Part Three

Ron sighed as he looked around the loft. It had been a long night: the rising sun was colouring the room with violets and pinks.

"It's good to be back home," he said. He wondered for how much longer it would be home.

Snape helped Ron to the couch and let him drop onto it. The Quietus had worn off so much faster than normal. He assumed that it responded to stress and the night had been wrought with it. He went to make a note of that on a pad, so he wouldn't forget it. So, forcing himself to be honest - at least with himself - it would give him something to do instead of asking Ron about his meeting with his siblings.


Snape looked up. Ron only used his first name when he wanted to make a point. Snape was easier to get out.

"Can we go to bed and discuss this later?"

Snape nodded and went to turn down Ron's bed.

"No. Our bed. Unless you don't..."

Snape sat down on the edge of Ron's bed. "I'm not your family," he snapped, "finish your sentence."

Exhausted as he was, Ron found a smile appearing on his face. "Thank you." Then he lost it. "Unless you don't want me in it."

Snape cocked his head. "Is this about a pity-fuck again?"

Ron let his head drop back onto the couch. "Tonight I wasn't much help."

Snape nodded. He stood up and walked slowly over to the man watching him. "All too true. Why," his voice dripped with his old Potions instructor's sarcasm, "all you did was allow yourself to be offered as bait for a bunch of insane, sadistic bastards. To allow yourself to be tortured while we waited for the ringleader to show up. Why truly, Weasley, you contributed absolutely nothing to the evening's entertainment."

By then he had reached Ron and, grabbing him by the shoulders, he drew him off the couch and into his arms. Ron dropped his head onto Snape's shoulder and held on as tightly as he could.

"Bed," said Snape.

"Our bed," said Ron.


It was evening when they woke. They ate and then went up to the workshop. Ron sat at his table and played solitaire while Snape checked on some experiments, made notes and generally behaved as if it were just a regular day.

Until Ron threw out, casually, "Did you ward the building against apparation?"

Snape looked up from his work. He sat straight and watched a moment as Ron placed a card on top of another. "Yes. How did you know?"

Ron looked up. "That's what I would have done." He placed his hands on the table, eyes on their tremors as though he were seeing them for the first time. "I love my family. But I am twenty-nine years old. I am not a child even if I can't control my body. Even if my mind doesn't work as it should. I left their care five years ago because they loved me. Too much."

He looked over at Snape. "I never would be sitting here playing cards if I had stayed with them. Leaving them forced me to depend on myself. I survived, not well I'll admit, but I did survive. And since finding you, it's more than survival. You force me to use my brain again. You support me but you expect me to do my share. It's more than allowing me to finish my sentences. You let me fail and then you expect me to try again. Which because you do, I do. You've given me hope. And love."

He looked back at his hands again. "I wonder what I've given you."

There was a long silence during which Ron wondered if his sister might not be right; that, to Snape, he was nothing more than an experiment, truly the guinea pig he called himself.

"Unlike you..."

Ron was startled when Snape spoke. He was no longer expecting an answer.

"...I am not loved by my family. They are bureaucrats. Rules and regulations and expectations are all that are important to them." He looked, a little sheepish. "Yes, I know. My behaviour at Hogwarts. What can I say other than I come by that naturally. And it made certain that no one would try to get friendly with me. Which was important at the time." He turned thoughtful. "The most rebellious my brothers...I have two older ones, by the brothers got was my eldest drove a motorcycle from the Department of Transport one year and he allowed me to drive it against our father's wishes. Twice. He disliked it and used it only because, as a member of the Department, he had to be familiar with all their vehicles. I loved it. My father had forbidden him to let me use it as he felt it would only encourage my defiance."

There was a short pause while Snape was lost in memories. "My father," he finally said, "liked to be obeyed immediately, without question. I liked to question. And I was not blindfully obedient. When I was done at Hogwarts, he informed me that either I conformed to his expectations and his rules, continued on the career path which he had selected for me - which had nothing to do with Potions, a waste of time in his opinion - or I could forget about belonging to the family." He looked over at Ron. "I suppose, if I wanted, I could use that as an excuse for my being drawn to Voldemort. He convinced me he liked me as I was. At the least, he thought my abilities with potions were well worth encouraging."

Snape shrugged. "I understand that one of my brothers has attained some senior Ministry position and that the other is working his way to another. They have done our father proud. I, on the other hand, have proven, as my father predicted, to be worthless and an embarrassment to the family. That I became a Death Eater did not surprise him, at least according to my elder brother. We met once, years ago, before the War, and he informed me that I should be in Azkaban if it weren't for Dumbledore's interference. And that it would be good riddance when I did end up there."

"But, surely, when it became known that you'd been working for us?"

Snape shook his head. "That would have meant they would have had to acknowledge that they had been wrong about me, and that would...that will never happen."

He looked over at Ron. "So you want to know what I am getting out of this relationship. Well, companionship for one. I like having you around. Which, I must admit, surprises me. I have a solitary nature and thought you being around all the time would drive me insane. Instead, I find you easy to get along with. I enjoy having you with me here as I work. I like the talks we share at night. I like that I can share the Muggle things I have grown fond of with you. I find that, over the past months, my feelings for you have deepened. I admire you. Your courage overwhelms me at times. Like yesterday. I am in awe of your determination to deal with and if possible overcome the effects of the Subitomoves, even without the Quietus. And I like you. You've become very important to me."

Ron smiled. "I like you, too, Se...ver...rus. And I love you."

"An old git like me?"

Ron's grin crinkled his eyes. "I love the way you kiss."

Some of the tension left Snape's face. "I seem to be growing very fond of your kisses as well."

"As for my family," Ron hated to see the tension return to Snape's face, but they had to deal with it, "they will meddle, unfortunately," he sighed, "all with the best of intentions, until they understand that we are the only ones who make any decisions about this relationship."

That was easier said than done.

Ginny was not pleased that the warehouse had been warded against apparation. She was certain that Snape had done so that the family might not see what he did to Ron in order to control him. She was also certain that Snape was using the Quietus as a hold over Ron. Ron, after a stilted meeting with his father, agreed to meet with his parents and Ginny, in a private room at Miss Jones's library, especially warded for the occasion. Without Snape, also at his father's suggestion. Molly and Ginny had been certain that the location had been Snape's choice. Ron had in fact been the one to suggest it: he didn't trust Ginny's new powers as an Auror to keep him at home should they meet there.

"He was always so slimy when he was at Hogwarts and I doubt that he's changed. What other way does he have of keeping someone near him without some hold?"

Molly Weasley had been horrified when Ron had left the safety of his home for the world of Muggles, when he had left her care. That he preferred to stay - in spite of all her reasonings, her promises, and even her pleas - with Severus Snape, a man she did not trust further than she could spit, made her weep. Like Ginny, she was certain that Snape was using the Quietus to keep Ron as his...

"His what?" Ron finally snapped, "His slave? Merlin! Mother, is that what you're saying? What the bloody hell use could a Potions Master, a wizard with his powers, have for a trembling gimp like myself if not as a slave? A sex slave, I suppose?"

Arthur stepped in and tried to console his wife at the same time as deal with his daughter's mistrust and his son's anger. He succeeded at none.

Charlie and Bill had refused to side with their mother and sister. "It's Ron's life," Bill had written from Egypt. "It's his decision."

Charlie had been very frank with his father. "I've seen the two of them together. Snape may not be what you had in mind for Ron, but he's Ron's choice. I didn't see any signs that Ron is with Snape against his will. Or that he's been spelled to give that impression. Leave them alone if you can't accept them as a couple."

They tried.

Arthur and Molly accepted an invitation to the warehouse.

The evening was a disaster from their arrival in Dock Road. To begin with, the neighbourhood scandalized Molly. She was certain that Ron would be murdered if he remained with Muggles like the ones she had seen on their way to the warehouse. Ron had wanted to be able to speak clearly and so had taken a dose of Quietus. His mother was furious, certain that Ron's inability to move more than a hand was Snape's showing them the power he had over their son. It didn't matter what Ron said, she didn't believe him. Snape said absolutely nothing, just sat in his chair next to Ron, wearing his old Potions instructor's face, allowing her to accuse him of all sorts of sins and crimes, never once responding to them, until Ron got so upset that he began stuttering again.

At that point, Snape stood up, looking every inch the powerful wizard he was, and indicated that the Weasleys were visitors who had overstayed their welcome.

After that, Ginny was certain that Snape was using an Imperius Curse to control Ron. She went to her supervisor and demanded that Hermione use the powers of her office to call both men in so that Ron could be examined and Snape arrested.

Granger was reluctant to get involved. Still, when Ginny and her mother began investigating the procedure to bring charges of improper use of magic and kidnapping against Snape, she went to see the two men.

"I'm sorry," she said. "If they convince one of the Under-Ministers that they do indeed have grounds for this suit, you will both be summoned for examination."

Ron closed his eyes. "Why the hell can't they leave us alone?"

Hermione shared a look of commiseration with Snape. "It's because they love you. Because they feel helpless about what was done to you with the Subitomoves. Because Molly feels guilty that her love alone couldn't help you overcome the curse. That they all failed you somehow. Because...

"Because," interrupted Snape, "if it were anyone but me."

Hermione nodded her head. "I'm sorry. You played a supporter of Voldemort far too well, Professor. Many still think we were duped by you."

"That's one of the reasons I left Hogwarts and the wizarding world. I knew that once everyone got over the initial shock of the War, my role in it would be questioned, especially with Dumbledore dead, and I refused to have to defend myself constantly."

"Our Minister knows better. Aurors do know and are thankful for the dangerous work you undertook. We could not have won without you and the others who were willing to put their lives on the line for information. Unfortunately, personal prejudices are hard to overturn."

She shrugged. "I think that you should also know that they are trying to locate a Potions Master who would be able to replicate the Quietus. They feel that would eliminate the hold you have over Ron."

The two men looked at each other. Hermione had not paid all that much attention to them the night of the Crabbe Affair, as it was now called, but tonight she did.

She had spent six years sharing a House with Ron Weasley. At one time he had been, along with Harry, her best friend. She had known that he would have preferred Harry to care for him in a different manner. It hadn't been hard to figure that out: Ron had mooned too often over Harry their fifth year for her not to catch on. She'd been relieved when he and Neville had gotten together and the friendship of the trio had remained untried. Like Harry, she had covered for the two lovers: she had been astounded at the frequency of their encounters. "Every time they find a dark corner somewhere," she'd told Harry. "Don't they ever get enough?" Harry, she remembered, had only laughed.

And she'd mourned with Harry when their Ron had been forever changed by Draco Malfoy's disgusting spell. She had visited Ron at St. Mungo's and wept for hours after each visit. She had nevertheless been a consistent visitor while he'd been there, but when he'd been moved home, what with seventh year to get through, N.E.W.T.S, preparing for and then writing Auror entrance exams... Well, the friendship had waned.

Now, looking at the two men, she saw what Charlie had seen: there was love between the two of them. Real love. And understanding.

"If we come in voluntarily, would that appease the Ministry?"

Hermione nodded. She did however notice that neither man indicated that it would appease Molly or Ginny. She couldn't do anything about Molly, but after this, she was going to have a long talk with her subordinate, and if that didn't work, a transfer to some other department might be appropriate. Ginny was a good Auror, but this was affecting her work and her attitude.

"Ah, Professor, it is indeed a pleasure to meet you again. I'm only sorry it's under these circumstances."

Snape glared at the tall, rotund wizard coming through the door, a file in hand. He thought a moment and then nodded. "Howe. Angus Howe. You were Ravenclaw. The first year I taught."

Howe beamed at being remembered. "You were the youngest Potions instructor in the history of the school. Brilliant. Nervous, like one of my father's high-strung horses. Angry. Not just at our not understanding," a smile lit his face again as he quoted, "`the subtle science and exact art that is potions making'."

Snape only said, "I understand that both Ron and I have satisfied all concerns to the Ministry's specifications. May I ask why I am here now?"

Howe nodded. "I'm the Aurors' Potions Master." He smiled. "See, you did have an influence on our lives. Now then, I'm a good Potions Master..."

"You'd have to be better than good," interrupted Snape, "to have this position."

Howe tried hard to look modest then burst into laughter. "I was called in to verify certain aspects of this situation, Pontefract being only one of them. I understand why you publish and work under a name other than your own. I'm sorry for it: you really should be getting the recognition you deserve."

"Rather than the one I have?"

Howe shrugged. "There's little I can do about that. You will have no trouble continuing to publish and work under either name, Professor. But I was also called in to verify the Quietus. You were very kind to provide us with a sample and a list of ingredients."

Snape snorted. There had been very little kindness in that: it had been the only way he could prove that he was not influencing Ron's behaviour.

"I'm quite in awe of this discovery. From wart removal to a...well, not a cure, but certainly a possible method of controlling this kind of degenerative nerve disease. Only you, Professor." Howe dropped the file with the formula on the desk. "I was wondering if I might offer a small contribution to the potion?"

Snape's eyebrow rose high. "As in?"

"You always warned us against emotion in preparing a potion. That one worked best removed from personal involvement."

Snape bared his teeth. If this was yet another attempt to separate him from Ron...

Howe understood. "Magnesium, Professor."

It took Snape by surprise. "Magnesium, Howe?"

Howe nodded. "You've got all the bugs worked out. The spasms are diminished to the point where they are negligible. Language ability is stable. You're only lacking muscular control. Oh, it's there, but only in a very minor form. Weasley says he can raise his hand, and grip a little, but that's as much as he can do. You need something to augment the control. Something to bind the potion to the nerves. Magnesium. Just a suggestion."

Howe watched as Snape's eyes glazed over. As he was lost in a world that both he and Howe shared.

Howe sat back and waited to see if his suggestion would meet with approval. As he had dared point out to the man who had imbued him with this passion he had for potions, sometimes one was too close to see what small thing was missing. Unlike Snape, he hadn't been working at the potion for months and could view it objectively. It was a little thing, but in an experiment as novel as this one was, it was something he could understand Snape, with his emotional involvement, might have missed.

And if there was one thing the examinations had made very clear to those conducting them, it was that Snape and Weasley were emotionally committed to each other. Without spells of any kind.

Snape shook his head, bringing himself back to this room, and turned to nod at the other Potions Master. "It might work."

Howe beamed again. "I hope so. Will you let me know if it does?"

Snape looked offended at the suggestion that he might not. "If it does, we will have to present it for publication."

"I would be honoured to be associated with such a potion, even in this minor way." Howe stood up, came around the desk, offering his hand. Snape stood and took it. "I was wondering if it might be possible for me to visit your workshop some time, Professor. There is a problem I am having with a potion of my own. I would appreciate an objective evaluation of it."

Snape nodded and accepted the offer of friendship. "You do know that it is not possible to apparate at the warehouse where we live. And that you will have to visit in Muggle clothing so as not to attract attention."

Howe beamed widely. "I have just the outfit. I picked it up when attending a conference in Hawaii. A shirt that my wife absolutely refuses to allow me to wear at home."

Hermione Granger presented the conclusions of the examiners to all the Weasleys. Bill and Charlie had come from their homes especially to attend the meeting.

"Well," said Charlie, "what did I tell you?"

Bill shook his head sadly when he finished telling his wife about the meeting. "I think Mom would be willing to accept anyone else but Snape."

His wife raised a eyebrow but said nothing. They only visited her in-laws every two years when Bill had to report to the General Meeting at Gringotts. Her visits, as those of Charlie's wife, were never comfortable. Arthur was a dear, but Molly was certain that these sons and her grandchildren were not properly looked after by their wives and mothers, both of whom had careers of their own. They had both noticed that Molly got along better with Percy's wife, who had put Percy's career before hers, becoming the perfect hostess and stay-at-home wife of the rapidly advancing bureaucrat.

Ginny came out of her meeting with her superior under probation. She had one month to find her professionalism once more or she would be transferred to another department. She went home, cried, got drunk and called Hermione every name that her brothers had taught her. Then understanding that she had lost the relationship she had had with her supervisor, she put in for a transfer herself. She had been interested in forensics for years, and was pleased to be accepted in that department. It meant working behind the scene, but after a few months, she found she was more comfortable with that.

The magnesium worked.

It took several tries to find the right proportion, but one day, ten minutes after ingesting the potion, Ron slowly made his way to his feet and took a few stiff steps on his own. All that was needed was a little refinement. A month after the meeting with Howe, Ron, with Snape at his side, slowly walked over to the Pickled Heron and played a game of billiards. Which he lost and laughed happily while doing so.

The Quietus potion was never perfect. In spite of it, he still trembled and shook if tired, if stressed, if angry, if ill. If he was late in taking it: it had very little over-lap effect. But compared to what his life had been, it was miraculous.

There was a celebration supper. Hermione and Harry, who were now back in touch with each other and Ron, brought champagne. The forgiven Miss Jones and Minerva McGonagall were pleased to bring a large basket of sweets put together by the Hogwarts house elves, who remembered the Weasley boys with pleasure - well, all but Percy, whom they had found rather snobbish. They had packed all of Ron's favourites and those that Snape had shown some partiality for: Snape was astonished that they had both noticed and remembered.

The Howes joined them as well. Angus showed up in a bright almost blinding shirt that hung loosely on his body, a shirt that was pattered with a bevy of parrots. Miss Jones shared a sympathetic smile with his wife, who ran a day-care for young witches and wizards under the age of five.

That night, back at her cousin's, Minerva indicated that she had never seen Severus look so young, even when he had been. He had laughed at Angus's jokes, listened patiently while Harry had discussed England's chances at the next World Cup, had complimented Hermione on the work her section had done at de-spelling Crabbe's effects.

They had found in a secret drawer of his trunk a small book the manner of which Ginny was all too familiar. Voldemort had indeed selected Mortimer Crabbe to be at his right hand once he was old enough. The book he had left behind for his instruction was filled with spells and charms, both advanced and esoteric, along with what proved to be Old Language spells. Even if Crabbe had not been Voldemort, with this book, he soon would have made himself into another Dark Lord for them to deal with.

"Snape may have been the best thing that has happened to Ron in recent years, but Ron is definitely the best thing that has ever happened to Severus Snape. I wonder if he might not be interested in taking back his position of Potions instructor. Martinus is thinking of retiring."

Miss Jones met that with a look of complete incredulity.

Ron waited until he was certain that the Quietus was working well. He had to take a dose every four hours, otherwise he began losing control of his muscles once more. That was for day time. At night, Snape made him take a stronger dosage so that he would sleep untroubled through the night.

Ron said nothing about that. He was content to bide his time. Their daytime routine began to change in that Snape, on Harry's suggestion, had added a small treadmill to the loft so that Ron could work on his balance: then weights and a bench so that Ron could rebuild muscles. And now he and Snape went for a walk every day, no matter the weather.

After the half hour of exercise Ron faithfully did every day, he practiced reading, forcing his eyes and brain to co-ordinate once more. He was less successful at that than at the exercise. It didn't seem to bother Snape so he did what he could and accepted that it might be less than what he had hoped for.

Other than the night of their return from Hogwarts, Snape never again suggested that Ron sleep in a bed other than their own. He still read to Ron every night and questioned him on the material throughout the next day. Though now, instead of playing cards, Ron had chores to do in the workshop which forced him to work on his dexterity and focus even more: there were ingredients to be chopped or sliced, inventory to keep up-to-date, cauldrons to be watched and stirred, and they became Ron's responsibilities. He still worked in the warehouse for the food bank. They still had that quiet time together when, Ron snuggled in Snape's arms, they discussed all sorts of things. They still slept with Ron nestled against Snape.

But now Ron was tired of waiting for Snape to make the first move. They were lovers in all but fact and, unless he did something about it, there was a very definite possibility that they would continue that way.

He planned his night well. He made certain that the dose on the table by the bed was a daytime one, with a second in its drawer in case he did need it later on in the night. He slipped a small jar of lubricant he'd taken from the medicine cupboard under his pillow. He made sure there were fresh sheets on their bed. He took a shower and carefully prepared himself. He took the time to shave, very carefully, with the safety razor he'd surreptitiously bought on one of his walks with Snape. He hadn't wanted to ask Snape to shave him with his wand: he'd have wanted to know why Ron wanted to go to bed clean-shaven.

And he made certain to get into bed first, while Snape was still at his nightly ablutions.


And with the covers pulled down to the foot of the bed.

Ron heard the noises which indicated Snape was finishing and assumed a pose he hadn't since his sixth year at Hogwarts. Neville had called it his `virgin sacrifice' pose. Long arms stretched over his head, torso flat, hips slightly twisted so that his cock was at the ready - he'd jacked off in the shower one day when Snape was out, just to confirm that all the equipment was truly in working condition - long legs stretched out to their fullest. Thinking of Snape as he had that day in the shower made his cock twitch, indicating that all systems were on go. Now all he needed was for Snape to be on go as well.

"Merlin!" Snape gasped.

Ron yawned widely behind a delicate hand. "Are you ready for bed?" He dropped his voice into its husky tones, what Neville had called his `purr'.

All this had worked for Neville, but that had been so many years ago, and since Snape hadn't yet jumped on his bones, maybe it no longer had the same effect. He didn't have the body he'd had back then either. He felt a frisson of worry and opened his eyes to see Snape slowly pull his nightshirt over his head.

"I take it that you've decided you've had enough of celibacy?"

Ron sighed in relief. "Well," he pouted, "I was waiting for you."

Snape picked up his wand. "Sphaera Luxae," and a small sphere of light appeared in the higher reaches of the canopy. "I want to see you," growled Snape.

Ron suddenly found it hard to breathe. The light was a good thing. It showed Snape's body off well. Not that he hadn't seen Snape's body before. He usually showered with Snape either in the room with him or nearby in case he fell. But the cock rising out of its bed of black curls was new. And reassuring as well as pleasing.

Snape grinned and Ron wondered why he had never seen this wicked version before. "Lie still," Snape ordered and Ron's cock disobeyed.

Ron found that he couldn't remove his eyes from his lover's face as Snape sat down next to him. As Snape explored his body with the lightest of touches. It was, thought Ron, as though he were a treasure that Snape had just discovered. Watching his lover, Ron was aroused by the delight, the wonder, the pleasure that animated Snape's usual cool demeanour.

And it had been such a long time since he'd had a lover's touch on his skin.

Snape was in no hurry. When he finally turned his attentions to the contours of Ron's face, he leaned over and brought his mouth into play. They'd done this before, thought Ron, but it hadn't felt quite like it did tonight. Tonight, while their mouths were occupied with each other, Snape's hands continued their exploration. "Se...ver...rus," he whimpered, reaching for his lover.

He did more than whimper before the night was done. He moaned, pleaded, gasped and screamed Snape's names often enough that he remembered, between sessions, Snape had once promised him that he would be hoarse from doing so.

Still, he was rather pleased with himself as he finally slipped into sleep, wrapped around Snape; Severus had screamed his name out once or twice as well.

They spent the next three days in bed, discovering things about each other and themselves. Likes and dislikes. The pleasure in just lying, one draped on top of the other, delightfully worn out. Or in talking while touching and exploring the texture, the tastes, the aroma of a lover's body. Or in seeing just who would come first in a game of erotic one-upmanship. Their bed resounded with laughter as well as purrs, moans and shouts of completion.

On the fourth day, Snape roused Ron from bed and, after a quick session in the shower, tossed him his clothes. They took the motorcycle to Miss Jones's house where they parked it in the driveway. She had offered them a key to the front door so that they could use her house as a safe place from which to apparate when needed. Snape had accepted, knowing it was her way of apologizing for having `squealed' on them.

"Where are we going?" Ron asked, happily wrapping himself around Snape.

"You'll see." Snape pulled Ron in for a mind-blowing kiss and then they were suddenly in Diagon Alley. Ron looked about excitedly to see if anything had changed. The newest Nimbus was in the window at Quality Quidditch Supplies: Snape finally promised him that they would return to get him to move along. Florean Fontescue's was still the ice-cream parlour of his youth. This time Snape had to promise they would have lunch there to get him away from the menu hanging outside and down the street into Madam Malkin's. Where, on Snape's order, Ron was outfitted with a proper robe, not in Snape black, but in a rich chocolate brown.

Ron shook his head, his hand stroking the material. "I never got a new one. They were always hand-me-downs."

Snape said nothing, only paid for the robe which Ron left wearing, and then continued briskly down the Alley until they were at Ollivander's.

"Ah, Professor Snape. Now which Mr. Weasley is this one? Fourteen inches, wasn't it? Willow, containing one unicorn tail-hair. I never forget a wand."

"Mr. Weasley's wand met with an unfortunate accident during the War. He is in need of a new one."

Ron held his breath. Ollivander looked at him a long time, long enough that he wondered if the man was trying to find a way to say that he didn't deserve a wand anymore, that he had lost all his magic. Snape placed a hand on Ron's shoulder and Ron knew that if he never managed another spell, he did have Snape who would stand by him.

"Things are very different now," mused Ollivander. "Not willow. Nor a unicorn hair. I think... I think... Yes..." and he disappeared behind the shelves only to reappear with a long, thin, dusty box in his hand. "Try this one. I think you will find that it gives satisfaction. Maple and dragon heartstring. Eight and a half inches for greater control."

Ron carefully closed his hand around the wand and was amazed to find it felt like an old friend.

"Try it," said Snape, gently.

Ron looked at the two men watching him. "It''s been a while." He thought a moment, trying to remember an easy spell that he had learnt in Professor Flitwick's classes, then pointed the wand at an empty pot. Face fierce with concentration, "Flora expleo!" and the pot was suddenly filled with a variety of flowers. The bouquet was a little sloppy, but the stems were pretty much all in the container.

"Excellent," smiled Ollivander.

"Bloody hell!" Ron gasped.

"You'll need to work on finesse," said Snape as he discreetly handed over a small purse filled with galleons.

After luncheon at Fortescue's, there was a stop at Flourish & Blott's where Snape picked up a special order for himself and several of the more recent editions of Quidditch magazines and the newest book on wizard chess strategies along with a game itself.

Ron looked at the treasures surrounding him at home. They all gave him pleasure but, "I can't pay you back for these. The Ministry really doesn't give me enough to do much more than pay for my share of the food." He'd explained to Snape about his refusing to accept money from his family.

Snape, slouching in his favourite armchair, growled, "I have more than enough money for the two of us. I rarely spent any of the salary I was paid at Hogwarts and I have an inheritance from my mother which allows us more than self-sufficiency. Gringotts has been investing all that to my advantage. As Ollivander indicated, you needed a wand with more control than you did before. You also need to relearn how to use it properly. For the next little while, I suggest you concentrate on that."

Ron looked up at Snape from under his eyelashes. "Only that?"

"You're insatiable," said Snape, not sounding overly concerned.

Ron got up, walked over to the chair as though he were stalking prey, and draped himself over the man. "I don't hear you complaining. Frankly, I have all those years to make up for, and I want to make them up with you."

Snape stroked the no-longer-so-skinny arse under his hand. "Not all in the next few hours, I hope."

Ron's grin was downright lascivious.

Snape groaned.

Snape was quietly reading the latest Potions Master Journal when the doorbell down at the warehouse door rang. He looked up from his reading, and thought a moment. With careful gestures, he slipped a bookmark into the journal, placed it on the table next to his chair, and went to the windows to see who was calling on him. He had more than a suspicion, but he needed the time to prepare himself.

His visitor must have known that he would be vetted and so had stepped back so that he could be seen, standing there, hands in trouser pockets, waiting for Snape's decision.

Snape sighed. He went over to the elevator and made his way down. It made sense. Harry had taken Ron off with him to watch a Quidditch practice. England was playing against New Zealand in a run for a place in the World Cup and the team was putting in hours upon hours of extra practice. They didn't usually allow spectators, but Harry, as England's Seeker, could pull certain strings. Which he had.

Which was why Snape was opening the door to Arthur Weasley.

Arthur nodded but made no move to enter. "Yes," he said, "I asked Harry to find a way of allowing us some private conversation. If you don't care to speak with me, I will understand."

Snape looked at the man dressed in casual Muggle clothing, twill trousers with a thick sweater, a tweed jacket. Harry must have also vetted Arthur's outfit as it all matched. Stepping back from the door, he gestured that Arthur was to come in.

In the elevator, he could see that Arthur wanted to ask about the mechanism but held back. Not a good sign, thought Snape. Normally, Arthur was bursting at the seams with questions whenever he encountered Muggle machinery. Especially if he was away from Molly.

In spite of the fact that it wasn't yet lunchtime, Snape served them both firewhiskey he'd gotten that day in Diagon Alley, then sat down in his chair to await whatever bomb Arthur was going to drop on him.

Arthur looked around the loft, not saying anything, just noting that the second bed that had been up when he and Molly had visited was no longer in its corner. He took a sip, frowned at the strength of the drink - he wasn't much of a drinker of spirits, preferring the occasional beer. He placed the glass on the table in front of the couch where he was sitting and folded his hands. He spent some time examining them.

Snape wondered if they were playing a game of who-blinks-first when Arthur began talking.

"Has Ron ever mentioned how Molly and I met?"


Arthur nodded slightly. "It was at Hogwarts. We started together and were sorted into the same House. We hated each other on sight. I thought she was a stuck-up snob. She found me juvenile. That changed in fifth year. Somehow, over the summer between fourth and fifth year, she changed. A great deal more than I did." He looked up at Snape. "I've understood, since then, that males don't mature at the same rate as females." He went back to looking at his hands.

"She was beautiful. Full of life. Intelligent. Ready to take on any challenge life might toss her way. And she had suddenly developed this body that made all of us males very appreciative of the female form. I fell in love with her. For some reason I have yet to fathom, she fell in love with me."

Snape placed his drink down, taken by the tone in Arthur's voice. He wondered if anyone in his family had ever spoken about a mate with such open love. He sat back and listened.

"There were problems. Her family is fairly wealthy and influential. They had plans for her, which did not include falling in love with a boy who was attending Hogwarts on a scholarship, with no influential ties to any Ministry. My people are regular run-of-the-mill wizards and witches. Some of them are in horticulture and others are in husbandry. Hers are in commerce, international trade. Many sit on important Boards.

"To make matters short, she was given an ultimatum in seventh year. Either she stopped seeing me or she could forget about ever coming to them for help of any kind because it was easy to see, just looking at me, that I was going nowhere.

"We eloped after we wrote our final N.E.W.T.s. By the way," Snape heard the pride that was still there after all these years, "Molly came seventh in the standings." Arthur shrugged, "I came thirty-fifth."

He sat back in the couch and passed a hand over his balding head. "She wanted to make sure that her family wouldn't force her to leave me and so she got pregnant as soon as she could. Her family wrote her off as a loss and happily had enough decency to leave us alone. They didn't help us but neither did they hinder us. When I realized that Molly was pregnant, I crammed for Ministry exams and passed well enough to be offered an entry position with the Department of the Improper Use of Magic."

He looked almost sheepish. "It wasn't, as you can imagine, a well paying one. Molly's allowance had been about what my income was that first year. It wasn't easy for her, pregnant, poor, knowing that she could have written the exams and have been offered a higher level position. I used to come home at night to the small apartment we had rented, expecting to find her gone. I still am amazed most nights when I go home and find her there.

"One of my family died and left me the Burrow. Back then it was basically a roof held up by four walls. And though it meant that Molly was even more isolated, this time in the country, she never complained." Arthur looked at Snape and smiled ruefully. "Oh, she groused and let me know that she had a temper. Still has what the kids call an `awesome' one." Then he grew serious, "But not once in the forty years that we've been married has she ever thrown up to me what she left for my sake."

Snape nodded his head in recognition of that fact. Arthur seemed to relax a little with it.

"I know that the size of our family is the subject of jokes. I mean, most wizards and witches have one, maybe two children. Three is considered among our kind to be a large family. Molly and I have had seven. They have been our riches, I suppose you could say. I know that I certainly consider them to be such."

He smiled proudly. "Bill and Charlie are the best of Molly. They have her intelligence, her love of life. Her response to challenges. They know who they are and what they want. They grab life by the tail and dare it to turn on them.

"Percy." He sighed. " Well, poor Percy is Molly's family to a T. Concerned with advancement. With his position in life. Intelligent but ordinary with it. I guess you could say he is the worse of Molly. I understand that one of her brothers has shown interest in Percy. He is torn right now between his loyalty to his mother - and never doubt for a moment that Percy is loyal - and his desire to see the Weasley name become one spoken with respect and awe." He shrugged again and explained, "He doesn't see Muggle relations as very important in the wizarding scheme of things."

Arthur was silent for a moment as though lost in thought. "The twins. Dear Merlin, the twins. I'm sorry to say," his shy grin reminded Snape of the twins about to pull a stunt on some unsuspecting victim, "that they came by their attitude, their spiritedness, their love of games and fooling around very naturally. They got all that from me. They drove Molly crazy with worry. She loved them but...all those plans they had for their joke shop, that scared her.

"And then when they..." Arthur's eyes closed against the pain, "...they were...killed. It was as though the heart had been taken out of us. My one consolation is that they died together. I don't think one could have survived without the other. Or would have wanted to. I miss them..."

Snape sat very still while Arthur took a deep breath and controlled his feelings of loss. Would anyone mourn him this way a dozen years after his death? At his death?

"Molly took their deaths hard. I think she feels that maybe if she had loved them more they might not have died."

Arthur shook his head slightly. "Ginny. Ginny is the best of both of us." He smiled understandingly at Snape. "I know that you probably don't see her that way, but she has Molly's intelligence, along with her looks. Yes, Molly used to look like Ginny does now. Six pregnancies effect a woman's body. Not to mention the life she's lived. Ginny has her mother's brains, and my curiosity. They mesh well in Ginny.

"I know that Molly is disappointed that Ginny has left the Aurors, but I think that Ginny is much happier where she is now. She can use her brains all she wants and satisfy her curiosity as well. All without being on show which was hard for her. The Head of Mysteries Investigation thinks she'll go far within that Ministry.

"And that leaves Ron." Arthur turned his body so that he faced Snape. He kept his eyes on him, as though seeking every nuance of expression on Snape's face.

"Of all my children, I feel closest to Ron. Like me, he's intelligent, but not a super brain." His face showed some worry. "You do know that there's been some brain damage as a result of the Subitomoves?"

Snape nodded. "Both Pomfrey and Howe have indicated to us that he will always have memory problems, that he may be able to relearn old skills but that he will find it difficult to learn new things. He has determination, which may go a long way to helping him in these areas, but yes, we both know that there are certain skills he once had, he never will again. He finds chess almost impossible for him right now. We're working on that."

"Thank you. I wasn't aware just how much Ron himself knew." Arthur smiled again as he continued. "Ron, like me, interested in all things, chose one of the worst ever Quidditch teams to be loyal to, and hates being babied. Even when he was a baby, he hated it, being coddled. I remember when he started walking. He took the usual spills and if one of his brothers or Molly helped him up, he'd scream his head off. He wanted to do things for himself and he worked at it until he could.

"I think Molly and I forgot that when we brought him home from St. Mungo's. He was so ill. And he shook all the time. When he tried to speak, we couldn't understand him and the frustration only made him shake all the more. Watching him try to say something, try to do something was so painful... When we could remember the other Ron who had...

"I notice that you never finish his sentences for him. That you wait for him however long it takes. I'm sad to say that we didn't have the patience. We lost not two children in the War, you understand, but three. And we were mourning.

"We made mistakes, but they were out of love. Ron finally had enough of it. Enough of Molly's tears. Apart from her crying when we heard about the twins, I had never seen Molly cry before. And with Ron, it was as though she couldn't stop. As though every day she was reminded of what she had lost.

"When Ron left, we were amazed. We didn't think he could get from his room to the bathroom without help and then, suddenly, he was gone. He left a note. It must have taken him days to write it so that it was legible enough for us to read it. It just said that he was going away and that we were not to try and locate him.

"We found out years later that one of our neighbours' sons had helped him. That he spelled Ron to outside some little town called Flouch. That through him, Ron had made arrangements himself," some of Arthur's pride in his son slipped out, "with the Ministry, that his stipend be paid into an account that automatically converted it into pounds. Gringotts then transferred the funds to a Muggle bank so that he could draw it out. He had enough in the account at the beginning because he hadn't spent any of the money up till then; we always paid for anything he wanted. But I realized that it wouldn't be enough.

"We couldn't track him down and Gringotts refused to tell us where they sent his money. I deposited some funds into the account and had them returned. Ron has also inherited Molly's pride."

Snape heard both pride and frustration in Arthur's voice. He sympathized.

"Her pride is why she is so much against you, I believe. She feels hurt that Ron turned to you, not her. She gave up her family for me and fears she's losing her own.

"I'm telling you all this so that you understand and give her time to realize that she's only pushing Ron away. Molly, I'm afraid, has trouble accepting her sons' choices. She gave up her chance at a career and feels that our daughters-in-law should do the same. Only one of them has. Oh, Molly's for the equal role of witches in every facet of life, don't get me wrong. And she'll fight you if you say otherwise. But that's her rational side. Her emotional side makes her wish that they would choose as she did, and thereby support her decision all those years ago to run off with the boy her family disapproved of."

Arthur picked up the glass of firewhiskey and drank it down. Snape got up and refilled both their glasses.

"Thank you for telling me this. I think I understand more than I did. But it is not by my decision that Ron is not in contact with her or with you. He is seriously angry at his mother's and sister's refusal to accept us."

Arthur nodded. "He's slow to rouse but when he is, his anger is long-lived."

"And I'm sorry that I'm not what you would have liked for him."

Arthur sat back in the couch and took a good look at the man sitting, watching him in turn. "I have to admit that having a son-in-law only a few years younger than myself takes some getting used to."

"Son-in-law?" Snape's eyebrows rose high.

Arthur suddenly became the Department Head he was. "I am assuming that your intentions towards my son are honourable."

Snape took a sip of his drink. "I just think it might be wise to wait before you start thinking of myself in that capacity."

Arthur paused in his drinking and looked coldly at Snape. "And I think it might be a good thing for you to explain yourself."

Snape stared into his glass and shrugged. "As you said, I'm only a few years younger than yourself. Ron is twenty-nine. One morning, he will wake up and decide that..."

Arthur threw his head back and roared. Snape glared until the laughter died down.

"Oh, dear," said Arthur, wiping his eyes. "I see that Ron's left out a little family information."

"Family information?"

Arthur nodded. "From the Weasley side. Once mated, it's for life. Weasleys are notoriously monogamous creatures. We have been since some powerful witch fell in love with a Weasley ancestor - supposedly what Ginny and her friends would call `a hunk' - some thousand years ago, and she wanted to make certain he would stay at her side. So she spelled him Fidelis and family tradition has it that the spell was passed on to their children."

Snape cocked his head as he thought aloud, "That might explain your Molly."

Arthur shook his head. "No, there's none of that in her family. Only in mine. Now in ours. If you're worried that Ron's going to leave you, don't be. That'll happen only in death. And considering all the examinations you endured because of Molly and Ginny, I think it's safe to say that suits you fine."

Snape made a pot of tea. Arthur was delighted to be asked to open the cellophane package of Marks & Spencer Butter Biscuits.

"So do you have any plans?" Arthur propped his feet up on the table and blew on his tea.

"I want to take Ron travelling. It'll do both of us some good. I've always wondered what the rest of the wizarding world was like. But for one reason or another, I never managed to get away." He sighed to himself: truth was he hadn't felt much like travelling by himself.

"That's good. It'll give Molly some time to get used to the idea of your being part of the family."

Snape wondered if there was any serious chance of that. "And how will I know that's occurred?"

Arthur laughed. "You'll know because you'll be the recipient of a Molly Weasley original jumper."

Snape remembered the infamous Weasley jumpers. He caught the groan before it left his mouth.

Arthur nodded his head. "Not bad," he grinned and Snape saw Ron in him. "You've already got a grasp of one of the rules on being a son-in-law."

Snape muttered something that Arthur pretended he didn't hear. Slipping his hand inside his jacket, he pulled out two small scrolls and tossed them onto the table.

"What are those?" asked Snape.

"Personal invitations from Bill and Charlie to you and Ron to visit with them and their families. Whenever you want."

They left on the Harley with a sidecar attached for their gear, the second and third storeys of the warehouse spelled to allow in only Miss Jones - to feed the toad and bring up any mail they forwarded to her - and Angus Howe - for security reasons.

Miss Jones had provided them with a letter of introduction to the head research librarian in charge of antiquities at the Librairie nationale in Paris so that Snape could have a look at some of the oldest herbal manuscripts ever found. McGonagall had forewarned Beauxbatons that they might be passing through that vicinity and had received by return owl an invitation for Snape to speak to the upper years who were specializing in potions. Angus Howe had handed Snape a list of other Potions Masters who would be delighted to show them around their part of the countries as they passed through on their way to the heel of Italy and the boat for Egypt where Bill now lived.

They took their time. Ron developed a taste for fresh baguettes, ripe cheese, young wine and sex in the open air. Snape had no problem with the food, but was old enough to be slightly reticent about the places Ron pushed him either to a wall or to the ground. Ron paid little attention to the initial protests which soon only became part of their foreplay.

La Librairie nationale held treasures for Snape. Monsieur le Directeur d'antiquits had selected material for Snape on Miss Jones's recommendations. Also on Miss Jones's suggestion, one of the junior members of the organization took charge of Ron and introduced him to the Muggle pleasures of soccer. Knowing that he was forever grounded from being more than a passenger on a broom, Ron had accepted that he could never again play Quidditch safely - his sense of balance wasn't good enough, not even with the Quietus. He had mocked Dean Thomas and his dedication to this sport but now, sitting in the packed stadium, he found himself cheering and yelling as he would have at a Quidditch match. Under the very obvious guise of needing it for exercise, he purchased a soccer ball and added it to the sidecar.

There had been a very uncomfortable meeting with his father before they had left on this adventure. Arthur had come to the warehouse alone when Snape was off getting some paperwork done for the trip. Ron had never before been on the receiving end of his father's temper. Usually Molly handled discipline and, by the time his father was through with him, Ron wished she had been this day. Molly was easy to handle once she finished blowing her top, but his father...

Ron ended up apologizing for the fact that he had never contacted his family after he'd left, that he had refused to accept the funds that they had sent him, that when he'd begun having trouble with the disappearances he had endured the fear by himself.

He promised to send letters regularly whether by owl or through the Muggle system. Arthur understood that, for many reasons, Ron might not want to correspond with his mother and sister, but he, Arthur, expected a weekly missive either to his office or through Miss Jones. Was that understood?

He accepted - until he could prove to provide for himself - a monthly sum that his father would deposit into his account at Gringotts. "This is not thirty years ago, when your mother and I had all those mouths to feed and bodies to keep in decent clothes," his father had growled. "I get a more than ample salary these days and with all of you gone from home, we have only ourselves to worry about. While on this trip with Severus, I expect you to practice and improve your skills. When you come back," his voice had softened, "knowing you as I do, Ron, you're going to want to contribute your share to the household. And we'll find a way for you to do so."

Snape approved of the ball and joined Ron as he tried to handle it as did the soccer players. He sent a parcel of what Muggles called `photocopies' of the most interesting links between Muggles and Magic to Miss Jones and they moved on to Beauxbatons.

Where they got their first wizarding surprise.

Snape had been pleased to be asked to speak to the special Potions class, but he hadn't expected to walk into a hall filled with about eighty students and staff to be greeted with a standing ovation. Ron, watching from the side, grinned at him, applauding along with the audience. Snape had prepared a short speech to be delivered in French after casting a Translation Spell on himself, then had intended to turn the rest of the time over to questions and answers. He had figured they would be there an hour at the very most. Three hours later, his hostess, Madame Maxime, had to call an end to the questions as Snape was losing his voice.

There had been questions about the making of esoteric potions, the testing of potions, the creation of potions; about what had attracted him to potions in the first place, about the place of potions in the modern wizarding world. This being France, there were questions about the philosophy of potions, the poetry of potions, the importance of tradition in potion making, whether potions were for the common good.

And because he had been introduced by Madame Maxime as `un des grands hros' of the war against Voldemort, there were questions about his life as a double agent, about his role in the death of the Dark Lord, `le seigneur des tnbres', what he thought were the chances of another rising.

Ron sat the entire time, a huge grin on his face, watching his lover get some of the recognition that was due him, that he had missed by removing himself from the wizarding world so soon after the War had been won. The closing ovation lasted five minutes and then it took another half hour to extricate Snape from his admirers and get him back into Madame Maxime's office where she had tea with honey and whiskey waiting for him.

They spent a week at Beauxbatons, with Snape presenting special lectures to the upper classes and Ron working with a very patient semi-retired Charms professor on his spells.

In Germany, Ron dragged Snape to a soccer match because, he said, he wanted his opinion on the possible links between some aspects of the game to Quidditch. Snape had laughed at the ruse - he was thinking of preparing a paper on his own research into old Muggle remedies and magic - and thought that Ron was using that as a way of getting him to attend his newest interest. Still, at half time, he watched as Ron indeed made notes in a small book that he'd pulled out of his jacket pocket, then spent the second half wondering if Ron weren't right.

"It would make a good article for the next `Journal of the Quidditch World Cup'," agreed Snape.

"You'll have to check my spelling," said Ron, pleased that Snape hadn't thought his idea was completely off-base.

"That," scoffed Snape, "is not something you can blame on the Subitomoves. Your spelling was always atrocious."

Angus Howe had asked Snape "if it's not an imposition", to visit an old teacher of his who had retired to Unter-Munstertal, in the Black Mountains region. "He was one of those stereotypical absented-minded Emeritus Professors whose brains only work well when they focus on something they love. He supervised my specialized year in Foreign Potions. I think you'll like him."

Herr Professor der Mondschein had to be the oldest wizard Ron had ever met. Over 195, well on his way to hitting the 200 mark. And spry enough to get there without too many aches and pains. He was completely bald for which he compensated with a beard that would have dragged on the floor had it not been tucked into his belt. Even then, he had to hold it up in his hands whenever he used stairs. He was incredibly absent-minded. He called Ron `Waldo', for some student with red hair he had had decades ago, and kept chastising him on the lateness of his paper which, he reminded Ron at least three times a day, he would never get published in time for it to count for his Masters levels.

Herr Professor had no trouble remembering Snape's name and was delighted to welcome him, as he did every morning they spent with him. Snape smiled every morning and said the pleasure was all his. Which it was the moment that the discussion turned to potions. Herr Professor had an incredible memory for every potion he had ever played with. His greatgrand -nephew, Gustav, with whom he lived, was pleased that Snape didn't mind spending hours in the old wizard's laboratory; it meant that he had some free time to pursue his own interests. Every morning, after breakfast, while Snape and his uncle were off in their own world, he would take Ron into his.

Snape just assumed that the nephew had a workshop or laboratory somewhere on the property. It was only the last night they were spending with the der Mondscheins that Snape learnt Gustav was an artist of some renown when he was presented with a portrait of himself and another of Ron. He was impressed with the way Gustav had caught all of Ron's intensity while, at the same time, had found the means to show his love of life, his humour. He had painted Ron standing, his chocolate robe pulled back by the hand slipped into his jeans pocket, a soccer ball at his feet, fanning himself with a deck of Muggle cards. He wore a huge grin on his face which, whenever Snape himself stood in front of the portrait, softened into one of love.

The portrait of Snape showed him in his robe, sitting in a chair, chin propped up on a hand. On his lap was a tome of potions, opened to the page with the Wolfsbane. The expression on his face was the one Ron assured him he wore whenever he went off into whatever faraway world his potions inhabited. Except when Ron stood in front of the portrait, then his expression returned to this one and the man he so obviously loved.

"They should be hung in such a way that they can see each other," Gustav specified. Which Snape included in the instructions he sent with the portraits to Howe, accompanying the special award with which he had been presented in yet another surprise event.

Herr Professor and Gustav had insisted that Snape and Ron stay with them for more than the night originally planned. The men had agreed, especially when it was obvious that Snape and the professor had much in common. The second to last night of their stay, their hosts insisted that they accompany them to a small meeting that was taking place in a very special `Weinkeller', a wine-tavern.

"You will find that the wine they serve is very delightful," explained Gustav. Snape had already inquired as to some of those which had accompanied the meals they had eaten. He thought it might be a fine opportunity to try a few other local ones and add those to the cases being sent back to the warehouse.

The Weinkeller was closed for the purpose of this meeting. It was a smallish establishment with place for maybe thirty people in a squeeze. There weren't that many, only about a dozen. Each of whom turned out to be the representative of a Werewolf Clan, who had gathered for the express purpose of thanking the man who had invented the Wolfsbane Potion.

The meeting was incredibly emotional. Ron found that this night it was he who supported Snape as the evening took its toll. Snape was thanked over and over again, in a multitude of languages. His hands were kissed and bathed in tears. One wizard even went down on his knees, overwhelmed to be in the presence of the one who had saved his sanity and that of his fellow Clan members.

Snape was dumbstruck.

Gustav explained to Ron that Angus Howe had mentioned in his letter to his old professor that Snape, as Pontefract, had never really received any recognition for his creation. Snape, he said, knew that it had been important to Lupin, but he really had no idea just how momentous the potion had been for others. Or that Herr Professor der Mondeschien produced it regularly for the Werewolf Clan of the Black Forest. That several of his former students did so for other Clans. Word of Snape's impending visit had quickly circulated and this evening was the result. "We had to keep you here until after the full moon," chuckled Gustav, pleased with the surprise.

Ron spent most of the evening by Snape's side, holding him up physically at times. He was thankful that he always carried extra doses of the Quietus along with him because the stresses of the evening wore out the effects far sooner than the norm, and Snape needed him at his best. He knew that, all things considered, Snape was not an openly emotional man, especially when compared with Weasleys. But the night, with its tributes, its gratitude, its anecdotes of how the potion had affected individual lives, was almost too much for the reserved wizard. Apart from the time he had confronted what Voldemort was doing with his potions - which had horrified and disgusted him enough to send him back to Dumbledore - he had never had occasion to meet with those his potions had helped. Oh, he knew Ron's feelings on the Quietus and he had been thanked by Lupin, though that had been coloured by their experiences as students.

By the time Ron got Snape back to their visitors' bedchamber, his lover was barely able to put one foot in front of the other. Ron undressed him, got him into bed, and joined him as soon as he had found a safe place to store the crystal werewolf howling at an unseen moon that had been presented to Snape, its base inscribed with the individual names of those Clan members who had benefitted from the potion.

It was Snape this night who was shaking. Ron wrapped himself around the man, crooning the kind of things Snape had said to him those times when he had needed consoling. That Snape burst into tears in his arms was by then a blessing. Ron knew what it felt like, to be so full of feeling that it was either tears or insanity. His weeping sessions had been based on depression, Snape's on too much emotion. Finally, wept out, Snape slept.

Ron held him tightly, aware for the first time in their relationship of Snape's real need for him. He had been given much by Snape, but now he knew that he could also give back. Ron was forever thankful to the werewolves for their recognition of what Snape had done for them, and for himself for making him see that he wasn't just a taker in this relationship. After this night, he felt like more of an equal.

They didn't speak much during their ride through the Alps on their way to Italy. Severus needed time to recover from his meeting with the werewolves and, besides, the spectacular views that surrounded them took their breath away. Ron especially liked to remember one morning waking up before dawn and going out of the hostel to watch the sun rise. Severus joined him in time to see a large red sun balancing on the tip of a peak.

Italy was pasta, red wine, and Ron diligently keeping an eye on Severus's ass. It had been pinched in Milano. He had been bent over the seat of the Harley, checking on a drip that had appeared when someone passing close by had taken the opportunity to grope a feel and a pinch.

Severus had straightened with a gasp, scanned the area with an insulted look on his face. He hadn't found it funny, though Ron had. At first.

"Well, it is one of your best features, Severus," he growled, pushing his lover onto the bed and proceeding to check it out for himself.

But by the time they arrived in Rome, it had happened too often for Ron's sense of humour. Severus, on the other hand, was more relaxed about it. "You're the one who insisted that I wear these Muggle jean things when driving on the bike." Personally, Ron's possessiveness was a revelation to him: he had never seen himself as anything anyone might want to keep only to himself. And he thought the fact that his butt received twice as much attention as Ron's was rather good for his ego. He was the one who now pushed Ron against a wall or down onto the ground for a little sex in the open air.

In Rome, Severus went off to La Biblioteca Nazionale where Miss Jones had paved the way for him to inspect ancient documents on some of the medical remedies and practices of Ancient Roman secret cults while Ron went off with a cousin on the Jones side - in Rome, at the School for International Studies - to see how Italian soccer was played in smaller venues where the rules were not always followed.

"There's a definite Quidditch influence in local play," said Ron, as they sat at an outdoor caf, eating Italian gelato. "Far more than in League play. Makes me wonder when and where a Muggle got to see a Quidditch match. Had to be long before the Ministry clamped down on the chance of that happening."

Severus smiled lazily at the man who was jotting down ideas in the notebook that was never very far from him these days. His own research was going well and he thought he would soon have enough information to produce an article for the Journal of Novel Potions that should ruffle a few feathers. Ron's magical skills were slowly improving, however his handwriting was so bad that even Ron sometimes had trouble deciphering what he had written. With Severus providing only suggestions, he had devised a spell for transferring his notes to a scroll in a legible manner. It was something that a fourth year student could have done, but though it had taken a few tries, Ron had stuck at it until he'd been successful. Another small victory.

Afraid that Angus had `arranged' for more surprises, they avoided the local wizarding scene other than to go browsing in its bookstores. Ron found a small book, `Il Governo di Quidditch', that, if the cover page was to be trusted, indicated that it had been published in 1534, only sixty years after the very first Quidditch World Cup ever held.

Severus found several gifts. He sent Howe a curious manual of love potions ranging from the esoteric to the downright lascivious and the ridiculous; McGonagall, a book on transfigurations whose illustrations seemed to have been done by one `Leonardo da Vinci'; Miss Jones, a book about the ancient library at Alexandria which had more than its share of rare magical scrolls in its catalogue at the time of its burning.

They went to a Quidditch game near Rome, with England playing the Italian national team. Harry had sent tickets to the pensione where they were staying. They were the only spectators to arrive at the site by Muggle transportation, which made them very popular with the children and wizards attending.

The tickets were for boxed seats. Nothing like knowing the visiting team's Seeker, thought Severus, as they made their way up to the box. Where there were already seated several people they knew.


Granger, dressed in a Quidditch robe of England's colours - red with white trim, with three gold lions emblazoned on the back - greeted them both with hugs and kisses.

"Ron, I wouldn't have recognized you. You look incredible. And you, too, Professor Snape."

To her surprise, the Potions Master returned both hug and kiss. "Please, Severus. We're no longer teacher and student. And I hope that we've become friendly enough for first names."

Hermione gave him another hug. "Yes, I think we certainly have. Severus."

Ginny Weasley looked far less surprised than Ron did to see her here. It was a little awkward at first. But Ginny hadn't come by herself. With a hint of uncomfortable shyness, she introduced her brother and his lover to the man accompanying her. "Jeremy Woods. He's Oliver's older brother." Who was also with the Ministry of Mysteries, as one of their investigators.

Ron and Severus shook hands with the man and found their seats. Hermione made certain to sit as a barrier between Ginny and the two men.

"Not my idea,' she explained to Severus when, at his suggestion, the two of them went to find something for the group to drink. "I was as surprised as you were to find them at the hotel where I'm staying. Harry told me that she was the one who approached him. I would have warned you if I could have gotten out of Harry where you were staying. I sense Arthur behind this, but whatever it takes for them to make peace, I'm for."

Severus nodded and turned the conversation to her work. She was up for yet another promotion, due to her handling of the Crabbe affair.

"Department Under-Head at your age? Yes, I think you can handle that level of responsibility quite well. Your family must be very proud of you."

Hermione blushed. Compliments from Snape! Yes, he certainly had changed over the years. "They're not quite certain what it involves but, yes, they are proud of me. Mind you," she shook her head, "Mother has begun dropping hints about grandchildren. I'm an only child," she explained.

The situation back at the box when they returned carrying iced wine and beer was still tense but less so than when they had left. Ginny and Ron were talking politely to each other with Jeremy watching the Italian Seeker fall for another patented Potter move.

"I don't see how we're going to miss a place on next year's World Cup," he said as he smiled his thanks for the beer, "not with the way Harry is eliminating the opposition."

They all looked down at the pitch to see the Italian Seeker lying on the ground, unconscious. Harry hovered over him, oozing concern as to the man's condition, when in actual fact he was merely confirming that the game might have to continue with the replacement Seeker.

"It's that little extra he's added to the Wronski Feint," Jeremy and Ron said at the same time. The two men laughed together and Severus saw Ginny smile. It faltered a bit when she caught him watching her, but then she gave a little nod of her head and Severus, recognizing it as the olive branch it was, nodded back in return.

They ate a late supper together, with Harry joining them for dessert when he finally managed to sneak out of the party England was holding to celebrate their victory. When they left to return to their pensione, Ginny and Ron hugged and she shook hands with Snape. They would never be great friends, thought Severus as he spooned himself against a sated Ron, but they would be able to tolerate each other's presence whenever they had to spend time together.

Three days later, they were on the boat heading for the port of Alexandria, then Thebes and Bill Weasley.

Part Four

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