The Last Battlefield
Chapter 6 - Fashion Victim
"Come on, you need to go."
"No." He folded his arms, still glaring, trying to insinuate himself permanently into his chair.
"I told you once you got better we were going. Doctor says you're out of the woods."
"I'm not stopping you."
"Sev," Harry sighed. He picked at one of Severus' sleeves. "Come on, these things are as old as I am."
"Should I toss you out as well? Not that the idea hasn't got some merit."
Harry glowered at him. "You're going and that's final. I've already got some money out of my vault so we don't have to go to Gringotts, and I'll take you to Slug and Jiggers after Madam Malkin's, okay? Ginny's working today, you know you're always going on about how she's doing."
"When has bribery ever worked?"
Harry bent and kissed him. Their lips parted, and Severus tasted the cinnamon sweetie Harry had beneath his tongue. He very nearly couldn't stop the whimper that filled his throat when his maritus pulled away to his ear.
"When I do that," Harry whispered.
Pressed against the back of his chair, trying with all his spirit to ignore the fact that his limbs had turned to jelly, Severus reached up with a weak hand and stroked Harry's hair. A lumpy sob wedged in his throat and refused to go any further; the temptation to draw Harry into his lap and re-familiarise himself with the intricacies of sex was powerful enough to freeze the flow of air into his lungs. However, he swallowed around the painful lump and said, "I'd much rather spend the day with you."
Harry blessed him with a sad smile. "It's not as if I'm sending you out on your own, you greasy bastard," he murmured, pushing a few strands of steely hair out of Severus' face. His fingers settled on the white streak and stroked it from the hairline back.
"You had a match last Saturday, and you've got another one next week," Severus said. "When else am I supposed to see you? Unless you've finally come to your senses and decided to give up that silly pastime."
"Not quite. Anyway, if that happened, how would we support your sweets habit?" Harry grabbed his hand and tugged with gentle force. "Come on, you, into your cloak."
"My robes are perfectly serviceable." Severus shifted his arm to hide the hole that had finally broken through the tissue paper-thin fabric and its horde of spells.
"I saw that. Get up, we're getting you kitted out." Harry gave a supreme tug, and Severus found himself on his feet.
"There is absolutely no reason--don't you dare summon my cloak!"
The fabric landed on Severus' head, blocking his view of a certain obnoxious brat. He pulled it off, growling. "Why did you have to leave school? That would have been at least twenty points."
Harry shrugged and summoned his own cloak. Wrapping it around himself, he shook out Severus' and draped it around stiff, stubborn shoulders. "Can't make things that easy for you, can I?"
"You could try." Severus sulked as Harry secured the clasps on his cloak and patted his chest.
"All right?" Harry asked.
"Git." Harry gave him a peck on the cheek. "Would it help if I said I'll carry everything again?"
"I'm not going to do it."
Harry shrugged. "Suit yourself."
Having attempted and succeeded at Apparation during his final few days of convalescence (something that caused no end of consternation to both Harry and Hermione, especially when he returned bearing Honeyduke's bags), Severus left before Harry could move to the hearth for Floo powder. He rematerialised on the Apparation platform in Diagon Alley and stepped back to allow Harry his chance. Harry arrived a moment later, grumbling.
"You could have said something," he muttered.
"And spoil the fun?"
Harry shook his head and grabbed Severus' hand. "You behave."
Diagon Alley was as crowded as ever. Witches and wizards by the score packed the narrow street; the shops were difficult to see through the forest of cloaks and hats. If anything, it appeared even more crowded than the last time they had been there over a year before. The sky was overcast, for which Severus was more than a little grateful, as it saved him the indignity of a peeling nose. The sweet, green smell of rain hung heavy in the air. He caught Harry shivering as a chilly breeze passed through the less populated area surrounding the Apparation platform. Hesitating, he offered a warming arm around Harry's shoulders.
"No, it's okay," Harry said. He looked around at the crowd. With no indication that he knew he was doing it, he took a step backwards.
"Do you need to go home?"
Harry shook his head and grabbed Severus' hand. Severus found himself being dragged towards Madam Malkin's far more quickly than he'd have liked. His legs protested with needling jolts of pain through the muscle, and tension waxed and waned and waxed again within his chest.
"Could we go a little faster? I haven't quite imploded due to atmospheric pressure yet," he snapped.
"Sorry." Harry slowed down a little but kept looking around with quick, nervous jerks of his head. He pulled them between a fat, ancient warlock inspecting a collapsible cauldron and a pair of girls Severus recognised as two of his seventh year students from the year before. One of them shrieked.
"Harry! Professor Snape!"
Severus winced inside. Harry stiffened, but smiled at her anyway. "Hi, Maxine! Didn't see you there. How are you doing?"
He shrugged. "Okay, I suppose."
She nodded, grinning until she was pink in the face. Severus noted that the other girl - Sally Titwillow from Hufflepuff - was clutching Maxine's hand. He arched an eyebrow.
"What are you doing here?" Maxine - Miss Koupelos, he recalled, Ravenclaw - asked.
"Oh, getting some robes." Harry shifted from one foot to the other.
"Same here, we've just come from Madam Malkin's," Miss Titwillow said. She was all but bouncing on her toes. "Wedding robe fitting," she added, her round face turning a brilliant scarlet.
Harry's eyebrows lifted. "Oh? Who's getting married?"
Both girls blushed. Miss Koupelos giggled. "Us," she whispered. "That article about you two in the Prophet sort of made us decide to just take the plunge. My mum nearly had an aneurysm when we told her."
"Oh, wow, congratulations!" Harry beamed. Its effect was lessened a bit by the growing tension under his skin, but neither of the girls seemed to notice.
"Thanks," Miss Titwillow said. "Um, you know, I really hate to ask you this, but you don't happen to know how we could make it, you know, really legal, do you?"
Harry shrugged. "Sorry."
"Oh." Her face fell, and her shoulders slumped. "Professor? You--"
"You shall have to take that up with the Ministry of Magic. The particular loophole in question was devised at a time when certain possibilities wouldn't have been taken into account." He gazed down his nose and was quite pleased with himself when the pair shuffled backwards.
"That's not fair," Miss Koupelos said. "Has anyone said anything to the Ministry yet?"
"They've gotten a couple of owls." Harry looked innocent. "Maybe if they got enough they'd do something?" He shook his head and shrugged in apology.
"Hmm, maybe." Miss Koupelos looked at her watch. "Oh, wow, we've got to be at my cousin's house in five minutes. She says she's helping us arrange things, but... I mean, really, it is our wedding or hers?" she added with a roll of her eyes.
Harry gave them a small smile. "I hope you get everything worked out."
"Thanks," she said, grinning. "Been nice seeing you again, Harry." She nodded to Severus. "Professor."
He nodded back, little more than a twitch, and did the same to Miss Titwillow. A moment later, Harry was dragging him past the shops again, doing his best to hug the wall.
"That was weird," Harry said.
Severus hummed his agreement. "I fear Lupin may be right. We seem to have inadvertently started something."
"You mean you started something."
"I think you'll find your agreement was necessary." Severus turned his head as they passed Slug and Jiggers. The elder Miss Weasley was behind the counter, chatting with a decrepit old witch. She glanced over and flashed him a quick, bright smile. Severus nodded in return before Harry dragged him out of sight.
The windows of Madam Malkin's shop were filled with a dizzying array of robes. Severus sneered at one flickering with lights that cycled through a rainbow of colours as Harry dragged him through the door.
"If you even think about it--"
"Not until we've got my funeral arranged. I'm not that daft."
"I think we can leave those arrangements until after the fact then," Snape said in disgust, still looking at the robes. "My god, I'm not even sure Albus would have worn those."
"Are you kidding? He'd have made sure the whole school saw them!"
Harry was, of course, right. Thankfully, while Albus did do a great many things for Severus, influencing his wardrobe had never been one of them. (This was, however, not for Albus' lack of trying.)
"Like them? They've just arrived from Italy," came a clipped, feminine voice. Severus shuddered and glanced at Madam Malkin. Her grey hair was in a tight knot on top of her head, and her mauve robes were strewn with bits of thread. A tape measure hung from her pocket.
"No, actually," he snipped. "I was simply wondering what sort of lunacy would ever convince anyone to wear anything so ghastly."
"They're very popular with the younger crowd." She moved to straighten the sleeve of the hideous so-called garment. "Then, between you and me," she said under her breath, "There's nothing like good, classic purple." Her eyes darted towards Harry; she jumped. "Oh, Mister Potter! Back for more?"
"Sort of." Harry tugged on Severus' cloak. "Here to get this one kitted out."
"Mm-hmm," she said, nodding. "Severus Snape, I presume?"
"Yep," Harry said. Severus growled.
"Well, come with me. We'll see what we can do."
"I don't need any new robes. Or shoes. Or anything else. These are perfectly--what on Earth are you doing, you mad harpy?" He tried to jerk away as Malkin fussed with the back collar of his cloak.
"Hooks? Oh, dear, it is time you had some new ones, isn't it? I haven't sold robes with hooks in fifteen years!"
"Told you," Harry muttered.
"There is absolutely no reason to replace something that isn't broken! What's so wrong with hooks?"
"Ooh, he's a stubborn one, isn't he?"
Harry smirked. "You could say that."
"I don't need any new robes!" Severus roared as they dragged him in tandem towards the back of the shop. He found himself perched on an elevated block (then next to it as the somewhat squat Madam Malkin assessed the situation). "Take your bloody hands off me, woman!"
She shrugged, the tape measure hopping from his shoulders to wrap around his neck of its own accord. "Wiry one, aren't you?"
"Behave," Harry said.
"You are sleeping on the couch for the rest of your life."
Harry looked innocent. "Good thing it folds out, then. Otherwise you'd roll off."
Severus shot him a weary glare. "Brat."
Madam Malkin glanced up from a clipboard on which numbers were appearing at a rapid rate. She blinked but said nothing of it. "Well," she said, her squinty, pale eyes darting back and forth between them. "I think there are a few robes in stock that might suit you. Not too much call for anything so, ah, willowy. Just a moment." She vanished through a curtained doorway.
Severus fell into a purple brocade chair, sneering at Harry. "Is this revenge for something of which I wasn't aware?"
"Nope, just the things you know about."
"Amusing, Potter." He glanced at the window again. "If she comes back with anything even resembling that monstrosity, I am wrapping it around your naked body like a toga and parading you down the Hogsmeade high street."
Harry fluttered his eyes. "Promise?" he asked from deep in his throat.
Severus narrowed his eyes. "Not if you're going to react like that."
"You spoil all my fun."
"I can be a great deal of fun when properly inspired."
Harry's soft giggle sent a pleasant shiver through Severus. "I know," Harry said, wiggling his eyebrows. He smirked, a hint of sadness in his eyes, and leaned against the wall with his arms folded across his chest. "Anything else you'd like to do while we're here?"
"As a matter of fact, yes."
"Oh?" Harry's brows lifted.
"I'd like to find that blasted Bauble and teach him a small lesson in other people's privacy."
"That's not nice, Sev. He was only trying to help." Harry's hopeful look had vanished, and he now stared at him with darkened eyes, his shoulders slouched.
"He might have had the decency not to announce certain facts to the whole of the world."
"Well, maybe he had an ulterior motive. It's been known to happen. Or he might have just been excited. He was sitting awfully close to another bloke in the waiting room."
"I could have lived a perfectly happy life without knowing that particular detail, Mister Potter. Other people's affairs should be just that."
Harry shrugged. "Sorry. Thought it might explain a few things, that's all."
"Hmph. You're thinking like a Slytherin, Potter. Stop it, it's disquieting."
Harry grinned. "Greasy bastard."
Madam Malkin returned a moment later with her arms overflowing with robes. She dumped them on Harry, who barely caught the things, and plucked one off the top.
"Try this." She pointed Severus towards what appeared to be a closet.
"Why?" he asked.
"To see how it looks. Go on." She gave him a little push. Grumbling, he obliged, more thanks to her sharp fingers than her salesmanship.
The closet - to his mildly unoffended surprise - turned out to be a large, plum-walled room with several mirrors, soft lighting, a leather armchair somewhat fatter and squatter than his at home, and inch thick carpeting. He kicked his shoes off, muttering about the things he did for Harry.
The robe, on the other hand, was the stuff of nightmares. Huge, billowing sleeves hung down from his arms like bells, and the most ridiculous collar stood halfway up his skull. He stared in the mirror, twitching.
There came a soft knock at the door. "Sev? Can I see?"
"Only if you wish to go blind. Tell that deranged old bat that if she wishes to continue her sham of a business, to kindly find something that provides neither a convenient wick for any potion my sleeve may near, nor a blast shield to keep any and all splatter firmly centred about my face." He yanked the thing over his head, wadded it, and dropkicked it into the corner before jerking the door open just enough to reach out a half-bare arm.
The moment fabric touched his fingers he wrenched it inside. This one didn't even make it over his head. "What on Earth gives you the notion that I would wear velvet on a daily basis? I've never worn velvet in my life!"
"I sort of like it, actually," came Harry's voice. "Nice to pet, you know?"
For a brief instant, Severus paused. Filing away the offhand thought to see whether Malkin stocked any velvet boxer shorts, he threw the robe over a hook on the wall. Reaching out again, he snapped, "Narrow sleeves, no ridiculous framework, wool, black, and unadorned."
"What about linen?" Malkin asked.
"Is it black?"
"Is it plain?"
"Give it here."
Severus kept his eyes shut the whole time he fought the thing onto his body. Fiddling with the buttons up the back of the collar (Merlin, I want my hooks back), he tried to determine what horrors awaited him. Apart from the collar being a bit higher than he was used to - not a negative change, that - he couldn't feel anything wrong. Grinding his teeth, he let one eye crack open. When nothing shot out at him like a hydra looking for a snack he let the other see. The sleeves were a touch overlong, and the whole robe was a hair looser than he liked, but on the whole it was acceptable.
Squirming at the thought of being seen in public in a robe he didn't own, tugging the fabric to make it lay smooth, and glancing around to make sure no-one but Malkin and Harry was looking, he stepped out and to the side. "Find one in wool, and it will be acceptable."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Five wool, two linen."
"I want wool."
"But you're not living in a freezing cold dungeon year 'round anymore, so you're going to want something that won't bake you alive."
"Perhaps I want to be baked alive," Severus muttered as Madam Malkin began folding back the sleeves, pinning small tucks here and there. Her clipboard filled with more and more notes as she did.
Harry shrugged. "Don't blame me when you roast then. Anyway, I'm paying, and you're getting some linen ones."
"What about a bit of colour?" Malkin asked. "Such a striking man really shouldn't wear black all the time."
Severus turned his head by degrees. His eyes felt like they were about to pop out of their sockets. "Pardon?" he asked silkily.
"Yeah, what d'you reckon?" Harry asked with a hint of a wicked grin.
"Black," Severus snarled.
Harry shook his head. "I want to see you in something else for once."
"What about my nightshirt?"
"One," Harry counted on his fingers, "it's grey. Two, you've had the damn thing since you were maybe fourteen. Three, we're getting you a new one and that's final."
"Not bloody likely!"
"Even if I let you get a black one?"
Severus paused for a bare moment. "Maybe," he grumped.
Harry grinned. "So," he said, rubbing his chin in an exaggerated way, "what colour do you reckon would look good on him?"
"Green," Severus said.
"Hmm," Malkin mused. "I'm not so sure. With your skin tone--"
Harry sighed. "He won't give in on this one. It's that 'I was Head of Slytherin House for fifteen years' thing."
"Oh," Madam Malkin said, unimpressed. "Too bad it wasn't Hufflepuff. Then yellow?" She picked at his hand. "Too monochromatic on this one."
Harry snorted. "I've got to get a tape recorder one of these days."
"A what?" Malkin asked, glancing back in a very puzzled sort of way.
"Muggle thing, records sound."
Her brow furrowed. "You mean like an Audiare Charm?"
Harry stared at her. "There's a charm."
"Mm-hmm. Record to paper if you like or a Recordus Disc. Disc is best, but nearly anything will do. Odd, I thought you said last time you were in you'd left school?"
"The Audiare Charm isn't taught anymore," Severus said, hiding his smirk. "Too many students were turning up in exams wearing earrings."
"Oh." Madam Malkin turned scarlet and busied herself with a few last tucks. Her hand fluttered now and then to the enormous chunks of amethyst at her ears.
"Bollocks," Harry hissed under his breath. "Bollocks, bollocks, bollocks. Never get that chance again."
"What chance is that?" Malkin asked. She stuck two pins in her mouth and gathered a bit of fabric behind Severus' left arm.
"Oh, nothing. Sev?"
"Fancy inviting Minerva over for a drink sometime?"
Severus glowered down his nose. "No."
"There," Madam Malkin said, sliding a final pin into place. "How does that feel?"
Severus blinked. He grunted.
"Excellent! Let me make sure my notes are correct and we'll see about putting some colour in those cheeks of yours." She scanned her clipboard, running a finger over the parchment.
"I don't want colour in my cheeks!"
"Well, you're getting some," she said in a no-nonsense sort of way. "What did you say, green?"
Severus snarled. "Just get it over with, you mad cow."
She arched an eyebrow at him. With a flick of her wand, his nicely black robes turned a radioactive, bilious green. Lights flashed throughout. A couple walking past the shop jumped and stopped to stare.
"Turn it off!" Severus hissed.
"Oh, I don't know. I think it rather suits--"
"I take it back, you're not a mad cow!"
With a triumphant little leer, she flicked her wand again and the cacophony of lights vanished. A deep pine green settled in its place. Severus peered at a bit of his sleeve.
"That's better." He glanced up to find Harry wrinkling his nose, jaw slack and one eye squinted.
"Oh, dear lord, no," Malkin blurted.
"You look like a corpse, Sev. You're all yellow."
"I'm afraid he's right, dear. No, no, this won't do. You need a warmer shade. You've got such a lovely Mediterranean skin tone, even if you are a bit pale. Are you Greek?"
"English, and damned proud of it."
She shrugged. "Some of us are luckier than others, I suppose. Now," she held up her wand with a flourish. "What do you think, Mister Potter? Red?"
"Oh, yes," Harry said with malicious glee.
"If anyone's wearing red it's this cretin." Severus motioned to Harry, wincing as a pin bit into his flesh.
"No, I think he'd do better in green. He's very pink, and he's got such wonderful green eyes."
Harry looked smug.
"I'm sending you to live with your godfather," Severus growled as that damnable woman's wand swooped down like a maestro's baton. He squeezed his eyes shut, only opening one enough to see a streak of vibrant, violent cinnabar red. "Bloody Hell, I look like a warning light!"
"Wow," Harry said. His voice held no malice, no spite, only awe. "Wow. Um, can we have a few minutes alone?"
Madam Malkin chuckled. "Sorry, I've just had the carpeting cleaned."
Severus felt a surge of heat rise in his face; it felt the same colour as the robe. "I'm not wearing this," he said through his teeth.
"Sev, you look--"
"Like a sodding idiot! I. Do. Not. Want. To. Wear. This. Fucking. Colour!"
Harry sighed. "Maybe something a little less bright?"
Madam Malkin frowned. "Shame, really. That's your shade." She wiggled her wand anyway and the vermilion dimmed to the red of fresh blood. "Is that better?"
Severus' mouth hardened. Harry nodded, but said, "I prefer the other one."
"I liked the green one. And I'm the one who's wearing the damned thing."
"Hmm." Harry pursed his mouth against his fist. "If I let you get a green one, will you at least think about the bright red?"
"One of each of the reds, and one of the green?" Madam Malkin asked helpfully.
"No. I'm a grown man, I can make my own decisions, thank you very much."
Harry looked up at him, mouth twisted in a crooked line. "Please?" he asked. "I really, really liked that one."
Severus opened his mouth to snarl. Something melted inside of him as Harry's eyes dropped towards the floor. The snarl came out as, "I make no guarantees that it will ever see the light of day."
Harry beamed. His eyes crinkled up at the corners, and a trace of a flush filled his cheeks. "Thank you."
Madam Malkin nodded. She waved her wand and the bloody glamour dropped from the black robe. "If you want to wait a few minutes I can have those altered for you."
"Yes, please," Harry said. Severus sniffed.
"All right, then." She tugged on the linen robe. "I'll need this one back. Don't worry about the pins, I've got everything all written down."
Severus grumbled to himself and stalked back into the changing room. Through the door he heard Harry say, "Five black wool, two black linen, and the other three should probably be wool or I'll never have a hope of getting them on him."
"Maybe another time," Malkin cooed.
"I think not!" Severus bellowed through the door. He yanked the robe over his head and thrust it outside before he'd even dressed again. Madam Malkin took it with a chuckle. Before Severus could slam the door, Harry stuck his head in.
"Nice legs," he said. "So, only shoes and a nightshirt left, then? Unless you want some new pants as well," he went on as Severus snatched up his old robe and held it defiantly in front of his legs.
Harry closed the door behind him, leaning against it with his hands behind his back. He gave Severus a coy look. "You could at least be a little civil about this. I'm only trying to make sure you've got some nice things."
"I like my old things."
"Sev, they're falling apart." Harry held out his hand as Severus started pulling his robe over his head. "Let me see that first."
"I want to try something."
Severus snorted. "Not a bloody chance in Hell."
Severus cocked a curious eyebrow. He couldn't remember the last time Harry had called him by his full name. "What?" he asked with a wary note.
"Behave. You've been on your worst behaviour for ages. Just because you've done things nobody else has doesn't give you the right to act like you're better than us mere mortals."
Severus yanked the neck of his robe down to its place. "What on Earth makes you think I've been acting like I'm better than you?"
"Jaunting off to Honeyduke's without telling anyone first, for things you're not even supposed to have? Hermione was in tears by the time she got hold of me. Did you know that? She'd have gone for you if you'd asked. God knows she's done more than she ought lately to let you have a bit of freedom."
"Her name is Hermione."
"Hermione is barely more than a child, with a daughter of her own to take care of--"
"And she's still willing to take care of you on top of that. I know you and Ron've made your peace - sort of - but you're treating Hermione like something you scraped off your shoe and I don't appreciate it. She--" He shook his head. "Do you know what she did when I first told her about us?"
"When was this?"
"While you were away and I was scared to death I'd never see you again," Harry snapped. "She kept her mouth shut. The only person she told was Ron, and that was because he'd decided he hated me because he thought we were only shagging. She set him straight. Have you got any idea how easy it would have been for her to go to Professor McGonagall and get you sacked?"
Severus shifted from foot to foot. Not looking at Harry, he shoved his arms into the robe's sleeves. "She didn't, though."
"Only because she knew how much it would hurt me, and because she knows that anyone I care about that much can't be that bad. My god, Sev, she loves you to death now she's gotten to know you."
"She's got a funny way of showing it." He tugged the robe over his ancient, charm-bandaged underclothes, letting it fall around his legs. The thin wool - a little thinner than it had once been, maybe - felt like one of Ruby's blankets, the softest ones that had been handed down from Weasley to Weasley to Weasley.
"You mean panicking when she can't find you and trying to cover up the fact you've been doing precisely what you're not supposed to?" Harry's eyes were hooded, his mouth hard. A livid red spot had appeared on each of his cheeks, the rest of the blood gone from his pallid skin. "You owe her some thanks."
"And how do you propose I show this thanks?" Severus folded his arms like Harry's.
"Tell her thank you for everything she's done. Including reading to you for hours at a stretch when you were unconscious. And bringing Ruby." Harry slumped, fidgeting. "The only times you even responded were when I touched you and when she put Ruby next to you for a nap."
Severus furrowed his brow. He sat in the armchair to pull on his shoes. "I don't remember that."
"You don't remember anything, you git. Only say something civil to her for once."
Severus arched an eyebrow. In pained silence, he bent down and tied his shoes. "I'll think about it," he muttered.
Harry made a noise. "You'd better."
"If I do, will you start being a bit more civil to Emily?"
Harry shrugged. "What's she got to do with anything?"
"Call it a fair trade." Severus stood, folding his hands into his sleeves. "And go and tell that insane cow that I need a pocket thirteen inches long and three-quarters of an inch wide sewn into the left sleeve of each of my robes. I'll add the Gripping Charms myself."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Go and tell her yourself. Hold up a second first." He pulled his wand. "I only want to see what this does."
"What are you going to do?"
"Nothing dangerous. Finite Incantatem!"
There was a poof, and a floomp, and a blast of chilly air over his whole body. Harry's eyes went huge. "Er..."
Severus glanced down. He tried to say something, to swear, to make any sound come out of his mouth. His jaw worked dumbly. He stared at the pile of wool and cotton fragments littering the floor around him, and the tiny scraps of paper-thin leather at his feet. His eyes darted to a mirror, and he was treated to a rather complete eyeful.
Harry stared. After a long, silent moment, he finally said, "Oh, shit. Ah, maybe I'll tell Madam Malkin about the pockets, okay?"
"You look fine."
Harry sighed, shifted his parcels, and scratched Severus' back. Severus growled, but did nothing to stop him. "You could have warned me," he muttered.
"Oi! I didn't expect them to fall to dust! I'm only glad we were in Madam Malkin's."
"As opposed to...?"
"The middle of the street near someone with bad aim?"
A shudder ran up the middle of Severus' back. "Quite." He looked down at the damnable velvet robe and snarled.
"You wouldn't have had to get it if you hadn't put it on with no pants."
"I'm only saying."
"Had you bothered to watch the door, that damnable child wouldn't have nearly learned about the human reproductive system ten years early!"
"If you'd locked it, you wouldn't have had to put on the robe."
"Are you accusing me of failing to consider such an obvious detail?"
"Yep. Twice now."
Severus puffed. "When--?"
"Want to talk to Poppy about it? She hasn't forgotten, I can pretty much guarantee."
"I'm not even going to dignify that with an answer." Severus swept across the crowded street towards Bauble and Fob. Behind him, Harry weaved his way through, muttering apologies and other polite claptrap. He caught up just outside the door.
"You're not really doing this, are you? Let's just go and see Ginny, okay?"
"No. This is a matter of personal privacy and rampant violation." He twisted the knob and swept into the shop. It was as small and tidy as ever, trinkets and the occasional useful object glittering in the cases.
A wizard with short, white hair and creamy brown skin stuck his head into the shop from the back room. "Good morning! Just give me a moment and--"
"I need to speak with Hieronymus Bauble," Severus said.
The wizard cocked his head. He stepped out, wiping his fingers on a piece of flannel. "He's not in today. I'm Ezekiel Fob. Could I be of assistance?"
Severus snorted. He was about to bid the man a good day (as good as it could be, in any case) when Harry said, "I know you. You were with him at Saint Mungo's a few weeks ago, weren't you?"
Fob blinked. Suddenly his face lit up. "Mister Potter! You got everything sorted, then?"
Harry nodded. "Pretty much," he said. His brow furrowed.
"When might I be able to speak with Mister Bauble?" Severus asked.
"He's out of the country until Wednesday, gone to a jeweler's convention in America. What's it about?"
"The watch," Harry grumped.
"Ah. Yes, well, perhaps I can be of help." Fob pulled out his wand and wiggled it at the door. The sign in the window changed its letters to show the word CLOSED, and the lock turned. "Join me, I've just put the kettle on."
Harry didn't give Severus the chance to protest. He grabbed a sallow hand and dragged. Severus grumbled under his breath, "This is going to be quick, you know."
"And painless, so hush."
Fob led them through a workshop filled with watches, gems, ingots of metal, and equipment Severus couldn't even identify. An intricate wax lion sat half-carved on a table. Things that might have been cauldrons, but were far too thick and far too straight-walled to ever brew anything, sat lined up against a wall in silent anticipation.
On the other side of the far door (which Fob unlocked) was a small sitting room, very old fashioned and fitted out in brilliant blues and greens. Fob motioned them towards a small sofa. "Have a seat, please. Do either of you take sugar?"
"Two for me, eight or nine for him, please. Mostly milk in that one," Harry said.
Fob smirked. "I think I can manage that. Excuse me a moment." He disappeared around a divider wall.
Severus refused to sit until Harry dragged him down. "This isn't what I had in mind," Severus growled.
Harry shrugged. "I know." He set his stack of parcels on the floor at his feet. "He might be able to tell you why Bauble said things out loud, though."
"Which doesn't guarantee he won't do it again!"
"Sev, give it a chance. Somehow, I don't think he brings all his customers back here for tea." Harry shifted in his seat a little and looked around.
Severus snorted. He leaned back with his hands folded in his lap and tried to ignore the horrible, scallop-striped wallpaper. A large collection of metal figurines stood in a glass cabinet near his right wrist; if only to have something else to look at, he peered at them, screwing his mouth shut lest he show some signs of admiration. They were apparently unrelated by theme: a knight groomed his horse on the top shelf; a small dog thumped its tail and looked up at Severus with black enamelled eyes; and a pair of young girls dozed in a chair near the bottom. Each was as intricate as the wax lion. A few were painted. Once in a while, one would get up and move about, but for the most part they simply sat in the case with an air of collective contentment.
A minute or so later, Fob returned with a tray in his hands. He set it down on a table between the sofa and a large chair. Smiling, he handed Harry his cup first. Severus took his own without a word, and went back to looking at the figurines.
"Do you like them?" Fob asked.
"Hmm," Severus said. Without choking on his tongue too much, he added, "Very nice work."
"That means he loves them."
Severus glanced at Harry. "Mouthy obnoxious brat."
"Laconic greasy bastard."
Fob laughed, hand over his mouth. Quickly, he shook his head. "Sorry, only... very interesting pet names."
Snape narrowed his eyes at the man. "You had something to say to us?"
Fob nodded. He picked up his teacup and took a long sip. "I'm sorry about that. Hieronymus is many things, including a devious little bastard when he wants." A crooked smile grew across his mouth. "But I'm happy enough with him."
"Oh, bloody Hell." Severus rolled his eyes. "Not this again. I don't care about your affairs, I don't know how to tell the Ministry to change the law--"
"Neither does Hieronymus, but he thought he'd try. He saw an opening, and he decided to exploit it. He wasn't in Slytherin for nothing." Fob gave an apologetic little shrug.
"Did you meet at Hogwarts?" Harry asked. Severus groaned and gulped his milk-diluted tea.
"Ah, sort of. My first year was his seventh. We didn't properly meet until I'd left school and was looking for a job. His father owned the shop then - it was only Bauble's, mind - and he hired me on to help behind the counter. That was nineteen-seventeen."
Fob gave an absent wave of his fingers. "I picked up the trade, Hieronymus and I got to know each other, became friends, became... more than friends, and when his father died in 'forty-one in one of Grindelwald's bombings, he inherited the shop. Became Bauble and Fob. Until 'sixty-seven when the Ministry started issuing spousal certificates that was all we had with both our names on."
Severus shot him a weary look. "A heartwarming story. Perhaps you ought to tell someone who gives a damn."
"No, it's all right." Fob rubbed his eyes. "I'm sorry, really, I am. I've told him time and again that it wasn't any of his business, but," he sighed. "You have to understand that I've been hearing about Registered Magical Object number two-nine-eight-four for nearly eighty years now."
"You've been hearing about what?" Harry asked.
"My watch," Severus said, eyes narrowed at Fob.
Fob shrugged in apology. "We were part of the group that pushed for recognition in the Sixties, but when the Ministry decided they'd only give us partial rights he," Fob cleared his throat, "didn't take it very well."
Severus growled. "What has this got to do with my watch?"
"Ah. Yes. Ah. That's a little more complicated. You see, he got the notion into his head after that that your, ah, watch and its contract..." He trailed off, gnawing his lip.
"Yes?" Severus asked. A sharp pain went through his hand; he realised he'd closed his fist and dug his nails into his palm.
"At least according to what Hieronymus has told me, when it was drawn up, there were no provisos given regarding the, er, gender or genders of the parties involved in case a woman were deemed heir, as I believe happened once in the nineteenth... century..." Fob trailed off as Severus drew himself stiff and tall.
"I don't believe I've ever been more insulted in my life," Severus hissed. "How dare the two of you infringe upon my privacy this way?"
"I know. I told him not to do it. I mean, it would be brilliant if he - we , really - could finally convince the Ministry to ratify the issue, but I think he's gone a little too far by making you two his pawns."
"Why didn't he say anything after we came in last year?" Harry asked, sounding puzzled. His tea was untouched. He balanced it on his knee.
"He didn't actually see the inside of it then, did he?" Fob asked.
Harry shook his head.
"There you are. No proof, only conjecture. In front of a waiting room full of people, not to mention a registered mediwizard, he not only had the opportunity to check his proof, he had witnesses. He could have been a vicious barrister."
"Which still doesn't correct the matter of the invasion of our privacy," Severus said. He drained the last of his tea and set the blue cup on the table. "Not that it could be corrected at this point."
"And I am wholeheartedly sorry, Mister Snape. I would have held him back, but young Mister Potter here was in a very tight spot. I mean the doctors would barely let me stay with Hieronymus when he only had a watch spring in his hand. We very clearly heard one of them tell your husband to go home and get some rest. At the time, letting Hieronymus play his game seemed the lesser of two evils."
Severus snorted. "Bollocks. My room was a fucking train station."
"Not while you were still in casualty. Only parents, legal husbands or wives, and older children are allowed into Saint Mungo's casualty except at doctor's discretion."
Severus glared. He slumped against the back of the couch. Images of the day Narcissa had bled out her first child on the dining room floor ran through his head. He closed his eyes at the memory of her pink skin growing white as she slid to the floor, and of Lucius' face nearly as pallid as hers had been when he'd staggered out of the treatment unit and collapsed in a chair next to Severus.
Harry touched his hand. "Are you all right?"
Severus nodded. He let his eyes focus on nothing. "Fine," he grumped.
"If there's any sort of reparation we can offer..." Fob trailed off.
Harry shook his head. "Nothing I can think of. Sev?"
Severus said nothing. To his slight satisfaction, Fob squirmed in his seat.
"Um, thank you for doing that," Harry said. "Making the doctors let me in to see him, I mean."
The corner of Fob's mouth twitched. "Our pleasure."
"Yes, I can certainly see that." Severus lifted his chin. "May we leave?"
"Could I ask you a question first?" Fob leaned forward in his chair, elbows resting on its arms.
Harry rolled his eyes. "Go ahead."
"Ah, I don't like to ask this, but," he leaned forward more, "why did you act like you didn't know about it?"
Harry shrugged. "Never bothered to ask, I suppose."
"So you had no idea you were signing a legal document."
Harry shook his head. "Doesn't matter to me, wouldn't have changed anything."
Fob bit his lower lip. "Dammit," he muttered. "I was afraid of that." He waved a hand as he said, "I'd been hoping it was only the stress of the situation. I mean, Hieronymus is a Registered Expert with the Department of Magical Objects. The doctor didn't have much choice but to listen to him. If this gets out, though..." He rubbed his eyes hard. "I think our loophole has a loophole."
"Meaning...?" Harry asked.
"The Ministry of Magic could declare the contract null and void. I'm sure they'd jump at the chance. They haven't allowed a contract like this one in over two hundred years for basically this very reason, and as far as I'm aware it's the last one considered valid. As I recall, the way that this one is worded is complicated enough that they would need something on the level of fraud in order to annul." He nodded at Severus. "It could also land you in prison if I'm not mistaken."
Severus pursed his mouth. "I don't see how that's any of your business. And I'd like to keep my own legal counsel, thank you. I had no intentions of declaring the contract when I gave the watch to Mister Potter because I have no intentions of continuing my bloodline. I certainly had no intentions of forwarding someone else's crusade," he added with narrowed eyes.
Fob sat in silence, leaning on his elbows. His eyes had drooped in thought, and he pressed his mouth against one balled fist. "Well," he finally said in a soft voice, "I'm sorry for all the trouble we've caused you."
"As you should be." Severus swept to his feet. "If you'll excuse us, we have things we need to do." He gave a stiff, exceedingly short bow and swept towards the door with as much dignity as he could muster. He hovered there while Harry collected their parcels.
Fob led them out and reopened the shop. Harry offered a handshake and an apologetic shrug; Severus' eye twitched when Fob held out his hand to him. Fob shrugged and drew it back.
"Good luck to you," he murmured and vanished back inside.
Harry stood there for a moment. He gazed up at Severus, looking a bit hurt. "That wasn't very nice."
"Nor was that lunatic Bauble. I've been used enough in my life, Potter. I've no desire to lay down and let it happen again."
A brief flash of pain shot across Harry's face. "All right," he mumbled. "I'm sorry."
"Whatever for? Unless you kept him under Cruciatus until he screamed the truth for all to hear." Severus placed a light hand on Harry's back and ushered him through the thinning crowd towards Slug and Jiggers. He checked his watch; it was half noon, which explained the lessened gaggle of Saturday shoppers and gawkers.
"Nothing really, I suppose. Only I didn't think of it that way. You've always been doing something for someone else, and I'd sort of gotten used to it. I mean, you've earned the right to be selfish for a while." Harry's voice held no trace of sarcasm or contempt, only a gentle humility better suited to someone much older than nineteen.
"No apology necessary. As for being selfish, I believe you've already taken the monopoly--"
"Prat." Harry gave him a weak smile. "Um, was there anyplace else you wanted to go besides Slug and Jiggers?"
"Fortescue's, perhaps? Although I've been barred anything edible for so long, I'm not sure what they've got anymore."
"I think we can get you reacquainted with ice cream quickly enough," Harry said, sounding a bit less miserable. "Anything else? At all? I think there's an art shop a bit further down. They might have someone who knows what you're doing wrong with your paints."
Harry staggered his steps a moment so that he came level with Severus rather than a half pace ahead. He settled close, his head almost resting in the dip of Severus' clavicle. "Um, Sev?"
"Could you, you know, maybe try putting your arm around me? I sort of miss that." Harry glanced around. Large empty pockets had formed between the milling witches and wizards; he took a deep breath and seemed to relax.
Severus blinked down at him. A pool of warm liquid was mysteriously filling his stomach and creeping through his veins. Without a word, he moved his hand from hovering just behind Harry's back and let one long, velvet-covered arm come to rest across Harry's strong shoulders, worn cloak extending enough to encompass them both. (Harry hadn't even made mention of replacing the cloak.) Harry flinched but a moment later settled closer. He brushed his cheek across the impractical new robe.
"Mm, soft," he murmured.
Well, perhaps not so impractical in its own way.
They reached Slug and Jiggers all too soon. Severus let his arm slip away through necessity rather than choice. Harry cast a shy smile up at him, nose and cheeks pink from the chilly air. Severus blinked slowly, catlike, in reply, only for the shy smile to split into a bashful grin. A bit giddy, he opened the door and bowed a few scant degrees as he ushered Harry in first.
"Hi, Professor! Hi, Harry! I wondered when you'd get here!" Ginny Weasley called from her spot behind the counter. She grinned and went back to ringing up a warlock's items. The warlock leaned on the counter, gazing at her with a hint of a watery smile. From somebody tall, slender, and rakish, Severus noted, it might have been seductive; from a paunchy, aging warlock with six hairs, it was simply sad.
"Yep, still smells like an apothecary," Harry quipped, wrinkling his nose. He'd settled close to Severus again, almost as though he were using his maritus as protection from the strangers in the shop. Somehow, Severus wasn't bothered. He equally wasn't bothered when he placed an arm around Harry's shoulders again and was rewarded with the weight of a head resting against his chest.
"There you are, Mister Perkins," Ginny said as she finished wrapping up the warlock's purchases. "Did you need anything else today?"
He fluttered his eyes. "Well, you know, with my back I'm not sure I can mix these--"
She folded her arms. Her face was stern, but a twinkle in her eyes reminded Severus more than a little of Albus.
Perkins sighed. "Oh, well. Can't blame a wizard for trying."
"Shoo. I've got customers."
"Tell your father he still owes me ten Galleons on the World Cup."
She rolled her eyes. "I think he knows."
"Watch your lip, little lady."
Ginny stuck out her lower lip and crossed her eyes downward. The warlock laughed. "Take care."
"You, too," she said as he gathered up his packages. Severus watched him; the man apparently noticed the hard gaze - he flinched and scurried out.
Ginny waved her thumb at the closed door. "Used to work with Dad," she explained.
"Oh," Harry said. He brightened. "Oh, yeah, I remember now. The tents for the Quidditch Cup, right?"
"Yep. Dad borrowed one again when he and Mum went to Quebec. Says it still smells like cats."
Harry snorted and snuggled closer to Severus. "Which is why we haven't got any cats. Well, that and they'd eat Fred."
"Oh. Ron's told you that story, then?"
Harry hummed and nodded. Warmth radiated from his body and into places Severus hadn't even realised were frozen.
Ginny giggled. "You two are so cute."
Severus arched an eyebrow at her and growled low in his throat. She giggled again but kept her mouth shut. A younger-looking witch glanced at the pair of them as she hurried up to the counter.
While Ginny rang the woman up, Severus wandered the shop, Harry still attached to his side.
"Are you getting hungry yet?" Harry asked.
"That depends on the palatability of whatever you suggest."
Harry blew a raspberry. "So yes, then. Leaky Cauldron, private booth in the back?"
I don't know, I'd much prefer a private room upstairs. Severus pushed the thought away. Then, with the proper spells erected, a private booth is nearly as good. Stop it, Severus!
"Perhaps," he said more in effort to chaperone himself than any real desire for company, "we ought to find out if Miss Weasley wishes to join us? I don't see any reason Arsenius would refuse to let her go someplace with an upstanding member of the wizarding world. Then, of course, your presence might cause a bit of a blight--"
Harry balanced the parcels and swatted him on the arse. His cheeks behind those damnable owlish glasses turned crimson. "Sorry," he mumbled, turning his face away from Severus. "Didn't think."
Severus stared. After a mute moment he remembered how to speak. "Quite all right," he murmured. Harry looked up, brow furrowed in surprise. Severus caught his chin on two fingertips and kissed him.
Harry blinked a couple of times. "I'm going to have to do that more often," he murmured. Severus chuckled.
"Indeed." He pressed his cheek against Harry's forehead and turned his attention to the shelves. He slid his glasses onto his nose to squint at the prices. "Bloody Hell, seven, five, two per half ounce of horseweed? What are those blasted Americans growing it in? Gold?"
Harry shrugged. "Would they?"
"You ought to know. It was covered your sixth year. Wait, sorry, forgot, you slept through that year, didn't you?"
"Very funny, Snape." Harry peered at the jar of dried plant heads. The plants had serrated leaves, and a few of the tiny, yellowish flowers had dropped off to litter the bottom of the jar. "What's it for?"
"Any number of things," Severus said. He added with a sneer, "Probably why the price is going up so much, squeezing every last Knut."
"Actually, North America's had a couple of bad summers and that strain of the weed's been dying out. Madam Slug's got me testing a few alternatives." Ginny picked up the jar next to the horseweed - horse's eye vine - and polished it on her sleeve. "Root isn't quite so bad, but you need so much of it most wizards just buy the plant. Some of them are even bigger grumps than you, Professor."
He shot her a look. "I see we shan't be buying you lunch today."
"Oh, brilliant, I'm starving." She checked her watch. "Mister Jigger ought to be back in a few minutes, and then I can go."
"What on Earth happened to make your entire bloody family think that I am a pleasant and kind-hearted fellow?"
He snorted. "Just for that, I ought to teach her the fine art of sarcasm."
Ginny actually went a little pale. Straightening a few jars, she cleared her throat. "What have you two been up to?"
"Robes," Harry said. "Got him all kitted out."
Her eyes fluttered. With an impish smirk, she tugged on the edge of Severus' cloak. "All right, let's see it. I always wondered what you'd look like in something less than a decade old."
"A decade and a half."
Severus snarled at Harry. He grabbed his cloak and wrapped it around himself. "Those things are going in the closet and never coming out. I'll keep what I like, thank you."
Harry pulled out his wand. He wiggled it between his fingers.
"Don't you dare!"
"Don't you dare what?" Ginny asked. "You're not going to burn them or anything, are you?"
"Why would I have to do that?" Harry asked with smug satisfaction.
"Miss Weasley, would you like a flat-mate?"
She giggled. "Nah, I don't think Sean would be too keen on the idea. Thanks anyway."
"Ah. Yes. That insufferable fool's insufferable offspring."
"Yeah, he says his dad was grumbling the other day that you only went into hospital because you knew he was going to prove that he's better at potions than you are. I think he misses you hanging around."
"Then I shall have to descend upon his disgraceful establishment and put the fury of Severus Snape into him."
"Oh, good. He'll be glad to have you back."
Severus snorted and grumbled something about the lack of proper respect for one's elders anymore.
"Ginny? Do you need help finding some--oh, hello, Severus. Didn't recognise you from behind."
Severus looked over his shoulder. He cocked an eyebrow. Arsenius Jigger's cool blue eyes regarded him with clinical pleasure. Severus nodded. "Good afternoon, Arsenius. Didn't expect you to forget what I look like already."
Jigger's smile was terse but genuine, as ever. "At my age, I need more frequent reminders than... When was the last time I saw you again?" He gave a low, wheezy snort. "This is your spouse, I presume?" he asked, motioning towards Harry.
"Husband," Harry said.
"Forgive me, husband. It's... Well, it's a bit unusual to use that particular term in this sort of instance. I'm sure you understand. Ginny? Are you ready to go?"
She grinned. "Thanks, Mister Jigger." Tugging off the heavy canvas apron she wore over her robe, she scurried to the counter and hung it on a heavy iron hook in the wall. Her pristine nametag, GINNY, was a sharp contrast to the scuffed one pinned to the worn and aged apron next to it, MADAM A. SLUG. "I've got to go upstairs for a minute. You two can come with if you want."
"Oh, hey, yeah, we still have to see the flat." Harry pulled Severus after Ginny, who was vanishing behind a heavy curtain at the back of the shop. Severus tried to dig his heels in - there was something a bit off about visiting the private rooms of a former student (a female former student, at least - he'd already ruined his chances of innocence on the masculine side of things) - but Harry gave him a look and kept dragging.
"It's nothing spectacular," she called down a flight of stairs.
"That's fine, you should have seen our flat in Chudley," Harry called back.
"Not really, but it was pretty old. We only got it because it came furnished."
"Yes, with the most uncomfortable sofa I have ever encountered in my life," Severus hissed. "We are never living in a flat again."
"Yeah, y'know, unless Voldemort comes back again and decides to blow up the house for old times' sake, I don't think it'll be an issue." Harry winced a little, but his voice was steady.
Ginny was already tapping the lock when they reached the landing at the top of the stairs. "It's a bit of a mess," she mumbled. "I was brewing something before work, haven't had time to really clean up." She flushed scarlet, and rightfully so.
"Pity." Severus sniffed. "I'd thought you'd learned something in my class."
"It's only a few scrapings. I put the volatile things away." She pushed the door open.
The flat was warm, if perhaps a bit small, although for one person it was more than adequate. In the corner sat a brass double bed topped with a thick purple and green quilt. A plush Kneazle was perched at the foot, smiling at the whole world. Several worn rag rugs covered the wooden floor, which was dotted with a few chairs, a table, and a large desk on which two small, cheery cauldrons bubbled amidst neat piles of plant shavings. A sensible metal shield sat between them. There was a tiny, painfully tidy kitchen beyond a screen divider, and a door off to one side most likely hid the toilet. Severus glanced about with quiet approval.
"Quite acceptable." The array of sketches tacked to the walls caught his eye. Most were of a particular young man bearing more than a passing resemblance to that nutter Sheng; the rest were of various Weasleys, apparently random animals, and one that appeared to be him and Harry. He narrowed his eyes as Harry bounced in.
"You can leave your shopping here if you want," Ginny said, leaning over one of the cauldrons. "Has to be easier than dragging it around."
"Thanks," Harry said and dropped the parcels with a flump.
Severus glared. "Brilliant, Potter. Would you rather I went naked?"
Harry grinned. Ginny blushed.
"Um, just let me make sure these are okay," she said. She wiped her stirring rod on a cloth, laid it next to the cauldron, and picked up another for the next one. Severus hummed his approval. He moved to watch over her shoulder while Harry studied the drawings.
One of the cauldrons was filled with an acrid-smelling green substance. It simmered, myriad small bubbles stretching to a thin gold skin before bursting. He leaned a bit closer and sniffed. Something sweet and dark hung beneath its acridity. Anise?
"Childsbane Concoction, Miss Weasley?" he asked too low for Harry to hear.
Ginny's lingering blush flared crimson again. "It's for a friend."
"And who might this friend be?"
She shifted from foot to foot. "Just a friend."
"Miss Weasley, you may be able to convince some people with that, but I am not one of them. I'll thank you not to insult either my intelligence or your dignity that way."
"Sorry," she muttered.
"How long have you been taking it?" he asked far too low for Harry to even notice.
"Oh, so you've been a perfect angel, then." Severus tutted. "Such a shame to see an impending fall from--"
"We used a charm," she hissed. "But it's a pain to cast them when..." She trailed off, crimson. Picking up her stirring rod again, she gave the green liquid an unnecessary (if harmless) stir. "So I'm making this."
"Hmm." Frowning, and cursing himself for his hypocrisy, he put a hand on her shoulder. He murmured, "Might I remind you that you are a clerk in a shop--"
"At least I've got a job."
"Don't interrupt me. You are a clerk in a shop and knowing Acacia Slug's generous nature barely earning enough to support yourself."
Ginny shook her head. "So? I'd have thought you'd be happy I'm making this," she mumbled, tapping the side of the cauldron and pulling away before she could burn her finger. "Anyway, Hermione's got Ruby."
"Yes, but Mistress Granger-Weasley is married, and a reporter for the Daily Prophet no matter how unknown will always earn more than Acacia Slug's slave girl."
She shrugged. "So?"
"I hope you're at least using proper horseweed rather than one of your experiments."
"Of course I am. I'm not thick. Root's okay, right?"
"How much did you use?"
"Two ounces powdered."
"That should be sufficient." He frowned anyway. "You understand that no potion is foolproof?"
"Of course I understand that," she snapped. "Anyway, you can't tell me you were a virgin when you were my age." She flushed. "Sorry, that didn't come out right."
Severus pursed his mouth. He paused only a moment before cursing himself and leaning closer to whisper, "Miss Weasley, when I was barely twenty-one I was informed that I might have impregnated a woman of my acquaintance. The next six months were an utter nightmare." Not necessarily for the obvious reasons, but the point would have to do. "You should keep this in mind for not only your sake but your young gentleman's. If I find that you have been reckless in any way, shape, or form, I will see to it that you take every speck of responsibility to which you are entitled. Do you understand?"
She glared at him. "I don't need you lecturing me about it. Bad enough I can't even tell Mum and Dad I'm making this stuff. They'd have my head!"
"I'm not lecturing. If anything, I'm giving you advice I wish I'd had when I was," he paused, "significantly younger than you are."
She gave him a sidelong glance. "Say that again?"
"I'd really rather not."
"What're you two whispering about over there?" Harry asked, still looking at the sketches. His attention seemed to be focused on the one of him and Severus.
"Potions," Ginny said, stirring the other cauldron again. Its brownish contents made a sudden fizzing sound, and she whipped the stirring rod out, wiping it again before setting it aside.
"There's a shock." Harry trotted over and stuck his head between the two of them. The effect reminded Severus somewhat of a squirrel in an old wood forest. "What'cha making?"
"Some experiments for Madam Slug, that's all." Ginny checked a small gauge on the burner control. She fished a blunt-needled syringe from a drawer, stuck it into what appeared to be a large vial of grain alcohol (if the smell were any indication), and filled it with a careful two cc's. The needle slid without effort into a small hole in one of the two bulbous sections of the tentacled burner unit sprawled across the desk.
"Something I put together," she explained. "I was reading about Philia Westin - have you ever heard of her?"
"In passing," Severus said.
"Oh. Yeah, of course you've heard of her, made Nadja read all her books." She cleared her throat. "I got the idea from her injected potions research. The gauges tell how long the burners should run based on the amount of fuel they've got. I haven't figured out how to make the flame level change automatically yet, though," she added with a sheepish smile, turning one down. The needle on its gauge jerked to the right. She looked at her watch.
"I'm impressed." Severus steadied himself on her shoulder as he leaned forward to look at the control unit. "Very, very impressed. It seems your father's interest in useless technology has found a practical use a generation out."
She turned the colour of a beet. "Thank you," she mumbled, and hurried to find her cloak.
Downstairs, they left via a private door, one of many shrouded from the hurried residents and bustling visitors of Diagon Alley. It put them between Slug and Jiggers and the enormous curio shop next door. The street had filled up once again, and Harry stayed close to Severus' protective body. Ginny kept to Severus' other side, chattering on about work and the potions she helped with.
"... Even let me help them with some of their paperwork for the Committee for Experimental Potions. Nothing fun, but I got to file it!" She laughed. "Oh, and last week Madam Slug said that I might be able to help her with some of the more volatile chemicals before long. I mean Poison Dart Frog Venom and maybe Manticore Blood. Nothing like Manticore Venom yet."
"You're enjoying yourself then."
Her face cracked in a coy, very pretty smile. She nodded. "I don't think I ever really thanked you for getting me in there."
"Not necessary. Simply keep in mind that your reputation carries mine with it." And Gran's. Don't you dare hurt my Gran's name.
"So I'm sort of like your apprentice?"
"Hmm. No, not as such. My ward, perhaps, but certainly not my apprentice. Although, should you ever have any questions, you're more than welcome to ask me. So long as this Quidditch-minded brat continues to keep me in the lifestyle to which I would like to become accustomed--"
"--Then I should be available anytime you should need me. Assuming, of course, I don't find myself awoken at some godforsaken hour so you can ask why your cauldron has turned pink." He arched an eyebrow at Harry, who rolled his eyes.
"Git," Harry muttered.
Ginny snorted, smiling. "Thanks. And I still think you two are adorable. You're... I don't understand why you were always such a monster when we were your students."
"Perhaps because my students repeatedly attempted to prove the existence of a pure vacuum by demonstrating it between their ears."
"Hush. You know we weren't all that bad."
"The majority were. If not dim, they were defiant."
"So you're trying to tell me you've never fouled up a potion in your life," she said in a sarcastic tone.
Severus looked at her, his mouth a hard, straight line. "Miss Weasley, if you knew the extent of disasters I have caused through miscreation or misuse of a potion or its testing methods, you would understand far more thoroughly than you would ever like why I took such harsh measures with my students." Severus took a sharp breath; it flowed out as Harry pressed closer for a moment. Still, a hard lump of guilt formed in his chest at the thought that his maritus had only an inkling of his errors. "Too many of your fellow classmates treated Potions as a game rather than a potential disaster."
Ginny hunched between her shoulders. "Sorry," she muttered.
"No need to be. You were one of the few that treated it with the respect it deserves. I only ask that you use the brain I know you've got before you try to use your knowledge."
"Show some sense, you mean."
She nodded. "I will."
"Time shall determine that."
They reached the brick wall at the head of the street. Ginny had her wand out first and tapped the bricks so quickly Severus wasn't entirely sure she'd seen what she was doing. A watery ripple slid across their grid-like surface, and suddenly a hole broke through the middle, stretching wider and wider like dough pulled until it broke. The archway that appeared in front of them was broad enough to let him and Harry through together, although Severus could have sworn Harry snuggled closer anyway.
The rest of Ginny's lunch hour evaporated sooner than Severus honestly wanted it to. Ginny and Harry discussed Quidditch and the Cannons, getting into a heated debate over what made a more powerful Beater: precision or brute force. Harry argued for brute force, using the number of times he'd been knocked off his broom during practise as a key point, Ginny for precision. Here and there, Severus interjected a comment over chicken and vegetable pie (minus the flaky top crust - much to his annoyance) but mainly listened, letting himself be absorbed by the low, gentle sound of Harry's voice, only to be shocked back to reality when Harry snorted cider down his front.
They returned just in time for Ginny to check her cauldrons. As Harry was gathering parcels, one of the burners guttered and died. Ginny glanced at her watch and let out a whoop. "Yes! What did I tell you? It went out the minute I said it would!"
All but dancing, she plucked the syringe from her drawer again and filled it with at least twenty cc's of alcohol. She refilled the burners, which roared higher at the tap of a dial, and gave the liquids a quick stir, glancing out the corner of her eye in amusement as Harry re-gathered the parcels he'd sent flying when she whooped.
Just before letting them out through the side door again, she caught Harry in a brief, one-armed hug and planted a very surprising kiss on Severus' cheek. He stared at her a moment, eyebrow arched. She grinned.
"G'bye!" She waved them out, still grinning. Harry waved back. Severus simply squinted back over his shoulder at her in confusion.
Before he could say anything, Harry asked, "What is it that makes women plant their lips all over you every chance they get?"
"Very likely the knowledge that it humiliates me to no end."
"Oh, right. You love it and you know it."
"I prefer yours, if it makes any difference."
Harry stopped. His eyes darted upwards. Looking away for a shy moment, he lifted himself up on his toes and pressed his lips to Severus' jaw just below his ear. They were cool, and the pink skin clung for a moment where Harry had chewed it raw. "Something like that?" he whispered.
Severus swallowed. "Yes," he murmured, his throat a bit rough. "Something like that."
Harry smiled and settled to his feet again. He glanced around at the swollen crowd. The smile faded.
"Was there anyplace else you wanted to go?" he asked. He shrank against Severus; Severus could have sworn a shiver when through his small body.
Yes, the art shop, and the antiquities shop, and Flourish and Blotts, and Fortescue's, and Quality Quidditch Supplies to buy you anything you want, and... "No, I don't believe so."
Harry nodded. Some of the hard tension slipped from his body. Severus worked his cloak around Harry's shoulder, placing a barrier between him and the crowd.
"Home, then?" Harry asked.
"I think so."
They walked to the Apparation platform in silence. Severus tried to push away the thought that once they were away from the crowd Harry would return to his untouchable shell. Harry must have feared the same thing because, just before he stepped onto the pad, he leaned up once again and pressed his mouth to Severus'. "I'm trying, you greasy bastard," he hissed. "I'll be damned if you're going to die again before I've gotten to prove it."
Severus brushed the hair back from his forehead, gazing down at him. He rubbed Harry's cheek with the side of his hand. Harry leaned into the touch. The shadows under his eyes were all the more pronounced when he glanced up, brows knitted tight in the middle and childish determination puckering his chin.
Severus pressed his lips to Harry's hairline where his fringe had parted. "Remeerimus?" he murmured.
Harry nodded. "Etiam."
When Harry stepped onto the pad and disappeared, Severus felt the contents of his chest go with him. Wrapping his cloak tight against the internal chill, he Disapparated, hoping against hope that he might find his fractured heart once more at home.
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