Making a good cocktail is in many ways exactly like a Potions class, and in many ways nothing like it whatsoever. Sirius charms a knife to cut wedges of lime and hums to himself and pushes his hair out of his eyes and thinks cheerfully of what Slughorn would say if he could see him now: nothing too severe, of course, because Sirius is a Black and a Black is an asset and so even though the man has never quite forgiven Sirius for setting off Dungbombs in the first Slug Club party of the year, he would never risk alienating him completely.
(Careful, Mister Black, precision, Mister Black, you've got a good instinct for the proper proportions but your preparation technique is sloppy.
Very good, Ms Evans – ten points to Gryffindor.)
The Slippery Snitch is two parts Firewhiskey to one part lemon juice and a sprig of holly, the glass spun twice and with flirtation whispered into the sugar that frosts the edge. Sirius is, indeed, sloppy in his preparation, and the bar is soon covered in a glistening mixture of liquids that he forgets to wipe down, but he learns to cover his tracks with a bit of extra magic. Over the course of the summer he invents the Greasy Snitch, which is thickened with a dash of pumpkin juice and a flash of green sparks from the wand that is tucked next to his corkscrew, and which curls itself around the tongue and lives up to its name. Secrets slip out as though oiled; Sirius sells tall glass after tall glass; fights break out and jinxes fly and Sirius ducks down behind the bar and laughs.
It is easy to feel at home among bottles full of alcohol and colourings and mixers and a few things borrowed from the Muggles and a few more that can be used only drop by drop. It is easy to alter his sleeping patterns and charm the girls into spending more and more with a quick brash smile, and to go home with money in his pocket that he earned on his own, without having to ask his family for a thing.
The Alohomora is layered in a shot glass: absinthe and rum and the almost-black Dragon's Blood, goblin liquor, lethal and rich. James does three in five minutes and is undone, unlocked, his eyes wide and his voice affectionate and his lips brushing across Lily's cheekbone.
(Peter drinks Butterbeer and not much else; with uncharacteristic wisdom, he laughingly resists all of Sirius's attempts to press experimental concoctions upon him.)
This is Potions without the pressure: some cocktails turn transparent when they are finished, some give off steam, some change their flavour with every sip and are passed around groups of friends as part of elaborate drinking games. The Mermaid is Muggle tequila infused with with mint plucked under a new moon, and a dash of cornflower syrup, and an murmured incantation that keeps the silken blue threads of colour spiraling hypnotically around and around in the glass. It is a drink for broken hearts. It needs to be sipped, slowly.
Remus visits the bar only twice: the first time he drinks nothing but water, keeping an eye on James. But the second time he enters alone and pale and with new scars and a familiar distance in his eyes. Sirius's hands shake as he reaches for the bottles.
What is it?
Just what you need, Moony.
Where does a drink end and a potion begin?
The Moon's Memory is something that Sirius dug out of an old, old book; he has never been asked to make it, and he has never suggested it to anyone else. Three fingers of moonstone gin. One finger of rosewater. Five drops of water filtered through owl feathers. And a single Sickle, which Sirius holds over the flame of a candle for a self-conscious seven seconds before dropping it in. When the coin hits the bottom of the glass there is a quiet sound, like the inrush of breath, and the drink turns a wild and chilling shade of translucent silver.
I can't –
It changes the silver. Sirius checked the source. Checked it four times. I think...I think you'll be all right.
Remus, who carries a heavy leather coin purse because he asks for all of his change in Knuts in case there is ever a fleck of real silver near the surface of a Sickle, drinks without speaking, and pushes the glass back across the bar when he is finished. But Sirius shakes his head and tips the Sickle into Remus's palm.
No pain, Remus says wonderingly.
Make a wish, Sirius says.