Title: Learning the Landscape [1]
Author: Beth H (bethbethbeth on IJ/LJ)
Team: Phoenix
Genre: Alternate Reality, Romance
Prompt: Tabloid Headlines
Word Count: 20,315
Ratings/Warnings/Kinks: R/NC-17. Strong language, semi-public fellatio, anal sex, references to despicable political allegiances, hate crimes, and other criminal activities.
Summary: Second generation celebrity, pop sensation, rising movie star: Harry Potter is looking for something more meaningful in his life than mere fame. However, when he inexplicably decides to make ex-con Steven Snape part of that "something more meaningful," well...it's too much to expect the press to ignore it forever.
Author's Notes: (a) Apart from setting this story in America in 2006, some additional liberties have been taken with the timeline: Harry's parents (and any other "Marauders" who might make an appearance), have the same birth dates they have in canon. The rest of the characters - including Harry and Snape - were all born approximately five years later than their canon birth dates...and Harry is just over 21 for those of you who care about that sort of thing.
(b) The footnotes, which are dotted throughout the story, are partly educational and partly inserted for my own amusement. If you're easily jolted out of the narrative flow of a story, don't bother clicking on them. I guarantee you won't miss anything too significant.
(c) Most importantly, though...shifting this story away from a magical world and back into the real world means that the story, of necessity, deals with some groups and ideologies that JKR was able to examine by way of metaphors in her novels. Believe me when I tell you I'm taking them very seriously.
Many thanks: to the very patient mods - and to Meri and Regan V for their speedy and exceedingly helpful betas!

Learning the Landscape

He stood on the first step, his fingers poised inches from the door handle, trying to decide whether to enter or whether it might be smarter to just turn around and retreat to the safety of his old family home. He'd been so sure this was what he wanted - it had been a big part of the reason he'd headed directly to Woodstock after returning to the U.S. - but now that it was almost a reality, Harry wasn't so certain.

It wasn't as if there was anything to be afraid of. Not really. The bar, a nondescript single-story structure with its windows painted black, was tucked away in an alley, about as far as it could get from the town's more tourist-friendly establishments, but as far as Harry knew, there had never been any talk about the place actually being dangerous. He had vague memories of his uncle and aunt, on one of their rare visits, catching a glimpse of the bar when he was very small and talking dismissively about there being too many of "those people" in town. However, they'd rarely had a good word to say about anybody, and besides, even as a boy, Harry had a sneaking suspicion that he might be one of 'those people' himself.

Suddenly a little nervous, he looked over his shoulder, but apart from a barn owl perched on a telephone line, the alley was completely deserted, and Harry breathed a sigh of relief. Roy would go nuts if somebody took a photograph of him standing on the doorstep of the Silk Purse and sent it in to the tabloids. P.R. guys never seemed to care if you were actually doing anything wrong; all they cared about was whether it looked as if you might be.

A sharp cry that sounded like someone shrieking pierced the twilight and Harry spun around in alarm, before he noticed the barn owl watching him with what seemed to be a smug expression on its face.

"Fine," Harry muttered under his breath. "I'll go inside."

Harry had been in gay bars and clubs before. He'd performed with his band at two benefits for GMHC [2] in New York. He'd hosted a 21st birthday party for Hermione at a well-known (and straight-friendly) Los Angeles drag bar. He'd spent a night playing darts in a gay pub in London (although, to be fair, he and Ron hadn't actually known it was a gay pub until pictures of them with some of the regulars showed up in the Evening Standard the following night). The Silk Purse, however, was nothing like any gay venue Harry had ever been in.

For one thing, it was a complete pit. Harry supposed it was kind of ridiculous, all things considered, to believe the stereotypes about gay men and style. After all, when he was off stage, he couldn't even be bothered to wear clothes that fit correctly, much less wear anything particularly stylish. But this place actually smelled a little, and not just of beer and sweat. The wooden tables and chairs were mismatched and scarred, and the few working light fixtures were filthy.

And the clientele was, well, not what Harry had expected. The men sitting at the tables were old, mostly, with tee-shirts stretched tight over pot bellies and John Deere caps on their greying heads. There wasn't even a jukebox, just an ancient Philips radio sitting on the edge of the bar, tuned to WDST.

Harry frowned, then walked closer to the bar to hear what was playing ("...I've got two worlds, But I don't belong..."). Of course it would be Sweetwater [3] he thought, laughing a little to himself.

"Something funny, son?"

Harry looked around and saw a skinny old man wearing a rumpled mohair jacket standing behind the bar. "No, sorry, just...their song reminded me of something."

The old man glanced over at the radio, then raised one eyebrow, as if to say he doubted Harry was old enough to ever have heard of the group. He shrugged and returned to wiping down the counter with a damp cloth that had seen better days. "I suppose you'll be wanting a drink?"

"Yes, thanks," said Harry. "Do you have a list of microbrews?"

The barman chuckled. "Nothing that fancy here. Are you sure you wouldn't be more comfortable somewhere like the Phoenix in Mt. Tremper? Ten minute drive and you could be there."

"No, that's...look, what do you have on tap?"

"Our house specialty...beer," he said, perfectly deadpan. "So what'll it be: beer or beer?"

"Hard to choose," Harry said, reaching into his pocket for his wallet. "They both sound good, but how about we go with the beer?"

"Yeah, I figured you were a beer connoisseur when you walked into my place," the man said as he set a pint down in front of Harry.

"You're not going to ask for ID?"

"I recognize you, boy. I remember the day your parents brought you to town for the first time. The streets were full of photographers." The man looked at Harry over the top of his wire-rim glasses. "I reckon you're old enough now to come in here for...well, let's just call it a beer, shall we?"

Harry nodded, not trusting himself to speak. This man had known his mom and dad. Of course he did; everybody in town had known his parents. Everybody except him. He put some money down on the bar and without waiting for change, he took his drink over to an empty table against the wall and sat down, hoping he wasn't going to do something idiotic like start crying.

It was ridiculous, really, the way this feeling came over him sometimes, this... emptiness. It wasn't as if he'd even known his mom and dad, not really, and how could you miss something you never knew? And it wasn't as if his life so far had been a bad one. His mom's sister's family was pretty useless, but his dad's family and friends were mostly great. And once Harry had started boarding school and made friends with his Housemother's son, Ron and the rest of the Weasley family, it was just like having a family of his own. Plus, there was the band and everything that went along with that - and really, how many kids could say they'd performed in twenty different countries by the time they were fifteen?

But even with all that - even with the band and his friends and his fans - every once in awhile, that feeling of loss and loneliness got to be too much, and he needed to fill that empty space with something.

That was the trouble, though, Harry thought. He didn't have the faintest idea what it was he needed. All he knew was that it wasn't something any of his friends could give him. If it was just a matter of spending time with people who cared about him, he could have gone back to England to hang out for awhile with Ron, who didn't have much to do until his fourth division football club's new season began. He could even have flown down to D.C. and camped out on Hermione's couch, although she probably wouldn't have had all that much time to spend with him now that her internship at the paper had started.

But no, what he needed was something else. Of course, he probably wasn't going to find it sitting by himself in a seedy bar either, especially not one whose patrons all looked like they'd been senior citizens before the word 'gay' was even invented. [4] Harry had always been attracted to older men, but four decades older was probably a little too much, and nobody in the place was younger than sixty-five --

--except that man. The one sitting by himself in the corner and reading - Harry had to squint a little to see what book he had in his hand - Machiavelli? Was he planning on staging a coup in the bar or something? Harry couldn't help but laugh a little, and it was at that moment the man looked up and their eyes met.

Harry had heard the expression 'piercing glance' more times than he could count in his life, but this was the first time he actually understood what it meant. It was as if the man had found a way inside Harry's mind. He was in there, reading all Harry's thoughts, all his desires - and what was even more strange was that it felt as if Harry was being beckoned inside his mind as well. The intensity of his gaze was something Harry had never experienced before, but it was almost too intense, and Harry tried to look away, but he was held fast.

And then, with no warning, that incredible penetrating stare disappeared and in its place was a far more familiar look of interest and invitation, the everyday kind that Harry had grown accustomed to seeing since he'd first stepped foot on a stage.

He felt an odd flash of disappointment at the thought that this was probably nothing more than just some stranger trying to pick somebody up in a bar, which was ironic when he remembered that he'd actually come to the Silk Purse with the hope of just such a thing happening. It was just...he was certain there had been some kind of powerful connection between them, even if it was only there for a moment, and he hated the thought that it might just have been a figment of his imagination.

He took another drink of beer, then looked back at the stranger who sat there, just watching him. Was he waiting for Harry to make the first move? Despite having spent practically half his life in what everybody called the "sexually-charged world" of the music industry, Harry barely had any experience even asking girls out on dates. His actions had always been monitored fairly closely by his manager, and John - having been a friend of his late parents - was a master at playing on his guilt. All he had to do was sigh and say something like "Your dad would have been unhappy if he'd been here to see this" and Harry folded like a cheap card table. And yes, it was true that a lot of his contemporaries had made really stupid decisions about their careers and their personal lives, but at least they'd been allowed to make some decisions of their own. This unplanned solo side-trip back to Woodstock was the first time Harry hadn't been under the watchful eye of somebody.

Which meant that if he wanted to pursue this...whatever it was he'd come into the bar to pursue, he was going to have to take matters into his own hands, as it were.

He pushed the still half-full glass toward the center of the table, then stood up. He nodded once, hoping that was the right signal, and headed off toward the nearer of two doors, both of which bore identical signs reading "Gentlemen."

The men's room was no more welcoming than the bar itself. Against one wall was a slightly grimy porcelain urinal and beside that a stall that boasted a pair of rusty hinges, but no door. A single sink stood against the opposite wall. Beneath the sink was an empty wastebasket (its emptiness most likely nothing more than a testament to the lack of paper towels in the towel dispenser), and above the sink, a mirror, cracked along one edge.

Harry took a quick piss, then washed his hands. Before he'd finished wiping them dry on his jeans, he heard the door open, and in walked the man.

In the dim light of the bar, Harry had been able to convince himself that there was something almost romantic about this man's appearance, but in the unforgiving fluorescent glare of the bathroom, there was no way to lie to himself. This man was nothing like the pretty boys and polished men Harry was used to seeing in Malibu. Sallow skin that had never been touched by sun or sun lamp, yellow teeth that looked as if they'd never seen the inside of a dentist's office, lank hair that appeared in desperate need of a shampoo. And the look in his eyes...this man was dangerous.

And yet, he made no move toward Harry. He just leaned against the wall, his hands crossed over his chest, then raised one eyebrow. It was clear that if Harry wanted to run, this man - dangerous though he might look - wasn't going to make any attempt to stop him.

Harry wiped his hands once more on his thighs, then swallowed hard and, trying desperately to keep his hands from trembling, reached out for the man's zipper.

Before he could even undo the top button of the black jeans, however, the man grabbed hold of Harry's hand with his own ink-stained fingers.

"I think not," he said, his voice deep and rich. Without giving Harry a chance to respond, the man dropped gracefully to his knees, unzipped Harry's jeans, and took Harry's cock into his hand.

Harry gasped and reached back to hold the edge of the sink for support. "Don't you...God...don't you want to use a condom or something?"

The man looked up, his expression a combination of mockery and surprise and something else that was completely unreadable. He said nothing, just shook his head, then leaned forward and took the head of Harry's already stiff cock into his mouth.

It was all over embarrassingly quickly. Whoever it was who'd said you could hold off an orgasm by thinking of unappealing things was lying. Not even conjuring up an image of the hairy back and shoulders of Ruby, his head of security, was enough to keep Harry from thrusting desperately into this man's hot, wet mouth. Still grasping the sink, he cradled the man's head with his free hand, rubbing his thumb repeatedly over the lank black strands of hair. The man sucked harder, and Harry moaned, aching to come, until his cock was finally swallowed whole, and with his knees barely able to support his weight any longer, Harry found his release.

Leaning over and still breathing heavily, Harry tried to figure out what was going to happen next. Were you allowed to thank somebody for the best blowjob you'd ever received or would that make you look like a child? Were you supposed to offer to reciprocate or was that supposed to be understood? Before he could even start to sort things out in his own mind, the man had stood up and was already heading back toward the door.

"Wait...stop!" Harry called.

The man turned around, an amused expression on his sharp-boned face. "You might want to tuck your cock back in your jeans before I open the door."

Harry looked down - and immediately felt a hot flush work its way down from his cheeks to his collar bone. So much for any chance of salvaging the moment. "I just thought...don't you want...we don't even know each other's names!"

"Oh, I know you, Harry Potter," the man said mockingly. "Boy celebrity, pop sensation, fledgling movie star, and...a great humanitarian, or so the papers have been saying recently. Have I missed anything?"

"Just your chance for a blow job of your own," Harry muttered under his breath.

"If there's nothing else?"

Harry couldn't understand it. This man might be a genius at fellatio, but he was almost twice Harry's age, he looked like Dracula on a bad night, and he was clearly a dick, so why did it feel so important to not let him get away? Was there really some connection between them, or was Harry just fooling himself?

"Could I at least buy you a drink?" he asked finally.

The man looked back at him, all trace of good humor gone from his face. "In case it had escaped your notice," he said, "this wasn't a damned date."

This time when he turned and started to walk away, he didn't stop.

When Harry woke the next morning, he was hangover free, but suffering from the sort of muzzyheadedness and achiness that comes from flying for 26 hours across eight time zones. It took a brisk walk over to Maria's Bazaar and two large cups of coffee before he started to feel even halfway human - and almost up to answering the phone when Hermione called.

It wasn't as if he didn't like talking to her. It was just that from the day they'd first met at school, he'd never been able to keep anything from Hermione, and he wasn't sure he was ready to talk about what had happened the previous night yet. Of course, he could always just not mention it, but that was no guarantee of anything...as was demonstrated when the two of them were no more than four minutes into their conversation.

"All right," she said, interrupting his news about the Disney movie he'd signed to do. "What is it you aren't telling me?"

Incredible. If he didn't know that Hermione thought everything to do with the paranormal was absurd, he would have guessed that she'd signed up for a course in mind reading while he'd been away. Maybe if he tried to bluff his way out of it?

"I've told you everything. Disney, talking animals, first starring role, yay?"

For a moment she was silent, but Harry could almost see her placing her hands on her hips in his mind's eye.

"Not the movie, Harry. I'm talking about whatever it is that you're trying not to tell me."

"Okay, let's just say for the sake of argument there actually was something I was trying not to tell you," he said. "Wouldn't that mean that it was something that, you know, maybe I didn't want to tell you? Wouldn't that make sense?"

She huffed impatiently. "Oh, don't be silly. You know you're going to tell me eventually. You might as well get it out of the way now."

Hermione was right, of course. He couldn't think of a single thing he didn't share with Hermione sooner or later. The same was true for Ron, but this might be one of those things he'd be sharing later with Ron. Practicing on Hermione might be a good idea.

"So...I went out last night."

"You did? You told me you were planning on spending a quiet night alone at the beach."

"Yeah, well, I'm not exactly in Malibu, either. I'm in Woodstock...at my grandparents' old house."

"Who's there with you?"

"Nobody, actually. I kind of told John that I was going to be with Ruby, and I told Ruby I was going to be with John, and everybody thinks I'm in California, but..."

"But you decided to go to the Catskills instead."

"Yeah." Harry paused, waiting for the lecture to start about how he needed to be more responsible, but Hermione surprised him.

"That makes sense, I think."

"It does?"

"Of course," she said quietly. "After what you've just been through, all those sick children, all those interviews you've been giving with WHO [5] ...and all of that coming right after a concert tour? It's no wonder you wanted to get out of the spotlight for awhile."

He nodded, even though he knew she couldn't see him. That was part of the reason he disappeared, after all. Just not the only one.

"But Harry," she continued, "you know it's not going to be long before the press tracks you down again, especially in Woodstock. It's not exactly the last place anyone would think to look for you."

"I know, I just needed a few days to myself."

"Of course you did. Now, what were you going to say about going out last night? Was it somewhere nice?"

He laughed. "'Nice' isn't exactly the first word I'd use to describe the place, no. More like...a dive."

"Oh, Harry."

"No, it was okay, really. The beer was good, at least. And it was...my kind of bar, if you know what I mean." Which Hermione did, of course. Sometimes Harry thought she'd known before he had. "I...sort of met someone. And no, before you ask, he wasn't exactly 'nice' either, but he was...there was something there, Hermione."

Another pause, then Hermione said, "You slept with him, didn't you?"

"Hey! I don't ask about your love life."

"That's because you know I haven't had one since Viktor went back to Europe to start grad school. Also, you didn't answer the question, and I asked if you slept with him, not about your 'love' life."

"Jesus. Are you sure you're really doing a journalism internship and not taking a course in special interrogation tactics with the CIA? The answer is no, I didn't sleep with him."


"Really. Well, not exactly. The thing, though, is that I think I want to see him again, even though I'm not sure why, but I can't."

"Why not? Just look his name up in the...oh, Harry, don't tell me you don't even know his name."

"Look, I know other things about him, and..."

"Like what?"

"Like what what?"

"What do you know about him?"

"I know he likes to read philosophy," he said.

"Oh." If there was one thing that might earn Hermione's approval, it was some sign of intellectual interest, something which, sadly, neither Ron nor Harry ever really displayed. "Okay, that's good. What else?"

"Well, I think black is his favorite color. And he's, um, not vain." Yeah, if not washing his hair was a sign of a lack of vanity. "And he's really good at..."

And that's where Harry stopped, because while he loved Hermione and told her just about everything, he wasn't sure if she really needed to hear a detailed description of him being sucked off in a public bathroom.

"I get the picture," she said. "And now...what?

"Now I try to find him, I think...before the press finds me."

"He's that important to you? After so little time together?"

"Maybe. I don't know, Hermione."

"Just be careful, Harry. You know that sex and love aren't the same thing."

"I didn't say I was in love with him."

"No, but I know you, don't I? And just remember," she said. "You don't really know anything about him yet."

Hermione was right about that. Harry didn't know anything about him, which was why as soon as the call was finished, he set out to try and see what he could find out about his...whatever that man was.

Finding out anything about him was more easily said than done, of course, since as Harry had acknowledged, he didn't even know the man's name. Woodstock wasn't a particularly big town - there were only 6,000 or so people living there year round - but it was still too big for Harry to have any luck just wandering around all morning and hoping he'd get lucky. However, he held a faint hope that fate might have had a part to play in their meeting, so 'wandering aimlessly' was the first method he tried. Needless to say, it was a complete failure.

It wasn't until he decided to go back to the Silk Purse that he had his first break. The old man in the mohair jacket wasn't around, but the place wasn't entirely deserted.

It also wasn't entirely business-ready.

"Out!" called a booming voice from behind the bar. "Come back at noon when we open for the day. If noon's too late in the day, well, you'd better learn to carry your own, hadn't you?"

Harry squinted across the room and saw that the man behind the bar was holding up a silver flask, which he then proceeded to drink from.

"Just between you and me," he said, one eye glinting oddly in the dim light, "it's better than any of the swill A.D. usually serves up in this place."

Harry didn't doubt that for a second.

"I didn't actually come in to buy a drink."

"No? Then what is it you want, boy?"

"I was looking for a man, to be honest."

"Yeah," the man said, choking on his laughter. "That's just about what all our customers are looking for. I wouldn't have imagined that there'd be much here to suit the tastes of a pretty boy like yourself."

Harry scowled. What was it with everybody in this town calling him 'boy?' Was he going to have to grow a beard or something?

"Oh, it's like that then, is it?" the man said, favoring one leg as he walked out from behind the bar. "No offense meant...boy. Now, let your Uncle Al know how he can help you find a man."

"It's one particular man," Harry said. What he really wanted to do was back away slowly from 'Uncle Al,' but he needed to find out if the guy knew anything first. "Medium height, skinny, dressed all in black, kind of pale. His hair's black and sort of...stringy, I guess."

Saying it aloud like that really made the man sound kind of...unattractive. Apparently, Al thought so too.

"Sounds like you picked a real winner there. You absolutely sure you want to find him?"

"Okay, look, if you're not going to help..."

"I said I'd help, and I will," the man said, taking another swallow of whatever it was he had in his flask. "So, does this Adonis have any other distinguishing characteristics?"

"Well." And yes, this was going to make him sound even worse. "His nose is sort of big."

"Oh, for God's sake, kid...don't tell me you're looking for Snape? Calling that nose of his 'big' is kind of an understatement, wouldn't you say? Why do you want to find that ugly bastard, anyhow?"

"Listen," Harry said, glaring angrily. "In the first place, why I want to find him is none of your fucking business, and in the second, calling him an ugly bastard is..."

"Keep your shirt on, boy," Al said, waving his hand in front of Harry's face. "You listen to me...you don't want to get mixed up with Snape. He's bad news. Snape's an ex-con, did you know that? How he got out of prison before he was even eligible for parole's a mystery, but everybody knows he's a killer. You need to watch out for yourself, because Snape sure as hell isn't going to do it for you."

As he walked out of the bar, Harry's feelings were decidedly mixed. On the one hand, he'd been able to put a name - or at least part of a name - to the face. On the other hand, though, all the warnings about strangers he'd ever heard from his manager or his late godfather or any of the other folks who'd taken care of him when he was younger came back to haunt him. He could just imagine what they'd say if they knew that not only had he gone off on his own, but that he'd unerringly ended up with somebody who had a prison record...who might even have been a killer, for God's sake.

To be honest, Al didn't seem to be a completely reliable source of information - in fact, he seemed a little nuts - but so far, what he'd said was all Harry had to go on. If only there was some way to find out the truth.

Without warning, the perfect solution popped into his mind, and it came complete with a vision of a halo of bushy hair surrounding an expression of mulish determination. Of course! Who could possibly be better than Hermione at ferreting out somebody's deep, dark secrets?

He headed home, fixed a sandwich for himself, then settled in on the couch and called Hermione to tell her what he'd learned. It only took one "Oh, Harry!" and two half-hearted suggestions that he could use Google just as well as she could, before she started to get intrigued despite herself and agreed to help.

"Just don't expect me to come up with an answer anytime soon," she said. "I do have my own work to do, you know."

"No problem," he replied, knowing full well that her 'not anytime soon' was anybody else's 'faster than the speed of light.'

He'd barely finished watching a rerun of The Crocodile Hunter before the phone rang again.

"Harry? Are you alone?"

He turned down the sound on the t.v. and sat up. "Yeah, I'm alone. What is it?"

"I'm running into the strangest dead ends. Are you sure his name is Snape?"

"Pretty sure," Harry said, with a frown. "Why? Isn't there a Snape in Woodstock."

"Oh, there's definitely a Snape living in Woodstock. Steven Snape, 41 years old. I don't have an address for you yet, but there's a P.O. Box number, if you want that."

"Maybe later, but..."

"The dead ends? I can't find any other information about him after 1986, no employment history or anything."


"Really. And there does seem to be a record of your Snape having served time in a prison back in the eighties, but I can't find any record of what the original charge was. It looks as if somebody made an effort to make the record disappear.

"This is getting weirder all the time, isn't it?"

"It is....and the strangest thing of all is that Allen Dore's name has popped up more than once in my search results."

"Congressman Dore?"

"The one and only."

Allen Dore had been an institution, serving an almost record-breaking number of terms in office and greatly beloved by his constituents. He had been a tireless campaigner for the poor and powerless in society and was admired even by most of those who were 'on the other side of the aisle.' He'd been in the middle of his first run for the presidency when he died unexpectedly from what his obituary said were unknown causes, and the outpouring of national grief was staggering. Harry had been on tour at the time, and even some of Harry's toughest roadies had cried when they heard the news.

"How were they connected?"

"I don't have a clue yet, but...look, Harry--" Hermione was silent for a moment, but he could almost hear her chewing on her bottom lip.

"If you're planning on telling me to stay away from Snape, you won't be the first person to say that today." Not that it would matter if she did, and in any case, a P.O. box number wasn't getting Harry any closer to tracking Snape down.

"No, it's not that, precisely. Just...I think I'm going to keep investigating this mystery, if you don't mind."

"I sort of figured you would," Harry said. "Let me know if you come up with anything, all right?"

"Of course I will. And...be careful, Harry. I know you've always relied on your instincts when it comes to people, but there is such a thing as too trusting, you know."

Harry spent most of the rest of the day just hanging around the house, only going out to the backyard for a quick swim in the heated pool his parents had gotten installed on his first birthday. John had told him once that they'd wanted to be the ones to teach him to swim, but the tour bus accident had put an end to that, as it had put an end to most of the things his parents had planned to do with him someday.

He considered going out to get something to eat, but spending so much time over the past few months with people who were living on little more than a cup of rice and some shriveled vegetables each day had done something to Harry's appetite, and in the end, he just ate an apple and turned in for the night.

The next day, he set out early, and after having a bagel and a cup of coffee, he headed for the town center, visiting any shop that looked like it had been around at least since the eighties. He tried to be subtle about his questions, but within an hour, Harry resigned himself to the fact that 'subtle' just wasn't one of his defining characteristics. Leaving aside the blank stares from people who had no idea who Snape was, the most common response Harry got to his queries was a suspicious look and some variant of "You should learn to mind your own business."

Ordinarily, he would just mind his own business - he wasn't particularly inquisitive as a rule, or at least he never had been before this year - but for whatever reason, he just couldn't let this go.

Determined though he might be, as it neared 6:00 p.m., Harry realized that he was going to have to call a halt to his search since the shops were all starting to close for the day. The only one that still seemed to be open on Tinker Street was the White Gryphon. [6] It really didn't look like the kind of place that Snape would frequent, but he wasn't going to give up without trying everything.

He climbed the multi-colored stairs and stepped into the shop. The only person inside was a teenage boy working behind the counter, and there was no way that he was old enough to know anything about a 41 year old man's past. Having reached another dead-end was a little frustrating, but Harry's attention was drawn, for the moment at least, by the eclectic merchandise: driftwood sculptures and pendants and tie-dye tee-shirts which looked kind of cool in a retro sort of way.

Harry had just picked up a purple crystal and was holding it to his eye, when a female voice behind him said, "You won't find what you're looking for in that crystal."

He spun around, so quickly that he almost dropped the crystal on the wood floor.

"Sorry," he said, placing it carefully back on top of the glass counter. "I'm not usually so jumpy. I guess I'm a little distracted today."

The woman smiled at him over the top of the pair of oversized glasses that had slipped down to the end of her nose. "I can see that. It's difficult to play the Disney heroine's role, isn't it? Waiting for your prince to come."

He frowned, not sure whether to take offense or not.

"I'd invite you to the back for a proper reading, but I'm afraid we're just about to close up. My son has a recital tonight," she said, indicating the boy on the other side of the store. "Would you like a suggestion, though?"

What harm could it do? She was a little odd, but she seemed friendly enough, and as Hermione had reminded him, he'd always trusted his instincts before; no reason to stop now.

"Sure. What would you suggest, ma'am?"

"I'd suggest you sit down with a delicious cup of soup at the Garden Cafe. Yes, I think that's just where you need to be. Run along now, my dear...you wouldn't want to be late!"

Keeping a straight face by sheer force of will, Harry thanked her and left the store, fully intending to return home. But after all, it was dinner time and he had heard some good things about the new restaurant. That was the only reason he walked over to the Garden Cafe and let the waitress seat him at a little round table over in the corner by the window.

Thirty minutes later, Harry was finishing the last of the soup, which really was as delicious as the woman at the White Gryphon promised it would be. As he waited for the change from his bill, he mopped up the last of the soup with some surprisingly good milkless, eggless bread. He hadn't known that the restaurant was a vegan place - he might not have tried it if he'd known, quite honestly - but the woman had actually given him good advice when she suggested he go. As for why she'd said he'd 'needed' to be there, however, Harry had no clue.

Until he happened to glance out the window and saw Steven Snape walking past the restaurant.

Not bothering to wait for his change, Harry slipped his jacket on and made a dash for the front door...only to realize he didn't have any idea how he was going to approach the man once they were sharing the same sidewalk. He'd been thinking about Snape pretty much non-stop for close to 48 hours, but that was no guarantee that he'd crossed Snape's mind once in all that time. And even if he had, there was nothing to say that Snape had any interest in seeing him again. If anything, the way they'd parted suggested the exact opposite.

As it happened, though, there was no need for Harry to rehearse a speech, since Snape proved quite eager to see him again. So eager, in fact, that the minute Harry walked out through the front door, Snape grabbed him by the collar of his jacket and dragged him over to the alley beside the restaurant.

"If you would be good enough to give me a moment of your time," Snape said, his voice low and menacing. In the brief interlude between shock and terror, Harry thought Snape's words sounded eerily like the hiss of a snake, which was particularly strange since his sentence contained no sibilants.

"I am quite sure you have been raised to believe yourself to be the center of the fucking universe, Potter, but your exalted celebrity status in no way gives you license to amuse yourself by asking questions about matters which are none of your damned business."

"I wasn't..."

"Weren't asking questions about me? Well, then it appears you must have a doppelganger, since at least six people have approached me in the past two days, wanting to make sure I was aware that I had become the subject of some rather forceful enquiries."

"No, I was asking questions, just...it wasn't to amuse myself."

"No? Perhaps you'd care to share the earth-shatteringly important reason behind the famous Harry Potter apparently retiring from the limelight in order to pursue the life of an amateur detective."

What could he say? Snape wasn't going to believe anything but the truth, yet even the truth sounded idiotic. I felt a connection between us and I needed to see you again? Snape would laugh in his....

"A connection?"

If Harry hadn't been so appalled to discover he'd said that out loud, he might have laughed at the look of stupefaction on Snape's face.

"What do you mean by that?"

"You know...a connection. A kind of...rightness. A...something."

"I take it you don't write your own lyrics," Snape said blandly. "In any case, the fact that you're still young enough to mistake a brief sexual encounter for a connection is reason enough to refuse to indulge you in this fantasy."

"I'm not mistaking anything. There is something there, I know there is. Don't tell me you didn't feel anything when we were sitting in the bar the other night."

Snape frowned, then turned away and leaned back against the stuccoed wall. "The slightest of attractions and nothing more," he muttered.

"Except, you don't really believe that, do you?"

"And what makes you so damned certain you have any idea what I believe?"

"Um...because we have a connection?"

It was clear that the last thing Snape wanted to do at this moment was laugh, yet laugh he did, however unwillingly. It was only for a moment, but in that moment, Harry was able to catch a glimpse of Snape's uneven, discolored teeth and instead of being put off, he found himself even more attracted, almost charmed. It was a clear sign, he thought...although a sign of what exactly, he wasn't quite sure.

"What is it you want, Potter? Because if it's merely to have me on my knees before you once more, I'm willing to oblige. Right here in this alley, if it will put an end to this foolishness."

"No, that's not what I want!"

Snape raised one eyebrow.

"Well, okay," Harry said. "Alley sex actually sounds kind of hot but...can't we just spend some time together? It doesn't have to be a big deal, just, you know, walk in the woods, share a couple meals, talk."

"You've spent the past two days stalking me and invading my privacy because you wanted somebody to accompany you on a picnic?"

Harry looked down at his feet. "Okay, I admit it sounds bad when you put it like that."

"It sounds utterly idiotic. You're utterly idiotic."

"Why?" Harry said, frustration plain in his voice. "Because I felt something for you when we met? How is that idiotic?"

"Because you don't even know who I am. You know nothing about me."

Harry did, of course, but he didn't think it would help his case to bring any of that up just at the moment.

"Then let me get to know you!" he said, hating the insipid pleading note that he could hear in his voice, but unable to do anything about it. "Spend time with me, just for the weekend."

"And if I have other things that are occupying my attention at the moment? Are you suggesting that I drop them all to indulge your ridiculous desire to 'get to know' me?"

It was a mark of Harry's obsession that he hadn't even stopped for a moment to think about whether there were things going on in Snape's life that couldn't be put to the side, even for a few days. Just because Harry was free didn't mean that Snape was. What if he had work to think about? What if he had a lover?

He bit his bottom lip - a habit he'd picked up from Hermione - then looked back up at Snape. "I'm sorry. I didn't think things through. I didn't....you have work, maybe...or...are you with somebody?"

"Excuse me?"

"With someone. Do you have a boyfriend or something?"

Once again, Snape laughed, but this time it sounded bitter to Harry's ears. "No, I don't have a something, although why you would imagine I did surpasses all understanding."

Now it was Harry's turn to be confused. Surely it wasn't all that odd to wonder whether or not Snape had a lover. Except...Snape obviously thought it was fairly unbelievable, so did that mean that he thought the whole idea of him being involved with anybody was ludicrous? Or was it that he couldn't imagine anybody thinking he could possibly have a lover? If that was the answer, Harry thought, it was really damned sad.

"I'm glad there's no one else at the moment." Harry could hear Snape snort mockingly as he said the words 'at the moment,' but he soldiered on. "Does that mean you'll give it a shot?"

Snape didn't answer, but he also hadn't walked away, which had to be a good sign.

"Say yes."

"If I do say yes, I want a promise that whenever I decide this little experiment is over, that will be that. No whining, no idiocy."

Harry nodded, happy to agree to anything at the moment.

"And attempting to discuss my private life with strangers? That's at an end, no matter what happens?"

"Yes, definitely," Harry said, feeling a little guilty even as he said the words because of the certain knowledge that Hermione would be calling at some point soon with an update. The only thing that made him feel slightly less like he was lying was the fact that Hermione wasn't actually a stranger, but he knew that was just a technicality. He was going to have to contact her as soon as he got a chance and tell her to drop it.

"In that case," Snape said, "much as I'm certain I'll live to regret it, my answer is yes."

Over the past two days, there hadn't been a great deal of time to imagine how things might unfold if Snape actually agreed to give this a try, but Harry hadn't even entertained the possibility that they wouldn't be spending their time together at his house. Snape, however, had other - quite unshakeable - plans, which is how Harry found himself sitting in the kitchen of Snape's late aunt's home, drinking a cup of tea, while Snape stared out the back window to the twilit cemetery beyond.

The kitchen was small and cramped, with no modern conveniences at all - or at least not modern by Harry's standards, which included the vague expectation that every kitchen should have a microwave and an ice dispenser in the refrigerator at the very least. However, it couldn't be faulted where cleanliness was concerned. Snape hadn't been planning on having anybody over when he set out that afternoon, but the place was absolutely spotless.

It was also cold. Harry didn't know if the house had central heating - he supposed there still might be a few older places in this town that didn't - but if it did, it certainly wasn't on, and tea could only go so far to warm somebody up. Sharing body heat was much more efficient, or so he'd heard, but it looked as if that was the last thing on Snape's mind. If Harry had a less trusting nature, he might have suspected that the reason Snape wanted Harry in his house was specifically because it was cold and uncomfortable.

"So...should we maybe do something?" Harry asked, but he received no response. "Steven?"

That did get a reaction - a slow turn and a suspicious, narrow-eyed stare, as if to ask what made Harry think he'd been granted the extreme privilege of using his first name. However, no sooner had that stare begun to look as if it was going to become a permanent fixture then it was gone, replaced with an expression that was entirely impossible to read.

"What was it you had in mind? A game of Slapjack [7] perhaps? Or have you already lost interest in wasting time on the 'getting to know each other' preliminaries?"

The secret, Harry suddenly realized as he drank the last of his tea, was to ignore Snape's sarcastic tone and just concentrate on his words. If there hadn't been such an undercurrent of challenge in that last sentence, it could actually have made Snape sound like he was feeling sort of...vulnerable. Is that what he was really worried about? That at any second, Harry would just change his mind about this and leave him looking like a fool for agreeing to give it a try, no matter how reluctantly?

"Maybe we could play some music or something?"

"There are no CD's in this house, only a milk crate full of old albums which I'm sure you'd have no interest in."

"Are you joking?" Harry said, getting up from the table and reaching around Snape to place his empty tea cup in the sink. "I love older music."

Without waiting for Snape's permission, Harry walked into the living room. The milk crate was just beside the sofa where he'd expected it to be, and Harry sat cross-legged on the oval braided rug and started to look through the record collection.

The albums were arranged chronologically, from the Who and Led Zeppelin to the Sex Pistols and the Clash to Iron Cross and Agnostic Front, with a few random classical albums (mostly Beethoven) scattered throughout.

Then there at the very back, Harry found the last album he'd ever expected to find: a copy of What I See. The album was from a live acoustic performance by a folk singer, and had, as cover art, a black and white image of a woman's face. Her eyes, though, which were looking off into the distance, were a very familiar shade of green.

The album was signed 'Love, Lily.'

Feeling a little shell-shocked, Harry turned around to face Snape who had gone to sit down on the sofa. "I've been trying to find a copy of this for years. How did you get it?"

"I...purchased it."

"With an autograph? You bought a collector's edition of my mom's solo album?"

"I didn't buy it with a damned autograph," Snape snapped.

"She signed it for you in person?" Harry said, too excited at having the album in his hands to worry about Snape's short temper. "Did you get it at a concert or something?"

"She signed it for me at a coffee shop she went to occasionally. As for where I got it," Snape said, sounding oddly defensive, "I didn't actually purchase it. I stole it."

"You what?"

"If it matters, I'd gone into the record store intending to steal a copy of 1999 [8], but I accidently grabbed the wrong album. And no, before you ask, your mother's album is nothing like the other music I used to listen to, but..."

"It spoke to you," Harry said quietly.

Snape rolled his eyes, but then shrugged. "I wouldn't put it like that, but...possibly. In any case, that was her best work. None of the puerile recordings she ever made with your father ever came close to that album, particularly not the lyrics."

Harry decided to ignore the blatant insult to his father's memory and just enjoy the fact that Snape had liked his mother's music so much.

"I don't suppose we could listen to the album," he asked. "I've heard a few recordings from it, but I've never heard it straight through."

"Do you know how a record player works?

Suppressing the urge to stick his tongue out at Snape, Harry just nodded, then got up and placed the album on the turntable. The sound quality wasn't the best - it sounded like the album had been recorded with a single mic, and it was old enough to be a little scratchy - but just hearing her sing, and in the company of someone who really appreciated her music was almost magical.

"It's odd," Harry said. "That recording of 'Somewhere They're Crying' is what got me involved in the Children's World Hunger campaign in the first place."

Snape grunted in acknowledgment, but said nothing in response.

"What?" Harry said with a frown. "Don't tell me you think there's something wrong with celebrities lending their names to important projects."

"Oh, I wouldn't think of casting aspersions on the noble Harry Potter. I'm certain that it must have been quite a sacrifice, staying in mere three-star hotels after a trying publicity shoot."

"What the hell are you talking about?"

"Surely you don't expect anybody to believe there was more to it than that?"

"Not that I really care what the hell you think," Harry said angrily, "but I was staying with families in the villages for the past four months, eating what they ate and sleeping where they slept. And yes, I was talking to the press while I was there, because almost nobody gives a damn when those children go to bed hungry, night after night, but a few people might actually listen when it's the 'noble Harry Potter' talking. Well? Nothing to say?

"Perhaps," Snape replied after a moment's pause, "I might have been mistaken."

Harry shook his head. "God. You really are an ass, you know that?"

Snape snorted. "So I've been told on numerous occasions." He crossed his arms over his chest. "This is going well so far, isn't it?"


"Any other bright ideas about how we might spend the rest of the evening?

"I suppose we could always test the quality of your bed."

"Are you suggesting we go and fuck, Mr. Potter?"

"Well," Harry said, echoing Snape's own words, "I wouldn't put it like that, but...possibly. "

Harry had been surprised that their first encounter had ended with Snape kneeling before him, using his amazingly talented mouth to bring Harry to completion. He wasn't terribly experienced, but somehow he'd gotten the impression that nobody as aggressive as Snape would possibly agree to take the submissive role in any sexual encounter...or that he might actually prefer it.

It had taken no more than thirty seconds in Snape's bed for Harry to discover there was absolutely nothing submissive about what Snape demanded as his due.

"It's called bottoming, for God's sake," Snape said disgustedly, as he yanked Harry onto the bed beside him, then slid his own black jeans off and tossed them onto the floor. "Not being the girl."

He lay back against the unmade bed and tugged lazily at his own cock once or twice, then looked up. "Do I look like a fucking girl to you?"

Harry tried to swallow, but his mouth was too dry. No, if there was one thing Steven Snape didn't look like, it was a girl.

"I didn't think so," Snape said, smirking in a disconcertingly self-satisfied way. "Now, turn around and get the lube off the bedside table."

Harry placed the lube beside him on the bed, then took off his shirt. He pushed his jeans and briefs off his hips and, after taking a second to remove his wallet from the back pocket of his pants, he dropped his clothes off the edge of the bed.

Snape watched as Harry opened his wallet and smirked. "You don't have to pay me, you know. The first time is free."

"Ha and also ha," said Harry, pulling a silver and blue foil packet out of the back of the wallet.

"I thought I told you the other day this wasn't necessary," Snape said with a frown.

"Maybe not then, but this is different."

"And how would you know? You're barely more than a boy, and from what you've said, you've had less experience than I had when I was fourteen."

Harry could feel himself flush, but he set his chin stubbornly. "I may be young, but all that means is that I was still in school when they started giving fairly graphic lessons about just what can happen during unprotected anal sex...and no, I don't mean just AIDS. Infections and that sort of thing."

"You aren't going to get...."

"I didn't mean me," Harry said impatiently. "This isn't negotiable, Steven."

For a moment it looked as if Snape was going to continue to argue, but then he unbuttoned his long-sleeved shirt and threw it on top of his jeans.

"Fine," he said.

It was clear that Snape's agreement was the one concession he was going to make to Harry having any control over the proceedings. He sat back and directed Harry to stroke himself into hardness under his own watchful eye, then instructed him, step by step in the subtle art of rolling a condom on one's cock.

He then handed the lubricant to Harry and had him spread it on his cock, around the rim of Snape's hole, and finally on the fingers of his right hand.

"Did your private school sex education class teach you where your fucking prostate was?"

"Of course."

"And did they show you where the prostate is located? No? Well, then let's just pretend I'm your new teacher."

Harry shifted nervously and adjusted his almost painful balls.

"Eyes to the front of the class, Potter, unless you believe you have such astounding natural abilities that you feel comfortable enough to not pay attention."[9]

And so it went for the rest of the evening, with Snape giving instructions and Harry following them - far more willingly than he had ever followed the directions of any of his schoolteachers. Of course, he thought - as he thrust his hips forward, perfectly angled (after extensive coaching) to hit Snape's prostate with every forward thrust and bring them to simultaneous orgasm for the second time that night - none of his lessons had ever been so very interesting.

Long after midnight, Harry finally drifted off to sleep, sweaty and sated and nestled in the crook of Snape's arm.

When Harry woke, the other side of the bed was empty, and the seductive aroma of coffee brewing in the other room finished the task of getting him out from under the covers. He pulled his jeans back on and slipped Snape's black tee-shirt over his head, then walked out into the kitchen to join Snape.

"I had considered Eggs Benedict," Snape said, adding some grated cheese and chopped onions to the omelet cooking in a cast iron pan. "However, Minerva's recipes seem to have disappeared over the years and I don't have a clue how to make Hollandaise sauce."

"Minerva?" Harry said, pouring a cup of coffee for himself and sitting down at the kitchen table. "That's your aunt, right?"

"Not precisely," said Snape. "Both my parents were only children, but Minerva McGonagall was an old school friend of my mother's, and I called her aunt from the time I could first speak."

"Mrs. McGonagall? I think I remember hearing about her," said Harry. "My godfather brought me up here one Halloween so I could go trick or treating."

Snape placed Harry's omelet in front of him, then brought his own to the table. "I imagine your little friends told you stories about the witch that had lived in this house."

Harry had the grace to look ashamed. "Yeah, they did. They...we were idiots."

"It doesn't matter," Snape said, cutting his omelet into flawlessly even pieces. "She was long gone by that point. I treated her no better while she was alive."

Harry looked up, but remained silent, not wanting to force Snape into saying anything that might bring up bad memories. Eventually, though, Snape glanced over and saw the look of interest on Harry's face.

"It's not a terribly interesting story," he said. "My father drank himself to death by the time I was eleven, and my mother followed shortly thereafter. Having no expectation that either of my parents had left any provision for my care, the State stepped in and sent me off to the first in a long line of foster homes."

"I'm guessing they were bad."

"They were...less than adequate for my needs, let's say. In any case, I demonstrated little willingness to 'make the best of the situation,' as my caseworkers were always encouraging me to do. Apparently, Aunt Minerva had started looking for me as soon as she heard about my mother, but by the time she'd worked her way through the bureaucratic maze of government red tape, I was already sixteen and had less than no interest in being anybody's son, not even somebody who had been the next best thing to a mother during my childhood."

Harry nodded in what he hoped was a supportive way, although he knew he didn't really understand. Even at sixteen, he would probably have given anything to have even one parent to his name. His godfather - much though Harry had loved him - probably wouldn't really have been considered 'Dad' material even if his job hadn't sent him off to war zones a dozen times a year. Mrs. McGonagall, though, was nothing like his godfather had been.

"But this was her house..."

"Yes, it was." Snape got up from the table and looked out the back window again. "But she had never been in particularly good health, and while I was away - spending time with the proverbial 'bad crowd' - she died. It was years before I knew, and even longer before I learned that she had left me everything...well, what there was to leave."

"I'm sorry," Harry said quietly.

"So am I," Snape replied.

As much as it pleased Harry that Snape was willing to share some of his personal history, it was also a source of frustration. He recognized on one level that just because Snape had shared a few pieces of the puzzle that made up his life, it didn't automatically follow that he was willing to share everything. However, Harry wanted it to mean that. And maybe it would eventually, but it just wasn't happening fast enough, especially because Harry already knew more than he was supposed to know. It would make it easier to keep from slipping up if he knew a few more things officially.

Apart from that, though, Harry wanted to learn more because he wanted to know everything about this man. What kind of crowd had he hung out with when he was a teenager? What had he done that had gotten him sent to prison when he was barely older than Harry was now? Why there was almost no record of him even existing after that year? Logically, Harry knew that it wouldn't do any good to badger Snape about his past; Snape was possibly more stubborn than anybody he'd ever met and the more Harry pushed, the less likely it was that Snape would share anything more. But knowing that didn't change anything about what Harry wanted.

Despite the low-level 'not knowing enough about Snape' frustration that Harry couldn't quite shake, the rest of the day was actually pretty nice, all things considered. They didn't really do much, only leaving the house twice: once so that Snape could buy groceries and Harry could pick up a change of clothes, and then later in the day, to take a walk together through the Artists Cemetery [10].

Ordinarily, a cemetery wouldn't have been the first spot to come to mind when Harry thought of romance. However, when they'd almost reached the top of the hill, Snape had actually taken Harry's hand in his, unprompted, and that made the cemetery pretty damned romantic in Harry's book.

"I have to admit I'm a little surprised your parents don't have a stone here," Snape said, as they were walking back down the hill.

"Yeah, I think a lot of people were kind of surprised about that, but from what my manager, John, has always said about my mom and dad, their only regret - apart from not being able to spend more time with me - would probably have been that they didn't get more of a private life." Snape looked over in disbelief, but Harry just shook his head. "Becoming famous isn't the same thing as wanting to be famous, you know."

"And where are they now?" Snape asked, ignoring Harry entirely.

"Buried near Mom's family in Allentown, both of them. John said that my dad...."

"Your mother is from Allentown, Pennsylvania?" Snape said, interrupting Harry in the middle of his sentence.

"She is, but why do you...oh, man!" Harry said, understanding dawning all at once. "Don't tell me you grew up there too?"

Snape scowled. "Yes, I spent the first ten years of my life there, but don't start wondering if we're long-lost cousins, for God's sake."

"Um...given how we spent last night, I sure as hell hope we aren't related." Harry shuddered, but Snape just laughed in an altogether unpleasant manner, then raised one eyebrow suggestively.

"Stop it!" Harry said. "Can't we talk about something else?"

"Perhaps," said Snape, turning down the path that led to his kitchen door. Then he turned around and said over his shoulder, "And perhaps not."

It was sometime after Harry and Snape had prepared their first meal together (chicken and risotto) and before they had retired to bed (for an encore performance of "The Education of Young Mr. Potter") that Harry first thought how amazing it was that he and Snape had only met a few days earlier and yet seemed to be so well suited for each other. Their relationship - and it really was a relationship already - was fantastic.

It seemed inconceivable that anything could go wrong.

Early the following day, just past 5:30 a.m., the glare of the sun's first rays hit Harry's eyes and woke him. Despite not having had much sleep, he was pleased that he'd been woken before Snape. Up until this point, he'd had little opportunity to just look at the man, and he was glad to have the chance to do so, even though he recognized that by the usual standards of western society, Snape wasn't, objectively, much to look at.

Even Snape's feet - long, slim, and currently poking out of the bottom of the blanket - fascinated Harry. And yes, Harry was completely aware that if he shared that thought with Ron or even Hermione, he'd be laughed at. However, even knowing that his two best friends would think he'd gone a little over the top didn't make his feelings any less strong.

The sun's rays moved slowly across the bed, finally reaching Snape's face, but they didn't quite wake him; he merely rolled over onto his side, muttered unintelligibly, and threw his arm over his face. No need for Ron or Hermione: Harry couldn't help but laugh at himself a little at the ridiculously tender feeling that was washing over him.

It was at that moment that Harry first caught a glimpse of the tattoo on Snape's upper arm.

The tattoo wasn't terribly large - probably about half the size of the anchor tattoos that sailors on leave always seemed to be getting in the movies. It was the image, though, that caught Harry's attention. At first, it just looked like a coiled red snake, but looking more closely, Harry could see that the snake was winding in and out of a human skull...and on the forehead of that skull was a black swastika.

Harry had vague memories from a comparative religions class he'd taken in school that there was a long history for the swastika [11], and it certainly didn't always represent something bad, but this...no, this didn't seem like any kind of a religious symbol. As the minutes ticked by, he grew increasingly uncomfortable until finally he had to get out of bed, just so he could stop looking at the damned thing.

By the time he'd washed up and gotten dressed, again wearing one of Snape's tee-shirts, Harry had calmed down. He was almost sure Snape would have some reasonable explanation, and that could certainly wait to hear it until later in the day. For now, maybe he'd take a leaf out of Snape's book and take a turn making breakfast. Harry wasn't a naturally talented cook, but he had no problem reading directions. Maybe he could find a recipe for Hollandaise sauce and make the Eggs Benedict that Snape had wanted to eat the day before.

He looked around the little kitchen, but there didn't seem to be any cookbooks, which was disappointing. There was, however, a small, tin box decorated with tartan stripes up on a high shelf, just the right size to be one of those old fashioned recipe boxes, like the one his old babysitter, Mrs. Figg, used to use.

He dragged a chair across the room, then climbed up on it and took the box off the shelf. It was a little sticky with age, but Harry was able to open it easily enough. Unfortunately, there were no recipes, but what there were was even better.

Photograph upon photograph, most featuring a little boy with a very distinctive nose who could only be Snape as a child. Harry turned the first picture - one of a five or six year old sitting alone in a playground - over and read the back: 'Steven, Summer 1970' Yep, it was him all right. Harry smiled. He had to see the rest of these.

And so on he went, taking the photographs, one after another, out of the little tin box and setting them on the kitchen table. There was Steven riding a bike that looked far too small to be his. There he was wearing Superman pajamas. And there, a little older, flanked by a man and woman with sour expressions on their faces who had to be his parents, even though neither of them were touching him.

In fact, there were no pictures at all in which anybody was touching Snape, and the more Harry looked at the photographs, the more obvious it was that Snape was never even with anybody in these pictures. No birthday gatherings, no friends sitting with him at the municipal swimming pool, no kiddie sports team photographs - no indication at all that he had ever had a friend...until he was a teenager.

It was hard to tell exactly how old Snape was in the first photo that showed him with another person because he was a pretty weedy kid, but Harry figured he must have been something like fifteen or sixteen. His hair was much shorter than it had been during most of his childhood, and he was wearing a pair of Doc Martens which looked too big for him. The boy standing beside him, glowering at the camera, had a crew cut. He was a little taller and wider across the shoulders than Snape. Both of them had their arms crossed over their chests.

The next few pictures were more of the same. Snape was slightly older in each one, his hair increasingly shorter, and in each picture he had a number of companions, usually posing with their arms around each other's shoulders.

Harry wanted to think that all he was looking at was nothing more than a bunch of teenaged boys making fashion statements, but the ugly words on their tee-shirts and the angry expressions on their faces told him that he was being naive.

Feeling an ache in his chest the like of which he'd never felt before, Harry kept looking, forcing himself to look at all the pictures, making himself see Snape for what he was, to understand what kind of a monster he'd been sharing a bed with.

And then the photographs ended, and in their place was a program from a college graduation ceremony. Harry frowned and looked through the names more than once, but Snape's name wasn't on the list.

Beneath the program were three pieces of identification, and neither of those had Snape's name on them either, but they did have photographs of him as an adult. A drivers license, some kind of government-issued staff card and a Department of Corrections ID card, all with the name....

"What in the name of fuck do you think you're doing?" Snape bellowed from the kitchen doorway.

Harry started to back away from the table, frightened by the look of rage on Snape's face, but he obviously wasn't moving quickly enough, because a moment later, Snape grabbed hold of Harry's arm, yanked him hard, and threw him to the floor.

"I should have fucking known better than to trust anyone, particularly a spoiled little shit like you."

Gathering up his photographs and papers and putting them back in the box, Snape looked at Harry with a look of such loathing, that Harry wanted to curl up in the corner and cry.

"I am so sorry," Harry said, his voice barely a whisper. "I swear I am. I only wanted to...."

"I don't care what you wanted!" Snape screamed, spit flying from his mouth. "You invaded my privacy, you are an untrustworthy little prick, and I want you out of here immediately!"

"Can't we just..."


Harry scrambled to his feet and left through the kitchen door.

It was an indication of how angry and upset Harry was that he was halfway home before he realized he'd left Snape's house without putting on his shoes. Thank God his wallet and phone were still in his jeans pockets when he'd dressed, because there was no way he'd have gone back to that bastard's house to get them.

To think he'd actually been on the verge of tears, practically begging Snape to listen to him. Why should he be the one to apologize? Because he accidentally looked at a few pictures? Last he checked, that wasn't a felony, not like...whatever it was Snape and the rest of the thugs in his gang used to do.

He'd been in prison. He was violent. He had a swastika on his arm. Harry had been sucked off by a man who had a fucking swastika on his arm.

What in the name of God had he been thinking?

And why was there still a part of him mourning the loss of something that had barely begun?

Harry had barely managed to plug his cell phone - which had run entirely out of bars sometime over the past two days - into the charger before collapsing on his bed and falling into a deep, if not particularly tranquil sleep. His dreams, those he could remember at any rate, were full of mundane images - reading the Sunday papers, shopping for groceries, walking along the beach in California - and all of them featured Snape in some way.

When his phone rang and woke him up before he'd come anywhere close to getting enough rest, he was almost grateful.

"Harry?" It was Hermione, of course. "Where have you been? I've been trying to reach you since yesterday morning."

"Yeah," he said, still groggy from his restless sleep. "Sorry about that. My phone needed a charge, and I wasn't home."

"So...are things, um....serious?" she asked tentatively.

"As of this morning, there's no thing at all." He'd meant to sound blase, but he suspected that instead, he just sounded sulky and sad. "Anyway, what's up?"

"Oh, well, I was going to tell you what I'd found out about Snape, but...I suppose you don't want to hear it now?"

Oh, great...did she want him to crawl for the information now? Hermione had started to get awfully manipulative over the past few months, and Harry would have told her so, too, if a wave of guilt hadn't suddenly come over him as he remembered that he'd never bothered to call her and ask her to stop looking into Snape's personal business. She had an excuse, he supposed, being an embryonic journalist and all. Harry, on the other hand, had actually promised Snape - mostly - that there'd be no more snooping.

"Go on then," he muttered.

"All right, first of all, I found out why he was in prison the first time."

"The first time?"

"I'll get to that in a minute," Hermione said. "But yes, the first time. As it turns out, your Snape was involved with some fairly ugly people when he was young."

"Are you about to say Neo-Nazis, by any chance?

"How did you know?" She sounded so completely shocked that Harry actually felt insulted for a moment, until he remembered that he hadn't been the one who was supposed to have been tracking down information. Besides, he didn't really want to discuss the whole Hollandaise Sauce debacle. Not yet, at least.

"Don't ask," he said. "So...what did he do?"

Harry didn't know whether it was just that he was feeling slightly guilty for continuing to invade Snape's privacy or that he just didn't want to find out any other horrible information about the man he'd been falling for, but he could actually hear his heartbeat speed up in the time it took for Hermione to answer his question.

"He did nothing. Or rather, he didn't do the specific crime that landed him in prison in the mid-eighties. According to the police report - and don't ask how I got access to it - he and three of his friends were out drinking, they ran across a man who they thought was homosexual, and they beat him practically to death."

"Christ!" Harry breathed.

"Yes, but Harry...he didn't do it. He'd even told them to 'fuck off and look for something else to do,' before passing out drunk on the curb. Meanwhile, the victim was in a coma for months, and even after he came out of it, his first priority wasn't exactly clearing the name of someone who had been friends with three men who'd almost killed him. Eventually though, eighteen months later, a team of lawyers, working on Snape's behalf, got a new trial, convinced the man to testify, and Snape was freed."

The relief Harry felt that Snape hadn't been involved in such an ugly act was immense, but he was also confused. Where the hell would Snape have come up with a 'team of lawyers?' He would have been lucky to have caught the interest of a 24 year old from the Legal Aid Society, looking to bolster his or her reputation in the days before there'd even been a classification known as hate crimes.

"Where'd the lawyers come from?"

"Ah, now that's the really interesting part," said Hermione, settling into lecture mode. "And it's also where Congressman Dore comes into the picture. Apparently, he retained the lawyers on Snape's behalf and then, shortly after Snape was set free, arranged for him to change his name legally so that he could turn his life around without all this ugliness following him."

"Tobias Prince," Harry said with a start, remembering what he'd seen on the ID in the metal recipe box. "That was his new name, wasn't it?"

"It was!" she said, too caught up in the excitement of sharing all this information to question how Harry had discovered it too. "Which is exactly why I was having so much trouble finding out what had happened to Steven Snape after 1986. There was no Steven Snape after that year, not legally, at least."

"Have I heard the name Tobias Prince before? It sounds familiar."

"I was just getting around to that part of the puzzle - and why I specified that his assault charge resulted in his first prison term. Snape - or rather, Prince, as he was being called by this point - ended up as the prime suspect in the murder of Cedric Diggory."

"And he was...?"

"Honestly, Harry," said Hermione. "It was in all the papers in 2000. Young investigative reporter mostly covering stories in the Capitol..."

"I was fifteen in 2000, Hermione. I didn't read the papers."

"I was fifteen, too, you know. I'd heard of Diggory."

"Yes, but you were some kind of freak of nature."

Harry could almost see her eyes narrowing.

"I'm going to assume that 'freak of nature' means 'amazing and brilliant' in your world," she said.

"Of course."

"Good. Anyway, talk about lightning striking twice in the same place: Snape had nothing to do with Diggory's death either, but by the time he was cleared that time, he'd already served four years of his sentence."

If Harry had felt slightly guilty about prying into Snape's business before, he felt a hundred times more guilty about it now. No wonder the man didn't want anybody looking into his personal life: it was a complete nightmare, from beginning to end.

Of course, Harry would have liked it if Snape had trusted him enough to tell him everything, but when Harry looked at it logically, there really wasn't any reason for Snape to have trusted him that much. It had been less than a week since they'd met for the first time, and even if Harry was still young enough that instant friendships and love at first sight didn't seem out of the question, Snape wasn't young enough to still believe in any of that. He probably never had been, Harry thought with a sigh.

"Are you all right, Harry?"

"Yeah." he said. "I'm fine."

"That's good, because three calls came in for me this morning from a 'Mr. Lupin' and you know what that means."

He groaned. Of course Harry knew what that meant. It meant that his manager had finally figured out that Harry wasn't in Malibu and he wasn't with Ruby and now John was calling everybody Harry knew to try and track him down."

He thanked Hermione, then hung up so he could check his messages. Ten of them were from John, each more pissed off than the last and all of them invoking the spectre of Harry's late father. One was from Ron, letting him know that John had called him too, but also giving him a heads up about a brief story that had appeared in the Sun [12] that morning with the headline "Potter Missing?" Both of them knew that meant that it was only a matter of time before all the papers started sniffing around after a story if it looked like there was anything interesting to report - and even if it didn't. There were also three messages from Roy's office, reminding him that the Disney people wanted him to come in and do a photo shoot sometime early in the week.

All in all, it looked as if Harry's brief vacation from public scrutiny was coming to an end...which made it absolutely essential that Harry get Snape to talk to him as soon as possible.

That was, of course, far easier said than done. Harry might have thought that knowing Snape's name (both of them) and knowing where he lived would have made it easier to get in touch with him, but it actually made no difference whatsoever.

He tried to call Snape, but that didn't work. Snape wasn't picking up his phone, and there were only so many times you could tell an answering machine that you were an ass and you wanted to apologize in one day. Then he tried going over to the house; he went over three times in fact, but that was no more successful than calling had been. Occasionally he saw a light in the bedroom window, but no matter how long he camped out on the doorstep, Snape never answered the door.

Harry would have been willing to stay in Woodstock as long as it took for Snape to forgive him and talk, but unfortunately, John Lupin was far less patient. He made Harry promise faithfully that he'd stay no longer than two more days before returning home, and even that was a major concession. What he'd wanted to do was send Ruby after him immediately to make sure Harry got on the first plane back to California.

As Harry walked unhappily back to his family's home the first night of the two he'd been allotted, the phone rang with some even more unwelcome news.

"I am so, so sorry, Harry!" wailed Hermione from the other end. "I don't know what could have happened - maybe she was bugging the office phones? - but you know it's the last thing I ever...."

"Hermione, hold on! Take a breath." He had no idea what had happened, but whatever it was must have been bad, because Hermione was one of the least excitable people he knew. "Now, what's this about a bug?"

For a moment, Hermione didn't answer, just sniffled unhappily into the phone, but finally she took a shuddering breath. "It's Rita Skeeter. It has to be!"

"What has to be? And what does a gossip columnist have to do with anything?"

"It's...you know how I faxed you copies the other night of all the information I'd collected? I had just sent the last clippings through when one of the new photographers told me there was a phone call out in the office. I was sure I was the only one still at work, so I left the fax running and went out to take the call. Except...when I picked up the phone, there was nobody there!"

Harry frowned. "Hermione, why's that a problem? Maybe whoever it was just got tired of waiting."

"Not a chance, Harry," she said, sounding like she was going to start crying again. "When I got back to the fax and picked up my papers, I noticed that some of them weren't the originals. Somebody had made copies of everything I sent you."

Oh hell.

"And I know Skeeter had been in the office just a few minutes earlier. It had to be her, Harry. What are we going to do?"

What Harry wanted to do was lie down on the sidewalk and throw a tantrum, as he'd been reliably informed he used to do when he was a toddler. Instead, what he did was took a deep breath and told Hermione what he hoped Snape would be able to say to him someday: that all was forgiven.

Then he headed over to the Silk Purse.

As he walked into the bar, Harry experienced a strange feeling of deja vu. Everything appeared exactly as it was the first night he'd been in: the same skinny old man in a mohair jacket, the same regulars sitting at what looked to be their usual spots, the same dust on the same old light fixtures.

Only two things were different this time around. The first was the song on the radio ("You Can't Always Get What You Want," as if he needed the reminder). And the second was the fact that Steven Snape was nowhere to be seen.

Harry sighed, then walked up to the bar. The old man - A.D., Al had called him - didn't even pretend not to know why he was there.

"If he doesn't want to talk to you, he's not going to, no matter how much you might want him to."

"I know that," Harry said, frustration plain in his voice. "But this isn't about what I want. I have to talk to him...or at least get a message to him. I don't really want to share this with anybody else, but...can you pass some information on to him? Please. It's important."

A.D. scrutinized Harry for some time, then finally he nodded. "Can't guarantee that I'll see him, but if you want to leave a message here, who am I to stop you?."

Harry took a deep breath, then leaned over the bar. "A woman is probably going to be coming to town..." he began.

He had done all he could do.

Except for brief vacations from his so-called real life like this trip to Woodstock, most of Harry's time was spent living in the spotlight. However, there was no reason to inflict the glare of that spotlight on somebody else, especially not an unwilling participant like Snape who had already been subjected to more media scrutiny in his time than anybody should have to face.

He had considered leaving town immediately in an effort to draw Skeeter's attention away from Snape, but now that she had such a juicy story in her sights, there was no way she was just going to walk away without at least trying to get some photographs and maybe a quote or two. She could find Harry whenever she wanted him - he wasn't in a line of work that allowed him to hide from the press for long - but Snape might escape unscathed if he was able to just disappear until Skeeter gave up and left town.

And so Harry left an envelope containing the spare key to his late godfather's place in Greenwich Village and enough cash for anybody to stay under the radar for a few weeks with A.D., and he made the bar owner promise to make sure Snape got the envelope if he saw him in time.

"I know he doesn't have much reason to trust me," Harry said. "But I swear I won't try to contact him anymore if he doesn't want me to. I just...I just want him to be safe."

"And what about you? Aren't you going to be targeted?"

Harry shrugged. "I've been a target one way or another ever since I was a little kid. I think I can handle one reporter."

Except it wasn't just one reporter.

When Harry woke late the following morning, his house was surrounded by tabloid reporters and paparazzi. There was even a two-man camera crew from The Insider who had set up shop in his front yard.

Where in the hell had they all come from? Not from Rita Skeeter, that was for damned sure. She would have had to have been crazy to give up a chance at an exclusive story.

And even more to the point, why hadn't anybody called to tell him that there were a dozen strangers trampling the lawn. He didn't spend all that much time in Woodstock, but he'd been visiting on a regular basis ever since he was a baby, and even if that weren't the case, most of the neighbors had been friendly with his grandparents. Even if they didn't know him very well, he couldn't understand why nobody had given him any warning at all.

He was still grumbling about that to himself when he checked his phone and discovered that, once again, he'd forgotten to turn it on, which - considering how long cell phones had been constant fixtures in his life - was pretty weird.

When he turned it on, the first four messages - unsurprisingly - were from John, crabbing at him to "keep your damned phone on, Harry!" That was followed by three different people he vaguely knew in town letting him know that strangers had been asking about him that morning. Needless to say, those messages were no longer news, but he was still grateful that at least some people were trying to look out for him.

The eighth message was Ron, who sounded tired and a little drunk, but had proved to be a reliable source for gossip even when he'd been drinking all night. In fact...especially when he'd been drinking all night. "Hi mate," his slightly slurred message began. "I'm calling you mate, now. That's what the blokes on the team say. Mate. Blokes. They talk funny over here. Anyway, mate, I've got...some paper or another. You're not kidnapped, are you? Because the headlines are saying you might be. Potter Kidnapped. S'got a question mark after it though, so maybe they don't know for sure. Call me if you're not kidnapped. Bye."

Ron's call was followed by a rather more sober message from Hermione, who said, "Harry, there's something else I just discovered. Your Snape worked for Congressman Dore for over a decade!"

And the tenth and last message was from someone who left no name and no phone number, someone who assumed that Harry would recognize his voice even when it wasn't issuing sexual demands. The message simply said, "Call me."

Harry called.

Snape didn't bother with any preliminaries. "Do you have any genuine acting talent," he asked, "or is your fledgling film career based entirely on your pop star credentials?"

"I can act," Harry said, the proof being that his words sounded calm even though his heart was beating so quickly just from hearing Snape's voice that it was almost painful.

"Fine. Then see if you can act as if you don't want to spit in the faces of that horde of vultures on your front lawn, and make your way to the center of town to Catskill Art."

"I'll be there as soon as I can."

"I'll...be waiting."

Harry closed his phone, then went outside to face the press. He was surprised at how easy it was to smile and joke with everybody, even though they were the absolute last people he wanted to be talking to. He even signed an autograph for the cameraman's daughter, although he was tempted to sign it "The Person Whose Life is Currently Being Made Hell By People Like Your Father."

After a few minutes of schmoozing, Harry turned to one of the photographers - a guy whose pictures of Harry usually ended up in the Enquirer [13] - and asked if he'd noticed whether the Ferns was open yet.

"Yeah, I think so," the guy said. "That's the lunch place with the green striped awning, right?"

Harry nodded. "I'm going to go down there and get something to eat, then run a couple of errands. You think you can keep everybody mostly rounded up down here for a half hour so things don't turn into a circus?"

Harry's new best friend looked around at his colleagues and shrugged. "Sure, I don't see why not. You'll be back for interviews with everybody who sticks around?" he asked.

"Of course," Harry said with a laugh. "Where else am I going to go?"

"See you in a half hour," the guy said.

Harry waved and started to walk slowly down the road. He didn't feel the least bit guilty about having just lied through his teeth.

It would have been too much to expect that a whole crew of experienced paparazzi would trust him enough to stay in place, but out of the corner of his eye, Harry could only see two photographers strolling down the road after him, and they were staying a fairly respectable distance behind. He knew they'd see him go into the art supply store, but he couldn't worry about that at the moment; with any luck, Snape had already realized Harry might be seen and would have made contingency plans.

When Harry went through the door, there was nobody inside except the owner, an older woman with short grey hair and eerie amber eyes, wearing a faded denim skirt and a black sweater. She nodded toward the back of the store, where the back door was propped open to let in the unseasonably warm breeze.

"Should I go out back?" he asked.

"Nope," she said with a smile. "You should go take a closer look at the framed life-size poster of Judy Garland we have on display."

Harry wrinkled his brow in confusion, then shrugged and started walking toward the back wall. He had gone no more than three steps before the framed poster swung out into the shop, revealing a hidden room behind.

There, standing in the doorway, was Snape.

"I'd suggest you step inside," he said. "Unless you're planning on inviting your friends from the press in to join us as well."

Harry stepped through the doorway and Snape closed the door behind them.

The room in which Harry found himself appeared to be a cross between a large storage space and a small artists studio, but the likelihood of it being a true, working studio seemed fairly slim given the lack of windows to provide natural light and the presence overhead of flickering florescents. There were, however, two easels and a push broom propped up in the corner, a dozen battered-looking tubes of oil paint and six brushes of various sizes spread out on a formica table, and a very large pile of drop cloths pushed against one wall of the room.

"Feel free to make yourself at home," Snape said, lowering himself onto the floor in front of the drop cloths and spreading his legs out straight in front of him. "Rolanda will let us know when it's safe to leave, but it looks like we might be in here for quite a while."

Harry nodded and sat down, cross-legged on the floor, relatively near Snape, but not too close. The message from Snape on his cell had been an encouraging sign, but Harry didn't want to take anything for granted, not when it looked like he might be getting a second chance.

For a moment, both men were silent, then Snape looked around the room and said dryly, "Had I known that dates with celebrities were so fucking glamorous, I'd have started pimping myself out years ago."

Caught between the urge to laugh and the concern that Snape might really think that spending time with him was the equivalent of 'pimping ' himself, Harry said nothing, but he smiled a little in acknowledgment.

"You know," he said finally. "This whole rescue act...you didn't have to do it."

"No, I didn't, did I?" Snape looked away and pushed his hair back over his ears. "I don't have to do anything. Not anymore. I spent too many fucking years operating at the bidding of other people, but no longer. These days, I act only for myself."

The words were said forcefully; Snape had almost spit them out. But Harry knew they were a lie. What Snape had done - what Snape was doing - was for Harry's benefit, not for his own. However, if Snape wanted to think that his actions were entirely selfish, that was his business.

Harry looked up and met Snape's gaze. "I'm sorry, you know."

Snape merely grunted in response.

"I am. Sorry for invading your privacy. I was actually looking for...."

"For what?"

"A recipe for Hollandaise Sauce, believe it or not," Harry said to Snape's disbelieving snort. "But that doesn't excuse anything. I knew that what I'd found was personal after looking at the first picture."

"Was that the one featuring me wearing the first in a line of fucking second-hand Halloween costumes from Goodwill or the one where I was wearing my late mother's cast-off blouse?" Snape snapped.

"The, um, blouse, I think," Harry said. "But it didn't look bad exactly. Actually, you were kind of cute."

"Potter, I've never been cute in my life."

"Sorry, I'm the only one who gets a vote here," Harry said with a smile, and for a moment, it seemed as if things between them were getting back on an even keel. Even Snape relaxed a little, leaning his back against the pile of drop cloths. However, Harry knew that looking at a few photos wasn't all he had to apologize for, not by a long shot.

He cleared his throat, and instantly, Snape was on the alert, narrowing his eyes and looking suspiciously at Harry as if he knew he was about to hear something he wouldn't like.

"I...didn't exactly keep my promise about not talking about you," Harry said. "Not completely."

To Harry's surprise, Snape didn't look particularly angry at this revelation. "Yes, I started to figure that out when I began to be deluged with phone calls from the press late this morning."

"It's just...when I was looking for you originally, somebody told me you'd been in prison and I mentioned it to a friend of mine who's working for a newspaper, and she's a little...enthusiastic about doing research."

"Yes, and what have you and your private investigator learned so far?" Snape asked coolly.

"She's not a...she's my friend, and she hasn't said anything to anybody. She was just worried about me. Friends are like that, you know?"

"I'll take your word for it," said Snape. "However, you haven't answered my question."

Starting at the very beginning, Harry repeated everything he and Hermione had pieced together over the course of the past few days. He tried to get some sense of how Snape was reacting to his confession, but the man's face was a mask. There was no way to read his thoughts at all.

"...and that's it," Harry finished. "Hermione said you'd worked for Congressman Dore for a long time, but I'm not sure she found out what it was you actually did."

"Nor would I imagine she would have. My work for Allen Dore was largely...unofficial, despite the fact that I was legitimately on the payroll, and I was rarely seen, even by other members of his staff."

"Why not?" Harry asked, honestly confused.

"Because, strange as it may be for you to understand, Potter, mine is not the face one wants representing the most-beloved statesman of the age. A man with my past - a past of which you and your little friend barely scratched the surface - isn't the most likely confidant for a politician who practically made Dennis Kucinich [14] look like a right wing war-monger."

"But you left that life behind."

"You can never really leave your past behind," Snape said, rubbing instinctively at the place on his arm where Harry had seen the tattoo. "And some things are unforgivable."

Harry wanted to argue - to tell Snape that things could be made right - but he couldn't, not yet. He'd learned a lot about this man's life, but as Snape said, it probably hadn't even begun to scratch the surface. The man Harry was coming to know was clearly not the same man as his younger self had been, no matter how culpable he still felt, but if forgiveness was ever going to be granted for whatever sins Snape had committed in his youth, it was someone else's place to do so.

All Harry could do was love him.

He got up from the floor and stretched, then slipped behind Snape, sat down on the drop cloths and wrapped his legs around Snape's waist. For a moment, Snape stiffened, then he relaxed slightly into Harry's embrace.

"He used to visit local prisons whenever he could and talk to the prisoners, did you know that?" Snape asked quietly, and Harry didn't need to hear a name to know who Snape was talking about. "That's where we met. I was taking a GED class. I didn't give a rat's ass about getting a diploma, but it got me out of dishwashing duty three days a week. Then one day, this politician showed up out of the blue and talked to us about political movements and passive resistence."

Snape shifted uncomfortably and Harry pulled him back until Snape's head was resting on his chest.

"I thought he was a stupid old man, told him he was naive if he believed that kind of bullshit ever worked, and asked the guard to let me out of there so I could go back to my cell. The next day a package arrived for me. It was a biography of Gandhi with a note attached, saying "I understand that a carton of cigarettes would probably be more valuable where you are, but it wouldn't look right for the co-sponsor of two anti-smoking bills to send anything like that."

"I read the book - as I read all the books he sent from then on - and when Prewett came out of his coma, Allen Dore saw to it that I was released from prison, given a new name, sent to college, and finally hired by his office."

"The last time I ever spoke to him face to face," he said, his voice cracking with emotion, "I cursed the old bastard's name."

The story Snape proceeded to tell to Harry was like something out of a spy movie, how Dore thought it was time to run for president, how fund-raising began in earnest, how momentum started to build, and then how a young reporter named Cedric Diggory called Dore's campaign headquarters, requesting a private interview. It turned out that Diggory had come across some rather sensitive information from the congressman's past about a liaison with a very male Soviet agent at the height of the Cold War and he was planning on incorporating it in a story.

Thirty years was not long enough for a homosexual love affair with 'the enemy' to be ignored by the American public, not in that political climate, and a story like this would destroy Dore's presidential hopes. That night, Lucas Silver, the head of Dore's campaign, met privately with Snape to tell him that Diggory needed to be "dealt with."

"I was furious," Snape said, his voice hoarse from having spoken for so long. "I told him that I was no murderer and that the idea that Dore would countenance such a despicable plan was ludicrous. Then I stormed out of his office and went straight to Dore's home to tell him everything Silver had said."

"What did he say?" Harry asked quietly, almost dreading what he was about to hear.

"Nothing directly," Snape said harshly. "That wasn't his style. He just droned on about how important it was for the country to have somebody in the White House who could make a change. About his long years of working for the good of the people of this great nation. About...he didn't say it in so many words, but about how I owed him. About how I already had so many stains on my fucking soul that one more couldn't possibly matter."

By this point, Snape was practically trembling with rage, but Harry held him tightly in his arms, smoothed his hair back, and kissed his temples.

"Two weeks later, the Diggory boy was found dead in Arlington Cemetery; a week after that, two police detectives showed up at my door asking me to come down to the station. Four months later, Allen Dore had passed away, killed by a mysterious ailment that had inexplicably gone untreated. Almost a year to the day after I was incarcerated for the second time, a young attorney asked to meet with me. She said she'd been retained, posthumously, to work toward freeing me."

"Did they ever find the person who really killed Diggory?"

"Oh yes. Some thug hired for the occasion, presumably by Silver when his in-house thug proved intractable. We were actually in the same cell block during the month leading up to my release, and he was none too pleased I'd helped get him arrested."

"He didn't hurt you, did he?" Harry asked.

"He would have liked to, I'm sure, but my tattoo had convinced the charming gentlemen of the Aryan Brotherhood that I was one of them, and they appointed themselves my protectors while I was serving out my term."

Harry shook his head, then slipped out from behind Snape and lay down beside him. Once he was comfortable - or as comfortable as he was likely to get on the floor - he lifted the edge of one of the drop cloths and held it up.

"Join me?"

Snape said nothing, but after a moment, he lay down as well, then turned over onto his left side and wrapped his arm around Harry's waist.

"I'd like to believe," he said finally, "that the Allen Dore I spoke to on that last evening wasn't the real him. That even though he might not have known it, he was already a sick man. Irrational."

"You'd like to believe that he cared more about you than his political aspirations," said Harry gently.

"Perhaps," Snape said tiredly, his eyelids fluttering closed.

No more than thirty seconds had passed before Harry nudged Snape in the side. "You know I care about you, right? So...can we give this another try?"

"You're crazy."

"I'm not! I just think we can make this work."

"Yes, well, you're far more optimistic than I am," Snape said, refusing to even open his eyes until Harry had poked at him three more times. "Oh, for God's sake, fine. We'll try...but as soon as this ridiculous relationship you want us to attempt starts to cause trouble for either of us, it's over. Agreed?"

"Of course I don't agree."

"Oh, just shut up and let me go to sleep."

Harry had fallen asleep as well, lulled by watching the steady rise and fall of Snape's chest. When the two men awoke hours later, they were both stiff and uncomfortable. They were also alone in the shop. Rolanda had slid a note under the door letting them know there'd been an exodus of disgruntled photographers and reporters from town sometime around 5:00 in the afternoon, and it was probably safe for them to leave, as long as they locked things up behind them.

After turning off the lights in the storage room, they stepped out the back door and let the lock catch behind them.

"I need to go back to the house for an hour or so and take care of some things, but then I'll head over to your place...unless you want to just come with me now?"

Snape shook his head. "No, I'm going to go home and take a hot shower, and hope my aging body forgets it spent all afternoon sleeping on a cold floor."

Harry put his arms around Snape. He grinned and thrust forward, rocking his pelvis against Snape's. "I think your aging body is really hot."

"And I think you need a stronger pair of contact lenses," Snape said, but he leaned in and kissed Harry. At first, the kiss was hard, demanding, but almost immediately, Snape softened the kiss until his lips were barely touching Harry's. For a moment, the two men stood silently together, until Snape whispered, "I wish..."

Before he could complete his thought, a flash of light cut through the twilight, accompanied by the repeated whirring sound of a camera shutter.

"It's so lovely when persistence pays off," said the distinctive and far too familiar voice of Rita Skeeter.

In retrospect, Harry thought, it would have been smarter to have followed Snape home, but Snape had said he'd meet him at Harry's house and Harry, like a fool, believed him.

Harry had to call fourteen times before Snape picked up his phone, and when Snape finally did, he was almost incoherent with anger. The anger, though, didn't seem to be directed toward Harry.

"This is exactly what I deserve for..."

"Steven! Come on...it's going to be okay, I swear it."

"You swear it? How can you swear to anything?" Snape yelled. "Up until now, there were only vague rumors, but now there's proof."

"Of what? Even if Skeeter's photographer actually got a good shot, we were just kissing; it wasn't as if...."

"Just kissing? Are you feeble minded? We are two men, in case you haven't noticed...you are little more than a boy, for God's sake."

"I'm not a boy."

"I'm not in the mood to argue semantics. This is not going to happen. You are not going to destroy your career, your life, because of a stupid decision you made when you were barely weaned."

"Fuck you!" Harry yelled. "Don't you dare compare the two of us kissing to your stupid ass decision to join some fucking gang of white supremacists when you were a teenager."

The silence that followed was so long that Harry was convinced that Snape had already hung up the phone.

"Steven? Steven, please don't...."

"Go back to your real life, Harry," Snape said quietly. "And leave me to mine."

The pictures, when they appeared in the early edition of Skeeter's newspaper the following morning, were unfortunately very good shots. Under different circumstances, Harry might have been thrilled to see photographic evidence of almost identical love and passion on both their faces; however, after the first two dozen phone calls - more than enough to make Harry turn off his cell again - he realized that Snape had been right. Nobody cared that Harry had looked happy in the picture; all they cared about was the fact that he was kissing another man.

The saccharine, over the top, and patently false concern in the accompanying article certainly wasn't helping anything. Skeeter was an expert at treading dangerously close to the libel lines without crossing over them, with her quotes from vaguely described "worried friends" and "sources close to the boy," and even if every single thing she said about their apparently short-lived relationship had been a complete lie, it was too late to do anything about it, because by mid-day it wasn't just her paper that was covering the story. The late editions of the tabloids were all leading with it, and it was only a matter of time before the more serious papers picked it up too.

And where was the "mysterious man" with the "shadowy past" who had, according to Skeeter's over-wrought prose, already left "...a trail of heartbreak and pain in his wake?" He was nowhere to be found, and this time, it looked as if he was gone for good.

When Harry turned his phone back on, the first voice he heard was - unsurprisingly - John.

"Harry," the message began. "I'm sure you're very unhappy that the press got hold of this, and I sympathize, but we have to start putting out some of these fires. Disney has called a press conference in New York City tomorrow afternoon and they strongly suggested you be there as well. I'm sending a car up for you. It'll be there by 9:30 in the morning. Call me when you get into the city, and we'll go over our game plan."

The message ended. Harry sighed, then went upstairs to start packing. Clearly, his time in Woodstock had come to an end.

If anybody had asked Harry to give testimony about his actions from the moment he had received that phone call until the moment he and two Disney executives sat down in front of a roomful of reporters, he couldn't have done it. He could remember getting out of the car and being hugged by John, but the rest of it - including John's entire briefing about what to say and what not to say - was a complete blur.

What Harry did know as he looked around the room was that the very idea that the dating history of one young man was actually important was completely idiotic. In a world filled with wars and AIDS and people going to sleep hungry every night, how could any of this possibly matter? However, the executives certainly seemed to think it did, and Harry heard one of them going on about "...good working relationships..." and "...values..." and "...families..." and then, all at once, it was his turn.

He looked out at the sea of faces and he thought for a minute about 'family' and what that word meant to him. He thought about John and Ron and Hermione...and he thought about Snape. Then he cleared his throat and began to speak.

"Not all families are born," he said. "Some are chosen."

He took a deep breath. "Like a lot of you, I loved Disney when I was a child. I still love Disney movies and Disney's theme parks, but I'm no longer a child."

"We all know why this press conference was called today: to reassure the public that the photo which appeared in the papers yesterday wasn't really what it looked like. But folks, it was."

If the ladies and gentlemen of the press had been merely going through the motions up until this point, now they were actually paying attention.

"When I walked in here this afternoon, what I wanted to talk about was the man who was in the picture with me. About what Steven Snape had gone through in his life and what a good man he was, but quite frankly, he'd hate that, so I'm not going to say anything more of the kind."

"Instead, I'll just say this. To me, Disney has always been about magic...and the greatest magic in the world is love. I wasn't exactly sure what it was Steven felt for me - we haven't known each other very long yet - but as far as I'm concerned, when someone sacrifices their own hopes and desires for the sake of someone else, that's love.

"As for me, well...I think a lot of you know I've been involved in some pretty serious and important projects recently. When it comes to performing, though...I've always loved singing and acting, and I've always appreciated the support of my fans more than I can say, but great as it's been, if it turns out I have to make a choice between my life as a performer and a chance at a life with Steven Snape, I choose him."

Harry had barely finished speaking when the room erupted into a blur of flashing lights and reporters trying to get his attention,. Before he could answer any of them, the Disney people had called an end to the press conference and escorted Harry to a small office where John was waiting for him.

As soon as they left the room, John started shaking his head. "Your father," he began, and Harry stiffened a little, "would have been so very proud of you today - and so would your mother."

"And so," John continued softly, "was I." He took Harry into his arms and hugged him tightly the way he used to do when Harry was a little boy and had just woken up from a bad dream, Harry could feel tears come to his eyes. "I'm so very proud of the man you've become."

Harry and John spent the next hour talking. John allowed him to sidestep the Steven Snape issue entirely, which Harry appreciated, considering he was pretty sure their relationship probably didn't even exist anymore.

He did try to press Harry for an answer about when he was going to come back to California, but Harry wouldn't commit to anything more specific than 'soon.'

"I think I need to spend a little time alone and figure out what the hell I just did."

John almost laughed at that. Not quite, but almost.

"All right, but decide soon. And Harry, do me a favor?"


"Keep your damned cell phone on."

By the time the two men parted, the sun was already starting to set, and Harry realized with some surprise that he had missed breakfast, lunch, and dinner. He considered getting something to eat, but he was too worn out from his day to really think about food at the moment. Maybe if he just took a quick nap at his late-godfather's apartment, he'd be ready to eat when he woke.

The apartment on Bank Street was dark and tiny and probably a fire hazard as well, crammed full as it was with boxes and boxes of notes from a too-brief career spent in one war zone or another. It did have access to a shared courtyard garden, though, and Harry had always loved the place. However, tonight it seemed a little less welcoming, because as he walked into what should have been an empty apartment, Harry could see that a lamp was on in the back room.

It would have been far more intelligent to turn back around the way he'd come and call the police, but apparently running fool-hardy risks was now part of Harry's nature because he didn't even consider that option. He did pick up a bronze statue of Ganesh to take with him as he cautiously approached the light; no reason to be entirely idiotic.

Harry stepped into the doorway, and there, sitting on a faded green wingback chair, a book resting on his thigh, was Snape.

"What...what are you doing here?"

"If you might recall, a key was left in an envelope for me."

"Oh. Right."

"I also seem to be in possession of a fair bit of cash from my mysterious donor. Could I interest you in a dinner at a disgustingly over-priced restaurant?"

Harry laughed, the exhaustion he'd felt on the way to the apartment suddenly beginning to lift.

"In case you're interested," Snape said, "I heard what you said at the press conference."

"You did, huh?"

"I did. You're an idiot, you know that, right? Willing to throw away a career like yours for nothing."

"For love," Harry said with a smile.

Snape shook his head, but then he stood up, lay the book down on the chair, and took Harry in his arms. "You're still an idiot. Apparently I'm also one."

Harry shook his head. "No, I don't think so. It feels right to me."

Snape snorted. "Yes, well, find one other person who agrees with you and..."

His thought was interrupted by the ringing of Harry's cell, and both men jumped.

"See?" Harry said, pointing at his phone and laughing. "My supporters are starting to report in already. Hello."

"Hello, Harry. This is John. I need you to call me back when...."

"John? It's actually me on the line. I have the phone on this time."

"It's a miracle."

"Funny. So...I don't suppose you're calling to say you've heard from Disney."

"No, I'm afraid not. They aren't even answering my calls at the moment. There's still a chance - there's no morals clause in the contract you signed - but it's getting a little iffy. However, the reason I called is because I just got off the phone with Dreamworks.[15]."

"Dreamworks? What did they want?"

"I'm not positive, but they'd like a meeting with us when you get back to California, so...make it soon, okay?"

"Okay. And John? Thanks for everything."

"Night, Harry."


Harry closed the phone and looked back at Snape. "Apparently falling in love with you hasn't destroyed my career after all."

Snape smiled, but then the smile dropped from his face, and the intensity of his expression as he met Harry's gaze was every bit as strong as it had been on that first night in the bar."Are you absolutely sure you want to pursue a relationship with me?" he asked.


"Even knowing what you know about my past and knowing that the press are probably never going to let this go."

Harry rolled his eyes. "Hello...have we forgotten the press conference already? I think it's pretty safe to say I know what it's going to mean to be in a public relationship with you. And if you move in with me, then...."

Snape snorted.. "There's a ridiculous thought. Do you honestly see me as Malibu material?"

Harry looked him up and down. Twice. "Well," he said hopefully. "Maybe if you had a tan?"

Snape shook his head. "No, Harry...I'm keeping my home. It's all that connects me to my past, miserable though it was most of the time. And you have to return to California to see what Dreamworks has on offer."

It was a mark of Harry's renewed optimism about the future of their relationship that Snape's words didn't make him feel even the slightest bit worried. "And then?" he asked, reaching out and taking Snape's hand in his own.

"And then...well, I suppose I'm willing to see where this leads. After all," said Snape, looking down at their joined hands with a wry smile, "I seem to recall someone once telling me that you and I have a connection."



[1] The title was inspired by a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke called "Again and again, however we know the landscape of love":

Again and again, however we know the landscape of love
and the little churchyard there, with its sorrowing names,
and the frighteningly silent abyss into which the others
fall: again and again the two of us walk out together
under the ancient trees, lie down again and again
among the flowers, face to face with the sky.

(-Translated by Stephen Mitchell) (Back)

[2] GMHC - Gay Men's Health Crisis (a "a non-profit, volunteer-supported and community-based AIDS service organization that has led the United States in the fight against AIDS."(see Wikipedia) (Back)

[3] Sweetwater (the first band to play at Woodstock in 1969. Note: Just in case anybody was wondering, Woodstock, i.e., the concert, didn't actually take place in Woodstock, NY, but rather at Yasgur's Farm, 40-something miles away.). (Back)

[4] Of course, if you look up the etymology for the modern usage of 'gay', you discover right away that Harry's wrong, since the first use of gay to mean 'homosexual' might go back as far as the 19th century. However, Harry's still young and doesn't have a particularly strong sense of the passage of time yet. (Back)

[5] WHO - the World Health Organization (Back)

[6] Yes, the White Gryphon exists, complete with a psychic! (Back)

[7] Slapjack is the American version of Snap, although unlike its British counterpart, the goal in Slapjack is to acquire all the cards. Ah, my country...you're so predictable. (Back)

[8] 1999 was Prince's 1983 hit album. (Back)

[9] My little homage to the first HP film (although the exact words were "....Then again, maybe some of you have come to Hogwarts in possession of abilities so formidable that you feel comfortable enough to not pay attention...") (Back)

[10] Photos from Woodstock's Artists Cemetery (Back)

[11] For a brief discussion of the history of the swastika, see this Wikipedia entry (Back)

[12] What can one say about The Sun, apart from the fact that it's unlikely to win a Pultizer for reporting anytime soon? Well, all right...it does have topless girls on Page Three (always a mark of top-notch journalism). (Back)

[13] The National Enquirer: A tabloid whose quality makes The Sun look deserving of winning a Pulitzer in comparison. (Back)

[14] Dennis Kucinich, i.e., "My Favorite Politician, Let Me Show You Him." (Back)

[15] Dreamworks. Founded by David Geffen, Jeffrey Katzenerg, and Steven Spielberg, Dreamworks is the home of many animated films and such non-animated fare as The Kite Runner, Letter From Iwo Jima, Saving Private Ryan, Dreamgirls, Galaxy Quest,, and a host of other films. " (Back)

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