This is given to everyone with much gratitude for your patience. I had planned on it being to you before Christmas, but family and such won. Many many thanks goes to Yen for a quick turn around on the clean up and improvements of this one.
And I do
Severus shut the shop door behind him and locked it tight. Looking about, he watched as the more unsavoury collection of the Wizarding population slunk away, knowing they had no way to get in. Severus let a tight lipped grin be seen as he looked around for Marcus McAron. He didn't mind the riff-raff. Some of his best contacts came from that group. Those who respected him were not the problem. No, the issue was with the group that were after anything dealing with Harry Potter – they would steal the stool in the front room because Harry sat on it, the soap from the sink because it could have touched Harry's skin. The Wizarding World had calmed down about its hero for the most part, but there were always those … fanatics out there.
Spotting the man he was looking for, Severus waved as he walked towards him. McAron was one of his contacts as well as the leader of the Barrel Alley poor. He was also the man Severus put in charge when he was at Hogwarts and now when he left The Dungeon.
Glancing down Barrel Alley, he noted the rundown houses – all of the Ministry owned – that the people too poor to afford a roof were allowed to use. That was all the Ministry covered – four outer walls and a roof. Heat, water, and food were up to the occupants to scrounge for as best they could.
"Master Snape, yer wished ter speak wit' me?"
McAron's question called Severus' attention back to where he was. Handing the man a small key, he nodded towards The Dungeon. "The cells are filled as normal. You are in charge of letting people collect what they need and recording it. Make sure everyone stays away from the door for the stairs, it is warded as well as the rest of the building. I do not wish to hear of a child ending up in St Mungo's for the holiday."
The Harry Potter fanatics that lurked about his doors knew better than to attempt entry once he locked up. It had only taken one group's failure to curb any other break ins. A weeklong stay at St Mungo's was not worth the profits, especially as Severus let his contacts know he increased his protections since then.
McAron accepted the key and tucked it deep in his threadbare coat pocket. "Thanks."
The warmth in that statement said more than the words did. Severus understood the gratitude, he had grown up lacking some of the essentials. The Dungeon had once been a prison before Azkaban was built. The upper levels he used as his flat and shop were once the guard house and processing rooms and the lowest level was where the cells were. Part of his remodelling had included removing the iron gates – which he sold to a Muggle salvage corporation – and changing those cells into storage facilities for wood, coal, fruits, vegetables, preserved meats, grains, warm blankets, and anything else he could think the less fortunate could use during the winter, things he would help supply to his contacts when he used work at Hogwarts. The poor could now request potions as well by knocking on the stairwell door, which is why he warned McAron to keep them away as he was going to be gone.
"You're welcome. Keep an eye on the place." Severus nodded toward the Dungeon, knowing that they would. It was part of their agreement – he provided some of the necessities and a warm place to stay if the houses were just too drafty, and they watched over his store along with passing him information when he needed it.
"Off ter Mr Potter's then?" McAron's blue eyes searched Severus' face, suppressed amusement in them.
Narrowing his own eyes, Severus scanned the area, spotting a reporter lurking a few building away, his camera aimed in their direction. "Did Mr Parrot put you up to this?"
A quick nod from the man gave Severus his answer. "Did he pay you for information or for attempting to get information?"
"Attempting." A grin flashed across the man's face.
"Then you attempted, but you are not succeeding. Go let him know you failed." Severus waved McAron away before heading down Diagon Alley. It didn't take long to hear a set of footsteps rushing after him. Turning about, he glared at Parrot, a reporter that Harry and he had been ignoring for the past week, before abruptly spinning about and striding down the Alley.
The icy cold winds of December blew the words towards Severus instead of away as he had hoped. Continuing down the road as if he didn't hear the man, Severus was upset when he appeared next to his shoulder.
"Master Snape," the reporter moved to block his path, his quill at ready. "Is it true that you and Harry Potter are business partners?"
Severus glared at the idiot. "Anyone who bothers to look at the business records at the Ministry could tell you your answer. Go do your research before you bother me again."
Sweeping around the man, he hid his grin at the man's dumbfounded expression behind a scowl. The man's faint French accent assured him that this was not one of his former students, and therefore did not expect the reaction he got. Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted the shopkeepers who knew him of old laughing and shaking their heads as they closed their doors early for Christmas Eve. They knew the one to approach was not Snape – anyone under the age of thirty knew that, and several over that age as well.
It didn't take long for Severus to reach Weasleys' Wizard Wheezies. Slipping through the back door, he walked carefully through the potions lab and into the stock room. Percy Weasley held up a clipboard to acknowledge his presence before returning to counting the stack in front of him.
Scribbling down something, Percy nodded towards Severus. "Heading on? You can use the floo in the office if you want to, it is keyed into the Burrow's. George left the door unlocked, Mum is expecting you, and I hear Harry is already there."
"I will use it, thank you." Severus headed for the door as Percy called out to him.
"Tell Mum that we'll be there in about an hour. We just need to close the shop. George is shooing out the last customers."
"I'll let her know." The door closed behind him as he made his way to the office. In less than a minute he walked out of the Burrow's floo.
"Severus, you made it!" Molly smiled as she rushed through the living room towards the kitchen. "Harry is in the garden with Ron. You can put your things in the twins' room."
"Hello, Molly. Percy and George will be here in an hour – they are finishing closing the shop." Severus headed for the stairs as Molly called out her thanks. This was his third Christmas at the Burrow, so he needed no directions to the twins' room, he stayed there the last two times. Ever since the St Mungo's Incident, he had a place at the Weasley table starting from Christmas Eve all the way through to Boxing Day.
He had attempted to avoid the place last Christmas, sending Harry alone even though they were officially a couple, as he was unsure of his welcome. The Weasleys had nothing to thank him for unlike last time. Arthur had appeared outside his shop door, knocked, and then remained there until Severus answered. In no uncertain terms was Severus told that he was in the wrong place, and should report to the Burrow for the holiday festivities. Molly had set a place for him and had cooked enough food as well. Severus had refrained from mentioning that Molly always cooked plenty and went with him. Arthur didn't track down people to come to his table during the holiday unless they were welcomed and Severus didn't truly wish to be apart from Harry. This year he didn't question where he was supposed to be, Molly and Arthur let it drop last Sunday that they were expecting him. Storing his bag near 'his' bed in the twins' room, Severus went to the kitchen to see what he could help with.
Harry raised an eyebrow at Ron. "Well? When are you two getting married? I haven't heard Mum Weasley talking about it yet."
Kicking a clump of dirt, Ron looked about the garden before returning his gaze to Harry. "I just finished my internship at St Mungo's. Healer Smith, the one near here is planning to retire soon, and I am taking over his practice. I am going to shadow him for two months and then take over. Once that is done I will marry Hermione. I am going to see if she would wear my ring today though."
"Does Mum have enough time to plan it, or does Hermione have it all worked out by now?" Harry grinned, knowing very well Hermione would have all the details figured out – she has had over two years to do so.
Rolling his eyes, Ron chuckled. "You know Hermione has already planned everything. We'll give Mum the job of pulling it together if she wants it, but the hard decisions are made."
Smiling, Harry nodded only to stop, a frown marring his brow. "Is Healer Smith allowing you to take over his surgery?"
Ron shook his head no. "It is part of his house, so it makes sense that he won't. I am deciding if I want mine to be a separate building or part of the house, but it will be on my own land."
Harry remembered the plot of land Ron showed him last year only three miles away from the Burrow. "There wasn't anything on it Ron. Are you having it built?"
'The house is already going up – I am using the last of the money we were gifted with for saving the world." Ron sighed. "It is the surgery that I am worried about – it is not figured into the cost already."
"Let me help." Harry leaned forward, resting his hand on Ron's shoulder. "Please... I can fund your surgery building and you can treat me for free until we balance out."
"Building? You think it should be separate from the house?" Ron latched onto that one part while he considered whether or not to accept the offer.
Nodding, Harry knew Ron would want his reason. "Yes. That way no one is underfoot when Hermione come home tired. Are you helping to test brooms? She asked me, but I turned her down."
"Why?!" was Ron's shocked reply.
"Because I am there in the Alley and people would come to the shop just to ask me personally about the brooms and that would harm business. If there was some way to guarantee that they wouldn't do so, I would help. If you did, it could help your business."
Ron snorted and grinned. "Just being a Weasley around here will help my business. Mum's reputation will see to that. When Healer Smith is busy, she is the one people trusted to help them. I guess they figured raising us made her the most qualified."
Chuckling, Harry couldn't help but comment on that. "Your name is going to help you a lot then. Are you changing the name of the practice?"
"Of course! Right now it is Smith's name. I will change it to mine. I don't know if I will add anything else. They don't take too kindly to making cute names for surgeries around here." Ron pinned Harry with a sharp look. "And when are you and Severus marrying?"
Harry cocked an eyebrow up. "We've only been a couple for just over a year, we haven't broached that topic."
"Why not?" Ron frowned slightly. "Not afraid of commitment, are you?"
Harry shook his head. "No, we just are not rushing into anything. You can't talk about the amount of time. You've pined after Hermione since fourth year. We'll get there when we get there."
Molly had ordered Severus out of the kitchen last year when they discovered they both had very different cooking styles. That had never stopped Severus from offering his help. He was just walking into the gardens after being politely refused when he heard Harry's reply to Ronald. He knew he was stuck in his ways and had often wondered if his careful nature – the slowness that they were moving in this relationship – bothered Harry. At his insistence they had not moved passed kissing, hand holding, and hugs. He wanted more, a lot more. His morning and evening wanks were testimony to that, but he didn't know if he would survive knowing more with Harry if it all fell apart afterward. It was the one thing that kept him sane after Lily left - he never even kissed her - so he didn't know what he was missing, nor could he compare anyone else's kisses to hers.
'Am I afraid of commitment?' Shaking his head no, Severus realized he was afraid Harry wasn't ready for one. The ring deep in his trouser pocket showed that. He had been carrying it for the last six months, every morning placing it in his left trouser pocket and every evening setting it on his night stand, but he never asked because he wasn't positive Harry was ready.
Walking closer, he watched Ronald head back to the house. Harry started to follow him, but Severus called softly out to him.
"Severus," Harry beamed at him as he rushed over. "You made it!"
Severus raised an eyebrow. "Were you ever in doubt? I said I would be here, and so I am."
Grinning, Harry shook his head. "I just expected you later. Mr Ward is known to be late and Ms Bautista doesn't normally stop by for her potions until the late afternoon."
"I informed them to come by before lunch today. Healer Barton told Ms Bautista that the potion was safe to take early."
"Doesn't mean they listened." Harry rested his hand on Severus' arm. "I am glad they did."
"Ms Bautista would never dare to be late, Mr Ward on the other hand ..." Severus trailed off at the knowing look on Harry's face.
Harry finished for him. "… makes a habit of it. At least you are not making potions for anyone tomorrow."
"We are opening Boxing Day for the few who will be coming though. You can remain here, if you wish."
"What? And leave you to the hoards?"
Last Boxing Day, while not as busy as the first Harry helped him with, business was still steady, a busy kind of steady. "I have warded the entrance so only those who truly have business with us can enter."
Harry's amazed face prompted Severus to continue. "I reworked the wards this morning before I left as we were not going to be there. I made sure to tell McAron so he can spread the word. Only the truly foolish will attempt those doors until we return."
Harry frowned slightly. "McAron? Who is he?"
"He is the man in charge of my information network. I am sure you've seen him – a slightly stooped over man, close clipped grey hair, brown eyes, wrinkled weather beaten skin." As Harry shook his head no, Severus sighed. "He is also the one in charge of keeping the reporters and the general populace from bothering you as you move about the Diagon Alley area."
"Oh! He is the reason..." Harry stared up at Severus before continuing. "You have people safe guarding me outside of the shop?"
Pulling Harry into his arms, Severus rested his forehead against Harry's. "Since the day you asked for a safe haven, you have been watched and protected. I'm sure you've noticed the decrease of articles and pictures in the papers."
Harry nodded slowly. "Yeah, but you said it was because they were getting used to me."
Severus smirked slightly. "All because their access was cut off. Speaking of reporters, Parrot is paying for information, so some of the network might stop to ask you about us. Find out if he is paying for an attempt to gather information or for information, then tell them what you want."
"What I want? I can announce to the world we are a couple? That you cherish me as much as I cherish you?" Green eyes searched black.
Severus nodded before placing a gentle kiss on Harry's lips. "You can, you can also tell them we are business partners if you wish to."
He waited, hoping Harry would understand what he was asking. The widening of those green eyes and the joy flooding Harry's face said he did.
"You think we can make it? You are asking me... me to be your partner? Both business and otherwise?"
Severus leaned back slightly and nodded, feeling his heart beat faster. "Yes, I am. Will you?"
A slow smile curved Harry's lips. "Of course I will."
Smiling in relief, Severus pulled the simple gold band from his pocket and offered it to Harry.
"You have a ring with you too?" Harry stepped back and held out his left hand, his eyes glowing with happiness.
Severus refrained from telling him just how long he had carried the simple band and slipped it on Harry's ring finger. "One should always be prepared."
Laughing, Harry tugged him towards the house. Severus knew how Molly and the others would react and was ready for it. It always did good to be prepared.
"Who is knocking so insistently?" Harry glared at the wall while trying to see who was pounding on the shop's front door. They were obviously using a spell to make the sound reverberate throughout the building.
Severus slid his hand through Harry's hair, drawing his head back down to his aching length. "The Dungeon is closed for the night, whomever it is can go to St Mungo's for what they need."
Harry blew a gust of air across the wet skin before jumping at the pounding again.
Severus growled under his breath. "Harry, as I said for the last five people, anyone of importance can contact us without touching the front door."
"I know, but it is distracting!" Pulling himself up the bed, Harry kissed Severus softly. "Let me go get rid of them. I'll be back in just a moment."
Narrowing his eyes, Severus wrapped a hand around Harry's wrist. "I will do it from here."
He reached out his other arm and picked up his wand from his night stand. Three quick flicks drew an image on the wall, showing him what was outside the shop door - a woman standing there with a stack of pamphlets in one arm and her fist raised once more to pound on the wood. Twisting his wand, he brought the pamphlet into focus. "You did not ask anyone from the Diagon Alley Clean-up committee to come over, did you?"
Harry shook his head as he let a hand trail down Severus' chest, stopping to play with the man's nipples.
Two twists of Severus' wand followed by a flick silenced the knocks and vanished the image. Dropping his wand onto the mattress, he pulled Harry into a deep kiss. "Now, no one else can distract us."
Harry's happy smile was a perfect response to that. The only thing that was better was the pink lips that trailed down Severus' chest and towards his groin, brushing every sensitive spot along the way.