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A flood of light against his eyes called Harry back to consciousness. Reluctantly, Harry opened his eyes to find himself in his office, curled uncomfortably over his desk, his head pillowed on his folded arms. The empty containers from last night's working dinner sat dismally on the round table at the centre of his office, along with two empty bottles and two plastic cups half-full of forgotten wine.

His stomach jumped and sank simultaneously. Gasping softly, he straightened up to confirm he was, indeed, alone. He scrubbed his hands over his face and rubbed at his eyes as though to rid them of images of the night before. They weren't images so much as sensory memories of urgency and need. Hot wet breaths and hands full of hair, mouth full of salty skin. He took a deep breath from behind his hands and shivered as his senses were flooded with the unidentifiable scent that Harry could only name Severus Snape.

"Fuck," he breathed, scratching at his head to divert his attention away from the damning stir in his trousers. What had he been thinking?

Despite the fact that the two men had managed to forge a working relationship, their association was not what anyone would call friendly. The countless heated arguments, the barbed comments, the insults were all a part of daily business since they'd taken Snape on as a consultant on the case two months ago. Harry felt pretty certain that there was no one on Earth who could wind him up as easily as Severus Snape.

And that included his ex-wife.

But while he couldn't live with Ginny anymore, he trusted her intrinsically. She would never do anything to deliberately humiliate him or to discredit him. He could count on Snape's discretion when it was important, but he was far less certain that the man would have a care for anything as trivial as Harry's reputation. To choose Snape as his first post-marital sex partner in the Wizarding world proved that Harry was every bit as foolish as Snape always accused him of being.

Not that it was a conscious choice, of course. In fact, he couldn't be sure how it happened.

He'd been about to call it a day when Snape came in with news from his informant that a shipment of unicorn blood was due to be delivered to a warehouse in London on Boxing Day. Trade in the stuff was illegal, but the quantity involved made it particularly interesting in light of the case they'd been collaborating on. Snape had long ago identified it as a key ingredient in the potion he'd been brought in to analyse. It had the effects of the Imperius curse, but, unlike the Imperius curse, couldn't be fought. The unicorn blood served to counteract the poisons in the potion for as long as it was drunk. The victims quickly perished once they were taken into custody for committing crimes they never intended to commit.

Snape's intelligence put paid to any hope Harry had of spending Christmas Eve with the children. The two men ordered takeaway, and spent the rest of the night going over the evidence to ensure that they had a clear enough case to send Aurors into a potentially fatal situation.

The wine had, in retrospect, been a bad idea. Thankfully, it had been Snape's bad idea.

"I may be stuck here with you on Christmas Eve, but I will not forfeit my yearly ritual," he'd said with enough bitterness to make Harry insist that he didn't have to be stuck anywhere.

"I can do this on my own."

Harry could still recall the patronising smile with which his declaration had been met. It still set his teeth on edge. Snape offered over the second bottle and told him, "This one is yours."

There was something about the man that had Harry perpetually on the defensive, ready to spring like a tightly wound coil at the slightest perceived insult. The night before hadn't been any different. The tension between the two was palpable, but morphed into something significantly more charged as the night wore on. Suddenly, Harry became all too conscious of the heat of the other man pressed close as they peered at the same documents. The spot where their knees touched under the table kept drawing Harry's attention until Snape snapped at him that if he were going to sacrifice his holiday, the least Harry could do was ensure the evening was productive.

If Harry could blame the wine for his distraction, it might have been better. But at that point, he'd not even finished the first glass.

"Do you ever get tired of being a twat?"

"Do you ever get tired of being a scatterbrained idiot?"

"No. I save it all for you, Professor."

It was the first time he could remember hearing Snape laugh. It was over quickly, but the humour was genuine. Harry recalled feeling stupidly triumphant that he'd been the one to incite it.

The door to his office opened abruptly, snapping Harry out of his reverie. Snape stood staring at him from the corridor. "If you're going to call a meeting on Christmas morning, you should at least have the decency to turn up," he said stiffly.

Harry searched the man's expression for some recognition of what they'd done and found nothing. Nothing but the habitual disdain with which the man looked at him. Severus' eyes turned toward the table and then back toward Harry. "You shouldn't drink on the job, Potter. It's unprofessional."

A slow smirk followed his words. The door closed against any response Harry might have made. Harry slumped back in his chair and covered his face with his Snape-scented hands. What had he been thinking?

"You've not been home at all, have you, mate?" Ron said with a disapproving grimace when he hurried into the meeting room. Seven tired, disgruntled Aurors sat nursing cups of tea and sorely regretting their career choice.

Harry gave his friend a sheepish look and began distributing the report he and Severus had worked on all night.

Most of the night.

His eyes turned toward his unlikely partner, who sat quietly in a chair in the corner of the room. He willed himself not to blush, but it was useless. He felt the heat rise to his face. His hand shook slightly as he poured himself a cup of tea.

"We have a lead. It might be our best shot of catching up to these arseholes," he said, his voice surprisingly steady. He only needed to avoid meeting that gaze he could feel was on him. He focussed his attention on the details of the case, relating the intel Snape had received and the proposed strategy they'd come up with for the operation.

"We can't be sure they'll even be there to pick the stuff up," Grayson pointed out. "We don't need more drones. They can't tell us anything we don't already know." The older man gave Harry a challenging stare. Harry bristled at the word "drones", which the force had adopted to describe those under the influence of the potion. They were victims, for fuck's sake.

"The value of the merchandise will guarantee they won't entrust the task to drugged men and women," Snape countered, his mouth curling into a sneer. "I don't expect to catch the mastermind, but you can be sure someone lucid and relatively important will be there to manage the sale."

"Along with a significant number of guards," Ron said balefully.

Harry shook his head. "Not too many. They're doing this in broad daylight three blocks from the high street on the busiest shopping day of the year. They won't want to call attention to themselves."

Harry turned to the whiteboard and began drawing out a rough map of the area, marking all known exits from the information Snape had provided the night before. He tried to suppress a memory of watching the man draw out a much clearer version of this same map. Of watching the long-fingered hand curl around the quill and move with quick, precise strokes. Of how that same hand had burrowed into his trousers to curl around his cock and draw out pleasure with the same level of calculation.

Harry shook his head to dislodge the image and turned. His eyes got caught on the man staring at him with a startling intensity that made him feel slightly breathless. Snape blinked once and the look was gone.

"We want wards ..." Harry said, his mouth feeling dry all of a sudden. He picked up his mug to take a sip of tea and swallowed the lukewarm liquid gratefully. "Disapparation wards on the place. Although Sev-" He caught himself before he could complete the word.

"I'm told they'll be using a white van," Snape completed, standing. Although no one else was likely to notice, Harry distinctly saw the smugness in his expression. "But it is possible that the more important visitors will apparate in. We only need to ensure they cannot disapparate out again."

Harry shot Snape a quick glare and squared his shoulders, ignoring the befuddling proximity of the man. Snape was a bloody consultant, and this was his show. "Fenley, I'd like you to contact Martin from transportation and see what you can do to get something in place today...."

The meeting quickly became a focussed discussion of tactics and resources that would be needed. Harry congratulated himself on managing to stay mostly concentrated on the task at hand, even though Snape hadn't moved away and, indeed, seemed intent on shattering Harry's already shaky reserve.

"Back up should be readily available, but not immediately on scene. I want as few people as possible in on this until we're there. We have the element of surprise on our hands and we eight can probably handle whatever protection they've brought with them," Harry said as the meeting was closing up.

"We are nine, Mr Potter," Snape drawled with a stubborn look.

Harry's eyebrows shot up in surprise. There was no way he was going to allow Snape on site. The very idea made something inside him recoil violently. "You're not an Auror, Mr Snape," he insisted calmly. "You're too valuable to this case to risk you in this operation," he added to soften the blow.

An eyebrow arched. "And when did you become expendable, Mr Potter?"

"Have I not always been, Professor?" he retorted with far too much bitterness, he realised too late. Snape looked as though he'd just been slapped. It was a low blow, for all it was inherently true.

The atmosphere in the room was tense. It normally was when he and Snape were together. This team had often been witness to their quarrels, and they now looked on with a nervous sort of excitement.

But Harry wasn't in the mood to put on a show. He was tired and not just a little confused. It was Christmas. He had to see his kids, and find a moment to sleep properly before tomorrow's raid. Harry judiciously ignored Snape's stony gaze, and sent the team off to perform the various tasks with which they'd been gifted this Christmas.

He put his head down and looked at nothing at all as he left the room, walking determinedly toward his office to gather his things to leave. "Harry?"

He could hear the thudding of Ron's feet as he jogged to catch up. Harry stopped and turned.

"You all right, mate? You seem a little off."

"Late night," he said dismissively.

Ron offered a sympathetic smile. "Late night with Snape," he clarified.

Harry pulled his expression into a complicit smile, letting Ron believe what he chose to believe as to the nature of the night spent. There was no way in hell he'd be telling the truth. "Yeah."

"I don't know why you wind him up so much."

"I wind him up?" Harry exclaimed incredulously. "Seriously?" Harry started walking again.

"You going to try and tell me that comment wasn't meant to wind him up? After the years he spent protecting your arse. Come on, Harry."

Harry frowned as a sudden streak of guilt coursed through him. Ron was right, of course. There was a time, after the war, when Harry had practically hero-worshipped the man. For his bravery. For his dedication. For the devotion the man showed to the task of keeping Harry safe, whatever his motivation for doing so. He could, even now, recall the rage in the man's expression when Dumbledore told him the truth of what needed to be done. His anguish that all of his efforts would amount to nothing.

Of course, Harry had lived. Miraculously, so had Snape. Harry recalled visiting the man's bedside at St Mungo's, looking down at the frail, pale figure of his unlikely champion. He visited only once, but sent a disgustingly long letter of thanks to the man, along with the imparted memories. It was years before he saw him again. Harry had felt that he owed the man peace and knew instinctually that his own presence would be counterproductive to that peace. So, he'd left him alone.

And then, this case happened. Suddenly, Harry found himself reverting to his angry sixteen-year-old self whenever Snape spoke to him. It only made what happened the night before that much more difficult to understand.

Harry left Ron's remark unanswered and stalked into his office. He froze at the sight of the remnants of last night's feast. Mindful of Ron's presence just behind him, he cast his eyes around the room to check for damning evidence. His throat closed as he spotted a very clear stain on the carpet.

"Dunno, Harry. It doesn't look like you two were hard at work," Ron said glibly, spying the wine bottles. "Imagine you having a romantic dinner with Snape," he teased.

Harry stepped into the room and stood with his feet at awkward angles in an attempt to hide the evidence of just how close Ron was to the truth. "Ha ha," he said dryly, and then waved his wand to banish the mess on the table.

Ron laughed heartily and clapped him on the shoulder. "All that fiery passion has to be good for something," Ron jibed.

Harry was not going to blush. He wasn't going to ... bugger. "So not funny, Ron," he said darkly.

"You want to head out with me? You're coming to the Burrow, right?"

"I'll meet you there," Harry said weakly. "I have something to take care of first."

"Don't be too late. Or you'll spend the day fighting with Gin, and it's just not as entertaining as watching you and Snape."

Ron left the office, oblivious to Harry's death glare. Harry waved the door shut and sank to his knees, intent on scourgifying the carpet clean. From this angle, he could see traces smeared over his desk as well. Harry put his hand to his face and noticed, not without some regret, that the smell had faded.

Snape kissed him first, he remembered, closing his eyes to better see it. They'd finished the report and had been sitting, finishing off the wine and talking. It was business, mostly. Harry was ruminating as to how great it would be if this really turned out to be the big break. If by the New Year the case would be closed. When he realised that Snape might interpret his musings as a desire to be rid of him, Harry had meant only to compliment the man on his work. He'd meant to say, "I don't know what we'd have done without you."

Only it didn't quite come out that way.

His heart had stopped as soon as the words left his mouth. They echoed through his head, mocking him. I don't know what I'll do without you. Oh, he tried to cover it with a laugh and a shaky, "You know what I mean." But he couldn't take the words back, and Snape had looked at him with his intent, dark stare that one could get trapped in if one wasn't careful.

He'd stood, intent on putting distance between him and the man to whom he'd been sitting too close. He leant against the edge of his desk and wrapped his arms defensively around himself. "You didn't have to stay tonight, you know," he said in an attempt to chase away his slip-up.

Snape stood and made a show of smoothing down his robes. "Nonsense," he said in a wry tone. "I'm paid by the hour and can charge double-time for working on Christmas Eve." He smirked and was suddenly close again. Close enough to touch without having to reach far.

Harry straightened up. "I suppose I should send you home now, then," he said with a smile, "before you fleece the Ministry any more than you have." He had to tilt his head back slightly to see the man properly.

There was a moment of silence that drew on and practically sizzled with restlessness. Harry had known in that moment everything that was going to happen. He had known then that everything had led up to this, and that it was right. He'd licked his lips in preparation.

It hadn't seemed so weird last night. Perhaps it was the wine, or the strangeness of being in a quiet, isolated space with a man who had the power to make him crazy with very little effort. Snape kissed him first, but Harry escalated it. His entire body reacted to the man's touch. Like a hunting dog finally let off its lead, he lunged into action. Suddenly it was all breath and skin, tongues and hands everywhere.

It was good. It was fucking amazing.

His flesh tingled at the memory of it. He inhaled sharply to try and take in what was left of the man's smell.

The door opened. Snape's eyes fell to where Harry knelt on the ground, sniffing his hands like an idiot. His eyes moved toward the stain and a very genuine smile briefly took hold of his mouth.

Harry groaned and fell sideways to sit on his arse. He slumped against the front of his desk and drew his knees to his chest. "Go away," he said miserably.

Severus closed the door and leant against it. "What will you do without me?" he taunted.

Harry snorted mirthlessly. "Dunno. Get through one day without acting the prat," he suggested. "Go back to a life where I'm not angry and confused and shagging someone who's hated me my whole life."

"We shagged. We are not shagging. There's a subtle but significant difference, Potter. Unless we're making plans to carry on this affair, the use of present continuous is unjustified."

"That's what you're going to correct me on?" Harry said incredulously. He refused to consider whether he wanted the use of present continuous (whatever the hell that meant) to be justified.

Snape laughed. Harry wished he'd stop that because he was beginning to like the sound. In the silence that followed, Harry rather wished the man would laugh again.

Harry aimed his wand at the stain and struck it from his carpet.

"Do you regret it?" Snape asked.

Yes, Harry thought firmly, but chose not to say so aloud. "Should I?" he muttered sullenly. He pulled himself from the floor and sat back against the edge of his desk. When he looked again at Snape, he wasn't surprised to find the man staring at him. "Do you?"

Snape shook his head. "I regret many things in my life, but I make it a point not to regret taking pleasure where it is freely offered."

Harry's mouth curved into a small smile. He grunted. "It's a good rule."

"Unless, of course, the experience proves to be not worth the effort of removing my clothes." Snape's smirk deepened. His eyes glittered wickedly.

Harry narrowed his eyes. "And was it worth the effort?" he asked with a defensive edge to his voice.

"I don't recall bothering to remove my clothes."

Harry's stomach lurched inexplicably in a not unpleasant way. Images of himself bent over his desk, trousers pushed down to hug his thighs, robes hiked up around his back as Snape pounded into him flashed before his eyes. He took a quick breath to still his rampant heart. It was futile to wish the blush from his face, but he tried anyway. His eyes slid down Snape's body. He decided that he only regretted his haste from the night before. "I suppose it was a bit rushed," he said with a sheepish smile.

"Quite. But as it's not every day that a man who's hated me his whole life throws himself at me, I thought I'd take advantage of the opportunity before you changed your mind."

"I didn't throw myself at you," Harry said irritably. He ignored any memory that would indicate the contrary.

"That's what you're going to correct me on?" Severus said wryly.

Harry laughed. "I don't hate you. You just ... drive me round the bend," he finished with a grin.

"I suppose we have that in common," Snape said. "No one gets under my skin quite like you, Mr Potter." There was something in the tone of the man's voice that sent a thrill racing down Harry's spine. His mind was momentarily awash with all the ways he would have liked to get under this man's skin. Had he taken his time.

"As you pointed out, I've never even seen your skin, Professor." His eyes met Snape's, and then he was trapped. Enveloped in the glittering darkness that seemed to suck the breath from him.

Snape dropped his eyes after a moment and let out a breath. "I suspect you have Christmas duties."

Harry blinked. "Yeah," he said, suddenly regretful.

Snape nodded curtly. "Then, I shall leave you to it. You'll send my regards to Albus Severus," he said with an amused smirk.

Harry managed not to cringe. In retrospect, and particularly in light of recent events, the name had been a mistake. Wishing to run as far away from that subject as possible, Harry said, "I'll let you know how it goes tomorrow."

A flash of irritation crossed the man's face. His jaw clenched under his smooth pale skin.

"It's not the first time I've done this, you know. I'm not inept."

"Believe it or not, I don't think you're inept. But you seem to forget that the scar on your forehead is a target that any dark wizard will naturally aim for."

"It's my job, Sev-" Shit.

Snape smirked. "Two attempts in one morning. Someday you might muster up the courage to finish that word."

"Sorry."

"As you've pointed out, we are shagging. I suppose addressing me familiarly is a next logical step."

"Have shagged," Harry reminded him impudently. "It's my job. My partner will be there to watch my back."

"Grayson," Severus sneered. "He's an arrogant fool. You'll forgive me if I'm not quite reassured."

Harry rolled his eyes. "He's got ten years' experience on me. He's an arsehole, but he's not incompetent."

"We clearly have different definitions of competent."

Harry laughed. "Your saving people thing is as bad as mine."

"Saving people thing," Snape repeated. "I do not have a saving people thing, Mr Potter. My protective impulses are more targeted."

The admission made Harry feel inexplicably warm. A smile blossomed on his face. "I know," he said. "And you can call me Harry. We're shagging after all."

"Are we?"

Harry bit his bottom lip to try and contain the grin that threatened to stretch across his face. "I'll be careful ... Severus."

Severus jerked his head forward into a nod. "Happy Christmas," he muttered roughly before turning to leave. He stopped as he opened the door and turned his head. Only his nose was visible in profile as it peeked out from a curtain of dark hair. "You are not expendable, Harry," he said harshly, and then was gone.

As Harry retired later that night, belly full of Molly's cooking, heart full of Christmas cheer, he couldn't help wondering how Severus had spent his Christmas. He wondered if he, too, had spent the day warding off random attacks of memory that would leave him standing dazed and mildly aroused throughout the day. Ginny had accused him of being distracted. Ron helpfully supplied that he'd been up all night wining and dining Snape. Much piss-taking ensued and a good laugh was had by all at Harry's expense.

Harry hadn't minded. He was too busy imagining the looks on their faces were he to ever tell them the truth. He thought if he and Severus ever made it to present continuous, he might take some small pleasure in doing so.

**

Harry awoke, frowning at the disturbingly bright lights that shone from behind his eyelids. He squinted against the fuzzy glare of them. A ginger head entered his field of vision.

"Ron?" he croaked.

He tried to sit up and his body protested painfully. He hissed as a spike of pain, originating in his back, streaked down all four of his limbs.

"Welcome back, mate," Ron said, with a note of relief in his voice.

Harry blinked. "Where the hell am I?" he asked, casting his mind through the fog settled over his brain to find the answer to his question. The last thing he recalled clearly was pursuing a very large and well-dressed wizard who was frantically searching for an exit to the warehouse.

"St. Mungo's," Ron said. "You've been in a healing sleep for four days."

But he hadn't been hurt. He distinctly remembered petrifying the wizard before he could make his escape. He remembered calling to Grayson to give him a hand carrying the man upstairs.

And Grayson raised his wand.

"It was Grayson," Harry breathed in disbelief.

"We know. He came back to the office with Colter, the wizard you two were chasing. He told us you'd be along shortly. That you'd ordered him to get Colter into the holding cells. When an hour passed and you hadn't come, we were worried. I thought Snape was going to kill him."

"Snape?" A slight jolt in his stomach made him feel vaguely nauseous.

"He was at the office, waiting. He slammed Grayson against the wall and started shouting at him. Grayson looked like he would wet himself. I think I might have, too, if Snape had been looking at me like that. He kept asking where you'd gone, and why he'd not followed. Calling him every name under the sun for having left you in the first place. Grayson kept repeating that he had only followed orders. It might have been funny, except I was just as furious. Finally Snape just slammed him against the wall one more time and stormed out of the room, asking to have a word with me.

"He'd used Legilimency against Grayson to try and get a picture of where you'd run off to and saw Grayson stunning you and then burying you under a load of those crates that were in the warehouse. He obliviated Colter to make sure he couldn't say anything."

Harry felt rather numb as he listened to the story. He'd never liked Grayson, but he never suspected he was corrupt. Grayson was the only one on the force who still resented Harry's promotion to captain. As Harry felt the resentment was partly justified, he never really pushed the issue with the man. "But why?" he asked.

"Jealousy, mate. He wanted to be the one who brought Colter in. He thought with you out the way, he'd be next in line for captain."

"But why didn't he just kill me, then?" Harry asked.

"He knew we'd search for you eventually. He stunned you so you wouldn't come to before your injuries could kill you. By the time we got a clear idea of where he'd left you, you'd have been dead, Harry. He wanted to make it look like an accident."

Harry could hear the edge of anger to his friend's voice. "So, how did you find me?" He suspected the answer before Ron gave it.

"Snape found you. While we were interrogating Grayson, he went back to the warehouse. By the time our men got there, he was carrying you out."

Harry groaned miserably. "He's going to be insufferably smug."

"He saved your life, Harry. You were crushed and had nearly bled out. The medi-witch said that without the healing he performed on site, you'd not be here. Let him be smug," Ron said pointedly. His voice was softer when he said, "He didn't look smug the last time I saw him. He looked pretty rough, actually. I popped in two days ago to check on you before work and found him in here. I think he'd been talking to you, but he stopped when I came in. He told me that the healers said you were going to pull through, and then he left."

Harry remembered coming to see Severus after the war and spending an hour babbling at the unconscious man. Knowing Severus wasn't likely to remember what was said had freed his tongue. While it may not have done Severus any good, it made Harry feel loads better. He wondered vaguely if there was some magical way of finding out what a freely speaking Severus had said to him.

"Did we get anything useful out of Colter?"

"Colter is the man behind the potion. We were able to close down the lab, but he doesn't know who he was working for. They sent the drones in to collect the batches once a week, but he doesn't know what happened to them after that. He's just the supplier."

"Damn," Harry cursed.

"We've crippled them for now," Ron pointed out. "Colter kept the formula close to his chest and without the supply, they're going to have to find other ways to get their business done."

"Without the potion, all those people will die," Harry said dully.

"They're already dead, mate. At least they can't make more of them."

Somehow, it didn't make Harry feel any better. Potions could be reverse-engineered, after all. The Ministry hadn't cracked it yet, but Snape was already able to identify most of the ingredients. Given enough time and motivation, Harry felt sure they'd work it out. He just hoped the MLE could catch up with them before that happened.

A medi-wizard stepped in and smiled to see Harry was awake. Ron took his leave at the words 'sponge bath'.

It was only the next day, when standing in front of his mirror, that Harry appreciated just how close to dead he must have been. There was scarcely an inch of his skin that was not bruised. While his bones had healed nicely and his skull was no longer bashed in on one side, his skin still bore the marks of the trauma. The healers had all been amazed he didn't seem to have any lasting brain damage. He was, once again, a magical miracle. The Auror who lived.

Harry was at the Burrow where an impromptu New Year's Eve/Harry's not dead yet celebration had been called. No one touched him when he arrived, but he could see them holding back. Molly's eyes flooded with tears at the sight of him. Even his children, who routinely tackled him as soon as he entered a room, hung back with frightened expressions.

"It looks much worse than it is," he assured them, lowering himself down to pull them into his arms. He kissed each one on the head.

"I don't want you to be an Auror anymore, Dad," James sniffed.

Harry felt a familiar twinge of guilt regarding his chosen career path. This time it was difficult to reassure them that he was never in any real danger. That he was very careful and would never do anything that would take him away from them. His throat tightened, and he hugged the children closer. As he straightened up, his eyes met Ginny's. Her lips tightened into a grim line before she pulled away from her boyfriend, Jon, to wrap her arms around Harry. He noted with a wince that she was holding nothing back.

"I'll kill you myself if you ever do anything like that again," she said fiercely.

"What? You mean get attacked by one of my own men?" Harry responded irritably. It wasn't as if he'd been careless. He'd not taken any undue risks.

"The kids need you, Harry."

"Give it a rest, Gin," Ron said, pulling her away, making way for Hermione to move in.

Encouraged that Harry wasn't about to break any time soon, the rest of them lined up to reassure themselves that Harry was still there. Harry had just about got through the line of waiting Weasleys when the doorbell chimed.

"Glad you're ok, Harry," Teddy said, squeezing his shoulder gently, before looking up beyond Harry's shoulder.

The room had gone quiet. Harry turned.

He was unprepared for the inundation of emotion that swept through him at the sight of the man. Surprise, first and foremost that the man would appear here, of all places. Gratitude that the man had saved him warred with embarrassment that he'd needed saving. Pulling all the emotions together was an overpowering feeling of affection that left Harry feeling breathless.

"Severus, I'm so glad you could come," Molly said, rushing forward to pull the man into the embrace she hadn't dared give Harry. If Harry hadn't been fighting the impulse to do the same, he might have been amused by the awkward look on the man's face.

"We can't thank you enough," Arthur said, clapping the man on the shoulder.

Severus nodded with a tight smile. His eyes met Harry's with a guarded expression. "How are you feeling?"

Harry's legs rooted him to the spot. His entire body was tense with the struggle of keeping himself from moving closer. "I can't complain," he said quietly. "Thanks to you," he followed with what he hoped to be a suitably sheepish expression.

Severus stared at him until Harry began to fidget nervously. "It could have been prevented," the man said through clenched teeth.

A spike of irritation tore through a curious longing, helping to ground Harry in familiarity. "He'd have got to me eventually," he argued. "Or were you going to shadow me for the rest of my career?"

Harry was unaware of the tense silence in the room as the two men stood stiffly, glaring at each other. Molly stepped between them. "I suppose we should feel grateful that Severus was there this time," she said with forced cheer, tugging Severus further into the house and out of range of Harry's spiteful gaze. The rest of the group trickled out of the entry way and into the front room.

Harry frowned and tried to calm the indignation raging within.

"Fucking hell, mate. Would it kill you to be civil?" Ron growled into his ear.

"You know as well as I that I couldn't let him join us. He had no authority to be there," Harry insisted.

"I don't know anyone but you who would have objected to him coming along," Ron said irritably. "Technically, his assignment ended after he analysed the potion, but you didn't have any problems with him doing a little private investigation on the side. Just admit it, Harry. You didn't want him there because you didn't want him to get hurt. At least accept that that's the one thing you two have in common and call a bloody truce."

Ron's irritation with him was befuddling. Harry turned as his best friend left to join the rest of the party. He was right, of course. While Harry couldn't have allowed Severus to come in any official capacity, he could have chosen to ignore the man's presence on the day. Severus wouldn't have been able to make arrests, but as a civilian, it would be his civic duty to aid law enforcement were he to be found, incidentally, at the scene. Harry's logic was repelled at the idea of Severus engaged in battle. The man had sacrificed himself quite enough, Harry thought.

He recognised his hypocrisy, but refused to correct it.

When he entered the sitting room, he found one chair reserved for him and lowered himself gently into it. Severus was engaged in a conversation with George, who'd occasionally solicited Severus' services for product research. Judging by the frequent thuddings and muffled din from upstairs, the children had chosen to remove themselves away from the watchful eyes of the adults.

Jon looked up at him from where he was sitting on the floor to Harry's right. He offered Harry a sympathetic grimace. "You look like hell," he said.

"Hm," Harry grunted. "Congratulations on your win against Bulgaria," he said, redirecting the conversation. "By all accounts, it was a great game."

Jon's grin spread across his face. He was an attractive man, although Ginny couldn't have chosen someone less like Harry. Where Harry was a bit on the thin side and dark, John was well-muscled and fair. He was a nice enough bloke, and he and Harry had managed to get along well enough once Harry's jealousy had waned. "We stuffed 'em," he said. The man's eyes flickered to Severus. "He's not changed at all, has he?"

Harry's eyes followed the other man's. He was right, of course. Severus hadn't changed at all in the twenty years since the war. He wasn't as thin as he'd been in the years he'd been working as a spy. His skin looked somewhat less sallow now that the man wasn't living in dungeons. But largely, the man was precisely the same as he had been when Harry was at school. Only, when Harry was at school, he'd not quite noticed how gracefully the man moved. He'd not remarked the seductive quality of that low voice. He'd not quite appreciated how the carefully restrained anger, with which the man seemed to buzz, could be converted into sexual energy with electrifying results.

Harry shook his head in response to the other man and pointedly returned his gaze to his knees.

"It's nice not to be the only Slytherin in the lion's den," the man said with a wry laugh.

Harry snorted. "You've spent enough time here to be considered an honorary Gryffindor," Harry teased with a smile that hurt to maintain.

"Perish the thought."

Harry glanced up again to find Severus looking at him. His eyes seemed to darken, causing Harry's heart to speed up, pumping the blood to his face. Harry averted his gaze and grasped for strength.

"Rachel," George called over, interrupting her discussion with Ginny. "Remind me to get a photo of Harry. I think I want the front room precisely that shade of purple under his eye."

Harry shot the man a bland look. "Ha. Ha. Perhaps you'd like a closer inspection of the colours of my –" He stopped himself, recalling where he was. Arthur gave him an amused smile. Thankfully, Molly was busy in the kitchen.

Harry caught sight of Severus' raised eyebrow, which sent his insides roiling uncomfortably. He raised his hand to the mottled skin at the side of his face self-consciously. He was a hideous wreck, he knew. Normally, around this lot, he wouldn't care so much, but Severus' eyes on him made him regret his hasty departure from the hospital that morning. The staff were not pleased with his decision to check himself out, but as he was mostly healed, but for the bruising, they hadn't insisted. The bruising would fade on its own, he'd reasoned, and he hadn't been concerned with vanity at the time.

He was now acutely aware that the sight of his naked body was repulsive.

Not that he was planning on anyone seeing it. Not really.

"I have something at the lab that will help," Severus offered. "If Mr Potter will deign to accept my help," he added.

Harry clenched his jaw. He could feel Ron's quelling look directed at him. The entire room seemed to be holding its breath in anticipation of his reaction. Hermione reached up to put a calming hand on his knee.

"Thanks," Harry muttered. The air was suddenly warm with the collective sigh of relief. Harry shot Ron a look that said, "And you say I wind him up." Ron offered him a small smile of encouragement.

As dinner was served, the family took their places at the table, with the children relegated to a smaller table in the sitting room. The guests of honour were placed at the centre of the table, sitting next to each other. Given the sheer number of people that now made up the Weasley family, Harry and Severus were pressed together like sardines in a tin. Although Severus' attention was taken with his former student and fellow Slytherin, Harry felt ridiculously thankful that Severus was sitting on his good side – or his less bruised side, anyway.

After awhile, Harry stopped tensing every time his leg brushed Severus'. He stopped muttering awkward apologies whenever his arm nudged the other man's. The conversation was remarkably light and grew more festive the emptier the wine bottles became. Severus went on at length about his career as a consultant, accepting the light-hearted teasing from George that sales skyrocketed when Severus retired as a teacher and joined "the dark side." "Although," George said, "he charges an ear and a leg."

Everyone around the table groaned at the joke. Having seen what Severus regularly charged for his services, he knew for a fact that George was paying a pittance compared to the man's standard rate. Harry felt certain that Severus' guilt over the accident had something to do with that. He unconsciously pressed his leg against the other man's.

Severus glanced over at him, and Harry withdrew his leg. Severus shifted in his seat. "Just don't let him work for you on Christmas Eve," Harry said dryly. "You'll have no profits left."

"I flatter myself to think the services rendered far exceeded the price the Ministry paid," Severus said with a smirking tone only Harry truly understood.

Harry felt his face heat up, and he felt suddenly very pleased with the bruises on his face. The room went still in anticipation of his response. They mistook his comment as another barbed wind-up. And it was, but not in the same way they were thinking. When Harry laughed at the ridiculous situation, the atmosphere in the room lightened again. Severus' arm brushed his in a way that didn't seem quite accidental.

"From what we heard, it wasn't all work," Ginny said slyly. "Unless Harry routinely drinks two bottles of wine at the office."

Harry gave in to the need to cover his face with his hand, thinking it wouldn't be too out of character for him to do so. His other hand stole under the table to press against the outside of Severus' thigh.

"I'll take responsibility for the wine," Severus said. "I gift myself with a particularly fine Bordeaux every Christmas Eve and wasn't inclined to deprive myself of the pleasure." Severus brought his own hand under the table to brush against Harry's.

"And I wasn't inclined to let him drink alone," Harry said steadily. "It was very good wine." Severus withdrew his hand. Harry slid his foot over, tapping it against Severus'. He glanced over to see the man's remarkably impassive expression. He hated him for the ease with which he maintained it.

"You will, of course, be duly charged for the cost," Severus said jokingly. Or at least his tone was joking. Harry wouldn't put it past the Slytherin to try.

"Of course," Harry said, rolling his eyes. Everyone laughed, completely missing Harry's expression falter as Severus' clever foot slid up his calf. The notion that he was effectively playing footsy with Severus Snape in front of his whole family set his heart to pounding again.

"What will you do now, Severus?" Arthur asked him. "Now that the potions part of the case is settled, I don't suppose you'll be working for Harry anymore."

Harry felt momentarily gutted at the realisation that Arthur was right. Now that they had Colter, there was no clear reason for Severus to be on the case. He'd managed to justify the cost of keeping Severus on owing to Severus' network of rather dubious contacts in the potions world, but now that the potions portion was settled, there was no longer any reason to work closely with the man. No reason to see the man regularly. To spend hours alternating between argument and collaboration. There was no longer any pretext for going to see the man at his lab, which just happened to double as his home.

"There's no shortage of work," Severus said. "I have a few clients lined up."

"Well, we'll miss having you around," Ron told the man. "It's been entertaining watching you and Harry at each other's throats every day. Like being at school again, without having to worry about losing points."

The room filled with laughter that Harry wasn't able to join. He felt strangely bereft, which was ridiculous as he'd certainly not enjoyed fighting with Severus the past few months. He wasn't going to miss the constant feeling of anger and defensiveness.

But he might miss the quieter moments when the two men put their equally hard heads together and worked over the different problems that were presented. He might miss the times in between the business discussions, in which they would simply talk about nothing in particular over a cup of tea in Severus' kitchen. Theirs was a fraught relationship filled with a strange, tense energy even in their best moments, but Harry had grown strangely attached to it.

"Harry? Are you all right, dear? You're looking pale," Molly said.

Harry looked up. After a moment, he managed a weak smile. "'M fine. A bit tired," he lied. He studiously ignored the dark gaze directed at him.

"Of course you are," Molly said. "You poor dear. I'll bring out the puddings and then you can go upstairs and have a lie down."

"I'm fine to go home, Molly. Really. I'm eager to sleep in my own bed."

She looked sceptical. "Ron will make sure you get there all right," she said decisively, without checking to see that Ron was willing to curtail his New Year's festivities to play escort to Harry. She waved her wand to send the remains of dinner to the kitchen, before disappearing back to the kitchen.

"You don't have to take me home," Harry assured his friend. "I'm fine."

"You'll have to convince mum, mate," Ron said darkly.

"I can make sure he makes it home," Severus volunteered. "I wouldn't want you to miss out on the party."

Ron cast a vaguely hopeful look in Harry's direction, but Harry's brain was suddenly abuzz with possibilities, and so he could do nothing more than offer a conceding nod. Ron grinned and drained his wine glass in celebration.

Hermione shot her husband an annoyed look. "You don't have to, Professor. I'll make sure Harry gets home."

"It's no trouble at all. I didn't plan on staying past dinner anyway. We can stop at my lab on the way and I'll give Harry something for the bruising."

Harry's heart leapt at the sound of his name. He could tell by the shocked looks on the faces of those around him that Severus' slip into familiarity had not gone unnoticed. Harry bit the inside of his lips to keep from grinning like a lunatic and looked down at the empty space on the table in front of him to try and keep from laughing.

"I'm sure Harry will be grateful," Arthur said. Harry couldn't be sure if he'd not noticed Severus' slip, or if he was simply moving everyone away from the awkward moment.

A well-aimed kick to his newly re-grown shin made Harry hiss in pain. He kicked back in protest, and then looked up to find all eyes on him. "Still a bit sore," he covered badly.

Puddings arrived and were every bit as wonderful as Harry expected. As excited has he'd initially been at Severus' offer to take him home, he was now beginning to feel reluctant to let the man. He was plagued by flashes of memory of inspecting his bruised body in the mirror. If Severus took him home with the idea of escalating the covert flirtation happening under the table, Harry thought he man would quickly change his mind at the sight of him. As dinner wrapped up, Severus looked over with a question clear in his gaze. "Are you ready?"

Harry frowned, but nodded, intent on reassuring the man when they left that he didn't need an escort. He went to the children's table to say goodbye to the kids. Once he'd released Albus, the boy moved past him.

"Thank you for saving our dad, Mr Snape," he said.

Harry turned to see Severus' eyes trained on the boy. "Albus, is it?" he intoned.

He couldn't see Al's face, but saw the boy nod. "Albus Severus, sir," he said with a definite note of pride in his voice.

"So, I've heard." He looked up with an amused expression. "You needn't thank me, Albus Severus. Your father is a very important man. I wouldn't like to think what we would do without him."

Harry stopped breathing a moment when Severus met his eyes. Something warm unfurled inside him and it was all he could do not to walk over and kiss the man. He turned instead to bid goodbye to his other two children, Teddy and then the rest of the group.

When Ginny came up to hug him, she whispered in his ear, "Is there something we should know?"

Harry pulled back to see the woman's shrewd gaze. "What do you mean?" he asked weakly. She nodded meaningfully toward where Severus was saying goodbye to George. There was little point in trying to deny her instincts as after many years of marriage, the woman could read him like an open book. He shook his head. "Not yet," he said quietly with a pleading look.

A small smile appeared on her lips. She turned to Severus and held out her hand. "I'm going to call you Severus, if that's all right," she said brazenly. "Calling you Mr Snape feels weird, and Professor is inaccurate."

The man appeared surprised and amused by her audacity. "Severus is fine," he said.

"Thank you, Severus. Even if he's too proud to admit it, Harry's very lucky to have you looking after him."

Harry made a face behind her head.

It took ages to make the rounds but eventually they found themselves alone outside the Burrow. Severus offered his arm without a word.

Harry took a deep breath. "I'm fine to go on my own," he told the man. "I know I'm a mess, but it's not as bad as it looks."

"I told Molly that I would see you home. I intend to keep my promise," the man said stubbornly.

"It's really not necessary, Severus," Harry said, desperation entering his voice.

Severus turned to give him a studious look. "If I didn't know better, Mr Potter, I'd think you were afraid of being alone with me."

Harry gave a frustrated snort. "Don't be an arse," he growled, hand closing over the man's forearm.

Severus narrowed his eyes a moment before disapparating. They arrived in Severus' kitchen. Severus took his leave to go to his lab and returned moments later with a blue jar. Harry held out his hand to accept it. Severus stared balefully at the open palm.

"Thanks," Harry said insistently. "I'll go home and slather some of that on me. I'll owl you in a few days," he said, hoping Severus would take the hint without much of a fight.

"The salve requires an incantation to work," Severus told him.

Harry sighed and dropped his hand. "You don't have anything simpler?"

"I could petrify you to force you into submission," Severus suggested.

Harry pursed his lips together. "Just forget it. It's just bruising. They'll fade on their own," he said. "I'll see you in a few days."

"Do you mind telling me what the hell your problem is?" Severus snapped. "Unless I've completely misinterpreted the signals this evening during dinner, I can't think that your reluctance stems from what we did the other day. If you think I'm taking you home with the intention of doing anything other than healing you, let me assure you it's the furthest thing from my mind at the moment."

"I don't want you to see me, okay?" Harry shouted back. "I'm a fucking mess and I'd rather you not see it."

After a moment of gaping, Severus laughed. "You're forgetting that I'm the one who found you. Whatever you look like now, let me assure you that I've seen much worse."

It didn't help to know that every bruise on his body blazed like a thousand I-told-you-sos. Harry frowned at the floor in front of his feet. Severus' finger curled under his chin, forcing him to look up. The man wore a dark, unfathomable expression. "Every time I look at you, Harry, I have to fight an impulse to commit murder. At least let me take care of the bruises. We can do it here if you prefer."

Harry swallowed back his misplaced dignity and curled his hand over Severus arm.

They apparated in front of Harry's building in Diagon Alley and climbed the stairs to the small, but cheerful two-bedroom flat. Harry pushed through the door and kicked off his shoes before turning to Severus with a hesitant smile. "My flat," he said with a sweeping gesture.

"Not exactly the lap of luxury one might expect a national treasure to live in," he said wryly.

"National treasure?"

"Apparently, you've not been keeping up with the press," Severus said with an amused smile.

Harry gave him a dark look. "I must have missed that one. I saw a bit this morning, and it put me off my breakfast." He laughed. "You obviously knew where I lived." The man had apparated them here, after all.

"I didn't say I was surprised."

Severus bent down to remove his boots.

"Would you like a drink? I don't have any wine, but I think I've got some beer or ... whisky?"

"No, thank you," Severus said. "Perhaps after," he amended, straightening up. Harry looked down at the man's long feet clad in black socks. For some strange reason, the sight set his stomach fluttering nervously. Ridiculous considering what the two men had already done. They were just feet.

"Do you want to do this here? Or in the bedroom?" Harry couldn't quite meet the man's eyes.

Severus' voice sounded thick with amusement when he answered, "It'll be easier if you're lying down. I promise your virtue is safe with me."

Harry snorted. His virtue, such as it was, was the least of his worries. Harry led the way back to his bedroom, wincing slightly at the sorry state of the place. He kicked his discarded clothing into a corner and turned an apologetic grimace toward the man. "Sorry for the mess. I wasn't expecting visitors." Apart from Ginny, the kids and his friends, Severus was the first person to be in his bedroom.

Severus ignored his apology in favour of stepping toward him, forcing his way past Harry's awkwardness to tug up the hem of Harry's jumper. Harry lifted his arms compliantly, shutting his eyes as the thing was pulled over his head and discarded onto the floor. He bit his cheek when cool, careful fingers slid over his ribs, eliciting a shiver.

"Does it hurt?"

Harry shook his head. "A bit tender."

Severus' fingers went to the waist of his jeans to release the button. "Are you familiar with the Muggle nursery rhyme, Humpty Dumpty.

Harry opened his eyes, forgetting his embarrassment for a moment in favour of looking at the man with a curious expression. "The egg?" he recalled vaguely.

"Hm." Severus pushed his jeans down to pool at his feet and stepped around Harry's body, fingers trailing over the mottled skin. "That's what you looked like when I found you." There was an hard edge to his voice. Carefully restrained fury. Harry accepted the comment as the admonishment it was intended to be. His tension fled him in a defeated sigh.

"I'm sorry," he said, twisting around to look at the man. "I wish you didn't have to see that. And I'm ridiculously grateful that you were there." He was grateful. He just couldn't help but wish that someone else had saved him this time. He couldn't help but feel it threw the dynamic of their whole relationship off. They'd managed something resembling equality in the past few months, and now Harry was forced into sheepishness again - the perpetual victim with Severus as his knight in billowing black robes.

"If I see that man again, I will kill him," Severus said. It was a statement of cold fact that sent a shiver down Harry's spine.

"I suppose it's good he's likely to be locked in Azkaban for a long, long time," Harry said. "I'd hate to have to arrest you for avenging me." He gave a hopeless little smile.

"I never thought I'd have cause to regret the dismissal of the Dementors," Severus said wryly.

Harry smiled and turned completely to lay a hand on the man's shoulder. "It turned out well in the end," he reminded the man.

Severus' hand lay against his side, cool against the low ache there. "Go and lie down. I'll start with your back first."

Harry did as he was told, settling on his belly and watching the man drape his robes and then his jacket over the laden clothes horse. He approached the bed carrying the jar of salve, wearing a long white tunic and black trousers. He set the jar down and rolled up his sleeves, standing beside the bed. He unscrewed the top from the jar and dipped his fingers in to gather the livid green gloop. Harry groaned at the thought of being painted such a horrid colour.

"God. As if I don't look hideous enough?" he complained weakly.

"Your vanity is growing tiresome," Severus sighed. "Do I need to reassure your ego, Mr Potter?"

Harry laughed and closed his eyes. "It couldn't hurt," he said with a painful grin.

"Shh," Severus bid him as he touched Harry's shoulder with his slick fingers. His wand touched Harry's skin and Harry closed his eyes as the man began to chant in a low, mellifluous voice. The heat of the magic followed his progression, easing the discomfort as Severus went along. Harry let his mind be swept away with the cadence of Severus' voice, only vaguely conscious of the man's progress until he felt his pants being pulled away from his arse. His eyes shot open, and then slid closed when it was clear that Severus only saw flesh to be healed.

Harry frowned and tried to ignore his disappointment. He concentrated on the sound of Severus' voice and not the fingers slipping over his arse.

By the time the man made it to his feet, Harry was lilting on the edge of sleep. He turned at Severus' bidding and yawned. Belatedly, he spared a thought for his sheets, which he imagined would be irreparably stained. He dismissed the thought as unimportant.

Severus bent over him, the green salve on his fingers poised over Harry's face. Harry gave him an awkward smile before shutting his eyes, fighting away any mental image of himself resembling Frankenstein's creature. Severus' exasperated sigh puffed over his face. "You're a beautiful man, regardless of the colour of your skin," he assured him with a bland tone.

Harry laughed and then relaxed his face as Severus reprised the chanting. He spent a long time tending to the left side of his face before moving to tend to the smaller bruises on the right side. Harry had a harder time drifting away as the man progressed down his torso. He bit down on his lip to keep himself grounded, but his effort proved futile as the fingers smoothed over his sensitive nipple. He thought he detected the slightest hitch in the flow of the incantation, but decided he'd imagined it, as Severus made his inexorable descent down his body.

There was no damage to heal in his nether regions. Harry wasn't sure if that was a good thing or not as it meant that part of him was completely by-passed. Harry opened his eyes and looked down to see the man working over his legs. He was surprised to find that his skin wasn't green at all. In fact, it was nearly skin coloured again with a yellow tinge as the bruises continued to fade. A wave of sincere gratitude rushed through him. He fell back to the bed with a sigh.

"I'm not green," he said with a smile when the chanting stopped. He opened one eye to see the man staring up at him from the bottom of the bed.

"More's the pity. Green is a good colour on you," Severus said with a smirk.

"You could have said something."

"I could have," Severus said. He walked up to set the jar on Harry's table.

Harry scooted over to give the man room and sat up against his headboard. "But you like to torture me."

Severus sat at the edge of the bed and gave him a dark look. "Hm. It's tempting, but I'm disinclined to do anything that will risk breaking you again."

Harry rolled his eyes. "I'm fine," he insisted. "Good as new." He spread his arms demonstratively.

"You've had most of the bones in your body re-grown. They can hold you upright, but they're still very brittle. I know the hospital explained all this to you when you decided to check yourself out early."

Harry smiled guiltily. "How did you know?"

Severus gave him an irritated look. "Because I'm not an idiot. And I have my sources."

"You went to visit me, didn't you? That explains why you subjected yourself to a Weasley family party."

Harry knew he had it right when Severus' glare deepened. He judiciously changed the subject. "Do you want a drink now?"

Severus shook his head. "I'll go and let you rest."

Harry frowned. "Or you can stay and have a drink," he offered again. "It's not even midnight yet."

Severus looked at him a long moment before nodding. "Just the one," he said.

He stood from the bed and Harry slipped out and into his dressing gown before going to the kitchen to fetch glasses. When he came back to the sitting room, he found Severus staring at the framed photo of his mum and dad. His heart sank sickeningly. He cleared his throat. "I suppose you're rethinking your pleasure philosophy now," he said, trying for a wry voice and only managing to sound slightly less sullen.

Severus replaced the frame on the mantelpiece and turned to accept the glass of firewhisky. He looked at Harry thoughtfully a moment before shaking his head. "I'm not an impulsive man, Harry. I weigh consequences carefully before acting. If I thought I would regret shagging you, I'd not have done it."

Harry sat down on the settee and gathered his courage to ask, "Had you thought about it?" Harry hadn't consciously thought about being with Severus before it happened. He'd had three dreams over the past two months that had made it difficult to look the man in the eye the next day, but it wasn't something he dwelled on. It was true that he often got hard when they were arguing, but he'd ceased considering it. He also often got hard in battle, after all. It was his body's response to adrenaline.

Or so he'd told himself. Severus sat down beside him. "It wasn't premeditated," he said evasively.

Harry grinned. "I'll take that as a yes."

"I wasn't aware you were that way inclined," Severus said before sipping his drink. "If the press is to be believed, you've not so much as dated since your divorce."

"Good to know you've been keeping tabs," he said teasingly, punctuating his remark with a playful nudge of his shoulder. "And despite all that, you kissed me anyway."

"Only because you wanted me to," Severus said with a poorly suppressed smile.

"What gave you that idea?"

"You'd been fighting it all night. Rubbing up against me, practically panting. I just put you out of your misery."

"You ... I ..." Harry spluttered, trying to find a way to argue with the man. "I was not panting." He'd been admittedly distracted by the man's proximity. By the absolute stillness around them. By the almost complete lack of animosity that only made the nervous tension between them unbearable. "You weren't exactly reluctant," Harry pointed out stubbornly.

Severus laughed. "I wasn't reluctant. I admit I was pleasantly surprised by your enthusiasm. I'd not expected you to be ... experienced in such matters."

"Ah," Harry said and then hid his grin in his glass. He felt the heat rise to his face, aware now that there were no bruises to hide it.

Severus ran a finger over his flushed cheek. "How long have you been sleeping with men?"

Harry took a sip from his glass before placing it on the table. "Since a few months after Gin and I separated. I started going out on my own in Muggle London. One night I was at a club and joined a group of people who invited me to an after-hours party," he explained. "Only it wasn't the sort of party I'd expected."

He glanced over to see the predictable look of surprise on Severus' face. "The boy who lived involved in orgies," he said wryly. "Who'd have thought?"

Harry put a hand over his eyes and laughed. "Yeah, well, not me. But I was there and it had been awhile. I started out with this woman ... Marianne, I think she was called. But it was dark and there were bodies everywhere. I'd had a bit to drink. It occurred to me eventually that the stubble I felt on my chin wasn't coming from me, and I realised I wasn't quite repulsed by the idea. I was the opposite of repulsed really." Harry shrugged and shook his head to dispel the strangeness of telling the story to Snape, of all people. "It's easier with blokes." He glanced over to find Severus staring at him with an unreadable expression. "Not that I've been with loads," he hasten to add. "Four in the last two years. Not counting you. I don't ... indulge in the Wizarding world."

He realised he was babbling and closed his mouth tightly to stop the nervous chatter. He picked up his glass again and drank the contents back quickly. "Sorry. That's probably more information than you were after."

"There's no such thing as too much information," Severus said. "Does anyone know?"

Harry nodded. "Ginny knows. Hermione and Ron know, but that's it. I don't spend a lot of time talking about my sex life." He smiled. "What about you? I thought you were straight."

Severus snorted. "I've always slept with men. Apart from when I was young and slept with boys. I tried not to do that when I got older," he said wryly.

"You tried?" Harry asked incredulously.

Severus gave him a look. "I've slept with women as well, but not as many and not in the last twenty years."

"You make it sound like you've been with thousands," Harry said with a grin.

Severus snorted. "No. But I grew up in the seventies," he said enigmatically.

"Do you go out much now?" Harry asked hesitantly.

"I get out. But I've been busy lately." He gave Harry a pointed look and then took a sip from his glass.

"It was good."

"Hm."

"It can only get better."

"Complicated," Severus corrected.

"It's us. We're already complicated. Another layer of complexity can't do much harm," Harry said with a grin.

Severus snorted and shook his head. "I think I should go before your Gryffindor foolishness begins making sense," he said darkly.

Harry frowned and twisted over to straddle the man's lap. He took advantage of Severus' surprise and pulled his glass from his hand. "We should at least have one more go," Harry said, finishing off the whisky and then leaning to set the glass on the table.

"You should get off me," Severus said, but the smile on his lips encouraged Harry to stay put.

"Or what?" Harry challenged. He leant forward, sliding his nose along Severus'. He grabbed Severus' hands and led them into his dressing gown, setting them over his newly healed skin.

"You're fragile."

"I'm not that fragile," Harry insisted quietly, his tongue coming out to tap against Severus' lips.

Severus' hand went to his shoulder to push him back. "I don't want to break you."

Harry rolled his eyes. "I know I have to be careful, but the medi-witch didn't say anything about sex," he pointed out.

Severus narrowed his eyes and stared at Harry until Harry felt the warmth of that regard down to his toes. "The medi-witch has no idea what you're like," the man said in a voice that dripped like liquid sex. "I suppose you're going to tell me that a nice, slow, gentle fuck is what you're after?"

Harry's stomach somersaulted. It wasn't generally his style, to be honest, but something about the word "fuck" on Severus' tongue in that context made him willing to give it a go. He gave a silly grin and dropped his eyes to where his fingers moved down the row of buttons on Severus' tunic. "It's worth a shot."

Severus dropped his head to kiss Harry's throat. "And when you beg me to take you faster, harder, I suppose I'm meant to ignore your pleas. Eking out the experience until you're ready to cry with need."

Harry's cock twitched to declare its eagerness. He couldn't imagine crying with need, but he thought if anyone could be cruel enough to force it out of him, Severus could. His hand stole inside the open tunic to find the man's nipple. "Doesn't sound bad," he pointed out.

"What's in it for me?" Severus said with a grin.

"I should think you'd get some pleasure out of watching me cry," Harry laughed and then twisted the hard nub.

Severus' breath hitched. A dangerous glint flashed in his eye. "Please don't take it the wrong way when I tell you that you incite violence within me. It is a testament to my self-control that you've not yet been throttled."

Harry laughed and bent his head to scrape his teeth over the man's long pale neck. He inhaled the man in and rocked his hips forward to show how little offence he'd taken at the man's comment. He felt somewhat gratified at the feel of Severus' hands slipping into his dressing robe and around to press against his hips. "Or I could fuck you," he suggested before scraping his teeth over the man's earlobe.

A small shiver ran through the man's body. Harry could feel it against his chest. He tipped his nose into the man's ear to caress the shell. "The last time I was fucked was before you were born," Severus pointed out in a rough voice.

Harry grinned. "Perhaps I was born to do just that," he whispered.

Severus exploded with incredulous laughter. Harry pulled back to glare at the man, who threw his head back to cackle at the ceiling. "I think I would give almost anything to see the look on your father's face were he to hear you say that." The man dissolved into laughter again that was dangerously close to sounding like giggling.

Harry groaned as the mood was thus broken. He tipped his head to lie against Severus shoulder and laughed mirthlessly. "There's no getting away from the strangeness, is there?" He bit down on the man's shoulder in mild rebuke, but the man showed no signs of recovering from his hilarity. Eventually, Harry was swept along with it until his newly repaired ribs began to ache.

Severus sighed and wiped his eyes against Harry's dressing gown. "I can't recall the last time I had a good laugh," he said.

"Yeah, well, whenever you want to laugh at my expense again, you know where to find me," Harry said with a reproving frown. It broke with a smile. He leant forward to kiss the man softly on his smiling lips. "You should laugh more often," he said. He wet the man's bottom lip. "You have a great laugh."

Severus' hands came up to hold either side of his head with only the barest amount of pressure. The man tilted his head to the side and deepened the kiss. While his touch remained insistently light, the kiss was anything but. There was a savagery to it that hinted at the barely restrained violence Severus spoke of before. Harry's own hands, unconstrained by the idea of breaking the other man, echoed the nature of the kiss. One slid behind Severus' head, wrapping through the long dark hair until his fist sat tight against the base of Severus' skull. His other hand slipped inside Severus' shirt to dig fingers into the man's side. Both men were breathless by the time they parted. Severus' hands left Harry's head and clenched into fists at his sides. His eyes blazed fiercely.

"Stay with me," Harry said, his voice sounding strange to his own ears. He slipped backward to climb off the settee and held his hand out. He gave a small encouraging smile. "I'll make you breakfast in the morning," he offered.

Severus took his hand and let himself be pulled up and then tugged back to the bedroom. "I don't eat breakfast," the man confessed as he shrugged out of his tunic.

"Then, you can have me for breakfast," he said soberly. He grinned at the look he received for his efforts. When he pulled Severus' trousers open, he wasn't surprised this time to find the man wasn't wearing any pants. Harry gave him a cheeky look before sinking to his knees, peeling the tight trousers down around the man's knees before getting sidetracked by the heavy, large erection bobbing forward.

Harry stretched his tongue out to lift the thing, hands pushing the trousers down to the man's ankles before coming up to curl around the base. Severus gave a low hiss as Harry's mouth stretched to encircle the head. Harry's eyes danced with delight when they glanced up to see the man watching him. Enthralled was a very good look for Severus.

Inspired by the attention Severus was showing him, Harry made a show of running his tongue over the head of his cock and then down along the shaft, wetting it. He let his hand slide up as his mouth closed over the head, swallowing the man in as much as he could as his hand stroked downward.

Severus cursed on a breath, his hand curling into Harry's hair before releasing it just as quickly. Harry found the man's restraint was mildly irritating, and was motivated to find out just what it would take to make the man forget himself. Harry moaned, letting the vibrations tickle the man's cock as Harry came back up to suck gently at the tip.

He looked up again, meeting Severus' eyes. Severus wore a tight expression as he flexed his hips forward, fucking himself into Harry's mouth, keeping his hands clasped behind his back. Harry held the man's hips, opening wide and letting himself be used. He wasn't an expert by any means, but he enjoyed doing this. Shivers tripped down his spine as Severus released a rare groan of pleasure at the wiggling action of Harry's eager tongue.

As one hand held to Severus' hip, the other trailed up his flat belly before scratching down hard enough to leave red marks, but not so hard as to tear the skin. He recalled the distinct marks of Severus' own nails across his belly after their last time together and knew that, like him, Severus enjoyed a bit of pain.

The action seemed to remind Severus that, while Harry's bones might require careful treatment, there was no longer much damage left to his skin. Sharp nails dug into Harry's shoulders, causing Harry to have to come up to take a deep breath. A hand at the back of his head clenched over hair and urged him upward. Harry rose to his feet and met the man's kiss with equal urgency.

Harry pressed himself against the other man. Severus' hard cock slid wetly against his abdomen. Severus breathed roughly as he pulled away. "Get on the bed."

Harry wasn't going to argue. He shrugged out of his dressing gown and pushed off his boxers before scrambling up onto the bed. Severus followed after, urging Harry onto his knees and pushing him forward to brace himself with his hands. A particularly hard bite to his arse caused Harry to yelp and jerk forward. Severus held his hips in a firm, but not crushing grip. "Be still," the man said in a low voice.

Harry tensed as he felt Severus' breath over his arse. His eyes widened slightly when he felt his nose slip into his crack. "What are you doing?" he asked incredulously.

He was answered by a hot, wet tongue sliding over his entrance. He panted, surprised at the not quite unpleasant sensation. Severus' fingers urged his cheeks apart and his tongue circled teasingly. It occurred to Harry suddenly that there were parts of the world of gay sex about which he was still woefully ignorant.

It felt strange at first. As Severus' tongue prodded at him, entering him, Harry stopped thinking about strange. He also forgot to keep still and now jutted his hips back against the prodding tongue, against the restraining hands, as the teasing pleasure made him desperately want more. Severus' hand snaked between his thighs to grip his bollocks tight enough to promise pain should Harry get out of hand.

Harry had no problems keeping still after that. Severus' fingers moved in to give his tongue a break, allowing Severus to place another meaningful bite to Harry's arse that set him whimpering. The grip on his balls disappeared as Severus' hand moved to the base of his cock, stroking twice to give Harry a taste of the pleasure to come. The fingers stretched him, aided by the slick tongue roiling around them. When those clever fingers angled to find his prostate, Harry jerked under a rush of pleasure. "Now," he whined.

There was no question of a slow, gentle fuck now. If Severus tried that, Harry might be forced to take matters under control and reap what he now so desperately wanted.

"Now?" Severus said, his voice calm and dripping with smugness.

"Severus," Harry growled. Another thrust of fingers made him momentarily incapable of coherent speech.

"Harry," Severus whispered back tauntingly. The name slithered over him, seeping into his skin and feeding his arousal. The fingers disappeared. Harry felt Severus' cock slip between his cheeks teasingly. Severus held them together and thrust. Harry desperately tried to angle his hips to urge the head toward where he needed it to be, but Severus cruelly thwarted his efforts.

"Please," Harry said irritably.

"Please what?"

Harry clenched his jaw and said, "Fuck me, you prick."

"You can do better than that," Severus said mockingly. His hips moved back and the tongue returned, flicking teasingly over his opening, without breaching it. Fingers massaged Harry's perineum. "Please, Severus," Harry breathed, reaching down to squeeze his cock.

"How do you want it?" Severus asked.

They both knew the answer to that question. Harry laughed desperately. "How do you want to give it to me?" he asked wryly.

A low chuckle answered him. The cold, impersonal tip of Severus' wand nudged against his entrance. Harry gasped as his insides were filled with cold wetness. "In two weeks time, I may show you." He swatted Harry's backside. "Lie down on your stomach, with your legs together."

Harry did as he was told, remarking, as he did so, that his cock was trapped against the bed, entirely inaccessible. Severus' knees were placed on the outside of Harry's thighs. Harry's hips came up off the bed at the feeling of the blunt head of Severus' erection slipping between his cheeks, nudging his entrance.

Harry's thighs struggled to spread, but they were kept in check by Severus' as the man pushed forward, thrusting unceremoniously past the tight ring, which clenched defensively. Harry's pained shout was muffled by the pillow. His hand moved reflexively downward, but he couldn't get at his cock in this position. Severus began moving out of him in a slow rocking motion. With his legs held together, Harry felt every inch of the man moving inside him at an achingly slow pace.

Severus' hand weighed down Harry's lower back, ensuring that Harry could do nothing to force the rhythm. Harry continued to try, struggling against the weight to arch his hips back, wanting the thing to move deeper, move faster, spear harder.

Damn him.

This was punishment, Harry knew. Severus' slow even breaths mocked Harry, who panted with desperation. He squeezed around the man, doing what was in his sad power to spur things onward, but Severus was, above all, a man with an iron will. Severus' hips pulled out until just the head was nestled inside. Harry braced himself expectantly, wanting desperately to feel it ram back in. Severus went forward again at a ponderous pace, angling to drag slowly along Harry's prostate. Harry's muscles twitched, and his moan was torn from him.

His cock lay uselessly trapped underneath him, and he flexed to rub himself against the mattress. Severus laughed. "Like this?" he asked, pulling back out and then flexing forward until he was rooted.

"Why do you hate me?" Harry asked miserably, trying mindlessly to come to his knees and failing again. He pushed his arse backward and only managed to force the man further inside. He gave another desperate whimper.

Severus laughed and began withdrawing again, ignoring the beseeching clench of Harry's arse in favour of torturing the man with deliberate slowness. What was in it for Severus? Sadistic pleasure. What else?

He didn't pull out completely this time, but angled perfectly, beginning a slow, shallow thrust that had Harry trembling. Severus' own breathing picked up, hinting that perhaps he might be finding his own pleasure, despite the pace. As Harry stopped fighting to move, Severus curled forward, hands nestled under Harry's raised arms, bracing himself against the bed as he raised and lowered his hips deliberately.

Without the weight, Harry was able to raise his own hips to meet the man's. He couldn't have it as hard as he might have liked, but there was a definite punch to the movement now that was satisfying. Every movement rocketed sparks of pleasure that he felt certain would make him come, provided Severus could keep it up for an eternity.

But Severus pulled out, breathing roughly, and lifted up to urge Harry onto his side. Harry pulled one knee up at Severus' coaxing, and Severus plunged back in with the same slow care that he'd used so far. His hand moved to grip Harry's cock, for which Harry expressed his heartfelt gratitude. Severus' nails bit into Harry's arse as he held the man in place for the slow, torturous fuck.

Harry was growing mindless with need now. His hand groped downward to grip the man's arse, urging him faster, for mercy's sake. The grip around his cock was too light and the stroking too inconsistent to be a means to an end. Harry opened his eyes to find Severus staring at him intently. Harry was caught in that gaze, momentarily forgetting his impatience and his objective.

It felt as though time had stopped and the world narrowed down to the two of them, working toward a common purpose. There was no separation of pleasure, no individual goal. Instead, there was a strange sort of intimacy that Harry's usual couplings normally sped away from. Harry felt the man. The pleasure dragged through him, building slowly until it felt almost solid and unbreakable.

"Fuck," Harry breathed in an awed tone, torn between wanting to run away from the alarming sentiment and wanting to carry on and see how this would end. Severus' jaw was tight, his eyes blazing. His breaths came in harsh blasts through his nose. The lean muscle in his belly clenched with every slow thrust.

A low groan tore from Severus' throat. The man's eyes closed, his head falling back as the pace picked up. He pulled out almost completely before pushing back in, exciting the long stretch of Harry's channel. Harry's moan echoed the man's, his hips turned slightly to meet the movement. Severus came forward, bracing himself on the bed as his hips sped up. Severus' teeth scraped over Harry's shoulder. Harry turned under him to bring his other knee up, free now to move.

He didn't force the pace. He didn't insist on speed or force, but relished in the feel of Severus' chest against his back, Severus' cock sliding in and out of him. Every inch of the stretch of his arse was sensitised and fed the arousal that was now heavy in his abdomen, a solid weight at the base of his spine. His hand closed over his cock, keeping up the maddening rhythm that Severus had set.

The end arrived unexpectedly, and unexpectedly violently. It overtook Harry with the power of a curse, ripping through his body in long waves that set his muscles clenching hard. Severus thrust quickly and smoothly now, each movement jostling Harry's prostate, extending the torturous pleasure. Finally the man thrust hard, sending Harry down to the bed with the force of it, and came with a low, agonized groan.

Harry's face was buried in his pillow as he shivered along with the man lying on top of him. Every exhaled breath was an expression of disbelief. His hand sought Severus', fingers weaving in between the other man's and squeezing to thank him. Severus kissed him on the neck before rolling away.

"That was incredible," Harry breathed, turning his head to face the man.

Severus stared up at the ceiling as he fought to catch his breath. He grunted his accordance.

"Who knew slow and gentle could be so much fun?" Harry said with a cheeky smile.

Severus laughed and turned his head toward Harry. "You have no idea how many times I had to keep from testing the strength of your bones," he said darkly.

Harry arched his neck closer to kiss the man. "I applaud your restraint," he said seriously.

"I deserve a fucking standing ovation."

Harry sniggered. "I don't think I can stand just yet," he said. "But I promise to make it up to you," he followed with a yawn.

Severus pulled himself up to grope for his wand and cast a cleaning charm on the two men and the bed before relaxing back down. Harry pulled the duvet up to cover them both. "You're the first person I've actually slept with since Ginny," he commented sleepily.

"Lucky me," the man said with a quiet hint of amusement.

Harry grinned and then turned over. "Good night, Severus."

"Good night, Harry."

Sleep quickly dragged Harry down into its shadowy depths. Just before he went under, he felt a warm body mould itself to his back side. An arm curled around him to hold him close. With a contented sigh, Harry slipped under.

He awoke hours later with the novel sensation of a hand wrapped around his cock and something blunt and hard nestled between his arse cheeks. He gave a luxurious groan and backed against it. The head popped inside with a satisfying twinge of pain that made Harry's nipples go hard.

Severus' breath clouded against his jaw. He squeezed an arm under Harry and pulled him closer as he slid home. "You mentioned breakfast," Severus said in a low voice against Harry's ear. Harry shivered. "I hope you don't mind I helped myself."

Harry grinned and twisted around to kiss the man awkwardly. "Most important meal of the day," he countered and then wiggled his arse to urge movement.

Severus fucked him with a slow, steady rhythm that somehow seemed natural on this side of sleep. It didn't occur to Harry to want anything different as he met the languid thrusts, matching the rhythm set. Both climbed the proverbial summit and Severus pushed Harry over before taking the dive to join him.

The kiss in the aftermath was as slow as the sex had been. Neither man was quite willing to let the bubble of this strange universe burst just yet. Harry settled as close as he could get to the other man's body, legs tangled comfortably around Severus'. He kept his eyes closed as he clung to the moment, feeling oddly at ease with the man.

Only their breaths and the odd crack and pop of the building settling around them disturbed the peace. At last, Harry summoned enough courage to whisper, "What happens next?"

"Next," Severus repeated, just as quiet, "I should hope you will go on to find a nice, safe job behind a desk, risking nothing more serious than a paper cut."

Harry opened his eyes with a dismayed look. "You know that's not what I meant."

"Perhaps next time you'll be more specific," Severus said, smirking. Harry wondered how the man could manage to infuse a whisper with condescension.

"We shagged."

A raised eyebrow. "I remember."

"Then we shagged again," Harry whispered with a grin.

"I was here."

"And now, a third time."

Severus' hand stroked his back. "Is there a point somewhere in there?"

Harry grinned. "One might say we are shagging."

Severus looked at him a long moment before closing his eyes. "One might be forgiven for drawing such a conclusion."

"Present continuing."

"Continuous," Severus corrected.

Harry laughed quietly. "Continuous continuing." Harry's eyes were trained on Severus when the older man opened his again. "So?" Harry whispered cautiously.

"The consequences of shagged and shagging are different," Severus whispered back.

"Consequences."

"People may find out."

Harry snorted softly. "Ginny already suspects. She said something last night."

Severus blinked. "Unsurprising. You have a supremely bad poker face."

Harry rolled his eyes. "We can't all be master spies. And you called me Harry in front of everyone." The frown on Severus' face told him the older man didn't appreciate having his mistakes called out. "Does it bother you?"

"I should think you have more at stake than I," the man said cautiously.

Harry shrugged. "You saved my life."

"Again."

Harry clenched his jaw and gave the man a look. "Again," he allowed. "Anyone who matters is already pretty well-disposed to you. But we wouldn't have to make any ... grand declarations. I just want to ..."

"Shag."

"See you." Harry offered a weak smile. "You drive me barmy, but I ... like it." He wrinkled his nose to apologise for his lack of eloquence. His heart thundered so loudly, he almost missed the footsteps.

Severus went stiff next to him. Harry turned suddenly, rising to his elbow to glare into the dim room. Molly pushed through his bedroom door carrying a tray. Harry's mouth went suddenly dry. "Molly?"

"I'm sorry to disturb you, dear," she said busily. She rushed in to set the tray on his bedside table. Harry moved to shield his visitor from her gaze, but she didn't really look toward him at all. "I wanted to make sure you got breakfast before that lot tore into it," she explained.

"Thanks," Harry said weakly, throat closing up with something like panic.

Molly turned to lower herself to the floor, distractedly picking up the discarded clothes that had gathered there. She flicked her wand toward the window and the shutters parted, letting in a shaft of blinding light.

"Did Severus give you something for the bruises?" She looked over to see him and smiled in satisfaction.

"Yeah," Harry whispered uselessly. He became uncomfortably aware that they'd not performed a cleaning spell yet and the evidence was dripping wetly from him. He wrinkled his nose.

"I understand you two have had your differences, Harry," she began lecturing as she moved around the room, adding clothes to a bundle in her arm. Harry opened his mouth to stop her when she plucked up Severus' trousers. "But you need to understand that he cares for you, even if he has a strange way of showing it."

Harry couldn't stop the incredulous snort that burst from him at her words. She stood at the end of his bed and shot him an irritated look. Harry could see the exact moment she realised he wasn't alone. Her mouth fell open in a silent "Oh."

"Good morning, Molly," Severus said in a voice that was dripping with amusement.

Harry squeezed his eyes shut. "Could you ... er, give us a minute?" he asked.

He slid one eye open, not sure she'd heard him. She stood frozen, staring. A moment later, she cleared her throat and averted her eyes. "Of-of course," she said breathlessly and turned to leave the room.

"Molly. He may need his clothes," Harry said painfully.

"Oh," she breathed. She looked at the bundle in her arms as though trying to sort through it. A moment later she came over to deposit the load on his bed. "Good morning, Severus," she said weakly and then rushed out of the room.

Harry fell back to his pillow. Severus turned to bury his face into the pillow next to him, his hysterical laughter muffled. Harry covered his face with his hands and laughed weakly, feeling slightly shell-shocked.

"Well, that's that, I suppose," he breathed.

"Present continuous," Severus sighed in agreement.