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Playing at Potions with the Prince and the Potter

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“The position is yours, Potter.”

Harry almost sagged in relief on the chair in front of Snape’s desk. “Thank you, Headmaster.”

The Headmaster in question regarded Harry thoughtfully for a moment, then opened a desk drawer and extracted a parchment roll. He stretched it out, securing the top with a plain brass paperweight and rolling it down to tuck the bottom into the blotter on his desk. Not looking at Harry as he leaned in to watch, the Headmaster picked up a long black quill and began filling out the blank contract.

“Only this year, then?” Snape looked up and stared at Harry, waiting for an answer.

“I’ve been given a year’s leave from the MLE,” answered Harry, “to sort this out with Lily. That’s all I can commit to now.”

Snape bent his head again over the contract. “We’ll leave it at one year then, with option to renew.” The black quill moved quickly to fill in dates, names and other details. “Can’t seem to keep my Defense professors much longer than that anyway.”

“Tamaraz was here three years,” said Harry, as the Headmaster finished writing and blew on the fresh ink to dry it.

“I stand corrected,” said Snape with a wry smile. “And after him, Gillhead lasted nearly four. But we’ve had a string of short-lived tenures since.” He let the scroll roll back and up and handed it across to Harry. “All that remains is your signature.”

Harry accepted the scroll and opened it. He held it down on the desk in front of him and scanned it quickly.

“You might keep professors longer if you paid them more,” he said, half in jest.

“You don’t need the money,” said Snape. “However, I’ll take that into consideration should I have to replace you.”

Harry looked up from the contract and stared at the Headmaster a long moment.

“Look, I appreciate the favor. The kids all had a hard time last year, but Lily—Lily most of all. I’ll make no secret of it—I wanted this job so I can be closer to her, to help her through the rough spots. But I’ll give the job my all, Headmaster.”

“Yes, you will, Harry.” The two locked eyes again, the new DADA professor’s gaze just as verdant behind frameless glasses now as it was behind the old black-rimmed spectacles. Snape nodded. He’d been headmaster now for more than twenty years and had mellowed only marginally during that time. Still serious, still sarcastic, still all-business, Severus Snape nonetheless had developed a certain gleam in his eye. It wasn’t a twinkle, not by any means, but his dark, depthless eyes now seemed to end in a far-away light instead of in a fathomless black hole.

Harry signed the document with Severus’ quill and handed it over. Both men stood and the Headmaster extended a hand.

“You will call me Severus,” he instructed, taking Harry’s hand in his and shaking it, “now that we are colleagues.”

“Of course…Severus.”

Severus sat back down. “The first staff meeting is August fifth. I will owl you a copy of your contract and relevant information. You can move in anytime after August first.”

He returned to his stack of Ministry paperwork and did not look up as Harry Potter left the room.

*~*

“I wasn’t sure if he’d hire you.” Hermione was sitting next to Harry on a blanket in the grass at Hyde Park. Ron was stretched out between them, arms behind his head, lanky frame half on the blanket and half on the grass. The children had dispersed out into the park. Lily and Hugo had taken bread scraps and crisps to feed the ducks in the lake. James and Al were out on the lake in a rowboat and Rose was reading a book at the water’s edge, keeping an eye on Lily and Hugo.

Harry shrugged. “He didn’t expect to have to hire anyone. Foster’s departure came as a surprise—I’m sure he was glad to have someone to fill in without him having to go through the trouble of posting the vacancy and interviewing a bunch of candidates.”

“It’s just…well, it’s Snape, you know. I thought he was still tight with the Malfoys.”

Harry shrugged again. “He didn’t mention it and I didn’t bring it up either.”

Only a year ago, a month before Lily and Hugo started at Hogwarts, Ginny Weasley Potter had vanished, after going away to Bath for the weekend with some old girlfriends. Not so coincidentally, as it turned out, Draco Malfoy vanished as well. They resurfaced ten days later, together and adrift on the Channel in a large sailboat that neither knew how to navigate, severely dehydrated and sunburned. A lover’s tryst gone horribly wrong. Ginny had suffered a complete nervous breakdown and had spent months in St. Mungo’s mind healing ward; Draco Malfoy returned to his wife after having all of his exposed skin regrown.

Ginny, however, had not returned to Harry and her children. Fragile and weak, mind broken by the horrors encountered in those seven foodless, and nearly waterless, days on the sea, she went to the Burrow after finally being released from St. Mungo’s. Harry tried, he really did. Despite the weakness of their marriage, her wandering eye—for Draco was not her first affair -- and the fact that they had slept in separate beds since soon after Lily’s birth, he was willing to take her back.

It was Molly who convinced him to divorce her.

“Just end it, Harry,” she had advised sadly. “It’s time for both of you to move on.”

Ginny had shipped off to a commune in Ireland, and Harry had been left to deal with the grieving children.

“Lily seems to be doing better,” said Hermione now.

“She’s been a different child since I told her I’d taken the DADA job,” said Harry with a smile.

“She’ll pull through this, just watch,” said Hermione, pointing across the grass toward the pond where Hugo and Lily were surrounded by ducks and swans. Lily was laughing.

“She deserves to laugh more, doesn’t she?” said Harry.

“So do you, Harry,” said Hermione.

But Harry didn’t acknowledge her statement, and she let it go.

*~*

Teaching children Defense Against the Dark Arts was the hardest job he’d ever had.

He’d started his post-Hogwarts life playing professional Quidditch, but had entered the Aurors’ Academy just before marrying Ginny. He’d risen to the top position at the Department of Magical Law Enforcement by the time James started at Hogwarts. With a troubling rise in werewolf activity as the children bitten by Fenrir Greyback and his pack gained their maturity, he’d established a Werewolf Action Committee in the MLE and had partnered with St. Mungo’s and a private potions research laboratory to work for improvements in the Wolfsbane Potion and, ultimately, toward a permanent cure for lycanthropy.

Compared to the on-the-road stress and frequent injuries of Quidditch, the long hours and constant danger of being an Auror out in the field, and the red tape and inane requirements of dealing with Ministry regulations throughout most of his career, standing in front of a classroom full of twelve-year-olds was infinitely more harrowing.

They didn’t listen. They thought with their wands instead of their brains. They asked him personal questions, wanted to see his scar, demanded that he recount how the giant snake Nagini had almost killed Headmaster Snape.

Their essays were, in general, poorly written and not well thought-out. He went through so much red ink in that first month that he had to request a new supply.

Slowly, he learned how to take control of the classroom. To engage the children, formulate lesson plans that taught the subject matter in a way relevant to their developing minds and their not-always-academic interests. His most troublesome class was the Gryffindor and Slytherin third years. Amazingly, there were no Weasleys or Potters in that group, but having one there would have made the situation worse, not better. He’d been discussing this particular group of students at dinner with Neville on Tuesday, and Filius had joined the conversation, suggesting that Harry make an example of the next trouble maker and send him or her immediately to the Headmaster.

So Harry had. After Honoria Trueheart, a Gryffindor who had gotten on his last nerve that day, left with a note for the Headmaster, her classmates’ behavior improved a hundred fold.

When class ended, Harry reminded them of the homework assignment, and then stood in front of his desk while the students departed in near silence.

Almost as soon as the classroom was empty, Severus Snape appeared at his door. He stood there, arms folded over his chest, eyes examining the room.

“You do not look like a horrible teacher,” he said, stepping into the classroom. “Nor did I hear you curse, throw things or profess your allegiance to the Dark Lord the entire time I stood outside your classroom.”

Harry’s mouth had fallen open as Severus spoke but he closed it quickly as he realized that Severus did not actually believe any of these claims.

“Miss Trueheart, I assume?” he said. He sighed, pointing his wand at the chalkboard to erase it.

“Perhaps you didn’t realize she is Pansy Parkinson’s daughter,” said Severus. He was standing in front of the foe mirror that had been hanging in the classroom since Harry’s Hogwarts days.

“Pansy has a Gryffindor daughter?” Harry looked more amused than surprised or alarmed.

“And a Ravenclaw father. Her sorting was quite a surprise. Still, she feels a certain connection to Slytherin, and thus to me. She was quite affronted that you singled her out and sent her to the Headmaster.”

“It was Filius’ suggestion,” said Harry. He was gathering up the collected homework assignments and dropping them into a cardboard box on his desk. He shook his head. “I’ve got to learn not to give every class homework assignments due on Friday.”

“What? You have other plans for the weekend?” Severus walked over to the desk and looked inside the box, smirking.

“Lily’s spending the night with me, for one,” he began.

Severus looked over at him. “She is doing better with you here.”

It was not a question. Harry looked up at Severus, surprised.

“She is,” he confirmed. “How did you know?”

“There is a reason the Headmaster sits at the middle of the head table at meals, on a slightly elevated seat.”

Harry shook his head. “Like a king on his throne,” he said.

“More like a Prince,” quipped Severus. Harry looked up and smiled.

“I suppose you had a report from her Head of House?”

Severus nodded. “Naturally.”

Harry picked up the box of homework assignments. “Well, back to my quarters. I’d like to get a start on these before Lily and the boys come down for dinner. Hermione and Ron are coming by afterwards and we’re going to have an evening of charades.”

“Sounds lovely,” said Severus, his voice suggesting that he didn’t think an evening of charades with the Weasley-Grangers was lovely at all.

“You’re welcome to come on by,” said Harry as he moved toward the door.

Severus bit back a snort.

“Previous plans,” he said, unapologetically.

“Previous plans?” said Harry as he followed Severus out into the corridor.

“Headmaster duties,” said Severus.

“Uh-huh,” said Harry. At the end of the corridor, he turned to the left while Severus turned right and headed back to his office.

“Have a pleasant weekend, Professor Potter,” Severus said.

“Likewise,” said Harry.

Harry headed down the stairs, puzzling a bit over the Headmaster’s appearance in his classroom. But he soon put the thoughts aside, determined to get through his marking so he could enjoy the evening with his family. Hopefully, he’d have time on Sunday to make some progress on the Wolfsbane Potion research.

The Wolfsbane Potion. He stopped midflight and looked back. Would Severus be interested in taking on a new project or was he too busy with his “Headmaster Duties”?

He decided to figure that one out after he got through the weekend.

*~*

“These rooms are lovely,” said Hermione. She was sitting across from Harry on a comfortable leather chair, her legs tucked up under her. Except for the glass of wine she was holding and the laugh lines around her eyes, she looked, in this position, very much like she had twenty years ago when they were Hogwarts students themselves.

“I know. I was surprised—alright, astounded—when I walked in here for the first time. Severus claims they’re the same quarters used by the last Defense professor.”

“Why would he claim that if it weren’t true?” Hermione’s gaze had once again been drawn to the lovely painting over the fireplace, an almost abstract, almost impressionistic rendering of the sun setting over a stormy ocean shore.

“To not be caught doing something too nice for a family in need of some special treatment,” answered Harry with a laugh. He smoothed his hand over Lily’s head, brushing her hair back again. She had fallen asleep with her head tucked against his leg, curled up on the sofa beside him. Ron had left a few minutes before to escort the other children back to their common rooms. It had been a happy evening, reminiscent of earlier days when their family life, if not his married one, had been content and almost joyful.

Hermione smiled. “Well, these are obviously family quarters—I doubt many of the professors get three bedrooms.”

Harry shrugged. “I’m just glad to have them. Lily’s doing so much better in classes already and is spending more time with the other Ravenclaw second year girls. I let her stay over one night each weekend and she has dinner with me on Tuesdays. We have a family dinner on Thursday or Friday night, and the boys drop in from time to time for help with Potions.”

Hermione’s laugh lit up her face. She shook her head at him. “You! Helping your children with Potions! It’s hard to believe you’re the same Harry Potter that struggled with Potions all during….”

“Hey! I only struggled when Snape was our professor,” he protested. “Once we had Slughorn….”

“You mean once you had the Half-blood Prince’s Potion’s book,” she corrected, an amused expression still on her face.

Harry grinned. “Right. Funny thing, that, considering the Half-Blood Price is Snape.” They grinned at each other, and Hermione shook her head again in mock exasperation.

“Besides,” Harry continued, “I’m getting lots more experience in potions with the MLE’s Werewolf Action Committee.” He brushed his hand again over Lily’s dark red hair and smiled down at her sleeping form. “Now that Lily’s settling in better, I’ll be able to ramp up my research again—well, once I learn not to load my students down with assignments due on Friday, anyway.”

“You know, you’re at Hogwarts now,” began Hermione. “You’ve got a Potions Master at your disposal.”

“Clematis Hyde?” Harry rolled his eyes. “She’s a bit traditional for what I need.” The current Potions professor was an excellent teacher but not exactly a researcher or a scholar. She had been teaching for nearly fifteen years now, and the other professors had quickly learned never to rock the boat when it came to Clem, who spent most of her free time meditating on the Astronomy Tower or on one of the long docks that stretched out into the lake.

“Well, perhaps not Professor Hyde,” agreed Hermione. “But what about the Headmaster? He’s brilliant, Harry, really. He made the Wolfsbane for Remus back in the day, didn’t he? He might have something valuable to contribute, to push your research over the edge, so to speak.”

Harry stared at her then shook his head. “I don’t think helping werewolves is high on his philanthropic priority list, Hermione.”

She shrugged. “Who said it had to be? You pay other researchers. So offer to pay him. Sign him on as a consultant. Appeal to his professional ego instead of trying to make it a personal cause for him.”

A slow smile had begun to spread across Harry’s face. “You’re brilliant, Hermione. You know that, don’t you?”

She shrugged. “You just have trouble understanding other people’s motivations, Harry. Since money and fame don’t do much for you, you don’t remember that they can be major motivational forces for others.”

“But Snape—Severus….” He corrected himself then paused to re-form his thoughts. “Well, he’s the Headmaster. He’s likely to have all sorts of demands on his time.”

“And since he’s the Headmaster, he can prioritize his activities,” countered Hermione. “Surely you can see how his help might advance your research, Harry?”

“Well, I suppose it can’t hurt to ask. All he can do is turn me down and bruise my self esteem so deeply that I never show my face in the Great Hall again.”

“You sound like you’re asking him on a date,” said Hermione with that look of hers, that half smile, half frown she used when she was trying to puzzle something out.

Fortunately, Ron chose that exact time to throw open the door.

“I was attacked by a herd of Gryffindors!” he exclaimed. “Why couldn’t Hugo have been sorted into Ravenclaw with Rose? Those Gryffindors are animals! They climbed me! Like a tree!”

Ron’s robes and hair were appropriately disheveled. Hermione shook her head as Ron plopped down into the matching chair beside her own.

“I can’t believe you just said you wish Hugo had gone to Ravenclaw,” she said.

“Yeah,” said Harry, lowering his voice a bit as Lily stirred beside him. “Is this the same man who gave George a high-five when you got word that you finally got a Gryffindor?”

Ron rolled his eyes. “The Ravenclaws were all studying when I dropped off Rose. I didn’t expect to be assaulted when I got to Gryffindor.”

“I think I’d better arrange some summer classes for Hugo,” mused Hermione.

Harry watched them banter. Hermione and Ron had one of those relationships that worked. It just worked. Worked in a way his and Ginny’s never had. He was envious of them, envious of what they had. He brushed back Lily’s sweaty hair one more time and looked at her peaceful face. Having the children was enough. It had to be. At least for now.

*~*

It took Harry nearly a month to bring up the topic of his werewolf research with Severus.

It was the week before Halloween, and the Headmaster had acquiesced to the Prefects’ request to hold an after -feast masquerade in the Great Hall.

It was the Prefects’ responsibility, he told them, not his own, to find no fewer than six faculty or staff chaperones.

The Prefects started with Harry. And Harry, who had three children at Hogwarts, agreed.

They came back to Harry several days later because they were still two chaperones short.

“You’ve got to help out, Uncle Harry,” said Fred, George’s son. The conniving child had ended up in Slytherin—no surprise there—and was a sixth-year Prefect—now that was a surprise. “Can’t you convince Professor Hyde…?”

Harry gave his nephew his most malicious glare. “You all must have forgotten to tell me what happened at the Halloween Masquerade two years ago. The other professors have filled me in. I’m not surprised at all that you’re having trouble getting victims—I mean recruits.”

Fred exchanged a look with the Head Girl and Harry crossed his legs and leaned back in his desk chair.

“I might be persuaded to try,” he said after a drawn-out moment. “But I’ll need something in return.”

“What?” The two students exchanged glances again. They seemed almost afraid of what he was going to say.

“I have a certain class of students—third year Gryffindors and Slytherins….”

The students exchanged glances again. Horrified glances.

“Not the third years…” The Head Girl, Mariah Hope, took a step backward. “Forget it, Fred. Let’s just cancel the party. It’s not worth it.”

“Are you crazy?” Fred crossed his arms defiantly and faced his professor and uncle. “We’ve got everyone all excited about the party. So the third years are...monsters. Scary monsters. Rowdy, misbehaving, devilish, evil, scary monsters. With poor personal hygiene habits.” He turned to face Harry again. “So, what do you want?”

“A sixth or seventh year student in that class every day—I’m sure you can arrange that since most of the N.E.W.T. level students have study hours built into their schedules.”

Mariah nodded her head cautiously. “We can arrange that.” Now she glanced over at Fred but he was still staring at Harry.

“What else?” he demanded.

“Well, I have been a little overwhelmed with all the marking I’ve had to do….”

“You’re a Professor!” protested Fred. “They pay you to mark essays!”

“Not nearly enough,” said Harry casually, smiling at Fred. “Besides, I could get quite a bit of marking done if I stayed in my quarters on Halloween night instead of chaperoning a certain party.”

“Fine,” said Mariah, grabbing Fred’s arm and pulling him back toward the door. “We’ll mark all your third-year homework for the rest of the term, right Fred?”

“Riiiiight,” he said, pulling out of her grasp. “But for this you should get us two chaperones instead of only one. We’re still short two, after all.”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “That wasn’t part of the original bargain,” he said, frowning. “But I’ll see what I can do. Argus owes me a favor.”

“Argus? As in Argus Filch?” Fred’s mouth dropped open.

Harry waved him away. “Go on, now. I’ve got some serious begging to do.”

Harry grinned as they left. He had no intention of asking Argus. He was reasonably sure that Hermione and Ron would help chaperone. He simply needed to clear it with the Headmaster first.

But the chiming of the wall clock made him realize that it was four o’clock already and time for the Gryffindor Quidditch practice. James was a Chaser on the team, and Al the reserve Seeker. He made his way quickly to the vestibule, deciding to talk to Snape about the chaperoning after dinner. He was pleased to see Lily and two of her classmates already running ahead of him down to the pitch.

He was even more surprised to find the Headmaster in the stands.

He was sitting by himself, higher up in the stands than most of the students ventured during practices. He had a thermos with him, and was sitting rather comfortably on the hard wooden bench.

“Cushioning charm?” asked Harry as he climbed up the bleachers toward Severus.

Severus quirked an eyebrow. “Fourth-year spell, Potter. Would you like me to cast one for you?”

Harry rolled his eyes. “Call me Harry,” he sighed. “What are you doing out here anyway?”

“I attend at least one practice for each team each year. It is my attempt to show support for our extra-curriculars as well as my lack of bias toward any one house.”

“So, I got lucky then?” asked Harry, casting a cushioning charm on the bench beside Severus and taking a seat.

“That’s one way to look at it,” responded Severus. He removed the cap of the thermos and did a duplication charm on it, then filled the copy with piping hot tea and handed it to Harry. “Be quick about it. I’m not entirely sure that charm will hold for long.”

Harry accepted the tea and leaned back against the bench behind him. The team had taken to the air and was running through some warm-up laps and acrobatic maneuvers. He watched James fly in close formation with the other two chasers then spotted Lily below them in the stands, huddled together against the wind with her friends.

“Your daughter,” said Severus, nodding his head at the benches below them. “It’s good that she’s sitting with friends instead of clinging to you.”

“She stopped clinging about a month ago,” said Harry. “As soon as she was convinced I was here to stay, I think.”

“Ah, so you’ll have more free time, then? To get more marking done?”

Harry laughed, enjoying the friendly banter. While he liked his co-workers, he had little in common with most of them. “I’ve got that resolved already. Some ingenious Prefects are going to help me out in exchange for a small favor I’m doing for them. Which reminds me, the Halloween masquerade party—”

“Oh yes. I did hear you were duped into agreeing to chaperone. They always go right for the new professors.”

“Yeah—about that. Do the six chaperones have to be Hogwarts staff? Can…say…two of them…be concerned parents?”

Severus narrowed his eyes.

“I believe if we only have four faculty members then we shall require four additional parents. Parents are not as well-acquainted with the students and may not know what to look for in the way of unacceptable behavior.”

“Four?” Harry’s eyes widened.

Severus smiled. “Perhaps grandparents? Grandparents who raised a Fred or a George Weasley are unlikely to be duped by our students.”

“Sweet Merlin I’m going to owe them big when this is over,” Harry mumbled.

Severus shrugged. He sat rather primly, drinking hot tea from his thermos lid, watching the Quidditch practice rather distractedly.

“You mentioned my free time earlier,” said Harry a few minutes later.

“Did I?” Severus placed his empty cup on the bench beside him.

“You did.” Harry waved at Lily, who had noticed him behind her now and was waving at him, beaming. “Actually, I have an ongoing project I’d like to advance a bit while I’m here.”

“Oh?” Now Severus leaned back. He was distracted a moment as the three Gryffindor Chasers shot by in front of them, one behind the other, but then looked over at Harry.

“I don’t know if you follow the MLE,” Harry began.

Severus rolled his eyes. Harry wasn’t sure what he meant to convey by that.

“Anyway, I started an initiative in my department last year, the Werewolf Action Committee. You’re probably aware of the rise in werewolf activity the last few years.” He glanced at Severus, who nodded for him to continue.

“Ah, yes. Whack. Unfortunate name, that.”

“It’s W-A-C,” corrected Harry, suddenly understanding how Hermione had bristled when he or Ron called her little project “Spew.” He sighed and continued.

“Children bitten by Greyback and his pack are becoming adults now. With sexual maturity, the Wolfsbane they’d been receiving became gradually less effective at controlling their behavior during the full moon. Or maybe the mature wolf mind is better at taking control of the human mind.”

“Who is providing the potion?” asked Severus, his already waning interest in the Quidditch practice disappearing entirely.

“The Ministry funds a Potions Master position at St. Mungo’s. It’s distributed free of charge to everyone on the registry.”

“Hmm.” Severus sat up straight and turned his body slightly to face Harry. “What does your ‘Werewolf Action Committee’ do? I would think that you, of all people, would not be prejudiced against werewolves.” He made the statement in a tone of voice Harry couldn’t interpret. It wasn’t disapproving, nor approving, nor judgmental, nor haughty. It was more professional than anything else, and perhaps a tad bit curious.

“Our mission is to improve the plight of werewolves and those affected or potentially affected by lycanthropy,” said Harry.

“You’ve essentially just described the entire wizarding world,” said Severus.

“Yeah, kind of obvious, isn’t it?” said Harry. “Our long term goal is a cure of course….”

“Of course.”

They both rolled their eyes and Harry laughed.

“But short term, we’re concentrating on improving the Wolfsbane Potion and developing an immunization….”

Severus’ eyes perked up.

“An immunization? That is unheard of. Who is working on this effort?”

“The Waechter Foundation—we’re funding their initial research but they’re donating the actual pharmaceutical work. “

Severus whistled softly. “The Waechter Foundation is well respected in a number of magical medical research fields. A good catch, indeed. And who, may I ask, is working on the Wolfsbane?”

Harry broke eye contact with Severus and looked out at the pitch again.

“Well, I told you we’re funding a Potions Master at St. Mungo’s. To make the Wolfsbane.”

“You did. Go on.” Severus frowned, as if wondering where this was going.

“Well, that’s about as far as our funding will go. We have community education, of course, as well as a lot of very specific education and intervention with the infected witches and wizards and their families. But what with the pledge to the Waechter Foundation and the ongoing work at St. Mungo’s, there isn’t much left to work with. So…well…I’m sort of it.”

You’re sort of it? You’re sort of what?”

“I’m working on improvements to the Wolfsbane Potion.”

From the look on Severus Snape’s face, that statement was the last one he’d ever expected to hear from Harry Potter’s mouth. He looked, thought Harry, like he wanted very much to laugh but couldn’t do so with his mouth hanging open like that.

“Hey! I’ve been gone from Hogwarts twenty years, Severus. I have developed a brain cell or two.” He tried to sound offended, put out, but he couldn’t help feeling slightly amused too.

Severus shook his head. “Merlin help the poor werewolves,” he muttered. He resettled himself on his magically cushioned seat. “So tell me, Mr. Potter….”

“Harry.”

Severus glanced over, an odd smile on his face, a smile more in his eyes than on his lips. “So tell me, Harry, where your research in improving the Wolfsbane has taken you…so far?”

Harry sighed.

“I thought so,” muttered Severus.

“No, it’s not so bad,” protested Harry at once. “I spent nearly all of last year researching each ingredient in the current formula. Where it’s found, its properties, how those properties differ in different formats, its use in different potions, known reactions with other substances. After Lily left for Hogwarts, I spent nearly every evening at the library researching—first at the Ministry and then at Oxford—Hermione got me into some very helpful areas there.”

“So you have not been experimenting in a laboratory then?” asked Severus. He leaned back quickly as a bludger blasted by several feet in front of them.

“No,” said Harry. “I was hoping to start that while I’m here. It wasn’t possible the first month or so.” He nodded down in Lily’s direction. “But now we’re into a workable routine. She’s not stopping by my office several times a day and wanting to stay over nearly every night.”

“And this research—have you brought it with you?”

Harry nodded. “The notes I took at the ministry are on parchment. I used Hermione’s laptop at Oxford, but I printed everything out. I’ve gone back since and reorganized and condensed a bit.” He looked at Severus, noting the look on his face with interest. Intrigue. Severus was interested. Perhaps Hermione was right—that the Potions Master in the Headmaster would take a step forward when such an engaging project was within his grasp.

Harry liked that look on Severus, and he realized, suddenly, what it was he was feeling. A feeling he hadn’t felt in long and quiet years, in years when he was settled, if not happy. The pleasure of getting to know someone better, someone who intrigued you, someone who made you look up and take notice. Someone who appeared interested in you too.

He recognized the feeling in himself and saw it in Severus too. He wasn’t quite sure what to make of it, or what to do with it.

“Well,” said Severus, interrupting Harry’s thoughts. “I suppose I could take a look at what you’ve done so far, and perhaps offer some guidance.”

“I’d appreciate that—very much,” answered Harry, making a mental note to thank Hermione for planting this particular seed in his brain. “I was hoping you’d offer the use of the Potions lab too. Clem isn’t too…well, let’s just say she rules those labs like a pit bull on a chain.”

“The student laboratory? Why not set your sights higher and request the use of my private laboratory?”

“You have a private laboratory here?” asked Harry, glancing back at the castle. “Really? Where is it?”

Severus laughed. The sound was actually more like a snort, but a drawn-out one. The Headmaster learned his elbows back against the bench behind him again.

Harry,”—he stressed the name, letting Harry know that he wanted to say Potter instead—“Harry, have you ever actually brewed the Wolfsbane Potion?”

“Actually?” answered Harry, suppressing a smile.

“Yes, actually. Gathered ingredients. Prepared them. Worked with a cauldron in a laboratory, followed written instructions.” He glared at Harry, but the glare was more indulgent than malicious.

“Actually…no,” answered Harry. “Not yet, anyway,” he added hastily.

“And your plans for tomorrow?” continued Severus. The Gryffindor team had finished practicing and was huddled on the grass getting a lecture from their captain. Severus stood and began putting his thermos back together.

“Marking,” said Harry.

“Then you can fit in a session with me,” said Severus.

Harry looked up at Severus quickly, his eyes wide.

“In my lab you child!” clarified Severus, shaking his head. “Which is in my personal quarters, of course. Be in my office at two o’clock. Wear something you don’t mind ruining—I expect at least one explosion.”

“Roger,” said Harry, saluting.

“Bring your research notes,” added Severus as he began walking down the stands.

“Alright, sure.”

“And Harry?”

“Severus?”

“Don’t call me Roger.”

*~*

While the current Headmaster’s office closely resembled the previous Headmaster’s office, the similarities in their quarters ended there. This Headmaster’s personal quarters occupied the two levels above the office, accessed through a narrow curved stairway running along an exterior tower wall. Harry got a glimpse of a sitting room that more closely resembled a library as they climbed past the living quarters, hurrying after Severus with only a cursory glance at the room, up the curving stairs and through a heavy wooden door at the top.

The entire room was set up as a laboratory. Three large, ornate work tables were arranged in a triangular pattern in the center of the room. They were counter-height, designed so that one could work while standing or while sitting on one of the high stools with low backs that were clustered around them. Severus’ desk, resembling that in his old Potions laboratory in the dungeons, but at least half again as large, sat in front of a set of floor-to-ceiling windows. Harry’s eyes were drawn immediately to that desk, an island of chaos in the middle of this orderly workroom. There were books stacked on it, and parchments, a cauldron on the corner, some interesting ingredients. Quills—one black, one white—and an assortment of ink bottles sat behind a blotter in front of the chair. He walked over toward the desk, seemingly oblivious as Severus began to pull ingredients from a cabinet with glass doors.

“Wow,” he said. There was a smile on his lips as he surveyed the Headmaster’s domain. He raised his eyes from the desk and looked out the windows over the expansive view of lake and forest and far-off rooftops of the cottages in Hogsmeade.

Severus deposited a sturdy cauldron on a table and removed two stirring rods and several jars of ingredients from inside it, placing them neatly on the table in a precise arrangement.

“Are you ogling my desk or the view?” he asked.

In answer, Harry ran his hand over an uncluttered portion of the desk.

“Sturdy,” he said, turning to face Severus then. “But I suppose it would have to be considering….” He shrugged and smiled.

“Considering?” asked Severus, quirking his eyebrow. “Considering what? That I have it loaded down with books and supplies and ingredients? That I sleep on it? That I tie hapless victims to it before I have my wicked way with them?”

Harry smirked.

“Yeah. That one.”

“You’re an imbecile, Potter.”

“If you keep calling me Potter, I’m going to start calling you Roger again.”

“Fine, Harry. I’ve invited you here today….”

“More like ordered me here.”

“Fine. I’ve ordered you here in order to show you the proper way to brew Wolfsbane Potion.”

“Alright, if you say so,” said Harry with a grin.

“Cheeky,” muttered Severus as he opened another glass door and ran his fingers down a row of ingredients jars. He selected one, then another, and placed them together on the table. He continued talking as he opened a cupboard door and went inside.

“We are here to brew Wolfsbane.” His voice was just as low and clear as if he were in the room in front of Harry. Harry leaned against one of the work tables and hopped up on it, his feet dangling. He looked over to the table where Severus had set up the cauldron and supplies. “Anything I can do out here?” he asked.

“Yes. Do not touch anything.”

Harry smirked and shook his head. He wasn’t sure what to make of this Snape—this Severus—sarcastic as ever, but different. Showing an interest in him that he would never have expected. Treating him like an adult. Joking with him.

If he didn’t know better….

But he did know better.

Didn’t he?

He was pulled from his musing by the reappearance of Severus. The Headmaster came out of the closet with his arms loaded with jars. Harry hopped off the table, strode over and took several of the jars from Severus’ arms, and followed him to the work table. Severus placed his own jars on the table then turned and took Harry’s. He nodded at the stool across the table from where they were standing, on the inside of the triangle.

“Sit,” he said and added, as Harry moved around the table toward the stool, “On the stool this time.”

“How did…?” started Harry but he cut himself off and shrugged as Severus rolled his eyes.

What followed was, perhaps, the most interesting and, dare he say it?, fun Potions session in which Harry had ever participated. It was nothing, nothing at all, like a Potions class in his Hogwarts years. Severus gave him clear instructions for the tasks given him—preparing ingredients, measuring, watching for color changes or the beginning of a boil. Severus sat on a stool across from him, leaning in with elbows on the table as he watched Harry work, explaining why the ingredients should be chopped into pieces of the same size, reaching over once to reposition Harry’s hand on the knife handle, demonstrating a more effective chopping motion.

Severus was a demanding instructor, but a patient one.

He spent a good amount of time discussing the most important ingredient—aconite. Fortunately, Harry hadn’t been exaggerating when he’d told Severus he had spent months researching the potion. He was able to hold his own and while, from a practical perspective, he certainly lacked experience, he knew a great deal about each of the ingredients that went into the potion.

So much so, in fact, that he soon found himself having the sort of intellectual conversation one might have with a respected colleague.

They talked while they worked. The preparation was time-consuming and exacting. Every caution had to be exercised with the aconite, with everything that touched it or that it touched, with how it was prepared and incorporated into the final potion. Harry found himself sweating toward the end, relieved beyond measure at the wispy blue smoke that came off the potion when at last it was complete.

“Shame to have to pour it out,” he said when, at nearly six o’clock, he decanted a perfect dose into a goblet and Severus pulled it across the table to stare critically at it. After a long moment in which he gazed at the potion, swirled it in the goblet, sniffed it delicately, he looked up at Harry.

“You do well with instruction,” he said, nodding his approval. He stood, picked up the goblet and the cauldron, carried them both to the sink and poured both out, turning on the tap to begin the rinsing process.

“I’ll clean up here if you put away the ingredients. They are stored on the cupboard shelves in alphabetical order. Seal the jars tightly, please, and discard any processed ingredients.”

Twenty minutes later, when the laboratory was cleaned to Severus’ satisfaction, Severus stood across the work table from Harry. Harry had retaken his seat on the tall stool and was studying a page in one of his research notebooks. He had pulled out a Muggle pen from the spiral binding of the notebook and was making notes in the margin. He was aware of Severus standing there, watching him, but continued his task until satisfied he had committed all his thoughts and observations to paper. He capped his pen, replaced it, closed the book and looked up at Severus.

“Finished, then?” asked Severus, raising an eyebrow.

“Yeah. I just wanted to compare my notes on aconite with the actual ingredient itself. I’ve read volumes on it but until today had never actually handled it.”

Severus regarded him steadily. “You are proving…worthy,” he commented, seeming to choose his words carefully. “You are serious about this endeavor.”

“You don’t know me very well, do you?” asked Harry.

“No, I am finding I do not,” answered Severus. Harry could not help but think he sounded pleased at that admission.

*~*

Unbelievably, the Halloween masquerade went off with hardly a hitch. Ron seemed to take great pleasure in checking the punch periodically for illegal spiking, and Molly and Hermione set about breaking up snogging couples with great relish. Arthur Weasley, dressed as a giant spark plug, meandered about the room having his photo taken with various groups of children.

Severus’ respect for Harry, already on the upswing after their first brewing session, seemed to increase even more after the Halloween Party.

As November wound its way toward December, Harry felt more and more at home at Hogwarts. He’d established a comfortable routine of classes, marking, quality time with his children, and progress with his Wolfsbane improvement research.

The children no longer found it strange to barge into his office after classes to find him pouring through a dusty old volume at his desk with the Headmaster pacing around the room, expounding on substances that altered the brain chemistry. Albus hardly batted an eye the time he came to his father’s quarters an hour before curfew one Friday night to look for his gobstones, and found Severus lying on the sofa fast asleep while Harry sat on the floor on the other side of the coffee table, writing madly in one of his research notebooks. Lily now asked Severus first when she needed help with Potions. James grew accustomed to seeing them sitting together in the Quidditch stands when Gryffindor was on the practice field, the shared thermos on the bench in front of them.

Severus had walked Harry through brewing the Potion several more times, and now Harry could brew it by himself, without instructions. Which was good, because next Severus suggested he procure test subjects.

Werewolf test subjects. Werewolves willing to take whatever he—though here Harry stated an unequivocal “they” instead—brewed before the full moon. The potion would be administered at the Ministry and reactions monitored by Severus and Harry along with two additional members of the team—one from St. Mungo’s and one from the Waechter Foundation.

The Waechter Foundation, it turned out, was more than happy to learn that Severus Snape was involved in the project. Happy enough to dial up its own participation a notch, committing one of its own Potions Masters to the team.

At the full moon at the end of November, Harry sat outside a safe room in the Ministry watching as the potion he had brewed was administered to two volunteer werewolves.

Several hours later, he paced back and forth as outside, the moon began to rise. Severus sat calmly in a straight-backed chair pulled up to a small table and poked at some stale-looking sandwiches on a tea tray.

Several hours after that, Harry sat beside Severus at the table.

“This is really boring you know.”

“What did you expect? That they would tear the place to pieces? The potion is designed to help them keep their human minds.”

“But they’re sleeping,” said Harry.

“That, Harry, is success,” replied Severus.

“No. It won’t be success until we can do something about the pain of transformation,” said Harry, frowning as he remembered the rictus of pain on the younger man’s face as the transformation had seized him.

“Or until we can stop it altogether,” said Severus.

Assured that his potion was at least as effective as the potion St. Mungo’s had been brewing, the experimentation began in earnest.

They found an unexpected assistant in James, who took over the preparation of the standard ingredients in the potion. If anyone thought it odd that the Potter children began coming and going from the Headmaster’s office during the week preceding the full moon, no one mentioned it.

By the end of January, the modifications to the potion had already shown small, but promising, results.

And Harry, though buoyed by the results of his work with Severus, was finding that he was more motivated by being in the same room as Severus of late than by the successes or failures of their Potions experimentation.

He puzzled over that for a while. He’d never considered that his next partner might be a man but, given the way his body reacted when he brushed hands with Severus or caught his eye in a moment of triumph, he didn’t discard the possibility. He was unpolished as a partner, hadn’t dated in years, had never considered himself a good or even adequate lover but, then again, his experience was quite narrow.

He was positive, however, that Severus was interested. He’d seen him looking, after all, and while he thought the Headmaster had been hopelessly in love with his mother—and had thus considered him a heterosexual—he had thought he himself was heterosexual as well. It seemed Severus simply was not going to do anything until Harry got it all sorted out in his brain.

In early February, Albus took a bludger to the head during Quidditch practice.

Neither Harry nor Severus were at the Saturday morning practice. The teams seldom practiced at this time of year, but it had been a particularly nice winter day for February in Scotland, a still day without winds and temperatures so high the snow was melting off the tree branches. The Gryffindor team, tired of being cooped inside the castle, had decided to strike out for the pitch.

James came running for Harry as soon as they got Albus into the infirmary.

Lily went for Severus.

Severus, whose office was just down the hall from the hospital wing, met Harry at the door as he came hurtling down the corridor at a full run, James behind him.

“He’s alright,” he said, grabbing Harry by the shoulders and preventing him from going in. “Cracked skull, but Poppy’s working on him now.”

Harry took a deep breath. “Alright.” He glanced at the door. “So let me in.”

“Albus is unconscious. Poppy has healed the fracture and given him Skele-gro. She is wrapping his head now. I am going to open this door and you will walk in calmly and give Poppy room to work.” He moved to open the door. “Alright?”

“Alright.” Harry let out the breath he was holding and reached out and squeezed Severus’ free hand. “Thanks, Severus.”

Severus nodded, eyes on Harry’s, and opened the door.

And Harry hurried inside.

Opening that door was a real act with metaphorical meaning.

Harry thought about that several hours later, sitting by Albus’ hospital cot. The lights in the room were dim and he had fallen asleep beside his son in a lounge chair he had transfigured from the wooden one beside the bed. He had awoken to find Al asleep, but peacefully so, breathing evenly and with some color back in his face.

He thought about it now. James had gone to fetch him. Lily had gone to fetch Severus.

Severus had arrived first, had checked up on Al, and had met him at the door to calm him down, to reassure him.

Exactly as he would have done had he still been with Ginny, had he arrived at the hospital wing ahead of her.

It was comforting, in a reassuring sort of way. Someone was worrying about him as much as he was worrying about Albus.

And Lily. Why had Lily gone to get Severus?

He reached out and brushed the messy black hair sticking out from under the bandages back from Al’s eyes.

He decided it was time to act.

*

He asked Severus to dinner.

They were cleaning up after producing the second variation of the Wolfsbane Potion, and had the four doses—one to archive, one for the research team and two for the werewolves themselves—bottled and under stasis. Harry’s heart had unaccountably begun to beat faster as he looked up at Severus, determined to do this thing, to open that door even wider.

“Do you like Indian food?” he asked as he wiped a table down.

Severus hesitated.

“It doesn’t have to be Indian, of course,” said Harry hurriedly. “How about fish and chips?”

“I like Indian food,” said Severus slowly. “Very much so. I was wondering why you asked.”

“I was hoping you’d go out to dinner with me,” said Harry, falling back now to his rehearsed conversation.

“Go out to dinner with you?” Severus was standing in front of the cupboard door, a jar in each hand.

“Yeah. In London. Maybe this weekend?”

Severus stared at Harry. Harry stared bravely back.

“Saturday?” asked Severus.

Harry nodded. “Saturday is great. 6:30?”

“That will do,” said Severus. “Muggle restaurant, I assume?”

“Yeah, but casual,” said Harry. He looked down and continued wiping the table.

*~*

Severus looked good in casual Muggle clothes.

He looked good in the dim light of the Indian Restaurant, and he looked good in the rowdy pub they visited afterward for a pint. But Harry’s favorite part of the date, other than the food and the conversation, was the way Severus offered his arm as they walked down the street afterward. The familiarity of the gesture, how confident he was, how self-assured.

Not that the kiss at the gate was anything to complain about.

Harry had turned to Severus after side-alonging with him to the Apparition line at the castle gates. He’d turned to thank Severus for the evening, but before he could say a word, Severus had enveloped him in his arms, hands pressing into his back, his shoulders. “My pleasure,” he had said just as those lips met his, and it never occurred to Harry, not once, that he’d never before kissed a man. That this should feel foreign, odd, unusual. Because the press of those lips to his was better than anything he remembered in his sparse experience. They were practiced lips, lips that knew what they wanted, that descended on his, working his mouth open, tasting the curry and the bitters. As much as he loved that mouth, as much as he returned the kiss, the feeling of the hard cock against his hip topped it all, and he wondered how two men went about not rutting against each other in public, not acting out their obvious desire until they were behind closed doors.

They cooled down on the walk back up to the castle, Harry still holding Severus’ arm, and made plans for the following weekend.

Severus pulled him off in the men’s room of the Squeaky Leak the following Friday night. He was half-pissed, or he’d have returned the favor, but Severus seemed more than content to tend to him, one long-fingered hand down the front of his trousers, working his cock, brushing his bollocks then squeezing his shaft. It took him only a minute to come. His eyes were heavy-lidded as he kissed Severus after the act, rutting up against him still.

Two weeks later, two hours after Lily had fallen asleep in her room in his quarters, he knelt beside his bed and sucked Severus’ cock into his mouth for the first time. He knew just what to do with it, knew what felt oh so right to him, knew all of Ginny’s mistakes when it came to fellatio. Severus buried his fingers in Harry’s hair and grunted, and moaned, the sounds making Harry so hard that he came from rutting against Severus’ leg just after Severus came himself, spurting down his throat, head thrown back, Harry’s name on his lips.

The third variation of the Wolfsbane was an abject failure. Not because of the change in their relationship. They had simply guessed wrong, and went back to work with renewed vigor.

When Severus gave Harry head for the first time, Harry was completely naked and stretched out on the soft rug before the fireplace in Severus’ quarters. He was not drunk, and not bound, but perfectly still, for Severus had told him, oh so casually, to remain as still as possible. And Harry had listened.

Still, he could not keep his back from arching up or his toes from curling as Severus descended on his cock, pressing it deeply into his mouth, against the back of his throat. He felt the finger tracing his crease as Severus worked his cock, felt it brush against the skin behind his bollocks, shuddered as it continued its slow back and forth motion, wondered where the sudden warm oil had come from, instinctively opened his legs as the finger worked itself down a bit then rubbed over his opening, back and forth in a warm and slow caress. Fuck fuck fuck. He’d known but hadn’t known. They’d not spoken of it, not yet, but the tip of the finger pressed in, almost as if it had not meant to, retreated, returned, pressed in again as that mouth gave a particularly strong suck to the tip of his cock, diverting his attention. Pressed in again. His hands clenched the rug as he strove to remain still and as his balls drew up and his orgasm was drawn from him the finger pressed in again, deeply, and he screamed, he knew he screamed, as he came.

He supposed they were taking it slowly, and the relationship was so balanced, so comfortable, so insanely right, that he didn’t question it. He embraced it, welcomed it, as Lily and Albus and James tightened around him, tightened around them, in the kind of family closeness that had never been there with Ginny.

They celebrated the success of variation four with dinner and a show in London, and afterwards Harry lay languidly on Severus’ bed, on his stomach, and Severus buried his face in Harry’s arse and licked him, licked him until Harry was pleading for more, pressing back against him and begging Severus to just fuck him, please just fuck him but Severus pulled back, patient, willing to wait, and brought him off with the most intense of blowjobs instead.

*~*

“I can’t believe it! Only five tries!” Harry had practically danced as they watched Lionel Holmes, the older of the two men who had agreed to try out the experimental potions, fall asleep on the floor beside the bed, in his werewolf form, but curling up and around like an old dog might, making its bed for the evening. His transformation had been quick and so much less painful than the previous ones, measured, at least, by the expression on his face as his bones had shifted.

Severus smiled and continued straightening up his desk, pushing a stack of Muggle notebooks to the side and capping an open bottle of ink. “Your research notes have proven invaluable. I must admit this…association…has been a pleasant surprise.”

“Pleasant surprise?” laughed Harry. “I’d say it’s been pleasant.”

“I was speaking more of the professional side of our association,” clarified Severus.

“I bet you were,” said Harry. He closed the ingredients cabinet he’d been organizing and walked over toward Severus, managing to insinuate himself between Severus in his desk chair and the desk itself. He casually began to unbutton his jeans and as Severus watched, kicked off his shoes then stepped out of the jeans. Severus raised an eyebrow as he next pulled down his boxers and discarded them, then hopped up onto the desk and leaned back on his hands.

“You are a distraction,” said Severus, reaching out as he spoke to pull Harry’s shirt off then beginning to work on the buttons down the front of his own robes.

“I think we need to celebrate our success,” said Harry. He wrapped his hands around Severus’ neck and lifted his legs, managing to work them around Severus’ hips.

“I can celebrate,” said Severus. He shrugged off his robes and pressed a kiss to a pert nipple that was tantalizingly close to his mouth.

“I want it to be here, where it all started,” said Harry. “With my research notes on one side and your quill and ink and potions ingredients on the other.”

Severus was working off his pants now, and Harry leaned back on his elbows as Severus stood.

“You are sure you want this? Here? Now?”

“Of course I want this here! What do I look like?” Harry splayed his knees outward.

“You look entirely fuckable,” said Severus. “But for someone who hasn’t ever been fucked, doing it on the Headmaster’s desk….”

“Yeah,” breathed Harry.

“…is hardly the most comfortable way to lose one’s virginity.”

“Who said I want comfortable?” said Harry.

Severus shook his head and gave in.

*~*

“You have broken my favorite mortar and pestle,” said Severus with a sigh. He held up the broken remnants and placed them on his desk.

“I wondered what that was,” Harry said. He was sitting in Severus’ chair now and had pulled his shirt back on but was otherwise unclothed still.

“We are never doing that again,” said Severus, surveying the wreck of his desk.

“Why not? That was brilliant!” exclaimed Harry, smiling even as he shifted on the chair in discomfort.

“On your desk then,” said Severus. He held up this favorite quill. It was now L-shaped.

“Oh come on, it was worth it, wasn’t it?” asked Harry. He hiked a foot up over his knee and bent to pull on his sock.

“Oh great.”

Severus glanced down at the splattered blue ink on Harry’s foot and snorted.

“I wouldn’t snort. It’s probably all over your desk too,” said Harry.

“Get dressed,” said Severus. “We will go downstairs and enjoy post-coital relaxation in my bed.”

“What about our research?” said Harry with a smile.

“Our research will wait. We need to talk.”

“Talk? Talk about what?”

“About how I will make an honest man out of you,” said Severus. “You have children. People are already talking…about us. We should decide whether we will formalize this relationship.”

“Formalize?” said Harry slowly. “Are you proposing, Severus?”

He stood there, wearing jeans, one sock and a wrinkled shirt. And a smile.

“I suppose I am,” said Severus. “After all, there is the morality clause in the Headmaster’s contract.”

“Morality clause? You’re making that up.”

Severus quirked an eyebrow at him. “Are you saying no?”

Harry picked up his other sock and tossed it to Severus.

“Who’ll do the laundry?”

“The house elves, of course.”

“And the cooking?”

“The house elves, except on days we elect to do our own.”

“Children?”

“Who will cook the children?”

“Idiot. Do you want children?”

Severus stared at Harry. “We already have three. How many more do you want?”

A slow, genuine smile spread across Harry’s face. He walked over to Severus and kissed him.

“Three is plenty,” he said. “The perfect number.”

“Is that a yes?” asked Severus.

“That’s a yes.”

“Can men get pregnant anyway?” Harry’s voice trailed up the stairway as he started down behind Severus.

“Certainly. Any man born with a functional uterus can carry a child to term…”

“Git.”

“Idiot.”

And Harry Potter followed Severus Snape down to his quarters for some well-earned post-coital relaxation.

Fin