I arrive early again this year, much earlier, in fact. I stayed the night in Hogsmeade with Fred and George and am now within sight of the castle just as the sun is about to come up. It is the moment I've been itching to capture, and I charge on to the vantage point I'd picked out two years ago. I spread out my cloak on the damp ground, then arrange my supplies around me. Although I prefer sketching in charcoal, for this occasion I've brought a set of oil pastels. They are more difficult to work with, but nothing else will do for the panorama I intend to draw now.
When everything is ready, I have to wait for it for a few minutes. When the moment finally arrives, when the first pink shades throw the castle parapets in stark relief, I only watch, letting the colors and angles burn into the photographic plate of my memory. It is breathtaking, and I regret that in the seven years I spent here, I had only seen it a handful of times. When I'm sure that I have it, the sky has lightened enough for me to begin. As the sun slowly moves in the sky, I do sketch after sketch to capture the new light and the changed castle that reflects it. I switch from pastels to charcoal to sketch the lake and the gates. I am lost in my work, enjoying that total immersion in a thing in which the passage of time goes unnoticed. So, he goes unnoticed, until...
I look up, startled. "Severus." I grin up at him, feeling shy all of a sudden. I want to get up, but will disrupt my well-organized art shop spread out on my cloak.
He looks curious, but only says, with an amused smirk, "You're extremely early."
I smirk back, having learned it from a master. "Well, I'd planned to do this last time, but a friend's misfortune prevented me." This is probably a little line I've crossed, referring to him as a friend.
"Ah yes, I remember the circumstances. But I daresay the friend was very grateful for your sacrifice," he counters.
Ha. Leave it to him to say it in such a roundabout way. But I'll take having him call me a friend any way I can.
I make him stand there, wondering how I'll respond. I shrug, then grin as I tell him, "Yes, I believe he was grateful. He actually told me so himself." I am tired of dancing around him like this. I wave at the sketches I've done. "Would you like to see them, Severus?" He looks uncertain, like a child who's just been told he can do something he's been slapped for before. "It's fine, really. I'd like you to see them. Well, just these." I am teasing him, but he doesn't catch on. I intend to show him my portfolio later, in private.
Falling down to his knees on a corner of the cloak, he examines them one by one as I hand them to him. I explain what I was trying to do in each one. He exclaims over the beauty and skill of several of them, but doesn't hesitate to be critical of others.
As he is carefully poring over one of the pastels, I am suddenly acutely aware of how close we are to each other. I can smell the scent of whatever he uses to shower, hear the movement of air as he breathes in and out, feel the heat of his body where his thigh lightly touches mine as we kneel here together. I become aware of the melody of his voice, and when he lays the sketch down to pick up another, I cannot help what I do next.
It is a test of sorts, for myself, perhaps even for him, but I've thought about this for months, so I take this small step. When he reaches over me for the next sketch, I stop him, just my hand on his. When he stills at once and does not pull away, I already have my answer. As I turn slightly toward him, I use my other hand to gently lift his chin. When his eyes meet mine, I move my hand to brush his cheek, a gentle caress that ends with my fingers in the hair at his temple. Even as I feel the frisson of sensation that shoots down from my belly, I see what I hoped I would in his face. He has felt it too, and has closed his eyes. I feel relief that my instincts about him are probably correct. I dearly want to lean in a little further, to close those few small inches between our lips, but I remember where we are, and that we are both avowedly private people.
Without comment, I release him to retrieve the sketch he was about to pick up. I decide that since I have him off balance, I may as well use it to full advantage. "I was surprised you sent me a gift at Christmas." I cast a sideways glance at him, and note that he was not a spy for nothing. If I've shocked him even a little, he is now fully recovered.
"Yes, well, you already thanked me in your owl."
"Still nice to do it in person," I tell him with a small smile.
He purses his lips, then allows himself the smallest of smiles as he asks me softly, "Is that what that was, Harry, a thank you?"
"No," I tell him. "That was more like a question."
He plays along. "And was it answered?"
I leave it alone after that, but I feel more confident that when the time comes, he will hear me out.
He helps me gather up my things. I show him how well I've used the supplies he sent me at Christmas. The charcoals are almost used up, and the pastels are well on their way. As we walk to the castle, I am glad I took the risk and crossed another line. Or whatever that was.
We eat lunch in the Great Hall, where decorations are being put up for tomorrow's celebrations. Professor McGonagall has been eyeing the two of us during the meal, and afterwards pulls me aside.
"I don't know what the two of you have been up to these past four years, but I must tell you it has done Severus a world of good. He even has rare moments of cheerfulness."
I raise my eyebrows in mock horror. "That's frightening to hear, Headmistress, and I can promise you, I had nothing to do with it."
Her eyes crinkle with mirth as she playfully punches my arm. "I must admit, Harry, that I thought Albus must have been senile or sadistic, or both, to do what he did." She gives me a look as she adds, "But he knew the two of you better than anyone. And whatever he had in mind, I think it's done you both good."
I have to ask her. "Professor, do you have any idea what he was really after...what he wanted us..."
She laughs as she waves me off. "Oh, I have an idea or two, but Albus wouldn't want me interfering with his plans." I feel a little disconcerted as I watch her walk away.
Not wanting to fly in the face of our tradition of increasingly early arrivals, I show up in the dungeons a full three hours before midnight. I don't have anything else to do, and to be honest, this is where I want to be anyway.
When he opens the door, I take one look at him and know that he has done this in honor of our yearly "who will surprise who first" challenge. I laugh out loud, and he knows he's won. I concede this graciously, as I know we have the next twenty-seven hours for me to regain lost ground. I have no doubt that I will.
He is wearing a pair of black sweat pants, and a soft, form-fitting black jumper, cashmere by the looks of it. I admire him as he moves to the sideboard, and ask, "Wherever did you get them?"
Walking back with the drinks, he hands me a bottle of beer, then waits till I take a mouthful before replying, "Fred and George picked them up for me."
I spray beer out of my nose, which is probably the effect he was aiming for. "Fred and George?" I ask, incredulous.
"Hmmm. Yes, well, I've been accused of being a mean, solitary drinker, so I've taken to meeting them on a Friday or Saturday night, and find it is much more pleasurable to drink with a friend."
"Fred and George are your friends? I spent the night with them last night. They didn't say a word." I shake my head, trying to get a mental picture of the three of them sitting in the Three Broomsticks over a Firewhiskey.
He looks a little dubious now. "I don't think you could actually call them friends. More like...co-drinkers. We don't talk about anything personal - just news, student gossip, their shop, my book."
"Severus," I tell him firmly, "that's what friends do. They talk...just about things in general. It doesn't have to always be personal. Besides," I sit back, taking in his perplexity, "people who aren't your friends don't go and buy leisurewear for you."
"I suppose not." He is not sure if I'm teasing him.
We sit back and do the perfunctory news review. There are several new professors at Hogwarts, and a number of former students have distinguished themselves by their endeavors, or lack thereof. I wince inwardly as I consider what the staff must think of what I've done with my life.
He notices, or rather intuits this, because he says to me, "Harry, no one here has ever said a word about what you've chosen to do I think that everyone believes you've earned the right, given your accomplishments, to live up to no one's expectations but your own."
"So I deserve to get what I want?" I ask him.
He is not sure, but being Snape, senses a trap. "I didn't say that. I said you have the right to decide what you want and go after it." He pauses, looking at me, puzzled. "It's not the same thing, Harry."
Ah, but in this case it is, Severus. But he will know this soon enough.
I am surprised when he tells me that shortly after the third anniversary, he accepted Ministry protection again. The need for it by now is certainly diminished, since most of the hangers-on have given up and moved on to something else. For some of them, it was Azkaban. He is clear, however, on what had changed his mind.
"Although I do not let fear of reprisals decide what I will do or where I will go, I realize it isn't fair to...people who care about me to repeat the debacle of two years ago."
"I wish you had told me before, Severus," I murmur. When he looks surprised, I chide him. "I worry about you. I would have slept a lot easier had I known." There is mixture of conflicting expressions that plays across his face: objection, confusion... and pleasure. I can see he is about to make an apology, so I cut him off. "Part of having friends, Severus, means you let them know what's going on. Because they care about you." The irony of him being on the receiving end of a lecture on the conduct of friends is not lost on either of us. I am hoping he will let me get away with it. He doesn't.
"So Harry," he settles back, crossing his arms, "speaking of friends...do you have any yet?" He is obviously enjoying that he's turned the conversation.
I decide to shock him. "Do you mean friends that I eat lunch or go to the cinema with...or friends that I bring home and shag myself senseless with?" I affect an innocent expression, hoping I will win round two in the "who will surprise who" challenge. I not only fail to score, but lose a point with his reply.
"Oh definitely the shagging-kind, Harry. I could care less about your lunch dates, but I really do want to hear every scintillating and titillating detail about the ones who hang the moon for you," he bites out.
The air seems to have suddenly gone out of the room. All the confidence that has been growing in me since this morning is gone in an instant. All the thinking and reasoning, all the soul-searching and painful self-exploration, all the hopes that had been kindled by his investment in me last year - -it all seems to evaporate in this one moment with this stunning piece of personal sarcasm and the glare he is sending my way. But I deserve this. Despite knowing how I feel, and hoping that it might even be returned someday, I have managed to come off as flippant and crude. I look away to hide my embarrassment. I know that, at the minimum, I owe him the respectful truth.
Looking into the fire, I say, "I have a few friends that I do things with on the weekends - -we have a meal, see a play...things like that. As for anything more...well I did try. I wanted to, especially after you made such an effort help me...but there hasn't been anyone like that." I can't look at him, afraid of what I'll see there.
"Harry," he says in a gentle voice that tells me he is not angry. "I shouldn't have taken that tone with you. I'm sorry. I'm afraid that any conversation we have about who you're shagging will be a serious one for me, especially given our talk last summer and...certain, other considerations."
I look up at him cautiously, and hope spreads out in my chest as I see the warmth in his eyes, and the faint blush on his cheeks. Oh God...Oh God... I was right about him. I was right. I force myself to breathe. I smile at him tentatively, and feel the huge flood of relief when he nods slightly in return. Not much of an acknowledgment, but given nonetheless.
"I had a few...dates. And we even got to the point where I honestly did try...to be intimate...but...oh hell, Severus," I blurt out, "I can't do it. It's just not...me. I'll never be able to...be with someone like that without...you know...really loving him." He is watching me intently, his eyes encouraging. "It all made so much sense the way you explained it. That sex would be something that I'd want because...I would love that person. And none of them...was that person," I finish, looking at him, suddenly unafraid.
His eyes are unfathomable now, and though he sits across from me, I feel that same rush of...connection that had almost overwhelmed me when he'd sat there last year, holding my hands, explaining how normal I was...and how wonderful it all would be when I found the right person.
The room is so utterly silent that I can hear him breathing, as I'm sure he can hear me. There is something electric in the air that waits for one of us to speak or move. I am relieved when Experience speaks first.
"You must be very sure then, Harry, given your requirements for such a relationship, that you make your choice wisely. Because once you've given yourself to someone like that, you can never take it back." He pauses for a moment to let me think about this, then adds in a voice so soft and low that I almost have to strain to hear him. "And the one who will accept you on such terms will be loath to let you go once such a gift is given." In case I missed it, he rephrases it for me. "The gift is not the sex, Harry...it's you, yourself."
His eyes hold mine for what seems like forever.
The clock begins to strike, and he looks to the mantel and laughs. "It's midnight, and you must be exhausted after getting up in time to sketch the sunrise," he teases. I laugh as I agree, and watch as he moves to his desk for something. I look down and realize that this breathtaking exchange between the two of us has made me uncomfortably hard. I squirm in my chair to shift myself, and wonder, grumbling, about his state of affairs. When he walks back over to me, I fully expect him to hold out a Galleon, but instead he hands me a wrapped gift.
"Happy Birthday, Harry."
I sit up straight in surprise, not caring if he sees my erection, then scoot to the side as he moves to sit beside me. Although I am now exactly twenty-three, my reaction to gifts has not changed. Never having been the "spare and keep the wrapping" type, I rip it off in two strokes, and find a heavy, black volume with a gold-embossed title. "Potions of the Second War" and there beneath it in smaller lettering "Severus Snape, Potions Master."
"Oh Severus, you did it!" I exult. "You actually did it. I know you said you were working on it, but I had no idea you were this close." I smooth the leather cover with my fingers, as pride for his accomplishment wells up inside me. It is a compilation of all the potions used, most of them designed by him, in the second movement against Voldemort. Many of them the Wizarding world will be seeing for the first time.
He reaches over to open the book to the cover page. And there it is, what he is really giving me. Printed in the middle of the page beneath the title and his name, is the dedication: "To Albus Dumbledore, Mentor and Master Planner", and just below it, "To Harry Potter, The Boy-Who-Saved-Us-All". I sit in stunned silence, till he reaches over with one arm and pulls me back into the seat beside him. His arm around my shoulder, he holds me close. I sigh in contentment as I lay my head on his shoulder, snuggling in against him to get as close as I can. He laughs softly as he pulls me even closer still.
I murmur sleepily as the clock is striking again. "Whose turn is it to toss, Severus?"
He nuzzles my hair gently with his mouth, and I hear him say, "I think the Galleon days are over, Harry."
Sometime in the night I awake to him shifting uncomfortably on the couch. I sit up groggy and disoriented. "I'll take the floor, Severus. You'll never be able to sleep this way."
"Ssshh, Harry. Get up a minute."
I stand in the dark and wait, not able to see what he's doing. His hand reaches out to find me, then pulls me down.
"Lay down, there's room for both of us."
And there is. As I swing my legs up beside him, he folds me into his arms. Scissoring a leg between mine, he settles us back with a blanket on top. Relaxing into the warmth of him, I burrow my face into the crook of his neck, and breathe, "Severus, this is fantastic."
Feeling me grow hard against him, he laughs softly. "Yes, Harry, it is."
I awake slowly, and feel a sudden pang of loss when I find myself alone on the couch. As I remember how good it felt to fall asleep like that, I feel myself grow hard at the thought. Not quite awake, I groan as I roll over, rubbing myself through the blanket. I've had almost a full twenty-four hours of this torture, and the need for release is almost unbearable. It's his fault, of course, and I hear him laugh from close by. I open my eyes and see him sitting on the couch across from me, smiling into his tea.
"Missing me, Harry?" he teases.
I only groan in response, then rearrange myself before I sit up, keeping the blanket in place. "You're enjoying this, aren't you, stringing me along, watching me suffer. How very Slytherin of you," I tease back.
He sets down his tea, and tries to scowl, but fails miserably. I can see that he wants to smile. "No need to lob insults in the general direction of my house, Mister Potter. This is intensely more personal, so I suggest you refocus your complaints to the responsible party."
I've always admired what he can do with words. For years I've watched, and all too many times been on the receiving end, as that mouth figuratively brought victims to their knees. A rather apropos mental picture in this case, although *who* I would like to be on their knees right now is a toss-up. "Alright, Professor." I try to make my tone menacing, which I have learned from a master. "I feel like the mouse to your cat. I know what I want, and I think you want the same thing too, so why don't we just admit it and get down to it?" I pause. "You're playing with me, and right now, I want to do more than play."
He's off his couch and on me in an instant, pressing me back with the full weight of his body, his hands pressing my own to the back of the couch. His face is so close to mine that I can't even focus, and he returns the menacing tone without effort. He is, after all, the master of menace.
"If I were playing with you, Harry, you wouldn't even know it. But, I am not playing with you. Passion," he says the word so close to my lips that I feel the breath of it, "is a dance of subtlety, the rewards of which I hope to teach you."
I want desperately for those lips to move that last bit toward me, so that I can take them with my own. As if he has heard me, he slowly angles his face and brushes my lips with his. I feel the heat streak down through me, and I try to push into him with both my lips and my body. But he withdraws ever so slightly until he feels me relax. He moves in again, this time covering my lips with his parted mouth, sliding his tongue along the outline of them. My heart is pounding wildly as I let him explore, then I cannot contain myself any longer. I try to push against the weight of him, try to pull my hands free, try to push my mouth into his, but he once again withdraws just beyond my reach, still keeping me pinned.
"Dance, Harry," he breathes into the hair by my ear.
Using his tongue, he probes the inside of that ear, pushing deep inside as I gasp, then draws it out to trace the lobe slowly and deliberately. I am throbbing with need now, need like I've never known before. I've given up trying to force contact, as he pulls himself back each time that I do. I can only lie here and pant helplessly, while he does what he will.
Finished with my ear, he slides his way back across my cheek, taking his time, drawing small sensuous circles with the tip of his tongue. He kisses my forehead, then my eyelids, then stops at my mouth. I can hear the need in his voice as he whispers this time.
"Sex is like the tango, Harry. There's a lot of fancy footwork that makes it beautiful to watch, but the signature step is the plunge."
And plunge he does. He covers my mouth with his own, and this time the tongue is relentless. It searches deeply, and leaves no spot or corner unexplored. He traces my teeth, sucks at my tongue and each lip in turn, bites and sucks until I think I will explode beneath him. When he finally pulls back, my breath is ragged and gasping, my lips swollen and bruised, and I can't help but push my head forward to try and recapture him.
"Severus," I moan as I feel him pull slightly away. "Fuck the dance, Severus, just - fuck me," I tell him in frustration, and I hear him laugh softly. As I feel him release my arms and ease his weight off me, I open my eyes.
His forehead against mine, I see his lips are swollen too, as he whispers, "Oh I will, Harry, I definitely will. But for now," he pulls back so that I can see the warmth in his eyes, "I think you need a more immediate relief."
As his mouth closes over me again, I feel him pull the blanket away from between us, then his hands tug at the buttons of my pants. He continues to suck and probe at my mouth until I gasp as my erection springs free. He slides to the floor in front of me as he gently pushes my knees apart. I am shaking now, with need and anticipation of what I know he is about to do. He sits there for a moment, and takes in the spectacle of me, obviously pleased at the state he has put me in: the cheeks flushed with passion, the swollen parted lips, the quivering limbs, the throbbing erection, and the eyes filled with desire.
Satisfied with what he sees, he leans in to take me. He doesn't waste much time with exploration here, as he knows that I cannot last much longer. He cups me gently with both hands, then draws me completely into that warm, wet mouth. He grunts in satisfaction when I scream out his name in pleasure. Even as he has me completely in his mouth, he is doing amazing things with that tongue, swirling and sucking as he pulls back, then moves forward again, taking me deeply into his throat. My hands have found his hair, and I work my fingers through it. I resist the urge to push his head into me, to make him suck harder, move faster. He sets up a gentle rhythm of pulling back and pushing in, sheathing and unsheathing me.
My back arches with each movement, while his hands on my hips gently restrain my reflex to thrust violently into him. I am all too quickly at the edge, and he stills himself to let me force his head in to keep it there. I hear a roaring sound in my ears, and bright flashes of light fill my vision as my body jerks wildly against him. In spasm after spasm, I empty myself into that warm, waiting mouth, as I cry out his name, amazed at this involuntary thrusting that has taken over my body. With the final, uncontrollable arch of my back, I am totally spent, gasping for air, soaking with sweat. I experience the most incredible sense of completeness that I have ever known in my life, and open my eyes to tell him so. I see him there with his head resting against my thigh. He has to be exhausted too, I realize.
"Severus," I gasp, and reach down to pull him up. He sits back on his heels for a moment, and smiles as he takes in my post-climactic glow. Moving up to press against me, gently this time, he cups my cheeks in his hands, and kisses me thoroughly and sweetly. I am surprised at the taste of myself, but it's not unpleasant, and he certainly doesn't seem to mind.
He settles me back into the couch, warm in his arms, and I am on the edge of consciousness when I hear him whisper into my hair, "Sleep, Harry, for just a little while. It's natural to need to do so. Sleep." I feel him press his lips against my hair again, then I obey.
When I awake a short time later, he still holds me and strokes my hair with his hand. I struggle up so that I can look at him. He raises his eyebrows, an amused question behind them.
"Severus," I tell him, suddenly awkward with words, "that was...unbelievable. I never in my wildest dreams imagined it could be so..." I cannot find the word, so I finish, "...thank you. It was worth waiting for." I can tell I've said the right thing by the glint in his eyes. I let my head fall back to his chest, and caress his arm for awhile as we sit in comfortable silence. Then the realization hits me with a jolt.
I move my hand casually from his arm to his chest, as I continue to stroke him through the flimsy jumper. Ever so slowly, I work my way downward, onto his thigh, then caress my way inward and upward. I can hear, even feel, his heart begin to beat faster as I insinuate my hand up between his legs. He is breathing audibly against my hair, and a small moan escapes him as I insistently push his thighs apart.
"Severus," I smile into his chest. "Doesn't it take two to tango?" It's a rhetorical question, but I know he will answer.
"Oh Harry," he gasps out, "it definitely does."
So we do the dance again, but this time I lead. I am clumsy and inexperienced, but genuinely motivated. He is patient and gentle, helping me find my own way with his body. I find it's much as he said last year. I know what to do, and as love is here, the sex finds its own way. And when he finally cries out my name as he comes, I swallow the whole essence of him down, and smile in satisfaction that I've been able to give him such pleasure. Not that I'd expected to be found lacking in pleasing him. After all, I've learned from a master.
It is inevitable that we are having the talk. Actually, I am surprised that the sex came before the talk. Well, in whatever order it has come, I came prepared for the talk, as I knew that I would have to convince him of my feelings.
We are spending the morning much as we have the past four years. He is working at his desk, as I work on a sketch, my supplies spread out on the couch beside me. There is little to differentiate this morning from the ones of past years, except that the glances that we occasionally cast at each other are now filled with a slow, burning heat. But we stick to our routine, and after lunch move to the couches in the sitting room. I notice that he takes the one opposite me.
When he realizes that I notice this, he explains. "I think cooler heads must prevail for the moment, Harry." He is startled when I laugh out loud at this particular choice of words, but he catches it in a moment, and laughs too. It takes several attempts to compose myself, which he watches with amusement.
"All right," I say, finally serious. "Let's talk about this. I want you to know up front, that I came prepared to talk about this."
If he is surprised, he does not show it. "This being?" he trails off innocently.
"That I love you...more than a friend. And now, I think that maybe you," I find that I cannot presume to say it for him, "feel the same way about me." Without warning, I realize that I have just won an unexpected point in the "who will surprise who" challenge.
He gropes for words. "Harry," he says hesitantly, and suddenly I'm gripped with fear. "Are you sure about this?" He sees the look on my face and leans forward to catch my eyes. "I'm not displeased...far from it." After searching my face, he sits back and adds softly, "And I assure you, the sentiment is returned."
Ah. I am not surprised that he has trouble saying the words. But I can afford to wait for that. I decide to take control of the conversation.
"I've known it for at least the past six months. I suspected it before, but when you sent the gifts at Christmas, it all came together."
He is stroking his chin as he considers this. I am distracted by watching those hands, but refocus when he says, "I respect what you feel, Harry, and would never trivialize it in any way." The next thing he says is a bombshell, however. "Do you know what infatuation is, Harry?"
I react immediately. "Oh puh-lease. I'm not a sixteen year old, Severus. Give me a break here. I'm an adult, and I've been through the paces enough to know what that's like. For crying out loud, when you were my age, you were..."
"...a reformed Death Eater who'd already experienced enough heartbreak for a life time. I don't want you to ever know such pain." He makes an effort to glower.
"Unfortunately, Severus, in case you've forgotten, I already have. So spare me the concern. You're the one who said I have the right to go after what I want. And so I have...and so I will."
He picks up his drink, then summons the bottle from the sideboard when he sees it is empty. While he pours, he asks without looking at me, "How do you know it's real, Harry?"
I am ready with an answer, not because I'd wanted to be prepared if he asked, but because I'd agonized over this very question for myself months ago. "I've never really loved anyone before. I've tried...but never. You and I, Severus, we have this connection. It's always been there, from the very start. I don't know why, but it has. And you...see me."
"See you?" he asks, a strange expression on his face.
"Yes, you see me. I think you always have. The first time I was aware of it was...was mind-blowing." I stop, remembering the occasion.
"You have to do better than that, Harry," he chides. "If you can't put it into words, then you don't fully understand it yourself."
I sigh. I should've known he wouldn't abide the abbreviated version. So much is at stake here, but I know I can do this. "All right. I've always admired you." He looks rightfully skeptical as I continue. "Even when I hated you. You're intelligent, articulate, perceptive. All the things I thought my father must have been." I can tell he doesn't like the comparison to my father, so I go on. "You had enough personal integrity to throw away a life when you found you'd made a mistake, even though you lost everything. And you started over, when most would have given up." He is completely still as he listens, his eyes fixed on mine as I recite his curriculum vitae. "Dumbledore respected you...and loved you. That fact alone told me that all those years leading up to the battle, I was totally missing it somehow, when it came to you. Those last two years, with you and Lupin, that's when things started to change, although I didn't realize it at the time. I knew I could depend on you. You made me feel safe, and I wanted desperately to please you, although it seemed like I never could." I stop for a moment as I remember those emotions.
"After the last battle, most of the devastation and loneliness that nearly did me in was because I lost you too. Then that first year you came to me, that moment when I realized that you see me..." I pause, looking over to him to see if he's with me.
He nods and tells me, "I know precisely the moment to which you're referring."
I am grateful that he tells me this. "That's when I realized that I missed you. You see, part of being whole, of feeling complete, is having at least one other person who sees you." I am thinking back over our anniversaries.
I get up and sit in front of him on the floor.
"I think I knew...how I felt about you back in the third year when you were so injured, and afterward I had to take a good look at how I reacted to all that. I was frantic until you were out of danger. I would've changed places with you that night if I could've, to spare you some of what you went through. And I was giddy with relief when you were back to yourself...but very angry with you too, that you'd taken such a chance. I couldn't bear the thought of losing you."
He has let me talk this long without interruption, has relived these moments with me, and seen it from my perspective. I only have one last thought to add. "So, you see me, Severus, and that's the main thing. Then last year with that talk about my sexuality...it all came together. You practically came out and told me you were gay, too. So I figured it out over the past year, that the only person I could ever love like that, who could complete me, who could make sex an expression of all that... was you." I wait for his reaction.
His eyes are bright with something, as he smiles and concedes, "Not bad for twenty-three." Although the words are a jest, I see by the appreciative look that he gives me that I have passed some test.
Satisfied that he has not rejected me, I retake my place on the couch.
Although he has not actually said the "L" word, he has confessed the sentiment, so I will not let him off the hook. I still feel unsure of him, and it is probably his recognition of this that makes him give in without a struggle.
"How do you know that I'm the...?" As I struggle with the word, he rescues me with his answer.
"Oh, I know." His tone tells me he does.
"That's not fair. You made me explain in great detail. So how do you know, Severus?"
"Well there's this...connection." He laughs, but then stops suddenly at the look on my face. "I'm not making fun, Harry. It's funny because it's so very true. That you sense this connection as I do, and that you were the first to express it...well, for me, that's priceless. It's a confirmation, a validation for me - that we both felt this, experienced it quite independently."
He cocks his head at me in question, and seems to need a sign from me that I understand this reassurance before he goes on.
"Okay. That's good then...that you feel the connection too. It's just strange...since you seemed to hate me for all those years." I shudder as I remember why I believed this.
Something dark flashes in his eyes. "Do you remember that first year I came to you in London, and you told me that all anyone ever saw was Harry Potter? I returned here and thought about that, and realized that I was guilty of seeing you that way as well." He pauses here, then says, "Harry, look at me."
When I do, he nods and continues. "So I endeavored to set aside Harry Potter, and examine what I knew about the boy with his name. And I found someone altogether different. I found a boy with no family of his own, mistreated by those entrusted with his care, myself included, a boy who was denied a childhood, and given a legacy that would've taken the heart away from most grown men, a boy who rose to the challenge, a boy who was fragile and weak but accepted his destiny to face the evil of our time, a boy who completed the task set before him, a boy who decided that when it was done, enough was enough. And I found there was much to admire, affirm and love in that boy. My own treatment of you was without excuse, but in the end, I came to see you. And what I see is...most endearing."
When he finishes, he sits back and waits for me to speak. I am too full at the moment for words. He sees me.
"Do I pass?"
I nod. "You pass." I am lost in his eyes for a long moment. "So what do we do now?" I ask dreamily.
He looks slightly alarmed that I've moved on to this so quickly. Setting his drink down, he comes and sits beside me. I turn to face him, and something in his manner makes me think I'm not going to like what he has to say.
"You'll go back to London, like you planned. And I will stay here and teach as usual." He cuts off my objection before I can even open my mouth. "You've spent four years at your studies, Harry, and now you have only this last year of practicum to complete. It would be foolish not to finish. Surely you can see that."
He is right, of course. I don't know what it is I thought we'd suddenly do that would change this.
"I'll come to you next year as usual, and we'll see from there. I know you think you're sure of what you want, but let's give it a year, and if you still...want me...then so be it."
He finishes in a voice strangely not his own. He's pledged himself to me, after a fashion, while leaving a way out for me if I choose to take it.
"I don't like it," I tell him, determined to be mature. "You're right. I have to go back and finish, and you need to stay here and teach. It makes sense. But," I reach over to touch his face to make him look at me, "I won't change my mind, Severus. It's you that I want. I'm sure of it."
He takes my hand in his and plants the briefest of kisses on the palm, then carefully sets it aside before leaning in to say to me softly, "I'm counting on it. Believe me, Harry, I am. But if you decide otherwise...you realize I've left you with your virtue intact?"
I snort in disbelief, as the slow smile spreads across his face.
"Oh but I have, Harry. Technically, with no penetration, you remain a virgin."
The truth of what he's said hits me and I look at him in dismay. "You did this on purpose, didn't you?"
"But of course. I wouldn't take that from you in the lust of a moment. I have to be sure that I'm the one, because you told me yourself, that that would be the only way you would offer it."
I don't know whether to feel outrage or gratitude. "I wanted you to...just so you know," I grumble as he reaches out to ruffle my hair
"It will be all the more worth the waiting, Harry, when it's offered freely. Part of the dance," he teases.
That evening after supper, I finally bring out my sketchbooks and portfolio. He doesn't comment as I make piles on the floor, sorting them out. I sit back on my heels when I'm ready and then motion him over beside me. I owe him an explanation for withholding this for so long. I gesture at the sketchbooks.
"These are me, Severus. It's what art does. It bares the very soul of the artist. There are things here, emotions I could never express, fears I've entertained, rages I've felt, beauty that's left me breathless, love I couldn't put into words. It's all here...kind of like a paper Pensieve." I glance up to find he is looking at me, not the sketchbooks. Heartened, I go on. "I couldn't bear for you to see all that until last year. I was really tempted then, but I still couldn't trust you with it. Because whoever sees these," I nod at the books, "sees me."
"But I already do," he tells me.
We take a long time looking through them all. I can tell that he's moved beyond words by what I show him. I give him the sketch of Dumbledore's hands to keep for his own, the one I kept him from seeing that very first year. He gets up and props it on the mantel while I gather the ones we have looked at into a pile at the side. There is now just one sketchbook left in front of me.
"One more, Severus. I've saved it for last."
As he settles beside me, I know that I'll take the last point in the "who will surprise who" contest. I turn over the top page, then sit back and wait for his reaction.
"Good Gods, Harry."
I move to turn to the next one when he stops me, sliding the book over in front of himself so that he will control the page-turning. Relieved of this task, I move away to the side to watch him. He is thunder-struck, his face full of awe as he slowly turns page after page. He stops to spend longer on some than others. He shoots me a glance halfway through, and I'm gratified to see his eyes glistening with tears.
These are sketches of him, of course, some done from memory, others from real life: Snape the Potions Master in front of his class, Snape in the hall with his robes billowing around him, Snape at an Order meeting, Snape at the Pensieve, Snape in the training room, Snape in the Great Hall, Snape at the Headmaster's bedside, Snape at his desk during our first anniversary, Snape in my flat during the second one.
But now the sketches change, as they slowly morph from Snape to Severus: Severus at that moment of seeing, Severus suffering through Cruciatus, Severus lifting his glass in a toast, Severus looking up at my balcony, Severus in my flat during the fourth anniversary - there are many of that year. The final one is the one I've drawn just this morning. It is Severus with his head thrown back, just moments after I've pleasured him.
It's a record of the journey he's made over the years, and my perception of it. The question of who has changed, the subject or the artist, is a muddled one. There's no clear answer, I suspect. We started out alone, and now are together. We've changed each other, and in so doing, have changed ourselves.
After the fireworks and our heartfelt toast to Albus Dumbledore, there is not even a discussion on whether or not I will stay.
"The Headmistress will wonder about me not using the room I've arranged."
He laughs. "I doubt it. I imagine she'll be rather pleased at the development. Although," he pauses thoughtfully, "I'm a little surprised that we haven't heard from Albus yet." We both ponder on that for awhile.
He makes the suggestion that we sleep in his bed, but I flat out refuse. "No, I don't think so, Severus. I'm sorry." He looks confused so I explain. "I'd rather savor that experience next year, on my own turf. I trust that you'll make it worth waiting for?"
"I promise," he tells me.
We are on the couch again, so pleasantly occupied that we do not even notice when the clock strikes midnight.