Hunching against the rain that dripped from the gutter of number 12, Grimmauld Place, Harry flung open the front door. The fire alarm went off.
“Fire! Help, fire, smoke, devastation, burning and despair! Flee for your lives! Save the valuables! Fetch water –” The cracked voice degenerated into a fit of coughing.
Harry stopped below the alarm carved above the doorway to the living room. Its wooden face was screwed up as it hacked and spluttered. Eventually it drew in a gasping breath, opened eyes that oozed sap-like tears, peered at him and croaked “Fire?”
Harry shook his head.
“Just a teeny little one?”
He shook his head again.
The alarm snuffled. “A house elf might have burned the toast?”
“Oh.” It blinked stickily. “False alarm, then.”
“Yes, I think it was a false alarm.”
“Sorry.” The alarm shut its eyes.
Harry glanced at the wall where the portrait of Mrs Black had once hung. Her place had been taken by a rather washy watercolour painting of Hogwarts castle. The perspective was skewed so that the turrets appeared about to fall forwards out of the frame. Tiny banners fluttered in the breeze and owls winged their way back and forth between the school and the Owlery.
As Harry watched, the sun sank behind the castle and a spot of yellow light came on in a window at the top of Gryffindor Tower. He smiled and swung his cloak from his shoulders. The hallstand shuffled forward to take the garment, waggling a hook in a hopeful manner.
“It’s damp,” Harry said, “raining cats and dogs out there.” The stand immediately extended its umbrella holder. “Sorry, no brolly today."
The stand moved back against the wall with a creak and an air of offended pride. Harry waved at the candles in their sconces and little yellow flames appeared, casting shadows across the heavy furniture. His footsteps and the squeak of old floorboards echoed loudly through the house. Small things shifted and danced in the uncertain candlelight: portraits rousing in their frames; furniture taking a step or two towards him like elderly pets hoping for a pat or a word; the ghosts of ancient house elves running cobweb dusters over long vanished ornaments.
Ginny had refused to live here. For Harry, 12 Grimmauld Place was a reminder of Sirius, of the war and of a darker side to magic. He also suspected that the house disliked Ginny just as much as she disliked it. He was glad, now, that he had not sold the place.
He opened the kitchen door and glanced around, looking for Kreacher. Someone sat at the table, nursing a mug of tea.
For a frozen moment, Harry stared at the hanging sweep of dark hair, the square masculine shoulders under their black robe and the curve of a cheek. The wizard raised his head, and the illusion was broken.
“Hi, Harry,” Teddy said, raising his mug. “I just made tea, want some?” He cocked his head, frowning slightly, and his hair changed colour from black to its usual brown. “Anything wrong?”
“You just reminded me of someone.”
“My dad?” Teddy waved at the teapot, which waddled across the table, curtsied and tilted, pouring tea into another mug. The milk jug scuttled in its wake like a crab.
“No, your hair was black when I came in and you looked like another wizard I once knew. He used to sit there to drink his tea.” Harry shook his head. “Odd, I haven’t even thought about him for years.”
Teddy nodded and sipped. Harry caught the sugar tongs before they added yet another cube of sugar to his tea and replaced them carefully in the bowl.
“Who was he?”
Harry had a feeling that Teddy did not really want to know, that he was speaking to fill the silence.
“The guy Albus Severus was named after?”
Harry nodded. “The Potions master, yes.”
“Funny,” Teddy said, “Neville was talking about him the other day, about what a right bastard he was.” He cocked an eyebrow at Harry. “Why on earth did you name your son after a bastard?”
“He was a very brave bastard,” Harry said, smiling at a memory. “He deserves to remembered for more than being a sarcastic sod of a teacher and dying from snake bite.”
“Snake bite?” Teddy beckoned to the biscuit barrel and it hopped across the table and doffed its lid. “A Potions master succumbed to snake bite? How weird. Ah-hah! Kreacher must have been baking again, looks like we’ve got ginger nuts.”
Harry accepted one of the crisp, spiced biscuits.
“I thought you were going to Hogsmeade for the weekend,” he said, keeping his voice mildly interested rather than accusatory.
“Victoire didn’t want me to go.” Teddy bit the words off sharply and dropped his uneaten biscuit onto the table.
“Ah,” Harry said, in what he hoped was an encouraging manner.
“I hope she’s not seeing some seventh year student or something, I hope she’s just busy studying for her NEWTs.”
“I’m sorry,” Harry said after a long pause.
Teddy shrugged elaborately. “Doesn’t matter, does it? Not the end of the world. Not everyone gets to marry their childhood sweetheart, do they?”
Harry saw the colour washing across Teddy’s face as he replayed his own words in his head and realised what he had just said. The younger wizard looked completely mortified. “Oh god, Harry, I’m so sorry –”
“It’s okay,” Harry said quickly, “Honestly, it is. I wish people would just stop tip-toeing round me like I was going to collapse if anyone mentions Ginny’s name.”
Teddy looked down, fiddling with the buttons on the front of his robe. “Just don’t know what to say, really. It was – you were so happy!” Out of Teddy’s face, Remus Lupin’s gold-flecked hazel eyes pleaded with Harry to agree. “We all thought you were so happy.”
“We were,” Harry admitted. “But we were very young when we got together and we just grew apart, I guess.”
“She didn’t have to do that to you.” Teddy’s voice was a low growl. “She could have – oh I don’t know, been gracious about it. She didn’t have to run off with some bloody Quidditch player!”
“I was a Quidditch player once, you know!” Harry grinned, although he did not really feel much like grinning. “She must have felt stifled. She was the youngest Weasley, always someone's daughter or little sister, then she was Harry Potter’s wife and then James, Albus and Lily’s mother. She never found out what she wanted to be for herself.”
“Some Quidditch twit’s trophy,” Teddy muttered. “Sorry, but she treated you like dirt.”
“I want you to be polite to her, please.”
Teddy grunted something vaguely uncomplimentary. “I suppose so.”
“I don’t want James, Al and Lily to feel they have to choose between us.”
Teddy nodded. Behind him, what had been a faint hissing noise suddenly rose to a crescendo of shrieking as the lid blew off the kettle, extinguishing the nearest lamp and filling the kitchen with billows of steam. Harry swore and tugged out his wand.
“Finite incantatem! That’s the second time this week. Bloody thing.”
“Harry,” Teddy said thoughtfully, “Do you think household appliances can go mad?”
The kettle shuffled around in a circle as if turning its back on them and plonked itself down on the range, hiccupping into silence.
- - -
Harry could identify all the perfect moments in his life. Hearing Hagrid telling him that he was a wizard was the first, then came choosing his wand, seeing Hogwarts Castle for the first time, catching the Snitch for Gryffindor, Christmas at the Burrow, knowing for sure that Voldemort was finally, irrevocably gone, watching his two best friends getting married and holding his newborn children. They were caught in the Pensieve of his memory like butterflies in amber, to be treasured when things turned bad. Some were perfect only because they were viewed through the filter of a child’s perceptions. Hogwarts, for example, held bad memories as well as good, but that first time was unclouded and pure, unsullied by Death Eaters or bullies, Voldemort or Umbridge.
He understood too late that Ginny had featured in none of those moments and he wasn't sure if this failing was hers or his own. He had loved the idea of marriage more than he had loved Ginny; he had longed for a wife and family more than he had wanted the woman herself. Now she was gone and he did not know how he felt or what to think.
The newspapers informed him that he was grief-stricken. His friends treated him as if Ginny had died tragically, leaving him bereaved.
He felt adrift and unsettled, unused to hours and days during which no other person made a single demand upon his time. He could read all evening uninterrupted, or spend his weekend watching Quidditch. He could go out with Ron, Neville, Seamus or George and come home drunk. He could adopt a stray Kneazle or buy a Crup, fill the attic with snowy owls in memory of Hedwig, take up riding flying horses and polish his broom on the dining table.
The only brake upon his increasingly outrageous daydreams was awareness of the effects upon his children and godchildren of any scandal. For their sakes, he would refrain from visiting dodgy bars or ogling the arses of the Quidditch players in their tight uniforms; for them, he would be the Harry Potter of legend, the Boy Who Lived Twice, squeaky clean and heroic.
- - -
"I told you I needed more lapis lazuli!" Lily's voice was clear and distinctive, Teddy's response a low baritone rumble. "That bloke in the apothecary's said I'd need at least two ounces and he was right. He was right about the black cohosh as well, wasn't he? You know, the one who said I'd got my grandmother's features."
She popped her head around the door to the library.
"Hi, Dad." She frowned. "Did you know the bureau is sucking your robe?"
Harry turned and stared. The heavy mahogany bureau opened its drawer a fraction, spat out the edge of the robe draped over the back of his chair and shuffled back into its accustomed place, a slightly sheepish tilt to its roll top.
"Did someone tell you that you've got your grandmother Lily's face?"
"Yeah. Funny, everyone else says I take after you except for my eyes, but this guy stared at me then told me I'd got her nose and mouth and hair and he sounded cross about it. He was weird."
"Who was he?"
"Some old guy in Slug and Jiggers. When Teddy took us to buy ingredients."
"Did you tell him who you were?"
She shook her head.
"He just seemed to know. Dad, the downstairs toilet has eaten all the loo roll again. Teddy says he put a roll in the holder yesterday and it's gone. And there were potato peelings in the wash-basin."
"Have a word with Kreacher, he's good with household appliances. You do know better than to talk to strangers alone, don't you?"
"It was in a crowded shop." Lily smiled at him fondly, looking far older than her eleven years. "I know. Hey, Al and James reckon we can fix you up with the new assistant Quidditch coach at Hogwarts, but don't tell them I said so!" She smiled sweetly and disappeared again. Harry shook his head.
- - -
“There’s this new perfume out for Christmas,” Lily’s voice held the lilt of the child who believes that she is dropping a casual hint. “Named after me.”
“Like someone’s going to name a perfume after an eleven-year-old,” James muttered. “Al, hold it still!”
“Do you really think we should do this?”
“Of course we should! Just keep the damn thing still.”
Albus Severus dug in his heels and tightened his grip on the dressing table. James sighted along his wand, scowled and exclaimed “Alohamora!”
The drawers shot across the room, slamming into the wall and showering them all with rolled-up socks, toilet rolls, bars of soap, a bath sponge and a dented soup tureen.
“Kreacher!” Lily called, “we’ve found your soup dish! James’ dressing table ate it.”
“There’s Dad’s underpants.” James picked up a pair of boxers bearing the Gryffindor crest.
“And mine!” Al pounced on the briefs with the Slytherin snake motif. “Jim, your furniture has an underwear fetish. Can’t you keep the thing in your room? It must spend the nights wandering round the house eating stuff.”
“Don’t you think I haven’t tried?” James shoved the now emptied drawers back into their slots. “I’ve locked the door, I’ve chained it to the bedpost, what more d’you want; I should sleep on top of it?”
“Let’s just chop it into firewood,” Lily said, scowling at the innocuous-seeming dressing table. “Or give it to someone we don’t like. D’you think Scorpius Malfoy would take it?”
“Hear that?” Al tapped the furniture with his wand. “One more transgression and you’re kindling.”
James sat on the bed and pulled a roll of parchment from his robe pocket.
“Anyone had any bright idea what to get Dad?” He spread the list out on the counterpane. “I got Uncle Ron’s Quidditch calendar and Aunt Hermione’s Businesswitch diary.”
“I found the book Rose wanted,” Lily said, “And we could probably get something in Uncle George’s shop for Hugo.”
“Great.” James groped for a quill and scribbled against two names on the list. “But what about Dad?”
“I saw an advert in Slug and Jiggers for a new aftershave,” Lily remarked, far too innocently. “Next to the perfumes.” Her brothers rolled their eyes and she stuck out her tongue.
“Very ladylike,” Al commented.
“It was expensive, but it’s called ‘Seeker’ and it comes in a bottle with a tiny snitch for a stopper. It was next to –”
“The perfumes, yes, we heard you the first time.”
The bedroom door opened and Harry stuck his head in, looking irritated.
“Do you really think I don’t know when someone uses magic in this house? Who was it this time?”
“The dressing table ate my socks, your boxers, the soup tureen and all the soap!”
“I don’t care. You ask me, Kreacher or Teddy to sort it, okay? Next thing, you’ll be dragged in front of the Wizengamot for the use of underage magic.”
“They’re not bothered about a little charm like ‘Alohamora’!”
“Really?” Harry frowned. “How odd. I distinctly remember being threatened with expulsion from Hogwarts by the Wizengamot for a levitation spell but maybe I was mistaken. Maybe it was some other Harry Potter. Don’t do it, okay?” He shut the door with rather more force than necessary.
“Told you.” Al folded his arms, smirking at his brother. He was not entirely surprised to be pelted with rolled up socks and underpants.
- - -
Lily was the sort of child who took her time unwrapping her presents, savouring the moment of anticipation as she carefully unwound the ribbons, peeled off the paper and opened the boxes. She beamed with delight as she opened a package from Slug and Jiggers and took out a bar of soap, a bottle of bath foam and a little vial of perfume. The bottles were facetted glass, the contents tinted pale green and the labels read “Lily” in a flowing script.
“Oh terrific! Thanks, that’s just what I wanted!”
“There’s a surprise,” Al muttered although he grinned at her.
Lily carefully prised the stopper from the perfume and inhaled. She looked slightly puzzled for a moment and then smiled.
“It’s great!” She dashed around the room, waving the bottle under the nose of anyone prepared to stay still long enough.
Harry sniffed warily.
Rather than the heavy, floral scent he had expected, the perfume was delicate; maybe based on lily of the valley. It stirred a memory; a vision of a young woman sitting on a fence as the sun turned her wayward auburn hair into a glorious blaze. She threw back her head and laughed, her green eyes dancing with amusement. Then she was gone, and Harry felt a chill. The memory was not his own, yet he knew her. She smiled at him out of wizarding photographs on a shelf in his bedroom. Somewhere, he still owned a sealed flask of memories that featured her. She was Lily Evans, his mother.
“Dad?” Lily touched his arm. “You okay?”
“Fine.” He handed the bottle back to his daughter. “It’s lovely. It made me think of another Lily.”
“Yeah,” she said, “me too! I bet she used to wear perfume like this. It’s really wicked.”
Her brothers made the expected disparaging noises and Lily knelt down beside the Christmas tree, carefully sorting through the pile of gaudily wrapped gifts.
Harry felt Ginny’s absence keenly and he knew that his children must miss her. She was always the one to distribute the presents, cook the lunch, heat mulled wine and offer mince pies. Missing her was like missing a tooth, thinking of her was as irritating as running his tongue over the gap again and again. He kept wanting to say things to her, small inconsequential remarks, trivia that he knew she would understand. No doubt she was thinking of her children, maybe him too, as she shared her first Christmas with her new partner.
Harry was determined to be civilised, however angry he was at her betrayal. They had exchanged owl messages; he had agreed that the children would spend Christmas with him and New Year with Ginny.
“There you are, Dad.” Lily dropped a brightly wrapped box onto Harry’s lap. “Happy Christmas!”
Harry peeled off the red and gold paper and extracted a glass bottle nested in tissue paper. 'Seeker Aftershave' declared the label in the same flowing script as on Lily’s perfume. For some reason, stylised as it was, the writing appeared vaguely familiar. “‘Fragrances for the discerning witch and wizard,’” Harry read from the box. “‘The ‘Echoes’ collection created by T. Spellman.’ Never heard of him.”
“Or it could be a ‘her’,” Lily said importantly. “Go on, Dad, try it!”
Harry eased the Snitch-shaped stopper from the bottle.
He could smell the newly mown grass from the Quidditch pitch and the loam and the pines of the forest, the weedy-watery freshness of the lake and the crystalline chill that was Scottish mountain air. Around him, the crowd collectively gasped as the Seeker, clad in Gryffindor red robes, plunged towards the ground in a spectacular dive and swooped up again, snitch struggling between finger and thumb. The Slytherin seeker flashed past, face contorted in a scowl of frustration.
Harry blinked and came back to the present and the eager faces of his children. He thought that he remembered that match but it was hard to be sure. He had experienced it for real when he played for Gryffindor; now his recollection was overlaid by a new one, in which he had watched from the stands. That a scent could trigger his own memories, he could understand. Smells were powerfully connected to memories, more strongly than sight or hearing. He could never smell cinnamon and oranges without reliving Christmas at the Burrow; certain flowers always made him think of Sprout’s greenhouses (now overseen by Neville, of course) and the scent of potions took him straight back to the dungeons at Hogwarts. So how did these fragrances make him relive someone else’s memories, memories which were so intimately linked to his own life?
“That’s unusual,” he said, replacing the cap on the bottle.
“Did you like it?”
He looked at Lily’s eager face and smiled.
“Yes, it reminded me of playing Quidditch at Hogwarts.”
“It made me think of flying over the Quidditch pitch!” Al enthused. “Bloody clever, because it isn’t exactly like that, you haven’t got the smell from Hagrid’s animal pens for a start, you’ve only got the good bits, and yet it smells like an aftershave as well.”
“You said ‘bloody’!” Lily chanted.
“Uncle Ron says it all the time.”
“Uncle Ron is a law unto himself,” Harry said. “I would prefer it if you didn’t imitate him in everything.”
“You sound like Professor McGonagall, Dad.”
“Thanks,” Harry said, thinking that there were worse people to sound like. “Is that the lot? Because you need to get changed to go to the Burrow.”
“Do I have to change?” Lily was wearing her Weasley Christmas jumper with Muggle jeans and trainers.
“You know you wear your smart robes to Christmas dinner, go on please.”
“Is Mum going to be there?” James’ voice betrayed him, trembling slightly.
“No, I believe your Mum and Hector are spending Christmas with his family.”
Harry raised his eyebrows as all three sighed with varying degrees of relief.
“Are you going to duel him, Dad?” Al asked suddenly.
“Don’t be silly, of course I’m not! Go and get changed please, and don’t forget to clean your teeth if you haven’t already done them. Go on.”
“I’m going to wear my new perfume,” Lily stated.
“Hope you’re going to wear some clothes as well, otherwise we won’t want any dinner...”
They went upstairs, bickering amiably, and woke the fire alarm.
- - -
For once, tradition, logic and style in the shapes of Molly, Hermione and Fleur, agreed on something. Harry found them huddled together in the kitchen.
“I don’t see what’s wrong with good old lavender water or rose water anyway,” Molly declared.
“It has to be more than just a perfume.” Hermione was holding a tiny teardrop shaped bottle up to the light.
“Eet is typical of ze Eenglish to think about the dreadful weath-air,” grumbled Fleur, “Even eef eet is vairy sophisticated.”
“What’s that?” Harry enquired.
“Happy Christmas, Harry, dear!” Molly enveloped him in a hug. “How are you?” She stroked the hair back from his forehead as if checking for fever, or new world-threatening scars.
“I’m fine.” Harry returned the embrace then put her firmly aside to hug Hermione and have his cheek kissed by Fleur.
“Ginny bought us all a bottle of this new perfume for Christmas,” Hermione explained, ignoring Molly’s slight sniff. “It’s called ‘Rain’ and it is lovely but a bit spooky in a way.”
“Another from the ‘Echoes’ collection by T. Spellman?” Harry asked.
“Ah, you’ve met it already?”
“Lily demanded ‘Lily’ cologne and bath foam for Christmas and the kids gave me ‘Seeker’ aftershave. What does this one do?”
Hermione handed over the bottle. Harry opened it and sniffed.
He was standing at one of the smaller doorways at Hogwarts, watching the summer rain fall on the flowerbeds. He could smell wet grass, the faintest hint of sweet herbs and flowers, as if someone has brushed against a rosemary bush and disturbed the honeysuckle. A young woman was walking towards him, droplets of water glistening in her bright hair, sparkling on her nose and eyelashes as she smiled. She held out a fragrant bunch of ferns, lavender and roses and then vanished, gone like a bursting bubble, leaving behind nothing but the perfume of the flowers, fresh in the passing summer shower.
“Did you see her?” Hermione asked. “The witch?”
“Ask Lily if you can smell her cologne, you can see her when you smell that, too.”
“Does she remind you...?” Hermione sounded wary, unsure of his reaction.
“It’s my Mum, yes. Fleur, did you see anyone?”
Fleur raised her eyebrows.
“An Eenglish witch wiz zat Eenglish red ’air.”
“And her eyes?” Hermione asked.
“Zey were – ah, zey looked like ’Arry’s eyes, mais oui?”
“Lily Evans, my mother.”
“Zat ees not possible, she ees dead, ees she not?”
“It must be someone who looks like her,” Molly said comfortingly.
“It’s Lily,” Hermione said in a low voice, “I saw Snape’s memories too, Harry. That was Lily. This is very sophisticated magic, to plant specific memories in the minds of people like Fleur who’ve never even seen Lily, and to do it through a scent alone. The memory must be tied to the scent in some way, absorbed through the nasal mucosa like a potion...”
“’Ow unromantic you are, ’Ermione!”
“But why should they choose someone who’s been dead for such a long time?” Molly looked uncomfortable. “And you say these are Snape’s memories?”
“I still have those,” Harry said quickly. “They’re locked away in my desk at Grimmauld Place.”
“You’re sure no one has had access to them?” Although she did not say so, Hermione was obviously thinking of Ginny.
“That desk’s a carnivore, the furniture never liked Ginny and she hardly ever set foot in the place. Besides,” Harry frowned, “I don’t recall ever seeing these particular scenes. They were all new to me, even the Quidditch match.” He touched his cheek, where he had applied the aftershave at Lily’s insistence. “Smell here, there might be enough left to trigger it.”
Hermione sniffed deeply and stood still, her eyes slightly glazed.
“That’s the view from the staff stand, and that’s you and Malfoy, the seekers.”
“That’s what I thought.”
“How very odd. It’s as if Snape gave other memories to someone else before he died.”
“Why should ’ee do zat?”
The back door was thrown open and the kitchen was suddenly filled with boisterous redheads as a gang of Weasleys came in, insisting that Harry join them for an impromptu game of garden Quidditch.
“Wrap up warm,” Molly called, “Dinner in around two hours, don’t break anything and no hexes!”
“No hexes,” Ron muttered, “With George, Bill and Charlie playing? Mum, you’re in cloud cuckoo land. Hi, Teddy! Happy Christmas; d’you want to play Beater with Bill?”
- - -
“I’m interested in your range of fragrances.” The young witch behind the counter stared at Harry, swallowed and whispered something inaudible. She tried again.
“Yes, Mr Potter. Is it for a lady?” Then she blushed beet red.
“I’d like to know who manufactures them,” Harry said, refraining from rolling his eyes with an effort.
“Spellman, yes. Do you buy them directly from him, are they made by a company or does he produce them in his back kitchen?”
“I don’t know. I’ll get Mr Jiggers.” She disappeared into the back room. There was the murmur of voices and then the elderly, rotund little Mr Jiggers came hurrying through the door.
“Mr Potter!” He spoke more loudly than necessary. “How good to see you again! What can we do for you today?”
“I’m interested in your new fragrance range.”
“Oh yes, aren’t they splendid? A new venture for us, and a very intriguing blend of Muggle technology, potions and magic.”
“Who makes them?”
“Mr Spellman.” Jiggers eyes opened wide. “As stated on the packaging, Mr T. Spellman.”
“Is he an individual or are they produced by a company?”
“Well, as to that, I couldn’t say. Mr Spellman is a rather reclusive gentleman, he isn’t very free with information – trade secrets, of course – but he does deliver the goods in person. We are currently the only outlet in London, although I believe that the apothecary in Hogsmeade also stock a limited range.” His tone suggested that a limited range was all they could be trusted with.
“I’d like to meet Mr Spellman.”
“I can’t really help you there, sir, he appears when he appears, we never know when that’ll be.”
“What if you run out of stock?”
“I owl him, he arrives some time within the following week with more.”
“Could you ask him if I might meet him?”
“I’ll ask, sir, certainly. As it’s you, he might make an exception, but I can’t guarantee it.”
Harry walked out into Diagon Alley, bowing his head and casting a repelling charm against the January sleet. Someone else had got hold of Snape’s memories and Harry was intrigued, almost against his own better judgement.
- - -
Harry opened the door and stared at the red-haired witch on the doorstep.
“Hello, Harry.” Ginny offered a slightly tremulous smile. “Have you got a moment?”
“Yeah, sure.” He stood back and shut the door as she came in. The hallstand creaked and shifted uneasily. “What’s the problem, is it one of the kids?”
“Oh no, nothing like that.” She looked up at him, eyes wide and soulful in her pale face. She was wearing a new perfume, something low and rich, like chocolate and spices. “Harry, I’ve been thinking a lot about what’s happened and I... I think I made a mistake.”
“Did you?” Harry walked towards the living room and she followed, avoiding a hall table that sneaked out a leg into her path.
“I shouldn’t have left.”
“Has he got tired of you already?”
“I suppose I deserved that. I miss you and I miss the children.”
“Well, they’re all at Hogwarts now and Teddy’s got a new job, so there’s only me.”
“You know what I mean, Harry.”
“Yeah, I think so.” He turned to face her. “Look, I’ve had time to think and I don’t want to just go back to the way we were.” Her face fell and he held up a hand. “I’m not saying I’m ending everything but I want time to sort myself out a bit. You left me. I want to deal with that in my own way.”
“But I want to come back.”
“No you don’t, you hate it here.”
“To the cottage, I mean.”
“I’m not stopping you. It’s your home as well as mine. Just don’t take him there and don’t stop the children or Teddy regarding it as home, either.”
“Aren’t you coming back too?”
“No.” Harry forced a smile. “I rather like Grimmauld Place. You can Floo or owl me here whenever you like.”
“Harry...” Ginny placed a hand on his arm. She was still beautiful, with her long, red hair and her dusting of golden freckles. She had retained her slim, boyish shape even after three children; she was a witch, after all. Her perfume rose up in a warm cloud and he had a quick vision of creamy skin, a body spread out on a wide bed, waiting for him. His groin twitched.
“No, please go.” He steered her gently but firmly towards the door. “I’m still too angry for this.”
“You don’t sound angry to me.”
“I’ll speak to you again soon, okay?”
“Harry, please don’t –”
He shut the door and leaned back against it. What he felt was injured pride and sadness at the end of something that had been good, and was now tainted with betrayal. Seeing her again was strange, as if he ought to feel more than he really did. She would never belong in a perfect moment.
- - -
The owl scrambled in through the owl flap above the kitchen window, shook its feathers back into place and squawked as the largest saucepan snapped its lid and almost caught its tail. Kreacher grabbed the pan and thrust it into a cupboard, muttering dark threats involving a blowtorch.
“Master Harry, there’s an owl for you.”
“Oh, great, is it from Ron?”
“No, not Pigwidgeon.”
Harry yawned and groped for an owl treat in the dish.
Kreacher lifted the lid from the butter dish, to reveal a handful of owl treats, a piece of Stilton and Harry's pocket watch. Harry sighed and retrieved the watch.
“I wondered where that went. Okay, owl, what have you got for me?”
The owl ignored the slightly greasy treat that Harry offered in exchange for the rolled-up message. It flew away as soon as he had removed the scroll from its leg.
“Dear Mr Potter,
I am informed that you wish to meet me. I cannot imagine what we could possibly have to talk about. However Jiggers assures me that your patronage would only be good for my small perfume business so, as I shall be in London next Tuesday, I will meet you in the Green Wyvern at midday. Do not be late.
Harry placed the piece of parchment on the table and smoothed it out flat.
“Curiouser and curiouser,” he remarked. “I have a lunch date with a perfumer with an attitude.”
- - -
The publican directed Harry to a thin individual with that oddly bland, nondescript air that Harry recognised immediately as an all-purpose glamour; more of a notice-me-not charm than a change in appearance. Harry had used them himself. They were far easier to maintain in a fight or flight situation than a true glamour, which took a lot of concentration.
Spellman was seated in a booth with a pint of bitter and a lunch menu. He did not look up as Harry slid onto the opposite bench.
“You’re three minutes late, Mr Potter.”
Harry closed his eyes. That dark velvet voice made cold sweat prickle his skin, as if he had walked through a ghost, and something in his chest that he had not realised had been wound tight, loosened again.
“I didn’t want you to think I was easy.” The words came unbidden, and he blushed when he realised what he had said. “How are you, sir?”
The wizard snorted softly.
“I am as I ever was.”
Harry laughed, the kind of laughter generated not by amusement, but by the lifting of a weight from the heart.
“Hardly. You’ve won your freedom and I’m so glad, I never expected to hear your voice again.” His own voice wobbled alarmingly and he coughed to cover his embarrassment. “May I buy your lunch?”
“I thought that was why we were here. I shall have the roast beef.”
Harry nodded and went to bar, gave the order and returned with his own pint of beer.
“I’ve got to ask,” Harry said as he returned to his seat.
“No doubt. Do you deserve the answers?”
“If you hadn’t wanted to tell me anything, you would never have agreed to meet for lunch, surely? How did you survive?”
“I could ask the same of you.”
“In my case, it was being prepared to sacrifice everything including my own life; plus love.”
“You have just answered your own question, have you not?” The other man’s face was a blur, like an oil painting smudged before the paint was dry. Harry lifted up his wand, cast a series of silencing and privacy charms over the booth and watched as Snape dispelled his camouflage.
Here was Snape in peacetime, no longer forced into a job he resented or torn between two implacable masters. He was still recognisably himself, still as sharp as a raptor, with his hooked nose and shrewd black eyes. His skin was no less pale, although his teeth and hair looked cleaner than Harry recalled, as if he now took a little pride in his appearance, and he had gained some weight. There were a few strands of grey at his temples and a few extra lines around his eyes. He lifted an eyebrow and stared at Harry as if daring him to comment.
“How did you live?” Harry whispered. “Hermione and I watched you die.”
“Without lifting a finger to help me, if I remember rightly.”
Harry was blushing more than he had since he was a teenager.
“We were seventeen, we had just watched Voldemort destroy you, we had no medical training or experience and I’ve regretted not trying to save you, ever since.”
“Easy for you to say that now.”
“You’re the Legilimens, Professor, you know if I'm speaking the truth.”
Snape nodded an acknowledgement and lifted his pint, sipping fastidiously.
“You bled to death,” Harry whispered.
“I cast a very convincing glamour.”
“You were bitten by a poisonous snake.”
“Mr Potter, in your very first lesson, I asked you what a bezoar was and for what it may be used. Did I not inform you that I could put a stopper in death?”
“We buried your corpse.”
“You buried a bundle of blood-soaked robes, transfigured to resemble my body. The blood was real enough; I was dangerously weakened before I could stop the bleeding. However, it gave a strong magical signature and scent to the transfigured body. At that stage, I had no idea who would prevail and it made sense to prevent anyone coming after me, by giving them a corpse. I also had no idea that you would so effectively clear my name.” His black eyes glittered.
“But perfumes, Professor Snape?”
“A digression.” Snape waved a hand, dismissing the question. Harry took a drink of beer, unable to stop smiling. Snape had no more power over him now than had Dumbledore or Voldemort; Snape was just another survivor who had fought with courage and cunning and who deserved to find peace.
“And my mother?” Harry asked, keeping his voice casual. “One perfume named after her and another that conjures up a vision of her walking in the rain?”
Snape shrugged. The gesture, a slow rolling of his shoulders, was just a little too elaborate to be true.
“I utilise what comes to hand, or in this case, to mind.” Then the black eyes were fixed on Harry’s face and the silky voice dropped a little, into a deep purr. “But what of you, Potter? I hear that life is no longer quite so golden for the golden boy of Gryffindor.”
What would have seemed to a child, to be a comment designed to enrage him, was a minor irritant to an adult. Harry gazed back at Snape, understanding at last that the man’s resentment was oddly impersonal; it was a part of Snape’s nature to be jealous of those whom he perceived to have happiness or success.
“No, I found my red-haired witch and lost her again.”
“Very careless of you, Potter.”
“It wasn't my fault.”
“So the Prophet proclaimed, at nauseating length. Did she not run off with a Quidditch star?”
Luckily, the waitress approached with a tray and Snape quickly reapplied his disguising charm as Harry lowered his privacy wards. After she had placed the platters on the table and brought cutlery and horseradish sauce, Harry replaced the charms and remarked “What about your love-life, Professor, gained or lost any lovers lately?”
The angry flush that rose to Snape’s face was really quite unbecoming.
“You always were a nosy brat, poking your nose where you’re unwelcome.”
“So why are you allowed to say what you like about my marriage?”
“Your doings are a matter of public record and interest.”
“Really? Did I ask for that?” Harry sliced into his beef, his hand shaking fractionally as he forced his voice into an approximation of casual unconcern. Now he remembered why he used to hate Snape. “If I announced to the Prophet and the Quibbler that you were back, your doings would be a matter of public interest, too, professor.”
Snape slammed his knife down on the table.
“What are you playing at, Potter?”
“I am attempting to make polite conversation with my old Potions professor. You see, we’re really quite alike. We survived against the odds, we both want our privacy, except that you have yours and appear to think that I shouldn’t have mine. Of course...” he frowned, thinking back, “You were tolerably polite until I mentioned my mother. Does it still hurt so much after all this time?”
Snape glared and the years seemed to fall away for a moment, like a vision called up by a magical perfume. This was the Snape of Harry’s childhood, prejudiced and unpredictable.
“That is none of your business.”
“Then I suggest that my marriage is none of yours, professor.”
Snape screwed up his napkin and gripped the edge of the table, obviously ready to get to his feet and storm out. The attitude was so quintessentially Snape, so purely true to the teacher Harry had known, that his anger melted away in a twisted sense of relief that the man was still alive, still here to be as prickly and snide as ever. Harry reached over and touched his fingertips to the back of Snape’s hand. “Please, don’t go. You might as well eat your lunch, since it’s paid for, and I promise to avoid the subjects of my parents, Dumbledore, Voldemort and the war.” He stopped short of apologising; he had a feeling that he had done nothing to apologise for.
Snape subsided, suspicion in the dark, shuttered eyes.
“You haven’t changed, Potter.”
“I have grown up,” Harry pointed out. He wondered if Snape had a sense of humour at all. “I have three children at Hogwarts now.”
“More Weasleys,” Snape muttered, picking up his knife and fork.
“And there are Ron and Hermione’s two, Bill’s three and Charlie’s daughter. Oh, and Neville Longbottom is the Herbology Professor.”
“I was aware of that. Heaven knows what Minerva was thinking.”
“How about ‘I know someone so brilliant at Herbology that he ought to be teaching here? Shame he’s not so good at Potions but we can’t have everything.’ By the way, there’s no portrait of you in the Headmistress’ office, so why hasn’t anyone guessed you’re alive?”
“They probably have.” Snape cut a piece of beef and popped it into his mouth, chewing thoughtfully. “I have no doubt that Dumbledore’s portrait and Minerva have discussed the matter at length, although Minerva and I parted on bad terms so I doubt she’d be overjoyed to see me.”
“I don’t know, she’s had plenty of time to think and to talk to the portraits. I bet Dumbledore’s portrait told her why you had to kill him.”
“I thought we agreed not to discuss this?” Snape’s eyebrow quirked in a manner that suggested he was no longer incensed.
“I don’t think we can keep away from something that dominated our lives for so long, but if you want to change the subject, tell me what you’ve been doing for the last twenty-two years.”
“I went to France and obtained work in a large apothecary in the Wizarding quarter in Paris, brewing basic remedies since my French was not up to serving in the shop. When they found that I was capable of brewing Wolfsbane and other complex potions, and that I could provide my own superior variants for many of them, I was offered a permanent position in charge of their brewing facility. I suggested that if they allowed me a small research budget, I might be able to continue refining and improving their products and keep them ahead of the competition. This was indeed the case. The ‘Echoes’ perfume range came out of that research.”
“So why did you give that up and come back to Britain?”
Snape’s shrug held a hint of Gallic insouciance.
“I missed my home and I was ready for another challenge. I have made enough money to buy a small house and set up in business on my own, the perfumes already sell enough to pay the bills. I may consider taking on an assistant shortly.”
Snape’s eyebrow flicked in his direction.
“And what have you made of your life, Mr Potter?”
“That’s a matter of public record,” Harry said, suspecting that his choices would not necessarily meet with Snape's stringent approval.
“Become the hero, slay the monster, undertake Auror training, marriage to a nice little witch, produce three children. Bravo, Mr Potter, you did what everyone expected you to.”
“That’s what Gryffindors do.” Harry could equal Snape’s emotionless delivery.
Snape nodded, his trademark smirk in place.
“But what now?”
“We’ll have to see,” Harry said quietly. “Like you, I think I need a change of direction.”
Snape nodded and they concentrated on their meal. The food was good and the beer excellent. Harry realised that even the company was unexpectedly pleasant when Snape did not have his feathers ruffled. “We’ll have to do this again soon,” Harry said. He surprised himself a little, although not as much as he startled Snape. Maybe the man had got out of the habit of Occlumency and spying, or maybe he, too, felt relaxed enough to allow his feelings to show.
“I have another large order to bring to Slug and Jiggers next week,” Snape remarked. “I shall be in town on Wednesday.”
“Lunch, then. Have you tried the restaurant opposite Gringotts? Chinese wizarding cuisine, they do terrific dim sum.”
“No,” Snape said, smirking faintly, “I shall meet you there at twelve-thirty. Try not to be late, Mr Potter.”
“I’ll see you there.” Harry went to the bar to settle the bill, and when he turned around, Snape had gone. He walked home to Grimmauld Place with a sense of satisfaction caused by more than just a good meal. He identified it as the feeling he got when he had put something right, something that had been wrong for a very long time.
- - -
At first, he had intended to tell his friends that Snape was alive; after all, Gryffindors were open about their feelings and did not keep secrets unless they must. Then he imagined Gryffindors telling other Gryffindors, who would tell Ravenclaws and Luna at the Quibbler would get hold of the news that Severus Snape was back, and he knew exactly what Snape would have to say about that. If Slug and Jiggers then decided that they did not want to do business with an ex-Death Eater, that would be Snape’s new enterprise in ruins. Harry kept his mouth shut.
He had booked a table by owl, arrived early and ordered a bottle of chilled Chardonnay and the lunch for two. Although the owner recognised him, Harry was a fairly regular customer and the novelty had worn off, so he was left in peace to watch the rain falling on Diagon Alley. He caught the slight ripple in the air as Snape came in, notice-me-not charm solidly in place, and smiled as the man took the seat on the opposite side of the table.
“I ordered mixed dim sum, I hope that’s okay?” Harry lifted the bottle of wine and Snape gave a little dip of his head. He looked sleek in tailored black robes, a business wizard lunching with an associate. “How did your transaction go?”
“I have the contract for the Wolfsbane potion,” Snape said with satisfaction. “The perfumes are seasonal and unpredictable, Wolfsbane is on fixed contract.” He held out his glass for Harry to fill.
“That’s excellent news, Professor!”
“I would prefer you not to call me by a title to which I no longer have any right.”
“What does the ‘T’ stand for in ‘T. Spellman’?” Harry asked. “Was it your father’s name?”
Snape’s expression of mild satisfaction turned to a frown in a fraction of a second.
“Certainly not. It stands for Tarquinius, if anyone needs to know, but I am ‘Mr Spellman’ to everyone.” He unfolded his serviette with a flick and spread it over his lap.
“Even your friends?” The answering glare indicated that Harry was being a thoughtless Gryffindor again. Did Snape have any friends? “Does Draco Malfoy know that you’re back?” Snape’s expression softened and Harry let out a breath that he had not realised he had been holding.
“No. I have considered contacting him.”
“You should,” Harry said, “He’d be delighted to know you survived, and so would the other Slytherins.”
“Those who remember me.” Snape’s tone was dry, acerbic.
“The Parkinsons, Bulstrodes, Zabinis, Malfoys and Professor Sinistra all mourned you, you know. Lots of people came to your funeral. We all went.”
“The Order, all the Weasleys, Kingsley and some of the other Aurors, the Hogwarts staff and Dumbledore’s Army, all went. Arthur Weasley read the lesson, Kingsley said a few words about your work for the Order, Minerva spoke about your teaching and your care for Slytherin House and I spoke about how you had worked against Voldemort for so long and how you helped me at the end.”
Snape stared at Harry with an expression that was almost puzzled, as if Harry had been speaking in Parseltongue and Snape needed to work out what he meant from his tone and the context.
“You spoke at the funeral of a man whom you had hated since the age of eleven?”
“I understood by then, didn’t I? I’d seen your memories. Oh...” Harry took a sip of wine and said carefully “I can let you have them back, if you want them.”
“You still have my memories?” Snape paused while the waitress brought a little bamboo steamer to the table and set out dishes of sauces. “How very Gryffindor of you, Potter.”
“Yeah, I’m a sentimental git like that.” Harry lifted the lid of the steamer and scooped out a little dumpling. “You’re welcome to take them back.”
“I’ve managed this long without them. Is that sweet chilli sauce?”
“Smells like it. This one’s soy. Damn, I always struggle with chopsticks...”
Snape lifted his chopsticks in one pale hand and proceeded to dip his dumplings into the sauces and eat them delicately and neatly, while smirking at Harry’s messy attempts to do the same.
“I sometimes wonder how we dared let you loose with a table knife, never mind a wand and a sword,” he remarked, as Harry dropped a prawn into the soy sauce with a splash.
“Well, I’m magic on a broom to make up for it.”
Snape quirked a black eyebrow.
“So modest, Potter. Do you still play Quidditch?”
“Only for fun, I’m in an amateur team of minor celebrities who play to raise money for charity. We’re building a new centre for the training and rehabilitation of werewolves at the moment – another reason I’m delighted that you’re making the Wolfsbane for Slug and Jiggers.”
“One would have hoped that Greyback’s death would have reduced the number of people being turned.”
“We had another rogue around five years ago; she attacked and turned eight people before we took her down, plus the remnants of the feral pack that Greyback used to control. The new legislation allows them to get jobs, as long as they live in a situation where they’re given the Wolfsbane and monitored to ensure that they take it. The centre is near a Muggle wolf sanctuary, so people just assume that the wolves are restless if they hear howling. Sorry, I doubt that you want to hear me waffling on about my pet projects.”
“Let me guess, you called it the Remus Lupin centre?”
“Us Gryffindors are obvious, aren’t we? Yes, we did.”
“And a Sirius Black home for stray animagi?”
“No, not even a Peter Pettigrew shop for pet rats.”
They ate in silence for a while. Harry realised that Snape had once again been testing boundaries, and it no longer hurt that he spoke the names of Sirius and Remus with that little curl of the lip. Maybe time had softened the sense of loss, or Harry was adult enough to disregard Snape’s carping about old enemies, but he suspected that the old vitriol was no longer there. Snape had mellowed.
“You still haven’t told me what I can call you,” Harry remarked. “I’d like it if you could bring yourself to call me ‘Harry’ but I’ll understand if that goes against your sensibilities and the habits of a lifetime.”
Snape gave a little snort, perhaps of amusement.
“Under no circumstances do I allow myself to be called ‘Sev’.”
Harry nodded. Lily Evans had called him ‘Sev’, but that was a long time ago and Snape had been a teenager, desperate for affection and friendship. This self-contained, aloof wizard was another person entirely.
“May I call you ‘Severus’, then?”
“If you insist, and only when others cannot overhear. The name is too uncommon and I prefer to remain ‘Spellman’ for now.”
“Thank you.” Harry raised his glass. “I’m honoured.”
Again, there was the slight widening of the dark eyes, a flicker of suspicion; as if Snape assumed that he was being made fun of even when all the instincts of a Legilimens told him otherwise. Then he inclined his head.
“You’re welcome. Harry.”
- - -
An owl was waiting for Harry in the kitchen, ruffled and sulking after an altercation with the predatory saucepans.
“Kreacher, I think we need to replace the kitchen equipment.” Harry took the message from the owl’s leg and fed it a piece of ham as compensation. Kreacher’s ears drooped.
“But I like this cookware, Master Harry; I know its little quirks. I can’t cook as well with new-fangled cheap modern pans.” He shuffled slowly to the larder, the picture of misery. Harry sighed and opened the note.
Hogwarts is planning a grand party to celebrate the spring equinox. All proceeds will go to the Dumbledore Foundation for the support of Muggleborn and orphaned students. I would be so grateful if you would agree to open the event and say a few words of welcome to our guests and students.
Minerva McGonagall BMag, OoM 2nd Class (Headmistress)'
Harry sighed, summoned quill and parchment and scribbled his acceptance.
- - -
The party was not quite as awful as he had expected. He was able to catch up with Professors Sprout, Slughorn, Vector and Flitwick, all now retired from teaching. Hagrid, Neville and Hooch were always good for a chat even if Minerva was too busy, and of course Ron, Hermione, Bill and Fleur were invited as parents of current pupils. Harry gave a little speech (jokes courtesy of Ron, facts about the Dumbledore Foundation from Hermione) and had the satisfaction of knowing that his own children were hugely embarrassed, although not so much that they were unable to sidle up to him afterwards.
“Someone you ought to meet, Dad,” Lily muttered, nudging him and indicating a very attractive blonde witch in a red robe. She was laughing at a story Hagrid was telling her, which was a big point in her favour.
“Who is she?” Harry accepted a glass of punch from a house elf who winked at him rather disturbingly.
“Madam Palinka, Madam Hooch’s new assistant. Madam Hooch is retiring next year and she’s going to take over.”
Harry allowed himself to be dragged over and introduced to the Quidditch coach. She blushed prettily but at least was not reduced to incoherence by his presence. She informed him that she had been educated at Durmstrang, played Quidditch for five years professionally and now wanted to settle down in Britain. They chatted about the Quidditch league for a very satisfactory half an hour before Minerva interrupted them, needing Harry to speak to someone about the administration of the Foundation.
Harry realised that Hermione and Ron, their children and his own offspring were all watching him with fond expressions, as if they could hardly wait for him to replace Ginny with another pretty witch. He had a brief surge of annoyance, that they would not leave him to arrange his own life how he wished, then he squashed his anger. They loved him. They thought that he could only be happy if he had a witch in his bed again. It occurred to him then that not only did he not have any great desire for Madam Palinka but that he was indeed happy with life. He also had a feeling that something was moving forward, that there was much to look forward to, and it did not involve witches at all.
- - -
A bell jangled as Harry opened the door of Slug and Jiggers. He headed towards the perfume and cosmetics counter, where a cloaked and hooded witch was fingering the trial sample spray of Snape’s latest fragrance, “Green Eyes”. She glanced up as Harry approached, then gave a gasp. He recognised her with a little internal twist made up of sadness, dismay, anger and fondness.
“Hello, Harry. Are you all right?”
She nodded, staring down at the perfumes.
“Yes, I’m fine. Isn’t it odd, you’d have thought that they’d have given up on this by now, wouldn’t you?”
“Given up on what, Gin?”
“Naming things for you, all that ‘Boy Who Lived’ nonsense.”
“What makes you think this is named for me?”
Ginny sighed theatrically, seized his hand, sprayed a little jet of the fragrance onto his wrist and replaced the sample bottle at the front of the display.
“Smell it, go on.”
The perfume was not what he expected; neither sweet nor flowery. It smelled of pine and sandalwood, with overtones of spices, a woody scent, very adult and sophisticated. He had a fleeting image of figures in a restaurant, the clink of glasses, someone with dark hair and green eyes sipping wine. The memory had been carefully selected so that the identity and even the gender of the person were indistinct, except to those who knew Harry very, very well. The tilt of his head and the wisp of hair that always stuck up at the back of his neck gave him away.
“How odd,” he said, and his tone sounded false even to himself. Ginny stared at him, her forehead crinkled in thought.
“I miss you.”
A spike of anger lanced through his chest.
“You’ve got him. Hector Mablethorpe the Quidditch star.”
“Not any more.” Ginny turned away, almost unnaturally calm. “I finished it three weeks ago, I won’t see him again. I made a mistake, Harry. I made a terrible mistake.” She leaned up to kiss his cheek briefly and gave him a brave smile, her lip quivering just a tiny bit. “Take care.”
She turned and walked away, the hem of her plain brown cloak brushing the floor. A waft of perfume drifted up on a draught as she left the shop. Harry turned round, to meet the furious glare of black eyes. A storm of snapping robes made it clear that Snape had raised dramatic exits to an art form; Ginny was a mere amateur in comparison. The doorbell shrilled as he swept out with his head high, leaving Harry bewildered but in no doubt that Snape was very displeased.
Harry hurried out of the apothecary’s shop. Ginny was walking away with her hood pulled over her bright hair, while in the opposite direction, a tall, slim figure in black strode rapidly towards the Leaky Cauldron. Harry took a deep, fortifying breath. He was a Gryffindor, wasn’t he? He could dither here like a Hufflepuff or he could act. He could do the heroic thing, go after his wife (she was ensuring that he would be able to catch up with her) and attempt to put his marriage back together. He glanced once more at Snape’s rapidly retreating form and it hit him then, the realisation that Snape was jealous. Snape was jealous of Ginny, he had seen that quick kiss, that moment of connection and he had been hurt, and a hurt Snape was an angry Snape, always had been, and when hurt, he pushed everyone away. This was how Snape had lost Lily, wasn’t it, in a moment of angry rejection? Harry took off towards the Leaky Cauldron at a run.
- - -
“Wait!” Harry had the presence of mind to not call the man by name. “Please, wait.” He reached out, catching the edge of Snape’s billowing robe. Snape halted, rigid as a fence post, and without turning round, snapped: “Let go of me, Potter!”
“Just wait a minute, will you? I thought we were going for lunch at the Plumed Serpent?”
“You appeared to have more important concerns, far be from me to come between a hero and his wife.” Snape shook his arm, as if Harry was an annoying insect who could be dislodged with a flick of the sleeve.
“If you’d listened, you would have heard her asking me to take her back and me refusing to agree to a reconciliation. She asks me on a weekly basis at the moment, she expects to wear me down.” Harry stepped around so that he could watch Snape’s face, the implacable hook-nosed profile and folded mouth. “I liked the new perfume, by the way. I’m very flattered.”
“What made you think it was anything to do with you?”
“Oh, maybe I was mistaken.” Harry released Snape’s sleeve. “Are you coming to lunch, Severus?” He spoke quietly and earnestly, aware of how disappointed he would be if Snape refused, allowing that emotion into his voice. The skin flickered at the corner of Snape’s eye. “Please. Talking to Ginny unsettles me, I’d be grateful if you’d let me take you to lunch so I can forget about her for a while.”
“So I’m a temporary distraction, am I?”
“You know you’re far more than that.”
He heard Snape’s breath hitch in a little gasp.
“Don’t expect me to be a marriage guidance counsellor, Potter.”
“All those years you spent as Head of Slytherin, didn’t you deal with broken relationships and emotional teens?”
“Only as a last resort,” Snape said, turning so that they walked side by side. “Home-sick first years could expect a small degree of sympathy but by the time they reached the fifth year, Slytherins knew that I would interfere only in the cases of academic problems, bullying or cheating. Those with broken hearts could confide in their friends or in extreme cases, Madam Pomfrey or Professor Sinistra.”
“Survival of the fittest, I suppose.”
“I preferred to regard it as training for real life, Potter.”
“I thought you agreed to call me ‘Harry’?”
“If you insist, Harry.”
“Training for real life, Severus. Here we are, the Plumed Serpent. I hope you like Mexican food.”
“That depends upon who pays. I’m a Slytherin, you recall?”
“How could I forget?” Harry grinned and held open the door, watching Snape sweep in as if he owned the place.
- - -
“Are you telling me that you allow your house to bully your guests and inconvenience your children?” Snape sipped from his cup of coffee. The lunch crowd had left, replaced by a group of witches and wizards in formal robes, arguing about obscure points of Wizarding law over glasses of wine.
“I don’t exactly allow it,” Harry said, uncomfortably. “I just can’t seem to stop it. Kreacher has most of it under control. I wish – well, I like the old furniture, it has character, I just wish it would behave.”
“It sounds to me as if you have a low-level but deep-seated jinx on the place.”
“I never thought of that.”
“Really? And you claim that you were an Auror?” Snape’s expression suggested that Harry was living up, or rather, down to all his expectations.
“Number 12 Grimmauld Place always had this air of holding dark secrets, I suppose I took it for granted that the bureau would chew my robes, the fire alarm would be deaf and bronchitic and the saucepans catch their own meat.” Harry cocked his head. “Are you in a hurry, Severus?”
“Haven’t you grown out of expecting me to haul your nuts out of the fire yet, Mr Potter?”
“You’re the best person I know for dealing with Dark Arts.”
“Flattery doesn’t work on Slytherins.”
“What about asking nicely?”
“Perhaps. Bribery usually succeeds.”
“I can offer dinner.”
“Hardly a recommendation; I recall your attempts at brewing potions.”
“I still have Kreacher and he’s a great chef.”
“In that case, I may reconsider.”
“Great.” Harry could not control the grin that took over his face. “Shall we go?”
- - -
“I see Mrs Black finally loosened her grip on the house.” Snape nodded at the amateurish watercolour of Hogwarts that hung where the old witch’s portrait had once ranted at everyone.
“I had to blast her off and then rebuild the wall. Teddy painted that in his third year.”
“Typical Gryffindor, no subtlety.”
Harry was unsure whether Snape meant the painting or Harry’s frustration-fuelled DIY. It was so strange, seeing Snape here again, swooping through the narrow hall. Just for a moment, the years fell away and Harry could almost hear Moody stumping down the stairs and Remus Lupin’s gentle voice offering tea and biscuits. Then he caught a glimpse of Snape’s profile, pale and rigid as carved ivory, and he realised that the last time Snape had set foot inside this house, Albus Dumbledore had still been alive.
“I’m sorry,” Harry said quietly, “I forgot you hadn’t been back before. This house must hold so many memories for you.”
Snape turned in a swirl of black.
“Unlike the average Gryffindor, I am not a sentimental man, although the knowledge that I have outlived my enemies does afford me a certain degree of satisfaction.” He smirked and settled his cuffs more comfortably around his wrists, as if he had never known a moment of introspection in his life. “Which furniture is causing the problem? It all appears very ordinary to me.”
Harry led the way to the kitchen. The pans lay in stacks on their shelf and ladles and knifes hung, lifeless, from the hooks on the wall. Kreacher hummed as he mixed batter in a bowl.
“Would Master like a cup of tea?” he enquired, glancing at Snape with no change of expression.
“No thanks, Kreacher. Is everything behaving?”
The old elf looked surprised.
“Yes, Master Harry. Is hotpot and pineapple upside-down cake suitable for dinner?”
“That’ll be great. Severus will be staying for dinner, is there enough?”
“Of course. I’ll make onion soup and vanilla custard...” his eyes glazed as he murmured to himself. “Pearl barley, onions, stock, potatoes...”
“Thanks, Kreacher.” Harry guided Snape out of the kitchen before the house elf could plan an entire banquet. “He loves it when I entertain guests,” he explained, “makes him feel needed.”
As they returned to the hall, Harry heard a furtive scrabbling from upstairs, as if clawed feet scuttled across the landing. He immediately caught Snape by the sleeve and pointed upwards. Snape’s eyebrows rose but he said nothing and followed as Harry crept up the stairs, wand at the ready.
The dressing table made a low grinding creak, almost a growl, as it attempted to drag the quilt from James’ bed. Harry gave a yell of triumph and launched himself at the wayward furniture, slamming it back against the wall. “Caught in the act, you bastard!”
The dressing table squeaked, its drawers flew open and it spat a handful of mothballs and a battered copy of “The Lord of the Rings” into Harry’s face in an attempt to distract him.
“Petrificus totalus!” Snape snapped, wielding his wand with a flourish. The dressing table slumped into immobility. Harry sat up, waving the book.
“I’ve been looking for this for months! You see what I mean? This sort of thing happens all the time!”
“Spell-senility,” Snape remarked, replacing his wand up his sleeve. “Domestic charms begin to degenerate after a couple of hundred years; their logic components are unable to handle the modern lifestyle. You can think of it as Alzheimer’s disease of the fixtures and fittings. If you wish to retain the furniture, I recommend that you call in an expert restorer and have the charms renewed.”
“Thanks,” Harry grumbled, brushing the mothballs from his robes and glaring up at the now-quiescent dressing table. “Senile furniture makes my life complete, somehow.”
Snape held out a hand.
It was one of those defining moments of Harry’s life. So simple a gesture, that slim, pale-skinned hand extending in his direction; a symbol of their new and unlikely friendship. It demonstrated how much the relationship had changed; for surely Professor Snape would never have offered to help the adolescent Harry up from the floor. Harry would never have expected the offer, and would no doubt have refused it even if it had been made.
He felt the warm, smooth skin, the unexpectedly strong grasp as Snape braced against his weight and pulled him up to his feet. Harry smiled and met Snape’s gaze and his flippant remark died unsaid in the dark heat of those eyes. Snape's expression was open and vulnerable. Something was about to happen, the unguarded moment stretched and Harry dared not move, afraid to break the connection. His lips parted and Snape's gaze flicked down to his mouth and back up.
Then Harry staggered backwards as the air clapped shut over the space where Snape had been.
- - -
At first, he was angry and hurt. Did Snape really find Harry so vile that the idea of kissing him made him Disapparate in disgust? Yet the way Snape had been looking at him, suggested that the older wizard was far from disgusted.
Once Harry had calmed down, he reminded himself that this was Snape he was dealing with; Snape the irascible, unpredictable, defensive and prickly git, and the operative word here was 'defensive'. Snape's memories had shown how awkward he was when trying to deal with emotions; losing Lily and pushing away Dumbledore's affection, keeping his distance from colleagues whether Order members, Hogwarts staff or Death Eaters. If Harry wanted to investigate this strange, difficult and fragile little thing, this unexpected gift, he would have to work for it.
He almost laughed at himself, to even be considering a relationship with the greasy old git of the dungeons. Yet he could recognise aspects of Snape that his student self had never understood. Snape was far from handsome, but he had terrific presence. His apparent ferocity overlaid a repressed sensuality that Snape might not even realise he possessed.
Harry would have bet money that Snape's father had attracted a witch because he had displayed that same dark, dangerous, masculine allure as a young man. That Tobias Snape's intensity had turned to frustration and aggression was his wife's misfortune. Probably the elder Snape had recognised and resented his own helplessness in the face of Eileen and Severus' magic.
Dealing with the arch-Slytherin was never going to be easy and the first problem was going to be finding the man. First, Harry sent an owl with a brief note, asking if Snape would contact him. The owl returned, decidedly ruffled, with the scroll still attached to its leg. At least Snape had not chopped the poor bird up for ingredients. He left a message at Slug and Jiggers in the hope that Snape would accept it when he brought his next batch of perfumes and potions, although he had a feeling that Snape was perfectly capable of Incendioing the note. Then he decided to use his brain, or someone else's.
- - -
Harry Apparated to Warren Cottage and knocked on the back door. A scrabble of claws and a sharp yap announced his arrival, and a small tan and white body circled his feet, wagging as furiously as only a Crup could.
"Hello, Sandy, where's your boss?"
"I'm in here, Harry! Come on in."
He followed the voice into the dining room, where Hermione was using the dining table as a desk, surrounded by scrolls, books and files.
"Hi, 'Mione. Still working on the vampire legislation?"
"Yes." She pushed back her hair and smiled at him. "Things are so much better for werewolves since the Wolfsbane potion became available on prescription. I'm convinced that we can do something similar for the undead." She flicked her wand, levitating a pile of ancient, dusty law books from one of the chairs and stacking them neatly against the wall. "Ron's at work till eight today."
"I know." Harry sat down and Sandy the Crup immediately flopped onto his foot, tongue lolling in happy excitement. "It was you I wanted to talk to."
Hermione waved her wand in the direction of the kitchen and something clattered. She might not approve of keeping a house elf, but she loved domestic magic. She had set up a series of clever cascading spells in her kitchen, each one triggering the next, and Harry heard the kettle whistling and the teapot scuttling to be filled.
"Hm," said Hermione thoughtfully, "Is it about Ginny?"
"Sort of. Has she been to see you?"
"Yes, and she went to the Burrow. She knows she made a terrible mistake, she realises she shouldn't have left."
"So she tells me."
Hermione nodded, eyeing him shrewdly.
"You don't sound so sure."
"I'm not. We've been drifting apart for years and I don't think I want to go backwards."
"I can't say I'm overly astonished."
A tray swooped into the room, coming to rest gently on the table. It held two china mugs of tea and a plate of biscuits.
"Why do you say that?" Harry helped himself to tea and biscuits.
"You remember after Voldemort died, you came to us, to me and Ron? Not to Ginny. You left her with her mum and you asked us to go up to the Headmaster's office with you. I wondered then. You see, nothing, no giant or Death Eater or friend, not even you, could have torn Ron and me apart just then."
They drank tea and Harry slyly dropped biscuit crumbs for Sandy, who vacuumed them up as if he had never been fed a proper meal in his life.
"It's none of my business," Hermione said eventually, "So don't answer if you don't want to, but have you met someone else?"
"Of course it's your business; you and Ron are my best friends! I think I have, but it's complicated. We've been meeting for lunch once a week, just as friends, but I think I want us to be more. The trouble is… well, he's male for a start."
Hermione Weasley, wonderful clever Hermione, did not show a single flicker of surprise.
"Could make life very uncomfortable if the press gets hold of that," she commented.
"And he'd go berserk," Harry muttered. "But unless I can find him again, there won't anything for the press to report. Oh hell, Hermione, he's supposed to be dead."
"You mean he's undead?"
"What? No, I don't think so! Everyone thought he died in the war but he faked his death and he's been living in France until very recently. Until Ginny left me…" Harry stared, unseeing, at the wall. "He came back in disguise when the papers reported that she'd run off with that Quidditch git. He came back."
"Harry, who is this man? What is he like?"
"He's very intelligent, sarcastic, courageous and loyal, and he's as sexy as hell. You know those perfumes, 'Echoes', that everyone's been raving about? He makes them."
"Oh my God," Hermione whispered, "Severus Snape."
"Yes, and I think I've lost him."
Hermione stared at him for a moment, then raised her hand and said "Accio Firewhisky." A bottle slapped into her hand. She unscrewed the cap, splashed a generous measure into each mug and commanded, "Tell me."
- - -
Hermione frowned and scratched her nose. Harry decided that this was quite smart of her, as she appeared to have two of them.
"Is obvious," she said. "Innit? He makes Wolfsbane, yeah?"
"Yeah," Harry agreed. "He's clever as you are. Cleverer. Ererer. And he makes perfumes."
"Right." Hermione squinted at the bottle on the table. "Ish empty. Oh shit. What was I saying?"
"He makes Wolfsbrain."
They both found this so funny that Sandy gave them a dirty look and wandered off to find more sensible company in the form of the family's Kneazle.
"Woolsbane," Hermione hiccupped, "Wolfsbrain. Whatever. He makes it for sale. So he's gotta have a licence."
"So," Hermione enunciated carefully, "He's gotta be rerere… registered with the Minishtry. Right. And they got his name and everything." She waved a hand. "Addresh. At the Min'stry. Ron can get it for you."
"Holy cow," Harry said reverently, "Hermione, you're brilliant."
"I'm going to be sick," Hermione said and was.
When Ron came home, Hermione was sleeping it off on the sofa with Sandy and the Boy Who Lived Twice was snoring on the hearthrug with the Kneazle curled up on his chest.
- - -
"You want me to get the address of this Tarquinius Spellman bloke for you, from the Apothecary Licensing office?"
Harry began to nod and thought better of it.
"The bloke who makes the perfumes? Why?"
"Tarquinius Spellman is a pseudonym," Hermione said, placing a small green bottle on the table in front of Harry. "Hangover potion."
"Who made it?"
Harry grabbed the bottle and chugged back the contents. His brain pulsed a couple of times and his stomach lurched, then he blew steam out of his ears, sighed and blinked as everything came back into focus. "Cheers, 'Mione, you're a star."
Ron rolled his eyes.
"Now perhaps you'll explain to Uncle Ronald why I came home to find you passed out in the living room with my wife?"
"We needed Firewhisky," Hermione told him, "And so will you when you hear about this. Harry, explain from the start."
- - -
"Are you sure you don't want me to follow you?" Ron watched as Harry checked his robes and hair yet again in the mirror. "Just in case he hexes you and leaves you lying in the street for the Muggles to find?"
"Ron, Snape spent years saving Harry's life, he's hardly going to do something like that now, is he?"
"Wouldn't put anything past that bastard," Ron muttered. "He could have told us he was alive."
"He didn't know Harry had watched the memories and told everyone Snape had worked for Dumbledore," Hermione said, ever the voice of reason. "He thought he was going to be arrested and tried for murder. Harry, you look terrific. Stop fiddling and go, you're only making yourself more nervous. Go get him, tiger."
"Let us know that you're all right," Ron urged, "Just – not the intimate details, okay?"
"I'll be lucky to get intimate anything," Harry muttered, took a deep breath and Apparated.
- - -
Harry had visited Spinner's End with Kingsley Shacklebolt, after Snape's apparent demise. Unsurprisingly, this was nothing like that rundown industrial slough of despond. Snape had bought himself what might have been a gamekeeper's cottage, on a lane lined with huge oak trees and two miles from the nearest farm. A high wall surrounded the stone building and Harry could feel the wards prickle like ants on his skin as he approached. Any Muggle would have felt an urgent need to hurry past, and Harry had to fight the compulsion to continue to the village four miles away. He forced his feet to carry him to the gate and watched his hand tremble as it lifted the latch. Walking up the short path to the door felt like wading through treacle. The doorknocker was a heavy brass snake, which writhed as he touched it and hissed, "Pisssss off!" in Parseltongue.
"That'sss exssstremely disssscourteoussss," Harry hissed back and the snake lifted its head in surprise.
"Thisss issss the houssse of the Sssslytherin. Are you an undesssirable?"
"I ssshould rather hope not," he murmured with a wry smile. "Pleassse let me knock on your door. Ssssurely a Parssselmouth issss almosssst Ssslytherin by default?"
"Yessss, very well."
The snake lifted its tail and used it to rap smartly on the brass plate to which its head was attached.
There was no response at first. Harry's chest felt tight with a mixture of relief that he could postpone his encounter with Snape, and disappointment. Then he heard staccato footsteps, boots upon a stone floor, and the door was flung wide.
"Harry Potter." The deep voice reached down inside him and did things to his libido that made Harry glad he had worn robes rather than Muggle clothes.
"You left," Harry said, all his carefully rehearsed words leaking out of his brain. Gryffindor honesty and dogged determination remained behind. Snape folded his arms, robes hanging like wings or the carved drapery of a memorial statue.
"Why should I not?"
"I didn't want you to."
"I had no desire to remain."
"Why?" Harry stared at the emotionless black eyes; all feeling tucked away behind their Occlumency shutters. "You were never a coward."
"Cowardice has nothing to do with it. Go away, Potter."
"No. Not until you tell me why you left, and convince us both that it was the right thing to do."
Snape bared his uneven teeth in a mirthless smirk.
"I have no use for foolish entanglements in my life."
"Because things didn't work out for you once, you'll never try again with anyone else?"
"I loved your mother, Potter; I could have been your father. This is foolishness taken to the extreme."
"Who gives a toss?"
Although Harry did not look away from the black eyes and the pale face, he was aware of Snape's hands, clenching as he gripped his own elbows.
"I made a misjudgement, an error," Snape said, speaking as though his jaw muscles were so tight that he could barely open his mouth. "I thought… never mind."
"You thought I wanted to kiss you," Harry whispered. "You were right. I do."
There was no sound but their breathing, and the tiny Parseltongue hiss of the doorknocker, whispering "Yesss, kisss….." Harry stepped forward, placed his hands lightly on Snape's shoulders, leaned in and touched his lips to the taut, angry line of Snape's mouth. "Pleasssse," he whispered, and realised that he was speaking in Parseltongue. Snape's breath came out in a sigh and his lips softened under Harry's. Harry pressed closer, allowing his tongue to emerge and gently stroke along the seam of Snape's mouth.
"This is wrong," Snape breathed against him.
"Not wrong. Not if you want it, and I want it."
"I am…. I am not what you think I am. Not what you need."
"What are you, then, Severus? Other than a man with desires and needs, like anyone?"
"I have done wrong before."
"And made atonement."
"I am about to do wrong again." Snape seized Harry's shoulders and pushed him away, holding him at arm's length. "Go. Go away and find your witch."
"That's over, Severus. This is what I want. If I'd known you were alive, I might have wanted this all along."
Snape shook his head, the untidy locks of his hair flying.
"You don't understand; I am not like you. We're different creatures, you and I, you were made to play in the light and I am a creature of darkness."
"That's crap," Harry said strongly, "utter crap! You made a mistake when you were very young, you worked to pay your debts and that's all behind you now. You are allowed to love!"
Snape released him, drawing back into the dark interior of his house.
Harry stuck his booted foot in the doorway.
"Not until you look me in the eye and tell me that you don't want me. Tell me that this isn't another of your noble sacrifices, that this isn't something that you want but are denying yourself the chance to have."
"Show me again that you're the bravest man I know." Harry backed up the foot with a few wordless charms before Snape thought to use his wards to repel him. "I know you want me." He thought of the brief, sweet pressure of lips against his own, that almost innocent kiss. "Let me show you how good it can be." He felt the door give slightly against the side of his toe. "Please, Severus. I do want you."
"Do you?" Snape's lips twisted into a wry grimace. "Will you?"
"Yes." Harry took a breath and gambled. "Let me show you, let me be your first."
Snape went very still. The pressure against the door relaxed and the hinge creaked as it swung wide again.
"I am no longer young," Snape murmured. "I am scarred, and bitter, no match for a young hero."
Harry reached out, slowly, wonderingly, and placed his fingertips lightly against Snape's cheek.
"Don't you realise how sexy you are? All that dark, controlled energy?"
"You will be disappointed."
"That's why you Disapparated, isn't it? You thought that I'd be disappointed in you and you went before I could find out what you're really like. You're so wrong, Severus."
Snape took a step backwards, clasping his hands in front of himself, white fingers intertwined like the petals of night-blooming flowers against the black of his robes. The gesture was a silent invitation. Harry did not give him the opportunity to change his mind; he stepped into the cool, dark hallway and closed the door behind him.
The cottage held the deep silence of old stone buildings and the distinctive scent that Harry had always associated with Snape; hot metal and spices, cool herbs and chemicals.
"God," Harry said, "I missed you. I didn't realise how much."
"You are mad, Potter." There was an edge of amusement in the dark voice, heat in silkiness, ginger and spice wrapped in chocolate.
"Call me Harry. Please?"
"Harry," said Snape, for once pronouncing the name without derision, "Harry Potter, ultimately you are my nemesis."
Severus Snape reached out and ran his fingertips down the curve of Harry's cheek. The contact was light and steady, barely enough to be felt, as if Snape feared that Harry would flinch away from a firmer touch. The black eyes followed the trace of the fingertips with utmost concentration, as Snape mapped every cell in Harry's skin, every angle and shade of colour, committing them to memory.
"My nemesis," Snape breathed, "God, you're so beautiful." Then Snape's gaze met Harry's with a look of wild alarm. Harry reached up and caught one of Snape's hands in his own before Snape could take flight again.
"No one has ever said that to me before," Harry whispered. His heart was thundering in his ribs and he could feel the heat pooling in his belly and his groin; burning in his face. "I've never wanted anyone like I want you."
Snape nodded once, a sharp dip of his head, wary as a marsh bird. Then, just as Harry was wondering how to proceed without alarming the man again, there was a sudden swirl of robes and Harry felt his back thumping against the plastered wall. A bony body pressed against him and Snape smirked down into his face from a distance of six inches.
"I may not have your vast experience but I can learn by example."
The dip of his eyelashes, the curves of nose, mouth, jaw and cheekbones, were all almost too much for Harry to bear. Snape was no beauty but he was exquisitely true to himself, all sharp angles and planes, dark purpose shining from his eyes. Harry reached up to touch the cool, pliant reality of his skin.
"Show me, then."
Here was a perfect moment as Snape leaned down to kiss him. Mouth pressed lightly against mouth, soft skin puckering as tiny muscles worked against one another, tensing and releasing. Snape tentatively suckled his lip; Harry responded by gently pushing his tongue into Snape's mouth. This obviously took Snape by surprise, but he returned the kiss with enthusiasm and their wet, slippery tongues explored one another, twining and pressing together.
Snape undulated against Harry as they kissed, the fabric of his robe twisting around his legs. Harry felt the hard shape of Snape's arousal, and the exact moment that Snape realised what he was doing. Snape froze. Harry slid his hand down and pressed it firmly against Snape's erection.
"Don't stop," he murmured, guiding Snape's hand to his own needy cock. "Please, don't stop."
As if waiting for that reassurance, Snape closed his fingers around Harry in a gloriously tender clasp, cupping his balls, then sliding up to press the heel of his hand against the blindly thrusting head of his cock. Harry returned the pressure and Snape groaned.
"Do that again and I'll come here and now."
"That's what cleaning spells are for," Harry told him and rubbed. Snape jerked against him, once, twice and again, and Harry felt a shudder running through him and the wet warmth in the cloth of his robe. Knowing that he had brought Severus Snape, master of sarcasm and self-control, to orgasm against a wall without even touching his skin, gave Harry a piercing sense of fulfilment. He pressed against Snape, revelling in the caress of those fingers even through the weave of his robe. He thrust into Snape's hand and came hard, seeing dark shapes against the wall as his vision almost blacked out.
They held on to one another, panting and sweaty. Harry was delicately balanced between amusement and embarrassment. He knew that it was the same for Snape, utterly the same, and in this moment they could understand one another completely if only Snape would allow it. He stared up into the dazed black eyes and said, "Look at me."
He felt Snape's mind, like a handful of icy needles, or sparks of sun on frost, all light and angles and jaggedness, blinding intellect over depths of loneliness and insecurity. Harry let him in, opening up his memories and trying to keep his mind limpid and still.
"You really do want me," Snape said.
"I said that I did."
"Slytherins always look for the ulterior motive." Snape frowned thoughtfully. "Let's go to bed."
"Now that was almost Gryffindor," Harry said, delighted. "You do learn fast."
"Just watch me." Snape whirled away and then paused. "Are you coming?"
Harry grinned and followed at an unsteady run.
- - -
Severus Snape, in turn diffident and ferociously needy, slowly peeling off his heavy robe, was the hottest thing Harry had ever seen. This was the stuff of fantasy; Snape at his mercy, willing but unsure.
The idea of deflowering an innocent witch or young wizard had never appealed to Harry at all; so he was amazed at how much he wanted to be the first to make love to this man. Maybe it was because Snape was no soft youngster but a powerful, clever wizard who would not allow Harry to dominate him.
Harry was filled with a fierce, unexpected desire to ensure that Snape was never again dragged into anything against his will. It was an instinct as powerful as his need to protect Teddy or his own children. He wanted Snape, needed Snape, but he wanted him whole and happy. Harry needed to hear the rare, hard crack of the man's laughter and cherish his sardonic humour.
"You watched me grow up," Harry said, sitting on the high, old-fashioned bed and pulling off his boots. Snape gave a melodramatic shudder.
"Do not remind me. You were a defiant and troublesome menace."
"Yeah, I know, and you were the saintly, patient teacher who had to try to educate me. You watched me grow up, then when you gave me your memories, I had the chance to watch you grow up, too. We were so alike in so many ways."
Surprisingly, Snape considered this remark with a modicum of seriousness.
"Perhaps we suffered a similar degree of early neglect."
"Yes, and then were manipulated and controlled by the same pair of megalomaniacs."
"And your point is?"
Harry's point had been to engage Snape in conversation that would make him forget his current apprehension, but he was not about to say so.
"My point is that in your memories, I watched you grow up from a troubled adolescent into a controlled, powerful and independent wizard who was capable of great sacrifice and heroism." Harry had by now stripped down to his dark red boxers. He rolled over onto his front and propped his chin in his hands, grinning at Snape. "Now I want to see you grow even further, into the sensual Slytherin that I know you really are."
Snape narrowed his eyes suspiciously.
"You are the only person in the world to ever want me, Potter. I do have my doubts as to your mental state."
"A great many people would want you," Harry said carefully, "if you would only let them close enough to try." He sat up and glanced down at the tented silk of his boxers. "Are you suggesting that this isn't genuine?"
Snape folded his arms; an attitude that would have been rather more impressive had he not been standing in a pair of ordinary white briefs, black wool socks and a scowl.
"You obviously get off on the novel and bizarre."
"Severus!" Harry slid off the bed and stalked across until he was standing almost chest-to-chest with the taller wizard. "Stop running yourself down! There is nothing bizarre about wanting you."
"It's pretty bloody unique."
"Of course it is, you git, your attitude puts everyone off! You are an attractive man – stop it, you are! You're elegant and sexy and you have a voice that makes me want to lick it. Or lick you." Harry leaned forward and dragged his tongue across Snape's left nipple. Snape gasped and took a step back. Harry grasped him by the shoulders to hold him still and tongued the right nipple. Then he sucked it. Glancing down, he could see obvious signs of interest occurring within Snape's underwear.
"Harry, what are you doing?" Snape murmured, his voice a honeyed rumble close to Harry's ear.
"Conducting an experiment."
"Seeing if I can reduce you to incoherence." Harry spoke without removing his mouth, allowing his tongue and teeth to move against the little stub of Snape's nipple. He could feel it hardening and Snape's breathing deepened. Harry licked and kissed his way downwards, until he was squatting on his heels. He pressed his nose against Snape's briefs, breathing in the musky scent of the man. Even this was faintly spicy, as if decades of brewing potions had permeated him with the essential oils of cinnamon and clove, ginger and rosemary. Snape's cock unfurled, hot and damp, straining the white fabric against Harry's cheek. Harry turned and took the tip between his lips. Snape whimpered, clutching Harry's head so hard that it hurt.
"What?" Harry mumbled against him.
"Erotic," Harry breathed into the wet cloth.
"Not enough." Harry hooked his thumbs into the elastic, lifted it so that the head of Snape's cock popped free, rosy with the hot blood flowing under its skin, took it into his mouth and sucked. Snape bucked helplessly and spurted bitter liquid. Harry was startled by the suddenness of it but he forced himself to swallow, not wanting to encourage Snape's idea that their behaviour was distasteful or offensive in any way. He smiled up, hoping he did not look like someone who had just given his first ever blowjob. Snape staggered, staring at Harry in stunned astonishment.
"See?" Harry whispered. "You are a sexual being, aren't you?"
Snape's expression changed into a smirk and his black gaze fixed on Harry with feral intensity.
"And do I learn fast, Potter."
Before Harry could react, Snape launched himself, throwing them both flat onto the bed. A little later, Harry decided that there were much worse things to have attached to his cock than an inexperienced but highly motivated Snape.
- - -
Teddy had done a great job. The sign swung gently in the breeze, plain black lettering on a background of a glass bottle. 'Echoes Apothecary. Potions and Perfumes.' The window display was equally tasteful; just five bottles ranging from a tall, slim vial to a squat jar, all containing the pale green 'Lily' perfume and bath essence range, standing against a swag of plain, unbleached linen. To one side was a matching vase containing a spray of lily of the valley under a stasis charm.
Harry turned at the sound of running feet. A small witch in Hogwarts uniform robes flung herself into his arms, squealing with delight.
"Dad! Dad, hey Dad, you're here!"
"I could be an apparition," Harry remarked, "Or someone under Polyjuice or a ghost or a hologram."
"That's a Muggle thing isn't it?" James asked, sauntering across the road with his hands in his pockets.
"It certainly is; ask your Aunt Hermione if you want more details. Where's Al?"
"In the sweet shop," Lily waved a hand in the general direction of Honeydukes. "He was talking to some Slytherins."
"You'd expect him to, Lils, since he is one."
Lily stuck out her tongue at her elder brother.
"You always have a clever answer for everything, don't you, Jimbo?"
Albus Severus arrived before the bickering annoyed Harry enough to prompt him to do something about it. Al was pink in the face and puffing.
"Sorry, sorry, Scorpius reckoned he'd found a hedgehog-flavoured Botts bean. Hi, Dad! Hey, what's happened to the apothecary shop?"
"Under new management," Lily told him importantly, pointing at the sign on the door. "If you bothered to read."
"Stop squabbling, please. There's someone I want you to meet."
Harry pushed open the door, ignoring the 'Closed' sign. The bell jangled and the new owner and his accountant looked up from the ledgers and documents spread out on the counter.
"Aunt Penny?" Al said, puzzled. Penelope Clearwater-Weasley smiled, nodded a greeting and began rolling up the scrolls.
Lily gasped and stared up at the tall, black-haired wizard.
"I've met you before." She frowned. "I don't think you looked the same, though. Was it a glamour?"
Snape inclined his head. "It may well have been."
"In Slug and Jiggers! You said I was like my grandmother; I recognise your voice."
"I'll owl you the rest of the figures, Professor, and I'll call back next week." Penny went out with a bundle of paperwork under her arm and Harry tried to quell the butterflies dancing in his stomach. James was frowning, unsure, while Al stared around in fascination and Lily's small cool hand slipped into her father's, as if she sensed his anxiety.
"Come through," Snape said and swept through the door behind the counter. The Potter family followed him into the workroom, where a cauldron stood ready next to a chopping board and bowl of big, oval green-and-yellow fruit. Lily inhaled deeply.
"Do you make the perfumes? Are you Mr Spellman?"
"That is the name I use for my business, yes."
"Did you call the Lily one after my grandmother?" She stared up at Snape, unafraid, and Harry saw the corner of his mouth twitch.
"That is my business, Miss Potter, not yours."
"What are you making now? It looks very interesting."
Snape's eyebrow quirked. "What do you think I'm making?"
Al examined the fruit, the little bottles of cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, allspice berries and cloves, and the line of empty glass jars.
"It looks as if you're making spiced quince jelly."
"Ten points to Slytherin."
"But you can't do that, you're not a teacher…" James allowed his words to trail off into silence as Snape turned slowly towards him. The young man coloured under the dark regard like an errant first year.
"I began to wonder if you spoke at all," Snape purred. "How like your father. He used to attempt to tell me what I could, or could not do. Indeed, so did your grandfather, whose name you carry. I have spent a large proportion of my life demonstrating to Potters that I never have, and never will, obey their commands."
"Severus," Harry said, unable to prevent a pleading note from creeping into his voice.
"Severus?" Al whispered, "I'm called 'Severus' too."
"I am aware of it," Snape sounded supremely, gloriously nonchalant. "You were named after me."
"You're Severus Snape? But you're dead!"
"As I remarked, I refuse to obey any decree from a Potter, especially that one."
"You were the Headmaster." Al gazed at Snape as if he expected him to sprout another head. "You were a hero, you helped Dad fight Voldemort and his snake killed you."
Snape twitched his hand, his wand appeared in it and he directed it at the kettle sitting in the hearth. "Amazing, isn't it?" Another flick and the teapot, mugs, sugar and milk arranged themselves on a tray.
"Wow," Lily breathed. "This is really exciting. You know, sometimes Dad tells us stuff and you never know if he's having you on or not. Did the snake really bite you in the neck?"
Casually, Snape reached up, hooked a finger in his collar and pulled it away from the skin, revealing the white, puckered scars.
"Cool," Lily said.
"Tea." Snape levitated the tray across the room to the table, casually transfiguring empty storage boxes into extra chairs.
"Are you coming back to teach potions at Hogwarts again, Professor Snape?"
Snape gazed across the table at Al. "I cannot imagine anything that would either convince me to do so, or persuade the school governors to allow it." He gave a delicate shudder. "Accompanying a third generation of Potters to Hogwarts – no, I think not." The eyebrow went up. "Why, did you wish to learn Potions from me, Mr Potter?"
"Everyone says you were the best." Al blushed and carefully added milk to his tea. "I like Potions."
"Tell me, Mr Potter, what would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?"
"The Draught of Living Death, sir." Al's smirk was eerily like Snape's. "And I know where to find and how to use a bezoar. I'm not a dunderhead."
Snape's mouth did not move but the skin around his eyes crinkled briefly, as if he was repressing rather more than his smirk. "Perhaps there is hope for us all yet."
Harry heard James take in a deep breath. Unlike his father, James rarely took anyone at face value. Yet James said nothing, until they had finished their tea and were on their way out, Lily enthusing about the bottle of bubble bath in Snape's newest range of toiletries. James nudged Harry's shoulder and asked very quietly, "Is he your new boyfriend?"
James was standing stiff and tall, his hands clenched and face pale with tension.
Something inside James seemed to relax, as if Harry's admission answered a question James had not asked, rather than the one he did. He nodded and said softly "Al? Al, it's all right."
Albus Severus's green eyes darted from brother to father and back. Harry was aware of Snape, watchful and silent nearby.
"The way you look at each other," James said, "The way you touch."
"Yes, that's what I meant. But anyone can see how you want to."
"That wasn't what I meant when I asked 'why'."
"I know." James patted his brother's shoulder once, as if restraining himself from giving the younger boy a little shove. "Tell him, Al."
Al stared into Harry's eyes as if lifting a heavy weight.
"I've got a boyfriend. James found us in the library, kissing. He said I ought to tell you. Mum'll go ballistic when she finds out."
"Very probably," Harry agreed, knowing Ginny. "Surely you knew I wouldn't?"
"There are good Slytherins. You're one, aren't you?"
"I know that! It's just… " Al let out his breath, sighing the words aloud onto the air. "He's Scorpius. Scorpius Malfoy."
"As long as you're happy," Harry said.
Somewhere in the background, Severus Snape gave a stifled snort of amusement. Without even looking round, Harry sent a minor stinging hex his way, and heard Snape's Protego charm repel it. Lily squeaked and clapped her hand over her mouth, eyes wide in delighted awe.
"Dad! You hexed Professor Snape!"
The hex bounced across the shop and set off the fire alarm. The Boy Who Lived Twice grabbed Lily and Al by a hand each and ran for it, James pounding along beside them as the alarm shrieked its indignation to the denizens of Hogsmeade and Snape swore fluently in French.
"Fire! Run for your lives! Cast 'Aguamenti' before you go! Save the valuables! Take the cash box! Witches and children first! Help! Send for the Aurors! Run for –"
The voice snapped off into silence.
"I think he cursed it," James said as they slowed to a walk.
Harry nodded. "No doubt he did."
Harry took a deep, cleansing breath of air and tipped back his head, gazing up at Hogwarts castle on its hill.
"Will he be angry with you?"
"I expect so, Lily, but he'll forgive me." Harry draped an arm around his daughter's shoulders. "He always forgives me, in the end. All will be well, you'll see."
And so it was.