The Unexpected Side Effect of Draught No. 9

BY : lovetoseverus
Category: Harry Potter > Slash - Male/Male > Harry/Snape
Dragon prints: 24396
Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter, nor the characters from it. I do not make any money from the writing of this story.


Chapter 20: The Dinner Guest



Harry woke to the dimly-lit sight of Severus’ lab. It was quiet, almost eerily so, and he was alone. He ignored the way his heart began sinking into his chest, and instead trailed his unfocused eyes along the shelves closest to him, watching as the books and cauldrons and glass jars blurred together in a fuzz of gray, indistinct shapes.



Where is Severus? he wondered absently, the simple query momentarily distracting his mind from the remembered visuals of their session – a place where his emotions were still floating uncomfortably close to the surface. Sitting up slowly, he perched on the edge of the chaise and let the dizziness pass as he cradled his head in his hands, his elbows on his knees.



Before he could stop it, Harry’s mind began to pull him back into the memory of his parents, all at once resisting and giving in. He felt if he could just reach his mind out far enough, he’d again be able to hear the softness of his mum’s laugh, or the pride that flowed from his dad, or the warmth of both their smiles. They were feelings more than thoughts, as though Lily and James were real somewhere, but just beyond the tips of his grasp. Swallowing hard against the bitter taste of longing that rose in his throat, Harry forced his awareness back into the lab.



He startled when the door suddenly opened. A sliver of light crept up the floor towards him, widening to a large wedge as Severus entered. Harry squinted until Severus moved aside and let the door close softly behind him, once again plunging the room into near darkness.



Harry cleared his throat, his voice rough from disuse. “Did everything go okay?”



“Unless your mind contains an exact duplicate of my quarters, then yes,” Severus said, amusement briefly coloring his tone. “There is one thing, however,” he added, and Harry froze, panic seizing his breath.



“What?” he asked, not sure he wanted to know the answer.



“It is seven o’clock.”



Harry’s brow furrowed in confusion. “And?”



“Do you not recall what time we started?”



Harry thought on it a minute, trying to remember when he’d arrived. “I think it was around three, wasn’t it?”



“It was.”



“Which was four hours ago,” Harry finished unnecessarily. “But I thought you said we were only going to do a half-hour session?”



“I did. I can only presume that linking created a circumstance I could not have foreseen, scientifically or otherwise.” Severus paused for a moment before clarifying, no doubt taking in the look of concern on Harry’s face. “The session time doubled.”



Harry’s eyes went wide. “So we split a potion in order to do thirty minutes, but since we were linked, it did an hour anyway?”



“It appears so.”



“And that’s why our recovery time was three hours instead of… however long it should have been?”



“Yes.”



Harry groaned, looking absently to the side. “God, no wonder! I thought that session seemed long, especially when the scene faded and your lab reappeared. It felt like that part was never going to end.” In truth, Harry wished the session itself could have gone on indefinitely, but the end of it, right before he faded to sleep, was excruciating. The lab had never seemed so cold and desolate once the warmth of his parents’ presence was gone; it had almost seemed to hold him there, dangling him about in some mockery of non-existence. He frowned at the memory, feeling the pain of loss settle like a lead weight in his heart.



“How long have you been awake?” he managed.



“Less than ten minutes.”



Harry nodded, relieved that the potion seemed to have affected them both similarly. Standing, he shook out his legs a bit and scrubbed a hand over his face. As casually as he could, he told Severus he was going to head home, citing exhaustion and a desire to sleep off the rest of the potion. Really, he just needed some time to think and didn’t want an audience. To his relief, Severus only looked at him briefly before nodding, then followed him into the antechamber. Harry shrugged back into his coat, then felt the contents of his inside left pocket.



“Oh, I almost forgot – here.”



Harry pulled out a long, silvery object and held it out for Severus. Their fingers brushed slightly as Severus accepted the invisibility cloak, sending a small thrill of connection zipping up Harry’s arm. Severus gasped lightly, so quiet as to almost be inaudible, but Harry knew he’d felt it, too. He looked up at Severus and saw something keen in that dark gaze, but didn’t know if it was in response to the cloak or their touch.



Harry recalled feeling something similar the first time he’d ever touched the cloak, the thrum of its imbued magic tickling at his senses while the fabric slid between his fingers. And he was sure he must have touched Severus’ hand at some point over the last six months, but couldn’t remember experiencing that charge before. Curious, but figuring he’d just make things awkward if he attempted to comment, he turned and hopped into the Floo instead. It was probably just the cloak, anyway.



With little more than a nod and a wave, he called out his destination and was gone.



 



SSHP-SSHP-SSHP



 



“Harry!”



At the sound of his name – and the familiar voice – Harry turned and spotted Hermione running towards him down the path leading away from Hogwarts. When she caught up, she stopped for a minute to catch her breath, her hand braced on his shoulder.



“Where are you going?” she finally asked.



“Dunno,” he said. He stuffed his hands inside the pockets of his coat and scrunched up his face, trying to encourage some feeling back into it from where it had got wind-blown by the chilly, November air.



“Are you all right?” She leaned in, a concerned look on her face.



“I just needed some fresh air.” Harry looked back towards the castle, its many turrets and spires little more than a ghostly apparition in the early winter fog. “I didn’t even realize I was so close to Hogwarts.”



Hermione put her hands on his cheeks and rubbed them gently, no doubt trying to coax some warmth into them. “How long have you been out here? Your face is bright red!” When he didn’t answer, she merely regarded him speculatively, then looked up the road towards Hogsmeade. “There’s a new cafe that opened last week that serves some fancy coffees. Care to join me?”



He shrugged. “No thanks, I’d rather stay outside.”



“Okay,” she conceded, a soft smile on her face. “How about I join you, then?”



Harry looked over at Hermione and smiled half-heartedly, nodding. Not much got by her, but he loved her for it. On the one hand, he felt bad that he always seemed to be unloading his problems on her; on the other, he realized how sorely he needed her right now even if he didn’t know how to ask. He hadn’t slept at all and knew he must look like shite. At first the cold wind on his face had felt good, waking him up and reminding him he was still there; still alive. But after a time, his skin had got so cold that it just became itchy, and eventually he stopped feeling it altogether.



They began to walk the path in silence, two pairs of footprints stretching out behind them in the light dusting of snow. Harry stared absently into the distance, his mind overburdened with thoughts of his fifth session, his parents, and their fallen comrades in the war. Finally, he could go no further, and at the crest of the hill, he stopped and leaned against the stone half-wall behind them.



“How do you do it, Hermione?”



She stopped walking and sidled up beside him, her head tipped slightly. “How do I do what?”



“How do you…” Harry paused and took a deep breath. “How do you stop dwelling on the past and feeling guilty about everything? You make it look so easy. You get up every day and go to school and take care of things – and you’re getting married! – and I just can’t… I don’t even know what comes next anymore. I just feel like I’m…” He sighed, trailing off.



“Adrift?” Hermione supplied after a moment, and Harry looked up at her, the recognition of that anchoring his fractured thoughts.



“Yes… adrift. Like I can’t shake this nagging feeling that nothing is as it should be. That I’m not where I should be.”



“I’ve felt that way before,” she offered, and Harry looked over at her. She lifted herself onto the half-wall to sit, her feet no longer touching the ground. “I was an eleven-year-old girl, new to the Wizarding world. At the time, I wanted nothing more than to prove myself worthy in a place I wasn’t quite convinced I belonged; a place that forced me to rethink everything I had come to believe and know. I began studying ahead of everyone and reading anything I could get my hands on, but eventually I just fell back on the old habit of being a bossy know-it-all to hide the fact I felt utterly out of place.”



Harry stared at her in disbelief. “That’s not possible. You belong here more than anyone else I know. And you always seemed to know how to do everything! You still do!” he added emphatically, and she smiled at him.



“Perhaps. But it doesn’t change the fact those first couple of months were horrible for me.”



“So what changed? How did you find your place?”



Her smile grew wistful. “It was two friends, actually. Their extraordinary courage, selflessness and idiocy saved me from a mountain troll.” Harry’s mouth opened slightly, his breath caught in his throat. Hermione smiled gently at him. “We’re not designed to do this alone, Harry. Books and cleverness, that’s all fine and good, but it doesn’t mean much without people around to help you. People who care about you. You taught me that.”



Harry let her words wash over him, accompanied by a feeling of gratitude and awe; it was the same feeling he got whenever he thought of Hermione’s loyalty and bravery during the year leading to Voldemort’s defeat. And really, for all the years before that, too. She had never wavered in her support of him. And he couldn’t have done it – any of it – without her.



Yet it did bring to mind all those who had perished. “A lot of good that did for Fred and Remus and Sirius and the others.”



“Harry, you mustn’t feel guilty for that. There was nothing you could have done.”



“Then why do I feel so guilty? If it wasn’t my fault, then how do I get over it?” The flare of anger that rose in him tempered when Hermione’s hand touched his arm and began rubbing in a soothing fashion. He released the fist he had made, his fingers throbbing and numb in response.



“Well, how did you get over your guilt regarding Severus?”



Harry’s head snapped up, a glare perched and ready to go. But when he met her soft gaze, he realized she had not meant it as a challenge. Rather, the correlation deflated his anger. He sighed and considered her question.



“I don’t know,” he admitted. “After I watched his memories, I saw I had been wrong about him all along. Sure, he didn’t treat me very well in school, but I understand that now. And besides, he kept saving my life.” Harry paused to reflect on the tumultuous relationship he had shared with Severus for seven years, and then on the one seemingly insignificant event – caused by a paperwork error, no less – that had changed everything.



“When we got stuck in a room together at St. Mungo’s,” Harry continued, “everything was different. I felt like I knew him in a way that I hadn’t before, that somehow I understood him. I thought he would understand me, too, so I took a chance and started talking to him. In the beginning I really just wanted to thank him for everything he had done, for all the sacrifices he’d made, but figured I should try something easy at first so he didn’t just toss me out on my arse. He might remember that part a bit differently, though.” A dark chuckle escaped Harry’s lips before he sobered again. “Then once I’d got to know him, I barely remembered the person I thought he was and only knew him as Severus. You know?”



“So all it really took was a change of perspective…”



Harry shrugged. “Yeah. I guess so.”



Hermione pursed her lips thoughtfully and hummed, but said nothing else.



As Harry lifted himself to sit on the half-wall next to her, a comfortable silence grew in the space between the two friends. His thoughts once again returned to his parents and the magic that had allowed him to have even the tiniest glimpse of what it may have been like to know them for real. He wondered if he were worse off now, knowing what he was missing; before, he hadn’t anything to compare it to, not really. The dull ache of loss lanced through him again and he frowned, picking absently at a loose rock below his fingers.



“I could have had a brother or sister, or maybe both,” he said eventually.



“What?”



“My parents. If they had lived, I would have grown up with them as a wizard, in a magical household, knowing other magical kids. I might have even had a brother or sister of my own, instead of an aunt and uncle who hated me.”



“Oh, Harry.” Hermione leaned closer and placed her hand back on his forearm.



“But if I had grown up with a family and not a famous name…” He paused to swallow. “I probably wouldn’t be the same person. Maybe I wouldn’t even have been a Gryffindor.”



“Not like—” she started, but Harry interrupted.



“I might not have become friends with you or Ron.”



After a moment, she seemed to pick up his train of thought. She nodded. “It’s possible.”



“Voldemort might still be alive.”



“Yes,” she agreed. “Everything might have been different.”



Harry exhaled soundly. “I don’t know why I’d never thought about this before. All I ever wanted was to have my parents, but…”



“But what?”



“If they were alive, it could have changed everything. It’d be a whole other life I’d be getting and I…” his voice hitched in a gasp as he tried to finish.



Suddenly, a new awareness seemed to descend upon his mind, a clarity of thought that washed over him like a soft wind. It showed him the difficult things and the good things, the high moments and low ones, flashes of a life not yet lived and visuals of the life he had; things he would not have been open to seeing, let alone embracing, even fifteen minutes ago. His life may not be perfect, or even what he expected, but he still had one – and it was his.



Almost as though Hermione had seen it, too, her next words put meaning to his jumble of thoughts (as her words often did), translating a complex series of emotions into something he could understand.



“There are times I think about that, too, Harry. What if I hadn’t received a letter from Hogwarts? It’s not as though I have some rich history of magic in my family, as I’m sure you’re aware. Without that letter, that one sheet of crested parchment, I never would have known about magic. I wouldn’t have met you, or Ron, or helped defeat Voldemort. I would have stayed in the Muggle world and got a job, and I might’ve even been happy, unaware this whole other life was out there waiting for me, this whole other possibility.”



She paused and Harry watched her intently, his heart tapping against his ribcage. She gave a small smile and turned to face him. “Were there times I wished I could’ve left it behind and become a dentist like my parents? Yes. Definitely. But I also believe there was a reason for it, for all of it, even if we don’t understand it. Nobody told us it would be easy, Harry, only that it’d be worth it.”



Knowing he had neither the words nor the emotional wherewithal to respond in that moment, Harry simply reached over and wrapped his arms around Hermione, hugging her so tightly against him that she eventually had to tap his arm so he’d relent a bit and allow her to breathe. Chuckling an apology, Harry released her, gratified when he saw complete understanding looking back at him in her misty, brown gaze.



 



SSHP-SSHP-SSHP



 



It was late afternoon on Wednesday when Harry decided he couldn’t take his self-imposed isolation any longer. Although barely three days had passed, he was feeling desperate to be in the presence of people again. Or perhaps just one person.



His conversation with Hermione had been enlightening in many ways, but had done little to alleviate the low-level tremors of stress that continued to wrack his body, setting his nerves on edge. He’d eaten very little over the last couple days and had slept even less – neither of which were helping his condition, he knew, but he’d had no appetite and could only manage to toss and turn in his bed. His mind had been unrelenting and cruel in its ability to keep him stuck, replaying the same scenes over and over again in his head.



The session with his parents had been his most difficult to date – not in seeing them, as that had felt very natural and comfortable once the initial reacquainting was done. No, it was that he had had to say goodbye to them again. Not just their apparitions or disembodied voices, as he had before, but the flesh-and-blood versions, with personalities and physical touch.



The real versions, his mind kept chiding him. You were so close, nearly there, and yet you could not make them stay.



Groaning in frustration, Harry rolled over and punched his pillow into a new shape, trying to get comfortable. If he could just sleep, perhaps then the visuals in his mind would subside, the voices would quiet, and the pain in his heart would melt away. At least for a while.



But it was no use. No amount of wishing changed his circumstances, no amount of bargaining brought him peace. The only thing familiar and constant was that sleep eluded him once again.



Even the fact that he could return and visit his parents in a future draught provided no relief, and at first that had shocked him; after all, he’d held on to the promise of that like a drowning man clings to air. But now he supposed it was really just his heart’s way of saying it couldn’t handle any more, not again. The pain was too intimate, too all-consuming. Perhaps it was better to just love his parents, but leave them in his distant past – to be remembered, and cherished as such, not repeatedly dredged up to torture his battered, lonely soul.



Getting out of bed, Harry stalked down the hall and into his bathroom. He wrenched open the cabinet and searched hastily amongst the glass vials and plastic containers, some Muggle, some Wizarding, until he found what he was looking for. Or thought he had, until he tipped the unstoppered vial upside down and realized it was empty.



“Shit,” he cursed aloud, gripping the vial so tight he thought it might break.



He was out of Dreamless Sleep.



 



SSHP-SSHP-SSHP



 



Severus had barely entered his quarters after his last class of the day when his Floo roared to life. For a moment he thought it might be Minerva, until he turned to see it depositing Harry into his antechamber. A much worse for the wear Harry. Severus frowned to himself.



Harry looked up at him from underneath his fringe, dark circles tinting the undersides of his eyes. His tatty, gray, Gryffindor t-shirt and wrinkled denims only furthered the notion he was being plagued by an equally disheveled state of mind.



“I’ve come to ask a favor,” Harry managed, holding out a dusty, glass vial.



Severus peered at it briefly. It had only been three days since their last session, yet it was clear Harry wasn’t faring well. His face bore a look of weary resignation – an expression that had become eerily familiar in recent weeks – and he appeared weak, as though he wasn’t eating. And judging by his plea for Dreamless Sleep, not doing that, either.



Severus sighed. If he had learned one thing over the years, it was that Harry had a debilitating stubborn streak. Always the noble one, not wanting to place his burdens upon the shoulders of others; not one to ask for help or support even though his need was plain as day, written across every inch of his countenance. This wasn’t a search for potions, it was a cry of desperation.



It had been difficult to stand by and watch the industrious, ardent work of Harry’s denial repeatedly push his emotions aside, leaving in its wake the painted smile of a brave Gryffindor. He knew the pain that lingered below that mask was as real and scary as anything Harry had faced, made worse by the fact that every time they tried to push Harry’s recovery forward a step, they ended up sliding two steps back. Sometimes it frustrated Severus that more progress wasn’t being made, but he also knew a thing or two about being stubborn and self-sufficient, and that it would simply take time. Or perhaps a different tack.



“Harry, I am not giving you the potion.”



“What? Why? Please, I’m—”



“I know you are,” Severus interrupted. “I know.” But medicating yourself will only exacerbate the problem. “Sit,” he said, pointing at a chair. Harry had come to him for help, unwittingly or not, and by Merlin, he would receive it.



Dubiously, Harry looked between the furniture and Severus, seeming to battle the decision out in his mind. Eventually, whether out of pure exhaustion or willful acquiescence, he sat.



 



SSHP-SSHP-SSHP



 



Harry made himself comfortable in the chair after refilling his glass again, and took several long drinks of water. He couldn’t remember having such a sustained thirst after his other sessions. Perhaps that was another side effect of linking, even though that session was now three days past. Either that or he really had been neglecting himself.



The conversation he had been having with Severus was interesting. He assumed when Severus had asked him to stay that he was going to lecture Harry about something, but quite the opposite had occurred; instead, Harry’d got the chance to ask things he’d been wondering about for a while. Things like: whether or not Evochi can create places that don’t exist in real life (yes – in the absence of any intentional creation, Evochi creates its own settings, much like the subconscious mind does for dreams); if there was such a thing as the power of suggestion once someone was inside a session (no – at that point, the person is dwelling within the confines of the subconscious mind, whereas it’s the conscious mind that would hear and interpret someone’s whispered instructions); and why the potion had used Shell Cottage as the backdrop for his second draught (his mind picked someplace safe, familiar and convenient; it wasn’t ‘about’ the setting, only the interaction between himself and those he had invited there). Now, armed with a fresh glass of water, he was keen to continue.



“Can inhabitants of a virtual reality control the action?”



“Their own actions, yes, but not the setting itself,” Severus answered. “Again, it is similar in concept to a dream. Those with whom you interact will behave very much like their own person; that is to say, outside your intent or control.”



“But how does that work?”



Severus took a sip of his own drink. “It’s magic,” he remarked, and Harry snorted.



“Yeah, my mum said that, too.” At those words, they both stopped and looked at each other. And there it was: the opening. Now or never, Harry thought. “Can I ask you something about our linked session?”



“Yes,” Severus answered, a little too quickly. “The more I understand about your experience contrasted with my own, the more scientific observation I can record.” He Summoned his leather-bound journal and settled it across the thigh of his crossed leg, quill poised to write.



“Oh, I didn’t mean that sort of question.” Harry felt his cheeks go pink.



“Ah.” Severus closed the journal and set it aside, appearing to know exactly where this was headed. “Very well.”



“Did you enjoy seeing my mum again?” He was still surprised Severus had agreed to that particular linked session, knowing it might be difficult, but assumed the man had his own reasons.



Severus seemed to contemplate the question for a moment, and Harry wondered what was going through his mind. Finally, he said, “I did. It… answered some questions I had.”



“What were you two talking about? On the bleachers?”



Severus looked up, his gaze making a quick sweep over Harry’s body. “You, actually.”



“Me?”



“Yes. Is that so hard to imagine?”



“Well, no, I guess not. I just thought you would have talked about…” He shrugged slightly. “Something else.”



“Something else?”



Harry swallowed and braved the question he’d longed to ask for months, perhaps longer. “Were you… in love with her?”



The look on Severus’ face said he had been anticipating the inquiry for longer than their current conversation, and sure enough, his answer seemed readied. “I was infatuated with your mother because she was the first person to show unbidden kindness to me. That has proven to be a rare experience in my life – both prior to and after Lily. But to answer the question I think you are after, no, I never loved Lily romantically. I loved her as a sister, a friend, a confidante. My preference in the former has always been towards men.”



Harry started to nod, then spluttered into his water glass. “Wait, what?” he asked, wiping his lips with the back of his hand. “Sorry, I mean, I… you’re gay?”



“I believe that is the definition of a man who is romantically inclined towards other men, yes.”



Harry blinked.



“Does this come as a surprise to you?” Severus asked.



“Well, no… I don’t know, maybe. I guess I just never thought about it before. I think I always assumed you loved my mum.” Harry assessed Severus for a moment, once again having the off-kilter feeling that things he thought he knew about the man were now having to be rewritten. “Did she know? That you were gay, I mean?”



“Yes.”



“And she was okay with that?” He felt ridiculous asking, but he had to know.



“Yes, Harry. I am quite certain her compassion knew no bounds.”



Harry nodded his head, relieved to hear his mum didn’t seem to mind that her friends were gay. Perhaps she wouldn’t have minded to know that her son was as well.



“Was what?”



Harry looked up with a start. “What?” His heartbeat pounded in his ears as he realized he must have said that last bit out loud. He buried his face in his hands. Shit.



Shit, shit, shit.



“You just said ‘perhaps she wouldn’t have minded to know that her son was as well.’ Was what?” Severus’ gaze was altogether too keen for Harry’s tastes, and the intensity of it made him squirm. He refused to look up and spoke through his fingers instead.



“That I am… that I might be gay.” He finally chanced a look at Severus and was met with a loud sigh.



“Do stop hiding behind your hands and speak to me like an adult.”



Harry might have been annoyed at that, had their topic of conversation been something slightly less personal and revealing. As it was, this was not how Harry had imagined coming out – nor who he had imagined coming out to. Yet who else was there for him? Hermione? Ron? Hermione might be okay with it, but Ron… well, there wasn’t any way to be sure how his friend might react, and Harry wasn’t ready to take the chance just yet, particularly not so close to the wedding.



“I’m sorry,” Harry said as he dropped his hands. “I didn’t want… I didn’t mean for that to slip out.”



“Clearly.”



Harry snorted in amusement, unable to stop himself. He didn’t know why being mortified should be so funny, but for some reason Severus always seemed to take the tension out of weightier matters. Eventually Harry just decided to roll with it, and spread his arms in a wide gesture. “Surprise!” he announced sheepishly.



“Am I to assume this has been your only pronouncement?”



“Yeah, you’re my first.” Once he realized how that sounded, Harry blushed to the roots of his hair. “I mean…”



“I knew what you meant, Harry.” The corners of Severus’ eyes crinkled but he seemed to deny the impending smirk with a purse of his lips.  Severus looked about to say something else, but Harry interrupted him, now wondering what his dad would have thought.



“Is that why my dad picked on you, do you think? Because you’re gay?”



Severus’ expression hardened a bit. “I do not believe so. My preferences were not widely known, either then or now, so I can only assume I was a target for other reasons. Your father grew up with every privilege, and as a youth, he acted exceedingly arrogant and entitled. I imagine he regarded my inferior upbringing with disdain. However, I do not wish to speculate his motivations.”



“Sorry.”



“They are not your deeds to apologize for. In any case, your father said as much to me during our encounter on the pitch.”



“He did? That’s what he was doing?”



Severus nodded in that formal way of his, his eyes closing in a long blink.



 



SSHP-SSHP-SSHP



 



There had also been one private moment neither Harry nor Lily had seen. For a minute, Severus got lost in his own memory.



“Oh… and Severus?”



Severus turned and looked back at James, but didn’t say anything. James walked closer, clearly intending to impart something additional, an odd look set on his face. “He does like you—”



“Who?” Severus spat defensively, feeling more than a little exposed and hating that he was no longer on level footing.



James smiled slightly. “He likes you, but it’s taking him a while to realize it. He has a lot he’s adjusting to at the moment.” Then, seeming to realize he wasn’t quite of his own mind, he tipped his head to the side, a funny smile on his face. “I think his subconscious wanted you to know that.”



 



SSHP-SSHP-SSHP



 



Harry’s face broke into a smile, grateful to hear that his dad – that both his parents, actually – seemed to be the people that Remus and Dumbledore and Sirius had always told him they were. That had been Harry’s experience during the session, but he also knew that despite having seen Dumbledore’s memories of his parents, his subconscious manifestations were still just variations of the real thing. The extra validation from Severus went a long way in setting his mind at ease about it.



He thought again of Remus and Sirius, and their relationship in his second draught. He wasn’t sure if that was true to life or just something his mind had invented to ease his own transition. “Did anyone else… know about you?” Harry asked.



At first, he wasn’t sure if he’d spoken loud enough, as Severus just sat there, looking down at the drink in his hand and swirling its contents around in a slow circle. Worried that he had overstepped his bounds, Harry ventured out again cautiously.



“Severus…?”



“What?” he snapped.



“Er, sorry, I was just waiting for you to answer. You looked lost in thought there for a minute.”



“What was the question?”



“I wondered if anyone else knows about you… being gay.”



Severus adjusted his position on the sofa and crossed one leg over the other, ankle to knee. He seemed a little agitated. “Many of the Hogwarts staff, yes. And apparently all of Slytherin House.”



“Oh.” Harry wasn’t sure if that was supposed to be a joke or not, but decided to err on the side of caution and simply nodded.



“Have you known for a while?” Severus asked suddenly.



Startled by the abruptness of the question, Harry briefly regarded the man seated across from him. He’d known Severus long enough by now to spot certain behavioral tells, and immediately recognized this new defensiveness as self-protection. Though what had set Severus off, Harry could only guess. He shrugged. “I think I’ve probably always known. I was attracted to girls for a while, though. Or at least I thought I was.”



Severus nodded, probably remembering the witches Harry had been so publicly linked to during his time at Hogwarts. It would have been difficult for a member of the staff not to have noticed, actually. Harry cringed.



“Do you plan to tell anyone else?”



“You mean the Wizarding world?”



Severus sighed. “I was referring to your friends, but by all means, run an exposé in the Prophet and wait for the Howlers to descend. I imagine there will be queues of witches lined up to express their displeasure at no longer being able to slip their knickers into your closet.”



Despite the truth to Severus’ words, Harry couldn’t help but laugh.



“I am not attempting to be humorous, Potter, it is an inevitability. Wizarding culture is far more progressive about sexual preference than Muggle culture, but it is still not without its thorns. And for you, a veritable hero, it is an even higher pedestal from which you must fall. Our prying, haughty public will see to it that peaceful explorations of your orientation are nigh on impossible.”



Harry felt a stir of indignation at those words. “Well, they can bloody well go fuck themselves, then. I’ve done my duty, it’s my life now. If I want to shag a man, it’s my choice.” He crossed his arms over his chest.



“I am not disagreeing with you, merely suggesting it would be wise to apply a modicum of deference in your approach.”



“A what?”



“You need not explain your choices to anyone, least of all the Wizarding public. However, when and if you choose to announce yourself or a relationship, it is important to consider the effect it will have on your life, as well as on that of your partner’s. It is not about flaunting your preference simply to be belligerent, or making a statement merely for the – how might you say it? – ‘two-finger salute’ factor.”



Harry knew Severus was trying to have a serious conversation, but his attempt at being hip was unexpectedly amusing. Harry reached over and grabbed the small bolster cushion from the chair next to him and tossed it at Severus’ head, who ducked just in time. The murderous look on Severus’ face spoke of a man who was wholly unaccustomed to silliness and play, as well as being uprooted in the middle of a conversation, and it made Harry laugh even harder.



“Lighten up, Severus, you’re too serious. I don’t ‘flaunt’ anything, and I’m not going to tell the Prophet I’m gay any time soon.”



“This, from the man who just finished telling me the Wizarding world could go fuck themselves.”



“Well, yeah.” Harry grinned as a low noise rumbled up from his stomach. “I may be reckless sometimes, but I’m not stupid.” He smoothed a palm over his belly. “I need to eat, I think. Are you hungry? I know this great little restaurant in Hogsmeade.”



Severus rolled his eyes.



 



SSHP-SSHP-SSHP



 



Harry found himself utterly charmed by Severus’ reaction as they entered The Grecian, the normally stoic face usually closed to emotions like interest and wonder. Yet that’s exactly what Harry saw flash across the man’s countenance as his obsidian gaze scanned the bright murals, stone statues and Greek decor. It made Harry happy to know there were things like this that could cut through that steeled exterior and return a bit of light to Severus’ eyes.



As they approached the front counter, Mrs. Whitby emerged from the kitchens with her arms outstretched. “Kalós orísate!” she exclaimed. “Welcome!” With a wide smile set on her face, she gathered Harry into an embrace just as she always did, then turned to shake Severus’ hand, casting an approving glance over the two men as she did so. Surprised, Harry looked between himself and Severus as they were shown to a table. It was something Harry had never really considered before. He looked into a mirror as they passed, catching a glimpse of their reflection. They did look good together: all black hair, dark clothing and slender sinews, they struck an oddly impressive pair.



Snapping his napkin open and spreading it across his lap, Severus continued his perusal of the restaurant while Harry watched him surreptitiously from behind his menu.



“This reminds me of a place I went to in Prague,” Severus observed.



Harry lowered his menu. “You’ve been to Prague?”



“Yes, Potter, I do leave the country from time to time.”



“I didn’t mean it like that, I just thought it was back when—”



“I gathered your meaning. It was a Potions conference, actually, and it happened well before the Sorting Hat ever touched a hair of your head.” Seemingly eager to change the subject, he switched gears. “How did you become acquainted with this place? The woman we met on the way in acted as though you live here.”



Harry snorted. “Mrs. Whitby is the owner. I’m fairly certain if I didn’t have Kreacher cooking for me, I would eat here every day. Hermione introduced me.”



“Ah.” Severus flipped open his menu and was silent for a while, his face mostly obscured by the bright blue artwork on its cover. It occurred to Harry this was the first meal they’d had at a restaurant since the summer, when they used to meet regularly at the old pub down the street. At the time, it was one of the only remaining establishments in Hogsmeade, and not for the first time, Harry was glad for all the rebuilding.



“What have you decided upon?” Severus’ question jostled Harry from his thoughts.



“I’m not sure. I always order the same thing, but tonight I want to try something new.” Now that he had opened his mind to other possibilities, the menu seemed full of choices, each as delicious-sounding as the next. Tantalizing photographs of steaming, simmering dishes seemed to pulse off the page at him – in fact, they might have actually done, as the plates in the pictures rotated slowly, occasionally fading in and out to reveal something new. His mouth watered in response.



After the waitress appeared at their table, Harry looked up to see that both she and Severus were watching him expectantly.



“Oh. I’ll have the roast lamb and vegetables. Without tomatoes, though, if I can.”



The waitress just nodded as Severus said, “You may put Mr. Potter’s tomatoes on my plate.” It garnered a faint chuckle from her. “I shall have the eggplant moussaka and a glass of your house red.”



“Very well. Thank you, gentlemen,” the waitress said, and bowed herself away from the table. Meanwhile, Harry’s gaze snapped up to Severus, momentarily stunned.



“What?” Severus asked.



Harry just shook his head. “Nothing,” he answered, though privately he continued his assessment. For the second time that night he found himself recalculating things he thought he knew about the man. He couldn’t believe Severus had ordered moussaka. Maybe that should not have come as such a surprise – it was a popular dish, after all, which meant many people ordered it. But there had just been so many times during Harry’s youth when Severus hadn’t even seemed human (bat and vampire jokes among his fellow students notwithstanding) that Harry was having trouble reconciling the fact that Severus was, in fact, just a man underneath all those dark robes and bluster. And that he liked moussaka, too.



When Harry looked up, he saw Severus was still staring at him, his brow arched in a manner that suggested he was not relenting without an explanation. Harry curled his hands around his water glass to distract himself.



“It’s just… you ordered moussaka.”



The brow remained arched. “Indeed. It has long been a favorite dish of mine, but Hogwarts so rarely delves into cuisine outside the British norms that it has been an age since I have tasted it. When I saw it was on the menu, there was no other choice for me. Is there an issue?”



“No, no issue. Just…” You keep surprising me. Harry held that dark gaze. “Moussaka is my favorite dish, too.”



 



SSHP-SSHP-SSHP



 



“Can I ask you a personal question?”



A forkful of dinner paused halfway between Severus’ plate and his mouth. “That would differ from what you have been doing all night, how?”



Harry stuck out his tongue. “You know what I mean – something personal.”



Severus sat back in his chair as he finished chewing and then took a drink of wine. “Very well,” he said with a mild, put-upon sigh.



“Are you fortifying yourself?” Harry chuckled, nodding his head at the wine glass.



“With your typical line of questioning, I may, in fact, need a whole bottle.”



“Ha, ha,” Harry mocked. “It’s not that big a thing. I only wanted to know if you’d ever thought about…” he paused, suddenly embarrassed at all the build-up surrounding his inquiry. He grabbed his water glass and took a swift drink. “I wondered if you’d ever thought about a family of your own one day. Kids.” He swallowed thickly, suddenly nervous about the answer but not understanding why.



It appeared, out of all the possible things Harry could have asked Severus in that moment, kids had not even made the list. At first Severus seemed taken aback, though not in a bad way. He’d set his wine gingerly on the table and then adjusted the napkin across his lap, seeming to marshal his thoughts. It was clear he didn’t like being knocked off-kilter, though much to Severus’ chagrin, Harry seemed to have a knack for it.



“I have never really considered it,” Severus admitted. “In my youth, it was generally understood that gay men did not have families. By the time culture – and Wizarding science – had evolved to the point of embracing such things, I was, by then, too established in my roles for Albus and the Dark Lord to take much notice. The timing was not conducive to developing the sort of relationship that may warrant such a discussion.”



Harry smiled ruefully. “No, I suppose not.” He also heard what Severus didn’t say: that he never expected to survive long enough to have to make the decision. Harry speared a potato with his fork, watching as Severus continued to turn the topic over in his mind. It looked as though he had not thought about it in a long time; or if he had, now that his circumstances had changed, so, too, had his answer…



“But now…?” Harry asked tentatively.



Severus’ eyes snapped up, his gaze boring into Harry.



“If the situation were right…” Severus paused and picked up his wine glass. “I may be open to the idea.”



Harry felt his stomach make that curious, little flutter it sometimes did, causing him to smile around the potato he popped into his mouth.



 



SSHP-SSHP-SSHP



 



Sitting there across from Severus, watching him sip merlot and dip a piece of bread in the béchamel sauce that remained from his moussaka, Harry realized just how much he was enjoying the man’s company; how much safer and happier it made him feel to be in Severus’ presence. The thought sent a warm flood of contentment through his body, spreading gooseflesh across his arms.



“We should do this again,” Harry enthused. “Make it a standing da—meal, I mean.” He got the sudden visual of himself seated across the table from Severus many times in the future, for casual dinners, special occasions and anniversaries. He blinked, startled by the thought, and shook his head minutely. Where had that come from?



Though the truth was, out of all the dinner guests he had been hoping to have – namely, his parents – the one he did have was Severus, and that suited him just fine. More than fine, actually. There were too many consequences riding on the same scenario with his parents, anyway, and Severus was here, now, in this reality. He was real.



“If we must,” Severus answered, seeming to resist the smirk that tempted the corner of his lips.



Harry smiled. They’d come a long way since the summer; since St. Mungo’s. He still remembered one moment that first day, after he’d taken a chance on conversation with a recuperating Severus.



“Potter, kindly stop talking or I may never rid myself of this headache.”



“Oh, I’ll go get a nurse!”



“No, that’s not what I—” but Severus’ voice cut off when Harry hurriedly left the room in search of medical staff.



Harry chuckled at the memory and Severus looked up at him, half-heartedly scowling at Harry’s mild expression. Their interaction, their friendship, their dinner – it was all something of Harry’s own choosing. Perhaps he shouldn’t be so surprised to find that he relished it. After all, how many other choices had he truly got to make in his life? Severus understood that, and Harry remembered thinking about it before, a couple of months ago. Perhaps with Severus, he might have something his parents couldn’t offer: his own type of family.



 



 




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