Remember kissing on the cobblestones in the heat of the night?
And all the pretty young homophobes looking out for a fight
Hot Scary Summer – Villagers
December 1998, Spinner’s End, England
Severus winces as he shifts in his seat. The slightest movement jars with him, every flex and twist pulling at the barely healed wounds in his neck. The poison still in his body makes him weak and lethargic, his energy levels sapped away to almost nothing. It took weeks to heal to the point of being able to get out of bed, shower and dress himself. It’s taken longer still for the fog in his brain to lift so he can finally continue working on his potions research. He hates hospitals and the memories they tend to bring flooding back. Hates that he was rendered virtually immobile in the immediate aftermath of the war, when he was most vulnerable to attack. The only good thing about his current predicament is the fact he was able to decline to attend the Order of Merlin Awards, quite sure that being surrounded by Ministry sycophants would result in a relapse.
“You’re supposed to be resting,” Albus comments.
“You’re supposed to be dead.” Severus glares at the painting hanging opposite his desk. It appeared shortly after the war and despite all attempts to remove it, the wretched thing seems to be quite stuck. “I’d thank you not to give me unsolicited advice.”
“Another letter from Harry?” Albus glances at the stack of unopened post on Severus’ desk. “He’s clearly eager for a conversation.”
“He’ll be waiting a long time in that case,” Severus mutters. He’s not entirely sure when Potter developed the peculiar notion that he and Severus are friends, but he managed to make a nuisance of himself during Severus’ time at St Mungo’s. Finding the boy at the side of his bed, arms laden with grapes and flowers, was almost sufficient to send Severus back into a coma. Severus is convinced Potter’s attempts to mop his fevered brow is one of the reasons it’s taken him so long to recover. Since his return home he has sworn off grapes, flowers and dishes of Molly Weasley’s homemade lasagne. He refused all well-meaning visitors, allowing only a few people into Spinner’s End, out of necessity. He would have preferred an extended period of isolation, but his desire for peace and quiet was at odds with the need to put his plans to get the hell away from England into motion.
A pompous owl flies through the open window and deposits a roll of parchment on Severus’ desk before flying off with a cawing sound. Excitement grips at Severus as he recognises the official stamp of the Ministry of Magic. Finally.
“Anything interesting?” Albus—the nosy beggar—peers at Severus from over his half-moon glasses.
Severus gives Albus a smirk. “Oh yes. Very interesting.”
Albus huffs when it becomes clear Severus isn’t going to elaborate. He closes his eyes and it’s not long before a slow—and very unconvincing—snoring fills the room. Rolling his eyes, Severus places the Ministry’s letter to one side and picks up the owl written in Potter’s familiar hand, tearing it open.
Sever Professor Snape,
I hope your neck is feeling better. I heard some rumours that you might be going away for a while.
If you have time to meet before you leave, you know where to find me. My owl is pretty good at working out where I am, even if it’s supposed to be Top Secret. I hope she never falls into the wrong hands.
There’s a hopeful, eager note to the letter which Severus promptly ignores in favour of the latest piece of post which looks far more interesting. His heart beating, Severus tears open the envelope bearing the Ministry’s insignia and reads the letter quickly.
“New York,” Severus murmurs. “I suppose it’s as good a place as any.”
He wasn’t overly interested in moving to America, having expressed a preference for travelling somewhere remote. Severus had hoped his assignment might take him to the kind of place he could forage undisturbed for rare potions ingredients growing in rain forests. He prefers the idea of remote locations to America’s bright lights and billboards advertising the latest Muggle products. America is the past. Californian summers and memories long-since buried under the weight of denial and grief. New York, he supposes, is not San Francisco. There is that, at least. Severus can understand the Ministry refusing to fund an extended vacation and working intermittently with the Magical Congress would at least afford him a better standard of living than the one he’s currently accustomed to. Not that Severus gives two hoots about his standard of living. He simply wants to disappear, and perhaps there is no better place to become invisible than a crowded city.
A particularly loud snore comes from the portrait of Albus and Severus snorts under his breath. “I suppose I’ll have to make arrangements so somebody can dust the old bugger.”
With a flourish Severus writes a reply to Harry, explaining he will be busy preparing for his imminent departure but would appreciate assistance keeping Spinner’s End habitable for the duration of his travels. Severus doesn’t really expect Harry to do any such thing. He imagines the boy will poke around and make a nuisance of himself for a few weeks, before seeking assistance from Granger to remove Albus’ portrait and take him elsewhere. Potter is young, and his curiosity about Severus will soon wane as he finds a nice witch to marry, has children and rises through the ranks of the Ministry. He will forget about Severus soon enough. In the meantime, if he wishes to try to foster a connection he can do so from a distance, when Severus has left England far behind. Severus smiles as his owl wings its way to Potter.
That should keep the boy out of trouble for a while.
“This is really quite extraordinary. To think I can speak to you like this when you’re in America and I’m here in London. Remarkable!”
“Fire calls accomplish the same thing,” Severus replies. He glares at the telephone receiver as Arthur Weasley continues to wax lyrical about the delights of Muggle technology.
“But this is much more convenient, if you don’t have a fireplace. I’ve had to go to Hermione’s parents’ house of course—very generous of them, apparently this telephone business can be quite costly—but I have no idea how I might have contacted you otherwise as owls don’t seem to be able to find your home. All my attempts have been returned, unopened.”
“Perhaps your difficulties in contacting me might be some indicator of the fact I have no desire to be contacted,” Severus says, drily. Naturally, Weasley’s owls couldn’t find him. Severus Snape isn’t daft enough to live somewhere without extensive magical wards, even if he is halfway across the world. Despite his exoneration and Order of Merlin (First Class) there are plenty of people who would love to torment him with Howlers, including his former students. Not to mention he remains cautious about the risks posed by those seeking vengeance on Wizarding Britain’s most notorious traitor to the Dark Lord’s cause.
“I’ve dreamed of actually using a Muggle telephone instead of just writing reports on the evolution of their shape and capabilities for the Ministry.” Arthur chuckles into the phone.
“Is there a point to this call, or did you just want to subject me to a lecture more appropriately suited to a Muggle Studies class?” Severus shouldn’t have answered the telephone. Only a small handful of people have his number and he would prefer to avoid speaking with any of them. He was caught off-guard by the persistent ringing, engrossed in a fascinating piece of research into the magical properties of tumbleweed.
Arthur clears his throat, his tone shifting. “Quite, quite. It’s Harry.”
Severus rolls his eyes, because isn’t it always? “What’s the boy done now?”
“He’s hardly a boy, Severus. Not anymore.” Arthur’s voice carries the faint air of judgement. Severus purses his lips and gives the phone a disdainful look.
“Allow me to rephrase. What’s the reckless brat done now?”
“Get to the point, Arthur.” Severus rubs his neck, the uncomfortable twinge a legacy from Nagini’s attack. The sharp prickles of pain have tempered somewhat since his move. It seems apt that they should return in conjunction with the mention of Harry Potter. The boy is, quite literally, a pain in the neck.
“I don’t want you to fly off the handle—”
“—In that case I suggest you hurry up and tell me the purpose of your call. I have an engagement at noon.”
Severus has no such thing of course, but Arthur doesn’t know that. One of the blessings of being on the other side of the Atlantic is that nobody knows Severus’ business—at least not the minutiae of it.
“Harry’s been struggling for some time.” Arthur sighs, the weight of it heavy down the phone. “I believe he’s trying to work through some things I’m woefully ill-equipped to help him with. The traumas of war, of course, are something we’re all sympathetic to—”
“It’s been nearly six years since the war,” Severus interrupts. “Any traumas should be a distant memory by now.”
Another spark of pain flares in his neck, as if his body wants to expose his lies. There are things that always remain, lurking in the shadows of the mind. Sitting by the river with Lily on a hot summer’s day (please spare her, my Lord), clear blue skies best seen from the Astronomy Tower (what of my soul, Albus?) and the heat of San Francisco in June (a rare form of pneumonia striking gay men). Severus swallows, realising Arthur is still talking.
“You have certain things in common. I think you would understand his struggles far better than me.”
“What on earth could I possibly have in common with Potter?”
“You know exactly what,” Arthur replies. He clears his throat. Perhaps the word homosexual got stuck in it?
Severus sniffs. He recalls the somewhat surprising revelation in the Prophet about Potter’s proclivities a couple of years ago. He can’t help but feel irritated that Arthur would call him about this, of all things. Severus can’t imagine for one moment that he and Potter are the only gay men of Arthur Weasley’s acquaintance.
“Tell him to go to the sauna in Vauxhall if he requires an education.” Severus glares at the telephone receiver. “That should suffice. I’m sure he would be quite popular.”
Arthur tuts. “That’s the last thing Harry needs. He’s looking for a connection, Severus. Somebody who understands—”
“I no more understand him than he understands me.” Severus studies his fingernails. “I can assure you, my experiences as a known Death Eater and homosexual with a significant number of years on Potter have resulted in experiences he couldn’t possibly fathom. He’s luckier than he knows, and you should remind him of that.”
“He talks about you all the time,” Arthur says, quietly. “Do you know he goes to your home every week to talk to that portrait of yours and tidy the house. You at least owe him—”
“—I owe him nothing.” Severus tries to keep the surprise out of his voice, snapping at Arthur. He had forgotten about his flippant owl to Potter all those years ago, asking him to dust Albus on occasion. It was a petty, sarcastic moment of madness, which he hoped at the time would stop Potter from pestering him further. Severus was starting to look like a grape, the boy had fed him so many during his time at St Mungo’s. He had assumed Potter would have long-since grown tired of the task of keeping Spinner’s End free from dust.
“The foolish child should have re-housed the portrait and let the house go to ruin. He’s not a house-elf.”
Arthur tuts. “He’s simply following your instructions.”
“He’s never done that before,” Severus replies, a little uncharitably. The thought of Harry having returned dutifully to Spinner’s End week after week for over five years gnaws at Severus, an unwelcome spike of guilt hurriedly swallowed back.
“He has questions none of us can answer.”
“Tell him to send an owl. Better yet, encourage him to visit a library. I suppose I could put together a reading list, if I must.”
“I think a change of scenery might be just what he needs.” Arthur continues as if Severus hasn’t said a word. “Somewhere he can blend in like anybody else, without the press snapping photographs at every opportunity and making him feel as though he’s doing something shameful.”
An icy cold surrounds Severus and he swallows, clutching the phone tighter. “You can’t possibly expect me to take the boy on? I’ve spent years keeping him out of harm and that was a bloody thankless task, I can tell you. I have done my penance, countless times over.”
“I’m trying to appeal to your better nature—”
“I have no better nature.”
Arthur pauses, before his laughter bursts unexpectedly from the phone. “So you would have us all believe.”
Severus huffs. Arthur has developed a distinctly Albus-like quality and Severus doesn’t like it one bit. He can almost see the wretched eyes twinkling at him and can taste the bitterness of his fury and regret on his tongue.
“Potter is amongst the Ministry’s brightest and best. According to that poor excuse for a paper, he and that ridiculous child of yours are next in line for Head Auror. He can’t simply travel to New York for holiday on a whim, even if I were to entertain the idea.”
“Both Harry and I believe a period of absence from the Ministry might be good for him. There’s not much happening and Shacklebolt believes under your tutelage he could work to strengthen and control his magic with more finesse, making him even more useful to the Aurors.” There’s a rustling from the other end of the phone, as if Arthur is changing position. “Some of his recent practice duels have been erratic, at best.”
“The Ministry has ample wealth and resource to deal with Potter’s magic, however erratic. With our history, I would have thought my company would do little more than exacerbate such issues.”
“He needs time to simply be young, Severus.”
“I’m glad that is an option still available to him,” Severus mutters.
“He’s rather proficient with potions.”
Severus snorts. “I don’t believe it for a moment.”
“He wants to learn.” Arthur laughs under his breath. “He became quite interested in them during his Auror training, and he’s bright. He could be of use to you. He would pay board, if required.”
“You expect me not only to welcome him to the city I moved to largely to forget everything associated with Harry Potter, but to feed, house, employ and teach him for an indeterminate duration?” Severus has half a mind to slam the telephone down at the impertinence of it all. “The very idea that I could offer Potter anything more than a swift kick up the arse is preposterous. He showed precious little interest in learning anything from me in the past.”
“Circumstances were very different then.” Arthur’s tone becomes sombre. “I think you’re wrong about Harry. Molly and I are worried.”
“I’d warrant you’re more than worried if you’re contacting me, of all people.” Severus pinches the bridge of his nose. “Does Potter have any say in this?”
“Yes.” Arthur sounds like he’s smiling. “He said he’s always wanted to see the New York Nifflers play Quidditch.”
“Naturally, his primary concern is that ridiculous sport.”
Arthur pauses before continuing, his tone hopeful. “You’ll agree to it?”
“What do I stand to gain?”
“An able assistant. Not to mention it must be lonely living by yourself so far away from friends and family.”
Severus rolls his eyes. “I can bear that particular cross quite comfortably, thank you. Isolation has never troubled me. In fact, I welcome it.”
“Then I can’t convince you?” Arthur sounds defeated.
Severus, unfortunately, is in dire need of a new potions assistant and his desire to avoid advertising for one outweighs his inclination to refuse Arthur’s imposition. Alerting strangers to his whereabouts is still risky, and there’s no guarantee that an assistant supplied by the Ministry will be any less infuriating than Potter. If Potter can make himself useful and manage to keep his opinions to himself, Severus may be able to tolerate him. In very small doses.
“Fine.” Severus curses under his breath. “Potter can come, if he must. Please inform him that he should leave his cheek at home, unless he would like me to put him on his broomstick and boot him back to England.”
“Thank you.” Arthur sounds as though he’s trying not to laugh. “I’ll let Harry know to mind his manners, of course. Would next month be too early?”
“Next year would be too early.” Severus sighs. “But if Potter must descend on my doorstep, sooner would be preferable. My assistant returns to England in April and I have precious little time to advertise for a replacement or conduct interviews. I would prefer as few people as possible know of my location. Please ensure Potter is aware of the need for secrecy, my home is not a hotel for every Gryffindor waif and stray.”
“I understand.” Arthur sounds cheerful. “April it is then.” After a short silence, he speaks again, a hesitant note to his voice. “Be kind to him.”
Severus sneers into the receiver. “I’m not a kind man.”
“Hmm.” Arthur doesn’t sound as though he believes it, but mercifully changes the subject.
When Severus hangs up the phone, he spends more time than usual mulling over the conversation. Severus can’t deny it’s a welcome relief not to have to take measures that would alert every witch and wizard in Manhattan to his presence, but the thought of having Harry Potter invade his cherished personal space is a heavy price to pay.
He supposes it’s always possible that Potter might make himself useful.
Unlikely, but possible.
“I’ve flown a broom, a car, a dragon and a Hippogriff.” Harry grins at Severus, dropping his rucksack in a slovenly heap on the floor. “But I’ve never been on a plane until now. Can you believe it?”
“Yes.” Severus stares at Harry wondering if he’s quite sane. Arthur mentioned Harry was suffering from a no-doubt self-indulgent malaise, but he didn’t mention anything about the smiling. It’s quite disconcerting and it makes Severus instantly suspicious. He scowls. “Why are you doing that?”
“What?” Harry frowns at Severus and pushes a hand through his hair, still as insolent as ever in its appalling untidiness. “I’m not doing anything.” His tone takes on the underlying note of irritation that Severus is more accustomed to.
“You’re smiling,” Severus retorts. It’s bad enough having to put up with Harry Potter infiltrating his space and the city he’s come to think of as home. The last thing Severus needs is for Potter to look quite so cheerful about it. Severus can’t abide false niceties and inane conversations about Quidditch and has no intention of indulging the boy if that’s what he’s expecting.
“Oh.” Harry does it again, as brash as one might expect from a Gryffindor. “I’ll try not to do it too often.” He tries to school his face into a frown, but the smile breaks through, his eyes shining as he nudges his glasses onto his nose. “Thanks for letting me stay for a bit.”
Severus scowls again. “I can’t imagine for one moment why Arthur Weasley came up with this ridiculous scheme. I also can’t believe with all your wealth and status that you couldn’t find alternative accommodations.”
A dark expression crosses Harry’s face, like a storm cloud blotting out the sun. “I can find a hotel if it’s an imposition.” He glances down. “I know we’re not exactly friends.”
Severus rolls his eyes. “Not exactly friends would be putting it mildly, wouldn’t you say?”
“Yeah. Perhaps.” Harry looks up, the sunniness from before gone entirely and Severus can’t help but feel churlish.
Severus takes in the tatty rucksack by Harry’s feet and appraises him. He’s wearing a navy knitted jumper, well-worn light blue jeans and canvas trainers. With his dark hair, new glasses and athletic frame, he looks handsome, despite his rumpled appearance. The realisation that Harry Potter has an unfussy and appealing charm takes Severus by surprise, a pull of attraction he hasn’t experienced for some time leaving him unbalanced.
“Where’s good, then?” Harry yanks Severus from his thoughts, his tone brusque.
“For what?” Severus sincerely hopes he hasn’t been clocked staring.
“For alternative accommodations,” Harry replies. There’s a bitter note in his voice and Severus strongly suspects Harry’s thinking fuck you, Severus Snape. Normality, at last, is restored.
“I have a spare room and I’m in need of the board.” Severus bites back a sharp reply, remembering Arthur’s plea for kindness. “I’m sure I can put up with your company for a period. Besides, my assistant has recently found new employment and I was informed you might be of some use, although I find that difficult to believe based on your previous record with potions.”
“I’ve improved,” Harry says, tightly. Looking at him closer reveals he’s slighter than he first appeared, his moods as easy to read as they’ve ever been.
“I’m glad to hear it.”
“They taught us advanced stuff at the Ministry.” There’s no pride in the statement, just a dull, flat note to Harry’s tone that doesn’t suit him at all. Severus wonders what demons are plaguing Harry, to cause him to swap his powerful Ministry position for a few months as a subordinate for a person he always professed to hate.
“I expect you and I have very different ideas of what is advanced when it comes to potions.” Severus sighs. “Come, I will show you to your room.”
Harry follows Severus dutifully, quiet and sullen. Severus pushes open the door to the spare room and steps to one side to let Harry take in the room.
“This is dead nice.” Harry looks around with wide eyes, dropping his rucksack on the bed. He presses close to the window, as if he’s trying to breathe in the city through the glass. “It’s quieter than I thought it would be. I expected traffic jams and Times Square.”
Severus shudders. “I can’t imagine anything worse.” He frowns at Harry’s back. “There’s plenty of activity just a short walk from here, if you’re concerned my home will be too boring for you.”
“Are you ever going to give me the benefit of the doubt, or just assume I’m thinking the worst?” Harry turns to face Severus, another flicker of annoyance passing over his face.
“Probably the latter.”
“Well I’m not.” Harry gives Severus a tentative smile. “Not this time, at least. I like that it’s quiet, it suits me just fine.” He rummages through his bag and extracts a Muggle camera, holding it up. “I’ll have to find Times Square and the Statue of Liberty at some point, though. Hermione gave me this. For sightseeing.”
“I’m sure I can lend you a map. I suggest you avoid Apparition until you’re more familiar with the city.”
“That’s fine, I’m looking forward to doing things the Muggle way.” Harry’s earlier moodiness dissipates, his cheerful countenance returning. “I want to get the tube and one of those yellow taxis.”
“The subway,” Severus replies. “The Americans call it the subway, not the tube.”
“Oh.” Harry shrugs. “I’m looking forward to getting the subway, then.” He pauses and looks away from Severus, as if he’s choosing his words carefully. “I bet you’ve seen everything already.”
“I have little interest in sight-seeing.”
“Maybe we could do some things together?” Harry seems cheered by the idea, which has Severus, once again, questioning Potter’s sanity.
“I’m not your tour guide,” Severus snaps.
“I know.” Harry’s expression turns serious. He puts the camera back in his rucksack before looking up with a tentative smile. “Thanks for having me.”
“There’s no need for thanks. I understand you’ve been tending to my home—Merlin knows why—quite diligently. Besides, I expect you to earn your keep.”
Harry frowns at Severus. “I’ve been looking after your home because you asked me to. Didn’t you?”
“Yes, but I didn’t expect you to listen.” Severus rolls his eyes. “I imagined you and Miss Granger would find a way to remove that infernal portrait and leave Spinner’s End to gather dust. You’ve never been overly fond of listening to me in the past. I wasn’t expecting the great Harry Potter to turn up with a shammy leather and a bottle of polish to scrub my kitchen floors.”
Harry grins. “It wasn’t quite like that.”
Severus pinches the bridge of his nose, wondering what on earth Harry’s been doing to his house. He sincerely hopes Potter hasn’t touched any of the books.
“Then how, precisely, was it?”
“Kreacher helped,” Harry says, cheerfully. “He’s really good.”
Severus stares at Harry. “You let a house-elf with an affinity for Dark Arts into my home?”
“Never unsupervised.” Harry rummages through his rucksack. “Anyway, Kreacher’s not so bad now. It’s Yaxley and Mulciber that caused the most damage.”
“Excuse me?” Severus scowls at Harry. “What damage? Why wasn’t I informed?”
“You were.” Harry straightens and meets Severus’ gaze, a small smile playing around his lips. “You just don’t open any letters. Don’t worry, it was years ago. They’re both in Azkaban now. I singed the leg of one of your coffee tables fighting them, but otherwise everything looks as good as new.” He pulls a face. “Curses are impossible to get out of mahogany. I think it causes a reaction. Hermione and me spent ages trying to work out how to fix it.”
Severus splutters with indignation. “You fought Death Eaters in my home?”
“Oh yeah.” Harry has the audacity to wink. “Thankfully, I’m pretty good with my wand.”
Severus decides to let the impertinence of that particular remark slide, ignoring the flicker of interest the comment stirs. “I fully expected you to find new things to keep yourself occupied. You should have left Spinner’s End to rot.”
“Why would I do that?” Harry frowns at Severus. “I like it. It’s homely.”
“It’s bricks and mortar, Potter. There’s no need to be needlessly sentimental about a house.”
“Perhaps.” Harry shrugs, a strange expression on his face. He ducks his head and continues rummaging in his bag. “I liked seeing where you lived before you came here. Besides, Professor Dumbledore would have been lonely.”
“Albus is no more than oil, canvas and magical memories. I’m sure he would have survived.” Severus resists the urge to roll his eyes, with some difficulty.
“Maybe. Don’t you think his picture is more life-like than most, though?”
“Because he was a powerful wizard, nothing more.” The thought of Harry being in his home—dutifully obeying an offhand letter sent in a gleeful moment that seems almost cruel with hindsight—Severus finds himself eager to change the subject. He dislikes feeling unsettled and a lifetime of Potter-related guilt is something he has no desire to see resurface. The image of Potter polishing Spinner’s End and chatting to a portrait of his dead mentor gnaws unpleasantly at Severus as it did during his conversation with Arthur. Once again, Severus can’t help but feel as though Harry is going to call to mind all the unpleasant memories Severus has been able to put behind him since his arrival in New York. With an irritated cluck of his tongue, he nods to a door at the corner of the room. “You have your own bathroom. The house bathroom is for my personal use only.”
“Thanks.” Harry holds out his hand for the offered keys, his fingers cold against Severus’ skin.
“You may come and go as you please, when you’re not working. However, I frequently work late into the night and require peace and quiet. There will be no unexpected house guests.”
Harry’s cheeks turn pink and he winces. “I’m not going to bring someone back to your flat for a shag, Severus. What do you take me for?”
“A young man with an interest in frequenting bars and clubs, if reports are to be believed.”
Harry glares at Severus. “Is that what Arthur told you?”
“He intimated it.” Severus contemplates Harry. “I’m primarily going by the things I read in the Prophet.”
“You should know better than to trust that rag.” Harry’s frown disappears and he stretches and yawns, his jumper lifting to reveal a tanned sliver of his belly, with dark hair snaking down below his low-slung jeans. He sits on the edge of the bed and kicks off his shoes to reveal garish burgundy socks with golden heels and toes. It’s all Severus can do not to make a scathing comment, and he’s quite proud of himself for his restraint. “Will you show me the rest of the place?”
“If you wish.” Severus checks his watch. “I have a particularly volatile potion currently under a Stasis Charm, however. I intend to return to work shortly.”
“I can help,” Harry replies. He looks enthusiastic. “I can show you everything I know.”
“Oh good.” Severus turns his eyes heavenwards. “I expect that will take at least ten minutes of my valuable time.”
“Give over.” Harry laughs, deep and pleasing. “Show me where the magic happens.” He has the nerve to wink again, with all the impertinence Severus would expect from a Potter.
“Fine.” Severus stalks through the flat, pointing out things that Harry shouldn’t touch. Harry oohs and ahs at the exposed brickwork, the light, airy space and the large open-plan kitchen. Severus saves one of his favourite spots until the end, unable to quell the flicker of pride as he opens the door to an enclosed terrace.
The red brick walls stretch high enough to keep the space protected from prying eyes, but not high enough to obscure the terraced houses of Greenwich Village that stand tall and well-attended on the opposite side of the road. The garden was a bleak space with a dull, grey patio when Severus moved in. Aside from his vast bookcases and private workspace, it’s the spot that Severus spent most time and money on since his arrival in New York. The once soulless area is now rich and colourful, a multitude of different plants breathing life into the space. The simple wrought iron table and chairs he happened upon when browsing for second-hand furnishings are ideally situated for eating outside on a summer’s evening. With the addition of a few softer chairs, there’s a cosy, lived-in warmth to the garden. Severus spends most of his time reading in the garden when the glare of the sun has moved on and the weather allows for being outdoors. Even in the rain, he sometimes uses charms to keep himself dry and steps outside to breathe in the freshness of the city, enjoying the quietness of those moments when the weather drives the Muggles inside.
Harry steps outside with a whoop of excitement. He laughs, uninhibited and attractive in the warmth of the afternoon sun. Even from a polite distance there’s an unmistakable power in his magic, a sense of boundless energy to his movements. The low hum of magic holds a firm kindness and a frank honesty that Severus finds as compelling as he does unrelatable. Watching Harry poke around the garden, Severus can’t help but feel the creep of old age more keenly. Harry is very much a man, but he still has the boyish vigour and enthusiasm that always evaded Severus, even as a child. Watching him now sends a pulse of desire through Severus which he pushes aside because no. Developing any misplaced interest in Potter would not do at all.
“New York, I love you!” Harry stretches his arms out, a broad smile on his face as he turns to Severus. “This is brilliant. I’m going to spend all my time here. I can’t believe you were jammy enough to get a garden in the middle of the city.”
“Indeed.” Severus is torn between basking in the glow of Harry’s obvious enthusiasm and niggling annoyance at the reminder his sanctuary is no longer solely his own. “I forbid parties and barbeques before you start planning anything of the sort.”
“I don’t know anyone here apart from you.” Harry’s lips quirk into a small smile, his eyes shining with mirth. “Sounds like a pretty rubbish party. Am I allowed to enjoy the garden by myself, or do I have to be very solemn when I come here to read?”
“Don’t be obtuse.” Severus huffs with annoyance. “I don’t imagine you’ll be lazing around with books, with Manhattan at your disposal.”
Harry shrugs. “I like nights in as much as the next person. I’m not the party animal the Prophet seems to think I am.”
“That remains to be seen.”
Harry turns his back to Severus without taking the bait, studying one of the nearby plants. “How on earth did you get this place? Doesn’t it cost a fortune?”
“Significantly more than I could ever afford.” Severus checks the leaves on one of his plants, focusing on that instead of Harry’s wide-eyed excitement. Too much enthusiasm makes him slightly nauseated, no matter how attractive Harry may appear in fleeting moments of madness. “Greenwich Village isn’t cheap and a two-bedroom flat with a private garden area—however small it might seem after Grimmauld Place—is in high demand. Thankfully, the Ministry owns several properties in the area.”
“They just gave you a house?” Harry looks curious. “I didn’t know you were still working for the Ministry.”
“Why on earth would I need an assistant? I don’t brew for fun.”
“I bet you do.” Harry grins. “I thought it was your own business. When Shacklebolt said he thought it would be good to visit he didn’t mention you were doing Ministry work. Perhaps he’s planning to keep an eye on me through you.”
“I have no desire to go back to being someone’s spy.” Severus tuts under his breath. “In any event, I have to make a living somehow. We don’t all have pots of money from The Ancient and Noble House of Black.”
“Hardly pots.” Harry glares at Severus.
“It’s significantly more than I have at my disposal, I’d warrant.” Severus waves a hand, indicating discussions of their finances are over. “I required something of a safe house after the war. I took on the title of International Potions Consultant for the Ministry and pay intermittent visits to the Magical Congress when required. In exchange I pay a significantly reduced monthly rent which enables me to live in an area I couldn’t otherwise afford.”
“Cool.” Harry looks around the garden with new curiosity, as if he’s trying to discern if the plants are going to start snapping at his fingers or growing tentacles. “Is it magical, then?”
“Not entirely.” Severus shakes his head. “I was given license to make some magical modifications, however. I conducted a thorough sweep of the property to ensure the Ministry and Magical Congress hadn’t made elaborate plans to spy on me. When satisfied the property was free of any such magic, I replaced the white walls with bookcases.”
“Of course you did.” Harry sounds amused, impertinent so-and-so that he is. “I like it. It’s brilliant.”
“Thank you,” Severus says, drily. “I’m thrilled my décor meets with your approval.”
“Phones and computers go wonky, I’m guessing.” Harry runs his hand over the tarpaulin covering the barbeque that Severus has never used. “This’ll be brilliant. The weather’s so nice it almost feels like summer.”
Severus makes a noncommittal sound. The last thing he needs is Potter burning the flat down trying to cook sausages.
“The internet doesn’t work here, as far as I’m aware. I can’t say I’ve attempted to install any such thing.” Severus takes great pains to know as little about Muggle technology as possible, but from the small amount he does know he can well imagine the kind of trouble Harry would get himself into with access to the internet. “Electricity works to an extent. There’s a television, a Muggle telephone and various kitchen appliances. I can’t abide the television when I’m relaxing in the evening, however. I watch the BBC News at Ten, on occasion. I don’t expect to be disturbed by whatever dreadful programmes you like to watch. The property has no Floo capabilities and as such communicating or travelling through the fire is impossible. You will have to make your way around on foot or borrow a book if you’re seeking entertainment.”
“It’s fine, I don’t need any of that stuff.” Harry shrugs. “I’ve never had a telly, so I’m unlikely to start watching one now. Mandrake’s arriving tomorrow, and I’ve got Erised, too.”
“Who the blazes is Mandrake?” Severus glares at Harry. “I sincerely hope you haven’t put the Mirror of Erised in your rucksack.”
“Of course not.” Harry laughs under his breath. “It’s the enchanted mirror I use to chat to Ron and Hermione. I call it Erised. Private joke.”
“Hilarious, I’m sure.” Severus rolls his eyes. “And Mandrake?” He smirks. “A boyfriend of yours?”
Harry snorts. “Very funny. Mandrake’s my owl. Don’t you have one too?”
“Not any longer. The Owl Postal Service suffices.” Severus narrows his eyes at Harry. “They allowed you to bring your owl into the United States?”
“Of course.” Harry raises an eyebrow. “Why wouldn’t they?”
“I suppose they allow anything when you’re Harry Potter.” Severus tries not to sound as annoyed by that as he is. The strict regulations on keeping animals from overseas in the flat was one of the reasons he gave his own owl to the Postal Service.
“Maybe.” Harry inspects one of the plants. “Where’s the dungeon?”
Severus makes an aggravated humph. “I don’t have one, you insolent child. I’m quite capable of brewing without a dungeon.”
“It takes something away from the fun of it though, doesn’t it?” Harry follows Severus back into the flat. “I like to think of you surrounded by bats and dusty jars with eyes in them.”
“What a flattering portrait you do paint of me, Potter.”
“I try.” Harry peers curiously at a tall bookcase when Severus comes to a stop in front of it. “Are you going to show off about your library, or tell me which books I’m not allowed to touch?”
Severus ignores Harry’s impertinence and extracts his wand. He taps it on a bound collection of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. With a creak the bookcase swings open to reveal his workroom. “Here’s—as you put it—where the magic happens.”
Harry steps inside, looking around. He turns to Severus with a grin. “A dungeon, just like I imagined.”
“It’s not remotely like a dungeon, thank you very much.” Severus scowls at Harry. “Just because it’s more dimly lit than the other rooms—”
“It’s hardly lit at all,” Harry replies, with more the smugness of a man who believes his ponderings to have been proven correct. “I knew there would be loads of jars.” He picks one up, turning it in his hand. “Jars, cauldrons and a dusty room covered in the kind of books you’d find in the Restricted Section. This is more like it.”
Severus takes in the room. He does hate to be a cliché, but Potter isn’t entirely wrong about there being a familiar air to his private workspace. His New York flat is as different from Spinner’s End or his chambers at Hogwarts as a place could be. In this room—protected from the prying eyes of unexpected Muggle visitors—he took pains to recreate some of the places he’s always felt most at home. Like his small outdoor space, his workroom is a sanctuary and the one room in the flat that’s unambiguously magical. The space thrums with it, the familiar scent of potions thick in the air. Severus rarely wears robes any longer, having become accustomed to the ways of the Muggle world, but in here he can wear robes again if he wishes. The process of working on complex potions is instantly soothing to him, and the small room provides a connection to the past that isn’t wholly unpleasant.
“I’ve spent long enough showing you around like a glorified Estate Agent.” Severus unbuttons his shirt cuffs, rolling his sleeves up to his elbows and taking a seat at the sizeable desk similar to the one in his quarters at Hogwarts. “If you wish to rest after your journey, please do it elsewhere.”
“Why would I want to rest?”
Severus waves his hand. “Go and see something of New York, in that case.”
“I’m here to help.” Harry pushes up the sleeves of his jumper, as if imitating Severus. “Where do you want me?”
“Outside of my workroom, ideally.” Severus glares at Harry over his stack of papers, trying not to let his gaze linger too long on Harry’s strong forearms and all too attractive smile, broad and eager. The flat has taken on a whole new energy since Harry’s arrival, and it’s surprisingly palatable.
“You’re going to have to trust me with your lacewing flies at some stage,” Harry points out. “I might surprise you.”
“I highly doubt that.” Severus opens a dusty book and flicks his wand to bring several jars of ingredients over to a small desk within easy critiquing distance. “You can work here.” He shakes a piece of parchment at Harry. “Please follow these instructions to the letter. If your chopping is as much as half a millimetre out, the potion will be ruined.”
“I was good at following instructions when I had the Half-Blood Prince to help. This should be no problem.” Harry takes the parchment from Severus, the faint scent of oud and bergamot catching in the air. Potter even smells attractive, which aggravates Severus further.
Severus buries his nose in his book, trying to pull his thoughts back to safer territory. “Please try not to disturb me when I’m brewing. If you have any questions you can raise your hand or wait until I’ve finished.”
“Okay.” Harry sounds as though he’s smiling. “Just like old times.”
If the flushes of arousal that keep catching Severus completely unawares are anything to go by, their current predicament is nothing like old times.
Severus shakes such foolishness from his mind and returns to his research without another word.
“You’re a smoker now?” Severus settles in the chair next to Harry, breathing in the waft of smoke that travels in his direction.
“I’m still deciding.” Harry pulls a face and glances at the cigarette between his fingers. “I smoked for a bit after the war and thought I might take it up again. I’m not sure it’s for me.”
“No, I imagine not.” Severus extracts the offered cigarette from Harry’s crumpled pack of Marlboro. Their fingers brush as Severus takes the lighter and it ignites sparks of pleasure that Severus tries to ignore. Breathing in the smoke for the first time in years takes Severus back to another time. He exhales, lets the tendrils of smoke drift into the air and disappear on a gust of wind.
“I imagine I don’t need to tell you that if you’re not already a smoker, for the sake of those of us that risked life and limb during the war, it would be wise not to start.”
“I know.” Harry takes a puff on his cigarette and looks up at the night sky. “I’m just having one. I fancied it. Besides, you’re smoking too.”
“Because you offered me one, and I have precious little else to do this evening. I have few who need me alive in any event.”
“Don’t say that.” There’s a fierceness to Harry’s tone that surprises Severus. “I want you to live.”
“And Harry Potter always gets what he wants, I suppose.”
“Hardly.” Harry falls silent, the hum of distant traffic filling the space between them. “How did I do today?”
“Surprisingly well.” Severus believes in credit where credit’s due, and Harry proved a quick, able and efficient assistant. He lacks the finesse of someone who has trained extensively in potions, but he works diligently, and his presence proved palatable. More than palatable. “I believe with a little tuition on more complex tasks you could prove quite useful.”
“Ten points to Gryffindor,” Harry replies, amused.
“I wouldn’t go that far.” Severus glances at Harry. “You’re up later than I expected after the flight.”
Harry shrugs. “I don’t sleep well. I haven’t, since…” He trails off and stares into the distance.
“I see.” Severus isn’t inclined to offer warm hugs and platitudes, but he understands a little something of the impact of a war on one’s sleeping habits. “Arthur informed me the press has been relentless since the Dark Lord’s demise.”
Harry takes another puff on his cigarette before putting it out viciously. “War heroes are supposed to get married and have lots of babies. It’s worse now they can’t marry me off to Ginny. Most is lies, the stuff that isn’t I don’t want splashed all over the Prophet.”
A flush of anger makes Severus press his lips together. “I expect you’re unused to anything other than unbridled adulation. Your privileged sense of entitlement is remarkable.”
“Fuck you,” Harry mutters. “I don’t expect them to fawn all over me, I just want them to leave me alone.”
“The press rarely thinks twice about turning heroes into villains.”
Harry’s expression turns gloomy. “They like the word ‘deviant’, that’s for sure.”
“The Prophet has called me a great deal worse, as have others.” Severus can feel Harry watching him and he focuses on the window of a nearby house as shadowy figures cross back and forth. Here the city is at its quietest, tucked away on ground level, where the only reminders of New York’s restless energy are the cars in the distance and the odd flurry of people that pass in and out of nearby houses and flats.
“You wouldn’t understand.”
Severus laughs, bitterly. “I would warrant I know a little more than you, with your powerful friends, liberal extended family and the ability to fuck whomever you want in a much-changed world.”
“That’s a lot of assumptions to make about somebody’s life.” Harry’s chin takes on a defiant tilt.
“Is it?” Severus snorts. “It must be a great hardship being blessed with good looks and your pick of potential suitors. You have the Ministry bending over backwards to provide you with everything from your ridiculous owl to an extended holiday, not to mention you have the financial means to spend an indefinite period of time swanning around New York. Your life may be subject to public scrutiny, but it is, nevertheless, public and at little consequence to you. You know nothing of hiding in shadows, of lying by omission, of the closet.”
“Yeah and I bet it’s really tough having a fancy made-up job title and a massive flat in Greenwich Village, too.” Harry’s cheek flexes as he glares at Severus. “Besides, it’s not like people don’t know you’re gay. Arthur told me—”
“—Arthur Weasley knows as little of my life as you do!” Severus’ words spill from him in a snarl, the sting of buried memories assaulting him. “He has little beyond the most basic of details, knows nothing of my childhood, my romantic history, my life.”
“Then perhaps you should share more of these memories of yours,” Harry replies. “It might make you less of an arse.”
Severus holds Harry’s gaze for a charged moment before turning away, quelling his anger. “Let the memories slip away, like ghosts. I have no desire to unburden myself to indulge your nosiness.”
“It’s not nosiness.” Harry’s voice softens, the city at night quiet around them. “I’d like to hear your stories.”
“I can assure you there would be nothing to like about them.” Severus glances at Harry again. “You have countless privileges you don’t even recognise.”
“I don’t know why you let me come to New York, if that’s how you see me.” Harry looks away, staring moodily ahead. Severus glances at him, taking in the firm set of his jaw and his tense posture. “A spoiled brat, who doesn’t know how lucky he is. You’ve always read me wrong.”
“Perhaps.” Severus inclines his head briefly. “Time will tell. In the meantime, you are here because I owe Arthur Weasley a favour. I’m in need of an assistant and you’re clearly in need of someone who isn’t afraid to talk plainly to you.”
Harry snorts. “Brilliant, thanks. I’m lucky I have you.”
“Exceedingly lucky,” Severus agrees.
“I know you don’t care what the Prophet says, I shouldn’t care what they say, but lately it’s been making me feel like I’m wired all wrong,” Harry says at last. “Like a wand gone wonky.”
“It’s unlike you to be ashamed,” Severus replies. “I would have expected more fight from a Gryffindor.”
“I’m sick of fighting.”
“That too, is unlike you. I may have shown little respect for your brash methods in the past, but you’ve never struck me as defeatist.”
“It’s not just the press.” Harry’s voice shakes and there’s a pulse of magic that makes the air hum and crack. “The Dursleys, too.”
“Have nothing to do with them, then.”
“I don’t. Only Dudley, he’s alright now.” Harry’s voice is tight. “It doesn’t mean I don’t remember.”
“I could Obliviate you, if you wish?”
Harry laughs under his breath. “Thanks. You’re really helping.”
“I try.” Severus studies his hand. “Was there any particular incident that prompted Arthur’s call?”
“Not really.” Harry says, not at all convincingly. He sighs. “I feel shit for worrying them. Can I call them tomorrow to let them know I’m okay?”
“If you wish. Provided you pay for it,” Severus adds. Charity only goes so far, after all.
“Of course.” Harry stands, stretching. “I’m ready for bed.” He nods to the crumpled packet of cigarettes on the small table between them. “Want me to leave those out?”
“You may as well.”
“Night, Severus.” Harry gives Severus a small smile. “It feels odd, calling you that.”
“It feels odd hearing it.” Severus waves Harry off, lost in his thoughts.
When he’s quite sure Harry’s long gone, Severus extracts another cigarette, lights it and closes his eyes. It brings the past into such sharp focus, Severus can almost feel the heat of sweaty bodies against his skin, the warmth of the Californian sun. The terrace fills with wolf-whistles, the chatter of people spilling out of the bars onto the streets and the pulse and energy of San Francisco Pride.
“Let the memories slip away, like ghosts,” Severus murmurs.
He puts out his cigarette, opens his eyes, and he’s back in New York again. The garden is quiet and still once more.
By unspoken agreement, Harry took a couple of days to settle his owl—a ridiculous, fluffy ball of a thing—and acclimatise to the time difference. Despite ostensibly enjoying a few days off, he’s spent the mornings in his room and shown up at the workroom at midday sharp every day since he arrived. It’s only been a couple of days, but the routine is always the same. Harry makes the lunch Severus often forgets to eat and assists quietly with the afternoon brewing, only asking questions about the particular potion he’s working on or enquiring about Severus’ research. Severus half expected relentless chatter and thought Harry would need constant supervision, but he’s proving even more helpful than the previous assistant Severus hired. Although Harry’s area of expertise is not potions, he’s a remarkably quick learner and his intuition has led to several astute observations.
Harry’s interest in seeing New York is less urgent than Severus expected and it’s beginning to make him suspicious. He can’t imagine that Harry came to New York to sit with Severus in a dusty room without venturing outside into the city, and he determines to get to the bottom of the strange behaviour before Harry turns into a recluse.
“Morning.” Harry’s entrance is just as cheerful as usual, his eyes less shadowed, as if he’s finally had a good night’s sleep. “Shall I make us a sandwich?”
“There’s no need.” Severus stands and stretches, before ushering Harry into the bright living room, closing the bookcase with a flick of his wand. “You’re looking more chipper today.”
“I feel it. I slept like a log. Mandrake didn’t wake me up for treats until seven. I think she’s finally getting used to the time difference too.”
Severus refrains from passing comment on Harry’s barmy little owl. “You must be eager to see something of New York. Your friends will be expecting photographs and postcards. You can’t very well tell them you’ve spent all your time in my laboratory, they’ll start to think you’re some sort of captive.”
“It’s fine. I’m happy enough.” Harry gives Severus a too-bright smile that suggests he’s (unsuccessfully) trying to hide something. “There’s plenty of time.”
“Nevertheless, I’ve managed on my own for long enough. I don’t expect you to work every day. I thought you might want to see something of the city.”
“I will.” Harry shrugs, studying Severus’ books and not meeting his gaze. “Is this a first edition Bagman?”
“Absolutely not, I wouldn’t spend my money on that idiot’s flawed—” Severus stops. “Very good, Potter.”
“I don’t know what you mean.” Harry is the picture of innocence.
“You know exactly what I mean. You’re trying to distract my attention from the fact you’re becoming a hermit.”
“I’m not a hermit, don’t be soft.”
“Don’t you want to meet people your own age? There are plenty of bars and clubs if you want to go out in the evening.”
“Maybe.” Harry shrugs, fiddling with his wand. “I’m still getting over jet lag.”
Severus knows a little something of jet lag and is fairly certain it doesn’t usually take this long for someone with Harry’s vigour to recover from a six-hour time difference. Not to mention Harry looks particularly bright-eyed and bushy-tailed today and the energy radiating from him is palpable. He’s clearly itching to leave the flat and yet for some reason, won’t.
“You should take the afternoon off, familiarise yourself with the local area,” Severus suggests.
“Could you take the afternoon off too?” Harry looks up, eagerly. “You could show me around.”
Severus studies Harry. “Is there a reason you’re not leaving the house by yourself?”
“No.” Harry pushes a hand through his hair and looks away, not in the slightest bit convincing. “I don’t like exploring on my own that much.”
“What a peculiar creature you are, Potter.” Severus sighs and loosens the collar of his shirt. “Very well. I suppose I can spare one afternoon, if you insist.”
“Can we go to Times Square?” Harry looks so excited, Severus almost relents.
“Out of the question.”
“Statue of Liberty? The Empire State Building?”
Severus makes an irritated sound in the back of his throat. “I can’t abide tourist destinations.”
Harry rolls his eyes, but he doesn’t look too put out. “Fine. Maybe I’ll do those on my own. We’ll do your thing today.”
“How exceedingly generous of you.” Severus checks his watch and ensures the laboratory door is fully closed. “I’m going to change. We can leave in fifteen minutes.”
“Brilliant.” Harry looks so happy, it’s almost enough to convince Severus to endure the lines at the Empire State Building.
Almost, but not quite.
He saves Washington Square Park for last, buying them each a coffee before leading Harry to the vast open space with a good view of the ornate archway and fountain. They settle on one of the benches and Harry stretches his legs out, tipping his face up to the sun, nudging his sunglasses higher on his nose.
“This is brilliant. Is it usually this sunny in spring? I hope the weather stays this nice forever.”
“I think we’re due some rain.” Severus dislikes it when the weather is too warm, primarily because he can’t abide wearing shorts and he prefers not to have Muggles ask him about his ‘tattoo’, the Dark Mark still stark on his pale skin.
Harry laughs and turns to look at Severus. “I bet you hate the sunshine.”
“I hate summer. I can’t abide streets packed with tourists and the stickiness that comes with wandering around outside for too long.”
“Thanks for indulging me by braving the sun today.” Harry takes a sip of his coffee and watches a couple walking past, hand in hand. A strange expression crosses his face, then disappears as quickly as it arrived.
“Have you spoken to Molly and Arthur?”
“Yeah, I called them yesterday. Do you need money for it?”
“When I get the bill, I’ll let you know.” Severus pauses. “I would expect Molly Weasley to worry if you went out on a moderately cold night without a scarf, but Arthur is different.”
Harry pushes his sunglasses onto his head and frowns at Severus. “You’re not very subtle, you know.”
“Am I not?”
Harry rolls his eyes. “No, you’re not. You want to know what made Arthur call you.”
Severus inclines his head, before turning away to watch the people milling around the park. A small child sits on the edge of the fountain with her mother, dangling her feet into the water, and the sun glints off the surface: silvery-blue, bright and bold.
“I believe I’m owed a truthful explanation. You’re living in my home and I have no desire to cohabit with a recalcitrant teenager, who might fly off the handle when I least expect it.”
“You’re a fine one to talk,” Harry mutters.
Severus scowls. “That will suffice, Potter.” He checks there are no Muggles within earshot and lowers his voice. “I know little more than your magic has been erratic of late. As I frequently work with volatile potions, understanding precisely what I’m dealing with would help me ensure I don’t invite any petulant waves of magic at an inopportune moment.”
“You think I’m going to blow up your flat because of teen angst or something?” Harry shoves his sunglasses back onto his face, hiding his eyes. “Bloody hell. I’m not a teenager anymore. I’m twenty-three.”
The reminder that Harry’s the same age now as Severus was when he came to America for the first time sends a jolt of surprise through him. It seems like another lifetime ago, and yet some days the past creeps up on him, raw and painful. He’s become used to fighting the memories when they threaten to resurface and schools his face before Harry can pick up on his reaction.
“I don’t know enough of the issue to anticipate how you might react to anything,” Severus replies. “Arthur suggested you have unanswered questions, although I refuse to believe I’m the only gay man of your acquaintance.”
Harry pulls a face. “You are, though.”
“Ridiculous.” Severus tuts. “You’re probably at the saunas once a week.”
“No, actually.” Harry’s lips tip into a small smile, before he leans in. His breath is warm against Severus’ neck, leaving goosebumps on Severus’ skin. “Anyway, Muggles don’t count. You’re the only gay wizard I know.”
Severus raises an eyebrow at Harry when he (mercifully) pulls back a little. “I can assure you I’m not.”
Harry looks cross. “I’d know if there was anyone else.”
“Maybe not.” Severus shakes his head. “Give it time. There will be others. I myself know of a few within your circle.”
Severus is surprised Albus hasn’t given Harry at least a hint about his preferences, but then Albus is even older than Severus. He has always been intensely private about matters of the heart, the only indicators of a preference for other wizards found in cryptic comments that Severus has had a lifetime to decode.
“There are people other than me?” Harry stares at Severus, but he shakes his head again.
“Of course there are, but theirs aren’t my stories to divulge.”
“Fine.” Harry sits back with a huff. “Dumbledore makes some cryptic comments and I found some letters from Sirius once, that made me think.” He shrugs. “I don’t know. I can’t exactly speak to them. The only gay people I know are dead.”
“I see.” Severus bites back a response to that, the offhand comment worming through him, memories settling like a dark cloud. “If I’m the only possible option, I think you might as well tell me everything, don’t you? It seems as if you have precious little choice.”
“Fine.” Harry sounds disgruntled but he seems prepared to talk. “It’s possible I might have dropped your name into conversation a few times. I imagine that was partly the reason Arthur called you.”
Harry rubs his hands on his jeans as if his palms are sweating, and Severus tries not to get distracted by the way the motion draws attention to his thighs. It’s been so long since Severus has had this level of proximity with someone moderately pleasing to the eye, the stress of having Potter dumped on his doorstep is clearly addling his brain.
“Did you ever think of calling me yourself?”
“I would have done, eventually. I was working up to it. I was thinking I could manufacture some kind of incident at Spinner’s End.”
Severus glares at Harry. “How fortuitous for you that Arthur contacted me in that case. I doubt one of your manufactured incidents would have got us off on the right footing.”
Harry laughs. “No. Perhaps not.” He tips his face up to the sky and basks in the sun, reminding Severus of a contented crup. “You don’t answer your owls, Severus. Manufactured incidents were all I had.”
“Yes,” Severus replies, drily. “That, or the telephone.”
“How long would you have let me speak before you hung up?”
Severus considers that. “Five minutes, I expect. Unless you said anything particularly annoying.”
“Lucky for me we’re not speaking on the phone now then.” Harry shakes his head with a laugh, before his happy expression fades and he quietens. “I don’t reckon Arthur would have called you at all if it hadn’t been for what happened in Soho.”
Severus frowns. “Which was?”
“I’m getting there,” Harry mutters. He leans forward, his elbows on his knees and stares gloomily at the fountain. “I was out late in London one night, getting off with this Muggle.”
“I’m sure you’re quite the hit in the clubs,” Severus replies. He imagines those things come easily to Harry, with his disarming smile and easy openness. Not that he’s jealous.
“Are you going to keep making snide comments?”
“I imagine so. You’re the one who wanted to come and visit me, you must have expected this. I would hate for you to think I’ve become sentimental in my old age.”
“Not that old.” Harry puts his sunglasses onto his head again and gives Severus a peculiar look, a small smile playing across his lips. “New York suits you.”
Severus rolls his eyes. “I can assure you I know every strategy under the sun for evading proper conversation, as much as your clumsy attempts at flattery are appreciated.”
“I’m not evading anything, I mean it.” Harry swallows a large gulp of his coffee before sliding his glasses back over his eyes and focusing on the fountain again. “This Muggle wanted me to go back to his, but I had to be up early for a meeting with Shacklebolt so I said no. You know how late it can get when you go home with someone.”
“I’m familiar with the issue, thank you.” It’s been a very long time since Severus has indulged in a long night, the luxury of taking his time with somebody now foreign to him. He curses himself for indulging the images called to mind by the mention of a long night with Harry, the thought far more appealing than it has any right to be. “This Muggle of yours wasn’t happy?”
“No.” Harry shakes his head. “He soon fucked off and started chatting to someone else, though. I don’t think I broke his heart by turning him down.”
“You sound as though you have remarkably bad taste in men.”
Harry laughs. “I wouldn’t say that. I don’t make things easy for myself sometimes, that’s for sure. He was just horny. I get it.”
“I’m sure you do.” Severus tries not to sound too scathing.
“I decided to leave to find somewhere to Apparate from. The theatres had been out for ages, but it was still too busy by the bars—G-A-Y was kicking out, Freedom, The Village. The police were everywhere, you know what Soho’s like.”
“I used to,” Severus replies. He never favoured the bars, preferring the pubs if he went out at all. He barely recognises the names of the places Harry reels off, his mind on the Soho of a very different time. He holds up a hand when Harry looks as though he’s about to ask a question. “Carry on.”
Harry pushes a hand through his hair, his jaw working. “I ended up in this quiet bit of town I didn’t recognise. I must have found the only dead area of London on a Thursday night.” A low crackle of magic, ebbs and pulses around them and without thinking, Severus puts a hand on Harry’s knee. The movement comes so naturally, so instinctively to him, he doesn’t even realise he’s touching Harry with an intimacy that far exceeds their current tentative friendship until it’s too late.
“Do try not to alert all the Muggles in Washington Square Park to our presence. I’m still attempting to remain incognito,” Severus murmurs.
Harry turns his head, his breath ghosting over the shell of Severus’ ear. “If you’re trying to calm me down, touching me isn’t the way to do it.” His voice is low and there’s a slight roughness to it that sends a surge of heat through Severus that has nothing whatsoever to do with the afternoon sun.
“Get on with it and try not to turn the fountain to ice in the process.” Severus glares at Harry and removes his hand, settling for curling it tightly around his coffee cup instead.
A group lingers by their seat, laughing at jokes that don’t seem particularly funny and the pause in conversation gives Severus a moment to steady his racing heart. Foolish man, he tells himself. Foolish, foolish man. Everything has an electric quality to it, the space between him and Harry humming with it, the roughness of Harry’s voice making Severus imagine things he has no business contemplating. Eventually the people move on and, mercifully, Harry continues with his story.
“I didn’t realise I was being followed by some dickhead pissed up on lager,” Harry continues, his voice quietly furious.
“I see.” Severus keeps his expression carefully neutral, even as a white-hot rage twists and turns inside him. He knows where this is going. He’s seen it before, knows about the groups that would loiter in the darkness, the sound footsteps make on London’s pavements, slick with rain and dark like tar. The National Front were out in force today, Stephen. Bloomin’ coppers everywhere too. Better watch yourself.
Harry’s voice tightens. “He started saying stupid stuff about queers and called me a fairy.”
“I hope you used Cruciatus.”
“Are you mental?” Harry’s burst of ragged laughter catches Severus by surprise. “I’m an Auror, I can’t just use Unforgivables on Muggles.”
“You can if you’re under attack. I warrant you’ve used them on wizards before.”
“Not since the war.” Harry shakes his head. “Never on Muggles. It’s not a fair fight, is it?”
“Oh for god’s sake.” Severus pinches the bridge of his nose. “Don’t tell me you decided to fight the cretin with your bare hands?”
“Yeah.” Harry looks away, his jaw working. “Turns out I’m not much of a boxer.”
Severus takes in Harry’s frame. He’s slight, but he’s not small by any means. He might not be overly muscular, but he has the toned athleticism one would expect of a part-time Seeker. The physical rigours of Auror training would also have enhanced Harry’s strength and, although he might not have the skills of a professional fighter, it’s not that difficult to learn to fight with your fists. Severus also knows the Ministry would be quick to forgive Potter if he used even the most ruthless of spells—eager to cover up any indiscretions. He may not favour Unforgivables, but Severus can’t believe he wouldn’t have been quick enough to use magic of some sort to give himself an advantage.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Harry says, quietly. “You’re thinking I didn’t even try to fight him.”
“Perhaps.” Severus glances at Harry. “Did you?”
“He took me by surprise.” Harry stares down at his hand, curled into a white-knuckled fist on his thigh. “Once he knocked me down, he started kicking me and I couldn’t move. It was like he’d hit me with Petrificus Totalus or something.”
“Are you sure no magic was involved?”
“Quite sure.” Harry nods. “That’s why it caught me off-guard. I might have expected it in Diagon or Hogsmeade. I know the stupid things some of the idiots at the Ministry say behind my back. I would have been prepared for one of our lot.” He hits his thigh with his fist. “I should have hit him back. Why the fuck didn’t I hit him back?”
“I have no idea.” Severus struggles to keep his voice level, a fierce fury pulsing to the surface. He finds his anger channels itself in Harry’s direction, even when he isn’t the root cause of it. Shouting at Harry is familiar territory. Expressing anger about other things errs dangerously close to exposing how much he cares.
“You should have used magic,” Severus hisses. He glances around but nobody is paying them any mind. “You’re an Auror with battle skills far beyond average and infinitely superior to any pissed-up Muggle.” The effort of shouting in whispers makes Severus even more frustrated. The Northern twang he spent years curving and twisting into the crisp vowels of the Home Counties starts to show itself, an unhappy past returning in more ways than one.
“I know.” Harry’s voice trembles and he rummages in his pocket for his cigarettes, lighting one with a shaking hand. He coughs as he inhales, pulling a face. “He kept shouting disgusting things about men having sex—about me having sex—and I couldn’t do anything. I didn’t know Muggles even felt like that.”
“You clearly know as little about Muggle history as you do our own,” Severus replies, tightly.
“I’m not after a history lesson, thanks all the same.”
“I think that’s exactly what you’re after. Why else would you be here?”
“I bet you can’t imagine any other reason, can you?” Harry stares at Severus, his breathing shallow. The silence stretches between them, and eventually Harry’s voice steadies, his cigarette dangling forgotten from one hand.
“I know the Prophet says stupid shit, but the Muggles always seemed different. I thought it was safe, being with Muggles. Their bars have rainbow flags, like they’re not afraid to announce it. Why would you put flags above a bar if it wasn’t safe? It was Soho, for fuck’s sake. I thought everyone was gay in Soho.”
“I imagine fewer people are gay in Soho these days. Most of the places I remember no longer exist.”
“Really?” Harry tilts his head to look at Severus, his eyes shining in the sunlight. “Did you go out in Soho much?”
“A little. Pubs, for the most part.” Severus takes in Harry’s firm jaw and strong features. He finds himself wishing he could see Harry’s eyes, hidden behind his dark sunglasses. In the absence of them, his gaze lingers on Harry’s lips, an old, familiar yearning tugging at his insides. There’s a rustiness to the sensation, a strangeness to the kind of desire he hasn’t felt in so long. “I’ve never been particularly interested in surrounding myself with people.”
“I bet.” Harry gives Severus a small smile, which fades away as quickly as it appeared, like a cloud caught in a gust of wind. A splash of pink colours his cheeks. “I expect you think I’m a coward.”
“I think no such thing. Insufferably noble, perhaps.” Severus wishes Harry had shown the Muggle exactly who Harry Potter is, but even as he tries to picture it, Harry looks faintly comical with a mean smile and billowing cloaks that don’t suit him in the slightest. “How did Arthur come to hear about this?”
“My own stupid fault.” Harry shakes his head. “I used Erised—that’s the mirror I told you about—to contact Ron and Hermione. I thought they’d be at home, but they were at some bash at Percy’s that went on late. Apparently they’d been on the sherry and were playing charades. Ron told his dad, and they both came to Soho.”
“You weren’t at Percy’s?” Severus raises an eyebrow at Harry. “I would have expected you to attend something like that.”
“I was invited, but I said no. I’d forgotten all about it. Charlie couldn’t get the time off so he didn’t go, George could only be there for an hour and Gin was away with the Harpies. I didn’t think Ron was going either, but he changed his mind.” Harry grins. “His mum made him.”
Severus laughs under his breath. “I’m sure she did. I take it Percy’s parties aren’t terribly popular?”
“Not really.” Harry leans forward as if he’s sharing a secret. “He doesn’t really want to invite half of us. That’s Molly’s doing, too. He’s alright Percy is—he’s not walking around the Ministry with his wand stuck up his arse anymore—but he’s not really the partying sort. He always looks relieved when I tell him I can’t make his dinners. His actual words were, Brilliant, that’s one less salmon en croute I have to make.”
“I see.” Severus can’t resist the smile that tugs at the corner of his mouth. “Was there any reason you didn’t send a Patronus?”
“After your encounter with the Muggle.” Severus finishes his coffee. “As you very well know.”
“You really have learned all the tricks of evasion, haven’t you?”
“I could teach them as well as I can teach potions.”
“By taking lots of house points?” Harry’s smile shows he’s only teasing.
“Most likely, if you were one of my students.” Severus waves his hand. “Back to the original question, Potter.”
“It’s a bit difficult to cast a Patronus when someone’s just tried to kick your head in for being gay.” Harry’s lips tighten into a firm line, his expression darkening. “Are you going to give me a lecture about using the wrong spell? Because I was bleeding all over some pavement in the West End. I wasn’t really thinking clearly.”
“Don’t be facetious.” Severus swallows back another pulse of rage at the thought of Harry on the ground as a Muggle used his boots and fists to try to beat the queer from his body.
There are days, even now, Severus would be quite content to light a match and watch the whole world burn. London comes back to him in a rush, the grit of Soho and the pulsating crowds spilling onto the streets in the summer. The smell of sweat and leather, the crush at the bar in Comptons. The way someone could give you a funny look and you roll up your sleeves, ready to start fighting. Not that Severus would ever use his fists. Unlike Harry, he has no qualms about using magic to gain the upper hand, consequences be damned.
“I still don’t understand why they have flags,” Harry repeats, his voice quiet. “Some twat put a nail bomb in the Admiral Duncan because he wanted to kill gay people. A Neo Nazi they called him, whatever that is. Did you know that?”
“Yes, I knew that.” Severus rubs his jaw and stares ahead. He had stopped going to the Admiral Duncan long ago by then, he was already in New York. Still he remembers watching the BBC News on his small television, can feel the furious anger that rose within him—three dead, seventy injured. “You weren’t aware of that until now?”
“Not really.” Harry shakes his head. “I wasn’t even out then, much less going to gay bars. There’s no Muggle telly in Grimmauld Place and I was busy trying to pretend I was straight, planning the wedding to Ginny neither of us ever really wanted.”
“You were engaged?” Severus raises his eyebrows at Harry, who gives him a rueful smile. He had always assumed the engagement rumours were nothing more than the press putting two and two together and coming up with the story most likely to sell extra papers.
“I thought it was the right thing to do.”
“You were barely out of school. Not to mention you’re gay.”
“Not exactly a match made in heaven.” Harry huffs a laugh. “I’ve only been out for two years. It took me a while to work through things. I was pretty confused for a long time.”
“Did anything in particular trigger your realisation?” Severus doesn’t particularly care to know the details of Potter’s queer awakening, but he’s simultaneously curious about how different the experience must have been to someone born into a different time, with such unwavering support. He finds himself surprised to learn that Potter struggled with the notion of being gay at all.
“This and that.” A strange expressions crosses Harry’s face and he waves a dismissive hand. He truly is remarkably bad at evasion. “It doesn’t matter.”
“Very well.” Severus is even more curious now, but he decides not to push. “The Weasleys appear to support you in everything, at least.”
“Not straight away. They didn’t really understand it at first. Molly cried.” Harry contemplates Severus, his eyes unreadable behind his sunglasses. “You think I’ve had it easy, don’t you?”
“I have no idea.” Severus chooses his words carefully because in truth, he had assumed that being gay came easily to Potter. The Prophet aside, he knows there are few that would turn against the Wizarding world’s brightest star rising rapidly through the ranks of the Ministry, whatever his inclinations. “I’d warrant it has been easier for you than others. Men of my generation, perhaps.”
“I don’t know much about men of your generation,” Harry replies, quietly. “But I’d like to, if you want to tell me.”
“One day, perhaps.” It’s Severus’ turn to be evasive, his secrets festering. For the first time he imagines he might be able to tell somebody about his past, but he can’t imagine doing it here, as the sun shines brightly and children splash in the fountain. It seems too jolly a setting somehow, the sun’s rays hot enough to burn.
“I always thought the rainbow flags were a way to find people.” Harry seems to accept Severus’ need for silence, and mercifully doesn’t push. “Perhaps it’s the Muggles saying ‘fuck you’ to people like that bloke in Soho. The ones with bombs, and fists.”
Severus nods. “In a sense, I imagine. Perhaps they see no reason why they should be hidden away.”
“Quite right too,” Harry replies. “Maybe I should get a flag.”
Severus snorts. “They’re easy enough to come by, I imagine. Although I’m not entirely sure I can picture you walking around half-naked in this flag of yours.”
“Is there any reason you’re trying to picture me half-naked, Severus?”
“Don’t flatter yourself, you insolent child.” A heat creeps into Severus’ cheeks and he sincerely hopes Harry can’t see it through his dark glasses.
“I wouldn’t dream of it.” Harry sounds amused. The conversation has the unfortunate impact of sending an all too appealing image of a half-naked Harry covering his modesty in rainbows to Severus’ brain. It’s time to move out of the sun, because Severus is clearly on the cusp of sunstroke.
“I believe we should move on. Conversations like this are unwise in the middle of a crowded park.”
“Conversations about me naked, or about magic?” Harry hands Severus his now empty coffee cup and smiles in an impertinent fashion.
“The first is a conversation we won’t be repeating,” Severus replies.
“Pity,” Harry murmurs. He stuffs his hands into his pocket and looks at the fountain, deep in thought. “I never thought of the Muggles as having causes of their own.”
“That strikes me as very naïve.” Severus throws their coffee cups in a nearby bin. “In any event, I no longer believe in causes.”
“You took mine,” Harry replies. He stretches and casts one final look around the park, before falling into step beside Severus.
“You’re hardly a cause. Were it not for Arthur Weasley’s extraordinary powers of persuasion we wouldn’t be here now.”
“No, I suppose not.” Harry stops in his tracks. “I forgot my camera. I can’t believe it’s my first time out in the city and I forgot my camera.”
“There will be ample opportunity to take photographs.” Severus continues walking and Harry catches up to him once more. “Is the incident in Soho the reason why you’ve been hiding in your room?”
“I haven’t been hiding.”
“I see.” Severus has a suspicion that’s exactly what Harry’s been doing. “Have you been out in Soho since?”
Harry doesn’t reply, his silence the only answer Severus needs.
“The Stonewall Inn.”
“Yes.” Severus places a hand on the small of Harry’s back, lightly ushering him forwards. “If you wish, I’m sure I can stretch to a bottle of beer.”
“Really?” Harry turns to grin at Severus, close enough that it makes Severus’ breath catch. “Isn’t this a gay bar?”
Severus nods. “Yes, one of the more famous ones.”
“Wow.” Harry lowers his voice, his eyes shining with mirth. It’s pleasing, being able to see his eyes again now his glasses are perched on his head once more. “I can’t believe you’re taking me to a gay bar, Severus. Between this and all the touching in the park, people might start to talk.”
“No doubt they will be saying you’re a very lucky man.” Severus smirks at Harry and leans around him to push open the door.
The bar is quiet, as Severus knew it would be at this time. It’s the middle of the working week, well past lunch but not yet late enough for people to start coming in for the evening. He doesn’t go out for many drinks, but he comes here on occasion when he knows there won’t be any crowds. They order a couple of bottles of beer and find a seat.
“Before you ask, I have no intention of playing pool.” Severus can see Harry eyeing the table curiously, and he thinks he should nip any such idea firmly in the bud. “I play to win, which is why I stick to chess and poker.”
“Poker?” Harry turns away from the pool table and laughs, his eyes shining. “You can’t play poker.”
“I assure you I can. Very well, actually.”
“No, I mean you’re a Legilimens. A pretty bloody good one, too. Don’t you think that gives you an unfair advantage?”
Severus scowls at Harry. “I don’t need an unfair advantage, although thank you for assuming I would cheat at cards.”
“Well I dunno, do I.” Harry laughs under his breath. “You can teach me, if you like. I’m rubbish at chess. Ron’s the whizz at that.”
“I think my teaching days are over, if it’s all the same to you.” Severus thinks back to Harry’s momentary lack of control over his magic earlier. “Arthur seems to think that Kingsley might be expecting me to help you with your duelling.”
“Oh, that.” Harry pulls a face.
“Yes,” Severus replies. “That. I’m not sure I understand why a bright, capable student with a particular skill for the kind of magic required for duelling needs my assistance.”
“You think I’m bright and capable?” Harry stares at Severus, as if he’s just been told he’s won the House Cup single-handedly.
“Yes, remarkable isn’t it?” Severus drinks his beer to hide his smile.
“I’ll say.” Harry frowns, clearly thinking. “I don’t know what’s going on with the duelling. I was good at it before that thing in Soho. It’s buggered my magic right up.”
“Ah.” Severus contemplates Harry. “Because you’re wary of getting hurt?”
“No, I don’t care about that. I’ve fallen off my broom a million times and I’ve been hit by more Unforgivables than you can shake a stick at.” Harry waves his arm towards Severus. “I had all my bones removed by Lockhart, once. Pomfrey had to grow them back.”
“Lockhart is an imbecile.”
“Something we agree on.” Harry’s expression turns cloudy once more. “It’s not that I’m scared of getting hurt, I’m more worried I’m going to hurt the other person.”
Severus clears his throat. “Isn’t that rather the point of duelling?”
“Not hurting them like this, though.” Harry pulls a face. “I think about that night, about what I’d want to do if I got the chance. Something comes over me and it makes my magic weird. Everything gets hot and red, like a cloud. I stop thinking about strategy or any of that. I nearly knocked Dawlish through a window before Shacklebolt told me to take a break from duelling practice.”
Severus snickers, even if he’s sure he shouldn’t be encouraging such behaviour. “I’m quite sure he deserved it.”
“Yeah.” Harry gives Severus a wry smile. “Probably. He winked at me, because he’s like that. He thinks that sort of stuff is hilarious—it made me think of that bloke calling me a fairy. As if I’d want to get off with Dawlish.”
“Heaven forbid.” Severus taps his fingers on the table. “I know something about harnessing anger. We can practice whilst you’re here.”
“Thanks.” Harry studies the table, obviously toying with whether to say something. “I’m not sure how long you’re expecting me to stay.”
“Are you eager to leave already, Harry? It’s been three days and you’re already desperate to go home.”
“No!” Harry looks up and shakes his head. “The opposite. I just don’t want to outstay my welcome.”
Severus studies Harry. Part of him is tempted to put a firm deadline on Harry’s trip, for his own sanity and because a niggling part of him can’t help but think there are things Harry still needs to confront in London. In the end however, Harry’s hopeful expression and the fact Severus is in a surprisingly good mood makes him relent.
“You can take as long as you need. I assumed you would stay for the duration of the summer at least, and I’m always in need of assistance with my work.”
“Careful.” Harry gives Severus a small smile, the tension leaving his body. “I might never go back.”
“I have little fear of that,” Severus replies. “You don’t strike me as someone who would leave your friends and a burgeoning career to be an unpaid potions assistant living with your former professor.”
“You’re more than that,” Harry says. His frank honesty reminds Severus again how different they are.
“Am I, indeed?”
“Yeah.” Harry takes a sip of his beer. “We’re friends.”
“I have no friends,” Severus replies.
“You do now.” Harry clinks their bottles together. “And don’t be daft. You have friends. There’s Arthur and Molly, and McGonagall and—”
“—That’s quite enough, thank you.” Severus holds up his hand before Harry starts reeling off names with each new reference bringing up more complexities than the last. “I’m quite content. I don’t require reassurance.”
“If you say so.” Harry reaches for a leaflet on the table, studying it. “They do drag nights here. I reckon that would be cool to see, I’ve never been to anything like that.”
“I thought you went out in London all the time?”
“Not to that sort of thing.” Harry shrugs. “I didn’t really have someone to go with. I always went out by myself, met people, sometimes went home with them. I went dancing in Soho sometimes, but I mostly went to the cruisier places. It wasn’t like I went for drag and dinner. I’ve never even been to the Tavern.”
“I see.” Severus studies Harry, thinking about Arthur’s comment about Harry looking for a connection. “You’ve never had a boyfriend?”
“No.” Harry gives Severus a curious look. “Have you?”
“In a manner of speaking.” Severus has another sip of his cool beer, not wanting to pull at that thread.
“Oh.” Harry seems surprised, impertinent child that he is. “Do you have one now?”
“I’m a little old for boyfriends, Potter.”
Harry rolls his eyes. “Fine. Do you have a partner? A friend with benefits? A husband you haven’t introduced me to?”
“Yes, Harry. I’m married. I have three children and we summer in the Hamptons.” Severus snorts. “None of the above.”
“So you’re single?” Harry looks just interested enough to make Severus feel as though this is very dangerous territory.
“Yes, and I intend to remain so.” Severus closes the conversation as quickly as it began, finishing his beer. “Do you plan to go out this evening? I don’t expect you to live the life of a monk. You’re young, and single. You should enjoy everything New York has to offer.”
“Do you want to go out with me?” Harry has a strange look on his face as he watches Severus, as if trying to read him as if he’s a difficult book.
“To the clubs?” Severus huffs. “Absolutely not.”
“Then I’m sure the clubs can wait.” Harry gives Severus a grin. “I might do some sightseeing tomorrow, though, if you don’t mind.”
“Not in the slightest.”
“Brilliant.” Harry stands and pushes his hand in his pocket, fishing around for his wallet. “Fancy another?”
“Very well, if you’re buying.” Severus watches Harry make his way to the bar.
If he lingers a little too long over the way Harry’s jeans make his backside look particularly delectable, he would never admit it to anyone.
Severus is catching up on the news in the Prophet when Harry returns mid-afternoon, his cheeks flushed and his hands laden with bags.
“You look as though you’ve been having fun.”
Harry drops his bags on the floor and crosses the room to crouch beside Severus’ seat, propping himself up with his elbow on the arm of the chair. The move takes Severus by surprise, the closeness suggesting an intimacy far beyond their current relationship. Harry’s warm and the scent of his cologne is stronger today, instantly pleasing to Severus. Harry’s proximity causes a rush of desire; Severus pushes it back, determined not to indulge such foolish imaginings.
“It’s been brilliant,” Harry says. He’s clearly oblivious to the impact his closeness is having on Severus. His reason for avoiding all the perfectly good seats in the living room becomes clear as he digs out several postcards from various tourist hotspots, eagerly talking about his favourite bits. “I didn’t do the Staten Island Ferry, though. I thought that’s one thing we could do together.” Harry looks up at Severus, his expression so warm and happy that Severus doesn’t have the heart to deny him.
“I suppose that’s one trip I would be willing to take. It’s queues I can’t abide, and places like Times Square are fine to see once or twice but I tend not to frequent anywhere quite so crowded.”
“I’m not sure I’d like to go on the weekend either.” Harry pushes himself back onto his feet and he grabs his bags. “I went shopping.”
“I can see that.” Severus raises an eyebrow at Harry. “Are you going to show me your new clothes, too? Because fashion, much like sightseeing, is fairly low on my list of interests.”
Harry laughs and shakes his head. “No, don’t worry. You probably don’t want to see my new boxers.”
“Hmm.” Severus resists the urge to unsettle Harry further, more delighted than he should be as the flush creeps up Harry’s neck and into his cheeks.
“I’m going to put this lot away.”
“As you wish.” Severus returns to his paper as Harry leaves the room, looking up only when Harry returns.
The sight of Harry nearly knock’s Severus’ breath from his lungs, his heart beating faster in his chest. He looks mouth-wateringly good, his hair rumpled and the Slytherin green of his new jumper appealing to Severus. A new pair of close-fitting black jeans show off every taut line of his legs. The slowly burgeoning attraction Severus has been trying to ignore hits him with the full force of a Bludger. The fact Harry has grown into a handsome young man isn’t in the slightest bit surprising, but it’s more than just a green jumper and the kind of boyish lithe athleticism Severus likes particularly well. It’s the broadness of Harry’s smile, the way his expressions are always so open even when he’s trying to hide something, the appalling shock of hair that refuses to be tamed and the way he sometimes looks hungry when Severus catches his eye. In those moments he seems shocked when their eyes connect, as if he too has been caught off-guard by unexpected feelings.
“Are you okay?” Harry looks anxiously at Severus. “You look a bit weird.”
Severus glares at Harry. “Thank you for that observation.” He clears his throat and focuses on pushing all thoughts of the things he wants to do with Harry to the darkest recesses of his mind. “I’m fine.”
“Good.” Harry hands a bag to Severus and sits on the sofa, watching him with a small smile. “I got you something.”
“Should I be worried?” The bag bears no distinguishing brand name and, with a frown, Severus opens it and peers inside. He carefully extracts a beautifully soft charcoal-grey jumper, the material thin and luxurious. He rubs the material between his fingers, unable to look at Harry as he swallows thickly. “Are we buying one another clothes, now? Perhaps we should start braiding one another’s hair, too.”
“I’m not sure mine’s long enough.” Harry laughs, but it sounds slightly forced. “I can take it back if it’s not to your taste.”
Severus looks up at Harry. “It might be wise. I’m afraid I can’t accept this.”
Harry looks unsure of himself. “Why not?”
“It’s clearly expensive.” Severus curls his hand into the jumper, wanting to keep it even as he refuses Harry’s generosity. He’s nothing if not a masochist. “You work for me, you pay for your board, your phone calls. By all accounts you have been my glorified housekeeper for the last five and a half years. I don’t require anything more.”
“I know you don’t require it.” Harry rubs his jaw. “I just wanted to get you something. I like buying people things. Ever since I was a kid I told myself if I ever had money, I wouldn’t spend it on myself.” He tugs his jumper with a rueful laugh. “Well, maybe I spend some of it on myself. I’m just grateful to be here. I wanted to say thank you.”
“There’s no need.” Severus strokes his fingers over the jumper again, quite certain it’s the nicest item of clothing he’s ever owned. Even as he insists on giving it back, he wants to clutch the jumper close and keep it. Severus really is terrible at accepting gifts with a modicum of normalcy. Imagine how easy his life would be if he could simply take Potter’s gesture with a simple thank you?
“Don’t you like it?” Harry asks, quietly.
“I like it.” Severus holds Harry’s gaze, another fierce jolt of desire passing through him. “Very much indeed,” he murmurs.
As he continues to watch Harry, Severus is no longer sure if he’s referring to the jumper or something altogether more dangerous.
“Then you should have it,” Harry says. His voice is rough, and a curious energy twists and sparks between them, the air electric with promise. “If you want it.”
“Do you generally just take what you want, irrespective of the consequences?”
“I do if it’s being offered to me,” Harry replies. “I’m offering, for the record.”
Severus finds himself unable to tear his eyes away, wondering what exactly Harry is offering and feeling strangely out of his depth.
“In that case, I accept.” Severus puts the jumper to one side. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” Harry smiles, his relief apparent, and the peculiar tension dissipates. “Do you have plans for this evening?”
“Not particularly.” Severus shakes his head. “Are you going out?”
“You keep asking me that.” Harry’s smile slips, the warmth of it no longer reaching his eyes. “I’ve been out all day. Anyone would think you’re trying to get rid of me.”
“You’ve been in every evening and it’s over a week since you arrived,” Severus replies. “I can’t imagine what there is to keep you here when the city that never sleeps is waiting for you.”
“Can’t you?” Harry clears his throat after a protracted pause and looks away. “I suppose I could go out.”
“You should,” Severus replies. He finds he’s suddenly desperate—desperate for Harry to leave so he can realign his conviction not to lose his head and his heart over another man and simultaneously desperate for Harry to stay, so he can—
Severus sucks in a sharp breath, cutting off those thoughts and scowling at the images racing through his mind.
“You came to see New York, not to sit around the flat chatting to me,” Severus says, shortly. “It seems as though you had an active social life in London, there’s no reason you can’t find similar things here.”
Harry seems uncertain, but he doesn’t argue. “Yeah, I just thought…never mind. I’d better see what this nightlife you’re always on about is like.”
“Good.” Severus picks up the paper again to indicate the conversation is over “Enjoy your evening.”
“Yeah.” Harry doesn’t sound too sure. “I will.”
“Accio Harry’s cigarettes,” he mutters. A crumpled packet whizzes towards him and he catches it deftly, going out on the terrace.
He has no intention of taking up smoking again, but there’s something soothing about the scent of cigarettes on the warm evening air. Whereas the first cigarettes reminded him of the past, this one reminds him of Harry, and the garden seems quiet without him. He closes his eyes but it’s not enough to fully block out the lights from nearby houses and the ones that twinkle along the walls that offer the space such welcome privacy. Even in this quiet part of town, the restless hum of New York seems inescapable and it makes Severus wonder where Harry is, who he’s dancing with. He’s never been to the clubs in New York, despite his insistence Harry should go to them. He wonders how they differ to the ones in California, and how many of the places people used to talk about in San Francisco are still there. The New Yorkers always talked about Fire Island and Studio 54, others about the leather scene at the Meatpacking District and its oddly named clubs like Crisco Disco.
Severus can’t help but wonder what Harry enjoys and what sort of men he likes, but he soon finds that dwelling on the topic for two long makes him jealous of whatever nameless, faceless people Harry’s dancing with tonight. Severus finishes his cigarette and makes his way inside, deciding to brew for a short while before bed. Nothing else seems to be quelling the unhappy thoughts of Potter locked in an embrace with a twenty-something blond, but he knows he can rely on his potions to quiet any errant thoughts.
It works like a charm and he becomes so caught up in his work, Severus almost misses the click of the front door. He washes his hands and makes his way into the living room.
“Jesus Christ, Snape.” Harry spins on his heel, pushing a hand through his unruly hair. “You scared the shit out of me.”
“What a delightful turn of phrase.”
Severus takes in Harry’s appearance, the sweet booziness of his breath and the faint scent of cigarettes. His hair looks more rumpled than ever, his smile slow and satiated, his cheeks pink from the night air and his lips plump and well-kissed. A fierce bolt of jealousy takes hold of Severus, making his chest tight. He wants to lock the door and ensure Harry doesn’t go out again, wants to pull him close and show him what it means to be kissed. Properly kissed.
“It appears you had a good night,” Severus says, tightly. His reaction is horrifying to him, his attraction to Potter now undeniable and the jealousy gnawing away at him and diminishing any good humour.
“Yeah.” Harry yawns and pushes a hand through his hair, the daft grin still playing over his lips. “I went to Hell’s Kitchen. I got my first yellow taxi.”
“What a thrilling life you do lead.”
Harry frowns at Severus. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. I simply worked for longer than I intended.”
“You work too hard.” Harry checks his watch with another yawn. “Blimey. It’s three in the morning. Shouldn’t you be in bed?”
“Shouldn’t you?” Severus knows he sounds petulant but the tumult of feelings assaulting him clearly have no intention of going away.
“I thought it was okay to go out,” Harry says. “You’ve been telling me to. Over and over. I thought you wanted me out of your hair for the night.” He hesitates. “I thought you might have company over.”
Severus raises an eyebrow at Harry. “Excuse me?”
“Company.” Harry waves a hand and peers behind Severus, as if he expects a scantily clad lover to pop out from behind the sofa. “I’ve probably mucked things up for you, being here. I imagine you have, um, needs.”
“I’d thank you to refrain from imagining anything about my needs, Potter.”
“I’m just saying.” Harry holds his hands up with a laugh. The sound of it sends another bolt of emotion through Severus, the affectionate pleasure even more unwelcome than the jealousy. Being bitter and angry is to be expected. Severus categorically refuses to allow himself to feel fond. “Was I wrong?”
“Oh.” Harry holds Severus’ gaze and he looks rather pleased with himself. “Is it weird that makes me happy? It’s been on my mind all night.”
In that moment, Severus envies Harry. He envies the casual ease with which he can wear his heart on his sleeve, speaking so honestly and almost unthinkingly it’s a wonder he’s burdened by pent-up worries at all.
“It’s no stranger than any other ridiculous sentiment you have a tendency to express.” Severus sniffs and gives Harry a stiff nod. “I have an early start in the morning.”
“Yeah, of course.” Harry’s cheeks flush and he looks down. “I’ll just grab some water. Maybe some toast, if it won’t keep you up?”
“Do as you please, I expect I’ll be sound asleep in no time.”
Severus leaves the room and prepares for bed, sliding in between the cool sheets and staring at the ceiling. No matter how hard he tries, he can’t shake the image of Harry from his head, the tilt of his relaxed smile, the warmth in his cheeks or the mess of hair that suggested someone had pushed their fingers into it.
Let this be the end of this nonsense, he tells himself sternly.
Let this be the end of it.
He closes his eyes with a huff of annoyance, but it’s a long time before he finally drifts into a restless sleep.
“Keep your voice down. I want coffee, Potter. No booze before five.”
“Is that the rule?” Harry shakes his head with a sigh. “I bet they have gay coffee shops, too.”
“If they do, I don’t frequent them.” Severus resists the urge to roll his eyes. “You seem to have recovered from your experience in London remarkably well.”
“London’s a long way from New York,” Harry replies. “Besides, we went to Stonewall and that was fine.”
“And Hell’s Kitchen,” Severus points out.
“Yeah, that too.” There’s something peculiar about Harry’s tone, but Severus decides not to push. “Anyway, I’m not going to let some dickhead stop me from going out.”
“Heaven forbid.” Severus pushes open the door to the coffee shop and settles at a nearby table, picking up the menu. “I suppose you’re going out tonight again?”
Harry has, much to Severus’ displeasure, been out for the last three nights. Each time he returns at around the same time, looking flushed and happy. It’s a horrifying turn of events to admit that in his absence, Severus actually misses him. It’s even worse to admit that his jealousy has been steadily building every night, to the point of distraction. Not even his potions can provide solace now.
“Hmm.” Harry shrugs. “I might as well. Fancy coming?”
“It’s boring going out alone.” Harry pulls a face.
“I don’t imagine you’re alone for very long,” Severus mutters. He’s still trying to shake the image of a well-kissed, rumpled Potter from his brain. It’s times like this Severus wishes he had mastered the art of self-Obliviation. “I have no interest in nursing a warm pint of lager watching you strut your stuff to some inane Muggle music.”
Harry snorts with laughter. “I don’t strut. You clearly haven’t seen me dance if you think I pull like that.”
“Nor do I have any desire to.” Severus ushers Harry into his favourite coffee shop with a light hand on his back. “Besides, I can’t imagine anything worse than going to a club.”
“We could go to a pub?” Harry sounds hopeful.
“Even the pubs will be busy on a Saturday.”
“Fine.” Harry gives up, at last. “Maybe next time.”
Severus makes a noncommittal sound and orders their drinks before turning back to Harry. “Do you intend to be late?”
“Same as always, I expect.” Harry frowns. “Do I have a curfew now?”
Severus glares down his nose at Harry which is annoyingly much harder to do now there’s only an inch or so between them and still less when they’re both seated. “Of course you don’t have a curfew, I’m not your father.”
“I know that.” A strange flush crosses Harry’s cheeks and he rakes a hand through his hair. “Do you think of me like that? A kid you’ve got to look after.”
“It’s been a long time since I have considered you a child, if that’s what you’re worrying about.”
“Good.” Harry grins, the colour in his cheeks returning to normal. “I suppose I could call you Daddy under the right circumstances.”
Severus nearly chokes on his coffee, the bolt of arousal at the thought swift and inconvenient. He dabs his mouth with a napkin and tries to look nonplussed.
“You’re a menace.”
“Thank you,” Harry says, proudly. “Not your thing, then?”
“Stop fishing for details that are none of your business.” Severus stirs some sugar into his coffee. He doesn’t even take sugar. He points his spoon at Harry. “Drink your coffee.”
“You’re no fun.” Harry chuckles under his breath but drinks his coffee nevertheless. “It’s nice.”
“Which is precisely why I come here. It’s typically more peaceful, of course.”
“Yeah, I bet.” Harry gives Severus a curious look. “It’s really buggered things up for you, this idea of Arthur’s, hasn’t it?”
Severus is tempted to washpishly tell Harry that yes, it really has, but there’s something about Harry’s expression that holds him back. Not to mention Harry’s company isn’t as unpleasant as Severus might have first believed. Quite the contrary, in fact.
“I’ve found an assistant who is unexpectedly competent without having to advertise my whereabouts or waste any significant time. It’s worked out well enough.”
“I didn’t mean at work,” Harry replies, his voice quiet.
“You have remarkably little respect for any social boundaries, why on earth would you suddenly start worrying about being an annoyance now?”
“I don’t want to muck up your routine.”
Severus has a sip of his coffee. “Sometimes routines can be boring.”
“Yeah?” Harry looks up and his face breaks into a smile. “You think?”
“I do.” Severus peruses the menu instead of looking at Harry. He can practically feel that infernal smile like a sunbeam against his skin. He glances at Harry’s light blue t-shirt—another new purchase—and reads the slogan across the front, which he can see clearly now Harry’s removed the soft leather jacket that looks distractingly good on him. “San Francisco.”
Harry looks down at his t-shirt and nods. “Yeah, I thought it was cool. I’d like to go to California.”
“I’m sure you would fit right in,” Severus murmurs. He’s fairly certain Harry would fit into any gay scene involving people with eyes.
“You’ve been there?” Harry looks curiously at Severus, over his coffee.
“Yes.” Severus doesn’t elaborate. That’s one story he doesn’t plan to share, largely because he wouldn’t know how to begin. He changes the subject swiftly. “I believe I’ll try the egg and bacon sandwich for a change, in an effort to break another one of my routines.”
“I’ll have the same,” Harry replies. “Maybe I could stay in tonight instead of going out. Break my routine too.”
“I can’t believe you’ve sampled all the bars yet, they’re full of eager young things. If you wish to go out, you should. New York is a city made for people like you.” Severus has always been skilled in the art of self-sabotage.
Harry’s smile slips and he gets a curious look on his face.
He doesn’t indicate what he plans to do, and Severus doesn’t push him.
He doesn’t just avoid those places because he can’t imagine enjoying them. They also bring back furious memories of desperate moments, the lights and the disco sirens reminding him of people dancing as if every song might be their last. There was freedom, community, unbridled liberation and sexual pleasure, but there was also a darkness that hovered like Dementors. Severus has never been one to find solace in the things that seemed to give others a sense of hope and pride, so he spent most of his time in the shadows, wallowing in the darkness and grasping at fistfuls of sand with the greedy jealousy of a man who has known little love, only to watch the grains slip through his fingers for the ocean to wash away forever.
“You’re thinking about something,” Harry comments.
“Perhaps.” Pulled from his thoughts, Severus focuses on Harry. The here, the now. It’s preferable to spending too much time in the past. “I’m wondering why you would choose to drink in the garden with me on a Saturday night, now you’ve seen a little something of what New York has to offer.”
Harry shrugs. “I like drinking in the garden with you. I like this flat, it’s quiet and it helps me think. Clubbing doesn’t do that. It makes my head too noisy, being out all the time.”
“Saturday is one of the busiest evenings, I’m sure you would find plenty to entertain you.”
Harry laughs, pushing a hand through his hair. His eyes carry a boozy brightness and he looks relaxed. “Maybe I would, I just don’t fancy it tonight.”
“Despite having enough new outfits to do ten-page spread in Witch Weekly?”
“Despite that.” Harry quirks a smile at Severus. “I’ll take you suggesting I could ever do a photoshoot as a compliment.”
Severus snorts under his breath. “Do as you wish. I can assure you it wasn’t meant as one.”
“A pity.” Harry glances at Severus. “You look nice. You’re wearing the jumper.”
Severus brushes his fingers against the soft cashmere. Slipping the jumper over his head was an exquisite pleasure, an intimacy of sorts in the fact the gift from Harry settles so close to his bare skin and feels so comforting against it. Severus has never had expensive things, the New York flat and a few rare first editions being the odd exception. He would never have considered buying the jumper for himself, but he likes the way it hugs his slender frame and the colour is different to his usual black, but close enough to feel as comfortable as any of his trusted knitwear, carefully preserved over the years.
“I am. I expect you think it’s a waste to wear it to sit around the house?”
Harry laughs and shakes his head. “Not in the slightest. It’s yours to wear however you want. Unlike you, I’m not trying to get you to go out at every available opportunity.”
Severus winces. “I’m simply trying to encourage you to make the most of your time here. Hiding away won’t solve anything. Consider the Muggles and their rainbow flags.”
“I know.” Harry blinks at the sky. “It’s not just that, though. I’m bored of going to bars and clubs by myself. There’s nothing lonelier than being on your own, surrounded by crowds of people having fun. That’s why I keep pestering you to come out.”
Severus contemplates that. “Do you enjoy going to the theatre?”
“I’ve not really been to see anything.” Harry looks sheepish, as well he should. “Like Shakespeare and stuff?”
“I’m sure we could find something a little more contemporary if you wished. One of those drag nights that so interested you, perhaps.”
“Go together?” Harry’s eyes light up. “Yeah, I’d like that. We could go somewhere for dinner before.”
Theatre and dinner sound a lot like a date, but Severus decides it’s best not to question that too closely.
“If you wish.”
“I do. I’d like that a lot.” Harry tips his head to the side to look at Severus. “Will you tell me about California?”
“There’s not much to tell,” Severus lies. “But I suppose you’re going to be a pest until I indulge you.”
“Probably,” Harry replies, cheerfully. He stretches his arms behind his head, resting his head in the palms of his hands. “I’m curious.”
“Curiosity killed the cat,” Severus mutters. He glances at Harry. “I went to San Francisco in the early eighties—eighty-three, to be precise.”
Harry frowns. “Weren’t you at Hogwarts by then?”
“It was a summer trip.” Severus doesn’t meet Harry’s gaze. “Albus sent me on a ridiculous mission to find a specific weed and then found it amusing to tell me no such thing existed—I do believe the daft old sod was trying to get me to try marijuana.” Severus can feel the tremble begin in his hand, and he swallows, steeling himself against the overwhelming rush of anger that threatens to swallow him whole. “He suggested I take a summer holiday.”
“In California?” Harry sounds like he’s trying not to laugh, and Severus scowls at him.
“Yes. Is something amusing to you?”
“A little bit.” Harry grins at Severus. “Did you try marijuana?”
“No.” Severus’ shakes his head. “I have no interest in things like that. Tobacco, to a point, for a short while. A moderate amount of alcohol. You forget, I was keeping a rather large secret from the people I met that summer. It would have been unwise to indulge in anything that might have exposed our world, and I trust you remember that when you’re on one of your nights out.”
“Of course.” Harry doesn’t sound so sure, but Severus decides to let it slide. He can’t bear sanctimonious moral lessons. If Potter doesn’t know combining Muggle drugs with magic is a bad idea, he clearly has a brain the size of a peanut. “Did you surf?”
Severus snorts. “Don’t be ridiculous. As entertaining as I’m sure you find that image, I was hardly sunning myself on California’s beaches. I was in the heart of San Francisco.” He takes a steadying sip of his brandy, recalling the heat of the summer sun beating down on the Castro, at odds with the cool breeze from San Francisco’s summer winds. He can almost taste the sweat in the air, feel the pulse of the music from nearby bars he rarely ventured into except in moments of curiosity and necessity.
“Didn’t you want to go back after that summer?”
“No,” Severus says, shortly. “I didn’t.”
He did go back, of course. Twice. He went back and the things he remembers are seared onto his brain, but he doesn’t plan to share that with Harry. Not now, at least.
“What was it like?” Harry shifts in his seat. “I’ve hardly travelled at all. Maybe I should see more of America while I’m here.”
Severus glances at Harry with a frown. “Are you bored of New York already?”
“Of course not. I don’t think I’ll ever be bored of New York. I just thought it might be nice. We could go together,” Harry offers. “I bet we could find a way to get there by magic. We could fly.”
“I have no desire to go back to San Francisco.” Even the thought makes Severus panic and he swallows another wave of emotion back. “You’ll have to find another travelling companion.”
“Didn’t you enjoy it?” Harry’s question is tentative, and Severus clutches his glass more tightly, struggling to keep his emotions in check as long-since buried memories fight their way to the surface.
“Stop asking questions,” Severus snaps. “I refuse to resurrect old ghosts.”
There’s an extended pause and the silence becomes oppressive before Harry finally breaks it.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to pry.”
Severus rolls his eyes and has another sip of his drink, watching the amber liquid slide along the side of the glass as he tips the glass on an angle.
“I spent a summer in the Castro District. It was the eighties and I had a relationship that ended for all the wrong reasons and none of the right ones. If that isn’t enough to spark a modicum of understanding around why I might find the topic difficult to discuss, I recommend you read one of the many books at your disposal in this flat.” Severus stands and opens the terrace door. “Good night, Harry.”
He makes his way into the house before Harry can reply.
“I took some of your books to bed last night.”
Severus glances up from his chopping, moving to check on one of the potions and giving it a quick stir before it congeals. “You’re reading now? Wonders will never cease. Should I open the champagne in celebration of such a momentous occasion?”
“Are you always such a dick?”
“Frequently.” Severus rinses his hands and wipes them, moving to his desk and opening one of his books. He can trust Potter with the remainder of the chopping, and he has a feeling he might need something else to focus on if Harry intends to bring up the past.
“If you insist on making conversation, I suggest you make coffees at the same time.”
“I’ll get us lunch in an hour or two.” Harry dutifully makes his way to what Severus affectionately refers to as a coffee machine. Unlike the Muggle machine in the kitchen, however, this one is magical, fashioned out of a complex arrangement of potions bottles and bespoke spells Severus devised during a lull in his work. “I fancy one of the BLTs from that café we went to.”
“A plain salad will suffice for me.” Severus frowns at one of the paragraphs in his book, turning the page slowly. He grunts his thanks when Harry puts a coffee on the desk next to him.
“You’re clearly itching to tell me about your reading.” Severus looks up from his book briefly. “Were the picture books easy enough to find?”
Harry rolls his eyes. “You’re so annoying.”
“Thank you.” Severus returns to his book with a smirk.
“As if you’d have picture books anyway.”
“Oh, I have one or two.”
“Yeah, erotic photography doesn’t count.”
“You really did have a good poke through, didn’t you?” Severus raises an eyebrow at Harry. “Was it to your liking?”
“I suppose.” Harry’s cheeks flush. “If you enjoy that sort of thing.”
“Which I do.” Severus closes his book and focuses properly on Harry. “But you don’t want to talk to me about my erotic photography, I assume.”
“No.” Harry shakes his head. “I want to ask about your summer in San Francisco.”
“Naturally.” Severus taps his fingers on the cover of his book. “Spit it out, Potter.”
“I wanted to ask about HIV and AIDS.” Harry stumbles over his words, as if he’s nervous. His hands are stuffed in his pocket, his body-language signalling his discomfort.
“There are many stories I could tell about that summer which wouldn’t focus on that,” Severus mutters.
“I didn’t know about any of it.” Harry looks shamefaced, as well he should.
“Of course you didn’t.” Severus tries not to sound irritated although from the sharp splash of colour on Harry’s cheeks, he’s not sure he manages it. “I suppose you imagine it was very depressing. Perhaps you think my experiences there explain my propensity for black.”
Harry folds his arms and frowns at Severus. “I know what you’re doing.”
“Please, do tell.”
“You’re being an arse, because you don’t want to talk about it. I shouldn’t have brought it up.”
“No,” Severus snarls. “You should not have brought it up. You should have read the literature I encouraged you to investigate and used your brain. You should have understood I directed you to books because the very last thing I want to do is talk. But I imagine once you started poking around you couldn’t resist trying to stick your nose somewhere it has no business being.”
“I wasn’t poking—”
“—You have no respect for my privacy. None.”
“You told me where to look!” Harry’s voice rises, his eyes flashing. “You’re used to hiding stuff—you told me you could teach evasion as well as you can teach potions. I wouldn’t have a clue about any of this if you hadn’t given me exactly the information I needed. You told me the date, the location, where to look for answers. I’ve had more ambiguous research tasks from Hermione, for fuck’s sake.”
“Did you ever think I gave you the information to bring an end to your incessant questions?”
“No,” Harry replies, shortly. “You’ve known me for years; you know what I’m like. I was always going to ask.”
“Maybe I wanted to put an end to your dull tales of woe when you have no idea about the things gay men of my generation have experienced. None.” Severus knows he’s being unfairly vicious, but he has never claimed to be a fair man.
Harry’s jaw works, the magic in the room crackling with a quiet fury. “I didn’t tell you my tales of woe. I spoke about what happened in London on one occasion. It took less than half an hour of your precious time, and I only told you at all because you made me. I’m not looking for your sympathy.”
“Good, because you’re unlikely to receive it.” Severus knows his anger is misdirected, but he doesn’t care. It’s been too long since the past was dangled in front of him, too many years of buried grief and rage. He can’t seem to think clearly, his anger pulsating through him like waves. It’s a futile, desperate feeling: the rawness of being exposed. Every time Harry pushes for answers it rips Severus’ chest open just a little more.
Harry takes a breath, his jaw set at a mutinous tilt. He lowers his voice back to a reasonable level, although Severus can tell it’s a struggle.
“You knew I’d ask. You knew I would. I think you want to talk about it, even if you won’t admit it.”
“How remarkably perceptive you are,” Severus murmurs. He opens his book in an attempt to finish the conversation, but he can practically feel Potter’s beady eyes searing a hole into his head. He makes a note in the margins, the nib of his quill scratching against the parchment and a wave of nausea rolling through his stomach as the ink blots. It’s Kaposi’s Sarcoma, Stephen. Severus slams the book shut again, his heart hammering in his chest.
It’s a struggle to speak, and Severus knows Harry’s looking at him with concern or—worse still—pity, and he can’t bear to look at him. “I have to deliver the potions to the Magical Congress by close of business tomorrow. I have no time for idle chit-chat.”
“It’s hardly idle chit-chat.” Harry’s voice is quiet, but there’s an edge to it. “After sending me off to the library you owe me—”
“I owe you nothing!” Severus slams his hand on the table and stands, gripping the desk as he glares at Harry. “You are the one who owes me. For your life, your New York holiday, your ability to escape from the terrible inconvenience of being a handsome, desirable young man that the press chooses to photograph on occasion. A man in good health, who doesn’t understand the freedoms he has. I don’t owe you a damn thing.”
“You owe me a mother, and a father.” The volume of Harry’s voice increases once more and he looks as furious as Severus has ever seen him, his words landing like a dagger.
“There we have it.” Severus sneers at Harry. “It all comes back to the war, doesn’t it? I have spent years repenting, years trying to save your life, you ungrateful little sod—”
“—and it’s never going to be enough, is it?” Harry’s breathing is laboured, his face set in stony anger. “That’s why you agreed to have me here. Not because you need an assistant, or because you owe Arthur a favour. It’s because you still feel guilty about my mum.”
“Which I’m sure you took great pleasure in using to your advantage, so you could come to New York for a holiday and in the process stir up everything I’ve spent so long trying to forget. Poor Potter, too scared of being queer to step into a bar with rainbows above the door, too scared of the press to live in England anymore.” Severus snorts with derision. “And to think, they call you a hero.”
“I suppose you’re not scared of anything here in your big, lonely flat with your books and your stupid potions pretending you’re fine when you can’t even have a conversation like a normal person. What are you scared of?”
“You!” Severus can’t control his emotions any longer, his voice almost a bellow. “Everybody I care about, everybody I have allowed myself to get close to, every person who has shown me affection and kindness has died. Do you understand?”
The silence stretches between them, shock etched on Harry’s face. “I understand,” he says at last. “Better than you think.”
A wave of exhaustion crashes over Severus. For San Francisco, for Lily, for all those fallen, the ones who died too young. He’s so tired of fighting. Tired of dancing around the feelings for Harry that have spiralled so far out of his control, he no longer knows which direction to turn. There have been far too many times in his miserable life when Severus wished he could have been among the dead. Even now, he sometimes questions why he fought against death so bitterly, and why he fights against the opportunity for happiness with equal tenacity.
“Living in a world that believes death is all you deserve is a battle you have never had to fight,” Severus says. “Be thankful for that.”
“I know something of battles,” Harry replies. “Even if mine seem different to yours.” He sighs, pushing a hand through his unruly hair. “I’m sick of walking on eggshells around you, Snape. I’m sorry your life’s been hard, I’m fucking sorry, but I’m trying to understand. I’m trying to understand how a total stranger could hate me enough to want to hurt me just because he saw me kissing another man, and you’re the only person who can help, the only one with the answers.”
Harry swallows, before nudging his glasses onto his nose. A cloud passes over his face until he looks wretched enough that if Severus were a kinder man, he would almost feel sorry for him. There’s something about the uncertainty of his expression that makes Severus’ chest tight. At this rate Harry Potter will probably be the death of Severus after all.
“I want to get to know you better,” Harry continues. “I’ve written to you so many times, tried to start a conversation for years. As stupid as it might seem, I like you, more than you probably realise. Even if you do think I’m a coward and a fool.”
“I think neither of those things.” Severus watches Harry carefully, taking in the tangle of his hair, the pink in his cheeks from his earlier anger and the firm set of his jaw. He’s so young, so handsome, and undoubtedly so much better than Severus deserves. “As much as it pains me to say it, you’re as intuitive and quick-thinking as you’ve ever been. As for cowardice, well. You’re one of the bravest men I’ve ever known.”
Harry looks surprised. “I told Arthur the same thing about you, when he asked why I was so fixated on coming here. Everything felt so unfinished.” His voice lacks any of the earlier uncertainty, his tone calm but firm. “I shouldn’t have said that about Mum and Dad. I don’t think you owe me anything, not anymore. I just hate the thought you let me come here out of guilt. I spent years living with people who didn’t want me there. I don’t ever want to go back to that.”
“Your presence is not unwelcome.” Severus sighs and moves around the desk, resting on it and folding his arms as he studies Harry. “Your aunt and uncle are idiots, I hope you realise.”
“I know.” Harry takes off his glasses and rubs his eyes, putting them back on and blinking at Severus. “I think Aunt Petunia had her reasons.”
“Hmm.” Severus’ anger has dissipated entirely, leaving behind only a dull note of grief. “You and I have an unhappy history as teacher and student.”
“I know.” Harry moves closer to Severus, placing a hand on his arm, his touch warm and firm. “Don’t you think we’re doing better now?”
Severus laughs under his breath. “You think that was us doing better?”
“This bit’s okay.” Harry grins at Severus. His broad smile steals the breath from Severus’ lungs and he itches to pull Harry closer still. “We might have to work on it, if we’re ever going to get around to doing something about my duelling.”
“My past has nothing to do with your ability to duel,” Severus replies.
Harry’s brow furrows. “I disagree. I have a hunch that this might all be connected, somehow.”
Severus rolls his eyes, quite sure Harry is one whisker short of a kneazle. “My life is not a history lesson for you to write essays about.”
“I know.” Harry nods. He squeezes Severus’ arm and then moves away. Severus already misses his closeness. “I don’t want to write essays. I just want a conversation.”
“Very well.” Severus folds his hands together, already regretting his capitulation. “However, that doesn’t mean my private life becomes an open book. There are questions I may choose not to answer, and if you attempt to push me into doing so, there will be no more discussions.”
“I understand.” Harry’s face breaks into a smile, the last bit of tension leaving his body. “Thanks.”
“Not now.” Severus gestures to the ingredients that still require preparation. “Later, if you wish.”
“Yeah.” Harry’s cheeks take on another unexpected flush of colour, before he turns back to his chopping. “Later.”
“Of course.” Severus takes his bowl and tears a thick wedge of bread from a freshly baked loaf. He frowns at Harry. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
Harry takes a breath. “Because of that summer in San Francisco.”
Severus stares at Harry, a flash of anger and shame rising within him. “Are you suddenly regretting being in close proximity with me?”
“No.” Harry stops Severus before he can unleash his fury. “I wouldn’t care. I don’t care. Not for the reasons you think.”
“What other reasons are there?”
Harry turns back to the soup, his glasses steaming up. “That book scared me. I don’t want anything to happen to you.”
“Foolish boy.” Severus swallows back the desire to bring Harry closer, and he concentrates instead on carrying his soup to the table. Once settled, with two generous glasses of wine poured, he has a mouthful of the soup. He savours the pleasing taste and has a sip of his wine before continuing. “I suspect taking you in is evidence of my impending senility, that blasted snake has ensured my neck will never be quite the same again and my days of sunbathing topless are over. Otherwise, I am quite well.”
Harry’s eyes flick to the open neck of Severus’ shirt. “Why can’t you sunbathe topless?”
“I can, simply not in public.” Severus has another spoonful of his soup, and dabs at his mouth with a napkin. “Scars, Potter. And before you ask, that is one of those questions I decline to answer.”
“Okay.” Harry looks as though he’s dying to say something, curious so-and-so that he is. Eventually, he settles for giving Severus a lopsided smile. “I don’t believe you ever sunbathed topless.”
“Correct.” Severus gives Harry a small smile of his own. “And now I never will.”
“I don’t think I’d mind,” Harry replies. “I bet you’d be more popular than you think in the bars nowadays.”
Severus snorts with laughter. “Oh yes. I imagine I would be quite the hit, with the gym bunnies and club scene twinks. Perhaps you would have me flaunt my scars on Fire Island in a pair of speedos?”
Harry’s throat bobs. “I don’t think I can imagine you in speedos.”
“Quite.” Severus mutters under his breath. “Impertinent brat.”
“I quite like the idea.” Harry’s eyes get the same hungry gaze Severus has noticed on occasion, as he watches Severus from across the table. It’s a little disconcerting, how much it makes Severus want to push their food away and drag Harry upstairs.
“You’re an idiot.” Severus turns his eyes heavenward, hoping his other thoughts are well hidden by his attempt to pretend he finds Harry’s flirting tiresome. “Do you flirt this outrageously with everybody that crosses your path?”
“Nope.” The sharp flash of pink in Harry’s cheeks gives him away. “Only with you.”
“How fortunate I am.” Severus ensures he sounds sufficiently sarcastic to cover up the inconvenient flicker of pleasure at Harry’s words.
“What’s Fire Island?” Harry looks curiously at Severus.
Severus swoops his gaze briefly over Harry. He’s beginning to regret opening the books of queer history, not least when Harry is precisely the kind of man who would probably be immensely popular at Fire Island. The thought makes Severus’ heart twist, jealousy flaring through his veins.
No, Severus, he tells himself. This will not do at all.
“Fire Island is a place you have no business being,” he responds at last. “If you insist, I will recommend another book. I suggest you focus on your boys in the clubs for the time being.”
Harry frowns. “Do you think that’s my type?”
“Men your own age with tanned bodies who still have the energy to dance until dawn?” Severus huffs. “Yes, I think that’s your type. I think it’s everyone’s type.”
“Is it yours?” Harry asks, quietly.
“Unlike you, I do not have the luxury of choice.” Severus has another mouthful of his soup. “This is surprisingly good.”
“Thanks. Don’t change the subject.” Harry sounds amused. “I actually prefer older men.”
“Well, I’m sure you’ll find a few of those in New York too.”
“I’m not really looking. I haven’t been with anyone for months.”
“Practically a lifetime,” Severus mutters. He scrapes the last delicious morsels from his bowl and pushes it away with a satisfied hum. “I’m surprised. You’ve been out often enough. Are the men of New York not to your taste?”
“Not really.” Harry finishes his own soup and picks up his wine.
“I wasn’t born yesterday.” Severus rolls his eyes. “I’m not quite so past it that I’ve forgotten what men look like after a night of pleasure.”
“I never said you were.” Harry steadfastly doesn’t meet Severus’ gaze, a peculiar expression on his face.
“I’d warrant it’s not been as long as weeks or months. Forty-eight hours, perhaps.” Forty-eight hours since Harry last returned from Hell’s Kitchen looking as if he had indulged in a particularly satisfying orgy, and Severus had to try very hard not to punch the wall.
Harry looks up at last, his eyebrow raised in question. “Do you care?”
“Not in the slightest.”
“You just seem interested.” Harry gives Severus a shrewd look. “Do you know you called me handsome, earlier? Handsome, and desirable.”
Severus’ heart gives a kick, and he keeps his expression smooth. “I did no such thing.”
“I can show you a memory if you’ve got a Pensieve—”
“Enough!” Severus glares at Harry. “I’m not one of your many suitors. Your charm might work on the men who have clearly been helping to satisfy your needs, but it won’t work on me.”
“I’m not trying to charm you. I’m not trying anything.”
“No?” Severus sneers. “You’re certainly trying my patience.”
Harry pulls a face. “I’m sorry. I’ve really buggered this up. I didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable.”
Severus studies Harry’s face, the flicker of darkness that clouds his usual sunniness as it does when they talk about the war, or Soho. After a moment, Severus relents.
“I’m not uncomfortable. It may shock you to learn I have some experience with clumsy flirting, even though I warrant I’m on the receiving end of it far less than you.”
“I wasn’t trying to flirt.” Harry looks up at last. “I just wanted to know if you meant it, that’s all.”
“I’m not sure why it matters,” Severus replies. “You clearly have most of New York City offering you compliments. My opinion is neither here nor there. Besides, you have never struck me as desirous of flattery.”
“I’m not. It’s just your opinion means more than the others.” Harry rubs his hand against his cheek. “Anyway, I’m not getting loads of compliments from anywhere at the minute, so you can get that idea out of your head.”
“Your dishevelled appearance these last few nights would suggest otherwise.”
“I suppose it would.” Harry takes a gulp of his wine and the sense he isn’t being quite truthful returns.
Severus scowls. “You might as well tell the truth. For an Auror whose job might depend upon it, you’re remarkably bad at evasion.”
“Fine.” Harry glances at Severus. “Only if you promise not to go mad.”
“I’ll promise no such thing.” Severus sniffs. “In any event, I don’t go mad as you put it. I’m capable of reacting to things calmly.”
“Yeah, right.” Harry rolls his eyes. He runs his tongue over his lips, clearly nervous. “I haven’t been going out to Hell’s Kitchen.”
“Excuse me?” Severus frowns. “The bathhouses, then?”
“No, no. Nothing like that.” Harry pulls a face, not meeting Severus’ eyes. His expression is weary, the easy humour from before gone entirely. “If you must know I’ve been going to watch the New York Nifflers practice, then I’ve just wandered around.”
Severus stares at Harry. “But you always look…”
“Like I’ve had a shag?” Harry gives Severus a rueful grin. “I thought it would make it more believable. You seem to expect me to go out and meet men, so I thought I should make it look as though that’s what I’ve been doing. It’s just a few spells.”
“Why on earth would you want me to think you were going out meeting men if you’re not?” Severus scowls at Harry. “If this was a crude attempt to make me jealous, I don’t appreciate it in the slightest.”
“It wasn’t that.” Harry shakes his head. “I didn’t think you’d be jealous. Were you?”
“Definitely not,” Severus lies.
“Well then.” Harry shrugs. “I wasn’t trying to make you jealous, I just wanted it to be believable.”
“I’m not entirely sure why you think it necessary to make me believe anything about your social or sexual life.”
“I didn’t want you to think I’m scared,” Harry mumbles. “It’s stupid.”
“I see.” Severus purses his lips. “You insisted we go to a gay coffee shop the other morning and you were happy enough to have a drink at Stonewall, you’re clearly not that scared.”
“No.” Harry’s holds Severus’ gaze, his jaw set in defiance. “I’m not scared of anything when I’m with you.”
Severus closes his eyes momentarily. “Great Merlin, are Gryffindors always such sentimental little fools?”
“Yeah, we can be a bit.” Harry’s voice sounds oddly watery and he gives Severus a sheepish smile. “Are you angry?”
“Yes, but my anger—remarkably—is not directed at you.” Severus studies his wine. “There are a lot of things that make me angry, Harry. Many of which have nothing to do with you.”
“Many of which?” Harry settles back in his chair.
“Most of which.” Severus gives Harry a small smile. “I’d warrant you could still make me angry, if you wished.”
“I don’t.” Harry shakes his head, his expression serious once more. “I’m so tired of being angry about everything. You’re the only thing that makes sense to me at the minute.”
“A dire state of affairs indeed,” Severus murmurs.
“I’m not scared when I’m here.” Harry looks up at Severus, his gaze so open and honest it makes Severus’ chest tight. “It’s just—” he stops. “Never mind. The truth is, I think I’d go just about anywhere if you were there.”
“Good grief.” Severus sighs. He stands and reaches out a hand, pulling Harry to his feet. Even that is more intimacy than he’s had in a very long time, and the way Harry moves so close, so easily, demonstrates an instinctive trust that leaves Severus wretched, pulling the breath from his lungs. He touches his finger to Harry’s cheek. Even the gentle touch burns his skin. It would be so easy to just tip his head and—
Severus drops his hand. “Come, Harry. There are things we must discuss.”
“In a manner of speaking.” Severus busies himself pouring two small glasses of port, handing one to Harry, who gives it a suspicious look. “Don’t tell me you’ve never had port before?”
Harry wrinkles his nose. “No, Aunt Petunia used to drink port. Port and sherry.”
“There’s lager in the fridge, if you prefer.”
Harry takes a tentative sip of his drink and runs his tongue over his lips with a hum of contentment.
“It’s not bad, this.”
“Good. I’m delighted I’ve saved my one bottle of decent booze for a not bad.”
“It’s nice.” Harry grins at Severus. “Is that better?”
“I suppose it will have to do.” Severus takes a seat on the armchair, not quite trusting himself to join Harry on the sofa. That way, madness lies. “His name was Peter.”
“A Muggle?” Harry looks curious.
Severus nods. “He thought my name was Stephen. It seemed less peculiar at the time than Severus, and I never expected it to be anything more than a fleeting summer fling.”
Come dancing, Stephen. Don’t you ever want to let yourself go? We could be dead tomorrow.
“But it was?” Harry’s voice tears Severus from his thoughts and Peter’s voice fades away like distant music lost to a changing wind.
“Yes,” Severus takes a breath. “I was the age you are now, and he was a year younger.”
“Does that mean you like younger men?” Harry gives Severus a small smile. “Out of curiosity.”
“You’re very curious about my tastes, Harry.” Severus holds Harry’s gaze, taking in his hopeful expression. “I’m not sure what I like, anymore.”
That isn’t quite true, but Severus has no intention of divulging his new attraction to Harry when he’s already sharing more about his past than he’s ever told anyone before. There was a time before San Francisco when Severus would have said he liked men to be men, a perspective developed over years of trying not to show any signs of effeminacy. He found himself full of self-hatred in his younger days, ashamed at the kind of sex he enjoyed, determined not to admit he found any pleasure in being the receptive partner on occasion. He was constantly terrified that people might read his deepest desires in the way he walked, the way he held himself or the way he behaved. Steadily his futile anger reached a crescendo, channelled into the cruellest of curses developed with the gleeful idea that one day he might use them on people who commented on how unusual it was to see a wizard reading or spending so much time with cauldrons, instead of being on the Quidditch pitch. Things are different now, but in moments Severus still questions his place in the spaces where he should feel the most at home or finds difficulty letting himself go when he’s doing the things that feel as natural to him as breathing. There’s so much that comes with the heavy burden of a legacy of silence, repression, self-loathing and shame that would take another lifetime to unlearn.
“I think my tastes have changed over the years,” Severus says, at last. Harry is clearly waiting for him to expand on his earlier, vague answer, and it’s the best he can do. “I don’t believe I have a type, if that’s what you’re trying to discern in that rather obvious way of yours.”
“I’m not sure I do, either.” Harry contemplates Severus, looking as though he wants to say something else, but he appears to change his mind. “You liked Peter enough to get together with him. What was he like?” Harry says the name as if it’s a strange, unfamiliar thing, trying it out on his tongue as he keeps his tone quiet and respectful, his forehead furrowed as if he’s thinking.
“Yes, I liked him enough for that. He was young, like you. Full of energy, full of life. He wanted to keep dancing even when the music stopped. I imagine you would have found him an unexpected choice.”
“Why do you think that?” Harry asks, curiously.
“Because he enjoyed parties, the company of his large group of friends and had none of my bitterness.” Severus allows himself a wry smile. “He used to call me an old soul.”
“But you were young too,” Harry replies.
“I’m not sure I’ve ever been that kind of young.” Severus gives Harry another small smile, despite the heavy grief that threatens to claw its way to the surface. “Can you imagine me dancing, Potter?”
“I don’t know.” Harry grins, giving Severus a quick look up and down. “You can fly, and you’re agile enough when you’re duelling. I wouldn’t be surprised if you know how to move.”
Severus turns his eyes to the ceiling. “Your attempts at flattery are appreciated, if misguided.”
“One day I’ll get you to dance with me,” Harry says. “Even if it’s in private.”
“Is that so?” Severus raises an eyebrow at Harry. “Admittedly the kind of dance two men do in private is more appealing than the sort conducted as some kind of odd mating ritual in a busy club.”
“Oh.” Harry’s voice takes on a rough, breathless quality. “I like that kind of dance too.”
“I’m sure you do.” Severus allows himself the pleasure of taking in the light flush in Harry’s cheeks. Dancing, indeed.
“You’re very good at this,” Harry comments with a small smile. “Distracting me from the conversation at hand.”
“A skill learned after years of subterfuge.” Severus has a small sip of his port. “You have more questions, I’m guessing.”
“One or two. Didn’t you ever tell Peter about magic?”
“No.” Severus shakes his head. “It’s always struck me as strange that I managed to forge such a connection with somebody who didn’t even know my name.”
“Didn’t you ever want to?”
“Not particularly,” Severus replies. “I was relieved to get away from that world, and the last thing I wanted was to bring somebody else into it. I was grieving for your mother, I hated myself for the poor decisions I had taken, allegiances I had forged. It was a refreshing change to be somebody else entirely, to be somewhere different.”
“I understand that,” Harry says, quietly. “Is that why you came here, too?”
“In a manner of speaking. It’s easy to remain anonymous in a city like New York, as you too are discovering.”
“The press don’t care, that’s for sure.” Harry nods towards the Prophet. “It’s nice not to be splashed all over the papers.”
“Indeed.” Severus glances at the folded paper on the sideboard. “The Ministry could give me twenty Orders of Merlin, and I’m not sure it would change public perception. That, I think, would take nothing short of a miracle.”
“Perhaps.” Harry looks curiously at Severus. “Do you think you’ll ever come back to England?”
“I have no idea.” Severus shakes his head. “In time, perhaps. I have a home that you cannot be expected to keep cleaning forever and a portrait that probably feels neglected.”
Harry’s face breaks into a triumphant grin. “I thought you said it was just a painting.”
“It is.” Severus waves a dismissive hand, refusing to explain himself. The last thing he needs is for Harry to believe that Albus Dumbledore is still alive, kicking and hanging on a wall in Spinner’s End. “I have a regular income from the Ministry and there’s nothing to bring me back to England, only books and memories, few of them good.”
“Did you love him?” Harry changes the subject abruptly, a strange note to his tone that Severus can’t quite decipher.
“Perhaps. We were incompatible in ways beyond my secrets, but we were never given the time to see if those obstacles might have been overcome. We, neither of us, were monogamous. I know with certainty that’s not something I could entertain in a serious relationship now.”
“Why did you agree to it with him?”
“We were apart for long periods of time and it worked for us both to keep other avenues open, even though neither of us really found anyone else that compared over the three years we were together.” Severus swallows back a wave of emotion for now, for then, for all the ghosts of the past. “For me at least, it was the closest thing to romantic love I have ever known.”
Harry frowns. “You said you were together for years. I thought it was just that one summer, eighty-three?”
“In one sense, it was.” Severus stares at his drink. “That was the only time we had together before everything changed. An entire summer is like a lifetime for someone better used to a few hours here and there to break up prolonged periods of isolation. I went back to San Francisco a year later, and one final summer the year after that. I vowed never to return to California again.”
“He left you?” Harry’s voice is low.
“In a manner of speaking.” Severus looks at Harry. “For one who has seen so much of it, I wouldn’t have expected you to tread so carefully around the question of death. We can say he left me, if you wish. I prefer to call it what it was. An agonisingly slow death. Peter died holding the hand of a man who couldn’t even disclose his real name.”
My eyes are open, but I can’t see. Are you there, Stephen? When did everything get so dark?
Harry stands and tops up Severus’ glass, leaving his own empty as he settles in his seat once again. From the way he hovers, it’s as if he wants to give Severus some form of physical comfort, but he decides against it. Severus is glad of that. A hug would be a kindness he’s not sure he could handle, when his skin itches, his neck aches and the blood pumping through his body sounds like drums.
Harry turns his small glass, the dark red liquid at the base of it hanging in droplets against the crystal. “Did Peter die of AIDS?”
Severus nods, pressing his lips together. “Pneumonia was the official cause, but ultimately it was AIDS, yes.”
Harry seems to be struggling for words, his expression caught somewhere between hopelessness and a fierce anger. “Your books are all about America. Was it bad in England too?”
Severus appreciates Harry’s efforts to keep his questions formal. He’s not sure he could take Harry’s sympathy at this moment, with everything raw and on display, his chest tight and his hands trembling as they do when the memories come flooding back.
“Yes. I began to follow the news of it as best I could, when I was able to find a Muggle television or purchase Muggle papers.”
“I don’t understand why the Muggles couldn’t stop it.” Harry frowns at Severus. “They have their own government, their own hospitals.”
Severus laughs, bitterly. “People only took any notice when it became clear that the illness didn’t discriminate. When homosexuals, black communities, drug users and other ‘disposable’ groups were suffering, those in power responded with silence.”
“That’s disgusting,” Harry replies, quietly furious.
“Yes.” Severus inclines his head. “Although as you find such things so abhorrent, you would be wise not to forget my own former beliefs in the superiority of certain groups of people over others.”
Harry’s jaw works. “How could I ever forget that?”
“How indeed.” Severus imagines those images he provided to Harry at the end of the war will be forever seared onto his brain.
“They just did nothing?” Harry clearly isn’t interested in going back over Severus’ role in the war, struggling to grapple with the weight of the things he’s learning about the Muggle world.
“Eventually, when they realised nobody was immune—women, children, white heterosexuals. But by then countless people had died and many more were already infected. England was even slower than America to react.”
“Why were we so bad?”
“Because there’s always been a prudishness around sex. We’re British, Harry. The idea of advertising preventative measures had people clutching at their pearls.”
Harry’s tone becomes more forceful, an undercurrent of anger in his words. “But people were dying. How could anyone turn a blind eye to that?”
“How could a man see another man kissing on the streets of Soho and decide he should be followed, because he deserves to be beaten?” Severus looks at Harry. “These things all come from the same place.”
Harry’s throat bobs as he swallows, clearly struggling with his emotions. “It’s such bullshit.”
“Indeed.” Severus drains the last of his port and puts his glass to one side, waiting for Harry’s next question.
“Couldn’t our lot have done anything? You’re brilliant at potions, I bet you could have helped find a cure with magic.”
“I think you rather overestimate my abilities, not to mention my influence with the Ministry,” Severus replies. “Such a task would have required significant funding and resource. They used Muggle drugs on people as if they were guinea pigs and sometimes those drugs exacerbated rather than helped the situation. I had nothing to test potions on, nowhere to trial them, and I couldn’t take the chance of giving people something that would harm them further. It would have been negligent in the extreme.”
“Did the Ministry not care because wizards can’t get it, then?” Harry rubs his jaw as he thinks, nudging his glasses higher on his nose. “I can see them ignoring it if they thought it was a Muggle problem, particularly with the crowd in charge then.”
“Wizards and witches weren’t immune.” Severus shakes his head. “There were reports from St Mungo’s of a strange illness that nobody was able to understand during the eighties. By the nineties cases continued to appear, but the Wizarding world had other things on its mind. In any event, it was far less noticeable because witches and wizards alike have been using protective spells for centuries—all thanks to Rupert the Ravishing having a baby in the eighteen-hundreds.”
Harry snorts. “I remember reading about him. Rupert the Revolting more like. He looked like a right stuck-up dickhead, a bit like Lockhart.”
Severus smiles, despite himself. “He never actually conceived a child—a preposterous notion and nothing more than myth and legend—but nevertheless precautions were taught and taken. Most witches and wizards can perform those simple spells without wands or incantations now, it’s instinctive.” Severus glances at Harry. “I assume you—?”
“Yes.” Harry’s cheeks colour and he uses a quiet Accio to Summon the bottle of port, adding a small splash to his glass and drinking it down. “Yes, of course.”
“Good.” Severus closes his eyes for a moment. “I expect for most it was second nature and for the handful it wasn’t, there weren’t enough cases for the Ministry to put time and resources into the issue.”
“Do you think that’s why you’re okay?” Harry asks, quietly.
“Perhaps.” Severus opens his eyes and flicks his wand, pouring himself another port and draining it in one swift motion. “I used the necessary spells, and after eight-five I just stopped.”
“Stopped what?” Harry looks confused and Severus can’t help the irritated sound that lodges in the back of his throat.
“Knowing men, Potter.” Severus rubs his neck, which is starting to twinge. “In the biblical sense.”
Harry stares. “You haven’t been with anyone since?”
Severus rolls his eyes. “I’m quite accustomed to being alone. I have undertaken more difficult tasks. In any event, I think you woefully underestimate my charms if you believe my encounters prior to that time were frequent occurrences.”
“The men you meet are idiots, then,” Harry says, fiercely. He hesitates, as if wondering whether he should ask his next question. “Don’t you do that anymore?”
“If by do that you mean have sex, I do, on occasion. I haven’t become a grief-stricken martyr, depriving myself of something I enjoy due to an unnecessary vow of celibacy. Nevertheless, it was a long time before I began again, and now such moments of intimacy are rare. I haven’t been in another relationship since Peter. I am quite content.”
“Don’t you miss it?” Harry asks, impertinent as ever.
“Not particularly,” Severus lies.
For the most part, he doesn’t miss it at all. He’s come to think of sex as like food, or clothing. Something he requires, but he doesn’t need to spend a great deal of time thinking about. He can satisfy himself well enough when the urge strikes and, when he seeks companionship, he frequently finds the encounters flat and unsatisfying, transactional moments without any true intimacy as the weight of his secrets weigh heavily on him. He’s perfectly content on his own, or at least he believed he was before Potter barged back into his life and buggered everything up. The yearning for a different kind of sex—the flourish of a new kind of passion—is an unexpected and inconvenient thing, and Severus still isn’t sure what he wishes to do about it.
“I’m not looking for your sympathy, Potter.” Severus finally meets Harry’s gaze. “I want to be very clear about that. I don’t want your pity or your apologies. Neither do they.”
“What do you want?” Harry looks at Severus seriously. He’s always looking for a fight. So ready to take up arms to try to right the world’s wrongs. In that too, Severus and Harry are quite different.
“I want the millions that have died across the world, the tens of thousands in San Francisco alone, to have a second chance at life, but I know better than to believe in miracles,” Severus replies. “Otherwise I simply want young men like you to live your life with an understanding of how fortunate you are to have that option.”
“You mean by going to bars?” Harry stares at his hands, his expression cloudy.
Severus shakes his head. “I mean by living, Harry. However you wish to do so, without censure or apology.”
“Is that how you live?” Harry looks up and meets Severus’ eyes. “Fearlessly?”
“Fearlessness is the purview of the young,” Severus replies. “I’ve had my time.”
“You’ve barely had even a quarter of it,” Harry says. His tone is fierce, his eyes flashing. “Wizards live to be hundreds of years old. What happened to living without censure or apology?”
“That’s precisely the way I live.”
“Is it?” There’s a strange fire behind Harry’s eyes, a grim determination in his expression. “You’re always saying how old you are, how the bars and the clubs are for people like me.”
“Because it’s the truth.” Severus shrugs. “I’ve never been fond of the scene, and I’m even less so, now. I enjoy pubs on occasion, of course. But rarely, if ever, have I enjoyed clubs.”
“Why do you keep pushing them on me, then?” Harry is clearly struggling to keep his voice to a respectful level, a note of anger creeping into his tone.
“I assumed your reticence to go out was brought about by shame and fear. I wanted to nip that in the bud. It’s a sinful waste of the freedoms that have been afforded to you.”
“You assumed wrong,” Harry retorts, tightly. “You always get me so wrong.”
Severus huffs. “You practically said as much yourself. You’re not going out in Soho anymore and you pretended to go out to Hell’s Kitchen because you didn’t want me to think you were frightened.”
“I didn’t say I was frightened. I said I didn’t want you to think that’s why I wasn’t going out.” Harry shrugs, looking away and biting his thumbnail. “Maybe I am scared, but I’ve never been much for letting that get in my way. Get back on the Hippogriff and all that. Walk into the Forbidden Forest. It’s not like I don’t know about facing my fears.”
“Then why just stop?” Severus asks.
“Maybe the clubs aren’t my thing either.” Harry glares at Severus. “Why on earth do you keep assuming I’m going to be happier going out than being here, with you?”
“Because you’re young,” Severus replies. “Because it’s what attractive men in their prime do.”
Harry rolls his eyes. “It’s not what you did, or at least not something you enjoyed. Why should I be so different?”
Severus snorts. “Don’t be ridiculous. I wasn’t a part-time Quidditch player and as I’ve already alluded to, I don’t believe I’ve ever truly been young. Our circumstances couldn’t be more different.”
“Have I ever told you I don’t like crowds?” Harry pushes his glasses onto his forehead and rubs his hand over his eyes, without looking at Severus. “I don’t like huge, busy bars. When that bloke decided to beat the shit out of me, finding out I had reason to worry when I assumed everything was fine was what got to me the most. Going out wasn’t exactly brilliant before that happened.”
“I can’t imagine it was difficult for you to meet men,” Severus comments. He tries not to sound too scathing, but he can’t help but feel he and Potter have very different experiences in that regard.
“Maybe it wasn’t, but that’s not what it’s all about, is it?”
“You tell me,” Severus murmurs. “You indicated you have a preference for cruising, and meeting men—having sex—is exactly what that’s all about.”
Harry deflates, sitting back on the sofa and not looking at Severus. “That’s sex, Severus. That’s all it is.”
“What a burden it must be to have regular, enthusiastic, sexual partners.” Severus resists the urge to roll his eyes, even though he’s sorely tempted.
“I’m not saying it’s a burden.” Harry frowns at Severus. “It’s lonely, don’t you get it? I’m not looking for a shag, I’m looking for a partner and I can’t very well find that somewhere nobody knows my name—much less somewhere nobody even bothers asking for the fake one.”
“I see.” Severus tries to mask his surprise. In his feverish imaginings he had pictured Harry shirtless, sweating and dancing in the center of a crowd, a jewel in London’s gay scene, happy and vivacious. “Yet you went out often enough in London.”
Harry shrugs. “I had to pull somehow. I couldn’t very well get off with Ron, could I?”
Severus laughs under his breath. “I wasn’t aware that was an option.”
“It wasn’t.” Harry turns to Severus with a grin, the tension between them ebbing away. “I like making you laugh.”
“I think the port is going to your head,” Severus replies. “I’m surprised you got so little out of the bars and clubs.”
“It might be different if I had someone there.” Harry rubs his jaw, thinking. “It’s probably why I kept pestering you to come out with me. It always looked like people were having fun—you’d probably think I was, too—but I wasn’t. Not really. I never made any friends. How could I, when I didn’t even have a mobile phone number to give to people? It was just a means to an end.”
“I didn’t realise,” Severus replies at last. “Forgive me for finding the notion you would prefer to stay in and listen to me talk about potions to be faintly ridiculous.”
Harry laughs. “I didn’t say that, either. I like being here with you. I could take or leave the potions conversations.”
“I see.” Severus contemplates Harry. “I hope you realise I am far from your only option when it comes to making more meaningful connections, if that’s what you’re looking to find.”
Harry’s jaw works as he considers his answer. His bold, masculine beauty and the fire of his convictions emanate from him. He is, in so many ways, the kind of man Severus has wanted—and envied—in the past. Yet in other ways, he’s quite different. Severus is reticent to admit how much he’s enjoyed getting to know Harry as their past has unravelled, tentative shoots of new understanding blossoming between them.
“I don’t think you’re my only option.” Harry speaks, finally, clearly picking his words carefully. “I didn’t know you were an option at all.”
“I’ve shared more about my romantic past with you than I have ever shared with anybody else.” Severus studies Harry closely. “Did that not give you something of a hint?”
“I’m not very good at hints,” Harry replies. “Gryffindors aren’t very subtle.”
Severus snorts softly. “No, clearly not. Perhaps now is the time for frankness, then. What exactly are you looking for from me, Harry?”
Harry looks up, his eyes shining. The expression on his face is almost too much. Too trusting, too open, too fond. Severus doesn’t exactly lack self-confidence these days, but he finds it difficult to believe Harry hasn’t misdirected his affections.
“You know what I want,” Harry says. “I think you’ve known for a while. Not every part of it, perhaps. Not the bits I haven’t told you, yet. But the bones of it. You know that much.”
“Perhaps,” Severus agrees. He pauses, choosing his words carefully. “If I am understanding correctly, you wish to share more with me than war stories and magic lessons.”
“Yeah,” Harry says with a small smile. “I’d like to dance with you. The private kind.”
“Only dance?” Severus holds his breath, waiting for Harry’s response.
“No,” Harry replies. “I can dance with anyone, but I’m really after a regular partner.”
“I see.” Severus rubs his jaw and contemplates Harry. “What if we enjoy different tunes?”
“I’m sure we’ll find our feet together.” Harry’s expression turns serious. “You don’t have to answer tonight. Maybe you shouldn’t.”
“Do you think me incapable of making a decision after this much port?” Severus gives Harry a slow smirk and the response makes Harry laugh, the sound warm and comforting.
“It doesn’t seem right, does it?” Harry says at last. “Making you tell me about your past and then forcing your hand with this, too.”
“Your consideration is appreciated, although you should rest assured you haven’t forced me to do anything.” Severus scowls at Harry in what he hopes is a menacing fashion. “I would like to see you try.”
“I bet you’d hex my bollocks off,” Harry mutters, with a small smile. He looks at Severus again. “I don’t mind waiting. I’ve waited longer than you realise. Considering I’m a Gryffindor, I’ve actually been pretty patient.”
Severus snorts. “So patient you flew to New York.”
Harry laughs. “Yeah, five and a half years later.”
Severus arches an eyebrow at Harry. “Come, now. You can’t expect me to believe this has been going on for so long.”
Harry pulls a face. “Maybe not five and a half years. I did get engaged for a bit.”
“Ah, yes. Love’s young dream. How could I forget?”
“Stop.” Harry rolls his eyes. “It’s been long enough. You wouldn’t believe it.”
“Perhaps one evening you can tell me.”
A companionable silence falls between them, and Severus holds Harry’s gaze for a long moment. Eventually, he breaks the momentary quiet. “If you’ve quite finished interrogating me about my love life—or lack thereof—I suggest we retire for the evening. I have an early start, as do you.”
“Okay.” Harry stands, making his way to the door. “Are you sure you don’t want company?”
“I’m quite sure.” Severus has a suspicion he knows where any further discussions might lead, and he needs space to reflect before he can consider taking any such step. He gestures to the door. “Bed, Harry. I have shared quite enough about my personal life with you for one evening.”
Harry hovers in the door, as if he’s on the cusp of saying something. In the end, he shakes himself and the moment passes. “Goodnight, Severus.”
Severus remains in his chair for a long time after Harry leaves, before he eventually stands. His bones are stiff, his whole body tired as if he’s run a marathon. He’d forgotten how exhausting memories could be, the wearying futility of wishing things might have been different. His conversation with Harry sparked a modicum of hope, but he appreciates the breathing space tonight. It’s difficult to think about the future when his mind is so full of the past. It seems disrespectful to share his stories of Peter for the first time, only to end up in somebody else’s arms. He needs time and quiet to allow himself to indulge his memories, in a way he hasn’t for a very long time. Severus looks through his bookcase, selecting at last a thin, hardback volume, nearly hidden by the two large tomes that nestle either side of it.
Love Alone: Eighteen Elegies For Rog
It’s been a long time since Severus has picked up Monette. The poetry, the books, the art and the plays. So much of it came later, when the still grief burned like the embers of a dying fire. For Severus, art and literature were the only things he returned to in the aftermath. In all other ways, his experience with HIV and AIDS ended in eighty-five when he left California for the final time. He drew back from the Muggles and their world, their marches and their causes, his last tether to San Francisco disappearing abruptly in the early nineties when letters to a Post Office Box in Manchester just stopped. He wonders what Harry would think of Severus returning to Hogwarts and isolating himself after everything he witnessed. Harry, he imagines, would have fought alongside the Muggles. He would have rallied, harassed, would have given speeches and put himself on lecterns, furious and untameable. He would have corralled the Ministry, forcing them into action. He would never have stood silent while the Ministry turned their backs as countless Muggles died.
Severus settles back in his chair and reaches for his reading glasses, opening the book. The pages are musty and a stamp on the top of the opening page suggests the book once belonged in a Muggle library. Severus isn’t sure how it came to end up in his hands, or why he still keeps it to return to in moments of anguish. Perhaps because it speaks to him. The closeness of the words, the oppressive air to the verse, the anguish and fury that spills out onto the page. Severus doesn’t appreciate mundane platitudes at times of grieving, particularly not when it comes to something like this. He wants young men like Harry to understand that the only response—the onlyuseful response—is rage.
I put my house in order inch by inch
if it comes when it comes I’ll be on the
diving board toes over the edge my gleaming
broken body all the details done with
one last dazzled thought of you in the sun
be wind and rain with me for deepest
darkness no matter how nothing if not alone
After spending time with old letters, postcards and the books which helped him better understand the Muggle battles during the eighties and nineties, Severus spent much of the previous night mulling over the past few weeks with Harry. He considered his own moments of jealousy, the seductive flush of desire that caught him unawares and slowly settled into something more solid: a longing, a craving for something he no longer thought he needed. He may not have been ready to make any decision last night, but in truth any decision about the nature of his relationship with Harry feels as though it was made some time ago. If Potter is foolish enough to continue making poor decisions around his choice of suitor, Severus has no plans to dissuade him. He has never been particularly good at being a martyr.
Shortly after breakfast Harry takes himself off sightseeing and returns around lunchtime, camera round his neck and a brown bag in his hand. “I got burger and chips for lunch.” Harry holds up the bag after opening the door to Severus’ workroom. “Fancy joining me?”
Severus doesn’t usually like to eat much for lunch, his work frequently busy enough to mean he has a quick sandwich or salad if he remembers. It’s been a quieter day than usual, however, and the food smells delicious.
“If you insist.” He stands and looks at one of his potions. “I’ll be with you in ten minutes. I need to clean up, one of my potions exploded.”
“Crikey.” Harry grins at Severus. “And you thought I would be the one causing the explosions.”
“I’m sure you’re somehow to blame,” Severus replies. He shoos Harry away and busies himself making sure everything is in order. He has a feeling Harry plans to encourage him to take the afternoon off, and it’s a gloriously sunny day, the conversation of the previous night causing a strange restlessness. He can give himself the rest of the day, and there might be some merit to taking a long weekend. He frequently finds his mind is more agile on Monday when he’s avoided spending time with his books and papers over the weekend.
Severus goes to his room and showers quickly, stripping out of his robes and cleaning them with a flick of his wand. He sometimes uses the Muggle washing machine, but he continues to clean his robes with magic. He changes into dark trousers and a shirt, leaving it open at the collar and rolling up the sleeves. He uses a drying charm on his hair—hairdryers are something Severus has neither the time or the inclination to use—and he adds a spritz of cologne. He rarely bothers with such things, the use of an expensive perfume a rare treat.
“You’re a foolish old man, Severus Snape.” He scowls at himself in the mirror.
With a huff of annoyance at his ridiculous flights of fancy, he makes his way into the kitchen where Potter is balancing two plates of delicious food in his hands.
“I thought we could eat outside. It’s a gorgeous day.”
“If you wish.” Severus follows Harry and settles in a seat, pouring them both a tall glass of water from a jug on the table. He rolls his eyes at the napkins and salt and pepper carefully set out, the jug with ice and sliced lemon an unusual addition to their meals, which are usually accompanied by mugs of tea or glasses of tap water. “How romantic.”
“I try.” Harry laughs and hands Severus one of the plates, settling into his own seat. He looks happy and content, his smile infectious.
“You’re looking rather pleased with yourself,” Severus observes. He adds some salt to his chips and a splash of ketchup on the side of his plate. It’s been a long time since he’s enjoyed hot food for lunch, and he finds he’s hungrier than he realised.
“I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself.” Harry eats one of his chips. “I’ve been doing some thinking.”
“Stop it. I was wondering if I could convince you to take the rest of the day off.”
Severus mentally congratulates himself on his intuition. Harry is nothing if not predictable. He looked far too happy for somebody about to spend the afternoon chopping flobberworms.
“I believe I could be persuaded.” Severus bites back a groan as he chews on his burger. It’s a particularly good one, with just the right amount of filling. “That doesn’t mean I’m agreeing to whatever plan you’ve clearly spent this morning concocting.”
“I haven’t been planning anything,” Harry says, picture of innocence. “Well, perhaps I’ve been planning a bit. I also went rollerblading in Central Park. It wasn’t all work.”
Severus nearly chokes on his second mouthful of burger at the image of Potter flailing around on rollerblades.
“I sincerely hope your plans don’t involve a repeat of that activity.”
“Not this weekend.” Harry winks at Severus. “It’s fun, though. You should try it.”
“Thank you for the tip.” Severus would rather eat lacewing flies than do anything which involves putting wheels on his feet. “I’ll put it straight to the bottom of my list of ‘Things to Do in New York’, beneath getting mugged, trying to find a taxi during rush hour and abseiling down the Empire State.”
Harry laughs, the sound warm. Making Harry laugh like that sends a flush of pleasure through Severus and once again he has to have a stern word with himself. He’s behaving like a witch in a lesson with Lockhart.
“Don’t worry, my weekend plans don’t involve anything quite that energetic.” Harry glances up from his burger, a small smile on his face. “Unless things go very well, that is.”
For the second time, Severus nearly chokes on his food, which has him wondering if Potter intends to feed him or kill him. “You’re about as subtle as a Bludger to the head.”
“I just meant there might be walking involved.” Harry waves a hand, clearly lying. “It’s not my fault your mind’s in the gutter.”
“My mind’s nowhere of the sort, thank you.” Severus rolls his eyes and has another chip, wondering what on earth he’s getting himself into.
Harry’s sunny mood shifts a little and he gets an earnest look about him, which immediately worries Severus. This plan can’t be good.
“If you’re pissed off about it, I’ve made a Plan B, a Plan C and a Plan D. I even made a Plan E.”
“How many plans do you think we need?”
“A whole alphabet, probably.” Harry looks sheepish. “I’m never sure how you’re going to take things.”
“It’s lucky you have so many ideas, in that case.” Severus dabs the corner of his mouth with his napkin. “I’m sure one of them will be tolerable.”
“I’m glad you’re so confident,” Harry mutters. He reaches into the leather jacket slung casually on the back of his chair and extracts five postcards. He puts them on the table and pushes them towards Severus. “You can say no.”
“I’m aware of that. I can also hex you, tell you in no uncertain terms that I’m never doing anything involving rollerblades, and revise my plan to take the weekend off. I’m not entirely sure what you’re asking me to say yes to, yet.”
“You don’t make things easy for a bloke,” Harry mutters. He gives Severus a hopeful look that has an air of a crup asking for treats about it. “I wondered if you’d go somewhere with me for the weekend. I’ve got all the details worked out for every option; you just need to pick one.”
“I see.” Severus picks up the postcards, without looking at them, focusing instead on Harry. “Do you always make such dramatic gestures? We haven’t even been out for dinner yet.”
Harry flushes and he pushes a hand through his hair. “I, erm…”
“It’s fine, Harry.” Severus taps the postcards on the table, contemplating him. “I’m just trying to ascertain if you’re looking for a travelling companion, or something more.”
Harry nudges his glasses onto his nose and eats a couple of his chips before responding, clearly trying to buy some time before answering.
“I’m looking for whatever you’re willing to give. I like your company and I’m not going to pretend I wouldn’t be interested in other options—I made that pretty clear last night—but I respect your decision, whatever it is. At the very least I hope we could travel together as friends.” Harry wipes his mouth with his napkin, his expression unusually serious. “I’m not trying to push—”
“A weekend break seems a little on the pushy side—”
“—we’d have separate rooms of course.”
“Of course.” Severus places the postcards face down and holds Harry’s gaze. “Although I would hate for either of us to waste our money on a bedroom we have no intention of using.”
It’s delightful, seeing Harry squirm in his chair, finally taken by surprise. Severus is quite proud of himself. He does enjoy getting something of the upper hand. He turns the postcards over and takes them in.
“Las Vegas, New Orleans, Miami, Los Angeles.” Severus looks up at Harry and pushes the final card back towards him. “This is why you thought I might be angry.”
“Yes.” Harry looks at the card. “I didn’t know if I should suggest it or not.”
“Do you want to go?”
“To San Francisco?” Harry gives the card one final glance before looking at Severus. “I’m not sure. I did, but everything seems different now.”
“How so?” Severus raises an eyebrow at Harry.
“With the whole wasting money on two bedrooms thing.” Harry rubs his jaw. “I hoped, but I didn’t know. I don’t know if I want to do that somewhere that’s going to remind you of somebody else.”
“I see.” Severus contemplates Harry. “Then why suggest it at all?”
“I thought it might help. Maybe seeing it again in a different light.”
“There’s another city we could spend our weekend in that you haven’t considered.”
“There is?” Harry frowns, looking at the cards. “I know there are loads of other places. Seattle looks cool and there’s all the National Parks. I wasn’t sure you’d fancy skiing but we could—”
“New York, Harry.” Severus cuts Harry off mid-flow, trying not to shudder at the thought of skiing. “I would like to show you New York. The parts you haven’t explored yet. I suggest we save San Francisco for another time.”
“You think there’ll be another time?” Harry looks hopeful.
“Unless you force me to rollerblade, I see no reason why not.” Severus hands the postcards back to Harry. “I appreciate the gesture.”
“I wanted to do something nice for you,” Harry says.
You already have, Severus thinks. He begins to tidy the plates away and Harry stands to help.
“I don’t have any plans for New York.” Harry follows Severus into the kitchen, putting the plates on the counter. “I had everything else all sorted out. Activities, flights, meals, even sightseeing on a speedboat in Miami.”
Severus makes a mental note to put Miami to the bottom of the pile of Harry’s options, if by some miracle they manage to get through this weekend unscathed. “Are you disappointed?”
“No, I just wanted to do something this weekend. I don’t care where it is, really.” Harry leans against the kitchen counter, watching Severus wash the dishes. “I’d like to see more of New York, particularly the bits you enjoy.”
“We can go to Brooklyn tomorrow.” Severus wipes his hands on a dishcloth and flicks his wand to arrange the plates on the rack to dry. “I’m assuming you haven’t been there on your travels?”
“No, I’ve been too busy rollerblading.” Harry clears his throat as Severus comes to stand a little closer, his nervous energy palpable. “What do you fancy doing this afternoon? I can book somewhere for dinner, there’s an Italian I’ve been meaning to try.”
“We can do that if you wish.” Severus moves closer to Harry, placing a hand on the counter next to him. He doesn’t miss the way Harry’s breath catches, the sound sending a pulse of desire through Severus. “I think it would be a shame to have every hour of the weekend filled with activities, however. Don’t you?”
“Maybe.” Harry’s voice is rough and his eyes close as Severus reaches to take off his glasses, putting them carefully on the side. “Severus.”
“For example, I would quite like to keep a little free time for this,” Severus murmurs.
He closes the distance between them, pressing his lips against Harry’s. In response Harry presses against Severus and opens his mouth with a low sound of pleasure, wrapping his arms around Severus and keeping him close. It’s been a very long time since Severus has been kissed, let alone kissed with such unbridled hunger and eagerness, and Harry’s obvious enthusiasm takes Severus by surprise. The kiss he expected to be a slow affirmation of his willingness to shift the nature of his relationship with Harry escalates into something raw and urgent, passion pulsing through him as the hot, desperate kiss becomes the only thing Severus can focus on.
He pushes a hand into Harry’s hair, his palm on the back of Harry’s neck. He’s aware of Harry’s hands on his back, the warmth of them sending a shudder of pleasure through his body, his arousal fierce and intense. With a low growl, Severus sinks into another filthy kiss, drunk on Harry’s scent, the taste of his lips, the sensations of his body moving against Severus as though he’s every bit as lost in pleasure as Severus is. Severus slides his free hand under Harry’s jumper, his fingers splayed on the hot skin of Harry’s back, the need to feel skin against skin overwhelming him. He wants to do everything with Harry. For the first time in decades he wants to take his time, but as need burns through him he also doesn’t want to take any time at all. He wants Harry now and devours his kisses greedily like a man starved.
All other kisses fade away and it’s as if Severus is kissing, and being kissed, for the first time. There’s never been anyone in Severus’ arms that knows the black, bitter heart of him and still finds a way to kiss him as though he matters. There’s never been another wizard so pliant, so prepared to trust him with his mouth, his body. The thrum of their magic can exist freely in the space and it gathers in the air like the heat of the New York summer sun. Severus’ heart pounds with reckless abandon as he throws caution to the wind and gives Harry everything he can. The kiss is a messy, passion-drunk, fight of a thing and yet somehow it’s exactly as it should be. Only he and Harry could make a kiss capture the adrenaline rush of going into battle, two broken warriors searching for the sun after years of thunderstorms.
Severus wants to take Harry so much it physically hurts. He wants to tear the clothes from Harry’s body, to make his way slowly down his chest, to get on his knees and suck Harry into his mouth. He wants Harry to take him, to feel the dull ache of being fucked and stretched. He wants strong hands on bare skin, teeth on his chest, a biting, fighting kind of love, an endless tumble in the sheets as the hours slip away and the sun sets and comes up again before they’re satiated. Severus is used to wanting things, greedily, possessively with vengeance and bitterness, and yet he doesn’t think he’s ever wanted something as much as he wants Harry in this moment.
When Harry breaks the kiss, Severus can’t help but grumble under his breath, which is a disaster. It’s bad enough missing Harry when he goes about his business, it’s a hundred times worse if he can’t be close to Harry without wanting to kiss him. Severus tenses, before Harry’s lips curve into a slow smile. Despite his better inclinations, Severus returns the smile with one of his own.
“Severus?” Harry’s voice is gruff, as if he’s had a late night. It sends a shiver of pleasure through Severus which he hopes Harry doesn’t notice.
“Hmm?” Severus doesn’t trust himself to speak yet, as he’s clearly lost all ability to control himself.
“I’ve been here for weeks, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen your bedroom.”
Severus slides his hand down Harry’s arm, their fingers touching at the tip. “We should rectify that immediately,” he replies.
Mercifully, his voice sounds almost normal.
“This is nice.” Harry looks around, clearly torn between wanting to be his usual nosy self and getting straight down to business. He brushes his fingers over the bed, running them over the crisp white sheets. “I don’t know what I expected.”
“Bats and dust, no doubt.” Severus rolls his eyes.
“Maybe.” Harry grins at Severus. He slips his wand from his pocket. “Accio Harry’s glasses.” He extends a hand and catches them as they fly into the room, putting them on the bedside cabinet. “I don’t want to forget where I left them.”
“Very wise.” Severus takes his own wand from his pocket, putting it on the cabinet on the other side of the bed. He sits on the bed and reaches a hand out to Harry, who comes willingly, standing in front of Severus. “Did you have any particular plans for how you wanted this to go when you were busy organising activities for our weekend?”
Harry laughs and shakes his head. “Not really. I thought I might ask you to pick me up on your way to dinner and open the door in a towel on the off-chance short, half-blind Aurors who can’t be trusted to get ready on time are your thing.”
“I’d say they’re very much my thing,” Severus murmurs. “I would have been quite helpless against such subtle seduction methods.” He moves his hand up the side of Harry’s leg, nudging his jumper up in the process.
“You would?” Harry’s voice is foggy with arousal, his stomach flexing under Severus’ touch. “I—”
Harry breaks off with a low groan of pleasure as Severus tugs him closer, his hands firm on Harry’s waist. Severus slowly unbuckles Harry’s belt, opening his jeans. It’s been longer than he cares to remember since he’s had someone in his bed—a lifetime since he’s been with anybody he’s remotely interested in. Instead of nerves however, Severus finds himself strangely uninhibited, his hunger for Harry overwhelming him. He pushes Harry’s jeans and pants down slowly, sucking in a breath when he sees how aroused Harry already is. Of course, because he’s Harry Potter and brimming with the kind of charm that lacks any self-consciousness, he’s as attractive undressed as he is with his clothes on. With a low groan of appreciation, Severus pushes Harry’s jumper up a little higher and splays his hand on his belly, using his other hand to squeeze Harry’s backside and pull him closer as he finally gets his mouth on Harry.
Harry’s stomach is hot and smells faintly of soap, his scent musky and instantly appealing. Severus luxuriates in the stretch of his mouth, the hard length of Harry sliding between his lips and the cut-off sounds Harry makes that spur him on all the more. He wants to take his time, but he also wants to bring Harry to a swift and forceful climax. For the first time in a long time Severus knows that this isn’t an encounter which has a time limit, fully aware that this is just the start of what he hopes will be a long evening together. He has spent a great deal of time preoccupied with how many years there are between them, and the plus side of being made to feel like an old man on occasion is that a twenty-something’s refractory period is bound to be relatively short.
Severus takes Harry into his throat, relaxing it and letting Harry buck forward, controlling his motions with a light squeeze of his backside or a gentle push of his hand on Harry’s belly. He slides his hand around to circle around Harry’s cock, moving his mouth with a slick efficiency that comes with years of practice. He may not have indulged in sex for quite some time, but there’s a natural intimacy that comes with being with Harry. What could so easily have been strange and awkward requires little thought, his senses finely attuned to Harry’s pleasure and his mouth and hands quickly learning the ways of Harry’s body. He tongues at the head of Harry’s cock, biting back a groan as Harry clutches onto him, clearly requiring some support. There’s something almost painfully erotic about their position—Severus not quite on his knees, but Harry standing over him and struggling to keep himself upright as he loses himself in pleasure.
Severus works his mouth fully over Harry again and the slick sounds of sex fill the room, Harry’s rough breathlessness music to Severus’ ears. He nudges Harry’s jumper up further, groaning when Harry yanks it off, leaving himself mostly naked. Severus wants to drink in his fill of Harry, but for now he focuses on the task at hand. There will be time enough for the rest. He brings both hands to Harry’s backside, urging him deeper into his throat, digging his fingers into the firm flesh and already eager to test Harry’s responses in other ways, the beautiful sounds he makes and the way he bucks forward towards Severus an indication of his unabashed responsiveness.
Severus wants Harry to be unashamed, uninhibited. He knows what it is to be ashamed of one’s own desires, to lust secretively after masculine bodies and attempt to wash away the memories of hard, hungry nights fucking and being fucked into sweaty sheets. He pulls off Harry slowly and motions towards the bed.
“Yeah, Merlin, let me just—” Harry curses as he stumbles in the tangle of his jeans, falling onto the bed with an ungainly thud. “Shit.”
“Elegant as ever, Potter.” Severus can’t resist a self-satisfied smirk as Harry sticks his finger up, muttering something that sounds like smug arse before he finally yanks off his pants, jeans and socks.
When Harry finally stretches out on the bed, Severus allows himself a moment of indulgence, because Harry is breathtakingly lovely. Although in temperament he retains an air of the boy Severus once knew, like this there’s nothing remotely boyish about him. A couple of thin scars on his torso and belly speak of battle wounds Severus knows nothing about, and it makes him less self-conscious about his own appearance. They both have scars, the faded marks of battle and the lifetime of memories they carry with them that come from being reluctant soldiers at war. Harry has a thatch of hair on his chest and a dark line stretches tantalisingly from his bellybutton, down. Severus is distracted from his ogling when Harry gives his cock a lazy stroke, his smile broad but questioning as he watches Severus.
“Are you just going to sit there and watch me?”
Severus snorts under his breath and yanks off his socks before joining Harry on the bed. He bats Harry’s hand away from his cock and presses a kiss to his stomach, feeling it flex beneath his lips.
“Are you always this demanding?” Severus murmurs against Harry’s heat-flushed skin.
“I think I might be.” Harry’s voice is rough, his cock leaking at the tip. “You got me going with all that kissing and stuff earlier.”
“I see.” Severus decides he’s really being a little unfair and now isn’t the time to tease. He presses his fingers into Harry’s thighs and takes him into his mouth again, mentally congratulating himself on Harry’s immediate response. It’s as though the air punches out of his lungs as he grunts and gasps, wriggling beneath Severus in an attempt to push up further into his throat. His obvious need makes Severus show him some mercy. He works his mouth efficiently over Harry, certain he’s now close to climax and cheered by Harry’s obvious pleasure.
“Severus, I—” Harry tugs at Severus’ hair, which only makes Severus intensify his motions. He has no desire to pull away. He wants to taste Harry, to bring him to the brink of pleasure and then take him apart all over again.
After a moment of blissful oblivion, Harry’s hand twists in Severus’ hair and he comes with a grunt, bucking upwards into Severus’ mouth. When he finishes, Severus pulls back from Harry and swipes the back of his hand across his mouth, his own arousal taking a backseat to drinking in the side of Harry’s dark gaze and the flush in his cheeks. He stretches out next to Harry, propping himself on his elbow, his gaze lingering on Harry’s well-kissed lips.
“Is there a reason I’m the only one who’s naked?” Harry murmurs. He toys with a button on Severus’ shirt, his voice thick and low.
“I like to keep the upper hand for as long as possible,” Severus replies. “It can be difficult to accomplish that naked.”
“I’ll let you keep whatever kind of hand you want.” Harry leans in and places a maddening line of kisses along Severus’ neck. “You really have no idea how much I want you, do you?”
“I have some idea.” Severus grips Harry’s hair and pulls him into a fierce kiss, pressing their bodies together. He pulls back after a minute, pressing his lips chastely against the curve of Harry’s smile.
“What do you like?” Harry slowly unbuttons Severus’ shirt, sliding his hand over Severus’ chest when he finally succeeds in opening it fully. To his credit he doesn’t flinch at all as his palm finds the ridges of Severus’ scars, his gaze just as hungry and open as it’s ever been. “I want to do everything to you, with you. I don’t care what you want, as long as it feels good for you.”
“That’s a very dangerous thing to say to a Slytherin, Harry.” Severus sits and pulls off his shirt before moving back to stretch out opposite Harry. “You have no idea what kinds of things I enjoy.”
Instead of looking concerned, Harry’s eyes flare with interest. He really is a typical Gryffindor.
“I’d like to find out,” Harry replies, boldly. “All of it. Every last kinky fantasy.”
“Am I the only one sharing?” Severus asks, amused.
“Not if you don’t want to be.” Harry grins at Severus and he slides his fingers along Severus’ belly, trailing them lower until his palm presses against the curve of Severus’ cock, hard and aching in his trousers. “God.”
“You really know how to flatter a man.” Severus captures Harry’s lips in a brief kiss that turns filthier and messier than it should as Harry moves his hand over him.
Severus is minded to stop Harry—to remind him that he might need longer to recover, that other kinds of sex won’t be on the cards for some time if Harry continues. In the end, however, the sheer force of his desire makes the thought of stopping unappealing. He doesn’t have a clue what Harry enjoys in bed and he doesn’t want to halt his pleasure to negotiate positions and preferences, or to go through the awkward, sometimes difficult process of fucking. He’s not even sure he could contain his own desire for long enough, the force of his arousal overwhelming and unexpected.
“Can I?” Harry slides down the zip of Severus’ trousers, his lips hot against Severus’ skin. “I want to feel you properly.”
“Mm.” Severus nods and pulls Harry into another brain-melting kiss, their mouths hot, eager and the kiss messy and uncoordinated. When Harry finally opens Severus’ trousers sufficiently to wrap a slick hand around him, the sensation combined with the realisation that Harry has just performed wandless, non-verbal magic, is almost enough to make Severus come on the spot. “Impressive, Potter,” he manages, a little breathlessly.
“Thanks.” Harry laughs, low and throaty. He squeezes his hand around Severus, a slow, tantalising slide that makes Severus buck forward with a hiss. “You too.”
“Insolent child.” Severus bites back another groan as Harry slides his hand again. “You’re an insufferable show-off.”
“Doesn’t feel like you mind.” Harry pushes a hand into Severus’ hair and urges him closer, bringing him into a deep, filthy kiss that is good enough it feels as though it travels through Severus’ bones. He continues to work his talented hand over Severus, their kisses getting deeper, messier, more urgent. Harry—perhaps unsurprisingly considering he can be something of a chatterbox—is remarkably good at saying the filthiest things at exactly the right time, the low cadence of his voice and the warm promise of his words sliding across Severus’ skin and making every part of his body even more sensitised to even the lightest touch.
“I want to suck you, later.” Harry’s lips are hot and wet against Severus’ neck, the kisses travelling uninhibited over the scars on Severus’ throat. Instead of moving to unblemished skin he lingers on them, tracing them with his lips like balm. “I bet you’d feel so good inside me.”
The thought makes Severus groan, his arousal intensifying and his need to climax almost desperate. He can tell Harry notices the response from the way he quickens the pull and slide of his hand as his kisses become heavier and more concentrated. Severus would love to respond with some filthy talk of his own, but he can’t seem to formulate words. Even in his most pleasurable moments of sex, he’s never been so completely uninhibited, worried about exposing something of his magic, something of his heart. He kisses Harry greedily, wantonly, and traces the shape of his back, hands slipping down to the curve of his backside. He can imagine taking Harry, determined to find the things that leave Harry devoid of words, as Harry is managing to do to him with the kind of simple act that rarely gets Severus quite this hot and bothered.
He tastes the salty perspiration on Harry’s skin, breathes in the scent of him and allows the heat of his magic to envelop them both. As Severus reaches his climax his own magic spills from him with unstoppable force, his fingers pressed into Harry’s skin and his grunt of pleasure drawn from him with a gasp. The sharp slice of arousal sears through him, the orgasm overwhelming him as he kisses Harry through it, tasting his mouth, his lips, the slide of his tongue. Eventually he has to pull away, sucking in a gulp of air and turning onto his back as he waits for his racing heart to slow. He’s only half-aware of the warm hum of Harry’s magic travelling across his skin like a caress, cleaning them both and leaving his body tingling. Severus knows it will take him some time to recover, and yet as Harry brushes a thumb over one of his nipples, he can already feel his arousal hasn’t quite dissipated, his mouth parting and a strange sound sliding from it that leaves his cheeks hot with embarrassment.
“Would you mind very much if we spend our afternoon off in bed?” Harry’s smile curves against Severus’ skin, his lips tracing a path over his collarbone. “There’s really only one thing I fancy exploring, at the minute.”
“I’m not a monument, Potter.” Severus’ voice is rough, his breath ragged as Harry pulls his trousers and pants off completely, ogling him with the kind of reverence Severus is quite sure his ageing body doesn’t deserve. “Stop it.”
“Stop what?” Harry finally settles by Severus again, keeping his gaze more politely focused.
“Staring at me.”
“Nope, sorry.” Harry slides his fingers over Severus’ chest. “I’d rather not.”
“You’re clearly blind as a bat without your glasses.”
Harry reaches across Severus and grabs his glasses, pushing them onto his face and looking Severus up and down. “Still looks good to me.”
“Foolish boy.” Severus pulls Harry into a slow kiss. He has never thought of himself as particularly desirable, but he also knows Harry is remarkably bad at lying. The honest pleasure in his face as he looks at Severus elicits a happy warmth within him, even though he couldn’t care less about dull conventions of beauty. He knows from his own experiences that attraction is about far more than someone being easy on the eye and supposes he might as well take the compliment graciously. He takes a moment to look at Harry properly, tracing his fingers over a small tattoo of a startled kneazle on the top of his arm.
“I was drunk, and Seamus dared me.” Harry grins at Severus, twisting his arm so they can both see the tattoo better. “It’s stupid.”
“I’ve seen worse,” Severus remarks. He slides his fingers down Harry’s arm, wanting to keep touching him. He runs his fingers lightly over the scars on Harry’s torso, wanting to ask about them but also knowing he has no desire to share the stories behind his own.
“This one was from a fight with Lestrange in Ottery St-Catchpole, just after the war.” Harry seems to understand the question, without being asked. He takes Severus’ hand and moves it lower to the scar on his belly, sucking in a sharp breath as Severus traces it with his fingers. “That one was when I fell off one of Charlie’s dragons. Totally worth it.” He turns so Severus can see another scar on his back, before turning back to face him. “Yaxley and Mulciber.”
Severus’ skin gets chilly and he swallows thickly, frowning as he looks at Harry. “I hope that wasn’t acquired defending my home?”
“Nope. It was acquired putting two Death Eaters in Azkaban, where they belonged.”
“Death Eaters who were trying to attack me, not you.” Guilt worms through Severus, a familiar rage building within him.
“Don’t.” Harry shakes his head, his expression serious. “Not when we’re here, doing this. You look like you’re going to give me detention. I don’t care who they were trying to attack. If I hadn’t been at Spinner’s End we probably wouldn’t have caught them as early as we did, and they would have gone on to attack somebody else whose house I wasn’t spring-cleaning.”
Severus presses his lips together, making every effort not to shout. He’s really quite proud of his fortitude, but by the time Harry speaks again he’s almost bursting with the need to say something.
“Oh go on, then.” Harry rolls his eyes and stretches out on his back, tipping his head and giving Severus a small smile. “Say what you like, I know you’re dying to.”
“Reckless, thoughtless, foolhardy, imbecilic Gryffindor.” Severus lets the words spill out of him and it does feel rather good. “Thank you. That feels much better.”
“Glad I could be of service.” Harry grins and leans in to give Severus a quick kiss, before pulling back. “You don’t have to tell me about yours, unless you want.”
“No.” Severus shakes his head. “Not today at least.”
“I understand.” Harry sounds as though he really does, his expression warm and fond. “I don’t need to know. I’m not as nosy as you think I am.”
“Perhaps not.” Severus can’t resist a smile in return. He shakes his head. “I still can’t quite wrap my head around the years you have spent tending to Spinner’s End.”
“I like it there.” Harry yawns and pillows his head in his hand, blinking at the ceiling. “I’d sometimes go there in the evening when I was revising for Auror exams. It helped me concentrate. Hermione reckoned I was worried you’d pop up from nowhere and give me detention or take points or something if I didn’t do my revision.”
“How much time did you spend there?” Severus raises his eyebrows at Harry, deciding to let his opinion on Harry’s odd study methods slide.
“A while.” A light colour creeps across Harry’s cheeks and he tilts his head to the side to look at Severus. “I liked being there. Grimmauld Place is full of ghosts. Spinner’s End wasn’t. I know you hate the place, but I think it’s nice.”
“You’re most peculiar.” Severus leans in to give Harry a kiss. “Spinner’s End holds as many ghosts for me as I’d warrant Grimmauld Place does for you.”
“I know.” Harry’s throat bobs. “You’re not going to want to go back there, are you?”
“Time will tell,” Severus says. “Perhaps I might see it more favourably through your eyes.”
“Hmm. Maybe.” Harry looks thoughtful, but he doesn’t share whatever he’s mulling over. “Why did you never answer any of my letters after the war?”
“I’m not sure.” Severus shrugs, not entirely certain he wants to share the fact it was largely pettiness and spite that stopped him from responding to Harry. “I didn’t feel any conversation was necessary. You already had my memories, and I assumed you would soon move on with your life.”
Harry pulls a face and turns back to look at the ceiling again. “I did a brilliant job with that.”
“I doubt we would be here now, had we started interacting so soon after the war.”
“Perhaps not. Maybe we both needed time.” Harry gives Severus a smile. “I like to think it would have happened, eventually. Whatever way we did it.”
“That’s supremely confident of you.” Severus traces his fingers over Harry’s chest. “I refuse to believe you have been pining, all of this time.”
“Not pining, exactly.” Harry laughs under his breath. “I always felt there was unfinished business, though.”
“Clearly there was.” Severus leans in to press a kiss to Harry’s chest.
“You were the one that helped me to come out, after all,” Harry murmurs.
“Is that so?” Severus brushes his lips against Harry’s chest again, noticing how his eyes flicker closed and the cadence of his breathing changes.
“I was cleaning Spinner’s End—”
“—cleaning, or being nosy?”
“A bit of both.” Harry opens his eyes again. “Are you going to keep doing that, or do you want to hear my story?”
“I want to hear your story.” Severus smirks at Harry and leans back, propping himself up and deciding to keep his hands to himself for the next five minutes. “You were telling me how you were making a nuisance of yourself in my home.”
“Oh yeah, that.” Harry snorts. “I found some books when I was dusting. I never looked in any drawers, never really poked around. They were right there, on the shelves.”
“Yes, that’s where I tend to keep my books,” Severus replies, drily. “I had no need to hide books about magic away as I do here.”
“It wasn’t the books about magic I noticed.”
“No?” Severus raises an eyebrow. “I’m assuming it was something a little more homosexual.”
Harry laughs under his breath. “Yeah, something like that. Your book with the pictures of those dancers.”
“An excellent find.” Despite his promise to keep his hands to himself, Severus brushes his thumb over Harry’s nipple, taking in the way he shifts in place as if even that simple touch sends sparks of pleasure through his body. He has never claimed to be a fair man. “I think you would look good in a book like that.”
“Doing ballet?” Harry looks horrified at the suggestion.
“I don’t think you would need to do any jetés. I could certainly picture you naked on a bed, however.”
“You don’t have to picture that.” Harry gestures to himself. “Isn’t the real thing better than a photograph?”
“In this case, yes. Although I can’t deny there’s something compelling about the idea of arty Harry Potter nudes.” Severus pulls Harry close, kissing him slowly. “As I have the real thing, however, I think I should take full advantage.”
“Please do.” Harry sounds slightly breathless, his voice rough. “You haven’t told me what you like, yet.”
“Many things.” Severus strokes his fingers over Harry’s backside and keeps him close. “Brewing, reading, red wine—”
“You know what I mean.” Harry presses closer to Severus, his growing arousal apparent. “In bed.”
“Oh, in bed,” Severus murmurs. He strokes his fingers over Harry’s backside again, noticing the shiver the movement elicits. “This, naturally.”
“Naturally.” Harry groans as Severus squeezes his arse. “I like that too. Being fucked. Being fingered.”
“I have a preference for being in control,” Severus says. “For the most part.”
“Hmm.” Harry seems pleased with that idea, his smile irrepressibly cheeky. “I’d let you dominate me. Tie me up and all that.”
“I would be happy to gag you too, if you wish,” Severus offers without any malice.
“Yeah, thanks.” Harry rolls his eyes. “Do you like any of that, the other way?”
“Not particularly.” Severus doesn’t want to share how much he loathes being bound at this juncture. They can discuss that should the topic come up again. “Is that an issue?”
Harry shakes his head. “No. I don’t really get off on the idea of tying someone up.” He rubs his jaw, considering Severus. “I do, um. I mean, I like to top sometimes. Is that something you don’t like?”
The age-old desire to lie makes Severus pause. It’s been so long since he’s done that, and he spent a long time feeling ashamed for wanting it so fiercely on occasion. He contemplates Harry, taking in the easy openness of his expression and remembering how seductive their earlier intimacy felt. Old desires resurface like a phoenix from the ashes reminding Severus of how very good things can be if one is able to let go of old inhibitions and place trust in a partner. Unlike in his younger days, intimacy now comes with none of the bashfulness or awkwardness of youth and the voices of shame and self-hatred have long since dulled. There are no secrets between him and Harry. Everything is laid bare, and the possibilities are intoxicating to Severus. He closes his eyes and sucks in a breath as he recalls the open stretch of his mouth, the hard warmth of Harry’s arousal, the magic that pulsed and twisted around them and the warmth of Harry’s fingers through the thin cotton of his shirt. Live without apology, or censure.
“It doesn’t matter if you don’t like it.” Harry’s voice pulls Severus from his thoughts, and he blinks his eyes open to find Harry looking at him with concern.
“Oh for goodness sake.” Severus reaches for Harry and yanks him into a deep, hard kiss. When they separate, Severus pulls back just enough to look at Harry. “I believe I would enjoy that too. Very much. Being in control doesn’t necessarily mean doing all the work and I wouldn’t want you to become lazy, Potter.”
“I’m sure you wouldn’t.” Harry grins and brushes his lips over Severus’ jaw, his breath hot. “I’d like to fuck you. I think I’m pretty good at it.”
“You would, would you?” Severus slides his hand down Harry’s back. “I should warn you, it’s been a very long time.”
“There’s no rush.” Harry shrugs. “I’m just glad it’s on the table.”
“It’s very much on the table.” Severus can’t help the thrill of anticipation that travels down his spine at the thought of being fucked by Harry. Potter likely is rather good at it, being annoyingly good at anything requiring physical prowess.
“Is there anything you want to do now?” Harry moves his hand down Severus’ chest, inquisitive fingers sliding along his belly. “Just out of curiosity.”
“I can think of one or two things,” Severus murmurs. He reaches for the lubricant and urges Harry into a position that will give him easy access. “This, perhaps,” he says.
“Yeah, that.” Harry’s pupils are wide and dark with arousal and he huffs out a breath as Severus slides slick fingers into his crease. “Mm.”
Severus takes that as permission to continue and he slides one slick finger inside Harry, slowly at first. Harry takes it easily, pressing back into Severus’ hand with a groan. Severus presses kisses to the hot slope of Harry’s belly, the warm skin of his thighs. He fingers him slowly, taking his time because he enjoys this build-up almost as much as he enjoys what comes next. As expected, Harry is so wonderfully responsive it makes Severus’ head spin. He wants to do everything with Harry—wants to give him sharp, hot, pleasure, wants to keep him coming back for more. He curls his fingers inside Harry, stretching, twisting, moving deep inside him until Harry’s thighs shake and he tugs urgently at Severus’ hair, his cock hard and leaking.
“Fuck me, will you?” Harry’s voice is rough and breathless, and Severus is all too happy to oblige.
With a low hum of pleasure, Severus brushes his lips to Harry’s nipples. He takes one between his teeth, which makes Harry moan and squirm beneath him. With a groan, Severus finally decides he’s teased Harry enough. He murmurs a quick spell to leave Harry and himself slick with lube. He slides his arms beneath Harry’s legs, and positions himself. It’s a rare pleasure, having sex face to face. Severus doesn’t usually care whom he’s fucking, but this time it’s all he cares about. He sinks into Harry with a growl of desire, capturing his lips in a fierce kiss as he thrusts into him. He takes Harry hard, greedily, eagerly, kissing him fiercely, hot and sweaty, desire racing through him. Harry responds in kind, clutching onto Severus and pulling him in as if he wants to be closer still. He murmurs harder in a low, cut-off voice, breathless with need. Severus takes great pleasure in giving Harry exactly what he wants, taking him until they’re both so close to the edge it becomes almost impossible to focus on anything more than chasing his own pleasure.
Severus manages to keep his wits about him for long enough to push a hand between them, gripping Harry’s cock and tugging it as he continues pushing into him, taking him in deep, hard, slow strokes. The force of Harry’s climax and the hot clench of his body around Severus’ cock follow shortly after. The obvious, hazy pleasure in Harry’s face and the sensation of Harry clenching around him is almost enough for Severus to come, his skin perspiring as he grips onto Harry tightly. With a light moan of appreciation, Severus slides from Harry and kisses him fiercely, grinding against him as they fall into a tangle of limbs on the rumpled sheets.
“Lie back,” Harry says, breathlessly.
Happy to oblige, Severus stretches out on the bed and watches as Harry reaches for his wand, casting a quick cleaning charm over Severus’ lower body. Had Severus realised Harry was planning to point a wand at his cock straight after orgasm, he might have had second thoughts about lying back so calmly. He’s about to make a comment to that end, when Harry settles between Severus’ legs and takes him into his mouth with such urgency, it’s a wonder Severus can remember any words at all.
The blissful heat of Harry’s mouth and his clear enthusiasm for the task at hand leave Severus boneless, his hands clutching into Harry’s unruly hair as he urges him down. From the eager moans Harry makes around Severus’ cock, he clearly doesn’t mind his mouth being taken and Severus obliges by taking control of Harry’s movements. It’s not long before his own pleasure spikes, his grunt of warning ignored by Harry, who holds Severus in his mouth as he comes. When Severus has composed himself sufficiently, he finally cracks open his eyes to see Potter sitting back on his heels with a self-satisfied look about him.
“Very good.” Severus reaches for Harry and pulls him down into a slow, filthy kiss that tastes of sweat and come. “I’m exceedingly glad you’re proud of yourself.”
“I am.” Harry sounds proud of himself, too. He mouths over Severus’ jaw, kissing him again before pulling the sheets over them. “I’m also knackered. Sleep, food, more sex, then more sleep.”
“More sex?” Severus laughs under his breath. “You have vastly overestimated my abilities.”
“You can take photographs of me wanking, if you like,” Harry murmurs, sleepily. “Put them in that book of yours.”
“Please do feel free to entertain yourself while I watch.” Severus rolls his eyes, a small kick of interest taking his exhausted body by surprise. Clearly photographs of Harry is an idea that warrants further exploration. Perhaps Severus is something of a pervert after all? He closes his eyes and sighs, satiated and contented.
“If I can no longer walk tomorrow, I know who to hold responsible.”
“If you can’t walk tomorrow, we’ll just have to stay in bed,” Harry retorts. He smiles against Severus’ skin and snuggles close, because of course he would be the sort to enjoy a post-coital cuddle.
“Do I still scare you?” Harry asks, much later, quiet in the still of the night.
Severus runs a hand through Harry’s hair and pulls him closer.
“Now more than ever,” he replies.
“I can think of other things I’d like to explore.” Harry winks and gives Severus a look that can only be described as positively filthy.
“That’s me.” Harry tucks into his toast with a groan of appreciation. “I needed this. I’m starving after all that sex.”
“Hmm.” Severus has a forkful of his eggs. “Am I to take it you would prefer to stay in?”
“No, we can go out. I’d like to see some of the places you wanted to show me.”
“Very well. Should I make reservations for supper? It’s Saturday night, after all.”
“Do you think we could get a takeaway?” Harry’s foot finds its way under the table to nudge at Severus’ ankle in a most distracting fashion. “I wouldn’t mind coming back here and putting on a film we can ignore.”
“If you wish, but if I’m no longer capable of movement after a weekend catering to your needs I expect you to take charge of the brewing on Monday.”
“Deal.” Harry laughs and nudges at Severus with his toes again. “Although I reckon you’ll be just fine.”
“We’ll see.” Severus sips his tea and opens the Prophet, handing the sports section across to Harry. “It says here you’re on a highly secret mission hunting Dementors in Prague.”
“Who the fuck hunts Dementors?” Harry makes an irritated noise. “And if it’s highly secret the Prophet probably shouldn’t be writing about it. Takes away the element of surprise.”
“We should work on your duelling next week,” Severus says. “I wouldn’t want Kingsley to think you’ve been enjoying yourself too much. You should call Molly before we go out too, in case she’s worrying, which knowing Molly I imagine she is.”
“Okay.” There’s a note of uncertainty in Harry’s voice that makes Severus look up.
“Is something the matter?”
Harry pulls a face. “I don’t want to think about home.”
“Why on earth not?”
“You know why,” Harry replies. “Everything’s different now. I can’t imagine going back to England with you still in New York, working at the Ministry and going out by myself in London.”
Severus huffs at the idea of Harry clubbing. “I should think not. Do you listen to anything I say, Potter?”
“I hang on to every word.” Harry gives Severus a small smile. “Obviously.”
“I’m sure you do.” Severus rolls his eyes. “As you’re so attentive you will recall that I have been on my own for nearly as long as you have been alive.”
“I remember.” Harry pushes a hand through his hair, his expression uncertain. “I’m just not sure what that means for us.”
Severus returns to his paper. “It means that I’m hardly likely to become involved with someone after all of these years unless I have every intention of making it work, whatever that looks like.” He looks at Harry over the top of his paper. “I have a home in England that by all accounts you’re already quite comfortable in. As far as I’m concerned you also have a room here for as long as you want it. Is that clear enough?”
“Yes. It’s clear enough.” Harry gets up and moves next to Severus, leaning down and giving him an unexpected kiss. “For what it’s worth, I don’t think casual’s in my vocabulary, either.”
“At last we agree on something then.” Severus waves Harry away. “Go and ring Molly.”
“Then will you join me in the shower?”
“Provided there’s nothing more interesting in the paper.”
Even as he says it, Severus already knows there won’t be.
Letting Harry’s strange behaviour pass without comment, Severus decides to take Harry to Brooklyn as promised. He tries very hard not to be endeared by Harry’s enthusiasm for everything from the subway to the stroll along Brooklyn Bridge, watching as Harry takes a dizzying number of photographs at every juncture. Severus is pleased to find that their time together out of bed is as comfortable as their time together in it. If anything, the way their relationship has shifted makes the air hum with anticipation. Every slide of Harry’s fingers against his own or the light touch of Harry’s hand on his back as he leans in to tell Severus something makes his skin thrum with anticipation. They spend a relaxing day walking around gardens, museums and markets until Harry has several bags of purchases, his smile broad and happy and his face tanned by the warmth of the day’s sun.
When Harry stops at a shop in Williamsburg to get his photographs printed, Severus enjoys a half pint in a nearby pub and mulls over their day together. There’s an ease with which he and Harry can exist in the same space, a shared enjoyment of the less obvious tourist destinations that took Severus by surprise. Harry seemed just as content as Severus to spend time wandering, soaking up the atmosphere of the place instead of making a beeline for the most crowded spots. By the time Harry returns, Severus has decided that their day together was a resounding success.
“We can get the Staten Island Ferry tomorrow, if you wish.” Back in a small pub next to the flat in Manhattan, they settle into comfortable chairs with cold bottles of beer.
“You don’t mind?” Harry has a drink of his beer and gives Severus a lopsided smile. “I know you hate being a tourist.”
“I haven’t hated today.” Severus reaches out to Harry, giving his hand a brief squeeze before releasing it. “Rest assured, I will be the first to complain if you’re making me do something I don’t enjoy.”
“I’ll take your word for it.” Harry drums his fingers on the table, a somewhat shifty look about him as he glances around the bar as if to see if there’s anybody in earshot. “I was doing something this morning, before we went out.”
“Oh?” Severus knew something was afoot—Potter’s about as subtle as a Hippogriff—but he hadn’t given it much thought after they left the flat. “I thought you were behaving in a more peculiar fashion than usual.”
“I was making a present for you.” Harry winces. “Sort of.”
“I see.” Severus makes a mental note to limit Harry’s gifts to special occasions, before he starts to feel like a kept man. He appreciates Harry’s thoughtfulness, but Severus isn’t used to receiving presents on his birthday, let alone nice cashmere jumpers apropos of nothing. He doesn’t like the idea that Harry might be buying Severus gifts out of a misplaced sense of gratitude.
“Don’t look like that.” Harry rolls his eyes.
“How exactly do I look?”
“Like you’re going to need to have a word with me about buying you things.” Harry leans forward, his voice a stage whisper. “This present didn’t cost anything, apart from my dignity.”
“Now I’m worried.” Severus takes in the flush in Harry’s cheeks, which has the rather pleasant impact of making him think of the other things that make Harry blush. He smirks. “Do you have much dignity left to lose?”
“You’re such a pillock. Remind me not to do anything nice for you again.” Harry glances around one more time, before shoving the envelope containing his newly printed photographs towards Severus. “Here. I’m going to the loo.”
Before Severus can stop him, Harry gets up from his seat and makes a beeline for the bathrooms, cheeks beet red. Shaking his head at Harry’s peculiar behaviour, Severus checks to make sure nobody is nearby, but the bar is quite empty. He slowly opens the envelope and flicks through the photographs. There are multiple pictures of the Manhattan skyline taken from all different angles, photographs of the gardens, the pub and pictures of subway graffiti, yellow taxis and a range of shots from Harry’s solo trips that capture the bright lights of Times Square and the view from the Empire State.
One particular photograph takes Severus by surprise, and he pauses over it. He hadn’t realised that Harry had taken a picture of him. Severus isn’t sure he’s ever seen himself look quite so relaxed or happy, the warm rays of the spring sun making his skin look less pale than usual. A small smile plays at the corner of his mouth, and his hair whips around his face in the breeze. The care taken with the photograph implies it was important to the person behind the camera to capture the moment just right. It makes Severus’ chest tight as he thinks of Harry snapping secret pictures of him, particularly one taken with such fondness and attention to detail.
Severus puts the photo to one side and looks around for Harry, wondering if he’s climbed out of the bathroom window to avoid facing Severus. When he eventually emerges, cheeks flushing once again, Harry takes a seat and pointedly avoids looking at Severus.
“I know they’re stupid. I’m not exactly one of those models in your books. I’m short with stupid hair and I’ve got that daft tattoo on my arm—they’re terrible.” He pauses mid-flow and stares at Severus. “Do you think they’re terrible? Oh, Merlin. You do, don’t you?”
“No, I think you have something of a gift for capturing people and places in their best light.” Severus turns the photograph of himself towards Harry. “I don’t remember you taking this.”
“Haven’t you gone through them all yet?” Harry mutters a curse under his breath and takes the photographs back, shuffling through them and extracting three. “I thought you’d have finished by now.”
Severus scowls at Harry. “Forgive me for taking the time to enjoy your work.”
“Sorry.” Harry pushes a hand through his hair and gives Severus a sheepish smile. “I didn’t think you’d care about the other ones.” He picks up the photograph of Severus, looking at it fondly. “This turned out well, I think. I was hoping to frame it, if you don’t mind?”
“Not in the slightest.” Severus holds out his hand for the three photos Harry’s still clutching with a vice-like grip. “My dignity-destroying gift, I assume.”
“Yeah.” Harry pulls a face and reluctantly parts with the photographs after checking there’s nobody nearby. “Don’t laugh.”
Severus rolls his eyes. “Why on earth would I laugh?” He takes a sip of his beer and promptly chokes on it as he turns over the first black and white photograph. “Are you trying to kill me?”
“I was actually trying to turn you on,” Harry replies. He sounds amused by Severus’ reaction. “I did them this morning, with a timer thing. Because of those books of yours and the request for arty Harry Potter nudes.”
“Is that so?” Severus takes his time looking at each photograph in turn, knowing that Harry is squirming beside him. The photos aren’t overly explicit, but Harry is very much naked in each one, his body now familiar to Severus but no less desirable for it. Severus composes himself, putting the photographs carefully in his jacket pocket. He drains his beer and stands.
“Is everything okay?” Harry looks anxiously up at Severus.
“Perfectly,” Severus replies. “However, I suggest you come with me to find somewhere we can Apparate from quickly, before I make a public spectacle of us both.”
Harry looks flushed and happy, his eyes shining as he beams at Severus. “I tried to make it look all fancy but I’m not much good on that side of the camera, to be honest. I thought they looked a bit cheesy, but—”
“Harry.” Severus cuts Harry off. “Can you continue this babbling in the flat, where I can shut you up and reassure you that your gift is very much appreciated?”
They make their way through the bar and find a quiet spot to Apparate from, before any Muggles appear unexpectedly. As soon as they land in the flat Severus presses Harry against the living room door before he can say another word and kisses him thoroughly. Not for the first time, his stomach kicks at the way Harry gives himself over to the kisses so completely, his body pliant and his response breathless and eager. A thought occurs to Severus that ignites a jealous fire inside him and he pulls back to look at Harry.
“How on earth did you get those developed?”
Harry grins. “A modified concealing charm. If any Muggles look at the photographs they’ll just see pictures of New York.”
“Ah.” Severus pushes Harry’s t-shirt over his head and drops it carelessly on the floor. He’s a lot less bothered about Harry leaving his clothes around now that it usually ends well for Severus. He leads Harry towards the sofa, sitting on it and biting back a groan when Harry straddles him. “Is this the first time you’ve done something like this?”
“Yep.” Harry’s voice is low and rough. “Just for you. I don’t think there’s anyone else I’d trust with them.”
It occurs to Severus for a gleeful moment that he has in his possession an item he could use as leverage to keep Harry by his side. He knows that despite their remarkable compatibility to date, there will be moments when Harry will find Severus tiresome and frustrating, when Severus will allow his envy and jealousy to get the better of him. Photographs of Harry Potter would be the kind of thing the Prophet would long to get their hands on, and the Slytherin part of Severus knows exactly how such pictures might be used as blackmail or to convince Harry to stay, should he wish to leave.
Severus purses his lips and contemplates Harry for a moment, the direction of his thoughts sitting uneasily with him. In one swift motion, Severus flicks his wand and Summons the photographs. He catches them deftly in his hand and mutters a spell, before showing them to Harry.
“What did you do?” Harry frowns as he turns the pictures over in his hands. “These don’t look any different.”
“Not to either of us, but to witches and wizards—as well as Muggles—they simply look like photographs of New York.” Severus can’t help but feel smug about the spell. “I’ve modified your modified concealing charm. It’s very complicated magic. It’s also irreversible.”
Harry laughs and shakes his head as he looks at the pictures. “Of course you have to go one step further than me, just to show off. Why did you do that?”
“Because I think it’s unwise to put temptation in my hands,” Severus replies. “You may have hidden the photographs from Muggles, but I would rather they stay hidden from witches and wizards too.”
Severus slides his hands down Harry’s back and pulls him close, his body heating as he thinks about Harry’s bashful smile in the photographs. It seems so intimate, somehow. Severus has seen Harry naked enough for the image of it to be seared into his brain, yet this is a secretive pleasure of his own, a testament of Harry’s unflinching trust.
“You’re a silly sod, giving a man like me perfect blackmail fodder,” Severus says, after kissing Harry thoroughly.
Harry snorts. “I’m obviously not that daft. If you couldn’t be trusted, you wouldn’t have done an abracadabra on them.”
Severus contemplates Harry. “You know it won’t always be this easy. I can be extremely difficult.”
Harry feigns surprise, badly enough that Severus is almost insulted. “You don’t say. For the record, I’m not planning to give you cause to blackmail me.”
“I’m sure if you do, I’ll find other methods or devise a suitably horrible curse.” Severus sniffs. “There’s no subtlety in selling pictures to the Prophet. I would be loath to line Rita Skeeter’s pockets, for a start.”
“I’ll have to make sure I don’t give you reason to want to curse me, then.” Harry sounds amused. He unplucks the buttons on Severus’ shirt and kisses his neck, before slipping onto his knees between Severus’ parted legs. “Do you like the photographs?”
“Does it appear as though I don’t?” Severus smirks at Harry, as he slowly unbuckles Severus’ belt.
“It appears as though you know you’re going to get a blowjob.”
“Is that what’s happening?” Severus murmurs. He pillows his head in his hands and leans back against the sofa, making every effort to keep his voice level. “I hadn’t realised.”
“Let me make it very clear, then,” Harry says.
He makes it clear enough that it’s a long time before Severus is capable of coherent thought.
“Are you after cigarettes?”
“No, I was looking for keys.” Severus takes one of the coffees and sandwiches off Harry’s hands.
“Here.” Harry fishes in the pocket of his jeans and hands them to Severus. “Are you kicking me out?”
Severus snorts. “Hardly. I appear to have misplaced my set and Accio isn’t working. If I can’t find them, I’ll have to change the locks.”
“Not that it matters, considering the way you’ve warded the place.” Harry grins at Severus. “Muggle or magical, there’s no way someone’s coming in uninvited.”
“Which is precisely how it should be.” Severus hands Harry the postcard of San Francisco. “I found this when I was looking for your keys.”
“Sorry.” Harry winces. “I meant to get rid of that.”
“Why? I’m capable of looking at pictures of the place.” Severus takes a sip of his coffee. “Do you still wish to go?”
“Really?” Harry nearly tips his coffee over himself, letting out a yelp. He mutters a spell which gets the coffee stain out of his t-shirt and follows Severus into the garden where they take their usual seats. “I’d like to see more of America, and I’ve wanted to go to San Francisco ever since you mentioned it. They have trams.”
“They certainly do.” Severus quickly runs through several upcoming commitments in his head. “I could take a couple of days next week, perhaps. I would prefer to avoid the weekend crowds, if possible. It’s a little far to Apparate however, it might be expensive to fly and I’m not entirely sure we can just pick up Portkeys or get on our brooms without some sort of clearance.”
Harry clears his throat. “Would it be very annoying if I pulled some strings?”
Severus glances at Harry. “Why on earth would that be annoying?”
“Because it’s the kind of thing you hate.”
“I’m sure just this once I could control my need to comment on the way people enjoy fawning all over you.”
“Could you?” Harry laughs under his breath. “I’ll believe it when I see it. I don’t plan to make a habit of it, in case you’re wondering.”
“I wasn’t.” Severus sits back, contented. He knows Harry well enough by now to be completely confident in his lack of desire to court any further attention. “If we seek assistance from the Magical Congress, Shacklebolt may wonder why on earth we’ve taken to holidaying together.”
“Maybe.” Harry’s tone is far too breezy to be trusted.
Severus narrows his eyes. “Have you given Shacklebolt any reason to believe we should be taking a mid-week break?”
“Of course not.”
Severus knows full well when Harry is being evasive. Harry has been corresponding with Shacklebolt regularly over the last few weeks, to update him on their progress. The results of duelling practice have been exemplary, and Harry seems well able to control his magic and channel his anger appropriately, convinced that any erratic bursts of magic have been settled by regular, enthusiastic sex. The fact the sessions typically end with Harry getting fucked over an item of nearby furniture is something Severus sincerely hopes Harry hasn’t been sharing with Kingsley.
Harry groans and throws up his hands when Severus raises a sceptical eyebrow. “Fine. Nothing gets past you, does it?”
“Not a lot.”
“I think Kingsley knows something’s going on,” Harry mumbles.
“What on earth makes you think such a ludicrous thing?”
Harry looks unusually serious, his cheek working as if he’s thinking about his words carefully. “Don’t be cross.”
“I’m rarely cross.”
Harry turns his eyes heavenward but doesn’t comment. “I wanted to investigate my career options, and I can’t very well do that without explaining why I’m asking certain questions.”
“What questions were you asking?” Severus tries to keep his voice level.
He isn’t angry at Harry for sharing the nature of their relationship with Shacklebolt, but an icy fist grips his heart at the thought of having to come out of their bubble to confront reality. Severus started to think of New York as home long ago. He can’t imagine life without Harry, but despite his reassurances, he’s uncertain that returning to Britain full-time would work well for either of them. Severus is well-established in his work by now, but Harry—despite the kudos that comes with his name—is just beginning his career. Severus can’t expect Harry to sacrifice a top Ministry position to stay in New York to help Severus brew potions. As helpful as Harry is, Severus knows he would get far more satisfaction out of an active job, certain that Harry would also start to miss his friends and family once the honeymoon period wears off.
“I shouldn’t have spoken to him without discussing it with you, but I wanted to know what our options are first.”
“I understand. I’m not angry, Harry. Kingsley has known about my interests for many years, and I consider him a friend.”
Harry gives Severus a half-smile. “I thought you didn’t have any friends.”
“Perhaps one or two, when pushed.” Severus waves his hand. “I’m more interested in where your thoughts are, and sincerely hope you haven’t compromised a flourishing career to spend your days in a potions laboratory.”
“Not compromised, no.” Harry looks at Severus seriously. “For the record, there’s nothing wrong with spending time brewing.”
“For me, no. For you, perhaps.”
“I’m not going to be Head Auror.” Harry takes a breath and holds up a hand before Severus can interject. “Let me finish.”
“I sincerely hope you’re not planning to become a photographer and jobbing potions assistant.”
“Let me finish.” Harry glares at Severus. “I’m not going to be Head Auror because it’s not something I want to do. Ron’s going to do a brilliant job, Hermione’s going to be Minister eventually.”
“How well-connected you are,” Severus mutters.
“You’re a right arse.” Harry continues to look annoyed as he folds his arms, the gesture putting distance between him and Severus. “Why are you being so difficult?”
“Because I don’t want you to throw your life away, foolish boy.” Severus scowls at Harry, his heart tighter than ever in his chest. “Not for me.”
“I thought you said you wanted to do this properly. You’re the one who told me this mattered, that you’d make it work whatever happened.” Harry’s voice is strong and firm, his eyes flashing. “I want to be with you, and I thought you wanted to be with me. Admitting that is hardly throwing my life away.”
“As you’ve already pointed out, I told you I would make it work,” Severus snaps. “Me, Harry. My job is flexible, and the majority of my work conducted in personal laboratories. I can work around your career. The very last thing I want is for you to give up on everything you’ve accomplished.”
Harry’s jaw works. “Would it change things between us if I wasn’t an Auror, assuming the decision had nothing to do with you?”
Severus balks at Harry. “Of course not, you idiot. I sincerely hope you’re not insinuating that I’ve been seduced by your name and Ministry credentials.”
“If you don’t care, then why are you so bothered what I do?” Harry’s lips are set in a grim line. “Perhaps you don’t think I’m capable of making informed decisions about my own life.”
“I don’t believe taking rash decisions that will impact the rest of your life simply because you’re in love is ever wise.”
“I never said that.” Harry’s voice quietens as he watches Severus.
“You never said what?” Severus glares at Harry, wondering if he’s being deliberately obtuse.
“That I was in love.” Harry unfolds his arms and leans forward. “I am, by the way. Are you?”
Severus makes an irritated sound in the back of his throat. “I’m not entirely sure how many times I have to explain to you that I don’t do this, Potter. I didn’t do this, until you came along and insinuated yourself into my life. I would have thought that might give you some indication of my feelings. Now stop fishing for compliments and tell me what ridiculous decisions you’ve been taking without consulting me.”
“I’ll take that as a yes.” Harry rolls his eyes. “You’re the most infuriating person I’ve ever met.”
“Foolish of you to fall so hopelessly in love with me, in that case.” Severus waves a hand before Harry can protest. “The job, Harry.”
“There’s one thing I need you to understand first,” Harry says, quietly.
“Being an Auror hasn’t made me happy for a very long time. It felt like the right thing to do after the war, but I’ve never enjoyed it the way Ron has. I was talking to Kingsley about other options long before I came to New York.” Harry gives Severus a wry smile. “I think he secretly hoped we wouldn’t get on and I’d come back and get on with things at the Ministry.”
“Kingsley has always been fairly astute.” Severus reaches across the table and takes Harry’s hand, giving it a light squeeze. “There was a fairly high possibility of that happening, had you not managed to turn everything so spectacularly upside down.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“For once, it was intended as one.”
Harry gives Severus a lopsided smile. “If you’ll have me, I want to stay in New York for a while longer. I’m hoping to work with the New York Nifflers. I won’t be the lead coach, obviously, but I’m going to learn what I can and train the kids’ team on weekends.”
Severus is sure his heart is going to beat out of his chest at Harry’s revelation. There’s no mention of England. No need to go back to the cramped living room at Spinner’s End or the places Severus left behind long ago. He no longer has any qualms about Harry half-heartedly pursuing a career that might keep him close to Severus. Although the location has undoubtedly been influenced by their circumstances, Severus has played absolutely no part in Harry’s love for Quidditch. That’s something he shares with the Weasleys, his old Gryffindor teammates like Wood and Johnson, and Severus has frequently passed comment on his distaste for the sport. He doesn’t exactly relish the thought of standing on the sidelines watching Potter throwing himself through the air on a broom, but he’s certain he can get his own back with potions conferences on occasion. At least he knows that Harry will be pursuing something he loves, something he can do in England as well as New York.
“Your friends aren’t in New York,” Severus says, at last.
“I know.” Harry sits back, brow furrowed. “But they have their lives and I have mine. Ron and Hermione are busy with the Ministry and they’ll be starting a family soon. Seamus and Dean are going to set up the Canadian branch of Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes. Charlie spends most of his time with dragons, Gin’s off with the Harpies, Neville’s at Hogwarts and Luna’s going travelling with Rolf so they can write their book on obscure magical creatures. Everyone’s doing what they want to do, pursuing their dreams. Everyone apart from me. It’s cheap and quick to travel with magic. It’s not like I won’t see people again.”
“I see.” Severus studies Harry. “I didn’t know you felt that way about your job.”
Harry shrugs. “I didn’t think you’d have much respect for me if I ended up doing something with Quidditch.”
Severus purses his lips. “It may not be my choice of career, but I understand why it might be yours. I don’t think you need my approval, but if it makes you feel better, you have it. However, I’m not sure it will be as easy to live far away from your friends as you imagine, irrespective of the fact people are moving on.”
“I know.” Harry takes a breath, looking nervous. “But Quidditch is seasonal, and I wouldn’t be working all year round with the Nifflers. Shacklebolt suggested I continue to work for the Ministry during the summer, starting next year. He thinks I would be good at training new Aurors. A summer scheme programme for Hogwarts students and recent graduates.”
“Teaching?” Severus raises his eyebrows at Harry. “I could certainly see you enjoying that.”
“Thanks.” Harry’s cheeks take on a flush of pleasure. “You could help me with lesson plans.”
Severus snorts. “I appreciate the sentiment Harry, but I strongly advise you to find your own teaching methods and not model them on mine.” He taps his finger to his lips, thinking. “Were you anticipating we would both return to England during the summer?”
“I hoped.” Harry nods. “Spinner’s End, Grimmauld Place or somewhere totally different if you want. For June and July.”
Although the idea of returning to England isn’t something Severus relishes, he isn’t overly fond of New York summers. Autumn—which he still refuses to call Fall—is his favourite time in New York: when the leaves take on their burnished hue and the air is cool enough for wandering through parks, taking the train out to Boston or spending his time in the garden, reading his books. He loves crisp New York winters, too. Although he keeps insisting he has never been truly young, Christmas brings out the child in Severus, loath as he would be to admit it to anyone. He often strolls past the huge tree at the Rockefeller Center and spends time lingering over ornate window displays. The idea of sharing this first holiday with Harry sends a swoop of excitement through him, a childish glee that he is most unused to experiencing bubbling within him.
“We would be here for Christmas?” Severus asks, aiming for nonchalant.
“I’d say so.” Harry raises his eyebrows, looking curious. “I’m sure we’ll be expected at The Burrow for Christmas Day or Boxing Day, but that’s just one day.” He grins, reaching for Severus and taking his hands. “We could get a tree. I love all that stuff.”
Severus’ throat gets tight and he finds himself unable to speak, simply nodding in reply. It’s a time of year he enjoys, but one which simultaneously makes him feel like an outsider, looking in. Last year his Christmas supper was Chinese takeaway and a small box of mince pies purchased as a luxury, to enjoy with a glass of sweet wine. In the grand scheme of things, Severus can easily contemplate spending two months in England once a year. Even the idea of returning to Spinner’s End isn’t wholly unattractive. He has a small, long-neglected garden that he could spend time tending to, and with work the house could be a place for creating new memories instead of focusing on the old.
“Perhaps I won’t put Spinner’s End on the market just yet,” he replies, when he can finally find his voice. “I believe two months over the summer would suit nicely.”
“Then it’s settled?” Harry releases Severus’ hands and stands, reaching for him once more and pulling him to his feet. “I’m sorry I didn’t speak to you earlier. I just wanted to have something concrete. I don’t like getting hopes up.”
“I understand.” Severus pulls Harry close and breathes him in, sliding a hand down his back. “This is quite a big step.”
“I know.” Harry sounds uncertain, his voice muffled as he leans against Severus. “Do you mind?”
“No,” Severus replies. He tips Harry’s head and gives him a slow kiss, pulling back just enough to murmur against his lips. “I don’t mind in the slightest.”
“Go on then.” Harry drops his bag on the floor of their hotel room and folds his arms, watching Severus with an amused expression. “You’re dying to say something.”
“Not in the slightest,” Severus lies. “Why on earth would I have anything to say about your ability to make cross-country travel significantly easier, simply by flirting outrageously with that insipid American dogsbody who handled our travel arrangements?”
“Why on earth?” Harry grins at Severus. “I wasn’t flirting with him.”
“If that wasn’t flirting, I’d hate to see you in action.”
“You already have.” Harry winks. “You hated it.”
“The flirting, yes. Using your name to make our lives easier? Not particularly. It was rather Slytherin of you.”
“It’s also not something I do often.” Harry winces. “I don’t want you going on about how spoiled I am again.”
“I believe we’re a little past that, don’t you?”
“I don’t know.” Harry looks uncertain. “I hope so.”
“We are.” Severus unpacks his things, feeling strangely awkward. Being with Harry in New York has become as easy and natural as breathing. Now he finds himself on a weekend break of all things, he isn’t entirely sure how one should behave. It’s the kind of couples venture that Severus has held scathing opinions about in the past, together with public displays of affection, dancing in nightclubs and Valentine’s Day. He’s already regretting his impulsive decision to return to California. Impulse is best left to Gryffindors.
“We should go for a drink,” Harry decides. He strips out of his t-shirt, swapping it for something cheerful and yellow that makes him look like a Hufflepuff.
“Are you hoping if you ply me with enough alcohol, I might finally be persuaded to go clubbing with you?”
“Not at three o’clock in the afternoon, Severus.” Harry straightens up after arranging his bag in an even untidier heap than he left it in. “I thought it might help with the nerves.”
“I don’t have any nerves.”
“Lucky you. I do.” Harry gives Severus a small smile. “It’s a big thing going away together. What if we fight constantly?”
“We do that in New York.”
“What if you realise I’m actually really annoying?”
“It will come as little surprise.”
“Oh piss off.” Harry laughs, shaking his head. “I thought a drink, then we can see the sights. Do you want to go to the Castro today?”
“Tomorrow.” Severus isn’t putting it off exactly, but he’s already feeling peculiar enough without adding the complications that might come from returning to the Castro into the mix. “Peter lived there, and I had little interest in sightseeing in those days. There’s much of San Francisco I’ve yet to see. Knowing you, I expect there’s a list as long as my arm of things you want to do.”
“A list as long both of your arms put together, I’d say.” Harry brushes past Severus, squeezing his arm. “Rollerblading along the Golden Gate Bridge, for example.”
Severus follows Harry out of the hotel room with a scowl. “I sincerely hope that’s a joke, Potter.”
“Maybe.” Harry grins at Severus. “You’ll just have to wait and see, won’t you?”
“If you attempt to put me on rollerblades, I will put you on the next plane home,” Severus mutters.
Unfortunately, he has a feeling such threats carry less weight than previously. He has no desire for Harry to go home, the strength of his feelings growing each day and his need burning through him, white-hot and possessive.
“No rollerblades, then.” Harry pockets the key to the hotel room and whistles cheerfully as they wait for the lift. “How do you feel about motorbikes?”
Severus hopes his fondness for Harry in no way diminishes his ability to give him a very disdainful glare.
Now, surrounded by rainbow flags and the familiar signage of Twin Peaks bar and the Castro theatre, Severus finds the memories come flooding back. The streets seem quieter than he remembers, lacking the energy and buzz from before. He finds himself looking out over the wide boulevards as if he’s studying an old photograph. The quietness of the streets takes on a strange, energetic quality, the silence filled with the memory of the music thump-a-thumping from bustling bars, empty pavements filling with faces from the past walking down the streets as if some twenty-plus years haven’t passed since his last visit. A gentle pressure on his hand makes Severus turn to Harry, who looks at him with concern.
“I’m fine,” Severus says. “Just remembering.”
“Is this okay?” Harry slips his hand into Severus’ and it’s like a tether to the present, the pressure keeping Severus from sliding completely into the past with overwhelming force.
Severus squeezes Harry’s hand in affirmation, prepared to set aside his usual disdain for public affection as they walk slowly through the streets. It’s the first time they’ve held hands in public, and Severus suspects that doing so today is about more than adopting a simple, intimate gesture denoting their status as a couple. He knows that despite Harry’s insistence that he refuses to be cowed by the events in London, the memory of the Soho attack is still fresh on his mind. Holding hands here, today, seems like an important step in more ways than one.
In a place where he lost so much, Severus is reminded of the things he’s gone on to gain, and he has a sense that the rainbow-adorned streets of the Castro have emboldened Harry. An innocuous act like holding hands outside is still, even today, an act of bravery. The gesture feels as significant as their other recent firsts. Because of that, there’s so much that Severus wants Harry to see and do. He wants Harry to experience something of the Castro that Severus remembers—the best parts—but he can’t bring himself to suggest they browse through clothing shops, go to the racier establishments or sit in a cheerful café. At least not yet. Instead he has a yearning to find the history of the place, as if he needs reassurance that people didn’t just forget.
He turns to Harry, watching him take in the sights of the Castro. “I just want to walk around before we go anywhere. Do you mind?”
“Wherever you want.” Harry gives Severus a warm smile. “I didn’t plan so much as an hour’s worth of rollerblading today.”
“A miracle.” Severus slides an arm around Harry, pulling him close and breathing him in. He’s warm and solid, the familiar scent of his cologne soothing, his heart beating strong and sure. They can take every last thing from me, but I’ll never let them take you, Severus thinks, the fierceness of his conviction taking him by surprise. Harry’s arms tighten around Severus as if he hears, and they stand together in the middle of the street as San Francisco’s winds whistle around them. Swallowing thickly, Severus pulls back after burying his face in Harry’s neck and breathing him in, one last time. He hates it when people fawn over one another in public, and he doesn’t want Harry to think Severus has become a limpet in his old age. Pull yourself together, Severus tells himself. You daft old queen.
“Was it like this when you came for the first time?” Harry keeps a tight hold of Severus’ hand as they wander through the streets.
“It’s quieter.” Severus knows it’s likely due to the time of year. He visited San Francisco during its busy Pride month, visited when over one hundred thousand took to the streets in support of the Democrats, spent time in the midst of a fight that he never felt was his own, and yet one he would be intimately connected with for the rest of his life. He didn’t expect to find the same groups gathered in protest, but the quietness is still unexpected. It calls to mind absent things, and he releases Harry’s hand in favour of wrapping an arm around his waist as they walk slowly.
By the corner of 16th and Market they come to a huge, brightly coloured mural. It’s something that seems so joyous on first inspection, with its pastel hues, the dykes on bikes, the celebratory Harvey Milk-like figure holding his rainbow flag aloft. They spend time taking in every brightly coloured flower, every name and poem etched on the mural. It’s only when they get farther along that Severus notices the tears, dripping down the picture, the body in the hospital bed. His breathing gets shallow as he takes in the pictures and the words scrawled on the wall. How many more?
Severus curls his hand into a fist when it begins to tremble as it always does when the memory of that last summer in the hospital comes back to him. Harry suddenly feels so much smaller, so fragile, so fallibly human against his side and breathing becomes harder still. I wake up cold, I who / Prospered through dreams of heat / Wake to their residue, / Sweat, and a clinging sheet. He tries to tell Harry he needs to leave, needs to find somewhere he can sit, as he fears his legs might suddenly stop carrying him, but even as his mouth opens, he can’t form any words.
Harry seems to understand what Severus needs. Without saying a single word, he walks them towards a quiet café, letting Severus sit outside. He goes inside and comes back with two piping hot drinks, settling next to Severus and stretching his arm across the back of Severus’ chair as their legs press together. Closing his eyes, Severus tilts his head to feel the warmth of the sun’s rays on his face and tells himself: I will not cry. He swallows back the fury, the waves of pain that assault him, and he knows that this is why he fought so hard against death. Why, even in his darkest moments of despair, he clawed his way through the earth to breath in fresh air when those around him wanted to see him buried.
“My apologies.” Severus’ voice is rough, when he finally musters up the composure to speak. “That won’t happen again.”
“I don’t care if it does.” Harry’s voice is calm, warm and firm. “We’re living without apology and censure, remember?”
“Yes.” Severus swallows around the lump in his throat and takes a sip of his drink. He expected his usual black coffee, but instead the taste of delicious hot chocolate settles on his tongue and Harry’s simple act of care is nearly enough to bring every last wall crumbling down. “You’re determined to make a spectacle of me,” he murmurs.
“Nobody’s paying us any mind.” Harry squeezes his hand on Severus’ shoulder. “There’s no shame in feeling.”
“There is if you value your privacy to the extent I do.” Severus holds out his hand. “I believe I’ll try those infernal sunglasses you’ve been trying to convince me to wear.”
Harry dutifully hands them over. “They’re not infernal. They’re Ray Bans.”
“That means absolutely nothing to me.” Severus puts them on, nevertheless. He feels faintly ridiculous wearing sunglasses, but at least they’re square, black and simple. Most important, they cover his eyes. That, for now, is what he needs most of all. Just as his thick, black robes became a protective layer during his time at Hogwarts, he wears the glasses like armour, keeping the outside world at bay. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” Harry drops his hand onto Severus’ shoulder and reaches out with the other to pick up his own mug. “They suit you.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” Severus would roll his eyes, but it seems a little pointless now Harry can’t see them. They sit in companionable silence for a minute, before Severus speaks again. “I’m not a sociable creature, but Peter was. By being part of his world, his friends became part of mine—at least the Muggle world I shared with them did. I never returned to San Francisco after Peter’s death in eighty-five, but one of his flatmates continued to write until the early nineties, when the letters just stopped.”
“You’ve never told me about your friends,” Harry says, quietly. “Their names, or their stories.”
“I will show you the letters, in time. Let them tell their own stories.” Severus sucks in a shaky breath, taking the gentle squeeze of Harry’s hand on his shoulder as a sign to continue, grateful for the opportunity to talk uninterrupted before he loses the ability to get the words out altogether. “Bobby was the one who continued to write to me. Then there was the queen who used to visit Peter towards the end, the boys from the Club Baths on Eighth and Howard, the activist at the Gay Community Services Center, Rita, Christopher, Jonny, Paul and Scott.”
“You have to understand.” Severus’ voice catches, the sting of furious tears behind his eyes and he’s never been more grateful for a ridiculous Muggle fashion item. “It wasn’t just one or two men. It was whole houses, for sale signs everywhere, groups of friends decimated. People moved here because it was a place of freedom, and then died in their thousands. In their tens of thousands.” He pauses, gathering himself. “I was here for three summers. Just three summers. Others, they lived through years of it and they fought. Even when they were dying, they continued to fight. It took me a long time to reconcile my old feelings towards Muggles with the things I saw.”
“You’d changed long before that,” Harry says, quietly.
“Had I?” Severus laughs, bitterly. “I still considered myself superior to Muggles even after the death of your mother, Harry. Don’t be fooled into thinking otherwise.”
“You lost all your friends, too?” Harry’s question is tentative, his voice low.
“I lost people that were kind to me. People who welcomed me, even though I kept countless secrets from them.” Severus swallows and reaches for his drink, cursing when his hand shakes. He puts the cup down, china against china loud on the quiet street. He twists his hands together in his lap and presses his lips together tightly. “I told him he was fine. I told him he wasn’t dying, that nobody was.”
I don’t believe you Stephen, but I don’t care. Put on Irene Cara, darling. Come and tell me again about this world where nobody dies. What a feeling.
Severus stands so abruptly his chair almost topples over. He moves as quickly as his legs will carry him without breaking into a run, until he’s somewhere quiet enough to Apparate. He nearly Splinches himself in the process, the force of his grief hitting him like a hundred Crucios, pain searing through his body as he recalls the last moments, the months leading up to it, the rage, the fear, the dull ache of loss. The feel of thinning hair beneath his fingers, the monumental bravery found in the curve of a smile, the way one tried to hold onto days like sand, time slipping away like the memory of a once familiar song. The day the music died. Oh, we had a time of it, Stephen. We had a time of it.
The hotel room is quiet. Quiet, like the night watch. Quiet, like the silence after a rattling breath drawn from flooded lungs. Quiet, like a body that stops breathing, singing, living. Severus yanks off his sunglasses and throws them on the bed, leaning against the bedroom door as his heart hammers in his chest. He closes his eyes as he slides to the floor, his body shaking. He tells himself I will not cry but no words can quell the grief that pours from him like a howl.
He doesn’t even realise Harry’s with him until he feels the press of his warm body, the strength of his arm around Severus’ shoulder. Unable to hold the violence of his memories back any longer, Severus allows the gulf between past and present to close with a snap. He clutches onto Harry and, finally, welcomes an outpouring of grief that leaves him hollow and turns his wretched body inside out.
“I thought we could order room service tonight.” Harry puts his book down and reaches out a hand to Severus. “Do you mind?”
Severus shakes his head, relief crashing over him. He suddenly realises he’s tired to his bones. “Not in the slightest.”
He can’t imagine going out now, when his throat is raspy, and he feels like a sponge that’s been thoroughly wrung out. He sits on the edge of the bed, his back to Harry. “I apologise for my histrionics,” he says, his tone clipped.
“Don’t do that.” Harry moves behind Severus, kneading his bare shoulders and placing a soft kiss to the nape of his neck. “Don’t apologise for feeling things.”
“It won’t happen again.”
“I don’t care if it does. Maybe it needs to, sometimes.” Harry works out the knots in Severus’ shoulders. “I’ve cried buckets over the people I lost in the war. Cried until everything went numb.”
“I know.” Severus sighs, leaning into Harry’s hands as they work to loosen the tension in his body. “Somehow we got to be two men together, we got that far,” he murmurs.
Poems, again. Somebody else’s words. Severus feels that’s all he has, when his own words stumble, crack and falter. There’s an inadequacy in only having lived half a story, having watched the Muggles come into hospital rooms with their dances and songs, as if he were part of it. As if a man who lived through lies could ever understand the pulse of the human heart that turned the monstrous into rainbow-bright colours through sheer resilience. Severus has always lurked in shadows, has always been a monstrous thing. He remembers thinking the Muggles were foolish, for a very long time. He thought he knew something of courage. He was wrong.
Severus moves back from Harry and stretches out on the bed, lying next to him as they look at one another. Suddenly desperate to feel something other than broken, Severus reaches for Harry, who comes willingly. They kiss with a tenderness that is almost too much for Severus, his urgency increasing as he deepens the kiss and pulls Harry tight against his body.
Once again, Harry seems to understand what Severus needs. No conversation, no careful checking, no discussion. He nudges Severus over onto his stomach and moves down Severus’ body, trailing a line of hot, damp kisses down his spine. When he makes his way lower still, he pauses just long enough to send a warm flutter of breath across Severus’ most intimate parts. With a sigh, Severus shifts his legs apart a little, a hmm of contentment hopefully enough to encourage Harry to continue. It seems to suffice, and Harry carefully parts the cheeks of Severus’ backside, working his tongue over him with practiced ease.
It’s filthy, hot and desperately good. It’s been a lifetime since Severus has been with a partner who could be bothered to take their time with foreplay; decades since he’s found himself so willing, so eager, to be taken. He’s not sure that it’s only their time in New York that’s made him trust Harry so unequivocally. It’s everything that he knows of the man Harry is, the unspoken tenderness of hot chocolate on a warm spring day, the kindness of a jumper bought on impulse, the strength of conviction, the courage of a man who doesn’t stop fighting for something he knows instinctively is right. As preoccupied as Severus is with his thoughts of the past, in this moment he is very much in the present. Even as he breathes into the pillow and tangles his hands in the sheets when Harry presses his tongue slowly inside him, he isn’t thinking of someone else. Harry’s magic ebbs and flows around them, and there’s strength in it. It would be impossible to think of another person, when the energy in the room is so unmistakeably Harry’s, his glasses and book discarded on the bedside cabinet, the rumple of his bright yellow t-shirt on the chair, the tatty rucksack he brought with him to New York.
Severus groans with pleasure as Harry continues to slide his tongue over him, into him, the press of his fingers against Severus’ skin keeping him tethered. His whole body relaxes, his cock hardening as arousal pulses through him, lapping over his sensitised skin in waves. He shifts a little to give Harry better access, his breath rough and jagged as Harry continues to work his tongue with relentless efficiency, his fingers pressing deeper into Severus’ skin, his face buried as he presses closer still. When Harry pulls back, Severus is so ready to be fucked he nearly starts begging for it, but the slick slide of Harry’s finger brings another pleasure entirely.
“Please.” Severus clutches the pillow, his word one broken syllable, his voice a muffled gasp.
“In a minute.” Harry’s voice is gruff with emotion, two fingers working into Severus, curling and dragging back as he takes his time. Despite the amount of time without being on the receiving end of this kind of pleasure, Severus is as relaxed and comfortable as he’s ever been, and he doesn’t need this kind of preparation yet appreciates it all the same. He had forgotten how good it can be to sometimes let go—to allow himself to indulge in being taken, being connected enough with someone to focus selfishly on his own pleasure first and foremost.
Severus is so ready for Harry he finds himself pleading—another broken-off please—which Harry thankfully hears this time. He slides his fingers from Severus and nudges Severus up onto his knees. The room is full of the sounds of sex. The slap and slide as Harry lubricates his cock, their heavy breathing in the quiet space, the tearing open of another sachet of lubricant followed by the cool, wet slide over Severus’ skin. There’s something so Muggle about it: no fancy spells, no shortcuts. Severus suspects this is how Harry learned to fuck, and he has no complaints. It’s how Severus learned to be fucked, too.
Even in the absence of spells the magic still gathers around them. With a low grunt of appreciation, Harry pushes inside Severus, nudging his way in, with each push forcing him deeper into Severus’ body. The stretch and burn is almost too unfamiliar, too intense, but after a moment’s pause Severus finds that he aches with wanting Harry to take him and he speaks through gritted teeth.
The curt instruction makes Harry laugh, breathlessly. “You’re so fucking bossy,” he says in reply. Severus is about to make a snappish retort, when Harry does just as Severus asked, taking his breath away in one swift punch to the lungs.
He opens his mouth and groans as Harry fucks him exactly the way Severus likes. He can picture the way Harry looks when he moves, the beads of sweat that glisten on his torso, the way his hair is probably rumpled and messy, the bits of ink-black that stick to his forehead, the light remnants of the scar. Severus wants to see him almost desperately, but it’s enough for the moment to feel him. He stretches out a hand and Harry grasps onto it, their fingers twining as Harry begins to fuck Severus without restraint, arched over his back, his hot lips pressing against every part of Severus’ skin he can reach. Severus clutches Harry’s hand greedily and moves back into Harry with low, primal grunts and groans of pleasure, the searing heat through his body signalling the onset of his climax that just needs a little more encouragement.
“You feel so good.” Harry’s voice breaks and he releases Severus’ hand, his fingers pressing harder into Severus’ hips as he fucks him harder. “I’m so in love with you.” He slides his other hand over Severus’ back, slick with sweat. “So in love with you.
Harry wraps a lube-slick hand around Severus’ cock as he thrusts into him with desperate intensity. Every stroke of Harry’s hand is electrified by the rub of his cock inside Severus, the pressure against the spot that makes his body spark like magic. It doesn’t take much for the force of Harry’s thrusts and the passion of the moment to bring Severus over the edge. He drops onto the bed as Harry slides out of him, the wet, sticky stripes of Harry’s orgasm painting his back. He can feel the bounce of the bed when Harry flops beside him, his voice thick as he tries to speak.
“I hope you’re planning to wipe your come off my arse, Potter,” he murmurs, his voice heavy with sleep.
“Of course. Give me a sec.” Harry sounds amused and sticky, satiated and warm, and Severus falls into a deep sleep.
“No need to creep around the place on my account,” Severus remarks.
“You’re awake.” Harry looks up with a smile and gestures to the various plates. “I took the liberty of ordering food. Hot and cold stuff, because I wasn’t sure when you’d wake up.”
“Thank you.” Severus’ stomach grumbles, the thought of food very welcome indeed. He’s pleased that Harry seems to have cleaned up with magic, none of the sweaty stickiness of sex and come lingering unpleasantly on his skin. He feels as fresh and clean as he did following his shower and, from Harry’s damp hair, it looks as though he, too, has freshened up. Severus yawns, stretching on the bed, a flush of heat rising in his cheeks at the pleasant aches in his body. “What time is it?”
“About nine, I think. I got distracted watching a car chase on the telly.” Harry gestures to the huge television in the room which is currently muted as cars whizz around a track. “At least I think it’s a chase, I’m not sure what they’re doing.”
“Grand Prix,” Severus replies. “Motor racing.”
“It’s cool.” Harry looks enthusiastic enough that Severus resolves to point out at some point that flying is dangerous enough and Harry probably shouldn’t get into racing cars, too.
“Are you sure you don’t want to go out this evening?”
“Nope.” Harry shakes his head. “We’re on holiday. You’re supposed to be resting. Anyway, I’ve ordered all this food. Do you want a chip?”
“How exceedingly generous.” Severus rolls his eyes, sitting himself upright as Harry settles some trays on the bed. “Will you be eating everything else?”
“I’m ravenous.” Harry speaks around a mouthful of sandwich. “I doubt anything will go to waste.”
Severus shifts off the bed and slips on his pyjamas, feeling like a blushing virgin lolling around naked as Harry gazes openly at him, dressed in his own flannel pyjama trousers and t-shirt.
“You don’t have to get dressed. I don’t mind.” Harry leers at Severus, an impressive feat with a handful of chips in one hand and the remains of his sandwich in another. “I was enjoying the view.”
“Insolent child.” Severus rolls his eyes and helps himself to some food, eating hurriedly. He really was hungrier than he realised. They eat in silence, until most of the plates are cleared, the remainder kept away for a snack later. Harry rolls the trolley out of the room and returns to bed, stretching out contentedly.
“We can go home tomorrow if you want.” Harry tilts his head to look at Severus.
“Do you want to go home?” Severus brushes his hand over Harry’s chest, watching him carefully.
“Not particularly.” Harry shakes his head. “I’d like to try that restaurant we talked about tomorrow night and I wanted to go and see the seals.”
“Of course, I’d forgotten.” Severus gives Harry a small smile. “I’m sure we can do that, if you wish.”
“Yeah, I’d like to.” Harry pauses, his expression turning serious. “We can do all that stuff in the morning, but I thought there might be somewhere we need to go back to in the afternoon. I don’t think we’ve finished.”
“No,” Severus agrees. “Neither do I.” He kisses Harry lightly, before reaching to turn off his light. “We can decide what to do tomorrow, after coffee.”
“Always after coffee,” Harry teases. He presses close to Severus, his body warm and solid. Thank you, Severus thinks. Thank you for being here, for staying, for knowing the right things to say. He tightens his arms around Harry, who nestles closer with a yawn. “You might even want to rollerblade tomorrow.”
“Don’t hold your breath.” Severus closes his eyes.
He knows where they need to go tomorrow afternoon.
This time, he wants to be ready.
“I’ve never been anywhere like this.” Harry looks down at the rainbow walk underneath his feet. “Has this always been here?”
“It wasn’t here in the eighties.” Severus ushers Harry across the road. “How do you like it, now I’m not indulging in histrionics?”
“Stop.” Harry gives Severus a firm look, which is oddly arousing. “No apologies, remember?”
“I remember.” Severus moves on from yesterday and focuses on today, watching the bright, white clouds move across the blue sky. Even when it’s quiet, the wide streets seem so full.
Harry keeps close to Severus, taking everything in. “There’s so much history here, it’s like the air’s more alive because of it or something.”
Severus gives Harry a small smile. “I have a similar sense, but I imagine for different reasons.”
“Did you want to go to Peter’s house?” Harry is so earnest, and it makes Severus’ chest swell. He wonders if he would be quite charitable about an ex of Harry’s, whatever their circumstances.
“No. I think I’ve spent enough time dwelling on the past for this trip. Another time, perhaps.” Severus stops outside one of the more interesting looking shops. “I think we should make today a little more fun.”
“Severus.” Harry looks scandalised. “You can’t take me to a sex shop on holiday.”
“I can do whatever I please, Potter.” Severus ushers Harry forwards. “Besides, it’s high time we purchased some souvenirs.”
“And you say I’m the insatiable one,” Harry replies. He settles his hand on the small of Severus’ back, leaning close enough that his hot breath tickles against the shell of Severus’ ear. “I think we should get some flavoured lube so I can eat you out again. I enjoyed that.”
“You did, did you?” Severus shivers under Harry’s touch, despite his best attempts not to react. He catches Harry’s hand as they move inside, pulling him close and whispering in his ear. “It’s very naughty to tease me, Harry. Perhaps we should find something to spank you with?”
Harry’s throat bobs, his eyes darkening as he runs his tongue over his lips. “I’m going to spend most of next month’s salary in here, aren’t I?”
“Perhaps.” Severus smirks and watches Harry makes his way towards the back of the shop, stopping to beckon impatiently to Severus.
Severus’s heart swells with fierce affection, and he tuts at himself. He refuses to stand around going googly-eyed over Harry Potter in a sex shop.
He has some dignity, after all.
“Do you want to go out after dinner?” Severus doesn’t much fancy going to any clubs, but he doesn’t want to deprive Harry of the opportunity if he wants to experience San Francisco at night.
“Not really.” Harry shakes his head, slipping his free hand into Severus’. “I want to go back and try some of our new sex toys.”
“Keep your voice down, for goodness sake.”
Harry tips his head and presses a kiss on Severus’ neck, his voice low. “If you don’t want me to make comments like that, you shouldn’t take me shopping for kinky things. It makes me horny.
“Everything makes you horny.” Severus shakes his head. “Perhaps it’s just sunstroke?”
“Oh, it’s definitely not that.” Harry gives Severus’ bum a quick squeeze before moving out of immediate hexing distance.
“Must you make such a public spectacle of us?” Severus falls into step beside Harry, taking his hand again. He can hex him later. Or tie him up.
“Do you mind?” Harry quirks a smile at Severus.
“It’s not entirely objectionable, I suppose.” Severus squeezes Harry’s hand. “I hope you don’t expect this hand-holding to become a regular occurrence.”
“I don’t.” Harry’s face clouds and he glances at Severus. “It feels safer here. When we were in Washington Square Park the only people holding hands were men and women. Did you notice?”
“I tend not to pay much attention to these things.” Severus shrugs. “If you’re holding hands with me and anybody gives us any trouble, you can rest assured I have no qualms about using magic.”
“I bet.” Harry nudges his sunglasses higher on his nose. “I like it here. It doesn’t feel weird being together like this. It’s not just after London, it’s around our lot, too. I can’t imagine feeling this comfortable walking down Diagon.”
Severus snorts. “Our history and the fact you’re carrying a bag from Rock Hard would have everyone think I’d put you under Imperius. You would have to throw your handcuffs at Skeeter to keep her at bay.”
“As if I’d waste decent handcuffs on her,” Harry retorts. “Fuck Skeeter, and the rest of the Prophet, for that matter. Let them take photos, if they like. If they see us holding hands, maybe other people won’t be so bothered about it.”
“Indeed.” Severus glances at Harry, fondly. “Must you always fight for things?”
Harry considers that. “For things I believe in.”
“Hmm.” Severus makes a noncommittal sound, watching Harry and drinking him in greedily. He’s caught the sun, his nose and cheeks slightly pink with it. He has a relaxed, easy manner about him with none of the surliness he displayed when he first arrived in New York. Severus is so unused to making people happy, he decides the Californian sunshine is responsible for Harry’s cheerful countenance.
“You’re quiet.” Harry pulls his sunglasses off and faces Severus, his lips within easy kissing distance. “Are you thinking of all the kinky things you want to do to me later?”
“Perhaps.” Severus slips an arm around Harry and sighs when Harry leans against him. Even here, where the air is full of ghosts Severus has spent years trying to bury, he can’t help but feel warmed by the sun on his face, Harry by his side and the rainbow flag proudly flying in the gentle breeze.
They make their way to a bar with a large outside seating area and settle in comfortable seats to get the benefit of the late afternoon sun. San Francisco is chillier than New York, the breeze making Severus glad he has a coat with him. He sips his beer and puts an arm around Harry’s shoulder, his open affection taking him somewhat by surprise. Perhaps he’s the one with sunstroke, not Harry.
“Do you reckon it will always be difficult to come back?” Harry asks, leaning against Severus and tipping his face up to the sun.
“In a manner of speaking.” Severus pauses as he thinks about the emotions the Castro causes within him, wanting to linger on the happier ones. “It wasn’t all bad. I have happy memories, too. I think that probably gets lost when one focuses on the magnitude of everything else that happened.”
“Tell me about the happy stuff,” Harry murmurs. “If you want.”
Severus swallows, remembering his first summer. “Coming here was a revelation. It was like nowhere I had ever seen before. Crowds, parties, dancing, marches. There was so much colour. Rainbows, placards, leaflets, a restless buzz throughout this one small part of the city, an optimism and defiance, men kissing in the open streets. I went to pubs in London, but infrequently. This opened up a whole new world. It was like walking into Diagon Alley for the first time.”
“I bet.” Harry tips his head to press a kiss to Severus’ neck, before settling back into place. “I like hearing about how it was then, seeing it through your eyes. Maybe I’ll go to a march, one day.”
“There’s always New York Pride, in June,” Severus replies.
“You’d go with me?” Harry sits up to look at Severus.
“Yes, if you wish.” Severus inclines his head. He doesn’t like the crowds at those events and typically avoids them nowadays, but Harry has helped Severus in inestimable ways. It seems only fair to help Harry see a little of the celebratory side of things, after his time spent revisiting ghosts of the past with Harry by his side.
“What time did you want to go for dinner?” Harry has an eager look about him and Severus laughs under his breath.
“You’re very unsubtle.” He brushes his lips to Harry’s ear and lowers his voice. “Is there something in particular you want to do beforehand?”
Harry makes an nngh sound. “Can we shrink down these bags and get the tram?”
Severus smirks against Harry’s earlobe, tugging it lightly between his teeth. “You’re in a rush to get back. I’m simply enjoying the sunshine.”
“I bet,” Harry mutters. He stands and tugs Severus to his feet. “You can enjoy he sunshine closer to the hotel. Where we have a bed.”
Severus decides that for once, it’s best not to argue.
Watching Harry take in the atmosphere at New York Pride is far more appealing than watching the crowds themselves. He walks through the masses of people, chattering excitedly to Severus and pointing out the things that interest him, taking leaflets from everybody that offers him one. He spots someone selling brightly coloured merchandise and leaves Severus’ side for a moment to slip off into the crowds and buy a flag, promising to return shortly.
In Harry’s absence, even here, in the glorious sunshine as the streets heave with people and rainbow flags, it occurs to Severus he is quite alone. His shirt is too stiff and formal and there are beads of sweat that fester unpleasantly beneath it. He’s as conscious as he’s ever been of his age and unattractiveness, the marks on his neck and the darkness that seethes and writhes against his pale skin, the burn of the Dark Lord’s call still bitter on his tongue. He finds no hope in naked bodies that remind him of lost youth and beauty, the photographs of bodies caught in fleeting moments of suspended animation. It’s a beauty he’s always felt too calloused to touch; he’s a spectator at a carnival that doesn’t want him to join their defiant march.
For the first time since he and Harry took their relationship to the next level, niggling doubts return. Here, Harry would be quite at home. He would look as dazzling as any of the men in glitter, proudly striding through the streets without their shirts. He can’t imagine Harry failing to be invigorated by this kind of setting and he wonders what it would mean for them both, if Harry realises the vast and alternative spaces available to him. Just as Severus is contemplating leaving the place entirely, Harry returns and slips a hand into his.
“I thought I’d lost you. Blimey, the crowds are something, aren’t they?”
“They certainly are,” Severus agrees. Harry looks at Severus with a hopefulness that burns brighter than the sun’s rays. Both of his cheeks are striped with rainbows, his hair inexplicably mussed with glitter as if he’s been hugging a drag queen, which knowing Harry, he probably has.
Before Severus can protest, Harry crowds into his space and kisses him, just as he’s done so many times before. Severus floods with pride at the boldness of Harry’s move, knowing how nervous his experience in Soho has made him about public displays of affection. There’s such a pure, brilliant pleasure in kissing another man in the open air that Severus hasn’t experienced in decades, and his heart soars with it. His body pulses and thrums to the music that thumps and beats in the background. Everything else fades away to nothing and Severus tightens his arms around Harry, sinking into the moment with a wanton blissfulness. There are no furtive whispers. No sirens wailing in the background. No shadows left to cloak them. It’s a bold, beautiful kiss with Harry Potter, in the heat of the Manhattan sun.
“I suppose you want to join the festivities,” Severus says, when they finally part. He clutches onto Harry, his fingers greedily touching the slope of his arm, the angle of his jaw, the messy shock of hair that slips between his fingers.
Harry grins and leans into Severus, pressing his mouth to his ear. His voice is gruff when he speaks.
“Actually, I was hoping you wouldn’t mind taking me home. I don’t like crowds much these days and I don’t think they let us do the things I want you to do to me in public—even here.”
“Oh.” Severus rarely finds himself lost for words but this, apparently, is one such occasion. He frowns at Harry. “You’ve been looking forward to this.”
“I know. I’m glad I came.” Harry holds up the rainbow flag he grabbed from god knows who and waves it, pulling on a second t-shirt with a ludicrous cartoon unicorn on the front. “I met a drag queen, I’ve got my flag, I bought a new t-shirt and I saw the parade. Let’s come back for a pint when it’s quieter, or for one of those shows.” His jaw works. “I’m not sure I feel right being here. It’s like celebrating something we haven’t fought for, like crashing somebody else’s party.”
Severus shakes his head. “We’ve fought for many things, in our own fashion. I believe even being here today is a battle of sorts, for both of us. I’m sure the Muggles wouldn’t begrudge us joining their celebrations.”
“Do you want to stay?” Harry gives Severus a curious look. “I wasn’t sure if you would.”
“Today I’m all yours,” Severus replies. He pushes the last of his doubts to one side and keeps Harry close. “Whatever you decide, I’ll go along with.”
“I think home.” Harry gives Severus a wry smile. “Do you mind?”
“Not in the slightest.” Severus slides his hands over Harry’s arms. They’re warm, from the heat of the sun. “Have you enjoyed it, at least?”
“Yeah, it’s brilliant.” Harry runs his tongue over his lips as if he’s nervous. “I feel more at home in America than I do in England. I’m still not sure about going out in Soho again. It feels so different now.”
“You’ll go back, in time.” Severus gives Harry’s rumpled hair a quick kiss, hoping he hasn’t got glitter all over his face. Severus has his own worries about returning to England in July to speak to Kingsley and finalise their living arrangements for next summer. He isn’t entirely sure Molly Weasley isn’t going to hex him for corrupting Potter’s innocence, for a start. “I miss ale. Perhaps we could go to The Admiral Duncan when we return.”
“You’d do that?” Harry looks delighted and it makes Severus’ heart leap.
“If you wish. I prefer the English pubs to loud bars and nightclubs, in any event.”
Harry gives Severus another fierce kiss before pulling back with a daft smile on his face. “It’s the first time I’ve ever kissed a man in the daytime,” Harry says. “Out here in the middle of the street with everyone around.”
“I see,” Severus murmurs. He pulls Harry tightly into the circle of his arms and tilts his head. “We’d better do it again, in that case.”
When they finally break apart, Harry has the dark, hungry look in his eyes that Severus enjoys most of all. Without a moment’s hesitation he takes Harry’s hand and urges him away from the party, eager to get back to their flat. As they walk hand in hand through the streets of New York City, Harry keeps his rainbow flag held as proudly aloft as the bars he spent so many months feeling scared to enter.
Severus casts one quick look at The Stonewall Inn before the heaving crowds obscure it from view entirely. The music catches on the light summer breeze, getting farther away as they walk. Severus tightens his hold on Harry’s hand, whispering words for his ears only. Harry clutches his hand tighter and Severus just wants to get him home, to show him all the things that he finds so difficult to put into words.
The laughter and chatter of New York’s crowds fade away, like the memory of a much-loved song.
What a feeling.