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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 Four

In the weeks that followed, he kept himself busy, sending Harry and the others out on missions to capture the last of Voldemort's minions and discussing the future curriculum of the school with Headmistress McGonagall. He tried not to think beyond the immediate, but his longing for Harry nagged at him.

Toward the end of term, Minerva called him to her office—she had never taken Albus'—and told him bluntly, "You look like hell, man. We all miss him, but you cannot allow yourself to fall into a decline. It's not healthy."

"What, no Lemon Sherbert to dull the criticism?" he snapped.

It felt good to snap.

"Much better. Not that I enjoy your usual ill-temper, but I have missed it."

"Minerva . . . ."

"Severus. . . . I think that I'm going to have to insist that you spend the summer holidays someplace other than the school. You need to take care of yourself, and you'll only work if you remain here."

"You can't do that."

"I can't, true. I can fire you, however, and I shall if you refuse me."

"Such gratitude is overwhelming, Headmistress."

"It isn't gratitude, you idiot. It's concern. Albus would be very disappointed in me, indeed, if I did not look after you."

"Albus is dead."

"Yes, I know, but you are not. I'll thank you to stop behaving as if you were."

If you knew what I was, you would not be so ready to care, Severus thought, asking, "Where do you propose I go?"

"I'll leave that to you. Be sure to tell me when you're ready to begin your vacation," the witch said, dismissing him wordlessly by returning to the scroll she had been reading when he had arrived.

The Potions master went back to his quarters and poured himself a Scotch. He spent the evening staring unseeingly into the fire, sifting through a variety of maudlin memories.

He fell asleep in his chair. He had not slept in his bed since the night Harry had shared it with him.

The irritated hooting of a large, snowy owl woke him.

Harry's owl. "Hedwig, how did you get in here?"

The bird hooted again, shifting from leg to leg on the back of his chair.

Severus turned and removed the small sheet of parchment attached to her leg, pulling an owl treat out of his jacket pocket to offer her. She snatched it greedily and devoured it while waiting.

The note said:

"Dear Severus,

"I've taken a flat in London for the summer. It's completely inappropriate for potion-making, of course, but it is close to the theatre and other places of interest. I thought you might like to visit me there, say the second week of summer? I've a spare room, though I hope you'll, well, I hope you won't want to use it.

"I feel a little awkward inviting you to stay like this, but I'm too nervous to ask you in person. Don't feel obligated, but, if you want to visit, you're welcome to stay as long as you like. I know it must be lonely at Hogwarts in the summer, what with no one around to stalk and take points from."

"Cheeky little bastard," the man murmured, to Hedwig's remonstrative hoot. "I don't mean it, you over-protective, avian—oh, just take another treat and stop staring!"

"Anyway, I hope you'll come. I would very much like it if you did.

"Harry."

Harry. Of course I'll come, the Potions master thought, hastily penning a response and giving it to the owl.

He wanted to call the bird back as soon as she had flown away, for the thought of seeing Potter alone in his home was a daunting prospect. He briefly pondered whether Minerva had taken up Albus' old habit of meddling, but dismissed it as absurd. I do want to see him. I'll go.

"Hi," the young man greeted him shyly, some weeks later. "It's . . . good to see you, Severus."

"May I come in?"

"Oh! Sorry," Harry replied, blushing and moving back to allow the man to pass. "Please."

That wasn't so very difficult, Severus thought, though his nerves were rather raw to be in Harry's presence again. And though he hated himself for it, all he could think of was the scene in the clearing, Harry thrusting up to meet Ron's hips, Harry flushed, Harry wanting . . . . He wanted nothing more than to seize him and push him over the rather comfortable-looking chair they passed on their way deeper into the apartment, but such behavior would be worse than inappropriate, he knew. Only gentleness, he told himself, and only when he asks for it.

After silently taking tea on the Auror's terrace—an eternity of charged air and weak tea, or so Severus thought—the younger wizard asked, "Mind if I smoke?"

"Is that not premature?"

"What? Oh," Harry said, blushing at the Potions master's smirk.

Severus bent down to retrieve the packet of cigarettes that Harry had dropped, and looked up to see the boy staring, flushed an open-mouthed, at him. It was too much like the Harry he had seen with Ron, and he gasped out, "God, I want you," without even thinking.

"Then . . . then take me," Harry said, his jaw tight, but his eyes warm and wide and welcoming.

They were in Harry's bedroom, nude and lying next to each other, before Severus registered that he had moved. He rolled the younger man on top of his body, barking out a sharp cry when their erections met, and heedlessly drawing his mouth down to his for a searing, searching kiss.

"No," Severus protested when Harry broke their kiss to slide down his body toward his straining prick. "You shouldn't have to—"

"Want to," the boy answered, greedily drawing Severus' cock into his mouth.

"Ungh, God!"

It was too much to feel, that hot, demanding suction, for the Potions master had been ready since before he knocked on the front door, and he came almost at once. It made him sigh to note that Harry, like Ron, spent so much time cleaning his prick with his tongue.

"Liked that, did you?" the man asked, moving to snuggle against Severus' boneless body.

This is too fast, but . . . . "Oh, yes. Harry . . . ."

"I'm not done, you know."

"Anything. Whatever you want, you can have."

He could feel the grin against his shoulder as Harry sent questing hands down his body toward his thighs, and then dipped between them to finger the impatient ring of muscle he found there.

"God!"

"No, I don't think I'd like the responsibility."

Severus snorted. "Arrogant brat."

"Your 'arrogant brat', Severus," Harry promised, pushing two fingers inside of the man.

Too much, too soon. You shouldn't— "Please."

"Patience. You're tight. Relax. Accio lubricant."

The cool, slick sensation of three of Harry's fingers entering him made Severus groan.

"Like that? Like this?" Harry teased, scraping his maddening digits over a rough patch of inner skin.

"Fuck!"

"Oh, I promise to do that, Severus. Help me—spread your legs and lift your hips."

And he's a top, too. That is a surprise, the Potions master thought, obeying Harry at once. And a relief. I don't think I could have—"GOD!" he bellowed, as another orgasm crashed through him. "Harry!"

The boy laughed and removed his fingers, shifting his position and readying himself to enter his lover. "Ready?"

"You're . . . going . . . to kill . . . me."

"Doubt that," Harry told him, sliding home. "Yes, yes, yes," he choked out, as the intense pressure of being enveloped by Severus drove all other thoughts from his mind.

Rocking in a delicious, sweating bundle of slowly sliding skin and murmured, heated cries, the two men came at almost the same time only moments later.

"You . . . are . . . evil, Potter."

"Ha—Harry."

"Yes, Harry. My Harry."

"Better. Don't . . . you forget . . . it."

"You really do forgive me, don't you?" Severus asked, his eyes searching Harry's face for any trace of a lie.

"You know that I do. I do," he assured his lover, wrapping himself around his sated body.

"Thank you, Harry."

"You don't have to sa—ay that," the boy replied, yawning.

"I needed to say it."

"Mmm."

Harry fell asleep, and Severus held him, luxuriating in the feel of the soft, yielding skin against his own. Harry Potter just made love to me, he marveled, wondering at the perversities of the universe. How the hell did this happen? Deciding that it did not matter, that he did not care, he allowed himself to drift into slumber.

The next morning was followed by another, and another, and, despite the speed at which he and Harry had seemed to settle into a domestic routine, Severus tried not to worry about it. Their every interaction was marked by a considerate tenderness, and the summer passed in a glorious haze of gentle sex, quiet conversation, disastrous experimental cooking projects, and the occasional visit by Ron and Hermione. But he could tell that Harry was beginning to feel as though something were missing. It frightened him.

What is it? he asked himself, watching the young man prepare yet another version of his beef stew—this time, apparently, with blue potatoes—and worrying. I am not an attractive man, he thought, feeling his lack of charm keenly in the wake of the most recent visit by Harry's best friend. Perhaps he does love Weasley. I could hardly blame him. Irritably, he said, "You're chopping those too inexactly. They won't cook at the same rate."

Harry gave a rueful chuckle. He knew that something was on his lover's mind. He's always so testy after Ron visits. I wonder if he's afraid of him, still? "Then come over here and do it exactly, Professor."

Severus rose and took the knife away from Harry, making short, elegant work of the imported Peruvian roots. "There. I do not know that proper preparation will help that," he said, dismissing the pot of bubbling stew on the stove with a glance, "but I've done my best to ensure they will cook."

"Look, I never said I was a gourmet."

"No. It would have been my pleasure to disabuse you of that notion."

Harry shivered.

Damn it. Damn it! "Harry, I'm sorry. I should not have—"

"You're bored, aren't you? You want to leave me."

"What? No. Whatever gave you that idea?"

"I should never have told you about Ron. You've been acting oddly ever since."

The "revelation" had been difficult for Severus, who was hard-pressed not to tell his lover that he had already known.

"No, it's you who's been acting odd."

"How?" Harry demanded, though he turned away from Severus and stirred the stew.

"Look. At. Me."

The young man turned, slowly, and warily looked up into the Potions masters' eyes.

"Why have you been . . . distant?"

"'Distant'?"

Severus took a step toward his lover, and Harry, one step back.

"Yes, distant. You . . . you go on at length about Weasley, and—"

"You're jealous? Of Ron? That's ridiculous—and I haven't been distant. We . . . make love every night!" Harry exclaimed, looking down in confusion and blushing.

"Does it bother you, Potter? If so, we need never repeat the process," Severus said coldly, as the fear that he was boring his young lover—the man he loved—ripped its claws inside of his chest.

"You don't bother, do you? I do. I do everything."

Severus swallowed, hard. Fuck. He's not bored. He's just not . . . not content to top all of the time, he realized, and his fear edged closer to terror. I can't. I just can't! Defensively, he called forth as much invective as he could to lard his tone and said, "Forgive me for not providing you with the requisite amusement you crave, Potter. I see now that this was a mistake," he hissed, striding from the kitchen and then the flat without bothering to collect his belongings.

He was not surprised to find a cloaked and hooded figure standing outside of his door as he returned to Hogwarts and his chambers, but was taken aback when Hermione Granger threw back her hood to stare up at him. Absurd, he thought, how the perspective of a darkened corridor distorts figures. But he was powerfully relieved that it was not Weasley come to remonstrate with him.

"I'm here so that Ron wouldn't come," she said without preamble, ignoring his evident fury.

Severus clenched and unclenched his fists, very much wanting to damage something—someone—and remained stonily silent. Leave. Me. Alone!

"I realize that you don't appreciate being interfered with, but you understand, don't you, that my fiancé is rather too possessive of Harry than is strictly healthy?"

"You were there, too," Severus ground out.

"What? When?"

"After Cedric Diggory's death."

Hermione flushed. "Oh. He told you about that?"

"You don't like it, either, having your privacy interfered with."

"I expect we're well-passed discretion now, aren't we? May I come in, Sir?"

Without a word, the Potions master unlocked his door and entered his chambers. He would have to deal with Harry's friends sooner or later, and dealing with the witch was easier to contemplate. Hermione followed him, and they stood in his front room, staring at each other.

"Out with it, and then. Get. Out."

"We aren't lovers anymore, you know, not since . . . ."

"Ron comforted Harry in the Forbidden Forest."

"Er, no—I was going to say since you."

"I was under the impression that it was just those two occasions."

"It was more than that, actually, always together, and never really, well, not intercourse—well, not between Harry and Ron, anyway."

"I see."

"We've always been very . . . close, Professor, but neither Ron nor I wish to interfere in what you and Harry have together."

"What we have."

"Yes, Sir."

"For Christ's sake, Granger, call me Severus—we've shared him, after all."

"Does that bother you?"

YES! "Why shouldn't it? And what does it matter? He's not happy with me, so much is clear."

"You stupid man! Harry's not unhappy with you, he's . . . he's frustrated."

"Obviously," Severus said, feeling low and as if he were in some sort of surreal, nightmarish comedy of errors. "I am not . . . attractive enough to suit his needs, clearly."

"Oh, you're plenty attractive, Severus," the witch purred, advancing on him.

"What are you—"

The woman reached up for his hair and jerked his head down toward her mouth, claiming his and kissing him as if she were a demon come to suck his soul from his body.

Surreal, nightmarish comedy of sex, he corrected himself, as every muscle in his body strained to pull him away and push him closer to the woman at once.

Weeks of gentle sex behind him, and a hot, demanding, infuriating body pressed against him, Severus lost all composure and seized Hermione to pull her legs—made difficult, but not impossible, by her robes—around his waist, and he took three rapid strides to the wall, forcing her roughly against it and tearing at her clothing.

She made no move to stop him. In fact, she wrestled with him in an effort to help him strip her off.

"What are you do—"

"Don't think," she ordered, moving to position herself against his thrusting prick.

And then he was inside her, fucking her, pounding into her tight, hot, writhing body without giving a damn if the sounds she was making meant that he was hurting her. He reveled in the heat of her desire and decadence, and it did not take long for either of them to come.

"Fuck, fuck, fuck!" Hermione shrieked, her internal spasms massaging Severus toward his completion.

"CHRIST!" he thundered, as his orgasm spilling from him in one long wave of predatory pleasure. No! he cried silently, sliding to the floor and pulling the witch down on top of him in an ungainly sprawl. No, God. No. Not again. "What . . . kind of . . . monster . . . am I?"

"A brilliant one, I'd say," Hermione whispered, maneuvering herself to lie against his chest, and raising a soothing hand to card his sweat-drenched hair. "Severus, you're magnificent."

"Wh—what? What are you saying? I just ra—"

"Shut it, you idiot. You did not. I provoked you. I wanted to fuck you, Severus. I like it rough, sometimes. . . . So does Harry. Do you understand?"

"These things do not happen to me."

"Well, they should. You're very good at them," the witch drawled lazily, running her thumb over his lower lip.

Severus shuddered. "Won't Ron mind?"

"Hmm? Oh, no. Not at all. He suggested it, in fact—said you needed 'an object lesson'."

An object lesson. Dear God. "And so you came."

"Yes—and thank you very much for that, by the way. It had to be me, though, didn't it? After Harry and Neville, who else can get under your skin half so easily?"

 "Who, indeed?" Severus asked, his heart beginning to recede to his chest. "But please, Miss Gra—Hermione, never mention Longbottom to me in this . . . context, again."

The witch laughed affectionately.

Damn Gryffindors and their good intentions. "I . . . I didn't hurt you?"

"Only in a good way, but I'll take a muscle-relaxant if you've one to spare. My back's not going to thank me very much in the morning."

Sitting up and tucking his prick back into his trousers, Severus replied with as much dignity as he could muster, "I believe that can be arranged."

"So," Hermione asked, when both of them had cleaned themselves up, and they were sitting in front of the Potions master's hearth drinking tea, "do you understand?"

"Harry is desirous of a . . . deviation in our routine," he said, feeling rather embarrassed.

"Rough sex isn't deviant, Severus."

"It seems . . . wrong. Given what occurred . . . ."

"What happened was terrible, and Harry's afraid that it's broken you. He doesn't want that. He wants you—all of you."

"Does he desire to include you and . . . Mr. Weasley in that 'all' as well?"

"You'll have to ask him about that. We wouldn't mind, but . . . we really don't want to interfere in your relationship."

Unbidden, half-choked laughter erupted from the Potions master. "I . . . I don't . . . I don't think . . . that this was . . . what Albus had . . . in mind when . . . he said he wanted . . . me to be happy."

Hermione smiled wickedly at him. "He lived a long time, Professor Dumbledore. I doubt any of this would be a surprise to him."

Recovering quickly at the thought of Albus having sex, Severus said, "Do not mention the Headmaster in this context, either."

"Agreed."

"I miss him."

"So do we."

"'We'. You speak as though—damn it. I do not . . . this is a most unusual situation."

"You're right, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad one—and Harry, Ron, and I are not joined at the hip."

"Obviously," Severus replied, raising an eyebrow at the woman. The woman I just took. Gods. How did I . . . how did this—I don't know what to do.

It was ridiculous, he knew. He had always known what to do. When Lucius Malfoy had introduced him to Lord Voldemort, he had known what to do. When he had realized the devastating mistake he had made in becoming a Death Eater, he had known what to do. When his cover had been blown, finally, and he had been forced to flee the Dark Lord, he had known what to do.

So why does the prospect of seeing Harry again—after having just shagged one of his dearest friends, one of his lovers—make me feel utterly lost? I do not recognize myself. Not at all.

And that was a strange thing to think, indeed, for the Potions master felt completely awake and alive in this moment. Hermione's object lesson had shaken something loose inside of him. Guilt, he suspected it was. He was glad of it, despite how much at loose ends it left him. In the past few months, he had had more sex than he had in years, lost his old life—not that he particularly minded—and lost Albus. It was a great deal to absorb.

And then there's Harry. "Is he very upset? Should I expect an altercation with your . . . boyfriend?"

"Not if I go with you, no. And yes, Harry's rather shaken up."

"Then we'd best not wait," Severus said, suddenly finding the idea of Hermione's "interference" very welcome, indeed.