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Finding Family

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“The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other's life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof.”

(Richard Bach, Illusions)

 

It was far too late in the evening for anyone bringing good news to be knocking on his door.

The bad news had come only hours ago and had been delivered, rather callously he thought, by post owl. The owl post had been followed up by an official Floo call by the Deputy Director of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. The woman had stayed only five minutes. She might have stayed longer had Severus invited her to sit.

He dropped the letter he was holding onto the sofa beside him, worry suddenly knifing through him, before he captured the emotion and buried it. He stood and strode down the long passageway toward the front door, nodding to Kreacher as the little elf came running, spryly considering his age, from his room beside the kitchen.

“I’ll take care of it, Kreacher. Thank you.” His words were brusque, but not unkind. Kreacher bowed low then vanished with a pop.

“Severus, open the door or I’m opening it myself.”

His visitor had grown impatient, but at least he now knew who was on his doorstep. He waved his wand quickly at the door to remove the warding, realizing that this particular formidable witch could have broken through these rather casual wards with only moderate effort.

“Ms. Granger.”

Hermione Granger-Weasley stood before him, arms folded, wand in her hand. Though she was working hard to project an aura of calm, her face was set with tension and her body held a bit too tautly. Severus stepped to the side, opening the front door wider, and with his right hand gestured for her to enter.

“What do you make of it?” she asked as soon as he closed the door behind her. He had held his hand out automatically for her cloak, and she slid out of it efficiently and handed it to him. She was still wearing her Ministry robes at this late hour, and looked slightly pale. He hung her cloak on a hook in the recess beneath the stairway.

“Come.” He strode down the corridor toward the sitting room at the back of the house, wishing, especially on nights like this one, that he and Harry had not fallen in love with this monstrosity of a house and the gentle rolling estate lands around it; that they had, instead, purchased a cozy cottage in Hogsmeade or a flat in London. Something smaller. More intimate. Some place where he didn’t rattle around so much when he was alone.

He sat back down on the small sofa he had recently vacated while Hermione settled onto the comfortable armchair facing him.

“Kreacher.”

The elf popped in at this elbow, startling Severus. He managed not to jerk or jump. He’d become almost accustomed to the old elf’s alarmingly stealthy appearances.

“Master Severus requires Kreacher’s assistance?” the elf intoned as it bowed. Its ears brushed Severus’ knees.

“Tea, please. For two.” He nodded toward Hermione. Kreacher turned his head and something like a smile appeared on his aged face. He had developed a particular tolerance for Hermione Granger back in their Horcrux hunting days, a tolerance that might even have become acceptance. He bowed and popped away again. Severus knew they would be getting a particularly fine tea.

“You’re awfully calm, Severus,” said Hermione. Her voice rose in pitch. “You did get the letter? And the visit from Hollingsworth?”

Severus picked up the letter from where he’d dropped it when she’d knocked on the door. He placed it on the low tea table in front of him and frowned down at it. “They’ve been gone a week. Harry told me he’d be away no less than ten days. I hadn’t even begun to worry.”

Hermione’s eyebrows shot up. “Ron told me five days,” she said.

“Yet they are on the same mission,” stated Severus. He picked up the letter again, turned it over and studied it.

“Ron did mention the mission might be extended,” said Hermione. “He’s unusually optimistic.”

“And Harry unusually pessimistic,” returned Severus. “He obviously did not want me to worry.”

“And Ron was trying to placate me. I’ve been very…emotional…lately.”

Severus looked up from the letter and stared at her. She looked like she could do with some tea. Strong tea. Or perhaps some firewhisky.

“The letter says they missed two check-ins,” she continued. “Next of kin are only notified when they miss the second. Hollingsworth says their current status is ‘whereabouts unknown.’” She looked down at her lap, obviously fighting with her conscience. But she glanced up again rather quickly and caught his eye. “Do you know where they went? Did Harry tell you?” She asked the questions quickly, her voice low, as if fearful of being overheard.

“No,” he answered, shaking his head. “Regretfully, I do not. I only know that he took his fur-lined cloak.” He didn’t tell her that Harry had tried to hide this from Severus, casually draping his lightweight cloak over the heavier one. He knew then by the look on Harry’s face that Harry had known he’d been caught. But Severus hadn’t called him out on it. Harry had come downstairs to the lab to say goodbye and Severus had held up his hand, forcing him to wait while he carefully counted the last dozen counter-clockwise stirs then reduced the fire under the pewter cauldron. They’d kissed goodbye in the lab’s little antechamber. Thinking back on it now—the fur-lined cloak, the way Harry had held on to him when the kiss had ended, breathing in his scent with his tousled head buried in Severus’ neck—had Harry known this assignment was more dangerous than any other?

“It’s nearly April,” Hermione said, as if puzzling out the mystery. Kreacher popped back in with the tea tray at that moment. The tray was heaped with delicate biscuits, the kind one might sample at the end of high tea, as well as some of the good, standard variety that Severus favored.

“It’s spring in London,” Severus commented. He poured for Hermione and pressed the smallish cup into her hand. “I took it to mean Harry was headed north.”

“Oh.” Hermione Granger-Weasley paled even further. “The Laroquet case. You’ve known the whole time?”

“I suspected,” said Severus. Laroquet was a Canadian wizard who had used magic to steal the Rosetta Stone from the British Museum. He’d murdered a museum curator, a security guard and the Secretary of State for Education, all of whom had been in the chamber when he’d gone after the stone.

“I had no idea they were on that case,” Hermione said. She looked like she was about to faint. This concerned Severus. While he and Ms. Granger were not exactly friends, they spent quite a bit of time in each other’s company. He had never noticed this propensity in her, and Ron and Harry had certainly been in tight spots before.

“We should go after them,” she said suddenly. “You must know something else, Severus. What city in Canada? It must be somewhere north….”

But Severus shook his head. He reached out his hand, placing it on her wrist.

“Ms. Granger, our spouses are Aurors and we are not. I have been assured that a full contingent of field Aurors and investigators is on the case. We cannot go—we’d only be in the way.”

“In the way?” Hermione stared at him, an unbelieving smile curving her lip. “Severus Snape—master spy extraordinaire in the way? You could run circles around them and they’d never know.” She looked earnestly at him then. “You have Harry’s cloak....”

He looked away, unable to hold her gaze as he handily lied. “I would not take his cloak.”

“How can you be so callous?” Hermione shot at him. She pulled her hand away from his. “How can you just sit there drinking tea when Ron and Harry might be…might be injured? Or captured?”

Severus placed his cup on the table, noting as he did so that his hand was shaking. The tea in the half-filled cup was sloshing, breaking up the sides of the cup in waves.

“They will let us know as soon as they hear something. Ms. Granger—” he paused, took a breath. “Hermione.” She looked up at him, her eyes wide with surprise. It seemed such a small thing, an easy concession, he thought, to address her by her given name. Why had he not done so before? “They will advise us as soon as they know something. There is nothing else we can do.”

“They’re not dead.” Her left hand, the hand Severus had steadied a moment earlier, came up to hold the teacup with her right. She took a long drink then put the cup down and reached a shaky hand for a biscuit, choosing one of the plain variety that Severus preferred. Her other hand came down to rest briefly on her abdomen.

He stared at her. Severus Snape was no romantic and no fool. He knew Harry’s job was dangerous. He knew Harry risked his life on every assignment. Risked his life for reasons that were intensely personal to him. Safety. Security. Justice. Things that had been denied him as a child. The murdered museum guard had left behind a pregnant wife and two young children. That was personal to Harry. He understood that. Severus had spent half of his life in a role even more dangerous than the job Harry had taken up. That he’d survived was a miracle. That he and Harry had become anything more than grudging acquaintances even more of one. That they’d settled down together, committed, monogamous partners, married in a Muggle ceremony in the Netherlands, was so inconceivable that sometimes, when he was working in the herb garden in the terraced beds behind the house, he’d sit back in the dirt and laugh so hard his shoulders would shake and tears would stream down his face.

He’d been at a rather out-of-the-way alchemist’s negotiating for some rare ingredients when the Aurors raided the place, arrested the proprietor and took Severus in for questioning. He’d been sitting in the holding cell, fuming, when Harry Potter came in to escort him out.

Harry had taken him across the street for lunch and a pint.

This life…this life they’d created. Incomprehensible.

This life without Harry? Inconceivable.

“No. Not dead.” Severus leaned to the side and picked up an ornate box from a side table. He placed it on the tea table between them and pushed the tea service to the side. “Do you play?” he asked as he opened the box and began removing chessmen, knights and rooks and pawns and bishops, kings and queens, lining them up on the table then flipping the box upside down, folded open to create the board.

“Not well,” answered Hermione. “Ron’s the expert in the family.” Her voice seemed to catch on the word family.

“Fortunate then that these pieces do not shout suggestions out and confuse the game further,” he said with a wry smile. He began setting up the black pieces on his side of the board and watched Hermione arrange her own pieces, obviously familiar enough with the game to make quick work of the setup.

“You’re trying to distract me,” she said, but her words were not an accusation.

He didn’t deny it. He also didn’t admit that the game was as much to distract himself as it was to distract her.

“Is Ronald the best in his family?” he asked instead as he made his first move, behind her predictable first.

“By far. Bill and Percy give him a fair run for his money, but Ginny’s his biggest competition.”

“Ah, the formidable Miss Weasley,” said Severus. Ginny Weasley remained, unaccountably, one of Harry’s closest friends, despite the fact that he’d been dating her when he’d begun, well, pursuing Severus. Of course at the time he hadn’t realized he was pursuing him. It only mattered that Severus, the more experienced homosexual of the two, had.

“She’s a force to be reckoned with,” said Hermione, capturing one of Severus’ pawns and studying the board. “You do realize I’m going to lose in five moves or fewer?” she asked.

“I do,” responded Severus. “Let’s play it out and I’ll show you where you went wrong, hmm?”

The game ended as predicted, and Severus traced the moves back while she watched. He then reset the board and warmed the tea.

“Ginny’s pregnant,” said Hermione casually as the second game ended. She had gotten at least six moves further in this game than the first and seemed to consider it a small victory.

Severus had slid his remaining pieces back to their starting points and was moving the captured pieces from the table back to the board. His hand froze and he looked up at Hermione.

“Caught you with that one, didn’t I?” she asked.

“Does Harry know?” Severus continued moving his pawns into position.

She shook her head. “She told me today. They’ve only known for a couple weeks. Charlie and Anton are ecstatic.”

Severus schooled his expression. “They have waited a long time for a family.” He pushed a pawn forward two squares. “It is a selfless gift. Miss Weasley is a gracious person to offer to carry a child for her brother and brother-in-law.”

“Molly is getting used to the idea,” said Hermione. She made her move and Severus followed it quickly with his own. “Ron…Ron will be excited….”

Severus noticed her hesitation. “Ronald loves children. And they him. They use him as playground equipment.”

“You’ve noticed,” she said with a small smile.

“How many Christmas Eves have I spent at the Burrow now? How many Sunday dinners?”

“A few,” she said. “Nearly as many as I have I suppose.”

“Harry first took me there in 2002,” he said. “I believe you have a few years on me.”

“I remember that Christmas,” she said.

“You’re losing focus,” Severus said as he captured a pawn and put her in check.

“You wore green,” she said. “And Harry…I’d never seen Harry so happy.”

Severus remembered that Christmas as well. The second Christmas they’d been together. Harry hadn’t even bothered to ask him the Christmas before—Severus had been quite firm that he didn’t celebrate the holiday and Harry should go off and celebrate as he always did and come see him when he’d worked all the mistletoe and fa-la-las out of his system. Severus had sat at home that Christmas, in his tiny front room at Spinner’s End, drinking the last of the old mead Albus had left him. He’d had a stack of potions journals, a hefty manuscript to edit and two textbooks to review. Even though he’d left his teaching career behind him, Minerva still asked him for the occasional favor.

The next Christmas, however, they were living together in a flat in London not too far from the Ministry. Severus had come home one day to find a small tree on the table in the entry where they dropped loose knuts and sickles and sorted the post. It was a sad thing, two feet tall, droopy braches of short needles, roots wrapped in a burlap ball of earth. He’d stared at it for a long moment before sighing in resignation and heading off to the kitchen.

When Harry came home, the tree had a red dish towel wrapped around its base as a skirt. A star, which Severus had painstakingly sculpted from aluminum foil, adorned the top and cranberry ornaments hung from the branches. He’d had Minerva send over some fairy lights, and the tree shone with their flickering glow. It was such a little thing, so paltry, but it had made Harry so happy. After the marvelous blow job Harry had bestowed on him as a reward, how could he have said no when Harry asked him to go to the Burrow on Christmas Eve?

He’d found Arthur and Molly’s home to be more chaotic than he’d always imagined it, but even more welcoming. The Weasleys eased him into their midst with little fanfare and he’d found it easy to disappear in the crowd, at least until the opening of gifts.

Or, better said, The Opening of Gifts.

For it was indeed an Event at the Weasleys. Harry found him before the Event. He was sitting in the parlor, in the corner of a sofa with Charlie and his boyfriend Anton, reading a very old and very worn back issue of Witch Weekly that he’d found on the end table. Harry wedged himself between Anton and Severus with a one-too-many-eggnog “Budge over, you twit” then wrapped an arm around Severus and settled into his side.

All in all, the evening was tolerable. The food was hearty, no one forced him to sing carols and he went home with a fine bottle of red wine, a pair of dragonskin work gloves, some self-sizing house slippers in sensible black and an antique potions vial of cut glass that Hermione had found in an oddments store in Diagon Alley. And his first Weasley jumper.

He’d even put it on there at the end, right over his black shirt and green waistcoat, for the family picture. He’d offered to hold the camera instead, but of course it was charmed to hover in front of them, frame the photo, focus and shoot. Repeatedly. Harry had only had to say “Please, Severus,” twice before he pulled the thing over his head. Severus stayed in his corner of the sofa for the group photo, and Harry sat on the floor between his knees, elbows resting on Severus’ thighs.

He still had that jumper. It was all black, cable-knit, rather plain and exceedingly warm.

He’d gone back every year since. He could tolerate the crowd once a year and usually holed up in the kitchen with Percy playing Wizarding Scrabble.

He thought, suddenly, bleakly, of the possibility of Christmas without Harry. It was unthinkable.

“Your move, Severus.”

He looked up at Hermione. She must have seen something on his face, in his eyes, some trace of the unthinkable thought, for her face suddenly looked stricken. The clock on the mantel began to chime then, and they counted silently.

“Ten o’clock,” he said, studying the board instead of his guest’s face.

“What are you usually doing at this time?” she asked, edging her knight over and forward.

“Reading in bed,” he answered easily. “You?”

“Yoga.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Yoga?”

“Ron and I spend thirty minutes doing yoga before we go to bed. He’s become so much more flexible….”

She stopped midway through the thought, blushing. “What are you reading now?”

“Until Harry returns, Potions Quarterly.”

She watched him capture a pawn and place the captured piece on the table to the left of the board. “He doesn’t approve of Potions Quarterly?” she asked.

“We read fiction…together,” Severus admitted. “I read aloud to him. He says he finds it relaxing. We’ve gotten through quite a library this way.”

“And what book are you reading now?” she asked, genuinely interested.

“We’re currently reliving our childhood,” he answered. She looked up then and he knew she had caught the whimsical look on his face. She smiled.

“I imagine Harry didn’t have much of a childhood to relive,” she said softly as she looked back down at the board, pretending to study it again. “What are you reading, then?”

“The Wind in the Willows,” he said. “Harry stops by the public library every Wednesday on the way home from the Ministry. He does not seem at all embarrassed to peruse the children’s section.”

“It’s a lovely book,” she said. “No apologies, please. I have an illustrated edition of my own my parents gave me before I went to Hogwarts.”

“A gift to treasure, then,” he said. “Check.”

They played quietly for ten minutes, until Hermione conceded the game. Neither made a move to set up the pieces again. Hermione looked up at the clock again and shivered.

Severus pointed his wand at the fire and it increased in intensity, sending heat into the room almost immediately.

“Thank you,” Hermione whispered. She reached out and picked up one of the chess pieces they’d been using, turning it in her hand and examining it. “These are beautiful,” she said. The rook in her hand was dark and expertly carved, the design elongated, a shadowlike figure that was nonetheless substantial. “What’s the wood?”

 

“The dark pieces are of alder,” he said. “The light of holly.”

“Oh,” said Hermione, picking up the white queen. She studied it a moment, comprehension dawning on her drawn face. “Oh!” She looked at him significantly. “It was a gift, then?”

“Harry would not play with my wizarding set. He claimed it was biased toward me.” Severus reached down and picked up the white king, turning it in his hand and feeling its weight. “He gifted me this particular set on my birthday two years ago.”

“What a clever idea,” she said thoughtfully. “Matching your wand wood.” She looked up. “I am right, aren’t I? You have an alder wand?”

He nodded, his fingers wrapping more tightly around the piece in his hand.

The Chess Game

“The board is made of the same woods,” he said, running the fingers of his other hand lightly over the inlaid squares. “Alder and holly.”

“Dark and light,” mused Hermione. “Yin and Yang.” She smiled as she ran her own fingers over the board. “It’s exquisite. But then, Harry doesn’t do things by halves.”

“No, he does not,” said Severus.

“I like what you’ve done with the manor,” said Hermione, looking around the room. She placed the white queen on the table and settled back in her chair. Her eyes drifted over to the clock again and she frowned.

Severus scoffed. “We’ve done nothing. We bought the place with furnishings included. Half the rooms are still empty.”

“That’s not true, Severus,” countered Hermione. “Well, I’m sure it’s true that half the rooms in this place are still empty. But you’ve rearranged things, haven’t you? At least in here. It’s so much cozier than it was when you moved in.”

Severus turned the chess board over and began tucking the pieces away. He closed the board and latched the clasp then placed the entire set back on the end table. “I hardly think cozy was what we were intending,” he said blithely.

Hermione didn’t seem to hear him. She sighed and glanced up at the clock again and Severus had half a mind to take the clock and hurl it into the fire. He would, he thought, if it wasn’t the clock Molly and Arthur had given them as a wedding present. Harry would have a hard time forgiving him that, no matter the explanation he gave him when he came home.

When he came home.

“Do you play cards?” he asked suddenly. Hermione had just opened her mouth to say something and his abrupt question cut her off before she began.

“Muggle cards?” she asked. He could tell she was surprised at the question. “Why cards, Severus?”

“Frankly, we need something to do to pass the time other than staring at each other and imagining the worst.”

“What would you do if I weren’t here?” she asked.

“Turn the clock around and go downstairs to brew. And if you resolved to stay here with me….”

She stared at him as if judging his receptivity to just that then nodded once.

“…I must infer you have not told the Weasleys?”

She looked away again, toward the damned clock.

“It is 10:30, precisely five minutes since the last time you looked.” He started out exasperated and ended on a more gentle note as he watched her face fall. “If you are determined to stay and wait this out with me….”

“You’re not planning to sleep either?” She gave him a wan, tired smile.

“If you are determined to stay and wait this out with me, I could use your help in the laboratory. Harry has told you of my work, I assume?”

“Considering you’re using him as a guinea pig? Yes.” He thought she sounded disapproving.

“You obviously don’t approve,” Severus said.

“Of your work? Oh, I approve of a safer alternative to Dreamless Sleep. I approve of a salve to erase scars. And I certainly approve of the work you’re doing with the patients on the permanent spell damage ward. I’m just not sure I approve of using Harry to test out the remedies.”

“I obviously don’t use Harry all the time, nor for all my research,” Severus said, bristling.

“I’m rather fond of his scar,” she replied.

“My current work is on the sleep aid,” Severus said. “And I don’t need Harry to test my scar creams—I have plenty of scars myself.” He met her challenge and raised it by one.

She had the good grace to blush slightly as she stood.

“I’d be happy to help, Severus. It’s been some time since I’ve been in a Potions laboratory but I’m sure it will come back to me.”

He waved his wand toward the fireplace as he stood, banking the fire and reducing the flame. He then led the way out of the room to a solid door at the back of the house near the kitchen. Hermione peaked into the formal dining room and into an unfurnished parlor as they passed by. Severus pulled open the door, cast a Lumos to light the stairway lamps and descended into the basement with Hermione following him.

The room resembled the Potions lab at Hogwarts only in how it smelled. The two work tables were topped with polished granite and, with the absence of students such as Neville Longbottom, were virtually unmarred, though each had a cauldron and various instruments on it. Stools of adjustable size were tucked in next to the tables. Ingredients were stored in neat cabinets while cauldrons and other supplies were stacked and organized on shelves. A deep-welled sink with three taps stood against a wall. Severus’ desk was here as well, a monstrosity of a thing, with an old-fashioned roll top and two dozen cubby-holes and drawers. The desk was covered in neat stacks of parchments, some bound into folios. An assortment of quills stood up in an empty wide-mouthed glass vial and three bottles of ink, all capped, were arranged around it. An old-fashioned wooden desk chair was pushed up against the desk, a thin green cushion on its seat.

Severus walked to the fireplace first, lighting it with a quick wave of his wand. The fire warmed the air almost immediately and the light from it spread a warm glow around the large room.

“I have two projects ongoing,” said Severus. He pulled out a stool at the end of one table for Hermione and took a seat himself across from her.

She nodded. “Go on.”

“I am on version number seven of the Restful Sleep potion. My intent is to create a potion that encourages sleepiness and keeps bad dreams and nightmares at bay. It will not suppress them entirely as Dreamless Sleep does and will thus be safer and far healthier in the long run. But sleep patterns are complicated, and differ from person to person.” He trailed off as he stood up and walked over to one of the work tables, peering into the small cauldron that sat atop it.

“Your seventh version?” asked Hermione. She stood as well and went to stand across from him. She looked into the cauldron. He followed her glance. The potion was aqua-blue and opaque. It glimmered behind the stasis charm he had applied when the owl had come earlier, interrupting his work.

“I am getting closer,” he said. He picked up a stirring rod, looked at it critically, then set it back down on the table. “I believe the base to be stable and have been working with the proportions and preparations. Currently, I’m using pulverized Valerian root and am considering blending it first with the powdered moonstone instead of adding each separately.”

“Doesn’t dreamless sleep contain melatonin?” she asked. He noted that she looked at the other ingredients on the table critically, as if judging their appropriateness for the task.

“It does, and so does this potion.” He looked at Hermione with approval, then picked up a glass vial, peered into it and replaced it carefully exactly where it had been sitting. He frowned and turned the vial fractionally. “Version six was nearly successful. Harry tried it last Monday night, after….”

“After the Palmero trial,” said Hermione, cutting in. “Ron could have used it that night too. That man is a monster.”

“Indeed.”

“What kept version six from being entirely successful then?” she asked. She seemed restless. He watched her push out the stool beside her with her foot then climb up on it. She rested her elbows on the work table and continued to watch him.

“Night sweats,” answered Severus, remembering all too well the after-effects of draught number six. “He appeared to sleep peacefully, but sweated so much he soaked the sheets. Which led to a rather curious dream, which he described to me when he woke, of being in the Prefect’s bathroom at Hogwarts swimming with a mermaid.”

Hermione smiled.

“When will this version be ready?”

Severus looked down into the cauldron again. “Tonight. I’ve only to strain then decant it.”

“Well….” She looked into the murky blue potion then up again at him. “If we don’t hear anything soon, I might be willing to try it out tonight. I don’t think I’ll be getting any peaceful sleep on my own.”

Severus waved his wand over the potion to remove the stasis spell then quickly arranged the straining cloth over a fresh cauldron.

“Are you pregnant?”

He asked the question casually, as he ladled the first bit of potion out of the cauldron and onto the straining cloth, and watched as Hermione’s hand went to her abdomen, as she looked down, then quickly back up and over at Severus.

He ladled more of the potion onto the straining cloth, seemingly completely focused on the job at hand.

“How did you know?”

He smiled slightly as he continued his work.

“A good guess, I suppose,” he said. He glanced up at her. “And I could not in good conscience give an experimental potion to a pregnant woman.” He scooped up another ladleful of potion. “I am assuming it is early—you haven’t told anyone yet?”

“No one,” she said. Her voice broke a bit. “I was going to tell Ron when he got back—as soon as he got back. I just found out for sure the day after he left.”

Severus finished pouring out another ladle full of potion and paused to look across at Hermione.

“Then may I be the first to offer my congratulations,” he said, a genuine smile on his face. “Harry….” He paused, his voice breaking. He looked at the empty ladle in his hand as if he didn’t quite remember why it was there. “Harry will be so pleased.”

Hermione watched in silence while he strained the remainder of the potion then decanted it into six glass phials. He inserted a corked stopper into each then began to clean up the work table.

“You said you had another project?” said Hermione when the table was nearly clear. “Is there something I can do to help? Prepare ingredients, perhaps? Something to pass the time?”

“I’m working on the base for the scar treatment salve,” he said, motioning toward the other work table. It’s designed to increase the skin’s elasticity. This one,” he paused and looked up at her. “Stretch marks.”

“Stretch marks?” she said. “I’m not even a month along….”

“No, a preventative,” he said. “I should have a workable base in another few weeks. You can take the sample and apply it nightly.”

“Glad I can be of help,” she said with a slight grin. “But actually, I was hoping you had something for me to do now.”

In answer, he fetched a bundle of willow branches from the counter beside the sink and placed them in front of her along with a large, shallow bowl.

“Strip the bark,” he said, pushing a knife across the table toward her.

They worked together in companionable silence for some time. The minutes dragged on but as Severus had turned the mantle clock around, Hermione was unable to follow the progression of time. She stripped each branch meticulously, shredding the bark entirely to Severus’ satisfaction.

“You are an excellent assistant,” he said when she was half-finished with her task. “I believe you missed your calling.”

“I can’t have a job I can take home with me,” she said. “I’d spend all my time in my lab and not enough time with my family.” She sighed and her hand strayed once again to her perfectly flat stomach. “It’s hard enough with Ron’s job.”

She stopped and bit her bottom lip. Severus stared at her. It was a gesture he often caught Harry doing, though under different circumstances. Harry would worry his bottom lip as he concentrated on a task or while puzzling through the index cards he’d make to map out a difficult case.

“I can’t do this alone,” she said suddenly, giving in to the fear that was chasing her, the fear she was no longer able to hold at bay. The willow branch in her hand fell to the table.

Severus knew, of course, that she was not talking about peeling the bark off of willow branches.

He reached his hand across the table and touched her arm. From Severus Snape, this was akin to a hug.

Hermione looked up, her breath catching in her throat. A tear had started down her cheek and she brushed it away with her other hand.

“You…you will not be alone,” he said. He knew his voice was not steady, but he continued. “No matter what happens, you will not be alone.”

When she met his eyes, he knew he was had. His fear. He made a career out of tamping it down, keeping it in, denying it. No matter how much he knew that Harry put himself in danger every day he went to work, no matter how much he understood the possibility that there may come a day when Harry did not return, he had not once, not really, ever considered a life without him.

A life without Harry.

“Oh, Severus,” breathed Hermione. She reached out with her other hand to grasp his wrist. Her hold on him tightened as another tear slipped down her cheek.

He turned his arm slowly and his hand curled around to grasp her wrist as well. They stood there, looking at each other, separated by the granite-topped table, the mother-to-be and the Potions Master, the spouses left behind.

*~*

“I haven’t quite given up caffeine yet,” said Hermione. She was perched on a chair at the small breakfast table in a nook in the large manor kitchen. The table was tall—Severus and Harry sometimes stood around it drinking tea in the morning—and the chairs around it correspondingly so.

Severus sighed. “I admit I don’t follow current practices on pre-natal development.” He finished pouring her tea and placed the steaming cup in front of her. “However, I doubt that a cup of Earl Grey will hurt, given the current circumstances.”

Hermione picked up her cup and held it in both hands, blowing softly on the surface. She gave him a tired smile. “Ginny’s a month further along than me. She’ll be able to tell me well in advance exactly what I should and shouldn’t do. We’ll be seeing the same healer….” She trailed off, then changed direction. “They used a donor egg, you know,” she said suddenly. “So the baby isn’t Ginny’s biological child.”

Severus had been stirring his tea slowly, rather mindlessly. He looked up at Hermione. “Interesting. That opens up more possibilities for paternity. Who is the biological father?”

“They aren’t saying,” said Hermione with an amused smile.

“It will likely be apparent later,” said Severus, “but I understand their intention. They will both be fathers to the child and the matter of biology is of small importance.”

“She’d do it for you and Harry, you know,” said Hermione, rather quickly. She met his eyes as he stared at her, mouth slightly open. “I’d do it for you too.”

“You would. You would carry a child…a baby…for Harry.” He fumbled over the words.

“No, not for Harry,” Hermione said softly, still looking at him. “For both of you.”

“What makes you think…” Severus cleared his throat and tried again. “What makes you think Harry and I…that Harry and I…want a child?”

“Oh.” Her open gaze narrowed a bit. She faltered, as if second-guessing herself, but seemed to come to a decision and forged onward. “It’s just that Harry loves children so much. You’ve seen him with Teddy, and with Victoire and the other little ones. It doesn’t—it doesn’t have to be me, or Ginny, you know. If you wanted a baby sooner than that I’m sure you could find another surrogate.”

“Another surrogate? Did you have someone particular in mind?” he asked, almost spitting out the words.

“No. I only thought you might want a baby sooner…sooner than Ginny or I could manage it.”

“Sooner? Does it look like we’re ready for a child? He’s an Auror for Merlin’s sake! He’s gone on assignment all the time! And I’m here meddling with dangerous potions ingredients. Who would raise this child? Who would look after him while Harry…while Harry is off on some mission from hell?” His voice grew gradually louder and the words escaped him in hisses, the bottled emotion surging from him like steam from a boiling kettle, too long withheld, too long under pressure.

“But he’s going to quit the Aurors,” protested Hermione in surprise. She was staring at Severus, eyes wide. “To spend more time here—with you.” She gave a short laugh and swept her arm around the kitchen, taking in the large, cavernous space. “So you don’t rattle around all alone out here.”

“Rattle around?” He stared at her, expression more angry than amused. “Rattle around? When did you have this conversation?”

“Severus, I’m sorry.” Hermione’s face had paled. “Honestly, I assumed…I just assumed you knew. He’s been talking about it for weeks, now. Ron’s quite upset, really…they’ve been partners for so long he….”

“My husband has told me nothing of this!” Severus’ voice began low, dangerously low. “He has not mentioned once that he plans to leave his job and come fill up space here so that I don’t rattle around in this empty house!” He stood and whirled around, facing the nothingness behind him. “He makes life-altering plans, doesn’t bother to tell me and then goes off and gets himself….”

“Severus!” Hermione stood and took quick steps over toward him. “Severus! I’m sure he was going to tell you when he got back. He told Ron this would be his last mission. He must have wanted to surprise you.”

“Well, he surprised me,” spat Severus. He threw a hard gaze at the young woman in front of him. “He cannot quit the Aurors to spend more time here with me! That is ludicrous! He loves his job. It is what he lives for…what he…”

“No. No, Severus.” Hermione had moved in front of him as he whirled around again to face away from her. “Severus, please.” She reached out and took hold of his arm. “It’s not like that—not at all. It’s you, Severus. You are what Harry lives for. It’s always been you.” She said it with such earnestness that, looking into her liquid brown eyes, he almost believed her. He wanted to believe her. Wanted so much to believe her.

“Has he—has he spoken of a child?” His voice was dangerously low. He was angry. Furious. Furious that Harry would assume he was not happy here, happy rattling around alone in this monstrosity of a home. Would decide to give up the career he had always wanted for…him. Angry with himself, for letting Harry see that he was lonely, that it was not enough to be with him sometimes, when work did not intervene.

Hermione shook her head. “No. Not specifically. Only…he only ever said he’d like one, someday.”

“Interesting.” He could not keep the edge from his voice. “He never mentioned that to me.”

She jerked her head up and stared at him, and he knew she must see the rawness, the betrayal.

“Do you want a child, Severus?” she asked after a drawn-out moment.

“I have never dared to hope for one,” he answered. “I have been given enough already. More than I deserve.”

“You didn’t answer my question,” she said.

“No. I did not,” he acknowledged.

“Don’t be angry with me,” warned Hermione. “I had no idea he hadn’t told you. He never asked me not to say anything to you.”

“I am angry at Harry!” he exclaimed. The emotion was so close to the surface he could no longer contain it. Anger borne of love, of worry, of fear. Overwhelming, all-consuming love engendering terrifying fear, mind-destroying worry.

“No,” said Hermione. She placed a hand on his arm, squeezed it hard. “You’re angry at yourself. For loving him as much as you do. For letting him get under your skin.” She let go of him and walked across the room to a dark window looking out to a starlit sky. She gazed out into the night then turned again to face Severus. “He’s out there somewhere, Severus—they’re both out there. And with every fiber of my being I know that you’re what he’s thinking about. You’re what he wants to come home to.”

“If he’s alive,” said Severus. “If the idiot hasn’t gotten himself killed.”

There. He’d said it.

“They’re not dead.” Hermione spat the words right back at him.

“They’ve missed two check-ins. Two. Where do you think they are? Having high tea with the Prince of Wales?”

It wasn’t a very good retort. It wasn’t even funny. He was exhausted. He didn’t want to think about where Harry might be. There were few possibilities. Dead. Captured. Hiding. Injured.

“They’re not dead!” she said again, louder this time. She came at him then, hands raised as if to beat him on the chest, and he grabbed her wrists and held them. He was angry enough to want to throw something. She was angry enough to want to throw him.

As it was, staring at each other like that, arms and lips quivering, they did not see the lynx Patronus leap through the wall. Did not see it until it stood at their feet, pacing, delivering a message in Kingsley Shacklebolt’s deep voice.

“We have them. Get to St. Mungo’s immediately.”

Hermione, startled, jerked her arms, trying to free herself from Severus’ grasp.

Severus, equally startled, released her arms and dropped his hands. He took a step backward and stared down at the Patronus, whose ears twitched as it stared at them before fading away into smoky mist.

“St. Mungo’s,” whispered Hermione, still staring down at where the lynx had been.

“Immediately,” muttered Severus. He strode quickly toward the doorway that led from the kitchen to the central corridor. He didn’t look back. He heard Hermione behind him, her footsteps soft and quick on the hardwood floor. “Kreacher!”

The little elf popped in immediately. “There is an emergency,” said Severus as the little elf followed him into the corridor. “I will return when I can.”

He went directly for the cloak cupboard and got Hermione’s cloak, turning to hand it to her before reaching back for his own.

There were two more cloaks hanging side by side on two hooks. His own cloak, medium-weight, black, Impervius charm to make it weatherproof. Beside it, fabric brushing fabric, hung another cloak of Harry’s. Identical to Severus’ except in the dark green color.

Severus stared at Harry’s cloak then reached out one hand, noting somewhere in the back of his mind that it was shaking, and carefully rehung the cloak so that only the small circle of fabric on the inside of the collar was looped over the hook. He brushed the cloak with his hand then, smoothing out the wrinkles it had acquired the last time it had been worn.

“Severus....” Hermione’s voice from behind him was soft but insistent. “We need to hurry.”

He took up his own cloak and put it on quickly, clasping it at his throat, then turned and held out his arm.

“Together, then?”

Hermione nodded.

“Together.”

~*~

The first thing he saw, when they were ushered into the Auror’s ward, was Ron Weasley pacing in front of a closed door.

Ron Weasley who looked like hell.

Bruised and scratched face. Torn robes. Pale. Right arm held tightly against his stomach as he limped.

“Ron!”

Hermione launched herself at him, seemingly oblivious of his injuries, and he enveloped her with one arm as she cried with relief against his chest.

Severus’ eyes were on the door behind him.

Harry was nowhere in sight.

Ron continued to clutch Hermione to him, both of them sobbing. Severus watched as Hermione dropped her arms at last, realization dawning on her. She pushed herself away from her husband. Her head tilted back so she could look up at Ron’s face.

“Harry?” her voice was low, wary.

But now Ron wasn’t looking at his wife. He was looking over her head, at Severus.

“He’s hurt.” His voice was barely recognizable. Hoarse and low, as if he’d been screaming and had worn it out, exhausted his vocal chords. “Badly. They won’t let me….won’t let me see him.”

The distraction of seeing his wife, of holding her and comforting her, was now forgotten and he tore his eyes away from Severus, turned back to the door hopelessly and then slid down the wall until he was sitting on the floor, against the door frame, head in his hands.

“Harry is in there?”

His own voice sounded little better than Ron’s.

“They won’t let me in. They took him—took him in there. I tried! I tried to get to him but…but my wand was gone. When it collapsed—the roof.”

Hermione had knelt in front of her husband and was holding his head with her hands.

Severus hadn’t moved except to take two steps nearer.

“Ron. Shh. It’s alright.” Hermione’s voice was soothing. “Breathe.” She used her thumb to wipe tears from his cheek. “Breathe.”

“I tried!” Ron sobbed. “It was booby-trapped. The safe house. Harry was ahead of me—I…I was in the foyer when it…when it caved in on him. He didn’t have time…he was tired. We were both so tired….”

“Mr. Weasley—you are injured.” Severus had taken two more steps in, eyes wavering between Harry’s best friend and the door that separated him from Harry. “Have you been seen?”

“No, damn it!” Ron shot the words back at him, almost viciously. “This is nothing!”

Severus’ face paled.

“What?” he demanded, now taking the last few steps forward so he was beside them. “How badly is Harry injured? What happened?

“The fucking roof fell in on him!” Ron’s voice was so hoarse the words came out like raspy breaths. “Fucking wall fell on me! I couldn’t get to him! I could hear him moaning. God damn it I could hear him moaning your name! Begging you to help him. To help me!” He turned and pounded his left hand against the wall in anger, in frustration. “My wand was gone! Took me hours and hours to find it! I tried! I tried to move the debris with my hands. There was too much.” He was crying now, crying in earnest, and Hermione was staring at him, still on her knees, running a hand through his hair, a pained understanding on her face.

“I couldn’t leave him. I couldn’t leave him. Not again. Not this time.”

“Oh, Ron,” breathed Hermione. “It’s alright. You got to him, didn’t you? You brought him here as soon as you could.”

Severus pulled his eyes away from the couple on the floor and turned suddenly toward the door. He reached out and grasped the handle and attempted to push the door inward. The door wouldn’t budge. He leaned against it, pressing an ear against the solid wood. He could hear voices, low, a worried thrum of them, movement.

“Alohomora.” He cast the charm at the door and tried the handle again. It remained locked. He grabbed the handle now and shook it, pushed against the door with his shoulder.

Hands on his arm. “Severus. Come sit with me.”

He resisted a moment, shouldered the door again, glared at it, but let her pull him away. He was beginning to shake.

Ron Weasley was still sitting on the floor, head back against the doorframe, eyes squeezed shut. If possible, he looked worse than he did when they first entered the room.

“He needs medical attention,” said Severus, distractedly, as Hermione led him to one of the chairs against the wall. The door was too far away now. He stood up again as soon as she went back to tend to her husband.

“Severus.” Kingsley Shacklebolt, head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement now after retiring from his role as Minister of Magic, strode purposefully into the room. “How is he?”

“I’d very much like to know that,” answered Severus. He hated that his voice broke. That he sounded so weak. Hermione had come over to Severus when Kingsley entered. She was gripping his hand, and he was gripping hers back tightly, a lifeline of sorts.

“They’re working on him,” said Ron, pulling himself up to his feet shakily. “That safe house was booby trapped!”

Kingsley’s eyes narrowed. “Booby trapped?”

“Muggle trip wire.” Ron kicked the wall. “Harry was tired. We were both bloody tired. We found the house and he went in first. I was behind him. But I was against the foyer wall and had some protection. I couldn’t get to him. Didn’t have my wand—it was knocked out of my hand. And I couldn’t go for help—not until I either found my wand or moved the rubble by hand.”

Kingsley had walked over to Ron and was staring at him gravely. He reached out and took one of Ron’s hands. He turned it over. Hermione made a sound, a breathy “Oh.” His fingernails were nearly gone, his hands raw and bloody, scratched and bruised.

“You need medical attention, Weasley,” said Kingsley. “And we need to get a team to that safe house.” He turned to Severus, spoke in a low, calm voice that nevertheless filled the quiet room. “I’ll be back in a moment, Severus. I’ll see what I can find out.”

He turned and left and five minutes later, five minutes spent hunched over in his chair, clenching and unclenching his fist while Hermione held his other hand and Ron paced back and forth in front of the door, two Aurors entered the room along with a Mediwitch wearing those god awful St. Mungo’s lime green robes.

Severus recognized both Aurors. He’d taught the lot of them, it seemed. These two were both Ravenclaws, both slightly older than Harry.

Ron went with them, albeit reluctantly, into an adjoining room, but when Hermione tried to follow they told her no. Ron was to be debriefed and the interview was confidential. She prevented herself from rolling her eyes by sheer willpower. When Kingsley returned to the room ten minutes later, both Severus and Hermione were sitting stiffly in chairs side-by-side, both of them white-faced.

“Get someone to open that door,” said Severus, “or to tell me what is going on with my husband immediately or I will remove the door myself.” His voice left no doubt that he would do as he threatened, indeed, that he could break whatever wards were on the door.

“I’ve already escalated your request,” said Kingsley. He pulled a chair away from the wall, spun it around to face them and sat down. “All I have is the initial report from triage. They’ve been working on him for thirty minutes now. This was completed after only five minutes.”

Severus’ face was both grey and steely. He held out his hand.

“Severus.” Kingsley took hold of his wrist. “It doesn’t look good. But you know Harry’s a fighter.”

“The report.” He said it in almost a whisper, in a cold voice that brokered no argument. “Please.”

Beside him, Hermione leaned in. He felt one of her arms go around his back, felt her head near his shoulder, her curly hair tickling his jaw. His eyes drifted down to the single sheet of parchment Kingsley handed him.

Severus scanned the report then went back to the top and read it carefully.

He swallowed, looked up at the door again.

“Open the door, Kingsley.”

“Severus, give them more time. Please.”

“He is not going to make it, Kingsley. Not with injuries like these. I will see him before…before…” His voice broke—he was weak, weak!—and Hermione took the crumpled report from his hand. He felt her hand in his, squeezing it, short, sensible nails digging into his flesh, somehow managing to ground him in the here and the now.

“Kingsley, please make sure that Harry’s team knows that his husband is here and needs to see him as soon as possible, even if for only a moment.”

Her voice was the voice of reason. He knew that, understood that, just as he somehow understood that her heart must be breaking as well, breaking for one of her oldest and best friends.

He didn’t know, didn’t understand, that her heart was breaking for him as well.

Kingsley stood and left the room, his only response a quick nod, and Hermione slid quietly to the floor, on her knees, in front of Severus. He tried to ignore her, tried to focus on slowing his rapidly beating heart, on pushing down the knot of fear blocking his airways. He pushed out a heavy breath, another.

“Breathe, Severus,” she said softly. “It’s alright. Harry’s strong. He’ll make it. He always makes it, doesn’t he?”

He was shaking his head. “Those injuries. The cranial damage. The damage to the spine. Kidneys…liver…”

“It’s Harry, Severus.” She was trying to reassure him, he understood that. But words, no matter the intent behind them and the way they were couched, would not save Harry. Not from these injuries. Not this time.

He shook his head, schooled his features, glanced again at the door. Hermione sighed and stood, turning to stare a moment at the door where Ron had been taken, then at the corridor door where footsteps and voices were approaching.

Kingsley entered the room, followed closely by another man, and Severus was immediately on his feet again. This was obviously someone of importance at the hospital, dressed as he was in the lime green color but in robes of a different cut. He nodded then extended his hand, first to Hermione, then to Severus.

“Mrs. Weasley, Mr. Snape.”

“I would like to see my husband.” Severus’ voice was even, authoritative and, he hoped, non-threatening. He held the man’s eye.

The man spoke at once. His voice was low, a voice accustomed to tragedy, to bad news, to soothing words of hope.

“Of course. Please allow me to speak first with Mr. Potter’s critical care team.”

He nodded again to them and went directly to the door. He held his hand, fingers splayed, against it then pushed it open and slipped inside.

Severus walked slowly over to the door and stopped several feet from it. He vaguely registered Kingsley and Hermione moving up to stand on either side of him, but he didn’t acknowledge them. He crossed his arms, each hand gripping the opposite elbow, to keep himself from balling his hands into fists again and again.

He waited.

The door opened at last and the hospital official emerged with another healer.

“Mr. Snape?”

He stepped forward, half a step. She was older than he was, and for some reason that comforted him. Her dark hair was pulled back into a knot at the nape of her neck and loose strands fell down her back. She looked tired. Grave.

“He’s stable.”

He opened his mouth but she held up her hand.

“His condition is critical. He was conscious when he was brought in but we’ve induced a medical coma. His injuries are severe, Mr. Snape.”

“His prognosis?”

Severus hated how his voice wavered.

She frowned. “He may survive. If he does—and the next twenty-four hours are critical—I can’t begin to guess what impairments he may have.”

“Impairments.” It was a statement, not a question. “Paralyzation?”

“Among others.”

“Such as?”

“Head injuries, Mr. Snape, can have a wide range of repercussions including blindness, complete or partial paralyzation, permanent vertigo, personality changes, amnesia, brain—”

“Thank you.” He cut her off and looked over her shoulder into the room.

“Go in,” she said. “If you are asked to leave for any reason, please respect the request.”

He nodded brusquely and stepped past her.

He ignored the three healers already in the room, hardly saw them, his focus on the still form on the bed. Harry lay there, on his back.

Breathing.

Severus watched the slow rise and fall of his chest, ignoring the ventilator spell that helped him breathe, only obvious by the residual spell light glow in the middle of his chest. One arm and both legs were splinted and bandages were wrapped around his head, covering his left eye completely. His chest was a mottled mess of blue and black bruises. His face was bruised as well, and his jaw and cheeks and chin stubbled with several days of growth. Monitoring spells tracked his heart rate, blood pressure, temperature and brain activity.

He walked slowly up to the edge of the bed, rested a hand on the metal rail, and stared at Harry.

“Where is his ring?” he asked the room at large.

Someone pressed it into his hand. He gripped it tightly in his fist.

“How much blood…?” His voice trailed off.

“We’ve given him two pints on top of the blood replenishing potion, sir,” replied a woman’s voice from just behind him.

“O negative?”

“Yes, sir.”

He nodded again, still staring down at Harry.

When had Harry gotten so old? There were small lines at the corners of his eyes, laugh lines perhaps, but wrinkles nonetheless. His shoulders were broad, the hair on his chest, trailing down his belly, thicker than it had been when they’d first…when they’d first gotten together.

The tattoo moved. Severus was so accustomed to seeing it that it wasn’t the first thing he’d noticed, despite the fact that Harry was lying on the hospital bed nearly naked. It was mainly on his chest, but tendrils of the lion’s mane writhed around his shoulder and onto his arm. Nearly every Auror got a tattoo when they graduated from the Academy. Harry and Ron had gotten theirs together.

“Can he feel pain through the induced coma?”

He knew his questions were clinical but hell if he was going to break down in front of these strangers. In front of anyone.

“No, sir. He can’t.”

Harry didn’t look like he was in pain. He didn’t look like…anything. He wasn’t making any of the noises he usually made when he slept—no groans, no sighs, no breathy snores. Severus watched for several minutes but the expression on Harry’s face didn’t change. There really was no expression—no whimper of pain, no satisfied smile, no trace of contented relaxation. Harry just…was. Suspended, breathing because the spell forced his lungs to draw in air, heart still beating, beating….

He focused on the broken arm, the legs.

“Were the broken bones not healed?” Why are his limbs splinted?”

“The bones were set, sir. But the maximum dose of Skele-gro wasn’t enough to heal and fuse all of the breaks. He’ll need a second dose in twenty-four hours. The splints provide additional stability during that time.”

Severus realized that his hand gripping the metal bed rail was clenching and unclenching, making a tight fist around the metal bar and releasing it only to make the fist again. His knuckles were white, his fingers sore.

He looked down at Harry again. For all the advancements wizards had over Muggles in the healing arts—spells instead of intrusive devices such as ventilators and IVs and catheters and monitoring equipment—the devices they did use looked as if they were taken from a medieval castle. The splits were not made of the lightweight, moldable plastics the Muggles would have used but were heavy metal things, the limbs resting in them, awkward, cushioned by rolled cotton.

He searched for something else to ask the healers. They were maintaining a respectable distance—one at the counter area near the head of the bed watching the monitoring charms, a second behind him, the third nearer the foot of the bed, sitting on a stool going through paperwork.

“How long…?”

He wasn’t really sure what question he meant to ask. How long until he wakes? Until you know the extent of the damage? Until he’s better?

How long does he have?

The healer that had been standing behind him came forward then, stood next to him, to his right. She spoke softly.

“Mr. Potter was in excellent physical condition when the injuries were incurred. He’s also young and has a wonderful support network of family and friends. He’s responding well to the initial treatment. The organ damage is reversible and not of primary concern. We’re hopeful about the spinal cord damage as well. He had extensive damage in the lumbar area and we’ll work on that specifically with and after the second dose of Skele-gro.”

She paused and looked up at Harry’s face.

“His head injury is of course the most difficult to predict. His brain is already swollen. We’ve temporarily removed a small piece of the skull to decrease the pressure.”

As she spoke, Severus’ eyes had moved from Harry’s hand, swollen and bruised, to his face. Removing a small piece of the skull was a standard medical practice when the brain was injured and swollen. It was a magical procedure but seldom used concurrently with Skele-gro.

“We’ll have to repeat the procedure if this dose of Skele-gro closes the cranial opening,” she said.

“Of course,” he responded mechanically.

“Instead of dwelling on the potential long-term effects of his injuries, I suggest we focus on getting Mr. Potter through the next two days.” She glanced at the monitoring station, eyes focused on a set of scrolling numbers, then looked over at Severus.

“You can spend as much time here with Mr. Potter as you like. But only one visitor at a time, close family and friends, and only if they are on a list you provide to the hospital. He cannot be moved. You may touch him, of course, but do not grasp his fingers to hold his hand or adjust his position—including his arms and legs. You must leave the room if an emergency arises or if another procedure is required.

The other two healers had left the room by the time she held out her hand to Severus. He took it, shaking it firmly as was his custom.

“I’m Healer Antonia Michaels. Do you have any questions?”

Severus looked down at Harry then turned to face the healer. “I will want to be informed whenever any treatment is given, be it spells, potions or procedures.” He straightened his back and glanced around the room. “I have a Potions Mastery, and with it an understanding of human physiology. You will not have to reduce your language to laymen’s terms when speaking with me. I would appreciate it if you would tell the medical team treating my husband as much.”

“Then you understand the complications that could arise, and the impairments your husband could suffer as a result of the injuries.”

Severus gave only a curt nod of his head and the healer continued.

“I owe a report to Mr. Potter’s supervisor.”

“Go.” The word was sharp, but she took no issue. She smiled and nodded. “We’ll be seeing quite a bit of each other, Mr. Snape. I’ll leave you and Mr. Potter alone now.”

He didn’t watch her leave, but he heard the snick of the door as it closed.

Only then, when he was alone with Harry, did he reach out his hand to touch him.

He laid his hand on Harry’s shoulder first and was surprised to feel the warmth of the skin beneath his fingers. Harry didn’t move, didn’t flinch, didn’t smile in his sleep as he so often did when Severus crawled into bed well after him. He would spoon up behind Harry then, seeking the warmth of his husband’s body, relishing the intimacy of his hand on Harry’s flat belly. Sometimes he would work his way down from that belly, following the treasure trail down into his sleeping pants, cupping his hand over the lovely cock while he pressed against Harry with his own arousal, coaxing him to hardness then working a second hand under him and caressing his chest, nibbling and biting his neck until Harry groaned and arched his back, pressing into him in return, moaning his name.

“Severus….”

For half a moment, Severus thought Harry had awoken. But he pulled himself out of his memories, his fantasies, back into this room in St. Mungo’s.

Harry lay still, just as he had before, with Severus’ hand resting on his shoulder.

Severus stared at him, felt the warmth of his skin beneath his hand, moved his fingers up, grazed his knuckles against the stubbled cheek. A gentle touch. A brief caress.

Had they been home, Harry on the sofa with his head on the armrest, Severus walking by on the way to his leather chair, just up from the basement laboratory, Harry would have leaned into his touch, taken hold of his wrist and turned his head to press his lips to the pulse point.

Their first kisses had not been so gentle.

They had both had too much to drink at the anniversary celebration—three years since the fall of Voldemort and the Battle of Hogwarts, three years since they had each died, in a way, and gone on to live. Harry, in a show of Gryffindor bravery, had asked him to dance.

Severus had been standing against the wall speaking to Mildred Miller, the current Potions Professor at Hogwarts, a woman as plain and as uninteresting as her name. He stared at Harry, taking in the boy’s form-fitting formal robes, of the modern style that cut in at the waist and flared out below it, raking his eyes slowly over the older face, the filled out chest. He’d last seen Harry a month ago, on the day he’d been taken into the Ministry. He hadn’t noticed Harry, not this Harry, not that day when they’d shared fish and chips and two pints each.

“I’d very much like to dance, Mr. Potter,” he had answered. He’d thrust his champagne glass at Mildred and had pulled Harry onto the dance floor.

They’d ended up in the little room off the Hall, the same one where Harry had gone after his name came out of the cursed goblet. Harry had been against the wall that time, with Severus pressed up against him, leg wedged between his thighs, devouring his mouth. Nothing gentle. Nothing soft. No caresses then.

Those had come later.

Severus brushed a shock of black hair off of Harry’s forehead now, over his left eye. The bandage over Harry’s left cheek covered his eyes as well, and Severus ran his fingers lightly down the edge of the bandage, touched Harry’s nose gently.

Harry didn’t flinch.

He always flinched when Severus touched his nose, or kissed it.

Harry’s chest rose…and fell. Rose again.

His lips, dry, cracked—from screaming? Crying out? Calling for him?—were slightly open. Every inhale seemed forced, every exhale a relief.

Severus brushed his thumb over the scar on Harry’s forehead.

He would go crazy like this. Two days. Not knowing if Harry was even in there. If his mind was whole, intact. If he would wake to remember Severus, remember their vows, their love, their shared lives.

“Harry….”

The name escaped his lips like a sigh.

Inhale. Exhale

He dropped his hands to his sides then, one hand still clutching Harry’s wedding ring, and turned away from Harry toward the door.

He should let Ron and Hermione see him. Get that over with. Then come back, transfigure the molded chair into something comfortable and begin the vigil.

He strode over to the door and opened it.

Ron and Hermione were sitting side by side in straight-backed chairs against the far wall. They stood together, as if in a choreographed move. Molly and Arthur Weasley, sitting on chairs near them, remained seated but looked up at him. He could not read the looks on their faces, had not expected them to be here.

“Did Healer Michaels speak with you?” He addressed the room at large.

“She did,” said Hermione. Severus looked over at her when she spoke. She looked absolutely drained. “May one of us go in now?”

He nodded absently and moved out into the middle of the room, not knowing what to do with his limbs and body. He folded his arms in front of him. Ron, looking markedly better than he had when they had arrived, edged past him into Harry’s room.

“Five minutes,” Severus said to Ron’s back.

Arthur Weasley had gotten to his feet.

“Severus….”

Sometimes Severus forgot that Arthur and Molly Weasley were Harry’s parents.

As close to parents as he’d ever have, anyway. They’d taken him in to their hearts and their home when he was a boy at Hogwarts. They’d stood by him, with him, as he stumbled from one disaster and tragedy to another. And when finally things had calmed down, when life after the war had become as ordinary as it ever would, they had stood by Harry’s choice of a spouse.

There had been no attempts to talk him out of it by either Molly or Arthur Weasley. No “wouldn’t someone younger be better, Harry?” or “I know of a sweet girl who would be just perfect for you.” If Severus Snape was Harry’s choice, Severus Snape would be their choice too.

Molly stood. She looked like she had been in bed and had forgotten to comb her hair. She touched Severus’ arm. “I’ll go for tea,” she said softly, then slipped out the door.

“We came as soon as we got word, Severus,” said Arthur. He maintained a respectful distance from Severus and did not touch him. “Is there any change?” His voice caught and Severus was reminded that this man had already lost one son.

“No,” he answered. Hermione had sunk back down into a chair and was resting her head against the wall behind her, eyes closed. “They will keep him in the induced coma for at least two days. I doubt we’ll know anything substantive until they try to wake…until they wake him.”

If Arthur noticed his correction, he didn’t point it out. He let out a breath and sat back down in the chair he’d been in when Severus came out. “It will be a long wait, then,” he said. “We’ll bring you what you need, Severus, so you can stay with him.”

Severus nodded. “Thank you, Arthur. I would appreciate that.”

He paced around the room until Ron came out, collapsing beside Hermione, all gangly arms and legs. As Hermione didn’t jump up to go in, Severus turned to Arthur. “Go see him,” he said. “I’ll go again after you.”

When Arthur came out, Molly was back with the tea. Severus sent her in, then ducked in himself as soon as she came out. One of the healers entered a minute or two later and quietly checked the monitor read-outs while Severus stood beside the bed, hands on the rails, staring down at Harry’s face. A smudge of Molly’s lipstick was on the corner of his mouth. Severus reached out a thumb and rubbed it off.

It would be a long night.

*

Severus learned every detail of that room.

The pattern of the floor tiles. The shadows on the ceiling. The sheet laid across Harry’s middle, exposing his splint-encased legs, his bruise-mottled chest. The metal rails polished smooth where hands before his own had held them, lost in their own vigil.

The sound of Harry’s breathing.

The sound of his own.

Harry’s fingers on the hand nearest the rail. Swollen. Bruised. Nails broken.

The blue blanket Molly Weasley laid over him as he slept in the transfigured recliner by the bed, his hand on the rail, fingers mere centimeters from Harry’s.

He woke up whenever someone came in the room. Roused himself to see what they were doing, to ask questions. Nutrient potion. Fluids. Evacuation spell. A scan of his skeletal system, to check the progression of the Skele-gro. Changing the bandage on the deep gash that ran from over his eye to his upper cheek.

He’d probably have another scar.

”It’s just a scar, Severus. My hair covers it up most of the time anyway.”

“Then how about the one on your hand?”

Harry looked at the back of his hand then back up at Severus. He was sitting on one of the high stools at a table in Severus’ laboratory, watching him clean up after bottling a potion.

“It says ‘I must not tell lies,’” said Harry.

“I know what it says,” replied Severus, rolling his eyes.

Harry frowned as he continued to study the scar. “It’s really a good reminder, actually,” he said. “That telling the truth is important.”

“I doubt you need a daily reminder of that,” said Severus. He didn’t look at Harry as he spoke, continued wiping the table off with a rag.

Harry looked up at him suddenly. “Severus?” His eyes were bright with suppressed…something….

Severus looked up. “Yes?”

“Did you make that salve for me?”

Severus scowled. “I told you it is experimental.”

“Alright, then.” Harry grinned. “Did you make that experimental salve for me?”

“A potion that would remove, or at least diminish, curse scars would be widely successful. Whether I made it for you initially or not will be inconsequential when I’m able to market it to the wizarding public.”

Harry met his eyes, a fond smile on his face, as Severus finished speaking. He looked down at his hand again, smoothed his thumb over the old scar, then held out his hand to Severus, palm down.

“I suppose I have enough other scars that I won’t miss this one too much,” he said.

Severus remembered hating that scar. Remembered hating it for who had given it to him, and for why. Hated that he had not been able to halt Umbridge’s reign of terror before she had done this to Harry, to anyone.

And he remembered Harry seeing through him, through his motives, into his heart of hearts.

Another scar was nothing. Nothing. Nothing they couldn’t weather.

Hermione came in once the sun had risen.

“I’ll spell you for a while, Severus,” she said. “You can get some tea or coffee, something to eat.”

He was surprised to find Ron and Molly Weasley still in the next room, and Ginny Weasley with them. Ron was holding a cup of coffee, sitting with his knees apart and the coffee held in both hands, low, between his knees, his shoulder sagging. Someone had finally done something with the chairs—transfiguring them into a long, comfortable sofa with throw pillows. Ginny looked pale and ill. Severus remembered, then, what Hermione had told him—that Ginny, too, was pregnant.

“I’ll pop home, then,” said Molly, “bring back breakfast for everyone.”

She was back in thirty minutes—long enough for Severus to use the loo and drink a cup of strong tea, purchased from the hospital’s small café. Ginny, looking slightly less nauseous after eating the two saltines Severus brought her from the café, went in to see Harry, and Ron took his turn when she came out.

The day dragged on.

And Harry didn’t change. He wasn’t supposed to—Severus knew that—but the mid-afternoon hours were the longest, and the potions and procedures began to repeat themselves, making him lose track of time in this room of artificial light and sameness.

At four o’clock in the afternoon, they asked him to leave the room. The Skele-gro had closed the pressure-relief hole in Harry’s skull and they needed to open it again.

Which meant the pressure was still dangerously high.

Severus’ hand curled again into a fist as he quietly left the room.

Ron was alone in the waiting room this time. He was sprawled on the transfigured sofa, head resting on the back cushion, staring at the ceiling. He held an empty coffee cup in one hand.

He raised his head slightly as Severus closed the door behind him.

“Just me now,” he said. “The rest will be back in shifts after dinner.”

Severus nodded his head and walked across to the sofa. He sat down on the opposite end, sinking gratefully down into the cushions, leaned his head back and clasped his hands behind his neck, pulling down to stretch his tight shoulders.

“What’s going on in there?” Ron’s voice was still scratchy and rough.

“They’re reopening the skull plate. The Skele-gro closed it prematurely.”

“Oh. Alright. Thanks.” Ron glanced over at the door. His hands were clasped together in his lap now, the empty coffee cup on the floor.

They sat in silence for a few more minutes. Severus glanced at Harry’s friend. He wanted to say something to him—no, he needed to say something—but didn’t have any idea how to start. This was totally outside his realm of experience. It made him uncomfortable.

“You saved Harry’s life.” There. Nothing like putting it all on the table.

Ron turned his head to look at Severus. He had been resting it on top of the rear sofa cushion. He blinked.

“From what I understand, you risked your own life as well.”

“Are you thanking me?” Ron asked. He sat upright, bent his knees, arranged his legs in a more polite position. Stared at Severus.

Severus and Ron Weasley were not friends. They tolerated each other well, had been known to engage in a competitive game of Wizard’s Chess from time to time and could hold their own against the other on a Friday night at the Hog’s Head. But their only connection was Harry.

Harry.

“I was about to,” answered Severus. “I know…I understand…that you did not do what you did for me…to benefit me.” He had not been looking at Ron. He had, instead, been looking down at his hands, the hands that seemed to be permanently clenched into fists of late. “But if you hadn’t, I would never have seen him again. And that…that…would have been unbearable.” Severus now looked at Ron, really just glanced at him, then looked down at his hands again. Why was this so damn difficult? Because he hated being beholden…to anyone? Because it was Ron Weasley? The same man that Harry had pulled out of scrape after scrape? He stared at his hands, forcing himself to go on, to voice the unspeakable thoughts.

“Even if…this is all.” He swept his hand out toward the closed door of Harry’s room. “Even if he does not pull out of this, I will, at least, have had these last days…hours…with him.” He paused, swallowed. “They will have to be enough.”

There was a long silence before Ron spoke again. “You could use some tea,” he said. “Actually, we could both use a drink of something a lot stronger than tea.”

“Tea will do,” said Severus.

Ron stood. “I’ll go down to the café, then.” He paused at the door. “A spot of milk, no sugar, right?”

Severus lifted his head and stared at the man in the doorway. He’d stood up for Harry at their bonding, had been in his home dozens of times, had even beaten him at chess once or twice. But Severus had no idea, no idea at all, how he took his tea.

“Right,” he replied quietly. “And thank you.”

He meant for the tea, of course.

Ron shrugged. “He’s my best mate,” he said. He turned to go then stopped himself, turned around again to face Severus. “You’ll take care of him, won’t you? No matter what?”

Severus turned his head toward the doorway, lifted it to stare at Ron. He could barely hold his tired eyes open anymore. He wanted to snap at the man, say “Of course I will, you moron.”

But in the end, he only nodded.

“Alright then,” said Ron. And he turned again and left to fetch the tea.

*

The second night was as long as the first. Severus slept again in the transfigured chair, the blanket pulled up around his shoulders, his head on a small and very soft pillow. He had no idea where it had come from—it had simply been there, clutched against his cheek, when he woke at three a.m. when a healer came in to assess the progression of the second dose of Skele-gro.

Severus dreamed of Harry. He was caught in a particularly vivid dream when awoken, and it stayed with him while he sat there, reclined in the chair, face nearly level with Harry’s. In the dream, Harry had been flying with Teddy Lupin. Teddy had been chasing him on his own broom, struggling to keep up as Harry soared overhead, faster than Severus liked but not too fast for Harry, or for Teddy. And Harry was laughing, grinning at him like a lunatic as he zoomed past, Severus ducking his head down as Harry’s toes nearly skimmed the top of his head, grabbing the child beside him on the bench to steady him, the dark-haired little boy pointing at the figures on the brooms, eyes bright with excitement, flashing him, Severus, a brilliant smile.

He closed his eyes. A child. He was not parent material, no matter what Harry might think. No matter the small part of him that wanted to set right the damage done him, to prove that mistakes need not be repeated. The part that wanted Harry to be happy, to have a real family, that knew that he would grow into the role, train the child up to have his own best qualities along with Harry’s.

He rolled his head to the side and stared at Harry’s still form. He listened to the breathing that had not changed in the two days spent at the bedside.

He had other things to fill his mind with besides dream children.

The day dragged on.

More healers today, assessing whether Harry could be—should be—brought out of the coma. And when. Studying the charts, assessing his vitals, his brain activity. Looking unsure. One more day, some suggested. Perhaps two, said others. Wake him now, advised a third.

When they left him alone with Harry in the mid-afternoon, Severus could stand it no longer.

He stood at the end of the bed first, gazing at Harry, thinking.

Legilimency.

He was skilled at the art, possibly more skilled at it than any witch or wizard alive. He was confident he could enter Harry’s mind, even without eye contact. The Dark Lord, no mere novice himself, had been able to enter Harry’s mind and implant images, memories, ideas from hundreds of miles away.

The issue was not whether Severus could enter Harry’s mind—he knew he could. Nor was it that the act might be unsafe for Harry. He knew it would not hurt him.

No, what prevented him from diving right into it was fear. Fear of what he would find—or not find—when he brushed Harry’s mind.

He hated not knowing. He stood at the end of the bed, against the wall, while the healers discussed Harry, pored over the charts, pulled back his eyelids, spoke quietly to each other.

He had followed their instructions to the letter so far, touching Harry’s hands and face, his arms and shoulders, but not moving him, not jarring him. Gentle touches and caresses, soft voices, whispers and susurrations. All things that were not Harry.

Harry was life and vigor and exuberance. Even when they were quiet together, relaxing in the sitting room after a hard day’s work, Harry was the one who went back and forth into the kitchen, or pulled him outside for a walk in the gardens. Harry, at rest in his arms, was always in motion. A hand, gently rubbing Severus’ bicep, tracing circles on his back. Fingers exploring the contours of Severus’ body, the line of his jaw, the ridge of his nose.

Severus could slip upstairs from his laboratory so silently that he could surprise house elves in the act of cleaning the Floo. But when Harry came home—whether he Apparated in to the back garden with hardly a crack or stumbled gracelessly out of the Floo—he always announced his presence.

He’d stride across the room to the corridor, then open the door that led down to the laboratory. Severus would hear his steps as he walked, would count them, would know the exact moment when the door would open and Harry’s voice would call down the stairs.

“I’m home, Severus!”

And if Severus wasn’t in the middle of a volatile potion or laborious preparation, he’d call back, “I’ll be up in a few minutes.”

If he was, he wouldn’t answer, and Harry would wait a few seconds for his response, poised at the top of the stairs, then would come quietly down. Not so quietly that Severus didn’t hear him, but taking care to tread softly. The third stair from the bottom creaked no matter where you stepped on it, and Harry had learned to skip it. He’d come into the lab, stand in the door to assess where Severus was in the brewing process.

If Severus looked up at him, Harry would come up behind him, kiss him on the side of the neck or behind his ear, peak at the potion then set something on the table beside Severus and be on his way, back upstairs to start dinner.

If Severus didn’t look at him, wrapped up so deeply in a potion that he couldn’t—or wouldn’t—tear his eyes away for even a few seconds, Harry would simply lay his offering on the table beside Severus and go back upstairs to prepare dinner without a word.

It might be a note, a hurriedly scrawled “I love you” or “I thought of your mouth on my cock all day today.” Sometimes a single flower plucked from the garden, or a fragrant stem of thyme or rosemary. Sometimes a morsel of the dark chocolate Severus loved, or a melt-away mint, or the plain sugar biscuits he preferred with his tea. If Harry was feeling particularly jolly, he’d leave a pair of lemon sherbets on a folded white serviette.

Occasionally he’d gift him with a newspaper clipping from The Daily Prophet or even from the Times. An interesting blurb, or a humorous cartoon, or a photograph of yet another magical creature, hiding and invisible at the edge of a clearing, from the Quibbler.

No, Harry didn’t slip in and out of Severus’ mornings and evenings quiet and unnoticed.

They’d never before spent two days like this. Silent. Still. Together yet apart.

He could not go on like this. Could not spend another day passing in and out of quiet hopefulness and utter despair.

Not knowing was worse than knowing the worst.

Severus glanced at the closed door then walked purposefully to the side of Harry’s bed.

Harry lay there still, looking much the same as he had nearly two days ago. The swelling and bruising in his fingers had gone down, and the bruising on the rest of his body had spread outward yet had faded into mottled yellows and greens. His beard had grown out even more, and this bothered Severus. Harry would never appear in public so rough, so textured. Yet the shaving charm could be harsh and was best applied to one’s own face by the wizard himself. Razors, with the bruising and swelling, were out of the question.

Severus ran a finger lightly over Harry’s lips. Would they ever kiss him back as once they had? Breathe life back into him at the end of a long day?

His fingers traveled up to the side of Harry’s head, traced under his eye. Came to rest on the side of his face.

Another backward glance at the door.

He bent over a bit, face closer to Harry, eyes focused on the unseeing eyes.

Silently, non-verbally, formed the spell that would give him his answer.

Legilimens.

Harry’s mind assaulted him.

Immediately fought to push him away, expel him.

He fought to stay connected but the thoughts were so tumultuous, such a maelstrom of errant words tangled with emotions, that it was like walking up a steep icy hill with the wind blowing against him.

The fears he’d had, as he’d lain there, trapped beneath the rubble. That he’d die there. That he would leave Severus alone. That Severus would isolate himself, turn inward, shut himself off from the world.

The will to live, to survive. A fighting spirit trapped within a body too weak to lift a finger. A voice too fragile to call out one time more yet calling anyway.

An overpowering love, of his friends, of his godson, of the people he called family.

Of Severus.

Apologies. For tripping the wire. For not looking for Muggle devices. For being tired. For not wanting to be an Auror anymore. For being careless. For being away too often. For not having said I love you nearly enough.

Dreams of the future. Regrets that it might not come to be. More time to spend together. Children. Seeing himself through Harry’s eyes, walking ahead of him over the manor grounds clutching the chubby hand of a small child, taking slow, measured, even steps. Stopping to pinch a leaf, to break a stem, to smell the fragrance of a summer herb.

Who was that man? The care-worn features eased by everyday joys. The purposeful strides replaced by a meandering path set by a toddler’s pace.

There was no organization here. No ability or desire to hide, to bury emotion. It was as if something had opened all of the compartments of Harry’s mind and jumbled the contents together. The result was something raw, and wild. Untrained and unkempt. Desperate. It was like being in an unguarded pensieve. Harry was whole but chaotic.

He felt more like a voyeur than he ever had in his life.

He felt surrounded by Harry, immersed in Harry and strangely…oddly…immersed in himself.

Himself as Harry saw him. From the bottom of the stairs leading to the basement. Standing before a cauldron, stirring in figure eights, counting them silently, his lips moving in quiet concentration. Harry’s eyes on him, on his hands, long-fingered and agile. On his face. Concentrating, dark eyes intense, with fine lines around his eyes from smiles only recently learned.

He had his answer now and he forced himself to pull away, untangling himself as gently as he could, detaching himself to see Harry again, just as he had been, asleep and silent.

Nothing on the surface belying the torrent inside.

Only a few minutes passed before another healer came in.

“Wake him,” instructed Severus without prelude. “If only for a short time, wake him.”

The healer stopped. “Mr. Snape, we’ve still not made a decision on that.”

Severus stared her down. “I realize that. However, I am an accomplished Legilimens. While you were away, I was able to enter my husband’s mind using this technique. His thoughts—and yes, he exhibits ample proof of rampant brain activity—are chaotic. It is as if he is still in those panic filled hours before he was rescued. He has no conscious memory of being rescued. He needs to see me, to understand I am here with him. He is trapped in an emotional maelstrom….” Severus did not want to beg and found himself dangerously close to grabbing the healer by the arms and shaking her, pleading.

“Legilimens?” she repeated, looking at him with an odd expression. “You should have told us that earlier….”

“You did not ask! How was I to know…. Never mind! Wake him up.” He folded his arms and stared at the healer.

She stared back then finally gave in. “I’m going to get Healer Michaels and we’ll discuss this further,” she said.

“Excellent,” he said as she left the room.

He went to the doorway and found Ron and Hermione together in the waiting room.

“I performed Legilimency on Harry,” he said without prelude. “His mind is in turmoil. I’ve asked them to wake him, even if it is briefly, so he can be reassured all is well.”

“All is well?” asked Ron with a snort.

“He means so Harry will know Severus is here, and you,” said Hermione. Severus had a sudden, unexpected feeling as he wondered if she had been sleeping. A week ago, he might have had the thought but not the worry along with it.

“Are you sure it was a good idea to barge into his head?” Ron was not openly adversarial. He seemed almost exhausted. Exhausted and resigned.

“I could not continue like this,” answered Severus. “This not knowing.” Ron raised his head and stared at Severus. “I am accomplished at Legilimency. I would never have taken a risk, not with Harry.” He didn’t like this, feeling like he had to explain himself to anyone. Yet he also felt like he owed Ron an explanation for potentially endangering the life Ron had fought so hard to save.

Severus strode over and sat down on the sofa next to Hermione.

“Will you tell me how you rescued Harry?” he said abruptly. Then, at Ron’s blanch, and realizing that some prelude was warranted for a request such as that, he hastened to explain.

“When I experienced his thoughts—used Legilimency—I saw his worry for you, how precarious his situation was. I hadn’t realized—no, I hadn’t even considered—how much you risked personally to save him.”

Ron grimaced. He closed his eyes and put a hand to his head, rubbing his forehead as if trying to rid himself of a troubling headache. He opened his eyes but did not look directly at Severus as he began to speak.

“When the roof and ceiling came down, I was still in the foyer. The falling plaster hit me and knocked my wand away. I wasn’t hurt—not badly, anyway—but I couldn’t see a thing with all the dust everywhere. The light was coming through the door behind me and I forced it back open. Then I called for Harry. He was only ten steps ahead of me, but he had to be in the middle of the room when the trap came down. “

He closed his eyes again and this time ran his hand over the back of his neck, squeezing it as he seemed to fight with the memory.

“He didn’t answer. Not at first, anyway. I admit it—I thought the worst. I thought it had killed him.” He laughed, a harsh and painful sound. “Nothing kills Harry, not even fucking Voldemort, and here he was, brought down by a booby trap.” Severus watched him as he stared at his hands, clutching them into fists as Severus himself had been doing of late. “Then I heard him—just a moan at first, but then—then he was calling out to me. ‘Ron…Ron…you alright, mate?’”

Clench. Unclench. Clench. Unclench. Severus watched Ron’s hands as they set up a rhythm as he continued with the story.

“Asking about me! Here I am, perfectly fine, and he’s buried under a pile of rubble and asking after me!”

Hermione had opened her mouth and a small sound came out but she stopped there. Severus guessed she had been about to contest his “perfectly fine” statement.

“So I assure him I’m fine and he tells me he can’t move. Then he starts coughing and that’s really the last coherent thing he says. I spent hours looking for my wand, moving debris, talking to him, trying to get to him.” Ron’s hands were open now and he was staring at his palms, still bruised and swollen, cuts mostly healed but still evident. “He fell asleep for a while there near the morning. I couldn’t keep him awake. I didn’t know…didn’t know if he was alive still. But he woke up later on and that’s when he started calling for you, Severus. Asking you to come get him, to help him. Shit, to help me. ‘Get Ron, too, Severus. Help Ron.’ It was almost dark when I found my wand. Then I started moving the debris—trying to be careful. I couldn’t…couldn’t leave him to go get help. He was crying for you, Severus. Crying and moaning with pain. Wanted something to drink…said he was so thirsty.” Ron’s hands moved up and clenched the sides of his head. “When I finally got to him, he looked awful. I didn’t think he’d make it. He was…pale. I did a full body bind on him then picked him up. He called me Severus…”

Severus didn’t know what to name the feeling that overcame him. What did one call an emptiness in the gut overpowered by a fullness of the heart?

They were silent for a moment, until Severus spoke quietly. “Thank you. For not leaving him alone—and for bringing him back.”

“You’ve already thanked me,” said Ron. “Just…just take care of him. No matter what.”

The healers came back then, three of them instead of the expected two, and motioned to Severus to follow them into Harry’s room. He had to retell the story, convey his impression that Harry’s mind was operating at full force and he was trapped in the artificial unconsciousness, imprisoned with the torturous thoughts.

“He may be in a great deal of pain,” warned one healer. “We can treat that as soon as he is conscious. And while we can remove the spell that induces the magical coma, we cannot remove the stabilization spells that prevent him from flailing about. His vertebra need more time to heal. He’ll be able to open his eyes, move his mouth…”

“Do it. I will stay with him—explain to him what is happening.”

They exchanged glances. It was clear they didn’t necessarily believe Harry would be able to comprehend what was going on.

“There may be a significant time lapse between removing the spell and Mr. Potter regaining consciousness,” they warned.

Severus had pulled up a plain straight-backed chair to the bed and was sitting on it now, leaning over the bed, holding Harry’s unbroken hand. He let the healers work, not bothering to move out of the way as one of them removed most of the bandages around Harry’s head and eye and two of them in tandem cast the spell to remove the magical coma that kept Harry asleep and healing.

It didn’t take long.

Harry moaned almost immediately, face changing from expressionless to pained in a heartbeat, eyes scrunching then opening suddenly, frightened and alarmed.

“Mr. Potter…”

“Shhh!” Severus gripped Harry’s good hand and used his other to brush the side of his face.

“I am here, Harry.”

He could do such things with his voice. It was one of his masteries, his proficiencies. But now he only wanted to calm Harry, reassure him.

Harry blinked. Slow recognition came over his features.

“You are at St. Mungo’s Harry. You were injured on the job. Ron brought you here.”

Harry blinked again. He moved his lips but no sound came out.

“Harry.” Severus’ voice was soft and low. “Relax. I am here. I will not leave. You are under a stabilization and an immobility spell. This is to help you heal.”

“Shevvv…” The word was slurred. Harry tried again, his tongue trying to wet his dry lips. He blinked again and Severus saw the shine of tears in his eye. He reached up with his thumb and brushed them away, bent closer and took Harry’s face in his hands.

“I am here. You will be fine. Ron brought you here. You can see him next time you wake.”

“Nyo….” He breathed out his protest, trying to form the familiar word. Severus understood that he was protesting the idea of waking again, for it implied falling back asleep as well. He held Harry’s face firmly, looked him in the eyes.

“I will be here with you. You need to sleep, Harry. To heal.”

Harry’s breathing, which had begun to quicken, now eased marginally.

“Are you in pain?”

The green eyes stared at him. The mouth began to open, then closed.

Stubborn.

“You are in pain.”

A healer approached him.

“Mr. Snape, we don’t have to reapply the same spell. We can give him a strong sleeping potion and reassess him in the morning when it wears off. But we should do this soon, especially if he is feeling pain.”

Severus nodded, still looking at Harry. Harry’s eyes had slowly moved to look at the healer, taking what Severus thought was an overly long time to move.

“You’re at St. Mungo’s, Harry. This is Healer Booker.”

“Mmmm…” He struggled with the sound and Severus shook his head.

“Sleep. I will not leave. I will be here when you wake.”

“Shev’rus.” His lips formed the syllables with difficulty and Severus bent to kiss Harry, gently, on the corner of his mouth, followed by a chaste but unhurried kiss on his lips. He motioned behind his back to the healers, who approached with a potion that they simply dripped onto Harry’s tongue.

Harry’s eyes held Severus’ own until they drifted closed less than a minute later.

Two of the healers immediately began studying the charts while Healer Booker pulled a stool over and sat beside Severus.

“That was promising,” she said.

“He is going to have difficulty with speech, is he not?” he asked, caressing Harry’s injured hand as he spoke.

“Speech usually comes back with therapy, retraining the brain,” she assured. “It’s more important that he recognized you and attempted to speak. And that his eyes were able to track to me.”

“Not well,” answered Severus.

“Mr. Snape, after injuries such as those sustained by your husband, it’s a miracle he’s even alive.”

Her words were not harsh but he felt their reproach.

“I know,” he said. “I am sorry. It has been a long day…a long two days.”

“And the days and weeks and even months ahead will be long too,” she said. “We’re through the critical forty-eight hours, and I can tell you now that there is a high probability your husband will pull through this. The next forty-eight will give us a much better idea of any long-term impairments.”

He glanced at her as she stood up.

“You know where to find me if you need me,” he muttered.

“Likewise,” she said. But she smiled as she walked out of the room.

*~*

Hermione, showing an uncharacteristic disregard for the rules, came in to check on Severus around midnight.

Severus hadn’t left the room since they’d awakened Harry. He’d instructed the healers to update the family waiting outside but had not left his husband’s side.

Now that Harry was sleeping and not in enforced unconsciousness, his face no longer had the blank, slack appearance of the last two days. Instead, Severus watched as Harry’s brows knit, as his face scrunched in apparent pain then relaxed in blissful rest. He had fallen asleep before Hermione’s entrance, but woke, as he always did when someone was in the room with him. Old habits.

“Molly convinced Ron to go home and sleep,” she said softly as she sat in the straight chair beside the bed, next to Severus’ more comfortable recliner. “And shower. He’s smelling quite rank.”

“As am I,” returned Severus.

She shrugged. “I’m used to it. My two best friends growing up were boys.” She peered down at Harry’s face. “That’s a fierce scar,” she said, nodding at the new scar that ran nearly across his left eye and down onto his cheek.”

“Scars we can deal with,” said Severus. “A scar is simply a reminder.”

“Says the man developing a potion to remove scars,” she said.

“Ah, yes.” He looked up at her, smiled slightly. “And forty-eight hours ago, I didn’t have a clear frame of reference, did I?” He sighed. “What did the healer tell you?”

“That the signs were positive—that he tried to talk, that he recognized you. That he can see.”

“His speech is clearly impaired. That will trouble him.”

“If his speech is all that is impaired, he’s a lucky man. And so are you,” she countered.

“I know that,” he said. He sighed. “I am tired of this place. I would like a long soak in the bath, a night of restful slumber in our bed.”

“I’d be happy to stay here with Harry, Sev— ”

“No.” He frowned. “I am sorry. It is just that I told him I would stay, and stay I will.”

They sat quietly until Severus spoke again.

“You have not told anyone yet?” He didn’t voice what it was that she hadn’t told. He didn’t need to.

She shook her head. “Not yet. I’d prefer keeping the news for a happier time.”

“It might make this time happier for your husband and the Weasleys.”

“It might. But I’d rather not, Severus. You won’t say anything, will you?”

“Of course not. It is not my news to share.”

“It would be a happy bit of news to tell Harry when he’s better, wouldn’t it?” she asked.

Severus considered this. Considered what Harry would look like, were he cured and whole, upon hearing the news that his best friends were expecting a baby. He could see the smile take over his face, see his eyes light up, see him turn to him, to Severus. “Did you hear that Severus? A baby!”

He nodded. “It would be,” he said. “It definitely would.”

*

When Harry woke the next morning, Severus was sound asleep.

The healer, alerted by the monitoring spell, hurried into the room and Severus awoke.

He struggled to his feet from the reclined chair, stepping out of the way to allow the healer to run her diagnostics and review Harry’s charts.

“I’m going to remove the immobility spell from the chest up,” she said. “This will allow us to assess any damage to the upper spine. It will additionally allow Mr. Potter to swallow some water.”

Severus’ eyes were on Harry. Harry lay there, eyes open, left one still swollen slightly. The bruising that had marred his chest and arms had mostly faded away with the bruise balm they’d been applying. His head was now unbandaged. Severus’ mouth curved in a smile and he watched as Harry’s eyes met his own, as his husband’s mouth twitched. The healer busied herself removing the splint around Harry’s arm, then raised her wand and in a complicated series of movements and muttered words, removed the immobility spell then reset it for the lower half of his body only.

The healer reached forward, gently took hold of Harry’s head and slowly brought his face to the side, helping him rotate his neck. The grimace on Harry’s face let her know what he thought of that maneuver. Nevertheless, she moved it the other direction, then back again slowly.

“Now it’s your turn. Your husband is standing beside the bed, Harry. Turn your head toward him.”

For an agonizing moment, when Harry’s head remained perfectly still, Severus thought that Harry was paralyzed.

But slowly, very slowly, his head turned on the pillow. Until he was staring at Severus, finally managing a small smile.

“Sev’rus…” His voice was still strained, still raspy, a bit slurred.

The healer began manipulating his arms while Harry stared at Severus. When she was finished, she raised the head of the bed to put Harry in a more comfortable position and left them alone as she went to order something for Harry to drink.

Severus, wearing the clothes he had on more than two days ago when he’d rushed to the hospital, sat on the stool beside the bed, carefully lowered the rail, and raised his left hand to push errant strands of hair out of Harry’s eyes.

Harry had never looked so beautiful.

 

“Morning,” he said.

“Mmmm,” replied Harry. “Sev’rus.”

“I do believe that was a sentence,” Severus replied. He tucked a long strand of Harry’s hair behind his ear. “How are you feeling?”

Bedside

Harry pressed his eyes shut then opened them slowly. “Goo…” The word ended in a breath, the final consonant lost.

“Liar.” Severus stroked the side of Harry’s face. “You are likely in a good deal of pain, are probably as thirsty as hell and are wondering why you are having trouble speaking.”

He tilted his head slightly as he met Harry’s eyes.

“Or, you may be wondering why I haven’t kissed you this morning as is my wont.”

Harry’s mouth moved into a hint of a smile. He gave the barest of nods.

“I haven’t been attending to my daily hygiene. I forgot to pack my toothbrush when we received word you had been brought here.”

Harry frowned. Severus could almost see him processing that statement.

“Wuh…weee?” He drew the word out as if not sure where it began and where it ended.

“Ah, yes. I did say ‘we,’ didn’t I? Well, ‘we’ would be Ms. Granger-Weasley and myself. She was visiting when Kingsley’s Patronus came. And that I will explain later. Suffice it to say that we got to know each other a little better while waiting for news of your fate.”

Harry was trying now to move his arm. Severus pulled back the cover and helped him extract his unbroken hand, then laced their fingers together gently.

“You must be patient, Harry.” He stared at their interlaced fingers. “You have a long road ahead of you…but you won’t walk that road alone.”

He felt a light pressure on his hand as Harry’s fingers tightened marginally.

“With ‘oo,” said Harry.

“With you. Always with you.”

*

Harry didn’t walk out of the hospital, nor did he spend the greening Spring strolling about the manor grounds.

The road back for him was long, frustrating and difficult.

Severus took him home after a week in St. Mungo’s. By that time, the swelling in his brain had receded, the Skele-gro had done all it could to heal bones and vertebra and a long and torturous therapy routine had been prescribed and initiated.

And the “impairments” had been identified.

While Harry’s speech had improved tremendously, he still struggled with some words and sounds and had learned to take his time to formulate a string of words before attempting to convey a complex thought. His left hand trembled and shook when he used it. He was prone to headaches. His back injury, though healing, caused him a good deal of pain, and he was too weak and unbalanced to walk or even to sit up straight.

Severus took him home nonetheless, moving him into a room on the ground floor of the manor and shooing everyone away—Weasleys, healers, therapists and all—and inviting them to return in two hours after he and Harry had had an adequate nap. Even Kreacher stayed well out of his way after doing what could only be described as a happy dance at seeing Harry back at home.

Severus Snape did not coddle. He looked at Harry, lying on the bed in a green silk robe, eyes closed, face pale. His instinct was to ask Harry what he needed—a drink of water, a warm quilt, a plate of eggs and sausage, a pain potion—but he didn’t ask. He knew what Harry needed more than any of these other things. Fortunately, it was exactly what he needed as well.

He stepped around to the far side of the bed, away from the door, and held on to the footboard while he removed his boots and lined them up next to each other beside the bed. He unbuttoned his outer robes and removed them as well, draping them over the footboard. He looked up at Harry then and caught him smiling.

“How di’ju know?” asked Harry, reaching out a trembling arm as Severus slid into the bed beside him. He settled on his side facing Harry and laid a warm hand on Harry’s stomach.

“I’ve wanted to do this all week,” he said as Harry let out a breathy sigh and closed his eyes.

“Hate…hate sleeping on m’back,” Harry whispered as he slowly moved a shaky hand on top of Severus’ and carefully laced his fingers through his husband’s.

“I know you do,” said Severus. “And as much as I’d like to have you curled around me like a cat, as is your wont, I am so happy to simply be sharing this bed with you now that I will play the cat until your back is healed.” He scooted up against Harry’s side more firmly and draped a leg over Harry’s legs.

“You’re cud’ling,” said Harry. He moved his thumb over the back of Severus’ hand, the only movement he could afford without a great deal of pain.

“I might be,” said Severus softly. His head was on Harry’s pillow, resting near his shoulder. He closed his eyes and took in a deep breath through his nose, happily inhaling Harry’s scent.

“You don’ cud’le,” said Harry, forming the words slowly and clearly. He squeezed Severus’ hand slightly.

“I do now,” said Severus. “And if you ever tell anyone—anyone at all—that I am a simpering old fool, I will deny it vehemently and call question to your sanity.”

“G’night, Sev’rus,” said Harry, smiling sleepily.

He was asleep moments later, exhausted from the move home from St. Mungo’s. Severus tightened his grip around Harry’s middle and followed him into slumber.

*~*

Severus held it together well for nearly a week.

He instructed St. Mungo’s not to send any more potions and made them himself instead, using his own stock of ingredients or collecting them fresh. He brewed them while the therapists were working with Harry upstairs, or late at night, after lying in bed with Harry until he was fast asleep then slipping out for several hours to catch up on his work.

His logical mind knew that if Harry was to recover fully, he’d have to go through hell to get there. That injured muscles and bones and nerves and discs would protest the motion, that the brain would have to be retrained. That the deadliest enemies of all would be frustration and depression.

Yet his emotional mind, the part of him that loved Harry like an extension of his own soul, could not tolerate seeing Harry in pain.

He would not coddle Harry. A coddled Harry would not recover. Harry had to be pushed. Had to be kept on a regimented schedule. Had to be carried outside and put in a lounge chair to take in the sun even when he refused to cooperate, to try to balance on the side of the bed, to attempt to bend to help put on his own slippers. He needed to feel the sun when it decided to shine on the gardens. He needed to see the life outside of the confines of his room.

That first week, it seemed there were two steps backward for every excruciating step forward.

A kidney infection. An unexpected fever. Blurry vision. Each required yet another potion, or a series of them. On the positive side, Harry was able to drag his heel along the mattress and bend his knee up, one leg at a time. Not walking, not by a long stretch, but deliberate movement of the legs—even from a reclined position—was progress.

And his speech slowly improved. He still had difficulty finding some words, and would furl his forehead in concentration and frustration, closing his eyes tightly to hold back tears. But the slurring had all but disappeared, thanks in large part to a speech therapist, who never lost patience with him and who helped him shape and reshape his mouth around the sounds and words he needed.

Once, Severus made the mistake of leaving Harry alone while he ducked down to the lab to finish the optic-nerve strengthening potion. The wireless was playing and Harry seemed tired but peaceful. Severus had left The Daily Prophet on the bed near his better hand, and assured him he’d be back up in forty minutes. Later, he cursed himself for not reading that issue before he left the room.

An article on the front page reported that the killer Ron and Harry were after had struck again.

Severus didn’t hear Harry calling for him. By the time he got upstairs, Harry was a ball of misery, tangled in his sheets, newspaper torn and shredded and scattered about. The table at the bedside was overturned, the oil lamp broken.

“Where were you?” shouted Harry when Severus, overcoming his shock as he stood in the doorway observing the mess, strode into the room. “I needed you!” Each word was pronounced carefully, annunciated clearly, strung together deliberately. The words were both accusation and plea.

Eyes on Harry’s distraught face, Severus walked over to the bed. He ignored the mess surrounding him and placed his hands on Harry’s shoulders, lightly holding him, fingers stroking the skin, working up to brush his knotted neck. Harry relaxed marginally, then brought a shaky hand up to grip his arm.

“I need my wand,” he said. His eyes darted shakily around the room. “Where’s my wand, Severus?”

It took Severus some time to calm him, to understand what had caused the reaction, to reassure him that his wand was upstairs in their shared bedroom, but that the healers had advised that he do no magic, that he not stress himself further during the healing process. He finally sighed and crawled into bed with Harry, cradling him awkwardly while Harry’s body tensed in frustration, while the young Auror dealt with the reality that he’d not be chasing down criminals and dark wizards again. No matter that he had thought about quitting, that indeed he had made that decision even before the accident. This was cold, hard reality, staring him in the face.

By the end of the week, Harry was physically stronger and emotionally more fragile.

And Severus…Severus was a mess. Exhausted. Depressed. At wit’s end.

“You need to sleep… Severus.” Harry’s voice was less deliberate than it had been as he relearned the cadence of words. They had been in bed together for nearly an hour, Severus spooned up alongside Harry as had become their custom, one arm wrapped around his neck, hand lying on his chest, moving softly over the pectoral muscles, while the other rested on Harry’s stomach. He had thought Harry asleep, and had moved to slide out of bed. Harry had surprised him when he spoke.

“I…I have a potion brewing. Downstairs. I won’t be long.”

“Leave it.” Harry moved his arm to graze his side, fingers still clumsy. “Stay and sleep.”

“I cannot leave it. It’s your pain potion.”

Harry’s fingers tried to pull him back. “Don’t need it. ‘m fine.”

“You are not fine, Harry.” Severus’ voice was more resigned then angry. He sat up and scooted back to sit cross-legged on the bed beside Harry. “You fight pain constantly. You need the potion. You will not be able to do your therapy without it.”

“Fuck the therapy.” Harry’s voice shook, belying his mood. “You need sleep, Severus. You’re ex…” He groped for the word, then sighed, settled for another. “Tired.”

Severus pressed his eyes closed. He was tired. Exhausted. But he certainly had more stamina than Harry. Harry needed him to hold things together.

“I am tired. You are correct. But I am not ill, and I have been tired many times in the past.”

Harry’s hand had settled on Severus’ knee and now it moved slowly up his thigh, with clear intent to continue its journey.

“Harry…that is not necessary. You are not well enough—strong enough—to…”

Harry’s hand stopped and he turned his head aside. His hand dropped back to the bed.

Damn it!

Severus moved quickly, carefully straddling his husband, knees pressed against slim hips, keeping his weight above and not on Harry. He bent forward and held Harry’s head gently, then brought his mouth to Harry’s to kiss him.

He hadn’t kissed him like this, like a lover, since that goodbye outside of his lab before Harry left on his mission three weeks ago. This kiss started chastely, but grew into something more heated and desperate. Harry’s good arm came around his neck and pulled him even closer. He could hear Harry’s sobs before he tasted his tears.

“I’ll get better Severus, I promise. I’ll…try harder. Work harder. So you can sleep at night. So I don’t need the potions…”

Severus held Harry close. Something had to give. And soon.

*

Molly Weasley’s surprise visit the next morning turned out to be the course correction they needed.

Severus had already carried Harry to the bath, helped him bathe, carried him back to bed and dosed him with his morning potions. He was in the kitchen now, preparing breakfast for both of them when Molly appeared at the door. He’d opened the Floo to the Burrow, as well as to Ron and Hermione’s home, and it was not uncommon for one Weasley or another to pop in for a brief hello.

Molly surveyed the scene then walked over to the tea tray on the counter, poured a steaming cup and held it out to Severus.

“Take this and sit down.” She indicated the stools pulled up near the counter. “You’re running on empty, Severus. I can tell just by looking at you.”

He stared at her a long moment. He had an egg in each hand. Bacon was frying up on the stove.

She pushed the cup toward him. “Take the tea and sit, Severus.”

“But….”

She shook her head, put the cup on the counter and gently removed the eggs from his hands. She then led him to the stool and pushed him down on it and handed him the cup.

“Why isn’t Kreacher making breakfast?” she asked.

“I always make breakfast for Harry,” he answered. “Kreacher is exceedingly old—Harry doesn’t like to ask him to do much.”

“Hmm,” she said.

“He’s actually more of a house guest,” said Severus with a small snort. “He does do tea.”

“Is Harry awake?” Molly asked as she cracked the eggs into a skillet and started making toast.

“Yes. He’s already had a bath and his morning potions.” He watched her turn the toast and pick up a spatula. “He doesn’t like his eggs scrambled….”

She flipped over an egg. The yolk remained unbroken.

“I know how Harry likes his eggs, Severus. I am his mother, you know.”

She spoke casually, as if she went about making declarations such as that every day. Severus took a long sip of tea and closed his eyes. He held the cup in both hands, warming them.

He watched her eye the first two eggs, eventually remove them and drop another pat of butter in, melting it. She then cracked two more eggs and deftly scrambled them.

He sat there, incredulous, as she warmed two plates then served scrambled eggs and crispy bacon on one and fried eggs with softer bacon on the other. She added buttered toast to each and opened a jar of strawberry jam. Finally, she passed the plate of scrambled eggs to Severus and picked up the other one. Her eyes softened as she regarded him.

“I’ll take this plate in to Harry and sit with him while he eats. Why don’t you finish up breakfast then go up and have a nice bath yourself?”

She didn’t add “You look like you need one,” but he saw it in her eyes.

She touched his arm as she left. “And after that, I’d like to talk with you. When is Harry’s therapist arriving?”

“Nine o’clock,” he responded automatically. “He has speech therapy at nine, physical therapy at eleven and two and the healer will be here at four to do a thorough check-up.”

“Eat,” she said softly. “I’ll be back soon.”

Severus stared at the plate she had left him. It looked…appetizing. He took another long drink of tea then picked up a piece of toast, layered it with the scrambled eggs, added two strips of crispy bacon and topped it off with another piece of toast.

Only when he took the first bite did he realize that Molly Weasley had made him his favorite breakfast.

How the hell had she known what he liked?

*

And just like that, Molly Weasley insinuated herself into life at the Snape-Potter home. She arrived at seven thirty to fix breakfast, helped with the laundry, and pitched in in any way she could.

Severus didn’t know how he could have survived much longer without her.

He remembered the short conversation they’d had that first day, after he’d come back down from his bath. They sat at the kitchen table having tea and she’d told him in no uncertain terms that he was the most important person in Harry’s life and if he didn’t take care of himself, there would be nothing for Harry to live for. Wearing himself out would ultimately hurt them both. He needed his strength, and his sanity, and he needed to think of himself first.

Thinking of himself first was impossible, of course.

But Molly was there, blocking the door when Harry cried out during his therapy, preventing him with her formidable presence from pushing his way into Harry’s room and throwing the therapist out on his ear. “It has to hurt,” she reminded him. “You told me so yourself. He needs to be independent again, Severus.”

May had begun before Harry stood on his own. By the middle of the month, Harry had walked from the bed to the dresser. He worked his hands relentlessly, repeating the exercises given him, and the shaking and trembling were noticeable now only when he was overly tired.

Severus would watch him. Every evening before bed, he’d guide him through the strengthening exercises and would walk with him. At first it was just around the room but later they’d make it to the corridor, to the front entryway, or to the rear parlor where they’d always spent so much time. Harry leaned heavily on him, one side still weaker than the other, but persisted with dogged determinism. He was so tired now when he went to bed that he seldom noticed Severus slipping out to check on potions or to read quietly in the chair by the fireplace.

“Severus.” Molly’s voice reached him one day in late May. Severus looked up from his cauldron. He had begun to brew for his clients again, and had finally made more progress on his research. Molly was standing in the doorway of his laboratory. She looked concerned.

“Severus, have you noticed a change in Harry? Has he seemed more depressed to you lately?”

Severus took the cauldron off the flame, placed it carefully on a trivet and frowned.

Had Harry been more depressed lately? The biggest change of late, he thought, had been in himself. Since Harry had begun to walk, Severus, finally convinced that Harry would get better, had breathed a sigh of relief and had begun to immerse himself more in his neglected work.

“Why do you ask that, Molly?” He looked up at her curiously.

“I’ve just had rather a long talk with him is all,” she said. “He’s noticed a change in you, he says, and is utterly convinced you are drawing away from him.”

“That’s ridiculous! I am simply relieved…that he is doing better. That he is finally walking a bit. Healing. The hope, the relief….” He paused, frowning again. “I have finally been able to focus on my work….” He trailed off, knowing his explanation sounded weak.

“Oh.” She paused, narrowed her eyes. “Harry interprets it as you losing interest in him.”

“That’s ridiculous, Molly. How could I lose interest in Harry?” Severus dropped his hands to the work table in frustration.

“Severus. Calm down.” Molly stepped into the room and walked toward him until she stood across the table. “Think about it. He’s been recovering for two and a half months. His whole world is himself, his pain, his progress, his lack thereof. He’s lost his independence—”

“That’s ridiculous!”

“Is it?” she countered. “What can he do for himself, Severus? At this point, he can’t even get out of bed and make his way to the loo on his own. He has gone from one of the most independent young men I have ever known to a man dependent on others all day, every day. He can’t go into the kitchen for a snack, can’t walk down these stairs to check up on you while you’re brewing.”

Severus stared at her, his eyes softening a bit in understanding.

“Severus, he used to take care of you, did he not? He’d come home from work, check on you, bring you some small token. Leave to prepare dinner.”

“He told you this.” His voice nearly broke. He had forgotten…how could he have forgotten Harry’s daily offerings? The small tokens of love?

“Of course he told me that. How could I know that on my own? But now, he doesn’t have a job, and can’t care for you or for himself. He’s afraid, Severus—afraid that he can’t be a husband to you anymore.”

“Ridiculous. You know that isn’t true.”

“I know it, Severus, but Harry needs to hear it too. And while it’s none of my business either, perhaps it is time—or nearly time—for you to treat him more like a man and less like a fragile teacup.”

They stared at each other again, then Severus nearly erupted. “Harry told you that? That we have not…have not…?”

“Had sex?” She laughed lightly. “No, Severus, he didn’t tell me. He didn’t have to tell me! It’s quite obvious, isn’t it?”

“We are not having this conversation.” Severus lowered his gaze and began to studiously clean the work table.

“Oh, but we are having this conversation,” countered Molly. “Severus, my intent is not to meddle. I’m simply conveying my concern after having rather a heart to heart with your husband. He’d very much like for you two to be equals again. He doesn’t want to be a burden—”

“He is not a burden,” interrupted Severus. He dropped the stirring rod in his hand and ignored it as it clattered across the table. “He could never be a burden,” he added emphatically.

Molly’s eyes moved from the stirring rod up to Severus’ face. Her face softened. “I’m heading home now, Severus. Perhaps you could go up and speak with him?”

Severus stared at her a long moment then walked rather mechanically to the doorway. He walked up the stairs ahead of her. It was a testament to his love for Harry that he left ingredients and equipment scattered about and didn’t come back down until the next day to finish cleaning up.

*~*

Their sleeping positions had changed over the past month, after Severus’ talk with Molly.

Even though Harry had been comfortable enough to sleep on his side the last week or two, Severus had insisted he sleep on his back. Severus had been careful, when he curled up against Harry, not to press himself against him. Their positions had been relaxed and intimate, yet not sexual or arousing. Through concerted discipline, and perhaps a bit of sheer luck, Severus turned over onto his back in the early morning hours and dealt with his morning erection discreetly.

But the night after Molly advised him to treat Harry like a man again, and not a fragile teacup, he spooned up behind Harry, pulling him onto his side and nestling into him. It was his favorite position in which to sleep, and some of the tension that had kept his back straight and his neck stiff these past weeks eased away with the familiar comfort of the position. Harry, for his part, sighed as he pressed back against Severus then whispered, as he always had, “I love you, Severus,” before drifting off to sleep.

And when morning came, Severus, pressed up against Harry as he was, could not help but start a slow and gentle rutting motion. And when Harry pressed back against him, nearly squeezing his cock with his arse, Severus slipped his hand down into Harry’s pants and found his cock just as hard and demanding as it had ever been. He grasped it in his hand, stroking it as he pushed against Harry, pulling from Harry the most delightful of surprised grunts as he pressed back even harder against Severus. Severus’ other hand came up around Harry and slowly, deliberately, thumbed over a nipple. Harry arched and moaned and Severus continued his steady rhythm until Harry cried out and came, pressing back into him, heart beating wildly, happy and sated. Two or three more thrusts against Harry’s firm arse and he was there as well, a delicious orgasm so much more intense and satisfying than the hurried, businesslike masturbation he’d engaged in these past weeks.

Harry sighed and snuggled back against Severus, content to sleep a while longer. For his part, Severus could have stayed there forever, awake, with Harry at peace, asleep in his arms.

That morning marked the true beginning of Harry’s recovery.

It was helped along even more by Ron and Hermione’s visit that evening.

They were eating dinner in their back parlor now. Severus would wake Harry from the nap he took after his therapist left and then help him to the parlor, usually walking beside him but sometimes, when Harry was very tired, standing in front of him, holding his hands, walking backwards as he coaxed Harry forward. Harry would collapse in what used to be Severus’ armchair, and Severus would bring dinner in for two. Then, if Harry wasn’t overly tired, Severus would set up the chess set and they’d play a game or two before bed.

They were playing chess that night, the night Hermione and Ron Floo-called then stepped through into the parlor.

Severus stood to greet their guests and Harry turned his head, his tired face lighting up with a smile.

“Oh…you’re playing,” said Hermione. She kissed Harry on the cheek, exclaimed over how much better he was looking, then took a seat next to Severus on the sofa. Ron plopped down into the other armchair and looked at the game with interest.

“He’s killing you, mate,” he said.

Harry studied the board, pushed a rook ahead and shrugged. “After he finishes the job, why don’t you play him and I’ll catch up with Hermione.”

Ron glanced over at Hermione. “Well, actually, we came over to tell you something.”

Severus took a pawn with his bishop, placed it on the table in front of him and leaned back, looking first at Ron then letting his gaze slide over to Hermione. It wasn’t difficult to guess what piece of news this was, though he wasn’t about to admit that he’d known now for two months.

“Tell me something?” Harry took one of Severus’ pawns then leaned carefully back in his chair, still holding the chess piece. He looked at Ron curiously, then over at Hermione.

“We’re having a baby,” said Hermione, without prelude. She smiled across at Harry. “I’m pregnant.”

Severus, sitting directly across from Harry as he was, had a perfect view of his face when he heard the news. As Hermione spoke, Harry’s eyes widened and the corners of his mouth turned up.

“A baby.” It was a statement, not a question. He said baby emphasizing the first syllable, his voice a bit breathless, a bit disbelieving

“Yeah, a baby,” said Ron, his face breaking into a big smile. “In November—just a month after Charlie and Anton’s baby comes.”

“Wow.” Harry’s face took on an odd look for a moment, a look Severus did not miss but could not quite interpret. But it was gone as soon as it appeared, replaced by the delighted reaction his friends surely had been expecting. “Congratulations!” he said. “That’s great—the best news I’ve heard in months.”

“You heard about Charlie and Anton’s baby a month ago,” said Ron.

Severus noticed that Harry was holding the chess piece in a death grip. His fingers were squeezed so tightly around it that they were nearly white.

“My congratulations as well,” he said, nodding at the happy parents. “I believe this news calls for a celebration.” He stood up and went into the kitchen. As he returned ten minutes later, with laden tea tray and a good scotch, he heard Harry’s voice just as he reached the parlor door.

“No, really, I’m thrilled for you. I’m going to teach him to fly.”

“Or her,” cut in Hermione.

“Or her,” Harry said.

“Maybe Severus could teach him to fly,” suggested Ron.

“Or her,” interjected Hermione with a sigh. “And really, flying on a broom is dangerous enough. I’m not sure she’ll be up to Severus’ brand of flying for quite some time.”

“I’d let Severus take our child flying,” said Harry, his voice so soft Severus almost didn’t hear him.

But he did hear him.

And was, for some unfathomable reason, profoundly affected.

Severus walked into the room, placed the tray on the table and looked at Harry.

“Let us hope, then, that he has your foolish Gryffindor bravery,” he said.

Harry met his eyes. Something passed between them, then. An understanding. An agreement.

“Or she,” said Harry, heedless of the fact that Ron and Hermione were staring at them.

“Or she,” affirmed Severus. And without another word, he poured three scotches and one tea and passed the cups around.

“To future progeny,” he offered, holding up his scotch in a toast.

And they drank to that promise.

~*~

In early July, Severus went with Harry to the Ministry to clean out his desk.

The finality of the act didn’t have the impact it might have had had Harry not been injured. Now, it was only one more milestone in a season of firsts and lasts. Harry would have a stipend for life but the money didn’t seem to offer any comfort. He sat heavily in his old chair behind his Ministry desk, surveying the office he shared with Ron and two other Aurors.

There really wasn’t much to pack up. A half dozen vials of Pepper-up Potion, each labeled with Severus’ distinctive spidery script. A pair of trainers. His favorite quill. Two spare wand holsters. A stress ball that someone had decorated with curly hair and a bow to resemble Dolores Umbridge. A picture of himself and Severus. A photograph of his godson Teddy. Another of Ron and Hermione on their wedding day.

It all fit into a single cardboard box.

It made Severus realize how much of Harry’s time had been wrapped up in the Ministry but how little of his life.

He and Harry were taking long walks in the gardens every evening now. Harry had regained nearly all of his strength, though he tired easily, and when very tired, was more prone to the unsteadiness that continued to plague him. He worked on his dexterity in Severus’ laboratory, preparing potions ingredients, learning to trust himself with the sharp silver knife despite his sometimes shaky hand. The therapists had suggested he take up something that required fine motor skills and Severus had suggested he help him prepare potions ingredients. He had been patient as Harry fumbled through the first days, mangling flobberworms and beheading beetles instead of dewinging them.

One day several weeks in, after an hour spent cutting the bark off of willow branches, Harry picked up one of the naked branches and while Severus brewed, whittled the forked branch into a rather nice…something.

“An owl roost,” suggested Severus.

Harry had shrugged, but the next day found him whittling again, and the next. He turned out a miniature owl the first week, just a few inches tall and rather crude but certainly recognizable. He began to pick out wood as they walked each evening, cutting green branches from trees and bushes in the gardens and piling them on the table on the patio where he sat each morning with his strong coffee and The Daily Prophet. Before the end of the month, he had acquired several grains of sandpaper, wood varnish, stain and a fine wood-carving pocketknife from Switzerland.

The first time they played chess together after Harry took up this new hobby, Harry stared at a captured pawn in his hand.

“I could do this,” he said, fingering the intricate piece. “I could make these.”

“It was your idea, after all,” said Severus, taking the time to study the carved pieces. He’d loved the gift when Harry gave it to him, for its elegance and originality, for the symbolism of the wand woods from which it was made, for the fact that Harry had gifted it to him. He looked up at Harry. “You have a natural talent with the wood, Harry. You could be a true artisan if you continue at this pace.”

Harry placed the pawn carefully on the table and settled back in his chair. “It seems like a selfish career,” he mused, “making a profit from what I enjoy doing anyway.”

Severus stared curiously at Harry. In the past months, he’d gotten to know and respect a new side of Harry. A contemplative Harry. A gentle Harry. A Harry not constantly on the go, pressed by others to give of himself until it hurt.

“Do you mean you didn’t enjoy your previous occupation?”

Harry didn’t answer. Instead, he stood up. He had more difficulty standing after he’d been sitting for a while, but he sorted himself out and took the few short steps around the table to Severus. He eased one knee up on the sofa beside Severus’ thigh, then carefully lifted the other into the same position, so that he was straddling Severus’ legs. Severus’ hands came out automatically and held his hips as Harry lowered himself onto his lap. He smiled at Severus then leaned in to kiss the corner of his mouth.

“Not quite as limber as I used to be,” he said as he draped his arms around Severus’ shoulders. “And as for your question, I think you know the answer.” He kissed the corner of Severus’ eye now, and Severus closed his eyes at the sensation, dropping his head back to rest on the top of the sofa cushion. Harry followed him forward.

“Being good at something,” he said, now kissing Severus’ temple and using his fingertips to tuck his hair behind his ear, “is not the same as enjoying it.” He traced Severus’ nose lightly with his finger then leaned in again to press a kiss onto his mouth. When he spoke again, his lips were hovering over Severus’.’“I am—I was—a good Auror. Hell, a great Auror. But I like spending time with you helping out with brewing even more, or taking Teddy flying, or going to Hogwarts and administering N.E.W.T. testing in Defense.” He pulled back only a fraction, so that his eyes were looking directly into Severus He cupped his face and Severus met the intense green gaze with his own, slightly puzzled, greatly intrigued. “I’m having a hard time reconciling this all lately,” Harry admitted at last. He smiled, then, in an unexpected move, plunged in for another kiss, working Severus’ lips and mouth with intent. Severus, taken by surprise, nonetheless responded, groaning as he tasted this unexpected kiss, this surprisingly in control Harry. He ground his hips upward as Harry scooted even closer to him, chest to chest, cheek to cheek.

“Hard time reconciling this?” asked Severus, slightly out of breath, as Harry rested his tousled head on his shoulder. Severus reached up and brushed his hand through Harry’s hair. It was longer now, down to his shoulders, tamer with the additional weight. He turned his head, kissed Harry’s ear, continued to brush his hand through the hair, rhythmically stroking it as Harry sighed into his neck, soft breath warming his skin through his open collar.

“Living for me. Living for us. Putting me first. Not being useful.” Harry muttered the last phrase, voice low, almost as an apology.

Severus stroked Harry’s head. Personally, he felt that Harry’s need to be useful came from a long history of being used.

“I should not have to assure you that you are useful,” he said quietly. “But if you would like the reassurance, you have it. Personally, I feel you’ve done enough for others. It’s time to do something for yourself, Harry. You would have come to this crossroads eventually, even had you not been forced to leave your chosen career.”

“You won’t mind having me hang around permanently? I won’t get in your way?” Harry’s mouth moved over Severus’ neck, pressing open-mouthed kisses to it, and Severus shuddered and tightened his grip on his husband.

“Do you remember the promise you made me make to you? The first time you were a day late home from an assignment?”

“Of course I do,” answered Harry. His hands moved over Severus’ back in slow circles.

“Not to ever put myself in front of danger for you when you were on the job. To trust you, Harry. Not to come after you. To let the Ministry do its job; to let you do your job.”

“I had to do it, Severus. I couldn’t have you coming after me every time….”

“I am officially withdrawing my promise,” said Severus. “And I will not make a similar one in the future.” His hands tightened on Harry, possessively. When he spoke again, his voice was raw with emotion. “You almost died. I almost lost you. This house…this place…it is too big already for two. It would be impossibly large for one.” He lowered his head and breathed in Harry’s scent, hoping that Harry heard his words as the admission of love he intended.

Harry’s lips came down on his again and Severus lost himself in the taste and the texture and the pulling need. This was a crossroads, a first step in a new direction. He could taste it like Harry’s breath on his mouth. He could feel it like the graze of lips on stubbled cheek. Before, before…they were two independent men combining their already-established lives, but not blending them. Harry coming home from work, checking on him, not disturbing him, leaving him a token. Severus, watching the clock, holding vigil with Hermione, losing himself in his own work so that he wouldn’t obsess on the passing of hours and days.

Now, as Severus maneuvered Harry carefully off of his lap, pressing him down onto the sofa as he reversed their positions, running one hand up under Harry’s shirt as the second hand worked itself under the waistband of Harry’s jeans, jeans that hung off of him now with the stone of weight he had lost—now, finally, they had no task more important than each other.

~*~

Harry made his first chess set for Hermione and Ron. The pawns were house elves—the white pieces wore tea-towels and the dark wore clothes. Severus laughed at their faces, and Harry, working on the high stool with the low back at the work table in his gardening shed-turned-studio, smiled and shook his head. “Dobby and Kreacher,” he said. “Dobby for Hermione and Kreacher for Ron. I thought it was fitting.” The Kreacher pawns each wore a tiny locket engraved with an “S.”

Severus helped him with the sanding, using the finest grained paper. The knights—hippogriffs—were the most difficult, though the rooks were challenging as well. Severus spent countless hours with Harry researching the charms to animate the chess pieces and imbue them with appropriate strategic knowledge and interesting personalities.

The king and queen, once the charms were in place, seemed predisposed to hold hands and steal kisses. In a truly original spark of inspiration, Harry gave the dark queen a crown of curls and a baby bump. The light king wore a sash engraved with “Weasley is our King” and a lopsided crown. The dark queen bossed the other pieces around and was charmed to quote random bits of trivia from “Hogwarts, a History.” The light pawns, unfortunately, often banded together to charge the opposite castles while the dark pawns banged their wooden heads against the board.

The board was a true work of art. Harry spent as much time creating it as he did on the pieces themselves, carving runes around the edges for life and health and prosperity.

He gifted the chess set to Hermione and Ron on Hermione’s birthday in September.

They were at the Burrow, and the weather was still pleasant. Ginny and Hermione spent their time on the glider in the shade. Ginny was only weeks away from her due date, and Harry laughed at how she waddled when she walked but lent his hand to help her stand for her frequent trips inside to use the loo.

“Chloe,” he said when Charlie and Anton revealed the name of their soon-to-be-born daughter. “That’s beautiful.” Severus watched him as he placed his hand on Ginny’s belly to feel the child kick and stretch, and returned the smile when Harry chanced a glance at him, grinning broadly.

Hermione and Ron were also having a girl. She was kicking and stretching to Hermione’s discomfort, but Harry had already felt his future goddaughter kick plenty of times. He marveled at how the little body moved within its confined and cozy home. Severus caught him looking longingly at Ron and Hermione at times, as Ron sat beside his wife, large hand resting on her baby bump, vague smile playing on his lips.

The chess set was met with the awed response it deserved. Hermione and Ron fingered the pieces, laughing at the house elves, marveling at the knights. Ron lifted the white king with its engraved sash, laid it in his hand and stared at it, clearly overcome with emotion.

“Think of me when you play, alright?” asked Harry, breaking what he must have thought was an uncomfortable silence.

“How could we not?” asked Hermione. But she glanced at Severus as she said it, clearly remembering that evening in March when they sat with the chess set and the weight of the world between them.

~*~

Babies came, and christenings, and Christmases, and birthdays and springs.

Arthur Weasley’s chess set, commissioned by his children for a milestone birthday, featured spark plug pawns and battery bishops. Hagrid’s, gifted to him for his retirement, had nifflers and thestrals and even blast-ended skrewts. Hagrid’s opponents learned to wear dragon-hide gloves when playing chess with his set.

There were commissions for wealthy persons, and important persons, and persons neither wealthy nor important, but each receiving a masterpiece nonetheless. Harry’s days were spent in his shop, or walking the grounds in search of the perfect branches, or sitting across from Severus while he brewed, polishing and sanding flat squares of wood, or preparing ingredients, or discussing their next trip to some exotic island or lonely mountain to collect ingredients and wood, always wood.

It seemed natural that Harry would branch out into wand making. He left the cores and the finishing to Ollivander, but began creating and supplying the wand wood itself, cut and carved and polished. He’d make two or three each month, and the old wandmaker would come out to the manor to look them over and choose the ones that intrigued him the most, or the ones that best fit the cores he had in store. Harry made Hermione a new wand while she was pregnant the second time.

Hugo was born the year Teddy started at Hogwarts.

They had his first birthday party at the Burrow, and Hermione and Severus sat together, Severus holding the sleeping little boy, while Harry took Rose on a broom ride—slow, low to the ground—and Ron played Quidditch with his brothers.

Severus relaxed in his chair, comfortable like this, as he never thought he would be. How this annoying flock of humanity had grown on him, in him, he’d never understand.

“Ron and I have been talking about something,” Hermione said.

Severus adjusted his arm. Hugo was a very solid little boy. “Oh?” he answered. His eyes were on Harry and Rose and the look in both of their eyes as Harry putted around the yard, only five feet above the ground.

“We want to have a baby for you,” she said, her voice soft, holding a question in it.

Severus’ attention was suddenly all on Hermione. He opened his mouth. Closed it again.

“A baby.” He stared at her. She smiled. “You are serious.”

She nodded, glancing upward to where Ginny, now a chaser for the Holyhead Harpies, was burning up the pitch.

“We know Harry was counting on Ginny,” she said. “But now—with her career…” She trailed off and Severus looked away. She was right. For the first two years after the accident, Harry was occupied with recovering and learning his new trade. Perfecting his art. Rose and Chloe and Teddy were his surrogate children. He loved then as much as he could possibly love one of his own. Or so he told Severus. Ginny had been drafted by the Harpies when Chloe was six months old. She’d come to the manor to tell Harry, and they’d taken a long walk in the gardens by themselves. When she left, Harry told Severus that it was just as well. The time wasn’t right. And besides, he already had Teddy and the girls.

“We could adopt a child,” offered Severus. “Or use a Muggle surrogate.”

But they’d gone no further, and now, today, Hermione Granger-Weasley was offering…was offering to carry a child for them. To carry their child.

“Ginny wants to donate the egg. Ron and I aren’t planning on having more children of our own, and I know…well, I know Harry wants one. I’m hoping you do too.”

Severus once again shifted his arm, feeling the warm weight of the toddler against him. He looked down at the face of the sleeping child, cheeks chubby and red, lips pouty, face tired and peaceful. Something caught in his chest, in his throat. This…this could be his…could be theirs.

In these last few years, he’d wanted a child for Harry. Never for himself. It was a chance to make Harry’s dreams come true. To complete Harry’s family. A gift for his husband, his lover.

He’d never really thought about that child being his as well. Not until this exact moment, with Hugo heavy in his arms, with Hermione beside him, looking at him so earnestly.

Hermione who came to him first. Before Harry.

He swallowed. His heart beat faster. His breath caught.

“You are sure? You would do this for Harry…for us?”

She nodded, smiling. “I’m sure. We’re both sure. We want to do this, Severus. Ron as much as myself.”

“We will of course take care of all of the expenses…”

“Severus—”

“And compensate you for any time you lose from work....”

“Severus, stop.” She reached out and touched his arm. He looked up at her, waited. “We’re offering this because we love you, both of you.”

Harry and Rose putted by on the broom just then and Hermione let go of Severus’ arm to wave at her daughter and Harry. Severus looked at Hermione.

This. This could be his as well.

~*~

Now, when Harry walks the grounds of the manor to visit the hawthorn trees and the yews and the alders and the willows, his small son trots along at his side. Michael is three and a half now, curious yet quiet, dark eyes taking in the world at large, assessing it, finding it good. He loves to go wood gathering with his Da, but today he finds a fat toad and crouches down in the grass beside it, prodding it with an inquisitive finger. Harry bends down beside him, studying the fat toad from Michael’s level. Harry has changed in the years since he left the Aurors. He is an artist, a woodcarver, a wand maker, a spell crafter. He still walks with a slightly uneven gait, and his back troubles him more than he’d like, but he is comfortable here on the manor, comfortable in his own skin. It is home, to him, to Severus, to the family they’ve created.

He stands and takes Michael’s hand and they wave goodbye to the toad. Together they walk toward the house, each clutching a handful of sticks in his free hand. Michael wonders if Papa will read the Toad book tonight, and Harry thinks he certainly will. Papa has a very hard time saying no these days.

Severus is sitting on the patio when they return, swaying back and forth in the big two-seated rocker with Hannah on his lap. Hannah is not quite one, and unbelievably she is sleeping now, heavy on Severus’ left arm. Michael lets go of Harry’s hand and runs to his Papa, crawling up onto the rocker beside him. Severus takes the sticks from his hand and places them on the table beside the rocker and listens with interest to the great toad adventure. Harry sweeps the little boy up a moment later and deposits him on his lap as he settles in beside Severus, reaching out to gently squeeze Hannah’s foot.

Hannah opens a sleepy eye and says “Da.” Her only word so far. She has messy, tousled auburn hair, a smattering of freckles and eyes that drift between hazel and green. She’s already walking, and her knees are skinned and bruised.

Severus listens to his son and watches his daughter and feels Harry ease in beside him, knows that Harry’s back is hurting today by his posture alone. His free hand wraps around his husband and he looks into the earnest face of his son…his son…who reaches up and puts a hand on each of his cheeks, forcing his father’s attention as he relates his story and requests the toad book for bedtime. In his lap, Hannah stretches and sighs back into sleep.

The Family Man

Two gifts. Two lives. A family of his own courtesy of the family he inherited when he married Harry.

And now, now that Hermione had gifted them with these lives, she is pregnant again.

Pregnant with a brother or sister for Rose and Hugo. A surprise, perhaps, but a welcome one.

They rise and go into the parlor. It’s just as cozy as it always was—more so, perhaps, than before. But now there are toys lined up neatly along the wall behind the chair, in a cozy nook made by sofa and armchair. Severus still reads his Potions journals, though there are crayon marks on some of them, and an occasional children’s book mixed up with the stack. Two small quilts, carefully stitched by Hermione’s unpracticed hand while each child was still growing within her, are on the couch. One is bundled up in the corner Michael calls his own, while the other is placed neatly over the back.

When the children are asleep upstairs, in the small room adjoining their own, Severus and Harry get ready for bed. Most days they are tired, but today is Sunday, and they have spent the day at home, taking time to relax before the next wave of projects and trips and potions and family gatherings. Severus, sitting on the side of the bed, catches Harry’s hand as he walks by toward the chest of drawers. Harry stops as Severus brings his fingers to his lips, kissing the tips. He laughs.

“They taste like macaroni and cheese,” he says, raising an eyebrow at his husband.

Harry pushes Severus back onto the bed, climbing on top of him and toeing off his shoes. He frames Severus’ face in his hands, capturing his undivided attention much as little Michael had after their afternoon walk. “I haven’t had a proper fuck in weeks,” he says. “I’m beginning to think you’re getting too old…”

Severus rolls him in an instant. “Do not move, Mr. Potter. You’re about to become quite…naked.” He has Harry’s clothes off in another moment, then, straddling his legs he latches on to one of Harry’s nipples and pulls on it with his mouth, flicking his tongue over the nub, scraping his teeth lightly over the flesh. Harry arches into the touch, moaning as Severus’ mouth moves to the other side, thrusting up against him as Severus’ hands move over his body, work his sore hips, brush over his cock, as his mouth moves up to claim his lips, his neck, to bite his shoulder softly, to tug on his ear as he whispers his name, reveals his plans to ravage and take and pleasure and give.

Severus is a generous lover. Buried inside Harry, in the familiar, tight heat, he cannot help but give. To angle just so, to thrust and parry, to work his hand over cock and bollocks and bring Harry to the cusp then let him slide back, then hold his hips and thrust again, to reach for his heart, his soul, again, again.

Severus is a greedy lover. With every thrust he takes from Harry. Takes his pleasure, takes his fill, takes a share of the boundless love, the overflowing joy, the welling passion. He takes the heat, the pressure, the urgency as Harry arches and moans, as his cock fills and pulses, as his bollocks tighten and he explodes in orgasm, wrapping his legs around Severus’ back, pressing his heels into his arse, urging him to his own climax. An explosion of warmth and color, a pulsing release that consumed and quenched him, a dizzying descent ending in Harry. Always in Harry. His warm and sweaty body. His throaty laughter. His fast-beating heart. His eyes, his field-of-green eyes.

He thought, once, that Harry was all he’d ever have. And he’d thought that would be enough. But now he knows that when he married Harry, he became part of something bigger, something greater. Connected by love to Harry’s best friend, a man who would stay by Harry when the world fell down around them, removing rubble a piece at a time to save his friend. To a woman who would harbor their children within her, give birth to their dreams. To a mother who would drop into their lives to sort things out and give them hope when times were tough. To a woman who would unselfishly give a piece of herself to create the living heartbeats in the room next door. And none of them, not a one, would ask a thing in return.

Severus rolls to his side and cradles Harry against him. His heart is beating wildly. There is so much more at stake now. So much more to lose.

He’s learned, through the miracle of his children, that the rules of mathematics do not apply to the heart. That when there are more people to love, the heart has more love to give.

“Sleep, Severus,” says Harry, his voice a slow drawl. Sex, always good between them, has been even better since Severus has learned to refill in their joining the heart he’s been sharing so generously, to take from Harry what he needs. To pound his fears to dust, to smoke, to ashes. To lie spent against him.

To sleep.

To wake again, to small voices calling for their Da, their Pa. To wake with Harry in his arms.

Fin