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“Have a biscuit, Potter.”

Harry smiled across the headmistress’s desk at his former Head of House, taking the offered tin of shortbread that she always seemed to have on hand. It was quite the departure from the lemon drops he had forced himself to eat during his school years, and he found that he liked the traditional taste far better. “Thank you, professor,” he replied.

Minerva McGonagall smiled back at her former student, whom she had always had a soft spot for, especially when her intuitions about his home life proved correct. “How is your injury doing, then?” she asked.

Harry sighed, rolling his shoulders, knowing that The Prophet had had a field day reporting about the spell damage he had sustained. He was no longer approved for the active field duty in the Auror Corps that he’d grown used to, but desk duty was another story. “It feels fine, which is likely due to the potions that Hermione makes for me,” he reported, knowing better than to trust the shoddy department at St. Mungo’s. “But my career is another matter entirely.”

“Is it?” the woman asked, pouring them both cups of tea and banishing one of them across her desk and into Harry’s vicinity.

“I would say that it is in shambles, and it is, in that my teenage dream of becoming an active Auror for the Wizarding World is completely over,” Harry told her. “The desk duty is not fulfilling for me, and I feel as if I could be doing more, but Robards refuses. Ever since Ron left the department to assist George at the Wheezes... Well, while I understand his reasoning, I feel lonely and that, coupled with the aforementioned non-fulfillment, it isn’t what I thought it would be, that’s for sure.”

Minerva pursed her lips, absolutely hating that Harry, after all he had done, was getting the short end of the stick. “Well, have you ever considered teaching?” she asked. “Your duty to the Wizarding World, plus your three years as an Auror, and that little group you had during your fifth-year, not to mention your impressive NEWTs scores, are more than enough.”

Harry blinked, straightening in his chair. “What position?” he asked.

Minerva smiled. “Defense, of course. Professor Mulberry, while very good, has been offered a position as Deputy Head at Beauxbatons, which is something I encouraged him not to give up, given the financial nature of the position. He has been here since the Carrow siblings were ousted, and although, as I said, he is quite good at his position, and it would be a shame to lose him, not many people would turn down this new opportunity he has been given.”

Harry swallowed a mouthful of tea, before helping himself to another biscuit. “Professor Mulberry is also Head of Gryffindor House,” he said quietly.

Minerva nodded. “He is indeed. Wilmer served the post quite well, since he took it over from me, upon the occasion when he was offered the position after you, Mr. Weasley, and the former Miss Granger completed your studies here. However, I believe that you, too, would serve both positions quite well. Pomona is due for retirement, handing over the reins to Longbottom, while Filius has accepted none other than Percy Weasley as his apprentice. It is time for new blood within the halls of Hogwarts, Potter, and, I assure you, you are the best for the position. My praise does not come lightly, as I am sure you remember.”

Harry smiled; he did remember. “How is Professor Snape?” he asked.

Minerva sighed. “But for mealtimes and his classes, we seldom see him out of the dungeons. I know that he takes his summertime for research purposes, and the Hogwarts Potions Grant gives him ample funding for doing so. However, he really should get out more, and Poppy and I are in agreement that inhaling all those potion fumes cannot be good for you.”

Harry felt another smile threatening to pull at his lips at the Head of Slytherin House, and Deputy Headmaster’s, stubbornness. “Have you told him this?” he asked.

“Of course we have; Poppy, Pomona, and Filius have done as well, not to mention that meddlesome portrait over there,” she said, nodding towards the wall and, upon turning, Harry spotted Dumbledore slumbering away in his frame. “He just won’t listen. I know it was a shock to us all when it was revealed that he had gone turncoat during the battle, as well as the fact that he survived at all...”

“Neville avenged his death,” Harry said, remembering his friends’ war cry when the Sword of Gryffindor had sliced through the deadly serpent’s body. “Please tell me that he is at least being cordial to him...”

“When he bothers to speak at all,” Minerva responded.

“I thought it was a part of his sanctioned therapy that he speak,” Harry put in.

“Oh, Severus speaks just fine—a little more throaty than he used to, but that’s to be expected, given the fact that the venom was in his system for so long,” Minerva reported. “It’s the fact that he doesn’t do so very often concerns me. That, coupled with the fact that we the staff hardly ever see him, of course. Hagrid does, on occasion, when Severus treks out to the Forbidden Forest to gather certain ingredients.”

“He always did like to do that,” Harry said quietly, remembering seeing the man walking the halls of the castle, long after curfew, basket on one arm, while Harry slipped by from beneath his invisibility cloak, doing Merlin knows what. “I hear that we’ve got exotic flowers over there, especially around the Forest Lake, which had magical healing properties...”

“Perhaps he is venturing outside the box, looking for something that can bring him back up to snuff, to before the snake attack,” Minerva put in wistfully.

Harry set down his cup of tea, knowing exactly what Minerva’s ulterior motives were, but he found he didn’t care. He owed the man that much, to get him out of his funk, as it were, and it wasn’t as if he had anything holding him back. “Next term?” Harry asked.

Minerva smiled, pleased that she had won. “Yes. I’ll contact Robards on your behalf, never fear, and you just worry about getting your house in order.”

Harry nodded; he lived on his own, with the addition of Kreacher, at Grimmauld Place since the Battle of Hogwarts, and was quite positive that the old Black family elf wouldn’t mind returning to work in the kitchens. “Shan’t take me long,” he said, getting to his feet.

Minerva rose as well. “Well, thank you, Harry,” she said, and put out her hand. “We shall see you on the thirty-first of August for the start-of-term meeting, then.”

Harry took her hand and shook it. “Looking forward to it, Minerva.”

~*~

Harry completed his contract negotiations with Minerva by owl, and considered heading over to Diagon Alley to purchase a new familiar as the days ticked closer to the start-of-term at Hogwarts. He had not replaced Hedwig, as no owl could, and knew that he would have plenty of school owls at his disposal, now that he had accepted the Defense position. Remembering the green light of the Killing Curse enveloping Hedwig as she protected him, a lump rose in his throat, and he was momentarily distracted by Kreacher setting his breakfast dishes down on the table, one day before the staff meeting.

“Will Master Harry be requiring anything else?”

Harry promptly grabbed a scone, one of Kreacher’s specialties, and proceeded to put butter and blackberry jam upon it. “No, thank you, Kreacher,” he assured the elf, noticing the other platters of rashers, eggs, and assorted fruit on the table. “That will be all.”

“Naturally, master, naturally,” Kreacher replied with a bow. “Kreacher will continue his cleaning, and then get the larger items of Master Harry’s belongings over to his rooms at Hogwarts this evening. Master Harry is lunching in Diagon Alley with Master Weasley and Mistress Granger-Weasley, and will be dining at the Burrow tonight?”

Harry nodded, pleased that Kreacher seemed anxious to return to Hogwarts. “Yes, thank you, Kreacher,” he said, not knowing what else to say.

Kreacher bowed again, and, once he whispered to the dishes to return to the kitchen and wash themselves once Harry had finished, cracked away.

Harry sighed, rolling his shoulders again and chewing his scone. The Morning Prophet had already arrived, along with a few pieces of mail. The front-page article of the paper announced Harry’s resignation of the Auror Department, and his new position at Hogwarts. Pushing the rag away, he found a note from Luna, congratulating him on his new position, along with a request for him to have an interview with her and her father for The Quibbler, once again letting him know that they would print the truth. A second letter was from Minerva, with a list of books and other supplies he would need to pick up that day in Diagon Alley; a third note was from George, telling Harry to stop by the Wheezes that afternoon; and his final letter looked to be a formal invitation to something.

Shaking his head and pulling the cream-colored envelope towards him, he muttered a simple Cutting Spell, which got the letter open. Inside, on embossed, cream-colored paper with curled golden letters, Harry was relieved to see that it was not an invitation to a ministry event. There had been dozens of those since the Battle of Hogwarts, and Harry couldn’t seem to take another one. This, however, was pleasant, to say the least.

 

You have been cordially invited to the nuptials of

 

Mr. Draco Lucius Malfoy, and Miss Ginevra Molly Weasley

 

To be held at Malfoy Manor in Wiltshire

 

On the day of December the twenty-third, two-thousand-and-one

 

Formal reception in the ballroom to follow

 

Harry smiled; he had known about the wedding. Ever since he and Ginny had decided the summer after his sixth-year as Hogwarts that they were better off as brother and sister, things seemed to make a lot more sense for Harry. He had realized his attraction for men, older men, and Ginny, plus Ron, Hermione, the rest of the Weasleys, Neville, and Luna had been unwaveringly supportive of him. He had given an exclusive to The Quibbler, and Luna’s questions had been everything but invasive, letting him know that she would do anything and everything in her power to make sure the truth was printed.

It was during their time on the run, whilst looking for Horcruxes, that they got a strange Patronus in the form of a Black-Eyed White Ferret, which came bounding through the Forest of Dean. Out of its small mouth came the voice of Draco Malfoy himself, requesting an audience. Underneath the invisibility cloak, Harry, Ron, and Hermione walked to where the would-be Death Eater had requested and, once Hermione’s spells cleared Malfoy of any wrongdoing, or leading Death Eaters into their camp, they’d taken off the cloak.

“I’ve left,” Draco said then, his voice firm. “Revelio.” A mask seemed to have fallen, and Draco appeared to be emaciated, with several visible lashings upon his body; he would later tell the trio that his aunt had used her whip upon him. “I snuck to Gringotts before Father... Lucius could tell the goblins to disinherit me,” he said and, reaching into his threadbare traveling cloak, drew out Helga Hufflepuff’s Cup.

“Bloody hell,” whispered Ron.

Hermione promptly stepped forward and took it, weighing it in her hand. After casting a few spells upon it, and bringing it over to Harry, who informed her that he heard the whispers within the piece, it was determined to be the real Horcrux. “Come, Draco,” Hermione said quickly with a small smile.

“What?” Draco asked, watching as Harry took the cup from her.

“You can’t exactly go back to the others, or to Hogwarts,” Ron said, and stepped closer, easing an arm around him. “Let’s get you back to the tent. You can rest, and Hermione will feed you, and we’ll figure out the rest tomorrow.”

Harry remained in the clearing, watching as they took Draco back to the tent, and laid the cup down onto the frozen leaves below. “Accio sword,” he whispered, and the Sword of Gryffindor, rescued from the depths of the lake the evening before, flew into his hand. Focusing, he slashed it through the air, piercing the gold of the cup, and, legs buckling and scar aching, he knew he had destroyed yet another Horcrux.

Smiling ruefully as the memories in his mind faded, Harry finished his breakfast before pushing himself up from the table. Ginny and Draco knew he’d be coming, as he’d agreed to be Best Man alongside Ron. Ginny had daringly sorted through the Room of Requirement at Hogwarts, rooting through the various pieces, after a coded message from Luna had informed her to seek out the Grey Lady. She had somehow managed to smuggle Rowena Ravenclaw’s Diadem out of the castle, which made its way to the quartet in the forest, where they were still hiding out, and they hastily destroyed the piece.

This had meant that the diary, the ring, the locket, the cup, and the diadem had all successfully been destroyed when Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Draco had arrived at Hogwarts. Initially, people had given Draco the cold shoulder, but, once it was revealed that he had not only gone turncoat from the Death Eaters, but had helped in retrieving a Horcrux, it was Ginny who had run forward and kissed him, prompting Draco to kiss her back, and their whirlwind romance had officially begun. Neville would later destroy Nagini in battle and Harry, who willingly walked to his own death, was destroyed as well, only to come back to life and vanquish Voldemort once and for all.

“I’m off now, Kreacher!” Harry called, summoning his traveling cloak from the hall, and going into the living room. He stepped into the Floo, calling out for The Leaky Cauldron, and was pulled through the network, before being deposited in the pub. Smiling and waving at Tom, he stepped outside and nodded to everyone who spoke to him, and slipped into Flourish and Blotts, where he knew Hermione would be lurking with a less-than-amused Ron.

The various sections of Flourish and Blotts never seemed to be in any form of disarray and, despite it being so close to the beginning of the Hogwarts term, today was no exception. Stacks of books littered various highly-polished tables throughout the store, advertising a sale or one subject or other, while most of the books were regulated to specific sections in the dark wood shelves throughout the place. Harry perused them slowly, knowing that he need only hand over the list Minerva gave him, and that one of the employees would only be too glad to assist him. It was pleasant when he came upon one, explained the situation and handed the list over, and the gentleman eagerly went about the store, gathering the necessary books.

“Honestly, Ronald,” said a familiar voice towards the back of the store. “We’ve got plenty of time to prepare for all this. And Concealment Charms were invented for a reason...”

“No wife of mine has to conceal her condition! I don’t care if my only sister is getting married! I should think that it’s enough that I accepted her being with Draco. Ginny can get over it,” Ron said heatedly.

“You know very well that Ginny doesn’t know yet, love,” Hermione said soothingly to her husband as Harry stepped around the final stack, to see Hermione patting Ron’s cheek, her brilliant solitaire wedding ring gleaming upon her finger. “We’re telling your parents tonight, and we told mine this morning when we had brunch with them. I’m sure that everyone will come around accordingly to the news...”

“News?” Harry asked, casually leaning up against the bookshelf he’d been standing next to, and smirked at his two best friends. “What news? Should I be worried?”

“Harry!” squealed Hermione as she all but threw the books she’d been carrying into Ron’s arms, before she dashed forward and threw herself into Harry’s. “You’re here!”

“Yes, Kreacher was quite accommodating this morning,” Harry said, hugging Hermione back and mouthing “Sorry” in Ron’s direction. “He’s quite excited about the move to Hogwarts. I think that Winky may have something to do with it...”

“Oi, mate! I really don’t want to hear about your house-elf’s dating habits,” Ron said as he watched Hermione climb down from Harry’s embrace.

Hermione clicked her tongue and casted a Featherlight Charm onto the books, before she took ahold of them again. “You’re terrible,” she said sarcastically.

“Least I know what good conversation topics are,” Ron informed his wife with a grin, before he walked toward Harry and hugged him as well. “Got your list from McGonagall, then?”

“Handed it off to one of the employees to fetch the books as I came in,” Harry said, letting Ron go and smiling at Hermione. “Some of the books are kept locked away. The Dark Arts ones in particular. I don’t think they want younger students, or children, to potentially get their hands on them, you know.”

Hermione nodded. “Makes perfect sense to me,” she said, shifting the books under one arm, to the point where Harry caught sight of one of the titles.

What To Expect When You’re Expecting a Magical Child by Camelia Snowpear?” Harry demanded, recalling how that particular book had been a Wizarding Word Bestseller during his first year on the job in the Auror Office. “Something the two of you want to tell me?” Harry queried, while Ron dramatically avoided eye contact and Hermione flushed pink.

“We only just found out last week, mate,” Ron said quietly, as Hermione attempted to inspect other spines of books around them. “We wanted to consult with our healer before we started telling people...”

“Is everything all right?!” Harry demanded, knowing how much the pair of them wanted to have children, and hoping beyond hope that their future child wasn’t affected in any way.

“Everything’s fine, according to Healer Grouse,” Hermione reported, straightening her stature when she realized that Harry was merely concerned for her and her child’s well-being. “The baby’s due in late-February.”

“So, you’re three months in, then?” Harry asked.

Ron nodded. “Merlin, Harry, it was wonderful,” he said, his face taking on the dream-like expression of when he had inadvertently eaten the love potion chocolates intended for Harry in their sixth-year. “Listening to the heartbeat, and watching the baby in Hermione’s womb just floating around in that... What was it called again, ‘Mione?”

“Amniotic fluid,” Harry and Hermione said together, sharing a smile.

“Right, yeah,” Ron said, nodding to himself.

“The Unspeakable Office is very particular about having pregnant magical beings working for them,” Hermione said quietly. “Sometimes the fetus can counteract with the Preservation Charms of the Statute of Secrecy, making my position all the more difficult. I’ll be put on maternity leave once I reach the twenty-week mark.”

“Pregnant magical beings?” Harry asked, his brows knitting together. “Wouldn’t that just apply to witches, ‘Mione?”

Ron chuckled. “Mate, you mean you don’t know?”

“Don’t know what?” Harry wanted to know. “Obviously, I don’t know something, or I wouldn’t be questioning your wife...”

Hermione snapped her fingers and an ancient-looking tome came flying off one of the shelves around them, and sailed straight into Harry’s hands. “Have a look at that, why don’t you?” she asked, smiling at him.

Harry lowered his eyes to the book, the title in golden letters staring back at him, Pregnancy in the Wizard by Crawford Hawthorne. “Hermione...”

“It’s the all-around guide for wizards who are either homosexual, or are single and want to have a child on their own,” Hermione said patiently.

“You mean you didn’t know about it, mate?” Ron asked, watching as Harry immediately began to thumb through the book.

“No, I didn’t,” Harry said, looking at the list of chapters provided to him: Chapter One: A Quick Guide to Conception, Chapter Two: The Process of Fertilization, Chapter Three: The Basics of Early Pregnancy, Chapter Four: A Study in Pregnancy Diet... “I had no idea that any of this was even possible for me, in the natural way,” he breathed, shaking his head as he caressed the words on the page before him.

“I thought you’d always wanted children, Harry,” Hermione said gently.

Harry nodded. “No, I did... Do. I do want children, ‘Mione,” he told her. “I guess I supposed I would just adopt a child or two down the road...”

“You can still do that, too, mate,” Ron said, squeezing Harry’s shoulder. “You can do it both ways, one way or the other, or neither way.”

“Regardless of how you go about making a family, Harry, we’ll support you,” Hermione assured him as Harry shut the book. “Which brings us to another order of business...”

“Yeah?” Harry asked, tucking the book underneath his arm, clutching it slightly; he would definitely have to purchase this, and read it once he got to Hogwarts. “What else is there to talk about, then?” he asked.

Ron reached out and moved to take Hermione’s hand. “Well, ‘Mione and I were going to ask you over lunch at The Leaky...”

“But now’s as good a time as any,” Hermione said, smiling over at Harry. “Well, first off, you should know that Ron and I are expecting a girl.”

“A girl? That’s wonderful!” Harry crowed.

Hermione flushed pink. “Thank you, Harry,” she replied.

“But what we really wanted to discuss the possibility of something happening to us,” Ron said, not wanting to take the focus away from the topic at hand.

A lump rose in Harry’s throat. “Nothing’s going to happen...”

“No, of course not, Harry,” Hermione assured him. “However, the proper documentation wasn’t in place to prevent you from going to Little Whinging, in the event of your parents’ deaths, and Sirius’s imprisonment in Azkaban...”

“Remus was their second choice, after Sirius, according to their will,” Harry informed them, having stumbled across the information when he was going through his Gringotts vault a few weeks after the Battle of Hogwarts.

“That’s why you gave them the newly-restored cottage in Godric’s Hollow, mate?” Ron wanted to know.

Harry nodded slowly. “Yeah. I was going to give it to the two of you, but then Hermione’s mum told me that they were surprising you with the row house in Cornwall for your guys’ wedding present,” he explained. “Besides, Remus hardly had any income to speak of, which is why the Dursleys were able to get me in the first place... But, now he can stay at home with Teddy and Baby Hope while Tonks continues to conquer the Auror Department...”

“Which is why Ron and I want to be assured that, should anything happen to us, our barrister knows what we want,” Hermione told him. “We want you to be her godfather, Harry, which means you would be her guardian, should anything happen to us.”

Harry stood there, gobsmacked. “Not that I’m not honored, but wouldn’t you rather Ginny and Draco take custody of her...?”

“Harry, you’re our best mate,” Ron said, “and unless you’re unwilling or unable to take care of our daughter, should anything happen to us, then, and only then, would so go to Ginny and, by extension, to Draco.”

“We’re intending on asking Ginny and Luna to be her godmothers,” Hermione explained. “As per tradition, which is both wizarding and Muggle, any daughter will have two godmothers and one godfather.”

“Meaning that, should anything happen to us all, plus Ginny and Draco...?”

“Custody of her would go to Luna and Neville, yes,” Ron said. “If Neville takes care of plants that well, I suppose he’d be a good parent.”

Hermione rolled her eyes indulgently at her husband’s words. “Well, Harry, of course the documents wouldn’t be signed until her naming ceremony, so conceivably you would have time to think it over, but...”

“Of course I want to be her godfather!” Harry said, a smile breaking out onto his face. “I don’t even need to think about it, ‘Mione. I haven’t even met her yet, and I love her already. And I’m also going to spoil her rotten, just so you know.”

“Why do you think we picked you in the first place?” Ron asked with a sly grin, to which Hermione promptly elbowed him in the ribs, causing him to shout, “Oi!”

The trio then left the bookshop after Harry and Hermione had gotten all the books they’d either wanted or needed, and made their way down the alley, with each of them chattering about a specific store. They decided to stop in the Wheezes after lunch, because Ron was helping George with inventory that night, and had a shift at three. It was when they stopped outside The Magical Menagerie that Harry slowed up, spotting the sign that was advertising new litters of both Kneazles and Crups, and his heart hammered in his chest.

“Wait a moment, I want to go in,” he said softly, and pushed open the door. He greeted the proprietor of the establishment, who seemed quite pleased to have Harry there, and followed the signs to the litters of the Kneazles and Crups. It was a soft meow which caused him to stop in his tracks, and a beautiful white Kneazle with black stripes and blue eyes stared up at him. “Why, hello, there,” he said fondly to it, and slowly bent to pick it up out of the pen. He stroked the feline and it calmed considerably, and Ron and Hermione came up behind him just as he was scratching it behind the ears.

“Oi, mate, wouldn’t you rather have a Cruppy?” Ron asked, looking longingly towards the pen just beside the Kneazle one.

Hermione sighed, following her husband’s gaze. “Well, it is commonplace in the Muggle world to have a dog, of some sort, before having children...”

“You’re the best, ‘Mione!” Ron cried out, kissing his wife on the cheek before making his way over to the second pen, and cooing at the sight before him. One particularly enthusiastic Cruppy placed its paws upon the pen, its forked tail wagging two and fro, and Ron immediately bent to scoop it up. “Oh, ‘Mione, isn’t he adorable?!” he asked.

Hermione sighed, allowing Harry’s Kneazle to sniff at her hand for a moment. “Charming, Ronald,” she said, before telling Harry, “I think a Kneazle suits you,” before she made her way over to her husband. Sighing, she looked into the eyes of the Cruppy, and knew that they would be taking him home. “All right,” she said, “but he had better behave himself with Crookshanks, Ronald Weasley! Considering that Crookshanks is the senior animal, I won’t have your Cruppy playing too roughly with him, and furthermore—!”

Ron silenced his wife with a kiss. “George will help me train him up in no time!” he declared, scratching the Cruppy’s back. “Now, we’ve got to think of a name for you...”

“Oh, Merlin,” Hermione muttered.

“Merlin! That’s it!” Ron cried out, and Harry looked over at him. “Hermione, you’re honestly the smartest person I’ve ever met!”

Hermione crossed her arms. “Explain yourself, Ronald.”

“We’ll call him ‘Merlin’,” Ron said, grinning at her.

Hermione sighed, before turning her gaze back onto the Cruppy. “Yes,” she said softly. “Yes, I suppose we will...” She turned around then, and gazed at Harry, and saw that he was still holding onto the Kneazle. “Harry, will you be getting her?” she asked.

Harry nodded. “Yes. She’s far too cute to leave behind...”

“And what will you be calling her, mate?” Ron asked.

“Willow,” Harry said softly, and smiled at the pair of them, knowing the real reasoning behind his selection of the name, but not wanting either of them to know just yet.

~*~

Harry arrived at the castle in mid-morning the following day, after a pleasant lunch with Ron and Hermione, and a lively dinner at the Burrow the day before. Arthur and Molly had been over the moon about Hermione’s pregnancy, given that Bill and Fleur, plus George and Angelina, were the only other pairs in the family to begin having children. Fleur’s daughter, Victoire, was two-years-old now, and was already speaking in both English and French. George and Angelina’s son, Fred II, was already making plenty of mischief. Harry had later pulled Hermione aside and had informed her that if anyone could make her daughter speak both those languages, as well as Latin, it was certainly her.

Minerva was there awaiting Harry when he Apparated just outside the gates, and was smiling warmly at him as he approached. “Welcome back to Hogwarts, Harry,” she said in a kindly manner. “Are you prepared to get to work?” she wanted to know, before she fully caught sight of the small bundle in her latest employee’s arms. “Oh, goodness me! And who do we have here, then?” she asked, smiling fondly at the Kneazle.

“This is Willow,” Harry informed her, and the Kneazle promptly extended her nose to sniff at Minerva’s offered hand. “The menagerie in Diagon was advertising a new litter of Kneazles and Cruppies—Ron and Hermione adopted the latter,” he explained. “Willow came right up to me and, once I held her, I knew I couldn’t leave her behind.”

“She’s lovely, Harry,” Minerva informed him. “She will, of course, have to stay in your rooms, unless you can chaperone her on the grounds. But, perhaps Hagrid will be able to ask the castle for an inner door in your rooms...”

“An inner door?” Harry asked.

Minerva smiled. “Quite like the Room of Requirement,” she explained. “It is a specialty door in some of the professor’s rooms wherein they can program it to open onto a landscape, or something else, of their choosing. If Hagrid is very specific, we can create a little piece of park land for Willow here, wherein she can hunt without leaving the castle wards.”

“That’s brilliant!” Harry breathed as they stepped inside the castle. “I’m sure Willow would love something like that,” he said softly.

“Well, then we shall speak to Hagrid at the staff meeting about it,” Minerva proclaimed with a nod and a smile. “You’ve plenty of time to get settled into your rooms beforehand... I’m sure that Professor Mulberry’s lesson plans weren’t too difficult for you...”

Harry shook his head. “No, Minerva, not too difficult. I also had a few notes and ideas of my own, if that’s all right.”

“Of course it is, Harry,” she assured him. “We will go over any questions, concerns, or schedule editing during the staff meeting.”

Harry nodded. “Thank you,” he said.

Minerva then led Harry upstairs towards the suite of rooms at the end of the hallway from the Gryffindor common room, which had been her rooms when Harry was a student there. The door came open immediately, and a grand parlor met Harry’s eyes, which was very like the common room of his youth. “Your bedroom is through there, and it’s got an en suite,” Minerva explained as Harry had a look around. “Beyond the fireplace wall is your own personal kitchen—all Heads of Houses have their own, and you’re permitted to call a house-elf at any time, should you have need of their services. That door there is a bathroom as well, typically reserved for guests if you’ve got company. The other door beyond is a second bedroom, and you’re of course permitted to have guests stay overnight... I take it Mr. Weasley and the former Miss Granger will be coming to visit?”

Harry grinned at her. “Yes. And in about twelve years, another Weasley will be roaming the halls, and it will not be Victoire or Fred,” he told her.

Minerva’s eyes widened. “Hermione is expecting?” she asked.

Harry nodded. “Yes. I’ve been named godfather. That’s what the big dinner at the Burrow was all about last night.”

Minerva’s eyes crinkled then when she smiled, obviously happy for her former students. “I’m quite sure that with Mrs. Granger-Weasley’s knowledge of all things, and Mr. Weasley’s passion for fun, that the pair of them will be quite successful when it comes to parenting.”

Harry nodded at her. “My thoughts exactly.”

“And what about you, Harry?” the headmistress asked, looking genuinely curious as one’s grandmother would. “Any plans or hopes for one day having a family? I’m quite positive that Albus and I, as well as several other members of the staff, were quite sure that, one day, you and Miss Weasley would be quite the pair...”

Harry laughed. “No. Ginny and I realized, shortly after Albus’s funeral, that what she and I had was much more conducive to that of a brother and sister relationship. Besides, she’s been with Draco since the night of the battle, and they seem very happy with one another, much happier than I myself could ever make her, I think.”

“Surely Miss Weasley isn’t marrying Mr. Malfoy for his money alone...”

Harry immediately shook his head, rushing to Ginny’s defense. “No, of course not. Ginny knows full well what it’s like to grow up without it, and although I’m sure she’ll be much more comfortable financially once they say their vows in December, I hardly think that Ginny herself would ever enter a union for something so trivial as money.”

Minerva nodded. “Yes, I’m quite sure you’re right. But, Harry, have you found someone special in which to spend your life?”

Harry sighed, knowing that Minerva must have known about his sexuality, given that every paper had seemed to have a field day with the information. “No, there’s no one,” he told her, not really wanting to let her in fully, lest she completely realize who the object of his affections had been for a great many years—she would’ve never offered him the position in the first place, surely, had she known...

“Ah, well. Perhaps you’ll meet someone in Hogsmeade,” Minerva said with a small sigh as she turned to take her leave. “You’ll also be introduced to Professor Filomena Oleander, who took over transfiguration for me, upon me taking the headmistress position.”

Harry nodded. “And what’s her story, then?”

“Born to an English father and a Slavic mother, and she was first in her class at Durmstrang when she graduated in 1985,” Minerva reported. “She excels in transfiguration and potions, and we’re all quite happy to have her on the staff.”

Harry mulled over this information, and wondered if she was close to Severus, as well as the fact that, perhaps, she would be angered that he was offered Head of Gryffindor House and not her, once Professor Mulberry had moved on to Beauxbatons. “Well, I look forward to meeting her, Minerva,” he said, forcing a smile onto his face.

Minerva smiled, seemingly accepting his expression at face value. “Very good. We’ll see you later on this afternoon for the meeting,” she said, before slipping out of his rooms.

Harry let Willow down from the crook of his arm, and the Kneazle kitten promptly darted about the room, exploring the new surroundings. Harry then went into his bedroom and took out the last of his shrunken belongings, Engorgio-ing them and promptly setting them to rights. He knew he could have called Kreacher to do it, but Harry found, after the years of abuse he had received at the hands of the Dursleys, he still liked the busy work, as it took his mind off the things he really should be thinking about.

Once Harry got his room to rights, he ordered some lunch for himself and Willow from the house-elves, and a platter of soup, sandwiches, and a jug of pumpkin juice came for him, while Willow received a platter of what appeared to be minnows from the Black Lake. Both were pleased with the outcome and, after lunch, Willow fell asleep upon the living room couch. He left the door to the outer bathroom open, after having showed Willow where her litter box was, and made his way into his bedroom to freshen up and change before the staff meeting.

Teaching uniform in place, and notes in hand, Harry blew a kiss to the still-sleeping Willow and made his way out of his rooms and down the hallway. The teacher’s lounge was on the same corridor as the headmistress’ office, and Harry made his way down the corridor, as the lounge, headmistress’ office, his rooms, and the Gryffindor common room were all located close by. He let himself inside the staff room and looked around, breathing a sigh of relief when Neville offered him a seat beside him, and took it.

“Glad to know it isn’t just my first term,” Neville said with a grin.

Harry laughed. “Looking forward to being Head of Hufflepuff House, then?”

Neville nodded. “Yes. I told the Sorting Hat that I was meant to be in Hufflepuff all along, when we were sorted ten years ago...”

“But you more than proved your worth as a Gryffindor—first with the DA, all you, Ginny, and Luna did while Ron, Hermione and I were out hunting Horcruxes, and then by decapitating Nagini like that...”

Neville blushed. “Thanks, Harry,” he replied, looking very much like he had done before their sixth-year, when Harry had stood up for him and Luna on the Hogwarts Express.

“How’s Luna?” Harry wanted to know.

“She’s well,” Neville said with a nod. “She and Dad went off to Scandinavia to try and find the Crumple-Horned Snorkack again,” he said, smiling indulgently. “They should be back in time for Christmas, so she can still be my date to the wedding.”

“You must miss her,” Harry said softly.

“I do, but owl post and Floo calls help,” he said with a small smile. “Ever since I lost Trevor back at Hogwarts for good, Minerva and Pomona have been on me to get an owl since I started my apprenticeship here.”

“Did you get one?”

“Luna got me one for my birthday, after Pomona announced her retirement, and Minerva offered me her position,” he explained. “I’ll introduce you later. He’s an Elf Owl, and Luna named him Ares, although he’s quite gentle.”

“I got a Kneazle yesterday,” Harry said quietly, and Neville looked interested. “I called her Willow, and she’s wonderful. The menagerie was advertising Cruppies and Kneazle kittens and so I just went inside to look, and there she was. Ron and Hermione got a Cruppy and they called him Merlin,” he said with a laugh.

“I’d like to meet her,” Neville said softly.

Harry nodded. “Of course. She’s in my rooms. We can go and see her after our meeting is finished here, if you like.”

“Please,” Neville said, and deliberately lowered his voice. “I’ve asked Luna.”

Harry’s eyes widened. “You’ve asked her to be your wife?”

Neville nodded, a grin breaking out on his face. “Yes. She’s decided that this is going to be her last trip for a while, and she’s coming here to apprentice with Binns next term. When she comes back home, we’re going to start planning the wedding...” He hesitated. “Harry, you’ll be my Best Man, won’t you?”

Harry grinned, clapping Neville on the shoulder. “I’d consider it an honor, Neville.”

“Ah, it appears as if we now have two Gryffindors on the staff now, young they may be, but perhaps the positions weren’t deserved,” drawled a familiar voice.

Harry turned around then as Neville tried to appear smaller in his seat, and fixed Severus Snape with a look, pleased when the man looked momentarily taken aback. “I don’t know if our positions aren’t deserved, considering that it was Minerva who offered them to us. Perhaps you doubt our headmistress’s choices?” he asked, raising one eyebrow.

Severus immediately drew himself inwards then, looking very much like the professor from both Harry and Neville’s youth. “May I introduce Professor Filomena Oleander?” he asked, indicating the woman who had entered the room beside him, whom Harry had not noticed.

Swiveling his head, Harry took in the woman standing beside Severus; she would have been in her early-thirties, and she had long, dark brown hair and engaging silver eyes. Harry got to his feet and offered his hand, and tried his best to smile at her. “Pleased to meet you, Professor Oleander,” he said.

The woman looked down her nose at him, her pale eyes flashing. “If you think that I’ll merely address you as ‘professor’, because you have done so to me, you’re sorely mistaken, Potter,” she said, giving a sneer that would rival Severus’s. “Severus may not doubt Minerva’s decision-making, but I do. As a more senior staff member, I hold the belief that I should have received the Head of Gryffindor House position, but, I suppose favoritism does run deep,” she said, and turned to go and sit at the table herself, knocking into Harry as she did so.

Harry didn’t even bother looking at Severus again, and returned to his chair beside Neville, vaguely aware that Severus and Professor Oleander were muttering to one another behind their elegant-looking hands. “Is she always like that?” he whispered.

Neville sighed. “Not with me,” he said softly. “She mostly ignores me. I don’t think I’ve ever had a conversation with her, to be honest.”

“Does she talk to anyone, other than Sev... Professor Snape?” he asked.

“Minerva, of course, but her manner towards her is cold,” Neville informed him. “She yells at Hagrid each chance she gets—she’s like Umbridge that way,” he said with a shudder, and Harry felt his hackles rising at that. “She openly says that Binns shouldn’t be teaching here, and I think she doesn’t like Filius because of his height, if her looks towards him in the Great Hall are anything to go by...”

“Who else?”

“She was pleasant enough to Pomona and to Poppy, due to their close working relationships, I suppose,” Neville said with a shrug. “She thinks Quidditch is a waste of time, so I’m guessing her opinion of Hooch isn’t a good one. She absolutely loathes Trelawney, but many staff members seem to share her opinion. She hates Filch because he’s a Squib, and I’ve heard her muttering about him more than once, and detests Mrs. Norris. She likes Pince, because the woman doesn’t say much, and knows plenty about her field of work, and various other subjects to keep up a conversation. She believes arithmancy and astronomy are a waste of time, so Vector and Sinistra aren’t her favorite people. Other than that, I can’t think of anything else,” he said, and peeked over at her again, before hastily averting his eyes.

Minerva chose that moment to sweep into the teacher’s lounge, her dark green tartan robes immaculate as she took her place in the headmistress’ chair, holding a few pieces of rolled parchment in her hands. “Good afternoon to those professors returning, and a special welcome back to Mr. Longbottom, our new herbology professor and Head of Hufflepuff House, and Mr. Potter, our new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor and Head of Gryffindor House. I would like to begin this staff meeting with general announcements, and then we’ll go department by department to answer any questions or concerns about curriculum, disciplinary action, or anything else you may want to discuss. Now, let’s begin.”

~*~

Harry trudged back to his rooms in the wake of the Halloween feast, completely exhausted, physically and mentally, despite the fact that it was only a Wednesday. Several members of varying houses had accomplished pranks that would have rivalled the Weasleys, and Harry knew he had done the right thing by giving them all detentions with Filch. Waiting for the wards to accept him into his rooms, he let himself inside and was immediately greeted by an enthusiastic Willow, who bounced into his arms.

Harry sighed, stroking at her soft fur; it was nice to have someone to come home to that obviously loved him so much. “Hey, there girl,” he said, pressing a kiss to her forehead. He crossed the room and smelled the remnants of her dinner, which smelled like a beef stew of some kind, and knew that Willow was so pleased because she’d liked it so much. Sitting down on the couch, Harry waved his hand and the fire roared to life, and he quickly managed to soothe the feline in his lap.

In the wake of him joining the staff at Hogwarts, he was surprised that Severus seemed willing to talk to him at all, and he found he had relished each opportunity to do so. On weekends where the two of them had been the professors assigned to patrol Hogsmeade, they would get steaming hot Butterbeers to go from The Three Broomsticks, and Madam Rosmerta had been very accommodating to the two of them. On other weekends, Severus had sought Harry out to help him with his brewing in the dungeons of Hogwarts; this mainly entailed assisting in the preparation of ingredients.

After the war, Harry had helped Poppy in the hospital wing with the survivors, with Severus being the one he had helped the most. In return, Severus had helped him with his potions so as he could get an Outstanding on his NEWT before going into Auror training with Ron. Severus had praised him over the past several weeks, informing Harry that, despite the fact that he’d not been preparing potions lately, he knew how not to mangle the priceless ingredients.

“I help Hermione now and again,” he’d told Severus the weekend before.

Severus arched an eyebrow. “As an Unspeakable, I find I am not sure why Miss Granger would have to prepare potions,” he said softly, no animosity in his tone.

“Well, she’s expecting,” Harry had said quietly, squeezing some mucus out of a handful of dead Flobberworms that Severus needed for his second-year potions class that Monday, wherein the students would be brewing an Herbicide Potion for Neville, as something or other had been eating at his crop of Niffler’s Fancy. “Hermione, or sometimes Fleur or Mrs. Weasley, will brew her own potions to aid in her pregnancy.”

“She has consulted with a healer, then?”

“There’s a new division of them since the reforms at the ministry, so that employees aren’t automatically referred to St. Mungo’s anymore,” Harry told the man with a smile. “The healer says she’s expecting a girl in late-February, and the pregnancy, according to Healer Grouse, is progressing as normal.”

“Oh, yes, I remember Versie Grouse,” Severus said with a nod. “She was a few years ahead of the three of you here at Hogwarts, a Ravenclaw,” he said before Harry could ask. “She graduated about three years before you three began...”

“I can’t say I would have known her anyway,” Harry replied, shooting Severus a smile. “Given my supposed penchant for trouble, as well as that madman on my back for years running...”

“You always did like getting into trouble,” Severus replied, his lips twitching.

“It’s not that I liked it,” Harry responded quietly with a shrug of his shoulders. “It just always seemed to find me, is all...”

“So Miss Granger is expecting, then,” Severus said.

“It’s Granger-Weasley now,” Harry told him gently.

“My apologies. Mrs. Granger-Weasley is expecting another Weasley offspring,” he said, and tried to sneer, but Harry was pleased when he did not do so. “Surely you helping her brew pregnancy potions is not all you’ve been doing...”

“Well, I do help her with the potions I need,” he said softly.

Severus’s gaze snapped to his. “Potions? Why in Merlin’s name would someone like you be needing potions?” he demanded, looking intrigued, yet concerned.

Harry smirked to himself. “Draco’s a better barrister than I initially believed,” he murmured, now grateful that Ginny suggested he hire Draco as both his barrister and spokesperson in the wake of the war ending.

“How does this apply, Potter?”

“Harry, please,” he said, and turned to look at Severus again. “Ginny convinced me to hire Draco as my barrister and spokesperson after the Battle of Hogwarts. I accepted, and he’s done well in keeping many things out of the papers...”

“Not your coming out, it appears,” Severus drawled.

Harry shrugged. “That would’ve gotten out eventually, and I’m fine with people knowing, really, as I’m not ashamed of it,” he informed him. “Rather, I’m ashamed that the rag we call The Daily Prophet seeks to potentially ruin lives with printing private information.”

“Potter... Harry, this potion,” Severus said.

“Right, that,” Harry said, squaring his shoulders as he began collecting mucus again. “The main reason why I took up the position here as Defense professor and Head of Gryffindor House was because I was dissatisfied with my position in the Auror Department. I’d been regulated to desk duty to preserve their reputation. As The Boy Who Lived Twice,” he said bitterly, never having liked the nickname, “they could hardly have an Auror in their ranks, who was participating in active field duty, who had severe residual spell damage from what should be constituted as an Unforgivable.”

“What happened?” Severus asked softly.

Harry turned to look at Severus. “Well,” he began, and was about to launch into the story, were it not for the door coming crashing open behind them.

“Severus,” said the haughty voice of Professor Oleander, “you need to patrol the corridors with me,” she all but ordered.

Severus blinked, casting a Stasis Charm upon his cauldron. “Filomena, I’m sure you’re mistaken,” he told her gently. “I was under the impression that you and Filius would be patrolling the corridors this evening...”

“Filius is in the infirmary with Poppy,” Professor Oleander replied, rolling her silver eyes. “He tripped and fell down the staircase, injuring his leg. He’ll be holed up in there until morning, according to Poppy.”

Harry had a sinking feeling that Filius had been tripped, but didn’t voice it. “Why don’t I finish collecting the mucus, Severus, and then I’ll ward the lab so that no miscreants can attempt to get into it, shall I?”

Severus looked pleased. “Thank you, Harry,” he replied, and Professor Oleander’s expression hardened at his use of Harry’s first name, but Severus didn’t notice. He pulled down his sleeves after he had casted a Cleaning Charm upon his hands, and made a grab for his outer cloak. “I shan’t be long, Harry...”

“I was hoping we could walk around together, Severus,” Professor Oleander said.

“That will take twice as long, as you well know, Filomena,” Severus said, adjusting the collar of his cloak.

“Yes, but we need to have a discussion about the Halloween feast,” she said firmly. “Minerva says we must remain vigilant, of course.”

“Yes, of course,” Severus said, slipping out of the lab after her, and Harry thought he could detect a hint of wariness in his voice.

Harry came back to the present, and found that he was still stroking Willow before the massive fireplace in his rooms at Hogwarts. A knock on the door startled him, and he got to his feet, making sure to keep a good hold on Willow, and meandered over towards the door, before he pulled it open, and raised his eyebrows. “Severus?” he asked, for the man had never once come to see him in his own rooms.

“I needed to harvest some Nerine, among other things,” he said softly, a woven basket upon his arm as he looked Harry up and down. “Would you care to join me?”

Harry smiled at Severus, his exhaustion gone, and nodded; he would not allow himself to pass up an opportunity to be alone with the man. “Yes, I would,” he replied, stepping backwards and into his room. “Why don’t you come in? I’ll put on something more appropriate for trekking into the Forbidden Forest, shall I?”

“And who do we have here?” Severus asked, gazing at Willow in Harry’s arms as he shut the door behind him.

“This is Willow,” Harry said and, before he could talk himself out of it, handed over the pretty little Kneazle kitten to Severus. “She’s quite friendly,” he called over his shoulder as he headed into his bedroom. “Just give her some pats and she’ll love you.”

Harry flitted about his bedroom, putting on some Muggle jeans, a T-shirt, plus a turtleneck jumper and some hiking boots before he tore out of there, summoning his cloak wandlessly and wordlessly. Looking up, he spotted Severus, sitting in one of the chairs beside the fireplace, with Willow in his lap, speaking softly to her as she kneaded his stomach. Harry felt a grin breaking across his face, and remained standing in the doorway of his bedroom, watching, until Severus looked up at him.

“What?” he asked.

“You’re a natural with her,” Harry told him quickly. “She really likes you. She only got into Neville’s lap the last twenty minutes he was here, and that wasn’t until the second time he came for tea,” he explained, still grinning at the man.

Severus’s cheeks pinked slightly then, before he gathered the Kneazle close for a moment before setting her down. “You’ll need gloves and a scarf,” he said softly. “It’s unseasonably cold this evening, and the Wizarding Wireless reports that we may see the first snow as early as the following week...”

“Wool or dragonhide?”

Severus turned around and looked at him. “What?”

“For the gloves,” Harry explained as he summoned the red and gold scarf that Molly had knitted for him last Christmas. “If I get my wool ones, my hands will just stay warm, but will be rendered useless. If I get my dragonhide pair, I can help you with some of the harvesting, if you like, and stay warm at the same time, with Heating Charms,” he told the man, and quickly smiled at him.

“Impertinent brat,” Severus said, but his lips were threatening to pull into a smile. “Get your dragonhide pair if you’re so content to help me.”

“Great,” Harry said, snapping his fingers, and his gloves came sailing into his hands. He pulled them on before summoning his wand, which he pocketed, and stepped closer. “Ready to head out, then,” he said.

Severus approached him, and straightened his cloak and scarf. “Yes,” he said softly, and Harry felt his cheeks flushing at the man’s closeness. “Yes, I suppose you are.”

Harry felt his Adam’s apple bobbing in his throat as Severus seemed to remember where he was and break away from him. He straightened then, trying to disguise his disappointment as Severus opened the door and led them out into the corridor. It was surprisingly quiet, as it was close to ten o’clock, so Harry assumed that everyone was actually abiding by curfew that night, despite the fact that it was a holiday. Harry followed Severus down the staircases in silence, until they reached the Entrance Hall, and stepped outside the doors and into the cool, frost-bitten night air of the Hogwarts grounds, casing Lumos as they went.

“Why potions?” Harry asked softly as they trekked down the massive hillside towards the Forbidden Forest.

“What?”

“Potions,” Harry repeated patiently. “What made you want to get into them?”

“They were one of the few things I was actually good at,” Severus replied, carefully making his way down the hill. “They proved a worthy distraction from...”

“My father,” Harry said softly, his voice slightly strained.

“And my own,” Severus informed him. “Tobias Snape was a drunkard and a blunderer, never saving an appropriate amount of quid from that godforsaken mill he worked at to keep me and my mother fed...”

“Is he alive?” Harry wanted to know.

Severus shook his head. “No. He died my sixth-year.”

“I’m sorry,” Harry said softly.

“Don’t be sorry. He was a tyrant.”

“No,” Harry said firmly, causing Severus to stop walking and look over at him. “I’m sorry that you had to go through that.”

Severus stared at Harry for a moment, his severe face illuminated by their respective wand lights, before he broke the gaze and meandered around Hagrid’s hut, into one of the entrances into the Forbidden Forest. “We cannot choose our families, but we can choose our friends,” the potions master uttered softly. “My mother did love me, insomuch as she could, but the years of her living with my father took their toll, and she was afraid to show even the slightest bit of affection for me. When such a thing is denied in one’s formative years, it can prove detrimental to any child’s socialization and relationship building in the future...”

“I know what it’s like to grow up in a family who doesn’t love and appreciate you,” Harry said softly as they walked around the abundance of tree roots.

“Your Muggle relatives?”

Harry nodded. “Yes. I didn’t even see a doctor, and that was Poppy, until I came to Hogwarts for the first time,” he said quietly. “They kept me in that cramped cupboard from the time I arrived at the house until my Hogwarts letter was delivered... Well, the one that Hagrid gave me at that hut on the rock, rather,” he murmured.

“Cupboard? Hut on the rock?” Severus asked.

Harry swallowed. “They never wanted me,” he said softly, “so when Albus, Minerva, and Hagrid left me on their doorstep twenty years ago, I suppose it was a great shock. You knew how my aunt treated my mother...”

Severus nodded. “I did, yes.”

“It was like that with me, too, only worse... She never hit my mum, did she?”

“Not that I saw,” Severus told him, “and your maternal grandparents were quite rigorous when it came to rearing Tuney and Lily. They disciplined them, never by corporal means, but by strict talking-tos and loss of privileges, nothing more, nothing less. They did their best to keep Tuney from displaying potential rages against Lily, but there was only so much they could do, for children could run free back then to play, as such things were considered acceptable...”

“That’s... Good, I suppose,” Harry said. “The discipline they employed, not the kids running around by themselves...”

“Do you mean to tell me that Tuney hit you?” Severus asked.

Harry nodded. “Yes,” he said softly. “Uncle Vernon was worse. Aunt Petunia would just pinch me or smack me with the back of her hand. Uncle Vernon would take his belt off to me, for the smallest infractions, I see that now...”

“Such as?”

“Not cooking the breakfast correctly, or cleaning the house right,” Harry said softly. “I had to do most of the chores by the time I was four, as Aunt Petunia taught me to cook and clean. The only one I didn’t have to do was go to the shops, or do anything out in the front garden.”

“Why?” Severus asked.

“I’d be seen by the neighbors, of course,” Harry said, and he could detect the bitterness in his voice, for he had never had closure to all that had happened to him in his childhood. “Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia had convinced their son, Dudley, that I was a nasty little freak, who couldn’t be seen by anyone. Dudley, of course, soaked up the information like the kitchen sponge he had no idea how to use and...”

“And what, Harry?”

“He had a little gang of neighborhood boys that would compete in ‘Harry Hunting’,” Harry said, and visibly shuddered as the memories flew through him. “The other kids were too scared to do anything about it, even at school. Plus the teachers all hated me, because I was too scared to even try to do well in various subjects after Year One...”

“What happened in Year One?”

“The end-of-year reports came in, and Aunt Petunia was disappointed that Dudley hadn’t performed very well...”

“And you?”

“They wanted to move me to Year Three, and Aunt Petunia locked me in the cupboard without anything to eat until Uncle Vernon came home... I never got a school dinner, and was only permitted to eat whatever breakfast Dudley had left over, and he almost never did, unless it was some fruit he didn’t like that happened to be in season or on sale that Aunt Petunia had picked up from the shops...”

“What happened when Vernon came home?” Severus whispered.

“Aunt Petunia told him what happened right away, and he dragged me out of the cupboard and into the back garden,” he replied as they reached a clearing in the forest. “He took the garden hose and told me to take off my school uniform—a used one, several sizes too big—and, when I did, he beat me with the hose,” Harry replied, his voice a monotone.

“Merlin, Harry...”

“It didn’t leave marks, that’s why he wanted to do it,” Harry told him. “But I could feel it in my muscles for days, and always felt the pain over and over again whenever a new assignment or examination came about in school...”

“You were afraid that, if you were ever seen as better than your cousin a second time, that your punishment would be worse?”

Harry nodded. “Yes.”

Severus was silent for a few moments as they completed the crossing of the clearing, and walked around the Forest Lake, to the point where they arrived at a second clearing. There, at the far right edge of it, glowing in the moonlight, were several patches of flowers, and Harry watched as his former potions professor made his way towards them. “I must confess that I was not the only staff member who was surprised that you and Miss Weasley did not remain together,” he said softly as he knelt before the flowers, and dug in his robes for something.

“We were much better-suited to being brother and sister,” Harry replied.

Severus looked over his shoulder as Harry knelt beside him, and waved his hand, putting a Cushioning Charm onto the forest floor. “She’s a brilliant witch, and just stubborn enough to keep Draco in line,” he observed, fishing two daggers used for potion ingredients cultivating and handed one over to Harry. “Hold the stem and slice as close to the bud as you can. The petals are what we need,” he explained.

“Did you tell him to go turncoat?” Harry asked, gently taking ahold of the stem of one of the flowers and slicing into it.

Severus nodded. “Yes. He was kept in school until the Christmas holidays, and I told him that he needed to get out as soon as possible... I put our conversation under an advanced and unknown form of Fidelus, that Albus taught me, before...” He cleared his throat, getting some petals into the basket, but not before putting a Preservation Charm onto them. “I knew where the cup was, but I wanted to be sure that he was actually serious about his claims of wanting to leave the Death Eater life behind...”

“You thought that, because of his connection to the Lestrange family...”

“And, given his previous desire to go turncoat, that it was a perfect opportunity,” Severus confirmed with a sad smile. “And, given that I knew where you were, so that I could leave the Sword of Gryffindor in an obvious place...”

“So, the doe was yours, then?” Harry breathed, his heart hammering in his chest.

Severus nodded, bending to cultivate more petals. “Yes,” he confirmed.

Harry wetted his lips, thinking it over. “My mother was very fortunate to have someone like you to love her, and so selflessly watching over a child she had with a man you hated,” he said quietly with a small smile. “I don’t begrudge your hating of him. He may have been a good husband and a loving father, in the end, who didn’t deserve the death that was dealt to him, but he certainly shouldn’t have treated you the way he did.”

Severus rested his palms upon his legs, the dagger still in his hand, as he stared off into the distance of the forest. “I’ve learned that, perhaps, my hatred of him was childish, and I certainly did not have to take it out on you,” he said softly.

“You loved my mother,” Harry said. “Many people would have done the same thing you did, were they in that situation...”

Severus turned and regarded Harry then, his dark eyes filled with confusion. “I think you are misinterpreting the love which I felt for your mother.”

Harry blinked. “I am?”

Severus nodded, and returned his gaze to the flowers. “It was not a romantic one.”

“No?”

“No. She was my dearest friend, so of course I loved her, but I believe that our relationship was nearly identical to that of yours and Mrs. Granger-Weasley’s... And now, perhaps, by extension, Miss Weasley’s as well,” he put in.

“You felt for my mother... You thought of her as a sister?” Harry breathed, hardly believing what it was he was hearing.

Severus nodded. “Yes.”

Harry swallowed, bending back towards the flowers to retrieve more petals. “You were very committed to her,” he said softly.

“She was my only friend, once Reg was taken,” said Severus.

“Reg? You mean Regulus Black?”

“Yes. He and I were...close, for lack of a better term, until he went missing sometime before the Second Wizarding War began,” Severus explained.

“He’s really gone, then?” Harry asked.

“Well, considering that he was the favored child of the House of Black, and Sirius was the only one left to claim the inheritance after his release from Azkaban, and that Sirius then handed the house and all the money and other properties over to you... Yes. I’m afraid that Regulus met his end either by Riddle’s hand...”

“...or the Inferi,” Harry put in, and Severus’s gaze snapped to his. “That’s where Albus and I went the night that... The night he died,” he whispered. “Kreacher, who was loyal to Regulus before he became loyal to me, told me that Regulus left him a note about a mysterious cave, the locket, and his intent to destroy it. Kreacher took the real one, which was hidden in Regulus’s things, and put the note inside.”

“We have both lost ones we’ve cared about, it seems,” Severus observed, before taking ahold of another stem.

Harry nodded. “It seems we have,” he said, a slight shiver going through his body. His cloak, which was one of the latest models from Madam Malkin’s in Diagon Alley, was equipped with Warming Charms, but the Hogwarts wards had always attempted to wreak havoc with any outside magic.

“Cold?” Severus asked.

Harry nipped at the insides of his cheeks. “I’ll be all right,” he assured him.

“Here,” Severus said, offering Harry a hand before he pulled him to his feet, and held him against him for a moment, causing Harry’s senses to grow heady, as he wobbled ever so slightly at the man’s closeness to him. “We’ve gathered more than enough flower petals. We may return to the castle now.”

“All right,” Harry said, trying not to stumble when Severus squeezed his shoulder before pulling away from him and starting to walk.

“I seem to recall that our last conversation was interrupted by Filomena,” Severus put in as they got to the edge of the clearing.

Harry swallowed. “She doesn’t seem to like me very much,” he said, and felt Severus’s eyes upon him then. “Not that I expect everyone to like me,” he said quickly, “I just wish that they could at least be respectful and courteous.”

“Those two words are one in the same, Harry,” Severus said, but when Harry looked over at him, he was smiling. “Yes, I’ll admit that Filomena was a bit abrupt that evening. She has never done well with new scenarios when they’re presented to her in a manner in which she is ill-prepared for them.”

Harry fought the urge to roll his eyes. “Yes, I see.”

“Anyhow, I wanted to know about your spell damage,” Severus said, clearly more interested in Harry’s issue than Filomena’s attitude, which surprised Harry.

“Have dinner with me,” Harry blurted out, just as they rounded the final edge of the Forest Lake, and had gotten to the final clearing.

Severus regarded him sideways. “Pardon?”

“So we can talk about the spell damage,” he said quickly, unknowing how to get Severus to dine with him otherwise. “It’s a Hogsmeade weekend, but we neither of us have been assigned to chaperone it. If you’re not too busy brewing, you could come by my rooms and have dinner with me, and we can discuss what happened to me.”

Severus smirked. “Can you even cook, Harry?”

“I’ve been cooking on my own since I was four,” Harry responded, and Severus immediately seemed to regret his words. “Kreacher liked to do most of my meals, but I never lost the knack for it,” he explained. “I really like doing it, and I certainly wouldn’t mind making you dinner for our discussion.”

Severus gave a slight nod in assent. “Very well,” he replied.

“Seven o’clock on Saturday work for you?” Harry asked.

“That works fine,” Severus assured him as they stepped out of the forest.

“Any allergies or food dislikes that I should be worried about?” Harry asked, and grinned at his former professor.

“I am not fond of raw fish but, other than that, I find most food, and food combinations, palatable,” he said, and spread his hands. “Shall I bring anything?

Harry nodded. “I can work around that. And, no. I’ll handle everything,” he told the man, and then their conversation became utterly inconsequential in nature as the pair of them meandered back towards the castle that they both called home.

~*~

Harry had utilized his Floo and went to The Leaky Cauldron, waving a brief hello to Tom before he headed out into Diagon Alley, making his way directly to the Merry Magical Market. Harry then went on to purchase a whole chicken, potatoes, cheese, various spices, and several forms of fresh vegetables to roast. He also got eggs and other dairy products, and flour and other baking items, before shrinking his purchases and returning to his rooms at Hogwarts via the Floo in The Leaky Cauldron. He had already gotten an expensive bottle of elf-made wine from Hermione, and decided to use that to potentially entice Severus into having more dinners with him, but he didn’t want to push his luck.

Getting into the kitchen, Harry promptly set about preparing the chicken, scalloped potatoes, and roasted vegetables for dinner. He was also intending on baking a loaf of French bread, making French onion soup, and serving a triple pear pie with walnut crust for pudding, with the recipe being the courtesy of Molly Weasley. He had asked Kreacher to bring some of the china from Grimmauld Place, as well as the table settings and linens, candlesticks and candles, and wine glasses, which the aged house-elf was only too glad to do. Once Harry had the chicken and potatoes in the oven, the bread dough rising, the vegetables bathing in a bath of butter, the soup simmering on the stove, the pears all ready to be washed, and the pie crust setting, he stepped into the living room.

“Good afternoon, you two,” he said, spotting both Kreacher and Winky setting up a small, round table for two beside his fireplace.

“Master Harry,” rumbled Kreacher, bowing slightly to him—as much as he could in his advanced years—and immediately continued his work.

“Master Harry!” Winky squeaked in her sprightly manner, and approached him to hug his legs as Dobby had done on so many occasions. “Kreacher and Winky is making Master Harry’s room hospitable for his Professor Snape!”

Harry promptly flushed at the implication. “Winky, Professor Snape and I, we aren’t—”

Winky peered up at Harry, her large eyes confused. “But Kreacher told Winky that Master Harry Potter has a great affection for—”

“Kreacher knows Master Harry well,” Kreacher rumbled from across the room, pulling the silver-colored tablecloth straight. “Kreacher knows that master desperately wants to be more than friends with Professor Snape...”

“Kreacher...” Harry said.

Kreacher turned and regarded Harry for a moment. “Kreacher also knows to keep Master Harry’s secrets,” he said softly. “Kreacher and Winky knows that Master Harry doesn’t like to air his private thoughts to the world.”

Harry sighed, placing a hand on Winky’s head. “So, neither of you will be telling anyone about this, then?”

Winky promptly shook her head, her ears, each boasting a pink ribbon made out of what Harry thought were reminiscent of sandwich bag twist ties, quickly flapping about. “No, Master Harry. We knows not to say anything.”

Kreacher gave a warm smile in Winky’s direction. “We house-elves know much, given the centuries we’re permitted to live,” he said, and Winky turned and looked at her shoulder, and beamed at him.

Harry returned to his cooking preparations, and was pleased when everything came together so quickly and so well. He set the pie in the warming cupboard, and laid the table out, with the chicken taking center stage. He lit the candles at approximately five minutes to seven, laid the bread out on the Black family cutting board with a knife nicked from the Hogwarts Kitchens with a platter of aged Lancashire cheese beside it, and opened the bottle of wine, pouring it into the respective goblets. The potatoes and vegetables were on side platters on either side of the chicken, the soup was in a tureen that Kreacher had said Ella Max brought into her marriage to Cygnus Black, while the tablecloth had been doused with Impenetrable and Preservation Charms to keep from oils, wine, or any other food matter from staining and potentially ruining it.

Once the clock from its tower below chimed seven, there was a knock at Harry’s door, and Willow meowed and dashed towards it. Harry clicked his tongue to that Willow would know to stay, and opened the door, smiling up at Severus. “Good evening, Severus,” he said, hoping that his dark trousers, white button-down, green jumper, and dress shoes were appropriate.

“Good evening, Harry,” Severus replied, bending down to scoop up Willow, who purred contentedly in his arms as he stepped fully into the room. “Something smells delicious,” he said, and peered around Harry to look at the table.

“Thank you,” Harry beamed, knowing when to accept praise when it was due. “Kreacher and Winky helped with the table setting and the obtaining of the instruments, but the rest of it was all me...”

Severus smiled fondly at that, scratching Willow one last time underneath her chin before gently depositing her upon the couch and approaching the table. Casting a Cleaning Charm upon his hands before he sat down, he looked admiringly at the china, the wine, and the various dishes before him. “You made all of this?” he asked wonderingly.

Harry smiled. “I did, yes. Like I said, I’ve been cooking for over fifteen years. I had to have something to show for it, didn’t I?”

Severus smiled across the table at Harry. “Yes, I suppose you did,” he said softly. Lifting his wand, he flicked it through the air and expertly carved the chicken, before dividing up the best bits in half and depositing them on both their plates.

“Useful spell, that,” Harry said with a smile, as he levitated vegetables onto each of their plates with an effortless air.

“I know, and I have created a great many of them,” Severus replied with a chuckle, before slicing appropriate amounts of the scalloped potatoes and putting them onto their plates. “French bread and cheese?”

“Lancashire,” Harry supplied. “I also baked the bread myself.”

Severus cut them each a generous slice of bread and a thick one of cheese, before sampling both and his eyes closed. “Delicious,” he whispered once he had swallowed.

Harry smiled, pleased that Severus seemed fond of his bread, and lifted the soup tureen. “Are you fond of French onion soup?”

Severus looked up, eyes wide. “It’s my favorite.”

“Old recipe from the House of Black, in which button onions are utilized for a sweeter and less bitter flavor,” Harry explained, ladling it into their corresponding bowls. He set his beside his bread plate, and banished Severus’s across the table.

Severus sampled the dark brown broth and nodded in approval. “It is the best soup I’ve ever had,” he said with a smile. “I’ll be wanting the recipe.”

“Or I could just make it for you again sometime,” Harry replied with a smile.

Severus smiled back at him. “Yes, I think you should,” he told him.

Once they’d eaten the bread, cheese, and soup, they moved onto the entrée of chicken and the side dishes, all of which Severus praised. Harry then held up his finger, once the dishes were banished back to Grimmauld Place to wash themselves, and the leftover food was put into the cooling cupboard of his kitchen, and got to his feet. Harry smirked slightly as he saw Severus, nursing his second goblet of wine, and went into the kitchen, coming out with the pie, a server, plates, and two dessert forks.

“Merlin, Harry,” Severus breathed, shaking his head. “You really didn’t have to go to all this trouble just for me...”

“It’s no trouble, and yes, I did,” Harry told him. Harry sliced and served the pie the Muggle way, and told Severus it was an old Prewett family recipe this time around.

“Think Molly Weasley could bear to part with it?” he asked.

Harry grinned. “She did for me. Who’s to say she won’t do so for you?”

Severus sighed, lowering his fork onto his plate; he had already finished his slice anyway. “Oh, I cannot ask the Weasley family for any favors. Not after all I put their children through, or how I treated Ginny when you all were hunting for Horcruxes...”

“Ginny understands, Severus,” Harry said, hoping the man wouldn’t mind him using his first name without express permission.

Severus shrugged his shoulders. “Oh, I don’t know. I dealt them a terrible hand, and there is only so much that can be forgiven.”

Harry reached across the table. “I forgive you,” he said, smiling at him.

Severus looked taken aback, but relaxed into the touch. “Thank you, Harry,” he said softly, and appeared comfortable with the physical contact.

“What have you been up to recently?” Harry asked, squeezing Severus’s hand before turning it lose, not wanting to go too far. “Anything exciting brewing in your lab?”

Severus smirked. “Yes, I suppose so. The Nerine that you graciously assisted me with cultivating is going into a new potion I’ve come up with,” he explained.

“What’s the potion?” Harry wanted to know.

“It is an advanced form of Wolfsbane,” Severus explained.

“Nerine symbolizes freedom and good fortune,” Harry put in.

Severus looked amazed that Harry knew that information. “That is correct,” he replied, and helped himself to another bite of pie. “This potion will be called Nerine Nip, and can be taken once a week as opposed to once a month.”

“What does it do?” Harry queried.

“It eliminates the symptoms of lycanthropy in as little as three months,” Severus said softly, as he stared down at the tabletop.

Harry gasped. “Does Remus know...?”

Severus smiled. “He is the one who was willing to be experimented on, for the lack of a better word,” he replied. “Lycanthropy, combined with stress—which usually comes about when one cannot provide adequately for one’s family, due to the laws surrounding werewolves—ages the person far more drastically than that of a typical witch or wizard. His life would be slightly elongated, but it would be riddled with pain and suffering.”

Harry shook his head. “Remus hides that side of him so well,” he said quietly. “I suppose I didn’t really fully understand about all that...”

“Don’t blame yourself, Harry,” Severus told him gently. “Remus, in many respects, is a very private man. He likely did not wish to burden you.”

“Will you be doing anything else with the potion?” Harry wanted to know.

“Yes. Now that the trials with Remus have proved successful—he is two months and three weeks into the dosages, and he has not seen a relapse, although we’ll have to wait another full week to be fully sure—I will be presenting them to the Potions Guild in Switzerland,” Severus said, and he seemed proud of his work.

“Switzerland?” Harry breathed.

“Yes. Typically, the guild is held over the Christmas holidays, but they had to move it up to this month this year,” Severus explained.

“Who will be taking your classes?” Harry wanted to know.

“Horace has agreed to do so,” Severus replied with a sigh. “Although our teaching methods differ considerably, he isn’t a bad professor.”

“Where is the guild being held?” Harry asked.

“In the Swiss Alps,” Severus told him. “It’s always held in a palatial chalet that’s many centuries old, which belongs to an ancient wizarding family of sheep farmers. Much like Beauxbatons Academy of Magic, there are Warding Spells all around the place, to ensure that vacationing Muggles do not inadvertently wander in.”

“That sounds amazing, Severus,” Harry told him, positively beaming. “It sounds as if you look forward to it.”

“This is the first time I myself have entered anything into the competition,” Severus informed him in an excited manner, making him look more youthful. “The Dark... Riddle much preferred to have me by his side during the holidays, so some years I couldn’t even attend at all. However, on the years that I did, I was a mere guest potions master, and not a brewer, as it were. This year, well, perhaps I’ll be able to accomplish something else—receiving the Guild Guerdon for Potions Mastery,” he said wistfully.

“Guild Guerdon?” Harry asked.

“The highest award for all subjects within the wizarding world,” Severus explained. “They also have similar ceremonies and get-togethers for charms, transfiguration, herbology... Essentially, any Hogwarts subject, or subject from a different magical learning institution that you can possibly think of, has this event annually.”

“You’ll win, you have to win,” Harry told him immediately. “If I was on the panel of those judges, I would vote for you.”

Severus smiled. “All the judges are retired potion masters,” he informed him patiently. “I think you have quite a ways to go if you wish to sit upon that panel.”

Harry playfully rolled his eyes. “A boy can dream, can’t he?”

“As a man can do in a similar fashion,” Severus informed him, a sad, faraway look in his eyes, but it was only brief, leading Harry to believe that he could have imagined it. “Would you mind telling me about your spell damage now?” he asked.

Harry nodded. “Of course.” He got to his feet, banishing the remnants of the pie to his cooling cupboard and made his way over to the couch. “Come here. It’s much more comfortable on here anyway,” he said with a smile.

Severus moved to sit beside Harry, and Willow quickly wedged herself between them, purring and settling down almost immediately. “What happened?”

“We were hunting down Death Eaters,” Harry said solemnly. “My team was sent to an abandoned manor house in Colchester, where the nearby Muggle village of Little Wigborough was complaining of suspicious activity. They thought it was a cult, and, as you well know, they weren’t too far off in their assessments.”

“Who was on your team?” Severus wanted to know.

“Ernie Macmillan, Susan Bones, Anthony Goldstein, and Katie Bell,” Harry replied, and Severus’s expression let him know that he knew that they’d all been members of Dumbledore’s Army back at school.

“Who were you looking for?” Severus asked.

“The Carrows, Yaxley, Dolohov, Rookwood, the Lestrange brothers... Pretty much anyone and everyone The Daily Prophet or The Quibbler wrote about, we were looking for. They got that tidbit of information correct,” said Harry darkly.

“Go on,” Severus told him.

“Ernie and Susan went one way—they’re engaged, and while it’s frequently seen as a conflict on interest on the job, I let them go together,” Harry whispered. “Tony and Katie went upstairs to the attic, and Ernie and Susan had gone to the basement... That left me to check out the ground floor and potentially secure the perimeter if it came to that...”

“Were you ambushed?”

“Yes.”

“By who?”

“Alecto Carrow,” Harry said darkly. “She came out of nowhere, and stunned me before I could even get my wand to point at her. She used a spell I’d never heard of, which is why St. Mungo’s initially, and then Hermione, are only able to take my pain away, but I’ll always be like this,” he said, gritting his teeth.

“What was the spell?”

Delectatio Impediat,” Harry told him.

Severus nodded. “It means that your sexual gratification has been impaired in some way, and the only way to achieve it again is to find your soulmate,” he informed him.

Harry scoffed. “Sounds a little overdramatic, don’t you think?”

“Not so,” Severus replied. “All magical folks have soulmates, Harry; it’s very old and very sacred magic. For example, only those in true soulmate marriages will have more than one child born to them, such as Arthur and Molly Weasley.”

“So Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy?”

“Were not soulmates, no.”

“And Frank and Alice Longbottom?”

“I can assure you that they were. I just think that Bellatrix got to them too quickly. I’m quite sure that they would have had more children, just like your parents, were they given the chance to do so,” Severus said softly. “A great many families were torn apart by war, Harry, but love, no matter what the circumstances, remains everlasting.”

“How do you know if you’ve found the person?”

“It’s intuitive, Harry. Like riding a broom or falling asleep. You’ll just know it when it happens, just as you know how to ride your broom or sleep.”

Harry wetted his lips. “I think I know,” he whispered.

“Do you?”

“Yes,” he breathed, closing the distance between them and pressing his lips to Severus’s.

Several things happened at once; one, Severus did not push him away; two, Willow launched herself off the couch and ran to the spare bedroom; three, Harry felt as if his heart would beat out of his chest; four, Severus wrapped his arms around him and yanked him closer; and five, Harry felt his arousal slam through him like a freight train. Harry too wrapped his arms around Severus, anchoring his mouth to his, and, when the potions master teased at the seam of Harry’s lips, he promptly opened up to him, feeling as if he was on cloud nine when their tongues touched for the first time.

“Severus,” Harry moaned, breaking away, and Severus delivered pleasant nips and varying stages of pressurized kisses to his neck.

“Harry,” he breathed, his breath hot and erotic upon Harry’s skin. “Wait,” he said, and pulled back to gaze into Harry’s eyes. “It could just be a reaction to the stimulus...”

“But you said...”

“I know what I said, Harry, but perhaps I should be a bit more clear,” Severus told him. “You can get stimulated from anyone. It is only your true soulmate which can tear an orgasm though your entire body...”

“Please,” Harry breathed, arching himself against Severus. “I... I’ve wanted you for as long as I can remember...”

Severus stilled in Harry’s arms. “How long?”

“Since you protected us from Remus my third-year,” Harry told him, and Severus visibly shuddered at the implications that Harry was presenting to him. “I know that, now, but I didn’t know it then. I think I fully realized I wanted you in my sixth-year... I wanted the Half-Blood prince so badly,” he said, and Severus’s eyes locked with his. “And then when you told me it was you, right after you fulfilled your agreement to Albus...” He shook his head. “I didn’t know how we could ever be together, just that I wanted us to be, although I was beyond confused. And then, when you were dying, that’s why I called Fawkes to you, and that, coupled with the Antivenin you carried, saved your life,” Harry told him in a rush. “I couldn’t have you die, not before you knew how much I cared about...”

Severus took that opportunity to slam his mouth to Harry’s, mapping out every inch of it with his tongue, as Harry promptly arched into him. “You’re so beautiful,” he murmured between kisses and bites upon his flesh, leading Harry to mewl each time lips or teeth made contact with him. “I never thought that you would...”

“I do. I do,” Harry assured him, and pushed him back ever so slightly. “Severus...”

“Yes?”

“Come to bed,” he whispered, and the man’s eyes flashed. “Take me to bed...”

Severus caressed Harry one last time, before scooping up the younger man into his arms and taking him into the master bedroom. He laid Harry gently out onto the bed and watched as Harry impatiently yanked off his jumper and kicked off his shoes. “Impatient brat,” Severus said, but his voice was indulgent as he himself began to strip, watching avidly as Harry pulled off his socks and started on his trousers.

Once Harry was naked in the center of the bed, Severus too had completed disrobing, and moved so that he was positioned on top of him. Harry felt his heart hammering in his chest at the possessive look in his former professor’s eyes, and felt his cheeks flushing at the implications the look brought. He arched into the older man and placed his hands upon his shoulders. “Please,” he whispered to him, “please, Severus. Please make love to me.”

Severus dragged his hand down Harry’s side, to the point where he covetously gripped at Harry’s flank, which caused him to mewl once again at his touch. “Please tell me you’ve done this before, Mr. Potter,” he uttered.

“Harry,” Harry said quickly. “I’ll not tolerate being called ‘Mr. Potter’ in my bed.”

“Very well, then, Harry,” Severus responded with a lascivious grin. “Please tell me you’ve done this before.”

Harry sighed and shook his head, his eyes lowered so that he wouldn’t have to potentially look into his former professor’s disappointed gaze. “No,” he said softly.

Severus reached out then and tilted Harry’s chin up. “Harry, we don’t have to do this if you’re not ready, or don’t want to...”

Harry launched himself forwards then and took ahold of Severus’s face. “Let me make this loud and clear, Severus Tobias Snape,” he said firmly, and Severus looked shocked at the forceful nature of the twenty-one-year-old. “I want this. I want you. I want you to take me. I want you inside me. I want you to make love to me and claim me.”

Severus seemed momentarily overwhelmed by the words that Harry had spoken, but, nevertheless, aimed to please. “Accio lubricant,” he said softly, his tone reminiscent of a growl, and the drawer beside Harry’s large, four-poster bed came crashing open, and the tub went flying into Severus’s outstretched hand.

Harry attempted not to keen at the blatant display of wandless magic; like Severus, raw power attracted him, especially when one so chose to showcase it. “Please,” Harry breathed, and somehow managed to lower his hands to his legs, which he lifted upwards, displaying himself to Severus like a gourmet dessert table. “I’m yours.”

“Yes,” Severus agreed, placing the lubricant down beside Harry, and proceeded to pepper his jaw and neck with kisses. “You are.” Severus bent his head then and traced Harry’s nipples with his tongue, causing Harry to squeal with the sensations the action brought him. Severus continued in this vein, applying pressure where and when needed, briefly teasing Harry’s navel before he ended up between his legs, and placed a kiss onto Harry’s erection.

“Oh, Merlin, Severus,” Harry groaned.

Severus smirked against the engorged tip, tasting it ever so slightly with his tongue, before sucking it into his mouth for a moment and letting it go with an audible pop. “Your cock is exquisite, Harry,” he complimented, before spreading Harry’s arse cheeks.

“Are you... Are you going to prepare me now?” Harry whispered, his voice husky with a combination of desire and want.

“Somewhat,” Severus replied, tracing the outline of Harry’s pucker with his tongue, and Harry bounced upwards at the unfamiliar sensation. Severus reached up then and gently placed his palm onto Harry’s belly. “Relax,” he ordered quietly, before he bent his head again, continuing to tease at the guardian muscles, before he gently put his tongue inside.

“Severus?” Harry squeaked, wondering if his tone of voice would be seen as unbecoming as he experienced the sensation of Severus rimming him for the first time. He was unable to speak further, however, as his voice became preoccupied by a serious of groans, and his eyes rolled back into his head. He struggled to keep a decent grip on his legs, and shuddered as Severus lovingly petted his arse, making sure to keep the cheeks parted for his tongue. Harry moaned as the man continued teasing him, and felt his Adam’s apple bobbing in his throat as he heard the tub of lubricant opening, and waited for the first finger to breech him and, when it did, he let out a hiccupping sound in his throat of uncertainty.

“It is all right, Harry,” Severus whispered, pressing a kiss onto each of his arse cheeks. “I promise, I shall make it good for you.”

Harry swallowed, but nevertheless nodded, not trusting himself to speak as that first finger went deeper inside him, as if searching for something. Unknowing what it could be, he remained still and did his best not to squirm with discomfort or ambiguity, but Severus’s quest was soon rewarded, and Harry nearly shot off the bed when he felt the pad of Severus’s index finger brush against a bundle of nerves inside him. “Merlin’s balls!” he shouted, his voice still husky. “What in the name of Circe was that?!”

“Ah, the pleasures of the prostate,” Severus said indulgently, levitating more lubricant to Harry’s entrance and slowly adding a second finger.

“The what?” Harry whispered.

“A gland within you, Harry, if one has to get technical,” Severus replied with a smile. “Imagine how it will feel when I slam my cock against it.”

Harry gasped then, but it came out strangled and desperate, and his cheeks immediately flushed at being seen as a needy virgin by Severus. He clenched his teeth, determined to be an adult about all of this. The last thing he wanted was to be seen as a horny teenager, which he decidedly was not, and have Severus leave him all alone with nothing but a sneer and cruel words.

“You need not fear me, Harry,” Severus told him, almost as if he had picked up on his thoughts, and shot the younger man a small smile. “I hardly see going to bed with someone as something to be taken lightly. Rest assured, I intend to see this though.”

“Thank you, Severus,” Harry responded softly. “Thank you.”

Severus’s smile broadened as he slowly added a third finger, and Harry visibly winced, knowing full well that Severus’s particularly enlarged member would be replacing those three fingers in the next few moments. Severus encouraged Harry to keep breathing, not wanting his younger lover to be discomforted in any way. Finally, when he permitted his fingers to extract themselves from Harry’s pert arse, he slowly slicked up his cock and positioned it at Harry’s entrance, and smiled down at him.

“You’re sure?”

Harry nodded. “Yes,” he whispered back.

Severus patted Harry’s leg, and then permitted himself to slip inside Harry’s slickened hole, and whispered, “Bear down, push against me, yes, that’s it,” in quick succession. “Yes, Harry, good boy,” he praised, and Harry glowed at the words Severus spoke.

Harry felt quite full when Severus filled him to the hilt, and his breath momentarily caught in his throat at the notion was waiting for Harry to become adjusted to his girth. “Move, please,” he said, his voice barely above a whisper, just a moment later, when he was finally ready to be taken completely.

“Very well, Harry,” Severus responded. The man snapped his hips backwards then, slowly dragging himself in reverse, before he was barely inside the younger man at all. And then, only then did he surge forward, and slam into Harry completely, the head of his cock colliding with Harry’s prostate, causing Harry to yowl.

“Oh, Merlin,” Harry moaned, wrapping his legs around Severus’s waist. “Merlin, harder! Fuck me, Severus! Claim me! Make me yours!”

“I intend to,” Severus growled back.

Harry and Severus met one another, stroke for stroke, moan for moan, scream for scream, touch for touch as their lovemaking continued. Harry never turned Severus lose; now that he had him, he certainly didn’t intend upon letting him go. When his balls tightened up just a minute or two later, he was sorry to see it end, but knew completely well that, were he to come, then his suspicions about Severus being his soulmate would be confirmed.

“Touch me,” Harry begged, his cock massive between them. “Make me come, Severus. Please, make me come,” he whimpered.

“Merlin, Harry,” Severus moaned, thinking that Harry, spread wantonly out beneath him, begging to be owned completely, was the most erotic thing he’d ever seen. Turning his legs lose, he took ahold of Harry’s cock and pumped it quickly, wanting them to come at the same time, and felt a strong sense of relief when it became apparent that they would. Finally, Harry let out a scream and spurted through his fingers, which was just enough for Severus to plummet over the edge of the precipice, spilling inside his younger lover. “Harry, Harry,” he breathed, preventing himself from falling down and potentially crushing him. He managed to cast the appropriate Cleaning Spells, and then moved so that he was no longer inside him, and lay beside him, gently smoothing the fringe from Harry’s forehead.

“That was amazing,” Harry whispered with a contented tremble. Smiling up at Severus, he felt something come alive within him then as the man lifted his arm, and Harry crawled so that his cheek was pressed against Severus’s chest.

“It was indeed,” Severus answered, his arm wrapping around Harry, cupping his arse and squeezing it slightly.

Harry snuggled closer. “Best night ever,” he whispered, before his eyelids lost their battle, growing completely heavy, as he succumbed to sleep.

~*~

Harry awoke the following morning in an empty bed, and something crashed and burned inside him where there wasn’t so much as a note explaining Severus’s absence. Swallowing the hurt that threatened to overtake him completely, he got out of bed and sent the sheets down to the laundry before heading into the ensuite for a shower. Once that was done, he dressed in his weekend robes and headed down to the Great Hall for breakfast, wondering what Severus would say to him once he got there.

However, as he stepped into the Great Hall, he spotted Horace Slughorn sitting by Minerva, and the pair were chatting amiably. Perplexed, he got up to the high table, nodding and giving some of the students cursory greetings as he took the place beside Horace. “Good morning, Horace,” he said, hoping he wasn’t interrupting anything, but Filius had entered just behind him, and squeaked to Minerva that he was having some disciplinary problems with his fourth-year Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw class, and would she please act as a mediator for him on his behalf the following week.

“Ah, Harry my boy!” Horace replied warmly, clapping Harry on the back. “If it isn’t the Prince of Potions, himself! And how are we?”

“Fine, thank you,” Harry replied, forcing a smile onto his face. “I suppose you’re here to take over for Snape, then.”

“Yes, I am,” Horace replied with a beam. “He sent me an owl at dawn this morning, if you can believe it,” he said with a chuckle. “Said that the trial period for Remus’s potion was over, and that he desperately needed to record the results. He set out for the Swiss Alps this morning for the Potions Guild.”

Harry kept the smile plastered onto his face, slightly hurt that he had to hear this information from Horace and not from Severus himself; perhaps the night before had not meant as much to the man as it had meant to him. “Well, I suppose that he’ll do quite well there,” he said, and took some breakfast onto his plate, although he wasn’t hungry at all.

“That he will, my boy, that he will,” Horace replied, looking longingly at Minerva, who was still engaged in conversation with Filius.

“Something I should be aware of, Horace?” Harry asked.

Horace flushed and sighed. “I’ve long admired Minerva,” he confessed, “and she’s just more beautiful each time I see her...”

“Ask her to tea at Madam Puddifoot’s,” Harry suggested, thinking that dinner that The Three Broomsticks likely wouldn’t end well, given Horace’s penchant for drinking a bit too much Firewhiskey, thus potentially ruining the evening before it had even begun. “Do you think she could reciprocate?”

“Perhaps,” Horace said softly. “I don’t dare to hope or dream...”

“The war is over, Horace,” Harry told him. “Take a chance while you still can.”

Horace beamed. “I think I may do that, Harry,” he replied. “I have been single far too long. I would like to spend my twilight years with a wonderful companion, and Minerva has long been in my dreams...”

Harry flushed and tried not to laugh. “Well, by all means, let her know your thoughts. The worst that can happen is that she’ll say ‘no’.”

Horace nodded and turned back to Minerva, who had finished her conversation with Filius, who was now speaking to Hagrid. “Minerva, do you enjoy tea?” Horace asked, and Harry turned back to his breakfast, smiling to himself.

“What could someone like you possibly have to smile at, given this ungodly hour?!” demanded the haughty voice of Professor Oleander, who had swept into the Great Hall, begrudgingly taking the last available seat, which was beside Harry.

Harry looked up at her. “Just trying to make some old friends happy,” he replied, not even attempting to rise to the woman’s bait.

Professor Oleander scoffed. “I cannot imagine that someone like you would even have friends,” she said, rolling her eyes. “A fan club, surely. Stalkers, undeniably. But friends?” she clicked her tongue and shook her head. “No. They’re likely only after your Galleons or what your name can do for them.”

Harry gave her a tight smile. “Well, you certainly won’t benefit from either of them,” he said smartly, and took ahold of a piece of toast and bit into it roughly.

Professor Oleander’s feathers had been sufficiently ruffled then. “Don’t make me laugh. Like I would even want either of those things from someone like you.”

Harry shrugged, turning back to his breakfast. “Suit yourself.”

Professor Oleander gritted her teeth. “I suppose that you know now that Severus has gone to the Alps to present his latest potion to the guild.”

“I did,” Harry replied, his tone clipped.

“Severus left me an owl this morning,” Professor Oleander said with a malicious grin. “If only I had someone to cover my own classes. He told me that it was such a shame that I could not attend the guild with him.”

Harry’s eyes snapped towards Professor Oleander. “Did he?”

The woman smirked at him. “Yes, he did,” she assured him. “The walls have ears, Professor Potter,” she informed him disrespectfully, looking positively pleased with herself. “Did you really think that you meant something to him? Trust me, you aren’t the first that Severus has taken to his bed, and you certainly will not be the last.”

Harry suddenly got to his feet, his little appetite gone. “If you’ll excuse me,” he said, “I must go and complete my notes for my classes’ end-of-term exams to present to Minerva.” He then left the Great Hall without saying anything to anyone, although he could feel Professor Oleander’s eyes upon his back the entire time.

~*~

Harry felt relieved when the Christmas holidays had arrived; Severus would be at the guild until the wedding, and Harry couldn’t have been happier. That way, he wouldn’t have to stare at the man who he believed had betrayed him. His holidays were taken up with robe fittings, speech writings, and other wedding preparations. Draco had secured a specialized connection from Grimmauld Place to Malfoy Manor via the Floo Network, and Harry was due to Floo into the manor at eleven o’clock, as the nuptials on Christmas Eve were set for promptly at three.

Upon arrival at the manor, his robes shrunken in his pocket, he was greeted by a house-elf, who took his robes from him, and would wash and press them for the ceremony. He made his way into the main dining room, where Harry, plus Draco, Ron, Neville, Dean, Seamus, Bill, Charlie, Percy, and George were all gathered. They would be having brunch together, while Ginny, Hermione, Luna, Fleur, George’s wife Angelina Johnson, Percy’s wife Audrey, Parvati and Padma Patil, Tonks, Andromeda, Molly, and Narcissa were brunching in the conservatory in the snow-covered rose gardens. Harry sat in his assigned seat with Ron at the long table, as the Best Men were always paired together at these sorts of things, and was pleased that Severus was not in attendance.

“Last hours as a free man,” George said with a grin. “Thanks for making an honest woman out of my sister, Draco.”

Draco rolled his eyes, but smiled back at his future brother-in-law. “I fell in love with her, George,” he said, and turned to Harry. “Thanks for being gay, Potter.”

Harry stuck his tongue out at Draco, but grinned back at him. “No problem, Malfoy.”

“You write your speech yet, mate?” Ron asked.

Harry nodded; Neville, Dean, and Seamus were to be the ushers, while Bill, Charlie, Percy, and George had been assigned as the Groomsmen, and none of them had to prepare speeches, just Harry and Ron. “Did Hermione go over yours?” he wanted to know.

Ron grumbled under his breath. “I love my wife, you all know I do, but when she gets it in her head that something’s wrong, you know you’re in for it. The pregnancy hormones have just made it even worse,” he said.

Dean chortled as Seamus leaned into him, and Dean ran his fingers through his husband’s hair as he said, “Sounds just like the Hermione we know.”

“Fleur was just like that when she was expecting Victoire, except it had to do with cleaning the cottage,” Bill put in, shuddering. “If I came home from the bank with too much soot on my clothes from the mines of Gringotts, I would get an earful for days.”

“Looking forward to Dominique’s birth?” Charlie asked, swirling his bottle of Butterbeer, and Bill sighed; Fleur was due to deliver their second daughter in early summer.

“I don’t know if we’re ever ready,” he admitted with a shrug.

“Angelina wants a daughter now,” George said, rubbing his temples, “ever since you and Fleur had Victoire, and Ron and Hermione are expecting Rose. She makes good money as a healer, and the shop pulls its own weight, but Fred II is a holy terror...”

“He would be,” Ron said with a grin.

“Yeah, especially given his namesake, and you as his father,” Harry told him.

George nodded and smiled. “Fred would have been so happy for Ginny,” he said. “But, I know that he is here with us, so that helps.”

“Ginny wants a houseful of children, and I’m prepared to give that to her, if it’s truly what she wants,” Draco said with a smile. “Thanks for letting Victoire be the flower girl, Bill, and for Fred II being ringbearer, George.”

Bill raised his glass. “No problem.”

George did the same. “Don’t mention it.”

“Now if only Mum will get off Percy’s back about starting a family with Audrey, and mine about settling down and finding someone,” Charlie said with a chuckle.

Percy put his head into his hands. “Don’t remind me,” he groaned.

“Think it’ll ever happen?” Harry asked.

“What?” Charlie wanted to know. “Percy and Audrey having children, or me eventually settling down with someone?”

“Either? Both,” Harry said.

“Percy and Audrey? Definitely,” Charlie said with a nod. “I just think that they’re career-focused first, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Me? I don’t think so,” he said. “I mean, I love kids, and I love being Uncle Charlie, but I just want to work with dragons. I mean, it’s all I’ve ever wanted, at the end of things...”

Percy looked up at Charlie. “Got it in one, brother of mine,” he said with a smile.

The brunch seemed to pass by quickly, and Harry and Ron were shown to their assigned room by a house-elf when the appointed hour for getting ready came. Their robes, washed and pressed, were waiting for them, and they quickly changed. They ran their speeches by one another, and approved them, and waited for the summons from the house-elf. Once it arrived, they journeyed downstairs to the grand ballroom’s entryway, where they entered from the side, after wishing Draco “good luck”.

Draco walked out then, and Narcissa dabbed the tears out of her eyes from the front row on the groom’s side, Severus seated just beside her. As Draco waited for Ginny’s entrance, with her bridal party already in place, Harry steadfastly ignored Severus, determined to do his duty as Best Man for Draco.

There was a hush in the ballroom just a few moments later, when Ginny appeared upon the threshold of the main entrance, with Arthur Weasley having a steady hold upon his only daughter’s arm. They seemed to glide into the ballroom, with Ginny positively beaming in her mermaid-cut wedding gown, and she only had eyes for Draco. When they reached the alter, with the Minister of Records presiding, Arthur kissed Ginny’s cheek, before joining her hands with Draco’s, and moved to sit beside Molly in the first row of the brides’ side.

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to join Draco Lucius Malfoy, and Ginevra Molly Weasley, in magical matrimony. If anyone here can come up with a worthy cause as to why these two should not be married, speak now, or forever hold your peace.”

The ceremony was a delight, and everyone was teary-eyed or outright weeping by the end of it, with Ginny throwing her bouquet of white roses to the crowd once the vows were said, with Luna catching the bouquet, and Neville going pink to his ears. The banqueting hall had been set up for the reception, and everyone gathered there to partake in the magnificent feast and the customary dancing. Harry and Ron said their speeches, and then Hermione and Luna said theirs, and then the dancing and feasting was permitted to begin. The Ministry of Records formally presented the new Mr. and Mrs. Malfoy to the crowd, and then everyone was free to do with their time as they wished.

Harry stood on the sidelines, observing the happiness that seemed to radiate from Ginny and Draco, Ron and Hermione, Neville and Luna, Remus and Tonks, Minerva and Horace, Molly and Arthur, and all the other couples present. Blaise Zabini had even asked Cho Chang to dance, and Harry had heard somewhere that they were now a couple. Smiling to himself at their happiness, he knew that he should probably speak to Severus at some point, but he was much too hot to even consider such a thing. His body temperature had been fluctuating madly of late, and the apparent heat of the Malfoy banqueting hall didn’t help much at all. It was just then that some meatballs on sticks came around on an elegant silver hors d’oeuvres platter, bathed in some kind of grape jam sauce, that Harry lost it.

Turning, he threw open one of the many pairs of French doors surrounding the room and stepped out into the falling snow, nearly slipping and sliding upon the balcony as he did so. Bending over the stone parapet as quickly as he could, he was violently sick over its edge. His palms were practically blistering with cold as he continued dry-heaving, and it was only when a strong hand appeared on the small of his back did the desire to continue to sick up seemed to vanish. Straightening himself up, he gratefully accepted the towel that the other hand of the individual offered, and quickly took note that the individual in question was Severus.

“Thank you,” he said softly, dabbing at his face before casting a Cleaning Charm upon his mouth, deliberately not looking at him. “But, really, you don’t owe me anything, you know,” he said, and stared out onto the snow-covered grounds.

“Is that why you’ve been avoiding me?”

Harry whipped around then, narrowing his eyes at him. “Avoiding you?” he demanded. “Don’t make me laugh! I was the one who woke up to an empty bed with no explanation! I had to hear it from Horace, and then Professor Oleander took great delight in telling me that you’d written to her about your unexpected earlier travel plans to the Swiss Alps. Not to mention that she was so quick and enthusiastic to inform me that I was not the first, nor would I be the last, person to be taken to your bed...”

Severus pinched at his nose. “While Filomena is correct that I have a past, Harry, I had not slept with anyone for several months before our coupling, nor have I slept with anyone after it,” he told Harry firmly.

Harry sighed, lowering his eyes. “I can understand that you would wish to report the results of Remus’s reaction to the Nerine Nip as soon as possible, but to not even contact me, for the weeks that you were gone... Surely, you had a few spare moments...”

“I did contact you, Harry,” Severus informed him, and Harry’s eyes snapped upwards to meet his in shock. “I was unaware that you were not staying at Hogwarts for the Christmas holidays; Draco informed me that you’ve been here or at Grimmauld since term broke up. All my letters were sent to Hogwarts...”

Harry blinked. “They were?”

“Yes. And they all received replies. Replies that mainly consisted of you telling me not to bother you, and that you had more important matters to attend to.”

Harry swallowed. “I never received your letters, so, therefore, no replies were sent...” Harry cut himself off then, and shook his head. “Filomena.”

“Yes, I suspected as much,” Severus replied. “Handwriting can be replicated by a simple spell, but tone is another matter entirely. They didn’t sound like you, but I remained skeptical, as I said, they appeared to be written in your hand.”

Harry’s brow puckered. “Is Filomena an Animagus?”

Severus’s eyebrows raised, likely having not considered this before. “Yes. As a matter of fact, her form is quite similar to Willow...”

Harry gritted his teeth. “Oh, lovely,” he muttered, shaking his head. “So she was perfectly able to get in and out of my rooms without arousing suspicion. She probably stole the letters that way... I had no idea that someone could be so vindictive.”

Severus sighed. “I am so sorry, Harry...”

“Don’t be. I don’t think you encouraged her sexually... I mean, I don’t want to assume, but you are gay, aren’t you?”

Severus nodded. “Yes, of course I am. What gave you the idea that I wasn’t?”

“Filomena seemed very possessive of you...”

Severus nodded. “Yes, in that I was her only friend left at Hogwarts on the staff since Wilmer moved onto Beauxbatons,” he explained.

Harry raised his eyebrows. “You’re telling me that she never hated me?”

“Resented you, more like,” Severus informed him. “Filomena was so desperately in love with our former defense instructor that it appeared as if she resented you for taking over the position, when all she wanted was her lover’s return.”

Harry dragged a hand through his hair. “Merlin’s teeth...”

“Which brings us back to us,” Severus said.

“Is there still an us?” Harry whispered.

“I’d like there to be,” Severus told him. “I want there to be. Of course, it depends upon you as well, Harry. I will not force your hand.”

“Yes, I want there to be an us,” Harry informed him, and bit down hard on his bottom lip. “And since I have had an arousing suspicion about myself of late, I believe that we shall be with each other for a long time...”

“What are you saying, Harry?”

“I’m saying that I think I’m pregnant. In fact, I know I am,” he said, and placed a hand upon his abdomen with a small smile. “I can feel it, if that makes any sense to you. I can’t tell you how long for sure that I’ve wanted to be with you, but I know that I want to be with you forever. I love you, Severus Snape, and I can’t tell you how happy I am to be having your baby.”

Something seemed to break within Severus then, because he promptly closed the distance between them and yanked Harry into his arms. It didn’t take long for their lips to seek out the other’s, and there was a sensation akin to coming home once they met. They positively clung to one another as the heavens parted and snow fell down upon them, soundlessly greeting the ground and staying there.

“I love you, too, Harry Potter,” Severus whispered, pulling back just enough to stare into Harry’s beautiful green eyes. For the first time, Severus realized that they weren’t anything like Lily’s eyes; rather, they were a shade all their own, and far more magnificent a shade. “Harry, would you do me the honor of becoming my husband?”

A breathe caught then in Harry’s throat. “This isn’t just because of...?”

“No,” Severus assured him, reaching into his pocket and producing a ring box, and promptly went down on one knee, before he opened the box. “I love you, Harry James Potter, and even if you are expecting my child, it would not matter to me in the slightest. I love you, and I love our baby, but even if you weren’t pregnant, I would still be asking you this question. I want to spend my days debating about defense and potions with you; I want to spend my afternoons cultivating ingredients and dueling with you; and I want to spend my nights in your arms, making love to you over and over again, all until the end of time. Would you please do me the honor of making me the happiest man and wizard alive, and bonding with me?”

“Yes,” Harry breathed, extending his trembling arm, unsure if it was from the cold around them or trepidation, and accepted the ring. It was a beautiful piece, with a silver band, emeralds imbedded into it, with microscopic diamonds surrounding the emeralds. His eyes filled with tears as he pulled Severus upwards, and permitted the man to completely devour his mouth. “I love you,” he breathed, clutching at the man’s dress robes. “I love you so much.”

“I love you, too, my Harry,” Severus whispered back. “And I shall continue to love you, forever and for always.”

~*~

Epilogue: Fourteen Years Later

 

The Hogwarts Platform of 9¾ was positively teeming with activity, and Harry and Severus’s brood was no exception. Their bonding ceremony had been held the spring after Severus had proposed, in the vast fields surrounding Hogwarts, and Hermione, Ginny, and Luna, as the Matrons of Honor and Chief Bridesmaid respectively, had held and worn wildflowers in their hair. Ron, Draco and Neville, as the Best Men, wore wildflowers as their boutonnieres, but neither Severus or Harry had eyes for any of them, as they were far too absorbed in one another to care about the flowers at all.

Minerva had performed the bonding ceremony, with her husband Horace looking on. It had been a whirlwind romance of two months, with the pair of them getting bonded just after the New Year. Horace now was a permanent fixture at Hogwarts, and had taken over years one through three in potions classes, so as Severus could use that time for his research, and focusing on years four through seven. The Potions Guild had given him the coveted Guerdon for his Nerine Nip, and had bestowed upon him a yearly Galleon stipend so that he could continue doing great things within the field. Ever since Professor Oleander had left for Beauxbatons to follow Wilmer, Hogwarts had been a much happier place all around.

Harry and Severus had promised to love and remain with one another until death, and their coupling went on record as a soul bond union. Two-month-old Rose Harriet Granger-Weasley slumbered throughout the ceremony in her mother’s arms, and Ginny and Draco had informed both Harry and Severus that they were expecting their first child, a boy who was to be born that autumn. Luna and Neville had married the following summer, with Luna obtaining the mantle of History of Magic professor for the following term at Hogwarts.

As Harry and Severus passed through the crowd, they briefly saw Remus and Tonks, who were seeing off fifteen-year-old Teddy of Hufflepuff, and their daughter, twelve-year-old Hope of Gryffindor, while Tonks held tightly to Andi, their six-year-old younger daughter. Venturing further, the pair of them spotted Ron and Hermione, together with their daughter Rose, who was going off on her third-year at Hogwarts, and would this year be Chaser for the Gryffindor Quidditch Team. Their son, Hugo Arthur Granger-Weasley, looked on, and Harry smiled at the thought that his second godson would be joining the Hogwarts ranks the following year, his eyes glued to Rose’s Kneazle kitten, Burleigh.

Ginny and Draco stood just beside them, telling their son Scorpius, a second-year Slytherin, to behave himself, while Ginny was holding their two daughter’s hands. The red-haired witches, twins they’d called Guinevere and Beatrice, called Gwyn and Tris respectively, reverently watched their brother, who had a white ferret called Pip in its own little gilded cage, bought for him by Harry, which everyone, save for Draco, found funny.

Thirteen-year-old Liliana saw her father staring and reached up to take his hand. “I’m sure Uncle Neville and Aunt Luna will be along, Dad,” she told him, and Harry turned to look down at her, her black hair and green eyes still startling to him after all these years. “You know how Uncle Neville gets at the start-of-term.”

Harry nodded; despite both being on staff, Neville and Luna opted to spend their summers at the Longbottom estate of Longbottom Lodge, now that his grandmother, Augusta, had passed away over a decade ago. “I’m sure, my sweet,” Harry assured his eldest, and she smiled.

“Don’t let Lorcan and Lysander best you in potions,” Severus warned, coming up beside Liliana, making sure that their eleven-year-old son, Albus Severus, was in step beside them, while he kept a good hold on their seven-year-old daughter, Jacomina Cassiopeia, who was just itching to jump down to greet Hugo, and a spitting image of her grandmother, Lily.

“Papa, Lorcan and Lysander are in Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw,” Liliana replied with an elegant huff, clicking her tongue impatiently, and averted her eyes towards her feisty snowy owl, whom she called Clare. “You know very well that it’ll be difficult for me to ask Grandfather Horace for information on their marks.”

“You’re quite persuasive when you want to be,” Severus put in.

Liliana rolled her eyes. “Papa, I’m a Gryffindor,” she said firmly. “I may be cunning, and excel at potions, but the Sorting Hat had barely graced my head when it shouted Gryffindor. As Deputy Headmaster, you should know this, and Dad is a witness.”

Albus stopped in his tracks then, his Blakiston’s fish owl that he had called Asclepius letting out an impatient hoot. Albus then seemed to stop in his tracks then, and perch on one of the benches that dotted every few feet of the platform. Sharing a look with his husband, Harry smiled at him and turned to see to Albus, while Severus journeyed forward with Liliana and Jacomina, to greet the Granger-Weasley and Malfoy families respectively.

“All right?” Harry asked, kneeling in front of his son.

“Dad,” Al said, peeking up at him, “what if I am put in Slytherin?”

Harry smiled at him. “Albus Severus Potter-Snape,” he said softly, “you were named after two Headmasters of Hogwarts. One of them is your father, and he is a Slytherin, and he’s the bravest man I’ve ever known.”

“But, say that I am,” Al said quickly, his black eyes filled with nervousness.

“Then Slytherin House has gained a wonderful new wizard,” Harry assured him, running his hand through his son’s hair, which was just as untamed as his always would be. “But listen, if it means that much to you, you can choose Gryffindor if you want to. The Sorting Hat takes your choice into account.”

“Really?” Al asked with a smile.

“Really,” Harry assured him.

Al got to his feet then, wrapping his arms around his father, and Harry held him close, not at all sure if his son would want the physical affection in public to continue, now that he was eleven, but willing to take what was on offer for as long as it was given.

“You’re going to be all right,” he assured him, his voice for Al’s ears only. “Papa and I will be there if you ever need us. And, as luck would have it, one of us will likely be your Head of House, when all is said and done.”

Al pulled back with a smirk. “Does that mean I get to help test out Uncle George’s products with Cousin Fred?” he asked.

Harry rolled his eyes; Al was positively a Slytherin in the making, and he knew that Severus would be so proud. “At the Wheezes, and only with Uncle Ron or Uncle George present,” he said firmly, and Al pouted.

“All right,” he said.

“Ready?” Harry queried.

“Ready,” Al assured him.

Harry made sure that Al’s cart was all up to snuff, and the pair of them joined the group gathered by the entrance of the train. He could vaguely hear Percy shouting orders, likely to his and Audrey’s daughters, Lucy and Molly, but didn’t particularly want to interact with him. He saw George and Angelina, with Fred and their daughter Roxanne, standing nearby, and waved to them with a smile. Bill and Fleur, along with their children Victoire, Dominique, and Louis, were standing with then, and Harry knew he would have time to catch up with them all at the next Sunday dinner at the Burrow.

“We’re here, we’re here!” called Neville, puffing through the crowd, pushing twelve-year-olds Lorcan and Lysander close to their group, with Luna trailing in a more subdued manner behind her husband, holding the hand of their eight-year-old daughter, Ruby Ginevra, and their youngest, four-year-old Pandora Alice, in her arms, looking positively radiant. “Couldn’t have the boys misplacing their Cruppies,” Neville said, gazing down at the cages on his boys’ carts, which were held with the Cruppies’ cages, and Xeno and Quib looked avidly around them, wagging their forked tails enthusiastically.

“They’ve been expertly trained,” said Luna wistfully, having taken over as Head of Ravenclaw House in the years since Filius’s retirement, as Percy, surprisingly, hadn’t been interested in the position. “We’ll want no more Trevor’s,” she said, giggling lyrically, and shooting her husband an indulgent look.

One of the train platform workers finally made it to their group and proceeded to magic the children’s’ belongings onto the train. Knowing that their time was growing short, everyone began exchanging hugs; of course, many of the children would be seeing their families on a regular basis, but they did humor their parents’ farewells. When the conductor blew the whistle, the children said a final farewell to their parents, before they headed off to find compartments that hadn’t been filled up yet.

Harry watched as the train began pulling out of the station, relieved that Liliana had been willing to share a compartment with her brother. Scorpius, Rose, Lorcan and Lysander, Teddy and Hope, and many other children they knew were in the compartment as well, so Harry knew that his son and daughter were in good company. Lifting his hand, he waved them off, a smile close to breaking his face, for although he knew exactly where they were going, and would be there soon as well, life as he knew it for his son was changing forever.

Severus stepped up behind him, having handed off Jacomina to Hermione for the moment, and put his arms around his husband’s extending waist; it was the early days yet, but their second son, to be named Eli Libatius Potter-Snape, would be born by the following spring. “He’ll be all right,” Severus whispered, pressing a kiss to his husband’s neck.

Even after all this time, such a gesture could still get Harry’s toes to curl. “I know,” Harry replied, and leaned back into his husband’s arms.

Despite the love and war that both had to battle, neither Harry nor Severus would change a thing, if it got them to this same outcome, one in which they found one another. The pair of them had accomplished a great many things, including arguments, over the years, but that was just how the two of them were. They would never change or sacrifice who the other was, which was one of the many, many reasons why the two wizards had fallen in love with one another in the first place. As the train continued pulling out of the station, they lifted their hands one last time, knowing that both Liliana and Al would be just that—all right.

All was well.

 

THE END