Potter, Severus Snape and all associated characters from the Harry Potter
universe are the property of J.K. Rowling. The author, and the website
maintainers, is making no profit by this story or any of the site's contents.
wouldn't take a long time
innocence has passed you by
Kirsty MacColl. Innocence, from the album Kite.
"I say, Harry, have you read this?"
Harry Potter, arse up and head down in a packing case, doing battle with polystyrene nuggets and cursing Sotheby's dispatch department with the irritation of a man yet to imbibe his third cup of coffee, did not reply.
"This is just deeply weird."
The voice neared. Harry upended himself, clutching two copies of The Box of Delights (lib. ed., slg. foxed) and a first edition of The Spy Who Loved Me. (Well used, corners rubbed, torn frontispiece, some staining to backboard and inside papers, but still a fair copy)
Harry turned round. Behind him, Jenny, with a puzzled frown and one hand tangled in today's scarf (fringed, lilac, broderie anglaise) held out the letter.
The first thing he noticed was that the paper was cream, and thick, almost like parchment.
The second thing he noticed, holding the letter in his hands, was that the strokes of the pen were thick and black and italic, deeply elegant, as if written with a quill.
The third thing he noticed was that the writer possessed that old-fashioned, demanding courtesy that people who work in bookshops meet on a daily basis.
Harry raised an eyebrow.
"I am interested in pursuing a course in (word crossed out) English Literature. I would be most obliged if you could facilitate the delivery of suitable texts, not less than ten, not more than twelve, to the above address. Remuneration will follow promptly on receipt.
Professor S. Snape Drg (Praha) MPMA (Lon) Hgw (Rtd.)"
Harry sat down, rather heavily, on the nearest flat surface, which turned out to be the packing case. Thirteen stone, rugby playing, treacle pudding eating bookshop managers and cardboard boxes - even reinforced cardboard boxes with padded upholstery - are not designed to occupy the same space simultaneously. The box broke. Polystyrene chips scattered like rice at a wedding. Harry Potter (thump!) found himself on the floor with three books in one hand and his ex-teacher's letter in the other.
"You're right," Harry said. "This is deeply weird."
Professor Snape had indeed retired. Possessed of a comfortable competency in hard-earned galleons, a nice little nest-egg (great-aunt Hortense, an unfortunate incident with a speleologist) and a Swiss cockoo clock charmed against curses, sun spots and items likely to be thrown across the room in excess of irritation (Dumbledore) he had bought himself a small cottage in a small village in Somerset. Sated on teenage angst and profoundly thankful not to battle rising damp on a daily basis, he spent his time terrorising those small boys stupid enough to loose their footballs in his garden and writing vituperative letters to the Daily Prophet, approximately one in twenty-four of which were published.
Severus Snape was...careful now...as content as a man can be when, at the age of forty-nine, he finds himself, finally, responsible solely and only for his own welfare.
In his garden shed, Severus Snape had one of the best-equipped potions laboratories in Western Europe. He had a cellar stocked with ingredients organised alphabetically and stored according to their own particular requirements. He had forty-five back-issues of The Potion Master's Almanac marked up with Oh, Wizard! Try This Later, Proportions A Bit Odd, and Will This Fool Never Learn? and was thus slowly correcting forty-five years of general incompetence and sloppy workmanship enacted by his professional colleagues. He had a vegetable garden where he grew marigolds amongst the cabbages and sweet pea, frivolously, next to the broad beans. His front garden was resplendent with roses and a magnificent night-scented honeysuckle. Snape, unsurprisingly, had no garden pests.
He had considered writing his memoirs and rejected the idea, largely due to the fact the only parts of Severus Snape's life the wizarding public were interested in reading about were the only portions of it Severus Snape himself was not inclined to revisit.
He had considered acquiring a cat, despite the potential damage to the furniture.
In short, Snape was bored.
It was when Snape was battling ennui with a copy of Hogwarts, A History, sitting in his back garden with coffee to hand, that a brand new idea came to mind. It was a startling idea, something he had not previously considered: decidedly unconventional. He liked it.
It is entirely possible that Hermione Granger was responsible for the whole debacle.
This takes some explaining. Bear in mind that not only was Ms Granger the first student in seventy-three years to graduate, double honours, dueling blue, summa cum laude, from the Oxbridge Academy for Wizards and Witches of Excellence: the preeminent Latin scholar and historian of her generation: the editor of the acclaimed, revised edition of Hogwarts, A History, she was also - no need to say it quietly, Ms Granger is proud of her antecedents - muggle-born.
Thus, among the multitudinous footnotes and references of Hogwarts, etc. (which did not gloss over the nastier aspects of the school) Ms Granger mentions at least four texts Severus Snape had never before encountered.
On page forty-three, paragraph two, Granger notes that Jane Austin's Mansfield Park contains an interesting exposition on the idea of outside as alien and interior as civilised. She relates this to Hogwart's defense system, which Snape knew very well, and mentions the Forbidden Forest, which he knew less well and better in darkness than daylight.
On page seventy, paragraph three, Granger discusses Tom Jones and concepts of food, sexuality, and the adolescent nervous system. Snape had always found the eating of chocolate a particularly sensual experience, but he had never before related this to either adolescence or sex, both of which untidy and messy arrangements he preferred not to consider.
On page one hundred and twenty three, Granger mentions Cold Comfort Farm, and relates descriptions of the Dark Lord, He-Whose-Name-Must-Not-Be-Mentioned, to the muggle concept of There's something in the woodshed. And on page three hundred and two, last paragraph, Snape's ex-student discusses free enterprise, social mobility, Wizard Wheezes, and the seminal Muggle text Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Snape was intrigued. And Snape, curious, was a man capable of making horrendous mistakes.
It's not that Snape didn't read. His living room bookshelves were stuffed with bound volumes of grimoires, quarterlies, and wizarding histories. He had the most complete collection of early potions texts in Europe, including a couple in Gaelic A which he had retrieved from a library in Donegal only ten seconds before the place was blown to smithereens by an IRA bomb. (Snape had never mentioned this to the British Library.) In his bedroom, bestiaries knocked shoulders with Greek primers, encyclopedias with autobiographies of the great figures of Wizarding History. Snape had a first edition, signed Love Albus, of Dumbledore's The Uses of Marzipan and Spun Sugar in The Very Nearly Unforgiveables, and a rather battered copy of Teaching for Imbeciles which he had stuffed to the back of the shelf. He owned his Grandmother's collection of rose-pink covered robe-rippers, which he had never read, and his Mother's cookbooks (Salmon, broiled, with samphire dumplings and murtlap stuffing) which he has.
Snape, however, had never read a muggle book in his life and had no idea how to go about obtaining such a thing.
In the normal run of affairs, Snape would have flooed Flourish and Blotts, mentioned his requirements, and sat back and awaited the next freight owl. However, at this particular moment Snape and Flourish and Blotts were not on the best of terms, owing to the late delivery of the fifteenth edition of Snape's very own Potions For The Uneducated, which has been the set text for students across the wizarding world since the first day of publication. Snape, furious, had blamed Flourish and Blott for not getting the order in quickly enough to ensure the text was in stock for the first of the new academic year's intake. Flourish and Blott claim it was Snape's insistence on spell-proofed binding that delayed publication well beyond the time any reasonable bookshop would expect to see the book shelved and ready for purchase. Words were spoken. Hexes may have been muttered. Allusions may have been cast towards Snape's father's unpaid bill for all twelve volumes of Broom-spotting, Knut-collecting, Pixie-pressing, and Other Pursuits for the Unhappily Married. As Snape had always blamed his mother's departure to Florida with a particularly handsome vampire (Fred III) on his father's open perusal of volume five at the breakfast table, relationships became almost irreparably strained.
Snape had always been a resourceful man.
In Snape's library there was one, only one, muggle text. It was not a text Snape bought: it was, instead, delivered, entirely free and annoyingly door-stopperish, two days after he moved into Honeysuckle Cottage. It came with no note or explanation. It was shoddily bound, badly edited, and Snape would not have deigned to use the paper it was printed on to light his fire. It was, however, a book, and Snape could no more bring himself to throw it away than he would have willingly kissed the feet of the saviour of the wizarding world. It was also bright yellow.
He had it filed on the bottom shelf, between Gilderoy Lockhart's Magical Me and Nagini's unfinished and posthumously published Laundry Baskets, A History of Unmentionables (tr. Riddle & Pettigrew). It was just as unwieldy as he remembered, but when he opened it up, does indeed contain, as he thought, a listing of muggle businesses. Blast Cleaning, read Severus Snape, thinking of Skrewts. Boat and Yacht Brokers. Bookshops.
He ran one long, stained finger down the list.
It was a short list. There are not many bookshops in rural Somerset.
He picked the nearest.
Harry Potter found himself amused.
This was not unusual. Only the mad, the bad, the chronically alcoholic and those capable of being amused by the minutiae of life chose to work in bookshops. The quality of mind required to discern, from fifteen proof copies, the one volume that will sell in its hundreds (Templars, men in kilts, or perversions of the English variety are always good bets) whilst calculating the lost profit margin on sixty unsold copies of Eggs (Currie) and cleaning up after small infants with a knack of sticking chewing gum to the most inaccessible corners of bookshelves, is a mind capable of finding amusement in a desert.
Harry has had eight years of these mild amusements. Freed from Voldemort's deprecations, isolated from the insatiable curiousity of the wizarding world, finally, at last, at the helm of his own destiny, Harry Potter was a happy man. The appearance of a request, unheralded, from his least favourite teacher, did not strike dread to his heart. He did not fall against bookshelves, shaking: he did not remember unforgivable curses or incondoneable invasions of privacy or, indeed, heated glances exchanged over the steam of a potions cauldron. Harry Potter, instead, shook his head, put the letter to one side, and said to his assistant, "He's really got no idea, has he?"
There was a stack of letters, to the left of the computer and set well back from the battered Publisher's Association Directory, where Jenny and Harry stored the requests which needed To Be Actioned. This was code, effectively, for Help! What the blazes is she on about? and How does he expect me to know that? It contained three letters from an elderly gentleman in Australia who was looking for a book of photographs of Cumbernauld, Scotland (Harry had only come up with Crap Towns, which is not at all the sort of thing the gentleman was requiring) a note from a student who needed Epicurus in translation and the kind of notes which would enable her to write an essay name-checking Foucault, before Tuesday, no please or thank-you, and a post-it with the name of the woman who was strangely insistent about obtaining a copy of the Star Wars poster currently in the window. It also contained Severus Snape's letter.
There, indeed, Snape's letter rested unregarded for three days. Do not suppose that this was a reflection of laziness on the part of the bookshop's proprietor or his young assistant. One reading group meeting, one unfortunately ill-attended book signing, and a general overhaul of both the biography sections and the windows, long overdue, passed before Harry or Jenny had half-an-hour free for pursuance of the obscure.
It was Harry who, coffee in one hand and chocolate digestive in the other, picked up Snape's letter.
"I suppose I'd better do something about this, then," he said.
"Mmm," said Jenny. Nominally, Jenny was trying to find an extant copy of Brian Froud's Goblins, although in actual fact she was reading her best friend's Livejournal and trying to decide if the initials A. D. and P. referred to anyone she knew.
"He was one of my teachers at school," Harry said.
"Mmm?" Jenny said, glancing over from the computer. Her employer had never been forthcoming on the subject of his past antecedents, his rather casual boyfriends, or his excursions to Dorchester's one and only gay bar, but Jenny, who was only marking time between school and university, was not particularly interested. (If I tell you that Jenny's hair is shoulder length and blonde, that she had a place reading Anthropology at Bristol, that her vowels pitch to a demi-tone, and that the initials A. D. and P. do indeed refer to Jenny's friends Ambrose Pitch-Keithley, Damerel Sott-Whitherall and Peregrine ffoulks-Hunter, I hope you will get the general gist of where Jenny is coming from. A nice lass, nonetheless, and an asset to the Foreign Office Diplomatic Wives (Bengal Branch) Club, which she currently manages.)(Any resemblance to any person living or dead is not intentional.)
"Greasy git," Harry said, in almost fond reminiscence, and wandered, biscuit in hand, to the shelves of Penguin Classics.
So it was that, four days later, Snape, whilst timing to the second the brewing of Snape's Patent Cure-it-all (don't laugh: Snape had, with good reason, carefully cultivated his lack of imagination.) was rudely disturbed by a delivery man who, finding no answer to the bell, had bothered to take the garden path and thus locate the householder.
"Sign here," he said, thrusting a clipboard into Snape's hands.
Snape, distracted, signed. The potion boiled over.
"Blimey, what's that?" said the delivery man.
"Merlin's balls," said Snape, casting a containing charm, a cleaning spell, and a swift obliviate that left the parcel of books abandoned on the corner of his workbench for three days. He found it whilst retrieving the scales he used to weigh the mushrooms from his lawn.
He took the parcel back into his living room, but it was not until that evening that he sat down, with a pleasant sense of anticipation, to unpack the parcel. It was, he noticed, surprisingly well packed, and there was a type-written note on the first book. It said, simply, With Compliments. What Snape did notice, oddly, was that as he picked up the note he felt the lightest touch of magic on his skin, just the barest trace of it, far too thin to constitute a spell he could quantify. Almost...familiar. It was entirely possible that this was the leftover traces of one of his own enchantments.
The first book he picked up was Dostoevsky's The Idiot.
(Better give him something to get his teeth into.)
"Humph," said Snape.
Next, Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge. Snape frowned at the front cover, looked at the back, read the word Dorchester, shook it, and put it down.
And then, not Mansfield Park, but Persuasion, thin and inviting. Snape opened this one and read a couple of sentences. And another. He read all three sentences again, with something at the corner of his mouth that just might have been the suppressed upturn of a very wry smile.
(I suppose I ought to give him the classics.)
A rather good copy of Casino Royale. Oliver Twist. (Chuckle) Barchester Towers. (Politics in a small community. Yup.) Lord of the Rings. (Hmmm. Well, he might appreciate the irony.) The Female Eunuch, ("Dear Sirs...") Three Men in a Boat, Maurice (well, I suppose, if I'd ever thought about it, he's probably that way inclined. Hm.) and finally at the bottom, a masterstroke. The Oxford Companion to English Literature, current edition. And a bill.
Snape, absently, flicked his wand at the lightbulb - "Nox!" and settled back in his chair.
"There's another letter from your teacher. And a cheque. He's left it blank."
Harry looked up from the inherited old-fashioned ledger and ran a hand through his already tousled hair. "The idiot. I wonder if he's ever written one before?"
"Why can't he phone us with his credit card number, like everyone else? It takes minutes to put a cheque through the till."
"I don't think he'll have one." And at Jenny's amazement. "Very old-fashioned man, Snape. Might not even have a telephone."
This, clearly, passed Jenny's understanding. She handed over the letter, the cheque, and whisked the end of today's scarf (mauve: crimson beading) round her neck before heading off to re-organise Children's and read the second half of Five Go Mad At Malory Towers.
"The box of books you sent was marginally acceptable. The Jane Austin in particular was worthy of a second look. Jerome, however, was insipid and Trollope precious. Do not send further works along the lines of Lord of the Rings or The Female Eunuch. There are no points to be made selling books."
(Whoops, thought Harry. I wonder if he caught that safe transit charm?)
"I would be most obliged if you would forward a copy of War and Peace, by Mr. Tolstoy, all further volumes of Miss. Jane Austen's fiction, and A. Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. I also require a copy of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales in the original.On a different note, I would also appreciate copies of Josephine Tey's Brat Farrar and a selected Edgar Allan Poe. Please ensure that the volume chosen contains The Purloined Letter.
I trust the reimbursement enclosed will be sufficient.
Harry raised an eyebrow, and another one. He said, quietly, "Yes, Professor," and, letter in hand, retired to the classics shelves once again.
One characteristic Harry had not discarded with his robes was his sense of mischief. Tongue in cheek, boxing up Snape's books, he enclosed a short typewritten exposition on the use of the chequebook and risks attendant, and a leaflet advising the recipient of the meetings of the Bookshop Reading Group.
"Damn cheek," Snape said.
There was that faint hint of magic again. He ignored it.
The bookshop had sent, indeed, every Austen available, including a volume of juvenilia and unfinished MSS. Also Tolstoy, Chaucer, Beowulf, Sweet's Anglo-Saxon Primer, and Armisted Maupin. Tey was missing, apparently on order. Poe present. In addition, a copy of Wuthering Heights which Snape noted to be the next volume discussed by the reading group. Cheek.
Snape rolled the sleeves of his robe down over his elbows, flicked his wand at the fire ("Incendimitium," for summer) and opened Pride and Prejudice.
Reading group. Humph. How very..touching...that one's bookshop should be concerned with one's social life. How...interesting.
My bank have informed me that an exchange of funds sufficient only to the value of texts requested in my last communication has been withdrawn from my account by your own bankers. Please accept the enclosed additional cheque as detailed in your previous instruction.
The Austen was most pleasurable. If there is a scholarly biography available, forward in the usual fashion. I also require More Tales of the City, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (original) and the Coghill translation of The Canterbury Tales. As the selection that you have provided to date has been both illuminating and enjoyable, do continue.
What, precisely, should attendance at a Reading Group entail?
Harry, grinning, considered eight inches of explanation and a scroll, but instead included the script of Dylan Moran's Black Books in the next parcel. Really, he could come to think quite fondly of the old bugger. He added George MacDonald's Phantases to the box, as, to the best of his memory, it contained no dark lords of any description. Also Excellent Women and Lois McMaster Bujold's A Civil Campaign, in lieu of Austen, and expected to receive further instructions in due course.
The only person more surprised than Harry Potter when, on the second Tuesday of the month, he opened the door of the bookshop to find Severus Snape on his doorstep was Snape himself.
Have I mentioned that Snape was a curious man?
Snape relaxed. Snape, tanned as he will ever be (which is to say, not much, but certainly more than a subterranean lifestyle allows) from tending his garden. His hands clean. His hair well groomed, if slightly disheveled by an errant breeze that flattened his robes against his body and sent dust skirling round his feet. Snape, looking ten years younger than he did whilst juggling adolescent trauma, inflated egos, chronic nepotism and megalomania of various unsavoury shades. In short, almost unrecognisable.
Harry Potter, bronzed, fit (he played wing for the Shrewsbury Cannons) and most definitely without the shadow of a curse or a prophecy weighting his brow. A little flushed from moving chairs, a little worried, as he always was, that Mrs Frobisher will down all the wine (again) and that Reverend Campion will spend a further fifteen minutes on the Aramaic roots of Rebecca, (again). Hoping that Jenny will indeed bring her mother rather than Peregrine ffoulks-Hunter, with whom he suspected his assistant of occasionally indulging in non-bookshop-approved activities on the customer couch after hours. In short, adorably distracted.
Snape and Potter have not seen each other since the very last Ministry dinner both attended, the one notable for the moment when, halfway through Fudge's third speech, Harry Potter stood up, said, memorably, "I've had enough of this." And disapparated, right through the Ministry wards, in a puff of smoke, never to be heard of again.
Snape had always thought the smoke (green) a nice touch. That was, however, ten years ago.
So did Harry Potter. His hand automatically checked his shirt pocket, in which his wand (transfigured to resemble a biro) resided.
"....hello?" ventured the erstwhile saviour of the wizarding world.
Severus Snape was speechless. His jaw worked. His eyes bulged. He flushed. He looked as if all his suspicions concerning muggles, bookshops, and the sinister implications of the average invitation had indeed been proved to his entire satisfaction.
It was not an attractive look.
He opened his mouth and, miraculously, sound came out.
"Mr-" He managed.
"Mr Smith," said Harry Potter firmly. "Pleased to meet you. You must be Professor Snape."
"Yes, I know that," Snape said, irritated, and tried again. "You id-"
"Won't you take a seat?" Harry Potter said, smiling nervously. "I'm sure the others will be here in a minute."
He was not wrong. There was a polite cough from the doorway. Several, in fact. Snape, perforce, found himself seated, his book in his hand, his outer robe sequestered in the bookshop's minuscule cloakroom, and a glass of rather good claret at his elbow before he knew if he was blessed or cursed.
During the course of two hours conversation Severus Snape discovered that Harry Potter, whom, if he called to mind at all, he remembered as a thin child with annoyingly knowing eyes and an over-large pair of spectacles, had grown into a rather interesting adult. Potter had good taste in wine, always an advantage. He was courteous to old ladies. He was prepared to argue, convincingly, that the pale, thin and irritating represented a idealised view of romantic Victorian womanhood and modern values should be not therefore be used to penalize a great romantic heroine. He was also surprisingly acute on the subject of choice and moral order.
Harry Potter discovered that Severus Snape, animated in discussion, eyes bright, flushed, and arguing strongly the case for tall, dark and taciturn as an idealised view of the Victorian hero, indeed, passionate...was hardly the ogre of his childhood schooling. Snape could be quite striking, three glasses of wine down, robes pushed to his elbows, and a book in his hands which was absently stroked, caressed, petted....
As the reading group parted, Potter, passing Snape his outer robe, said quietly: "Some of us meet for drinks in the White Hart, after, if you fancy."
And Snape, accepting both with a nod of his head, said, "I could be persuaded." And, clearly, was, for rather than sweeping out the door he made himself useful discreetly elevating dirty glasses to the kitchen and glaring at recaltriant chair-hinges. He said nothing - nothing! - ("Call yourself a wizard, Potter!") about Harry's muggle lifestyle, although he did, once the last guest was ushered out the door, cause all the chairs to fold themselves up, smart, and stack themselves in impressive order against the far side of the counter.
"Shall we?" Snape said, offering his arm in the most courtly of wizarding fashions, a convention among friends.
"After you," Potter replied.
Do not imagine that Professor Severus Snape had spent his entire wizarding life ignorant of the customs of the average muggle watering hole. On the contrary, between belaboring ignorant students, concocting groundbreaking potions and plotting the overthrow of various wizardly icons, Snape had become well acquainted with the glories of the craic, the snug, and Gillespie's Irish Stout. Wouldn't you, if the alternative was (a) damp, or (b) on entering a wizard pub, cringing ex-pupils, dastardly death-eaters in disguise and no longer young witches (and wizards) intent on one of the few unmarried pure-bloods of reasonable means (pension included) in Britain?
Snape, therefore, swept through the bar of the White Hart with his elbows jauntily cocked and his wallet to the ready.
"It's my round," he said. "Pint?"
"Usual, please," said Harry Potter.
Which Snape discovered to be a beverage of decidedly murky complexion. He ordered, for himself, stout, and picked up Harry's glass.
"The sediment's reasonable," Harry said mildly. "It's real ale."
"It needs filtering," Snape commented.
"You...brew your own?"
"On occasion," Snape said. "There was one particular vat I did for Dumbledore. A Christmas Ale. The party.." (smirk.) "..was legendary. Thank you. A seat?"
There was a free table by the fire. Harry Potter, sitting, stretched his toes to the grate and sighed with contentment. Warmth. Good beer. Company.
"Tell me," said Snape, regarding Potter with narrowed eyes over the rim of his glass-
-oh no, here it comes -
"Did you mean what you said - "
-yes, killing Voldemort was accidental. No, I have no plans to get married, have children, sign your advertising contract-
"-about children's books creating and interpreting the structure of society?"
"Yes," said Harry Potter, surprised.
"What, then, about The Magical Mishaps of Maurice Moonchild? Is it not more about breaking the rules than keeping them?"
"To break the rules," Harry Potter said slowly, imagining, unlikely but possible, his Professor reading under the bedclothes "you must first define them. Maurice Moonchild works because the rules broken are either unenforceable or absurd when set against the general values of society. The reader learns what is acceptable and what is not: the book negotiates reality. Snape-"
"Severus," Snape said, automatically.
"Severus, aren't there rules you wanted to break, when you were young, just for the hell of it? Like not reading in bed or snogging in the Astronomy Tower?"
Snape tapped one finger against the damp glass of his stout, looked out the window, at Harry Potter's boots, and finally at Harry Potter's face.
"Yes," he said.
"But," Snape continued forbiddingly. "Even at a very young age...Oh, bugger it all," Snape said. "I always thought rules were made to be broken and I haven't changed my mind."
Briefly, Professor Severus Snape and Mr. Harry Potter shared a moment of sympathetic accord across the table.
Then Harry took a swig from his glass.
"What about Philip Reeves?"
"Yet another muggle author I find myself obliged to read?"
"Oh, you haven't? I'll put Mortal Engines in the next box..."
Harry did not post the next box of books. He delivered it.
He stood in Severus Snape's doorway, standing nervously on one leg, almost as if he expected Snape's living room to contain items of dangerous intent rather than a sofa, two comfortable chairs, several bookcases, a rag rug made by Snape's grandmother and Snape himself.
"You're blocking the light," Snape said, irritated. "Come in."
After all, Snape kept anything suspicious well out of sight. In the cellar, in fact, behind the woodpile, although Harry will not discover this for several months to come and by then it will be too late.
"I brought your books," Harry said, superfluously.
"So I see. Put them down. I suppose you'd like tea?"
As Snape had already tapped his wand on the lid of the cauldron by the fire, Harry Potter sat down, smiled, and said - "I don't suppose you've any chocolate frogs..?"
"Hmm," Snape said. But, indeed, Dumbledore, whom Snape felt was annoyingly blind when it came to the preferences of his staff members, present or former, had presented Snape that very Christmas with a lifetime's subscription to Botts Monthly. He had several unopened parcels in the kitchen. One of them, indeed, contained chocolate frogs. It was all too apparent that Potter's taste had not developed beyond adolescence.
He dropped the frogs into a smooth sided bowl, having no wish to clean melted chocolate from the rug, and passed it over. "I have this morning's Daily Prophet, also. I imagine you'll find it hard to come by a copy."
"Oh," Harry said, licking chocolate from his fingers. "That's good. Actually, Hermione sends me her copy by return of post - muggle mail." He looked up, and added, "But I'm always two days behind and three on Mondays. Thanks."
"I believe the Slytherins won the last house cup," Snape said, rather desperately, passing the newspaper across. Really, he had no idea what one did with visitors. Feed them. Water them. Converse.
Harry shrugged. "I don't keep up with the school matches," he said. "But I always read the reviews. It's about the only thing I miss - I can only ask Hermione to buy me so many books, and I'm always worried one of them'll bite the customers. I haven't even got a copy of Hogwarts."
"I might have one about somewhere," Snape said, cautiously, knowing perfectly well where it was. "I could be persuaded to lend it, given sufficient guarantee..."
"Severus. I run a bookshop."
"True," Snape said, struck. "Accio Hogwarts, A History." He said, and then, as his bookshelves heaved, a hurried, "Fourth edition only."
Only three copies came to hand. He gave Potter the signed one, a gesture of faith he hoped would not be misplaced.
"Ta." Potter was instantly absorbed. After a minute or two, unselfconsciously, he slid down to chair and lay full length on the hearthrug, his glasses pushed high on his nose and his shirt rumpled.
Once, in his early teens, Snape had been invited to the Malfoy's shooting lodge in Scotland. He retained a painful memory of the malice generated by the average Scottish midge, disturbed: the ability to play charades, and a profound gratitude towards the muggle manufacturers of wellington boots. He also spent several happy hours, sans Malfoy pere, learning to fish. This was not the debased impaling of a worm on a hook, but rather, the art, the science, of the correct selection of the fly, of the perfect curve of the arm and rod and line. The silent settling of the fly on the water: the gentle tumble of water, the light through the trees. Before Voldemort, before Hogwarts, Snape had never felt such contentment as he had on the banks of a river in Scotland, fishing.
It is just such quiet happiness as he felt now.
Potter stayed to dinner (Stew. Mushroom, Snape's mother's recipe) and went home rather later than he had planned, taking with him not only Hogwarts etc. but also Creative Management Accounting for Wizards and Confunding the Inland Revenue. He promised to return them in due course.
"Dear Mr Potter."
Snape had always found gratitude difficult. He screwed up the third piece of parchment and flung it at the fire. Instead, he baked carrot cake (his own recipe), raided the latest consignment from Bott's, and turned up on Harry's doorstep just as Harry was closing up. He could always say he had missed the date.
He was agreeably surprised by the smile that lit Potter's face.
"Well," Harry said. "Severus." He was, after the smile had gone, a little uneasy.
Snape instantly assumed he was unwelcome.
"I was just passing," he said. "Here." He pushed the box into Harry's hands, and turned to go.
"No, wait," Harry said. "It's not you. It's just that I'm due on the pitch in twenty minutes." He paused again. "Do you want to come and watch?"
Quidditch is a game conducted by the clothed. The fully clothed. Rugby is not.
Snape found himself, to his horror, intrigued, almost unable to take his eyes off, veritably, undone, by Harry Potter's thighs.
Nevertheless, by the time Potter emerged from the changing rooms, he had pulled himself together and was perfectly capable of spending the evening discussing...something he could not, lying in bed that night, remember. He could, however, remember exactly the shape of Harry Potter's glutaeus muscle, the exquisite curve of it, the endearing hollow between his soleus and his gastrocnemius, the strength of his quadriceps...
Harry Potter, on the other hand, had known perfectly well for some time that he would like to shag his former Potions Master senseless.
Oh, come now.
Did you think it coincidence that Potter sent the Professor Maurice? Or Maupin? Did you think Potter sent Snape an invitation to the Reading Group in order to discuss Heathcliff? Are you labouring under the belief that all bookshop managers deliver, personally, their customer's orders, sit on their hearth rugs and lick chocolate from their own fingers? Survey their bookshelves in the hope of discerning a copy of Interesting Variations on the Use of Dragonhide (Preston) The Naked Quidditch Player (Wronski) or, at the very least, The Spartacus Guide to Atlantis? Did you - could you possibly - have missed the rather neat allusion to Fleming, in the fourth paragraph, no less? Can you not envisage Harry Potter, setting lures on the water in the hope that Snape will bite?
I suspect not. I suspect, my dear reader, that innocence passed you by a long time ago.
Potter, however, was rapidly coming to the conclusion that, if he wanted to get his leg over sometime in the next century, he had some explaining to do. Allusion has its limitations.
"- a raging poof," said Harry. "A shirt-lifter. A wizard who likes other wizards. Dammit, are you listening to me?"
Snape's eyebrow quirked. He looked up.
"Oh," he said. "One of those."
"One of those," said Harry Potter, frustrated, angry. "Didn't you read anything I sent you?"
"I have always found life much simpler if one ignores the subtext," Snape said. "But the coincidence was, indeed, striking. I was expecting Isherwood in the next delivery, or perhaps Grimsley."
"Marlowe," Harry said miserably. "I was getting desperate."
Snape's glare had been known to subdue Manticores. Under it, Harry Potter squared his shoulders, braced his back, and checked his glasses were still attached to his nose.
"Mr Potter," Snape said. "Were you attempting to proposition me?"
"Yes," said Harry Potter.
"Well, then," said Snape.
He stood up. In his robes, Snape was an impressive figure. Shaking them out, bending his head, setting his hands to the first button, the second...
Harry Potter found his mouth dry and his jeans far too tight.
"Don't expect too much," Snape warned, as his fingers moved to the fifth button.
"I didn't expect anything at all," said Harry, honestly.
Snape glanced up. "Even the best of us are occasionally mistaken. Are you intending to remain fully clothed?"
By the time Snape reached the penultimate button Harry was as naked as the campest civil servant.
"The young," Snape said. "Such enthusiasm." He held the last button in his hands, hesitating, but Harry caught the sudden doubt in his voice.
"I do want you," he said. And then, suddenly, stricken himself- "And more than just sex. I thought I'd better say that now. You can say no now, if you-"
Snape let go of the button and let the robe slide from his shoulders. He wore nothing, underneath. His body was thin, scarred in places, and his skin had lost the elasticity of youth. His body hair was sparse, wiry and black, his penis heavy and full, and he did not try to hide his erection.
"Yes," said Harry Potter and, walking forward, falling to his knees, took Snape's cock in his mouth. He did not do this with grace, but with an honesty of need that surprised both of them. His hands rested on Snape's thighs, kneading, his tongue was almost as rough as a cat's and his eyes were open, looking up.
Snape groaned. His knees trembled: it had,after all, been a while.Harry, reluctantly, pulled away. Saliva strung the gap between them.
"Not like this?"
Snape closed down like a folded book, knees, spine, elbows. His breath was heavy, bitter with coffee, his hair falling round his face. His hands grasped Harry's shoulder, his arms, the vulnerable curve of his collarbone and all the fine planes underneath.
"Yes. Like that." And a moment later, "Severus!"
"You're beautiful," Snape said, coherent, astonished.
"Don't think. Here. Come down with me."
It was not at all as described in More Joy of Sex (wizarding edition) which Snape had read under the bedclothes in his Hogwarts dormitory, nor indeed did it bear any resemblance to anything contained in The Death Eater's S&M Safety Manual, which he had read considerably later and found rather more disconcerting. It was, instead, a thing of elbows, knees, skin, of flesh soft and flesh hard, of scent and taste, a thing wholly and overwhelmingly of the body. It was glorious. For Snape, a beginning, for Potter, an end.
There were no words.
Only, later, drowsing contentment, fine in its own way as the passion preceding, and the feel of someone else's skin and the soft wool of the sofa blanket, and then sleep.
Snape's voice, low, hesitant.
"It's all right. You're not fertile. I checked."
Snape snorted, gently, in amusement, and had to pause to gather his thoughts.
"I know what you mean," Harry Potter said. "But we're all right, really, aren't we."
Despite the words, his tone reminded Snape of the uncertain student Harry once was.
"Severus. Look at me?"
He turned his head. Harry Potter was no longer young. His hair was standing on end. His eyes were swollen with sleep, his mouth bruised. There was a creasemark on his cheek. Despite this, Snape, as is usual for these moments, knew he had never woken to a more beautiful sight. His hand, of its own accord, cupped Harry's face in a gesture that was all but - that was - tender. He could read in bed with this boy.
"We'll learn," Snape said, and believed it.
Did you expect happy ever after?
Snape will never be anything other than sarcastic, prickly, and harsher on himself than he will ever be on others. Potter will never be anything other than stubborn and self-willed. They will never marry, nor have children, although they will remain marginally faithful lovers, careful of each other's space, for the rest of their lives. Snape will take up accountancy, learn to utilise a computer, and finally make himself a small fortune designing software for the fiscally inept. Potter will undertake a small weekly column in Country Life (Tales from a Small Bookshop) which will spawn, eventually, a book, a radio play, and a Bollywood musical, much to Snape's disgust.
Neither of them, however, will ever have the faintest desire to spot an broom, collect a knut, or press a pixie, which just goes to show that some rules are meant to be broken.
Illustration: Morskaya (also known as Umino)