The Last Battlefield

Chapter 24 - The Facts of Life

By Sushi


"Whaddya mean, I'd make a horrible parent?" Harry rinsed the last of the grime from Gran's laboratory from his hands and shook them over the sink.

"Precisely that. You've no sense of discipline--"

"Neither have you."

"--And your abilities to comfort a screaming child consist of passing her over to someone more capable."

"You practically taught her to draw on the floor with that paint of yours, Mister Disciplinarian. And what d'you mean, I pass her over to you? You're the only one who can get her to settle down in the first place!"

"So you admit I'm more capable than you."

"Hush, you." Harry poked his tongue out. He studied Severus for a moment. "You're awfully cheerful about this. I'd have thought you'd be cranky about not seeing her."

Severus growled.

Harry held up his hands. "Okay, okay, point taken. You're still awfully cheerful."

"Perhaps I've simply had time to ponder the slings and arrows of mutual parenthood."


"Mutual. Parenthood. The joint care and raising of a child. Ours, if you were wondering."

Harry arched an eyebrow. "You."

"Yes, me."

"Decided you want kids."

"I haven't decided anything. However, I am willing to admit that the idea has some merit."

"I thought you said nobody would give us a kid because you've got a dodgy heart."

"Did I?" Severus sniffed. "Well. I suppose, then, the only real problem is that you spend your life being whacked in the skull by Bludgers--"

"Oh, be quiet." A grin was threatening to break through on Harry's face. "Where'd this come from?"

"Why has it got to come from anyplace?"

"Because I know you. What happened? Ginny say something about some little kid who came into the shop with his parents, or are you just thinking about Ruby?"

"How dare you suggest I haven't the capability of independent thought? I simply would like the chance to offer a child a proper education and a decent parent--"

"You mean parents, don't you?"

"Quiet. As I was saying, a decent parent and a raving Quidditch twit. If you're amenable to the possibility."

Harry peered at him. "You're having me on."

"If you're that opposed--"

"Of course I'm not, you greasy git!" Harry's grin broke through in full force, crinkling his eyes and wrinkling his nose. He leaned up and gave Severus a peck on the mouth. "When? Not before we get this mess sorted, at least. I mean--"

"Not for several months at soonest."

Harry's jaw dropped. "Months? I thought you were going to say a couple of years!"

"I hardly think I should like to wait until my dotage to discover the joys of raising Minerva's next generation of migraines."

Harry slapped a coy hand over his mouth. His eyes sparkled. "I don't believe this," he murmured. "I don't fucking believe it."

"Fucking better!"

"You," Harry pecked Severus again, "fucking hush. Greasy, secretive bastard." Severus smirked. Harry reached up to stroke a strand of wiry black hair. "Oi, you washed this again!"

"Four days ago."

"Doesn't matter! That's, what, twice in two weeks?"

"Would you rather I stopped?"

"You do, and I'll give you a smack in the chops!" Harry ran his hand through Severus' hair before letting go. He bounced from foot to foot. "Oh, wow. Kids. How old?"

"Freshly decanted, I would assume."


"You've never read Huxley, have you?"

"What's Huxley? Who's it by?"

Severus gave him a weary look. "That would be a 'no' then."

Harry rolled his eyes. "Did you mean still wrinkly?"


A bit of the colour ran from Harry's face. "Er, but..."

"But what?"

"They're so tiny. Sev, I nearly fainted when Mrs. Weasley handed me Ruby. I thought I was going to break her."

"Nonsense! Do you honestly believe that after nine months in a liquid-filled sac, being jostled every imaginable way, then being forcibly squeezed through a hole the size of a satsuma--?"

"Whoa, whoa." Harry waved his hands. "Stop right there. I'll raise them, I'll take care of them, and I'll love them with all my heart. That does not mean I want to know where they come from!"

A wicked smirk formed on Severus' lips. "I suppose it's a very good thing you don't fancy women then."

"Only because you got to me first."

Severus snorted. "That's not quite how it works."

"And how would you know? You're the only one who's done anything with them, and you couldn't be any gayer if you tried."

"I've experimented with one. And that was more a matter of scientific curiosity than of animal lust."

Harry snorted. "Yeah, right."


"Well, it's true. I think." Harry paused a moment, a finger to his mouth. He shrugged. "Anyway, after what you told me, I'm not sure I want anything to do with them. I like my lubrication to come from a bottle, thank you very much. At least then I know what's in it."

"Good. Because I'm not sure anyone but me would be mad enough to take you." Severus touched the underside of Harry's chin and brushed out of the kitchen.

"Reckon we're even then!" Harry called after him. Severus could still hear the grin in his voice.

A scratching at the window caught his attention. He arched an eyebrow at the messy grey owl hovering outside. With a sigh and a muttered, "What is it this time?", he opened the window so the thing could fly through to the table.

Severus glowered down at it. "Yes?"

With a low hoot, the owl stuck out his foot. Severus untied the note there with a hint of trepidation bubbling in his belly. "Miss Weasley didn't send you, did she?"

The owl said nothing. Severus supposed this was a no. He unrolled the note with his lips pursed thin.

Professor Severus,

How are you? This is Blaise. I realised I hadn't written you at all and I thought I'd make up for it. Are you and Potter Harry getting on? How is he, recovering? Or recovered by this point, I'd hope. You know what those Quidditch types are like. Draco was getting himself into trouble to no end on the pitch, and he always bounced straight back. Well. You know what I mean.

I hope I'm not being too forward, but I'd like to see you again. We've really not had much time to visit, and I'd sort of like to make up for the time since I left school. Is there a pub or anyplace you'd like to meet some evening this week? I'd suggest your house, but I sort of got the impression you'd like an excuse to get away for a while. I'd say Arthur and Molly's house, but, well, with Christmas coming up I expect they've got the place decorated, and... Well, Mum's gone, and my grandparents are still sort of in shock so I don't think they're doing much, and Sekhmet doesn't really celebrate it, so I'm sort of trying to forget it. But, you know, it's hard. It's really hard.

Owl me back? I'm free any night this coming week except Wednesday, I think - that's the fifteenth, Sekhmet's taking me to Madam Malkin's to look at wedding robes for me - and I'd very much like to see you both. I know Harry's not very keen on me, and after all of the House animosity at school I can understand why, but I'd like to make amends if we can. After all, the two of you did. Only goes to prove that things can change with enough effort.

Sekhmet's busy with wedding plans - 12 February, by the way - or I'd bring her along. I really wish you could get the chance to meet her, sir. She's a wonderful woman.

Yours affectionately,


The corner of Severus' mouth had quirked up by the time he finished the letter. "Harry?" he called.


"Have you got any plans this week?"

"Let's see. Staying here, staying here, staying here, going stir crazy, staying here, staying here. Yeah, I'm booked."

"Would you care to go down the pub one evening?"

The kitchen door swung open. Harry's head popped out. "Why?"

"Blaise has asked if we'd care to join him."

"Oh." Harry bit his lip, a frown line forming between his brows. "Why?"

"You're welcome to read for yourself." Severus waved the parchment. The owl on the table clicked its beak at him.

"Um. All right." Harry took the letter and adjusted his glasses. His mouth drew thin as he read. He finally laid the parchment down and gave Severus a suspicious look. "Are you really sure it's a good idea?"

"Of course I'm sure! He was my student, wasn't he?"

"Yeah, was. Now he's an Auror."

"Barely. He's not even allowed full privileges."

"I still don't trust him."

"That's because you're a paranoid whelp with delusions of Gryffindor."

Harry shook his head. "It's not that. Only..." He trailed off, shaking his head.


Harry shrugged.

"You've no reason to be jealous. If anything, he's more like a son to me than a student."

Harry's lip curled. "How in Hell can he be like a son to you? You've barely seen him in two years!"

"It doesn't matter! After Arkady, he needs a father who," Severus shook his head, "doesn't burn the Dark Mark into his only child's arm to fulfill his own twisted agenda!"

"Is this where your wanting kids came from?"


"'Cause, I hate to tell you this, Sev, but Zabini isn't exactly still wrinkly."

"I know that! Am I not allowed to want something for myself and do what my misguided colleague ought to have been doing all along?"

Harry held up his hands. "Stop. I don't want to argue over this. Only, are you sure this isn't just about another Zabini? 'Cause it almost sounds like you want to make up for his dad."

"Completely." Severus reached out to trace the edge of Harry's cheek with the lightest of touches. "I have wanted this for longer than you've been alive."

Harry frowned. "Draco?"

Severus said nothing.

"You still talk in your sleep, you know. Um, the night after Ruby was born." Harry's eyes flickered to focus on nothing. "You were talking to him. You called him 'mi puelle'."

Severus closed his eyes. Still, he said nothing.

"S'what Philia used to call you."

"I know this."

"You called him that again in his room."

"Again, I know this."

Harry took Severus' hand in both of his. Severus held his breath as Harry's warm, heart-shaped lips pressed against the knuckles. "I don't want Baby Draco. If we have - or adopt, or find, or whatever - a child, I want him to be ours, not Lucius Malfoy's."

"He won't be Lucius' child. I wouldn't allow that."

"Sev, you know what I mean."

"You want to raise a child for the sake of raising a child and not as a way for me to repair some of what I've done?"

Harry nodded. His mouth was still pressed against Severus' hand.

"I promise you that will be the case."

The green gaze that met him flickered between absolute trust that made Severus' belly flutter and utter cynicism that left him both hollow and numb. Harry dropped his hand. "Owl Zabini, I suppose. Ask him if Friday would be all right. That ought to give me enough time to get used to the idea."

"You need an entire week?"

The look Harry gave him said enough.

Dragging his feet a bit, Harry started for the door. "I'm going to get my kit on; have a bit of a flight. Once you've finished, you can come and watch if you want."

"In the cold?"

Harry shrugged. "It's not so cold when you're on a broom."

"You're not taking me up on that thing. I've seen the way you use it. Your old one is bad enough."

A faint smile flickered across Harry's mouth. "Sounds like famous last words to me."


Harry's smile lingered a moment more. He turned, and Severus was left to himself.


"Jesus, Severus! Is this for your goddaughter or an orphanage?" Her eyes ran further down the list. "Or an apothecary?"

He shot Emily a look. Emily didn't seem to notice; at least, the curling sheet of parchment in her hand still held all of her attention. Lupin read around her arm with a bemused expression.

"Only when you've got godchildren of your own, Emily, will you have a hope of understanding," Severus said in a dry tone.

"Yeah, hope of a bigger bank balance! Have you any idea what this is going to cost? Is a week going to be long enough to find all of this?"

Severus held out a black leather money pouch. Emily took it with a wary look; the colour drained from her face when she looked inside. "You're joking."

"Not at all."

She held it out to Lupin, who glanced in. And stared. And kept staring for a very long time.

Severus cleared his throat. "While I understand that you have gone significant stretches of time without a great deal of these--"

"Severus!" Emily's jaw dropped.

"It's only the truth."

"You don't have to be rude!"

"Actually," Lupin said, "I was just wondering how he expected to pay for presents for anyone else if he's only giving us this much."

Emily gaped.

Severus cocked an eyebrow.

Lupin looked utterly calm for a moment, then smirked.

Severus sighed. "Your sense of humour is typically pointless, Lupin."

"I thought it was funny."

Emily grumbled something about the couch.

Lupin shook his head. "I'm joking, you know that."

"You're still sleeping on the couch. Or in your own room, if you don't behave. Anyway," she frowned at him, "are you sure you ought to be going out this close to the full moon?"

"I've got five days."

"Have you taken your potion?"

"Not due for it until six."

"That's only an hour and a half!"

"And we'll be back in plenty of time! It's not as if we're doing the shopping today."

Emily growled low in her throat. "I don't want you to get sick. Or suddenly decide I look edible!"

"Emily, I've been taking it for years. I'm not going to suddenly decide you look edible, and taking it an hour early isn't going to make a difference. Learned that from this one here." He motioned his head towards Severus.

Emily scowled at him, then at Severus. "Is that true?"


Lupin sighed and dragged a hand down his face. "Very funny, Severus."

"Don't worry, I know him better than that." Emily squinted at Severus anyway. "You're not having me on, are you?"

"Would I do that?"


Severus snorted. "In that case, perhaps you ought to have him back so he can take the potion you're so determined he should."

"You're impossible. I don't see how Harry stands it." Emily leaned in and kissed him on the cheek. "I'll see you Christmas afternoon, all right?"

"Not sooner?"

She shook her head. "Mum and Dad want me home the whole holiday. My great-grandmother is coming in from Italy." She shuddered. "I can't stand her."

"Why not?"

"She only... Just trust me on this, all right? Mad old witch. And she's not even a witch!"

"You're more than welcome to hide out here."

Emily gazed at him in slack-shouldered gratitude. "Have I ever told you that I love you more than life itself?"

"Oi!" Lupin folded his arms and put on a fairly convincing pout.

"Well, you didn't offer me sanctuary from Great-Gran, did you?"

"I offered to come with."

"Uh, Remus? Sweetie? They don't know about you yet."


"Or about..." She made little motions with her hand.

Lupin frowned. "I thought you said they'd be okay with that once you'd explained it to them."

Emily's cheeks turned red; she tried to hide her face in her shoulder. "Actually, I meant that she thinks I'm still a virgin."

Lupin's mouth twisted in a wicked, puckered smile. He looked around, his eyes sparkling. "Not saying a word."

Severus sighed and rubbed his temples. "Both of you, out of my house. The house-elves are already close to revolt without the pair of you ruining the floor."

"Come on, Severus," Lupin said in a soft voice. "Give us a little more credit than that. You've got beds in this place, haven't you?"

Emily smacked his arm; he sniggered.

"We're leaving." She grabbed at his sleeve and dragged him towards the door.

"Don't kill him just yet, would you?" Severus asked, cradling his chin in his palm. "At least let him carry his share of the shopping."

"Can I beat him up?"

"That would be for him to decide, I think."

"Please?" Lupin asked.

Emily sighed. "You know, for a tortured, outcast werewolf, hon, you're awfully loopy."

"Maybe I like being tortured."

"I'll torture you, you..." Emily trailed off, muttering. She gave Severus a weary look. "I'll see you later, hon. Happy Christmas."

"Hmph. Don't see what's so happy about it. Going to be Weasleys and canines as far as the eye can see."

"That's still better than Great-Gran."

"Would you care to switch? I have a great deal of rapport with the cynical and disagreeable, or so I've been told."

"Yeah. You'd probably get on with her. Come on, fuzzbutt. 'Bye, Severus, hon!"

"Hmm." Severus leaned on his elbow, giving Emily's back a haughty look. Lupin followed her out, looking indignant. A minute later, Severus heard twin pops from the entryway. He sat down and drummed his fingers on the table.

"Are they gone?"

He looked up just long enough to see Harry's wind-tousled head poking into the dining room. He gave Harry a weary look. "No, they've only gone off to have a bit of a shag. Would you care to watch?"

"Ugh. No." Harry glanced around and pushed his way through the door. A few snowflakes still clung to his hair and shoulders. "Pathetic out there."

"What on Earth are you talking about?"

"It's snowing; only, I swear it's grey. I've never seen snow like it. It's all sort of dry and powdery."

"Ah. Yes, we get that here. Don't expect a great deal of proper snowfall."

"But we're on the North Sea."

"Since when has the North Sea been synonymous with blankets of snow?"

"Should be," Harry muttered. "Wind's cold enough."

"Then sit down and get warm. Have one of those blasted elves bring you something to drink." Severus glanced at him. "Have you sent your shopping list to my goddaughter's parents yet?"

"This morning. And she's my goddaughter, too." Harry hooked a chair with his broom and pulled it out from the table. He fell into it, a few flakes that hadn't melted yet in the warm room landing on the floor before they turned to miniscule drops. "What're you getting me?"

"You first."

"Uh-uh. I had to make you open the one from last year. How d'you even know I'm getting you anything after that?"

"Because I say so."

Harry responded with a very large, very wet raspberry. "Greasy bastard." He rubbed the back of his neck. "Fancy going down the village a little early? I'd sort of like to wander around a bit."

"What on Earth for?"

"Oh. So I reckon that means you'd rather sit around here all night until it's time to leave, and come straight back home?"

Severus arched an eyebrow. He shifted on his chair, trying not to stand up and go upstairs to fetch his distasteful Muggle clothes. "It's cold outside," he grumped.

"But the shops are warm. Come on, Sev, I haven't gotten to see a high street over Christmas in ages."

"You honestly think Holme is large enough to have a high street?"

"It's a village. It's got a high street. And it'll be decorated for Christmas." Harry got to his feet and grabbed Severus' hands. "Come on. I'll buy you some chocolates while we're there."

"I thought I wasn't allowed."

"Well, you've survived everything that's been thrown at you so far, god knows how. Don't think a bit of Cadbury's is going to off you."

Severus perked. "Cadbury's?"


"Isn't that--?"

"Same as the rabbit." A wry smile crossed Harry's face. "You did seem awfully fond of it."

"I was only making sure it wasn't poisoned." Severus allowed himself to be pulled to his feet before sweeping out with a sniff. Harry followed him up the stairs, occasionally making a small sound very much like a stifled chuckle. The portraits, still in disarray, watched them. Severus ignored the trio of livid glowers he got from the last one before the pale patch on the wall.

"What time are we supposed to meet him?" Harry asked at the top of the stairs.

"I've already told you this half a dozen times."

"Tell me again."

"At least try, would you?" Severus gave him a weary look.

"Half-five or something like that?"

"Hmm. Something like that, yes."

"Y'don't have to be snippy."

"Mister Potter, I shall be snippy so long as you cannot even remember how to wake up in the morning."

"Oi! You're the one always having a lie-in! Weren't up until, what, nearly eleven today?"

"It was barely ten!"

"Not to the rest of the world! Elves had lunch on the table by the time you got downstairs."

"I was attempting to have a proper, relaxing bath, thank you very much."

"Oh, right, you need to relax after you've been asleep for nine hours." A tiny smile playing on his lips, Harry reached up and fingered a bit of Severus' hair; Severus' breath hitched for an instant. "Washed this, at least."


"I like it. It's a lot nicer now."

"Hn." Severus frowned when Harry let go. He said nothing, though, only pushed open the bedroom door and stood grumbling and tapping his foot when Harry beat him to the armoire.

"Oh, hush, y'git. It's not as if you've got to pick out anything. It's all the same."

"A bit vain, are we, Potter?"

Harry flashed him a rude gesture and dived back into the mess of trousers and jumpers and robes. "Oi!" he yelled. A bundle of cinnabar red fabric soared through the air. Severus caught it in both arms as it hit his chest. "When are you going to wear this? Waste of money, leaving it to rot like you have."

"If you'd kindly bother to remember, you're the one who insisted on it!" Severus held it out. The robe hung limp between two pinched fingers. He wrinkled his nose at the screaming colour.

"Still want to see you wear it. Good thing you never actually bothered to take it upstairs at the other house, wasn't it?"

Severus snorted. "It should have never seen the light of day. I left it in the scullery for a reason."

"Well, at least you've got it." Harry glanced back. "Hold it up? I want to see if it looks as good as the glamour did."

"I think not." Folding the robe, Severus laid it on the corner of the bed - Harry's side - and took to glowering down his nose until the brat managed to free himself with an armload of fabric. One leg of those horrible jeans he insisted upon wearing dangled over his elbow. Severus arched an eyebrow when Harry dumped the mess on the bed and picked up one foot to untie his trainers.

"What are you doing?"

"Getting changed," Harry said without looking up.

"And I suppose I am to be relegated to the toilet this time?"

Harry glanced up at him. His brow was creased with a small frown line. "Not if you don't want to."

"But you're out here."

"And?" Harry dropped his shoe on the floor and set to work on the other one. "I won't look if you don't want me to." His eyes flickered; something in them looked like hope or, possibly, hunger.

Severus blinked. A hint of a puzzled frown tugged at his mouth. "That is not the issue, Mister Potter. I was under the impression that you were less than interested in being naked in my presence."

Harry dropped his other shoe on the floor and tugged at the buttons at his neck. "I've got pants on."

"You've barely been out of your robe in my presence in months."

"And? Maybe I've changed my mind."

"You've got to be joking."

"Nope." Harry freed the last button and pulled the robe over his head. The plain blue T-shirt beneath was damp with sweat and just clung to the skin between his shoulder blades, testament to his afternoon spent in the air. He glanced over and arched an eyebrow just as Severus realised he was staring. Severus looked away.

"You really ought to wear something warmer under your robes," he said as he pawed through the armoire for trousers and jumper and shirt and, as an afterthought, a fresh pair of shorts. Something in his belly jumped and sent a hot wave of blood towards his groin at the thought of being openly naked in Harry's presence once again.

"Nah, I get too hot anyway."

"Oh? And what about your complaints about the wind?"

"That's only when I come down. The visibility's awful right now, figured I'd come inside before I got lost." Harry paused. "Come outside and watch me sometime. I can take you up if you want."

"I hardly think soaring a hundred feet above the Earth will do anything good for my heart."

"It might."

Severus only snorted, and carried his clothes to his side of the bed. He kept his head down, paying attention to his clothing as he laid everything out in a neat row.

From the corner of his eye, though, he kept catching flashes of pale skin accented with dark shadows: under Harry's arms when he lifted them to stretch and in the middle of his chest and down his stomach. He went on his toes, stretching harder, reaching for the ceiling; the legs of his Y-fronts pulled upwards, leaving tiny slivers of coarse black hair bared at the tops of his thighs. It took Severus a moment to comprehend that he'd gone back to staring.

"You'll catch your death," he said in a thicker voice than he'd have liked.

"Inside?" Harry pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose and twisted from side to side. A series of tiny crunching sounds came from his back; Severus ignored them in favour of the faint outline of his hipbones through the white knitted fabric of his underpants, and the subtle shadow over the cleft of his backside.

"Yes, inside!" Severus swallowed, shifting against the heaviness forming low in his pelvis. He snatched his fresh shorts from the bed, turned around, and got the old ones replaced while showing as little as possible. He bit his lip at the half-formed bulge inside.

"Are you all right?"

Severus looked back over his shoulder. "Fine, Mister Potter."

"You're sure? Your heart isn't bothering you, is it?" Harry took a hasty step closer.

"Yes! I assure you, my vascular system is perfectly fine!"

Harry paused. For a moment he looked confused, then one of his eyebrows cocked upwards. He said nothing, although his larynx bobbed against the stubble-shadowed skin of his throat as he stepped back and pulled a clean T-shirt over his head. "I've got to shave," he said as he shook his jeans from the tangle of clothes still on the bed. "Need the toilet first?"

Severus glared. "Why in Merlin's name would I?"

"To, er, go to the toilet." Harry waved a thumb at the closed door. "That's what it's usually for."

A bit of the tension between Severus' shoulders relaxed. He rubbed his eyes. "No. Thank you."

"All right. Thought I'd ask, that's all."

There was a rustling of heavy fabric as Harry dragged on his jeans and his sweatshirt. Severus looked back just in time to see him straightening his glasses. Harry cast an apologetic smile; Severus did his best to return it, but Harry's sudden flush and scurry towards the toilet implied that Severus had merely been channeling his hormones. He pulled his clothes on and sat on the edge of the bed, trying to think of anything but the contents of his or Harry's pants.

It was several minutes before Harry emerged, somewhat less stubbly, although a shadow of black beard still hung on his jaw and around his mouth. Severus arched an eyebrow at it. "I thought you said you had planned to shave. Or was that merely a sly metaphor?"

"What?" Harry's hand flew to his face. He groped around. "Did I miss a spot?" He scrubbed at his cheeks, frowning.

"You've still got a shadow."

"Oh, that." Harry let his hand drop. He trotted over to the bed and fished through his robe pockets. "That's, I dunno, normal, I suppose. Had it for a couple of months now, pain in the arse. You hadn't seen it?"

"I hadn't noticed."

Harry's face fell; his eyes dimmed in a way Severus had never seen. "Oh."

"Although, in retrospect, perhaps I ought to have. You've, ah." Severus swallowed. "You've filled out nicely in... other ways in the past several months."

Beneath the perpetual shadow, Harry's cheeks blazed scarlet. "I didn't think you'd--"

"You're no longer as hairless as you once were. And you've gone back to being a Quidditch twit. I have to admit, the results aren't terribly unattractive."

"Oh." Harry rubbed the back of his rather red neck and went back to groping through his robes. He snorted. "I sound like an idiot teenager."

"You are an idiot teenager."

"Hush. You know what I mean. I sound like a fifth year."

"I'd be content should you simply sound like a seventh year."

Harry stiffened. The silence that followed left Severus' ears ringing. He turned his head away. "Forgive me."

"It's... all right." Harry fell silent a moment longer. "Get your shoes. Let's go."

They Apparated with wands ready into a cluster of trees near the village church. A quick glance around proved it to be deserted of all but a foolhardy cat, which spat and fled as soon as they appeared. Severus tucked his wand into his jumper's sleeve as Harry did into the waist of his jeans.

"That eager to lose a buttock, Mister Potter?"

"Shut up."

The grey sky spat dry pinpricks of snow, which the wind caught in mad whirlwinds of tiny needles that drilled into their faces. Severus stuffed his bare hands into his pockets and squinted against the hair whipping him in the eyes. Somewhere in the back of his brain, he pondered the feasibility of short-back-and-sides. He was just huddling into his upturned collar when a hand slipped into the crook of his arm. He turned his head to stare at Harry.

Harry shrugged. "Fingers're cold."

"Indeed." Severus held back an urge to lay his own hand over Harry's as they set off for the high street.

"Had you anyplace in mind you'd like to visit?" Severus asked.

Harry shook his head. "I'm not sure what's here. I've only really been to the pub. One of the pubs. Think I saw a couple, actually."

"No great surprise there."

"We are going to the Goat, right?" Harry glanced up at Severus with a worried look.


"Good." For a moment, Harry all but settled against him. His head came to rest on Severus' arm. As they approached the high street, though, with its streetlamps shining in the snowy dusk, he let go.

"Sorry," he muttered, glancing over at a cluster of drunken young men who looked no older than he did. One pointed at them and whispered something to his mates; a roar of laughter went up a moment later.

"Imbeciles," Severus hissed.

"Settle down. You're not going to make yourself sick over them."

"I'm not making myself sick."

"No, you're not." Harry gave them a wary glance and huddled deeper into his blue flannel coat. One of the young men slurred something at them that Severus couldn't make out. Before he could even pull his hand from his pocket, though, Harry grabbed his elbow again and hissed, "Touch it, and I'll drop it down a well."

"You wouldn't dare!"

"I would. Late as you sleep anymore, there's not much you could do to stop me."

"Quite the little thug now I've entered my dotage, aren't you?" Severus glowered down on him for a moment before casting another wary glance at the pack of hooligans. Just beyond them stood a man in a dark coat. The man was watching Severus and Harry with a look of wary surprise. If Severus hadn't known better, he'd have called it recognition.

"We're being watched," he said under his breath.

"If they're causing trouble--"

"Not them. There's a man behind them."

Harry arched an eyebrow up at Severus before glancing over. The teenagers catcalled.

"He's lookin' at you, Stephen! You've got a chance with this one!" one yelled. Another, presumably Stephen, buried his face in his hands. The man behind them frowned and set off up the sidewalk towards a row of houses.

"Wonder what that was about?" Harry mused, still craning his neck to watch the man hurry away.

"Several possibilities come to mind. Mind the step." Severus jerked his arm as Harry nearly stepped off into the street. Harry looked down and hopped back onto the sidewalk.


"You're quite welcome. I fear I shouldn't like to explain to the Weasleys that we left the house and you let yourself be killed first chance you got." Severus gave a halfhearted smirk at Harry's growl; still, his mind was on the man in the dark coat.

Harry suddenly swerved. "Cornershop, come on. I want to have a look in here."

"What?" Severus found himself being dragged into a small, old edifice with a grinning Father Christmas tacked up in the window. He wrinkled his nose at the Father Christmas as he was dragged inside. "What are you doing to me?"

"Taking you in where it's warm." Harry glanced back at where the hooligans had been standing. He relaxed a bit and closed the door behind them.

There were hardly two rows in the entire dimly lit shop. Severus scowled at everything: bottles of alcohol that filled most of a wall; a humming white box with what looked like milk and some garish canisters sitting inside; boxes upon boxes of sweets he doubted were anywhere near as good as Honeyduke's; periodicals that, despite a futile burst of hope, included not a single potions publication or Dark Arts journal. (In fact, they all seemed to have pictures of vapid, beaming women on the front.) Behind a counter at the front of the shop stood a middle-aged woman, her steely hair pulled back in a heavy knot. He arched an eyebrow at her; she arched one back.

With a sniff, he turned to Harry. "Rude Muggle."

"What happened?"

"She cheeked me."

Blinking, Harry frowned up at him, then glanced back. The woman turned her look on Harry. Harry smiled at her.

"Sev, that's not cheek. She just doesn't know you well enough to be afraid of you."

"I find that highly insulting, Mister Pot--"

"You lose something without the robes."

Severus folded his arms and growled. "Bloody Muggles," he muttered. "Never setting foot near them again."

"I know, I know, it's a tragedy. Here." Harry parked him in front of the rows of candy. "Pick something."

"Why have I got to do all the work?"

"Because." Harry pulled out his watch and glanced at it. "It's five now, and I've got a few other things to find. Won't have time to do both if I don't let you handle part of it."

"The pub is half a minute away--"

"Sev, I've seen you in Honeyduke's, and you actually know what you're looking at there. We'll be lucky to get out of here in under an hour as it stands." Harry touched him on the arm and wandered around the end of the row with a bit of a smirk.

Severus followed him with his eyes for a moment before focusing his attention on the glut of gaudy wrappers in front of him. Purples and yellows and reds and oranges and names that couldn't be real swam before him. A small section, decked out in red and green, boasted Father Christmases that made Severus feel a touch cannibalistic just for looking at them and various sweets and chocolates in colours so festive that Filius would have died of pure sickening joy at the sight of them. Inching away from that cluster, Severus settled himself near a section heavy with safe, familiar purple.

He didn't look up again from names like 'Dairy Milk' and 'Fruit and Nut' (he somehow doubted cherries were involved) until he heard the woman behind the counter asking a question. Harry's soft voice answered too low for Severus to hear. Severus frowned, watching as the woman rang up something and handed over a small paper sack, which Harry slipped into his coat. Severus snapped his attention back to the sweets as Harry glanced around.

Seconds later, a warm presence slid up next to him. "Any luck?"

"What does it look like?"

"Want me to just pick something for you?"

"I thought you said this was my job."

"Only if it's not going to take you forever. Here." Harry reached down and grabbed one of the large 'Dairy Milk' bars. "This is the same thing as the rabbit. Is that okay?"

"Hmph. I suppose." Severus eyed the rest of the box, wondering how much trouble he'd be in should he attempt to purchase the whole thing.

"I saw that. You do it, and you'll be sleeping in the guest room until Christmas."

"How dare you accuse me? Is it suddenly against the laws of nature to use my eyes?"

"I saw the gears turning in your head, Sev. You can have one."

"You paranoid little beast." Severus folded his arms and sniffed. "Anyway, if anyone's to be paranoid, it ought to be me. I'm not the one buying mysterious paper parcels and hiding them in my coat."

Harry's jaw dropped. He snapped it shut. "You weren't supposed to see that!"

"Well, I did."

"Don't go snooping!" Shifting a little and flushing just the barest bit, Harry muttered, "S'part of your Christmas present."

"You're buying my Christmas present in a cornershop."

"Only part of it."

Severus gave Harry a weary glower. "Brat."

He swept towards the counter and tapped his fingers on it, shooting the woman filthy looks (which she returned with impunity) while Harry caught up and forked over some of that garish Muggle money.

"You're that fellow Millie was going on about, aren't you?" the woman asked with a note of suspicion. "Tall, badgery, not enough on you to string a bow?"

Severus pulled himself to his full height. "I beg your pardon?"

"The shandy bloke."

Harry squinted up at Severus with a queer expression. "You were drinking shandy?"

"I wasn't drinking it. And what on Earth do you mean badgery?"

The woman shrugged. "Only what she said, mate. Lord knows my daughter'd give her last penny to do that to her hair. Shame the things people do to themselves anymore."

"Actually, it's supposed to look like that." Harry glanced at the change she handed him and stuffed it in his pocket.

She blinked. "Really."

"Mm. Cheers." Harry gave her a little wave, picked up the chocolate, and trotted out. Severus gave the woman another glower before he followed.

Outside, he growled under his breath, "Rude, foul, horrible--"

"Stop muttering. And it's not that bad. You ought to have heard what my aunt and uncle's neighbours said about me."

"Do I need to curse them when I'm finished with that idiot cow?"

"You don't need to curse anybody. Here." Harry held out the chocolate bar. "And be careful with it."

"Why would I need to be careful?" Severus broke the bar within its wrapper and peeled back the paper and the coppery foil.

"Because otherwise we'll find it smeared from here to Hogwarts!"

"I resent that!" Severus picked a small piece of chocolate from the package and let it dissolve on his tongue. The thick sweetness and familiar warmth of it ran down his throat and through his entire body, leaving his muscles lax and his eyelids too heavy to keep open. From deep in his throat, he gave a breathy moan.

"Salazar and Merlin, I've missed this."

"You're going to make me jealous of chocolate, Sev. And you've got it all over your mouth already."

"Have not!" He rubbed his mouth with the back of his hand anyway. A tiny brown smudge appeared. Covering his mouth with his hand and glaring down his nose at Harry, he poked at his lips with his tongue until he couldn't taste any more.

"Now you've got it on your nose."

Severus growled.

Harry rolled his eyes. Licking his thumb, he reached up and swiped it over the tip of Severus' nose. Sticking it in his mouth, he muttered, "You're worse than Ruby."

"Miss Weasley, might I remind you, is five months old and unable to help herself."

"Yeah, and you're forty-one and ought to know better." Harry snitched a bit of chocolate from the wrapper before Severus could stop him.

"Give that back!"

"Nope." Harry stuffed it in his mouth and sucked his fingers one at a time. Severus pursed his mouth; his blood tried once more to pool in his groin.

"Ought we get sat down before Blaise arrives?" he asked, more to distract himself than as a serious offer.

"All right," Harry said with his mouth full. He swallowed and turned towards the pub. Their shoes left dark prints on the powdery sidewalk.

The first thing Severus noticed was a holly swag sitting on top of the glowing box over the bar. There was a fat Christmas tree in the corner, too, laden with tinsel and small twinkling lights. Squinting, he thought he could make out thin, ropy structures between them; he made a mental note to ask Arthur about it. The air was as blue as ever, and thick with chatter. Millie was polishing the bar, from which scallops of tinsel and popcorn hung. She glanced up, grinned at Harry, and waved.

"Oi, there!"

"Hi, Millie," Harry called. He motioned to the bar with his head. Severus followed, nodding to Lester, who took out his pipe and nodded in return.

"So this is the fellow you were talking about," he said. "We've seen him around."

"From the way Harry was talking, I never would have taken you for a shandy fellow," Millie said, still rubbing at the bar with an old rag.

"I loathe shandy."

"Then why'd you order it?"

"Because I'd just walked away from death's door three days before and I thought I oughtn't risk any more than necessary!"

"Settle down," Harry muttered, putting a hand on Severus' stomach. "He's a little irascible today."

"Excuse me? Was I speaking to you?"

"No worse than Gina down the cornershop," Millie said. She made one last furious swipe across the counter and dropped her rag someplace behind the bar. "Just have to know how to handle her, and you're golden."

Severus snorted. Harry gave him a look. Severus folded his arms and tried to look aloof while Harry leaned against the bar.

"What's brought you our way again?" Lester asked, knocking the ashes from his pipe into a crusty glass dish and refilling it from a small pouch.

"Meeting a friend of Sev's."

"Too bad," Millie murmured. "Shame a young fellow like you has to be surrounded by old coots all the time."

"Actually, he was in my year at school. Sev was his Head of House before he retired."

"Didn't exactly retire," Severus grumped.

Millie stopped to stare at them. Her eyes darted back and forth between them. "Don't tell me a nice boy like you had something to do with your schoolmaster."

"No. Didn't really start before I'd left."

"I should hope not! That sort of thing would have been in every paper from London to Aberdeen." She frowned. "Where did you go to school?"

"Little boarding school in Scotland, nowhere you'd have ever heard of."

"Hmm. Well, they do things a little differently up there." Millie gave them another odd look, though. "If I ever caught one of my boys in a tangle with his teacher..."

Severus' brow furrowed. The papers he'd found in Voldemort's drawer flickered through his head. "You've got children?"

"Two boys, Simon and Matthew. Simon runs the books for me. Matty takes care of the pub when I'm not here. Good boys, brothers by blood. Lester and I adopted them when Matty wasn't any bigger than a cat. Never had any of our own. My fault, I suppose, but the doctors never could figure out why."

"I'm sorry," Harry mumbled. Severus said nothing as his insides turned to stone.

"Don't you start. Had nothing to do with you, and I've got my boys. You two shoo. What'll you have?"

"Scotch," Severus grumped.

"Two ciders?" Harry asked. He glanced back at Severus. "Don't think I want to give this one Scotch after everything he's had today."

"I've had a single bite of chocolate--"

"Which is more than you ought to have had. I'm being nice. Actually," Harry turned back to Millie, "better make his a cider and black."

"That's a poof--a girl's drink!"

"You've never seen him around sugar, have you?" Harry fished a few coins from his pocket and set them on the bar. "Cheers, Millie."

"Shoo. I'll have these out a treat." She waved them off; Lester motioned to them with his pipe.

"I'm capable of ordering for myself," Severus muttered as they wove between tables.

"Yeah, and you're also capable of nearly getting yourself killed on a daily basis, breaking every rule you come in contact with, and fighting with Ruby over crayons. Honestly, if I didn't know better I'd have thought you were Head of Gryffindor." Harry reached back and took Severus' hand. There was a twinkle in his eyes when he glanced up and over his shoulder. Severus had to ball his fist not to take Harry's face and snog him senseless.

"Still wouldn't change the fact you act like a bloody Slytherin," he said, trying to keep his voice from cracking. "Really, Mister Potter, you're shaming your House."

"And you're not?"

"Certainly not. Were I shaming my House, I'd tell you that that blasted hat tried to Sort me into Gryffindor."

Harry stopped. He glanced back. (A handful of Muggles looked at them as well, although they turned away soon enough.) "Bollocks."

"Nothing of the sort."

"You were nearly a Gryffindor."


"How come I'm only now hearing about this?"

"Mister Potter, the only person to know until now was Gran."

For a moment, Harry only stared. He went up on his toes and pressed a moist kiss to Severus' mouth, his hand lingering on a sharp cheek. When he pulled back, he smiled. "You taste like chocolate."

Severus became very aware of his heart trying to beat its way out of his body; a few moments later, he became equally aware of the pocket of silence all around them. He glowered from side to side. "Yes? Have any of you got anything to say? I assure you, it would be in your best interests to keep your tongues to yourselves."

In fits, the noise rose up again. Several seconds passed before all had gone back to normal. He realised he was squeezing Harry's hand, and Harry was squeezing back. Harry stepped further away, clearing his throat. In silence, he led Severus to the last empty booth at the back, still clutching his hand as though letting go would end the world.

Millie brought their drinks a few moments later. "Not too shy, are you boys?"

"Sorry about that," Harry mumbled and grabbed his drink.

"Oh, no, not complaining." Millie tucked her round tray under her arms. "My Simon goes that way himself sometimes. Got a lovely girl right now, in Lynn. I don't understand it myself, but I suppose it takes all sorts." She glanced around before sliding into the seat across from them.

Severus stiffened. "I beg your pardon?"

"I just need to ask you something." Millie leaned across the table. "What's your family do?"


"Because I want to know why you were hiding from that bloke you said was your ex-employer. He was your brother, wasn't he?"

Severus drew back in his seat. His lips curled away from his teeth. "Haven't a clue what you're talking about."

"Yes, you do. You're the spitting image. Except the hair, of course. And his eyes were all wonky. One blue and one brown, wasn't it?" She shivered. "Didn't like the look of him, not a whit."

"Ah." Severus swallowed. "Curtus. He's... a cousin of sorts. Not really family."

"Oh, one of those. All right." Millie pursed her mouth, studying him with narrowed eyes. "He's not coming back anytime soon, is he?"

"I should think not."

"Good. Gave me the willies, he did. Makes my blood run cold just thinking about him."

"I believe I can agree with this assessment of his personality," Severus muttered. He took a sip of his cider and black; the sweetness clung to his palate like moist lichen.

"Excuse me?"

Severus and Millie both looked up. Blaise was standing just next to the wing jutting into Millie's side of the booth. He tried to give her a smile, but it faltered and faded in his grey face.

Millie scurried to her feet. "Sorry about that, dear, was just having a bit of a chat. You the fellow Harry and his bloke were meeting?"

"Prof--Severus, yes." Blaise tried to smile once more, and once more failed. He reached into his pocket and fished out a Muggle note. "Could I have something strong? I'm not particularly fussed what."

"You all right?"

"It's a bit personal."

"Ah, right. Well, I'll have that out. You boys have a nice chat." With a bit of a terse glance at Blaise, Millie trotted off between the tables. Blaise slid into the booth and slumped forward, clutching his curly head in his hands.

"I can't stay long, I'm sorry. I've got to get back to the Ministry."

"At this hour on a Friday?" Severus frowned and took another sip of his drink.

Blaise glanced up. He motioned to the glass with a hungry look. Severus handed it over; his brows rose as Blaise necked back the full pint in one.

The glass slammed down. "Wouldn't mention this, only I know Arthur showed you those papers on Uden a while ago."


"I don't know if you noticed, but..." Blaise grimaced. "Sekhmet was the one who killed her. It was an accident, everyone thought; Uden was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Apparently someone got suspicious about something that turned up on some forensics report or something, and they tested her today." His grimace grew to a bitter smile. "Positive for Imperius Curse."

"Oh, Hell," Severus muttered as Harry arched an eyebrow and pushed his own glass across the table. Blaise drained it as well.

"I've got to get back. She's been under interrogation all day. Hasn't got a clue who cast it." He snorted. "They even questioned me. Ridiculous, isn't it?"

"Quite." Severus leaned back in his seat. Harry's hand came to rest on his knee for a few seconds. Severus glanced at him. Harry was watching Blaise with something that wasn't quite sympathy but not quite suspicion either.

"I'm not the one they want. You believe me, don't you, Prof--Severus?"

"Of course."

Blaise bit his lip. He lowered his head and peeked up through his lashes. "D'you want to know who I think it is?"

"It shan't make any difference for you to tell me if they've got a Secret-Keeper, you know."

Blaise shook his head. "I haven't got any proof."

"Sorry?" Harry asked. "I thought a Secret-Keeper would keep anyone from even guessing."

"Not quite," Severus murmured. "An idle theory isn't the same as proof. Otherwise, sorting this would be a simple matter of gradual elimination of names." He looked at Blaise. "Although if you can say it, it's probably still wrong."

Blaise shrugged. "I want to say it anyway."

"Very well, then."

Taking a deep breath, Blaise squeezed his hands together on the table in front of him until his nails dug into flesh. "I don't know everyone involved, but I think it's got something to do with Cornelius Fudge. He's been almost paranoid since Harry spoke out against him. I heard him in the Department of Mysteries the other day when he came down to see some of the things they'd got out of the Malfoy house. Kept cursing the lot of them. And you, Professor."

"What did he say?" Harry's voice was low, his eyes hooded.

"I only heard that he wanted to find him so the world would be free of the Death Eaters once and for all. I know there was more, though. He's gotten right paranoid." Blaise frowned. "I don't think I can trust him anymore."

"Could we ever?" Severus folded his arms and stared at the table.

Blaise hummed. He slumped forward on the table. A moment later, Millie set his glass in front of him.

"Need anything else? Thirsty lot tonight, aren't you?"

Harry and Blaise shook their heads. Severus murmured, "No, thank you."

"Well, I'll be at the bar if you change your minds."

As soon as she was gone, Blaise picked up the tumbler of amber liquid she'd left and necked it back. He sat there for a long, silent moment, still holding the empty glass. A single drop slid down the side and spread out over his pointed thumb.

"Two days ago," he said in a voice that hardly carried over the dull roar of the pub, "she was giggling at me while I tried on every robe in the shop. Now..." He trailed off, shaking his head. "This wasn't supposed to happen."

"D'you need anything?" Harry asked. There was a flat tone in his voice but no overt venom.

Blaise shook his head. He smiled, although it didn't touch his brittle eyes. "I wish the two of you could come to the wedding."

Severus snorted. "Get this matter sorted, and you couldn't keep me away with a herd of mad Erumpents."

For a moment, Blaise closed his eyes. His smile grew, though his skin went greyer. "I need to get back," he murmured, shifting across the seat. He gave a little laugh. "Wonder what they'll say when I turn up pissed?"

"I think they ought to understand."

Blaise gave Severus one more fragile smile as he got up. "Molly's invited me for Christmas lunch. I'll see you there?"

"Assuming the Weasley herd hasn't driven us to our deaths by then."

Blaise nodded. Without quite looking at them, he pulled his green anorak tighter. "I'll see you there then. Goodbye, Severus. Harry."


"Take care, Blaise," Severus murmured. He watched the empty glasses as Blaise staggered away. A wedge of ghostly light lit the pub, and then it was gone.

Severus turned to glance at Harry; Harry stared at the table, his mouth pursed and his hands choking each other. Severus started to open his mouth to ask if Harry wanted to leave when the same ghostly light once again flashed through the pub. His heart jumped; he craned his head to see if Blaise had returned. Instead, he saw the man in the dark coat sidling up to the bar, his dark eyes fixed on the two of them with a cold glare that made Severus want to hide.

"We're leaving," he murmured.


"We're being watched again. Same man."

With a little frown, Harry looked over at the bar. The man stared back at him. "D'you think he's following us?" he asked without moving his lips.

"It wouldn't surprise me. Have your wand at hand."

Harry nodded. He nudged Severus with his elbow, sliding towards the end of the booth. Their hips bumped; Harry's elbow lodged itself in the crook of Severus' arm. Severus snapped his head around to face Harry just as Harry turned his to look up at him. Warm breath grazed his open lips, tickled the underside of his jaw and the curve of his earlobe. It tasted of cider and chocolate, of hours spent on a racing broom, and just a little of the heavy, underlying heat of desire. Severus swallowed.

"Shall we?" he whispered.


They pried themselves out of the booth in silence. Severus kept himself between Harry and the bar, staring at the man. The man stared back but made no move to follow. Still, the quiet openness of the street and the soft fall of dusty snow around the streetlights released a solid breath from Severus' lungs.

"I suggest we go--"

"Back to the church and then home from there?"


"All right." Harry set off, his hand stuck inside his coat close to his wand. Severus stayed on his heels, his right hand in his left sleeve. He glanced back every few moments, although he saw nothing of the man in the coat.

"Oi! You two!"

Severus froze. Harry turned on his heel. "Oh, Hell," he muttered, taking a step back towards Severus.

The pack of drunken teenagers was swerving towards them. One was slurring something - a protest, if the tone meant anything - but the others were laughing. One broke away from the rest and nearly fell, charging up to the pair of them.

"Fuck off," Severus snapped.

The teenager - spotty, redheaded, and wearing a ridiculous maroon sweatshirt bearing the legend "WHU" across the front - jumped back and nearly lost his footing. "Lay off, mate! I only want to have a word with this bloke here."

"What if I don't want a word with you?" Harry asked in a wary tone.

The teenager took a moment to focus his eyes on Harry. He staggered forward and tried to grab him by the shoulders; Harry jerked away, his mouth taut and his hand darting closer to his wand. The teenager lifted his eyebrows as though he'd been mortally insulted. "That wasn't very nice. I only wanted to offer you a small proposition of mutual satisfaction."

Before Harry could even open his mouth, the boy pointed back at the group. "See my mate, Stephen, over there? The dark one in the leather jacket? His boyfriend tossed him out last week, and he hasn't had a good bit of cock in days. We was wondering if you might take a little pity on a bloke who fancies you and..." He trailed off, grinning a watery grin.

Harry's nose wrinkled. "I don't fucking think so."

"Come on, mate, it's only a shag. If you're worried about your old man, here--"

"'Old man'?" Harry pulled himself tall, lifting his chin. (Severus did much the same, albeit to much greater effect if the drunken imbecile's wince meant anything.)

"Yeah. He's your father, isn't he?"

Severus lip curled. "I find that remark in rather poor--"

"I'll show you my father," Harry said in a low, dangerous voice. He reached up and wrapped his hand around the back of Severus' neck, pulling him down. Before Severus could properly respond, he felt Harry's mouth crush against his, draw it open, felt a hot, wily tongue dart forth. Harry's other arm wrapped around Severus' waist. Severus froze for only a racing heartbeat before he slid his hands into Harry's coat to drag him closer, kissing him back until he couldn't tell where one of them ended and the other began.

"Mate, that's disgusting!" the teenager shouted. "Stephen, are you gonna stand for this? He's sharking on your bloke!"

Harry growled against Severus' tongue. He threw an arm further around Severus' neck, pulling him down more and burrowing closer until Severus' upper thigh was cleaved against his pelvis. Severus closed his eyes with a breathy moan. One of his hands crept down Harry's back, slowly, slowly, gathering bunches of fabric until the tips of his fingers slid into the waist of Harry's jeans.

Harry tipped his head back with a soft cry. His swollen lips shone with saliva. Severus mouthed a line down the middle of his shadowed throat, the rough lay of cartilage beneath the skin sending a shiver down to his stomach where it spread out to his fingers, his feet, his groin. Without thinking, he let his teeth scrape over the surface. Harry yelped and pressed Severus' head closer to his throat. "Oh, god," he whispered.

"Er, mate, really. Look, if he's bothering you--"

"Lay off, Ian! He's busy!"

"But this old fart's trying to--"

"He's already done it! Leave them alone!"

"But, Stephen--"

"Ian, give it up! God, you're such a wanker sometimes!"

"Fine, fine. The thanks I get for trying to help a mate left out in the cold..." Ian trailed off, grumbling, as his footsteps shuffled off. "Get a sodding room, you two!"

Severus gave a soft snort. He laced his fingers through Harry's hair, working his other hand further into the jeans to trace the smooth surface of Harry's pants. Harry gave a soft squeak and jerked his hips. Something rigid dug into Severus' thigh. He went stiff for a moment and groaned into Harry's throat when the hardness only pressed deeper.

"Home," Harry gasped. "Now."

"As you wish." Severus nuzzled the hollow at the base of Harry's throat, burrowing his nose into the top of his clothing, before catching him once more in a hard, short kiss that left his lips tingling. The grove near the church was only a couple of hundred feet away, but between the burning looks Harry kept casting and the way their fingers crooked around each other in a subtle parody of things Severus hoped were to come, he found each step harder and harder to take without simply finding a convenient wall.

Harry all but dragged him through the circle of trees around the house as soon as they Apparated. Severus only had the barest impression of footprints leading to the front door, shallow and pale and filling with the powdery snow. He found a vague memory of Emily and Lupin arriving earlier. A glance from Harry, though, obliterated it from his mind.

The door flew open under force of Harry's wand. Severus kicked it shut and leaned against it. He grabbed Harry by the waist, jerking him so close they were chest to chest, Harry straddling one of Severus' bent legs. Severus' heart pounded in his chest with hardly any pain, and all the blood had left his muzzy head in favour of an area significantly lower.

"Too fucking long," he breathed and closed his mouth over Harry's as Harry's fingers lifted to tangle in his hair.

"Ah. So this'll be a bad time, then?"

Severus froze. Harry jumped. He turned his head just as a handful of shadows moved along the wall. An anti-Disillusionment charm was muttered, and a grey, grizzled head and a pitted green cloak dripped into view. Montague coughed into his fist. It took Severus a moment to find his voice.

"Get out," he rasped.

Much to his nausea and loathing, the Auror only grinned.

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