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The Potter Phenomenon

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When Minerva tells him that Harry Potter will be hired as the new Defence professor, Severus' first thought is that it is too late to hand in his resignation notice.

Severus would have expected that five years after the end of the war, the ridiculous and unreasonable enthusiasm over the Saviour's every move would have eventually faded. Or at least subsided. To some extent.

Yet, the interest in the brainless fool seems to have actually grown in the last few years. Mostly because the boy — man, Severus reluctantly thinks —  is all too happy to flaunt his private life all over the pages of the most questionable periodicals.

If Severus had hated him before, now he absolutely despises him. There are few things that Severus would enjoy less than being forced to endure the brat's presence on a daily basis. So when Harry Potter arrives at the castle just before the start of term, Severus wonders if dying on the bloody floor of the Shack would have been a kinder fate.

Unsurprisingly, Potter is late for the first staff meeting of the school year and takes the opportunity to make a grand entrance.

He looks different from what Severus remembers from the last Prophet special (not that he had paid special attention to it at the time). His skin is still tanned from the summer weather and his face looks freshly shaved. He’d long ago lost the ridiculous glasses and he wears his curls shorter now, shaved short at the sides and just slightly longer at the top, styled in a deliberately rumpled fashion. He is dressed in what Severus supposes is considered fashionable Muggle clothing in whatever fantasy world the idiot lives in. The fabric of his dark-grey cotton shirt is decorated with an obnoxious light-coloured flower print and is tight enough to reveal the contour of the muscles on his chest. He wears the sleeves rolled up on his forearms and the two topmost buttons are carelessly undone, revealing a hint of tanned hairless skin (which Severus is decidedly set on ignoring). The offending garment is neatly tucked inside a tailored set of beige trousers that are unquestionably a size too small considering how they cling to his thighs and ride high on his ankles, showing off colourful-patterned socks with each step he takes. His hips swing unashamedly on the short way to his seat and he is smiling as if he hasn't got a worry in the world. And right before he lowers himself on his chair, Potter has the gall to wink at the Headmistress.

Severus immediately decides that robes should be mandatory at all school functions. In fact, he has a mind to suggest it in his next private meeting with Minerva. Because even for The Great Harry Potter, Severus is fairly sure his attire is entirely inappropriate.  Not to mention his attitude.

Conceited attention-seeking imbecile.

Severus spends the entire length of the meeting scowling at Potter, and he doesn't even try to be subtle about it.
 

~~~

 
It was probably a good thing that the particularly shocking announcement regarding Harry Potter's lifestyle had happened on a weekend, considering how much of a commotion it had caused on Hogwarts’ inhabitants (including Severus himself).

Approximately two years earlier, Harry Potter had come out as homosexual-leaning in a five-page-long newspaper article, complete with pictures of the man in outrageously tight jeans and t-shirt, winking unashamedly at his readers.

"Harry Potter goes Gay"

It had taken Severus a good five seconds to realise his jaw was open in shock, and he was grateful that everybody else seemed too busy burying their noses in the Prophet to notice.

After the initial shock, Severus had been livid. He had scoffed loudly as he reread the unfortunate title. Goes gay, indeed. The imbecile would likely do everything in his reach to keep himself in the spotlight, even if it meant throwing his reputation out the window.

True Gryffindor courage, he’d heard Minerva say through the ringing in his ears. Gryffindor idiocy, most likely. Severus had barely restrained himself from incinerating the piece of garbage and had stormed out the Great Hall with his breakfast untouched.

Weeks later, Potter’s boyish face was still a daily occurrence on the printed pages of the detestable rag, and to Severus’ growing irritation his popularity seemed to rise with each published feature.

And that was the moment when things at Hogwarts had started to change.

Were Severus a less observant man, he might have missed it at first. Quiet whispers, subtle looks. But as months went by, the Saviour’s example seemed to embolden some of the most audacious students. With time, it became glaringly obvious even to the most inattentive witnesses.

On one occasion, during class, he had been forced to give detention to a couple of sixth-year boys with sickeningly lovestruck expressions who thought they would get away with passing notes to each other right under Severus’ nose. Another day, an enthusiastic short-haired blond Gryffindor had stridden across the Great Hall at dinnertime to stop at the Hufflepuff table, in front of a wide-eyed brunette who had blushed profusely as she nodded back (She asked her out!, Severus had heard one of the kids say a little too loudly).

Of course it would take Harry bloody Potter to turn his deviant lifestyle into a fucking trend.

What’s more, beyond the unusual expression of same-sex attraction between hormone-ridden teenagers, there had been a hastily scheduled staff meeting to discuss the matter of a handful of students requesting a change in the way they were addressed, either their names or their pronouns (or, in some cases, both). Severus had rolled his eyes dramatically — he was absolutely indifferent to it all, but it annoyed him to no end the influence that the wretched Potter boy seemed to have on the entirety of the school body (and Wizarding World at large).

Eventually, Severus had decided that downing a glass of Ogden´s Old every evening was entirely appropriate, given the circumstances.

By the end of the school year, things seemed to have settled (albeit in a new sort of normal) and gossip about Potter was finally dying down. The next year went by with only a few irregular incidents and Severus felt his sanity slowly return.

That is, until the idiot had returned to Hogwarts.
 

~~~

 
Once the school year begins, Potter's presence around the castle is as intolerable as Severus knew it would be.

He struts about the grounds with his chin up and an arrogance that Severus is well familiar with, wearing fitted robes that clasp around his waist and open at the bottom, always to reveal a pair of too-tight trousers. He shows off  his wide collection of robes proudly, some in bright colours, others with ornate embroidery, all of them impeccably fitted, showing off broad shoulders and a muscular torso, and all of them entirely inappropriate.

At meals, Potter's laughs pierce through Severus' ears and his nauseatingly good mood brings Severus' irritation to a whole new level. What's worse, the entirety of the staff seems all too happy to be subjected to the man's obnoxious behaviour. And although Severus can't say it comes as a surprise to him, what he has come to call in his head as the Potter Phenomenon comes back with renewed force. Except this time, the man himself is actually present to fuel the insanity.

The buzz of Potter's arrival takes a full two weeks to tone down. Every time the idiot is in the presence of the student body, there are whispers and stares, and a lot of not-so-discreet pointing at his seat at the high table. Severus entertains the thought of excusing himself from meals altogether, even knowing that there is not a chance in a million years that Minerva will allow it.

Instead, Severus decides on the next best approach — to antagonise and humiliate the man so thoroughly that he will hopefully come to regret his decision to return to the castle.
 

~~~

 
The next staff meeting happens roughly a month after the start of term.

Potter is not late this time, but instead is already in his seat when Severus arrives. Which is a shame, really, because Severus would very much like to publicly embarrass him over his tardiness. The man tones down his irritating smile at the sight of Severus, and offers him a slight nod of the head. Severus gives him no recognition in return, but instead glances disapprovingly down his figure.

He is wearing obnoxious Muggle clothes, again. This time, he opted for a blazer coat with a ghastly blue-scale cornucopia print, on top of a white shirt that is so tight that Severus is sure he would be able to see the man's nipples through the fabric, were they not concealed by the top garment.

Not that Severus is thinking about the outline of Potter's nipples. At all.

Severus scoffs loudly as he sits and does not bother to look back up at Potter's face. Out of the corner of his eye he sees the remains of Potter's smile fall completely. Excellent.

Throughout the meeting, Potter speaks on occasion, and he is eloquent enough that Severus is irritated not to find anything to humiliate him for. Until, that is, the near end of the meeting.

"If I may, before you leave I would like to get your opinion on something."

"Go ahead, Harry," Minerva prompts him.

"I've been thinking," he begins, and Severus huffs quietly enough that it can raise questions as to whether it has been a coincidence, but Potter immediately turns his head in Severus’ direction and his cheeks turn slightly pinker in a matter of seconds.

"I would like to reinstall the Duelling Club," he continues, despite the distraction. "Some of my students have shown interest in learning things beyond their year's curriculum, and I believe it could be a valuable experience, if carefully oriented."

Severus does not bother hiding his scoff this time, and is thrilled when Potter looks back at him angrily.

"Am I to understand," he says in his most sarcastic tone, getting off on the way Potter’s eyes seem to shoot daggers his way, "that you have been teaching for a month and you already think you're competent enough to direct an extracurricular activity of considerable danger and responsibility?"

The silence stretches and Potter is positively fuming when Minerva finally speaks.

"I actually think it's a brilliant idea."

Potter instantly turns to her, his mouth open in evident astonishment. Severus keeps his own mouth from falling open; he should not be surprised that Minerva would do everything to appease her precious protégé.

"It's a terrible excuse for a fan club, Headmistress. The students will be fawning all over Potter," he objects. He sends a cold look towards the man, hoping to convey his disdain. "Much to his delight, I'm sure."

Again, Potter's expression turns tense and Severus notices how his jaw muscles clench repeatedly under the scrutiny.

"Well," Minerva intervenes, "if they learn something from it, then I have no objection whatsoever."

Severus scowls in frustration. He knows when he has been defeated, but he still hopes to humiliate the man every step of his way.

"I propose you come to me with an outline for a class plan," Minerva tells Potter. "We'll discuss it then. Perhaps we may consider a practice session and go from there."

The smile Potter gives her is cautious, and he nods slightly. He then immediately directs his gaze towards Severus, wiping the smile from his face. His eyes gleam in triumph.

"Thank you, Headmistress," he says, never taking his eyes off Severus'.

"If there is nothing else to discuss, you are dismissed," the Headmistress tells them. "Thank you all for your presence."

Potter is the first to rise, and only when he stands does he lift his gaze from Severus. He struts out of the room before anyone else can even leave their seats. Severus decidedly does not stare at the contour of his perfectly round arse on the fabric of his robes as he leaves the room.
 

~~~

 
It takes Severus a few days to get over his irritation over the events of the staff meeting. Every time he spots Potter in the hallways or hears his nauseatingly cheerful laugh during meals, he is reminded of the man's loathsome audacity and he has to keep himself from yelling at every other staff member for encouraging his pretentious ideas (and his dreadful sense of fashion). He has no doubt that Potter will succeed in his plan to fully dominate the attention of the entire school population, be they students or staff, and he fully expects it will take the man no more than a cocky smile and arrogant wink to get his Fan Club up and running.

What he does not expect is Potter's presence in his office later that week, interrupting Severus' process of grading a particularly disastrous batch of third year essays.

"Can I have a word?" he asks as he brings his impertinent nose through the gap of the front door.

Severus glances at him briefly and promptly returns his gaze to the essays.

"I'm busy."

His hope that Potter will turn away at his disinterest dissolves when the man enters his office anyway.

"Look, about the last meeting," he starts, and Severus lets out a loud, exasperated sigh. He has no doubt that the imbecile has come hoping to challenge Severus’ accusations, as if they weren’t entirely true, as if he didn’t have enough admirers that he could spare one single person not being in constant awe of his charm. When Potter doesn’t immediately resume his talking, Severus considers the alternative that the man will go for self-pity instead, which is actually worse.

"You were right," he says, and Severus has to stop himself from looking up. "I am inexperienced."

Well, this he didn't expect. But he supposes Potter has his ways of getting people to do what he wants, and he had probably figured confrontation wasn't the way to go about with Severus Snape.

But Severus sees right through him, and keeps his expression impassive as he continues to stare at the papers on his desk.

"Delightful of you to recognise such an elementary truth."

Potter stills stands by the door and Severus wonders what he'd see in the man's transparent face were he to look up at him. 

"Still, I'd very much like to do this," Potter eventually says, and walks into the room to stand right in front of Severus' desk. "So I was wondering if you'd help me."

This time, Severus can't resist the urge to look up.

"You want me to… help you?"

"Yes," he continues stoically, his eyes on Severus'. "You know, teach these lessons with me. I'd organise the coursework, of course. But we could both give practical practice together."

Severus spends a good five seconds stupidly staring at Potter.

"Did you hit your head on the way here?"

Potter sighs, his expression unsurprised as he looks down, as if he expected nothing more than mockery from Severus. But just as he looks unsurprised, he also looks like he came prepared to make a case.

"I've seen you duel," he says, returning his gaze to Severus. "And you're one of the most powerful wizards I know."

Severus should have seen this coming.

"Flattery will get you nowhere, Potter."

"I'm not trying to flatter you," he protests, and then his face opens in a slight smirk as he speaks. "Your teaching skills could be vastly improved, for one."

Severus arches an eyebrow high on his forehead in response.

"But you saved my life more times than I can count," he continues, his expression serious once again. "Which I will be forever grateful for."

Severus watches the man in front of him as his mind makes an effort to catch up on what is happening. Potter seems to be… thanking him?  Has it really come to this?

But then Severus looks closely at him, his green eyes wide and his face unguarded. Whatever he expected from the man, this surely wasn't it. This… openness. And as he studies his face, he doesn't see the arrogance he was so quick to notice before. As much as Severus tries, he can only perceive what seems to be honesty. And badly concealed anxiety.

Suddenly, Severus cannot stand to have him there. He feels his face turn into a scowl.

"And look what a fine specimen of the male species you turned out to be," Severus says, sarcasm dripping from his voice like venom.

Potter's eyes widen and he is silent for a moment, as if carefully measuring the words. After a few seconds he slowly draws his eyebrows together.

"What is that supposed to mean?"

"It means, Potter, that I'm not interested in the slightest to be involved in any activity with you that is not strictly necessary," he says coldly, returning his gaze to his essays.  "What's more, I have no wish whatsoever to participate in the delirious boosting of your oversized ego."

The silence in the room stretches on. Severus itches to see the expression on Potter's face, longs to know if it's hurt or anger or whatever mixture of those in different proportions. He wonders if he would grasp exactly how much of Potter's speech had been a ploy designed to have his way, or if he'd catch a glimpse of the transparency he thought he'd witnessed earlier on that droll face. Instead,  he continues to stare at his essays and scribbles an insult in red ink with more force than necessary. Severus is fairly sure it is deserved.

"You're a right prat, you know," the man spits at him.

Severus looks at him then. Potter's eyes are fiery, piercing green fearlessly fixed on Severus, and the flush of his cheeks trails down his neck to disappear beneath the collar of his elegant robes. Severus averts his eyes at once, back to his desk and his neglected essays.

"Good evening, Mr. Potter," he announces, and it's all he can do to keep the strain from his voice.

"Fuck you, Snape," Potter mutters right before he turns his back to him.

And when the door closes behind Potter, Severus finally lets out the breath he didn't know he'd been holding.
 

~~~

 
Less than twenty-four hours later, Severus finds himself sitting in the Headmistress office, a cup of lukewarm tea untouched on the top of her desk.

"No," he crisply says, and leaves it at that. He doesn’t feel like he needs to justify himself any further.

Minerva lets out a long sigh.

"Severus, I may lack Albus' deviant way of getting people to agree to things they otherwise wouldn't. But don't fool yourself, this conversation is not a request," she says sternly. "You will supervise Duelling Club every Friday at eight o'clock, starting next week. You can choose to be involved as much or as little as you like."

This has been an ambush from the start, Severus sees it clearly now. His relationship with Minerva is one of pleasant companionship, most of the time. Except when she chooses to stab him in the back with the sharpest blade she can find. A figurative blade of wide green eyes and impeccably tailored wardrobe. Not to mention the most impudent of smiles.

"It seems that you give me no choice on the matter," Severus sneers at her. "But let it be clear that I will play no part in the coddling of the great Harry Potter. He gets enough attention as it is."

Minerva looks like she is about to object, so Severus throws his final claim.

"So consider yourself warned when he comes to you whining about the lack of praise and adoration on my behalf."

The exhale coming from the other side of the desk is loud and weary. Severus does not feel a trace of remorse over it.

"Give the boy some credit, Severus. It's time you get past this ridiculous animosity of yours."

Severus scoffs at her.

"Unlikely."

Minerva looks unimpressed.

"Perhaps you should use this as an opportunity to start over," she says, and Severus can’t believe his own ears. "If you chose to see past your own prejudice, you might discover that Harry is actually quite deserving of the attention he gets."

"I seriously doubt that," he tells her, feeling the anger churn in his guts. He can’t believe he is getting scolded for refusing to play a part in the ridiculous game of bending to the dunderhead's every whim. "And I am fairly certain that my views on Potter’s exhibitionist behaviour do not qualify as prejudice."

The severe look on Minerva’s face resembles the one she uses to scold misbehaving students, and Severus is transported back to his own school days.

"Severus, you know I value your friendship. But sometimes you can be awfully thickheaded."

Severus makes a show of scraping his chair backwards on the hardwood and rises off his seat.  

"If you are quite done, I would rather spend the rest of my day not being insulted," he says as he looms over Minerva, awaiting her dismissal.

You’re a right prat, you know? Potter's words echo in his brain, and Severus wonders what in the seven hells he’s done to deserve being verbally abused twice over the course of twenty four hours. 

Fools, the lot of them.

"It's been five years since the end of the war, Severus. And your effort and sacrifice will not be forgotten by those who fought for freedom," she says, her expression softer than before. "But no one would think less of you for letting your guard down a little, you know."

The sentiment in her words is so palpable that Severus has no possible response but to storm out of her office, making sure to slam the door behind himself.
 

~~~

 
When Duelling Club starts, Severus makes sure there is no doubt whatsoever that he is attending against his will.

He stands in the backmost corner of the classroom looking completely unapproachable and makes no effort at all to participate, not even to acknowledge Potter's explanation of his attendance in his introductory speech. Whenever he notices the man’s sideways glances at him, Severus pulls up his most detestable sneer. He likes to think he is getting on Potter’s nerves, and is rewarded by the slight wavering of his voice each time.

The Club is clearly popular, with thirty-something students from second to seventh year taking part, and Severus briefly wonders if they had to set up a system to filter sign ups (not that he will ask, he is not that interested). Initially, Severus is fairly sure that Potter will be lost with so many children to instruct, with the added tension of Severus' looming presence in the background. And yet, to his disappointment, the lesson goes on surprisingly smoothly. After a detailed explanation of duelling rules and etiquette, Potter partners students by grade and skill and gives an acceptable demonstration before each exercise, even if he flourishes his wand a little too much for Severus’ taste.  

Severus didn’t think the students would respect him without the element of fear, but he supposes they are too star-stuck to behave badly. They listen raptly whenever he gives instructions, and watch each demonstration intently — the way he furrows his brows and bites his lip in concentration, or the way his body moves gracefully beneath fitted robes, often revealing a tightly clothed thigh through the front opening of the fabric.

Severus would not be looking as intently himself, had he not been put in charge of supervising the ridiculous lessons.

The stars of the class are clearly two of the seventh years that Potter paired together, a quiet fair-haired Hufflepuff boy and a spirited dark-skinned Ravenclaw young woman that Severus remembers well from his own Potion's class. By the end of the first lesson, the couple puts on quite the show once they start performing more advanced spells than the ones Potter had demonstrated earlier, and after the Hufflepuff immobilises his partner with an efficiently casted leg-locker curse, Potter puts an end to it with a vibrant laugh and a pat on the boy's back.

"Let's not get too excited, yeah?" Potter tells them. "That was some impressive spellwork there, but we need to save some for the rest of the year," he chuckles while facing the Hufflepuff seventh year — Jacobs, if Severus recalls correctly — whose eyes sparkle intensely as he stares at Potter, a half smile on his lips.

Potter dismisses the euphoric class after a short speech and vows to return next week with more advanced exercises, and it takes a few minutes for all the students to leave the room. Jacobs, the skilled Hufflepuff, is the last to leave. Before he does, he turns to Potter.

"Nice lesson, Professor."

Potter flushes easily, like he isn't used to the praise. 

"Thank you, Ethan. I look forward to seeing you next week."

The boy's eyes, bright blue and intense, stare fiercely at Potter. He gives him a small smile and a nod of the head.

"I look forward to it myself," he says before leaving the room.

After they are left alone, Severus immediately heads for the door, but Potter’s voice stops him in his tracks. 

"Thank you," he says quietly, just loud enough that Severus can hear him. Severus does not turn as he answers.

"Trust me, Potter, I would not be here had I not been forced to," he says, and leaves without looking back.

Only in his rooms does Severus register that he had not insulted Potter once in the course of the evening, and the realisation makes him swallow a whole glass of firewhiskey before his arse even hits the cushion of the armchair.
 

~~~

 
As the weeks go by, the improvement in Potter’s duelling students is unmistakable, and Severus is increasingly impressed by the man’s teaching methods, loathe as he is to admit it (even if just to himself). The nervousness of his first lessons appears to have dissipated, and Severus finds himself admiring the way the man seems to carry himself around with grace, the often-colourful hem of his robes elegantly swirling around his body, and how he immerses himself in each exercise he instructs.  Sometimes, Potter catches him staring after a particularly demanding demonstration, and Severus keeps his expression blank and impassive each time. It’s not as if the man can be surprised that Severus is watching him, when that’s the reason why he’s here in the first place.

More than once, he has the feeling that Potter means to tell him something after the students leave, but Severus makes a point to leave immediately after, a cold "Good evening, Potter," the only acknowledgment he ever offers during the course of his lessons.

One evening, as another lesson concludes and everybody leaves, one particular student stays behind — Ethan Jacobs, the handsome older Hufflepuff that seems to enjoy impressing Potter with his above-average duelling skills.

"May I have a word, Professor Potter?"

"Of course, Ethan. How may I help you?"

Jacobs glances sideways at Severus but doesn’t dare to address him. He wishes to speak privately with Potter, that much is obvious, but Severus is not one bit inclined to leave the room while the boy is present. Potter doesn’t seem inclined to indulge Jacobs either, and only nods back at him, prompting him to go on. The boy is not pleased, but speaks anyway.

"I was wondering if you’d be willing to tutor me privately, Sir," he says fearlessly. "I'd like to pursue a career in Defence and I know I would benefit greatly from your expertise."

The boy’s eyes stare intently into Potter’s, with an intensity Severus has noticed before. It occurs to him that the proposition goes beyond the usual Saviour complex, and that Jacobs seems genuinely interested, either in being tutored by Potter or in Potter himself. Or, most likely, both.

Potter smiles politely.

"I am honoured by your request, Ethan. But between classes and Duelling Club, I honestly wouldn’t be able to find the time," he says. "Besides, I don't think it would be fair to accept your request without a formal application."

The way Jacobs' face falls is nearly imperceptible, but Severus can see the muscles twitching over the strong angles of his jaw.

"I understand, Professor," he says with a nod.

"Why don't you speak to your Head of House about your career opportunities and the possibility of applying for an internship next year?" Potter asks, undoubtedly trying to soften the blow. Jacobs smiles unconvincingly.

"Yes, Sir. Thank you."

A moment of uncomfortable silence goes by before Potter speaks again.

"Now, make sure to return to your dorm, Ethan. It's only a few minutes until curfew."

"Yes, Sir," the boy answers. His eyes turn to Severus and hold his gaze for a second, hard and challenging, before he turns to leave.

Potter keeps staring contemplatively at the door even after the Hufflepuff is no longer in sight, until he finally speaks.

"How do you deal with this?"

Severus is not sure what Potter means, nor does he wish to discuss anything at all with him.

"Deal with what? Students expecting special treatment? I’m sure you haven't yet forgotten."

"No. I mean, yes —" Potter stutters. "What I meant was… students crushing on you," he finishes as a rosy shade tinges his cheekbones. Bloody hell. Of all the topics to discuss with Potter, this has to be at the bottom of Severus’ list.

"Students aren't foolish enough to crush on me, Potter," he tells him, enunciating the words with as much disgust as he can.

"You can't be serious." Potter looks perplexed. When Severus does not make any effort to acknowledge him, his face opens in a half smile. "Yeah, well. Maybe they're just too afraid to let you know."

Severus feels ready to bark at Potter for the mockery, except the man has diverted his gaze from him and seems to be lost in thought, making Severus hold back his anger.

"I certainly wasn't this bold when I was his age," he continues, and his attention returns to Severus then, eyes soft and smile still on his lips. "And I'm sure you would have hexed the hell out of me, had I tried to pull something like that," he chuckles as his flush intensifies, but he keeps his eyes on Severus, green and radiant. "See you around, Snape." And he walks out the room, leaving Severus wondering what the hell just went on.

Severus is no stranger to infatuated students. But whenever they are dense enough to show the slightest hint of interest, he is sure to crush their egos to the ground in the most brutal way he can. It never lasts long, Severus makes sure of that.

And yet, Potter's words… Had he actually meant to imply —

Surely not. The whole idea of it is preposterous. They had been constantly at each other's throats during Potter's schooldays, and not once had Severus had anything pleasant to say to the brat. If anything, Potter had been on the receiving end of Severus' cruellest behaviour, mitigated only by Albus' intercessions. He couldn't possibly imagine how Potter could have even entertained the idea of any… untoward feelings towards Severus. No matter how harmless they might have been.

Yes, Severus is fairly certain that Potter had been merely reminiscing about his adolescence. His own fixation with a classmate, perhaps even an adult or authority figure. Had that been why he had made the analogy? Whomever it had been, it most certainly hadn't been Severus.

And still, Severus can't shake off the look on Potter's face. The softness in his gaze and hesitance in his smile. Like a fondly remembered memory. One that still makes his cheeks flush and his eyes glimmer.

No, regardless of what he thought he'd seen in the man's face, Potter couldn't possibly be referring to Severus — his old repulsive Death Eater professor. It was ridiculous, not to mention completely nonsensical. It would not agree in the slightest with the man's presumptuous nature.

Severus shuts off his thoughts. It hardly matters whether Potter had harboured a fixation of his own, nor does it matter who the object of such fixation had been. It does not matter how much of his smile seemed to be directed at Severus, or how the green of his eyes seemed to glow in the dim lighting. So, after deciding that none of it matters at all, Severus finally strides out of the room, hoping to completely wipe the memory of Potter's face from his mind with a full glass of whiskey. If not one, then two.

He is strolling through the deserted hallways, still lost in his thoughts, when he  halts a few corridors ahead in surprise at the scene he comes across. 

Potter stands in the middle of the corridor holding his illuminated wand, facing the impressive suit of armour on the left wall, shedding light all over the dark hallway. His face is stern, but he hasn't lost the colour on his cheeks, which have turned an even deeper shade of pink. Severus doesn't immediately understand what he is witnessing, but once he resumes his walking and glances in the direction of Potter’s wand, the scene finally becomes clear.

A couple of students, previously obscured by the armour, come into view. Severus recognises them as a pair of fifth-year boys from Duelling Club, a Gryffindor and a Slytherin who constantly get on Severus' nerves with their constant bickering. Their faces are flushed and their hair tousled, as are their robes, and they stand with their backs pressed to the wall as if they hope to be swallowed by it.

Severus’ insides ignite.

"Mr. Mills, Mr. Davies," he hears Potter say. "I am afraid I can’t let this pass," he continues, and Severus notices the man’s effort to remain impassive despite his own embarrassment.

Fucking amateur.

"That will be one hundred points from each of your houses," Severus drawls in his most icy tone, enjoying the way the adolescents jump at his voice, eyes widening in shock. He decides to twist the knife further. "And a month’s detention of Mr. Filch's choosing." The Slytherin boy glances briefly at his companion, and Severus has the mind to add, "Separately."

"Now, return to your dormitories at once. If I find you take any breaks or detours, I will make sure to add to your punishment for being out after curfew," he finishes.

Too frightened to say a word, the boys glance briefly in Potter's direction before hurrying down the corridor, heads down in humiliation.

Potter waits a few seconds until their footsteps are no longer heard to turn to Severus. The green in his eyes is dark and gleaming, and his face is turned into a scowl. He looks angry, and something inside Severus stirs at the image.

"What the fuck was that about, Snape?" he asks.

"They were breaking the school's rules, Potter," Severus sneers. "Rules you are certainly not a stranger to."

"I was handling it," he says through clenched teeth.

"You were blushing almost as much as they were. If that’s your definition of handling it, you have much growing up to do."

Potter walks closer to Severus, stopping right in front of him, and his anger is almost palpable.

"You discredited me," he hisses.

"Perhaps you should… handle it better next time, then," Severus responds coldly, sarcasm marking his words.

A thrill travels through Severus as he faces Potter’s wrath, face flushed and teeth showing through plump lips. And those eyes, piercing green, burning with rage as they look right into him.

"And take a hundred points and a month’s detention for snogging after curfew? You’re fucking insane, Snape."

Severus scowls at him, unbothered by the accusation.

"I am sure they will think twice before attempting to do it again," he justifies himself.

"The question is," Potter keeps going, his voice growing low. "Would you have given such a harsh punishment if it was a straight couple, Snape? Does it really bother you that much?"

Bloody Harry Potter and his mighty queerness, he won’t stop before he turns the whole world into his personal playground. Severus sneers back at him.

"What bothers me, Potter, is people having no respect for rules or decorum."

Potter’s response takes a moment to come, and he stares heatedly at Severus until he speaks.

"Do not do this to me again, Snape," he threatens, and walks away into the dark corridor.
 

~~~

 
At seventeen years old, Severus had barely escaped being caught with his pants down after curfew.

On the way to the dungeons, clothes rumpled and breathing rapid, Regulus had snatched his arm to halt him just before they reached the corridor that led to the Slytherin dormitories.

"Don’t come for me again, yeah?"

Severus hadn’t immediately taken it seriously; he had heard Regulus voice variations of we shouldn’t be doing this numerous times before.

"It’s fine, Reg," he had reassured him. "We’ll be more careful next time."

"That’s what I'm trying to tell you, there will be no next time," Regulus had told him. "I can’t afford to get caught, Severus."

"Am I that much of a stain to your reputation?" Severus had sneered.

"You know my family would kick me out if they so much as suspected it."

"And since when do you care what your family thinks of you?" Severus had asked.

"Look, Severus. It’s over, okay?"

And Regulus had said it so indifferently, as if it didn’t even deserve a second thought, that something in Severus’ chest had broken at the words.

"It’s been months, Regulus. And this is the only time we’ve been close to getting caught. Are you really going to end it over this?" Severus had tried to reason with him, keeping his tone neutral despite the cold dread that had started to spread through his insides.

Regulus had scowled back at him.

"What exactly did you think would happen?" he had asked. "Don’t pretend like there’s a future for this…. thing. You're leaving at the end of the year. And even if you weren’t, you know as well as I do that this was just for fun."

In that moment, Severus had felt his heart shatter. And then Regulus had landed the final blow.

"And it’s not like we actually care for each other."

Dread turned into anger, and Severus had spat the next words out.

"Fuck you, Reg." And he had walked ahead, into his dormitory and into his bed.

He hadn’t slept at all that night, and in the solitude of his own thoughts he vowed not to let anyone make a fool of him ever again.
 

~~~

 
It’s late November and the weather has started to chill considerably.

Harry Potter has the grace to attend the next staff meeting in robes, and Severus is half annoyed that he can’t criticise the idiot’s Muggle fashion choices of the day. The meeting goes on smoothly until the very end, when Potter asks for everyone’s attention, again.

"If I may, I have a new idea I’d like to bring up for consideration."

Severus watches irritably as his colleagues turn their heads in Potter's direction. The imbecile has been teaching for less than three months, and yet everyone seems completely unperturbed by the fact that has something new to suggest at every staff meeting.

"I’d like to organise a Christmas event," Potter proudly says.

Severus rolls his eyes, and hopes that Potter notices.

"I think the kids need some distraction from their course work, you know? I say we turn the end of term feast into a proper event with music and dancing," Potter speaks excitedly. "I know the students would appreciate the opportunity to socialise with the other houses, perhaps even establish new friendships and connections."

Severus snorts loudly. Minerva stares at him, unimpressed.

"Is there anything you would like to say, Severus?"

"Are we going to keep pretending that this is perfectly normal?" he gestures at Potter’s figure.

"I’m not sure I know what you mean, Severus," the Headmistress answers.

"Ever since Potter returned to Hogwarts, the students seem to be in a constant state of distraction," Severus clarifies. "Surely you don’t think that it would be a good idea to encourage them?"

"Actually," Potter intercedes, gritting his teeth. "It is exactly the time to encourage them to find themselves and pursue new experiences safely. I don’t understand why you would be so opposed to that."

Severus senses an icy sneer appear on his face, and he can feel Potter steeling himself for the brutal answer he knows will come.

"School is a place for learning, Potter. For academic achievements, if you may. It is hardly our fault that you seem to be overcompensating for the lack of teenage experiences by flaunting your extravagance in front of the student body and encouraging them to act similarly."

Triumph washes through Severus at Potter’s expression — his lips thin and the familiar flush of skin spreads from his neck to his cheeks. And the eyes, always his most distinct feature, stare intensely at him behind narrowed lids, revealing more than anger — hurt.

"Severus," Minerva warns. "Do mind your tone."

Collective blindness, most definitely. Severus has had enough.  

"Feel free to organise whatever events you deem appropriate, Headmistress," he says. "Kindly leave me out if it."

And he stands, leaving the room without giving Minerva a chance for a comeback.  
 

~~~

 
Once in his rooms, Severus downs two fingers of Ogden’s in one go, before he refills the glass and sinks into his armchair.

Hogwarts had been a lonely place to grow up in.

Lily had been his lifeline, for a while. He remembers being thirteen, on a walk by the lake on a sunny autumn afternoon, when she had nervously asked him if he liked boys. Severus had reacted badly to the accusation.

"It’s okay if you do, you know," she had quietly said.

"Well, I don’t," he had replied harshly, and they had never spoken of it again.

He thinks of Lily and of what she would think of him now, old and resentful, and irate at a world he does not recognise as his own. And he laughs bitterly at the irony of Lily, the only person to ever tell him it would be okay if he did (at the innocent age of thirteen, no less), having had a son that seemed to think that such a thing was okay, too. 

Precious Potter, who, in addition to the whole world's acceptance of his ways, would also undoubtedly have his own mother’s support and unconditional love, when Severus would have been met with nothing but contempt and disgust from parents, colleagues and mentors. Bloody Potter, who gets a green pass for every fucking thing he does, when Severus certainly wouldn’t.

Throughout his youth, Severus had never considered that there could be an alternative to burying those feelings deep in the darkness of his soul. The last time he had known affection was at the hands of his then sixteen-year-old lover. There had been times when he’d let himself fantasise about a future with Regulus. A future where they would have been roommates, living unashamedly under the same roof, and where they would have kept a second bedroom just for appearances' sake. It was a foolish dream to have, but Severus had been seventeen and he had fancied himself in love. And then his love had been crushed, along with the fantasy, and the hope that he could ever have anything that might resemble a normal relationship.

He has had liaisons, of course. They are not frequent, but they happen on occasion, most of them fleeting connections over the course of the years. More often than not, they are isolated occurrences restricted to the restroom of a grungy bar or the bedroom of a low-grade inn. Quick, dirty and efficient.

He hates them, hates how they make him feel.

It isn't exactly that Severus is ashamed of his inclinations. But if Severus has learned anything throughout his life, it is that nothing good could possibly come from having his preferences publicly known. He had known it at the hands of his spiteful father before he even set foot in Hogwarts, before he was old enough to understand what was expected of him as a boy. He had attested it as a teenager, when he'd been repeatedly called a faggot or when he'd earn suspicious looks and disgusted scowls whenever he was seen standing one step too close to Regulus, eventually causing them to cease their public meetings altogether. Lastly, he'd known it during the war, when sex became a weapon that Severus had witnessed being used in ways he did not care to remember. 

Severus has suffered enough hardship in his life. Even after the fall of the Dark Lord, his reprieve had not been without consequence. Despite the recognition of his role in the end of the war, his crimes would never be forgotten, and bringing his own weaknesses to the spotlight would certainly not play in his favour. What Severus wants is a peaceful and quiet life — and, unfortunately, that will not happen unless he keeps his connections clandestine. 

And here comes Potter, Saviour of the Wizarding World and poster boy of queerness, all charming smiles and impeccably tailored clothes, and Severus hates him with every fibre of his being.

Hates him for being so unapologetic, so bold. Hates him for daring to take what he wants. Hates him for being cherished and applauded for his audacity, when Severus has known nothing but malice and disdain his entire life.

He hates Potter for getting under his skin. And, Severus realises as he swallows the last drop on his second glass, hates him most of all because he is jealous of him.

He is in the process of refilling his third glass when he hears a firm knock.

With all the alcohol flowing in his veins, he is not surprised to see Potter on the other side of the door. The universe is often cruel that way.

"You are not welcome, Potter," he says, and tries to shut the door in the man’s face, only to have it stopped by Potter’s hand.

"Would you let me come in for just a minute?"

And it must be the two glasses of whiskey getting to his tired brain because he sighs and holds the door open, letting Potter inside.

He returns to his tumbler and sips on the golden liquid. Whatever Potter has to say, he will surely tolerate it better with more alcohol in his bloodstream.

"Out with it," he prompts, voice dragging more than he expects.

Potter eyes the half empty bottle on top of the cupboard and looks back at him nervously.  

"I know you’re not happy that I’m here," he starts. "Look, just let me say my piece and then I'll leave, okay?"

Severus only grunts in reply, and sips at his drink. Potter exhales and stands still for a few seconds, as if he is gathering his courage.  He doesn't look at Severus when he starts talking.

"For the first few years after the war, I was a mess. Things with Ginny fell apart, and at first I couldn’t quite understand why," he says. "When I finally came to terms with the fact that I liked men, I wanted nothing more than to keep it to myself."

It figures that Potter came all the way to Severus’ rooms to talk about himself and the struggles of a privileged boy hero. Another display of self-pity, most likely.

"I ventured to dodgy bars, mostly Muggle but not always. Sometimes I drank a lot. Sometimes I did… other things," he finishes quietly.

Severus vaguely wonders what things Potter has done, but he knows better than to ask.

"Eventually, I couldn't keep it from my best friends. And I was scared that they wouldn’t be happy about it, but it turns out the only things they weren’t happy about were the heavy drinking and bedding of strangers that made me feel worse in the morning than I had felt the day before."

He lets out a heavy sigh.

"As time went by, I got a bit… careless. A bloke I met on a particularly bad night went running to the Prophet for his moment of fame," he says. "When they came to me for comment, I panicked."

The tension is evident on Potter's features. Severus can't begin to imagine why in the world the man is telling him all these things, and he’d really rather he didn’t. He can deal with cocky Potter. He can deal with angry Potter (and he is finding he quite enjoys provoking the latter). But this Potter… the one he'd caught a glimpse of on the day he came to his office to ask for help, or when he seemed to hint at his adolescent infatuations. Open and unguarded. Confiding in him. It throws Severus off, makes his skin itch uncomfortably. He wants to tell Potter to stop, to leave, to let Severus finish his third glass in peace while he fuels the hatred for the man with his own grievous memories.

Potter seems oblivious to Severus’ inner musings, and eventually carries on with his speech.

"That day, I had a long cry on Hermione's shoulder. She offered me comfort, but also advice," he recalls. "That same night, I called the Prophet and offered them a deal."

For the first time since he started talking, Potter looks directly at Severus.

"They were going to have their big special either way, Snape. I just made sure they did it on my terms."

Potter’s eyes are bright and intense and it takes Severus a moment to understand what exactly the man is trying to tell him. 

"It was the single most frightening thing I’ve done in my life," he says. "One particular Dark Lord excluded," he finishes with a slight grin, before his expression turns thoughtful.

"I was terrified the first few months. I wasn’t prepared for it. I thought I was used to getting attention from the press, but this was wild and it was scary. I was having panic attacks every other day," he confesses.

"And then the buzz started to subside until it became mindless gossip. And when I stopped being so bloody scared it finally dawned on me that I could go out and speak in public and act the way I wanted and dress the way I wanted without this shadow constantly looming over me. Telling me to be careful, worrying that I reveal too much," the words keep coming out of Potter’s mouth effortlessly, like they’ve been stuck in his throat for years.

"It kind of gave me a purpose, you know? Something I could focus on instead of trying to forget who I was every single night. And it feels so fucking liberating, Snape."

Potter’s entire body seems to vibrate with emotion, his eyes wild and piercing through Severus’ own.

"I know people still talk, and the press will always have a field day whenever they find a new piece of gossip," he goes on. "But that’s the thing, isn’t it? They will always talk. I don’t appreciate having my personal life on the front page of the Prophet and I would rather keep some things private. But I’m grateful that I got to come out, because now I get to be myself."

Severus is having a hard time keeping up with the words, and his mind fights through the alcohol to filter what his instinct tells him is important information. Is this an elaborate stunt, meant to impress people less prone to his effervescent persona? Or, Severus’ addled brain wonders, is this a whole different Potter, passionate and approachable and real? How many Potters are there behind those endless pools of blazing green?

"And I didn't really know it at the time," he continues, interrupting Severus’ train of thought. "But I came to realise how much of an opportunity this is to make a difference. You know, just the other day a twelve year old came up to me in the middle of Diagon Alley and told me how I gave them the courage to come out to their parents. And I swear I teared up at this little kid, Snape. I grew up thinking I was a freak, and until very recently I thought I might have to hide this part of me for my entire life. So if I change even one kid's life, Snape… it will be worth it," he says fervently, eyes gleaming.

"So I'm sorry that you feel uncomfortable around me and my big queer self, and I’m sorry if me being unapologetic about it rubs you the wrong way, but I swear I am not trying to piss you off on purpose."

Potter stares at him and Severus wonders if he is waiting for him to say something. After a minute, Potter sighs tiredly and resumes his talking, although his voice is quieter. 

"I hate it, you know. This," he gestures between them. "Because while I learned to filter people’s opinions and not give a fuck about those who feel offended by me, I found that I actually care about what you think. I know I shouldn’t but, well, I do. As much of a git that I know you are, I suppose I didn't expect you to be so prejudiced about someone being different. I thought you might… understand. You know, being a bit of an outcast yourself," he smirks. "And call me an idiot, but I actually hoped that someday we would be able to get over our past animosities."

There is a melancholy to him that only accentuates as he speaks the last sentence. Severus can do nothing but stare back in silence, the half full glass in his hand long forgotten. Potter shifts his feet nervously, apprehension again unfolding in his features.

"So I’ll just try to stay out of your way, yeah?" he announces as he fidgets with his hands. "And I ask that you try to be respectful, even if you hate me even more for being openly gay. You know, keep insulting me the same as before, just don’t be too awful about it," he says, trying for a smile, and averts his eyes as if he suddenly finds it difficult to hold Severus’ gaze.

Severus’ mind races, thoughts hazy, and surely he’s had too much to drink because he is finding it increasingly difficult to make sense of Potter. The man gives him one last glance before he turns and walks in the direction of the door.

"I don’t hate you, you dimwit," Severus says quietly, before he can stop himself.

Potter halts and turns back, a look of surprise on his face, and after a second his expression relaxes into a small smile.

"Well, you could definitely fool me," he tells him, before turning again and walking out the room.
 

~~~

 
Things are not quite the same after that day.

For one, for all the resentment he may feel towards the man, Severus can't bring himself to hate him the same as before. Sure, he is still the obnoxious brat he has always been, and he hasn’t remotely improved his garish sense of fashion, but for some reason Severus isn't so quick to see the arrogance behind his actions now. More than once, he finds himself staring at Potter and trying to come to terms with the fact that this impertinent, buoyant man is the same person that spoke to Severus so openly, laying out his vulnerabilities without fear of being ridiculed. Which, had Severus not had one drink too many, would have been a distinct possibility. 

But more than that, Potter himself seems to be acting differently, even if it’s not completely obvious. His demonstrations during Duelling Club lack his usual exuberance, and the dramatic swirl of his robes goes down a notch. Moreover, despite his ever-sociable personality, his presence in the Great Hall isn’t as effervescent as it once was, and Severus finds himself awaiting the booming laughs that used to pierce through his ears and aggravate him to no end. And whenever they cross paths in the hallways, Potter glances very briefly at Severus just before the confidence of his strut appears to falter. On a few occasions throughout the day, the man catches Severus staring at him and their eyes lock for a second before Severus inevitably averts his gaze. Potter's expression is entirely unreadable every time. 

All in all, for lack of better wording, Potter seems to have lost his spark.

Severus finds it disconcerting.

As weeks go by and Christmas approaches, Potter's duelling students grow more and more proficient, their enthusiasm rising each lesson, and Severus is endlessly irritated that he can't even fault Potter's teaching skills. Severus stands in his usual corner, silently watching, and often has to remind himself to maintain an annoyed front and to keep from reaching out to the nearest student to correct a pose or a flick of the wrist.

Jacobs the Hufflepuff and Turner the Ravenclaw are clearly ahead of the rest of the group, surpassing even the other seventh-years. Whenever Potter allows the class to duel freely for the final moments of the lesson, it becomes customary that after a few minutes all the other students gather to watch the two of them have a go at each other. Despite his muscular build, the Hufflepuff shows impressive agility and often surpasses Turner, even if she never goes down without a fight.

The last lesson before Christmas finally comes, and once more the pair puts on a show. After an impressive display of magic from both parts, it finally comes to an end once Jacobs stands leaning over the Ravenclaw, wand in hand and a triumphant look on his face. Both seventh-years breathe rapidly from the effort as the rest of the class claps and cheers. Jacobs looks at Potter with a smirk on his face and then returns his attention to his fellow student, stretching his hand to help her off the floor.

"That was impressive, you two!" Potter congratulates them, clapping along with the crowd.

Jacobs looks exceedingly pleased with himself when he returns his gaze to Potter, and Severus can see the fiery intensity in his eyes as he speaks.

"Will you allow me to challenge you for a duel, Professor?"

The commotion comes to a halt as everyone’s attention turns to Potter. Severus studies the Hufflepuff’s face instead, sparkling blue eyes and teasing smirk, his expression relentless — and completely transparent. Surely Potter must see the implication behind the challenge.

"I’m afraid I can't keep you for longer today," he says, his smile polite but not quite reaching his eyes. "We'll consider that some other time, perhaps."

Jacobs looks unperturbed, his eyes still piercing through Potter.

"But before you go," Potter tells them, "let me tell you how proud I am of you all. You've worked hard and it is clear how much you've improved over the course of only two months."

The group’s delight at the praise is evident, their faces a range of foolish smiles and smitten looks. Not for the first time, Severus admires how the man can allow the children so much liberty in the classroom and still hold their attention and respect. He suddenly feels a profound curiosity to know how Potter directs his Defence class, and he is forced to admit that even if the man’s ability to teach benefits greatly from his students’ irrational adoration, he is proving to be an adequate educator so far.

"I have cancelled next week's lesson so that we can all have fun at the Christmas Dance," he tells them. "We'll resume the lessons in January."

The students talk excitedly amongst themselves as they leave the classroom. Severus' eyes remain on Jacobs, who once again stays behind and waits until his classmates leave to speak to Potter.

"Professor Potter," he says. "May I meet you at your office on Monday to discuss the final details of the Christmas Dance?"

"Of course, Ethan," Potter answers. "I appreciate all the help from the Head Boys and Girls to organise the event."

The boy's eyes light up further at Potter's words, and Severus wonders how in Merlin's name Potter thinks it is a good idea to encourage the boy to come to his office to discuss the Christmas Dance. Alone. The imbecile surely enjoys the attention.

Jacobs glances coldly in Severus’ direction before finally turning to leave the room. And rather than leaving right after him, Severus faces Potter instead.

"So," he starts, feeling his features turn into a malicious sneer. "You managed to bend the teacher’s board to your will. There really is nothing people won’t do for the great Harry Potter."

He half expects Potter to get angry. Half hopes to watch the familiar rush of blood rise to the man’s cheeks and see the fire return to the blazing green of his eyes.

Instead, Potter gives him a small smile, and his eyes are soft and playful as he answers.

"You know me, always ready to use my charm for a noble cause."

Severus is thrown off by the unexpected humorous reply. 

"Will you be there?" Potter asks him, and he looks… expectant.

"I can think of a dozen better ways to spend the evening," he answers drily.

"I’m sure you do," he tells Severus, and keeps staring at him until his face turns into a smirk and he speaks again. "It will be fun."

A feeling of irritation tugs at Severus’ insides, and he hopes to convey his disdain into his words.

"I don't do fun."

Potter chuckles, a light bustling sound. It transports Severus to the evening of the man’s heartfelt disclosure.

"Yeah, well," Potter says, still smiling. "Maybe you should try it some time."

It vaguely occurs to him that he should be annoyed at Potter’s remark, and that the man’s cheek deserves a proper comeback. What comes out of his mouth is nothing of the sort.

"You should keep your guard up with that Jacobs boy," Severus warns him. "He seems… determined. Unless, that is, you wish to encourage him."

"Merlin, no," Potter laughs. "Yeah. I will. Thank you for the warning."

The man’s smile doesn’t falter, and again Severus feels the uncomfortable itch crawling across his skin at this unfamiliar facet of Potter. And suddenly he wants nothing more than to be as far from him as he possibly can.

"Good evening, Potter." And he flees without giving the man a chance to say anything else.
 

~~~

 
The last week of classes before Christmas is an absolute nightmare.

The amount of house points Severus deducts for inattention and overall misbehaviour is nearly unprecedented, but not even his austerity is capable of dissipating the fervent enthusiasm that has taken over the student body. To make matters worse, his fellow colleagues seem unperturbed by it all — in fact, they seem to find the students’ excited behaviour a source of amusement. Potter, like the dunderhead he is, is all but swallowed by the fever and begins wearing decorated Christmas-themed robes, the worst of which involve a strand of miniscule festive light bulbs attached to the fabric that twinkle ceaselessly, threatening to cause a migraine in Severus’ weary brain. 

Although many students seem perfectly content to attend Friday’s event in the company of their usual groups, some clearly yearn for the opportunity to make sentimental declarations of romantic interest. Last minute invitations for attending in pairs are plentiful in the common areas of the castle, and Severus feels a wave of nausea at each one he witnesses. By overhearing the miscreants’ maddening chatter, he also learns that there will be live music, an all-witch band by the name of Spellbound, the songs of which Severus has come to know just by listening to the children’s off-tune singing during class breaks.

When the day before Christmas break finally arrives, Severus’ mood is so dreadful that he feels ready to yell at anyone who dares to even mention Potter’s ridiculous event. His refusal to attend is so irrevocable that not even Minerva can persuade him, and the lethal glare Severus sends her way when she broaches the subject is enough to make her drop the matter altogether.

He does not set foot in the Great Hall all evening and locks himself in his rooms, grateful that the dungeons are far enough that he doesn’t need silencing spells to keep the music from penetrating his walls. At exactly six o’clock, a plate of roast turkey sandwiches appears unprompted on the small table of his front room. Severus ignores it in favour of opening a brand new bottle of Ogden’s a few hours later, and eventually settles in his armchair with a copy of Rare Potions and Spells from Ancient Asia, an uncommon tome he has received as a gift from Minerva on his last birthday.

Despite the comfortable set up, concentration doesn't come easy, and after little more than an hour Severus has barely read three pages, one of which mostly covered by a large diagram. He finally decides to set the book aside and concentrate on the tumbler that sits nearly full on the side table next to him. His mind shifts to the event of the night and the commotion that it is surely raging outside the walls of his chambers. Severus cringes imagining the hoard of hormone-ridden adolescents finding themselves and pursuing new experiences safely, as Potter had so eloquently worded it.

Severus had himself pursued new experiences in his youth, and he hadn’t needed ridiculous school dances or pompous self-centred role models, had he? Perhaps he would not exactly describe his encounters as safe, but he was certain that every adversity had helped build his character. His sharp, acerbic, impenetrable character.

As he finishes his drink and refills his glass with two fingers’ worth of golden liquid, he wonders how his life might have played out had his circumstances been different. He imagines growing up in today’s Hogwarts and feeling assured that he would not be beaten or publicly humiliated over his unorthodox affairs (not on school grounds, at least). He thinks back to the night of his falling out with Regulus, and can’t help but wonder how much of their hurt and shame could have been spared. Severus tries to envision this alternative existence — would he have been happier? Less bitter? Would he have made better decisions?

It would be easy to attribute all his faults and misgivings to the life-long repression of his inclinations, but Severus is not arrogant enough to attempt to excuse the abysmal decisions of his past.  Nevertheless, is it possible that it would have made Severus feel less alone in the world? He hasn’t allowed himself to think about it until now, but as the contents of his second glass disappear and the introspective qualities of the liquor take effect, he can’t keep the thoughts from surfacing in his mind.

Consider the Jacobs boy, for instance. Seventeen years old and worlds away from Severus at his age. Handsome and self-assured in a way that only adds to his appeal, reserved and discreet. Except when he fixates on Potter, like a hawk circling his prey. Bold and unashamed.

Potter, who despite the lack of direct encouragement, has yet (to Severus' knowledge) to put an end to the boy's shameless advances. But then, does Potter not invite gossip and attention? Despite his initial reluctance to be forthright about his lifestyle, he now seems willing to make use of everything he can to attract interest. What else would be the purpose of his flamboyant attitude and ostentatious clothing?

Even so, Jacobs is Potter's student. Does the idiot not understand how off limits such a liaison would be? More than that, the boy has yet to reach adulthood, despite his broad shoulders and strong build. And yet, Severus thinks, no more than five years separate them in age. The Jacobs boy seems proficient and mature, and will be of age soon enough. And Potter has proved time and time again that he can be exceedingly juvenile.

Besides, Severus ponders as he sips on the contents of his third glass, in little more than six months the school year will be over and the Hufflepuff will conclude his studies. Will the idiot succumb to him then? Severus can imagine them so clearly — the brazen, infuriating Boy Saviour and his quick-witted, level-headed Hufflepuff lover, what a charming couple they would make. Large, rough hands groping Potter all over the first page of the Prophet.

Severus’ guts burn with something entirely unrelated to the unreasonable amount of alcohol he has ingested.

And as he finishes his third glass and the clock chimes eleven — the exact time of today's extended curfew, Severus makes a decision. He stands, steadying himself with a hand on the back of his armchair, and walks out the door with a slightly unsteady step.

Patrolling the hallways only minutes past curfew after a festive gathering is a sure way to come across high-spirited miscreants he can punish and torment. He suddenly feels a deep craving to surprise lovestruck couples in their fervent trysts, to blatantly humiliate them and watch their faces crumble in horror. More than that, he hopes to come across Potter so that he can spit vicious insults at him and ensure he knows just what Severus thinks of him and his disreputable attitude. Either way, he hopes to unleash the anger that threatens to combust in his guts.

Severus gets his wish, and yet not quite.

He finds Potter in a dark hallway as he approaches the Great Hall, except he is not alone — the tenacious Hufflepuff keeps him company.

When he spots them, they stand near the corridor’s wall with too little distance between them, and Potter’s hand touches Jacobs’ chest. The image burns through Severus’ hazy brain and fuels his rage further.

"You should get back to your dorm, Ethan. Now," Potter’s tone is assertive as he speaks, but Severus barely lets him finish before his own icy voice creeps through the corridor. 

"Mr. Jacobs," he snarls, causing the boy to jump and take a step backwards. "Fifty points from Hufflepuff for being out after curfew."

Jacobs’ eyes find Severus and surprise turns to anger in less than a second.

"Go," Severus orders. For a second he thinks the boy will react, judging by the way his jaw clenches vigorously and his heated gaze penetrates Severus, but he seems to collect himself and takes one last look at Potter before he storms off into the darkness of the hallway.

Potter waits until the footsteps are no longer heard to face Severus.

"I told you not to do that again."

The green of his eyes glimmers furiously in the dark of the night, and it instantly causes a wave of triumph to wash over Severus’ body.

"And what would have happened had I not been here, Potter?" he snarls.

"Nothing would have happened," he retorts angrily. "I would have handled it on my own."

Severus abandons his peripheral position to walk towards the centre of the corridor, where Potter stands facing him. As he approaches the man, he notices he is not wearing robes but opted for Muggle clothes once again. Except this time he is wearing a formal burgundy suit, complete with a waistcoat of the same fabric and a golden-yellow bow tie around his neck. The outfit hugs his slim figure in a  way that Severus would describe as… appealing, were it not for the blatant off-putting reference to the Gryffindor house colours.

No wonder the foolhardy Hufflepuff had felt compelled to accost him. 

"Are you so attention-starved that you would consider getting involved with a student?" Severus scoffs in disdain as he nears Potter by the wall.

"What? No!" he roars in indignation.

"Isn’t that the purpose of your garish clothing and theatrical mannerisms?"

As he inspects the man, he realises Potter has also trimmed his hair for the occasion, his side cut closely shaven and the styled top featuring a single flawless spiral of curls falling onto the uppermost part of his forehead. The red of his cheeks spreads to his perfectly shaped ears and his eyes gleam with rage.

"Don’t talk to me like that."

"Like what, Potter?" Severus looms over him, feeling the familiar excitement of getting under Potter’s skin. "Like you’re a conceited fool that gets off on the attention of everyone around you?"

And suddenly the air is forced out of Severus' lungs as Potter grabs the front of his robes and turns them on the spot, pushing Severus' back right against the wall. 

"Why do you even fucking care so much?" he asks, his voice a hiss and his eyes wild, boring into Severus.

"He is a child, Potter," Severus tells him scornfully, and lets a sneer creep on his face as he speaks. "Is that the best you can do, or are you really that desperate?"

Potter's grip on him doesn't falter, and he holds Severus' gaze all the while.

"I don’t like what you are insinuating. Nothing has happened and nothing will. And I'm tired of you constantly provoking me," he spits, his voice lowering dangerously. "I need you out of my way and out of my head, Snape. Or I am going to start thinking that there is something you want from me."

Severus' skin prickles with the intensity of Potter's rage, and he is startled by the way his whole body appears to vibrate under the man's grip. And as he stares at the man he suddenly feels it very clearly — the spark he longed to see back in Potter.

"Well, it’s painfully clear what you want, isn’t it?" Severus lets the provocation slip off his lips before his mind can process it. "Or is a grown man more than you can handle?"

Potter's face comes even closer, their noses almost touching. Severus' gaze drops to the man's lips as they move, red and plump, spitting each word through gritted teeth.

"Back. Off."

The thrill he feels at getting a rise out of Potter is exhilarating, it keeps every cell of his body on edge. He wants more of it, wants to bring Potter to the limit, to watch the fervour in those eyes and the rise of colour to those cheeks.

Except Potter stands right there and he is so close, too close, pushing Severus firmly against the wall, and it's not supposed to feel this good. Because the whole surface of Severus' body is ablaze, and he wants to blame it on the whiskey, yet the fire that emanates from Potter is so blatant and inescapable that it physically burns his skin, it envelops his senses and dazes his addled brain further. In the back of his mind alarm bells are chiming as he grows acutely aware of Potter's heat seeping through him and pooling around his groin, slowly and steadily like sizzling lava. There is a sliver of consciousness telling him he should leave, a faint spark of self-preservation numbed by the absurd amount of alcohol in his bloodstream. Severus' heart races and he blames it on the proximity of another body close to his, nevermind that it's Potter looming over him, electrifying and feverish, and that Severus can't help wanting more.

"Or else?"

Potter responds by shifting his body even closer and trapping Severus against the wall with the pressure of his hips, and brings his head to Severus' side, lips ghosting over his ear as he whispers.

"You'll know." And he lets his mouth steer a bit lower, just below his earlobe and not far from Nagini's near-fatal bite wound, and viciously sinks his teeth into the sensitive skin of Severus' neck.

The sensation is like electricity jolting through Severus’ spine. He hisses and his body jerks of its own accord, and in that precise moment Potter’s hips press firmly into Severus, crushing his body further against the wall and causing Severus’ growing erection to nudge at Potter’s hipbone. The unexpected surge of pleasure he feels at the friction startles him and forces a quiet gasp from his throat.

For a second the world is still, and Severus stands, unmoving, the proof of his arousal undeniably exposed. And suddenly Potter seems to catch on and stumbles backwards as if scalded, freeing Severus from his hold. His face is flushed and his eyes are wide as he stares at Severus, lips parted in apparent confusion.

Severus wills the guilt off his face and stares back as impassively as he can manage. He will not let Potter take the upper hand, however intoxicated he may be. The idiot had lashed out like the irrational fool he was, and all but assaulted him. Every other detail is inconsequential. Even if Severus' erection still strains against the fabric of his trousers.

"Snape," Potter starts, voice unsure, but seems at a loss as to what to say.

Severus presents Potter with his most vicious sneer.

"Thank you for proving my point so blatantly," he says, and storms off, leaving behind an open-mouthed Potter.
 

~~~

 
In his rooms, Severus paces back and forth on the carpeted floor. Twice he reaches for the bottle of Ogden's still on top of the cabinet, and twice he puts it back down. The hammering of his heart has slowed somewhat now that finds himself secured behind closed doors, but still resonates in his ears from the proximity of the encounter. He curses himself and his state of inebriation for letting his guard down so carelessly. How reckless he had been to allow himself to be trapped by the infernal Gryffindor.

And yet how glorious had it been to see Potter as he should be, vibrant and cocky and pressed right against Severus' crotch?

Surely one more drink can't hurt. Perhaps it will put him right out of consciousness — and wouldn't that be an improvement over his current condition?

As he stands by his cabinet pondering whether or not he should pour another glass, a loud knock echoes in the room, making Severus wince. He should be so lucky as to be left alone, but by now he has lost all hope that Potter will stop harassing him. Maybe it is the universe's way of punishing him for all his sins, Severus drunkenly considers.

"You need to let me in," Potter demands as Severus opens the door, his jaw clenched in determination. 

"No," Severus responds dryly, blocking the entry and making no move to let the man inside.

"Yes," Potter says back, and takes advantage of Severus' slow reflexes to unceremoniously push him aside and walk past him, as if he has already decided that he would not be denied entry. A wave of his hand wandlessly shuts the door with a bang, the audacity of the gesture infuriating Severus further.

"We need to talk," he says, once more as if he won't take no for an answer. Well, Severus will be damned before he starts taking orders from Harry bloody Potter.

"I have no interest in talking to you," he drawls. "Kindly fuck off."

"Merlin, Snape," Potter stares at him with an exasperated look on his face, until he lets out a long sigh and continues his babbling. "Okay, look. I’ll start, yeah? I apologise for earlier. I was way out of line and I shouldn’t have… forced myself on you."

Severus scoffs dramatically. Potter doesn't look impressed.

"But seriously, what the fuck, Snape?"

Severus stares at him blankly. He vaguely wonders if the idiot will tire himself and eventually walk out the door if he ignores him for long enough.

"You've been awful to me ever since I set foot here."

The statement is so obvious that Severus finds himself responding despite his previous resolution.

"What else would you expect, Potter?"

The man raises his shoulders and opens his arms with his palms up in an exaggerated shrug.

"That you’d be civil, maybe?"

"Tell me, when have we ever been civil?" Severus asks him in return, but Potter ignores the question. 

"And at worst, that you could care less about the fact that I am gay."

Severus sneers at him, his tone full of disdain as he speaks.

"I don’t give a rat’s arse that you prefer the company of men, Potter."

Potter's eyes roll theatrically to the back of his skull before returning to Severus.

"What the fuck is your problem, then?"

"My problem," Severus hisses at him, "is your utter lack of discretion, you imbecile. My problem is having to witness you strut obscenely around the castle, flaunting yourself for all the students to see. Taking advantage of your fame and getting off on the attention."

Potter's face steels at Severus' words, as if he's restraining himself from showing just how much the accusations affect him.

"What's worse," Severus continues, "encouraging children who will have it much harder on themselves than you do."

"Bullshit," Potter cuts him off and walks towards him, voice dropping as he speaks. "Don’t pretend like nothing happened back in the hallway, Snape. What's this really about?"

Severus has to restrain himself from backing away as Potter approaches him, but fortunately the man stops at a few steps' distance.

"It's about you being a privileged little shit that can afford to act however he pleases and still have the world bow at his feet," he says furiously, his intoxicated brain spitting out unfiltered words. "You have no idea what it's like to grow up as a poof when you're not lucky enough to be Harry fucking Potter, do you?"

Potter's eyes widen stupidly, their green a stark contrast to the satiny dark red of his suit.

"Is that really how you see it?" He asks, voice quieter, having lost the angry tone from before. Severus' rancour, however, isn't growing any smaller and there is no stopping the rush of words that viciously come out of his mouth.

"What I see, Potter, is someone who was likely not beaten as a five-year-old for acting effeminate, without even knowing what that meant," he says to a surprised-looking Potter. "I see someone who never knew what it was like to have everyone hate him for being different." he tells him. "Or who never had to experience the object of his teenage affection turn away for fear of being caught."

Potter's expression has transformed into something different and confusing. He no longer looks surprised; his lips are tight and there is a slight glow to his gaze. Severus ignores it and instead lowers his voice dangerously as he keeps talking. 

"What I see, Potter, is a man fortunate enough not to know what it's like having to hide the littlest hint of his inclinations for fear of what the Dark Lord would fancy doing with that information."

Potter briefly averts his eyes from Severus and looks down at his feet, as if suddenly reminded that he was not the only one to have made sacrifices during the war.

"Has it ever occurred to you, Potter, that the only reason people accept your deviant lifestyle is because they worship the ground you walk on?" Severus finally asks, his frustration pouring into the question.

"Actually, it has," he says as he looks back up, gaze searching Severus' cautiously. "Except it's not deviant. It's just… different than most."

Severus ignores the contestation.

"And has it ever occurred to you that any other person would likely be shunned at the same idiotic display?"

His brain feels tired and Potter doesn't seem to feel affronted by his words, which Severus can't decide if it's a good or a bad thing. And then the man's gaze softens and the corners of his lips curl upwards in a slight smile, and Severus is reminded of this Potter that leaves him feeling completely out of his depth.

"I think you underestimate people's capacity of acceptance," Potter tells him softly.

"Look, I’m sorry you went through all that. I really am," the man says, never taking his eyes off Severus'. "I may not know exactly what you went through, but I do know what it’s like to feel different. I’ve felt that all my life. I’ve been called a freak all throughout my childhood, and I have been beaten, although not specifically for being gay. And it took me a long time to realise I did not deserve to be treated like garbage."

Severus can do nothing but stare at Potter, his feet glued to the spot while the man stands at little more than an arm's length from him.

"And I do know what it’s like to be sixteen and feel confused beyond measure by feelings I did not understand. And actually," he continues, the blasted smile still on his lips, "I know all too well what it's like to have the object of my affection hate and despise me."

Potter's last sentence sparks something inside Severus as he desperately tries to make sense of the man's words. The memory of that one evening at the end of Potter's duelling class comes to him, the casual confession spoken as if it was nothing, as if it wouldn't stubbornly live in the back of Severus' head despite his best efforts to unlearn it. Severus' furious reasoning — that surely he'd misunderstood; they hated each other back then, the very thought of it was ridiculous, preposterous — instantly crushed to the ground. The image of Potter's face that day, the one that Severus had buried in the depth of his mind, resurfaces and blends with the one right in front of him, blazing eyes and soothing smile, and suddenly Severus knows.

"Trust you to develop a teenage infatuation on the one person who refuses to idolise you," Severus grits out.

"Maybe that’s exactly why," Potter says, taking a step closer, his face suddenly very serious. "And I don’t think that term applies anymore. I’m not a teenager, and by now I would hardly call it a mere infatuation."

The part of his rational mind that is not completely numb urges Severus to take a step back, to put a stop to this nonsense, and yet his body makes no effort to move. Potter stretches his arm and rests his palm on Severus’ chest, a gentle pressure, but Severus can feel the warmth of it through the multiple layers of his clothing. It vaguely occurs to him that Potter must feel the wild beating of his heart and the way it threatens to burst out of his chest. 

"Whatever you want to call it, it’s not right," Severus says, but it comes out faint and strained, and not at all like a reprimand. 

"I disagree," Potter contests. "What happened back in the corridor… You want me, don't you?"

The question hangs in the air and Severus feels the weight of it on his shoulders and down his chest. It makes his heart want to jump out of his throat, and he desperately means to say No, but then why is Potter touching him like that, and why does it feel like his whole body is thrumming against the man's palm?

"Why would I?"

Those are not the words that are supposed to come out of his mouth, not to mention how feeble they sound, and Severus damns himself for the umpteenth time in the evening.

"Sometimes the why doesn't matter," Potter answers. They stand so close that Potter’s shorter stature forces him to look up at Severus, yet his eyes bore into him relentlessly, and his hand remains flattened against Severus’ chest. "Is this alright?" he asks, and Severus thinks that it's far from alright but how can he possibly say no when those eyes seem to swallow him whole, and those lips, rose red and slightly parted, grow closer each second? So he stands, helplessly, feels his breath getting stuck on the back of his throat and just waits.

And as Potter’s face hovers immediately before his, Severus watches how his eyelids close, how he lifts his chin and tilts his head ever so slightly, and leans in to close the minuscule distance between them.

The press of lips is incredibly soft, cautious even, as if he’s leaving room for Severus to retreat. And why, exactly, does Severus not retreat is anyone’s guess, but seconds go by and Severus just stands frozen in place, his vision a blur of Potter’s impossibly close face, and his heart fluttering madly inside his chest. And then Potter slowly withdraws, his eyes still closed, and Severus can only marvel at how very unguarded he looks.

His body responds in a largely unfamiliar way — his lips tingle where Potter’s touched them, the pressure of the man's hand on his chest spreads heat all over his body, and the tips of Severus’ fingers twitch frantically, longing to touch, yearning for something. And when Potter finally opens his eyes, Severus stares transfixed at the pools of green that seem to suck him in, until the man finally speaks.

"Severus."

And that name, spoken so reverently for the first time from that perfect mouth, as if tasting the word around his tongue, is enough to break Severus and make the last shreds of his resolve crumble at his feet.

He chases those lips like air to his lungs, and his mouth crushes against Potter’s so forcefully that the man sways backwards as if he wasn’t ready for it, but it takes him less than a second to steady himself and return the kiss with as much fervour. The hand on Severus’ chest turns into a fist, grabbing the fabric of his robes and pulling him nearer, and Severus’ own hand grasps the back of Potter’s neck, holding him in place. He feels Potter moaning against his lips and takes the opportunity to lick into the man’s mouth, desperate for a taste of him. Potter presses himself flush against him in response, and Severus feels himself growing hard, the friction of their bodies sending  currents of heat through his core. His free hand finds its way to the curve of Potter’s arse, over his deliciously fitted trousers, and the man all but grinds into him, seemingly lost in his pleasure, thrusting his own hardness into the firmness of Severus’ body.

Dexterous fingers find their way inside his robes, and as Potter’s right palm comes to rest on the very obvious bulge of his erection, Severus suddenly becomes very aware of himself and of Potter's fingers brushing against his cock through two flimsy layers of fabric.

"Potter," Severus croaks, and in his head he’d meant to say it as a warning, but it comes out like a plea instead, breathy and desperate.

"Let me," Potter whispers against his lips, and he leans slightly backwards to look right at Severus who stands paralysed, incapable of refusing him anything at all. And then Potter starts rubbing his erection through the fabric of his trousers and it's enough to overwhelm his senses, so he lets his eyelids fall shut and loses himself in the man's grip.

The grinding of Potter's hips against Severus' right thigh resumes in earnest. The feel of Potter's hand surrounding the swell of his cock combined with the man's own erection protruding into his thigh and the breathy moans that escape his lips make Severus’ pleasure build at an insane pace, and in less than a minute he is coming inside his trousers, eyes closed and silenced grunts, and his legs nearly buck from the dead weight of his body.

When he finally opens his eyes, what he sees in Potter’s own nearly makes his heart stop — it’s hunger and fire and want.

"Fuck, Severus," he rasps, and Severus captures his mouth again languidly and tugs at his lower lip with his teeth, making him grunt and thrust harder against the wet spot in Severus' pants. And before long Potter grows incapable of reciprocating the kiss because he is shuddering violently, forehead resting against Severus’, and Severus watches his face just as he comes inside his own trousers with an obscene moan.

For a minute they stand still, touching foreheads, breaths quick and shallow. 

Once Severus' consciousness finally returns, the first thing that occurs to him is that his pants feel wet and sticky, and downright intolerable. The second thing he is aware of is a dizzying wave of panic slowly creeping through his bones. It’s one thing for Potter to feel his arousal while cornering him during a heated fight, but to let the man witness him at his weakest and to spill himself inside his own trousers like a randy teenager at Potter’s fingertips…

He doesn't wait until Potter catches his breath to grab his arms and push him backwards. Reaching for his wand, he casts a cleaning charm on the both of them, wincing at the tingling cold spreading through his thighs, and waits until Potter's astounded expression faces him to speak.

"I think it's time for you to leave."

Potter gapes at him in confusion, slowly furrowing his brows, and takes a few seconds until he actually speaks, voice still hoarse and sluggish.

"Merlin, Snape. Are you serious?"

"Leave," he says, as dispassionate as he can.

Potter's gaze is still hazy and it takes him a while to concentrate. When he does, a flicker of hurt flashes through the green of his eyes.

"Fine," he says, turning away, and Severus can't quite believe that the man isn't putting up a fight. Except that right before he walks out he turns to Severus again, his eyes as fiery as Severus ever remembers them being.

"We are not done."

And he walks out the door, leaving Severus alone in the deafening silence of his living room.
 

~~~

 
After Potter leaves, Severus replays the scene in his mind a few dozen times.

Once again he curses himself for his lack of restraint and wonders what exactly went wrong and how in Merlin’s name he ended up being manipulated by the one man that would forever be the bane of his existence.

But most of all, every time he closes his eyes he sees Potter’s face as he comes, the image engraved deep in his mind — contorted and open-mouthed and beautiful.

When Severus eventually falls asleep, the sun is already rising. He misses breakfast and wakes up with an infernal headache, and decides it serves him right for allowing himself to drink so much as to cloud his judgement. By noon, he chews on the day-old roast turkey sandwiches that remain on his table, and spends the afternoon skimming through the Potion’s syllabus for next term, overlooking the fact that he goes over the same sentence at least twice. By late afternoon, he decidedly ignores the quiet knock on his door.

Again, he bypasses dinner in favour of a whiskey-filled tumbler, but has a mind to set up half a dozen wards to ensure he won’t be interrupted, not even in the unlikely event of a Third Wizarding War.

By the following morning, Severus’ mood is at least partially restored, and after spending most of his day being somewhat more productive than the day before, by dinner time he feels ready to stand his ground with Potter and completely ignore the insufferable fool. Or humiliate him, if need be. Lest the idiot think it wise to accost him — verbal abuse would surely be the way to avoid any further confrontations. Besides, he wouldn’t give Potter the satisfaction of thinking he got the upper hand in their ludicrous tryst.

More importantly, he is not certain he can miss another meal without having one furious Minerva at his door shortly after, ceaselessly harassing him and demanding to know the reason for his absence.

So Severus arrives at the Great Hall at the earliest he considers appropriate and is already indulging in his dinner when he senses Potter’s presence entering the room. He does not so much as glance his way, despite feeling the weight of Potter’s gaze all the while. Irritation grows in him at the persistent scrutiny, and after a full ten minutes he loses his nerve and looks straight at the brat.

"Anything you need, Potter?" he spits viciously across Filius’ head.

The idiot has the grace to blush and hastily returns his eyes to his plate.

"No, Professor. I mean, actually," he says, risking a look back at Severus, his cheeks crimson-coloured. "I was wondering if I could have a word after dinner."

"I have a potion awaiting me," he lies, tone disinterested, and turns his attention back to his dinner. "I am afraid that whatever triviality you wish to discuss will have to wait until a later date."

His words seem to have the desired effect, and Potter does not retaliate. Despite that, after one more mouthful he finds he has lost his appetite, and leaves his food unfinished as he stands and strides out of the Great Hall. But just as he is crossing the doorway and thinking how he dealt with Potter quite efficiently, Severus hears the rough scrape of a chair against the floor and a hint of airy footsteps that can only mean one thing.

The imbecile is coming after him.

Severus picks up his pace and hurries through the hallways; he has had enough Potter for the night. The fool, however, is not afraid to use his athletic skills and all but runs in his track, if the echo of his racing footsteps is any indication. Breathless, Severus manages to descend the stairway that leads to the dungeons before Potter comes into sight, and he is marching down the corridor that connects to his rooms when he hears the man yelling behind him.

"Snape," he shouts, and seconds later he finally reaches him and touches his arm. Severus turns to face him, annoyed beyond measure. "You’re avoiding me."

"I am not," he responds, but Potter just laughs at him dryly.

"Look, about last night —"

Severus interrupts Potter by grabbing his arm forcefully, and quickly glances around to ensure that they are alone.

"Are you mad?" he hisses furiously, but the man looks determined.

"Take me inside, then."

"Fine," he concedes through gritted teeth, and reluctantly guides them both to the privacy of his quarters. Once inside and behind closed doors, Potter is quick to open his mouth to speak, but Severus beats him to it.

"There is nothing to discuss, Potter. You’d do best to forget that anything happened."

Potter, however, like the Gryffindor fool he is, looks like he came prepared for a fight.

"What if I don’t want to forget?" He argues.

Severus answers him coldly.

"I am not interested in being one of your conquests, Potter."

Confusion washes through Potter’s features.

"Fucking hell, Snape," he curses. "I don’t know exactly what you think of me, but I assure you that nothing about this was planned. Hell, I can’t even believe it happened myself. But now that it has, it’s all I can think about," he confesses.

Severus narrows his eyes at him in suspicion, his mind refusing to accept the implications behind Potter's words.

"Besides," he continues, "there really aren’t any conquests to speak of since I got my shit together. I think I’ve had enough meaningless sex for a lifetime, to be honest. I don’t know about you, but that’s not what I was hoping this was."

Severus stares at the man, and then stares some more. And then finally asks.

"Why would you be hoping for anything at all?"

For a while, there is silence instead of an answer and Potter looks at him so intensely that his gaze seems to pierce right through Severus. It causes his heart to accelerate and makes him feel out of his element. Which seems to be a recurring experience as of late, whenever Potter is concerned.

"You never answered my question," Potter says. "Do you want me?"

"I hate you," is the only answer that comes out of his mouth, and Severus insistently tells himself it's nothing but the truth, but the words don't come out sounding nearly as spiteful as he once thought them.

"Yes," Potter comes nearer to stand right in front of him. "But do you want me?"

Severus feels trapped, and it occurs to him that it should be making him panic, that it should make him want to spit out words as defences as he often does so well, but instead he just stares at this man in front of him, his fire and his spirit, and that unique spark Severus hopes to never see him without again. 

"I'll make it easier on you, then," Potter begins.  "I want you, Snape. I've wanted you since before I even knew what it meant, and I hated you too. Except now I don't really hate you anymore. Because I can see through you. And I get the feeling that you can see through me too. Sometimes I think you're the only one who can."

His last words are spoken quietly, and there's that softness in Potter's gaze again, and those open, transparent features that make Severus' skin itch every time. His brain can't think of anything he could possibly say, so he says nothing at all.

"And I know this is fucking confusing, I feel it too," Potter says more urgently, the passion returning to his voice. "But I can't stop thinking about you. I can't stop thinking about yesterday."

And then Potter leans in and whispers in his ear.

"I've been half hard all day just thinking about it."

The words cause a wave of arousal to shoot through Severus' body. On impulse, he grabs a handful of Potter's short curls and forcefully pulls his head backwards, forcing a low hiss out of him. Potter's eyes stare back, glimmering with defiance.

"Brat," Severus growls.

Potter's wild gaze flickers to Severus' lips and back up, and his voice is unwavering as he speaks.

"Just kiss me."

And all Severus has to do is pull Potter's head to him, and all of a sudden they are kissing, hungrily and brutally, teeth clashing and tongues fighting for dominance. When they part, Potter whispers against his lips.

"Take me to bed."

"Yes," the word escapes over the mad beating of his heart.

His legs move of their own accord as he leads Potter to his bedchamber, but once they stop next to his bed, Severus realises he doesn’t know what to do with his feet, or his hands, or the entirety of his body. And suddenly he can’t even bring himself to look at Potter, who remains at his side in silence, waiting.

How long has it been since his encounters have been anything but meaningless and detached? But this is Potter standing next to him, and he can’t pretend it isn’t monumental, nor will he ever be able to brush it under the rug.

Severus’ mind races with conflicting thoughts, and he feels much too sober. The touch of Potter’s hand on his arm pulls him out of his haze.

"Stop thinking so much," he says, his tone gentle. "Just… be here. Whatever happens, we’ll figure it out."

When Severus doesn't answer, Potter starts unbuttoning his own shirt with agile fingers. Only then does Severus register that he is wearing the same shirt as that first day, when he walked into the staff meeting; the one with the horrid flower print that fits tightly around his torso. Severus watches as each opened button reveals more tanned, hairless skin, and stares at the muscles on Potter's chest and shoulders as he shrugs off the shirt and drops it to the floor.

Afterwards, Potter reaches for Severus’ robes, and then his shirt. Severus’ heart beats wildly as the fabric slides down his body and he feels the tips of Potter’s fingers sliding along the bony contours of his rib cage.

"Is this alright?" Potter asks as he looks up at him.

"Yes," Severus tells him without thinking, even if his brain screams at him that he is standing bare-chested and utterly inadequate next to the gracious Chosen One, who can have (who has had) every broad-shouldered shredded male he so wishes, who will certainly turn away as soon as he comes to his senses and takes a proper look at —

And suddenly there is the touch of Potter’s lips on his chest and up his neck, and there are kisses, light and delicate, on the length of his clavicle and the rugged skin of his scar, and Severus’ loud brain is immediately put on hold. Potter grasps both of Severus’ hands and brings them to each side of his body, placing them there as if granting him permission to touch. Severus holds him steadily, feels the warmth of Potter’s skin underneath his fingers, and reaches out to kiss him.

Potter responds by kissing back and bringing his body to Severus’, and suddenly they are skin against skin at their chests, causing Potter to hum into Severus’ mouth, and Severus feels all the blood in his body rush to his hardening cock. Potter pulls him onto the bed and Severus falls on top of him, searching his lips all the while, Potter's legs circling his thighs and bringing their bodies together at the waist. The friction on Severus’ impossibly hard cock is enough to make him lose his focus for a second, and he rests his forehead against Potter’s as he feels the waves of pleasure.

"You good?" Potter asks him quietly, breathlessly.

"I’m fine, Potter," he answers, half annoyed and half appreciative of the man’s attentiveness, and partly afraid it will awaken his unforgiving brain once again. "Kindly refrain from asking again." 

And he brings his mouth to Potter’s body, all over his neck and his chest, scrapes his teeth on the skin of his nipples, and proceeds lower to his abdomen, licking at the hollow of his hip bones.

"Please," Potter asks as Severus reaches the waistband of his trousers, and Severus does not need to be asked twice. He removes trousers and briefs with Potter’s help, and is rewarded with the sight of the man’s fully erect cock. He licks tentatively at the hairless scrotum and hears a strained whimper as his tongue slides up the base of his erection. Potter’s musky smell floods his nostrils; it’s intoxicating, and unlike anything else that Severus has experienced. He has never before given himself the liberty to explore someone quite like this, to taste someone quite like this, nor does he remember ever feeling such raw urge to do so.  And he has to stop and look up to remind himself that this is Potter, naked and beautiful and splayed on his bed, and looking down on him with the hungriest look on his face.

"Severus," he says. "You look —"

But before he can finish whatever it was he thought to say, Severus uses his tongue to stroke the slit of his cock right before he wraps his lips around the whole head, and Potter ends his sentence with a long, low-pitched moan. Severus starts sucking rhythmically up and down the shaft, using his hand to match the motions at the base.

"Merlin, that feels amazing," Potter blurts, and Severus brings his other hand to stroke his testicles and far behind, rubbing the patch of skin of Potter’s perineum, making the man groan louder.

"Fuck, Severus. Please," he murmurs as he squirms and jerks, and Severus sucks him harder, until Potter asks him in a choked voice. "Use your finger on me?"

Severus slows his motions and eventually stops, and looks up at the man’s flushed face.

"Is that okay?" Potter asks, fighting through his arousal. "You don’t have to."

Severus concentrates for long enough to conjure a small amount of lubricant on his fingers and brings them to Potter's cleft, making his breath hitch as one finger probes at his entrance. He looks right at Potter as the tip of his finger slides inside, and watches how the man closes his eyes and parts his lips in a silent gasp, and then opens them again to stare back down.

"Like this?"

Potter nods, breathing heavily. Severus returns his attention to the cock in front of him and engulfs it in his mouth once again, resuming the movement of his finger in the man’s arse. He feels Potter’s back slump down on the bed, and he starts moaning and babbling incoherently, a torrent of fuck fuck fuck leaving his lips. Moments later his hand tugs at Severus’ hair.

"Fuck, Severus, I’m going to come," he mumbles, and Severus lets himself be drawn away to look up at Potter’s face as his hand keeps pulling at his cock. The man stills and grunts loudly, spasming underneath him and shooting his ejaculate all over Severus’ hand and chest. Eventually Potter’s hand joins Severus’ to halt its movements, and keeps it in his hold as the last waves of orgasm shake his body.

"Come here," Potter pulls Severus to him, kisses him sloppily between heavy breaths as they fall side by side on the bed. "I think you have too many clothes on you," he says as he reaches for the buttons of Severus’ trousers. He fumbles until he can finally loosen them, and gently pushes Severus on his back to help him out of the rest of his clothes. He climbs back up to lay on his side, palm down on Severus’ chest, and Severus can feel the weight of Potter’s gaze on his body.

"You’re so hard," he says.

"You seem to have a talent for stating the obvious," he grunts, voice coarse, eliciting a quiet chuckle out of Potter. The fingers on his chest start moving, tracing patterns on his skin, running through the sticky patches of Potter’s drying come. Now that he lays vulnerable within Potter’s reach, Severus feels the apprehension creeping back in his bones.

"Anything in particular that you want?" Potter asks him, a hint of caution in his voice.

"This is quite alright," he rasps, and he hopes it’s enough because at this point he doesn’t think he has it in himself to tell Potter exactly how much he wants

"Good," he says, and latches his lips onto Severus’ neck as his roaming fingers go lower until they reach the coarse hair around the root of his cock. Severus tenses in anticipation, clenches his jaw and breathes through his nose, and feels Potter’s gentle touch on the skin of his scrotum, until he finally holds the base of his erection and Severus’ breath gets stuck on his throat. But then Potter’s tongue laps at his earlobe, and Potter’s hand moves on his cock, and suddenly the air comes out of Severus’ lungs in a low resonant grunt, and his muscles slacken at the man’s attention.

Potter takes the hint and uses his tongue to stroke the shell of Severus’ ear and his teeth to pull at the soft tissue, and Severus can only close his eyes and concentrate on his breathing, and make an effort to keep the embarrassing sounds from escaping his mouth.

"It’s okay to let go," Potter tells him, hand still moving on Severus’ cock. And then he moves down to Severus’ chest and there is the feel of lips and tongue on the sides of his ribs, and on the sensitive skin of his nipples. "Fuck, you look so good like this."

Severus opens his eyes to look down at Potter who lies still on his side, meets his overwhelming gaze that makes Severus’ skin crawl every time, and in an instant Potter is kissing his mouth again, fervent and unrestrained, and Severus can’t help the sounds that he hums into Potter’s parted lips. The strokes on his cock increase in pace, and Severus starts to feel Potter’s body grinding against his side, and the growing hardness that prods against his hip bone. It fuels Severus’ pleasure further, and he can feel the imminence of his orgasm at Potter’s fingertips.

But without warning, Potter stops his motions, only to shuffle his body on top of Severus’ to straddle him and align the length of their erections. In no time, Potter’s large hand is surrounding both their cocks, stroking and rubbing them against each other, and the vision combined with the friction is enough to bring Severus’ impending orgasm over the edge, his body shuddering violently under Potter’s hold as it dissolves in pleasure, the force of it driving out a low reverberant groan that sounds unfamiliar to his own ears. He wills his eyes open through the afterwaves of his climax and stares up at Potter’s hazy eyes, and in less than ten seconds the man is coming for the second time in the evening, hand around his own cock, the remains of Severus’ come blending with his own.

Potter collapses on top of him, making a mess of their joint bodies, and panting heavily against his ribcage.

"Merlin, that was —"

"Yes," Severus agrees, as he catches his own breath.

For a minute they lie there in silence, until Potter wandlessly spells them clean and settles half his body on the right side of Severus’, throws one arm around his chest and pulls the duvet to cover them both.

"Is it alright if we stay like this for a bit?" he asks.

"Yes," Severus repeats. He feels at a complete loss as to what to say and how to act, but when he glances at Potter the man looks so content that it brings him an odd sense of peace and quietens his overthinking brain, and he just lets himself be. And for a few minutes they stay like that, unmoving, until he hears a long yawn from Potter, followed by the hesitant question.

"Would it be best if I returned to my rooms?"

And as much as Severus feels warm and at peace, he doesn’t think he is prepared for the intrusion of the man in his bed and his rooms. 

"Perhaps that would be wiser," he tells Potter, and almost immediately wonders if he can persuade him to come again the following day without appearing too eager.

"Yeah, okay," Potter says quietly. "But please don’t make me chase you all the way from the Great Hall again," he chuckles lightly, tiredly.

Severus remains silent.

"Severus?"

It's the first time Potter uses his given name outside the urgency of their encounters and it sends a chill down Severus’ spine.

"I leave for the Burrow tomorrow," he says. "I'm spending Christmas with the Weasleys."

Severus' heart stammers a bit.

"Christmas isn't until Thursday," he says stupidly, regretting the words almost instantly.

"Yeah I know. I'm staying for the week. I’ll return next Sunday evening," he explains, although it doesn’t put a rest to Severus’ unease. "But I would really like to see you once I get back," he continues. "Will you let me?"

"I… alright."

Potter smiles at him timidly and comes closer to bring his lips to Severus’ in a slow, gentle kiss. When he parts, he shuffles away from Severus and to his feet, and picks up his clothes from the floor to put them back on. Severus watches from the bed and pulls the bedcover to his shoulders, although it doesn't make him feel any less exposed. 

"See you in a week, then?" he asks when he is fully dressed and ready to leave.

Severus takes a moment to speak, and when he does, it’s a question of his own.

"What is it that we’re doing, Potter?"

"I don’t know. But I’d really like to find out," he answers, a tentative smile on his lips. "Good night, Severus."

And in a second he is gone and Severus is left alone in his bed, clutching the bed sheets tightly in his hands.
 

~~~

 
Christmas is not a particularly relevant occurrence to Severus. He has made a habit of attending a yearly appointment with Minerva on the afternoon of the 24th in which they drink tea and exchange gifts, but apart from that he rarely chooses to partake in the festive meals that take place in the Great Hall.

Even if he does not attribute significant importance to the celebrations, Severus is a private man who greatly appreciates the peace and quiet of school breaks, and every year he enjoys his prized solitude with considerably better disposition than usual. Whenever he is not brewing or making advances in his research projects, he often uses his time to stroll around the castle grounds, visit the greenhouses and harvest potions ingredients at all times of day or night.

This year, however, Christmas break seems to drag endlessly. He feels irritable and on edge, and not at all peaceful as he goes about his days. Mealtimes are all too quiet, something he used to cherish and relate to the low attendance at Hogwarts during the holiday, but which now stirs an odd restless sensation in the pit of his stomach. What's worse, whenever Severus enters his bedroom, he has recurring memories of Potter's tanned body laid out on his mattress, naked and delectable, and the low pitched resonant moans that came out of that perfect mouth.

On the first night of Potter's absence, Severus tosses and turns on the bed as he ignores the strain of his erection. He eventually falls asleep after one rough hour, and wakes up at dawn with a thin layer of sweat covering his skin and feeling decidedly unsatisfied. When he drags himself under the shower, he turns the water as cold as he can tolerate despite the crisp winter air, and groans loudly in frustration.

The following evening, Severus sits in his armchair with a tumbler in hand after having ruined a whole batch of Blood-Replenishing potion, and decides that Potter's presence (or the mere thought of him) clearly clouds his judgement and that the most prudent approach is to keep as much distance from the man as he can manage. That said, when he retreats to the bedroom after his second drink, he tells himself it is irrelevant that it is Potter's face he sees when he takes his cock in hand only seconds after his back hits the mattress. He finds himself wondering if he could have made Potter orgasm once again in the morning, had he let the man share his bed. In less than two minutes he is spilling himself all over the sheets with a stifled groan, and the self loathing that spreads through his insides after the deed makes him swallow half a phial of Dreamless Sleep potion just to silence his inopportune brain.
 

~~~

 
On the twenty-fourth at exactly five o'clock, Severus knocks on Minerva's door for their usual reunion. They sip on mint tea as they exchange presents — Minerva is delighted with the cherry liquor bottle that Severus gifts her, while Severus himself eagerly inspects the potion samples and notebook that Minerva acquired on her latest trip from a local secluded potioneer living on the coast of Portugal. Afterwards, they refill their teacups and sit in comfortable silence until Minerva speaks.

"I apologise for bringing up the subject of work today, but there is a matter I briefly wish to discuss with you," she says. "I would like to have your input on Harry's Duelling Club lessons."

Severus' stomach flips at the mention of Potter, but he remains impassive.

"He is obviously inexperienced. As is to be expected," he comments, but his treacherous brain doesn't let him stop at that. "That said, his teaching skills are progressing… adequately," he finishes somewhat reluctantly.

Minerva suddenly splutters on her tea and starts coughing vigorously. Her face reddens and she takes a minute to fully calm down and recover her breath. Severus glares at her the whole time.

"That's… wonderful to hear," she says a moment later, her voice still strained. "Am I to believe you made progress regarding your past issues?"

Past issues, indeed. Meddling witch.

"I have no issues whatsoever with Potter," he dodges and casts her a reproaching stare. Minerva arches an eyebrow in response, making Severus' irritation grow.

"Do you think Harry is fit to teach the lessons on his own, then?" she asks. "Surely you would like to get your Friday evenings back."

Severus can't quite attribute a reason to the slight acceleration of his heartbeat, so he brushes it aside as his agile brain comes up with an answer.

"As much as I would like to, I am afraid that the duelling practice Potter teaches involves considerably more danger than the basic Defence curriculum," he says, hoping to convey just how much of an inconvenience the lessons are to him. "At this point I don't imagine he would be competent enough to supervise so many students throwing wayward hexes on his own."

Minerva's gaze is inscrutable as she stares at him. It takes her a while to speak. 

"In that case, I am afraid I will need to ask to continue your expert supervision of Harry's lessons," she tells him matter-of-factly.

"If you request that of me, I suppose that you leave me no choice on the matter," Severus says irritably.

"I am afraid I do not."

"Very well then," he concludes, and sinks his nose into his teacup.

Minerva then proceeds to tell him about her upcoming trip to Greece in the summer and Severus feels an odd wave of relief at the change of subject.
 

~~~

 
Severus wakes up on Christmas morning feeling extraordinarily grumpy and sends for an entire jug of black coffee and a few pieces of toast with cranberry jam, hoping he is not required to make an appearance in the communal areas of the castle for the entirety of the day.

He is sipping on the deliciously bitter drink when a popping sound echoes through the room and a small envelope appears on top of the table, next to his breakfast plate. S. Snape, Hogwarts castle — it reads in a careless scribble that Severus is fairly certain he recognises, and immediately something stirs in his chest. He lets the letter sit atop the table and glances suspiciously at it while he refills his coffee mug and chews on the jam-laden toast.

When he finally picks up the envelope a good half-hour later, he finds a small piece of parchment inside with a short note in the same sloppy scrawl.

"Merry Christmas,
— H"

He stares at the words for a few moments and he feels his stomach involuntarily clench and protest at its contents. In the end, he shoves the note in the front pocket of his trousers and makes an effort to ignore it altogether. Despite that, he feels the weight of it all day as he tries to distract himself within the confines of his rooms.

For lunch, he orders a plate of turkey roast with gravy from the kitchens, but doesn't find it as satisfying as he did in previous years. In the evening, hoping in vain that his precious Firewhiskey will bring him a shred of clarity, he summons a scrap of parchment and a quill, but is incapable of writing a single word before he sets the small piece of paper to ashes with a flick of his wand and storms off to bed.

And as sleep approaches and consciousness slips from his grasp, for the first time in his adult life, Severus wonders what it would feel to have someone to share Christmas with.
 

~~~

 
After three tedious and uneventful days, Potter shows up on his doorstep on the evening of the twenty-eighth with flushed cheeks and a tentative smile. He sports an extremely oversized crimson jumper with a giant golden H knitted on the front that seems to swallow his body and make him look smaller than he actually is. The thick fabric falls on his waist over incredibly tight black jeans, with a hint of ankles showing between the hem of his trousers and his scuffed white trainers. The combination is entirely ridiculous, and yet it sparks a warmth in Severus' stomach that he can't entirely explain.

"Hi," the brat says with a hint of nervousness he doesn't seem able to conceal.

Severus glares down at Potter's figure.

"Are you under the impression that your outfits are flattering in any way?"

His tone isn’t quite as offensive as he had hoped and instead of sparking Potter’s anger, it only makes him grin further.

"I'm sure you secretly love them," he cheekily replies. 

Severus means to make a scathing remark but instead finds himself merely staring at Potter's head emerging out of the enormous garment and vows not to let the idiot know just how delectable he looks.

"You didn’t answer my letter," Potter mumbles as he fidgets with his hands.

Severus' right hand twitches as it involuntarily tries to make its way into his pocket where the neglected note has sat for three full days, but stops just in time not to betray himself. He can feel the thud of his heart in his ears, and wills it to remain still.

"I don't think a two-worded note classifies as a letter," he replies tensely. "And I wasn't under the impression that it required a reply."

"That's three words, if you count my signature," Potter says, smile still on his face but now with a strain that wasn’t there before. Severus can recognise the anxiety behind his words and it inexplicably makes him restless in return. "And it didn’t. I just… hoped."

Potter stares at him expectantly, as if he’s half afraid that Severus will mock him and ask him to leave. And yet Severus doesn’t make him leave, but he doesn’t reach out either. He doesn't tell him how he couldn’t bring himself to write back, or how he couldn’t possibly fit every insanity that goes through his mind in a small piece of parchment.

"Did you miss me?" Potter asks quietly, eyes wide and searching and so very bright.

"You mean to ask if I missed your loud chatter and incessant harassment?"

Severus damns himself as he hears the tightness in his voice. Potter takes one step towards him. The air around them is thick and his throat suddenly feels very dry.

"That's exactly what I mean."

And it’s impossible to say which one of them reaches out first, but in less than two seconds their lips are meeting in a hungry, desperate kiss, and their hands are clutching hair and clothes and trying to bring their bodies nearer still. Potter’s hands fumble with Severus’ belt and trousers; Severus’ own hands roam underneath Potter’s jumper and over his arse. Shortly after, Potter is falling to his knees, and when Severus doesn’t do anything to stop him, he brings his mouth to Severus’ rapidly hardening cock and Severus’ legs almost give out.

He feels his orgasm building dangerously fast. But he hasn't had enough of that devilish mouth, so he drops down to chase those perfect lips and they both tumble down on the carpeted floor. Once Potter’s erection is freed from the confines of his jeans, they stroke each other with frantic, urgent touches, and before long they are coming — firstly Potter with a loud, lengthy moan, and Severus close behind with a low throaty grunt, spilling themselves all over their hands and clothes.

And so they lie on the floor, trousers clumsily lowered to their thighs, breathless and messy and completely spent. Potter lets out a laugh; Severus feels light.

"Come to bed," Severus tells him.

Potter widens his eyes and gives him the most ridiculous smile.

"Yes."

Severus waits for Potter to use the bathroom to go himself, and when he emerges into the bedroom dressed in his nightshirt, Potter is already under the duvet, wearing nothing but his boxer shorts. The sheets are cold as he gets inside, and he feels the weight of the space between them until Potter shuffles to his side. He plants a delicate kiss on Severus’ cheek and settles close to him, their bodies lightly touching in places — Potter’s head brushing Severus’ shoulder, the knuckles of his fingers at his side and one knee on his thigh — and eventually falls asleep.

Severus stays awake for a while, very conscious of all the points that his skin is connected with Potter’s, listening to the man’s breathing and wondering how exactly this absurd situation came to be.
 

~~~

 
The next morning, Severus wakes up with Potter lips on his neck and the man grinding softly against his hip. Severus grunts tiredly and turns to his side in search of the movement.

"Good morning," Potter breathes against his skin. Severus can sense Potter's erection rubbing against his side through the thin layers of clothing and the feeling stirs his own arousal.

"Am I not allowed to wake up in peace?" Severus mumbles.

"I’m sorry," Potter says with a light chuckle, though he doesn’t sound sorry at all. "You smell so delicious. Should I stop?"

Potter’s hardness keeps digging into his bones in lazy circles.

"Yes," Severus answers despite the twitching of his cock. "I need to make use of the bathroom."

Potter groans in protest and backs away reluctantly.

"It’s only fair, I went before you woke," he says with a cocky smile on his face. "I’ll wait for you here if that’s alright?"

Severus grunts in reply and gets up to wash up and relieve his bladder. He splashes water on himself three times, avoids the reflection of his own sallow face in the mirror, and takes a deep breath before opening the door to face Potter in the light of morning.

Potter’s eyes move in his direction as soon as he enters the room, and Severus’ feet suddenly halt at the image he is presented with. Potter lies on his back, bedcover halfway down his chest, with one arm stretched beneath the sheets moving in a slow rhythm over the lower part of his covered body. When Severus doesn't move, Potter stops the motions of his hand and smiles impishly at him.

"Come here."

Severus approaches the bed steadily and stops at its feet. With a movement of his hand, he spells the bed clothes towards the bottom of the bed and completely off Potter's body. The man widens his eyes at him but stays in place, unmoving fingers brushing the base of his erection.

"Carry on," Severus tells him.

Potter holds his gaze and starts moving his hand on his cock. The image sparks a violent surge of desire in Severus.

"Let me see you," Potter asks. Severus realises he is still in his nightshirt and feels vaguely self-conscious about the unappealing garment, but Potter doesn’t seem to care; he continues his languid strokes with a rapt look on his face. Severus decides that he cares very little about any of that as well at this point, and throws the nightshirt over his head to stand naked before Potter, his own erection hanging openly. Potter lets out a long exhale, making a low, raspy noise in the back of his throat, and lets his eyes wander over Severus' body.

"Fuck, I want you," Potter breathes out.

"Tell me what you want," Severus prompts him, his own arousal burning inside him like wildfire. Potter locks eyes with him before he answers.

"I want you to fuck me," he says coarsely, and Severus has to remind himself to keep breathing. "I’ve been thinking about it ever since I woke up. Will you do that?"

Will Severus do that? Yes. A thousand times yes.

"On your stomach."

The command rips a moan out of Potter’s mouth, and his fingers halt to grasp the base of his cock for a second. Then he turns on the bed and shoves a pillow underneath his hips, and turns his head around to look at Severus.

"Join me?"

And Severus does — he climbs on the bed and summons the jar of lubricant, and admires the sight in front of him before he brings his fingers to Potter’s cleft and presses one of them right past the ring of muscle. Potter’s breath hitches and his head falls onto the bed.

"Yes," he says between breaths, hips pressing backwards as Severus moves his finger inside. "More."

Severus complies by adding a second finger to the heat of Potter’s arse, and watches the man’s hands clutch the sheets as he proceeds his motions.

"Severus," he croaks. "I’m ready. Please."

Severus too is ready — his mind high on arousal and his erection demanding attention. So he retreats his fingers, positions himself, and touches his lips to Potter's spine.

"Do you want my cock?" he says hoarsely against Potter’s skin.

"Yes, fuck," he moans. "I need you inside me."

Severus breaches him slowly, sheathes his whole length inside Potter. The man lets out a long growl that goes straight to Severus’ cock, and he stops for a moment to collect himself. It has been a while, and he certainly doesn’t remember it ever being this intense.

"More," Potter demands after a moment, and Severus obliges and pulls back only to move forth again, forcing a whimper out of Potter’s mouth. Severus’ hands grasp Potter’s hips tightly, pulling the man’s arse to him and his hips off the bed. As Severus pushes back in, Potter lets his head fall back onto the bed once more and groans loudly into the pillow. From then on, breathless grunts escape Potter with each thrust of hips, and Severus chases them repeatedly, his own pleasure building rapidly from the delicious friction.

"Touch yourself," Severus orders, and when Potter does he starts coming apart, moaning uncontrollably and moving his hips in erratic motions, left hand still tightly clasping the sheets, and suddenly Severus feels like he is very close to the edge of his pleasure.

"Severus," Potter says, and Severus knows what it means, knows exactly the meaning of his name spoken so obscenely by those perfect lips. 

"Yes," he manages, before he feels Potter’s muscles twitching around his cock and his own climax hits him like a violent wave, forcing a deep, primal sound from his mouth as he stills inside Potter. Beneath himself, he feels the man shuddering amidst the haze of his own orgasm, his deep moans still resonating through the room. 

Potter collapses on the bed and Severus collapses on top of him, both shuddering and panting heavily. 

"You’re crushing me," Potter laughs after a while, and Severus shifts his weight to lie by his side. In a second, he spells them both clean and brings the duvet up to warm their cooling, sweaty bodies. He feels the man's lips on his shoulder and looks sideways to see him close his eyes and sigh contently.

Severus studies Potter's face and watches it relax, mouth slackening and breath growing deeper, and marvels at how very peaceful and unguarded he looks. For some time he watches him sleeping, until Potter finally stirs.

"Hmmm," he hums, and opens one eye to look at Severus. "I think I dozed off. Were you watching me?" he teases.

"I was considering pestering you awake much like you did earlier."

Potter smiles sleepily and buries his nose in Severus’ neck.

"Would you rather I wake you up with my mouth around your cock next time?" he whispers.

"Insatiable brat," Severus scolds him, but Potter just kisses him and Severus finds he can do nothing but kiss him back in return.
 

~~~

 
The remainder of the week flies by in a haze.

Severus starts attending every dinner in the Great Hall, granting him a raised eyebrow from Minerva when he makes an appearance on the second consecutive day. He makes a valiant effort not to glance Potter's way the whole time, distractedly swallows his food with little regard for its taste, and is invariably the first to leave the table. Sometimes Potter comes to him shortly after, other times it takes him up to two hours to knock on his door. Every time the evening ends with them in a tangle of limbs on a multitude of surfaces, and it takes a few days until  they are finally patient enough to make it to the comfort of Severus’ bed. Every time, Potter spends the night in unspoken agreement. 

In the mornings, Potter is tender and Severus is reserved. Often, Severus is the first to open his eyes but doesn’t stir, and often Potter can lure a kiss out of him once he himself is marginally awake. Once they rise, they have coffee together and talk about their plans for the day. Afterwards, Potter leaves with a warm but cautious smile on his lips, as if he isn’t sure that Severus would allow for physical contact in the bright light of morning and outside the confines of his bed. Severus goes about his days distracted and unfocused, and in his head counts the hours until dinnertime.

On New Year's Eve, Potter’s knock comes earlier in the day. Neither of them bothers going out into the castle for dinner and instead Severus opens a special edition bottle for them to share. They drink half a glass each before they get distracted and when midnight chimes, Severus is leaning on the sofa while Potter kneels on the floor with a mouth full of cock and his curls in the grasp of Severus' fingers. Severus doesn't think he has had a better New Year's in all his life.

Severus had never considered himself a particularly sexual being. So far, all intimate encounters he’d had in his adult life had been few and far apart, like the odd scratching of an itch that refused to fade. He always found that these encounters both alleviated and utterly failed to satisfy the bothersome ache; they simultaneously brought relief to his tense body and carved a hollowness into his soul. It was a matter Severus did not waste time considering — he procured it, and made his best to forget about the deed after it was consumed.

Yet, this… association with Potter appeared to be something entirely different. Because after the day Potter had returned from his absurdly long week at the Weasleys, Severus is invariably aware that there is no chance in the seven hells that he will turn the man away from his private rooms, regardless of what his rational mind will argue. Every evening, he half hopes that Potter won’t come to him, that he has finally come to realise just how much of an insanity it all is. Undisputedly, once Potter knocks on his door, Severus’ rigid muscles melt in relief, and he opens the door with tremulous fingers and lets himself be swallowed by the immensity of Potter’s magnetism. Every time he wants more, and finds himself hardening all too easily at the man’s proximity.

But while Severus would be amenable to attribute his gravitation towards Potter as a mere fulfilment of his carnal appetites, he is forced to admit, even to himself, that it goes beyond such. Because what else would he make of the way Potter makes his whole body stand on edge, on the brink of insanity? And what other acceptable reason would he have for not throwing the brat out on his arse after completion?

Inevitably, the start of the term arrives, and with it the return of the normalcy that now seems to Severus a long distance away — and not normal at all.

It is easier when they don’t cross paths throughout the day, although it is quite inevitable that they will often run into each other in the hallways, and even more inevitable during mealtimes. To watch Potter in all his queer dazzle, attracting attention and turning heads whenever he passes by, only infuriates Severus and spurs his frustration further. Partly because it makes Severus want to drag the idiot into some deserted classroom and rip those impeccably tailored clothes off his perfectly toned body, and make sure he is the only one to experience Potter’s frantic touches and vulnerable moans.

The fragile routine they established during Christmas break is disrupted as well once classes resume. With lessons to plan, papers to grade and students to orient, all that after a full day of classwork, they are left with considerably less free time during the week, and both agree that it might be prudent to put Potter’s daily visits on hold until they decide on the best course of action.

Still, on Wednesday night Severus’ floo comes to life nearing midnight with the request of a tired-looking Potter to come through, and Severus concedes without a second thought. Potter takes his hand and directs him to the bedroom, where they undress in silence and climb atop the bed and under the sheets, and only then do they kiss and touch and come at each other's hands.

"I missed you," Potter whispers right before sleep takes him. It is not yet dawn when he leaves without a word, gently brushing his lips to Severus’ forehead.

At the end of a tiresome and frustrating week, Friday evening finally comes and Duelling Club restarts. Severus takes his usual place in the corner of the classroom and watches in silence, except this time Potter's expert and exuberant demonstrations and the heated looks he discreetly sends his way have Severus brimming with anticipation. The Jacobs boy seems to have toned down his attempts to capture Potter’s notice, even if he still casts furtive glances at him that do not go unnoticed by Severus. Once the class approaches its end, Potter suggests that they practise freely in pairs, as usual, but Severus interrupts him before he can finish.

"If I may," he starts, and suddenly he has the attention of the entire class, including Potter himself, who stares at him in surprise. "I believe it is time you witness a proper duel between two powerful wizards."

An excited buzz erupts amongst the students but Severus keeps his eyes on Potter who continues to stare back, eyes glimmering fiercely at the challenge.

"That would be an honour, Professor Snape," he says with a devilish smirk, waiting for Severus to join him in the centre of the classroom.

The connection between their eyes does not break as they bow and assume their fighting positions across from each other. The air around them is charged with magical energy, and Severus can sense the buzz of it on the surface of his skin, like electricity making every hair of his body stand on edge.

Potter starts the duel with a carefully executed Stupefy. The basic shield that Severus effortlessly conjures promptly blocks the spell, and he lets it fade before he points his wand back at Potter.

"Petrificus Totalus," he casts in Potter’s direction, but the man dodges the curse by swinging to his right, and has his own wand pointed at Severus before the curse has even reached his side.

"Tarantallegra!"

Severus has to move quickly to cast a Protego as soon as the previous curse leaves his wand, but Potter’s agility pays off and a faint glassy strand of light manages to cross Severus’ hastily erected shield and reaches Severus’ left thigh, causing it to twitch violently for a few seconds.

Severus takes a moment to study Potter’s face and shudders at the familiar fire in those bright green eyes. In an instant a warmth erupts in his gut and spreads through his insides. Instinctively, he casts a non-verbal Stunning Spell, and only when he hears the gasps around them does he remember that they are surrounded by an audience of students. Potter doesn’t seem to mind, judging by the mischievous grin on his face, and similarly casts non-verbally to conjure an impressive shield that blocks Severus’ spell with ease.

Severus can physically feel the magic of Potter’s powerful shield; it charges his body and fuels the heat that grows within him and slowly pools in his groin. His fingers twitch around his wand and he burns with the need to have Potter beneath himself, magic pouring from his core and enveloping them both, defeated or victorious — does it really make a difference?

"Confringo," Severus exclaims, his wand pointed at the floor close to Potter’s feet. The spell bypasses the shield and causes a loud blast and a small cloud of smoke to form on the man’s right. Potter flinches away from the explosion and his shield immediately falls, and Severus takes the small window of opportunity to cast again.

"Expelliarmus!"

Potter’s wand slips out of his hand and twirls in the air to fall on the floor behind Severus. He takes two steps towards Potter with his wand raised, triumph sizzling in his blood, but Potter’s fiery gaze only brightens and the intensity of it makes Severus’ cock twitch impatiently. He opens his mouth to cast a mild Incarcerous to finish Potter off, when Potter suddenly ducks down, and in a split second rolls on his side through the floor to emerge at Severus’ side, his right arm stretched and a loud Accio on his lips.

When Severus realises what is happening and turns to face Potter, the man is already armed, and by the time Severus has his wand pointed at Potter’s throat, he feels the tip of Potter’s own touching the side of his neck.

For a few seconds they stand in silence, breathing heavily with their wands at each other’s throats. Their eyes lock and the arousal in Potter’s gaze is so obvious that it goes straight to Severus’ hardening cock.

"I propose we leave it at that, Professor Snape," Potter says, his voice slightly hoarse, and Severus gives him a curt nod in reply.

Potter backs away and dismisses the herd of awestruck students, who erupt in chatter as soon as Potter liberates them. Severus holds his breath in anticipation and waits until the very last of them crosses the door to wordlessly spell it shut and cast an elementary privacy spell. In less than five seconds, he is standing before Potter and capturing his lips in a violent kiss, both his hands on the man’s curls. Potter stumbles backwards until his arse hits the wooden desk, and in no time he is kissing back with as much enthusiasm and pressing his front to Severus’, making his own hardness evident through the fabric of his robes.

"Fuck, that was hot," he mumbles against Severus’ lips.

Severus answers by dropping down to his knees. He opens robes and trousers with frantic fingers, the sound of Potter’s breathy fuck causing a wave of arousal to shoot right into his groin. When he finally stares at the glorious cock in front of him, he takes a brief second to admire it before swallowing it down at once, forcing a loud gasp from above.

He chases Potter’s moans with the movements of his mouth on the man’s cock, drowning in the taste and smell that is so invariably Potter’s. He sucks mercilessly and feels Potter’s length at the back of his throat with every other bounce of his head.

"Severus, yes," Potter hisses, and Severus feels a hand fall on his head, fingers briefly tangling through his hair just before they retreat. Severus momentarily withdraws to search for Potter’s hands, which he finds tightly grasping the edge of the table. With his left hand he grabs Potter’s right one and brings it back to its place on his head, encouraging him to keep it there as he engulfs his cock once more in the wetness of his mouth.

Potter lets out a vibrant groan as Severus resumes his ministrations, and again strands his fingers through Severus’ long hair, gently pushing him towards himself with each movement of the head.

"Merlin, Severus," he babbles, while Severus swirls his tongue around the head of his cock before he increases the suction of his motions. Potter’s hips start trembling and the sounds that leave his mouth resonate loudly in the otherwise empty classroom. Severus senses the fingers tighten on his hair and feels the slight backwards pull on his scalp.

"Severus, stop, I’m gonna —"

But Severus only brings his own hands to Potter’s hips and latches on to his cock, revelling in the sound of the man’s throaty moans, and suddenly Potter stills and lets out a wild, howling sound, and Severus feels the spurts of the man’s ejaculate on the back of his tongue. He greedily swallows the faintly bitter fluid, and licks the remains of it from Potter’s spent cock as the man jerks his body steadily under Severus’ grasp.

Potter’s shuddering eventually subsides and he sinks to the desk behind himself. Hazy eyes look down to find Severus, who still stands on his knees with his hands on Potter’s hips. Whatever Potter sees when he looks at Severus is enough to make him slide down to his own knees, and before he knows it, Severus’ swollen lips are being licked and sucked, until Potter’s tongue makes its way inside Severus’ mouth. Severus feels a thrill at the thought of Potter tasting his own seed, and his erection twitches hungrily inside the fabric of his trousers.

"We probably shouldn’t repeat that performance, or else I’m not sure I can restrain myself from jumping you," Potter says with a quiet laugh against Severus’ neck. "Why don’t we go back to your rooms and you let me show you just how incredible you made me feel just now?" he whispers as he plants little kisses on the sensitive scar tissue.

Severus brings Potter’s head to face him and cups his cheek for a second, before he brings himself to his feet and extends his hand to help Potter up.

"Meet me in ten minutes," his voice comes out raspy but he can’t bring himself to care; he briefly clenches Potter’s hand in his before letting go. "Make sure you are not seen," he says as he turns to the door, Potter’s breath still loud behind him.
 

~~~

 
They rapidly fall into a new sort of routine, in which they keep themselves busy during the week, and spend the weekends making up for lost time. Oftentimes, Potter appears in his floo mid-week and stays until near-sunrise, and Severus wakes up every time as he feels the warmth dissipate when the man’s body leaves his side. They start making a habit of spending their Saturdays in the company of each other, and Severus finds that it quickly becomes the most peaceful time of his week. He brews and reads and grades papers at his desk, while Potter works on his own classwork and buries his nose in his own books curled up on Severus' sofa, dressed in his casual attire of plain colourful t-shirts and slim-fitted jeans. The silence is comfortable; pleasurable even. At midday, they eat sandwiches at the table and Potter asks him about his projects and plans for the future, and tells him about his own in return. On occasion, during the afternoon, Potter approaches him from behind as Severus sits at his desk, brings his arms around his neck and his hands to his chest, brings his lips to the back of Severus’ ear and his nose to Severus’ hair.

I’m feeling lonely over there, or I miss your smell, or I want your cock, he will say. Other times he says nothing at all. Severus always admonishes him for the distraction, mutters an insult that sounds more and more like an endearment as weeks go by, but Potter only grins devilishly as he climbs into his lap and rubs his tightly clothed arse against Severus’ crotch, making him forget all about his paperwork.

When dinner time comes, Severus insists Potter attends the meal in the Great Hall while he himself stays behind. Potter leaves by floo and while Severus does not openly tell him to return, he always nods when the man asks him if he can spend the night again and makes sure he comes back to his rooms in the same manner he left, so as not to attract attention.

Sunday is the day Potter goes for tea with Rubeus, or meets the Weasleys for lunch, or goes for a fly on castle premises, and Severus lets himself stay in bed until Potter invariably leaves with a promise to return in the evening. Severus enjoys his Sunday solitude and enjoys even more when Potter steps through his fireplace later in the day. More often than not, he utters some judgemental comment about the fool’s disgraceful sense of fashion to conceal his contentment.

Apart from the weekends, Severus’ seventh-year Potions class becomes an unexpected highlight of his week. The Jacobs boy, who until this year had gone by relatively unnoticed due to his quiet nature and average skill, now draws Severus’ utmost attention. He looms over the Hufflepuff’s cauldron relentlessly, points out every off shade or minor discrepancy of bubble size, and delivers poorly disguised insults about the boy’s intellect. He makes sure to dilute the abuse amongst the rest of the class, and on occasion offers a rare one-worded recognition to the Turner girl for an acceptable result, but if he's being honest he couldn't care less about how obvious his disdain for the boy is, or how many infuriated looks from him Severus receives throughout the day. He tells himself he is only preparing the boy for the harsh reality of the real world, where good looks and duelling expertise will likely be insufficient if he wishes to succeed in life. And if he takes offence to Severus' criticism and makes no effort to improve his skills other than his obvious preference for Defence — well, that just goes to show how much of an impertinent and conceited brat he is.

The heated looks Jacobs directs his way are channelled into Friday evenings as well, when Severus abandons his role as a mere supervisor in Duelling lessons and starts trodding amongst the students, mostly in silence, but sporadically correcting movements or pronunciations. Whenever he can, he takes the opportunity to intercept Jacobs’ attempts to lure Potter’s attention, which have again increased in frequency as the memory of the Christmas-feast incident grows more and more distant. On every chance he belittles the Hufflepuff’s questions and is harsh on his clarifications, while the boy clenches his jaw and glares at him defiantly. Despite his displeasure, Jacobs remains cool-headed and not once does he confront Severus, much to his annoyance, for he would very much like to seize the opening to grind the boy further.

Every once in a while, Potter’s gaze meets his as he sees Severus leaving Jacobs’ side, and his eyes narrow almost imperceptibly. Severus raises an eyebrow in return and considers it explanation enough. Later, in the privacy of his rooms, Potter never brings up the subject, and Severus leaves it at that.
 

~~~

 
It is a quiet Saturday afternoon in early Spring, and Severus sits at his desk as he goes through his potions research while Potter takes his usual place on the sofa, legs crossed and feet bare over the cushion. He holds a book in his hand, but Severus feels the weight of his stare every five seconds.

"Spit it out, Potter."

Only after speaking does Severus look up at him. Potter stares back guiltily, and there is worry all over his face.

"I was wondering," he starts, but doesn’t keep going, his hesitance obvious both in his voice and his posture.

"Yes?" Severus prompts impatiently.

"How would you feel about us going to dinner one of these days?" he quietly asks.

Severus feels a chill run right through the marrow of his bones. Whatever it is that is happening between them has barely ceased to feel daunting, and has finally started to feel… comfortable. Content. Why would Potter feel the need to disrupt their peaceful existence by bringing it into the spotlight? Is their liaison not enough to satisfy his exhibitionist streak? The thought strikes alarm bells all over Severus’ brain. It is one thing to consort with Potter in the privacy of his own chambers. But anything else…

"I don’t see why we should be feeding any vicious gossip."

Potter’s face falls. He looks miserable, if unsurprised, and Severus’ gut involuntarily clenches at his expression.

"Okay, then."

Seconds later his face lights up slightly, eyes widening as he speaks again.

"What if we go to a Muggle place instead?"

"I hardly think that would be a fool-proof way of securing our privacy," Severus answers flatly.

"I guess," Potter says, his tone defeated, and he returns to the book which Severus doubts he is actually reading. Severus mirrors him by turning his attention back to his desk, and by paying no mind whatsoever to the paperwork that lies on top of it.

Later that night, as Severus faces Potter and plunges deep inside his arse, he takes it on himself to memorise his features — the heated glow of his gaze, the shape of his lips parted in pleasure, the way his face twitches with each of Severus’ thrusts — and wonders just how much time he has left of this glorious insanity.
 

~~~

 
Weeks later, Severus and Potter are both walking amongst the duelling students in their recently established Friday evening routine, when a commotion erupts on one side of the classroom. Severus is alert at once and rapidly spots the source of the disturbance: Jeff Davies, the fifth-year Slytherin, is pointing his wand at arms’ range at none other than Ethan Jacobs.

"Jeff, don’t," says one of the other fifth-years as he tries to grab Davies' arm, but the boy just brushes him off and keeps staring fiercely at Jacobs, wand in hand. Severus recognizes the pair of fifth-years from the incident in the hallway months ago, when Potter had been furious at Severus for overriding him and punishing the boys harshly — and hadn't Severus been right, as usual? They had not dared to repeat the reckless stunt.

"Keep your hands off him, Jacobs," the Slytherin warns. Despite the threatening tone, Jacobs remains calm and keeps his wand low.

"Mills can speak for himself," he responds soberly.

"I could understand you trying to seduce my boyfriend if you actually cared for him," Davies spits out. "But you’re just trying to have your fun, aren’t you? Everybody knows who you’re really after, you’re like a lovestruck puppy. It’s ridiculous."

In three long strides Severus is standing between the two boys, just as Jacobs raises his wand. In a split second a spark of fury flashes through the boy’s eyes just before a beam of light emerges from his wand in Severus’ direction. With a gesture of his hand, Severus deflects the spell effortlessly, and Jacobs widens his eyes at the display of powerful magic.

"What a monumental display of stupidity," Severus says icily.

"We were handling private matters, Sir," the boy says through clenched teeth.

"And yet, when you bring your private matters into my classroom and throw hexes at your classmates without permission, you immediately make it my business," he scolds him. Jacobs keeps staring at him challengingly.

"It is Professor Potter’s classroom. Sir."

The silence in the room is suddenly very thick. Severus feels the rage seething in his gut, and narrows his eyes at the idiotic boy. 

"You’d do well to keep your attitude in check, Mr. Jacobs," he says in a low, dangerous voice. "Despite your attention-seeking efforts, remember it is not only Professor Potter that you should be striving to impress if you wish to have a chance at a scholarship once you finish your studies. If you think good looks and basic spellwork will get you somewhere, perhaps you should think again. Most Defence courses will require expertise in Potions and Transfiguration. And I know for a fact that you do not excel in at least one of those two."

Jacobs’ whole posture is tense, his body brimming with anger.

"It’s a shame you aren’t as… devoted to your other teachers as you are in Defence and Duelling, or else you might actually have a chance to thrive in those subjects as well," Severus viciously says. The boy appears to be on the verge of bursting, but he keeps silent, much to Severus’ disappointment.

"Your brainless act will cost fifty points from your house for assaulting a teacher," Severus concludes. "And consider it a lighter punishment than you deserve."

A low hum is heard amongst the students that have gathered around them, but when neither Severus nor Jacobs speak for a few moments, the children finally start to scatter.

"Class dismissed, go on," he hears Potter tell them as he coaxes the herd out the door. And as everyone is backing away from them, the Jacobs boy mutters quietly, for Severus’ ears only.

"You are not worthy of him."

Severus sees red.

"That’s detention with Mr. Filch until the end of the year, Mr. Jacobs," he grits out to the fierce-looking Hufflepuff, who appears completely indifferent to Severus’ punishment.

Potter turns as he hears Severus’ words, and eyes them both warily.

"Enough," he says assertively. "Ethan, please return to your common room. Now," he finishes after Jacobs takes longer than a second to move, and the boy finally leaves without a word, the fury still fresh in his eyes.

Potter walks to the door behind Jacobs and closes it once the boy leaves.

"That was uncalled for," he says as he turns to face Severus.

"Was it?" Severus arches an eyebrow at him.

"It was," Potter replies. "You shouldn’t be so hard on him."

"His determination to get your attention is nauseating, at best."

"Even so, there’s no need to be cruel to him," Potter argues. "I know he was out of line today, but he has behaved well enough so far."

"You seem to be forgetting your Christmas encounter, which I luckily happened to come upon," Severus sneers.

Potter's features harden on his face.

"Nothing happened that day," he firmly says.

"And yet, had I not interrupted —"

"Severus," he says, voice stern. "Nothing happened and nothing would have. I don't appreciate you implying otherwise."

"So you expect me to encourage this ridiculous infatuation?" Severus asks.

"Of course not," Potter tells him. "But he’s just a kid, Severus."

"He is not just a kid, Potter," Severus scoffs. "He is perfectly aware of his actions. And I wonder just how much you enjoy having your ego stroked by handsome seventeen year olds," Severus maliciously says.

"Stop that," Potter warns. "You know that’s not true."

"Do I?" he continues. "As far as I’m concerned, it may very well be. Since you don't seem to be too concerned about dissuading him."

Potter stares at him, looking both angry and perplexed.

"I can’t believe you’re doing this," he says after a moment.

"And what is it exactly that I’m doing, Potter?"

"You’re all too happy to keep our… thing a secret but then you act all jealous because of a harmless infatuated student," he says furiously.

"I am not jealous," Severus spits back with a sneer.

Potter’s eyes bore into his.

"Aren’t you?"

"I merely value my privacy and don't appreciate having my personal life on display," Severus replies. "I apologise if that does not meet your standards for exhibitionist behaviour."

A flash of hurt goes through Potter’s eyes.

"Do you mean that?" he asks quietly.

Severus holds his gaze relentlessly.

"You tell me, Potter."

Potter grimaces at the contempt behind Severus' words.

"Foolish of me to think you'd change," the man says, and Severus scoffs at him.

"You'd do well to remember that not everyone is partial to the charm of the famous Harry Potter."

Potter stares at him, looking sullen and hurt, and Severus ignores how his heart clenches inside his chest at the vision.

"Fuck you, Severus," he mutters as he turns his back to him, and Severus has a disturbing feeling of déjà-vu as he watches the man walk out of the room, his words still lingering in the air.

That night, the familiar blaze of flames in his fireplace doesn’t come. Severus tells himself that he will sleep better without the brat hijacking the bedsheets, but what really happens is that Severus spends a good two hours twisting and turning on the bed before he finally drifts off to have the worst sleep since the fall of the Dark Lord.
 

~~~

 
Severus is a proud man, and he is a self-respecting man. Hardly ever is he wrong, and above all, he will march to hell and back before he is forced to swallow his own words.

Not that he has any reason to. Not that every word that came out of his spiteful mouth wasn't entirely true. Not that Potter hadn't deserved each one of them.

So when Potter does not return the following night, or the night after that, Severus does not even contemplate seeking him out. Instead, he observes him through the corner of his eye, striding the halls or sitting at meals, and makes a resolute effort not to let his gaze drift the man's way.

It turns out that Potter isn't even easy to spot. His presence in the castle is more subdued than it ever was, and his attendance in the Great Hall only becomes perceptible whenever Filius or Rubeus prompt him to speak. On the occasions that Severus inadvertently steals a look, the man’s expression is positively gloomy, and more than once he catches Potter staring right back, his eyes a hollow, defeated shade of green. Neither of them lets their gaze linger for more than a second, which is still more than enough time for Severus' stomach to twist and turn violently in his gut.

By the third day of the fool's absence, Severus’ sleep deprivation has reached formidable proportions, and he blames it for the break of his resolve as he finally chases Potter after dinner and drags him into a deserted corridor by the arm.

"What do you want, Severus?" the man says, his voice tired and flat.

Instead of an answer, Severus responds by pushing him to the wall and capturing his lips in a passionate, violent kiss. It takes Potter a few seconds to kiss back, but when he does his body melts like warm butter against Severus. When they finally part, Potter's eyes have a faint gleam to them, and Merlin — does Severus’ heart beat faster at the slightest hint of Potter’s fire.

"Return to my rooms with me," Severus urgently says as he glances briefly around them to ensure they haven’t been spotted.

Potter responds with a long sigh and in an instant his expression turns defeated again.

"What is it that we’re doing, Severus?"

"I seem to recall asking you the very same question months ago," Severus says. "And as I remember it, you did not have a satisfactory answer."

"Yes, well," Potter interjects. "It’s been months, as you say. And I’d really like to have it answered. By both of us."

They stare at each other in silence until Potter speaks again.

"Tell me — do you want to be with me?"

Severus fights against his brain to force the answer out of his mouth.

"I am… partial to your company," he manages.

"And just how important is my company to you?"

He feels the words getting stuck in his throat, and stays silent instead.

"Severus," Potter starts. "I respect that you’re a private man. I understand that you don’t care for public displays of affection, and that you have no desire to expose your private life. I can relate to that, I really can."

Potter’s face is completely unguarded, and Severus is taken aback by the softness he witnesses in his features.

"But I told you I wasn't looking for casual sex and I meant it," he continues. "So this whole business of us fucking behind closed doors and then pretending like it's nothing when we're out in the world… I don't think I can do it, Severus."

Severus tries to make sense of Potter’s words, as a cold feeling of dread starts to grow in the pit of his stomach.

"In the beginning I had no idea what I was doing, it scared the shit out of me.  Every time we were together felt unreal," Potter says. "Each time I left I didn't know if you'd let me back in. I wondered when we would piss each other off so much that we'd finally have a shouting match. I didn't know if we'd end up hating each other even more than before. The only thing I knew is that I wanted more." He pauses for a few seconds before speaking again. "But it's been five months and I'm pretty sure I know by now. Because the time I spend with you is the best part of my week. I love the conversations that we have. Or even if we're just working or reading. I love having you by my side while I sleep. And I don't really like sleeping alone anymore, either. It's been five months, Severus, and I still want more."

Severus keeps very still, and he listens. However transparent Potter always is, this is the first time he has spoken openly about their time together. Severus isn't quite sure what exactly Potter is trying to tell him, but it causes his stomach to knot painfully regardless.

"I’m not asking you to hold hands or kiss me in public. Merlin knows I value my own privacy too. But I care about you too much to pretend I’m okay with how things have been. Because I want it, I want you," he keeps talking, eyes wide and open. "And I want to be able to take you out, Severus. Go for a walk in Hogsmeade, enjoy dinner at some fancy place. Not live in constant fear of what people might think. Actually take a chance at this thing. Or else we'll be doomed from the start."

Potter stops to take a heaving breath, as if the speech is draining the energy out of him. 

"So, this is it," he says decisively. "I'm giving you everything I’ve got, and it's frightening, but it's the truth. Here's my answer, Severus. What's yours?"

Severus feels the intensity of Potter's gaze and swallows dryly. There is a low ringing sound in his ears and channelling words from his brain to his tongue seems absolutely impossible.

"I don't —" he starts, but his throat seems to tighten. His breath comes in shallow, quiet puffs. "I don't see why we can't remain as we are."

Potter sighs tiredly and his gaze turns downwards.

"I see," he says. A few seconds go by before he looks back up. "I swear I’m not trying to corner you. It’s okay if you don’t want the same as me, I just… I think I might have to take a step back," he says as he looks straight at Severus. "I don’t want to return to that dark place I was in before, Severus," he finishes quietly.

Time goes by and Potter just stares at him, as if giving Severus a chance to say something. Which, of course, Severus doesn’t, and instead he allows for the last shred of hope that still lived inside his chest to fade out and extinguish, just as he knew it inevitably would. Potter lifts his hand to brush the tips of his fingers against Severus’ cheek.

"This has been… incredible," Potter says, and then he kisses him so tenderly that Severus almost bursts from the emotion that it sparks within. It's warm and broken and it feels like goodbye.

And then he leaves, and Severus is left wondering why exactly does it feel like his heart has shattered into a million pieces just then.
 

~~~

 
The next duelling class is close to unbearable, and before Potter even begins to dismiss the class, Severus storms out of the classroom in a haste. In his chambers, he gets fully intoxicated for the first time since Christmas, and damns himself for getting caught up in Potter’s web so foolishly and so thoroughly.

The following day, Minerva summons him to her office, and Severus has no choice but to sit at her desk, a dull headache throbbing against his skull.

"What matter would you need to discuss so urgently that it cannot wait until Monday?" he strikes, hoping to be quickly dismissed.

"I need to speak to you about the duelling lessons," she tells him.

"Again?" Severus snorts. "There is nothing at all to report. Now, if you'd be so kind —"

"Harry came to me earlier today," she interrupts. "He told me that he feels he can adequately teach the class on his own from this time forth."

Severus can taste the bile in his throat - of course Potter would come to Minerva.

"And considering that you gave me your own positive appreciation of Harry's teaching skills, I am officially relieving you from your weekly obligation to supervise the lessons," she tells him. "Unless, that is, you feel strongly that you should continue to attend."

"I would enjoy nothing more than to be free of it. I am sure that Potter can manage his little Fan Club on his own," he says with as much contempt as he can summon.

Minerva lets out a long sigh and pauses for a few seconds before she speaks.

"I understand that something has transpired between the two of you."

And suddenly Severus can't control the furious words that come out of his mouth.

"Whatever the imbecile has told you —"

"He told me nothing, Severus," Minerva interjects, her voice stern. "Even when asked why in the heavens he would come to me less than a month before the end of the school year, when his lessons seemed to be progressing so favourably. Even when asked if there had been anything you had done to put a strain on your collaboration."

Severus scoffs at the poorly disguised accusation.

"I see where your allegiance stands."

"Allegiance?" Minerva looks at him incredulously. "For Merlin's sake, Severus. I know how vicious you can be with words and I've seen first hand your prejudice against young Harry. I had hoped that you were finally moving past your divergences, but it rather seems like things have taken a turn for the worse. And I can't say I would be surprised to find it was your own doing."

Severus swears under his breath at the Headmistress' presumptuousness, but she doesn't let that interrupt her speech.

"I will not meddle in your private affairs, Severus. But whatever has happened between Potter and yourself, I urge you to consider if it truly is beyond repair."

Severus feels his face turn into a sneer as he answers.

"Nothing has changed, Minerva. I am the same man I have always been, and neither you nor Harry bloody Potter should expect anything different," he spits furiously at her.

"I see," she says, and pauses for a moment before she continues. "And are you happy being that man, Severus?" She allows a few seconds to go by, and resumes when no answer comes forth. "Because if you are, I’ll be the first to give it a rest. But if you aren’t… Please remember that you are the only one standing in the way of your own happiness."

Happiness? Severus scoffs at the absurdity of the notion. His hands feel damp against the fabric of his robes and his chest feels tight inside his rib cage. The nerve… Severus wants to scream at her, wants to remind her that not everyone is allowed the luxury of striving for happiness.

"If that is your idea of not meddling in my affairs, you are failing quite colossally," he says through gritted teeth.

"I am aware, and for that I apologise. Take it as a friend’s concern for your well-being, if you may."

Severus stands up; he has endured too much of the woman's brass to care for his own abrasive manners.

"If you’ll excuse me, I have a potion to attend to."

"Or course," Minerva tells him, and if she realises it is a lie she does not let it on.

"And Severus?" She says right before he leaves. "Whatever happens, know that my door will always remain open for you."

Severus huffs loudly in response and flees out of the room as fast as he possibly can.
 

~~~

 
Summer approaches and the days become longer and sunnier, and yet Severus’ mood is nothing but dreadful.

The weekdays are hard enough to bear, with distracted students, increasing  classwork, and the gloomy presence of the damned Saviour to gnaw at his nerves. With the warming weather, Potter has taken to dressing lighter, and Severus finds it challenging not to look at the way the summer robes cling to his hips and his shoulders, even if the man doesn’t swing his figure quite the same as he once did. One particular day, on a warm Friday afternoon, Severus is shocked to notice that Potter wears the exact same robes as two days prior, the ones in the blinding tangerine colour and pale-gold ornaments, and he takes a smidge of comfort in knowing that Potter must surely be fighting a few devils of his own, for not once since the beginning of the school year had he repeated an outfit in the course of the same week.

Weekends, however, are a special kind of torture. He drinks too much and falls asleep too late. Sleeping through the morning brings him no satisfaction at all, but he stays in bed until his bladder forces him to rise, and spends the rest of his time brooding and trying to retrieve the memories of the days he used to look forward to the serenity of the end of the week. 

Whenever he is lost in the haze of his liquor, he finds himself wondering how exactly it would be if his recent association with Potter came to light, what it would mean to shred to pieces the solitary existence he’d carefully crafted throughout the years. He gives himself a migraine each time he dares to consider it, and each time he ends up downing an additional shot for good measure.

It’s not that he doesn’t care for Potter’s company. Thinking back on the months that they spent together brings him such a sense of warmth and content, closely followed by the torment of knowing he will likely not experience it again. It’s not that Severus doesn’t want it — the fact is undeniable by now. But he would not sacrifice the principles which had kept him safe and alive throughout the course of his life — for anybody, Boy Hero or not.

Except that he keeps imagining that he will come to his chambers to find Potter waiting for him after a hard day’s work, and he keeps expecting Potter to distract him whenever he sits at his desk, to sling his arms around his neck and whisper in his ear. And he thinks back on those lazy Sunday mornings, when Potter would bring him coffee in bed and coax the morning grumpiness out of him with a slow, luscious blowjob.

Except that the war is over, and for better and for worse, Severus has finally freed himself from the attachments that brought him both solace and misery. His parents are long dead, as are both his masters, and the connections that remain are few and of his own choosing. Time and time again he recalls Minerva's words, and faces the indisputable truth — if he answers to no one but himself, why is it that suddenly his life feels dull and desolate?

So every day Severus drowns in the weight of his own thoughts, and considers what exactly it will cost him to hold on to his privacy, his solitude and his bitterness.
 

~~~

 
Severus isn’t entirely sure what makes him leave the seclusion of his rooms to attend the End-of-Year feast. He could try telling himself that he is only avoiding Minerva's reprehension, but in all truth he couldn’t care less about the Headmistress’ reproval. Still he goes, dressed in his best formal robes, and soberly makes his way through the hallways of the castle. And just as he is reaching the Great Hall, his breath gets stuck in his throat as he spots Potter approaching him in the distance.

This time, the man wears a light-grey Muggle suit and a white shirt, complete with a dark green bow tie that matches the colour of his eyes beautifully, and a lightly-shaded enchanted boutonnière on his lapel. Despite not being as bold as his usual outfits, it fits him just as perfectly. Severus realises his feet have stopped moving as he takes in Potter’s figure, and he stands motionless, waiting for the man to pass him and enter the Great Hall. Right before Potter crosses the doorway, he locks his eyes onto Severus’ and gives him a smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes, but it makes Severus’ heart still all the same. And suddenly Severus knows exactly why he came — even if it means suffering through a whole evening of torment.

Similarly to the previous festivities, there is a live band to entertain the attendees throughout dinner, and the tables are disposed near the walls to allow for an improvised dancing stage in the centre. The Great Hall is decorated in shades of green and silver to celebrate Slytherin’s victory of the House Cup, but not even that is enough to brighten Severus’ mood. He swallows a total of five mouthfuls before he sets his cutlery aside, forgoing dessert altogether, and by the time people are finishing their meals and standing up to mingle, Severus is fairly sure he shouldn't stay a minute longer. But then he notices Potter rising from his seat, and suddenly it’s as if his arse is glued to the chair, so he just sits and watches and prolongs his torment further.

He watches as Potter takes Minerva’s hand and directs her to the centre of the Hall, and how they put on a show as they dance and twirl to the sound of the lively folk. A good portion of the students stare and snicker at the sight, but after a minute they seem to forget them entirely, and in no time at all they are crowding the dancefloor themselves and swinging to the joyous beat.

Severus feels vaguely grateful for the crowd as it makes it easier to conceal his attention on Potter and the way he gracefully moves within the confines of his slim suit. And for a moment, as if he senses the scrutiny, Potter’s eyes meet his across the room, and something violently stirs inside Severus. How easy it would be to forget that Potter will not be returning to his rooms later that night, or that Severus will not get to tear that impeccable suit off his body. And yet here they are, a few dozen yards and an infinite distance between them.

The music shifts to a calmer ballad, and Potter and Minerva take the chance to part. As Potter is left without a partner, Severus notices someone rapidly moving towards the man through the herd of students. It doesn't take long for him to realise what is happening — in less than five seconds, Potter is in Jacobs' reach, and the boy stretches out his hand in a clear invitation. Potter nods politely, and they assume their dancing positions keeping a respectable distance between them.

The image of the two men at such proximity burns through Severus’ retinas, and he can’t look away even if he tries to. His blood boils steadily in his veins, like a slow burn that incenses him from within. It is not a new feeling, and it hardly matters by now. But still, it is all Severus can think about — this self-assured boy, how relentless and unashamed he is in his pursuit of Potter, how untroubled by everybody else’s judgement. And, ultimately, how that seems to be exactly what Potter himself is in search of.

And it is right then, as he watches the pair slow-dance in the distance, that Severus suddenly realises — he is not jealous of the way that Potter holds the boy’s waist or the weak smiles that he grants him. What Severus is jealous of is this seventeen-year-old that stands with his head held high, so unapologetic about what he wants, and entirely unafraid to seize it.

And, in that moment, Severus realises how he is about to lose Harry Potter for good because he is too much of a coward to do anything about it. 

So Severus does the only thing he can think of — he silences his brain and goes with his heart instead.

His legs feel airy, like they’re not completely wired to his body, but they work well enough to transport him from his seat to the edge of the dancing venue. By the time he reaches it, a good portion of the students take notice, and many have halted to look in his direction. Willing his feet forward, he stalks onto the dancefloor. He vaguely registers the song coming to an end, but the roaring panic and the deep thud of his heart only get louder with each step he takes. Despite the crowd, he does not find it hard to move forward; bodies scurry out of his path like opposing magnetic fields. He feels the weight of eyes on him and tries not to choke on his breath.

By the time he finally reaches his destination, he has already been spotted. And for all the times Severus has found the man’s features so open and unconcealed, his expression is now completely indiscernible. Except for his eyes, burning green and unblinking, penetrating Severus’ soul all the way to his core, and enough to still the turmoil of his conscience. 

"If you'll excuse me, Mr. Jacobs. I must insist that I grant Harry the next dance."

Severus doesn’t even glance the boy's way. Instead, he keeps his eyes on Harry, who stares back at him wide-eyed in evident shock. Through the corner of his eye he registers how the boy glances back and forth between the both of them and nods in his direction before disappearing past his peripheral vision. 

The music has started again, a spirited effervescent beat that sounds very off to Severus’ ears. Now that he stands before Harry, he isn’t sure how to approach him, how to touch him, and he is reminded of that decisive moment when they stood by Severus’ bed for the very first time, when Harry reached out to him and made him forget about the thundering alarm bells that resonated in his brain. And as if reading his mind, Harry stretches out his hand and Severus takes it without thinking, and immediately feels the warmth of it grounding him in place.

He steps forward and loosens his hold of Harry to bring both hands to the sides of the man’s waist, while Harry settles his own hands on Severus’ chest. Now, how hard can this be? His feet are suddenly very heavy and forcefully glued to the ground, and his whole body feels like it is made out of lead. But slowly, very slowly, Severus swings his legs ever-so-slightly, initiating a subtle and stiff side-to-side motion to the remainder of his frame.

For the longest ten seconds in Severus’ life, they oscillate awkwardly to the sound of the excessively energetic music. And then Harry's face opens in a wide, radiant smile and Severus’ chest feels as if it’s about to burst.

"What are you doing?" Harry asks, the bright idiotic smile still plastered on his lips.

"Dancing," he answers matter-of-factly, like his heart isn’t threatening to burst out his throat. Harry's eyes glimmer as he looks up at Severus, and it’s like the life has returned to him in a matter of seconds.

"I didn't know you danced," he quietly says.

"You don't know a great deal of things about me."

Harry's arms move upwards and around Severus’ neck as he shifts closer and brings his head to rest against Severus’ left shoulder. Severus feels the man’s figure effortlessly swinging to the music, and he feels his own rigid body soften slightly.

"I would like to take you out to dinner sometime, if you’d let me," he whispers near Harry's ear.

"I’d like that."

They sway in place until the music comes to an end, and Harry untangles himself from Severus. He grasps Severus’ hand tightly before they part. His eyes hold promise.

On the way out, Severus glides past the dumbfounded onlookers and ignores each one of them. Minerva intercepts his gaze and gives him a small, knowing smile; he ignores her as well. Seconds after he moves across the doorway, he hears the erupting uproar from within the Great Hall, but his feet keep marching forward in the direction of his chambers, where he will sit and wait.

It seems like Harry Potter's reckless audacity is contagious, indeed.