Written for the HP Reversathon for Ziasudra.

(Many thanks to Djin, Regan V, and Rex Luscus for beta'ing!)


The Second Time Around
by Beth H
August 2006

***

Prologue

"Are you certain you're making the right decision, Harry?"

"What else can I do, Headmistress? You were there in the room. You saw what happened when he finally woke up - how he reacted - and that was just from the sound of my voice."

"Perhaps if you gave it a wee bit more time? In any case, surely you still need more recovery time for yourself before you go gallivanting off to Latvia or Luxembourg or wherever it is the papers say you're going."

"Lithuania, actually. And I won't be gallivanting. I have a job, you know."

"But surely you're not back to full strength yet. All those Curses you took, right there at the end: almost as many as...."

"I'm not changing my mind."

"Oh, you are the most stubborn man, Harry James Potter."

"Not the most stubborn, Minerva."

"No. I suppose not."

"It's just...I can't stay. Tell me you understand why."

"I do understand, Harry."

"You'll...let me know if there's any change?"

"Of course, my dear."

"Thank you."



The Second Time Around

The sun was shining brightly in a perfectly clear blue sky. A gentle breeze was blowing, redolent with the sweet scent of early spring flowers. The soft drone of bees and the song of still-downy young birds could be heard in the air.

In every way, it was a splendid day for secluding oneself well within the confines of the dark, musty row house at Number 44, Spinner's End.

However, any plans that Severus might have made to stay indoors had been effectively scuppered the very moment Minerva McGonagall arrived on his doorstep, a pair of complimentary tickets to that afternoon's Quidditch match between the Falmouth Falcons and Puddlemere United in hand.

Despite Minerva's sartorial choice - matching robes and hat in United's blue and gold, worn to demonstrate her allegiance to the team's Captain, Oliver Wood - she was far too canny to imagine that the opportunity to see a former Gryffindor at the helm of United would lure Severus out of his house for the first time in weeks. No, it was the news she brought that Draco Malfoy had been named Seeker for the Falcons and would be playing his first match within Apparition distance that very day which had drawn Severus's begrudging interest.

"There's no reason whatsoever for me to attend, you know," Severus grumbled. "The results will be on the WWN later this evening."

"Yes, and I know as well as you do that the Wizard Wireless Network doesn't broadcast this far into Muggle neighbourhoods. No, I'm afraid you're going to have to do better than that."

Severus pursed his lips, then took another sip of the rapidly-cooling tea sitting in front of him. It was no use; any hopes that he would be able to come up with a decent excuse to spare him from having to go to the Match were growing more dim by the second. One might think that a Wizard approaching his forty-second year would be able to refuse to go to an event that he didn't wish to attend by the simple expedient of saying "No," but while there was much about Severus's past that remained cloudy to him, he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he had rarely been able to refuse Minerva McGonagall when there was something she particularly desired that he do.

"Have it your way then," Severus muttered. "But I expect to be treated to a decent supper afterwards."

"Of course," Minerva said, a bit too readily for Severus's liking. Damn. He must have acquiesced too quickly. "I'll even buy you a bag of those sugar doughnuts you like."

Oh, now she was smirking outright. The bloody cow didn't even have the decency to pretend to be anything but chuffed over her petty victory. No matter; he could be the better man.

But she was going to have to buy him two bags of doughnuts.

~*~

"There now, this isn't so bad, is it?"

Severus's only response to Minerva's question was a bad-tempered grunt, but truth be told, it actually wasn't so bad, sitting in a luxury guest box on a sunny day, cooling charm in place, waiting for the match to start. Severus had already finished the first bag of doughnuts and was in, what was for him, a decidedly mellow mood, when the familiar notes of Hasting's Fanfare for Flute, Trumpet, and Unicorn Horn could be heard through the stadium, signalling the introduction of the teams.

Seeing Draco, now mostly recovered from the injuries he'd suffered early on in the war, fly out with his new teammates pleased Severus a great deal, but Severus was surprised to note the distinct absence of boos and catcalls beyond that which was normal for sporting events. Severus frowned, then turned to Minerva.

"Did...did the Ministry pardon Draco?"

Minerva placed a hand on Severus's arm and squeezed gently. "They exonerated him, Severus. We talked about this two weeks ago."

"We did?"

She nodded.

"Ah." He looked down at the programme briefly, then folded the booklet and handed it back to Minerva. "I couldn't testify for him, could I?"

"No, but he understands why."

"I see."

"We'll talk to him after the game, if you'd like," she said.

Severus only had time to nod in agreement, before a deafening roar went up in the stadium as the Puddlemere United team flew out onto the pitch. At first, Severus couldn't understand what all the fuss was about - United was, at best, a second rank team this season, and their fans had never had a particularly loyal reputation - but then the announcer increased the volume of her Sonorus spell.

"...injury to Kenchington...guest replacement Seeker...just back from two years in the Eastern European Quidditch League, our favourite son, a hero to all, the Boy Who Lived...Mr. Harry Potter!"

Severus watched with an increasingly uncomfortable feeling in the pit of his stomach as the young man circled the stands, over and over again. Each time he passed, Severus felt a strange catch in his throat, which was altogether ridiculous. He'd watched Potter play Quidditch for six years at Hogwarts, yet he couldn't recall ever having felt any emotion apart from a vague sense of annoyance on those all-too-frequent occasions when Gryffindor dealt Slytherin a defeat. Today, however, Severus was feeling anything but annoyed. In fact, the sight of Potter's thighs, clenching and relaxing beneath his Quidditch robes, had begun to have the most alarming effect on him.

He shifted uncomfortably in his seat, but it was no use; for the first time that he could remember since he was a teenager, his prick had decided it had a mind of its own, and the object of its interest seemed to be...no, it didn't bear thinking about. Severus glanced surreptitiously to one side and then the other, but everyone else's attention appeared to be focused solely on the players. Severus, however, was finding it impossible to concentrate on the final introductions, so distracting was his arousal. Perhaps if he just...adjusted himself, just enough to take the edge off...

"For heaven's sake, Severus," Minerva whispered. "Surely you're old enough to know there is a time and place for everything."

Severus could feel the blood rush from his groin to his face, and his eyes widened in horror. Had he actually been about to fondle himself in public?

"It would seem," Minerva said, placing the open progamme down across his lap, "that you need this far more than I do."

As it happened, however, Severus no longer needed the programme, neither to mask his arousal (which had deflated within seconds of hearing Minerva's points-taking voice), nor to keep track of the progress of the interminable match, because thinking about anything apart from his shameful, near-public display had become impossible. It was only by chance that he happened to see Draco capture the Snitch, and even without looking at the scoreboard, Minerva's smugly-polite applause alerted Severus to the likelihood that the Falcons had been too far behind United for Draco's 150 points to actually matter one bit.

The crowd began to disperse, but try though he might, Severus had no greater success at making an early exit from the stadium than he'd had in refusing to attend the match in the first place. Minerva just looked sternly at him and said that Mr. Malfoy would be very disappointed if he did not put in at least a token appearance, in response to which Severus narrowed his eyes...and then followed her lead, silently bemoaning the fact that the days when he'd been master of the grand gesture appeared to be over for good.

When they reached the dressing rooms, Draco did seem very pleased to see him. Even the fact that his team's loss had likely been entirely due to Harry Potter's surprise appearance and the way it had sparked the sluggish United team's play had no negative impact on his mood.

"It doesn't matter, in the end," Draco said philosophically, shrugging his shoulders. "We're leading the division by seventeen points, whereas United couldn't find their collective..."

"Mr Malfoy,' Severus said, pointedly indicating Minerva's blue and gold robes. "Perhaps you'd like to reconsider the words you're about to utter."

Draco glanced at Minerva and grinned. "...whereas United have been having the most fiendishly bad luck this season," he said without missing a beat.

"Impressive save, Mr Malfoy," said Minerva dryly. "And now, I believe it's time that Severus and I were off. Would you like to join us for supper?"

"Really?" Draco said, looking both surprised and pleased. "I'd like to, but...I mean...sorry, the team, you know?"

"Of course."

"Otherwise I would, Headmistress. Believe me."

Minerva nodded. "I do, indeed, believe you, Mr. Malfoy," she said, opening the door.

Severus stepped out into the corridor and immediately found himself giving way to a United player walking briskly past with a young woman whose hair was so red she could have been...a Weasley.

Ginevra Weasley, to be precise, unsurprisingly in the company of Harry Potter.

All three stopped immediately, and for a moment, nobody spoke. Potter and the Weasley chit both looked uncomfortable, which confused Severus. He couldn't imagine what could be making them look so quiet and on edge, or - for that matter - what was keeping his own tongue silent. For some reason, he found himself unable to do more than nod at the pair, which only Potter returned.

The silence ended when Minerva joined them out in the corridor. She and the Weasley girl began to speak with each other about some Ministry-related matter or another, and Potter joined in when the conversation turned to the new warding techniques at Hogwarts. Severus, however, contributed not a word to the conversation; he just stood beside Minerva, nostrils flaring as he breathed in an unfamiliar but hypnotic scent that, after some consideration, he recognized with alarm was quite probably freshly-showered, twenty-something male.

~*~

When Minerva had asked Severus, before the match, whether he had any restaurants in mind, he'd suggested Endroit Cher. He'd been there once before, and while the food was only passable, the prices they charged were high enough to serve as suitable payback for someone who'd ignored his avowed lack of interest in going anywhere, as Minerva had done.

However, it seemed that in the years since Severus had eaten at the restaurant, Endroit Cher had become the place to go for an apres Quidditch match meal, and when they arrived, there was already a queue waiting impatiently in the restaurant gardens. Severus was all for abandoning supper plans and returning home - he'd find a way to make Minerva pay some other time - but Minerva ignored him, in favor of having a word with the once-a-Gryffindor host at the front door, and magically, a table for two appeared.

As they took their seats, a feeling of foreboding came over Severus. He could tell Minerva was about to launch into one of her none-too-subtle interrogations - he'd seen that expression on her face too often during staff meetings to fail to recognize it now - and he couldn't imagine how he was going to deflect her interest. As luck would have it, their drinks arrived quite quickly, and then attention had to be paid to selecting and ordering their meals, but that merely delayed the inevitable. As soon as their salads were set before them and the waiter walked away from the table, Minerva leaned in and raised one eyebrow.

"So, perhaps now you'll tell me what in the name of heaven you thought you were doing at the stadium."

How was it that the damned woman could still make him feel like a grubby schoolboy?

"I haven't the faintest idea what you're talking about, unless you're referring to my displeasure that Mr. Malfoy's team lost the match?"

"Of course that's not what I'm talking about. You were acting odd - even more so than is normal for you - from the moment the teams were introduced."

Severus snorted, then folded his arms over his chest and muttered "Absurd," but Minerva just smiled knowingly at him.

"You do realize you only sit like that when you've been caught out in a lie."

"That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard..." Severus began, and he would have gone on with his rebuttal were it not for the fact that, right at that moment, a party of twelve was being seated beside them, and in the very centre of the group was Harry Potter.

Harry Potter, whose hair, thick and unruly, was just touching his shoulders. Harry Potter, whose bright green eyes were no longer hidden behind glasses. Harry Potter, who looked...so entirely not like the boy who'd plagued him back at Hogwarts that Severus's breath caught in his throat as it had done earlier at the game. He looked away as quickly as he could and tried to finish his thought, but it wasn't fast enough. Minerva frowned, then glanced over her shoulder. Severus tried not to look in Potter's direction again, but when he saw the young man's hand waving at his former Transfiguration instructor, his head came up automatically, and Potter's hand stilled, mid-wave, as he met Severus's gaze.

Then Potter's tongue darted out to lick his lips, and Severus looked away again. What was that altogether ridiculous display in aid of? What sort of game was Potter playing?

"Ah," Minerva said. "Blows the wind from that quarter, does it?"

"Excuse me?" Severus said, offense plain in his tone. "I didn't...."

"I was speaking about Harry, Severus," she said, a small smile on her lips. "It looked to me as if he might have been flirting with you."

"How could you...that's absolutely absurd, even for you!" Severus recognized that he was one step away from spluttering, but he couldn't seem to help himself. "The Queer Boy Celebrity flirting with the...with me? I have no idea why you would...why he would...."

Minerva raised an eyebrow, then said something under her breath, which sounded very much like "the lady doth protest too much, methinks."

"Did you just call me a...lady!" he hissed. "You presume too much, Headmistress."

Minerva reached across the table and patted him on the arm. "Severus," she said quietly. "It was nothing more than a bit of levity. Although...you do seem to be reacting rather strongly, my dear. I don't suppose...is there any possibility that you might be interested in him?"

"Oh, for God's...how long have you known me, Minerva? Have you ever known me to keep company with a man?"

For a long moment, Minerva said nothing. "Well, Severus, I can't remember you keeping company with any women. Even back in school, weren't you friendly with young Regulus Black and Evan Rosier?"

"We were just friends. None of us were homosexuals." She raised her eyebrows, and Severus shifted in his seat. "Well, maybe Evan."

"You know, there's nothing wrong with it. Being homosexual, that is."

"But I'm not," Severus said through gritted teeth. He took another drink, trying to calm himself. He had no idea why he was growing so agitated. He'd never responded like this to Minerva's goading before.

"You don't have to be ashamed."

"Minerva, shut the hell up."

"Of course, dear." Minerva took a sip of her wine, then looked up again. "But if you should like to meet a nice man, my cousin Englebert is...."

~*~

Severus had rarely been so relieved to see an outing come to an end and be allowed to return to Spinner's End, but once there, he discovered that his home was no defense against the altogether idiotic and inappropriate thoughts that kept running through his mind. Brewing potions while he was in such a state would be exceedingly foolish, and unfortunately, he had no other projects with which to distract himself. There was only the Sunday edition of the Prophet sitting, unread, on the coffee table beside his living room sofa; perhaps that would keep his mind off...other things.

Propping the paper up on one knee, Severus realized that he could have spared himself the surprise over Potter's appearance at the stadium earlier that day, for there on the back page was a photograph of Puddlemere United. Severus told himself that the young women on the team were quite attractive, but for some reason his eyes kept straying back to the men, until finally Harry came into the frame wearing nothing but a towel and looking decidedly perturbed that he'd been caught on camera.

It took some rapid blinking to moisten his dry eyes for Severus to realize how long he'd been staring at the photograph, but as soon as he did, Severus dropped the newspaper on the ground as if he'd just noticed it was covered with Hippogriff dung, then fired up the Floo and got down on his knees.

"Minerva? Minerva, are you there? Good Lord, woman...don't tell me you've already gone to sleep. It's not even 10:00 p.m. yet. Or are you...."

"Severus? Is that you," Minerva said, her head appearing in the green flames. "Whatever is the matter?"

"What could possibly be the matter?" he asked, sitting back on his heels. "Just wanted a bit of a chat, is all."

Minerva instantly raised her eyebrows. "Young man, that is the least believable thing you've said all day, and considering what obfuscations passed your lips earlier this evening, that's saying something."

"Yes, well..."

"Come along...out with it. I don't have all night, you know."

"Right, then. What we were talking about earlier...I don't suppose you might be able to introduce me to someone."

"Really?"

"Yes, really," he said with a scowl.

"A man?"

"No, of course not! A woman. It's been quite a while now since I had responsibilities which interfered with having a social life. It's high time I met somebody."

"So...you're thinking about starting a family?"

"Good lord, no. Just a casual date or two. That's all."

"And you're absolutely certain that what you're interested in is a woman?"

"Yes, that's what I'm...look, Minerva...if you aren't willing to introduce me to somebody, just say so."

"That's not it at all, Severus."

"Despite what you might think, I'm perfectly capable of finding a woman on my own."

"Of course you...."

"I should have known you'd take this stance," he said, pushing up off the threadbare rug in front of the fireplace.

"Severus, don't be ridiculous. I never said...."

"Good evening, Headmistress!"

And with that, Severus closed down the Floo connection and threw the offending newspaper into the fireplace. It could be used to start the next fire, he thought...at least it wouldn't be entirely useless.

~*~

For the next three days, Severus attempted to find a woman with whom he might share an evening, but he discovered that meeting someone was not quite as easy as he had assured Minerva it would be for him. In fact, Severus briefly considered swallowing his pride and contacting Minerva once more, but the thought of her smug "I told you so" demeanour put paid to that thought almost before it was hatched.

In the end, it was the personals column in the Prophet which solved his problem for him.

Or rather, it was the personals column which seemed to solve his problem, for while the woman he finally settled on had seemed perfectly sensible on paper, in real life, the woman - Amanda Trunkling - turned out to be a creature who could only have been the demon love-child of Dolores Umbridge and a Blast-Ended Skrewt. Or pehaps one of her parents had been an Acromantula; he neither knew, nor cared. All he was certain of was that the Prophet was never going to see anymore of his hard-earned Sickles. Not only were they guilty of false advertising - all advertisers screened for mental stability indeed! - but now that Potter was apparently back in England for good, the damned paper had gone back to its old habit of sticking Potter's face on the cover every other day, and that was the last thing Severus wanted to see.

~*~

His next date was arranged by Minerva.

He hadn't contacted her with the intention of revealing anything of a personal nature - of course not. He merely thought it was time to see what supplies Poppy would be needing now that summer was just around the corner, but before the ink was even dry on the list of ingredients he'd been making note of, Minerva brought that subject up again. It wasn't as if he wanted to discuss it, but once again he found himself doing the exact opposite of what he wanted to do. If he didn't know better, he would have suspected Minerva of casting Imperio on him, years ago. The only thing allaying his suspicions was that victims of the Imperius Curse never suspected they were under its spell.

"It's ridiculous to even bother discussing it, Minerva," he said, when she finally broached the subject of dating. "Yes, I remember what I said last week, but after further thought, I'm not at all interested in a relationship, nor have I been in well over two decades, as you well know."

Minerva didn't respond, but only gazed at him in a considering way.

"What are you thinking, you old bat?"

"Never mind, Severus," she said, shaking her head. "It's nae important. But if you should reconsider...."

"Fine!" Severus huffed. "If it's the only way I can get any peace."

"Pardon? Have I been harping on the subject, day and night, without noticing it?"

"You'll get to that point soon enough," he said. "I'm just bowing to the inevitable."

"I shan't shrivel up and die if I can't arrange an introduction for you, young man. I do have other concerns, as you well know."

"I said I'd do it, for God's sake!"

"And you're absolutely certain you don't want me to introduce you to a man?"

"Yes! Absolutely!"

"I don't know why I'm even thinking about doing this. Melinda Merton is a lovely woman. Smart, creative...far too good for the likes of someone who made his last female companion cry, and in public at that."

"Oh, good Lord...I didn't make her..."

"Don't lie to me, Severus Snape."

"How did you hear about that evening anyway?" Severus grumbled. "Did you have spies following me?"

Minerva snorted. "Who hasn't heard about it? It was practically front page news on the Prophet."

Yet another reason to be glad he'd stopped taking the damned paper.

"Not in the Quibbler?" he muttered.

Minerva smiled. "Severus Snape dating? Apparently there are things even the Lovegoods don't believe."

~*~

His date with Melinda Merton was almost as bad as the first date had been. The girl was clever, as advertised, and not altogether unattractive, but there was absolutely no spark betweeen the two of them. The time they spent together might not have been so dreadful had Melinda not decided to amuse herself by pointing out people she thought might be suitable companions for him (regardless of how many times he asked that she cease and desist), and every single one of them was a man.

"I don't know what sort of conversation you had with Headmistress McGonagall before this evening, but I must tell you that this joke has gone on long enough."

"We didn't really talk at all," she said, looking slightly confused.

"No?" he asked. "Then why is each and every one of the people you've indicated male?"

She frowned. "Well, you've only been looking at the men."

"That's a complete lie!"

"It is not! The waiter, first...."

"I had to look at the waiter," Severus said, remembering the rather attractive short young man who'd taken their order.

"Maybe so, but what about that dark-haired guy at the next table?"

"I did no such thing," he said. "And I'll thank you to keep your voice down before...."

"What colour robes was he wearing?"

"Red - red with a gold trim, to be precise - but what does that have to do with anything?"

Melinda snorted with amusement, but otherwise sat silently. Was breeding smug into Scottish women mandatory these days?

~*~

Of course Melinda and Minerva were both wrong, Severus knew that. However, there was clearly something wrong. What it was, though, Severus couldn't fathom. He spent the next 48 hours trying to come up with an answer, but finally, thoroughly frustrated, Severus choked down a dose of extra-strength Polyjuice and made an appointment to see a healer who specialized in sexual dysfunction. Not that Severus believed the healer would find anything conclusive, but there had to be some reason why he didn't seem to be sexually attracted to any women.

He sat in the waiting room impatiently, picking up an old copy of Witch Weekly from the coffee table to pass the time. Severus skimmed the table of contents and snorted. If this was what people expected from romantic relationships these days, no wonder sex healers seemed to be doing such booming business. He shook his head, then flipped to page 97 to take the 'Magical Match Dating Quiz.' Perhaps it would be able to tell him where he should direct his attentions, and he could save the five Galleon consultation fee.

The questions seemed pretty straight forward, but by the time he circled 'B' on the third question, the quiz page spoke to him:

"Oi, mate? Why are you wasting your time and mine, pretending you want a woman?"

"What in the name of God do you mean?" Severus hissed. "And keep your voice down!"

"You're clearly interested in men," the quiz page said in a shrill voice, and Severus just knew that whomever had written the quiz was a Scotswoman.

"Don't tell me you actually believe you're heterosexual?" the quiz page continued. "Oh, you foolish man! You must turn to page 43 immediately and read the article 'When a Wizard Loves a Wizard Very Much'..."

Severus closed the magazine, but the quiz page wouldn't stop talking. In fact, the voice of the quiz page was becoming even more animated and encouraging, so much so that the other people in the waiting room were starting to pay far more attention to Severus than he was comfortable with, Polyjuice or no. He dropped the magazine into the aquarium that sat on the receptionist's desk and Disapparated.

~*~

Somehow, Minerva must have taken advantage of the fact that he had yet to return to full strength after all those months in St. Mungo's and placed a tracking spell on him. There could be no other explanation for the Floo call that came less than ten minutes after Severus returned to Spinner's End.

"Go away," Severus said petulantly.

"Don't you take that tone of voice with me, boy. Now, put the kettle on...I'm coming through."

"What makes you think I haven't warded my Fireplace against you?"

Minerva snorted. "The very idea," she said. "And bring out some of that shortbread we both like."

Severus grumbled about witches who took far too much for granted, but he went to the kitchen and put together a plate of biscuits and a pot of tea, as she had asked.

"I'm not discussing it," he said, as he sat down at the table.

"You don't have to," Minerva answered. "I heard quite enough from Melinda. Fancy flirting with the waiter while you're on a date!"

"I never...I was simply placing our order!"

Minerva shook her head and pursed her lips. "That's what she said you'd say. In any case, it appears that traditional restaurant dates aren't working for you, so we'll have to take another tack."

Severus slouched in his chair and scowled. "We don't have to do anything," he muttered.

"A more casual environment, I think, with more people to choose amongst," she continued, ignoring him entirely. "Perhaps another Quidditch match? Puddlemere United are playing the against the Cannons this weekend, and I'm sure Oliver would...."

"Absolutely not!" he said, all but slamming his tea cup down on the table. The last thing he needed was to see Potter again. He didn't know how the man had done it, but it was his damned fault that Severus couldn't seem to show a decent interest in women - or even an indecent interest.

"No, perhaps not," Minerva said consideringly. "I know...why not come to Hogwarts' May Day Faire this Saturday. There are certain to be many unattached men...oh, all right, don't glare...unattached people attending the festivities."

"Since when did Hogwarts have a public fair?"

"Since Hermione Granger somehow got herself elected to the Board of Governors and started introducing ideas she'd learned of from her cousin, who teaches at a Muggle school."

Severus snorted.

"Well you might laugh," said Minerva. "Apparently the Board was one vote away from mandating bi-annual parent-teacher conferences.

Even though he was no longer teaching, Severus shuddered at the mere thought of having to justify his teaching methods to hundreds of parents, twice a year.

"Well, Severus? Are you going to attend?"

"I'll think about it."

Minerva raised one eyebrow.

"Oh, fine...yes, I'll attend your damned May Day Faire."

~*~

When the day of the Faire arrived, however, Severus found he had more pressing duties to attend to, such as tidy the shelves in the shed and finally get around to reading that back issue of Quidditch Monthly, which he'd heard contained a very interesting article about the use of twig polishing potions. Severus hadn't even known that the regular player interview for May featured Harry Potter - or if he had, he must have forgotten somehow, because it came as quite a surprise when he opened the magazine and saw a photograph of Potter, sitting astride his broom and staring out at Severus from the centrefold.

Severus had no intention of giving this picture more than a cursory glance, but then the Potter in the photograph tilted his head to one side and gazed deeply into Severus's eyes, and Severus...well, before he was even aware of what he was doing, his hand reached out and lightly touched the cheek of the young man in the photograph.

He had no idea how long he sat there, stroking the magazine page with his thumb, but when the buzzer rang, he and Potter's photograph both jumped and looked towards the front door. Perhaps if he just ignored it?

Five minutes later, Severus was resigned to the fact that ignoring the ringing wasn't going to make the annoyingly persistent caller go away. He placed the magazine down on the coffee table, and got up to give the unwelcome visitor a piece of his mind.

And he would have done so...had not the visitor been Harry Potter, himself.

"Hi," Potter said, a bit nervously. "Are you ready? Do you have your basket of flowers?"

"Are you insane?" Severus said, taking a step back.

"What, the flowers? Oh, yeah...sorry about that, but I guess they're traditional, and you know how Minerva is about...."

"I was not referrng to the flowers. I was referring to your unasked-for presence on my doorstep."

Potter shrugged. "Minerva sent me here to fetch you, just in case you'd conveniently forgotten the date, she said."

"And what made her think that you would be able to persuade me to attend if I had changed my mind?"

"Well," Potter said slowly, one side of his mouth curling up into a grin. "I did defeat Voldemort, after all. Getting you to come to a May Day celebration couldn't be that much harder."

Severus shook his head, but seeing the determined look on Potter's face, went out to the back garden and put together a basket of flowering medicinal herbs for Poppy's use. He had promised Minerva he'd attend, after all. It had absolutely nothing to do with Potter.

Nothing at all to do with him.

~*~

The Faire, itself, was anything but relaxing.

The day was lovely, but the atmosphere was...something else entirely. At every turn, Severus was forced to fend off the onslaught of roving gangs of imps, disguised as the children of former students, and it didn't take long to figure out that there was some sort of Dare involved, for which the highest points were apparently being awarded to whomever was brave enough to grasp the former Professor's hand with one of their grubby, lolly-sticky paws.

Most of the adults - at least those who had been his colleagues or fellow members of the Order - did not, of course, attempt to lay their hands upon his person, but they were less easy to frighten away and spent a great deal of time clustered around him in groups of three or four, yammering endlessly but saying nothing. Far be it from Severus to give more credit to people than they deserved, but he was certain he could remember a time when most of them, at least, hadn't been half this inane. It was almost as if they were intentionally avoiding saying anything about some subject or another.

Between the imps, his former associates, and the merchandise hawkers who kept trying to get him to buy ribbons for his 'sweetheart,' Severus was starting to feel decidedly claustrophobic. In fact, if it hadn't been for Potter running interference and topping up his glass with the extremely tasty (and most definitely alcoholic) special punch whenever it started to get low, Severus would not have been able to bear the experience for more than the first ten minutes.

However, having Potter in such close proximity for such a long period of time came with its own set of problems, starting with...the fact that Potter was in such close proximity. He hadn't had any of the punch - not that Severus could remember, in any case - but he seemed to be having an even harder time standing unaided than Severus was having himself, at least if the number of times he held fast to Severus's arm or shoulder was any indication.

When Severus thought about it, he realised he didn't particularly object to Potter pawing him like that, but that realisation, on its own, was enough to make Severus extremely anxious. Having a man's hands - especially that man's hands - touching him shouldn't have felt so comfortable and natural. It should have felt un-comfortable and un-natural, and...

"I'm leaving now, Potter," he said, extremely pleased to discover he hadn't slurred a single one of his words. "I'm certain I stayed long enough to satisfy the Headmistress."

"You can't go yet," said Potter, taking hold of the sleeve of his robe. "You, um...haven't delivered your basket yet."

Severus looked down at the basket of flowering plants he'd put together for Poppy, then pushed it toward Potter's chest.

"Here. You can take it up to Madam Pomfrey just as easily as I can."

"Of course I could. But it's tradition, Snape. You have to."

Severus's automatic reaction was to dispute Potter's point, but the brat was right: it was traditional to place the basket on the recipient's doorknob oneself, and Potter was just stubborn enough to argue the point for the next hour or more. Sighing, he left the dubious pleasures of the Faire and entered the cool, silent castle, heading up to the hospital wing, with Potter following in his wake.

As soon as Severus looped the handle of the basket over the doorknob, however, Harry pushed him up against the wall.

"What...Potter, what the hell are you doing?"

"It's part of the tradition," Potter said quietly, placing his hands on Severus's chest. "If you're caught placing the basket there, you're supposed to get a kiss."

"That's...ridiculous," Severus said, pushing as far back against the wall as he could manage. "It's not part of the Wizarding tradition at all."

"Isn't it?" Potter asked. "Then maybe it's part of the Muggle tradition. Anyway, it's just one kiss...Severus."

"I'm not at all interested in a kiss," Severus snapped, wondering when it was that Potter learned to sound so comfortable addressing him by his first name. "Not from anybody at the moment, but especially not from you."

"No?" Potter asked. "How will you know unless you try it?"

Severus pushed against Potter's shoulder until they were at arms length from each other. "I've never been infested by a plague of Wachlovian ear mites either, but I'm fairly confident that wouldn't be high on my list of enjoyable pursuits."

Potter grinned, then licked his lips in that altogether distracting way he seemed to have acquired sometime over the past few years.

"I'll trade you."

"What could you possibly have that I'd want?"

Even before the words were out of his mouth, Severus could think of any number of things that he'd want from the young man, but he would never have anticipated the offer Potter finally made.

"How about a blow job?"

Snape's eyes darted down the corridor to see if Potter's glib comment could have been overheard by anybody, then widened when he realised the lunatic had meant it.

"No!" he said "Absolutely not!"

"Come on," Potter said slowly and seductively. "Having the Boy Who Lived on his knees before you? That has to be worth at least a kiss, hasn't it?"

"No," Severus said again, far less convincingly this time.

"Your mouth is saying no," Potter said, sliding a hand down the front of Severus's robes, "but your robes are saying yes."

Severus groaned, unsure whether that was in response to Potter's trite words or because Potter's hand was ghosting over Severus's straining erection. Through sheer force of will, he kept himself from thrusting forward into the palm of Potter's hand, but he wasn't strong enough to refuse everything that was on offer.

"All right," Severus said finally, leaning forward just the slightest bit. "Just one kiss."

Severus had been the recipient of a reasonable number of first kisses in his life (although second kisses came far less frequently), and the single similarity between all those first kisses - the good and the bad alike - was how very different they all felt, as if, with each one, there had never been a kiss like that before in the history of the universe and never would be another like it again. This didn't mean, of course, that they were all earth-shatteringly perfect. In fact, Severus couldn't remember a single one which had been, if only because of all the awkward bumping of noses that was a part of every first kiss in which he'd ever been involved. But each was unique, special, never to be repeated.

This kiss was...different, somehow. You couldn't experience a first kiss with someone more than once; simple logic should tell you that. And yet, this kiss - this kiss with this man - felt both startlingly new and utterly familiar, all at the same time. This kiss felt like coming home, but no home that Severus could ever remember. The angle of Potter's mouth was perfect, the taste of Potter tongue was perfect, the bite of Potter's teeth, nipping at Severus's lower lip, was perfect, and for once there was no awkward bumping of noses.

Unwilling to lose contact, Severus leaned further forward, his mouth still on Potter's mouth, and he wrapped his arms around the other man, turning them both, slowly, until Potter's back was the one against the wall.

"I thought you said just one kiss," Potter murmured, pulling back just the slightest bit, and Severus swore he could hear Potter smile.

"This kiss," Severus replied, closing his eyes and holding Potter more tightly in his arms, "isn't over until I say it's over."

In the end, it was over when the two of them heard Poppy's footsteps approaching the door and the sound of the doorknob being turned from inside her office. They broke apart just as Poppy stepped out into the corridor.

"Severus? Harry? I thought I heard somebody out here. And oh, look at this! What a thoughtful May Day basket...Severus, is this your doing?"

He and Potter, most disturbingly, nodded in unison, and Poppy smiled.

"I was just putting the kettle on. Why don't you two boys come in for a cup of tea, if you have a minute, and we can catch up on old times."

"I'd be happy to," Potter said easily, and how could he be acting as if nothing had happened?

"Lovely," said Poppy. "What about you, Severus?"

"Perhaps some other time, Poppy," he said tersely, studiously avoiding Potter's inquisitive gaze. "I've already stayed longer than was wise."

Without another word, Severus whirled around and stalked off, painfully aware of the erection jutting up beneath his flowing robes.

~*~

For six days, Severus neither left his house, nor accepted any communications from the outside world. A dozen times or more, the Floo tried to connect, but Severus had blocked it immediately upon returning home from the Faire. Three nondescript owls, of the sort that could usually be found in the Owlery at Hogwarts, attempted to deliver messages, as did one all-too-familiar looking snowy owl, but Severus ignored them all.

He couldn't, however, ignore Minerva standing on his very-Muggle doorstep, wearing a stars-and-suns pointed hat which he was sure had once belonged to the Headmaster, and calling out his name loudly and repeatedly.

"Oh, for God's sake, you Harpy," Severus said as he yanked the door open. "Get inside before somebody calls the police."

Minerva walked into the hallway and got right to the point.

"This may be none of my business, Severus, but..."

"It is none of your business, you interfering old hag!"

"Severus!"

"Can't just leave well enough alone, can you? Always sticking your damned Gryffindor nose into other people's affairs. I was grateful for your assistance during my recovery, but enough is enough. I'm no longer in need of a minder, and if I choose not to open my home to all and sundry, it's nobody's concern but my own, dammit!"

"If this is about you and Harry."

"Why are you changing the subject?" he asked angrily, the decibel level of his voice rising with every word. "And what do you mean, me and Harry? There is no me and Harry."

"Poppy said...."

"Another one! Do you cats have nothing better to do with your time but gossip about other people?"

"Calm down, Severus. You're going to give yourself an aneurysm. What in the name of heaven is wrong with you?"

"I don't know, damn it! I don't know what's wrong with me!" Severus flung himself down into the chair by the fireplace and put his head in his hands. "I don't know what's wrong with me."

Minerva perched on the edge of his chair and put an arm around his shoulders. It was an indication of how distressed he was that he didn't even bother trying to shake her off, as he once would have done.

"I know you've had a difficult time of it recently, my dear," Minerva said. "But surely it can't be as bad as all that."

Snape laughed bitterly. "That's what you think."

"Tell me."

He took a deep breath, but didn't raise his head. "I can't stop thinking about that boy."

"Harry hasn't been a boy for years, Severus," she said gently.

"Is that all you have to say? Nothing about how I seem to have transfigured into a flaming poofter overnight?"

But Minerva just patted him on the shoulder and said nothing.

Severus looked up and scowled. "Why aren't you speaking? I thought telling other people what they should be feeling was what you Gryffindors lived for."

"Oh, Severus...you've always taken so long to figure out what you really feel inside."

He shook his head.

"I can't be," he said. "Can I?"

"Homosexual, or interested in Harry Potter?"

"Either. Both."

"Perhaps you shouldn't waste time worrying about the former, Severus. Just think about Harry and how he makes you feel when you're around him."

"I'm not going to discuss my arousals with you, you nosy old bat."

Minerva raised an eyebrow, then chortled. "Well, I suppose that answers my next question."

"Oh, bloody hell," he muttered, dropping his head again.

"If I might make a suggestion?"

"You're going to whether I give permission or not, aren't you?" he said acerbically. "You might as well go ahead and have your say."

"Why don't you just have dinner with Harry and see how things go from there."

Just.

There was no "just" about it, as far as Severus was concerned. To start with, he wasn't at all certain that Potter would have the slightest bit of interest in spending an evening with him. A quick (or even not-so-quick) sexual encounter in a deserted school corridor was one thing, but being seen in public with Severus Snape? Surely even Potter had a greater sense of self-preservation.

"Oh, no, Severus," Minerva said, interrupting his train of thought. "Harry was the one who asked me to come over here and speak with you. He was worried about you."

"He was, was he?"

Minerva nodded. "And he asked me to pass on a dinner invitation for anytime next week."

"Some Gryffindor courage," Severus muttered. "Sending an old woman to beard the lion in his den."

"I'll refrain from sharing my thoughts about a puppy like you calling a Witch in her prime 'old,' and instead I'll just remind you that you're nae lion, Severus Snape."

~*~

For the better part of two days, Severus was able to convince himself that agreeing to this ludicrous 'date' hadn't been a terrible idea, but by the time he Apparated to Potter's flat on the Wednesday following, he'd had more than enough time to rethink the entire evening, and by the time Severus rang the bell, he'd decided that this was likely all part of an elaborate ruse, set up with the sole purpose of making him look like a fool. The only thing that kept him from turning around immediately and going home was Minerva's involvement in the whole affair. After knowing her for more than thirty years, Severus was a bit hesitant to ascribe malicious intent to her actions where he was concerned. Still, it was possible that Minerva had been no more than a pawn in whatever game Potter was playing.

In other words...when the front door of the flat opened, Severus was more than ready for a fight.

The anticipated fight never took place.

Potter took one look at the tense and suspicious expression on Severus's face as he walked into the flat, and before even greeting him, he touched a spot on Severus's neck - just at the back, right under the hairline -and began to press his thumb on that spot until Severus closed his eyes and started to take long, slow breaths. Before Severus knew it, he'd been led to the sofa, propped up against a half-dozen pillows, and given a drink.

By the time Potter suggested that it might be more relaxing to just eat dinner in the flat instead of going out to the restaurant, Severus had let go of enough anger to not even question whether this meant that Potter was ashamed to be seen in his company.

The...date was not at all what Severus had expected.

He and Potter...he and Harry spent forty minutes in the kitchen, preparing dinner together (Severus had caught a quick glimpse of Lucius's former House-Elf setting a carrier bag of groceries on the kitchen counter, but the elf had apparently been given the rest of the night off). The kitchen was quite small - certainly too small to leave much room for two people to move around without getting in each other's ways - but Severus and Harry shared the space as easily as if they had spent the past twenty years connected by an invisible cord.

And during dinner...who would ever have thought that they would have had so much to talk about - that they would have had so much in common? At the Faire, they hadn't actually had much of an opportunity for conversation, surrounded as they were, at all times, by others, yet here they were, speaking as if they were old friends.

Severus had grown unaccustomed to speaking with anybody but Minerva; however the time he spent with Harry was comfortable.

Companionable.

And then, just as they were finishing the last of their coffee, Harry snapped his fingers and instantly, the table was clear.

Severus and Harry looked at each other across the table, and that was when Severus finally grew nervous. What in the name of all that was holy did he think he was doing? Perhaps he was no longer particularly upset at the thought that he seemed to be attracted to a man, but there was no getting past the fact that the man in question was Harry Potter, and while even that didn't seem quite so bad as he'd imagined it would be, there was something just a little bit off - something wrong in being here alone with him.

Because, quite honestly, it all felt too good - too right - and Severus had long-since learned not to trust anything that seemed too good to be true.

"I must be going," he said suddenly.

Before Severus could stand up, however, Harry reached across the table and held Severus's hand fast in his own.

"Please don't go," he said. "I still have something for you. Something I meant to give you at Hogwarts."

"And...what might that be?"

Harry cocked his head to one side and raised an eyebrow slightly, in a cheerfully "how dense are you?" kind of way.

Severus flushed. Oh Good Lord, he wasn't still on about that, was he?

Harry - still holding onto Severus's hand - crossed around the table and stood behind an unmoving Severus. He pulled Severus's hair away from his neck and began to kiss him on the nape in a way that made him shiver. How was it possible that Harry, of all people, knew how to draw out the sort of responses from him he was barely aware of having himself?

Harry ran his hands down Severus's arms, then took him by the hand again.

"Come with me," he said quietly, and Severus stood up, barely even taking a moment to wonder why he was going along so easily as Harry led him into what had to be his bedroom and sat him down on the slightly rumpled bed.

For a moment, neither man moved. In fact, Harry took a step back, giving Severus the chance to leave if this really wasn't what he wanted, but Severus could finally admit to himself - even if he couldn't admit it out loud - that he wanted this very much indeed.

He nodded his head, just once.

Harry smiled, then ran his fingers soothingly through Severus's hair. "You'll like it," he said. "I promise you'll like it."

That remained to be seen, Severus thought. Odd how one could be both uncomfortable about and eager for something, all at the same time.

"I'm not taking off my robes," he said finally.

But Harry, who was already sliding his hands up Snape's calves, just nodded. "That's fine," he said. "Whatever you want."

Harry's hands felt perfect - too perfect, really. How was it that he knew exactly how to massage the muscles at the back of Severus's calves and thighs, both of which were still prone to cramps from an old injury, with long steady strokes that brought only pleasure? Or that his touch was firm enough on Severus's ridiculously ticklish knees to ensure that Severus didn't laugh. Or that when Harry touched Seveus's hips...

God, when Harry put his hands on Severus's hips, Severus lay back on the bed and closed his eyes, giving himself over finally to the feel of those hands and that mouth moving as one towards his already engorged prick and Severus was lost utterly and completely. Engulfed in that warmth, the press of lips and the pull of fingers along the length of his arousal, Severus couldn't have stopped his hips from thrusting up off the bed even if he had wanted to, and so his hips did as they pleased, at first in sync with the rhythm that Harry's hand and mouth had established, and then more quickly, unable to keep in time any longer as his bollocks tightened and he strained upwards, his hands tangled in Harry's hair and then, God, he was coming - almost blinded with the intensity, it had been so damned long - and it felt like Harry was determined to swallow every last drop.

Severus reached out and yanked Harry up toward him, hard, kissing him, tasting his own seed on Harry's mouth, and Harry held him tightly and for a moment, it almost sounded as if Harry was saying "Oh, Severus. I've missed you so much," but before Severus could puzzle out whether that was what he'd actually heard, he drifted off to sleep with Harry in his arms.

~*~

The first time a shouting match ended in something other than more shouting, and then...

The heat and longing that could grow from a single glance, and then...

The impossibility of sitting near each other at Order meetings in the last days of the war, even after everybody knew whose side Severus had really been on all the time, for fear they'd be unable to keep their hands off of each other, and then...

The looks exchanged by the other Order members as soon as they thought Severus and Harry wouldn't notice, and then...

The way the nightmares of the final days tasted - bitter and sharp - as Severus licked each one off of Harry's sweat-soaked skin, and then...

The look on Bellatrix's face when Harry instinctively pulled Severus behind him, and then...

The flash of Curse lights on the battlefield - white and red and blue...and green.

Severus woke with a start, his skin soaked with perspiration and covered in goose flesh, because those images, he knew they'd just been dreams - they had just been dreams, hadn't they? - but they'd seemed so very real.

He reached out - more from instinct than rational thought - and pulled Harry toward him, needing to feel Harry's warm, living body nestled against his own, just for a moment, but Severus's prick was pressed up against the cleft of Harry's firm arse, and suddenly it wasn't enough to just hold Harry...he wanted to be inside of him.

Harry was still asleep, wrapped within the embrace of Severus's arms, and Severus slid one hand lightly down the length of Harry's chest and over his flat stomach and finally closed it gently around Harry's already half-hard prick. And Severus could feel Harry pushing back against his own prick as...

For God's sake! What in the world was he doing? Assaulting someone as they slept...what kind of animal had he become? He tried to crawl out of bed, but Harry, his eyes still closed, held fast to his arms and pulled him back.

"Don't you dare!" Harry said, his voice still thick with sleep. "It's been too long. I need you."

"But..."

"I'm ready for you. I'm always ready for you."

It sounded as if Harry believed what he was saying, but...

"Severus, come on," Harry demanded.

"Dammit," Severus said. "I've never done this before."

There was a long, quiet pause, then Harry took a deep breath. "Okay, look...just stop thinking so much. I know that's hard for you to do, but...just feel it."

Harry cast a wandless variant of the lubrication spell that every young wizard learns by his third year in school, and before Severus could worry about just how experienced Harry was, Harry was pushing back against him and he was sliding into that warm, tight perfect place.

It was amazing!

It was absolutely amazing, and all at once Severus remembered that first kiss - how it had felt brand new and achingly familiar - and this was the same thing, all over again, and Severus bit down softly on Harry's shoulder, which made Harry wriggle, and Severus angled himself just the way he had to do to reach Harry's prostate and he thrust forward, again and again, and each time he hit the prostate, Harry groaned happily, and Severus felt his bollocks start to tighten and how the hell had he known how to hit Harry's prostate like that? was the last thought that crossed his mind right before he came, hard, slamming into Harry as...

...as he hadn't done in two years.

~*~

When Severus's heartbeat slowed finally, he turned to face Harry. "This...what we just did. It wasn't...we've done that before, haven't we?"

Harry smiled, then took Severus's hands in his own and kissed them. "Yeah," he said. "We've done that before. A lot, in fact."

Severus straightened out his fingers and stroked Harry's cheek as he'd stroked the cheek of Harry's picture in the Prophet.

"Why didn't you say anything?" he asked quietly. "After I was awake...you never said anything."

"I couldn't," said Harry. "The healers terrified everybody. They said you had to start remembering on your own, or you'd never completely recover."

Severus propped himself up on his elbow and frowned. "Isn't that just an old hag's tale?"

"In the Muggle world, maybe, but apparently it's absolutely true in the wizarding world." Harry sat up and started to stroke Severus's shoulder. "So...what do you remember?"

Severus took a deep breath. "It's still fragmented, but I think we were... lovers. During the war. We were, weren't we?"

"Yeah," Harry said.

"How did...I know I'm not imagining that we hated each other."

Harry leaned over and kissed Severus's collarbone. "Yeah, we hated each other, and then one day we didn't."

Severus raised an eyebrow. "Just like one day I stopped being heterosexual?"

Harry shook his head. "You know, I don't think you were ever all that straight, Severus." He kissed him again and said quietly. "From what you've told me, it doesn't sound as if you ever had much of a chance to figure out who or what you were."

Severus's first instinct was to dismiss that entirely. How could anyone not know what sex they were interested in? But then he remembered Minerva saying much the same thing to him just the other day, and given his past, well, maybe he had to make an allowance for the remote possibility that they were both right. It wasn't as if he'd ever had much experience with women or men, things being what they were...and Severus being who he was.

"This thing, whatever it was between us...it wasn't just sex, was it?"

Harry smiled. "Well, maybe at first. Okay, definitely, at first. But then...no."

For a moment, neither man spoke, then Severus turned to face Harry.

"Why did you leave?"

Harry bit his lip, then looked away. "Because it hurt too much to stay," he said, his voice quavering just a little. "So much for Gryffindor being the House of bravery."

~*~

Harry had his wand out and was already halfway down the hall, when suddenly he turned around, ran back to Severus and grabbed his shoulders.

"I love you!" he said. "You hear that? I love you, damn it! No matter what happens in the next few minutes, I'm always going to love you. And if that snake-faced bastard wins? My fucking ghost is going to come back and love you."

Severus couldn't say the words back - he'd never said them - but he grabbed Harry's hands tightly in his own and kissed Harry's palms and held them to his heart, and Harry threw his arms around Severus, and then, God how Severus had wanted to tell him....

~*~

"Harry, you are the bravest man I know."

"You don't have to...."

"Be quiet," Severus said. "I'm not finished yet."

"Fine."

Severus took a deep breath. "I...love you."

Harry frowned. "What?"

"Oh, for God's sake, I said I loved you...are you hearing impaired?"

"Severus, you have no idea how long I've been waiting to hear you...snap at me like that."

And then Harry started...giggling. There was no other word for it, and Severus could only shake his head in disbelief.

It wasn't bad enough that Severus had fallen in love with a man, and that the man happened to be Harry Potter. Oh, no...after everything he'd been through, it appeared that the Fates weren't satisfied with anything less than seeing to it that the man Severus had fallen in love with was a half-wit, as well.

Severus sighed.

~*~

(Original Request: Snape/Harry. Snape is straight, dammit! He tries to do everything within his power to remedy his "unnatural problem." Isn't there some potion he once read about that cures same-sex attraction tendencies? Or if you spend enough time dating/pursuing a woman, you'd eventually fall into comfortable companionship with said woman? What about those Muggle self-help books? There must be something in there, right? (And other "solutions." Use your imagination, lol.) Present day or future (featuring a long-repressed!Snape). Any rating is fine.)


Comments, critiques, chit chat: beth-h @ mrks.org

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