Art by littleblackbow

Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction, written purely for fun.

Author's Notes: All mistakes are mine because I have the best betas in the world and yet I cannot stop tinkering and so do not blame them. This go around was my usual crew, zeldaohzelda, naughtyoldlady, and snottygrrl, plus a whole new beta, singedpaper. Who was wonderful and thorough and I heart her. And grey_hunter gave it another run through as well and caught even more wee typos. This fic is actually blythely's fault for spreading a vicious rumor that there was a fic floating out in fandom that featured Snape as a fry cook in a diner in Arizona. Numerous (like so many I am embarrassed to admit how many) Google searches have turned up nada. Until now. Because I have written it. Yes, Snape is a fry cook in a diner. There, blythely, you evol woman.

From his vantage point next to the cash register, he heaved a sigh.

The woman next to him nodded. "Hot enough to fry eggs on the sidewalk this morning."

Harry smiled to indicate he agreed, but in a tired way to let her know he didn't want to engage in any conversation. Not that his sigh had anything to do with the weather, although it was bloody hot, come to think of it. No. The sighing had nothing to do with the weather at all.

He was both grateful and profoundly disappointed that it wasn't him. Although he must confess that since he'd never seen Snape in anything but voluminous robes for their entire acquaintance, he couldn't swear it wasn't Snape. Could that wiry torso and, shit, those nicely toned arms belong to Snape? Harry knew what Snape looked like in Neville's grandmother's clothes and a hat the size of the Queen Mary, but he defied anyone to predict what Snape would look like in jeans, a tee-shirt, and an Arizona D-backs cap so faded that the purple had bleached out to a blotchy pink.

Harry coughed to smother a laugh. Come to think of it, what had Snape looked like under his robes? Harry drew a blank and then did a mental shrug. What did it matter? With that bald head and those enormous wrap-around dark sunglasses—it was an effing miracle the fry cook could see the pancakes to flip them—it couldn't possibly be him. No fucking way. And then he saw the man's hands. An elegant, graceful right hand worked the grill, flipping pancakes, tossing home fries, turning sausage links, while the left hand reached for a plate. But that wasn't what stopped him. It was the confidence of those hands. Hands that were so sure.

"How many, Mister?"

"Uh, just one."

"You wan' to sit at the counter?"

"No, um, a table, if you please." At the counter, he'd be within three feet of the man. While Harry had been renowned for his stupidity and bravery at certain points in his life, he wasn't a frigging moron. If that was Snape, he wanted to ascertain the fact from a healthy distance. Close to an exit might be a good idea, too.

"Near the door?"

"This way," the waiter said and led him to a small table. He wasn't given a menu, which he thought was odd. Then he noticed that every single patron had a newspaper in front of his or her face, which was also odd. And the place was completely quiet. No one was saying a word. Which was really odd, because he hadn't been in the States very long, but the one thing that had struck him right off the bat was how loquacious Americans were. They didn't know when to shut up.

Harry didn't want to draw attention to himself by staring at the fry cook, so he kept up a leisurely appraisal of the little diner, as if he were a bored tourist who hadn't bothered to pick up a morning paper. Although no tourist in their right mind would consider doing anything but driving through this backwater hellhole in the high desert of Arizona, the speedometer pushing ninety-five. He kept flicking his eyes back to the fry cook. The man was in constant motion, with a surety and confidence that Harry grudgingly admitted was Snape-ish. Snape sure never did anything by halves, even when it involved hating someone. When he hated, he did it better than anyone else; that was for fucking sure. Harry kept angling for a look at the cook's arm, but the position of his chair relative to the grill top behind the counter made that impossible.

The waiter arrived with a cup of coffee and a small orange juice.

"Uh, I didn't order… Menu?"

"You been here before, Mister? I never seen you before," the waiter asked in a patient, but wary voice, as if expecting an argument.

"No. First time. First time I've been to the States even. And, um, here."

"No menu. You get what Mr. Smith fries up. Everyone get the same. One juice, as much coffee as you want. This morning we got pancakes, sausage, and home fries. Five dollars. Good food. You stay?"

The waiter's shoulders slumped forward a little, his chin nearly touching his chest, as if he were exhausted. As if he'd had this conversation far too many times and would have many more such conversations in the future. Harry shrugged. He wasn't here for the food.

The food arrived ten minutes later, just as the waiter promised: pancakes, sausages, and home fries. There was one syrup cruet on the table, maple, and salt and paper shakers. The only concession to an individual preference was cream and sugar for the coffee; a sugar bowl, not packets, he noticed.

He began eating, more because he was supposed to eat than because he was hungry. He hadn't been truly hungry in years. If you forgot that little detail, Harry had to admit he hadn't had food this good since Hogwarts. Spearing the last of his sausage, he wondered if the quality of the food might explain why everyone was so quiet. They were too busy tucking it in.

As a child, Harry had constantly craved food, always being on the edge of hunger. At Hogwarts, decent food was only a snap of his fingers but somehow pointless, because most of the time he was half eaten up with nerves and couldn't eat because a megalomaniacal wizard was out to kill his sorry arse. But this, this recent shit. This was just not caring about food, not doing anything but feeding his cells so he wouldn't get headaches. Sometimes he didn't even care about the headaches. It was much simpler to lie there and let the headache take over than rouse himself. Even before he found himself in St. Mungo's he knew that this was a serious sign of depression, but when you're depressed it's not like you can be arsed to care about being depressed. Self-destruction was maddeningly circular.

But this… He looked down at his plate and was surprised to see all his food was gone. The waiter came over once again to fill his coffee cup and clear his place.

"Thanks. You were right. That was really, really good. Your cook? He's a bloody genius."

"Mr. Smith is—"

A couple of loud guffaws interrupted the waiter. The sort of guffaws signifying the reaction to a dirty joke. The tension in the room visibly rose. Newspapers dropped. All eyes were on the fry cook, who pulled himself out of his hunch over the grill and raised himself to full height. He then turned around slowly. This took close to a minute. His head tilted at a slight angle. Even with the sunglasses on, there was no doubt his attention was on a pair of young men standing at the cash register waiting to be seated, their cowboy hats perched on the back of their heads in a decidedly fuck-you manner. The laughers. Like a tennis match, all eyes had shifted from the cook and were now on the cowboys.

"Gentlemen. Ah, Mr. O'Sullivan and Mr. Parker. If it had been anyone else I might be more generous, but you two are well acquainted with the rules of this establishment." A spatula pointed at the sign at a small sign near the cash register. No Talking. Below that was another sign saying, No Uncontrollable Children. Harry wasn't surprised he'd missed them. They were written on separate napkins and tacked to the wall. "You are banned for one month. Mr. Morales, escort these gentlemen out the door," and he turned back to the grill.

Harry's waiter, who, Harry suddenly noticed, had forearms the size of small hams, marched to the front.

The beefier of the two cowboys, a man who apparently was denied a neck at birth, jerked his body forward in what was meant to be a menacing swagger. "Hey, you fucking home fries Nazi—"

The cook turned around again, rapidly this time. If he'd been in a robe, the swirl of the black silk as it followed his body would have made a subtle whooshing sound. He smiled. Not that it was a smile, really. Just a tightening of lips that tilted up and was a sure-fire indicator that Snape was really pissed off. As Harry well knew.

"Language, Mr. Parker. Two months. Now leave. Mr. Morales, if they protest, break their arms." Apparently Mr. Morales' arm-breaking skills weren't under question because the men exited the building pronto, the hapless Mr. O'Connor complaining sotto voce, "You stupid shit, you know what he's like…" as they scurried out the door.

The whole exchange was said in that "Twenty points from Gryffindor" voice. That "Three weeks of detention, Mr. Potter," voice. That "chopping six metric tons of shrivel figs until your fucking arm falls off" voice.

No doubt. There was no doubt whom that voice belonged to. Even if he hadn't seen the nose. The not smile.

Harry wasn't sure if he wanted to throw up or get down on his knees with thanks.


Art by lemonade8

Harry went back the next morning. The routine didn't vary, except for what he was served. No menus. Five dollars for juice, as much coffee as he could drink, plus that day's fare: waffles, bacon, and home fries. No one spoke. Newspapers were held high. Aside from the occasional "Thank-you" and the requests for more coffee, the diner was silent. Despite all the restrictions on conversation and unruly children, the line of people waiting for tables was out the door. Just like the day before.

The next day he'd maneuvered it so that it was nearly closing time when he sat down. The bells of the nearby Catholic church rang out, announcing the final Mass. There were more families today, probably coming directly from church. The children whispered and tugged on their mothers' shirt sleeves, but apparently even three-year olds knew the rules. No Uncontrollable Children. They'd been sitting in Mass for an hour and then had to come here and sit like a stone for another. Although in Harry's fuzzy recollection of attending the odd High Church service with Aunt Petunia, the priests didn't serve up the finest scrambled eggs Harry had ever eaten, so the children probably had a whole hell of a lot more motivation to stay quiet here as opposed to during Mass.

He didn't have enough magic left to do a decent glamour, so he'd bought a D-backs baseball cap and kept it low on his forehead to hide his face. Not that there was much chance Snape would notice him. Snape rarely lifted his eyes from the grill—aside from the occasional scowl at the miscreant whose newspaper crackled too loudly when turning the pages—uttering orders in his usual authoritative snarl for all to hear.

"Mr. Perez, these potatoes are one-eighth of an inch off. Rectify that immediately." Or "Mr. Morales, much to my dismay, these plates cannot walk by themselves. Please refrain for one minute from serving that infernal coffee, the only function of which is to mimic the effects of a good night's sleep, and serve up these meals immediately. Cold eggs are an abomination that will not occur in my establishment." Or "Mr. Vasquez, if you do not provide Mr. Morales with more clean knives within the next five minutes, I shall not be responsible when he breaks a finger." There was always the corresponding, "Yes, Mr. Smith."

Harry reached for his napkin that had fallen on the floor, and his hand brushed his wand hidden in a long pocket sewn into the leg of his jeans. How much magic did he have left? He'd taken to hoarding it now, only using it when absolutely necessary. Ten spells, maybe? He'd used up quite a bit of his precious store Disillusioning and then Stupefying Hedwig so they could make the trans-Atlantic flight. Apparition was now out of the question, Floo powder as well. The last time he'd Flooed to Ron and Hermione's place, his magic tore at the seams, and he'd passed out when landing on the hearth. Fortunately, being brought up as a Muggle meant he had the documentation necessary to get a British passport. The minute it arrived in the post, he booked a flight to Phoenix, changed Galleons into dollars, took driving lessons so that he could qualify for an international driver's license, and packed up his flat. He told no one he was leaving.

It was a fairly empty flight, which was a good thing, as several people changed seats immediately after the seatbelt sign went off. No one wanted to be within three rows of the bizarre young man with the empty birdcage on his lap; the same bizarre young man who shrieked like a terrified bird during take-off. Hedwig had gotten off a number of ear-piercing caws before Harry had whipped out his wand to Stupefy her. At the boarding gate he'd refused the flight attendant's attempt to have him check in the cage and had to get a little shirty with her when she wouldn't take no for an answer. No doubt he was now in some database for whack-job passengers; he'd have to take another airline home. If he went home. He'd only bought a one-way ticket.

He wondered how Snape would define home these days; the damp and mold of his beloved dungeons where the ambient temperature was, hell, let's just call it fucking freezing, versus this run-down diner in the middle of nowhere, where in mid-April it was eighty-five degrees at eleven o'clock in the morning. One thing was certain, Harry couldn't keep coming back here, but what in the fuck was he going to do now?

In his fantasies he'd just marched up to Snape and demanded to know how he'd done it. Admittedly, half of his fantasies had Snape as some incoherent wino with an extended liver, three weeks from death by alcohol poisoning and physically unable to answer his questions; the other half of them had Snape exactly like this. Well, sort of. Never in a million years could he have imagined Snape as a bald fry cook in a diner—Snape-ish as all get out, and, therefore, unlikely to answer any of his questions on principle. And why he traveled halfway around the world knowing he'd come up empty handed was a measure of his total desperation. And lack of options.

The upshot of all this was that Harry could see that he hadn't mellowed one little bit. That Snape had always been a first-class bastard and post-war events hadn't changed any of that. Listening to him berate his staff, bully his customers, and glare at anyone making the slightest bit of noise made it a virtual certainty that Snape wouldn't answer any of his questions. This, unfortunately, didn't stop him from coming to the diner every morning and eating his weight in home fries while he waited. Waited for inspiration, waited for the courage to march up to the counter and demand, "How do you do it? Get up day after day?" He hoped that Snape divined the real question, the question behind the questions: why haven't you offed yourself by now, because I'm hanging on by my fingernails. Fucking irony. That Snape would be the one with the answers, that no one else could help him. Seven years after Voldemort's death, Snape was dishing up home fries and being a certified arse, and looking like he might be okay with this. If Harry had been in a state to appreciate irony, he'd have grinned. As it was, this particular irony only had him sweating bullets and ordering yet another cup of coffee.

Harry had assumed that a de-maged Snape, out of robes and without a wand, would be somehow neutered. Tamed even. Wrongo. The biceps sneaking out from under the cuffs of his tee-shirt were taut and buff; years of stirring and handling cauldrons had given him some muscles. The combination of the dark sunglasses and bald head was even more menacing than Snape's previous flinty eyes and unnaturally black hanks of greasy hair. Belatedly, Harry realized that Snape's aura of power and menace was innate; it had nothing to do with him being a formidable wizard. Even Mr. Morales was plainly in awe of him. This in itself was not a little scary because Mr. Morales emanated that expectant air of violence about him that Vincent Crabbe used to have. As if a day without beating up people was like a day without sunshine. And this man said, "Yes, Mr. Smith," with as much reverence and respect as the rest of the crew.

Harry fished in his pocket for some money for the bill and tip. He clearly needed a game plan. Just walking up to Snape and announcing his presence was definitely suicidal. And while he was suicidal, death by Snape would only be a last resort. Then there was the help, who would probably duke it out for the honor of maiming him. Snape obviously was running some hire-a-convict-save-someone-from-getting-killed-today program. And now that his magic was almost dead… Fuck. Mr. Morales. Well. Enough said. Arm-breakers Anonymous had a chair with his name on it. The other waiter, who walked on the balls of his feet and whose face had that smashed-in, off-center look of a prizefighter who'd taken too many hits to the head, outweighed Harry by at least three stones. Mr. Perez, who must have truly pissed off a higher power in his last life to be Snape's prep cook in this one, had several tears tattooed on his face. Harry hadn't been in Arizona more than a couple of days when he found out the meaning behind that. The dishwasher? A small, elderly man, who was eighty if he was a day, but whose arms were entirely covered in truly scary tattoos, which more than just hinted at years of prison time. And Harry considered himself something of an expert on scary tattoos. Snape's Mark would be a weenie job compared to all this inky largess.

Okay, whatever insane plan he was going to dredge up, it wasn't going to happen today. He really could use some of Hermione's ingenuity right now, because he didn't have a fucking clue what he was going to do. The diner was closed tomorrow and Tuesday. Perhaps by Wednesday morning he'd have an epiphany—

Three things happened at once. A fist grabbed the neck of his tee-shirt and hauled him out of the booth. Harry noticed the diner was empty of customers. And a "Well, well, well, Mr. Potter," reached his ears.

A voice so smoky and dangerous that Harry said a very small prayer before all air was cut off to his brain.

In rapid succession, he was flung up against a wall, Snape whipped out Harry's wand from his jeans' pocket, and then Mr. Morales hoisted him up so that Harry was dangling in the air, held up by the wall against his back and Mr. Morales' palm pressing into his windpipe.

"He's blue enough. Let him down. Leave us."

"You sure, Mr. Smith?"

Even as Harry fought for breath, he could tell that Mr. Morales was sorely disappointed that no arm-breaking or blood-letting was on the agenda. Apparently, near-strangulation just didn't cut the mustard.

"He's harmless. Have Misters Perez and Vasquez break down the station per the usual. I shall return after Mr. Potter and I have a little chat. I won't be long. Would you be so kind as to get some ice in a plastic bag? I do believe Mr. Potter's throat is swelling. You were rather enthusiastic."

"Sure, Mr. Smith."

Harry sat in a heap, knowing that he'd never breathe properly again. He'd gasp like a dying fish for the rest of his life.

"Come, come, Mr. Potter. You always were prone to histrionics."

"You have that man's…" Harry wheezed a few times, "hand around your throat and then tell me how prone…" he coughed and then stifled a second cough, as his breakfast had vague ideas of making an appearance in his lap. He must have turned green or something because Snape informed him, "Be sick on my floor and you will regret it."

The breakfast stayed put.

A few more gasps and wheezes, he was hauled to his feet, a plastic bag filled with ice shoved into his hand, and then his hand shoved to his throat.

"You are staying where?"

"Vernon's Motel."

"The locals call it Vermin's Motel. I certainly hope you didn't even think of using the bed. Head lice would be the least of your worries. You will drive there. I will follow you."

There was no, "Gee, my waiter nearly killed you, do you think you can drive?" "You seem to have trouble breathing. Do you want a few minutes to get yourself together?" No. It was typical Snape. "You sliced open an artery. Tsk. Tsk. Stop that infernal bleeding and get on with it."

Harry managed to keep the ice up to his throat and drive one-handed back to his motel. He didn't bother to see if Snape was behind him as he opened his door. He knew he was; Harry could smell the faint odor of butter and fried onions. Snape moved soundlessly as always. The man had seemingly glided at Hogwarts, probably thought he was walking on water Harry had muttered at the beginning of their sixth year. Hermione and Dean were the only ones who got that reference, but for some reason it became almost a daily topic of conversation in the Gryffindor common room: whether or not Snape had feet. Ron always contended Snape was too evil to have feet. "Of course, he has feet, Ronald. What are you on about?" Hermione would huff. To which Ron would reply, "Have you ever seen them? Bet the git doesn't have feet at all. They're gnarled hooves with nails six inches long that he shoves into shoes to make us think he has feet." "Nonsense," Hermione would snort. "Besides, even with hooves he'd still make noise." To stop the inevitable fight, Harry would point out that it really didn't matter what he had masquerading as feet, he still glided. There was no reason to think his gliding abilities would have declined after five years in the Arizona desert, hooves or no hooves.

Harry collapsed in the one chair in the room, not caring if Snape needed a chair or not. He closed his eyes and eased up on the ice just a bit. Maybe he wouldn't die of asphyxiation after all.

"May I have my wand back, please?" he croaked.

"Don't be ridiculous, Mr. Potter," Snape drawled.

Harry opened his eyes. Snape stood with his arms folded in his best don't-fuck-with-me-Potter stance, Harry's wand clutched tightly in one hand.

"Doesn't matter, you git. Am almost a Squib."

He'd seen Snape's rage, his scorn, his contempt, a whole host of reactions, but he'd never seen astonishment.

"Yeah, a Squib," he repeated, so there was no doubt. "More or less. Harry Potter, no longer the Boy-Who-Lived. It's now the Boy-Who-Can't. I have the magical ability of a three year old. And not even that for long, so please give me my fucking wand back. I figure I've got about three weeks of magic left, and what I do have left is bottom of the barrel spells and charms. An Accio wand is about as good as it gets these days."

"A Squib."

Harry let the bag of ice drop to the floor. Who cared if the carpet got wet? Probably the first time it'd seen water in twenty years.

"Like you. Like all the Death Eaters when I killed Voldemort. Isn't that ironic? Ha. Bloody. Ha. Just took a lot longer in me. I wasn't de-maged all at once. It's been just…sort of seeping out of me. Like a cut that won't heal and finally I'll just be drained of all magic. Sort of like bleeding to death."

Exactly like bleeding to death.

"Your scar?" Snape's forehead furrowed into deep lines.

"Hermione thinks, yeah. Functioned more or less like the Mark. So when I killed him, I killed my own magic. Eventually." He closed his eyes again. What in the fuck was he thinking? Fool's errand. Buying an airline ticket, and thinking Snape could help him was just about the stupidest thing he'd ever done.

He heard the bed squeak.

Snape had sat down, staring at him, the sunglasses in hand. His eyes were the same: dark, unreadable.

"Why no hair? If I hadn't heard your voice I'd never have known it was you. Except for the hands. And the snarling, of course."

Snape ran his free hand over his bald dome and actually smiled a little. A real smile. "The Aurors shaved my head in a fruitless attempt to humiliate me when they incarcerated me in Azkaban. I found I actually prefer it. It was liberating. Yet another symbol of the wizarding world I was forced to give up; however, in this case, gratefully so. Spend a summer in the Arizona desert and you'll appreciate my point of view."

Harry could already appreciate it. His own hair, nearly down to his waist by now, was uncomfortable and sticky, despite the ubiquitous air-conditioning. No sooner did he wash it than it felt dirty. Must be the endless wind kicking up the dust. Not to mention that it was eighty-five-fucking-degrees and only April. What would it be like in August?

"How did you find me, Mr. Potter, and what do you think I can do for you?"

"Professor McGonagall—"

"I shall kill that woman—"

"No, no, look. Lay off her. I was in a, uh, pretty bad way. Um, going through a rough patch…"

Rough. Patch. You could call it that. Being on suicide watch in St. Mungo's for six months. Being so depressed that your day was spent curled up in a fetal position for hours and hours on end, only getting up to take a piss, and even that a monumental effort. Refusing to talk to anyone, not even replying to the simplest questions until the day McGonagall came into your room and said, "Professor Snape is still alive, in the United States in a place called Arizona." And you find your fingers loosening from the fists they'd been curled up in for hours…

"Yeah, rough."

"I cannot help you, Mr. Potter." Snape stood up to leave and handed Harry's wand back to him.

Harry refused to take it. "You knew it was me!" Harry cried. "How did you know? Could you sense my magic? Have you been able to get some of your magic back?" Harry knew he sounded desperate. Hysterical even. But this was why he came, why he was willing to grovel to a man he despised, whom he had hated almost as much as Voldemort. If anyone knew how to reverse this, how to stop it, how to get his magic back it would be Snape.

Snape shook his head. "I have no miracles for you, Mr. Potter." Harry truly began to get frightened because Snape wasn't berating him. He was, in fact, speaking to him in a detached and reasonable voice. "As you learned from my trial, my magic died when you killed the Dark Lord; like all the other Death Eaters and you, apparently. However, I can sense magic. I knew the minute you walked into the diner you were there. Your magic is distinct. It always has been. I have spent three days waiting for an Avada Kedavra in the back."

Harry made a sound of protest.

"Spare me, Mr. Potter. You hate me that much. Don't you dare deny it."

Harry shrugged. He was right. There was no point in lying. "I wouldn't AK you in the back though."

"Your Gryffindor sensibilities have stayed with you to the last. You didn't come to kill me?" /p>

"No. And I couldn't even if I wanted to. Not with…" and he gestured to his scar.

At that Snape raised an eyebrow. Only Snape would be amused by the thought of someone openly admitting he wanted to kill him. And how Harry had wanted to kill him over the years. The killing of Albus Dumbledore was the final act that pitched Harry from a hatred of Snape to this visceral rage that was only rivaled by his loathing for Voldemort. Harry thought he'd die of frustration when Dumbledore's Pensieve revealed Snape's innocence, that Dumbledore was begging Snape to kill him, to free that despicable Draco Malfoy of the sin of killing him. Because Dumbledore was already dying. It left Harry unbearably frustrated because nothing was going to bring Dumbledore back, but the knowledge of Snape's relative innocence left him with little justification for violence.

"I will pass on what I know. I've lived like this since the Dark Lord died. I imagine this is the status quo. It has not altered in seven years. When your magic completely dies, you will still be able to walk in Diagon Alley, assuming that someone opens the bricks for you, which is what allowed me to clean out my account in Gringotts and leave England once and for all. You will be able to see magical places, which is what allowed me to glory in all the filth and decay of my cell in Azkaban. Hogwarts won't be closed to you, which is what allowed me to remove my few possessions upon my release. Portkeys will still function, which is how I came to the United States. You will be able to feel magic, the presence of it, and other wizards, which is how I knew that you had entered my diner. That is it in a nutshell. I have no miracles up my proverbial sleeve. Take your wand. Go back home." Snape put on his sunglasses and again offered Harry his wand.

"That's it? Those are your words of wisdom?"

Snape threw his wand at him, Harry lunged for it and caught it, for some reason his Seeker skills the one thing to survive unscathed.

"Yes, that's it, you utter ingrate." Snape was spitting he was so angry. "What else did you want? The offer of a lemon drop? I have told you what you wanted to know, now go home. If you don't believe me, ask your former classmates rotting in Azkaban. Or those lucky enough to get short sentences. Pansy Parkinson only received three years, I understand. Go ask her. Go—"

"There isn't anybody else, you fucking arse," Harry cried. "There's you and me. That's it."

Snape jerked and stared at him, horrified. "No one else is alive?"

"One. Michael Corner is in St. Mungo's and spends his days building replicas of Hogwarts out of toothpicks. He hasn't said anything remotely coherent in five years. Everyone else is…" He left it at that. Malfoy had pried open the jaws of a dead rat and used its fangs to carve up his forearms and bled to death in his cell at Azkaban. Goyle purposefully made a break for it so that the guards would AK him. Pansy Parkinson's first act upon being released from Azkaban was to throw herself in front of a speeding train, Theodore Nott… "There isn't anyone else I can ask. Nobody could stand it. They either went crazy or killed themselves. You're the only one left besides me. Don't you get it? Don't you think you'd be my last resort?"

The patron in the room next to Harry banged on the wall, followed by a muffled, "Keep it down in there." He must have been shouting. Bringing his hands up to rub his eyes, he was horrified to realize he'd been crying.

"Calm yourself, Mr. Potter," Snape ordered. "Draco Malfoy?"

Harry shook his head. He told him what had happened to Draco Malfoy.

"Gregory Goyle?"

Harry shook his head again. He told him what had happened to Greg Goyle.

They went through the list of his classmates and their parents, and their respective fates. All the Slytherins of his year were gone, as were a few Ravenclaws and a couple of Hufflepuffs. Aside from Michael Corner, who was bat-shit insane, to a man and women all the Death Eaters were dead. Even in the gloom of the motel room, Harry could see Snape's face slowly leech of the small amount of color it had as they counted off the dead. Even Snape couldn't live in the desert and not boast something of a tan, but it all went. He was left as colorless and wan as he'd been when he'd lived in a dungeon for twenty years.

"You see?" Harry croaked out, wiping his cheeks with his palms. He'd stopped crying years ago; it didn't do much good he found, but this. This verbal confirmation of how many had died, and how they'd died, their guilt or innocence immaterial for once. Harry understood like no one else what it was like to lose your magic and want to kill yourself because of it. He couldn't blame them and he had yet to join them, but the increasing conviction that it was only a matter of time prompted this last of all last ditch efforts.

When they had finished cataloguing the complete destruction of most of the Pureblood houses in wizarding England, the two of them sat there, in silence. When the war ended, Harry had noted, somewhat smugly, that Voldemort's obsessive hatred of all things half-breed had, in fact, caused the annihilation of everything he allegedly held dear, but at this point it all seemed moot. Harry wasn't smug now. He couldn't grin in triumph. He couldn't say, "See? See? We were right." Because being right didn't bring back Charlie Weasley and being right didn't bring back Kingsley Shacklebolt and being right didn't mean that Michael Corner was ever going to utter a complete sentence ever again and being right didn't mean he wasn't going to lose his magic. Because he was, that was certain. And if Snape couldn't throw him a fucking lifeline, anything, then he was either going to go completely around the twist or kill himself. There didn't seem to be any other option.

It was several minutes before Snape took off his sunglasses once more and faced Harry. "I see."

"Yeah," Harry muttered, earning a roll of the eyes.

"I suppose it was too much to hope that the intervening years would have taught you to speak in sentences, Mr. Potter. Get yourself a glass of water. Rinse out the glass first, I doubt it is clean. Drink the water in its entirety. It is easy to become dehydrated in this heat. Wash your face. When you are done, ask your questions. You will not like my answers, you never do, but I cannot help that."

Harry bit back a retort that he wouldn't have minded Snape's answers if they hadn't always been cloaked in sarcasm and contempt, but he let it go. When he returned from the bathroom, the color had returned to Snape's face. He had appropriated the chair, leaving Harry no option but to sit on the bed.


Now that he had Snape's attention, he didn't know what to say. Oh god, okay, just blurt it out. "How do you stay sane? How do you get up in the morning and…" Not want to kill yourself. "You must miss it as much as I do. You must. You were brilliant. A greasy, sarcastic, nasty git, but brilliant. The foremost Potions master in Britain. How?"

Harry felt himself tearing up again. This had been a mistake. All that denial he'd been building up, year after year, despite the certainty that his magic was finite, dying in him with every spell he cast, every charm he uttered, was crumbling. Here was one of the most powerful wizards he'd ever met and he couldn't even Accio a spatula if he wanted one.

Snape steepled his hands. Long-fingered, beautiful hands. Hands no longer stained by potions.

"If I may offer you a tiny word of advice, Mr. Potter. Do not insult people you want something out of. You will balk at this, but our situations are not so different. We have both been at the mercy of two men for most of our lives. The Dark Lord and Albus Dumbledore…"

"Don't you say anything about Dumbledore! Don't you—" Harry leaped off the bed, ready to hit Snape, to break something…

"Stop. Sit," Snape hissed. Harry paused. "You asked for this and you are bloody well going to listen." Harry sat. "You were the victim of the Dark Lord's twin evil desires to live forever and preside over a wizarding world cleansed of half-breeds. It was always about power, his power, and he would do anything to realize that power. Albus' manipulations were much more altruistic, sit down, Mr. Potter, but no less exact. Do not deny that sometimes you were his pawn. Your entire fifth year you were nothing but a sullen brat, acting out against that very idea. That you were being moved around the chessboard in Albus' fatal game with the Dark Lord. That you had little control and no knowledge of what was happening. Do you deny that you were being used?"

Snape's voice was as cutting as Harry had ever heard it. And he couldn't deny any of it. But he didn't answer, because to answer was to…

"And in your sixth year, he asked a sixteen-year old boy to force him to drink a potion he knew would kill him—"

"Stop!" Harry begged.

"That he knew would kill him, and yet he was willing to let this young man, a boy who was like a grandson to him, he let him shoulder that burden—"

"For Christ's sake, stop," he cried, not bothering to stop the tears this time.

"Very well. I merely wish to draw your attention to the fact that I was not the only person responsible for Dumbledore's death. We were united in that happy event. You and I were pawns until the end. He was, because of the Dark Lord's rapacious desire for power, forced to use any tools at his disposal to stop him, which, unfortunately, included you and me. Dumbledore was as ruthless as Lord Voldemort. Fortunately, he had more morals. He hated using us, but use us he did."

"Yes," Harry admitted with a whisper, his stomach roiling. Because all of it was true, and trust Snape not to sugarcoat any of it. To call a spade a spade. "But what does this have to do with losing your magic and…?"


The steepled hands came down slowly, with deliberation, so that Harry could see Snape's face. "So that you understand when I say that I am here on my own terms. That no one is my master now. I might not have my magic, but then again, I don't have the Ministry using me as a poster boy for reformed Death Eaters. Have they been parading you around, trotting you out for events like some carnival act? I see by the look on your face they have. I am here on my own terms. For the first time in years, Mr. Potter, decades, I answer to no one but myself."

"I don't understand," Harry said flatly.

"I cannot state it any more plainly. I have survived because I have found my own terms. I will not deny that some days are better than others. Unfortunately, Mr. Potter, I have an additional burden you do not have. For many years I used my magic in a despicable manner. First, I used it in the service of Lord Voldemort, in the latter years, in the service of Albus Dumbledore. You might argue that it was necessary. That I was doing it for the greater good. Albus would. You have seen enough of war to know that that argument would only satisfy a man of Dumbledore's ilk. He was, I believe, a man who truly believed that enormous evil committed with the intention of doing enormous good somehow mitigated the sin. I am not so sanguine; despicable is despicable." Snape moved to the door. "Magic is a gift. Some would see it fitting that I have lost something I abused so completely. You do not have such comfort, if I can call it that. But my advice still stands. Find your terms, Mr. Potter."

"Being a fry cook is your 'own terms'?" Harry said incredulously. Surely Snape didn't mean that?

Snape's hand was on the doorknob. "Yes, Mr. Potter, as hard as you find this to believe. It is my diner. I serve what I want to cook. I employ whom I want. I even control who crosses the threshold. It is a small life, but I think you'll agree that I lived a very large life for a number of years. In some ways, losing my magic was a small price to pay for my freedom. Good day, Mr. Potter." And then he was gone.

Harry flipped the Do Not Disturb sign over and lay curled up on his bed for the next two days, getting up only to buy the occasional candy bar and take a piss. He drifted in and out of a half-sleep state, not having the will to do anything more than shove quarters into the vending machine and peel back the foil on a chocolate bar. He should return the rental car. He should change motels; this place was a pit, plus he'd about emptied out the vending machine. He should check out flights back to the U.K. He didn't do any of the things he was supposed to do. He ate candy bars, napped, and let Hedwig in and out. She liked it here. American mice and lizards must be tastier than their English counterparts. She'd wait until the sun was fully down and then peck impatiently on the window. Harry would let her out, watching her soar over the expanse of the harsh desert landscape. Just before dawn, she'd return with a sharp rap on his window, a satisfied look on her face. She'd nip affectionately at his ear before gliding into her cage for a sleep, exhausted after her night of terrorizing the American rodent population. If he set her free, she'd be happy here.

On Wednesday morning it was still dark when he was woken up by the sharp ring of his telephone. Who in the fuck was calling…

"Mr. Potter, Mr. Vasquez has had a heart attack. I need a dishwasher. Be useful. I shall pick you up in ten minutes."

"Useful" meant going to the market with Snape to be his fetch and carry. Harry toted flats of berries, sacks of potatoes, cartons of eggs, sixty-eight pound butter blocks, and cases of dairy products. By five a.m., he was fucking exhausted and hadn't even started his shift.

If he ever made his shift. Snape was the world's worst driver. If you were going to fail at one thing, Harry didn't think he'd pick driving when you'd relocated to a place where cars were practically a religion. Snape seemed to be physically incapable of shifting gears without grinding them. He must go through a clutch and a transmission a year. Plus he braked constantly, even when he didn't need to stop, also effectively stripping the gears, and then he'd speed up for no reason. Stoplights and stop signs seemed to be mere decoration as far as he was concerned. Harry had been too sleepy on the way to the market to notice, but on the drive back to the diner he was fully awake and wasn't going to last much longer without getting the dry heaves if Snape didn't pull over.

"Stop! Stop the truck right now!"

"Potter, what in the seven hells—"

"You are, without a doubt, the worst driver in the entire United States. Why we haven't been killed is beyond me. You've run three red lights, stripped your gears six times, and popped the clutch, unintentionally, I might add, twice, and we've driven less than a mile. I have no intention of dying on some godforsaken highway in the middle of Bumfuck, Arizona, because you can't drive a truck. Either let me out and I'll hitchhike to the diner, or you let me drive. There is no negotiation on this issue."

Harry braced himself for the verbal onslaught. The invective laced with scorn that being able to ride a broom did not qualify him to operate a truck. And the million other insults that Snape seemed to have at his fingertips in regards to Harry's mountain of shortcomings.

It didn't come. Snape pulled over, stopped the truck, and said, "Fine. You drive."

Harry got out, Snape scooted over to his side, and on they went. When they reached the diner, Snape said, "I do not like to drive," as if that explained all.

The other members of the crew seemed to take his appearance in stride. They nodded at his, "Um, I'm Harry," helped him unload the truck, and then Mr. Tears-equals-time-spent-in-prison Perez showed him how to use the dishwasher. The next six hours were hell. The thing about having only one menu is that the food flew out of the kitchen. Harry couldn't keep up. Within the first hour he'd broken six glasses, four plates, and stabbed himself with a fork. After every breakage Snape would announce to the room at large, "That is coming out of your wages, Mr. Potter." Plus the hardest part was yet to come because after the last meal was served, he and Mr. Perez had to break down the kitchen. The waiters went home, Snape retired to the small desk in the corner to pay bills and count the money from the day's till, and he and Mr. Perez scrubbed clean the kitchen to the point of being able to conduct open-heart surgery should the occasion warrant it. Naturally, Harry had suffered through enough detentions with Snape to know the caliber of cleanliness demanded, and he was gratified to get a thumbs up and a "Call me Juan," when the two of them had cleaned the last set of kitchen mats.

When Snape inspected the kitchen and gave a nod of approval, Juan left quietly out the back door, although Harry could hear him whistling the minute he'd cleared the threshold. Snape went back to his desk, and Harry collapsed into a booth in front, convinced that he'd actually died and hell was being Snape's dishwasher for eternity.

"Fucking bloody fuck, someone kill me now," he groaned.

"I would gladly bash your brains out with a cast iron frying pan. Or would you prefer that I strangle you with your own apron strings? I am at your disposal." Snape stood towering over him. Muscles he never knew he owned throbbed and ached.

"Since I'm not your student anymore, can I tell you—"

"Think again."

"I hurt everywhere," he complained.

"Think how you'll feel tomorrow," said Snape, with not a small amount of glee. "You're pathetic, Mr. Potter. Mr. Vasquez is seventy-eight years old, and I've never heard him whinge once. It's just a few dishes."

"A few thousand dishes. And is this the same Mr. Vasquez who is now in hospital with a heart attack? Ding, ding, ding. The young man lying prostrate in utter agony wins this round."

"Up, Mr. Potter. We are to collect your things. I have written Professor McGonagall. You are to stay with me until I hear from her, at which point I hope to be free of you. Forever."

This was said with such vehemence that Harry did a double-take. Why had he agreed to any of this? Was he insane in addition to being suicidal? Agreeing for even one day to be Snape's dishwasher. Plus, that "think how you'll feel tomorrow" meant Snape assumed it was a steady gig until Mr. Vasquez got back on his feet or died, or until McGonagall wrote to Snape with a miracle tucked in her letter.

He looked at Snape again. He was so exhausted that even that tiny motion caused him to wince in pain—who knew eyebrows could hurt?—and saw that surety again. Snape was as pissy as all get out, but he wasn't unhappy. Whatever demons Snape wrestled with, whatever misery he faced at night in the dark alone, he got up and did what he had to do. Harry finally got what Snape was trying to tell him the other day. Snape was okay with being a fry cook. As sad as this was, "okay" was something Harry would give his right arm for these days. If Snape had found okay here in Bumfuck, Arizona, what's to say Harry couldn't as well? Maybe this was only a temporary okay, but oddly enough, or perhaps because he was desperate enough, that was good enough for now; maybe Harry could steal some okay from Snape. For just a little while.

"Sorry to be such a burden, just drop me off at the motel," he grumbled.

"You are a most grievous burden; you always have been. Unfortunately, I wish to maintain my anonymity here. The worst thing in the world would be to have Minerva McGonagall descend here in her summer tartans because she believes I am mistreating you. You will sleep on my couch, until I receive word. I noticed you've brought your owl with you. Fortunately for you both, I have a bell tower."

Harry hadn't counted on the okay part including living with Snape, but it would only be for a few days. Plus he might get some more insight into why Snape was more or less happy with his current profession, which as far as Harry could tell never got more interesting than deciding whether to serve waffles or pancakes. Well, not happy, Snape didn't do happy. But he did sound okay with it.

Snape stayed in the truck with the engine running while Harry threw his clothes into his duffel bag, checked out, arranged for someone to pick up the rental car, and then stood in the blazing heat on the tarmac for ten minutes, trying to coax Hedwig down from the corner of the building where she sat pouting because he hadn't been there to let her in that morning. Finally giving up because Snape was about to stroke out, shouts of "Potter" were getting more and more vehement, he yelled, "Follow me, girl," and got into the truck.

"Mr. Potter," he growled, "Muggles do not converse with owls. Do nothing to bring attention to yourself."

Harry shoved the truck into gear and peeled out of the parking lot. "You are unbelievable. Giving me tips on how to act as a Muggle, on how to blend in. Tip number one: shave your head completely bald; tip number two: wear wrap-around dark sunglasses while flipping pancakes; tip number three: own a diner where menus are non-existent; tip number—"

"You've made your point, Mr. Potter. Right here and then drive for twenty miles straight as the crow, or in your case, owl, flies. I suggest we cease all conversation until we reach my home."

"Fine," Harry huffed and hiked up the air-conditioning as far as it would go. The whoosh of the air-conditioning filled the cab so that even if Harry had had something to say to Snape, which he didn't unless it was to tell him he was an impatient arse, they would have had to shout at each other over the air. It was pleasant, this white noise and the constant blast of cool air. Relaxing. Plus Harry liked driving; a piss poor substitute for a broom, but beggars can't be choosers. Fairly soon his irritation with Snape dissipated as the truck hugged the road and the gentle bounce of the carriage eased the tension in his muscles. He sat back and began to enjoy the drive. Houses soon dwindled down to nearly nothing, and then there were no houses. Harry kept checking the rear view mirror, but Hedwig was keeping up with no problem, a white dot against the deep blue of the sky.

Harry hadn't seen another car for at least ten minutes when Snape said, "Three fence posts beyond here will be a driveway. Turn in."

Harry obeyed and within another minute or two they were in front of an old adobe building. It did have a bell tower. Harry got out of the truck and stared.

"Yes, Mr. Potter, it seems that even in my forced retirement I cannot escape the classroom. This was the original school for the Spanish land grant. It dates back to the early 1800s."

"Whatever possessed you to buy a school?" Harry wondered.

"I didn't buy the school; I bought the isolation," Snape said and he walked up to the front door.

You certainly got it. Harry did a one-eighty. Nothing but sage brush, the occasional cactus, and so much sky that Harry felt utterly eclipsed and terribly alone. Fuck, it was bleak. Hedwig swooped down and landed on a fence post, her head cocked at an odd angle as if to say, "Harry, what have you gotten us into now?" He reached into his pocket and brought out the scrap of bacon he'd been keeping for her as a treat. "Veritable mouse heaven out there for you tonight," he promised, in an attempt to placate her. "In your cage. Bet you need some rest after that fly." She willingly swooped in, nipping the bacon from his finger a little sharply to show her displeasure over current events.

"Everyone's a critic today," Harry sighed. He grabbed his coat from the back of the truck, threw it over her cage to give her some dark, and walked in through the open door.

There wasn't a single interior wall, not a one; it was just one gigantic room. A home for one and only one. The living room, kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom were only distinguishable by the grouping of furniture, which could only have come from Hogwarts. Acres and acres of dark, ornately carved Victorian bedstead, tables, and chairs so massive and overwhelming that the only thing that stopped Harry from having an acute attack of claustrophobia was the thirty-foot high ceiling. And except for the few feet for the bathtub, toilet, and kitchen counters, there wasn't an inch of wall space that wasn't covered in bookshelves and books. In the middle of it all, like a tarantula on a wedding cake, sat a thirty-six inch television set with a DVD player.

"Close your mouth, Mr. Potter. The ground rules." He pointed to the bathtub up against the wall in the corner. "I shower twice a day. In the morning and when I get home. I expect you'll want to do the same. It is my home, I shower first."

Harry nodded. No problem.

"I do not cook. I eat yoghurt, salads, nuts, and fruit. The last thing I want to do when I've been slaving over a hot grill is to slave over a hot stove. I suggest that whatever your dietary needs are, they conform to mine."

Harry nodded again. He snorted silently at the use of the word conform. As if "conform to mine" wasn't Snape for "Fuck you, there's yoghurt or nothing."

"Washing machine is there," Snape pointed toward the kitchen near the back door, "as is the dryer. Use that dryer in this heat and I will kill you. You will hang your clothes out to dry. There is a clothesline outside. You may—"

"Why can't I use the dryer?" asked Harry. It seemed like an innocent question.

"Because, you imbecile, the Spanish Don who built this schoolhouse neglected to put in air-conditioning. You turn on that dryer and this room will be about one hundred and fifty degrees in less than five minutes. That's why. Couch is there, which is where you'll sleep—"

"What's the stove for if you don't cook?" The six-burner gas top looked mighty impressive.

"I boil water for tea and concoct the occasional potion and before you get your hopes up, they are medicinal potions derived from plants. Our routine will be thus. I will get up at 3:30 am and take my shower. You will get up at 3:34 am to take your shower. We will—"

"You take four-minute showers?"

"Three-and-one-half-minute showers. You may have five minutes, no more. We will have a quick cup of tea and then head to the market. You will eat breakfast at the diner. Every day will be identical to today until I hear from that infernal Minerva McGonagall. After we close up, we drive back here, shower, have a light supper, and then either read or watch movies. The diner is open Wednesday through Sunday. Sunday afternoons after work are sacrosanct. I watch football. I quite enjoy seeing people pummel each other. It's a poor substitute for Quidditch, but I have to admit that Americans have an enormous talent for orchestrating violence. Monday is devoted to cleaning this place, laundry, and errands. In that order. You will do your share. Tuesday is my day of rest. You will be seen and not heard." Snape paused. "Seen and not heard," he repeated. "There is," Snape waved a tired hand over the room, "absolutely no privacy. You lived in a dorm, as did I. We will manage. It can't be for but a few days."

Harry nodded. He could stand anything for a few days.

Given their past enmity, Harry was amazed things went relatively well. Some of it might have to do with the fact that Harry had never worked so hard in his life. By the end of the day even speaking required more energy than he had. He went to bed every night at eight and, despite the fact that Snape's couch was so uncomfortable it could probably double as some arcane torture device, he was asleep as soon as his eyes closed.

Then there was the Snape factor.

Not the usual Snape factor, which he'd accepted as gospel for the last fourteen years, which was, "I am an unmitigated bastard twenty-four seven." It was more like, "I am still a bastard, but perhaps not an unmitigated bastard twenty-four seven."

The first night Harry was there, he'd cleared the table and just finished washing the dishes when he realized in horror that McGonagall's letter might reveal certain facts about him that Snape might appreciate knowing. Since they were sharing a room. Fucking hell.

"Um, Snape?"

Snape did not put down the newspaper he was reading. "I think it better if you call me Mr. Smith."

"Okay. Smith." Harry conveniently left off the "mister" to make his point. "Just so you know, so it's not like, a, uh, surprise…"

"Yes?" The paper stayed aloft.

Oh fuck. "Umay."

Snape still continued to read. "Mr. Potter. Enunciate. I know that full sentences are often beyond your ken, but I would appreciate both a subject and a verb this go around."


"I'm gay. Uh, just thought you should know, in case. Since we're sharing…this." Harry looked everywhere but at Snape.

"And this revelation gives you license to abuse my dishcloth?"

Snape had finally put down his blasted newspaper and was not gaping at Harry in disgust, but staring in the direction of Harry's hands. Harry looked down and realized he had torn the dishtowel in two.

"Sorry, I'll buy you another one. Yeah, sorry."

"See that you do," was his only comment and he went back to his newspaper.

"You're okay with this?"

Snape sighed, shook out the newspaper so that its creases lined up, folded it neatly, and placed it on the coffee table. It looked pristine, like it had never been read.

"Mr. Potter, do you plan on molesting me sexually in my sleep?"

Harry's stomach metaphorically fell to the floor.

"God, no, of course bloody not. No!"

"Spare me the hysterics. I assume this is the basis for your falling out with Miss Weasley and not your loss of magic? Or was it both?"

"Both, sort of," Harry admitted. "But the gay thing clinched it."

"This is a recent revelation?"

"Uh, no. After the war there was a lot of partying—"

"Meaning you didn't see one sober day in months."

Harry shrugged, because that pretty much described it. A long two-year bender where they drank because they were relieved and drank to forget what they had done, and, most importantly, drank to forget who hadn't made it.

One evening when Ginny was off visiting her mother, he and Ron had gone pub-crawling. Nothing odd about that. Did that most nights. Got stinking drunk. Again, business as usual. Business not as usual was the kissing, followed by mutual hand jobs and blow jobs. Harry woke up with his arm curled around Ron's waist and the word, "Brilliant" on his lips. Ron, unfortunately, did not think it so brilliant.

"We are never discussing this. And we are never doing this again. Ever. Ever! Do you understand?" As if to punctuate that demand, Ron then ran to the loo and threw-up.

At the time, Harry was never sure if it was from the booze or the memory of the sex, but he had his answer when Ron moved out that day, went to kip with George, and then, lest Harry still didn't get it, he bought Hermione an engagement ring the next week and the two of them moved in together.

Harry couldn't forget how bloody marvelous it had felt having Ron's dick in his hand, how completely normal and real it was to run his hands over a bloke's arse. So at the next party he slunk off to a hall closet with Zach Smith for a blowjob. He barely had a buzz on so he couldn't blame the bliss of Smith's hot mouth around him on the booze. Which prompted him to really get pass-out drunk after they'd zipped up and went back to the party. When he woke up the next day, raging hangover aside, he came to terms with the fact that he enjoyed the blowjobs he got from Ginny and he did love her, but it was nothing compared to getting one from Smith, which lit him up like a fucking Christmas tree. And he hated that fucker.

"You are sure?"


"Noted. All mail and newspapers are delivered to the diner. I read two newspapers a day." He pointed to them lying in their perfect pile on the coffee table: The New York Times and the local rag. I suggest you do the same. I ran into some rather nasty situations when I first settled here because I didn't have an inkling about American culture or politics. It is a boring but necessary exercise."

You ran into some nasty situations because you're a critical jerk and couldn't restrain yourself from telling everyone who crossed your path how stupid or incompetent they were.

"Okay. But you're all right—"

"Mr. Potter, stop beating a dead horse. You are homosexual. I understand. I am assuming you told me because you were afraid that Professor McGonagall would announce such in her letter, not because you feel any compulsion to bare your soul. Am I correct?"

"Something like that."

"I suspected as much. Now, I'm exhausted, I would like to go to sleep. Any more earth-shattering revelations?"

"No, that about covers it. But…should I watch what I say, uh, around, I'm a little worried about the crew. They, um, seem…all like…they were…um. Have they all done prison time?" he blurted out. This had really been worrying Harry because there were all those knives around, and he only had few good spells left in him. Somehow he didn't think that Mr. Morales would be very forgiving if Harry Stupefied him.

"No. Although I have to admit that Mr. Morales would, without a doubt, be incarcerated if he had been caught. The other three did not really commit major crimes in my opinion. At least according to their rap sheets."

Harry thought about this, and then weighed it against the fact that Snape had been a Death Eater.

"Define major crime."

"Murder for hire. Torture for hire."

"Mr. Morales?"

"I couldn't say."

"Thanks, that's really reassuring. Now I'll get a good night's sleep."

Snape made one of his hand waves, as if dismissing a trifle. "A majority of the wizarding world thinks I am a criminal."

True. The jury was still out on that one as far as Harry was concerned.

"And you hired them because…?"

"Mr. Vasquez, Mr. Perez, and Mr. Gutierrez are exceptionally hard workers. I pay them double the going rate. I treat them with respect." Snape paused. "In my own special way. I pay them benefits. I expect them to work like dogs. They do not disappoint me. Their previous employment means nothing to me." Like working in prison kitchens. "Mr. Morales… I hired him because I needed some muscle. He has turned out to be an extremely fine waiter and he enjoys hurting people, a combination made in heaven. He told me something about having to leave Los Angeles because it was too hot, therefore, you probably should not mention Los Angeles around him. I imagine this has nothing to do with the climate there, because I doubt that it gets to be one hundred and ten in the shade during the summer, as it does here. It would behoove you to treat them with respect. I am now going to bed. I do not want to hear another word. More revelations and questions can wait until tomorrow."

Okay, that was surprise number one. Kind of a big one and kind of amazing that he admitted to being bent and Snape didn't go into the mother of all conniption fits and secretly sterilize the silverware after every meal. Once he and Ginny had broken-up it was one of those "it's a secret but everyone knows why" deals, and he'd been surprised at the people who treated him like a leper and surprised at the people who didn't. His relationship with Ron was never the same. Knowing Ron as well as he did, the first thing Ron thought of when he saw him was, "I had my mouth around that guy's dick," and the second was, "Hi, Harry."

Surprise number two was that Snape had a serious hard-on for film noir and hard-boiled mysteries, which explained why his speech was now peppered with anachronistic expressions that Harry didn't understand, but he assumed were gleaned from American films of the forties and fifties. In anyone else it would be endearing. It certainly explained the H.D. television set, because you really didn't need H.D.T.V. to see a bunch of two-hundred-and-fifty pound guys in helmets and pads trying to kill each other every Sunday afternoon. Well, maybe Snape did.

When Harry ventured a question about why film noir, Snape replied, "It is visually stunning and inevitably several people get killed, if not killed then betrayed, and if they aren't dead by the end, they wish they were."

"Sort of like the last thirty years of your life?"

"Exactly, Mr. Potter." Snape raised the eyebrow. "Do you expect me to watch Disney films?"

"Bambi's mother gets killed."

"Good. I dislike venison."

Then there were the mysteries. After sneaking peeks at Snape's bookshelves, Harry was shocked to see that the majority of them were mysteries, not the tomes on the Dark Arts that he'd expected.

"You like mysteries?" Harry asked at dinner on Friday night.

"There's a mystery bookstore in Scottsdale that sends me a box of books every month. The bleaker the better. If you are interested, I suggest starting off with the gods of mystery writing, Hammett and Chandler, then work your way through the rest."

So Harry did. It was an oddly companionable set up. They made the long drive to and from the diner in silence, then showered when they got home. After his shower, Harry would then nap on the couch for an hour or two, waking-up around five, at which Snape would dish up a salad or some fruit, nuts, and yoghurt concoction, they'd eat, and Harry would wash up. If they didn't watch a DVD, they sat reading in comfortable silence until eight, when they'd put the lights out and crash. And start all over again.

The second afternoon Harry suggested putting the extra dining chairs in a corral around the john with a sheet draped over them to make a screen. "I'd just like a little privacy when I… Okay?"


As the week passed, Harry either grew muscles or the muscles he had stopped aching because by Sunday he felt physically all right. He and Juan had just finished hosing the last of kitchen mats when Juan opened the screen door a bit and peeked his head around the door frame. He then beckoned to Harry to stand watch.

"He's still busy. Man, I gotta have a smoke. I'm dying here. Keep an eye out for me. He'll kill me if he sees me."

Harry gamely stood by the door, while Juan half hid behind the dumpster to light up and then took a deep drag on a cigarette.

"Reamed me good the last time he caught me. Practically had scorch marks on my ass."

Harry nodded. He knew how that felt.

"You guys knowed each other before?"

"Uh, yeah." Harry didn't know how much Snape had disclosed about his former life, so he didn't say anything more.

"Figured. You both talk weird. No offense; he talks weirder than you. Plus, you act like you know what he wants. Curly went sick last year and we got a replacement in. That dude was so lazy. Thought Smith was gonna kill him. So you knowed him for a long time and you're still working here?"

Harry grinned. "I'm stupid that way."

"Hey, hey, don' get me wrong," he protested, holding both hands up in the air and then realizing the cigarette was aloft. He quickly brought it back behind his back. "Mr. Smith is a bastard and a half. Never had a boss ride my ass like him. But he's fair in his weird-ass way and the only one who was willing to give me a second chance. Smith's a good dude that way. Me, Hector, Carlos, Curly. Cholos like us don't get second chances. He pays real good too. Something we can actually live on and don't have to work no two jobs. When I applied here, the first thing my parole officer did was call Smith and tell him what a loser I was. That I'd be back in the can within two weeks. Mr. Smith told me he said that, then he said in that voice of his, 'Mr. Perez, you will prove him wrong.' Jus' like that. Like I could prove him wrong. And I did. Asshole. When old man Lee next door retires next year, we're gonna take over his space and open a bakery. Me and Mr. Smith gonna be partners. I'm okay at cooking, but I'm a fucking genius at making pies and shit. Gonna get me some pie action happ'nen here." This was said with some rather spectacularly coordinated arm movements, which made no sense to Harry whatsoever.

It was sort of gratifying that on one level he'd been dead right about the staff being a bunch of ex-cons, gratifying on a totally I-really-wish-I-hadn't-been-right-about-that level. But the idea of Snape running some sort of half-way house for cons was mind-boggling. Well, maybe not. Perhaps of anyone, Snape knew that people often made stupid choices. Plus, the Death Eater thing. Snape probably considered these guys as threatening as a bunch of three-year olds.

"What a 'home fries Nazi'?" Harry asked.

"You know, Seinfeld. Soup Nazi. Home fries Nazi. Get it?"

Harry shook his head.

Juan rolled his eyes, completely incredulous, much in the way Ron used to when Harry didn't know even basic wizarding customs. "Harry, don' you be shitting me. You never seen Seinfeld?"

They had had a television, sure, but he didn't get to watch much of it, and he doubted that Uncle Vernon would watch anything American. He distrusted Americans on principle; he thought they were a nation of hooligans.

"I was raised by my uncle and aunt. Didn't believe in the telly. They were…were…religious fanatics." That wasn't too far off the mark. They were Harry-hating fanatics that's for sure.

"Got some of those in my family. That speaking in tongues thing is just fucking crazy. Like straightjacket crazy. Are they like that?"

Harry nodded because Uncle Vernon should be locked up in a mental institution as far as Harry was concerned.

"Weird-ass motherfuckers. Anyway, on this episode of Seinfeld there was this dude who ran a small place, kind of like this, and he served soup. He was a total asshole, yelling at his customers and shit. But people kept coming back 'cause the soup was so good. Just like you know who." This was said with a thumb hiked toward the diner.

Harry grinned. You didn't need to have a Ph.D in popular culture to get the reference.

"Coast still clear?" Harry nodded; he could still hear the soft click, click, click of the calculator. Juan took another couple of drags, crushed out his cigarette, and then threw the butt in the dumpster. While Harry bent over to pick up a mat, Juan waved his arms to dispel the smoke. "Gotta destroy the evidence. I'll help you in a second. Let's get these mats inside and get our asses—"

"Mr. Perez, you have been smoking." Snape's disembodied voice came through the screen.

"No, Mr. Smith," Juan lied. Harry and Juan shared a conspiratorial grin.

"You are lying, Mr. Perez. I would like to get home sometime this century, Mr. Potter."

Juan rolled his eyes and then beckoned Harry behind the dumpster with a sneaky finger. "Been meaning to tell you, don' get on Carlos' shit list. Okay? Like I done some really bad shit. Stuff I'm not proud of, but what I done is Sunday school compared to Carlos. They just haven't found the bodies. You read me?"

Harry nodded.

"He done some really bad shit, hasn't he?" Juan whispered, looking toward the back door.

Harry looked down and didn't answer. How do you translate "Death Eater" into Muggle and then American?

"S'okay. I know. Can see it in his eyes. He got eyes like us. Hard in the middle. That's why he understands about second chances. Really hard to come back from shit like that. Real hard." Juan paused. "But you, Harry, I can't figure you out, man. You had bad shit done to you. Can see that too. What you doing here?"

Harry heaved a mat across his shoulders. "Sometimes when you have bad shit done to you, you need a second chance too."

Juan shook his head. "That's fucked, man."

He was a little nervous when their weekend came up because then they'd be together for two whole days. Not that they weren't together all the time anyway, but having a grill and a dishwasher between them for six hours a day was some small measure of distance. Like visiting the zoo and having iron bars between you and the man-eating tiger. But it was all right. They slept in until eight and had a leisurely pot of tea while reading the previous day's papers, in silence. In between loading the washing machine and hanging stuff out to dry, Harry cleaned the "bathroom," Snape dusted, swept, and mopped, in silence. By one o'clock they were done.

"We need to drive into town for food and then make a quick stop at the nursery, if you please," Snape informed him as they finished up a late lunch.

"Sure. Why?" wondered Harry as he struggled to spear a crouton with his fork.

"I plan to spend tomorrow brewing a potion for Mr. Vasquez. He comes home from hospital today. Despite my dire predictions, his doctors have not yet killed him, but it is only a matter of time. They are, no doubt, pumping him full of pharmaceuticals that are more toxic than anything else. I am brewing him something that will help his heart and not destroy his liver in the process."

Harry knew this was the height of folly, but plowed ahead anyway.


"Mr. Smith."

"Smith. Don't you think that maybe he should, like, listen to his doctors?"

"American Muggle doctors, Mr. Potter."

"Lithuanian Muggle bricklayers" couldn't have been said with any more contempt.

"Right. Sorry. My mistake. When do you want to leave?"

The next day they slept in again. After breakfast, Snape handed Harry the keys to the truck and said, "Explore. There is civilization one hundred miles down this road." Harry took that as Snape for, "I want some privacy."

Harry found a Wal-mart. He bought a cheap folding screen to replace the dining room chairs circled around the john, a perch for Hedwig, a set of towels so that he wouldn't have to use Snape's damp seconds, a set of dishtowels in penance for the one he'd ruined, a case of beer, another set of dishes because even with Harry's woefully inadequate housekeeping skills it seemed that they needed more than two plates, and about a hundred dollars in candles. A wrong turn brought him into a parking lot with a deli, where he was able to buy a decent bottle of wine and some bread and cheese for dinner. He rolled into the driveway of the adobe schoolhouse around six, starving.

Snape was decanting some potion into small vials, each labeled with a day of the week.

"Everything go okay?" That earned him the look. "Sorry. What was I thinking? Hungry? Bought some bread and cheese." That earned him a nod.

The folding screen met with approval, as did the towels and dishes. Snape's face froze a little when he saw Harry placing the candles all over the room.

"I miss them," Harry challenged.

Snape didn't say anything but returned to slicing the baguette.

It took Harry almost fifteen minutes to light the candles because there were so many of them. They sat down to eat, the bread and cheese a lovely break from the salads and yoghurt.

Harry poured the last of the wine into their glasses, noting he needed to pick up some decent wine glasses on his next Wal-mart run. The overwrought Victorian furniture didn't look so forbidding in the candlelight. The gentle light softened the elaborate carving and heavy prints, and Harry realized that this was how it was probably meant to be seen, in candlelight or gaslights, that the soft glow was its metier, not the harsh, unforgiving Arizona sunlight.

"I miss the candles," he repeated.

Snape nodded. It didn't take Occlumency to know that Snape was also thinking of how the magicked candles had floated above their heads in the Great Hall.

Snape said in a quiet voice, "Did you know that in the last years of their marriage, the Empress Josephine, who was many years older than Napoleon, would never let him see her except in candlelight? She was afraid she would appear old and haggard. Candlelight hides many sins. I was certain that the Dark Lord was a student of Napoleon's campaigns; the greatest dark lord ever studied the military genius of a Muggle Corsaire. It is impossible not to be amused. There were too many similarities in his tactics for it to be merely coincidence. Take, for example…"

As Snape continued to talk about what Voldemort had learned from Napoleon's defeat in Russia and the Egypt campaign, Harry, for the first time, realized how exceptionally beautiful Snape's voice was. Harry didn't think he'd ever heard Snape's voice without its contemptuous sneer, whether it be lecturing them about complicated potions that they were too stupid to brew, or what imbeciles they were in general, or meting out detentions or docking house points for imaginary shortfalls. This voice was soft and low, sensual even, and yet every consonant and vowel given its due. Harry asked a question or two, but after a while the wine took over, and he fell asleep at the table. Before he knew it, Snape was leading him over to the couch, helping him lie down, and covering him up with a light blanket. A faintly cinnamony scent filled the air as Snape blew out the candles. Then the room was dark and Harry began to fall asleep again, was nearly there, just dropping off, when he heard a quiet, "Thank-you, Mr. Potter."

This began a "lights out" question and answer thing. Harry never asked more than one question a night, somehow knowing that he'd be pushing it otherwise.


"Mr. Smith."

"Smith. Why do they call Guilliermo 'Curly'?"

"I understand that it was because they shortened Guilliermo to Moe, but at some point it became Curly because but he's really more of a Curly. Apparently."

"Moe? Curly?"

"As in the Three Stooges. After receiving that woefully inadequate explanation myself, I actually rented a Three Stooges movie. The nadir of American comedy and that's saying something. The Dark Lord wasted his energy on casting the Cruciatus in order to gain information. He merely had to bind his victims and force them to watch the Three Stooges. I assure you that within ten minutes they would have been singing like canaries. Good night, Mr. Potter."


"Mr. Smith."

"Smith. You don't get lonely out here? If you wanted to carry on conversations with jack rabbits or cactus, yeah, this is the place, but other than that—"

"Such a stupid question barely deserves an answer. I lived with three hundred people for thirty-five years. Believe it or not, I consider this a luxury. And I will again when you leave. Good night, Mr. Potter."


"Mr. Smith."

"Smith. Why the sunglasses when you're cooking?"

"Years of living in a dungeon have sensitized my eyes to the point that if I do not wear glasses in this incessant sunlight, my eyes tear constantly."

"Makes you look really scary with the bald head."

"There is that. Good night, Mr. Potter."


"Mr. Smith."

"Smith. Why are the crew so, uh, respectful toward you?"

"Why are they afraid of me?"

"Yeah." At times Snape's brutal honesty was refreshing.

"Mr. Potter, despite all the horrible events in your life and the amount of evil you have faced, you have never understood evil. Albus Dumbledore considered that a blessing; I considered it a curse. In the end it didn't matter. The crew at the diner fears me, which in their world equals respect, because they understand evil. They understand that evil is essentially the will and desire to do anything to achieve what one wants. I will not say that they see me as evil, perhaps they might, but what they do see is that I have no fear. If you do not fear, then you are capable of anything."

"I was terrified from the moment I set foot in Hogwarts until I killed him."

"Yes, I know, hence my eternal frustration with you. Fortunately, your fear was eclipsed by your bravery. And stupidity. And your infernal luck."

"Mr. Morales could carve out your liver without breaking a sweat."

"Most certainly, but he knows that he would not emerge unscathed. Wand or no wand. Good night, Mr. Potter."


"Mr. Smith."

"Smith. Do you miss Hogwarts?"

There was a long pause.

"Yes, I do. I miss my chambers, my potions laboratory. I miss Professor Dumbledore on occasion, Professor McGonagall once in a blue moon. Nothing else."

"Nothing else?"

"I was not welcome anywhere in the general wizarding community, Mr. Potter. Even for you, this level of naiveti is ridiculous. Were it not for Albus Dumbledore… I was a Death Eater, you stupid boy, to them my innocence was more of a tragedy than cause for celebration."

"Got me there. And I'm no longer a boy. Do you miss teaching?"

"Good night, Mr. Potter," Snape said in between snorts of laughter.

There was still no letter from McGonagall. Harry collected the mail every morning to sort out the newspapers so he could throw them in the front seat of the truck. The rest of the mail went on Snape's desk.

On Thursday, as they were finishing up, Juan stopped him.

"Hey, Harry, you want to join me and my friends in a game of soccer? Around five at the park. Our goalie got arrested last night. Parole bust. Stupid fucker. Told him not to carry that gun. Anyway, you must have played soccer, you got that accent."

"Um, no. Not since I was a really small kid." Not a particularly pleasant memory, as Dudley had used it as an excuse to ram into Harry every chance he got. Harry's insides clenched in that horrible precursor to sudden tears because what he had played was Quidditch. He looked away to pull himself together.

"You okay?" Juan placed a hand on Harry's shoulder.

"Yeah, fine," Harry lied with a weak smile. It actually sounded fun. Being with people more or less his own age. Plus he liked Juan a lot; he reminded him of Ron. Nice, easy-going, he'd probably been a pretty nice bank robber as far as bank robbers went. Probably said please when he asked you to get down on the floor. "If you're sure. I'm probably pants at it. Yeah, that'd be fun." Then he thought of Snape. "Mr. Smith—"

"You will take me home and then you may use the truck."

Juan smacked him on the back. "Cool. See you at five. Bring some beer. Hotter than shit out there today."

When he arrived, everyone was already there. Apparently it was a family thing. Wives and girlfriends were parked on blankets setting up for dinner, while toddlers batted balloons around and played in wading pools spotting the lawn. The players were already on the field kicking the ball around. Juan broke from the pack when he saw Harry crossing the lawn.

"Hey, Harry, over here," he beckoned Harry over to a blanket where a young Latina woman with shocking pink eye-shadow was feeding a small baby. "Put your beer in the cooler. Carmelita, this is Harry, the guy at work who took over from Hector."

"Hi, Harry," she beamed. She had bands on her teeth. "What's up?"

"We're gonna whip their asses, that's what's up. That's Cesar," he said pointing to the baby in Carmelita's lap, "And that's Angela, the one with the bow in her hair," he pointed at a young child splashing in a wading pool not far from them. "Come on, we can start now that you're here."

"Juan, just to warn you. I don't really know what I'm doing," Harry reminded him.

"It's cool. Guys, this is Harry. He's gonna be our goalie. He works for Smith." That got him a few looks of respect. And as if to punctuate it, Juan said, "Yeah, so don't mess with him. Don' worry," Juan said under his breath. "Just stop the ball, that's all you have to do. Sides, with our defense, you've got nothing to worry about."

That was like Ron, too, that cocky bravado, because the ball was continuously getting by the defense. By dint of thinking, "Okay, it's just a large snitch, you can catch this thing," Harry stopped it every time. It was both brutal and exhilarating playing in that heat. Ten minutes into the game, everyone took off their shirts. No matter how hot it got, Harry was determined to keep his on as his scarring from the war was quite extensive, but when he saw everyone else's stomachs and backs pock-marked with what he assumed were old knife and gunshot wounds, he shed his along with the rest of them. Hex scars didn't look any different than knife scars.

They won. Afterward, Juan did a series of victory cartwheels until Carmelita yelled at him, "Juan, stop showing off and get your ass over here. We're hungry."

They stayed until the stars came out, feasting on fast food chicken, chips, salsa, and cold beer. As they were finishing up the last of the Coronas, Harry stifled a large yawn. The children lay asleep in Juan's lap, while Carmelita was over at another blanket chatting with her friends.

Around nine, Harry roused himself and stood up. "Need to get going before I fall asleep. I get up earlier than you and I've got a long drive."

"Yeah, you head off. We'll pack up, no problem. Thanks for the beer.

"I had a great time. Thanks for the invite and dinner. You've got a nice family."

"Me and Lita go back forever. Smith won't make me a partner until I marry her. Said to me last month, 'Mr. Perez, you will marry that woman before I sign any papers. I do not trust men who do not honor their obligations to their families,'" Juan intoned in what was surprisingly good English accent and a spot-on imitation of Snape at his frostiest. "That man kills me. Anyway, we got married last week. Not that I'm gonna tell him that. It's kind of fun getting him all twitchy about shit like that."

Harry laughed. I could be friends with this guy.

"Those scars. I got some, but nothing like you."

"Yeah, well. You know," he mumbled and left it at that, hoping that Juan wouldn't push it, that there was some sort of code between criminals that stopped you from pressing for details about old scars.

"You had some nasty shit done to you, didn't you?"

"You could say that."

"You're one of us, man."

The letter arrived from McGonagall the next day. Harry recognized her spiky writing and handed it to Snape, who had already put on his glasses and was about to don his apron. Snape snatched the letter from Harry's hand and went out the backdoor to read it.

The other three crew members turned to him for an explanation. Harry shrugged. He really hadn't a clue as to what McGonagall was going to say.

After a couple of minutes Snape stomped back into the kitchen and slammed the door behind him so hard that they all jumped. Shaking the letter in Harry's face, Snape growled, "We will discuss this later, Mr. Potter."

That was if Snape didn't kill Harry before the end of his shift. Whatever had been in the letter had set him off. Snape was livid, lashing out at Harry every five minutes for some imaginary fault, like roaring for more clean glasses when they had tons of clean glasses. Stuff like that. Then there were the glares from the crew. "What you do, man?" Juan whispered. "I don't know," Harry said out of the side of his mouth. "You fix this, Harry," warned Carlos. "You hear me?" It was just like being a student and a total pariah because of Snape's prolific docking of house points. Why have one person furious at you when you can have an entire diner full of people hate you? Even the customers were giving him dirty looks.

"What—" Harry began as they got into the truck.

"Not one word until we get home. Silence!"

By the time they reached the schoolhouse, Harry was equally furious. This was the Snape he knew and hated. The Snape who punished first and asked questions later, if at all. Snape didn't even wait for the truck to fully stop. They were still rolling to a stop when he got out and stalked to the house. Harry cut the engine and sprinted across the front yard to follow him inside. It was Harry who slammed the door this time, ready for a fight, ready to just rip into—

And would have done except Snape marched over to bed and pulled a gun out from under the mattress. Harry's mouth dropped open, his mouth dry with total fear. Fuck, Snape had gone around the twist completely; he was going to kill him. Harry eased a hand down his hip to get his wand.

"Don't even think about it, Mr. Potter," Snape warned. Further fishing produced a box of bullets and with sure fingers he loaded bullets into the chamber, spun it, marched over to where he was standing, and handed it to Harry. "Here. Do it. Shoot yourself. In the backyard, if you please. I have no intention of cleaning your brains off of my floor. Take it."

Harry shook his head frantically and backed away from the gun, terrified. His back hit the front door.

Snape came within an inch of him. Harry shoved his back against the door, wondering if he could make the door disappear without using his wand so he could get away. Snape leaned his head so close to Harry's that the wing of one of his sunglasses dug into the side of Harry's temple as he shouted in his ear, "You didn't think that in addition to announcing you were bent that you might have mentioned that you'd been at St. Mungo's for six months on suicide watch before you came here? How you packed up your flat, sold nearly everything, and didn't tell anyone you were leaving. I think you came here to commit suicide, Mr. Potter. Do you even have a plane ticket home?"

"N-n-n-n-o," stuttered Harry.

"I thought not," which was said with so much vehemence Harry could feel the spittle on his ear. "How could you even think—"

"Look, you just don't know—"

"Oh please, Mr. Potter, I don't know. What could I possibly not know, you sniveling little wretch." At that Snape backed off and began pacing in front of Harry like some frustrated jungle cat.

"Fuck off! I've watched my magic die, day after day. If that wasn't bad enough, even when I knew, when I knew, I thought that it would still work with Ginny. We could still have a house, a family, like what my parents had and, and… Do you know what it's like telling a woman you love but you don't desire and never will that you can't marry her because not only are you turning into a Squib, but that you're gay and her tits just don't turn you on. And see the hurt and resignation and, oh christ, how everyone hated me for that, like it was my fault… Ron won't look me in the eye anymore."

"Mr. Weasley was always limited. I have lost my magic in case you've forgotten, and, yes, for your information, Mr. Potter, I know exactly what it's like to be homosexual in a world that does not understand and does not accept. Do you think you are the only wizard who is a pouf, a pillow-biter, a shirt-lifter—"

"Okay, okay. So you're gay as well. Bravo," Harry clapped. "Imagine that went over well at Death Eater central."

"Exactly. Idiot. Which is why no one else knows. I, at least, had the sense not to booze it up and then fuck my best friend—"

"I did not… How did you know?"

"You are an open book," Snape sneered.

"Fuck you. It was just one stupid night and it wasn't my fault. If you'd had any friends to lose you'd know what I was feeling!" Harry shouted. This was denigrating into something horrible and ugly, but Harry couldn't stop himself.

"You and your childish digs. Nothing is ever enough for you. It wasn't enough that you fought the Dark Lord and saved thousands of people, Muggle and wizard, from torture and death. That as decimated as the wizarding world is, it has survived. Wounded, yes, but it survived. You can't take solace from that? You fool!"

"I didn't have a choice, now did I? Voldemort made sure of that. I had to fight," Harry challenged.

Snape shoved the gun in this direction again. "Nonsense. Of course you had a choice. I'm giving you a choice now. Which you seem loathe to take, much to my surprise. We all have choices. You can kill yourself or not. And ten years ago, you could have run away. Dissolved into London, cashed in your Galleons, and lived as a Muggle. You didn't. You fought a fight where you weren't allowed to name any of the terms and you won. Why isn't it enough? But we haven't come to the real reason for your charming visit, have we?"

Harry flinched.

"For nearly two weeks I've wondered why you were here. Professor McGonagall's letter finally supplied the answer. How dare you? How dare you come here and pretend you wanted my advice—"

"I did want your advice," insisted Harry. "I did."

"Oh, is that what you told yourself? I think not. You came here to commit suicide. Your vengeance for Dumbledore's death finally realized. Don't you dare deny it. And by doing so, I would be exposed. That my life here," the hand not holding the gun swept wide, "a life I've cobbled together with enormous hard work, would be over. The entire wizarding world would descend and blame me. How happy they would be. Now they could finally hang something on that bastard Snape. I might as well use the gun after you because no one would believe that you'd taken your own life, or, even if they did, they'd insist I could have stopped you. The fact that you'd been in St. Mungo's for months would be immaterial. They'd blame me and be happy to do so. I'd be lucky if they killed me. I'd be—"

"No! No, I didn't mean for that to happen. I wasn't even sure. I wasn't—"

"Spare me your empty protests."

Harry had mentally only gone from A to C. Fly to Arizona. Find Snape. Ask your questions. He never thought much about D, E, and F. Because to do that would force him to realize he really didn't think Snape would have the answers, or, if he did, he'd let Harry just twist in the wind as his magic died once and for all. Because this was Snape, after all, wasn't it? How dare Snape not suffer like the rest of them. Like himself. What if this had been a sick last ditch effort to hurt Snape like he'd been hurt? Because he never came to Arizona with the slightest bit of hope, just resolve. Following the alphabet to its conclusion, Snape was right. He'd kill himself and by doing so, punish Snape for killing Dumbledore, even though Snape had had no choice in the tower. Just like Harry had no choice in the cave.

In the bright light of the schoolhouse, Snape standing in front of him shaking with rage, the remnants of Snape's old life surrounded by his new, this now seemed most craven, and, if Harry had believed in a Christian God, truly sinful. Because he'd not so much meant to hurt Snape as he had done nothing to stop himself from what he now knew was, yes, the willingness to do anything to get what he wanted, and what he wanted was revenge. And what better a tool for his revenge than Snape? A Squib, a man hated by ninety-nine percent of the wizarding world. A defenseless man. The perfect lightning rod for his displaced and rootless rage over Dumbledore's death, his own complicity in that death, the erosion of his friendship with Ron, the collapse of his relationship with Ginny, and, finally, the impending death of his magic. Harry closed his eyes, his shame was so great.

"Make a choice, Mr. Potter. The safety's on by the way. Life or death. Now!" Snape ordered, and Harry heard the door to the bell tower open and slam shut.

Harry was alone, with Snape's hideous Victorian furniture and a loaded gun. What in the fuck was a safety? He picked the gun up from the table where Snape had placed it, the steel cool in his hand. Moving in slow motion lest he set it off, he put it in the drawer with the knives and forks. Snape obviously had handled a gun before; Harry would let him put it back in its hidey hole. There were thirty-four steps up to the top of the bell tower; he'd never noticed before.

Snape stood rigid, overlooking the desert in front of him. He did not acknowledge Harry.

"I'm sorry."

Snape said nothing.

"I didn't know what to do with the gun. I put it in with the cutlery. Would you please unload it and put it away later? It frightens me."

That got a nod.

"Please. I'm sorry." Harry knew that he should offer to go, to leave, that what he had done was unconscionable, but he couldn't bring himself to offer because he wasn't sure he wanted to leave, and he didn't have anywhere else to go.


They stood in silence for some minutes before Snape said, "Hedwig is nesting. There is a ratty-looking black owl that has been hovering around for the last few days with a glint in his eye. She has built a nest in the eave there. We shall have owlets soon if I'm not mistaken."

Sure enough, Hedwig was roosting atop a bunch of twigs.

"How long does it hurt? This pain."

"Three years. Give or take."

Harry grabbed the top of the parapet.

"Mr. Potter, losing magic is like losing a self. It is a separate entity. You are mourning someone. Your magical self. You will gradually come to accept that loss. The love you have for it will never go away. When a person dies do you love them any less? Like all mourning, the pain will ease over time."

Three years living with this sense he'd lost a limb. That he was crippled. Essentially. Three years was a long time, but not forever. Okay, he could do this. Right. He'd wash dishes, read Snape's entire library, watch a few hundred football games… Oh my god. He had no right to be here anymore. No right. Why Snape hadn't kicked him out on his arse by now he didn't know because he would have had he been in Snape's shoes. He might have taken a gun to him.

"Don't send me away, don't, dear god, I couldn't bear it, please, I don't, I'm sorry. So sorry…" He started crying, grabbing onto Snape's shoulders and shaking him because he was so frightened. Because for the first time in years he'd not been waking up with the question, "Will I kill myself today?" The putting away of the gun was an acknowledgment that "terms" were within his grasp. It might not be tomorrow or next week, but it might be here. There was a possibility. That he'd just royally fucked that up.

"Calm yourself, Mr. Potter." Snape ordered, and then wrapped his arms around him and let him cry it out. When Harry was at the sniffling stage, Snape stepped back to look at him. Harry wiped his eyes. "We shall see, Mr. Potter. Now look. There is other magic. Magic that doesn't need a wand." He pointed to the sunset.

This started another ritual between them, watching the sun go down while sipping whiskey. Harry made another Wal-mart run and picked up two folding chairs, and on the nights he didn't play soccer with Juan, they'd come up to the bell tower to check on Hedwig and her eggs. And drink. Sometimes they'd comment on what happened at the diner that day, most of the time not. Some nights the sunset was so magnificent it seemed almost sacrilegious to say a word. Initially, Harry hated the desert, so barren and dry, so different from the lush green of Scotland that he thought he was on another planet. But gradually he began to appreciate its subtle nuances. The desert sage butting up against the brown of the earth, the majesty of the occasional cactus, the silence, the blue of the sky; it was growing on him. He was even getting used to the heat.

The first night Snape handed him a tumbler filled to the top with ice and whiskey. "Here. Marker's Mark. The closest thing to Firewhiskey I've found. A decent substitute," Snape explained.

"Is that what this is all about? Finding decent substitutes?"

"A light glimmers."

The weeks grew into a month, then two. With Snape's permission he wrote Hermione a letter in care of McGonagall. He played soccer twice a week with Juan in spite of the ever-increasing heat. He asked Snape if he could build a patio out back so that they could sit outside on nice mornings. Snape didn't say no, which Harry took as a yes. He went to the local library and checked out a bunch of books on do-your-self-home-improvements and native desert plants. Snape asked about his progress. They discussed possibly putting in a greenhouse. His Tuesdays were spent doing the odd Wal-mart run and planning his garden. When the weather cooled down in the fall, he'd lay out the garden and patio. He and Snape never mentioned the gun again.

Snape was always waiting up for him when he got home from these soccer matches. He never said anything. Harry would try to come in quietly, hoping that Snape would already be asleep, but he never was. He'd be propped up in bed, reading. No sooner did Harry hang up the car keys on its hook than Snape's book would hit the bedside table, the small reading lamp would be doused, and Snape would turn over in bed. Harry would have had to take his shower in the dark except Snape had lit the candles for him. Harry didn't know what to make of it. Was it a welcome home or a condemnation he'd left?

At breakfast one Monday morning after a delicious lie-in, Harry mumbled through a mouthful of cornflakes, "Does it bother you that I play soccer?"

The newspaper didn't move, possibly a good sign. A newspaper that rattled was always the harbinger of a scathing remark.

"Your free time is your free time. I am not your jailer, Mr. Potter."

"Git. I never said you were my jailer. You don't have to wait up for me. I'm a pretty good driver."

"I do not question your driving abilities. It is a desolate road."

This might be a good time to bring up something that had been bugging Harry. "Do you think we should get a cellphone?"

That got a big rattle and a snort.

"Might come in handy."


"Just an idea."

"I abhor ideas."

"No you don't. You abhor my ideas."


"This is the part of the conversation where you're supposed to say, 'Oh, no, Mr. Potter. You're mistaken. You're a brilliant young man.'"

"In which universe, Mr. Potter?"

"Not this one, that's for damn sure. You really don't mind?"

Snape put down the newspaper to look at him.

"No. I don't. We can use all the time apart we can get."

The paper went up, which was a good thing, because Harry began to panic. After the incident with the gun, he'd never been sure that Snape wouldn't turn around and just chuck him out. And the panic wasn't that he didn't have money, because he did. And it wasn't that he couldn't find a place to stay, because he could. It was that he didn't want to go anyplace else at the end of the day. "Look, is it that burden thing? I'm not that bad to live with am I? I really try—"

The paper came down in a furious thwack on the table. "I would like to finish this article before the millennium. We are together night and day. Even the most compatible of people, which you and I are not, need some respite from each other. You are not a burden. You are…" Snape paused. "Passable. Now finish your breakfast. Your cornflakes are mush by now." The paper went back up with a distinctive snap that meant "No more interruptions."

Harry began eating his cornflakes again. Passable. In "Snape" that was practically a declaration of love.

On his way back from a soccer game one night he blew a tire. Cursing at Snape because the cellphone thing had not been resolved, and now he was in the middle of Bumfuck Desert with a blown tire and he could really use a cellphone. He should have just gotten one for himself and damn the man and his ridiculous Luddite sensibilities. Harry got out of the truck to determine the damage. The tire was completely flat. Fuck. There is nothing blacker than the desert at night, and a weak Lumos and a fruitless search of the truck revealed no flashlight. He doused the Lumos and stood there for a few minutes in the dark, wondering what in the hell he was going to do. It was too far to walk in either direction. Did he risk casting another Lumos and changing the tire? Not many people traveled this road during the day, never mind at night. Maybe it was worth it. He was just about to reach for his wand again when the road lit up from the beam of approaching headlights. Harry waved his arms frantically, hoping the driver would stop.

A truck pulled over and two guys got out. He couldn't see them properly in the glare of their headlights, but they had their backs to the light and could see him.

"Need some help?" asked a voice.

"Yeah. Blew a tire. If you don't mind, I'd appreciate it." Harry brought his hand up to his face to shield his eyes from the blinding glare.

"You're not from around here." The voice, which had originally been friendly, started to get an edge.

"Moved here about three months ago. From England. Would very much appreciate your help with that tire. I don't have a flashlight."

"That's pretty stupid," another voice commented.

"Yeah," Harry agreed, wondering how much arse he would have to kiss before these two jerks helped him out.

"You got a hoity-toity accent like that fucking home fries Nazi," said the first voice.

And then Harry knew. Bleeding fuck, it was the arseholes from the diner.

"You work there now, don't you? Seen you driving him around. Hear you even live together. Huh?" Fuck, fuck, fuck. Living in a small town like this was like living in a dormitory. Everyone knew when and how often you farted. "Sound kinds of cosy to me. Too cozy," accused the stockier of the two men, the one who'd challenged Snape. He stepped forward and shoved a hand into Harry's shoulder so hard that he fell on the tarmac.

"Hey," Harry yelled and struggled to get up. That got him a boot to the same shoulder and down he went again.

"You stay where you are. Think we're—"

"Tom," protested the other man. "Let's just get out of here. Leave him. We don't want no trouble."

"Like fuck we don't. I think this guy is that asshole's fuck toy. What we don't want is that kind 'round here. In fact, I think it's our civic duty to beat the living shit out of this guy. You sucking him off? You a fudge packer? You some kind of faggot?" At that, the toe of a cowboy boot caught Harry in the side, which was followed by another kick and another, this one to the head.

The blows came so fast and powerful he found himself in an endless cycle between trying to get up and trying to defend himself, failing miserably at both. He couldn't even reach his wand because to let his hands down would be fatal. Amidst all the blows he heard the one guy pleading with the other guy to stop, but to no avail. The kicks just kept falling, one after the other, fast and furious. Harry felt his mouth tear open and then his nose break. He tried to roll away into the dark, away from the headlights so they couldn't see him, but his attacker was on him, kicking him around in a circle. As the kicking continued, battering him over and over, he had a moment of clarity, where his psyche and instincts seem to stop time and give him one precious second. And he knew. He knew with certainty that this guy was going to kill him. That when this sadistic psycho got bored of kicking him, he'd get something like a tire iron and fucking well beat him to death, because people like this thrived on the pain and agony of others. He probably didn't even think Harry was really gay. It was just something to give him an excuse to raise his foot again and again. Harry had no choice. Shoving his hand down his pocket and grabbing his wand, he summoned all of his remaining magic into one place in his gut and yelled, "Stupefy!" And sent a prayer into the desert night before he passed out.

He woke up in a hospital. Funny how he knew that, but then Muggle hospitals probably weren't all that different from wizarding hospitals. The sheets were just as scratchy. Someone was holding his hand.

"Nghh," he whispered, unable to talk because his lips were about six times their normal size. Nor could he open his eyes. Bruised shut.

"Calm yourself, Mr. Potter."

Snape. He squeezed Snape's hand, which hurt like fuck. He must have broken some fingers.

"You will be here for several days. You look worse than you are. There is no permanent damage. We think. Are you in pain?"

Harry shook his head. He must have been on some powerful drugs because Snape's voice sounded like it traveled around the globe a couple of time before it reached his ears.

"Sleep," Snape ordered, and a thumb stroked his palm until he fell asleep.

"Mr. Smith, I'd like to ask some questions of Mr. Potter."

"Good god, man, are you blind? Look at Mr. Potter. He's in no shape to answer questions. Get out."

"He can nod his head, yes or no. I got two men down the hall with severe concussions, and I need some answers."

"Cry me a river, Sheriff Carlson. Severe concussions? Oh my." Snape was at his most contemptuous.

"Look, because I eat breakfast everyday at your diner doesn't mean I'm not going to do my job. Your cooking's good but not that good. You awake, Mr. Potter?"

With supreme effort, Harry propped open one eye with a finger. Sheriff Carlson was a heavy set man with crew cut and a beer gut, which in Harry's limited experience seemed endemic to American men of a certain age. He let his hand drop; his eye closed.

"Sheriff Carlson. Just nod your head yes or no. Got it? Good. Tom Parker and Johnny O'Sullivan are down the hall with severe concussions. A highway patrol cruiser found all three of you stretched out on the highway. Based on the blood we swabbed from Mr. Parker's boot, he kicked the living daylights out of you. Am I right?"

Harry nodded.

"Know why he beat you up?"

Harry didn't answer. There was no way to nod "He's a homophobic psychotic who thought one less fag in this world would be a service to the community."

"Did Mr. O'Sullivan hit you?" Harry shook his head. "Do you know how both of them got knocked about so badly that they have concussions but no marks on them?"

Harry shook his head again and then scrunched his eyes closed because he realized amidst all the pain, his magic. Gone. It was all gone. It was like his heart wasn't beating, his lungs weren't working. Something so profound was missing that if he didn't know better he'd have said he'd been kissed by a Dementor; it felt like his soul had been sucked out of him.

"You're exhausting him," Snape growled. "If you don't leave, I'm going to throw you out."

"Keep your shirt on. When he's ready to press charges let me know. One more thing. Highway patrol drove Parker's truck here when they brought them in. Left it in the parking lot. Brand new Dodge. Must have paid a pretty penny for it. Conveniently, the security guard went home sick last night. Conveniently, someone disabled the cameras and took what looks like several tire irons to the truck and destroyed it. You wouldn't know anything about that would you, Mr. Smith?"

"No. Pity that."

"Your boys at the diner didn't decide on a little payback, did they? That little fucker Perez is capable of it."

"The diner is closed Mondays, but last night we had a spring cleaning. I'm sure that if you drove by the diner you would have seen three cars there."

Tuesday. It had been four days.

"And if I had knocked on that door, they would have been there. All three of them?"

"Naturally. Except they wouldn't have opened the door. They have strict orders not to."

"You're lying, Mr. Smith."

There was no answer to that, but Harry imagined that Snape gave the Sheriff the raised eyebrow.

"I don't give a rat's ass about Parker's truck, but I do want you to know that I'm not stupid. Your boyfriend was nearly killed. Don't like shit like this happening on my watch. I don't care who you're fucking, but I hear that someone's taken a tire iron to Parker's head and your Mr. Perez won't see freedom for years. His pretty little girlfriend won't like that. So let me warn you. Keep your boys away from those two. The truck's enough. This is done now. I warned Parker and O'Sullivan as well. Do we understand each other?"

"Perfectly," hissed Snape.

Harry heard the scraping of a chair and then a door closing.

"It's gone," he tried to mumble through his bruised lips. "It's all gone." Snape brought a handkerchief to his face to wipe away the tears.

"Hey, Harry!" grinned Juan. "You're awake, man. Don't scare us like that again."

Harry could now open both eyes. Juan was sitting on his bed, Carmelita in the lone chair, polishing her nails. "Hi, Harry, you okay?"

Harry shrugged, he wasn't sure he could talk yet. His mouth was still pretty swollen.

"We're on watch. Lita's shift is over; it's my turn. They might let you go home today. If not, Hector will be here around six until Smith comes in. Not gonna let those fuckers get you again."

Harry mimed washing dishes.

"Don' you worry, my little brother's pinch hitting until you get back. I've been training him up. He's not as good as you, but Smith's being easy on him."

Harry tried to smile.

Juan leaned forward and said in a small voice. "We took care of it, Harry. Don' you worry. Those guys aren't going to bother you none. I told his girlfriend that if he came near you again, that the job we did on his truck was nothing. He goes near you again, his friends so much as look in your direction, and we're putting him in a wheelchair for life. I wanted to go after him but Smith said no." Harry shook his head and must have looked somewhat panicked because Juan held up a hand. "No sweat. I do what the man says."

All of a sudden Harry heard, "Mr. Potter, you're being discharged today. I am fetching a wheelchair. Be ready in ten minutes," and Snape was gone as quickly as he'd arrived.

"Man, it's fucking creepy when he does that gliding shit. God gave us feet so we can hear people coming. He don' have feet."

Carmelita rolled her eyes.

"The man don' have feet," Juan insisted stubbornly.

"Oh Juan," Carmelita snorted, while fluttering her hands to dry her nails. "Of course he has feet."

"How come you never hear him? Huh? Never. It's like the dude walks on air. Am I right, Harry?"

Decent substitutes. Maybe that was what it was all about.

Thankfully they had tanked up his I.V. with morphine that morning, because being nearly comatose from opiates was the only way Harry survived the long drive home with Snape at the wheel without going into hysterics. Snape insisted that he stay in the bed, "No arguments, Mr. Potter." He gratefully swallowed the numerous concoctions Snape had brewed up while he'd been in hospital, sighing with relief at the chilled flannel Snape draped over his face. Steeped in something herbal, he could almost hear his bruised and swollen tissues crying out in thanks. Even the short walk from the truck to the house exhausted him, and he fell asleep immediately. When he woke up, he felt much better. Snape was a miracle worker. He might actually be able to talk without his mouth killing him. "Snape," he croaked and made to get out of bed.

"Mr. Smith. If you do not want to incur my wrath, you will stay exactly where you are. You are going to eat some ice cream. It is cold and you could use the sustenance."

Harry nodded, all of a sudden very hungry. Snape brought him the ice cream to eat in bed, and when Harry had trouble holding the spoon because his hand was still so bruised, Snape fed him.

Out of the blue Snape said, "I have purchased cell phones for each of us."

Something went tight in Harry's chest, but tight in a good way.

"You Stupefied them?"

"With everything I had," Harry mumbled.

"Which explains the concussions. Pity you didn't kill them. Why on earth did that cretin Parker beat you? Surely it wasn't because I threw them out of the diner? One more bite."

"Mmmmn. Last one, okay? Said I was your fuck toy. That he didn't like 'our kind' around here."

"Did he now?" Harry nodded, leaned back, and closed his eyes, ready for another nap. "I am sorry about your magic."

Thanks to Snape's potions, Harry healed quickly. His days were spent napping and watching movies, his afternoons and nights listening to Snape's endless complaints about Juan's younger brother, which Harry finally figured out was Snape's way of saying he missed him. A visit to the Muggle doctor—"You're responding phenomenally well to the drugs," which brought a snort of contempt and an "As if" under his breath from Snape—gave him leave to return to the diner the following Wednesday. Two fingers of his left hand were still taped up, but Harry said he could manage and Snape didn't challenge him. Harry thought it probably a good idea to start getting back into waking up at the ungodly hour of 3:30 am, so when he heard Snape splashing in the sink one morning, he opened his eyes thinking he'd have a cup of tea with him before Snape headed off to the diner.

Snape was standing at the sink brushing his teeth, stark bollocks naked. Snape wasn't much to look at. No arse to speak of, skinny and wiry everywhere except his shoulders. But that wasn't what stopped Harry from getting out of bed. In fact, once Harry got a good look he slitted his eyes shut and pretended he was asleep. Because Snape had the most gorgeous cock, heavy and full; it was such a contrast to the rest of him. Harry couldn't see Snape's balls because of the angle, but something told him that nature wouldn't have given Snape such a beautiful cock and not the balls to match. And Snape was semi-hard. That gorgeous and only half-there. What would he be like fully hard? At that thought, Harry's own dick jumped to attention and then, shit, Snape put down his toothbrush, cast a glance in Harry's direction, and then brought a hand to himself. It wasn't a refined wank, but the kind of dry wank you did to get it over with. A few quick tugs, oh fuck, it was getting even bigger. Then there was a slight sigh, a tightening of his shoulder muscles, and Snape spent into the sink. Giving himself only a couple of seconds to recover, Snape ran the water for a few seconds to wash away the evidence, dressed, and then sat down for his tea.

Harry counted the seconds until Snape left. No sooner did the front door close than Harry shoved down the bedclothes and freed his own dick from his pajamas. He hadn't wanked in weeks—like when was he going to wank since he and Snape were together night and day?—and he couldn't hold back the glorious moan as he grabbed himself. It only took three pulls plus a quick mental revisit of what Snape's hand working his dick looked like, and before he knew it he was shooting all over the sheets. Merlins dick, he'd just jerked off to Snape jerking off. Ron would disown him for sure.

Harry's convalescence was one long nap. He was a little concerned over the amount he was sleeping, but Snape assured him that this was normal; his body was trying to heal. Although Snape moved as quietly as a ghost when he came home, the truck keys jingled as he put them on the hook, which would wake Harry up. Harry would pretend to still be asleep, keeping his breathing deep and even. Because the first thing Snape did was to see if he was okay. A gentle hand would brush away the hair from Harry's face to check out his bruising. That was always the first thing, but Snape would vary what would happen next. Sometime a finger would brush his collarbone. Sometimes Snape would get down on his knees and hold his hand. Once Snape brought his mouth to Harry's hand as it lay on the bed, nuzzling each knuckle with the lightest of kisses. The anticipation nearly killed Harry, and he was always sure to be curled up on his side because it was the only way he could hide his erection.

This day was like all the others. The hand brushed the hair away from his face, a hand cupped his chin, and then he heard Snape sniffing, followed by a quick retreat off the bed. Trust Snape to smell come.

Harry tried to convince himself that Snape's wank was just that. A wank. That it wasn't because he was attracted to Harry. That the touches and caresses when Snape thought he was asleep were nothing but, well, who knows what they were, but that they weren't sexual. Were they? Of course, before their big blow-out he wouldn't have pegged Snape as having any sexual orientation whatsoever.

Unless you count perfect bastard.

Then Snape started taking fifteen-minute showers in the morning. Harry would listen to the water run and run, and it didn't take a fucking genius to figure out what Snape was doing in there. Harry would lay in bed, curled up in a fetal position to hide his erection, listening to the beat of water on the shower curtain and imagine. What Snape looked like when he gave himself a decent handjob. A slow one with lots of soap, and a thumb slipping under the foreskin, and did he push a finger up his arse right before he was going to come? Fantasies about Snape jerking himself off, jerking Harry off, giving each other blow jobs, even having full blown sex continued non-stop until the front door clicked shut, and then Harry would have his own rousing go at himself, sore hands or no sore hands.

After his now-daily wank, Harry would spend a good part of every morning during his convalescence convincing himself that there was nothing there. Nothing. He'd already fucked up once. He didn't want to assume that Snape was attracted to him just because his own dick was feeling extremely frisky. That might be the final straw. Making advances on Snape when in reality Harry had all the sexual appeal of a flobberworm. He'd be booted for sure. Plus, Snape's verbal scorn on matters sexual would be devastating. He could hear him now: "As if you don't have enough conquests. The size of your ego continues to astonish. As if I would—" And more of the same.

So he did nothing. And yet.

Harry's instincts, which had saved his arse numerous times, told him that Snape was attracted to him. Harry sensed Snape watching him, but he could never catch him at it. He wondered if they were trading pheromones, because all of a sudden he was aware of Snape's natural scent, musky and tart, and wondered what he smelled like. Then there was the complete disappearance of the easy camaraderie that had been steadily growing between them over the last couple of months, to be replaced by an awkward, painful shyness that had Harry speaking nearly entirely in "ums" and "uhs," and Snape not speaking at all, not even to chide.

Harry returned to work grateful to have something to do. Laying in bed all day thinking about Snape's dick did nothing to quell the semi-hard-on he toted around these days. A punishing day at the diner slogging through thousands of dishes would do him good.

Everyone was really glad to see him back, probably Juan's brother more than anyone else.

His black eyes hadn't healed completely, so he looked god-awful, but he felt okay, if not a little more tired than usual. Snape didn't speak the entire week. Not to berate Carlos, not to yell at Harry for more forks, not to deride Juan, chastise Curly, not even to glare at the inevitable loutish customer with inadequate paper-turning abilities. Harry couldn't tell if this was a good thing or a bad thing. He'd never seen Snape mute except when he was really mad, but Snape wasn't acting mad. He was just preternaturally quiet.

On Sunday afternoon, he and Juan were finishing up the mats when Juan hiked an eyebrow to Harry, his signal to join him behind the dumpster for a smoke and a chat.

"You know, Harry, you have balls. Real balls. Had my doubts about you at first, man, but those scars and now you banging Smith…" He stopped for a drag on his cigarette. "That takes real cojones."

Harry's jaw dropped. "I'm not fucking Smith," he hissed, hoping to god Snape couldn't hear them. The man had phenomenal hearing. "And keep your voice down."

"Fine," Juan whispered. "But don' be shitting me. Suspected it when you got beat up. Wouldn't leave your bedside. Lived at the hospital. Don' think he slept at all, just sat there watching you breathe. Had the nurses in tears with his constant yelling and screaming about your care. Sides, we all see the way you two are dancing around each other. How you two just know where each other is in the kitchen all the time. When your shirt rides up and shows your waist, the man's practically humping his grill. Me and Carlos have a bet. I say that Smith's a champion in the sack. All that uptight energy, man, it's got to go somewhere. I say he channels it to his dick. Carlos thinks he's a lousy lay, he's nothing but uptight. I got some serious money riding on this, so level with me. Plus, I think he's packing. Think the man's hung. Have another hundred on that as well. Thumbs up or down?"

"No thumbs whatsoever," Harry hissed. "We're not. Really," he insisted and then couldn't help but ask, "He's turned on?"

"Like you don't know," Juan rolled his eyes and then saw Harry's face. "You don't know, do you?"

Harry shook his head.

"No shit. Lita's never gonna believe this. You're living together but not fucking? Yeah, he has a jones for you, real bad. I gotta be honest with you, Harry, I can't imagine Smith, in fact, I'm not even going there, but you, too?"

"If a jones means that I want him, yeah," Harry admitted and then remembered Ron. Remembered how after the news got out that he and Ginny split up and why, some people avoided him or, if they had no choice but to speak to him, gave him nothing more than a frosty "hello." And just when he was really starting to like soccer. "Does that bother you, um, the gay part?"

"Nah," Juan said in a tight voice as he dragged on his cigarette. "Tried it a couple of times. Just not my thing, man. Like eating chips without the salsa. Need tits for it to feel right, but don' bother me none that you like dicks. It's the 'Smith' part that has me gagging. You're weird, man. Just saying."

"Sunday, Mr. Potter!" boomed a voice from inside.

"Oops. Football. Come on. We'd better hustle before he goes ballistic."

On the drive home Harry turned over and over in his mind what Juan had said. That if Juan was picking up the vibe between them then maybe… He was so engrossed in replaying their conversation that he missed the turn-off to the schoolhouse. Snape didn't say a word.

Harry pretended to watch the game, but really what he was doing was stealing whiffs of Snape the whole time. Even after his shower, Harry could smell him. The thought of that smell enveloping him while he had Snape's dick in his mouth had him straining against the buttons of his jeans. It had to be what his balls smelled like, and Harry wanted to wallow in it. Taste it.

Halfway through the second half, Snape switched off the television, poured himself a double, and made for the bell tower without saying a word.

Harry wasn't sure he was supposed to follow. He was getting pretty good at this non-verbal stuff with Snape. Usually saying nothing was a tacit yes or an okay. But this was different and Harry knew it. He gave Snape ten minutes and then followed him up.

Hedwig gave him a stern look, warning him not to come near her. She never left the nest now. Harry figured the male owl was bringing her food because she still looked plump and sleek. By Snape's reckoning, the owlets were going to hatch any second.

"Snape?" When he didn't answer with "Mr. Smith," Harry got worried. "You okay?"

A terse nod of the head relieved Harry for a second, but then he saw that Snape's knuckles were white as they clutched the tumbler.

Belt up, Harry. You're a famed Gryffindor, slayer of dark lords, it's now or never.

"I… I…" Oh god, when it came down to it, Harry didn't know what to say. How do you tell someone like Snape that you desire him?

Harry reached out to touch Snape's shoulder.

"What are you doing?" Snape snapped.

"I thought… I thought…" and he let go with a jerk, like he'd touched a hot stove. Fuck, he was going to kill Juan. Kill him. He was going to drive over there and wring his neck for planting these stupid ideas…

"It would be absolutely insane, Mr. Potter. Insane. The height of stupidity. Rash." Snape didn't look at him, but his voice was clear.

So Juan wasn't full of shit. "Maybe, but I do 'rash.' That's my thing, remember?"

It was a mistake to joke. Snape whirled around. "Yes, and your rash acts have been fatal to others, haven't they? I do not intend to become another victim—"

"Do not, do not bring that up!" shouted Harry. "That is out of bounds, do you hear me?"

This time Harry turned away, made to go downstairs, even pack maybe because this was insane, but not for the reasons Snape thought so.

A hand on his shoulder stopped him.

"Cheap shot, I apologize. I was impetuous once in my life. I lived to regret it every single day. We will discuss this."

Harry swallowed his anger and turned back. Ugh. Wanting to have sex with Snape was bad enough, but talking about it with him? Why couldn't they just fall into bed and start molesting each other?

"You are desperate?" Snape asked.

Harry stared at him and started to get angry all over again. "Do you think I'm insane? You strike me as the last person anyone would approach for a one-off. No, I do not want a quick and dirty shag. And for your information, there's a clerk at the WalMart who never fails to stick his phone number in my back pocket. He's my age and pretty fit, so it's not desperation. If I'd wanted just a fuck, I could find it."

"I see. Why?"

"I don't know, honestly." And he didn't. He just knew that between the phone call at the motel ordering him to be ready in ten minutes and getting the shit beat out of him something had changed. And it wasn't just sex. That he'd been actually glad that it was Snape he'd woken up to in the hospital. That it was Snape's hand cradling his broken one. "I… I think it's about finding my terms, except that I'm not a 'my terms' sort of person. I'm really an 'our terms' sort of person, and I think you are becoming part of my terms. I mean our terms, but mine."

Harry knew he was rambling, not making any sense; he was mucking it up.

"I see," he repeated and swirled the whiskey around in the glass.

When he didn't say anything else, Harry began to panic. Shit. Time to back pedal, time to Obliviate, except his wand didn't work anymore and Snape was going to pillory him and he wanted to die because he was so embarrassed.

"Look, if you don't want to, fine. I promise I won't do anything, ever, just forget I said—"

"Shut-up, Mr. Potter." Snape paused. "I want to as well," he conceded, with a decided emphasis on the word "want" that went straight to Harry's dick. "I think it supremely unwise, however."

"So it doesn't work out. We start out slow, just touch each other, and then if it's a bust, we go back to the status quo."

Snape rolled his eyes. "You are twenty-five going on two. Neither of us is the type of person who could go 'back,' as you so eloquently put it. If this fails, you will have to move out. I might ask you to leave the diner. You are prepared for this possibility?"

"It will work," Harry said vehemently, because he couldn't envision an alternative. "Come on," he pleaded. "Come downstairs with me."

"You should know that… I am…rusty. I haven't…in years. Years."

If someone had asked Harry to describe loneliness it would be the rasp he heard in Snape's voice.

"That's all right with me. Like riding a bike as far as I'm concerned."

"Your flippancy is not appreciated."

"Sorry. No flippancy. Got it."

"Mr. Potter," Snape warned.

"I'm nervous. I say stupid things when I'm nervous. Anything else?"

"I do not… I do not…" Snape left it up in the air, and Harry searched around frantically for something Snape wouldn't do. Finally he said, "I am select about what I do with my partners."

"Well, that's okay, because I'm not picky at all. Pretty much like everything. Let's hope you don't fuck like you drive. Other than that, I don't care whether you top or I top. Equal opportunity slut here."

"Mr. Potter!" Snape snapped

"I'm sorry, I'm really, really nervous. Knowing you, I'm going to guess you don't like to bottom. Right?"

The nod.

"Fine, no problem. Look, let's just feel each other. We don't have to even do anything. I just want to hold you and maybe rub against you, and if we're really feeling comfortable we could maybe touch each other? We'll take it real slow and if you want to stop, just say so."

Snape finished his drink. "Lay on, McDuff."

God, it was awkward as all hell and a total fucking turn on. Snape paused at the door to the schoolhouse, uncertainty stamped all over him. Harry was afraid that if he opened his mouth he'd say something completely moronic, so he grabbed Snape's hand and led him to the bed. He climbed in and pulled Snape next to him. Snape resisted him, just a little, as if to prove that he had some self-restraint left, which wasn't what Harry wanted at all. He kept reminding himself to go slow, that he'd freak Snape out if he just made a grab for him. So he pulled him close and guided Snape's hands along his torso and hips.

"I can't kiss you because my mouth is still so fucking sore, but I want to." Harry cupped Snape's face in both his hands. Such a strong face. He nuzzled his cheek against Snape's; their stubble scratched against each other. Harry's stomach clenched in that tight, delicious way because it was so male, and how he'd ever made love to a woman was beyond him because this was too wonderful. The tiny beads of sweat on Snape's forehead, complementing his own. Snape's eyes at half-mast, doing a very poor job of hiding his desire. The smell of male arousal, earthy and tart. Fucking hell.

He dragged a hand down Snape's torso, trying to keep from making noises because Harry usually made a lot of noise and it wouldn't do to be screaming like a goddamn banshee their first go around. Snape tentatively cupped a cheek of his arse, and Harry couldn't help it. He jerked forward into Snape, desperate for some friction. Their noses bumped and Harry caught his teeth on Snape's ear when their bodies met. And then Harry was flipped on his back, turned over like he weighed nothing. Snape was on him like black on a cauldron, rubbing their erections together with some hip movement that had Harry moaning and panting despite all his best plans to the contrary. A hand wove between them and tweaked a nipple through his tee-shirt and that was it. He came, bucking up into Snape, and assumed that the sharp grunt in his ear meant that Snape came too. It was good. Better than good. Snape rolled off and Harry curled up into the crook of Snape's arm and fell asleep.

They never did get up again. At some point Harry woke up to shuck his jeans, and before he fell back asleep he nestled against Snape and noticed that he'd already shucked his. Just as the sun was coming up, Harry woke up again with Snape spooned up against him, morning wood poking his arse. The only thing between him and that stupendous dick were two pairs of boxer shorts. He pulled away just a little and tugged on his boxers to free his dick. He then turned over and reached into Snape's boxers. Oh yeah, oh yeah, god he felt amazing. He spit into his hand, brought their dicks together, and began fisting them in tandem. Wetting a thumb, he rounded the crown of them both, not groaning out loud with only the greatest effort because Snape was hardening even further. Snape's breathing grew shallow and then stopped altogether. With a wave, he thrust up his body up against Harry, into his hand, as their dicks ground against Harry's stomach. Then Snape's mouth began nipping and biting Harry's neck and shoulder. Oh, he was gone, went over with a shout, working them both with complete abandonment. When he finally stopped panting, he felt a hand stop him. "Good, Mr. Potter."

Harry began to doze off again until a hand snaked up under his tee-shirt and fondled his nipple, just touching it, mapping it out. Harry pushed into it. A languid mouth began exploring his neck, his shoulders, his back, licking, nipping, followed by the occasional bite. The tee-shirt was pulled over his head and the mouth moved on to his nipples. He began to grow hard again. Fucking hell, Snape the sex god?

Snape played with him for over an hour, touches that titillated but didn't sate. His hands were batted away. "Let me explore you. Let me. What do you want, Harry? Tell me," he murmured, his voice low and wicked with promise.

"That, oh that. More of that. A finger. Two. Oh please."

If he'd thought about it, he would have categorized himself as a giver and Snape a taker. But as Snape's hands and mouth became hungrier, the line between taking and giving melted to become a circle, and Harry had no idea who was giving and receiving the most pleasure. Instead of falling into his usual, post-orgasmic narcoleptic stupor, he lay there in Snape's arms, watching the sun climb higher and higher and shook his head in metaphorical wonder. Snape was his lover.

The slight kiss to the inside of his wrist as he got out of bed told him enough, gave him enough courage to say in between spoonfuls of cornflakes, "I think this is going to work out just fine."

Snape replied from behind his newspaper, "Agreed."

Harry's suggestion that they spend the day in bed was met with a look, followed by a broom thrust into his hand.

"After we finish our chores?"

"Then we go the grocery store."


"Then the nursery."



Keeping his eyes on the road, Harry said, "I want you to blow me. What I really want to do is blow you, but I can't, my mouth is still sore. But please, would, yeah, I'd really like that."

Harry didn't look at Snape, but kept his eyes forward, terrified that such an admission of raw want would be met with contempt.

Snape bent over and licked the inside of his forearm; it was a fucking miracle they didn't have an accident.

No sooner did Harry plonk down the grocery bags on the counter than Snape was on him. Two hands wrenched his tee-shirt out of his jeans and shoved up under his loosened shirt to pinch his nipples, while a mouth and teeth nibbled him through his jeans. Harry braced himself against the kitchen counter, trying to push into those fingers, that mouth, and found he couldn't do both. He whimpered in frustration and then the hands pulled down on his jeans and shorts in one sharp tug. Snape's mouth was everywhere. The inside of his thigh, around his balls, licking, sucking. Harry knew he was making the most obscene grunts and moans but he couldn't help it. He wanted to spread his legs, offer himself, but his legs were hampered in his jeans and he began mewling, "Off, off," hoping Snape would understand.

Harry may have hated Snape, but he had never questioned his intelligence. Snape pulled and tugged at a pant leg to free one leg, and Harry spread himself as wide as he could—oh fuck yeah—so Snape could eat him whole. One hand fondled his balls while the other anchored his hip, and his mouth, his wonderful mouth, worked Harry's dick in a torturous back and forth, laving the head and then deep throating him. Snape snuck a finger in the crook of his mouth to wet it and then began circling and teasing around his pucker. Harry couldn't even speak, couldn't even beg because it was so effing wonderful and horrible and if he didn't come within the next ten seconds… A finger slipped in and he was done for. The firm grip on his hip stopped him from completely choking Snape as he jerked forward in release, over and over.

And it wasn't enough. That finger. That finger had teased him, had promised him. He wanted it so badly, even though he was still tingling from his orgasm. Even though his bones felt like they'd melted into goo pooling in his feet. It wasn't enough. He grabbed a grocery bag and emptied the contents on the counter. Not there. Grabbed the other and upended it. Groceries tumbled onto the floor as Harry rummaged through the cucumbers and lettuce to find the lube. He slapped the tube into Snape's hand.

"Now, now," he begged and fell on his knees, his arse in the air in invitation.

Harry would swear later that he heard Snape utter a "fuck" under his breath. When asked later, Snape denied it. But he said it, and he said it again when he slipped a slick finger into Harry's arse, and yet again when Harry demanded another. By three fingers, Harry was moaning so loud that he couldn't possibly hear anything over his own voice. Snape sucked and bit his neck and shoulders as he pushed in slowly, and Harry focused on the sharp edge of Snape's teeth and not the burn in his arse. The angling of his hips as he eased his dick into Harry was so effing good, all of it so careful and precise and perfect, dear Merlin, so Snape-like. So fucking sure of himself. Harry had been scraping his nails futilely against the tile for some sort of purchase, something to anchor him, but fuck that now. He brought his hand to his dick with a sob of relief. Because although he'd come three times in the last twenty-four hours, nothing, nothing is like a fuck and he hadn't had anyone in him in such a long time and if he didn't come off with Snape in him he was going to implode.

Snape pulled his hand away with a, "Not yet, Mr. Potter," and Harry obeyed. He obeyed as Snape pushed open his knees just a little more with one of his own; he obeyed as Snape did some circle and dip thing with his hips that swiped every inch of his prostate and had him shuddering and sweating with want; he obeyed, even as he cried, "Uh, uh, uh," in rhythm with Snape's measured and thorough fuck of his arse, the best fuck he'd ever had in his life and who would have thought that Snape would know how to fuck and dear fucking hell now, now, now, nownownownownow.

They lay spooned together on the kitchen floor, Snape's softening dick still in his arse, their fingers intertwined.

"This is your definition of starting out slow, Mr. Potter?"

"This is your definition of rusty, Mr. Smith?"

"Okay, spill, Harry," Juan demanded in a whisper as he passed Harry on his way to the walk-in. "Knowed you got some, man. You're walking weird and you actually look happy. Even thought I saw Smith smile earlier this morning. A first. Packing?"

Harry turned himself so that Snape couldn't see and gave an enthusiastic thumbs up.

Juan brought his right hand together into a fist and then pulled down, a gesture Harry had finally began to understand meant "Brilliant!"

"Good fuck?" he said out of the side of his mouth.

Harry gave two very enthusiastic thumbs up and couldn't help the shit-eating grin on his face.

"All riiiiiigght!" crowed Juan. "You owe me, Carlos. Big time!"


Fortunately, Juan was an excellent liar.

The summer heat seemed endless and then stopped, just like that, overnight. The owlets had come and gone. They wore jackets for their nightly drinks while watching the sunset. Harry began laying out his garden. He bought a copy of Spanish for Dummies. Between the book and coaching from Juan, by spring he'd be fluent enough. They had their first thunder and lightning storm. Harry had his good days and his bad. On his bad days everyone left him alone, seeming to understand he had his demons. Whatever the monumental differences between two wizards brought up in an English boarding school and three Hispanics brought up in the United States, demons were a universal language they shared. On those days Harry would come home, toe his shoes off, and climb into bed. Snape would leave him alone for several hours before crawling into bed with him, to cradle him, to rock him. Then he'd gently kiss him, nudge the corner of his mouth, lick his bottom lip, and ease a tongue in as if to say, "It's time to come back from your grief. Come back to me now."

"Would you grow your hair out?"

"Whatever for?"

"I want to touch it."

"It's gray."

"Candlelight hides many sins."

"I've only had one lover. I did not have an enormous pool of Muggles to draw upon like you."

"Oh, come on. If you don't count Ron and that fucker Smith, it was only three guys. And two of them I was actually pretty serious about until they dumped me because they found it weird, among other things, that my flat was always warm even though the heater didn't work. Plus I had to keep Obliviating them because Dobby would pop in my flat unannounced. You make it sound like I was fucking half of London."

"You must admit, it is a two hundred percent increase over me."

"Look, I've waited three days. Are you going to tell me who it was?"

"If it was Lucius Malfoy what would you do?"


"Thought so. It was not Lucius—"

"You are such a git! Getting me all upset like that for nothing."

"It was Regulus Black."


"Yes, oh. Statements to the contrary, you were not the only wizard to booze it up and then fuck your best friend. I had better luck. He was gay. More importantly, he knew how to keep a secret."

"My tourist visa runs out next month."

"I anticipated such. Mr. Morales has taken care of it. Your Green card should arrive any day."


"The bakery will be up and running by next fall. A son of Mr. Morales, who is currently on the lam with Mr. Morales' wife in Oaxaca—something about trafficking, which I assume has nothing to do with vehicles—misses the United States and wishes to return. He will need a job. A job where no one can find him. The apple, apparently, doesn't fall very far from the tree."

"The Green card's real?"

"Real enough."

"You saw Sheriff Carlson today."

"Um, yeah. Not sure I'm pressing charges though. Because even though there's plenty of evidence that Parker kicked the shit out of me, there's no evidence to refute that I didn't hit them. No one can explain the concussions, and I certainly can't say that I Stupefied them. They're putting it down to a brawl unless I, like, tell them about, you know."

"You did not tell them about the homophobic slurs?"

"I told the sheriff. Am not sure I want to tell a jury."

"And why not?"

"I don't mind other people knowing about my sexuality. But I couldn't see going to court and keeping your name out of it. Seeing as how we're now… And there's nothing to say we weren't, uh, at the time. It might affect the diner. Like people won't want to come eat. I wanted to check with you first and see if it's okay. You say no, I'm cool."

"Your friendship with Mr. Perez has, to my marked dismay, increased your lexicon of vulgarisms. I now have British and American slang to look forward to for the foreseeable future. Joy. Pressing charges. We can safely say that my credentials as a social pariah are without peer. It will seem like old times. I will not be satisfied until I see Mr. Parker in an orange day-glow jump suit, picking trash off the highway in the height of summer. The heat will only aggravate the chronic case of boils that he has recently become infected with, a case that continues to, and will continue to, baffle Muggle doctors. It is an excruciatingly painful case of boils; but not enough. Go to the mattresses, Mr. Potter."

Her magic tickled the back of his neck the second she walked in. He saw Snape stiffen as well. Harry turned around and there she was. No different than when he'd last seen her six months earlier. She stood near the cash register waiting to be seated, a little smile on her face as she read the "No Talking" and "No Uncontrollable Children" signs.

Okay, there was nothing for it.


"Oh, Harry," she squealed and hugged him. It was good to see her. He'd missed her.

"Look, stay. Have breakfast on me. We close at noon. I finish up here around one. I'll drive you back to your motel afterward, then I need to drive Mr. Smith back home," he hiked an eye in Snape's direction and hoped that Hermione had lost none of her acumen, "I'll come back to town and we'll have a visit. Work for you?"

"Sure, Harry," she said slowly, all of her senses firing overtime.

Harry beckoned to Carlos. "Mr. Morales, this is my friend, Hermione. Give her the best table in the joint." Carlos looked toward Snape, who nodded imperceptibly.

Juan kept raising his eyebrows in question, until Harry cut him off with a frown and a terse shake of his head.

The drive to the motel was spent catching up. Hermione was here in the States for a conference on Muggle-wizard Relations. She'd found the diner on the Internet because McGonagall, Snape's Secret Keeper, had refused to divulge where they were. Naturally, that hadn't stopped her. Harry had mentioned in his letter that he and Snape were working in a diner. A Google search of "diner, unusual, surly, owner" had come up with the address. She was three months pregnant. Ron was doing great, really happy about the baby. That was all they had time for before Harry swung back to the diner to pick up Snape.

She didn't waste any time hitting him with the hard sell. "Come home, Harry. We miss you. Everyone misses you."

"I miss you guys, too. More than I can say. It's just…"

"Do you have any magic left?"

"No, all gone."

She bit her lip and teared up at that revelation, and then with typical Hermione determination, she said, "No matter. You'll live with us. We'll ward the house and—"

Harry owed Hermione and Ron, he knew that, but maybe it was just time for everyone to cut their losses and start afresh.

"Hermione, stop. It does matter." She would badger him and badger him. She never gave up. Well, he didn't either. "I can't go back. I have no magic. None. I can't live like a prisoner in your house, and I can't defend myself if some nut with a wand whose father I killed or whose father I didn't save decides to kill me to even the score. I can't live like that. Here. Here…" he tried to explain. He knew Hermione wouldn't understand what he was going to say, any more than he understood it when Snape tried to first explain it to him. Home was here. With Snape. "I'm sort of free now. And I wouldn't leave anyway, even if I did have a little magic left because, well, because of Snape."

Harry wished he'd had a camera.

He made vague promises about maybe coming out next Christmas, as the diner closed for two weeks during the holidays. He might manage four days if they sent him a Portkey. He made it very clear he was spending this Christmas with Snape. He told her to tell Ron he loved him, hoping Ron took it the right way, but you never knew with Ron. He told her to mail him the minute the baby was born and that, yes, he'd be godfather in absentia. Giving her a quick hug before she Portkeyed back to New York, he sat in her room for a long time, thinking over how much he did love them and how, for whatever reasons, he was now in exile in a world he had helped to save. He wished he could go back, but what he wanted to go back to didn't exist. He wanted a world where he wasn't a Squib and he wasn't gay and he'd married Ginny and had wanted to fuck her every night and they'd bought a house next to Ron and Hermione in Ottery St. Catchpole and their children all went to Hogwarts and passed their N.E.W.T.s with flying colors. That would have been perfect. If it hadn't all been bollocks. He did love Ron and Hermione, but it wasn't enough.

Why he'd found "enough" in Bumfuck, Arizona, was anyone's guess. Dumbledore could have told him, no doubt, and for the thousandth time since his death, Harry wished he could have just five minutes with him. Five minutes to ask why Harry was actually looking forward to driving home to a one-room schoolhouse in the middle of nowhere, where you had to take a dump behind a screen, where your lover was, aside from Voldemort, the most hated wizard in England, and whom you were absolutely now dying to blow. Harry would pick-up some lemon drops at the local drugstore on his way home. If no epiphanies were forthcoming, at least he'd please Snape, who, although he denied it, had sweet tooth.

As happened in the desert, an intense storm moved in without warning, pelting the desert floor with raindrops the size of hail. Getting drenched even in the short walk from the driveway to the front door, he was so intent on changing into some dry clothes that he didn't notice the disarray at first. But when he went to get a dry tee-shirt he found his drawers empty. No shirts. No pants. No underwear. Nothing. Fuck, they'd been burgled. Where was Snape? Then he noticed that nearly all the books were on the floor, but that the television was still there, and that his duffel bag had been dragged out from beneath the bed. Snape had packed for him. Harry scooped up the books and re-shelved them higgledy-piggledy just to get them off the floor. Snape's ridiculously complicated system of arranging his books still baffled Harry; they could sort them out later. He unpacked his clothes, stowed his duffel bag back under the bed, and climbed the stairs to the bell tower.

"Being a bit presumptuous, aren't you?" Harry tried to contain his anger, because he knew that Snape lashed out when he was hurt. "I put the books back. Not the right way, of course, but we'll redo them later."

"When are you leaving?"

Keep calm. Don't let him get to you. He is saying and will say horrible things because he's been horribly hurt. This is Snape.

"Didn't plan on leaving."

"Really? Then why did you relay to Miss Granger where we were? I know Minerva McGonagall well enough to know that she wouldn't have given away our location to that bossy little chit no matter how annoying she got." Snape always jumped quickly from one logical conclusion to another, and when Harry thought about it, it made sense that he might think Harry had done that. But it also said volumes about Snape's insecurities. That he saw Harry as polarized between Snape's world and the wizarding world, with nothing in between. And perhaps he saw it that way because it was that way for himself.

"I didn't give her our address and neither did McGonagall. You've always underestimated her. She went on a computer and searched for arses that run restaurants. Came up with the name of your diner. What a surprise. Seems that there are entire websites devoted to Home Fries Nazi etiquette. How to hold your paper. How to turn pages without making a sound. What days you're likely to get waffles. How to tick you off. Like that's hard."

Snape whirled around, and Harry wondered if Snape missed wearing robes, even if for the dramatic effect.

"Sorry, I know I'm sounding like a jerk. I'm really nervous, because I think you're two ticks away from kicking me out. Let me start again. If I had given her our address, which I wouldn't have without your permission, it's not a 'them versus you' thing. They're still my friends, and, yeah, I miss them, but like I said, I'm not much of a 'my terms' sort of person. I thought I made that clear. I know how to get to the airport. I can buy a plane ticket anytime I want. I don't need Hermione to hold my hand to do that. Christ, Snape, you know what an inarticulate arse I am. Help me out here."

They studied each other for a minute. Harry watched Snape's face soften imperceptibly, a tiny give. Harry took it.

"I might visit them next Christmas for a couple of days if she can arrange for a Portkey, but beyond that I didn't make any promises. What I did say was that we were lovers and that this was my home now. If any of that is wrong, tell me. I've unpacked but I don't have much stuff, and it won't take a minute to pack again."

They'd drifted into this, fuck, was it a relationship? Harry didn't know, but he guessed since Snape was one weird motherfucker that any relationship he had would be weird, so yeah. This relationship. Harry had made a choice back there in the motel, sitting in a room smelling of stale cigarettes and pulsing from Hermione's magic. He chose Snape. All of a sudden he needed Snape to choose him, to emphatically choose him. This. Them. That Harry's terms had always included Snape, but that he wasn't so sure that Snape's terms had begun to include him. The childish display of upended books said differently, but he needed absolute proof.

"You are…not wrong, Mr. Potter."

Good enough. Harry brought his hands up to rub his face and sighed. This would never be easy, but it was good. Weird but good. And he knew that it would probably always be like this, him making the first move after every fight, every misunderstanding, but then again. He thought about Snape living at the hospital after he'd been beaten up, the gentle caresses when he thought Harry was asleep. It might be close to that giving and taking thing, where it eventually just ends up being a circle.

"Let's split that bottle of red I bought last week, watch The Maltese Falcon for the fourth time, fuck like rabbits, and sleep in. Okay?"

"Excellent suggestions all, but look. Magic."

The storm was moving quickly across the desert toward them, lightning hopscotching its way across the sky, the boomboomboom of the thunder getting louder and louder. He moved into Snape's arms.

"Yeah, magic."