Lust Potion Number Nine
Part One: Third Time's the Charm
It was the apothecary from hell, or so Severus had decided when he first saw it. Narrow shelves, an inefficient layout, inadequate brewing facilities – if he'd had a choice, he would have turned it down flat.
Rickety stairs led up to living quarters that were too small, with just enough room for a bed under the sloping eaves. Inadequate was a word that described life after the war perfectly. The fact that Severus hadn't expected to have a life after the war was irrelevant.
He hadn't been given a choice.
He hadn't been given a choice in his clientele, either, and so he was stuck with wiping the noses of pimple-faced wizards who'd married the wrong person and didn't have the good sense to admit it and have it done with. The Ministry's Marriage Guidelines aside, they could have pled for divorce in front of the Wizengamot, and likely won the case.
The apothecary had smelled like mothballs and mildew when Severus moved in – old Arachimedes Stout hadn't put any effort into upkeep of the place, and he'd unloaded it on the Ministry as fast as a fairy could say 'fiddlesticks' – but Severus was able to get it back into working order. The unlimited budget that the Ministry had set him for any and all ingredients used in aphrodisiac potions was certainly helpful. Severus hadn't met many potions ingredients that couldn't be worked into aphrodisiacs for some reason or another.
Still, it took him months of experimenting to produce the potion that the Ministry wanted, and a final three months to make it fizz and taste like champagne – something only an idiot would ask a potion to do. Burkenbridge, the Minister pro-tem (the only under-secretary of an under-secretary who hadn't been a Death Eater or dead after the war) had about the amount of wits and potions knowledge that Severus expected to find in the Minister for Magic.
He had been neatly trapped – it was this or Azkaban. Severus would brew any number of potions to stay away from the Dementors, to keep the memories of Lily that he still had after spilling most of them carelessly on the floor, trying to convince Potter to march off like a lamb to the slaughter.
But it was done, and the boy had lived, and was well.
The Prophet carried the news of the birth of Potter's heir – front-page news, with a picture of the infant in question in the centre. He was wrinkled and red and looked nothing like his namesakes. James Sirius, indeed.
James Sirius Potter. The name was reminder enough that there had been two men in the world who would've thought that this was more of a living than Severus deserved.
Severus used that issue of the Prophet for tinder, lighting a fire under his cauldron.
The shop bell jangled, and Harry-bloody-Potter walked through the door. Severus placed his palms flat on the counter, grounding himself with the feel of the cold glass surface.
"May I help you?"
After Potter's defence at his trial, and the crack he'd made afterwards about how he hoped that Snape would treat his customers better than he'd treated his students, Severus was determined to be civil. Civil, but no more than that. He'd be damned if he would call Potter 'sir.'
"I…" Potter slouched, looking around the shop, shoving his hands in his pockets. "I heard that you were running this place now."
"As you can see."
Potter twitched, his hands out of his pockets and clenched into fists at his sides, and Severus kept his face in a careful, neutral mask. He wouldn't give Potter the satisfaction of seeing a response.
"I … err … do you have any potions for headaches?"
With a sweeping gesture, Severus indicated the shelves that were stocked with raw ingredients and simple bases. "No. We do not stock many ready-made potions. As you can see."
"I could provide a formula for you, but judging by the aptitude you've shown for potions in the past … may I suggest acetaminophen?"
"Available at any chemist's," Severus said. "You'll find that it works wonders for the majority of headaches."
"I wasn't half-bad at Potions in sixth–"
"I'm afraid that I don't have the time to hold your hand and guide your every motion now, Mr. Potter. Unless you're about to tell me that my book miraculously survived the Fiendfyre in the Room of Requirement–"
It had been his mother's book, after all, and the shame of hand-me-downs set aside, there were few enough things that Severus had from her. It was ashes, now – less than ashes. Fiendfyre left little behind in the wake of its ravenous hunger.
"You know about that? That it was in there when the fire–"
The glass was growing warm under Severus's hands, but he counted off the number of Ministry regulations that bound his conduct and the penalties for misdemeanours. "There is little that happens at Hogwarts that escapes the attention of the Headmaster. Albus was not exaggerating his knowledge, though he had a more … whimsical way of showing it than most Headmasters do."
Potter gave him a hard look at the mention of Albus's name. Severus refused to flinch or turn away, and he met Potter's gaze squarely.
He spoke first, breaking the silence. "Unless you are going to enlist the help of Miss Granger – pardon me, Mrs. Granger-Weasley – for the potion in question, I suggest that you purchase a premade potion from Slug & Jiggers, or seek out a Muggle chemist and try some of their remedies."
Severus uncorked a bottle of Stinksap and began to ladle it out into smaller vials – gripping his wand in his sleeve, he sent the fumes wafting in Potter's direction, and smirked when he fled.
Small pleasures made his life bearable.
Severus was filling another order for the Ministry – the third that week, their new law was having results – when Potter came into his shop again. He was wearing the bright robes of an Auror trainee, and they swished around him as he moved. He'd grown into the habit of wearing robes, then. Some Muggle-raised wizards never learned it at all.
Reaching for a quill, Severus signed the form in front of him to certify that the potion was brewed correctly and would have no side effects, unexpected effects, or ill effects and that he, Severus Snape, had brewed it as part of his parole and submitted it to the Ministry with the understanding that it would not reduce his sentence.
He said nothing to Potter – did not make a sly remark about his aptitude for brewing headache potions or about the efficacy of Muggle remedies. He put his quill back in his stand and, taking another goose-feather, painstakingly began to cut a new nib.
"I … are you busy?"
"I believe that you are well able to see my occupation, Mr. Potter."
"I … that is, I mean, I … umm, do you have any Pepper-Up potion?" The words came out in a rush, more mangled than was usual with Potter. He slaughtered the English language with an appalling frequency, but his enunciation was not often this bad.
Severus frowned. "As I told you on your last visit, I have very few ready-made potions in stock. In general, most potions lose their efficacy after long storage – there are a few exceptions, but I won't tax your brain with them. You would be better suited with taking your potions needs to Slug & Jiggers."
Potter slouched forward then, leaning against the counter. "What are the potions that you have in stock, then?"
Potter, with the perfect marriage photographed so often in the Daily Prophet – Potter with his beautiful wife and son – surely he hadn't come to Severus's shop for the usual reason. Surely this fumbling and fidgeting had nothing to do with the potion that Potter was looking for. He didn't need the potions that Severus sold.
Setting down the quill that he was sharpening, Severus led Potter to the one shelf that was stocked with potions vials. "Most of them will be of no use to you. Here," he said, taking a vial from the shelf and thrusting it into Potter's hand, "here is your Pepper-Up Potion."
Potter gaped at him and Severus permitted himself a small, tight smile. "That will be one Galleon, five Sickles, if you please. And don't forget to go to Slug & Jigger's next time. I'm sure I won't have the potions that you require."
With any luck, that would keep Potter out of his shop.
Severus was measuring out ground fennelwort when Potter came in. He knew it was Potter without looking up, because Potter was the only one who ever came into the shop and went straight to the counter without even trying to help himself.
He continued working on the wart-removing potion without looking at Potter. Some wizards and witches would go to any length to get their spouse to sleep with them, it seemed. Severus counted himself lucky that his clientele was desperate – more profit for him if they needed vanity potions and were too stupid to brew them for themselves.
"I, umm … I know that you don't stock much, but I … I heard that you make these … potions."
"My opinion of your intelligence is greatly increased, Mr. Potter. You've known me for eight years, and you've learned that I–"
Severus set the fennelwort aside and reached for a jar of preserved newt eyes, setting it squarely in front of Potter. He took his time choosing the perfect specimen for his potion, holding each candidate up to the light and examining it closely.
"I meant … specific potions. I heard that you…"
"Do attempt to be specific if you want one of my potions to help you, Mr. Potter. I might otherwise think that you wanted a potion to make yourself eloquent or turn yourself blue."
Severus looked up from his newt's eye to see that Potter was turning a satisfactory shade of red.
"I … the … this friend of mine … he told me that you sell … potions that help. At night."
Severus let Potter see his smirk. "Indeed. Are you referring to Dreamless Sleep? I don't have it in stock just now, but I'd be able to brew it for you in a few days."
"N-no, not Dreamless Sleep."
Pretending to be puzzled, Severus tilted his head. "Hmm. I can't think…"
"For – for – they make it easier in bed. To, you know."
"I don't believe I do know, Mr. Potter."
Potter was still bright red, and his hands were clenched at his sides. "I mean – I've been trying to ask –"
He shot a quick glance at the door and, seeing that it was still closed, took a step toward Severus. His body was pressed against the glass-fronted cabinet as he hissed in Severus's ear, "A potion for – for sex. For when you're … you know. Unable to…"
Severus had brought this very point up with the Ministry when the nitwit Burkenbridge had told him of her plan. The Ministry's Propagation and Restoration Emergency Guidelines – Severus had seen the gleam in her eye when she mentioned them.
Get all of the wizards and witches under the age of ninety married and saddled with children. Burkenbridge thought it was a way to have a happy, contented populace, a pool of people who would vote for her. Severus thought it was a way to have a slew of dysfunctional marriages. Look at Potter and Weasley – Granger and Weasley – if the divorce rate didn't skyrocket in twenty years when the Guidelines expired, Severus would take one of his aphrodisiac potions himself.
"Of course," Severus told Potter. He was, on this point, strictly professional, no matter who his client was. The Minister had made herself clear on that point – be kind to your clients or face the kindness of the Dementors in Azkaban. "I'll need to have a description of your symptoms in order to prescribe the correct potion for you."
Potter was still pink, his cheeks as flushed as they'd be if he'd been caught in the middle of intercourse. Which he hadn't, of course. Severus banished the mental image.
Thinking of Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley together was enough to make anyone ill.
"Yes, your symptoms. Are you able to achieve an erection?"
"I … you want me to–"
Severus reinforced the locking spell on the door with a flick of his wand, and cast another spell that warded the windows. "Complete privacy," he said. "Are you satisfied with these precautions, or would you like to add your own wards to the shop?"
Potter hesitated for a minute, but then he said, "No. I trust your wards."
"Fine," Severus said. He turned his back to Potter, and opened the cabinet behind the counter. It was made of dark, finely carved wood – the only thing, apart from the antique glass counter, that Severus had kept from the original shop.
He kept and sold potions ingredients, and some of the more common medicinal remedies, yes, but this was the real business of his shop, the potions of lust and love. With these potions, he could twist a person's heart and lead them to the altar or the most carnal bed. With a drop of the most potent, he could make a priest forget his vows or make a straight man queer.
It was all financed by the Ministry to prop up the flaw in their scheme – and it was all completely legal under their new laws.
Potter gaped at the row of glittering vials, and Severus reached forward and, putting a finger under his chin, closed his mouth for him. "Do you see why I require an accurate description of your symptoms? All of these potions are designed to alleviate different conditions. Impotence is no less complicated than the common cold – there are countless variants, and each has its own treatment.
"Everything that you tell me will, of course, be confidential. It's covered under the Ministry's Propagation and Restoration Emergency Guidelines, subsection three, if you need to confirm that."
"I … no, that's not necessary." Potter looked up at him and gave him a tremulous half-smile. "I suppose there are lots of people who sort of got stuck with the wrong spouse in the hurry to marry, huh?"
"But you're here brewing potions to help them out. That's really…"
"You were at the trial. This is part of my parole, nothing more." Severus gave Potter a glare that would, with any luck, bring back all his memories of the despised Potions Master. "Do not ascribe any altruistic intentions to me, Mr. Potter. If you…"
The last wizard he'd treated had romanticized the situation and made Severus out as some sort of dark, Byronic hero, a saviour in disguise. It had been the option of this or Azkaban – Severus was doing this out of his own self-interest. If Burkenbridge was any less of a nitwit, she'd have brewed a few simple lust potions herself, but Severus had seen his chance first and he had taken it.
Potter shuffled his feet. "Err, no. I won't. I just…"
Severus waved him silent. "I've no interest in your thoughts, unless they directly concern your condition. If you could keep the non-essential back-chat to a minimum?"
"I … yeah. Sure." Potter sounded relieved, and Severus returned to the pertinent question, asking him again if he was able to have an erection.
"Umm, you know," Potter said. He fidgeted with a loose thread, not looking at Severus. "Yeah."
"Are you able to masturbate successfully?"
After much prodding and prompting on Severus's part, and evasions and hand-waves and "umm, you know" on Potter's part, Severus came to the question that was sure to make Potter squirm.
"Judging by the fact that you and your wife have a child, you were at one point capable of having sexual intercourse with her. Can you describe what has changed between that time and the time when you found yourself unable to–"
"Err," Potter said. "I never – that is, I had enough to drink at our wedding – at the reception after the wedding, that is, I wasn't drunk at the wedding – err, that is … I don't remember." He had looked at Severus for one brief second when he asserted that he hadn't been drunk at his own wedding, but he turned his attention back to his hands immediately afterwards, fidgeting again with the loose thread dangling from his sleeve.
If the Ministry regulations and Severus's own promise of confidentiality hadn't forced him to keep this exchange a secret, he could have made a killing by taking the details to the Prophet or Witch Weekly.
"Have you on any other occasion consumed that amount of alcohol and found that–"
"No," Potter said. "Definitely not – I'd, I – no."
"I see," Severus said. He reached for the smallest green vial on the top shelf.
"This should work for you, if I'm any judge. Take two drops on your tongue half an hour before you wish to engage in sexual activity."
Severus waited until Potter had reached for the vial and then he said, gripping Potter's fingers and holding them in place, "Do not take more than the recommended dose, Mr. Potter, or you will find yourself in St. Mungo's being treated for an erection that will not go away. It is not as pleasant as the teenaged boy's fantasy. If you found this conversation uncomfortable…"
"No more than two drops, right," Potter said. He drew his hand back as soon as Severus released it, holding the bottle close to his chest. "And if it doesn't…"
"Come back and see me again, of course." Severus shut the cabinet doors on his array of aphrodisiacs and curled his lips in something that might have resembled a smile. "There are other potential treatments to try, if this one fails."
He watched Potter leave, saw the square of blue sky over Diagon Alley as the door opened and closed. The sunlight cast long, crisp shadows on the cobblestones, and there wasn't a cloud in the sky for as far as Severus could see.
Part Two: The Reluctant Fairy Godfather
After three weeks, Potter was back. Severus hadn't expected the potion to last three days for the happy couple, but half of the Prophet's front-page articles were about Ginny Potter's brilliant Quidditch career. If she was in Bulgaria, and Potter was in London…
Severus shrugged. It made no difference to him.
Potter put the empty vial on Severus's counter with a tiny clinking sound. "I, uhh… could I have some more of this potion, please?"
"Certainly," Severus said, "if it's still the best potion for your particular case. Describe how efficacious it was in–"
Potter laughed and ran a hand through his hair. "God. Sitting around talking about my sex life with you, of all people."
"If you do not wish–"
"No, I do – I do. It's just that … when I was at school, this is the last thing I'd have imagined. And you and my moth–"
Severus had slipped his wand down his sleeve and had it in his hand in a heartbeat, pointing it straight at Potter. "You will not mention her to me."
Potter held his hands up, palms out. "All right, all right. I didn't mean–"
Severus wasn't pacified. "If you think that you can demean her memory–"
"That's the last thing I want to do. I'm sorry, Snape."
The boy had seen fit to take Severus's private memories and show them to the world – first to the Wizengamot, at Severus's trial, and then to the Daily Prophet, when the press had been unkind to him. He'd given an impassioned speech, or so Severus had been informed by Hermione Granger after he snubbed Potter in the courtroom after his trial.
As if Granger had any notion of the complex Arithmancy that bound wizarding life debts together – as if she could calculate the scales that tipped between Severus and Potter – as if it mattered. At this point, Severus didn't bother counting.
"Very well," he said, slipping his wand back up his sleeve. "See that you don't forget."
He took the small green bottle that Potter had set down and put it with the rest of the discards in a box heaped with rainbow-coloured glass. "If there's nothing else, I hope you'll excuse me…" he said, starting toward the back room.
"Wait, please. I need – I can't, not without the potion–"
Of course – the reason Potter had come. Severus turned back, opening the cabinet. "Here," he said, and he took down another vial from the top shelf and pushed it across the counter toward Potter.
"Is this – how do you know this is the right one for me?"
"I wasn't aware that you actually wanted to discuss your treatment. I thought you preferred to–"
"I said I was sorry."
Potter's apologies were hardly that – he held himself as if he were ready for a fight, with his chin jutting out at a belligerent angle and his hands clenched into fists, one of them held close to his wand.
Severus approved of that at least. The Aurors were training Potter's lamentable Muggle instincts out of him before they could become fatal, before a man who responded to provocation with fisticuffs or unknown spells could wreak havoc on the world.
At least Severus wasn't forced to teach him any longer.
"Were there any significant reactions to the potion, other than the obvious?"
"The obvi–oh. Yes, just … ah, just that. No hives or turning blue or anything like that."
"You used the potion when you engaged in sexual congress with another person?"
Potter had flushed pink again, and he didn't look at Severus when he muttered something that might have been a "yes."
"And you are still able to achieve an erection and masturbate to completion alone?"
"I … yes."
"Then yes, I believe that this is still the correct potion for you. Contact me if you experience any adverse side effects or if the potion stops working."
Severus waited until Potter had gone until he slammed all of the doors and set his privacy wards, escaping up the creaking stairs to his room above the shop. If it had been anyone but Potter…
The point of contention was, or so Severus gathered, the Potter family Crup. Apparently Trelawney had made some goggle-eyed prediction at the wedding about Potter's happy marriage involving three children, a Crup and a Puffskein, all jammed into a cozy little cottage. Ginny Potter had heard the so-called prophecy, popped out the first child, set her heart on owning a Crup, and then… Severus was not clear on the details, but based on the agitated way Potter was pacing the confines of his shop, disaster had struck.
Azkaban or parole – he might have chosen differently if he'd known that it involved playing relationship counsellor to Harry bloody Potter.
"You might try talking about this with her," he said, pushing a bottle of the impotency potion across the counter at Potter and raising one eyebrow, hoping that he got the hint.
"She doesn't listen–"
"Whether she listens or not, may I remind you that I am under no obligation to do so?"
Potter turned to look at him, gaping as if he'd never considered the possibility that Severus had better things to do than listen to his woes. "Right," he said. "The potion. That's all you…"
"Potions can do many things, Mr. Potter, but they cannot force two people into a happy relationship with one another. You should have learned that in your sixth year at Hogwarts."
Potter pushed the proffered vial of potion back across the counter at Severus. "I know," he said. "And if this is all the help you can give me … I'm grateful."
Picking up the vial, Severus held it up to the light. The liquid inside was clear, with the telltale iridescence of the properly made potion. "Then you don't want this?"
Without looking at Severus, Potter said, "I can't … that is, two drops isn't enough anymore. Do you have…"
He was fidgeting, and Severus could guess what had happened. "You took more than the recommended dosage, didn't you?"
"I … it wasn't working, and I … I panicked. I'm sorry, I'll follow your directions in the future, I just–"
From the second shelf in the cabinet, Severus took down another vial. This was the same brilliant green colour as the first, but it was a faceted square bottle, and held more of the potion. "A slightly stronger variant on the potion you've been taking," he said, handing it to Potter. Their fingers brushed.
Severus put a finger under Potter's chin and tilted it up, leaning in to look him in the eye, close enough to smell his cologne. "You've learned your lesson about following directions, I hope?"
"Good." Severus released him and stalked over to the cabinet, closing the doors with a heavy thud. "Take three drops of this variant, no more. If that dosage isn't sufficient … come back here, and I'll give you the next stronger variant."
"Right," Potter said, clutching the bottle. "Thank you."
Severus had had a long time to think about Potter, quiet nights over his shop when his candles had guttered out and there was not enough light for reading. He'd think about Potter then, about his mother and how she might have lived only to see her son sell his future happiness away to fall in line with a nit-brained Ministry scheme. He'd think about what Potter was doing, whether he was in bed with his wife, whether he'd taken Severus's potion.
"Don't thank me," he said. "Thank the Ministry for passing the legislation that propelled you into this marriage in the first place."
Potter was back within a week. Severus didn't ask any questions – instead, he took down a bottle of Potter's potion and set it on the counter.
He'd had Burkenbridge in his shop before dawn, giving him grief about the increased quotas for potion production and exhorting him about the necessity to ensure a brighter, happier future for the wizarding world. Severus could envision one, but the focal point of his fantasy was Burkenbridge being out of the Ministry, so he didn't mention it to her.
At Hogwarts, at least, he hadn't had to be tactful. But his parole was of such a tenuous nature that if Burkenbridge took it into her head to cancel their agreement and send him back to Azkaban, he'd have little recourse. Released on his own recognizance, in order to brew potions that promote the good of the wizarding world, and thus redeem his past mistakes, the official notice had read. Severus had a good suspicion that insulting the current nitwit of a Minister didn't count as 'promoting the good of the wizarding world.'
He wasn't, after having exercised boundless restraint, ready to deal with an example of the 'brighter, happier future' that Burkenbridge's Guidelines had produced. Doubtless, Potter would have used his slim intellect and reckless sense of self-preservation to marry the wrong witch in any event, but Severus didn't think that Burkenbridge deserved to escape the blame for any of the disasters she'd produced.
Not that Potter would recognize a disaster if it waltzed up to him proffering a ring and whistling the Wedding March. Not that Potter had the good sense to take the potion that Severus had offered him – he stood there, staring at the bottle. His left eye twitched, and then he looked up at Severus.
"I can't take it," he said. "I can't – Ginny and I just had an awful row over it. She said that if I really loved her, I would be able to–"
"Nonsense. Have Granger-Weasley dig up some of the Muggle literature on impotence and hit your wife over the head with it. The inability to perform in a sexual situation has nothing to do with–"
"I slept with–" Potter had a violent coughing fit that sent him into spasms and made his eyes water.
"Finite incantatem." Severus handed him a handkerchief, and Potter accepted, using it to wipe his eyes.
"How did you know to–"
"I guessed," Severus said, shrugging. "It was either a jinx to keep you from revealing the name of the person you'd slept with, or you'd developed a sudden allergy to the feverfew in the shop. The first possibility seemed more likely."
"Well." Potter looked at the floor, seemingly at a loss for words. "It doesn't matter what his name is, anyhow. It didn't mean anything – and Ginny doesn't know about it, thank God – but it proves that I can–"
"Of course you can," Severus snapped. "Of all the idiotic things– You can masturbate, can't you? You're obviously capable of sexual activity. You don't need to cheat on your wife in order to prove that."
Potter still wouldn't look at him. "I didn't exactly go out trying to cheat on Ginny – it was an accident, and I really–"
"An accident?" Severus raised an eyebrow, though it was wasted on Potter. "Did you accidentally rip your clothes off, accidentally lock yourself into a broom closet, or accidentally fall onto his cock?"
"No, I … he slipped a bit of something in my coffee, and I just…"
"A bit of something?"
"Something that might, or might not, have felt a lot like Amortentia," Potter said. "Or like Amortentia is supposed to feel, I guess. I never actually got dosed with it before. But the point is–"
"The point is that you should be a half-decent Auror after two years of training – the point is that no one should be able to slip anything into your coffee, or into anything else that you eat or drink. If you have no sense of self-preservation–"
Potter looked small and miserable, leaning with his elbows on Severus's counter and his shoulders hunched up. "The point is that I cheated on Ginny, and she hates me already because I can't – without the potion, and then I – without the potion, with–"
"Stop babbling." Severus turned over the sign to indicate that the shop was closed, and he grabbed Potter by the elbow, leading him into the back room. "Sit. There. Don't move."
A series of simple spells was enough to reveal that Potter had in fact been dosed with Amortentia. He wasn't under the influence of any other potions, though a sophisticated search revealed the residue of Severus's aphrodisiac potion in his system. He hadn't used it very recently, then. Severus scribbled a few formulae on the back of an owl-order mailing catalogue – just a few adjustments to take the aphrodisiac potion into account – and started brewing.
"This is a counter-agent," he said, setting the flame on its highest setting and tossing handfuls of vervain and rue into the cauldron. "You'll need to take it for three days running, in order to completely nullify the Amortentia. There are consequences to combining potions, Potter – if you'd been taking any one of the other potions which I prescribe for your condition, you'd be drooling in St. Mungo's with Lockhart now."
"I hardly did this on purpose–"
"You need to be more careful." It wasn't a word likely to make much of a dent on the Gryffindor psyche, but Severus used it anyway, spitting it out as if it were poison. He couldn't count the number of times that Potter had needed to be more careful.
"Your wife, if she is irrational, might blame you for what happened, but neither she, nor any court of law, could reasonably consider you as being guilty of adultery. Nor should you blame yourself for it. There are certain things…" Severus paused, stirring three times counterclockwise, "…which cannot be resisted. Forces of nature, for example. The Unforgivable Curses. Certain classes of potions. The Gryffindor impulse to stupidity."
Severus lifted a ladleful of the potion, examining the colour of it and judging it satisfactory. "Are we, or are we not, discussing the fact that you allowed someone to slip an illegal potion into your morning coffee?"
"Right. Okay. Fine. But the real problem–"
"I believe I've mentioned before, though perhaps not in so many words, that I've no interest in hearing about your problems with your wife. For the purpose of furthering your education, let me mention again that your wife's position on impotency is unfounded. You'd do well to confront her with the facts – as I said, enlist Granger-Weasley's help. Or do the research yourself for once."
"I can't ask Hermione to–"
"Then do the research yourself for once."
"But that won't fix anything–"
"If you think that having a partner who is openly hostile about your condition will improve the situation, then by all means, let her continue to hold her misconceptions. If you think that having a relationship with a supportive, helpful partner will bolster your flagging self-esteem and generally lead to a happier marriage and the eventual resolution of your problem, then educate her.
"But for pity's sake, drink your potion and get out of my shop. I don't want to hear another word about it."
Potter left, taking the additional doses of the remedy against Amortentia and promising to return soon.
As if Severus wanted Potter to return.
Potter's next panic attack occurred when his wife announced the impending birth of his second son. Severus was rather cheered at the proof that his potions were working – he'd done nothing but dole out doses of aphrodisiac potion and hear Potter complain about his marriage, and since the Amortentia incident, he'd harboured the suspicion that Potter was as bent as a …
"I'm going to be a father," he told Severus for the third time.
"Indeed. Sit." It was the work of minutes to boil water in a small non-reactive cauldron – Severus threw in a handful of herbs, let it steep, and then passed a mug full of the stuff to Potter. "Drink."
Potter did so, raising the mug to his lips obediently, and Severus let him do it without taking the opportunity to comment on Potter's idiocy. They'd already discussed his propensity to drink potions that had been slipped into his drinks by strangers – he was too trusting by far, but now was not the time for the lecture of self-preservation.
Severus doubted that repeating it would have any effect on Potter at all.
"We can't agree on whose turn it is to take the Crup out for a walk – how are we ever going to raise two children together?"
Severus waited for the mild calming potion to start taking effect before he asked Potter why he hadn't thought of that before marrying the girl.
"I didn't – I – I had to," Potter said, kicking his feet against the legs of the stool that Severus had hauled out into the shop for him. "Burkenbridge finagled me into it … said something about this Marriage Guideline being the only real way to restore peace in the world, and threatened … well. It doesn't matter now, does it?"
"Hardly." It didn't surprise Severus to hear that Burkenbridge had got Potter to go along with her scheme – she'd been playing the political game before Potter was born, and had a handy arsenal of tools to use against him. She'd probably threatened to reveal Potter's use of the Unforgivable Curses to the public and haul him up for trial.
"And then after the wedding, Ginny was pregnant, and … it's not that I don't love James, but…What am I going to do?"
"Drink the rest of your tea. Go home and pretend that you're delighted. Let your wife pick out expensive things for the baby – help her choose, if she wants. Hold her hand and bring her ice cream when she wants it, and…"
"You don't want to? You don't think you can stand it? You need to–"
"I don't know how." Potter drained the rest of his tea and clutched the mug to his chest. "I don't know how to talk to Ginny without screaming at her, lately. And she's not exactly thrilled with the pregnancy – a second missed season will ruin her career, and she's blaming me, and I…"
"And you're going to go home and live the life you chose, Mr. Potter. I don't know why you think there are any other options."
Potter's gaze wandered around the shop – the small, dark room, the shelves piled high with potions ingredients, the cabinet behind the counter – and then he looked at Severus. "I'd rather stay here," he said. "It feels … safer. I love James – I think I love Ginny, in spite of everything, I do, but I feel … I feel better when I'm talking to you than when I'm with…"
"Out," Severus said. He Summoned the cup out of Potter's hand and pointed at the door. "Get out of my shop and go home to your wife."
Potter left without protest, and Severus was left standing there, holding the mug that still held the warmth from Potter's hands.
Months passed, and Severus dealt with his other clients – all of whom had the good sense not to trouble him with their personal affairs – filled orders for the Ministry, and developed a new variation on the potion that Potter was taking.
It was not that he developed it for Potter, though at the rate the man was going through Severus's supply of potions, it wouldn't be long before he needed a stronger version. It was a formula that worked well for many of Severus's clients.
And so he'd gone from Death Eater to spy, Professor to Headmaster, convict to potions peddler: Severus Snape, inventor of love philtres and aphrodisiacs.
Potter came back before Severus had counted off nine months from his last visit – not that he was counting, but he was attentive to detail and had happened to notice the date.
"Hey," Potter said, putting his elbows up on Severus's counter, leaning close to him. "Thanks for … last time. What you said–"
"What do you require?" Severus asked, opening his cabinet.
"Huh? Oh, nothing. I just came to…"
"I am quite busy, as you can see."
Potter looked at the blank parchment in front of Severus and the dry quill he had snatched up when Potter came in. "Yeah, I can see that. But Snape … let me take you out for a coffee or something, okay? I've never seen you outside of this poky little shop."
"You are hardly likely to see me in anything other than a professional capacity, Mr. Potter." Severus drew himself up and, bending over his parchment, dipped his quill in the inkwell. "If you will excuse me…"
"Wait." Potter caught his wrist. "Why don't I ever see you outside of your shop? You must go into Diagon Alley to buy supplies – to get food–"
"Those of us who are literate are, in fact, capable of purchasing anything we desire by owl order. Now, if you please…"
"You never do go out, do you?" Potter tugged on his sleeve. "Come on, Snape – a cup of coffee with me won't kill you. You're paler than you ever were at Hogwarts. The fresh air and sunlight would do you good–"
Severus looked around his apothecary, the four walls that closed in on him every day. Every day, the shop was smaller. "Terms of my parole, Mr. Potter. Released on my own recognizance in order to brew potions for the benefit of the wizarding world – not to gad about Diagon Alley drinking cups of coffee or do anything else. If you'll release me–"
He looked down at Potter's hand, still touching his wrist, and Potter let him go.
"None of your business, Mr. Potter. Don't forget to shut the door behind you." Severus swept into the back room, locking the door behind him before Potter could think to follow.
To think that it had taken Potter this many months to notice that Severus never left his shop – it was even more absurd to think that he would care.
Potter was back before Severus had finished brewing his latest batch of potions for the Ministry – he'd been telling the truth when he said he was busy. He had started to ladle the golden, effervescent potion into vials when Potter stormed into his shop.
"I can't believe she did this," he said, leaning against the counter with a huff. "She said – that old, miserable hag–"
"This is unlikely to improve the state of your marriage, Mr. Potter."
"I'm not talking about Ginny, I'm talking about the Minister."
Two ladles per vial – the dose needed to be carefully measured. Severus stopped in the middle of filling one of the vials, having forgotten whether he'd added one ladleful or two.
He set the vial aside. "What are you talking about, then?"
"I told her that there's no earthly reason why you should be cooped up in this little shop and she laughed at me. Said something vile about there being no need for you to pollute the streets that decent people walked on – Snape, she–"
"There was no need for you to discuss my case with the Minister."
"Yes, there was."
"Indeed not. If you are going to meddle–"
"But she's got no right–"
"That may be, but it's irrelevant," Snape said. "She's the Minister, and that gives her the power to do it. You don't understand how this game is played, Mr. Potter."
"Aren't you even angry about it?"
Severus turned his back on Potter, discarding the vial he had been filling and selecting an empty one. Two ladles each.
"It's been years," he said, keeping his voice flat. It was habit by now. It wasn't Azkaban. Here, at least he had his potions. His work to keep him busy. Occasional visitors to break the monotony of his days.
Potter was touching him then, one hand on Severus's shoulder. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be," Severus said. "Go back home to your wife and leave me in peace. There's nothing you can do, and I don't want your pity."
When Potter was in school, Severus never would have said as much – never would have revealed so much to him. Now, though, it was the one thing he could say that would make Potter leave.
Severus stirred a sugar cube into his tea, watching it dissolve. He hadn't thought of the outside world in months – before Potter came into his shop the first time, it had haunted him. He'd read the Prophet daily, scouring it for hints about the world beyond the four walls of his shop.
It didn't seem important any longer. He'd told Potter – it had been years, long enough for anything to cease to matter. There were orders to fill for the Ministry. He had clients coming in on a regular basis, now that word had spread about the potions he offered. Some of his regular customers asked him to make their other potions as well, and paid extra for it. It was a living.
Severus flicked his wand, darkening the shop windows. He didn't need to see the street outside, the world awash in sunshine, the people walking by. He had his shop, and everything he needed was delivered by owls.
He'd probably have a hell of a reception if he showed his face in Diagon Alley – Death Eater, they'd call him, and murderer, and worse. No. In spite of Potter's Gryffindor indignation, it wasn't worth it.
The shop bell jingled, and Severus looked up, setting aside his mug of cold tea. It was Potter again.
Severus opened his mouth, about to say something that would deter him – and Potter stepped through the doorway, carrying two steaming cups with him. "I brought coffee," he said. "I thought … I thought you might like some."
They sat at the counter together, leaving coffee rings on the glass where Severus weighed out potions ingredients. Severus held the mug in his hand as if it were a foreign object, something he'd never seen before.
Potter took his coffee with cream and sugar, stirring in more of both than could be considered healthy. Severus shook his head when Potter offered him the tiny packets of sugar and single-serving capsules of cream.
"This is decent coffee," he said at last, breaking the silence. "Where did you–"
"Fortescue's," Potter said. "Had to promise to bring the mugs back straightaway, but you know. I just. I guess I figured you'd rather have coffee than ice cream."
There was nothing more to say after that – Severus could only picture what would have happened if Potter's plan had succeeded, if Severus was at liberty to agree to go out for a cup of coffee with him. The two of them would have sat in a restaurant, garnering strange looks from waitresses and passers-by alike, awkward and silent.
They had nothing in common. Apart from Potter's condition and Severus's ability to provide treatment for it, there was no reason why they should exchange the time of day, much less share a cup of coffee.
Then Potter looked up from his cup and smiled at him, and Severus felt his lips twitch in response. With a bit of coffee on the corners of his mouth, Potter looked rather younger than his years. With his eyes shining as he smiled, he looked rather like his mother.
Severus spared a thought for Lily, and then made a real attempt at conversation. It was the least he could do.
Potter was back within a week, and this time he tripped when he came in the shop door, sending hot coffee splashing over the floor. "Bloody–"
"Watch yourself," Severus said, casting up a quick general ward to protect the potions ingredients on the shelves.
"Sorry – sorry." Potter set down the coffee cups and dabbed ineffectually at the stain on his robes. "D'you have a towel?"
Severus cast a drying spell on him instead, and Potter looked abashed. "Oh, right."
Potter passed a half-empty cup of coffee to Severus, who set it aside on the counter. "Is there something I can do for you today, Mr. Potter?"
"I, ah…" He drained his cup of coffee to the dregs, setting it down with a thump. Judging from the lines under his eyes, he needed the stimulant.
Raising an eyebrow, Severus asked, "Another bottle of your potion?"
Potter shook his head and ran a hand through his hair, pushing it back from his face. "I almost slept with a bloke at work yesterday."
"It's none of my concern if you use the potion with your spouse or with other people," Severus said. He suspected that half of his clients – or more – were engaged in adulterous liaisons. The Ministry Guidelines were partly to blame, of course, though some of them wouldn't have been faithful to their partners in any case.
Burkenbridge's approval ratings were still sky-high – no Minister could have been worse than Cornelius Fudge, but it was disgusting, nonetheless.
"No, I just … I wouldn't have needed the potion." Potter put his hands in his pockets. "Do you think that means…"
"I have no opinion on the matter." Severus shut the door of his cabinet and Banished the coffee from his cup before handing it back to Potter. "Do clean up the spill before you go."
"You say that as though you don't like my company," Potter said with a pout.
"Whatever made you think that I did?" Severus asked, but Potter only laughed.
The apothecary was near the end of Diagon Alley, and was close to one of the borders that the Alley shares with Muggle London. Sometimes, when the air was clear and the partitions between worlds were thin, Severus heard the sounds of the city – the rush of motorcars and the clang of church bells announcing a funeral or a wedding.
On one of the days that the bells tolled, Severus opened the Daily Prophet to see the announcement of Potter's son's birth, and promptly cursed.
No doubt that Potter would have intended to tell Severus himself, but the best of intentions – well. Severus wasn't qualified to say anything on the subject of good intentions. He folded the newspaper with a sharp crackle of parchment, and stowed it behind the counter.
Potter stormed into the shop somewhat later, his hair the wildest that Severus had seen it and his clothes in disarray. "Sorry I'm late," he said. "Got held up at St. Mungo's."
"Shouldn't you be there still?"
"Nah, Ginny and the baby're asleep. Won't even miss me." Potter put his hands behind his back and looked at Severus. "There's something I was meaning to tell you…"
"That you're enough of an idiot to saddle your son with an abomination of a name? No need – the Prophet has already done the dirty work for you." Severus unfolded the paper and thrust it at Potter.
There seemed to be nothing to say, and Severus busied himself with counting out frogs' legs. If Potter only knew the ingredients that were in the aphrodisiac potion he downed without question, there might be fewer little Potters entering in the world. Severus considered the idea, and then discarded it – Potter had told him once, in the midst of prattling about his marriage, that the mediwitch he'd seen had suggested he and Ginny try Muggle fertility therapies.
"I wanted to tell you myself," Potter said, sounding hurt. Severus took the paper from him and stowed it under the counter again.
"Then do so, if you wish. I've certainly never been able to put an end to your inane prattling before."
"It's not the same, now that you know already." Potter looked up at Severus through the thick fringe of hair that had fallen over his eyes. "Do you really mind that much?"
Severus closed the jar of frogs' legs and set it aside, grabbing the Firebog Nettles next. "Yes," he said, keeping the word clipped and short. Let Potter ask his reasons or try his patience, and Severus would boot him out of the shop.
That Lily's grandson should be named after Severus and the man that he had killed…
"He wouldn't exist if it wasn't for you," Potter said, gesturing to the cabinet behind Severus. "In more ways than one, obviously, after all the times you've saved my life, but that way, directly. I just thought … hey, name him after the two bravest men I've ever known, and he's sure to turn out all right, isn't he?"
"He will be mercilessly bullied by other children," Severus said. "And if, among your ideas of parenting skills, is one whereby giving a child a splendid name will make him 'turn out all right,' then I'm afraid that-"
"No, it's not just that, of course, but still – it's a good start, isn't it? I mean … if he turns out to be anything like you…"
"Do not," Severus said, wheeling and facing Potter, "wish that on your son or anyone."
"Why not? I think – I thought – I wanted to make you his godfather, but Ginny wouldn't agree on that, and you couldn't come to the ceremony anyway–"
It had gone on long enough. Severus closed the jar of nettles and indicated the door. "Good day, Mr. Potter," he said, and Potter, after giving him one long, bewildered look, left the shop.
Part Three: Something Borrowed, Something Blue
It was harder to keep Potter out of the shop, after that, no matter that Severus had redoubled his efforts. He kept coming to visit – and he kept going through the various potions that Severus had concocted, developing a tolerance to each of them in turn. There was only one remaining in that series, and though Severus had thought that he might try his hand at developing a stronger variant, the problem of toxicity from increasing doses of gargoyle bile seemed insurmountable.
Potter kept coming to the shop for visits, not just the potion, and this was what Severus found objectionable. Having finally figured out that Severus didn't often drink coffee, he had started bringing tea with him. Sometimes it was the vile, Muggle kind that Severus's father used to drink, sometimes it was fancy imported blends that he'd got at a specialty grocer's, and sometimes it was the strong black tea that tasted exactly like the stuff they'd served at Hogwarts.
"I miss it too sometimes," Potter said when he caught Severus eyeing a cup of the latter, his hands stroking the rim of the cup. "I suppose you must, more than I do … you spent more time drinking it, after all."
"It … brings back memories," Severus said. There were things that he wouldn't discuss with Potter.
"I've been wondering something," Potter said, drawing patterns in the tea-rings on the glass.
"I'm not surprised. I was sure that one of these days, you'd discover that you had two brain cells to rub together, and earth-shattering things would happen."
Potter only laughed. "I can't believe I thought you were cruel, back at Hogwarts," he said, giving Severus an indecipherable look. "You're funny."
"Your perceptions have never been very keen."
Waving that aside, Potter took another gulp of his tea and said, "But what I was wondering … I was so sure that I saw you die, that day in the Shrieking Shack. How is it that you survived? Did you have a Horcrux?"
Severus had nurtured a snake in his bosom – all this time, he had coddled Potter, given him his potions, permitted him his tea and his questions and his intrusions. He'd been too lenient.
"If you think that–"
"I don't think that you'd do it, not exactly," Potter said, still doodling with his finger in the spilt tea. His finger squeaked as it moved across the glass. "Not a Horcrux … not knowing what goes into making them. I just – I just don't see how you could've survived, otherwise.
"I saw you die."
"You saw what I wanted you to see – in the memories, in the Shrieking Shack. Exactly what I wanted you to see, no more and no less. Do you think that I'd have trusted a stupid boy like you to do what was necessary under any other circumstances?"
"But nothing. You were a dunderhead, Potter, just as I told you when you were at Hogwarts, and that's not changed. You inherited your father's lack of brains and misused what little of them you have, just as he did."
Potter had that particularly obstinate, Gryffindorish look on his face – the same one he'd had before he dashed off to fetch the Philosopher's Stone or fallen down to the Chamber of Secrets, no doubt. "If you think that you can brush me off with some rubbish excuse – I still have nightmares about that night, and I dream that I come into your shop and find you in a pool of blood and nothing I can do will make you breathe again–"
"I have little interest in your nightmares, Potter. See a Muggle head-doctor if they're troubling you, but get out of my shop and leave me alone."
"You can't just kick me out," Potter said, putting his hands flat on the counter and leaning in close to Severus.
"You can't just accuse me of one of the darkest and most evil forms of magic known to man," Severus said. "Get. Out."
When Potter lingered, Severus raised his wand and triggered the anti-shoplifting wards, blasting him from the shop with a strong gust of wind.
The door slammed behind him, and Severus Banished the cups and the remnants of the tea they had shared, scrubbing the counter clean where Potter had touched it. A Horcrux, indeed.
Potter was back a few days later, with a pretty apology and two cups of tea and a demand for more of his potion, please. Severus suspected that it was desperation that had driven him back, rather than any real sense of remorse, and refused the tea.
"Apologizing only because you can't keep your wife happy in bed without my services is despicable, Potter–"
"No – no, I mean it, I'm sorry. I know you would never make a Horcrux and it was wrong of me to even suggest such a thing," Potter said, the words tripping off his tongue as if he'd memorized them. "I just–"
"You just thought you'd accuse me of dark magic and then waltz in here to demand one of my potions?"
"I just … didn't know how to apologize, so I kept putting off coming here, and then … well, Ginny made me do it." Potter, to give him some credit, at least shuffled his feet and looked shame-faced when he said it, and Severus wouldn't put it past Molly Weasley's daughter to henpeck her husband into doing something, but…
He raised one eyebrow, and Potter flushed. The relationship between Harry and his wife was one that Severus had never monitored closely – that way led only to a pack of Gryffindors and boundless frustration, he was sure.
"Your wife made you apologize to me," Severus said.
"Well, not that, but she wanted me to get some more of the potion – said that since her career was ruined anyhow, we might as well have another child."
"And you agreed to that?"
"Well, yeah, why not? Wouldn't you have done the same?"
First the apology full of false contrition, and now this. "What, would I have agreed to bring a child into the world for such specious reasons? Absolutely not."
Potter hesitated and then said, "Well, when you put it that way, it does sound pretty awful. But it's not like we wouldn't love the kid, and well…"
Severus quirked an eyebrow at him. "Well?"
"It's like it's this game. I asked her about having children someday. She said, of course she wants some. I asked her how many, and she said 'not so many as to overwhelm me.' I told her that maybe I wanted to be overwhelmed, and all the while she's only thinking of her career, and I–"
"The way you deal with your spouse is your own affair," Severus told him, resisting the effort to drink a cauldron's worth of headache potion. Potter's marriage gave him a migraine.
"Ginny's much easier to live with when she's pregnant. Damned if I know why, but…"
"So you put your own convenience above the welfare of your children."
Potter flared up, clenching his hands into fists and leaning closer to Severus, looking as if he'd like to hit him. "You haven't tried living with her when she's in one of her difficult phases – I hardly think that you've got anything to talk about, Snape, since you're not even married – you have no idea what it's like–"
It was a new insult, and it rolled off the tongue well, Severus thought. "Impotent brat."
It stopped Potter in his tracks. "What?"
"You're a brat – a spoiled child concerned only with his own desires – and impotent. I thought it fitting."
"You said you'd never use anything I told you against me – it was supposed to be in confidence, you–"
"And so it is," Severus said. "I haven't told anyone other than yourself."
Potter stared at him for a second and then turned and stormed out the door.
The days when Potter didn't come into the shop were … lacking in excitement, to say the least. Severus read the Prophet from cover to cover, boiled water for tea in a kettle instead of waving his wand to heat it, and made twice as many potions, filling up the hours.
After he argued with Potter, he had filled an entire day, and when he had finished paging through the Prophet, he sat staring into the empty fireplace.
It wasn't as though Potter came to his shop every day – it wasn't as though Severus was somehow dependent on him for company. He had other clients, other visitors … no, he had other clients but no other visitors, he realized. Potter was the only one who came and stayed for longer than it took to pick up a potion.
The days that Potter didn't come, he usually took care of the real business of his shop – all of the witches and wizards made unhappy by the Ministry's Guidelines, all of the orders for the aphrodisiac 'champagne' that the Ministry used at weddings.
When Potter came back, Severus did his best to drive him away again.
"I read in the Prophet," he said, looking over a jar of horntailed toad skin at Potter, "that you've been having a torrid affair with Viktor Krum. That you're his … how did they phrase it? … his boytoy."
A borrowed insult, but one that apparently hit home – Potter turned bright red and started pacing the room. "I don't know how they get these things – it's not a torrid affair, it's just – I just–"
"You just wanted to be with someone without the use of a potion?" Severus asked.
Potter stopped in the middle of the room and turned to stare at him. "How did you know?"
"How did I know? Need I remind you that I'm the person who brews the potion for you?"
"No – I mean, how'd you know that I didn't need it when I was with Vik–"
"You have in the past engaged in liaisons with other men and described yourself as not needing the potion under those circumstances. It was reasonable to suppose that that was still the case."
"Still. There's no reason to borrow insults from the Prophet and call me a boy toy. I'm not seriously involved with him–"
"I didn't bring up the subject because I was interested in the details of your relationship, you dolt."
Potter looked almost upset before he turned his back on Severus and started pacing again. "Then why?"
"I simply wanted to know whether I should continue to expect to brew these potions for you. If you divorce your wife and become Krum's kept man–"
Potter turned to stare at him. Turned, and stopped, and rubbed a hand over his eyes. "You are the utter limit, you know. A complete cold-hearted bastard. If you'd only understand…"
"I understand perfectly," Severus assured him, but Potter turned and stalked out of the shop.
The question of the aphrodisiac potion was an impossible one to solve. There was only one remaining potion that Severus could offer Potter when the current dosage failed to be effective. Stronger variants – well. Everything that Severus had been able to brew had been stronger, it was true, but also irredeemably toxic.
He didn't think that Potter would want to sleep with his wife at the cost of ending up in St. Mungo's for the rest of his short life, his neurons melting away in a pool of gargoyle bile.
Considering the problem as he brewed another batch of the strongest dose, Severus made a slight modification. When Potter came in, asking for something stronger in his usual round-about stammering way, Severus gave it to him without a word.
"Blue," Potter said the next day, having stormed through the shop door and stood there in silence, glaring at Severus until his other customers decided it was the better course of prudence to make a hasty exit.
He waved a hand over his body, reversing the glamour that he wore and letting Severus see the effects of his potion. "You turned me blue."
"I did mention at one point that if you were not specific as to your potions needs, I might–"
"I was specific."
"Ah, I see," Severus said. "Standing and staring at the floor while you shuffle your feet and say 'umm … ah … could you maybe … give me something … more?' is specific."
Potter glared at him. "You knew what I meant."
"That's good to know. At this rate, I'll have a complete Potter-to-English dictionary by the end of the year. Specific: accompanied by stammering and vague–"
"Stop it," Potter said. "You turned me blue when I expected a potion to – to, umm, you know–"
"Tell me, how do you and your wife generally agree to engage in intimacy? Your pre-coital conversations must be fascinating."
Potter's normal conversations weren't fascinating – he returned to the source of his grievance with dogged persistence. "You turned me blue," he said for the third time.
"So I did," Severus said. "You called me a cold-hearted bastard."
That one had stung, though he hadn't let it show at the time. He'd thought that Potter was past that – that if what he felt for Severus was not friendship, it was something close to amicability. For Potter to spend so much time in his company voluntarily, and then to insult him as he'd done at Hogwarts, as if nothing had changed–
"Bloody hell, Snape, I didn't mean it. And this isn't Hogwarts, and I'm not James-bloody-Potter – you can't just go pranking me every time I lose my temper and say something I shouldn't."
"I can't?" Severus asked, arching one eyebrow. "Whyever not?"
Potter seemed to find that funny, and he collapsed against the counter in a fit of laughter. "Whyever not – if you had only seen Ginny's face–"
"I'd rather not, thanks," Severus said, and that set Potter off laughing again.
"All right," he said when he'd recovered, "let's call it a truce, shall we? I'm sorry I called you a cold-hearted bastard. I'm sorry for all the things I said to you in school, and for letting your mother's book get burnt up in the Fiendfyre. I'm sorry for–"
"A complete recitation of your sins isn't necessary," Severus said. "I don't have all day."
Potter gave him a look, and Severus relented, reaching under the counter and retrieving a bottle of the correct potion for Potter. "Very well," he said. "I apologize for turning you blue."
Potter conjured a table and chairs, a pot for tea and two china cups, just as if nothing had changed. It was unconscionable that Severus should notice a difference between the days when Potter visited and the days when he stayed away, but it seemed that all of his attempts to drive Potter out of his shop and his life were set for failure.
Part Four: All's Well that Ends Well
"I've been promoted," Potter said, passing Severus a take-away box with a slice of chocolate cake in it. "I thought we could celebrate together."
"I didn't realize that there were higher levels of stupidity," Severus said, "but I congratulate you nonetheless."
Potter used his fork to flick a dollop of frosting at Severus. "Not like that, you git," he said. "I've been promoted to Head Auror."
He took a big bite of chocolate cake and slowly licked the fork clean. "Matter of fact, I put a memo on Burkenbridge's desk first thing this morning – to start reviewing your case, you know."
"You've been trapped in here for years, yeah, and brewed everything the Ministry asked you to. Even invented new potions for them. It isn't right that you should be–"
"I doubt Burkenbridge will see your side of the story. You shouldn't jeopardize your new position needlessly."
"After everything you've done for me?" There was icing on the corner of Potter's mouth – Severus pointed it out, and Potter licked it away. "I wouldn't have James or Al without you, you know. Say what you like about my marriage, but I wouldn't trade that for anything."
"James or Al?"
"Yeah," Potter said. He paused with his fork halfway to his mouth. "I was reading your file, like I said. The champagne at my wedding? I didn't realize until yesterday that it was actually your potion. I thought I was … that I had … just drank a lot, you know?"
"No," Severus said, "I don't know. I've only heard of a few people having that particular reaction before."
Potter shrugged. "Anyhow. Speaking of potions." He hesitated, pushing the crumbs of his cake around with his fork.
Silently, Severus passed his uneaten slice of cake over to him, and Potter dug into it without hesitation.
"I was thinking about the potions," Potter said. "I know there's nothing more you can give me – I can see into that cabinet just as clearly as you can, and I know there's nothing on the lower shelves in the right color bottles. I was wondering … don't you have some Amortentia lying around, maybe?"
"I was just thinking that if I fooled my body into thinking that I loved Ginny, then maybe I could…"
"Amortentia is illegal under the current laws at the Ministry," Severus said, keeping his voice flat.
That Potter would choose to bind himself to a woman he didn't love with a potion – that Lily might have seen her son come to this, if she'd lived – it didn't deserve an answer, but Severus was bound to give him one.
"Let me discourage you from any thoughts you might have of brewing it yourself," he said. It was easy – treat it like a professional subject, like any other discussion about potions they'd had. "Six of the ingredients are illegal to purchase or possess. Brewing of the potion is regulated under the Ministry Guidelines – the same ones that prompted you to choose to marry so young, I might point out, it being thought to be irresponsible to encourage people to marry and give them the means to coerce a false affection.
"The potion is well beyond your skills as a brewer, and if you were to enlist the help of any of your friends – Mrs. Granger-Weasley, for example – they would be held equally liable for the crime."
Potter poked at the remaining chocolate cake. "But surely you could–"
"But what will I–"
"You might try learning to solve your problems without the benefit of potions," Severus said. He prodded the empty cake boxes with his wand, Banishing them, and then stalked up the stairs to his quarters, slamming and locking the door behind him.
Most of his encounters with Potter ended with a door slamming. This occasion required the most vehement slam yet, and the wood still vibrated with the shock of it after Severus had heard Potter leave the shop.
Perhaps now he would learn his lesson and stay away.
"I don't see why you won't just give it to me," Potter said, coming as close to whining as Severus had heard him since he left Hogwarts.
"It's illegal. Have I not made that clear enough for your Knut-sized brain, or does the Ministry's Head Auror have some difficulty with the concept of illegality?"
"No, but I…"
"You have some reason why the law should not apply equally to you?"
Potter deflated, his shoulders slumping. "No, but I … I just don't see how there's any other choice. You said that the blue potion was the strongest that you've got left. If there's nothing after that, what will I do?"
"Perhaps you could stop forcing yourself to have sex with your wife, when it is so obviously distasteful to you, and go out into the world and choose a partner with whom you are better suited. Viktor Krum, perhaps?"
Severus hid the pang that went through him at that thought. Potter with Viktor Krum – Potter, not needing Severus's potions – Potter would have no need to visit Severus's shop. He'd have no earthly reason to come in and stay for a cup of tea, breaking the monotony of Severus's day.
"Viktor Krum? But Viktor Krum is–"
Having no need to hear the name of Potter's paramour repeated incessantly, Severus cut him off. "Having done further research on the side effects that you reported after taking the initial dose of aphrodisiac potion at your wedding … I discovered that they were also shared by my other homosexual clients."
"What? Could you repeat that in English?" Potter stood, still in the middle of the room, in the middle of a pool of sunlight that came from the window. He, who could go outside and walk in the sunlight whenever he chose, was blinking rapidly.
"That was in English, but if you need me to explain it in words of two syllables or less – the potion that you took at your wedding was designed to create lust and promote fertility, ensuring that the newlyweds would have a good chance of starting their family on the wedding night."
"I still can't believe you slipped a potion into my champagne like that–" Potter sounded sullen, and Severus couldn't blame him. The Ministry's actions were unconscionable.
"I did not slip a potion into your champagne, some Ministry flunky poured it for you. And you drank it, without even attempting to determine whether it was champagne or poison or a foreign substance. To be fair, it was mentioned in the fine print of the Ministry Guidelines, which you tacitly agreed to when you were wed."
Potter waved his hand in the air. "But never mind that … what was your point about the potion?"
"That when gay men or women take this potion, it makes them violently sick the next morning, approximating the effects of a hangover."
"So you mean I–"
"Will not be able to have intercourse with your wife without the aid of an aphrodisiac potion or some other outside force, yes." Severus took great pleasure in watching Potter's face turn pale. There was small wonder that he was bored on the days that Potter didn't visit – he was an entertainment in and of himself.
"You mean I'm gay?"
"You have been dallying with Viktor Krum, and you've not yet realized that? You are his pretty little boy, kept around for your looks instead of for your brains."
"That's not true, I–" Potter broke off, looking down at his fists. He unclenched them, spreading his fingers in the air and staring at them. "I wasn't dallying with him. It was just a … thing. A one-night thing. Which is over."
"A one night stand with another man might not indicate that you have homosexual tendencies, but your reaction to the potion certainly does. You have, if you remember, mentioned before that you felt a certain attraction to men, which would alleviate your need for the potion–"
"But I'm married to Ginny."
"So you are. Under the Ministry Guidelines contract, which mandates that you remain married to her for a minimum of twenty years or the production of three children, whichever is shortest."
"And your parole is for twenty years – but no option for cutting it short because of the number of children you've produced. Which is unfair, considering how many have been the direct result of your potions–"
"My parole and your marriage are not directly analogous," Severus said, his lips twitching. The wild leaps of Gryffindor logic never ceased to amuse him.
"No, but I … Ginny's pregnant again," Potter said slowly, "so that makes three. Enough to fill the contract, at least."
"Indeed," Severus said, at a loss for anything more appropriate to say.
"I hope it's a girl," Potter said, running a hand through his hair. "I'm running out of names for boys."
"Statistically, you have equal chances of producing a boy or a girl, in spite of the fact that you've already–"
"Lily Eileen," Potter said, interrupting him. "Well. Ginny doesn't like that much – she says Lily Luna – but I think Lily Eileen sounds better, don't you?"
"Does she give you complete free reign over the names of your children? I'd have thought that at least one of her relations would've deserved a namesake by now."
Potter laughed. "Nah. Everyone on her side is still alive – somebody'd end up miffed on account of not being chosen. We thought about Fred, for awhile, when we were naming James, but in the end, she decided that she didn't want to upset George."
"Eileen is not on your side of the family tree, and she bears no possible relation to you. I hardly see why–"
"Well, neither are you or Albus, but…" Potter trailed off, waving a hand in the air.
"Gryffindor decision-making processes," Severus said, and Potter stuck his tongue out at him.
"Better than Slytherin ones, I'd say. Draco named his child Scorpius Hyperion, of all things."
"A fine name."
"You can't seriously think…" Potter slouched, resting his elbows against the counter. "Yes, you can and you would, wouldn't you?"
"It's irrelevant in any case, as I'm unlikely to have children."
Potter, still leaning against the counter, regarded him closely. "I don't see why you shouldn't – if you wanted to. Though maybe you got enough of children at Hogwarts. But being a father's brilliant. No matter what happens with Ginny, I'll want to be with the kids however much she'll let me."
"I've no doubt that you could win custody, if you chose to bring it up to the Wizengamot. Your reputation–"
Potter brushed that aside with a wave of his hand, and Severus – in spite of himself – watched the graceful arc of Potter's fingers through the air.
"But what am I going to do, honestly? If I … and Ginny–"
"If Ginny and I," Severus said, correcting him. "Your grammar always was atrocious. And I have always maintained that I will not be your relationship counsellor. Go seek help in the Muggle world, if you need someone to talk to."
"If you would just give me the Amortentia…"
There must have been enough venom in Severus's single word to dissuade Potter, because he pulled himself away from the counter that he'd propped himself up on, and started pacing the length of the store. "I don't know what to do."
"It's simple – stay with your wife, or leave her. Why are you doing this to yourself, Potter?"
Potter leaned against the counter and then, apparently thinking better of it, sidled around it, coming to stand in front of Severus. "I wish it was that simple," he said.
"What are you doing?" Severus asked, his throat closing up. Potter was close to him – entirely too close for comfort.
"I wasn't thinking of Viktor, when I was with him," Potter said, and with those extraordinary words, he reached up and kissed Severus. His lips were soft and he knew how to kiss, at least – seducing Severus with the sweetness of it, he'd backed him into the cabinet and was pressed against him, the heat of his body against Severus's, overwhelming him – and the shop bell jingled.
Severus pulled himself away from the kiss, gasping for air, his heart pounding as if it hurt. Potter looked equally distressed. He flushed bright red and ran a hand through his hair. Looking at Severus, and said, "That was–"
The customer who had entered the shop cleared her throat. Potter gave Severus another look and then fled, the door slamming shut behind him, everything left unsaid between them.
Severus touched his lips – they were cold. Harry Potter had touched him, had kissed him, and had fled at the first sign of trouble.
"Ooh, what was that about?" Mrs. Braisethwaite set down her shopping bags and pulled the stool up to Severus's counter. "Looks like your young man–"
"He is not my young man," Severus said. He glared at her, but she'd been right to interrupt them. Potter was not, and never would be, his. He took a deep breath and, reaching under the counter, pulled out the vial of Blah-Be-Gone potion that Braisethwaite had asked him to brew for her unhappy spouse. "If there's nothing else?"
Severus waited until she was gone before closing the shop and heading upstairs to his room. Potter was not, and never would be, his – Severus repeated that to himself like a mantra, focusing on it. There was no point in dwelling in useless possibilities and what might-have-been.
The months passed by without Potter in his shop – slowly, as they'd done before he ever darkened Severus's doorstep. Watching the sunlight stream through his windows and observing the wardrobes of his customers, Severus had a sense that the seasons were changing.
It had stopped mattering a long time ago. When he'd been at Hogwarts, there had been long stretches of time when he hadn't ventured outside of his dungeons except for meals in the Great Halls. He wasn't the sort who gadded about or claimed that they needed sunlight like oxygen.
But now, he couldn't go anywhere – couldn't seek out Potter and shake some sense into him – couldn't go down to the shadowed hollows in the Forbidden Forest and wait in the darkness, wondering what dangerous beasts were about in the night.
Now, everything had changed. Severus followed Potter's progress in the Prophet, read about the arrests he'd made as Head Auror, the sweeping statements he made about it being time for change at the Ministry, the glow of Ginny Potter as her pregnancy became obvious.
From the photographs the Prophet reporters took, you wouldn't have guessed that Potter and his wife weren't happy together. They didn't touch, but they smiled at each other, and there was no reason for Severus to think about having Potter's smile directed at him.
It was very likely that he wouldn't come back, now that Severus's potions could do nothing more for him. Severus wouldn't need to see him again. They could pretend that the kiss had never happened – there would be no need to pretend. It simply hadn't happened.
Severus found himself drinking tea in the afternoon again – he timed it for when the sunlight hit the patch on the floor where Potter had conjured chairs and table, where they had sat together like old friends, drinking tea.
He had, apart from his afternoon tea, adjusted his schedule to what it had been before Potter had interrupted his life – he was self-sufficient and he filled the hours with potions, keeping his days busy. He was, therefore, utterly surprised when Potter came into his shop, a gust of the brisk autumn wind following him.
"Hi," he said, pulling a pair of mittens off his hands. "I wanted to be the one to tell you this time, instead of letting you read it in the Prophet."
Severus stared at him for a moment before finding an appropriate reply. "Don't tell me that you've come up with some God-awful name for your youngest child – Severina, or something equally absurd."
Potter grinned. "No, nothing like that. You've been pardoned – here," he said, passing a scroll to Severus.
"Burkenbridge has found her popularity rapidly dropping, and it only took a few rumours in the right places. She's desperate to hang on, and I told her that if she knew what was good for her, she'd release you before I went to the Prophet with the whole story."
Potter paused and struck a dramatic pose. "Severus Snape, the war hero, innocent of all crimes, but detained unlawfully by the Ministry – it would have read well, I think."
He slumped out of the pose, and Severus allowed himself a half-smile. "So you've finally learned to play the political game at the Ministry, then."
"Yeah, being Head Auror isn't just about deciding who gets the glamorous cases and who gets to stake out Mundungus on cold, rainy nights … Ron made a fuss over Ginny, so I gave him that assignment for a few weeks."
"Abusing your power already? You have learned to play the game."
"I had the best teacher – man who decided to turn me blue when I was being an idiot." Potter's grin was bigger now, and he took a deep breath. "So, what about it? The divorce won't be official for a few more weeks, but I thought…"
"Harry Potter, thinking. Call the Daily Prophet," Severus said. Potter had rushed into his shop, just as he'd done at first, and turned Severus's world over with the force of a hurricane. He was here. He stood in front of Severus, flesh and blood, reaching out to him.
The days that Severus had filled with potions and busy nonsense seemed very empty. "I wouldn't think too much," he said, trying to still the loud beating of his heart. "Gryffindors are known to be quite prone to drippy, romantic nonsense – though I hope you've learned your lesson about marrying in haste."
"Indeed. But I was thinking … maybe you could call me Harry," Potter said. "And maybe … maybe we could go out for a cup of tea."
He reached out and accepted Potter's outstretched hand, and twined their fingers together. He felt the pulse of Potter's heart, close to the surface of his skin. "That would be acceptable," he said.
"Brilliant." Potter smiled at Severus – the same tender smile that he'd seen directed at Ginny Potter in the photographs. Severus's lips twitched, and he allowed them to curve into a smile.
"Here," Harry said, flourishing his wand, "let's get you bundled up for the weather."
With Harry at his side, wearing the coat and scarf that Harry had conjured for him, Severus took his first step through the door of his shop and out into the sunlight.