The staff room at Hogwarts had never had much order to it. There was the occasional scored and cup-ringed coffee table stuffed between the old armchairs, littered with old magazines and unused coasters.
The armchairs themselves had the habit of appearing in exactly the number and direction they were needed in, and nobody, not even the borderline-neurotic Filch, had ever tried to find out where the extra ones came from when there were visitors to the school. Perhaps they arrived from the Room of Requirement, perhaps elsewhere.
On this occasion there were just enough for around twenty people, and they were all set out in a sort of double arch - the shape a heart would make were the bottom point of it cut from the top, or that of an archer's bow.
Only two chairs were exempt from this arrangement, and they sat side-by-side facing the middle of the bow.
Albus Dumbledore occupied one of those chairs - the one to the right. The other seated a man in his thirties with sandy hair, brown eyes and a nervous expression on his face. From the way he was folded into the chair he looked rather tall and lean, and his robes of forest-green silk were impeccably clean and tidy. He looked rather normal, all things considered, and yet the focus of the room's other occupants was on him rather than the brightly dressed, long-bearded and arguably abnormal old man with the twinkling eyes, who was letting the distraction continue for just a little while longer before calling the summer staff meeting to order.
Sitting in the arch to the left, with a clear view of the man, sat the professor for Defence Against the Dark Arts at Hogwarts next to the professor of Potions at Hogwarts, and master of the subject besides. The former, a small young man in his early twenties, with short and perpetually messy jet-black hair, emerald green eyes behind round, silver wired glasses, and rather crumpled navy-blue sports robes, nudged the potions' master, and, unperturbed upon the annoyed glance he got in reply, looked at the sandy-haired man and then back with a questioning look.
The sandy-haired man was then subjected to a measuring gaze by piercing black eyes. The owner of the eyes, a man in his forties with slick shoulder-length hair as dark as his eyes and a robe to match, flicked his eyes back to his fellow educator after a relatively long amount of scrutiny and raised an eyebrow.
Apparently understanding the expression, the younger man nodded in acceptance and settled more comfortably into his chair, fixing his gaze on the old, bearded man in the magenta robes, who was now clearing his throat pointedly.
"Welcome, my dears! Welcome back!
"I trust those of you who left the castle enjoyed your all too short breaks, and that those of you who stayed enjoyed the company and rare serenity about the place."
There were a few amused glances and silent laughs, a few more nods. The man continued.
"As you can see, there is a stranger among our number today.
"What with the amount of fire whiskey about at Victoria Vector's retirement party last month, I am surprised anyone remembers, but we were in need of a replacement for our old friend, who is now happily doing private research of Hieroglyphics in Cairo.
"I would like to introduce her worthy successor, Professor David Argot. Perhaps you wish to say a few words about yourself, my good man?"
Apparently recognising one of Albus Dumbledore's subtle commands, the man stood, and the others quieted, listening intently.
"Thank you, Headmaster."
Argot spoke in a gentle voice, with hints of a subtle French tone about them - the voice of a man who has lived in both England and France for a considerable amount of time. It was, however, rather monotonous, not at all interesting as many would find a mixed accent. It was as normal as the man himself, if slightly boring.
"As was said, my name is David Argot, and I'm to be teaching the subject of Arithmancy this year at Hogwarts.
"I didn't attend Hogwarts myself - my alma mater was Beauxbatons - however I look forward to working with some of the greatest minds of our generations."
At this he looked straight at Professor Severus Snape, the pale-skinned potions master. No one refuted that that man was a great mind, although the Defence professor nudged him again, more gently this time, with his elbow, apparently fighting a grin at the same time. Severus gave no sign that he had noticed either, although the sandy-haired man continued to stare at him during his next comment before sweeping around to take in the staff as a whole.
"I am neither married, nor do I have children of my own, however I am looking forward to working with the students of Hogwarts - I have heard them heralded as well-behaved and talented, if lively, children."
At this, several members of the faculty muffled laughter, most noticeably Severus; a woman with her hair in a tight bun; another, plump woman, with her messy hair half tied up; and a tiny man with white hair and beard - the four professors with the most contact with the students; the four heads of house.
Another man stood at the door, a cat at his feet. He looked highly unsanitary himself, yet held a mop and stood by its bucket of soapy water. He looked darkly at the man who had dared mention the scourge of his existence and muttered under his breath about disrespectful wretches with no respect for their elders.
Rather surprised, and not a little more nervous than before, Argot glanced briefly at Dumbledore, who smiled back, benignly if not entirely reassuringly.
Finishing off his announcement probably rather more quickly than he had previously intended, he spoke again.
"I, er," he cleared his throat, "I hope that I will find a home here at Hogwarts, as well as friends among my co-workers," he directed another, significant glance at Severus Snape, "and I hope to live up to your expectations.
He sat down as people clapped politely, some still smiling at how easily unnerved he had become. Many muttered welcomes followed and then the meeting began in earnest, Dumbledore commencing with a discussion on inter-house activities.
Severus, before turning his attention fully to the headmaster, glanced at Harry Potter, the professor who had twice nudged him.
Harry looked back and he arched an eyebrow. Harry shrugged, and he rolled his eyes towards the man, indicating that he doubted the new teacher was up to teaching there. Harry, in return, bit back a grin and rolled his own eyes, before pointedly pinning his attention on the already heated discussion the rest of the staff was partaking of.
A slight whisper was heard a few seconds later when Severus still hadn't turned away. "Severus, this discussion rather requires your opinion as a head of house."
With a flash of amusement apparent in his eyes if not his face, the older man turned to the discussion at hand, and was soon voicing his, albeit slightly biased, opinion on the matter.
With the meeting over, the faculty began to mingle and chat amongst themselves; tea and coffee of different varieties being brewed with the aid of magic almost instantly and the chairs unobtrusively (in fact almost without attracting /any/ notice at all) rearranging themselves into groups of various sizes.
One of these groups - a semi-circle of four seats - was soon occupied by three female teachers and David Argot.
Two of the women, the two who had laughed during Argot's speech, were middle-aged, both with greying hair and wise smiles on their faces. The other was a young woman of the same age as Harry Potter. She wore lavender robes, purposefully ironic, and smiled a little more understandingly at the uneasy man; she had been the new teacher only last year, taking over the divination professorship after the death of the previous resident.
Harry Potter and Severus Snape, walking side-by-side back from the various kettles and stopping several feet away from the women at a pair of chairs, sat and surveyed Argot over their mugs. The youngest spoke first.
There was a short pause before,
Harry shuffled a little in his seat until he was angled towards his companion before speaking again.
"He was looking at you rather a lot, Severus - I think you may have yourself an admirer."
Severus snorted disdainfully.
"He was likely looking at you, mister 'saviour of the wizarding world'."
Harry scowled good-naturedly.
"Hush. You know I don't like that. And besides, it was definitely you he was looking at. I think he may have been struck by your devilish good looks and delightful charm."
"If you're not careful you'll be struck by the blunt end of a nasty hex."
"Now /there's/ something I haven't taught in class - I should add it to my lesson plans," Harry began with an all too-innocent look on his face.
Humouring him reluctantly, Severus replied.
"How to decipher which end of a hex is sharp and which end is blunt."
He was pinned with a death-glare, but disregarded it as he had learnt to do.
"Are you mocking me, Mister Potter?"
Removing his smiling gaze from Severus and on to Argot, Harry became watchful.
"Well, there's not ample opportunity to. I have to take my chances when I get them.
"I think he's angling to come over here. I bet I get no more than the cursory 'nice to meet you' before he starts coming on to you."
With another disdainful snort, Severus also turned his gaze to David Argot, who was indeed coming their way, offering a few words back to the women he was leaving the company of.
As he came closer, Harry and Severus sat down their drinks and stood respectfully. Honing straight on to Severus, Argot stuck out his hand and shook Severus' rather enthusiastically.
"Professor Snape. It's an honour to meet you - I've heard a lot about your work, both academic and for the side of light in the war, and I'm glad to have not only opportunity to talk with you, but work alongside you.
"A cousin of mine once met you at a lecture - he's a researcher for St. Mungo's pharmacy, and a great follower of your work. He has a photograph of himself with you - not looking quite so handsome as today, however - but I'm sure you wouldn't remember meeting him, being so busy as no doubt you are.
"I have always..."
As Argot babbled on, directing subtle and not-so-subtle compliments at the potions' master, Harry stood to the side, hand still unshaken, feeling both amused at Severus' expression and glad that at last someone in the wizarding world had ignored him, if a little bemused by the fact that he was going to be working with this man and he hadn't even introduced himself.
Severus caught his eye, looking - to the trained observer only - a bit uncomfortable. Harry grinned and gave him a 'tell me I didn't tell you so' look.
Following Severus' apparently blank look, Argot finally acknowledged Harry, although in a tone more than a few degrees cooler than that he had used with Severus and with no handshake.
"Professor Potter. Ah, yes. An honour. I heard that you and Professor Snape were, er, /friends/."
Harry huffed out an amused breath at the emphasis put on 'friends'. The emphasis often put on the word 'friends' when a person talked about two gay men.
"Yes, friends. Quite good friends, but still liable to kill each other at a moment's notice.
"It's good to have you on the staff. Look, I'm sorry to be rude, but Minerva is trying to get my attention."
Indeed she was, with a rather wicked smile on her face. Pomona Sprout and Lavender Brown beside her looked not-so-innocent, too. Severus, when he turned back, looked rather desperate not to be left alone with Argot, but Harry was feeling evil today.
"I'm terribly sorry, but would you mind if I left you two alone for a minute or two?"
Argot shook his head rather earnestly, and Severus, polite in situations such as this thanks to his pureblood upbringing, could do nothing but agree, though he didn't hide the reluctance. Severus, after all, was still Severus Snape, and Severus Snape was an antisocial man unless you worked hard enough and got behind the barricades, as Harry had eventually managed to do.
Strolling over to the women with his mug of good, old-fashioned tea (milk and two sugars), Harry took the seat previously occupied by Argot and watched Severus try to politely fend off the zealous new professor.
"So, Lavender, did you foresee romance in our new co-worker's life?"
Lavender giggled airily.
"He does seem rather taken, doesn't he?"
Harry snorted a 'that's putting it lightly' snort.
"And Severus wouldn't believe it until he completely ignored me."
Pomona made a motherly clucking sound.
"Yes, well Severus has always been self-conscious about such things."
Minerva agreed with a 'hmmm' sound.
"So what do you think of our new Arithmancy professor, Harry?"
Harry considered his opinion.
"I'm sure he knows his subject well enough," he finally said.
"Yes, I doubt he'll have people rushing to befriend him."
Pomona looked disapprovingly at her and she scowled.
"Oh, he seems a good enough man, yes, but he's rather..."
She seemed to be searching for a word that wouldn't insult him.
"Banausic?" Lavender suggested.
Harry snorted into his mug and even Pomona giggled.
"Rather," Minerva agreed.
"Severus certainly seems rather desperate to get out of there," Harry noted.
"You should rescue him, Harry," Minerva told him matter-of-factly.
"You called me over here! And anyway, why me?" Harry demanded, half out of lethargy, half out of desire to witness as much of the rare scene of an Uncomfortable Snape as possible.
"Because you are his friend, Harry, and about the only one on this room excepting Dumbledore whom he would accept help from."
Slightly cowed, Harry drained his mug and set it down.
"Fine, fine," he grumbled, "I'll see you around? I think I may have to leave the room with him to completely save him."
As the women gave their agreements and farewells, Harry stood and ambled back over to Severus and Argot.
He cleared his throat as he got closer and saw a hint of gratitude in Severus eyes. Smiling, he interrupted properly.
"Excuse me. Sorry, but Minerva gave me word that Dumbledore okayed the duelling club's return, Severus, but he'll need the basic plan before the term begins if we're to have it announced at the welcoming feast. You did say you wanted to be involved, didn't you?"
He hadn't, but between volunteering his services for a club he would probably have been coerced by Harry into helping with anyway and staying to be talked at by Argot, he chose Harry and his club, just as Harry knew he would.
"Yes, that's right. And with your organisational skills we no doubt should have started a week ago. I suggest we begin immediately."
"I thought you'd say that."
Turning his attention towards the miffed looking Argot, he put on his best 'Lockhart kiss-ass' face (learned from the original and best).
"I'm terribly sorry, but it's very important to me; you know, after my own experiences I feel it's never too early to teach older children the basics if they show a desire to learn them. And of course you'll want to get to know all of your colleagues as well as Severus."
Manipulated into a position where he would look bad if he disagreed, Argot nodded and Severus all but high-tailed it out of the room, trailing Harry close behind him.
In the empty corridor, Harry smiled broadly the self-righteous smile of one who was right.
"I told you so," he informed Severus.
Severus, in reply, growled, scowled, and led the way to his office in order to barter off his time in return for the favour Harry had just done him, none too happy at having been out-manoeuvred by a Gryffindor.
The last week of summer before the children came back to the castle was a busy one. People were finishing off their schedules, meeting with the headmaster and other teachers about both classes and extra-curricular activities, and completing personal projects started over the break. For the new teacher it was even busier, what with moving in and organising his quarters, office and classroom.
When one put these circumstances together with the lack of formal mealtimes in the castle during the summer holidays, it's not surprising that it wasn't until the night of the welcoming feast that Severus encountered David Argot again.
Every year, just as Hagrid started down to the station to await the train, the teaching staff arrived in the Great Hall to chat for while, organising seating for meals that year.
Generally, there was an unwritten structure that operated throughout a school term or even year. The Headmaster always sat in the middle with his deputy at his right hand. This never changed, and was never likely to. Apart from this, however, the seating was inter-changeable, although some people had valid reasons for choosing their places and sticking to them for as long as they could.
For example, Pomona Sprout sat next to her oldest friend at the table, not only to be beside Minerva for chats, but also because it was the best place for overseeing her Hufflepuffs.
For that same reason, Fillius Flitwick sat a seat down from the Headmaster, to the left, beside Professor Binns (he was the only teacher good-natured enough to listen to his droning) and facing the Ravenclaw table. Further down on that side, at the end of the table, Severus oversaw his Slytherins, and for the past two years, Harry had sat beside him.
People knew these arrangements, and didn't bother trying to change them - slotting themselves in the gaps and only trying to avoid the seat to Binns' other side.
This year was much the same, but just as Harry sat down, Argot insinuated himself beside him to his right. Wanting to turn away and speak with Severus, but not wanting to be impolite, Harry kept quiet and stared at the doors, trying not to smile at the man's attempt to sit as close to Severus as possible.
"Professor Snape," the man droned, looking purposefully around Harry's front in order to see the person he was speaking with.
"How wonderful to, er, /see/ you again."
Harry didn't have to look at him to know he was a little annoyed about not being able to see Severus properly. He knew the 'see' had been a jibe directed at him.
"We never got to finish our conversation, and the week has just been hectic. Perhaps we could finish it later tonight in my quarters?"
Harry wanted to move backwards and out of the way of the, well, he wasn't quite sure what it was, but it was making him uncomfortable being in the middle of it.
He started to push back on his chair, but Severus grabbed his thigh painfully to stop him moving and keep him in the middle. Harry had to yet again fight the urge to smirk. He almost won, but when Argot made a funny questioning noise in the back of his throat he couldn't help half a smirk. Severus tightened his grip on is thigh, now beginning to throb, and cleared his throat.
"I have to see to my Slytherins - it's their first night here. I'm sorry. Thank you, though."
"Are you sure? Surely it won't take all night?"
Harry smirked some more, and suddenly his leg was about to fall of from lack of blood flow. He surreptitiously put a hand down and pinched the back of Severus' hand, twisting viciously, so that the next sentence the older man spoke ended with a squawk of pain.
"No, really, I don't think that would be a good id-OW!"
It worked, though, and Harry swung his leg back and forward to get the blood flowing again faster.
Argot was looking at his little jerky rocking movements strangely, and combined with Severus' squawk and then vicious rubbing of the back of his hand and Dumbledore's... self, they had probably led Argot to believe that all Hogwarts' teachers were slightly insane, or perhaps suffered from some medical condition. Apparently the fact that he may have been insane didn't save Severus from his advances.
"Please? I have a good bottle of whiskey I was hoping to christen my new quarters with, and it seems a waste not to share it."
Not wanting to risk the painful hand on his thigh again, Harry schooled his face blank and went back to staring at the doors to the hall while Severus answered.
"I make it a habit not to drink on school nights, and I really will be rather busy."
"Perhaps another time?"
Harry began to shake with the mirth he was holding in, but he doubted it was discernable from the shaking because of his leg. The man certainly seemed persistent, anyway. Severus looked not only exasperated, but very uncomfortable too.
"Perhaps," Severus allowed.
Harry bit his lip at the note of annoyance in his friend's voice. If Argot went any further tonight he would get a piece of Severus' mind, and no doubt about that. At least it would be humorous if he did... well, not for Argot.
Luckily, Argot seemed to sense this and no further comment was made before the students arrived from the trains, rosy cheeked, chatting excitedly, and soaked to the skin.
Harry looked up at the ceiling. He hadn't noticed the clouds gathering, but there they were, the darkest grey could be without being black. No hint of the gentle sunshine that had shone earlier in the day, carried over from the week of perfect weather they had been having. No, wait... yes; there was a little peek of pinky-orange light through the gap in one of the clouds. That was all, though. Harry rather thought that, had the skies been clear, it would have been a lovely night to sit by the lake. But still, grey prevailed.
Turning to look at Severus, Harry narrowed his eyes.
"You really hurt my leg," he hissed under his breath, not really all that annoyed.
"Yes, well you hurt my hand, and besides that you were about to abandon me to /him/," was the quiet reply.
Harry snorted and Severus scowled.
"It's not funny!" he snapped. "It's bordering on sexual harassment."
Harry snorted again.
"Merlin, Severus! You really have a habit of exaggerating. It is not sexual harassment - he was asking you for a drink and some conversation, not a quick grope in a darkened corridor and 'see you tomorrow'."
"I said it was /bordering/ on sexual harassment, not there yet. And be quiet, the sorting is about to begin."
As the sorting was, in fact, about to begin, Harry was quiet, although he remained rather visibly amused, shooting sly looks at Severus throughout.
He got a few askance glances from other members of staff and older students, but he never noticed. Argot did, though, and began to glare darkly at him, obviously taking the looks to be more than friendly. Harry remained oblivious, as did Severus, his attention fixed on his new students.
The sorting finished, Albus said his few words ('kibble', 'mush' and 'frump'), and the food appeared. Without being asked, Severus and Harry exchanged some food, reaching the items the other couldn't, but that they knew the other liked.
Neither noticed Argot scrutinising them in their friendly chatter, bickering, and general closeness. In fact neither really registered how close they had become as friends over the years.
They had started out with huge amounts of animosity, right from first sight, but Severus had, out of necessity, continued to teach Harry the occlumency they had abandoned during his fifth year, and finally legilimency.
With the amount of contact their minds had experienced, they had eventually and inevitably had a huge row concerning their personal privacy, which had led to a huge row over Harry's father and his friends and Severus's unfair attitude.
They had eventually gotten over all the confusion about each other's true character, and finally, in Harry's seventh year, settled into a pattern of amiable squabbling and well-meaning insults. They became friends, though not many could really believe it.
The year Harry completed his Nastily Exhausting exams, he immediately started studying for his teaching certificate in the subject of Defence. With his prior experience teaching it in 'DA' and helping Severus, he knew that this was the career he wanted. At least he had finally gotten over his admittedly not very well thought out phase of wanting to be an auror. With Severus' help (and, although he would never admit to it, encouragement), he completed the necessary tasks within that one very short and fast-paced year.
He had, for practicality's sake, stayed the year in the dungeons of Hogwarts, leeching off Severus' private library as well as the school's restricted section and the minds of Severus and Dumbledore.
He had spent most of the time making notes from the titanic tomes and writing papers on several topics he came across. Evenings were spent discussing dark arts theory, teaching methods, and life in general with Severus.
From time to time he spoke with Remus Lupin, but he still felt rather awkward around his father's only remaining friend, Pettigrew having been killed a year after Sirius. Remus never said anything, but Harry could tell that he resented the fact that the only thing left of the marauders was Harry, who wasn't really very marauder-ish and had befriended an old adversary - the one, indeed, who had gotten him fired.
Hermione and Ron were also still friendly with him, but got less 'best friends' and more 'lets meet for dinner and we can tell you what's been happening this month' as they settled down in different parts of the magical world doing different things.
It just wasn't the same when you hadn't much of an idea who your friend was referring to during a discussion. But they remained friendly, and Harry had even been best man at Ron's wedding to his little sister's friend, Luna Lovegood; now Luna Weasley, an investigative reporter for both her father's newspaper 'The Quibbler', and the Daily Prophet. She still had a tendency towards the bizarre, and Harry repeatedly informed Ron that if he ever wanted a reason that Luna was attracted to him, that would be number one on the list.
Hermione had found it funny, anyway.
Hermione herself was as unmarried as Harry, but was in a semi-serious relationship with a muggle man from her university, who was still unaware of her magical prowess. She and Harry met up more often than either of them met with Ron, but Harry still considered Severus a closer friend now than either.
Speaking of being close, they still remained oblivious to the look that Argot was giving them, continuing their chatter until Albus' speech began, and then Severus had to go check on his Slytherins (or pre-emptively bully them into submission, as Harry liked to refer to the annual practice).
Argot cornered Harry in the hallway to the corridor where the staff slept, just outside his portrait, which was actually /his/ portrait - a picture of him looking rather disgruntled at the fact he had been painted, but generally as good natured as Harry himself. Harry had insisted that if it was going to be painted and hung at Hogwarts, he wanted it where he could keep an eye on it. So it now guarded his quarters, and flirted rather a bit more than Harry would have liked with the other, younger male portraits, not to mention Severus and other miscellaneous gentlemen who traversed the corridor.
"I wanted to speak to you about Professor Snape."
Argot looked peeved, and it was the first time Harry noticed. Unaware, he thought it was simply because Severus had rebuffed him.
"Uhm... sure, okay. Would you like to come in, or...?"
Argot looked more annoyed at this civil offer, and Harry began to feel uneasy.
"No, thank you - this shouldn't take long. I was just wondering about your relationship."
He puzzled over what Argot could mean, until it hit him like a ton of bricks. As realisation dawned on his face his portrait began to laugh at him, but he shushed it with a swish of his hand.
"Oh! Oh, no! No, we're just good friends. There's never been any... I mean, we've never been /together/, and I doubt we ever will."
For some reason, explaining this to Argot gave Harry a funny feeling in his stomach, not unlike how he felt when Cho had started to cry on him at random times. A bit unnerved, a little disappointed and overall uncomfortable.
His portrait was scowling at him accusingly. Argot, however, looked suspicious and a little hopeful.
Harry shook his head.
The suspicion appeared to have passed, leaving hope.
"So you wouldn't mind if I tried my own hand at winning his affections?"
Harry didn't want to disappoint him, but felt he had best lay it out early on.
"Look, Professor Argot-"
"David," the man interrupted.
"David. The thing is, David... Severus is rather, well, he's not someone who trusts easily. And he's not someone who gives affection easily. It takes him a lot just to let someone behind the barriers he's put up, and to do that you have to be pretty determined; believe me, I know. I think maybe you'd be better just letting it slide, or if you're really interested, taking your time with it and trying your hand at friendship first."
Argot scowled at him and took a step forward unexpectedly; making both Harry and his portrait jump a little in alarm.
"Is that what you're doing? Trying your hand at friendship first?"
Harry was genuinely surprised, and it showed in his face, but Argot continued speaking vitriolically at him.
"I think you have him set in your own sights, and you're just trying to discourage me - get rid of the competition, yes?"
"What? No! No, I'm just, we're just friends, that's all."
"Yes, well I'm keeping an eye on you anyway, Harry Potter. You needn't think you're going to get whatever you want just because you're famous. I'm warning you now - I want Severus Snape, and what I want, I usually get. Goodnight, Professor."
Harry stared after him as he went further down the corridor and entered his own chambers. For a long time all he could think was, 'What The Hell Was That?', but when broader coherent thought came back to him, the first thing that passed through his mind was, 'that may have been the only time I've heard his voice sound anything but boring.'
When he turned to go in, his portrait was scowling at him.
"What?" he asked it, aware that he was essentially speaking to himself and just as aware that /that/ was the first sign of madness.
The portrait continued to scowl.
"The man spends enough time in your quarters - you can't even admit to having a relationship with him?"
Harry gawped at himself.
"We're not... God! I can't believe I'm explaining myself to a portrait of myself! We're just good friends - we've never done anything like that," he told it, adding his password, "Butterballs," as a last thought.
The picture him snorted derisively.
"Why the hell not?" it asked, before swinging open and effectively ending the bizarre conversation.
But it got Harry thinking.
Why, indeed, the hell not?
When Severus came to visit and say goodnight he was still in a pensive and rather shocked mood, and Severus had gotten the full, un-edited version of events - up to but not including, of course, the discussion with 'portrait him' and consequent thoughts. To his surprise, the older man had laughed at Argot's 'threat'. Harry's brow creased in confusion.
"What's so funny?"
Severus choked back another laugh to speak.
"Just how much you've changed your tune since the feast. I thought it wasn't 'sexual harassment'."
"It wasn't - it was just harassment in this case. Really, though, Severus, he got rather mean."
Severus laughed again, more softly and rather more introspectively than last time.
"Imagine him thinking we were together."
Harry felt the top of his stomach drop into the bottom.
"Yeah," he said weakly, unsure why he was so disappointed. "Yeah, pretty funny, huh?"
There was no response.
A week into the school term and Argot had made several more attempts to get Severus alone. He got less and less subtle as he went along, finally blatantly asking Severus if he wanted to visit a restaurant in Hogsmeade on a date. Severus continued to decline and Harry continued to stay out of it. He had enough to worry about himself.
Ever since his portrait had asked him why he and Severus hadn't gone past friendship, he had been very meditative about the matter. The more he thought about it, the more confused he got.
There was a man he knew and trusted; a man who knew him well and liked him anyway; a man who listened to him and who he liked to listen to; a man he was comfortable with and, although he had only just realised it, a man who he found physically attractive.
In fact there were only a few things he could think that would be on the downside to the relationship, and only one that stopped him from approaching Severus about it. There was the fact that they had been professor and student, but although they had been, Harry didn't see that as too much of a problem - they weren't anymore, and it hadn't stopped them being friends, had it?
Then there was public perception, but he really wasn't bothered with that - the papers were going to write whatever they wanted, and he had a contact in media (Luna) who could be trusted to make sure at least one paper had the true story, even if it was only the Quibbler.
The only thing really holding him back was Severus. There was no way that Severus would ever be interested in a romantic relationship with him - he was short, too skinny and, in his opinion, not the most handsome man around. Plus Severus thought of him as a friend, nothing more. And he'd laughed at the prospect of a relationship between them. Plus he didn't want to jeopardise their friendship. It wasn't worth it, especially because if it /didn't/ work out, living in such close quarters would be very uncomfortable.
Still, it was strange to him now that he had realised how he felt about Severus - he wasn't sure how to act around him anymore in order to make sure that it didn't seem like he /did/ like the older man. He had initially planned on avoiding him, but cast that plan out when he realised how impossible and downright stupid that would have been. So now he just saw Severus when he saw him and tried to act as normally as possible when he did.
It wasn't working as well as he would have liked.
Severus rather thought he was having a bad enough time what with his usual responsibilities as a teacher and house head as well as the duelling club and Argot's advances, but when Harry started to act strangely around him, he began to think the world was conspiring against him.
Since Harry's late years as a student at Hogwarts, Severus had counted the young man one of his closest friends. One of two, really: Harry and Albus. They were the only two people who had any inkling of understanding about him and whom he had an idea about in return.
But around about now Harry was just confusing Severus more than everyone else put together. He'd never seen the man like this before - stuttering when he spoke, blushing when Severus came anywhere near him, giving himself and Argot funny looks, if in different ways, and acting jumpy and distracted when he was in mid-conversation. Not to mention the fact that whereas Harry had previously come to seek him out for chats or just company, now Severus only saw the younger man when in passing or when he came to find Harry.
And now, just as he had cornered Harry after the second meeting of the duelling club and was about to take him somewhere private and drag the problem out of him, Argot appeared again.
"Severus! You duel well."
Harry was watching them from the wall, nearby. When his eyes caught green, he was surprised at the intensity of emotion in them, even more so when they flicked from him on to Argot. The emotion changed, though, from something indescribable to confusion or hatred or jealousy or some mix of the three.
Severus glared at Argot - surely the man had gotten the picture by now and would leave him alone?
"I just wanted to ask you to my brother's birthday party on Saturday."
Apparently that hadn't happened, though, despite fervent prayers and wishes.
"No, thank you."
Argot's eyes flickered to Harry and back.
"May I ask why not?"
"I'd rather not answer that, thank you."
It seemed Argot had finally ran out of patience. His brow furrowed, his eyes narrowed and he glared at Harry.
"Beat me to it, then, Potter?"
Severus watched as Harry flushed bright red and looked at the ground. And he saw his chance to get rid of Argot for good.
"Yes, he did."
Both men's heads snapped up to look at him, one in confusion and one in anger.
Harry's mouth was wide open and his eyes were flashing with uncertainty.
"Severus, I-" he began, but Severus cut him off.
"No, no, Harry. I think David here deserves the truth."
Harry looked desperate, but Severus couldn't figure out why.
"No, Severus, I really don't-"
He was cut off again as Severus walked over to him and put an arm around him.
"No, Harry, it's fine."
He looked at Argot, who was viewing the scene sceptically.
"I apologise for any indication that I may have been available, but Harry and I have been a couple since before you arrived."
Harry was shaking under his arm, for some reason. Argot, on the other hand, was only shaking his head.
"Then why doesn't anybody know?"
Severus raised an eyebrow.
"I'm a very private man and Harry's life is, albeit it unwillingly on his part, a very public topic. It's only logical that if I were to become an even bigger part in Harry's life than they already are aware of my life would become public as well. I wouldn't enjoy that."
Argot still didn't look convinced.
"So why does he seem to have no idea what you're talking about?"
Indeed, Harry was still shaking, eyes wide and confused.
"We had agreed not to tell anyone - he's simply surprised that I volunteered the information."
Argot still looked cynical, so Severus tried one last, desperate, move.
He placed a gentle hand on Harry's cheek and slid it under his chin, brining Harry's face opposite his own.
Moving slowly, he pushed his lips against Harry's. After a moment when Severus was desperately hoping Harry would sense his desperation and go along with it, Harry started to respond. And then all thought of anything else was blown out of his mind.
Harry slid an arm around his back and pulled him closer as they both opened their mouths to invite the other to deepen the kiss. Severus took the invitation first and slid his tongue into Harry's mouth, tasting the fading flavour of the sweet banana pudding they had had for dessert.
The hand not on Harry's shoulder lifted up and tangled in the younger man's hair, and he felt Harry settle his other hand on the small of his back, just above his arse.
The kiss continued to deepen, sending sparks of desire throughout Severus. When Harry pulled him closer still, his hardening prick met a firm stomach and he felt Harry's hot length press against his leg, which slid in between the gap of Harry's legs.
The movement made Harry's hand slip on to his arse cheek and they broke apart, staring at each other in breathless wonder.
Argot had left - gone mid-kiss when he had realised that the two men weren't faking their desire and not wanting to see any more of it - however both of the other men had forgotten the purpose of the kiss and were more focused on the result.
Severus was gobsmacked. How could he not have seen Harry like this before? How could someone so perfect have been there in front of him for so many years without him realising that this person was meant to be more to him than just a friend? He'd laughed before at the idea of them simply because he thought Harry would never have even considered it - the idea that someone like Harry, who could have anyone, would choose someone like /him/ had been absurd, but now that theory had been proven wrong.
He looked into Harry's eyes and saw fear. Wondering what it could be about, he finally realised why Harry had been acting so strangely since Argot had approached him - Harry had seen it first.
Harry was indeed scared. He was scared because now that Severus knew how he felt, he was sure he was going to leave and never act the same way around him again. He pulled himself away from Severus and stared, not believing he had done that. When he spoke, his voice was weak and breaking.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to... I'm sorry."
He turned and began to walk away.
Severus voice from behind him sounded both confused and annoyed. Harry didn't blame him, but he didn't want to turn around and see it.
"I'm sorry," he repeated quietly, before fleeing the room and all but bolting back to his rooms.
Severus stood in the middle of the empty room, staring at the empty doorway Harry had left through. Harry had been right - he /was/ confused and annoyed. He didn't understand why, after that kiss where both of them had quite obviously shown enthusiasm and desire, Harry had ran away from him.
Surely, now Harry knew that Severus felt the same way towards him, they could talk about it - work out where they stood and how far they wanted a relationship to go?
He hadn't realised that Harry hadn't yet gotten past the fact that he had kissed Severus and into the part where Severus had kissed him back just as passionately.
In fact it took Harry a good two hours of sitting in his rooms throwing back alcohol and wondering why he had abused Severus' desperation like that before his eyes suddenly opened up wide and he tensed up.
"He kissed me first... and he kissed me back!"
Upon this realisation he bolted up from his seat and out the door, banging the portrait shut with some vigour.
He drew up to Severus' portrait - one of the only landscapes in the castle picturing a field of horses - and knocked rather heavily on the wood of the frame.
He continued to do this until the entrance jerked open and Severus appeared looking rather frazzled and annoyed.
When he saw Harry he began to smile, but soon he couldn't do anything much more with his mouth than kiss Harry back, his arms drawing up behind Harry to hold him to him, not prepared to let the younger man get away this time.
Despite the fact that his spirited knocking had drawn the attention of many members of staff who were now looking out into the corridor, Harry had simply thrown caution to the wind and kissed Severus before the older man had a chance to speak.
He was aware, though, of several gasps of shock and a few, "Dear Merlin!" 's, but he really didn't care too much, because he had been right - Severus had kissed him back before, and he was doing it again right now in a way that might have distracted Harry from the collapse of the castle around them never mind a few comments from his colleagues.
When he finally pulled back, flushed and aroused, eyes glassy with desire and intensity of emotion, he found himself being gently guided into Severus' quarters and having the portrait close behind them forming a barrier between them and the curious stares.
He gazed at Severus for what seemed like a long time in silence before the older man spoke.
"Why did you run?"
"I felt guilty."
To his relief Severus looked utterly confused.
"I thought I'd taken advantage of you. I thought I'd jeopardised our friendship. I... you hadn't shown any interest in me before, and I was feeling confused and scared and guilty. And then I thought about it and I realised that you had kissed me first and when I'd taken it a bit further you had kissed me back and you'd been just as aroused as me. I'm not sorry anymore."
To his pleasant surprise, Severus quirked his mouth into the smile he had attempted when he opened the door.
"Good. Now come to bed."
Harry smiled and let Severus take his hand and lead him to the bedroom.
"Thanks for going along with it to help me get rid of Argot."
He smiled as he was pushed to the bed.
"S'what friends are for, Severus."
Severus kissed him briefly.
"Hmm... so show me what lovers are for..."