The next day, being Monday, was Harry's day off, but he woke early after a poor night's sleep.
Each of the rooms at the inn was equipped with an electric kettle, and Harry had a cold cupboard (an old wooden Muggle ice box, which, with the proper charms, served that purpose again), so he had the means for breakfast to some degree, but nothing there seemed appealing. He'd headed for his kitchen, made some tea and tried to do some baking, but even that wouldn't keep him from feeling so restless.
He decided to take a walk, hoping the cool morning air would help settle him.
He'd made a hash of things last night, he knew. He wasn't even certain why he'd been so flippant about it (definitely the wrong tack with Snape, of all people).
The walking did clear his mind a bit, too. He hated that he'd been forced to tell Snape about the spirits so soon – he'd hoped to put it off until there was a firmer trust between them, if not forever. But his childish reaction might have undone the shaky progress he'd made with the man, and he had no one to blame but himself.
He could only hope that Snape wasn't so stubborn he'd refuse to look at the memory, no matter how curious he might be.
Harry returned to the Crone and headed toward the stairs when Margaret, the matronly and ever so efficient woman who ran the inn side for him, called out, "Ah, Harry, there you are. The Apothecary man, Mr. Prince, was looking for you. I've set him up in the pub with a cuppa – he may still be there if you'd like to catch him."
He was on his way before she finished speaking. Not running, of course, just making good forward progress.
Snape was sitting in the most advantageous spot in the room: back to a wall, several clear routes out of the building. He was wearing another one of those wonderful suits. There was a cup of tea in front of him on the table, along with the various other bits of crockery he'd collected from Harry during the past week.
It was early enough that there weren't any other tables occupied and Liam was across the room, though to be safe, he said, "Hullo, Sebastian."
"Good morning... Harry. Would you care to sit down?"
"I would, yes." Harry took the seat directly opposite, thrilled that Snape hadn't called him Potter. "How are you this morning?"
"I am well, though I believe I owe you an apology."
"No." Harry shook his head. "No, you really don't. I know how insane it sounds. I've never actually told anyone before, besides the Weasleys, that is. And even then I had a witness to back me up – I handled it poorly. It's a lot to take in, I guess. I've had a long time to adjust."
"It is indeed a lot to process. She looks..." Snape shook his head and looked around the room. "I do have questions."
"If I have the answers, I'll give them to you." Harry thought for a moment. His room upstairs was not really comfortable for company. "It's probably fine to talk about this here, or we could go into the kitchen and I'll brew us a fresh pot – I was experimenting with croissants this morning and I might have some of the scones left from yesterday, if you're interested."
Snape nodded and said, "Lead on."
Harry gathered the returned dishes, while Snape carried his teacup, and they headed for the swinging door.
Glad for something to do while they talked, Harry gestured toward the sole table in the room and said, "Have a seat – I'll get the kettle going."
Snape took the chair that faced where Harry was at work, filling the kettle and setting it on the cooker to boil; he began pulling out the various pastries he'd been working with this morning and assembling them on a platter, using a spell that Molly had taught him to freshen them.
"So, you said you had questions?" Harry prompted as he gathered jam and some cream and added it to the tray, as well as some butter for the croissants.
"I scarcely know where to begin. It is an extraordinary thing."
"Well, I guess the most obvious question would be 'How?' And that's the thing we know the least about. We have two theories. The first being that I was touched by death, the Killing Curse, twice and survived, which opened a sort of doorway for me. The other is a bit more, er, complicated."
"Yes, well," Harry began. He put the full teapot on the tray and carried it to the table. After he took a seat, he continued, "Do you know The Tale of the Three Brothers?"
Snape's eyebrows knitted together. "The children's story?"
"Yeah, that one."
"My mother read it to me when I was a small child, but I recall the gist of it."
It suddenly occurred to Harry that it was a risk, revealing this. Did he really trust Snape that completely? He fussed with the tea while weighing the situation.
Then found his deliberations were pointless.
His simple question had been all Snape needed to get there on his own.
"You don't mean to say... that infernal cloak of yours?"
Harry sighed. "Yes. Voldemort had the stone, though I don't know he knew what it was, just that it was a family ring, and Dumbledore had the wand – Voldemort took it from his grave."
"His hand..." Snape lifted his right hand.
"Dumbledore knew what the ring was when he found it, yeah. But it was cursed, so..." Harry lifted his own hand and flexed his fingers. "Anyway, when Malfoy disarmed Dumbledore, that night on the Tower, he unknowingly became the wand's master. Which I think was definitely Dumbledore's plan, since he knew he couldn't stop Voldemort from getting to the wand after he died. I don't know if Dumbledore intended for mastery of it to come to me, I don't know how he could know that I would run into Malfoy and disarm him, but that's what happened. And the wand never worked properly for Voldemort, that's what mattered. Dumbledore left me the stone, and that he did intend for me to use at the end, which I did, before I walked to face Voldemort.
"Hermione's theory is that even though the stone and the wand are no longer in my actual possession, I'm still the 'master' of the three objects." Harry shrugged. "My own theory is that it's a combination of both, but there's no way to know for certain, since no one's ever been master of all three objects at once before me. And the only way to really test it now would be for someone to win the wand from me and find it, and then find the stone, and steal my cloak."
Harry took a sip of his tea.
Snape stared at him a moment or two, looking incredulous. After taking a sip of his own tea, he rubbed a hand over his face, then down to his neck, rubbing the jagged scar marking the spot where Harry knew Nagini had attacked him.
"I'd like to believe that Dumbledore didn't set me up, but knowing the extreme measures he was willing to take, not only with himself but with others as well, it becomes harder to do so."
Harry didn't know what to say – it wasn't out of the question that Dumbledore at least considered the possibility Voldemort would take it further than necessary to become the master of the wand.
Instead he asked, "How did you survive? We truly thought you were dead. We never would have left you there if we'd known."
"I nearly was dead, or so I'm told – I awoke in a Muggle hospital. I have no recollection of arriving there, but I did have a Portkey and must have managed to activate it before losing consciousness."
"A Muggle hospital?"
"Sebastian Prince," Snape raised an eyebrow and said dryly, "is covered by the NHS."
Harry couldn't help himself: he laughed aloud, grateful for the tension-breaker.
They shared a companionable silence for a moment or two, and Harry tasted a croissant, deciding they'd turned out better than he'd thought they had.
"You know, Potter, you never did answer my original question," Snape said, placing his teacup in the saucer and looking at Harry seriously.
"You called me Harry earlier."
"Oh, very well, Harry, then," Snape said impatiently. "You never answered my question."
"Which question was that, Sebastian?"
"How did you come by Sebastian Prince's name?"
"Ah, well. Colin found you, I guess. Mum said she was curious as to why you'd never sought her out – she thought you'd died, as well, you see. They didn't tell me who you really were, of course."
Harry told Snape about Colin coming to him and the flood of spirits it'd sparked, the impossibility of being an Auror, and about the letters he'd been sending to people for the last decade or so.
"Tourism is up forty percent since I took over the Crone. I've no proof of it, but I do think it has to do with postmarks and word of mouth. People receive the letters and tell others about their anonymous message and where it came from, and how there's someone who knows what they're about here in Oggindon." Harry grinned.
"And you have no problem with the charlatans who populate this place taking the credit for it?"
Harry shrugged. "I've no need for credit, and it brings people here, people who eat and drink in my pub and fill the rooms – it comes back to me in some ways. And the mystery of it is better for everyone."
"You are an odd duck, Potter."
"Possibly," Harry said, for some reason very pleased. "So, was Mum right? Are you perfect for our little world here?"
"I suppose that remains to be seen. I plan to open this morning, officially. It is... it seems to be a good fit, as I can have a potion shop and yet remain Sebastian Prince. The best of both worlds."
"Good. I think so, too."
Snape didn't exactly smile, but he didn't sneer either, and Harry found it hard to look away from him as the man set his empty teacup down on the saucer. "To that end, I should be making preparations for the opening."
"Good luck today, though I don't think you'll need it."
Rising from his seat, Snape nodded briefly and headed toward the door. As he pushed it open he turned back and said, "Thank you... Harry."
As Harry had predicted, Snape was an enormous hit with the people in town, and his opening even inspired a number of renovation projects, as well as a renewed enthusiasm for the witchy kitsch.
Though that could easily be attributed to the approach of Halloween, just over a month away, which always meant booming business for the village.
Harry's friendship with Snape progressed, as well, inasmuch as it was slowly beginning to actually feel like one. Snape was a regular in the pub, and he and Harry spent a few evenings a week in each other's company, playing chess or talking.
The talking was awkward, of course, at first, with a bit of necessary clearing of the air.
"I honestly thought you hated me."
"Well, I quite honestly did hate you, Potter."
"Oh. Wow." That'd hurt more than Harry would have expected.
"Don't look at me like that, like some wounded animal. You were presumptuous and insolent, arrogant and entitled."
"So not because of my dad, then?"
"It is not so black and white, as you should know – you looked too much like your despicable father, yes. However, I will admit, it is possible that I might have subconsciously... transferred my own feelings of guilt and remorse over my part in your mother's demise onto you."
"You blamed the child for the death of the mother..."
"I did not say it was logical. And I'll not apologize for it – my sincere loathing for you served a very useful purpose. It likely assured my place as the Dark Lord's most trusted and kept me alive long enough to do what needed to be done."
"I understand, I really do. You don't... do you still?" It seemed ridiculous after the time they'd spent together, but Harry had to ask.
"Many years of contemplation have helped me gain perspective. And in the past few weeks I have found you to be tolerable as an adult."
Coming from Snape, that was quite an admission and Harry had grinned for days.
Harry even tried to return Snape's memories, the ones still in his possession, but Snape refused them.
"I do not want them back."
"But they're yours, you should have them."
"I have lived quite easily without them for this long." Harry thought Snape would leave it at that, but he added, "There is a certain freedom to it. I know what is missing, which memories you have, but now there is a distance from them, as if what remains is a memory of the memory. It's given me perspective, enabled me to find contentment in my life. Keep them, destroy them – it makes no difference to me."
Harry certainly wasn't going to push the issue, but it did make him wonder if that was how Snape was able to accept Harry's offer of friendship. Not only accept but believe he was sincere after their years of animosity.
Whether or not that was the key to it, Harry was glad it had worked out the way it had – he was truly enjoying Snape's company.
He should've known things couldn't keep moving along so smoothly.
The problem began innocently enough.
Harry was whistling happily in his kitchen, tending various pots and checking the bread in the oven, and Tessa came in for her shift, early for her, but not so much that it set off any alarms.
"Harry," she said, "it's been a few weeks and I've not pushed, but I think it's time."
"What are you on about?" he asked, only giving her half his attention, as he was pulling lovely hot crusty bread from the oven. "Time for what?"
"Details! Don't think it's gone unnoticed how much time you've been spending with Mr. Prince."
"Oh, that. Yeah, I guess I have – he's an interesting person."
"So? Is he one of your lot?"
The question struck Harry with force. Tessa didn't know he was a wizard, she couldn't. Nevertheless his heartbeat picked up considerably.
"Er, my lot?" he asked, deciding to play dumb.
"Gay, Harry. Is he gay? What else could I possibly have meant?"
Harry turned away from her to retrieve the rest of the bread in the oven, using the distance to let out the breath he'd been holding.
"I didn't know what you meant. Hence the confusion."
"So, is he? Or isn't he?"
"How on earth would I know?"
"Aren't you supposed to be able to tell these things?"
"Eh, my gaydar has been faulty for years."
"Harry!" She pouted.
"What? Look, it's not a secret power or something – it's all giving a look and having someone look right back at you the very same way. Why do you even need to know?"
"Well... there's a bit of a wager on, actually, and I thought you'd know for certain. I say he is – no straight man dresses that tidily in this century. Margaux and Francesca are making idiots of themselves over him."
Harry stopped and turned to her. "Francesca?"
Tessa made a draping gesture over her head and said, "Scarves."
"Ah." The fortune teller. "If you must know, I haven't allowed myself to think about it, about him."
Something in the way he said it made Tessa's expression soften. "Does he still remind you of the man who died?"
Harry thought for a moment. "Yes and no – I like this one much better than the man I knew. And I don't want to ruin... He's just not—"
The realization struck him, it seemed, the same moment it struck Tessa, because she said, "Looking right back at you? Oh, Harry!"
She smiled and hugged him, and Harry couldn't breathe.
"How could I have been so stupid?"
He should have known, really; with the exception of George, all the men he'd ever been with had been quite a bit older than him. Though there was certainly more to it than that.
Harry closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Oh god, I'm such an idiot."
Now that he'd allowed the thought, his mind was flooded with images of Snape, old and new, leaving him breathless. He bent forward at the waist, fists and forehead banging on his work surface.
"Why is it stupid?" Tessa asked. "I think it's wonderful. You've been alone too long."
"It's not wonderful, not at all. Tessa, you can't tell a soul, please. There is no possible way that this is a good thing." Thinking of Snape's memories, he added, "I have reason to believe he's not gay, but even if he were, he would never... I wouldn't be... It's just impossible," he added desolately, knowing how much of a teenaged girl he sounded.
Tessa looked at him thoughtfully for a moment, then said, "I had no idea you were so dramatic."
"I am not dramatic," Harry said indignantly, standing upright and smoothing his white apron. She gave him a look and Harry sighed, "All right it's possible I might have overreacted. A bit. Possibly. Still, this is not good at all."
Smiling and giving him a supportive squeeze, Tessa said, seriously this time, "I think you're wrong – about him and about your chances – but I'll not tell a soul."
Harry was distracted the rest of the day and for the first time since he had taken over the Crone, he longed for the day to end, resented the demands of the kitchen and wished all the customers away.
It was easy enough for Tessa to have such faith – she didn't know about Snape and his feelings for Harry's mum. However distantly past that may have been, one word sunk Harry and made the thought a hopeless one: Always.
Harry's plan for handling his newfound awareness was a simple one: he would ignore it.
It would have worked too, if not for the fact that it just was not humanly possible. And clearly, Harry was very human.
Every little thing Harry had refused to think about, to notice, came forward and demanded attention. The way Snape used his hands when he was speaking, the long fingers, the graceful shape of each digit, the gestures. The shattering timbre of Snape's voice, the liquid black eyes, that elusive half-smile – even the man's bloody waistcoats.
Simple evenings together became an exercise in torture.
Harry wondered how he'd never noticed Snape's strong jaw before now. His eyes followed the line of it, then down the long neck. Snape's hair, nearly level with that strong jaw, was still lank, but it was just as inky black as it had ever been. Harry wanted to grab two fistfuls of the stuff and pull Snape toward him, to lick that jaw and to suck on the prominent Adam's apple, then maybe lo—
Harry snapped out of his musings and had to shift slightly in his chair in an effort to conceal the fantasy's effects.
"Check. Mate." Snape pointed to the board.
"What the devil is wrong with you?"
"What d'you mean?"
"What I mean is that, while you are no Grand Master, you normally provide a decent challenge. The last three games it's as if you've never played chess before. In fact, this evening I would say a chimpanzee would have provided a better game."
"I'm sorry – I was just... distracted."
"You don't say," Snape replied dryly.
Yes, Harry was going mad, there was no doubt about it, and it was becoming difficult to behave normally around the man. The last thing he needed was for Snape to realize what was going on with him.
The only solution Harry could come up with was to stop spending so much time with him, which was exactly what he didn't want to do, and could possibly lead to exactly what he wanted to avoid.
At least he would be sane again.
So, he cut down on their chess games, stopped dropping round Snape's so frequently, stopped wandering the aisles of the shop, spent less time outside of his kitchen when Snape came in for a meal.
He did get a lot of letters written, so the spirits were happily moving on.
And he was miserable.
"Harry," his mother said a week and a half later, "this is absolutely ridiculous."
"Do not play obtuse with me, young man. You're unhappy, Severus is unhappy – there is nothing good about what you're doing."
"I'm doing what I always do." Alphabetizing his spices was a perfectly sensible, not to mention organized thing to do. "Wait, Snape's unhappy?"
"Of course he is! You've gone from spending a great deal of time together to hardly any at all. What in the world are you doing? And why are you doing it?" She had her hands on her hips and, even though he knew it was impossible, Harry could almost hear the impatient tap, tap, tapping of her foot. "Severus is not terribly confident in social situations on a good day – your behavior has him thinking he's done something to alienate you."
Harry looked down at the paprika in his hands, not certain what to say.
"It's complicated, Mum."
"I'm sure it is. Tell me anyway."
"I'd really rather not."
"You know you can tell me anything."
Harry sighed deeply; he knew she wouldn't let it be.
"I just thought, maybe we were spending too much time together, that's all," he deflected.
"That is not all. Harry," she said, her voice sounding far less exasperated, "tell me what's happened between the two of you."
"Nothing. Nothing's happened between us."
Apparently he'd answered too quickly, too vehemently.
"That's the problem, isn't it?" Her look softened further and she asked quietly, "Do you want more, darling?"
"It doesn't matter." He shrugged, defeated once again by a woman who could see right through him. "It's impossible."
"Why do you think so?"
Harry told her about Snape's memory.
"Oh but Harry, you don't know that's what he meant. Actually, I very much doubt he felt that way. You'll have to trust that I know what I'm talking about.
"And he's quite a different person to the man whose memory you saw, but you'll never know for certain unless you talk to him about it. What do you have to lose, really – the course you're on now will end your friendship just the same, and in the meantime, you're both miserable."
Sighing again, Harry relented, "I'll think about it."
Lily smiled in understanding. "See that you do."
Harry took a day, then decided that his mother was right. It didn't take the day to think about it, of course, just to decide to admit he'd been wrong.
In the space of a month, he'd gone from sensible adult to immature idiot. At the very least, he owed Snape an apology.
He would go see Snape tomorrow.
The next morning, however, Tessa breezed into the kitchen, early once again for her shift and grinning like a Cheshire cat.
"Guess who won the wager!" she announced.
"Not you?" Harry was stunned, a little shaken by the implication.
"Yes me." She lowered her voice to a tone best suited to gossip. "Apparently, The Sisters actually saw Mr. Prince kissing a man in the alley next to his shop. Margaux and Francesca are rending their clothing, absolutely beside themselves – they'll likely take to wearing black from now on." With a sly, conspiratorial look, she asked, "You wouldn't happen to know who that man was, would you, Harry?"
Harry carefully laid the knife he'd been using down on the chopping block, afraid for his fingers, as his hands were shaking.
"Actually, no, I wouldn't know who it was at all."
Tessa looked stricken, her shoulders slumped. "No! I was so certain it was you."
"No, not me. Congrats on the win, though." He said this over his shoulder as he moved toward the walk-in cooler. She was bound to hug him and that was no good.
No good at all.
The worst part of it was he knew he still owed Snape an apology. It would have to wait, though; Harry just couldn't do it.
Or so he thought: as it happened, he wasn't allowed the luxury of waiting.
Later that same day, Colin appeared, frantic.
"Harry, Snape's hurt himself!"
When Harry hesitated, Colin added, "He's bleeding. Hurry!"
That got him moving. Thinking of an excuse, he held up his mobile as he rushed out the swinging door and through the pub, saying to Tessa, "Be right back!"
He was at The Apothecary in no time and dashed inside, expecting a bloodbath, possibly carnage.
Except, Snape was standing near the till, calmly wrapping a plaster around the tip of his index finger, nary an entrail in sight.
There were customers in the shop, which explained the choice of a plaster over a healing charm, but it did little to explain why Colin had made it seem as if the man were bleeding to death on the floor.
Snape raised a questioning eyebrow. "Potter? What are you doing here in the middle of the day?"
Embarrassed, Harry said, "A, uh, little bird told me that you were injured, though he's obviously prone to exaggeration."
Said little bird was nowhere to be seen; obviously Harry'd been had.
Snape held his bandaged digit aloft and said, "It was touch and go for a time, but I believe I will make a full recovery."
Harry grinned. "What a relief."
He meant to leave it at that, but decided it was cowardly.
"Listen, Sebastian," he looked about, gauging the distance to the other ears in the shop and lowered his voice, "I'm really sorry I've been so scarce lately. I've been completely distracted and not very good company. I wanted to save you from my mood."
There. Truth, but no pesky details.
Snape looked at him intently, then nodded. "Apology accepted."
Taking it a step further, Harry said, "So, if you're not busy this evening...chess?"
Harry would have liked to say things were back to the same friendship he and Snape had been developing before he had gone insane, but despite Harry's recent displays of avoidance and denial, he had to admit that it wasn't even close.
Things were no longer easy, no longer comfortable.
Harry was overly conscious of every little thing that he did or said in Snape's presence. He couldn't relax, couldn't let his guard down. He still wanted Snape, desperately, and had to actively tamp down that want.
And quite honestly, it was exhausting.
Snape, too, was not the same with Harry: he was distant, quiet... careful.
Worse, to Harry's mind, the mystery man from the alley had never been mentioned, never even been hinted at. Harry wanted to ask Snape about him and yet didn't want to know at the same time. Snape, of course, never volunteered anything about him, though it was entirely possible that he had no idea anyone had seen them, and so, had no reason to bring it up.
Still, it was better than when they were barely speaking, and if Harry's pulse quickened in Snape's presence, if the man's voice managed to pluck something deep within Harry and set it vibrating, he dealt with it as best he could.
Harry knew things couldn't keep on the way they were going, and that proved true on Halloween.
He was nearly done breaking down the kitchen for the evening – it'd been very busy not only with the increased number of tourists, but also with local customers, and in honor of the day, he'd foregone the usual roast beef supper for a feast reminiscent of Hogwarts. The pumpkin pasties had been a particular hit and Harry had been pleased with the results of his efforts.
The one disappointment was that Snape hadn't come by, as Harry'd definitely had him in mind when he'd decided on the menu. Snape would have to settle for leftovers.
"Harry." Lily appeared next to him and said with a tone of urgency. "I need your help – it's Severus."
Harry looked at her sideways, half-kidding and said, "This isn't a trick is it – you're not pulling a Colin?"
"No, no trick – he's drunk. Really drunk. I'm afraid he's going to hurt himself."
In the interest of time, Harry Apparated directly to the landing outside Snape's flat. His mother was already there when he arrived.
He knocked on the door but wasn't above Apparating again to the other side of it if Snape didn't answer.
There was a crash from somewhere within and Harry wondered if Apparating wouldn't actually be required after all.
"I should warn you, Harry," his mother began, "it's partially my fault he's drinking so much."
Before Harry could get clarification on the statement, the door was flung open.
Snape stood there looking blearily at Harry, only one eye actually open.
Harry was grabbed by the shirt and pulled into the room and when they stopped, he was forced to steady them both.
"Hi. Wow." The fumes emanating from Snape nearly knocked Harry on his arse and he tried not to laugh.
Grabbing Harry's arm with his free hand (the other was clutching a bottle), Snape said, "I am hallan... hallilu... I'm seeing things."
Harry guided them around the overturned telephone table to get Snape to a chair.
"Things." Snape waved the bottle in the air. "Lily things."
Lily put in, "That's what I was trying to tell you. He was talking to me – for all he knew I wasn't there, of course – he was rather upset and I thought it couldn't hurt to try. And it worked. He could see me, hear me."
"I honestly don't know. My theory is that it's Halloween. I mean, the belief, the thin veil between the living and the dead, that had to originate somewhere. I really had to make an effort, but he could hear me, then he could see me."
"She said she forgave me." Snape sighed and let his head fall back against the chair. "It can't be true, she couldn't. How could she?"
Snape took a long pull from the bottle, then looked at Harry as if he'd only just noticed him. "You! I need you. You can see her."
"I can, yes."
"Tell her she shouldn't forgive me."
"She can hear you."
"I do forgive you, Severus."
Snape put his hand over his eyes. "It's happening again."
Harry reached down and pulled Snape's hand away from his face. "She's really here and she really said she forgives you. You're not hallucinating."
Lily said, "It's true, I do. Whether you want me to or not. And you have my blessing."
She turned to Harry and he gave her a questioning look. "Severus knows what I meant. When he's ready, he'll tell you." She smiled and disappeared.
Snape squeezed his hand, startling him, and Harry squeezed back once, then let go.
"She's gone," he told Snape.
"Daft, meddling ghost," Snape muttered before taking another swallow of scotch.
"Technically, she's not a ghost."
Bloodshot eyes stared at him, and Harry fought the smirk that was threatening.
"How'd she meddle with you?"
"Blathering on about regret, taking chances. Easy for her to say." Snape sighed heavily and let his head fall back against the chair again.
Harry thought he might be out, but Snape began speaking again.
"Regret," he scoffed. "I wasted my youf... hmmm... Years. I lived years, one foot in the grave, now I want... my foot somewhere... else." Snape stopped, closed his eyes, shook his head, groaned, clearly regretting the action, then started again, "I want my foot without all the dead people."
Snape nodded and seemed satisfied with that, then looked at Harry, squinting. "What was I saying?"
"You want to live."
"Yes!" Snape pointed a finger at Harry. "Live. That's what I want."
"You absolutely should live." The man was as pissed as a newt and Harry pondered how to stop him from drinking more. "Maybe start by giving me the bottle, then? You don't need all that Scotch to live properly."
"I want it. I like it."
Snape stood unsteadily, looking so deliciously rumpled Harry wanted to take bite of him. And once that thought occurred to him, Harry wondered if he could possibly be drunk by association.
"What're you doing?"
"I know where I want to start."
"Living," Snape huffed, then tilted sideways abruptly.
Harry caught him and steadied him. He managed to tug the bottle away from Snape, who was busy trying to stay upright, and he put it on the table between the chairs. Snape needed to lie down before he fell down.
"Steady." Harry guided him toward the short corridor that he knew led to the bedrooms, though he'd never actually seen them.
"Which is yours?"
Snape smirked. "That. Yes."
Harry laughed. He was walking backwards and was familiar with which of the doors was the loo, so he guessed at which of the remaining two might be Snape's room. Since there was no protest otherwise, Harry figured they were heading in the right direction, and knew he'd guessed correctly once the door was open.
Snape, it seemed, did not skimp on creature comforts – the bed itself looked so comfortable Harry wondered how Snape managed to leave it every morning, and the room was all matching dark wood furniture and rich, masculine colors.
He shuffled them over to the bed and turned them so he could lower Snape onto it.
Snape had other ideas. He lowered to the bed obediently enough, but held firm, causing Harry to bend forward, then lifted both hands to cup Harry's face, pulling him closer. Mesmerized, Harry was helpless to resist.
"Time to live," Snape said, then captured Harry's mouth with his own.
Snape tasted of the expensive Scotch he'd been consuming all day and Harry moaned into the kiss. Somehow, despite being completely inebriated, Snape managed to stretch out on the bed with Harry on top of him.
Alarm bells were ringing in Harry's head, and deep down, he knew he should stop this, shouldn't take advantage of Snape's impaired judgment, but the kiss, Snape's kiss, was everything that Harry loved about kissing a man, everything he'd fantasized it would be with this man, and intoxicating in its perfection.
He was going stop, he had to, and he would. In a moment.
Straddling Snape, he mindlessly rocked against him, while Snape explored every corner of his mouth. Harry's denims were becoming uncomfortably tight, but through the barrier his hardening length encountered an answering hardness, and his hips found a rhythm he couldn't refuse.
Harry broke the kiss to take a breath and the influx of oxygen brought him back to his senses.
Merlin, what the hell was he thinking? This wasn't right; this wasn't how Harry wanted it, with Snape half out of his mind, not really knowing what he was doing.
With a mighty effort, Harry pushed up and then off of Snape.
"I’m so sorry – I shouldn't have done that."
Harry turned toward Snape when there was no response.
And found the man out cold.
A noise escaped Harry that was part laughter and part groan.
He tried very hard not to take it personally when Snape began snoring.
After arranging Snape into a more comfortable position on the bed, Harry had Transfigured Snape's clothing into pajamas – dark grey silk with a lighter grey stripe which closely resembled the waistcoat Snape had been wearing. He smiled at the ornate embroidered 'S' on the left breast pocket.
The sofa proved very comfortable for sleeping once Harry made it long enough to stretch out on. Despite that, Harry slept only in spurts, so that he could check on Snape periodically throughout the night. That gave him a bit of thinking time and he only hoped Snape could forgive him for being such a thoughtless arse. The man had been barely conscious, for Merlin's sake, and Harry had frotted against him like a hormonal teenager.
Or a nearly thirty-year-old man with no self-control.
While he mentally flogged himself for his behavior, he'd organized tea and a bit of nourishment for Snape, and so was ready when he heard Snape stirring.
He carried the tray with him into Snape's room and placed it on the desk.
"Good morning," he said softly.
Snape grunted in response, but judging by the look on his face, even that small noise seemed too much to bear.
"Here, take this," Harry said, pressing a phial of Iaso Hangover Helper into Snape's palm, then moving the long fingers to curl around it.
Snape opened one eye very slightly and made a sound that Harry would never, ever call a whimper. Not aloud, anyway.
Clearly grateful, Snape pushed the stopper up and out with his thumb and downed the liquid relief in one swallow.
"Oh thank Merlin," Snape said after a moment.
The deathly pallor left his face and Harry asked, "D'you want to try sitting up?"
"Yes. Thank you."
Once he was arranged comfortably, Harry turned and picked up the tray. He'd added legs to it and was happy to see it worked well when he set it across Snape's lap.
"I figured you can't have eaten much yesterday," Harry said, indicating the toast and scrambled eggs (firm, the way Snape liked them). He picked up Snape's tea and handed it to him.
"You figured correctly."
Harry grabbed the chair from the desk and set it at the bedside, then sat down, while Snape tucked into his meal.
"Why in the world did you drink so much?"
"It was Halloween. I always drink on Halloween, the anniversary of my greatest mistake."
"D'you remember anything of yesterday?"
"As ever," Snape said sardonically, "I am unfortunately cursed with total recall."
Harry reached over and picked up his tea from the tray. "Then you should remember what she said to you."
Snape's teacup hit the saucer loudly. "I thought perhaps I'd dreamt that."
"No, it was real, she forgave you. I wasn't here for your earlier conversation with her so I don't know what else you spoke about, but I can verify that she absolutely did forgive you." And it was probably presumptuous of him, but Harry added, "I forgave you, too, a long time ago. Maybe it's time for you to forgive yourself."
Seemingly stunned, Snape sat motionless for a moment, then he picked up his teacup and drank from it, looking away from Harry and staring at some distant point.
The silence between them grew, broken only by the occasional clink of china on china, until it was almost another person in the room with them.
Finally, Harry couldn't take it any longer. "I owe you an apology."
"If you remember, I let things go a little further last night than I should have, and I'm sorry."
"Potter, I may have spent the better part of yesterday fully pickled, but I certainly do remember enough to know that it was I who attacked you."
"No, you were drunk and I wasn't, and I should've had better control."
"That is neither here nor there – I shouldn't have attacked you and I apologize."
Harry didn't know what to say to that, wanting very much to avoid arguing over whose behavior was the worst.
Silence began to grow again and to cut it off at the knees, Harry burst out, "Look, are we going to be uncomfortable again? Because I don't want that. I miss what we had going before and if you don't want me, that's okay. I'll get over it."
"But I don't want to lose your friendship."
"What on earth are you talking about?"
"Us. We got uncomfortable because I wanted you and didn't think you were interested in men and then The Sisters saw you kissing a man but you never mentioned him, not even once, and I never saw him and I didn't want to bring it up and it became this big THING and I don't want us to be uncomfortable anymore."
Harry had said it in a single rush of air and felt foolish for it. He was about to speak again, but was saved from it when Snape held up a finger, not even a particularly rude one.
"Don't. My brain is not yet functioning normally – I'm trying to unravel what you've already said, do not add to it."
Snape picked up his wand, which Harry had placed on the bedside table after tucking him into bed, and banished the tea tray, presumably to the kitchen. He swung his legs off the bed and onto the floor, though he remained seated.
"Firstly, Simon Fraser is my ex, and it was he whom the gossipmongers saw with me. He is also my former professor, and he came here in an effort to get me to come back, both to him and to the university. To teach, for pity's sake. And since I would rather jab a hot poker into my eyes than teach, you can imagine my response."
Harry snorted despite himself.
"Just so. And while my association with Simon was, at the time, mutually beneficial and satisfying, there was no real bond. Not to mention, Simon is arrogant and pretentious, as to be insufferable."
"All right." Harry wasn't certain what it meant for them, but it was good to finally have an answer.
"Secondly," Snape continued, "are you insane?"
Not sure what Snape meant, Harry reviewed what he'd said, then guessed. And hoped he was wrong. "Insane to think we could be friends? I thought we already were."
"Insane because I am not... suitable."
Snape got up then, and left the room without saying another word.
Harry did not follow. Mostly because he thought he heard the door to the loo open and close. A short time later, when Snape still hadn't returned, Harry went looking for him and found him standing by the fireplace, gazing intently at the flames dancing in the grate.
"Harry," his mother said, appearing near Snape, "remind him about my blessing."
"You said he'd tell me when he was ready."
"He is ready, he just thinks he isn't."
"So it's not when he's ready, but when you think he is?" Harry smiled at her.
"Is she here again?" Snape asked without looking up.
"Go on, remind him."
"Yes, she's here again – she wants me to remind you about her blessing."
Something occurred to him, and he was going to let it go, but he couldn't, so before Snape said anything, Harry turned to his mother again and said, "Wait. I don't think I need your approval of who I choose to love, Mum."
"Of course you don't, darling." She smiled gently. "It's Severus who needed it."
When Harry turned toward Snape, he found the man staring at him, looking stunned, and Harry realized what he'd said.
He opened his mouth to say, well he couldn't imagine what he could possibly say, but it didn't matter, because Snape had crossed the room in three long strides and captured his mouth in a hard, gloriously demanding kiss.
Giving in to his favorite fantasy, Harry sunk both hands into Snape's dark hair, tugging it to pull him closer.
He broke the kiss, moaning, to taste Snape's jaw, to kiss and lick and suck his way down Snape's neck.
"Harry," Snape sighed.
Hearing it, his name on Snape's lips, the softness of the sigh that carried it, set Harry's desire soaring.
"Mmmm. I think you've been out of bed long enough, don't you?"
"It's Monday, you know. I have all day."
"It is a good thing, then, that we'll be so well rested."
Snape smirked and pulled Harry along, back to the bedroom.
But not before waving away his mother, who was grinning as she disappeared.
"Harry," a voice said in a stage whisper. "Harry!"
Harry became aware of the chest his head was resting on by the tickle of hair on his cheek. He looked up at Snape's face, but found the man sound asleep.
"Seriously, Colin?!" Harry hissed. "Really not the time! Someone had better be dying."
Colin grinned. "Someone is always dying, Harry. But no, I just wanted to say that this is fantastic. I'm really really glad you're finally happy."
It'd always been difficult to stay annoyed with Colin, despite the fact that he could be very annoying. And he'd played matchmaker, after all.
Harry smiled fondly at the boy. "Thank you. Now shoo! We'll work on the letters later. Much later. In fact, I'll call you."
They would discuss boundaries, as well, Harry decided.
Colin laughed. "All right. Going!"
When he was gone, Harry looked up to be sure Snape was still asleep and grinned. He never would have imagined the twists his life would take to bring him here: fate and a bit of helpful interference from two cheeky spirits. But Colin was right, he was finally, truly happy, and would be living life to the fullest, with a man who was supposed to be dead.
And Master of Death or not, that sounded exactly right to Harry.