Credulity and Conviction, by Fox.
I am not now, nor have I ever been, J.K. Rowling.


"Come on, mate, do us a favor."

Harry looked up from his Quidditch magazine and quirked a smile. Ron had a particular expression of poignant earnestness that he affected at times like this – protesting to his mother that the Dursleys had put bars on Harry's bedroom windows; confessing to Professor Sprout that he'd managed to kill most of the bergamot in Greenhouse Five when he confused a Potions antidote for a Herbology fertilizer; swearing to Hermione that the cap to her ink bottle had been screwed on tightly when he slipped it back into her bag after borrowing it without having asked in the first place.

Begging Harry for the use of his Invisibility cloak so he could sneak to the Ravenclaw girls' dormitory in the middle of the night and ... meet ... Chiara Borgia, and promising to return it in the morning.

Harry laid his magazine aside, folded his hands across his chest, and looked at his friend. At the long table next to him, Hermione glanced up from her Arithmancy research just long enough to wink at Harry, but was innocently absorbed in her books by the time Ron looked her way. "I don't know if I should, Ron," Harry said. "Seems I've lent you my cloak just about every weekend since Halloween, and what have you done for me?" Ron looked surprised and just the tiniest bit alarmed. Already. Harry was having a hard time keeping a straight face; he bit the inside of his cheek and continued. "Seems you owe me a favor or two by now, doesn't it? Eh, Hermione?"

Hermione looked up again from her work. "It is only fair," she said gravely.

Ron looked at her, then back at Harry again. "What – I mean – something in particular you want me to do for you, Harry?"

"Oh, I could probably think of a couple of things," Harry said, hooking one leg over the arm of his chair and looking at Ron through his eyelashes. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Hermione holding a book up in front of her face to hide her sniggering, which she was no longer able to control.

Ron swallowed twice and shifted his weight in his chair, but didn't back away. Harry moistened his lips with the tip of his tongue. Hermione coughed, and Ron tugged at his collar; it was already unbuttoned, so he scratched the back of his neck. Harry cocked his head, smiled a half-smile, blinked a couple of times at Ron, and bumped Ron's knee with his leg.

By now Ron had flushed to a color almost as rich as the furnishings in the common room. "Um ... well, the thing is, Harry, you know I – and we – I mean, Chiara and I aren't – and you'd said – not that we're not friends, or anything, 'cause you're my oldest friend in the world, but –"

Harry gave up. He'd bite through his tongue if he kept this up any longer; he laughed out loud and scooted back to sit cross-legged in his own chair. Hermione was howling as well, having abandoned the pretense of being engrossed in her Arithmancy. Ron looked from Harry to Hermione and back again, back and forth so many times and with such a perplexed look on his face that Harry laughed all the more. He laughed until his sides ached; over at the table, Hermione was wiping tears from her eyes.

"I'm sorry, Ron," Harry finally said, when he caught his breath. "But you make it so easy."

"I – what?"

"You – you –" Hermione was still consumed with laughter. "Oh, Ron. You really do make it easy, you know. Hasn't Harry told you a hundred times that he doesn't fancy all boys any more than you fancy all girls?"

Ron mumbled something and looked at the carpet.

"Ah, c'mon, Ron. Look, I am sorry," Harry said. "God, you should have seen your face!" Ron glanced back up at him and seemed to be smiling. Harry grinned. "'Course I'll lend you the cloak," he said. "But let me come with you and drop you off, all right, so I'll still have it if I need it. Deal?"

Ron's smile was unmistakable now. "If you think you'll be able to keep your hands off me between here and Ravenclaw," he said, punching Harry lightly on the arm.

All three collapsed into laughter again.



In six and a half years at Hogwarts, Harry had become very good at moving silently as well as invisibly through the school in dead of night. He left Ron at the Ravenclaw archery way (a statue of a bowman who lowered his weapon and stood aside for the correct password), pretending he hadn't heard the password Ron shouldn't have known in the first place ("doctius"), and tiptoed back the way he had come.

Or he thought he tiptoed back the way he had come. He certainly intended to tiptoe back the way he had come. Now that he didn't have Ron with him, Harry realized that he'd never paid attention to the way on the very few times he'd been to the Ravenclaw dormitories – and after turning a couple of corners and going up a couple of staircases, he had no idea where he was.

He'd consulted the Marauders' Map before setting out, as he always did, but only to make sure the usual suspects – Peeves, Filch – weren't afoot. He hadn't traced the route to be sure where he was going, and he hadn't brought the map with him. And even if he'd had it committed to memory, Harry saw, it wouldn't have helped; all it showed were floor plans, and now he was faced with decorative detail.

Nothing for it but to slink along the corridors until he saw something he did recognize.

For at least ten minutes, Harry crept along passages and through doorways until he finally came to a painting he knew he'd seen before. Everything snapped into place in his mind; he'd been completely disoriented. There was the carved oak front door, which meant that was the entrance to the Great Hall, and this was the side passage the students never went down because there were no classrooms or anything over this way ... which meant that five steps behind him, where he could still hear voices murmuring, was the staff room.

Harry had started to go into the entrance hall, from which it was a quick trip to Gryffindor Tower – but now that he didn't have to concentrate on where he was, he noticed that the voices in the staff room were familiar: one was Professor Trelawney, and the other was Professor Snape.

What on earth were they doing up at this hour? And what were they talking about in such low voices, when no one else was around for them to disturb? Harry tiptoed back toward the staff room and leaned against the wall next to the doorway. "... the end of an era," Professor Trelawney was saying. It didn't sound like a prediction or a pronouncement, which was weird; this was just Professor Trelawney, having a normal conversation. "It must be particularly difficult for you."

"Only occasionally," Snape replied. He didn't sound like his usual self, either – same smooth voice, but none of the usual sneer. Harry wondered, briefly, why both professors felt the need to put on such unpleasant facades for teaching purposes.

More importantly, though, what was going on now? The end of an era, especially rough on Snape? "It scarcely seems possible, but the time does draw nearer, doesn't it," Snape said. Professor Trelawney made a sympathetic kind of snuffling sound. "I'd thought I had plenty of time to accustom myself to the idea, and now here it is nearly Christmas and only six more months remain."

Six months until the end of ... whatever they were talking about? Voldemort had been dead since last summer, so they must have meant something else completely. Harry held his breath and craned his neck around the doorjamb. Professor Trelawney had her legs tucked up under her where she sat in a large, violently paisley armchair. Her head was tipped sideways and supported on her clasped hands, and she was looking steadily at Snape. She was not wearing her glasses.

Snape was perched on the edge of a (Harry felt this shouldn't have surprised him) black settee, elbows braced on his knees, swirling something amber-colored in a short, squat tumbler. "I suppose I've become philosophical," he said, "about ... the whole business."

"Things won't be the same," Professor Trelawney said. "The wizarding world may already have taken it in its stride, but our little world here at Hogwarts ..."

Snape gave a crooked half-smile. "Nonsense. I'm confident the school will manage," he said. "Most people will almost certainly be glad – finally glad." He looked into his glass for a long moment, sighed, and leaned back on the sofa. "At all events, when the time does come, I'm sure I won't notice at all," he said wryly.

"Perhaps you won't." Professor Trelawney genuinely sounded a little sad. Nothing like the doom-and-gloom declamatory stuff she came out with in Divination lessons; this was more a kind of subdued, regretful acceptance.

Snape knocked back the rest of his drink in one swallow. "Good night, Sybill." He stood and offered Professor Trelawney his hand, which she squeezed companionably without rising, and turned toward the door. Toward Harry.

Harry ducked back out of the room and flattened himself against the wall. He had never managed to rid himself of the moment of panic that occurred when someone looked right at him in his Invisibility cloak. He knew, perfectly rationally, that except in special cases – Mad-Eye Moody, Albus Dumbledore, some nocturnal creatures – there was no chance anyone could see him. But even so, the awareness of the danger, and the odd experience of being looked through, combined every time to give him an unpleasant (though not entirely unpleasant) thrill of anxiety.

Snape went by in an inky swirl of robes; Harry pushed off the wall and made his way quickly back to Gryffindor. "Crisscross applesauce," he said to the Fat Lady, and shrugged out of his cloak as he hurried through the portrait hole.

He found Hermione still at her table, but working on Ancient Runes now rather than Arithmancy. She looked up when she heard him coming. "There you are!" she exclaimed. "I expected you ages ago."

"I would have been," Harry said, "but I got lost on the way back. Listen, Hermione," he said, waving impatiently at her surprise. "Listen. I have to tell you something important." He swallowed and scratched his neck. "Snape's only got six months to live."



"What are you on about?" Ron scoffed through a mouthful of eggs.

"He's going to die. Suddenly it all makes sense. Or more sense, anyway." Harry stirred his coffee, brooding.

"What makes sense?"

"Oh, Ron." Hermione buttered a slice of toast. "He's bitter and resentful, don't you see? Because he's surrounded by all these people who have long lives ahead of them, and he doesn't."

"No reason to take it out on us," Ron grumbled.

"Well, we haven't exactly been easy to deal with all these years," Harry said. "We've spent all this time thinking he's been horrible to students for no reason, but if you think about it, we've probably provoked a lot of that ourselves."

"We haven't!" Both Harry and Hermione raised eyebrows at Ron. "Well, maybe we've been difficult. Sometimes," he admitted. "But not difficult enough to deserve what he's given us, all the points off and all the detentions – and the personal attacks!"

"But that's what I mean," Harry insisted. "He's, you know, confronted with his own mortality – he should have license not to be as concerned about being nice all the time as other people."

"And from that perspective," Hermione said meditatively, "it's up to us to be more sympathetic and understanding, don't you think?"

"I'm not going to become Snape's best friend just he's about to snuff it," Ron declared.

"No, Ron, that's not what we mean," Hermione said, swatting him with the back of her hand. "But we can make an effort not to do things that we know will set him off, can't we?"

"Like what? Existing?"

"Like giving Neville the answers in class," Harry suggested. Hermione grimaced and nodded. "Or showing up late because it's Potions and we can't be arsed, when we run like mad so we won't be late to Transfiguration, or Defense Against the Dark Arts."

"It's true, really," Hermione said, "that we've never quite given him the same respect we've given the other teachers." Ron took a breath to say something indignant – the expression was already on his face – but Hermione didn't let him interrupt. "The least we can do is give him that respect for the last six months of his life, don't you think?"

Harry nodded. "Exactly."

Ron looked at both of them and then gave a disgusted, defeated sigh. "Fine. Fine." He stood up, shoved two oranges into his bookbag, and slung the bag over his shoulder. "But I won't like it, and you can't make me."



It wasn't as hard as Harry expected, being properly respectful to Snape.

The first day back after the Christmas holidays, he, Ron, and Hermione were in their places with their notebooks ready by the time Snape arrived at the Potions classroom. Snape seemed surprised to see them there on time, and not entirely pleased; he had to pick on Dean Thomas, the only late arrival, which must have been much less satisfying, because Dean was both mild-mannered and quite good at Potions.

By the second week, they'd got the hang of not overreacting when Snape snarled at them. It was early in the lesson when Snape heaped blistering scorn on Harry for crushing his acorn caps incorrectly ("The recipe specifically calls for the caps to be crushed under a glass – kindly show us where it says 'but Harry Potter should feel free to use a mortar and pestle if he thinks he can do better'?"), and next to him, Harry saw Ron's shoulders set.

For most potions, the tools used to prepare the ingredients didn't matter, and if they did, the important tools were prominently listed and labeled "necessary materials." The recipe they were working from at the moment had no such materials list; the instructions did recommend crushing the acorn caps under a glass, but according to all Snape's training, the students should have been free to regard this simply as a suggestion, rather than as a requirement. However, Harry thanked Snape for calling his attention to his mistake and began again, with a new supply of acorn caps.

Snape didn't quite seem to know what to make of this.

When Harry and his friends had been in the classroom on time for twelve lessons running, Snape actually checked his watch upon his own arrival. By the end of the month, Hermione's daily tutoring sessions with Neville were beginning to pay off, and Neville could answer correctly when Snape called on him – though he'd still never raise his hand to volunteer.

It was Ron who noticed the entirely unexpected benefit of the project: after eight or nine weeks of gritting his teeth and clenching his fists and being nice (or at least respectful) to Snape, Ron stood up from the lunch table one day and then froze as if he'd seen something terrifying.

"What's up, Ron?" Harry asked.

Ron's voice, when he spoke, sounded dazed. "I was just getting up to go to the next lesson," he said, "and it's double Potions, and I was about to tell you two to hurry up or we'd be late."

"We've got plenty of time," Hermione said, nevertheless finishing her juice quickly and gathering her things.

"That's not the point," Ron told her as they set off. "In all the years you've known me, have I ever been worried about being late to Potions? And now I'm the one telling the two of you to get a move on?"

"Well, that's good, isn't it?" Harry said. "You're not just going along with us, any more, I mean. You genuinely don't want to see Snape angry."

"I've never minded seeing him angry," Ron grinned. "Long as he wasn't angry at us. But here's another thing – do you realize, he hasn't taken points from any of us in over a month? I don't remember the last time he gave me a detention. Reckon he's going mad?"



It was possible Snape was going mad.

Harry watched him closely, or as closely as he could without being obvious about it, and he couldn't see any particular signs of failing health. It looked like Hermione was thinking the same thing – she seemed to be keeping an eye on Snape as well. Both eyes, actually. Every time Harry looked at her, she was watching Snape. Of course, they didn't know what it was Snape was dying of, so he didn't really have any idea what signs he was looking for; maybe madness was all there was to show that Snape was not long for this world.

As the weeks passed, the man seemed less and less hostile. There were, as Ron had pointed out, no vindictive detentions or random deductions of House points – he still took his haughty, superior tone when he criticized students' work in lessons, but his heart didn't seem to be in it. Once or twice, Harry thought he even caught a glimpse of the non-sneering, almost-pleasant Snape he'd seen talking to Professor Trelawney at Christmas.

Some time that spring, Harry realized that he'd gone beyond no longer dreading Potions – he actually found himself looking forward to it. And the longer he spent considering this (frankly startling) development, the more it became clear to him that it wasn't the subject matter at all that he was now finding compelling.

He pulled Hermione away from her books in the common room one evening and whispered this to her as quietly as he could; he'd got well used to his private life being the subject of everyone's general conversation over the years, and particularly since returning to school for seventh year, but he didn't need this to get about just yet.

Hermione nodded when he'd told her his troubles. "I'd been wondering when you'd notice," she said, making as little sense as ever.

"Eh?"

"Oh, Harry." She patted his hand. "Professor Snape is an intriguing man, and you're just now realizing how attractive he is. I'm sure the element of urgency sped that along a bit. It's really not all that surprising."

He blinked at her. "No, I know it isn't. In fact it's what I just told you."

Hermione made a faintly irritated face. "Well – Harry, what I do is help you make sense of apparently unrelated facts. If you've already done that, why did you interrupt me?"

"For advice!" he hissed, then quieted immediately when he saw several people turn in their direction. "For advice," he repeated. "I interrupted you to say Right, Hermione, say you fancied Snape – what would you do about it?"

"Well, I wouldn't actually do anything," she said immediately, "until after –"

"Yes," Harry said, waving his hand. "But once you did do something."

Hermione chewed her lower lip and looked at the ceiling for a long moment. Finally she sighed. "I suppose I'd tell him so," she said. "I suppose I'd say that in spite of all the bad blood between us, I was glad to have had him as my teacher, and that I hoped our relationship could possibly come to be more than just that of a teacher and a former student."

She cocked her head and looked at the portrait hole. "I'd probably tell him exactly what I thought of him – no, wait," she said, turning to Harry with a smile that made her eyes shine, "let me rephrase that: I'd probably tell him exactly how much I admired him." Harry grinned. Hermione looked at her hands. "And depending how things were going, I might try to kiss him. Assuming he hadn't thrown me out on my ear by that point." She glanced back up at Harry with another quick smile. "If I were you, I mean."

Harry nodded. "That's good stuff, Hermione. Sounds like you really gave it some thought, there." She turned suddenly to look at him; he nearly whanged his forehead against hers as he leaned in to squeeze her shoulders. "You're a star. Only trouble is, there's two more months of school before the N.E.W.T.s. It'll be rough, not saying anything until after then. And by then, it'll almost be – I mean, at Christmas, he said six months –"

"You'll manage." Hermione's brow was knit, as though something was puzzling her.

Harry knew she was right. What other choice did he have? He'd go to Potions every day and keep his thoughts about Snape to himself, and soon it would be the end of term, and the end of his career at Hogwarts, and he'd be able to tell Snape how he felt, and maybe Snape would feel the same way, and maybe they'd have at least a short time together before – well, until – or maybe Snape was mistaken. It had been known to happen, after all.

"Right," Harry said.

"All right, Harry?" Hermione asked, eyebrows raised, moving as though to go back to her work.

"Yes. Thanks, Hermione – I mean it," he said. He took her hand and squeezed it. She squeezed back and went back to her books; Harry sat on the window-ledge and looked out at the Forbidden Forest, wondering if there was any way to predict which things that were denied to children would automatically be allowed to adults.



The last two months Harry would ever spend at Hogwarts flew by with the speed of a Snitch. Gryffindor narrowly defeated Hufflepuff for the Quidditch Cup; the fifth years sat their O.W.L.s and the seventh years their N.E.W.T.s; the rest of the school sat their end-of-year exams and lolled about the grounds, basking in the watery sunshine.

It seemed strange for a school year to be drawing to a close without some sort of climactic battle in the struggle against Voldemort. Harry supposed it wasn't until he got up on the very last morning, with the knowledge that all the day held for him was the Leaving Feast, that he really believed with his whole heart that it was all over. He closed his eyes and began to tell over names of those who had fallen before this day could come. Cedric. Sirius. Percy. Hagrid. Fleur. Oliver. Cho. He touched his fingertips to the scar on his forehead – just a scar, now – then laid a hand on his wand, in case magic could make an incantation, and thus a fact, of his murmured "Requiescant in pace."

Snape wasn't in the Great Hall at breakfast. Harry's heartbeat thudded in his ears – it can't be, it can't be too late – until he realized that if Snape had died in the night, surely Dumbledore would be looking grave and announcing that he had sad news. As it was, all the teachers who were present were looking completely relaxed. Professor McGonagall said something that made Professor Lupin throw back his head and laugh, a sight Harry couldn't remember seeing for two years. He steadied his breathing and tried to eat a tomato.

He wanted to go down to the dungeons right away, but if Snape wasn't awake for breakfast, more than likely he wouldn't welcome a visitor immediately after breakfast. Well, Harry admitted to himself, more than likely Snape wouldn't precisely welcome a visitor at any time, but later in the day there was at least a chance he would permit one.

Harry went back up to Gryffindor Tower to do his packing. It didn't take long. For the rest of the morning, he played chess with Ron and Chiara; Ron beat Harry, and then Chiara beat Ron, which Harry found very gratifying. Chiara reset the chessmen and motioned Harry to take Ron's place across from her, but Harry glanced at the clock and excused himself, simply saying there was someone he had to meet. Ron and Chiara didn't seem to mind; Harry had the feeling their grudge match would turn into an all-day grudge tournament. He smiled.

He ought to be able to get to the Potions wing before Snape came up to the Great Hall for lunch. Harry stepped just a little quicker. He had traced the route on the Marauders' Map, this time, before setting out; the map was now locked in his trunk with his invisibility cloak, soon to be retired, but at least, unlike that night over the Christmas holidays, Harry was confident that he knew exactly where he was going in this unfamiliar corner of the dungeons.

He turned the corner into the corridor that should have had Snape's front door at the end of it – and bumped into Hermione, coming away quickly and brushing at her eyes with the flat of one hand. "Hermione!" Harry said, catching her arm; "what are you –"

But she tensed just a little and seemed to twist away from him. "Excuse me, Harry," was all she said, and she hurried off toward the stairs up to the rest of the castle. Harry was sure he'd heard her breath hitch.

Snape. Harry felt his jaw clench. He watched Hermione until she turned the next corner, then turned and glared at Snape's door. He reached it in ten strides and banged on it with the side of his fist. It was only a moment before he heard Snape's voice say "Come."

The door opened, presumably on a spell from Snape, and Harry marched in as soon as the gap was wide enough to admit him. "What did you do to her?" he demanded.

Snape was sitting at his desk, scribbling something on a single sheet of parchment. He lifted his head at Harry's question. "I beg your pardon, Mr. Potter," he said, cold as glass.

"I just saw Hermione on her way out of here," Harry said. "You made her cry."

Snape looked at Harry for a moment before turning back to his desk. "Close the door behind you on your way out."

"What did you do to Hermione?"

Snape threw down his quill and stood up quickly enough to make Harry flinch a little. "My conversation with Miss Granger is between Miss Granger and myself, Potter," he hissed, "and even if it were your concern, I should advise you to reconsider your tone. I do not take well to being shouted at in my own office, particularly by students."

"I'm not your student any more –" Harry began, lifting his chin.

"You are a student at this school until the last stroke of midnight –"

"That's just officially, it's not really how things –"

"– and I will thank you to mind whom you are speaking to, and where, and keep your voice DOWN."

"Did you yell at Hermione, too, when she was in here?" Harry asked. "She probably came down to say good-bye, I expect she's going round to all the teachers before we leave, and you couldn't resist one last chance to be horrible to her, could you?"

"I warn you, Potter," Snape said, coming around the desk with his fists clenched at his sides.

"What did she ever do to you, that made you hate her so much, except that she was good at every subject and earning points like mad for Gryffindor, and no one in Slytherin could keep up –"

"Potter." Snape didn't raise his voice, but somehow he spoke sharply enough that Harry was startled silent. "I did not criticize Miss Granger or speak to her cruelly. If you wish to belabor the point further, you may step into the corridor and take it up with the wall. You and I have no more to discuss, except for me to remind you again that until midnight tonight you are still a student, and as such your House is subject to loss of points on your account. Should you not wish to leave Hogwarts on that lowest of notes, I urge you to leave my office at once. Do I make myself clear?"

"Perfectly clear," Harry said, standing his ground. "Shouldn't be surprised – any chance you get to take points off Gryffindor, of course you'll take it. Guess you want to go out with a bang, do you? Not that you'd notice, but all this time, all of us, we've been making a real bloody effort to be –"

"Oh, I've noticed," Snape interrupted. "I've noticed, and I've wondered just what you were playing at. Trying to lure me into some sort of feeling of security, and then turn back into the unholy terrors the lot of you have always been? Or was it some sort of endurance test that you have now lost by being the first of your friends to test my patience?" His face twisted into a combination of smile and sneer. "A pity, Mr. Potter. Twelve more hours, and you could all have called it a draw. But instead you came in here and lost your temper, and over what? Miss Granger? What would have been the prize, Potter, for winning your contest? What is it, beyond bragging rights, that you've now given up for love of a girl –"

"There's no contest, there's never been any contest!" Harry shouted. He'd had about enough of Snape's attitude himself. He'd come to tell the man what he thought of him, like Hermione said, and that's what he was going to do. "We weren't playing at anything, we were trying to sort of offer a truce, by treating you the way we treat the rest of the teachers, and there's nothing between me and Hermione – the whole reason I came down here in the first place was to tell you, now that I'm not your student any more, that I want you." And he closed the distance between them and leaned up to press his lips to Snape's before Snape could even consider throwing him out on his ear.

Snape's eyes widened and he grabbed Harry by the shoulders; Harry could feel where each finger dug into his arm. In the next moment – when Snape regained his balance – Harry was sure he'd be shoved away, flung against the wall, sent off running two steps ahead of some excruciating hex. He braced himself.

Snape tightened his grip and caught his breath and pulled Harry closer, just slightly parting his lips.

Harry was suddenly dizzier than he could ever remember being before. Snape was accepting his kiss – he was returning it! Harry had never seriously allowed himself to believe this was a possibility. He tried, instinctively, to lift his arms, to do something with his hands, but Snape's hold was like iron, and there was no way Harry was going to be able to put his hands on Snape's chest, never mind touch his neck or his face or his hair. He settled his hands on Snape's arms, just below the elbows; he could feel the tension, under his fingers, even through who knew how many layers of clothes. He parted his own lips so they would fit better against Snape's.

Snape made the tiniest growling moaning noise and opened his mouth. Harry followed. Now the safe smoothness of Snape's lips gave way to his tongue and his hot breath. Snape licked the roof of Harry's mouth and let Harry suck his lower lip; he nibbled indecisively at each of Harry's lips in turn; he opened his mouth wide, and Harry matched him and pressed his tongue into Snape's mouth before Snape's tongue could return to his own. Snape's tongue slid along Harry's, and Snape gave a louder moan.

And then suddenly it was over. Snape twisted sharply away, breaking the kiss, and his grip on Harry's arms eased a fraction. Breathing heavily, Snape put Harry away from him carefully, as though he thought Harry might burst into flames if moved too quickly. Snape lifted his fingers from Harry's shoulders and took a half-step back, keeping Harry at just further than arms' length. He closed his eyes for a moment and breathed steadily through his nose. Harry couldn't quite make his legs move.

"Well," said Snape, not opening his eyes. "They don't usually kiss me. That's something new."

Harry blinked. He wanted to turn around and flee, and he wanted to jump forward and kiss Snape again, with the result that he remained exactly where he was, and trembled, and couldn't tell if the trembling was from anxiety or excitement. "Who doesn't – what?" he asked. He could still taste Snape's lower lip on his tongue.

Snape opened his eyes and folded his arms across his chest, but not really – it was more like wrapping his arms around himself, as if he was trying to warm up in front of a fire. "In my position, Potter, I am – for better or for worse – a constant presence in the lives of impressionable young people for seven years at a stretch. And naturally some of those young people form attachments, and every year there are two or three who can't bring themselves to leave Hogwarts without saying so. One accustoms oneself to the end-of-year routine."

Harry looked at the floor and tried to think of a response that wouldn't make him sound like a babbling idiot.

Snape continued. "But in fifteen years, not one of these hopeful admirers has gone so far as to kiss me. Particularly not after having the gall to barge into my office, as if he owned the castle, and scold me for insults, real or imagined, to him and his friends."

Harry's heart thumped in his chest. Snape only made speeches like this before inflicting some big punishment like detention – like the evil masterminds in the films Dudley watched on television, taking lots of time to explain their entire philosophy before getting around to killing the hero. If Snape was going to deduct points from Gryffindor for Harry's behavior, Harry wished he'd just do it instead of telling his whole life story first.

But hadn't Snape responded, and enthusiastically too, to Harry's kiss? Hadn't it become, more or less, Snape's kiss? If he was angry with Harry, why had he kissed him back?

Because he was mad, obviously. Only explanation for it: Snape really had gone completely around the bend.

"You really are incapable of doing anything the way others do it, aren't you, Potter."

Harry looked back up at Snape. He had spoken without venom or rage, and on his face was no hint of a sneer. He looked a little surprised and a lot thoughtful, the way Hermione always looked when she was working out a logic problem.

"That's something that's always struck me about you," Snape went on. "You seem to have no idea of putting your best foot forward. You simply do as you will, and you expect that people will adore you. There's no point in my saying I have no idea where you came by such infernal confidence – the difference being that, unlike your father, you've never been aware of it. So many of us who knew him assumed you'd be far more like him than you turned out, actually, to be."

Harry replayed Snape's words in his head a couple of times before he realized it was his turn to speak; but he couldn't work out whether he'd been complimented or criticized. "I – er – thanks, I think," he said, "or, I mean, I'm sorry, I –"

Snape rolled his eyes. "Oh, do shut up, Potter," he said, and he unwrapped his arms from around himself and stepped forward and wrapped them around Harry instead, and kissed him again.

This kiss was everything the first kiss had been, but more so: deeper and wetter and with better sounds coming from Snape's throat. Harry felt his chest tighten. He'd only just realized he wanted this man, and now, it seemed, he had him – but almost before he had a chance to be with him, he was going to lose him. True, Snape had spoken of being at peace with the idea, of becoming philosophical; he was evidently ready to die. That made it slightly easier for Harry to bear, for Snape's sake.

But for his own – that was a different matter. He'd never be able to get enough of these kisses in that time. He hadn't even yet been able to identify the taste on Snape's lips. He almost had it, but not quite; it was like hearing familiar words spoken in a strange, alien accent; it was – literally, in this case – on the tip of his tongue –

Harry's arms were, as before, pinned to his sides, but this time he twisted his shoulders a bit and managed to get one hand on Snape's waist. He ran the other up and down over Snape's hip, just lightly. Snape had one hand on the back of his neck, and Harry could feel Snape's thumb stroking the base of his skull. He closed his eyes and tipped his head back into that caress. Snape moved his lips from Harry's mouth and kissed his chin, and then his neck, and then the soft triangular spot framed by his neck and shoulder and collarbone.

Now Harry was the one making noise. He gasped and whimpered, and felt Snape's lips curve into a brief smile. Snape had to hold his collar out of the way in order to focus such attention on Harry's neck, which meant Harry's arms were free; one hand he held behind Snape's head to keep his mouth where it was, and the other he pressed flat to Snape's chest.

Snape nipped Harry's collarbone sharply, got one hand into his hair, slid the other around his waist, and licked a straight path back to his mouth as he tugged his body close. Harry wrapped one arm around Snape's waist and the other around his shoulders, and for long, long minutes they stood together and held each other and kissed, thriving on each other's hums and murmurs and quiet shivers of pleasure.

When Harry dared to reach for Snape's collar buttons, Snape broke the long series of kisses and leaned his forehead against Harry's and panted for breath, but made no move to stop him. "This'd mean you want me, too, then?" Harry whispered with a smile. Snape straightened his neck enough to give Harry the withering look that meant he was not amused; he might have intended to say something in response, as well, but choked on his words when Harry ducked his head and sucked at the spot where he could see Snape's pulse in his throat. It tasted of licorice, and Harry suddenly understood that what he had tasted in Snape's mouth was aniseed and strong coffee. The sharpness of it was stronger here. Harry licked harder.

The coat buttons opened easily all the way down; Snape's shirt, it turned out, pulled on over his head and had only three buttons up at the neck. Harry pulled at it in frustration, but the shirt didn't magically grow buttons for him to unfasten. He could feel the warmth of Snape's skin under his hands, now, but it was still like hearing music playing in the next room: all you wanted to do was get on the other side of the wall so you could hear it properly, without the muffling barrier. He tried to pull Snape's shirt out of his waistband, but he was ineffectually tugging sideways, and he made no progress. Harry lifted his head again to kiss Snape's mouth.

Snape stepped backward, and Harry followed, until they reached Snape's desk and Snape leaned against it, pulling Harry between his knees. His mouth was hot and wet; his hands were on Harry's back, up his shoulders, around to his neck, framing his face. Harry canted his hips forward just slightly, and Snape took a breath, tilted his head to a different angle, and resumed the kiss.

Snape began undoing Harry's shirt buttons from the top. Harry started from the bottom, but after only a couple of buttons he pulled at Snape's shirt again. Snape turned his attention to his own clothes, shrugging his robe and coat off his shoulders and pulling his shirt over his head smoothly. Harry finished with his own shirt buttons and had just undone his cuffs in time for Snape to push his shirt off his shoulders and let it slide down his arms.

Neither reached for the other. They stood, breathing hard through their mouths, Snape leaning on his desk, Harry pressed into the cradle of his hips, holding each other's gaze, and – above the waist, at least – not touching. Not speaking, either, for several moments. Snape licked his lip; Harry wondered what he tasted there.

Standing still and looking at him was making Harry's heart beat faster. His palms ached. His toes were curled into the bottoms of his shoes, he realized, or else he'd have fallen over the minute Snape touched him.

"This is the point where if we have to stop, you have to say so," Harry said. He was utterly stunned at the fact that he managed to keep his voice even. The last time he'd wanted something this much, he'd had the Sorting Hat on his head – and, he remembered, it had placed him in Gryffindor because he'd asked it to. Might work again now, mightn't it? Don't say no, he thought desperately. Just because it's only for a few days, please, don't say no.

Snape actually chuckled. "As if you'd listen to me," he murmured. He pushed away from his desk and stood his full inch or two over Harry, hooking a finger in Harry's belt and adding, "Now that you're almost no longer a student."

That broke the spell. Harry lunged forward at the same time Snape did; he licked at Snape's shoulders and chest and fumbled with Snape's trouser buttons, while Snape dealt with the zip of Harry's jeans and tried to look around his head to see what he was doing. Trousers gone, pants gone, shoes and boots and socks kicked aside, and Harry's cock was in Snape's hand, and his eyes rolled back in his head, and Snape kissed him and took his glasses away and turned them both around and gave Harry a gentle nudge. With the desk to lean against, Harry could let his hands roam over Snape's body; but before he could notice that any motion had occurred, all he had in his hands was Snape's head and empty air, as Snape sank to his knees and pulled Harry's cock into his mouth.

Harry did need his hands to hold onto the edge of the desk, after all, because his legs would no longer take his weight – except that he didn't, because Snape was holding tightly to his hips and wouldn't let him fall. Snape opened his mouth wide and took Harry's cock all the way in, which registered with Harry as the latest in a series of wild surprises; he'd never have guessed that Snape could do that, never mind that he would.

But Snape was licking and sucking with great concentration, and flexing his fingers around Harry's hips and arse, and moving as his mood took him, apparently, rather than finding a rhythm – any rhythm – and sticking to it so Harry could get somewhere. Harry heard coarse, guttural whimpers in his own voice, and felt his legs start to shake.

Snape pulled off and moved to kiss his belly and bite his thighs.

Harry could have screamed. He took his cock in hand and tried to get it – tried to get Snape to take it back into his mouth. Failing that, he tried to stroke it himself, but Snape quickly reached up and pulled his hands away, twisting their fingers together; when Snape took hold again of Harry's hips, it was with fists including Harry's own hands.

Harry ground his teeth and gasped for air as Snape bent low and licked the backs of his knees. Snape licked all the way up both Harry's legs, nibbled the ridges of both hipbones, kissed a trail up his side to lick at his lowest rib. He brought Harry's captured hands to his mouth and licked the insides of his wrists, and Harry thought he would die.

When Snape did take his cock back into his mouth, Harry's whole body quivered like a plucked string. When Snape finally conceded and gave a rhythm to his sucking, Harry nearly wept; and when Snape looked Harry in the eye and took the head of his cock into his throat and swallowed, Harry cried out and came and arched his back until his feet almost left the floor. After a moment, he slumped forward, bending double over Snape, who was still sucking gently. Harry didn't know what he said. He hoped it wasn't anything he'd regret.

Snape uncurled his fingers and let go of Harry's hands. Harry pressed them to the solid curves of Snape's shoulders. Snape slipped his mouth off Harry's cock and pressed a kiss to the hollow of his hip, another to the spot just above his navel. Hands stroking Harry's legs, Snape made his way slowly up Harry's body; he rolled to his feet and kissed Harry's neck before smoothing his thumb once over Harry's eyebrow and then once over Harry's cheekbone.

Snape stepped forward, pushing Harry right into the desk, and kissed him again. Harry could still taste the aniseed in Snape's mouth, even through the taste of his own come. He held Snape close, telling himself it was just the warmth of Snape's bare body in his bare arms that he craved. His eyes fell shut. Snape's cock was blunt and getting sticky where it poked against his belly. Harry was drunk on those kisses. He wanted to speak, to ask Snape if he had a couch or something, but he couldn't pull away for long enough to say even one word.

Snape kept crowding him until Harry had to sit on the desk. He wouldn't let Snape out of his embrace, so when he had to lean back, he pulled Snape with him. Snape planted a knee on the desk next to him, and Harry scooted backward, lying back with Snape leaning over him. He tried to get a leg up between Snape's, but he couldn't brace his foot against the side of the desk. Harry groaned.

Snape broke the kiss roughly and forced himself up out of Harry's arms. His hair was tangled, his eyes a little wild, his lips parted and swollen. He placed one hand on the center of Harry's chest. "Don't move," he whispered.

Harry pushed himself up onto his elbows when Snape moved away from the desk. He saw Snape hurry round to a filing cabinet behind the desk and against the wall. Snape crouched and rummaged in the bottom drawer, but Harry was twisted at such an angle that he couldn't see more than his head and the tops of his shoulders. Harry turned back around before he strained his neck.

He heard Snape rise and kick the file drawer shut. Snape stepped to the desk and leaned over to give Harry an upside-down kiss, then came back around and stood in front of him. He had a glass jar in one hand; with the other, he made a turning gesture, and Harry scrambled to turn sideways so he was lying along the length of the desk instead of across it.

Snape settled on top of him, leaned down for one kiss, and locked his elbows to hold himself up while he bumped his cock a few times against Harry's thigh. Harry reached a hand to try to stroke it, but Snape caught his hand and licked at the inside of his wrist again. Had Harry been able to speak, he would have protested the unfairness of this; as it was, he struggled to keep from shaking so hard he fell off the desk.

Snape sat back on his heels between Harry's legs and set the jar at his side. He laid a hand on Harry's knee, and Harry heard himself give a frustrated moan when Snape didn't move that hand at all, didn't stroke his thigh, didn't move his leg, didn't shift himself any closer. He met Snape's eyes.

Snape had gone almost entirely still. With his gaze locked on Harry's and his left hand on Harry's knee, he brought his right hand down to touch the base of Harry's cock, so gently, and then his balls, and then the smooth spot right behind, and then further back – and Harry's back arched, but he didn't want to look away from Snape's eyes, and he clenched his teeth and his fists, and then sighed when Snape finally slipped one finger inside him. "More," he whispered.

"You've –"

"Yes."

Whatever was in the jar was slippery and warmed up quickly, and Snape dipped his fingers in it twice more before slicking some over his own cock and leaning over Harry again. Harry hooked his legs over Snape's shoulders and gripped Snape's arms in his hands when he felt Snape push inside him.

Snape broke the eye contact first, hanging his head and mumbling something Harry couldn't catch. He pulled back and slid in again, and Harry tried to tell him how good it felt, but when he opened his mouth Snape dived in to kiss him again. Harry's mind was full of how much he'd wanted this and how short a time he'd be able to have it, and he closed his eyes again and opened his mouth wide and thrust his tongue into Snape's mouth in the same rhythm Snape was thrusting his cock into Harry's body. Snape growled and thrust faster.

Harry felt his second orgasm about to break before he'd even realized it was building. He tore his mouth away from Snape's and gasped for breath. He ran his hands over Snape's face and down his neck, caught him under the chin, tipped his head back up to look him in the eye again, and smiled. Snape's mouth was open, but it did widen in a smile back at Harry, and Harry threw back his head and came.

Snape's thrusts were harder now, and faster. Harry tried to lift his hips to meet them, but by this point his motor control was pretty well finished. He twisted his arms around until he found Snape's hands, and he held on tight when Snape thrust hard and went still and shuddered and came. Harry managed to get his legs off Snape's shoulders and wind them around his waist before Snape's full weight landed on his chest.

Harry knew a thing or two about post-coital exhaustion, but this was unlike anything he'd ever seen; if it hadn't been for Snape's hot breath in his ear, he'd have been afraid the end had come. Nice time for it.

Harry stroked Snape's shoulders and the back of his head for a few moments. He wondered what had happened to the parchment Snape had been scribbling on when he had arrived; was it now stuck to the small of his back, ruined? He reached with his left hand toward the blotter, which should have been somewhere in the area of his left hip – and found the glass jar, sitting on top of the parchment like a paperweight. He laughed, surprised. Snape didn't move. Harry ran his fingers through Snape's hair and waited for him to wake.

It wasn't long – ten, maybe fifteen minutes – before Snape sighed and pushed himself up on his arms again, looked down at Harry, raised one eyebrow, and said "Whose bright idea was it to go to sleep on my desk?"

Harry blinked, unsure if Snape was teasing or actually annoyed. "Er ... yours, actually," he said, trying for a half-smile.

"Well, you should certainly have talked me out of it," Snape said. He kissed Harry quickly, then got down off the desk and offered Harry his hand.

"I'd like to have seen me try," Harry muttered. He sat up and got to his feet on his own, but abruptly clutched at Snape's arm when his knees seemed to give out under him. He swore under his breath.

"I'd have done more than try, if I were you," Snape said, in almost exactly the tone he took when a student made a potion poorly, "rather than suffer the discomfort and inconvenience of having my legs fall asleep." He helped Harry take a few steps to get the feeling back to his feet.

"It's not that bad," Harry said.

Snape let go of him. Harry lost his balance, grabbed for the nearest solid object (a bookshelf, as it happened), and slowly lowered himself to the floor, where he was glad to find there was a wool rug to shield him from the cold flagstones. He leaned back against the Riverside Chaucer and The Few Things Every Wizard Should Know About Acupuncture and took a deep breath, wiggling his toes in an effort to get the pins and needles out.

Snape was standing over him with that eyebrow raised again, not smiling, but definitely amused. He extended his hand again to help Harry up.

Harry took his hand and pulled him down to the floor beside him. Snape made a couple of token noises of protest, but settled next to Harry and slid his other arm behind Harry's back. Harry shifted a bit against Snape's chest, pulling Snape's left arm closer around in front of him.

Snape went quite still, and his hand in Harry's tensed. Harry blinked twice and realized he was looking at what was left of Snape's Dark Mark.

It wasn't a magical presence, now, any more than Harry's scar was. It was just a shape carved in the skin – more like carved out of the skin, Harry found when he ran his fingertips over it. There was a sort of shallow channel in Snape's arm where the Mark had once been, a slight impression, as though when Voldemort had died the Mark had vanished and taken with it the specific flesh that had been its host.

"Did it hurt?" Harry murmured, still stroking the scar.

"When?"

"When it disappeared." He turned in Snape's arms until he could see the man's face when he spoke.

"I'm told that it did," Snape said after a pause. He was looking at Harry's hand on his arm. "Evidently the pain was so great that I lost consciousness. When I came to, it was – as you see."

Harry watched Snape watch his fingers on the remnant of the Mark for another few moments. "Same thing happened to me," he said.

Snape looked at the scar on his forehead. "I can imagine." He pushed a lock of hair out of Harry's eyes and smoothed down Harry's eyebrow with his thumb.

Harry wiggled his toes again. The tingling was gone. "Looks like my legs are working again," he said.

"I'm glad to hear it."

"I should – probably I should get back up to Gryffindor," Harry said. He sat up, moving out of the circle of Snape's arms.

"Oh, by all means."

There was that tone again. Was Snape irritated? There was no reliable way to tell. Harry looked at him for a moment. "Will you be at the Leaving Feast?"

A snort. "Naturally. I never miss it. Something so satisfying in watching students depart and knowing one will never see them again."

Harry plucked at the loops in the rug. "Can I – I mean, do you think – do you know if – will I see you again, before ..." He looked up, hoping he wouldn't have to finish the question.

Snape was looking at him with one eyebrow raised. "Before the Leaving Feast?"

"No – before – between now and the day you –" He gestured noncommittally with his hands. Snape was looking at him as though he'd turned purple. "Are you going to make me say it?"

"Perhaps if you wrote it down," Snape said dryly, "or acted it out as a charade. Give me a hint. How many words?"

Harry glared at him. "Before you die," he said bluntly. "I was hoping I could see you again before you die."

Snape blinked. "I should certainly hope so," he said. "It is not my habit –"

"Only that's any day now, isn't it," Harry said, trying to keep his voice cold and emotionless and failing, hearing the pleading creeping back in. He turned back to the loops on the rug. "And I don't know what else you have to –"

"Any day now?" Snape leaned forward; he caught Harry by the chin and made him look up again. "Is there something you know that I don't?"

Harry tried, miserably, to look away. "Just that I know. I overheard you and Professor Trelawney at Christmas, talking about – six months –"

Snape let go of Harry's jaw and settled against the books again. Harry looked back at him. Five or six distinct expressions crossed his face in about forty-five seconds, beginning with indignation and ending with a sort of dawning realization that made Harry feel even more wretched. Harry wrapped his arms around his knees and tried not to bite his lip.

"You overheard a conversation between myself and another teacher," Snape said carefully, "and deduced that, from approximately that date, I would live only another six months." Harry nodded. "And I daresay you shared this news item with Mr. Weasley and Miss Granger – and others?"

Harry nodded again. "Only –" He cleared his throat. "Only our year in Gryffindor."

"This, then, was the impetus behind your – what did you call it – your 'truce', your attempt to treat me as you treat the other members of staff." Harry nodded a third time. "Was it what inspired you to –" Snape paused and picked his words – "to make your proposition this afternoon? An assurance that any liaison between us would not extend to the long term?"

"No!" Harry said, horrified. "It was like I said – I wish I could have said something sooner, but I knew you'd never – while I was a student –"

"Well, that's one correct assumption, at least," Snape said, "and an uncharacteristic adherence to both the letter and the spirit of the rules. Impressive."

There was definitely something more amused than annoyed about Snape's tone. Harry couldn't quite make sense of what he was hearing. He hugged his knees tighter to his chest.

"Your particular skill is, and has always been, a knack for drawing erroneous conclusions from incomplete information. I need scarcely remind you that this has been a dangerous tendency, as it has led you on more than one occasion over the years to go off, as they say, half-cocked. The fact that the results of this were not much worse than they turned out is due in equal parts to lucky chance and the combined efforts of several dozen, if not several hundred, other witches and wizards – and has evidently taught you nothing, as you still display the habit as unapologetically as you did at the age of eleven."

Harry blinked three times. "Eleven?"

"Who did you initially believe allowed that mountain troll into the dungeon?" Snape asked.

"Oh."

"You will therefore be both surprised and pleased," Snape went on, "to learn that what I was discussing at Christmas with Professor Trelawney – a conversation you should never have heard, by the way – was nothing to do with my dying this summer." He raised an eyebrow at Harry. "You might say the reports of my impending death have been greatly exaggerated."

Harry sat up straight and felt his face break into a delighted smile. "You're not –"

"Not for some time, I shouldn't think." Snape bent one leg up and rested his elbow on his knee; the other leg was stretched out in front of him.

Harry was suddenly aware, as he hadn't been for several minutes, that they were both still quite naked. He shifted over to sit on one hip. "And you did say you hoped we'd see each other again before then?"

Snape's upper lip twitched just slightly. "I did."

"More than once?"

"As often as is mutually convenient, wouldn't you say?"

"Starting now?" Harry pulled himself back into Snape's arms before he had a chance to answer.

Snape was leaning back against the books, so for the first time it was Harry who had the advantageous position. He straddled Snape's thighs and braced his hands on the bookshelf on either side of Snape's shoulders, and looked for a long moment at Snape looking up at him.

It was nothing like the same look he'd seen when he came in Snape's mouth. Now, Snape's eyes were calm; without the raised eyebrow, the twist of his upper lip looked less like a sneer and more like a hesitant sort of half-smile. Harry bent his head and kissed that lip, parted his own lips and kissed it again, felt just the tip of Snape's tongue against his lower lip. Snape's hands settled on his hips; Snape's thumbs stroked his sides. Harry moved his hands from the bookshelf and held Snape's head still while he deepened the kiss, slowly, gradually. No need to hurry – they had all the time in the world.

He stroked Snape's jaw with his fingertips, kissed his temple, bent his head and kissed Snape's neck. He sat back on his heels, on Snape's knees, and drew his fingers down the curves of Snape's shoulders. Snape's eyes were closed. Harry brushed a thumb over his nipple, and Snape grimaced and flinched.

"Sorry – did I –"

Snape caught his wrist, but didn't open his eyes. "The books –" He leaned forward and stretched up to kiss Harry again, and didn't settle back. "You've no idea how uncomfortable such moments are made by having books digging into one's shoulder blades."

By biting nearly through his own tongue, Harry managed not to laugh. "Rug's nice and soft," he said, and moved to one side so Snape could move away from the bookshelf.

"So it is," Snape said, rising to his knees and tugging Harry close to him, trying to pull him off-balance and get him on his back.

"Softer than your desk, speaking of uncomfortable moments," Harry said with a grin. He pushed until Snape glared at him – but Snape lay back, eventually, and propped himself up on his elbows.

Harry was dizzy with control. Or else he was breathing so heavily he was getting light-headed. He ran his hands over Snape's entire body, never looking away from the man's face, where Snape had shut his eyes again. Harry wondered if he closed them to keep the room from spinning. In Harry's own case, it didn't help – he still felt dizzy when he closed his eyes, so he opened them again so he could look at Snape some more. Now he could see what he was touching, see Snape's body respond to the warmth and pressure of his hands.

Although Snape couldn't have seen him leaning closer, he parted his lips for Harry's kiss as if he'd known to expect it. This kiss deepened much more quickly; Harry slid his hands into Snape's hair behind each ear, and Snape pushed himself up to lean on one hand while the other cradled the back of Harry's head, keeping him from pulling away, even if he'd wanted to.

And he didn't want to, which was strange. What he'd got used to, in bed – or wherever – was a couple of kisses to set the mood, and then quickly moving on to what he'd always considered more interesting pursuits. But he couldn't seem to get enough of Snape's kisses – he wanted to lick him all over, without ever turning away from his mouth. At the moment, as far as he knew, that was impossible.

Harry was getting a crick in his neck, and he expected Snape was no happier twisted half around as he was. He straddled Snape's waist again, and both Snape's arms came around him and held him close as Snape sat up straight. Harry could feel Snape's cock behind him, hard and nudging against his tailbone. He grinned, sat up on his knees, scooted back a bit, and had the satisfaction of seeing Snape's eyes actually roll back in his head for an instant. Snape's hands both went to Harry's hips, possibly to hold him where he was. Harry rested one hand on Snape's shoulder for balance, and reached back with the other to keep Snape's cock steady until just the very end was pressed into the cleft of his arse.

Snape's mouth opened. He took a couple of breaths, closed his mouth, swallowed once, and opened his mouth again, but he just tightened his hands on Harry's hips and looked up at him in a way Harry was pretty sure nobody had ever, ever looked at him before. Harry ran his thumb across Snape's lower lip, leaned forward to brush the lightest kiss over his mouth, and remembered that the glass jar Snape had got out earlier was still on the desk.

"Acci– oh, hell," he muttered; with his wand out of reach, he'd need a more precise spell than he was interested in troubling with just now. It was easier, but definitely not more pleasant, to just get up and walk the five steps to fetch it by hand.

Snape was leaned back on his elbows again when Harry returned, and had evidently regained his power of speech. "Had you bothered to ask, I'd have told you that the appropriate incantation was –"

Harry didn't care what the appropriate incantation would have been. He knelt again astride Snape's waist, hooked a hand behind Snape's neck to pull him up for a no-nonsense kiss, and dunked his fingers in the jar, all in one movement; he slicked down Snape's cock and sat back on it and groaned into Snape's mouth as he felt the stretch and slide.

Harry tried to pull Snape with him as he sat up, but Snape broke the kiss and lay back, bending his knees and bracing his feet on the floor. Harry leaned back against Snape's legs and rocked gently on Snape's cock; Snape ran his hands up and down Harry's thighs, and Harry settled his hands on top of Snape's. There was that look in Snape's eyes again – Harry couldn't look away, and he slowly rocked back and forth, and then on one of the rocks forth Snape lifted his hips.

Harry's knees left the floor, and when Snape relaxed and set Harry down again, Harry rocked back, and as he rocked forward again Snape pushed up as well, and on Harry's thighs they twisted their fingers together tightly, and Harry couldn't speak – he could only look at Snape, who was looking back at him, mouth slack, brow furrowed, eyes burning.

Harry could hear a clock ticking and feel the wool rug against his shins, but only in the way of their being at the very edge of his awareness. More immediately, he could hear the blood rushing in his ears and his own voice stammering complete idiocy he only hoped Snape was too far gone to hear, and he could feel his chest tightening and his hands clenching and his mouth drying, and before he'd had any say in the matter he came with a gasp.

Snape kept lifting with his hips, and despite his knees behind Harry's back Harry nearly tipped over as his orgasm ended. Snape sat up, so quickly Harry had no idea how, and caught Harry in his arms, still rocking as best he could to get the last bit of friction he needed, and when he came he kissed Harry until the lack of oxygen made Harry's eyes water.

Harry was still wrapped up in Snape's arms when they lay back down on the rug; he tucked his head under Snape's chin and traced two circles around Snape's nipple with his fingertip before he fell asleep.

When he woke, his head was pillowed on his own arm instead of on Snape's chest. He sat up quickly enough that the room greyed out for a second, but when he rubbed his eyes clear, he saw that he was indeed alone in Snape's office. The clock chimed the half-hour, but Harry couldn't see it from where he was. He got up and went over to the desk, peering around until he found his glasses, then put them on and looked for the clock – six-thirty.

Damn. He started collecting his clothes. Jeans on; pants and socks in his pockets; where the hell was his shirt? The Leaving Feast was at seven, so he had to be there about ten minutes before seven to make sure he was seated before it began, and he'd been gone all afternoon and Ron and Hermione would be looking for him –

Snape came through a door Harry hadn't seen before (mostly obscured by the filing cabinet, but now that he saw it was there, he wondered how he could have missed it), in his trousers and boots, wearing a clean shirt – unbuttoned and untucked – and fastening his cufflinks. Harry dropped the shoe he'd just picked up.

Snape glanced over at him. "I assume you'll want to clean up before the Leaving Feast," he said. His hair was damp at the ends.

Harry cleared his throat. "Yeah. I, uh, I was just getting my stuff together to go back up to Gryffindor."

"Don't be ridiculous. You'll never make it. You can shower here, if you're quick about it, and we should be able to get there in time." Snape began buttoning his shirt.

It was a moment before Harry could tear his eyes from Snape's fingers, but when he realized what Snape had said, he blinked. "You're – it's all right if we arrive together?"

"Why on earth wouldn't it be?" Snape pulled a tie out of his desk drawer and looped it around his neck.

Harry stood there stupidly with one shoe still in his hand. "Well – I mean – won't people talk?"

Snape sighed and didn't stop tying his tie. "I can't imagine anyone would consider any of this particularly worth talking about. And if anyone did, frankly, what difference could that possibly make to me? Clean towels are in the cupboard on the left as you go through the door."

Harry blinked a few more times, then went through the door behind the filing cabinet and got a clean towel out of the cupboard on the left. It was a sort of passageway he was in, opening onto a sitting room, with the bathroom door across from the cupboard and another door further down on the left – into Snape's bedroom, Harry supposed. He scratched his shoulder and hurried into the bathroom, pausing to hang his jeans on the towel bar rather than leave them on the floor when he realized he'd have to wear them to the Feast. He showered as quickly as he could, hopped out, grabbed the towel from the bar, and saw himself in the mirror.

The thumbprint on his left arm and the teeth-marks on his thigh weren't really his concern, as nobody would see them – but the purpling bruise at the base of his neck made him stop and stare. If that wouldn't give people something to talk about ... but what was the difference if they did talk, Snape had said. Right – easy for him to say, with his four-in-hand ties and high-necked shirts. But maybe Harry's collar would cover this; where the hell was his shirt?

He struggled into his pants and socks and jeans, and went back out into Snape's office scrubbing at his hair with the towel. "Seen my – oh, thanks," he said, as Snape gave him his shirt and took the towel away. Harry mis-buttoned the shirt the first time, but got it right on the second go and started looking for his shoes. He found one and put it on, and was hobbling about looking for the other when Snape re-emerged and handed it to him. "Thanks," Harry muttered again.

Snape was looking at him with one eyebrow raised when he straightened up. "Little wonder your hair never lies flat," he said. "Remind me to get you a comb. Ready?"

Six hours ago, Harry thought, as he followed Snape out of his office, I was on my way down here to get maybe one kiss from this man before he died. And now we've – and we're – and he's not – "Hold on a sec," he said.

Snape stopped walking. "Problem?"

"No, not really. Only what were you and Professor Trelawney actually talking about, at Christmas?"

Snape smirked and walked on. Harry walked beside him. "'The end of an era,' is that what you heard?"

"Yes."

"Tom Riddle came to Hogwarts sixty years ago," Snape said. "He named himself Voldemort shortly thereafter, and since then, the school has never really been free of him. Three generations have now come up through a Hogwarts in which the spectre of Lord Voldemort has been a daily reality, but tonight, at midnight, that will no longer be the case." He turned up a staircase and seemed to smile. "Because tonight, at midnight, you will no longer be a student here," Snape said, and stepped into the entrance hall.

Harry stared at him for a moment, stunned. It sounded like – he caught Snape by the elbow as inconspicuously as he could. "Excuse me?"

"What is it now?"

"Oh, nothing – except I'm pretty sure I just heard you call me the spectre of Lord Voldemort."

Snape gave an impatient sigh. "I called you nothing of the kind, as you'd realize if you stopped to think about whether you've been here for three generations. That scar on your forehead is what I was referring to, as even since Voldemort's death it has been a constant visual reminder of his – forgive the expression – reign of terror. Don't you see? It's the era of Voldemort's influence that's at an end."

"And you're not – I mean, your scar isn't – a constant visual reminder?"

"Almost nobody ever sees my scar, and anyhow, the symbolism isn't the same. I'm not the Boy Who Lived."

Harry wished Snape didn't seem so amused by this whole thing. "You said people would be glad to finally get rid of me," he said.

"I believe what I said was that people would be glad things wouldn't ever be the same, by which I meant they would be glad no longer to be living with stark evidence of the extent of Voldemort's success. Shocking, I know, but not everything is about you." Snape smiled. "Shall we go in? But if you don't want people to talk, you'll need to fix your collar." He tugged the left side of Harry's collar a bit toward the center, smiled that half-smile again, and turned and walked toward the Great Hall.

Harry blinked stupidly for a minute before following him – no, he wasn't following Snape. He was going in to dinner, like everyone else. If he concentrated on pretending there was nothing to notice about him, maybe nobody would notice. Right.



He couldn't believe nobody'd noticed.

There were a hundred things to talk about, of course, at the Leaving Feast – seven years' worth of memories, and infinite possibilities for the future – but Harry was sure he'd realized at least twice that his collar had slipped, and the bruise on his neck must have been visible from the Slytherin table. But nobody said anything. Everyone was caught up in animated conversation.

"... going to Kenya and study to be a witch doctor ..."

"... this time next year, won't be any Weasleys here – first time in, what, twenty years?"

"... but come and talk with them, Harry, you and the snake charmers would learn so much from one another ..."

"... at least ten years, at least, unless Bill's been having children and not telling us ..."

"... what'd it say, splicing a gene? Hermione, what are genes again?"

"They're those Muggle trousers, Neville –"

"Very funny, Seamus –"

"Ow! Ugh, you couldn't throw one without butter?"

"– I know what jeans are, Harry's wearing them, I was asking about how the Muggles are modifying plants – sort of compensating for not being able to do spells, aren't they?"

"... at least they'll be glad not to have any book lists to buy, for a start ..."

The last of the pudding cleared itself away, and still no one had asked Harry anything he wasn't perfectly comfortable answering. He was glad they hadn't, of course, but at the same time he wondered what on earth was wrong with everyone.

People were milling about, now; the Hall was beginning to empty. The youngest students, who didn't know any of the departing seventh years, left immediately in chattering groups, caught up in their own worlds, but the later years took their time. Chiara came over to join Harry and Ron as they slowly made their way out of the Great Hall – they were halfway to the door when Harry realized Hermione wasn't with them.

"Hey," he said, looking over his shoulder. Hermione was still talking to Neville and Parvati, her back to the entrance, fidgeting with her hair. "Shouldn't we wait for Hermione?"

Ron and Chiara exchanged a glance. "Er ... why don't we go this way, Harry," Ron said.

"Eh?" He followed them out of the Hall and a few steps into a classroom corridor, totally deserted at the moment. "What's up with Hermione, anyway? She hasn't said a word to me since we all got to the Feast."

"Well, you can't really blame her, can you?" Chiara sounded like this was a perfectly reasonable thing to say.

"I have no idea! Did I do something to her to make her angry with me?"

Ron's face flushed a little. Chiara raised an eyebrow, and after a moment, said, "Not to her, no."

"Eh?" Harry said again.

"Look, Harry," Ron said impatiently, "you ran into Hermione in the dungeons today. She told us she saw you on her way back up from – from Snape's office, and you were on your way down. And then nobody sees you for the next, what, six hours, and when you do turn up you've got wet hair and a massive great welt on your neck? Doesn't take a genius to work out what you've been doing all afternoon."

Harry felt himself blushing far more than Ron had done.

"Should've worn a tie, mate," Ron said sympathetically.

"But why's Hermione –" Harry began.

"My god, he's worse than you," Chiara said, elbowing Ron's arm with a wry smile. "Harry, listen – Hermione fancied Snape, as well. She went down there today for the same reason you did, only he let her down easy, and you, he –"

"Didn't," Ron and Harry interrupted at the same time. Chiara grinned.

"So she's upset with me because Snape didn't want her? How'm I supposed to apologize for that?"

"You aren't," Chiara said mildly. "She'll be all right. She just needs to be where you're not for a bit." Harry sat on a desk, put his feet on the chair and his elbows on his knees, and pressed his hands to his forehead.

"She'll be well over it in time for the funeral," Ron said.

"What funeral?"

"Snape's funeral."

"Oh, for –" Harry let his head drop. "He's not dying," he said into his own chest. "That was all just a stupid misunderstanding. He's in perfect health." Ron coughed; when Harry looked up, Ron had looked away and Chiara had raised her eyebrow again. "Well, he is," Harry said a little defensively, with a sheepish smile.

"Anyway, that's what's up with Hermione," Ron said, as they started back toward the entrance hall. "I've got butterbeer and Ogden's up in my trunk. Fancy rounding up some of the gang and taking it out to the Quidditch pitch? We should be able to make it last till midnight, toast the first day of the rest of our – ow." Chiara had elbowed him much harder that time, and rolled her eyes at Harry.

Harry rolled his eyes back at her, but grinned and clapped Ron on the shoulder. All day, he'd felt like it was the last day of something, but now that he thought about it, Ron was right: it was the first day of the rest of his life. The rest of everyone's life, if there was anything in that 'end of an era' stuff. The rest of Snape's life, too – he'd never actually been doomed to die, of course, but in Harry's mind he had, so when Harry'd learned his mistake it had been as if Snape was reprieved.

Which meant, really, that this hadn't been the only day he'd ever get to spend with Snape. Didn't know how many more there would be, but there'd be more, that was the point. Harry could go down to the dungeons right now – well, at five minutes past midnight, after drinking the toast with his friends – and Snape might be waiting for him. There was a chance, after all, that they'd be more to each other than a teacher and former student, like Hermione had said. (Hrm. Hermione. Harry had meant to thank her for her advice, but maybe he wouldn't do that until ... well, until later. If ever. At least until she was speaking to him again.)

"Yeah, all right," Harry said. "And listen, about – thanks for letting me know."

"Any time." Ron winked. "Reckoned I owed you a favor."



Comments always welcome!

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