Cliche Fest Fic: Medium Rare
Reveals are up, so I can share my offering for the snape_potter Cliche Fest:
Title: Medium Rare Author:jadzialove Other pairings/threesome: None Rating: Very barely R Word count: 17,285 give or take Warning(s): None Cliche: (highlight for spoilers) * Someone plays matchmaker for Snape and Harry. | Post-DH, Harry thinks Snape is dead, mourns him, only to find out he's hiding out in the Muggle world. | Post-DH, Harry still has Snape's memories and decides he must return them and/or Harry worries Snape could never be interested in him/he's just a substitute for his mother. I feel confident that there are many other clichés frolicking within, but these are the ones I set out with, and so get the billing they deserve. The others are just a bonus. * Summary: Seeing the dead is nothing new to Harry - it's when the dead are actually alive that the problems begin. A/N: Thank you is not enough to express my gratitude to joanwilder, without whom this would not have been completed (probably not even started, if I'm honest), and who kept this finished product from being riddled with typos and wonky punctuation. Warmest thanks to blamebrampton, who kept me from embarrassing myself with all things British (and many other deranged things I missed) both in planning and execution, then sacrificed sleep to do it. Eternal thankfulness goes to the mods for being so patient with me and my incredible tardiness, and for the great encouragement to see this through to the end.
"Harry! Harry! Harry!" A gangly if short for his age sixteen-year-old waved his arms in a desperate attempt to gain attention.
Like Harry, the patrons in the pub, ten in all, also seemed to ignore the boy.
Harry sent him a quelling look, finished serving the patrons their lunch and cleared the tables on the way back to the kitchen. He bumped the swinging door next to the gleaming polished wood bar with his hip and turned on the boy, who was now standing quite near to the fryer.
"Colin, I've told you at least a dozen times not to do that! What on earth is so urgent? And it had better be an actual Someone Will Die Imminently If Harry Doesn't Help situation, because Tessa is already twenty minutes late and I haven't time for anything else."
"Er, I guess it can wait." Colin smiled crookedly in apology. "I'll just come back later, then, shall I?"
"Do, yes," Harry said distractedly, then added, to soften it a bit, a smile and a, "Please."
"Cheers, Harry!" Colin grinned and dematerialized.
Harry gave his full attention back to battering the lovely white pieces of cod, then set the chips bubbling in their own hot oil for the American couple who couldn't wait for their first taste of "authentic English fish and chips".
The first time Harry had seen someone that no one else could see, it had been his mum. It'd happened in the infirmary at Hogwarts, shortly after the final battle, and he'd attributed it to exhaustion, though he'd been comforted by her smiling face and happy to see the pride shining in it.
The next time it'd happened, he hadn't been alone in the experience. He'd come down well past breakfast at the Burrow, only to find George in the living room, agitated, which unfortunately wasn't the upsetting thing, it wasn't even an uncommon thing of late.
The upsetting thing was that George was having a conversation with his twin.
His twin, who was standing well to the left of where George was looking, but standing there nonetheless.
Fred was taking it much better, of course, and looked well, if a bit fuzzy round the edges, considering he'd died two weeks earlier.
Harry gaped at him long enough that Fred took notice and with an enormous grin, said, "You can see me! Well this is brilliant!"
"You can see him?" George stood and walked toward Harry. "You can see him and hear him?"
Harry nodded dumbly with lingering shock. "Er, can't you?"
George laughed and hugged Harry hard, lifted him straight off the ground. "Thank Merlin! I can only hear him, and I thought I'd gone completely bonkers."
After a brief chat, and description of the afterlife – "It's dead fun! Get it? Dead fun. C'mon, that's good humor, wasted on the living." – Harry had left them to do the most sensible thing he could think of: find Hermione.
Hermione's exhaustive research had garnered little information. A check-up at St. Mungo's, which he'd organized without an explanation of why he wanted it, had proven Harry in perfect health, with no obvious brain anomalies.
George's experience seemed to be limited to Fred and was generally accepted to be a twin thing.
On the other hand, the word 'medium' had been bandied about for Harry, seeing and hearing – communicating easily with – the dead and he wasn't entirely comfortable with the fact that there was now something else that set him apart from normal people.
Despite this, Harry's life changed very little. Yes, he often visited with people he'd loved and lost, but his friends kept him grounded. Ron and George's frequent calls for a display of his abilities were especially helpful in this regard.
"Harry, quick, what am I thinking right now?"
"Harry, tell me, what color underwear am I wearing?"
"Will the Cannons win today, Harry?"
"When will Hermione agree to shag Ron?"
"I am not a bloody psychic, you prize twonks!"
"Eh, it was a trick question anyway."
"What, you're not wearing underwear?"
"Nah, Hermione'll never agree to shag Ronniekins – she's bound to come to her senses."
"Ha! Shows what... Er." Ron blushed furiously and suddenly found the contents of the cold cupboard extremely interesting.
So, maybe not conventionally normal, but normal enough for Harry.
And then Colin had found him.
Enthusiastic and well-meaning Colin Creevey had brought a few spirits to Harry, people who had no desire to "condemn meself to watchin' people sleep and eat and live while I can't? No thank you!" to quote one fellow, but still had something unfinished they wanted taken care of before moving on.
Word spread quickly in the spirit realm, it seemed.
Harry, being Harry, wanted to help these spirits, and so began sending anonymous letters to strangers, to the loved ones of the recently deceased, telling them where to find important documents, where Auntie Gertrude's brooch was hidden, Gran's diamond ring, the combination to the safe, family recipes that hadn't been recorded, even letters of apology, forgiveness or regret.
Not surprisingly it became overwhelming, quickly interfering with Harry's life. Training to be an Auror had proven difficult enough with a frenzied but grateful and curious living population – adding the dead to that had made it impossible.
Though Colin had opened the floodgate, so to speak, he'd also proven to be the solution, acting as a go-between for him. And so, after settling into their new arrangement, Harry's association with the dead had settled back down to something manageable.
"Sorry, Harry! Sooo sorry!" Tessa barreled into the kitchen and kissed Harry's cheek, beaming a grin up at him and giving a hurried, breathless explanation for her tardiness: "Andrew. Last night. Surprised me – and he's already gone back on tour!"
The last was said over her shoulder as she rushed back out the swinging door, tying her apron around her hips as she went.
Harry shook his head in bemusement; he wouldn't press the matter. Tessa was generally reliable, a very good worker and great with the customers, who were, as a rule, charmed by her Mediterranean beauty and infectious laugh.
Andrew was an okay bloke too, despite the tattoos and piercings, and rather menacing demeanor. And though the band he played bass for seemed to specialize in making loud, angry noise as far as Harry was concerned, they did have rather a large following. Obviously enough to warrant frequent live performances.
"Now you're here," Harry began as she returned to the kitchen, "I'm going to take this," he lifted the sandwich he'd just wrapped, "to Mrs. Tretheway. Can you handle it for a bit?"
With her assent, he headed for the door, waving at Liam, the barman. "Back in a tick."
Harry took in a breath of fresh air and headed toward the post office.
A bell tinkled when Harry opened the door, followed by the crow of Mrs. Tretheway's raven, Edgar. Harry didn't know if his wings were clipped or if he was just accustomed to being a kept man, but Edgar, apart from an occasional wing stretch, never moved from the tall perch in the corner behind the counter; though, Mrs. Tretheway has been known to tell children that he delivered the mail. It always made Harry smile a bit at how close to the truth that actually was, at least in the wizarding world.
"Ah, Harry, there you are."
"Afternoon, Mrs. Tretheway." Harry handed her the sandwich, then reached into his pocket and pulled out a bundle of letters.
She smiled, taking her lunch and putting it under the counter. "Such a dear. Thank you for bringing it by."
"My pleasure, absolutely."
After she'd counted out the proper notes and coins, she said, "Now, what have we here?"
"Just some outgoing post – all stamped and ready to go."
"Lovely handwriting. It's a disappearing art, really, penmanship."
Harry smiled. "I'd love to claim it was my own, but my writing is atrocious."
It was the truth in a sense. Having frequent visits from his mum had paid off in a lot of ways, and she'd taught him a tricky little charm that neatened handwriting and gave the added benefit of disguising his own messy scrawl.
Mrs. Tretheway laughed. "Well, that's normal enough for your generation, I suppose. Is there anything else you'll need while you're here?"
The post office also acted as the grocer's, offering some staples, mostly items that wouldn't go off too soon, to get people through to the next trip to the market, a town over.
"Nothing today, thanks. See you."
Harry stepped back out into the crisp autumn air. He loved this time of year, and he loved this little village and the perpetual Halloween-ness of it. He'd stumbled upon it quite by accident, during the year of traveling he'd done after leaving the Aurors. Cornwall had been his last planned stop and he'd stayed.
He especially loved the irony of it, as the village of Oggindon was famous for its mediums, psychics, palmists; they even had a man from the Caribbean who did voodoo.
Harry owned the pub.
With no industry, no moors, no ruins or standing stones, a location that was just far enough from the coast to be inconvenient, and nothing to recommend it to the tourists who flocked to the neighboring and advantageously-coastal towns of Boscastle and Tintagel, someone, some years ago, had come up with the idea of a theme, which Hermione laughingly called 'witchy kitsch', and it had proven lucrative.
Walking past the candle shop, Something Wicked, he waved at Tracy and her partner, Lauren, through the window. Opposite to them was the bookshop – Bell, Book and Candle – where the owner, Edwin Carstairs, held séances every Wednesday evening in the loft. Harry's spirit friends often had a laugh at the expense of poor old Edwin, with his pencil-thin moustache and his burgundy smoking jacket, who regularly managed to have spirits at his gatherings and didn't know it.
Just down from him was Madam Margaux, the palmist. Harry didn't know how much stock he put into such things, but Margaux (whose real name was Susan) had insisted on reading his palm when he'd first arrived, and she'd looked at him rather strangely.
"Your life line – I've never seen anything like this. It's broken in two places, one very near to the beginning, but then continues on extraordinarily long after that. It's... well, it's impossible."
Harry had managed to convince her, for the most part, that they were scratches, old scars and nothing more, but she never asked again to see it.
Lucinda and Clementine Newkirk, or The Sisters, as they were more commonly known, did tarot cards and tea leaves, respectively. Harry supposed at another time in history they'd've been called spinsters, both well into their fifties, and they were terrible gossips. Not to mention, they had a Trelawney-ish air about them that kept Harry at a distance.
Just down from them was the tea shop, Strange Brew.
There was a shop that sold crystals made into jewelry and other items, purporting to bring harmony, prosperity or align chakras, whatever those were. One woman claimed to be a 'ghost whisperer'; another used what was doubtless a faked Hungarian accent and sat in her incense-smoky parlor, draped in scarves and gazing into her "crystal ball", which, of course, was a lovely glass orb, but wouldn't be divining anyone's future.
In the finer weather, caravans camped at the edge of town with traveling musicians, street performers, and artisans selling their wares.
They used to have a year-round town troubadour, a busker really, but he ran off with Kenneth Kirby, who used to run the Apothecary (very poorly it would seem, as the bank had taken it over just after Kenneth had flown the coop).
As Harry passed the building in question, he noticed that the paper was off the windows and found the signs of life heartening. The Apothecary was the chemist's after all, and the loss was keenly felt – Mrs. Tretheway could only carry so many of the basics at the post office.
He stopped in front of his place and admired the freshly painted sign that read, "The Cackling Crone – Food, Spirits, Lodging" complete with a silhouette of a very Muggle-ish witch: hooked, warty nose and all.
He'd inherited the name, of course, when he'd purchased the pub; keeping it had been a stipulation of the sale.
And he loved every bit of it.
Very early the next morning found Harry receiving supplies. The lorry came three times a week and Harry always had coffee ready for Mario, the driver.
"Ta, Harry," Mario called out as he left, gracing Harry with a bright white smile, shining from a face the color of the coffee in his travel cup.
Truthfully, Harry quite liked to watch Mario unloading the heavy boxes.
Harry grinned. "Who me? Or you? 'Cos you frequently manage to find your way here on delivery day – you must appreciate the view as much as I do."
Sirius Black smirked. "Only I can't get caught ogling and objectifying the poor man."
"I didn't get caught – and if he minded a little objectifying, he wouldn't wear such tight t-shirts over such big muscles."
Sirius barked out a laugh. "Point."
"See you Friday, then?"
"Wouldn't miss it."
Sirius winked and disappeared, and Harry saw to his supplies.
He decided his specials today would be shepherd's pie, mostly for the American tourists, steak and kidney pie, and he would need to make some more Cornish pasties, which were always on the menu.
So he started his day elbow-deep in flour, rolling pastry, and he couldn’t imagine being happier.
Hours later, the hum of chatter on the other side of the swinging door was reward in itself. The tables were full, the guests lifting pints and eating Harry's food enthusiastically, the regulars were at the bar, watching the muted telly, which was showing a snooker tournament, and Harry whistled happily as he slid another full plate onto Tessa's pick-up shelf.
"Christ, I think everyone in town is out there tonight," Tessa complained good-naturedly. She picked up the plated meals and headed back out the door.
"It's the chill in the air. Bring me some ale on the way back, would you?"
"A pint or a glass?"
"I'm not thirsty, Tess – I need it for the lamb stew I'm making for tomorrow." He did a quick calculation in head. "Best make it three pints."
Harry took the lid off of the enormous pot and added the carrots and onions, as well as the rest of the late-addition ingredients, the scented steam already making his mouth water. Tessa returned with the mild dark lager and Harry poured it in, then set the pot to simmer.
"There is the most gloriously dapper man out there. Very mysterious-looking, smartly dressed, brooding expression. Old Bill says he's the one that took over the Apothecary."
Old Bill gave The Sisters a run for their money, which meant he could gossip for England, but there was likely some truth to it.
"He ate your steak and kidney pie like it was heaven on a plate."
"Good – maybe we'll have a regular out of him."
Harry's mind was half occupied with specials for the rest of the week – Sundays he always did a traditional roast beef dinner with Yorkshire pudding and buckets of gravy, and Mondays he didn't open the kitchen, in order to have some time for himself.
Curiosity did get the better of him, though. When Tessa came back in with a stack of dirty plates he asked, "Is he still out there, the Apothecary man?"
"Oh yes, enjoying an after dinner brandy."
"Where's he sitting?"
"In the corner, by the door."
The swinging door had a round window in it which was handy for seeing if someone was on the other side of it, but it didn't lend a view of the entire room. Harry eased the door open and peered around it. The lighting was not bright, a lot of it coming from the fireplace and the wall sconces, but he could make out a dark grey suit with pinstripes, very nice, and longish dark hair.
When he saw the man's face, however, his heart seemed to seize in his chest – he might've made a noise; he couldn't be sure. He pulled back from the door so quickly his fingers nearly got caught when it closed. No. It couldn't be.
"All right, Harry? You look as though you've seen a ghost – you're as white as a sheet!"
"I might have," Harry choked out and bent in half, trying to catch his breath. He held a hand out to wave off Tessa, who made to help him. "I'm all right, really. Just a shock – he looks very much like someone I knew. Someone who died over a decade ago."
"That would be a shock, seeing someone who died."
Harry agreed, pointedly ignoring his mother, who had materialized just behind Tessa. "It's okay – you go on and finish up. I've got my breath back enough to feel silly about my reaction. At least I didn't scream." Horrified, he looked at Tessa. "I didn't scream, did I?"
"Oh, no, you were very manly about the whole thing," Tessa said, patting him on the shoulder in reassurance.
"I'm afraid it was only because I was breathless, but it's still a point for dignity."
She smiled and rose on her toes to kiss him on the cheek. "There you are – a win is a win."
As Tessa left the room, Lily Potter said, "Now, darling, don't be cross."
"Please come back later, Mum – when everybody is gone and I'm upstairs and can have a very large glass of Ogden's to go along with the conversation we're bound to have. I can't think about this now."
Except, of course, it was all he could think about when a very much not dead Severus Snape was sitting in his pub.
"What I don't understand," Harry took a sip from his Very Large Glass of Ogden's, which was in reality a regular-sized whiskey glass holding several fat fingers of the amber liquid, "is how you could let me mourn for him, for so long, without telling me that he wasn't actually dead."
"Now, Harry, it wasn't like that at all."
"How was it, then?"
"I thought he'd died, as well. I wasn't surprised he hadn't sought me out, not straight away – he was so very bitter for so long – but I did wonder after a bit. Newly dead do tend to cling to things for a short time, as you know, and he was always so hard-headed," she smiled, then continued, "but the ones who can't let these things go generally remain and become ghosts. So I thought to look for him, just out of curiosity. It was Colin who found him, actually."
"Colin?" Harry had another swallow of Firewhisky, enjoying the burn.
"Yeah me." The boy in question appeared. "Hiya, Harry."
Harry lifted his glass in mock salute and sighed. "So, you found Snape and what? Had a vote, decided not to let me in on that bit of news?"
"Well, when we, that is, I... when I found him you already seemed to have moved on, and we thought... he was living as a Muggle, you see, and..." Colin huffed. "It wasn't all that long ago anyway – it wasn't meant to be a secret."
They stood side-by-side, Colin and Harry's mother, looking sheepish, and it struck him that they looked so young, that there were only really five years separating the pair, despite the decades between their deaths. Harry, approaching thirty, was older than his mother had ever been.
Harry sighed, shaking his head. "So, he's living as a Muggle – how did he end up here?"
The two spirits exchanged a look. Colin shrugged and Lily said, "That's actually where you come in. Do you recall a letter you sent, a few months ago, to a Sebastian Prince?"
"Oh god. What have you done?" Harry closed his eyes, plunging his fingers into his fringe and pressing his palms against his forehead, remembering how insistent they'd been that Sebastian Prince was perfect to take over the Apothecary. "What have I done?"
"Harry, don't worry – he really is perfect for the Apothecary. He's just arrived sooner than we expected. We were going to tell you, sweetheart, I promise. You know how confused we get about time."
That was true, of course, spirits were rather vague on the concept of time passing, though Lily and company had a firmer grasp on it than most, simply because of their contact with Harry. But still...
"You don't understand – Snape hates me. Despises me. Deeply. You know what a paranoid git he can be – he'll think I tricked him or worse, that this is some sort of elaborate prank."
Harry scrubbed a hand over his face and groaned. "What am I going to do?"
His mother and Colin both looked at him thoughtfully but offered no helpful suggestions.
"I have to think some more on this."
"Of course, darling. We'll leave you to it." Lily hesitated then added, "Harry, I know it seems dire right now, but things will work out for the best. You'll see."
"How can you be so certain?"
She smiled gently. "Because I am certain of you."
Harry's annoyance softened at the sentiment, and he nodded. "All right."
He sighed and offered to both of them, "I'm sorry if I was shirty with you over this."
Colin grinned. "No worries, Harry!" Then he disappeared.
His mum smiled and nodded, leaving him alone with his jumbled thoughts.
Harry's feelings about Snape had evolved over time. Directly after the war he'd been forced to defend the man over and over and over again. Once the general public had accepted Snape as, well maybe not a hero, but certainly as someone who'd done some very hard things for the good of the wizarding world, Harry had done a lot of thinking.
There was no denying Snape had hated him – that level of loathing could not have been an act – but on the other hand, Snape had watched over him for years.
Harry had wondered why Snape had never appeared to him. He had, in fact, been a little hurt that the spirit, as Harry had assumed he was, didn't share Harry's sense of unfinished business.
He'd eventually settled on genuine respect for Snape, for the things that he'd been forced to do and for the courage it had taken to do them. The mere fact that Snape had been able to fool Voldemort so completely for so long was reason enough on its own.
It was that respect that had him deciding on a course of action. Respect and, admittedly, no small amount of curiosity. He would have to go to Snape first, make himself known before Snape stumbled upon him or heard Harry's name from someone else.
Course plotted, the next afternoon Harry walked over to The Apothecary with a steaming crock of lamb stew in his hands. If he couldn't win Snape over, perhaps the stew would.
The sign above the shop had been refreshed at some point and the words 'The Apothecary' were now flanked on one side with the mortar and pestle that had been there for years, and on the other a cauldron had been added.
Harry grinned, happy to know that Snape seemed to have embraced the spirit of the village. Peeking in the window, he saw no movement, so he walked down the alley to the service entrance. There were no windows back there, of course, so Harry knocked.
Then knocked again, hoping he wouldn't have to pluck up the nerve to come another time.
The door finally creaked open and there stood Severus Snape, wearing grey wool trousers and a darker grey waistcoat over a crisp white shirt.
Harry gaped for a moment, stunned by how healthy the man looked – gone were the sickly pallor and gaunt face. He was still tall and lean, but the years had been very good to him, filling in the hollow places.
A dark eyebrow rose elegantly in inquiry, and Harry would swear that a half smile (nothing like the cold, mean, satisfied slash he'd used when Harry was in trouble at school) played around his lips.
The years had changed Harry as well, certainly: he was taller, his last growth spurt had finally pushed him to six feet; he was broader, especially in his shoulders, and no longer skinny; his hair was still a mess, but in a managed sort of way. He was clean-shaven because he worked with food and thought it more sanitary, though this time of day he knew the shadow on his jaw was deepening. And he'd long ago traded his glasses for contact lenses, which had transformed his near-daily onion chopping to a pleasure rather than a pain in the arse.
The scar on his forehead was almost indiscernible, even to him, and he knew precisely where to look.
So it was no surprise that Snape took a moment to recognize him.
Harry watched the change in Snape's expression, watched the warm questioning look turn cold and stony.
As it was happening, Harry said, "Hul—"
The door slammed in his face, nearly bumping the crock out of his hand.
Then began thumping the door again with his free hand.
"Snape," he hissed, being careful not to shout. "Snape, open the door. Please!"
Finally, Snape opened the door again, though only a crack. Seeing the familiar suspicious look on Snape's face caused the carefully composed welcome he'd worked on all day to fly out of his brain.
Instead he said, "I thought you were dead."
The door opened a bit more and the look on Snape's face moved from suspicious to You Are An Idiot. "That was the idea, yes."
Snape sighed heavily and opened the door enough to allow Harry entrance, then stuck his head outside while Harry moved past him, presumably to see if there were any witnesses lurking about.
Once the door was closed, Snape turned sharply, the move no less impressive for the lack of black robes. "So, you've found me. Are you here to arrest me?"
"Wh— Arrest you? Whatever for?" Harry asked, genuinely perplexed.
"Need I list my misdeeds? Surely the Ministry keep their Aurors apprised of the fugitive's crimes." Snape stood rigidly by the door, arms crossed in front of him. He'd used his The Headmaster Should Have Expelled You voice, and Harry sought to get an explanation in before the man began taking points.
"Look, you've got it all wrong. I just came to bring you this." Harry pushed the stew at him, taking a step backwards once it was in Snape's hands. "I'm not an Auror, by the way, but I do know a few, and they aren't looking for you either. Never have done."
Snape lifted the cover and peered inside it suspiciously, sniffing the steam that wafted out of it.
"It's not poison – it's lamb stew. It's meant to be a welcome." When Snape remained silent, Harry added, "From my pub."
With a cynical look, Snape moved past Harry to set the tureen on a nearby table, then leaned against it, his back to Harry.
Although it was a sight, Snape seemingly at a loss, the thought did occur to Harry that he might be marshaling an attack from that position; he still felt the need to reassure him.
"Listen, I was just as shocked to see you, only I was lucky enough to be behind a door. I just wanted to let you know that I was here before you found out from someone else. And I'm told you enjoyed my cooking, so I thought I'd bring the stew by as a gesture of welcome. It's really good, if I do say so myself. And you truly are ... welcome, that is. And I do hope you won't let my presence here run you off – Oggindon needs you and if your sign is any indication, you really do get this place and will fit quite nicely. That's all. I'll leave you to it."
Harry moved toward the door and he heard rustling behind him, making him wonder if Snape had drawn his wand.
"Potter," Snape called out and Harry turned back around, fully expecting to be at wand-point, and refusing to draw his own.
It was a good thing, too, that Harry had such peaceable intentions, because it wasn't a wand in Snape's hand, but a spoon. "Tell me... how does one who was absolutely abysmal at potions produce such delectable fare?"
Harry grinned, pleased and feeling as if he'd won something. He shrugged in answer and then said, "It's a strange world, isn't it?"
He didn't expect a thank you and didn't receive one, but as Harry made his way back to the pub he felt, all in all, it had been an enormous success.
Because that first encounter had gone so well, Harry, for a few days afterward, kept half an eye out, expecting Snape to come into the pub at any moment. But by Saturday, the man hadn't so much as walked by the place.
It wasn't that Harry thought a bit of unexpectedly civil conversation suddenly made them the best of friends, but he was disappointed. Feeling much the same as when 'spirit' Snape had failed to come to him to complete their unfinished business.
Admittedly, he was intensely curious about Snape, as well.
And though the idea of maybe being friends with Snape did seem insane, it was also an idea that he couldn't shake, however disturbing the thought was. Which was why, during the afternoon lull, Harry was crossing the road, once again carrying a crock, and heading toward The Apothecary.
This time when Harry knocked on the door, Snape opened it immediately.
"What do you want?" he demanded.
"I, er, brought you something."
Harry handed the container over to Snape, who hesitated then took the offering.
"Clams in red sauce with linguini."
Snape looked from the bowl to Harry and asked, "Is this some sort of service for which I will be billed at the end of the month?"
Harry took the question for a joke, hoping that was how it was meant, and laughed, silently marveling at the possibility that Snape might actually have a sense of humor.
"No. No charge. Promise." When Snape made no move to allow him to enter, Harry asked, "Can I come in?"
Again Snape hesitated, but finally relented, though clearly reluctant, by stepping aside.
The workroom that Harry had seen the other day was now set up for brewing potions, several cauldrons already bubbling away.
"So you'll be doing potions, as well? I mean, I know you're a proper Muggle chemist now."
Snape poked around in a drawer and fished out a fork, digging into the pasta and red sauce.
"I have an Owl order business – I saw no reason not to combine the two."
"Makes sense." As Harry watched, Snape twirled his fork in the linguini and brought the forkful to his mouth. "The sauce has a bit of a kick – and it seems to get stronger the next day."
"It does indeed," Snape agreed, though it clearly wasn't affecting him adversely.
Between bites, Snape asked, "So, Potter, are you the Cackling Crone or would that be the youngest Weasley?"
"Ginny you mean? I haven't seen her in a few months, but she wasn't crone-like at the time. She has been known to cackle on occasion, though." He chuckled. "Nah, the place came with that name, like yours did. It did have a sensible name at one time, Nag's Head Inn, before the village went witchy kitsch."
"That's what Hermione calls it." Harry grinned.
"Ah. Surprisingly apt."
"That reminds me. I wanted to warn you, Ron and Hermione will be here tomorrow. They come round a few times a month, whenever they can. I wasn't sure if you wanted it known you're still ticking."
Snape put the bowl down on the table and crossed his arms over his chest. "I have no desire to make my continued existence known to the wizarding world. Severus Snape is dead and should remain so."
Harry smiled ruefully. "I understand." And he truly did, though Harry had been dying to tell his friends since the moment he'd seen Snape in his pub. "I'll keep your secret."
Snape nodded thoughtfully, then said, "Perhaps you will at that."
Uncrossing his arms and picking up the pasta bowl and fork once more, Snape added, "I am astounded, Potter, that you didn't go running to tell the world the moment you saw me. For days, I must admit, I've been waiting for a battalion of Aurors to descend upon me and haul me off to Azkaban."
Harry hadn't realized how tense Snape had been until he saw it leave him.
"God, Snape, I'm sorry – it never occurred to me you'd think that. Look," Harry began, "truly, no one is looking for you. Mostly because they think you're dead, yes, but even if you weren't, you're not a criminal, not a wanted man, I promise you. The truth about your role in the war won most people over. My testimony, Dumbledore's letters and memories, a select few of your own memories – it was undeniable. You've been fully and officially exonerated. There's even a monument for you on the Hogwarts grounds."
Snape sat more than leaned on the table behind him, hastily setting the bowl down, then raked his fingers through his hair, taking a moment before answering.
"That is... good to know. However, I believe I'll err on the side of caution and remain Sebastian Prince. It's a Muggle persona I've been cultivating for many years, well before the Dark Lord disappeared the first time, and to abandon it now would be foolish."
Harry nodded but said nothing; he did understand the reasoning, but there was no denying his disappointment.
"And, while I have no desire to take an advert in the Prophet proclaiming my resurrection, I suppose it would be acceptable for you to tell Miss Granger and Mr. Weasley that your report of my death has been greatly exaggerated. Their discretion must be absolute."
"Excellent." Harry grinned. "Thank you for trusting me."
"Do not make me regret it."
"You won't, Snape." Harry was chuffed about the whole business. "I imagine I ought to be calling you Sebastian, rather than Snape, then."
He walked toward Snape, who was and likely would forever remain Snape in his head, and offered him his hand. "Very pleased to meet you, Sebastian. I’m Harry Potter – you can call me Harry. I own the pub. Welcome to Oggindon."
Snape's handshake was warm and firm and there was nothing really remarkable about it, except that it left Harry with an inexplicable feeling of anticipation.
"Uncle Harry!" he heard before he was forced to catch the four-year-old who'd launched herself at him.
"Rosey Posey!" Harry cried out as he lifted the girl in the air.
She hugged his neck and said in his ear, "Can I come live with you? Hugo is horrid."
The horrid boy himself latched onto Harry's leg solidly. Hugo was built like a tank and rather tall for his nearly three years, or so it seemed to Harry, and he grinned up at him with a mischievous gleam in his eye.
"Hullo to you, Hugo," Harry greeted him, laying his free hand on top of Hugo's soft ginger curls.
Hugo giggled in response, his communication skills being not quite as refined as his sister's, and Harry was a bit relieved. When he spoke, there were words and some of them Harry even sometimes recognized, but it seemed Hermione and Rose were the only two who could fully understand Hugo at this point.
To Rose he said, as he set her down, "I think your mummy and daddy would miss you very much."
"Probably... eventually," Hermione said. She hugged Harry in greeting and turned to the children, guiding them to their usual table. "Rose, give me your coat and sit over here. Don't you worry about Hugo," she added when Rose protested.
"Where's Ron, then?"
"Parking the car," Hermione said, rolling her eyes and handily dealing with a struggling Hugo and his coat.
Ron's utter love for the family Land Rover was a source of exasperation for Hermione, who'd never learned to drive a car, and one of bemusement for Harry. He had a car of his own, he enjoyed driving it on the rare occasions he had to, but it was nothing compared to Ron's obsessive love for his vehicle.
Once the children were settled and Ron had joined them, Charlotte, who worked the few shifts a week that Tessa didn't, began bringing out their meal, and they tucked in. Harry served the Sunday roast beef dinner family-style, requiring only occasional trips to the kitchen, which allowed him to spend more time with his friends.
The meal passed pleasantly, the conversation centered around catching up on the latest news from each camp, but Harry held on to his bombshell about Snape, not entirely sure when to introduce the subject.
Once the table was cleared of all but cake, and the children were two tables over, sitting with Mr. and Mrs. Tretheway, who adored them and doted on them as if they were their own grandchildren, Harry knew there would likely be no better time.
"I've some news – it may be shocking."
Hermione and Ron both looked at him expectantly, Ron's forkful of cake stopped halfway on its journey to his mouth.
"Remember, at the end of the war, when we thought Snape had died in the Shrieking Shack? Well, he didn't, actually. Die, that is. He's here in Oggindon, just took over The Apothecary."
Harry wasn't sure what he'd been expecting, reaction-wise, but it wasn't the pair of them sharing a look, clearly not at all shocked by his revelation.
"Did you hear me? And don't do that, I hate that."
"Do what?" Ron asked as the fork continued on to its final destination.
"That." Harry gestured between the two of them. "That couple thing, where you look at one another and have a whole conversation without saying anything. I hate that."
"We don't do that."
"You did that to me before you even were a couple. Now spill it – why are you not surprised?"
"Well," Hermione began, and looked at Ron. She let out a huff, then continued, "It was the name. Sebastian Prince. When you told us you'd written to him, something about the name nagged at me and wouldn't leave me alone. For days. And, of course, the name Prince made me think of Snape – you know how it's always bothered me that there was no body when we went back for him. Anyway, I talked with Ron about it and it'd been bothering him as well. So we looked into it, that's all."
"And you found him and then decided not to tell me?"
"Yes," Ron agreed.
"No," Hermione corrected. "Not precisely."
"I really don't believe this – first Colin and my mum and now you two. When exactly did I become someone who needed to be handled?"
Exasperated, Hermione responded, "We didn't do it for, or even to you, Harry. We were protecting Professor Snape. He'd obviously gone to a lot of trouble not to be found. And we decided to keep it to ourselves and see what happened. If he hadn't come here, then we'd have continued to do so."
Harry's slowly building anger retreated a bit. If they'd done it for Snape, that was different.
"How on earth did you find him, then?"
Ron raised his fork and said, around a mouthful of cake, "Professional. Investigator."
Hermione sent Ron a stern look. "It wasn't as easy as all that, and it took both of us as well as our Ministry resources to get the whole picture. I looked on the Muggle side of things and Ron on the wizarding side. We didn't know for certain it was Professor Snape, of course, but we pursued it as if we were."
"Snape's maternal great-something-grandfather was Sebastian Prince, so we knew we were on the right track," Ron put in, cake-free this time. "Then I thought, someone with Snape's skills, and the fact that your Sebastian Prince was a chemist, he might still be in the potions business." Ron dropped his napkin on the table, stretched his long legs out in front of him and laid his arm along the back of Hermione's chair. "Potions aren't regulated like Muggle pharmaceuticals, of course, just the ingredients, but potioneers can apply for a Ministry Seal. Lets the customers know whoever made the potion knows what they're doing. If a Seal is awarded, the Ministry do random testing periodically, make sure they stay on the up and up. Anyway, Sebastian Prince applied – Iaso Elixirs, his business is called. Must've paid a shiny Sickle to have someone bury it, too, 'cos it took a while to find. Easy peasy after that."
"Easy peasy," Harry repeated quietly, rubbing a hand over his face. "I have Iaso hangover potion and a headache remedy upstairs – they sell it at Slug and Jiggers..."
Hermione reached across the table and squeezed Harry's hand. "I found him through his chemist's credentials, and worked backward to the university. Finished at the top of his class, no surprise – he received quite a lot of impressive offers from private companies all over, including an offer from the university itself. But here he is, in a small Muggle village in Cornwall. Seems as if he's still hiding."
"I do think he'll fit in here. He has an illusion on the front windows, I think, to make it look like slow progress going on, but it's beginning to look just like a potion shop. Anywhere else they'd think he was a lunatic – a chemist's should look sterile, shouldn't it – here they'll be impressed by his level of commitment. I'd like to be friends with him," Harry added without meaning too.
His friends did that thing again, exchanging a look, and Harry wasn't sure he even wanted to know what it was about this time, though he had to ask.
"What is it now?"
Hermione squeezed his hand again and smiled. "Nothing. Not really. We just had a feeling you would, if Sebastian Prince took you up on your letter."
By 'we', Harry knew she meant, 'I'.
"That is really..." He hesitated.
"Nice to be so understood by your friends?" Hermione offered helpfully.
"I was going to say annoying."
Ron sniggered loudly and Hermione pulled her hand back, looking only slightly injured.
"Annoying to be loved?"
"Annoying to be so predictable to you."
Hermione laughed lightly, and Harry knew he was forgiven.
Ron said, "Try living with it, mate."
Once the Weasley contingent was packed into the car and off home, Harry was in his kitchen, breaking it down for the night and found himself making a decision.
It was still early evening, not too late for someone to drop round for a visit, surely.
Harry didn't want to analyze too closely why he felt the need to take food with him whenever he visited Snape. He decided it was a way to get him in the door, an entrance fee, so to speak. And then, maybe, Harry himself could win Snape over. Maybe.
In any case, he once again made the journey over the road. This time it was rather dark. Anywhere else in the world, Harry might've been leery heading down the alley next to Snape's shop – at the very least have wand to hand – but despite the growing darkness, Harry felt safe. And when he approached the door, a light, clearly on some sort of sensor, cast a bright circle over the area.
Harry knocked on the door and this time, when Snape opened it, he didn't look surprised.
"Hi," Harry said. "I've brought you the Sunday special."
Harry handed him the plate of roast beef, veg and Yorkshire pudding. He'd charmed the food to remain at the correct temperature without overcooking the beef, which Harry had cooked to a perfect pink, though it couldn't be seen through the dish cover.
"I kept the gravy separate – I wasn't certain you'd want it." He pulled out the container he'd carried over in his pocket and handed it to Snape, as well.
Snape looked at the meal in his hands, lifted the dish cover, replaced it, looked up at Harry and did something Harry never dared hope he would.
"Would you care to come in?"
"Yes, thank you."
Harry stepped into what was becoming a familiar workroom with several cauldrons simmering and steaming.
"You know, Potter," Snape said as he closed the door, "if you continue feeding me this way, I shall be fat by the end of the month."
"Oh, I highly doubt that," Harry responded, then, for some unfathomable reason, actually blushed.
Snape didn't respond and luckily he had his back to Harry, placing the food on the potion-free end of a table.
Harry shook his head at himself and said, "It's charmed – if you've already eaten, it'll keep."
"I haven't, though I'll wait until the last potion is decanted before indulging," Snape said as he turned around and leaned on the table, crossing his arms casually in front of him. "I must admit I am curious to know how on earth you came to be a proficient cook, rather than the star of the Auror corps."
"Oh. Well." Harry paused, not sure where to begin and not at all certain how much he should reveal. "I started Auror training, actually, but didn't finish. Couldn't finish, really – people wouldn't leave me alone." Which was true enough. "I was staying at the Burrow with the Weasleys, a little depressed and very much at a loose end, and Molly put me to work in the kitchen. I guess I had a knack for it." Harry shrugged.
"So she started me. But I couldn't just keep living there indefinitely, so I decided to travel, see a bit of the world. Muggle world, I mean. And it seemed everywhere I visited there was something to learn and somebody willing to teach me. The lamb stew for example. I got that from a woman in County Clare. She owns a beautiful inn there. I stayed for several weeks – she taught me how to make bread, as well, among other things.
"I was still drifting when I saw an advert for the Crone. When I arrived in Oggindon, I knew it was the place for me. How could I resist, really?"
Harry smiled at the memory, the feeling of finally coming home, before continuing. "Speaking of the lamb stew, I have to say I was surprised you trusted me enough to eat it. I'm glad you did, but I was surprised."
Snape snorted. "Don't be ridiculous – I performed a number of detection spells, as well as one to keep an eye on you, while my back was turned."
"The clam sauce, however," Snape began, "smelled so delicious I was willing to chance it."
Snape was smirking and Harry didn't know if he was joking or not, but he smiled anyway.
"Well I'm still glad you seemed to enjoy it. And you can trust my food, I hope you know now."
The word 'trust' reminded Harry of the main reason he'd come here to begin with.
"I wanted to let you know, too – Ron and Hermione came round today, just as planned."
Snape tensed visibly.
Seeking to reassure him that his secret was safe, Harry said, "You don't have to worry about them being discreet. They actually already knew, and didn't even hint at it to me."
Suddenly, Snape was standing ramrod straight, his hands fisted at his side.
"They what?" he asked with a clenched jaw.
Harry was somewhat taken aback. "They knew. But the point is that they didn't tell a soul."
"I cannot believe this. Decades of carefully building and grooming this persona, completely undone."
"No, it's not undone. That's what I'm trying to tell you. Ron's a senior Auror and Hermione's in the MLE too, on the legal side. They didn't tell anyone. Not even me!"
Snape was rubbing his temples. "Merlin, what is it about you, Potter? Are you some sort of harbinger of doom, with death and destruction following in your wake? I've led a very quiet and contented life since the war, and when I finally find something that seems... possible, more than passable for the rest of my existence, you're here and everything crumbles beneath my feet."
Harry had flinched at the word death, but remained otherwise calm. "Your feet are on solid ground, Snape. Please believe me – your secret is as safe as if it were still unknown. I promise you."
Rubbing his face, and expelling a hiss of breath, Snape faced Harry and looked at him intently. Harry didn't feel the push of Legilimency, but remained as open and guileless as he could, willing Snape to believe him.
"They will tell no one? You will tell no one?" Snape asked after a moment. "I have your word on that?"
"You do." Harry stuck his hand out towards Snape, who accepted the gesture. "We'll keep your secret, absolutely."
"See that you do," Snape responded, squeezing Harry's hand a little more firmly than was necessary and using the grip to pull Harry closer, so they were eye to eye, and very nearly nose to nose. "Or you will regret it."
Black eyes narrowed with intent and a shiver ran through Harry – not fear, he was certain, but definitely something electric.
Once released, he took a step back, pulse slowly returning to normal.
"Harbinger of doom?" he said wryly.
Snape suddenly looked tired. "You have been present for or privy to the lowest moments of my life, Potter." He shrugged. "It seemed apt."
"Oh." Harry worked to contain his disappointment. "I guess there's no chance you'll want to be friends, then?"
"Friends?" The word was drawn out and Snape said it as if it tasted strangely on his tongue.
"Yeah, insane idea, I know. But we're both here and it's a small village. The only two actual wizards in a Muggle pseudo-magical tourist destination."
Snape seemed thoughtful for a moment before answering. "Hmm. There might actually be some advantage to having an ally who knows where all the bodies are buried – literally and figuratively."
He looked at Harry, clearly assessing him in some way, and Harry stood unflinching, hoping he'd measure up to whatever standard Snape was using.
"I don't know about you, Potter, but I am in need of a stiff drink. Possibly two."
Snape turned and did something to the cauldrons – Harry guessed a monitoring spell – then grabbed the roast beef dinner, and walked towards a door at the other end of the room and opened it.
"Are you coming or not?"
The door led to a stairway and the stairs to a flat above the shop. It was a much bigger space than the rooms Harry had set aside for himself at his pub. The main room's décor made Harry think of those old black and white American films, the ones with hard-nosed detectives and betraying blonde femme fatales. On a small table that appeared to be designed for the purpose, there was even an old fashioned telephone – black, with a handset that rested on a cradle and an actual dial – which looked heavy enough to clobber someone over the head if need be.
The place suited Snape to a T.
"Does that actually work?" Harry asked, indicating the phone.
Snape put the food on a small round dining table in the corner and opened the beautiful matching wood and glass cabinet standing behind it, pulling out a bottle of Ogden's and two glasses, before answering, "The telephone? It does indeed."
Snape. With a phone number.
"I never imagined you with a phone, but if I had, I think this is exactly the one I would have picked for you."
"I loathe those contraptions most idiots seem to have attached to ends of their arms. I've never wanted to speak to anyone so desperately that I felt the need to carry the damned thing around with me. And it always seems the people who use them the most incessantly have the least to actually say."
He handed Harry a glass of the Firewhisky, drained his own glass then refilled it before Harry actually took a swallow of his own.
Snape refilled his glass and gestured toward a sitting area – two chairs side-by-side, turned slightly inward and a small sofa directly across – he took one of the chairs and Harry the other. Snape leveled his wand at the fireplace and a cheery fire blazed to life in the grate. They sat in companionable silence for moment or two.
"I like what you're doing with the shop. That's an illusion on the windows, right?"
"Of course it is. The Muggles would be suspicious otherwise. I'm using the time to get ahead on my brewing obligations."
Harry smiled. "A potions shop in Oggindon. I knew you'd fit in here perfectly. The others will be impressed, as well. With the look of it, I mean. They won't know about the potions, of course, but it's a great idea for both purposes."
"I thought so."
"You know, I have some of your potions. Didn't know they were yours, obviously." Harry took a sip from his glass. "What is Iaso, anyway? Where'd you come up with the name?"
Snape turned toward him. "Greek goddess, one of the lesser ones. I briefly considered an Egyptian god – of bites and stings – but decided while it was amusing to me, Iaso was a goddess of not only healing, but remedies as well, and it seemed more appropriate. Additionally, who would connect a Greek goddess with Severus Snape?"
Harry laughed softly, but didn't comment.
"I have a question for you, Potter. All along I was under the impression that someone in town, acting in an official capacity, had sent letters to recently licensed chemists in an effort to fill a need. If that were the case, however, how is it that my name, Sebastian Prince, was specifically mentioned in the presence of your friends? The Ministry routinely wastes resources, certainly, but I will not believe that they do so performing background checks on Muggle chemists."
He'd been lulled into a sense of security by the camaraderie, the drink, the cozy fire, and forgotten he was dealing with Severus Snape.
Harry leaned forward in his chair, resting his elbows on his knees, glass dangling in one hand between them. He sighed loudly. He would have avoided this forever if he could've – the only people who knew were his family.
"Tell him, Harry." Lily appeared across from him.
"He won't believe me."
"Who are you talking to, Potter?"
"Well, Snape, the truth is, I'm talking to my mother."
Snape sat up, then stood, dropping his glass on the nearby mantle.
"Very funny. Hilarious even. I suppose your offer of friendship was a joke as well?"
To Snape Harry said, "It was absolutely not a joke. I do want to be friends."
To his mother he said, "See? Doesn't believe me. I told him the truth and he thinks I'm taking the piss."
"Well, darling, you're not doing a very good job of it."
Snape stared hard at the space where Harry was looking.
"All right, I understand, Potter. The war, the stresses of your school years, the manipulation of a mad man bent on saving the world at all costs – stronger men would have cracked."
Harry stood and put his glass down on the table between the two chairs. "I'm not any more cracked than you are and I understand why you don't believe me – I wouldn't believe me. But that doesn't change the fact that I see dead people."
He knew it was the wrong thing to say the moment it left his mouth. Snape's demeanor was moving from placating toward pissed off.
"You would do well to remember that I've been living as a Muggle in some capacity for over two decades – I am familiar with that film."
"Look, you're right, it was a poor choice of phrasing and I'm sorry, but it is the truth."
"What about a Pensieve?" Lily put in.
"A Pensieve? Would that work?"
"I don't know why it wouldn't. You have a clear memory of seeing and hearing me and a memory can't be tampered with, not without it being obvious."
"Snape, do you have a—"
"Pensieve, yes, I heard you the first time." Snape moved toward the door and opened it. "Well, Potter, it's been... strange. Thank you for the meals. It's time to go now."
"He looks well, doesn't he, Harry?" Lily asked.
"Not now, Mum, honestly." Harry turned to Snape. "I'll leave, but do you have a phial handy or bottle before I do? I'm going to give you a memory, this memory in fact, so you can see I'm not crazy. The choice is up to you whether you look at it or not, but know that I truly do want us to be friends."
Snape stood stock still, looking intently at Harry, then seemingly coming to some sort of decision, moved to the cabinet that held the Ogden's and came back with a crystal stoppered bottle.
Harry shook his wand out of his sleeve and brought it to his temple, thinking of the past half -hour or so. He put the silvery strand in the bottle and handed it to Snape.