There was a point in the brewing process where one thing ended and another began. It wasn't a sloughing off of the old; the old was still there, under the new, shaping and shadowing each change as it came.
He put the last bottle on the shelf. Given a cauldron and a few other tools of his former trade, he could've made some quite spectacular potions from the inventory. He had full access to enough ingredients to cause a major Wizarding World catastrophe, if the truth were told.
But then, these days he was more interested in writing scathing editorials to various papers under one of seven different pseudonyms, and in working on the cookbook (a project five years in development, and nowhere near completion). The Aurors that showed up for random audits had nothing much to report, really, and ended up watching the shop for a couple of days from the café across the street. Harry usually went right up and had a chat with them while he waited for Severus to get off work. It was good for Harry to get out; having a fireplace, two telephones, and a personal computer (Severus refused to touch anything the muggles labeled a 'Gateway'—"There's no telling where it might lead!") often chained him to the house.
Perhaps they had today.
"Why Severus, where is your escort?"
"I'm not sure," he answered honestly. He peered out the shop windows. The streets were devoid of anyone and anything Potter-shaped.
"Well, if you're going home without him, you make sure not to stop and talk to strangers, you hear? Be safe on the roads." Mrs. Chao handed him his pay envelope and patted him on the arm. She was a stout woman with a glare that froze the marrow of any unwary shoplifter unlucky enough to pass through the door of 'Herbal & Earthly Delights.' Most people were under the impression that the place was a sweet shop until it was far too late to back out of making a purchase.
Severus prepared and bottled herbs, arranged and cared for displays of the live plants, and was unaccountably rude to customers stupid enough to ask him questions. Mrs. Chao's arthritis kept her from doing the delicate clipping and cutting, and she wouldn't venture reaching above the level of her head for anything in the store, so Severus' extremely cheap help was appreciated (no matter how many times he told someone that Echinacea couldn't help them, there was no cure for idiocy).
She told everyone he was 'touched in the head' and to ignore his outbursts as he really couldn't help them, the poor dear. She could usually turn the resulting backpedaling into a sale. Severus would've thought her a genius, except that she really did think he was 'touched.' She also thought Potter was his younger brother who came to watch out for his unbalanced sibling. It seemed easier than explaining the alternative.
"He usually tells me when he's not coming."
"Perhaps he's running late and you'll meet him on the road. Goodnight, love. Tell Harry I said hello." She waggled her brows suggestively.
Severus held his tongue. Barely. "Goodnight, Mrs. Chao."
He left the shop looking both ways. The town was muggle as muggle could be, but you never knew.
He unlocked his bicycle from the rack, mounted it, and settled into an easy coast down the lane. Potter still couldn't ride it properly. When they walked home together, Severus sometimes goaded him into riding it. He was fine as long as the road was straight. Unfortunately, they lived smack in the middle of rolling hills.
Something in the window of the town's dusty pawnshop caught his eye. Severus slowed to a stop.
He wasn't supposed to make detours.
He checked his pay envelope, peered in at the price tag, hopped off the bicycle, and went inside.
"That. In the window," he pointed.
"…It's fragile. You want to take it home on a bicycle?" the shopkeeper asked.
"I've got a basket."
Moments later, he stowed his carefully-wrapped parcel in the basket and shoved off again. He half-expected to meet Potter walking toward the shop on his way home. He didn't.
Perhaps something had happened.
He pedaled faster, dodging ruts in the road with practiced ease. The house was only a few miles out of town, and Potter often liked to cheat the walk by flying his broomstick in his invisibility cloak. Maybe Potter was playing some humorless trick on him.
As he rounded the final corner, he let out a breath. At least the house wasn't engulfed in flames and billowing smoke.
He coasted down the drive, parked his bicycle in its customary position next to the house, and retrieved his parcel. He felt for his emergency wand. Something was off.
He opened the front door. The house was quiet, but the lights were on.
Severus frowned. He shrugged out of his cloak and hung it up on its peg. "Harry?"
There wasn't an answer at first. Then—"Upstairs."
He took the steps two at a time, defying those who claimed that since he wasn't using magic, he was aging like a muggle. Magic wasn't switched on or off like a lamp. When you had it, you had it. His hair had a touch of silver, true, but so did Harry's (though his was certainly stress-related).
On the wall near the staircase, the line of pictures played out their scenes. He didn't like most of them, except for the old black and white one that Creevey had snapped of him and Potter outside a Ministry waiting room. They'd kept their hands to themselves then, but in the picture they didn't.
There was another Creevey in the parlor that Severus considered excellent. It pictured a skinny girl with glasses and long, dark plaits, swinging her schoolbag back and forth as if she were bored to tears. It was taken just after she'd been cited for underage use of magic at age nine. (Severus couldn't have been more proud.)
He rounded the corner, stopping at the entrance to their bedroom. It was empty.
"In here," called Potter.
Severus turned. His old bedroom had become the study. He leaned on the doorframe. "You didn't come today."
"Yeah. Sorry about that." Harry smiled. There was something odd. He'd combed his hair flat, and wore his good robes. "Time got away from me. Scylla's coming home."
He fell back. "Merlin, no. Tell me she wasn't ejected from Beauxbatons, too."
"What did I say? Name your daughter after a sea monster, and you get what's coming to you."
"That joke will become old someday."
Potter grinned. "She's doing fine. I asked if they could send her home for the weekend."
"You'd think you'd save the celebrity credit for the next disciplinary hearing."
"Well." Potter shrugged. "I just kind of… wanted her around this weekend. Thought we could cobble together a sort of bash. All the family."
"This includes Weasleys?"
"If you want. It can be just the three of us, otherwise."
He arched a brow. "Where?"
"In the backyard. Something close to home. Something to remember." Potter shrugged and sighed a little. He sat at the desk. His thumb edged toward his mouth.
"No biting. Smoking for biting. You bite, and I get a cigarette." That's when Severus noticed. Harry's wrists were loosely bound together.
Potter blushed. "I thought we could—you know."
He arched a brow. "Right now? Here?"
"Unless you have something else pressing." Potter smirked. "Lock the door?"
He shut and bolted the door. There wasn't a worry of anyone coming in, but Harry was very big on the illusion of security. To Severus' surprise, he put up a silencing spell around the room.
Harry just smiled. He rose from the chair and moved to Severus, leaning up for a kiss.
"Mm." He groaned into Potter's mouth.
Potter looped his bound arms over Severus' head. He returned the kiss until he was forced to break away for a breath. "Fuck me in the chair," he panted.
"Ooh. Such language, Mister Potter. We may have to give you a spanking."
"Don't want a spanking. Want you to fuck me in the chair," he growled. "Don't want to play, don't want to be nice, want you to fuck me—"
"In the chair. I think I understand." Severus slid his hands under Potter's arse and lifted him just enough to provide a slight amount of friction. Harry rubbed his erection against Severus' leg. "Should've taken your robes off first."
"There's nothing underneath," he answered, and bent to suck at Severus' neck. "Hurry." Harry's hands fought against their bonds and found they could gather small handfuls of inky hair despite being fastened.
Severus smacked Harry on the bottom. He enjoyed the squeaks he sometimes got out of Potter. "I don't like having my hair pulled."
Potter worried his lip. "But it's so gorgeous and long—"
Snape stepped out from under the ring of Potter's arms and turned him to face away.
"What are you doing?"
He unfastened his belt buckle and dropped his trousers to his knees. He couldn't be bothered to wrestle with his boots. "Making it so that you can't pull my hair," he explained, and pushed down his boxers.
Harry leaned forward against the desk and sighed. He shivered when Severus stepped behind him and flipped up his robes.
"Not even y-fronts. Potter. I'm shocked." The blunt head of Severus' cock found its favorite spot and nudged against Harry's opening. "You've thought so far ahead. Tell me you have something to ease the passage."
With his tied hands, Potter opened the desk drawer and produced a jar of clear liquid. He whimpered softly.
"Excellent." Severus didn't bother preparing Potter. He wasn't in the mood for anything light. He slicked his cock well, stroking the swelling length in time to the rock of Harry's hips.
"In the chair," he hissed. "Please, in the chair."
Severus edged the chair away from the desk slightly and sat down, spreading his legs as best he could. He fisted his hand in the back of Harry's rucked-up robe and hauled him backward until Potter's hole kissed his cock. He thrust it home, feeding his length into Potter so quickly they both called out.
Harry stilled, half-seated on Severus' lap. He couldn't brace his hands while they were tied.
"So that's what your game is," Severus murmured. "Want me to make you ride my cock?" He drew his prick halfway out before driving it back, deeper and deeper with every stroke. He fastened his hands to Potter's hips, moving him exactly where he liked. He leaned back in the chair to get a better angle, and was rewarded with a sharp cry.
Sometimes Harry needed it this way, hard and fast and without mercy. "Yes, yes," he gasped.
"Like me fucking you?" he panted along, gripping Harry's hips unmercifully as he forced them down onto his cock. "Like me fucking my cock deep into you? Like dripping come on the carpet? Think if you're good, I'll suck it all out of you, mine and yours?"
"Yes," Potter wailed, raising his hands above his head as if to gain more leverage when he sank down.
"Think I want to suck your prick until it comes? Want to fuck my mouth when I'm finished fucking you? What do you say? Want me to tie your hands to the back of the chair and make you come?"
"Make me," echoed Potter, thrashing against the bindings, keening with every thrust. "Make me, Severus, make me come—make me come—" He cried out and thrust back hard. His seed shot from his cock, spattering the carpet under the desk.
Severus only needed the barest amount more stimulation. He buried his cock in Potter's arse and shouted as he came, mouthing Potter's shoulder, back—anything his lips could reach.
"I'm the most selfish person I know," Potter panted. His eyes were closed.
"Feel free to be selfish. I find I enjoy it." Severus leaned his forehead on Potter.
He snorted. "…Merlin."
"How long has it been…?"
"Ten years. At least ten years since it was like that." Potter was precariously perched on his lap. "Untie me, please, so I can fall down."
"You can't untie yourself with a spell?" Severus was boneless in the chair.
"Spells? What are spells? Is my name Harry? Who are you?"
He leaned forward and pressed his lips to Potter's neck. He fumbled for the bindings on Potter's hands. With only a slight struggle, he untied the knots. "You're my willing love slave. It'll all come flooding back."
Potter turned around and climbed onto him, settling astride. He burrowed his head in the crook of his partner's neck. "You're bony."
"You love me," sniggered Snape.
For some reason, this was the wrong thing to say. Harry tensed.
He'd been right. Something was wrong. "Harry. What prompted this… exercise?"
He sighed and clambered off Snape, straightening his robes as he went. "I just wanted one more time, before…" Potter's face clouded. "We've had a good run, you know? Most people don't make it nearly so long."
Severus had thought Potter was incapable of shocking him. His mouth dropped open. "You just shagged me. You're not allowed to break up with me."
Harry frowned and shook his head. "It's not that. It's this." He removed a yellowed sheaf of parchment from a folder in the corner of the desk. "It was delivered while you were at work. I've been keeping in touch with Ben, you remember—"
Severus paled. "You're leaving me for the blond git?" He stood and tucked himself in to his trousers and underwear with as much indignation as he could muster.
"He's been helpful, lately. Really helpful."
"If you're shagging the blond git, Potter—"
"Merlin's sake, Severus! I'm trying to tell you something important! It's Minister Shacklebolt's last week in office! …You've been pardoned," Harry croaked. His voice caught. He held out the parchment. "You've been pardoned. There it is."
"What…" Severus was almost afraid to touch it. He took the parchment gingerly between his fingers, as if it might crumble away. He read. He scanned the documents once quickly, and again more slowly. "I've been pardoned," he breathed. He sat back down.
"You have to go down to Ollivander's and get a new wand. The old one being broken and all."
Down the hall, the clock ticked.
He read the pages again, turned them over, looked for hidden footnotes. "That's it, then? No provisions? No conditions?"
"No. It's not parole, not release. It's a pardon. You get to go. You're free."
Severus reread the parchment one last time. "Free." His fingers lingered over the official signatures at the bottom of his file. "Free." He finally glanced up.
Harry looked ready to weep. "Please wait until after the weekend to leave. It would mean a lot to me if we could all have another weekend together before you—" His voice caught. He blinked furiously.
Tears welled in his eyes.
"You're not happy for me?" he asked Harry, who wore a ring on his finger that had its partner on Snape's hand. Neither the engagement nor ceremony had been a grand affair, but they'd managed a few of the requisites: the exchange of rings, the drunken relatives, smashing cake on each other (or perhaps that'd been a timed Weasley prank—some events were best left to legend).
"Course'm happy for you. You deserve it." He wiped at his eyes and sniffled pathetically. "Please don't leave until the weekend. At least tomorrow. At least see Scylla come home. At least—"
"I bought myself a present today," said Severus, abruptly cutting him off.
Harry looked at Severus hard. "…What is it?"
He retrieved the parcel, set it on the ground (the only empty surface available), hunkered down next to it, and pulled off the wrapping.
"Oh. One of those—ships in a bottle." Harry nodded. "You like boats." He knelt opposite.
Severus examined it. It wasn't in the best shape. One of the sails was lopsided, probably from being jostled on the ride home. He noticed then that he hadn't let go of the pardon. "If I'm free… I'd like to go out sailing. Someday. I can't even swim."
"I can, a little. …We could go. If you wanted. I don't know how to sail, though. We'd have to get someone to show us." Potter bit his thumb.
Severus pretended not to see it. "I might not even like it when we get there."
"You'll like it," said Potter.
"Want to pretend you never suggested I would up and desert my family?"
"Your family isn't here, are they? Without Scylla… it's just me." Potter swallowed. He stared at the parchment in Snape's hand. "They showed up at the door and just handed it over. Just like that. Gave me a pamphlet about a halfway house program they have."
"Yes, Potter, because I so want to go live in a halfway house with rapists and thieves."
"I'd help if you wanted to go somewhere else." Potter's knuckles were white against his knees. "Or do you want me to go somewhere else—"
"Shut up! Just—shut up, Harry." He faltered. It was too much at once. "Come here, you ridiculous imbecile."
Potter scooted across the floor to him. He wrapped one arm around Severus' waist, leaned in, and held on. "I don't really know what I'd do without you," he whispered, and then said something else in a very low voice, something neither of them said very often.
Severus reached for Harry's hand. He laced their fingers. He wasn't sure he trusted himself to speak.
Sunlight filtered through the curtains.