AN: Thanks to Yen for taking this one on and cleaning it up for me.
A Cry for Help!
Harry rushed out the back door of Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes. He had left Ron watching George but he couldn't waste even a second. Glancing around, he finally spotted the new shop that had sprung up just over a month ago. He had no clue how a shop could fit into the tiny space, but a door sat where there was once just an alley wall. People walked out that door, purchases in hand and praises on their lips.
With rapid strides, Harry slipped through the narrow door marked 'Laugh Potions'. The Comedy and Tragedy masks on it gave him hope that he would find more than another joke shop behind it.
The dim passageway was lit on both sides by small bottles sitting on shelves glowing with a multitude of coloured lights that seemed to emanate from the liquids in them. Three steps and he was through and into the store proper. In front of him was a counter with a door behind it with a large frosted window to its right and rows upon rows of shelves of jars and boxes to its left.
'I don't have time to browse. Hopefully, the clerk can help me.' Harry strode up to the counter, looking for a bell to ring. Instead, he spotted a sign that read 'Out to lunch, rest your purchases on the counter, then leave the exact amount of money next to it when it is displayed. After the balance goes to zero, you may take your purchases with you.'
Green eyes turned to stare at the filled shelves. How would he ever find what he needed in time? Maybe they should just send George to St Mungo's even though he was adamantly refusing. Drumming his fingers on the counter, Harry jumped slightly when the door behind it opened.
"What are you looking for, Potter?"
The voice was unexpected, especially as he'd never heard Snape sound so … congenial before. Not even after he was acquitted from all the crimes he committed as a spy and the news reporters had to reprint all their late editions. Not that he sounded particularly nice, but the bite that Harry was used to wasn't there.
Jerking around towards the Potions Master, he leant up against the counter, his fingers clenching around the edge.
"You work here?" Harry shook his head, "Never mind – it's George." He paused ever so briefly, seeing the blank look in Snape's eyes, "George Weasley, he's had a potion accident – the cauldron exploded. He wasn't able to shield fast enough. Long story short – I need some Dittany or the essence of it and a couple of Blood Replenishers, please. Do you have them?"
"One moment," Snape walked to a nearby shelf and came back with three small bottles. He set them down on the counter and a price appeared in the air above them.
Harry pulled coins from a pocket and dropped them onto the counter. The numbers changed, rolling down until it was below zero. Shrugging and knowing he didn't have the exact change, Harry grabbed the bottles and turned.
"It says wait until it reaches zero, Potter," Snape said behind him, his tone dry.
Harry spotted the door by the glowing lights and didn't bother turning around. "I don't have the exact amount, keep the change as a thanks for coming away from lunch to help."
With a quick wave behind him, he pulled open the door and left.
Severus watched as Potter rushed out the Diagon Alley door, one hand resting on the counter which caused the floating numbers to vanish and cancelled the charm that would have kept the young man in the shop. He quickly typed Potter's name into the small machine attached to his cash register and then put in the total and the amount paid. 'He has an account now with a credit waiting on him. I'll have to let Meaghan know.'
A small smile curled his lip as he returned to his lab. His front clerk will be unhappy she missed meeting Harry Potter, but he was glad he got to see him instead. At least he wouldn't be hearing about it for the next two or three months. Instead, he'll only hear about how she missed him for a week or two.
Closing the door behind him, he felt the warm summer breeze blow through the open window, bringing with it the familiar scents of the Forbidden Forest with a hint of wet from the Black Lake. He couldn't see Hogwarts castle, but that didn't bother him too much. He'd be back up there this weekend to help with any rebuilding left. Even if he didn't want to – which he did, he'd do it anyway just because he owed them, but mostly Filius. The half-goblin wasn't the Head of Ravenclaw on a whim. He observed, considered, and then drew a conclusion – the right conclusion – and that was why Severus was alive today. Unbeknownst to him, at some point in time during the last school year Filius had cast a charm on him to keep him alive if at all possible. Severus still didn't know exactly how the spell worked – Filius tried to explain it once and both of them decided that that was enough – but the Charms Professor had brought Madam Pomfrey to the Shack later and both of them proceeded to save his life.
Stirring his cauldron, he looked at his work docket. He still had a long afternoon.
Harry tipped his head and studied the side of the door. It was literally a door frame neatly fitted into the space between two other shops. There was no evidence of a building, there was no way the shop he saw when he walked in could fit, much less have a window letting in the amount of light he'd seen. 'It could have been a magical window, but it didn't feel like it, and honestly, the building didn't feel like it was squeezed into a magical space either.'
Stepping back, he stared at the door. It was understated. Just a black door with bronze fixtures, no windows, and the words 'Laugh Potions' inscribed across the top arched above the Tragedy and Comedy masks. Below that were the store hours. 'There is a store behind it. People are talking about how wonderful the potions are there. No one says anything about Snape though. They all talk about this sweet old lady and how busy it can get. I've been in it and no one was else was there. I met Snape and not a sweet old lady. Which is the truth?'
He reached for the door handle only to hear the loud and distinctive doorbell at Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes ring out, letting customers know that they were now back from lunch and open for business again. Dropping his hand, Harry headed back to work.
Throughout the month, he had asked innocuous questions about the door and the shop behind it. He learned that the owner had paid for that little section of wall and pavement. As far as the Ministry knew, that's all it was – a door. Possibly an advertisement for some other potions shop. They'd even sent out inspectors who checked to make sure it was only what was listed – a door. They had even opened the door and saw only the dark alley behind it.
But someone in the Alley, someone who had been curious or needed a potion badly, had walked through the dark opening into the dim passageway beyond. That person had told someone else, who had told another someone, and word started spreading everywhere in this part of the Alley. In the last month, the door was used by almost all the denizens of this part of Diagon Alley.
Saturday had Harry running back through the door, hoping that he would see Snape again.
Severus heard the tiny bell that rang three bright high notes letting him know the Diagon Alley Door was opened. He stirred his potion, waiting to hear the sound of feet walking above him. While Meaghan was at lunch, the charms allowed him to keep track of where every customer was in his shop. The one on the counter – one he created with Filius' help – only kept people from walking out with goods without paying or getting their change.
The customer walked to the counter and stood there, not moving. 'Maybe it's Potter again?'
Shunting the thought away, he checked the cauldrons simmering before him. Noting that nothing needed his immediate attention, he quietly walked up the stairs to the shop. Three taps of his wand on the wood made a one-way window, showing him Potter in a state of controlled panic.
Severus was out the door and behind the counter before he could decide what might have happened. Potter didn't do controlled panic unless it was dire.
"What happened?" he snapped, no preliminary greeting give or needed in his opinion.
Relief washed over Potter's face. "Sir, can you leave for a moment?"
"Why?" Even as he asked, Severus summoned his potions lab safety kit. He remembered the reason for Potter's first visit.
"George – he's in a bad way and the room..." Potter cast beseeching green eyes his way before heading towards the door.
Severus locked his lab door and then strode quickly after him out into Diagon Alley. Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes had a prominent storefront, easy to spot from his door. Instead of going through it, Potter led them through a small back alley – most likely to avoid being stopped by customers inside the building. As it was, it took less than a minute to be through the back door and down a short hall where another door stood wide open. Fumes coming from the door drifted across the ceiling.
Severus cast two Bubble-Head charms – one on each of them – and rushed through the door, accessing the damage. Splatters of neon blue, bright green, and sickly yellow liquid and pieces of two or maybe three cauldrons were everywhere, some embedded in the walls. Lying on his back in the middle of all that mess was a redhead. He crossed the room, nimbly avoiding the damage, and sank down next to George Weasley.
A quick scan and several potions later, he sat back on his heels. "Why is he brewing?"
Potter blinked and tipped his head. "I don't know what potion he's working on. Something for the store?"
A quick shake of his head and a glare had Potter frowning. "I didn't ask what – I can tell you what he was brewing – I want to know why he is allowed to." Severus pushed himself up to his feet and cast a locomotion spell on George, causing him to float behind him as he left the room just as carefully as he had entered it. "He's not in his right mind. His twin died not more than two months ago. He has dismantled the protective wards on that room. It's obviously a lab, built for that purpose, and the feel of the wards cling to it, but they are not there anymore."
Potter gasped, his eyes widening. "Maybe they were cast by Fred and George didn't think to redo them?"
Severus dismissed the idea but let it stand as a possibility. "Where is his room and who is going to stay with him? He should be at St Mungo's getting help, but I doubt they have a mind healer to help right now. Try though – if you ask, they might be available. Until then, support him, watch him, and keep him out of the lab until he's cleared to be in there."
Potter directed him upstairs and to a small room. It was dim and unkempt. Face flushing red, perhaps from guilt as well as embarrassment, Potter quickly cast a few household charms, cleaning and freshening up the bed and then flinging open the curtains and windows, letting in the warm summer air.
Severus settled Weasley on the bed. "I'll watch him while you contact St Mungo's. Make it quick, I left a potion working."
He leant near the door as Potter ran out to wherever the floo was in the shop, eyes roaming the room and picking up the obvious signs of dust and apathy. Honestly, Gryffindors don't think. They just pushed on, ignoring the thing that shouldn't be ignored. No matter how bright someone is, how happy, how much they normally bounced back, they also screamed for help when they needed it. They just typically didn't know how to say the words because they hadn't learned to. George Weasley had been screaming the only way he knew how – by taking risks, dangerous risks.
The sound of the floo flaring up echoed into the room and then flared again. Footsteps, more than just Potter's, went towards the lab and then rushed up the stairs. Severus stepped away from the door jamb and a flurry of green robes went by him, stopping in the centre of the room. A short, almost balding man – possibly of East Asian descent from the quick impression Severus got – spun about the room, his dark eyes taking in everything, including the new creases in the dusty curtains. Those eyes landed on him, a question in them before they widened.
Potter spoke before the healer could. "Mr Snape is the one who suggested I call for you, Healer Loo."
A quick quirk of a grin flicked over the man's lips as he nodded his head towards Severus. Severus refused to dwell on what the grin might mean.
"Is there anything you need from me before I leave?" Severus asked.
"What potions have you given my new patient and where might I find you if there is anything I need to confirm?" The voice didn't sound as old as the man appeared.
Severus rattled off the list and included the spells he had cast as well as their findings. As he left, he told Loo that he was at Laugh Potions and that Potter knew where it was.
A week after the Weasley incident, Potter came back. Not at lunch, as Severus was beginning to think of as his time, but at the close of business. He was just about to lock the doors when the young man slipped through. The Diagon Alley door locked behind him and the lights dimmed in the bottles.
Severus leant against the counter, waiting to find out what his last customer needed.
Green eyes widened when they landed on him and a small smile curled Potter's lips. "You're not hiding away today."
Severus raised an eyebrow. "I don't hide away and it would be hard to close up shop from my lab."
Not impossible, he'd done it before, but harder. It was more satisfying to physically lock it, closing out the world.
Potter chuckled, "No one else even knows you're here. They all talk about a sweet old lady running Laugh Potions."
Severus nodded his head slowly, "Meaghan is a sweet old lady as well as a sharp, observant, and fast old lady. She was looking for a position at the same time I was looking for someone to watch the shop while I made the products. It doesn't mean I hide away."
"Of course," Potter crossed the room, moving away from the doors. "I was stopping in to thank you. Healer Loo wants to thank you as well. He said that many people would have ignored George's call for help, not recognising it for what it was."
"I was a teacher, Head of House, and the Headmaster, Potter. I know what to look for, even if there were times my hands were tied and I couldn't help." Severus felt that same pain when he recalled the many signs screaming at him each time he looked at the students and even the professors in the face during his last year there.
A discreet throat clearing brought him back to the present. "Any rate, Healer Loo says George accepted counselling, and I can tell that there is a touch of progress. George seems to be more focused than he was before at least."
Potter turned slightly to look at the shelves. "I need to come and actually look at what you have when I get a moment. Right now I'm trying to keep George's place running with Ron and Hermione's help." He looked back at Severus, "and you've closed now, so I should be going. Thanks for not kicking me out."
"The door will open when you turn the knob, Potter," was all Severus replied with. 'You're welcome' were not words that came to him easily.
"By the way, why are there three doors?" Potter's startled gaze darted between the doors.
Severus blinked, surprised. He could, of course, see all three – one into Hogsmeade, one into Diagon Alley, and one into Cardiff – but his customers typically only saw the door they entered through. Then again, this was Harry Potter… "To allow all my customers in. The door you want it the furthest one on the right, Potter. It will take you back to Diagon Alley."
Severus was considering a fourth in either Belfast or Dublin, but right now he had enough business with three of the four countries in the United Kingdom and didn't want the Ministry looking too closely.
Potter looked back to him, eyes bright with curiosity, "Where is this shop actually located?"
Severus couldn't stop the smile that curled his lips. Potter was the first to ever ask that question. 'But he is the only one besides Meaghan and myself to see all three doors. Most people just assume they are still in their own city.' "You are currently on the outskirts of Hogsmeade."
Potter's eyes widened, mouth dropping open a bit. "The doors – they act like the vanishing cabinet?"
Severus just smirked and gestured towards the Diagon Alley door. "Head on out, Potter. I've dinner to get to and so do you."
Later, Severus reflected that that choice of words was the beginning of it all. Or maybe it was just Potter's infernal curiosity.
The next day, Harry came back and walked around the store right before closing time and then suggested that they catch dinner together out one of the doors so he could pass on the messages from Healer Loo. They dined in a small Muggle restaurant in Cardiff where neither of them was well known.
Two weeks later, Harry showed up with lunch – Muggle Chinese take out – and the request for help brewing some of the Weasley potions needed for their pranks. Granger was heading off to her internship at Gringotts and didn't have time to continue helping them. Harry and Ron could brew the simpler ones, but George still had roughly three weeks of therapy before he would be allowed back into his lab with strict supervision.
Severus accepted lunch and bargained about the brewing. A deal was reached and he brewed for three weeks, and for the more dangerous potions, two months. It was during this time that Potter became Harry and Severus started looking forward to his visits.
Scrubbing a tired hand over his face, Severus looked around the spotless lab and bit back a sigh. He had become so used to the extra potions, allotting the time to brew them, that he had nothing to brew over lunch. Slowly a smile curled his lips. 'I can go out for lunch then. I don't have to stay here. The place will mind itself. Well, unless Harry comes in, but he hasn't rushed in at lunchtime since George Weasley started getting help.'
Turning his back on the room, he strode up the stairwell and into the main shop. A quick glance around showed him that it was just as he thought. No one was there and the charms were all working. He contemplated the three doors, wondering where he wanted to go. His eyes kept being drawn to the Diagon Alley one.
'I won't see him.' He chided himself gently. There was only an astronomical chance that he would run into Harry out there. 'I just have to get used to missing my daily dose of Harry.' Growling lightly to himself, he crossed his arms, a frown crashing over his brow. He didn't miss seeing the Potter he had known back in Hogwarts – all he had seen was a brat who didn't listen and tended to get people mixed up in the wrong sort of adventures without the right sort of backup. He missed seeing Harry – the man that boy had grown up into. The one who had learnt from his mistakes, who appreciated caution and forethought, who understood having a plan and was much better at conversation.
Striding out the Diagon Alley door, Severus called himself a fool for following his heart. Not far from his shop door was a tiny cafe tucked into the shadow of the Weasley's large clown window. He lucked out, a table cleared as he arrived. A waitress placed a menu and a glass of water on the table not half a minute after he arrived.
The girl's brown eyes widened when she saw who he was, but her voice came out steady. " We've specials today on corned beef sandwiches and bacon ones as well. Do you know what'cha want to drink, sir?"
"The water will be fine, and I would like a corned beef sandwich with crisps."
She nodded quickly before shooting him an uncertain but genuine smile. "Right away, Professor Snape."
She darted away towards a door in the back wall.
He ignored the doorbell when it sounded again, but his heart sped up as Harry took the chair across from him, a hopeful smile on his face.
"I hope you don't mind, sir, but all the tables are full." Green eyes cast him a beseeching look. "I'd understand if you didn't want me here, not in public ..."
"Stay." The word was out quickly, the sharpness of it softened by the small smile flashed across his lips.
The waitress reappeared, her eyes going even wider as they darted between him and Harry. Resolve settled on her face as she approached them. "None of your famous interactions here, please, sirs."
Harry laughed and Severus gave a sharp nod.
"Thank you," she turned to Harry, "What would you like today, Mr Potter?"
"The bacon sandwich with chips and a water."
"Coming up," she headed back towards the same door she'd just left.
"We have famous interactions?"
The way Harry focused on Severus, leaning on the table just slightly, and the warmth of the green eyes sweeping over him caused Severus' breath to catch. Shoving his pesky emotions out of the way, he smirked. "She looks to be old enough to have been in school with you."
Harry sat back, staring at him. "You don't remember her?"
An eyebrow raised, "I don't remember every student to have crossed through the halls of Hogwarts, Potter. Just the ones who made the most impression."
Harry laughed and a glass of water just placed on the table slid a bit. Rounded eyes in a smiling face caught Severus' eye as the waitress rushed off to help another patron. 'That should help defuse our previous reputation.'
Settling back in his seat, Severus steered the conversation to Harry's friends and their doings. Their lunch arrived sometime in the middle of being told about Granger's time at Gringotts.
Harry ran down the back stairwell, waving to Meaghan as she locked the doors behind her and left for home. Three knocks on the lab door at the foot of the stairs and then he was attempting to catch his breath.
A moment later, the door opened and dark eyes searched him. An increasingly familiar longing pooled deep in his heart and belly, and with practice, Harry shoved it away. He would remember that intent look later when he was alone and could indulge in his reactions. "Can you come with me? Do you have a moment?"
'Or an hour, a day, a lifetime.'
Severus – he still marvelled over being able to call the man that – glanced back into his lab, flicked his wand, and then shut the door behind him. "Where are we going?"
"The Globe Theatre," Harry beamed before casting an uncertain look at Severus. "I won the raffle at Quality Quidditch Supplies and it was two tickets to see 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' playing tonight. They didn't let me know I won it until just after lunch."
After another quick look at Severus' inscrutable expression, he rushed on. "Ron is off to see Hermione – she has an evening free and they'd already made plans, and I couldn't think of anyone else I'd want to take."
"I do have the evening free." Dark eyes swept over their grubby work robes, "And when are we supposed to arrive by?"
Harry didn't bother to keep the relief off his face, he just hoped it covered the longing that was under it. "We've got about an hour, maximum. The tickets are a portkey to the entrance we are supposed to use."
Severus nodded, double checked his lab, and locked its door behind him. "It is a good thing that I asked Meaghan to lock up tonight. This way, Harry."
He gestured to the blank wall at the end of the tiny hallway they were in. "Your hand, please."
Harry accepted the offered hand, his whole insides melting and his throat constricting on the gasp of pleasure that tried to escape. He was pulled through the blank wall, it fading as he walked and a small dingy room became visible.
He looked around, frowning. Did Severus actually live here? "Where?"
Harry opened his mouth, but Severus was opening the door of the almost closet sized room, showing a bright hallway, and Harry closed his mouth again. "You should floo home and change into something a bit more …" Black eyes swept over him again, "more formal."
Harry's eyes widened as he looked about, trying not to stare at everything. "Sure, you can meet me there, as I positive you wish to change as well."
Severus directed them into the small room next to the one where they were. The fireplace connected to the floo network was inside, "That would be acceptable. Where should I go to?"
"Grimmauld Place." Harry took a pinch of floo powder from the offered bowl. "It should let you in, I've changed the warding."
"I'll see you there momentarily," Severus said as he placed the bowl back onto the edge of the mantle.
Harry beamed and stepped into the fireplace.
Rushing up the stairs, he ploughed through his wardrobe looking for just one robe that wouldn't look too childish, too old, or too frumpy. There had to be one in the entire mess that looked classy. He spotted the dark blue one that Dad Weasley insisted he get on the off chance he needed to show up for a Ministry event. It had been on a good sale and him buying it had brought a smile to older man's face.
Stripping down, Harry took a quick shower with a tiny hope of taming his hair later, and then realised he hadn't picked out a pair of trousers or shirt to go with his robe.
'Get it together, Harry. It's the first time you've had a chance to show him how well you clean up.' Rushing back to the wardrobe, still dripping and clad in a towel, he hunted for something that would match that was in good condition.
The floo sounded downstairs as he was running the brush through his wet hair in one last vain attempt to making it obey his wishes. Rolling his eyes, Harry dropped the brush, grabbed his robe, and headed down to meet Severus.