Title: Over The Edge Of The Wild.
Pairing(s): Severus Snape/Harry Potter
Length: 8.5K +
Warnings: Pre-slash. Getting together.
Disclaimer: Don't own these characters. I make no profit from writing fanfiction.
Summary: “You had no idea whatsoever, did you? I’ve been gone on you for nigh on three years. Actively courting you for one and a half. And you thought I was what, auditioning for Sandwich Maker Of The Year? That’s not even a thing, Severus!”
A/N: Written in celebration of Severus Snape’s birthday. Have a lovely day, professor. <3
Over The Edge Of The Wild.
Bent over the only fire-crab shell cauldron in his possession, Severus stirred the highly volatile experimental potion he’d been working on since the witching hour five times anticlockwise and held his breath. The pale-lilac tincture took three nerve- long seconds to turn opalescent pink and Severus’ rigidly held shoulders relaxed upon seeing the change. His substitution was holding stable, the altered color of his concoction remained close enough to that of the original draught at this stage of the brewing process that his hopes for full potency in the final product were no longer as fanciful as they had been a mere two days ago. He’d made it past the halfway point, and now all he had to do was find his way through another four ingredient replacement circles. It’d be hard, and horribly time-consuming, but he could now see the light at the end of the tunnel for the first time since he’d accepted this challenge ten long -and utterly frustrating- months ago.
Severus had known from the beginning that developing a Draught Of The Living Death variant that could be safely prescribed indefinitely to the many war survivors who still struggled with night terrors five years after the end of the Final Battle wasn’t going to be easy. St. Mungo’s had issued a Potion-community-wide challenge to craft such brew back in the days when Severus had still been bed-ridden, more consumed with the idea of recuperating from his Nagini inflicted wounds than solving a pretty puzzle for the sake of solving it. He had no use for a concoction like the one the hospital sought to create. Being a skilled Occlumens allowed him to compartmentalise the part of his mind where his worst memories were trapped, and a literal lack of traumatic memories led one’s brain straight to a nightmare-free sleep. Thank Merlin for that.
At the time, Severus hadn’t been in the right frame of mind to keep track of the different theories put forth by the potioneers who took up St. Mungo’s original challenge. He hadn’t honestly cared one way or the other. Not when they were trying to solve a problem that, for once, didn’t affect him directly, or afflicted the one survivor left that Severus’s war-hardened heart still cared about, his precious godson, Draco Malfoy.
Severus wouldn’t have bothered to look into the particulars of the challenge if it hadn't been for Draco’s pushing, though. The irritating little brat had stormed into his home one blustery Tuesday afternoon, cast a gimlet stare around Severus’s uncharacteristically messy sitting room and demanded he ‘get his head out of his arse, and put that brilliant mind of his to work on something other than digging himself deeper into depression.’ Severus hadn’t been amused. He hadn’t listened at first either. However, Draco was a stubborn soul who'd learned at the knee of a true daughter of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black how to manipulate unsuspecting and even no-so-gullible wizards into doing what he wanted. Severus hadn’t had a hope in hell of resisting Draco indefinitely, but lasted at least three months and was, to this day, inordinately proud of that achievement.
Severus had caved, as ungraciously as always, to Draco’s stubborn demand that he used the money he’d been awarded alongside his Order Of Merlin, First Class, to buy prime property in the heart of Diagon Alley. He’d also acquiesced to selling his childhood home, and renovating the top floor of his new property to create a modern and airy flat, keeping the ground floor as the shop it was meant to be and using Wizard Space to build the potions lab of Severus’s dreams in the basement.
Severus had been convinced he’d end up bankrupt within the month. He'd been confident that no decent wizard would stoop low enough to buy potions from a store inauspiciously named ‘Snape’s.’ He’d been wrong on that count too, just as Draco had predicted he’d be, and the annoying little brat hadn’t let him live it down yet. Shockingly, Potter had been their first customer and the indisputable reason for their unlikely success. The had walked into the store with a determined air, not two minutes after Severus had flipped the sign on the door to OPEN for the very first time, and proceeded to load a small basket with too eclectic a collection of potions for his choices to have been anything other than random. He’d paid a small fortune for it all and left with a cheerful smile and a wish for Severus to have a ‘good day.’
Potter’s eager visit to Severus’s humble shoppe had been featured in that day’s evening edition of The Prophet. There was nothing the so-called journalists working for that miserable rag enjoyed better than to follow the poor idiot around just to write lengthy dissertations about the kind of sandwiches he enjoyed the most, and where he bought his underwear. The moment The Prophet announced Potter’s ‘patronage’ of Severus’s store, the place had become an instant hit with the public. Gone was the uphill battle to make ends meet Severus had anticipated. Gone was the struggle not only to survive but also to compete with established apothecaries like Slug&Jiggers. Gone was every legal and ethical obstacle Severus had envisioned being placed in his way because of the general populace’s derision towards a murky past he couldn’t deny. Potter had come into the store, bought a bunch of things, and won Severus’s most important battle for him without even breaking a sweat. Severus had never thanked him for it. And Potter, bless his stupidly generous Gryffindor heart, never bothered to address his act of charity. Never put a price on the favour he’d bestowed.
The Timer Charm he’d cast informed him that precisely three minutes and twenty-five seconds had passed since he last stirred his cauldron and Severus lowered the flame to 40 Dragonbreath Standard Degrees, lifted his obsidian stirring rod and submerged it into his mixture one excruciatingly slow inch at a time. The rod hit the bottom of the cauldron and Severus held it still for a count of seven seconds, giving it two clockwise stirs and eight anticlockwise in quick succession before pulling the rod back out and recasting his Timer Charm to rouse him from the next batch of ingredient preparation seventeen minutes and forty-two seconds from now.
He’d just grabbed his trusty silver dagger and the jar of Sopophorous beans when Draco’s emphatically louder than usual footsteps overhead disrupted the quiet. “Potter’s here again, godfather. He’s refusing to relinquish your customary sandwich into my care, as usual. Is it safe enough to send him down now or do you need a minute?”
Severus sighed, utterly irritated by the interruption, and cast a hurried look around the lab looking for anything that may give a potion’s philistine like Potter insight into the nature of Severus’s current brew. Draco would take one look at the Sopophorous beans themselves and know exactly what sort of potion Severus was working on, but Potter wasn’t Draco. Potter was an utter idiot, so Severus had no reason to disguise them.
“Godfather? Potter’s getting antsy up here. Can I send him down or not?”
Severus huffed loudly enough to be heard at the top of the stairs and smiled fondly when his godson replied with a not-so-subtle giggle of amusement. He’d never managed to make sense of Potter’s rather abrupt and mystifying obsession with showing up on Severus’s doorstep and feeding him sandwiches. It had been going on for about a year and a half now, and the baffling thing was that the dammed Gryffindor didn’t seem to feel the need to feed Draco. He’d gotten shockingly testy the one time Severus had allowed his godson to wolf down one of Potter’s little offerings, even though the two of them had developed some sort of friendly truce when they’d gone back to Hogwarts for their so-called ‘Eighth year.’ Draco had reminisced enough times in his letters about the quality, flavour, and even the bloody texture, of Potter’s midnight sandwiches for Severus to be reasonably certain his godson had been allowed to partake the results of the Gryffindor's culinary efforts while they’d been at school.
Severus found Potter’s post-Hogwarts petty refusal to indulge Draco’s fondness for the meals irrational and befuddling. If there was anyone working at ‘Snape’s’ that Potter should have either reason or inclination to feed sandwiches to it certainly wasn’t him, unless the Gryffindor was trying to pull Draco’s figurative pigtails with his ridiculous stunt. A year and a half of such nonsense seemed to Severus too excessive a foreplay period in the bizarre -courtship? steady relationship? Incomprehensible younger generation’s idea of a casual hook-up?- they’d got going. However, who was Severus to judge them regarding such a thing? He had no idea of how one went about finding or claiming love. His experience in the matter was too risible to contemplate. He was no authority on emotion.
“Tell the brat I’m not here, Draco,” Severus grumbled, hoping against hope that Potter had gotten distracted by some drooling fan or other on his way inside the store, even though he knew for a fact that Draco wouldn’t have prompted him thrice for an answer if that had been the case.
“The brat can hear you, Oh-Great-Master-Of-Potions.” Potter sing-songed cheerfully and stomped down the stairs without waiting for Draco’s permission to do so.
“Potter, get the fuck out of my lab. And take your blasted sandwich with you. I’m at a delicate stage of my brewing process, and I’ll never forgive you if you contaminate my mixture.”
“Ouch! You’re unusually testy today. How long have you been down here?” Potter asked, smiling at him lopsidedly as he reached the edge of the containment ward that usually surrounded Severus’ working tables. “I’ve cast that Vacuum Charm you taught me around your sandwich, as always. The poor thing is literally unable to contaminate anything around here, and you know it.” He added, shaking the little bag he was carrying obnoxiously.
Severus was sure Potter wasn’t as stupid as he acted. He’d concluded months ago that the brat was aware of how profoundly Severus hated being bothered while he was busy in the lab but, for some unfathomable reason, had decided not to give a bloody fuck about it. “Go away” He hissed, flustered by the intensity of the little assessing look Potter was throwing his way. “You’re too much of a menace around lab equipment and expensive ingredients to be here.”
Potter plopped Severus’s home-made sandwich on the receiving table that sat directly outside the protective wards. “You’ve been here overnight. Haven’t you?”
Severus scowled. He didn’t much care for the Savior’s erroneous assumption that he’d somehow earned the right to nag him about his life choices. The sheer audacity betrayed by Potter’s belief that he could do such a thing infuriated him. “Last I checked you look nothing like my mother. Kindly refrain from trying to manage me, Potter.”
“Manage you?” Potter had the gall to laugh. “Perish the thought, Severus. I like you just as you are, you, cantankerous beast.”
Severus froze. “You like me as I am.” He repeated the brat’s words in a hoarse little whisper that didn’t have a hope in hell of concealing how much they’d rattled him. He looked Potter straight in the eye, mind awhirl with the sudden rearranging of a thousand tiny moments he’d dismissed as mere coincidence. Potter didn’t even so much as breathe while Severus stared at him, wide-eyed. The very tips of the Savior's ears turned a bright shade of carmine, but the gaze that met Severus’s remained bright and steady, as calm as a warded pond that neither gusty breeze nor fallen leaf is allowed to disturb.
Potter’s no doubt clumsy attempt to explain himself became stillborn in response to Severus’ rather desperate gesture requesting silence. The Gryffindor complied instantly, with far more grace, far more respect towards him and his need for extra time to process so unexpected a turn of events, than Severus would have expected.
Potter wriggled like a worm on a hook, shifting restlessly from left to right in a thoroughly distracting manner as Severus gaped at him moronically and blinked in utter shock. It couldn’t be, could it? He couldn’t have missed something quite so enormous. Potter’s abysmal lack of eloquence must have led the brat to select the wrong word combination to describe some form of tepid regard. And the sandwiches— the stupid sandwiches were nothing but coincidence. Weren’t they?
“You need to leave.” Severus finally managed to say, a good five minutes into the suffocating impasse brought about by his demand for Potter to be silent. The saviour visibly flinched. He paled, then growled and took an instinctive half-step forward that was brought to an abrupt halt as hurriedly as it was born when Severus added in a humiliatingly fragile tone, “Please. Please, Potter. Leave.”
Potter’s reaction to Severus’s pleading tone was instant and visceral. He stumbled backward in the most faithful imitation of anguish-induced clumsy despair Severus had ever seen. The Savior of the Wizarding world stood at the base of his staircase in all his tear-bright gaze and wobbly lipped glory, looking at him as if Severus had threatened to rip his still beating heart out of his heaving chest just to throw it in the garbage bin. Potter turned around with a small cry and thundered up the stairs as if the hounds of hell itself were hot on his heels.
Severus remained frozen in place, standing like the dullest nincompoop imaginable beside his work station, and stared dumbly at the half-opened jar Sopophorous beans while his plan of counting out seven instead of the customary 13 ran through his head. That was the next change in Severus’ substitution list. He’d been hoping that exchanging the remaining six beans for a mixture of Lionfish Spines and Salamander’s Blood would allow the effects of his mixture to wane and disappear from the drinker’s bloodstream reliably. Now those all-important plans for change, for improvement, for the creation of something new and, hopefully, of use to the Wizarding community at large, seemed both slightly nebulous and a touch misguided.
Severus listened to his uneven breathing while his pulse thundered unpleasantly in his temples and the base of his neck, and came to the shocking conclusion that maybe, just maybe, he’d been looking for a rewarding post-war existence in the wrong place. He’d assumed his last chance at—what, exactly? A bizarre courtship? A steady relationship? A youngster’s incomprehensible idea of a casual hook-up? had sailed away long ago. Why just this morning he’d have stated without a shadow of a doubt that his only path to future joy meandered along the orderly and chiefly intellectually-minded road of his professional endeavours. He wasn’t the only potioneer in Britain. He may be the best by far, but not the only one. He’d never accomplish his rarely whispered aloud desire of becoming someone’s best, someone’s only, if he’d attempted to use professional achievement to fulfill that emotional need. Professional respect couldn’t replace affection, but Potter-
Potter was heroic, earnest, good looking. Severus could very well imagine he’d be faithful if he bothered to offer anything more meaningful than a curiosity-induced one-night stand. Potter was also twenty years his junior, the most revered public figure of their time, and an impulsive Gryffindor to boot. The brat may think himself in love, but that didn’t mean he was. He could be merely in lust. Or bored and looking for a challenge. In any case, Severus couldn’t afford to burn himself in Potter’s blazing flame.
Even if he decided to pursue affection instead of chasing professional acclaim as a source of happiness, Severus owed it to himself to remain pragmatic. He may have the legal means to name himself half a Prince by right of blood, but Severus knew himself to be no prince charming. Fairy-tale endings weren't meant for the likes of him. Love of the everlasting variety with a strapping young man who was not only loaded enough to live twenty lifetimes submerged in Malfoy-style luxury but also happened to be The Savior Of The Bloody World to boot, belonged to the untarnished heroes, to the Ronald Weasleys, Neville Longbottoms and Harry Potters of the world. Not to Severus Snape, ex-Death Eater.
Sooner or later Potter would grow up enough to recognise his ill-advised infatuation for what it was. Short-lived curiosity that would have been fun but, ultimately, meaningless. Severus was too old for meaningless. He was too old for affairs of the heart that were doomed from the start. Severus needed practical. Steady. Achievable. He couldn't, wouldn’t, gamble his heart on Harry Potter.
Severus spent the rest of the day dazed and distracted. So much so that barely two hours after Potter’s hurried departure he'd forced himself to admit defeat and brought his experimental brewing to a safe enough stage to cast a Stasis Charm over the lot. He’d left a narrow-eyed Draco to manage the shop on his own until closing time, mumbling something about needing sleep as he’d shuffled past his godson, and retreated to the comforting safety of his bright and airy flat.
Severus then proceeded to spend precious afternoon hours listlessly trekking from fireside chair to Diagon Alley facing window in a show of restlessness that had him frustrated with himself within the first half hour. He cursed his restless mind. Cursed Potter for being bold enough to both fancy him and let him know he nursed such attraction. He cursed his own wretched nature, the foolishly romantic disposition his mother must have passed onto him. That thrice accursed desire to give, to care, that had always made him feel hopelessly incomplete without a partner.
Severus knew in his heart of hearts that he’d always wanted someone to pour his natural reserves of devotion over. Someone willing to be his. Someone who’d share his joys, his despair, and all the everyday moments in between. He hadn’t managed to find that someone yet and, by now, he’d come to the conclusion he never would. Was it worth it to seek someone to fill the lonely spaces of his life, even if that person wasn’t ideal? He was too agitated to think about it properly. He was still in shock. Rattled so profoundly he couldn’t think straight. He should go to bed, allow these nebulous thoughts, these nebulous emotions, to settle within him before he tried to analyse them. Acting upon them now would only lead him astray.
Severus had expected Potter to either act like nothing had happened and bounce into the shop waving his daily sandwich offering around cheerfully, or to avoid the place altogether. He’d used his need to work on the mixture for St. Mungo’s challenge as an excuse to escape down to the basement around eleven in the morning and remained there ever since, staring glumly at the notes he’d taken during yesterday’s session but failing to rouse himself enough to sort them into a useful data table that could aid him in his efforts to move forward.
He never heard Potter enter the store. Never heard him leave it either. However, that the Gryffindor must have done both at some point -and failed to seek Severus out and pester him for at least five minutes, as was his wont- became painfully clear when Draco descended the stairs with an uncharacteristically heavy thread and placed a familiar sandwich bag upon the lab’s receiving table.
Severus stared at that sandwich bag, wide-eyed, feeling even more rattled by how much the sight of it -alongside the realisation that Potter— Potter had come. Had gone. And hadn’t bothered to make contact- hurt him.
“Harry left this for you, godfather.” Draco pointed out unnecessarily when it became obvious that Severus wasn’t going to say anything.
“Could you, please, take it away? You can eat it, too. Potter would never know that you-
“No. I can’t. I won’t. It’s that turkey, provolone and cranberry sauce combination you like so much, by the smell of it. We both know that Harry doesn’t make this particular sandwich often.”
Severus’s strangely squirming stomach dropped all the way down to his toes. “That’s my favourite sandwich,” He said hollowly, unable to make sense of the messy tangle of emotions that were tightening his throat to the point of suffocation. The backs of his eyes burned, and he felt slightly wholly-headed, as if a thin veil of fog had formed between himself and the world around him and was intent on keeping him unmoored from reality in the most unpleasant way.
“Yes.” Draco agreed quietly and leaned against the supply cupboard door. His white-shirt-covered shoulder pressed against the solid mahogany wood in a way that Severus found utterly fascinating. Far more intriguing a sight than his godson’s concerned gaze, that was for sure. “Harry rarely makes this sandwich,” Draco pushed once more, breaking the lengthening silence, “He likes to save it for special occasions.”
“Does he?” Severus blinked, startled. He’d never noticed such pattern before.
“Don’t play coy with me, godfather. You know he always brings this combo on your birthday. On Valentine’s day. On the anniversary of the Final Battle and Dumbledore’s death. He even made it when they gave you that award for Excellence in Innovative Potions Research six months ago.”
“I never noticed that before.” Severus murmured faintly, and his tone must have sounded to Draco as fragile as it'd sounded to himself because the brat’s distinctive silver gaze abruptly lost the increasingly hardening edge it’d been nurturing for the last minute or so, and began to soften with something humiliatingly close to pity.
“What’s going on, Severus?”
“You can’t be serious. Harry looked— He left. Without seeing you, for Salazar’s sake. He’s never done that before.”
Severus didn’t like being interrogated. It didn’t help any that he felt inexplicably nauseous and cold — rattled to his very core. “I’ve no more insight into the Savior's affairs than you do, Draco. Maybe Potter had something urgent to do and couldn’t afford to dally. It’s not as if clapping eyes on me is an essential requirement for his sandwich delivery.”
“Isn’t it? He delivers them for you.” Draco said dryly, pointedly, clearly unhappy with Severus’s flippant answer while Severus struggled to find a way out of the conversation that wouldn’t leave him coming across like the biggest git who ever lived. He’d never enjoyed being at odds with Draco.
“I’m too busy for this.” He finally stated flatly, running the potion-tainted fingertips of his left hand over the curled edges of his observations notebook, and hoping his godson would leave it at that.
“He was looking for you.”
“What's that supposed to mean?”
“It’s not supposed to mean anything, godfather.” Draco sighed. “It’s just a fact. Something I think you should know. Harry came into the shop and inspected every corner. He even wandered over to the curtained off consultation room and peered inside before approaching me at the till. I think he was looking for you.”
“I fail to see how those particular actions led you to the conclusion that Potter was looking for me, Draco. Sounds to me like the Saviour was behaving like his usual nosy self.”
“I don’t think so. Harry wilted when he couldn’t find you. It was horrible to watch.”
“He couldn’t have been looking for me.”
“Who else could he have been looking for? I was already there.”
“I don’t know! Why would I be privy to what passes for thoughts in Potter’s crazy little head? Maybe he’d agreed to met with someone else here. It wouldn’t be the first time he’s done that. Weasley works across the street.”
“But Harry’s only-
“You’re wrong, Draco. You’re seeing ghosts where there are none. Potter comes over often enough to be aware that I rarely manage the shop. If he’d wanted to see me, he’d have come down, as always.”
Draco’s lips thinned with displeasure. “That’s my point, godfather. Harry wanted to see you, but he didn’t come down. Something’s happened to make him doubt his welcome. Did you guys get into a fight?”
“Of course not,” Severus said, leaning forward to grasp his quill. He dipped it into his ink-pot and turned to the next page in his notebook, striving to portray the image of a distracted scholar eager to return to work even as he added reasonably “What would Potter and I even fight about, Draco? Sandwich delivery aside, his life and mine have little in common.”
Draco stiffened so much he could no longer maintain his relaxed slouch against the supply cabinet’s door. Severus noticed his gaping expression from the corner of his eye and bent forwards studiously, scratching random lines upon the snowy-white parchment before him and hoping to high heaven they looked like actual writing to his godson.
“Merlin. You are impossible!” Draco grumbled unhappily and stomped up the stairs as obnoxiously loudly as only he knew how. Severus supposed he deserved the childish slight. The boy had been trying to help him in his own, often blunt, way. Draco had never been one to mince his words. Or his actions. He was wrong about what was going on here, though. He had to be. Because if he wasn’t—if he wasn’t, then Severus was guilty of a sin he despised. He’d dismissed Potter’s feelings, convinced himself they weren’t real enough, and wounded a decent man along the way because he’d been thoroughly blind to said man’s advances, to his growing affection, and had panicked as soon as he’d found out. It looked increasingly possible that the day had dawned when Severus Snape had been as unkind, as uncaring of another human’s heart, as Lily Evans had once been with his own.
Severus strode into Shaman, the latest pub to capture the younger generation’s fancy, wearing a face that wasn’t his and sat as close to the center of the bar as he could manage. He had it on good authority that this was a favourite haunt of Weasley’s and therefore it was reasonable to assume that, should Potter be as heartbroken as Draco assumed he was, Weasley would feel compelled to volunteer his services in the help-your-best-friend-drown-his-sorrows department, and this would be his setting of choice.
Severus was an old hat at using Polyjuice Potion to get unbiased information. He’d done it plenty of times during the war and never felt particularly guilty about it. He didn’t feel guilty about his need to use such subterfuge to make up his mind regarding this issue either. Draco’s, so far, unvoiced conviction that Severus had wronged Potter had rattled him profoundly. For the second day in a row, Severus had abandoned his brewing efforts early and sought refuge in his flat. His attempt to immerse himself in the soothing waters of ingredient research had yielded no fruit whatsoever other than a couple of frustrating hours spent reading the same six sentences over and over. Severus’s concentration had been shot to hell. And his conscience, never thoroughly guilt-free after so many years wearing the mask of a Death Eater, kept pricking him with the disheartening idea that he’d failed to honour the one promise he’d made himself when he’d survived the war: he’d increased the number of his unforgivable sins by one.
The first hour of Severus’s little reconnaissance mission passed without fanfare. People came, and people went, but none of them was Potter. Or Weasley. Or any of the of Gryffindors Severus could imagine the Saviour seeking comfort from. The second hour went by more slowly and brought with it one of those obnoxious girls who look at men like they’re meat on a stick and giggle incessantly a bar-stool away while playing with their overly Sleekeazy-ed hair. Severus harrumphed, ignored her entirely with a bored roll of his eyes, and reminded himself to get rid of the rest of this particular hair sample. It didn’t do to call attention to one’s self while gathering information, and this specific hair’s donor seemed to be something of a magnet for the ladies if obnoxious Miss. Giggly, and the one that replaced her, and the one that followed after that one too, were anything to go by.
Severus had been in the process of telling himself he’d been right all along. That Draco didn’t know Potter as much as he thought he did when the man himself startled him out of his wits by plopping in the bar-stool next to Severus’s own and smiling at him with a sort of amused gentleness Severus had never seen Potter display before.
“You’re hopelessly gay, aren’t you, kid?”
Severus jolted in his seat like a cat who’d been drenched with ice-cold water, probably turned an unsightly beetroot colour that would stain his features until the very end of time, and stared incredulously at Potter through a pair of disarmingly frantic sky-blue eyes that had grown to the size of dinner plates in the space of half a blink. “I-w-what? No, - Mr. Potter. Sir. Oh, bugger. Salazar, kill me now. Please.”
Potter, the bastard, broke into loud laughter as soon as Severus managed to bring his ridiculous stuttering under control. “It’s OK. Don’t worry too much about it. Nowadays everyone gets flustered the first time they talk to me. Specially Slytherins.” Severus was mortified. He couldn’t believe he was coming across as a gauche Potter-worshiper.
“How do you know I’m Slytherin?” He questioned distractedly, trying to remember how long ago he’d taken his last sip of Polyjuice and hoping to high heaven Potter’s house-related comment hadn’t been a subtle way of informing him that his disguise had dissipated without him noticing. Severus had always thought that, taking into account how unpleasant the potion's-induced transformation tended to be, Polyjuice’s reversal was unhelpfully underwhelming. Many a serial Polyjuicer would have been more successful in their endeavours if the brew’s waning effects were preceded by some sort of physical symptom that reminded its drinker it was time for a top-up swig.
Potter smiled at him kindly. “You swore in the name of Salazar. I know for a fact that only Slytherins do that. I shared a room with the prince of Slytherin himself in my Eighth year, you know? There was a lot of Salazar this and Salazar that inside our dorm.”
Severus’s wildly pounding heart settled into a mere gallop. He couldn’t help the smile that curved the left side of his mouth the moment he realised they were talking about Draco. “I bet you hated every minute of it. I wouldn’t have known what to do with a Gryffindor in such close quarters after spending six years in a Slytherin-only dormitory.”
Potter shrugged and shot him an easy smile. “I see the old grudges are still alive and kicking. I hope they’re better than they used to be in my day. Sharing with Malfoy wasn’t that bad. He’s a decent sort. He's also a good friend of mine, these days.”
Severus stiffened at the unsubtle, if gentle, rebuke. “I meant no offence, Po-er, Mr. Potter.”
“No worries. No offence taken and all that. What are you doing over here, grown man drink in hand, when you look like you’d prefer to be perching at the top of an isolated mountain instead, kid?”
Severus blinked. Aghast by the boldness of Potter’s nosy question and trying to come up with a suitable answer. “I’m not a kid.” He said, going for peeved in the hope of prompting the Savior into pursuing a less personal topic.
Potter eyed him assessingly. “Really? How old are you, exactly? You don’t look a day over eighteen.”
Severus faltered, unable to refute Potter’s assertion, he had no idea how old this particular hair donor had been. “The ripe old age of twenty-three isn’t ancient enough for you to call me a kid, Po- er, Sir. You’d have to be as old as McGonagall at least to be allowed to do so.”
“Hmmm. A feisty one, I see. That’s what I like the most about you, snakes. You’re all so bloody prickly.”
“Thank you. I think.”
“You never answered my question. What are you doing here? You kept squirming like a fish out of the water while that pretty lady eyed you up like you were the coolest glass of water she’d ever seen and she was about to die of dehydration. It was the funniest thing I’ve seen all day.”
“I’m glad my discomfort amused you,” Severus grumbled. “You’re not as kind as I thought.”
“Really? Why? Is it because I found that shy virgin vibe you got going entertaining, or because I kept praying she’d come closer just to see what you’d do?”
“I’d have turned her down politely. I’m not here on the pull.”
Potter snorted. “That’s painfully obvious. You’re not here to drink, either, are you? You’ve been nursing the same glass since I arrived.”
“Maybe I’ve just started to slow down. I didn’t see you around when I went to the gents half hour ago so you haven’t been here all that long.”
“I was over by the private booths. They’re protected by all sorts of Disillusioning and Notice Me Not spells, Severus.”
His given name left Potter’s lips so smoothly that Severus failed to notice the importance of what he’d heard for about a second. Then he looked down at his hands, checking them to see if the distinctive potion stains that made his unusually long fingers immediately recognisable had pulled an untimely re-appearing act while he’d been distracted. His hands still looked wide, short, and callous-free. White as untrodden snow.
Potter’s fingers curled gently around his hunching shoulder as the drew closer still, near enough to whisper reassuringly in his ear. “You’re OK — still Polyjuiced and all. I just— I’d recognise you anywhere these days. You have very distinct mannerisms, particularly when you’re uncomfortable.”
Humiliation rose within Severus like a tidal wave, closely followed by deep anger. Potter had been aware of his identity from the beginning. Had approached him and struck up a conversation aimed at tricking him into revealing his motives for being here. “What sort of game are you playing? You had no right to question me under false pretences.”
Potter smiled tightly and stared at him with the unbearable weight of shadow-dulled green eyes. “Yet here you are, the great master spy himself, presumably sitting upon this very stool with the intention of observing me from behind the safety of a stranger’s face. You don’t need any of these tricks to find out the truth, Severus. I’ve been ready to give it to you since that moment, in your basement.”
“Draco thinks I’ve hurt your feelings.” Severus forced himself to say before he had time to overthink what he was doing. He was still livid with Potter. However, the Gryffindor had been right in calling Severus’s anger hypocritical in the face of his own duplicitous methods. He was the one wearing another’s face, not Potter. He was the one who’d resorted to underhanded schemes when he could have approached the blasted brat and give conversation a shot.
“What Draco thinks is neither here nor there. What’s important is what you think.”
Severus growled at the evasive answer. He may be the proudest son of the Slytherin house alive these days, but he’d never cared much for word-games. That had always been Albus’s territory. “I think you’re barely out of your cradle, Potter. You’re wet behind the ears, emotionally at a loss, and have latched onto me for the wrong reasons. I think you’ve convinced yourself you’re attracted to me because you trust me to keep you safe. Affection isn’t safe, though. It’s a wild and terrifying rush, Potter. It’s the ultimate domain of faith. You’re meant to hold your heart out and make the jump. There’s no warranty the person you want will be there to catch you when you fling yourself over the edge of the wild, but stacking the odds in your favour by latching onto a safe bet is cheating. You deserve better than that.”
Potter stared at him for a very long time. Ruby-red lips parted on a small and shocked little oh that Severus didn’t find the slightest bit comely. “You had no idea whatsoever, did you? I’ve been gone on you for nigh on three years. Actively courting you for one and a half. And you thought I was what, auditioning for Sandwich Maker Of The Year? That’s not even a thing, Severus!”
Severus squirmed in his seat, suddenly self-conscious. He had the feeling that Potter wouldn’t like his explanation any better than he seemed to like his own. “I assumed you were trying to make Draco jealous.”
Potter’s jaw dropped so far down in his shock that Severus could plainly see he still lacked wisdom teeth. “Jealous of what? Giving you sandwiches would have never helped me land that elitist little ponce, even if I was interested. I’d have dusted off my Head of the House of Black and Potter titles and kept flashing heaps of money in his vicinity until he bothered to notice me instead. Godric knows that’s what poor Neville is doing. Not that’s worked so far but then you, Slytherins, are so dammed annoying. Slow to trust and slow to give yourselves away. Slow to catch onto obvious signs that someone’s putting the moves on you, too.”
Severus blinked and twitched with bemusement. He was loath to admit he felt a bit like one of those vapid Victorian novel heroines, the ones who fell prey to a fit of the vapours every two pages, but he honestly felt slightly faint with information overload. Potter never had any interest in Draco. He'd been pursuing Severus from the start. Had tailored that bizarre sandwich-themed courtship specifically to him. Neville Longbottom was flashing galleons left and right, trying to catch his godson’s eye. How could he had possibly missed all that?
“Why sandwiches, though, Potter? I’ve always been curious about that.”
Potter’s smile turned softer, gentler. The most charming blush climbed up his neck, kissed his jaw, painted his cheeks a delicate shade of rose. “Because feeding you is the easiest way for a bloke like me to look after a prickly git like you. Caring for the people I love is, I don’t know, important to me. Essential even. I’m a Gryffindor, Severus, not a paranoid ex-spy with an encyclopedic knowledge of the Dark Arts. My first instinct when I’m in love is to nurture the object of my affections, go into protective mode, so to speak. It’s not my fault that the only thing you suck at doing is looking after the basic stuff. You only put yourself to sleep when you’re about to fall, face first, into your cauldron. You haven’t exercised properly since the end of the war. And you can’t feed yourself worth shit, even though you could probably obliterate an evil team composed of a charging hippogriff, a stampeding troll and half the dark wizards left in Britain with a hand tied behind your back and one of those flashy, tailor-made spells of yours. Feeding you was the only viable option open to me.”
“Do you?” Potter laughed a bit wildly, “Somehow I doubt that very much.” The brat brought the hand he’d been using to gesticulate like a deranged savage down onto the bar, about five inches away from the tips of Severus’s slowly elongating digits. “You’re changing back, Severus.”
Severus swallowed past the lump growing in the middle of his throat. The moment felt heavy with something he couldn’t name — something that neither Potter’s words, nor his actions so far, warranted. “I’m aware,” he responded quietly and waited for Potter to say something else, anything really. He mentally willed the Saviour to give him some direction, some sort of clue that explained in plain English what Potter wanted from him, what Severus would eventually have to reject. Or accept, should he dare.
“I assume you don’t want to be here when you turn back to yourself. Despite the conclusions I reached at the age of eleven, you’ve never been one for dramatic entrances.”
“What, exactly, are you saying, Potter?” Severus asked hoarsely, more afraid of the answer to that question than he’d ever been of the Dark Lord. He wasn’t ready for more. He wasn’t ready for anything. He’d never even thought of Potter playing a romantic role in his life before lunchtime yesterday, and was wary of rushing either forward or backward before he untangled the mess of thoughts, hopes, and fears currently wrestling for supremacy inside him.
Potter looked at him kindly and walked his index and middle fingers across the bar in a playful, bashful way that ended when they nudged the side of Severus’s hand. “I’m saying that you’re wrong. I’m not at a loss, emotionally. I meant what I said yesterday. I like you exactly as you are, Severus. Not because you’re safe but because you’re you. I’m saying you’re my wild and terrifying rush. I’ve already jumped over the edge, heart in hand, and I understand that you weren’t ready to catch me. But I am. I’m Ready for this. I’m ready to catch you too. Not today, obviously, but—whenever. So can my sandwiches and I go back to visiting you down in your lab, or should I restrict myself to shop’s floor only delivery for the foreseeable future?”
“Please, don’t exile me altogether. I can wait. We can go slow. Give yourself the chance to get to know me like this. We’ve got all the time in the world. And if it doesn’t happen for you, if you never grow to care for me as I care for you, that will be fine. We will be fine. I’ll find a way to move on, and we’ll stay friends. I promise.”
Severus’s chest filled with warmth and ached at the same time. His hand trembled beside Potter’s and his eyes burned with only Merlin knew what emotions. He was frightened and charmed in equal measure. He was a mess of conflicting instincts, barely formed longings and a hundred half-forgotten desires he’d once hoped to have in his life and ended up abandoning long ago. He was tempted to run away. To nip in the bud whatever the hell this thing between them could become and go back to his books, to his potions, to an existence that was soothingly predictable. An existence that was safe. He’d told Potter that picking the safe bet was cheating, though. And if he’d objected to the thought of Potter making that particular choice he couldn’t allow himself to make it either. Surely he deserved to give himself the chance to see what might be better than ‘safe.’ Surely he hadn’t yet grown cowardly enough to give up what may be his last chance to jump over the edge of the wild. The promise of a soft landing was staring him right in the face this time around.
“I’d like that marinated mushroom and apple cherry chutney sandwich tomorrow, Potter,” Severus said as he stood up, making a split second decision he hoped to high heaven he wouldn’t come to regret. “It’s my second favourite one, you know?” he added over his shoulder as he started to cross the pub’s floor. Severus never saw the wide grin that split the Saviour’s face in response to his request but he heard it, loud and clear, in the bright, bell-like laughter that followed him out the door. He Apparated home with a broad smile of his own, and a murder of crows cawing wildly at the back of his head while fluttering their wings uneasily in the pit of his stomach. He’d just dared to jump too. He hadn’t done it heart in hand yet, but he’d done it while holding up for resurrection a cruelly damaged heap of innocent childhood dreams. Severus didn’t honestly know what he’d do with any of them if it turned out reviving them wasn’t as hopeless a task as he’d assumed. He didn’t know what he’d do if it turned out he’d been a fool for jumping over the edge of the wild either.
Severus had been a mass of nerves all morning long. He’d fidgeted uselessly from counter to counter in the privacy of his lab while cursing his wildly pounding heart and sweaty hands every few seconds. He was unhappy that he was too strung up to trust himself with work. He was unhappy that something was wrong with every Tempus charm he’d cast since he’d woken up because it just couldn’t be possible that only six minutes had passed since the last time he’d cast it, could it? It certainly felt to him like hours upon hours must have passed. Yet nothing was happening anywhere else either. Not up in the shop’s main floor, from which Draco had vociferously banished him after he’d lifted his wand to rearrange the front window’s display for the third time in half hour, nor outside in Diagon Alley. Surely something other than his own internal clock had stopped functioning. Maybe time itself had warped.
He’d finally settled on the ever pleasant task of eviscerating the latest article that ridiculous fool, Master Geoff Scheulz, was threatening to publish in the next edition of Potioneer’s Quarterly. Severus had worked as a volunteer editor for the esteemed publication for years and, although he was aware that the executive team would literally fall on their knees in abject gratitude if he ever accepted their standing invitation to join them officially, he had no interest whatsoever in joining the murky world of potion research publishing. His volunteer editing allowed him to give free rein to his often sharp tongue, and he’d enjoyed his duties especially when his intended victim happened to be a bombastic dunderhead like Scheulz. Severus was smirking evilly to himself, red-inked quill tip wreaking havoc around the middle of the pile of absolute garbage that self-proclaimed eminent German braggart dared to call an article when a giddy little chuckle within the lab pulled him out of the editing-induced trance he’d fallen into.
Potter stood, sandwich bag in hand, about a foot away from the edge of his desk. The brat looked relaxed and bright. All shit-eating grin, crazy uncombed hair, and rumpled purple shirt. “What’s up with that infernal giggling, Potter? Haven’t you learned yet that I need peace and quiet to straighten the sub-par theorems of my so-called illustrious colleagues?” he grumbled instinctively, praying that whatever it was he had agreed to explore with Potter last night, didn’t necessitate him to start spouting sweet nothings in the Gryffindor's ear. Severus had never whispered sweet nothings in his life. He wouldn’t know where to start either.
“Who is it this time? Banniteux, Scheulz or Capullo? You rarely look that gleeful when you’re ripping apart the work of anyone else.”
Severus gasped, startled. He’d never realised Potter knew him well enough to name the most likely victim of his editing efforts just by the look on his face. “I find delight in exposing utter idiots to the derision they’ve earned through their actions or, in this case, the words they dared to write. You happened to name the biggest offenders when it comes to my efforts of purging moronic ideas from the hallowed pages of Potioneer’s Quarterly.”
“I love the little evil glimmer you get in your eye when you’re wielding your red quill, ” Potter confessed boldly, making him squirm uncomfortably in his chair.
“That was a bit too much. I know. I’m sorry.” The saviour admitted instantly. They looked at each other in the embarrassed silence left behind by the overly effusive apology, and Severus didn’t know what to do, or say, to ease them back into their usual camaraderie. He supposed he should vocally accept Potter’s words of remorse, but the idea of doing so struck him as too stuffy, too formal, for the sort of future relationship they were tentatively trying to pursue.
“This is awkward.” Severus ventured in the end, deciding on scrupulous honesty, and Potter regaled him with the most inelegant snort he’d ever heard outside a first year’s Hogwarts classroom.
“I brought your marinated mushroom and apple cherry chutney sandwich, your highness. I hope you chomp it until even the crumbs vanish. Do you have any idea of how hard it is to hunt down wild Morel mushrooms in January?”
“Stop whining. It's always Spring somewhere, Potter. It’s not like you can’t Apparate. Reliable Witch Weekly sources informed us all just last summer that you don’t even need an International Portkey to treat a veritable score of lucky women to romantic dinner dates in—where was it? Uruguay?”
Potter blushed charmingly. “I don’t treat ‘scores of women’ to romantic dinner dates, Severus. I haven’t even dated a woman since I tried it on with Ginny in my sixth year, and what a bloody disaster that turned out to be. She was always into Dean Thomas, and I- well. I must have always been into blokes even though I didn’t realise that until I hooked up with Zabiny a year after the war, just to spite the giant git who Isn’t Currently Eavesdropping On Us From The Top Of The Stairs!” Potter hollered the last bit of that rather candid summary of his past romantic pursuits towards the staircase, and they both smirked when Draco shouted right back:
“Watch it, you, prat! My godfather doesn’t give the time of day to former Gryffindors who bully me.”
Potter snickered, perfectly comfortable with Draco’s ridiculous show of semi-affronted pouting. Severus smiled straight into those dancing green eyes when Draco sighed loudly and made a point of closing the upstairs door with a loud bang. “Alone, at last, my sweet, sweet, heart,” Potter stated with theatrical pretentiousness while wiggling his eyebrows idiotically and Severus burst out laughing. He hadn’t seen -or heard- anything funnier in ages.
Potter’s gaze softened the moment Severus started laughing. His smile widened and his hand fluttered up and down like a dizzy butterfly that didn’t know where to alight. Severus’s fanciful mind decided the brat’s fingertips had been itching to settle upon him instead of on the surface of his desk, where they finally landed, and the mere idea birthed something warm and glad in his chest.
“Happy birthday, by the way, Severus. I have the bad feeling Draco is waiting ‘til closing time to drag you off to the pub for a celebratory drink, while you’ve forgotten the importance of today’s date altogether.”
“Today’s not my birthday, Potter. It can’t possibly be January 9th already. Why we were celebrating New Year's Day just last wee- Oh!”
Potter shook his head at Severus’ gobsmacked expression when he realised that it was, indeed, his birthday. “I knew it!” the Savior crowed and, although he’d said that with a little winning pump of his right fist and a cheeky grin, Severus saw the expertly hidden flash of anguish that darkened Potter’s gaze for a brief second. “That’s why I baked you -and the prat upstairs- a red velvet cake that’s going to melt your chocoholic little brains. So... my place? Six o’clock. There’ll be candles and all, Severus. I want to see what you look like when you dare to make a wish.”
Severus felt himself blush like a bashful maiden under the absurdly soft look Potter gave him, but he smiled at the dolt with newfound hope. He could see what his future might look like if he kept on following this path. Safety would have kept him forever trapped in tepid contentment. Giving in to his need to explore what lay beyond the edge of the wild had brought him here, to this place that was so his, so right, so achingly familiar. To these circumstances he had a feeling may become just his, just as right, just as achingly familiar someday soon. He liked laughing with Potter. Liked to smile up at him while a thousand butterflies danced a clumsy polka in the pit of his stomach, and be smiled at in return with the same sort of wildly elated trepidation. He liked to have someone to share an eye-roll with when Draco’s antics warranted it. Liked having someone willing to bake him a chocolate cake on his birthday, and buy a bunch of coloured candles for no other reason than he wanted to watch Severus scrunch up his eyes like a nutter and make a wish that’d probably never come true.
Or it might.
Severus might wish on his candles for Lady Luck to guide his steps as he ventured ever deeper down the terrifyingly exciting new path he had chosen. It was early days, of course. But today was only the beginning. Today he had laughter, Potter and chocolate cake. Today he had the possibility of companionship, of love, dangling just beyond the edge of his fingertips. Today Severus honestly believed his fairy-tale happy ending was achievable. And that, well, that was good enough for now.