AN: Hullo again! I have no idea how long this fic will be, but considering one chapter is over 7k, it'll probably not be a short story. Needless to say, I've been over-researching again. Anyway, it's a slow-moving Snarry, post deathly hallows. I'm ignoring the bits of canon that I don't like. :) A new chapter will be posted once a week-ish, if there's a delay I'll post notice on my profile.
7:00 am, Room 1216B, 3rd Floor, Ministry of Magic. First week of application.
The letter arrives at the top of a pile in the top centre of the desk, it's middle slightly crumpled from the clutch of the owl's talons as it was delivered. A short and terse note, not unlike most of the requests that arrive to the office on a daily basis. An elderly wizard of average height and weight, wearing nondescript robes that would almost, but not quite, allow for assimilation amongst muggles, peers over the form. He holds it with chubby fingers, a spot of strawberry jam on his forefinger, and reads it through glasses that seem too thick and smudged to be useful. His eyes narrow at the signature, as he attempts to parse why he should recognize the name.
"Eh," the wizard grunts, choosing apathy. He places the form back down on his desk, slouching back into his creaky wooden desk chair. A stamp is unearthed from a stack of long-ignored memos, and the first scent of heavy ink wafts up as he opens the inkpad for the day.
In distraction, for he is reaching for his jam and butter scone at the same time, the wizard stamps the parchment upside down. It disappears from his desk, filing itself in a cabinet to his left, and causing a pre-packaged parcel of documents to address itself and prepare for mailing later that morning. The wizard spills tea down his front as he reaches for the next letter, and doesn't spare another thought to Severus Snape's request.
Harry flicked his umbrella open as he walked toward the bus stop, side-stepping to avoid a large puddle at the end of the path. London weather had been absolutely miserable as of late, and it seemed to have spread to the south of Wales as well. His newspaper was clenched in the hand holding the umbrella, and he skimmed a short article at the bottom of the Daily Prophet's front page, about a house that had mysteriously exploded in the north of England. There was no mistaking the scowling shadow of a man standing in the photo, staring at the ruins of the house, and Harry wondered if the explosion had been caused by someone looking to take revenge on Snape. He made a mental note to ask Minerva that when she stopped by for tea later.
"Mr Potter!" a male voice yelled, and Harry turned his gaze back toward the imposing doors of the Royal Mint. A slim brown-haired man was making his way over, struggling to undo the clasp on a striped blue brolly.
"Fascinating paper you wrote, about the quill impressions. In this day and age, who would have thought someone would go back to using those!"
Harry smiled quietly and dug in his pocket for change as the bus rounded the corner. He pulled out the correct fare and glanced at the coins, checking them for odd marks or unevenness. All the man could see of the Prophet was a blurred international newspaper, so Harry didn't bother hiding it.
"Sorry, I'm Dafydd," the man added, switching his bus pass around to shake Harry's hand.
"Harry Potter," Harry said, his tone friendly. "Sometimes it's easier to use old technology to trick younger machinery."
"I'll bet," Dafydd said, chuckling. "Nothing like making your job harder."
"It's all just a big puzzle for me," Harry explained, offering a grin. He stepped onto the bus and paid the driver, keeping his worn leather briefcase clutched in his hand. Cardiff was just under an hour away by bus, but Harry planned to exit along the way and apparate home. Llantrisant was far too small for him to just disappear from.
"So, off home to…?" Dafydd had followed Harry onto the bus and sat beside him.
"London," Harry supplied. The bus stuttered to life, cutting off a motorist as it pulled into the lane again.
"Ah, lovely town," Dafydd immediately offered. "Bit too expensive if you're on your own, I've found."
"I don't find it too bad," Harry shrugged, climbing onto the bus. He saw a satisfied and hopeful look on Dafydd's face, and for the life of him couldn't figure out why.
"Not if you keep getting work from us, I suppose," Dafydd said, flashing a smile at Harry.
Harry nodded and mumbled incoherently, pretending to be looking for something in his briefcase. Nineteen years old, dressed in a regular dark suit, with a scar on his forehead and a patch of scarred skin under his chin. The goblets from the Lestrange vaults had left many burn marks on him, but this was the most prominent. Listening to Dafydd chat amicably away, Harry wondered if he was just the kind of bloke destined to always attract attention, no matter how he looked.
13:30, Cobb Knob Lane, second bar to the left and one-storey up.
A black owl sits impatiently on the wooden kitchen windowsill, the peeling paint crumbling under the strong grip of its talons. The window is partially closed, and the owl pecks irritably at it, eager to relieve itself of its burden.
The owl carries a thick parcel of papers, which include an eight-page application form, a ten-page booklet of instructions, three separate pamphlets, two advertisements, a business card, and an itemized list of costs.
Sensing no movement inside the dingy flat, and thus no guarantee of a treat for its efforts, the owl circles the building until it finds the bedroom window. It is not hard for a ten-pound bird to make a veritable racket against the thin glass pane, and the package is snatched from the bird's grip within moments. No owl treats are given, and the owl flies off in a huff, defecating in the general direction of the closing window.
With a high crash of thunder covering his arrival, Severus Snape apparated into an old blue police call box located at the back of Essex Road rail station. It was the closest apparition point to where he was headed, an address scribbled down onto a scrap of parchment the night before in an Ottery St-Catchpole pub. Snape walked swiftly through the few muggles that were loitering in the station, stopping at the glass door that led out to the street. Thunder broke across the sky again, and Snape's wand arm twitched as his eyes scanned the bus station. Muggles dressed in black and grey overcoats darted between awnings and shop entrances, moving about the rain driven mist in shrouds of shadowy black. Snape blinked forcibly, expelling the image of dementors and death eaters from the forefront of his mind.
A discarded copy of the Times had been left on the window ledge, and Snape thumbed through it while he waited for the rain to lighten up, or at least stop driving horizontally. On the front of the paper was a photo of a grim-looking bloke from the London Met, boxed ears and a square face, under the caption 'PETTY VANADLISM: A PLAGUE ON LONDON.' Snape had no idea why the police were getting upset over something so insignificant as the destruction of metal bootscrapers fastened to the sides of buildings, but he had long ago come to the conclusion that muggles had odd priorities.
The station interior flashed like an old light bulb popping its filament, and Snape scowled. He hadn't brought an umbrella, and a wizard walking around unhampered by the rain in a downpour like this would draw unwanted attention. He cast a silent impervious spell at the newspaper and thrust it over his head as he left the station. He headed northwest on Canonbury road, reminding himself that the walk up to Hogwarts as a twenty-year-old disenchanted death eater had been much worse. The rain let up only slightly, battering at him and soaking his trousers from thighs-down as he walked, looking for Alwyne road. He was well aware that he looked out of place, with his high-necked frock coat and long sleeves in the middle of August, but Snape felt he would be exposing himself enough that evening, without needing to do so physically.
Snape approached a small park on his left, and noted several dark-clothed youths huddled around an unidentified bronze statue. Snape couldn't see what they were doing exactly, but one of them had a crowbar and they seemed to embrace the darkened skies that the storm brought. His hand drifted to his side, surreptitiously patting his pocket to ensure his wallet and the lotto ticket he'd purchased earlier were still there.
A car zoomed up beside him on the road, and Snape quickly side-stepped a puddle, barely missing the splash of dirty street water that the car kicked up.
He continued on his journey, cursing the damned English weather.
"The tea was lovely, Harry. But I must be getting back," Minerva McGonagall said, patting Harry's arm. She was wearing a lovely dark blue dress, in the same style as her green teaching ones, but made of lighter material. She looked fondly upon Harry as they wrapped up their teatime bonding, as she had ever since the war had ended more than a year earlier.
"August is busy at school then?" Harry asked, smiling.
"If you would accept my teaching offer, you would see exactly what goes on," Minerva replied, wrapping her rain cloak over her shoulders. She smirked at Harry's horrified face.
"I'd rather work with the goblins." He stood up from the kitchen table and moved hesitantly towards Minerva, watching her expertly fasten three tiny cloak buttons at her neck.
"Till Friday, Aunt Minerva?"
"As always," Minerva responded, giving him a quick hug. "You behave yourself, Harry Potter."
"As always," Harry parroted, waving as she apparated out of the kitchen and back to Hogsmeade. As she disappeared, Harry realised he'd forgotten to ask her about Snape and the house explosion. He shrugged his shoulders as he took their dishes to the sink. He always wrote Minerva on Tuesdays, with the details of his newest contract. She liked to read the details like a puzzle, and he'd just include his thoughts about Snape's misfortune with the next letter.
Snape double-checked the parchment folded up in his hand, carefully shielding it from the rain as he smoothed the creases. The address was correct, but nothing of what he saw in front of him matched what he imagined Potter's house to be like. Mind, it was a gloomy and grey London early evening, but for everything the Daily Prophet and Witch Weekly had reported on The House That Potter Built, this wasn't it. Snape had actually followed the reporting on his least favourite student, having nothing else to do whilst recovering from the snake attack. He knew that Potter had caused a riff in Wizarding society by choosing to live in a muggle home and neighbourhood, and that Potter had skilfully declined every job offer thrust at him after the defeat of the Dark Lord.
Snape knew that Potter had adopted Lupin's baby shortly after the war, a move that had both surprised Snape and yet made sense to him as well. He knew that there was no romantic interest between Potter and the youngest Weasley, but that only rumours and speculations existed regarding Potter's love life. Snape knew that Potter worked a regular job in the muggle world, but that he was also comfortable enough financially not to need full time work. What Snape didn't know was if the headmaster had been correct, and if Harry Potter was capable of forgiving his caustic behaviour during the war, behaviour that hadn't fully been just a mask.
The house in front of him was a classic three-story townhouse, with several steps leading up to the crimson red front door, black wrought iron railings edging the walk, and two front-room windows with frosted glass obscuring the view inside. A sturdy maple tree, reaching just past the windows on the second floor, overshadowed the house and gave it an extra layer of privacy. The house looked inconspicuously muggle, but as Snape came closer to rapping on the door, he saw that Potter had taken a page out of the goblins' books. Two plaques were set into the wall, just above the door, and the top read:
My family is one thing, my wrath another.
Harm not the one, for fear of the other.
Underneath the warning was an engraved brass nameplate bearing the name R.H. Potter. It was done in an elegant serif font, nestled into the brick next to the window and unseen from the street. Snape studied it as he rapped on the door, wondering what the R stood for.
Snape took one last moment to ensure he was presentable, pulling his collar up to obscure the worst of Nagini's scarring, and rubbing the dull throb of pain that pulsed from the tattoo on his inner arm. It wouldn't do to look unprofessional Snape knew, and his teaching robes had always garnered respect from his peers. He rapped on the door, ignoring the neighbour to his left that was peeking through the curtains and staring at him.
Inside he could hear the very slight movement of someone approaching, but couldn't see anything through the large window or door.
He stood straight as the door opened, and was rather impressed at how well Harry Potter kept his surprise under control. This, however, was not the Harry Potter Snape remembered. Snape had envisioned a shorter Potter, in uniform and scowling over a cauldron in the dungeons of Hogwarts. Snape shifted his weight and his eyes flashed quickly once over, taking in the well-cut dress trousers, neatly tucked in dress shirt, combed hair, and stylish new glasses.
He remembered that Potter was barely nineteen, but this man looked to be in his late twenties.
"Snape," Potter finally said, hand still on the door. It had two stain-glass panels in the door, and Potter's fingers distorted as they tapped against them.
"Mr Potter," Snape acknowledged, withstanding the scrutiny he knew he was under. The last time he'd seen this boy up close, he'd been dying on a dirty shack floor. Snape tried to ignore Harry's glance to his neck.
"I wish to speak to you, preferably inside where it is dry," Snape said, only a slight sneer in his voice. Potter didn't move.
A flash of light struck overhead, and the thunder that followed came very fast.
"A business prospective requiring your assistance," Snape finally said, wanting to get out of the rain. Potter's eyes widened, but he at least stepped back to allow Snape entrance.
Potter said nothing, his eyes focused strongly on Snape's expression and body language. In the year away from school, Potter had appeared to have learned a few tricks about reading people. Parts of Potter's life, during his trial, had been made rather public with the newspapers, but even Snape had noticed that the amount of information garnered by the wizarding world press had been limited.
"Come in for a cuppa, then," Potter said, shutting the heavy door behind them in time with a crack of thunder.
Snape shamelessly let his eyes wander over the inside of the house as he was led through. The front door had opened into a little foyer, with stairs and a long hallway beyond. To his left was the living room with the frosted glass bay windows, and at the end of the hall seemed to be a galley kitchen. Dark wood flooring with thick baseboards surrounded the bright white interior, and even though Snape felt like he'd stepped back in time, the house gave off a very warm feeling. A good sign, considering the other reason he was visiting.
The kitchen was filled with the same dark wood and white walls, with splashes of colour in the paintings and photos on the wall. Potter busied himself with the kettle while Snape looked around, not saying a word. Snape saw that kitty corner to the living room and kitchen was a closed-off office, with a large desk and papers scattered throughout.
Snape gave a curious look to a stuffed monkey toy sitting on the counter, but kept his comments censored as he followed Potter down a few steps into the bright eating area. This was an addition to the house, spreading into the back garden and using large glass windows for three of the walls. The table here seemed to be more used, and there was a tiny pair of orange Wellies at the back door in the corner of the eating room, right under a bright blue toddler's rain jacket.
"What exactly did you have in mind?"
Snape sat at the table and steeped his fingers, reminding himself that this Potter was not the same as his father, something he'd known since he'd first started teaching the boy. The kitchen was quiet, neat and void of many trinkets - the kitchen of a man that had grown up with very few possessions and no idea how to fill the space. One colourful object in the room was the bright green plastic high chair pulled up to the kitchen table.
"I have spent the past year away, recuperating from my wounds in the war," Snape started. He wore his traditional black frock coat and black trousers, the same set he'd taught in for the past ten years, and Snape knew that they kept his wounds hidden. Snape kept his head up, refusing to feel diminished by the fact that his clothing was fraying slightly under the renewing charms, and that Potter sat regally dressed before him.
"In that time period, my teaching license has expired. I have absolutely no wish to return to teaching," Snape paused and pulled his cuffs down over his wrists, "and I am in need of a new source of income."
Snape waited for Potter to interrupt, to make a jab at his teaching skills or his personality conflicts, but nothing came.
"I require a guarantor for an application to sell custom-order potions in the U.K."
Potter stared at him thoughtfully, his eyes darting all over Snape's face as if to check for sincerity.
"I didn't think you'd ever want to teach again," the boy finally said, rising to make the tea. Snape declined a mug, and watched him from behind his long black hair; counting to himself all the ways Potter had changed over the past year that Snape hadn't seen him. He was a bit taller, though he'd never reach his full height potential thanks to those cretinous muggle relatives of his. His chest had broadened, and the addition of a scar on his chin only made him seem more rugged. Had Snape not spent the last seven years making Potter's life miserable, he likely would have considered making a few harmless passes at him.
"Do you need financial help as well?"
Snape couldn't help the slight twitch of his shoulder at the financial mention, but he merely inclined his head as Potter brought the tea over.
"No. I have sufficient funds," Snape replied immediately. It didn't take much to shift the aim of the conversation. "I have a rather colourful past, Mr Potter, and if I wish to get anywhere in the future, I shall need someone in my court who can see past the mark on my arm."
"And who better to ask than the hero of the wizarding world," Potter said, and Snape could finally see the defiant youth in the green eyes that he'd always known the boy to be.
"I see it as asking the man I trusted my memories to," Snape countered, watching for a reaction. Potter didn't meet his eyes, and stared at something outside the window to his left.
"I'm not opposed to being your guarantor, Professor. Not after you gave me those."
"I slashed the ear off one of your friends," Snape pointed out, not believing the easy forgiveness.
"That's for George to sort out with you, not me," Harry shrugged. "If you're going to plead your case for a business license, however, you'll need a plan."
"I am currently finalizing one" Snape replied, slightly waspishly.
"I'll need to see it before I sign your application," Harry said mildly.
"I have been enacting solid plans of attack since before you were born, Potter," Snape growled, refusing to let this calm version of the Harry Potter he knew to rattle him.
"I'm not disputing that," Harry said, rising to close the door to his study, where a phone was ringing. "But I'm also not signing anything without seeing it first."
The little glass eating area lit up like a crackling light bulb with a flash of lightning, and Snape stared out over the back garden.
"Very well. I wish to expedite the process."
Harry sat back down in his chair and nodded. Snape continued staring out the window, clearing his throat in the uncomfortable silence.
"Arthur Weasley mentioned that you may have a room available to let," said Snape, noticing the curious look in Potter's eyes.
"Er, yes. I do," Potter answered, sitting up straighter. "I did."
Snape tampered down the disappointment that immediately flared up. It had been a fleeting thought to leave the dingy flat he'd had to rent in haste after his home had been destroyed.
"I see. I shall not bother you further today," Snape immediately said, rising from his chair. He pulled his sleeves down taught, covering his wrists and his despondency.
"No!" Potter blurted, sticking out his hand as if he meant to catch Snape. "I still have the room, but it's under renovation. Right now. Your house…was it intentional?"
Snape raised an eyebrow and didn't bother answering. The explosion that had destroyed his home had been reported in the Daily Prophet as a likely reprisal attack for Snape's chequered past.
"Right," Potter muttered, shaking his head. "There's two rooms on the top floor. Sitting room, bedroom, and a washroom. They'll be ready in two weeks, if you can wait that long."
Snape inclined his head slightly, not bothering to ask to see the rooms. Undoubtedly they'd be better than where he was staying now.
"And the rent?"
Potter shrugged, and Snape could tell that he wasn't accustomed to landlording. Arthur Weasley had mentioned the room in passing, and that Potter had only let it out to one of the Weasley brothers for a few months last year until they'd gotten on their feet.
"Half of whatever you're paying now."
Snape's toes curled in his shoes, the only outward reaction he'd trained himself to show when he was pleased about his end of a barter. It wasn't visible to anyone, and it was his way of keeping a blank poker face.
Potter went to say something else, but Snape cut him off mid thought. "I shall return by the end of this week with the plans."
Potter sipped from his mug and stared at Snape again, as if he were trying to calculate something from Snape's body language and dress.
"Thursday after five," Potter finally said, keeping whatever other thoughts he had to himself. He summoned Snape's cloak from the front door and withdrew his wand, circling the air and Snape a few times.
"It's pouring rain. You can apparate from here."
17:00, Cobb Knob Lane, second storey kitchen.
The application and other documentation sit on the kitchen table, separated into different piles. The pamphlets and instruction sheets have been smoothed out and read over, notations marking up the margins, and the application has been partially filed out. A spare sheet of parchment sits atop the application, which is open to the page with the guarantor section. On the parchment are several names, all but two struck out with a heavy slash of ink.
Thunder continued to rumble across the sky as Harry took his tea mug to the sink. Severus Snape in his house, asking him to be his guarantor, of all things. Harry remembered the horrible night in the Shrieking Shack, how he'd returned after the battle to find a semi-conscious Snape on the floor, potions phials scattered around him. Harry had never been able to get the image of all that blood out of his mind.
Snape had definitely changed over the past year, however. Whether it was the lack of spying, or the lack of teaching, he seemed to have tempered his rapid-anger response. It was refreshing for Harry, as Harry was used to Snape's snide and negative opinion springing forth every time Harry opened his mouth.
He drained the sink and flicked his hands over the swirling water, watching the droplets hit the stainless steel of the sink. He'd not missed Snape's body language, and the twitch of tension when money was mentioned. Harry knew Snape wasn't a materialistic man; that he didn't crave the same sort of repulsive opulence that the Malfoy family seemed to thrive on.
But it had been a year since the battle had happened, and Harry also hadn't missed the well-used clothing that Snape had worn.
Checking his answering machine, which he'd enchanted to inscribe any messages, Harry found that a new job had arrived from the London Met about some counterfeited notes. He still had to sign off his time sheets from his last contract with the Mint, but Harry would phone in for the details of his newest case later.
He walked to the front of the house and started up the stairs, the floorboards creaking under his every footfall, whispering a story to him against his toes. Long nights pacing up and down the hallway outside the guest room, cheerful hellos in the morning as he slipped to the washroom. Harry knew that both magic and a muggle fix existed for the noisy floorboards, but he would never dream of getting rid of such character in his house.
Harry stepped quietly into the smaller bedroom, darkened still by the storm clouds outside. The walls were painted with a cheery jungle mural, and Harry watched as several monkeys jumped around through the painting on the trees. Monkeys were definitely the theme of the room, with a large bin of stuffed monkey toys sitting under the window, and a large monkey head rug covered the central section of wooden floor. Hanging on tiny hangers over the changing table were several play outfits in greens, blues, and reds, and the back wall that shared with the washroom had disappearing letters on it that spelled T-H-E-O. In the corner of the room stood a cot, lightwood with yellow Curious George bed sheets on it, and a foot sticking out through the bars of the cot.
Harry smiled to himself as he approached, softly pushing Theo's foot back through the cot bars and covering him with his light-weight baby blanket. Theo was in a blue-footed pyjama set, and his black hair framed his face perfectly. He also seemed to be completely deaf to the thunder rattling around the house, sleeping peacefully through it.
Harry softly stroked Theo's cheek with his thumb, and then turned to leave the room again. He'd only be down the hall in his own room, researching what would be required for Snape's application. While the wizarding world wasn't exactly out to get Professor Snape's blood, the shopkeeper's licencing grant wasn't easy to get for a non-former death eater. And from the looks of it, Snape needed to do that fairly quickly before he ran out of funds.
"Severus Snape, serving paying customers," Harry muttered to himself, shaking his head. "He won't last six months."
Cobb Knob Lane was the cheapest housing one could get in Diagon Alley without crossing over into Knockturn. The rent was paid by the week, though Snape wouldn't have been surprised if flats there let per day as well. It was seven or eight shops up from Knockturn, and Snape bumped into a short man with large eyes, oddly wearing a green muggle delivery uniform, as he headed toward his lane. He snarled his customary growl, not bothering to notice the man's curious glance, and kept walking. Snape avoided hitting a cider bottle with his foot as he walked – old habits died hard and portkeys could be made of anything – toward the second noisiest pub in the lane. The small, crooked door beside it led up to a set of flats above the pub, and Snape warded his flat door strongly as it closed after him. The flat was sparse, but tidy, and Snape had kept his things neatly in whatever luggage he'd been able to salvage.
Snape sat on the edge of his bed, fingers steeped in front of his face and supporting his head. He'd made provisions in the war for any after-care he may have needed, against the very small odds that he'd survive the war. But after a year of recovery from Nagini's attack and his attempts at…No.
Snape pushed himself up off the bed and stood over by the kitchen window, watching down into the lane where some twenty-somethings were headed out to the pub after a long workday. He rubbed his left arm tenderly, feeling the bandage edges through his shirtsleeve.
Snape did not want to think about the Mark any longer. It was time to focus on his future and business launch.
Snape appeared on Potter's doorstep on Thursday at precisely half six. He carried a small leather satchel, with a worn Hogwarts crest on it. He wore the same robes as before, but had chosen a dark blue shirt underneath, instead of his regular cream.
Potter answered the door holding a small stuffed monkey, a tea towel over his shoulder, and messier hair than normal. Somewhere in the house Snape could hear a radio playing softly.
"Hullo," Potter greeted, welcoming him in. Snape nodded silently and followed him into the kitchen, where dinner seemed to be in the clean up stages. Dishes were in the sink, some were in the drying rack, and a high chair needed wiping down. A small muggle playpen had been set up along the kitchen wall opposite the cupboards, and Snape could see a little boy twisting a bit under the blankets. The baby had dark brown hair, a roundish face, and whimpered slightly as he sucked his two front fingers.
"He's not feeling well," Potter explained, heating the stuffed monkey toy up with his wand.
Snape watched intently as Potter leaned over the playpen and picked the sleeping baby up, cradling him to his chest. He put the warm monkey on the child's stomach, and held him close.
"Alright, have a seat and tell me about these plans of yours," Potter said, demonstrating a natural leadership ability that he seemed to have fine-tuned since leaving Hogwarts.
"That's Lupin's son?" Snape bluntly asked, sitting down and not making a move to open his attaché case.
"Mine," Potter immediately answered, as he rubbed the baby's back. Snape got the feeling that Potter was possessive of the little family he had.
"But yes, he is the son of Tonks and Remus," Potter relented.
Snape looked a moment longer and then pulled out his sheets, laying them out in order of importance. He glanced up and noted Potter's protective glare, and that the baby's hair turned a slightly lighter shade of brown on its own.
"A metamorphmagus," Snape said, staring at the lightly changing hair colour.
"Inherited from his mother," Harry answered softly. The little head turned and burrowed more into the crook of Harry's arm, making small little noises.
"I had heard Tonks was pregnant," Snape said, focusing back on his paperwork. "Peculiar timing for that, during a war."
"Lots of us were born during the last great war," Potter pointed out, stroking the baby's hair. "Theo arrived a month before the final battle, so at least he was safe away from the castle."
He shifted slightly in his seat, focusing on Snape's paperwork, and it was all business from there.
Potter was surprisingly intelligent about his perusal of Snape's plans. He questioned the brewing schedule, questioned the target customer base, questioned back up suppliers in case of problems, and actually read the detailed financial prospect Snape had prepared.
"How many other people have you agreed to stand in as guarantor for?" Snape asked, curious about the change in temperament of one Harry Potter.
"Just you," Potter answered distractedly. "Ron mentioned last month that the Ministry might start restricting love potions, so you might want to remove those from your list."
"Those are rumoured to be best sellers amongst women and silly teenagers," Snape countered in a no-nonsense tone.
"That may be," Harry said, running his hand through his hair, "but the Ministry wants to restrict it because people were using it for blackmail. It'll save you a lot of trouble if you avoid them all together."
Snape skimmed over his sheets again, even though he already knew that removing love potions would not make much a difference in his scheduling. He didn't much like the potions, and had only included them as a means of revenue.
"What's his full name?" Snape asked, nodding towards the bundle in Potter's lap.
Harry paused and put the papers back into a neat stack. "Theodore Jonathan Potter."
He shifted the boy up so that Theo was leaning against his chest, a small cherubic face slack in sleep. Snape immediately saw Lupin's facial structure in Theo, and what looked to be one of Tonks' regular chins.
"What have you been doing the past year?" Potter asked, changing the subject swiftly before Snape could ask any further questions. "I know St. Mungo's released you last July."
"A private research project," Snape said, levelling his best glare at Potter.
"Here in England?"
"I don't see how that is any of –"
"If I am asked why you all but disappeared from the wizarding world last year, yes it will be my business."
Snape sat back and calculated just how much he was willing to tell Potter. Arthur Weasley had been right when Snape had gone to see him the week before. Harry Potter was definitely no longer a fumbling student.
"I was in northern England, researching the effects of rare hyacinth species on long term curses."
Potter stared, and Snape caught the minute flick of Potter's gaze from Snape's face to his left arm.
"The plan still needs final adjustments," said Snape, gathering up his documents in a storm of movement.
"What's the next step in the application?" Potter asked, seemingly unaware that he'd unnerved Snape.
"Preliminary approval," Snape responded, buttoning up the top of his frock coat.
"And if it's approved, you'll get a hearing?" Potter asked, flicking his wand and closing the curtains of the dining room.
"I will be invited to a meeting, yes."
"Owl me the date, then," Potter said off-handedly, flipping over the monkey heating pack on Theo's stomach.
Snape had almost started to apparate.
"There is absolutely no reason for your attendance," Snape bristled.
Potter stood carefully, balancing Theo in his arms.
"I think we both know that I'm good at ending up in places I don't need to be," Potter answered, smiling.
Room 513, Ministry of Magic, 5th floor.
A stack of request letters arrives on the desk of a mid-level office witch, who is currently on holiday and won't file the folder's contents for another week. She normally takes the request sheets and files them by last name, creating a tentative schedule for revision of the completed forms. This is completely arbitrary, as the amount of applications submitted is significantly lower than the amount requested, but it is done purely to keep the office witch busy and supply statistics to the financial department of the Ministry of Magic.
A stack of textbooks sat abandoned under the coffee table, with several notepads lying beside them. Three copies of The Canterbury Tales, Emma, and Beowulf were filled with little bits of paper as page markers for important passages.
"Why is this always on the ruddy Discovery Channel?" Ron asked, flicking the tv on. Hermione sat with Harry on the couch, Theo standing on the cushions between them.
"It's a great channel, Ron. Interesting shows," Harry said, his voice light as he kept his eyes on Theo. The little boy was leaning against the back of the couch, waving his toy monkey at people walking by on the street.
"Yeah, but you've got over three hundred channels, and you always leave it on the one that teaches you something!" Ron protested.
"Beebebebe shaah bee!" Theo said, bending his knees and bouncing up against the couch. Both Harry and Hermione's hands shot up to make sure he didn't fall off.
"It's handy in my line of work," Harry explained, grinning.
"Did you get the job you were talking about the other day, Harry?" Hermione asked, patting Theo on the bum as he danced.
"I did, yeah. Barclays sent over a batch of seventy-five fifty pound notes," Harry said, reaching for his drink on the coffee table.
"All forgeries?" Ron asked, still flicking through the channels.
"All but two," Harry confirmed.
"Harrroooo," said Theo, turning around and flopping down onto the couch. Hermione took the opportunity to tickle him, and his hair went bright red as he started giggling.
"You've got easy street there, mate," said Ron approvingly. "Takes you two minutes to check if they're forgeries, and you charge the muggles top dollar for the service."
"Ron, I think Harry's work is a bit more difficult than that," Hermione objected. Theo was trying to squirm down from the chesterfield, so she took his little hands in hers and let him walk a bit.
"Well, not the detecting part. Even when there's muggles around, I can cast the detection spells wandlessly. But then I have to prove non-magically how I knew it was a fake. That's the challenge."
"You can't just make it up?"
"No. There's other consultants in the country, and the banks rotate who they use. They'd think I was trying to defraud them if I didn't have an explanation."
"Sounds too difficult to me," Ron shrugged, ruffling Theo's red hair as he toddled by.
"Meee. Mememememe," Theo hummed.
"This round is a bit tricky. I've yet to figure out how they forged them."
"Theo!" Hermione kneeled down to his level. "Where's daddy, Theo?"
Theo's hair immediately went jet black, growing out a bit to the same length as Harry's. The green eyes sparkled, and Theo's jaw squared slightly to match Harry's more. Theo clapped and hummed, staggering over to where Harry was sitting on the couch.
Harry grinned like a loon.
"Speaking of work," Harry said, lifting Theo off his feet and high into the air, "guess who asked me to be his guarantor on a Ministry application?"
Harry spent the rest of the evening chatting with Hermione and Ron about Snape, Snape's past, and the Ministry's new regulations regarding trades in the U.K. The Ministry's decision to set strict standards upon items sold to the public had caused a lot of frustration by way of the merchants, but Harry knew it was for a good reason. The sheer number of thugs who'd popped up dark arts detectors and potions during the war had all but demanded new regulation on marketable products.
The problem was, the license was now tied in with the Mortar Grant Foundation, which provided a start up bursary to shopkeepers and merchants. The bursary was intended to provide a kick-start to the wizarding economy after the war, but had the drawback of ensuring much more detailed scrutiny to the applicants trying for it.
The challenge Snape faced, and Harry was quite certain Snape was aware of his chances, was his shady history. All Hogwarts wizards and witches educated in the past twenty years knew of Snape's less than delightful personality, and many still regarded him with distrust for his actions during the final year of the war. As invaluable as he had turned out to be, Snape had been a little too convincing in his role.
"So that's my problem," Harry finished explaining. Theo was sprawled out on the couch next to Harry, fast asleep.
"How many guarantors does he need?" Ron asked, his face carrying an expression he often wore while playing chess.
"Two, one primary and one secondary."
"To be perfectly honest, I don't think a shop keeper is a good career choice for Professor Snape," Hermione said, biting her lip in indecision.
"He does have a bit of trouble with the whole people thing," Ron said, stretching his feet out on the ottoman. "Did he say why he chose this?"
"No," Harry said, rubbing his fingers over his left wrist, where tattooed words encircled the joint. "The Ministry has very little record of him over the past year. He paid his taxes just before the battle, he was in St. Mungo's for two months, and then he disappeared. No travel records, no Floo service fee, not even a subscription to the Daily Prophet."
"Well, maybe not under the name Severus Snape," said Ron, smiling.
"Professor Snape's been a spy for longer than we've been alive, Harry. He could make himself invisible for a year," Hermione added, stealing some crisps from the bowl in front of Ron.
"Ah, but I have Kreacher," Harry pointed out dramatically. "Kreacher couldn't find anything either, and you know how house elf magic trumps ours."
"Hmm. Maybe you should just try asking him, Harry," Hermione shrugged. "He wants you to be his guarantor, he could at least answer some questions."
Ron shook his head and leaned over toward Harry.
"Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus."