Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

Rating: PG-13

Notes: This is *extremely* AU. It's set in Harry and Company's seventh year, and it assumes that Voldemort has been defeated entirely at this point. An "Oh, brilliant, it only took half a year to kill him for good, so we've got the rest of the year off from Battling Utter Evil" sort of thing. Sirius has been exonerated, and he's the DADA teacher for the year.

Text appearing in single quotes ' ' within double quotes " " indicates dialogue quoted directly from the orignal play. Lines have been cut and/or edited for clarity or brevity in places, but otherwise, all dialogue is verbatim.

Too Wise To Woo Peaceably

Chapter Six

By JayKay


Harry awoke with a start, jerking upright, momentarily disoriented when he didn't see his familiar bedcurtains, but memory came flooding back in the next instant, and he remembered why he was naked, in a strange bed. A glance around the room showed Snape was already up; the bathroom door was standing open, which meant he was probably in the parlor.

Yawning and stretching, Harry slid out of bed and padded to the bathroom, freshening up enough to make it back to the Gryffindor dormitory for a shower and fresh clothes. He was grateful it was the weekend; considering how little sleep he'd gotten, he knew he never would have made it through his classes without dozing off, and he was going to have a difficult enough time explaining things to Ron and Hermione as it was. Ron had no doubt noticed his bed hadn't been slept in, and a glance at his watch showed he'd slept through breakfast, which meant Hermione would be concerned as well, especially if Ron blabbed about his overnight absence.

After pulling on his socks, robes, and sneakers, Harry wandered into the parlor, expecting to see Snape there, perhaps in his chair, or perhaps at his desk, but likely with a cup of tea nearby. When he walked in the room, the fireplace was lit, the flames crackling cheerfully, but the room itself was empty. Harry stopped dead in his tracks, looking around as if this would somehow cause Snape to appear, disappointment knotting his stomach when he realized Snape had left without a note or a word.

He left Snape's quarters and headed down the hall to the Potions classroom to see if perhaps Snape was busy brewing up something for someone, but the door was locked, and he could hear nothing that indicated anyone was inside. Harry squared his shoulders. Well, that left only one place, then. He marched to a door farther down the hall, which led to Snape's office; it was standing wide open, revealing Snape sitting at his desk, grading homework.

Pausing on the threshold, Harry cleared his throat; now that he was here, he didn't know quite what to say. He'd never had a one-night stand before, and he hadn't realized morning-afters were quite so uncomfortable. Snape spared him a brief glance before returning his attention to the rolls of parchment in front of him.

"What is it, Potter?" His tone was one of annoyed boredom, as if he didn't want to be bothered with anything, least of all Harry.

"I..." Harry abruptly realized his hands were ice cold. "Look, about last night--"

"One night," Snape interrupted, keeping his attention on the homework even though his quill wasn't moving any longer. "The night is over. Curiosity has been satisfied. We may now return to normal."

The words were delivered quietly, without inflection, but Harry felt them like a punch in the stomach, despite they were his own words, returned to him. He raised one hand to his face, scrubbing it absently. The sex had been brilliant, Snape was being agreeable about the conditions, and this... this... whatever-it-was that had built up between them over the past few weeks would surely dissipate now they had satisfied their needs. Everything had turned out perfectly.

So why did he feel as if something had gone horribly wrong?

"Right, of course." He nodded. "I'll... just be going, then."


Snape continued grading, and Harry backed away, the last vestiges of pleasure and good humor left over from the night before swept away in a tangle of confusion -- and pain. Where had the pain come from? It makes no sense! he berated himself as he strode along the corridors, back to Gryffindor, back where he belonged. It was just a one-night stand, nothing more. It meant nothing. Snape meant nothing. It was just... just two lonely people keeping each other company for a while, that was all.

By the time he reached the common room, he almost believed it.




Three days later, he knew he was the biggest idiot in Hogwarts, perhaps in all of Britain.

"Potter, you stupid git." He stared at his reflection in the bathroom mirror, having interrupted himself in the middle of shaving with the realization he was a complete prat. "How in God's name did you ever survive the last seven years, when you can't even figure out one simple matter?"

Another line of garbage, and he knew it. Nothing was ever simple when it came to himself and Snape, not even a one-night stand.

Ron and Hermione had, as expected, rushed to accost him the moment he had walked into the common room, wanting to know where he'd been and what he'd been doing.

"You were with him, weren't you?" Ron demanded, but Harry had waved them both away.

"Yes, I was, and that's all I want to say about it right now."

He'd turned and walked away, and behind him, he heard Hermione advise Ron to back off, followed by Ron's reluctant acquiescence. They had both shown a restraint for which he felt he should applaud them, not pushing, not asking any questions, obviously waiting until he was ready to discuss the situation with them.

The problem was, he didn't know where to begin. It should have been simple! He should have woken up that morning, feeling light and free, unburdened by his bizarre fascination with Snape. He should not have spent the following days feeling as if the Whomping Willow had gotten hold of his broomstick again. Instead of getting Snape out of his system, having sex seemed to have had the opposite effect: Snape was even deeper under his skin than before, and it was driving him mad.

Especially since Snape was behaving as if everything really was back to normal!

Harry found his gaze continually drawn to Snape, memories of their night together flooding back every single time, but never once did Snape seem to feel the weight of Harry's gaze, and never once did Harry look up to find Snape watching him. In class, during rehearsals, it was always the same: Snape went about his business, interacting with Harry with his usual levels of snarkiness -- neither more nor less venomous than before -- when it was necessary, and ignoring him the rest of the time. It appeared as if he had put what happened behind him and was indeed moving on without a second thought, as if it had meant nothing to him.

The damnable thing was, Harry couldn't figure out if he was upset by that so much because it was a blow to his ego, or...

With a prolonged sigh, he finished shaving, rinsed his face, and decided it was time to face the inevitable. He needed a conference with his friends, if only to let them be his sounding boards so that maybe, just maybe, he could figure out how to get Snape out of his head once and for all.




"... so I was miserable before, lusting after him, and now, I'm still miserable, only I don't know why," Harry explained. "And I'm sick of it! I want him out of my head, and I'm open for suggestions, because I'm fresh out of ideas."

Classes were over for the day, and he had gathered up Ron, Hermione and Colin -- who had seen this whole debacle coming, apparently -- and led them outside, not only because it was a pleasantly warm spring day, but because they had a far better chance at maintaining their privacy than in the dormitory. The little group was gathered under a tree; Hermione sat with her back at the trunk, Ron and Harry were sprawled on the grass on their stomachs, and Colin was sitting cross-legged and listening quietly.

Harry plucked a blade of grass and chewed on it while he waited for the others to digest his news. Ron appeared pole-axed, which wasn't a surprise; Hermione was frowning a bit, wearing the "I should go to the library and research this before answering" expression they all knew so very well; and Colin appeared to be deep in thought.

"Harry..." Hermione said slowly, smoothing wrinkles out of her robes idly as she spoke. "Has it ever occurred to you that you might be in love with Professor Snape?"

"What?!" Ron sputtered. "But, Harry -- it's Snape. You can't fall in love with Snape. He's a greasy, slimy, sanctimonious, devious, manipulative bastard!"

"He's also a brave and loyal man, who took great risks to help defeat Voldemort," Harry reminded him sharply.

"Are you forgetting how he treated you -- how he treated all of us, except his precious Slytherins -- all these years?"

"I haven't forgotten anything," he assured Ron. "But there's more to him than that. I mean, sure, he's a snarky bastard, but the snarking isn't so bad if you just don't let it get under your skin, and in his own way, he's always been there for me."

"I don't think much of him as a teacher," Hermione sniffed, "but he's served Professor Dumbledore loyally, and Harry's right: Snape has tried to protect him, even if he was wrong about what Harry needed protecting from at times."

Harry nodded agreement, remembering the show-down in the Shrieking Shack during their third year, but Ron stared at her, appalled.

"Are you saying you think Snape's been in love with Harry all these years? Yeargh!"

"No, I just think their relationship has been complex all along, and it's only gotten moreso now," she corrected.

"I thought I hated him," Harry admitted. "It was easier then. Snape was the bad guy, poking his big nose in our business, trying to get us into trouble, and ruin our fun. That was simple to understand. But then..."

He wanted to say Voldemort's final strikes, the war that ensued, and all the times he'd been thrown into Snape's company and seen the man's different brand of heroism for himself had changed his perspective. That he couldn't hold a childish grudge against someone who'd put his life on the line repeatedly for him and for whom he had risked his own life as well, that trying to stop Harry and his friends from sneaking around the castle after curfew seemed very small and insignificant compared to fighting alongside one another on the battlefield of good and evil.

But in the end, he simply said, "But then I grew up."

He ran his fingers through the grass, trying to put his thoughts into words. "When I went to his quarters that night, I noticed he's got two chairs by his fireplace, and one of them looks new, like it's hardly ever been sat in since he bought it. I don't think anyone's ever sat in that chair. D'you realize how sad that is? I want to sit in that chair. I want that to be my chair -- and I shouldn't feel that way!" he exclaimed furiously, pounding his fist on the ground.

"Why not?" Colin spoke up for the first time, his voice quiet but firm.

"Why not?" Harry stared at him, stunned that he could even ask the question. "It's Snape, for God's sake. I mean, the whole student-teacher problem aside, the man's an utter git."

"You were just defending him to Ron."

"We'd never manage," he insisted stubbornly, ignoring Colin's point. "We're nothing alike."

"Aren't you? You're both strong and strong-willed, stubborn, brave, unstoppable when you're certain you're right, reserved, loyal, have had difficult past experiences... Do I need to go on?"

"Definitely not," Harry replied, feeling his face grow warm.

"What would you be doing right now, if you felt this way for anyone else but Snape?" Hermione asked gently, and Harry felt undone by the question... or perhaps the answer. "Would you be asking us to help you get them out of your heart?"

Anyone but Snape, and he'd be ebullient. Anyone but Snape, and he'd be able to admit he'd never felt like this about anyone before. Anyone but Snape, and he'd be able to tell them he'd finally learned what wanting forever meant.

Anyone but Snape.

"Neville," Colin said softly. "Lee... Angelina... Dennis..."

"Professor Lupin," Hermione picked up when Colin trailed off, his voice sounding too thick to continue. "Lavender..."

"Percy and Bill..." Ron spoke up, watching Harry with suspiciously bright eyes. "They're right, Harry. Life's too short, and you never know when it's going to be over. You shouldn't deny your feelings just because they're for Snape. I mean, who knows? You could make each other happy for the rest of your lives, or you could get sick of each other in six months. Either way, there're no guarantees, so you've got to take love and happiness where you find it, and enjoy it while it lasts."

Harry leaned over and nudged Ron with his shoulder, feeling a little tight in his own throat at the moment. "This from our resident expert on love."

"Well, at least being single means I don't get myself into situations like this," Ron retorted, and Harry threw a leaf at him.

"All right, fine..." Harry sighed. "I admit it. I'm in love with Snape." To his surprise, as soon as he said the words, the heavy weight he'd been carrying around for three days lifted. "Now what am I supposed to do about it?"

Three voices chorused as one.





"'Tell him', they said. Oh, right, like it's that bloody simple," Harry muttered as he laced up his bodice, yanking on the strings harder than necessary in an effort to vent some of his frustration.

Days had passed since he'd finally come to terms with his feelings for Severus Snape. In that time, he'd accepted he was indeed in love. No amount of denial or rationalization was going to change that fact, and he now faced an important crossroads: either he could say nothing and live with unrequited love, or he could confess his feelings and hope that Sn... Severus felt the same way.

Remaining silent was the infinitely safer option, considering Severus' remoteness the morning after their night together. That cold dismissal still caused an icy fist to clench around Harry's stomach every time he remembered it. But as much as it hurt to remember, the more he thought about it, the more convinced he became that there was significance to Severus' choice of words.

After all, he hadn't said, "Get out, Potter" or anything like that. He'd echoed Harry's own words of the night before, and Harry doubted it was coincidental.

There were also his memories of their last round of sex. He'd been drowsy that time, but not so drowsy that he didn't remember it had been far slower and more intimate than the first two times. He was pretty sure he'd called Severus by name at some point, and he thought he remembered hearing his own name whispered in his ear. Never in a million years would he have guessed that Severus could be... well, tender. That was the only word for it.

The first two times, they'd had sex. The last time...

The last time, they'd made love. He understood the difference now, and he wanted more. And, given his recollections, he doubted he was alone in that. Severus was a good actor, true enough, but there were some things that couldn't be faked, and Harry felt certain that he'd seen an aspect to the Potions Master that night which few people had ever seen, and even fewer suspected existed at all.

He'd spent countless hours trying to think his way through this mess, and in the end, he was just disgusted with himself for being so wishy-washy... and for living in denial for so long. If he'd been honest enough with himself to acknowledge his feelings that night, then he probably could've spent every night since then in Severus' bed, making love with his irascible, brilliant, stubborn, passionate, annoying bastard of a partner instead of wandering around like a moonstruck calf. What a waste.

The bottom line, he decided, was that there were only two possible outcomes if he admitted his feelings.

First, Severus could reject him. That would hurt like hell, and it definitely wasn't his preferred option. But the pain and humiliation would fade eventually, and in a matter of weeks, he was graduating, which meant he wouldn't have to face Severus for much longer after making himself so vulnerable.

Second, Severus would reply that he shared Harry's feelings, and they would make a go of a relationship. Harry still wasn't certain what he planned to do after graduation, but even if he ended up having to leave the region near Hogwarts to work elsewhere, they could still be together. There were brooms and owls, after all, not to mention Floo powder. In addition, Severus knew how to Apparate, and Harry planned to learn, which gave them plenty of methods of communication and transportation if they ended up having a long-distance relationship. Any obstacles could be faced and overcome together, he told himself firmly.

Either way, he would have an answer, and that's what he wanted. Not knowing was too difficult to bear, far more difficult than the thought of potential pain and humiliation. That would pass with time, but the regret and question of "What if?" would linger for the rest of his life. He just hoped he hadn't realized the truth of his feelings only when it was too late, and Severus had decided he wasn't worthy of a second chance.

And so he stood in front of a full-length dressing mirror, lacing his bodice and muttering to himself because he'd finally made up his mind to tell Severus the truth. The only problem was, he didn't know how he was going to go about it.

"You look lovely, dearie," the mirror snickered at him. "Quite the blushing maiden."

"Oh, shut up." Harry, who was indeed blushing, glared at it, then studied his reflection.

Tonight was the dress rehearsal, which meant he was going to be seen in his costume for the first time, and he was a little apprehensive. Although he'd drawn the line at letting his hair be magically grown out for the rehearsal, he was in costume in every other way, dressed in a white, long-sleeved peasant blouse beneath a white pinafore, and simple white, slipper-style shoes.

The bodice of the pinafore had been sewn so that when he laced it up tightly enough, it gave the illusion of slight cleavage, which embarrassed him to no end, but at least he didn't have to stuff oranges or socks or anything like that down his shirt. His skirt only reached mid-shin, and Parvati had wanted him to remove his leg hair because of that! He'd considered asking Severus for some sort of depilatory potion, but he'd opted to shave instead, not feeling up to a private encounter just yet.

Unfortunately, he couldn't avoid going onstage any longer, even though he wasn't quite feeling up to that yet either. Squaring his shoulders and bracing for the inevitable, he marched out of the dressing room and onto the stage, trying to ignore the rush of heat in his face when the whistles and catcalls started.

"Oo, isn't she a lovely little girl?"

"Don't you tart up nice?"

"Looking good, Harriet!"

All the males, however, remained mercifully silent, and Hermione quickly hushed the raucous tech crew who were heckling him. Sirius even gave a reassuring wink as Harry walked by. Keeping his head held high, he joined Ron, who gave his friend an exaggerated once-over.

"Didn't know you had such a nice figure," Ron teased, grinning. "I think I understand what Fred saw in you."

"Don't you start," Harry growled a warning.

Just then, Draco sauntered by and smacked Harry on the bottom as he passed, his infuriating smirk saying more than any drawled, scathing comment could, and only one thing kept Harry from smacking Draco in return much harder, perhaps in front rather than back.

Severus walked onstage, looking edible in his indigo blue-and-silver costume, and Harry immediately forgot about Draco, forgot he was wearing a dress, forgot his legs were itchy from the stubble, forgot everything except how much he wanted to be able to shout to the entire school, "He's mine!"

Love on, he thought, recollecting one of Beatrice's lines from earlier in the play. I will requite thee.




"'No, I was not born under a rhyming planet'," Severus said, crumpling a piece of parchment on which Benedick's pitiful attempt at love poetry was written, and tossing it aside. "'I cannot woo in festival terms'."

Harry repressed a smile as he walked onstage, thinking how appropriate the line was, although unlike Benedick, Severus seemed to do nothing in "festival terms," except, perhaps, brew potions.

"'Sweet Beatrice'." Severus glanced up and noticed his approach. "'Wouldst thou come when I called thee'?"

"'Yes'," Harry replied with a sultry tone, allowing the desire he felt when he looked at Severus to kindle in his eyes, thus giving his words a double-meaning and causing Severus to raise a questioning eyebrow at him. "'And depart when you bid me'," he added, staring directly into Severus' eyes and holding them.

"'O, stay but till then'." Severus stretched out one hand, and Harry slid his fingers into the waiting palm, wanting -- needing -- this little bit of contact after such a long drought.

"'Then' is spoken. Fare you well now'." He made as if to pull away, then he turned back, smiling shyly. "'And yet, ere I go, let me go with that I came, which is, with knowing what hath passed between you and Claudio'."

"'Only foul words'," Severus assured him, tugging on his hand; Harry feigned resistance at first, but he quickly acquiesced and allowed Severus to pull him close. "'And thereupon I will kiss thee'."

If only this was for real! Harry thought fleetingly even as he pressed his fingers against Severus' lips to keep him away. "'Foul words are but foul wind, and foul wind is but foul breath, and foul breath is noisome; therefore I will depart unkissed'."

Severus shook his head. "'Thou hast frighted the word out of his right sense, so forcible is thy wit. But I must tell thee plainly, Claudio undergoes my challenge; and either I must shortly hear from him, or I will subscribe him a coward'."

He wrapped both arms around Harry's waist, and Harry leaned on his shoulder, relishing the embrace, even though it was meant for Beatrice, and not for him. "'And, I pray thee now, tell me for which of my bad parts didst thou first fall in love with me'?"

Turning to one side, Harry reached up and smoothed his hand down the side of Severus' face, deliberately mimicking a gesture he'd made during their night together; judging from the sudden flare he saw in the dark eyes gazing down at him, Severus remembered it well. "'For them all together,'" he answered softly, seriously.

Something hovered between them, finely poised... but now wasn't the time, and Harry forced himself to laugh and tease in character. "'Which maintained so politic a state of evil that they will not admit any good part to intermingle with them. But for which of my good parts did you first suffer love for me'?" he asked coyly.

Severus gave a derisive snort. "'Suffer love! a good epithet! I do suffer love indeed, for I love thee against my will'."

"'In spite of your heart, I think. Alas, poor heart!" Harry cupped Severus' cheek in his hand. "'If you spite it for my sake, I will spite it for yours; for I will never love that which my friend hates'."

Capturing Harry's hand, Severus twined their fingers, and it was Harry's turn to have a flashback. "'Thou and I are too wise to woo peaceably'."

Heat bloomed in the pit of Harry's stomach, and his heart began to pound against the walls of his chest, beating out a song of hope that maybe, just maybe, it wasn't too late after all.




"I can see my mum and dad!" Colin hissed as he peeked out at the auditorium from behind the curtain, and Harry grinned, pleased to see the young man showing some of his old energy and enthusiasm. "Look there -- in the third row, center!"

Ducking back, Colin turned to Harry, so excited that he was fairly vibrating in place. They were both already in costume and had had their make-up and hair done; Colin's hair had not only been grown out, but also curled, so that it tumbled down his back in a mass of ringlets. With his slight build and delicate features, he made a charming, attractive Hero, and if it hadn't felt so weird to think such a thing, Harry would have been envious that Colin was a prettier girl than he was.

But Harry considered himself passable. Parvati had used a lengthening spell to make his thick, dark hair shoulder-length, and she'd done nothing but brushed it out, letting the natural waves fall riotously around his shoulders.

"The touseled look suits the character," she had said, and Harry had silently agreed.

Taking Colin's place at the curtain, Harry scanned the audience, spotting Hagrid immediately -- he was impossible to miss -- and the Weasleys as well, including Charlie, Fred and George. Only Ginny was absent, and that was because she was part of the tech crew, helping work the lights.

The theater was packed; he couldn't see a single empty seat, and he felt a sudden lurch in his stomach, and his hands turned to ice. He was about to walk onstage and try to perform in front of these people! To entertain them! And he knew most of them! It seemed as if every student who hadn't gotten involved in the play had come to see it, and they, combined with the families of the cast and crew, filled the theater completely.

Dumbledore, of course, was delighted by the prospect of performing to a full house. He was making the rounds backstage, wishing everyone a Happy Shakespeare Day and telling his fellow cast members to "break a bone." Harry smiled wanly as Dumbledore patted him on the shoulder, tugged one of Colin's curls and said how pleased he was to have such a lovely daughter, then moved on to comfort Martin, who was experiencing a severe bout of stage fright.

Harry drifted back to his dressing room to sit down and calm his nerves before the curtain went up. It wasn't only the idea of performing in front of the entire school that worried him, it was also the plan he intended to enact during Act Five. He patted the pocket of his pinafore for hundredth time, assuring himself that what he needed was still there. It was, and he felt a fresh rush of apprehension at the enormity of what he planned to do.

But he had to do this. He had to know the truth, one way or another. If he was wrong, he could flee Severus' presence as soon as the play was over and take refuge with Ron, Hermione, and Colin, rather than suffer through an awkward and painful private confrontation.

And if he was right, he would be able to celebrate in front of everyone and show how proud he was to love and be loved by someone like his Severus.




As the play unfolded, Harry found himself losing himself in the role, relaxing and enjoying himself as the audience responded to him, especially when he sparred with Severus. Their bickering caused much laughter, and at one point, Hagrid yelled out, "You tell him, Harry!" which caused even more amusement, among the cast watching from the wings as well as from the audience.

There was laughter and sentimental "aww"ing when Beatrice and Benedick were fooled into admitting their true feelings, and gasps of shock and horror when Leonato struck his daughter and willed her to die. The next time he appeared onstage, Draco even got boo'd and hissed at for his character's villainy.

But the mischief was uncovered, and Hero's name was cleared. All gathered to witness not only Hero's "miraculous" resurrection from death, but also her marriage to Claudio at last.

"'All this amazement can I qualify'," Professor Flitwick announced, projecting his voice well for so small a man. "'When after that the holy rites are ended, I'll tell you largely of fair Hero's death. Meantime let wonder seem familiar, and to the chapel let us presently'."

"'Soft and fair, friar'." Severus stepped forward and gestured to the row of bridal attendants who were still veiled. "'Which is Beatrice'?"

Harry drew in a deep, steadying breath as he stepped forward and pulled off the veil obscuring his face. It was almost time...

"'I answer to that name'," he said, proud of himself for keeping his voice so steady when he felt as if he had been struck by a Jelly-Legs Jinx. "'What is your will'?"

"'Do not you love me'?" Severus asked haughtily, and Harry drew himself up to his full height, staring at Severus with equally haughty disdain.

"'Why, no'!" he retorted sharply. "'No more than reason'."

"'Why, then your uncle and the prince and Claudio have been deceived'." Severus sneered down at him. "'They swore you did'."

"'Do not you love me'?" he countered.

"'Troth, no'." He paused, then did an imitation of Harry's voice and tone that drew snickers from the audience as he echoed Beatrice's words. "'No more than reason'."

Harry smiled with false sweetness up at him as he cooed, "'Why, then my cousin Margaret and Ursula are much deceived; for they did swear you did.'"

"'They swore that you were almost sick for me'." Severus braced his fists on his hips and glared down at Harry, who matched him glare for glare, mimicking his stance as well.

"'They swore that you were well-nigh dead for me'!" he shouted.

"'Tis no such matter'," Severus assured him frostily. There was a beat, then his expression softened marginally. "'Then... you do not love me'?" he asked, not quite hesitantly.

"'No, truly, but in friendly recompense'." Harry folded his arms and turned his back on Severus, his nose in the air.

"'Come, cousin, I am sure you love the gentleman'!" Dumbledore called out, his eyes twinkling merrily.

Oh, if you only knew... Harry thought, feeling more twinges in his stomach. The moment was upon him, and there was no turning back now.

"'And I'll be sworn upon it that he loves her'!" Ron crowed triumphantly, reaching into Severus' waistcoat pocket and snagging out a slip of parchment tucked within it. Severus made a futile grab for it, but Ron danced out of reach and handed it off to Harry, who snatched it eagerly. "'For here's a paper written in his hand, a halting sonnet of his own pure brain, fashioned to Beatrice'."

"'And here's another'!" Colin exclaimed, pulling a piece of folded parchment from Harry's pinafore pocket; Harry slapped at Colin's hands, but Colin laughed and quickly handed the parchment to Severus. "'Writ in my cousin's hand, stolen from her pocket, containing her affection unto Benedick'."

Watching Severus from beneath his lashes, Harry pretended to read the parchment he'd been given; it was blank, of course, a mere prop. But the one Severus now held...

Harry's breath caught in his throat as Severus unfolded it, holding it between his long fingers as he read the words inscribed there: "You're an insufferable git, but I love you."

Time seemed to come to a screeching halt as Harry waited and watched for any sign of a reaction. He saw Severus' brows knit slightly, saw him swallow once, hard. Finally, Severus refolded the parchment and tucked it into his pocket, not looking at Harry, who felt his heart begin to plummet to his feet.

"Well," Severus said, his tone oddly subdued. "'Here's our own hands against our hearts'."

At last, he looked up.

At last, he met Harry's gaze.

At last, Harry could see the small, secretive smile curving his lips, and Harry closed his eyes, feeling light-headed with relief.

"'Come, I will have thee, but, by this light, I take thee for pity'," Severus said with smug condescension.

"'I would not deny you'," Harry replied archly. "'But, by this good day, I yield upon great persuasion; and partly to save your life, for I was told you were in a consumption'."

"'Peace! I will stop your mouth'."

There it was.

The line that had, in its own way, started this whole business. What Harry had protested so vehemently in February, he now wanted more than anything in the world.

If the moment had called for him to be somber and serious, he couldn't have done it; there was no way he could have masked the silly grin wreathing his face as Severus wrapped one arm around him and pulled him closer.

"Well?" Severus asked in a voice low enough for Harry's ears alone, and, sliding his arms around Severus' neck, Harry whispered yes.

With permission given, Severus brought his other hand to the back of Harry's head, positioning him for a kiss -- a real one -- and bent to brush his lips lightly against Harry's. But Harry had no intention of letting it end there. He parted his lips, inviting more, and Severus accepted, capturing his mouth for a deep, loving kiss that he returned with his whole heart.

He was vaguely aware there were gasps and murmurs from both the audience and the cast as they embraced, but he didn't care.

He also knew they had a few more lines in the play to get through, but he didn't care about that either.

The Seeker had found what he was looking for at last.



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