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Almost a Gentleman (Now in Paperback!)

NC-17 / 24,000 words / romance, humor, next-gen / published 01/03/17

Summary: Harry is doing everything he's supposed to be doing: working a job and taking care of his wife and three kids. The problem? He's utterly unfulfilled. One day, Ron shows him a Muggle romance book with some striking (and not-so-subtle) similarities to Harry's life. Will going in search of the woman who penned these stories turn his life upside down... or right-side up? Slash, SS/HP.

Disclaimer: The brilliant characters belong solely to J.K. Rowling. The plot and typos are my own. No profit is being made.

Note: Written for the 2016 Secret Snarry Swap on snape_potter, prompt #17 from Suzuki1969: Because of (any reason, fill in the blank), Severus is forced to make Harry aware of how much Severus loves him. Despite the professed love, Severus wants nothing to do with Harry. Partly because he thinks Harry is going for the "if you can't be with the one you love, be with the one you love most" philosophy and partly because Severus is sworn to always protect Harry, even from himself. It's up to Harry to prove Severus wrong. And up to Severus to let himself have his heart's desire for once in his life.

A/N: Credit must be given to WordsConsumeHer, who came up with this plot device initially and then kindly gave me permission to use it. I know she would have taken it in a different direction, but I hope I haven't abused it too badly. Thanks also to SnapesFavorite, for being the loveliest friend and beta a girl could ask for; to Tamzen, for helping me put Harry's skin in the game; to Badgerlady, for valiantly trying to break me of my semicolon and hyphen habit; and to classyblue, for always being eager to hear about new stories. Merry Snarry!



Harry Potter sat with his chin in his hand, pressing the down arrow on his keyboard, watching the search results crawl listlessly up the screen. He was only half paying attention; the occasional keyword was all that made it past his unfocused gaze. He wasn’t even sure what he was looking for, but figured he’d do what everyone else did when they had a question about life: ask the World Wide Wizarding Web.

He’d already printed out the Ministry’s instructions for how to file for divorce. Actually, he’d printed it out months ago, but after it had lived in the bottom of his bag that entire time, it’d become so battered as to be illegible. A fresh copy now lay on top of his desk, inside his take-home folio. He’d also printed out an interesting article about how to build a koi pond, but that was neither here nor there.

He and Ginny had been separated for a year but still shared their family home. In the beginning, Harry convinced himself he was staying because it would be the easiest for their three kids. But as the months ticked by and the pitying looks from his friends became more and more commonplace, he was forced to examine his real motives. What he discovered did not please him. In fact, for several more months, he buried the reason at the bottom of his bag along with that Ministry printout. The truth was, he wasn’t ready to leave his kids. It broke his heart to think of having to move to some generic, impersonal flat where his children would become mere visitors. He’d worked too hard to build the life he was now living – one that finally included a family of his own – and he was not going to give it up simply because he’d fallen out of love with his wife.

Since they had managed an amicable split, Ginny’d had no issue with him continuing to live at home. Secretly, Harry thought she was a bit relieved. Three children made for a busy household, and it usually took the two of them coordinating their efforts to keep things in order. Plus, as a professional Quidditch player, Ginny would want to avoid negative publicity for as long as possible, since the backlash would undoubtedly fall to her. The media wouldn’t dare vilify Harry. He sold newspapers, and lots of them.

However, no matter how companionable their arrangement was in the beginning, Harry knew it would not be sustainable for much longer. He was already feeling the strain. Living as they were meant he was missing out on his adult needs – that deep sense of connection and satisfaction that came from experiencing physical pleasure with another person. He wanted that. He needed that. Waking up in the morning curled around another warm body, or feeling arms wrapped around him; kissing someone until he was breathless; having sex again, and often. In short, he wanted another relationship. He and Ginny made a great team as parents, and he was proud of the people his children were becoming: bright, gracious, hard-working and funny. But at the end of the day, their charade of a marriage wasn’t fair to anyone.

Harry stared at the blinking cursor on his screen for a minute before typing ‘is divorce a symptom of a midlife crisis’ into the search box. Page after page of links and sites appeared. Two near the top caught his eye:

Midlife crisis: depression or normal transition?

Signs of a midlife crisis

Harry clicked the second one and read the opening line: People often look for a list of signs to validate if a midlife crisis is at hand. He snorted. “You’re bloody right we do,” he muttered, once again making a cursory glance around the office to be sure he was still alone. His team had wanted to take him out for a celebratory pint, but he’d begged off, citing some urgent reports that’d needed finishing. Naturally they’d ribbed him for his devotion to the Corps, but they also knew he wouldn’t budge, and had eventually left him in peace.

Harry hit the back button and then scrolled through more results, wanting to see what else the Wizernet could do to explain this persistent feeling of restlessness he couldn’t seem to shake.

It had started about a year ago, or at least that’s when Harry had really begun to notice it. It had been his thirty-fifth birthday party. He wasn’t sure what it was about the number thirty-five – didn’t this sort of morose thinking only happen to people when they turned forty? – but somehow the realization that he was thirty-five had pushed some sort of switch into an out-of-order position. He masked it well enough for his friends and family, but as soon as the party was done and he could slip away for a few minutes of solitude and reflection, it all hit him like a shed of broomsticks.

Maybe it was because he never expected to live this long. He’d already surpassed the lifespans of both of his parents – something most kids do, sure, but not by the age of twenty-two. Maybe there was a certain unfairness to the fact he’d reached thirty-five and his parents had not, for he knew now just how young twenty-two was. James and Lily had been at the very beginning of their lives.

For Harry, thirty-five meant a wife and three kids, a home of his own (a large Tudor in the countryside they’d renovated themselves over the years), lush gardens surrounding said house (an activity Harry never expected to enjoy but had since become his favorite hobby), a goat (not a dog), popularity amongst his friends and colleagues, and the second-most senior seat in the Auror Corps: Captain. By all accounts, he was a success. He had made something of his life. Or at least that’s what people liked to tell him.

So then why did he feel so… unsettled? Shouldn’t he feel happy? There were certainly things in his life that made him happy. Well, more than making him happy, his kids were his whole world. It was just the rest of his life that didn’t feel right.

For one thing, it had become mind-numbingly routine. He knew how every workday was going to go before he arrived. It was the same conversations, the same meetings, the same paperwork, even the same cases (only the names seemed to change). Almost everywhere Harry looked, it was the same everything, day after day after bloody day. He’d started to wonder: is this it? Looking around at his older and more senior colleagues at the Ministry was like looking out and seeing the next thirty years of his life. It was predictable and pre-decided. Everyone else seemed content to just do their job, follow life’s rules, and then repeat it all the next day. What they had was enough for them. So why couldn’t it be enough for Harry? For once in his life, why couldn’t he just fucking be like everyone else?

Part of it was because he had so many interests. There were lots of things he’d love to try his hand at, but they felt out of reach – improbable and impractical, and a million miles away from the ‘Auror box’ everyone had placed him in. Yet his true interests were elsewhere. He’d already surprised himself by developing quite the green thumb, his garden teeming with flowers, vegetables and native plants, and over the years he’d wondered if any of it would be good enough to sell to restaurants, local markets and florists. He never pursued it for fear of the endeavor becoming too commercial instead of his much-needed, meditative escape. But he was also interested in working with magical creatures for breeding and sport (especially Hippogriffs, which he’d long felt a kinship with); archeological digs in other countries (he was fascinated by the past, especially if it revealed evidence of magical cultures); some type of teaching (he liked running an Auror team and mentoring new recruits, but craved a new industry and topic); or even jumping to the Muggle world and working in films (it was its own kind of magic how those stories were brought to life).

All of these things sounded fascinating to Harry, the impulse to just go for it tugging insistently at him when he allowed himself the luxury to entertain them, but something kept stopping him. He suspected it was his family – what would they think? Would they agree to move and live somewhere else? Could Harry support them the way he wanted? Would they still be proud of him?

Were they even proud of him now?

The chime on Harry’s mobile startled him. Glancing down at the illuminated screen, he saw it was a text from his daughter.

Daaaaaaaaaaaad!!! where r u?? we made you a cake! oops, mum said I wasn’t supposed to spoil the surprise. :) when r u coming hooooooome???

Harry smiled. He could almost hear the musical whine in her voice as she dragged out her vowels. Lily loved birthdays and always made sure they were celebrated according to her lofty and exacting standards. A cake would be the least of what she had planned for him, he knew.

Sorry, pumpkin, I just had some work to finish up. I’m leaving in a few minutes.

After a moment’s contemplation, he added:

And don’t worry, your cake secret is safe with me.

In response, he got a bunch of those smiling yellow faces, a few slices of cake and a thumbs up. Harry still had no idea where to find those little icons on his mobile even though all three of his kids had repeatedly shown him, but that was fine. Lily was the only one who ever really used them anymore and Harry’d come to associate them with her; he liked that it had become her thing – or more to the point, their thing.

Harry took one more glance at his computer screen and sighed. He closed the browser with a sharp click of his mouse, then jabbed a finger at the power button to turn the computer off.

In two days, it would be his thirty-sixth birthday. Would this be another year like his last, where the dull, nagging sense of ill-ease dogged him at every turn? Or would this be the year he figured out this ‘midlife crisis’ once and for all?

After locking up his office, Harry walked down through the Ministry atrium and headed for the network of Floos. He was so lost in his thoughts that he didn’t hear the loud, heavy footfalls until they were right behind him. Harry turned with his wand out as a flushed face came into view.

“Oh, good, you’re still here!” Ron said, almost out of breath.

Harry blinked, then lowered and re-sheathed his wand. “Just leaving. Lily’s made a cake.” He spared a brief smile at the thought of his daughter, likely sitting in their kitchen right now, watching the clock like a hawk. Then he considered his friend more closely. “Why are you still here? I thought you went to the pub with the others.”

“I did, but then remembered I needed to give you something. Hermione’ll kill me if I forget and come home with it again.” Ron fished around in his satchel until he found what he was looking for, then held out a paperback book.

“Let me guess,” Harry said with a sigh, “Hermione has sent me another book on ancient military customs of Mesopotamia to read.”

Ron flushed slightly as Harry grabbed it. “Er, not exactly. This one’s—”

Almost a Gentleman by Susan E. Vesper,” Harry read. Frowning, he examined its cover, which featured a picture of two shirtless, dark-haired men, one seated in an upholstered chair with his eyes closed, the other sitting behind him, perched on the arm, one hand resting on the other’s shoulder. Something about their expressions and posture looked almost… friendly. No, more than friendly. These two men were in some sort of relationship. Butterflies kicked into motion in Harry’s stomach.

“Not sure you’re going to like this, mate—” Ron started, but Harry cut across him.

“Why is Hermione sending me,” he lowered his voice and glanced around quickly to be sure they were still alone, “a gay novel? I thought we were done with this after George sent me all those magazines with the men shagging each other!”

Ron grimaced. “Sorry about that. George was just messing around. I think he thought it would help you, you know, figure some stuff out…”

Harry was about to say there was nothing to figure out when the chime sounded on his mobile again. A quick glance revealed it was Lily, no doubt seeing if he was making good on his promise to leave. “Look, I need to get going.” Harry shoved the book in his bag, then made for one of the Floos.

“No, wait!” Ron shouted after him.

“I’ll talk to you about this later!” Harry called over his shoulder.

“Wait, you don’t understand! This book—” But it was too late, for Harry had already disappeared in a whoosh of green flames. Ron’s shoulders slumped. “Great,” he grumbled, making his way towards a Floo for himself. “Now they’re both going to kill me.”

 

# # #

 

Two days later – a Sunday, and the actual anniversary of his birth – Harry finally got a chance to close himself in his study, collapse into his favorite leather chair, and take a much-needed deep breath. His birthdays were always a whirlwind. The Weasley clan itself had grown to such massive proportions over the years that it was practically a village unto itself, what with nearly everyone paired off with children of their own, yet they were still only a small portion of the people intent on celebrating Harry.

The thirty-first of July was one of only two days of the year when everyone seemed to come out of the woodwork – Ministry colleagues (some Harry knew, most he didn’t), half of the staff at Hogwarts and at least that many alums (especially those from his year), and a decent percentage of the general Wizarding population of Britain – all just to extend their greetings and well-wishes. The other day was, of course, the second of May – the anniversary of the end of Voldemort at the Battle of Hogwarts. If it were up to Harry, he’d prefer to see both days struck from the calendar.

At least the well-wishers didn’t come to his house – thank Merlin he’d had the foresight to make it Unplottable when they’d bought the place (with a modified Fidelius just to be sure), or Harry would never have found peace there.

As it was, the large bags of post the Ministry collected for him would be outside his office on Monday morning. He cringed. The sheer volume of it always embarrassed him. He’d worked hard for the position he now occupied – wanting to be sure no one could ever accuse him of riding on his name or war credentials – and he wasn’t about to undo a decade and a half of hard work by reminding people they worked with a celebrity, no matter how unintentional or out of his control it was. Harry was grateful for and appreciated the intent of all the post, but it was too overwhelming to even digest, and it drained him. Fortunately, his venerable assistant (the blessed, blessed woman) had appointed herself mail bag referee that first year and had taken care of it before the rest of Harry’s team arrived in the morning. Come to think of it, Harry wasn’t even sure what became of all the cards and letters every year. Judy just said she’d take care of it, and that was the last he'd ever seen or heard of it.

Judy! Harry suddenly remembered she had given him something urgent to sign on Friday afternoon and he’d forgotten all about it. He could just do it now and Owl it to her with his apologies. She’d understand. After all, she – more than most – knew what his birthdays were like.

Rifling through his bag, Harry found the folio with Judy’s documents, and was about to pull it out when something thicker and heavier fell against his fingers. He knew immediately what that something was, too. Sure enough, when he pulled the book out, his gaze locked on the image of the two shirtless men on the cover. He remembered the exchange he’d had with Ron on Friday afternoon, but as it began playing out in his mind’s eye again, he recalled something he hadn’t consciously noticed the first time: Ron had seemed uncertain about giving him the book, and had been trying to explain or warn him about it before Harry’d left.

Harry flipped it over and looked at the back cover: Copyright © 2016. Whatever it was, it was new. Hmm. Harry fanned out the pages against his hand. What was so special about this book that made Hermione insist and Ron nervous?

Harry began to skim a few pages. Then a few more. Then just one more in particular before he quickly turned back to the beginning of the book.

He stumbled backwards into his chair, waving his hand to simultaneously lock the door to his study and turn on his reading lamp. A sense of dread began to settle like a hard lump in the pit of his stomach, his eyes growing wider and his heart beating faster with each paragraph he read.

Unfortunately, Judy’s documents would be doomed to lie forgotten in his bag.

 

ALMOST A GENTLEMAN
by Susan E. Vesper

CHAPTER 1

Harper Petty moaned as he surged forward with another thrust, rocking inside his partner, their age-old rhythm about to end in a fiery culmination. He felt like he was going to be burned to a cinder as they plunged over the crest and into their blinding, pulsing moment of release.

Shaun Stapleton had been an unexpectedly great find; the best fuck he’d had in… ever, perhaps. And as a police officer who routinely worked the swanky streets of London, Harper expected to be spoiled for choice. The reality was less generous, of course, and years later, had still found himself disappointed at not being able to find even one semi-interesting man who shared his predilections. He’d nearly given up hope.

That is, at least, until he’d met Shaun.

 

Harry’s eyes flew across the page, one chapter after another, well into the wee hours of the morning. His anger, confusion and shock all competed for the top spot in his brain, for the person being depicted, described, debased in this story… No, it couldn’t be.

It. Couldn’t. Be.

This could NOT be about Harry.

Yet it was all there in Harper, and the parallels were too exacting to be coincidence: the emerald-green eyes, the tousled black hair, the Captain’s badge that gleamed from his police uniform as though the tosser polished it to a high shine every morning. I don’t shine my Auror badge! Harry thought, then growled in frustration for even comparing himself to this character in the first place. Well, it wasn’t Harry doing the comparing – that had been done for him on the page, literally spelled out in black and white.

Harry had put up with lots of things over the years – the cloying adulation; the entitled, nosey public; the impertinent reporters; even the woman who had somehow managed to sneak into his office overnight and was waiting for Harry the next morning, sprawled naked on his desk, a rose pinched between her lips. They later learned she was part of the Ministry’s custodial crew, but that hadn’t stopped Harry from buying a new desk in an attempt to avoid future reminders. But even though he’d accepted these things as a part of his life, he’d never – ever – expected to see himself in the pages of a gay romance novel, as though someone had just inserted him into a pre-existing story, changed his name (barely), and set about sexing him up as though he was some sort of plaything they could use at will.

It… it incensed him. It embarrassed him. It made him feel angry and dirty and used. But most of all, it made him—

No. He couldn’t even let that word form in his mind, much less allow himself to think about it. Not that he’d ever been successful stopping an obsessive or lurid thought from making itself known before…

Arghhhhhh!

No, no, no, no, NO!

He had definitely not felt that. He had not been aroused by this story. Not, not, not! He had not felt the phantom touch of Shaun’s hands on his body. He had not imagined the earthy musk that clung to that alabaster skin. He had absolutely not felt his curiosity about being in a relationship with a man grow with each passing chapter, like a drop of ink on parchment, soaking in, settling, spreading in all directions…

Fucking hell.

Fuck, fuck, FUCK.

Harry ground the heel of his hand against his groin, hoping to quell his traitorous cock as it waited expectantly for his attention. When the temptation to curl his hand around it and pull, just one little pull, pleeeeease became too much, he stomped down the hall to the bathroom, flipped on the water in the shower to cold, and jumped in with a shriek.

Surrendering himself to this author’s whims was not going to turn him on.

Was not.

 

# # #

 

First thing Monday morning, Harry Apparated straight into Ron and Hermione’s kitchen, the book clutched tightly in his hand. He’d been up all night reading and had just finished it an hour ago. He knew he must look a fright because all conversation ceased the moment he appeared, Hermione turning to share a concerned look with Ron. She quickly ushered Hugo and Rose out of the kitchen and into an adjoining room, the pair of them carrying their breakfasts while trying to look at Harry over their shoulders. When Hermione returned, she cast a robust silencing spell over the room, and Harry wasn’t sure if he should be offended or grateful. He decided to go with the latter.

“Why didn’t you tell me what this was about?” Harry demanded, waving the book at Ron.

“I tried to, but you ran off too quick!” Ron shot back. Harry guessed it would be the last time Hermione would trust Ron with the delivery of sensitive materials.

“What the fuck is this?” Harry cried. “What if my team sees this? What if my kids see this?!”

“Calm down, mate, you’re going to blow a gasket,” Ron said. “The guys at work don’t read that kind of stuff, and I’m sure your kids don’t, either. At least they’d better not be.” He looked vaguely sick at the thought.

“Yeah, easy for you to say, you aren’t the one who has a book written about him – about his sexual escapades with another man!” Harry flipped through several pages in the book to find the right passage. “Where my ‘quivering member is straining for attention’!” He threw the book on the table. “My… my member… it… it doesn’t quiver!”

It looked like Ron was trying not to laugh, and thankfully turned away just in time under the guise of refilling his cuppa. It was a good thing, too, because Harry was in no mood to be laughed at. He hoped he’d be able to find the humor in this one day, but right now was not that day.

“You know, it was actually quite good – cheesy, but good,” Hermione said, and Harry rounded on her, aghast.

“It’s not good, it’s mortifying!”

“Why?” she asked. “It’s not as though anyone knows it’s written about you. This is a Muggle romance book.”

“So? Most witches and wizards read Muggle books.” Harry gave her a pointed look. “You read these kinds of books.”

“And what kind is that?” she asked casually, though Harry could hear the challenge in her tone.

“The kind with men waving their ‘wands’ at each other!” Ron mocked.

A touch of pink blossomed on Hermione’s cheeks. “Sometimes I read them, yes.” She gave a little shrug, clearly embarrassed, and Ron just grinned at her.

Sometimes’ my arse,” he said with a cough, though it didn’t cover much. Under different circumstances Harry would have laughed at that, but as it was, his wounded pride was smarting too much to really focus on anything else. Hermione just glared at Ron, the sort of look that said he wouldn’t be getting any romance – cheesy or otherwise – until he stopped teasing her about her choice of reading material.

“The stories are good,” Hermione sniffed, as though she still felt the need to justify herself. Then she turned back to Harry. “Anyway, we’re here to talk about you. And the story in this book isn’t even your life, so I don’t know what you’re so worried about.”

At this, Harry felt his temper deflate and he dropped into the nearest chair with a sigh. “But it could be,” he murmured. When the room went silent, he looked up to see his friends exchange a guilty look.

“What?” he demanded.

“Well, it’s just that George and I had a bet going, you see, right after the war. Hermione didn’t approve, but she didn’t exactly disapprove, either.” Ron cleared his throat at the look she was giving him. “Anyway,” he said quickly, “we were betting on who you’d end up with. George was convinced you would land a bloke, and I bet him you’d marry Ginny. That was a satisfying victory,” Ron mused, clearly reminiscing, before he spied the look on Harry’s face and coughed. “Sorry, mate.”

Harry thought he should be angry about it, but he just didn’t have it in him. It was old news, anyway – fourteen-year-old news, to be exact. Besides, sexuality had never been an either/or thing with him. At Hogwarts, he’d enjoyed kissing Cho Chang as much as he’d enjoyed watching Oliver Wood’s arse on a broom, and he spent equal time between his enjoyments without feeling the need to label them. The fact that his friends had never broached the topic with him seemed like a good thing at the time (it meant they weren’t bothered by it, at least), but still, it begged a question.

“Why didn’t you ever tell me you knew?”

Hermione’s look was sympathetic. “Oh, Harry,” she said, briefly squeezing his arm. “We didn’t mean to upset or offend you. Honest. I hope you don’t take it that way. We just figured if you had wanted to talk to us about it, well… you would have.”

Harry supposed that was fair. He rubbed his temples, trying to release the tightness there. “So it doesn’t bother you at all?”

Ron got out of his chair and moved to stand behind Hermione so he could massage her shoulders. “No, why would it?”

“Because I’m married to your sister?”

“Separated,” Ron corrected. “And you deserve to be happy, mate. If my baby sister isn’t twirling your tulips anymore, then it is what it is. She may have got to you first, but it could just as easily have been some bloke you married. So if ‘Harper’ wants to go out with ‘Shaun’, I say go for it.” Hermione was nodding, too, even though she had her eyes closed, enjoying her husband’s kneading fingers.

It was so surreal sitting there, watching his friends as though nearly two decades hadn’t just happened. This felt like a conversation they should have been having at eighteen, not thirty-six, yet here they were. Harry scrubbed a hand over his face.

“And my kids? Will they so easily accept this? They haven’t had twenty years to get used to the idea like you two have.”

At this, Hermione opened her eyes. “Kids are more resilient than you think, Harry, and they can tell when their parents are unhappy. Yes, it may take some getting used to for them, seeing you in a new relationship, but with the right support and introduction, they’ll adjust. They’ve been really good about your separation with Ginny, haven’t they?”

“Yeah, but I still live at home. From their perspective, not much has changed – mum and dad are still ‘together.’ I don’t think they care we aren’t still sleeping in the same bed.” Harry glanced down at the wedding ring on his finger. Taking it off would have invited too many questions (or worse, ignited the rumor mill) so he’d kept it on. He nudged at it with his thumb. “Anyway, I meant being with a man, not just having someone new.”

Hermione hummed. “I still say it’ll be fine. They’re already aware of the new dynamic in your relationship with Ginny even if they don’t fully understand how or why it’s changed, and they’ve had a year to adjust to that. I don’t think another change will upset things too much.”

Harry tipped his head, considering something. Both Hermione and Ron seemed very unsurprised about this whole situation – both about his sexuality and the book. Perhaps it was his honed Auror instincts that allowed him to see this now, or maybe he was just being paranoid. “You two didn’t have anything to do with this, did you? The book?” He narrowed his eyes.

Ron stopped massaging Hermione’s shoulders as she leaned forwards. “No. I promise you, Harry, we had nothing to do with this. We’ve just had more time to think about it, that’s all. After I read it, it was a couple weeks before I gave it to Ron to read.”

“Yeah, and then I had it in my bag for almost a week before I remembered to give it to you,” Ron said. He glanced down into Hermione’s face as though trying to ascertain if he was still in trouble – for that, or anything else. It seemed he was in the clear, so he continued. “So that’s about a month we’ve known about it, whereas you’ve only had it for what, a day?”

Harry stood and began pacing around the kitchen. Hermione got up, too, pulled open a nearby cupboard, and then joined Harry. She pressed a vial of Dreamless Sleep into his hand. “You’re in shock, Harry. Go home. Get some sleep and come back tomorrow. I’ll make breakfast and we can talk more about this then.” She waited a minute, watching him, then snapped her fingers. “Harry.”

“What?” he said, focusing on the face looming before him, surprised to find her standing there. His mind was so overloaded and distracted, he could barely process what was happening. Perhaps she had the right idea about the potion. He gripped the vial tighter. “Yeah. Thanks. Tomorrow.”

He wasn’t even sure how he managed to make it home through the Floo, but the next morning he awoke to find himself face-down on his bed, still wearing the same clothes as the day before. Well, actually, from two days before. The empty vial lay next to his pillow.

Well, at least that’s something, he thought, then glanced over at the clock, blinking until the numbers slid into view. Shit! He’d overslept, and he was meant to be having breakfast with Ron and Hermione in a few minutes.

He rolled over and groaned, stretching out his stiff limbs. He knew he should leave straight away, but a hot shower beckoned. It would make him late, but he figured his friends would thank him for getting reacquainted with that particular amenity.

 

# # #

 

Harry stared at the cover of the book where it lay on Ron and Hermione’s kitchen table and pushed eggs around his plate. He’d had a few bites, at least, but didn’t really have much of an appetite yet. He eventually gave up on eating anything more and moved the plate aside, reaching for his coffee instead.

He kept looking at the author’s name. He didn’t know anyone named Susan Vesper, but she sure seemed to know a lot about him. In an effort to puzzle out what was likely an alias, he’d already been through a list of names – a drill that amounted to Harry guessing just about every girl’s name he could remember from Hogwarts and Hermione shaking her head at each one, her frown deepening the further down the list they went. Finally, when Harry had run out of names, he asked the one thing that had been gnawing at him the entire time (even though some part of him really didn’t want to know the answer). “Is it even a woman?”

Hermione paused for a moment, something apprehensive in her expression, then shook her head. Something churned through Harry’s stomach, and it wasn’t his breakfast.

“You already know who it is?” he asked.

“Yes,” she admitted. “Did you really think I would just put that into your hands without researching it first?”

“Well, when you say it like that, I guess not. How’d you figure it out?”

“It was actually my crossword that pointed me in the right direction, if you can believe that. I had been researching things for a few days, without much success, when I took a break to work on the Prophet’s crossword. Sometimes they use anagrams as clues—”

“You mean where you rearrange all the letters and it spells something else?” Harry interrupted.

“Yes, exactly. So I tried it on the author’s name, and…” She cast a quick look at Ron that Harry couldn’t decipher. “I got a match. Here.” She slid a small piece of parchment across the table and he picked it up. ‘Susan E. Vesper’ was written on it, and underneath that—

The churning in Harry’s stomach switched to fluttering, as if an entire cage of butterflies had exploded. It was a name he had certainly never expected to see, particularly not in the context of… of this.

“The author’s name is an exact anagram of Severus Snape,” Hermione said, somewhat needlessly.

Harry sat back in his chair and let out a breath, staring at the name on the parchment for a long while. Then he looked back up at her, knowing the futility of his question but needing to ask it anyway. “What are the chances this is just a fantastic coincidence? I mean, maybe Susan is a real person.”

Hermione gave him that look that said he was grasping at straws and he damn well knew it. “I told you, I’ve already looked her up. There is no witch or wizard with that name anywhere in the history books, and there’s no way a Muggle could have known this much about you. The names of the characters even match the initials and syllables of both your names. I don’t believe for a second any of this is a coincidence.”

“She’s got you there, mate,” Ron put in, his mouth half-full with a blueberry scone. “‘Sides, your love interest in the books – Shaun what’s-his-name? – sounds a lot like Snape, so the author would’ve had to know him, too.”

Yes, Shaun definitely shared more than a few passing characteristics with Snape, now that Harry had cause to think about it. Not that he’d tell Ron and Hermione that, of course. But faced with this logic, Harry had to admit it was sounding more and more like the truth: that for some reason, Snape had written a scandalous romance novel starring the two of them.

Harry wasn’t even sure why he was fighting it. Was it because he was afraid to confront Snape about this and be wrong? After all, you didn’t just casually accuse a man like that of something like this. Harry valued his testicles too much to take that chance.

Or was it because of another reason – a reason he wasn’t yet ready to admit to himself? That maybe he wanted it to be Snape writing it? And what did that mean, exactly?

Pushing it from his mind, Harry focused on an easier, more publicly acceptable way to explain his interest: getting to the bottom of this book mystery had adventure written all over it. God, how he’d missed those! It was one of the reasons he’d joined the Auror Corps – he assumed the job would provide him with a steady stream of interesting puzzles to solve. It certainly wasn’t because he wanted to hunt down Dark wizards and society’s malcontents for the rest of his life, or languish behind a desk, pushing paperwork around all day. The fact that that’s what his job had become was something he didn’t want to think about just now.

“Okay, say I believe you,” Harry said, returning to the conversation. “Say this is Snape writing these books. Why now, after all this time? What’s he trying to do?”

“Get your attention, I presume,” Hermione said, spreading preserves on her toast.

“You know, I think I’d actually worked that one out for myself, Hermione,” he shot back and she grinned at him. “What I don’t understand is why. Why go to all the trouble of writing a book about me? Why not just send me an Owl?”

“Maybe he didn’t think you would’ve welcomed it, or guessed your home was too well protected to take delivery of an unsanctioned Owl. He’s certainly correct about that…” Hermione said, mostly to herself, as if she was still working her way through this mystery, too.

“He could have sent me an Owl at work.”

“True, but all correspondence is checked by the Ministry before it’s delivered, and it’s doubtful he’d want to risk one of them seeing this. If he had wanted to publicly shame you or call you out on something, he would’ve just put an article in the Prophet. This book is well-disguised, unless you know what to look for.”

Harry snorted. “Yes – so well disguised it just happened to fall into your hands?”

Hermione flushed again. “It was recommended to me by Martin down at the booksellers. He said it had just come in and thought I might like it.”

“Told you she reads a lot of gay books,” Ron whispered loudly, earning him a slap on the arm from his wife. He just grinned.

“It’s obvious this book was supposed to make its way to you,” Hermione said.

“But why?” Harry asked. “There are much easier ways to get my attention or tell me something – ways that don’t involve sexing me up in some fictional story!” He slumped into his chair. “What’s Snape trying to say with all this?”

Hermione swallowed, her tone gentler. “Well, if the relationship Shaun and Harper have in the book is supposed to be a direct analogy for the two of you, then maybe he’s trying to say that he likes you and—”

“That he wants to see your quivering member!” Ron crowed, clearly enjoying this. Hermione shot a glare in his direction but kept talking.

“—and that he’d like to see where things could go.”

Harry screwed up his face. “Don’t you think that’s all a bit sappy for Snape?”

“I think it’s quite romantic, actually,” Hermione said. “Very Jane Austen – a potential suitor making a grand gesture – though obviously Snape’s version is more modern and couched in a somewhat ridiculous story, but still.” When Harry didn’t look convinced, she went on. “It’s been eighteen years since Hogwarts, Harry. That’s a long time for someone to change. You might want to consider that you don’t know who he is today, if you ever really did. Maybe he’s looking for a little sappy in his life.”

Harry sighed, dropping his forehead to the table with a thunk. “What is my life?” he muttered, even as a strange tendril of warmth curled through his chest, challenging his resistance. He supposed it was just because it felt nice when someone liked you enough to make any kind of gesture, grand or otherwise. Even if that person was Snape. He thought he should be more surprised by this turn of events, but if he’d learned anything in his life, it was that curve balls were a when, not an if. And, joke or not, whenever something came along nowadays that gave him even a glimmer of excitement, he was keen to pursue it.

Harry looked up at his friends. “So you don’t think this is weird?”

“Weird is relative when you’ve been friends with Harry Potter for twenty-five years,” Ron observed. Harry flipped two fingers at him and they grinned at each other.

“I’m serious. You’d be okay with this if something happened between me and Snape?”

Ron shrugged. “Not really our business, is it? Besides, I always thought he had a bit of a thing for you, anyway.”

“What? Why do you say that?” Harry knew he’d been a bit obsessed with the Half-Blood Prince (even after he’d found out it was Snape) but had never once considered those feelings might be reciprocated. Snape had certainly never made it known. Until now, the little voice in Harry’s head said. It’s not as though Snape was the type to just walk up to someone and say, ‘I like you. Let’s go somewhere more private.’ Harry almost laughed. Definitely not. But he was the type to put all of that into a book… and an outlier, at that – one that could be dismissed if needed, or passed off as a lark if the outcome didn’t suit him.

“I dunno,” Ron was saying, “just always thought there might be more to his picking on you than just bad blood with your dad. That was sort of old news by the time you got to Hogwarts, wasn’t it?”

Hermione leaned forward onto her elbows. “I always thought it was because Harry was the child Snape could have had, if he’d not messed things up with Lily. Harry was evidence that James had won, and stolen the life Snape coveted for himself.”

“Jesus, Hermione! I’m talking about a romantic relationship here and you go bringing up the fact that Snape could’ve been my dad!”

“Well, he could have – he’s the same age as your parents!”

“Yes, thank you. I’d rather not think about that right now, if it’s all the same to you.”

Hermione snorted. “I didn’t mean it as a deterrent. We have a longer life span than Muggles, so a twenty-year age gap doesn’t really mean much past a certain point. In any case, the decision isn’t ours to make. Do what makes you happy.”

“Yes, and I’m sure no one will take issue with that,” Harry said sarcastically.

“Then we’ll sort out the naysayers later,” Ron growled, that long-familiar sense of duty and justice rising to the fore as though he’d just charged through the room on a giant steed, his sword drawn. Far from being offended by Ron’s tendency to rush to his defense, Harry rather loved him for it.

Feeling more resolved, Harry drained what was left of his coffee and stood, shrugging back into his Auror cloak and pocketing the book. “Thanks for breakfast, guys. I gotta go. Ron, can you tell Kingsley I’ll be in late today?”

Ron looked confused but nodded and Hermione asked, “Why, what are you going to do?”

Harry stopped next to the fireplace with a fistful of Floo powder in his hand and looked back over his shoulder. “I think it’s about time I paid our ex-professor a visit, don’t you?”

 

# # #

 

Despite the bravado he had just displayed for Ron and Hermione, Harry was nervous about coming face-to-face with Snape. Though if anyone should be nervous, shouldn’t it be Snape? He was the one who wrote an objectifying piece of ‘literature’ and sent it to a senior Auror. Then again, if Snape had been worried about upsetting Harry, he would have just sent a fruit basket with a pleasingly worded card, not come out of the gate brandishing gay erotica. About as subtle as a herd of Hippogriffs, that was. But then why be so over-the-top with it? Snape was a master of subtlety and nuance. He was more than capable of getting Harry’s attention or delivering a message without making a spectacle out of it. So why a book? And why this book?

Harry considered this, and a great many other things, as he made his way to the Ministry. He’d never actually been to Snape’s office before, but had a good idea of where to find it. He figured the man was the sort to get to work early and start his day before the place came alive with the day’s business, and so Harry made his way for the lifts the moment he stepped out of the Floo.

No fewer than twenty post memos joined him on the ride down to the lower levels. As the lift stopped on each floor, the cluster of charmed paper airplanes would jostle for the front position, and Harry was forced to swat them away as they narrowly missed poking him in the head. Thankfully, the herd thinned the lower they went.

When the lift finally stopped on level eight and the metal grate opened with a clang, the sound echoed down the sterile hallway that stretched out before him. A lilting, female voice announced, “Department of Medicinal Chemistry.”

Level eight was gray and brightly lit but it felt entirely too institutional for Harry’s tastes. It didn’t help that the researchers here (their uniforms a matching, nondescript gray) insisted on near-silence, so the only noise to be heard was the sound of his own footfalls. Or maybe it was simply that wandering around in the bowels of the Ministry would forever give him the creeps. Either way, Harry figured this place would suit Snape, as the upper levels of the Ministry were nothing if not a three-ring circus on the best of days – not exactly conducive to work that required a great deal of concentration.

Harry walked down one long hallway, poking his head around corners and inspecting the signs posted next to each door. When he reached the end of one wing, he was about to turn back and retrace his steps when he noticed a door tucked away behind a small alcove. Something about it seemed to call to him, so he moved closer to inspect the metal plaque on the wall. It read:

Level 8, Office 38-R: Potionry
Controlled Substances Division
S. Snape, Master-at-Large

Instead of his heart rate increasing, Harry thought it had simply stopped altogether. He’d found what he was looking for. (Or hoped he had.) He’d certainly faced scarier things over the years while working in the field. (Or hoped he had.)

His knock echoed into the hallway. He waited a few moments, but there was no answer, so he knocked again. Still nothing. Maybe the man didn’t work this early after all? Or maybe he didn’t work on Tuesdays? Harry sighed, feeling like he’d got himself worked up for nothing, and was about to leave when he had the sudden urge to try the handle. Maybe Snape had a receptionist? He should probably check inside before he left.

The handle grew warm under his touch and the door clicked open. Keyed to my touch, then.

Auror instincts on alert, Harry glanced both ways down the hallway to be sure he was still alone and then stuck his head around the door. One hand was pressed against the hilt of his wand, just in case. There was indeed some kind of antechamber to the office, but instead of the receptionist Harry thought he might find, the room was empty except for a wooden table positioned in the center of the room. There was a single ceiling light on.

“Hello?” Harry called out, his voice oddly jarring against the silence. There were two other doors that led from the antechamber and a quick check of both revealed them to be locked. Turning back to the room, Harry realized the light wasn’t an after-hours service light, as he originally assumed, but something of a spotlight. It illuminated a book that lay open on the table’s surface.

A nagging suspicion bloomed in Harry’s mind and he stepped closer to confirm it. Sure enough, the book was Almost a Gentleman, and it was open to the beginning of Chapter 4. There was a bookmark holding the page open, which bore a note written in a familiar, spiky hand:

The answers you seek lie within.

Harry knit his brows together. What answers? he wondered. Given my present locale, I’d say this confirms you’re the author of the book, or at least involved in some way. What other answers are there? Harry snorted. Leave it to Snape to offer a cryptic message.

Harry plucked the bookmark out of its spot and flipped it over, but the back side was blank. He tossed it on the table. Trying to remember what Chapter 4 was all about, he leaned over to get a better look, pressing the pages flat so he could read them easier. And immediately realized his mistake.

The sensation of tumbling downwards jolted his insides, making him momentarily nauseated, but it only lasted for a few seconds before everything stopped. He found himself standing in front of a large mirror, the rest of the room rapidly materializing around him. The urinals and stalls that he could see behind him suggested he’d landed in a men’s toilet. But that wasn’t what startled him. What startled him was the face looking back at him: instead of his own reflection, it was Snape’s.

Frantic, he brought his hands up to feel the body he now seemed to be inhabiting. He wasn’t sure what he expected, exactly, but hoped it was just an illusion, some trick of the mind. But he was not that lucky. (Never that lucky.) The visage of Snape he saw was no mirage – he was real. And dressed up. Harry did a double-take. If he wasn’t so distracted with trying to figure out what was going on here, he might be having a totally different reaction to those slim-fit black trousers, matching suit jacket, and crisp white shirt with the top two buttons undone. God, when had Snape become so hot?

Harry shook his head. He couldn’t think about that right now. Instead, he busied himself with taking stock of his surroundings. He looked all around the loo, up at the ceiling, everywhere. He knew he was inside of a magicked book, but there did not seem to be an obvious way to get out. The last time he’d been inside a charmed book was Riddle’s diary, and there he’d had to destroy a soul remnant to escape. He hoped nothing like that would be needed here.

Well, there was nothing else for it – he had to do something to figure this out.

Exiting the men’s room, Harry found himself just outside the entrance to a large ballroom where a festive party was underway. But not just any party: this was the annual fundraiser for the London Police Department. Chapter 4. Yes, he remembered now. In the book, this was where Harper had met Shaun!

Except Harry wasn’t Harper now, as he had been in the story. This time he was a placeholder for Shaun, or perhaps just Snape, or at least some sort of Shaun-Snape hybrid. He glanced around to see if he could get his bearings in the scene, looking at all the people mingling, the room filled with the occasional clink of glassware and the comforting hum of conversation. He was trying to remember how this scene played out. If he could just find…

There. Across the room, with his back against the wall, stood Harper. He looked gorgeous in a black dinner jacket, impeccably tailored except for the bowtie – that was undone and artfully looped around his neck. He had a drink in one hand, the other resting inside a trouser pocket. And he was staring back at Harry – or Shaun-Snape, whatever. Soon Harper gave a small jerk of his head and walked off in that direction, his stroll casual but confident.

Understanding tickled at the back of Harry’s mind – it didn’t feel foreign, exactly, but it also hadn’t originated from his thought processes. It began as a vague impression that quickly gelled into a clear message: He just signaled for me to join him. Finally! I’ve been trying to get his attention all night! Harry looked around, wondering who had just whispered that to him, but quickly discovered he was alone. It must have come from him. He was inside Shaun’s head, so that must have been Shaun’s thoughts echoing through his consciousness. Well, technically the thoughts Snape had written for Shaun, but since Shaun was Snape, did that mean these were also Snape’s thoughts? Harry grit his teeth; this was so bloody confusing.

Harry headed in the direction he’d seen Harper indicate and found himself in a hallway just outside another set of doors to the party. It was a convention venue, so there were lots of places Harper could have gone. Suddenly, a door to his left opened and an arm shot out, grabbing him by the shirt and yanking him inside. It was a broom closet. The lights were off, but there was enough illumination from the high rectangular window on the wall that Harry could just make out the features of Harper staring back at him. Wait, this wasn’t how it had happened in the book—

It was the only thought Harry had time for, as the rest moved fast from there. Feeling himself fall to his knees, Harry watched as ‘his’ hands fumbled for the zip of Harper’s trousers and freed the straining prick there. “I’ve been picturing this from the moment I saw you,” came the breathy voice, ragged with need. It took Harry a minute to realize that voice was his. “Want to suck you so hard.”

Without fanfare, a cock slid into his mouth and he was sucking in earnest. Part of Harry wanted to be turned on by the feel of that heated flesh against his lips again (especially after so long an absence), but he was distracted by the realization that he was captive inside of a body that was blowing a guy he’d met at a party. Moreover, this wasn’t how the story in the book played out, so he wasn’t sure if it was a trick or not.

Someone moaned and Harry’s attention snapped back to the scene before him. He quickly realized more of those ‘thoughts’ were tickling at his consciousness, except now they seemed to be sending the corresponding sensations. The force of the desire that rippled through his body shocked him, sending a fresh wave of arousal straight to his core. Was that coming from him or from Shaun? Maybe it didn’t matter; right now, it felt too good. Harry decided to just go with it and tried to merge himself with Shaun so they could both enjoy this.

That’s when Harper’s mobile went off, the loud, shrill tone cutting through the scene as though someone had just doused them with ice water. Harry gasped as Harper yanked his prick out, dug out his phone, flicked through a few screens and then swore, explaining that he had to take care of whatever it was (Harry had no idea, he was still reeling from their halted passion). “Always on duty,” Harper said with an apologetic shrug. He was gone so fast, Harry nearly tipped over onto the floor.

What the fuck? This was definitely not how the real book chapter went. It wasn’t how any book chapter should go. What kind of self-important twat interrupts sex to read a text, and then, at the first opportunity, drops everything to rush off and save the world?

Harry had never been confronted with such a situation in real life before, and knew now he wouldn’t tolerate it if he had. He was flustered and turned on and wanted to finish what he started. He wanted to feel this again. Making a decision, he got up and ran after Harper, and tracked him down near the coat check. Coat check. Yes, this was where Chapter 4 had taken place! Harry could see it playing out in his mind’s eye now, just as he remembered reading it in the book.

Maybe that’s it, he thought. Maybe I have to finish this scene as it was written in order to leave the book?

Feeling a renewed sense of purpose, Harry forcibly pulled Harper into the coat room. They ducked around wool peacoats and officer uniforms, sending hangers clacking in their wake, until they were mostly out of sight. Harry fished around in Harper’s hand for the offending mobile and chucked it up on a rack above them. “Fuck your alerts. You can be the savior some other time.” He bent down and settled himself on his knees again, yanking Harper’s trousers down. “Now, where was I?”

Harper, for his part, didn’t contest the action. He just looked a little shell-shocked and grabbed a closet rod for support, groaning as Harry swallowed his prick again.

As before, a surge of desire coursed through Harry’s body, but this time it carried an undercurrent of something else, something intense but not quite formed, something almost out of reach. He wondered if it was coming from Shaun. Perhaps the impressions and thoughts he’d received so far weren’t the only things he could access? On a whim, he quieted his mind, surrendering himself, wanting to welcome whatever this was into his own mind. It hit him like a flood of emotion. It seemed that even though he was just some type of consciousness inside of a book character, he could feel how Shaun felt – how turned on he was, how much Shaun wanted this, wanted Harper. Harry felt feelings he didn’t realize Shaun possessed at this point in the story. Yet was this actually Shaun, or was it Snape?

And then Harper was doing his own surrendering, burying his fingers in Shaun’s hair and holding on, massaging, pulling, doing his best to remain still. The chime on his mobile went off again, but they both ignored it this time. Harry shoved Harper up against the wall for more leverage and was rewarded with a grunt that wasn’t entirely due to the effort. The fingers against his scalp tightened immeasurably and he felt the cock in his mouth pulse, and pulse, and pulse. The room around Harry went blank, a white-out in his mind’s eye, so blinding and heated he almost felt the need to shield his eyes from it.

A familiar sensation pulled at the area behind his navel and then he was falling again, tumbling and spinning at a dizzying speed. When it stopped and he opened his eyes, he was sitting in the antechamber to Snape’s office, the same empty room with the table in its center. The book was still open on its surface, except this time it was displaying the end of Chapter 4.

Harry became hyper-aware of the sensations still ghosting around his consciousness and body. Like an erotic dream, it had woken him before he could climax, and he sat there, flushed and panting, feeling utterly unfulfilled. Thoughts and emotions clamored for his attention, but it was all too much, and Harry Apparated home before Snape or anyone else could discover he was there.

 

# # #

 

Harry sat in his study for over an hour, nursing a drink and thinking about what had just happened. He was angry about being trapped in that book against his will, and angry at being called out (again), but beneath that anger was something else he couldn’t quite name; something that may have been the exact opposite.

He’d always felt there was unresolved business between him and Snape. After the war, the man had disappeared pretty fast after he’d recovered, so Harry’d never really got the chance to find out, and then as the years passed, Harry had completely forgotten about it, his attention instead focused on building his career and starting a family. He’d seen Snape a couple of times over those intervening years, once at a Ministry function (the last one Harry had seen him attend) and once from afar in Diagon Alley, leaving the potions shop. There had also been that small blink-and-you’d-miss-it article in the Prophet for his work on Wolfsbane, but there hadn’t been a photo attached, only his name.

And now, this. Harry nudged the book with his finger.

Every time the man popped up on his radar, Harry was flooded with a rush of old emotions and memories, things which only ever resurfaced when prodded, like now. They would slosh around like murky soup in his heart for a while, underscored by an indefinable ache, and then eventually fade into the background again, unresolved, the cycle doomed to repeat itself each time Snape surfaced in some form.

Harry rubbed his temples and sighed, then aimed his wand at the hearth. It jumped to life, the green flames flickering as he waited for it to connect on the other side. Soon Hermione appeared, her head and torso floating in his fireplace.

“Well, how’d it go?” she asked.

Harry just shrugged. “I’m not sure.”

“Did he deny it?”

“He didn’t have to. The book was there for me to find when I went to his office.”

“So did you talk to him?”

“No. He’d just charmed the book so I’d have to experience one of the scenes.”

Hermione looked at him as if she couldn’t figure out why he was being deliberately obtuse when Ron’s head appeared in the flames behind her. “Really? Which one?”

“Chapter 4,” Harry answered, then exhaled sharply. “I just… I don’t know what he expects me to do!”

“I thought it was fairly clear in the book,” Ron muttered, but Hermione talked over him.

“Did the scene hold any clues?” she asked.

Yes, thought Harry, but none that I’m prepared to discuss right now. He waved it off. “Probably. You know how Snape is.”

“Yes,” Hermione said slowly, “and reckless is not something I would put on that list.”

“What are you saying?”

“That he planned this, Harry. All of it. There must be a reason.”

“Because he’s bored?” Because he knew I’d enjoy it?

“Maybe you need to go talk to him about it in person,” Hermione suggested.

“He wasn’t in his office,” Harry said, and could feel more than see Hermione’s eye-roll.

“So go find him,” she said.

“I don’t know where he lives.” Harry knew his excuses weren’t fooling anyone, but he felt as though the water he’d been treading was threatening to drown him, and was grasping at any lifeline he could find.

Ron tapped a finger against his lips. “Man, if only you had Auror-level access to Wizarding records…”

Harry looked away. Fortunately for him, he missed the exchange that followed between his friends. If he’d seen the significant look Hermione sent Ron’s way, and the way Ron conceded with a nod in return, he would’ve known just as they did: the path ahead was not only unavoidable, it was inevitable.

 

# # #

 

Harry put off an encounter with Snape for two weeks, convincing himself it was because he was busy, but that excuse crumbled once he realized there was one thing that would not answer itself no matter how long Harry sat and thought on it. And that question was why.

Apparating to the coordinates he’d retrieved from the Ministry’s business records database, Harry stood on Snape’s doorstep for a long moment, considering the situation. He was aware this could easily be another trap, but he wasn’t being given much of a choice, and he’d come here for an explanation. He’d have to play Snape’s game, at least for now. Mustering his resolve, Harry took a deep breath and knocked.

When Snape opened the door, Harry caught his momentary flash of surprise before it was quickly masked to something neutral. It’d been almost ten years since Harry had last seen the man in person, but he was looking well-rested and healthy. His hair, while still long, was pulled back into a neat clutch at the nape of his neck. Harry spared a quick glance at the gray shirt, black trousers and… bare feet? …before looking back up at Snape’s face. Two coal-black eyes gazed upon him with something like inquiry and amusement, not the scorn and malice he remembered and half-expected.

“Mr. Potter,” Snape acknowledged. “I am pleased to see the location of my unregistered, private home has remained so.”

“Auror,” Harry said, indicating himself, knowing it would be explanation enough. “And I’m guessing my visit here isn’t really a surprise, Snape. Or should I say… Susan.” He pulled the book from his pocket and held it up.

To Snape’s credit, his eyes didn’t even flicker in recognition at the name. Nor did he deny the accusation. He simply stepped back to open the door wider.

Harry walked past him and tossed the book on a nearby coffee table. “I think you have some explaining to do.”

“Really? I found it quite straightforward myself.”

Harry grit his teeth. Why he ever thought this was going to be an easy conversation, he had no idea. “I’m not the same eighteen-year-old you remember, you know.”

“Nor am I the same professor, Death Eater, spy – whichever appellation you wish to use – you remember.”

It seemed some habits really did die hard, if Harry had only been in the man’s presence for less than a minute and already they were on the verge of a row. He held up his hands and sighed. “Sorry, I didn’t come here to argue with you. I just… I hoped you would explain this to me.”

Snape gave a terse nod and gestured for Harry to make himself comfortable in a chair. He closed the front door and made his way to the sideboard. “Scotch?” he asked, holding up a crystal decanter as invitation.

“Oh. No, thanks,” Harry said. The delicate tinkling of glass could be heard in the background as Harry took that time to look around the comfortable living room. The furnishings were dark but well-complemented by the light gray walls and ivory hearthrug. Lamps scattered about the room bathed the space in warm light, illuminating two walls of bookshelves, each tome impeccably placed and organized.

“How is my namesake, by the way?” The question prematurely pulled Harry from his perusal of Snape’s home.

“Sorry – what?”

“Your son, Albus Severus? I assumed the meaning behind his name was common knowledge by now.”

“Oh. Yeah. It is.” Harry felt heat rise to his cheeks. God, even eighteen years later, Snape still had the ability to make him feel like a schoolboy. Snap out of it, he chided himself, you’re thirty-six. And a Captain in the Auror Corps! This man can no longer give you detention. “I guess it never occurred to me you would pay attention to such things.”

“Surprise,” Snape said dryly, taking a seat on the sofa opposite.

For the first time since Harry’d arrived on Snape’s doorstep, he felt the corner of his mouth trying to tug itself into a grin. Who knew Snape could be such a funny sod?

“He should be about Hogwarts age by now, correct?” Snape went on, taking a small sip of his drink.

“Almost – he’ll start next year. He’s just turned ten.”

“Ah. Then what do you suppose his chances are for being sorted Slytherin? I would hate to be disappointed.”

This time, Harry did laugh. “I’ve no idea, but maybe you could put in a good word and he’ll consider it.” Hearing the words that had just come out of his mouth, Harry was startled by the ease with what he’d so easily insinuated: that his son and his ex-professor might soon come to know each other, and potentially end up with a House in common. Though if that was supposed to feel weird somehow, it didn’t. Perhaps a part of Harry had always hoped the two would connect.

The conversation flowed from there, and Harry was shocked to discover how easy it all was. In no time at all the two were swapping stories about their lives and it was all so normal, Harry had almost forgotten who he was talking to. He learned that Snape had an Owl-order potions business he operated largely out of his home (but kept an office and lab at the Ministry in order to create the controlled potions), that he was taking a painting class at the local Muggle community center (but had to keep resisting the urge to improve his technique with magic), and that he grew all of his own produce and herbs in a small greenhouse on his property (which spawned a tangential thread about soil density and ideal climate conditions for the persnickety vegetables Harry’d tried but failed to grow).

When it came time for Snape to turn the questions on him, Harry welcomed it, though he felt it was mainly a courtesy, as almost everything about his life was public knowledge by now.

“…. Me? Oh, the usual. House, job, three kids.”

“You forgot canine companion and some manner of fence.” The corner of Snape’s mouth twitched.

“Nope, no dog for me. I do have a goat, though.”

“Do you really?”

Harry laughed. “Indeed I do. She’s called Gilbert. The kids’ doing,” he said, referring to the name. “They wanted a pet but we didn’t want something running amok in the house, so we compromised on a goat. The kids got an animal to interact with and I got something that does a fine job of cropping the grass. Multi-purpose, really.”

It was then, as the conversation seemed to find a natural end, that Harry wished he’d accepted a drink so he’d have something to do with his hands. He really wanted to look around Snape’s home some more, but felt a blatant perusal at this point would be impolite. He thought about making more small talk, enjoyable as it had been, but it seemed silly now. They both knew why Harry was there, so he might as well get on with it.

Harry took a deep breath and looked at the man seated across from him. “Why did you write a gay romance novel about me?”

Snape, for his part, didn’t seem fazed at the change in topic. “Was I wrong?”

Harry fought the urge to snap back with something defensive. He didn’t want to fight his way through this, but would if he had to. “Just answer the question, please.”

Snape sighed. “Very well.” He stood and moved to stand behind the sofa, one hand resting on the back. Harry got the impression Snape wished he liked his scotch with ice, so he’d have something to clank to draw Harry’s focus off of him. The gesture seemed only half-realized when it was just liquid he swirled around the bottom of his glass. He savored a long sip instead, clearly marshaling his thoughts. “It was a test.”

“A test?” Harry spluttered, feeling the flare of indignation from earlier come rushing back. Then he caught sight of Snape’s face and knew the man had been about to elaborate when Harry interrupted. He closed his mouth, a silent concession for Snape to continue.

“It may come as a surprise to you, Mr. Potter, that I have followed your goings-on since the conclusion of the war. At first it was casual, mere curiosity on my part as to what you would do with your life now that you had absolved yourself of the prophecy. For the most part, you behaved exactly as I expected you would.”

“Thanks… I think?”

Snape took another sip of his drink, then balanced it in the hand resting on the back of the sofa. “Two years ago, I began to notice a change. It was most evident in photos and press coverage, but I could also detect it in articles where you were directly quoted. Quite simply, your enthusiasm had gone. Even from afar, I could tell you were unhappy. That is perhaps too simple a word, but there it is nonetheless. I wondered how a young man such as yourself, married with a family, poised on the brink of an exciting career promotion, could be experiencing something that seemed so at odds with how I assumed your life to be.”

At this, Snape walked over to his sideboard and put another splash of amber liquid into his tumbler, then slowly made his way back behind the sofa. Harry tracked his every move, almost holding his breath, waiting to see where this conversation would go. Snape briefly pursed his lips.

“A year ago, I’d say it was, I learned of your separation from your wife.” Even though Harry and Ginny had somehow managed to keep it out of the papers, there were still many who knew, especially those Harry worked with at the Ministry. It was hard to keep secrets from people you spent a third of your life with, and even more so when they were the ones you regularly entrusted said life to. How Snape had learned of the news, Harry had no idea. Part of him didn’t want to know. “To others, this development will seem shocking, perhaps impossible. To me, it was the logical progression of what I now understood I had been witnessing. I made a bold guess about you that day. Educated, but bold,” Snape said.

Harry thought of the book. “What, that I also like men?”

“I already knew you did.”

Harry’s eyes narrowed. “How? I never advertised that.”

“You did at Crossed Wands. I recall many an evening found you there, grinding on the dance floor with an ever-evolving cast of hot young bachelors.”

Harry flushed slightly, vividly recalling those hormone-fueled exploits of yesteryear. He refused to be embarrassed by it, though, and lifted his chin slightly. “I don’t remember ever seeing you there.”

“Glamour,” Snape said.

“Were you spying on me?” Harry asked, trying hard to keep the accusation out of his voice.

Snape snorted. “Hardly. I was there for the same reason as you, I presume.”

“Yeah, but in a Glamour?”

“I wasn’t looking for wedded bliss, Potter, I was looking for a fuck. I found that my chances greatly improved when I became someone else for the night.”

Harry frowned, understanding that all too well. Most of the time he’d wanted to be someone else, too. Or at least just Harry, not The Chosen One. He remembered how hard it had been navigating the waters of the gay club scene, often wishing he’d tried the Muggle world instead. Except there he ran the risk of meeting someone he really liked, and what kind of a relationship would that be, having to hide his magic, his true identity, his storied history, the reasons for his celebrity? Ugh. He winced just thinking about it. No, hard as it had been to determine who was sincere and who was just a glory hound, it was much better trying to strike up a connection with someone in the Wizarding world. Or at least just companionship for the night, which had mostly been the goal for Harry. At least that’s all he assumed it was, perhaps too young or too naïve at the time to realize it might have been a more fundamental need: something much closer to his authentic self than he dared to admit.

“The book was a calculated risk, I admit,” Snape went on, “but one I thought worth trying.”

“Being subjected to someone else’s whims was a risk? Do tell.”

Snape simply ignored him, continuing on as though Harry hadn’t even spoken. “I believed I was witnessing two disparate parts of yourself warring. The part that yearned for a family of your own, as well as a formal connection to your surrogate family, was content. The part that had yet to find its fulfillment was coming to the fore, and would be refused no longer.”

“And what part is that, exactly?” Harry challenged. “The part that needs a man?”

Snape arched a brow. “Tell me I’m wrong.”

Harry swallowed and looked away, his heart beating rapidly against his ribs. Dammit, how could Snape do this? Harry had always felt naked beneath that penetrating gaze, as though every emotion and thought were writ large upon his face, there for the taking even if Snape wasn’t actively using Legilimency. But fuck all if Snape wasn’t right. Harry did miss having a man in his life. Or just having a man, period. He hadn’t consciously realized it until he’d read Snape’s book. And it wasn’t just the arousal he’d felt at reading those salacious passages; it was the ache deep within his chest at the relationship Shaun and Harper developed, the dynamic they shared that went much deeper than the physical act.

“So the book was a test – to see if you were right about me?”

“No,” Snape said, making one slow shake of his head. He looked directly at Harry. “It was to see if you were right about you.”

Harry stared back at Snape for a few tense moments before he stood up and moved over to a window. It looked out on a well-groomed lawn and the roofline of a neighboring house. His mind was overrun with visuals and thoughts, each one as confusing and demanding as the next, like a movie reel on fast-forward. It showed him events from his own life, events from Snape’s book, events that were probably just fragments of fantasies or things he’d made up. Each one featured a man, too, as though the mere suggestion of it had somehow made it an inescapable reality. He sighed. He had a lot to sort out, but knew this was neither the time nor place for that.

He turned back to Snape. “Why are you still looking out for me? Please tell me this isn’t still because of the promise you made to my mum.”

“I swore to protect your life. I believe that includes any period of time in which you are living.”

“Yeah, but that was over thirty years ago. I’m an adult now.”

“Thirty days, thirty years – it matters not, Potter. A promise is a promise.”

It was clear there was something else that Snape wasn’t saying, but Harry knew he’d be old and gray before he’d out-logic – or out-stubborn – the man on anything. “Fine. Then why now?” He returned to his chair and sat down again.

“I am afraid I don’t understand.”

“Why write the book now? Why after all this time?”

“I believe we have already covered this point. Potter unfulfilled, Potter needs wake-up call – ring any bells?”

“Okay, okay, I get it. Unfulfilled. Check.” Harry couldn’t help but chuckle at that, even though there was still something that didn’t quite add up. His senses told him there was another reason why Snape wrote the book – this particular book – but knew asking more questions right now would only generate more dead ends. He believed Snape was telling the truth, just not the whole truth.

Snape took another slow sip of his drink, regarding Harry closely. “May I ask you something?”

“Yeah, go on.”

“Are you upset that the relationship with Ginevra dissolved, or are you upset that you must now disrupt the life you have created by starting over with someone new?”

Harry blinked. Had Snape just used Legilimency on him for real? How could he have possibly known to ask that, when Harry was only just beginning to understand it himself? He frowned. “Sometimes you are entirely too perceptive, you know that?”

Snape shrugged. “You wish to avoid the discomfort of change. It can be a tedious, irritating thing. All humans experience this to some degree or another. That, at least, is not unique to you. However, you may have to move out of your family home, have potentially difficult conversations with your children, even admit to your family and friends why you were not perfectly suited for your wife. Perhaps you are simply tired of being the one who has to save the day, who runs the Aurors and leads the charge, the one who holds your family together – you are still living at home, correct? In light of all these expectations, it is not surprising you would come to find release or sanctuary surrendering yourself to – how did you put it – someone else’s whims.”

Harry just sat there, gaping like a fish. “Christ, are you like a shrink or something? You’re good at this!”

Snape took a final sip of his drink and deposited the empty glass on the side table next to him. “I am a former educator and spy, so it is, as they say, occupational hazard. When one makes a living observing human behavior, some patterns tend to jump out more often than others. One also tends to pick up a thing or two about one’s students when they live underfoot for six years, and you were certainly no exception.”

“Let me guess: I was the hot-headed Gryffindor who aggravated every molecule of your being while at Hogwarts?”

Snape smirked. “I prefer spirited, independent, infuriating and passionate.”

“Ah. Conveniently the same four words you use to describe Harper.”

“Imagine that.”

Harry smiled slightly and tipped his head, thinking back over their conversation, surprised at all the things he’d learned. He fidgeted with a button on his robe for a moment, then thought of one thing he’d neglected to ask about the book. “Why a woman’s name?”

“I couldn’t very well publish it under my own name.”

“Sure, but you could have picked any name.”

“My publisher assured me a woman’s name would assist with book sales. Apparently this is the sort of thing many women write. As for why I chose an anagram, I should think that fairly obvious.”

“You wanted to make sure we’d figure it out?”

“Ding, ding.”

Harry nodded, having guessed as much. “You’re being awfully candid about this,” he observed.

“You thought me incapable?”

“I don't know. Maybe. I guess in some ways you're still that same teacher I once knew, and that man would never have talked to me like this.”

“And what way is that?”

“Like an adult. An equal.”

Snape sighed. “No. But at the time I did not view you as either. It was unfair of me, but unfortunately, also necessary.”

“Yeah, I get that. Well, I get that now, anyway. It just would have been nice to see this side of you back then, that’s all.” Harry gave a wistful little smile, then stood before the silence could become awkward. “I should probably be going.” He reached out to shake Snape’s hand. Snape hesitated a moment before sliding his hand into Harry’s. His grip was warm, dry, and surprisingly strong, and for some reason, knowledge of that sent a zip of electricity up Harry’s arm. He let Snape’s hand go more abruptly than he intended; it had just caught him by surprise.

He covered it by picking up the book he’d so carelessly deposited on the coffee table. “Mind if I keep this?”

“By all means. It is your copy, after all.”

“Thanks,” Harry said, giving a small wave goodbye with the book still in his hand. He wasn’t sure if he was thanking Snape for the conversation they’d just had, or for putting him on this path by writing the book in the first place, or if it was just a latent thank you for everything Snape had ever done for him. He supposed, as the door clicked shut behind him and he turned on the spot, that it was probably a mix of all three.

 

# # #

 

Ever since he’d visited Snape mid-August, Harry felt like he was seeing the man everywhere. Long, black hair made him do a double-take at the grocer’s. Tall, wiry men began to capture his attention at work. Even people with large noses were becoming distracting, and Harry routinely found himself staring until long after it was polite.

As recently as a couple days ago, when taking James out for his school supplies in Diagon Alley, Harry swore he saw Snape out of the corner of his eye, exiting a shop further down the street. But when he turned to get a proper look, it was only a woman with black, shoulder-length hair who also wore a black cloak. Snape hadn’t even been wearing Wizarding attire the day Harry visited, so why the cloak would trigger this, he didn’t know. Or maybe it was the hair.

Or maybe it’s just this ridiculous, pathetic crush again, he thought, aiming a healthy dose of disgust at himself. He just hadn’t anticipated how much one interaction with the man would renew his obsession with the Half-Blood Prince. (Somehow referring to him as the Half-Blood Prince kept the whole thing at arm’s length, making it easier for Harry to deny that he was actually referring to Snape.)

Now, with Ginny off managing the Holyhead Harpies at an out-of-town tournament, it was up to Harry to see James off to school on the first of September, Al and Lily in tow. They all waved goodbye to James as the train pulled away, the scarlet engine puffing smoke up into the rafters of the platform as it chugged along. Once it cleared the station and moved out of sight, Harry, Al and Lily turned to leave.

And almost barreled right into Snape.

“What are you doing here?” Harry blurted out, his heart jumping into his throat. He quickly became aware of how suspicious that sounded, the looks on his kids’ faces confirming as much. They were entirely too observant sometimes. “Sorry, that was rude of me. I just wasn’t expecting to see you here. Are you…” He looked around at the rapidly emptying platform. “Are you waiting for someone?”

Snape took a step to the side so Harry could see the trolley he’d been partially obscuring. A canvas bag was tied to the handle. Behind it, stacked four or five high, was a mix of cardboard boxes and wooden crates. Some had strange markings or stamps on them; others bore the Hogwarts crest.

“Deliveries?” Harry ventured, embarrassed he’d assumed the man was there because of him.

Snape seemed to consider his goods, glancing sideways at the trolley. That’s when Harry noticed a small, thin box he’d missed before, perched on top of everything else. The gold foil lettering said Honeydukes. For some reason, he was charmed by the discovery that Snape had a sweet tooth.

“Many of the products and ingredients I use are sourced from other continents,” Snape said, “and I find it easiest to have them all delivered to a central location like Hogwarts.”

Harry grinned. “Central. Or more private.”

Snape looked caught out for a moment, then conceded to Harry with a bow of his head, amusement glinting in his eyes.

“Hey, far be it from me to begrudge you your privacy,” Harry said. Then, noting that his children were still staring up at Snape with interest, he collected himself. “Sorry. Al, Lils, this is—”

“I know who you are!” Al cut in. “You’re Professor Snape! You’re the one I was named for!”

“Ex-professor,” Snape corrected. “But yes, true enough.” He offered his hand, which Al shook with youthful enthusiasm.

“Wow! It’s so cool to meet you!” Al turned to Harry. “How come you didn’t tell me I’d be meeting him today?”

Harry snorted. “Because I didn’t know, son. I’m as surprised as you.”

Al seemed to accept that, but continued his visual inventory of Snape, his head tipped to the side. “You look different than your picture, though. Dad keeps one at home, you know.”

“Al,” Harry said, trying for a warning tone but only managing an undignified squeak.

“I think he’s dreamy,” Lily said, smiling up at Snape. She was practically dangling from Harry’s arm, hanging onto his wrist with both hands, her body swaying back and forth. Three pairs of eyes swiveled in her direction, but she seemed unfazed. Harry looked back up at Snape just in time to catch the faint tinge to his cheeks. It looked good on him. As did his smart and not-very-Wizard-like suit. Well, trousers and a sport coat – almost a suit. Not that Harry was noticing.

He quickly shut his eyes – his heart was racing and he wasn’t even sure where to look anymore. When had he lost control of this conversation? Everything had got so confusing and distracting all of a sudden. What was this thing he had about Snape’s clothing, anyway?

“Would it be okay if I sent you an Owl sometime, Mr. Snape? I have lots of questions about potions that my dad can’t answer.”

Harry’s eyes shot open in time to see Snape giving him a quick glance before looking back down at Al. He inclined his head slightly. “If it is all right by your father, then I shall await your Owl. Might I also expect to see you join the ranks of Slytherin next year?”

Al’s eyes grew large. “If I’m able to choose like my dad said, I’d like that very much!” he enthused.

“Smart kids,” Snape murmured to Harry, the corner of his mouth quirked. “Seems that they won’t be an issue.” His expression conveyed that Harry should know full well what he was referring to. And Harry did. Somewhere, in a part of his mind not taken up with whatever was transpiring between them, he was relieved to note that at least two of his kids were eager to learn more about Snape. That was two potentially difficult conversations out of the way. James would be the wildcard, though, Harry felt. As the big brother and the oldest, he was naturally very protective of his family. Adding in a new person might rattle that carefully constructed structure of his. Then again, it might not. Time would tell.

Hang on. Since when was this a foregone conclusion? Harry wondered with no small degree of alarm. Last time he checked, he hadn’t made any decisions. There was a lot to consider here, he couldn’t just barge in like a teenager, no matter that his libido was shouting at him to get laid already. Harry shook his head slightly, trying to figure out where his usually mature, composed self had run off to.

All he knew was he couldn’t think about this here. He wouldn’t allow himself some momentary weakness… some fling. He had a family to take care of and lots of other obligations, and it wouldn’t do for him or his kids to get too attached to this man. It was true he had wanted Al and Snape to connect, but faced with the reality of what that might mean – the proximity it would mean – was more than Harry could deal with right now.

“Kids, I think we’ve taken up enough of Mr. Snape’s time. How about we get out of his hair and let him get back to his work, hmm?”

Harry disentangled Lily from his arm and took her hand, and then put an arm around Al’s shoulders, steering him towards the exit. “Ready?” he asked, ignoring the despondent nods he got in return. “Nice to see you,” he called to Snape, but it was quick and he didn’t wait around for a response. Both kids allowed themselves to be pulled along, but turned to wave at Snape as they left. Harry could feel the weight of Snape’s gaze on his back, but it wasn’t until they were about to turn the corner and leave the platform altogether that he finally got up the nerve to look back over his shoulder.

Even at this distance Harry could see something warm and deep burning in Snape’s eyes and it sent a flush of arousal through his body. It was all Harry could do to keep walking and not go back, surrendering himself to the magnetic pull of this man.

 

# # #

 

Harry was not in bed wanking about anyone in particular. (He was not.) He was just a little overwrought after seeing Snape at King’s Cross earlier in the day and needed to relieve some tension. Yes, tension, that’s what it was. It was completely beside the point that he was balancing Snape’s book in his left hand while stroking his cock with his right. It was just an easy way to get a good visual in his head; he liked having something to picture. The book was practically porn anyway, he reasoned, and might as well be used as such.

Harper leaned over the lithe form of Shaun, the fingers of one hand gripping a smooth hip while he worked the fingers of his other into a tight, tight opening. Stretching Shaun was rapidly becoming a favorite activity. He liked pushing his partner toward sensory overwhelm, capping off his scissoring with a firm tongue sliding up the side of a rigid cock, the dual stimulation causing the man to writhe and gasp beneath him—

Ohfuck,” Harry gasped, and came all over his hand.

 

# # #

 

Not ten minutes later, Harry walked out of his bedroom and nearly collided with Ginny. It looked as though she’d been about ready to knock. He tried not to look guilty, reminding himself she couldn’t have known what he’d just been doing. His locking and silencing charms were some of the best around – a skill he’d had to perfect not because of his job as an Auror, but because of the unfortunate tendency of his children to burst in, anywhere and everywhere, unannounced. It didn’t matter that Al and Lily were currently playing outside. Being precisely where they shouldn’t be was the magic of all children, Muggles and Wizards alike.

“You’re home early,” Harry said, trying to regain his footing.

Ginny nodded. “We lost our second game, so the tournament ended early for us. Sorry I wasn’t there with you and the kids to see Jamie off.”

Harry dismissed it with a wave of his hand. “You remember what it’s like. By second year, kids think they’re Hogwarts experts and don’t want their parents fussing over them.” He grinned, but it faded quickly when he noticed Ginny had a book in her hand. And not just any book. Panic lanced through him at the thought he’d left it sitting out somewhere. He almost wanted to turn back to his room to check that it was still safely stowed in his night table, right where he’d left it, but he knew the copy Ginny held was not his.

“How… how did you get that?”

All Ginny had to do was look up at him with those patient, understanding eyes of hers and he knew. “Hermione,” he groaned, answering his own question, and she gave a slight nod.

“I’ve actually been wanting to talk to you anyway,” she said. “This just sort of… confirmed some things for me.”

“Confirmed? Wait, what are you talking about? I’m not dating—”

“Harry, you’ve had a thing for Snape for years.” He tried to say something to that but she just talked louder. “Or the Half-Blood Prince, whatever. It doesn’t matter how you frame it, it’s the same person. All I meant to say is that I’ve always felt there could be something between you two and this book seems like as much of an invitation as you’re likely to get.”

“Just because he wrote a book about me doesn’t mean I’m going to run off with him and—”

Ginny stopped him again, this time by putting her hands on his shoulders, guiding him over to the sofa in the loft. “I know. Can I say some things to you first and then you can have your turn?”

Harry nodded, unsure of what was happening, but felt his heart plummeting all the same. She settled herself next to him, staring at the cover of the book for a moment, then took a deep breath.

“This past year has been hard on me in ways I didn’t expect. I wanted to do what was best for the kids and agreed to our co-habitation because there were so many emotional things to sort out. I guess I was afraid of putting the kids through a huge adjustment.”

Harry nodded but let her take her time continuing.

“But as the year wore on, I began to see more clearly the reality of our relationship, and it became harder to remain satisfied with keeping my life on hold. I don’t blame you,” she added quickly. “I think I’ve always known you might be happier in a relationship with a man, even if you wouldn’t have traded on the possibility of children to have it.”

He was about to interrupt again but she held up her hand. “I'm almost done. Please, just let me get this out.” She took a deep breath. “In any case, you were still the man I wanted to marry and are the father of my children, and I will always love you for that.

“But in the last few months, I’ve come to realize that I need something more. That I… that we both deserve relationships that meet us where we are today, not the idealistic twenty-somethings we were when we got married.” She gave a slight smile at that, then looked down at her hands in her lap.

Here it comes, thought Harry. Maybe he should have expected this. It had been a year, after all. And somewhere in his head, he really was ready. If not for himself, then definitely for Ginny. He was just so used to his own apathy that it was easy to convince himself this conversation could be put off for another week or two… or twelve. It was always some date – soon! – that just conveniently never arrived.

“At my last tournament,” Ginny started, “I… I met someone. Well, reconnected with someone, I suppose. Do you remember Dean Thomas, from school? Turns out he’s the manager of a competing team and, well… we sort of hit it off again.”

Harry wasn’t even sure what to say to that. He wasn’t mad, or even jealous. Dean and Ginny had dated for awhile during their Hogwarts years, and by all accounts, had got on like a house on fire. They had probably only broken up because of Harry. After that triumphant Quidditch match sixth year, Ginny had pressed her advantage – finally being visible to Harry – and kissed him in the middle of the common room in front of all their friends and housemates. As declarations of intent go, it was a pretty clear one.

“I’m so sorry,” Ginny said, genuinely distressed when it seemed like Harry wasn’t reacting. “We haven’t done anything yet, just dinner and catching up. But he’d…” She paused. “We’d both like it to be more.”

Harry sat up straighter, more aware than ever of the result of his selfish actions. “There’s nothing to apologize for. I’m the one who broke off our marriage. It isn’t fair that I’m still living at home, holding our lives hostage because I’m too scared to let the life I’ve built go. Too scared of what the kids will think of me.” He looked down.

“They just want you to be happy, Harry,” Ginny said gently, her hand coming to rest on his forearm. He looked back up at her. “And if the house is what you’re concerned about, then you should have it.”

“No, absolutely not. I can’t kick you out.”

“You wouldn’t be. I’m traveling so much with the team, anyway, and Dean lives in Canterbury, so I’d likely be there whenever the kids were with you. Honestly, Harry, I want you to have it. The garden, the renovations, even that silly goat—”

“Wait, I thought you liked Gilbert?”

Ginny let out a soft huff of laughter, shaking her head. “My point is, this house has always held more meaning to you, and the kids love it. It’s their home, too. Please, I want you to keep it.”

Harry took off his glasses and pressed the heels of his hands over his eyes, trying to stem the emotions that seemed intent on surfacing. He didn’t want to break down in front of his wife. Ex-wife. Soon-to-be ex-wife. Whatever. He’d always been the one who held everything together before and, for some reason, it seemed especially important for him to do so now. He was about to become a single father, responsible for the house and the garden and the kids – at least when they were in residence.

“You should be free to move on with your life,” Ginny continued. “Me as well.” She squeezed his forearm. It wasn’t just reassurance, he knew, it was solidarity. “This is just a crossroads, Harry. A change. It’s a good thing. Let’s make it a good thing.”

Ginny smiled softly, her brown eyes glassy. She leaned in for an embrace and Harry hugged her tight, burying his face in the hair gathered at the nape of her neck, breathing in her familiar scent for what would probably be the last time. She was the true Gryffindor in their family, he knew. Not only did she have the courage to formally end their relationship (something Harry had been afraid to do for a year), but she was about to pursue a new relationship, one she’d recently rekindled. She always charged forward with gusto in whatever she decided to do; it was one of the things Harry had always admired about her.

And it’s not that Harry didn’t want that for himself, too. He did. He’d even rekindled a relationship of his own – if you could call his past interaction with Snape a relationship, that is. But as the sole parent in charge of this newly revised household, he owed it to his kids to make this a smooth transition. Seeing both of their parents in new relationships right away might be too big a change, so it was important to keep some normality. Harry would let Ginny get settled first, and then maybe see about himself.

 

# # #

 

Harry stood in the middle of his empty house. With James away at Hogwarts, and Al and Lily at their mum’s, the place felt hollow without his kids. Being alone also gave him too much time to think – which, in Harry’s experience, was not usually a good thing. Without any kind of touchstone around, his compulsive nature tended to win out over his rational one.

Figures, he thought with a scowl. The one time he most needed a distraction from all this thinking, thinking, thinking was the one time he had nothing else to do but think. Dusk was settling in, so it was too dark to go putter around in the garden. He’d already cleaned up the kitchen after dinner, not that there was much to do when he was simply reheating food from the Cool-Keep. And Friday night meant the shows he followed on the telly had already come and gone for the week. He couldn’t even be bothered to change out of his bathrobe. All he had left was his pacing, and the only thing he was bound to accomplish there was wearing a hole in the floor. He sighed.

He walked into his study, waving a hand to turn on the lights. His desk was covered with folios and stacks of papers, reports he needed to file, and cases he needed to read. He could catch up on paperwork – it might burn a few hours at least. Resigning himself to his task, he sat and started to rearrange the various piles of his job, organizing them by priority and topic. The usual litany of thoughts about explicit gay sex and brooding Potions Masters kept trying to intrude, but Harry pushed them away, refocusing on his work instead.

And he was actually successful for about a quarter of an hour, until his environment conspired against him and brought that house of cards crashing down. He had lifted several folios off one stack and meant to move them to another, when something thicker and heavier slid out from between them and landed on the floor. Leaning over to see what it was, he found Almost a Gentleman staring back up at him. It must have been the copy Ginny left him after their conversation a few weeks ago.

Once again, it seemed Harry’s life had other plans for him. Every time he tried to block this out, something would clear all the obstacles and bring it right back in. Frustrated, he grit his teeth and yelled, clearing the contents of his desk with one angry swipe of his arm. He watched in satisfaction as it all tumbled to the floor, scattering everywhere.

He sat there, breathing hard. It had been a long time since he’d felt anger like this, the power of it coursing through his veins, forcing him to react, to feel, to acknowledge. Snape’s book had been responsible for a great many things in recent weeks, not the least of which was disrupting his life and his relationships. And his thought processes. And his libido. But he also knew that wasn’t why he was angry.

He’d just been so sure he would have heard something by now. Why hadn’t Snape called? There had been no Owls, no sequels, no more falling into charmed books, nothing. For once, Harry wasn’t getting that push-and-pull interaction from Snape, and he hated how much he missed it; how much he needed it. It had been dangled in front of him, then yanked away – so close, yet always out of reach.

Arghhhhh!

What was it about Snape that always seemed to bring this out in him, this—

He stopped, the realization caught in his throat. This… this tension between them, always just below the surface, roiling, simmering, galvanic, was not anger. It was something else, something that ran far deeper. Something that made Harry come alive. The sensation energized his every cell as it roared through his body, wild and untamed. Harry knew this feeling by another name: passion.

He got up and walked out of his study, eyes unfocused, one hand trailing along the wall for support. That’s why he had become so unsettled. That’s what was missing. Somewhere along the way, buried deep beneath his routine, Harry had lost his passion. He’d stopped being curious, he’d stopped carving out his own path, he’d stopped attending to his needs, he’d just stopped.

For years he had merely been existing, waiting for someone to put out a call for help so his life would have meaning again. He couldn’t even pinpoint when it had happened. How had he let it happen? He used to be that charge-forward-with-gusto person, just like Ginny, not the one who waited around for life to happen to him. When he was younger, he was very decisive. There was no waffling, no second-guessing, no doubt. When he identified something he wanted to do, he just did it. Granted, he didn’t have kids at the time, so there were fewer considerations, but still – as an adult, he shouldn’t find it that fundamentally different.

He wanted stimulating, intelligent conversations about something other than his caseload or the newest Ministry policy. He wanted to vacation in exotic, faraway places, to explore old ruins and look for remnants of magical cultures long since forgotten. He wanted to have the sort of sex that overloaded his senses, that consumed him with a deep and lingering desire. He wanted to enjoy quiet evenings at home, watching films on the sofa while curled in someone else’s arms. He wanted to share his garden with a fellow enthusiast, someone who respected what he’d built but was eager to offer ideas of their own.

But most important, Harry wanted someone who would take him at face value – for who he was today, as a newly single father of three – and not for all the rest. He’d already concluded that he couldn’t date a Muggle. He had a magical life and magical children, and there was no way he was going to hide any of that. How could he even explain his life to someone who wasn’t bound by the same laws of secrecy? Who didn’t already live with it every day, and in fact, would never be able to access or interact with it? That wouldn’t be fair.

Yet most days, it also seemed an impossible task to date someone in the Wizarding world; he simply carried too much baggage. He didn’t want to feel like a celebrity in bed with a journalist, being constantly interviewed or revered. He didn’t want to talk about the war, or Voldemort, or anything remotely connected to that period of his life. It was eighteen years ago, some of it even longer. It was old news, and Harry wanted to keep it that way.

At least with Snape, he wouldn’t have to reminisce or explain. The man had been there on the front lines with him, and knew what war left in its wake: unavoidable duty, crushing guilt, reluctant victory. Their history would be something shared between them – but behind them, where it belonged.

Which meant there was really only one conclusion Harry’s mind could come to: he needed Snape.

The man who had repeatedly turned Harry’s world right-side up, even – and especially – when Harry was too stubborn or oblivious to see it for himself. One could certainly question Snape’s methods over the years, but not his results.

So why was Harry resisting? His complacency wasn’t that seductive, and he’d all but received blessings from his friends and from Ginny to go and be happy. He would get to keep the house and his garden (and his kids – at least half the time). Even Gilbert was staying put. So what was stopping him? Who, exactly, was he trying to save this time?

Harry froze. He’d accused Harper of something similar during his trip through Chapter 4:

Fuck your alerts. You can be the savior some other time.

Words that, unless Harry was mistaken, were something he’d actually been trying to say to himself, given which character he’d been inhabiting at the time. He remembered sharing Shaun’s mind, and experiencing the intense rushes of thought and emotion, feelings that not only surprised him in their strength and conviction, but with their presence in the first place. He also remembered the bookmark Snape had left for him that day, and the handwriting which was now etched into his mind’s eye:

The answers you seek lie within.

Harry ran back into his study and rifled through the mess on the floor until he found the book. He looked at the photo of the two men on the cover. Indeed, the answer had been here all along.

It had been so overwhelming at the time, falling into the book and being barraged with everything at once, but now Harry saw what he’d missed before. He knew why he’d been Snape in that scene instead of Shaun. Snape had wanted to ensure Harry understood the source of all those feelings: that it wasn’t originating from Snape’s character in the book, but from the man himself.

Snape was trying to communicate how he felt in a way that only Snape could. The sex in the book was a demonstration of his feelings, but what he put into the book was real. Harry had sensed the man had been dancing around some deeper truth on their last couple of encounters, but he never imagined it might be because Snape had these kinds of feelings for him. Was this was the real reason Snape had written the book?

Harry Summoned some clothes and threw them on, shoving the book in his pocket. He might be slower than Ginny at accepting when it was time to move on, but he knew he always got there in the end. Enough of putting his life on hold. No more watching from the sidelines or using his kids as an excuse. It was time he did something for himself. He’d been wrong not to choose Snape initially, and wrong not to claim this second chance he had been given. He just hoped it wasn’t too late.

Exhilarated and terrified, Harry ran out the front door of his house and down the entire length of his property. Once he was outside of the wards, he Apparated – and didn’t even wonder if he’d be welcome.

 

# # #

 

This time Harry didn’t linger on Snape’s doorstep. As soon as he landed, he rapped his knuckles sharply against the front door. Reckless Gryffindor, indeed.

When Snape opened the door, he looked thoroughly unsurprised to find Harry standing there.

“There’s just one thing I want to know,” Harry said.

“Only one?”

Harry ignored the question, brushing past Snape and into the house.

“Please, do come in,” Snape muttered. He closed the door behind them.

Harry held up the book. “Do you still… think of me this way? This wasn’t just about a test, was it?”

“That was two questions.”

“Just answer me!” Harry shook the book at him. “Did you mean it?”

“I wrote you a torrid romance book, Potter. You figure it out,” Snape said with a sneer. He moved over to one of the windows in the room and pretended to be interested in something outside, his arms crossed over his chest.

Could it be? Had Snape really just revealed his hand and confirmed Harry’s suspicion?

“So it’s true? You would like to pursue a relationship with me?”

Snape remained at the window, staring outside, his gaze somewhat unfocused. He looked weary and resigned without his usual shield of snark and his whole body seemed to sigh. “Yes.”

Harry gasped, that tendril of warmth re-igniting in his chest, the same one he’d felt when he was first presented with the idea that Snape had made a grand gesture of interest on his behalf. And here Snape was, doing it again – perhaps less grand, but no less meaningful.

“How long have you felt this way?” Harry asked, his heart pounding in his chest.

“Does it matter?”

“Yes, it bloody well does!”

Why?

Harry paced around Snape’s living room, his hands shoved into the front of his hair. “Because it might… it might have changed things!”

At this, Snape finally turned to look at him. “Be serious, Potter. You were the Wizarding world’s most venerated war hero, adored and put on a pedestal, out of reach for all but a blessed few. You honestly expect me to believe you would have welcomed an overture from me?”

“I would've liked to have been given the choice, at least!” Harry said. It immediately brought to mind the Half-Blood Prince and Harry’s interest – okay, obsession – with the man. He’d always wondered if Snape could ever come to return his feelings. Then he thought of his family, his children, the life he’d shared with the Weasleys thus far. Aside from separating from Ginny, the rest was perfect. Well, except for his job, but that was a more recent development. And he couldn’t imagine giving up his family for anything. Yet that didn’t mean he couldn’t have had children with Snape, or even kept his ties to the Weasleys. Those things weren’t mutually exclusive. So maybe it wouldn’t have been so different after all?

“Given your silence, I think we can both agree I have made my point.”

Harry looked up. “No. I mean, yes, you did, but I was just thinking how it might’ve been different if I’d known…” He paused, his brows knit together.

“Spare me your pity.” Snape’s sneer was back.

“It’s not pity. I’m just trying to understand why you didn’t tell me how you felt before.”

“You were happily married, Potter. Regardless of what you think of me, I am not in the habit of forcing myself into relationships where I don’t belong simply to satisfy my own desires. There is also the small matter of how extraordinarily presumptuous it would have been to assume your interest might extend to me. I hold no illusions that I am anyone’s first choice, least of all yours.”

Harry snorted. “You wrote me a fucking book! You must have thought you had some chance or you wouldn’t have bothered putting yourself in a starring role! Besides, you have a lot to offer someone even if Swish and Flick doesn’t make you their centerfold. I don’t care about that superficial stuff, anyway.”

It was Snape’s turn to snort. “Says the wizard who married a beautiful witch.”

“I didn’t marry her because she’s beautiful. I married her because I loved her. She’s smart and fierce and she made me a better person. And she gave me three kids! Hard not to love that.”

Snape shook his head. “That is so like you. You think what made you a better person was the fact you married Miss Weasley. What makes you a better person is being passionately engaged in your own life. Choosing it, making demands of it, living it – not simply existing in it.”

Harry nodded. “I know. Ginny was the safe choice for me, I see that now.”

“And I will not be the opposite of that simply because some metaphorical light bulb has come on inside that wooly head of yours.”

Harry couldn’t help but smile at him. “But you make me a better person, too.”

“Charming,” Severus scoffed. “Finally come to save us all from your heroism, have you?”

“Not everyone, just… you. If you’ll let me.” He walked over to Snape and held out his copy of Almost a Gentleman. Snape looked at it for a long moment before taking it, a question lingering in the furrow of his brow.

“In the last few weeks, I’ve thought a lot about my life and what I want. About what’s missing,” Harry said.

“Congratulations,” Snape deadpanned.

“I’ve realized I want another relationship. My passion has gone, and it’s partly to do with that. I do this thing where I put my needs on hold in order to take care of others.” Harry frowned. “I guess it’s easier to fix other people than to fix myself.”

“It always is,” Snape agreed.

Harry blinked, suddenly understanding something. He was aware he might push Snape’s buttons by asking, but he genuinely wanted to know. “So what are you hoping to fix by helping me?”

“Go.”

Confused, Harry refocused on Snape. He hadn’t realized how close they were standing until now. He’d only meant to walk over and give Snape the book, not linger in the man’s personal space. “What?”

Go. Home.

Harry felt something stir within him at the intense look Snape was giving him, something in his body coming alive at whatever this was flowing between them. It was something he realized had always been there, but hadn’t had a reason to name until now: attraction, electricity, interest. The sort he hadn't felt since the war, since before Snape had gone to live his life and left Harry to his own…

Harry wasn’t about to let it go for a second time. He stood firm and crossed his arms over his chest. “No. I’m not leaving.” Unfortunately, his body wasn’t interested in abiding by his principles or his denial. The thrumming along his nerve endings seemed to coalesce in his cock, which made it swell rapidly – and obviously.

Snape’s hand seemed to appear out of nowhere and grazed the front of Harry’s jeans. It was almost an involuntary gesture, ever-so-lightly tracing the outline of Harry’s erection. Harry gasped as everything sped up: his heart rate, his breathing, his mind. He shivered at the contact, his hands clenching into fists. “You’re not playing fair,” he said.

Snape’s jaw tensed and something sharp flickered in his gaze. He yanked his hand away. “I might say the same thing about you.”

For the first time, Harry realized his actions weren’t nearly as innocent as he’d thought. He was the one standing in Snape’s home after another unannounced visit, invading the man’s space with a throbbing cock pressed against the front of his jeans – a siren call for any gay man, but particularly for this one, who had already blatantly professed his interest – and Harry was accusing Snape of not playing fair.

“So then why do we keep doing this?” Harry asked impatiently.

To his surprise, Snape lurched forward, his face so close that Harry could feel hot breath against his lips.

“Because this is what we do, Mr. Potter. I provoke, you react. In the past it was but a delicious game that I enjoyed and you seemed largely unaware of, but now I am in the unfortunate position of having to reveal it, for it appears it will be the only way for you to wake up and shift course. It is not something I can tell you. The book can’t tell you. It is something you must experience for yourself in order to understand.”

Harry stepped back. “That’s why you charmed the book in your office.”

“Yes. The book was meant to get you to my office. The charm was meant to show you, to get you to think, to feel, to learn.” As he said this, he shoved the book against Harry’s chest. “At least then we would both have our answers.”

Harry swallowed, holding Snape’s gaze. “What answers?” he asked, but Snape scoffed and moved away. He walked over to his sofa and sat down in the center of it, spreading his arms out across the back.

“What answers?” Harry asked again.

“I don't know, Mr. Potter – you tell me.”

Harry was distantly aware that Snape was, once again, provoking him, but somehow he couldn’t bring himself to care this time. Being aware of it was only adding to the energy of the situation, pulsing through his veins like live wire. Was it Snape he needed? Or just what Snape could bring out in him? He knew he had to be sure.

He walked over to the sofa – something that proved difficult to do gracefully with his cock straining against his zip – and came to a stop in front of Snape. Even if the man hadn’t already touched it, there was no way he could’ve missed the tented front of Harry’s jeans.

“I noticed you gave Harper the dominant role in the book,” Harry said.

“Did it feel good to read that? To read about someone in control of his life?” Snape all but snarled at him, but Harry refused to take the bait. Defensiveness, especially in Snape, meant Harry was heading in the right direction.

“I was just surprised you’d allow that.”

“Who says I do? It is called fiction for a reason.”

“Is it?” Harry shot back. He was aroused and frustrated, and wasn’t sure where this was going, exactly, but he’d come here for this man and there was no way he was going to back down now. They held each other’s stare until Snape arched one elegant, black brow at him. Another challenge, then.

Harry accepted without hesitation.

He began unbuttoning his jeans, watching as those black eyes tracked the slow movements of his hand. Harry kept the jeans on, though; only the front flap was open, revealing bare skin underneath. He knelt down on the sofa, positioning himself directly over Snape’s lap. Snape’s hands did not move from the back of the sofa, though Harry noticed more tension in the man’s grip.

“And why, may I ask, are you manhandling my person?” Snape radiated agitation and something else, something darker and inexplicably more alluring.

“Chapter 8,” Harry said.

“Pardon me?”

“Shaun and Harper’s encounter in Chapter 8. Do you remember it?”

Something self-satisfied flickered across Snape’s face; surprisingly, he did not mask it. “The sofa.”

“Yes,” Harry confirmed, “except I’m re-writing it.” He tipped Snape’s chin back with a finger. “You don’t come until I do.”

Harry saw the heat ignite in Snape’s gaze as those long fingers moved to close around his cock, barely touching, just tracing around the contours of his head and shaft as though Snape was reading him like body-Braille. Snape closed his eyes for a moment, taking in a long breath through his nose, but he continued to pull Harry slowly, skillfully. It was driving Harry mad, but he was too transfixed by the visual of this man’s hand on his cock to do anything about it.

Harry pulled off his shirt and shook his hair back into its usual disarray, glad to see Snape was avidly looking his fill of toned abdomen, pert nipples and sculpted arms. Harry was never more pleased that he’d kept himself in shape over the years. It had been a requirement of his job back when he was doing mostly field work, but since he’d always enjoyed physical activity, it had been an easy habit to maintain. It’s why he gardened without magic. Lugging 40-pound bags of soil around the yard and manipulating lawn equipment had proven to be a great way to stay in shape.

“Beautiful,” Snape murmured, almost tracing those words into Harry’s skin as he said it, his fingers still teasing, exploring.

Harry looked up, oddly touched by the compliment. Why had he never thought Snape capable of this? At Hogwarts, his professor had always seemed so cold and unyielding, but the man whose lap Harry was now astride, this was a totally different man – a warm-bodied one, with needs like his own, a man who could allow himself to be vulnerable in the face of his desires.

Suddenly, Harry wanted more. He lurched forward and attached his mouth to the junction of neck and shoulder, nibbling up a sharp jawline, his lips catching slightly against the rough stubble of a cheek. He traced his tongue around the shell of a pale ear, something inside of him thrilling at finally having this man in his grasp. “Fuck me,” he said, his lips against Snape’s skin.

“I am not in the habit of bedding married men, Mr. Potter.”

“I haven’t been properly married for over a year now and you know it. And for fuck’s sake, it’s Harry. You’ve got your hand around my cock, I think a little familiarity is in order.”

Harry could feel the soft breath of Snape’s laugh against his neck – Severus, he should probably start thinking of the man as Severus – and he rolled his hips forward, searching for friction. It was the only thing that could put out this fire. Or maybe it would simply stoke what was already there, fanning the flames until it was a roaring inferno, reducing him to ash. Either way, he wanted to feel this again. Needed to feel it. And especially with this particular man. “Fuck. Me,” he repeated, louder and with deliberate enunciation.

Severus just smirked at him. “If you insist. Harry.”

The low timbre of Severus’ voice, and the sultry promise it made, sent ripples of arousal down Harry’s spine. He jumped off Severus’ lap and shoved his jeans down, kicking them off along with his shoes, not caring where anything landed. He’d purposely not worn any underwear or socks; they’d seemed unnecessary given the purpose of his visit.

Standing there naked in front of Severus, the man openly appraising him, Harry felt liberated. And really fucking horny. Shallow gasps of breath drove his need forward, a slow burn that rose up within him. Suddenly all of the build-up was just too much. He didn’t want to talk about this anymore. He didn’t want to negotiate or embark on more verbal jousting. He just needed—

Severus grabbed him and yanked him back down onto the sofa so he was straddling over the man’s lap again. When had Severus removed his clothes? Harry wondered vaguely, but let the thought evaporate at the sensation of finally feeling that heated skin against his own. His hands began to explore everywhere – up a slender chest, across two small nipples and a protruding collar bone, down to a navel and the wiry patch of hair leading to the man’s velvety cock. Harry pulled it gently, but with a sure hand, teasing Severus in the same manner he’d been teased.

Severus tipped his head back against the sofa with a soft sigh, his eyes closed. His mouth was open slightly, his breathing becoming more erratic the longer Harry stroked. It was unlike anything Harry’d ever witnessed before from the normally oh-so-composed man. He’d barely got his rhythm going when Severus’ hand shot out and grabbed Harry’s wrist, stilling them both.

“Position?” Severus rasped out.

“Ride you,” Harry said, and grabbed Severus’ face with his hands to crush their mouths together, their first kiss more tongue than lips, a heated exchange of introduction, seduction and want. For Harry, it was like pouring petrol on his desire, the fire so hot now he felt almost out of control with it. But he liked it that way. The best sex for him had always been underscored by urgency, something primal and raw.

Two lubed fingers pressed gently against his opening and Harry almost came just from that. He squeezed hard around the base of his cock and willed his breathing to slow a bit, waiting as patiently as possible for his body to be stretched. It wasn’t the first time he’d had sex with a man, of course; he’d just never ached for it before. It was merely a spot of fun here and there, something in his repertoire, but not done often enough to make him think there was more to it. He hadn’t realized it was what he needed until now, after he’d gone so long without it. After all, he’d been married for fourteen years. Twelve of those years had involved the rearing of his children, so he could convince himself he’d been suitably distracted then. The other two he’d been a newlywed, and had enthusiastically enjoyed all manner of sex with his wife.

But now…

Now something bigger and more insistent than a finger nudged his opening, and every cell in Harry’s body returned its attention to the man before him. Relaxing his body, Harry bore down as he slowly impaled himself on that impressive girth, clutching Severus’ shoulders for support. He inhaled sharply when he finally felt his arse pressing against Severus’ thighs. Feeling the man fully seated inside of him, feeling this particular feeling of fullness again after so long an absence, felt like coming home.

Lifting himself slightly, Harry began to roll his hips in a slow, smooth motion, setting the pace, just enough to propel himself off that thick cock and back down upon it again. Anchoring himself with one hand on Severus’ forearm, the other grasping a fistful of hair at the base of Severus’ neck, he leaned closer and kissed the man again. It ended up a clash of lips and teeth and tongues, both men panting their pleasure and exertion into each other’s mouths, but to Harry, it was perfection.

“Let me see you,” Severus growled against Harry’s lips, then pulled his head back and repositioned his hands at Harry’s hips. As Harry leaned forward to slide off Severus’ cock, he had barely got to the top of his range of motion before Severus tightened his grip and yanked him back down again.

Harry groaned, closing his eyes and enjoying the sensation of being entered so roughly. Severus did it again, and again, and again, relentless and precise, his knees spreading and feet planting to give himself more leverage, each succession getting more and more erratic as the man moved towards his precipice. And Harry gave back as good as he got, grinding his hips down, wanting all of it, wanting to feel every inch.

Harry slid a hand down his body to grasp his cock. The head was purple by now and he knew it wouldn’t take much to bring himself off. Sure enough, it was four pulls, root to tip, before he pushed himself headlong into that white-hot oblivion.

Fuckfuckohgodohgodohgod…!” Harry gasped as he came, his pulses decorating both their chests. He noticed Severus fighting to keep his eyes open, waiting, watching Harry stroke himself to climax before allowing himself to follow… just as Harry’d commanded. (He wasn’t prepared for how much that would turn him on.) Then Severus grunted, the flush on his high cheekbones confirming he’d just come as well, and quite spectacularly, if the grip digging into Harry’s hips was any indication.

How could Harry ever have predicted that this man – this man – would be the one to make him feel like this? And not just the physical sensations, but everything. Harry had only managed simultaneous orgasms with a man twice before, and knew those were probably just a combination of luck and over-stimulation. With Severus it felt different but he couldn’t put his finger on why. Somehow they’d just sensed each other’s pleasure, where they were in their arc, their bodies perfectly in sync with each other. It wasn’t just chemistry, it was magic. Their magic. Compatible, sympathetic, electric.

Then again, if he’d been paying attention all these years, it really shouldn’t have been all that surprising.

Utterly drained, Harry slumped against Severus, feeling their hearts thudding against each other where their chests were pressed together. It took some time for their breathing to restore itself, as though whatever fire had ripped its way through the room had also zapped all the oxygen in the air, but right now Harry didn’t care. He had no desire to move. He wasn’t even sure he could.

Curiously, though, he felt far from sated. In fact, this hadn’t even begun to scratch the itch. Maybe it never would; maybe something this intense wasn’t meant to ever be done. With any luck, he’d get to look forward to their next go-round – oh, to be eighteen again and ready to go in a few minutes’ time; the best he could hope for now would be a slow, leisurely fuck in the middle of the night, or perhaps another glorious shag in the morning before breakfast. Harry didn’t much care, as long as this would never have to stop. As long as it would never have to stop being exactly what – or who – he needed.

 

# # #

 

Two Months Later

When the kids were with their mum, Harry made it a point to spend as much of that time as he could with Severus. The kids had taken news of their parents’ divorce with equanimity, something for which he and Ginny were both grateful, but Harry hadn’t yet told them about Severus. He wanted some time to establish the relationship with just the two of them first, before scaring the man off with his precocious kids and crazy in-laws. Though, thankfully, Severus already knew the Weasleys, so there would be no surprises on either side there. In fact, thanks to their shared history, he and Severus had been able to skip over many of the ‘new relationship’ hurdles typical to other couples. Sure, it hadn’t been romantic history they shared, but that aspect, while new for them, had proved to be just as easy and natural to adapt to as the rest. And certainly the most enjoyable.

Their favorite pastime was re-enacting scenes from the book – not that they needed the ideas. They’d already had sex on the chaise in the library (twice). Across the desk in Harry’s study. Out in Severus’ greenhouse. In both of their beds (several times). Next to the kitchen table, within reach of the wine rack and the bowl of fruit. In the shower (a favorite). Up against the house while standing barefoot in Harry’s garden.

They liked to indulge themselves whenever and wherever the mood – or the opportunity – struck. Such as in the Governor’s box at the opera. They’d been invited by one of Severus’ colleagues but, by halfway through, they realized their box-mates weren’t going to show. One glance at each other was all it took.

They had remained seated with their hands to themselves, looking, by all appearances, very proper and engrossed in the show. Yet underneath their clothing, a different story unfolded. Sometimes, being a wizard was a wonderfully useful thing.

Harry was inordinately pleased he had been able to bring Severus off with his wandless, er, caressing. For himself, he’d already been well on his way just at the idea of what they were attempting, so at the first touch of Severus’ magic (to his mind, no less – ever the Legilimens) he all but came untouched. Thankfully, his release was timed with the crescendo of the music, so he didn’t have to cough away a groan. He was clapping enthusiastically for more than one reason that night.

Now that it was the end of November and close to the holidays, Harry decided he would just wait until Christmas to tell his kids about Severus. He wasn’t worried about Al’s and Lily’s reactions (both had already proven their interest), but since James was still the unknown, Harry wanted to be sure they’d all hear the news at the same time.

Smiling, Harry turned his head to look at Severus. They were sitting on Harry’s sofa together and he was telling stories about his children, offering up anecdotes and background information before they had the formal introduction. “You know that Al is going to pester you about potions every chance he can get, right?”

“I would expect nothing less,” Severus said. “Frankly, it is a relief to know that at least one of your Potterlings has some sense.”

Harry laughed in mock-affront and shot a playful Aguamenti at his lover, but Severus’ smirk – and his shield charm – were too quick.

 

# # #

 

Harry didn’t know if it was being in a relationship with a man that was making everything in his life click again, or if it was specifically to do with Severus, but he liked to think it was the latter. He’d thought he had everything he needed with Ginny – except the mind-blowing confluence of masculine energies and appetites that was his current sex life. It made him squirm just to think about it. Plus, his lover was fucking brilliant. And an excellent cook. And (as he would soon find out) great with his kids. And just the right mix of belligerent and supportive to ensure Harry would never get complacent again.

He’d thanked the man several times (and in several positions) for giving him that kick in the arse four months ago. It was amazing having passion in his life again. And not just the physical variety, satisfying as that was. He was already looking into some new opportunities for work, things he was excited about and had only ever dreamed of trying before, and planned to be done at the Ministry by the end of the year. Even better was the discovery that his kids were just as excited about the change as he was. It pained him to think he’d put that area of his life on hold for so long, afraid of alienating himself from his kids and losing what he’d built. If he had just asked them – instead of glossing over it with his own fear of change – he could have saved himself a lot of time and heartache.

But he supposed that was the way of things. It wasn’t something he could be told, it was something he had to experience. Severus had been right: the answers were within. Harry had thought he meant the book, that the answers were literally inside for him to read. And while that was certainly true, he now understood the other meaning as well: the answers were within him. They always had been there, with or without the addition of Snape’s racy prose.

Yes, fucking brilliant, all right.

Harry learned passion didn’t always have to be some grand, noble purpose. Believing so was just an excuse to avoid putting himself out into the world – his real self, not the vanquisher-of-Voldemort everyone thought they knew. Making himself happy meant others would follow. Passion, as it turned out, was as infectious as it was contagious.

The people who loved Harry didn’t care what he did for a job or hobbies or weekend art classes. Only that he… did.

 

# # #

 

Harry woke with a sleep-warmed body wrapped around him, one arm curled tightly around his chest, and a cock poking his backside. How they ever made it to the bed, he had no recollection. He didn’t even know what time it was. He smiled to himself and rubbed back against that length. A soft inhalation of breath told him Severus was also awake.

“I am afraid you may need to get used to this for the foreseeable future. I don’t think it is used to finding Harry Potter in bed yet. Perhaps it will never be.”

It?”

“Yes, Potter. It. My cock. Do not even think about giving it some ridiculous name.”

Harry chuckled. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”

Severus slid his hand down a smooth abdomen and gave Harry’s cock a squeeze.

“Which reminds me,” Harry said with a gasp, trying to push his hips into Severus’ hand, “I think we need to give page 289 a try. I’m partial to that one.” He stretched across the bed to the night table, grabbed his copy of Almost a Gentleman, and handed it to Severus.

Harry had the page in question dog-eared, but it was hardly necessary, for the book flopped open easily to that spot. The paper was roughened and didn’t lay quite right, as if it had got wet at some point.

“Why is this page so wrinkled?” Severus asked.

Harry grinned sheepishly. “I, uh… I like that scene. Might have accidentally got some on the page.”

Severus rolled his eyes, but Harry could tell he was pleased.

“Hang on. Now that I’m here, does this mean you aren’t going to write any more books? You aren’t going to leave the fans of Harper and Shaun hanging, are you?”

“I hadn’t really thought about it,” Severus admitted.

“Well, your first book was pretty successful.”

“For me, perhaps. I’ve no idea about the mewling masses.”

Harry tipped his head. “So you did really publish this? It wasn’t just the copy for Hermione to find?”

“What makes you ask such a thing?”

“You’re Slytherin. There’s always an angle.”

Severus smirked.

Harry took the book out of Severus’ hands and inspected it. “So there’s millions of copies of this floating around out there?”

Millions?” Severus laughed – a rich, deep, hedonistic sound that stirred something inside Harry. He had made Severus laugh – and properly, too, not just a polite chuckle to appease his ego. “Your naïveté in these matters is utterly charming, Harry, though I certainly appreciate your attempt at a compliment. I assure you, there is nothing even remotely close to a million copies of anything of mine in print. I believe the first run of my book was contracted for five hundred copies. If it vets itself, a second printing may yield as many as two to five thousand copies.” Severus shook his head. “Millions…” He looked at Harry, his features softening somehow. “Promise me you will never lose that child-like wonder.”

Harry smiled. “Not a chance. It was my child-like wonder that made a gentleman out of you!”

Almost,” Severus replied, and Harry laughed, his smile turning sly.

“Then I suppose we’ll just have to develop some new material.”

Severus rolled his body so it was mostly covering Harry’s and started kissing his way down Harry’s jawline and throat. His movements were slow and languid, but all the more sensual for it.

“Yes… lots more… material,” Harry agreed with a sigh, obliging the exploration by lifting his chin. “Might take years, in fact.” Severus hummed but did not answer, so Harry asked again. “How many years, do you think?”

Severus lifted his lips from Harry’s skin, his brow furrowed. It was clear he hadn’t been paying attention. “Years for what?”

“To gather enough material for another book. How many years do you think that’ll take?”

Severus’ gaze darkened, his eyes full of undisguised lust. “All of them, I suspect.”

 

 

~ Fin ~