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Complete header information may be found in Part One. You may find all parts of this story by clicking the The Lovers' Circle tag.

The Lovers' Circle, Part Three

Almost a week later, the Deputy Headmaster of Hogwarts, preparing himself for the start of the next term, entered his office to find Ron Weasley waiting for him.

"I know about France," the young man said without preamble, "and Harry's at the Burrow, in case you were wondering."

Severus took his chair. He knew exactly where Potter was, having gone out of his way to find the boy when he had discovered him nowhere to be found at the school upon his return. "Thank you for the inform—"

"I know that you told him, too. . . . Thanks for that," Ron said, concern evident on his features. "Harry's . . . hurt, Snape, and I think he needs you."

"What are you talking about? I raped the boy. He hardly requires—"

"Shut it, you obstinate fool," Ron said with the casual Gryffindor bravery that had made Severus despise the members of that house for years. "You will see Harry."

"Mr. Weasley—Auror Weasley—while I permitted your justifiable thrashing of some weeks ago, you are not in a position to tell me how to conduct myself. I'll thank you to get. Out. Of. My. Sight."

"Feeling some better, are you? Good. Harry's not. You two need to talk things out, and he's too afraid to make the first move. I'm not going to permit you to save yourself the embarrassment that seeing him will cause you. It wasn't your fault, but you did rape Harry, and he needs you."

"I am the last thing that he needs," Severus whispered, feeling helpless and lost, and wishing again that his sodding, manipulative, all-knowing father-figure had not died, abandoning him to his own free will. Albus, I don't know what to do. "Why do you think that Ha—that Potter—needs me?"

"I'll let you work that out on your own, mate," Ron said, surprising Severus by the kindness in his voice. "I know it's hard, this, but it's what you've got. . . . Please, just come and see him, all right?"

It was not "all right," but the Potions master nodded his agreement, and then Weasley left him, too. Fuck.

"Fuck," Harry muttered, watching Severus Snape walk stiffly toward him as he sat in the Weasley's back garden puffing out rings of chilled air. Why is he here? Ron. Damn it, Ron! I told you not to inter

"Mr. Potter."

"Dep—Sna—Severus," Harry said, tripping over the man's titles and finding his name as he worked through his fear.

He knew it was stupid—it had been the spell, not Ron or Severus—but the memory was still fresh. He dreamt of the rape every night. He could not forget the pain or the pleasure, and now the attack was inextricably tied to his vengeful murder of Draco Malfoy. He was a murderer and a coward, and he did not know what to do or how to feel. And Severus, well, how to feel about him was the most confusing problem of all.

"Yes, please call me that," he said, And not something worse.

Severus felt like an idiot, being so very afraid of one slender, delicate, abused boy. Of course, the memory of how Harry had torn Draco Malfoy apart before his eyes was still fresh in his mind, and also the sound of his screams, Harry's screams, as he had . . . . "All right . . . Harry. May I join you?"

"Sure," the boy replied, scooting over to make room on the bench upon which he was sitting.

"Mr. Weasley indicated that you might wish to speak to me."

"That's not what I 'indicated', but since you've made the trip . . . ."

"He feels that you are not doing well."

"Is that what he said, then?"

"Among other things."

Harry blew another breath ring and allowed his mind to blank. It was peaceful, he thought, to think of nothing.

Severus turned to regard the young man, watching his mouth form the rings of frigid air in fascination. He decided to try it himself, for want of anything better to do, but managed only a few wheezing breaths without any form.

"Takes practice, I guess."

"Apparently."

"You said . . . you said that you enjoyed it."

Severus closed his eyes, but opened them again at once when the image of what he had enjoyed played across his inner-eyelids. "Fuck. . . . Yes, so I did."

"It . . . hurt."

The Potions master found that squeezing his eyes shut blotted out any unwanted images. "I imagine—I know—that it did. I am very sorry to have . . . injured you."

"You raped me."

"Yes."

"And it hurt, but . . . it . . . I . . . fuck."

Please stop saying that, Severus thought, pulling a stale packet of fags out of his robes and placing one between his teeth and muttering, "Incendio!"

Harry watched the other wizard wandlessly light his cigarette and then reached for the packet before the man could replace it in his robes. He took a fag for himself, said, "Accio Mr. Weasley's lighter," and reached out a hand to capture the item as it floated up from underneath the bench. In response to Snape's unspoken query, he said, "Molly doesn't like Arthur to smoke in the house."

"Ah. I . . . see," Severus said after exhaling a long line of smoke from his lungs. "I was not aware that you partook of tobacco, Mr. Potter."

"Muggle custom."

"I beg your pardon?"

"To smoke after sex."

"Christ!" Severus spat, tossing his cigarette away with some force.

He made no other move, as he had lost all power to his limbs.

Harry, gathering his courage, remarked, "Actually, I'm sure he thinks she believes him about quitting, but you know that—"

"What. Do. You. Want. From. Me?"

"I was just getting to that. You said—no, you thought at me, didn't you?—that you enjoyed it. I . . . want," Harry stopped, thinking, To forget. To never feel that trapped again. To have you kiss me and mean it even without the spell. "To know why."

"Why, Mr. Potter? Why I enjoyed raping you?"

"Yeah."

Because you're a beautiful boy, and I've desired you for—"Because of the spell. Why else?" he asked, folding his arms over his chest to hold his heart inside of it. No chance, no chance at all that he'd ever

"Oh. I see. I'm . . . sorry for what I said about the smoking. That . . . was cruel. It wasn't you."

"Yes, Mr. Potter, it was I who—"

"I wish you'd call me Harry."

"You do?"

"I do."

"Why?"

"Because I enjoyed it, too," Harry whispered so quietly that Severus could barely hear him.

He enjoyed it? "What the hell are you—this is absurd!" the wizard declared, standing and striding across the lawn.

"Please stop."

It was not a request. The boy's tone held a begging quality to it that forcibly reminded Snape of the last time he had heard Potter entreat him, and he froze instantly. He needed to be sick, in spite of the fact that he had not eaten anything in preparation for his meeting. The sound of snow crunching underfoot told him that Harry was approaching, and his mind gave an incoherent shout of terror.

"I did. I'm not lying. Not all of it—not the violence, not even really the fact that I thought it was Ron . . . inside of me, but—and I'm ashamed of it, you know—I did feel . . . ."

"It is sometimes that way, I believe. One's bodily responses—"

"Don't. Don't try to rationalize it, please," Harry asked, moving to stand in front of Severus. "I'm confused, hurt, scared—but I know how I felt about you before it happened."

"What?"

"I wanted you. I have for a long time now. Years, really, since Sixth Year."

"That is not possible." I started fantasizing about you about that time. No. It's not possible that—"No, Harry, you are confused. I will do whatever I can to . . . ease that confusion, but I will not take advantage of you."

In a competent impersonation of the Potions master, Harry said, "'You have only to apply to Mr. Weasley to learn the truth'," replaying Snape's own words back to him. "Ron told me everything. I know how much you must hate yourself for what you did—what you were made to do—and I don't want that. It's not fair."

"It is what it is, Harry. We cannot change what occurred between us in that clearing."

"True. We can't. But we don't have to let it hurt us more than it already has, Severus."

"What do you want from me?"

"What do you want from me?"

Nothing that I can in good conscience . . . take from you, Severus thought, searching Harry's face for some sign of distress, anything to prove to him that the boy was approaching him out of an inappropriate need. Finding nothing, he replied, "I want you to heal."

"Funny," the younger wizard said, smiling slightly, "that's what I want, as well, for you."

"I will never forgive myself for my carelessness."

"I hope that's not true. It was mine, too."

Yes, it was.

"I shouldn't have tried to touch the Lovers' Circle. I know that. I blame my—"

"Do not. You could not have foreseen—"

"Yes, I could have. I'm trained for it, badly it seems, but somewhat prepared in any case. I was stupid, and we both got hurt."

At any other time, Severus would have enjoyed taking note of Harry's acceptance of his own recklessness. This moment was not such a time. He reached out to touch the boy's face, cupping it with his right, gloved palm, and was profoundly moved when Harry leaned into his touch.

"Oh, that's . . . . God, Severus, I'm so sorry," he said, reaching out to hold the other wizard.

Severus held him back, and hide his tears in Harry's hair. "You should be wearing a hat. It's freezing out here."

Harry snorted against his chest, and said, "I know that you're crying."

Squeezing the boy tighter, the Potions master made no other response.

"It will be all right, you know."

"Will it?"

"If you let it be."

"Just let it be all right, then. That easy, is it?"

"I forgive you, Severus," Harry told him solemnly, pulling away enough so that he could turn his head up to see the man's face. "I know that it wasn't you."

"I want it to be me," Severus said so quickly that he hardly registered the words, but the emotion he felt in the face of Harry's absolution was so strong that something broke inside of him and slid free, taking it with it his tears—all of them.

Some time later, as Harry cradled him in the snow where they had fallen, he realized that he had lost all feeling in his feet and knees. The young man seemed to understand, and cast a warming spell on them both, moving slowly into a crouch.

"I'd say it was time we got ourselves home, wouldn't you?"

"Home?"

"Hogwarts."

"Harry, I . . . ."

"Shh, let me help you," Harry said, helping Severus to his feet. "I want to go home."

"Then home you shall go."

"May I . . . stay with you tonight?" the boy asked, looking preemptively downcast as if he had already been refused.

"I've wanted that for longer than I will ever admit, but I just can't. It's too soon."

"For sleeping?"

"What?"

"I just want to sleep—next to you—I wouldn't expect—"

Severus stepped away from Harry, pulled the packet of cigarettes out of his robes, and took them to Arthur Weasley's stash of Muggle smoking products, secreting it therein. "Just making sure."

The genuine amusement on the boy's features made him smirk.

"Right. Home. To sleep."

"And not to dream."

"Eventually, I'd like to do that again."

"Dream?"

"Yes."

"I'll . . . see to it that you do."

"Severus, that sounds very much like a romantic sentiment," Harry accused mildly, stepping into the wizard's arms in preparation for Disapparating.

"The cold has clearly affected your hearing."

"My mistake," Harry said.

And then they were standing in the middle of Severus' office.

"How?" the Potions master asked, thoroughly shocked.

"Voldemort asked that, too," the younger wizard replied casually, apparently finding his display of power in breaching Hogwarts' anti-Apparation wards nothing remarkable. "I didn't answer him."

"Yes, I believe that you did, Harry. Do you realize—"

"How powerful I am?" the man asked, pausing to yawn before answering. "Yes, I do. You should probably remember it."

The subtle, unexpected threat sent a frisson of fear flying up Severus' spine.

"Oh!" Harry exclaimed, seeing how his words had been taken. "That's not what I—I wasn't threatening you. I only meant that I'm not weak, not fragile—I won't break."

Won't you? Severus thought, suddenly furious. "You could have stopped me. You could have stopped it."

"Hell, perhaps I could have, but not without hurting someone I loved."

The generosity inherent in such a declaration was completely foreign to Severus, who felt humbled and unworthy in the face of its bearer. His anger draining away, he closed his eyes. "Albus was right."

"About what?"

"About you. He told me that he knew you'd win because you never gave in to your baser nature, not truly, that you always chose to love rather than to hate, that you could control your magic and not become corrupted by it. I laughed at him. I laughed at him and he let me do it. . . . I do not deserve your . . . affection, Harry. I have always elected to hate."

"Open your eyes and look at me."

Severus did so. There was no mistaking the emotion in Harry's eyes.

"It's the truth. It's me. It's what I feel for you. Please let me."

"Please let you. Fuck."

"Not tonight," Harry said, taking the man's hand and pulling him toward him. "Perhaps not for a very long time," he continued, drawing the wizard's arms about his body and leaning into him. "But eventually, you and I will be together. We will. And it will be—"

"Beautiful," Severus whispered into Harry's hair, kissing the man's head and holding him tightly. "You forgive me."

"I do. It wasn't you."

"But this is. This is me, here with you," Severus said wonderingly, bending his head down to lightly press his lips to Harry's.

"And this," the wizard said, breaking the kiss briefly, "is me, here with you."

They slept in their clothing under a coverlet sharing breath and plagued by no dreams that night, and in the morning, they woke up intertwined in each other's warm limbs, their fingers meeting their mates behind each other's backs.

"G'morning," Harry murmured, blinking sleepily at Severus.

"Yes."

"I think I'm hungry."

I know I am, the Potions master thought, shifting a little away from the other man.

"'s'all right. It's normal in the morning. I . . . I don't mind," Harry said uneasily.

"Bathroom's the first door on the right in the corridor," Severus said, rolling up to sit. "I need to dress and get to a meeting."

"Hey."

"Yes?"

"Are you . . . are you mad at—"

"Not at you, Harry. At myself. I should not have—"

"It's not going to be that easy, is it?" the Auror asked, reaching out to pick up his glasses from the side table.

"No."

"They—the Weasleys—think I'm upset about Voldemort."

Pulling on his dressing gown, Severus asked, "Are you?"

"I thought I would be, but I'm not. I'm not sorry he's dead. But I can't even look at Ron."

"That must be a strain, inasmuch as you are living in his home."

"He's staying with Hermione at the novitiate, actually."

"Are you in love with Ronald Weasley?" Severus asked, his mouth going dry at the thought.

"What? No. I . . . he was my first, you know, crush, and I love him, certainly. But . . . but, no, not like that. . . . I just can't seem to be around him."

Then why are you living in his home? And what the hell do you think you're doing, Severus? he asked himself, now that the cold dawn had risen to blot out the warmth of Harry's forgiveness. It was wrong to accept it. I was wrong to allow this. Fuck. I don't know what to do. Steeling himself against feeling anything, he formulated an appropriate reply to Harry's statement. "That is understandable, Harry. It . . . it will pass."

But it did not pass, Severus noted, as he conducted a meeting of the Order. Harry sat at one end of the table, Ron at the other, and Hermione—Ever the diplomat, Snape thought with no great charity—sat at a distance between them. The mood was cheerful, though strained, for everyone was exhausted. The elation caused by the Dark Lord's death was mitigated by the mop-up that yet needed to occur, and Severus felt guilty as he gave orders and handed out assignments. His last act was to return Harry to duty, something that he would have avoided doing if it had been at all possible.

In the weeks since their . . . discussion, Severus had kept tabs on the Auror's progress, and Harry seemed to be bearing up well. He was glad of that, truly, but he did not know how to feel about the fact that the boy had not made any attempt to speak with him. He supposed it was for the best. He had kept himself busy with his myriad duties, and kept himself from company. It seemed easier that way.

Ron Weasley, he saw when the meeting concluded, also seemed to be avoiding Harry. It concerned him, but he felt as though he had, in spite of whatever declarations he and Harry had made to one another, no right to interfere in his personal life. God, but I'm tired, he thought, rubbing his eyes. Tired and spent and useless.

"Professor Snape?" Hermione asked, interrupting his self-pity.

Snape looked up from his paperwork and saw that he and the witch were the only two people remaining in the room. "Yes?"

Hermione cast a looking charm on the door, and came to sit at the chair closest to him. "I'm sorry to intrude—"

"Then don't."

"But when the International Wizarding Cooperation Caucus sent its Aurors to the site in France, they found this," she told him, handing him a blood-stained book that she had pulled out of her robes. "I took it from the other evidence that they had collected and sent to Headquarters because . . . because I could, Sir."

The wizard carefully opened the leather volume and leafed through it until a particular, familiar illustration—annotated in Draco Malfoy's handwriting—called itself to his attention. His heart stopped.

"Apparently, whoever Malfoy got to brew the potions necessary for the . . . Lovers' Circle was incompetent. If he or she had not been . . . ."

"I would have killed him, too."

Hermione said nothing and kept her expression empty.

"You . . . are to be, that is to say, Harry is fortunate in his choice of friends."

"I didn't just do it for him, Sir."

"Miss Granger—"

"Deputy Headmaster," she interrupted, giving him his title so that he would understand the depth of her respect for him, "it didn't just happen to Harry. Only Ron, Harry, you, and I know," she added quickly in response to the hardening of his eyes. "Only the four of us will ever know."

Gratitude and relief washed through the wizard, and he asked, "Did he tell you about what happened—in France?"

"I'm glad you were there for him, Sir."

"Of course."

"Sir, the reason I . . . I bring it up is because you're in charge now, and . . . you need to look after yourself, too."

"I am perfectly capable of—"

"I'm not talking about your competence—that's indisputable—I'm talking about allowing yourself to heal."

"Are you attempting to manage me, Auror Granger?" Snape asked, more acerbically than he had intended.

"Yes, actually."

"I appreciate your foresight in removing this," he said, indicating Malfoy's journal with a jerk of his hand, "but I do not require—"

He stopped speaking when the witch reached for and grasped his hand. "You've refused every honor you've earned, Professor, and you're bearing up well, considering, but if you need anything, anything at all, you have only to apply to me. Everyone needs looking after, even you, especially after what happened."

He pulled his hand free and said, "I do not deserve your pity."

"Oh, it's not pity, not entirely, Sir. It's pragmatism. We've still work to do, and you're our leader. We cannot afford to lose another one, not so soon after the Headmaster."

"What a good little soldier you are."

Hermione sighed. "Well, I'll leave the journal with you. Forgive my concern. I won't trouble you with it again."

Her words should have been caustic, but Severus could feel the concern inherent in them. He sighed as well, and stopped the witch before she could leave by saying, "I appreciate your . . . efforts. Take care of Harry, please."

"Always, Sir."

When she left, Severus felt more lonely than he had ever been.

I want to see Harry, he thought, rising and exiting the room. I need to see him.

But the young man was not at the Burrow, nor was he in his chambers at Hogwarts. A perverse impulse made Snape decide to revisit the clearing. He found that he was not the only one similarly moved to go to the scene of the attack.

Harry and Ron were standing amidst the ruins of the Lovers' Circle looking at each other in the frigid air and not speaking. Severus hid himself behind a tree, and waited.

"Are you sure this is what you want, mate?" Ron asked, his voice sounding oddly resolute and strained. "Because if it's what you need, you can have it."

"I shouldn't have asked. I just . . . can't stand not . . . can't keep being afraid of you," Harry almost whispered.

"I'd never hurt you."

"I know that."

"And I want you to stop being afraid."

"Yeah, but—"

"But?"

"You're not . . . gay."

"You aren't, either," Ron said, his voice sounding lightly mocking. "But I did teach you to wank, didn't I?" he continued, desire curling through his voice.

Fuck, Severus thought, feeling his trousers tighten. I need to leave.

But he did not leave. Desire rooted him to the spot, jealousy and concern and fear rushing through his veins.

"There wasn't any touching," Harry said, sounding embarrassed. "And with Hermione—"

"There was touching when I sucked you off after Cedric died."

Harry did not respond to that, and Severus strained to hear anything beyond the crunching of snow that reached his ears. Finally, he could not stand not knowing, and he cast an invisibility charm on himself and crept around the tree. What he saw made his knees weak: Ron had drawn Harry into a strong, careful embrace, and was kissing his friend with great tenderness. Harry was quivering—in passion or fear, the Potions master could not discern. Beautiful, he thought, releasing any jealousy in the face of the love being shared before him.

He realized in this moment that he had never truly understood the concept of friendship.

Ron pulled away, leaving Harry gasping and needy and hard. "I won't hurt you. This isn't about that, you understand me?"

"Yes."

The taller wizard removed his robes and spread them over the ground. "Aesto!" he cast, and the warmth of his spell rolled over Severus in a comforting wave.

"You're a gentleman, Ron Weasley," Harry said nervously, sliding out of his own robes and handing them to the other wizard.

Ron spread Harry's robes out over his own, and murmured a cushioning charm, as well, before straightening to regard his friend. "You sure?"

"Ye—es, yes, I'm sure."

"I've always liked seeing you blush, Harry," Weasley said, his voice low and seductive.

His words had the pleasing affect of making the more delicate boy flush even more.

Oh, Severus thought, his hands rigid at his sides to prevent them from stroking his own aroused flesh. I will not pleasure myself while . . . .

Slowly, Ron raised his arms to Harry, who stepped into them. They held each other for a moment, thighs pressed together, trembling, and then Weasley took possession of Potter's mouth again. The kiss was thorough, loving, and shattering.

"Please," Harry said, breaking it and running his hands up and down Ron's back, pulling him into his body. "Please, I want . . . ."

"Shh, I know what you want, love. I know," Ron told him, stepping back to kneel on the robes and draw Harry down before him. "I'm going to undress you now, all right?"

"Please."

Severus fell to his own knees to hear the need and fear in Harry's voice, but he did not take his eyes off of the young men.

As Ron undressed Harry, he smoothed his palm over ever inch of exposed flesh, ghosting his fingertips over the boy's hardened nipples.

"Oh!"

"Shh, it's all right, Harry," Ron gentled his lover, laying him down and covering the boy's body with his own. "Shh . . . shh . . . shh," he soothed in between placing careful kisses on Harry's face and throat and chest.

Harry bucked his hips up in a silent demand, but Ron ignored him in favor of sitting back and removing his shirt.

Magnificent, Severus thought, remembering how he had felt when he had worn the young man's body. The enchantment he had used was more stable than it would have been had he taken Polyjuice Potion, but it was not taught because it was considered dark magic. He watched Weasley shuck the rest of his kit and thought, Thank God I studied.

Naked now, both of them, Ron began to lick Harry's skin in long, slow strokes, laughing gently in response to his friend's moans.

"Oh, Ron—please. More."

"You'll have more, love, when I think you're ready for it," Weasley told him, leaning on his right side next to Harry and stroking the boy's trembling body with his left hand in torturously slow movements, "and not before."

Top. Of course. God, Severus thought, his breath coming faster.

When Ron finally laced his fingers lightly around Harry's rigid prick, teasing him with too little pressure, Harry let go a keening groan and pumped hard.

"No, not like that, Harry," the man chastised. "Wait for me. You just take it."

Severus' eyes snapped shut. He did not want to see Harry's terror, which had suddenly become palpable, almost a living thing.

"What? Oh, fuck," Ron spat.

The Potions master opened his eyes then to see that Ron had removed his hand and was no longer touching Harry at all.

"Merlin, but I'm sorry."

A tear trickled out of Harry's eye and rolled into his hair. "No, don't . . . don't be. It's all right."

"We can stop."

"No. I don't want to stop."

"No?"

"No, Ron. Don't stop. Please."

"Right, then. You've had enough teasing," the redhead declared, moving in a smooth rippling of muscled body to lay himself in between Harry's thighs and suck the boy's now half-hard cock into his mouth.

"Fuck!"

Ron did not stop pumping Harry with his mouth, hard, it seemed, as Severus watched the muscles in his jaw work. Up and down, in and out—he suckled the boy's prick relentlessly until Harry screamed his orgasm and the spying wizard fell backward from the force of his own denial.

"Oh! Oh! Oh, God. Ron! So . . . so . . . good," Harry said, his chest heaving from the effort to breathe.

Weasley leisurely lapped at the boy's spent prick, ignoring Harry's painfully erotic whimpers, until he had thoroughly removed every last trace of the explosive climax he had just provided his friend.

"Fuck. No wonder Hermione's marrying you."

Ron chuckled. "Still afraid of me, mate?"

"No."

"That's good, so good, Harry, because I want to be inside of you."

"Oh, oh, yeah—please."

Without a word, Weasley pushed Harry's thighs apart and pulled up some of the magically cushioned robes to form a mound underneath of his ass before he dipped his head down to tongue the needy hole he had just exposed.

"UNGH! OH! GodRONYES!"

Ron laughed, a muffled sound of unadulterated joy, and continued to lick the tight ring of muscle between Harry's spread cheeks.

Severus could not help himself. His hand moved over his prick in rapid strokes. He could not think of anything but release—he almost found it when Ron pushed the first of his fingers into Harry's body.

"Huh, ungh, oh! Fuck," the writhing boy moaned.

"Soon, love. Very soon."

On the edge of orgasm, Severus shuddered his release when Weasley pressed the tip of his prick to Harry's entrance, and then he was fucking the boy in a gentle rhythm, a rhythm the Potions master copied upon himself as he pumped his spending cock free of every last bit of fluid his balls could produce. FUCKYESHARRY! he screamed in his mind, collapsing.

But Harry was oblivious to anything but his own pleasure. His hips undulated with increasing rapidity as Ron plunged into him, deeper with every thrust, making short, barking grunts every time his balls slapped against his lover's ass.

"I'm . . . I'm . . . Fuck! I'm going to . . . Harry!" he cried, shuddering through a final plunge forward into the other boy and collapsing.

Almost immediately, he pulled out and returned his long, thick fingers to Harry's ass, manipulating them inside of his passage until the dark haired, wizard gasped out a shrieking, climactic cry.

Yes, definitely a gentleman. It made Severus' cock twitch to see how Ron pushed Harry toward yet another orgasm before removing his fingers and gathering his friend into a tender, shaking embrace. He he did not stop kissing Harry until the boy was completely still. Both young men then fell into a deep, well-earned sleep.

The Potions master cleaned himself with a spell and then watched over them until they awoke.

"Hey," Ron said, lovingly brushing Harry's fringe out of his eyes. "You okay?"

"Better than. So much better."

"Glad to hear it. God, that was good, Harry."

"Yeah, yeah it was. . . . Thank you."

"You don't have to thank me. I wanted to."

"Does . . . does Herm—"

"Hermione knows everything, love," Ron interrupted, chuckling indulgently as Harry's eyes widened in surprise. "It was her idea."

"Fuck It's just that, that we're usually together for this sort of thing."

Severus was stunned by what Harry's words implied, stunned and . . . excited.

"Don't be upset. It's all right. It's what you needed, and we both wanted you to have it. You know we'd do anything for you, right? Anything, Harry."

"I know. I just hope . . . ."

"What? What do you hope?" Ron asked, pulling Harry closer to him and also pulling the edge of the pile of robes to cover them both.

"That Severus will . . . ."

"Oh, believe me," Ron said with confidence, "he will, Harry. That man loves you. He's in love with you."

Fuck. That's true. Damn you, Weasley!

"How do you know?"

"He let me beat the crap out him, is how."

"What?"

"Sorry," Ron said quickly, though Severus did not think he sounded anything like penitent. "I was so angry when I found out—I forgot myself."

"You hurt Severus?"

You care?

"Not passed the point of healing, mate, but it took some doing not to kill him. I'm sorry, Harry. I couldn't stop—"

"I understand," the boy replied darkly. "I know exactly how you felt."

"Yeah, I guess you did."

"I'm glad he's dead, Ron."

"Me, too, Harry. She was so . . . after. It hurt to see her. There was nothing I could do."

"You knew?"

"Not who did it, of course, but, yeah—I knew that Hermione was raped. It about killed me, her cringing from my touch, after."

"And then me."

"Yeah, and then you. I couldn't have you scared of me, mate. I couldn't bear it. Hermione understood. She understands. It's all right."

"He's a snarking bastard, you know, but I love him. So mu—ch," Harry said, his voice breaking as he began to cry.

Ron evinced no surprise at Harry's change of mood, and held him until the wave of emotion had passed. "Shh, love. It's all right."

"It . . . isn't. He hates . . . himself. I'm afraid he won't . . . because of . . . ."

Severus, choking back a tide of anguish, carefully picked himself up off of the ground and moved back to lean against his original hiding place. Now that the rush of lust had passed, he felt helpless. I don't know what to do. But he did feel his spell beginning to slip, so he stealthily removed himself farther from the clearing and then Disapparated.