The Heart asks Pleasure—first—
And then—Excuse from pain—
And then—those little Anodynes
That deaden suffering—
~ Emily Dickinson
The first time Florean Fortescue met Severus Snape, he was mid-charm, putting the finishing touches on his latest creation. The bell at the door of his shop tinkled its merry tune to tell the proprietor of Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour someone had entered the premises.
"Be with you in a tick!" he called from the small but tidy back room he only half-jokingly referred to as his "lab".
With a sigh and a longing glance at the creamy concoction simmering contentedly away in the cauldron, he stowed his wand and cast a hurried Stasis Charm on his work, wiping his hands on the nearest of the many Magi-Kleen-n-Dri sterilising towels strewn about the room. As he quickly changed into a fresh apron, he told himself for the hundredth time that he'd have to bite the Bubotuber and hire a year-round assistant for the shop, even though the winter custom usually dropped to less than half its summer volume. He could afford it now, and he wouldn't have to interrupt his experiments to wait on customers, although he enjoyed that almost as much as coming up with new experiences for them to try.
When he stepped through the door to the shop proper, he was greeted by the welcome sight of Minerva McGonagall.
She was accompanied by a tall, thin man Florean had never met but whom he recognised at once from the photos that had littered the pages of the Prophet almost ten years ago.
This living reminder of the dark times made the familiar mixture of anxiety and grief well up in Florean, but it was matched, and eventually overcome, by his habitual curiosity about people and their appetites. He wondered what this new visitor hungered for.
The man needed feeding up, without question, but more than that, Florean thought, he needed cheering up.
And no simple Cheering Charm, either.
No doubt that's why Minerva—and Merlin, but he still had trouble calling her that, despite the nearly two decades that had passed since he'd suffered through her O.W.L. class—had brought him.
"Florean, this is Professor Snape," she said, indicating the sallow, scowling fellow by her side. "As you may know, he is our Potions master at Hogwarts."
"Pleasure to meet you, Professor."
The expression that flashed across Snape's face at Florean's extended hand almost made him snatch it back. The man looked for a moment as if he would rather bite the hand than shake it.
Or maybe that was an impression born of bias. Florean knew exactly who Severus Snape was—or had been. Or still was, who knew? But if Minerva had brought him, Florean supposed, he was harmless enough now. And if not, she could render him so, should it become necessary. Maybe turn him into a duck, as she'd more than once threatened to do to Florean's feckless classmate Amycus Carrow when he disrupted one of her classes. Everyone but that numpty Carrow knew Professor McGonagall would never do such a thing, but they were also absolutely certain that she could. Florean supposed Snape knew it too.
"Mr Fortescue." Snape took Florean's hand and gave it the most miserly of shakes, not meeting his eyes.
Florean forced himself not to wipe the sweaty residue Snape's hand had left behind on his apron.
"Professor Snape and I had some errands to run, and I thought I'd pop in to give you our order for next term in person rather than owling it," Minerva said.
"I'm so glad you did. I have a new flavour I've been aching to try out on a discerning palate."
"I've brought you just the guinea pig, then. As a Potions master, Professor Snape probably has the most educated palate at Hogwarts, and I have no doubt he'll give you an unvarnished opinion."
She wasn't smiling, but the corners of her lips twitched, and Florean knew he had his assignment.
"I don't like ice cream."
The voice was monotone, but the silk and whisky in it belied Snape's somewhat uncouth appearance. The nasally vowels were ever so slightly overdone, the staccato of the "t" and the sibilance of the "s" produced with a precision that could only have come from hours standing in front of a mirror practising them.
This, Florean thought, was a man who had worked hard to cultivate his pureblood drawl, much as Florean himself had worked to rid himself of his.
He forced himself to smile at Snape, who stared blankly back at him. "Perhaps we can change your mind, then, eh?" Florean said. "Minerva, give me just a mo' to find my form, and I'll take your order."
The order form procured after a few moments' digging through an untidy bunch of papers near the register, Florean duly took the Hogwarts Christmas order—eight gallons of Fortescue's Pepperup Peppermint, laced with his patented Heart-Warming Hawthorn Extract, guaranteed to turn homesickness to holiday cheer—before turning to the matter that most interested him.
"Now," he told Minerva, "I want you to try my new flavour. I've been saving the first taste just for you."
"Yes. I had you in mind when I was creating it. I'll get it from the lab if you have the time."
"I imagine Professor Snape and I can spare a few moments in the interest of science," she said.
At Snape's deepening scowl, Minerva said, "Believe me, Professor, when I say that Mr Fortescue is as much a scientist as you or I. Fortunately, he is also an artist, unlike either of us."
"False modesty, Minerva," Florean said. "You know you're an artist with a wand."
She waved her hand dismissively, and he added, "And with an arched eyebrow. Who else could cow an entire classroom of adolescents with the mere twitch of a facial muscle?"
Minerva's eyes shifted sideways to Snape. "You'd be surprised."
Looking at the man's face, Florean had no doubt Hogwarts's Potions master had quite an effect on his students.
"Oh, dear. I'm glad I'm not a quivering firstie anymore," Florean said with a good-natured chuckle that met with no reaction from Snape. "I'll just fetch my little experiment."
He retrieved a small container from the charmed and warded cool cupboard in the lab and returned with it and several spoons.
"You first, Minerva." He dipped a spoon into the container and held out to her a perfect—if he did say so himself—ball of pale-yellow ice cream flecked with tiny bits of gold.
She slid the spoon into her mouth, and he held his breath.
This was the thing he lived for, the moment something he had imagined became something entirely new on someone else's palate, flavours and textures transmitted to the brain and there transfigured into pleasure.
Minerva's eyes closed, and the cat that lurked inside her purred as it gave itself over to the experience. Florean let out his breath as he watched her eyes dart around under closed lids, his concoction evoking sensation and pleasant (he hoped) memory in his old Transfiguration professor and unlikely mentor.
A full ten seconds elapsed before she opened her eyes again. "That is astonishing," she said. "Just as the ginger starts to burn, the vanilla comes to the rescue. And the lemon leaves one with such a bright, clean feeling. How did you get it to come in just at the last moment?"
Flushed with happiness, Florean winked at her. "Trade secret. But I will say, it took a bit of fancy charmwork."
The beginnings of a giggle escaped her, and she clapped a hand over her mouth as if she had emitted a loud, unladylike belch.
"Goodness, what sort of charms are you putting on your wares these days? I feel quite … quite … elated," she said, not entirely approvingly.
"It's not a charm, it's a secret ingredient, but I promise its effect is very mild and will wear off in a moment." Florean used a second spoon to scoop another precious blob from the small container. "Professor Snape, I wonder if you can identify it?"
Snape drew back as if he were about to be hit with a curse rather than fed a bit of ice cream.
Minerva's warning glance met Florean's surprised one before she schooled her features and rolled her eyes at Snape. "I daresay Mr Fortescue wouldn't try to poison you in his shop in broad daylight. He was always hopeless at Transfiguration, so he'd have to find somewhere to hide your body."
Florean, with his finely honed sense for a brewing Situation, needed no prodding to pick up on Minerva's tactic for diffusing things with her surprising directness and arch humour.
"Hopeless at your sort of Transfiguration, my dear Professor McGonagall," he said, turning towards her. "Perhaps you'd care to have another taste, as an act of good faith, to show Professor Snape that my ice cream is perfectly harmless."
"Harmless if one isn't watching one's figure," Minerva said, eagerly taking the spoon Florean held out to her. "Which, thankfully, I'm not."
Minerva's second taste was evidently as good as the first, and Florean smiled as the feline dart of her tongue captured the last delectable drop from the spoon.
Biting her lips, presumably to keep from making a sound unbecoming a Hogwarts professor, Minerva hummed with satisfaction.
Snape's frown deepened, but he said nothing, only looked over at Florean as if he'd like to crush him between his eyebrows. But he no longer resembled a cornered Death Eater about to curse someone, so points to Team McGonagall–Fortescue, Florean supposed.
"See? I remain fully among the living," Minerva said.
"Nevertheless, I do not want any ice cream," Snape said, as if by "ice cream" he meant "fermented bats' testicles."
Minerva heaved an exasperated sigh that Florean remembered well. "In that case," she said, "I'm afraid, Florean, that you'll need to tell me what your secret ingredient is, as Professor Snape refuses to lend his expertise. Perhaps he is unsure if he can identify it."
Snape's eyes snapped up at that.
Interesting, Florean thought. She's poking the viper. I wonder if he'll bite?
Snape took a clean spoon and dipped it into the container. Instead of putting it in his mouth, he brought it to his nose and inhaled deeply, and for a moment, Florean was afraid the sample of his latest creation would be swept up into the miniature vortex created by Snape's impressive olfactory organ.
When Snape put the spoon down on the counter, its contents began to melt under the heat of his disdain, forming tiny, defeated puddles on the marble of Florean's countertop.
"Nepeta cataria," Snape said.
For the first time, his eyes met Florean's, and Florean caught a flash of amusement, gone as quickly as it had appeared. He Banished the dirty spoons to the sink.
"Well done, Professor."
"Catnip?" Minerva said. "You put catnip in my ice cream?" Her lips thinned in such a way that if Florean were still her student, he would have been preparing himself for a week's detention.
"It was an experiment," he told her. "Apparently a successful one."
Once again, Snape glanced at Florean while addressing Minerva. "The brief euphoric effect will likely only work on you, or anyone else with a feline Animagus form that is susceptible to nepetalactones. Or, presumably, actual felines."
Well, well, well. Snape knew his stuff, all right. Florean tried not to think about that apparently prodigious brain harnessed for the use of the late, unlamented You-Know-Who.
"It's what gives the flavour that touch of mint and lemon," Florean said, "so it's not totally lost on others. But I admit, I did hope you would particularly enjoy it, Minerva."
She looked torn between giving Florean five points for Slytherin or a tongue-lashing.
"As long as the effect is momentary …"
"It is, I promise. Just the littlest bit of Nepeta. It's meant as a gift. To enhance the pleasure for you."
Minerva's thin mouth softened into a smile.
"Och, you're a good lad," she said.
"I'll send some to you with the Hogwarts order," Florean said. "Enough to share, in case you have someone special visiting for the holidays."
Florean wasn't certain, but he suspected she might, and that the someone special would be Wilhelmina Grubbly-Plank, on whom the effects of the Nepeta might be lost, but not the pleasure of licking it from Minerva's spoon.
Stop right there, Florean admonished himself. Minerva was a friend, and Merlin knew he wanted her to enjoy herself, but there were some images he didn't need flitting through his brain.
Minerva and Professor Snape took their leave, the former wishing Florean all the joy of the season, the latter with the barest nod of the head as if he were loath to acknowledge Florean's existence. Or maybe it was an attempt to prevent Florean from acknowledging Snape's own.
Either way, it hadn't worked. Florean was intrigued by this, another of Minerva's lost boys, and why she had brought him to Florean.