Chapter Six - Diagon Alley
“For fuck’s sake, aren’t they ever going to give up?” Harry could sympathise with Lupin’s stress. Even forcing their way through the mob in Diagon Alley, Severus and Sirius still managed to keep circling each other. Those poor witches and warlocks who started to greet Harry invariably backed off at sight of his entourage. He gripped Sev’s hand more firmly but was dragged along, poor Lupin trying to keep up. They’d lost Hagrid to the Leaky Cauldron as soon as they arrived. Right now, Harry couldn’t blame him.
“Sev, didn’t you need to go there?” Snape took on a nasty pallor as he realised his preoccupation with Sirius had led him straight past the largest apothecary shop in Britain. He tugged Harry inside. Sirius followed, glaring, wand hand in his pocket, Lupin smacking him on the shoulder when he noticed. Thank you, Professor Dumbledore. The bodyguards are great – one to guard, and one to be guarded from. It was his own damned fault for suggesting them and he knew it, but Harry hadn’t anticipated this level of childishness. Once inside, he dropped Sev’s hand to hold Sirius back. Lupin followed the fuming Potions master. “I thought the whole point of you coming was to keep someone from getting hurt,” he hissed.
“Yeah, you.” Harry groaned and buried his face in his hand.
“I think I’ll be fine around my own boyfriend, thanks.” Sirius snorted.
“If James heard you say that—“
“Oh, do shut up. Poor Harry Potter, after the Battle of Hogsmeade he can’t even defend himself against the dreaded Public Display of Affection,” he sneered.
“Christ, it’s worse than I thought,” Sirius muttered.
Harry looked at him. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You’re starting to sound like him. I’m not prepared to take Severus Snape on as my godson.”
Harry fingered his watch and fidgeted. Somehow, he suspected Sirius wouldn’t take well to certain details regarding… well, legally Sev wasn’t his godson-in-law. “I should probably get some new robes while we’re here. I don’t think Sev or Lupin would mind—“
“We stick together.”
“What about Hagrid?”
“Hagrid is nine feet tall, and doesn’t have a bounty on his head.” Sirius set his jaw. Dammit.
He was saved from having to retort by the bell above the door. “Harry!” He looked up and suddenly wanted to disappear.
“Fancy seeing you here. Hello, Mister Black. Nice to see you again.” Sirius just nodded. His eyes were still on Sev, who was across the shop holding a jar of something gooey up to the light and squinting. “So, what are you doing here, Harry? Are you teaching Potions this year?” Colin’s voice cracked with hope.
“Nah, just waiting on S- Professor Snape.”
“Oh.” Colin’s cheeks turned bright red. “So…”
“How’ve you been?”
“That’s good. Is Dennis with you?” Colin shook his head.
“He’s home with a hex, dropped his wand.” Thank goodness for small mercies, eh? As if to demonstrate, Colin dropped his own. A spark shot out and he screamed like a girl.
“Oh, Christ,” Harry muttered under his breath. Colin was bad enough; Colin trapped between awe of Harry, mortal terror of Snape, and the unlikely and uncomfortable mix of the two – much like napalm and matches, Harry suspected – was a good case for justifiable homicide.
Colin cleared his throat, stamping out a small flame. “Say, I don’t suppose you could help me get my ingredients for class…”
Harry shook his head. “Sorry, I don’t know what seventh years need.” It was a blatant lie – he’d written down the list half a dozen times, helping Sev get ready for term. “You might try asking Severus.” Colin blanched.
“He won’t hurt you.” He fought the shameful grin trying to spread across his face. “He’s really just a big cuddlebunny once you get to know him.” Harry was pleased to see Sirius biting his lips, trying painfully not to laugh. Well, it was true. Somehow, though, he didn’t see Sev and Colin sitting in the proverbial tree any time soon. “Go on.”
“Uh… thanks, Harry, but… oh, belladonna, that’s what that is. And here I was thinking we needed deadly nightshade.” Sirius, whose face had gone quite red, couldn’t take it any more and sniggered desperately into his arm. Colin looked at him and back to Harry, reminding Harry of a very confused puppy. “Did I say something funny?”
Harry shook his head, wrinkling his nose. “Cheering charm accident, very tragic.” This only set Sirius off more. Sev looked up from a barrel of dried beetles to see what the noise was. He shot Harry a he’s-your-problem-you-deal-with-him look. Lupin seemed blissfully oblivious. “Well, Colin, it’s been great talking but we need to, um, get going.” He grabbed Sirius’ elbow and pulled him out of the shop. Once outside, the man leaned against the doorframe and cracked up. Harry patted him on the back, a little embarrassed.
“Harry, you’ve been spending too much time with that bloody Slytherin,” he choked, wiping his eyes. “Cuddlebunny? That’s just cruel!”
“To Sev or Colin?”
Sirius snickered. “Does it matter?” Harry glanced in the window. Severus stood next to the counter, glaring one of his spine-withering glares. Oops.
“I think I’m in trouble.” Harry hooked onto a pack of what looked like first and second years and went back inside, a somewhat shaky godfather on his tail. Sev beckoned him with a sharp finger. The close proximity to students, who kept a wide berth, had brought out his terrifying teacher instincts. Harry skulked up to him. “Yes, dear?” he muttered. He didn’t get the smile he’d hoped for.
“What were you doing out there?”
“Sirius needed some air.”
“As far as I’m aware, Sirius Black is a grown man of forty. I should think he would have learned to get his own air by now.” His thin lips twisted in anger and, Harry saw suddenly, fear. “If you’re going to foolishly risk your neck for that… cur you can go back to Hogwarts right now.”
“I’m sorry,” Harry mumbled.
“You’d better be.” He tapped a sharp finger against Harry’s cheek as he swept away, robes billowing. A sea of students parted to let him through. Several of them looked at Harry, some with sympathy, some with suspicion. Lupin touched him on the arm.
“Go with him. I’ll hold Padfoot off for a couple of minutes.”
“What about the—?”
“They’ll have to get used to you sooner or later.” Lupin did have a point. Trying to ignore the students still watching him, Harry followed Sev to the back of the shop. The professor in question was looking intently at a jar full of roots. He pulled the enormous cork out of the jar, sniffed, and recoiled.
“They’re fresh,” he gasped.
“Lady’s Perfume.” He spat the name with not a little irony. Harry got a whiff and gagged. The smell was something like rotting vegetables in diesel. “Shouldn’t you be recklessly endangering yourself?”
“I am. Put the bloody cork back.” Sev didn’t seem too reluctant to comply. Harry let go of his nose. “Don’t tell me you’re getting that stuff.”
“Once again you assume that simply because something is unpleasant it’s not worth paying attention to.” A yellowed finger traced lightly over labels. The jar of Lady’s Perfume was tucked carefully under his arm.
“I said I was sorry! Sirius was going to choke if he didn’t go outside.”
“Yes. I seem to recall Mister Creevey stammering something about a rabbit. He’s given me quite considerable leeway since then. I suppose I should thank you for that.” A black eye focused on Harry, narrowing. Severus flicked a vial of blue liquid; something Harry couldn’t see thrashed inside.
“I was just trying to get rid of him.” He put a hand on Sev’s shoulder. It was no small comfort when he didn’t shake it off. “Really, I’m sorry. I didn’t think—“
“Exactly. If I hadn’t seen it myself I wouldn’t guess you were even capable of rational thought.”
“What do you want me to do? Handcuff myself to you? Not that the idea doesn’t have a little merit.” He smiled coyly. Sev didn’t fall for it.
“I want you to consider the fact that some people care if you live or die.” Harry was taken aback. This wasn’t Sev’s usual fighting style. He really was terrified. Ignoring the whispers behind them, Harry rest his head on Severus’ arm. Sev shook him off, handed him the smelly jar, and put a hand on Harry’s neck so he could move a little closer. It had to be torture for him to show this much affection in front of gawking students.
“I won’t do it again,” Harry whispered.
“Obnoxious brat. Sometimes I wonder if it’s your mission in life to give me an ulcer.”
“Does that mean it’s working?”
Sev looked at him. “Hardly.”
“I hate to break up this little image of domestic bliss, but…” Sirius tapped his foot behind them.
“Ah, Black,” Sev said dryly. “Would you mind holding something for me?” His hand shot out and grabbed a jar, which he thrust behind him. Sirius barely caught it.
“Oh, very funny, Snape.” He shoved the jar crookedly on the shelf. “Remus and I are waiting.” He stormed off before Sev could make a retort. Snape smirked, apparently quite satisfied.
“What did you do?” Sev, looking at other jars, tapped the label. It read ‘dogsbane’.
“Quite effective, wouldn’t you say?”
Oh, god. It was going to be a long day.
It was the best part of an hour yet before they left. True to his word, Severus made Harry carry everything, including – to Harry’s great worry – a good kilo each of asphodel and wormwood. Sirius kept shooting him sharp glances. Sev responded by putting an arm around Harry’s waist, occasionally leaning over to whisper in his ear, even once planting a smirking kiss on his cheek. “Stop baiting him,” Harry muttered.
“I’m hurt. I try to show a little affection and you assume the worst.” Sev fluttered his long, heavy eyelashes. The absurdity of it made Harry’s stomach tap dance. He nuzzled a pallid ear.
“Grow up, you sarky git.” Sev looked pleased.
“If you two are finished creating a spectacle, I assume there are other places you need to go.”
“Sirius, calm down. You’re overreacting—“ Sirius growled at Remus. Remus frowned and went on. “You’re not a chaperone.”
“Maybe I should be,” he muttered.
Severus had kept his mouth ominously shut. “I think,” he began with a click of his tongue, “our next stop should be a jeweler.” Sirius blanched. Sev smirked like it was Christmas.
“Harry, please tell me he didn’t just say that.”
“Didn’t say what?”
“Can it, Snape!”
“You too, Moony. Harry?” Sirius fixed him with an intimidating glare. His pupils were tiny specks.
“Erm… Sev needs a watch.”
“A watch.” Harry nodded. He couldn’t look his godfather in the eye. Severus squeezed him a little bit tighter. “Nothing else.” Harry shook his head.
“Despite the fact I don’t know the time, I’m certain we’re wasting it. Could we please…?” Sev waved his fingers down the street. Sirius stalked up to the taller man, far exceeding him in both muscle and breadth, and drilled a finger into his chest.
“I’m watching you.”
“As you should be. That is, might I remind you, the only reason you’re here.” They stared at each other. Harry tried to pull Sev off but to no avail. A couple of witches had stopped to watch.
“Paddy, let’s go.” Remus’ low voice broke through tension that would have been excited by anything more. “It’s not safe to stand in the middle of the road.” Sirius growled, but a few seconds later he turned from his prey and started down the street. They walked in a close pack, Sirius at the front, watching everyone and everything. Severus and Harry followed close behind, with a vigilant Lupin at the rear using not only his eyes but his nose. The group made its way to Bauble and Fob’s, the largest watchmaker and jeweler in Diagon Alley. Remus guarded the door of the tidy shop while Sev peered at a counter. Sirius hung over him. Sev wrinkled his nose.
“Dog breath.” Harry shifted some parcels and swatted him hard on the butt. “Potter!” He realised what he’d done when he saw the look on his godfather’s face. It was somewhere between “did you just do that?” and “kill me now”.
“Sorry, Sev,” Harry said meekly. They’d gotten too used to being alone together; little familiarities like that could be problematic, even disastrous, once term began. Sev couldn’t be Professor Snape without respect, and even the most intimidated student would laugh at the library assistant giving him a spank. Harry knew he certainly would have. He shuffled a few inches away. Severus didn’t seem to notice.
“Could I help you?” A little, balding man who looked eerily like an aged Wormtail smiled at Severus, who looked up briefly. A look of utter disgust crossed his face. He stabbed the glass with his finger.
“That one.” The man looked a bit shaken at the harsh response. With trembling hands he removed a small, simple pocket watch from the case. Sev pulled out his half-rimmed glasses and stuck them on his nose. Sirius snickered. He had to switch places with Lupin to keep from falling over laughing. Sev cradled the watch in his palm and pressed the fob. The plain front flipped open, revealing a simple, black face with elegant Roman numerals and hands the same dusky silver as the rest of the watch. He held it to his ear and closed his eyes. Some of the less prominent creases around his mouth fell away.
“This is one of our nicer pieces, in my opinion,” the man said in a nervous, high-pitched voice. “The face is black magicite – a very rare find, only one vein in the world, unplottable of course – and the visible metal is platinum. The inner workings are gnome-crafted in Switzerland. Not a flashy piece, mind, but most reliable and quite elegant.” His faded blue eyes lingered on the worn hem of Snape’s sleeve, the shiny patches on the elbows, the unkemptness of his hair. Harry started looking at the other watches, wondering how upset Sev would be if he dipped into his Gringott’s vault to buy one. “Of course, there are others—“
“How much for this one?”
The little man blinked in surprise. “Seven hundred Galleons, sir.” Lupin gave a low whistle; Harry realised he’d probably barely seen seven hundred Galleons of his own in years. Sev reached into his pocket and pulled out a small coin pouch. Silently, he opened it and pulled out a stack. He counted ten of the large gold discs, and put an identical stack next to it. Harry stared. So did the little man. When he had ten of them he stacked those neatly, and repeated the process six more times. When the last coin clinked into place Severus narrowed his eyes at the little man. “Um… I’ll- I’ll get your receipt, sir.” Snape slipped the watch and pouch into his pocket.
“Oh my god,” Lupin whispered.
“Sev, are you sure you want to spend that much on a watch?” Harry murmured.
“Yes.” Beneath the venom he had the matter-of-fact air of someone who didn’t worry about money and never had. “Seeing that you’ve stolen mine, I don’t have much choice, do I?” But… seven hundred Galleons. That was - Harry calculated quickly - more than two thousand pounds. He pulled out his own watch and looked at it, at the ancient crest on the front, thought of the wealth of names on the inside. Well, of course. A Malfoy wouldn’t marry anyone poor, would she? It struck Harry quite hard that his own fortune likely paled dramatically compared to that of the Snapes. Or, to be accurate, the Snape. His gut churned; Sev had never even hinted at anything like this before. A bit warm, he glanced around the shop. Sirius was sneering. Lupin looked ready to faint.
The little man returned and set a thin stack of printed parchment on the counter. He held out a fancy phoenix quill. “If you’d just fill this out, sir.” Sev hesitated. He took the quill without a word and wrote in neat, angular script: Severus Snape, Potions master, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The salesman looked stunned. “Oh! Mister Snape! I’m terribly sorry, should have recognized you sooner. You look so much like your father—“
“Do you require anything else?” Sev asked flatly. He looked like Neville had just melted yet another cauldron. Tufts of grey hair flew out from the man’s head when he shook it. He looked like a chicken.
“Just let me finish up your receipt.” He scribbled Heironymus Bauble at the bottom of the parchment and waved the ink to dry it. “And congratulations, sir. I wondered how long it would be until I sold another Snape a watch.” The corner of his mouth tugged mischievously. “Might I ask—?” Severus raised an eyebrow in silent challenge. Harry glanced up at him; it took him a moment to realize that was a mistake. “Oh.” A pale brow wrinkled. Mister Bauble squinted at Harry’s forehead. “Goodness me, Harry Potter. Well, this certainly is an unexpected pleasure.” That half-smile tugged at his mouth again, and his pale eyes flashed. With fast, steady hands he pulled the bottom layer from the stack of parchment. All of the writing had magically copied over. Discretely, he handed it to Severus. He shook Sev’s hand, much to Sev’s obvious revulsion, then Harry’s. “Congratulations. Both of you. I wish you all the—“
“Are we quite finished?”
“Oh. Oh, yes, Mister Snape. Misters Snape? Mister Snape?”
“Singular.” Sev gave the flustered little man a short, terse bow. “Good day.” He stalked out of the shop, face stony. Sirius stopped Harry as he followed Snape out.
“What was that about?”
“Nothing.” The small shop was suddenly much smaller.
“Don’t lie to me, Harry.” Lupin staggered around him. He was even paler than usual. He stopped to lean against the doorframe.
“Leave him alone, Paddy. He’s not a child.”
Sirius’ mouth hardened. He waved Remus on. Before Harry could take a step, though, he grabbed his arm. “We’ll discuss this later.” His eyes were dark and threatening. Harry could just swallow and nod.
“That insufferable Bauble,” Sev seethed to Harry. “If I’d known that nattering old twit was still here – if I’d known he was bleeding alive—“
“It’s okay.” Still dazed, Harry leaned his forehead against Snape’s collarbone.
“It bloody well is not!” He flashed a glare at Sirius, who looked ready to kill. “It’s getting late.” He slung his arms over Harry’s shoulders; Sev closed his eyes and breathed deeply. “Is there anything you need to get in this part of the Alley?”
“Um… yeah, robes.” He still wore his baggy, voluminous student robes. Right now he wanted to vanish into their all-engulfing depths. Sirius hated him. That was more than he needed.
Madam Malkin’s was only a couple of doors down. Sev watched quietly from the corner while Harry was posed and fitted by Madam Malkin herself. After all, he was the saviour of the wizarding world, he mulled bitterly. Thankfully, Severus made no move to help pay for his robes – Harry dreaded to think how much that would set Sirius off. His godfather spent the entire time prowling the gap between them, daring Snape to move. Lupin stayed close to Harry, casting apologetic glances. Laden with several new robes in various colours (and a pair of slippers he’d snuck in as an afterthought) in addition to the potion ingredients, Harry staggered out of the shop. Sirius made sure to stay between him and Sev as long as possible. From the lack of vicious banter between those two, it was anyone’s guess when the first hex would be thrown.
“Harry! Harry!” A familiar voice shook him from his depression. Through the crowd he saw a curly red head streaked with silver, and a cheery round face. “Over here, dear! Oh, Ginny, try to keep up, won’t you?” A stack of parcels in one arm, Molly Weasley broke through the mob and caught him up in the best hug they could manage.
“Hullo, Mrs. Weasley,” he mumbled. She kissed him on the cheek and he blushed. “Hi, Ginny.”
“Hi, Harry.” Ginny, who’d at some point grown nearly as tall as Sev and far prettier, gave him a weak smile. Her eyes fell on Severus and she looked at the ground.
“It’s so good to see you, dear! We’ve all missed you.”
“All of you?”
“Well, of course.” She cocked her head. “How have you been? Hermione told us you were staying at school for the summer.” Her hand fluttered over his hair, trying to smooth it.
“I’m okay. I’m Madam Pince’s assistant next year.” The closest thing to a mother he’d ever known beamed.
“Well, fancy that. See, Ginny? I told you not to listen to rumours.” Sev shifted behind Harry and leaned on his shoulders, chin resting in soft hair. Sirius growled, but Lupin held him back. Molly’s eyes flickered. “Ah. Yes, Ron did mention something, come to think. How are you, Severus?”
“As well as can be expected, thank you. Yourself?”
“I’m fine. It’s a nice, warm day to be out, isn’t it?” Sev made a noise; his cheeks and the tip of his nose had gone pink in the sunlight. She shifted her packages. “Ron and Hermione live not too far from here. I’m sure they’d love to see you, Harry. Ron’s working for the twins right now, bless. Barely a day goes by they don’t test some new trick on him. He spent most of last week paisley before they could reverse a spell, poor dear.” Harry cracked a grin. Visions of a Paisley Weasley swam in his head. He couldn’t let Ron live this one down—oh, that’s right. Ron wasn’t speaking to him, possibly ever again. His face fell.
“I don’t think I’ll be able to. We have to get back soon.” Mrs. Weasley looked at him with concern.
“That’s a shame. He’s just not been the same since… well.” She looked around. Ginny was shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot. “Would you two like to join us for some ice cream?”
Harry started to open his mouth, but Sev was faster. “I’m afraid that’s up to our captors.” He glanced at Sirius and Lupin. Sirius flashed his teeth at Sev.
“Ice cream sounds lovely. Doesn’t it, Sirius?” Sirius muttered something Harry couldn’t hear. Lupin nudged him in the ribs.
“We don’t have time. We’ve still got shopping to do.” He glared daggers at Sev. “Though god knows where—“
“I’d like that, thanks, Mrs. Weasley.” She grinned at Harry. To his relief she started walking before Sirius could say anything else. He tagged along, ignoring his godfather’s outrage at having to do something social with Snape. Sev hung back a respectful few paces to let them talk.
“I wish you’d been able to make it to the wedding. Did Hermione’s present arrive?”
“Yeah, thanks.” Harry had sent Pig back without a reply. He’d regretted it, but at the time there wasn’t really much he wanted to say.
“She was so worried Pig had dropped it on the way.” Harry’s heart sank. Hermione had been one of the only students – one of the only people for that matter – at Hogwarts who hadn’t gone off him at the end of term. God, that seemed like a long time ago. Two months, maybe? It might as well have been years, the way he felt. “They had their honeymoon in Morocco, you know. Ron came back so sunburned.” She laughed. Harry made a noise in acknowledgement. Mrs. Weasley frowned. “He misses you.”
Harry shrugged. “He hates Sev.”
“Well, there is that. Goodness knows Ginny isn’t fond of him either.” Ginny groaned.
Molly held up a hand. “Sorry, forgot I’m not allowed to acknowledge my own daughter.” Ginny huffed. “But that’s no reason for you two to stop being friends.”
“Will he apologise?” Harry shook his head. “He’s the one who called me a slut.” Mrs. Weasley kept her mouth shut. Harry discovered that he was grateful for the chance to talk. “It’s not like I was sleeping with half the school. I can’t help it if… greasy bastard.” The corners of his mouth twitched downwards.
Harry was taken aback. “No, Sev.” She scowled.
“Strange way to talk about your sweetie.”
Harry blushed. He’d never really associated the words “Severus” and “sweetie”. “We’re not the most normal couple to come out of Hogwarts,” he mumbled.
“Well, you can’t always tell, can you?” She smiled. “Although, he was your… I really shouldn’t talk. I had a mad crush on one of my teachers when I was there. Professor Uldric LeVert, the Ancient Runes instructor. That man had the most gorgeous eyes I’ve ever seen. Gold.” She smiled wistfully. Harry paled. He didn’t quite have the heart to tell her than he’d never had any kind of crush on Snape.
“How the heck did you hook up with Snape, anyway?” He blinked at Ginny. Somehow, he didn’t think “A shag on his office floor” would go over too well. He didn’t want to explain their similarities, or Sev’s icy compassion, to Ginny or her mum. Ron, maybe, but…
“He’s really not as bad as he seems.”
Ginny rolled her eyes. “Duh. I figured that much out.” She pushed open the door to Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour. Sev wandered to the counter without a word. A large family was just leaving and Ginny sat down at their table before anyone could steal it. She whispered into Harry’s ear, “You could have told me sooner that you’re gay.”
“I’m not—“ he sighed. Was there really any point in keeping it up? He’d never met a girl who could hold a wand to Severus. He even enjoyed their fights in a way – it was a Hell of a triumph to outthink Snape. “I didn’t know either.”
“Well… I guess that’s a little better,” she grimaced. “What did you make in Potions last year anyway?”
“Ginny!” She looked expectant. “If you really have to know, a ‘C’.” Her eyes widened.
“No. Do you really think Snape was going to give me a better grade just ‘cause I’m shagging him?” he hissed. She turned as red as her hair.
“What’re you two so secretive about?”
“Nothing, Mum.” Ginny slumped in her red-and-white striped chair. Everything in the airy shop was red and white, and in the sunlight it looked like peppermint rock. The door swung open again and Sirius and Lupin wandered in. Sirius immediately sat down next to Harry, making sure Sev had to sit across the table.
“So what brought you out here, Molly?” Mrs. Weasley gave him a shy smile. Ginny pulled out a quill and doodled on a napkin.
“Oh, just getting ready for school. It’s been nice with just Ginny and me, kind of a girls’ day out. First time that’s happened, eh?” Ginny turned pink but didn’t protest. “They grow up quickly, don’t they?”
“Hmm.” Sirius gave Harry a sidelong glance. Harry looked around. Lupin was talking to Florean Fortescue; Severus stood behind him, intently reading a list of fifty or so flavours. His eyes flickered to the table and Harry smiled. Sev gave him a slow, catlike blink that made his heart skip a beat.
“Harry? Did you hear me?”
“Huh? Oh. Sorry, Mrs. Weasley.”
“I’m going to go order. Is there anything in particular you’d like?”
Him, a bucket of hot fudge, and forget the spoon. “Chocolate would be brilliant, thank you.” She grinned at him and got up.
“Sure thing, dear.” Harry watched her say something to Sev at the counter. He shook his head. Mrs. Weasley was insistent, but there were possibly two people on Earth who could challenge his will. As if to prove it he stepped up to the counter and raised a finger for attention. Harry looked at Sirius.
“Were you getting—?”
“Remus knows what I want.”
“Ah.” Well, if Sirius didn’t want to talk to him… He turned his attention to Ginny and her sketch. A half-finished and moderately recognizable portrait of Florean Fortescue graced the napkin. There was something odd about the way the lines fell. Harry watched her quietly for a few minutes. She didn’t notice. Her tongue stuck from the corner of her mouth in concentration. Mrs. Weasley came back soon enough and handed Ginny a hefty strawberry cone. Lupin followed, a small dish in each hand.
“Severus is getting yours, Harry.” She looked a bit flustered behind her scoops of pistachio and cherry and double chocolate chip.
“Okay, thanks.” He grinned at the image of austere, pragmatic Professor Snape with ice cream cones melting all over his hands. He’d need some help to clean that up. Oh my. Sev was still at the counter with his arms crossed, impatient with something. Maybe he was waiting on a new tub of chocolate. Harry turned his attention back to Ginny’s drawing. There was still something off-centre about it. It looked a bit like a Picasso.
“Oh, bloody Hell!”
“Language!” Ginny frowned and licked her melting ice cream.
“Sorry, Mum. I just can’t get this right!”
“Give it here, dear.” Ginny pushed the napkin across the table. Molly’s brow wrinkled. “I see what you mean. I couldn’t tell you what to do, though.” She shook her head.
“You’re trying to draw in three dimensions.” Harry looked up just as Sev sat down and placed a sundae bigger than his head in front of him. Two spoons clattered on the table. Harry stared. Something in his gut fluttered. No, it couldn’t be. He’d mentioned that once, ages ago. Sev was busy frowning over the napkin. He took Ginny’s quill. “This angle is too wide.” He redrew a cheek, tapering it in sooner than Ginny had, setting things to a little better balance. “You’ve tried to lay down too much information. Just because something has two sides doesn’t mean you have to show both.” He pushed the napkin back towards her.
“Um… thank you, Professor,” Ginny mumbled.
“As long as this little hobby of yours doesn’t interfere with my class, you’re quite welcome.” He looked coolly at Harry. “You may wish to eat. I’m not getting another one just because you let it melt.” There was that image again. Oh, this was neither the time nor the place to be thinking about that.
Harry murmured his slightly red-faced thanks as he picked up a spoon and dug into the ice cream. Ginny stared wistfully. Her own triple scoop looked a bit pitiful by comparison. Mrs. Weasley picked up the verbal slack. “I didn’t know you could draw, Severus.”
“I can’t.” He looked uncharacteristically flustered. “It’s just a simple matter of perspective.” With delicate fingers he picked up the other spoon and scraped a small bite of cherry vanilla. Harry stopped himself from staring openly at the red tongue that licked it off.
“I don’t know, Severus. That banner you designed for the Quidditch finals sixth year was pretty spectacular.” Snape narrowed his eyes at Lupin.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Oh, come on. The basilisk? The one that took sixty Slytherins just to hold up?”
“I hardly think that’s the sort of thing with which I’d waste my time.” He took another bite of ice cream. There was that tongue again. Harry could almost imagine the spoon was a quill the way he handled it. He wondered what it would be like to be a piece of parchment. Grr, why did Sev have to be such a sentimental bastard sometimes?
“It was very good. One of our first years wet himself.” Sev’s cheeks flushed. He mumbled something about having nothing to do with the finished product.
“Would you two be quiet?” Sirius snapped. “I’m trying to eat.”
Lupin pointed his spoon at Sirius. “How is our conversation a problem?”
“It just is.”
“You’re going to an awful lot of trouble to attract attention, Moony. We shouldn’t even be here.” Remus rubbed his eyes. Sev stabbed at the sundae, pulling up a large glob of chocolate. Ginny stared at Sirius, trying to catch too many pink trails at once. Mrs. Weasley pulled a Hogwarts letter out of her handbag and studied it with pursed lips. Harry realised that he’d eaten nearly a third of the sundae in far too short a time. “I guess I’m the only one who takes Harry’s safety seriously.”
“We’ll talk about this later, Padfoot.” Sev and Sirius were glaring at each other again. Harry put his foot on Severus’ shin. It was a bit difficult to just leave it there but he managed. Their eyes met. Harry raised his eyebrows in a silent plea for civility. After a long moment Sev’s lips thinned and he dug into the sundae again. Between them, they’d done rather a lot of damage. “How’s the family, Molly?”
“Oh!” She brightened. “They’re doing well. Arthur – he’s just been made head of Muggle Relations, you know – Arthur’s planning a surprise honeymoon trip to Australia for Bill and his sweetie. Two weddings in one year, can you imagine?”
“Ron never mentioned that Bill’s getting married.”
She looked at Harry with a proud, slightly embarrassed gleam in her eye. “He dropped it on us day before Ron and Hermione’s wedding, came as a bit of a surprise when he showed up with… well, his name’s William and he’s just lovely.” Suddenly her relative lack of shock over Sev made sense. “They’re planning something over Christmas. We’ve just barely managed to talk them into doing it here instead of on the Nile. Charlie’s still in Romania, still sends letters with scorch marks…” Harry listened intently as she covered the entire Weasley family. It kept his own peculiar little family from killing each other, too. He suspected that was one reason she went on so long. Finally, Ginny poked her.
“Mum, it’s nearly three. Didn’t you say we needed to be home by four?” Mrs. Weasley’s hand flew to her mouth.
“Dear me, I’d completely forgotten.” She began gathering parcels, frantically checking under the table in case any had fallen. “I’m terribly sorry, once I get talking I can never remember how to stop.”
“No harm done.” Lupin gave her an easy smile. His gold-flecked eyes sparkled. Molly blushed.
“Well. I guess we should get moving. Still a few shops to cover.” She bustled Ginny out of her chair. Harry stood up to give her a hug. “Stay in touch, dear. We’d love to have you for Christmas if you don’t have plans.” He smiled.
“Thanks. I’d like that.” There was no chance of it happening, but it was a cozy, warming thought nonetheless. She gave him another kiss on the cheek.
“I’ll send you a batch of those biscuits you like,” she whispered. “It’s been lovely seeing you all again. Severus, Remus, Sirius.” Sirius nodded. Sev mumbled something.
“Lovely seeing you too, Molly. Take care, tell the boys I said hi.” She grinned at Lupin again.
“Come on, Ginny. Goodness, how did it get so late?” She headed for the door in a flurry of parcels.
“See you at school, Harry.”
“See you, Ginny.” When the door closed behind them he felt awfully lonely. He turned his attention back to the sundae. Very little remained at the bottom of the dish.
“We should go, too.” Sirius started to get up.
“Sit down, Black. We’ll leave when we’re ready.”
Sirius snarled, baring doglike canines. “You may be able to order Harry around, Snape, but you can’t do it to me.” He shoved his empty chair under the table and waited by the door, arms crossed.
Lupin sighed. “I’m sorry. If I knew he was going to be like this I would have left him at home.” Harry shrugged.
“It’s okay. At least he hasn’t broken anyone’s nose yet.” Sev raised an eyebrow.
“I should hope not. I don’t want to have to explain that to Poppy again.” He dipped his spoon into the ice cream’s semi-liquid remains. “Cherry.” He pushed it towards Harry.
“Are you sure?” Maraschino cherries were one of Sev’s very few vices. Not that anyone knew but Harry and the odd house-elf.
“If I weren’t I wouldn’t offer. Since you’re that insistent, though—“ Harry parried Sev’s spoon with his own.
“Nice try, Snape.” He scooped up the fudge-dripping sphere and licked it off the spoon. It gave him no small satisfaction when Sev abruptly blinked. Harry doubted they would have dinner with the staff that night. Getting out really had been a good idea. There were only a few traces of ice cream left, and he felt guilty for the cherry. He pushed the dish towards Sev. “Want the rest?” Severus put down his spoon.
“You wanted to finish one.” His voice was unusually soft. Lupin leaned back and looked at him in surprise. Snape pushed the dish towards Harry.
Harry stared at it. Traces of a smile played around his mouth. “Greasy bastard,” he murmured.
“Obnoxious brat. Eat.” The cold, runny stuff melted over Harry’s tongue like a kiss. It was a jumble of flavours, brown with fudge sauce, and nothing he’d ever tasted compared to it except maybe Sev himself. He scraped as much from the dish as he could. “The bottom may prove hazardous to your health, and I’d rather not have to tell the headmaster you were hungry enough to eat glass.” He stuck his tongue out at Sev, who, to his amazement, returned it. His heart rate stepped up by about half. Sirius made a noise of disapproval. Sev glowered at him.
“If you two are ready I think we ought to go.” Lupin pushed his chair in. “We don’t want to be out later than the crowd.”
Harry sighed. “I guess.” He reluctantly collected the hoard of boxes around him. Sev stood up primly, his face a neutral, slightly haughty mask. He waited near the door, ignoring Sirius. Once they were outside he wrapped his arm around Harry’s shoulders again; Harry snuggled in, content.
“What’s left? It had better not be far, whatever it is.” Sirius fidgeted. The thick crowd was starting to dwindle. Sev pointed them towards the entrance to the Alley. The crowd there was much thinner. A huge head bobbed above the general mass. Hagrid waved.
“Gettin‘ yer shoppin’ done, Harry?” he grinned when he caught up. A precarious stack of boxes balanced on one huge arm.
“I think we’re almost finished. Where else did you need to go, Sev?”
“Places where you would be more trouble than you’re worth.” Harry feigned a glare.
“Oh, really? And where’s that?”
“The apothecary, you daft little urchin. Perhaps that ‘C’ was a bit generous.”
“We just passed Mortar and Phial.” The only other potions supply this way was a cauldron shop. He pouted. “I think you’re just trying to get rid of me.” Sev looked grim. Harry had a sudden, horrible though. No, he can’t mean… he does. Harry’s mountain of packages crashed to the ground. “NO.”
“Harry, go with Hagrid and Sirius, wait in the Leaky Cauldron.” He tried to stroke Harry’s cheek, but Harry caught his hand and nearly crushed it. He wrapped his other hand around the back of Severus’ thin neck and pulled him to eye level.
“Listen to me, you greasy great tit. You will go into Knockturn Alley over my dead body.”
“Harry, let me deal with this.”
“Stay out of it, Black,” Sev snarled. He wrenched his neck from Harry’s grip, but clutched his hand. “Harry, I have to go. I’ll be back soon, I promise.”
A low growl started deep in Harry’s throat. He jammed his hand into his pocket and pulled out his watch. The cover nearly hit Sev’s nose when he smashed the fob. “Read it.”
Sev cocked an eyebrow. “I’m perfectly aware of what it says.”
“Back off, Sirius. This is none of your business.”
“It bloody well is! Your parents—“
“Paddy, shut your gob for once in your life.” Lupin gave him a cool warning look. Hagrid shuffled his feet.
“What does it say, Severus?” No response. Sev wrapped his arms around his chest. “It says that wherever you go, I go. I don’t know about you, but I take that seriously enough to include Knockturn Alley.”
“Harry, ye’re not goin’ in there.”
“Yes, I am.” Sev glowered down at him. Harry glowered back. His legs wobbled out of the sheer effort of trying to control Severus Snape.
“No, you’re not. You’re going to wait in the Leaky Cauldron until I get back. Or, if you’d prefer, I can just pack you back to Hogwarts.”
Blind rage filled him. Harry jerked away. He snapped the watch shut and shoved it into Sev’s hand. “Fine.”
He had never seen Severus Snape’s jaw drop before. He had never seen those hollow eyes not just hollow but truly empty. It sawed a hole through his chest and punched out the middle. Oh, god, what have I done to him? Sev, so pale he looked dead, reached into his pocket a pulled out a scrap of parchment. “Hagrid,” he croaked, “would you be kind enough to do me a favour?” He held out his hand.
Hagrid took the parchment from clumsy fingers. A long strand of widow’s peak fell in Sev’s face. “Ye’ve got some tricky requests on here, Professor. I don’ know if I can find everythin’ ye want.”
“Lupin knows where to get the more difficult items. Buy at least as much as I’ve specified.” A hand snaked into his pocket again and dropped the money pouch into Hagrid’s palm. He never took his eyes off Harry. Harry suddenly understood exactly how much control he actually had.
“I’m sorry,” he muttered, hating himself more than he thought possible but far less than he deserved.
“Did you mean it?”
The watch was cool and heavy against his fingertips. Sev didn’t quite release it into his hand, though. “Don’t do that again.”
“I won’t.” He couldn’t. Harry smoothed back the long, pale piece of hair. His hands shook. “Greasy bastard.”
Sev stared at him mournfully. “That I am.”
The pain took him totally by surprise. Harry fell to the ground, watch clutched desperately in his fist, as every particle of his being twisted and writhed in exquisite Hell. He didn’t know if the shrieking he felt more than heard was his or someone else’s. He squeezed his eyes shut to block out the torrent only to have them ripped open by reflex. A shadow filled his view. He heard his skull crack as the impact crushed his thrashing body. Just as Harry lost consciousness the world turned green.
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