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

Author's Notes: Many thanks to my beta, regan_v, who was PHENOMENAL! She deserves some sort of medal for betas who are tortured by their authors. This story would not be the story it has become if not for her encouragement and advice. It wasn't so much as a beta as a collaboration. I thank her from the bottom of my heart. This is my Snape. My definitive Snape, and she helped me say why.

October 1999

I do very little with my leisure time. To be honest, I sleep. And since all I have now is leisure time, I sleep away the day and night, waking only to take a piss, the occasional shower, and, when absolutely necessary, to go to the supermarket. Eating is nothing more than a chore, and if I could stop it altogether I would. I am so tired. It is as if I had never slept a wink in my entire thirty-nine years.

It is time for another nap. If the cold that slips in through the broken windows of my house at Spinner's End is any indication, it will be a bitter winter. I cast yet another Warming charm, drag the ends of my jumper close around me, and burrow deeper into the crevices of my sofa.

Even I must admit this is incredibly odd—a Muggle doctor would probably call it the product of an unbalanced mind—but I dream only one dream, ever. There is never any variation. I am standing in the world's most perfect Potions laboratory. Behind me are shelves filled with vials, boxes, and bottles of ingredients, all labeled in my Victorian copperplate and lined up alphabetically from A to Zed. I check to see that each one is in its proper place. Then I move on to the shelf containing the potions. I run a possessive hand over my two personal favorites: Draught of Living Death and Veratiserum. Nothing is ever out of place, and I don't expect it to be. My joy escalates with each confirmation that something that should be there, is, and that nothing is there, that shouldn't be. I then turn around and see shiny black cauldrons stacked from big to small in one corner, and in another, scales that have been polished until they gleamed. The middle of the room is bisected by a long work table covered in the blackest of marble. Do I need to mention that it is ideal for someone of, say, my height?

If I'm lucky enough to sleep through the whole dream, from inspecting every knife down to the pulls on the drawers, it starts over again. My joy in it is never diminished.

Would you want to wake up, ever, with such perfection in front of and behind you?

December 1999

That couldn't possibly be knocking. Who would visit me? It must be a door banging open and shut somewhere upstairs. Another window had blown out, no doubt. I turned over, yanked the covers up over a cold shoulder, and was about to drift off again—I had only just reached the shelf with labeled vials of perfectly brewed Draught of Living Death serum, all lined up like proper little soldiers. With any luck, I'd return to the exact place and finish the alphabet—when there was no mistaking that. The front door heaved back on its hinges, and Harry Potter crossed the threshold, bringing a weather front of December's sleet with him. It had been knocking. Potter-esque type knocking. I should have known by the hostile thump of his fist against the wood.

"Shut that door!" I roared.

For once he obeyed. I stared at him. What in the bloody hell was he doing here? He shook his head to dislodge the rain plastering his hair.

"You're asleep? It's past eleven. In the, uh, morning." He made it sound as unlikely as if he'd found me crocheting doilies. Stark bollocks naked.

"Well spotted, Mr. Potter. I don't know why I should be astonished; you're demonstrating yet once again those amazing powers of observation. Powers that somehow failed to manifest themselves in my class. Ever. Yes. Asleep. You are interrupting my nap. I don't recall issuing you an invitation. Yet another appalling gap in your education. You do not barge in on people unannounced, and you certainly don't do so in such a manner as to bring seventeen metric tons of water in with you."

"It's only rain," he grumbled in that sulky voice he used only with me. "Going to melt are we?"

I would not dignify that with a remark. "Leave. And on your way out, try not to let an additional seventeen metric tons of water soak my threadbare carpet."

I turned over and hitched the blanket back up for a second time.

"They won't let me sleep. Take naps. Say it's not healthy."

"Who?" I grumbled.

"Hermione. Ron. Plus, Scrimgeour has me in his bleeding office every morning for two hours making me do stupid tests."

"Tell them to fuck off." This young man was no longer my student. I felt no compunction to maintain the farce that I had a moral obligation to watch my language around him. That charade and others went out the window when I was forced to watch Draco Malfoy being torn apart by werewolves. "You've earned your sleep. As I've earned mine. Now shut up and leave. Oh, and renew the fire on your way out." There wasn't a hope in hell now that I'd pick up where I left off, but starting all over again has its own rewards. I fell asleep to the whoosh of flames.

I woke up three hours later to find him asleep, slumped over in my father's wingback chair, its grimy antimacassar transformed into a blanket. He'd tucked his two hands underneath his cheek as if in prayer. Judging by the length and breadth of his soft snores, Potter was indulging in his own dreamland. His earlier indulgent whining about that bossy chit Granger and that red-haired moron Weasley (a dim bulb in a family of fairly bright lights—even those truly evil twins were intelligent), made me wonder if his dreams were as preferable to his reality as mine were to me.

We had not spoken to each other since June. Since the final battle. I think one, or certainly I, can now say with absolute surety that the Dark Lord was finally dead. And how do I know? My Mark died. It shriveled in on itself, all puckered and pinched, the skin completely dead. I've not tested it, but I believe I could take a hot poker to it and I wouldn't feel a thing. A shame that we didn't know to do that the first go around.

It took months to get it through Potter's ever-thick skull that I had not killed Albus so much as done his bidding, an unhappy repeat of his own culpability when he forced Albus to drink the poison to retrieve that damn Horcrux. My utter lack of faith in Potter's abilities, in equal measure to Potter's lack of faith in my allegiances, had come to a head with Draco Malfoy's death. A sufficient wake-up call for both of us. Divided we would fall. We suffered, and I do not use that term lightly, each other's presence to defeat the Dark Lord. The truth was that Potter had the power, but not the knowledge, and I the knowledge, but not the power.

Potter snored on. I inspected the larder. Thin, to put it mildly. No tea left. One jar of applesauce left. The heel of a loaf of bread so hard that not even I would dream of eating it. Nothing for it, I'd have to muster the energy to walk to the supermarket tomorrow. I ate the applesauce out of the jar and licked the spoon clean. It filled the hole. Nothing else.

Even that moderate amount of activity exhausted me. I lay down on the sofa, facing Potter. My rustlings in the kitchen must have disturbed him, for he'd thrown off the blanket. Whatever his dreams were, they were of the prurient variety because he was biting his lower lip and the heel of his hand pressed against his groin. Dear God, Potter in heat.

I closed my eyes, but the layout of a supremely outfitted Potions laboratory did not play behind my eyelids. No. Hopeless. Not even the lure of bottles lined up to within the exact millimeter from each other could compete with a replay of the somnambulistic writhings of that young man pushing his palm against a very evident bulge. If that supremely irritating sod was wearing underwear, I'd eat an antimacassar.

I opened my eyes. To stop this travesty. And met his stare.


I did not speak above a whisper, but I like to think that I have perfected over the years the ability to convey mortal danger with a single word.

He Apparated, his hand still pressed against his groin.

He was there the next morning, waiting for my return. Seated in my father's chair, a roaring fire in the grate, he'd shed his cloak and sweater and was down to merely a tee-shirt and, upon closer inspection, the same pair of ratty and worn jeans he had had on yesterday. Minus underwear. Again. He must have cast a hell of a Warming charm, because the windows did fuck all in keeping out the icy wind. I'd just returned from shopping, exhaustion dogging every step. The only thought keeping me going was that I'd have an exceptional nap when I finally reached home. The prospect of which almost made grocery shopping palatable.

"I cast those wards for a reason," I snapped and flicked my wand in angry jerks, as jars of applesauce, tins of tea, milk, bread, and a carton of eggs flew to their appropriate places. "How in the seven hells did you get through them?"

"How do you think?" he replied with a yawn. "First-year spell, yeah?"

My attention span broke for half a second, and the eggs went crashing to the floor. I restored them and directed them to the cold cupboard.

"You used an Alohomora?"

"Yeah. Sure."

Potter clueless, business as usual. But a Potter imbued with extraordinary magical powers, Merlin, help us all.

I ignored his vulgar, disrespectful tone because I had bigger fish to ponder. The spells underlying those wards dated back to the fifteenth century. I doubt even Lucius Malfoy (second only to myself as something of a scholar on the subject) could have lifted them. Technically, they skirted the definition of Dark, but Albus would have forbidden me to use them only in the direst of circumstances. Well, I considered my privacy dire.

But now, Potter could stand in front of the door and, like the parting of the Red Sea, was powerful enough that a perfectly inadequate spell forced the door to just yield to him. It didn't yield to the spell. It yielded to him.

My previous suspicions about Potter were now confirmed. In the second after his defeat, I had witnessed a miraculous display of light erupting from the Dark Lord's wand, which had flowed directly over to Potter's scar. Frankly, I was surprised that Scrimgeour hadn't thrown Potter in Azkaban. Scrimgeour wasn't stupid. Must explain the near-daily debriefings. Of course, there is the question: how do you actually go about incarcerating someone with magical powers equivalent to one hundred wizards? I almost felt sorry for Scrimgeour.

Fucking hell, we're all doomed. What is the likelihood that a young man of Potter's ilk had the wherewithal to manage power of that kind without spiraling headlong into a madness that would rival his archenemy's? His (and our) odds were slim to none.

Essentially, I could no more refuse Potter's presence than I could fly. How exhausting.

I'd have my tea later.

I flopped down on the sofa with my back to him, spread myself along its length, bunched my pillow a couple of times, and settled in to take a long and well-deserved nap.

"Snape," he barked out. "Don't go to sleep. I need to talk to you."

His voice had deepened since the war had ended. I wasn't quite sure whether it was from exhaustion or if he'd finally matured physically. Adolescence took its sweet time with Potter. His classmates towered over him for years. Even that horrible Granger topped him at one point. And then just after I'd killed Albus, it was as if his body had received its marching orders. He grew six inches over that summer. Molly told me later that she couldn't feed him enough. My comment about fattening him up for the slaughter didn't go over very well. His wrists thickened, and his shoulders burst out of those enormous hand-me down shirts of his. He'd grown up to go to war.

"No, you do not," I shot back and turned over. I kept my eyes shut. "We put our mutual loathing for each other on the back burner for one excellent reason. It took both of us to kill him. Bravo, mission accomplished. There is no reason to maintain that false front now. Feel free to hate me with your usual childish flair. The only words, the last words I hope to hear out of your mouth, ever, are good and bye."

"I could make you."

Not so clueless then. Bugger.

I sat up and opened my eyes.

"Yes. Obviously," I said wearily. "Tea?"

He nodded.

We sat in silence at my kitchen table, the scream of the tea kettle a welcome relief. When I had poured his cup, he looked around for sugar and milk. I summoned them. He proceeded to dump three heaping teaspoons of sugar and half a cup of milk in his tea. His relatives had probably forced him to drink it black. I've found that nearly all of Potter's excesses were direct responses to the abuse his relatives had subjected him to.

A few comforting sips and I spread my hands open to indicate negotiations were underway. The smug set of his shoulders, the half grin as he sipped his tea indicated that he didn't even consider them negotiations. How wrong he was.

"I want to hear stories about my mother."

I was getting rusty. I almost choked. What in the hell was he thinking?

"That's Lupin's territory, surely. Don't be ridiculous," I snorted. Indeed, what I remember of Lily Evans… "I am the last person you should be asking. A Slytherin?"

"Remus is dying. I can't exactly park myself at his beside and demand he tell me about her. Slughorn said you two were friends."

I gave him the glare I reserve for complete idiots. A look he should have been quite familiar with. "Horace is both mistaken and a moron. I had no friends."

I emptied my teacup and winged it to the sink. I'd clean it later.

"I could make you," he repeated, and this time I heard the desperation in his voice.


"Her teacher; it wouldn't be the same.

"Lupin—" I tried again.

"Fuck it, Snape. Listen to me, he's dying. He's got about two months to live and those months belong to Tonks. I could make you," he threatened for the third time.

"Then do it!" I shouted, because I'd had enough, damn all of them to hell, enough of kowtowing to more powerful wizards. A lifetime of enough. "And invoke Albus' memory when you rape my mind with whatever Unforgivable you decide upon." I pointed at my head. "Be my guest, Mr. Potter."

A year ago he would have retreated into a tense silence, only a tick of the clock away from committing some horrible act of violence. Evoking the specter of Albus Dumbledore had usually curbed the worst of his anger. Albus' name would barely leave my lips before he'd rein it back in, stew for several seconds, and then Apparate out of the room with a sharp pop. We went through many such machinations of his rage, and it was something of a miracle that he hadn't killed me the months prior to killing the Dark Lord. It wasn't for lack of desire.

At this he only spat back, "You are such a bastard," and then spread his hands. Miracle of miracles, Potter was growing up. The negotiations had recommenced. A sad state of affairs for him, as I no intention of negotiating. Anything.

"You have nothing of value to me, hence, this is pointless. Either you cast an Imperius on me or you leave." Why not lay my cards on the table? Even without Albus' ghost, I doubt he could bring himself to cast Unforgivables on the man he hated with an unholy passion, but one who nevertheless had been instrumental in saving the friends he had left. Granted those numbers were few, but Weasley and Granger survived, plus that flirt, the youngest Weasley girl. I looked to his ring finger. No, their nuptials had not yet taken place.

"There's me."

Surely I didn't hear that. I summoned back my teacup and with a very firm hand poured myself a second cup.

"I beg your pardon."

"You can look. At me. I'll let you look at me. If you tell me stories about my mother." Killing does something to a soul. You find yourself making bargains you'd never thought you'd make, and then everything seems to be negotiable. But Potter whoring himself? "No touching," he added.

"What makes you think I'd want to look at you, never mind touch you?" I was rather proud of myself. That was said with my usual habitual scorn. Excellent.

"You're tired." He looked at me for the first time since making this insane proposal. "I know what that sort of exhaustion is like. You are so fucking tired, you don't care anymore. What happens."

Indeed, the circles under his eyes rivaled my own. I really looked at him, perhaps for the first time in months, maybe years. It had gotten so that his presence was such an irritant that I stopped seeing him. His skin was the color of dead earthworms and stretched tight over his bones; all that diligent feeding-up had been for naught. Yes, he knew what it was like to have exhaustion eating you from the inside out. An internal exhaustion that is unquenchable. "Must be a hundred times worse for you. You've been setting up defenses for years. But still, I know what it's like. I'm tired, too. I'm always afraid I might let something slip with Scrimgeour. You're letting things slip. Stuff you'd never let slip before," he said matter-of-factly.

I said nothing.

"I saw, Snape," he said, his voice rising. "The way you looked at me." This was said with a furious blush and a return to staring back into his teacup. But this was not the horrific blush of a young man who discovers his greasy Potions master desires him. Oh perhaps a little. But it was more a blush of knowledge, the guilty blush of someone who knew exactly what that hunger feels like. I set my cup down. This was most unexpected. Clearly this war had corrupted us all on many levels. Interesting.

"What do you know of such looks, Mr. Potter?" I purred. "Should I send Miss Weasley an owl asking her if—"

"Shut it," he demanded and began the relentless hair carding. "That's not on any more, so don't bother her. And such looks. It's none of your fucking business. I just know what it means."

"First-hand knowledge?" I must confess that I was more than curious. Dead curious. "An indiscreet dalliance?"

"Which part of none of your fucking business don't you understand? There was nothing indiscreet or dirty about it. It just made me question, uh, things. And before you go off and start calling me a pervert or a pouf or a ponce or a pillow-biter, or whatever you've got in that arsenal of insults you seem to always have at hand when I'm around, I don't know what I am. Thought I was straight, but… I'm confused about a lot of things, but what I'm not confused about is that you liked what you saw." This was said with a sharp crack of his teacup against the saucer. "I want to hear stories about my mother and you're the only one of her classmates besides Remus who's still alive. And…" he left it at that.

"And possibly not for long. If I'm found by a rogue Death Eater or a disgruntled member of the Order who questions my innocence? That about the gist of it?" His silence spoke volumes. "I loathe you."

That brought a mirthless chuckle out of him and an exaggerated roll of his eyes.

"I'd have to be bloody moron not to know that. It's mutual, yeah? Just so we're clear. Get a clue. I'm desperate, Snape, or I wouldn't be here. Dense fucker," he muttered under his breath. "I was going to force you, but I… I can't. I thought I could, but I can't. But now we have something to bargain over. You loathe this." He made a sweeping motion with his hand from his neck to the top of his head. "Not this," and straightened his shoulders.

Point. Something I couldn't have said a week ago, but then a week ago I'd never seen Potter clutching his groin with a hand that had finally lost the fragility so characteristic of a boy's hand and gained the beguiling strength of a man's. I swept up from the table and moved back to sit on the couch. Negotiations were over as far as I was concerned.

Potter probably couldn't even spell the word "negotiation" properly, and it was a couple of minutes before he'd realized that he'd won that round. I heard the slow scrape of his chair against the cracked linoleum. He shuffled into the room, as usual, and it was all I could do not to hex his feet as he stood in front of me, several feet away in case I went completely feral and started pawing him.

"No touching," he reminded me. "Just my shirt."

I raised an eyebrow in scorn. I knew the terms. He stoked the fire again with his wand. I would bet the blood of ten unicorns that the flush on his face wasn't due to the instant warmth flooding the room. He removed his glasses, no doubt because he didn't want to see my face. I wondered what he expected. Uncontrolled drooling and panting? Snorting? His tee-shirt came off in a rush, and he clutched it in a tight fist; his other hand gripping his wand with equal fervor. He closed his eyes.

"You're such a sick fuck, Snape," he muttered. "God, I hate you. Getting your jollies off of me. Pervert. I can't believe you were my teacher. Probably had a great wank after every class…"

This was so tiresome. Expected, but irritating nevertheless. "Oh do shut up, Potter, or not even the prospect of you on your knees sucking me off will convince me to continue this insanity."

As intended, that did shut him up, his sheer disgust and mortification was evident in an agonized twist of his lips. The horrifying prospect of giving me a blow job probably robbed him of his ability to speak for the next five years.

He was physically stunning, albeit too slender. Not unblemished, mind you. Hex scars crisscrossed his abdomen, a nasty one sliced his left shoulder in half. But he was all the more beautiful because of it. His youth was exemplified in the sharp taper of his waist meeting slim hips, the blush of his nipples, the scarring a permanent testament to his duty and sacrifice. I almost liked him at that moment. A first in eight years.

But as perfect as that was…

"Turn around. Please."

My voice did not betray me. It was cavalier, as if I'd asked for another cup of tea. The matter-of-fact tone eased his extreme unrest just a little. His shoulders dropped minutely, and the cords in his neck eased a fraction. His back had fewer scars. No more than half a dozen, and those would probably be nothing more than a memory in five years. Not surprising. Over the years, I have laid many insults at Potter's door —and completely justifiable ones at that—but never have I called him a coward. You can tell the mettle of a soldier by the number of scars on his back. Potter's bravery was never in question. Not that I didn't think half of his bravery was because he was too bloody thick understand the odds he was up against, but why quibble?

With his back to me, he didn't look like Potter. No, he looked like a rather fetching dark-haired rentboy I'd been lucky enough to pick up in the better section of Knockturn Alley. Shoulders broad enough to dispel the taint of the schoolroom, but still narrow enough that you immediately knew he was still young, and the hint, just the hint of his arse hiding behind the slope of his pants. "Raise your arms." Again, I said it in a mild tone, just casual as you please. He hesitated and then complied. I drank in every ripple, every stretch of sinew as he raised his hands to the ceiling.

The thought of being poised over that delicious back, one firm hand anchoring his hip, the other holding his wrists together above his head, my tongue tracing the tail end of that horrible hex scar as it skirted over his shoulder, my hips moving in a slow, teasing roll…

A flawed Adonis…

At which point he let out a particularly impatient sigh and spoiled everything, because there was no question of the identity of the person who issued that particular harrumph. A testament to how much time we'd been forced to spend together that I actually knew it was Potter uttering that sigh of frustration.

At that I lay down, turned away from him, pulled my mother's ratty gray cardigan around me tight, and brought the blankets over my shoulders.

He must have heard the creak of the springs, the scratchy rasp of the blankets as I adjusted them. No doubt he thought I was disrobing and was going to attack him physically. I would have given a year's wages (when I was actually earning a salary) to see his face in those few minutes. Indecision, desperation, perhaps even fear. He braved it out a lot longer than I thought he would.

I was nearly asleep when he shouted, "What the fuck do you think you're doing? What about my story?"

I didn't bother to open my eyes.

"Why buy a cow when the milk is free," I drawled, using a particularly vulgar Muggle expression. "Perhaps tomorrow, if there is a tomorrow, you should define your terms. As always, your rash nature is your undoing. I suggest that for tomorrow's story time you wait until I tell you what you want to hear before you disrobe. I might actually have the incentive to stay awake. Unlike now."

I went silent and waited. Because I truly thought he'd hex me. Perhaps even kill me. And then all my protestations to Albus—Why are we relying on him? He is unpredictable. He flies into a rage at the drop of a hat. He will never be able to curb that wild, impetuous streak you call bravery. He is a tinderbox of resentment. One day, Albus, mark my words—would finally be proven correct. For over six years, my endless pleading to Albus had fallen on deaf ears. Perhaps today was the day I'd be proven right. He didn't need me anymore. Would he finally give in to that rage and kill me like he'd wanted to for years? Odd that I found that I didn't care much.

He didn't hex me. What he did do was indulge in a rather vocal temper tantrum.

"Fucking prick. King of the pricks. Why am I surprised? Bastard of the first order. Fucking piece of fucking work. Should have known you'd play dirty because that's the sort of evil fucking git you are. Yeah, well tomorrow's another day. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice? Not fucking likely, you complete and utter arse."

And on and on, nearly ten minutes of this sort of inane invective. Then a whoosh of the flames, a Warming charm, more grumbling, and then…snoring. I turned over. Potter had curled up under his blanket and was now asleep.

The pop of his Apparition as he left the house woke me up.

I was actually surprised to see him come back, but then you know what they say about the tenacity of Gryffindors. Black and Potter had been relentless in their verbal and physical abuse of me, why should I underestimate the son? I was exhausted. I never would have made that mistake even a year ago.

What woke me up was the smell of bacon frying. No, I am not making that up. Potter was in my kitchen frying up—I looked at the clock—a late breakfast. Unbidden, the horrible Sunday breakfasts of my youth came to mind. A meal from hell, well, all meals were hellish, but for some odd reason Sunday mornings were their own special brand of hell. As an adult, I now realize that my father's Saturday nights at the pub, where he downed enough whiskey to keep an Armada afloat, might have played a starring role in his Sunday morning "bonhomie." The bacon was never crisp enough. Or it was burnt. Or the tomatoes tasted like shit. Or they were too sweet. Or he wanted scrambled eggs. Or he only ate his eggs sunny-side up, you stupid fucking bitch. On a good morning, I say "good" in a rather ironic way, he wouldn't heave his plate across the room, hitting the wall opposite. Indeed, I can still see the chips in the plaster where plates had met wall for so many years.

"You're up," he said. "Won't be a minute."

"What are you doing?"

Potter turned around slightly, speared a piece of bacon with a fork, wriggled it to prove his point, and rolled his eyes before returning it to the frying pan.

Where had the bacon come from? I'd tear strips off of him for assuming such liberties. Not until after I'd had taken my piss, however.

My ablutions complete, I entered the kitchen to find that he'd set the table, and the teapot had a cozy over it. How dare he come in here and disrupt… What did it matter? I couldn't have stopped him if I wanted to.

"Here. Hope you like your eggs scrambled. Broke the yolk accidentally and…" He shrugged.

"Thank you. Tea?"

He nodded, his cheeks filled with food. He was tucking into his food with a near desperate ferocity. I remember being that hungry. Contrary to legend, I had been a fairly normal teenager, with the usual adolescent appetites and desires.

I could manage no more than a few bites of the eggs and one rasher. I left the tomato. I shoved my plate over toward him. He needed no more than a second before he polished off my breakfast as well, and then toasted himself yet another piece of bread. To be nineteen again and enjoy food that much.

"The bacon and tomatoes?" I asked.

"I bought 'em. You've got no effing food in this house. Some eggs, bread, couple of tins of tea. That's what you've been living on?"

I shrugged. It was none of his business. "My appetite is nil these days. My years as a Death Eater spoiled me. Once you've feasted on the limbs of Muggle infants, anything else pales in comparison. The toes were particularly delightful."

"You are one sick motherfucker, Snape."

At least I think he said that, as he mumbled while eating my discarded tomato.

"Your appetite is quite hardy," I noted. That met with a pronounced grimace.

"I'm always starving after being Scrimgeour's private floor show for the day. And I didn't want to go back to… Went to the store and then cooked something up." He left it at that, and poured himself and me another cup of tea.

"They are testing you." It wasn't a question and he didn't interpret it as such.

"The Ministry's convinced I'm the new Dark Lord. Scrimgeour asks me to set rooms on fire, shit like that, then measures my magic."

And to think I'd actually thought Scrimgeour had a brain. "You could engulf the entire Ministry in flames without thinking twice." Again, it was a statement of fact.

"Yeah," he agreed, but he wasn't triumphant about it. "What does it matter? I've got all this power and it's not going to bring anyone back. I hate it actually. It just makes me more of a freak. Not that I thought that was possible. Voldemort got the last laugh." His hand shook slightly as he put his teacup out for more tea.

An owl began pecking at the window. As it couldn't possibly be for me, I raised an eyebrow.

"For Christ's sake," he exploded. He pushed his chair back with such force that it fell over. He wrenched open the window, grabbed the message off the owl's talon, and slammed the window shut without giving the owl a treat. A quick Incendio reduced the note to ash. He upended the chair and had the grace to blush. "Fucking Hermione."

I poured us another cup of tea. "She knows you're here?" That surprised me.

"Yeah. Sorry. She just never gives up, you know?" His face darkened. "Look, I'll deal with her. I'm here for my story, Snape. Don't pull anymore more shit on me. A deal's a deal."

"Your terms then?"

"You tell me the story first. If I feel you're bullshitting me, I swear on Dumbledore's grave that I'll wring your fucking neck. With my bare hands. Then, I'll do, you know, the shirt thing. But no shirt thing today, you fucking owe me."

"As much as I think expletives have a time and a place, your rather indiscriminate use of them dilutes their potential and only highlights the fact that you're a vulgar young man with a mouth to rival that of a dock worker."

"Fuck you," he said with a large grin.

It was no more than I'd expected; the soupcon of maturity that I'd seen earlier in our negotiations only that, a soupcon. And why he hadn't insisted on such terms in the first place is just another testament as to how naive he still was. Astonishing. You'd think all that innate trust would have been died the day I killed Albus.

I nodded. "Look at me." He raised his head, his eyes all iris, black with that defiance, that constant challenge, that ever-present "fuck-you" that has characterized our acquaintance from the very beginning. "These are my memories and you will respect them. You will not question them, nor call me a liar, nor hex me if you hear something you don't like. And I assure you, you will hear things you won't like. Do you understand me?" He nodded. "How long is this going to go on?" I snapped.

"Until I say so."

We scraped our chairs back simultaneously.

I lay down on the sofa, on my back. He plopped himself down in my father's wing chair with a jumble of limbs. It is always a shock to watch him so physically awkward because on a broom he is grace itself. I pointed at the fireplace. "If you please." He flicked his wand, and a surge of hot air filled the room; flames licked the outside of the hearth.

"A little less enthusiasm. Do you want to roast us alive?"

"Sorry," he mumbled. "Still getting the hang of this."

I closed my eyes.

"Your mother might have been sorted into Gryffindor, but she really belonged to no house, and I wouldn't have been surprised if the Sorting Hat had had a devil of a time placing her. She had the intelligence of a Ravenclaw, the bravery of a Gryffindor, the loyalty of a Hufflepuff, and the grit of a Slytherin. I saw her first on the train platform—"

"Was… Was she pretty?" Potter asked in a plaintive voice. "The few photos I have of her are from when she was older."

"Do not interrupt. Yes, she was an exceptionally pretty girl, but amazingly, as I discovered later, not the least bit conceited. Nor was she one of those children who never fulfill the promise of their childhood beauty and become ordinary as they age. She was a beautiful child; she became a beautiful woman. Her hair a soft red, not that irritating red of your Mr. Weasley, and her eyes remained that astonishing green, the only attribute that you've inherited from her that I can see. No one mentions this about her, but she had a lovely smile. As the years went by, that smile changed from being the smile of a happy child, easily amused and gratified, to the generous and welcoming smile of a confident young woman. Then there was the other smile. Not that she ever cast it my way, but every now and then, she'd tilt her head, look sideways out of the corner of her eyes, and then she'd twitch her lips up at the very edges; a quite saucy smile. An essentially innocent smile, but hinting of sexual promise. The sort of smile even capable of capturing the heart of a complete miscreant such as your father."

That got an indignant huff.

"Not another sound. She was not perfect. Her temper was quite formidable. She was like Minerva that way; both of them with that tendency to lace their rage with wit and sarcasm. Minerva naturally kept that to a minimum with the students. Your mother had no such restraint, and even when she was Head Girl, she would often mete out punishments accompanied by verbal scorn that rivaled even mine.

"But these revelations were yet to come. On the train platform all I could see was her farewells to your family. Your grandparents hugged her repeatedly, ignoring the impatient huff, huff, huff of steam as the train made ready to leave. Your aunt stood off to the side, her mouth pursed ill-naturedly. Her jealousy was so profound that even I, a stranger, could see it, even almost hear her. 'Why didn't I get that red hair? Why didn't I get those green eyes? Why do they love her so much?' Naturally, I knew something about ill-natured children, as I was a miserable child myself. I knew the set of that mouth. I looked at its brother in the mirror every morning. The grimace that meant the word 'unfair' had almost lost its meaning because everything was unfair. Unfair was a state of being.

"I must confess to being very envious of your mother's exuberant displays of affection, both the giving and the taking. My own mother stood by my side, wearing this very cardigan, which was in no way sufficient for the brisk wind roaring down the platform, but she always put off using her winter coat for as long as possible, as it would have to last her a number of years. We had nothing to say to each other. It was as impossible to articulate the joy racing through my veins that I was to have a respite for the next nine months—I had no intention of going home for the holidays—as it was to articulate my grief at leaving her. So we said nothing. She brushed a non-existent piece of fluff off of my shoulders every now and then.

"When the screech of the train whistle called us for the final time, she brushed off my shoulders one last time and whispered in my ear, 'Study hard, Severus.' And with that she was off. I turned to enter the train and saw your mother give your aunt a heartfelt hug. At the prospect of seeing your mother's back at last, your aunt broke into a smile. A first.

"We shared a compartment on the train. The only time as it turned out. Your mother was quite observant, fiddling with an errant lock of hair to pretend that she didn't see the meager sandwich my mother had packed for the very long journey. She was generous. She bought several pumpkin tarts and then, professing to being full, begged me to eat them. I am ashamed to say that I did. I was constantly hungry in those days. That evening's Welcoming Feast at Hogwarts was the first time in my entire life that I actually felt full. Like I had eaten enough."

For some reason Potter gasped at that. I looked at him, one eyebrow raised in question, but he said nothing, but bit sharply on his lip and bade me go on with a wave of his hand.

"We chatted off and on the whole way. I was a perfect monster."

"Surprise, surprise," he said under his breath.

"One more word, Mr. Potter, and this will be at an end. Do you understand?" I warned him. He gave me his standard defiant glare, but nodded all the same.

"I was churlish, rude, and brusque, and why she didn't heave me up and pitch me out the window is something of a mystery. I learned later that she didn't think me any of those things; she just thought I was homesick. I wish I could say that was true, but it wasn't. I don't mean to say she was gullible or naive, just that she had enough common sense not to come to any permanent conclusions based on one train ride. I was overjoyed to leave my home and what I was was painfully shy, which manifested itself in rudeness. Not that I wasn't churlish and brusque by nature, but at that point she was willing to give me the benefit of the doubt.

"My experience up until that time had taught me time and time again that you are predator or you are prey. There is no middle ground. My sojourn at Hogwarts as both a student and a teacher did not disabuse me of that notion, and I have lived my life accordingly. I have found only two exceptions to this rule: Albus Dumbledore and your mother. They were the only two people in this world that I ever trusted. That they both betrayed me is terribly ironic."

I stopped, unable to say another word. Completely spent. If he wanted any more out of me, he'd have to throttle me.

I turned to go to sleep.

"She was really pretty?" he asked again.

I nodded. Lily Evans had been a pretty child. Not that I knew that then. In that skewed and cruel way that is common among children, I only noticed the ones who weren't handsome or beautiful; everyone else noticed that about me, for example. As my father used to say to me, "A face only a mother would love." It wasn't until much later that I appreciated how beautiful Lily Evans had been, as a child and a young woman.

Lost in my own thoughts, it was with a start that I realized that Potter had fallen asleep, his heavy measured breathing competing with the hiss from the fireplace. I opened my eyes. His cheeks were shiny with silent tears, his mouth slightly open. I renewed the fire and shut my eyes.

He was gone when I woke up.

Surely that can't be, yes, whistling, and the smell of… Pork chops? Potter had resumed his stance at my stove and was, indeed, frying up pork chops. And whistling Christmas carols. Deck the Halls to be precise.

I made for the bathroom, did my business, sniffed under my armpits, did a rather robust Scourgify on myself, and then sat down at the table. I despise Christmas carols on principle; however, I have a weakness for pork chops.

"Pork chops, okay?"

As if I was in a position to turn him down.


We ate in silence. There is really nothing nicer than pork chops with new potatoes and peas. Given that, I could barely eat more than several bites and left it to him to shovel home the rest. Which he did with gusto.

"You met with Scrimgeour today?"

"He lets me have weekends off. I don't have to go in today nor tomorrow."

That explained the whistling. There was the smell of burned paper in the air. I sniffed.

"I slept through Miss Granger's owl. She is indefatigable."

"You've no bloody idea," he grumbled. "Can I ask some questions?"

I levitated the dishes to the sink with a tad too much force. A plate broke. He fixed it without comment.

I debated whether or not to ignore him; after all it wasn't part of our "deal." I say "deal" but this was little more than extortion, extortion with benefits, but extortion nonetheless. I was to tell him stories and just that.

"Please. Just one."

Perhaps worth the price of a nicely cooked pork chop.

"One," I said with enough venom to get my point across.

"What was your first meeting like with my father?

"He was rather large for his age, while I was rather small. In my day, the rivalry between the houses was not as vicious as it would become in yours, but the animosity between Gryffindor and Slytherin was robust enough. I heard sniggering from the Gryffindor side of the hall when Minerva called out my name and the Sorting Hat placed me into Slytherin with appropriate speed. On my way out the door, he tripped me. I could see the red and gold of his tie as I pitched forward and hit the stone, chipping a tooth. I refused to see Madam Pomfrey, and you should know that every morning when I brush my teeth," I bared my teeth at him, "I recall what an astonishing bully he was. How did I know it was your father? I heard Black say in that arrogant, aristocratic drawl of his—as many pains as he took to disguise his accent, he never really lost it—'Good one, James. Jesus, what a name. With that nose I think we should just call him Snivellus and be done with it.' And so they did. For the next seven years. That is what your questions will get you."

Without looking at me, he left the table first, stoked the fire, and sat down without a word.

I did not look at him while I positioned myself on the couch.

"If you indulge in any notion of tit for tat, I assure you that this is the last time I shall open my mouth."

He'd obviously considered not giving me my floorshow in retaliation for yesterday's "lesson," because I got a grumpy, "Yeah, yeah. Get on with it."

"Just so we understand each other," I warned him.

He adjusted the fire in response, so that if I'd extended my hand all the way it would be in engulfed in flames. I said nothing.

"You are no doubt curious why I treated your Miss Granger with such contempt. Why I never gave her due. In fact, punished her. Repeatedly. You may blame your mother. I could never see her posturing and grandstanding without remembering another Muggle girl who was equally brilliant. Who'd grown up with Muggle parents as well. Who also didn't know she was a witch until her Hogwarts letter arrived by owl. A girl who didn't have this truly pathetic need to advertise how intelligent she was every second of her insecure little life. Who, when called on, would always give the correct answer, but toss it off as if it was a fluke, that it had just occurred to her and, sorry, is that right? Who never broadcast her intelligence to all and sundry every chance she got, by reciting her schoolbooks verbatim. Who didn't practically leap out of her seat at every question, nearly wrenching her arm out of its socket. I used to cringe hearing Granger's shrill, 'Harry, Ron, we must study for our O.W.L.s, they are only three hundred years away.'"

That got a chuckle.

I gave him a look.

"What? I can't laugh?' he protested. "You've got her there, spot on. Sometimes she can be a horrible nag."

"I concur. Your mother never whored her intelligence to her own ego like Granger did. Or does. The war didn't change that. It was impossible not to admire your mother for that and equally impossible not to scorn Granger.

"No doubt, Horace has regaled you with stories of your mother's brilliance. I have nothing to add to that. She was brilliant. Your mother had the sort of mind that could leap from A to M in a single beat. I maneuvered to be paired with her every chance I got. We worked well together. She never took my rudeness personally; I doubt she cared enough about me for it to bother her. I respected her intelligence, and she knew it.

"I was also a quite gifted student. We appreciated that in each other. If you've spared half a glance at this room, you'll have realized that mine was a most impoverished childhood. Everything was meager. My clothes, my rations at dinner." That got a sigh for some reason. "Everything except for…" I waved a broad hand in the direction of the walls of books. "I have come to understand they were the only way my mother stayed sane all those years. She would metaphorically flee through books to nineteenth century England or Russia or France or even twentieth century America. Poor woman, obviously it was a measure of her extreme despair that she'd even read American Muggle authors to escape her sad lot. Pardon me. Those are books. They are traditionally bound in leather and contain sheets of paper with words written on them. I introduce these no doubt foreign objects to you—"

"He was the best of pricks, he was the worst of pricks," he said out of the corner of his mouth.

"Touche, Potter, touche. I only say this because until your sixth year, I did not see any evidence that you even knew what a book looked like, never mind that you actually might have read one. Imagine my surprise when you happened upon my sixth-year Potions book and could read the words. One of the few times you've surprised me. Odd you weren't neck and neck with Granger considering your parents, but then I supposed there is no accounting for genetic vagaries. As much as I hated your father, I must admit his abilities were formidable. He wasted them, of course; he used all of his energies to devise jokes, plot high-jinx, and concoct newer and better dung bombs."

I waited for an explosion of some sort, but he merely glowered at me with his usual disdain and generic hatred.

"It was maddening watching your father spend the majority of his classroom time passing notes back and forth between himself and Black, and if I saw him in the library more than twice a year it was an absolute miracle. He shared your allergy to reading. His schoolwork was always his last concern: Quidditch, mischief, and, later, your mother topped his agenda. This never changed. Unfortunately, when O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s rolled around, he got top marks. He was exceptionally clever. Not gifted as your mother was, but decidedly smart. He was also an absolute arse about it. Always a quip at someone else's expense. Black's talents were no less formidable, although slightly different; your father excelled at Transfiguration—the fact that you cast a Patronus at a relatively young age I think can be laid at his door—and Black excelled at Charms. Both were hopeless at Potions because they didn't have the patience. They had the attention span of gnats.

"I would watch your mother turn down your father's repeated attempts to get her to help him with Potions. She'd cut him off at the knees. 'Fuck off, Potter. You're nearly failing Potions because you're too busy faffing around with Black.' Then then she'd turn around, right in front of him, and offer to help tutor someone who was truly in need of assistance. Usually that very person whom your father had humiliated not ten seconds earlier for being dim.

"In addition to being gifted, I was exceptionally curious."

What I didn't tell Potter was that my curiosity initially took the form his aunt would have understood. Except I didn't question why my elder sister was so beloved. My questions were of a slightly more desperate variety. "Why is my father a drunken lout? Why did my mother marry him? Why are we so poor? What will happen to my mother when I leave for school?" These are questions that had no answers. I asked them for years, and I was no closer to getting answers at the age of fourteen than I had been at four. But none of that was Potter's concern.

"If you are the sort of child who continuously asks questions, then you find you cannot stop. 'What will happen if I add the unicorn's blood now? If I stir this one more time, how will that affect the potion?' I was, or should say, I am also blessed with a formidable memory and am extremely dexterous. And, to use a vulgar phrase, I worked my bloody arse off."

At this point he made a cough that sounded strangely like "Hermione."

"Do not compare me with that insufferable know-it-all. I was also a watcher. I'd learned to cultivate that over the years as more of a survival technique than anything else."

Yes, even as a five-year old I'd learned to watch for that moment when he could no longer pronounce a "t" or his hand missed as it fumbled his glass, because then it was time to disappear into my room and then cover my ears with a pillow before …

"Which made me something of a prodigy in Defense Against the Dark Arts. After all, half of defense is knowing your opponent's weaknesses.

"Initially, your father was puzzled by your mother's cavalier attitude toward me. As far as he was concerned, to know me was to despise me, and then he resented it. As quick as she was, I doubt she knew that every casual conversation and every smile cast my way were catalogued and resented by your father, for in the limited way of immature teenagers, smiles bestowed on me were smiles not bestowed on him. That these smiles meant nothing to her, were nothing more than her being friendly, was somehow lost on him. He only knew that she wasn't smiling at him. Consequences were always swift and only increased in severity as his initial crush grew into a deep attraction and then actual love. By that point, he truly hated me. It wasn't just sport any more. I am done."

I was done. I couldn't have spoken another word if my life had depended on it. These memories were wrenching. The happier moments I had as a student—and believe me they were few—were inexplicably tied to the truly horrific ones suffered at the hands of James Potter and his cohorts in crime.

Dear God, how many days would this go on? How many more days would I be required to remember what a miserable child I had been, in both heart and spirit? And my conviction that miserable children are made, not born, did nothing to alleviate that bitter outrage that has become my trademark. I was a miserable child, and I grew up to be a miserable young man. I was being reminded that my relative happiness at Hogwarts could only be measured through comparison with how completely foul my home was, because at school I was merely tolerated in my own house and despised by everyone else.

My thoughts were interrupted by a gruff, "Let's get this over with."

I sat up.

He was standing, having already removed his glasses and shirt. The blush was nowhere to be seen today. Without any prompting from me, he turned around. My eyes went from one shoulder blade to the other. I mapped with my eyes the "vee" from his shoulders to his hips. Counted the vertebrae in his back… As I visually feasted on him, the only sound in the room was the popping of the fire.

"Turn around. Please."

He did, clutching his tee-shirt, his head turned away from me. Nevertheless, I could see the faint movement of his lips, and I realized that he was counting. Counting out the moments of torture. I stifled a laugh. Were my recollections worth thirty seconds of torture? Surely more: he adored his parents, no matter that he hadn't known them. They would have merited at least sixty seconds of hell with the dreaded and perverted Snape. I didn't have much time left. My thought was to marvel at the line from shoulder blade to his hip bones, to study the color of his nipples, their breadth. And then move to his navel, then…

I was brought up short. His nipples were tight: how strange, as it was fairly broiling in here. A scar close to the edge of his right nipple caught my eye and then I was lost. My eyes traced the tip and end of every scar. How they marred flesh that should have been innocent of such evil. The shoulder scar must have been terribly painful. Bellatrix had been brilliant at that sort of hex. I saw her vile fingerprints all over that one. The scars were cross hatched willy-nilly across his torso, some redder than others; they were another testament to how long this war had gone on and how many battles he'd fought. Much to my disgust, this ceased to be sexual and became a referendum on his sacrifice and bravery.

This was one of those occasions when an expletive was more than called for. Fuck.

"Dress," I said curtly and turned over. He Apparated out of the room.

When he arrived the next day, there was a pot of soup on the stove. I had come to realize that his cooking for me was putting me at a disadvantage. I'd given into his request for a question solely out of a love for pork chops. Albus would have had a great laugh over that one. Merlin knows what I'd do if Potter put roast beef and a slice of Yorkshire pud in front of me.

I pointed at the stove and announced, "Barley and beef," which was drowned out by the pecking of an insistent owl on my kitchen window.

There were no theatrics this go around. He even had an owl treat in his pocket. But this letter also went the way of the others, into the ether as ash.

"She's determined. Are you going to tell me the nature of these missives since it seems that my privacy is at the mercy of your refusal to answer your correspondence?" I ladled the soup into bowls and passed him the bread.

His mouth flattened into a thin line, and he spent two minutes torturing his bread with his knife, lathering on at least a half an inch of butter while formulating a reply. I bit my tongue and forbore commenting on his having a bit of bread with his butter, because after all, those blasted pork chops.

"She's part of the team from the Ministry that's rebuilding Hogwarts. She wants me to help. I… I can't go back. Not yet."

I shoved away my soup. Because I could never go back. I could never go home. He took this as a criticism.

"I'm tired! They want so much, and they never stop asking. Never!" he protested.

I had been in his shoes. I had done and done and done until my soul was in tatters, irrevocably damned in my own eyes. Albus' love and forgiveness came at a very steep price. The old saw, you've made your bed and now you must lie in it, was all too pat in my case. Irony of ironies, I was to remain the very man I had come to hate. My penance as exacted by Dumbledore was to continue to function as a Death Eater. To continue those acts that had filled me with such self-loathing that I had faced the choice of hanging myself or renouncing the Dark Lord and begging Albus for his forgiveness. Which I did. On my knees. So yes, I knew something about the demands and how they do not stop asking. How they will never stop asking.

"Eat your soup. I will wait for you." I left the table. He wasn't far behind me.

"My first year. It was glorious, and the second? Horrible in the extreme. My father's middling intelligence was always threatened by the brilliance of his son's. You'd think he'd be proud of my accomplishments, but he only saw them as a threat to himself, especially when he realized that I was a wizard. That the taint of his wife was to be repeated in the son. Anyway, that first year, to be praised for intelligence, where I didn't get a cuff on the ear for getting the right answer, but instead earned house points, it was, yes, glorious. A place where who I was, an introspective, odd child with formidable intelligence, and what I was, a wizard, wasn't scorned. Aside from the secret pats and smiles my mother bestowed on me when he wasn't looking… Anyway, Hogwarts was a place where I was, more or less, accepted. At least by my teachers. It became home. I imagine my summers were as horrible as yours, I'll give you that."

I looked at him for confirmation, and he nodded; there was an acknowledgment, perhaps the first, that he and I had one thing in common. Oh bugger, perhaps two.

"Your mother and I never became friends, despite Horace's assumptions, but she was a Muggle-born with little or no knowledge of the magical world, and I had a Muggle father and a witch for a mother. I had lived in the Muggle world. Spinner's End was not always the ghost town it is now. It was once a grimy factory town filled to the rafters with bitter, drunken sots like my father, whose entire existence was defined as a trajectory between the factory, the pub, and their front doors. I knew how to bridge the enormous gap between Muggle and wizard, and she appreciated that fact.

"She'd come up to me after Potions that first year, waylay me in the library, stop me in the corridors, and say in that cool voice of hers, 'Snape, do wizards only send post by owls, and what is a Howler?' 'Will you please explain to me the rules of Quidditch. Seems like a ridiculous game, but everyone is barmy over it.' 'What is a pure-blood anyway?' 'Are the Potters and the Blacks old families?' 'Was it hard growing up with a Muggle father and a witch for a mother? Was she allowed to practice magic?' 'Is your family on your mother's side pure-blood?' 'How old is Dumbledore? Is he the most powerful wizard ever?' And, naturally, 'Who is He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named?'

"Much of this was knowledge she would have gleaned over the course of the year, but she was impatient. The questions fairly tumbled out of her mouth. I will not deny that it was gratifying to answer her questions. I knew the answers. Despite the fact we were in separate houses and my ill-humor now manifest, she trusted me. A week into term she knew she couldn't trust either your father or Black to answer her questions. They were far more knowledgeable in some ways, but they couldn't possibly understand what it was like to have a foot in each world. Not to mention that they stayed mired in the pigtail pulling stage for an age, and we both knew that if she had asked them, they would have teased her for her ignorance. It was, as you would say, a win-win. I stroked my own ego imparting information, and she learned the abc's of the magical world."

"So you two were friends," he insisted.

I sat up. "No we were not. It was merely convenient. I needed someone to lord my knowledge over, and she was impatient to be a witch, to have her place. She knew she was intelligent, and she hadn't been at Hogwarts two weeks before she realized that she was gifted magically."

"And the…the second year?"

"Naturally, your father and his cohorts played a not insignificant role. Rather like you and Mr. Malfoy, we seemed destined to hate each other with an unholy passion; however, I can't blame it all on them. No, it was the Polyjuice affair. Which I shall leave off for tomorrow."

He hesitated and then went through the by-now usual ritual of stoking the fire, taking off his shirt and glasses, turning around, counting to sixty, turning around, counting to sixty again, and then he shook out his tee-shirt as a prelude to putting it on…

"Suck your thumb. Please." Again, this was said with the same fervor as if I'd asked him to pass the salt.

"No, you sick fuck," he refused and began to put on his glasses.

That would never do.

"You'll like it. I promise. If you don't like it, then you won't have to do anything tomorrow."

He stopped, his glasses in one hand, his shirt in the other. He'd never mastered the art of controlling his emotions. They were there on his face, the curiosity, the disgust, the uncertainty.

"Your word," he demanded. "If I don't like it. Your word."

As if the word of a Death Eater meant anything, but I nodded.

He hesitated, then shifted his glasses to the hand that held the shirt and complied. If you divorced that mouth from Potter, it was actually quite a nice mouth. His long lower lip pursed slightly as he pulled on his thumb. "Now run your wet thumb over your nipple."

His eyes snapped open. I doubt he could see me. Our close contact near the war's end had demonstrated to me exactly how blind he actually was without his glasses. Which was just as well, because now it was I who had a sweaty palm pressed against my erection.

"You will like it," I reminded him.

He waited, then complied, probably only to prove me wrong. He would hate it and then spend the next ten minutes excoriating me for my perversity.

His nipple began to contract, to react to the even round and round of his thumb. His head flopped back as he indulged in the pleasure.

"Now stop. Lift up your thumb."

The air hit his aroused, damp nipple and he hissed.

"The other."

I chuckled silently because there was no hesitation this time. He brought his thumb up to his mouth with alacrity, sucked on it hard with his mouth and tongue, laving the thumb generously until it was good and wet, and then brought it out of his mouth and move it straight to his other nipple. He wasn't tentative this time. Indeed, his thumb caressed the flat of his nipple, then rubbed it back and forth across the tip, puckered and tight with arousal. Beads of sweat began dotting his brow. His nipples must be very sensitive, his innocence very profound if the delight intermingled with wonder on his face was anything to go by. He lifted his thumb. He moaned and slumped slightly into the pleasure of it all.

But we weren't done. Not as far as I was concerned.

"Now pinch them. Lightly at first. Both hands." My voice was as smooth as poured treacle. He scrunched up his forehead, clearly conflicted, perhaps confused, closed his eyes, threw his shirt and glasses in the direction of the chair, and then complied. His mouth went slack as his fingers worked his nipples over and over. His hips began to jerk slightly, back and forth, his cock desperately looking for relief. It pushed fruitlessly against the cloth of his jeans.

Oh, sevens hells of… This was, this was… I pressed harder.

"Harder. Pinch harder," I demanded in that slow voice, and Merlin knows how much it cost me to keep that smooth even tone when my own hairline was damp and sweat collected along my spine.

"A little harder. Does it feel good? Pleasure and pain?"

"Yeah, yeah," he gasped out and then groaned, whipping around away from me.

The waistband of his jeans, heretofore sitting loosely on the shelf of his hipbones, tightened across his lower back.

I lay down, turned over, and buried my own hand under my robes.

We'd both grown up in dorms surrounded by other boys. The only sounds in the room were the slapping of our palms against wet flesh as we worked our cocks to orgasm. He came first; I heard the "shush" of his knees as they fell onto the seat of the chair, then the faint complaint of the springs as he settled down. There was no accompanying Silencing charm, and I assumed he was listening to me finishing myself off. I took my time. This was my first wank in months, and I intended to savor every single damn second of it. My orgasm was silent, but no less wonderful for it.

I was drifting off to sleep when I heard him whisper, and even in the hush of his voice I could hear the surprise in it, "You have a beautiful voice." A pause, and then he said with a sob, "I hate you more than ever. You perverted fuck." Then he Apparated.

I'd decided this was quite enough. My dreams of the previous night were not of the world's most perfect Potion's laboratory. Surreal scene followed surreal scene: Albus and Potter (the younger) dancing in the Great Hall to the cacophony of the Weird Sisters; Albus and I walking hand in hand through the Forbidden Forest, Potter and I brewing Potions. Together! In my dungeon! It's a wonder that I didn't wake up screaming. Never mind the improbability of it all, with Albus being dead and Hogwarts a ruin and the Forbidden Forest scorched to blackened twigs as a result of the last battle: but Potter and me brewing Potions? Enough. I said it out loud. Twice.

I was waiting for him when he Apparated in. I sat at the kitchen table, working on my second pot of tea. His face showed none of that mortification so evident the day before, but I wouldn't say he was his usual irritating self. He stood at the entrance to the kitchen, unsure of whether to come in. We had crossed a line yesterday. I doubt he dreamt about me, but nevertheless, even he knew we'd opened a door. A door that had very little to do with Professor Snape and his former pupil Harry Potter, and everything to do with a door opening between two men, each chasing desire, separately perhaps, but in tandem.

"You may have one cup of tea, and then I must ask you to go. Do not come back." I phrased it as if it were a polite choice on his part. "This has gone far enough," I added and suppressed a shudder at the memory of dream Potter and I standing shoulder to shoulder brewing, yes, aphrodisiacs.

Naturally, my demand that he go resulted in the opposite response. All his hesitation vanished and he strode into the kitchen and sat down at the table.

"I want to hear the Polyjuice story," he said firmly. He Accio'd a teacup and banged it down on the saucer in a snit.

"That belonged to my grandmother, the last one not broken by my father in a drunken rage. You break it and I will not be accountable for my actions."

He looked somewhat chastened and picked it up and then put it gently back again on the table, as if a toddler learning the word gentle. "We had a deal," he said in a sulky pout. And all that defiance and rage came to the fore. As usual.

"You are as deaf as you are stupid," I drawled in my Snape-ish best. "My memories of your mother are—"

"I'll let you watch. You know. Me." He made an obscene pulling gesture with his hand. This proposal was followed by the most acute blush. My heart stopped beating. Then began racing.

"So." I counted to five, relishing his evident discomfort as he fidgeted in his seat. "Shall I spell this out so that we are perfectly clear here? Masturbating. You will let me watch you masturbate?"

He poured his tea and slurped up nearly the entire cup, making a grim face because he'd neglected to put any sugar or milk in it, and then made the tiniest of nods, never once meeting my eyes.

It was now my turn to look into my teacup.

You may find this strange, but I hated him more at that moment than I ever had in my entire life. A not insignificant hate. Because I didn't need to give it a second thought. All my personal remonstrations were so much bollocks in the face of my hunger for his tarnishing innocence and sharply defined waist. I wondered idly what it would take to refuse him.

My only (feeble) attempt to stop this madness was a warning I knew he wouldn't heed. It was debatable who was the more pathetic: Me, for being willing to whore my memory for a ten-minute wank at the hands of a young man I despised but desired; or him, for being willing to whore himself for a few laudatory sentences about a woman he loved but couldn't remember.

"You realize that your mother, father, and I are inextricably tied together. That every story I tell that paints her in a good light will only further condemn your father."

Again, I got the tiniest of nods. I made to get up. He stopped me with a firm grip on my wrist.

"These stories. Are they true?"

What was I to say to that?

"They are true to me. If your father or Black were telling them, the praise of your mother would be more effusive, their roles would be quite different. I would be the sneaky, disgusting snake who deserved everything that I got. You can interpret these stories any way you choose, but I ask you. Do you think that whatever I did to them, whatever, I deserved to be exposed to the entire school that day? Imagine if someone had done that to you. Let you dangle in the air in your underpants. Imagine if you were fifteen and how that would feel."

"Malfoy did as much to me," he challenged.

"I beg to differ. I won't say he didn't try. But you had friends who came to your aid and saved you from the worst of his malice. I did not. Nevertheless, you've made my point for me. You are now equating the bullying tactics of your father and Black with Draco Malfoy. Shall we bring the three of them to task?"

I didn't wait for an answer, but wrenched my arm away from him.

We resumed our usual positions; me on sofa, him sitting in my father's chair, his knees brought up, his chin resting on a kneecap.

"I can't imagine your first year was any different than mine in terms of group dynamics. By the end of the two months, we'd all more or less settled into the roles that would define us—or haunt us—for the next six and one half years. When I say I had no friends, I meant it. Slytherins have never been tolerant of those of mixed blood, and with Lucius Malfoy ruling Slytherin with an iron fist—he was a prefect when we arrived and naturally went on to be Head Boy—you can imagine. My exceptional abilities—which Lucius took note of immediately—saved me from being hexed within an inch of my life. Lucius was house proud but he wasn't foolish. He stayed the wands of the more hex happy Slytherins.

"Despite our divergent backgrounds, Lucius and I both subscribed to the predator/prey view of life. Me, because I'd grown up being prey and vowed never to be so again, him, because he'd been brought up to be a predator. Already heavily involved with the Death Eaters, he knew a potential recruit when he saw one. He kept a close eye on me, while admonishing the other Slytherins to leave me alone. I was no threat to him. Our vying for first place in the Dark Lord's 'affections' was not yet a factor. Of course, both of us were to be outstripped by that truly insane Bellatrix, who became his chief handmaiden. It's rather difficult to compete with insanity, as we both discovered."

"His son—" he began, unwilling to cede me my point, his voice nasty with scorn.

"Was torn apart by wolves. Do you think that any of the sins he committed merited that death?"

He ducked his head as he shook it. He had the sense to be ashamed.

"I am digressing. We were happily or unhappily ensconced in the roles that we would live out for the next seven years. Were your lot any different?"

"Nah," he agreed. "The people who were jealous of me were always jealous, and the people who liked me for me right off the bat still liked me at the end. Ron was, well, always Ron; Hermione was brilliant, but sometimes a real pain in the arse; Neville, loyal and sweet from day one…" At which point his voice died, because Neville Longbottom had proven himself quite a credit to his family in the end, although that end had been gruesome. Alice and Frank would have been proud.

"I remained the friendless, misanthropic, brilliant Slytherin, your father and Black were united with Lupin and Pettigrew to wreak mayhem and havoc in their wake, and your mother was friends with everyone… Interesting. And no one. I've never thought of it that way, but really her only true friend was your father."

At that he smiled.

"Poor woman. As I've said, your mother ignored my misanthropic tendencies for the most part. Horace ended up pairing us together because she was the only person who didn't complain vociferously when paired with me. I do not suffer fools gladly."

"Really?" Potter widened his eyes in mock surprise.

"Shocking, I know. Please keep it a secret."

Surprisingly, that got a laugh.

"One day in November of our second year, while hunting in the storeroom for ingredients, because Horace had thrown everything in there higgledy-piggledy—"

"Which you, no doubt, rectified first thing when you became the Potions professor," Potter added slyly.

"For your information, the first thing I did was to enlist an army of house elves to scrub down that classroom from ceiling to floor. It was filthy. Anyway, I came across a sixth-year textbook; one you are far too familiar with. Horace was using it to prop up a shelf that had lost a nail. I magicked a nail—hard to believe he is a wizard—and flipped through the book. I was in ecstasy at the prospect of brewing these potions. You've never appreciated the art of potion making. It doesn't suit your bull-in-the-china-shop mentality. The surge and energy of defense is much more your style. But potions? It is a delicate magic. A magic so suited for the shy and odd child, a magic done behind closed doors, with no one to criticize you or mock you. Defense demands that you engage with another person. Potions is the bastion of the solitary soul. I had found my metier."

"But, but you always wanted to teach defense," he protested.

"Yes, you fool. Because of all people, I knew that the Death Eaters might be wounded, but they were not, in the vulgar parlance of the art of fisticuffs, down for the count. If the Dark Lord was dead, and I always had my doubts, then someone else would emerge from the wings. They had tasted power, Potter. They were still hungry. Ravenous even. The Dark Lord's defeat did not kill that hunger. They were waiting. Waiting for someone bold enough to take charge. They might have been waiting for you to grow up, and if Dumbledore hadn't parked you with those awful Muggles. Pointless to speculate, but because of that curse, Hogwarts produced several generations of wizards who didn't know a boggart from a booger. That in itself should have alerted everyone that the Dark Lord's demise was greatly exaggerated. Had he been truly dead, the curse would have been lifted off of that position. What we know now…" I sighed. There was so much we could have done had only we known. I rubbed the misshapen, shrunken patch of flesh that had been my Mark.

"Are you saying there was no one who could fight him should he emerge again because Hogwarts had had nothing but bleeding idiots for DADA teachers? Except Remus," he added loyally.

Merlin, he was thick.

"You are, as always, a master at stating the obvious. With the exception of Lupin, I grudgingly grant you, once the Dark Lord placed a curse on that position, all DADA teachers were morons. The nadir was that Umbridge woman. The Ministry had, once again, royally fucked up. I use this term in all its glory so that you will see that when it's used sparingly it has more impact. It is hard not to appreciate the Dark Lord's brilliance and Albus' dilemma. It ended up putting the burden of defeating the Dark Lord on your lone shoulders."

I expected the typical diatribe of how unfair it was that the fate of the wizarding world fell on the inadequate shoulders of a boy who'd lived as a Muggle half of his life. I'd heard this tripe repeatedly in the months before the Dark Lord's demise. Of course it wasn't fair. Nothing was ever fair. I braced myself for the inevitable tirade. He surprised me.

"I… I wasn't alone. I had help. Dumbledore, Remus, Hermione, Ron, the Order, what was left of it." This was followed by the inevitable hair-carding. If he'd used it to actually marshal his thoughts into something coherent, like an actual sentence, but no. With or without the restless fingers teasing through that thatch… "You," he said in a small voice.

It was the first thank you I'd ever received from him, an oblique thank you, but one nonetheless. I bowed my head in acknowledgment.

"The Potions textbook. I immediately showed it to your mother—"

"You nicked it from the stores cupboard?" His eyes were bugging out of his head.

"Collect your eyes from off the floor, Mr. Potter. I merely borrowed it," I sniffed.

"Stole it," he crowed. "You never returned it."

"Borrowed it. Somewhat permanently." I gave him my patented Snape stare of death, because it was none of his damn business how I got that book and why I'd kept it. It had been one less book to buy. One thing less for them to argue about. One less memory I didn't need to forget. What I did need was to put this thieving ruffian in his place. How dare he? "Glass houses, Mr. Potter. You are the last person to start casting stones about stealing from the storeroom."

He didn't blush, but gave me a saucy little closed-lipped smile not unlike his mother's. "Perhaps I'll tell you a story sometime," he added.

"I would rather not be subjected to tales of your exploits. I considered you and your friends first-rate hooligans from day one. I don't imagine your confessions will change that."

"I concur," he said, in what he no doubt thought was a reasonable facsimile of me—he was wrong—and that saucy smile transformed into an out-and-out grin.

There it was again. That nudge. That indefinable sense that Potter had changed into a man and was dragging me kicking and screaming along with him to acknowledge such. As manifested physically in the strong definition of his hands and mentally in those negotiations, in the demands (powers or not), the byplay, the teasing, as if we were now equals. Or at least men. Fuck. No. No. No. I will not let him do this. He is the little hoodlum he'd always been, rash and stupid, headstrong, the menace he always had been, and I had better not forget it.

I raised one eyebrow, which I trust conveyed, "I no longer wish to continue this infantile exchange," and I stood up.

"Jesus Christ, would you sit down?" he grumbled. "You have no sense of humor."

Until then, I had let only two people say that to me in my life without severe consequences. Later I realized that that was the turning point. He disagrees with me now, naturally. He says that it was after the fight when I threw him against the wall, but then again, he has no sense of the subtle. Epiphanies are always trumpeted in fire and brimstone for him, and I imagine they always will be. But for me, instead of turning away and marching out of the room, I turned to him and said, "I concur."

At that he laughed. Oh damn, more than a nudge. I couldn't help it. I allowed myself a secret grin. I sat down, he renewed the fire, and I was lost. Not that I knew it then, thank God!

"One of the most intriguing and complicated potions in the book was, of course, Polyjuice potion."

"It's a bitch," he agreed and then backpedaled. "At least I hear it is."

"You fool no one." I glared at him. "Your mother was as intrigued as I was, and the state of Horace's storeroom meant that an ambitious student such as myself had more or less free reign. A state of affairs that changed immediately when I took over the position." I lowered my forehead and gave him a stern, silent dressing down with my eyes. He had the nerve to plaster on the most manufactured expression of innocence I've ever seen. "Horace's lax practices allowed your mother and me to brew potions far beyond our year, but not our ability. Rather like your Miss Granger."

At this he began to choke and then rather expertly turned it into a cough.

"You fool no one," I repeated. "I studied the spell during the Christmas break, and knew it verbatim by the time your mother returned from her holidays. It was foolhardy in the extreme. I acknowledge that now; however, we had an exalted opinion of ourselves. Neither of us realized that not only does magic have a complexity about it in terms of the steps required, but something like Polyjuice can result in unforeseen complications. Neither of us were mature enough to understand…"

I stopped. Why had I chosen this particular memory?

"Like the mirror of Erised?" Potter interjected. "I found it and couldn't, just couldn't pull myself away. Dumbledore had to move it; he thought I'd waste myself away in front of it. I saw them." He didn't need to elaborate who them was. "I might have done. You know, just stared and stared. Forever." he said sadly.

"Yes, desire in all its forms is dangerous. I desired to be recognized for my brilliance and look where it got me," I reminded him. "This wasn't desire so much as curiosity. And whilst—"

"You know, you're the only person I've ever met who's used the word 'whilst' and not meant it as a joke," he interrupted.

"If this is a roundabout way of telling me that your acquaintances are woefully lacking in education and erudition, you will get no argument from me. The fire, if you please."

"If this is a roundabout way of telling me that it's cold in here, you will get no argument from me," he murmured sotto voce.

"Are you quite done?" I demanded.

He gestured toward the fireplace with his wand, now blazing and hot as Hades, deliberately misunderstanding me. Point now made, he asked, "And the potion?"

"I acknowledge it would have been much more prudent to experiment with this spell when we were older, considering the potential consequences, but it was best that we were little more than children."

He looked confused. A look I was more than familiar with.

"Your mother and I Polyjuiced into each other."

He made a noise in protest that I surmised was a "no," but lacked definition because he was sputtering so profusely.

I nodded.

"B-b-b-b-but," he stuttered. "You're a boy and she was a—"

"A girl. Yes, I agree it was foolish, and had we been older it might have bordered on sexual exploitation; although considering my natural proclivities, it was something of a waste."

"So if you weren't, uh, interested in her—"


He gave me the dirty look I thoroughly deserved. This was his mother.

"Don't be disgusting," he admonished. "Were you, you know? Curious?" He nearly choked on that "c."

"No I was not; which should have been an epiphany of sorts. I merely noticed that my center of gravity seemed off, and that for the first and last time in my life, my teeth were straight. Oh, and my hair was red."

He visibly relaxed. "Then?"

"I told you we were foolish. I don't know what in the hell we were thinking. I thought I'd spend a day gathering incriminating information on your father and Black to blackmail them into leaving me alone. Your mother? I don't know why she agreed. To see what it was like to be a Slytherin, I suppose, not realizing that I wasn't popular even in my own house."

"What happened?"

I closed my eyes because with some memories this is best. It is a fool's attempt to keep them from the light of day.

"As I said, we were ambitious. We brewed enough to last an entire day. I discovered what it felt like to be liked, to be the most popular girl of our year. She discovered what it was like to be universally despised. Then we went back to our normal little lives. I would imagine to her it was with great relief. I wish I could say the same, but no."

To elaborate any further would be to openly acknowledge to Potter that it was the second most foolish thing I'd ever done. The rest of the school year was nothing but torture. My schoolwork didn't suffer; my teachers knew nothing, but I knew. Whereas before, I'd more or less accepted my lot—I'd never been a popular child, and even as a Muggle I was bullied and ignored—now the injustice of it all stoked my discontent with a never-ending bitter fire, swelling to a fatal degree the not inconsiderable chip on my shoulder.

If you do not know what it is like to be liked, then you really do not know what it is like to be hated. As Lily Evans, I was accepted without any effort. A smile was enough. What was worse, I didn't even take advantage of my newly found identity. I didn't try to engage Potter or Black, but sat in the Gryffindor common room, lapping up all that good will like some half-starved puppy, desperate for scraps of attention. The most I got out of it was the password to the Gryffindor common room. And the knowledge that I was truly the Cinder Ella of Slytherin house, that at midnight there would be no "prince" to save me, how ironic, but a return to my usual state: shy, odd, bizarre Snape, who was grateful when people ignored him, only because attention usually meant a cuff to the ear or a batbogey hex, but whose real nature craved attention and acknowledgment of my gifts.

The accolades of my teachers proved inadequate after that day. I wanted the recognition of my peers. If I had been older, I might have been able to put it in perspective. As it was, it awakened a hunger in me that was continuously denied, starved further by Dumbledore's betrayal. Until I was eighteen-years old and the Dark Lord sat me on his right side and said, "I've heard so much about you, Severus. The most brilliant Potions student in fifty years. Come closer," that hunger burned my soul for years. The Dark Lord knew my one weakness: pride. It was like shooting fish in a barrel.

"My mother?"

Of course, Potter was concerned only for what Lily had learned from it. I gave myself a shake.

"She pitied me. I hate being pitied. She spent her day as a Slytherin dodging hexes from your father and Black, and being ignored or hated by everyone else. Get up," I ordered. Enough of this. We shall return to the status quo. He got his story; I shall get what is owed me.

He stood up, a startled look on his face.

"Our bargain, Mr. Potter. Surely you haven't forgotten?"

Yes, that got an intense blush and an "oh."

He half turned away from me and slowly began to undo his pants.

"Your shirt as well."

He opened his mouth to protest and then shut it. Removing his glasses, he swiftly shimmied out of his shirt and then dropped his trousers. He did not step out of them, but let them pool around his ankles. It was oddly endearing.

He must have known I was staring at him, but he turned his face away from me in the direction of the bookcase. I could see his lips moving slightly; he was counting again. Whereas before it amused me, now it was distracting. I wrenched my eyes away from his long, lovely bottom lip. He was finely proportioned, his legs sturdy and muscled from years of Quidditch. His pubic hair was as dark as my own and lush, trailing up to his stomach in an inverted vee. I would not have minded tracing the beginning and the end of it with my mouth, and then running a flat tongue up the length of him. His cock was of average size, nothing to write to Witch Weekly about; his balls hung heavily between his legs and were lightly furred. He was soft. No surprises there. I had serious doubts he'd even be able to bring himself off in front of me, but he was beautiful enough that I was willing to take what I could get.

"Sit," I said, a notch above a whisper.

He stumbled a little bit because of the confines of his pants legs, but he managed to sit down without further trouble. His nipples tightened from the cold. I raised my wand and stoked the fire. Heat filled the room. That kindness only confused him, he brought his eyebrows together.

"Touch yourself," I said softly. His chin lifted very slightly at the sound of my voice. Not in defiance, for once, but as if he was trying to hear me.

He brought a tentative hand to himself.

"No, first your nipples. Remember?" This was not said in admonishment. No. "Remember how lovely it felt?"

He nodded fervently and began to swell, his cock rising just slightly out of the nest of his pubic hair. He brought three fingers to his mouth, laved them hungrily, and began pinching his left nipple, hard. Too hard, too fast.

"No, no, slowly at first. Just your thumb. Then let the air…" He gave a sigh of frustration, but he complied. First with one nipple, then the other.

"Slowly, Potter, slowly," I reminded him.

His nipples tightened and then began to swell as he rolled them back and forth between his fingers. His cock began to leak. A silent spell and the buttons of my robe released, and my shirt fell open. I sucked on my own thumb quickly and began to match his pace, to tease myself as he teased himself.

"Snape," he groaned in protest and his right hand began creeping down to his groin.

"Just a little more, Trust me." To be nineteen and be that desperate. To ache for release. Would he come without even touching himself? A sexual blush crept up his torso, and he began to pant openly. To be so impatient. Merlin's balls, he was gorgeous. That scrunch to his brow told me how difficult this was for him, this lingering nipple play divine torture. This waiting. "Snape," he groaned again.

"Now spit into your hand," I said releasing him, and I spit into my own hand to join him as he…

At the sound of that he stopped. I had gone too far. He would Apparate out of here, never to return.

I did not hear the pop of Apparition. I heard, "Accio glasses."

He put them on and then spit into his hand again. "Show me," he said.

Another line was being crossed. I pulled my robes open. I was fully hard. I brought my hand around myself and pulled my cock from between my legs. I let him look at me. His shoulders fell slightly, and he let at a little "oh" at the sight of my hard cock resting in the palm of my hand. I brought a damp thumb up and massaged the tip, spreading my pre-come over the crown. He did the same. A languid pull on my length and a cupping of my balls was also imitated.

He matched pull for pull, caress for caress; his throaty groans broadcasting his surprise and delight. I'd never had such patience when I was nineteen. It was always fast and dirty, a damp hand stuck down my pants or a furtive tugging of myself behind the curtains of my four-poster. To judge by his begging and moaning—"Fuck, now, Snape, now?" "Not yet, Potter"—he was not much different. But I was thirty-nine, and I'd had years to learn the art of pleasing one's self. I knew the vast and wonderful difference between the four-minute wank and the twenty-minute one, and that the pleasure derived from the slow tease more exquisite and well worth waiting for.

He came before I did, naturally. After all he was only nineteen. I don't think I will ever forget the beauty of his head thrown back in ecstasy as he finally gave in, the long, lean line of his throat and jaw. When he finally opened his eyes, his face still flushed, his breathing still erratic, he sat and watched me as I succumbed to my own orgasm, his eyes transfixed on my hand stroking and massaging myself to completion.

When I opened my eyes he was tucking his shirt in his pants and zipping himself closed. He gave me one last look before he Apparated. Hatred. Unadulterated hatred. That that greasy git of a Potions master had brought him to the greatest pleasure he had ever known.

I did not expect him back. I nearly got down on my knees in gratitude that I could now go back to my former existence. Back to my dreams where life was perfect and orderly. Unfortunately, I found I could not sleep to fill the void that he had left behind. Even this was now denied me. I was just as exhausted, and yet there was a restlessness, a nagging, that haunted me. My foot tapped, my leg jiggled. I dropped a teacup, I broke a plate. I tried to read. I picked up book after book; I'd read a few chapters, only to close it in disgust and pick up another one five minutes later. Old favorites seemed stale and hackneyed. I went from sleeping eighteen hours a day to battling horrific insomnia. A vial of Dreamless Sleep every now and then was the only thing stopped me from going mad from exhaustion.

He returned a week later. As usual, he didn't knock. He Apparated into my kitchen like it was his.

I said nothing. Apart from my initial glance in his direction, I ignored him. I poured myself another cup of tea and went back to my book, which, ironically, was Great Expectations, the story of another orphan. I could not escape them.

I continued to ignore him as he made the rounds of my kitchen and sitting room, mumbling unintelligibly under his breath as he stoked the fire, cleaned the dishes in my sink, and charmed the windows against the cold and wind. The insolent tone of his mumblings, the swagger, and the increasingly menacing jerk of his arm as he cast spell after spell told me his rage was building, as if each spell extracted a toll. His magic crackled as it left his wand. I waited.

Somehow I expected a hex, a charm, but no. He jerked back my chair and stood in front of me, his crotch at my face.

"Want this, Snape? I know you do," he jeered.

No, not exactly what I expected, but then my twenty years as a spy had trained me well. I merely turned my head and said firmly, "No, I don't." I moved to get up. He pushed me back into my chair.

"Oh yeah, you do. I watched you watch me. You sure as fuck do. The way your eyes… And your…" He shoved his crotch in my face again. I smelled the earthy aroma of his arousal. He was inarticulate as always, but his voice was confident. It didn't matter what he was saying, it was how he was saying it. As if I were at his mercy. The question of what it would take for me to finally reject him was now answered.

How dare he.

"Get out," I demanded.

He didn't believe me at first.

"Yeah, right," he sneered.

I shoved him back against the table, marched through the kitchen to the front door, and opened it. He followed me, shouting, "Snape, hey, Snape." It was a nasty day, fog so thick and cold it was like a wet blanket of ice over the town. I swung back the door so violently it hit the wall.

"Get out," I repeated. "Before I throw you out."

His confidence wavered; he blinked and his shoulders dropped just the slightest bit. I saw my opportunity and took it. I was on him immediately. Grabbing him by the collar of his jumper, I threw him against the wall. His wand clattered to the floor.

"Never, ever think that I am your prey, Potter. Do you understand? Never!" I hissed at him. I twisted the fabric in my hand so that he could barely breathe. "Shall we prove who wants whom here?"

I shoved a knee against his groin and pushed. "Who," I whispered in his ear and began to lave it with my tongue, "wants whom?"

With a sob, he pushed back against my thigh. I made my own heartfelt "ah," and released my stranglehold on his jumper. Shifting our bodies until we were aligned chest to chest, cock to cock, we frotted against each other like dogs. There was no finesse to this, no leisurely courting of pleasure. This was raw and brutal. Potter clutched my shoulders as I ground against him, my mouth feasting on his neck and collarbone. His open-mouthed moans matched my own feral grunts as we rubbed against each other, desperately searching for enough friction. It wasn't enough, not nearly enough. I reached behind him and grabbed his arse with both my hands. Heaving our groins together, again and again and again, he began to match my frantic rhythm. Soon enough his back arched and he cried out his relief. The sound of him, the pinch of his fingers as they bit into my shoulder blades, and I followed suit. His legs began to give way. We slid down the wall and found ourselves on the floor, propped up against each other. The room had become so cold that our breath was white as we panted out the afterglow of our orgasm. I gathered the wherewithal to kick the door shut before we froze to death.

I wondered what in the bloody hell was supposed to happen next when Potter climbed into my lap, wove his arms around my neck, and tucked his head in the nook between my ear and shoulder. I brought my arms around him and held him.

After a few minutes, he Accio'ed his wand and cast a warming charm. Then he snuggled into me again and said, "I'm sorry."


"I don't understand… Well, lots of things. I left last week just hating you so much and… That fucker Scrimgeour had me… I'm very tired," he whispered.

I ran a hand over his back. He was too thin and thinner than he appeared last week, if I was not mistaken. "Have you had your tea?"

He shook his head against me.

I pulled away from him and stood up. "Tea and then sleep," I insisted and offered him my hand.

Tea was a silent affair. He was not the only one who was confused. I busied myself with refilling the kettle and making toast, all the better to avoid thinking about that intense coupling. I didn't have much in the house besides bread and jam, but I toasted up all the bread I had and lathered on copious amounts of butter and jam; he ate all it without comment.

"Come upstairs, you can sleep in my old bedroom."

I used the word "bedroom" rather generously, as it was little more than a cupboard, but it had a single bed and after I cast a quick cleaning charm on the sheets, Potter would be welcome to it. I rarely used it and never since the war had ended. I preferred the sofa.

He followed me up the dark and narrow staircase. I tried to suppress the memories of the hundreds of times I'd run up these very stairs as fast as my spindly little legs could carry me, fleeing from her sobbing, his yelling, the endless arguments. I stopped in the middle of the staircase, paralyzed. Why in the hell of all that was holy had I come back here?

"Snape?" a concerned voice came from behind me.

"Sorry," I apologized. "Something in my eye."

I turned left at the top. "The room is miniscule, but with a half-decent cleaning charm the bed should be adequate."

"Well, it can't be worse than…" he stopped after I opened the door. With little more than eight inches on all sides, there was room for a bed and nothing else. My dresser sat in a corner of the hallway.

"I think at one point it had been a warming closet; it's right above the stove in the kitchen. But when I came along… Potter, are you all right?" His hand had grabbed my bicep and was squeezing me if his life depended on it. He had turned away so that I couldn't see his face.

"Fine," he lied and kept his face averted. After a minute, he turned back to me, more or less composed. "Stay with me?"

At my nod, he cast a Warming charm. For the first time in a week, I didn't need my Dreamless Sleep.

When I woke up it was still dark. He was not asleep, his breathing nearly silent and warm on my neck. We were tangled up in each other, not that we had much of a choice in that tiny bed, but still. He didn't jerk away from me when he realized I had woken up. Indeed, he fumbled for my hand and brought it up to his mouth. He kissed the tip of my thumb and then stopped.

"Okay?" he asked.

In answer, I dragged it across his lower lip. That got a sigh of contentment. He turned his head to catch it in his mouth and sucked on it with a ferocity that made my cock ache in anticipation. To have that mouth on me. Hiking up his shirt with his other hand, he guided my now-wet thumb to a nipple. I didn't play with him long because if a wet thumb was capable of having him writhing in joy, what would be his reaction if I placed my mouth on him? I laved and sucked on his nipples; worried the tips of them between my teeth. I kissed every scar. Ran a wet tongue along the length of every one of his marks of bravery. He shoved his chest into my mouth, giving himself to me completely, ripping off his tee-shirt at one point and pulling my head back to him. I bit and sucked on him until he was inarticulate with want. Possibly the first sounds of happiness this room has ever known. I knew that when I took him into my mouth he would come with a rush. I pinned his hips against the bed with strong hands and let him thrust once, twice, and then he was done.

He fell asleep shortly after that, only to wake again at the back and forth of my arm as I sought my own release. "No, no," he protested and took me in hand. It was substandard as hand jobs went, but the undertone of wonder in his exclamations and the resurgence of his own erection—oh to be nineteen again—made up for a litany of inadequacies. In short order, our cocks were nestled against each other, my hand was over his, slowing the pace, as we brought each other off.

"That was brilliant," he whispered later.

"We are in the dark. It is easy to pretend we are not who we are. I doubt it would be that brilliant in the light of day," I reminded him. A fact that was as critical for him to remember as it was for myself.

"Maybe," he conceded. "Still brilliant. Wasn't it?"

"Yes," I agreed and stopped just short of running a soothing hand over his back.

"I think I'm gay."

"I think all indications do point in that direction."

"I think you're teasing me," he chided, but his voice wasn't sulky for once; maybe even a little bit playful.

"I think you're right. Are you a virgin?"


"Not as brilliant with a woman, I gather."

"No," he conceded. "Not nearly by half."

"Imagine how brilliant it will feel with a man your own age," I told him. And then added, because he was teasing one of my nipples and one of us needed to have a foot in reality, "Not someone you despise."

That stopped him. The bedsprings shrieked, he uttered an "Accio wand," and then a Lumos. Propped up on one elbow he studied me. I did not flinch.

"It was still brilliant."

I couldn't help but smile.

"You are the most stubborn child ever born."

"Not a child any longer," he reminded me. "Will you tell me how Dumbledore betrayed you?"

I shut my eyes against the light. "None of this will bring back your parents. And your mother has no part in this story."

He didn't reply but cast another Warming charm on the room; which I suppose was his answer.

"My third, fourth, and fifth years at Hogwarts were merely repeats of the first. Your mother and I continued to be paired in Potions at every opportunity, your father and his cronies continued to bully me every chance they got, and the Slytherins continued to ignore me. Lucius Malfoy may have graduated, but his reach was quite long. Every three months or so, he'd invite the key Slytherins over for a day at Malfoy Manor: Lestrange, Macnair, Crabbe, and Goyle, to name a few. And me. Seating me at his right at the table, making it a point to talk to me, he let it be known that I was off limits. It was business as usual, except with each passing year the reality of war became impossible to ignore. Students began tossing off phrases like, 'Oh, when the war comes…' No one doubted it would be soon; it was only a question of when.

"At the beginning of our sixth year it was obvious to anyone with a pair of eyes that your father was very deeply in love with your mother. I'd already secured a carriage, when I saw him staring at her on the platform at Kings Cross as she said her goodbyes to her parents. He and Black were standing several car lengths away from her. Black chatted with your grandparents, making the occasional aside to your father. He couldn't have cared less. Black could have impaled him with his wand and I doubt he would have even felt it. That he'd been waiting for this moment for weeks, counting the hours, desperate to catch the first glimpse of her since June, was evident on his face when he caught sight of her; it went slack with the twin emotions of desire and relief. As if he hadn't drawn a single breath all summer, but now could. Black began directing more of his conversation to your father, which your father ignored in his desperation to catch your mother's eye. Meanwhile, Lupin and Pettigrew burst through to the platform. Lupin always returned from his summers looking like he'd been shut up and starved for three months. Now, of course, we know exactly what he'd been up to. The strain of trying not to eat his parents must have been considerable. Not a word, Mr. Potter. And while Lupin and Pettigrew did their hail fellow well met with your father, the force of the two of them was sufficient to drag your father's attention away from your mother, I watched Black.

"I saw the same relief on Black's face as I had on your father's. And it was Remus Lupin whose worn-out features (we were only four days post full moon) he was devouring. I moved to shut the window in my compartment, and Black looked up and saw me. We locked eyes. I looked at Lupin, looked back at him. I smirked, hiked my eyebrows in Lupin's direction, and then shut the window with a resounding crack. I'd seen enough. I was now armed with the not insignificant knowledge that Black harbored a passion for Remus Lupin no less fervent than your father's desire for your mother. He knew that I knew. Even through the glare of the glass I could see his face flush first with mortification then rage. The phrase 'if looks could kill' gained new meaning.

"A pity I didn't quite appreciate what that venom actually meant, but then I was only sixteen. I didn't have to wait long. Three weeks later he tried to feed me to Lupin during the next full moon. The extent of his hatred for me can be measured by how he never gave a thought to what would have happened to Lupin should his nasty plot have succeeded. In all likelihood, Lupin would have been put down, shot with a silver bullet, and Dumbledore would have been fired and disgraced for allowing a werewolf in the school. It is interesting to imagine what would have been the course of events had his plot succeeded. Dumbledore relieved of his position. Me dead. Lupin executed. Black in Azkaban.

"I continued to watch them. Black schooled his face into a tight smile. Lupin, sharp as always, put a hand to Black's shoulder and leaned forward, no doubt asking what was wrong. That got a terse shrug of the shoulders and Lupin dropped his hand. The hullabaloo of their arrival caught the attention of your mother's family, and the two groups moved toward each other as the Potters and Evans exchanged polite hellos and how-are-yous.

"Your father, alas, was doomed to disappointment because your mother merely bestowed a very cool glance his way, but waved enthusiastically at Lupin. She gave a perfunctory smile to Black and Pettigrew, nothing more than a polite acknowledgment. Until the war started, she never had much time for Black, being one of the few girls in the school immune to his physical charms. I doubt she ever gave a single thought to Peter Pettigrew the entire nine years of their acquaintance. He was a rather non-descript boy of average intelligence, with nothing to distinguish him other than being the bosom friend of Potter and Black. That was his sole claim to fame. Now known for his supreme betrayal, back then he was known only as 'Potter and Black's friend.' His didn't even have a name. He does now. Even the limited of those among us can profoundly affect history, however. The Dutch boy with his finger in the dyke comes to mind.

"Lucius Malfoy, older and wiser, watched Pettigrew evolve into the professional sycophant under Black and your father's tutelage, and then introduced him to the Dark Lord. He actually achieved a higher ranking among the Death Eaters than he'd had with your father's gang. Of the four, he was easily the fourth wheel, and became the fifth when your parents married, and Black and Lupin were rooming—and fucking—together in that perfectly squalid flat in Knockturn Alley. As the Dark Lord's chief lackey, he was merely a third wheel. The rest, as they say, is history.

"I often wondered if your mother hadn't ignored him and Black hadn't teased him so mercilessly and Potter hadn't said 'Pete' with that tinge of forbearance every time he uttered his name, if Pettigrew would have at least given half a thought to not betraying his only and dearest friends. As it was, he became so desperate for personal recognition that he almost tripped over his feet to bow and scrape at the Dark Lord's feet. But then he was not alone. He was not the only young man who'd been ignored and was desperate for recognition. Pettigrew and I couldn't have possibly been made from more different cloth, but the hunger was the same."

"But why? Why did you go to the Death Eaters? What did Dumbledore do that was so horrible?" he demanded.

I sat up and opened my eyes. "He did nothing!" I shouted, and Potter shrank back against the wall. I gathered control of myself. "No, I am wrong. He chose them. Over me. Like the Dark Lord, he was amassing his own army. He couldn't punish Black in the manner that he deserved because at the very minimum Black would have been expelled, and Lupin would have been exposed and possibly executed, earning your father's undying hatred. Albus couldn't afford to lose them, frankly. He was putting together the Order by then. He needed them. It came down to me or them. It wasn't much of a contest. One sad little misfit versus the formidable powers of those three. He knew of my tentative ties with Lucius, how I'd be putty in the hands of someone like the Dark Lord. He might not have sacrificed me willingly, but he did so without a second look back."

"No!" he protested. "I'm sure—"

"You are sure of nothing. I was there. Even you have to admit that such a crime begged for at least the expulsion of Black, and do not make a single word of protest; he tried to kill me. I saw no evidence of punishment beyond the usual endless Saturdays of detention for Black. As it was, he was always in detention. Apparently plotting the demise of a fellow student ranked up there with stealing the girls' brassieres from the laundry and hanging them from Gryffindor Tower. I waited and waited for some sort of retribution. Black was sixteen, certainly old enough and wizard enough to know what happens to those who unhappily stray into the path of a werewolf. You saw Lupin in all his ferocious glory. How terrified were you?"

He couldn't speak; his eyes filled with tears.

"Of course, who cares what happens to old Snivellus? What I did get was a four-sentence apology from Black and a meeting with Albus some months later. We met in his office, and my arse hadn't been seated two minutes before I realized he wasn't going to do anything. He couldn't do anything. It was basically, 'Sorry, my boy, I have no choice but to ignore the situation. Lemon drop?' He might as well have packed my bags and handed me a Portkey to the Dark Lord's side that very instant. My visits to Malfoy Manor increased exponentially. By the end of our seventh year, Lucius Malfoy whored me to the Dark Lord with complete confidence. Not physically you understand. By that time, corporal pleasures were unimportant to him. Power was his true and only aphrodisiac."

"My father—" Potter choked out.

"Saved me and was made Head Boy for the one time he showed any compassion or common sense. And lest you think that mitigates all his sins, it only exacerbated my hatred of him. I was beholden to the one person I despised most in all of Hogwarts. If I was under any delusions that the magnitude of such a crime would have sobered up those four, I was sadly mistaken. It was as if I was being punished for surviving. They hated me even more after that.

"I never quite understood your father's continued animosity; after all, he saved me. Even I admit that. I suppose they were afraid I'd go over Dumbledore's head to the Ministry. Expose Lupin. I don't know. Ask Lupin. He'll give you their side of the story. All I do know is that the verbal and physical abuse continued; they hexed me every chance they got. Albus did his best; his guilt at not expelling Black considerable. As prefect and a fairly decent person when he wasn't trying to gnaw off your leg, Lupin stopped them from visiting some of the worst hexes on me. Plus the fact that our quarters were impregnable to those outside of Slytherin gave me some measure of relief. But in the hallways I was fair game at all times. Their knowledge of the castle was amazing. I still don't know how they knew where I was, but it was like they had a map.

"Twenty years later it was deja vu all over again. He didn't expel you either when you nearly eviscerated Draco Malfoy. Sometimes I think it more than a little horrifying that events surrounding the key players in this sad history were doomed to repeat themselves. You were another sixteen-year old boy who should have known better. Who should have been expelled for casting a spell you'd never used and for which you did not know the counterspell. Draco Malfoy would have died had I not been there. And yet, all you got was a single lecture on not being so foolish in the future. If Draco Malfoy had had any misgivings about following in his father's footsteps, they were allayed right there and then. When you cast that spell, his allegiance to the Dark Lord was assured."

There was nothing more to say. I had knelt at Albus' feet and begged for his forgiveness the minute I learned that the Potters had been killed; that Lily had died trying to save her son. Being the sort of man he was, he dropped down to his knees and begged for mine. Nevertheless he found himself in the same position fifteen years later, choosing one boy over the other.

"I'm sorry," he whispered.

I was out of words. I tugged at the covers and pulled the edge up over one of his bony shoulders.


He doused the light with a "Nox."

My expectations that it would be hellishly awkward once we were faced with daylight were not disappointed.

At the crack of dawn, I eased myself out of bed and was working on my fifth cup of tea when he appeared in the kitchen. He stood there, speechless and, I suspect, horrified at the previous night's acrobatics. The hair carding was frantic, and it was only by the most strenuous of efforts that I wasn't joining him in a fierce blush.

Finally, he blurted out, "Scrimgeour. I'll be late. I need to shower and… "

I nodded and flicked my hand in the direction of the front door.

He didn't leave, the irritating little snot, but wrapped both his arms around himself and rocked back and forth on his feet as our discomfort grew by leaps and bounds. "Cold this morning," he ventured.

I nodded again, and wondered what my chances were of getting him out of this kitchen without uttering a word.

"Do you want to fuck me?"

Merlin's balls, he was the most maddening… I continued to say nothing.

"Okay, it's daylight, and I still… This is really, really weird. Fuck. But. Yeah. I want you to, but it's… Um, I just wondered if you, you know… It's weird."

A simplistic assessment, but an accurate one. I might as well just get a rope and hang myself. I was beginning to understand Potter at his most inarticulate. Such a bald-faced confession deserved an answer.

"Yes it is, and yes I do," I admitted.

"It's not, you know, a revenge thing, is it?"

A not unreasonable question and rather Slytherin of him. I had asked myself the same question as I listened to him sleep last night, frantically searching for some reasonable explanation why we were lying spooned together, him clutching my hand, so needy, and me clutching back. Revelations were not forthcoming, but after several hours of soul-searching, I could safely say that it was not revenge that caused my cock to swell when I cupped his arse with my hand. I would never forgive James Potter and Sirius Black. They had marked me as surely as the Dark Lord, but I was not sucking the dick of the son to address the sins of the father. Or Godfather. Unfortunately. Because this was a desire for him and him alone. Revenge would have been much wiser.


"And you're not… You didn't feel… With her?"

Yes, there was not a little Slytherin in him.

"No, I swing one way and one way only. I never felt any sexual attraction toward your mother. Nor any woman for that matter. You are one up on me in that regard." I couldn't help but shudder at the thought.

"I'll be back?"

He said it like it was a question. Here was my chance to end this. All I needed to do was to say one cruel thing. One horrible remark about his father or, if I really wanted to reassure myself that he never return, something about his mother.

"I shall go to the store while you and Scrimgeour engage in your little battle of wits." He scowled at that. "Surely, you must know he knows? But he needs proof. Do not give it to him. Bangers and mash acceptable?"

He nodded. "I'll get a Christmas tree. This place needs a little holiday cheer. Depressing as all shit. Don't know how you stand it." Then he Apparated.

He returned five hours later with a small Christmas tree under one arm and a frown on his face.

"Where do you want this?" he demanded.

I considered shredding it with a spell and throwing it into the fire, but the pungent aroma of fresh pine filled the room, a rather nice counterpoint to the usual smell of mold. "I didn't want it in the first place, but it should fit over in that corner. Away from the fire, considering how exuberant you are with your wand these days."

I closed my book and asked, "Hungry?"

"A little," he shrugged.

He followed me into the kitchen, but even the prospect of food didn't seem to lighten his mood. As I manned the stove, he kicked the table legs, fumbled with the salt and pepper shakers, tipped backwards on his chair trying to defy gravity, and, in general, acted like a five-year old about to go on a tear.

"Who's wound you up? Scrimgeour?" I asked. "Here, mash the potatoes and use up some of that excess energy. In the mood you're in, at any moment your magic is going to go wild and kill us both."

"No, not Scrimgeour," he replied and began mashing the potatoes with such ferocity that I whispered a little strengthening charm and hoped the bowl would hold up.

"Who then? Thank you. You've tortured the potatoes into submission. I'm sure they'll confess to anything now."

"Hermione," he said with a scowl. "The Hogwarts thing."

The words were barely out of his mouth when an owl pecked at the window, a Howler in its beak.

"Don't let it—"

I marched to the window and opened it. The owl dropped the Howler in his lap, and exited the kitchen as fast as its little wings could carry it.


Miss Granger's voice was so shrill that I was surprised it didn't shatter the windows. I should send Ronald Weasley a condolence card, because it is obvious that he is going the way of most men and marrying his mother.

The Howler then exploded, depositing a layer of ashes all over his face. And my kitchen table.

"Care to enlighten me?" I asked, returning the pots to the stove. I cast a quick cleaning charm, and then sat down. "I wouldn't imagine that Miss Granger would send you a Howler unless extremely provoked."

"This Hogwarts thing, I told you." He began fussing with the salt and pepper shakers again. I removed them from his hands and winged them to the sideboard.

"Make a special effort to use another word besides 'thing.' I do not speak 'Potter.'"

He did that irritating shrug of his, as if to shake me off.

"Either Apparate out of here or tell me what this is about. No half doings," I demanded.

"I told you," he huffed. "Hermione is in charge of rebuilding Hogwarts. She wants me to help because I have, you know, these powers, and it's taking them ages to do the tiniest thing. Voldemort drained the castle of most of its magic when he captured it, there at the end. It's like they're re-inventing the wheel. She's been nagging me for months and months now. If it's not her, it's Scrimgeour. I thought when I defeated him that would be it. They're still feasting on me. Fucking cannibals. I'm tired. You of all people should understand. I've done enough."

If he hadn't been so exhausted, I imagine his rage would have equaled Miss Granger's. I appreciated both sentiments. I understood his exhaustion. I shared his exhaustion. But this…

"I didn't realize the severity of the situation. How long will it take without your help? Do not lie to me."

"Ten years," he mumbled.

"And if you help them?"

"Hermione says a year. I think she's lying to get me over there. Once I'm there, I'm there."

I stood up and began pacing. Ten years. No wizarding students matriculating but those at Durmstrang and Beauxbatons. I didn't count those fourth-rate schools in America as real schools. They were more like finishing schools. It would be a hundred times worse than having ten years worth of idiots teaching Defense. There would be no teachers. Of course, the brighter wizards would home school their children or send them abroad. The worst of all possible worlds, as Durmstrang was not our friend during the war. If it hadn't been for Krum's sad little penchant for Granger… And those French…

Worthless sods.

"You will stop hiding here, eating my food, and indulging in gratuitous sex. You will help them." I did not phrase it as a request. He went stock still. "You will eat lunch; then you will return to Hogwarts."

He shook his head. "Won't. Can't."

Just when I thought he was maturing.

"Spoken like a toddler defying his mother at naptime. Last time I checked, Dolohov hadn't been captured and neither had Macnair. Do you know that at this point, they have nothing to lose? They are already condemned men. As in any war, there were a number of people who assisted the Dark Lord, but whose wands weren't dirty enough to be incarcerated in Azkaban. Dolohov and Macnair just need to bide their time.

"Ten years should give them more than enough time to cultivate another army of Death Eaters. Of course, neither of them is as brilliant and powerful as the Dark Lord, but they don't need to be. Because ten years without a single student matriculating out of Hogwarts should do it. Ten years where the most challenging spell most younger wizards will be able to conjure will be a shaving charm. And once Hogwarts opens, if, in fact, it does open in ten years, it will take another five years until we have students anywhere close to being halfway trained in defensive spells, not to even mention offensive spells. Of course, some English wizards have ties to Durmstrang, and will send their children there."

"But—" he cried in alarm.

"Yes, I'm sure you remember how helpful their Headmaster was during the war. To the Dark Lord's side, of course. Not ours," I sneered.

"I can't go back there. Not just yet," he insisted.


Sullen and obstinate, he didn't respond.

"You are not leaving this house, this table, without an explanation of why you are condemning three generations of wizards to certain death because of their sheer ignorance. Why!"

"Because Dumbledore's there, you bastard. And I didn't do enough! Satisfied? Too many were killed and I couldn't stop… Charlie. Neville. Seamus. Dean. Hagrid. Luna… How can I face him when he put so much trust… There's got to be a portrait somewhere and what do I say to him?" Tears threatened. "What do I say?"

My patience with him was at an end. I hauled him out of his seat by the front of his collar with one hand and ripped his jumper open with a spell with the other.

"Sniveling little martyr. You say nothing! You show him your scars, how your beautiful abdomen and shoulders were ripped open, hexed, and sawed into. That one looks like something tried to claw into your chest. Short of dying, Mr. Potter, I cannot imagine what else you could have done." I shoved him back into his chair. "Albus will weep for you. Wallow in your insecurities on the weekend. Go rebuild the school. You are either predator or prey." Why were these exchanges between the two of us so exhausting? I sat down. "Use that phenomenal power you received from him to atone for his evil."

He made a confusing roundabout motion with his head that was a cross between a shake and a nod. "Cold," he muttered and tried to bring the ripped edges of his jumper together.

"Oh for Christ's sake," I snapped at him and spelled his jumper closed.

"Thanks. It will never be over, will it?" his voice sad and so young. He reached across the table for my hand and then squeezed it. I squeezed it back.

"Apparently not."

We sat there for several minutes in silence, listening to the wind whipping through the broken windows in the attic.

"Tell me how my mother betrayed you. What did she do that was so horrible that you'd go to Voldemort with the prophecy?"

I pulled away from him. It was inevitable that he would want this story. The story I vowed never to tell him, no matter what he threatened, what he promised. Did it matter now? Perhaps he had the right to know. Nevertheless, I was not above a little extortion myself.

"If I tell you, then you'll go back?"

He hesitated for a few seconds and then nodded.

"You will not believe me, but your mother's betrayal had nothing to do with the fact that I relayed the prophecy to the Dark Lord."

"Say his fucking name. If I have to keep on letting them take bits out of me until there's nothing left, then the least you can do is say his name," he hissed.

"Voldemort," I ground out "There, happy? Your mother's betrayal was simple. She married your father." I stopped. It had been that simple.

"You… You bastard! You told me you didn't care… Just because she married…"

His rage was incandescent. He gripped the table edge in a fruitless attempt to control himself. Windows shattered throughout the entire house. Plates cracked in two. My grandmother's teacup disintegrated into miniscule bits.

"Tell me, tell me you disgusting, revolting piece of shit who doesn't deserve to live!" he shouted. "Tell me why, why it had nothing to do with my mother fucking the man you hated. Because you are that petty, that vicious, that fucking vile."

You'd think I'd be terrified but I wasn't. I was equally furious. Not at him, because his rage was justifiable. No. I was so angry that I literally saw red. Angry at my pathetic parents and their violent, miserable marriage that produced a miserable child. Angry at Potter and Black for all the horrible pranks and hexes they visited on me. Livid at Albus because he didn't choose me. No one ever chose me, except for Voldemort, an insane, twisted man, who knew how to feed the soul of a nearly equally twisted young man. A murderer is not born but made, and that's what they made me.

Over the sound of breaking pottery I shouted at him, "Because it wasn't you that I thought the prophecy was about! She was my only FRIEND. Do you really think I would have her murdered because of whom she chose to fuck?"

At that the wild magic stopped.

I looked down at the shattered bits of china that had been my grandmother's teacup.

"My year was full of people who didn't know how to be very good friends, wasn't it? I will remind you that it wasn't me who was your parents' secret keeper. That it was your father's friend who betrayed them. I do not say this to absolve myself at all in the role I played in your parents' deaths, however, my sins are quite egregious enough as it is. I have no intention of heaping Pettigrew's on top of them.

"Given Voldemort's insane homage to all that was pure-blood, I assumed it was Longbottom to whom the prophecy referred. It never crossed my mind that he would try to kill you, the son of a Muggle-born witch and a pure-blood wizard. But, of course, he was the son of a Muggle and a pure-blood witch, and in the circular insanity that has united your fate with his, it makes perfect sense. I was equally naive in thinking that he would never kill pure-bloods. I was wrong on both counts.

"The minute I heard about your parents' death, I went to Albus, got down on my hands and knees, and begged him to kill me. Yes, ironic, and perhaps in fifty years I'll be able to appreciate the irony. He did not. He forgave me. Being the man he was, he blamed himself. He said that he'd been wrong about Black. That he knew it would alienate me, that he knew that Lucius Malfoy was salivating at the thought of someone with my abilities joining the ranks of the Death Eaters.

"I grant you that condemning Neville Longbottom to an Avada Kedavra is just as despicable as condemning you to one, but you must believe me when I say that I did not and would not have condemned your mother to one for anyone. Not even Lord Voldemort.

"This is cold comfort, but your mother did not die in vain. My induction into the ranks of the Death Eaters had been the happiest day of my life. I was honored, respected, and even revered by some. Only something as horrific as her death and my hand in it would have had me on my knees in front of Albus, the prodigal son returning. Because of that, I became an excellent spy and saved the lives of many. That does not excuse my actions. I do not even know if it atones for them. Albus believed in atonement. I am more Calvinistic in my outlook. An eye for an eye. If you killed me now, I certainly wouldn't condemn you for it."

I looked at him for the first time in twenty minutes.

"I'm sorry." He deserved that and more, but it was all I could give him.

His eyes were identical to his mother's the day of the Polyjuice debacle after she and I transformed back into ourselves. A brilliant green, bright with unshed tears and pity.

A pop and he was gone.

"Do not come back. I have no more stories to tell," I said to the empty kitchen.

It took me two days to repair the windows and all that broken crockery. My grandmother's teacup was a dead loss. There are some things not even magic can fix.

At the end of the second night, I collapsed on the sofa exhausted. If I never had to do another Reparo it would be too soon. The soft sweet smell of magic lingered in the air. What in the hell was I going to do with the rest of my life?

He returned on Christmas Eve.

It was quite late, and I was debating whether to have a drink or go to sleep. Satisfied with the progress I had made that day—I had organized my teaching notes and written the first draft of an outline—I decided to reward myself with a nice big glass of fine French brandy. My last Christmas present from Albus. I'd never met a French wizard worth his or her salt, but they certainly had a way with spirits. No sooner had I poured several inches into a glass than I felt the wards trip, followed by the sound of knocking.

It couldn't be anyone else.

I waved the door open with my wand. Without turning around, I asked, "Drink, Potter?"

"How did you know it was me?" he said, sounding surprised.

"Please. Although I really don't know why you knocked. Your preferred form of entrance has been to just to Apparate in, willy-nilly, whenever you felt like it. To what do I owe this shocking display of manners?"

"Yeah, I would like a drink, and, dunno. Just thought I should knock," he confessed.

I handed him a glass and made for the sofa.

"What happened to the chair?"

The room looked rather empty without my father's tattered wingback.

"I chopped it up and burnt it in the fireplace. It was my father's. An early Christmas present to myself."

"What about a Warming charm? Were you cold?"

"Not in the least."

He sat down next to me. "Okay. Um, maybe I get it. I wouldn't mind chopping up my Uncle Vernon's chair, come to think of it. Cheers," he said and lifted his glass. "Explains why it smells like burnt sheep in here."

"Cheers. You look like utter shit. You remember our conversation regarding expletives? When I say shit, I am not sugar-coating it."

"It's not going very well. Totally fucked, to be honest. And I'm not sugar-coating it. Why haven't you decorated the tree?" He gestured toward the half-dead Christmas tree lying in the corner where he'd placed it.

"Why would I?"

"Most people that I know do. Get a tree. Put ornaments and lights on it. Sort of that ho ho ho thing."

"I am not most people."

"No arguments from me on that score," he muttered under his breath. He would, eventually, get to the point of his visit, and I had a fine glass of brandy to savor.

There is something about Potter; he has a divining rod for discerning what will irritate me. I brought the glass up to my lips, assuming I had several minutes of peace before he launched into some indecipherable ramble, when he blurted out, "I can't do it by myself. Okay, we can't."

"Who is 'we,' and what are you talking about?" It doesn't do to be patient with him.

"Me, Hermione, Minerva, and everyone else working on the castle."

I took a large sip to whet my argument. I knew what was coming.

"No. No. No. I will not."


"In the words of someone who shall remain nameless, I have done enough. I've decided to write Potions textbooks. I never had the time before with my teaching load. But now that I am at liberty, I intend to do so. I think we'll agree that nearly all children are too immature and generally ill-suited to my teaching methods, so—"

"Right," he snorted. "Teaching methods, torture methods. Same difference."

"Therefore, I have begun a book based on the first-year curriculum. I do not have time to—"

He slammed his glass down on the table. "In the words of someone else who shall remain nameless, if you don't help us, it will take years. Your textbook will be fucking pointless because there won't be any students. Listen to me. Hermione found a book in the library at Malfoy Manor. Dark Arts up the arse sort of book. It's basically a handbook for fucking people over with magic, surprise, surprise, and one of the spells involves stealing someone's magic."

I raised an eyebrow; the wheels began turning in my head.

"Yeah, I knew you'd get it right off the mark. Hermione thinks part of our problem is that because the castle's lost its magic, it's not responding the way it should. So we take this extra magic from me, this magic I don't want, and give it to the castle. Help me. And if you don't want to help me, come home and help Minerva. Hermione."

I swirled my drink. Oh yes, the Dark Arts indeed. One step up from an Unforgivable, because if you steal a wizard's magic you steal his or her soul.

"The power but not the knowledge," I murmured.


"Nothing. An interesting proposition, but I intend to work here at home, and write my—"

"This isn't a home!" he snapped; with a broad sweep of his arm he gestured at the threadbare carpet, the frayed curtains, and the half-dead tree. "This is… It's like living in limbo or hell. Take your pick." He grabbed both my shoulders and shook me, although not hard. "Snape, I'm begging you here. Hermione can't decipher the runes. We've been trying for days. It would take someone who understands the Dark Arts, who has been—"

"Dark himself," I finished for him.

Suddenly, his grip on my shoulders tightened and he pulled me forward so that his mouth rested against my ear.

"Help me, Snape," he begged, his whisper just shy of hysterical. "You have to help me. If I keep this magic I'll go mad. I don't want it. I have power like you wouldn't believe. I can do anything. I don't even need spells anymore. I think rain and if I point my wand it rains. I think fairy lights and I point my wand, fairy lights appear." The tree suddenly lit up. "Someday I'll get angry at someone over something trivial, like letting the Christmas tree that I bought for them die, and I'll turn to them and before you know it, their brains will come dribbling out of their ears." Then he did become hysterical, clutching me as his voice became more and more frantic, until he was sobbing. "No one, no one should have this much power. Please help me. I'm so afraid I'll hurt someone. Just, you know, get mad and not think…"

He was right. No one should have that sort of power.

It was the work of a moment to decide. I sighed and gave one last look at the pile of notes I had worked on so diligently that day. My book would keep. Putting my arms around him, I began running a soothing hand down his back. The fates, which had dictated I be the errand boy for two of the twentieth century's most powerful wizards, were determined that I play the same role again. I could not save Lily Evans, but I could save her son.

At least Potter had said please. Which is more than I can say for Voldemort.

"Shhh. Shhh. I don't know why you have your knickers in such a twist. Not thinking is your sport of choice. Even preferable to Quidditch I think. Now calm yourself." He began laughing and crying at the same time. I continued to rub his back as he alternated between quiet sobbing and giggles. When all was quiet, I pulled away from him.

"Accio handkerchief. Now, listen to me. I will help you, but you must understand that it will be brutal. I do not use that word lightly. We will argue—"

He sniffed into the handkerchief. "We always argue. Yeah?"

"What is in store will make last spring's offensive against Voldemort look like a picnic. This is the Dark Arts. It will take all your strength and my expertise. I will push you and push you and push you. During the interim, you will not scramble my brains or the brains of anyone else. Are we clear?"

"I know. You'll be a right bastard," he said, with a rueful smile. He grabbed my hand and kissed it several times in gratitude. "Thank you. Thank you."

At first, I don't think he meant it in any other way but gratitude, but then his kisses became less frantic and more deliberate, a gentle sucking on each knuckle. Surely not. He wasn't…. That inexplicable heat that had erupted between us the day we humped each other like dogs flared in my groin. He pulled back, and the subsequent hitch in his breath told me he felt the same.

Madness to even contemplate…

He leaned forward.

"This is a mistake," I warned him. "We are embarking on the most difficult—"

"Status quo, yeah? Can we go upstairs?" he asked.

I pulled my hand away, absolutely determined not to…

He raised his arms high above his head, and stretched into a big yawn, wrenching his shirt out of his pants and exposing three inches of his stomach.

I barely suppressed a groan.

"You insatiable whelp," I growled. That got a throaty, and dear God help me, sexy laugh.

"I'm nineteen. What's your excuse?"

"You're nineteen," I smirked. "You did that on purpose."

"I did?" he mocked. "Come on. Who knows how long this will last? We should strike while our dicks are hot."

I stood up. "Levity does not suit you."

"You just don't have a sense of humor."

He led the way, the bright tip of his wand guiding us up the narrow staircase to my bedroom. He murmured something I couldn't quite decipher before he opened the door, and then he cast a Lumos. Before me was a full-sized room complete with a blazing fireplace and a large bed; the headboard was obscured by a superfluity of pillows, and he hadn't skimped on the number of blankets either. We would not freeze at any rate.

I raised both eyebrows in silent commentary.

"I should use this frigging magic for something good. Why not?"

Why not, indeed?

I brought my wand up to douse the light, the "N" of Nox just out of my mouth, when he put a finger over my lips.

"No," he said. "You've seen me. I haven't seen you. And," he paused and ducked his head, but I could still see the flush of his embarrassment, "I want you to know who you're fucking. Who's fucking you back."

"Fool." I couldn't help but say it.

With a wry little shake of his head, he came up to me and began running the flat of palms over my shoulders, breast bone, and nipples. "God, you feel wonderful. And I'm not," he kissed one side of my neck, "a fool." He kissed the other side. "Funny thing about genetics," he tsked as he started to unbutton my robe. "There's a long-standing tradition in my family of wanting to fuck bastards."

I gasped as his fingers stopped their relentless attack on my buttons to give my nipples a sharp tweak.

"One instance does not—"

"Shhh," he admonished. "Less snark, more sex."

He managed three more buttons before his impatience got the better of him. Suddenly, all our clothes vanished. His jaw dropped a little and he brought a hand up to his mouth, in surprise or disgust, I know not which. Had he never seen a naked man with an erection before? I assumed that all that time he'd spent in locker rooms must have inured him to the sight of a naked male body. To be fair, sporting erections in the locker room of a boarding school would be unwise in the extreme; staring at them would be tantamount to committing suicide. His confusion about his sexuality led me to believe his wartime liaisons had been brief and limited. Not surprising. In my experience, wartime fucks were, by and large, quick and dirty affairs in the dark, usually against a wall or a tree.

"Turn around," he whispered.

I complied.

From behind me I heard a small voice say, "You have more scars than even me."

I made to pick up my wand. I would retrieve my clothes and go downstairs. Sleep would now be impossible, but…

"No," he sighed. A sweaty hand grabbed my wrist, pulled me over to the bed, and dragged me next to him. We lay side by side. I did not flinch from his gaze.

"This," he traced a finger over the scar that started at one hip and ran the length of my torso. "Who did this?"


"And this?" He kissed a particularly nasty crosshatch of raised welts.

"Arthur Weasley."

"This one?" He rubbed his cheek across an ancient acid hex, his stubble scratching lightly.

"Voldemort. Failure was not appreciated."

"We…" He bit into his bottom lip.

"Yes, we did." I began threading my fingers through his hair.

He leaned into my hand for a second and then kissed me for the first time. Odd how a kiss is more intimate than someone's hand on your cock. He pressed our lips gently together, then pulled back and looked at me as if requesting permission. I parted my lips. He leaned in again, licked my bottom lip with the tip of a shy tongue, and then the top one with more confidence. At that point I could no longer control myself. I took his bottom lip, the lip that had been teasing me unmercifully for the last three weeks, between my own and bit it.

I heard a muffled "ah," and he opened his mouth to me. Grabbing me by the arse, he hauled me on top of him so that our cocks rubbed against each other. Later, I would tease him about what a pushy bottom he was, but now was not the time. I am rather partial to kissing, and this was one activity where he needed no coaching.

I have never had a lover so giving. Of course, Galleons can buy most anything, and I have bought and paid for sex often enough. There were also the sycophants who foolishly thought that bending over for me would curry them favor with Voldemort. But this?

I was glad that we had not fucked before. If we had, I never would have been able to remember our first fuck as anything more than payment in kind. No sexual favor given in exchange for memory here. This, oh this. Each surrender was freely given—a wanton spread of his legs, an eager suck of my fingers, a leg pulled up high, the groan of appreciation as I spread him and opened him.

He invoked my name many times, to remind me that there was no doubt he knew with whom he was sharing this bed. "Oh yeah, Snape. Need. Need. Yeah, like that. Feels so fucking good, Snape."

I lay on top of him, waiting for the lines on his brow to relax, to signal he was ready so that I could start thrusting in earnest, the final and most glorious movement of this sexual dance. God, there is nothing like a fuck. The weight of his legs thrown over my shoulders, the lazy movement of his hand slowly caressing his own prick. His hair stuck to his sweaty forehead in damp wisps; his cheeks were highly flushed dots the size of galleons. So beautiful.

He opened his eyes. I tensed.

"Snape. Now. Fuck me now. I'm choosing you, you maddening fucker," and he rocked back against me, never breaking eye contact until the last few seconds before his orgasm overwhelmed him.

An hour later, we lay tucked up against each other in bed. Sticky and stated, listening to the gentle in-and-out of his breathing, I refused to speculate how long this would last. Words spoken during sex have no veracity or validity. Our natural enmity and grossly dissimilar habits, not even taking into account the grueling ordeal we had in front of us, did not bode well for this lasting anything more than a few weeks. Even assuming this did survive beyond the initial passion, eventually he would meet a man his own age, someone who wasn't prickly and sarcastic, someone easy-going and… Ah, well. I shall cross that bridge when I come to it.

His breathing deepened and I knew it was safe to get up. I dressed quickly and Flooed to Privet Drive. It wasn't difficult to determine which chair was his uncle's; I followed the smell of old sweat and shoe polish. I contemplated casting some truly embarrassing spell on him while he slept, but in the end restrained myself because I knew he would blame it on Potter. How much more diabolical it would be to have him wake up on Christmas Day only to find his favorite chair missing. I assuaged my disappointment at not being able to charm him a pair of donkey ears by writing him a note and leaving it on the mantle.

"You were definitely naughty this year, Vernon."

No sense of humor. I beg to differ.

He trundled down the stairs and into the sitting room around nine the next morning, looking ten years younger now that he'd gotten a decent night's sleep.

"Why didn't you wake me…" his eyes nearly bugged out of his head.

"Merry Christmas, Mr. Potter. Accio knife." I Transfigured it into a small axe. "Go to town."

As Potter happily whacked away, reducing his uncle's chair down to splinters and fluff, I decided some tea and breakfast were in order. I put on the kettle and water for a large pot of oatmeal. We'd need the sustenance; we had a big day ahead of us. I'd let him have one hour at the Burrow, no more, and then we'd return to the castle.

The obligatory eating of crow in front of Albus' portrait was our inevitable first stop; I'd have to suffer through at least thirty minutes of him reminding me that he'd always said Potter wasn't a Dark-Lord-in-training, that given half a chance he'd come through. Et cetera. Et cetera. Et cetera. Albus was never happier than when proving me wrong.

That done, we'd move on to my quarters. They had survived the siege of the castle, but two years worth of dust had to be dealt with. Hmmm, I'd just have Potter think clean, point his wand, and voila. Might as well take advantage of those phenomenal powers while we had them at our disposal. The storeroom. If Voldemort hadn't thoroughly cannibalized it, I'd be shocked. Restocking it would take months. I'd send an owl to that Crooke—a name that couldn't be more apt—and demand substantial discounts on everything. Fortunately, I knew a thing or two about Crooke…

I smiled.

I was going home.