Harry woke up feeling dizzy and weak. He was lying in a bed, crisp white sheets up to his chin. Many similar beds surrounded him, and Madam Pomfrey was walking from bed to bed, checking on patients.
She beamed when she saw him awake. "How are you feeling?"
"Oh, Harry, you defeated Voldemort. Thanks to you, this nightmare of a war is over."
Harry felt relieved, but he was still a bit confused. "Why am I here?"
"The rebound of the Killing Curse stunned you. Professor Snape rescued you. If not for him, the Death Eaters would have been on you in an instant." Madam Pomfrey pointed discreetly at Snape, who could be seen through an archway, stirring a cauldron in an adjoining hall.
She explained that Snape was preparing potions there because the dungeons had been wrecked. The hospital wing had been moved to the ground floor, in what had remained of the Great Hall.
Harry bombarded her with questions: was Ron all right? Hermione? Ginny? Of his closest friends, everyone but Hagrid survived.
After Pomfrey had gone to tend to other patients, Harry tried to absorb the news. The war had ended. Hagrid had died. Snape had saved him.
Harry was close enough to Snape to see him clearly. Now he was chopping ingredients with skillful, methodical movements. When he saw Harry watching him, Snape greeted him with a nod. Harry kept looking at him, torn between different emotions: the old hate for the Death Eater who had caused his parents' deaths, gratitude towards the wizard who had saved his life more than once, and reluctant admiration for the spy who had made the Order's victory possible.
Something in Harry had changed. Perhaps it was the fact that he had cast an Unforgivable curse and killed a man. An insane man, but a man, nonetheless. That wasn't a minor detail. After you kill a man, the simplistic notions of "good" and "bad" cease to be enough to define the world.
The next day, Harry felt well. He stood up and walked to Snape, who was stirring the cauldron.
Snape met Harry's eyes. "Potter. I'm glad to see you on your feet again."
"Can I... help you?"
Snape watched him closely, as if evaluating him. Then he handed Harry his knife. "Chop them into small pieces."
While Harry chopped the horned slugs, Snape grated a ginger root.
At nightfall, Madam Pomfrey ordered Harry to go to bed. But the next morning, even before breakfast, Harry was back at the potions worktable.
Snape and Harry worked together for many days, mostly in silence, but in complete understanding.
On a hot afternoon - summer was approaching - Snape tucked up his sleeves whilst stirring the cauldron, and Harry noticed lines of crimson on his left forearm. He peered more closely at it. In place of the Dark Mark, there was a Phoenix, its resplendent crimson wings spread wide and its long golden tail glowing in the dim light.
"Is that a tattoo?" asked Harry.
Snape stared at him gravely. "No. When you killed Voldemort, the Mark faded out, and the Phoenix appeared in its place."
Harry touched Snape's arm, gently caressing the Phoenix's feathers. He heard Snape's breath catch, and looked up. There was a fire in the dark eyes that seared Harry's soul.
A few days later, the inevitable happened: Madam Pomfrey told Harry he was perfectly well and should move to the Ravenclaw Tower - the only tower left in the Castle, and where a few former students were living.
Harry told Snape the news.
"I suppose I will not see you again," said Snape.
"Look... Can we take a walk outside? Just for a few minutes?"
Snape looked around, then turned to Harry again. "I was just thinking that I should go to the greenhouses and fetch some herbs."
They walked side by side through the ruined halls and across the entrance door, taking the path that led to the greenhouses.
Once inside greenhouse two, they were surrounded by Flitterbloom vines. Drastic weeding and pruning was in order, but no one had time for that: there were injured people to be cared for, dead people to be buried and buildings to be reconstructed. Severus brushed aside the vines as he walked and stopped in front of a bed of asphodels. With an inquiring glance, he made it clear that Harry should speak.
"I just wanted to ask if... if I can carry on working with you," said Harry, feeling foolish and awkward.
"Are you willing to do that?" asked Severus, sounding hesitant.
"Yes. I am willing," answered Harry, as solemnly as if they were talking about something else, something secret and elusive that they could not name.
The glow in Severus's eyes was dazzling. "Would you like to work as my assistant for the rest of summer?"
"There's nothing that I want more," replied Harry, gazing at Severus's lips and wondering how would they feel against his own.
Severus narrowed his eyes at him and Harry realised he was in trouble, now: he had forgotten that Snape was a powerful Legilimens.
Severus cupped Harry's face in both hands and, very slowly, leaned towards him. Harry wrapped his arms around Severus's waist. Severus's tongue lightly traced the contours of Harry's mouth, softly pressing against his lips and finally slipping between them. Their bodies ground against each other; their tongues curled together. Harry felt completely lost in Severus.
The kiss ended with a soft brush of lips, and their eyes locked. Suddenly a pink pod opened beside them, its shiny beans falling to the ground and bursting into a bunch of flowers. At first, the two of them were startled, then Harry laughed. Severus picked up a flower and put it into one of Harry's button holes. Harry did the same for Severus.
When Severus finished gathering the plants he had come for, they walked back to the castle hand in hand.
Note: *"Puffapod" is a magical plant mentioned in Chapter 8 of "Prisoner of Azkaban".
Ptyx, October 2006