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Skirting the Shadows

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Skirting the Shadows

 

The Daily Prophet 25 June 2010

Harpies’ Seeker Found Dead

Ginevra Weasley Potter, 29, wife of the famed Harry Potter, was found dead early this morning in the couple’s two-storey home in South Kensington. The cause of death is under investigation, though preliminary findings reveal no forced entry, and no signs of foul play. Mrs. Weasley Potter had just signed on to another year as Seeker for the Holyhead Harpies… (See Harpies, A12)

***

The Daily Prophet 2 July 2010

Boy Who Lived, Live to Kill?

In a surprising new development, Head Auror Harry Potter has been taken into custody and is being held for questioning in Azkaban Prison. Potter, 30, Former Boy Who Lived and Destroyer of You Know Who, is charged with the murder of his wife. Mrs. Weasley Potter was found dead in the couple’s home last week. Her death, originally believed an accident, is being ruled a homicide. Toxicology reports show that Mrs. Weasley Potter died of acute aconite poisoning… (See Kill, A6)

***

Azkaban is cold. The Dementors are long gone, but they haven’t managed to get the chill out of the walls. It’s the type of cold that seeps into your bones. Severus keeps his back straight and resists the urge to wrap his arms around his chest. He hasn't been here in nearly ten years, but the place still sets him on edge. There are too many memories.

***

Azkaban Prison, 5 July 2010. Official transcript: Interrogation of Harry J. Potter, conducted by Severus Snape.

Severus Snape: Mr. Potter, I am Severus Snape, operating under the jurisdiction of the British division of the Aurors’ Investigative Squad.

Harry Potter: I know who you are, Snape. What are you doing here?

S. Snape: I am here to question you about the murder of your wife.

H. Potter: Question me? Since when are you on our payroll?

S. Snape: By “our,” I assume you mean the Aurors?

H. Potter: Yeah.

S. Snape: I have agreed to work, in a freelance capacity, on this one case as I was assured that my particular…skills are necessary.

H. Potter: Your skills? Wait… No. Absolutely not. I don’t consent. No fucking way.

S. Snape: Sit down, Mr. Potter. Don’t make me call the guards.

H. Potter: I know my rights. You can’t use Legilimency on me. Not without my consent.

S. Snape: Yes, typically. But you are, as it seems, once again a special case. The Wizengamot has already ruled, permitting the use of invasive mind magic in pursuit of the truth.

H. Potter: I won’t let you in.

S. Snape: We’ll see about that. Legilimens.

***

It’s nearly midnight when Severus returns to Hogwarts. The moon casts pale, thin shadows across the lawn; he wraps his cloak more securely around himself and heads towards the castle. There’s a chill to the air; it’s been a cool summer.

When he gets to his rooms, he collapses onto his sofa, summoning both the bottle of whisky and a vial of headache potion. He checks the label on the draught—he can’t remember the last time he brewed the stuff—then downs the contents, chasing it with a swig of whisky. His head is throbbing, pain tugging at the base of his skull.

He closes his eyes, waiting for the anaesthetic to work. He knew Potter was powerful. Hell, he’s seen him perform extraordinary magic. But he hadn’t expected his mental defences to be so strong. Severus taught the boy mind magic, and he never demonstrated any particular ability before. But tonight—

Unlike physical, defensive magic, Occlumency is a subtle art. Yet Potter’s shields hit him like a Bludger. There was no artificial emotion, no falsified memory for Severus to sift through. Just black, empty space—an abyss at the forefront of Potter’s mind.

Not effective, of course, if you wished to hide that you were Occluding. But when discretion didn’t matter? Tonight, Severus’s Legilimency proved no match for Potter’s raw power. And now he’s no closer to finding out what happened the night Ginevra Weasley Potter was murdered.

***

The Daily Prophet 6 July 2010

Wizengamot Approves Use of Legilimency on Prisoner

In a controversial ruling on Monday, the Wizengamot approved the use of Legilimency in the ongoing Ginevra Weasley Potter investigation. Former Head Auror Harry Potter was arrested last Thursday; he has been charged with poisoning his wife. Currently, under Statute 372.6 B, Aurors may not use mind magic of any sort, including but not limited to Veritaserum, Legilimency, Imperius, or various persuasion charms without express consent of the accused. However, Potter will apparently be the first exception to this rule since the notorious Death Eater Trials following the Second Wizarding War. Chief Warlock Matthias Covertly commented… (See Legilimency, A8)

***

Potter is already waiting in the small interrogation room when Severus arrives. He stands there for a moment, regarding him through the one-way window.

Potter looks exhausted. His too-pale skin is drawn and wan. Dark circles purple his eyes, and his cheeks are shadowed with several days of stubble. Potter’s a suicide risk; he wouldn’t be allowed a razor, but judging from his none-too-subtle demonstration Monday evening, Severus knows he’s got more than enough wandless magic for a shaving charm, despite the dampening spells in place.

Potter leans forward, elbows resting on his knees. His hands are cuffed; metal gleams around slender wrists. Something in Severus’s gut twists at the sight. He can’t explain it. While the whole of the Wizarding world has been quick to turn against Potter, he’s certain they’re missing something.

According to the tabloids, Potter and Ginevra’s marriage was in shambles, but Severus cannot believe that he would kill his wife. All evidence says otherwise, though, and there are no other leads. Upon his arrest, Potter did next to nothing to exculpate himself and currently seems content to rot away in Azkaban for the rest of his life.

Severus can’t understand it; this isn’t the Potter he knows. Perhaps that’s the reason he agreed to the Ministry’s request to assist in the investigation. Or maybe he can’t help himself. He’s always been the first to rush to the fool’s rescue whenever he manages to land himself in yet another life-threatening situation.

“Snape,” Potter looks up when Severus enters the room, “I was wondering when you’d turn up again.”

Severus motions for the guard to leave them before sitting down across from Potter. The door closes with a dull thud, and Severus feels the wash of magic as the wards shift back in place, sealing the room.

Potter is watching him, a calculating look in his eyes. “Back for more already?” He leans backwards, rocking his chair onto two legs. “Or maybe you were just impressed. Never thought I’d learn Occlumency, huh?”

“That wasn’t Occlumency.”

Potter laughs, a hollow sound. “Sure it was.”

“No. Occlumency requires subtlety. It’s important that the Legilimens does not realise you’re blocking him.”

Potter shrugs. “Maybe in your case, with Voldie mucking about in your head for all those years. But my only goal is to make sure you can’t see anything. No reason to worry about fake realities or false memories and the like.”

Severus frowns. “You do realise you’re practically admitting your guilt?”

“I’m doing nothing of the sort.” Potter rocks forward again, chair hitting the ground with a thunk.

“You’ve refused access to your thoughts, prohibiting me from seeing what happened the night of your wife’s murder. You’ve provided no credible explanation as to your whereabouts that evening. You’ve offered no alternative theories of the crime, and, when given the opportunity to fabricate a plausible alibi—hell, to give any indication that you’re innocent—you offer up a bloody blank wall!”

“Why, Snape,” Potter says, face completely neutral, impassive, “I didn’t think you cared.”

And though he’s either guilty or incredibly stupid, Snape sees why he makes a damn good Auror. “Did you kill your wife?”

“Of course not.”

“Then why won’t you prove it?”

Potter rubs absently at his wrist; the handcuffs have left pink marks on pale skin. “I have the right to remain silent.”

“They’ll convict you. You’ll be in Azkaban for the rest of your life.”

“There are worse things.”

Severus must resist the urge to scream. The boy is as maddening as he ever was. “Worse than losing your freedom? Than being believed guilty of murdering your wife?”

Potter says nothing; he just stares at him.

“You’ll leave your children orphans.”

At this, Potter’s expression falters slightly, but within an instant, his face is blank again. “They have Ron and Hermione, Arthur and Molly.”

“They need their father.”

For a few seconds, Potter is silent. Then, “They’ll be all right. If you recall, I was left far worse, and I turned out just fine.”

“Says the man facing a lifetime of incarceration for murder.”

“Touché.”

Severus can say nothing to that. Instead, he draws his wand, rolling it between his palms. Potter watches his hands, his fingers. Finally Severus asks, “Where were you the night of 25 June?”

Potter lifts his hands, pushing his glasses up to rub at his eyes. The metal of the cuffs clinks as he lowers his hands to his lap again. “As I told the Aurors the first five times they asked, I was in Muggle London having a drink.”

“Alone?”

“Yeah. I was alone. Look, this is all in the case file. I’m sure someone would let you take a look if you’re really interested.” He actually sounds bored, as though Severus’s presence is keeping him from some more scintillating activity.

Severus sighs, pressing a thumb and forefinger to the bridge of his nose. “Humour me.”

Potter frowns as though considering. After a moment he says, “Fine. What do you want to know?”

“You were alone?”

“I think we’ve established that.” Potter narrows his eyes; in the lamp-lit room, the green is so dark it looks nearly black. “I went out for a drink, all by my lonesome. I do that sometimes. Is that a crime?”

“No. But concealing evidence, hindering an investigation, murder—as I’m sure you’re aware—are all quite illegal.”

Potter’s eyes flash dangerously, but he says nothing.

“Can anyone vouch for your whereabouts?”

“I doubt it.”

“You were at a pub?”

Potter nods.

“Which one?”

“Twelve Bar. It’s this place in Soho that…”

“I’m aware.”

Something flickers across Potter’s face, but it’s gone before Severus can read it properly. Potter raises an eyebrow. “I see.”

“How long where you at 12 Bar?”

Potter shrugs. “Three, maybe four hours.”

“Surely someone saw you there.” Severus leans forwards in his chair. “Another patron? A waitress or bartender?” If Potter were truly in Soho the evening of his wife’s death, Severus cannot understand why he’s being so evasive.

“I don’t think so.”

Severus takes a calming breath.

“You see,” Potter continues, “they had four acts that night. I was lucky to get a seat.”

“Then why won’t you let me verify your story? Show me you were at 12 Bar the night Ginevra was killed.”

But Potter just stares at him, eyes strangely vacant.

“Very well.” Severus raises his wand. Before he’s even cast the spell, he feels the press of Potter’s magic. It washes over his skin like the air before a storm—heavy, humid, and electric—and Severus believes it feels darker than it ever did before. When he opens his mouth to murmur, “Legilimens,” Severus fancies he can taste Potter’s magic on his tongue, and the coppery taste of it reminds him of blood.

Severus is very good at mind magic, but once again his spell hits Potter’s shields as a wave breaks on rock. The force of impact jars at his skull, reverberates down his spine with sickening force. He presses back, harder. Potter doesn’t have a wand, and Severus has been doing this for more years than the boy has been alive.

Potter’s Occlumency is raw, rudimentary, and there are cracks in his defences—Severus is sure of it—crevasses and groves where memories can pool. But the thoughts keep slip-sliding across Severus’s field of vision. They shift like quicksilver, rearrange themselves, then vanish again before he can wrap his magic around them, study them, decipher them.

Severus pulls back and lowers his wand.

Potter is breathing heavily and, despite the chill, Severus can see a faint sheen of sweat on his forehead. “You’ll have to try a bit harder, Snape,” he says, lips twisting cruelly.

Severus has never seen him like this, and it makes him wonder what he could possibly be hiding, what happened to make him so willing to throw everything away.

***

When Severus Snape returns to his rooms, he pulls the Pensieve out of the cupboard where he keeps it, stored beside a dozen or so glass vials, a spare silver cauldron, and a stack of old journals, leather-bound and with yellowing, ink-filled pages.

At his death, Albus left him the Pensieve, a draught of Dreamless Sleep (that Severus brewed, naturally), a pair of purple woollen socks, and a signed photograph of Winston Churchill. Severus hadn’t been present for the reading of will; he’d been in hiding—wanted for the man’s murder—and it wasn’t until years later that Severus knew Albus had left him anything at all.

Minerva stopped him after a faculty meeting one evening, a slender hand on his shoulder. “If you have a moment, Severus, I have a few things for you.”

The rush of emotion he felt when he saw his name scrawled on the cream-coloured envelope in Albus’s unmistakable hand had knocked the air out of his lungs.

Now, Severus sets the Pensieve on his desk, hand stroking over the runes on the stone basin, before touching his wand to his temple. Memories string away like taffy, in pink and silver and cerulean threads. They pool on the surface of the bowl for just a moment, swirling incandescently, before sinking into the stony depths. Severus can already feel the chill of the prison’s walls, the echo of despair, of hopelessness that’s persisted long after the place was purged of the Dementors.

For just a moment, he’s falling, stomach dropping like lead. Then, once again, he’s seated in the interrogation room, watching himself watching Potter.

Severus views memories as he conducts experiments, methodically, and with systematic precision and exacting attention to detail. He catalogues every moment, every thought, every fragrance, every colour, examining each scene with the meticulousness he usually reserves for his lab—snapshots of his life to be analysed like specimens under a microscope.

Here, Potter looks more tired than Severus has ever seen him. It’s disconcerting, to be honest, but he supposes Azkaban will do that to a person.

Potter has broad, capable hands, and, though he tries to hold them still, Severus notices the tremor that he can’t quite mask. Potter leans forward, fringe falling into his eyes, and when he raises his head again, his face is shadowed. He looks older than his thirty years, and, for some inexplicable reason, this saddens Snape. He watches the conversation again, moment by moment, frame by frame.

When their eyes meet from across the room, the flickering light illuminates the creases in Potter’s skin. Severus sees the lines around his mouth, at the corners of his eyes. His lips are dry and cracked, muted and pale.

The only time Potter shows even a modicum of emotion, any indication that he cares about anything at all, is when Severus mentions his children. His face darkens, and for a brief moment Severus sees a hint of the fight, the defiance, he so despised when the boy was in school.

For the life of him, he can’t understand why Potter refuses to let him verify his alibi. And this time when Potter says he was alone in the bar, Severus reads the lie in his voice.

***

Severus must be going mad. What else could account for the fact that he’s currently sitting at a corner table in The Leaky, a pint of bitter in his hand, waiting for Ronald Weasley to appear?

The door opens, flooding the dim space with light. Weasley’s still dressed from work; the gray wool of his standard issue Auror robes is pulled taut across broad shoulders.

“Snape,” Weasley nods curtly, taking the seat opposite Severus. He spins the chair around, straddling it to sit backwards. “Just to be clear, I’m only here because of Harry.”

“Right,” Severus says, “and here I was hoping this was a social visit.”

Weasley stares at him blankly, and Severus can’t stop himself from rolling his eyes. “The case file, Mr. Weasley,” he prompts after a moment.

“Oh, yeah, of course.” The manila file jacket he produces from his messenger bag is overflowing with papers.

Severus spends a few minutes flipping through the file. The initial Auror report contains little he doesn’t already know. Ginevra was found dead in the Potters’ South Kensington home at half two in the morning of 25 June. Potter had returned home from Soho to find his wife unresponsive on their bedroom floor. He Floo’d for help immediately and attempted to revive her until the Mediwizard team arrived, but it was too late. Thankfully, their three children were staying at Ginevra’s parents’ house for the weekend.

Preliminary investigations revealed nothing suspicious or incriminating. The magical detection squad found no unusual traces of spellwork, no magical residue. The only magic performed in the house in the hours leading up to Mrs. Weasley Potter’s death had been performed by her own hand. Prior Incantato showed a heating charm on the kettle, followed by two levitation charms, and a summoning spell. Potter’s wand, similarly, revealed nothing suspect. He’d Apparated to their front walk, used his wand to unlock the door, cast three Ennervates before sending a Patronus to Hermione Granger Weasley. Then he cast a final Ennervate.

Severus looks up from the file. “Why did he send for your wife?”

Weasley runs a hand through ginger hair; it curls around his fingers. “She’s an Unspeakable. She has medical training. Extensive experience with spell damage, that sort of thing. I think he hoped she could do something.”

Severus nods and takes a long sip of his drink.

“You know,” Weasley says, “I think I could use one of those.” He stands and makes his way to the bar while Severus turns his attention back to the file.

The responding Mediwizard team determined cause of death to be cardiac arrest. It wasn’t until the toxicology report came back positive for aconite a week later that foul play was suspected.

“Who ordered the toxicology report?” Severus asks when Weasley sits down again.

“It’s standard procedure.”

Severus frowns. “Did Potter object?”

“No. He was as shocked as the rest of us that Ginny could have died from something like a heart attack.” Weasley slides his pint glass from one hand to the other, watching a slick of condensation form across the tabletop. “Gin was healthy. And she’d just cleared her physicals to re-sign with the Harpies.”

Severus drums his fingers against the file jacket. “As Head Auror, could he have prevented the post-mortem examination?”

Weasley nods. “Yeah, I suppose so.”

“Doesn’t it strike you as odd that he would not have stopped an exam that was within his power to stop if he knew it would produce evidence that would implicate him in his wife’s murder?”

Weasley takes a sip of his drink. “Thought of that. And it was one of the first things Harry said when we brought him in for questioning. But, if you think about it, it would have looked bloody suspicious had he prevented the Medi-examiner from performing a routine test. It would have looked like he was hiding something.”

Severus pulls the autopsy report from the file. The primary cause of death is listed as acute myocardial infarction. Underlying causes include: cardio toxicity; aconitine, mesaconitine, and hypaconitine poisoning characteristic of aconite exposure and ingestion.

“And even if Potter knew what killed her,” Severus speculates, “he had no reason to believe suspicion would fall on him.”

“No,” Weasley concurs, taking another drink and wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. “Why would he? His reputation is impeccable. He’s Head Auror, saviour of the bloody world.”

“So what happened? What turned your attention to Potter?”

“A number of things, really. Harry was vehement about heading the investigation. Which, of course, was a conflict of interest, but he pulled rank and made it happen. He assembled a team. Had me running point. Which again was inappropriate—Gin’s my sister and all.”

“Yes. But this does not strike me as the actions of a guilty man. This strikes me as a man desperate to find his wife’s killer.”

“Perhaps. But then there are the witnesses that came forward. Their marriage wasn’t good. Hadn’t been for years. They fought.” Weasley scrubs a hand across his face. “The lady next door swears Harry was cheating.”

“A lot of marriages aren’t perfect, Mr. Weasley. And yet, most unhappy husbands do not resort to homicide.”

“I know, Snape, I know. And I’ll be the first to admit that Hermione and I fight sometimes. But he had access to the poison. He signed for it, for Merlin’s sake.”

“Signed for it?” Severus thumbs back through the case file until he finds the note. On 16 June, Potter took delivery of an ingredients shipment that included thirty grams of aconite root. “Was it unusual for Potter to sign for potions deliveries?”

“No.” Weasley points to the itemised list included from the packing receipt. “The aconite, along with the henbane, belladonna, and angelica are all Class A restricted substances. Delivery requires the signature of Head Auror, Potions Master, or one of the Unspeakables.”

“And the aconite, was that an uncommon requisition?”

Weasley shakes his head. “The Unspeakables need loads of restricted items to do…whatever it is they do down there. And our potions team routinely works with St. Mungo’s to develop improved antidotes, so I know their stores are stocked with poisonous ingredients.” He taps the palm of his hand against his knee. “Not to mention we have two werewolves on staff.”

Severus looks up from the file. “Werewolves?”

“Yeah. Marcus Waverly in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, Being Division. And Luc Craddock, Improper Use of Magic Office.”

“Werewolves,” Severus repeats. “The Ministry employs werewolves now?”

Weasley shrugs. “One of the benefits to the increased regulations that came out of the war. They have to be registered, but yeah.”

“Do they have access to the Ministry’s aconite stores?”

“No. One stipulation of working for the Ministry is that they have to report monthly to the Beast Division of the Control of Magical Creatures Department to be administered their Wolfsbane. They can’t opt out of treatment, and since their monthly potion is provided, they wouldn’t be approved for purchase of a Class A restricted ingredient.”

Severus traces his finger down the side of his glass. “You questioned everyone who has access to the potions stores?”

“Yeah. Nothing suspect.”

“And I’m assuming there was a discrepancy between the amount of aconite Potter signed for and the amount that arrived at the respective departments?” Severus glances at the evidence sheet again. It lists the ingredients in the initial shipment, but there is no mention of anything gone missing.

Weasley runs a hand through his hair. “No, actually.”

Severus stares at him. “So you have no evidence that Potter actually took any of the aconite he has been accused of poisoning his wife with?”

“No. But you have to understand, Snape, the records keeping in certain departments leaves a bit to be desired. The Unspeakables, for one, don’t seem to keep track of anything. Or, if they do, they refuse to let us in on it. Harry could have signed for a hundred grams of aconite, and if only ten arrived, I doubt we’d hear about it.”

Severus takes a deep breath. “You do see the flaw in your case, don’t you?”

“Of course I do. And that there’s no actual proof Harry took any aconite might help his defence, but the important thing is that he had access to it. He had access to aconite, and a week later Gin was poisoned.”

“What about outside the Ministry? Is there anyone who wished Ginevra harm? Anyone who could have wanted her dead?”

Pain flashes across Weasley’s expression, and, for the first time, he looks like a man who is grieving.

“I’m sorry,” Severus apologises. “I realise this must be difficult for you. If you’d like to—”

Weasley shakes his head. “No. It’s my job. And I know you’re just trying to help.” He downs the rest of his drink. “She was a Quidditch player, not a politician. She didn’t have enemies.”

Severus turns to another page. “It says here you interviewed two suspects who sent Howlers to your sister regarding her contract renewal with the Harpies. A Lionel Matthews in Surrey, and a Clayton Winchester in Wales.”

“Yeah. Matthews is a middle-aged accountant with nothing better to do with his time—once tax season is over—than to send Howlers to professional Quidditch players. He sent one to each member of Gin’s team. Apparently, Lionel doesn’t like their chances in league play this year.” Weasley glances across at the page Severus is reading. “And Winchester is just a kid. Fifth-year Ravenclaw who felt the Harpies would have been better off with Katie Mills as their Seeker.” He sighs. “I guess he got his wish.”

“You, of all people, know what children are capable of. Did Mr. Winchester have an alibi?”

“Yeah. On summer holiday with his parents in France—he was nowhere near Kensington the day of Gin’s murder.”

“And what about Potter? Surely he has his share of enemies. Could someone have chosen to get to him by way of his wife?”

“Of course he has enemies. He’s Head Auror. We could put anyone he’s ever sent to Azkaban on a suspect list.”

Severus flips through the file. “But yet, you didn’t.”

“We followed up on a few leads, but nothing came of it. Harry hasn’t received any recent threats. There’s been no unusual activity reported, and we found no record of any suspicious potions sales in the last two months. All aconite purchases are monitored, you know.”

“Yes…” Severus feels like he’s back in the classroom speaking to a particularly slow first year. “But I also know that, were I contemplating murder by poison, I would most certainly not purchase my desired illicit ingredient through proper channels.”

“We’re not idiots, Snape.” He leans back, folding his arms across his chest. “We questioned all the vendors along Knockturn. They noticed nothing suspicious, outside the usual suspicious activity, of course.”

“Right.” Severus would laugh if he weren’t so frustrated. “And I’m sure the Knockturn Alley sellers are always entirely forthcoming with the Aurors.”

Weasley doesn’t say anything; he just stares down into his empty glass.

Severus desperately wants another drink. “Do you honestly believe he did it? Do you think Potter poisoned Ginevra?”

When Weasley looks up again, his face is shadowed. He looks like he hasn’t slept in weeks, and Severus wonders if that isn’t the case. “Off the record? No, I don’t. Harry’s my best mate and I don’t think he killed Ginny, but I don’t know who did.” He hangs his head; his fringe falls into his eyes. “Gods, Snape. She’s my little sister, and she’s dead. I have to find out what happened to her. I have to.” Weasley sounds like he might break down, so Severus stands and makes his way to the bar for another round. When he returns, Weasley has composed himself again.

He thanks Snape for the pint.

They drink in silence for a few minutes. Finally Weasley asks, “Have you made any progress with the Legilimency?”

“Not really. He’s hiding something, but I don’t believe it’s what everyone thinks he is. I don’t believe he’s guilty, but I’m not sure why he won’t let me prove it.” He drags his thumb around the lip of the glass. “Do you know of any reason—assuming he did not murder his wife—why he would not allow me to access his thoughts?”

Weasley laughs, a harsh bark of sound. “Aside from the fact that you’re a right git who Harry doesn’t want mucking about in his head?”

Severus scowls. “Yes. Aside from that.”

“No. I have no idea.”

***

The Daily Prophet 12 July 2010

Smith Appointed Interim Head Auror

The Department of Magical Law Enforcement announced today the appointment of Zacharias Smith as Interim Head Auror. Harry Potter has held the prestigious position for the past four years. However, he has been relieved of his duties indefinitely while awaiting trail for the murder of his wife, Ginevra Weasley Potter. (For more on the Potter murder investigation, please see sections B2, B7, and C6.) Smith joined the Aurors in 2002, and has served the force with distinction ever since… (See Auror, A13)

***

Azkaban Prison, 20 July 2010. Official transcript: Interrogation of Harry J. Potter, conducted by Severus Snape.

Severus Snape: What leads did you follow before you were arrested for your wife’s murder?

Harry Potter: Not many.

S. Snape: Can you elaborate?

H. Potter: There wasn’t time. It was barely a week before I was charged.

S. Snape: And before then?

H. Potter: Gin received two Howlers before she died.

S. Snape: From Matthews and Winchester?

H. Potter: So you did read the case file. I knew you cared, Snape.

S. Snape: The Howlers were dead ends. What else did you find?

H. Potter: If you read the file, I’m sure you know.

S. Snape: Mr. Potter, need I remind you I’m here to help?

H. Potter: That’s funny. I thought you were here to build a case against me.

S. Snape: I am here to uncover the truth. You say you are innocent. If that is indeed the case, your candour can only help matters.

H. Potter: I don’t have to answer your questions.

S. Snape: No, but I will continue to ask them. Your refusal to answer will only waste your and my time.

H. Potter: Oh, when you put it that way…

S. Snape: Mr. Potter—

H. Potter: Fine, Snape. What do you want to know?

S. Snape: Aside from the Howlers, what other leads did you pursue?

H. Potter: We started with the aconite. There were no unauthorised purchases in the last three months. And before you say anything, I know that doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but we canvassed Knockturn Alley, interviewed the shopkeepers. There was nothing.

S. Snape: Potter, if I wanted to procure some aconite, I could do so this afternoon. And, I assure you, there would be no record.

H. Potter: Perhaps.

S. Snape: What about the authorised purchases? Were there any connections to either your wife or yourself? Anyone who might have wanted to harm her?

H. Potter: I don’t know. I was taken into custody before I could review the list.

S. Snape: I’ll see if I can get you the names.

H. Potter: All right.

S. Snape: Do you have any theories? Any ideas as to what could have happened to Ginevra?

H. Potter: What did the file say? Surely I wasn’t the only suspect.

S. Snape: The file leaves a little to be desired. Do you not have any idea who could have wanted your wife dead?

H. Potter: There are a lot of people who hate me. You of all people must know that.

S. Snape: A great many people hate me too, Mr. Potter. No one has tried to kill me—not recently, at least.

H. Potter: It was Ron, wasn’t it? He let you see the case file.

S. Snape: Yes.

H. Potter: He hasn’t been to see me. Can’t say I blame him, though. He thinks I killed his sister.

S. Snape: I wouldn’t be so quick to presume what Mr. Weasley believes. What do you think happened to your wife?

H. Potter: I can’t imagine anyone wanting to hurt her. Whoever did this was trying to get to me.

S. Snape: And who would wish to hurt you?

H. Potter: Owen Forester, Caleb McDermott, Andrew Daniels, Catherine Moylan, August Myers… I could go on for days, Snape. Since I became Head Auror, I’ve arrested 82 individuals: 67 convicted. Any one of them could be holding a grudge.

S. Snape: Naturally.

H. Potter: This conversation has been nice and all, but wouldn’t you rather just get to the Legilimency?

S. Snape: No Legilimency today.

H. Potter: Oh? And here I thought you were obsessed with validating my alibi.

S. Snape: Maybe some other time.

***

Witch Weekly 21 July 2010

Saviour’s Secret Life Exposed

In this week’s exclusive interview, Witch Weekly reveals never-before-heard details about Harry Potter’s love life. A young witch who has asked to remain anonymous divulges shocking truths about our former Head Auror’s relationship with his wife, the now tragically deceased Seeker of the Holyhead Harpies. “We all thought they were happy, that’s for sure,” our candid informant reports, “but it turns out Harry had quite a slew of secret lovers…” (See Saviour, page 5)

***

Severus returns to Azkaban the following afternoon. It’s nearly August; he should be preparing for the impending school year, but he can’t seem to stay away from Potter.

This realisation, alone, is not very shocking. Severus has, after all, always been drawn to the boy. No. What is shocking is the way Potter seems to be creeping into his thoughts at all hours of the day. The case is having strange effects on him. It’s occupying more and more space in his mind.

Potter is everywhere.

He follows Severus as he moves about the castle during the day. He’s in the Great Hall with him as Severus takes his meals. He’s in his lab as he brews, and he’s in Severus’s rooms at night.

Potter has invaded his private thoughts. Severus finds him in all the spaces in between the actions of his daily routine. Potter keeps him up at night and, when Severus does manage to sleep, Potter is in his dreams.

There was a time, years and years ago, when he used to dream of Lily. And, after her death, Severus couldn’t close his eyes without seeing eyes the colour of mint, hair so red it could be flame, and skin like snow, like freshly poured milk. His sleep is once again haunted by green eyes and pale skin, but the hair is raven black now and in desperate need of a cut.

Severus thinks this obsession, this…concern with Harry Potter, is just another act of penance he must perform. Penance to atone for sins that can never be undone. Penance to expiate a guilt he cannot wash clean.

Dumbledore would be pleased.

As he rounds the corner on his way to the interrogation room, Severus sees Granger approaching with Potter’s two eldest children in tow.

“Mrs. Granger Weasley.”

She stops and smiles, but her face is sad. “Boys,” she turns to the two dark-haired Potters behind her, “this is Professor Snape. He’ll be your Potions Master one day.”

“’Ello, Professor Snape,” they say dutifully.

“Misters Potter, have you been to see your father today?”

“Yes, sir,” the older one says. His skin is pale like his father’s, and though his hair is just as dark, it is cropped close to his head. “He doesn’t like it here very much.”

“No, I don’t imagine he does.”

“Have you made any progress, Professor?” Granger asks. “Surely, you know that Harry didn’t do it.”

“He has assured me as much. However, he’s been less than forthcoming about his whereabouts that evening. I cannot help him if he refuses to let me.”

She nods. The smaller boy—Albus, Severus recalls—is tugging at Granger’s sleeve. “Yes, hun?” she asks, looking down.

“Will Papa be coming home soon?”

“I hope so, love,” she says, voice soft. “I need to get them home.” She looks up at Severus again. “This is no place for children. Still,” she continues quietly so that only Severus can hear, “I think it’s important Harry remembers what he’s fighting for.”

***

“No. None of these names strike me as suspect.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yeah, I’m sure.” Potter slides the piece of parchment back across the table and Severus tucks it inside the file jacket. He’d requested and been granted permission to show Potter the list of individuals who’d made authorised purchases of aconite within the last three months. “I don’t even recognise most of them. Aside from Pomfrey—she renews her application to purchase the restricted ingredients for Hogwarts’s stores this time every year—and the Ministry’s ordered requisition, of course.”

“And what about the Ministry?” Severus asks. “Is there anyone who had access to the aconite who might have reason to harm you or your wife?”

He shakes his head. “No. The only people that have access to the Ministry’s potions stores are the Unspeakables and the Potions experts. Anyone else must fill out a request, be approved, and sign for the ingredient, potion, or desired substance.”

“And yet you took delivery of the potions shipment this month.”

“Yeah…” Potter says slowly, leaning back in his chair. “I’m Head Auror. I’m one of only three people—apart from the Minister himself—authorised to take receipt of restricted substances, but that doesn’t give me access. If I want a potion, I have to follow procedure, same as anyone else.”

“Did you take aconite from the shipment?”

“No.” Potter glares. Severus finds he’s missed the defiance, the heat that used to burn perpetually in those green eyes. “I didn’t take the fucking aconite. And the records confirm that none went missing.”

“Then why does everyone believe you murdered your wife?”

Potter rubs at his face, pushing his glasses up to his forehead. For a moment, Severus doesn’t think he’s going to respond, but then he says, “Our marriage wasn’t good—hadn’t been for quite some time. But I didn’t kill Ginny. I would never do anything to hurt her.”

“Were you cheating on her?”

Potter’s expression goes cold, and Severus is once again surprised by how old he looks. In the dim light of the room, his pale skin is shadowed and his green eyes are dark. “I can’t see how that’s any of your business, Snape.”

“No,” he agrees, “but if you were unfaithful, then the case against you becomes quite a bit more compelling.”

Potter doesn’t respond.

“Do your children visit often?” Severus asks then, and Potter looks away.

“No. This place… They can’t understand.”

Severus agrees. Though the Ministry expelled the Dementors from Azkaban during the reforms following the Second Wizarding War, the prison has still been infected by their presence. Decades of disease and decay are not so easily eradicated, after all, and Severus wonders if they’ll ever be able to wash the place clean of the Dementors’ taint.

“Hermione has brought the boys twice,” Potter continues, “but I haven’t seen Lily since I was arrested. It’s just…it’s just not right.”

“They need their father,” Severus tries. “If you are innocent…”

“I didn’t steal the aconite,” Potter says forcefully. “And I did not kill my wife.”

“Then prove it. Let me see your alibi.”

Potter stares at him. “It’s not as simple as that, Snape.”

Severus draws his wand, feels his magic spark against his palm. “It never is. Legilimens.”

***

Severus spends hours in his lab that evening. He’s neglected his back-to-school preparations and needs something, anything, to take his mind off Harry bloody Potter.

He busies himself brewing the bases for Poppy’s medical draughts. The process is calming, therapeutic, and he focuses on the repetitive motion of his knife as he slices paper-thin strips of asphodel for Dreamless Sleep.

With a flick of his wand, he brings the cauldron to a boil. Severus adds the lavender and valerian root before replacing the lid, watching droplets of steam collect underneath the glass while the potion simmers.

Now, though, once he sets his wand down and steps away from the lab table, the memories he’s kept tucked away—folded like origami swans in the corner of his mind—come flitting to the forefront of his thoughts. Some are jagged and rough as rock (the red light of the bar, illuminating rows of whisky, scotch, and gin); others are worn smooth like stones in a riverbed (fingers brushed against a wrist, a hand on the small of Potter’s back).

Potter’s magic is familiar now, and Severus can’t help but recall its scent, its texture, the contours of his spellwork as it pushed against Severus’s Legilimency. It reminds him of the dark coolness of his dungeon rooms, the candlelit aisles of the library, the sterile spaces of his lab.

Potter is exceptionally powerful and, as unorthodox as his Occlumency is, Severus must concede that it’s effective. Today, though, there was some give to his defences. By focusing his magic, the protections surrounding Potter’s memories began to unravel. It was the first time Severus was able to see anything at all.

He knows Potter was at 12 Bar in Soho the night Ginevra was murdered, and he knows Potter was not alone. But Severus doesn’t know whom he was with, and he doesn’t know why he won’t let him prove his innocence.

Is being known as an adulterer worse than a murderer? Severus doesn’t understand, but he knows he has to figure it out.

***

The Ministry Review 26 July 2010

New Auror Class Announced

In his first official action as Interim Head, Auror Smith finalised the list of the latest group of recruits accepted into the Department of Magical Law Enforcement’s selective Auror training programme. Balthazar Durham, Delilah Hollingberry, and Taylor Smith will report to duty next Monday to begin their rigorous schedule of class work and instruction.

***

Contrary to student speculation and popular belief, Severus does not enjoy spending time in Knockturn Alley. In fact, he makes it a point to avoid the place whenever possible. The magic here makes his skin crawl, and he can’t shake the sense of disquiet that churns in his stomach as he makes his way down the dirty cobblestone street.

The alley smells of piss, sweat, and rubbish, and, despite the Ministry’s increased attempts to police the area, there is still a darkness here. The afternoon is gray and wet; an unseasonably brisk wind bites at his cheeks, whips at his hair. It has been raining for days; the puddles against the brick walls are fetid and black.

The apothecary’s windows are coated with dirt and grime so thick, Severus can’t see inside. He knows that Witte, the shopkeeper, prefers it that way. He’s owned this place for as long as Severus can remember and specialises in dangerous, unsavoury, quasi-legal, and prohibited potions. He will also sell, for a hefty price, any ingredient regardless of class or restriction.

The bell on the door clangs as Severus walks inside, and the old man behind the counter looks up. “Ah, Severus,” he says, voice papery and thin, “it’s been a while.”

Severus hasn’t purchased a black market ingredient since the war, when he routinely brewed poisons for the Dark Lord. Witte was not a Death Eater, but he was decidedly not on the side of the Light, either.

Severus also hasn’t used an Unforgivable since the war. He promised himself he would never need to cast one again, but he’s prepared to make an exception today. “I need to know who’s purchased aconite from you within the last three months.”

Witte laughs, “And why, my dear lad, do you think I would share information like that with you?”

Imperio.” The spell washes over his skin; it feels like a heartbeat, a rush of blood. It’s intoxicating and repellent all at once. “Let me see your sales records.”

The shopkeeper pulls a battered ledger from beneath the counter and slides it across the scuffed surface to Severus. For a man who deals in such illicit merchandise, his records are surprisingly meticulous. As Severus scans the neatly organised columns of purchase items and numbers, he wonders at the effectiveness of an Auror corps that has yet to incarcerate a man who keeps such fastidious accounts of his illegal transactions.

He turns the page and there, in between the dragon blood, Acromantula venom, and hellebore, Severus finds three references to aconite. He writes down the names, slipping the scrap of parchment into his robes. Then he closes the ledger and slides it back across the countertop in front of Witte; the man is staring past Severus at the wall of shelves lined with glass vials of fresh and dried ingredients.

With a whisper, Severus releases Witte from the spell, and the man blinks up at him vacantly. “Severus,” he says. “My apologies, but what did you say I could help you with today?”

“Your help won’t be necessary. I’ve changed my mind.” And with that, Severus turns and leaves the shop, pulling his robes tight against the rain.

***

The Quibbler 28 July 2010

Scandal in the Auror Force?

Though many wizards and witches seem content to accept without question the alarming changes in the Auror force, The Quibbler refuses to sit back and silently watch as travesty unfolds in our Department of Law Enforcement. Zacharias Smith, an unremarkable wizard with a decidedly lacklustre record, recently replaced our beloved Harry Potter as Head Auror when the Ministry announced his appointment on 12 July. More concerning than his mediocre performance record is evidence The Quibbler has uncovered that the new Head Auror might have had something to do with Ginevra Potter’s tragic murder—the very crime Auror Potter is currently being held in Azkaban for! Smith’s longstanding jealousy of Harry Potter is well known, dating clear back to when both were in school together… (See Scandal, page 7)

***

“Taylor Smith,” Potter says, pointing to the list of names Severus procured from the apothecary in Knockturn Alley. “You’re certain he purchased aconite?”

“Positive,” Severus says, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees. “Do you believe Smith would want to harm your wife?”

“He applied to the Auror training programme three times. He was denied acceptance each time.” Potter scowls. “He blamed me, naturally, because, as Head Auror, I finalised the list each year.”

“He was accepted this year. The Ministry announced the newest class just this week.”

Potter laughs, but the sound is devoid of humour. “Course he was. His brother’s Head Auror now, isn’t he.”

Severus runs a hand through his hair. It did seem rather suspect that Taylor Smith would be admitted into the most exclusive training programme in all of Britain mere weeks after his brother took control of the department. “Why was he rejected the first three times he applied?”

“He didn’t have the marks.” Potter stands, pacing back and forth in the confines of the small room. Severus can feel the frantic energy coming off him in waves. It’s like magic, like electricity.

“Then could he have truly blamed you for his rejection?” Severus asks. “I thought the requirements applicants had to meet were standard.”

“Yes.” Potter turns to look at him. “A minimum of five N.E.W.T.S. in appropriate subjects with no grade lower than ‘Exceeds Expectations.’ Taylor only earned three, one of which was in Divination.”

Severus nods. “Then I’m afraid I don’t understand the perceived slight. There is no reason he should have been accepted into the training programme.”

“Smith’s family thought otherwise—threw some money around. They cited the exception Kingsley made immediately following the war when the force was so depleted.”

“Exception?”

“He permitted anyone who fought in the Battle of Hogwarts to begin Auror training.” Potter sits down but then thinks otherwise and stands up again.

“Yet Taylor didn’t fight in the war,” Severus says. “He was only a first year, if I recall.”

“And the real irony,” Potter says, resting his hands against the back of his chair, “is that Zacharias didn’t, either. Bastard didn’t even stay for the battle. Fled the minute spells started flying.”

“I do distinctly recall Mr. Smith’s spectacular cowardice that night.”

Potter’s eyes flash dangerously. “Several members of my class were accepted into the force under Kingsley’s provision.” He sits down once more but bounces his leg up and down repetitively. Severus wonders how he’s dealing with the imprisonment. If Severus goes even a day without using magic, he can feel it crackling beneath his skin. Potter must be going crazy. “Taylor cried double standard.”

“Yet you sat for your N.E.W.T.s.” Severus, admittedly, was surprised when Potter insisted on completing his examinations—even more so when he passed with exceptional marks. Severus always knew he was strong, but whatever he did while away from Hogwarts that year before the final battle only served to increase his abilities tenfold.

“I did. Sat for five—earned four ‘Outstandings,’ one ‘Exceeds.’ Ron sat for three. Outstandings on all of them. Zacharias,” Potter shakes his head, “didn’t take any. And, yet, he was admitted into the programme.”

“And now he’s Head Auror.”

Potter’s expression goes murderous. “I don’t understand. Behind me, Ron holds rank. The position should have been his.”

He’s right. The appointment of Zacharias Smith doesn’t make sense. “As much as it pains me to say this, I agree. Mr. Weasley should be Head Auror in your absence. Though it seems,” Severus continues, “the scandal surrounding your wife’s murder and your subsequent incarceration has rubbed off on him. He was eliminated from consideration.”

Potter sits down. “So what do we do? Taylor Smith did it. I’m sure.”

“He does seem to have ample motivation.” Severus presses his fingers to his temples. “By murdering your wife and assuring that you would be blamed, he had to know that his brother would most likely be appointed Head Auror in your stead. After all, Mr. Weasley would be too closely connected to the crime, and Zacharias ranks next in order of seniority.”

Potter nods. “And once his brother was in charge, Smith was bound to make the training squad.”

“Naturally,” Severus agrees.

“So what do we do now?” There’s a cruel twist to Potter’s mouth; his voice is vicious.

“Now, I’m afraid,” Severus says standing, “I think I must speak to Mr. Weasley again.”

***

“That murderous fucking sicko.” Weasley clenches his fists; his face is as red as his hair.

They’re standing in line for the street vendor at the corner of Whitehall and Downing Street. It’s a warm day; the sky is clear and bright. “So you agree with Potter’s assessment? You believe Taylor Smith capable of murdering your sister?”

“Never liked the bastard,” Weasley says. “Pompous little fucker, if you ask me. I thought it was right ballsy of Zacharias to admit him into the programme after he’d been rejected three consecutive times.” Weasley makes it to the front of the line and orders a Scotch egg, pulling five quid from his pocket.

Severus steps up to the cart and scans the offerings before selecting a Cornish pie. He’ll no doubt regret it later, but he hasn’t eaten all day and the smell of grease is making his stomach growl. “If Taylor Smith is indeed guilty, do you think Zacharias was also involved? He gained as much if not more from Ginevra’s death and Potter’s incarceration.”

“As much as I hate the bastard, no.” Weasley takes a bite of his Scotch egg. Crumbs scatter against his shirt; he brushes them off with the back of his hand. “Don’t get me wrong, he’s an entitled fucker and a complete arse, but he’s not a murderer. My bet is his brother acted alone.”

They sit down on a bench across the street from the vendor’s cart. “Why Taylor Smith?” Weasley asks, mouth full of sausage. “What d’ya find?”

Severus explains what he discovered at the apothecary in Knockturn Alley.

“Good, good,” Weasley says, sucking a finger into his mouth. “Though—don’t tell me—but I assume your methods might not have been exactly legal?”

Severus nods, picking his pie apart with his fingers. The crust is flaky and hot.

“I’ll get a team together.” He finishes his egg, crumbling the wrapper into a ball. “See if we can’t get Witte’s ledger. Zacharias can’t know what we’re doing, of course, but I can act independently. Should be fine.”

Severus takes a bite of his pie; the meat is juicy against his tongue. The grease seeps through the wax paper onto his fingers; he wipes them on his trousers.

“The problem, then, is Harry,” Weasley continues, staring at the Muggle automobiles zipping past on the street. “Even if I can bring Taylor Smith in for the unauthorised purchase of a restricted substance—that’s enough to warrant a suspension from Auror training—I can’t question him about the murder. Not while we’ve already got a suspect under arrest.”

Severus finishes his meat pie; he folds the wax paper in half, then in half again.

“Harry didn’t do it.” Weasley says, “I’m sure of it. But that doesn’t matter without an alibi.”

“I’ll see what I can do.” Severus stands, turning to go, but Weasley stops him.

“They’ve set his trial date, you know.”

Severus glances back over his shoulder. Weasley looks at him, his face tired and sad. “Last I heard, Harry hasn’t even bothered to retain a legal wizard.” And with that, Weasley heads off towards the visitors’ entrance of the Ministry of Magic.

***

That night, Severus lies in his bed and thinks about Harry Potter alone in his cell in Azkaban. He thinks of his dark hair and pale skin and green green eyes. This sort of thinking changes nothing and accomplishes even less, but it’s a necessary distraction. It’s a distraction from the coldness of his dungeon rooms, from the redundancy of his daily routine, and from the emptiness he’s felt since the loss of Lily, of his mother, of Albus.

***

The Daily Prophet 2 August 2010

Quibbler Faced with Lawsuit

Interim Head Auror Zacharias Smith has threatened to sue The Quibbler after the controversial magazine printed what he avers to be a clearly libellous story about his alleged role in the Ginevra Weasley Potter murder. Smith cites his immaculate record and the atrocious nature of The Quibbler’s claims. “Of course I had nothing to do with the murder. It’s tragic and all, but as your new Head Auror, I’m doing everything in my power to bring Harry Potter to justice.” Luna Lovegood Scamander, owner and editor of The Quibbler had no comment. (See Libel, A22)

***

“They’ve detained Taylor Smith,” Severus says. He does not sit down.

“Really?” Potter asks, looking up. “Then Ron believes me?”

“It would appear so,” Severus says, drawing his wand. “However, they can do little more than charge Mr. Smith with the unauthorised purchase of a restricted substance if you refuse to provide me with your alibi.”

Potter takes a deep breath and looks down at his feet. When he looks up again, his eyes are dark. “What choice do I have?”

“Your trial date is set. You will be convicted, and you will spend the rest of your life in this prison. This is your last chance, Harry. Prove your innocence.”

“I like that, you know.” Potter’s voice is soft.

Severus frowns. “What?”

“You called me Harry. I like when you use my name.” With that, Potter closes his eyes. “Okay. I suppose I’m ready.”

Falling into Potter’s mind is like slipping under water. Severus holds his breath as memories upon memories wash across his thoughts.

Music spills out onto the street as Harry pushes the door open. The light inside is low and tinged with a red that steeps everything in crimson. Smoke hangs heavy in the air, clings to everything, and bathes the room in a certain ambiguity, blurring the lines, obscuring his vision. Still, he spots the man immediately.

He is seated at a table in the corner, half-hidden in shadows. Though he doesn’t look up as Harry walks in, somehow Harry is certain he knows he’s there.

Harry watches him for several minutes. The man sits, staring at the stage in front of him. In Harry’s mind, he’s beautiful. His stomach clenches.

He crosses the room slowly.

The man finally looks up when Harry reaches his table. Severus feels Harry’s cheeks warm at the twist of the man’s lips, the quirk of his jaw. Harry is still watching him. Pale hands cradle a glass; the amber liquid casts a gold reflection against the curve of his palm.

“I’ve ordered your drink,” Oliver says with a smile.

“Always so thoughtful.” Harry grins, sitting down.

Within moments a waitress appears. She sets a glass of red wine down on the small cocktail table. “For your friend, love,” she addresses Oliver, leaning a bit too close, but he doesn’t take his eyes off Harry.

They listen to the music for a while—some Muggle band with a grungy distorted guitar sound. The bass tugs at Harry’s spine, spikes in his blood. He spins his glass between his hands, watching the crimson liquid spin up the sides.

Legilimency without resistance is addicting, intoxicating, and incredibly intimate. Severus feels the pulse of Harry’s heart, the flush of his skin, the flutter and twist of his stomach. He sees the appeal, the allure of this illicit meeting. He understands why Harry would choose this encounter over an evening at home with a wife who has long since given up on their marriage. And he knows that this is what it feels like to be happy for just a little while.

Tentatively, Harry reaches out, brushes his fingertip along the other man’s wrist. He waits for him to flinch, to pull away (as though anticipating a rejection Severus knows will never come). Oliver merely looks down at their hands and smiles.

Harry’s thumb circles his wrist bone. He takes a steadying breath, feeling the smoothness of Oliver’s skin under his own.

Oliver curls his fingers around Harry’s, twining them together. His thumb slides against a knuckle. And though Severus knows that Harry’s thoughts are full of work and family and a thousand other things, in this moment, nothing matters except Oliver’s touch. The feel of their hands laced together. The press of skin against skin once more.

He takes a deep breath, savouring the smell of the other man in his mouth and in his throat and in his lungs. The slide of Oliver’s fingers stops. Harry looks up.

Severus watches as Oliver tilts his head to one side, presses pink lips together. “Come with me.” He stands, still clasping Harry’s hand, and leads him between tiny cocktail tables to the hallway by the loo.

Oliver’s dark jacket is unbuttoned, his tie loosened; his hair is artfully rumpled, and practically every person in the bar turns a head as they walk by. Harry can’t help but feel annoyed at that. Severus nearly laughs as he knows that as many eyes are trained on Harry as on Oliver bloody Wood.

The hallway smells of stale chips, piss, and spilled beer, but Harry doesn’t care because Oliver is pushing him against the wall.

Harry is shaking.

And then hands are on his arms, holding him still, fingers clenching hard enough to bruise. Oliver kisses him; his lips are soft and dry as they move against Harry’s.

Severus knows Harry is telling himself not to think, only to feel. And Harry kisses back, hands catching Oliver’s face. His thumbs smooth over cheekbones, slip along his jaw. He pushes against Oliver, forcing him to stumble back, teeth scraping his bottom lip, until his shoulders hit the opposite wall, Oliver’s body pressed flush against his.

Harry’s fingers are at Oliver’s collar, tugging his shirt open, exposing the pale column of his neck. He drags his mouth along his throat, and Oliver groans.

Severus has seen enough. With a word, he ends the spell, pulling back from Potter’s mind and into his own once again. His shock must show on his face because Potter’s expression immediately goes cold.

“So I wasn’t just having a drink, I was getting blown in the fucking loo of—”

Severus holds up his hand stopping him. “Oliver Wood?” he says incredulously. “You’re protecting Oliver Wood?”

Potter frowns. “What? No, of course not.”

“Then what?”

“Don’t you see?” Potter sounds distraught. For weeks he’s alternated between indifference and despair, but now he looks downright miserable. “I was cheating on Gin. It’s my fault this happened. I wasn’t there. I was never there.”

Severus doesn’t know how to respond. That Potter would throw his life away over some perceived guilt is utterly appalling and horrifyingly predictable all at once. If anything, though, Potter has always been a martyr. “It wasn’t your fault,” Severus says slowly.

“But I wasn’t there. If I’d been home I could have—”

“Enough,” Severus says firmly. “There was nothing you could do. She’d already been exposed to the poison.”

“But if I’d been home with her…” Potter is adamant. “I could have stopped it.”

“Possibly,” Severus concedes, “but aconite poisoning takes time after initial exposure. It is far more likely that she was infected earlier that afternoon while you were still at work.” He reaches out to place a hand on Potter’s shoulder. His skin is warm beneath the thin cotton of his jumpsuit. Potter looks at Severus’s hand curiously but does not pull away.

“It wasn’t your fault,” Severus says again, willing Potter to believe him. “You didn’t kill her.”

“No,” Potter says, and his voice is choked. “No. But I should have been able to save her.”

Potter shudders, body trembling under Severus’s hand, and Severus realises that he’s crying. It’s the first time he’s shown any genuine emotion since Severus began the interrogations weeks ago. Something catches in his chest, a tightening against his ribs, and Severus wonders—not for the first time—what’s happening to him. How did Potter manage to creep under his skin and into his lungs?

The answer is important—Potter has insinuated himself in the very fabric of Severus’s mind—but he doesn’t want to think about it. He can’t. Not now.

“Those memories are admissible in court,” Severus says, “but I doubt you’ll even go to trial. You’ll be home to your children this week.”

When Potter looks up, his face is splotchy and tear-streaked. “What do you mean?”

“I’ll give the memories to Weasley. He’ll see that you’re released.” Severus drops his hand to the small of Potter’s back, feels the narrow line of his spine beneath his palm. “Then they’ll be able to question Taylor Smith about Ginevra’s murder.”

But Potter is shaking his head. “No, you can’t.”

“What do you mean, I can’t?”

“There’ll be a scandal.”

“Scandal?” Severus can’t help the rise in his voice. “The Head Auror is already in Azkaban for the murder of his wife. What sort of a scandal are you concerned about?”

“Did you miss the part where I was in Soho with another man?”

Severus wants to laugh. This is entirely too ludicrous to believe. “No. That part was quite clear.”

“So surely you understand.”

“You’re giving up your freedom, choosing a life in Azkaban away from your children, because you’re afraid of a bloody scandal?”

Potter nods like it’s the most rational thing.

“Need I remind you that you haven’t exactly lived a scandal-free existence in the last thirty years?” Severus stands. His magic is thrumming through his veins. Potter is positively infuriating. “What’s one more headline in The Prophet? You know as well as anyone that news only lasts until the next story.”

“I’m gay, Snape.” He wipes at his eyes. “Well, bisexual, really.”

“Yes. But you’re not a murderer.”

“I’m not sure that makes me any less responsible.”

“Regardless, you don’t belong in prison. Let me give the Aurors your alibi.”

Potter looks down. For a long time, Severus does not think he’s going to respond. When he looks up again, his eyes are clear. “Okay.”

***

Weasley is late. Severus has half a mind to Apparate straight back to Hogwarts and forget the meeting entirely. Weasley set the time and place; the least he could do is be prompt.

Severus crosses his arms over his chest and scowls. He’ll give the man five more minutes, tops. The door opens, bell clanging. A young boy rushes in, followed by a rather harried-looking witch. Severus watches as the child makes his selection at the counter, bouncing on the balls of his feet the entire time. When he turns, ice cream in hand, Severus glares. The boy goes rather pale and practically trips over his mother as he hurries past to the tables outside.

Severus sighs. What grown man schedules a meeting at Fortesque’s?

A moment later, the bell clangs again. Severus turns to see Weasley holding the door for two bushy, redheaded children. He barely resists burying his head in his hands.

“Sorry,” Weasley says, taking the seat across from Severus while his offspring head to the counter. “Hermione’s working late all week, so I’ve got Rose and Hugo in the afternoons. They won’t bother us. Figured they can sit outside and eat while we talk.”

Severus nods, watching as the boy orders a cone with at least three scoops on top.

“So,” Weasley says, after his children have their ice cream and are situated at a table just outside the window from where he and Severus are sitting, “they’re processing Harry’s release. He should be out this evening.”

“No trial?” Severus had been cautiously optimistic Potter would be freed without a trial, but one can never be certain when dealing with the Wizengamot.

“Yeah. No trial.” Weasley confirms, bouncing a knee up and down; he’s practically vibrating with energy. “The alibi was crucial. It proves that Harry left the Ministry after work and went straight to Soho. He couldn’t have poisoned Gin; he didn’t see her.”

“And Smith?”

Weasley stops bouncing his knee, but drums his fingers on the tabletop instead. “Aurors brought him into custody three days ago. We had a confession within twenty-four hours.”

“How did he do it?” Severus asks. “Ginevra was exposed topically, correct?”

“Yeah. That’s another reason Harry was initially suspected. The Medi-examiner found traces of aconite on her chest and arms. She didn’t ingest the poison—it came in contact with her skin.” Weasley frowns. “Harry had access to her clothes, or he could have touched her...” he trails off, looking down. “We just didn’t know.”

Severus can see the sadness in Weasley’s expression and he finds himself saying, “It was an easy mistake to make. The evidence did point to Potter.” Severus has no idea why he’s consoling Weasley, but it feels like the appropriate thing to do.

“Yeah, you’re right.” Weasley looks as surprised as Severus at his reassurance but smiles softly. “But I—” He pauses, taking a breath to calm himself. “It turns out Gin had pictures that day. They take them at the start of each season for posters and such. Before Taylor Smith was accepted into the Auror programme, he worked for the Harpies—for their marketing department. He did flyers and scheduling advertisements, that type of thing.” Weasley goes silent, turning to look out the front window; his children are absorbed in their ice cream. Finally he says, “Smith had access to the uniforms. He admitted to tampering with Gin’s. The aconite would have rubbed off on her skin when she dressed for the picture.”

“I’m sorry,” Severus says, and he means it.

“I know. It’s not bloody fair. But at least the kids get their father back now.” Weasley leans forward, resting an elbow on the table. “And we’ve got you to thank for that.”

***

The Daily Prophet 10 August 2010

Saviour Released

Harry Potter, our beloved Head Auror and destroyer of You Know Who, has been released from Azkaban. Potter had been arrested following the tragic and untimely death of his wife, Harpies’ Seeker Ginevra Weasley Potter. But recently unearthed evidence has proven what The Prophet knew all along: our Saviour is innocent. The Ministry hasn’t released any information on what led to Potter’s release, nor have they revealed whether they have another suspect in custody... (See Innocent, A3)

***

Severus has just put the kettle on for tea when there’s a knock at his door. He frowns. Minerva always uses the Floo, and he’s not expecting anyone.

He’s even more surprised when he opens the door to find Potter standing in his office. He’s looking at the rows of jars lining the shelf, hands stuffed in his pockets.

“Mr. Potter,” Severus says, “I hardly recognised you without your striped jumpsuit.”

Something flashes in Potter’s eyes, and for a brief moment Severus worries he’s angered him—and since when has he worried about that? But then he smiles, and the smile is so unexpected, so warm, that it unfurls like magic in Severus’s belly. It catches him off guard, and for a moment Severus can only stare at the man. “Yes, well,” Potter says, “it was a tough call, but I decided this was the way to go.”

Potter is dressed casually in slacks and a gray jumper. He’s lost weight; his jumper hangs from his slender frame, and his skin is still too pale—as though he hasn’t seen the sun in ages—but his face is clean-shaven and, for the first time in months, he doesn’t look like he’s on the verge of a breakdown.

“So,” he says after a moment, “am I interrupting something? I’m sorry to just barge in, but—”

“No,” Severus manages, finding his voice. “Come in.” He leads Potter through the office and into his sitting room. Potter stands awkwardly by the fireplace, eyes darting around the small room.

“This is nice,” he says. “I’ve never been inside a professor’s quarters before. Are they all like this?”

“Yes, for the most part.” Severus shrugs. “Hogwarts has a way of tailoring itself to suit one’s needs.”

“Oh.” Potter looks down, tracing a half circle on the hearthrug with the toe of his shoe.

“Do you want some tea?” Severus offers when it’s clear Potter isn’t going to say anything else. “I just made some.”

“All right.”

Severus summons the kettle and two teacups. He fills Potter’s cup and then his own before sitting down; he motions for Potter to do the same. Potter sits, clutching his cup between his hands.

“Was there something you needed?” Severus asks, unclear as to why the man would appear at his door. “You are no longer in Azkaban, so I assume you were released without issue.”

“What? Oh, yeah,” Potter says, staring down into his tea.

“I gave my statement to the Aurors. They have your alibi. Mr. Weasley assured me there would not be a trial.”

Potter looks up at him. His eyes have a dark, haunted quality that sends a chill down Severus’s spine. It seeps into his magic, into his very core, and he wonders if that’s the way his own eyes look. Between the two of them, they have faced more than their fair share of demons. “No trial,” Potter confirms. “I was cleared of all charges. Insufficient evidence in light of, well, my complete and undeniable innocence.” He laughs, but there’s no humour there. “They even issued me a formal apology on behalf of the Ministry’s finest.”

Severus laughs too, an equally biting sound. “Well, that certainly makes up for everything.”

“I know, right?” Potter smiles and though it’s little more than a cruel twist of lips, there’s something in it that’s meant just for Severus. Something passes between them—like a secret, like a breath of fresh air—and Severus is not really sure what to do with it, so he sips his tea instead.

“I wanted to thank you.”

“That’s not necessary,” Severus says quickly. He doesn’t want Potter to feel some misguided sense of debt to him. “I was paid by the Ministry to uncover the truth. I fully believe they expected to find you guilty, and, in that case, I would have been responsible for securing your conviction.”

“I know,” Potter nods, “but I didn’t kill my wife, and you made me realise that it wasn’t worth throwing my life away over some sort of misdirected guilt.”

“I’m glad you came to your senses,” Severus says honestly.

“Yeah, me too.” Potter takes a long drink of tea. Severus watches his mouth, his throat as he swallows. “Can I take you out to dinner?” he asks then, and the question is so surprising that Severus is once again at a loss for words.

“I, no, you don’t need to—”

“Of course I don’t need to, but I’d like to all the same.”

Severus picks up his cup but, finding only dregs, puts it down again. “I don’t think that’s wise.”

Potter hangs his head. “I…all right.” There is something in his voice that Severus can’t quite place, but it sounds…dejected, and that doesn’t seem to fit with the simple refusal of a dinner invitation.

“Perhaps another time,” Severus finds himself saying, though he can’t imagine why.

“Oh, yeah, okay. Great.” Potter’s expression brightens, and Severus quite likes the look of it. “Tomorrow, then.”

***

“How’s the case against Taylor Smith coming?” Severus takes a bite of samosa, the crust flaking in his fingers. He brushes the crumbs away. “Weasley said he confessed, but I haven’t heard anything else. There’s been nothing in the paper.”

“Yeah, the Ministry’s doing their best to keep things quiet.” Potter takes a samosa from the plate, picking it apart. The aroma of the spiced potato and lentil filling is mouthwatering. “I think they’re worried about a scandal, what with Taylor being Zacharias’s brother and all.”

“Undoubtedly.” Severus dips the last of his vegetable pastry in the chutney. They’re at an Indian restaurant in Muggle London—Potter’s suggestion. He wanted to avoid the prying eyes and onlookers of Diagon Alley; Severus can’t say he blames him. “And what of our dear Zacharias? Surely he won’t retain his position.”

Potter picks at the red and gold label on his beer bottle. “No. I wouldn’t think so. There’ll be an inquiry.”

“Do you think he had anything to do with your wife’s death?”

Potter is quiet for a long moment, and then he shakes his head. “No. I don’t think so. Zacharias is a prick and a bloody coward, but he’s not a murderer.”

The waiter appears at their table. Severus orders the dal fry, and Potter selects the chicken tikka masala. The waiter takes their menus and walks away. Severus picks up his Newcastle; the bottle is slick and cool against his palm. “And what about you?” he asks after a moment. “You’ll be reinstated. It would grossly inappropriate for them not to.”

“Yeah, I think I’ll be. Ron says they want me back. I just need to meet with the Minister.” Potter folds and unfolds his napkin. “But, you know, I’m not sure I want to be an Auror anymore.”

“Oh?” Severus does his best to keep his expression neutral, but this surprises him. He thought Potter enjoyed his work. “Were you not happy?”

Potter picks up his beer but does not drink. “I was, I think. But now…” he trails off, looking up at Severus as though he expects him to finish his thought for him.

“You are a good Auror,” he says carefully, “and a strong leader. The department is lucky to have you.”

Potter twists his bottle between his hands and looks miserable.

“But that doesn’t mean,” Severus continues quickly, “that you are obligated to return to a position that you no longer enjoy.”

“That’s nice to hear,” Potter says, “that I don’t have to do something just because other people expect me to.”

Their food arrives and they eat in silence for a few minutes. Severus’s dal is spicy and rich; the nan is buttery and warm.

Potter spears a piece of chicken with his fork. He takes a bite; a bit of sauce dribbles onto his chin and he wipes it away with his napkin. “For my whole life, I’ve done what others wanted me to, and I never complained.”

Severus rolls his eyes and Potter laughs. “Not really, at least. And never did anyone think to stop to ask me what I wanted—except for Gin. Gin always told me to do what I wanted to do.” Potter dips a piece of nan into his masala. “And now that she’s gone…” his voice breaks slightly, but he continues, “now that she’s gone, well, I think she’d understand why I don’t want to go back.”

Severus drains the rest of his beer and signals the waiter for another. He’s not certain what to say to Potter. That he’s having dinner with the man at all is surreal, and he feels rather out of joint.

“They’ll find out, you know,” Potter says after a moment, and his face is dark.

“Find out what?”

“Why I was released. That I couldn’t have killed my wife because I was at a bar in Soho having sex with another man.”

He’s right of course. “No. I don’t imagine that information will remain secret for long.”

Potter looks sad, but his expression is resigned. “I don’t mind that they blame me. I blame myself, anyway.”

“No,” Severus says, glaring. “It’s not your fault. You’re not—”

“Oh, I know I’m not guilty. Not legally, at least. I was nowhere near Ginny when she was poisoned, and I’m not responsible for Taylor Smith’s actions.” The words sound rehearsed, as though Potter’s been repeating them to himself over and over again. “But that’s just it, isn’t it? I wasn’t there because I was off in fucking Soho with Oliver Wood.”

Severus is not sure what Potter wants him to say, so he takes a swig of beer and tries not to think about Potter’s hands, his mouth, the flash of his skin in the memory he procured for the Aurors. That he’s having this conversation at all is so strange, so unreal, that he’s not really sure of anything at all.

“But I don’t want people to think I didn’t love her.” Potter’s voice is steely and cool with conviction. “Because I always loved her.”

“I believe you,” Severus says slowly.

“She knew I liked men too.” Potter sets his fork down on the edge of his plate. “Before we even married. I think it intrigued her at first. And then, when our marriage started to go to shit, she knew I was cheating.” He looks away, past Severus. “She knew about Oliver and the others, too.”

“Others?” Severus can’t help but ask.

“There weren’t many,” Potter says quickly; he takes a sip of his drink; his lips are wet when he sets his bottle down again. “But there were a few. All men. And Gin was all right with it as long as there was never another woman.” He sighs. “My marriage was a mess, Snape, but Gin was my best friend long before we were anything more.”

“Just because your marriage wasn’t perfect doesn’t mean you didn’t love her. And it doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to grieve.”

“I know,” Potter says, finishing his beer. “I know.” He reaches out and brushes his fingers against the back of Severus’s hand. At first Severus thinks it’s by accident, but Potter doesn’t pull away. His skin is warm, and it sends a not unpleasant shiver down Severus’s spine. He closes his eyes and takes a breath. When he opens them again, Potter is watching him. Severus stiffens, and then yanks his hand back as if burned.

Potter frowns, and something clicks in Severus’s brain, a tumbler falling into its grove, a lock sliding into place. “I…we…” Severus is at a loss for words.

Potter seems to understand. “Forgive me if I’m entirely off base here, but I thought…” He frowns. “Legilimency goes both ways. You know that. And I could tell, when you were in my head, watching me and Oliver…you wanted me. I know you wanted me.”

Severus wants to laugh, wants to deny it entirely, but the way Potter is looking at him makes the words stick on his tongue. “I…”

Potter pulls away. “I’m sorry, I—”

Severus shifts; he’s uncomfortable. This was not the direction he expected their conversation to take, but still he finds himself saying, “No, you’re not entirely incorrect.”

***

The Daily Prophet 14 August 2010

Auror Recruit in Custody
In a shocking turn of events, Taylor Smith, a member of the newest Auror training class, has been arrested and charged with the murder of Ginevra Weasley Potter. Auror Weasley released the following statement this morning: ‘Though it grieves the Department that a recruit could be involved in such a horrible crime, we are happy that justice is finally being served.’ Brother of the accused, Interim Head Auror Zacharias Smith, had no comment… (See Arrest, A5)

***

The first time Potter kisses him Severus is completely taken aback. Though, in retrospect, he thinks, perhaps, he shouldn’t be. He’d been on his way to the Great Hall for dinner when he’d practically run into Potter in his own office. The man pushed him against the wall, pressed his mouth to his.

Potter’s lips are dry and warm as he opens his mouth against his. His hand finds Severus’s back; it rests like a warm weight between his shoulder blades. And when Severus pulls away, Potter’s eyes are bright, pupils blown, and it’s so absurd that Severus nearly laughs. “Where are your children?” he asks, before he can stop himself.

“My kids?” Potter frowns. “Really, Snape? I kiss you and that’s what you say to me?”

“I’m sorry, I…” Severus takes a deep breath, trying to calm the pounding of his heart. He’s treading on unfamiliar territory here, and it’s utterly horrifying.

“They’re with Molly and Arthur,” Potter says. He’s breathless and it’s gorgeous. “But only for dinner. I’m picking them up at eight.”

“What are you doing here?” he manages next, and Potter laughs.

“I was in the area.”

“You were at Hogwarts.”

“Yes. I was visiting with Minerva.” Potter reaches out and touches his arm; his other hand brushes against his chest.

“Stop. You don’t have to do this.” Severus can hear the lack of conviction in his voice, and he worries everything is about to fall apart. He’s not sure why Potter’s even here. He hates him—or, at least, Severus thought he did until just a few nights before.

“I think about you at night.” Potter’s voice is low and rough. His thumb slides along the back of Severus’s hand. Severus knows he should pull away, but his head is swimming, and Potter is so close he can feel the heat from his body against his skin.

“You’re grieving.”

Potter frowns. “Yes, I am. But my marriage was over a long time before Gin’s death. I can grieve and still be ready to move on.”

“I—” But Potter is kissing him again, fingers clutching at the front of his shirt, and the intensity of it sparks in Severus’s magic. He feels it in the palms of his hands, the soles of his feet.

Severus isn’t sure if he should step away or lean into the kiss, but Potter pulls back slightly and catches his arm again, his fingers warm through thin cotton. Severus looks at him. His jaw is strong and squared. Severus can see the stubble there, and he wants to drag his tongue across it. He wants to shove him against his desk and suck him off. The thought is not nearly as unsettling as it should be. He steps back. “You should go, Harry. Please—”

Potter cuts him off with another kiss, and Severus’s hands settle on his hips; the wool of his trousers is rough under his palms. Severus lets his mouth open against Potter's, and Potter's hands curl round his biceps, pulling him closer. His body is lean and firm against his, and Severus feels himself growing hard. He gasps against Potter’s lips and grabs his wrist, walking them backwards and into his rooms.

***

Witch Weekly 18 August 2010

Potter a Poof?

While the Wizarding world rejoices in the recent release of Harry Potter from Azkaban, single young witches everywhere can't help but feel a little bit sad tonight. The very evidence that secured our hero's release from prison also shattered the dreams of many a lady who hoped that she might be the lucky woman to help Potter recover from the tragic loss of his wife. It would seem Potter prefers a different kind of consoling. “Sure, I'm disappointed,” one lovely witch told a Witch Weekly correspondent. “I mean, who wouldn't want a chance with Harry Potter? But I suppose he'll just have to find some lucky wizard instead to make him happy.” Lucky wizard indeed. Who will it be? Witch Weekly has the latest insight and exclusive speculation on our newly single Saviour's love life... (See Speculation, page 17)

***

“I'd like to suck you off, Snape.” Potter’s eyes are bright. It’s enough to take Severus’s breath away. “It’d be brilliant fun. You must admit that.”

“You should go, Harry.”

Potter frowns. His hair is rumpled from his running a hand through it, and his cheeks are pink. He's beautiful, and Severus hates that. He closes his eyes and tries to pretend that his heart isn't pounding in his ears.

“Christ, Snape, when will you stop pretending that this isn’t what you want?” Potter leans back against the sofa cushion. Severus can see the press of his erection against his flies, and it makes him ache. Severus looks away as he adjusts himself. Beside him, Potter sighs, but when he turns back to him, Potter is watching him. “Please,” he says simply, pressing a finger to Severus’s lips before he can say anything else.

When he drops his hand, Severus can still feel the heat of his touch.

His body feels tight, wire-taut, and Severus can almost feel the press of Potter’s mouth against his. Potter moves closer, his thigh touching Severus's. Severus can smell his aftershave—the faint citrusy sandalwood mixed with musk—and it reminds him of the things he thinks about when he’s in his bed alone at night.

Potter reaches out, touches the back of Severus's wrist. His skin is soft and warm as he curls his fingers around Severus’s, thumb sliding against his palm. Then Potter places Severus’s hand on his thigh. Severus can feel the tautness of lean muscle under his fingers when Potter shifts, and slowly Potter guides Severus’s hand up his leg to his hip, then back down to his knee. The denim of his jeans is soft and worn under his palm.

Severus moves his hand again, just brushing the inside of his thigh; Potter groans.

They shouldn't be doing this. Severus wants Potter too much, and it's wrong. The man just lost his wife, and Severus is not the kind of man men like Potter want. But he can't stop touching.

Potter's breath catches and his hips thrust slightly. Severus can see the swell of his cock pressed against the fabric of his trousers. Severus closes his eyes. He can hear his heart pounding in his ears and he moves his hand, fingers just grazing the bulge of Potter's prick. They both groan. Potter covers his hand in his, rocks up into the press of his palm. Severus bites his lip and does not look at Potter's cheeks, his mouth.

“Are you sure?” But even as he says it, Severus’s fingers trace the outline of Potter's erection, feeling its size and shape.

“Yes, gods yes.” Potter's voice is low and rough, and the words send a shiver of want down Severus's spine.

His knees barely protest as he slips to the floor between Potter's legs.

“Here,” Severus says, placing a hand on his thigh. “Open your flies.”

Potter’s eyes flutter open, pupils wide. “What?”

“You heard me.” His fingers brush over the bulge of Potter's cock. Potter gasps, hands fumbling with his zip. Then his cock is out, against the white cotton of his pants.

Severus swallows thickly. Potter is perfect, thick and flushed and slick with pre-come. Severus's mouth waters, and he licks his lips.

“Been dreaming of this,” Potter says, and he's breathless. Warm fingers trace the curve of Severus's cheek. “Of your mouth on me. Go on, Snape,” he whispers. “Suck me. Get me off.”

Severus's hand barely shakes as he curls it around the base of Potter's prick; his skin is hot and damp to the touch. Potter groans, thighs falling open, as Severus licks a line down his shaft.

Potter gasps as he takes him in his mouth, sucking gently on the head. Potter’s hands find his shoulders, holding him there, and Severus swallows around his prick.

“Fuck,” Potter breathes, head falling back against the couch cushion. “You're gorgeous like that Snape, with your mouth on my cock.” He gasps, closing his eyes, and it's all Severus can do not to press a hand between his own thighs. “I used to imagine you doing this to me. Even when I hated you, I thought about this.”

A thrust of Potter's hips and his cock slides almost all the way down Severus's throat. His eyes sting, but he's wanted to do this for days, and Potter tastes amazing.

“I'm not going to last.” Potter's breath is already ragged.

Severus sucks harder, and Potter arches again. “Snape, I can't—” Potter’s hand is in Severus’s hair, fingers twisting so tight it hurts.

He gasps around Potter's cock and Potter groans. Severus puts his hand on his hip, holding him still. He wants to make him come. He can feel Potter's muscles tense under his palm, and Potter cries out, his whole body shaking. Severus swallows as warm bitter fluid covers his tongue, fills his mouth.

Severus sits back on his heels. He is hard, his cock pressing painfully against his flies. His trousers are tented, and he sees Potter's eyes, bright and unfocussed behind his glasses, fall to his lap.

Potter licks his lips. His skin is pink, his hair mussed and sticking up even more than usual. He smiles lazily. “Come here.”

Severus stands and Potter pulls him towards him, hands on his hips. His fingers are fumbling with Severus’s belt, and then his cock is out. He groans as Potter wraps his hand around it, feeling it throb against his palm. Potter’s fingertips brush the head; it's already damp, and Severus can’t remember the last time he was this hard.

He thrusts into Potter’s fist with a groan, and he bites his lip, thinking of Potter’s skin, his hands, the taste of him in his mouth.

“Gods,” Severus gasps as spunk streaks through Potter’s fingers, splattering against Potter’s shirt, the cushion of the couch. He leans forwards, resting his forehead against Potter’s shoulder as he tries to catch his breath.

Potter’s fingers curl in his hair.

***

The Daily Prophet 23 August 2010

Ministry Names New Head Auror

The Department of Magical Law Enforcement announced today the appointment of Ronald Weasley as Head Auror. Weasley’s appointment comes in the wake of Interim Head Auror Zacharias Smith’s resignation and news that Auror Potter will not be returning to the force, as he has decided to pursue other career interests. Weasley joined the Aurors in 2001—the same year as Harry Potter—and has served with distinction ever since… (See Auror, A8)

***

Severus stands in the modestly appointed sitting room. It smells of fresh paint; there are unopened boxes scattered about on the floor. The space is fragilely bound on one end by a wide row of windows, and warm afternoon sun filters through lead-paned glass, leaving large yellow squares on the floor.

After years of living in Gryffindor Tower, Severus supposes Harry prefers the airy openness of the castle’s top floors. Personally, he wouldn’t give up the cool isolation of his dungeon rooms for anything.

“You were wrong, Snape. These rooms are nothing like yours.”

Severus looks around. Potter is right. His accommodations are easily twice the size of Severus’s own. “I suppose the castle knew you wouldn’t be living here alone.”

“No.” Harry glances at the kitchen table where James and Albus are busy colouring, their activity books and crayons spread out in front of them. “I’m sure you’re right.” He adjusts Lily, shifting her to his other hip. “I think we’ll be happy here. It just didn’t seem right, being in our old house…without Ginny.”

Severus understands. He was shocked when Harry appeared at the first faculty meeting of the year. After all, he’d mentioned nothing of his plans to take over the Defence Against the Dark Arts position that fall. But now that Severus knows, it makes perfect sense.

Harry had already decided that he did not want his old job back at the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. And, when Minerva suggested he take the DADA post when it opened up, something slid into place. His South Kensington house no longer felt like home without his wife and mother of his children. It was fitting that, after everything, Harry return to the first place he ever truly considered home.

“Yeah, I think we’ll be happy here,” Harry says again, reaching out to rest his free hand on the small of Severus’s back. It feels like a promise, like the turn of a page, like a softly spoken spell, and Severus can’t help but agree.

 

-The End-