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Parable of the Talents

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“Harry! A favor?”

Harry stifled all sorts of things, as usual, when he turned to look up at Kallen. But by now he was so good at stifling them that he barely noticed their pressure in his chest when he had to interact with his colleague, the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor at Hogwarts since the past autumn. “Kallen, hi. What is it?”

Kallen sauntered into Harry’s office, smiling at the Quidditch posters Harry had hung up, signed by every team that regularly played in the Quidditch World Cup. “How do you get anything done with them all waving at you? I’d go spare!”

“Oh, you get used to it.” Harry leaned back in his chair with a small sigh. At least when he was sitting down he didn’t feel such a difference with how damn tall Kallen was. And handsome. And unscarred. “What is it?”

“I think—I think this time Severus really is on the verge of agreeing to go on a date with me.”

Harry’s chest seemed to swell. He stuffed the feelings back in their little box again and mustered as uncomplicated a smile as he could. “That’s great! But what can I help you with? I don’t think I can ask him for you.”

At least Kallen’s laughter sounded pure and free of any suspicion of how much Harry would actually like to help him with that. “I know that. But—Severus says sometimes how much most people bore him. I want to make sure he’s not bored with me.”

Harry blinked. “I don’t think he could ever be bored with you, Kallen.” That was one reason he had decided, as soon as Kallen set his sights on Severus, that Harry himself would never have a chance with his old Potions professor. Kallen had traveled around the world and done most of the deeds Gilderoy Lockhart had only faked doing.

What did Harry have to offer, in comparison to that? He hadn’t even been out of Britain.

“But you know how quicksilver his moods are. He might get that way.” Kallen leaned towards him. “I heard once how Severus used to get impressed with exhibitions of dueling.”

Harry was pushing his emotions down so hard now that he thought of coal that turned into diamonds under intense pressure. “Oh?”

Kallen rolled his eyes. “You know it’s true. You were there when he said it.”

Yes, Harry had been, at one of those supposedly communal dinners at the High Table that were mostly excuses for Kallen and Severus to talk as if they were alone. Harry set his jaw and told himself again that Kallen was handsome and Severus was free and Harry had no right to interfere. “Right. But you could challenge him to a duel.”

From the startled look that crossed his face, Kallen hadn’t even thought of doing that. But he shook his head and sat on the edge of Harry’s desk. “No. I want you to fight it with me, to give Severus something to watch.”

“I’m not good at formal dueling. Never learned it. I think you could challenge Professor Flitwick, though—”

Kallen snorted loudly. “Let’s be honest, Harry, no one’s going to be impressed if I defeat Filius! I’m sure he was impressive when he was younger, but now it will just look like I’m beating up on a defenseless old man.” He leaned closer and winked at Harry. “No, think how much more impressive it will be when I defeat the Chosen One.”

Harry wanted to bury his head in his hands. He didn’t, because he had better self-control than that, but he did have to pick up the broom whose twigs he’d been repairing to have something to do with his hands.

“Are you so sure you’d win?” he asked casually, once he had his voice under control. “I mean, the duel. I was right when I said I don’t know much about formal dueling, but I was an Auror at one time.”

“Years ago,” said Kallen, and then he winked and nudged Harry. “Besides, this is a favor for a mate. Just make me look hot to Severus! I’ll take you for a nice dinner afterwards.”

Harry thought his parody of a smile must look like the real thing, because Kallen seemed to accept it. “I think you’re mixing that up with what you’re going to do with Severus.”

Kallen could grin like a wolf when he wanted to. “Severus and I are going to be too busy for dinner.”

Harry really had to work hard to not snap the bristles in his hand, or lunge at Kallen. But he was twenty-eight now, not eight. Or eighteen.

“All right,” he said, because there was no other choice. Kallen would only hound him until he agreed. And anyway, Harry couldn’t come up with a good excuse not to participate. The only thing Harry really had left when it came to Severus was his own pathetic pride. As long as no one knew that Harry fancied Severus Snape, then it was all right.

“Great! Thanks, Harry!” Kallen leaped off Harry’s desk and pumped his hand in delight. “Shall we say five days from now? Saturday, supposed to be nice weather, no Quidditch matches that day…”

“Fine,” Harry echoed, and smiled until Kallen was out the door. Then he lowered his head onto the desk and closed his eyes. 

Really, it was all Harry’s fault, anyway. Kallen couldn’t help being handsome and well-traveled and a great professor and someone who understood magical theory and someone who was fascinated by the enigma of Severus Snape. He’d been at Hogwarts for less than a year, while Harry had been there two—almost three—as an adult. 

*

At first, when Kallen Ryorth had taken over from the retiring, ancient Professor Ajax, Harry hadn’t been concerned about him. Kallen was just a few years older than Harry, and it was nice having someone nearer his own age to talk to. Kallen had an honest interest in Harry’s exploits that didn’t translate into fannish obsessiveness, and he could swap stories with him. Harry had even thought, some evenings when they both sat in the same room and he watched firelight reflecting off the edge of Kallen’s square jaw, that it was a pity he apparently didn’t want to date anyone but a man who was unavailable to him.

But then Kallen had started paying attention to Severus. Severus gave him more than the bare courtesies he showed Harry, conferred with Kallen about something other than wayward students, and even exchanged gibes that appeared to make Kallen only laugh.

What did Harry have to offer that compared to that? If nothing else, the shadow of his father and his mother’s eyes would always come between them.

So Harry learned to look past the growing evidence of Kallen’s flirting and Severus’s slow but unusual responsiveness, and conduct his life as if nothing of it mattered to him at all.

But it still hurt.

*

“Professor Potter.”

The title was a mere courtesy, since the flying instructor usually served more as a glorified Quidditch trainer and soother of first-year woes than anything else. And Harry’s stomach had no business jumping the way it did when Severus spoke to him.

“Headmaster Snape,” Harry said calmly. Two years, almost three when this term ended, and still they hadn’t moved on to first names. Harry had fallen into the habit of calling him “Severus” around Kallen only because Kallen was the sort of bloke who relentlessly bulled past all kinds of barriers.

Severus raised one sharp eyebrow, as if he thought that even the title was too much of an intimacy. Harry sighed internally and waited to see what Severus wanted.

“Walk with me,” said Severus, and again Harry wanted to flinch. Severus spoke as if Harry should have already known that, even though most of the time their conversations were short and to the point.

But Harry was already heading to the Great Hall for breakfast, and it made sense that Severus would be on the same journey and impatient because he was hungry. Harry fell into step with him. Ahead, tides of students, mostly Slytherins, were flowing in to sit at the House tables. At least the insults they traded with Gryffindors were friendlier now, Harry thought. The war had had that much effect.

“Professor Ryorth tells me that you plan to share a dueling exhibition with him on Saturday.”

“Yes, Headmaster.” Harry saw no need to say more than that, but Severus hissed like a kettle beside him, and he turned around.

Severus stood with his arms folded, staring at Harry. Harry ignored another temptation to flinch and simply waited.

“You have amply proven that you have both power and the wherewithal to take down Dark wizards, don’t you think? Why do something so childish as show off your skills in a public place?”

“Professor Ryorth knows that you’re entertained by good displays of dueling, Headmaster. He’s doing it for you.” There, Kallen. Never say I didn’t help you along. And that was about the limit of Harry’s nobility.

Severus dropped his arms and stared. Then he said, “And you would go along with this because you care so much about my entertainment?”

Harry probably looked as red as a first-year. He locked the muscles in his arms the way he would against the pull of a diving broom and said, “Professor Ryorth asked me to do it as a favor. That’s all.”

Severus stared for one moment more. Then he pushed past Harry, knocking his shoulder sharply with one hand, and disappeared into the Great Hall.

Harry faced the back of the entrance hall for long, soundless seconds. Then he turned and walked along the same path, carefully not looking at the High Table as he made his way to a seat at the far end, near Filius, always a cheerful breakfast conversationalist.

Another reason we can’t be together. No matter what I do, it’s wrong, even after all these years.

At least Harry had some confirmation that the Headmaster had no interest in him, straight from the source. As he broke apart a scone and buttered it, responding with monosyllables to Filius’s chirping about his Ravenclaws, Harry decided something else.

Severus would have to look for a new flying instructor for the autumn. It was time for Harry to move on.

*

“I think we should agree on the kinds of spells we’re going to use in the duel,” said Kallen, and sat down next to Harry where he was reading the latest edition of Quidditch Through the Ages, and looked at him expectantly.

Harry didn’t sigh, because it would be useless, anyway. He put down his book and shook his head. “It’s a formal duel. Why not abide by the usual restrictions?”

“Because, frankly, ending the duel with a Disarming Charm isn’t what I’m after.” Kallen flashed him one of those smiles that Harry couldn’t help but respond to. It was one of the many, many reasons why Kallen would be better for Severus than Harry himself, although it had taken forever for Harry to realize that. He was just more cheerful, while Harry was too silent and prone to be morose. “It’s too much your signature move. I want to make myself stand out.”

“You already do,” said Harry, too startled to keep quiet.

“Oh, in some ways, sure,” Kallen conceded at once. He’d never been falsely modest. “But I think it’ll take more than that to catch the attention of Severus Snape, Headmaster Extraordinaire.” He eyed Harry hopefully. “You must know him better than anybody; tell me what he’d like?”

If I knew that, I would have used it already. “I don’t know him that well. Ask Minerva.”

“I hate to add more burdens to her shoulders.”

Harry winced, but nodded. Minerva was old enough now that she talked about retiring next year, and Harry hadn’t seen her assume her Animagus form for months. And she did have to stay as Transfiguration professor for a while longer; professors in that field were even harder to find than in Defense Against the Dark Arts. At least she didn’t have to be Headmistress anymore since the month-long public relations battle Harry had fought with the Ministry that had allowed Severus to be Headmaster. 

“So.” Kallen put his elbow on the table and fluttered his eyelashes at Harry. “Teach me how to charm the savage beast.”

Temptation had to be stifled, too. Harry didn’t know how to charm Severus, but he knew more than well enough how to irritate him, and he could have told Kallen that and watched him fail…

But Kallen had faith in him. And Harry had to keep reminding himself that it was best to see Severus happy, even if the one he was happy with wasn’t Harry.

“I can’t be sure this will work,” he warned Kallen. “I didn’t actually see him staring with admiration at anyone during the war.”

Kallen nodded dutifully, so Harry said, “I think he would probably admire cool precision more than anything. Spells that connect to each other in intuitive ways, but unexpected ones. Spells that build on each other.”

“Spell chains?” Kallen whistled softly. “Well, it’s no wonder he’s talked about wanting to be present at some of the old duels.”

Harry nodded. Spells in chains, which all connected to each other so that the ending of one allowed precisely enough time for the casting of another, and all the effects made the following ones worse, couldn’t actually be taught. They had to be put together by individual wizards. And then they still might not work if you faced a faster opponent or one who could shake off the effects of one spell better than normal.

Kallen’s eyes shone. “What kind of spell chain do you think we could put together that would look good and not hurt you that much?”

Harry concealed a sigh. That was another reason he couldn’t hate Kallen. He might envy him his personality and his deep brown eyes and his straight chestnut hair and so much else about him, but he couldn’t hate him.

“Don’t use too many pain-based ones,” he said, and then rolled his eyes as Kallen laughed. “No, I mean it. I can shake off pain better than most people I know.”

“You know, I think I remember Severus telling me something about that. You broke your arm in a Quidditch game your second year and didn’t even cry?”

Severus remembers that? Then Harry sighed a little to himself. Of course he did. Harry Potter and his freakish reactions to everything.

“Yes, something like that,” said Harry. “I think it would be better to let me start out casting curses, and you cast countercurses, and then you can start building the spell chain off the end of one of the countercurses.”

Kallen nodded slowly. “Will you help me with the spell chain?”

“Oh, come on.”

“No, I mean it. Not only do I not want to hurt you, I just—I don’t really know what will impress him, Harry. It took me ages to come up with this plan. I don’t want to ruin what might be the only chance I have.”

Harry wanted to repeat that he didn’t know what impressed Severus, but he held his tongue. Kallen looked like a puppy anticipating a kick. “Let me start with the Disarming Charm. They’ll expect it from me. Signature spell and everything.” He waited until Kallen laughed. “Then you turn a little aside from that and give me some time to fire off a curse. You respond with the countercurse, then use the Slowing Charm on my feet. That’ll give you a little time while I’m removing it to get the next one ready…”

Kallen leaned forwards, hanging on his every word. Harry finally sent him off an hour later, sighing in exhaustion as he leaned back in his chair. 

He looked out the window. It was a bright, breezy April day. Why should he waste the rest of it in the library?

As he stood up, there came the slam of a heavy book down one of the aisles of books where Harry spent less time. Then Severus stalked out and past the table, giving Harry a heavily disappointed look.

Harry had to sit down again. He didn’t think he’d got a look so scathing from Severus since he was a student.

And once again, who knew what it was in response to? Harry just stared silently after Severus until he went around the corner.

Then he pushed his fingers through his hair and stood up again. No reason to give up on his flying plan. And no reason, either, to delay giving his resignation to Severus. It would hurt less to just get it done and over with, he thought.

*

Harry leaned against the wall of the Headmaster’s office and waited. Severus didn’t use the names of sweets to guard his quarters the way Albus had. In fact, he didn’t use any passwords at all. He assumed anyone who dared come to his office had legitimate business there, and the softly gleaming ebony instruments sitting on shelves and the floor, among simmering cauldrons, would punish anyone who tried to steal or damage something.

“To what do I owe the pleasure, Professor Potter?”

Severus came striding in from the door that led to who-knew-what mysterious rooms; Harry had never been invited to look at them or speculate on them. Refusing to let his throat tighten, he stood up and held out his resignation letter. “I wanted to give this to you as soon as possible, Headmaster Snape. So you could start your search for my replacement.”

Severus gave him the same hard stare that he had outside the Great Hall the other day while he took the letter. Harry just looked back. He’d given up on trying to figure out what he’d done wrong. Severus would never tell him, and Harry refused to feel bad for it when he had to live in ignorance.

“This is a resignation letter.”

“Yes, sir, it is.”

Severus slammed the letter down on the side of the desk. It was pretty thin, and Harry was surprised at how much noise it made. “Why are you doing this?”

“I don’t think I belong at Hogwarts anymore, sir.” Harry tried a smile. “Do you remember what you said to me when you hired me as flying instructor?”

“I remember better what you said when you refused the Defense Against the Dark Arts position.”

Harry felt his smile falter. But did it matter, when he would be gone in a little while? “Yes. Well, you were right. Trying to hide from what’s important doesn’t work forever.” He attempted a shrug this time, and Severus’s cool, displeased gaze picked it right apart. “Hogwarts was my home then, but it’s sheltered me for as long as it can. I need to go on and find another place to belong.”

Severus moved slowly to one side of his desk. Harry waited, but he stayed silent. Harry sighed, added, “Thanks for a good working environment the past few years, sir,” and started to turn away.

“Why did you refuse the Defense Against the Dark Arts post?”

“You said you remembered what I said.”

“I want to hear it again, in your own words.”

“Those were my own…” Glancing over his shoulder, Harry let his voice trail off when he saw the uncompromising stare locked on him. He sighed a little. Severus was in the sort of mood where only unquestioning obedience made him happy. “I don’t want to spend all my time chasing Dark wizards and fighting Dark magic. It’s why I didn’t stay an Auror. But I wanted to be at Hogwarts.”

“If you were a professor, you wouldn’t spend time chasing Dark wizards and fighting Dark magic.”

“But I would spend time reading about Dark spells, if only to stay current with the theory in the field,” Harry answered quietly. “I didn’t want to do that anymore. That stuff had polluted my mind for long enough.”

Polluted your mind.” Severus looked at the ceiling. Harry followed his gaze on instinct, then blushed when he saw the sardonic way Severus glanced at him now.

“Yes. That was the way it felt. All those hours as an Auror reading case files and Dark Arts theory and history about how people could use spells to torture each other.” Harry didn’t have to feign his shudder. “I would go home and stand under the shower for hours at a time, trying to scrub away the taint.”

“The Darkest things you would read if you were a professor are student essays. And they are only shaded by the deep night of ignorance.”

Harry felt a smile tug at the corner of his mouth. This was more the way Severus used to talk to him when Harry first came back to Hogwarts. For some reason, he’d stopped last year. Harry had always thought that he sensed Harry fancied him and wanted to put some professional distance between them.

“I know you are a good teacher,” said Snape abruptly. “And you have some intense talent in curses and hexes, don’t you, Professor Potter?”

From the way he was staring at Harry, Harry supposed there was a message he was supposed to take away from that, but he didn’t know what it was. He shrugged. “But that doesn’t change my objection to the theory and the history, sir.”

“I am sure Professor Ryorth doesn’t read such theory.”

“Of course he does,” Harry said, a little irritated that Severus thought he was that stupid when he had witnessed Severus and Kallen’s conversations for himself. “I hear you two talking about it all the time.”

Severus’s nostrils flared a little. “His theoretical conclusions are reasoned from impeccable premises—unsound ones.”

“Oh,” said Harry, a little blankly. He wondered if Kallen didn’t care much about theory, and was only skimming some books to make himself sound smart in front of Severus. Harry would have to tell him Severus had seen through his pretense. “Well. I would read the theory, sure. But you couldn’t make me like it.”

“I wonder if your objection is loneliness. It is easy to feel tainted if you are isolated by fame. If you have no one to talk to about it.”

Harry bit his lip savagely. He could just come out and tell me that he’s going to date Kallen. I could be professional about it. “Yes, sir. That’s probably part of it. I think I’ll meet more people when I leave Hogwarts. Professor Ryorth is the only one close to my age.”

“Is he not suitable?”

Harry blinked and shook his head. Severus did care about his dating life, then. But only to use people as a barrier between Harry and himself, Harry was still sure. “No, sir. He’s in love with someone else.”

Severus looked thunderous again. “I see,” he whispered, and there was such a world of dislike in those words that Harry knew he had once again sinned inadvertently.

“Anyway,” he said. “I hope I’ve given you enough time to find another flying instructor.”

Get out.”

Harry turned and left without another word. He supposed those might be the last ones they exchanged, at least until Harry was actually going. Severus came out and wished each departing professor farewell in a little ceremony after the Leaving Feast. He wouldn’t omit it simply because he hated Harry.

Why he hates me is the question.

But Harry was done probing into the mysteries behind Severus’s behavior. He would do this duel with Kallen and give him his chance. Severus had no grudge, no past history, with Kallen. Harry could only imagine what he might be like with someone who approached him fresh.

And it hurts to imagine. So stop it.

*

“You’re ready?”

Harry smiled sincerely at Kallen. “I am.” The day was bright and warm and had a slight breeze. People were crowding into the Quidditch stands to watch the duel, which would take place on the pitch. If there were some reporters there, too, anxious to see whether the Great Harry Potter would fight at all or be defeated, Harry didn’t care. This day was about Kallen and Severus, not him.

“Okay. Okay.”

Harry stared. Kallen was nervous, at least from the tone of his voice and the way he linked his fingers together a second later and flexed them. Harry patted him on the shoulder. “We planned this out, remember?” he whispered. “You don’t have to worry. Just do whatever you need to do to keep the spell chain going.”

“But that’s going to depend on you not fighting back all that hard. What happens if you disrupt the spell chain?”

“Then you switch to Plan B,” Harry said firmly. Plan B was another spell chain that wouldn’t be as long or impressive as the first one they’d come up with together—only six spells instead of ten—but it ought to work. “And remember to look straight at Severus, or he might not realize you’re doing this for him.”

“We have to, anyway. He’s the one we need to bow to before we bow to each other.”

“Right.” Harry shook his head a little. Honestly, this was one of the reasons he had never been good at formal dueling. He forgot the little picky rules not because he had a poor memory, but because they were honestly so boring that he never cared to take the trouble to remember them. “Come on, then.”

They walked towards the large section of the Slytherin stands where Severus sat. The cheering increased in intensity as they did. Harry waved at the students who sat there, even though he thought most of them were cheering for Kallen instead. Slytherins sometimes still came up through their house with a lingering resentment of Harry Potter, and the practical ones probably thought Kallen had a better chance as a Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, anyway.

Harry finally turned to Severus and bowed. Severus looked as though he had a stomachache. Then again, he had looked like that most days since the interview about Harry leaving in his office. Harry assumed it was Harry’s unknown sin combined with the aggravation of having to find another flying instructor.

“You are ready?” Severus asked. His voice was almost a monotone, even with the Sonorus Charm. Harry had once imagined what he could do to change the man’s boredom to excitement.

Well, I imagine Kallen will soon know.

“Ready,” Harry responded, and smiled at Kallen, who nodded. They fell back to opposite sides of the pitch. When they reached an exactly equal distance from each other, a spell that Severus had cast that morning as Headmaster came to life and glowed softly blue between them, both marking the distance and providing a shield that prevented anyone from casting a spell before the formal beginning of the duel.

As though Kallen would, Harry thought, even as he locked his eyes with Kallen’s and bowed. He just wants to show off what he could do, and showing off cheating skills wouldn’t help with that.

“When I lift the barrier, the duel will immediately begin.” Severus sounded as though he was moments away from needing to bolt for a loo. Harry hoped he wasn’t genuinely sick. “No Dark spells are allowed.”

Harry murmured his agreement, not taking his eyes from Kallen. Now that he was actually on the verge of dueling, everything else was falling away from him, the way it used to when he fought in Auror classes. There was only his opponent, the way he stood, the light way he was breathing.

“Begin!” Severus said, and the minute he lifted the barrier, the audience cheered. 

Harry drew himself up with a showy flourish, ignoring his instincts. His instincts said that he could cast a Smoke Spell to interfere with Kallen’s breathing, which was too deep as he deliberately tried to relax himself, and while he was coughing and choking, Harry could strike and take his wand.

That might be what his instincts wanted, but they had agreed that Harry would begin with the Disarming Charm. So he aimed his wand when he was sure Kallen had had the time to take up a dueling stance and muttered, “Expelliarmus.”

To his shock, Kallen’s wand almost twitched out of his grasp. It probably would have if Harry had put anything like his usual power behind the spell. Harry stared. He was supposed to dodge that!

For some reason, Severus laughed above in the stands, harsh and deep. Harry wanted to turn and see what he was laughing at, and his stupid instincts were once again speaking up, telling him that he had time, that Kallen wouldn’t be able to regain his mental or physical balance that soon.

Stupid instincts! Harry waited as long as he could, until Kallen had started to turn broadside to him the way they’d agreed, and then he cast a Blasting Curse. It was a powerful spell, but one that could be countered by all sorts of shields. All Kallen had to do was raise a Protego and he would deflect it, and then he would cast a Slowing Charm on Harry and set up the spell chain.

The Blasting Curse hit Kallen’s shield, barely visible as a shimmer in the air, and cracked it, going on to catch him. Kallen didn’t stumble out of the dueling ring, itself a line of crimson light, but he did gasp, visibly winded.

What the hell is going on? They hadn’t practiced the actual spells, true, but they had planned the sequencing multiple times. Harry had to wonder if Kallen’s nervousness was actually getting in the way of him casting spells. Harry had seen that happen, although usually not with any students older than sixth year.

Baffled, Harry prowled slowly towards Kallen as if fearful of a trick. It was the only reason he could come up with to plausibly wait. If he hesitated too long, people would start to suspect something.

Kallen finally straightened, long seconds after Harry knew he would have. He moved his wand in an ostentatious circle before starting into the Slowing Curse.

Too slow itself, Harry thought, and felt a fire of irritation rise up in him. Come on, Kallen. I know you’re better than this at dueling! Didn’t you win all sorts of awards?

Finally, here came the Slowing Curse. Harry stopped and gaped at the whirling tumbleweed of the spell as if he hadn’t ever seen it before, which he knew probably destroyed its plausibility in the minds of his audience, but which was also the only tactic he could think of. Hopefully, they would forget about it when they saw the splendor of Kallen’s spell chain.

The spell tangled around his legs. Harry felt for a moment as if he was wading through mud. He smiled and cast his next, planned response, a Nostril-Stuffing Curse that would cause an explosion of bogies and blind the victim in the most disgusting way possible. He would stumble forwards in a second, as if he had forgotten the Slowing Curse, and land—

His Nostril-Stuffing Curse burst forwards and hit Kallen full in the face. Kallen began to gasp as Harry stared.

In the same moment, the Slowing Curse around Harry’s legs faded away.

He didn’t put enough bloody power behind it! Was he so busy showing off on his wandwork that he forgot to pronounce the incantation strongly enough?

Harry had no idea what was going on. Except that he didn’t have any spells hindering him right now, and Kallen was struggling around, hands over his face, coughing in loud, sloppy bursts. There was—no way they would get to the spell chain.

Once again, Harry heard Severus laugh like a crow from the stands.

There was a wave of impatient muttering among the students. Harry, heart sinking, realized he had won the duel whether or not he wanted to.

This wasn’t the way it was supposed to happen. Harry stood there for a second trying to think of a way to save things and let Kallen win, but now people were catcalling at him for letting his opponent suffer. He shook his head. “Expelliarmus. Finite Incantatem.”

Kallen’s wand came soaring over to him. Harry sighed as he watched Kallen stand up and stare at him. His expression was—not betrayed, but pretty close to it.

Severus still hadn’t announced the end of the duel. Then Harry remembered the little gesture he had to make. He turned and held both wands up, his own and Kallen’s captured wand.

Severus laughed once more and announced, “Professor Harry Potter is the winner. As if there was any doubt.”

Cheers and boos both broke out, probably from the people who had bet on Harry and Kallen respectively. Harry sighed and turned to Kallen. He had finished wiping his nose on his handkerchief, and he gave Harry a strained smile.

“I’m really sorry,” Harry said quietly, tossing his wand back.

Kallen sighed. “Don’t be. Maybe I was foolish to think I could win a duel with you.”

“We should have practiced more,” Harry said, and an idea came to him. “Do you want to practice and try again in a few weeks? We could say it was a rematch and ban certain spells from being used—”

Kallen shook his head and held up his hand. “No, Harry. I mean—it’s obvious that you’re just better than me, right?” He sighed and cast a forlorn glance at the stands. Harry looked with him, but Severus had already left. “I should have chosen some other way to impress him. I’ll have to think whether it’s worth continuing here at all.”

Harry grimaced. He had not only failed to help Kallen, he was chasing him away from a job he loved and was good at. “I’m resigning at the end of this term, though. Don’t put Severus in a position where he’d have to find two professors at once.”

Kallen spun towards him, eyes going wide. “You mean it?”

“Yes. I think Hogwarts has been a place to hide instead of home for a while now,” Harry added, to cut off Kallen’s questions. “At least for me. So think about it, okay?” He patted Kallen’s shoulder. “And the students love you.”

Kallen gave him a strained smile. “Right now, they might not. I’m going to have some hard questions from seventh-year Slytherins tomorrow. They were trying to give me some ideas about how to defeat you.”

“Slytherins,” Harry said, which he could say, because Kallen had gone to Durmstrang and not Hogwarts. Kallen laughed, and Harry patted him on the back and said, “See you tomorrow at breakfast, then.”

Harry moved slowly off the pitch. There were reporters who stopped him and wanted to talk to him, and students who told him earnestly that they had bet him, and people who wanted to comment on how terrible Kallen’s performance had been. Harry gave the last the most snappish responses, and shook his head as he continued moving off.

Kallen’s performance had been bad, when he thought about it. But on the other hand, Harry had always been one to put too much power behind his spells and move too fast, faster than most other formal duelists would.

For a moment, Harry couldn’t help wondering what Severus had thought of it. The way he laughed had been strange. Maybe he was irritated with Kallen for some other reason and enjoyed seeing Harry beat him. Or perhaps he simply enjoyed being right about Harry’s talent in Defense.

Harry sighed as he made a polite response to the congratulations of several Gryffindor students. You don’t need to think about that anymore. It’s done.

*

Harry stepped slowly into his quarters, stretching his arms over his head. Unlike his office, where he put most of his Quidditch gear, his quarters were quiet, mostly dark brown wood and dark red and blue tapestries. Ron thought it looked more like a Ravenclaw dorm than anything else. Harry thought he was being loyal enough to Gryffindor with the red in the tapestries and the red couch in front of the fireplace.

“Were you delayed by a party? I have been waiting here for some time.”

With a yelp, Harry dropped his arms and stared at Severus. Severus, on the red couch, not a place where Harry had thought he’d ever deign to sit even during the rare times he dared to fantasize about Severus coming here.

“What do you want, sir?” Harry was now convinced that Severus had been laughing about something else during the game. He folded his arms and returned dark stare for dark stare.

“I overheard you, that day in the library. I do not enjoy being bartered like a prize. Nor do I enjoy the assumption that I would leap, unable to control myself, on the winner of the duel like a wolf in heat.”

Harry had never had a blush hurt before. He shrugged and said the only thing he could. “Sorry.”

“Which is one reason I greatly enjoyed seeing Mr. Ryorth’s plans upset.” Severus stood in a leisurely manner and eyed him. “Shall I tell you the other reason?”

“Wow, only two? Falling down on the job there, aren’t you, Severus? Most Slytherins have at least three—”

Severus promptly swooped across the room and grabbed Harry around the waist. Harry found himself pinned against the mirror on the wall, and his mind was horribly distracted by fears that they might break the glass. “Severus…”

“Yes,” Severus said, his voice deeper. “At least you’re calling me by name now, instead of title.”

Harry found that he could still flare up with indignation even when in the position that he’d spent most of the last year wanting to be in. “You were the one who made a point of addressing me as Professor all the time!”

“Only when I realized how determined you were to suppress and hide your true talents.” Severus sneered down at him. “When you refused the post of Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor, I did allow myself to think that perhaps you had lost that fighting edge in the years since the war. You have not. You still duel more easily than breathing.”

“I wasn’t lying about my reasons! I still don’t want to read about Dark Arts theory and all the rest of it.”

“And if you had someone to discuss it with? To lay out the curses in academic detail and figure out the counters from there? Someone you could practice with?” Severus’s eyes glittered like a crow’s.

Harry paused, then stared at him. “That was why you were always discussing Dark Arts with Kallen.”

“That you call him by his first name irritates me,” Severus muttered. He reached up and ran his hand across Harry’s collarbone in a gesture not the less possessive because it was absent-minded. “And yes. I was trying to signal my interest to you. Apparently I was too subtle.”

“You were always irritated with me and refusing to tell me what I did wrong! Excuse me for not wanting to spend time with someone who got angry at me all the time.”

“I am always angry about a waste of talent.”

Harry tried to speak, but Severus continued on as if it had never occurred to him that Harry might want to talk. “And even in your position as flying instructor, you never played Quidditch or flew as well as I know you can. Perhaps I owe you a debt for setting up this ridiculous duel after all. Any attempt to retreat from your newly exposed strength now would be equally ridiculous, now that so many people have seen it.”

Harry shook his head. “It’s not—why does that matter?”

“I already told you.”

Harry made a frustrated noise and dropped his head back against the mirror. He supposed that some of his own efforts to get over Severus had paid off after all. He no longer felt as if he wanted to excuse everything Severus had done or said, and he wasn’t paying attention to Severus’s arms around him.

Well, not much attention.

“You don’t fly as high as I know you can,” Severus whispered against his ear, and Harry shivered in spite of himself. “You don’t put as much power behind your spells as you need to. You were hiding here. But you would not be if you accepted the position of Defense Against the Dark Arts professor and actually applied yourself.”

Harry closed his eyes. “I thought you liked Kallen. I was trying to leave him an open road to you.”

“Next time, ask me what I like.” Severus’s hand dipped under his robes, and Harry let out a sharp gasp despite himself. So much for not paying attention, he thought, while his muscles quivered and shook. “What want. I am the important one in this equation, not Mr. Ryorth.” He bit the top of Harry’s ear and steered him towards the couch.

Harry set his feet, because there was one more thing he had to ask. “And what about me?”

“I wish to treat you with respect. And I will, no matter what happens after this. Even if you do not want to take up the post of Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor.” Severus talked as prissily as ever, while wrestling Harry stomach-down across the couch.

Harry swallowed. “If I say that I want you to back off now and leave me alone?”

Severus’s hands paused on his neck and arse. “Then I shall do as you say.”

Harry lowered his face into the couch. Part of him did want to stand up and leave. Severus could have been honest with him in the way he was demanding Harry be honest. And maybe Harry owed it to Kallen to…

But at that moment, Harry felt his own mask fall away from him, and rebellion filled him.

No. I was as good as I knew how to be, and it never mattered in the end because Severus didn’t want Kallen anyway.

For once, Harry thought he should get to have what he wanted. And so he lifted his arse and wriggled it against Severus’s hands. “You’re not fast enough,” he said. “Wereyou the one who got hit with the Slowing Curse?”

Severus snarled and yanked the robes and pants off him. Harry lowered his head and accepted the way that Severus pulled out a potion—well, it had to be, from the sound of the cork popping out of the vial—and slid slick fingers into him. He did yelp when his arse suddenly and unnaturally relaxed, though, and turned around on his elbows to stare at Severus accusingly.

Severus kept his head down, but not enough to hide the smirk. “You said that you wished me to go faster.”

“So I did,” Harry muttered, and took a moment to admire the cock Severus was sliding out of his robes—long and thick and pointed and pale red—before he turned around and grunted at the way it slid into him.

Severus’s groan was breathy, soft, better than Harry had imagined it. Of course, everything was better than he had imagined it, especially since he had lately tried to stop imagining it all.

Severus thrust hard enough to nearly send Harry off the couch. He thrust softly enough that Harry was pushing demandingly back for more stimulation. He thrust and wrapped a hand around Harry’s cock, and Harry arched his head back with a gasp.

“Wrong—of him—to assume I would fall into his lap,” Severus gasped into his ear, and Harry nearly asked why they had to talk about Kallen now. “But watching you like that, seeing the way you shone, the way that you exhaled power without even realizing it, how fast you moved and then stood there as if that was the natural speed of any dueler—you don’t even realize how magnificent you are.”

The reverence in Severus’s voice eased so many hurts Harry hadn’t known he had, better than any potion. He curved his spine up in encouragement, unable to speak at the moment.

“You are going to know yourself better before I’m done,” Severus whispered, and then thrust hard, stiffly, with a gasp that showed he was surprised, before his hand made a demand on Harry’s cock that Harry couldn’t help but answer.

It felt like meteors, the orgasm, sleeting through him, burning and brilliant. Harry didn’t care that he was almost being smothered by his own couch, or Severus falling on top of him. This was the way he had wanted it to be. So it was the way it was.

I think I can have a lot more of what I want from now on, he thought hazily, feeling the way Severus’s hand traced over his back.

*

Harry finally thought to move hours later and muttered into the pillow, still certain Severus would hear him, “What about Kallen?”

“You have the most tiresome obsession with that young man.”

Hearing the emphasis Severus placed on young, Harry thought he might know part of what was wrong. He grinned, and resolved to tease Severus about it later. “Well, he told me that he might resign from his post. I think he was partially here to capture your attention. And it’ll probably be harder for him when he learns we’re together.”

He held his breath after that because there was always the chance that he had been mistaken, and Severus didn’t intend—

“Then let him leave,” said Severus indifferently, although one of his hands slipped down and cupped Harry’s elbow. “In the meantime, I have someone who can take up the post of Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor. If he wants it.”

“That would still leave you searching for a flying instructor.”

“I do not particularly care who instructs the students in Quidditch.” Severus rolled Harry over and stared down at him from above. “I care more about talents not suppressing themselves. Do you have any idea how grand you were in that duel? If you will not take up the post, at least find one where you can use your talents.”

Harry wriggled his arse and grinned. “I think I might have some idea.” He hesitated. “And I can’t tell you about the post yet. I want to wait and see how…this…works out.” He waved his hand between him and Severus.

Severus leaned forwards and kissed him. Harry abruptly realized that they hadn’t done that yet. He tangled his hand in Severus’s hair and spared one more fleeting thought for Kallen, who had no idea what he was missing.

And he won’t, either.

There might not be limits to Harry’s happiness right now, and Severus seemed determined that he wouldn’t have them in his professional life, either. But there weredefinitely limits to his nobility.

The End.