Negative Irrational Multiplication


It wasn't until the blaring horn on Harry's desk became so shrill it started to shake the windows that Harry managed to reach across and push the button. "Fuck off."

The silence on the other end was long, though not long enough to break the connection, which, right this moment, Harry really wished he could just do without an immediate call back. Whose idea had it been to install the sodding things with sensor charms, anyway? There was no bloody way to prevent them just buzzing and buzzing, pitch rising crazily with each passing second, until you had no choice but to answer them, even if you were indisposed.

Well, no, that wasn't true; if you had gone to the loo, it wouldn't sense you alone in the room, and then it would report back "not present" to the one calling. But if you were here, you were here. No more hiding out and not answering the damned thing.

He was going to have to see about giving it some sort of rest or pause feature. Not that its inventor would go for that, but he was a sodding Auror and he'd known her since he was eleven, and she could just work out that sometimes a man needed a break.

All that passed through his mind before anyone spoke, and of course, of course it was Hermione herself, inventor of the sodding sensor charms for the buzzing, shrieking, miserable fucking call boxes. "Harry, I hope you knew for a fact it wasn't anyone from the Prophet, or the Minister, or even, I don't know, Minerva calling."

"Hermione, I'm in no mood to talk, and I'm in a truly excellent mood for tearing this fucking call box out of the desk and setting fire to it, and damn the consequences."

"…Right. So I suppose reminding you that we were to meet this afternoon—"

"Hermione. Seriously, bad time. Don't call back." Harry took his finger off the button and pressed the exit knob, and the little sound-projecting horn—like an old-fashioned Muggle gramophone, but tiny—receded into the nook in the desk.

Less than two minutes later, it popped back out and started buzzing.

Harry glared at it. He wondered whether actually hexing it could possibly work. He wondered if getting up now and going to the loo would help—and why the fuck hadn't he thought of that in the intervening two minutes? God, he really needed to work on how he prioritized thinking about these things. Now was a lousy time to work out the solution.

He jabbed the button. "Hermione, seriously—"

"It's not Hermione," the thing reported.

"George. Even better. Make your bloody wife fix these fucking things so a man can have a moment when he needs to have a moment, and just—god."

"I know, but the meeting really was important," he said. "I was just here to check in with her for tonight when she opened the line because you didn't arrive. Which means she's on her way up, which means you might want to find somewhere else to be. You know how she gets."

"Shit. How much time do you suppose I have?"

"Twenty seconds, tops." George sounded far too cheerful about that prospect.

"Fuck, fuck, fuck. And don't think I don't know you had every bit as much of a hand in these fucking things as she did."

"Not really. Materials, sure, and encouragement in general, but why the hell would I create a device that pissed off its user every five minutes? Lousy for sales. Plus, I've no idea how you lot get anything done, people calling every minute and a half. I'm fond of the sorts of sales that make people not experience rage on hearing the name of the shop."

"Yes, exactly. Well, maybe you can prevail upon her to make them disable-able."

"Good luck with that."

Harry sighed and pressed the knob. There was no way he was going to usefully escape before Hermione got here to see what was wrong with him, and also no way he was going to get out of telling her why he was answering his call box with 'fuck off,' so he didn't bother trying to hide the letter he'd first read half an hour earlier. In fact, he uncreased it from where his grip had badly crumpled it, and had it outstretched when she came in the door.

She raised her eyebrows, but took it, scanning down the page quickly. It was clear when she came to the key point; her brows nearly shot off her forehead, saved only by the fact that she also looked up, counteracting their flight. "Harry!"

"Yeah."

"Well, that does explain why you'd be a bit cranky, I suppose."

"A bit cranky. Yes, because I generally have a perfectly restrained response to some lunatic in, in where the fuck was it? Nunavut? Where the fuck is Nunavut? For some inane reason naming me the father of her bloody child, and then, like, haring off and leaving him in foster care with them to contact me. What. The. Fuck."

Hermione pursed her lips. "Nunavut, for the record, is the newest province of Canada. It's a part of what used to be the… your eyes are glazing over. It's extremely rural, largely populated by indigenous people, and quite an odd place for someone to have adopted you as a hero figure. Especially as this letter is from the Muggle office—how would they know you?"

"Yes, Muggle post; I don't even know. I keep the box so Dudley can get in touch if he needs to, but hardly anyone knows about it. It's charmed to send anything on, but I've never seen it do it before. It was rather startling."

"Even more unexpected, then."

"Stranger things have happened. I mean, seriously, this is my life we're discussing."

"Point." She glanced down the page again. "Have you contacted them yet?"

"No, I was too busy wondering if I might ever have a year free of fucking drama."

"Well, you have had that. Severus has been gone, what, fourteen months?"

"Yes, because there's been no drama at all in that time. No witches, wizards, their mothers, and their pet bunnies knocking at my door trying to help me get over the collapse of my marriage, half the time completely ignoring the small problem of how they're possessed of entirely the wrong plumbing for me to take any comfort even if I were interested, which I'm not, which means it's all not only drama, but unnecessary drama. Christ."

Hermione, damn her, chuckled. "Yes, but before he left, he was the source of all your woes, to hear you tell it."

"Nothing about hearing me, Hermione. The man couldn't go two minutes without insulting me, which, you'd think the fact I married him and he married me would tend to cut down on that some, but no, especially in the last couple of months there."

"It was just his way, Harry. He'd been like that while you were, ah, courting—"

"Fucking, you mean; he fucking left, so it couldn't have been much of a courtship."

"Not that again. Anyway, I assume occasionally between thrusts you managed to exchange words. Else how would he have proposed?"

"I don't think I need to hear your suppositions about my sex life. And who says he was the one who proposed?"

"You brought it up, and well, wasn't he?"

"Whatever. He proposed, I accepted, we got married and then a year and a bit ago he went on a drama binge and left me anyway; apparently his notion of forever is 'until I get pissed off.' Anyway. All in the past. Also, while you're here, remove the fucking call box."

Hermione shook her head. "Not a chance. How would I have known you needed help?"

"I don't."

"That, if you don't mind my being blunt—"

"Oh, yes, because you're rarely blunt, and it's an occasion."

"Yes, well, if you don't mind, that's crap: you tend to curl into yourself, when the world goes insane. More so since the war. You do need help sometimes, Harry, and in this case, I'd never have known. Without the call box, you'd have brooded over this all afternoon, and then all evening, and then you'd have gone and got a bit drunk, and then nothing would have been resolved at all."

"What's there to resolve? I have never performed any action which might have impregnated any of the good women, or the bad ones, of Nunavut or anywhere else—well, all right, not never, but certainly not recently enough to have a child referred to as an infant—much less the Muggle ones, and even if I had, I fail to see how I've any sudden responsibility to a child I didn't know existed."

Hermione frowned. It was the sort of frown that made it clear she was waiting for Harry to see the error of his ways, which only served to piss Harry off further. After several seconds of it, she opened her mouth. "Harry, you're being a jackass."

"It's a good thing you're one of the three people who gets to say that to me."

"Who are the other two?"

"Ron, and… actually, that's all."

"And Severus, then."

"Not any more. He gave that up when he vanished."

"Ah, well, I'm sure he'd no idea. How could he possibly have opted against continued access to a privilege as great as that?"

"Fuck you."

Hermione frowned again. This time it was the irritated frown. Fuck. "Look. Whether you agree you have any responsibility of not, there's an infant who needs something, and whether you think it's possible or not, evidently his birth certificate says you're the father. You certainly have to look into it. He's a baby, Harry. You know how it goes when a baby goes unwanted."

Harry pressed his lips together for several seconds. "I sort of hate you for pointing that out."

"But I love you, and you already knew that, was why you're in such a mood. I mean, you knew about the looking into it. My loving you doesn't usually put you in a mood. Am I right?"

"Fuck. Fuck, yes, and what the hell do I have to do to have a regular, ordinary, normal, low-drama, low-celebrity-like life? If it's just that I've a goat to sacrifice, I'm sure Aberforth knows a fellow who knows a fellow."

Hermione chuckled. "Probably nothing quite so dramatic as that. Now, do you want me to ring them, or are you going to?"

"What time is it there?"

She glanced at her watch. "Just after nine. Their office is probably open, unless…" She consulted the letter again. "I'm nearly sure Iqaluit is one of the larger population centers, so I assume they have an actual office. I suppose if it were somewhere smaller…"

"Perfect. Also, why the fuck do you keep population data for rural mostly-indigenous areas of Canada in your brain?"

"I didn't learn it on purpose. I just read about it, when they were incorporating. It hasn't been that long ago. If my memory is correct—"

"Odds: high."

"As I was saying, if my memory is correct, Iqaluit is one of the places that was previously called by an English name. Hm, Fro…something."

Harry frowned. "Actually, odds nearly unassailable. When is your memory ever not correct? Honestly. Wait. Frobisher? Like Victoria?"

"What? Oh, right. Actually, yes."

"Bugger."

"So I repeat. Do you want me to ring them, or are you going to?"

"I will."

She Summoned his cloak and held it out to him. "Excellent. I'll walk with you."

"No, I don't think so."

"What? You have to do it."

"Yes, I know. When Severus left, he said something that didn't make sense at the time, since I couldn't figure out what he'd want with the Frobishers."

Hermione blinked. "Oh. Oh, you think it's… wait, what would that have to do with anything?"

"I have no idea. I don't even know what to think of it. Maybe it's an elaborate joke."

"Harry." Hermione waited until he looked up, then said, "If it's to do with him, this is Severus Snape we're talking about. Practical joking seems unlikely."

Harry sighed. She was right about that much, but there was no other explanation coming to mind. If Severus was even involved. Maybe it was just a coincidence.

There had to be at least one coincidence in his life, right? He waited until she was to the door before he added, "Uh, sorry about the language and all."

"I think I'll live."

"Just as well. Besides being one of the people who gets to call me a jackass, you're also one of the people I really need."

* * * * *

By the time Harry reached an official who knew anything at all, it was suppertime in London, and his mood had, if anything, got worse as he waited. He'd stayed in his office to do it, in the end, because doing this from a Muggle public telephone was just untenable; however, Hermione had left him to it, and it was just as well. Watching her pace for four hours would have driven him entirely around the twist.

Not that the situation on its own wasn't making a lot of progress in that direction. The man on the other end of the telephone kept stumbling over words, not because English wasn't his first language, though Harry thought he sounded rather French, but for some other reason that just felt all wrong.

After twenty minutes, he finally realized what it was that was bothering him: the man was laboring under the influence of a charm that was limiting what he could say. That had to be it; he'd seen this before. And it was as worrying as anything else about this situation. He was going to have to look into that aspect of things even if nothing else about all this panned out, so he took a breath and said, "Look, might I just come to your office and discuss this in person? I can be there in half an hour."

"Mr Potter! You're overseas, and—"

"Oh, no. I…'m in the, ah, I'm on your side of the Pond. I've rung you from my mobile." Harry rolled his eyes at himself for stepping right into that, but at least part of it was sort of true. "Half an hour, all right?"

"I… see. Well, I'll tell Marie to expect you."

"Then I'll be right there." Harry rang off and transfigured the phone back into a shoe, then flipped through the stack of papers on his desk. As he'd thought, there was nothing that couldn't wait at least until tomorrow. Just as well, as today was officially an hour past over. He'd get himself an International Portkey—he was going to use his sodding name for something worthwhile for once—and get this straightened out.

He'd be back in the morning, at the latest.

He pressed the button on his call box, speaking Hermione's name and department clearly. She'd still be in the office, most likely, despite that it was past six. When she answered (immediately), he said, "I'm supposed to meet them in half an hour. Well, twenty-eight minutes."

"Harry. Nunavut is in Canada."

"I know. I need a Portkey. Who d'you think is most likely to still be about, Walters?"

"Harry. That's absurd. You can't—"

"Well, I can't just Apparate there. Too far to Greenland. Plus, I don't know exactly where Ipawhatsis is anyway."

Hermione sighed. "Hold on. Tricia in travel management owes me a favor. I'll call you right back."

"Thanks. I'll owe you."

"Harry, you owe me a hundred times over." She closed the connection, and Harry stood and shoved his foot into the shoe he'd used as a mobile. He'd need to remember to tell George the charm had even worked internationally, and even from inside the Ministry's maze of charms—bloody impressive. He bent to tie the lace, then sat back down.

While he waited for Hermione to get back to him, he had a couple of things to gather for transport, most of which were his thoughts.

He closed his eyes and spent several minutes going though the series of exercises they'd drilled into him in training five years earlier. It wasn't that the exercises improved the memory, exactly; however, they did tend to improve the capacity to recall and explain things in a coherent manner. He had a feeling he was going to need every shred of calm he could summon, one way or another.

The callbox buzzed, and he opened his eyes and pressed the button. "Hermione?"

"She's on her way," George said.

"What? What are you doing there at this hour? And what do you mean 'be here?' She's just supposed to—"

"You have met her, haven't you? No way she's letting you hare off on some horrible international adventure all on your own, now is there?"

Harry scowled. "She didn't tell you the nature of the adventure, did she?"

"Course not! She and I have a long-standing agreement. She doesn't tell me, and then at the earliest opportunity I, ah, get it out of her."

"God. How do you—wait, I don't want to know anything whatsoever about what sorts of deviant methods it would take to get her to spill. Ugh. Why would you tell me that?"

He could practically hear the shrug. "I haven't had time to get her naked yet. Oh, shut up; I know you have seen a naked girl before at least once, and you didn't die of the experience."

"Yes, but I was young and strong. And that doesn't mean I need to think about Hermione that way."

"Anyway, that is to do with why I'm here at this hour. I came back by to see how long she'd be. But no, I have no idea. She seemed worried, though, so I concluded it was probably a personal matter. Which means I'll have to try really hard when she gets back."

Harry groaned. "Why do I continue to associate with people whom I hate? Yeah, it's a personal matter."

"She'll be there in like two minutes. She had a stop to make."

"A stop?"

"Night, Harry." George broke the connection before Harry could ask anything further, and must have fled from the room immediately because the fucking thing refused to re-open.

Harry was still cursing at it when Hermione arrived, Ron in tow.

"You cannot possibly mean to both go along. And Ron, honestly, you're supposed to be in Paris with your wife enjoying a child-free holiday."

"She knows about Auror emergencies. We always go along, mate," Ron said with a casual shrug. "Where are we going, and why's Hermione so sure you need us?"

"I don't know why Hermione's so sure I'll need you, and I am going to Nunavut."

"In Canada?"

"Yes, and why do you know where that is?"

Ron blinked. "Because the Pilot Butte Pelicans are supposed to make a run at the Canada cup this year, and Canada's hosting the next Worlds!"

"Oh. Right. Wait, they're in Nunavut?"

"No, but whilst I was looking at the map for travel arrangements—"

"Boys." Hermione held up a simple rolled paper. "This is a map, but it's also the Portkey. Seemed simplest. It activates in three minutes, though, so we really ought to get somewhere that the Ministry wards won't be a problem."

Harry sighed. Three minutes was nowhere near long enough to change her mind, and if she was going, Ron was going because regardless of everything that had happened between the two of them in the intervening years, his standing vow never to not be there again unless he was dead was apparently still on the table. He wrapped his cloak around him and followed the two of them to the lobby, taking the southside Floo to Ron's house in Cornwall; his home carried the fewest wards. They stepped outside with thirty seconds to spare, and all grabbed hold of the scroll.

One stomachache and half a hangover later, they were landing in a rather sparsely-shrubbed field on the outskirts of a village. Harry looked around. "Where's—"

"We're here." Hermione unrolled and consulted the map.

"Seriously? Also, fuck me it's cold," Harry said.

"Of course, seriously. And we're considerably further north than you're accustomed to. This is the biggest city in this part of the province. Territory. Whatever. Actually, it might be the biggest one in the entire territory—it's the capital and something like fifteen percent of the total population."

Harry crinkled his nose. "The province is really tiny, then?"

Ron shook his head this time before explaining. "They have loads of space for pitches, at least, but a lot of kids here play this other game, like Quidditch but adapted for ice." He shuddered. "It's weird and involves Summoning objects out of the water under the ice, which leads to—never mind. Anyway, no, Nunavut's the size of Mexico or something."

"Good lord." Harry screwed up his face further, trying to imagine how big Mexico was. Five or six times the size of Britain, anyway.

"I know." Ron started to say something else, probably about Quidditch or ice-Quidditch, but Hermione held up a hand.

"Let's hold off on any more Quidditch discussion until after Harry's meeting."

"Oh, right." Ron shrugged. "Let's go, then." He brushed past Hermione, who snagged Harry's cloak in the vicinity of his elbow and started after him.

"Are we really going to all descend on the poor man?"

Hermione glanced at Harry sideways. "I assume you expect to have to rummage about in his head?"

"Possibly. Only if I really have to."

"Right, well. Then we'll need a lookout with good reflexes," she explained, pointing at Ron, "and someone else that's had some experience with making and unmaking Memory charms."

"It's a little odd how often the three of us turn out to have complementary skills, you know?"

"But lucky."

Harry sighed. "Yes, and lucky. At least for me; I imagine the two of you would have been alright with a somewhat less exciting life."

Ron snorted over his shoulder. "Yes, because she married staid and silent old George and took up a career in the Patents and Cooperation Office due to having too much excitement in her life."

"I could say the same for you and Daphne, as far as excitement," Hermione argued. Harry chuckled under his breath. It was another branch of an old and ongoing conversation, which they'd been having for the better part of a decade now, and it was familiar in a way that comforted him more than probably anything else could have done.

* * * * *

As the three of them left the Child Welfare Office, they were silent.

Nothing about the official's story was in doubt, but it was still unbelievable on a number of levels. First, there was the issue of the impossibility of the infant. Who was clearly, indisputably, Harry's. Both as far as the man believed, and as far as the information Harry had pried out of his mind indicated.

Then, there was the issue of misuse of magic all over the place, unremediated by the fact Harry had had to play fast and loose with the fellow's memory.

And then, there was the issue of Snape.

They walked quickly away from the office and out of the building, then looked both ways on the street before Harry shrugged and picked a direction.

He wanted to be well away before they tried to discuss the issue.

Finally, they found a little park where Harry and Hermione sat down close together on a bench, Ron standing and pacing behind it as Hermione glanced around, then picked up a small handful of leaves to transfigure more functional coats. It was really bloody cold in Canada.

Harry tried to figure out where to start.

"So, I assume you weren't trying to conceive," Hermione said after a moment.

"I didn't know it was in the realm of possibility, much less the realm of likelihood," Harry said. "Fuck."

"Yeah," Ron agreed. "I mean. You and Snape… it's kind of horrifying."

"Look, I know you didn't like the relationship, and I know I have no emotional ties to the kid or anything, but it wouldn't kill me if you didn't refer to a child as horrifying."

"Sorry, I only meant, uh. I don't actually know what I meant. Not that. The whole thing is insane, and then for it to be accidental, too. It's startling, anyway."

Hermione leaned forward to look back at Harry's face. "So, you're sure it's yours. That is, the man's memory—"

"I'm sure. There were things—" Harry stared at the ground. "I can't figure out why the hell he didn't say something, at any point, or why he… shit. I'm more confused than I was before I bloody got here, and that's ridiculous."

Ron came around the bench and waited until Harry looked up. "All right, so I assume we're going to go fetch the child, then?"

"Well yes, I don't really intend to leave it being raised by Muggles when it's, what, nine in ten odds or higher it'll wind up mag—"

"Right, that's obvious, but I meant, as opposed to doing anything about Snape."

"What would I do about him? He obviously didn't want me to know. Didn't want to deal with me."

"I don't think that's true, Harry." Hermione frowned.

"Bollocks. The kid is eight months old and he never bothered to tell me? Knowing I grew up an orphan? Knowing how much it bothered me, the whole issue of not having kids of my own? Knowing he actually never really liked kids in the first place? Knowing—because probably he knew, right, when he left? And he obviously also knew this was even possible, which he never bothered to explain. Fucker."

"I suppose it is something of a problem, but he didn't have to do a bloody thing to tell the official here about the issue. He didn't have to name you the father, the contact."

"Which mostly leads me to wonder what the fuck he's trying to accomplish. Manipulative bastard."

"Evidently nothing, if he's actually in hospital here. What could he be trying to accomplish? Do you think he's faking some dreadful illness to force you to come after him?"

"Fucked if I know."

Hermione's mouth twisted a bit as she thought. "It could be that, I suppose; he's certainly not above manipulating a situation. But I can't imagine he'd deliberately try to force you to come."

Ron snorted, and Hermione glared. "Not like that. Honestly."

"Oh, no, or like that, given everything," Harry said darkly.

"Still," she went on, "he was always so sensitive about being, you know, loved and whatnot. Why would he leave and then take the risk you might be unwilling to follow this odd trail? If you didn't come, it'd be horrible."

"True." Harry chewed on the inside of his cheek.

"So he must really be very ill."

Ron waved a hand. "Right, well, in any case, I expect we need to plan how we're going to handle the kid before we plan how to break Snape out of hospital and bring him home."

Harry blinked. "Why would I bring him home?"

Ron looked at him as though his head had suddenly turned into a particularly thick block of wood. "Because you want the kid, and you can't separate the kid from the only parent it knows on purpose? Plus, whatever's wrong with Snape, doesn't it seem from how the bloke said he'd mystified the healers or, what did he say? The something-ologists? Doesn't it seem, then, that it's probably a magical malady? I don't want to try to navigate Canadian magical bureaucracy; do you?"

Harry scowled. "Fuck, fuck, fuck. I hate when you have a point and it's not even one I want to agree with."

Hermione shook her head. "But then, that's the value of having more than one person to think about the situation. There have to be choices, right?"

"Like what?"

"Like going to see Snape and figure out why he's so ill. Maybe it's something we can resolve locally."

"Because he surely never tried to deal with it himself before he took the baby to the agency and himself to the hospital," Harry said, rolling his eyes.

"Yes, but he was for one thing, ill, so perhaps he was impeded by that, and also, he was working around an infant. It might have made it impossible for him to deal with the situation effectively."

"And it never once occurred to him in this time of trial to contact me directly—or to contact anyone who might temporarily take care of a magical infant in order to free him up?" Harry shook his head. "We could just take the kid and go. What if Snape is dying anyway? How will it help to bring the kid to see him and then just upset him all over again when he does?"

Hermione pursed her lips. "Well, then I suppose we have to start with Snape."

"Fuck. I don't want to see him."

"I can go see him," Hermione said.

"What if he's not able to talk?"

"Oh, right. We might need a Legilimens. I suppose now would be a dreadful time for you to try again to teach me."

"I doubt I have the focus."

"Do you have the focus to deal with him?"

"No, but I'll figure something out." Harry stood, rubbing his frozen fingers together. "I suppose there's no point putting it off."

"Do you want to go see the kid first?" Ron asked.

"No." Harry looked around as Hermione had done earlier, then put out his wand on his hand to do a direction charm.

The hospital was at the south end of town, and when Harry turned that way, he could see it from where they were. It was small—unsurprising for a town of this size—and only identifiable by the sign on the end of the nearby wing.

Well, there was no time like the present.

"Come on," he said. "He's this way. Hermione, you talk to him first."

"Right, because he's going to talk to me about anything private." She started out ahead of him, glancing over her shoulder. "We'll figure this out, Harry. We'll help you however you need."

"I know, but Christ, in the space of, what, eight hours? I've learned that my former husband not only left me, but had our child which I didn't even know was a potential I should know about, didn't tell me, is ill, didn't tell me that either despite the obvious and inescapable issue of what it means to said child, knowing how I would surely feel about leaving my kid without a parent, and oh by the way, is maybe dying. Sorry if I can't even work out how to have any bloody clue what I need or how to ask for it."

Hermione started to say something, but Ron beat her to it. "Harry, honestly. You wouldn't have to ask even if you did know how. Like she said, we'll work it out. And she'll be happy to do the talking, to Snape. If she can. Right?"

"For the moment. I rather imagine in the long run Harry will have to speak to him at some point."

"Perfect." Harry scowled. "Not you, just, I think it's not ridiculous to hope that one day I might have any aspect of my life be utterly bog-standard and unimaginatively dull."

Hermione laughed. "But then you wouldn't be you, Harry. And we're here. Now. Do you want me to go up alone, or…?"

"No. I have to do it. Which you know, but thank you for pretending to give me a choice."

"Any time."

* * * * *

Severus looked like a dying man. Harry had to agree with the assessment of the doctors—he'd seen him look like a dying man before, seen him be a dying man before, actually. He'd only pulled through by a thread, after Nagini's bite, and if anything, he looked worse now. His skin was waxy and pale—not Snape-pale, not dungeon-pale. Waxy pale. And his hair was dry and looked brittle. His eyes were sunken, which only served to make that great beak of a nose look bigger.

Harry swallowed hard and looked at him, telling himself maybe it was that he was ten years older, this time. Maybe it was that he'd been through other hardships, such as, apparently, bearing a child.

Yeah, sure, it was something like that. Even though that didn't explain the difference of the last year and a little bit. Fuck. He stepped a little closer. "Severus."

For a moment, there was no response. Then, Severus's eyes opened a fraction.

Then they closed again. "Go on."

"Go on, continue to say what I have to say, or go on, get out?" Harry thought he did an admirable job of not snapping, even though between his general irritation with the situation and his horror at Severus's condition, the challenge was considerable.

"Choose for yourself. You always have done."

Harry sighed. "Severus, the Muggle authorities sent me a letter. About—"

"Of course they did." Severus went quiet again just long enough that Harry was opening his mouth to speak when he went on. "The man must have magical ancestors," he said. "He wasn't supposed to do that until it was over."

"What?"

"He was harder to control than I expected, initially. Must have…" Severus stopped talking again and opened his eyes. "He wasn't supposed to be able to contact you, until afterward."

"Perfect. Fuck. You ran off, pregnant, which by the way all those times we discussed how I maybe wanted kids, did it not ever occur to you to mention it was bloody possible? Surely you knew. And then you didn't tell me, and then… Fuck. And now what am I supposed to do?"

"Had you been notified on schedule, you might have taken the child and gone. I assume—though perhaps I am wrong—you'll want to take him home."

"Obviously, but you fucker, why didn't you go get some magical help?"

"Did you, perchance, erect a Muffling Charm?"

"What? No. Just misdirection, though—"

"Perhaps you ought to, just in case; right now it wouldn't be difficult to erase the memory, but if someone were to overhear more…"

Harry sighed and put up a Muffling charm inside Hermione's existing work. She and Ron were in the tiny three-seat waiting area, pretending to read magazines from last summer under a notice-me-not charm as well. "Fine. Why?"

"It's a rare complication. There is no magical help."

"Oh, so you looked into it? You checked into the magical hospital of Nunavut, then?"

Severus chuckled dryly. "There is no magical hospital in Nunavut. The Muggle population is small, and the Wizarding one smaller."

"Yes, Hermione said."

"Of course she did. She's still a know-it-all. But if she'd told you, then why did you ask?"

"It was sarcasm. I'm nearly sure you're familiar. Besides, you understood me readily enough earlier. And for the last many years, except this past. I don't think you suddenly developed a painful case of literalism."

"Point." Severus pursed his lips. "I did, however, read all the available literature in the British Magical Library, before I left."

"You. Wait. You knew you were ill, and pregnant, and left anyway." Harry clenched his hands into fists and made an effort not to shout, but he was pretty sure he was failing. "And you still didn't tell me? And divorced me? Wow. You must have hated me a lot. Do you still? Because in that case, why on earth do you want to leave me your kid?"

"He isn't merely my child; he is also yours. You can't be unaware that whatever else I may have been in my life, brutally unfair for no good reason has only rarely been my approach."

"Fine; however, when you have been, it's generally been toward me, so it hardly matters."

"You might refrain from shouting; despite all the charms, if you manage to set one of the alarms off, someone will come. And I expect you're not supposed to be here." He glanced to the side, at the machine quietly recording his heart rate and whatever else.

"Fine. So, what do you want? You want me to take the kid—does he have a name? The man at the agency didn't say."

"He has a name, and of course he didn't; I didn't give it. Or rather, not his full name; Muggles often find wizarding names odd."

"You left my child alone with a stranger rather than calling me yourself, and you didn't even give the bloke his name? Jesus, Sev. What do you want from me? I— never mind." Harry stopped talking and paced back and forth across the room, then slumped down into the single plastic chair before he went on, quietly. "Look. You and I were complicated, but I had no idea you meant to leave me. And then you did, and I've been trying to deal with that, and now I get this. And I know you know my life has been full of ridiculous manipulative, furious, or psychotic sociopaths and heroes. No, shut it, I'm not saying your life has been one great string of filet mignon and New Year's Eve. But I know you know. So I guess I'm even more fucked up than I thought. God. Just tell me what you have in mind, and what, did you want me to finish you off while I'm here?"

"Finish me off?"

"You know. You're dying, though I suppose this time Malfoy isn't bound to do the dirty work, so maybe it's different."

Severus snorted, a weak imitation of the rumbles of annoyance he'd always made. "Bitter, much?"

"I think I have a reason. But fuck, I've had a hell of a day. And I'd rather not keep Ron and Hermione away from home if I don't have to, so."

Severus sighed. "Fix that?" He pointed at the monitor.

"What's wrong with it?"

"No, fix it, so that nothing becomes wrong with it. I'm going to sit up to discuss this, and that's likely to cause an uproar."

"Then, don't."

"I shall do as I wish; this has never not been the case."

Harry rolled his eyes and thought about it a minute, then pointed his wand at the monitoring device and muttered a stabilization charm. "Yes it has. You didn't do hardly anything you wanted for a long time. So, yes, that's just so much bullshit, Sev, and you know it. And I know it."

"Stop calling me that. Very well. It has never not been the case in the relationship between the two of us. The one that developed after the war. Fair?"

"Fair. And you're stalling. Sev." It was immature of him to repeat the nickname, but Harry figured he was due a momentary bout of childishness.

Severus scowled, but sat up, struggling to drag his impossibly scrawny arse back against the pillows. God, he'd lost a lot of weight. Harry nearly got up to go help him, but held back; even if he'd been entirely willing, such gestures had always been rebuffed, even in the early days when Severus was still recovering ten months after Nagini, and they were doing little but eat, sleep, and find new ways to make each other come.

Well, no, mostly it'd been new and creative ways to make Harry come; he'd still been a teenager, and Severus had already been pushing forty.

And then he'd gone into training, then into the field as an intern, and every break in his training they'd spent alternating between fucking and arguing over everything from whether Harry was applying himself to where they ought to go on holiday to whether it was appropriate for Harry to express affection in public.

In all that time, Severus had never learned to gracefully accept a hand, and it seemed unlikely that would have changed.

Harry remained seated and silent as he struggled into place, then sat, gasping and red-faced, for several seconds.

"What the fuck is wrong with you, anyway?"

"It's a rare complication, as I said. A poisoning of the blood."

"Complication of what?"

"Of pregnancy."

"And you knew about it early on."

"I felt ill, so I went to a healer."

Harry shook his head. "Fine. What kind of blood poisoning, and why in the fucking fuck didn't you just tell me. I mean, if nothing else, we could have had—"

"Because I didn't want that."

"Ah. Well, and what you want is everything, is it?"

"No, but I should have died once before. More than once, if I'm honest."

"And this time you wanted to do it on your own terms, which were alone, in pain, and far from home. Of course."

Severus frowned. "I wouldn't have put it like that."

"Oh? How would you have put it?"

"Yeah, Snape, how would you have put it?" Ron asked from the doorway. Hermione was just behind him as he pushed the door from standing just closed, to half-open. He stepped in, arms folded across his chest, and Harry grinned weakly. Ron had always been tall, but these days he'd filled out rather a lot; he probably didn't even realize he was playing the tough Auror. Not that Severus would be impressed by it, as he'd had too many associates much scarier than this, but it was nice for Ron to have his back again. They hadn't had a chance to work as a field team in a couple of years now.

Hermione was roughly half Ron's size, the top of her head even with his armpit, but Harry frankly thought she was the scarier of them. She had her arms folded, too. How long had they been listening?

They closed the door.

Severus raised his eyebrows. "The entire fearsome faction, is it? Have you brought Longbottom and Lovegood, too?" None of them said anything, so he sighed. "I'd have put it like this: I know what it's like to lose someone—"

"We may have all experienced something of the sort," Hermione said quietly.

"Of course. But when it's slow and there's nothing you can do to change it, it's unpleasant. Harry didn't need that."

"Harry," Harry said, "might have liked to make that call for himself."

"Harry," Severus responded, "would have driven himself mad trying to fix that which is not fixable, and only increased the likelihood of an early death of apoplexy."

"Nice." Harry scrubbed his hand over his face for a moment. "Fine. I won't try to fix anything you don't want fixed. That will be much better for everyone, clearly. Now. Tell Hermione all about your poisoned blood, and see what arcane trivia she has that might be related." He glanced at her. "And you, don't you dare feel guilty if you have nothing. But if anyone is likely to have read some bloody thing in a periodical from 1973 in which lizards were allergic to a particular species of great mountain cats, and know how it's related, well. And then we will know what's what, and can choose not to fix anything, just out of spite."

Severus snorted again, then wheezed. "As I was just telling Harry, it's a rare complication of male pregnancy, and it's always eventually fatal."

"Everything is eventually fatal, and about half of the ways to die of old age involve at least one unpleasant element," Hermione said as she conjured a chair—a considerably more comfortable one than that in which Harry was sitting, and perched in the cushion, leaning forward. "Does this condition have a name?"

Three minutes later, when Harry concluded he didn't know a damned thing about what they were talking about, he and Ron went to find a cup of coffee. It was late, British time, and getting Severus to explain something he didn't want to had always been a challenge at best.

"You're joking." Harry pulled the collar of his conjured coat up around his ears and looked at the ground. "He can't be that big an idiot."

"But he is. It's not in the Muggle literature because the issue doesn't come up for men who are Muggles. It's not in the magical literature because it's rare enough that they don't understand the cause. And of course, it works differently in men anyway—in women, the whole issue tends to impact only the baby, and creates trouble in subsequent pregnancies."

"And Wizarding women—"

"It's not an issue. There is no such problem, because of the way magical deliveries happen." Hermione shrugged. "This isn't the first time such a situation has arisen, and I imagine it goes the other way, as well—there are probably conditions Squibs get which are entirely curable in the magical world, but which mystify Muggle doctors, who only see them in rare cases."

"So why is it you know, and St. Mungo's doesn't?"

"I expect there haven't been all that many magical medical Muggle-born researchers who were familiar with the Muggle condition, is all. The specific cause has only been known for, I don't know, a few decades? Not a terribly long time, in any case. I think they only first started knowing how to treat the problem perhaps right around the time I was born? Maybe earlier. Still, given magical medicine—"

"Right. Magical everything is a bit behind, isn't it?"

"Just a bit. He said they were able to diagnose the problem immediately, but again, to no effect."

"He's a half-blood himself, though. You'd think… " Harry trailed off. "Of course, his mother was a pureblood, and therefore it wouldn't have been in the maternal line, and I suppose men don't pay attention to these things, generally, so even if his family background included such a problem, it wouldn't have come up."

"Exactly." Hermione drew up her knees. "Interestingly, had all this happened next year, perhaps it would have been a known situation at St. Mungo's."

Harry frowned. "What?"

"Well, George and I have been talking about starting a family. And since my blood is negative, I had already asked my healer about the issue. Which is why I know it's not a problem for witches, which is a fairly astonishing coincidence, really."

"Ah, I was just thinking a few hours ago I needed more coincidences in my life."

Ron leaned forward to look around Harry at Hermione. "So, this is curable, then."

"Maybe. That is, I tinkered with the chart and the nurse, and they will attempt to treat him as they would an infant suffering from the effects of its mother's body attempting to reject it—no, they have no idea. It all looks like they're still trying to treat some sort of strange auto-immune disorder. Which, technically, they sort of are. But I think he also has some sort of other organ involvement. Male pregnancy is hard on the father in the best case, and Severus is, what, fifty?"

"Forty-eight," Harry said. "You think they can patch him up?"

"Probably."

"Good," Harry said. "So then, we can go home and leave him to his nice, orderly, Potter-free life? Because if I really don't actually need to be reminded of him every sodding day, I could stand that."

"No." Hermione looked at him, chewing her lip. "There's sort of more."

"Of course there is. Now we've moved back into the part where I wish it were only so simple as sacrificing a goat, don't we?"

She chuckled. "The effects on the father, in the wizarding version of the disease, begin early—the blood exchange works quite differently, due to the lack of an inborn system in his body to nurture… it's a little complicated, and I could draw you a picture if you really wanted to know, but in short, there are mental and emotional effects that begin within probably a few days of conception. At least, within a few weeks."

"And this is relevant, how?"

"In Severus's case, it's that all his old and long-standing insecurities came to the fore."

Harry looked at her for a long moment. "Again, how is this—"

"It's why he left. He knows it now, intellectually, and always did, though I think he was rather too embarrassed about it to tell you. He's got himself convinced he left for selfless reasons, because that feels better for him to believe, and in a sense it's possibly true. He does want to protect you. But he still thinks you were acting horribly towards him, even though he also knows he picked fights. He remembers picking them, in order to leave on his own terms, but he also remembers feeling it was absolutely necessary to his well-being, because else you were going to throw him out—no, I know, you were not going to do any such thing, but to him, it was perfectly clear. And he couldn't have stood it."

"And he just told you all this?" Ron interjected. "He must be in even worse shape than it looked like."

"I may have nicked a couple of particularly useful items George has been working on," Hermione mumbled.

Harry blinked. "Ethics!"

"Just to help overcome his resistance!" She blushed a little. "Look, was it going to make him worse? Probably not, right? And since you'd said it might be to do with Severus, I knew I couldn't make him give anything up like I might have done if it had been all Muggles, right? There's a decent chance he'll actually kill me on the spot, next time he sees me, though, if the medicines don't bring him back from the edge a bit."

Harry groaned. "Oh, that's just bloody perfect. So what, exactly, do you expect to do?"

Hermione looked away for a moment. "I rather think the child should be brought into magical custody immediately, but that you and Severus need some time to work things out. I was thinking Ron and I could take him home—the baby; he could stay with either of us, whichever you think Severus would hate the idea of less—"

"Probably us," Ron said. "We already have kids around—I mean, just the one of our own, but with nephews and cousins and all—and Daph's one of his in the first place. Plus if he's pissed off at you…"

"I had the same thought. And then Harry, you could stay here until he's back on his feet. Work things out, or at least see if it's possible."

"So, you're planning my life for me?"

"No, or I'd have already gone and got the child and left you a note."

Harry sighed. "Note to self. Never again express the notion that nothing about your life could possibly get any more strange. This is tempting fate. Also, never involve Hermione if you want very much control over the outcome."

Ron snorted. "Mate, if you didn't get both of those things worked out by the time you were about twelve and a half, I think you might be hopeless. So, should I get started on notifying Daphne, then?"

Harry shrugged, hands still in his coat pockets. "Hermione, do you really think it's remotely possible we can work things out? And by remotely I mean, it could happen before the kid starts at Hogwarts."

"I wouldn't be encouraging you to stay if I thought there was really no chance. Of course, it's also possible the treatment won't work. There's no good reason for it not to—as I said, I'd done some preliminary reading in the general subject, though as it was all theory and no practical application, I might easily have missed something important. Oh, I did tell them to stop the treatment if it made him worse. I mean, I included that in the charm. And I might have done some work on his bedding, to make it rather more promoting of his health and emotional stability."

Ron shook his head. "So basically, you knew what the situation was based on something that was a bizarre and slender thread of possibility before we ever left Britain, and in the last two hours you created and implemented a complicated charm with conditions, without setting off any alarms in the local anti-magical systems. Can I just say again, it's no wonder George finds you appealing?"

"She's good for him, isn't she?"

"I'm right here!"

"I know." Harry grinned, feeling a little odd about how genuine the smile felt. "Speaking of George…"

"What?"

"He said his practice is to let you not tell him, then bribe it out of you later?"

Hermione blushed. "Uh."

"Yeah, I was just going to say, considering everything, don't go having less fun on my account. Ron, go contact your wife. Hermione, you and I should go fetch the kid before it gets any later. You have the paperwork from the welfare place?"

She stood and patted her pocket. "Right here."

* * * * *

Harry looked at the neatly labeled stacks of parchment and piles of scrolls on his desk. In the end, after retrieving the child, it had occurred to Harry they really needed to go back and get his name from Severus, which had led to a rather terse conversation in which it became clear that if Hermione was right at all, she wasn't right yet. Severus was frustrated, now no longer resigned to his last few days as he evidently had been before, and all of his issues were right there on the surface, boiling.

Also, he was thoroughly furious at Hermione, and while Harry expected that in the long run—assuming her ideas worked—he'd forgive her, since on balance living was probably better than not; right at that moment, Harry had been as much a reminder of Hermione as anything else.

Harry had left in one piece, but there was a high probability that was mostly because he only dropped all the standard protective Auror charms when he thought about it, and he hadn't. And because Severus was weak beyond belief, and doing a particularly poor job of adjusting for it.

He'd come home to London with baby Ellery in tow, moving in temporarily with Ron and Daphne (and Andrew) in order to not confuse the poor kid any more than absolutely necessary, and spent about two days watching him. It took a lot less than that to work out he was perfect, but as Harry had relatively little experience with babies, aside from the occasional afternoon with Teddy a long time ago, and none with babies that had black hair that stood up in a ridiculous cowlick in front and green eyes and a suspicious and curious stare, he had some ground to make up.

Daphne had him this morning, so Harry could come in and make sure everything was in order for a bit of an absence; it had taken him far longer than was reasonable to work through everything on his calendar and clear away every possible commitment for the foreseeable future.

He was just about to go when the callbox buzzed. He considered for a moment whether he ought to just leave it, as he was on his way out the door and intended to head straight back to Iqaluit, but in the end, he pushed the button. "Yes?"

"Ah, good I caught you." Hermione sounded breathless.

"Why, is something wrong?"

"What? No. I just wanted to make sure everything was still—stop it!"

"Stop what?"

"Nothing. George apparently can't make good on a promise." Potter, tell her you're fine so I can go back to teasing the rest of the story out of her, came George's voice.

"Tell your husband," Harry said, "that I'm on my way out so if he could keep his pants on for ten seconds we'll be done, that everything is fine, and that I owe him for the, what did you say? Particularly useful items?"

"That's the part he's still working on," she said with a chuckle, "but anyway, I just wanted to say good luck."

"You'll go help out Ron and Daphne and—"

"And show him both your pictures a lot, yes. And use big words. He's probably used to that. If it's going to be more than another week, you'll be in touch and we'll figure out what to do. Now, go on. You must be eager if you're not even making the least show of grimacing at George's antics."

Harry laughed and rang off, then picked up his cloak and headed for the Floos. Two minutes later he was out the back door of Ron's house again, cloak firmly tied and shrunken trunk and broom in his pocket as the Portkey took him to the same open field outside of Iqaluit as before. He tapped his own head with his wand, Disillusioning himself, and flew into town.

The hospital was quiet at this hour. He'd left London at not-quite-noon, so it was just seven here, and aside from the nurses, no one was about. He slipped into Severus's room and sat down on the edge of the bed.

"Muffling charm?" Severus murmured.

"Done."

"Miss Granger?"

"Doesn't call herself that, but she's not here."

"Yes, but had I said Mrs Weasley, I'd have had to clarify."

"You sound better."

"I feel better." Severus finally opened his eyes. "Why are you back?"

"Did you know I never actually filed the divorce papers? The papers found out about them and ran all manner of supposition, but it was crap. I just didn't bother trying to make them pretend to care about getting it right."

"Why the devil not? I left you, ran off to Canada, and didn't communicate for over a year." Severus frowned.

"While under the influence of hormones, blood poisoning, and, if Hermione's to be believed, a crippling case of self-doubt."

"I didn't doubt myself, Potter. I doubted you."

"You used to call me Harry, unless you were pissed off, deep in some intellectual problem, or making a specific effort to get me on my knees. So, which is it?"

"Let's start with the first."

"Oh?"

"Haven't I the right? You brought your know-it-all friend here to pump me for information."

"I actually didn't know she had any such plan. We hardly had an opportunity to chat beforehand."

"It seemed an awfully coordinated attack."

"No, honestly. I got the letter mid-day and was here in a few hours."

"I see. I had thought the plan must be to soften me up with you, and then bring in the major artillery. This is rather not the same."

"No. And artillery? Have you been reading Muggle military history again?" Harry grinned slightly. "Let me guess. The careers of, who, Hudson? Wait, who else explored Canada? Like, Cartier or someone?"

"Very good. And yes, I have been reading a great deal, in my free time."

"Had a lot of that, have you?"

"For a time I had nothing but free time. I was rather indisposed, whilst awaiting the birth."

"Right. The birth you didn't mention to me so I couldn't do anything insane like rub your feet or bring you bananas and anchovies."

Severus sighed. "It seemed like the right choice at the time. You really didn't bring Granger with you to harass the information out of me?"

"No. Frankly, as ill as the bloke at that welfare for orphans place indicated you were, we thought I might need to try to find out what the fuck happened with Legilimency."

"You wouldn't."

"Didn't want to. However, limited options, you know?"

"You might have visited my home and located the letter I left you."

"What letter?"

Severus rolled his eyes. "Are you joking? He told you I'd had a child, that it was yours, and that I was ill, but saw fit to withhold the vital fact that I'd left you a letter regarding the disposition of my effects and the history of our situation?"

"Well, why didn't you mention it, when I was here? Or when I came back, to ask about his name?"

"I was a bit overwrought."

"Right. Me, too. So, what brought out the Potter stuff?"

"I told you. I was furious."

"And now? You seem not to be in the midst of an intellectual problem."

"True. It must be an effort to get you on your knees."

Harry chuckled. "You can't be up to anything like that quite this soon, can you?"

"Ask Sir Nicholas; kneeling has long been an excellent position for execution."

Harry laughed outright. "You are feeling better." He pulled up one foot, then the other, removing his trainers so he could stretch out next to Severus.

"And you've suddenly lost all your fury."

"That's because now I know you didn't actually want to leave. Because you left me a note. And you were irritated that I didn't get it." Harry was a little surprised by how quickly his irritation had vanish, himself, but then, as Hermione had explained to him a couple of times now, he had fairly good reason to respond badly to anything he perceived as abandonment, and he supposed it might be as simple as having had that perception relieved.

Severus shifted slightly as Harry rolled a little closer, and then, in a maneuver that was so familiar Harry didn't know how he hadn't realized he missed it, tossed his head with a snort and lifted his arm to reach around and pull him closer.

The effect was somewhat ruined by the fact that the Muggle tubes and wires got momentarily crossed, which made Severus curse and Harry laugh as he rolled to get off the bed and duck down in the corner as the nurse came in to check—Disillusioned against Muggle eyes was all well and good, but the jig would be up if she went to check Severus's pulse and there was a man-shaped lump in the way. He had the skills to contain such a situation, but it would take time he didn't really want to spend working, and he'd probably be obliged to fill in badly-printed forms in triplicate on government stationery, possibly in French, at the Canadian Ministry in Ottawa, which would just be a pain in the arse.

So, he got out of the way, then entertained himself by watching intently as she checked vital signs and generally fussed, and then, when she started flirting, made ridiculous faces until Severus's lip quirked.

Predictably, the nurse thought the smile was for her and blushed.

Harry bit his lip as Severus suffered more fussing, shrugging broadly and mouthing sorry until she finally wandered off to see to his breakfast.

Severus waited for the door to close, then crossed his arms and glared. For just a moment, Harry thought maybe he'd gone too far, but he couldn't help it. It had been way too long, and Severus had seemed like the man he'd been five years before.

Weak, sure, but that part, Harry knew what to do with. And the glare was like the Potter; it was familiar and didn't feel furious.

He wasn't quite sure how to manage nursing Severus and taking care of a baby, and he supposed he was going to need to work that out in the next few days, but watching him, he thought figuring it all out would probably be fairly worthwhile. He fished his shoes out from under the bed as Severus continued to glare, then shrugged. "I think we should go back to your place for breakfast, don't you?"

"I expect Caroline will be quite put out if I vanish before she can bring my oatmeal."

"I think Caroline will be too puzzled to be put out, and besides, she'll be rather more shocked when she comes back and finds me here, right?"

"Ah, you plan to cancel the charm?"

"No, but you know Disillusionment only works when the Muggle doesn't know or suspect you're there. When she sees you thrusting up into my mouth and gripping my hair, I think unless she's a lot stupider than she looks, she's going to start to suspect."

Severus snorted. "So you intend to kidnap me?"

"I already followed to what I don't think it's unfair to term the end of the earth, twice. So, yes, but only if you help me get you loose and out of here. I'll have to Apparate you Side-Along, obviously."

"I hate that."

"I know. But I'll make it up to you."

Severus frowned. "Potter," he said, voice low but neither furious nor distracted nor horny. "You were here days ago, and you were furious. You were bitter and sarcastic, and you offered to kill me."

"Oh, please. I only meant—"

"No, I'm not finished. I know you only meant in the sense that I killed Albus, once upon a time. But the offer was there. It's been a week. I know you said my intentions made all the difference, but honestly, how can you have forgotten it all? You're… playful. And even before I left, you'd not been playful in some time. As I recall, you often complained that I insulted you, that I took things too seriously, that I refused to be the man you wanted."

"All true."

"Then, what changed?"

Harry paused. "I swear, I'll explain that first, but unless she is the least efficient nurse on the planet, she'll be back with breakfast way too soon. Can we go? You seem all right, but I'll bring you back if it's not tenable to take care of you at home—you can claim to have wandered off in a fever or something."

Severus lifted a brow. "Stalling, are we?"

"Not really." Harry shrugged. "Maybe a little, but it's not that complicated. I just… When I went home, I just realized I was tired of being angry."

"And so you just decided to stop. Being angry."

"Probably not that simple, but for the moment, I'm pretending it is. I mean, I'm hurt, I suppose, that you still have enough frustration about everything that this was the direction you went when all the whole, whatever it was, the whole hormone thing came down on you. But I get it, and frankly, I've been angrier in my life, and got over it. Plus, there's the baby."

"And you want me back just for him. Because you want children, and now you have a son." Severus's tone was neutral—interested, not flat, but it was clear Harry's response mattered.

Harry shook his head. "I did and do want children, but that's not why he's relevant. I mean, I didn't actually think he was possible, and yet, you and I have been married a long time. And I do think having both of us around, er. All right, I didn't have actual specific opinions about what was best for kids a week ago, so it's really weird how firmly I feel about it, but I do think that would be better, but that's also not why he's relevant. It's just, all this happened because of him, so it's technically sort of his fault, but look at him."

"He isn't here."

"No, he's with Ron and Daphne, and Andrew finds him fascinating. He's big now. Running and stuff. Um, Andrew, not the baby. My point is, look at what came out of all that. And if we decide we really must have another one, we'll know about the problems and stuff. So, I'm not angry. I'm just not."

Severus slid his feet off the side of the bed. "I estimate we have something like a minute and a half. Do you know where we're going?"

Harry grinned. "Yeah. I mean, I don't know exactly where you live, but I know where we're Apparating to. After I do something about your completely inadequate clothing." He quickly transfigured the flimsy worn robe into a thick jumper, and pulled the sheet off the bed for trousers. The pillowcase made mediocre, but warm, shoes of a sort, and just as they heard Caroline whistling her way toward them, Harry unhooked the monitors and pulled Severus close.

They materialized behind the office he'd visited the week before, and Harry looked around. "All right?"

"Well enough."

"Which way?"

"You don't know where I live, is it?"

"No, why?"

Severus snorted. "We're only two blocks over, and just past the alley." He walked slowly, as though he were stiff, but the wind brought a flush to his cheeks and he stood straight.

Not that he was in the habit of slumping, Harry reminded himself.

"What?"

"What what?"

"You snorted." Severus gestured with his hand to indicate the direction, and they turned right.

"Sorry. I was just noticing how you were standing."

"I'm not standing; I'm walking."

"Pedant."

"This isn't a new characteristic."

"I know. I like it." Harry grinned and raised his eyebrows as he pointed at the door he guessed must be the one, as it had a knocker made of actual full-grown dragon claw.

Severus nodded. "How did you know?"

"It struck me long before you'd have allowed me to do anything about it."

Severus rolled his eyes as Harry magicked the door open, then ushered him in and muttered, as they passed through toward the kitchen, "I meant, about the door."

"I know. But it's fun to wind you up. I forgot how much fun. Dragon claw, and yes, I was paying attention, that time you and Charlie gambled for semi-rare materials you had on your persons." Harry stumbled over something and looked down. "Oh. Wow, you have, um. A lot of toys."

"An infant lives here. Lived here, though I suppose perhaps—"

"Lived, yes. As you're coming home with us and we're going to have lots of toys and finger-paints and books."

"Be still my heart."

"Like you haven't been reading him, what, Henry James or something."

"Not just yet."

Harry chuckled. "But you have them all put away to read to him when he's three."

"I haven't been expecting to survive until he was three." Severus turned slightly away, looking down at the smooth wooden table-top in the kitchen.

Harry frowned. "Fuck. I forgot. Um, right, but you have them put away with instructions."

Severus pursed his lips. "I might have done." He picked up and handed over an envelope.

"Thought so." Harry licked his lips and set the envelope back down. "I didn't actually think you were lying about it."

"You should read it."

"I will." Harry stepped closer. "However, I can think of at least six things I'd like to do first, before you need to rest. And you'll definitely need to rest."

"Such as?"

"Most of them involve touching you."

"Most?"

"Yes. The other one involves feeding you things you like to eat, and shut up; one, I'm a decent enough cook and I've been on my own for a while, and two, I know, you think it's impossibly sappy, but I seem to recall someone bringing me tea and toast when I had that Russian fever thing."

"Ah. Yes, well, I couldn't have you expiring of dehydration."

"Just what I was thinking," Harry said. He jerked his head to the side. "Come on. We've seen the kitchen, and the sitting room is full of toys. That leaves the bath and the bedroom—"

"And the nursery."

"Yes, I imagine I'll be able to tell by the bars on the bed, unless you've got some new habits whilst you've been here. Um. Have you?"

"Have I what?"

"Got any new habits?" Harry pressed his lips together. Probably he shouldn't have asked, but they had been apart for quite some time. "Er. Not that… Uh. Never mind."

"Potter. Are you trying to ask me whether I've been…" Severus broke off, and then his voice cracked as he asked "Seriously?"

Harry blinked. "What?"

"Are you seriously asking me whether, whilst I was pregnant and living amongst Muggles, or whilst I was ill and watching an infant, I've been entertaining other men? Have you taken a blow to the head?"

Harry scowled. "I didn't quite think of it like that. I just was thinking, um, it's been a long time and you must have had opportunities and, er. I shouldn't have asked. It's not… we were ostensibly divorced anyway, so it wouldn't even be any sort of, um. I'll stop talking now."

"I ought to ask the same of you, you know. The odds of you having had opportunities is considerably higher—"

"Opportunities, not taken. I can't even tell you how many completely horrifying women I had to fend off as they tried to help me get over everything. I mean, mothers of women, and men, and probably twins, like, one of each, just for spice. I have no idea. What?" Severus was laughing, but looked vaguely troubled…

"How unfortunate for you, trying to dissuade every set of twins in Britain from throwing themselves at you."

"Their mothers from throwing them at me. It wasn't that funny. If you don't believe me, though I really hope you do, feel free to have a look about. Nothing to see. Also, we seem to have got sidetracked, and I want to put your energy to better purpose than this. You can laugh about the travails of being a bloody eligible bachelor who is profoundly not interested later." Harry shook his head and started down the hall. The room on the right was the bath, clearly, and as he walked he could see the cot in the room on the end; this left the room on the left. He opened the door and stepped through, then turned to make sure Severus was following him. "And just to be clear, I'm saying no, really, I haven't had any sex with anyone but me in all these months, so I imagine if you're concerned about having the energy for a lot, um, I think this won't take long. For the first time. Then we'll see where we are."

"Such a romantic," Severus said, closing the door behind him. "Brings me from the hospital, drags me into bed without so much as a hello kiss."

Harry lifted a brow. "A challenge? Speaking of stalled romanticism. Daring me to kiss you and all." He didn't give Severus time to respond to that, darting forward quickly and tilting his chin up. Severus wasn't a particularly large man, but Harry had always been slight, and it was something of a surprise how much Severus staggered under the weight of him, but he realized right away what had happened and caught him as he stepped back.

He took it slower as he tried again, lifting his lips to touch Severus's gently, then pressing harder as his glasses fogged and tilted up off his nose. He hadn't deliberately deepened the kiss, and maybe Severus had, but all at once they'd moved back until they were pressed against the door. Severus relaxed there, no longer needing to expend any effort to remain standing, and Harry pulled back. "You're going to tell me if I'm pushing too hard, right?"

"Not a chance," Severus said. He gathered himself and pushed back, startling Harry enough to land him on his arse on the bed.

"So, not too hard, then," he murmured as Severus followed him down. The bed was firm, the way Severus always wanted them, but Harry thought it felt brilliant as shaking fingers fumbled with his buttons until he pushed them away and rolled, leaning over Severus and kissing him again, slowly, thoroughly. The transfigured clothes melted away easily, and then he had Severus beneath his hands, naked. He laid his palm flat on the pale sternum and stroked down, watching hairs flatten and spring up, feeling the softer flesh that had grown out and round when he wasn't here to see it. He paused, then decided if he could have Severus back, he could live with having missed the sight…

"I thought you were impatient," Severus said.

"No, I'm eager." Harry pushed his hand around the curve of bare hip, still narrow but once again softer, then bent forward to place a kiss below the collarbone, letting his lips slide along the hard ridge there.

Severus groaned, arching his back to push his belly up as Harry's hands roamed back and across. "Be impatient."

Harry shook his head. "Don't want to make you worse, and as I recall, this is the sort of thing that's as good slow as fast."

"Perhaps better." Severus arched again and rounded back down as Harry reached between his legs, stopping briefly along the way and his fingers brushed across the unfamiliar new scar he immediately realized had to be the result of Ellery's birth.

"Perhaps." Harry lifted his hand long enough to lose his own clothes, Banished to somewhere in the house or possibly in the front garden, then kissed his way down through sparse hair, single strands gray and bright, the rest of it wiry black still, until he felt the head of Severus's cock nudging at his chin. "Now who's eager?"

"No, I'm impatient." Severus slid his fingers into Harry's hair and tugged, then groaned as Harry took the head of his cock into his mouth.

It didn't surprise him much that, as he maneuvered into a more comfortable position, he jolted and jumped when his own cockhead brushed Severus's shin. It really had been a long bloody time.

"Harry?"

He looked up, slowing the working of his tongue but not stopping entirely. "Hmm?"

"Did you mean it, that you'd rather take care of me yourself?"

Harry rolled his eyes and let a tiny scrape of tooth run up the underside of his cock. "Id'it. Course."

Severus moaned again. "Keep telling me."

Harry let his cock loose with a slight pop and wiped his chin with one hand, then crawled forward again. "I want to take care of you. Like this, and like everything else."

"Almost like an old married couple?"

"Almost."

Severus pulled him into another kiss then, wrapping one leg around the backs of Harry's thighs, and clinging. "Good."

* * * * *

Harry glanced down and scowled, folding his arms over his diminishing chest. Diminishing rapidly as miles of stomach overtook it on an hourly basis, which made no sense, because with 74 days remaining (not that he was counting) at this pace there was going to be a medium-sized elephant in there by a week before the due date. He'd have been glad for an opportunity to direct the scowl at the still-annoying call-boxes, if it meant not being enormous, but he was on leave and not likely to get the chance for months.

"Foot rub?" Severus inquired from the doorway.

Harry's scowl deepened. "How the fuck did you do this alone? Especially I'm wondering since I don't even have to put up with the whole blood thing. I'm just enormous and misshapen and itchy."

"Budge over."

"Can't. Too unwieldy."

Severus lifted a brow, then pointed his wand and levitated Harry a couple of inches off the bed, moving him far enough to the left to allow Severus to recline against the pillows next to him. "This was your bright idea—"

"No making fun of the idiot."

"It's nearly over."

"Seventy-four days."

Severus shrugged. "Then I suppose the foot rub can wait."

"Besides, it's your fault."

"How's that? As I recall, you volunteered for this plan out of the clear blue sky."

"Yes, but with the example provided, how could I not want more?"

"You thought you'd quite like to regress to a wittering adolescent as your kidneys went into wholesale revolt, followed by an angry escape to the wilds of the Arctic?"

"No. I just thought you'd probably kill me if I asked you to go there again—it only seems fair it's my turn—and Ellery is perfect, so I wanted to further improve the world. I didn't quite expect to itch at all times. And swell. And be revolted by peppermint. And require artichokes on a twice-daily basis."

"They're roasting now."

"God, I love you."

Severus rested his hand on Harry's swollen belly until the baby thumped it, then nodded as though this had been some sort of communication. "Meanwhile, I could rub your feet, or I could rub something else. Your overly-active son is down for his nap, and I find myself at loose ends for the next half hour. And by the looks of things, it's not just your feet that are hoping for attention."

Harry glanced down at the tip of his cock, which he could barely see over the protrusion of his belly. "I suppose it might distract me for a little while."

"I should hope. I'm not sure what other outcome you expected, naked on the bed in the middle of the afternoon."

"A nap myself, before Ron and Hermione descend with additional overly-active hangers-on?"

"Ah, good. What I'm about to do will help you sleep anyway. I shall begin just here, with—"

"That tickles!"

Severus chuckled and pressed harder until Harry stopped complaining.

-end-


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