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překlady 7


Severus woke with a start. Since Harry had stopped enveloping him in his magic at night, he'd often wake in something of a panic. The nightmares weren't troubling him like they had last month, but those moments between sleep and waking were often rife with anxiety as he tried to determine where he was and what was happening.

Breathing out a deep breath, he slowly opened his eyes. The green velvet canopy overhead instantly told him he was in his own room, safe in his own bed.

His bed wasn't icy cold as it had been since January.

Severus' gaze turned to take in the messy tangle of black hair on the pillow beside him. The lightning bolt scar was peeking out from between two locks of Harry's hair. Harry was still deep asleep, half on top of him.

The call of nature pressing upon him, Severus carefully slipped out from beneath Harry. He spared a glance at the bed as he left it, as ever, warmed by the sight of Harry lying there.

Quickly accomplishing his business in the cold dampness of a dungeon morning, he returned to bed.

Harry had moved while he was gone. He was now flat on his back in the middle of the bed.

Severus found himself captured by the sight before him. Harry was wearing a pair of Muggle pyjamas, a cool green that nearly matched the colour of his eyes. Those eyes were closed now, his face lax with sleep as he lay there in the centre of Severus' enormous bed, tangled in crisp white sheets and a brown blanket. Taking in those sleeping features, he was struck by Harry's beauty, moved in a way he hadn't been in months. Oh, he'd known Harry was handsome. The trim, athletic body, expressive face, and gentle eyes were hard to ignore. The man was extraordinarily attractive, in a strangely unassuming way. But since January, Severus had only recognized these facts on a mental level, if he noticed them at all. Lost in his misery, he'd rarely been aware of anything other than the hell he was enduring.

But now, after more than a month of the peaceful nights Harry's magic had granted him, that hell wasn't nearly as oppressive. He still had bad moments. The sound of dripping water was still enough to send him into a cold sweat and there were times when the sight of the pink-skinned flesh of his right hand stopped him cold with the knowledge of why its skin wasn't yellowed like his left hand, but, on the whole, he was doing better.

This was the first time that he'd looked at Harry and felt something stir inside him. It wasn't the same fierce longing that the sight of that attractive body used to inspire, but it was there, and it was real, and it was something Severus had feared he would never feel again.

He savoured the sweet tingling, allowing the fragile warmth to fill him. Seeing Harry laid out there, all warm and rumpled with sleep, with that achingly innocent expression on his face, made him long to return to that bed and . . . touch him.

The impulse frightened him as much as it excited him. This tentative desire made him feel as if he were made of glass, as if the slightest tremor would shatter him.

On a mental level, he knew he was in absolutely no danger from Harry. He'd never known that the type of tender care Harry had lavished upon him these last weeks was even possible. The unfaltering patience, the gentleness, the safe space Harry had created for him, all of these made Severus know that were he to follow through on the impulse to touch, it would go no further than he was ready for it to progress.

He knew that what Harry and he had shared had nothing to do with what Burke had done to him. In all the time he'd been with Harry, there hadn't been a single instance of force or violence. Even when Harry had been furious with him for altering his memories, the most violent gesture Harry had managed was pushing him up against a wall. For all that Harry had the power to take anything he wanted, it was not in his nature to do so. Severus knew this. He'd never had faith in anything the way he did in this man's character.

But, despite his utter certainty that Harry would never harm him, emotionally, he was absolutely terrified by the thought of moving to that bed and reaching out to touch his lover.

Lover. He hadn't thought of Harry that way in a long time. After the mistake he'd made on the quidditch pitch in February, Severus had been convinced that he'd never be this close to Harry again, but, against all odds and better sense, Harry had forgiven him. If he'd had three wishes granted to him, that would have been the first. The ability to make love with Harry again would be the next. More than anything, he wanted to somehow find the courage to overcome what had been done to him.

His conscience kept hounding him, reminding him how unfair this setup was to Harry.

Harry was young and virile. He deserved a lover who would burn for him, the way Severus used to. He remembered how Harry used to make him feel. There wasn't a night they were together that he hadn't wanted Harry inside him . . . but those memories seemed alien and strange now. The thought of getting naked with someone, even his gentle, loving Harry, of letting another man touch and enter him, made his whole body cringe with revulsion. The idea of penetration always brought him right back to that torture chamber and the horrible things he'd endured there. And, no amount of knowing that Harry would never partake of such actions could get him past the memory his body had of those rapes.

Severus bit his lower lip as he struggled to master his fear. He could almost feel that tender desire dying on him, leaving him nothing but cold and lifeless flesh. Harry deserved better than this. Staring at Harry's face, he clung to that fleeting yearning, stoking it with the memory of every tender kiss Harry had given him these past few weeks.

This man loved him. He didn't understand the emotion, much less how Harry could still feel these things for him, but not even his doubting mind could question Harry's feelings for him. That precious gift deserved something in return, something more than a hug and the occasional chaste kiss.

He was no coward. For Harry's sake, if not his own, he had to get past this.

Breathing deeply to still his shaking, Severus forced himself to return to the bed.

He'd worried that the jostling of the mattress would wake Harry, but Harry always slept deeply unless he was troubled by nightmares.

Severus slipped back under the covers on his side of the bed, which was dramatically smaller now that Harry had claimed the centre.

Turning on his side, Severus studied those familiar features. He remembered how he used to love to trace that lightning bolt with the tip of his tongue. He could almost taste the sweet flavour of Harry's peaches and cream skin. The thin eyebrows had a salty tinge to them, his ears an addictive bitterness, his mouth . . . .

Severus needn't look back far to recall that wonderful experience. Harry had gifted him with one of those soft, endless kisses right before they'd closed their eyes to sleep last night.

The tingle turned to a flutter as he remembered that kiss.

Giving his lips a nervous swipe, Severus leaned forward. A kiss. He could manage a kiss.

Breathing in Harry's sleepy, sweet scent, feeling the heat pouring off Harry's body the closer he got, Severus felt his jagged nerves start to relax. It was going to be okay. This was Harry. His body knew this was Harry, and Harry meant safety.

It felt almost natural to cover that sleeping mouth with his own. The initial, inevitable freeze happened, but as Harry was still dead asleep, Severus tried not to let it bother him. He just waited for his body to remember whom he was with. It took a while, but finally, the paralysing fear left his flesh.

Searching himself, he rediscovered that flicker of desire. Fanning that sputtering flame for all he was worth, Severus threw everything he felt for Harry into the kiss.

In his excitement, it was possible that he cut off Harry's air, for Harry gave a confused sounding "Hmmmm?" into the kiss a heartbeat before his eyelids snapped open.

Severus stilled as he read Harry's confusion, abruptly uncertain of the impulse that had brought him here.

But then Harry's eyes lit with a sleepy smile and the mouth beneath his own came to life and practically absorbed him. Still seeming more asleep than awake, Harry's hands found their way into his hair as the kiss deepened.

Severus was shocked to feel that tiny flicker of desire flare as Harry's strong morning flavour flooded his system. So good, Harry tasted so damn good.

Going with the flow, Severus let that kiss claim him. As that sweet feeling of rightness spread through him, he kissed back with everything he had.

The kiss was proceeding wonderfully. There was no terror, no icy withdrawal, nothing but Harry's irresistible flavour. Severus was just beginning to relax and believe that things were finally right with him, when everything changed in a heartbeat.

The fingers carded through his hair tightened. Still locked in the kiss, Harry rolled on top of him, the way he would the hundreds of times they'd made love in the past.

The minute Severus felt that warm weight crush down on him, his entire body turned to ice. He knew it was Harry. He knew he was in absolutely no danger. Yet the feel of the heavier body pressing him down sent the visceral memory of being held down and forcibly entered ripping through him.

Although he was still locked in the kiss with Harry, he was no longer an active participant. His mind was withdrawing, seeking out that sheltered place deep inside where he'd gone to hide when Burke had done his worst to him.

Most of the men he'd known in his younger days would neither have noticed nor cared about what was happening to him. They would have just continued doing what they wanted, regardless of his participation.

But mere seconds after that freeze claimed him, Harry pulled back from the kiss to stare down into his face with a confused sounding, "Severus?"

He couldn't answer. He could only squeeze his eyes shut and attempt to calm his breathing and his panicked heart as he struggled to master the instinctive terror that was gripping him.

A heartbeat later, the bulk crushing him rolled clear.

"Sorry . . . I'm sorry, so sorry . . . ." Harry was chanting in a panicked mutter. "Severus, please, look at me?"

Unable to ignore the raw fear in that familiar voice, he forced his eyes open and met Harry's frantic gaze.

Harry looked about as frazzled as he felt.

"Are you all right?" Harry questioned, still sounding uncharacteristically frightened.

Now that the oppressive weight had stopped crushing him, normality was gradually returning. Severus gave a slow, mortified nod, unable to believe how badly he'd mucked things up again.

The wall sconces all came to life around them as Harry sat up in the bed, muttering a soft, "Thank God."

Hating the scene he'd caused, Severus sat up as well, barely able to meet Harry's eyes in his embarrassment.

"I'm sorry, Severus," Harry was saying, his confusion palpable. "I . . . don't know what came over me. Did I . . . try to molest you in my sleep?"

Severus gave a negative shake of his head and looked for his voice, finally managing, "No . . . I fear that the fault is mine."

"Huh?" Harry still looked completely befuddled, and guilty as hell.

"I must apologize. You were asleep and I . . . I kissed you," Severus tried to explain. He felt like the worst kind of tease.

"You kissed me?" To his astonishment, there was no anger in the question.

Severus gave a tight nod. Reading only confusion in Harry's face, and something gentler that eased the tension gripping his gut, he attempted to explain, "I was watching you sleep. You looked so . . .I thought I could, but I couldn't, and . . . I'm sorry. I shouldn't have . . . ."

"Of course, you should have," Harry gently corrected, reaching out to lay a tentative hand on his shoulder. "I think it's wonderful that you even wanted to try."

"But I couldn't . . . ." He felt too ashamed to continue.

"So, you couldn't this time. Maybe next time, you'll feel better. We're taking baby steps here, remember?" Harry asked in the light, near-joking tone that always made him feel at ease.

Seeing that there really wasn't any recrimination in those watching eyes, Severus took a deep breath and hesitantly confessed, "I . . . I hate this. You must hate it, too."

"No. Hate's the last thing I'm feeling right now. You wanted to kiss me. That's what I'm concentrating on here."

"But I couldn't follow through," Severus pointed out.

"So you couldn't follow through today. It's no big deal. A month ago, you wouldn't have wanted to kiss me at all. Maybe a month from now, you'll be able to follow through. Or the month after that. This is a real breakthrough."

Unable to stand that shining Gryffindor optimism, Severus averted his gaze and softly countered, "Then why does it feel like a failure?"

"Because you're too hard on yourself," Harry firmly stated, reaching out to lift his chin up and make him meet his gaze again. Once their eyes met, Harry continued with, "Do you know how happy it makes me that you even wanted to kiss me? That you felt that way about me?"

The emotion shining in Harry's face was unmistakable. Severus felt so unworthy of it at that moment that he could barely withstand Harry's gaze. No matter what Harry said, he knew what an utter failure he was.

But Harry wasn't treating him like the pathetic loser he felt. To the contrary, Harry was watching him with such a soft expression that it practically stole his breath.

"We'll get there, Severus. Just give it time," Harry assured and then leaned over to place a light kiss in the centre of his forehead.

His hands reached out of their own volition and settled on the soft, green cotton covering Harry's shoulders. The heat and scent of Harry seemed to fill him. With no conscious thought, he leaned towards Harry, drawn by a force he couldn't resist.

Strong arms settled firmly around his back and he was drawn into a hug.

Wishing with all his heart that he could be what he'd once been, Severus closed his eyes and buried his face in the crook of Harry's neck, willing to stay there forever.

*~*~*

"Hey, do you feel like going over to the Three Broomsticks for lunch?" Harry's voice interrupted Severus' moody contemplation of the dancing flames in the hearth.

Severus looked over to the other end of the couch where Harry was reading yet another Muggle thriller. He still wasn't sure what the designation 'thriller' meant.

"No," Severus answered. "It's raining again. I would rather not deal with the damp."

"You live in a dungeon. It's always damp," Harry pointed out in the light tone he used to jolly him into things.

"But the dungeon isn't dripping and muddy," Severus replied.

"You're not still upset about this morning, are you?"

Severus couldn't understand how Harry wasn't upset. To have someone wake you with kisses and then bail on you the instant you began to respond . . . that had to be more than frustrating. But there had been no trace of resentment in Harry's behaviour towards him all morning. If anything, Harry had seemed incredibly cheerful, as if it really had pleased him that he'd wanted to kiss him.

"No," he lied.

"Right," Harry answered in a completely unconvinced tone. "You're not upset. You've just spent the entire morning glaring into the hearth for no reason."

Severus turned that glare on his companion. "I'm cold."

"We could try talking about it," Harry offered, so gentle that it made him want to scream.

Severus ignored the suggestion. As much as he appreciated Harry's efforts to cheer him, right now he just wanted to be left alone. Two months ago, he would have snarled at Harry and driven him away, but these days he was doing his utmost to refrain from needlessly hurting Harry. Stars knew, the sexless life he was living here with him had to be hurtful enough.

"Severus?"

Taking a deep breath, he once again dared those concerned green eyes. Sometimes, he wished that Harry would just shout at him to get over himself.

"It really was a breakthrough, not a failure. I wish you wouldn't be so hard on yourself." When his words brought no reaction, Harry sighed. After another few minutes of silence, in which the only sounds in the room were their breathing and the crackling of the burning wood, Harry asked, "Would you like to play chess?"

Recognizing that Harry would probably spend the entire afternoon attempting to draw him out of his black funk, Severus rose to his feet. "I have papers I have to grade."

He could feel Harry's gaze upon him as he crossed to the mahogany desk in the corner, where he usually stored the homework that needed marking. The desk was depressingly empty.

"It seems that I have once again left them in the Potions classroom." He tried not to let his frustration show, but it was the third time this week he'd made the same kind of oversight. He was supposed to be getting better. Yet, it seemed that at every turn there was some gaping evidence that he still wasn't functioning normally.

"I do that all the time," Harry said in a soothing tone.

Staring at that depressingly neat desk, Severus said, "In the thirty years I've worked here, I never forgot to bring the homework home with me until recently. I'm not getting better. I'm getting worse."

On that cheery note, he turned and stalked to the door. He could feel Harry's eyes on him the entire way.

Harry's concerned "Severus?" was ringing through the room as the door slammed behind him.

Thankfully, the corridor was empty. It was a Hogsmeade weekend. Not even the miserable weather would keep the students here.

Grateful to be alone, he leaned against the wall outside his door, squeezing his eyes shut. Part of him knew that Harry was right, that the type of healing he needed was going to take time, but that was a very small part of him. Mostly, he felt like an utter failure.

He wanted so badly for things to be normal with Harry again . . . which was why he'd just stalked out on the man in a snit. It seemed he could do nothing right these days. As he started for the Potions lab, he glumly acknowledged that he was going to owe Potter yet another apology.

The moment he opened the door to the lab, he could see the homework stacked on the corner of his desk. It was nearly two inches high. He had no idea how he could possibly have overlooked it when he left after detentions last night.

Frustrated with himself, he crossed to the desk and retrieved the stack of papers. As he did so, a flash of white paper sticking out of the corner of his green blotter caught his eye.

It was the card Hermione had given him months ago when she'd come here that awful morning after Harry had regained his memories. The analyst's card.

As happened every time he noticed the card, his instincts rebelled at the idea. He'd been telling himself for months that he'd get through this on his own, that he didn't need help, but this morning's disaster had driven home how little true healing had taken place. Oh, he might be functioning better. He was sleeping straight through the night now. He might be teaching his classes without any emotional breakdowns. He might be able to converse with people and even go out for the occasional drink, but he couldn't kiss the man he loved without turning to stone. And, he didn't see that situation changing any time in the near future, for all Harry's assurances that it would improve.

Harry had been very patient with him this morning. He knew how lucky he was that Harry was still around, still willing to try. But how long could even the most patient man's forbearance stand this morning's kind of disappointment? Harry was a healthy and virile man. When they'd been together, they'd made love every single night. For all that he never complained or acted unhappy, Harry had to be missing the sex. It had been nearly five months now and Severus was no closer to functioning in bed than he'd been the night Harry rescued him. Sooner or later, Harry was going to get tired of this situation. And then he'd leave.

Barely able to credit the panic that rushed through him at the thought of Harry leaving him, he took a deep breath and tried to calm himself.

He knew he was overreacting. He knew Harry loved him. Only . . . how long could even Harry's love withstand the kind of frustrating scene they'd endured this morning?

Harry deserved better than that. Severus had wanted so much to please him, to make him happy this morning, and all he'd managed to do was create another crisis.

He had to get better. That was all there was to it.

Only, clearly, he wasn't managing it very well on his own.

Perhaps it was time to consider extreme measures? Hermione had said that this analyst friend of hers helped wizards through 'difficult periods'. Severus had never endured a more difficult period than the last five months. Although everything inside him rebelled at the idea of bringing his personal problems to a stranger, he didn't think he could take another failure like this morning's. For his own sake, as much as Harry's, he had to get past this.

His stomach knotted with dread at the very scope of what he was considering. If he went to this analyst person, he was going to have to tell him about what happened with Burke. He never even discussed that with Harry. Hell, he was going to have to tell him about Harry and everything else for the situation to make any sense to an outsider. He didn't know if he were up to that.

The one thing he did know was that he wasn't up to a repeat performance of what happened this morning. No matter what it took, he needed to fix what was broken inside him, and if that meant talking to a stranger, then it meant talking to a stranger. His faults were legion, but until quite recently, cowardice had never been among them.

Taking a deep breath, he picked up the innocuous little card.

The inscription was refreshingly simple. The man's name, his title, and contact information. Severus knew what the Muggle word 'psychiatrist' meant, but he didn't understand the line of letters following Penbroke's name. Still, the card stated that he was on both the floo and owl networks. That, he did understand.

It took him nearly an hour to craft his introduction letter to his liking. When he thought he could live with the missive, he folded the parchment in half, sealed it with candle wax and the signet ring he kept in his pocket for such instances.

Knowing that once he sent this message, he was committed to the course, he stood up from his desk and headed up to the Owlry. It was only as he was approaching the door to his quarters after owling the note that he realized that he'd once again left his papers in the classroom.

*~*~*

"Welcome, Professor Snape. It's an honour to meet you," an insufferably cheerful voice greeted Severus as he attempted to keep his feet after being ejected from the floo.

Dusting soot off his robes, Severus studied the man before him. He still wasn't certain that this was a wise idea, or if he could go through with it at all.

The stranger standing before him looked completely benign. Penbroke was a medium sized, slightly chubby man with sandy hair, an affable face, and brown eyes that seemed very warm. He was dressed in black Muggle jeans and a grey jumper. The sitting room behind him looked as comfortable as Penbroke himself, all cushiony furniture, bookshelves, and colourful paintings.

"Dr. Penbroke, I presume?"

"Yes." Penbroke's smile transformed into a grin. "Please, come in. Make yourself comfortable."

Once he was sure he'd shaken the worst of the ash off himself, Severus cautiously approached the brown leather couch, which was the nearest piece of furniture. He perched on the end of the sofa, prepared to apparate away at an instant's notice.

His reaction was clearly not lost on the man before him.

"Sometimes first visits can be very nerve-wracking," Penbroke said. "Is there anything I can do to make you more comfortable? Tea, perhaps?"

Severus gave a negative shake of his head. "Thank you, no. I . . . believe I may have made an error in coming here. If you'll excuse me -"

"I'd be more than willing to excuse you, but do you think apparating away is really going to solve whatever problem was severe enough to bring you to my doorstep in the first place?" Penbroke asked, catching and holding his eyes.

Faced with the grim truth, Severus held the man's gaze and said, "I fear the problem is insurmountable by its very nature."

"But you still want it to go away?" Penbroke questioned.

Severus nodded.

"I can help you with that. I can't promise that seeing me will transform your life, but I think you will find that it might give you some perspective on whatever it is you're experiencing."

"I don't need perspective," Severus snapped. "I need . . . ."

"Yes?" Penbroke asked as he took a seat in a matching leather armchair slightly to Severus' left.

"A miracle, I fear." Overwhelmed by the enormity of it all, Severus turned his gaze to the fire crackling in the hearth. He didn't even know where to begin to address what he needed. How he'd thought this Squib could help was beyond him.

"Perhaps if you told me a little about yourself that might help break the ice, as it were?" Penbroke suggested. "Of course, I know that you teach Potions at Hogwarts and have been the head of Slytherin House for the last twenty years."

"I'm sure you're also acquainted with my history as a Death Eater?" Severus asked in a voice that was unintentionally harsh.

Penbroke nodded. "No one with any contact with the Wizarding World could be unaware of those facts. It was my understanding that you were spying on You Know Who for Professor Dumbledore for most of your career with the Death Eaters."

"That isn't a fact most people readily acknowledge," Severus said, warming to the man, in spite of himself. Most times when his past with the Death Eaters came up, strangers could barely conceal their disgust.

"I'm not most people," Penbroke said. "I'm here to help you handle whatever this problem is that you feel is so insurmountable. I must warn you; I've heard people claim that a problem is too huge to be fixed before, and in almost all cases, my clients have found a way to overcome the issues that were weighing them down. I won't kid you that the process is easy or in any way enjoyable, but it is effective."

Severus didn't want to hope. That particular emotion had betrayed him every time he'd given it reign over him. However, he couldn't help but experience a flutter of something like encouragement at Penbroke's matter of fact statement.

Deciding that maybe he would give the Squib doctor a chance, Severus cautiously asked, "What type of process are we talking about here?"

"Basically, I'm going to talk you to death," Penbroke joked. "I'm going to ask you hundreds of annoying questions that will help me determine the basis of what it is that is bothering you. Then I will do what I can to guide you through the problems. It can take some time for the benefits of this process to make themselves known. Depending on the severity of the issue, I might need to see you several times a week initially. So, if you're looking for an instant cure, this isn't it. Our progress will depend wholly upon your honesty and how open you are to making the necessary alterations in behaviour to achieve your goals."

Severus supposed it was too much to hope that the cure would be quick. But at least Penbroke seemed optimistic. He was highly aware of the fact that there were many people in the Wizarding World who wouldn't deal with him at all, once they knew who he was.

Severus decided to test the waters with something he knew would have ended most interviews in the Wizarding World. "Before we begin, you should know that I'm a homosexual."

Penbroke nodded as if he'd just announced he was a man. There was no trace of contempt or distaste in those serious, round features. "Before we begin, you, in turn, should know that anything you say to me will be held in the strictest of confidences. And, by the way, many of my clients prefer their own gender. I realize that such preferences can be a problem in the Wizarding World. Is that what brings you to me today?"

Severus gave a negative shake of his head. "No. I . . . ." Everything inside him rebelled at revealing these facts, but he knew there was no way Penbroke could assist him without an understanding of what had broken him. Drawing on every ounce of courage he possessed, he hesitantly offered, "Several months ago, I was abducted by a dark wizard. While in captivity, I was tortured and . . . ." he swallowed hard and just said it, ". . . raped."

Severus expected some degree of shock, but although Penbroke's pleasant face turned serious at his confession, there was no extreme reaction. He didn't look like anything Severus had just said was too radical for him to deal with.

"And now you are experiencing emotional difficulties that tie into what was done to you?" Penbroke questioned in a voice that was comforting and understanding.

A little shocked, Severus realized it was the same tone Harry often took with him.

Severus nodded. After a moment's silence, he offered in a rough voice, "I must confess that I am close to my wits' end."

"That's understandable. But you made the correct decision in seeing me. This isn't insurmountable. The fact that you were able to find the courage to come here shows that you are ready to overcome these problems."

It might have been sheer pabulum to ease his overstressed mind, but the confident statement did wonders for Severus' nerves.

"How are you going to help me with this?" Severus asked.

"Actually, I'm going to teach you how to help yourself. But first I think I need to know a little more about you, so I'm going to ask you for some background information. You said you were a homosexual. Are you involved with anyone right now?"

Severus gave a cautious nod.

"What kind of relationship do you have?"

"What do you mean – what kind of relationship? I just admitted that we were involved."

Penbroke did not appear uncomfortable with his crankiness.

"There are many degrees of involvement," Penbroke patiently explained. "Some people say they are involved with someone when they meet only for casual sex. Other people consider involvement to pertain to some level of emotional commitment. I need to form a picture of who you are before I can help you. It would help me to know what type of situation you're in. Why don't you tell me a little about your friend? Don't worry about shocking me. There isn't anything you could possibly say that I haven't heard a hundred times before."

Severus could think of a thing or two this gentle Squib mightn't have encountered before, but decided to stick to the subject at hand. "My . . . lover is twenty-two years younger than me and was my student."

"How long have you been involved?" Remarkably enough, there was no censure in the question.

Severus couldn't help but wonder if Penbroke had seen the October Prophet article in which he was accused of molesting his students. "Seven months, although we have not had sexual relations for the last five months."

"How would you define your relationship – casual, committed, exclusive, open?" Penbroke asked.

"I don't know that I ever thought about it," Severus said.

"Well, let's think about it now. Do you both date other people?"

Severus gave another negative shake of his head. "No. Given my present situation, I told him he should see other men, but he refuses to consider the idea."

"It sounds like he cares very deeply about you."

"He says he loves me," Severus explained, even his own ears could hear the mystification in his tone.

Penbroke obviously picked up on it. "And you doubt that he means it?"

Severus couldn't hold back a snort. "We haven't had sex in more than five months and he is still there. That seems to indicate that his regard is genuine."

"Yet you still sound uncertain," Penbroke commented.

"Let's just say it's a novel experience."

"What is?" Penbroke asked.

"Someone claiming to love me," Severus explained, wondering why the man looked so confused.

"Surely, you exaggerate."

"I assure you, it is the truth. He is the first person to claim such feelings towards me," Severus softly admitted.

"There are other types of love beyond the romantic. There is the love a parent and child share, the love between siblings, the love of a friend. They might not be as dramatic as a romantic love, but they can be equally as deep."

"I wouldn't know," Severus said.

"Are you seriously telling me that no one has loved you in your entire life?" Penbroke obviously didn't believe his claim.

"It is the truth," Severus said.

"What about your parents?"

"Isn't it something of a cliché for a psychiatrist to ask someone to talk about his mother?" Severus questioned. He didn't know a lot about Muggle society, but he'd heard the Muggle-born students make enough jokes over the years to know that psychiatrists usually asked people about their relationship with their mother. "I mightn't know much of Muggle society, but I do remember some things."

"Humour me," Penbroke said. "You mentioned your mother. Tell me about her."

"I don't see what relevance my mother could possibly have to my present situation," Severus snapped.

"Everything has relevance in my line of work. You were about to tell me of your mother?"

"If you must know, she was a witch from a pureblood family. When she finished school, she took up with a Muggle tradesman and eventually married him, to her family's disgrace. I think it was the only true act of defiance she ever performed."

"Was it a happy marriage?" Penbroke asked.

"My father was . . . a difficult man. To be perfectly honest, he was a brute. She was his principal victim. She could have vanished him with a flick of her wand, but she allowed him to bully her for more than fifteen years."

"It doesn't sound like you had much respect for her," Penbroke said.

"There was very little to respect. She didn't stand up for herself or for me. Perhaps if she had ever shown me any form of affection, things might have been different, but she didn't have what one might call a nurturing personality."

"Perhaps she was in too much pain to show her feelings for you," Penbroke suggested.

"Perhaps you are right. It can hardly matter now."

"You said she bore your father's abuse for fifteen years. What happened after the fifteen years?"

Severus wasn't sure what type of emotion was expected when one was relating these types of facts. Deciding not to worry about what was expected, he answered as he would to Harry, giving the cold facts, "She died."

Penbroke seemed to digest this for a few minutes before asking, "You must have had some reaction to her passing."

"Relief, perhaps," Severus said, still unsure what any of this had to do with his present problem.

"Relief?"

"Once she died, my father disappeared into the Muggle world. I didn't have to go home to them during summer breaks anymore. The headmaster allowed me to stay at Hogwarts those last two summers. I think they were the only summers I ever truly enjoyed," he added so that the man wouldn't think there had been no joy at all in his life, even though it felt like that most days.

"And you haven't seen your father since her death?"

Severus gave another negative shake of his head.

"You must have been very angry with him," Penbroke said, obviously fishing.

Severus shrugged and matter-of-factly offered, "I hated him for as long as I knew him. His leaving was no great loss."

"Many people would think that never having known a father or a mother's love would be a very great loss, indeed," Penbroke commented.

"Perhaps, but one can hardly miss what one has never known," Severus countered.

"It must have been difficult in school when you saw examples of how other children's parents loved them," Penbroke said.

"I was sorted into Slytherin House. We're not exactly known for emotional demonstrativeness."

"I beg to differ. My family has been sorted exclusively into Slytherin House for the last six centuries. Hiding behind Slytherin's bad press will get you nowhere with me. I know the strengths and weaknesses of that great house."

"What would you have me say? That I burned with envy and hate every time my classmates received gifts from home and I didn't get so much as a letter?" Severus sneered.

"Is that the truth?" Penbroke asked, back to that mild tone.

Annoyed at having been tricked, Severus snapped, "Yes. But I don't see what any of this has to do with why I came to you."

"Why don't you let me judge what's relevant to the issue," Penbroke suggested. "Tell me about your school years. It can't have been easy for a half-blood student to have been sorted into Slytherin."

When Severus didn't answer immediately, Penbroke prodded, "I can't help you if you won't level with me. I'm not here to judge you; I'm here to help. I can't do that if you won't work with me."

"I don't understand why you need to hear all this," Severus confessed after a long, stubborn silence.

"If someone came to you for a potion to cure a physical malady, wouldn't you need to have all the details of their problem before you could brew them the cure they needed?" Penbroke challenged. "Would you brew a potion for, let's say, heart palpitations without first checking to ensure that the person wasn't taking some type of drug that might have caused the problem?"

"No, I suppose not."

"Then how can you expect me to operate blindly here? I don't know a thing about you, except what you tell me. I don't have a magic wand to cure what ails you. The only way I can do that is by helping you examine your life and help you discover a means to work around the problems that are keeping you from achieving your goals."

"My goals?" Severus croaked.

"Well, it sounds like your immediate goal is to work through whatever traumas were caused by your captivity. Does that sound right?"

"But we're not talking about those subjects," Severus protested.

"We'll get there. First I need to know who you were before the incident that changed your life."

Tiring of the probing, Severus' temper got the better of him. "I was a social leper before what you call 'the incident that changed my life'. In the forty-eight years I have been alive, I have had only one wholly good thing happen to me – the young man who shares my life now. Because of what was done to me in January, I am in danger of losing him. That is what has brought me here. I – I haven't been able to have sex with him since my recovery. I came to you because I was told you could assist me with this type of problem -"

Severus felt ashamed and horrified to be admitting these things to a stranger. But, after having screwed up his courage to come here, he didn't know what he would do if this man couldn't help him.

"And I will assist you. I promise. But you have to work with me," Penbroke interrupted. "Tell me, how did you expect me to help you?"

"I – I don't know. I've never been to a Muggle psychiatrist before."

"And yet, you knew enough about us to make that crack about the stereotypical questions we ask." At his no doubt blank expression, Penbroke reminded him, "The comment you made about psychiatrists asking their patients about their relationships with their mothers."

"I suppose I overheard Muggle-born students making jokes about it over the years."

"Well, the jokes weren't all wrong. We have to ask a lot of questions to get the information we need to help our patients. For example, just a moment ago, you claimed to be a social leper. Was that an exaggeration?"

Recognizing that, although the man might be a Squib, Penbroke certainly displayed every indication of the tenacity that had no doubt placed his family members in Slytherin for the last few centuries. Stifling a sigh, Severus answered, "No. If you must know, I was loathed and tormented by most of my fellow students throughout my school years. Very little has changed over the years, except that there is no open ridicule these days."

"You said 'most of your fellow students'. Not all of them?"

Severus debated the wisdom of answering honestly. After some consideration, he met those waiting brown eyes and decided to try to shock him with the truth. "There were several older boys in Slytherin who did not tease me. They . . . well, in retrospect, it seems that they preyed upon me sexually."

"I see," Penbroke said into the heavy silence that followed his disclosure.

Severus felt a childish burst of victory. He often employed that expression himself when he was at a loss for words.

"You said 'in retrospect'," Penbroke said after a moment's consideration. "What did you think at the time?"

Severus thought back to those early years at school. James Potter and his mob had made his life a living hell, but the time he'd spent with Lucius and his cronies had made up for the endless taunting.

"That they were my friends," Severus said. "That illusion was shattered in sixth year when I overheard them discussing me and realized that they thought little more of me than a prostitute."

"That must have been very painful, Severus. May I call you Severus?"

He gave a tight nod.

"How do you feel about those young men now?"

"What?" Severus was nearly startled by the question.

"You believed they were your friends. You must have been very hurt to discover their intentions weren't honourable."

"It was over thirty years ago. What can it matter now?" Severus snapped, thinking that he shouldn't have brought up the subject at all.

"It always matters," Penbroke said.

"I'd really rather not discuss this right now," Severus said.

"All right. What would you like to discuss instead?"

"Whatever it is I need to do to get better," Severus replied.

"As I mentioned before, you need to talk to me. Would you like to tell me about your young man?"

"Why?" Severus asked, not entirely able to conceal his suspicions.

"You said he was the only good thing that happened to you in your life. I'd like to hear about him."

Severus considered the risks of being honest on this topic. He knew that the scandal sheets would pay even a Malfoy's idea of a fortune for insights into the Boy Who Lived's love life. While he'd seen nothing in Penbroke's attitude to make him suspect the man had nefarious intentions, he couldn't risk opening Harry to such scrutiny.

After a long pause, he carefully offered, "He is young and handsome, strong and kind. He is all that is good and wonderful in this world."

"It sounds like you care very deeply for him," Penbroke said.

He'd already told the man that Harry was the reason he was here. There could be no harm in admitting he cared. "I . . . do."

"You can call him by his name if that would make it easier to talk. You can even make up one, if you're not comfortable disclosing his real name," Penbroke suggested.

Severus considered the option of giving Harry a false name, but then realized how difficult it would be to keep up the pretext. Deciding that there were enough Harrys in Britain to risk using his lover's first name, he offered, "His name is Harry."

"I imagine what you've been going through hasn't been easy on Harry, either," Penbroke said, the words an opening.

Severus gave another negative shake of his head. "I've been very difficult to live with."

"Have you been quarrelling?"

"No, he has been the soul of patience," Severus answered.

"But you said that you were in danger of losing him," Penbroke reminded.

"He isn't even thirty years old. How long can a man that young remain trapped in a sexless relationship?" Severus voiced the fear that had been chilling his soul these last few weeks.

"I imagine the answer to that question would depend upon how much he loves you. Do you feel pressured to do things you're not ready to handle yet?"

"No, we're . . . taking baby steps," he felt a little ridiculous using Harry's terminology with a stranger. But Penbroke didn't feel like a stranger. There was something about the mild-mannered Squib that invited confidences. Thinking back on the things he'd openly revealed in this brief interview, Severus couldn't help but wonder if there weren't some kind of magic at work here. He simply couldn't believe the things he'd told Penbroke about his parents and the unsavoury associations of his schooldays.

"Baby steps?"

"I . . . react badly to being touched. Harry thought if we proceeded very slowly, increasing the contact in incremental steps, that it would help ease me through the problem."

"It sounds like a very wise approach. Is it working?"

"It's helping, but . . . ." Severus found his nerve failing him.

"But?" Penbroke gently prodded.

Taking a deep breath, he voiced the heart of his problem, "But when things reach a certain level of . . . intimacy, I consistently freeze up. I . . . haven't been able to get past that."

"Many rape victims experience that same problem," Penbroke offered.

The information was, of course, no help. What he was looking for was the way around it.

His disappointment must have shown on his face, for Penbroke continued with, "Coming here is the first step towards healing. Let's look at the problem for a moment and try to determine if there is anything in specific that triggers your reaction."

"You mean aside from the fact that I am engaged in sexual activities?"

His sarcasm didn't ruffle Penbroke at all. The man simply smiled and said, "Aside from that. Is there any action in particular that makes you react that way?"

"Are you asking for details of my sex life?" Severus was scandalized.

"I'm asking you to consider what is happening at the time you react that way. Sometimes, there is a specific trigger involved. It can be so simple as a kiss or being touched in a certain area. Is there any common element that occurs when you experience this freeze, or is it just the prospect of having sex itself that causes it?"

Finally seeing where Penbroke was headed, Severus considered the questions. "Initially, it was the prospect of . . . being penetrated."

"Do you commonly engage in activities that lead to being penetrated?"

Feeling the heat in his face, Severus gave a tight nod. He knew what the Wizarding World thought of men who allowed themselves to be taken.

"Prior to being raped, did you enjoy those activities?"

The bluntness startled him, enough so that he actually met the other man's eyes. Once again, search as he would, he could find no trace of judgment in Penbroke's open features. "Harry prefers to be on top, and I . . . have always preferred the other role. Our needs have always complemented each other."

"And how do you feel about being taken now?" Penbroke asked.

Severus swallowed hard. He didn't know what he'd expected their initial interview to be like, but it wasn't this. Remembering that Penbroke had said his cure would depend on his ability to be honest, he was determined to do his best to answer whatever questions the man put to him. "I want things to be the way they were. I want to be able to give Harry what I used to give him."

"That's a noble sentiment, but you didn't answer my question. How do you feel about being taken now?"

"I . . . the idea . . . ." Severus didn't think that he'd ever openly admitted to something frightening him. Staring at that icy coldness inside, he finally answered, ". . . is difficult."

"Have you discussed this with Harry?"

Another negative shake of his head and reluctant, "No."

"Why not?"

"Because I have to get over it. I want things to return to normal."

"I'm not saying this will happen, but what if you find you can never enjoy your former role again?" Penbroke asked.

Severus gulped at hearing his worst fear given voice. "Then I will lose him."

"Is that a foregone conclusion?"

"What man would stay in a situation where he will never achieve sexual satisfaction?" Severus snapped.

"There are other means of satisfaction beyond the single action you mentioned earlier," Penbroke said. Severus had the feeling he was voicing his suggestion so discretely in deference to his own sensibilities.

"Yes, and we used to engage in them as well. But that was our . . . preferred method of lovemaking."

"And you believe your lover will leave you if you are unable to engage in this activity for any length of time?"

Severus could only nod.

"Yet, you said it's been five months since you had sex at all, and he is still there. That seems to indicate that his feelings for you are more important to him than mere sexual gratification. Is it possible that you might be selling your Harry short?"

"What do you mean?"

"You've told me he has admitted that he loves you. He has stayed with you through circumstances that would have destroyed many a relationship. I don't know him personally, but from what little you've said about him, he doesn't strike me as the type of man who bails when situations become difficult."

"No . . . he is extremely loyal, but . . . how long can even a paragon endure such . . . deprivation?"

"Perhaps he doesn't see it as a deprivation?" Penbroke suggested.

"That's what he says."

"And you don't believe him? Why?"

As ever, Severus wondered how someone could look at him and ask that kind of question. Penbroke was a Squib, not a Muggle. He was familiar enough with the Wizarding World to have heard all the gossip and rumours. Yet, he still seemed genuinely confused and was obviously sitting there awaiting some kind of answer.

Severus finally found something that was true that he could say without completely humiliating himself. "Because no one else has ever stayed when I was no longer able or willing to accommodate their sexual needs. This is . . . completely outside my experience."

"Sometimes the things outside our experience are the things that have the power to reshape our entire world, if we're open to their influence," Penbroke said.

Thinking that Harry had done just that, he considered the words.

"I think we've made a good start today, Severus," Penbroke said. "Are you up to meeting again this week?"

Severus didn't know if he were relieved or disappointed that their time was up. Considering the man's question, he answered, "Yes."

"Good, very good. Will the same time, the day after tomorrow work for you?"

That would be a school night, right in the middle of detentions. Normally, he would never consider accepting any appointment during that period, but . . . this was important. "I will be here."

"You're a teacher. You'll appreciate this. I'm going to give you some homework to do over the next few days," Penbroke said.

"Homework?" he echoed uncertainly.

"During our sessions, we will be exploring many of the topics we brushed upon today. But tonight and tomorrow, I want you to remember those times you froze up when trying to be intimate. Try to determine if there is any one common factor responsible for your adverse response when you're close to Harry. Do you think you can do that?"

"Yes."

"Good. I'll see you Tuesday evening, then."

Feeling more than a little shell-shocked, Severus rose from the couch and crossed to the floo. He was shaking the ashes off himself in his thankfully empty sitting room when he realized that he'd forgotten to pay the man.

*~*~*

The Three Broomsticks was its usual Friday night blend of noise, music, and laughter as Severus stepped out of the floo. The loudness of the crowd hit him like a physical blow. The fact that the conversations closest to the hearth broke off when the nearby patrons recognized him played along his already tense nerves.

"Are you all right?" Harry Potter's soft voice said from behind him, a familiar hand settling on his arm to steady him.

Taking a deep breath, Severus gave a tight nod and turned to meet Harry's gaze.

The lights were flickering off those round spectacles. Even so, Severus could still read the concern in the wide green eyes behind the clear lenses.

"If you'd rather go back home, we can leave now," Harry suggested, stepping in closer.

Severus considered the offer. More than anything, he wanted to retreat to the peace and silence of his dungeons, but . . . he'd spent the last five months hiding out there. Harry hadn't been out with his friends on a Friday or Saturday night once since he'd started helping Severus through his nightmares. The wistful expression in Harry's eyes this morning as he'd asked him if he were up to an evening at their local pub had told him how much Harry wanted to socialize. His suggestion that Harry leave him behind hadn't gone over well at all. Harry had offered to stay home with him, but Severus knew how unfair that was. They hadn't done anything Harry enjoyed in months. So . . . here he was.

"No," Severus denied. "It will be fine."

The relieved smile Harry gave him told him he'd made the right decision.

"Harry, Severus," Hermione's voice rang through the din around them. "We're over here."

Harry's hand gripped his arm as he turned to lead the way to the far corner where the Weasleys had appropriated the only table that still had several empty chairs at it.

Severus gratefully sank down in a chair in the corner, Harry sitting beside him.

"Wow, it's crowded tonight," Harry said.

"Yes," Hermione answered, "the fair weather seems to have brought everyone out."

Harry's gaze turned to the remaining empty chairs, "Where are Fleur and Bill?"

"Georgie's got an upset stomach, so they're not coming," Ron said.

"Ah, too bad," Harry said. "I think Severus wanted a shot at talking little Fred into Slytherin."

"Fred's only two," Ron protested.

Trying to relax, Severus concentrated on his four companions and offered an urbane, "It's always wise to start indoctrination as early as possible."

Harry's chuckle seemed to envelop him. Suddenly, the stares of all those strangers didn't seem as bothersome.

"Hermione?" a woman's musical voice called from the bar.

They all turned to see a gorgeous blonde woman approaching them.

Hermione jumped to her feet to embrace the woman.

The breath froze in Severus' lungs as he recognized the woman hugging Hermione, and, more importantly, the heavyset man in her party. The woman was Lydia Forrester. There was an unfamiliar man, whom Severus guessed to be Lydia's husband, between her and her brother, John Penbroke, who was only too familiar.

His analyst's steps seemed to falter as their eyes met. Severus watched Penbroke's brown gaze take in their group, pausing for a moment on Harry, who was sitting closer to Severus than even the crowded pub warranted.

Ron and Harry rose their feet to shake both Penbroke and the stranger's hands. Clearly, everyone was acquainted. The excited chatter made Severus feel extremely excluded.

He'd barely had time to acknowledge that childish feeling when Harry turned to him with a warm smile. "Severus, I think you already know Lydia."

Meeting her pale blue eyes, Severus gave a nod, "Miss Penbroke."

"It's Mrs. Forrester now," Lydia corrected. "This is my husband, Terrence Forrester," she waved towards the handsome dark haired man at her side, and then gestured towards Penbroke, "And this is my brother, John. It's so good to see you again, Professor!" Once the resulting handshakes were finished, her bright eyes took them all in. "Are these chairs taken? There's none to be had for love or money."

"No, please join us," Hermione quickly offered. "I'm afraid we're still a chair short."

"Hold on a second," Harry said. "I'll take care of that."

"You know Rosmerta doesn't like us transfiguring her stuff," Hermione scolded as Harry withdrew his wand and waved it at a saltshaker he'd taken from the table.

Once again, Severus was impressed by how careful Harry was in public. He transformed the chair using his wand and a spell like most wizards would.

"Thanks, Harry," Terrence Forrester said, as the new arrivals took their seats.

Lydia and her husband ended up in the two empty chairs next to Ron, while Penbroke sat down in the one Harry had transfigured, which was right beside Severus.

Hermione and Lydia were obviously fairly close, for no sooner had the Forresters sat down, then the two women began eagerly discussing what sounded like a dozen topics that Severus couldn't even follow.

As Severus' gaze touched the dark haired man at Lydia's side, the man smiled and said, "Lydia speaks quite highly of you, Professor Snape."

"Does she?" Severus said, for want of a wittier response. Penbroke's presence here had thrown him completely.

"Yes," Forrester replied.

Deciding to try to make conversation, Severus commented, "I don't remember you from Hogwarts."

"No, sir, you wouldn't. I went to Grimstaff," Forrester said.

Severus was somewhat surprised Forrester would admit to that. He couldn't count the number of times someone would claim to have gone to Durmstrang or Beauxbaton, rather than claim such lowly origins. Only wizards of the oldest families or the most powerful of the Muggleborn wizard children received invitation letters to Hogwarts. Grimstaff had open admission and wasn't generally considered prestigious.

"What do you do now?" Severus asked.

"I'm a prosecutor. Ron and I often work on cases together," Forrester said.

Ron apparently overheard that, for he looked over at them and said, "He's the best there is. Are you part of that Covington mess?"

"I've heard that name," Harry said. "What's the story behind it?"

As Ron and Forrester explained the details to Harry, Severus sat back and sipped his drink.

While everyone's attention was on their conversations, Penbroke leaned over and softly said to him, "I'm sorry to have intruded on your night out. I didn't see you until Lydia had dragged us over. Would you be more comfortable if I left?"

He would, but it would hardly be polite to say so. Normally, Severus didn't hold much with social convention, but the work he'd been doing with Penbroke these last three weeks had made him more conscious of how his actions affected others. "Although I'm tempted, the explanations would be awkward in the extreme."

"I could claim a headache," Penbroke offered.

"No, I . . . you simply took me by surprise. I wasn't expecting to see you here," Severus confessed.

"Me, too," Penbroke said with a smile. Still talking in that low tone that would carry no further than where Severus was sitting, Penbroke said, "I didn't know you were close friends with Hermione and Ron."

Severus nodded. The muscles in his entire body tensed as he awaited the next, inevitable observation about Potter being his 'Harry'.

"Do you come here often?" Penbroke shocked him by making small talk, instead of questioning him about Harry.

"We used to, before January," Severus said. Once again, Penbroke refrained from questioning the 'we'.

"It's a fun place, one of the few places I feel comfortable in the Wizarding World," Penbroke admitted.

"I imagine it is quite frustrating dealing with our world without magic," Severus said.

Penbroke nodded. "It can be. It's not the lack of magic as much as the attitudes of those who have it that make it difficult."

Severus nodded. He'd seen some of the cruelties Squib children endured in the Wizarding World. "People can be quite cruel."

"It's easier now that I'm a grown man. Adults are so much more . . . polite. When I was younger . . . . ." Penbroke's voice trailed off.

Severus realized that, for all that he'd told this man things he wouldn't share with even Harry, whom he trusted above all others, he knew nothing about Penbroke's life outside of that comfortable sitting room where they held their sessions.

"It must have been difficult," Severus said.

Penbroke nodded. "Nothing empowers some people more than having a defenceless victim."

"Yes," Severus agreed.

Severus could almost see Penbroke remembering some of the things they'd discussed.

The smile he received was very warm as Penbroke commented, "Yes, I suppose you would understand what that's like. Fortunately, my parents and sister were more . . . enlightened than most of Wizarding Society. They didn't spend their time tossing me out windows and the like to try to force my magic to manifest. Once it became clear that I was a Squib, they did everything in their power to keep me safe."

"You were most fortunate," Severus said.

"I know how lucky I was, am. The papers are full of tragedies where children have died at their own families' hands when their parents tried to force them to use their magic."

"Did Mr. Forrester know that Lydia had a Squib brother before they married?" Severus questioned, genuinely curious. A Squib in the immediate family was often grounds for breaking engagements in Wizarding society. Most families had a tendency to hide such facts.

Penbroke chuckled. "Terry met me before he met Lydia, in circumstances that could leave him in no doubt that I was a Squib."

"Oh?" Severus encouraged.

"Do you really want to hear about that?" Penbroke asked.

Still speaking in that low voice that would carry no further than the man next to him, Severus said, "I know nothing about you, but you know my every secret."

"Not your every secret," Penbroke chuckled. "There's a mighty huge one sitting at the table with us."

Severus felt the corners of his mouth twitch. He'd wondered if Penbroke would address this issue. "Everyone must retain some mystery. You were about to tell me how you met your brother-in-law."

"Was I?" Penbroke laughed.

Severus was surprised to realize that he was actually enjoying himself. Normally, the things he discussed with this man left him a wreck. "Yes, you were."

"Very well," Penbroke agreed. "I was thirteen and at my first Quidditch World Cup game when Terry and I met. I was going through a difficult stage then. I was trying to establish my independence from my parents, as most adolescents do at that age. Only, it wasn't exactly safe for me to do so. I insisted on going to the refreshment stand alone during halftime. Predictably enough, I ended up being tossed about by a couple of bullies. Terry petrified the buggers and brought me back to my family. He and Lydia took one look at each other, and that was all she wrote."

"He sounds quite Gryffindor," Severus remarked.

"Hardly," Penbroke denied. "We both know that no sixteen year old Gryffindor would have looked twice at a Slytherin girl, no matter how lovely she might be."

"Gryffindor and Slytherin can occasionally rise above their house differences," Severus mildly protested.

"So I see," Penbroke said, casting a meaningful glance Harry's way.

Severus felt his cheeks warm. He was spared having to respond when the object of their conversation turned to look at him.

"Sorry, I got caught up in the conversation," Harry said. "How are you doing?"

Reading the genuine concern in Harry's eyes, Severus found a small smile and assured, "I am fine. Mr. Penbroke was just relating how he and his brother-in-law met."

"You're not telling that tale again; are you, John?" Forrester questioned from Harry's other side, looking ill at ease,

"Like all true heroes, he hates to be reminded of his good deeds," Penbroke joked. His voice carried to Ron and the women, and everyone joined in on the laughter.

Harry's arm slid casually across Severus' chair, resting against his back.

Severus leaned into the contact, pleased and surprised as ever that Harry would make such gestures in public.

"You must have a rare charm, John," Harry said. "Severus never engages strangers in small talk."

Panic gripped Severus' gut at the curiosity in Harry's observation. It hadn't occurred to him that it would be unusual that he would talk to Penbroke, but Harry was right. He hardly ever relaxed enough with strangers to have a decent conversation. He had no idea how to explain his connection with Penbroke. He had no wish to announce to the entire table that he was in therapy. Yet, he wasn't prepared to lie to Harry about that fact, either.

Severus was spared the necessity of answering when Penbroke smoothly offered, with perfect Slytherin aplomb and sincerity, "Professor Snape is hardly a stranger to the Penbroke family. He was Lydia's head of house for seven years and a schoolmate of my father's. Though, I think Dad was several years behind you, wasn't he?"

Almost limp with relief, Severus corrected, "Four ahead."

"Oh, yes, of course. I forgot that Lydia was in Slytherin," Harry said.

"A fact that puts you, Hermione, and Ron leagues above your housemates," Lydia Forrester commented. "Would you believe that I saw Sharon Marshall at Mrs. Milliken's dress shop the other afternoon and she actually pretended she didn't know who I was?"

"Who's Sharon Marshall?" Harry, Hermione, and Ron chimed as one, causing everyone to laugh again.

Once the merriment calmed, Severus answered, "Miss Marshall was prefect in Gryffindor House the year before you came to Hogwarts."

"We didn't have houses in Grimstaff," Forrester said. "I'm not sure I understand their function. They seem to be very divisive."

"I've always thought so," Hermione said. "Nearly the first thing I heard when I arrived at Hogwarts was that all the Dark Wizards were in Slytherin."

Severus held his breath, waiting for Ron to make some sort of comment about that being true. Though it irked him, Severus knew Voldemort had drawn nearly his entire following from Slytherin House. There was historical precedence to support the claim as well. Throughout the ages, the members of his house were always among the first to break most rules in the pursuit of power.

To Severus' shock, Harry derailed the discussion he was dreading by softly saying, "I never told anyone, but the Sorting Hat wanted to put me in Slytherin. I talked it into letting me go to Gryffindor."

Six shocked voices chorused, "What?" Severus' was perhaps the loudest among them.

At first, Severus thought he was joking, but the nervousness on his face as Harry looked at them all told him it was true.

"You never said anything about that," Hermione finally commented, reaching out to lay her hand on Harry's where it rested on the table.

"I, er, was afraid to when I was in school," Harry admitted.

It was a testament to Slytherin's reputation that no one asked Harry why.

Severus couldn't help but wonder how things might have been different if Harry Potter had been sorted into his house. Even now, he could recall the sense of anticipation that had filled the Great Hall when the Boy Who Lived had been called up to put the Sorting Hat on his head. Every one of Hogwarts' heads of houses had been hoping that the most famous boy in the Wizarding World would be sorted into their house. Severus couldn't deny that he'd hoped the same himself. Not because he'd had any particular desire to have James Potter's brat made his responsibility, but the excitement it would have caused had the Boy Who Lived been sorted into Slytherin would have been most amusing. But that wasn't how that momentous night played out. With boring predictability, Harry Potter had been sorted into Gryffindor, and the die had been cast, guaranteeing that he and James' son would be enemies for the next decade or more.

"Don't look so shocked, Ron," Lydia Forrester said. "Harry was right to keep his secret. He'd probably have lost every friend he'd made if he'd admitted the hat wanted to put him in Slytherin."

"No, he wouldn't," Ron insisted.

"Yes, he would have," Lydia corrected him. "It happened to me."

"What do you mean?" Hermione asked.

"I'd made friends with three girls on the Hogwarts Express that first year. We'd spent the entire train ride together, laughing and getting to know each other. Once that hat sorted me into Slytherin, not a single one of those girls would so much as talk to me."

"They went to Gryffindor?" Hermione guessed.

Lydia nodded.

The silence that followed was uncomfortable, made even more so by the laughter of the crowded pub around them.

Finally, Lydia Forrester broke the awkward quiet with, "Not everyone who is sorted into Slytherin is evil. Anymore than everyone sorted into Gryffindor is heroic."

Severus remembered how impressive Lydia's self-control had been in school. She'd never once allowed herself to be dragged into the petty house rivalries that were the earmark of Slytherin – Gryffindor relations.

"That's true enough. Look at Peter Pettigrew. His family was in Gryffindor nearly as long as mine," amazingly, it was Ron who voiced that observation. Weasley further astounded Severus by turning to Harry to say, "Maybe you were right to keep that Sorting Hat business to yourself. I'd like to say that it wouldn't have made a difference, that we would have been friends no matter what, but . . . ."

"Yeah," Harry answered, adding a nervous, "You're not angry that I didn't tell you before this, are you?"

Ron gave a negative shake of his head. "Of course not, you idiot."

Severus noted that Harry didn't seem to feel compelled to ask Hermione the same question.

"Ron forgave you for quitting the Cannons," Penbroke added in a joking tone. "If he forgave you that, Slytherin's nothing in comparison."

"Isn't that the truth?" Forrester laughed. "Did you see the mess they made of that game on Sunday? Marcus was beside himself."

It took Severus a moment to recall that Marcus was the name of the Forresters' only child.

"How's Marcus doing?" Hermione questioned. "He'll be coming to Hogwarts this fall, won't he?"

Severus abruptly remembered Hermione telling him how she'd met Lydia years ago when her child was ill.

As the women's conversation turned to the Forresters' son, and the men's to quidditch, Harry leaned in close to Severus to speak quietly into his ear. "I, er, probably should ask you the same question I asked Ron. Are you upset with me for not telling you about the Sorting Hat sooner? I'd honestly forgotten about it until the subject came up tonight."

Turning to face Harry, Severus could see the truth of that in his eyes. He could also see how worried he was. "I suppose I was shocked more than anything. The idea had never occurred to me." Seeing that Harry still seemed uneasy, Severus added, "You have always been the embodiment of all things Gryffindor."

As he'd hoped, his words seemed to bolster Harry. His lover might have matured to the point where he understood that Slytherin didn't automatically equate to evil, but Harry still took great pride in being Gryffindor.

After a quiet pause in which they seemed to just study each other's eyes, Harry asked in that same low tone, "How different do you think it would have been for us if I'd let the Hat put me in Slytherin?"

Severus took a quick glance around the table. Hermione and Lydia still had their heads pressed close together as they talked. Ron, Forrester, and Penbroke were engaged in a lively discussion of the candidates for the next World Cup. No one else was within listening range.

Keeping his voice low, he gave Harry the truth, "For starters, we would never have become sexually involved had you been sorted into Slytherin."

Severus could see that threw Harry. Harry's, "What?" was nearly a yelp. As if realizing how loud he'd been, Harry whispered, "What do you mean?"

Another survey of the table showed everyone still absorbed. Severus quietly explained, "As head of house, I stand in for a student's parents. I have never been able to look at my former Slytherin students as potential sexual partners."

"So, if I'd been Slytherin, you probably would have been nicer to me, but we could never have become . . . ."

"Exactly," Severus replied.

"Wow, guess I was luckier than I knew that day," Harry chuckled. "You really wouldn't have . . . ?"

Severus gave a firm, negative shake of his head. "I don't think that this could have happened with any of my former students other than you."

"How's that?" Harry asked. "Not to shatter any illusions you might have, but the students of the other houses don't exactly view you as a parental figure."

The heavy irony in Harry's subdued tone brought a smile to his lips. "Perhaps not, but they were still children under my care. Even once they're fully grown, I can't really see them in that light."

"But you could see me that way?" Harry seemed curious, rather than alarmed or disgusted.

Resisting the impulse to squirm, Severus gave a hesitant nod. "We never had a typical student-teacher relationship. You stood up to me from the very first and never feared me the way the others did. And . . . ."

"And?" Harry encouraged.

"When you were thirteen years old, you tossed me, a former Death Eater on his guard, across the Shrieking Shack that night Pettigrew's treachery was unearthed. No student should have been able to do that. But you did it, like it was nothing."

"You were there to rescue me. Your guard was down. You weren't expecting me to do that," Harry protested, as if that excused what had happened.

"I was in a room with a man who'd tried to murder me when I was fifteen. I was prepared. You were just faster and stronger – at thirteen. Although I didn't view you in an inappropriate manner afterwards, I couldn't put you in the same category as the other students. You were, even then, a formidable adversary."

Severus had been concerned that Harry wouldn't understand what he was trying to say. He was relieved to see the gentleness in Harry's eyes as he softly said, "Thank you. But I think I'd rather we'd been friends."

"Ah-hum," the sound of someone clearing his throat shattered their moment.

Harry and he both turned startled glances on their companions, who were now all staring at them with varying degrees of confusion or amusement. Ron had been the one who'd cleared his throat.

Severus realized that he and Harry had been speaking so closely into each other's ears that, from the way they were positioned, it might have appeared that they were kissing. He felt his face warm in reaction.

Harry won his unending admiration by asking in a perfectly normal tone, "What's up?"

Penbroke seemed to be holding in his laughter as he answered, "We were wondering what your take was on Puddlemere United's defences?"

Harry shot Severus an apologetic look as he answered the question and was dragged into the heated debate.

Severus, who'd never cared much for professional quidditch, was content to listen as Harry gave a professional's evaluation of the topics. It wasn't until that moment that it occurred to him that the man he was involved with was equally as famous for his skills on the quidditch pitch as he was for defeating Voldemort.

The remainder of the evening passed without incident. Severus was surprised by how quickly the time seemed to fly. The few occasions he'd gone out in the past with Albus' friends or a group of Slytherins, he'd found these types of evenings interminable. But he actually enjoyed both the company and the conversation tonight.

"Goodnight, Professor Snape. It was wonderful to see you again," Lydia Forrester said as they all rose to leave.

There was handshaking all around as the women hugged goodbye.

"I hope we see each other again soon," Hermione said as she drew back from Lydia.

"Oh, that reminds me," Lydia said. "We're going to be spending July at my parents' villa in San Tropez. We'd love to have you all come visit."

Ron's voice broke the startled silence with a painfully forced, casual, "That's in the French Riviera, isn't it?"

"Yes, Ron, it is," Lydia answered with perfect grace.

Everyone from Hogwarts broke into laughter at Ron's shocked expression. Even Severus found himself giving a soft chuckle.

"I'll owl you to confirm the details," Lydia said to Hermione. Her blue eyes passed over the Weasleys to where he and Harry were standing. "You and Harry are invited, as well, Professor. I hope you'll have time to join us."

Stunned by her generous offer, Severus managed to answer, "Thank you. I'll consider it."

"We'll see you then," Lydia said as she, her husband, and brother made their way through the crowd to the Three Broomsticks' floo.

Clearly, Severus wasn't the only one in their party who'd been surprised by the invitation. Hermione, Ron, and Harry were all looking somewhat shocked.

It was Ron who broke the stasis by asking, "Do you think she was serious?"

Hermione gave a thoughtful nod. "Yes. Entirely. She's very worried about Marcus. He was sick so very long. They're a tight knit family. I don't think Lydia has ever spent an entire night away from Marcus. She's concerned about how he'll handle boarding at Hogwarts. I think she'd feel better if he knew several of his teachers before going."

"You think that's why she asked us?" Harry questioned.

"Well, I know for a fact they've gone to San Tropez every summer. This is the first time she's asked us to join them," Hermione said.

"It was a very Slytherin gesture," Severus agreed, drawing all eyes his way.

"How so?" Ron questioned.

"By hosting us in such luxurious surroundings, she hopes to gain our gratitude. It will also give her son the opportunity to ingratiate himself into two of his Gryffindor teachers and his head of house's good graces before we meet any of the other first years. It will give her son a marked advantage over his classmates," Severus explained.

"Do you think that's why she did it?" Ron looked as if he didn't know if he should be insulted or amused.

"Yes," Severus, Hermione, and Harry all answered as one, causing everyone to chuckle.

"No matter the motivation, it's still a generous offer," Hermione pointed out.

"So are we going to go?" Ron asked.

"Do you want to?" Harry asked Ron.

"Not all of us got to tour the world first class with a quidditch team," Ron groused. "It'd be nice to have a taste of how the other half lives."

"Really, Ron. You make it sound like we're living in a hovel," Hermione chided.

"We normally rent a cottage in Cornwall for a couple of weeks and then split the rest of the summer visiting your parents and mine. I'd hardly call it luxury," Ron said.

Realizing that it would only be a few weeks before summer break began, Severus turned to Harry to ask the question he hadn't ever thought about, but which was now of pressing consequence. Living day to day, expecting it to end any moment, he'd never thought they'd have been together long enough for the issue to come up. But now the summer break was looming threateningly close, and he had no idea how to handle it. He and Hagrid were usually the only two professors who remained at Hogwarts over the summer. Historically, Potter and the Weasleys cleared out a few hours after the students departed. Until this moment, he hadn't realized that his life was about to be upended in a couple of weeks. Almost dreading the answer, he asked Harry, "Er . . . what do you normally do over the summer break?"

"I usually go with Ron and Hermione to the cottage and then spend a few days at the Burrow. Then I travel alone the rest of the summer," Harry said. Those green eyes seemed entirely too knowing as Harry offered, "That's what I used to do. I already told Hermione and Ron that I'd be staying with you at Hogwarts if you didn't want to join us."

"You did?" Severus asked. Quite stupidly, he realized as soon as the words were out.

Though he couldn't recall a single instance in which Harry had lied to him, his lover's words seemed too timely. Harry had just confessed tonight that the Hat had wanted to sort him into Slytherin. Those smooth, reassuring words were so Slytherin Severus couldn't accept them.

But it was Hermione who answered his question with a matter-of-fact, "Yes, he did. Last month. That's not really the issue now. What are we going to do about Lydia's invitation?"

"Why don't we just think about it for a while?" Harry suggested. "If Severus were willing to go, I wouldn't mind spending a few weeks on the Riviera."

"You don't think there's a conflict of interest in accepting?" Hermione asked, smoothing her grey robes around her.

"It's not like she's asking us to give Marcus perfect grades or something, is it?" Harry asked.

"Isn't it?" Severus chimed in, because he couldn't stop himself from challenging Harry's often irksome faith.

Harry shot him a sour expression. "Stop winding people up just because you can." He turned to Hermione. "You know that's not what Lydia's after. She just wants to make sure that her only child will have some friends in his corner while he's away from home. We're already all fond of Marcus. I don't see how spending some time with them will make that big a difference."

"I, for one, have never met the young man," Severus reminded them.

"He's going to be sorted into Slytherin," Harry said. "You'll love him."

"I wouldn't be too sure about that, Harry," Hermione warned.

"What? The Penbrokes have been in Slytherin for centuries," Harry argued.

"But the Forresters haven't," Hermione countered. "If you had to go by personality traits alone, where would you put Terry?"

"Gryffindor," Ron answered, no doubt in his tone.

Harry broke into sudden laughter. "Poor Lydia."

"Well, I guess you're right. We should consider the offer," Hermione said. "Let's discuss it at breakfast, all right?"

As a group, they headed for the floo. The four of them made much better time through the crowd than Harry and he had upon arriving. After a quick exchange of goodnights, they flooed to their respective quarters.

Harry stepped out of the floo a mere moment after Severus cleared out of the space directly in front of the hearth.

Laughing, Harry said, "Sorry. We nearly splinched."

"Collided, more like," Severus absently corrected. "We'd already materialized."

"Did I ever tell you how sexy you are when you're snarky?"

The dubious look he cast Harry's way set off his lover's laughter again. The sound seemed to fill the sitting room. It had been a long time since the room had rung with laughter like this.

"Thank you for coming tonight," Harry said once he calmed. "I had a great time."

"The conversation was surprisingly interesting."

"Did you enjoy yourself?" Harry asked, seeming genuinely concerned.

"More than I expected to. The Forresters were most entertaining," Severus said.

"Yes, they're something special. You seemed to get on well with John. Hermione thinks the world of him."

Now was the time to come clean with Harry, he recognized. Yet, there was something in him that wouldn't allow him to admit that he'd sought help. So, instead of easing Harry's mind, he gave a typically Slytherin evasion, "He seemed very agreeable."

"He's apparently something of a wizard in his field," Harry remarked in a tentative, nervous tone.

"Are you going to suggest I consult him?" Severus challenged. He'd been waiting for Harry to voice this suggestion for months, but so far he hadn't made so much as a whisper about him seeking professional aid.

Harry shook his head. "No. Hermione told me she gave you his card. I know you won't . . . that you don't like to ask for help. It's just something to think about, that's all. Are you upset with me for bringing it up?"

Severus gave a negative shake of his head, still trying to find the words to tell Harry the truth.

"Good," Harry said. Leaning forward, his palm cupped the back of Severus' head and drew him down into a soft kiss. When they parted several breathless minutes later, Harry smiled at him and said, "I'm going to hit the loo. I'll meet you in bed."

When Severus finished his own turn in the lavatory, he found the wall sconces and hearth fire lit in the bedroom. Cheerful as those were, it was the sight of Harry in his sky blue pyjamas lounging on the bed that warmed him the most. He stood there in his grey flannel nightshirt in the bathroom doorway simply admiring Harry's sensual sprawl. Coming back here after a night out where they'd laughed and joked, it felt almost like old times. Before January, Severus would have climbed eagerly into that bed and they would have been all over each other. Now . . . well, he was happy not to feel any fear at the sight of Harry waiting there for him.

It was pathetic, he knew, but it was definitely an improvement over last month.

They hadn't attempted to make love since that disastrous morning three weeks ago. Severus knew it was his fault they weren't progressing. He was so afraid of another failure. The hours he'd spent dissecting his fears with Penbroke had helped him sort through some of the crippling panic, but he was still terrified to try, and Harry hadn't pushed him.

"Hey, there," Harry greeted, seeming to notice him in the doorway.

Realizing that he'd been caught staring, Severus swallowed hard and forced out a normal sounding, "Hello, yourself."

Harry's eyes seemed to heat his skin as Severus made his way to the bed. He climbed in on his side.

As soon as Severus was settled beneath the heavy duvet, Harry extinguished the wall sconces with a thought. The flickering flames from the hearth danced through the room as they did every night.

It took Severus a moment or two to realize that his companion hadn't lain down in the bed. Harry was still sitting up with his back resting against a bunch of pillows propped against the headboard. He was startled to find Harry still watching him.

"Are you all right?" Severus questioned, because Harry was rarely so motionless.

Harry nodded. "Tonight was great. I wanted to thank you again for agreeing to go."

Severus couldn't quite master the guilt that shot through him. He knew a few kisses were not how Harry used to prefer to end his evenings. The familiar weight of the basic unfairness of this situation settled over him. Holding that open gaze, he softly said, "I wish that I could be what I once was to you."

"You're exactly what you were to me," Harry corrected. "Do you hear me complaining?"

"No, but -"

"There are no 'buts' to it. I'm happy we had a good night out. Let's not ruin it. Please?"

Severus looked away, lest Harry read what he was feeling in his eyes.

"I wish you'd stop worrying about it," Harry said.

"I just . . . I don't know if I'm ever going to improve," Severus whispered his deepest fear.

This was where any normal person would bring up the idea of consulting a counsellor, Severus realized. But Harry made no such suggestion. Rather, Harry said in that same cheerful voice, "You were very much like your old self tonight. It was wonderful to see. I mightn't be any kind of expert, but I'd say that was a hell of an improvement."

"But we're still not . . . ." Severus' voice trailed off as he recognized that all his efforts would accomplish would be to shatter Harry's good mood.

Once again, Harry didn't make the predictable response. Instead of offering him empty platitudes of reassurance, Harry gave a soft, strangely enigmatic, "The night's still young."

Severus was so caught up in his depression that it took him over a minute to realize that Harry wasn't consoling him. Startled, he looked up from the pillow to where Harry was staring down at him from his sitting position. "What did you say?"

Harry gave him an oddly shy smile, but otherwise didn't reply. He just sat there, staring down into his eyes.

It took Severus a moment to notice that something was going on. The very air between them seemed to be vibrating with magic. He immediately recognized the intense, raw power as Harry's.

"What . . . what are you doing?" Severus questioned, shivering as the magic flowed over and around him. Harry didn't seem to be directing the magic with any set purpose. He was just radiating his power, the way the sun gave off light and heat. And, like a plant starved too long in the dark, Severus' entire being gravitated towards that brightness.

Severus gasped as the power increased. Every inch of his skin was tingling. "Harry?"

"It occurred to me the other day that we might be going about this all wrong," Harry said in the soft, sultry voice he used when making love.

"Wrong?" Severus croaked. The intensity of the power had upped its level dramatically. Severus wasn't sure if it was his imagination, but Harry's skin actually seemed to have a golden glow about it.

"Yeah. We've been trying to push you into doing things you're scared of. I just thought, maybe we should try working with something you like. Do you . . . are you okay with the magic?" Harry asked, the worry in his tone belying the calm set of his features.

Any sane wizard would have been terrified of the power building steadily beside him. This was the kind of power that parted seas and worked truly legendary spells. But Severus had never been sane, not when it came to this level of magic.

That power was the magical equivalent of a siren's call. It bypassed his brain, slithered around his inhibitions, and grabbed him where he lived, as Harry had obviously known it would.

His heart was pounding so hard that Severus could barely think. His breathing was fast and there didn't seem to be enough air in the room. Yesterday, it would have been fear causing his heart to race and his lungs to falter like this. Tonight, it was something he'd believed he'd never experience again. Severus gasped as his body went hard, his erection pulsing to the same beat as the magic pounding through the room.

It wasn't like when they made love and Harry's power flowed into him and manipulated his system. This was just his body's natural reaction to this level of power, his greatest weakness.

Harry's magic was dancing over him like an electric current, seducing, enticing, overwhelming him. It felt like every cell in his body was crying to be touched. And, still, Harry just sat there, watching him, as his power spiralled to terrifying levels.

Finding his voice, Severus grated out, "What are you going to do with it?"

"Not a thing," Harry replied smoothly. "I thought I'd just sit here."

"Sit there?" Severus had never thought cruelty to be part of Harry's character.

Harry's voice was gentle and understanding as he pointed out, "That doesn't mean you can't move."

"I . . . oh . . . ." It took a moment for the meaning to penetrate; Severus was so lost in sensation.

Harry upped the power output to a truly amazing level. There was a time that magic would have entered Severus' system and had its way with him, but tonight it just pulsed over him in ever increasing waves.

Feeling utterly bewitched, Severus pushed the bedclothes aside and staggered up to his knees, panting as he met Harry's gaze.

True to his word, Harry simply sat there watching him. Well, not just watching him, the power levels spiked again.

Severus wasn't even conscious of moving. One minute, he was kneeling there, frozen in place. The next, he was straddling Harry's knees, his hands clutching Harry's arms like talons as he covered that willing mouth, pressing Harry back into the pillows and the headboard.

Severus couldn't remember ever devouring someone the way he was kissing Harry tonight. It was like that powerhouse of magic pulsing around him had awoken a matching level of desire inside him. Primal and wild, he kissed and kissed, until kissing wasn't enough.

A breathy scramble followed in which Severus tugged his own nightshirt up and fumbled Harry's pyjama jacket and pants open and far enough off him that bare flesh could press against bare flesh. There was some more shifting, before they were flat on the bed. Harry was beneath him. Those strong hands were stroking everywhere they could reach on Severus' back and flanks, while Severus lost himself in the sweet depths of that mouth and pressed their hungry erections together.

The magic vibrating through the room felt powerful enough to shake the castle foundations, but it didn't. All it shook was Severus' world.

His hips found a rhythm. Harry matched him, thrust for frantic thrust. Severus' mind had checked out of the proceedings, taking his terror with it. His body remembered how much it loved this man. As had happened every single time they were intimate before Burke destroyed their happiness, their bodies moved as one. There was no inhibition, no shame, only blessed delight.

Severus pumped his hips down, Harry humped up, and between them, they discovered the true meaning of ecstasy.

Harry came with a sharp and piercing cry, his magic peaking to unbearable potential around them. The power melted Severus. He exploded, adding his own sticky offering to the mess between their bellies as his consciousness shattered into a million pieces of condensed joy.

When reality reformed around him, Severus found himself shuddering, sobbing uncontrollably into the hollow between Harry's neck and shoulder.

"Severus? Severus? Please, I'm sorry. Severus?" Harry sounded frantic.

With just cause, Severus realized as he took stock of himself. Raising his head, he stared through tear-blurred eyes at Harry's anxious, guilt-ridden face.

That last was unacceptable. He fumbled his hand free from beneath Harry and gently cupped his cheek. "That was . . . I'm – I'm not dead."

Though hardly coherent, his stumbling words seemed to reassure Harry. A slow smile spilled across Harry's face as he replied, "Not even broken."

"I didn't think I could," Severus said, his voice still embarrassingly hoarse and raspy.

Harry's wasn't quite steady either as he murmured, "I know."

"How did you know how to . . . ?"

Uneasiness passed through Harry's eyes. "I didn't. Not for sure. I just thought . . . well, you've always liked my power. It was the one thing we hadn't tried."

"It was me, wasn't it?" Severus questioned, sudden doubt eating through him. "You didn't . . . .?"

"It was all you, love. All I did was grab your attention. You're not angry with me, are you?"

"For?" Severus couldn't even comprehend the question.

"Well, I didn't tell you what I intended. Didn't really give you the chance to say no. I just -"

"Put my shattered soul back together?" Severus softly suggested.

He heard Harry gulp, before giving a nervous, "I don't think it's a complete cure, Severus."

"I know, but . . . it's a start, isn't it?" Severus was shocked by the burst of optimism that shot through him.

"It's a hell of a lot more than a start," Harry said, all the tension leaving his face. "God, it felt wonderful, didn't it?"

"I didn't think I'd ever feel like that again. It was . . . sublime." His unusual declaration was followed by a jaw-cracking yawn.

Harry chuckled. "Yeah, you sure were." Harry shifted them around until they were both beneath the duvet.

Severus wanted to answer, but the steady rise and fall of the chest beneath his cheek had put him under a sleeping spell. His eyes sank shut and refused to open before he could respond to Harry's absurd claim.

*~*~*
 

 
 

 

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