Written for the 2011 Snape_Potter Cliche Fest.
Cliches: Someone plays matchmaker for Snape and Harry. | Post-DH, Harry thinks Snape is dead, mourns him, only to find out he's hiding out in the Muggle world. | Post-DH, Harry still has Snape's memories and decides he must return them and/or Harry worries Snape could never be interested in him/he's just a substitute for his mother. I feel confident that there are many other clichés frolicking within, but these are the ones I set out with, and so get the billing they deserve. The others are just a bonus.
A/N: Thank you is not enough to express my gratitude to joanwilder/raewhit, without whom this would not have been completed (probably not even started, if I'm honest), and who kept this finished product from being riddled with typos and wonky punctuation. Warmest thanks to blamebrampton, who kept me from embarrassing myself with all things British (and many other deranged things I missed) both in planning and execution, then sacrificed sleep to do it. Eternal thankfulness goes to the mods for being so patient with me and my incredible tardiness, and for the great encouragement to see this through to the end.
"Harry! Harry! Harry!" A gangly if short for his age sixteen-year-old waved his arms in a desperate attempt to gain attention.
Like Harry, the patrons in the pub, ten in all, also seemed to ignore the boy.
Harry sent him a quelling look, finished serving the patrons their lunch and cleared the tables on the way back to the kitchen. He bumped the swinging door next to the gleaming polished wood bar with his hip and turned on the boy, who was now standing quite near to the fryer.
"Colin, I've told you at least a dozen times not to do that! What on earth is so urgent? And it had better be an actual Someone Will Die Imminently If Harry Doesn't Help situation, because Tessa is already twenty minutes late and I haven't time for anything else."
"Er, I guess it can wait." Colin smiled crookedly in apology. "I'll just come back later, then, shall I?"
"Do, yes," Harry said distractedly, then added, to soften it a bit, a smile and a, "Please."
"Cheers, Harry!" Colin grinned and dematerialized.
Harry gave his full attention back to battering the lovely white pieces of cod, then set the chips bubbling in their own hot oil for the American couple who couldn't wait for their first taste of "authentic English fish and chips".
The first time Harry had seen someone that no one else could see it had been his mum. It'd happened in the infirmary at Hogwarts, shortly after the final battle, and he'd attributed it to exhaustion, though he'd been comforted by her smiling face and happy to see the pride shining in it.
The next time it'd happened, he hadn't been alone in the experience. He'd come down well past breakfast at the Burrow, only to find George in the living room, agitated, which unfortunately wasn't the upsetting thing, it wasn't even an uncommon thing of late.
The upsetting thing was that George was having a conversation with his twin.
His twin, who was standing well to the left of where George was looking, but standing there nonetheless.
Fred was taking it much better, of course, and looked well, if a bit fuzzy round the edges, considering he'd died two weeks earlier.
Harry gaped at him long enough that Fred took notice and with an enormous grin, said, "You can see me! Well this is brilliant!"
"You can see him?" George stood and walked toward Harry. "You can see him and hear him?"
Harry nodded dumbly with lingering shock. "Er, can't you?"
George laughed and hugged Harry hard, lifted him straight off the ground. "Thank Merlin! I can only hear him, and I thought I'd gone completely bonkers."
After a brief chat, and description of the afterlife – "It's dead fun! Get it? Dead fun. C'mon, that's good humor, wasted on the living." – Harry had left them to do the most sensible thing he could think of: find Hermione.
Hermione's exhaustive research had garnered little information. A check-up at St. Mungo's, which he'd organized without an explanation of why he wanted it, had proven Harry in perfect health, with no obvious brain anomalies.
George's experience seemed to be limited to Fred and was generally accepted to be a twin thing.
On the other hand, the word 'medium' had been bandied about for Harry, seeing and hearing – communicating easily with – the dead and he wasn't entirely comfortable with the fact that there was now something else that set him apart from normal people.
Despite this, Harry's life changed very little. Yes, he often visited with people he'd loved and lost, but his friends kept him grounded. Ron and George's frequent calls for a display of his abilities were especially helpful in this regard.
"Harry, quick, what am I thinking right now?"
"Harry, tell me, what color underwear am I wearing?"
"Will the Cannons win today, Harry?"
"When will Hermione agree to shag Ron?"
"I am not a bloody psychic, you prize twonks!"
"Eh, it was a trick question anyway."
"What, you're not wearing underwear?"
"Nah, Hermione'll never agree to shag Ronniekins – she's bound to come to her senses."
"Ha! Shows what... Er." Ron blushed furiously and suddenly found the contents of the cold cupboard extremely interesting.
So, maybe not conventionally normal, but normal enough for Harry.
And then Colin had found him.
Enthusiastic and well-meaning Colin Creevey had brought a few spirits to Harry, people who had no desire to "condemn meself to watchin' people sleep and eat and live while I can't? No thank you!" to quote one fellow, but still had something unfinished they wanted taken care of before moving on.
Word spread quickly in the spirit realm, it seemed.
Harry, being Harry, wanted to help these spirits, and so began sending anonymous letters to strangers, to the loved ones of the recently deceased, telling them where to find important documents, where Auntie Gertrude's brooch was hidden, Gran's diamond ring, the combination to the safe, family recipes that hadn't been recorded, even letters of apology, forgiveness or regret.
Not surprisingly it became overwhelming, quickly interfering with Harry's life. Training to be an Auror had proven difficult enough with a frenzied but grateful and curious living population – adding the dead to that had made it impossible.
Though Colin had opened the floodgate, so to speak, he'd also proven to be the solution, acting as a go-between for him. And so, after settling into their new arrangement, Harry's association with the dead had settled back down to something manageable.
"Sorry, Harry! Sooo sorry!" Tessa barreled into the kitchen and kissed Harry's cheek, beaming a grin up at him and giving a hurried, breathless explanation for her tardiness: "Andrew. Last night. Surprised me – and he's already gone back on tour!"
The last was said over her shoulder as she rushed back out the swinging door, tying her apron around her hips as she went.
Harry shook his head in bemusement; he wouldn't press the matter. Tessa was generally reliable, a very good worker and great with the customers, who were, as a rule, charmed by her Mediterranean beauty and infectious laugh.
Andrew was an okay bloke too, despite the tattoos and piercings, and rather menacing demeanor. And though the band he played bass for seemed to specialize in making loud, angry noise as far as Harry was concerned, they did have rather a large following. Obviously enough to warrant frequent live performances.
"Now you're here," Harry began as she returned to the kitchen, "I'm going to take this," he lifted the sandwich he'd just wrapped, "to Mrs. Tretheway. Can you handle it for a bit?"
With her assent, he headed for the door, waving at Liam, the barman. "Back in a tick."
Harry took in a breath of fresh air and headed toward the post office.
A bell tinkled when Harry opened the door, followed by the crow of Mrs. Tretheway's raven, Edgar. Harry didn't know if his wings were clipped or if he was just accustomed to being a kept man, but Edgar, apart from an occasional wing stretch, never moved from the tall perch in the corner behind the counter; though, Mrs. Tretheway has been known to tell children that he delivered the mail. It always made Harry smile a bit at how close to the truth that actually was, at least in the wizarding world.
"Ah, Harry, there you are."
"Afternoon, Mrs. Tretheway." Harry handed her the sandwich, then reached into his pocket and pulled out a bundle of letters.
She smiled, taking her lunch and putting it under the counter. "Such a dear. Thank you for bringing it by."
"My pleasure, absolutely."
After she'd counted out the proper notes and coins, she said, "Now, what have we here?"
"Just some outgoing post – all stamped and ready to go."
"Lovely handwriting. It's a disappearing art, really, penmanship."
Harry smiled. "I'd love to claim it was my own, but my writing is atrocious."
It was the truth in a sense. Having frequent visits from his mum had paid off in a lot of ways, and she'd taught him a tricky little charm that neatened handwriting and gave the added benefit of disguising his own messy scrawl.
Mrs. Tretheway laughed. "Well, that's normal enough for your generation, I suppose. Is there anything else you'll need while you're here?"
The post office also acted as the grocer's, offering some staples, mostly items that wouldn't go off too soon, to get people through to the next trip to the market, a town over.
"Nothing today, thanks. See you."
Harry stepped back out into the crisp autumn air. He loved this time of year, and he loved this little village and the perpetual Halloween-ness of it. He'd stumbled upon it quite by accident, during the year of traveling he'd done after leaving the Aurors. Cornwall had been his last planned stop and he'd stayed.
He especially loved the irony of it, as the village of Oggindon was famous for its mediums, psychics, palmists; they even had a man from the Caribbean who did voodoo.
Harry owned the pub.
With no industry, no moors, no ruins or standing stones, a location that was just far enough from the coast to be inconvenient, and nothing to recommend it to the tourists who flocked to the neighboring and advantageously-coastal towns of Boscastle and Tintagel, someone, some years ago, had come up with the idea of a theme, which Hermione laughingly called 'witchy kitsch', and it had proven lucrative.
Walking past the candle shop, Something Wicked, he waved at Tracy and her partner, Lauren, through the window. Opposite to them was the bookshop – Bell, Book and Candle – where the owner, Edwin Carstairs, held séances every Wednesday evening in the loft. Harry's spirit friends often had a laugh at the expense of poor old Edwin, with his pencil-thin moustache and his burgundy smoking jacket, who regularly managed to have spirits at his gatherings and didn't know it.
Just down from him was Madam Margaux, the palmist. Harry didn't know how much stock he put into such things, but Margaux (whose real name was Susan) had insisted on reading his palm when he'd first arrived, and she'd looked at him rather strangely.
"Your life line – I've never seen anything like this. It's broken in two places, one very near to the beginning, but then continues on extraordinarily long after that. It's... well, it's impossible."
Harry had managed to convince her, for the most part, that they were scratches, old scars and nothing more, but she never asked again to see it.
Lucinda and Clementine Newkirk, or The Sisters, as they were more commonly known, did tarot cards and tea leaves, respectively. Harry supposed at another time in history they'd've been called spinsters, both well into their fifties, and they were terrible gossips. Not to mention, they had a Trelawney-ish air about them that kept Harry at a distance.
Just down from them was the tea shop, Strange Brew.
There was a shop that sold crystals made into jewelry and other items, purporting to bring harmony, prosperity or align chakras, whatever those were. One woman claimed to be a 'ghost whisperer'; another used what was doubtless a faked Hungarian accent and sat in her incense-smoky parlor, draped in scarves and gazing into her "crystal ball", which, of course, was a lovely glass orb, but wouldn't be divining anyone's future.
In the finer weather, caravans camped at the edge of town with traveling musicians, street performers, and artisans selling their wares.
They used to have a year-round town troubadour, a busker really, but he ran off with Kenneth Kirby, who used to run the Apothecary (very poorly it would seem, as the bank had taken it over just after Kenneth had flown the coop).
As Harry passed the building in question, he noticed that the paper was off the windows and found the signs of life heartening. The Apothecary was the chemist's after all, and the loss was keenly felt – Mrs. Tretheway could only carry so many of the basics at the post office.
He stopped in front of his place and admired the freshly painted sign that read, "TheCacklingCrone – Food,Spirits,Lodging" complete with a silhouette of a very Muggle-ish witch: hooked, warty nose and all.
He'd inherited the name, of course, when he'd purchased the pub; keeping it had been a stipulation of the sale.
And he loved every bit of it.
Very early the next morning found Harry receiving supplies. The lorry came three times a week and Harry always had coffee ready for Mario, the driver.
"Ta, Harry," Mario called out as he left, gracing Harry with a bright white smile, shining from a face the color of the coffee in his travel cup.
Truthfully, Harry quite liked to watch Mario unloading the heavy boxes.
Harry grinned. "Who me? Or you? 'Cos you frequently manage to find your way here on delivery day – you must appreciate the view as much as I do."
Sirius Black smirked. "Only I can't get caught ogling and objectifying the poor man."
"I didn't get caught – and if he minded a little objectifying, he wouldn't wear such tight t-shirts over such big muscles."
Sirius barked out a laugh. "Point."
"See you Friday, then?"
"Wouldn't miss it."
Sirius winked and disappeared, and Harry saw to his supplies.
He decided his specials today would be shepherd's pie, mostly for the American tourists, steak and kidney pie, and he would need to make some more Cornish pasties, which were always on the menu.
So he started his day elbow-deep in flour, rolling pastry, and he couldn't imagine being happier.
Hours later, the hum of chatter on the other side of the swinging door was reward in itself. The tables were full, the guests lifting pints and eating Harry's food enthusiastically, the regulars were at the bar, watching the muted telly, which was showing a snooker tournament, and Harry whistled happily as he slid another full plate onto Tessa's pick-up shelf.
"Christ, I think everyone in town is out there tonight," Tessa complained good-naturedly. She picked up the plated meals and headed back out the door.
"It's the chill in the air. Bring me some ale on the way back, would you?"
"A pint or a glass?"
"I'm not thirsty, Tess – I need it for the lamb stew I'm making for tomorrow." He did a quick calculation in head. "Best make it three pints."
Harry took the lid off of the enormous pot and added the carrots and onions, as well as the rest of the late-addition ingredients, the scented steam already making his mouth water. Tessa returned with the mild dark lager and Harry poured it in, then set the pot to simmer.
"There is the most gloriously dapper man out there. Very mysterious-looking, smartly dressed, brooding expression. Old Bill says he's the one that took over the Apothecary."
Old Bill gave The Sisters a run for their money, which meant he could gossip for England, but there was likely some truth to it.
"He ate your steak and kidney pie like it was heaven on a plate."
"Good – maybe we'll have a regular out of him."
Harry's mind was half occupied with specials for the rest of the week – Sundays he always did a traditional roast beef dinner with Yorkshire pudding and buckets of gravy, and Mondays he didn't open the kitchen, in order to have some time for himself.
Curiosity did get the better of him, though. When Tessa came back in with a stack of dirty plates he asked, "Is he still out there, the Apothecary man?"
"Oh yes, enjoying an after dinner brandy."
"Where's he sitting?"
"In the corner, by the door."
The swinging door had a round window in it which was handy for seeing if someone was on the other side of it, but it didn't lend a view of the entire room. Harry eased the door open and peered around it. The lighting was not bright, a lot of it coming from the fireplace and the wall sconces, but he could make out a dark grey suit with pinstripes, very nice, and longish dark hair.
When he saw the man's face, however, his heart seemed to seize in his chest – he might've made a noise; he couldn't be sure. He pulled back from the door so quickly his fingers nearly got caught when it closed. No. It couldn't be.
"All right, Harry? You look as though you've seen a ghost – you're as white as a sheet!"
"I might have," Harry choked out and bent in half, trying to catch his breath. He held a hand out to wave off Tessa, who made to help him. "I'm all right, really. Just a shock – he looks very much like someone I knew. Someone who died over a decade ago."
"That would be a shock, seeing someone who died."
Harry agreed, pointedly ignoring his mother, who had materialized just behind Tessa. "It's okay – you go on and finish up. I've got my breath back enough to feel silly about my reaction. At least I didn't scream." Horrified, he looked at Tessa. "I didn't scream, did I?"
"Oh, no, you were very manly about the whole thing," Tessa said, patting him on the shoulder in reassurance.
"I'm afraid it was only because I was breathless, but it's still a point for dignity."
She smiled and rose on her toes to kiss him on the cheek. "There you are – a win is a win."
As Tessa left the room, Lily Potter said, "Now, darling, don't be cross."
"Please come back later, Mum – when everybody is gone and I'm upstairs and can have a very large glass of Ogden's to go along with the conversation we're bound to have. I can't think about this now."
Except, of course, it was all he could think about when a very much not dead Severus Snape was sitting in his pub.
"What I don't understand," Harry took a sip from his Very Large Glass of Ogden's, which was in reality a regular-sized whiskey glass holding several fat fingers of the amber liquid, "is how you could let me mourn for him, for so long, without telling me that he wasn't actually dead."
"Now, Harry, it wasn't like that at all."
"How was it, then?"
"I thought he'd died, as well. I wasn't surprised he hadn't sought me out, not straight away – he was so very bitter for so long – but I did wonder after a bit. Newly dead do tend to cling to things for a short time, as you know, and he was always so hard-headed," she smiled, then continued, "but the ones who can't let these things go generally remain and become ghosts. So I thought to look for him, just out of curiosity. It was Colin who found him, actually."
"Colin?" Harry had another swallow of Firewhisky, enjoying the burn.
"Yeah me." The boy in question appeared. "Hiya, Harry."
Harry lifted his glass in mock salute and sighed. "So, you found Snape and what? Had a vote, decided not to let me in on that bit of news?"
"Well, when we, that is, I... when I found him you already seemed to have moved on, and we thought... he was living as a Muggle, you see, and..." Colin huffed. "It wasn't all that long ago anyway – it wasn't meant to be a secret."
They stood side-by-side, Colin and Harry's mother, looking sheepish, and it struck him that they looked so young, that there were only really five years separating the pair, despite the decades between their deaths. Harry, approaching thirty, was older than his mother had ever been.
Harry sighed, shaking his head. "So, he's living as a Muggle – how did he end up here?"
The two spirits exchanged a look. Colin shrugged and Lily said, "That's actually where you come in. Do you recall a letter you sent, a few months ago, to a Sebastian Prince?"
"Oh god. What have you done?" Harry closed his eyes, plunging his fingers into his fringe and pressing his palms against his forehead, remembering how insistent they'd been that Sebastian Prince was perfect to take over the Apothecary. "What have I done?"
"Harry, don't worry – he really is perfect for the Apothecary. He's just arrived sooner than we expected. We were going to tell you, sweetheart, I promise. You know how confused we get about time."
That was true, of course, spirits were rather vague on the concept of time passing, though Lily and company had a firmer grasp on it than most, simply because of their contact with Harry. But still...
"You don't understand – Snape hates me. Despises me. Deeply. You know what a paranoid git he can be – he'll think I tricked him or worse, that this is some sort of elaborate prank."
Harry scrubbed a hand over his face and groaned. "What am I going to do?"
His mother and Colin both looked at him thoughtfully but offered no helpful suggestions.
"I have to think some more on this."
"Of course, darling. We'll leave you to it." Lily hesitated then added, "Harry, I know it seems dire right now, but things will work out for the best. You'll see."
"How can you be so certain?"
She smiled gently. "Because I am certain of you."
Harry's annoyance softened at the sentiment, and he nodded. "All right."
He sighed and offered to both of them, "I'm sorry if I was shirty with you over this."
Colin grinned. "No worries, Harry!" Then he disappeared.
His mum smiled and nodded, leaving him alone with his jumbled thoughts.
Harry's feelings about Snape had evolved over time. Directly after the war he'd been forced to defend the man over and over and over again. Once the general public had accepted Snape as, well maybe not a hero, but certainly as someone who'd done some very hard things for the good of the wizarding world, Harry had done a lot of thinking.
There was no denying Snape had hated him – that level of loathing could not have been an act – but on the other hand, Snape had watched over him for years.
Harry had wondered why Snape had never appeared to him. He had, in fact, been a little hurt that the spirit, as Harry had assumed he was, didn't share Harry's sense of unfinished business.
He'd eventually settled on genuine respect for Snape, for the things that he'd been forced to do and for the courage it had taken to do them. The mere fact that Snape had been able to fool Voldemort so completely for so long was reason enough on its own.
It was that respect that had him deciding on a course of action. Respect and, admittedly, no small amount of curiosity. He would have to go to Snape first, make himself known before Snape stumbled upon him or heard Harry's name from someone else.
Course plotted, the next afternoon Harry walked over to The Apothecary with a steaming crock of lamb stew in his hands. If he couldn't win Snape over, perhaps the stew would.
The sign above the shop had been refreshed at some point and the words 'The Apothecary' were now flanked on one side with the mortar and pestle that had been there for years, and on the other a cauldron had been added.
Harry grinned, happy to know that Snape seemed to have embraced the spirit of the village. Peeking in the window, he saw no movement, so he walked down the alley to the service entrance. There were no windows back there, of course, so Harry knocked.
Then knocked again, hoping he wouldn't have to pluck up the nerve to come another time.
The door finally creaked open and there stood Severus Snape, wearing grey wool trousers and a darker grey waistcoat over a crisp white shirt.
Harry gaped for a moment, stunned by how healthy the man looked – gone were the sickly pallor and gaunt face. He was still tall and lean, but the years had been very good to him, filling in the hollow places.
A dark eyebrow rose elegantly in inquiry, and Harry would swear that a half smile (nothing like the cold, mean, satisfied slash he'd used when Harry was in trouble at school) played around his lips.
The years had changed Harry as well, certainly: he was taller, his last growth spurt had finally pushed him to six feet; he was broader, especially in his shoulders, and no longer skinny; his hair was still a mess, but in a managed sort of way. He was clean-shaven because he worked with food and thought it more sanitary, though this time of day he knew the shadow on his jaw was deepening. And he'd long ago traded his glasses for contact lenses, which had transformed his near-daily onion chopping to a pleasure rather than a pain in the arse.
The scar on his forehead was almost indiscernible, even to him, and he knew precisely where to look.
So it was no surprise that Snape took a moment to recognize him.
Harry watched the change in Snape's expression, watched the warm questioning look turn cold and stony.
As it was happening, Harry said, "Hul—"
The door slammed in his face, nearly bumping the crock out of his hand.
Then began thumping the door again with his free hand.
"Snape," he hissed, being careful not to shout. "Snape, open the door. Please!"
Finally, Snape opened the door again, though only a crack. Seeing the familiar suspicious look on Snape's face caused the carefully composed welcome he'd worked on all day to fly out of his brain.
Instead he said, "I thought you were dead."
The door opened a bit more and the look on Snape's face moved from suspicious to You Are An Idiot. "That was the idea, yes."
Snape sighed heavily and opened the door enough to allow Harry entrance, then stuck his head outside while Harry moved past him, presumably to see if there were any witnesses lurking about.
Once the door was closed, Snape turned sharply, the move no less impressive for the lack of black robes. "So, you've found me. Are you here to arrest me?"
"Wh— Arrest you? Whatever for?" Harry asked, genuinely perplexed.
"Need I list my misdeeds? Surely the Ministry keep their Aurors apprised of the fugitive's crimes." Snape stood rigidly by the door, arms crossed in front of him. He'd used his The Headmaster Should Have Expelled You voice, and Harry sought to get an explanation in before the man began taking points.
"Look, you've got it all wrong. I just came to bring you this." Harry pushed the stew at him, taking a step backwards once it was in Snape's hands. "I'm not an Auror, by the way, but I do know a few, and they aren't looking for you either. Never have done."
Snape lifted the cover and peered inside it suspiciously, sniffing the steam that wafted out of it.
"It's not poison – it's lamb stew. It's meant to be a welcome." When Snape remained silent, Harry added, "From my pub."
With a cynical look, Snape moved past Harry to set the tureen on a nearby table, then leaned against it, his back to Harry.
Although it was a sight, Snape seemingly at a loss, the thought did occur to Harry that he might be marshaling an attack from that position; he still felt the need to reassure him.
"Listen, I was just as shocked to see you, only I was lucky enough to be behind a door. I just wanted to let you know that I was here before you found out from someone else. And I'm told you enjoyed my cooking, so I thought I'd bring the stew by as a gesture of welcome. It's really good, if I do say so myself. And you truly are ... welcome, that is. And I do hope you won't let my presence here run you off – Oggindon needs you and if your sign is any indication, you really do get this place and will fit quite nicely. That's all. I'll leave you to it."
Harry moved toward the door and he heard rustling behind him, making him wonder if Snape had drawn his wand.
"Potter," Snape called out and Harry turned back around, fully expecting to be at wand-point, and refusing to draw his own.
It was a good thing, too, that Harry had such peaceable intentions, because it wasn't a wand in Snape's hand, but a spoon. "Tell me... how does one who was absolutely abysmal at potions produce such delectable fare?"
Harry grinned, pleased and feeling as if he'd won something. He shrugged in answer and then said, "It's a strange world, isn't it?"
He didn't expect a thank you and didn't receive one, but as Harry made his way back to the pub he felt, all in all, it had been an enormous success.
Because that first encounter had gone so well, Harry, for a few days afterward, kept half an eye out, expecting Snape to come into the pub at any moment. But by Saturday, the man hadn't so much as walked by the place.
It wasn't that Harry thought a bit of unexpectedly civil conversation suddenly made them the best of friends, but he was disappointed. Feeling much the same as when 'spirit' Snape had failed to come to him to complete their unfinished business.
Admittedly, he was intensely curious about Snape, as well.
And though the idea of maybe being friends with Snape did seem insane, it was also an idea that he couldn't shake, however disturbing the thought was. Which was why, during the afternoon lull, Harry was crossing the road, once again carrying a crock, and heading toward The Apothecary.
This time when Harry knocked on the door, Snape opened it immediately.
"What do you want?" he demanded.
"I, er, brought you something."
Harry handed the container over to Snape, who hesitated then took the offering.
"Clams in red sauce with linguini."
Snape looked from the bowl to Harry and asked, "Is this some sort of service for which I will be billed at the end of the month?"
Harry took the question for a joke, hoping that was how it was meant, and laughed, silently marveling at the possibility that Snape might actually have a sense of humor.
"No. No charge. Promise." When Snape made no move to allow him to enter, Harry asked, "Can I come in?"
Again Snape hesitated, but finally relented, though clearly reluctant, by stepping aside.
The workroom that Harry had seen the other day was now set up for brewing potions, several cauldrons already bubbling away.
"So you'll be doing potions, as well? I mean, I know you're a proper Muggle chemist now."
Snape poked around in a drawer and fished out a fork, digging into the pasta and red sauce.
"I have an Owl order business – I saw no reason not to combine the two."
"Makes sense." As Harry watched, Snape twirled his fork in the linguini and brought the forkful to his mouth. "The sauce has a bit of a kick – and it seems to get stronger the next day."
"It does indeed," Snape agreed, though it clearly wasn't affecting him adversely.
Between bites, Snape asked, "So, Potter, are you the Cackling Crone or would that be the youngest Weasley?"
"Ginny you mean? I haven't seen her in a few months, but she wasn't crone-like at the time. She has been known to cackle on occasion, though." He chuckled. "Nah, the place came with that name, like yours did. It did have a sensible name at one time, Nag's Head Inn, before the village went witchy kitsch."
"That's what Hermione calls it." Harry grinned.
"Ah. Surprisingly apt."
"That reminds me. I wanted to warn you, Ron and Hermione will be here tomorrow. They come round a few times a month, whenever they can. I wasn't sure if you wanted it known you're still ticking."
Snape put the bowl down on the table and crossed his arms over his chest. "I have no desire to make my continued existence known to the wizarding world. Severus Snape is dead and should remain so."
Harry smiled ruefully. "I understand." And he truly did, though Harry had been dying to tell his friends since the moment he'd seen Snape in his pub. "I'll keep your secret."
Snape nodded thoughtfully, then said, "Perhaps you will at that."
Uncrossing his arms and picking up the pasta bowl and fork once more, Snape added, "I am astounded, Potter, that you didn't go running to tell the world the moment you saw me. For days, I must admit, I've been waiting for a battalion of Aurors to descend upon me and haul me off to Azkaban."
Harry hadn't realized how tense Snape had been until he saw it leave him.
"God, Snape, I'm sorry – it never occurred to me you'd think that. Look," Harry began, "truly, no one is looking for you. Mostly because they think you're dead, yes, but even if you weren't, you're not a criminal, not a wanted man, I promise you. The truth about your role in the war won most people over. My testimony, Dumbledore's letters and memories, a select few of your own memories – it was undeniable. You've been fully and officially exonerated. There's even a monument for you on the Hogwarts grounds."
Snape sat more than leaned on the table behind him, hastily setting the bowl down, then raked his fingers through his hair, taking a moment before answering.
"That is... good to know. However, I believe I'll err on the side of caution and remain Sebastian Prince. It's a Muggle persona I've been cultivating for many years, well before the Dark Lord disappeared the first time, and to abandon it now would be foolish."
Harry nodded but said nothing; he did understand the reasoning, but there was no denying his disappointment.
"And, while I have no desire to take an advert in the Prophet proclaiming my resurrection, I suppose it would be acceptable for you to tell Miss Granger and Mr. Weasley that your report of my death has been greatly exaggerated. Their discretion must be absolute."
"Excellent." Harry grinned. "Thank you for trusting me."
"Do not make me regret it."
"You won't, Snape." Harry was chuffed about the whole business. "I imagine I ought to be calling you Sebastian, rather than Snape, then."
He walked toward Snape, who was and likely would forever remain Snape in his head, and offered him his hand. "Very pleased to meet you, Sebastian. I'm Harry Potter – you can call me Harry. I own the pub. Welcome to Oggindon."
Snape's handshake was warm and firm and there was nothing really remarkable about it, except that it left Harry with an inexplicable feeling of anticipation.
"Uncle Harry!" he heard before he was forced to catch the four-year-old who'd launched herself at him.
"Rosey Posey!" Harry cried out as he lifted the girl in the air.
She hugged his neck and said in his ear, "Can I come live with you? Hugo is horrid."
The horrid boy himself latched onto Harry's leg solidly. Hugo was built like a tank and rather tall for his nearly three years, or so it seemed to Harry, and he grinned up at him with a mischievous gleam in his eye.
"Hullo to you, Hugo," Harry greeted him, laying his free hand on top of Hugo's soft ginger curls.
Hugo giggled in response, his communication skills being not quite as refined as his sister's, and Harry was a bit relieved. When he spoke, there were words and some of them Harry even sometimes recognized, but it seemed Hermione and Rose were the only two who could fully understand Hugo at this point.
To Rose he said, as he set her down, "I think your mummy and daddy would miss you very much."
"Probably... eventually," Hermione said. She hugged Harry in greeting and turned to the children, guiding them to their usual table. "Rose, give me your coat and sit over here. Don't you worry about Hugo," she added when Rose protested.
"Where's Ron, then?"
"Parking the car," Hermione said, rolling her eyes and handily dealing with a struggling Hugo and his coat.
Ron's utter love for the family Land Rover was a source of exasperation for Hermione, who'd never learned to drive a car, and one of bemusement for Harry. He had a car of his own, he enjoyed driving it on the rare occasions he had to, but it was nothing compared to Ron's obsessive love for his vehicle.
Once the children were settled and Ron had joined them, Charlotte, who worked the few shifts a week that Tessa didn't, began bringing out their meal, and they tucked in. Harry served the Sunday roast beef dinner family-style, requiring only occasional trips to the kitchen, which allowed him to spend more time with his friends.
The meal passed pleasantly, the conversation centered around catching up on the latest news from each camp, but Harry held on to his bombshell about Snape, not entirely sure when to introduce the subject.
Once the table was cleared of all but cake, and the children were two tables over, sitting with Mr. and Mrs. Tretheway, who adored them and doted on them as if they were their own grandchildren, Harry knew there would likely be no better time.
"I've some news – it may be shocking."
Hermione and Ron both looked at him expectantly, Ron's forkful of cake stopped halfway on its journey to his mouth.
"Remember, at the end of the war, when we thought Snape had died in the Shrieking Shack? Well, he didn't, actually. Die, that is. He's here in Oggindon, just took over The Apothecary."
Harry wasn't sure what he'd been expecting, reaction-wise, but it wasn't the pair of them sharing alook, clearly not at all shocked by his revelation.
"Did you hear me? And don't do that, I hate that."
"Do what?" Ron asked as the fork continued on to its final destination.
"That." Harry gestured between the two of them. "That couple thing, where you look at one another and have a whole conversation without saying anything. I hate that."
"We don't do that."
"You did that to me before you even were a couple. Now spill it – why are you not surprised?"
"Well," Hermione began, and looked at Ron. She let out a huff, then continued, "It was the name. Sebastian Prince. When you told us you'd written to him, something about the name nagged at me and wouldn't leave me alone. For days. And, of course, the name Prince made me think of Snape – you know how it's always bothered me that there was no body when we went back for him. Anyway, I talked with Ron about it and it'd been bothering him as well. So we looked into it, that's all."
"And you found him and then decided not to tell me?"
"Yes," Ron agreed.
"No," Hermione corrected. "Not precisely."
"I really don't believe this – first Colin and my mum and now you two. When exactly did I become someone who needed to be handled?"
Exasperated, Hermione responded, "We didn't do it for, or even to you, Harry. We were protecting Professor Snape. He'd obviously gone to a lot of trouble not to be found. And we decided to keep it to ourselves and see what happened. If he hadn't come here, then we'd have continued to do so."
Harry's slowly building anger retreated a bit. If they'd done it for Snape, that was different.
"How on earth did you find him, then?"
Ron raised his fork and said, around a mouthful of cake, "Professional. Investigator."
Hermione sent Ron a stern look. "It wasn't as easy as all that, and it took both of us as well as our Ministry resources to get the whole picture. I looked on the Muggle side of things and Ron on the wizarding side. We didn't know for certain it was Professor Snape, of course, but we pursued it as if we were."
"Snape's maternal great-something-grandfather was Sebastian Prince, so we knew we were on the right track," Ron put in, cake-free this time. "Then I thought, someone with Snape's skills, and the fact that your Sebastian Prince was a chemist, he might still be in the potions business." Ron dropped his napkin on the table, stretched his long legs out in front of him and laid his arm along the back of Hermione's chair. "Potions aren't regulated like Muggle pharmaceuticals, of course, just the ingredients, but potioneers can apply for a Ministry Seal. Lets the customers know whoever made the potion knows what they're doing. If a Seal is awarded, the Ministry do random testing periodically, make sure they stay on the up and up. Anyway, Sebastian Prince applied – Iaso Elixirs, his business is called. Must've paid a shiny Sickle to have someone bury it, too, 'cos it took a while to find. Easy peasy after that."
"Easy peasy," Harry repeated quietly, rubbing a hand over his face. "I have Iaso hangover potion and a headache remedy upstairs – they sell it at Slug and Jiggers..."
Hermione reached across the table and squeezed Harry's hand. "I found him through his chemist's credentials, and worked backward to the university. Finished at the top of his class, no surprise – he received quite a lot of impressive offers from private companies all over, including an offer from the university itself. But here he is, in a small Muggle village in Cornwall. Seems as if he's still hiding."
"I do think he'll fit in here. He has an illusion on the front windows, I think, to make it look like slow progress going on, but it's beginning to look just like a potion shop. Anywhere else they'd think he was a lunatic – a chemist's should look sterile, shouldn't it – here they'll be impressed by his level of commitment. I'd like to be friends with him," Harry added without meaning too.
His friends did that thing again, exchanging alook, and Harry wasn't sure he even wanted to know what it was about this time, though he had to ask.
"What is it now?"
Hermione squeezed his hand again and smiled. "Nothing. Not really. We just had a feeling you would, if Sebastian Prince took you up on your letter."
By 'we', Harry knew she meant, 'I'.
"That is really..." He hesitated.
"Nice to be so understood by your friends?" Hermione offered helpfully.
"I was going to say annoying."
Ron sniggered loudly and Hermione pulled her hand back, looking only slightly injured.
"Annoying to be loved?"
"Annoying to be so predictable to you."
Hermione laughed lightly, and Harry knew he was forgiven.
Ron said, "Try living with it, mate."
Once the Weasley contingent was packed into the car and off home, Harry was in his kitchen, breaking it down for the night and found himself making a decision.
It was still early evening, not too late for someone to drop round for a visit, surely.
Harry didn't want to analyze too closely why he felt the need to take food with him whenever he visited Snape. He decided it was a way to get him in the door, an entrance fee, so to speak. And then, maybe, Harry himself could win Snape over. Maybe.
In any case, he once again made the journey over the road. This time it was rather dark. Anywhere else in the world, Harry might've been leery heading down the alley next to Snape's shop – at the very least have wand to hand – but despite the growing darkness, Harry felt safe. And when he approached the door, a light, clearly on some sort of sensor, cast a bright circle over the area.
Harry knocked on the door and this time, when Snape opened it, he didn't look surprised.
"Hi," Harry said. "I've brought you the Sunday special."
Harry handed him the plate of roast beef, veg and Yorkshire pudding. He'd charmed the food to remain at the correct temperature without overcooking the beef, which Harry had cooked to a perfect pink, though it couldn't be seen through the dish cover.
"I kept the gravy separate – I wasn't certain you'd want it." He pulled out the container he'd carried over in his pocket and handed it to Snape, as well.
Snape looked at the meal in his hands, lifted the dish cover, replaced it, looked up at Harry and did something Harry never dared hope he would.
"Would you care to come in?"
"Yes, thank you."
Harry stepped into what was becoming a familiar workroom with several cauldrons simmering and steaming.
"You know, Potter," Snape said as he closed the door, "if you continue feeding me this way, I shall be fat by the end of the month."
"Oh, I highly doubt that," Harry responded, then, for some unfathomable reason, actually blushed.
Snape didn't respond and luckily he had his back to Harry, placing the food on the potion-free end of a table.
Harry shook his head at himself and said, "It's charmed – if you've already eaten, it'll keep."
"I haven't, though I'll wait until the last potion is decanted before indulging," Snape said as he turned around and leaned on the table, crossing his arms casually in front of him. "I must admit I am curious to know how on earth you came to be a proficient cook, rather than the star of the Auror corps."
"Oh. Well." Harry paused, not sure where to begin and not at all certain how much he should reveal. "I started Auror training, actually, but didn't finish. Couldn't finish, really – people wouldn't leave me alone." Which was true enough. "I was staying at the Burrow with the Weasleys, a little depressed and very much at a loose end, and Molly put me to work in the kitchen. I guess I had a knack for it." Harry shrugged.
"So she started me. But I couldn't just keep living there indefinitely, so I decided to travel, see a bit of the world. Muggle world, I mean. And it seemed everywhere I visited there was something to learn and somebody willing to teach me. The lamb stew for example. I got that from a woman in County Clare. She owns a beautiful inn there. I stayed for several weeks – she taught me how to make bread, as well, among other things.
"I was still drifting when I saw an advert for the Crone. When I arrived in Oggindon, I knew it was the place for me. How could I resist, really?"
Harry smiled at the memory, the feeling of finally coming home, before continuing. "Speaking of the lamb stew, I have to say I was surprised you trusted me enough to eat it. I'm glad you did, but I was surprised."
Snape snorted. "Don't be ridiculous – I performed a number of detection spells, as well as one to keep an eye on you, while my back was turned."
"The clam sauce, however," Snape began, "smelled so delicious I was willing to chance it."
Snape was smirking and Harry didn't know if he was joking or not, but he smiled anyway.
"Well I'm still glad you seemed to enjoy it. And you can trust my food, I hope you know now."
The word 'trust' reminded Harry of the main reason he'd come here to begin with.
"I wanted to let you know, too – Ron and Hermione came round today, just as planned."
Snape tensed visibly.
Seeking to reassure him that his secret was safe, Harry said, "You don't have to worry about them being discreet. They actually already knew, and didn't even hint at it to me."
Suddenly, Snape was standing ramrod straight, his hands fisted at his side.
"They what?" he asked with a clenched jaw.
Harry was somewhat taken aback. "They knew. But the point is that they didn't tell a soul."
"I cannot believe this. Decades of carefully building and grooming this persona, completely undone."
"No, it's not undone. That's what I'm trying to tell you. Ron's a senior Auror and Hermione's in the MLE too, on the legal side. They didn't tell anyone. Not even me!"
Snape was rubbing his temples. "Merlin, what is it about you, Potter? Are you some sort of harbinger of doom, with death and destruction following in your wake? I've led a very quiet and contented life since the war, and when I finally find something that seems...possible, more than passable for the rest of my existence, you're here and everything crumbles beneath my feet."
Harry had flinched at the word death, but remained otherwise calm. "Your feet are on solid ground, Snape. Please believe me – your secret is as safe as if it were still unknown. I promise you."
Rubbing his face, and expelling a hiss of breath, Snape faced Harry and looked at him intently. Harry didn't feel the push of Legilimency, but remained as open and guileless as he could, willing Snape to believe him.
"They will tell no one? You will tell no one?" Snape asked after a moment. "I have your word on that?"
"You do." Harry stuck his hand out towards Snape, who accepted the gesture. "We'll keep your secret, absolutely."
"See that you do," Snape responded, squeezing Harry's hand a little more firmly than was necessary and using the grip to pull Harry closer, so they were eye to eye, and very nearly nose to nose. "Or you will regret it."
Black eyes narrowed with intent and a shiver ran through Harry – not fear, he was certain, but definitely something electric.
Once released, he took a step back, pulse slowly returning to normal.
"Harbinger of doom?" he said wryly.
Snape suddenly looked tired. "You have been present for or privy to the lowest moments of my life, Potter." He shrugged. "It seemed apt."
"Oh." Harry worked to contain his disappointment. "I guess there's no chance you'll want to be friends, then?"
"Friends?" The word was drawn out and Snape said it as if it tasted strangely on his tongue.
"Yeah, insane idea, I know. But we're both here and it's a small village. The only two actual wizards in a Muggle pseudo-magical tourist destination."
Snape seemed thoughtful for a moment before answering. "Hmm. There might actually be some advantage to having an ally who knows where all the bodies are buried – literally and figuratively."
He looked at Harry, clearly assessing him in some way, and Harry stood unflinching, hoping he'd measure up to whatever standard Snape was using.
"I don't know about you, Potter, but I am in need of a stiff drink. Possibly two."
Snape turned and did something to the cauldrons – Harry guessed a monitoring spell – then grabbed the roast beef dinner, and walked towards a door at the other end of the room and opened it.
"Are you coming or not?"
The door led to a stairway and the stairs to a flat above the shop. It was a much bigger space than the rooms Harry had set aside for himself at his pub. The main room's décor made Harry think of those old black and white American films, the ones with hard-nosed detectives and betraying blonde femme fatales. On a small table that appeared to be designed for the purpose, there was even an old fashioned telephone – black, with a handset that rested on a cradle and an actual dial – which looked heavy enough to clobber someone over the head if need be.
The place suited Snape to a T.
"Does that actually work?" Harry asked, indicating the phone.
Snape put the food on a small round dining table in the corner and opened the beautiful matching wood and glass cabinet standing behind it, pulling out a bottle of Ogden's and two glasses, before answering, "The telephone? It does indeed."
Snape. With a phone number.
"I never imagined you with a phone, but if I had, I think this is exactly the one I would have picked for you."
"I loathe those contraptions most idiots seem to have attached to ends of their arms. I've never wanted to speak to anyone so desperately that I felt the need to carry the damned thing around with me. And it always seems the people who use them the most incessantly have the least to actually say."
He handed Harry a glass of the Firewhisky, drained his own glass then refilled it before Harry actually took a swallow of his own.
Snape refilled his glass and gestured toward a sitting area – two chairs side-by-side, turned slightly inward and a small sofa directly across – he took one of the chairs and Harry the other. Snape leveled his wand at the fireplace and a cheery fire blazed to life in the grate. They sat in companionable silence for moment or two.
"I like what you're doing with the shop. That's an illusion on the windows, right?"
"Of course it is. The Muggles would be suspicious otherwise. I'm using the time to get ahead on my brewing obligations."
Harry smiled. "A potions shop in Oggindon. I knew you'd fit in here perfectly. The others will be impressed, as well. With the look of it, I mean. They won't know about the potions, of course, but it's a great idea for both purposes."
"I thought so."
"You know, I have some of your potions. Didn't know they were yours, obviously." Harry took a sip from his glass. "What is Iaso, anyway? Where'd you come up with the name?"
Snape turned toward him. "Greek goddess, one of the lesser ones. I briefly considered an Egyptian god – of bites and stings – but decided while it was amusing to me, Iaso was a goddess of not only healing, but remedies as well, and it seemed more appropriate. Additionally, who would connect a Greek goddess with Severus Snape?"
Harry laughed softly, but didn't comment.
"I have a question for you, Potter. All along I was under the impression that someone in town, acting in an official capacity, had sent letters to recently licensed chemists in an effort to fill a need. If that were the case, however, how is it that my name, Sebastian Prince, was specifically mentioned in the presence of your friends? The Ministry routinely wastes resources, certainly, but I will not believe that they do so performing background checks on Muggle chemists."
He'd been lulled into a sense of security by the camaraderie, the drink, the cozy fire, and forgotten he was dealing with Severus Snape.
Harry leaned forward in his chair, resting his elbows on his knees, glass dangling in one hand between them. He sighed loudly. He would have avoided this forever if he could've – the only people who knew were his family.
"Tell him, Harry." Lily appeared across from him.
"He won't believe me."
"Who are you talking to, Potter?"
"Well, Snape, the truth is, I'm talking to my mother."
Snape sat up, then stood, dropping his glass on the nearby mantle.
"Very funny. Hilarious even. I suppose your offer of friendship was a joke as well?"
To Snape Harry said, "It was absolutely not a joke. I do want to be friends."
To his mother he said, "See? Doesn't believe me. I told him the truth and he thinks I'm taking the piss."
"Well, darling, you're not doing a very good job of it."
Snape stared hard at the space where Harry was looking.
"All right, I understand, Potter. The war, the stresses of your school years, the manipulation of a mad man bent on saving the world at all costs – stronger men would have cracked."
Harry stood and put his glass down on the table between the two chairs. "I'm not any more cracked than you are and I understand why you don't believe me – I wouldn't believe me. But that doesn't change the fact that I see dead people."
He knew it was the wrong thing to say the moment it left his mouth. Snape's demeanor was moving from placating toward pissed off.
"You would do well to remember that I've been living as a Muggle in some capacity for over two decades – I am familiar with that film."
"Look, you're right, it was a poor choice of phrasing and I'm sorry, but it is the truth."
"What about a Pensieve?" Lily put in.
"A Pensieve? Would that work?"
"I don't know why it wouldn't. You have a clear memory of seeing and hearing me and a memory can't be tampered with, not without it being obvious."
"Snape, do you have a—"
"Pensieve, yes, I heard you the first time." Snape moved toward the door and opened it. "Well, Potter, it's been... strange. Thank you for the meals. It's time to go now."
"He looks well, doesn't he, Harry?" Lily asked.
"Not now, Mum, honestly." Harry turned to Snape. "I'll leave, but do you have a phial handy or bottle before I do? I'm going to give you a memory, this memory in fact, so you can see I'm not crazy. The choice is up to you whether you look at it or not, but know that I truly do want us to be friends."
Snape stood stock still, looking intently at Harry, then seemingly coming to some sort of decision, moved to the cabinet that held the Ogden's and came back with a crystal stoppered bottle.
Harry shook his wand out of his sleeve and brought it to his temple, thinking of the past half -hour or so. He put the silvery strand in the bottle and handed it to Snape.
"Thanks for the drink. I'll show myself out."
The next day, being Monday, was Harry's day off, but he woke early after a poor night's sleep.
Each of the rooms at the inn was equipped with an electric kettle, and Harry had a cold cupboard (an old wooden Muggle ice box, which, with the proper charms, served that purpose again), so he had the means for breakfast to some degree, but nothing there seemed appealing. He'd headed for his kitchen, made some tea and tried to do some baking, but even that wouldn't keep him from feeling so restless.
He decided to take a walk, hoping the cool morning air would help settle him.
He'd made a hash of things last night, he knew. He wasn't even certain why he'd been so flippant about it (definitely the wrong tack with Snape, of all people).
The walking did clear his mind a bit, too. He hated that he'd been forced to tell Snape about the spirits so soon – he'd hoped to put it off until there was a firmer trust between them, if not forever. But his childish reaction might have undone the shaky progress he'd made with the man, and he had no one to blame but himself.
He could only hope that Snape wasn't so stubborn he'd refuse to look at the memory, no matter how curious he might be.
Harry returned to the Crone and headed toward the stairs when Margaret, the matronly and ever so efficient woman who ran the inn side for him, called out, "Ah, Harry, there you are. The Apothecary man, Mr. Prince, was looking for you. I've set him up in the pub with a cuppa – he may still be there if you'd like to catch him."
He was on his way before she finished speaking. Not running, of course, just making good forward progress.
Snape was sitting in the most advantageous spot in the room: back to a wall, several clear routes out of the building. He was wearing another one of those wonderful suits. There was a cup of tea in front of him on the table, along with the various other bits of crockery he'd collected from Harry during the past week.
It was early enough that there weren't any other tables occupied and Liam was across the room, though to be safe, he said, "Hullo, Sebastian."
"Good morning... Harry. Would you care to sit down?"
"I would, yes." Harry took the seat directly opposite, thrilled that Snape hadn't called him Potter. "How are you this morning?"
"I am well, though I believe I owe you an apology."
"No." Harry shook his head. "No, you really don't. I know how insane it sounds. I've never actually told anyone before, besides the Weasleys, that is. And even then I had a witness to back me up – I handled it poorly. It's a lot to take in, I guess. I've had a long time to adjust."
"It is indeed a lot to process. She looks..." Snape shook his head and looked around the room. "I do have questions."
"If I have the answers, I'll give them to you." Harry thought for a moment. His room upstairs was not really comfortable for company. "It's probably fine to talk about this here, or we could go into the kitchen and I'll brew us a fresh pot – I was experimenting with croissants this morning and I might have some of the scones left from yesterday, if you're interested."
Snape nodded and said, "Lead on."
Harry gathered the returned dishes, while Snape carried his teacup, and they headed for the swinging door.
Glad for something to do while they talked, Harry gestured toward the sole table in the room and said, "Have a seat – I'll get the kettle going."
Snape took the chair that faced where Harry was at work, filling the kettle and setting it on the cooker to boil; he began pulling out the various pastries he'd been working with this morning and assembling them on a platter, using a spell that Molly had taught him to freshen them.
"So, you said you had questions?" Harry prompted as he gathered jam and some cream and added it to the tray, as well as some butter for the croissants.
"I scarcely know where to begin. It is an extraordinary thing."
"Well, I guess the most obvious question would be 'How?' And that's the thing we know the least about. We have two theories. The first being that I was touched by death, the Killing Curse, twice and survived, which opened a sort of doorway for me. The other is a bit more, er, complicated."
"Yes, well," Harry began. He put the full teapot on the tray and carried it to the table. After he took a seat, he continued, "Do you know The Tale of the Three Brothers?"
Snape's eyebrows knitted together. "The children's story?"
"Yeah, that one."
"My mother read it to me when I was a small child, but I recall the gist of it."
It suddenly occurred to Harry that it was a risk, revealing this. Did he really trust Snape that completely? He fussed with the tea while weighing the situation.
Then found his deliberations were pointless.
His simple question had been all Snape needed to get there on his own.
"You don't mean to say... that infernal cloak of yours?"
Harry sighed. "Yes. Voldemort had the stone, though I don't know he knew what it was, just that it was a family ring, and Dumbledore had the wand – Voldemort took it from his grave."
"His hand..." Snape lifted his right hand.
"Dumbledore knew what the ring was when he found it, yeah. But it was cursed, so..." Harry lifted his own hand and flexed his fingers. "Anyway, when Malfoy disarmed Dumbledore, that night on the Tower, he unknowingly became the wand's master. Which I think was definitely Dumbledore's plan, since he knew he couldn't stop Voldemort from getting to the wand after he died. I don't know if Dumbledore intended for mastery of it to come to me, I don't know how he could know that I would run into Malfoy and disarm him, but that's what happened. And the wand never worked properly for Voldemort, that's what mattered. Dumbledore left me the stone, and that he did intend for me to use at the end, which I did, before I walked to face Voldemort.
"Hermione's theory is that even though the stone and the wand are no longer in my actual possession, I'm still the 'master' of the three objects." Harry shrugged. "My own theory is that it's a combination of both, but there's no way to know for certain, since no one's ever been master of all three objects at once before me. And the only way to really test it now would be for someone to win the wand from me and find it, and then find the stone, and steal my cloak."
Harry took a sip of his tea.
Snape stared at him a moment or two, looking incredulous. After taking a sip of his own tea, he rubbed a hand over his face, then down to his neck, rubbing the jagged scar marking the spot where Harry knew Nagini had attacked him.
"I'd like to believe that Dumbledore didn't set me up, but knowing the extreme measures he was willing to take, not only with himself but with others as well, it becomes harder to do so."
Harry didn't know what to say – it wasn't out of the question that Dumbledore at least considered the possibility Voldemort would take it further than necessary to become the master of the wand.
Instead he asked, "How did you survive? We truly thought you were dead. We never would have left you there if we'd known."
"I nearly was dead, or so I'm told – I awoke in a Muggle hospital. I have no recollection of arriving there, but I did have a Portkey and must have managed to activate it before losing consciousness."
"A Muggle hospital?"
"Sebastian Prince," Snape raised an eyebrow and said dryly, "is covered by the NHS."
Harry couldn't help himself: he laughed aloud, grateful for the tension-breaker.
They shared a companionable silence for a moment or two, and Harry tasted a croissant, deciding they'd turned out better than he'd thought they had.
"You know, Potter, you never did answer my original question," Snape said, placing his teacup in the saucer and looking at Harry seriously.
"You called me Harry earlier."
"Oh, very well, Harry, then," Snape said impatiently. "You never answered my question."
"Which question was that, Sebastian?"
"How did you come by Sebastian Prince's name?"
"Ah, well. Colin found you, I guess. Mum said she was curious as to why you'd never sought her out – she thought you'd died, as well, you see. They didn't tell me who you really were, of course."
Harry told Snape about Colin coming to him and the flood of spirits it'd sparked, the impossibility of being an Auror, and about the letters he'd been sending to people for the last decade or so.
"Tourism is up forty percent since I took over the Crone. I've no proof of it, but I do think it has to do with postmarks and word of mouth. People receive the letters and tell others about their anonymous message and where it came from, and how there's someone who knows what they're about here in Oggindon." Harry grinned.
"And you have no problem with the charlatans who populate this place taking the credit for it?"
Harry shrugged. "I've no need for credit, and it brings people here, people who eat and drink in my pub and fill the rooms – it comes back to me in some ways. And the mystery of it is better for everyone."
"You are an odd duck, Potter."
"Possibly," Harry said, for some reason very pleased. "So, was Mum right? Are you perfect for our little world here?"
"I suppose that remains to be seen. I plan to open this morning, officially. It is... it seems to be a good fit, as I can have a potion shop and yet remain Sebastian Prince. The best of both worlds."
"Good. I think so, too."
Snape didn't exactly smile, but he didn't sneer either, and Harry found it hard to look away from him as the man set his empty teacup down on the saucer. "To that end, I should be making preparations for the opening."
"Good luck today, though I don't think you'll need it."
Rising from his seat, Snape nodded briefly and headed toward the door. As he pushed it open he turned back and said, "Thank you... Harry."
As Harry had predicted, Snape was an enormous hit with the people in town, and his opening even inspired a number of renovation projects, as well as a renewed enthusiasm for the witchy kitsch.
Though that could easily be attributed to the approach of Halloween, just over a month away, which always meant booming business for the village.
Harry's friendship with Snape progressed, as well, inasmuch as it was slowly beginning to actually feel like one. Snape was a regular in the pub, and he and Harry spent a few evenings a week in each other's company, playing chess or talking.
The talking was awkward, of course, at first, with a bit of necessary clearing of the air.
"I honestly thought you hated me."
"Well, I quite honestly did hate you, Potter."
"Oh. Wow." That'd hurt more than Harry would have expected.
"Don't look at me like that, like some wounded animal. You were presumptuous and insolent, arrogant and entitled."
"So not because of my dad, then?"
"It is not so black and white, as you should know – you looked too much like your despicable father, yes. However, I will admit, it is possible that I might have subconsciously... transferred my own feelings of guilt and remorse over my part in your mother's demise onto you."
"You blamed the child for the death of the mother..."
"I did not say it was logical. And I'll not apologize for it – my sincere loathing for you served a very useful purpose. It likely assured my place as the Dark Lord's most trusted and kept me alive long enough to do what needed to be done."
"I understand, I really do. You don't... do you still?" It seemed ridiculous after the time they'd spent together, but Harry had to ask.
"Many years of contemplation have helped me gain perspective. And in the past few weeks I have found you to be tolerable as an adult."
Coming from Snape, that was quite an admission and Harry had grinned for days.
Harry even tried to return Snape's memories, the ones still in his possession, but Snape refused them.
"I do not want them back."
"But they're yours, you should have them."
"I have lived quite easily without them for this long." Harry thought Snape would leave it at that, but he added, "There is a certain freedom to it. I know what is missing, which memories you have, but now there is a distance from them, as if what remains is a memory of the memory. It's given me perspective, enabled me to find contentment in my life. Keep them, destroy them – it makes no difference to me."
Harry certainly wasn't going to push the issue, but it did make him wonder if that was how Snape was able to accept Harry's offer of friendship. Not only accept but believe he was sincere after their years of animosity.
Whether or not that was the key to it, Harry was glad it had worked out the way it had – he was truly enjoying Snape's company.
He should've known things couldn't keep moving along so smoothly.
The problem began innocently enough.
Harry was whistling happily in his kitchen, tending various pots and checking the bread in the oven, and Tessa came in for her shift, early for her, but not so much that it set off any alarms.
"Harry," she said, "it's been a few weeks and I've not pushed, but I think it's time."
"What are you on about?" he asked, only giving her half his attention, as he was pulling lovely hot crusty bread from the oven. "Time for what?"
"Details! Don't think it's gone unnoticed how much time you've been spending with Mr. Prince."
"Oh, that. Yeah, I guess I have – he's an interesting person."
"So? Is he one of your lot?"
The question struck Harry with force. Tessa didn't know he was a wizard, she couldn't. Nevertheless his heartbeat picked up considerably.
"Er, my lot?" he asked, deciding to play dumb.
"Gay, Harry. Is he gay? What else could I possibly have meant?"
Harry turned away from her to retrieve the rest of the bread in the oven, using the distance to let out the breath he'd been holding.
"I didn't know what you meant. Hence the confusion."
"So, is he? Or isn't he?"
"How on earth would I know?"
"Aren't you supposed to be able to tell these things?"
"Eh, my gaydar has been faulty for years."
"Harry!" She pouted.
"What? Look, it's not a secret power or something – it's all giving a look and having someone look right back at you the very same way. Why do you even need to know?"
"Well... there's a bit of a wager on, actually, and I thought you'd know for certain. I say he is – no straight man dresses that tidily in this century. Margaux and Francesca are making idiots of themselves over him."
Harry stopped and turned to her. "Francesca?"
Tessa made a draping gesture over her head and said, "Scarves."
"Ah." The fortune teller. "If you must know, I haven't allowed myself to think about it, about him."
Something in the way he said it made Tessa's expression soften. "Does he still remind you of the man who died?"
Harry thought for a moment. "Yes and no – I like this one much better than the man I knew. And I don't want to ruin... He's just not—"
The realization struck him, it seemed, the same moment it struck Tessa, because she said, "Looking right back at you? Oh, Harry!"
She smiled and hugged him, and Harry couldn't breathe.
"How could I have been so stupid?"
He should have known, really; with the exception of George, all the men he'd ever been with had been quite a bit older than him. Though there was certainly more to it than that.
Harry closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Oh god, I'm such an idiot."
Now that he'd allowed the thought, his mind was flooded with images of Snape, old and new, leaving him breathless. He bent forward at the waist, fists and forehead banging on his work surface.
"Why is it stupid?" Tessa asked. "I think it's wonderful. You've been alone too long."
"It's not wonderful, not at all. Tessa, you can't tell a soul, please. There is no possible way that this is a good thing." Thinking of Snape's memories, he added, "I have reason to believe he's not gay, but even if he were, he would never... I wouldn't be... It's just impossible," he added desolately, knowing how much of a teenaged girl he sounded.
Tessa looked at him thoughtfully for a moment, then said, "I had no idea you were so dramatic."
"I am not dramatic," Harry said indignantly, standing upright and smoothing his white apron. She gave him a look and Harry sighed, "All right it's possible I might have overreacted. A bit. Possibly. Still, this is not good at all."
Smiling and giving him a supportive squeeze, Tessa said, seriously this time, "I think you're wrong – about him and about your chances – but I'll not tell a soul."
Harry was distracted the rest of the day and for the first time since he had taken over the Crone, he longed for the day to end, resented the demands of the kitchen and wished all the customers away.
It was easy enough for Tessa to have such faith – she didn't know about Snape and his feelings for Harry's mum. However distantly past that may have been, one word sunk Harry and made the thought a hopeless one: Always.
Harry's plan for handling his newfound awareness was a simple one: he would ignore it.
It would have worked too, if not for the fact that it just was not humanly possible. And clearly, Harry was veryhuman.
Every little thing Harry had refused to think about, to notice, came forward and demanded attention. The way Snape used his hands when he was speaking, the long fingers, the graceful shape of each digit, the gestures. The shattering timbre of Snape's voice, the liquid black eyes, that elusive half-smile – even the man's bloody waistcoats.
Simple evenings together became an exercise in torture.
Harry wondered how he'd never noticed Snape's strong jaw before now. His eyes followed the line of it, then down the long neck. Snape's hair, nearly level with that strong jaw, was still lank, but it was just as inky black as it had ever been. Harry wanted to grab two fistfuls of the stuff and pull Snape toward him, to lick that jaw and to suck on the prominent Adam's apple, then maybe lo—
Harry snapped out of his musings and had to shift slightly in his chair in an effort to conceal the fantasy's effects.
"Check. Mate." Snape pointed to the board.
"What the devil is wrong with you?"
"What d'you mean?"
"What I mean is that, while you are no Grand Master, you normally provide a decent challenge. The last three games it's as if you've never played chess before. In fact, this evening I would say a chimpanzee would have provided a better game."
"I'm sorry – I was just... distracted."
"You don't say," Snape replied dryly.
Yes, Harry was going mad, there was no doubt about it, and it was becoming difficult to behave normally around the man. The last thing he needed was for Snape to realize what was going on with him.
The only solution Harry could come up with was to stop spending so much time with him, which was exactly what he didn't want to do, and could possibly lead to exactly what he wanted to avoid.
At least he would be sane again.
So, he cut down on their chess games, stopped dropping round Snape's so frequently, stopped wandering the aisles of the shop, spent less time outside of his kitchen when Snape came in for a meal.
He did get a lot of letters written, so the spirits were happily moving on.
And he was miserable.
"Harry," his mother said a week and a half later, "this is absolutely ridiculous."
"Do not play obtuse with me, young man. You're unhappy, Severus is unhappy – there is nothing good about what you're doing."
"I'm doing what I always do." Alphabetizing his spices was a perfectly sensible, not to mention organized thing to do. "Wait, Snape's unhappy?"
"Of course he is! You've gone from spending a great deal of time together to hardly any at all. What in the world are you doing? And why are you doing it?" She had her hands on her hips and, even though he knew it was impossible, Harry could almost hear the impatient tap, tap, tapping of her foot. "Severus is not terribly confident in social situations on a good day – your behavior has him thinking he's done something to alienate you."
Harry looked down at the paprika in his hands, not certain what to say.
"It's complicated, Mum."
"I'm sure it is. Tell me anyway."
"I'd really rather not."
"You know you can tell me anything."
Harry sighed deeply; he knew she wouldn't let it be.
"I just thought, maybe we were spending too much time together, that's all," he deflected.
"That is not all. Harry," she said, her voice sounding far less exasperated, "tell me what's happened between the two of you."
"Nothing. Nothing's happened between us."
Apparently he'd answered too quickly, too vehemently.
"That's the problem, isn't it?" Her look softened further and she asked quietly, "Do you want more, darling?"
"It doesn't matter." He shrugged, defeated once again by a woman who could see right through him. "It's impossible."
"Why do you think so?"
Harry told her about Snape's memory.
"Oh but Harry, you don't know that's what he meant. Actually, I very much doubt he felt that way. You'll have to trust that I know what I'm talking about.
"And he's quite a different person to the man whose memory you saw, but you'll never know for certain unless you talk to him about it. What do you have to lose, really – the course you're on now will end your friendship just the same, and in the meantime, you're both miserable."
Sighing again, Harry relented, "I'll think about it."
Lily smiled in understanding. "See that you do."
Harry took a day, then decided that his mother was right. It didn't take the day to think about it, of course, just to decide to admit he'd been wrong.
In the space of a month, he'd gone from sensible adult to immature idiot. At the very least, he owed Snape an apology.
He would go see Snape tomorrow.
The next morning, however, Tessa breezed into the kitchen, early once again for her shift and grinning like a Cheshire cat.
"Guess who won the wager!" she announced.
"Not you?" Harry was stunned, a little shaken by the implication.
"Yes me." She lowered her voice to a tone best suited to gossip. "Apparently, The Sisters actually saw Mr. Prince kissing a man in the alley next to his shop. Margaux and Francesca are rending their clothing, absolutely beside themselves – they'll likely take to wearing black from now on." With a sly, conspiratorial look, she asked, "You wouldn't happen to know who that man was, would you, Harry?"
Harry carefully laid the knife he'd been using down on the chopping block, afraid for his fingers, as his hands were shaking.
"Actually, no, I wouldn't know who it was at all."
Tessa looked stricken, her shoulders slumped. "No! I was so certain it was you."
"No, not me. Congrats on the win, though." He said this over his shoulder as he moved toward the walk-in cooler. She was bound to hug him and that was no good.
No good at all.
The worst part of it was he knew he still owed Snape an apology. It would have to wait, though; Harry just couldn't do it.
Or so he thought: as it happened, he wasn't allowed the luxury of waiting.
Later that same day, Colin appeared, frantic.
"Harry, Snape's hurt himself!"
When Harry hesitated, Colin added, "He's bleeding. Hurry!"
That got him moving. Thinking of an excuse, he held up his mobile as he rushed out the swinging door and through the pub, saying to Tessa, "Be right back!"
He was at The Apothecary in no time and dashed inside, expecting a bloodbath, possibly carnage.
Except, Snape was standing near the till, calmly wrapping a plaster around the tip of his index finger, nary an entrail in sight.
There were customers in the shop, which explained the choice of a plaster over a healing charm, but it did little to explain why Colin had made it seem as if the man were bleeding to death on the floor.
Snape raised a questioning eyebrow. "Potter? What are you doing here in the middle of the day?"
Embarrassed, Harry said, "A, uh, little bird told me that you were injured, though he's obviously prone to exaggeration."
Said little bird was nowhere to be seen; obviously Harry'd been had.
Snape held his bandaged digit aloft and said, "It was touch and go for a time, but I believe I will make a full recovery."
Harry grinned. "What a relief."
He meant to leave it at that, but decided it was cowardly.
"Listen, Sebastian," he looked about, gauging the distance to the other ears in the shop and lowered his voice, "I'm really sorry I've been so scarce lately. I've been completely distracted and not very good company. I wanted to save you from my mood."
There. Truth, but no pesky details.
Snape looked at him intently, then nodded. "Apology accepted."
Taking it a step further, Harry said, "So, if you're not busy this evening...chess?"
Harry would have liked to say things were back to the same friendship he and Snape had been developing before he had gone insane, but despite Harry's recent displays of avoidance and denial, he had to admit that it wasn't even close.
Things were no longer easy, no longer comfortable.
Harry was overly conscious of every little thing that he did or said in Snape's presence. He couldn't relax, couldn't let his guard down. He still wanted Snape, desperately, and had to actively tamp down that want.
And quite honestly, it was exhausting.
Snape, too, was not the same with Harry: he was distant, quiet... careful.
Worse, to Harry's mind, the mystery man from the alley had never been mentioned, never even been hinted at. Harry wanted to ask Snape about him and yet didn't want to know at the same time. Snape, of course, never volunteered anything about him, though it was entirely possible that he had no idea anyone had seen them, and so, had no reason to bring it up.
Still, it was better than when they were barely speaking, and if Harry's pulse quickened in Snape's presence, if the man's voice managed to pluck something deep within Harry and set it vibrating, he dealt with it as best he could.
Harry knew things couldn't keep on the way they were going, and that proved true on Halloween.
He was nearly done breaking down the kitchen for the evening – it'd been very busy not only with the increased number of tourists, but also with local customers, and in honor of the day, he'd foregone the usual roast beef supper for a feast reminiscent of Hogwarts. The pumpkin pasties had been a particular hit and Harry had been pleased with the results of his efforts.
The one disappointment was that Snape hadn't come by, as Harry'd definitely had him in mind when he'd decided on the menu. Snape would have to settle for leftovers.
"Harry." Lily appeared next to him and said with a tone of urgency. "I need your help – it's Severus."
Harry looked at her sideways, half-kidding and said, "This isn't a trick is it – you're not pulling a Colin?"
"No, no trick – he's drunk. Reallydrunk. I'm afraid he's going to hurt himself."
In the interest of time, Harry Apparated directly to the landing outside Snape's flat. His mother was already there when he arrived.
He knocked on the door but wasn't above Apparating again to the other side of it if Snape didn't answer.
There was a crash from somewhere within and Harry wondered if Apparating wouldn't actually be required after all.
"I should warn you, Harry," his mother began, "it's partially my fault he's drinking so much."
Before Harry could get clarification on the statement, the door was flung open.
Snape stood there looking blearily at Harry, only one eye actually open.
Harry was grabbed by the shirt and pulled into the room and when they stopped, he was forced to steady them both.
"Hi. Wow." The fumes emanating from Snape nearly knocked Harry on his arse and he tried not to laugh.
Grabbing Harry's arm with his free hand (the other was clutching a bottle), Snape said, "I am hallan... hallilu... I'm seeing things."
Harry guided them around the overturned telephone table to get Snape to a chair.
"Things." Snape waved the bottle in the air. "Lily things."
Lily put in, "That's what I was trying to tell you. He was talking to me – for all he knew I wasn't there, of course – he was rather upset and I thought it couldn't hurt to try. And it worked. He could see me, hear me."
"I honestly don't know. My theory is that it's Halloween. I mean, the belief, the thin veil between the living and the dead, that had to originate somewhere. I really had to make an effort, but he could hear me, then he could see me."
"She said she forgave me." Snape sighed and let his head fall back against the chair. "It can't be true, she couldn't. How could she?"
Snape took a long pull from the bottle, then looked at Harry as if he'd only just noticed him. "You! I need you. You can see her."
"I can, yes."
"Tell her she shouldn't forgive me."
"She can hear you."
"I do forgive you, Severus."
Snape put his hand over his eyes. "It's happening again."
Harry reached down and pulled Snape's hand away from his face. "She's really here and she really said she forgives you. You're not hallucinating."
Lily said, "It's true, I do. Whether you want me to or not. And you have my blessing."
She turned to Harry and he gave her a questioning look. "Severus knows what I meant. When he's ready, he'll tell you." She smiled and disappeared.
Snape squeezed his hand, startling him, and Harry squeezed back once, then let go.
"She's gone," he told Snape.
"Daft, meddling ghost," Snape muttered before taking another swallow of scotch.
"Technically, she's not a ghost."
Bloodshot eyes stared at him, and Harry fought the smirk that was threatening.
"How'd she meddle with you?"
"Blathering on about regret, taking chances. Easy for her to say." Snape sighed heavily and let his head fall back against the chair again.
Harry thought he might be out, but Snape began speaking again.
"Regret," he scoffed. "I wasted my youf... hmmm... Years. I lived years, one foot in the grave, now I want... my foot somewhere... else." Snape stopped, closed his eyes, shook his head, groaned, clearly regretting the action, then started again, "I want my foot without all the dead people."
Snape nodded and seemed satisfied with that, then looked at Harry, squinting. "What was I saying?"
"You want to live."
"Yes!" Snape pointed a finger at Harry. "Live. That's what I want."
"You absolutely should live." The man was as pissed as a newt and Harry pondered how to stop him from drinking more. "Maybe start by giving me the bottle, then? You don't need all that Scotch to live properly."
"I want it. I like it."
Snape stood unsteadily, looking so deliciously rumpled Harry wanted to take bite of him. And once that thought occurred to him, Harry wondered if he could possibly be drunk by association.
"What're you doing?"
"I know where I want to start."
"Living," Snape huffed, then tilted sideways abruptly.
Harry caught him and steadied him. He managed to tug the bottle away from Snape, who was busy trying to stay upright, and he put it on the table between the chairs. Snape needed to lie down before he fell down.
"Steady." Harry guided him toward the short corridor that he knew led to the bedrooms, though he'd never actually seen them.
"Which is yours?"
Snape smirked. "That. Yes."
Harry laughed. He was walking backwards and was familiar with which of the doors was the loo, so he guessed at which of the remaining two might be Snape's room. Since there was no protest otherwise, Harry figured they were heading in the right direction, and knew he'd guessed correctly once the door was open.
Snape, it seemed, did not skimp on creature comforts – the bed itself looked so comfortable Harry wondered how Snape managed to leave it every morning, and the room was all matching dark wood furniture and rich, masculine colors.
He shuffled them over to the bed and turned them so he could lower Snape onto it.
Snape had other ideas. He lowered to the bed obediently enough, but held firm, causing Harry to bend forward, then lifted both hands to cup Harry's face, pulling him closer. Mesmerized, Harry was helpless to resist.
"Time to live," Snape said, then captured Harry's mouth with his own.
Snape tasted of the expensive Scotch he'd been consuming all day and Harry moaned into the kiss. Somehow, despite being completely inebriated, Snape managed to stretch out on the bed with Harry on top of him.
Alarm bells were ringing in Harry's head, and deep down, he knew he should stop this, shouldn't take advantage of Snape's impaired judgment, but the kiss, Snape's kiss, was everything that Harry loved about kissing a man, everything he'd fantasized it would be with this man, and intoxicating in its perfection.
He was going stop, he had to, and he would. In a moment.
Straddling Snape, he mindlessly rocked against him, while Snape explored every corner of his mouth. Harry's denims were becoming uncomfortably tight, but through the barrier his hardening length encountered an answering hardness, and his hips found a rhythm he couldn't refuse.
Harry broke the kiss to take a breath and the influx of oxygen brought him back to his senses.
Merlin, what the hell was he thinking? This wasn't right; this wasn't how Harry wanted it, with Snape half out of his mind, not really knowing what he was doing.
With a mighty effort, Harry pushed up and then off of Snape.
"I'm so sorry – I shouldn't have done that."
Harry turned toward Snape when there was no response.
And found the man out cold.
A noise escaped Harry that was part laughter and part groan.
He tried very hard not to take it personally when Snape began snoring.
After arranging Snape into a more comfortable position on the bed, Harry had Transfigured Snape's clothing into pajamas – dark grey silk with a lighter grey stripe which closely resembled the waistcoat Snape had been wearing. He smiled at the ornate embroidered 'S' on the left breast pocket.
The sofa proved very comfortable for sleeping once Harry made it long enough to stretch out on. Despite that, Harry slept only in spurts, so that he could check on Snape periodically throughout the night. That gave him a bit of thinking time and he only hoped Snape could forgive him for being such a thoughtless arse. The man had been barely conscious, for Merlin's sake, and Harry had frotted against him like a hormonal teenager.
Or a nearly thirty-year-old man with no self-control.
While he mentally flogged himself for his behavior, he'd organized tea and a bit of nourishment for Snape, and so was ready when he heard Snape stirring.
He carried the tray with him into Snape's room and placed it on the desk.
"Good morning," he said softly.
Snape grunted in response, but judging by the look on his face, even that small noise seemed too much to bear.
"Here, take this," Harry said, pressing a phial of Iaso Hangover Helper into Snape's palm, then moving the long fingers to curl around it.
Snape opened one eye very slightly and made a sound that Harry would never, ever call a whimper. Not aloud, anyway.
Clearly grateful, Snape pushed the stopper up and out with his thumb and downed the liquid relief in one swallow.
"Oh thank Merlin," Snape said after a moment.
The deathly pallor left his face and Harry asked, "D'you want to try sitting up?"
"Yes. Thank you."
Once he was arranged comfortably, Harry turned and picked up the tray. He'd added legs to it and was happy to see it worked well when he set it across Snape's lap.
"I figured you can't have eaten much yesterday," Harry said, indicating the toast and scrambled eggs (firm, the way Snape liked them). He picked up Snape's tea and handed it to him.
"You figured correctly."
Harry grabbed the chair from the desk and set it at the bedside, then sat down, while Snape tucked into his meal.
"Why in the world did you drink so much?"
"It was Halloween. I always drink on Halloween, the anniversary of my greatest mistake."
"D'you remember anything of yesterday?"
"As ever," Snape said sardonically, "I am unfortunately cursed with total recall."
Harry reached over and picked up his tea from the tray. "Then you should remember what she said to you."
Snape's teacup hit the saucer loudly. "I thought perhaps I'd dreamt that."
"No, it was real, she forgave you. I wasn't here for your earlier conversation with her so I don't know what else you spoke about, but I can verify that she absolutely did forgive you." And it was probably presumptuous of him, but Harry added, "I forgave you, too, a long time ago. Maybe it's time for you to forgive yourself."
Seemingly stunned, Snape sat motionless for a moment, then he picked up his teacup and drank from it, looking away from Harry and staring at some distant point.
The silence between them grew, broken only by the occasional clink of china on china, until it was almost another person in the room with them.
Finally, Harry couldn't take it any longer. "I owe you an apology."
"If you remember, I let things go a little further last night than I should have, and I'm sorry."
"Potter, I may have spent the better part of yesterday fully pickled, but I certainly do remember enough to know that it was I who attacked you."
"No, you were drunk and I wasn't, and I should've had better control."
"That is neither here nor there – I shouldn't have attacked you and I apologize."
Harry didn't know what to say to that, wanting very much to avoid arguing over whose behavior was the worst.
Silence began to grow again and to cut it off at the knees, Harry burst out, "Look, are we going to be uncomfortable again? Because I don't want that. I miss what we had going before and if you don't want me, that's okay. I'll get over it."
"But I don't want to lose your friendship."
"What on earth are you talking about?"
"Us. We got uncomfortable because I wanted you and didn't think you were interested in men and then The Sisters saw you kissing a man but you never mentioned him, not even once, and I never saw him and I didn't want to bring it up and it became this big THING and I don't want us to be uncomfortable anymore."
Harry had said it in a single rush of air and felt foolish for it. He was about to speak again, but was saved from it when Snape held up a finger, not even a particularly rude one.
"Don't. My brain is not yet functioning normally – I'm trying to unravel what you've already said, do not add to it."
Snape picked up his wand, which Harry had placed on the bedside table after tucking him into bed, and banished the tea tray, presumably to the kitchen. He swung his legs off the bed and onto the floor, though he remained seated.
"Firstly, Simon Fraser is my ex, and it was he whom the gossipmongers saw with me. He is also my former professor, and he came here in an effort to get me to come back, both to him and to the university. To teach, for pity's sake. And since I would rather jab a hot poker into my eyes than teach, you can imagine my response."
Harry snorted despite himself.
"Just so. And while my association with Simon was, at the time, mutually beneficial and satisfying, there was no real bond. Not to mention, Simon is arrogant and pretentious, as to be insufferable."
"All right." Harry wasn't certain what it meant for them, but it was good to finally have an answer.
"Secondly," Snape continued, "are you insane?"
Not sure what Snape meant, Harry reviewed what he'd said, then guessed. And hoped he was wrong. "Insane to think we could be friends? I thought we already were."
"Insane because I am not... suitable."
Snape got up then, and left the room without saying another word.
Harry did not follow. Mostly because he thought he heard the door to the loo open and close. A short time later, when Snape still hadn't returned, Harry went looking for him and found him standing by the fireplace, gazing intently at the flames dancing in the grate.
"Harry," his mother said, appearing near Snape, "remind him about my blessing."
"You said he'd tell me when he was ready."
"He is ready, he just thinks he isn't."
"So it's not when he's ready, but when you think he is?" Harry smiled at her.
"Is she here again?" Snape asked without looking up.
"Go on, remind him."
"Yes, she's here again – she wants me to remind you about her blessing."
Something occurred to him, and he was going to let it go, but he couldn't, so before Snape said anything, Harry turned to his mother again and said, "Wait. I don't think I need your approval of who I choose to love, Mum."
"Of course you don't, darling." She smiled gently. "It's Severus who needed it."
When Harry turned toward Snape, he found the man staring at him, looking stunned, and Harry realized what he'd said.
He opened his mouth to say, well he couldn't imagine what he could possibly say, but it didn't matter, because Snape had crossed the room in three long strides and captured his mouth in a hard, gloriously demanding kiss.
Giving in to his favorite fantasy, Harry sunk both hands into Snape's dark hair, tugging it to pull him closer.
He broke the kiss, moaning, to taste Snape's jaw, to kiss and lick and suck his way down Snape's neck.
"Harry," Snape sighed.
Hearing it, his name on Snape's lips, the softness of the sigh that carried it, set Harry's desire soaring.
"Mmmm. I think you've been out of bed long enough, don't you?"
"It's Monday, you know. I have all day."
"It is a good thing, then, that we'll be so well rested."
Snape smirked and pulled Harry along, back to the bedroom.
But not before waving away his mother, who was grinning as she disappeared.
"Harry," a voice said in a stage whisper. "Harry!"
Harry became aware of the chest his head was resting on by the tickle of hair on his cheek. He looked up at Snape's face, but found the man sound asleep.
"Seriously, Colin?" Harry hissed. "Really not the time! Someone had better be dying."
Colin grinned. "Someone is always dying, Harry. But no, I just wanted to say that this is fantastic. I'm really really glad you're finally happy."
It'd always been difficult to stay annoyed with Colin, despite the fact that he could be very annoying. And he'd played matchmaker, after all.
Harry smiled fondly at the boy. "Thank you. Now shoo! We'll work on the letters later. Much later. In fact, I'll call you."
They would discuss boundaries, as well, Harry decided.
Colin laughed. "All right. Going!"
When he was gone, Harry looked up to be sure Snape was still asleep and grinned. He never would have imagined the twists his life would take to bring him here: fate and a bit of helpful interference from two cheeky spirits. But Colin was right, he was finally, truly happy, and would be living life to the fullest, with a man who was supposed to be dead.
And Master of Death or not, that sounded exactly right to Harry.