Title: Coming Back
Author: Dreaming of a White Christmas...
Giftee: perverse_idyll
Word Count: ~12,200
Rating: NC-17
Pairing: The obvious plus past Harry/Ginny.
Warnings: Epilogue compliance
Disclaimer: All Harry Potter characters herein are the property of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic. No copyright infringement is intended.
Summary: Harry's been looking for Snape for a long time. Snape doesn't believe him.
Author's Notes: This has been scary and exciting and educational and I'm so happy to be done. Love and thanks to my dearest
Elizabeth, who spoke of My Fair Lady when I was stressing and gave this fic her much-demanded attention, and to Emily, who was a last-minute angel and is owed a ton of H/D wallsex. I really hope you like it!



Harry studied the piece of parchment beneath his fingers. He'd found it the final piece of a puzzle no-one even believed in. He set it down with care, smoothing it out and sliding his hand into his desk drawer. He pulled out two letters and laid one on his desk, then tucked the other into his robe pocket and began to neatly pack everything else from the drawer into a cardboard box. Then he rose and crossed to the door.

The Aurors under his command gave his box a few bemused looks. He greeted them all with a nod,? mind elsewhere. As he passed Ron's desk, he pulled out the second letter and left it there, throwing protective and privacy spells over it in case it should go astray.

"Andrews, you're in charge until Ron gets back," he said, over his shoulder. Andrews looked confused, but nodded.

Harry left the office and Apparated to
Grimmauld Place. He'd never been able to sell it, despite an extensive clean-up; it was still the Black family home, and wizards and Muggles alike found it vaguely unsettling. Harry did too, but they'd decided Ginny should keep their main house, since she had no other property. Harry had once hated Grimmauld with a passion; now he found that the melancholy suited him.

He did not linger, though, just grabbed a bag and threw a few clothes and important belongings into it. He didn't know how long this would take, but he'd long since learnt the value of being prepared.

He closed his eyes, visualised the sea and the hills and the picture-postcard home, and let the unpleasant sensation of Apparition rip him away.

The first thing he noticed, before he opened his eyes, was the cold wind which worked under every one of Harry's warm layers and took all sense of comfort with it. He opened his eyes, pushing his hair back from his face, and looked out into a long stretch of steel grey sea.

He took a few smart steps back, suddenly unbalanced. The grassy ground on which he stood seemed to stop suddenly just a metre ahead of him, as if surrendering at the first sight of the thunderous sea. He could hear, over the whistle of the wind, a relentless crashing and breaking of water, and he was suddenly very glad he had not ended up just a little off his mark.

He turned; the steel band of sea stretched around and behind him until it was obscured by the slope of the hills which seemed themselves to be jagged waves made rock by sheer determination to survive. The grass upon them was very short, clinging stiffly to the earth, and in the distance it looked something like the hills had been velveted, smoothed over by a too-thin blanket that might serve to protect one from the cruelty of the landscape just as much as it guarded against the battering of the sea.

The cottage was there, tucked against the sheltering hill, small and squat and solid, smoke streaming from its chimney. A tree stood before it, warped by unending gales into a twisted bow.

Harry thought it was beautiful, and was afraid.

He cast a warming charm, half to remind himself that he did have power of his own, before he set off towards the house. The wind cut off sharply as he approached; the house was mercifully sheltered. There was a light on, he could see, in the two small windows; they looked very small against the landscape, but welcoming.

The house might be, thought Harry, but its occupant was probably as welcoming as the weather.

He sheathed his wand to knock firmly on the weathered green door. There was a moment of dead silence, and Harry could imagine the shock of it, someone knocking on a door so far from civilisation.

Harry was just about to knock again when the door swung open.

Severus Snape stood in the entrance to the home bequeathed to him by Dumbledore, looking much the same as he ever had.

Or at least, that was what hit Harry first; Snape, tall and robed and scowling, black eyes and long hair and beak nose leaping at him like memory made real. Then he began to notice the differences.

Snape looked older, or maybe just more weathered, as though he'd suffered the same onslaughts as his house. He seemed to be stooping slightly, too, and although it was most likely mere awareness of the proximity of the doorframe, it did not suit him. Unlike his tree, he was too rigid, too brittle not made to be bent.

His hair was as lank as ever but wiry with sparse grey; a thick silver band of it fell across his face. His robes were old and worn, and did not quite cover a dark scar at his neck.

"You're putting out my lamps."

Snape's voice sounded gruff from under-use, or perhaps it was damage. He glanced behind him; by the window, a candle spluttered and died in the draft.

"May I-" began Harry, and coughed as though he'd forgotten how to use his own voice. "May I come in?"

Snape retreated from the door; Harry took that as an invitation, and stepped inside.

The noise dropped dramatically as he shut the door.

"I've been looking for you," he said, as Snape turned to face him. For a second, the stooped posture remained, but the sight of Harry obviously brought out some forgotten memory of himself, because he rose to his full height. He was dangerously close to a support beam.

He cast a glance at his home, and Harry followed his eyes.

It was one room, although it was a long and large one. There was a fireplace at the end nearest him, crackling brightly, and around it two mismatched armchairs and a sofa made homely with pillows and old blankets. The wall behind it was lined with bookshelves, save for in front of a door that Harry assumed led to a bathroom and the space occupied by the headboard of a large single bed; at the bed's foot, a small green-painted Aga kept an old-fashioned kettle steaming gently. A wardrobe and a dresser occupied the remaining wall space; a thick wood dining table filled the rest of the floor.

It was warm and pleasant, and save for the bookshelves, he would not have thought it very Snape-like
at all.

"Took you long enough," said Snape, snorting.

"My whole life, it feels like," agreed Harry.

"I rather thought you were far too busy with your career and your children," said Snape. "I saw their names in the Prophet. Don't you think it is a little strange to name your children entirely after the dead?"

"You get the Prophet all the way out here?" said Harry, who'd heard the comment before.

"I have an owl box on the mainland," he said. "Surely you cannot imagine I survive on air alone."

"There's certainly enough of it," said Harry, and laughed.

Snape raised his eyebrows, and it was painfully familiar, and Harry had had this moment occupying his quiet hours ever since they'd found the bezoar. He'd tried so fiercely at first, to find Snape, but he could not search the whole world, and life had gone on and left it alone.

Except it hadn't, not quite. He'd stuck, somehow, stuck on the moment he'd watched Snape's eyes go glassy, or perhaps it was merely stuck on the last moment before Harry had died. He'd done everything after his death on a sort of autopilot, fulfilled every teenage wish without ever stopping to make some adult ones, and although he'd been fairly happy there seemed to be something missing, some gaping deficiency in himself. His children almost filled it; every time he thought of them it was like a moment of true life, and no matter whether he was scared or worried or angry, they made him think that it was worth it, that his life had been worth it, that the war was worth it to see the people who'd died have their names made so alive and real to him. But they were not there all the time, and Harry would never cling. He was too protective as it was, and he wanted their happiness above all else.

Seeing Snape was almost as good, almost as completing, a dizzy rush that warmed every inch of him and made him want to hug the man.

"I'm so glad you're alive," he said, unable to stop his smile. Snape's eyebrows raised further.

"I am," he said.

"I see," said Snape.

Of all the possible scenarios and reactions Harry had imagined, from angry resistance to the rather more fanciful reconciliation, from a confident Snape sunning himself on the continent to a man in squalid hiding and tortured by his demons, he had never really visualised this indifferent calm.

"You don't seem surprised to see me," said Harry.

"I assumed you knew of my survival," said Snape. He sat down gracefully and inclined his head, the merest invitation to join him.

Harry did.

"I expected a manhunt. Then I found you were busy celebrating me. I thought you might have decided to leave me alone, but it did not entirely suit your character."

Snape did not seem venomous. And it was true: it had never suited Harry to leave Snape to himself. Not when he might help him. Not when they'd missed reconciliation by an inch.

"We did a deal with Gringotts," said Harry. "I made a friend. He let me have a look at Dumbledore's files, sent me record of his buying this place. Why did he leave you a house here?"

"He asked me once where I'd most like to live."

"And this is it?"

"I joked of the Shetland Isles. I imagine he thought of this as the ultimate comeback. But it is beautiful, and he put care into making it safe and protected, and he left me more than enough to go wherever I liked. I never felt cause to leave."

Harry smiled faintly, nervousness setting in. Snape stared at the fire.

"I don't know what you think you're doing here," he said, after a moment. He crossed his arms.

"I-" began Harry. "I hoped we might talk."

"Any subject in particular? Quidditch, perhaps?"

Harry snorted.

"No. About... well, the past. Everything that happened. You died, and now you're alive, and we left it all so... messy."

"Messy indeed," said Snape, touching his neck lightly.

"Don't you want to... haven't you got things you want to say to me?"

"Not really," said Snape, looking at him levelly. "When I died, the world ceased to revolve around you. It was... relaxing."

Harry stared at him, uncomfortable.

"But you always had something to say about me," he said.

"I don't know you, Potter," he replied. "You are not the child you were. You have had more than twenty years of life experiences I have not had the dubious honour of rifling through." A faint smirk, and Harry found it reassuring.

"Would you like to look?" said Harry, then shut his mouth with a snap. He didn't know why he offered; sharing his whole head with Snape, with anyone, was a crazy idea. He would not have done it with Ginny, not even with his oldest friends.

Snape smirked again, and it made him look more real, as though some old essence of him was rising to fill the strangely neutral body that he'd been when he arrived.

"Are you hoping to show off your Occlumency skills, twenty years too late? Or are you, in fact, as unbalanced as I always knew you were?"

"Possibly the second," said Harry. The ghost of a memory, of Snape snarling insults and that fiery anger he'd felt. Harry didn't feel that way any more.

"I don't want to see inside your head, Potter," said Snape. "I am done with it. If you want to talk to me, you should do so, because I have passed the point where anything I might have wanted to say to you means anything to me."

"Do I mean anything to you?" said Harry, before he could stop himself. Snape stared.

"Not especially," said Snape. "Are you offended?"

"Well no, but we hated each other. You were a constant terror, I hated you and you hated me and I felt for you too sometimes, felt the weight of all the crap you've had, and you've been in my head, quite literally, and I had so many regrets when I thought you were dead. And when I realised you might be alive, I certainly didn't feel... nothing. God, as if I could!"

Snape considered him for a while. Harry calmed down enough to feel uneasy.

"No," said Snape. "Not nothing. You were the centre of the universe for a while, infuriating as that might have been. But I have... forgotten. I thought I would never forget, but it fades."

"I still wake up screaming sometimes. With my hand over my forehead. I've not learnt how to forget how it felt."

"No," said Snape thoughtfully. "No, I know that still."

Harry swallowed and followed Snape's eyes to the fire. His legs were too hot.

"I came here for another reason," he confessed. Snape tilted his head questioningly.

"Come back with me."

"No," said Snape, as though he had expected the question and not needed to think about the answer.

"Why not?"

"I'm comfortable."

"You can be comfortable in the wizarding world," said Harry.

"You think so?" said Snape. He wasn't looking at Harry still, gold glinting off his dark eyes, turning them warm. "I would be put on trial. I might even lose. And I would have no home, no friends, and I would be trapped in a world that can never trust me. I've given it consideration, Potter, and I'm not coming back."

"You would have friends. You have a house in your name still. And the wizarding world truly believes in you. You can't be happy here," said Harry.

"And you would know what does and does not make me happy," said Snape dryly.

"I know that no-one could be happy when they're totally alone," said Harry. "I know I would have thrown myself off those cliffs if I was trapped here."

"I am not trapped. It is a choice."

"A choice based on fear," said Harry.

"But my choice, nonetheless."

Snape's arms tightened over his chest, barely perceptibly. Harry settled back in the sofa and crossed his own arms.

"I have a plan for this," said Harry. "I should have saved you instead of leaving it to a bezoar and a phoenix. I should have found you and fought for you. We should have reached a point where we could talk to each other without going wild, because I think we have more in common than we ever wanted to. So I'm not leaving until I know that you are truly happy, and if I think you aren't I'm not going to let up until you are."

"You can't stay here, Potter," he said.

"Then I'll sleep outside and die of exposure, and it will be on your conscience," said Harry.

"You may well drown first," said Snape, glancing out of the window at the darkening clouds. "And if you do so it will not trouble me overly. It will be your own folly."

"Well, that's fine. I'm still not going to leave."

Snape looked angry, and it was familiar and encouraging, and Harry knew that just his presence had reminded Snape what it was like to live. Adrenaline flooded him; he was ready to fight for this.

Then some expression flitted over his face and wiped it blank, some hopeless apathy, and it shot straight to Harry's chest and clenched it tight. Snape, who'd suffered so much and had so much, had always matched every blow with a depth of feeling that Harry knew only too well. He was angry, he was hateful, he was spiteful and injured and petty and twisted and screaming at the world, and when he'd loved God, when he'd loved, he'd thrown his all into that as well, loved with obsessive, enduring passion. But now...

Harry wasn't going to leave. He had some making up to do.

And besides, he thought, looking at the icy square of savage beauty beyond the window pane. He hadn't wanted to be at home, anyway.

"You can't stay forever," said Snape, but it was neutral. "You run a whole department in the Ministry."

"Who says," said Harry darkly. "I quit."

"What?" said Snape, looking, for a moment, genuinely shocked.

Harry shrugged.

"Been planning it for ages. I never wanted to be Head Auror. It seemed the thing to do, but the higher I got up, the less actual Dark Wizard fighting I did and the more it was about paperwork. Besides, I'm not even sure why I became an Auror in the first place."

"To carry on being the hero," said Snape, as if it were obvious.

"Yeah, I suppose, but not because I wanted to. More because I wouldn't have had a clue how to do anything else."

Harry shrugged. Snape rose and crossed to the window, staring out at the sky. It was getting moodier, dark clouds settling over the setting sun.

"When did you quit? It was not in yesterday's Prophet."

Harry laughed.

"About an hour ago," said Harry. "I left a note."

Snape stared at him. Then he let out a short laugh.

"You have not changed so very much, Potter," he said.

"Not really," he agreed. "I'm still a bit mad."

Snape snorted, and tugged the curtains shut.

"You still can't stay that long," said Snape, crossing to his bookshelves. "You have responsibilities."

"My children are all at Hogwarts. I don't have to leave until the Christmas holidays."

"But you will want to," said Snape confidently, and pulled out a book. He sat down again, stretching out a little.

"If you're staying, you might as well make a cup of tea," he said shortly. Harry grinned, and crossed over to the dresser. There were only two mugs hung on hooks from the bottom shelf, and a pile of mismatched plates and bowls filling the top shelves; there was an old fashioned jug and bowl for washing with on the top. Harry opened up the lower cupboard; it was filled with tins and jars, the tea things lined up neatly at the front. Harry made the tea quickly and wondered if there was even running water here, and if not, where Snape got his water from.

Harry realised that there was not a fridge. Was there electricity? It seemed unlikely.

"Where's the milk?" he asked. Snape did not look up, merely pointed to the other door. Harry stepped towards it, wondering if perhaps the cottage was bigger than he realised.

Beyond the door was as he'd thought, a bathroom, with slate floors and a bath with brass feet. The sink was large and square, a steel bucket below it, and the toilet looked Victorian. It was icy.

Harry was a little confused, until he looked up and saw a bottle of milk, a block of cheese, a tub of butter and a stack of eggs lined up on a support beam. He was embarrassed to find he struggled to reach them.

Tea made, he went to sit beside Snape. Snape did not thank him.

"So-"

"I'm reading, Potter."

"Bet you've already read it."

"I don't see your point," said Snape, and sent him a dark look over the spine
 . He could tell there was no real feeling behind it.

Harry picked at the soft rug below his fingers. He felt suddenly younger, relaxed but full of energy, like a child forced to sit still. He stared into the fire and tried not to think about anything but where he was, in the here and now.

He'd fallen asleep when the storm broke. He woke with a start at the sound of thunder, but it was not distinctly louder than the relentless muted roar of the sea and the wind and the rain. It was simultaneously frightening and comforting, to be warm in this solid little cottage while the elements threw their worst upon them. Harry sat up and looked for Snape.

He was sitting at the table, still reading in the light of a candle by his side. His hair fell over his face, but Harry could still see his expression, frowning with concentration, long fingers trailing over the paper. Despite the silver streak, the lines around his eyes, Harry was reminded of the young Snape he'd seen in the Pensieve, with his nose nearly touching his exam paper as he scribbled out his knowledge. Harry had not seen that focus on the adult Snape's face before, or at least, never without some cruel emotion driving it. It was strangely fascinating, pleasing compared to Snape's earlier neutrality, and Harry let himself think of the Half-Blood Prince. He'd been attached to him, back when he'd imagined some charming Ravenclaw type, but when he'd learnt the truth he'd shut it away for fear of what it meant, for fear that there might be something of Dumbledore's killer that he could care for. But he'd learnt the truth, and he'd watched Snape's memories again and again, looking for the connection between the boy whose notes he'd adored and the man who had been nothing but loathsome. He'd thought that all that was endearing in Snape had long since been locked away under layers of defences and hurt; he was glad to be reminded that he was still there.

Snape looked up, and his gaze clouded.

"What is it, Potter?" he snarled, curling closer to his book for a moment in coiled defence.

Harry shrugged.

"Not seen you for a while."

"Ah, making up for more than twenty years deprived of my countenance?" he sneered, and his tone would have been familiar if it had not been directed so inwardly.

"Pretty much," said Harry quietly, who felt like he would have looked at Snape all day, if only to figure him out. It was strange age seemed to have taken the ugliness from him, or perhaps that was Harry's changed opinion. In any case, Snape's face was interesting, familiar, with harsh lines and complex expression, saved from true ugliness by the dark eyes that now regarded him with wary suspicion.

"You invade my house and mock me too? It seems you have not changed very much," said Snape.

"You, on the other hand," said Harry, annoyed at the lack of fire behind the remark, "Seem to have completely changed. Are you just mellow, or have you given up?"

"Oh, what do you know of me?" snapped Snape. "I'm not mellow, but nor am I unhappy. I am myself, and if your memory fails you in that respect perhaps you ought to leave me alone."

"I'd have trouble, what with the weather," said Harry. "I'd drown before I could Apparate. Do you hate me?"

Snape blinked slowly.

"I did," he said. "But we've covered this, Potter. I no longer know you. Although I can't say I'd care to."

"You know things about me that still matter," said Harry. "And I know about the Death Eaters and Dumbledore and my mother and your father and what the Marauders did. What was my mother like?"

"I fear I have forgotten," said Snape, not sounding as if he feared at all, or even cared. "I'm not sure what I do recall from those times. It is all... far away."

Harry wanted to get out of his chair and shake him. Had the snake bite done something to his mind? Or was it merely his long isolation?

"You're pathetic," said Harry, testing. "I'm surprised you could even manage killing Dumbledore."

"My senses have not dulled that much, Potter," snapped Snape. "You're as transparent as you ever were."

"You remember something, then," said Harry, with a faint smile.

Snape curled his lip and turned away.

"Chicken soup," he said flatly, indicating to a saucepan on the Aga. "Goodnight, Potter."

He went over to the stove, poured out two bowls, sent one sailing back to the table and then took both his soup and his book to his bed.

Harry felt frustration mount in his chest, and did not watch Snape any more.

*

The roar of the sea had abated in the morning, and Harry had the unpleasant experience of rising from a sofa that was far too short for him and stumbling sleepily to a bathroom so frigid it was like being doused in ice water. Stiff, cold and unpleasantly awake, he returned to the dying fire and stoked it with a log from the neat pyramid by the hearth. Then he curled under his blanket and stared at Snape.

The man had obviously tossed and turned in the night his hair obscured his face and his blankets were knotted around him, one leg thrown away from the knot and his arm dangling off the side of the bed. Harry looked at the pale, bare shoulder, and thought he must be cold.

Harry felt suddenly twitchy. He leapt up, and set about making breakfast.

Snape roused shortly after he'd begun the bacon. Harry kept his eyes on the pan as Snape sat up with a jolt, blankets falling away.

"Oh," growled Snape, voice gruff. "You."

"I made breakfast," said Harry, suddenly guilty. He scooped the bacon onto the plate and began frying the eggs. He could see Snape dressing in his peripheral vision.

"Don't think you can win my favour with breakfast alone," said Snape, sitting down and taking the plate Harry was laying out.

"I don't want your favour," Harry lied. "I just want you to have what you deserve."

"And what I deserve is an an intensely annoying man invading my home and attempting to remove me from it?"

"You deserve happiness," said Harry uncomfortably, and stabbed at his egg.

"Sure of that, are you?" said Snape.

"Yes," said Harry. "You've had an awful life."

"And I've made others' lives awful in return," said Snape, shrugging. "I wasn't a hero, Potter. Stop trying to make me accept the reward just because you are so discontent with it yourself."

"I'm not discontent," snapped Harry, but it was another lie, and Snape could see it.

Snape took the plates to the bathroom and washed up. Harry, already sensing hours of boredom, scanned the bookshelves. There was, as he'd expected, a large amount of Potions and Dark Arts books, but there were also books on a dozen other subjects, from philosophy to charms theory to botany to muggle science, a shelf of biographies and autobiographies of both wizards and Muggles, and several hardback fiction books. Harry browsed for something that might appeal, and found his eyes drawn to one of the few paperback books in the shelf. It seemed to be a trashy Muggle adventure novel, with a cover picture of a handsome young man with dark tousled hair and a torn shirt, wielding a large sword and tilting his chin defiantly at a very inaccurate drawing of a dragon. It did not seem to fit the style of Snape's other books, and Harry wondered what had driven him to buy it.

"It was a present," said Snape, appearing at his shoulder. Harry looked up at him; Snape did not meet his eyes.

The man on the cover had bright green eyes. Harry wondered if it was something to do with his mother.

He set the book down. Snape Accio'd a book from the shelves nearest the bed.

"If it will shut you up," he said, and dumped the book in Harry's hands. It was worryingly heavy. Harry looked at the title.

The Anthology of Quidditch.


Harry smiled faintly, rolled his eyes and settled on the sofa to read it.

After an hour of reading, Harry was bored. He had always been an active person, and the older he'd got the more important it had become to him to stay fit. He was missing his morning walk, his afternoon in the Auror's gym. He was already recalling with regret the fact that he would not be training with the Auror Quidditch team for the informal Ministry tournament this weekend. They hadn't lost in ten years.


"What do you do all day?" said Harry.

"Read," said Snape, glancing up from his own book. "Eat. Walk, if the weather is acceptable. I fetch my post in the afternoons on the mainland. Occasionally, I write articles to my journals."

"Don't you get bored?" said Harry.

"It is relaxing, compared to my past life," said Snape, which wasn't really an answer to Harry.

"Do you have a broom?" said Harry.
 
"It's decades old," said Snape, rolling his eyes.

"What model?" said Harry.

"Nimbus," said Snape. "I am not sure when the last time I used it was."

"Can I use it?"

"Leaving me in peace at last?"

"No," said Harry. "I thought I might go and fly for a bit, since the weather's good."

"You know," said Snape, "You hardly have to be with me every second of the day to continue your futile quest. You could Apparate back for your own broom."

"I don't want you to disappear again," said Harry, earnest. Snape looked at him for a long moment.

"If I wished to escape you," he said, "I could."

Harry shrugged.

"Then do it," he said. "But I don't think you really want me to go."

"I have no desire to leave this place, to escape you or otherwise," said Snape. "And I think it is you who does not want to go. What are you hiding from, Potter?"

"I'm not hiding. I'm trying to help you!" said Harry.

"Perhaps if I could believe that, I could be convinced," he said, and pointed his wand. A broom nearly hit Harry on the back of the head. Harry caught it; it was covered in cobwebs.

"However," said Snape, looking amused as Harry shook his hand to clean it, "You are not here for me."

"I'm certainly not here for myself," said Harry angrily, "I'd have to be mad."

"Quite," agreed Snape, smirking.

Harry snatched up the broom and stomped out into the cold morning air. The sea seemed calmer today, and the sky was palely shining with morning sunlight. There was a chill wind, but a warming charm staved off the worst.

Harry looked at the broom in his hands and grinned. It was a Nimbus 2000.

He leapt on it and shot into the air. He still remembered the first time he'd flown his old Nimbus; it felt painfully slow and unresponsive now, but the dizzy rush was the same, and there was something vaguely satisfying about the amount of strength it required to turn it compared to his broom at home. He flew straight up, seeing the farthest edges of the island come into view, and when he hit a patch of icy cloud he stopped and surveyed the view. There was the vague shadow of land to the south, but otherwise it was nothing but endless sea. He felt wildly free.

The broom vibrated slightly under his fingers. It was very old he wondered how much it could take.

He dropped it into a steep dive. His stomach jumped, and the ground came rushing back, and the blood screamed in his veins as it hit him how easily he could die, if the broom gave out on him now. The island was coming up to meet him, becoming all he could see, and the inertia charms were obviously weak because dropping on a Firebolt Eleven felt nothing like this. He laughed, sound lost to the wind, and as he reached the point at which he knew he had to pull up, he caught sight of Snape on the grass outside his house, staring up at him with wide eyes.

Harry pulled up sharply, too late, rolled several times and hit the ground slightly more heavily than he'd intended. He let go of the broom, winded, and stared up at the sky with happiness bubbling in his chest. He laughed.

Snape loomed above.

"Do you know how awkward it would be if you killed yourself on my lawn?" He growled. He sounded angry.

"Sorry," said Harry, unapologetic. "Did I scare you?"

"The paperwork scared me," snapped Snape. "Or the idea of me being expected to tend to a sick Potter. I'm assuming your truly frightening manic laughter is an indication you are not hurt?"

Harry grinned.

"Yeah," he said. "I'm fine." He put a hand out hopefully and Snape looked at it suspiciously for a moment. Then he rolled his eyes and hauled him up, and it seemed that actually Harry had hurt his back because he winced and staggered. Snape's hands came to his shoulders to steady him.

"You do care," said Harry, grinning, and Snape scoffed.

"There's a difference between ceasing to actively hope for your suffering and actually caring," he said. Harry grinned.

"Do you fly?"

"Not for a very long time," said Snape, dropping his hands. Harry found his balance tipping him forward a little, following their descent.

"Are you any good?"

"You've seen me, Potter. I was a referee."

"Oh!" said Harry, grinning. "Yeah. But I wasn't really paying attention to your flying. More the blatant cheating you were gleefully ignoring."

"Oh, like your precious Gryffindors did not cheat," scoffed Snape. "And got away with it more frequently."

"So that's a good excuse for a teacher to cheat too?"

"I had a thousand years of Gryffindor favouritism to compensate for," said Snape darkly.

"You should fly," said Harry.

"I never enjoyed it as you seem to," said Snape.

"Then what do you do?" said Harry. "To feel that good, I mean. Sorry, that's a weird question, I-"

"I'm not such a reckless adrenaline addict as you," said Snape. "I get my pleasure from rather more academic pursuits."

Harry thought again of the Half-Blood Prince. He'd wondered, in the many hours he'd spent thinking about Snape, whether that passion for knowledge was part of what the Dark Lord offered as temptation. Tom Riddle had been clever, dangerously clever, fascinated with the dark, and Snape must have seen that eagerness to learn and thought it the same as his own. Riddle would have offered Snape the opportunity to explore, to create, to be on the frontier of magical innovation, and Snape might not have realised that it was not for the pleasure or the power of knowledge but to further his one dementedly impossible goal.

He thought about asking about it, but it didn't seem to matter as much now.

"Is there nothing physical that excites you?" he teased. Snape raised his eyebrows.

"You need more than one person to play Quidditch," he said, giving a meaningful look at his surroundings.

"Don't you miss it?" said Harry, which was not what he'd intended to say at all.

"I don't know what makes you think I ever had it in the first place."

"You mean you haven't?" said Harry blankly.

Snape smirked.

"Nearly everyone has played Quidditch," he said, "But most of my ex-students seem surprised at the very thought."

"What position?" said Harry, sniggering, unable to restrain himself, but Snape had more of a sense of humour than Harry gave him credit for because he snorted.

"Actually, that's got more than one meaning," said Harry thoughtfully. "I mean... Keeper, Chaser... Beater..."

Harry grinned. Snape smirked and rolled his eyes.

"Quidditch is laced with innuendo and everyone knows it," he said. "Your youth must have been very sheltered if you have never considered it before."

"I've considered it," said Harry, with a faint smile. Snape tilted his head fractionally, as though looking for another meaning to that, too. Harry felt strangely self-conscious.

"It's freezing," he said. "Can we go inside?"

"Done already?" said Snape, and there was a definite implication there.

"Oh, shut up," said Harry, grinning, and brushed past Snape on his way into the house.

It was odd; though he was tired, he did not seem to have thrown off his nervous energy.

Snape did not speak for the rest of the day. Harry made lunch and read Snape's books and tried his hardest not to bounce off the walls. It was an unfamiliar feeling; long hours and sleepless nights had made Harry feel ancient and lifeless. He'd thought it was simply growing older, no matter how many times Hermione told him that seventy-five was middle-aged for wizards and that he really ought to take a holiday or two.

Still, napping after lunch was not something he'd done in his twenties, and he woke in the afternoon feeling irritable and foggy.

He glanced around. Snape was not there.

Harry glanced at the bathroom; the door was slightly ajar. Mildly alarmed, he rose and crossed to the front door. He opened it and glanced around, but Snape was not in view.

Harry was beginning to panic when he recalled that Snape said he went to the mainland to get the Prophet every afternoon.

Harry sat back down. He wondered why Snape bothered, why he took that one risk when he was so carefully isolated in every other way. If he was going to hide himself even from Muggles, why keep such a daily link to the wizarding world?

Harry took it as a sign he was doing the right thing.

Snape returned half an hour later. There was a stack of books under his arm and a plastic carrier bag in his hand. It jarred, to see such a painfully mundane item in Snape's old-fashioned hut.

Snape caught his look.

"I thought I ought to stock up, much as I'd be happy to see you starve," said Snape.

Harry continued to stare.

"I always forget to take my Bag for Life," he grumbled, setting the bag down.

Harry laughed. Snape scowled.

"What now, Potter?"

"You shouldn't know about bags for life. You shouldn't know about Tesco. You don't even have a toaster here."

"There's no electricity," said Snape, as though Harry were mad. "And I have always known about Tesco. I imagine you have too."

"In a distant sort of way," said Harry. "But only from telly adverts, for the first part of my life, and I haven't been in one since I was on the run. I know the Weasleys are blood traitors and everything - it was funny, to call them that, when no-one talked like that any more, " But Ginny's as pureblooded as they come, buys everything from butchers and bakers and wizarding shops. You start thinking like that eventually."

"Yes," said Snape. "I suppose you do."

Harry recalled how surely he'd assumed Snape was a just another rich pureblood at first. He'd wondered if this was an act, or an act-turned-habit, or whether his mother's wizarding influence had been enough to make him think like they did. How had he managed to fit in with the wizarding aristocracy, when he was very poor and not a little Muggle? Had he ever really managed it? For it was not the blood per se that generated confusion and hate it was the unavoidable difference in thought. It was thousands of years of magic and history that were learned too late, and with different eyes. In some ways, this meant Snape was more of a pureblood than Harry; at least he'd always known what it meant to be a wizard.

"You can cook dinner, Potter," said Snape. "Since you seem to have appointed it your job."

Harry got up and peered into the carrier bag. There were more eggs, more bacon and a pack of chicken.

Harry raided Snape's cupboard of tins and made chicken and mushroom casserole in the Aga. He'd gotten used to cooking; breakfast at the Dursleys was always his duty, and when Harry and Ginny had moved away from Molly's relentless baking, Ginny had not taken up the motherly mantle. In fact, cooking frustrated and perplexed her, like so many of the household tasks she'd been taught were a woman's duty: one night, Harry had gently taken the saucepan from her, and he'd never given it back.

She'd thought she wanted that life, she thought that Harry did too. It turned out what she wanted was the fast life, and what Harry wanted was... her happiness. He'd longed for a real home, had been ready to work for it, but it had never felt quite right as long as Ginny was fighting herself, as long as her aims could never quite meet with his.

He was glad she was happy now. He just wished he knew how to have happiness himself.

"Potter, are you still a boring brooding type?"

Harry looked up. Snape raised his eyebrows.

"Sorry," said Harry, without feeling.

"You're not exactly encouraging me to return. You don't look as if you want to yourself."

"I do!" said Harry. Snape snorted.

"Alright," agreed Harry, "I'm not exactly happy. But I'd be here whether I was happy or not. I've spent most of my life thinking about this opportunity. I've had to stop mentioning it, because people think I'm crazy. I want to make amends. You have to let me!"

"I have to do nothing of the sort," said Snape, looking at his book.

"Don't you think you've punished yourself enough?"

"No," said Snape simply.

"That's absurd," said Harry, looking around the cell of Snape's room. An island in a cold, cold sea he could not have picked a better setting for his own personal Azkaban.

"Check your casserole, Potter," said Snape.

"Don't change the subject," snapped Harry.

Snape ignored him.

Harry tried to articulate just how absurd that was, for the man who'd risked and eventually surrendered his life for the world to believe himself worthy of punishment. The words would not come, and Snape's blank face told him he would never listen anyway.

Harry served up the casserole in silence.

There was no storm this time, but he had trouble sleeping all the same.

He made breakfast the next morning, and the next, and Snape would vanish every afternoon without offering to take Harry. Harry flew a few times, but the atmosphere depressed him as well as any Dementor and he did not stay airborne for long. One afternoon he attempted to fly to the next island, but the broom shuddered with the effort and Harry returned feeling even more as though this place were a prison.

He'd thought the island was strangely beautiful, at first. But he'd realised long ago there was no beauty in misery.

Snape did not speak to him for a week. Harry was beginning to think he would forget how. He spread out the Daily Prophet each evening in an attempt to keep his sanity, but it did not seem real; despite his letters they were still searching for him, and every day hysterical fans sent in supposed sightings in ridiculous places that might have been a lot nicer than here.

"Mavis Bunting thinks I'm in the Bahamas," he said idly one evening. "Wouldn't that be nice. Lots of remote islands there, you know."

Snape merely grunted.

"Does it make you happy?" snapped Harry, annoyed. "Wallowing like this?"

"You'd know," said Snape.

"You should come home," snapped Harry.

"You should go away."

Harry sighed. He needed a new approach, before he went insane.

"What are you reading?" he said.

"As if you care," said Snape.

"Why shouldn't I?" said Harry. "Tell me about it. You can call me a dunderhead when I don't get it. It'll be like old times."

Harry felt a moment of triumph when Snape smirked.

"Alright," he said. "It's an article about a new potion that is supposed to revolutionise the world of beekeeping."

"You're joking," said Harry.

"I'm not," said Snape, and showed him the title.

Harry shifted closer to read it. Revolutionising the World of Beekeeping. He laughed.

"Are you interested in bees?"

"Not especially."

"Is the article interesting?"

"Only in that it might afford me an opportunity to criticise it in my next article," said Snape.

"Do you get money for them?"

"Yes. That is how I live. Did you not wonder?"

"How do you change it for Muggle money?"

"You can do it by secure owl," said Snape. "Is this what happens when I don't speak for a week? Or is it merely my folly for breaking my silence?"

"I don't know why you're not insane," said Harry.

"I don't know why you think I'm not," said Snape.

"You're definitely missing something," said Harry. "You don't seem to care about anything. You used to take everything so seriously. Passionately. My mother-"

"Is dead," said Snape. "As is the only other person I might have called a friend. As for enemies, they are also dead. Perhaps there is nothing to take seriously any more."

"There's always something," said Harry. "There's me."

"You?" said Snape. "Ha. You may be able to fool yourself, but I have had to sit and watch you moon over your Weasley girl. You are not truly concerned about me, so why should I feel anything for you?"

"You think I'm mooning over Ginny?" said Harry. "You're so wrong. Ginny and I we weren't-"

"Oh, come off it, Potter," said Snape. "She was your little Oedipal dream, wasn't she? The perfect little wife? Must be a tragedy to have your bubble shatter. What was it, did she leave you for a younger hero?"

"You don't know anything about her," snapped Harry. "She left me because we were too busy trying to pretend we wanted what we had to realise that neither of us were happy. I'm not going to pretend I didn't want a family of course I did, I still do. But it's better this way."

Snape's sneer was infuriating and strangely fulfilling, watching the curve of his thin lips as he warmed up to that pleasure he'd always enjoyed the pleasure of baiting Harry.

"Then what has you so angsty, Potter?" he said, almost neutral, but the undercurrent of cruelty was there. "What has you running from the world?"

"I'm not running. I'm trying to help!"

It was true. He'd fixated on this for so long. But it was hard to be quite convincing, when satisfaction coursed through his veins. Snape may not be in full fury, but it was close, it was progress.

Then Snape's eyes closed down, returned to his book.

"If you keep lying, Potter," he said, sounding bored, "You'll never persuade me."

Harry wanted to hit him, wanted to shout until Snape shouted back, wanted to see life in those black eyes.

He choked on his anger instead, unable to speak.

He went out flying.

It was very dark, and Harry could feel the chill of the air through multiple warming charms, but the sky was clear and filled with stars and it felt as though he might fly forever, utterly free. The sea was black, nearly-invisible and frighteningly deep, but Harry flew over it just the same. It added to the thrill, the thrill that shook the itch of Snape from his bones and the thoughts of home from his head. It was mindless, soaring up into the wide open sky, feeling as though he might reach the stars if only he kept trying, dropping with that lurch in his stomach that he'd almost forgotten.

It occurred to him then. He didn't want to go.

He'd never been this free.

When he returned to the house, his fingers were stiff with cold. He struggled with the latch.

Snape was staring into the fire. He jumped when Harry appeared.

"I thought you were gone," said Snape. He did not seem to hit quite the right note of irritation Harry was expecting.

"Oh," said Harry, wincing as the warmth spiked his face and hands with pain. "No. I just flew."

"You look cold," said Snape. "Idiot."

"I'm freezing. My hands hurt quite a lot, actually."

Snape rose from his seat and caught them. His hands were warm too, but less painfully so. Harry looked up at him in surprise.

"You ought to put them in warm water," said Snape, not meeting his gaze. "They could be frostbitten. Didn't you notice, idiot boy?"

"Not so much a boy," said Harry with a wry grin.

"As irresponsible as one," said Snape, dropping them and turning away. He went to the bathroom and came back with a bowl of water.

"Get here," said Snape. Harry obeyed, feeling an uncomfortable knot in his chest. He sank his hands into the warm water, wincing.

"It'll hurt," said Snape coldly.

"It's alright," said Harry. He looked up at Snape again, who was staring at the fire.

If only it wasn't Snape, thought Harry, staring at the bowl, at his pale hands. He was irresponsible sometimes, he tried too hard to deal with things himself, and sometimes he longed for someone who cared to look after him for a change. Ginny had never been very good at looking after Harry; he was supposed to be the one saving her.

"You're sort of right, you know," he said eventually, watching as colour crept back into his fingers. His nose hurt.

"That you're an idiot? I have known that for years," said Snape.

"That I'm not entirely free of agenda."

Snape looked at him then.

"I don't particularly want to go back. There's nothing there for me."

"Your children?" said Snape.

"They won't need me until the holidays. I'll be there, of course I will, but apart from them..."

Apart from them, Harry couldn't think of anything that was keeping him on this mortal coil, let alone in wizarding Britain.

Snape raised an eyebrow.

"Then why are you here, trying to persuade me of what you do not believe yourself?"

"Because I can do that," said Harry. "Maybe if I can make you happy, I can figure out how to do it myself."

"So sure you're right about my happiness," said Snape. "Arrogant brat."

"I need something to hope for," said Harry quietly.

If Snape heard, he did not acknowledge it.

Harry stared at his hands, red and raw and complaining at their mistreatment. Then he looked at Snape.

He was staring into the fire, as brooding as he'd accused Harry of being, but it was strangely pleasant to watch. Snape had a harsh face, but it was not as ugly as Harry had always called it, and his eyes were nothing like any Harry had ever seen. It seemed endlessly interesting, to map the lines and angles of his face, make note of all that had changed and let his eyes wander over paths that remained familiar. Harry had spent so much time glaring at this man, but it still surprised him how well he knew him, knew that the slant of his shoulders was lower than usual, slumped as if in defeat, and Harry followed the line down to the long, slim hands that had caught his.

Snape looked up suddenly, and Harry swallowed, feeling guiltier than he should be, holding Snape's gaze to hide it. Snape stared at him, and there was unfamiliar meaning in them, and Harry felt strangely afraid until Snape looked away first.

Harry returned his gaze to his hands.

"You ought to bandage them, as I have no healing salve." said Snape eventually. "Can you move them?"

"What? Oh, yes. They're just a bit raw. I expect my nose isn't looking too great."

"It is not as bad as your hands might have been. I will make a salve tomorrow."

"You still make potions?"

"Occasionally," he said.

"Do you miss teaching?"

Snape stared at him as though he were mad.

"Potter, I hated teaching. I taught because I had very little choice in the matter."

Harry grinned.

"I've lectured at Hogwarts a couple of times," he said thoughtfully. "I think I'd have liked to be a teacher."

"Why aren't you, then, Potter?" said Snape impatiently. "I'm sure Minerva would hire you in an instant. You may have gathered from your own experiences that there are rarely any half-decent applicants for Defence Against the Dark Arts."

"Apparently the current one is alright," said Harry. He'd received an effusive letter on the subject. "I think the curse being lifted sort of helped the application numbers."

"I suppose," said Snape.

"Besides, if she left she'd take James's heart with him," said Harry with a smile. Snape rolled his eyes.

"If she's both capable and attractive, I guarantee you she will either turn out insane or leave with child."

Harry grinned.

"I don't know if she's really either," said Harry. "James has a blind spot when it comes to well, boobs. He discovered girls at a fairly young age. I don't know where he gets it from Al's not like that at all."

Snape snorted.

"I suspect he takes after his namesake," he said.

"Who, James?"

"Both."

"I don't really understand James sometimes," said Harry thoughtfully. "And I really don't understand Al. I think you would, though. He reminds me of you sometimes."

"God forbid," said Snape.

"Did you fancy any teachers when you were at school?"

Snape's lips pursed.

"Do you really think I'm going to answer that question, Potter?"

"That'll be a yes," said Harry, pleased with himself. "I never really understood that. I mean, Hermione loved Lockheart-"

"I thought she was the intelligent one," said Snape, with an expression of utter disgust.

" but I didn't see what Seamus said about Professor Vector, for example. Maybe Lu-"

He shut down that sentence quickly. There were multiple reasons why that might be poorly received.

"You were going to say Lupin," said Snape flatly. Harry shrugged.

"He was nice to me," he said.

"So was Dumbledore," said Snape pointedly. Harry winced.

"Yeah, alright. He was nice to me and kind of attractive. I never really thought like that at the time, though. You'd know if I had, let's face it."

"True," said Snape softly. His eyes returned to the fire.

"I think they'll be alright," said Harry, pulling his fingers out of the water and wiggling them.

"What? Oh. Come here."

Harry moved obediently to the sofa.

"Accio bandage," muttered Snape. A bandage sailed into his hands from nowhere. Harry looked for where it had come from.

"Look up," said Snape, sounding amused. Harry looked into the roof space there were several cauldrons and boxes hanging from the top beam of the roof.

Snape caught Harry's left hand and examined it. Harry swallowed; he was not sure Snape had ever voluntarily touched him before, and certainly not out of an emotion that was not anger.

"I assume you have heard of warming charms?" said Snape dryly.

"Of course," said Harry quietly. "But I didn't notice they were fading until the rest of me started getting cold. It can't have been for long."

"It doesn't have to be long," said Snape, beginning to wrap his fingers individually. Harry watched, strangely transfixed. Snape was as gentle as his words were not, and he had elegant fingers that traced nimbly round Harry's.

"You were wrong about something, too," murmured Harry, looking up. Snape looked at him, suspicious and enquiring.

"I'm not here to escape. Or at least, not just for that. I am concerned. I do care. I swear. And if I can help in any way I'm really offering anything you want-"

"No, you are not," said Snape. "Whatever you think you know about my wants is wrong you can give me nothing I desire. The sooner you realise this, the sooner I might have some peace."

"How can I believe that, if you won't talk to me? You won't even let me try?"

Snape dropped his hand.

"It's late," he said. He moved away, towards his bed.

Harry watched him go. Snape looked at him with cold, shuttered eyes, and Harry knew he'd lost him again.

He wondered why this time felt so much worse.

*

Harry took his bandages off that morning and made breakfast as usual. Snape sat with him at the table, but he was distant.

He went for a walk afterwards. Harry followed on the broom, and found Snape standing on the cliffs. Harry tensed, ready to dive, but Snape just stared.

Harry made soup for lunch. Snape did not eat it. It felt like Harry had done something dreadfully wrong.

Harry let himself get angry about this while Snape was out that afternoon. He'd been trying, he'd tried to take a slow and steady approach, he'd thought Snape seemed more responsive every day, but now Snape had decided to shut him out without even the slightest reason.

He was ready to shout when Snape reappeared. Snape looked him over, seeing his mood, and smirked.

"You might want to see the paper before you unleash any righteousness," he sneered, and handed it over.

James, Lily and Al were on the front cover, hugging each other in front of the Hogwarts Express. It was Lily's first year, and they were laughing and waving.

Harry stared at the headline. Come Home Daddy.

He set it down, fury exploding.

"This is Ginny's doing," he said, voice cold with anger. "She's pissed off because I didn't tell her. I gave Ron a letter, I told him to send a note to them, they know I'm alright, they know I'll be back. How could she wind them up like this?"


Snape picked it up.

"'The tragic story of the Potter children's search for their absent father,'" he read, and raised an eyebrow at Harry.

"I can't believe she's gone to the press," he growled. "She never got it, how evil they can be. She always thought we should just do a few publicity shots, let them know we're just a normal family. Now they're making a melodrama out of-"

"Out of what, Potter?" interjected Snape with a sneer. "Of the fact that their father vanished from the face of the planet with nothing more than a doubtless cryptic note? Without even mentioning it to their mother, let alone them? Blame it on who you like, Potter, but they must be pretty desperate to hear from you if they've gone to the Prophet."

"I've not been gone that long!" protested Harry. Snape snorted.

"You've been in the paper every day. You quit your job. You could be mad or cursed or dead for all they know. If only they knew what you were really doing disregarding your responsibilities to have a self-indulgent holiday, at my expense no less."

"I'll send them a letter," snapped Harry. "The press are making a deal out of nothing, I'll tell them that. And this isn't a bloody holiday, you git!"

"Oh, just get out, Potter," said Snape, and Harry could see he was about to grow distant again. 

"What the hell have I done wrong?" he said. "Why are you deciding to hate me now?"

"You've done nothing especially," said Snape, turning his back on Harry. "I've simply become bored of pandering to your life crisis."

"Or maybe you're tempted," said Harry. "Tempted to come back with me. And now you think I'm going to go, so you're kicking me out before I leave you alone."

"No, Potter. I'm not tempted, and I want you to leave me alone. Go and sort out your children. I'm bored of putting up with your selfishness."

"Why do you care whether I'm selfish or not?" said Harry.

"Because I am not going to sit back and watch you screw up the life I died for," said Snape, whirling, the ghost of his old swooping robes vivid for a moment in Harry's memory. "You're as selfish as ever, Potter, really, you talk about your children so reverently but you still indulge your pathetic wallowing. You're a child, Potter."

"Must be a touchy subject," said Harry coldly, brandishing the newspaper. "Got a thing about bad fathers?"

"You don't know as much as you think you know, Potter," growled Snape. "Merlin, you're insufferable."

"And I can't just leave you! You're important, don't you get it? You may have learnt to shut everything out but I haven't, and you've mattered to me for more than twenty years! I'm not just wallowing, and I'm going to talk to my kids straight away, but you must have realised by now I'm serious! Are you afraid of me?"

"I am not afraid," snarled Snape, and Harry remembered a more vivid Snape, wild and stark and vicious, with the green light of the Dark Mark glinting off his eyes, incensed beyond reason at the simple word coward.

"Yes you are," said Harry coldly. "You're afraid. You're afraid to live your life, you're afraid to risk happiness. You're afraid to feel anything. You used to hate me, so much, but you're even afraid of that. Aren't you?"

Harry took a few steps forward to make Snape face him properly. Snape's hand came out to stop him before he made contact.

Harry felt the fingers on his wrist like the burn of a brand. Snape's eyes were a gathering storm, and it was revitalising. This was it, this was the feeling Harry'd missed, rising up in a tide of adrenaline and filling him with life.

"I do hate you, Potter," he snarled, and he meant it, and Harry was glad and furious all at once. He wrenched his wrist away and took a few steps back.

"Doesn't it feel good to remember that?" said Harry. Snape snorted and took a slow step towards him.

"You think you're so clever," sneered Snape. "You think you can bring me out of my shell with hate? Don't you think, Potter, that hate is probably something I have had my life's share of?"

Another step. Harry retreated on pure instinct.

"Besides," said Snape, and his voice was a purr now. "Don't you think that making me angry is a little dangerous? When you're in my house, all alone on an island it is near impossible to find?" He slammed Harry's shoulders against the wall. "I might fulfil any number of fantasies. There have been plenty of times I have wished to strangle you to death."

Snape's eyes were close, and they were glittering. Harry was not afraid; excitement flooded through him in a forgotten high.

"But you feel alive, don't you?" he said, pushing against the hands that held him, and Snape growled and pushed back.

Harry tilted his chin, defiance he'd long missed, and he could see the curl of Snape's sneer very close.

"You don't know me as well as you think you do," growled Snape, his breath against Harry's cheek.

Then he tilted his head and kissed him.

Harry froze. His mind went blank. There were lips on his and hands curled tight in his shirt and he was pressed between cold stone and burning body, and it was like looking at a picture, thinking you'd seen what it was, then changing the angle and seeing something leap to life in three dimensions. He opened his mouth, trying to speak, but he'd looked at that wrong too because it seemed to be invitation, and his body recalled the rules of kissing better than he because he tilted his head and pressed his tongue against the mouth before him.

He was very aware of the blood in his veins, the pulse in his head, and there seemed to be some reason to stop but he could not think of it, could not think of anything but the fact that this was good, pressed against the wall, hot and angry and still fighting, still alive but in an entirely new way, and he'd definitely not felt this in a long age.

Snape broke away, tore away, staggered backwards as though Harry was pulling at him, and Harry stared at him with new eyes.

He looked wild and flushed and horrified, and Harry began to wonder what it meant. Why?

Harry didn't realise he'd spoken aloud until Snape turned to stare into the fire.

"Why not," he said flatly, and laughed. Harry closed his eyes, tried to reassemble his world into something he could understand.

"Seemed like a good idea at the time?" he said weakly, attempting to smile.

"It has never seemed like a good idea," said Snape.

It took Harry a moment to figure out what it was about that sentence that chilled him.

"Meaning... you've thought about it before."

"You don't know me half as well as you think you do," said Snape.

"But I want to!" said Harry, with rash honesty. Snape looked at him, finally, and raised an eyebrow.

"You'd be horrified down to your Gryffindor core," he said.

Harry crossed to him again, reached out to make Snape face him as he'd tried to do not seconds before. He still wanted to fight, but he wasn't sure any more what he was fighting for.

"You don't know me half as well as you think, either," he said.

Snape stared at him, and he looked more real already, and Harry felt like everything was beginning to make a strange sort of sense.

He moved closer.

"This isn't about some weird thing with my mother, is it?" he said quickly. Snape looked appalled.

"No, Potter. I never loved your mother like that."

"Good," said Harry. Snape looked down at the space between them, as if not understanding how it had come to be so small.

"Then what is it about?" said Harry.

"It's about a long-standing and highly inappropriate fixation," said Snape. Harry, who'd thought of Snape nearly every day of his life, found that he understood.

"Then we have something in common," said Harry. "I'd probably add unhealthy, too."

Snape snorted. He was staring at Harry's throat rather than meeting his eyes.

"It's why I'm here, you know," said Harry. "I never could shake the feeling I'd made a lot of mistakes, like we'd both missed the boat, and if we hadn't we might have been brilliant."

Snape swallowed, and he was afraid. And Harry's heart was fluttering wildly, and it felt a little like dropping from the sky.

Harry leaned in. Snape's hand came up to push him away.

"This is the definition of unhealthy, Potter," he murmured. "I I've barely interacted with anyone for more than twenty years. And I was not known for it before that."

"And I've spent the last twenty years in denial about the happiness of the only relationship I've ever had, and I have no idea how to start again," said Harry. "I'm not proposing... I don't know what I'm proposing. I just... want to live."

He paused.

"Live with me," he said. "Figuratively and literally, if you like. Just, come back with me."

Harry leaned closer.

"No," said Snape, and Harry wasn't sure what he was refusing. But he'd be damned if he gave up now.

"Coward," he said, though he'd sworn he wouldn't. Snape reacted instantly, the hand on Harry's chest clenching tight.

"You think you can play with me, Potter?" he growled. "I can hurt you just as much."

"Try it, then," said Harry, and Snape shoved him, hard. Harry fell backwards onto the sofa, pulling at Snape until he overbalanced too, and held on when he tried to rise again.

Snape put two hands on his shoulders again and pinned him.

"You still don't know me," said Snape. "Don't think you've found some clever secret to getting your way. I'm not going to go with you."

"I don't think this is about clever tricks," said Harry. "Why are you fighting me?"

"Because you cannot want me, and pretending you do to get your way is no better than being a whore."

Harry shoved Snape backwards, and didn't stop shoving until Snape hit the wall beside the fire.

"You obviously don't know me either," said Harry, "And you really ought to know this because it hasn't changed. I'm not like that. I don't know what the hell I want, that much should be obvious, but I don't think there's any can't involved in wanting you. And I know what I want to do now, and I'm going to do it."

It seemed less shocking this time, to press his lips to Snape's, as though it were a natural progression. Snape's mouth did not react but his hands did, clenching in Harry's shirt again, and Harry tensed against the shove that would surely move him away, and then Snape's mouth opened as if gasping and everything seemed to fit, to focus tightly on the hot, alien warmth under Harry's tongue. He wanted to moan, wanted to press closer, and Snape groaned and pulled Harry's hips close. His nails bit into Harry's skin through his shirt, clinging, and Harry understood because if Snape tried to get rid of him now, when he'd finally found something to want ?br>
Snape seemed to sense his thought track, because he pulled his mouth away, sideways because there was no space to go back. Harry let his lips touch the neck before him, breathing hard.

"I'm not coming back with you," said Snape, but he sounded less sure. "You can't throw your life away on me."

"I think I already have," said Harry, still against Snape's neck, shivering with Snape's shiver. "Come back with me, and it won't be a problem."

"You're ridiculously stubborn."

"So are you."

Snape's hand found its way into Harry's hair, pulled back hard. Harry stared at him, smiled.

"I'm not nice."

"I'm not even sane."

"You also talk too much."

"You're one to talk, at this point," said Harry. There was still warm body pressed against his, and wild new opportunities to explore, and it did feel something like the feeling he got when flying. He wondered if Snape had some academic comparison to the feeling. He wanted to know, just as he wanted to know everything else.

"You will regret it, when the real world comes," said Snape.

"I'll take that risk," said Harry, pushing Snape's hand away and pinning it to the wall, and kissed him again. A hot, breathy moment of pressed mouths and Snape seemed to break, shoving Harry back towards the sofa and pinning him down, taking what he could as long as his reserve would let him and Harry was happy to allow it, because there'd never been anything like this. Harry scrabbled for purchase, scrabbled to get Snape closer, and Snape tore at his shirt until the buttons broke. Harry laughed into their kiss, wriggled out of the arms, attempted to find a way to remove Snape's robes; Snape was not so accommodating, pinning Harry's wrists to the pillows as he continued his assault.

"This changes nothing," growled Snape, and Harry wondered which of them he was telling. Harry writhed out of his grasp and pulled at Snape's robes again, and Snape allowed it this time because it meant his hands could go to Harry's jeans. Snape was wearing trousers under his robe but no shirt, and Harry reached out to touch the pale skin of his chest, tracing scars he wanted to learn and skin he wanted to feel all over and a dark trail of hair he desperately wanted to follow. But Snape was not interested in Harry's whims, it was too desperate for that instead long fingers slid into Harry's unbuttoned jeans and wrapped around him with plain, shocking surety, and Harry moaned. Snape stopped it, mouth over Harry's with no caution or skill and Harry wanted to do something, anything, but he didn't know how to breathe any more and he really thought he might be pulled over the edge at any minute and it was so different to anything he'd ever felt, ever done and he wanted more. He scrabbled to unzip Snape's trousers and when he succeeded Snape groaned, deep and desperate and guttural, and it made Harry arch up off the sofa. There was nothing even remotely conscious about the kiss now, nothing controlled, and Harry had always been undone by kissing as he came. He shuddered, and Snape was thrusting into his hand, and it was perfect and obscene and urgent and real he bucked up, coming with a cry that met Snape's own as he lost his last shred of control.

Snape fell forward, and Harry could not tell which one of them was shaking slightly. Harry wrapped an arm around Snape and held on.

"This-" began Snape, against his ear, but his voice cracked slightly. Harry could feel him lick his lips.

"This doesn't change anything," repeated Snape, and Harry didn't have to see his face to know that there was doubt there.

"I'm going to go tomorrow," said Harry. "I'm going to go and apologise to my kids. Al would like to meet you."

Snape grunted, and Harry was very aware that they were flushed and messy and still tingling. Snape moved away, fetching his wand to clean up, and Harry smiled at him.

"No," said Snape, and Harry could see the real answer in his eyes.

"We'll see," said Harry. "We'll see."



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