Author's Note: Ah, so sad. I can't believe this is really the last part. *sniff* Feel free to start reading while I dab my eyes...

Last Step

"A man who pays his bills on time is soon forgotten."
-Oscar Wilde-

"Harry, what are you doing here?" It was his question, but not his voice, and he watched in morbid fascination as the vaguely familiar man hugged his husband. "Wow, you look great."

"That's sweet of you," Harry said in what Severus by now knew was his public voice: low, because there was no need to advertise their conversation; polite, because there were always so-called reporters lurking somewhere close by just waiting for that one thoughtless comment or juicy bit of information that would make their career; distant, because Harry was open with only a select few people. Severus was one of them; this other man evidently wasn't. "I didn't know you were back in London. Don't you normally have a training camp down in Cornwall this time of the year?"

"Oh, right, no, we had a tough season. Half of our players are either injured or down with the flu after the last game – seven and a half hours in sleet – so Hugh decided to give us another week to recover before we start training again. We could get a coffee and I'll tell you all about it." Oliver Wood, Severus remembered now, Harry's Quidditch-playing ex-boyfriend who had tried to further his career by using Harry. He was smiling hopefully at the black-haired wizard, even white teeth in a tan face.

Severus was not inclined to let him play happy reunion with his husband and stepped around the counter, reaching Harry's side in two long strides. "Did I miss our lunch date?"

He knew he didn't because lunch had popped up about thirty minutes ago in a bright orange plastic box that Harry referred to as Tupperware and with a note on top that proclaimed the contents to be a turkey and ham wrap. As if he couldn't have figured that out himself. Harry just liked sticking heart-shaped, brightly coloured pieces of paper anywhere within Severus' line of sight.

Harry turned towards him, placed one hand on Severus' shoulder for stability and lifted up to press a quick kiss to the corner of his mouth. Their height difference wasn't really large enough to necessitate Harry going up on his tiptoes, but they both liked the excuse for publicly admissible closeness. He quietly touched Harry's slender waist, feathered his thumb over his hipbone and then released him because he wasn't going to break his rule about public displays of affection just to stake a claim.

"Hey," Harry's voice was warm and intimate even without any endearment, the use of which Severus had radically vetoed. He wasn't 'darling' or 'honey' or 'love'; he only wanted to be himself and thanks to Harry that was finally possible. "Actually, I had to stop by at Colin's and since I was already here..."

"You thought you'd distract me from work and my potentially paying customers from actually buying something?" Severus concluded, rolling his eyes when Harry beamed as if he had just given him a compliment. "Of course you did... Mr. Wood, is there something I may help you with?"

His tone was probably a tad sharper than was polite, but Wood had been staring at Harry like a kid in candy store and there were limits to Severus' good will. Wood startled, jerking his gaze around to Severus.

"I, eh, was looking for a potion?" Severus raised an unimpressed eyebrow. "I mean, ah, a potion against the flu?"

"You don't look sick, Mr. Wood," Severus noted, scowling at the younger man before tilting his head slightly so that he could keep an eye on Mr. Haversham and his kleptomaniac tendencies.

While Wood spluttered out an answer which Severus translated to mean that he wanted a potion to boost his immune system so that he wouldn't fall sick, Harry touched his arm softly and nodded towards the back room. Severus inclined his head and Harry slipped away after only a fleeting smile and a soft "Good seeing you" thrown Wood's way.

"Harry, wait," Wood called after him, but Harry had already closed the door after himself.

"I suggest a Pepper-Up Potion," Severus said and permitted himself a tiny vindicated smirk. "I just made a fresh batch this morning."

He resisted the urge to snap his fingers in front of Wood's face when the Quidditch player didn't answer in favour of making moony eyes at the door behind which Harry had disappeared. "Mr. Wood, if you need time to consider I have other customers."

"I... No, that's fine. I'll take the Pepper-Up." Wood was still staring mournfully at the door to the backroom, and Severus took great pleasure in blocking his view when he reached for a small, labelled bottle and handed it to Wood. "Five sickles, if you will."

"Right." Wood started rummaging in his pockets, darting glances at the door all too frequently. "Could you tell Harry - "

"If Harry had wanted to prolong your conversation, I have no doubt he would have stayed. And you can be equally sure that if he should wish to contact you in future, he will have no problem finding you," Severus interrupted and accepted the money. "Good day, Mr. Wood."

He turned away and also slipped into the storage room, blinking a few times to adjust to the semi-darkness. Harry was sitting on a stool at the back of the room, a globe of blue light dancing idly in the palm of his hand, not upset or apologetic, and Severus knew that any thoughts of Wood was already gone from his mind. There was no reason to be jealous because if Harry belonged to anyone, it was Severus. Of course, more than anything, Harry belonged to his work.

"Forgive me if I'm wrong, but you don't look like you're on a social call," Severus remarked, categorising, as always, Harry's every move and gesture and noting his sheepish smile.

"Not primarily, no," Harry admitted, rising from his stool and coming towards Severus. "But I still expect a kiss hello."

"Have I ever told you that you're high maintenance?" Severus questioned lightly, pulling Harry against him and claiming his mouth in a proper kiss.

"You say the nicest things," Harry murmured when his mouth was released. "Must be why I married you."

Severus rolled his eyes. "Deliberate misinformation? I thought that was beneath you."

"I like to think of it as flattery." Harry smiled at him. "And just because that wasn't the original reason it doesn't mean I wouldn't marry you again."

"Good thing I still owe you a life debt, then," Severus answered and though he had meant it as a joke, Harry turned serious.

"Does that bother you?" he asked. "Because I can cash it in. I really don't want you to spend the entire weekend in your lab again."

Severus took a surprisingly short time to consider before he answered. "Save it for a rainy day. I was planning to spend the weekend with my husband... probably in the bedroom."

"I'm sure your husband will love that," Harry returned. "Provided he can get all his work done before that."

"Right." Severus nodded. "What can I do for you?"

"I need someone to brew me this potion," Harry said, handing him a recipe.

"A Sleeping Draught?" Severus questioned suspiciously after only a brief glance at the list of ingredients. "I have those ready-made."

"I need someone to brew me this potion," Harry repeated. "Within the next twenty-four hours. If there should be problems procuring some of the ingredients I can get them."

"I own an apothecary," Severus pointed out, feeling the familiar twinge of annoyance because Harry was clearly telling him something, but not everything and Severus was not even sure if he was supposed to fill in the blanks. He went through his steadily growing checklist of things that might be hints, but Harry hadn't told him to read the newspaper or to do a crossword puzzle, hadn't mentioned the final score of some regional league Quidditch match, bought Severus a new shampoo or planted non-useful flowers in his herb garden.

"That's why I thought you might know of someone who'd be willing to help out," Harry answered serenely.

"Would this be a once-off deal or a more permanent engagement?" Severus asked, perking up.

"I might know of a project that could use the assistance of a skilled Potions Master." Harry shrugged as if to cast doubt on his statement, but Severus caught a flash of mirthful green eyes and knew he had been right. "Of course, you might have noticed that my work hours are intensive so whoever brews that potion should consider carefully if he can invest that kind of time for a few weeks at least."

"I've been considering hiring an assistant to manage the shop part-time," Severus pointed out. "To have time for more inspiring pursuits."

"I know a few people who might be interested in a job," Harry offered, but Severus grimaced.

"I would prefer if my shop didn't turn into another secret operation," Severus answered, noticing from the slight darkening of Harry's eyes that his remark hadn't been well received, but not willing to budge on this point. Harry's offer might have been completely unrelated to his work, but again, it might not and this was still Severus' shop, his dream, something that he was determined to keep as far away from Harry's hidden agendas as humanly possible. "Not all of my students were as hopelessly untalented as certain Gryffindors and Miss Padma Patil and Miss Claire Abbott have both expressed interest in helping out."

Harry's eyes softened. "Padma recently separated from her husband. I think it would do her well to get out of the house."

"In that case, I'll send Miss Patil an owl," Severus replied and gently touched Harry's cheek with the tip of his finger where he knew a dimple would appear for his concession. "And I will forward the necessary information to the right person."

"Great." Harry's face lit up with a smile as predicted. "Any chance I could get another kiss before I leave?"

"One to tide you over," Severus answered, wrapping his arm snug around Harry's waist and tilting him slightly for a better angle before he lowered his mouth to those invitingly plump lips and darted his tongue into the warm cavern behind. "One because I love you."

He heard the small hitch in Harry's breath and felt the way he dug his fingers a little harder into his back, hard enough to leave bruises, maybe, but Severus was okay with that. He had never really spoken those words before, heavily implied them and let his actions speak for themselves, yes, but never given Harry the vocal confirmation of what he must surely know.

Not that Harry himself had ever said as much and it had become another secret between them, unspoken and unacknowledged, because Severus was afraid of pulling the plug on their happiness and Harry was too good at not saying anything but implying everything all the time.

"I love you, too," Harry replied when they broke apart.

"I know," Severus answered confidently. "That's why we're still married."

"Shh, don't go spilling my secrets," Harry whispered in his ear, his eyes alight with amusement when he drew back. "See you at home, Severus."

He disapparated with a soft plop, leaving Severus with the faint traces of warmth against his body, a feeling of elation in his chest and the folded recipe in his hand. This was his way in, the answer to all his questions, and he let Mr. Haversham go after only a stern talking to, eager to close up his shop, send that owl to Miss Patil and get into his lab to brew a basic Sleeping Draught.


Thank you all so much for reading this story, adding it to your alerts or favorites, reviewing and whatever else there is. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed writing it and maybe our paths will cross again in the future...
PS: Final remarks are always welcome.