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Written for meri_oddities' fan_the_vote request. Kicked my ass, and I'm not sure it's what you had in mind, meri, but hopefully you'll like it anyway. :) Many thanks to Cesca for beta!

Older, Wiser, Sadder
by shalott

The black hair was thickly salted, the frown lines drawn more deeply around Snape's mouth, but his tone was as sharp as ever. "You're late, Potter, not that I am even slightly surprised." He closed the door once Harry was in and led the way, limping. The smell of the Wolfsbane was acrid even at the head of the stairs going down to the laboratory.

Despite his opening remark, the potion wasn't quite done. Snape's hands were gnarled, the joints thickened with magical scars, and he moved slowly while adding the remaining ingredients. Harry watched him with reluctant concern: there still wasn't another wizard in Britain who could make the potion, and without it, Lupin would be doing even worse than he was, which as of now was bedridden. "Have you tried -- "

"Spare me, Potter," Snape said.

Harry took the smoking goblet and left, silently promising himself that Remus wouldn't have to come back here, even after he'd gotten better.

Harry spent the next month working on learning to make Wolfsbane. He'd never really been much for potion-brewing, but Hermione was too busy to ask, her time divided between the the new Gryffindor first-years and the baby. It filled the days, anyway, while the hired house-elves carried Lupin out into the garden to lie in the sunlight, and in the evenings he and Harry played wizard chess or read quietly together.

By the time the moon had rolled through its paces, he thought he'd gotten the potion right. He wasn't about to test it on Lupin, but he bottled up the last batch and took it with him when he went to collect the one Snape had brewed.

Snape didn't refuse instantly when Harry asked him to look, which should have warned him. Harry opened the bottle over the basin Snape had pointed out and yelled in surprise, thick smoky billows of foam exploding over him. Snape laughed with his mouth closed, thin and vicious sound. Harry had a moment of fury, then he caught a glimpse of himself in a wall mirror, the wiped lenses of his glasses two little portholes out of the sooty mess of his face, and laughed instead.

"All right, no bottling," he said. "Can you tell if I got the rest of it right?"

Snape stopped laughing and scowled; Harry only grinned back at him, a little smug to have deflated his pleasure. Grudgingly, Snape limped over and took a sample of the foam, sniffed it. "Too little belladonna, too much ariseth," he said cuttingly. "A fifth-year's mistake, Potter."

"Better luck next time," Harry said, still pleased, and took the goblet carefully in his blackened hands.

The next month he had the belladonna and ariseth right, and Snape scowled at the cup. "You've done something wrong, and so egregiously that I would have to perform a detailed analysis to determine what," he said. "Save yourself a great deal of trouble and turn to activities that suit your talents. Lavatory cleaning comes to mind."

Harry mastered the first remarks that occurred to him. "If I get it right, you won't have to brew the Wolfsbane anymore."

Snape sniffed, but after a moment he said, "If I am going to be wasting my time on these amateurish concoctions of yours, you can take this busywork off my hands."

Harry spent the rest of the day washing the filthiest collection of flasks he'd ever seen. His back ached after the first hour stooping over the deep basin, and he was engrimed and greasy by the time Snape finally stood up from his bench.

"The wormwood must be perfectly fresh, Potter; if you are incapable of following even the simplest instructions, you will make very little headway," he said, and dipped out the month's dose from the waiting cauldron.

The month afterwards Snape flung the goblet across the room in disgust after running his tests, and made Harry chop aleapter roots for two hours until the pieces were properly fine. "Minced, Potter, if you are capable of telling the difference in consistency," he said, rubbing the pungent roots between his fingers so close that Harry's eyes watered. "I wonder that you manage to tie your shoelaces in the morning; or perhaps Granger has given you a charm to manage it for you."

In repayment, Harry spent the rest of the evening scrubbing the tables and dusting the bottles of supplies on the shelves. It was oddly comforting and familiar to clean with Snape's occasional nasty remark to punctuate the process; it had been a long time since he'd lived with the Dursleys, and the house-elves never let him do anything at home. He came home pleasantly tired-out, with the potion still smoking.

The following month Harry came without a fresh sample. "I would rather see more of you," Remus had said, a little wistfully, his voice thin and reedy from another bout of coughing, and so Harry's makeshift laboratory in the attic had stayed empty. Snape seemed to catch his mood; he opened the door and handed over the potion in silence, without even an insult to speed him along.

Werewolves couldn't be buried; the graves were too likely to be dug up and despoiled, spell-supply hunters looking for fur, teeth, saliva, blood. Even in the funeral parlor, before the cremation, Harry sat up all night with the body, stroking the thin grey hair. Remus's face looked relieved more than anything, smiling a little. A few strangers did in fact peer in, their faces too shadowed to see from inside the dark room, though they went away quickly when they saw Harry sitting there.

Hermione arrived in the morning, the pram trundling along behind her. Harry held his godson a little nervously until the baby started yelling and his face turned as red as his hair, then hastily handed him back over. "I'll have to feed him," she said, and took him out.

So Harry was alone when Snape came in. His walking stick clumped heavily along on the floor; he didn't so much as look at Harry as he came up to the coffin. There was nothing like grief on his face, as scowling as ever. He said nothing, only stared down at Lupin's face, and the folded hands that all the undertaker could do had left looking mostly like crooked claws.

"Well, I've outlasted you four, anyway," Snape said, addressing the photograph on the stand. There were four because there wasn't one of Remus, Sirius, and James alone; Peter stayed cringing in the back corner as far from Sirius as he could manage, round face pale and unblinking at the very borders of the page.

Sirius and James made rude gestures to Snape, while Remus rolled his eyes at them patiently; the corners of Snape's mouth curled upwards, smirking. "Only think of it this way, Potter," he said over his shoulder, limping out of the room. "At least he died before you could poison him with your next attempt."

Too tired to snap back at him, Harry didn't realize until later that Snape had as much as told him he'd been close to getting the potion right.

The house-elves were used to letting him in. Snape looked at him from behind the laboratory bench, and at the smoking goblet in Harry's hands, and didn't sneer. "What do you care about it now?"

"I'd still like to get it right," Harry said. The house and garden felt so very empty, and Hermione had gone back to Hogwarts.

Snape sniffed it, put his little finger into the cup, let a drop fall on his tongue. "Possibly functional," he said. "Barely. Reshelve those books while I examine it." He took down a vial and set the fire under his cauldron.

The books weren't in a stack so much as in a wall, nearly dividing the room: more than a day's work. "The Medeo potion uses the same base as Wolfsbane, doesn't it?" he asked thoughtfully, taking the first few.

Snape glanced over his shoulder. "The Medeo potion is the province of senior wizards, Potter," he said coolly, a hint of challenge in his voice. "It would take you the better part of a year to master the weakest formulation."

"Well," Harry said, carefully shelving a book by hand, "We'll see."

= End =

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