Obligatory Disclaimer: The characters belong to JK Rowling (although I don't think she quite saw them in this way) without permission and without malice.  While I wish I could make money off of it, none is being earned and this piece is strictly for entertainment purposes; suing me would be pointless as I have no assets except my mind and I dare you to try and get it.  The original story line this one follows (with permission) is "Pledges" by Amireal and I have tried to maintain the storyline continuity and to establish some fixed-action patterns (a fancy psych term for habits) for our ironic, errant professor and his irrepressible, but sometimes overenthusiastic husband. I tried to write the story as a stand alone piece , but if you are confused (or even if you're not), I would suggest you read the most excellent "Pledges" before this one as the story is set wholly in Amireal's World, many, many years in the future.

Author's Notes:This story is set wholly in Amireal's World, many, many years in the future and concerns the continuation of the relationship of our ironic, errant professor and his irrepressible, but sometimes overenthusiastic husband. Amireal has written a lovely love story and you really should read it.

Yes, I know the Prologue is really weird and really depressing, but necessary--don't worry--it's the only piece like it in the whole story.

My thanks to my betas--Haldolpoim and Rainyshiny.

Bring Me To Life : A Continuation

A Harry Potter Fan Fiction

Part One

By I Got Tired of Waiting


Section One: A Cause For Celebration

The Champagne cork flew far in the air only just ahead of the stream of foamy pale liquid rocketing out of the bottle held in Severus' hands.  He laughed, a full laugh, his mouth open, making all the wrinkles on his face squeeze together along with his eyes, which had almost disappeared.

Harry, not quite as fast as he once was, nonetheless dodged out of the way of the foamy stream with instincts honed from years of dodging Bludgers.  Ron behind him, however, was not so lucky--Hermione was bent double, her hands on her knees laughing at the look on his face as he stood frozen--the icy liquid running down his face and onto his new robes; he chortled along with the rest of them.

Severus, his eyes dancing triumphantly called out, "Bull's-eye!  I couldn't hit you again if I tried.  Well, maybe I could, but that's not the point.  How absolutely, delightfully, perfect Weasley!  I believe THAT makes us even for the green slime so vigorously exploded all over my Potion's classroom when you and Mr. Potter--" he looked over to Harry, "--Decided the next ingredient was not bat's wings, but Blasting Beetle Eyes.  Ten points to Slytherin."  The crowd laughed.

Looking around, Severus could see no one in the room who had not come through either his or Harry's Potions classes at Hogwarts, each face familiar, each face having, at one time or another, exploded--something--in their classroom.  Except one, Hermione, and she didn't count as she was in a--class--all by herself.

A mental groan: [[*Oh--that was sooo bad.*]]

[[*Well it's true, Neville always exploded things, not her.  I never did understand why she always paired with him.  Damn, I keep aiming for him and missing.*]]

[[*Pity, it was pity.  That and we had a keen desire to survive the Class--she just drew the short straw.  Oh, and you're missing Neville because Ginny keeps diverting it--how do you think Ron got hit--Ginny has her own flair for vengeance.*]]

[[*Lucky sod--*]]

"Revenge will be mine," Severus declared laughing, shaking the bottle once more, and releasing yet another stream of foamy liquid.  People scattered, laughing as yet another victim was nailed.

Harry moved off to the side and with a small grin on his face, watched his husband work the crowd.  Over the years, Severus had become quite adept at the theatrics of his position and it had been many generations since the school had seen a Headmaster with such a flair for drama as Severus.  He drew everything out until it had been savored to its fullest.

[[*Quite a change from the dour, sarcastic, reclusive Potion's Master of old.  Only took you a hundred or so years--*]] Harry laughed to himself.

[[*Don't forget ironic, brilliant, witty, graceful down long hallways, able to sweep robes better than anyone else--*]]

[[*All right, all right--I get the picture; don't tempt me in front of all these people.  However, you did forget one small thing from before you became so urbane--*]]

[[*Oh?  Really?  Let me see--Ah yes--handsome, debonair, brilliant--did I already mention brilliant?--*]] at the shake of Harry's head, Severus mentally shrugged and thought, [[*--What?*]]

[[*Lonely.  You forgot lonely.*]]

[[*You know, Potter,*]] he started with a growl, then deflated, [[*Maybe I should just get you a hammer--with all the nails you been hitting on my head lately it might be less painful.*]]

Harry laughed at the mental image of hammering nails into Severus' head; Severus laughed with him, sending him a picture of him grabbing the hammer and using it to hang Harry's entrails to the wall.  All in all it was a typical exchange.

Severus Snape, Headmaster of Hogwarts, stepped up to the front of the stage-like area raised at the back of the Great Hall.  The giant room had been cleared of the supper things, and the toasting things, and now held the speaking things--long neat rows of comfortable seats stretching all the way back to the doors where several hundred people from Hogsmeade and surrounding communities had come to celebrate his anniversary.

Of course, if they wanted the champagne, they had to hear Severus speak.  Rumour had been strong this year that something special was planned.  So what in years past had been a huge pile of regrets and a short pile of RSVP's became this year, the "in" place to be--every invitation accepted.  Behind him on the dais where he stood, alone in the front, the staff of Hogwarts was seated sedately, the older ones in the back already nodding off from the heavy meal.

Harry was sitting with the audience, to the side in the middle, close enough for Severus to see him clearly without straining, but far enough away to not draw attention.  Beside him sat Ron and Hermione, behind him Ginny and Neville.  He knew their huge extended families were interspersed throughout the crowd; how many of them there were, he'd lost count of many years ago, although he was quite certain Hermione could have told him, down the 'halves' not yet born, had he really wanted to know.  Remus and Arabella sat in front of him and he felt secure surrounded by so many people he knew and loved.

Severus raised his hands; an expectant silence fell over the crowd.  "How many of you remember Albus Dumbledore, personally?"  he began, looking at the smattering of hands throughout the audience.  The small number saddened him in a way.  "So I thought.  And since I am NOT old, I have to ask, damn it, when did the rest of you get so young?"  There was an appreciative laugh.  "I often wonder what Albus would say if he saw us today, sitting here.  So much has changed, would he recognize us at all?

Harry, listening to his dulcet tones more than his words, found himself asking himself much the same question--not in general, but about--them.  Much had happened in those years as the spell binding them, still active, aligned them until, more often than not, it was hard to tell them apart from their mannerisms to their razor-sharp wit.  With the coming of age, they began to look alike.  Their hair changed to the same silver white; Harry's was always a wild halo around his head, while Severus' was usually long and straight, unless worn tied at the back with a strip of black leather when working.  Their close-shaven skin filled with laugh crinkles; although they did not move as fast as they once had, their backs were still as straight--the spell kept them obscenely healthy.

Both still prowled the halls of Hogwarts, their spare but loose, long-legged gait sending robes billowing out gracefully around them.  Harry especially, still enjoyed those rare moments, when turning a corner or entering a long hallway, he could surreptitiously watch Severus' ground-eating pace; he found the dark robes flowing, the silky hair flying, the panther-like grace with which Severus moved was one of the most arousing things he'd ever seen. Severus did not walk, he stalked.  And, pounced.  Harry truly liked the pouncing parts.

[[*Picture me licking my lips in anticipation--*]]

[[*Oh, behave yourself!  You're about to make a libidinous spectacle of yourself.  Wouldn't do to blow your image at his late date, now would it?*]]  He felt Severus' mock-pout and sent him his laughter.

With their similar height and build, it was not unusual to see them wearing similar attire.  Black mandarin collar, long sleeve shirts, pinned high at the throat and securely at the wrists were tucked into their favored loose black leather trousers (which they both thought were 'sexy as hell') tapered over short black leather boots.  Sometimes, when working in their lab, or practicing their defense moves, they found a black Muggle-style T-Shirt, sans robes, more comfortable.  A special belt, once worn daily, (but rarely now) rode low on the hips mostly concealed under their robes; one side held a quick-release knife holster, the other a small but powerful Muggle pistol.  The trousers near the calf and their robes at the sleeve cuff were fitted with special pockets for their collection of Muggle daggers.

Their robes were a different matter all together.  Because of the time they had spent out among the Muggles, they adopted a different type of robe.  It was open and shorter, falling several inches short of the floor.  More like an open coat or cloak than a robe, it exposed the black clothing underneath.  They had two types, both collarless.  One was casual, of black broadcloth, suitable for the ever-present rain in London or everyday use, the other, more formal, of butter soft, supple black leather lined with soft fur worn during the colder seasons--or at their whim.  

The open sleeves were fuller than a Muggle coat, but not as wide and deep at the cuff as the more traditional robes of their youth.  Severus had wanted the cloaks to fall straight from the tailored, padded shoulders, like a Muggle duster, but Harry insisted on the 'billow' he was so fond of and after some compelling--persuasion--from Harry, Severus was unable to disagree considering the benefits he derived from the--desired--fit of his cloak.

[[*I almost didn't walk for a week after your little--persuasion--t'would have served you right--abusing an old, frail, helpless man like me, just to have your way.*]]

[[*I did NOT see you complain about the results, just the practical application of the theory as McGonagall was wont to say.  If memory serves, I was quite comfortable with you nice and warm between me and the cold, hard, stone floor.*]]

Noting the silence in the Great Hall, Harry continued, [[*Severus--Pay Attention!  While I can think of SO many more pleasant things for that tempting mouth of yours to do than just spew such pompous drivel, your audience is waiting impatiently to gather carefully each pearl of wisdom you deign to throw at them.*]]

[[*The only drivel I am hearing is--never mind.*]]

[[*Smart Severus, you're always smart.  You better hurry up and start speaking again--your guests are growing weary of your 'Dirty-Old-Man-Staring-Hungrily-At-His-Younger-Lover' look right now.*]]

[[*Wonderful--and who says I was staring at you?*]]  He returned to his speech.

Severus continued his speech.  "We have our families, surely he would have approved of that. At least four generations have been born.  Family was important to Albus--he protected me--gave me his abiding respect--not only because he was my blood-kin, my great-uncle, but because he believed everyone deserved respect."   He paused to let the ripples of surprise subside before continuing,"To him, family was a celebration.  I believe he would have heartily approved of how we have extended it, changed it, nurtured it."

[[*You are my only family, now.*]]  Severus sent him somewhat subdued, a picture of a laughing girl with chestnut hair flashing through his mind.

[[*I know, I miss her, too--but they are also our family,*]] Harry sent back looking at Ron and Hermione.  He suddenly realised all of the family they claimed, except Lenore, came from him, not Severus.  Arabella and Remus were the only two Severus claimed as friends of his own and they had come later in his life--well, sort of.  He'd never thought about how accommodating Severus had been and how intrusive his life must have seemed to him in the beginning.  To go from only Albus to the full extended family they shared today, must have been torture for the reclusive Potion's Master.

[[*It had its moments.  For a while I felt like the baby-sitter, but growing up has a way of equalizing things.  Even though I was so much older, I still had some growing up to do as well--Albus, the bugger, knew it, too.  Once we got THAT little inconvenience out of the way, it wasn't TOO bad, although adding Draco to the mix later certainly made it far more interesting.  At least Hermione was smart enough to work most of it out on her own and keep them occupied.  That left only you deal with.  You were, at best, a confounding pain in the arse and an utterly shaggable brat.  At worst--*]]

[[*Just don't go all gushy on me, all right?*]]  He lightly chuckled, and felt rather than heard, Severus' rather caustic reply.

Ron, Hermione, and Draco as ever, were near the center of their lives.  They'd lived together in Oxford while Hermione and Draco finished their degrees.  Ron became an Auror, a dangerous enough profession in the beginning, starting with the mop-up of the Death Eaters after the fall of Voldemort.  They thrived and after a while they ceased to be a novelty and were called The Trio.  However, they'd met some obstacles when they tried to get married.  Not that this had stopped them from--cohabitating.

Shortly after she finished her advanced studies in Charms, Hermione found herself pregnant with their first child; a move Harry always suspected was engineered by Severus in conjunction with Ron and Draco.  Severus was the only one who prepared her contraceptive potion and he was too good a Potion's Master to have made such a simple mistake.

[[*It WAS a simple mistake, I was distracted, if you recall.*]]

[[*Oh?  How so?*]]

[[*I was making it the night you decided to come down and "assist" me in the work room.*]]  He sent a graphic image of his memory.


[[*As eloquent as ever, Potter,*]] he drawled

[[*How long have we been together?--Never mind, let me rephrase--How many times have I asked you not to call me 'Potter'?*]]

[[*Are we in bed?  I can't even use my imagination on this one!*]]  He laughed at the private joke made the first time they'd encountered reporters.

[[*So you're saying Seth is MY fault?*]]

[[*Absolutely, you're the one who caused the problem in the first place, with your lovely distraction.*]]

[[*Oh--bugger off.*]]

[[*Anytime, Potter,*]] he chuckled, [[*Anytime.*]]

I ought to take him up on the offer right here, right now, and see what he does--he'd probably spit, Harry thought with wry humour.

Christmas later in the year had been memorable.  There had been a change in plans.  Most of the staff had gone on Holiday, even Poppy--only Flitwick and George remained.  With a small handful of students staying the Holidays and given George's tendency to act like one, Severus and Harry had stayed to keep an eye on them.

A jubilant Ron, a dazed Draco, and a weary eight-month pregnant Hermione arrived to celebrate the Holidays with them.  Arthur and Molly, delayed by his work at the Ministry, would be joining them and George for Christmas Day.

They'd celebrated on Christmas Eve with The Trio and George, laughing with Hermione at her ungainliness, marvelling at her hugeness, and more than a little awed by the strong movements felt and seen under her skin.  Severus had teased the two men mercilessly at their part in it, helping them hide their fear of the up-coming birth while levitating small rubber balls on Hermione's belly to watch the "mountain" kick them off.

The blizzard had come upon them unexpectedly in the night--as did the collapse of the Floo Network--And, the labor pains Hermione started on the night of Christmas Day.

Truly isolated with the Floo down, and the Hogwarts anti-Apparating Wards up, Severus and Draco, with the small knowledge they had of such things, delivered the child, a boy--Ron and Harry coaching with pale determination, their hearts frozen at times with the sound of Hermione's panting screams, awed by the effort she made.  The baby was delivered, healthy, but they could not staunch the blood--so much blood.  At the sight of her increasingly frail and pale face, George lost it.

Ron and Draco frantically searched the library and finally found the spells they needed, while Severus and Harry did all they could to keep her alive and George calm.

The baby was huge, with his lusty cries, and his bright red hair--Weasley hair--and grey eyes--Malfoy eyes.  It was at this time Hermione began to have her radical ideas about the bloodlines.  Harry smiled at the memory of the comforting domesticity of the two men framing her on the bed while she nursed the baby--Setherus, they named him--Seth they called him.  Seth was their first godchild.

[[*The first of how many?  Never mind--I'm not sure I really want to know the answer.*]]

[[*What a relief, because I lost count at 60 or so quite a long time ago.*]]

Then Ginny and Neville got married.  Severus had been impressed with her defense of them on Harry's 18th birthday, and so she became another part of their extended family.  When she started dating Neville, Severus, with his customary sarcasm, made the mistake of baiting Neville in front of her and learned first hand why she had earned the reputation for her famous temper.  Afterwards, Severus wisely left his comments for when he and Harry were alone and was surprised (and pleased if truth be known) when they asked him to officiate.

Severus planned his chaos well; he'd had a lot of fun dreaming up the exquisite tortures he put them through.  Neville was convinced he'd hexed the cake (which he had) and he'd never forget the look on Neville's face when they went on the enchanted dancing floor for the first dance.  Neville never guessed until years later the depth of his former Potions Master's affections for the two of them.  Severus would never have expended the effort for all the mischief if he hadn't loved them in his own way.

He recalled Severus' teasing face and words as he bound them, the cords turning from satin to beautiful ivy once woven, the softening around his eyes only Harry recognized as he wordlessly acknowledged their union.  Severus mock-stalked Neville like he used to in Potions, his comments flustering the still-shy man.  He remembered Ginny standing in front of Severus, telling him to behave, her famous temper matching her sparkling hair--Severus' had laughed when confronted by the flaming Ginny.  His laughter--so rare then, but all the more special for it.  He laughed inside himself remembering their wedding night gift--Neville stammering and Ginny blushing.  Severus' idea, that one, wicked man.

[[*I'm still not sure they knew what to do with it,*]] Severus thought with a very evil chuckle.

[[*Well, it certainly wasn't for a lack of explanation--you made MY ears flame.*]]

[[*It wasn't for their ears--*]]

"We've seen the beginnings of two centuries, witnessed the craziness of the Muggles, and fought hard to keep our Wizarding life separate and secluded even as the Muggles hunted us as magical slaves for their senseless wars," Severus was saying in his eloquence.

They'd ventured into the Muggle's society; Harry's previous life there made him the perfect spy.  Harry and Severus, sometimes with The Trio, would often venture forth into the mundane to observe; later to fight.  At first they just wanted to see what the furor was all about with the little Muggle wars springing up all over the world.

Hermione was worried, rightly so as it turned out, that the smaller conflicts would ignite, as it had so often done in Muggle history, into a full global war.  Each incident by itself was nothing to worry about, but taken as a whole they signalled the beginnings of the Devastation.

During this time, in preparation for the premonitions they both shared (Madame Trelawney notwithstanding), Severus took him beyond the simple stretching routine they did every morning.  He taught him the Asian ways of defending himself with and without magic.  They both learned the expertise necessary to use the daggers and pistols, which were added as skill and circumstance warranted.

Harry taught him Muggle customs and slang, slowly eroding the precision with which the former Potion's Master sharp tongue still lashed out at anyone getting too close.  Severus rather enjoyed, sometimes, the confused look on his hapless victims' faces when he used a Muggle phrase as HE knew he had scored a victory, but they had not a clue.  Other times, he found the corruption of his honed language insupportable and Harry was often subjected to some lengthy discourses on the subversive nature of Muggle language.

For a very brief time, before war broke out in England, Severus introduced him to the "alternative" night life of London.  While he did not much like the manic and sometimes sleazy feel of the bars and other establishments Severus managed to find, he did have to admit it was rather fun to experience the rare freedom of socializing where worry was reduced to wondering whether the biker standing next you was the one who had just pinched your ass.

[[*Your little biker friend was sooo attractive.*]]

[[*Oh yes, enchanting--if you go for the 300 pound gorilla, fake leather, hairy beer-belly type.*]]

[[*Ah, but he had an admirable taste for appetizing asses.*]]

[[*Ri-ight.  He lusted after yours, but pinched mine.*]]

[[*I got you out of there in one piece. didn't I?*]]

[[*Uh huh, but not before we almost wore our hands out with all those 'Obliterate' spells.  And, I just loved running one step ahead of the Aurors chasing us.  I don't even want to KNOW what would have happened had they caught us!*]]

[[*Well, yes, but they didn't did they? And, they didn't have a clue as to who those 'renegade' Wizards were.  Still don't.  They still talk about 'us' down at the Ministry,*]] Severus thought rather proudly.  [[*Plus, even YOU must admit, the sex WAS utterly fantastic that night.*]]

Harry had no reply to this.  Severus was, as usual, absolutely correct, right down to his delectable ass--

Unfortunately, their little escapade was one of the last light-hearted things they did for many years.

They'd barely survived several encounters with the Muggles, who had finally discovered there were magical people, hidden, that they could use to their advantage against their enemies.  As is their wont, the Muggles quickly became adept at capturing and enslaving Wizards and Witches whenever they could find them, using their families as leverage.

Some Mudbloods joined them willingly, their ties with the Wizarding World easily severed as the ancient prejudices of the Purebloods had left a bitter aftertaste and a desire for revenge.

Severus grew more desperate with each passing year, his biting humour eroding into a soul-eating, bitter cynicism as the Muggle's ingenuity began to intrude on their daily lives.  He despaired at their failure to stop the abductions and mourned the loss of the good people who refuse to submit.   And, at times, when it could be borne in silence no more, Severus would lash-out at the first person around, usually Harry, who bore the whole thing stoically and never took it personally; he knew how much Severus suffered.

It was much worse than the times with Voldemort.  He'd at least been only one Wizard with a finite group of followers.  THIS was genocide of a sort, pitting the small (in comparison) Wizarding World with the vast resources of the Muggle World, a World very few of them understood.  Suddenly, the Mudbloods who remained were no longer pariahs, their knowledge and way of thinking invaluable; many were recruited and trained as Aurors.

The Aurors spent as much time rescuing such wizarding folk as they did protecting the rest of the population from being taken.  Ron, a powerful Auror for many years, still headed the Muggle Response Team, which was responsible for retrieving Wizarding families out of Muggle installations.  Their division had to keep pace with the Muggle surveillance techniques, which with their war technologies grew by leaps and bounds every year.

For an interminable time, all their lives revolved around rescuing their fellow wizards from the clutches of the Muggles and trying not to get caught themselves.

It had been close at times, too close.



Intermission One:
Merely This, and Nothing More.

In the early days right after Severus and Harry started extending the Wards over the outskirts of Hogsmeade, Remus, now an Auror, with Ron had come to the school with two other Aurors with some daunting news.  The moment they'd imparted it to Severus, he'd growled and then said something about needing Harry and he stalked away with his usual speed and grace.

Remus had always liked Severus, but was a little discomfited by the distance with which Severus always held him.  Following him, they stopped in a colonnade near the Quidditch Pitch; they did not want to alarm the students with their presence.

Harry had been up on his broom watching some first years try their brooms out for the first time.  Severus, stood by the side a few moments admiring his skill; arms crossed, alertly watching the neophytes while nonchalantly hovering a few feet off the ground--his legs gripping the broom were all that kept him aloft.

Severus knew what those legs could do--how strong they were--Not now, Severus.  Shaking his head at this interruption to his purpose, he strode across the pitch and called out to Harry.

Harry, ever aware of Severus' scrutiny, took one look at the stern face and calling the students back to the ground, dismissed them off to their common rooms until their next class.  Once the disappointed first years were well on their way back to the castle, Harry touched down, and followed Severus, his custom broom over his shoulder.

They stopped at the colonnade, where Ron, James Boll (know as JimJim), Patricia Parker (called Pat), and Remus were already waiting.  Severus was succinct in his explanation.

"Ron has come with the news that six children have been taken from Hogsmeade out of the Primary School, their teacher dead.  They are asking us to come with them because of the Shielding Spell we have been working on.  They will escort us out of there--our job is to protect the children."  

He looked significantly at Harry, [[*One of them is Colin.*]]

[[*Oh Fuck!*]]

[[*My thoughts exactly. We MUST, if no one else, get him out of there, alive, or all of this--all of this will have been for NOTHING.*]]

[[*I know, I know. We'll get him, promise!*]]

[[*There you go, making promises, I may have to keep. Damn you.*]] he thought without rancor.

Harry nodded, his adrenaline already starting to run, asked, "Do we know where they have been taken?"

Ron's talent was the ability to focus his powers like a Divining Rod to find missing Wizards and Witches.  He had been working with Severus to try and decipher just how he did it so they could teach more people the skill.  They'd met with limited success.  Ron had already pin-pointed their location and the six of them, with some planning, would be going after them.

"Of course, we know it's a trap.  The Muggles have no need for them--they're too young and untrained," Remus had briefed them.  "The children are being held on the outskirts of London, in the European Command Base.  It's obvious they are using the children as bait to lure in adult rescuers."  He growled like the wolf he was.  "Sodding cowards."

JimJim, a recent recruit grinned and said with youthful enthusiasm, "Instead, they'll get us!"

Pat, a veteran Auror, said nothing, but rolled her eyes and gave JimJim the same look she would have to a puppy who'd wet the floor.

The plan was pretty simple as plans went, they would Apparate in, go invisible, find the children, and round them up as they did not expect to find them all in one place.  Severus and Harry would shield the children and once clear of the base and its anti-Apparating wards set-up by the turncoat Mudbloods, they would Apparate back to Hogsmeade.

After first donning their fighting gear and notifying Poppy and the stand-in Headmaster, Sinistra, of their mission, they set the plan in motion.  The six Apparated a distance of about two kilometers away from their goal in an old alley.  Donning cloaks and spells, they crept out of the safety of the alley and ran, at a ground-eating pace, the distance to the installation.  They crept through the check-point at the entrance gate and made their way inside.

The problem with Invisibility Capes and Spells is that they only hide the wearer or caster from visual detection.  They are vulnerable to touch and as they would soon find out, infrared.  The Commandant of the Base watched their progress with satisfaction and if truth be known quite a bit of respect for the courage these Wizards were exhibiting coming here in the first place.  Of course, children were children regardless of race and if it had been his stolen, he would have done the same thing.  He'd counted on it, in fact.

He patiently waited until they had five of the six children and were near the sixth before he sprang his trap. He had no intentions of letting any of them go; the six brats useful as leverage (no one liked to see a child tortured) and if the adults proved stubborn were a reasonable sacrifice to get his hands on six of their Aurors, for that is what he supposed he had.

Which was just too damn bad for him.

"Harry, Watch Out!" Severus cried, ducking to the side as a group of Muggle soldiers rounded the corner, dart guns in hand.  Harry, maintaining the shield around him and the children, instantly got behind them and kept them moving even as he extended the shield to cover Severus as well.  He started to sweat.

"Don't worry about us," Ron called to them as he dodged another dart and sent one of the Muggles flying into the wall, "Just find the last one and get the hell out of here.  We'll watch your backs."

Worried, but knowing Ron was right, Severus in front, and Harry in back, shepherded the little ones, none older than six, ahead while Remus, walking backwards guarded their back.  They'd reached the last cell, Severus busy with the lock while Harry concentrated on holding the shield.  The spell was only designed to hold two adults in relative safety against the darts, not two adults and five children.  He did not know how much longer he could hold it with Severus unable to help him maintain it, spending his energy instead on a stubborn Muggle lock.

Ron rounded the corner, nearly stumbling into Remus.  His face was grim. "We lost Pat and JimJim", he told Remus in an undertone, but Harry heard anyway.  There's about a dozen more coming."  Calling over to Severus, he shouted, "Just shoot the damn thing, we don't have time!"

Severus, hating the firearm, nevertheless pulled it out of his holster and taking aim, shot the lock out of the door.  The shot was deafening and with the after-echoes ringing in their ears, one of the children panicked and ran out of the protection of the shield.

Harry was not quick enough to grab him, and had to drop the shield long enough to send a retrieving spell after him and haul him back into the group.  Severus, in the meantime had grabbed the last child; he was straightening up after putting her down with the others when three holes blossomed bright red in his chest, trails running black down his dark robes.  He fell without a sound.

The panicked sound of the guns coming around the corner at them was deafening.  They'd thrown away their dart guns for real ones once they'd realised the Wizards were armed.

"SEVERUS!" he shouted even as he staggered, the weakness flooding him from Severus' injury.  He went down on one knee desperately trying to reestablish the shield but was unable to see past the white hot pain behind his eyes.

Dropping down though saved his life as the bullets meant for him spun Ron around, two rounds in his shoulder, another in his gut.

Harry later reflected that all it takes is one small flash to make someone berserk.  And, he knew--intimately--what it felt like to lose his control, to draw in the tremendous power, fueled by his weakness, his fear, and his all-consuming, righteous rage, and then to release it with uncontrolled, thought-less, violent savagery.  Remus would later tell him he had shone bright with his power.

Streaks of orange light flew out of Harry's arms and hands immolating the entire contingent of Muggles racing around the corner.  The shield, large enough to encompass them all resumed, glowing a bright orange.  The sparks shooting off it singed the walls around them.

Then, doing the impossible, Harry Apparated them, six children and four adults, all to the safety of the Hogwarts' infirmary.  Through the Muggle shielding, through the Hogwarts Wards, through the very stone of the castle itself, Harry brought them home.

It was no small wonder he'd been unconscious for four days before waking.


Harry woke to the sounds of crying.  He was cocooned in a warm comfortable bed, the press of warm bodies comforting.  From the firm mattress and the memories of too much time spent previously in such a bed, he knew he was in the infirmary.

Bodies?  He opened an eye.  With what he saw, he opened the other one for good measure to make sure he wasn't seeing things.

There was more than one person in the bed.

In fact, there were three people in the bed. Two big, one very small.

Severus lay there next to him, on his side facing him, his face haggard, but alive.  Usually, when he woke up like this, he and Severus were draped over each other, the contact speeding their healing.  But now--

--Now there was a little girl there, kneeling on the bed right in between them, and it was her soft crying which had awakened him.  He studied her closely, very confused as to why she was here.  She can't be more than four, maybe less.  Her face was hauntingly familiar.

With a jolt, he realised she was the last girl Severus had rescued from the Muggles.

When Severus got shot.

The little girl kept touching Severus' face with her tiny hand, all the while crying, saying "Wake-up. Wake up, please" over and over.  

She'd obviously been doing it for a while, hence the tears.  She looked scared and Harry wracked his brains trying to figure out how to stop her AND get her off the bed before Severus, notoriously bad with small children, woke up and--really--scared her.

He hesitantly reached out a hand to touch her, ruefully admitting to himself that he was not much better with really young ones than Severus was.  He touched her arm.

She jerked back her hand and stared at him, terror in her eyes.  Harry smiled at her, trying to ease her fears.  She stopped and tilted her head at him, a million questions in her eyes.

"Why won't he wake up?" She asked quite reasonably for someone who was snuffling loudly.

"He's very tired," Harry replied.

"Why is he so tired," she asked.

Harry considered her a moment and realised he had no idea how to do this.  "He's hurt," was all he said.

"I know, he was standing next to me and then he fell. Why did he fall?"

"Because of the hurt."

She considered this a moment, and then asked, "Who are you?"

"I'm Harry"

"Why are you in the same bed?"

Well hell, he thought unsure how to reply.  He decided the simple truth might be easier.  "I'm here because Severus is my husband."

She paused seeming to accept his explanation at face value, "His name is Sezruth?"

He chuckled, "Close enough."

"You have a nice laugh, and a nice face."

"Why thank you," he said seriously.  "You have a nice face too," he added lamely.  "What's your name?"

"Lenore.  My Mum named me after a poem." she added and then burst into tears.

Harry struggled to sit up and without thinking, opened his arms to her.  Without any hesitation, she crawled into his lap and nestled in his arms against his chest, the tears shaking her small body.

Harry sat very still, not sure what to do. He decided he'd act like it was Hermione, the few times she cried.  So he held her firmly, but not so firm she'd feel trapped, he stroked her hair, rocked her a bit, and little by little her sobs subsided into little hiccups.  She buried her face and rubbed it against his T-shirt.  He loosened the hug, letting her pull back, her face all blotchy and pink.

"Are you all right? he asked her gently.

"My M-Mu-Mum's in the Hinterlands now.  I want my Mum back." she snuffled.

Shit. Now what?  The great and wise Harry Potter, 67 years grown had absolutely no idea what to say.  So he rocked her a bit and then it came to him.

"My Mum's there, too.  I expect they'll be friends."

Her face brightened.  "Oh, do you really think so?" she asked.

"Yes, I really think so.  My Mum likes to meet new people, I'm sure she'd like your Mum."

About this time, Harry began to hear the first rumblings that were Severus coming awake.  Not wanting him to scare her, he thought [[*Severus, are you awake?*]]

[[*I am thinking, therefore I must be awake.*]]

[[*How are you feeling, love?*]]

[[*Like I misstepped in front of the Hogwarts Train--while it was moving.*]]

Harry chuckled out loud.

"What's so funny?" she demanded.

[[*What the hell is that?*]] Severus asked.

Without thinking he replied, "Severus is waking up."

[[*Why is it here?*]]

[[*Good question, I don't know, but I'll ask.  Oh, by the by, it's the little girl you rescued last, her name is Lenore.*]]

"If he's waking up, why aren't his eyes opening? she asked.

"Because he's lazy and doesn't want to get up yet.  He wants to know why you are here."

"How can you know that, he hasn't said anything.

[[*Yes Harry, how can you know that?*]] Severus mimicked in a high little mental voice.  [[*And, I am NOT lazy, my head hurts abominably.*]]

"Stop that Severus, it's annoying." he said out loud.  To her he replied, "Severus and I can talk in our heads.  He says his head hurts."

She moved out of his lap and back onto the bed and then put her face very close to Severus'.  About the same time, he opened his eyes.  The two of them stared at each other, a few inches apart, dark eyes to violet.  He reared his head back, glaring, startling her.  She fell back on the bed and crawling over to Harry wrapped her arms around him and started to cry again.

At a loss, Harry glared at Severus.  [[*That was bloody brilliant.*]]

[[*Double damn. Why is the creature wailing, and more important when will it shut up!*]]

He cradled her.  "Hush now, it's all right." he murmured in her hair.

[[*Nice work, Severus.*]]

[[*I didn't do anything!*]] he protested.

[[*Uh huh, and I suppose it was your brilliant wit and charm that overcame her.*]]

[[*She startled me that's all,*]] he sent sullenly.

[[*Gods, don't you start too. That ALL I need, two of you snuffling.*]]

"Hush now, you scared him.  That's all, no need to cry now is there?"

Severus snorted.  [[*She did NOT scare me!*]] he sent vehemently.

She sniffled, wiping her face on his T-shirt again, which was by now quite soggy.  "I scared HIM?" she asked.

"Yup. That's why he pulled back. You were ferocious."

She giggled, her equilibrium restoring.  She crawled out of his lap and faced Severus again.  "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to scare you." she said quite contritely.

[[*Severus, behave!*]]

"It's all right," he croaked, his voice unused for several days. "Apology accepted."

[[*Magnanimous of you--*]]

[[*Don't start--my head hurts too much to argue with you.*]]

[[*Ah, you're only saying that because you know I'm right.*]]

[[*Harry, please understand I have only your best intentions in mind when I say--SOD OFF!*]]

Harry laughed out loud again.  Lenore looked askance at him and then looked at Severus, his eyes closed, a wave of pain running across his face.

"Why are you laughing at him, he hurts." she asked suspiciously.

"I'm sorry.  He said something funny."


[[*Yes, Harry tell the little girl what I said.*]]


Harry turned beet red.  "Uh, well, it was something grown-ups say to each other."

She seemed to accept that.  Maybe she'd heard it before.

"Why are you here, little one," Severus asked uncomfortably but gently, after clearing his throat.

He was always surprising Harry.

"I wanted to thank you and tell you I was really sorry.  I was supposed to be asleep, but I heard Uncle George tell Aunt Angie that you were hurt bad and that it was all my fault." She started crying softly again.

[[*What the hell is she talking about?*]] Severus asked.

[[*She was the last girl you rescued right before--*]] he couldn't finish the thought.

[[*Before what?*]] he eyed Harry suspiciously.

[[*Before you were shot.*]]

[[*Oh, is that why my chest feels like I have Hagrid sitting on it?  I remember her.  Spunky little thing--she wanted to know what took us so long,*]] he chuckled.  He suddenly remembered.  [[*Colin?*]]

[[*Safe Severus, Colin is safe.*]]

[[*Oh thank the gods--that's a relief!*]]

Severus opened his eyes and said to Lenore, "It was not your fault, I was the one stupid enough to get in the way."

She looked at him and then leaned over and kissed his cheek.  She put her little hand where she'd kissed him and stroked the rough beard there.  Severus looked floored and more than a little bemused.  This had never happened to him before.

He cleared his throat.  "And, you are most welcome. It was my pleasure to get you out of there--even if it took too long."

[[*Oh, very well done, Severus!*]]

[[*Shut up.*]]

"Are you sure?" she asked.

Severus looked her in the eye, "Yes, I'm sure," he said softly.  His hand came up off the bed and gently pushed the hair out of her face.  "You have pretty eyes." He lowered his hand back to the bed.

"Thank you, Mum says they're the color of pansies.  What's a pansy?"

"Um, it's a flower; they don't grow here, it's too cold, but they do in other places and she's right, some of them are that color."

His eyes started to close.  "I'm sorry," he said to her, "I am very tired.  I need to go to sleep."

[[*Are you all right?*]] Harry asked him.

[[*I will be. I just hurt.*]]

[[*I know, I can feel it.*]]

[[*Yes. Annoying isn't it?*]]

[[*If you're feeling pain, you're alive, and right now, that's more than enough for me.*]]

Severus briefly opened his eyes and gazed at Harry.  Forgetting the little girl watching them, he lifted his hand and ran it down Harry's cheek.  Harry leaned down and mindful of Lenore very close to them, held Severus' cheek with his hand as he very gently kissed Severus on the lips, lingering there perhaps a few seconds more than he needed to.  He pulled back a couple of inches and stared into his eyes, green to black.

Severus sighed contentedly and closing his eyes, fell back asleep.

Harry looked at him a few seconds more, memorizing his face, and then turned back to Lenore.

She was staring first at Harry and then at Severus and back again, an oddly mature expression on her face.  "You look at each other the way my Dad and Mum looked at each other before he went away."

Harry was shocked.  She'd lost BOTH parents?

"Well, um, I love him," he said simply, "And I am very glad he's here.  I would have been very sad if he had gone away."

"My Mum was sad.  Now, I'm sad.  When are they coming back?"

Harry said the first thing that came into his head, "Oh baby, they're not coming back.  Someday, you'll have to go to them.  I miss my Mum and my Dad still.  I was very little when they went away, too.  It's easier if you think about where they've gone to.  I've heard it's very nice there.  And, they won't be lonely."

"But, I'm Lonely."

"Well, you have Uncle George and Aunt Angie and you have me and Severus.  How's that?"

"I like that." she said giving him a big hug.

About this time, Angie, George's wife came into the room.

"There you are!" she exclaimed.  "We've been looking for you everywhere."

Taking an unrepentant Lenore under the arms, she picked her up off of the bed.  "I am so sorry Harry, she won't bother you again."

"No, please Angie, she has not been a bother and I think Severus rather likes her.  I know I do."  He winked at Lenore, who giggled.

Angie raised an eyebrow at this; she, like everyone else, knew Severus' reputation when it came to small children.

He looked her in the eye and softly said, "Everyone gets a second chance and everyone has a soft spot.  I think she found his."

Angie nodded, putting the child down and taking Lenore by the hand, told her, "Let's let Uncle Harry rest now, all right?  He's still not feeling well and needs to sleep.  You can see him tomorrow if Uncle Seth says it's all right."

Lenore pulled away from her and ran back to the bed.  She quickly clambered back up on it and throwing her arms around Harry's neck, she gave him a big hug and planted a big wet kiss on his cheek.

"G'nite Uncle Harry," she said, sliding off the bed and going back to Angie.

"G'nite Lenore," he called after her as she walked away with Angie.

Sliding under the covers and snuggling next to Severus had never felt this good.  He put his arm across his waist, grateful Severus was there for him to do so.

His last thoughts before unconsciousness took him was he rather liked being called "Uncle Harry".


The next morning, Seth looked in on them and saw a deeply sleeping Harry holding Severus loosely as he slept, the small child--Lenore--stretched out peacefully between them, her hand raised to Severus' face.  He smiled and made a mental note to tell Angie she was safe here and he'd let her know when she could come pick her up.

He knew healing for all people came in all forms and these three looked well on their way.


Severus signed the parchment with a flourish.  He handed the quill over to Harry while George and Angie standing nearby with Arthur Weasley and The Trio, beamed at them both.  Harry looked over at the little girl, now five, bouncing on her toes in excitement and sticking his tongue out her as he winked, he turned back to the parchment and signed his name to it.

Lenore Snape-Potter (BL Villins) adopted daughter of Severus Lucius Snape-Potter and Harry James Snape-Potter the parchment read--(BL being her bloodline).

"It's done," he said, straightening up, looking at Severus' happy face.  Strange thing that.  He'd seen Severus with just about every face there was, but this pure, quiet happiness was new and all the more cherished for it.

Lenore, all restraint gone, ran over to Severus and jumped up, literally, into his arms and gave him a huge bear hug.  Reaching over, she grabbed Harry's robes and pulled him over so she could hug them both.  "You're my Daddies now, right?"

"Right," they said together and they all laughed.

"So if you're my Daddies, how come I can't live with you?" she asked only pouting a little.

"Now Lenore," Harry said, "You know what the Minister, Mr. Weasley said--you have to live with lots of other children in a proper family.  And since we're all in the castle together, we can see each other as often as we like."

Severus leaned over and tickled her side, in the redirecting manner he was so well known for.  As she giggled, he said with mock sternness on his face, "Young lady, I believe you have something for us?"

Not fooled for a minute by him, she wriggled her way down to the floor and stood before them, her hands behind her back.  With a look of fierce concentration, she began to recite:

Deep into that darkness peering,
Long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams
No mortals ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken,
And the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken
Was the whispered word, "Lenore!"
This I whispered, and an echo
Murmured back the word, "Lenore!"-
Merely this, and nothing more.

All the adults clapped vigourously when she curtsied at the end of her recitation, the lines a fragment of the poem her deceased father and mother, the teacher killed in the abduction, had used in her naming.

Now, she had two families.  Severus and Harry as her adopted parents, a precedent Arthur Weasley had seen to personally, and her guardians--George and Angela Weasley, with whom she would live.

It would be many years before she knew what the words "proper family" meant and when she did, she would tell Severus and Harry (with some heated outrage at how they'd been regarded), that while Uncle George and Aunt Angie had been wonderful Guardians, Severus and Harry were her only "proper family."

In the meantime on this fine day, her adoption day, Severus happily swung her around in the air in a big circle, the dancing light in his eyes new, the joyous laughter at her squeals of delight a blessing as his and Harry's daughter laughed with her new fathers.


* Excerpt from "The Raven" by Edgar Allen Poe



Section Two:
Draco Draconus

For an interminable time, all their lives revolved around rescuing their fellow wizards from the clutches of the Muggles and trying not to get caught themselves.

Until Severus had had enough, that is.  From then on, his and Harry's efforts were divided between running the school, raising Lenore, teaching the ever increasing classes, and finding a way to stop the abductions.

The first thing they did was to incrementally extend the Wards of the castle to encompass the entire Forbidden Forest and Hogsmeade.

As the war drew closer and closer to Hogwarts, the setting and strengthening of the protective Wards for the castle and environs, time after time, exhausted Harry's and Severus' powers as well as their spirit.  They kept going only through sheer bloody-mindedness and the seemingly inexhaustible well of Harry's power.  

They grew even closer, although as the times became more and more dangerous, Harry despaired at ever breaking through the tough shell Severus erected to protect himself from feeling too much as friends and enemies alike fell prey to the conflict.

The crisis came when the Yanks entered the fray.  The Muggle wars, following an inevitable path, were now global.

Pushed beyond their limits in this world-wide crisis, the first Enclave of Wizards was organized and for two months, the leaders of the wizarding communities and Goblin centers of commerce came to Hogwarts, by far the most protected of all the communities, and deliberated on how they were going to save their world.

Unsurprisingly, they decided they must, somehow, isolate themselves from the Muggles.  The first step was to cease commingling with them.  The days of Wizards living side by side with Muggles were over.

Plans were drawn and in the next five years, the exodus from farm to town, suburb to castle, and fen to mountain hide-outs was accomplished with minimal losses.  Hogsmeade and hundreds of other communities like it exploded in population, the conditions unbelievably crowded at first until more and more land and space came under the protection of the Wards, allowing them some breathing room.

[[*Ah, those were the days.  What a--boring--little world we leave behind,*]] Severus thought as he accepted the polite applause at his last telling remark.

[[*Well, they were—something, I am just glad they are over,*]] Harry countered.  [[*I certainly would not be waxing rhapsodic about them--the foolhardy risks, the black days of anxiety, the copper and iron smell of death, the cloying fear so thick you could taste it--I hated it.  I hated what it did to me, what I became--what it did to you--to us--*]]

With unexpected forcefulness, Severus interrupted him, [[*--Enough!  I was there, too!*]]  His eyes bored into him across the room; Harry felt vibrant under the intensity of his glare.  [[*You are not the only one who would have given everything to make it stop!  Who felt their own worthlessness as they watched helplessly while so many good people were lost to the stupidity of the Muggle Wars--Arth--*]]

[[*I beg, PLEASE--Don't start--*]]  Harry interrupted, so visibly upset, Hermione turned to look at him, comprehension and sympathy in her eyes. [[*I can't bear it right now--YOU HAVE NEVER BEEN WORTHLESS!*]]  Passion colored Harry's thoughts and he sent with the full force of his emotions--[[*Don't start Severus--we've worked through this--you are worth EVERYTHING to me and that makes you the most important part of MY universe.  It's my ONE indulgence--THEY can have the rest of the world, as long as I have you!*]]

Severus stopped speaking, as if gathering his next thoughts.  His eyes softened in admiration and he sent, [[*So magnificent--so passionate--I'm sorry--you're right--this is neither the time nor the place,*]]  Harry felt his mental caress.

[[*No--I'm sorry, I know better than to bring it up.  And, we were NOT helpless, we took the same risks they did, maybe more, we were out there DOING, not watching.  We were NEVER passive--we cared so much about them, we sometimes forgot to care for ourselves--*]] Harry thought.

[[*Perhaps you are right, BUT we are still alive--and they--leave--left--the hearts--our hearts--behind and scattered them like dead leaves on a windy day--it's not right, somehow.*]]

[[*Maybe we're just lucky.  Maybe it was not our time to go.  Maybe it was Kismet, maybe it was fate.  Maybe OUR hearts won't let us go.  Maybe--*]] he shrugged and shook his head, [[*--Who knows?  I don't.  But, I DO know this--I love you and I WILL keep you as long as I can have you.*]]

[[*I still don't know how you do it, but once again I am humbled.*]]

[[*Well, Sirius always did say to leave 'em guessing,*]] thought Harry, trying to lighten the mood, glad the moment was past.

[[*Best thing the mangy mutt ever said.*]]  Severus chuckled.

He resumed his speech.  "We overcame our limitations, we stretched ourselves beyond the confines of past ideas, and we shifted our paradigms as much as we shifted ourselves.  But such triumph always comes with a cost, and our friends, our neighbors, and our families paid for our freedom in full coin."  He faltered a moment, his head bowed and many around the room could feel the tears sting their eyes as they recalled the many people they had lost in the preceding years.

Desperate for a solution that would circumvent the traditional Wards, which were becoming unmanageable, Severus and Draco designed and created the Dimensional Wards.  They worked feverishly together night after night, month after month, to finish the new Wards, both growing closer than they had ever been as mutual intelligence, innovation, and respect created something never seen before.

Harry helped where he could, but his primary usefulness was limited to providing and focusing the sheer power they needed sometimes to capture and shape the Wards; his wellspring was deep--they'd never found the bottom and marvelled at his control over the forces he kept drawing out of himself.  And, of course, they didn't turn down the sustenance he and Lenore made sure they got when concentration and brilliance overrode good practical sense.

Near the end of their effort, Severus and Harry were called away to France on school business, Ron and Hermione already gone to an Auror Enclave in the Dakotas.  Draco was alone in the dungeon workrooms, gnawing at an impasse they'd reached in making these Wards link to other Wards, when word reached him of the abduction--his grandchild was taken by the Muggles.  Finding no one else around, Draco's good sense and caution was overridden by his fear.  With rare impetuosity, he left alone, to go find her, not waiting to summon anyone else.

Lenore, finding his note when she came down several hours later with his supper, frantically called everyone home. They had all desperately looked for him, the search spanning the globe.

Ron and Hermione knew through their bond with Draco, that the search would prove fruitless.  Hermione, in particular, had to be kept sedated during that time, her body racked with the torture Draco was suffering.  Ron, not much better off, nonetheless drew on his training and control to focus the pain into a fine-tuned divining rod that did much to pin-point Draco's location.  Severus and Sirius, after a violent argument with Harry and Ron, which they lost, left the castle to find him.

Harry remained behind with Ron, Lenore, and Seth to watch over Hermione, her unconscious screams ringing through their heads.  And then--she stopped.  Her silence was worse than her cries, for in that instant, they knew her link with Draco had been severed.  


Ron fell unconscious, Seth wept, Lenore comforted him, and Harry--waited.

He would never forget the horrible moment Severus and Sirius had returned--hollow-eyed, bearing Draco's broken body and that of his grandchild.  Both were gone, both tortured by the Muggles for the magic they would not give them.  It was obvious, from their condition when found, that Draco had protected her from the worst of the indignities the Muggles had visited upon them and had perished long after her.

Severus and Harry, to the point of their own exhaustion, returned to them, in death, the dignity stripped from them in life before they'd called in Ron and Hermione; the Muggles had stolen so much and there was only so much they could bear.  Ron and Hermione never said anything, but they knew.

He missed Draco calling him "Daddy" with that self-mocking voice only Draco could summon, missed the happy, lusty, joy his friends had shared.  With shadowed eyes they coped badly with their loss.  He re-bound the two of them with the ancient bonds he and Severus shared to help them recover, although Severus thought him foolish for trying.  Surprisingly, it helped take some of the emptiness away and with the support of their huge family, they'd pulled through.

Severus, strong and surprisingly silent, continued the work on the Wards with Hermione's assistance.  Night after sleepless night they worked, burying their sorrow in their effort.  He and Ron were by their sides, gratefully giving them the energy and power, if not the expertise, needed to complete the Wards.

With little fanfare they finished.

Their effort had come with a cost.  Dry-eyed, they'd returned to their quarters after setting up another Enclave for the following week to distribute the wards and instruct in their placement.  In the privacy of their quarters, Severus had broken down, letting all the pent-up sorrow loose with shaking sobs.  He'd held Severus tightly as he cried out his shuddering grief.  For the son?  Or the father?  He cared not, for Severus was HIS.

[[*For both,*]] Severus thought to him candidly, his mental voice choking, [[*I cried for them both.*]]  Looking briefly at someone else in the audience, he continued, [[*Careful, Harry--you're broadcasting--*]]

Through the silent tears he could feel wetting his own cheeks, he looked over at Ron and Hermione.  The bleak expression on their faces and the tears running unchecked down Hermione's face was all he needed to know that Severus was right.  Reaching over, he took Ron's hand and when he turned to look at him, Harry apologized with his eyes.  Hermione, looking at him over Ron, slid her eyes to Ron and then back to Harry and nodded.  It would be all right.

By mutual agreement they named the Dimensional Wards the "Draconus Wards", posthumously for Draco.  While he'd never seen them fully completed, they would not exist had it not been for the foundation he'd laid and the sacrifices he'd made.  

The Enclave agreed.

The Draconus Wards shifted the wizarding world just one step out of phase of the same time and reality plane as the Muggles; once in place the Muggles would never be able to find them.

[[*It was bloody brilliant--*]] Harry thought, [[*--only Draco could have dreamt it up--only you could have made it a reality.*]]

[[*I am not sure that modesty becomes you; personally, I prefer you immodestly--*]] he cleared his throat, sipping on a glass of water, [[*--do not sell your own contributions short, for in the end no ONE wizard but you could power them.*]]

Once set, the magical power consumption of the Draconus Wards was immense and wizarding resources began slowly dwindling as wizard after wizard fell, their life-energy drained in the Ward's maintenance.  What was once thought to be their safety was becoming their bane and many cursed them for ever creating them.

That is, until Neville ingenuously suggested binding the Draconus Wards to the Earth Stone each Castle and community had as the keystone of its power.  The earth stones were what linked all the communities and allowed for the Floo and the Translocation Portals Network; Neville was involved in maintaining that Network.  He hypothesized their vast energy could, theoretically, power the wards.  But, there was a drawback--

It would take a wizard of near equal power to merge the two into one.

Through trial and error, and drawing on Severus' keen intellect with Neville's innate knowledge of the Network, Harry, using the magic of the earth itself and his own deep resources, provided the raw power and inner finesse to try and fuse the Draconus Wards to the Stones--starting with the Stone at Hogwarts.  After several aborted and unsuccessful attempts, it finally worked and once set, the Wards perpetuated themselves in union with the stone, which barely felt the drain.

Which could not be said for Harry; he collapsed with what he knew would be his final effort--there was nothing left in him to give.  Severus knew this, but there was nothing he could do to stop him--not only was he as fragile as Harry from their bond--he would have done the same had their places been reversed.

During the few weeks of recovery from the near-fatal drain of his magic, Severus and Harry (usually in bed) worked out a plan and a rigourous schedule to set the Wards in other communities.  They knew the weakness they'd suffered was because they'd had no idea, at the time, how to go about it.  Now, they had a clearer understanding of the process involved, the correct sequence of spells, and the amount of power it would require.

They had a problem.  There were only a handful of other Wizards remaining still strong enough to set the wards.  They would need to spell-share; work in pairs or triples to provide the necessary power.  Only Harry was strong enough to go it alone.

After weeks of intense training the five teams plus Harry, began the massive effort to protect each and every community.  Town after town, region by region, Harry, with Sirius for protection, traveled by dawn, and lay exhausted by night.  He returned to Hogwarts as often as he could, needing the recharge, sometimes desperately, that only Severus could give him.

[[*There were times during those days I was sorely tempted to bring you in by force.  I'd FEEL your dwindling resources--even over the distance--and there were several times I was too far gone to do more than lay around like a Flobber Slug.  It was MOST inconvenient.  I don't know what I would have done without Lenore.*]]

[[*Ah, but you still loved me, despite your desire to kill me, although I do recall Sirius was on the receiving end of some blistering reprimands,*]] Harry thought smugly.  [[*Besides, how else was the girl ever to get Seth to notice her with you glowering around all the time.*]]

[[*Well--erm--maybe I glowered a little, I was so irritated with Seth for not seeing how much she loved him--I wanted to hit him on his thick Gryffindor head.  I wish I'd known what it was Albus did to Sirius to make him SEE--I'd have used it.  Lots of it.*]]

[[*Speaking of Sirius, it would have been of no use venting my frustrations on YOU--you would have given me that LOOK and ignored me anyway.  Sirius was convenient and I suspect he didn't mind too much--there's comfort in continuity--and the gods know I loved baiting Sirius--I still miss the mangy mutt.*]]

He hesitated when he felt the mental caress from Harry and then continued, [[*I did learn something important though during those days--something Albus tried to show me--and, as usual the old bugger was right--he was teaching me before I ever knew I needed the lesson.*]]

Surprised at the comment, Harry suppressed his curiosity knowing Severus would get around to it in his own time.  He limited himself to an ironic, [[*That sounds like Albus. *]]

At Harry's wicked laugh, Severus snorted and continued, [[*Will you, please!  Believe it or not, this is important--*]]

Harry instantly sobered, wearing the face one dons when one is trying desperately to look serious when all one wants to do is burst into laughter.  [[*I'm sorry, PLEASE, continue--They say confession is good for the--soul.*]]    Snort.

Eyeing him suspiciously, he went on, [[*Albus--Oh damn, this will take too long and I'll need a brandy or four to get through it. It's not easy to talk about the changes I went through--damn, I should have kept my thoughts to myself--now you'll just drag it out of me.  Later--remind me to tell you later.*]]

Harry laughed silently, his amusement at Severus' discomfiture infectious.  He felt rather than saw Severus smile in return.

Severus was right, during this time he did change, once again, into the man he was this night.  Cynical bitterness was replaced by a more moderate acerbic wit as the plans made by the ensuing Enclaves started working; he relaxed some of his vigilance of the world at large and although he retired from the active fighting, he remained in charge of getting the Wards installed as quickly as possible--every day they delayed meant more people dying at the hands of the Muggles.

He turned part of his attention to the more mundane matters of how to run the school with ten times the previous census, the castle expanded to take on the new weight of the student body.  His other attention was solely fixed on Harry and how he could support him, with Lenore always there as his able assistant in both endeavors.

The change in his personality crystallised the year he almost lost Harry.

[[*Must you remember this?*]] Severus asked, knowing Harry was going to do it anyway.  [[*I really could do without a re-enactment from your fertile memory.  This IS supposed to be a party.*]]

Harry just smiled serenely at him from his hidden position in the audience and stuck his tongue out at him.  [[*Nah--nah--NAH--nah--Nah.*]]

Severus rolled his eyes and just continued his speech, steeling himself for what he knew would follow.  He always hated it whenever Harry reminded him of his softer side.



Intermission Two:
Where Doth the Power Lie?

So hold me when I'm here, love me when I'm wrong
Hold me when I'm scared and love me when I'm gone
Everything I am and everything you need
I'll also be the one you wanted me to be
I'll never let you down even if I could
I'd give up everything if only for your good
So hold me when I'm here love me when I'm wrong
You can hold me when I'm scared, you won't always be there
So love me when I'm gone...

Maybe I'm just blind...

"Excerpt from Love Me When I'm Gone"
By 3 Doors Down

"Severus," Sirius' head was in the fireplace of his office, "I don't know what happened.  One minute we were placing the Wards, the next he collapsed.  It's a bloody mess.  The town elders, collectively, are barely holding it together and Merlin knows, I don't have the power to hold it in place--" he stopped, flummoxed by Severus' closed-eye concentration; he'd expected thundering anger, but this weary silence was almost frightening.  He waited.

When Severus still made no comment, he continued on, "Either you need to get Harry back here as soon as possible or else we need a whole load of Aurors here to keep things in balance.  There's a whole Muggle Army bivouacked on the outskirts of town and another ready to meet it further down the road.  We're desperate here, caught in the middle."

Severus opened his eyes finally saying, "Sirius, I will send you some Aurors and Caballa and Abel, our most experienced Ward-Setters--they just came in a week ago.  Caballa was in pretty bad shape, but if her strident irritation at being confined to the infirmary is any indicator, I think she will be ready to go out tomorrow."  He closed his eyes again, fingers massaging the bridge of his nose.

Taking a deep breath as if to steady himself, he said, "Until I can get down to the infirmary to see what Harry's condition is I can make no assessment of what else we can do."

He sighed deeply, "So for right now, I would strongly suggest you prepare for the worst and hope for the best, my friend.  I pray to the gods for your success.

Sirius, exhaustion etched on his face, his hair unkept said, "All right, Severus.  Please, just take care of Harry--he should never have come here--it's not in the schedule until next month--but--well--you know how pig-headed he can be--he knew the grave situation here--how many people there were at stake--"

He rushed on, "Right now he is more important than anything else, not only from a strategic perspective, but--"

"Oh hell Severus, we can't lose him--just GO to him--he needs you so badly.  He's been away for far too long."

Severus couldn't even draw up the energy to point out the obvious to Sirius and for once he left him merely with a mild admonishment to take good care of Caballa and Abel and better care of himself.  With a tired nod and a surprised gawp, for he'd still expected the usual berating he took when Harry over-extended himself, Sirius disappeared from the flames wondering if Severus would heed his own advice.

Severus, without turning, called out, "Lenore!"

Lenore, deceptively young-looking with her long chestnut hair in braids, stepped immediately through the open door to stand beside him.

"Yes, Severus?"

"You heard the conversation, I assume?"

"Of course, why else did you hire me for?"

Severus chuckled wearily, "Then, I shouldn't have to tell you t--"

"--Already done, sir.  I notified Seth to release them on the morrow."

Severus threw her a sharp grateful look, "THAT's what I hired you for," he said, his eyes dancing.  "Now away with you, cheeky girl."

She lifted an eyebrow, grinned irrepressively at the Headmaster, and smartly left the room.

In her wake, Severus had the fleeting, irrelevant thought he always did, wondering when Seth was going to wake up and finally SEE her.  And, as always, he made a mental note to do something about it, a note just as quickly forgotten as he was swallowed for a few heartbeats by the panic he'd experienced when he'd--felt--Harry come back.  He'd been Portalled directly to the infirmary, unconscious.

Before Sirius had appeared and interrupted his flight to the infirmary, Seth had occupied the fireplace and had reported that Harry, in his professional opinion, was barely there.  Severus had not needed Seth to tell him--the pain, now dampened, and the weariness he'd felt when Harry'd arrived still burned behind his eyes, coursed through his veins.

Freed for the moment from his duties and confident he'd done all he could, he tore from the rooms at a dead run, ignoring the--paleness--flooding his body.

Lenore quietly closed the door behind her father.  She'd wait to see them both after they'd had a chance to BE together.


Harry lay on one side of the double bed in the private room at the back of the infirmary, a deep lethargy invading him as he faded in and out of consciousness.  He was holding it together only as long as it took for Severus to get here.  He wanted to see Severus--needed to see him--feel him. He felt so--thin.

While Seth, the Head Medi-wizard of the infirmary, gently poked and prodded his unresisting body, he waited impatiently, suffering the renewed agony at each touch in silence.  He ignored the muttered commentary Seth was giving to his assistant.  He was so tired, the effort of breathing so hard--sending fresh waves of pain coursing through his emaciated body.  His bones ached; everything ached and he made a Herculean effort to keep Severus from knowing the full extent of his debilitation.

He could see Severus at the fireplace, no doubt talking to Sirius.  Dear Sirius, he tried, but I can be such a stubborn git.  I hope Severus is not giving him a hard time, he thought, remembering the last time Severus had given Sirius a harsh tongue-lashing for not taking better care of him.  'Thrice-Damned-Mangy-Mutt' was the nicest thing he'd said.   Seth left the room leaving the door open--Thank the Gods--he was finally alone.

He could--see--Severus talking to Lenore, saucy girl--running down the halls--the cloak flying behind him--checking his run to a more sedate pace--staggering at the doors to the infirmary--leaning on the door to gather his strength--straightening his robes--the vision was firmly in his head.

Slowly, ever so slowly, the door to the infirmary opened, and Oh thank god, there he is.

Masterful stride down the length of the infirmary, cloak billowing behind him, heels clicking on the floor, the sparks flying off his boots mutely showing the strength of his stride as he rapidly approached the room Harry was in.  Harry sighed ferally at the welcome sight through the open door, sincerely wishing he had the energy to do something about the sweet tightening in his loins at this picture of Severus swooping down the hall, each step heralding his impatience; impatience Harry knew was only for him.

So graceful, so magnificent, so stirring--so goddamn tired, he thought as reality failed him with the image of his Severus burned firmly in his memory.


In an effort not to be to unseemly, Severus checked his head-long rush down the corridor at the door to the infirmary.  Taking a deep breath to compose himself and shake-off the inherent weakness and muted pain he could feel with each step closer to Harry, he opened the door quietly and stepped into the large room, taking in his surroundings.  All was quiet.

Off in the distance, he could FEEL the longing coming from a gleaming set of green eyes at the end of the room beyond the open door. He set off towards them and he almost faltered when he--saw--the predatory, possessive gleam of those restless eyes.

Appreciating him.  Wanting him.

He'd never felt more--real--than in that moment, conscious of his stride, aware of the desire he could--feel--emanating from the admiring eyes of his lover. Drawing closer, his impatient stride firm, he could see the yearning tempered with regret.  With the deep sigh of Harry's contentment whispering in his head, he saw those eyes close in gratitude, the body going limp.

All pretexts of dignity gone and fighting the threatening bond-sickness he could feel within himself, Severus staggered the last few yards to the bed.  His legs buckled and he fell down to his knees at its side; the pain of the impact overwhelmed by the waves of throbbing agony from Harry, finally felt in their totality as he took his hand.

He studied Harry for a long moment noting the pale lined face, the prematurely silver hair tangled and more unmanageable than ever. He ran his hands over the gaunt body, the bones protruding from skin so translucent he could almost see the blood flowing through the veins beneath.  Dark circles ringed the closed eyes, lashes dark against his pallid skin stretched tightly over the fine bones.  He looked desiccated, like all the life had been sucked out of him.

As Headmaster and a leader in the fight against the Muggles, he was appalled at Harry's condition knowing he would be of no use for quite a while, maybe months.  This was quite a set-back.  And, he was mortified at his detached assessment of how long it would take him to get Harry back out there; for he knew he would do whatever it took to do so.

As his husband, he was sickened and an angry growl was forced from his throat as he realised the deprivation and abuse his mate had taken in order to aid the half-wits who could not set or maintain their own Wards.

Damn it Harry, how many times have I told you, you cannot save them all, that risking yourself like this is to risk a few against--everyone else.

This was not the first time Harry had come back, used-up, a dry shell, but this was by far the worst he'd ever been.  Severus felt guilty he'd not paid better attention and knew he could not fault Harry if he doubted Severus' motives.

Hesitantly, unsure of his right to do so, he stretched out his hand and gently, ever so gently, pushed the mop of hair off of Harry's face exposing the swollen and angry scar Harry bore. That alone told him how bad it was, and with a muted cry, he buried his face on top of the bed and suffered silently the searing shame knowing he'd abused this man, badly.  Of its own accord, his hand rose and rested on Harry's chest and he took some small comfort in the steady rise and fall of his breathing, the calm beating of his heart.

Through much of the night, he knelt there, knees numb, hands entwined with Harry's, touching him, running his hands through his hair, caressing his face, willing him to wake up, assure him that he was all right, that he was still loved--and forgiven.

He was totally unaware of the several times Seth poked his head in the door, softly sighing in quiet exasperation at the sight of Severus kneeling by the bed.

Damn it man; just accept that he waited for you, that he wants to be with you, that he sees nothing to forgive.  Stop beating yourself up over it.  He's here.  He always comes back--he LOVES you.

Seth understood the need for forgiveness though; he knew they both had been suffering from the separation and each time he quietly withdrew, he hoped the next time would be--better.

A few hours before dawn, Severus could take it no more, and rising in great pain, he hobbled over and closed the door to the private room.  Slowly removing his boots, robe, and T-shirt, each movement reflecting the distress still coursing through Harry, he climbed into the bed and took Harry gently into his arms, positioning the other man so he was in his favorite position--as Severus' blanket.

Holding him tight with one arm around the familiar, yet thinner waist, he revelled in the feel of Harry's skin against his own, running the tips of his fingers along his back in small circles, the skin silky beneath them.  Ah, much better, he thought, feeling the weariness seep into every bone in his body.  Feeling their hearts beat in tandem, he fell into a dreamless sleep, lulled by the steady breathing of his husband.  Harry, still asleep, burrowed even deeper into the embrace, sighing without waking.

Seth, came into the room a few minutes later and smiled with deep satisfaction, his clear grey eyes softening at the sight of the two of them holding each other.  Finally, he thought.  They BOTH need this, his long-standing worry over them, his godfathers, alleviated.   Severus looks much better, too--not so 'stretched' as he has been.

He might know little about relationships, being single himself, but he knew love when he saw it, having had an abundance of it his whole life with his three parents, now sadly two.  His parents had been discreet in their loving when he was a child, but open with their affections; he'd never felt not loved.  And, one thing he knew from his years with Severus and Harry was they--loved.  They loved each other and anyone else who came into their sphere.  He considered himself fortunate he had them as well as his family.

His only regret was that he'd not found someone for himself, although recently Lenore had been much in his thoughts.  He'd had lovers, but they paled when compared to the examples set by his parents and these two.  He was holding out for this--what he saw between Severus and Harry, what he saw in his own parents--this deep abiding love that celebrated life, took the good where it was found yet withstood all hardship.  He knew it existed, he just had to be patient.  Setherus Malfoy-Granger-Weasley would accept nothing less.

He reached over and drew the blanket over the two of them, much like a parent checking his children before going to bed.  This will do them both a world of good, he thought.

As he was about to leave the room, Lenore stole up beside him looking at her fathers.

She sighed with pleasure to see them together and wondered how long it had taken Severus to fight his demons before he forgave himself enough to let him BE with Harry.  She had no other word for it--the total communion she'd witnessed between them for most of her life.  The immense joy they had for each other and for life.

She wanted the same thing for herself and knew she'd found it in Seth, knew he would figure it out one day.  And, when he did, she would be waiting, she was nothing if not patient--it was the Hufflepuff in her.

She quietly walked over to the bed just--seeing.  Harry looked so pale, but content and Severus looked so stern, even in sleep, yet more tranquil than she'd seen him in weeks.  A long time then, she thought with clear insight, and he still hasn't forgiven himself.  She leaned over to give them both a light kiss on the cheek before turning back to Seth.

He saw something in her eyes--not directed at them, but at him and he stored away for further thought the expression she gave him and the sight of her slender form with the chestnut braid flowing down to her knees.

She stepped up to him, placed her hand lightly on his arm, and reaching up, her fingers gently tracing his cheek, she kissed him tenderly on the mouth.  She then continued past him out of the room without a word, a secret smile on her lips for the brief glimpse of confused bemusement on his face when she'd pulled away.

He turned and watched her leave, mesmerized by the heavy braid swinging back and forth in time to her steps, the unexpected kiss, still felt.

Bewildered, he closed the door to the room and warding it against curious on-lookers, went to bed himself, a much happier man.


Some time later, Harry woke up abruptly, eyes wide open, his heart racing.  Disoriented, he raised his head and his sight was greeted by the heavy shadow of beard on his lover's face. Summoning some energy, he shifted a bit so he was half on, half off Severus, their legs scissored.  He burrowed his face into Severus' shoulder and nuzzling him a moment, placed a wet kiss on the soft spot where shoulder meets chest.  Content and feeling a little better, he drifted back off to sleep.

Severus woke fuzzily with the feel of Harry's arm burrowing under his neck under the pillow.  He drowsily felt the shifted weight, grateful he would be able to walk on the morrow, for the other position usually meant shooting pains in his back the next morning.  He felt Harry bury his head in his shoulder, the other arm thrown possessively around his waist, hand splayed along his side.

When he felt the nuzzling kiss on his shoulder, he came fully awake, a frisson of desire working its way up his spine.  He tightened his arms around him and pulled him closer, suppressing the want, the need until a time he knew they could both enjoy it.  The soft steady wafting across his chest told him Harry had gone back to sleep.

He lay there for quite a while, letting his thoughts meander, his hands stroking lazily around Harry's back and sides.  Harry would let out one of those warm, moist sighs every now and then and snuggle deeper into the embrace.

Mostly his thoughts were about other times like this, usually on the floor in front of the fire in their rooms or in the soft downiness of their huge four-poster bed.  He thought of their brief vacations, on the island they'd gone to after he'd taken over as Headmaster.  The island they wanted to retire to when all of this was over.  He fervently wished it was all over.

As the night whiled away, his thoughts turned to more urgent, mundane things.

The Wards--they were only half finished with them.  More than a year's work remained to finish the list of towns and burrows still needing the Draconus Wards.  Too long, he thought, Harry will never survive it.  I won't survive it.  There are so few.  Only two of the five original teams remain plus Harry with none to replace them.  But it MUST be done.  The longer we delay, the more we die.

With such morbid thoughts, he realised he could not abide Harry just fading off into the Hinterlands.  The mere thought sent shivers up his spine that had nothing to do with desire and with a wrench he knew that if Harry died, so would he.  Not that he feared Death, but a world without Harry was not to be borne.  He MUST do something about it.   Better to die with Harry than die alone, he thought shuddering.

With a start, he put it all together and realised they had been together 89 years.  89 YEARS--Where the hell HAS the time gone?  Sometimes it was difficult to tell where one began and the other left off.  Even now, lying here, just holding him, words unspoken, they felt more like one person, than two.

As the dawn's light crept through the window over the bed, casting a pale golden light on the ceiling, Severus felt his priorities shift dramatically and he began to lay-out his plans, plans that would satisfy all the requirements of both outside and within.  It was his turn to offer the support, the necessary energy Harry needed not just to survive, but to thrive.  We NEED to be together.

Harry chose that moment of deep resolve to burrow closer and with a little tightening of his arms and legs, caressed Severus with a sleepy [[*I'd like that--a lot--you always worry too much--I still love you--and there never is anything to forgive--although if it makes you feel better--apology accepted.*]]  Then he tilted his head up in a silent bid for kisses, which Severus was only too glad to oblige.  With a deep sigh of contentment, he broke the kiss, snuggled back into his shoulder, and went back to sleep, a small smile on his lips.

Severus savoured the moment and with a happier frame of mind, continued to think through all the obstacles to his plan.  Content when finished, confident it would work, he allowed himself the indulgence of--feeling--just a little bit, of just how profoundly he loved this man.  Tightening his hold on the lithe body on top of him and a burying his free hand in Harry's hair, he fell into a deep healing sleep.



Section Three:
The Cause for Celebration

Pausing in his speech as if drawing his next thoughts together, Severus stared pointedly at Harry out in the audience.  [[*My, my, we're a little morose tonight, aren't we?  Is this truly necessary?  You're distracting me.*]]

[[*I don't think it's morose,*]] he thought,[[*The following year or so was one of our best together.  Indulge me.*]]

[[*I usually do--why would I think this evening would be any different than any other?*]]  Harry caught his amusement and continued thinking, assured for the moment that while he might be distracting him, he was not distressing him.

Two months later, when Harry had fully recovered and over the vehement protests of the School's Board of Governors, Severus handed Hogwarts temporarily over to Colin Longbottom, a teacher and friend who had been filling in for Harry while away.  For the next sixteen months, he and Harry traveled together installing the remainder of the Wards.  As Harry expended energy, Severus replenished it, with a little more than he needed for "dessert" through their bond and on rare occasions, using the rings.

He bullied, cajoled, and when necessary, faced down town elders with his customary fire if he thought for one instant Harry was in danger.  He always won his case for there were few who would or could stand up to Severus when he drew the mantle of his full power around him in righteous anger.  Each day, Severus would watch him with narrowed eyes, senses straining to feel how Harry was doing.

Harry would, on occasion, encounter a particularly stubborn Stone and he would have to wrestle the Draconus Ward into place with sheer power.  Or worse, they would find a town only half protected, the half-wits running the place either too weak or too incompetent to maintain their own Wards.  In these cases, they had to repair the original wards before Harry could proceed with their work and Harry would be straining by the time he finished, even with Severus' help.

So, despite everything he did to protect him, there were still some nights when they'd stagger into the quarters assigned them and collapse in an exhausted stupor.  Nights where Harry's last sight was Severus' regretful face leaning over him while he soothingly cradled him with the last of his own energy reserves, murmuring tender words of espousal while coaxing him to healing sleep.

Their bond strengthened, running far deeper than ever intended.  They began to mind-speak as a matter of course and their lives were richer for it.  They learned to double-speak.  They were vastly amused by their inner heated exchanges of innuendo done right in front of the people they served, while simultaneously holding weighty verbal conversations on other matters.

Severus began to laugh more in public while Harry became quieter and more reserved.  In private, Severus was the quieter one, Harry the one who buoyed him with infectious humour and joy.  It was a good balance.

Because this was not Hogwarts and they were not the keepers of the young for this venture, they enjoyed a freedom in their public relationship they would not experience again.  They really didn't give a damn what the others thought and were often seen discreetly touching when they thought themselves unobserved, something they would never have done at the school; and still did not do now.

And somehow, whether through their bond or their shared stubbornness, they finished their task.  They could return to Hogwarts knowing that every village, every town, every wizarding community  around the world was protected.

Draco's legacy was finished.

They never received any accolades; they never received any gratitude, for they never asked for it.  To them it was a necessity, an act of everyday survival, not the act of heroes.  Five teams and Harry had gone out at the beginning and only one team remained; it was hard to celebrate in light of those who had died trying--they were the real heroes.

Caballa and Abel felt the same and their reunion with Harry and Severus was solemn.  During the short time they met, Severus, with quiet pleasure, bound the two Ward-Setters with silken cord and afterwards, they left to retire quietly in Hogsmeade.

This was how they wanted it.  And, while the rest of the wizarding world celebrated the end of the persecution, Harry and Severus quietly returned to their Hogwarts, quietly renewed their bond with the Earth Stone, and then quietly retired to their quarters to make undisturbed, unhurried love in front of their fire on their ancient silk rug.

The rest of the world?  Well, it could go to hell, for all they cared.  They had what they wanted.

With little fanfare, they returned to their work at Hogwarts seemingly as if the time away had not existed.  They settled into their old routine; staid Headmaster with a little more humour and irrepressible yet calmer Professor by day, devoted lovers at night.

The students and staff puzzled over the subtle changes, but over time, shrugged at how irrelevant it all was and life went on much the same as always in their insulated little world.

But, it had changed.  They both knew it--intimately.  Only they knew of the vulnerability of their dependence on each other; the hypnotic mantra of every day living was draining their relationship as energy best spent supporting each other was still squandered on the needs of the school and their community.

Once things had settled a little, Seth approached them asking for them both to bind him and Lenore.  Harry and Severus had schemed for years trying to get the two of them together and despite the two men's blatant machinations, they had finally fallen in love in their own way while the two of them had been gone.

In a small private ceremony with Ron and Hermione, George and Angie as Witnesses, Severus and Harry, together, had quietly joined the two people they considered their own children, Seth by way of his birthing, Lenore by way of their parentage.  Severus in one of his rare open moments, let them--see--his jubilance in their joining.

Harry was just happy at the radiance on Lenore's face and the protective way Seth held her as he kissed her.  He had a premonition, sadly proven correct, that they would not be too long together and in his quiet way, he urged them both to savour every moment.

Later that year, Harry, after much soul-searching, retired looking older than Severus. He retained his position as Head of House for Gryffindor, for he could not bear to part from them; however, his 81 year tenure as Deputy Headmaster, and 85 year stint as the Professor teaching Defense against the Dark Arts (now an elective) were easily given up as was his Potions classes.

He had maintained, at the time, that the classes required someone with more dexterity and energy than he had; after all, he had been teaching Potions off and on for 45 years.  The reality was that he was heart-sore and for a while lost his will to do more than just sit around the school and get under Severus' feet.

[[*I didn't mind--too much.  You were just burned-out.  AND, I got Lenore back as my assistant.  I KNEW she'd take pity on me when you retired--Colin was a good Deputy Headmaster, but his straightforwardness--well, I needed someone a little more subtle--like you, Lenore knew what I wanted--needed--before I formed the thoughts,*]] he chuckled.  

[[*I'm curious, is there any particular reason you feel the compelling need to go over all of this--again--tonight?*]]  Harry could feel there was more to the question than idle curiosity--bringing up Lenore always did that to Severus.

[[*I don't know, it just feels right , that's all.  You know how impulsive I am.*]]  Harry rolled his eyes at the snort of concurrence he received from Severus at that comment.

He continued, [[*I just realised tonight's the end of an era.  Our era.  What follows will be very different than what we went through, boring even, if truth be told.  We are not the same people, although we're much better for it.  It just feels right, somehow, to finally celebrate living.  To finally acknowledge, without pride, that all of these people are here because WE refused to give up, WE refused to lose.  After all the conflicts, all the losses--Arthur, Hagrid, Sirius, Draco, I feel an overpowering need to find something good and pure out of it all.  It's a good feeling I have now--I want to savour it, to taste it, to FEEL it.*]]

Silence greeted his statement.  [[*Severus?*]]  he called softly.  Then it dawned on him what he'd just thought.  [[*Oh Severus--I'm so sorry.  I wasn't thinking.  Are you all right?*]]

[[*My mind is as cynical as it ever is, ever was.  Think of something 'good and pure' for me--please,*]] the last thought almost desperate.

Harry pondered this a moment.  He paged through his memories and settled on an amalgam of the many nights they had shared, would share.  He formed a mental picture of the two of them, Harry draped over Severus, their bodies entwined on one of their much-abused silk rugs in front of a dying fire after a particularly satisfying bout of loving.  With the image firmly fixed, he summoned from deep within his wellspring, the profound feelings of love and peace he always felt in moments like this, when their joining had gone beyond physical pleasure.  No hiding, no barriers—their hearts and souls bare to each other.  Concentrating, he fused the two thoughts together and gently sent them to Severus.

Severus' voice cracked in his speech as he received the unexpected gift.  He stopped and levitated a glass of water to the place where he was speaking, and as he drank, thought, [[*Is that--how--you FEEL us?  Thank you.  Have I told you how much I love you?*]]

Harry nodded at him, sending him a fleeting mental touch, and Severus resumed his speech, "As I look back on all we have survived, at how WE have changed, I sometimes have to remind myself that almost EVERY student in this school was born AFTER our work was finished.  Their relatively carefree world was defined by us, paid for by us, moulded by us--now it is our time to be care-free, to lose the melancholy, lose the sorrow, and lose the FEAR.  It is OUR time to celebrate, to live in the present," he faltered at his next words, a ripple of sorrow passing through him; he was so tired of it all."Not in the past.  Forward.  We must go forward, for we cannot EVER go back."

Harry knew he was speaking more to him than the audience.  Humouring him, he resumed his ruminations, settling on something a little more pleasant.

In his prime, before all the craziness, he had dropped the Potions class in favor of taking over from Madam Hooch at her retirement.  George Weasley, now a Potion's Professor himself, was only happy to oblige.

He had early on given up any dreams of playing Quidditch professionally, for the spell (at the time) would not let them separate for the long periods of time he would have needed.  In this manner, he completely satisfied his love of flying and his love of the game by teaching it to others.

He had given up his broom when a near-fatal accident had sent him (and Severus by way of their bond) into the infirmary for almost two months while his 69 year-old shattered bones knit and tearing internal injuries healed.  And while he got back the full use of those limbs, the incident jolted him into acknowledging he could no longer endanger Severus for his pleasure.  And so, his custom broom was retired in a place of honor with all the Quidditch cups and Harry resigned himself to the ground.

[[*I thought you were going to think about something more pleasant. Now you're showering me with your melancholy all over again.  What IS your problem?*]]  Severus asked wryly.

[[*Sorry.*]] He hesitated and then continued.  [[*I am thinking that it can't all be good or all bad.  It's more of a progression, a cycle of things.  They are so intertwined, I can't think of one without the other.*]]

[[*FIFTY points for Gryffindor.  It only took you a century to figure that out?  Why do you think I'm in a bad mood most of the time?*]] Severus sent with a wicked laugh.

[[*I don't know.  Not enough sex?*]]  Feeling the mental blow Severus sent him, he chuckled, [[*TEN points from Slytherin for lack of control.*]]

[[*I've NEVER heard you complain about my control,*]] he retorted and went back to his speech.

Always has to have the last word, Harry thought, knowing that unless they were physically together so that he could stop that mouth with his own, he never would get it.  Not that he minded--too much.

He heard Severus drawing another deep laugh from the crowd with another one of his amusing anecdotes.  They had enough of them--a lifetime's worth.  They'd listen to him until the flesh rotted off their bones, he thought laughing appreciatively with the others, and savouring the silky voice as it continued, he returned to his own memories.

At his retirement, Remus Lupin had returned to take over his Defense Against the Dark Arts Class.  It was comforting to have Remus around; as a werewolf, he would live for a very, very long time.  They had supported each other when Sirius had died, helping a wizarding family escape a Muggle war-zone shortly before Harry's permanent return to Hogwarts.  He missed his Godfather, but Remus had been devastated to lose his best friend and confidant.

Thinking of all the friends they had already lost over the years, and how many more Remus would live to see go away, Harry realised anew why Arabella's 'sacrifice' (as many saw it) a few decades back was so necessary.  By "taking the bite" and sharing the potion with Remus each full moon, they were at least assured their heart's desires would be present through the centuries they could hope to have together.

Potions had been taken over by Colin Longbottom, the thrice-great-grandson of Neville and Ginny Longbottom, who had Neville's sweet temper and reserve with Ginny's fiery hair and greater power.  Guess the Weasley genes tell after all, he thought craning his neck to look back at them in the audience .  Ginny gave him a broad smile.  Neville was transfixed by Severus' speech and didn't notice the exchange.  Looking over at Neville with long-standing patience, Ginny gave him a saucy wink before pointedly returning her attention back to the front of the room.

Harry turned around and smiled.  In addition to the teaching, Colin and his many assistants made all the potions required by the school, although Harry and Severus (until a few months ago) still made the Wolfsbane Potion themselves; they had just finished teaching Colin the ancient formula and complicated spells along with the modifications they'd made over the years.  Remus, and later Arabella, had been willing test subjects as well as staunch friends.  Each new batch had mitigated more and more of their symptoms until now, the full moon was nothing more than an tiring inconvenience.  They could live with that.

Harry noticed Colin standing off to the side with his ever present wife, Dana by his side.

[[*Severus?  Did you see Colin's--startled--look yesterday?  Ah, poor Colin, take your rest now, you'll need it in the coming months!*]] he thought with a wicked chuckle.

[[*Startled?  More like absolute controlled panic. Can't wait to hear what the castle does with them; it's grown just a little too accustomed to our more--eccentric--habits.*]]  Severus thought at him with an ironic laugh.  [[*He's so reserved, although she's all right; it'll be quite a--stretch--for them to fill our collective shoes.*]]

[[*Eccentric?  You ever are the master of understatement.  That was quite a little fight yesterday.  Speaking of--stretching--think we should leave them some of the lube?*]]

[[*Oh you naughty boy!  Nothing like a little stubbornness to get the blood moving--*]] At Harry's sardonic look, he amended, [[*--well--almost nothing--*]]

[[*You going to let him off the hook tonight?*]]

[[*Hardly.  I'd rather deal with his veiled unease than your tangible ire if we are delayed even one day.  You always were an impatient whelp.*]]  His mental chuckle rang through Harry's head.

[[*I'll remind you of that, the next time we--*]] he threw over to Severus a rather graphic image of what he had in mind.

[[*Oh--is that a promise or a threat?  I'll take either--*]]

[[*Uh, Severus, your guests are staring at you--I think you're supposed to be speaking, not staring off into space.  Did I hit a--nerve--or something?*]]

Resuming his speech, Severus glared at Harry and with a raised brow, thought, [[*Inarticulate Prat.*]]  With that the connection broke.

Never one to take the spotlight, Harry gazed at his husband from the sidelines.  It was his preference.  Like any lover, he saw only the man he'd fallen in love with, at his prime.  The whispers of old age were rarely felt in the early morning and late evening hours when creaking bones did not move so fast and loving became more deliberate caresses and subtle movements than the fast and hot quickening of their youth.

With smouldering touches--always touching whenever possible--an intimate knowledge of their preferences for pleasure, and with surprising health for their ages, they continued to please each other in a conscious fashion.  Unless they quarreled.

They fought, not often, great rousing rows that sometimes could be felt throughout the castle as the magic they unwittingly released in their anger coursed through the very stones.  During those times, the staff, feeling the trembles under their feet would smile knowingly and wait for a good long while after the tremors ceased before they even thought about approaching either one of them.

Usually the arguments started when one or the other was being stubborn about letting the other one know what was on their mind.  Severus shutting him out of their mental contact made Harry's blood boil, Harry hiding something from him in the recesses of his mind made Severus want to spit.  The quarrels never lasted very long and afterwards--Harry smiled--Well afterwards always is the best part.  The depth and enthusiasm of their--making-up--was directly related to how violent the row had been in the first place.

He felt Severus' smile, wicked man.

Most of the time, thoughtful conversation and acerbic wit had flowed between them for more than a century.  The insults they habitually traded, almost by reflex, were the mantle they hid their devotion under when out in the harsh glare of the public.  Sometimes, in private, when the emotions were too intense, the levity siphoned off the uncomfortable need to examine just how deep their feelings ran.  Significant glances and the unspoken words and touches exchanged in their heads became the safety valve they depended on to keep their privacy from grotty, prying eyes.

Some things never change with time, he thought, THEY still don't understand, let alone condone our relationship.



Intermission Three:
For a Howling Good Time, Call--

Albus had warned them they might have some--problems--with public opinion.  As always, his understated humour was just that--understated.  Harry privately thought even Albus would have lost his legendary calm over what transpired over the first year, so he forgave the more volatile Severus his anger.

From the time of their first farcical press conference shortly after Albus' death they received all manner of public censure.  It started with Howlers and nasty letters.  Then it became Howlers and harassment wherever they went.

There had even been a few incidents where, like Draco, either Harry or Severus would find themselves shoved against a wall subject to a rather physical expression of displeasure.  Usually, they were able to extricate themselves from the situation, but on the rare occurrences where they were well and truly caught, the other one, through their bond, usually dealt with the miscreants in some rather amusing ways, the other none the worse for wear.

However, there was one time this was not the case and in later years, Severus was grateful Harry remembered little of it--in retrospect, the incident defined some of the fierce protectiveness he displayed towards him.  The worst and last violent incident happened in the first year Severus was Headmaster.

Using one of the secret tunnels, four Death Eaters snuck into the castle in broad daylight and had cornered Harry in one of the back hallways, rarely used. Their intent was to teach him a lesson he would never survive not only for destroying their way of life, but for what they perceived him to be.

Casting a series of binding spells, which could only be broken by the caster, they incapacitated him. While two of them held him against a wall, the other two administered a punishment worthy of Voldemort at his worst. Using curses, their wands, and their fists, they beat and cut him to shreds. And, that was just for starters--they ultimately wanted his death, but they wanted him and through him, the Headmaster to suffer first.

Severus, teaching his 7th year Potions Class--felt--Harry's terror and pain.  Without hesitation, he barked out an order for the students to stay where they were, and using his connection, Severus pinpointed his location and ran out of the classroom at a dead run, leaving a very confused George Weasley and their students behind with their boiling potions.

For once Severus didn't care--he just had to get there in time, the images of what was happening burning into his mind.  As Harry's bones were broken, he fell to the stone floor writhing in the agony.  With a desperate effort, he separated it into another part of his mind and picking himself off the floor, kept running.  But it was too much.  When Harry lost consciousness, so did Severus, his last thought a curse of despair that he'd failed him.

Not content with merely hurting him, the former Death Eaters also intended to humiliate him.  They stripped him, not an easy task even with magic for Harry had been unconscious for quite some time.  They then bent him over one of the little sculptures dotting the corridor intent on buggering him.

The castle was normally a dormant thing, alive, but uninvolved.  It normally sat there and watched the foibles of its occupants with deep seated amusement and would often tell Harry the more amusing things that happened within its walls or let him know when something was going on that required his action.  It, on very rare occasion, would talk to Severus (much to his secret delight) if Harry was not around.

But not today.  The castle, angrier by the second, had watched what was happening and in its normal passive manner, made Severus' path to Harry as straight as possible, moving walls and floors as necessary to aid him in his rescue.  However, when Severus lost consciousness, the castle acted--this was "its" Harry being hurt.  And, it was pissed.

Three of the former Death Eaters, their trousers and pants undone in readiness, crowded around the first one, egging him on, his hands spreading and exposing Harry wide.

The four of them found themselves lifted by four growling sections of the floor, hanging in mid-air on top of tall columns of stone.  They were then bounced until they were face-down, facing the wall behind them, which shimmered into semi-opacity.  The floor crested like a wave and surfed them head-first into the wall until their bellies were even with its edge, heads on one side, and arses on the other.  Then the wall became solid again, the men firmly embedded there dangling on both sides.  They were still alive, but wishing they weren't.

The castle then attended to Harry, the stone statue gently sinking into the flags until he lay, still unconscious, on the floor.  The stone formed a concave hollow for him and rose, carrying its burden to where Severus lay and adding him to the same hollow, rolled their piece of the floor fluidly to the infirmary.

Madame Pomphrey, stocking potions on the shelves, stood in awe as the rumbling, cresting wave of floor bearing the two men rolled past her and into the private room stopping with a deep, shuddering rumble.  Running into the room immediately behind it, she found Harry and Severus settled on the wide bed, Harry to the outside, his numerous wounds leaking dark red into the white covers.  Poppy, not knowing what had happened, nonetheless went to work on Harry, sending her assistant to get the other staff.

It was several hours later the staff found the four Death Eaters, half alive, buried in the wall with their bare arses hanging out in the hallway.  The staff was divided on what to do.  Some wanted to take them down immediately and turn them into the authorities; Minerva and her supporters, in a rare show of savagery, wanted to leave them there to rot.

The castle smugly rumbled its approval of this last option, but cooler heads prevailed, making the point they really didn't want the ghosts hanging around to harass Harry, and with more effort than they knew, managed to get them out of the wall alive and onto Azkaban.

Flitwick, in one of his finer moments, managed to get pictures of the event and once Harry was on the road to recovery, brought the photos to them.  Severus was not quite sure Harry should see them, but Flitwick overcame his objections.

Harry, luckily, did not remember anything after he lost consciousness, although he could tell from Severus' actions that something was being kept from him.  The photos pretty much explained it all.  At first angry (and scared if truth be told), the photos of the four arses hanging out of the wall and the ones of their removal, put the whole incident into its proper perspective.

Their laughter healed them, although Harry chafed for a little while under a brief period of Severus' and the castle's hyper-vigilance.  There was never a repeat of the incident; the castle, no longer passive, notified Severus and they dealt with any problems before they started, Harry none the wiser.

When harassment failed, the methods degraded into Howlers and tasteless jokes.  They knew if they were both absent from any house meal, regardless of the reason, the jokes would fly for days before things settled down to normal.  Intensely private, they tended to avoid situations that gave rise to comments, but privately thought the jokes mostly harmless and rather funny.

The Howlers never stopped though--they often got two or three a week.  They could be sent anonymously and usually arrived in the Great Hall at breakfast.  Severus and Harry would see the familiar red envelope carried by a Post Office Owl as would everyone else and silence would fall on the Hall as it was dropped onto the plate.  They would both look at each other and one or the other would pick up the envelope and serenely walk away from the table and into the room beyond, where he could release the message safe from the ears of the Staff and students sitting at the tables.

And then, someone invented the Self-Opening-Howler.  Severus vowed that if he ever found out who it was, he or she was in for some really interesting sport.

When the first one arrived, Harry picked it up, intending to take it away, when it exploded, singeing his fingers, and proceeded to howl its message for the entire Hall to hear.  Luckily, it was pretty tame, but the incident shook them both.

When the next one arrived, Severus tried levitating it, thinking it had been Harry's touch that had set it off, but the same thing happened to him and once again they were subjected to the howling message.  Soon, all of them were coming in this form and they could find nothing to do to keep them from exploding their messages right at delivery.

After a particularly humiliating one involving comments on their sex life (which the two of them privately thought was anatomically impossible), Harry, sensing the deep hurt Severus felt and fueled by his own outrage at the students having to hear it too, decided enough was enough and started doing something about it.

The first thing he did was call off all his classes for the day and then going into Severus' office, had a little chat with the castle.  It took a while for him to get his meaning across, but once done, the castle was their willing accomplice.

From that day forward, all Howlers, regardless of receivers, were sent to their quarters and while this may have made it uncomfortable for the other recipients who had to wait longer for the distribution, it did effectively keep them private.  Harry personally thought the whole thing rather boring, but knew each one cut Severus like a knife, even if heard in private.  Fiercely protective of him, Harry took it one step further.

Enlisting the willing assistance of Professor Flitwick, they, over a couple of days, created a type of Reflecting Charm.  Harry, unbeknownst to Severus, wove the charm into the fabric of the castle's Wards themselves.  Tired, but quite pleased with himself, he waited.

After a couple of weeks, the rumours began to fly about certain highly-placed Ministry Officials receiving Self-Opening-Howlers from themselves on highly-inappropriate-sexually-suggestive-material.

Arthur Weasley, then Minister of Magic, came by one night to Hogwarts.

Harry met him at the Apparating point and walked back with him to the Castle.  Harry enjoyed Arthur's company, the man the closest thing he had to a father and one he had the greatest respect for.  Quiet and unassuming, Arthur was a powerful Wizard in his own right, his humility and high humour tempered and strengthened his magic much the same way Dumbledore's had.  Arthur was easily Dumbledore's equal and both Severus and Harry had been hugely satisfied when he'd taken over the Ministry after Fudge.

They talked of family matters on the way up and Harry was surprised to learn The Trio was experiencing some of the same harassment he and Severus were.  They'd heard nothing from them and Harry intended to give the three of them a piece of his mind the next time he saw them for not being as forthcoming as they should.

Arthur had his own reasons for coming to see them, which became apparent after he had settled down comfortably on the sofa next to Harry in Severus' office.  Severus occupied the other comfortable chair by the fire.  They purposefully sat apart; it made things--easier--that way.

"I see the two of you have had great fun denuding my cabinet of some of its more prominent members," Arthur began after they'd exchanged the usual niceties.

Severus looked confused, his tea forgotten.  "We'd heard rumours, of course, that some of the Cabinet had been removed for sexual impropriety, which we found highly ironic, but I fail to see how we had anything to do with it."

Harry looked uncomfortable, Oh-Oh, he thought, I think I'm in big trouble.

Arthur gave him a sharp look.  "Now Severus, please don't be coy.  It is obvious that the two of you were involved; the impropriety you so glibly speak of was the return receipt of Howlers they had sent to the two of you.  It went beyond poor taste and I had no choice but to remove or demote them for moral turpitude."

"In fact," he went on, a suppressed smile on his lips, "It was not just limited to my Cabinet, several others in the Aurors and other departments had to be disciplined.  I have--heard--there have been some prominent citizens affected as well."

Severus looked troubled for a moment, his eyes sliding to and resting on Harry.  Seeing the uncomfortable squirming look on Harry's face, his head followed and Harry was treated to the rare piercing regard of an irate Headmaster.  "Potter, what have you been up to?" he finally asked in a quiet silky voice Harry knew was Severus at his most intense.  Normally, he enjoyed that tone of voice, but now--he could understand why Severus had few discipline problems amongst the students.

Arthur turned to look at him as well, the suppressed smile finally teasing out onto his mouth until he had a full-fledged grin on his face.  "Yes, Harry.  DO tell us what you have been up to."

Severus, knowing Arthur was not truly upset nevertheless had no intentions of letting Harry off the hook.  That Harry had done something, without telling him, made him--well, it was a good thing they were NOT sitting next to each other.

"Um, well, it's like this," Harry stammered.  Severus glared at him and he fell silent.

"Oh please Mr. Potter, please tell me what it is you have done to annoy me--this--week."  Severus said at his most sarcastic.  "I have missed your--youthful--peccadilloes SO much and eagerly await the latest in your long line of thoughtless actions."  Arthur looked at him sharply.

"It was NOT thoughtless", Harry began, "In fact, it took Flitwick and I two days to figure it out."

"Me," Severus automatically corrected, "Flitwick and me.  And, what was Filius doing in all this?"

"We made a Reflecting Charm, to send the Howlers back to their senders.  It took us a while to figure out how to bypass the Anonymity Charm each one had, but Professor Flitwick was brilliant," he said with a measure of pride.

"I see.  And, HOW did you USE the Charm?" Severus asked, his eyes narrowed.

Now, they were at the tricky part.  Theoretically, Harry was in charge of the castle, but Severus was in charge of the Wards.  While Harry always executed the changes Severus wanted to make to the Wards, he wasn't really supposed to work on them on his own--only the Headmaster was supposed to make changes--but that didn't mean he wasn't perfectly capable of working them himself, it just meant Severus expected them to do it together.

So, he squirmed under the steady gaze and mumbled "I set it into the Wards."

Arthur, startled, cried "What?!"

"I believe he said he wove them into the Wards.  Exactly how did you do that?"  Severus was quite calm.  Harry knew that calm and knew they were going to have a flaming row about it when they got private.

Harry shrugged, "I just did.  I told the castle what I wanted to do and then I did it.  And, yes, before you ask me, I set the proper protections here in this room, while you were teaching Potions that morning.  Flitwick had no idea what I was about; he just thought I was using the charm when the Howlers came in."

Arthur leaned over and asked him, "Why didn't you just use it like that?  Why set it into the Wards of the Castle?"

Harry gave a quick glance over to Severus, who was sitting very still, lost in his own thoughts.  Turning back to Arthur he said, "It only worked half the time.  There were--reasons--it had to work--every--time."  He stopped there and looked like he was going to say more, but sliding his eyes over to Severus, he decided to go no further.

Arthur sat back, a thoughtful look on his face.  "Do you think it could be set into any Ward or just the ones here at Hogwarts?"

Harry considered this a moment.  "I don't know--I am only familiar with the ones we have here.  I have the knowledge of several different forms, but not the experience working with them.  Severus could give you a better idea about that than I."

Severus looked tired.  "I would have to look at how it was set, Arthur, but I think any Charm can be woven into certain types of Wards.   Why do you ask?"

It was Arthur's turn to look uncomfortable.  "You are not the only ones receiving them.  I--and others--get them as well and I find them a distasteful invasion of privacy, especially when the sender can choose when and where they arrive.  When I'd heard what had happened, I had hoped we could do the same thing to the Ministry and then make the knowledge common--so they would lose their effectiveness and their use might stop.

Harry had a flash of insight.  The Trio.  They were getting them too as well as their father, and probably the rest of their families as well.

Before Severus could speak, Harry jumped in, "I'll be more than happy to give you the charm as well as how I set it.  You can use it how--and where--you see fit."

And that was the end of Severus' objections.  Resigned, he told Arthur he would Owl him with the information on the morrow.  Arthur, seeing the tension between the two, wisely called it a night and bid them adieu saying he could find his own way out.

Severus sat in his chair a few very long moments, his eyes closed, a look of long-suffering weariness on his face.  Harry watched him silently, but with no apprehension.  He knew he'd done the best he could and Severus would just have to deal with it.

Severus rose from the chair and sighing said to Harry in a low calm voice, "Come, let's get it over with, but not here."  He strode out of the room, Harry only a few steps behind him.

The walk to their quarters was made in silence and once the door was closed, Severus turned to Harry, his eyes blazing.

"I find it singularly perverse that you chose this moment to turn defiant.  What in the hell were you thinking of?  No, let me rephrase that.  What in the hell were you NOT thinking of," he yelled.

Harry balled his hands into fists to keep his temper in check.  "It was not thoughtless.  Pay attention--I thought we'd already established this.  I could NOT stand by helpless another day, watching you get those goddamn things, watching you tear yourself apart over them.  I decided to DO something about them.  And, if you have a problem with that, I suggest you go take it elsewhere, because I'd do it again and again and again if I had to until they stopped and we were no longer bothered by them."

"Even if it meant bringing down the whole castle and everyone in it?"  Severus asked in a deadly voice.

"YES!  Even if it brought the whole goddamn castle down around our ears."

"Then I would call that thoughtless disregard.  A child's reaction.  I Don't Sleep With Children." he said in an implacable voice.

Harry was now truly pissed.  How could he explain this, make him see?  "The castle HELPED me, for gods' sakes.  It SHOWED me what to do.  It can't hurt itself and it can't hurt us!  Only those damned Howlers hurt us.  Hurt You.  I couldn't do NOTHING!  I couldn't find them, to make them PAY for the damage they caused you.  So I stopped them the only way I knew how.  It had to be DONE!  And if that's childish, then--then you're too damned grown up." He stopped, panting, his eyes perilous.

Severus regarded him with hooded eyes for a moment, admiring the passion, the resolve, and once again thought just how dangerous Harry was when provoked.  He allowed himself one small moment of wounded pride and felt the tightness start.

Without warning, he closed the distance between them, quicker than thought.  He wrapped his arms around Harry and crushed him in a tight embrace, his mouth stopping any more words Harry might utter.  Harry was overwhelmed and responded in a manner that soon had both men groaning.

Severus pulled back, breathing heavily and looked Harry in the eyes, smouldering black to blazing green.

"I understand WHY you did it," he whispered intensely into Harry's ear while nipping the soft flesh of his neck beneath it.

"And, I am grateful for the results," nip--
"But if you ever," bite--
"EVER do that again," suck--
"Work the Wards without back-up," lick--
"Without ME," tasting--
"Castle or no castle," worrying the lobe with his teeth--
"I will nail your entrails to the wall," bite--
"And then, let one of Hagrid's more interesting pets in to finish you off."

He bit his neck hard, running his hands down Harry's hips, cupping his buttocks, pulling him close into his own hardness, "Am I clear?"

Harry pulled his neck away from Severus tender ministrations and bit his bottom lip.  Severus groaned, but did not back down, pulling Harry even closer, the concern for Harry clear in his eyes.  "Do we have a deal?"

"Deal," Harry said, taking Severus' mouth, plunging his tongue into the sweet depths, tasting his surrender.  Severus shuddered and groaned his satisfaction into Harry's mouth, his hips grinding into him, sending ripples of pleasure through them both.

Well, that was a little intense, Harry thought, as he and Severus tumbled to the floor.

Short, but sweet.  Oh gods, the making-up is sooo sweet.



Section Four:
Closets, Minds, and Other Things One Comes Out Of

Harry's research into lightforms and music for the last 20 years, while interesting in its own right, had only been done to mark the time until Severus was ready and willing to give up his position.  And, while HE had been ready to move on many years ago, he never forced the issue, knowing Severus had not yet finished with his plans for expanding the school and its role in the community, and securing their successors.

So he waited, his obscure efforts aimed solely at sustaining Severus and growing his own plans for their final years together, without all the draining distractions of their current life.  Despite Severus' claims about his impatience, Harry was actually pretty good at waiting.  It was all relative - Severus had waited over a century, Harry managed about 20 years.

[[*Careful, Severus.  You're paying more attention to me than your speech.  That's the third time you've stopped and graced the thin air with your keen, penetrating wit and talent.*]]

[[*And who says I am thinking of you, you conceited, limelight-seeking git? *]]  At Harry's appreciative chuckle, he continued, [[*Ah, the advantages of old age. I'm beginning to understand why Albus decided to live so long.  Certain--peculiarities--are hidden quite well in the speculations of senility.  I'm just buttering them up.  By the time I get done with this, they'll be happy to hear my announcement.*]]

[[*Our announcement.  And, since when did you start using so many Muggle expressions?  You used to hate it whenever you'd hear them--I seem to recall a little diatribe you once expounded on 'How Ever Did the Muggles Rise from the Mud--*]]

[[*Well--erm--I sometimes find their loquacity--oh never mind,*]] and Severus returned to his speech, wrapping it up.

It was over.  The conflicts, the suffering, the wild excitement, the dullness of routine, the swinging cycles of good and bad, black and white.  Ended were the times when all their efforts were directed for the good and benefit of others.  Severus' plans were now complete, their execution running smoothly, no longer needing his guiding hand to keep them moving and growing.

Now it is OUR time, he thought with unexpected pleasure and customary impatience.  Our quiet island, the library we have been building for many years, my research, and Severus' plans for explorations--ah, I can't wait!

Now seated with the rest of the staff, while listening to a short speech from one of his many well-wishers, Severus glanced over at Harry, secret amusement shining in his eyes as he caught the gist of Harry's thoughts.  [[*Patience, my love, has always been my virtue, not yours.*]]

Harry raised an eyebrow at that, looking incredulously at his lover.  [[*Oh?  And, who is the impetuous one?  Not me!*]] he shot back.

[[*Hmm--I seem to recall a certain person playing with their wand while reading a spell.  Seems to me that's what got us into this mess in the first place.*]]  His eyes danced.

[[*I think we've clearly established that THAT was thoughtlessness, not impetuosity.  YOU'RE the one who went along with it AND escalated it.  And, I might add, recently shot a lot of champagne all over our guests.*]]

[[*Touché!  Do you think we need to teach them the cleaning spell?*]]  He chortled, highly amused by another private joke.

[[*Quiet, you insolent--Potion's Master.*]]

[[*--Imbecilic student!*]]  Harry laughed when the thought came.

[[*--Sniping Snape.*]]  Severus growled as the thought reached him.

[[*--Potty Potter.*]]  He sent on a chuckle.

[[*--Mine--*]]sent gently with a sweet mental caress.

[[*Mine--*]] a tender whisper imparted with a tender touch.

An old game, played with finesse, it usually made them feel whole, but this time it brought the unbidden thoughts of another time he had almost lost Severus--and it would have been his fault.

During the time before the Draconus Wards, when they'd been dependent on the ever-growing number of ordinary defenses to cover the school and Hogsmeade, the war came to Great Britain.  The war had come to Hogwarts.

Harry and Severus spent increasing amounts of time propping the Castle's defenses as the battles raged in and through them.  Weary beyond belief, they left the school to run itself while they recuperated between sessions with the Castle.

Lenore, then nine, was wandering the castle one day when she found an unconscious Muggle soldier in one of the back corridors.  Scared, she ran off and found George and brought him back to the place.  The soldier was gone.

A huge search ensued and eventually, they found him, in the kitchen of all places where Dobby was feeding the ravenous man a huge meal.  Severus was called down and he found himself unable to chastise the house-elf for the soldier looked starved and on closer examination, was wounded as well.

Seth, after healing him, called Severus aside and told him the Muggle, Bill as he was called, had magic.  He hypothesized the Wards had let him through for that reason.  Severus went to the other Staff and after a heated discussion, they agreed an apprenticeship would be offered to Bill there in Hogwarts.

Harry, while keeping his silence, was privately opposed to this as he believed Bill would never accede.  It turned out he was right.  Not only was Bill vehement in his desire to return, he made it quite clear he thought them all evil, and he fretted to go back as soon as possible.  Severus was perplexed and at a loss--none of the Muggles found like this before EVER wanted to go back.

It was Harry who discovered and eventually executed the only acceptable solution as distasteful as it was.  Drawing on an ancient magic within himself, he not only Obliterated Bill's memory, but used the Expeculiatus Excommunus Incantum an obscure spell long forbidden, which stripped Bill of his magic.

Harry felt decidedly unclean as both spells were considered an act of rape.  However, there was no other choice--they could not let him remember and they could not chance him wandering into any Magical community in the future given his desire to destroy them all.  Nor could they force him to stay.

And so he was returned.  When Harry found out Severus and Remus intended to personally take Bill back, they had a violent argument that rocked the castle; Harry lost ungraciously and Severus and Remus left with Bill between them.

Two agonising days later, Harry collapsed, screaming in his Potions' Class.  George, who was assisting him, took him to the infirmary and then he and Seth settled back to wait for Remus to bring in Severus.  It wasn't long.

As Seth desperately worked to remove the bullets riddling his body, Remus explained they'd returned Bill all right, but had caught cross-fire when a Muggle patrol had opened fire on their enemies.  They'd just been in the wrong place at the wrong time.  He was mystified how HE had escaped unscathed.

Severus healed slowly--Harry refused to touch him, even though it was pure torture not to do so. He climbed out the bed in the infirmary as soon as he regained consciousness, going to their quarters. The incident had left a bad taste in his mouth--he was not over his own shame at what he'd had to do--he felt Severus had not allowed him to expiate his actions by going with him to return Bill to the Muggles. He felt Severus had lost his faith in him.

Severus on the other hand, was a proud man--it would be a cold day in the Underworld before he asked Harry to give him surcease from the pain of the injuries he'd received by what he felt was his own stupidity. He knew why Harry was upset and knew his fear was what had made him leave Harry at home; he still had the visions in his head of Harry being beaten. And, when he was honest with himself, there was a small nagging part of himself loath to trust Harry after what he'd had to do to Bill.

So Harry had his demons and Severus his fears and they stayed apart.

When an infection Seth could not cure set in some of the still weeping wounds, Severus began to go downhill quickly. By this time they were so separate from each other, Harry experienced only a few twinges, easily ignored.

Lenore, however, had no such problems. Very angry and demanding, she grabbed Harry out of his quarters and without ceremony, she stomped her way through the castle, pulling him in her wake all the way to the infirmary. When they reached Severus' bed, she ordered him in her immutable nine-year old way to "fix Daddy."

Harry was appalled at Severus' condition and without thought climbed into the bed and took him in his arms. Lenore, not to be outdone, snuggled in next to Severus on the other side, her hand on his face.

Severus came awake the next day with the feel of the two people he loved the most, holding him fast and loving him back. It was the most incredible feeling and although he was almost overwhelmed, he came to grips with the caring and vowed before going back to sleep, that he would NEVER allow a rift like this again.

Later, when Severus was recuperating in their quarters, they talked, honestly about the demons and the fears. It was the first and last time they ever let anything come between them.

[[*Will you please stop thinking about the sappy parts? Gods, what is it with you tonight?*]] Severus shot at him with some asperity. [[*I am here. You are here. We are together.*]]

Harry's reply was gratefully cut short by a shout as hundreds of voices rose and joined to wish Severus a Happy Anniversary--One Hundred and Ten Years as Headmaster at Hogwarts Academy for Witchcraft and Wizardry; the longest tenure in memory.

To them this was a bittersweet occasion, for it also was the anniversary of Albus Dumbledore's death and looking around at their closest friends, he could see they were remembering this as well.

Severus, standing once more, held out his hand to Harry, gesturing at him. 

[[*Come join me up here—this day is as much yours as mine,*]] the thought came to him.

Resigned and with a noiseless sigh, Harry stood and walked away from his obscurity, hating the knowing looks he received from some of the cretins in the audience, making his way over to stand by Severus' side, hands brushing lightly as he joined him at the front.  Turning, he caught Ron and Hermione's encouraging smiles--his friends knew how much he hated being in the spot-light.

[[*Satisfied?*]] he asked with wry amusement, his eyes fixed on Severus' face.

[[*Barely--if I have to suffer, so do you,*]] Severus thought, glancing at him with a small smile.

"They're at it again," Ron murmured, bending into Hermione's ear, his beard tickling her.

"So I see.  Still, it's good to see them together, though.  They are still so reserved in public," she whispered back, liking the way his whiskers caressed her cheek.

"Do they have much choice?  You saw some of the looks he just got!"  He looked at them, his face softening at the thought of all the years they had shared.  "I wish Draco were here to see this, he would have known what mayhem to cause."

She chuckled, "Of that, I have no doubt.  He and Severus were always cut from the same cloth and together--but, I think Harry will think of something.  I heard he has something special planned for tonight.  Besides, I am not sure they need our help--they are both too well respected to have anyone DO anything about it."

As if her words were his cue, Harry held up his hands gracefully over his head, arms bent, his fingers fully extended—the palms facing his silver, unruly hair.  His lips moved in the whispered cadence of a long, complicated spell.  The crowd grew quiet, eyes fixed on him.  He rotated his palms to face the audience, and without breaking the rhythm of his spell, he brought his hands down slowly in front of him, palms facing the floor.  When his hands reached waist-level, he abruptly closed them into fists, rotated his wrists and arms facing upward and flinging his fingers wide open, he released the spell, saying loudly, "Lumos Severus".

Suddenly, every light in the room snuffed out.  Harry, drooping slightly from the enormous effort of casting the potent spell, took the opportunity to take Severus' hand, their fingers entwining by long habit.  

[[*I hope you like this,*]] he thought as streams of light began to flicker at odd intervals in the room.  The light streams swirled in colored arcs, making a dance across the room in time to a simple tune, which soon became a haunting melody, making the heart soar.  Pulsing, weaving, joining, separating, the streamers came more frequently, in greater numbers until the faces of the room's occupants were lit by the glowing strobes of light.  Sighs of pleasure could be heard from the audience for the magic of light was the first to be learned and the hardest to master.

Harry was such a master and could make the light dance to any tune he desired.  And, he desired Severus.  He had painted this portrait of his lover, the complex weavings of light and sound reflecting the complex nature of the man who was his husband.  The subtle, yet sometimes violent joinings and separations of color, light, and harmony were a joyful re-creation of their moments of passion.  Each pattern, each dance, composed a symphony to the joys of living with Severus.  The whole was one of exquisite beauty.  The spinning strands and breath-taking notes crescendoed in an explosion of light, light so white and pure it took their breath away, pulsing ever brighter until, as one, they were forced to close their eyes, the afterimage burned into their eyelids, the music in their souls.  And then, once again there was darkness and the song ended as a dim echo, leaving them aching for its loss.

As the lights came back up slowly, their separate hearts still beating as one in time with the symphony's fading pulse, the crowd stood in silent wonder for a few heartbeats before exploding into wild applause for such a masterful performance.

Without thought, Severus had tightened his hold on Harry's hand.  He turned to him, speechless for once, his eyes brimming with the emotion he had NEVER shown for Harry in public before.  But, Severus was not aware of the people surrounding them; he saw only Harry.  He'd--felt--the love, the passion Harry had poured into the work and responding with a fervor all his own, he harshly buried his hand in Harry's hair, pulled him close, and let his lips speak into Harry's the words he could not find to tell him how much the gift had meant to him.  How much Harry meant to him.

The crowd silenced, stunned as Severus, the Headmaster of Hogwarts finally, after more than a century, declared publicly his deep abiding devotion and commitment to Harry--his husband.

Severus, after an indeterminate time, ended the kiss and the embrace.  Staring into Harry's eyes, their hands entwined, he murmured, "So Beautiful."  Harry stared back, volumes spoken, green eyes to black.  He looked down and said nothing.

Releasing Harry, but not his hand, Severus slowly became aware of the daunting silence surrounding them and sighed.

[[*Well, that was one of my more brilliant moves.  Seems we've made a quite a spectacle,*]] he thought ruefully.  [[*Are you all right?*]]

[[*Yes, I'm fine.  More than fine.  It WAS rather spectacular,*]] he thought back, his lips still burning from the kiss.  [[*Well, at least we gave them something real to talk about this time.*]]  Harry's internal chuckle reached him the same time as his thought.

[[*Think we'll get some tasteful jokes out of this one?*]]

[[*Not a chance!*]]

They both smiled.

"Well, now that we have your--undivided--attention, I have an announcement to make."  Severus' eyes swept the uneasy crowd.  With some drama, he said, "I am retiring as Headmaster of Hogwarts."

A low buzz of comments started.  He let it rise to a certain point only he knew of.  Still gripping Harry's hand, he raised his free hand for silence, and getting it, continued, "As this anniversary indicates, I have been here for far too many years.  Now that our world is fairly secure, it is time for me to step-down, to let younger people run this place with their infernal energy.  My portrait is painted and I am ready to hang it, sneering and growling, on the wall of some obscure back hallway we have not yet opened."  He grew solemn and all of his 149 years showed in his face.  "I grow tired. Weary even.  I--WE have earned the rest."  His hand squeezed Harry's almost painfully.

"However, we leave the school in capable hands.  The Board of Governors approved our choice of replacement only yesterday.  Colin Longbottom is the new Headmaster of Hogwarts."  He waited for the cries of surprise to die down.  "Colin, as you know, has been Potions Master here at Hogwarts for the last 20 years and Head of the Slytherin House for the past ten.  The Wards have been transferred; he will make an excellent Headmaster and we wish him all the best in the coming years."

Applause broke out and Colin, much to his chagrin, soon found himself the center of a large group of well-wishers.

[[*Who knew a Longbottom would prove so able in potions?*]] Harry thought, repeating a long-standing joke between them.

[[*Must have been the Weasley genes,*]] Severus sent back wryly. [[*He certainly did not get it from his thrice-great!*]] he chuckled wickedly, thinking of all the anxiety he had caused stalking the young Neville in his Potion's Class.

[[*Behave yourself,*]] Harry chided him for the umpteenth time.

[[*Never!  Where would be the fun in that?*]] he shot back.

Sighing with the ease of long practice, Harry shook his head and thought, [[*Shall we make our graceful exit?*]]

[[*Who knew the Boy-Who-Lived could produce such a practical suggestion?  Maybe the company he keeps has--rubbed--off on him?  And, while I would dearly love to stay here and listen interminably to the sycophantic sounds of drooling well-wishers and arse kissers, I grow ever fond of some small notions of sweet silence.  Quick, before they remember we are here.*]]

Harry rolled his eyes.  Severus smirked, raising one eyebrow up.  They turned and stepping down from the dais, started walking to the doors of the Great Hall, still unconsciously hand in hand.  They were stopped by Ron and Hermione, who met them just before they could get out of the room.

"Well, we almost made a clean get-a-way," Harry quipped.

He looked significantly at Ron, and then exchanged a glance with Hermione.  She shrugged and looked away.  Not good then, he thought, feeling a little sad.  She looked back at him fiercely and he understood.  I won't say anything, he spoke with his eyes.  She nodded, satisfied.

"Not so fast, you two.  You are not sneaking away without saying good night to us first."  Ron said with a mock growl.

"Oh shave it, Weasley," Severus said severely, "I thought we were eating breakfast together tomorrow morning."

"Oh, we are," Hermione said, "But, we wanted to make sure we wished you both a Happy Anniversary."

Somehow Harry and Severus knew they were not referring to the anniversary of this evening, but rather to the anniversary of two days before; their wedding anniversary.

"Here, we wanted to give this to you in person," Ron said, holding out a largish package.

Looking at Severus for confirmation, which he got along with a more normal snide comment, he said to Ron and Hermione, "Come.  Join us in our rooms where we can be more private."

"All right, lead the way," Hermione said on a soft laugh.

They walked, slowly, back to their quarters.

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