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The Unexpected Side Effect of Draught No. 9

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~ Five Years Later (June 2004) ~

Severus Snape was not the type of man who routinely took inventory of his life. For so many years, there had been nothing worth taking inventory of. He had never had a future before, only duty, and could not precisely remember a day when he was truly free to make his own choices. Aside from the one day I made the worst choice, he thought, rubbing his left forearm absentmindedly.

Nevertheless, despite this unfamiliar territory, cataloging and reviewing the more recent events of his life was precisely where Severus found himself early one morning. And not just any morning, but a Saturday – five years later, almost to the day, when he'd uprooted his life in Britain and followed his young lover to the sunny climes of Costa Rica.

Severus had awoken early, as had long been his habit. It was still dark outside, the sun barely a rim of red-orange as it tickled the peaks of the mountains to the east. The house around him was quiet – only the rhythmic tick of the grandfather clock in the foyer punctuated the silence.

On mornings such as these, Severus typically made himself a steeped, herbal tea. His stomach was not yet attuned to the stronger brew he preferred at midday; instead, he'd discovered the herbal variety was quite gentle and could often lull him back to sleep for another hour or two. Today, however, he had skipped his tea in favor of sitting on the sofa in the great room, his head back against its cushions, admiring what he could see of the ceiling's soaring vault – an arch that rose fifteen feet above him at its highest point – for the hundredth, or perhaps thousandth, time.

There were moments, like now, when he would wonder what had gotten into him. It was madness that he had picked up his life and moved halfway across the world to be with someone he'd only been dating a short time, if what they'd been doing could even be called dating. Indulging their baser instincts, more like, and he'd never made a relationship out of that before. In fact, he had never really made a relationship out of anything before, let alone acted rash and spontaneous. He'd always thought his nature far too calculating. So then why had he done it? And aside from his occasional struggle with it, why hadn't he regretted it? Everything about it was as far from 'Severus Snape' as it was possible to be. By that very principle alone he should hate it.

Except he didn't. The staggering, bewildering, damning truth was that he loved it.

So much so that he'd spent those early months alternately consumed with anger and terror because he knew – knew – how transient it all was, how fucking impossible it all was, and why couldn't the bloody universe just hurry up and take it all away from him already so he could get back to familiar ground?

In his forty-some years, he'd never really allowed himself to discover who he was or what he really wanted. He had long ago hidden his true self away, shoving it down to where it would never see the light of day. It was Albus' words that had nearly undone that, the day Severus had changed his allegiances. It's why he'd made the old man promise to never reveal the best of him. The 'best of him' wasn't what others wanted. They wanted his expertise, his potions, his cunning, his apparent lack of scruples. They didn't care about the man behind it. Severus was but an empty shell, a soldier on demand, his worth defined solely by his usefulness to others. It was why he'd worked to make himself as indispensable as possible: it was the only place he could exercise any control. However, after too many years of that, it was easy to convince himself it was his only option, and so stopped believing anything else was possible.

That is, until a certain pair of green eyes set their sights on him, lit up the dark corners of Severus' tenuous existence, and then refused to let go.

Severus sighed, still feeling out of his depth with the gift of that devotion – something that, inexplicably, still showed no signs of waning. He closed his eyes and let the visuals of the last five years begin to play against the backs of his eyelids, just as they seemed wont to do: a flurry of color, of sound, of emotion… of Harry.

It had always been about Harry, hadn't it?

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{ Five Years Earlier / June 1999 }

Putting in his resignation from Hogwarts had naturally stirred Minerva's curiosity, though they both knew she already knew he was running off to parts unknown with Harry. She never asked about it directly, but she needn't have: clever woman that she was, she'd had a beat on them since the very beginning, likely before Severus himself could even admit it was happening. Still, with barely a quirk of her lips and a twinkle in her eyes that was so like Albus', she conveyed her approval and congratulations all the same, and it pleased Severus to know he wouldn't have to provide a tedious explanation to prove he wasn't taking advantage of her Gryffindor Golden Boy.

"The heart wants what the heart wants, Severus," was all she'd said, though Severus knew what she really meant: 'It's okay to want to be with Harry; it's okay to live your life; it's okay to be happy; it's okay.'

Severus had sneered. The heart does what it damn well pleases, indeed. It was precisely why he'd always avoided following the treacherous organ in the past. He could not have afforded the pursuance of whims when his life and livelihood depended on his ability to demonstrate loyalty on demand; to deceive when necessary; to manipulate circumstances – and people – in his favor. Loneliness was simply the cross one bore in a life of servitude, and he had long ago accepted it. Or thought he had, until Harry had shown up and forced him to reconsider his options and his solitary existence.

Still, Minerva's approval meant something to him. She had always been a respected colleague and friend, and occasionally, though he was loathe to admit it, a much-appreciated maternal influence. He'd hated having to deceive her during the war, but thankfully she had shown her trademark resilience and welcomed him back once the truth of his role had come to light.

The move to Costa Rica had still been a big adjustment, rife with insecurities on Severus' part. He'd spent the first several weeks inadvertently retreating within himself, questioning reality, occasionally arguing with Harry over their circumstances. Severus was not accustomed to getting what he wanted in life, and stubbornly held fast to the belief he did not deserve it, even then, and that it was only a matter of time until something came along and took it all away from him.

That was how things happened in his life. Don't put your love and trust in anything, for it will just be used against you. The few people he'd become close to in his life had all died or left him in some way. The fact that he was now with the one person who kept on living, despite the incredible odds, was inescapably ironic.

Yet a relationship with Harry was never just him – it was a package deal. You got Hermione and the staff of Hogwarts and a sea of ginger-haired, smiling Weasleys. You also got the prying public, ready to idolize him as Marcus did, as well as a long line of eligible young men ready and willing to take Severus' spot if he fucked things up.

It's probably why the chiding voice in his head always sounded like his mother:

"If you want to see your worst fear become a self-fulfilling prophecy, yes, Severus, by all means, keep being an arsehole and trying to push away the very person you'd give your existence for. And to think they always said you were smart!

"If you do nothing else, at least trust that Harry knows his own heart. It shouldn't matter why he chose you. The point is, he did. So make good use of it, for your sake and for his."

And Harry had said – and demonstrated – his feelings for Severus over and over: in the back room of their favorite pub, in the garden behind the Weasley's home (they neglected to tell Molly why one of her topiary statues never quite stood correctly again), and in the Room of Requirement during the last few months of Severus' tenure at Hogwarts (it was always interesting what the great castle deemed a requirement…). The way Harry kissed him, clung to him, looked at him, told Severus there was nothing dishonest or transient about those feelings – something Harry further proved with an outburst one day.

"Stop treating me like some treasure to be won!" Harry was pacing back and forth in their rented cottage, clearly agitated, though it seemed directed mostly at himself. "I'm a person, just like anyone else. We both deserve to be happy, so if we can do that together, then fantastic. If not, just tell me now so we can not have this conversation for the next however-many years." He paused and lifted his arms to the sides, then seemed to deflate. He sighed. "I'm not 'too good' for you. Shit, half the time I'm sitting here wondering what you're doing with me—"

Severus had grabbed him then and kissed him until they were both breathless, and they'd had sex up against the wall in a frantic, heated exchange. It was inelegant and awkward, Severus taking an elbow to the head for his efforts and Harry getting his zipper stuck in a frustrating tangle of fabric, but ultimately neither one of them cared. The only thing that mattered in that moment was that they had both chosen each other.

And that, Severus realized, was the only thing he'd ever really needed to know. Suddenly, all of the reasons he was fighting – all the uncertainties and fears that cluttered his mind and his heart – seemed to fade away. Which meant there was only one thing left to do: close his eyes and jump.

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{ Two Months Later / August 1999 }

Severus still hadn't got used to the idea that he could touch Harry whenever the impulse struck. Maybe he never would.

Yet Harry seemed to enjoy the stray touches – as well as the not so stray ones – seeming to lean into Severus' touch, always keen to soak up any affection bestowed on him. And Harry reciprocated in kind. At first he was more hesitant, as though unsure of his welcome, but grew accustomed to it quickly, and soon the touches became almost automatic: a hand that slid along Severus' lower back as Harry walked behind him, a touch to his sleeve when he leaned in to say something, a sneaky kiss or grope after the lights went down in the old film house they frequented.

Now, standing in the doorway to the kitchen, watching Harry cooking at the stove, Severus was never more glad for the fact he hadn't let his personal demons fuck things up between them. Not because Harry was in the process of making dinner for him, but because Harry was there at all, that Harry wanted to be with him, that Harry was so fucking edible it made his chest ache.

As Harry bent to grab a pan out of a bottom cupboard, Severus let his eyes travel down Harry's backside, admiring that glorious arse. That pair of extra-snug denims had repeatedly drove Severus to distraction, and only now did he wonder if that was intentional. A wave of arousal hit him and he gritted his teeth, suddenly overcome with the urge to touch, to feel, to have.

Sidling up behind Harry, he grabbed Harry's upper arms and leaned over to nibble his way up the line of exposed neck, to just below the ear, pressing their bodies together against the stove.

"God, I'm never going to get anything done if this is how you're going to say hello," Harry said breathlessly.

Then Severus caught a glimpse of what was cooking in the pot, paused, Accio'ed the chopped tomatoes from the fridge, and dropped them in.

"Hey, what are you doing? I don't like tomatoes!"

"Do not fret. I shall eat your share, but they are best when they simmer along with the other ingredients."

"Pollute, more like," Harry muttered.

Severus ignored that in favor of releasing his grip so he could make two flicks – one of his wrist, the method by which he slid his wand into his palm, and the second to spell the pot on the stove. The flame and its bubbling contents froze instantly in place, as though someone had hit 'pause' on them.

"What did you just do to my beef stew?"

"If you had paid attention in Potions, you would recognize that as a standard stasis spell. It cannot be used on caustic or potentially explosive substances, but I assumed dinner would be neither. Though perhaps I should have asked?" He leaned back so Harry could see the speculative look on his face.

"Oi!" Harry said with a laugh. "See if I cook for you again!"

In response, Severus dropped to his knees and yanked Harry's denims and underwear down with him, exposing two firm buttocks. "Dessert first, I should think," Severus murmured, rubbing his cheek along that warm flesh, enjoying the soapy, male scent that clung to Harry's skin, then placed gentle bites everywhere he could reach.

When Severus' prodigious nose made its way into the crease between those smooth globes, Harry gasped, clutching the counter hard with his free hand. "Severus, what are you—" he started, but it trailed off into a moan when Severus' probing tongue became insistent, mapping out its destination and then finally pushing inside. It was high time he introduced Harry to rimming.

"Bed," Harry managed, obviously guessing where this was going and not wanting to be vertical when every nerve in his body was about to become liquified with sensation.

The crack of side-along Apparition happened so fast that the wooden stirring spoon that'd been in Harry's other hand remained behind, standing upright on the counter for a few seconds before dropping into the sink with a clatter.

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{ One Month Later / September 1999 }

A few months after they'd arrived, Harry had approached one of the local schools and offered to volunteer for something. He'd remembered the young Costa Rican orphan from his dreamscape and thought it would be fun to work with kids.

Sometimes, Severus had to remind himself that Harry was just a newly-minted nineteen-year-old. So often Severus thought of him as older – and in many ways, he was, having long ago been robbed of his childhood. Therefore, it shouldn't have surprised him that Harry would enjoy an activity centered around children – something whimsical, carefree and playful, since he experienced scant amounts of it when he was a child.

Severus envied him that freedom. He didn't think he could do it, but was glad Harry could. If Harry wanted to play, then so be it. It was the least the world owed him.

It turned out the school had been looking for a native English-speaking teacher. It wasn't a problem that Harry didn't speak Spanish, as the school taught a bilingual curriculum. But since Harry didn't feel ready (or qualified) to teach, they made him a teacher's aide instead, and had him take over story time to read books to the children. What better way to teach kids English than through stories?

The school also insisted on paying him for his time, and Harry eventually gave up trying to talk them out of it – they wouldn't budge. So, he just worked around it, giving all the money he earned back to the school under the name of an anonymous donor. He'd vary the amounts every month so it didn't match up one-to-one, and some months he'd even let a little of his own converted Wizarding money make its way into the cheque. Between the war subsidies from the Ministry and the combined Potter and Black vaults, Harry already felt like he was drowning in a fortune he couldn't hope to spend. He'd only wanted a new purpose for his life, not more money.

Ironically, he would later earn lots and lots of it, and other accolades besides, simply by following that new purpose. Even though Harry didn't want to be famous for anything anymore, attention like that seemed inevitable for him, as though he was someone who was just destined to end up in the public eye in some fashion or another, whether it was with Wizards or Muggles.

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{ Three Months Later / December 1999 }

Barely three months into his gig as teacher's aide, Harry rushed home one afternoon, flushed from the exertion, and could barely get the words out fast enough.

"I'm going to write a book!"

Severus blinked at him, trying but unable to process this news. "Pardon?"

"A book! I'm going to write a children's book!"

"I'm afraid you've lost me, Mr. Potter. Would it trouble you to start at the beginning?"

Harry laughed and pulled Severus over to sit with him on the sofa.

In listening to Harry recount his day, Severus couldn't help but notice he was practically vibrating with excitement, so full of promise about this new idea that had clearly captured him.

The school didn't have a lot of children's books in English, so one day, after exhausting their collection, Harry found himself in front of a room full of expectant faces without anything left to read. Not wanting to disappoint even one of those kids, Harry decided to just wing it and began making up a story instead.

Afterwards, the teacher praised him for having such a wonderful imagination, asking how he'd come up with the tale about the three wizards who escaped from a goblin bank on the back of a dragon. Harry had just smiled and shrugged.

"When I told her it'd be wand lore and spiders the size of cars next time, Mrs. Sánchez just smiled and said, 'What notions you have, Harry!' And in my head I'm thinking notions?" Harry snorted in amusement and then shook his head. "But I suppose to someone in the Muggle world, my life would read like a fantasy story.

"When she asked if I'd ever considered writing children's stories, I sort of froze. But days later I was still thinking about it, and then the more and more I thought about it, the more I decided I really wanted to give it a try. Who knows, maybe I'll be rubbish at it, but it was fun watching those kids' faces as I recounted the daring adventures of the three young wizards."

Maybe Harry couldn't tell people there was such a thing as magic, but he could let the children revel in the concept. He'd already found a way to inject a bit of magic into the books he read – making the moon glow or making the animals or characters run from one page to another – without making it appear as though the books were doing something on their own. To start, he wore long-sleeved shirts so he could hide his wand against his forearm, but eventually mastered a few wandless spells for the effects he favored most. It would seem to a Muggle adult that they were a trick of the light, or a hidden pull embedded in the page that made it happen. But to the children… they knew better. And they loved being in on it. You only had to see that glint in their eyes to know it was something they inherently understood and kept secret, as though telling the adults would ruin its effect. The magic would wear off as the children grew, anyway, but to the extent Harry could keep it alive for the younger ones, he was keen to do it.

It's what had caused Severus to stop by the school one afternoon, unannounced, and observe Harry in his element. Severus had stood and watched from outside the library, peering around the door. The scene before him had instantly brought to mind one conversation in particular.

"They don't ask anything of me," Harry said. "They don't look at me like they're waiting for me to save them."

"Yet you continue to do so every day."

"What do you mean?"

Severus lowered the book he was reading and fixed Harry with a fond, if not a little exasperated, expression. "Because you let them be who they want to be. You do not dispel their belief in magic, you encourage it. You, Mr. Potter, stir their imaginations. And what is the world to a child if not a wondrous place of exploration and imagination?"

Harry blinked, then his face split into a slow smile. "Why, Severus Snape, I never knew you were such a romantic."

Severus scoffed. "Just because I had nothing so nice as a happy childhood does not mean I am so blind or bitter as to not see how it should be. I did teach adolescents for nearly two decades."

"Yeah, but these are little children, well before the age of Hogwarts."

"Precisely why magic is all the more important."

Harry stared at Severus for a long moment, then walked over and kissed him. "God, I love you."

Severus offered his customary arched brow, then brought his book back up. "As you should."

Harry laughed. "It wouldn't kill you to say it back sometimes, you know."

"Perhaps not, but do you think it worth the risk?" Severus asked, a smile forming in earnest now.

Harry shook his head and smiled back, then wandered out of the room.

Severus returned his attention to the reading nook where Harry was seated before the children – all of whom were leaning forward on their knees to better see the picture book Harry was reading from – and felt a flush of contentment that, despite its welcome, still felt strange to him. Being happy was not a feeling he was accustomed to, but ever since Harry had become a steady fixture in his life, the feeling had become more and more commonplace.

And despite his discomfort with emotional declarations, he hoped Harry knew he was loved beyond all reason or measure; that Harry felt it in the warmth of Severus' gaze and in the intensity of his affections, even if Severus could never hope to express it adequately with words. Even with the three simplest ones.

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"It is remarkable what you do," Severus observed.

"They think it's all made up, don't they? It's easy and accessible for me to write about my world, and if it gives other people an escape, well, that's why they're reading, isn't it? To escape into a world not their own?"

"Yes, but why do you write it? You are not escaping, you are reliving."

Harry shrugged. "I don't know. It exorcises things, I guess. I see things differently when I write them. And I can twist things for the sake of the story. It's sort of like how memory gets after a time – sometimes you can't remember the bad stuff, or you've blocked it out, but you remember the essence of it and how you felt. That's sort of what I'm doing with these. It's my life, only… edited."

Severus gave him an assessing glance. "Sounds as though this could be quite cathartic for you."

"I'm told people often write what they know." Harry smiled.

"Then why did you pick 'Alejandro' for the name of the boy at the center of your stories?"

"Because it's fun to say?" Harry laughed at the expression on Severus' face. "It also means 'protector of mankind' so I thought it was appropriate."

Severus hummed. "If you are not careful, your young protagonist may develop a hero complex just like his creator."

Harry flipped two fingers at Severus and they smirked at each other.

"You do realize by publishing books, you will still be in the public eye," Severus continued.

Harry looked a little sheepish. "Not… exactly." Severus' arched brow prompted him to continue. "I'm not using my name."

"Why not?" They had agreed long ago, when they were selecting names for their respective careers, that if the name Potter was going to remain golden in Wizarding society, they may as well use it when it was advantageous to do so.

"Because I just want to tell stories and add a little magic to the lives of children. It's not about me, or at least not about my name. It's about the kids."

"Then what name do you plan to use?"

"I decided it'd be easiest if I kept my initials, so some part of it still felt connected to me, so I chose… Hazel Porter."

A crease formed between Severus' brows even though a large part of him was relieved Harry hadn't planned on using 'Snape.' Severus wanted Harry's books to have their own chance at success, not be sullied by a past that wasn't his. "A woman's name? Whyever for?"

Harry shrugged. "I just want my work to speak for itself. Besides, this way I also have a convenient excuse to turn down public appearances, if it should ever come to that."

Severus blinked, but his expression eventually shifted towards approving. "That is actually… quite clever."

"Careful, that almost sounded like a compliment!"

At this, Severus seemed unable to help himself and an uncharacteristic chuckle slipped out.

"So what about you?" Harry countered. "What have you picked? If you used Snape, you could get work much faster. At least in some circles."

"Precisely – in some circles. Most likely not the circles I'd prefer, however. Much like you, I wish for my work to stand on its own merits, and if that means taking the long road to earning my place with a name no one has heard of, then so be it. At least then I would know I had earned it."

Harry nodded. "Yeah." His pinched expression conveyed his deep understanding of this particular issue. "Does this mean you aren't going to use Potter, then, either?"

"I did consider it, but decided not to for precisely the same reason as you – although there is clout, I would forever wonder if people were taking me for my work or for my name. Or for you."

"So what are you going to use, then?"

"Samuel Prince. Similar to you, I opted for a first name with a familiar initial. The surname allows me to maintain a connection to the maternal side of my lineage, which, in its day, was a respected name in Wizarding society. It became slightly out of favor in my mother's day, but I should like to see it restored, at least in professional circles."

Harry got a funny little smile on his face, the sort that meant he was wading around in his memories about something, and Severus couldn't resist prodding. "What?"

Harry's head shot up. "Oh, nothing." He smiled again, clearly enjoying a private joke with himself. "It's just something Hermione said to me one time. She said…" He bit his lip. "She said I'd get my Prince one day."

Severus shook his head and rolled his eyes. "Women," he muttered and Harry laughed.

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{ Five Months Later / May 2000 }

After almost a year of living in Costa Rica, Harry and Severus realized the cottage they had been renting was starting to show its ill-fitting features more than its beneficial ones, and decided to look for a home they could purchase instead. Their relocation (and relationship, Severus noted to himself) had been successful enough to inspire them both to take that next step and put down roots of their own.

However, after trailing along after a realtor for what seemed like weeks, getting no closer to finding a house they could both agree on, it was suggested that they think about building one instead. It was something Severus had never considered before, that he could have an entire house created to his exact specifications. There mere idea of it seemed so… extravagant. He was a practical and frugal man. Living at Hogwarts for all but the first ten years of his life, where everything he required in order to live and to work was provided, left him wanting for very little. He rarely spent money on anything that wasn't related to his job, and had even turned down the more luxurious provisions offered to Head of House because the standard furnishings had suited him just fine.

But being offered things was entirely different than being able to create things.

Fast forward to sitting in the office of a local architect and builder who was happily jotting down the list Harry was giving him. Severus was fine letting Harry run with most of the particulars as long as he could have one room all to himself: his lab. It would be situated in the basement level of their home and comprise almost 800 square feet of space.

Designing it had been an act of pure pleasure on Severus' part, even surprising Harry with how much he'd thought about it. Then again, he'd done potions work for twenty years – one picked up a few what-to-dos and what-not-to-dos during that time, as well as a handful of would-love-to-haves. There was a lot more that went into a lab than just a bunch of equipment and a couple of tables – though, in Harry's defense, he'd only ever seen a classroom lab, not a professional one.

In working with the builder, Severus mapped out both open and closed shelving, three kinds of temperature storage, fixed and mobile workspaces, customizable lighting, proper ventilation and climate control, and, his biggest indulgence, a double-tiered, wood-burning oven that would allow him to hang up to four cauldrons in the fire at once. A research library would sit at one end of the space, an enclosed room with floor to ceiling bookcases, comfortable seating and a faux window that Severus would later charm to show him the view outside.

The house was not grand by anyone's standards, but it was spacious and modern and light – the complete antithesis of an ancient castle in the Scottish highlands. In fact, no one was more surprised than Severus to discover that he was actually well-suited to the warm, tropical climate, and liked it as much as Harry, despite dwelling mostly underground for the better part of two decades. Any complaint he might have had initially about all the sunshine was completely offset by the absolute goldmine of potions ingredients that could be found in the rich and varied landscape – much of which they could even find on their own property.

But his favorite part, aside from the custom-tailored lab, was the master bedroom. It boasted an entire wall of glass doors that, once fully opened, made the large outdoor balcony a natural extension of their living space. That had been the architect's idea; probably his best.

They had considered several plots of land upon which to build, but settled on one that was so private and secluded, they could barely even see the roofline of their nearest neighbor. The property was surrounded by lush, mature trees, fertile soil (perfect for gardening), and had a magnificent view of the mountains to the east. Harry had seemed immediately attached to it, as though he had always known it. At the time, Severus had assumed it was just because they'd found the right place, but later he'd wondered if it was because it reminded Harry of what he'd seen in his dreamscape. Either way, it was perfectly suited for them, and he doubted even a potion could have done better.

Severus had insisted on paying his half, matching Harry Galleon for Galleon on the purchase of the land and the house. He'd become a circus performer before he'd see himself become a kept man. Besides, his non-existent spending habits during his tenure at Hogwarts had left him with a very tidy sum in the bank. Investing in a new life for himself was a rather poetic and fitting use for it, he decided.

They were at too long of a distance to be connected to the British Floo network, but that was probably just as well – neither Severus nor Harry could imagine what a trans-continental trip would feel like after banging about the inside of that system for an interminable amount of time. It made their home more secure, too. It's why they had selected a Muggle architect and builder, and why Severus made the home Unplottable when it was finished.

Maybe it was just his ingrained paranoia, or perhaps old habits really did die hard. All he knew was that nothing and no one was going to ruin the fresh start they'd made for themselves.

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{ Seven Months Later / January 2001 }

It was shortly after Severus' birthday (and an unrelated week-long visit from Teddy – then, almost three years old), when Harry started dancing around the topic of having children. Severus wasn't aware of all the options, but the topic had been coming up with such increasing frequency that he finally began researching it.

It took the better part of a month, and a visit to Berlin to see one of the best Wizarding fertility specialists in Europe, to decide on a course of action. Harry would be the carrier. He was younger, fitter, had more potent magic (though he liked to deny it), and, most importantly (at least to Severus), didn't mind the idea of being pregnant – all of which would add to their chances of a successful, full-term baby.

"You do realize there is no guarantee—" Severus had begun.

"There isn't in regular pregnancy, either, some people can't conceive at all and—"

"If you would let me finish."

Harry bit his lip and smiled. "Yes. Sorry."

"Wizard pregnancies are considered high risk for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is because they are magically induced and carried. Unless you failed to grasp basic biology, you will know you do not currently possess the necessary equipment."

"But it's possible?"

"Yes, Harry, it is possible. However, the success rate is only forty percent, sometimes less. Are you sure you would not rather use a surrogate?"

"No, because then the baby wouldn't be ours. You said yourself I'd have to carry it if we wanted the child to have both our DNA."

Severus nodded, anticipating that answer. "Come here and sit, please. It is important you have more information before making a final decision." Harry nodded and moved to sit next to Severus on the sofa. Severus turned so he could face Harry more directly.

"What do you know about this process?"

"Not much," Harry admitted. "Only that I have to carry the baby because I'm younger and more of a fit magically. And because I actually want to."

Severus nodded, once again grateful for the circumstances being what they were. It'd be a cold day in Hades before he would consider lugging a baby around in his abdomen for months on end. "I shall give you a quick overview, then.

"The spell temporarily implants a womb inside the carrier that will be used to incubate the baby and mimic the necessary hormones. If the womb believes it is inside a female body, biology will take its course. In our case, your sperm will be transformed into the egg and mine will fertilize it. If we were to use a surrogate, one of us would have to fertilize a real egg; otherwise, our surrogate's body would simply reject it.

"Ironically, the majority of complications in a wizard pregnancy aren't due to the pregnancy itself. It is because male bodies were not built with a womb in mind, and therefore pregnancy can interfere with organs or bodily functions, and in order to save the wizard, the womb would be lost. However, if all goes well and the fetus reaches thirty-seven weeks, the womb is magically removed, a process similar to selective Apparition, and the baby is birthed."

"That's amazing," Harry said, shaking his head in disbelief. "Isn't it? That this is even possible?"

"Very much so. It is encouraging to see how far the magical sciences have come. I imagine there would be many a female Muggle who would love nothing more than to foist this particular task on her husband. Alas, not yet." The two grinned at each other.

"Next, we must consider chromosomes," Severus continued, and Harry nodded. "Women are represented by the combination XX and men by XY.

"As men, we both have an equal chance of passing either an X or a Y into the mix. Women can only ever pass an X. Thus, in a normal conception between a man and a woman, there are only two possible combinations: XX or XY. In a conception between two men, however, a third option is possible: YY."

"And YY is…?"

"Not viable."

"Oh."

"Indeed. This means we would have one chance for a daughter, two chances for a son, and one chance for a non-viable result. Add to that a challenging success rate, and you will see it is not merely because you do not have a uterus that makes this proposition so risky – the physical and hormonal aspects can all be magically synthesized. The problem is men are not genetically predisposed to pregnancy."

"But can't they check for the YY combination after conception? So we'd know right away if it wasn't going to work?"

"Nothing so quick, no. The gender of a fetus cannot be accurately determined until at least the twelfth week, though it is generally advisable to wait until sometime between the sixteenth and twentieth week before attempting the test."

Harry exhaled, a frown on his face. "That'd already be halfway through, then."

"Yes. Magic can only take us so far, Harry. At some point biology must take over, regardless of one's gender." Severus grasped one of Harry's hands in his, rubbing a thumb idly along Harry's knuckles. "Now that you understand more about this process and are aware of the risks, what would you like to do?"

Harry swallowed, looking away for a moment. Severus knew what he was going to decide, but it was important that Harry got there on his own. Sure enough, when Harry turned back to look at him, that long-familiar resolve and determination tightening the features of his face, he said, "I want to try."

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{ Two Months Later / March 2001 }

Severus remembered the night (as if he could forget) when he'd laid Harry across the pillows, face down, arse in the air, the required potions on the nightstand and their wands within reach. Wizard pregnancy was a complicated bit of magic, but they had practiced it once before (theory only) so as to be as prepared as possible. Severus was nothing if not a thorough researcher and scientist, but he was also a dutiful partner. He didn't want to see the look on Harry's face, that light of hope and anticipation draining from behind those verdant eyes, if they failed.

There were still other options – wizard adoption the best prospect among them – but he knew Harry longed for a child of his own; a biological child. And Severus, too, who had initially been wary of adding his genes to the mix – tainting it, he'd called it – had eventually been convinced that when the day came, he would be glad the child was his, too. After all, both men were the last of their bloodlines, so without perpetuating their DNA (specifically, without having at least one son between them), those lines would end with Harry and Severus.

"Are you a wizard or not?" Harry laughed at the glare Severus threw his way.

The final portion of the spell required a position that was difficult to achieve with gravity pulling on their bodies, and Harry had been unsubtly alluding to the fact that magic would make it easier.

"Mind yourself, Mr. Potter, or I shall flip you upside down and have my way with you, baby or not."

Harry squirmed at the thinly veiled threat. "Promise?" he said, wriggling his hips invitingly. Merlin, Severus was losing his touch; he couldn't even properly intimidate Harry anymore. Severus sighed to himself and decided he'd have his way later regardless, after the baby spell was done. An extra attempt might well increase their odds of fertilization, anyway.

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{ Six Months Later / September 2001 }

Severus could remember nothing in his forty-one years as beautiful as a pregnant Harry.

Standing in the doorway to their bedroom, he admired the sleeping form of his young lover lying amidst the crisp white sheets and filtered morning sun. In this light, you could almost see the aura of magic that seemed to surround Harry now, as though offering tangible evidence that both body and magic were alive with the process of creation. Severus always used to think women were being entirely too sentimental with their notion of a pregnancy glow, but he had to admit that whether or not Muggles ever had it, Harry surely did.

Harry had started showing quite a bit after only three months, likely because his body was not built for bearing a child and therefore it had nowhere to go except for out, and had cast glamours on himself when he ventured into the village. The villagers had warmly and eagerly accepted he and Severus (both as individuals and as a couple), but he didn't think a non-magical community would take a pregnant man at face value.

But now, at just past the six month mark, the swell of Harry's belly was so big that he really only felt comfortable sleeping on his side (and didn't venture into the village much anymore because it wasn't comfortable to walk or stand for long periods, and also didn't trust his magic to hold the glamour long enough).

Approaching the bed, Severus set the teacups down on the nightstand. The morning ritual included bringing Harry tea in bed – a special blend Severus had developed that included a mild calmative to help Harry with nausea – and waking him with lips against whatever exposed skin he could find, slowly mapping his way down until he was kissing the soft, protruding belly that held his unborn child.

The surge of protectiveness he felt always surprised him, never having believed he could feel this way. Then again, he went from never imagining kids as part of his life and thinking a family was out of the question, to starting a relationship with Harry where it was an inevitable conclusion that kids would be part of his future.

Still, it didn't stop him marveling at the notion that Harry – Harry Potter – was pregnant. With his child. Correction: with their child. In less than three months, they were going to be fathers. Parents. A family. Most days Severus was still trying to convince himself he hadn't walked into a dream – or if he had, he hoped he never walked out of it.

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Also vividly etched into his mind was the day when, just over six months through the pregnancy, they were put on a whole new course. They were lazing in bed after the slow, languid sex they often enjoyed in the morning (less vigorous than Harry would have liked but as vigorous as Severus was prepared to get) when Severus rubbed a palm around the swell of Harry's belly, waiting for the baby to kick. While the movement during their couplings generally lulled the baby to sleep, the kicks could be quite excitable post-orgasm.

What Severus had felt caused him to sit straight up in bed, a maneuver he regretted in hindsight for the panic it caused Harry. It had just been so unexpected. It took him a few moments to try and make sense of it: a child with two magical signatures? Was this some sort of Horcrux remnant? Or some other forgotten piece of Voldemort's soul? Each idea seemed as crazy as the next. Unless…

Severus focused enough to take in the look of alarm on Harry's face.

"What is it? What's wrong?"

"Perhaps nothing. I merely thought I felt…" Severus put his hands back around Harry's belly and concentrated again, his eyes going wide when he confirmed it. "Yes. I did."

"What? Severus, you're freaking me out here. What's going on?"

Severus looked down at Harry, who had since propped himself up on his elbows, and said, "I felt two magical signatures. I thought I was imagining it, but I assure you, I am not."

For a moment, Harry just stared at him. Then reckoning hit and he pressed his own palms against his belly. "Are you saying… Does that mean…?"

Severus pursed his lips, unsure how Harry might react to this news. "Yes. There seems to be more than one baby. I believe you might be pregnant with twins."

"Twins? But how could that be?"

"The same way it happens in a normal pregnancy, I presume: either one egg splits and creates two fetuses, or two eggs become fertilized. I would hazard a guess the latter is our particular situation, as we created and implanted multiple eggs in the hopes of seeing one take."

Watching Harry's face travel through the host of emotions was something to behold: shock, awe, disbelief, confusion, wonder. It eventually settled on joy – absolute, unmitigated joy. Severus blinked. It wasn't the reaction he was expecting, but then he had to remember this was Harry. Harry, who had been longing for a family of his own ever since he was a young boy himself, suddenly found out he was carrying not one baby, but two. And not just two babies, but twins. Of course he would be overjoyed.

They later confirmed it with a visit to Dr. Hauscher, the Healer monitoring their care. (Aside from being the foremost expert in Wizard pregnancy, her obstetrics clinic could be counted on for its utmost discretion. The last thing they needed was for anyone in Britain – particularly the media – to get word that The Boy Who Lived was pregnant.)

"Your magical bond together must really be something," Dr. Hauscher said with a smile, "to have produced two successful fertilizations – a boy and a girl, to be exact." Harry perked up at that and sent a shy, wondering smile in Severus' direction.

"Why didn't you say something on one of our other visits?" Harry asked her. "More importantly, why didn't I notice?"

"Multiple fertilizations are not uncommon, but most Wizard pregnancies will only support one to full term. We tend not to set expectations for our patients until the outcome can be accurately predicted. As for the magical signatures, those manifest around the twenty-fifth week, so it is normal at this stage to begin noticing them. However, there is something we should discuss. Mr. Potter, Mr. Snape, please, have a seat." She gestured to the two chairs opposite her desk.

Harry and Severus exchanged a nervous glance, but sat as directed. Harry reached over for Severus' hand and held it tightly. Dr. Hauscher opened the folder in front of her and pulled out two documents, presenting each one to her patients in turn.

"At this stage in the pregnancy, we do two versions of the same test. This image" – she referenced the black and white photograph of what looked like two blurry fetuses in a womb – "was the Muggle sonogram. As you can see, there are two babies. Both heartbeats were strong and everything seemed quite in order."

Harry sagged in relief, but there was still tension in the way he held Severus' hand, for they both knew there was another sheet on the desk to review.

"It was this test, our magi-thermetic scan" – now the doctor pulled the second sheet closer, this one showing a colored version of the sonogram that Severus thought resembled infrared – "that revealed something of import. I believe it is why you didn't notice the presence of the second child until just recently. One of your babies is exhibiting what we call a potentia non aestus condition. The boy, by the looks of it."

"What? What does that mean?" asked Harry. He turned a panicked look on Severus.

"A Squib," Severus clarified, giving Harry's hand what he hoped was a comforting squeeze. "Recessive magic."

Harry blinked, his brows pinching together. He picked up the picture and looked at it, the shape of one baby quite distinct against the black background. It was filled with a brilliant array of purples and golds and reds, gently animating itself in what looked like slow thrums of energy. The other shape, while still baby-like, was little more than a dark outline with a greenish cast to it, swirling like a thick fog.

Seeing what he and Harry were likely noticing, Dr. Hauscher said, "The green indicates there is a magical signature but no core. This means the child will be able to see and interact with the magical world, but will never possess any magical abilities nor be able to wield a wand." She paused and looked at the two men over the tops of her glasses. "I am very sorry if this was not the news you were hoping for."

Harry stared at the image a bit longer, then swallowed. "Will he be okay, though?"

"At this point, all indications point to yes, as the rest of his development appears normal."

Harry nodded, but it was clearly an automatic response, for his face did not show the same acceptance. He glanced at the picture again and then looked back up at the doctor. "Does this happen a lot?"

Likely sensing what Harry was really asking, Dr. Hauscher learned forward onto her elbows. "You did not cause this, Mr. Potter. There is nothing you could have done differently to prevent it. The unfortunate fact is that male pregnancy is rife with unfavorable statistics. What this does mean, however, is you will have to make some changes for the rest of your pregnancy, and follow my instructions explicitly if you wish to increase the odds of carrying both your babies to full term."

Harry nodded seriously and then looked over at Severus, the stress of the conversation evident on his face. Emotions seemed to chase one another across his expressive features until they all stopped and jumbled together in the form of a big question mark. At first Harry remained silent, perhaps afraid to know the answer, but eventually gave in. "Does it matter to you? A Squib?" he asked tentatively.

Severus slid forward on his chair and reached over to Harry, placing his hands protectively around that swollen, protruding belly. He waited until he had Harry's gaze before he spoke. "Not in the slightest. It is healthy children we are after, Harry, nothing more."

Harry's relief was palpable and he gave a tired smile. He placed his hands over Severus' so they could hold his belly together, and his eyes fairly glowed with love and pride. Then he turned back to the doctor. "But the girl?" he asked. "She'll still be magical?"

"Yes," Dr. Hauscher said with a smile. "In more ways than one, I suspect."

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{ Two Months Later / November 2001 }

Dr. Hauscher had given Harry position restrictions for the remainder of his pregnancy – not bed rest, per se, but he needed to remain lying on his back or his side, not sitting up or standing for long periods, so as to not put pressure on the implanted womb or the babies inside it.

This was just as well, since Harry was tired most of the time and didn't have the energy to do much aside from walking between his two 'perches' (their bed and the chaise in the great room) and using the loo. His magic was dampened and out of reach, too, as though the majority of it was being absorbed up with the task of creating two babies.

He did keep his notebook handy, though. Even when he didn't have the energy to do anything else, he would grab his notebook and jot down the stories in his head. He once told Severus it felt like a never-ending stream of things. Seems that once he'd opened up the chapters of his life and started writing about them, they were all keen to be heard.

Harry was also given a regular regimen of potions, which Severus was only too happy to brew (after muttering about the sub-standard quality from the hospital, not properly understanding the science behind things). Although he was no stranger to delicate potions, these were different; more was riding on their success. This was about a family – something which Harry likely held more dear than his own life.

In fact, Harry was convinced he only got through his pregnancy because of a cautious Healer, Severus' superior potions and a Hogwarts house-elf that waited on him hand and foot (a favor from Minerva – aside from the Weasleys, she was the only other person they'd told their news to). Her congratulations had arrived in the form of Tulley, a diminutive elf in a crisp pillowcase that bore the Hogwarts crest. He was an older elf, but very eager to help. And really, elven magic was a wonder all on its own.

The babies were born two weeks early, on the twenty-second of November – appropriately under the sign of the Centaur – at the very capable hands of Dr. Hauscher. She had traveled in, along with her medi-staff of three specialists, to conduct the births at home in Costa Rica, since magical transport was too dangerous in Harry's high-risk state.

A tetchy and dangerous spell, selective surgical Apparition required utmost precision and skill – one false step in the procedure and a liver or kidney (or other delicate tissue, nerve or muscle) could be removed along with the womb, something that could have dire complications. One does not simply 'put things back' into the body, even with access to magic. Thankfully, none was needed, as the womb was removed free and clear. Both babies were healthy, weighing a little over five pounds each, their heads covered in whorls of black, downy hair.

The elder twin by two minutes, Evan Samuel Potter was the first to be birthed. They'd come up with the first name together, both wishing to honor Harry's mother. Severus decided his contribution would be Samuel, his professional working name – one that not only had a great reputation in Potions circles, but one that also felt more personal and familial than Tobias ever had. No point saddling the child with smears of that name's history.

Severus leaned over to place a kiss first on the newborn's head, then one to Harry's temple. Harry gave him a tired smile and went back to staring at their new baby.

"He's so small," Harry said in awe, his voice barely above a whisper. "I can't believe…" He shook his head as though trying to separate the jumble of thoughts that were no doubt barraging his mind. His eyes lifted to meet Severus'. "I can't believe he's ours. I can't believe we have a son!"

"And a daughter," Severus said, accepting the newest bundle of blankets from Dr. Hauscher. Severus watched the baby scrunch up her face, her little fists balling tightly around her eyes, as though annoyed at how bright it was in the room. Even mere minutes old, Severus already felt a kinship with her and had to resist the urge to laugh.

He leaned down over the bed so he and Harry could look at her together. "May I introduce, Elena Katherine Potter."

It had been Harry who'd requested the name Elena. Severus found he rather liked the sound of it and had no predisposition towards anything else, so he'd said yes. When Harry's face brightened and his body sagged in relief, it was clear he'd been concerned how Severus might react. As if Severus could have denied him anything at that point.

Once again, Severus chose the middle name, this time for his maternal great-grandmother. She had passed away when Severus was only six years old, but he still remembered her vividly. Well into her nineties when he'd known her, she was a feisty witch with a wicked sense of humor and a loose tongue. Her favorite pastime was telling stories that were not at all appropriate for children, so naturally Severus was very fond of her.

Somehow, he sensed that Elena was going to prove to be a worthy namesake.

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Harry was severely taxed after the births, so Severus had to kick into high gear for the first couple of weeks.

Dr. Hauscher had supplied them with a new potion and rest regimen, all with the hopes of restoring Harry's natural equilibrium as quickly as possible. His magical core had been heavily depleted – maintaining a womb for two babies for months on end had taken a lot out of him, both physically and magically. And until he healed, he was forbidden from doing magic of any kind – no easy feat, considering it was almost an instinctual reaction for a wizard to use it. Even more so when there were two new babies in the house.

All Severus could say was thank Merlin for that Hogwarts house-elf. By the end of those two weeks, he was ready to collapse into bed next to Harry and never move again. How he'd ever thought a classroom full of eleven-year-olds was hard work was beyond him – they couldn't hold a candle to a couple of infants.

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{ One Month Later / December 2001 }

A month in, they were both still recovering and resting and decided to lay low for the holiday. Tulley had taken it upon himself to decorate a large evergreen in the corner of their great room (which really meant Minerva would not hear of them going without – ever the traditionalist, she was). Severus wanted to abhor the gaudy thing, but in reality, that small token of Hogwarts cheer reminded him of the brighter moments he'd had while growing up within the castle's hallowed walls. Besides, the babies were mesmerized by the twinkling lights and shiny baubles, and anything that held a child's attention that long was worth keeping.

Letting their dinner simmer on the stove for a minute, Severus stepped away to peek his head around the door to see Harry draped across the chaise by the windows, one baby in his arms and the other between his legs. Harry marveled at their tiny fingers, kissing them one by one until the babies giggled and curled their hands away from his mouth – something that never failed to make Harry laugh with delight. He was so in love with those two babies; so in love with the fact that they had created them together, that the look of awe and wonder he often wore had almost become etched onto his face.

Severus stepped back into the kitchen before he disturbed the scene, reflecting on what his life had become. That was Christmas enough for him that year.

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{ One Year Later / December 2002 }

The following year, they traveled back to Britain for Christmas – their first visit since they'd left the country three and a half years earlier. They were going to stay at a Muggle hotel (to avoid being seen by anyone in the Wizarding world) but Molly insisted they be houseguests at The Burrow instead. Severus knew there would be no point in arguing – especially now that they had two little ones in tow.

The kids, who were just over a year old, spent the holiday getting passed around from one Weasley to the next, two little heads of black hair amongst a sea of red. Molly was in her element, even though they weren't her first grandchildren (the eldest Weasley and his French wife had already seen to that). And Lupin's offspring was there, too, even though he was no more related to the Weasleys than Evan and Elena were. Or even Harry, for that matter. But to Molly, that was irrelevant. She had always chosen her family as she wished and that was simply that.

What bemused Severus even more was that that family had now extended to include him. It seemed having children had given him two families of his own. For someone who'd thought he'd never even have one, that was a staggering thought.

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As early as six months old, Elena had shown signs of magic. Harry had been the one feeding her a bottle one night when he looked down and noticed that she had turned the feet of her one-piece pajamas blue. By the time she had reached her first birthday, she was routinely making objects react to her whims, no matter how conscious of it she was. Although Severus and Harry had been assured it was perfectly normal, they couldn't help feeling that the strength and clarity of her accidental magic meant she was likely going to be a powerful witch when she was older. Harry liked to say it was the reason Evan hadn't gotten any magic: Elena had monopolized the womb and taken it all for herself. Severus had merely smirked at that – a Slytherin in their midst, to be sure. It certainly suited her rebel-without-a-cause personality.

Evan was the opposite. Gentle and observant, he was always curious as to what people were doing (especially his papa). He loved sitting with Severus and reading stories, which, at a year old, consisted of Severus holding the book and reading while Evan sucked on the fingers of one hand and pointed at the pictures with his other. He also liked to watch Severus brew. Secured in his baby chair at one end of the work table, Evan's eyes would track the vials and decanters and small bowls as their contents made their way into the cauldrons. Severus found he enjoyed the quiet company, and would sometimes even charm the steam to turn colors just to elicit coos from his audience.

Being at the Weasley house now, with its kooky angles and tactile decor, meant the kids wanted to crawl around and explore everything. They were getting good at pulling themselves up while holding onto furniture or people while their inquisitive eyes tried to take in every inch of their colorful surroundings.

That was where their physical differences were most pronounced: Evan's eyes were dark brown while Elena's were deep hazel – which only looked brown until you saw them in the light, then they sparkled with olive green and mischief. Their hair was different, too. Evan seemed to have inherited Harry's unkempt mop, while Elena's was sleek and straight, reminiscent of Severus' except that hers was often split into two short, wispy pigtails.

Their vocabulary was still limited to a few simple words and sounds, but Elena was always babbling away, as though testing out this mysterious new tool she had been given and trying to shake its secrets loose. Her favorite thing to say was "Me!" – which would have been cute except she also understand its context, using vocal inflection to distinguish it between a noun, a verb and a demand.

Yes, she was going to be a handful, alright.

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Severus had just come back from changing Elena's diaper and was cuddling her close, nuzzling her cheek with his nose, when someone near him spoke.

"I never would have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes."

Severus' head shot up and he looked at Molly, who had somehow appeared right next to him. "Excuse me?"

"Having children has positively mellowed you, Severus Snape." Molly patted a hand on Severus' forearm and gave him a motherly smile. "Oh, it is so good to see," she said, almost to herself, and then wandered back into the kitchen.

Severus stared after her, the scowl on his face lasting only until he looked over at Harry, who was staring at him from across the room. He'd obviously heard the exchange. Severus also knew that look. It said two things loud and clear: I love you and I want you.

Now.

Severus sighed, glancing down at the yawning baby in his arms. What exactly did Harry expect him to do? He supposed he could pass her along to the many sets of waiting arms in the room or perhaps transfigure a chair into a temporary crib. Still mid-thought, Severus looked up again to see Harry laughing at him, likely at having guessed what was occurring. Severus huffed and went to find a comfortable seat in which to rock Elena to sleep, ignoring Harry's affectionate and amused expression. He loved that look, but knew if he dwelled on it, more than his dignity would suffer. (They had already christened more than enough Weasley property for Severus' tastes.)

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One evening after the children had all gone to bed and the adults were gathered in the sitting room, enjoying glasses of wine and a variety of concurrent conversations, Severus overheard Hermione asking Harry if his tattoo had had any reaction to the pregnancy (since new magical signatures were evident within his body during that time) and if he'd tested the tattoo with the children yet. Severus also heard what she didn't ask: since Evan was a Squib, would it react for him?

Unfazed, Harry had launched into an answer, explaining that for the entire duration of his pregnancy, the phoenix had relocated itself to his abdomen, centered over his belly button. The wings had spread wide and the aura of flames that used to surround them changed to a white glow (purity, innocence, masculine divine). Severus remembered thinking how apropos that was.

As for Evan, being a Squib didn't factor into it – it was a magical signature that made the tattoo react, not a magical core, and the core was the only piece Evan was missing. Whenever he'd touch it, the phoenix would glow green (balance, harmony, healing). For Elena… well, naturally it would have a different reaction for her. She could make it dance.

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{ Six Months Later / June 2003 }

It was later the following year, once school was out again for the season, when Harry decided he wanted to have a place to sell his stories, along with other books he'd like to hand-select and import from all over the world. Even though it was only Muggles who lived in their village (or perhaps because of that), Harry wanted to open the kids up to experiences beyond their immediate environment; to expand their access to include stories of all kinds.

He named the shop Pineapple Cove. The logo was an illustrated rendering of a pineapple, split up the middle and laid open like a book, with words scribbled on its 'pages'. The wooden sign positioned over the bookshop's front door had been painted a bright cheery yellow to match, and the small brass bell that rang when the door opened only added to the shop's quaint, charming feel.

The school had tried to talk Harry into becoming a full-fledged teacher, but he'd politely declined, saying he first wanted to try his hand at opening his own bookshop. In lieu of the fact he wouldn't be able to do story time at the school anymore, he made an arrangement that allowed kids to come to his shop and check out books for free, just like a library. Of course, as it turned out, the kids rarely left the shop with the books – they seemed to prefer taking up residence in the squashy beanbags Harry had stuffed in nooks and crannies all over the store: between bookshelves, in the loft space over the cash register, and even in the front window – reading until their parents came to collect them.

Harry referred to these regulars as his "other" kids. And the kids, in turn, had adopted Harry right back. It was the sweetest sort of symbiotic relationship that existed. Many had seen Harry reading his stories in person at the school. Many had begged their parents to check one out from his shop. Others asked Harry every time they saw him when his next book was coming out.

Children, as it happened, were always ready for more magic.

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Ironically, the proprietor of the tea and coffee shop next door was a Welshman who had relocated to Costa Rica some twenty years earlier, and was excited to be in business next to a fellow Brit.

On the day he'd stopped over to introduce himself, Severus had caught bits and pieces of the conversation while carrying in boxes of books. One exchange in particular had always stuck with him. The man (Alan, was his name – a kindly gentleman with graying hair and an expansive waistline) had asked Harry, "You're a young fellow to already be opening a shop of your own. How did you land on this line of work?"

And in response, Harry had said, "I didn't, really. I sort of fell into it by accident." He'd paused and smiled to himself then, clearly recalling something with a fond association, and then looked back at Alan. "Sometimes I think the right things find us. Story of my life, basically."

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It was also the year Harry finally bought himself a laptop – a little silver thing with a glowing white apple on the cover. Hermione had suggested typing after he complained about being unable to decipher his horrible handwriting ('Hippogriff scratches,' he'd called it.) Severus had asked Harry why he didn't get one with a pineapple instead of an apple and Harry had just laughed at him, then kissed him, then laughed some more.

Severus didn't see why it was funny – he'd thought it a valid suggestion – but was happy to let Harry soothe his ego with kisses nonetheless. He had no interest in computers, or really any of the Muggle gadgets that Harry often become enamored with. He preferred his crisp parchment, his leather-bound journals, his elegant, long-feathered quills. Harry thought it was charming, and made no move to try and update Severus. ('It just seems more you that way, I dunno.')

"I could always write you a book," Harry offered one day.

"Your children's stories would hardly satisfy an adult's tastes."

"That's not true, I have lots of adult customers."

"Who are likely shopping for their children, yes."

"Well, you read all my books."

"Only because they are yours, Harry. And they are good. They are just not Baxter, Silverberg, Stross or Banks."

Harry had nodded, likely knowing he couldn't compete with the well-worn, yet meticulously cared for, science fiction classics Severus favored. "Fair enough," he said with a smile, then added, "So, you're saying I should write science fiction instead?"

Severus paused, pursing his lips. "Only if that is your wish. I might even be coerced into reading those without your provocation."

"Git," Harry said with a fond sort of chuckle and Severus smirked.

Harry would often sit in bed late at night, tapping away quietly on his laptop with his tongue stuck out the corner of his mouth, the light from the screen giving his features a soft, bluish cast. Severus would lay in bed next to him, pretending to be asleep, watching with a fond sort of amusement as the words flowed onto the page.

He was always struck by the visual of it, too, for Severus could think of nothing else – aside from becoming a father – that had ever made Harry look quite so much at home.

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{ Present Day / June 2004 }

The soft bonging of the grandfather clock in the foyer stirred Severus from his thoughts.

Five o'clock already. He couldn't believe he'd been sitting there for an hour already, lost in a sea of his thoughts, taking a mental inventory of the last five years of his life. Within minutes, the sun crested the mountains and painted a swathe of light up the floor and over the tops of his pale feet.

The vaulted ceiling above him was now fully illuminated by the day's early light and Severus took a moment to sit up and glance around at the rest of the room, now that he could see it all: white walls merging seamlessly with white ceilings, soaring vaults and sun-drenched windows, native Almendro wood floors in a warm chestnut-brown, and a fireplace mantel that had been decorated with photos of Harry and himself and their two children – all evidence of the surreal existence he now called home.

Even though Severus was living it, it was still nearly incomprehensible at times. If someone would've even suggested such a thing were possible for him, he would have thought them quite delusional. He never even pictured himself alive at this point, much less here. Yet now that he was here – to fresh air and sunshine, to warm breezes and cleansing downpours, to a family of his own – he knew it was precisely where he was meant to be.

He stood and stretched. Soon it would be time for the rest of the house to be waking, for they were expecting guests that afternoon: Ron and Hermione were traveling in, their first visit since the opening of the bookshop – and one other big milestone – the month before.

Almost automatically, Severus pressed his left thumb against the underside of his fourth finger, fancying he could still feel the warmth of the runic magic that had hovered there. He'd married Harry at dusk, standing in the middle of Harry's new bookshop, beneath the glittering gold of bonding magic and the temporarily magicked ceiling of an expansive blue and orange sky.

SSHP-SSHP-SSHP

Hermione gave a sharp intake of breath as she walked slowly around the black grand piano that stood prominently in the center of the great room, the polished surface shining from the floor-to-ceiling windows that backdropped it.

"I bought it for Severus as a wedding gift."

"It's beautiful," Hermione enthused. Then she glanced over her shoulder and lowered her voice to a whisper. "This must have cost a fortune!"

Harry just smiled. "It did, but it was worth every Galleon just to see the look on his face when I gave it to him. You should see how he babies it – he practically caresses it. Come to think of it, I wouldn't be surprised if there was some kind of protective charm around it. He doesn't like the kids banging on the keys, and that's all they're interested in doing at the moment." Harry chuckled, letting his delight be evident.

Hermione grinned. "I imagine. It's a wonderful gift. Does he play it a lot?"

"Only when he thinks I'm not listening." They both laughed.

In truth, listening to Severus play was still one of Harry's favorite things to do. He was sure he wasn't fooling Severus with his attempts at stealth, but he always stayed out of view, listening instead from the den or when he was puttering around in the kitchen. The sound was rich and immersive and he swore it imbued every corner of the house with music. It would have been hard not to listen. But, he knew Severus didn't like an audience (or a vocal accompaniment, Harry snickered to himself) and so he respected Severus' space when the man wanted to lose himself in his music. Otherwise he was afraid Severus would squirrel the piano away in his basement lab and then Harry wouldn't get to enjoy the music or the way it looked in the room.

"I thought you said Severus had a piano at Hogwarts? He didn't bring that one?"

"No, he left it behind. I think he felt it belonged to the castle and that it should be there for someone else to find one day. Besides, if you ask me, he was due for an upgrade." Hermione smiled as Harry continued.

"He doesn't like it when I spend money on him, though I can't tell if that's just because he's so bloody independent or because he thinks the money is my Dad's or Sirius'. When I told him I have more money than I know what to do with, he just said, 'You don't have to spend it all before you're thirty, you twit.'" Harry smiled, then shrugged. "You know Severus, he hates being coddled – even when he's not and just thinks he is. So I just try to do things for him that I know he'd never do for himself because he's either too proud or too cheap."

They shared another knowing laugh and then Harry escorted her outside, where Ron was already playing with the twins.

SSHP-SSHP-SSHP

"I wonder what Severus would see in a dreamscape," Harry wondered aloud.

Hermione was sitting next to him on their porch swing. "Isn't it obvious?"

"Isn't what obvious?"

She turned to look at him. "I'm pretty sure he already has everything he desires, Harry."

Feeling his cheeks flush at the thought, Harry looked down at his knees. "Oh," he answered softly, unable to keep the smile from stealing across his face. They continued to watch Severus a bit longer, rooting around in the garden, carefully assessing and selecting herbs for their evening meal in that precise way of his. A sense of happiness and contentment settled over him and his smile widened. "Good."

SSHP-SSHP-SSHP

Despite Hermione's assertion, however, Harry couldn't let the dreamscape question go. He had to hear it from Severus himself. During a rare moment in the morning when it was just the two of them, Harry set down his coffee and took a deep breath. "What would you see in a dreamscape?"

Severus looked up from the newspaper he had been reading and stared at Harry for a moment, as though mentally sorting through the question he was just asked. "Imbecile," he said, then went back to reading the article before him.

"Wha—?" Stung and a little confused, Harry leaned over the table and pressed the newspaper away from Severus' face, but Severus simply fixed him with the same disinterested stare. "But you didn't even answer my – oh." Harry sat back suddenly and smiled. "You'd see this, wouldn't you?"

"Imbecile."

Harry felt the warmth and affection in Severus' tone as the newspaper snapped back into place, and he couldn't help the delighted chuckle that escaped.

SSHP-SSHP-SSHP

The following evening, after getting the table set for dinner, Harry and Hermione made their way to the great room to wait for the 'chefs' to finish cooking. Hermione had asked why they chose to get bonded now, after the children were already three, and not before. Harry had a ready answer.

"We wanted to wait until they were old enough to participate, so it could be about all of us; our family. I'm sorry that it excluded you and Ron, and the rest of the Weasleys," he said quickly, "but I think it was the first thing in my life that was really just for me. For Severus, too."

"I totally understand that, Harry, and I am not upset at all. Really. It's about time you two got to call the shots on something!" Her smile was gentle, and as he looked back at his friend of nearly fourteen years, he exhaled, feeling the tension he'd been expecting to meet melt away. He pulled her into a hug.

"Thank you," was all he could bring himself to say, feeling the emotions too close to the surface. When they separated, Hermione smiled again, though this time it was decidedly more mischievous.

"That doesn't exempt you from telling me the story, however!" she said, her grin widening. She settled herself comfortably on the sofa opposite Harry. "Now, start at the beginning – and don't leave out any details!" She curled her hands around a mug of steaming tea while Harry recounted the tale.

He'd always thought his bonding would happen in Australia (or that he'd want it to) but realized later there was a certain symmetry to it being held in Costa Rica. It tied them more permanently and poetically to the land, to the home and family they'd built, and to the life they had finally started to live. Besides, as a destination, it was still tropical. And magical.

It had been the day before the bookshop was due to open to the public. Harry had arranged for Severus to meet him there early so he could surprise him with the completion of the shop. The kids would join them later. Harry wanted his family to christen the shop publicly by being his first 'customers.' He had ideas for how to christen the shop privately once everyone but Severus cleared out.

However, when he arrived, the print version of his latest book was waiting for him in a box on the doorstep – a synchronous event he hadn't planned, but was delighted by the timing of nonetheless, for it was really the ahead-of-schedule appearance of the book that inspired him to expand his surprise of "Look, the shop's finished!" to an overture of "Will you marry me?"

The book was the first in a new series that told the on-going adventures of two men who had settled into their respective careers as a magical chemist and a clay artist, and who were also navigating the triumphs and pitfalls of a life shared together. It was called The Alchemist and the Potter. He hoped Severus wouldn't mind being written about, even with the allusions as abstract as they were, but he wanted to explore the mostly-fictitious world of two gay men. Mainly he wanted to write about new things, things from where he was now, since there were only a few adventures left from his childhood he hadn't yet written about. Harry wanted to start a new chapter – in more ways than one.

There hadn't been an engagement period, per se, unless you counted a proposal that lasted a minute or two, followed by the decision to conduct the ceremony later that same day.

Severus didn't want to give people a chance to fawn over him or Harry (or over them as a couple), and didn't want the grotesquery of decorations, flowers and all that 'useless, sentimental crap' – a description which had set Harry to laughing. He was fine letting Severus set the tone for it; he didn't care what they did, so long as he had Severus and the kids there with him.

Indeed, only seven people were present: Severus, Harry, the children, an officiant and one witness for each of them, who turned out to be Harry's colleagues from school and who Severus also knew. One of them had even offered to play a song during the ceremony, so Harry had conferred with him in private, keeping the request a secret. The result was "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" on ukulele. Harry thought it turned out very sweet, and Severus pretended not to be affected by it. Harry had just laughed and kissed him.

They'd kept their wardrobe simple and selected items from their own closet: black trousers with white button-down shirts. It felt ceremonial without being too formal. They let the kids choose their own clothes – Evan picked green shorts and a blue Spider-Man t-shirt; Elena opted for a yellow sundress – but then Harry outfitted them in matching black and white sneakers. It was his way of tying the kids into the ceremony while still being practical, since they were just going to be running around the shop anyway.

"We decided not to do wedding rings. Too traditional," Harry explained. "Instead…" He stopped and grinned, a faint blush tinging his cheeks.

"What?" Hermione prodded.

"Well, I already had a tattoo, and it turns out Severus really likes it, so we just added to it." He showed her the small, intertwined rings emblazoned on the chest of the phoenix, the edges of the bands marked in runic symbols that signified their bonding commitment. "He wasn't too keen on getting a similar tattoo for himself, though, so he agreed to get something pierced instead."

Hermione's eyes went wide and she leaned forward, her expression rapt. "He didn't!"

Harry's grin widened. "Oh, yes, he most certainly did."

Hermione slipped a hand over Harry's forearm, grasping it lightly. When she spoke, it was barely above a whisper. "Where?"

In response, Harry just kept grinning, his eyes nearly glittering. Eventually, Hermione squeaked, her expression owlish. "Oh my God! There?" Her reaction made it sound like she was somewhere between aghast and intrigued.

"There," Harry affirmed. Then he leaned closer in order to whisper back. "It's hot as hell, too, let me tell you. We have to be careful with some things, but going slow just heightens the whole experience, so I can hardly complain. I especially like threading my tongue through it."

She smacked his arm. "Harry James Potter!"

"What?" He laughed, shielding his face from her friendly swats. "You should tell Ron to get one, then you'll understand!"

"I would nev–" she started, but then paused thoughtfully. "Does it hurt to get one? Wait, what am I even saying! Harry!"

She began to laugh with him as she continued her mock assault until they both tipped over, collapsing into a heap on the floor. Harry tried to catch his breath as he clutched his sides, while Hermione pressed her face into his shoulder, shaking with laughter.

SSHP-SSHP-SSHP

"What in the…?" Ron froze as he entered the great room, Severus swerving out from behind him just in time. They were both carrying dishes and platters still steaming from the oven.

"Do you need directions to our dining room, Mr. Weasley? I did not just spent the last hour and a half cooking with you so that you may render this meal—" He broke off suddenly as he lined up his gaze with Ron's and took in the scene before him. Harry and Hermione were entangled on the floor, caught up in what appeared to be a fresh round of hysterics. They were laughing so hard they had tears streaming down their cheeks, their faces flushed red.

"Proceed, Mr. Weasley. It appears our respective others will be out of commission for a while."

SSHP-SSHP-SSHP

"Harry, you have the most ridiculously beautiful children," Hermione observed, shaking her head in disbelief.

Harry smiled, leaning over the edge of the crib to admire the sleeping toddlers. Trailing a finger along one round, dimpled cheek, his expression went impossibly soft. "Yeah, they're something, aren't they?"

"My genes, naturally," Severus deadpanned as he entered the room, carrying a bottle of wine and three glasses.

Hermione barked out a laugh, then immediately clapped a hand over her mouth, her eyes wide. "Sorry!" she whispered, casting an anxious glance at the children. She missed Severus' smirk as he began to pour a measure for each of them.

"Don't worry," Harry said with a smile, "they're good sleepers. I think it's all this fresh air." He motioned to an open window in the room, but Hermione knew the gesture meant this place – Costa Rica – in general. She found herself automatically sniffing at the breeze, relishing the subtle hint of spice that always seemed to infuse the lush, evening air.

When Severus approached, laden with three glasses of wine, he handed one to Hermione with a small incline of his head, and then approached his husband. Looping an arm around Harry's shoulders from behind, he leaned in and pressed a warm kiss to the exposed neck. Instinctively, Harry snuggled back into the embrace, grasping the proffered glass as he did so.

Hermione found herself smiling at the comfortable domesticity that Harry and Severus shared; at their family, their love. Who would have guessed? she thought with some degree of amusement and wonder. Glancing down at the children, their raven locks charmingly mussed against their foreheads, she watched as they slept on peacefully, completely unaware of the incredible journey their parents had taken to get to this moment.

Raising her glass minutely, Hermione silently toasted them. After savoring a small sip, she lingered only a moment longer before slipping from the room to give them a little time together. It was about time to go rouse Ron, anyway, as he'd fallen asleep on the sofa shortly after dinner.

One day, though, Hermione hoped Harry and Severus would gather their family around – grandchildren on their laps and their children, spouses and friends draped across every available seat or flat surface, lingering in the corners of the room or leaning against doorways (wherever there was space) – while they took turns telling their story. She could already picture it: all eyes would be riveted to the front, the younger ones lying on the floor with their chins in their hands, the adults somewhere behind them bearing fond, knowing smiles, and they'd all be listening raptly, held captive by every word, as though they were under the thrall of some magic.

And perhaps they would be, Hermione thought with a smile.

It was just one of those kinds of stories.

~ Fin ~