Strange Creatures
headers and warnings

Severus surveyed the dusty shelves in his work room, trying to gauge how many more commissions he could eke out of the ingredients left to him. He got out a scrap of cloth and began cleaning, checking the contents of each bottle and jar for freshness and reorganising with utmost care. Unfortunately, when he was done, the answer was still the same.

He was screwed.

"Bloody buggering hell!" he yelled, throwing the balled-up rag across the room -- and right into Remus Lupin's path.

"Bad day for dusting?" asked Lupin in his usual annoyingly calm manner. He bent and picked up the offending cloth and tossed it onto a nearby -- and thankfully empty -- workbench.

Severus scowled. "What are you doing here, Lupin?"

"Well, you left your Floo open and didn't answer when I called, so I figured you were-"

"Here in my house, here at all, not here in the lab," clarified Severus. It took all of his willpower not to just hex the stupid werewolf out of his life completely. "What do you want?"

"Ah, that." Lupin rubbed the back of his neck nervously, which didn't give Severus any confidence in the rest of the proceedings. "Well, you see, I was hoping we could work something out for the brewing of my Wolfsbane..."

"Gold up front or not at all," said Severus, snapping in his eagerness. The gold from Lupin's commission, even at a discount, might just be enough to pay for the missing ingredients for one or two of his other commissions.

Lupin flinched. "Perhaps... Some of it can be worked out in trade? I'm thinking of starting a business, you see, gathering ingredients."

Severus sagged, but he didn't discount the idea entirely. "As you can see," he said, sweeping a gesture to show his pathetically under-stocked shelves, "ingredients are something I am very much in need of."

Lupin looked startled, but a smile quirked up one side of his mouth. "If this is really all you have, then I think we can definitely work something out." He moved forward, eyes slipping along the shelves, mouth moving as he catalogued. "Why don't you give me a list? I will likely be needing the Wolfsbane for more than just myself, and so perhaps we can work out a balance of ingredients and gold, on both sides of the fence."

Despite the fact that it was Lupin's voice, the words were music to Severus' ears. "I need more than just Wolfsbane ingredients," he admitted, moving to his meagre stack of orders. "If you care to wait, I will give you a list in priority order."

Lupin nodded. "It'll be small batches for now. I haven't the wherewithal to mount larger expeditions."

Severus nodded, already making notes on another sheet of parchment. "I will give you my minimum requirements, then," he said absently, shuffling the sheets and trying to remember the exact proportions for Wolfsbane, "and hope you can exceed them enough to allow some new commissions once the old ones are filled."

"I'm going to go make some arrangements of my own. Do you have an owl to send along the list?" asked Lupin.

Anything to stop the infernal hovering. "I can owl it, yes," said Severus, though he'd have to use some of his precious spare Knuts to do it.

Lupin handed him an address, a rather seedy flophouse at the far end of Periffer Alley. "Here. There's a common Floo as well, if you'd rather," he said.

Severus nodded; Floo powder he had, as its ingredients were cheap and abundant, even if the process was tedious. It wasn't as though he'd had much else to do lately, and sometimes he could sell a bit to a client on the side, if he had it all made up. "I'll do that."

"I'll just let myself out," said Lupin.

Severus' attention was already on the problem of ingredients, and he barely noticed Lupin leave. He had more important things to worry about -- like hope.

Though reluctant to trust in good fortune, Severus was nonetheless determined to wring every bit of it out of the situation before it left him again. Between Lupin's deliveries and the meagre gold supplied by himself and his fellow unfortunates, Severus was able to get ahead of his orders once more.

"I'm going to find a partner," Lupin announced one afternoon a few weeks later, while Severus was trying to weigh out a small pile of frost-rimed High-Altitude Hellebore leaves.

Severus scowled. "I don't want strangers parading and out of my Floo all day," he said, objecting out of habit as much as anything.

"I've already chosen someone," said Lupin. "It won't be a stranger, but I expect you to whinge about it anyway."

"I do not whinge." Severus gave the scales a final tap and announced, "Thirteen ounces, seven drams."

Lupin snorted, marking down the measure anyway. "It's someone quite good in Herbology, who proved his mettle in the war, but."

"But, like many of my students, the loathing was mutual," supplied Severus, tired of his pussyfooting. "Is it Potter?"

Remus laughed. "No, no, Harry's quite well off with his Quidditch. It's Neville Longbottom."

Severus' eyes narrowed, and he swept the Hellebore back into its jar, labelling it with the weight, date and source. He completed the task and filed the herbs away on his shelf before turning back to Lupin, getting some small satisfaction out of the worry on the man's face. "Longbottom is not allowed in my lab when I am brewing," he said, then paused for effect, "but I will accept ingredients procured with his assistance."

Lupin sagged, clearly relieved, and Severus turned away to hide his smirk. "I'll owl him today, then. I kept aside a few samples for him, Hellebore and the Lunar Lilacs, though the Grackleberries aren't ripe yet."

"I have some in my stores, but I would prefer to save them against future need." It went without saying that what stock he had was bought with Lupin's gold, and he distracted them both from commenting on it by pulling out the next item to weigh.

They settled back into their routine, half a dozen ingredients this time and a small balance of coin against tomorrow's brewing. The one good thing about their arrangement, as far as Severus was concerned, was that the full moon came every month without fail.

That sort of need, he thought as he double-checked his stores against his mental list of Wolfsbane ingredients, was something he'd take over good fortune any day.

Snape's business had already been improved by the increase in access to supplies, but he still occasionally had moments of pure frustration. He got a desperate owl from Fudge's Healer asking for a difficult and rare potion containing ingredients he could only hope that Lupin and his new protege were harvesting even now.

If they couldn't provide what he needed, then Snape might well be ruined when it got out that he'd accepted an urgent commission and been unable to fulfil it, even for someone so universally loathed as the former Minister.

He sent off the strongest, fastest express owl that the Owl Office could provide, and set about preparing everything he could without the precious missing ingredients.

When Lupin arrived at his Floo, the first thing Snape asked was, "Did you get everything?"

Lupin nodded and smiled genially. "Yes, of course, even the Air Ferns, which Neville harvested-"

"Good," interrupted Snape. "About the gold... The commission is pay on delivery, so I can't pay you today, but I assure you my credit is good," he said, the last as much for the newly-arrived Longbottom's benefit as Lupin's.

"You'll have a partial payment at least, I t-trust?" stammered Longbottom.
Snape glared, then nodded. "I have an amount sufficient for our usual transaction, but I am well aware that Air Ferns and Snow Pods do not come cheaply," he said. "Once the potion is paid for, I will forward you your portion of the proceeds."

"What happened?" Remus asked.

Snape turned and opened the hidden entrance to his working laboratory, which was much cleaner and sadly emptier than the main one. "I am told it was an incendiary device," he said, wand directing the miniature trunks to rest, one on each table.

Remus enlarged them, voice holding the usual maddeningly mild amusement as he asked, "Who's the potion for, Severus?"

"Fudge," said Snape with distaste.

"So he'll be able to pay, but most Apothecaries won't brew for him," said Longbottom, opening one of the trunks. "Do you have somewhere to store the live plants once they're out of the stasis orbs?"

Snape's eyebrows shot up in surprise. "Since when can you afford stasis orbs, Lupin?" he asked, ignoring Longbottom as much as possible.

"Neville bought them," said Remus, smirking.

"Ah," said Snape, as if that explained everything. He summoned a set of scales and began the tedious task of decanting and weighing all the ingredients, he and Lupin falling into the rhythm of habit and nearly forgetting that there was a third party in the room.

Once they got the first trunk unpacked, Snape's eyes came to rest reluctantly on Longobottom. "Though your aptitude with potions is abysmal," he said, though it pained him to continue, "you appear marginally competent in your chosen profession." There was a long pause while Longbottom and Remus both stared at Snape as though he'd grown an extra head, and he finally gave in and clarified. "It will go faster if you aid us."

"Shall I weigh?" Longbottom asked, moving toward the second trunk.

After that everything went with remarkable smoothness, so much so that even Snape couldn't help but admit, at least to himself, that Longbottom had proved an excellent choice of partner for Lupin. They even offered to extend him further credit, of the sort that could truly mean the difference between an established business and this constant, tiring teetering on the edge of failure.

By the time he managed to finish Fudge's potion and send it winging away to its intended recipient with a suitably large bill, he had almost managed to tamp down the seething resentment that his success would be largely due to two of his former nemeses.


Three days later, rather than the expected visit with the latest batch of ingredients, Snape got an owl from Longbottom.

Prof Mr. Snape,

I'm afraid the delivery of your ingredients will be delayed. Remus has fallen from an Adam's Apple tree, and he needs some potions, listed below. Ian Fizzitch, the doctor in Hogsmeade, says Remus needs them and will need something to take even during the moon, and I told him you were really good and could help out.

Even though the pollen was removed from his system, he's got a lung infection and some other injuries, so he's supposed to have bed rest. I can deliver stuff to you once he's all settled in, everything's preserved properly, but if you need any of the forest plants for Remus' potions please owl back.

Here the handwriting changed for the inventory of potions and dosing instructions, and the list was far more distressing and informative than Longbottom's rambling, unsigned note.

Snape got to work. Most of the ingredients were local -- bloodmoss and Inhaling Ivy grew wild in his own ruined conservatory, other things he'd cultivated in his small potions garden or could buy fresh from the local farmers. He was glad of the extra Feather Pollen, not to mention the Viscosity Vines, that rounded out the recipes and left him with nothing he had to buy, no gold that had to go out with nothing coming in to replace it. He occupied the time while things simmered by calculating the cost he could reasonably deduct from his current credit balance.

It was better than thinking about Lupin struggling to breathe, relying on Snape's skills to keep him alive when at one time Snape would have liked nothing more than see him dead.

The calculations for modifying the healing potions to fit with the Wolfsbane were maddening, and Snape ended up having to modify the Wolfsbane just a little to accommodate them, which put him behind schedule for everything else. He kept watching the clock as the Wolfsbane brewed, knowing he wouldn't even have time for a proper cleanup if he was going to get to Remus in time. Everything was packed and ready for his trip, and he had cleaned and put away every single ingredient and piece of equipment he could.

At this point, he was reduced to pacing, counting off the time between additions and then finally, finally setting the hourglass for the last three-minute brew before he could decant it and be on his way.

He could only be grateful that he'd managed to get the dosing down to a single one on the day of the full moon, instead of the week of brewing he'd spent back at Hogwarts. For once, he didn't even care about the expense of the ingredients but the time, Lupin's health ticking away second by second.

When the last grain of sand trickled out of the hourglass, Snape doused the flame, decanted the potion into a goblet, and picked up the cauldron he'd prepared for the evening's brewing.

Snape took a deep breath, then triggered the system he'd set up to release Floo powder into the fireplace when his hands were full. He stepped through with every bit of dignity he had wrapped around him, carefully suppressing the alarm he felt both at seeing Remus' wan face, and Neville puttering about in the kitchen.

"Welcome to our home, Severus," said Remus cheerfully, though his voice was weak and rough around the edges.

"You sound terrible, how long has it been since you had your last dose?" Snape asked, getting straight to business. He stepped over to Remus, eyes flicking over the detritus of convalescence disdainfully as he held out the goblet.

Remus tried to clear his throat, which turned into a coughing fit. This drew Neville out of hiding with a tea tray and said, "He took the last of it three and a half hours ago, so he's about half an hour from needing another, which we don't have."

Remus sipped water carefully, then took the goblet from Snape in silence. Snape replied to Neville's implied criticism of his skills with a derisive tone, "I will endeavour to give him something before the time limit runs out; I am aware of the importance of regular dosing with this sort of illness."

"Wolfsbane now?" Remus asked, not sounding at all thrilled with the idea. At Snape's nod he made a resigned face and gulped it down, handing back the empty vessel to Snape, still smoking. "God, that tastes awful."

"Give it a moment to absorb and then you can have tea," said Snape, turning to set down the cauldron so he could prepare a cup while Longbottom hovered.

"Thank you, Severus," said Remus, accepting the tea with a gracious nod.

"Your pet Healer owled me, and I have prepared a base potion that I need only refine with a few last ingredients once I have seen the injury for myself," said Snape, drawing his wand and examining Remus. The damage was just as extensive as the prescription had suggested, and Snape made a few mental adjustments to his plans, not only for tonight's potions but improving the efficacy of the regular regimen that Remus would resume tomorrow.

Snape turned to begin the brewing and had to manoeuvre around Neville as well as the overabundant furniture. "I assume the kitchen is the only space available for brewing?" he asked, masking his worry with contempt.

"Yes, that's fine. Do you need any of the things we gathered in the forest?" Neville asked, flushing.

Snape shook his head and snagged his cauldron, sweeping into the kitchen and spreading his things out on the meagre counter space. He was glad he'd brought his own tools, though he'd use the cutting board they provided and be sure to clean it thoroughly when he was done so he didn't inadvertently poison them all.

"He's just not used to having friends who wouldn't kill or betray him to suit their purposes," said Remus, just as though Snape couldn't hear them.

"I doubt he thinks of me as a friend," replied Neville, and Snape felt the prickle of eyes on his back. He did his best to ignore it, though he made no pretence of not listening in as he got the tiny stove burning beneath his cauldron. Fortunately, the base was something he could make ahead of time, and only a few refinements would have to be added before the first dose would be ready to drink.

"Would you want to be?" asked Remus, his voice as nonchalant as it could be when he sounded like he'd been gargling glass.

Neville paused, and Snape felt himself tensing up, readying for the inevitable, and in this case likely deserved, rejection. "I don't think we'd ever be like Ian, I mean, I'd die of sheer embarrassment if I tried to play gin with Snape with your cards, but yeah, I think I would."

"Still playing with your naughty deck, L- Remus?" said Snape from the kitchen, unwilling to let them talk about him as though he wasn't there any longer. The name tasted strange on his tongue, but he found he didn't mind it so much, the idea of casual acquaintances.

"And it still plays back," said Remus, mild and teasing. "Did you want to have a bit of strip poker when you come visit tomorrow?"

"Longbottom would faint," said Snape coldly, though inwardly he was amused at the idea.

Neville surprised him by replying defiantly, "I'm game if you are, but you have to call me Neville."

Remu mock-whispered, "He's almost as big as me."

"You haven't seen it in over fifteen years," said Snape, chopping and stirring and pointedly not looking their way, "how do you know I didn't have a last growth spurt?"

Remus let out a wheezing little chuckle, but managed to get down enough tea to stave off coughing. "How do you know I didn't either, Severus?"

"Your pants would fit lopsided if you had any more stuffed into them, Remus," said Snape. He added the final pinch of Feather Pollen and began to count off thirteen seconds, wand ready to douse the flames.

Neville snorted his drink, then offered, "Want some tea?"

Snape decanted the first potion, then turned and found that Neville was speaking not to Snape but a small Eyelight plant hiding under the table. "I take mine with lemon," he said sardonically, and Neville nearly hit his head on the table, staring up at the long expanse of black robes to Snape's face. His eyes didn't linger long at a certain bump along the smooth line of fabric, but Snape noticed anyway.

"Yes, sir, er, Severus," said Neville, making up the last cup of tea while Snape fed Remus the potion.

Snape had to slide his arm around Remus' shoulders, supporting his head while his throat worked to drink as fast as Snape was pouring. A line of thin green potion slipped from one side of the cup and down Remus' chin, but it wasn't enough to affect the dosage.

"Will he need to take anything else before you come back tomorrow?" Neville asked, still standing there holding Snape's cup and saucer as he stared.

"I will be staying the night, in case the potions interact poorly," said Snape, easing Remus back down onto the pillows.

"Well, no strip poker tonight," said Neville nervously. "No fair when one of us has to s-start naked."

Snape turned toward him and took the cup, standing in front of the warm fire as he took a sip. "You will, of course, show me this marvellous conservatory bath that Lup-" Snape paused, then sighed. "That Remus has told me so much about, during the transformation. He will be safe after, but during it would be best not to tempt a beast in pain with fresh meat quite so nearby." It would take time getting used to the idea of having people in his life who wanted to be on a first-name basis with him.

"Should we take Stuart?" Neville asked, sitting and reaching down to let the little plant twine its fronds with his fingers.

Snape's eyes flickered down to it, surprised at the gentle affection in Neville's usually clumsy fingers. "It is alive enough to attract attention. Although I'm sure it smells like plant and not animal, it's best to be cautious."

"Don't worry," said Remus, potion wiped away and a wry, painful smile on his lips, "Snape knows firsthand that I'm safe when I've got my Wolfsbane."

"That's why you gave him the Wolfsbane first," said Neville, sipping his tea with a little sigh. "Remus, are you worried I'll be afraid of you?" he asked.

"Of course he is," snapped Severus irritably. "But it is also true that the Wolfsbane is least effective during the pain of transformation." It was inevitable that the experience would bring back some of Snape's worst childhood memories, but Snape was a man now and he wasn't about to let the scarring of his fifteen-year-old's psyche ruin the best thing that had happened to him in a long time, both socially and professionally.

"Oh," said Neville, sighing once more. The silence stretched out while they all sipped their tea, until he broke it again. "So, gin, then?"

"Gin," agreed Snape, smirking. "I might as well enjoy something about this evening, even if it's just a handsome deck of pornographic playing cards."

He was quite satisfied to see Neville's eyes go wide with shock. It might not be friendship yet, but it was certainly entertaining.

Snape spent the next three hours paying less attention to his cards than his companions. This recent emergency had reminded him rather sharply of how fragile their arrangement was, and how much he was relying on their goodwill. Not only that, but it was strangely comforting to spend time with someone who was neither fearful nor condescending to him, especially as Neville's anxiety seemed to ebb into something resembling comfort.

He tried not to think about the idea of friendship -- despite Albus' insistence that they were friends, Snape had never really considered himself capable of having or keeping such relationships.

Instead, he considered a proposal he'd rejected out of hand originally, feeling that none of them could or would want to put up with their personality clashes for long. It seemed his original assumptions about the difficulties were exaggerated, and he forced himself to acknowledge that the potential benefits might outweigh any problems.

He was pulled out of his reverie by Remus' increasingly risque remarks, a sign that the moon would rise soon. "The moon is like a drug in this stage," said Snape, gathering the cards and returning them to their box.

"So, he'd do it, but he'd be embarrassed tomorrow?" Neville asked.

Snape nodded, then stood, pocketing the deck for safe-keeping. "We should clear the centre of the room for him."

"I'll get the tea things," said Neville, gathering up all their cups and slipping them onto the tray. He retrieve the Eyelight's saucer, taking a moment to pat the little plant. "I won't forget you," he said gently.

"That," said Remus while Neville disentangled his hand, "is an arse a man could sink his teeth into."

Neville picked up the rock and stood, staring at Remus in shock.

"Somehow, Remus, I don't think he appreciates the compliment," said Snape with a mischievous smirk.

"You're going to regret that when you're well," said Neville, sticking his tongue out at Remus and tucking Stuart into the front of his robes. He carried the full tea tray into the kitchen while Snape stood up and used his wand to levitate the furniture to the edges of the room.

Remus shoved the blankets off his lap and started to undress. "I'm hot," he said, eyes looking otherworldly and frightening.

"It's time," said Snape, retrieving the bedding and leaving it in a pile on the loveseat. He tried not to look at Remus like a creature, like a monster, but that now-hazy memory was still lingering inside him and he knew that no matter what his potions did, that furious animal lurked just under Remus' skin tonight.

"Right," said Neville, leading him down the hall. Snape paused, turned, and used his wand to set the loveseat across the hallway entrance.

"Our loo awaits," said Neville nervously.

Snape followed him in and Neville locked the door behind them. Snape swallowed, then took advantage of the relative privacy and Neville's anxious inattention to say, "I find myself in the unusual position of having my mind changed." Snape kept his back to the door as he toyed with the Finger Fern, letting the playful plant twine its soft fronds around his fingers. He pulled them back until they were out of reach, then wiggled them back into its grip again and again.

"I, er, about what, s- Severus?"

"You have grown beyond the bumbling idiot I was forced to teach, and are showing a surprising amount of common sense for a Gryffindor." He paused to tuck a lock of hair back behind his ear and out of the fern's reach. "The foolish bravery is to be expected."

"Thanks," said Neville, sitting on the edge of the tub and looking more than a bit floored. "You're not nearly so unpleasant as you used to be, either."

Snape was surprised into laughter, a full-throated thing, rich with genuine humour. "A compliment indeed, Neville."

Neville watched Snape play with his plant a few minutes longer and finally blurted, "Why?"

A muffled thump came from the other room, followed by sounds that might have been an animal in pain. Snape felt his shoulders tense, and he gave in and ran his fingers across the plant's fronds in a gentle caress. "Why what, Neville?" said Snape mildly.

"Why bother telling me?" Neville asked.

"I believe that it was foolish of me to refuse outright your offer to build your greenhouse on my lands. We could both benefit financially, and I find that your company is neither as disruptive nor tedious as I had expected based on our prior acquaintance." Snape forced out the words, concentrating on his proposal rather than the noises outside the door, focusing on intellect rather than the creeping fear that threatened to send him fleeing before the real moment of truth was even upon them.

"Oh," said Neville, followed by an unsure pause. A howl erupted from the other room, seeming perilously close, and Neville stood and moved next to Snape. "We can Apparate out if he comes for us."

"It's good you realise he's not always going to be your friend when he is the beast," said Snape, moving just slightly away, out of the Finger Fern's reach and Neville's personal space both.

"I'm smarter than I look," said Neville with a wry little smile that drew an answering chuckle from Snape.

"So it would seem," said Snape. He held his hand up for silence, hearing that the sounds from the living room had died down. There was still a feeling, a presence beyond the door that he knew neither of them really want to see. Tonight Remus was both a client in need and a personal challenge for Snape, however, and Snape wouldn't throw away everything he'd gained over foolish squeamishness and boyhood fears.

Neville surprised Snape by smiling softly and saying, "We have to come out of the loo sometime, unless you want to try shagging in the bathtub."

As humour it wasn't exactly the most tasteful thing Neville could have said, but it did tease a smirk from Snape. "I'm not the teeth-sinking sort," he shot back, turning to unlock the door. The hallway was anticlimactically empty, and they both drew their wands as they walked side by side to the mouth and its inadequate barrier.

Snape's eyes went straight to Remus, and he felt the fear go out of him in a rush. The werewolf was curled up in a forlorn ball on the rug in front of the fire, tail over its nose and amber eyes gazing sadly up at them. His fur, rather than the matted brown-black that Snape remembered from the tunnel, was the same grey-streaked light brown as his hair was. The grey had more pattern in the wolf than the man, darker down the back and almost silver on the underside of the bushy tail. His muzzle was an eerie cross between wolf and a man, and the eyes held an intelligence that only the success of the Wolfsbane could account for.

"Are you all right?" Neville asked, still standing behind the loveseat, hand plucking nervously at its worn fabric.

Remus' ears perked up, and the head nodded, tail twitching just a little. "Are you going to eat us?" Snape asked, his voice flat and sarcastic. Some things, it was better to be sure of rather than count on appearances. Black and Potter had taught him that, and Lupin with them, though he hadn't truly learned his lesson until Tom Riddle.

The shaggy head shook back and forth, then tilted to one side. Remus whined like a dog who's been told to sit and just wants someone to pet it or give it a bone. Neville pushed the loveseat away and moved into the room. "It's going to drive you crazy, not being able to say anything about Snape's teasing all night, isn't it?" he asked, moving forward with one hand out as though Remus were a strange dog and he still wasn't quite sure if he was going to be licked or bitten.

Remus waited patiently for Neville to kneel down next to him, everything about his posture as unthreatening as one could be, when one was a giant wolf. "You're really in there, aren't you?" said Neville, holding his hand out for Remus to sniff.

Remus obliged, first snuffling at Neville's knuckles, then slurping over them with his pink tongue. Neville laughed and plunged his fingers into the fur behind Remus' ears as though Remus were really just a big puppy and not a werewolf.

"Take care he doesn't nick you with a fang by accident," said Snape, using his wand to reposition the furniture around the two of them.

"We'll be careful," said Neville, smiling now. Remus' eyes were smiling, too, half-closed in pleasure from the absurd treatment, tail thumping heavily against the carpet while Neville scratched and petted his soft fur.

"Tea?" Snape asked, moving away from them. He wasn't afraid anymore, precisely, but he needed a moment to reconcile the playful creature on the hearth with his memories, not to mention needing to set things up for brewing the lung potions for Remus in this form and tomorrow's as well.

"Please," said Neville, followed by an eyeball poking curiously out of his robes. "And an extra saucer for Stuart." Remus' head came up and his ears perked, and Neville laughed. "And, apparently, a bowl for Remus as well."

That final incongruity dissolved the last of Snape's fear, and when he returned with the tray, one long-fingered hand came and gave Remus a pat on the head. "His fur is very soft," said Snape quietly, fingers slipping deeper into the fur in spite of himself.

"I was surprised, too." They stayed there like that for long moments, just stroking Remus as though he were a family pet and not a dangerous Dark creature, and Neville smiled when their fingers met in the course of their wanderings. "It's a bit like petting a tiger in the zoo."

"Or befriending an old enemy," said Snape quietly. He knew that the softness of Neville's touch wasn't for him, but he let himself enjoy the contact anyway, and when he saw the expression on Neville's face he spent a moment envying Remus that anyone, even Longbottom, would hold him in such regard.

Snape straightened and began to serve the tea. "I have proposed to your partner, Remus, and will now propose to you that we revisit your earlier suggestion of building your greenhouses on my property," he said, serving Neville first, and then the little Eyelight once it was back in its spot. "I know you cannot discuss it now, but this way you have all evening to ponder how you will persuade me to accept an absurdly low rent or whatever else you had planned," he added wryly, pouring a bowl of tea for Remus and adding milk and honey.

Remus made a hopeful little whine, then began lapping at the tea. He sneezed once, but that was the only sign that the medicinal potions were less than perfect, so Snape considered the evening a success.

"Good boy," said Neville teasingly, scratching at Remus' ears and ruff. He turned to Snape with a sheepish expression and said, "Well, Remus can't really play, but did you want to try some more gin?"

Snape produced the cards with a nod. "One game, and then I will start his next batch of potions. He has several that need to be brewed especially for tonight, and then of course I will need to brew a follow-up regimen for tomorrow, to make up for any backsliding due to his transformation."

Neville grinned. "I can always read to Remus while you do, I promise to stay out of the kitchen as long as you keep me in tea."

"That, Mr. Longbottom, is a deal," said Snape with a chuckle. He shuffled and began to deal, wondering at the life he'd made where tea with a werewolf was something approaching congenial.

The next morning they managed to get Remus bathed, dressed, dosed and back in his chair. Snape even took it upon himself to make sure that they got at least one good meal. While Neville handled the bathing and dressing, Snape puttered about in the kitchen, this time with food instead of potions ingredients. By the time Remus was tucked into his blankets, Snape had constructed omelettes for all of them, squeezed fresh blood orange juice, and made toast and tea.

He didn't even feel all that self-conscious about his nightshirt when he took a good look at Neville's pyjamas and the kittens gambolling about on them.

"Ham and cheese is acceptable, I trust?" he said, bringing the tray into the parlour.

"Ooh, omelettes!" said Neville, grinning. "Ham and cheese is brilliant."

Remus chuckled, then coughed until Snape plied him with water. "Potion first for you, I think," he said, reaching up on the mantle to grab the next dose and flip the hourglass.

"Thank you," rasped Remus, drinking it with a willingness that showed just how ill he felt, given his previously stated opinion on the taste.

Snape let the flutter of concern in his chest be, for now; he refrained from quashing it as a lesson in maintaining such relationships. He put the energy to good use making up tea and buttering toast, arranging an enlarged napkin over Remus' lap and even floating the saucer within arms' reach so he could concentrate on eating. "Food next, then you can have your juice," he said, nodding toward the blood-red liquid in small glasses gracing the tray.

"What is that?" asked Neville, looking faintly green.

Snape snorted and rolled his eyes. "I had extra blood oranges left from his brewing, so I juiced them."

Neville was clearly unconvinced. "But it's not really blood, is it?"

"They're just like regular oranges," assured Remus from around a mouthful of eggs, "only red inside."

"If you say so," said Neville.

Snape snorted. "I am not a vampire, you know, and even if I was, I would not be inclined to share." He sat with as much decorum as his nightshirt allowed and dug into his own breakfast.

Neville giggled, and Remus made the sort of face one makes when laughter is bound to end in tears, or at least coughs.

They had most of the meal polished away and Neville had cleared all but the tea -- and even drunk his full glass of juice -- when the Floo flared green, ejecting its traveller right into Snape's lap.

"Sorry, sorry, I never did get the hang of... Oh, Professor," said Harry bloody Potter. "What're you doing here?"

Snape was suddenly far more aware of his state of undress. "I am caring for an ill client," said Snape, attempting to pull together what little dignity he could have with a lap full of Potter. "What are you doing here?"

"Oh, right, sorry," said Harry, levering himself up and dusting off. "Hermione owled to tell everyone that Remus was sick, so Molly designated me deliverer of foodstuffs." He produced a tiny basket, which he enlarged with a waggle of his eyebrows and a flourish of his wand. "We all know how Neville is with the cooking."

"I can make tea," said Neville with a wry smile and a rude gesture.

"Ooh, brilliant, can I have a cup?" asked Harry cheerily.

Snape stood, draining the last of his tea. "I can see I am no longer needed," he said, spelling his cup clean and handing it to Harry. "May I use your facilities to clean up before I take my leave?"

"Of course, Severus," said Remus, eyes warm and a little sad. "You're welcome to stay, you know."

Severus looked over the tiny room and raised one eyebrow expressively. "Stay where, precisely?"

Neville laughed. "You do have a point. Go on, I promise to keep Harry out of your bath as long as you promise not to harvest Alice."

Snape decided not to dignify that with a response, especially given the glint of mischief in Potter's eyes.

It would all, he hoped, be better once he was wearing trousers.

When Snape stopped in the next day for tea and a progress report, he found himself face-to-face with Potter yet again. "You just missed Neville and Ian," said Potter cheerfully from the kitchen. "There's plenty of tea left, though -- Remus hasn't eaten yet and I just got here."

"Neville's gone with Ian to settle our bill," said Remus, his voice rough and faint.

Snape felt that unfamiliar pang of concern again, and wondered what he'd do when it became as familiar as the contempt, disdain and annoyance he was used to. "You need more throat-soothing herbs in your potions," he said, stepping over to give Remus a cursory examination.

"Sorry," said Remus contritely, though his eyes were sparkling. "Harry keeps making me laugh."

Snape snorted. "Doesn't he have some foolish game to play?" he asked pointedly.

"Season's over," said Potter, setting down a tray overflowing with food and tea and even pumpkin juice. "Now tuck in, Molly will only send more tomorrow."

Snape finished his evaluation, using his wand to look at Remus' red throat and asking him a few more questions about the side effects and dosing schedule of his potions, taking mental notes for what to alter in the next batch. It was ironic that, after years of deprivation, the werewolf was finally receiving some of the most personalised and skilled medical care that could be bought. At least, if Fizzitch lived up to his reputation; Snape was egotistical enough to acknowledge that his own brewing skills were exceptional.

"Make sure you keep up your strength, and I will see what can be done for your throat," said Snape. He paused and considered making up some errand, but the tea smelled too good to pass up just because he'd have to force his company on Potter.

So, he sat on the loveseat and served himself a plate, then poured tea for all three of them while Potter gave Remus his own share of the feast.

"Harry's offered to help Neville finish up the harvest," said Remus, once he'd had a few sips of his tea. "We had a good haul the first day, but this will let us round out the seasonal offerings."

"That is excellent," said Snape, nibbling on a pasty and finding it to have savoury ground beef and rice inside. "I will need more lemon mint and mystic mint, especially if they can arrange a night-time harvest. I have nearly denuded my own plants for your potions."

"Can you leave a note for Neville?" asked Potter. "He'll know where to find it." The last was so full of confidence as to be nearly defensive, and Snape couldn't resist baiting him a little.

"Are you sure?" Snape asked, shooting Remus a wink. "From what I remember in school, he had trouble finding his own bollocks some days."

Potter looked shocked, then glanced over at Remus' wry amusement and cracked up laughing. "Perhaps you need help finding your own bollocks, Severus?" asked Potter sweetly, when he recovered. "I know you haven't had much use for them lately, but I'd be happy to assist you."

Snape snorted, and Remus made a desperate little wheeze as he tried not to crack up laughing and send himself into another fit. "I'd be more likely to entrust them to Longbottom," said Snape primly, though he kept an eye on Remus in case they went too far. "At least he wouldn't try to toss them through a hoop."

"Severus is hung like a beater's bat, Harry, your hoop might not be able to take it," said Remus with a very ginger sort of chuckle, immediately followed up with tea.

"Oh, I don't know," said Potter, giving Snape a disconcerting up-and-down look. "He seems like he'd be brilliant at helping me catch the Snitch."

If Snape didn't know better, he'd almost think Potter was flirting with him. "My bollocks are not available for team sports," he said. "You'd best continue your player tryouts elsewhere, Potter."

Potter snorted. "Call me Harry when you're calling me a slut, please," said Harry, sweetness overlaying something that might have been hurt.

"Nonsense," said Snape. "It's always wise to try before one buys, Harry, it's just a shame your interview process isn't more selective."

Harry barked out a laugh, and he bumped Snape's shoulder with his. "You're saying I should be looking harder for Mr. Right instead of Mr. Right Now?"

Remus snorted. "Maybe he's just jealous you aren't offering him an exclusive contract."

"It'd have to be a very impressive tryout for that," said Harry, glancing back at Snape with entirely too much speculation in his eyes, "but he's doing well enough I might owl for his CV."

"I wasn't aware I was interviewing for the position," said Snape dryly, though he was inwardly amused at the idea of it. Harry's conquests were infamous, and Snape couldn't imagine how much more notorious they'd become when it was learned that Severus Snape was among their number. "Is there a line?"

"I've freed up my schedule," said Harry lightly. "I never bother with one-on-one games during the off season unless they're serious about a full-time position."

Snape raised an eyebrow. "But during the season you're more willing to test-drive any old broom?" he asked, pleased with the colour that was filling Remus' face as he tried not to laugh at their absurd banter.

Harry shrugged and looked down into his tea. "The ones I meet during the season never want full-time, just a pickup game," he said quietly.

"Well, Severus is a full-time job all his own," said Remus cheerfully, ignoring Harry's moment of self-pity. "You'd have to have special training just to ride his whopper of a broom."

"Oh, I dunno," said Harry, the gleam back in his eye as though it had never left, "I think I could probably manage, if I put my mind to it."

"My broom will remain in its cupboard," said Snape, with a tone that brooked no argument. Then he let his curiosity get the better of him and added, "Besides, I would think you were the sort to wield the bat."

For some reason, that was the thing that finally sent Remus off into laughter followed by coughing, but he managed to get it under control with some strong black tea straight from the pot and a few moments to just rest and breathe. "What," he wheezed, swallowing another gulp of tea before trying again, "What do pyjama trousers have in common with Harry and Neville?" he asked.

Snape's brows furrowed, and Harry chuckled. "Have the potions addled your wits, Remus?" asked Snape.

Remus shook his head and took another sip, eyes sparkling despite the roughness of his voice. "They're pairs of bottoms in need of the right top."

Harry laughed delightedly, and Snape snorted. "As you say," he conceded, as clearly he had misread Harry's personality in that regard. Not that he had been thinking of Harry in that regard.


Once tea was done Snape Flooed, not home, but over to the physician's office where he could speak with both Neville and Ian about Remus' condition. "Severus," said Neville with concern, when Snape stepped out of the fireplace. "Is Remus all right?"

"Your pet wolf is as good as can be expected, and currently in Pot- Harry's tender care," said Snape, pulling out a roll of parchment. "I came to discuss his treatments with the two of you."

"I don't know anything about that," said Neville, looking worried.

Snape rolled his eyes. "You do, however, give him his potions every day, and watch over him like a particularly devoted mother hen," he said. "Your assistance will be invaluable if I am to refine his potions."

"What did you have in mind?" asked Ian, his professional curiosity clearly piqued. "Let's sit and have a cup of tea, though if you've just seen Harry, I won't try to ply you with biscuits. That lad's as bad as a house elf for feeding you."

Snape couldn't help but laugh at the image. "He does seem to enjoy being of service," he said, shooting Neville an amused look. He waited until Ian had gone to fetch the tea before asking, "Will we be seeing much of him?"

Neville flushed. "For the next few weeks, until training for the winter season starts, anyway," he said, chin going up defiantly. "He's really helping us out, and I won't have you baiting him."

"He baited me first, if you will recall," replied Snape mildly, but with just enough edge to his tone to remind Neville that he'd never been a man who dealt well with annoyances. Or blame.

Neville flushed. "I guess so," was all he said.

Ian returned with the tea, and that gave them all something to do to avoid the upcoming conversation a while longer. "I noticed," said Snape, once his tea was prepared and his notes and quill at the ready, "that Remus was especially hoarse today."

"Harry tries not to make him laugh," said Neville apologetically, "but it only makes things worse."

Snape nodded. "So it's not a side effect of the new dose?"

"I don't think so," said Neville, brows furrowing. "I didn't notice it before Harry was here, anyway."

"Still, extra throat soothers would not be unwelcome," said Snape, making a note. "I will need more lemon mint and mystic mint, especially night-harvested."

"We'll get them, Harry said he might be able to get Ron to do a night run with us," said Neville, resolve hardening. Snape made a mental note to owl over a revised wish list of day and night-harvested ingredients.

"How is his dosing schedule? Does he have as much trouble during the last half hour before he takes a new potion?"

Neville blinked, then smiled. "No, I don't think he does. Whatever you changed fixed that problem."

"What did you change?" asked Ian, getting into the conversation for the first time.

"I added another clipping of Viscosity Vine into the second stage of brewing on the cough potion," said Snape, "and substituted mystic mint for half of the lemon mint originally called for."

"Hmm. Making the potions more expensive, but longer lasting," said Ian, nodding. "I don't brew myself, much, but I do understand the principles. It was my worst NEWT," he said, flushing attractively.

Snape cleared his throat and sipped his tea, mentally blaming Remus' lascivious playing cards for making him suddenly seeing nubile young men at every turn. "Well, I believe adding back in the original quantity of lemon mint, and a few drops of the bubblebee honey that they so kindly harvested, will help soothe his throat sufficiently."

Ian's brow furrowed. "But wouldn't the bubblebee honey react with the hexwasp stings in the lung-healing potion?"

Snape shook his head. "They are sufficiently buffered from one another by the two-hour gap between doses that the honey will be fully absorbed." He took another sip of tea and added, "Much like the half-hour gap allowed the Wolfsbane to reach full efficacy before the cough potion had a chance to thin it out."

"So that's why you waited," said Neville. "I thought you were just being, you know, you."

Snape snorted. "I was brewing the variant Wolfsbane right up until the moment I stepped through the Floo, but I would have made him wait regardless."

"Oh," said Neville, flushing. "Sorry, I just..."

"You are not used to me acting as though I care about anyone's welfare but my own," said Snape. He wasn't used to it, either, but Neville didn't need to know that.

"Would it unbalance everything too much if we did something different to stimulate his immune system?" asked Ian, frowning into his tea. "He's very prone to secondary infections right now, and I'm not sure the Immune Infusion is doing enough."

Snape considered. "It could be reacting poorly to the cough variant," he said, making another note. "The thinning properties that work in Remus' favour for dosing may cause it to dilute the Infusion too much to be effective. I will look for another solution."

"What about Pepper Up?" asked Neville.

Snape blinked, then cocked his head. "Too harsh on the system right now, but the infant's version could provide a starting point..." He made some more notes, following the trail of the idea and putting its originator out of his mind for the moment.

There were a few minutes of blessed silence in which Snape worked, then Ian chuckled. "He's brilliant, but I can see why he's not very popular."

Neville giggled. "I'm amazed he listened at all, really," he said, shrugging.

"I am right here, you know," said Snape testily. "The idea has merit, but will require extensive customisation, as it is primarily designed to flush the body of the common cold rather than prevent the range of opportunistic illnesses to which Remus is vulnerable," he explained. "For now, perhaps a stronger dose of the Infusion?"

"How much do you have him on again?" asked Ian, clearly attempting to remember.

"Two ounces every six hours, one hour before taking the cough potion," said Snape. "If we increase it to three ounces, it won't be harmful to a man Remus' size."

"You'll have to re-measure the doses for me," said Neville, a bit miserably. "I never was good with that."

Snape declined to dignify the latter with a response, instead saying simply, "Of course."

"You'll be able to make quite a lot of money, you know, if all these new potions work out," said Ian, smiling eagerly.

"If anyone will buy them from me," said Snape darkly, though inwardly he was pleased at the observation. With someone of Ian's excellent reputation willing to testify to the efficacy of his creations, all the extra work might not be entirely selfless after all.

Not that Snape it was entirely selfless to begin with, as he stood to gain quite a bit by Remus' restored health and the gratitude of his sole supplier of magical ingredients on credit.

"Speaking of buying, I'd better get going. Remus needs his doses, and Harry and I need to make plans for our outing," said Neville, standing and setting down his empty cup. He turned to Snape, wiping his palms on his robes and swallowing nervously before blurting, "I don't care if you make a profit later, I still appreciate everything you're doing."

Snape shook the proffered hand and nodded gravely. "You and he are both welcome," he said, then he forced himself to add, "It is what friends do, or so I am given to understand."

Neville laughed and shook his head. "You're learning," he said, then turned and took the Floo home.

Snape turned back to Ian and said dryly, "The things one puts up with."

Ian laughed.

"Now that you have that out of your system," said Snape, "I'd like to discuss the schedule. Remus is still not getting enough solid sleep between doses, so perhaps it would be best to give up on the bubblebee honey in order to allow the potions to be taken closer together."

Ian came around and sat near Snape so he could see the notes, and they were off, the discussion technical and stimulating, and most importantly, productive.

Snape stayed up long into the night working on the balance of Remus' potions, then got up early the next morning to continue his work with a strong cup of tea at his elbow. He got so caught up he nearly dropped the entire vial of squid ink into the cauldron when Harry knocked shyly on the doorframe leading into his lab.

"Severus?" called Harry, when Snape didn't reply.

Snape finished counting out thirteen drops, then he corked the vial, set it aside, and turned. "You have three minutes," he said tersely.

Harry shrugged. "I didn't want to bother you, but I figured it was me or Neville, and he said something about being banned from your lab."

"Two and a half," replied Snape, hoping Harry would get to the point before it came time for the next delicate addition.

"Remus is out of potions," said Harry shortly.

Snape sighed and glanced at the clock. "Is he less than twenty minutes from his next dose?" asked Snape.

Harry shook his head. "No, no, I came as soon as we gave him what we had, you've got a little over three hours, I think," he said.

Snape relaxed. "And his last potion was the cough potion, correct?"

"Is that the green one?" asked Harry. Snape nodded, and Harry said, "Then, yes."

"Good," said Snape, getting ready to add the first dusting of Feather Pollen to the brew. "I will be on time with his new regimen, then."

Harry looked surprised. "Is that what all this is?" he asked.

Snape carefully dusted a pinch of pollen over the burbling potion, making sure the container was tightly closed before answering. "Of course."

"Got any more tea?" asked Harry, not at all what Snape had been expecting. "If it's not long, I might as well wait and go back with you, be an extra set of hands."

"I have not been gone from teaching so long as to forget your abysmal skills in my class, P- Harry," said Snape darkly.

Harry laughed. "I can fetch and carry and make you another cuppa, as that one looks about on its last legs."

He snagged Snape's cold cup and took it away, and Snape was too distracted to care, adding the last of his shredded lemon mint, the second infusion specifically for throat-soothing and soaked in sweet maple syrup instead of the more volatile bubblebee honey. It wasn't until the whole mess had absorbed into the potion and Snape had counted twenty-seven widdershins stirs with a single clockwise stir at thirteen that he paused to consider what mischief Harry might get up to, left alone in Snape's house.

It was a pleasant surprise when Harry returned in short order with a fresh cup of tea complete with lemon slices, and a plate of biscuits. "I couldn't find anything healthier," said Harry, sticking both tea and plate down at the opposite end of the work bench from where Snape was brewing, then sipping his own milky cuppa. "What d'you do, live on nutrient potions?"

Snape snorted, checking to be sure all of the remaining ingredients were ready, then he sat down to refuel. "I've been too busy to shop," he said. "I can cook just as well as I brew, but only if there's food in the house." He didn't bother to explain that he usually only kept a week's worth of food on hand at most, stretching his slender budget by buying locally grown seasonal foods and cooking for himself in large batches seasoned with wild herbs from his own land. Last week's coq au vin was long gone, and he'd no time to spare since then for anything more elaborate than scones.

"Well, Molly's delivered another pile of food, so you can do your share by having dinner with us," said Harry with disgusting good cheer.

Snape sneered over his teacup, though the effect was spoilt when the hourglass chimed and he had to scoot to get the curling Viscosity Vines into the cauldron. He tuned Harry out, finding the boy -- no, young man, now -- much more easily ignored than he had been in his youth. Harry sat quietly and nibbled on biscuits, peering around the room without touching or disturbing any of Snape's works in progress.

When the final pinch of Feather Pollen went into the batch, Snape put out the fire and flipped the hourglass for a five-minute cooling before bottling.

"Remus knows how lucky he is," said Harry out of the blue.

Snape blinked, then shrugged. "It is true that not many werewolves could afford the standard of care..."

"That's not what I mean," said Harry. "It's not just about the quality of the potions, but that you're running yourself ragged improving them so he gets better faster. I mean, it's obvious you could do this stuff in bigger batches, but instead you do it a day or two at a shot and then tweak the recipe, constantly making it more effective. No one ever gets that kind of care, but he is, and it's all because of you."

At some point Harry had moved closer and laid a hand on Snape's arm, the warmth of the contact slowly sinking in through the stiff fabric of his work robes. Snape closed his eyes, unfamiliar with such gratitude, or such close proximity, the gesture somehow more intimate than when Harry had been in Snape's lap. "He is welcome," said Snape, his tone not nearly so terse as he might have intended.

Harry smiled up at him, then nodded. "It was smart of him to choose you, I think."

Snape couldn't help but laugh at that. "Whatever else he is, the wolf's practical when it comes to making the most of what little he has," said Snape.

Harry seemed to understand that it was compliment enough, in its own way.

Three hours later, Severus was well fed and once again squashed onto the tiny loveseat, this time with Harry as his companion. Neville had chosen to sit at Remus' feet, which Snape felt was only fitting, and they'd had surprisingly amiable conversation during dinner.

Now dinner was over, and Snape was trapped as the cards came out. "Remus tells me you're particularly fond of the Four of Clubs," teased Harry.

Snape blushed. "It has been useful in my last several hands," he protested, though truthfully he did find the image on it compelling, two dark-haired men together, both with one hand on each of their cocks, stroking in practised rhythm.

"A pity, though I prefer the Jack of Diamonds anyway," said Harry, waggling his eyebrows and wiggling his hips suggestively.

"I hope you wash thoroughly, then," said Snape dryly, having just picked up that card in the deal.

"For you, I'd even Scourgify."

Remus and Neville both laughed.

Snape got his revenge by winning the hand using both the Jack of Diamonds and the Four of Clubs.

Snape did have plenty of ingredients with which to refine Remus' potions, though he was still hoping for some night-harvested mystic mint to supplement his own supply. The cough potion was nearly perfect already, though Snape experimented with alternative soothers, trying to see which would be the most effective while staying neutral with the other potions. He was working on yet another variation of the immunity booster when he heard a throat gently cleared nearby.

"What is it?" asked Snape, not bothering to look up from the peppers he was carefully chopping.

"You haven't been by the flat in a few days," said Harry, sounding almost accusatory.

Snape shrugged. "I owled over the potions and instructions, and Healer Fizzitch has been keeping me apprised," he said. Ian had bought a small supply of his cough potion for another patient, and Snape had used the extra gold to buy himself some time in the form of pub dinners and post owls.

"Have you been eating?" asked Harry, moving closer.

Snape glared. "The peppers are volatile, you would do well to step back," he warned. Then, once the boy had complied, he added, "I have been eating."

Harry nodded, perching atop a stool nearby. "I brought some food, it's all up in the kitchen. I thought maybe we could make soup, take it over to the flat to share with everyone," he said, unusually subdued.

"We?" asked Snape pointedly. He carefully brushed the seeds into a vial for future use, then slipped the finely chopped flesh of the three separate types of pepper into the cauldron, which hissed and smoked satisfyingly.

"I'm a fair cook," said Harry. "There's chicken, some vegetables, and I brought the things to make dumplings or noodles, though I'm better at dumplings. I figured you'd have spices and stuff."

Snape had flipped the hourglass, and was busy labelling the jar of mixed pepper seeds. He'd use those for a system cleanser of some sort, perhaps something near the end of Remus' illness, when he could stand the shock. "Hm? Oh, yes, though I haven't harvested in some time."

Harry smiled, one foot swinging. "Well, I suppose I could harvest, if you'll tell me where to find things. What d'you recommend?"

"Thyme, lemon, and garlic," said Snape, turning and handing Harry the jar. "File that under P." He paused, then grudgingly added, "Please."

"Yes, sir," said Harry with a wink, hopping down off the stool and nosing through Snape's shelves with undue relish.

Snape rolled his eyes and began to clean his workspace, one eye on the cauldron. If he could perfect this potion along with the cough potion, he could make some real money, assuming he could manage a patent with his notorious reputation. "Dumplings are acceptable," said Snape, after a few moments of silence.

Harry grinned, then came and shoved right up next to him, chin practically on Snape's shoulder. "Almost done here, then?"

"If you insist on being so close you can re-file those ingredients. Take extra care with the Blubberbells, they are extremely fragile," said Snape, gesturing toward the haphazard array of bottles, jars and boxes at one end of the table. He hadn't bothered shelving anything in a few days since he was mixing up the same thing over and over, but the mess -- and Harry's proximity -- was starting to get to him.

"Gotcha," said Harry, brushing against him in a way Snape would swear was deliberate before moving over to the jars. "Nothing else that'll explode if I look at it wrong?"

"No, but it's best not to overly jostle or shake the firebrand peppers," said Snape. "They might ignite."

Harry laughed. "As you say," he said, carrying a few things over to the shelves and slotting them into their empty places with unexpected care.

Perhaps the boy -- no, man, he was definitely a man now considering the breadth of his experiences not to mention the very fit physique. Perhaps the man had finally learned the value of thinking rather than always rushing in.

Snape finished cleaning everything else, satisfied with the restored order in his work room. The hourglass chimed gently, and he put out the fire and decanted the potion into dosed vials, then added them to the basket for Remus, slipping in the new instructions along with it, though he'd be there to give them in person this time, apparently. "The wolf is sufficiently dosed for the next few hours?" asked Snape, cleaning up that last end of the bench and taking the cauldron to the sink to wash.

"Yep, Neville said he's good until eight or so," said Harry, stretching up to put away the Viscosity Vines in their orb and showing a slice of tanned skin at his waist.

Clearly he needed bigger shirts.

Snape turned away, feeling heat rise in places he'd thought long dormant and wondering if he needed to check for pepper particles. Even as he thought it, he knew Harry was to blame for the unaccustomed and unwelcome sensations. "Careful," he said, without even looking up from what he was doing.

"I am," said Harry, sounding just irritated enough to make Snape smile as he scrubbed.

When the cauldron was done and tipped over to dry, Snape turned back with a towel in hand. There was just one jar left, the Blubberbells, and Snape was pleasantly surprised when Harry chose to levitate it gently into place. "Thank you," he said, just to see Harry's face.

Harry looked nonplussed for a moment, then he threw his head back and laughed. "You're welcome to my services anytime, Severus."

Snape rolled his eyes. "I doubt you've spent much time servicing men like me," he said, hanging up the towel and taking off his work apron. "Shall we cook?"

"Perhaps that's the appeal," said Harry, sauntering up with a walk that had likely garnered him the Floo addresses of more than one Quidditch player in his time.

"I am not a notch on anyone's bedpost," said Snape, though he knew that wasn't precisely true; nearly all the action he'd gotten in his youth had been a result of someone wanting to make a point with someone else. At the time, he hadn't complained, but eventually he grew tired of such things and began to enjoy the satisfaction of rebuffing them instead.

These days, he didn't even have to do that.

Except here was Harry Potter, practising his wiles on his old teacher. Perhaps he thought it would help him stay sharp for the season.

"From what Remus says, you're practically the bedpost," teased Harry, brushing past him quite deliberately.

Damn Potter anyway. "My bedknob is not available to be your broomstick."

Harry snorted, but his walk went back to normal, and Snape felt his blood pressure receding slightly. Perhaps he'd survive the cooking after all.

"Would you like to gather the herbs while I clean the chicken?" asked Harry, once they got upstairs.

"If you don't mind borrowing my old broom," said Snape, nodding to where it leaned by the kitchen corner, "I'd like you to pick the last lemons up near the top of the tree, actually."

Harry smiled, snagging the basket Snape held out for him. "Lemons it is. And you said thyme and garlic?"

"I have the garlic here, so just the thyme," said Snape, rolling up his sleeves and putting on his plain kitchen apron.

Harry looked as though he might giggle.

"I'll make you wear the one with the ruffles if you laugh," warned Snape.

Harry cracked up just as Snape intended, barely managing to get out the door for laughing so hard.

Snape smirked and transfigured a tea towel into a properly frilly apron for him, draping it conspicuously over a chair. He wasn't above a bit of petty revenge.

Nor was he above watching Harry out the window, his seat magnificent even on the old broom as he flitted to and fro, gathering lemons and a few late peaches as well.

Snape still managed to get the chicken cleaned and ready before Harry came inside, and was rubbing butter inside the skin when Harry returned with his prizes. "Ooh, are we going to roast it first?" asked Harry curiously.

"I have sufficient chicken stock on hand, and this will make for a much tastier soup," said Snape, slicing one lemon and cutting another into wedges, squeezing the juice all around and slipping the slices under the skin and into the body and neck cavities. Thyme and garlic made it in there as well, and he added salt and pepper before closing up the roaster and putting it in the oven.

Harry stared. "You have a muggle oven!" he said.

Snape stared right back. "Of course I do, how else would I bake?" he said matter-of-factly. "Stone ovens are barbarously hard to control."

Harry shook his head and chuckled. "It figures you'd have control issues even in the kitchen," he said, glancing around. "So, what'll we do while the chicken roasts?"

"I don't have any naughty playing cards with which to amuse you, I'm afraid," said Snape.

Harry's eyebrows waggled. "You could just take me upstairs for the Six of Hearts," he said suggestively.

"Or the Jack of Diamonds?" retorted Snape.

Harry chuckled. "Or even the Queen of Spades if you wanted," he said teasingly.

Snape rolled his eyes and shook his head. "No notching will occur tonight," he said, though he could already feel his resistance crumbling.

Instead, they made a peach pie from the late fruit, and chopped all the vegetables for the soup. Snape set up a second pot to make fresh stock from the bones and skin of the chicken, adding in carrot-ends and celery heads and other leftover bits. Then he pulled his last batch of stock out of the cupboard and started it warming in the pot, adding vegetables and seasonings as he saw fit.

Harry was an adequate helper, making suggestions on the flavour as well as chopping and cleaning, and he assembled the peach pie with an artful cutout in the top.

"It looks like an arse," said Snape, pausing to admire Harry's handiwork.

"What?" said Harry, staring back, and then laughing. "It's a peach, but I suppose it is a bit arse-like. I suppose this means you'll be doing the Jack of Diamonds whether you like it or not, then," he said, brushing egg over the pastry and then dusting it with sugar.

Snape's laugh was much more genuine this time. "Along with Remus and Neville," he reminded Harry.

Harry made a face, but added a leaf and stem made from the cut-out dough. "Better?"

"Passably so," said Snape. He was baffled when Harry rolled out the remaining pie dough and dusted it with cinnamon and sugar. "What's that for?"

"For us," said Harry with a sheepish grin. "My aunt used to let me bake the dough ends and eat them as a snack, and if I spilled enough cinnamon and sugar during the baking, I'd be able to dust it all on and make it taste really good."

"I take it you never got the pies you baked?" said Snape, unaccountably moved. He remembered his mother making small tarts, all that they could afford, one for her and one for his father and no money or ingredients for a third.

"I'll get this one," said Harry, and Snape shook off the moment of melancholy.

"Indeed, finally something you can sink your teeth into," teased Snape.

Dinner was a resounding success, the soup thick and rich, the dumplings light and delicious, and the pie a pleasant ending to the meal. When Snape admitted it was Harry's baking entirely, the compliments were even more surprised, which gave Snape a certain satisfaction.

Even if he did get roped into more gin.

"All four sixes and three of the nines?" said Remus incredulously when Harry went out.

"He's got something in mind, clearly," said Snape. "And he has all four nines, he used the nine of spades to finish up his run."

"What can I say," said Harry teasingly, looking unduly smug as he gathered up the cards to shuffle and deal the next hand, "I really enjoy mutual oral pleasure of any sort."

Remus rolled his eyes, clearly choosing that in favour of the laugh that would inevitably become a cough. "You're just horny," he said. He turned to Snape and changed the subject, "Ian says I might be well enough to sit inside and watch out the window while you all look over the property tomorrow. Neville's brought me some books on greenhouse building, and we'd like to start in on the plans."

"That is acceptable," said Snape, sipping his tea. "I will cook dinner again." He paused, then looked over at his seatmate and couldn't resist adding, "If you'll loan me Harry to assist."

Amazingly, Harry blushed.

"Oh, he's all yours," said Remus, something warm and teasing in his eyes.

"Hey, don't I get a say in this?" asked Harry indignantly.

Remus and Snape exchanged amused glances, and then replied in unison, "No."

Neville laughed.

Harry showed up just after lunch ready for work, wearing the tightest trousers Snape had ever seen and a shirt so white it seemed destined to pick up stains. "We're not going to a club, you know," said Snape, slipping on his cloak.

"Where are we going, then?" asked Harry, stealing Snape's other cloak and charming it short enough he wouldn't trip.

"The market, where you will endeavour not to embarrass me," said Snape darkly. "Today is the weekly wizard's market; the Muggle one is Saturdays."

"Ooh, brilliant!" said Harry producing a purse from one improbably tight pocket. "I'll see if they've got any owl treats, Hedwig'll kill me if I run out."

Snape declined to comment, either on the cloak or the owl, instead swooping out the door and assuming Harry would close it after him.

"Don't you need to lock it?" asked Harry, catching up despite Snape's ground-eating strides.

"Nonsense," said Snape with a sniff. "My wards are more than sufficient."

"I never was very good at wards," confessed Harry. "Too much planning."

"Somehow, that does not surprise me."

Their conversation trailed off as the market came into view. It was held in the same square as the Muggle market, but covered with anti-Muggle wards and a massive Disillusionment Charm that made it hard to see until you were inside it, the eye sliding away before details could be discerned.

Once they were within the market's perimeter, it resolved itself into a familiar chaos of stalls, hawkers, buyers and exotic wares. There was an animal trapper who only emerged every few months to sell his goods, both live and dead, and Snape was glad to see him when there was gold in his pocket. "Hunter, it's good to see you back," said Snape, approaching warily since his cages sometimes proved to be weaker than their occupants.

"Severus!" said the man cheerfully, turning to rummage behind him for something. "I've got a specimen you'll want to see."

Snape accepted the jar, which appeared to contain a pair of dead Leaping Lizards, locked in an embrace. "How did you kill them?" he asked, examining them to be sure all their parts were intact.

"Didn't," said Hunter proudly. "They're just Petrified, there's a sustaining spell on the jar."

That made the matched set far more valuable, which clearly Hunter knew if the gleam in his eye was any indicator. "How much?" asked Snape, getting right to the quick of things.

"I'll just go looking for some owl treats," said Harry, making a face. "You call if you need me to spot you a Galleon or two, though, all right?"

Snape sighed. "Yes, P- Harry. Mad Martha over by the florist has the best owl treats, you might pick up some of her bread as well. She's an excellent baker of all sorts of things."

"Lovely," said Harry, heading off.

"That Harry Potter?" asked Hunter. Gossip was almost as valuable in a tiny community like this as coin.

Snape shrugged, feigning nonchalance. "I've known him since he was a boy, he took my class, and of course we worked together while I was a spy," said Snape, glancing over and trying not to remember the way Harry's backside had looked in those trousers, before the cloak had hidden it from view.

"What's he doing in our little town, then?" said Hunter. While he talked, he was busy assembling a little pile of the sorts of things a potions master might be interested in, beetles and slugs, feathers and phials of blood and other fluids.

"How much for the lizards?" countered Snape.

Hunter laughed. "Always were too shrewd for me," he muttered, lining up the potential purchases and naming off perfectly reasonable prices for all of them, including the lizards.

Snape rearranged, setting aside the few things he didn't think he'd be needing soon to try and pull the rest back into the scope of his slender purse. "I'll give you thirteen Galleons for the lot," he said. The price was absurdly low.

Hunter was fortunately amused. "Even news about Potter isn't worth that," he said.

"What if I throw in a tidbit about Lupin and Longbottom?" said Snape.

"Them as helped him in the war?" said Hunter, leaning in. "That'd be worth a fair amount."

"Twenty Galleons for everything on the table, and you'll be the first to hear my news," said Snape, chancing that he could get Harry to cover their supper.

"Deal," said Hunter, holding out one grubby hand. Snape shook on it, then counted out the cash and carefully packed the precious items away in his basket, already planning to see if the nightingale feathers would help Remus' voice.

"Lupin and Longbottom have begun a business together, gathering and selling plants for potions," said Snape. "They are going to lease a part of my land on which to build greenhouses, and Potter is helping."

Hunter's eyebrows went up nearly into his hairline. "You're gonna have all them on your property, you as likes it alone nearly as much as me?" he said incredulously.

Snape shrugged eloquently. "The rent will keep me in ingredients during the slow months," he said, "and Potter cooks a wonderful peach pie."

"I've also got a great arse, but he doesn't like to admit it," said Harry, sidling up next to Snape. "You get everything you need?"

Hunter laughed. "I'm the first here you've told, truly?" he said, though Snape had never stinted on a bargain here, nor would he so long as he was expected to live and do business in the incestuously tiny magical community.

"Unless P- Harry has been talking overmuch, yes," said Snape, slipping the last precious bundle of feathers into his basket.

Harry shook his head. "I wasn't sure if you wanted anyone to know, so I played dumb," he said.

"Not much of a challenge for you," said Snape.

Hunter's laughter followed them to the next stall.

"I'm afraid dinner will have to be on you, as I have spent my reserve coin. Hunter Thoren doesn't come to the market but once every few months, so I was lucky to be able to afford as much as I could."

"No problem," said Harry, leaning into Snape's arm just a little too close for comfort. "I like the idea of taking care of something for you, I get the feeling you don't let many people."

Snape declined to dignify the speculation with a response, mostly because Harry was entirely too correct.

"So, if you don't get meat from him, who sells it?" asked Harry curiously. The market was bigger than it seemed, another facet of the charms on the area, and Snape took Harry around a corner and into an entirely different aisle.

"Ardemisia Fowl sells all manner of poultry -- she's probably our best bet unless you've a craving for lamb," said Snape, leading Harry to the stall in question.

"Oh, I know a great recipe for lamb curry," said Harry with a wink, "but I think for Remus something more soothing is in order."

Ardemisia finished up with another customer buying a brace of conies, and turned to see who had stepped up to view her wares. "As I live and breathe, Harry Potter!"

Harry blushed a becoming shade of red. "Yes'm, I'm hoping to cook something nice for a sick friend tonight, what do you recommend?"

Snape was amazed at Harry's diffidence, given the cheek he'd been showing for as long as Snape had known him.

"Oh, well, I've got a lovely golden goose here, once they go off their eggs they make a wonderful roast," she said, laying her hand on the limp bird. "I've a charm to take the feathers off, I bet your Severus would like to keep 'em."

"If that's what Harry would like to cook, yes, the feathers are good for several concoctions," said Snape. "It would fit in my oven, and leave plenty of leftovers."

"Goose it is, then," said Harry with a little grin. "How much?"

"For Harry Potter? Not a brass Knut from you, lad," she said, pulling out a thin, sharp-looking wand. "You'll be wanting the offal as well, Severus?"

"Please," said Snape, amused at this unexpected turn of events.

"How d'you stuff it?" asked Harry, his attention suddenly anywhere but where Ardemisia was neatly butchering the bird, whose neck had been previously broken, leaving the body intact.

Snape chuckled, accepting the coarse cloth bag of feathers, tucking it away with his other potions ingredients. "I have a container for the innards," said Snape, pulling out two of the extra jars he'd brought along just in case.

"Oh, brilliant, I'm always forgetting you potions types who want to keep every little bit and bite," she said cheerfully. Snape handed over the containers and she filled one with blood and the other with bits.

"Genevieve's got chestnuts, they make a lovely stuffing," she said, unaffected by her work. "She'll give you a good recipe if you bat those big green eyes at her."

"Oh, um, thank you," said Harry, looking decidedly green. "I'll do that."

Snape chuckled, accepting the filled jars and tucking them out of sight. "Perhaps a bag for the goose? I'll return both next week, if you don't mind." That sort of borrowing was common here at the market, and often a loaned container returned with a bit of something in it; Snape would add herbs from his garden to the sacks before giving them back.

"Of course, so the lad can carry it," said Ardemisia, producing another of the burlap bags and stuffing the goose into it unceremoniously, head, feet and all. "You've still got that good lavender in your yard?" she asked casually, as if making small talk now that the transaction was done.

Snape didn't quite smirk, schooling his smile into something more pleasant. "And an abundance of cat-mint as well," he said. "It's been a good year for herbs."

She gave a satisfied smile and nod. "You'll be all right, then. Goose is good with lemon and honey glaze, you know, if you've still got any on the tree."

"Oh, good," said Harry, taking the bag. "Lemon and honey's good for Remus' throat, too."

"Remus Lupin?" she said sharply, scenting gossip just as Hunter had.

"He and Neville Longbottom will be joining us this evening," said Snape, hand in the small of Harry's back. "I'll be sure to tell you how they enjoyed the goose."

"You do that," she said, but didn't press for details. Snape made a mental note to add a few lemons to her bags, and perhaps a vial of his cough potion. Winter was coming, and there was always someone who picked up a case of Crupper's Cough and passed it around the community.

The rest of their shopping went much the same, tidbits of gossip and discounts for Harry's novelty, and they ended up with an excellent recipe, a variety of vegetables, and enough bacon for the stuffing and tomorrow's breakfast besides.

Snape left thinking he ought to bring along a celebrity every time, if it got him such bargains. "Well," he said, feeling remarkably cheered as they hefted their purchases and started on the walk back, "what did you think of our little market?"

Harry blushed, then grinned. "I can see why you chose this place," he said, a note of wistfulness to his voice. "I'd love to live somewhere like this, where they all know your name and don't mind so much."

"You'd stop getting discounts once they got used to you," teased Snape, smiling right back.

Harry grew inexplicably redder, then he shrugged. "So we've got the goose to roast and the stuffing to stuff, and vegetables to cook... Will it all get done in time for dinner?"

"Undoubtedly," said Snape. "And tomorrow we... I can make meat pies from the leftovers."

Harry's grin brightened. "We can, as long as it's in the daytime," he said. "I promised Neville I'd go out one more time with him tomorrow night, Ron even said he'd come help."

Snape raised an eyebrow at him, opening the door -- and the wards -- so Harry could precede him into the house. "If we do not murder one another this afternoon," he conceded, "then I suppose your assistance would be welcome."

Harry laughed, shaking his head. "Only you could make an invitation sound so uninviting," he said, hefting the goose up onto the counter.

Snape shrugged, pulling the few food-related items out of his basket while Harry set the second basket they'd acquired, this one of vegetables mainly, on the kitchen table. "You should go wash up," warned Snape, rolling up his sleeves. "And fix my cloak. I need to finish cleaning the goose."

"Oh," said Harry, blush draining away to paleness. "Yes, I'll, um, go do those things. And you'll call me when it's all done and, you know, food looking again?"

"I will clean up and call you when it's ready to be stuffed," said Snape, amused that the man who killed the Dark Lord could be squeamish about a goose.

"If only you were so willing to clean and stuff me," said Harry.

Snape rolled his eyes. "Go on, or you'll be dinner."

Harry went.

The whole house smelled of roasting goose and berry cobbler when their "guests" arrived. Neville took the Floo first, then Snape opened his wards just long enough for Remus to Apparate in and immediately get installed on the chaise in Snape's parlour. "We'll eat in here," said Snape decisively. "There's a sideboard, we've already laid out some of the food, and Neville will bring you plates."

"Yes, Mom," said Remus, though he also looked pale and sheepishly grateful for the reprieve.

Snape smirked and handed him a vial. "It should be time for your next healing potion, should it not?" he said.

"Just about," said Neville, bringing over the basket with Remus' last two doses, plus the empties washed and ready to be refilled. "This is all he's got left, d'you want it?"

"Keep it in case there's another dosing problem," said Snape, tucking the two full vials into the fresh basket that he presented to Neville. "But he'll be better off with this. I think I've finally perfected the rhythm of the dosing."

Remus made a face, but drank down the lung-healing potion in one draught, handing Snape back the container. "Blech," he said eloquently.

Snape laughed and flipped one of three hourglasses he'd set up on the mantle. "You'll survive, and by the time Harry has the tea ready, you'll be allowed a cup."

"I find it very suspicious that you haven't killed him yet," said Remus.

Neville snorted. "I take it you're using the chair and Harry and I are sharing the loveseat?" he asked, glancing around at the available furniture.

"I'm pretty sure he would kill me if I tried to take his chair," said Harry, emerging with the tea set. "I know you'd rather pour, Severus, so is there anything else I need to do in the kitchen?"

"The goose ought to be sufficiently rested for carving, and you should check on the cobbler," said Snape, picking up the pot.

"Will do," said Harry, turning on his heel.

It wasn't until after he was gone that Neville cracked up laughing.

"How did you convince him to wear that?" asked Remus incredulously.

Snape blushed. After cooking today and yesterday with Harry in the absurd apron, he'd grown so used to the lavender ruffles that it had become almost ordinary. "You only wish you knew," he replied calmly, giving Neville a significant glance. He could imagine it was one of Remus' fantasies to be served by his boy in nothing but such an apron, which of course was followed up with images, first of a blushing, pudgy Neville, then a much more fit Harry.

Damn Remus and his lascivious cards, anyway.

Snape glanced at the hourglass and made up Neville's tea first, then his own, before finally deciding Remus' potion had been giving long enough to absorb. "Careful sips," he said, pouring two drops of his newest Immune Enhancer into the cup before handing it over.

"Will it taste as bad as the other?" asked Remus, making a face.

Snape rolled his eyes. "It will be spicy, but not unpleasant," he assured Remus, as though telling a child that the medicine would be sweet rather than bitter.

Remus stuck his tongue out at Snape, then took a cautious sip. He made a slightly pained face while swallowing, but nodded. "You're right, it isn't bad. How often do I have to have it?" he asked.

"Two drops in your tea after the lung-healing potion, once every six hours," said Snape, sounding smug.

Remus looked suitably impressed -- the Immune Infusion had been every three, and had to be taken at off times from everything else. "You're really making improvements," he said. "Thank you."

"You are an excellent patient on which to experiment," said Snape, "given there are three mother hens watching over you and reporting directly back to me."

Remus looked amused and sipped the tea, and Snape waited a heartbeat before he realized what was missing -- the small chuckle that would normally have followed, quiet but a part of Remus he had grown to take for granted in the past months. It seemed almost too much of a sacrifice, as though some essential part of Remus had been stolen by the illness, more vital even than strength or stamina.

"When will he take the cough potion?" asked Neville, sounding hopeful.

Snape let out the triumphant grin he'd been holding back. "As soon as the hourglass runs out, which should afford him nearly six full hours of sleep between doses."

"Brilliant!" said Neville, his smile relieved and shy. He perched on the edge of the loveseat and sipped his tea. "This'll be much better for him than alarms at all hours of the night."

"So I hope," said Snape.

Harry emerged sans apron this time, floating the bird, vegetables and gravy boat in front of him like a peculiar line of goslings. "Dinner is served," he said, using his wand to settle it all on the sideboard. "Cobbler's cooling on the rack, and everything else should be in here now."

"Then let's eat." Snape stood and began to carve the bird while Harry served vegetables and potatoes onto four plates, and Neville got up to pour them all cool water to go with their tea. There was no wine tonight, in deference to Remus, but Mad Martha's bread was fresh and laced with herbs, and everything else was cooked with as much care as two men such as Snape and Harry could manage.

"Oh, wow," said Neville, taking his first bite of the chestnut apple stuffing. "Don't let on to Molly you can cook like this, or she'll make you help her at Christmas."

Something like satisfaction welled up in Snape's chest, seeing these guests here in his home, friends he had let circumstance choose for him, but allowed himself to welcome once they were at his doorstep. That didn't stop him from putting some of the old edge into his voice as he replied, "She's welcome to try."

"So," said Harry the next morning, yawning a little as he rolled the dough for meat pies, "Are you happy knowing your big back yard will soon be filled with greenhouses?"

"I am happy that they won't have to destroy any of the cultivated gardens, nor encroach upon the forest," said Snape. His hands were busy chopping last night's roasted vegetables into pie-sized bites, but he needed only a small portion of his attention for the task. "It will be good to have the conservatory repaired."

Harry added the round he was rolling to the stack next to him, which was suspiciously tall. Snape leaned down and looked, and sure enough, Harry was using magic to keep the dough from touching, and therefore sticking.

"It's a perfectly legitimate use of magic," said Harry defensively.

Snape chuckled. "You won't find me arguing," he replied, tipping the chopped carrots into the bowl that already contained potatoes, peas, and the leftover gravy. "I was just surprised you thought of it."

Harry laughed. "I should've known," he said. A pause, and then, "Sometimes it makes people nervous, when I do magic like that."

"I have known how powerful you were since before you did," said Snape dryly. "I don't see why it would begin to intimidate me now."

"You say the sweetest things," said Harry, working on another round of dough. Snape went to get the bird from the cold cupboard and allowed himself a moment to surreptitiously admire the motion of Harry's arse as he rolled, back and forth in long, sensual movements.

"Power isn't everything," said Snape, "and you will never be what Riddle became, so why worry?" He set down the remains of the goose, and began to remove and dice the meat still clinging to the bones.

"Given your skill with that knife, I suppose you shouldn't be," said Harry with a falsely nervous laugh.

Snape rolled his eyes. "Thinking like a Muggle again."

Harry just yawned.

Once the pies were in the oven, Snape made them up a pot of strong tea and heated a simple lunch of leftover chicken and dumplings, with the berry cobbler warming atop the oven.

"You're not so bad, now you've stopped trying to provoke me into hexing you," said Harry, nibbling on a dumpling. "Is that step one in the Snape courtship manual, see if you can get them mad enough to give you boils?"

Snape rolled his eyes. "If I were courting you, I'd have made you wear the apron with nothing else," he said, though the offending garment had been Transfigured into a more serviceable form.

Harry chuckled. "Dunno if I'd mind that, being your sexy housewife," he said teasingly. "You'd have to promise to use proper lube, though, no olive oil or whatever."

"Your arse hasn't been extra virgin in a long time," said Snape.

"Neither has your broomstick, I bet, but I'm still willing to give it a good polish," retorted Harry, waggling his eyebrows.

That surprised a laugh out of Snape, and he shook his head as he sipped his tea. "I'd rather let my libido remain dormant than have you waken it only to fly off to greener pastures," he said.

Harry seemed disturbingly encouraged, so Snape cut him off before he could reply. "Check on the pies?" Snape suggested innocently.

"Chicken," said Harry, but he got up anyway.

"No," said Snape, face perfectly straight. "The pies are goose."

Harry threw a pot holder at him.

The goose pies got rave reviews as a sustaining snack before the intrepid harvesters left for their night of adventure. Snape spent the time with Remus while they were out, resenting the warm feeling he got when they asked him to help instead of Ian.

"We haven't discussed price," said Remus, once Harry, Neville, Ron, two broomsticks and an assortment of equipment were all safely Apparated away. "Rent on the land, I mean."

"Are you sure you wish to do this without your young partner's input?" asked Snape. He had no desire to budget for one number and be surprised with further negotiation down the line.

Remus shook his head. "He entrusted me with the duty of negotiating it with you," he said, eyes sparkling impishly. "He's still not quite used to this new, friendly Severus."

"A bit like having a werewolf eating out of the palm of your hand," said Snape dryly.

Remus gave him a wry look, but contented himself with another sip of his potion-laced tea. "Regardless," he said, "we need to come to an agreement before tomorrow."

"Why tomorrow?" asked Snape.

"That's when we'll be coming by to deliver your portion of the forest harvest," said Remus. "Harry's agreed to Side-Along me, that seems to tire me out less, so I'll just be writing things down while the three of you weigh, measure and argue."

Snape let out a snort of laughter at that. "At least you have no illusions about the smoothness of the procedure." He sighed and set down his teacup, leaning back. "All right, I presume you have some evidence for whatever number you were planning to propose?"

"We looked at a lot of places before you offered us yours," said Remus, "but most of those were smaller, only big enough for one greenhouse, and also came with a house of their own to rent."

"I am affording you the space for two greenhouses, rental of the remodeled conservatory, and no space in the house whatsoever," said Snape. "So it's hardly a fair comparison."

"Well, just let me finish," said Remus. He pulled out a notebook and began to go over some numbers he'd prepared for Snape, and when he came to the end, the proposed monthly sum was actually perfectly reasonable.

"If I am to allow such an absurd number, I require a few other considerations," said Snape anyway.

Remus smiled. "As one would expect," he said. "Neville has already agreed to discount most of the things we grow on your land."

"Good," said Snape. "And I expect you to chip in for tea periodically." His supply of leaves was growing dangerously low, and he'd have to go into London to get more unless he could convince one of them to provide it for him. His modest food budget had never been intended to cope with guests.

Remus nodded. "Of course. Speaking of which, I need to arrange for you to make some of that cleaning potion for Molly."

"Simple enough," said Snape. It was a tedious process, but cheap in ingredients, so he could make a large batch to sell or barter at the wizard's market and help supplement his depleted pantry. "I will of course continue to supply you with, and charge you for, your medicinal potions and Wolfsbane."

"Of course," said Remus. "I'm lucky to have your help, don't think I ever forget that," he said.

Snape nodded. "I, too, have been very fortunate as a result of our acquaintance."

"Why, Severus, was that a compliment?" said Remus teasingly.

Snape glared. "The proposed price is acceptable, and I will likely take it entirely in ingredients," he said, changing the subject back to the original one.

"As I would have expected," said Remus with a smile. "I'll have Neville owl his grandmother's solicitor to draw up the proper paperwork and make sure the building is all square and legal, but this is enough of an agreement to be going on with tomorrow."

Snape glanced over to the row of boxes, jars and bushels behind Remus that represented their accumulated wealth of ingredients thus far. "I am certain that I will be able to give you a considerable rent credit, given the quality of your offerings."

"I wouldn't have it any other way," said Remus. He finished off his tea in a single swig, letting out a tiny puff of steam with his next word. "Gin?"

Snape gave a long-suffering sigh. "I suppose it's better than strip poker."

"I wish to examine the entire harvest so that I may make informed decisions about quantity," said Snape, watching as Harry and Neville began to space the shrunken trunks and bushels on the cleared workbenches around the room.

"That's reasonable, Severus," said Remus. His voice sounded weak and rough, but that was partially the travel, Snape was sure. Harry had conjured him a comfortable lounge chair and a pile of fluffy blankets, and he'd brought his Ever-Chill Canteen to keep him supplied with water in case they grew too busy to keep him in tea.

"I'll just go make up a little snack while you and Neville do that," said Harry, setting down the last of his burdens. "All right?"

Snape had a moment of instinctual objection, but he shoved it aside. Harry had grown familiar with his kitchen in the past few days, and it was a logical division of labour. But it still rankled. "If you wish," he said, taking his wand out and resizing the first of the trunks.

Harry snorted, but trooped up to the kitchen anyway.

"I'll do the bushels, and you do the trunks?" said Neville, not precisely cheerful, but lacking the nervousness he'd shown the first time they did this.

"I will make sure your orbs remain intact," reassured Snape, stepping to the next trunk and performing the spell. It was part Transfiguration, part Charm, and part activation of spells built into the item itself, easy enough to do but understandable that Neville would rather entrust it to someone more practised when he had the luxury.

"This is going to be very boring if you don't give me some way to help," complained Remus, after a few minutes of silence during which Snape perused the trunks as he resized them, getting a feel for the scope of their harvest.

"You'll be doing the ledger, won't you?" asked Neville. They'd already discussed the procedures, and the plan was to have Harry fetch and carry while Neville weighed and Snape bottled and labelled.

Remus nodded. "I suppose," he said. "Did you bring my book?"

Snape plucked it from the bushel in which it had been resting, a partially full basket of Adam's Apples. At least this time he knew it wasn't his imagination giving them their suggestive shapes, though he still had to quash a surge of lust and the annoyance that followed.

"Tea is served!" Harry chirped, conjuring legs for the tray and setting it by Remus. "Severus, if you'll do the honours?"

"Of course," said Snape, amused. He handed Remus the book in question, along with the parchment and Ever-Inked Quill he'd found underneath. "Everyone wants their usual?"

A chorus of affirmatives gave Snape his direction, hands already busy pouring four cups of the steaming brew. He added the appropriate garnishments to each cup, presenting Remus with the first, and saving the last for himself. "I see you brought a few things with you," he commented; there was a tin of biscuits on the tray that Snape had no recollection of ever buying.

Harry grinned and shrugged. "Just doing my part," he said, though his cheeks were pink.

Snape sipped his tea and examined the contents of the bushel baskets more thoroughly -- bundles of herbs that didn't need to take up precious space in the stasis orbs, along with fruit and fungi that could be stored with a simple preservation charm for the time being. Everything was fresh and free of insects, just as he'd come to expect from Remus and Neville, and he was impressed to see that bits of parchment labelled which things were harvested when.

"All right, I think I have an idea of what I need," said Snape. He sent his cup over to settle by the table containing his scales, then hefted the half-bushel of Adam's Apples. "We can start with these. This should be a sufficient quantity for my needs, but wait until I have weighed and graded them to pack away the second bushel."

He smirked at Neville's dismayed expression, but it triggered a memory for him. "I nearly forgot," he said, stepping over to his shelves and pulling down a jar. "Ian owled this to me a few days ago, saying he was done with it and mistakenly assuming it was to come to me as a matter of course." He set down the container, watching the rosy Eve's Lily pollen swirl inside. He'd tested it for purity and potency already and labelled the container appropriately, though he'd had no chance to weigh it before now.

"Do you need it?" asked Neville, clearly recognising the substance that was the source of so many of his current troubles.

"Eve's Lily pollen is very useful in the sort of aphrodisiacs men come to me to acquire," he said with a nod, "so I will take the full amount."

"Then it's yours," said Neville firmly. "With our thanks for your continued work on Remus' potions."

Snape blinked in surprise, then turned to Remus, who nodded and made a shooing sort of motion. "Take it, Severus."

"Thank you," said Snape, filing it back on the shelf and swallowing down the unexpected emotion that welled up in him. It wouldn't do for them to think he'd gone soft, regardless of the truth of the matter.

"H-how are these graded?" asked Neville, gesturing toward the bushel of Adam's Apples.

Snape smirked. "Colour, size, and firmness," he said. "Perhaps we should lay them all out and then group them?"

"Do you need a specific assortment of grades?" asked Remus, clearly hoping to rescue his young partner from the embarrassing task.

"I need to see that there is a sufficient variety, but if you wish to simply examine them and charge me for the half-bushel, that is acceptable," said Snape. He wasn't doing it entirely for the amusement value, after all.

"All right," said Neville, clearly resigned.

"I'll help," said Harry, and Snape began to see how his plan might backfire.

The two of them got the apples dumped out onto the surface of the workbench, and then Harry did a wave of his wand and they all twitched, then danced about and laid themselves back down in something resembling size order, from a few small, unripe little tadgers to one whopper big enough to rival Remus. "This will suffice," said Snape, unable to entirely hold back his amusement.

"So," said Harry, running his fingers along a line of them, "Where are you, then? Here?" He picked up one near the middle, then shook his head. "No, from what Remus says you're more like here." This time the one he chose was near the larger end of the scale, only slightly smaller than the reality he was hoping to compare it to.

Snape smirked. "That is for me to know," he said, using his wand to direct the apples into a basket of his own.

"And me to find out," said Harry, sending the one in his hand along with the rest.

"It's for you to pack away the remaining bushel of apples," said Snape sourly.

Neville laughed. "Now, now, we've only just begun," he teased, nervousness gone along with the suggestive fruit.

"What's next, then?" said Harry, moving obediently to shrink down the extra bushel of Adam's Apples and putting it and the empty in the far corner of the room from Snape's scales.

"If you would bring me the baskets of Mistberries, Ghostberries and Moonberries, I will weigh out a measure of each for my supplies," said Snape.

And so it was begun. There were squabbles and teasing, flirting and name-calling and an unnecessary amount of Harry bending over to show off his assets, but for the most part everything went quite well. When they were done, over half of their harvest had gone into Snape's stores, they had a credit for the first three months of their rent, and Remus' potions were fully paid off so far with a healthy balance toward future brewings.

Snape was even feeling generous enough to host when Harry offered to acquire takeout from the local pub for dinner, though not quite so generous as to pay for more than his share.

"The intellectual stimulation seems to be doing you some good," said Snape, when the two young men had left to provision them for dinner.

Remus shrugged, but looked pleased. "There's only so much card-playing a man can stand, and the architecture stuff is more tiring than this because it's all new."

Snape looked around the room, from the basket into which the myriad shrunken boxes and bushels had been packed, to the full shelves that had once seemed so terribly empty. "You have done well for us both," he said, waving his wand at Remus. The lounge lifted a few inches off the floor and began to float serenely toward the door. "I am sure the greenhouses will come together with the same blend of persistence and luck."

Remus looked amused, sipping his cup of cool water rather than laughing. "I hope you still think so when you find your house overrun during construction."

Snape gave a long-suffering sigh, then followed it with a smirk. "Unlike some, I can occupy myself for hours out of the way, and you do appear to have house-trained your pet boys."

"My pet boys?" said Remus, his tone strained with laughter that wanted to escape. "At least one of those puppies has been following you home, you know."

Snape gave him a dark look. "Don't remind me."

Snape didn't want to admit, even to himself, that he missed it when Harry failed to show up at his house for several days in a row. He got a great deal of brewing done, including another refinement of Remus' potions regimen, and he tried to tell himself it was purely for the sake of Remus' health that he delivered it personally.

Even he didn't believe it.

"You're just in time for dinner," said Remus cheerfully when Snape stepped through the Floo. "Molly sent extra since it's new potions day."

"And here I thought I'd get to invade your lair again," teased Harry from the kitchen, where he was laying out the food.

"No such luck," said Snape dryly. He brought the basket of potions to the mantle and began methodically switching out bottles, pleased to find that the hourglass had plenty of time left, and all the old phials were emptied. "How have you been feeling?" he asked as he worked.

"Better every day," said Remus. His voice was no longer so hoarse, though the cheer was a bit too bright for Snape's taste. "We're coming along nicely with the greenhouse plans, too, Neville's off with Ron and Hermione talking to some building supply places, and the plans are nearly finalized."

"Mmhm," said Snape, placing the last of the bottles. "The dosing schedule for these is the same as the last batch," he said, moving the hourglass from one end of the mantle to the other, so it was next to the first bottle in the line. "How is your lung capacity?"

Remus made a face. "Still less than optimal," he said with a tiny, demonstrative sigh.

Snape drew his wand and did a quick examination, just to see the progress for himself. Ian owled him detailed notes after every check-up, but it wasn't the same. "You are improving as rapidly as could be hoped for," said Snape. "I have continued to refine both the throat soothing properties on the cough potion, and the germ flushing solution."

"Tea, Severus?" Harry's voice came from much closer than Snape expected.

Snape turned to find Harry holding two cups, one clearly made up for each of the older men. "Yes, thank you," he said, relieving Harry of both and passing Remus his. "I've brought an herbal infusion for Remus, as well, which he should have first thing in the morning and at night, and any other time during the day he likes so long as it's not within half an hour before or after of his potions."

"That's assuming I'll like it," said Remus darkly.

Snape smirked. "As you say," he replied, inclining his head. He handed Harry the tin, which contained hand-tied tea bags of soft linen. "One bag should make a small pot of tea, enough for two to four cups, depending on how much he likes or dislikes it, but they should only be used once each and then disposed of."

"Should I save the bags?" asked Harry, peering into the tin at the neatly hand-tied bundles.

Snape shook his head. "No, once they're steeped they're of no further use to me."

"All right," said Harry, setting the tin next to the regular tea. "Are you ready for dinner?"

"We're not waiting for Neville?" said Snape, surprised.

Remus shook his head. "Neville's going to eat out with Hermione and Ron, a bit of a treat for him," he said. "It'll take his mind off things."

"Remus thinks that Neville's going to stop wanting him because he's all old and sickly now," said Harry teasingly.

"Remus isn't sure Neville ever wanted him in the first place," argued Remus.

Snape snorted. "Remus is being willfully blind, then," retorted Snape.

"He's not the only one," muttered Harry, almost too low to be heard.

Snape wondered if willful deafness was allowed.

"Ian's cleared Remus to cook and walk on his own now, thanks to your potions," said Harry, sidling into Snape's lab.

Snape didn't bother to look up from what he was doing, this time a larger batch of his new potions for the patent committee to review, both the cough potion with its extra throat soothers, and the Infection Impediment that went into a patient's tea and flushed the system of any lurking infections, gently and thoroughly. The lung-healing potion was a simple refinement, and he planned to write a paper about the entire process once he had the patents in hand for the other, more original potions.

"So I have been told. The old wolf already owled to request that construction begin tomorrow," said Snape, finely shredding the lemon mint. "Are you here to offer your services?"

Harry chuckled. "I've offered and offered, but you never accept the ones I want you to," he said, leaning on a cleared bit of counter. "But yes, I came to see if you wanted to take the afternoon and cook a nice big batch of something, so we can all eat and not strain your resources too much." He reached into the bag slung at his side and pulled out the one bribe that, had he but known it, would have guaranteed him nearly any welcome he wanted -- a one-pound tin of Snape's favourite tea.

"I see you took my request to heart, that's quite a generous replacement for my emptied stores," said Snape. He was down to his homemade herbal brews, which were stimulating enough but didn't taste like proper tea.

Harry grinned. "I figure if we'll be hanging around, you'll need a lot of it. It's the right brand?"

Snape nodded, carefully re-weighing the mint and then setting it aside, half joining the mystic mint soaking in maple syrup, and the other half in its own dish, to be added earlier in the brewing process. "That is my preferred tea, yes." He paused, then sighed and added, "It is very thoughtful of you to notice, thank you."

Harry grinned. "So, you'll do it, then?"

Snape rolled his eyes, but nodded. "It will be approximately ninety-three minutes before I am done here, and then we can go to the market together."

"It has been a week, hasn't it?" said Harry cheerfully. "Can I do anything to help here, aside from getting out of the way?"

"You may make some of that tea," said Snape, "and check the garden for any last lemons, or other ripe fruit."

"You've got it," said Harry, turning to go. Snape allowed himself a moment's pause to admire the view of Harry's retreating figure, and then applied himself more attentively to his preparations. It wouldn't do to allow an attractive backside and a temporary invitation to distract him from this potential permanent solution to his professional difficulties.


Snape bottled the potion with a feeling of triumph, measuring out Remus' doses and carefully labelling the rest to go with his patent applications.

"D'you want to borrow Hedwig?" asked Harry from the doorway.

Snape was glad he'd grown used to the intrusions enough not to drop anything. "Whatever for?"

"Well, it's just you seem like you waste a lot of money on owl post, and I don't use her nearly enough, she's always pecking at me for more exercise," said Harry with a sheepish shrug. "I thought maybe you'd want to borrow her, if only to deliver to Remus or owl Ian."

"Is she not fit for important work?" asked Snape dryly, neatly slotting bottles into the padded case for the patent committee. The papers went on top, and he spell-locked it with the provided seal with a sense of satisfaction.

"She's fit for anything!" said Harry defensively, then he grinned. "I mean, if you want her to take your patents in, she'd be brilliant at it, but she doesn't like to Floo so you'd have to wait a day or so until she could fly out here."

"Hm. No, while I'll happily borrow her and allow her to hunt in my forest as well, I can't wait on the patent. The potions store well, but it's always best to send them off fresh," said Snape, feeling quite smug, both about the work, and Harry's easily-induced reactions.

"You know," said Harry, sidling over and handing Snape a fresh, hot cup of tea, "if you wanted to get a rise out of me, there's better ways."

Snape snorted. "We'll stop by the owl post on the way to market," he said, tucking the completed paperwork into the box containing the freshly-brewed doses and then locking it with the prescribed charms. "I can have this delivered, and then you can buy us some provisions."

Harry grinned, unruffled this time. "I brought a whole pouch full of Galleons, in case that Hunter bloke is back."

Snape raised his eyebrow, eyes flicking over to the more meagre portion of his ingredients, those derived from animals rather than plants. "I doubt you'll want to be eating nightbeetle eyes or hedgehog spleens," he said dryly. His hands were busy wrapping up the box with paper and twine, and he nodded toward the rest of the newly-refilled bottles. "Might as well put those in the basket for Remus."

Harry complied, looking thoughtful for a moment before his usual mischievous nature resurfaced. "Do you have a proper Owlery in this old pile?"

"There could be, I suppose," said Snape, trying to tamp down his natural suspicions. "Are you looking for somewhere to house Hedwig?"

Harr flushed, then shrugged. "I don't think she's very happy in my flat," he said, though there was a note of prevarication that made Snape wonder just what it was he was trying not to get caught doing.

"You'd make a terrible Slytherin," said Snape, amused that the guilty look only got worse when Harry wasn't called out. "Bring the basket upstairs, we'll leave it by the Floo." He didn't bother to wait, just turned and swooped upstairs, box cradled carefully in his arms. The lights would extinguish themselves as soon as Harry followed.

He was amused to think that he'd set up the spells just in case he ever had the wherewithal to hire a lab assistant, rather than on the off chance he'd acquire a... whatever Harry was. Vermin, perhaps.

Snape allowed himself a small, satisfied smile when he heard the footsteps on the stairs after him, and he spoke without bothering to turn or slow. "If you wish to make the house's Owlery habitable, and see to her upkeep, Hedwig is welcome to stay with me in exchange for the occasional delivery."

"Brilliant, thank you!" piped the voice behind him. There was a chuckle, then he said, "You know that means I'll be around even more."

Snape kept his tone utterly neutral as he replied, "I know."

Harry might be distracting, but at least he knew how to make a good cup of tea, Snape rationalised.

Harry was grinning as he placed the basket of potions on the table by the Floo for safekeeping. "I brought my own cloak this time, but we'll need to use one of your shopping baskets, I don't have anything half so useful."

"Not even a brain," said Snape with a mock sigh.

"Hey!" protested Harry, but the grin didn't fade. Snape got the basket and stocked it with some empty jars, then snagged the extra sacks and basket from last week and handed them to Harry. "We'll want to put herbs in those. Cat-mint and lavender for Ardemisia, sage and parsley for Genevieve, and lemons for them both. I didn't have time to make extra cough syrup for them, but it's not really the season for it yet, but there's some of cleansing potion in the basket for Mortimer."

"You give back wherever you can, don't you?" said Harry, smile softening to thoughtful.

"And thus accumulate a multitude of small debts, so that when they think of me, they do not think of the war, they think of the cat-mint from my garden, and the cough medicine that helped them get through the winter," said Snape, heading out into the garden.

"Very Slytherin of you," said Harry with a chuckle, hefting the broom he'd grabbed on the way out. "I'm not sure I can tell cat-mint from regular mint, so I'll just fly up for the lemons, shall I?"

"Get any that are ripe," said Snape, handing him a bag, "We'll divvy them up between the bags and the house."

"You're far too sensible," said Harry with a chuckle. "I never was good at that, always rushing in where no one else even saw danger."

"Perhaps you just need a better influence in your life," said Snape, using his wand to neatly sever the bundles of herbs before stuffing them into the bags. He looked up when he got no response, only to find Harry was already up amongst the treetops. He chuckled at his own foolishness and finished up, gathering some extra dill for the house -- he thought perhaps he could find a nice creamy chevre to mix with it, and serve with snacks next time there were visitors for tea.

He was almost over the shock of that idea by the time Harry landed, bag full of lemons and hair more mussed than ever. "Do you get lemons year round?"

"Not after it frosts, but until then, yes," said Snape, going back into the kitchen to separate his own supply from their harvest, then divvy the lemons up into the remaining bags. They worked in comfortable silence until the deed was done, and then they grabbed cloaks and headed out the front, Harry laden with the bags and basket while Snape carried his precious box of samples.

"You know," said Harry, once they were well on their way, "I haven't felt like this with any of my previous test drives. Comfortable, I mean. Domestic."

"I thought we had established that I was not applying for your position," said Snape, though he was unable to muster the depth of feeling he'd displayed the first time it had come up.

Harry chuckled. "Well, maybe that's it, then. It's a change of pace to be spending time alone with a bloke who is neither taken nor taken in by my charms."

"What about-"

"Remus and Neville have been head over heels for each other since day one," said Harry with an amused expression. "Don't tell me you haven't noticed."

"I wasn't sure if you had," said Snape.

Harry chuckled. "I may not have been in love before, but I know it when it's in front of my nose." Something about his tone, both wistful and wry at once, tugged at something rather higher than the usual stirrings Snape felt around Harry.

"Your time will come," he said, as reassuringly as possible.

Harry shrugged. "Only if I can convince someone that I'm done with temporary work, and only looking for a permanent hire."

There didn't seem to be anything to say to that, so when the Owl Post office came up over the rise it was a relief. "I should only be a moment, there's rarely a line," said Snape, holding the door in case Harry wished to follow.

"I'll stay out here, then. Less gossip."

Snape chuckled. Harry would soon learn that gossip was practically a vocation in a town this size, and a celebrity like Harry would attract it like flies to honey.

They ended up with what was, for Snape, a baffling array of provisions. There was a beef roast, lamb sausages, a rasher of bacon, a whole flat of eggs, and some ground venison for making pies. Late vegetables of every sort had found their way into Snape's basket, and the returned bags had been met with thanks and, in Ardemisia's case, an order for a cosmetic potion in exchange for the eggs. There were three kinds of owl treats as well as four loaves of bread, plus a dozen sweet pastries and as many rolls stuffed into another borrowed bag. Hunter wasn't there but one of the other potions suppliers was, a witch who specialised in ingredients of dubious legality but excellent quality, and some of her goods were now his, as well.

Harry's presence had brought him welcome and smiles, though as predicted there were fewer discounts. "Will he be a regular around here, then?" Ardemisia had asked, while Harry was casting cushioning, preservation, and shrinking charms on the eggs.

Snape had sighed in a put-upon manner and replied, "Apparently so."

He hadn't missed the surprise that preceded the grin Harry plastered on his face for the rest of their trip.

It was still present when they got home, and Harry practically hummed as he filled Snape's cupboards with their bounty. "Do you know how to truss the roast?" asked Snape when he returned from the lab, having put up the potions supplies while Harry got everything else tucked away except for the evening's supper ingredients.

"Nope," said Harry cheerfully. "I'll chop the vegetables for roasting while you do that, shall I?"

Snape glanced over the herbs in their various jars on the windowsill, then nodded. "All right, put them in the big roasting pan. We'll cook them along with the meat, so they benefit from the flavour and add their own to the gravy."

"Sounds delicious," said Harry, getting the pan down from where it had gone after the goose.

Snape tried to tell himself it was bothersome to have Harry so familiar with his kitchen, but he knew it for a lie. Harry's happiness was contagious, and his presence made cooking seem less like a necessary chore than usual.

"What'll we use for flavor this time?" asked Harry curiously, scattering the chunks of carrot along with the potato, celery, red pepper and turnip already filling the bottom of the roasting pan.

"Rosemary, thyme and marjoram," said Snape, washing his hands before plucking sprigs of each from the windowsill to scatter over the vegetables. He followed it up with a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of salt and a generous grind of pepper, then put the rack for the roast in on top, so the meat would cook suspended above the vegetables. "Chop these finely, no stems," he said, handing Harry a few more sprigs of herb.

"Yes, sir," said Harry with a wink. Snape rolled his eyes, but soon enough the roast was seasoned, spiced, and ready to cook.

When he closed the oven door, it was with a feeling of satisfaction that Snape was unaccustomed to finding outside of his potions lab.

A quick spell showed the stairs up to the old Owlery to be sound, and Harry led the way with a spring in his step.

"Sound isn't necessarily safe," said Snape grumpily. He had decided to react to this unexpected pleasantness in his usual manner, with mistrust and ill humour, but Harry seemed to be taking it all in stride.

"You'll pump me full of healing potions if I fall," said Harry with a grin, as if to prove Snape's point. He did have the good sense to stop at the top and allow Snape to open the door, revealing a cold, dirty room with a few rotting perches and a large number of owl pellets decorating the floor.

"It's got plenty of windows," said Harry wryly.

Snape snorted, and redid the spell to test for weak spots in the structure. The perches glowed a sickly green, though not the shutters, and the stone floor and walls were still quite solid. "If you can fix it up, you may board your owl here as you see fit," he declared, stepping into the room. "There's a man in town who can renew the charms on the shutters so they'll open for your owl, but otherwise keep the weather out."

Harry wandered over to the biggest opening, the French doors hanging crooked and broken in their archway. "You could land a broom here, too, if you did the wards up right."

"I suppose," said Snape, not wanting to admit that he'd been thinking the same thing himself. "Do with it as you like, anyway, but check with me before you alter my wards."

"Yes, sir," said Harry cheerfully, pulling out his wand.

Snape just harrumphed and went downstairs to check the roast.

Dinner was a rousing success, and Snape made a delicious roast beef hash from the leftovers the next morning, serving the sleepy crew of Harry, Remus and Neville with fried eggs and sarcasm.

"Harry can clean up, as he's familiar with the kitchen," announced Snape, finishing off his tea in one swig. "Lunch will be self-serve, there's plenty in the larder, and-"

He was interrupted by the sound of the Floo, followed by chattering voices. "All done with breakfast, I hope?" said Molly Weasley, bustling into the kitchen with Hermione and a sleepy-looking Ron. "We're here to help out with meals, so you lads don't worry about a thing. Ron, put that basket up there," she said.

"Yes, Mum," said Ron, setting the basket down with a huge yawn. "Any tea left?"

"Of course!" said Harry cheerfully, sitting him down and serving him tea and the bits of breakfast that hadn't made it onto anyone's plate. "I'm sure your mum fed you before you came, but more never hurts."

"S'good," said Ron around a mouthful of the hash.

"I made it," said Snape, just for the joy of watching Ron nearly choke.

That set the tone for the day. Mrs. Weasley took Hermione and began to clean the public areas of the house, at least the ones she felt that her family -- real or acquired -- might be in need of. Snape retreated to his lab except for meals, and the occasional bit of random banter when he needed something from his garden. The boys spent the day using magic to clear the yard and block out where the greenhouses would go, and Snape was pleased to see that Harry was nearly as protective of Snape's herbs as Snape would have been, had it been necessary.

The last of Snape's concerns were laid to rest that night, when he spotted Harry pressing a small purse into Ron's hands. "Just put it in the household budget," Harry said quietly, "She shouldn't be paying to feed this whole crew."

"Nor should you," said Snape, coming up behind him. "I trust you'll at least give Neville and Remus the opportunity for recompense?"

Harry blushed. "I suppose, I just figured it was the least I could do. It's not like I don't have piles."

"Your Quidditch career won't last forever," said Ron, but Harry waved him silent.

"I had piles even before I started pulling in a pay packet, you know that," he said, and for once, Snape and Ron shared a moment of perfect understanding. Harry's tendency to come to the rescue hadn't lessened so much as transmuted itself, from saving the world to helping his friends out whenever he could.

"As you wish, but you'd best let Remus know what you're up to so he doesn't try to duplicate your kindness with Molly," said Snape, nodding to the group of them talking.

"Oh, yeah," said Harry with a laugh. "Good idea, I suppose."

"I am full of them, it seems," said Snape sardonically.

It was going to be a long week.

"I take it that you're enjoying the unseasonable warmth?" said Snape darkly, watching Harry's half-naked form leaning against his laboratory doorframe like he belonged there.

"Yep," said Harry with a grin. "Foundation building is hot work, but we're nearly done. I've been sent down to pester you for tea." His upper body held the strength of a young man in his prime, lean and fit with no sign of the softness that came with age and easy living.

"Why is it always you?" asked Snape, intending the question to be rhetorical. The past few days had developed a pattern of separate work and meals together, with Harry acting as the go-between.

"Neville's forbidden and Remus doesn't do stairs yet," said Harry, moving further into the room so he could lean close and watch what Snape was doing.

Snape tried to ignore the scent of him, warm and masculine at Snape's side. "And here I thought you were growing to enjoy the duty," he replied, dry and cynical. He sprinkled indigo powder over the roiling green potion, which turned it a blushing, rosy pink.

"I didn't think I was allowed," said Harry, resting his chin on Snape's shoulder for a moment before being shrugged off.

Snape put out the flame and put a lid on the cauldron; allowing the condensation to form a pool on top of the potion was an integral part of the process that many neglected to their detriment. "I have come to expect you'll do as you like whether or not you're supposedly allowed."

Harry chuckled. "Need help cleaning up?"

"You'd only get sweat in my powders," said Snape, though handed Harry some capped jars for re-shelving anyway.

"You're just jealous because it wasn't you that got me all sweaty," said Harry with a wink. He sashayed over to the shelves and put things away neatly, having grown as familiar with the lab as the kitchen cupboards. Snape cleared up with the ease of long practice, finding it annoyingly congenial to have Harry there to assist.

"If I were to get you all sweaty," said Snape, after a few moments of working in silence, "You would be too worn out to stand, let alone make snide remarks."

"Promises, promises," teased Harry, and Snape told himself he imagined the note of wistfulness in Harry's tone.

It was only a few days more before the work was done on the greenhouse bases, and Snape had to allow himself to be cajoled into permitting a small celebration. Neville and Remus left right after tea to invite everyone they knew to invade Snape's home and watch the triumphant finale.

He was surprised to find that, unlike most days, Harry didn't leave with them.

"Did you forget something?" asked Snape dryly as he began cleaning up after their tea. "Your shirt, perhaps?"

Harry chuckled, stepping into Snape's personal space. "I know right where it is, but I'd hate to go to all the trouble of putting it on when I'm only going to try to get you to take it off again."

Snape blinked.

"Cat got your tongue?" said Harry, his confident tone faltering just enough to let Snape know that, for whatever reason, his offer was sincerely meant.

"Is there no one else with whom you would prefer to share this triumph?" asked Snape, letting his surprise and disbelief colour his words. He did not, however, move away.

Harry seemed to take that as encouragement, and stepped a little closer. "There's no one else I'd rather have, period," he said, putting a hand on Snape's chest. "I know you didn't properly apply, but I was hoping you'd consider the long-term position I'm offering."

Snape swallowed, one hand going to Harry's waist of its own accord. "How long a term are we discussing?" he asked, though he knew he'd accept, regardless. They'd been moving toward this since Harry had Flooed into Snape's lap, one way or another.

Harry grinned. "Oh, years and years," he said, his other hand threading into Snape's hair as he stretched himself upward. "It's an exclusive contract."

"A one-time offer?" asked Snape, pulling Harry closer, mouth hovering tantalisingly near Harry's.

Harry licked his lips, then shook his head. "I'm going to keep offering until you accept it," he said, voice breathy and low now.

"I wouldn't want to be tedious," said Snape, finally allowing himself to close that small gap and surrender to the promise of Harry's kiss. "I accept," he whispered before going back for a second, much more thorough taste. Harry's lips were slightly chapped, rough and warm against his own, but strong enough to turn Snape's knees to gelatine.

"Can I see your bed now?" asked Harry, once that kiss, too, came to its natural end.

Snape's fingers couldn't seem to stop tracing the bare skin of Harry's back long enough to let go, but he nodded anyway even as he was coming in to steal another of those heady, addictive kisses. "I want to see you in my bed," he whispered hoarsely, taking a step forward that forced Harry back.

Harry got the idea quickly, walking backward and trusting Snape to guide him as they made their way to the stairs. Giving a frustrated growl as they hit that obstacle, Snape pressed Harry close and did something supremely foolish, Apparating them both up to the bedroom with a crack.

"I love a man with priorities," said Harry, stepping back only far enough to allow his hands into the space between them, nimble fingers working open the buttons of Snape's robes.

"You have thrown all of mine awry," said Snape, head dipping down to sample the sweat off Harry's neck, licking the salty skin and then biting gently just to feel the give of flesh under his teeth.

Harry's groan of encouragement led to more biting, the pink marks of his teeth marring the golden tan of Harry's skin in a very satisfactory manner. "Kiss me again or help me get you undressed, or else I'll..." Harry's plea ended with a desperate little moan, and an intriguing undulation of his hips.

Snape made a note of Harry's newly-revealed fondness for teeth, wondering what other preferences would soon fill out his mental list. "As you like," he said lightly, though in truth he felt almost as desperate as Harry, feverish and ready to burst with built-up need. Severus' hands finally managed to pull away from the silken contours of Harry's skin and made short work of his own clothing, no thoughts of shyness left with Harry shucking his kit just as quickly.

The moment they were both naked, Harry practically threw himself back into Snape's arms, plastering his body to Snape's taller, skinnier form and claiming another of those heady kisses. "Take me to bed," he said roughly.

Snape couldn't help but chuckle. "That would be easier if you were not stuck to me like a barnacle," he teased, shuffling them backward as best he could until Harry pulled away just enough. Then Snape swooped down and lifted Harry up, depositing him on the bed before Snape's body could protest the unaccustomed exercise. "Much better," he said, looking down at Harry with a rather proprietary air.

Harry didn't seem to mind one bit. He scrambled to get into the bed instead of just on it, holding up the covers once he was under them in blatant invitation. "It'll be even better with you here."

"Yes," said Snape, sliding in and pulling Harry to him, "I believe it will."

Snape couldn't remember his bed having ever been so warm and welcoming. Harry moulded his body to Snape's and resumed their broken kiss with a hunger that Snape found both baffling and gratifying. "You'll put this in me, right?" asked Harry, breathless and grinning, his hand wrapped around the anatomy in question.

Snape chuckled, mentally assigning a point to Remus for observational skills. "If you like," he replied, trying to sound nonchalant though the roughness of his voice gave him away. He silenced that voice by kissing Harry until he could think of little else, and they were both in danger of finishing early.

"I like very much," whispered Harry, into one of the silences.

Snape chuckled against his skin, then bit down one last time. "A hint to get on with things?" said Snape rhetorically, moving away long enough to find the slick lubricant he brewed for his own solitary pleasures. It would serve for now, though he'd want to make something else if the position did truly turn out to be permanent, something more specific to their needs.

"Me," said Harry with a breathless laugh. "It's a hint to get onto me."

"And get off with you, one hopes," said Snape, slicking up his fingers and wending them down into the dark space between thighs that spread readily for him. He shoved away unworthy thoughts about who else might have lain here, knowing that none of them had been offered what he had already accepted. Harry was his now, and that was what mattered.

"As many times as possible," said Harry with a gasp as Snape's finger found its goal and snuck inside.

"Thousands, then, over the term of the contract," said Snape with a smirk, moving down to taste the slick precome coating Harry's belly, then sampling it straight from the source. His hand stayed busy as well, one finger becoming two and then three when Harry's body proved accommodating.

"F-first one now, if you don't, oh, stop that!" moaned Harry, the words broken by little moans and hitched breaths.

Snape pulled away before Harry could find his ending, wanting to share in at least this first one, though he had plans for taste testing more the next time the subject came up. "I take it you're ready for me?" said Snape, fingers slipping free and then the unguent applied to his eager cock. He told it sternly to wait its turn and not embarrass him, though it seemed it had a mind of its own, nudging forward until his cockhead nestled happily in the crease of Harry's arse.

"More than ready, don't tease!" pleaded Harry, one foot sliding up his leg to push inward impatiently.

Snape could do nothing but oblige, his prick surging down and in, and a groan falling from his lips to Harry's as he felt himself engulfed in tight heat that far outstripped any distant memories. "Harry, my Harry," Snape found himself saying, giving voice to the possessiveness that had grown over the past weeks, cultivated by Harry's jokes and flirtation, the pestering and imposition and gentle, persistent affection.

"Your Harry, oh, Severus," came the reply, and Snape dipped his head down to bite once again at the tender throat bared so trustingly to him. Harry groaned and shuddered, and Snape used his hand to coax Harry's prick into giving up its prize, trapping Harry between the pleasures of hand and mouth, cock and arse.

Harry's ragged cries were sweet to Snape's ears, the spatter of hot seed a triumph as well as permission of a sort to concentrate on his own pleasure now. "Mine," growled Snape, his clean hand urging Harry's hips to rise up and meet his thrusts, harder now, and deeper, his body remembering the way of it now that it was allowed to seek its destination. It didn't take much longer before he threw his head back and shuddered, spilling himself into Harry.

When Snape came back to himself enough to look down, he found Harry's face filled with wondering desire, and Harry's renewed erection demanding extra attention. Snape smirked and kissed him, saying, "It figures that you'd be insatiable as well as incorrigible."

Harry laughed and kissed back, giving a little wriggle. "Only for you," he said impishly.

Snape growled and bit down on one tender nipple, getting a gasp. "Only for me," he said, getting a taste of Harry's cooling seed that spurred him to further action. He slipped out with a sigh of regret, but made it up to them both by sliding down to nuzzle at Harry's balls, then lick his way up the straining shaft to suckle at the damp head.

"Y-you're mine now, too," said Harry with a gasp, fingers threading into Snape's hair like they belonged there.

Snape made an agreeable noise and then put his mind to the current task, dredging up old skills and finding it a bit like riding a broom, in that one got the hang of it quickly once back up in the air. Harry's cock was salty and hot on his tongue, too long to take in a single mouthful but small enough that Snape felt he could learn. He let his eyes fall shut and lost himself in the feel of it, the sounds of Harry's breathy moans above him and the scent of musk and come that surrounded him. One long finger found its way back into the slick cleft and even further in, and his own cock twitched at the recent memory of pleasure.

Half-spoken pleas and promises warred with Harry's moans, and his hips rocked of their own accord, though never so much that Snape couldn't accommodate him. It took longer than the first time, but not by much, and soon enough Harry was filling Snape's mouth with rich, bitter seed. He swallowed every drop and licked away the remains, working his way upward this time until they could share a kiss, Snape's finger still nestled in its new favourite place.

"Only yours," Snape promised between kisses.

Harry wriggled his hips. "It's going to be awfully hard for you to brew like this," he said, "but I don't think I mind."

Snape chuckled and gently rubbed the sensitive spot his finger had found. "I certainly think the reward is worth the risk," he teased, as Harry gasped and then melted into the bedclothes.

"I thought so," said Harry, looking insufferably smug now. "You're not going to toss me out on my arse now, are you?"

"This arse?" asked Snape, slipping in a second finger, just because he could. "It would be a shame to waste it on such a use," he said, watching the arousal play around the edges of Harry's grin, warring with the little yawn he tried to suppress. Snape pulled his fingers out anyway and kissed him. "You're safe this time," Snape said, curling his long body around Harry's more compact frame, one arm draped possessively over him.

Harry snuggled up with a grin. "I'll make sure my arse is always ready for better uses," he said, finally letting the yawn out.

Snape echoed it, feeling an unfamiliar warm lassitude weighing down his limbs and slowing his thoughts. "Only for me," he warned, though there was little bite to the words.

"I wouldn't want it," said Harry, pausing for another yawn," any other way."

Title: Strange Creatures
Fandom: Harry Potter
Pairing: Snape/Harry, background Remus/Neville
Rating: NC-17
Warnings: Slash
Summary: Snape makes a deal with a werewolf for potions ingredients, and ends up having his life turned upside-down by something he considers entirely novel -- friends. The flipside to Flora and Fauna, as told from Snape's point of view.
Acknowledgements: Firstly to aliciajd for her incredibly generous donation to Live Long and Marry, secondly to daenin for cheering me on and listening to my weird ideas, and lastly to my betas, isidore13 and thesewarmstars, who were both amazingly fast and awesome.

All of the works contained herein are labours of love, unauthorized by those who hold the rights to such things, and no profit is made from them. No harm is meant, and hopefully no offense given.