Severus is sitting in the garden, in the rickety chair Mr Hargreave left behind when he decided he needed to move up North to take care of his ailing mother. He’s unhappy about the chair not because it is rickety but because it is a sunchair, and as sunchairs are wont to be, it is only comfortable when sat in a particular way. The tanning way.
He is of course not tanning, as the clouds and his head-to-toe clothing should tell anyone, but the way he is forced to sit in this chair reminds him of the fancy housewives that would sit by the little pool in Cokesworth, on Lily’s side of town of course. Sometimes her parents would invite him in, and then he’d roll up his trousers and dip his feet in the water while Lily and Petunia laughed and screamed. Other times he’d sit by the fence, looking in, hoping they’d be able to play in the park again soon.
He’s pretending to himself to be contemplating the garden and what might be possible to do with it in the coming year or so, when a face peeks through the hedge. It’s unwashed and pink-cheeked and still unmistakably the Potter child he’s here to keep an eye on. It’s the glasses. They’re uncannily similar in shape and style to the ones the other Potter used to wear.
“Hello,” the child says. When Severus doesn’t reply, and just takes in the saggy clothes, the shaggy hair, the gap between his teeth where one half-tooth is just growing in, the child speaks up louder. “It’s impolite to ignore people, did you know?”
“It’s also impolite to enter other people’s gardens.”
The child thinks on that for a minute, a very serious crease forms between his brows. “It wouldn’t be if you invited me in,” he concludes.
“And why would I do that?”
The child’s eyes light up with mischief, and Severus has never been able to stand green eyes full of life and shine. When the child adds: “To offer me lemonade?” He’s lost forever.
“You’ll have to wash your hands first,” he says, when the child is sitting on his kitchen chair, his toes only barely touching the floor. He’s still squeezing lemons by hand, but the child needs no help to drag the chair over, climb on it, and wash his hands carefully and thoroughly without getting anything around the sink wet. “By the door,” Severus tells him, when he notices how carefully he’s trying not to drip. And he almost summons the towel. But then he decides not to.
Little Potters are a deft hand at stirring honey into a bit of warm water, and also at getting ice cubes out of the little trays that have improved very little since Severus last used one. He says thank you very politely, and holds the glass with two hands while he drinks, sitting on the step going down from the kitchen into the garden.
They don’t talk, not until Potter has put the glass to drip next to the sink, after washing it himself. Then he says thank you for the lemonade sir , as he slips away through the hedge again.
Severus has been at this Muggle house in this Muggle neighbourhood for two weeks, and that night he stares at himself in the mirror, his cropped-short hair, his prescription-less glasses. It wouldn’t do for Petunia to recognize him of course, but Polyjuice is not a long-term solution. Who knows how long it will take for them to find a replacement of Mr Hargreave. Surely nobody in the Order wants to give up their life to watch this Potter from afar. Apparently nobody in the Order but Snape owes Dumbledore enough that they can just be ordered to do so.
It’s two more months until the semester starts, and too late in the year to do much planting, but Severus knows that if he doesn’t work this garden he will go quite mad. So he finds tools at a local store, and seeds for enough non-magical plants that the few he’d like to grow that are magical are unlikely to stand out. He picks nothing immediately toxic, and thinks of grimy little hands while he does that. Not that he’s seen the little Potter since that first time.
Of course it is while Severus is kneeling between the grass he’s pulled loose between the dry summer dirt that the boy shows up again. Just his face, at first.
“Hello,” he says. “What’s your name?”
“You can call me Mr Dullaway,” Severus says. Because that’s the name that’s on his door and he’s not had to come up with a first name yet. Nobody has asked.
“Alright,” the child says, with his bright grin and his eager face. “Mr Dullaway may I enter your garden please?”
Severus tries desperately not to smile, and fails even as he turns away to push himself up to standing. Ridiculous. “You may.” He says. “But if you should like more lemonade you’re going to have to help me here first.”
He expects to have to tell the child how to use a trowel, expects clumsy sticky fingers leaving precious little seeds everywhere, and sloshing water all the way along the path from an overfilled watering can. But Potter is quite good at this.
“How far apart do these have to be?” he asks when Severus hands him a different sort of seed, and Severus has to stop himself from reacting to it.
He holds his hand next to Potter’s. “About three of my fingers. That’s... see, that’s the width of your palm.”
Harry works seriously and calmly, absorbed by his task of counting out seeds and tucking them in, watering them carefully so they don’t wash away. Severus makes the lemonade for him, and while rummaging through his grocery bag for the whisk he’s sure he bought but can’t find in his drawer, he finds among the receipts a garish plastic ball with a tiny toy in it. He blushes as he thinks of how he’d been unable to resist for the first time ever having the money to get one of these. He used to be able to recognize the toys in these, he used to know their names, but this figure is only vaguely person-like and colourful to him.
“There you go,” he tells Harry when he hands him the capsule toy, and Harry looks at his dirty hands before taking it regardless, like he’s scared the offer will be withdrawn. “I can hold it while you rinse off,” Severus offers, and he gets the plastic ball back, a little muddier now. Harry drinks his lemonade as quietly as he had last time, but he stares at the toy for a good twenty minutes after, the glass safe in his lap. When Petunia raises her voice, like she’s leaning out the kitchen door to do it, going “BOYS” Harry remembers to keep the glass safe when he jumps up. He looks about wild-eyed and Severus holds his hand open.
“I’ll wash the cup,” he clarifies. “The toy is yours, go off then.” And Harry is gone in a flash.
Not every time, but occasionally, Severus goes to the store and brings back a toy from the vending machine. Once he runs into Petunia and her offspring, and he makes sure to go to the vending machine where Harry can see him pick a coin, put it in, turn the dial. He holds up the ball that comes out, and adds it to his shopping bag. When he looks over to Harry before walking away his cheeks are pink with joy, even though his cousin is crying quite loudly and by the looks of it, has been for a while. He winks and walks back to the house.
Severus expects to be called back to Hogwarts, but August comes and passes, and it’s the week before term is due to start that he gets an owl in the middle of the night. He feeds it as it perches on his shoulder, and reads the long letter it brought in. There’s no one there yet to take over the house, but Slughorn is willing to teach this year. Would he be so kind as to send over his lesson plans. Severus sighs and collects everything Slughorn might need, thinks to duplicate it before giving it over to the owl in case the old charlatan decides to do anything stupid. He scratches out a note to Dumbledore and drafts the sentence he needs to add about his income on a separate piece of paper five times before he’s satisfied with it. Not too desperate, not too meek.
He doesn’t expect there to be a reply from Dumbledore by morning, but he still walks around with a distinct sense of disease all day. If he has to stay here but cannot be paid as a Hogwarts professor, his entire savings are not going to be enough to keep him going for a full year. It’s only this whole day of itchiness that prompts him to answer the doorbell at all when it rings right after what Severus knows to be proper dinnertime in areas such as this one.
“Mr Dullaway,” a friendly but stressed looking lady says as a greeting. “I’m across.” She points. “We’re the Martins. I’m Elly.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Severus says, in the hopes that she will never grace his doorstep again if he’s just polite.
“I can’t – forgive me for the intrusion but. Our babysitter is allergic to the dog.” Severus raises an eyebrow in the way he knows scares his students. Elly laughs nervously. “I only... I’d pay of course. Would you perhaps?”
“Ms Martin?” Severus urges.
“I’ve noticed you’re home frequently and I was wondering if you’d be willing to watch the dog while we’re at work.” She looks as apologetic as she should, and she agrees to pay him what he used to make babysitting human children per hour. Surely dogs are less work than children?
When the letter agreeing to his proposal arrives that evening he regrets agreeing to help Ms Martin out. He regrets it even more when a mid-sized dog is handed over the next morning with food and bowls and a long list of instructions. It wags its tail every time its name is mentioned, and Severus tells himself that if the beast destroys one single thing he’ll tell the Martins they can go drop it off at a shelter like everybody else.
“You’ve got a dog,” Harry’s clear voice rings out as Severus is sat in the garden reading. He’s wearing a school uniform, that’s a bit big on him and his hair is a riot above his worn-out pale face.
“Come on through,” Severus suggests, and he offers the child his seat in his only chair before he can think it through. He makes lemonade and finds the mostly alright lemon cake he’d made. Harry eats it like it’s the food of gods, bright eyes filled with awe, and then he drinks his lemonade like he needed it, and drains a second glass just as quickly. The dog has settled on the chair next to Harry, so Severus sits on the stoop and watches Harry coo at the dog.
“It’s not my dog,” Severus says. “I’m watching it.”
“What’s it called?”
It’s a logical question and yet Severus hates to give the answer. He knows he’s scowling when he says it. “Sprinkles.”
Harry laughs like he’s startled, eyes wide with surprise, and he keeps petting the dog, which has settled its head in Harry’s lap with a heavy contented sigh. “It’s nice,” Harry says. It is.
Severus’ days take shape quickly. He tells Elly to just let the dog into the garden in the morning and waves at her from the kitchen window. They go for a long walk and try to be back before lunchtime, then eat. Severus goes to the stores when he has to as soon as the lunchtime rush is over, and sits in the garden until Harry pops by. Which happens most days. When Harry gets called in for dinner and the dog has been picked up, Severus cooks for himself. At night he brews for Poppy.
It’s the weekends that are strange. The dog isn’t there, and still Harry sneaks through the hedge. The first time it starts raining while they’re both in the garden Severus is standing in front of Harry in the kitchen when he realises that he should have sent the boy home.
“What are those?” Harry asks, peeking into the bowl on the counter without touching anything by standing on his tiptoes. It’s the blackberries Severus had picked on his walk the day before. He checks the fridge.
“The makings of crumble,” Severus says. Soon Harry is standing on a stool with Severus’ too-large apron tied on, elbow-deep in sugar and butter while Severus weighs out the flour and adds a pinch of salt. It’s hard to get the dough to crumble with small hands but he’s determined and concentrated, giving Severus the time to wash the blackberries, pick through them to check for bugs, and get the oven preheated.
The crumble in the oven creates a whole new problem however. It’ll be a while before it’s done and it’d be cruel to send the boy away without having tried any, but how do you keep a child occupied with no garden, no dog, and no potions homework?
Harry washes his hands and wanders into the sitting room, while Severus makes tea to settle his thoughts. He has... not even got paper. When the water boils he makes a pot and he carries it through to the sitting room, on a tray with cups and milk and sugar like Mrs Evans used to do it. He sets the tray down on the little table by the sofa and finds Harry in front of the bookcase.
“Are you a magician?” he asks, big green eyes looking up. It’s not a bad deduction considering the books Severus has here.
“I’m a teacher,” he says, because it’s true. “But I’m not teaching this schoolyear because I’m working on something else. That’s why I’m around the house so much.”
Harry nods, and his eyes latch on to the checkers board that Mr Hargreave had left behind. He looks up over his shoulder at Severus as if trying to estimate what his chances are of being allowed, which is why Severus nods.
They set up on the carpet in front of the fireplace, and when the rain becomes a thunderstorm Severus asks if Harry doesn’t need to go home so his aunt and uncle will know he’s safe. “Nah,” Harry says, absorbed in the game. “She only cares if I’m not there by dinner.”
Severus lets it slide, tries not to think about how the cousin has clothes that fit just fine. He lets the boy win the second time, and the third time has to actually try to win. By then the crumble is ready, and Severus finds some vanilla ice cream in his freezer and they’re both quite happy he thinks. It’s a strange sort of thought.
On Christmas morning the doorbell rings. Severus blearily makes his way down the stairs, and it’s a testament to the degree in which this neighbourhood is obviously Muggle that he doesn’t even consider checking who rang before opening the door dressed only in pyjamas and his bathrobe. Harry is standing on his stoop, for the first time. He normally just comes in through the kitchen door or hangs out in the garden waiting for Severus if the door is locked.
His hair is brushed and his cheeks are red and he’s wearing his too-wide winter coat with its too-short sleeves.
“Merry Christmas,” he says, and he thrusts a grubby little parcel at Severus, who only just manages not to drop it. He blushes even more and is turning around like he’ll run off before Severus catches up.
“Wait,” he says, and he leaves the door open so Harry can follow him in. “Do you have time to sit?”
“No we’ve got Aunt Marge coming over,” Harry sounds quite unhappy about this but Severus is rummaging around his desk drawers. Surely it was – there.
“Merry Christmas,” he says, handing over the tiny parcel. He’d asked the shop lady to pack it for him so it’d be done neatly, and regrets it a bit looking at how much effort Harry had put into wrapping his.
Harry only stares at it, which is the strangest thing Severus has ever seen him do. He’s never met a child that wanted to play checkers with him, sure, but he hadn’t ever even thought to conceive of a child that wouldn’t tear into the wrapping the second they were presented with a gift.
“Go on then,” Severus urges. He starts on the tape on the present he’s holding, picking carefully at the corner. The wrapping is normal printer paper with drawings of trees all over it, home-made Christmas paper, and Severus can’t help but smile as he tries not to tear it while opening it. Then Harry gasps, so he looks up. “Try them? I’d like to know they fit.”
Harry slips a hand into one of the gloves and wriggles his fingers with such an expression of glee on his face that Severus can’t help but laugh.
“Thank you,” Harry says, his bright green eyes sincere and determined. Kids gloves are all hideous, Severus had discovered while looking for a good warm pair. These are no exception, but at least they’re not covered in little teddy bears. And they’re just the sort of warm red that complements his eyes.
“You’re very welcome,” Severus says, and then they both hear a car honking in the street and Harry is off in a flash. He’s taken the wrapping paper the gloves came in with him.
Severus closes the door behind him, thinking about the strangest child he’s ever met, and then remembers he has a gift to unwrap.
As soon as the paper peels back he sinks down to the floor, sits there holding up a little Christmas ornament. Merry Christmas it reads in what must be the teacher’s handwriting. All over it is a shaky checked pattern, all the white squares filled with tiny yellow flowers, smudged a little here and there. Severus touches it all over, holding it this way and that, admiring the way Harry stopped clear of the letters, the way the fiddly pattern must have taken absolute ages to complete. He knows what Harry looks like when he’s that concentrated, the way he frowns, the way he breathes in little gasps as if he’s forgetting to.
He doesn’t have a tree for it, so he buys a hook and screws it into the wall over the fireplace, hangs the ornament from it and feels spectacularly stupid when he spells it unbreakable.
The next time Harry comes over he lights up at the sight of it and that is worth more than enough. Then Severus sets out the snow globe making set he’d bought on clearance and he doesn’t hear a peep from Harry for hours while they fiddle with little houses and Severus tries to get the seal just right before giving up and using a little magic while Harry isn’t looking to make sure they won’t leak. They drink their hot chocolate while Harry picks up the snow globes to shake them every two minutes. It’s nice.
When Severus is summoned to a meeting he has to take a moment to let himself remember that this is not his life, he isn’t Mr Dullaway that lives at Wisteria Walk who watches a dog, brews and reads, and occasionally tries to keep a seven-year-old entertained.
The meeting itself is even worse than the realisation. Lupin has not learned a thing about who to trust from spending his whole time at school with a rat and a murderer for best friends, and no one will even look at him. At the very end Dumbledore produces Arabella Figg, newly widowed and returned from the continent. She’s to take over his house and he’ll return to Hogwarts.
“After Easter,” Severus says. Everyone turns their heads to him – they only look when they stare. “I’ll return to Hogwarts after Easter. I’ve got to pack.”
“Where will Arabella stay until then?” Dumbledore says, too surprised by this defiance to actually refuse it apparently.
“I’m sure my sister wouldn’t mind,” Arabella says, and that settles it.
When he leaves he hears Doge argue with Dumbledore about leaving a Death Eater in charge of the Potter boy, and he hears bloody Hestia cackle over something said by Lupin. He’s always glad to leave.
He has dinner with the Malfoys not a week later, their son is almost exactly the same age Harry is and although he does not frown in quiet concentration or laugh like Severus is made of starlight, at least he knows to appreciate Severus’ brewing. He sits with his back straight at the dinner table and uses a knife and fork how he’s supposed to, and Severus is deeply, desperately grateful to be wearing robes.
Before he leaves Lucius pulls him aside. “I don’t want to upset Narcissa,” he starts. “But we’re having a solstice meeting at Macnair’s. You should come.”
Macnair is a bloodthirsty demon and they both know it. But Severus nods. They always ask after his mother’s health at these meetings. Most of the Order probably thinks he climbed out of a swamp fully formed.
The morning after his dinner at the Malfoys Severus wakes up earlier than he usually does. He’s not sure why, he was in bed late and had more than a bit of Lucius’ excellent wine. He walks downstairs for his coffee and sits with his cup not on the steps but in his chair, staring into nothing while he blows at the steam. He sees something move out of the corner of his eye and curses himself for leaving his wand inside, struggles to sit up because of this damned lounge chair, and then realises it’s the child sneaking through the hole in the hedge again. “Did I not tell you to stop trampling my flowers and use the front gate like everybody else?” Severus barks out, far sharper than he normally would be, and Harry freezes like a caught rabbit. When Severus stands up he can tell how carefully Harry is standing between the flowerbeds, how he’s made sure not to hurt any of the plants that are just starting to peek out from the soil. “Oh Harry,” he says, “I’m sorry. I should not have said that.”
He walks over and notices how stiffly the boy is still holding himself, and guides him out of the morning chill into the kitchen where he can keep an eye on him as he makes hot chocolate. When he turns back with a full mug Harry is furiously wiping at his eyes and he feels even worse.
“Thank you,” Harry says, sniffling a bit still when he wraps his hands around the mug. He’s not looking at Severus.
“I know you’re careful,” Severus says. None of the plants he is growing are toxic, he wouldn’t do that to Harry or the dog. Horrible Mrs Figg is going to uproot the lot of them probably. “I asked you to use the gate because the plants are so fragile still but we can lay down some stones for you so you know where to step.”
Harry says nothing but transforms in front of his eyes. He sits up and looks at Severus, mischief making him glow, and he changes the topic like nothing ever happened. “I’ll bet I can defeat you at Monopoly.”
Severus considers bringing it up, how Harry so thoroughly pushed all the hurt away, and decides that not digging up anything he doesn’t have the time to deal with is probably the better course of action. So he rolls his eyes. “Nobody wins at Monopoly.”
They have a friendly shouting match over Park Lane that makes Harry laugh and laugh. It’s time for dinner before either of them wins.
Although he contemplates just leaving, Severus decides that honourable thing to do would be to tell Harry. He hates doing the honourable thing, for obvious reasons, and hates it even more when Harry just nods and asks to go. During the Easter weekend, one week before he’s due to leave, his doorbell rings. The dog is already in the garden so Severus opens the door slowly, and finds a scowling Petunia looking down at a scowling Harry. The both look just like Lily like this.
“If you could watch him for the day,” Petunia says, mean and sharp. “We’re to go to church and he’d just make a ruckus. I can pay you of course.”
“There’s no need,” Severus says before he can catch himself. She’s clearly not upset at the prospect of Harry having a terrible day. “I’ll make him do chores.”
She nods, clearly pleased by the idea, and turns to walk right off. Then she catches herself. “Thank you, I will be back for him around eight.”
Severus steps back, and Harry walks in through the door slowly. They’ve not seen each other in a few days. Not since Severus told him. And now the living room is full of boxes. They stand awkwardly in the hallway together, and then Harry bends down to tug free his shoelaces.
“Let’s...” Severus says it before he can stop himself. “Let’s go to the park.”
The park is a bit of a walk but the dog loves it and Severus gets to cast a quiet Reparo on Harry’s shoes. It helps a bit even if it makes his trainers no cleaner than they were. They stop for ice cream and Severus lets Harry choose any flavour he wants, praying a cooling charm will be enough to keep the ice from being all the way melted by the time Harry is too full to keep going and passes his left-overs on to the Severus.
“Why on earth did you choose apricot?” Severus asks when they’re on their way up the hill. It’s still mostly cold, and it’s nice ice cream for the most part.
“I’d never tried it!” Harry protests, and Severus makes disappointed noises until Harry laughs. They stand on the bench at the top of the hill and look out over as much of Surrey as they can see while the dog walks around sniffing things here and there, and then take the other way back. Harry talks about school and a pinecone he found, and Severus doesn’t dare bringing it up. Maybe they can just have one last nice day.
They get groceries together, and make pizzas from scratch that have horrible monster faces and taste of bread and cheese mostly. Harry doesn’t like olives but he does like using them for horrible monster eyes so all the wrinkled olives end up on Severus plate, and Severus pretends to not like them either as he moans about how they just keep multiplying.
When Petunia rings the doorbell at eight exactly Harry is fast asleep on the sofa, tucked in under a woollen throw, and Severus thinks maybe I should keep him . He winks at Harry while he lies through his teeth about all the chores he made Harry do, and gets a sleepy little wave before Harry is dragged off home.
On the morning of the day he’s supposed to go, he wakes to the doorbell, ringing very insistently, and when he opens the door Harry is wrapped around his waist faster than physics would consider possible. He pets his hair and whispers all the weakness he’s managed to keep inside into the hot tear-filled space between them. About how he’ll miss Harry and he would stay if he could but they will meet again he swears it and it will be years from now and Harry will be tall and strong but he will know him still . None of it helps. Nothing could.
Severus is setting up his lab to prepare for the brewing Poppy is sure to need at the start of the new school year. He’s received a letter from Lucius informing him his son will be attending Hogwarts in fall, as if Severus hasn’t always known this. His mind is on the letter as he sets the cauldron down neatly in the middle of the flame and adjusts the heat, until there is a knock. He turns off the fire with a sigh. No interruption is ever brief at Hogwarts.
“Hello Severus,” Albus says as he sweeps into the room. “How are your preparations for the coming year going?”
He knows all that, they just talked yesterday about the dark blotches Severus’ Mark has been gaining all through summer. They’d talked about making sure the children of Death Eaters never had any doubt he was on their side.
“Same as yesterday,” Severus tells him therefore. “I’m just about to start brewing.”
Albus hums pleasantly, and walks up and down the lab as if taking in the phials and ingredients Severus stores here. He’s just about to ask when Albus turns to face him. “I was thinking over our conversation,” he says, mild and gentle in the way that makes Severus’ skin crawl. “I think it might not be enough to have the Slytherins think you are on their side. It might be time to start more overtly antagonizing the students from the other houses. Particularly, of course, Potter.”
Severus doesn’t start the argument about not all Death Eaters being Slytherins, he knows it won’t make a difference. His stomach churns and roils as he nods, pretending to care not the least bit about Harry. “Of course,” he says.
“Shouldn’t be hard,” Dumbledore remarks breezily, before he leaves. He’s very clearly pleased with himself. “After all – I’m told he looks remarkably like his father.”
In the years that come after Severus will sometimes try to remember what is the last thing they said, but he doesn’t know. He knows of course the first thing they say to each other, when they see each other again. Even if he doesn’t know everything they said to each other since then, he does know what the tone was. What it always has been.
When Severus takes all the horrible memories he has of James, all the wonderful memories he has of Lily and Harry out of his mind and puts them into the Pensive to be able to make it through what Dumbledore calls Occlumency lessons, he is forced to flash through all the bright-green lit-up smiles he’s ever received, once when he takes them out, and once when he puts them back in. When he drags Harry out of the Pensive and sees no recognition he knows that’s not the memory he saw. A peek at the still-moving surface shows him the lake, the tree, the crowd. And he is angry. He is beyond furious that this one opportunity he was likely to ever have of being recognized and seen ended instead with Potter mocking him. He almost apologises for the cockroaches, but then remembers what Dumbledore told him the day before Harry was due to arrive on the train.
Severus returns from meetings, his head full of lingering glances that drip with disapproval, his arm still burning, and holds the snow globe Harry gave him upside down. Then he flips it so the right side is up again. And back around.
When he lets his memories flow to promise Harry that he once loved Lily, that he wouldn’t have betrayed her had he known, and adds the prophecy to the end of it, while praying that his eyes will light up with recognition, he knows it is too late. He kept his promise but Harry won’t ever know.
The door bangs open and Severus looks up as slow as he can, even though he can hear someone stands panting just on the threshold, knowing not to come in until they’ve been invited to do so.
“Pansy,” he says, and she is pale. Pansy is only ever pale when she is very angry. “The new one?”
“Took three hundred orders of Wheeze-away,” she says. That’s not so bad, they’re good money. “To be delivered by next Tuesday.”
Severus groans and leans back into his chair. The leather creaks. “When?”
“On Friday of course, just before the weekend.”
Of course. They only have one more day to cancel the order with no financial penalty, as per their own policy, and they are never going to have enough – “do we have any?”
There’s shouting down the hall, and Pansy shakes her head before leaning out to check what’s going on. “None Snape, the freezers are fucking empty.”
Of course, of course. Severus closes the notebook he was working in, closes the reference books he had laid out across his desk so that he might finally get some bloody Potioneering done, and before he Apparates out, snatches the phone book from its place on the shelf and Transfigures his clothing to look more Muggle-like.
“Sheep – sheep placenta?” The first farm he goes to has a very nice Squib lady working for it. This is not the nice lady that Severus is speaking to right now.
“Alberta!” Severus hollers when he sees her cross the courtyard, and she smiles at him when she recognises him, sets down what she was holding, and comes over.
“I can check,” she says, “but don’t get your hopes up.” And it makes sense. It’s almost spring, there’ll be new ones so soon. Not by Tuesday though.
Together they walk over to the large freezers tucked away in a corner of a kitchen-like space filled with filthy overalls and muddy boots. “Shit,” he says, when she opens the doors. It’s almost entirely empty.
“Here’s one.” She hands it to him and they both look at it, stiff and frost-burned in a plastic sandwich bag. It’s not enough.
Albert gives him some suggestions, all farms in the area, and even lets him borrow a car. It’s been approximately two decades since Severus last drove a car but he’s not going to tell her that. He needs this car - any other farmer is unlikely to take kindly upon him showing up out of thin air, asking for placentae.
Six farms later Severus pauses by the side of the road again to look at the stupid road atlas. He squints at the book, and then looks around to try and figure out how far it is to the next one, when he notices a sign with a little painted sheep on it. The sign claims to be organic, as if all sheep aren’t bloody organic, but Severus turns into the road with a sigh. This one is not on the list from Alberta but it doesn’t look like anyone from the list is going to be much help either.
He ends up parking, or something to the effect of parking, right in front of a very large puddle. It looks a bit icy still, the air is getting cold now that it’s getting later. Severus would rather not risk his dragonhide boots, but even more than that he doesn’t want to get the car stuck. That’d inevitably end up with either roadside assistance, or having to Obliviate someone, or both.
He carefully walks around the edge of the puddle, and is greeted by a too-friendly dog that gets mud all over his trousers anyway. There’s also not a soul to be seen. Then the dog shoots off and Severus hears a rinkling sort of noise. He looks up at the sky. The sun is setting. The sheep will want their feeding, and he has to decide in the next thirty minutes if he wants to cancel that bloody order.
“Oi, can I help you mate?” he hears, and when Severus spins around, there is a farmer with his back turned, fussing with a very unhappy sounding sheep.
“I need sheep placenta!” Severus shouts back. “I’m happy to pay!”
“Just a mo’, yeah!” Comes back, and Severus leans against the fence to wait, his arms wrapped around himself for some warmth. He doesn’t have much time.
He hears the dog bark and then feels the fence groan, only a few minutes later. When he turns to look up at the farmer he saw earlier, who jumps the fence with enviable grace, his breath catches in his throat.
Harry Potter, dressed in mud and wool, laughs heartily. “Fancy seeing you here!” he says as he checks the lock on the gate. “Are you really here for placenta?”
“I am,” Severus says. He looks well, his eyes bright and happy, his hair tousled from hard work and being outside.
“Alright,” Potter says, easy as anything. “Come on through.” He has the sort of freezer that lies down, the kind Mr Evans had bought when he’d decided to take up fishing. Lily and him had laughed along with Mrs Evans when he’d come back with his first catch – small enough to be more of a lunch than a dinner. For one.
The freezer being low means that before Severus knows it Harry is bent over and a pale strip of skin, shockingly pale compared to his face and hands and lower arms, is revealed. Severus swallows at it, and then when Harry steps aside and with shining eyes holds the freezer wide open, he remembers what he’s here for.
“I’ve got loads,” Harry says, and it’s not a lie. The whole freezer is full, though it’s not clear what with. From here it looks mostly like a strange assortment of bright-coloured shopping bags, most from Asda from what Severus can tell. He looks at Harry – wide-eyed. “I’m sorry for the bags,” he says. “They’re good for Potions, no?”
“Yes,” Severus says. He’s a bit surprised Potter would remember this despite being incapable of slicing or dicing. “It’s a principal ingredient of Wheeze-away.”
“The only Autosomal Compulsory Hypo-ophthalmic Outburst Controlling Potion,” Harry grins and looks away as he says it. That was on the Wireless four years ago. Severus’ first commercial, the only one he’d voiced himself. “Can I offer you a cuppa?”
Severus breathes in and out, trying to think. “If you’d give me twenty minutes – I could. If you’d let me buy these from you of course, then I could – be back. I could come back.”
Harry nods, wide serious eyes, and Severus decides the car can wait, he just Apparates a round-trip with armfuls of placenta and drops them all on Pansy’s desk. She looks a bit impressed when she realises what’s in all of these bags, and then takes over.
It took no more than five minutes but now Severus is standing in the mud, the light is fading past the line of trees across the field, and he is all alone. The door to the tiny house is open, the bright light beckons him in, and Severus lets his feet carry him across the yard. He remembers just on time to take off his boots by the door, and lets the Transfiguration fall away as he’s fussing with his socks. He doesn’t feel like himself at all, but at least he can look the part.
“Hey,” Harry says, when he sees Severus. It’s a very old building, the doorposts are too low for Severus, but the wooden beams and the not-quite rectangular room are comfortable and neat. Ancient tiles on the floor, a sofa with a basket filled with knitwear next to it. Perhaps – “Here you go,” Harry offers, setting a mug down on the coffee table, a plate of biscuits next to it, before going back for his own.
“You’ve got a lovely home,” Severus says, because it’s true. He hadn’t realised how cold he was starting to feel and relaxes his stiff muscles a bit now.
“Thank you,” Harry looks at ease, smiles as he sits down on the sofa too. “I’ll join you, that chair is not for me.” They both look and as if it knows it’s being talked about, a mangy-looking grey cat opens one displeased yellow eye.
“Thank you for the placentae,” Severus says, for lack of anything else to say. “They’ll be a great help.”
“You don’t need to go brew with them?”
“No I’ve – business has been good. I hire assistants for the lab, they do the majority of the brewing.”
“Oh that must be lovely,” Harry says, so sincerely that Severus can’t help but look at him. He blushes under the attention. “Just – I know how you like to invent and create and research.”
How does he know that? Severus frowns at the fireplace, not a proper one but a little burner in the corner, not large enough to be connected to the Floo, but why would it be. He sees the familiar little snowglobe standing on the mantelpiece above it at the same time as Harry starts speaking again and misses all of it.
“ – Snape?”
“Pardon?” Severus turns to look at him, expects to be yelled at or kicked out or perhaps even – perhaps even laughed at.
“I’ve got dinner in the oven. There’s plenty for two if you’d like to stay.”
He asks Harry about his farm, his business, the sheep. About leaving the Wizarding World, and who he still talks to. Mostly Weasleys, it seems.
“How about you?” Harry asks, dragging a piece of bread through the last of his dinner. He ate as much as he always has, but he has a sense of peace about it that is wholly new. “The shop is going well?”
“It is – the mail orders especially. Pansy – Parkinson, she handles most of the client- facing side of things.”
“She’d be good at that,” Harry says. “She knows how to read people.” It’s true. Severus knows how to read people too? but it exhausts him, whereas Pansy always seems to have more energy after dealing with particularly gruesome customers. It’s a shame good shop assistants are hard to find, but at least he has Pansy.
When Severus stands in his sitting room that night, right above the now dark and quiet shop, his mind is still whirring. He’s been invited to join Harry for dinner again. It was an enjoyable evening. His mind races with it all night, and he must’ve slept but all he remembers when he gets up the next morning is the smoky sound of Harry’s laugh.
Harry tells him to come whenever, he only ever has plans on Sundays, and Severus does. The first time he comes early enough that it could still reasonably be tea-time. Harry doesn’t need to invite him to stay for dinner – but he does.
Then it gets easy. There’s plenty to do around the farm but few things are ever urgent, and it feels luxurious to be able to arrive whenever and get Harry’s full attention as if he has always been worthy of it.
One Tuesday afternoon he arrives a bit early, he has brought groceries and thinks of having dinner ready by the time Harry has fed the sheep. As he walks over from the big tree that makes sure he won’t be seen by unsuspecting Muggles, he notices a child playing with the dog and he freezes mid-step. From afar, from the back, he looks just like him, but when Severus sets himself in motion again, and the dog runs over to greet him, and the child comes to squint up at Severus, it’s clearly not Harry.
“I’m Severus Snape,” he says, holding out his hand. The boy shakes it with a serious look on his face, and he looks like his mum, though his dad is there in the line of his jaw, the lightness of his eyebrows.
“I knew your parents,” Severus tells him. “You look just like them.”
“No I don’t,” the boy says, frowning. He motions at his hair, which is still unruly and dark, indeed rather like Harry’s.
“Your hair is Harry’s, but your face is yours,” Severus says it as he steps around him. He needs to get this food in the fridge.
When he has set everything aside, and stands up tall again, he notices the child has followed him into the house and is frowning at him still. He breathes in through his nose, and out through his mouth.
“Do you know where Harry keeps his board games?” He asks, and the boy brightens up and runs outside. Severus hears him have a shouting sort of conversation and takes the opportunity to wash his hands. When he comes back he leads Severus to the right cupboard though.
He’s not a quick study of the game like Harry was, but he looks up at Severus repeatedly, as if he’s trying to figure out what to do from what Severus is doing. It’s a good strategy that Severus approves of, but it’s not going to make him let the child win.
Severus regrets choosing checkers when Harry walks in and greets Severus with a squeeze to his shoulder. Especially when he sits down next to Teddy, and they band together to try and defeat Severus despite his headstart. Harry is still very good, but Severus still wins, and he’s more than a little smug about it. Almost enough to forget that he still hasn’t told Harry, they’ve never talked about Sprinkles or Wisteria Walk or the line-up of little toys Harry has on a shelf in his bathroom.
“Severus was my teacher at Hogwarts,” Harry tells Teddy as they eat the pie Severus made for dessert. “And then when I was training to be an Auror like your mum, he was my teacher again!”
Severus remembers the way they’d locked eyes on that very first day in the Advanced Potions for Aurors class. The way his cheeks had heated, the way they’d both squared their jaws. He’s stopped doing that - doesn’t need the extra income anymore.
“And then when I was trying to hire someone to paint the shop,” Severus says, and Harry throws his head back to laugh, probably remembering the way they’d stood on opposite ends of the shop, Harry obviously a painter, Severus obviously the owner, and had both tried to find a way to get out of this. They hadn’t - and Harry had done an admirable job.
“Don’t forget Olivanders!” Harry had lasted only six months as a wandmaker’s apprentice, and of course this had been when Severus had needed a new wand after a Potion’s accident he still doesn’t like talking about. He looks down at the table to stop himself from smiling.
“But you’re not an Auror,” Teddy pipes up to say.
“I’m not,” Harry says, warm and kind. “It’s hard, and it’s not for everyone. Your mum was very good at it but I wouldn’t have been. I’m not a painter or a wandmaker either.”
“And thank Merlin for that,” Severus mumbles, remembering the row they had about the merits of having a wand with dragon’s heartstring instead of the same unicorn hair he’d always had before. Harry kicks him under the table, gently enough that it’s obviously playful, and then Severus does laugh.
Teddy looks a bit lost in the conversation, so Severus gets Harry talking about his time between university and the apprenticeship, when he’d worked as a dog walker. He fishes a piece of paper out of the stack piled on one side of the table and checks both sides before he starts doodling in the margins of whatever is on there while Teddy and Severus talk about how Teddy is doing in school. Before they know it the clock chimes, Teddy has to go to bed, and Severus has to go home.
The next time Severus comes over Harry has only just said hi when he gets called out by the dog barking like he is possessed. “Shit,” Harry grabs a bag from out the door, “sorry I gotta - ”
Severus follows him out and sure enough, a sheep is bleating miserably not far from the house, the dog gets a treat for fetching Harry, and when they get closer they see one lamb already next to the sheep. Harry checks and two little hooves are already showing.
“Oh you’re so close,” Harry coos, and with one hand he grabs the little hooves and pulls. The lamb slides out and Harry wipes its face, grins up at Severus when the lamb complains loudly. The other one is standing on wobbly legs looking to the ewe, and Harry draws back.
“Two,” Severus says. He’s never seen anything quite like this before.
“Yeah,” Harry kneels and then sits in the grass, not too far away from the little family. “I want to see them feed, and the placenta should arrive soon.”
Severus sits down next to him, and they stare at the sheep and the field and the darkening sky together. The afterbirth happens not much later, when both lambs have had a drink and a good sniffle, and Harry picks it up with a Tesco’s bag. He winks at Severus as he twists it closed.
Harry goes up for a shower when they’re back at the house, so Severus cooks for them both, something quick because he’s hungry, with much cheese because he wants the comfort. They eat it while sitting close together on the sofa, Harry smelling of clean laundry and shampoo. With the dishes done and both of their mugs empty of tea, sitting next to each other on the coffee table, Harry turns to face Severus. He is leaning back, his neck and Adam's apple a graceful interrupted arc. “I’m sorry I didn’t warn you about Teddy the other day,” Harry says.
“The words you’re looking for are thank you for entertaining my godson,” Severus answers, and Harry grins and knocks their knees together. He couldn’t look away if he wanted to, Harry’s hair is drying into curls, his jumper looks impossibly soft, and his hand is between them, palm facing up, his index finger just touching Severus’ thigh.
When he looks into Harry’s eyes again, Harry smiles even wider, and uses his other hand to touch two fingers to Severus’ chin. He presses up a little, and then leans in, his eyes searching Severus’ face. Until he’s close enough to kiss, and presses one, two gentle kisses to Severus’ lips.
He leans away again and Severus hadn’t meant to close his eyes, but he has to force them open again, squinting against the too-bright light, feeling breathless and sore with it all. Harry leans away a bit further so Severus follows, kisses him back.
When Severus opens his eyes next his neck is stiff and his limbs are heavy with prickling need, but Harry looks beautiful so when he stands and offers his hand Severus follows him up the stairs. Harry undresses in the middle of his bedroom, not bothering with the curtains but then who would see? Only the little lamp on his bedside table is on, and when he slips between the sheets he almost disappears into the dark shadows cast about the bedroom. Severus does not need to deliberate for long. Soon he has the sheets up to his chin, one of Harry’s hands between his shoulder blades, and a warm leg hiked up over his hip. They kiss like nothing else exists and it takes only minimal fumbling to end up over Harry, sliding into him slickly, strong thighs around him, a hand tight in his hair. When they shift Harry fists both of his hands into Severus’ hair and it feels good, makes goosebumps prickle along his spine, but Severus can’t resist the urge to make it matter less than it does.
“I’m not one of your sheep,” he says, kissing over Harry’s ear and neck and collarbone. “You can’t lead me about like this. Snipping at my heels won’t work either.”
Harry arches into the feeling, less self-conscious than Severus can remember ever being. “I just don’t want you to leave,” Harry pants, and it sounds true but it is very close to this matters and Severus can’t talk about that just yet. He kisses Harry’s neck some more, then finally leans on his elbow to grab his cock so he can fuck them both through their climax before he collapses, shivering, onto Harry’s sticky chest.
When Severus wakes up in the morning, he is so full of pain he can barely breathe. He breathes anyway - in slowly, out slowly. Then he gets up. Harry sniffles a little, and the side he was plastered against feels cold, but nothing short of magic will help now and Severus didn’t bring his potions with him.
He makes coffee, which is a bit fiddly but not too complicated even with sore stiff hands, and then goes to the back of the house, where the sun rises a bit earlier every day. There’s a bench there, and when Severus looks about, he finds a chair to use for a footrest. The coffee is hot, which helps his hands, and the dog joins him, his warm heavy head in Severus’ lap helps too. Together they watch the sun change the world from grey to golden, until Harry steps out into the morning air, stretching so shamelessly that his belly shows. Covered in black fuss, no less exciting than any of the glimpses Severus has caught so far, even after he’s seen all of Harry.
Harry mumbles something and then disappears, only to return with tea strong enough to count as coffee for both of them. Severus wraps one hand around it, and keeps petting the dog with the other hand while he stares off into the distance. The sheep sound like they’re waking up.
“What did you say, earlier?” Severus asks when he remembers. Harry huffs and looks at him, so fond it makes the pain that has found its way to Severus’ teeth seem less insistent.
“That I have a type,” he says. “Cranky men that need coffee in the morning, that face the sun only when no one else is awake yet, preferably while petting a dog.”
Severus is too sore, too tired, too brokenhearted to lie any longer. “That was me,” he says.
“Pardon?” Harry isn’t angry yet, but he will soon be. He’ll shout and Severus will be made to leave and he’ll never be loved again.
“That was me - I was Mr Dullaway, I watched you at the Dursleys between Mr Hargreave and Mrs Figg. Dumbledore assigned me there, Slughorn took over my classes.”
He watches Harry’s face as he says it, so intently that he can’t remember even immediately after what his tone had been, how he’d looked when he’d shattered Harry’s belief in him.
“Oh,” says Harry. He disappears into the house, and then reappears, with a chair. His comfy one, the one the cat likes. He sets it down close to Severus, and picks up his feet. Severus breathes. His feet are in Harry’s lap, the cold gets rubbed away.
“I’m sorry,” Severus says.
Harry blinks at him, and then he nods. “I know. I looked for you - for Mr Dullaway. No one of that name existed. Not in the right age range at least.”
Severus feels his eyes burn as he looks at Harry. Who looks thoughtful and tired, but not even a little bit angry. Who rubs his feet. His skin still prickles and hurts, and his bones ache as his muscles scream. But the moment between them is quiet. “Are you angry?” Severus asks finally. It’s a weakness he hadn’t meant to show, and still he finds that even if it weren’t safe with Harry, it would still be worth the risk.
“I’m not,” Harry says. He pinches Severus’ toes gently. “I’m very curious, but you don’t look like you want to be talking about it.”
“I’m hurting,” Severus admits. “I need a potion for it but it’s at my flat.”
At that Harry stands up resolutely, careful with Severus’ creaky bones. He holds out his hand and when Severus takes it, he feels the squeeze of Apparition. They’re in front of his shop.
It’s early enough still that it’s quiet, even this close to Diagon Alley, but Severus’ skin creeps with feeling exposed. The contrast to the safety of Harry’s farm is painful too, so he lets them both in and up quickly.
He lets the door stay open, politeness be damned, and rushes into his bathroom for his pain relief. Standing has made it worse, climbing the stairs was like a well-aimed Crucio, and now he is going to either faint or take his potion. The relief is immediate – Severus designed it that way, and as always the mental clarity that comes with not being in pain any longer is astounding.
It also means he remembers that Harry is in his flat. His flat. When he walks back to the sitting room he sees Harry has found the wall. The one with the little shelf for the snowglobe, the little Christmas bauble hanging on a nail, the drawings, paintings, the one picture. The wrapping paper Harry made that he had framed in a fit of extreme nostalgia.
“You love me,” Harry concludes, as he turns around. It’s written all over his face.
“Always have,” Severus says, looking at the picture he took on that last day, when Harry was too busy eating his ice cream to smile for the picture but his eyes are bright and happy either way. “You need to go back, the lambing.”
Harry holds out his hand again, and to Severus’ surprise they end up in Harry’s office. It’s a small room, mostly a big desk filled with messy papers, and a long line of bookshelves. He’s never been in here before, even if he’s seen the door stand open a few times. Harry points at the wall by the door. It’s filled with drawings, watercolours or black and white. The garden on Wisteria Walk. Severus stretched out in his horrible tanning chair, the dog in his lap. The kitchen, Severus with his back towards Harry and - it’s beautiful.
“You made these,” he says, much as he hates to state the obvious normally. This is not normal by any stretch of the imagination. “This is when we made blackberry crumble.”
Harry hums, and then - wonder above wonder, he stands close to Severus. Holds his hand. Rests his head on Severus’ shoulder. Sighs like he’s come home at long last.