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From the Ditch

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George Weasley was drunk. Completely and absolutely drunk to the point of unconsciousness.

The tall dark robed figure contemplated the body lying in a ditch just outside of Hogsmeade. He knew it was a Weasley because of the hair, and he knew it was George because… because the young man’s head was fortunately above the muddy water and on a side that revealed the space where an ear should be.

Severus Snape could smell the alcohol from five feet away.

With a small sigh he drew his wand and levitated George from the ditch. Water streamed from the young man’s robes and the stench of whisky became much stronger. Severus wondered just how much the young man had drunk as he noticed several empty bottles in the ditch that George had been lying on.

Severus kept George floating beside him as he made his way to the small cottage he’d inherited from Albus but never used. He wasn’t surprised at Weasley’s condition. Yesterday had been the fifth anniversary of the Battle of Hogwarts.

The whole Wizarding world had been celebrating yesterday, but not for a moment did Severus think George Weasley had been celebrating when he’d drunk himself unconscious.

Severus hadn’t celebrated either.

He opened the door and manoeuvred himself and the levitated Weasley into the small parlour. He placed George on the dust covered sofa carefully and watched as Weasley flopped like a rag doll over the cushions.

A quick wave of his wand had a bucket appearing along with several towels. Another flick had the wet robes disappearing and the towels draped over the sodden young man.

“Dolos,” Severus whispered and a house-elf appeared with a near silent pop.

“Master Sev is calling for Dolos?” The elf was smaller than most, but well dressed in a black tunic and trousers.

“Yes Dolos. As you can see I have an unexpected guest.” Severus motioned to Weasley and Dolos nodded. “Firstly he needs dry clothing, and later a hangover cure and food. Do we have any clothing here?”

“No Master Sev, but I can gets Master Weasley’s own clothes dry,” Dolos replied.

Severus nodded. “Do that please.” Dolos snapped his fingers and Weasley’s clothes dried and another snap had the muddy stains disappearing.

“Thank you,” Severus said. “Will you fetch the hangover cure from my stores,” he paused for a moment. “And perhaps also the green vial next to it, and two stomach soothers please.”

“Yes Master Sev.” The elf disappeared with the tiniest pop, and Severus went to the kitchen to see what the cottage had in its cupboards.

 

George Weasley opened his eyes and then shut them with a pained groan as light stabbed right through him. He curled up with a pitiful moan as his head pounded, feeling as if it was going to explode with the next heartbeat.

He swallowed and shook with misery as his stomach rolled. He swallowed again and again as he fought a rising nausea. Suddenly he rolled to his side in a panic. It was too much and he couldn’t stop himself from being violently sick.

Strong hands were at his shoulders holding him in place as he heaved again and again. His stomach muscles and throat burnt as he couldn’t stop retching. It felt like hours before all he could bring up was bile, and he sobbed with each upheaval of his stomach. His head throbbed alarmingly and tears leaked from his tightly closed eyes. He felt absolutely terrible and completely humiliated but the strong hands never stopped supporting him and kept him from falling face first into the mess he was making.

Finally he was eased back against something soft and a cold cloth covered his face. He took shuddering breaths as he tried to regain some self-control. Merlin, but his headache was agony and his stomach was an empty burning hole. Tears still filled his eyes, soaking into the cloth as soon as they appeared.

“Shorry,” he muttered hoarsely. “Sorry, sorry,” he repeated.

“Sorry indeed, Mister Weasley,” came a soft reply in a voice George hadn’t heard in five years.

“Snape?” He groaned under a wave of humiliation. “Sorry Pr’fesshor,” he managed to mumble as he pressed the wet cloth harder against his face, swallowing hard against the acrid burn in his throat.

“While you are indeed a sorry sight, Mister Weasley, I see no need for you to be sorry,” the smooth voice told him. “In fact your current sorry state is completely understandable.”

George could not hear any pity or condescension in Snape’s tone despite the casual bluntness, but then Snape had always been blunt and brutally honest in expressing his thoughts. No one had ever suspected his true fidelities because he’d used it so effectively in his dealings with students, fellow teachers, and Death Eaters alike.

“However, you cannot remain in this sorry state. Therefore you will attempt a small amount of toast, before a stomach soother and then something for the hangover and headache that you are no doubt already suffering from.”

“I can… I have… so’thi’s in… pockets,” George slurred as he struggled to speak and think at the same time.

“Yes, well, let us be safe rather than even sorrier, and use my potions. There is no telling how much ditch water may have infiltrated whatever you had in your pockets,” Snape said as George heard the sound of an elf appearing and he suddenly smelt toast. His mouth watered and his stomach rumbled. George dropped his hands to his stomach.

The cloth fell from his face and he squinted in the dim light. There was no fire lit and the lamps had been turned down so much the corners of the room were lost in shadow. He was propped on a very comfortable sofa with cushions behind him and a rug covering his legs. Despite no fire the room was warm and cosy. The low table in front of him held a tea service and a plate with several pieces of toast.

Severus Snape was seated in an armchair opposite him accepting a cup of tea from one of the smallest elves George had ever seen. The man looked completely calm as if having a drunken Weasley on his sofa was something that happened every day. He hadn’t seen the man in five years and Snape looked remarkably healthy. His hair was longer; his face had lost some of its bitter lines and was no longer as pale or thin as it had been.

He was still wearing black though, and his dark eyes were fixed on his unwanted guest.

George looked down and plucked at the damp cloth.

“Toast, Mister Weasley,” Snape ordered. “The stomach soother will work better if there is at least a small amount of food in you.”

“Yeah,” George muttered. “I’m just not … I’m empty, but…”

“No buts.” Snape pointed to the toast. “There is a bucket ready if you cannot keep it down.”

George reached for the toast and picked up a half slice. It was warm but dry, and he was rather glad of that. He didn’t think he could stomach the smallest bit of butter right now. He nibbled at the toast carefully, eating it crumb by crumb.

The little elf placed a glass of water near the plate of toast before disappearing silently. After eating almost half of his slice, George picked up the glass and took a small sip. The water disappeared immediately, his mouth was so dry. He took a bigger sip and then went back to the toast.

George appreciated Snape’s silence as he managed to eat another half slice. The stomach soother potion was handed over and George sipped it, eyes closing as he felt his stomach settle. He no longer felt so horribly empty and the nausea faded with each sip. He leant back against the cushions.

“Thank you, Professor,” he half-whispered. Now his stomach was settling he could really feel the humiliation and headache.

“There is no need to thank me, Mister Weasley,” Snape replied calmly. “I was merely the person to find you. There is no doubt that you would have been found and given a similar treatment had I not been there.”

“But you were the first,” George pointed out, speaking slowly. “And besides, it’s just good manners for me to thank you. Mum would have my guts for garters if I forgot my manners.”

Snape’s lips twitched and he bowed his head. “Indeed, yes, Molly does have strong views on manners.”

“So, it’s only polite for me to thank you,” George said.

“Once is enough though,” Snape said. “I do not need nor want to hear it again.” He stared hard at George and George carefully nodded in agreement. “Nor do I need any apologies or explanations for your condition or for why you ended up drunk in a ditch.”

George opened his mouth but no words came out as he flushed.

“No,” Snape said firmly. “There is no need to apologise for something that most of us have done at least once in our lives. And there is absolutely no need to explain why. Not to me.” There was a heavy determination to Snape’s voice and face and George took a long moment before he nodded.

“Yes, sir.”

The fifth anniversary of the Battle of Hogwarts was also the fifth anniversary of Fred’s death. George had always found it hard to celebrate without resentment. He put on a brave face for the rest of his family, he tried hard to not let his grief show too much, but Fred was his twin, Fred was the other half of his soul.

To no longer feel the magic of their twin bond was an unending ache. No-one understood just how painful Fred’s loss was to him. Even after so long George found it hard to think of himself as ‘I’ and not ‘we’.

This year it had been harder than before. Five years gone just seemed more final than three years or four years, or maybe it was because there had been more emphasis placed on the celebrations as if five years was something extra special to commemorate.

George had spent hours with his family at several of the official events - at Hogwarts and the Ministry – before slipping away. He and Fred had kept a stash of various things, including alcohol, in the Shrieking Shack, and George had kept it stocked even after the Battle. He’d apparated in and started drinking. He couldn’t remember much after that. But it was pretty obvious that he’d left the Shack at some point and Snape had found him.

George wasn’t too fuddled to know why the professor would have been near the Shack.

His head drooped and he brought the cloth up to wipe at his face. His head pounded. This was always the worst part.

“Does it ever get easier?” he pleaded, unaware he’d spoken out loud.

“Easier?” Severus sighed softly. He didn’t tell the young man how much guilt he was going to feel as he slowly began to forget, as memories dimmed, as he learnt how to cope without drinking himself blind. He didn’t tell him that he would always be looking up, expecting his brother to appear, no matter how many years passed. And how on some days it would feel as if you were back there, crying, aching, still holding the dead body that once held everything you loved.

“Easier?” he repeated. “Yes it does.”

George snuffled into the cloth. “I don’t want it to get easier,” he protested.

“Nobody ever does,” Severus sighed again. Sometimes guilt and regret felt like the same thing.

George kept his face hidden as he shook silently. The professor’s words echoed through his throbbing head. It was hard to think coherently but he could sense a melancholic grief that matched his own. He scrubbed his face in the cloth, fingers splayed over the front of his head. He stopped as he felt the empty space where his ear should have been.

Bleary eyes peered over the top of the cloth and met the dark eyes staring calmly back at him.

“Did you ever say sorry for my ear?” he questioned as he blinked several times and felt himself swaying against the cushions.

“Not to you,” Snape replied gravely. “There was one occasion when your mother appeared at my bedside while I was recuperating in St Mungo’s when the matter was raised. I am fairly certain that I apologised then, but I was under the influence of many potions at the time so I might not recall it too clearly.” Severus tilted his head slightly. “Did you require my apology?”

“Nah,” George hiccoughed. “Saw wha’ happened and don’ blame you.” He blinked slowly and began to tip sideways. “Was jus’ curious as we was – were talkin’ about bein’ sorry…” George slipped completely sideways onto the couch and blinked owlishly as the room tilted with him.

Severus let his breath out. Some of the memories he’d given Harry Potter had been front page of the Daily Prophet for weeks after the Battle, along with everyone else’s. One of them had been of the incident that had cost George his ear, and Molly Weasley had battered her way past all his healers and guards and confronted him.

He left his chair and placed careful hands on George’s arms. He began to straighten him up. “Mister Weasley, we have not conversed in any meaningful manner since … since you left Hogwarts.” He reached around the young man and pulled the cushions into a more supportive position. “And it was no secret that I was never one of your most favourite people.”

“You was a bastard, but we wouldn’ta been able to do some thin’s without your teachin’,” George said with the solemnity only the drunk could manage.

“Or my supplies closet,” Severus added wryly.

George chuckled. “Fred… Fred always thought you knew we took stuff sometimes.”

Severus nodded. “I knew. And if you had used my ingredients for anything harmful, you would have been caught.”

“We could’a done with a proper potion’s Master,” George mumbled.

“Or you could have stayed in school and worked towards getting your own Potions Mastery,” Severus pointed out.

“Fred would’a done that,” George said. “He was always better at them than me.”

“And you were better at Charms,” Severus added with a pensive look. “Flitwick was most disappointed when you left school. He had almost convinced me to sponsor Fred to a Potions Master he knew just so he could sponsor you to the man’s brother, a Charms Master.”

George tipped his head back and blinked rapidly as his eyes filled with tears. The thought of a different future that he and Fred could have shared and would never happen hurt. Just thinking of how brilliant their jokes and pranks could have been with more learning and experience made him envious. Their shop would have been the absolute best in the whole Wizarding world – not just Britain - by now.

Severus watched the last remaining Weasley twin struggle to control his tears. He couldn’t help but wonder what they might have done had the Dark Lord not returned, and if Flitwick had been successful. The Weasley twins had often made his classes unpredictable. Always amusing as well, although he had never given any sign of enjoying their mayhem.

Severus sighed and picked up a small green vial. “For your hangover, Mr Weasley.”

George turned red eyes towards the small bottle. “Thank you,” he said as he reached for the potion. He quickly uncorked it and tipped the contents into his mouth. He frowned as he swallowed. He’d never had a hangover potion feel this strange. He swallowed again and his body tingled all over. His stomach gurgled and he had to burp. Golden smoke shot out of mouth and the next breath had rainbows literally oozing out of his pores. He raised his hands and watched the colours floating away from his skin with wide eyes.

“Sn… Professor?!”

There was the tiniest of smirks on Snape’s lips. “As I said, for your hangover.”

George blinked. His hangover was gone. He’d never had a hangover potion like it before. So effective, so quick, and that rainbow effect was impossibly wonderful.

George stopped short and tilted his head. He turned to look at his old Potions professor.

“Say, Professor, I have a brilliant idea!”

 

Harry Potter looked at his goblin advisor and blinked.

“Say what?”

Ironback tapped the accounts book on the desk.

“The profits from Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes have increased ten percent in the last six months. It is a remarkable achievement and I would recommend you increase your investment in the company as soon as possible.”

“Ten percent?” Harry questioned again.

“Yes, mostly due to a new hangover cure I believe,” Ironback sounded quite smug. It was rare that any investment returned such profits and while he could not boast amongst his fellow advisors, such a profit ensured that his bonus would be substantial and that would certainly get noticed by his colleagues.

Harry Potter had learned a lot about finances and investments over the last few years even if he didn’t quite find it as exciting as his advisor did. Actually he found it rather boring. It was very nice and very comforting to know he was financially secure, and it was kind of fun deciding what he could invest in – owning stock in the Firebolt Broom Company made him smile every time. As long as there was enough money coming in from the investments to live on and to add to his savings, he wasn’t too concerned with how much money it was. Harry didn’t have expensive tastes and he didn’t need much to survive.

But apparently there was a lot of money now coming in from the WWW. Ever since he’d given the twins his Triwizard winnings they’d given him a small portion of their profits. He’d never actually signed an agreement, and the twins had never mentioned getting one. They’d just told him they’d be sending him a percentage and if he didn’t accept it, they’d open an account for him and put it in there anyway.

Harry had finally just agreed to it and nothing more had been said. Harry looked down at the spreadsheet. Maybe he should call in and see George after he finished here.

 

Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes was busy. Yule and Christmas were fast approaching and Diagon Alley was full of shoppers.

Harry slipped through the crowds and into the WWW. He could see George at the counter and several other staff helping with the customers. He moved back into a corner and looked around the shop.

It seemed slightly bigger than the last time he’d been in, and he was fairly certain there was a whole new section on the opposite wall. He was also convinced that he’d never seen the door in the corner before either.

The shop was still colourful and happily noisy. Balloons of all shapes and sizes floated above. Every now and again one popped and glitter filled the air to the delighted screams of many of the customers. There was a tantalising smell that reminded him of jam tarts and he inched his way around the store to find out where it was coming from.

“Hey Harry.” Neville Longbottom smiled at him, a plant in his hands that looked almost lion-like. Neville had grown tall and lost all of his childhood weight. He’d grown in confidence since the war, and was still completely engrossed with Herbology. He’d apprenticed to Professor Sprout and recently gained his Mastery.

“Hey Neville,” he replied. “What is that?” He pointed at the plant.

“It’s an ivy plant,” Neville replied. “Professor Sprout has one shaped like a badger in her office, and she said I could get them here. They come in all the Hogwarts House animals.” Neville grinned.

Harry looked at the small plant and smiled. It was exactly like a lion.

“Does it grow bigger?” he asked.

“Just a little bit,” Neville replied. “Apparently it has charms on it to stop it from growing. But you can get bigger ones if you order it specially, George said.”

“It’s cute,” Harry commented. “I didn’t know George was selling anything like this.”

“Neither did I,” Neville said. “I come in a lot more now than I did before. He’s got a whole heap of new stuff.”

“It’s certainly busier in here than I remember.”

“I think it’s because it’s no longer just a joke shop,” Neville said slowly as he looked around. “It’s still a joke shop, only now it’s more than just a joke shop.” He waved the pot slightly. “You know what I mean?”

“I think so,” Harry replied.

“And it’s a good thing, you know?” Neville carried on. “It’s like remembering that the twins were more than just their pranks. That they were brilliant at quidditch, and that they were always there for us, and they were never mean.”

Harry nodded. The money he’d given them had been nowhere near the gratitude he’d felt towards them for rescuing him from the Dursleys at the beginning of his Second Year, or for giving him the Marauder’s Map that was one of the few things he had from his dad and Sirius and Remus.

“I should bring Teddy here again,” Harry decided.

Neville laughed. “Are you sure?”

Harry flushed. Teddy had certainly proved himself a Marauder’s son on their last visit. He had let the pygmy puffs loose, set off several fireworks and somehow managed to create a green slime that had completely covered the front counter. Harry still didn’t know how he had managed that last one. Nothing on the counter should have been able to do that, and Teddy had been unable or unwilling judging by the slightly guilty look he’d had, to tell what he had done.

“We can put a leash on him,” George suddenly spoke, making Harry and Neville jump in surprise. The redhead grinned at them. “Hey lads.”

“Hi George.” Harry smiled at the taller man.

“It’s been a while, Harry,” George said. “Hi Neville, still with the plants I see. Hey, you’re still working with Sprout aren’t you?” Neville nodded and George continued. “Can you ask her if the mandrakes are ready?”

“Mandrakes?” Neville’s eyes were wide.

“Yeah,” George smiled happily. “We’re going to do a bit of experimenting with them and she offered to let us have some of the next crop.”

“What can you do with a mandrake other than potions?” Harry asked.

“That’s what we’ll find out,” George grinned. “It’ll be fun.”

“You have a strange definition of fun,” Neville remarked. “And I‘ll ask about the mandrakes. I haven’t seen them in the greenhouses so I’m not sure where they are.”

George shook his head. “There’s no hurry, and I think she’s growing them away from the school where they can’t be classed as school property. Teachers aren’t supposed to use school stock for personal use.” George shrugged.

“Yeah, but mandrakes?” Neville frowned.

“Well she wouldn’t let us have a piece of the Whomping Willow, so we settled on mandrakes.”

Harry laughed. George hadn’t changed and he was happy to see it. In fact, George looked more relaxed than Harry could recall seeing him since the war ended. There was still the sense of oddness of seeing him without his brother but Harry knew part of that was his because his magic was reacting to George’s magical aura. George was a magical twin and without his twin, the magic was twisted slightly trying to compensate for not being complete. There was always an unsettled edge to being around George, but today there was little to feel unsettled by. It was strange.

“See you later, Harry,” Neville called as he walked away and Harry blinked, having been completely lost in thought.

“Yeah, right, um… Bye, Nev,” he responded and shook the distracting thoughts away.

“And now, how about that leash, Harry?” George smiled. “Just let us know when you’re coming and I’ll have it ready for you.”

“Really, George?” Harry was confused and it showed.

“There’s a spell that mums can use to keep their kids close, like a magical leash, but it’s a generic one. Some shops can tailor it to suit individual customers so we can make it so Teddy can still wander the shop but not touch certain things, or can’t go more than a set distance from you. Or whatever you need basically.”

“That sounds brilliant. I wish I’d known about it before.”

“Not all shops have it because they don’t really need it, but given what we stock and how enthusiastic some of our customers can be, it’s just common sense to have it.” George grinned slightly. “And it’s not just the infants who sometimes need a leash in here,” he added teasingly.

Harry blushed. A couple of months ago Ron had wanted to try out a new colour changing potion that he’d seen on the shelves. In his haste he’d bumped another shelf and the resulting explosion had been loud and colourful. Harry had been standing too close and had been purple for a week. Ron had been green, and George had let them suffer the whole week as punishment.

“The shop’s doing well,” Harry flustered and George grinned letting Harry distract him.

“Yes it’s been a good year so far.” He began to lead Harry towards the rear of the shop.

“My advisor says I should invest more,” Harry sighed. “He doesn’t understand that …”

“Stop, Harry,” George said firmly, turning to face the younger man. “We’ve said this often enough over the years. Without the money you gave us, we’d never have got the Wheezes up and running. Even without the war it would have taken Fred and I years to get to this point. We’d certainly not have been able to have a shop right in the Alley.” George pulled Harry through a curtain and into the back room.

“I know but…”

“Seriously Harry,” George interrupted. “Look, Fred and I promised on our magic that from whatever we made, we’d give part of it to you. Not just to thank you and to repay you for you know, giving us your winnings, but also so that you’d never have to rely on those Muggles of yours.” George ran his hands though his hair. “And now, even though we know you don’t need it, our promise still stands. And honestly, the shop could easily pay you more, but we know you wouldn’t accept it.”

Harry sighed. “I know, but it feels like I’m getting all this money and I’m not doing anything to earn it.”

George echoed his sigh. “You more than earnt it. You gave us our start and that’s more than enough really. You believed in us and not many people did back then.”

They paused, both recalling Molly Weasley’s long and loud objections. The store’s initial success had helped changed Molly’s opinion, but after the war she had taken to sometimes berating George for not doing more with his life. She felt he could do a lot more than just run a joke shop.

There was a small bang above them and a cloud of yellow shot down from the upstairs room and through the back room. George looked at the yellow smoke and tilted his head.

“Harry,” he said slowly. “How would you like to make your advisor happy?”

Harry frowned. “How?”

“Well he wants you to invest in the Wheezes, and you don’t want the money. What say if you used that money to help us set up somewhere as a testing place. It’s probably a bit dangerous to keep experimenting above the shop,” George began.

“What? Like a small cottage or a shop?” Harry asked.

“Maybe if we combine the two.” George’s eyes lit up. “I’d been thinking of expanding and maybe opening a shop in Hogsmeade, so we could be close to Hogwarts. But, what if we found a place that had an external building that could be our lab. We’d have somewhere safe to do our testing, and be able to take advantage of Hogsmeade weekends. It’d almost pay for itself within the year.”

“Can you afford that?” Harry wondered.

“I figured I had enough to lease a shop for two years, but if you invest,” George smirked at him. “With your investment we could probably buy it outright, and that would cut out half the monthly running costs I’d accounted for.”

“Ironback will want a contract,” Harry murmured as he thought about it. Ironback had taken Harry’s complete lack of knowledge in Wizarding banking as a challenge and was slowly teaching the young man everything he could about managing his accounts and vaults. Harry had not realised what being Sirius’ Heir had meant and hadn’t even known about his own Potter Family vaults.

“We can do that,” George told him cheerfully and Harry looked at him suspiciously.

“Why has the shop suddenly become so profitable?” Harry asked. “Ironback has always been a bit dismissive of it until now, but he mentioned a new hangover cure?”

George looked upwards and grinned, before lowering his head and moving Harry towards the stairs. “Well, we’ve expanded our inventory a bit over the last six months or so. Quite a few more products that people seem to like. Like the hangover cure. Trust me it’s the best one you can ever have, and I speak from experience.” George pondered for moment as they began to climb the stairs. “We still have a lot of pranks but now we have more of them, and also we have more novelty items, like the plant Neville had. And our quality is so much better than Zonko’s now that there’s virtually no competition between us anymore.” George shrugged. “They only have the one shop in Hogsmeade left now and if we open there…” George trailed off with a smirk.

“You’ve put Zonko’s out of business?” Harry was shocked.

“Nearly.” George’s face was alight with wicked glee. He went down the small hallway and opened the door Harry knew was the lab room.

Standing with his back to the door was a stranger. Tall, with dark hair pulled into a tail, the man was leaning over a cauldron stirring steadily. He wore no robes, revealing broad shoulders under a black shirt. He wore black trousers and his sleeves were rolled up.

“Close the door,” a smooth voice drawled and Harry froze. He hadn’t heard that voice in five years. George pushed Harry into the room and shut the door behind them. The stranger half turned and Harry found himself meeting the dark eyes of Severus Snape.

“George, Mister Potter,” Severus said in a calm even voice.

“Severus,” George intoned in reply and Harry just gaped.

“You didn’t tell him I was here,” Severus stated, watching Harry open and close his mouth several times in shock.

“Nah, I haven’t told anyone,” George responded gleefully. “But I thought we should probably start letting people know, especially as Harry’s probably going to invest in our Hogsmeade plans.”

A dark eyebrow rose and Harry felt his stomach twist. “Well,” he began. “My advisor…”

“Ironback,” George interjected. “Knew about the hangover cure apparently. Goblin’s got his head in the right place.”

“Indeed,” Severus replied.

“And if the goblins think we’re good, then you know we’ll be even more successful, so we buy a shop in Hogsmeade with a proper lab, and…” George carried on.

“Wait! Wait!” Harry exclaimed. “I didn’t agree yet!”

George frowned at him.

“Were you going to refuse?” he asked.

“Well no,” Harry replied cautiously.

“Then it’s settled. We can write up a contract, get it sealed with the bank, and then we can start looking at property in Hogsmeade,” George said.

“You already have the building picked out,” Severus pointed out with a small smirk. Harry stared again and groaned.

“Okay, I’m lost,” he blurted. “No offense, Professor, but why are you here, and how do you know so much of what’s going on, when I just heard about this today?”

“Sit down, Harry,” George directed and pushed him towards a stool near the bench where Severus was working. Severus turned back to his cauldron and began stirring it again as George sat on one of the other stools.

“Severus is kind of like an employee of the Wheezes,” George said hurriedly, before he leant back and relaxed. “He works here, because we really need a Potions Master for quality control, and to help develop new products. Let’s face it, Harry, I never got my potions NEWT and, while I can experiment and create, none of it is officially approved. Since Severus started I’ve managed to get our formulas patented. And we can now get access to certain materials that the ministry only allows Masters to use.”

“The use of which does require lab space that meets certain safety criteria,” Severus remarked.

“And this room doesn’t do that, and Severus can’t do it at Hogwarts,” George explained.

“So, Hogsmeade,” Harry said blankly.

“Yeah, Hogsmeade,” George replied. “You in?”

And Harry nodded, still completely bemused by the sight of Severus Snape, ex Death Eater and the most hated teacher of his school years, on first name terms with George Weasley and –dear Merlin - was that almost a smile on Snape’s face?

 

“Snape?!” Ron Weasley squeaked in outrage. “The greasy bat of the dungeons? That Snape?”

Harry rolled his eyes as Ron’s eyes bulged and his arms made great circles between them.

“You didn’t know then?” Harry confirmed.

He sat in the kitchen of Grimmauld Place nursing a strong coffee. He’d invited Ron over for lunch and they’d chatted idly while eating several sandwiches. It had taken Harry until the food was gone to mention George’s new employee to Ron.

Ron just stared wide-eyed at him for a long moment. “No! I didn’t know! Merlin, why would George hire Snape of all people?” Ron collapsed into his chair at the table and shook his head in disbelief. “I always thought George was the smart one,” he muttered. “Snape?”

“George says it’s a big advantage to have a qualified Potions Master working for him.”

“Well, yeah, I mean I worked for him after… you know, after school finished, and George had to spend ages with the ministry every time he had a new product, and there was one time when they confiscated some ingredients because they were on the Dangerous Potions List and we couldn’t use them without a Master present,” Ron considered.

“That’s what George was saying,” Harry said. “And that he can get patents on all his - and Fred’s work. He said some of the ideas were all Fred’s and it was only right that he get the credit for them.”

There was silence between them for a long moment.

“It’s just…. It was such a shock to see him there, you know?” Harry mused. “And he looked so different, and he was quite pleasant to me and downright friendly to George.”

“How different? I can’t picture Snape as anything but what he was,” Ron scoffed.

“He wasn’t pasty or greasy at all. He had his hair back in a tail, I didn’t realise it was that long actually. And his face wasn’t as thin as it was, he looked like he might even have a slight tan – he wasn’t …” Harry frowned. “You know what… he looked healthy. He looked way better than I’ve ever seen him. It made him almost look like a different person.”

“Healthy,” Ron repeated flatly.

“Yes, and I’ve never even thought of Snape as a friendly person before, but with George… It was like they were sharing secret jokes. It was completely weird,” Harry said confusedly.

Ron shook his head. “Snape cut off George’s ear. How can they be friendly?”

“You know that wasn’t intentional,” Harry pointed out.

Ron waved that away. “It doesn’t matter, he still did it. He never apologised for it. And let’s not forget that Snape spent most of his time tormenting every Gryffindor student he ever had. The twins got more detentions from Snape than anyone else – including you!” Ron pointed at him. “Slytherins don’t change that much, Snape’s up to something.”

Harry took a mouthful of coffee to give himself some thinking time. “I don’t think so,” he began after swallowing. “Snape did everything Dumbledore told him to. Even when he objected, he still did what the Headmaster wanted. Snape was completely cleared and declared as much a hero as Dumbledore. He gave up the Headmastership to go back to teaching Potions and the last batch of graduates that made it into the Auror Academy all say he’s now one of the best teachers they’ve ever had.”

Ron snorted.

“Seriously Ron, it’s been five years since we left school. Surely you’ve learnt that Slytherins are no better or worse than the rest of us by now,” Harry protested half-heartedly. He’d had the same argument with Ron many times over the past few years.

Ron scowled and crossed his arms, looking away. “I know,” he said begrudgingly. “But it’s George. It’s family. I don’t trust him. There’s no telling what he’ll get George to do. He could ruin his whole life. Mum says George is still mourning Fred and that we have to protect him. Magical twins are special and it’s really hard when … when their pair is broken. Keeping close to family and keeping the family magic close helps them a lot. Snape’s not family.”

Harry blinked. “Are you jealous?”

“What? No!” Ron denied. “What makes you think… eww just no!”

“Not like that,” Harry told him, rolling his eyes. “I mean, jealous that Snape’s company makes George happier than I’ve seen him since … since Fred died. That it’s Snape and not family that’s made him happy.”

Ron frowned and said nothing, his face taking on a mulish expression. Harry sighed. Despite their several years as Aurors, Ron still had an inbred mistrust for Slytherins. Even good ones.

Harry thought about this new Severus Snape. A Severus Snape that looked younger and healthier because he was no longer under the heavy weight of meeting the expectations from both Dumbledore and Voldemort. For over a decade he’d been unable to be himself and Harry recalled the relaxed almost smiling face he’d seen in George’s shop. It was as if time had turned back ten years.

He’d wanted to be more than just a detested student to the enigmatic man after he’d seen Snape’s memories, he’d wanted to talk to him and learn more about his mother, more about the man who had sworn an oath to protect him for no other reason than that he’d been Lily’s son.

Somehow investing in George’s new shop was going to be more interesting than he’d thought it would be.

 

Severus Snape surveyed the shed that could possibly become a lab for the new shop in Hogsmeade.

George Weasley had found an extremely cheaply priced building towards the Hogwarts end of Hogsmeade. It would be an ideal location, and the building was larger than they originally been looking at, except the only reason the building was so cheap was because it was one strong wind away from falling down. The one advantage was that it already had a shed, so most of the costs could be put into the main building.

The shed certainly looked to be in better condition. It could be expanded at a later date if it proved to be too small for what they needed, but it would certainly be suitable for the moment. There was even space behind it to put a small garden.

“What do you think?” George asked.

“I think it’s a ruin and should be condemned,” Severus said. “However I also think that you’ll ignore that the moment you hear the history of this house.”

“Yeah?”

“Yes, apparently it was originally built and owned by William Vincent,” Severus said casually.

George frowned. The name was vaguely familiar to him and he noticed Severus watching him intently.

“I would have thought you would have recognised it,” Severus mused. “You did take Muggle Studies and while I know that Muggle history is barely touched on in that course, there is the small mention of a book that Muggles believe to be the first English work on magic …”

Severus watched George’s eyes go wide and his mouth dropped open. The vague memory of that class became clearer with each word.

“… a book written by William Vincent called…”

“Hocus Pocus!” George exclaimed. “I remember that! We spent a few months during Third Year trying to find a copy of it because it sounded so wonderfully weird. How to do magic that wasn’t really magic. We wanted to know if we could do it, and then we’d show Dad.” George smiled in fond remembrance. “You know how much he loves Muggle stuff; can you imagine how brilliant it would have been to be able to show him Muggle magic? Although back then all we thought was that it’d be a chance to get new brooms out of him,” George added with a grin, and he stared at the ruin. “This is perfect!” he almost whispered.

“What’s perfect?” Harry Potter asked as he appeared behind them. He eyed the building. “Wow, this is worse than Grimmauld Place ever was.”

“No! This is perfect,” George exclaimed and he waved his arms around excitedly. “Look, we can turn the house into the Wheezes; maybe see if we can turn the second floor into living space - maybe for whoever manages the place. And then,” he turned to the shed. “This, this becomes Hocus Pocus. Our lab, our inventing place. Where all the fun work happens. No more worrying that we’ll blow up the Alley, we can experiment as much as we want.” George bounded around the shed. “This is absolutely wicked!” he shouted back to them. “We’ve got room for plants and animals too! This is going to be the best place in the whole wizarding world!”

George reappeared, laughing and bounding back towards them, and Harry was startled to see a genuine smile on Snape’s face. The man looked so much younger and Harry felt a strange pang in his chest as George suddenly wrapped his arms around Severus in a massive bear hug. The dark-robed man didn’t even blink as he patted George on the back before he was released. George bounced on the spot and turned to Harry.

“You see what we can do here?” he asked, looking completely joyful. “This is going to take a while but it’s going to be perfect and brilliant.” He sighed happily.

“It will take a lot of work, not just time” Severus said softly. “You’re going to need more help.”

“I know,” George agreed. “But I don’t care how long it takes, or how hard it’s going to be; I will do it.”

“I believe you will,” Harry said. “I’ll ask around to see if anyone wants to help out.”

“Thanks, Harry,” George said. “It’ll be a few weeks before we can start, I have to buy it first,” he laughed.

Harry laughed with him and he saw Severus roll his eyes at both of them.

 

Three weeks later and George was the proud owner of the cottage and shed. He’d started calling the whole property the Vincent Cottage to differentiate it from the Diagon Alley shop. He’d approached several builders to get quotes for all the work he wanted done, and he was leaning towards a one builder who hadn’t had the cheapest quote, but was locally placed and had included several extra additions that George hadn’t considered.

Harry had been able to get in touch with several of their old schoolmates, and some of his old Gryffindor quidditch team mates had turned up to volunteer to help. George had spent an evening with them all and they’d reminisced for hours. All of them had laughed and cried at some point as they remembered Fred and the others who had not made it through the war.

In the end he’d agreed for Angelina Johnson and Katie Bell to help, as it was the off season for the National Quidditch League and they had the free time now, while the others would help when training started up again.

 

Harry Potter wandered the grounds of the Vincent Cottage deep in thought. He’d spent an hour arguing with Ron and had apparated to the cottage hoping to find George. But the house was empty and he’d decided to walk around.

He wandered past the shed and found several areas marked out with string. He worked his way between the pegs and into the forest. According to the property deeds, nearly two acres of forest was included in the land.

Harry liked the forest. It felt old and peaceful. He could hear the occasional bird and the rustling of small critters in the undergrowth. The paths weren’t too closed in and somewhere nearby he could hear water.

It did much to soothe the irritation he felt. He stopped and closed his eyes and just breathed for a long moment. He took several deep breaths and lifted his head up, seeing dappled shadows shifting through his eyelids.

The sudden thump against his chest had him startling back into awareness, one hand automatically catching whatever had just hit him, his wand appearing in his other hand as his head snapped from side to side, eyes open and seeking the threat.

“One hundred and fifty points to Gryffindor,” an amused familiar voice said and Harry watched as Severus Snape appeared in the shadows of the trees. “For catching the snitch, again.”

“You never gave me points for that…Wait! Again?” Harry exclaimed and then looked down at his hand. A ting golden wing fluttered between his fingers and something incredibly soft tickled against his palm as it moved. He eased his hand open and found the smallest golden coloured bird he’d ever seen. His jaw dropped. “Ohhh, is it? Merlin, it is!”

A golden snidget.

He’d seen pictures of them, he’d read about them, but he’d never actually seen one. They were extremely rare, and many people believed them to be extinct. It was barely two inches in size with little black eyes peeking out through the fluff above a long thin beak. Its tiny wings flittered before almost disappearing as they tucked up against the round body.

“This property has been abandoned for a very long time,” Severus said softly. “The grounds have been left alone for just as long. I’ve never seen a snidget outside of the Somerset reservation. They don’t tend to survive for long unprotected, but the wards here have somehow remained strong enough to deter most predators.”

“It’s brilliant,” Harry breathed as the little bird chirped and settled into his palm. “It’s like holding sunlight. Why isn’t it flying away?”

“You can feel heat?” Severus tilted his head with a slight frown.

“Yeah,” Harry almost shivered as gentle warmth spread down his arm. “It’s like a warm bath.”

Severus let his breath out. “Only you, Potter,” he murmured with resignation.

“What?” Harry looked up concerned at the odd tone of the professor’s remark.

“What’s the bird’s name, Potter?” Severus snapped out in the same way he’d often asked questions in the classroom.

“Solis,” Harry replied automatically, responding just as if he’d be in class. Then he stared at the snidget before looking up at Snape. “What?”

“You bonded with it,” Severus said calmly.

He leant against the nearest tree and studied the stunned young man, those green eyes once again focused on the tiny bird in his hands. Potter had grown taller, he was no longer the scrawny boy – or teen - that Severus remembered. His hair was longer but still a messy tangle. He was tanned and lithe. The green eyes that had once reminded Severus of Lily seemed to be all Harry now. The differences he had studiously ignored through the boy’s school years, that he knew had come from James, were lost now, mixed too thoroughly together to make Harry his own person. No longer Lily’s child, or even James’ son, Harry Potter was his own person. Severus had known that, had realised it from a distance, but now Severus saw it clearly.

And Severus wasn’t going to deny the fact that Harry Potter was quite attractively handsome as well.

“What do I do with him?” Harry asked quietly and Severus stopped daydreaming.

“Make sure he’s fed and watered, give him somewhere to nest and live happily ever after together,” Severus drawled before he could stop himself. He sighed. “Surely you learnt about bonded familiars?”

Harry shook his head and Severus frowned. “Not even at the Auror Academy?” he queried, and Harry shook his head again.

Severus pursed his lips. While Harry’s schooling had been fitful, it was surprising that the Academy had not covered the topic. “I have several books you may borrow,” he said. “And you should bring up the matter with your immediate supervisor. You will need to be in almost constant contact with Solis for the first month to solidify the bond.”

Harry’s head dropped and he heaved a sigh. “Snidgets are really rare, and bonded familiars?” he asked heavily.

“Not quite as rare. Not exactly common, but there is usually one or two each year among the students. Which is why I am surprised you haven’t learned about them.” Severus always included it in his welcome to students speech that he did at the beginning of each year. “It is an honour, though, and there are specific laws and rules that apply, which is why I am also surprised the Academy has not taught you about them,” Severus continued. “It is illegal for anyone to discriminate against you or to interfere with your bond, and there are harsh penalties for anyone who harms either you or your familiar because harm to one is harm to the other.”

Harry let his breath out and slumped against the nearest tree. “Oh wow. This is … Merlin.”

“You seem less than thrilled. What is the matter?” Severus queried.

“Ron.” Harry sighed as he glanced up and then concentrated on the snidget. “We’re being put in different pairs for the next six months, and they’ve split up me and Ron.” Harry stroked the little bird. “I know Ron was a bit peeved about that, but we both expected it so it wasn’t really a concern. Until they paired me with Draco.” Harry sighed again. “Ron went off his face.”

Severus held back his grin. “What exactly did Mr Weasley object to?” He asked. “Draco being a Slytherin, Draco being a Malfoy, or your partner being anyone other than a Gryffindor?”

“All of the above and then some,” Harry groaned. “Apparently I was also unaware of what an honour it was to be the partner of ‘the-boy-who-lived’ and how no-one except Ron – and maybe my fellow Gryffindors - really understood what that meant. That the ‘vanquisher-of-you-know-who’ should never have anything to do with Death Eaters.”

“Draco was pardoned,” Severus remarked casually.

“I know, I made sure of that,” Harry replied. “But Ron thinks that doesn’t matter. ‘Once a death eater, always a death eater.’ You know.” Harry looked at Severus with a slight eye roll. “I think if it had been anyone but Draco he would’ve been less… intense, but…”

“But those two have always rubbed each other the wrong way,” Severus finished for him.

Harry nodded. “And it doesn’t help that Draco deliberately stirs Ron up, even if he isn’t doing it maliciously.”

“No, Draco, like his father, has always enjoyed provoking people for amusement. It’s an old Slytherin tactic because you never know where something that may be useful can come from. And Lucius taught Draco to be the perfect Slytherin,” Severus shrugged. He had done it too, most often during the war, because his life had depended on knowing as much as he could about everyone around him.

“And Ron has a short temper,” Harry replied. “And quite honestly sometimes it’s a bit of fun watching him get all worked up over nothing. I guess I just didn’t expect him to seem so … jealous about it.” He frowned. “I wondered if George would know why.”

“George is at the Alley overseeing his new employees,” Severus told him. “He’ll be back here later.”

Severus looked at Harry with a slight frown. “It is possible that Ronald feels threatened by Draco,” he offered carefully.

Harry looked taken aback. “How? Ron’s my best friend.”

“He is no longer your only friend,” Severus said. He settled against the opposite tree. “It was the subject of several conversations while you were at Hogwarts. Apart from Ron and Ms Granger, you really had no other friends. Acquaintances, yes, but none who could really be called close friends. Some of the professors expressed the concern that Ron, in particular, was keeping you isolated from many of the other students.”

Harry thought about it. Ron’s strong protests had meant that any friends he did have were in Gryffindor and none of them had been as close to him as Ron and Hermione. Even the DA members had seen him more as a teacher than a friend.

“Why didn’t anyone say anything?” Harry asked.

“Because we try not to interfere in the student’s friendships unless there is cause, and because it kept you safe from other students who would definitely have tried to harm you.” Severus shot him a meaningful look. “Recall how many people tried to attack you five years ago after you defeated the Dark Lord? And most of them were adults, who would not have been as vicious as we both know school children can be,” Severus said calmly. “It was only when you and your age-mates repeated Seventh year that you began making friends. And you made more when you started Auror training, and you have kept on making more. But Ron has always been seen as your partner.”

“I was paired with him because he started a year later than the rest of us did,” Harry said. “He spent a year helping George out, and they thought he’d be able to pick up what he’d missed if he was with me. It’s not what they normally do, so we’ve been lucky to have stayed together for so long.” Harry shrugged. “We knew there would be a time when they’d split us up. It’s only for six months though.”

“There is no guarantee that you will be partnered back with Ron after that. You will need to work with them all at some point in your career, so it is only reasonable for you to work with multiple partners for most of your training, so you can learn about each other, to build trust between you and them.”

Harry lapsed into thought and Severus watched the young man. It was surprisingly easy to talk with him. Severus had missed Harry’s last year at Hogwarts. He’d spent most of it in St Mungo’s, recovering from Nagini’s bite.

“I just don’t get why he would be jealous though,” Harry complained. “It doesn’t make sense. He’s still my friend.”

“Because Ron is an insecure little bugger,” George suddenly said and made Harry and Severus jump. They hadn’t notice him appear and they watched the lanky redhead drop down between them with a groan.

“Seriously?” Harry asked in disbelief, but Severus was looking pensive.

“You’ve just seen him?” Severus realised.

“Yep,” George confirmed. “He came into the shop all whinging and moaning about Draco, and not being your partner anymore.” George pointed at Harry.

“How does that make him insecure? I kept telling him he’s still my friend.” Harry protested.

“But he won’t be seen beside you as much,” George said. “Ron needs other people to acknowledge him. He likes the fame and recognition he gets from being your friend.” George shrugged. “When Ron spent that first year helping me at the shop, he was always quick to be seen as a Weasley, to be able say he was part of the shop management and not just a staff member, and he’d always tell people he helped you defeat Voldemort.”

“Hmm,” Harry thought about it. He’d never wanted the recognition. He’d hated being singled out from the moment he’d entered the Wizarding world. His fame had brought him nothing but trouble. People had loved and hated him by turns and there had been very few who had treated him as just Harry Potter. The dark man opposite him had been one, and he had thought Ron had been one, too.

“Insecure and jealous?” Severus hummed. “Then he won’t be pleased with your latest effort, Harry.”

“Latest effort?” George asked, turning to face Harry. Harry held up his hands and George moved closer to see. He looked absolutely amazed.

“Merlin’s hairy balls, Harry! That’s a snidget!” George gushed in a loud whisper.

“A bonded familiar,” Severus added with a small smirk, and George’s head swung between the two of them.

“Really?” George looked awed before biting his lip. “You know, we always wondered if … if Hedwig had bonded to you,” George said, softly sad.

Harry took a deep breath. He still missed her. She’d been his first truly magical experience. “I don’t know,” he replied. “She was really smart, always knew what I wanted, and she got quite bossy at times.” Harry smiled at the memories. “I’ve never wanted to replace her.” He looked at the snidget. “She made me feel warm, too, but not in the same way Solis does.”

“It sounds like you did bond with Hedwig then,” George said thoughtfully. “But whether she was a true familiar or not,” he shrugged. “It could’ve been, or it might not’ve been.”

“It sounds as though it was,” Severus interjected. “The fact that you have never replaced her implies the bond you had was deep. There are few bonds with a beloved animal deeper than that of a familiar. And you still haven’t replaced her. Solis is never going to be able to carry your mail,” he finished with a smirk.

George laughed and the little bird shifted with a soft chirp of protest. Harry smiled, fingers curling in to stroke Solis. He knew the little snidget would never replace Hedwig, but it was very nice to be able to stroke soft feathers again.

 

“Where are we going, Harry?” Draco Malfoy asked as he followed his Auror partner through Hogsmeade. “We’re supposed to be getting this to St Mungo’s.” Draco held a small box in his hand.

“I know, but it’ll take forever there, and I don’t like dealing with Healer Sandridge. He doesn’t like me for some reason,” Harry said as he led Draco past a half-renovated cottage to a small shed behind it. “Professor?” he called as he opened the door.

Draco blinked. The inside of the shed had been transformed into the most complete potions lab he had ever seen. Cupboards covered two sides of the room while a large sink and bench ran along the third wall. Cauldrons were stacked neatly and near a door was a bookcase that made Draco’s fingers itch. He’d always enjoyed potions and books on potions were an almost irresistible temptation.

“Harry?” an instantly recognisable voice replied and Draco watched as Professor Snape entered the room.

“Uncle Sev?” he squeaked in shock, and then groaned. Of course, his godfather would be much better than St Mungo’s, but he did wonder how Potter, of all people, was comfortable being in the same room as Severus Snape.

Severus laughed gently at the blond. “Hello, Draco. And Harry, what brings you here today?”

“Potion identification,” Harry replied, indicating the box Draco was carrying. “It looks like it was an accidental non-fatal poisoning, but we need to confirm that.”

Draco put the box on a bench and stood back as Severus approached. He hadn’t seen his godfather in a few months and the man was looking more relaxed than he’d ever seen before. Once the Dark Lord had been finally defeated, and Severus had recovered from Nagini’s bite, he’d watched as the Potions master had slowly begun to shed his strict self-control in his dealings with other people.

His lips pursed as he watched Harry and Severus look at the potion sample in the box. He didn’t think he’d ever seen his godfather smile at Harry Potter before. And seriously, was Uncle Sev petting Potter’s snidget?

Draco watched them interact and held his peace through the whole hour long visit until they’d left the shed, but as soon as they’d gone past the cottage he’d stopped and stared at his partner.

“So, Harry, how long have you and Uncle Sev been friends?”

“What?” Harry asked with a confused frown. “Friends?”

“Yes, friends,” Draco repeated. “Or maybe I should ask Uncle Sev how long he’s been friends with you,” he muttered.

“I don’t… we just know each other, we’re no longer in school, he’s not our professor anymore, it makes a difference,” Harry spluttered and Draco laughed.

“I’m not teasing you, Harry. It’s just weird to see. I didn’t know you’d become friends.” Draco considered his partner. “And you have to admit that we didn’t need to spend the whole hour there. Sev figured it out within fifteen minutes.”

“I don’t know if we’re friends…”

“Yes you are,” Draco interrupted. “Sev isn’t that talkative with everyone, and you know it,” Draco pointed out, watching the pink flushing of his cheeks.

“Well, I wasn’t sure,” Harry mumbled.

Draco rolled his eyes. “Honestly, Potter, you’re acting like a firstie with a crush.” Draco’s eyes went wide and he stared at Harry. “No,” he breathed.

“Stop it, Draco,” Harry ordered, but his voice lacked its usual strength.

“Harry, seriously? Uncle Sev? The man you shared a mutual hatred with for the whole of our school years?”

Harry threw his hands up in the air. “I don’t know!” he hissed. “It’s just all different now.”

Draco laughed softly before smiling. “I think its brilliant,” he said. “It’s kind of improbable really, but there’s also a kind of inevitability about it,” he mused. “You two have always reacted strongly to each other; it’s not completely surprising I guess.

“I think you’re reading too much into it, Draco,” Harry said as his face regained its usual colour. “I admit that I like him. That we hated each other during school is more his doing than mine I think. He started it and I understand now why it had to be like that. He knew exactly how to make sure I would always dislike him and not look any further. And after the Battle we barely saw each other except at the reunions.” Harry paused and began walking. “But a mutual friend re-introduced us, and we’ve been working together on something, and it’s been good. We’ve gotten to know each other and that was impossible before. So yeah, friends now, but nothing else,” Harry added hastily.

“A mutual friend?” Draco queried curiously. He couldn’t think of anyone that would be a friend to both of them.

“Can’t say,” Harry smirked briefly. “It’s a secret for now.”

Draco raised his eyebrows at the smirk. “The mutual friend or what you’re working on?”

“Both.” Harry grinned at the thwarted expression on Draco’s face. “Back to the office?”

“Yes, and don’t think I didn’t notice you evading the question,” Draco said as they began the process of apparition.

 

Two weeks later, Harry studied the back of Severus’ head as the potions master worked. The dark hair was getting longer and pulled back in a tail. It didn’t seem as oily as it used to be, and it was quite shiny, catching the light occasionally with a blue sheen.

He had his sleeves rolled up and showed off tanned arms. Harry knew the man had started to dig out a plot for a potions garden behind the shed, and it showed. His shoulders appeared even broader and his tan darker than when Harry had first seen him several months ago.

He wore his robes today, the heavy material smoothly shifting as Severus moved from cauldron to cauldron, completely engrossed in his brewing.

Harry leant against the wall near the door and closed his eyes. He could hear the cauldrons bubbling, the quiet crackle of the flames underneath them. He could smell the potent scents of ingredients he didn’t recognise. If he concentrated just a little bit he could sense the magic of the room, most of which he knew to be Severus’.

It was calming. He rarely found places where he could relax without having to be on guard for possible dangers. The wards of the room had mostly been placed by Severus and the rich depth of the magic was almost tangible to Harry. It was security and protection and comfort. Harry had added his own layers to the wards, along with George, and sometimes Harry wished someone would try and break them. George had been very inventive with some of his protections, and Severus’ were downright lethal should the others fail.

He’d thought often about Draco’s comments and absently rubbed at his chest. He did like Severus. He could honestly say he thought of the potions master as a friend. The man’s sarcastic wit and acerbic disposition that had often flummoxed him now made him laugh and he was comfortable enough now to snark back.

He liked it. With Severus he didn’t have to watch what he said. He really hated that five years after Voldemort, the Prophet still took every opportunity to portray him either as hero or villain depending on what he said. Even with Ron and Hermione, sometimes he felt he did nothing but apologise for something he’d said and they’d not understood.

He stayed by the door, eyes half closed, petting Solis, who was tucked up in a pocket, and just enjoyed being there.

Severus stirred the potion in a slow circle, watching the colours change as the ingredients blended the way he wanted them. He felt the familiar tingle of Harry’s magic enter the room and he resisted the urge to turn around. Instead he concentrated on the cauldrons in front of him. He almost smiled. It had surprised him that Harry was quite happy to be ignored until Severus had finished his brewing. The younger man seemed to enjoy the lack of conversation and Severus never felt compelled to break the silence.

It often puzzled him as to how Harry could be so at ease in his company, given their history. He himself was not a man who forgave easily, and Harry’s apparent willingness to do so baffled him as much as it irritated him. Severus had always been more inclined to hold grudges – a trait he knew he’d inherited from his father – and while he could eventually forgive, he never forgot.

At least Harry seemed to have finally learnt to understand and even appreciate sarcasm. Although sometimes Harry seemed to be more cynical than Severus would have thought possible until he realised just how much Harry’s childhood and school years had aged him mentally. Harry was definitely an old soul because of it.

Severus watched his potion and let himself get lost in the beauty of its magic while Harry stood and watched.

 

“It would be easy to do,” Harry said as he bent over the parchments spread on the desk. He’d meant to discuss these with Severus yesterday but he’d got distracted watching the older man brew, and they’d never got around to actually talking to each other. Severus had finished brewing and they’d shared a coffee before Harry had slipped away, strangely refreshed by the silence they’d shared.

“Hmm, I wouldn’t mind doing them again,” George mused as he handed over another sheet. “They were a bit basic back then and we could make them better now.”

Various recipes and spells were scattered haphazardly between the three of them. Towards the end of the war the twins had secretly created and given to the Order various items to help protect them from Death Eater attacks.

Severus hummed and studied the papers. Severus easily recognised the handwriting; he could tell which had been George’s and which was Fred’s. As twins, they’d had very similar writing but Severus had quickly learned to differentiate between the two.

“They were quite effective during the war, especially when compared to the rubbish many others were spouting,” Severus said. “The Aurors would certainly appreciate this, they’d be falling over themselves for them, but you should get the goblins to negotiate with the Ministry to ensure you get full credit and value for them.”

“I don’t know why they didn’t approach the Order for them after the war,” Harry said. “It’s not like there weren’t Aurors in the Order.”

“Everyone was too overjoyed with the Dark Lord’s demise; they probably didn’t have room for more than one thought in their heads,” Severus dryly remarked.

“And the Ministry was a complete mess,” George added.

“The Ministry has always been a complete mess,” Severus muttered as he added a note to one of the sheets.

“It’s getting better,” Harry protested lightly.

“Slowly,” Severus responded.

“At least it’s not getting worse,” George added with a grin.

“Damning with faint praise,” Severus replied, and scribbled on another page. “I know someone in the Department of Mysteries. I’ll ask him to contact the goblins. It will be quicker to deal with them than the Aurors’ office.”

“Why?” Harry asked with a frown. “These are for the Aurors, why would they delay?”

“It often takes months for the Auror Department to approve any new equipment or spells for use by their Aurors.” Severus looked at Harry. “All Aurors have small emergency potions kits, yes?” Harry nodded and Severus continued. “It took me nearly a year to get approval from the department to have a pain relieving balm included.”

“Nearly a year?” Harry’s eyes widened. That balm was one of the best things and was the most often used item in the whole kit.

“And when I was asked to supply the more efficient burns paste to be included, again it took six months,” Severus told him. “Even when they want something, it still takes a long time. The Department of Mysteries, while still having as much red tape as any other department, is simply more efficient, and quite honestly, more willing to recognise what is needed and to do it without all the blustering that the rest of the Ministry indulges in.”

“Okay, that sounds good,” Harry said. He looked from Severus to George. “I know this is all the Vincent Cottage, but I’d like to put Hocus Pocus down as the manufacturer of these. To keep it separate from the Wheezes. I don’t think the Ministry would take anything from WWW as being seriously meant.”

“True,” George agreed. “And with your and Severus’ input, it’s more than just Fred’s and mine anyway.”

“It’s your inspiration, though,” Harry said. “So it’s only right that it should be in your hands.”

Severus nodded, half listening as Harry and George settled on what they wanted on the contract. He kept working on the spells, marvelling again at just how creative the Weasley twins had been.

“Severus?” broke into his thoughts. He hadn’t made as many enhancements as he had been expecting.

“Hmm?” he looked up and found Harry gone and George watching him intently. “Yes?”

“What’s your deal with Harry?” George asked bluntly.

Severus blinked slowly as his eyebrows rose. “What?”

“You and Harry,” George replied. “You’re watching him a lot,” George pointed out and Severus frowned. “You’re always here when he comes around, and willing to put yourself out for him.” George tilted his head on one side. “Does he even know?”

Severus stared at George for a long moment. He didn’t think he’d been looking that much. Not enough to have been called on it. George met his dark eyes fearlessly. “Wow,” George exclaimed. “Do you even know?”

“Know what?” Severus asked with heavy reluctance. He had a sinking feeling that George had realised what Severus had been denying for several weeks.

George smirked and started laughing. “Oh Severus, you like him.”

Severus frowned. “Yes I like him,” he growled and almost winced when he heard how defensive he sounded. George heard it, too, if that widening smirk was anything to go by. “We are friends, after all,” he said, trying to recover.

“Friends,” George put out in an exaggerated long-suffering sigh. He lost his smirk and looked completely serious as he stated, “You do know he likes you too, don’t you.”

“How do you know?” Severus blurted without thinking, and then swallowed. “Why would you tell me that?”

“Because it’s true, and because you’re both my friends,” George said calmly. “You are stubborn, and so is Harry. I know you’d both pine away in oblivious misery for months, if not years, if nothing is said, so I’m interfering now to avoid all that.”

Severus stared at the unrepentant young man for a very long time. Long enough that George began to get nervous and felt like a First year in front of the severest professor Hogwarts had ever had.

“I am going to get in touch with Filius.” Severus suddenly spoke and George nearly jumped.

“Filius?”

“Professor Flitwick,” Severus supplied. “He is going to offer you a Charms Mastery and you are going to accept,” Severus said in such a commanding voice George felt himself nodding hurriedly. “When you get your Mastery, I will ask you to stand with me at a bonding.”

George gaped, his breath caught. “You… Sev…”

The black eyes gleamed at the redhead’s speechlessness and the faintest of smirks brushed his lips.

“But… but… seriously Severus?” George exclaimed in shock. “You’re saying you’d bond with Harry if I get a Charms Mastery?”

“You may think so if you wish,” Severus remarked. “And there is no question of ‘if’, but of ‘when’.”

George stared disbelieving as Severus smiled at him. “Consider it my way of thanking you for your interference.”

George could only stare as Severus swept out of the room.

 

Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes
Hogsmeade Branch
William Vincent Cottage

 

In the following year the Hogsmeade branch of Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes opened two weeks before the Hogwarts school year was due to start.

The sign hung on an ornate post by the front gate. It occasionally unhitched from the post, sprouted wings and spun in lazy circles around the yard. The cottage was fronted with a wide verandah that offered shelter and a chance to peer into the wide brightly lit windows.

The cottage had been completely renovated and now had a large ground floor fully stocked with all kinds of jokes and pranks. The room was a riot of colour and noise carefully designed to lead customers from one shelf to the next. Behind the counter was a small office and stairs leading to an upstairs apartment that stood vacant for the moment.

There was a large crowd. Many people had come to see the new shop. Unlike the opening for the first shop, Harry could see all the Weasleys here. He knew the twins had been disappointed at their parents’ lack of enthusiasm, but today more than made up for that. Somehow Molly had been talked into cooking and had a small buffet of enticing cakes and sweets on one side of the verandah.

George looked beyond proud as he welcomed everyone, and his smile was the brightest Harry had ever seen. The redhead was dressed in fine robes that kept changing colours. All the new staff wore similar robes. It made them easy to identify.

Harry and Draco, off-duty and in casual clothes, entered the yard and looked around in bemusement. George nodded at them and tilted his head to the side with a small wink. Draco nudged Harry and they moved to the side of the crowd. It was a bare minute later that George joined them.

“Severus said he had a surprise,” George told them in greeting. “Do you know what it is, Harry?”

Harry shook his head. “No, he hasn’t said anything to me. Draco?”

“Nope,” Draco grinned. “You two see him more than I do.”

They laughed and slipped behind the crowd in the front garden. The hedges that surrounded it had a small almost invisible gap and the young men made their way through it. Following a narrow path, they rounded the back of the house and went to the back shed.

A small sign read ‘Hocus Pocus’ next to the door and they entered without knocking.

Severus Snape was not brewing. He was dressed in fine but casual black robes, his hair tied back in a tail. He looked up from the book in his hands and smiled at them. Beside him stood a short brown-haired man they’d never met before.

“Gentlemen,” Severus said, his eyes gleaming as he closely watched them. “Allow me to introduce you to Master Vincent. Master Vincent these are Harry Potter, Draco Malfoy and the owner and creator of Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, George Weasley.”

The young men nodded and smiled in return, but all three were very familiar with their Potions Master and knew that gleam in his eye.

“Pleased to meet you, Master Vincent,” George said, hand outstretched in welcome.

“Likewise, Mr Weasley,” the brown haired man replied with a charming smile and a warm handshake.

“George, call me George,” George said.

“George,” Master Vincent repeated dutifully.

“I believe that you were still looking for a manager for the shop,” Severus began, and George looked at him sharply. His head lifted and he stared at Master Vincent.

“Wait! Vincent? As in the cottage Vincent? As in William Vincent?” George stared.

“Ah yes, William Vincent was my several times great great-Uncle,” Master Vincent confirmed. “I can never remember how many. The family has always believed he was a squib you know, so they never really wanted to acknowledge him.”

“Oh wow, this is great!” George gushed. “I hope he’d be happy with what we’ve done to the place.”

“Oh he would have completely approved. Sharing magic in whatever form – be it for Muggles or wizards – I like to believe is why he wrote his book. He couldn’t share real magic, but he could make the closest thing Muggles knew accessible to everyone.”

“My brother and I were fascinated by him, or rather his Muggle magic,” George told him. “We learnt very little about him because he just has that small mention in Muggle Studies, but we really wanted to know how it worked.”

“Well I really came here about the position, and as part of my application I do happen to …” Master Vincent said.

“Wait,” George interrupted again. “Position? What position?”

“Manager of the store,” Severus told him patiently. “Ironback recommended him.”

George swayed slightly. “Really?”

Harry and Draco manoeuvred him onto a stool and smiled at the redhead.

“I think that’s a yes,” Harry laughed.

George shook himself and sat upright. “I’m sorry. I just got a bit overwhelmed. Ironback’s a pretty good reference to have. Did you want to work here?”

“Yes, I would like to. I have been living and working in France with a magical toy company,” Master Vincent replied. “I have a Mastery in Transfigurations, and Master Snape and I have been discussing ways we could create new product lines.”

“That sounds great,” George said. “I feel a bit unprofessional doing this so suddenly, but yes, the job’s yours.”

“He also has a copy of his ancestor’s book,” Severus said softly, and George focused on the book in Severus’ hands.

“Oh Merlin,” George breathed, falling off the stool and staggering forward to stare at the book, his fingers a bare inch from the pages. He greedily took in the archaic print and illustrations. His hand shook as he gingerly touched the paper and turned a page. “I wish Fred could have seen this,” he murmured.

“Knowing your brother, he probably already has,” Draco muttered making Harry and Severus share a quick smile.

George ignored them, totally enthralled by the book in Severus’ hands. The pictures were simple, the words amusing in their outdated grammar. It wasn’t true magic, he could see that, he’d known that, but seeing how it worked, seeing the sleight of hand and showmanship required to make it appear to be real magic was fascinating.

“So many ideas,” he whispered to the book. “So many wonderful ideas.” He looked up at Master Vincent. “Welcome to the WWW Master Vincent,” he said

“Call me Vincent, George,” Master Vincent replied with a smile.

“Vincent?” Draco queried.

“Yes, Vincent Vincent.” Master Vincent shrugged. “My parents were very fond of jokes.”

Severus laughed along with the younger men as he placed the book gently in George’s hands.

 

 

“It’s not a bad ditch,” George told Severus.

They stood side by side looking at the shallow ditch by the side of the road into Hogsmeade. Water barely three inches deep flowed slowly through mossy weeds and Severus was fairly certain he’d seen several tadpoles swimming past.

“It certainly smells better than it did,” Severus noted. “And so do you.”

“I haven’t been close to being that drunk ever since,” George admitted.

“Good,” Severus replied.

“It was worth it though,” George said with a small smile and a sideways glance, and Severus looked at him with a deep frown.

“Spare me the effusive and gratuitous platitudes,” Severus almost growled.

“Don’t you want my undying and eternal gratitude for saving my life by dragging me out of this ditch and helping me become the amazing and successful man I am today?” George asked in an obviously hurt tone.

Severus snorted. “That is not what you said last week.”

“That was last week and Professor Flitwick wanted to test my progress,” George excused, recalling how frazzled he’d been. He’d spent an hour nervously pacing the lab and blaming Severus for having forced him into his Mastery studies.

“And now you know you are doing well,” Severus stated blandly. He was understating it, and they both knew it. Filius had been very pleased and had said so. He had also privately told Severus that he fully expected George to achieve the highest recorded score on his Mastery exams.

“I still need to say thank you,” George said seriously. “You didn’t have to help me as much as you did.” George meant it. He was very grateful Severus had agreed to have his hangover potion sold in the WWW. It was a side benefit when he realised just how creative the Potions Master could be. He’d created several potions and George had fallen over himself to get them in his shop. He'd even agreed to stocking novelty items as well when Severus had taken him into the Muggle world and shown him several shops.

“No, I didn’t have to,” Severus agreed. He contemplated the ditch and then looked at George. “Perhaps I felt a bit obligated to help you out of the ditch, and I could have left you straight afterwards without much regret. But I did not think of that at the time, and brought you instead, to my house. I do not apologise for that, nor do I need to be thanked. At the time it merely seemed to be the right thing to do.”

“And it’s been the best thing,” George said in a contented way. “I mean I can’t help but wish Fred was here too, but I know he’d be proud of what WWW is now.”

“Proud might not be the word I would use to describe the mayhem two of you would cause in that case,” Severus retorted.

George laughed and looked at side-eyed the taller man. “It might not be the first word you’d use, but I bet it would be there.”

And Severus could not disagree.

They walked on in a comfortable silence. Hogsmeade was overrun with students enjoying their weekend visit. While many of them waved to George, they were more wary of Severus and he smirked as the students gave them a wide berth. Whispers followed them as the students wondered just why the owner of the best shop in the world was with the nastiest professor in the world.

“You like their gossiping?” George half-whispered to the older man.

“Yes,” Severus murmured. “It keeps them on their toes.” He shrugged slightly. “It doesn’t do for a teacher to become complacent; there’s always a student looking to take advantage,” he added leadingly and George laughed. Severus’s smirk widened causing uneasy expressions to appear on more students’ faces.

Up ahead they could see students gathered around Vincent Cottage. The shop was doing better than anyone had expected. While the Diagon Alley store consistently had more visitors per day, the Hogsmeade branch had become a tourist attraction and was always busiest on weekends.

Having a descendent of William Vincent managing the shop had been a stroke of genius, and once word spread of the shop having a copy of a Muggle magic book, its success was assured. The book had been put on display and Severus had heard a rumour that the current Muggle Studies teacher was seeking permission to bring his class down to see it. Something called a ‘field trip’ that apparently Muggle students often partook in.

The tourists usually spent some money as well, but George had wanted to do something that would expand on the Muggle magic theme.

When Severus was young, one of his favourite books had been Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and while he had been pleased with the range of wizarding chocolate and sweets, he hadn’t found anything that matched the sheer silliness of a Wonka creation. And he had often wished otherwise. Muggles, he had found, often saw magic as something to have fun with, and that was something he and many of his contemporaries had lost sight of as they grew up under the shadow of the Dark Lord.

So Severus had remembered that book and begun experimenting. He’d asked Filius Flitwick to help. Together, and with George’s increasing adeptness with charms, they had created a range of sweets and treats. Square Sweets, Hot Ice-Cream, Fizzy Lifting Drinks, Wriggle Sweets and Luminous Lollies were just a few of their successes. George had also begun adapting others that were more suited as pranks, and Severus and Filius had both threatened him should Invisible Chocolate Bars appear in their classrooms.

Harry had laughed until he’d nearly cried when he had first seen the range, then he’d straightaway bought at least one of each. Most of the Muggleborn students had done the same. Depending on how they’d been raised, many of the half-bloods had eagerly spent money on the treats. It hadn’t taken more than a week before every student at Hogwarts wanted them. (And the library had suddenly acquired a small Muggle fiction section, although some students weren’t entirely convinced the books were fiction.)

Behind the store and behind the shed, a comprehensive potions garden was taking shape. George had enlisted Professor Sprout and Neville Longbottom to help and in another season it would be complete.

Hocus Pocus had expanded to include a Charms workshop, and George spent many happy hours there working hard at his Mastery when he wasn’t at his shops. Severus found himself there whenever he wasn’t needed at Hogwarts, and was beginning to consider leaving teaching for experimenting.

Harry Potter was standing near the small gate in the hedge and George nudged Severus when he spotted the Auror.

“Harry’s here… again,” he teased.

“Harry is the Auror representative,” Severus replied blandly.

“Harry is very diligent,” George said equally blandly.

“Indeed,” Severus agreed.

“When are you going to put him out of his misery?” George asked.

Severus looked at Harry. The young man appeared completely at ease as he leant against the hedge, his face was open and relaxed and he smiled as they neared him. Perhaps his eyes were a bit brighter and maybe his smile did widen more when he looked at Severus, but Severus didn’t comment on it because he knew that his own eyes were brighter and his smirk was more smile in return.

“He doesn’t look very miserable to me,” Severus remarked. And Severus knew he wasn’t. Harry Potter was making his own way in the Aurors. With the quality of George’s products and his own determination he had got the Ministry approval WWW had needed, and according to the gossip Severus didn’t admit to seeking out, Harry was showing leadership skills that would have him leading his own team within the next two years.

“Harry never does,” George pointed out.

“When are you getting your mastery?” Severus asked lightly.

“Another year, eighteen months at the most,” George replied.

“That sounds about right,” Harry said as he joined them, his hand brushing against Severus’ as they walked towards the shed. “I don’t think Angelina will wait much more than that,” he added.

George stopped and stared at them, eyes wide in his blushing face. “What? How did…” he hadn’t realised anyone had been aware of his relationship with Angelina, who worked in the Diagon Alley store when she wasn’t away playing Quidditch.

“It’s not really a secret,” Harry told him with a grin that Severus matched. “And I’m sure she’d love to be bonded to a qualified Charms Master.”

George mock scowled at the grinning pair. They were standing close together both amused and comfortable. George noticed the little snidget poking out of Harry’s breast pocket.

“And when do you plan on bonding to a qualified Potions Master?” he asked Harry.

“When he has a qualified Charms Master to stand by him,” Harry retorted quickly with a laugh.

Severus turned to enter Hocus Pocus and looked back at George. “Of course if Harry wasn’t set on you being that Charms Master, we could always ask Filius to stand in,” he remarked as he disappeared, leaving the pair of them to stare at each other.

“Wait, Sev! Really?” Harry shouted running after him, and George followed quickly, yelling.

“No! No! That’s my job!”