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překlady 8


It was amazing the difference a few days could make, Harry Potter thought as he descended the endless sets of stairs from Gryffindor Tower down to the Slytherin dungeons after an evening of paper grading and chatting with Hermione and Ron. He still felt like he was walking on clouds.

He and Severus had made love four nights in a row now. They weren't doing anything other than some lovely frottage, but the fact that they were doing anything at all felt miraculous.

The effect that lovemaking had had on him was amazing. Harry felt as if his entire world had turned around overnight on Friday. It must be showing all over him, he realized, his cheeks warming as he remembered some of the teasing comments Ron had made over the last few days. Even Hermione had had something to say about the light in his eyes. His only hope was that his students hadn't sussed the cause of his good mood. That would be too embarrassing for words.

There were certainly enough of them on the stairs, Harry thought as he paused to answer yet another greeting. Didn't Hogwarts have curfews anymore?

Harry chuckled to himself as he realized that it was barely eight, earning an odd glance from a group of Hufflepuffs heading up the stairs. The smile dropped from his lips as he realized it would be at least another half hour before Severus finished overseeing detentions. It had felt much later when he'd left the Weasleys'.

"Hi, Professor Potter," Maggie Adair greeted him as she passed by him with two of her friends, who chorused her words.

"Good evening, girls," Harry was about to continue on his way, when he realized something was off. "Maggie?"

The small-boned brunette stopped on the stairs beside him. Looking at her, Harry could see that she had grass scattered over her robes, as did her two giggling friends. He could never understand why the young girls giggled so much in his presence. But it was the grass that had caught his attention. Maggie Adair and Adam Viers had received a year's detention from Severus last October. She should still be down in the Potion lab, not running about outside with her friends.

"Yes?"

"Aren't you supposed to be serving detention right now?" Harry asked. There was a time those words would have come out hesitantly, but four years of teaching had given him an authoritative streak that even Severus would be proud of.

Maggie's friends were no longer giggling.

"Professor Snape excused Adam and me for the rest of term last month," Maggie said.

"Last month?" Harry stupidly parroted. Severus hadn't returned to their quarters until after eight-thirty once in all the time he'd been living down there with him. His lover had certainly not mentioned releasing the students to whom he'd given long-term detentions. In fact, he was certain that Severus had mentioned having to wait until after detention when Harry had asked him to go out to the Three Broomsticks last Tuesday for drinks.

"Yes. He, er, didn't say why. We didn't ask; we just left," Maggie quickly explained.

"Of course," Harry said, trying to hide his confusion. "Sorry to have questioned you."

"It's okay. See you tomorrow, Professor," Maggie said, hurrying away up the stairs with her friends.

Harry's bubble of happiness abruptly shattered. If Severus wasn't administering detentions anymore, then what the hell was he doing every night after dinner for almost two hours?

Harry hated the doubt and fear that shot through him. But he couldn't help it. He'd been down this road once or twice before, and he knew the signs when someone was cheating.

But . . . it made absolutely no sense. How could Severus be cheating on him when the man had been incapable of making love until last Friday?

Telling himself that there had to be another explanation, Harry hurried down the stairs to Slytherin territory, barely acknowledging any further greetings.

It was possible that Severus might be working on something in the lab, Harry realized. He knew how their relationship had impacted Severus' research time. Perhaps Severus had cancelled the detentions to get more time in the lab, and hadn't wanted to tell him for fear of hurting his feelings. Yes, that had to be it. He just couldn't see Severus cheating on him, but, then, he hadn't seen it the two other times it had happened in those admittedly short-lived relationships.

Calmed a bit by the explanation, Harry hurried to Severus' private lab. The wards were up. Muttering the password, Harry hurriedly entered. The place was pitch black. There wasn't even a flame under the cauldron on the centre worktable.

That still didn't mean anything, Harry told himself as he closed the door and erected the wards behind him. Perhaps Severus had simply excused Maggie and Adam, but still had other students serving detention.

Clinging to that hope, Harry quickly moved down the hall to the Potions classroom and silently eased open the door. The classroom was just as dark and deserted as Severus' private lab.

A huge maw opening in the pit of his stomach as that hope was dashed, Harry turned towards Severus' quarters, the only place left.

He supposed it was possible that Severus had simply wanted some time to himself, but that didn't feel right. Why would Severus have lied about detentions last Tuesday if he were just sitting alone in his quarters? Which Severus hadn't been, Harry reminded himself, remembering how he himself had returned to Severus' empty quarters to grade some tests before they'd gone out.

The sitting room was depressingly dark and empty when Harry entered. He lit the hearth fire and wall sconces with a thought.

Everything in him was screaming that Severus wouldn't cheat on him. Even if Burke had never happened, Severus just wasn't the cheating type.

Or so Harry believed. Well, hoped. He honestly couldn't come up with another reason why Severus would have lied to him about his whereabouts if it were something innocent.

His whole world crumbling around him, Harry took a seat on the couch and settled in to wait.

*~*~*

"Every relationship comes a point where honesty comes into play," John Penbroke spoke into the dreadful silence that followed Severus' disclosure of some of the things he'd been a part of during his days with Voldemort. "If you cannot trust Harry to know who you truly are, can you ever really be certain of the relationship?"

As with almost every discussion they had, this one came back to trust. Penbroke harped on about it so often that Severus was beginning to hate the very word. Taking a deep breath, he shifted his position on the noisy leather couch and offered in as calm a voice as he could, "If Harry knew, he would be gone."

"You can't know that," Penbroke insisted.

"The man is the epitome of all things good and noble. Do you think he'd want to be with someone who'd done the things we just discussed?" Severus hated how shaky his voice sounded.

"What makes you think he doesn't already know?" Penbroke questioned.

"What?" Severus snapped.

"Your status as a former Death Eater is common knowledge. Do you truly believe that Harry Potter doesn't know what that means? Remember, he was Voldemort's guest on more than one occasion. I've known him for nearly six years now. Harry is many things, but oblivious is not one of them."

"Perhaps you're right. Perhaps he does suspect the truth, but . . . suspecting is quite a different thing from hearing these depravities from your lover's mouth. Our current status affords me the illusion of ignorance, without it . . . . "

"You would know for a fact that he loves you for who and what you are now. Your past would be where it belongs, in the past. As things stand, you are perpetually anticipating abandonment. Is that how you want to live the rest of your life?" Penbroke challenged.

"It's the only chance I have of keeping him," Severus answered. "If he knew half of what I've done, he'd leave . . . ."

"I think you're wrong about that," Penbroke insisted. "I think you owe it to yourself and Harry to let him prove that to you. You need to be honest with him; that's the only way you're ever going to work through this."

"Work through it? How do you work through having been an accomplice to torture and murder?" Severus demanded. Horrified, he realized he was shaking, and that the humiliating tears he'd thought he'd kept at bay were streaming down his cheeks as they did almost every time he talked to this man.

"You repent those acts, which I believe you have already done to a sufficient degree to satisfy even a Gryffindor like Harry."

"Acts such as those . . . they don't ever go away," Severus said, doing his best to keep his voice level.

"Maybe not, but time does help. Sometimes it heals. Was what you told me the truth?" Penbroke asked.

Severus nodded.

"From your description of the events, it didn't seem as if you had any choice but to comply with the Death Eaters' demands. The moment you were able to, you contacted Professor Dumbledore and offered him your allegiance."

"Not soon enough. People still died," Severus reminded him.

"But more lived because of your decision. I think Harry will understand that," Penbroke said.

"And if you're wrong?" Severus didn't understand why his emotions were always so close to the surface when he talked with Penbroke.

"Then at least you will no longer be living in fear. One way or another, you'll know."

"I already know," Severus protested.

"No, you fear the worst, and that is different than knowing. Give Harry the chance to prove you wrong."

Heavy silence fell over the room. After a time, Penbroke gently asked, "Are you all right?"

John Penbroke's soft voice intruded into Severus' mind, which was lost in a place so dark he never allowed himself to revisit it. His days with the Death Eaters were the stuff of nightmares, but, then, so much of his life had been like that. He couldn't imagine sharing this type of depravity with Harry.

Biting his lower lip between his teeth, Severus gave a tight nod, turned his face away from the other man, and surreptitiously wiped his sleeve over his cheeks. As ever, the tears surprised him. He could count on one hand and still have a few fingers left, the number of times he'd actually cried in his forty-eight years of life. But it didn't seem he could get through a single session with this man without being left a sobbing wreck. It was embarrassing. He'd always thought he was made of stronger stuff than this. Though, Penbroke didn't seem to find his breakdowns the least bit embarrassing, thank Merlin. It was hard enough discussing some of these issues without having to worry about what someone else was thinking about him.

"I think we're done for tonight," Penbroke said. He always seemed to know when Severus had reached his limits.

Severus gave another nod. Once he'd assured himself that his cheeks were dry, he turned back to Penbroke.

"I know it probably doesn't feel like it from where you're sitting, Severus, but you really are making incredible progress."

"You call this progress?" Severus couldn't quite cover his incredulity.

"Well, you don't seem to be burying your feelings so deeply these days. You do seem to be much more in touch with them," Penbroke pointed out.

"If I were any more in touch with them, I would be a sobbing wreck all day, every day," Severus responded in his normal urbane tone, which seemed to tickle his analyst as much as it did Harry, were Penbroke's laughter any indication.

"Not all day, every day," Penbroke countered. "From what you told me, Friday night did have its high points."

Reminded of that victory, Severus felt a small smile touch his lips. "I suppose I should thank you for that."

Penbroke's laughter filled the room again. "Doesn't seem like I had anything to do with it."

"Perhaps not, but . . . when I first came here, I didn't think this would be of any use. I don't understand how it works, when I end up in tears most days, but . . . somehow, it is making a difference," Severus said.

"You've had a difficult life," Penbroke said. "I think you learned to survive by refusing to acknowledge the pain, but that didn't make it go away. Tears are the body's way of releasing that pain."

"I do seem to have an inordinate amount of them, don't I?" Severus tried to joke.

"Not in light of some of the things you've experienced."

Severus nodded. "Perhaps. I should return to the school. We've run over our time again."

"It's no matter," Penbroke dismissed his concern. "You don't think I have anyone coming in later than this, do you? To be honest, you're my only wizard patient at the moment."

"I am?"

Penbroke gave a snort. "Most wizards don't have your courage. They want a spell or a potion to cure what ails them, even if what ails them is their mind."

"A potion would be convenient, wouldn't it?" Severus asked, intrigued by the idea.

"Are you planning on putting me out of business here?" Penbroke laughed. "Go on. Go home to Harry before you come up with an idea to make me redundant."

"Somehow, I can't see that happening. At least, not while I still require daily sessions."

Chuckling, Penbroke rose to his feet. "Good night, Severus. I'll see you tomorrow."

With a polite 'good night' Severus apparated to Hogwarts' gates.

Although the sun had set some time ago, the air was still warm. His robes felt very heavy as he followed the path up to the castle. Reminding himself that it was nearly June, Severus made his way across the shadowy grounds. He appreciated the time it took to reach the castle doors; it was usually sufficient to collect himself enough to hide whatever ghosts his session with Penbroke had raised.

His Slytherins seemed to have some way of sensing when he was in the halls, for, even though he knew for a fact that the majority of the upper class students were never in their common room before curfew, he never caught them in the corridors. The portraits were the only things that tried to make conversation with him tonight as he hurried back to his rooms, and he'd had decades of experience at ignoring them.

The wall sconces were lit and Harry was sitting there before a roaring fire waiting for him, just as usual. Even so, the second he stepped into the room, Severus couldn't help but sense that something was off. When he returned home at night, he usually found Harry grading papers, reading, or sometimes napping on the couch. Harry was just sitting there on the end of the sofa, staring into the hearth with an empty expression on his face. Harry didn't even turn to greet him when he entered.

"Hello," Severus said, wondering what he'd interrupted.

Harry finally turned to look at him. There was something strange in his eyes that Severus couldn't place as he said, "Hello."

"Are you all right?" Severus questioned, not understanding the tension he could feel growing in the room.

"Fine," Harry answered in a clipped tone that sounded anything but fine. "What could be wrong?"

"Harry?" Severus questioned.

"How did detentions go tonight?" Harry asked, an unfamiliar hardness tightening his features.

The tension that always gripped him whenever Harry asked that particular question settled over him as Severus gave his customary reply of, "Much the same as usual."

"Really?" Harry's voice practically dripped sarcasm. "The strangest thing happened on my way down here tonight. I passed Maggie Adair on the stairs. She said that you'd excused the students from detention last month. You can imagine how surprised I was, since that's where you've been claiming to have spent your evenings. And, before you even suggest it, I checked both the Potions classroom and lab. You weren't there."

Thinking fast, because he could feel Harry's anger building in the room as a physical, magical presence, Severus softly admitted, "No, I wasn't."

"Would you mind telling me where you were, then?" For all that the man seemed a breath away from exploding, Harry's words were softly voiced, which made them all the more chilling.

The wall sconces and hearth fire were beginning to flicker as Harry's magic moved restlessly through the room.

Taking a deep breath, Severus came clean with, "I was seeing John Penbroke."

"You're seeing another man?"

Severus couldn't understand the despair and anger that seemed to colour Harry's question. He'd known that Harry wouldn't be happy that he'd kept the fact that he'd sought treatment a secret, but he couldn't quite correlate the degree of distress Harry seemed to be experiencing with the wrong he'd committed. The man looked like his world was falling apart around him. Completely confused about what was going on, Severus hesitantly asked, "I realize that you must be disappointed in me. I should have been honest with you from the start."

"How long?" Harry seemed to force the words out.

"What?"

"How long have you been seeing him?" Harry snapped.

Holding that furious gaze, Severus softly confessed, "A month."

"A month!" The emphasis Harry put on that word was totally lost on him. "You haven't been able to let me touch you for forever, but you've been seeing another man for a month?"

At first, Harry's words were a complete non sequitur. But then the meaning of Harry's anger finally became clear and Severus' brain seemed to give an almost audible click as he figured out what was going on. Harry seriously thought he was having an affair with another man? Nearly shocked beyond words by what Harry was suggesting, Severus quickly stated, "Not romantically."

"What?" Harry demanded, as if he hadn't understood.

"I have been seeing John Penbroke in his professional capacity as an analyst for the last month," Severus explained. He wasn't sure that he'd even be believed. He knew that deception only bred distrust and he hadn't been particularly honest with Harry.

"You . . . ." Harry searched his face and then gave an oddly inflected, "Oh."

Harry's expression was an endearing mix of relief and embarrassment.

Severus' own mind still reeling from the misunderstanding, he hesitantly asked, "You seriously believed that I was sexually involved with someone else?"

Harry now appeared totally embarrassed. "It didn't make any sense. I mean, I know you. I know that even if you were completely healed again, you wouldn't just . . . but I couldn't figure out why else you would have lied about where you were. I'm sorry I doubted you." After a pause, he asked, "Why didn't you tell me?"

With a weary sigh, Severus sank down onto the couch beside Harry.

"Because I'm an idiot?" Severus suggested, and then confessed in a more serious tone, "I . . . was ashamed. Apparently, I am extremely . . . damaged." It was the only word he could offer that was both honest and something he would be able to voice. "I've had daily sessions for nearly a month now. As I understand it, that is somewhat unusual."

"After what you went through in January -" Harry began.

"What Burke did to me was horrific, but it isn't the source of most of my problems," Severus corrected, realizing that it was time to stop dissembling with this man who had given him back his soul and sanity.

"It isn't?" Harry hesitantly repeated.

"Well, obviously, it's the cause of the sexual problems I've been experiencing lately, but . . . you, of all people, know that I have never been what anyone would call normal." Severus was trying to remain his normal, unaffected self, but despite his best efforts at control, he found himself wrapping his arms around his chest.

"Who is?" Harry countered, the gentleness that was the earmark of his character back. To Severus' shock, Harry reached out to lay a hand on his arm. "You suit me fine."

Warmed by those words more than he could credit, Severus held those concerned eyes and said, "And, yet, I hurt you on a regular basis."

"What are you talking about?" The confusion in Harry's attitude was reassuring. Perhaps he hadn't mucked things up as horribly as he'd feared.

"You are the one person in this world who has ever truly . . . loved me," Severus forced himself to answer. "You have lavished affection and kindness on me -"

"It hasn't been exactly a one way deal," Harry interrupted. "You've done the same for me."

That Harry believed those words was obvious. Humbled, Severus softly offered, "I have tried. I am . . . relieved that I haven't failed you entirely. It has often felt that way."

"What are you talking about?" Harry questioned, moving closer. His hand didn't leave Severus' arm. "You've never failed me once."

"I beg to differ. Every time you have told me that you love me, I have been unable to offer you similar assurances. Even though you are the saving grace of my life, I haven't once told you that I love you."

"That's not true," Harry denied, his fingers tightening around Severus' wrist. "You did tell me."

Thrown, because Severus could see Harry wasn't lying, despite his own certainty to the contrary, he hesitantly asked, "When? Every memory I have of you offering me that gift, shows that I failed to reciprocate. I have given you so little assurance of my . . . feelings for you that you seriously believed I was cheating on you."

"That was me, not you," Harry protested. "It was my insecurity. I knew you wouldn't, and I should have had faith in you. But, all that aside, you did tell me you love me, in circumstances that wouldn't allow any doubt."

"I have no idea what you're referring to. Every time you have said those words, I have acted the coward's part and failed to reciprocate," Severus said. His discussions with Penbroke over the last few weeks had made him recognize how deeply his failure to reciprocate must have hurt Harry.

"You have never acted the coward's part," Harry insisted. "Just because you didn't say something out loud, doesn't mean you didn't tell me with your actions every single day that you loved me. And you did tell me with words. That night on the quidditch pitch in February when you erased my memories, you told me that if there were one thing in this world you loved, it was me."

Once again, Harry seemed to be telling him the truth.

Severus thought back to that awful night. Rack his mind as he would, he had no idea what Harry was talking about. "I . . . my memories of that night are vague. I think I truly was insane."

"Insane or not, you said it, and you meant it," Harry argued.

"And then I erased you memories."

To his complete incomprehension, Harry actually chuckled in response to his reminder. "Yeah, well, I guess that was the insane portion of the proceedings. If it's any comfort to you, I don't think I would have won any stability awards myself that night."

"How can you make light of something like that?" Severus asked.

"It's ancient history now. You said you were sorry. It's over."

"But . . . ."

"There are no 'buts' here, Severus. It's over. Let it go," Harry urged. His hand left Severus' wrist to gently touch his cheek. "And no more kicking yourself over all this other stuff."

"One must take responsibility for one's actions," Severus insisted. He mightn't have a clue how this Muggle therapy was supposed to help him, but that much had become clear very early in his sessions with Penbroke.

Harry reached out to brush the hair back from his face, his expression very soft as he said, "You've had the weight of the world on your shoulders your whole life. You couldn't be more responsible if you tried."

Harry's hands settled on his arms, urging him closer.

Severus' mind still felt as if he were at war with himself as he rested his cheek on Harry's shoulder and accepted the comfort on offer. John Penbroke had spent the last month trying to get him to accept that he was worthy of Harry's affections, but even now, he felt utterly unclean. He couldn't help but feel that by touching him, Harry tainted himself. Perhaps it was simply that today's session was still too close. Penbroke had forced him to examine actions that he normally spent his days struggling to forget. The man who'd done those things had no right to touch Harry Potter.

"I wish there were something I could do to make this easier for you," Harry whispered as his hand rubbed over his back in reassuring circles. That luscious mouth settled in the oily hair at the crown of his head to murmur, "Just know how proud I am of you."

It was too much. Severus pulled out of the embrace, his entire body trembling.

"What's wrong?" Harry questioned.

"You wouldn't be," Severus managed to stammer out.

"What?" Harry sounded completely bewildered.

"Proud. If you knew what I was – the things I've done – you wouldn't be proud. You wouldn't be here," Severus forced his deepest fear out. He couldn't go on pretending like this. Every single day he spent dredging up his past with Penbroke showed him how completely inappropriate it was for him to be with this bright and beautiful young man. Harry was the embodiment of all that was good and noble. While he . . . .

Harry seemed to study him for a long moment before cautiously answering, "That isn't the first time you've said something like that."

"No, it isn't. It is, however, the truth."

"What is it you think I don't know?" Harry questioned. "I know you were a Death Eater. I know what that means. I also know you chose to turn your back on that and did whatever you had to in order to make amends for your mistakes."

"You can't make amends for some actions," Severus voiced what had to be the one abiding truth he'd ever learned.

"Says who?" Harry demanded, visibly upset. "You've been in hell your entire life. Whatever you did; whatever you think you did; you've more than paid for it."

"You don't know what you're talking about," Severus insisted.

"So, tell me . . . or show me. You keep insisting that I wouldn't be with you if I knew, but you never give me the chance to prove you wrong. Give me that chance," Harry pleaded, unknowingly echoing Penbroke's words from earlier tonight.

"You . . . don't know what you're asking," Severus said, for once not balking at the prospect. Maybe it was a month's worth of wrestling with these demons, while trying to figure out how Harry fit into the kind of life he'd led, that gave him the fortitude to actually consider the idea. So far, the one thing he'd realized was that Harry didn't fit in with any of that darker stuff. Clearly, Harry didn't belong with him, but . . . he needed Harry, more than he'd ever needed anything.

"I'm asking you to give me the chance to prove that I love you," Harry said. "I can't tell you that whatever you went through won't matter to me. It's hurt you so bad that you can't even share it with me, so, it's bound to be something awful. But, for both our sakes, you need to know that I'm still going to be here, despite it."

Harry was glowing with Gryffindor certainty; Severus could almost hate him for that faith.

Garnering his courage, Severus answered, "It isn't 'something awful'. It's forty some odd years of awful."

"Okay, it's forty years of it. Tell me."

"And if you find that this darkness is too much to accept?"

The expression in Harry's eyes showed that he was just as frightened of that possibility as Severus was himself. But Harry rallied his courage, as he had at every other challenge in his life and said, "Then at least we'll know. That's worth something, isn't it?"

"It's not worth losing you over," Severus retorted.

"I don't think that's going to happen," Harry said.

"Then you haven't a clue as to what we're discussing, because, I assure you, there is every possibility that you will not be able to look at me again once you know certain facts. Are you willing to take that chance?"

He heard the shaky breath Harry drew before answering, "Are you willing to let me? I'm telling you that there's nothing you could have done in your past that will change the way I feel about you. I know that for a fact. I think we've come to the point where you need to know it for a fact, too."

"And if you're wrong?" Severus challenged. He was shaking all over. Everything he knew about this man was telling him that Harry wasn't simply going to let the matter drop again. Either Severus was going to have to refuse him, which could be as damaging to their relationship as indulging him, or he was going to have to concede and let Harry see the sort of man he'd been bedding these last eight months.

"Then we'll just have to work it out," Harry said.

"You could be so wrong that you will be unable to be in the same room with me afterwards," Severus warned.

"No, I couldn't. I know you don't believe this, but I know the man I love. I know what you will and won't do. I'm betting you weren't that different when young."

"You'll lose that bet, Harry."

"No, I won't. Tell me," Harry urged.

There would be no backing out this time, Severus recognized. Staring at that waiting face, he tried to find the words that would incorporate a lifetime of mistakes, words that would let Harry see who and what he'd been. Only, the telling of it would take years, and he'd already talked himself raw with Penbroke.

His gut turned to ice as he considered the only alternative, the means that would let Harry know it all in a reasonable period of time.

His mouth running dry, Severus hesitantly suggested, "We both know this isn't something that can be told."

"I'm not asking that of you," Harry quickly protested.

"I know," Severus said, somehow keeping his voice steady as he continued, "I'm offering it. As you pointed out, at least we'll know, then."

"I already know. This is so you can be sure, too."

Harry sounded so certain.

Forcing himself to stay the course and hold Harry's gaze, Severus ordered, "Go ahead.".

"Are you sure?"

"Just do it." Severus hadn't meant to snap the words out like that.

His asperity didn't seem to upset Harry. Harry reached out to touch his cheek again, the gesture gentle and cherishing.

Severus felt as if he were falling into Harry's eyes. Those green pools were as bottomless as the Black Lake outside. Down and down he fell, closer and closer to Harry's soul, or, in this case, Harry's mind.

Visibly bracing himself, Harry withdrew his hand and leaned back against the couch. As had happened the first time Harry entered his mind in October, Harry did so without voicing the spell any other wizard would have needed to initiate contact. His magic was so powerful, so instantaneous, that Harry was there inside Severus' mind with a mere thought.

Severus gasped as Harry entered his mind. In its own way, the act was as shattering as when he'd enter his body. Harry's power was incredible, but the touch of his mind was as gentle as his hands were in bed.

Harry took a moment in which he seemed to be absorbing Severus' emotional and mental state.

Severus did his best to keep from panicking, but . . . this was quite possibly the most frightening thing he'd ever endured. To be so open, so known . . . there would be no place to hide when Harry was done and no possibility of pretence.

Severus was shocked to feel a similar nervousness seeping out of the mind visiting his own. His surprise must have been palpable, for Harry chuckled and asked, "What? You're the only one allowed to be nervous here?" When the chuckle faded, Harry said, "We're going to be all right. Just show me whatever you need to."

Momentarily at a loss as to where to start, Severus realized that it would have to be at the beginning. Harry had already inadvertently witnessed some of this back in his fifth year when Severus had attempted to teach him to defend against mental attacks and discovered that the Potter brat had a natural ability for Legilimency that was as frightening as his other precocious talents.

Trying to distance himself from what he was remembering, Severus let Harry see the loveless home he'd grown up in. His father's bullying and sadism, his mother's pathetic surrender to that brutality, his own childish attempts to stand up against the abuse, he let Harry see it all.

Harry's response was exactly what he anticipated of his gentle-hearted lover. Harry ached for him. But this wasn't the part he'd had any worries about. Potter had come from a similar, abusive background. He'd known he'd have Harry's sympathies here.

Bracing himself as best he could, Severus moved on to his first ride on the Hogwarts Express. He didn't try to edit anything, since the purpose of this exercise was honesty. He let Harry see how his own vicious tongue had alienated him from James Potter and his goons before the Sorting Hat had ever touched any of their heads. His schooldays had been a downward spiral from there on in.

Though it took every bit of courage he had, Severus held nothing back. He let Harry see how Lucius had seduced him his second week at school.

Although Harry had been forewarned by Burke's words, Severus could tell how upsetting this part was to him. Knowing something on a mental level was quite different from seeing it enacted before your eyes, and there wasn't anything noble or wholesome about the whole sorry mess. He'd used the word 'catamite' when describing these incidents to Hermione. The word was well chosen, but he could just as easily have said 'whore' for what these incidents made him out to be.

Something in Harry seemed to rebel when Severus reached the part where Lucius had asked his three friends to join their 'study group' in second year.

"Do you want to stop?" Severus rasped out. His voice was grating in his own ears as it rocked the history he was projecting on a mental level.

Harry drew a shuddery breath. "If they weren't already dead, I'd bury them now."

"I was a willing participant," Severus reminded him.

"You were twelve," Harry spat the word out like the obscenity it was. Severus felt Harry make a conscious effort to get a hold on his anger before saying, "Go on."

"It doesn't get any better," Severus warned.

To his unending shock, Harry protested, "Yes, it does. You end up with me. Go on."

Severus had been certain that this noble Gryffindor wouldn't be able to tolerate the depravity he'd shown him, but he could feel from Harry's mind that any anger he had wasn't directed at him. He knew that sympathy wouldn't last, but he was grateful for it.

The years after Lucius left Hogwarts were a parade of similar sexual indiscretions with older Slytherins, but Harry only seemed to react to the pain the incidents had caused him, rather than the horrible crudity of those last years at school.

Severus' heart was pounding against his chest, as if trying to escape, when he reached the summer after he'd left Hogwarts and that momentous night he'd allowed Lucius to talk him into joining Voldemort's group. He let Harry see it all: how tickled his vanity had been that he, a half-blood, had been deemed worthy to join Voldemort's inner circle; how greedy he'd been for the amazing Potions lab Voldemort had set him up in; his conscience's tribulations over the questionable, and totally inimical potions he'd created to pay Voldemort back for that lab; the way he used to pretend not to hear his fellow Death Eaters' boasts about the atrocities they'd committed upon defenceless Muggles. He let Harry see how his greed and avarice had blinded him, how he'd willingly consorted with blood-drunk beasts, how he'd allowed his potions to be used for evil for years while he hid his head in the proverbial sand of his fancy lab.

That whole filthy business with Burke played out in his mind's eye. Once again, he edited nothing. He let Harry see his pathetic attraction to Burke's power. Those were perhaps the days he was most ashamed of, when his own powers hadn't fully matured yet, and he'd allowed his body to be put to humiliating uses simply to touch the kind of magic he'd dreamed of all his life. Burke hadn't exaggerated when he'd told Harry that the stronger wizards in Voldemort's following used to pass him around like a pack of Muggle cigarettes.

Those . . . perversions were fully as disturbing to Harry as he'd feared they'd be. As he'd warned his lover, no decent man could witness such depravity and remain unaffected. He could feel how upset Harry was, and how hard Harry was attempting to hide his reaction, but there could be no lies on this level.

But even that sordid period came to its inevitable end. His betrayal of Burke's plan had earned him Voldemort's highest regard.

It was at this point in his life that the most radical of changes took place. There was nothing like becoming a monster's best friend to open one's eyes to the true nature of the beast. Once again, Severus held nothing back. He let Harry see how his closer contact with Voldemort had slowly brought him to the conclusion that the man they were following was utterly insane. And, even then, he'd tried to ignore that fact, tried to carry on as if nothing were wrong. He might have continued on like that for another five or ten years if Voldemort hadn't insisted that his most loyal follower leave his lab to accompany his fellow Death Eaters on an assignment.

The first night he'd gone out with Lucius and three other Death Eaters, they'd entered the home of a Squib writer on the Prophet who'd been very outspoken against the Ministry's ineffectual response to Voldemort's bid for power. The Squib had had a Muggle wife and three children. Lucius and his friends had slaughtered them in their beds as if they were killing bugs.

The twenty year old Severus had been too shocked by the brutality and how fast it all had happened for him to even think about stopping it. They were in the house, and within minutes, five people were lying in pools of blood. While Severus stood in the doorway and watched the knives move.

As he replayed that grisly night, he let Harry see how shock had frozen him on the threshold to the master bedroom, too stunned to stop the murdering beasts before him. As Harry reeled under the grotesque savagery, Severus replayed some of the boasts he'd heard his colleagues make over the years, letting Harry see that none of these events should have come as a surprise to him. But, as he'd pointed out to Harry earlier, there was a difference between seeing something in the flesh, and just hearing about it. All those years he'd been making his questionable potions, Severus had been able to keep his hands clean. But there was no way to keep your hands clean when you were standing in the same room while a three year old had her throat sliced open.

He let Harry see how he'd broken down once they'd returned to Voldemort's headquarters. Alone, in his fancy Potions lab, he'd sunk to the floor behind the closed door and cried his heart out.

The door had nearly broken his shoulder when Lucius came to find him hours later.

"What the devil are you doing down there?" Lucius had snapped as Severus pulled himself up to his feet, rubbing his bruised shoulder.

"Nothing," Severus denied, turning his back to wipe his cheeks with his sleeve.

"What's got into you? What happened to you tonight? You were like a statue in that doorway."

Severus supposed it was too much to hope that his failure to act would go unnoticed.

"I . . . ."

"You what? They were our master's enemies. You heard his order to dispatch them."

"They were a Squib and a Muggle woman. Three of them were children," Severus said, still unable to believe what he'd witnessed. There was no blood on Lucius now, but Severus quite clearly remembered the spray of that three year old's blood splattering the handsome face that he'd adored for years. Severus had thought he'd known this man, thought he loved him, but looking at those perfect, pale features now, he realized that he'd never known Lucius at all.

"They were Voldmort's enemies. That's all that matters. All that should matter to you. You took an oath to support our lord in all he does."

"I know, but -"

"But?" Lucius interrupted. "There are no buts here. Only obedience."

"I swore I'd fight Voldemort's enemies, and I will," Severus quickly answered, "but . . . that wasn't fighting, Lucius. No one had a wand in their hand. We just . . . murdered them."

"They were Lord Voldmort's enemies and we dispatched them. That's all that should matter to you."

"Lucius, I . . . I'll duel with anyone you want me to. You know I'm no coward, but . . . I can't slaughter defenceless people like that -"

"Do you know how hopelessly Gryffindor that sounds?" Lucius sneered.

For the first time in his life, Severus began to understand that not all Gryffindor traits were weaknesses. Squeezing his eyes shut, he gave a hopeless nod.

"Do you know what our master will do to you if he hears you spout this kind of drivel?" Lucius questioned, something like worry in his eyes. "Don't be a fool, Severus. What does it matter if they have a wand in their hand or not? The minute Lord Voldemort orders their deaths; they are as good as gone. Are you going to sacrifice yourself for a Squib and a pack of filthy blooded Muggles? They're nothing but vermin. Killing them isn't the same as killing one of our own. It's like . . . using an extermination spell on the rats in your home."

Severus had heard that sentiment voiced hundreds of times by Voldemort's followers. When he thought of his Muggle father, he had no objection to that monster being exterminated like vermin. But that little girl tonight . . . she'd never beaten or mistreated a soul in her entire short life. She hadn't looked any different than any of the wizard children he saw in Diagon Alley. The white teddy bear in her bed was the same one Severus had seen in baby Draco's crib when he'd visited last week. Only, Draco's bear hadn't ended up soaked in blood before the night was over.

Just thinking about the splattered blood brought the bile up again. Swallowing it down, Severus stiffly denied, "I can't do it. Not like that."

"I can't protect you," Lucius warned.

"I'm not asking you to," Severus denied.

"You know what an absolute fool you're being? He'll kill you, Severus. You've seen how he deals with disloyalty."

"Then I suppose he'll kill me," Severus acknowledged. "Are you going to give me up to him?"

For a moment, Lucius stared at him as though he were some creature from another planet. Then, his oldest friend turned on his heel and stormed out of the Potions lab without another word.

Severus had spent the night curled up on that freezing floor, waiting for the other Death Eaters to come and finish him. But they hadn't come. In the nerve-wracking days that followed, it became clear that Lucius hadn't mentioned their discussion to anyone.

For a few weeks after that, things returned nearly to normal. Voldemort allowed Lucius to pick who would join him in the raids that would eliminate the Dark Lord's enemies, and Lucius consistently chose others to accompany him. Severus did his best to be in his lab when they returned victorious.

But he couldn't hide in his lab forever. Nor could he pretend ignorance any longer. There wasn't a potion he could brew in his fancy lab that was ever going to be able to remove the stain that night had left on his soul.

While Lucius never again asked him to join the raids, the bragging he heard from his fellow Death Eaters over the next few months showed Severus that slicing a three year old's throat was a clean death. Clean, when compared to the torture and rape his companions graduated to, as their lust for blood grew exponentially. Every attack seemed to grow in viciousness. The Death Eaters vanished their victims' bodies, so no one ever knew what truly happened to the people who disappeared, but Severus knew, and . . . it became increasingly impossible to live with that knowledge.

Sleep became a thing of the past. Severus let Harry experience his disgust at what his comrades were doing, and the utter helplessness he felt in his inability to stop it. He knew he might be able to take out Lucius in a duel. But it wouldn't be just Lucius. The other Death Eaters would be involved, and even if they weren't . . . he wouldn't last a minute against Voldemort. That kind of power knew no match.

He went from depression to despair. Suicide was often on his mind. The surest way to commit it was to try to stop his comrades. He'd grown so disgusted that he might even have tried standing up against them, if he hadn't seen how their opponents, well, victims, died. No matter how much he might long for death, he didn't want to go that way.

It seemed to Severus that he might have continued on in that state of helpless complicity forever, but, finally, Voldemort once again ordered his Potions master to accompany Lucius on an especially important assignment. It was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back.

Letting everything go, Severus showed Harry the incident that every curious nosy body had badgered him about for twenty-five years. Albus Dumbledore was the only other person Severus had shared this nightmare with. He hadn't even told Penbroke about this incident in his therapy sessions.

As hellish as the facts of the Death Eater raid he'd shared with Harry had been, there had still been a certain . . . anonymity to it. The Muggles, Squibs, and even the wizards the Death Eaters had attacked had all been strangers. But the playing field shifted dramatically the night they visited the Longbottoms.

Severus had sat in the same classroom with Alice for seven years. Though two years his senior, her husband, Frank, had pulled the Marauders off him half a dozen times when Longbottom had been the Gryffindor prefect. They weren't strangers.

Severus hadn't known where they were going that night. Had he known beforehand, he would have given warning, no matter the personal consequences, but he hadn't known. When they'd broken into the Longbottoms' sitting room and surprised the couple, Severus had been just as shocked as their victims.

Severus had barely seen the Longbottoms' faces when Lucius ordered, "Severus, go guard the front door."

In spite of his claim to the contrary, Lucius was clearly trying to protect him.

To this day, he was haunted by the mistake he made at this point. He should have taken his chances and confronted his comrades. Frank Longbottom was an Auror. He might have managed some wandless magic, but . . . but Severus had followed Lucius' order.

As horrible as what he'd seen in that raid on the Squib and his family had been, it wasn't until Lucius and Bellatrix cast the Cruciatus on Frank and Alice that Severus had realized what kind of people he'd pledged himself to. These weren't some faceless strangers who'd committed Merlin knew what offense against their master. These were people Severus knew. People who'd shown him the occasional kindness.

Severus could feel Harry's fury at what he was showing him. He made no attempt to hide his own cowardice. He let Harry see how he'd stood in vestibule, trying to block out Alice and Frank's screams while his comrades slowly tortured them insane.

When Lucius barked his name out, it had been all Severus could do to enter the blood splattered sitting room. Frank seemed to have lost consciousness where he lay by the hearth. Alice's black and blue bruised eyes were still open as she twitched by the couch.

Severus had thought her too far gone to understand anything, but when Lucius yelled at Severus, "Go find the brat," Alice had started screaming again.

"No, Severus, please . . . not my baby. Don't hurt my baby . . . ahhhhhhhh!"

Her shrieks followed him as he'd hurried upstairs to the bedrooms.

The master bedroom was empty. The door next to it revealed a nauseatingly pleasant nursery.

Severus entered the moonlit room to stare down at the sleeping baby in the crib, one of the two children who fit the damned prophesy that had sent the Death Eaters on this unholy errand tonight. The boy was perhaps six months old. He was chubby with ruddy cheeks, and a face that was the picture of innocence.

Severus needed no imagination to know what would happen to that innocence should he bring the child downstairs.

The boy's mother was still pleading with her murderers to spare her baby. How the child could sleep through that, he didn't know.

At that moment, Severus became reacquainted with both his conscience and courage. He knew he couldn't save either Frank or Alice. But this child . . . if this were the child who would slay Voldemort, he would do everything in his power to protect it.

Thinking fast, Severus summoned a sleeping draught. He opened the sleeping baby's mouth and drained half the bottle down its throat. It was probably enough to kill the baby, but given the alternative, Severus thought it was a chance worth taking.

Once he was sure the baby was unconscious, he picked him up out of his crib and quickly left the room. Opening a cupboard at the end of the hall, near the loo, he moved a few buckets aside with one hand and laid the child on the floor, replacing the pails. He cast a glamour over the floor, the strongest he'd created, one that showed a closet filled with only cleaning supplies.

Shaking at the chance he was taking, Severus closed the door behind him and raced down the stairs to tell Lucius that the Longbottom baby wasn't in the house.

Alice met his eyes as Severus' companions were distracted by his information. The naked gratitude in her bleeding brown gaze was unbearable. At that instant, Severus had fully understood that his soul was forfeit, that there was nothing he could ever do to erase the evil he'd been part of. But he knew at that instant that he had to try, even if he had to die the same way Alice was.

Alice seemed to surrender to her fate without a fight after that, as if the only thing that had mattered to her was that she knew her baby was safe. She didn't die that night, but Severus always regretted that he hadn't granted her that kindness.

Because he could feel Harry's curiosity, he followed the memory through, letting Harry see how he'd crept back into the Longbottom house before daybreak, passed through the sitting room where Alice and Frank lay drooling in their blood-drenched, urine-soaked clothes, how he'd taken the still-sleeping baby out of the cupboard, and cradled the child in his arms as he'd stepped over the baby's mindless parents and flooed to Albus Dumbledore's private chambers at Hogwarts.

Even as he'd stepped out of the hearth, he hadn't known what to expect. Were it anyone else, Severus knew that the crimes he was about to confess would bring him straight to the Ministry, but Albus Dumbledore had never played by anyone's rules. If there were anyone who could keep the child in the prophesy safe, it was Dumbledore.

Forcibly pulling himself out of the past, Severus drew a shuddery breath and said, "You're familiar with the rest of the story."

It felt as if a spell had broken as his words recalled them to the present. Harry withdrew from his mind as gently as he'd entered it.

Alone with his memories, Severus could only wonder how much tonight had cost him. He felt like he did after one of his sessions with Penbroke, like every nerve he owned had been exposed and jolted with electricity. This went beyond feeling naked.

Harry's face looked pretty much the way he'd expected it to, like he'd bitten off more than he could chew. In fact, he looked as if he might actually be sick to his stomach.

To his shock, Harry met his eyes. Venting a shaky breath, he said, "Well, we knew it wouldn't be pretty."

"You have a flair for understatement," Severus forced himself to respond. The Hat might have wanted to put Harry into Slytherin, but the Harry he knew was all Gryffindor, and Gryffindors were judgmental. He knew what had to be coming.

"If you don't start breathing, you're going to pass out," Harry said, watching him with an indecipherable expression.

Realizing that he was, in fact, holding his breath, Severus released it. Once he'd taken in a few gulps of cool air, he felt less jittery, but no less frightened. He forced himself to meet Harry's eyes. For one of the first times ever, he couldn't decipher what Harry was feeling.

That observation felt like it went on for centuries.

Finally, Harry reached out with his right hand to touch Severus' shoulder. "I wish there were something I could do to make all of that easier for you to bear."

"W-what?" Severus managed to rasp out.

"You never had a chance, did you?" Harry's eyes looked almost haunted.

"What do you mean?" Severus's mind didn't seem able to comprehend what Harry was saying.

"Pain is all you've known, your whole life," Harry said.

"That doesn't excuse -"

"Severus, you were barely twenty when those Death Eater events occurred," Harry said in a firm voice.

"Nevertheless -"

"That night at the Squib's house, if you'd challenged Malfoy and the others, could you have taken them out?" Harry demanded.

Severus gave a negative shake of his head, embarrassed. He might have known more spells than a fourth year when he started school. His talents had always been precocious. But however gifted he'd been, he'd never had the darkness inside him, that cruel streak that had been the earmark of Lucius and his cronies.

"So, you would have ended up dead had you made a stand?"

"That isn't the point. For months, I'd heard my companions bragging. What happened shouldn't have come as a shock -"

"Maybe it shouldn't have, but it did. You were young, scared, and didn't think there was a way out of the situation you'd gotten yourself into. Wanting to live isn't a crime."

"But being party to torture and murder is. I was there. I made no move to stop them -"

"Because you couldn't. The same as when Voldermort killed Cedric before my eyes, I couldn't kill the bastard and his followers, much as I wanted to, much as I will always regret never being able to. All I could do was try to stay alive long enough to escape. Severus, you were up against the strongest, vilest dark wizard the world had ever known. You weren't even twenty, and half of the people you would have to stand against were the only friends you'd ever known."

"Nevertheless, I should have -"

Harry cut his ragged protest off with, "Should have what? Forfeited your life for a principle? That's what you would have been doing if you'd made a move against them in that Squib's house. What good would throwing your life away like that have done anyone? Severus, you made the only decision you could."

"And those people died," Severus reminded him.

"Not by your hand or your orders," Harry said in a steely tone Severus didn't think he'd ever heard before. "Voldemort is responsible for their deaths, not you. As soon as you were able to, you did the right thing. You've spent over two decades trying to make up for a mistake you made before you were even twenty years old. It's time you forgave yourself."

"I . . . ." Severus' words faltered. His entire body was shaking. He felt a familiar burning at his eyes.

Strong hands gripped his shoulders and before Severus knew what was happening, Harry drew him into his arms. He tentatively rested his face against Harry's tee-shirt covered shoulder, still expecting disaster to strike. But the only thing that happened was Harry's hand settled on his back and began to rub.

"You did the best you could in a horrible situation. And you did everything in your power afterwards to set things right. I know how much you risked every time you followed Dumbledore's request and returned to Voldemort to spy on him," Harry said, still rubbing his back, still hugging him. "You are the bravest man I've ever met and I'm honoured to call you my lover."

That did it. Severus squeezed his eyes tightly shut, attempting to keep in those treacherous tears, but, as with Penbroke's sessions, there was no holding them back. How long he stayed there with his face buried in the crook of Harry's shoulder as emotion stormed through him, Severus didn't know. The shoulder of Harry's light blue tee-shirt had an eight inch wet spot on it when Severus finally lifted his face what felt like hours later.

It took every bit of strength he possessed to meet Harry's eyes.

Severus had expected his confession to have made some change in Harry's gaze. He didn't understand how someone as honourable and good as Harry would want to continue to associate with him after seeing his sordid past, but, if anything, those green eyes seemed even warmer as they regarded him.

"You . . . ." Words were beyond him.

Harry took mercy on him and gently encouraged, "I, what?"

"You're not leaving," Severus said, hearing the disbelief in his own voice.

Harry's voice sounded a little rough as he replied, "Never. I'm afraid you're stuck with me for good."

Those words overwhelmed Severus' brain and heart. Both organs melted, or maybe they fused. All Severus knew was that for the first time ever, his worst fears weren't manifesting. His beautiful Harry was still sitting beside him, still . . . loving him, even after seeing the kind of life he'd lived, the kind of man he'd been.

It was more than Severus could process. But not more than he could handle. He wasn't even aware of moving. The next thing he knew, he was covering Harry's mouth with his and doing his best to drown in that luscious kiss.

Harry's hands gripped his shoulders, guiding him down, and he found himself snuggled on top of Harry.

This had become a familiar position in the last four nights. Normally, Harry's power was pulsing around him, inciting Severus to new heights. As there was no magic flowing around him tonight, Severus half-expected that awful freeze up to happen again, only . . . only Harry knew what he was and still wanted to kiss him. That was a miracle beyond his wildest dreams, and, as with all miracles, there was no explaining or questioning it.

The dreaded freeze didn't happen. Severus kept kissing, and, before he knew it, their clothes vanished. Naked skin touched naked skin as their needy erections settled carefully together.

His hips began to rock. The kiss deepened even further as they did everything in their power to meld into one being. Harry felt so perfect.

There seemed to be some kind of energy pulsing around them. At first, Severus thought it was Harry's power. Only slowly did he come to realize that the energy was coming as much from him as from his partner. It wasn't magic, per se; although it had been called that in its time. It took Severus' understandably abstracted mind a while to classify what he was experiencing. He'd had glimpses of it since October, rare flashes that had rocked his entire world. But only now could he put a name to the energy, and claim it as his own.

What he was feeling, this was love.

His ever doubtful mind hadn't been able to believe in love until it was proven, but if Harry's wanting him after everything he'd seen wasn't love, than Severus didn't know what love was.

No, that was incorrect. He did know what love was. Love was Harry Potter.

His beleaguered being fixed on that one certainty as the delight burning through him crested to immolating proportions, and he exploded.

Their mouths broke apart to suck in much needed air and release the sounds the pleasure destroying them demanded they vent. Their groans shook them both, the sounds seeming to shatter the very reality around them as they climaxed almost simultaneously and Severus was lost in a warm, golden nowhere land of suspended pleasure.

He seemed to float there for an eternity before the scattered portions of his wits sluggishly recollected.

The first awareness Severus experienced was that of Harry depositing soft, loving kisses all over his face. His next awareness was of the warm, sticky mess between their tight pressed bellies. The sublime crashing with the profane, Severus found himself inexplicably laughing.

"Hey, what's so funny?" Harry asked in a sleepy, sexy voice.

"I . . . ." His laughter faded under that loving gaze. Gulping, Severus decided to finish what tonight's confession had started. "I love you."

All levity vanished from Harry's expression. Severus could tell that he'd deeply surprised the man.

After a moment, Harry rallied with, "Works out sort of neat, that does, because, I'm crazy in love with you myself."

For the first time ever, when Harry said those words, Severus didn't find himself consumed with doubt and guilt. Harry had seen everything he was, and was still here . . . would always be here, Severus realized as he recalled Harry's earlier comment about never leaving.

When he thought he had the emotions resulting from his acceptance of Harry's continued presence in check, Severus softly commented, "You didn't have to use your magic for us to . . . make love tonight."

"I'd noticed," Harry said, reaching up to push Severus' dangling hair clear of his face. The fingers remained in his hair, stroking its none-too-clean length. "Told you that you weren't broken."

"You've become amazingly wise over the years," Severus said, the stress of the last hour beginning to catch up as his limbs turned heavy with exhaustion.

"Not wise, just lucky in love," Harry answered in an equally tired tone.

"I think exhaustion is making us both a little . . . ."

"Sappy?" Harry supplied with a smile. "I think we've earned a little sap. Don't worry, it'll wear off by morning." Severus wondered if Harry were still monitoring his thoughts, for, no sooner had the concern sparked through his mind, than Harry was explaining, "Only the sap will wear off by morning, not the love. That's yours for good."

"Thank you," Severus gruffly acknowledged, "for everything."

"Hey, I'm the winner here. There's nothing to thank me for," Harry countered. As if he, too, sensed how hopelessly sentimental the scene might become if allowed to progress unchecked, Harry brightly suggested, "Why don't we move into the bedroom and see if we can mess up the bed as badly as we have the couch?"

"You are a hopeless Gryffindor optimist if you think either of us is up to anything more tonight."

Harry met his eye and challenged, "I know my Slytherin sex god. I'll beat you to the bedroom."

With that, Harry somehow wriggled out from beneath him and left Severus perched precariously between the couch and nearby coffee table. Laughing so hard that he nearly collapsed to the floor, Severus found his feet and gave chase.

As he sank down into his huge bed with a madly giggling Harry, Severus wondered if this would be what the rest of his life would be like, love and laughter with Harry Potter. He was realist enough to know that his problems weren't cured by a long shot, but, right now, with Harry they felt very far away. And, who knew? Maybe his hopeless, Gryffindor optimist was right about everything, and love would cure all wounds? It certainly felt that way as Severus settled down into another kiss.

Finis

 
 

 

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