Fic: Coming Home - for [personal profile] torina_archelda

Dec. 26th, 2009 01:47 pm
snarryhols: (Snarry Hols (sambre))
[personal profile] snarryhols posting in [community profile] snarry_holidays
Title: Coming Home
Author: The Grinch that Didn't Steal Christmas
Giftee: [personal profile] torina_archelda
Word Count: ~20.900
Rating: PG
Pairing: SS/HP, GW/DM
Warnings: Post DH, EWE,
Disclaimer: All Harry Potter characters herein are the property of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic. No copyright infringement is intended.
Summary: 2013: Severus Snape gets a job offer he cannot resist. For once Ginny gets what she wants. And Harry gets what he needs. Win-win for everyone.
Author's Notes: Dear [personal profile] torina_archelda: This is the first time I’ve participated in an exchange fest, my first Snarry ever, and my first attempt at a romantic story ever. - So many firsts! I admit I would have never done it if I didn’t have to fulfill the requirements of the assignment — and I am so very glad because I learned so much!

Dear [community profile] snarry_holidays mods: Thank you for organizing this fest, your support and your patience! Thank you so much to my betas l and uhm, l, for being fast, reliable and efficient! Danke schoen!



Chapter 02

July

Severus expected the children to spend every weekend with Ms. Weasley (he still called her Mrs. Potter in front of Potter so he didn’t hurt the man's sensitivities), but it soon turned out that, fortunately, she was often far too busy. Ms. Weasley trained and practiced much harder than her (ex)husband. Severus realized early on that playing Quidditch was the most important thing in her life, although she loved her children. To Potter the children were the most important thing, although he did love to play Quidditch. A clear reversal of priorities.

In the beginning, when Ginny had made it sound as if she would take the children every weekend, he had been a bit relieved. But now he despised the weekends they spent in London. He hadn't suddenly become fond of children, mind you, but he disliked interruptions of his routine. He had taken much effort and time to set up the ideal lesson plan for Potter's offspring and was used to have them constantly around, following him from room to room, asking (lots of) questions, tugging at his robes (he allowed it only when Potter wasn't around), and chatting to him. The silence in the house when they were not around was disconcerting, especially when Potter, too, vanished to spend a day or sometimes even the night in New York (which happened less and less, Severus noted, not without a note of satisfaction).

Every time they returned from London, they were laden with expensive gifts and sweets and refused to go to bed early, insisting they were allowed to stay up as long as they liked to at Draco's place. (Unfortunately, when Potter asked Ginny and Draco they confirmed, but they also told him that Sev had told them that Potter and Severus allowed them to stay up as long as they want.)

The notion that he might have become softer as Potter attempted to point out, was obviously laughable. It proved merely to be a waste of time to snarl and growl at the boys, who ignored his hostile behaviour with aplomb (like Potter), so it was better to encourage them to talk and to tire them out that way.

Lily Luna, or Lils as Potter called her, was a different matter. Her attitude hadn't changed much since the day they met, but she never ever challenged or disobeyed him openly. He knew that Potter had attempted to talk to her, but she only gave him her usual dark, sullen look and shrugged her little shoulders.

Severus was not sure why, but when it came to her, he was unsure of himself and felt like the intruder he was. Maybe it was because she carried the name of the only woman he had ever cared for. The way she looked at him made him feel things he could not decipher, and sometimes he was tempted to hug her, like Potter did, and ask her what was wrong. But from observing others’ failed attempts to get closer to her, he knew it would be futile, and so he continued to pretend not to be aware of her behaviour.

After Potter's confession, they didn't talk about the issue any more. He knew Potter must be confused, since he knew about the feelings he once had harbored for Lily. It was a typical muggle conception that one had to either prefer men or women. And frankly, Severus was confused about Potter's orientation since he had fathered three children and seemed to appreciate women. Like any other man, he looked appraisingly at them, and he was susceptible to their charm.

His own intense curiosity dismayed Severus. He didn't view Potter as a child, but he remembered the day he had first laid eyes on him: in the Great Hall, so many years ago. To him it was as if that had been only yesterday. That he managed so easily to feel interest for Potter was not a comfortable feeling.

It amused him though. When he thought his own depravity had reached rock bottom, his insane mind would yet find another level to sink to. He was nothing but an aging, lonely, pathetic homosexual, and Potter was a shining, young, beautiful hero and Quidditch star.

Who was at least bisexual.

And beautiful.

Oh, right then.


Severus was in the kitchen when Ginny Flooed in. He clattered plates around and generated a lot of noise to make his presence known to them, but Potter didn't seem to care.

"You know what I mean. They deserve to have a mother. And a father."

"It's not fair to blame this on me," spat Ginny angrily. "I’m not the one who's dating an American Quidditch player named Brad."

"Ian."

"Yeah, whatever." Ginny snorted.

"And I’m not the one who dates a ponce who takes one and half hours in the bathroom to arrange his remaining hair."

There was a thick silence.

Severus gripped his wand and walked to the living room to prevent the worst.

Then a cushion flew through the air and must have landed on Potter's face because Severus could hear a faint "Oomph.”

"You are an idiot, Harry," Ginny said.

Potter sat heavily beside Ginny and then leaned his head against her shoulder. She patted him.

"I thought you were my friend." Harry sighed. "I just wanted to have a family."

"You have a family! And you know I love you. But I would like to marry my ponce, ok?"

As silently as he could, he went to the study to find the children pretending to do their homework — except for Lils, who was sitting on the desk and looking at him strangely.

While he was taking up the lesson again, he silently surveyed them for signs of distress, but he couldn’t detect any. When he finally came to the conclusion that they might merely block the fights between their mother and father out, James spoke up.

"Don't be sad because mum and dad are fighting!" he said. Albus and Lils looked uncomfortable about James’ frankness. It was already very clear who was going to be sorted into Gryffindor, thought Severus wryly.

"I am not sad. Your parents are not fighting. They’re having a discussion."

James laughed. "They always laugh in the end. So they're ok."


Later in the evening Severus was going down to the living room when he stumbled over a toy dragon or car that had been placed strategically (by James, no doubt) on the steps.

Before he fell Potter appeared out of nowhere and held him.

"Careful." he said.

"Thank you." he answered, feeling Potter's breath on his cheek and his left ear. "You may let go of me now."

Potter obeyed and stepped back.

Severus didn't know what exactly happened - only that Potter didn't move away. And neither did Severus. They both just stared at each other.

Finally Severus thinned his lips and swept past Potter, feeling ridiculously light headed and dizzy.


August

Severus avoided Diagon Alley after the incident in June. He was not a coward, but he had fought his battles and was tired of them. He had survived two wars, Voldemort, and, well, Dumbledore. He had survived a snakebite that would have killed anybody else. He had survived a coma and a long, painful rehabilitation — months without being able to move or to use magic. He had paid for his sins, and now all he wanted was his peace.

Potter never said anything when Severus declined to leave Godric’s Hollow, but at times he narrowed his eyes suspiciously.

Severus pretended not to notice.

Then one day in early August he simply had to go: He needed potion ingredients, and he knew that Potter would not be able to buy the quality he needed. The last time he had sent Potter, he had only returned with half of the items on the list, and the ingredients he did manage to bring back were of horrible quality. Knowing Potter's inability to judge ingredients, the shop owners had taken advantage of him.

Potter, heroic as always, pretended to have "errands" to run in Diagon Alley and insisted on going together. Obviously he didn't want to hurt Severus’ pride. He could have told Potter that he didn't mind his protection but refrained. It was endearing to watch Potter attempting to be Slytherin. Severus had a weakness for people who could not lie. He felt safe with them.


The day they Apparated to Diagon Alley was hot and sunny. It was crowded as usual, and Severus felt instantly uncomfortable. The moment he materialized, people turned to look his way, and he could hear murmured insults and feel the hostility like a slow wave rolling towards him.

Then Potter was standing beside him, holding his arm, with his bright, false Quidditch star smile. Severus could not decide if he wanted to shove him away or pull him closer.

More people were looking. A crowd was forming around them, and Severus withstood the urge to draw his wand and to back into a corner.

This, Severus realized, was a monumental mistake. To Apparate with Potter into the middle of Diagon Alley was probably one of the most unsubtle ways to enter any place in the Wizarding world. It was very much like walking around in pink robes with a sign on them flashing "Death Eater HERE." While herds of children crowded Potter and begged him to sign their books and chocolate frog cards their mothers watched Severus warily as if he might leap at the children and devour them.

They hurried into the potion shop; when they tried to leave after a mere ten minutes, reporters had already arrived and took pictures of Potter and Severus. From a safe distance, they bellowed questions at both of them.

"Mr. Potter, is it true that you let Snape torture, er, tutor your children? An Ex-Death eater?"

"Is it true that you are still wearing the Dark Mark?"

"Snape, are you working on a way to resurrect Voldemort?"

"Mr. Potter, are you and Severus Snape dating?"

Severus registered the last question only after half a minute; but when he finally understood, he balled his fists, ready to strike.

Before he could do or say anything, warm lips pressed against his.

Severus had been kissed before, but this, he noted, was not a mere kiss. It was nothing as dull and common as a kiss.

This was an unknown, otherworldly experience. He had never ever felt anything like it before. That such bliss, such perfection existed — who could have known that? Severus’ heart hammered in his chest. Heat raced like wildfire through his body, and a bittersweet, mysterious sensation filled his entire being. Everything around him started spinning. He could not have lived his whole life without knowing this, could he?

With his last remaining brain cells, he raised his hands and shoved himself away from the other. The spinning came to a screeching halt. He attempted to steady himself and stumbled.

Something was wrong. He opened his eyes and finally breathed in. Dizzily he even leant against the white wooden doorframe of the potion shop.

He looked into Potter’s sparkling eyes.

Potter, he realized, had just had the incredible audacity to kiss him.

The reporters had fallen silent. Furious clicking of the cameras could be heard.

Someone whistled.





They Apparated to the border of Godric’s Hollow and then walked to the house. Snape was silent, his posture rigid. Whenever Harry looked at him, Snape looked away.

Snape, shell-shocked. Snape at a loss for words. Snape ... with flushed cheeks and wide eyes. He would have never dreamt of seeing Snape in this kind of state. To be the one who put him into this state! And to be the reason for his confusion.

Harry hadn't felt so alive for a long time. All this time, he had been hiding and pretending. Suddenly he could not understand anymore how he could have endured it such a long time.

Ginny had always begged him to reveal his orientation (out of pure selfishness — so that she could annul the marriage and marry Draco, a favor he didn't intend to do for her), claiming his pent-up emotions would damage him eventually.

As with many things, Ginny was right though. The secret lovers and boyfriends, the glamours, the travelling — the whole pretense was exhausting.

In the beginning, it all had looked so easy. He’d thought he’d marry his very best friend — and he did love Ginny, and women in general — and live his life in peace.

If he hadn’t been Harry Potter, it would have been of no importance who he shared his bed with. But being Harry Potter complicated everything, and as it was revealed during their marriage, it even complicated the lives of those around him, the ones he loved and cared for.

Ginny, despite having her own agenda now, had always understood that and warned him, but he had never been good at listening.

When they were young the idea of "teaming up," as he had called it, had seemed ingenious.

He helped her — becoming Mrs. Ginevra Potter had been an incredible advantage — and she helped him maintaining a boring heterosexual facade that would keep his life private.

The fact that concealing such a big part of his life might have its own difficulties had not occurred to him at that point. The countless realizations about the truth of love, life, and well, sex, that had led to their inevitable separation a few years ago hadn't sneaked up upon them yet.

On the day of their wedding, they had beamed at each other, and everyone around them had cooed: In that moment they both had felt like accomplices.

In their way, they had been happy.

When had that changed?

Maybe it had happened when Ginny fell in love with Draco Malfoy, and Harry had to send Molly after her to remind her of her part of the deal: discretion and maintaining her role as devoted mother? Or had it happened when he stayed whole nights away in New York after he met Jim?

He could not live his life being afraid of what others would say about him, and it was not too late yet to seize control.

And just when he’d had this epiphany, Snape was standing beside him, and they had fired those stupid questions at them. When the reporter asked his last question, something in him had snapped. The way they were treating Snape was horrible. What right had they? If it hadn't been for Snape, this reporter bloke wouldn't even stand there to offend him. From the corner of an eye, he had seen Snape opening his mouth to say something scathing, and it had occurred to Harry that a kiss might shut up everyone.

And it had. For almost a minute, there had been blessed silence.

And that kiss ... Snape's lips were delicious.

The faces of everyone, including Snape, had been priceless. After a few shocked seconds, he could hear the shutter sound of a camera, soft whispering, and then he drew back. Snape had reeled — almost lost his footing.

Yes, thought Harry to himself, that was probably the best moment: seeing Snape stumbling.

It was hard to tell with Snape, but he had kissed back, and he seemed to have liked it. But then — with Snape, it was hard to tell.

There was a strange, intense expression in Snapes eyes — only for a moment — and then it was gone so quickly that Harry was not sure he had really seen it. It could have been a trick of the light or his own feverish imagination.





Severus thought they would talk about the kiss — if not today, then surely tomorrow when the Daily Prophet printed the picture on the front page. The afternoon went by, and Potter said nothing. The only hint that something had happened between them was the secret, sly smile that Potter smiled to himself sometimes. Oddly, Severus couldn't bring himself to reprimand Potter. He could not even bear to look into Potter’s face. It was too much.

For the first time in his life, it was he who averted his eyes.

When they got home, the Floo was already busy. The Weasleys called, then his team members, his coach (who congratulated him on a well done pr stunt) and numerous team officials and sponsors. When Ginny called, Severus expected the worst.

"Are you alright?" she asked bluntly.

"What do you mean?" snapped Potter irritably. "Of course I’m alright. Why shouldn't I?"

"You made a big secret of your orientation for years, Harry. And today you suddenly decided to come out during a shopping trip with Severus Snape and kiss the man. And you did this in front of cameras and reporters. Of course I'm wondering if you’re alright."

"Jealous?"

Ms. Weasley paused.

"Don't answer that one," Potter snapped. "I know your answer. You and Draco must be so happy."

"Aren't you the tiniest bit relieved?" Ms. Weasley asked. "You are finally free to live your own life. Or you are certainly closer to it than you were this morning."

Potter didn't answer; he merely closed the Floo without saying goodbye to Ms. Weasley.

He stared into the flames for a long time.

"Do you regret your rashness?" Severus asked finally from the door.

After a long pause Potter answered, "Sometimes I do, but not today."


September

Potter had been appointed Seeker for the English National Team for the Quidditch World cup in Munich and often Flooed to say that he would be late. There were more matches now, England passed the quarter finales and were faced with a number of strong opponnents: Germany, Italy, Bulgaria and Russia were amongst them.

Severus feigned ignorance, but he secretly read the Daily Prophet's sport pages and the more tedious Quidditch magazines. Of course he was not interested in Potter's seeker career, but he thought it wise to be up-to-date on the games. - He just didn't like to be uninformed. Should Potter by chance happen to initiate a conversation about Quidditch Severus would be able to make one or two witty, insightful remarks about strategies and such. (Not that he wanted to impress Potter. In his age he needn't impress anyone.)

Severus was not used to propositioning young men, and Potter behaved in a confusing way. Sometimes he seemed to be friendly and cheerful, other times he was distant and polite. Or maybe Severus was just not very good in reading the signs. Given Severus’ rather uneventful love life, this was entirely possible.

Ginny called again on the evening of the second Thursday of September, shortly after he arrived home. She, Malfoy, and her parents wanted to take the children to a birthday party in Australia. Potter was pleasantly surprised that she offered to pick them up and deliver them.

"No need for anyone to come and get them. I’ll bring them back on Sunday evening, between six and seven o'clock. They’ll be home just in time for dinner."

"Wow, Ginny. That's so unlike you," marveled Potter.

"What do you mean?" she bristled.

"Well, to pick them up and bring them and even tell me the time and everything," said Potter. "And if you really do bring them back punctually on Sunday, I want to know who you are and what you did with the real Ginny Potter."

"I won't be late. I promise!"

Severus entered the living room behind Potter. Before she cut the connection, he caught her winking at him.


The weekend they spent together was nearly pleasant. Or very pleasant. Severus found himself enjoying Potter's constant chattering. Potter was not well educated, but he was funny. He joked a lot, but it was never in a mean way. His humor was grounded and jovial, not as malicious as his own.

Severus liked how Potter seemed intent on making him smile. He couldn't remember anyone who ever did that for him.

Sometimes they stopped mid conversation and looked at each other, Potter with a small, questioning smile and Severus keeping his face as blank as possible, knowing that his eyes must betray some of his turmoil.

Then, as if in unspoken agreement one of them cleared his throat and took up the conversation again.

Severus didn't fool himself. Of course they were flirting. They were dancing carefully around each other, unsure of the next step. Severus refused the notion that he was afraid. He was not afraid of Harry. Potter.

Once when Potter shut the Floo after a lengthy call with his coach, he looked at Severus, and his gaze seemed to go through and through him. Severus raised an eyebrow, one of his defensive mechanisms, and Potter gave him his strange, small smile again, only this time it was much longer and Potter didn't look away.

Then another caller's head appeared in the flames; Potter turned away, and Severus took up his book again, somewhat relieved, willing the thudding of his heart away.

On Sunday afternoon, when Severus was preparing his lessons for the next week in the living room, Potter came in and settled into the sofa facing him. It was safer for Severus not to look up, so he continued writing. Potter was unusually fidgety and restless.

"Did you desire my mother?" asked Potter out of nowhere.

Severus nearly choked, but he retained his composure. "Why would you want to know now? You saw my memories."

"I saw what you let me see," replied Potter. His face was guarded.

"I did," answered Severus truthfully. "I wanted to marry her and have children with her and live happily ever after."

After a pause he added. "I was a silly child once, too."

Potter nodded slowly. "We all were." He took his glasses off and played with them, holding them between his fingers.

"I am asking because I kissed you. And frankly, I can't forget it."

Severus wished he would look somewhere else.

"In public, Potter. You kissed me in public. There were children present who will be scarred for life."

Potter blithely ignored him. "You do prefer men, don't you?"

"I realized that much later ... after I turned 17. And I wouldn't say that my preferences are exclusive," said Severus. He took a sharp breath. "What is this about, Mr. Potter?"

"When you look at me, do you still see her?"

Severus hadn't anticipated this.

"Sometimes ... it's difficult not to," he admitted. Potter said nothing, merely leaned back and folded his arms behind him. His gaze didn't waver.

"I also see your father. You look very much like him — especially when you're angry. But mostly I see you."

Potter cocked his head to the side and smiled. He got up and stood in front of Severus. Then he reached down and cupped his cheek.

"Are you still made at me?"

Severus tried to turn his head away.

"Mr. Potter ... the children will be back any time."

"No," said Potter, more intense than Severus had thought him to be. "We still have an hour. Look at me."

And Severus was incapable of disobeying. Potter stroked his cheekbone with his thumb.

"Let's not talk anymore," he said.

He bent down and kissed him.

If the first kiss had been indescribable, the second one was divine. There simply was no other word. Until recently, kissing had never had any meaning for Severus. It was neither pleasant nor unpleasant. He was never sure why people placed so much importance on it.

From now on, he wouldn't need an explanation.

What he needed was for Potter to never stop kissing him.

It aroused him. Was that possible? He felt his whole body ignite. His skin tingled, and he noticed with almost clinical interest that he felt hot and his heart rate had sped up.

Did Potter feel the same?

It felt so sweet, this tiny hope blossoming inside him. He hadn't felt hope for such a long time. This could be the beginning of something good, he thought, astonished at himself.

And maybe, just maybe they could be good together.

A door slammed open. They heard the children stomping through the short hallway.

"Dad! Professor Snape! We’re hooome!" James yelled.

Snape shoved Potter away so hard that he landed on the opposite sofa again. Potter's reflexes were so fast that he swiftly grabbed a book from the table while he was flying backwards and propped his feet up on the coffee table.

Anyone barging in would have assumed that the two hadn't been doing anything but reading and grading homework.

James skidded to a halt and looked at both of them, narrowing his eyes.

"Dad? Are you reading? A book? A potion book?" he said disbelievingly. "Without your glasses?"

Severus almost sniggered.

Potter nonchalantly turned a page and smiled at his son.

"How was your weekend?" he chirped, putting his glasses back on.

"And why are you both red in the face?" James asked, ignoring Potter's question as the ruse it was. They both turned redder at his words.

Sev came in and stopped beside James and looked incredulously at Severus. Only then Severus realized that the homework he was grading — parchments of writing practice both with quill and pencil and drawings of plants and animals — were scattered all around him, and some of them were on the floor.

"My chamomile!" Sev gasped and pointed at a crumbled sheet with a drawing of a flower at Severus feet.

Severus mumbled something and picked the drawing up.

Now Potter sniggered.

James and Sev looked at each other and shrugged.

"I'm going upstairs. I got new chocolate dragon cards from Dra- from Mr. Malfoy," James said, turning to leave. Albus followed him.

As soon as they left, Potter threw the book on the table and leaned his head against the cushion.

"Oh god! That was too close!" he said. "I really shouldn't kiss my former teacher in my living room."

Severus smirked and opened his mouth to say something, but then he froze. He looked straight past Potter at the door.

Potter followed his gaze, but he could only hear someone running up the stairs and slamming a door shut.

"Lils," said Severus.

Potter had his head in his hands.

A moment later Ginny appeared in the door.

"Hello, Harry! Evening Mr. Snape! I brought dinner! Might be a bit early - I can't get my head around this Daylight Saving Time thing.

"Where is everybody?"

Chapter 03

October

As the days became cooler, Severus’ days became busier, and he was thankful for the distraction. He stepped up his lessons with the children. The walks where he let the children practice free speech became shorter, and writing and reading exercises increased.

James was smart but grew bored quickly — he had to be entertained to learn. Severus learned to tailor lessons in a way that kept James interest up.

Albus (who Severus secretly started to call “Sev” as well, because the boy liked it so much — and was that not flattering?) liked reading and learning for their own sake. He liked to write stories and was dreamier than the hands on, energetic James. It was strange how Potter, whose character was more similar to James’, seemed to have a weak spot for his second son. Ginny had told him that was because Sev’s birth had taken longer, and he’d had a few complications as a baby.

Lils was probably the strangest of the bunch. Growing up with two boys and a tomboy mother, she didn’t really have a feminine role model. She seemed to be the most observant and the hardest to win over. Her good behavior was merely a truce, and he knew it. He found himself being more careful with Lils than with her two brothers, and he sometimes admired her ability to force him to treat her with more respect than the others in the family (including Ginny and Potter).

Oddly, Lils never said anything about the kiss, nor did she tell her brothers. She did observe Severus from time to time; but whenever he looked directly at her, she lowered her gaze. The red of her hair was not as fierce as Lily’s had been; it was darker and resembled a deep copper. And her eyes were not as intensely green, but she still bore a striking resemblance towards Lily.

Something else caught his attention eventually: The children didn't just tolerate him. They liked him. - And it was not easy to handle. He was not used to people liking him. Of course it was flattering, and it made teaching enjoyable: two words he didn’t think would ever go together for him. But that also meant they were not afraid of him and not easily intimidated by his usual methods.

And in return, he caught himself imagining himself with the children in the future: During his reading and preparing, he daydreamed about the children’s’ Hogwarts letters, their Sorting, and their graduation.

He had to shake himself out of these strange imaginings — if Potter knew what sentimental ideas he harbored, he’d be appalled.

Since the incident with Lils, there had been no further kissing, and naturally Severus was both relieved and disappointed. He knew that he would not be able to resist if Potter approached him, and what good would that be?

It was not clear whether or not Potter regretted the kiss, and Severus would not stoop so low as to resort to Legilimency to sort out his romantic problems.

As time went by, his childish interest in Potter did not diminish, and Severus fought angrily against his own idiocy. (At night, a little voice told him that he deserved to be childish, that he had earned it). Potter also did him the disfavor of being not only polite but also kind to him. Often enough Potter stood so close to him that he could smell the soap he used. In these moments, Severus very consciously took one or two steps back.

Often when Severus was reading or correcting the children’s homework in the evening, he felt Potter’s scrutiny. In the past, he would have looked up sharply, raised his eyebrow, and glared back at anyone who dared to look at him. But these days Potter only glared back, refusing to be intimidated by him as well.

Whenever he had to look at Potter, he had to force himself not to look anywhere else than his eyes. Looking at his mouth, his even features, or even the thick, black lashes that framed his startling eyes made his heart beat faster.

At times there might have been a question in these eyes, or mere curiosity, or just the myopic stare of someone as short-sighted as Potter. Severus could never tell, and that made him feel uncomfortable. Potter used to be an open book, someone so easy to read, all his emotions written in his features. Now Potter had learned to hide — as Severus had told him to do, a long time ago. Of course Potter was not that angry, rebellious child anymore; he was an adult now.


The playoffs for the Quidditch World Cup were underway. Potter, now playing Seeker for the English National Team, spent the week away from home first in Ireland, then in France and Italy.

Unbeknownst to Potter, Severus was informed enough to know that his excellent performance as Seeker had been credited for the team's unexpected success. This time the victory was within reach and England was celebrating.

On the weekends Potter was at home, he was busy with the children, arguing with Ginny over child-rearing issues and Quidditch and Malfoy, or deadly tired. Sometimes he fell asleep on the rug in front of the fire. (On these occasions Severus Levitated him to the couch and covered him with a woolen blanket but only because it would not do for the children to see their father passed out on the rug.)

Severus brewed more healing potions, even the difficult and time-consuming Skele-Gro. He prepared salves and topical solutions and built emergency kits that he forced upon Potter every Monday. Quidditch at Hogwarts had been a rough sport, and the infirmary had often been filled with injured players the day after a particularly hard match.

Professional Quidditch was one of the most merciless, extreme sports in the Wizarding world. Every year there were spectacular accidents. Severus thought Potter was immature to continue this dangerous sport although he had a family to care for.

In less than a month, Potter would be permanently off to Munich where the World Cup would take place; and if he was lucky, he would be playing in the finals.

When he was worried that he was behaving too much like like Molly Weasley, he calmed himself with the explanation that it would do him no good if his employer and breadwinner ended up with severe injuries or dead.

He was merely taking care of his own interests. His activities were not the result of being besotted with a man who was 20 years younger. (And, no, he wasn't besottedeither - merely interested in a possible erotic liaison.)

Besides, Potter was incapable of looking out for himself, so Severus would have to do it. If something would happen to Potter - where would that leave him?


One day when he returned from his afternoon walk, he heard voices from the living room. When he drew nearer, he could see Potter in front of the Floo.

“... no idea.” Potter sighed. Something in his pose told Severus he wasn’t talking to Ginny.

As usual he was sitting on the floor and leaning against the back of the sofa. Who was he talking to? Why would Potter never use silencing spells? He went to the living room door to cast one.

“It’s not such a big deal. But what were you doing kissing Snape?”

Ronald Weasley. Severus stilled.

Potter snorted and leaned forward, out of Severus sight.

“I felt bad for Snape.” Potter sighed. “They were so horrible to him. People who don’t know him insult him, and the same people are nice to me and behave as if I am their best friend. And I was tired of this whole idiotic game of pretending to be someone I am not.”

There was a long pause.

“Are you saying you kissed Snape in front of a million cameras in broad daylight because you felt sorry for him?” Weasley asked slowly. “Or are you saying you kissed him because you wanted to come out of the closet? And he just happened to be standing beside you?”

Severus felt something odd in his chest.

He waited for Potter’s answer.

“I guess,” said Potter finally. “He’s so alone. He hasn't any friends ... he wouldn't be here if he hadn't to. His presence here means that his life must have been pretty miserable. At least if he is associated with me ... ”

“Wow,” Ron said in an incredulous tone. “I 'm a real idiot sometimes; but I think that’s the stupidest thing I ever heard.”

“Alright, so I wasn’t thinking,” Potter said angrily. “What do you want from me? Do I have to propose to him tomorrow or what? Make an honorable man out of him?”

“I don’t know Snape, but I don’t think he’s interested in a casual one night stand. And, no offense, mate, but I really don't think he interested in being your pity date as well.”

There was a long pause, only interrupted by the crackling fire.

“He does kiss amazingly.”

Then Potter added: “But he could be my father. He’s ... God, he is twenty years older than me. It's a bit of a turn off.”

Severus retreated soundlessly and went upstairs to his room. Quite methodically he opened his drawers and chests and packed his belongings.

After he closed his trunk, he looked up and saw his reflection in the dress mirror beside the window. Potter was right. He was too old. He approached the mirror, taking in his face. The dark shadows under his eyes were gone, but the harsh lines around his mouth and the deep frown line on his forehead remained.

Well, he looked the way he did, and he was as old as he was. There was nothing he could do about it.

When he was done, he could not resist looking over the room once more — only to make sure he hadn’t forgotten anything. He never left things unintentionally behind. If he were inclined to that, his grand espionage career would have ended much sooner with his untimely demise.

He tread softly with his trunk floating behind him. When he was at the front door, Potter called, “Snape?”

The man couldn’t even address him by his given name after two kisses. He was a heartless, inconsiderate, conceited jock like his father. It was good that he saw Potter for what he was.

Although inside he felt like raging and hurling jars with foul liquids against the wall, he left wordlessly and silently.





"You're a prat." said Ron after a while. "When did you become a prat? I always thought that's my part!"

Harry suddenly stilled and called out "Snape?"

Harry turned to the Floo again. He shook his head. “I thought for a moment I could hear Snape coming in, but I was wrong.”

“Why didn’t you use a silencing spell?”

“Yeah, I know. I keep forgetting these things,” Harry said, scratching his head. “I didn’t grow up like this, remember?”

“We went to school together,” Ron said. “You should know to do that by now. Hermione didn't grow up like this, too.”

“It just feels weird to do all these spells before I sit down and talk to you. It makes me feel like a criminal.” Harry shrugged.

"Anyway ... about Snape." he continued. "The age thing is interesting - I mean the oldest guy I ever dated was four years older than me. But Severus - to him I must look like an idiotic child."

"I see." said Ron. "Well, there is no way he doesn't fancy you, so go for it."

"Is it my soft, silky hair?" Harry grinned.

"Honestly, Harry." Ron rolled his eyes, but laughed. "Well, Snape can't be picky. And you're famous, rich and good looking. What self respecting Slytherin wouldn't jump at that chance?"

"It's not what I want." Harry said.

"I know that, but I'm just saying that Snape won't ever reject you."

"Great, Ron, thanks." Harry muttered.

“About Ginny,” Ron said, taking a deep breath. The flames in the Floo flickered.

“No,” said Harry immediately, and he crossed his arms in front of his chest.

“Come on, mate, you’re not living together anymore. The kids know Draco. The whole thing is getting weird.”

“I’m not discussing this with you. And you asking me to let Ginny marry the ferret is one of the most ironic things I’ve ever heard.”

“For God’s sake, Harry, you are out of the closet. The picture of you kissing Snape was all over the front pages! She can divorce you for that alone if she wants. She’s being really generous in asking you to sign the original divorce papers.”

“This is a matter between Ginny and me,” Harry said. “Good bye, Ron.”

He disconnected the Floo.






He realized he hadn’t been to Spinner’s End for months. He paused at the entrance overlooking the living room. It didn’t matter what happened to him. In the end, he would always come back here. Spinner’s End was his life. Every step he took and every action brought him back to this very doorstep.

When he had first left this house to go to Hogwarts, he had been so happy to get away from his life. He had graduated from Hogwarts with dreams of becoming someone and going somewhere. But then Lily had died, and with her his hopes had died, too, because regardless of what Dumbledore told him, it was his fault she’d been killed.

And after that? He had returned to live here throughout his whole miserable career as teacher, spy, and Death Eater.

And after his return to England, he had come back here, as if drawn by invisible strings, as if this house would not let him go. There had been nowhere else to go.

He remembered the excitement he had felt nine months ago when he had packed his few belongings and left this house again — not daring to hope that his employment with the Potters would really last.

But here he was: back again from where he had started.

Not bothering to sigh, he unpacked.

It was harder than he expected it to be. But then most things in his life had turned out that way, so he shouldn’t be too surprised.

He had cultivated his unapproachable, impenetrable facade for such a long time that he occasionally fell for it himself. But moments like these reminded him that he was still Snivellus, the little boy who had cried himself to sleep in his first year.

The worst thing of all was that he didn’t even have any spite for Potter left in him. Potter had just tried to do the right thing again; he’d tried to be a good Gryffindor. He had been foolish to think that someone like Potter would have any interest in him. His mother had rejected him, and his father had hated him. The dislike really ran in the family.

For once, he mused, Potter had not really wanted to hurt him. And yes - that hurt more than anything else.

Letting a few tears escape, unseen by anyone, was not wearing your heart on the sleeve. It was venting pent-up emotions. It was not foolish; it was healthy, Severus decided when he went to bed and pulled the cover over his head.

At 5 a.m., he heard someone banging on his door. Snape cursed as he made his way downstairs. But anyone who could break through his wards and just knock on his front door was either from Hogwarts or from the Ministry, and he could not afford to alienate either.

Potter.

Of course, it had to be Potter.

Only Potter had the audacity and the magic to breeze through his wards without so much as breaking a sweat. At 5 am.

“Potter,” he growled, hoping against hope that Potter would not realize that he just didn’t know what else to say.

“That’s my name,” Potter said. “Please open the door.”

“I quit. The letter is on your desk.” For a reason he didn’t quite understand himself, he was leaning against the door, sensing Potter on the other side.

There was a pause.

“It’s 5 a.m. I have a long day ahead of me, Potter. Leave, and don’t come back.”

“A long day in the unemployment queue?” said Potter viciously.

Then he sighed. “God, I am sorry. I just don’t understand why you left.”

“Don’t trouble your pea-sized brain, Potter. Good night.”

There was a pause again. Almost smirking, Severus could imagine how Potter had nearly gnashed his teeth. Insults to his intelligence always got to him — probably because he was not smart enough to return them.

“If you won’t open the door, I will burn a hole through it. Or scream. Or both. Either way, I will not go away before we talk.”

Cursing, Severus flung the door open. Potter must have been leaning on it, because he stumbled in and fell on his knees before Severus.

“There you have me — on my knees before you,” said Potter and looked up. He didn’t smile, which was odd. It occurred to Severus that he always smiled, even when he was angry or irritated or tired. Instead he furrowed his brows in concern. Then Severus realized that his eyes must still be still red and puffy. Horrified, he took some steps back, out of the dim light that shone in from outside.

“Were you listening when I was talking to Ron?” he asked. “It’s the only explanation I have for your behaviour.”

For some reason Severus didn’t know, he said immediately, “What on earth are you talking about?”

Now faintly surprised, Potter took a step back. “You left quite suddenly. And I figured the only reason for that could be that you accidentally overheard what I said to Ron.”

“I don’t have the faintest idea what you are talking about. But even if I did know, I would not be willing to discuss it at 5 a.m. on my doorstep,” Severus hissed.

“Then why did you leave?” Potter was unimpressed.

Severus took a deep breath, “Because it seemed to me that you were using my position as your employee to exploit me. Sexually.”

“To exploit you?” Potter echoed incredulously. “Like ... sexually?”

His face was blank.

“Believe it or not, some people are not that keen to be sexually assaulted and ... harassed by the Golden Boy Who Lived.”

Potter closed his eyes and shook his head.

“I am not actually having this conversation,” he said to himself. “I am only imagining it.”

“You kissed me and didn’t bother to consider if I wanted to kiss you?” roared Severus. “You think that someone as lonely and old as I am should be grateful for whatever attention he gets?”

His heart was aching, and he could barely breathe.

“So you did hear?” Potter said confused. Then before Severus could unleash a torrent of insults on him, he held up his hand.

“I miss you,” he whispered. “I really do. I wish I hadn’t said these things because they ... I just had no clue. Ron is right. I am a superficial idiot. Operative word being idiot.”

For a while Severus could say nothing. Potter breathed little white clouds and the cold crept into his crammed living room.

Potter took a step towards him, his hand stretched out as if to lure a skittish, shy animal.

“Please believe me. I am sorry.”

Severus looked at his hand — the short, blunt fingers.

“Please come home with me.”

Potter did sound convincing, almost as if he'd meant it.

Severus shook his head. He’d had enough of being manipulated and lied to.

“Get. Out,” he said turning away from Potter.

Where’s a cockroach jar when you need one?

"Please." Potter begged, his voice merely a whisper.

Severus shook his head. "If you are not gone in 3 seconds I willhex you so badly your own children won't recognize you."

Potter knew when a battle was lost. He let his hand sink, then nodded to himself, sadly.

“The children will miss you,” he said, and then Disapparated.


November

Maybe he had been a little harsh with Potter — not that he didn’t deserve it.

Men like Potter ... were beautiful creatures, spoilt by life, vain and selfish, only caring about their own pleasures. What could they possibly know about love? He’d had enough of pretty men, and Potter was no exception. The one thing Lucius, Draco, and Potter had in common — as unalike as they were in other regards — was that they all went through life with a blinding smile and disgusting self-confidence, fully aware and yet utterly oblivious of the effect they had on others.

Love and affection were things that others handed to them on a silver platter, but nothing they ever suffered from.

Had Severus not sworn a long time ago not to make this mistake ever again?

Well, maybe he did resent Potter for the wrong reasons. It was quite likely. Severus knew his own faults but after so many years he felt entitled to his prejudices and dislikes. Potter had so much that Severus once had wanted too, and he never had to work for it or ask for it.

After he had spent the first days cleaning the house, Snape began looking for a new employment. In between he sulked in front of the Floo, sitting in his armchair or in his cramped, cold kitchen.

Out of what he could only believe was masochism, he read the sports pages of the Daily Prophet, noting with silent glee that Potter’s game was heavily criticized. The Quidditch cup in Munich had begun last week, and Potter’s game was mediocre at best.

Disastrous at worst.

“Is The Boy Who Lived capitalizing on his fame?” asked one article.

“Heavy partying seems to be taking its toll,” stated another one.

For an instant, Severus regretted not being at Godric’s Hollow. It would have been a pleasure to read this article aloud to Potter.

There was, after all, some justice in the world.

Unfortunately and no thanks to Potter, the British National Team made it into the finals. Their last opponent was Russia. With Potter’s disappointing performance, it was only too clear that Russia would win this year.

Severus dutifully read every article and followed the World Cup with a fervor he had once reserved for other nobler activities, like planning Voldemort’s downfall. The vengeful child in him wanted to see Potter fail.

If only Potter would make a mistake that would cause the team to lose the World Cup.

It would make Severus’ day.

“Not so talented, are you now?” Severus muttered, rinsing the dry toast down with a sip of bitter Darjeeling.

On the last day of the final, when Severus had peered repeatedly out the window to look for that post owl that delivered the Quidditch cup special of the Daily Prophet, Ginny firecalled him.

“Mr. Snape?”

He hurriedly left his post at his window and sank into the armchair opposite the fire, his robes settling around him, pretending in vain that he had been reading.

“Ms. Weasley, good afternoon!” he said with all the dignity he could muster.

In that moment, the owl appeared at the window and pecked against the glass.

Hurry up, Ms. Weasley. Others have work to do.

He glanced impatiently at her. “How may I help you?” he asked, casting nervous side glances towards the owl, who seemed terribly eager to dispose of her burden, a heavy and glossy Quidditch World Cup Special issue. Maybe there would be more scathing reports on Potter's abysmal performance. Probably with some moving pictures of him, letting the snitch escape or losing his temper.

“It’s about Harry.”

Something was very wrong with her tone and it sent a chill through his heart.

Oh Gods.

“What about him?” He gave her a bored look, but his hands were clutching the armrest. His face felt cold and numb suddenly, his heart started beating erratically, and why did this wretched owl not stop attacking the window?

“Harry had an accident.”

Continued in Part Three

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