving, reversing their position and pushing up his legs, casting the lubricating charm and pressing in his fingers, then his cock. Harry clamped his legs behind Snape's arse and pulled him inside, then held on as he was pounded into the bed. He came again before they finished, pumping a few scant drops of pearly fluid from a well wrung almost dry.
"So good," he mumbled, as they subsided into a tangle of loose limbs and sweat. "Love you. You're so fucking good." His eyelids drooped shut.
"Ssh, sleep. Go to sleep now."
"Want to make the most of it while I'm here," Harry said around a jaw-cracking yawn.
"I know. Just go to sleep. We have all night." Harry fell asleep with that deep, purring voice speaking close to his ear. "We have all night to lie together, feeling each other's warmth, to touch and hold. We have tonight, Harry, one perfect night, to remember always." Harry's last thought was; did this man really claim that he was not a romantic?
Harry took a few minutes to make sense of the strange bedroom, strewn with clothes and dimly illuminated by moonlight through a bare window. He remembered where he was and sat up.
There was no reply. Harry grabbed his robe, socks and shoes, pulling them on as he groped for his wand. He cast 'Lumos' and went down the narrow stairs.
Snape sat in the old armchair, wrapped in a shapeless woollen dressing gown and staring into the empty fireplace.
"Severus, what's the matter?"
Snape looked up, his pale face appearing to float, ghostly in the light from Harry's wand.
"We need to talk."
"Okay." Harry looked around, moved a pile of books from the two-seater sofa onto the floor and took their place. "Okay, let's talk."
Snape grimaced and waved a hand at the book-lined wall and a candle flared into light in a sconce on one of the shelves. Candlelight was kind to him. His skin appeared golden rather than sallow and the shadows gave mysterious depths to his black eyes.
"Would you like tea?"
"No, thanks." Harry thought of Dumbledore and the Headmaster's office at Hogwarts. His schooldays felt very long ago and far away, like a fairytale that had happened to someone else. "What's wrong?"
Snape lifted a thin shoulder under the folds of the dressing gown.
"Us?" Harry's insides clenched. "What we're doing is against Wizarding law, yes, but nothing that feels this right can be entirely wrong, surely? How can falling in love be wrong?"
"Potter," Snape said, "Harry. You have three young children, do you not?"
Harry suspected that Snape knew how very hard he had been trying to avoid thinking of his children. He drew in a deep breath.
"Whom you love very much."
"Yes, I know. I hope," Harry said quietly, "that I can come to some sensible arrangement with Ginny. She knows how much they mean to me, that I'd never do anything to harm them. I'm sure she'd come round eventually." He did not want to think about how the rest of Ginny's family would react.
"Do you love your wife?"
"What kind of fucking stupid question is that?"
"How well do you understand one another? Are you friends?"
"Of course we are! Look, what are you trying to do?"
"There is no 'of course' about it. Do you enjoy one another's company, have interests in common, do things for one another?"
"Yes, but you know it's nothing like what I feel for you - "
Snape held up a hand.
"Acceptable marriages have been built on much less than that, Harry. That is a perfectly sound environment in which to bring up your children, wouldn't you agree? You both love them dearly, you are both prepared to make compromises for their sakes."
Harry settled back onto the sofa. It occurred to him, rather belatedly, that Snape cared about what happened to James, Albus and Lily and this was not a bad thing. He had a brief and very wonderful vision of the two of them, himself and Snape, in the garden of a cottage. The three children were helping them to harvest herbs for potions. He could see them going in the kitchen, all three gazing wide-eyed as Snape loomed through the steam over a cauldron, speaking to them in that deep, melodic voice, teaching them to ensnare the senses, bottle fame and brew glory. He imagined a succession of bright summers, the three children coming to stay over the Hogwarts holidays, learning about Severus' dry sense of humour and old-fashioned sense of honour, his sarcasm and intelligence and knowledge.
"So are you telling me that I should stay with Ginny for now?"
"For the sake of your children, yes. Twenty-seven years ago, I was indirectly responsible for a child losing both his parents. I will not be responsible for three children losing their father."
Harry sucked in a deep breath.
"Okay, I can see where you're going with this. I agree that I need to be a lot more careful. We have to devise some sort of cover - you were the spy, what do you suggest? But don't tell me that I can only see you once a month or something stupid like that, because I can't do it. I need you, Severus; now that I've found you, I can't just let you go again. You mean too much to me. You were my Half-blood Prince and I've wanted you since I was sixteen years old. You're mine and I'll fight anyone who tries to come between us."
"Gryffindor," said Snape, with a curious little smile. It was quirky and appealing, nothing like his usual smirk, as if he smiled to disguise another emotion entirely.
"Slytherin," Harry countered. "Think of a plan, Professor. What shall we do?"
"You have your clothes and your wand? You should go home to your family and prepare for Christmas."
"If you insist. Yes, you're right; I have to make more of an effort for the kids. But I want to spend some time with you over the holiday, as well. When will I see you next?"
"Don't worry about that, I have everything under control." Snape took a deep breath. "I shall never leave you pining for me. If you are ready," he whispered, "if you are prepared." Something about the words caught Harry's attention, maybe the tremor in the deep voice, the echo of another voice speaking those words; their intimations of loss and pain. He felt something touch the back of his hair and glanced around to see the tip of Snape's wand. Snape took in another breath and let it out again; it ghosted across the side of Harry's neck like a lover's kiss. "Do you trust me, Harry?"
"Of course I trust you, you silly git! Oh, you're going to get rid of those love-bites, aren't you? Don't let me forget."
"You really are an idiot," Snape said. "I intend you to forget a little more than that." Everything whirled and began to fade as that voice, deep as the sea, dark as the night, shaking with barely constrained passion, murmured "Obliviate."
"What if I'm in Slytherin?" Al asked.
Harry crouched down so that his son's face was slightly above his own. Alone of Harry's three children, Albus had inherited Lily's eyes. Ginny pretended to wave to Ron and Hermione's daughter, Rose, who was already on the train. No one noticed the very ordinary middle-aged man nearby, turned slightly away as if saying goodbye to someone of his own.
"Albus Severus," Harry said quietly, "you were named for two headmasters of Hogwarts. One of them was a Slytherin and he was probably the bravest man I ever knew."
"But just say -"
"- then Slytherin house will have gained an excellent student, won't it? It doesn't matter to us, Al. But if it matters to you, you'll be able to choose Gryffindor over Slytherin. The Sorting Hat takes your choice into account."
"It did for me," said Harry.
The grey-haired wizard's mouth quirked into a little smirk as he moved away another couple of yards and thrust his hands deep into the pockets of his drab brown robe. Harry stood up and waved to his sons, trying not to look as if this temporary parting was a small bereavement. Perhaps he noticed the stranger watching him. He was used to being stared at, even though his scar had faded almost to nothing over the years and had never hurt again.
As the train pulled out of the station with much puffing and bellowing of steam and waving of hands and shouts of farewell, Lily grabbed her father's arm. Ginny absent-mindedly reached for Harry's other hand.
"They'll be fine," Ginny said bracingly and Harry forced a smile.
"Yeah, I know. Another two years and we'll be free at last." His love for his children was so clear and profound that he was able to make a joke of it.
"Ha ha," Lily said. "I bet you'll miss me far more than you miss the boys." She swung on his hand. "I'm much more peaceful and sensible and nice than they are, aren't I?"
"Of course," Harry said, "But you have to promise not to tell them. We wouldn't want to hurt their feelings."
"Where shall we go for lunch, then?" Ron Weasley asked. "I could murder a pint."
"You're going to get fat if you don't watch it," Hermione said. "I need to call in at the Ministry after lunch, so let's find something in London."
"'Mione, you're a workaholic," her husband grumbled.
"I promised Kingsley I'd let him have my notes so he can read them before the Wizengamot's meeting next week." She indicated the small bag swinging from her arm.
"I suppose you've got half a library in there as usual," Harry said.
"Only my report."
"What's this, the campaign for equality for goblins?" Ginny asked, "or is it the house elves again?"
"No. We're trying to get the laws against homosexuality repealed. Honestly, the Wizarding world is a century behind the times! Even Muggles consider that anything that happens between consenting adults is no-one's business except their own."
Ron muttered something. Hermione glared and he shrugged.
"Let 'em get on with it, I don't care as long as I don't have to know the intimate details of what they get up to."
"What do homosexuals do that makes people hate them so much?" Hugo asked and Hermione cleared her throat, obviously trying not to laugh.
"We'll talk about it later," Ron said.
"Good luck, Hermione," Harry said. "You know I'm happy to come and throw my weight around if you want me to, I'm right there with you."
"I know you are and I appreciate it. Come on, let's get something to eat, I'm starving. I fancy fish, d'you think we could find that pub we went to last year? The one that does whitebait and jellied eels and that excellent sole?"
They moved away, walking out of the station into the golden autumn sunlight. "How odd," Harry mused as they waited to cross the road, "I was just talking to Albus about Snape and I suppose that made me think about him. Just then, I could have sworn I smelled his potions."
"Lots of people brew potions, Harry."
"I know, but you remember there was always a particular herbal smell about him, wintergreen or something, a bracing, tangy sort of smell. It was almost as if he's watching over us, you know? Like a guardian angel."
"Some bloody angel," Ron muttered and earned a glare from his wife.
"You swore, Uncle Ron," Lily said cheerfully.
"Severus Snape was enough to make anyone swear. He was a greasy, sadistic old git, wasn't he? He always had it in for you, Harry."
"He was a hero," Harry stated in a cool, emphatic voice. "He never deserved what happened to him and he should be remembered with respect, right? We owe him everything. Let's go and find that pub that does good fish, for Hermione." He frowned as if momentarily troubled by something that he could not quite remember and he raised his hand absent-mindedly and touched the lightning scar on his forehead.
"And even better beer, I hope," Ron added.
The wizard watched them as they dashed through the traffic, then he nodded and turned away, melting into the London crowds like a drift of smoke.
The viscous Polyjuice potion bubbled in the bottom of Harry's old school cauldron. He frowned as he lifted a tiny glass tube to the sunlight, rolling it so that the flakes of dried blood turned over.
"Snape," he muttered, "Severus Snape." He tipped the tube until a single fragment fluttered down into the potion. "How could I have forgotten about you for all these years? I wonder what you'd be doing now, if you had survived?" The potion turned translucent green and Harry smelled something sharp and invigorating; mint, wintergreen and rosemary.
He decanted the potion into phials, working swiftly before Lily or Ginny came to see what he was doing, then cleaned the cauldron and replaced it on the shelf. He hid the rack of phials behind a pile of plant pots; all except one, which he slipped into the inner pocket of his robe.
As he walked out of the shed, the phial knocked against his ribs, beating a soft rhythm like the throbbing of a second heart.
"Snape," he said, "I wonder what it would be like, to be you...?"