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Complete header information may be found in Part One. You may find all parts of this story by clicking the The Enchantment tag.

The Enchantment, Part Eight

"You don't need one, and I'm not going to serve you," Aberforth Dumbledore insisted, pushing Severus out the door of the Hog's Head and following him. "A bracing walk would be much more the thing."

"Damn it, man! I don't want to walk!"

"But you are walking," Aberforth said, pushing Severus again, "and you wouldn't be walking if you didn't want to do it, now would you be?"

"Wha—?" Severus half-asked, trying to catch his breath. "You're not . . . making . . . any sense, Albus," he said, before spinning on the wizard and demanding, "stop pushing me!"

"Then walk."

Grumbling, Severus did so. After a while, it occurred to him that he did not know to where he was walking, and he had forgotten why he had left the Hog's Head—which had seemed very far away from the Three Broomsticks before Albus had begun to push him through the snow—so he stopped. "I don't know what I'm doing."

"That much is obvious, old man."

"You said you didn't think I was too old for her—him—Potter," Severus protested, rounding on the other wizard again.

"O, ho! Is that what this is all about, then? I might have known there was a lover's spat at the heart of your drunken state. Idiot."

"Albus—"

"Aberforth. Albus is dead. You killed him, remember?"

The cold air having cleared his mind somewhat, Severus was not so insensate that he failed to catch the slight edge to the other man's tone. Not Albus? he asked himself, peering sideways at man next to him. Aberforth? Aber—Albus' brother! he thought in alarm, reaching abruptly for his wand and ending up sprawled in the snow. "Damn it!"

"Easy there, master spy," Aberforth mocked. "I wouldn't want anything to happen to one of Albus' 'favorite people'."

"Get in line," Severus spat, his hands scrabbling in the slush behind himself as they searched for his wand, which he thought he had dropped.

"For what?"

"To kill me. There's a line."

"So you implied. I imagine it's—"

"Long."

"You must be very proud."

"I can't find it!"

"I'm not surprised, given your condition."

"So why don't you kill me, then?" Severus asked, pushing himself up off the ground and glowering at Aberforth.

"Hexing a man to death with his own wand wouldn't be sporting, now would it be?" Aberforth replied, holding up Severus' wand in one hand.

"Then use your own."

"I don't have a wand, you nincompoop. I'm a Squib."

"You're not Albus?"

"Obviously, not. He's dead, remember?"

Severus looked at the sober-faced man before him and considered. "Oh, that's right. I—"

"Killed him, yes—and thank you for that, by the way—it was really quite important to him, as I recall," Aberforth said softly, putting Severus' wand into his trouser pocket and pulling something else out of it.

Severus watched the man's hand carefully. "I need to go."

"I doubt you'll get far in your condition. Here, eat this," Aberforth said, handing Severus a tiny blue pill.

"Why?"

"It'll sober you up—one of Rosmerta's finest products, it is."

"What is it?" Severus asked, swaying a bit as he stood.

"I told you."

"You could tell me anything, man."

"Is that so? Well then, you should know that I think you're a lucky wizard to have three people fighting over you."

"What are you talking about?" Severus asked, snatching the pill from Aberforth and swallowing it before continuing, "no one wants . . . no one . . . ."

"Feeling better are you, Snape?"

"Aberforth. What the hell am I—oh. Lovely."

"Not from where I'm standing, but your lovers obviously disagree. Ask you to choose amongst them, did they?"

"I have no lovers."

"You were just talking about 'her', 'him', and 'Potter'."

"There's just the one Potter."

"Ah, I suppose that's good."

"But he doesn't want me."

"Don't you mean 'she'?"

"I don't know what I mean anymore."

"I suppose that would explain why you were stinking drunk before you arrived at the Hog's Head."

"Yes. . . . No. . . . I don't . . . habit," Severus said, feeling slightly ill as his mind spun a bit on its way toward clarity. "Why are we standing outside?"

"You were about to pick a fight with a hag. I thought it best to move you along before her sisters showed up. I can't abide the mess hags make in a pub fight. Guts don't come easily clean."

Severus carefully brushed himself off and said, "I never did care much for your clientele."

"Hag's gold spends the same as wizard's," Aberforth replied, shrugging. "So, what can I do for you, Snape?"

"You can return my wand to me."

"No."

"I don't need it to hex you."

"True."

"Damn it, Aberforth!"

"Can't."

"What?"

"I can't damn anything. I'm neither a god nor a wizard. Besides, I don't go in much for damning. It's a rather pompous pastime and doesn't do much to fill the moneybags."

Severus felt a bit ridiculous standing in the snow having such a nonsensical conversation with Albus' brother. In fact, it seemed a bit off to him to find Albus' brother as being anything other than monosyllabic, and he found that he did not care for the chatty version of Aberforth.

But that's probably due to this headache, he thought, rubbing his temples as a band of pain shot through them. "The damned pill you gave me isn't working at all," he muttered. "I can't wait for it to, either. I need to go. Give me my wand back."

"Why?"

"Because I want it."

"And I want to know why you stiffed Rosmerta and blew into my place itching to fight with a hag."

"I did? I must have been . . . I was pissed. I'll . . . I'll have to pay Rosmerta another time," Severus said, trying to remember the fight in question and finding himself unable to recall it as the pain in his head increased. "What the hell was in that pill, anyway?"

"You should know that better than I would. You made it."

"What?"

"Haven't you been supplying Rosmerta with her potions and pills?"

"Not for months."

"Ah, that might explain why the pill's not working as quickly as it ought to be. Forgive me, do. I was trying to be helpful."

Severus' only evidence of Aberforth's "help" was the continued throbbing of his head; it made him long to lie down and stop trying to think, but he fought that desire. I'm not supposed to be here. I'm supposed to be— "Wait. How do you know that I failed to pay my shot?"

"You've seen the little glass ball behind the tap, have you?"

"The witch ball? That's just a decoration."

"No, it's how Rosmerta and I chat. My customers used to stiff me all the time and run down to the Three Broomsticks, and vice versa, so Rosmerta and I worked out an alert system of sorts. I knew you were coming before you arrived."

"I . . . see," Severus replied, wondering again what he was doing standing in the snow and talking to Aberforth when he knew there was something else he should be doing. What is it?

"I didn't expect you to argue with Old Maud, though. That was abominably stupid."

"I don't remember arguing with any hag." I don't remember actually entering the Hog's Head, either, Severus thought, shaking his head—but that only made the pain worse.

"Yes, the pills are definitely losing their potency. You really should do Rosmerta up another batch of them. You're a professional man, aren't you? Shouldn't you be behaving like one?"

Closing his eyes against the increasingly blinding glare of the snow, Severus replied, "I don't do that sort of thing anymore."

"No? Too busy messing about with former students, are you?"

"I'm not—"

"Of course you are. You've been interfering in that one's life for some time, too—sneaking off into the forest to tutor him like you did—why didn't you press your advantage, then?"

Severus caught his breath and squinted at Aberforth in suspicion. "What business of that is yours—and how do you know about it?"

"My brother told me."

That's a lie, Severus thought, stiffening in alarm. Albus was dead before I began teaching Harry Occlumency again, and no one knows about it. Harry doesn't even know it was me because I used a glamour. "Albus told you," he said, straightening his stance.

"And I will admit that it was noble of you to look after the boy, but really, Severus, tricking him as you did? Using a glamour to hide yourself from him—was that quite fair?"

"'Was that quite fair'?" Severus repeated in confusion, for there was no way that a Squib could have penetrated his glamour.

It suddenly occurred to him that he was being distracted.

"Yes, that is what I want to know. Come, walk with me and clear your head. It will do you good."

Severus found himself compelled to follow Aberforth, and he did so on unsteady feet as the man's order, "Come, walk with me," reverberated in his mind, but slowly, the second half of Aberforth's command began to work on him, and his mind cleared.

He realized that he had never entered the Hog's Head. Aberforth had just appeared.

I don't want to follow Aberforth, he thought, stopping his progress then. His legs twitched, but he was able to force them to remain still. Ah, a low-level compulsion charm, it must be—that was no pill. Was it an unfertilized fairy egg? he wondered. That would explain this pain in my head.

Aberforth turned. "Come with me, Severus. You need to walk."

"I don't."

"No?" the man asked, appearing surprised. "And just what is it that you do feel you need?"

I need to know who you are, Severus thought. I need my wand. "Thank you," he said, in an attempt to buy time, "for helping me. I just need to rest a moment."

"Of course," Aberforth replied, smiling indulgently.

Severus knelt down in the snow and pondered his predicament. He's leading me away, but why? Where am I supposed to be, now?

"You know, it's not safe to pause on these paths for long—all sorts of creatures might be watching us."

"True. I shall just catch my breath." Yes, there are creatures watching, creatures who can see through glamours because that is how they hunt, Severus thought, somewhat alarmed. They see through glamours and they . . . they can take them on, as well. Glancing up at Aberforth, his heart began to hammer. What are you?

The other man merely continued to smile at him. It was then that Severus remembered where he was supposed to be and when.

And I expect I haven't much time now to get there. Damn. "You'd . . . you'd better turn away for a moment. I think I may be ill."

"Oh. Oh, dear. Well, certainly."

As soon as Aberforth's eyes were off of him, Severus rose and began to run back down the path, but the other man was on him in an instant.

"What, going so soon, and without your wand?"

"Sod my wand! Let me go!"

Aberforth laughed and released Severus.

"What's so damn funny?"

"You are—attempting to run away from a man who's only trying to help you—I should be offended, you know. Come, Severus, stop being difficult. Ask me for my help. You know you want to ask me for my help."

Idiot. You broke the compulsion charm, yourself, Severus thought, wondering if Aberforth could possibly be acting under Imperius. Stranger things have happened, and to me, of late. Pushing these thoughts aside, he decided to play along in hopes of retrieving his wand. "Perhaps I do, but why would you desire to help me?"

"Does that matter?"

"Now who's being difficult. If you truly wish to help me, then see me back to Hogsmeade. I have an appointment to keep."

"Oh? With whom?"

"With a leprechaun," Severus replied, testing a theory.

"Ah—you wouldn't happen to mean Mrs. Liltington, would you?"

Shit. I think I'm right. "You know of her?"

"She's a good customer of mine—but never tell me you've gone and made an agreement with her."

"Fine. I won't," Severus retorted, swaying a bit and clutching his head. I'm not going to make it, he thought, cursing himself for having indulged in so much whisky.

His meeting with Ron Weasley had discomfitted him greatly.

"Speaking as a publican, I think it may be possible that you drink too much."

Severus snorted. Yes, you're a publican, and I'm a fool. Why did I ever agree to—

"Is that why you went and made an agreement with Mrs. Liltington?"

"Why should I tell you anything?"

"Because it might help you to talk things out with someone, and I do owe you a debt of gratitude for killing my brother. It's not like I could have done it, and Albus suffered greatly toward the end."

"You're not," Severus said, pausing as he decided how to proceed, "angry with me?"

"Snape, if I were angry with you for killing Albus, angry enough to kill you for it, as sorry as you've allowed yourself to become, the thing would easily be done. Now then, aren't you going to ask me for help?" Aberforth asked, his eyes inscrutable and hazy.

Almost mesmerizing, Severus thought, looking away to scan the path down which the other man had so recently pushed him and feigning indecisiveness. The confirmation of his suspicions was there in the snow, or rather, not, for he saw clearly that there was only one set of footprints coming up the path.

My footprints. Of course. Liltington cannot interfere directly with me, but there is nothing in my contract with her that precludes her "assistants" from doing so.

"Well, aren't you going to ask for my help? I assure you that I've plenty of time to give it."

Of course you do. "I'll . . . I'll ask you a question if you return my wand to me—I'm cold and want a warming charm," Severus replied, keeping his voice steady.

"Fair enough deal, that," "Aberforth" replied, handing over the wand. "So, what is it that you were going to ask me?"

Severus took it and leveled it at the figure of Albus' brother and asked, "She's going to be very disappointed in you, isn't she? What will you be eating for dinner, now?"

"What kind of question is that? You're supposed to ask me for help."

Before Severus could reply, the Hogsmeade Clock Tower began to chime, and the thing before him smiled to reveal sharply pointed pixie teeth as "he" broke apart.

"Well," three voices said, "I suppose we have your answer now, don't we?"

Stupid forest pixies. "And I have my wand."

~*~

Winky had just pulled a small roast of pork out of the oven when she heard the knocking.

"Sir is home!" she cried, as she materialized in front of the door to Spinner's End and threw it open.

"Is he?" Harry asked. "Great. May I—hey, what smells so good?"

"It is Harry Potter," the house elf said, her ears dropping a bit as the witch entered.

"Aren't you happy to see me?"

"Winky is glad, and you is smelling Sir's dinner, but Sir is not smelling it because Sir is not here."

"He's not? Oh, you've been waiting for him, then?"

Winky nodded.

"Where's Severus gone?"

"Winky is not knowing that, Harry Potter."

"How long has he been gone?"

"Sir is being gone since Ronald Weasley left, and Sir discovered his Scotch is being water now," Winky informed Harry, her face crumpling in what could have been called fear.

"You charmed Severus' whisky to water?"

"Winky is sorry, but Sir is drinking too much to be hungry, and Winky is thinking it is not right, and—"

"That's okay, Winky, really."

"Sir is not thinking it is okay."

"I suppose not," Harry said. He is a creature of habit, isn't he? she thought, and then she realized something. "Winky, you're sober."

"Winky is a proper house elf again. Of course Winky is sober."

Harry raised her eyebrows in surprise. "It was that easy for you?"

"Winky hates whisky," the house elf replied, as if this explained everything.

"Still . . . ."

"And Winky is knowing that Sir isn't liking her to be drunk, so Winky is not getting herself drunk anymore. But Winky is thinking that Sir doesn't like her to help him not be drunk anymore, Harry Potter, and that he is maybe not coming back to Spinner's End because he is angry."

Before Harry could think of how to reply, someone else knocked on the door, but Winky made no move to answer it. Instead, she went rigid, her nose twitching, and spat, "Bah! It is the stinking magic!"

"The what?" Harry asked, thinking how funny it was that the house elf had picked up one of Severus' phrases so soon.

"The stinking magic. Winky has been smelling it on Sir ever since the purple woman is coming here and he is being 'subject to contractual obligations'!"

It did not surprise Harry to discover that house elves could smell magic, but she was concerned to discover that Winky thought Severus smelled of malodorous magic. It did not bode well.

"Shouldn't we let her in?"

"No, Harry Potter. Sir is not here to say yes to letting in the purple woman, so Winky is not doing it. Winky hates the purple woman!"

"'The purple woman'," Liltington's irritated voice called through the door, "doesn't care for you, either, you officious little rodent!"

Incensed, Winky exhaled a stream of glittering sparks.

Harry stepped back. She had never seen a house elf do that before.

"Let me in, damn you! I've an appointment with Mr. Severus Sebastian Snape, and I have no intention of being late for it—or of waiting in the cold for it, either!"

"Your appointment was here, in the house?" Harry asked quietly, for it had just been demonstrated to her that leprechaunian hearing was excellent.

"Of course it was!"

"Don't let her in, Winky."

"Do not be worrying, Harry Potter," Winky said, gathering the floating sparks into a ball and glaring ominously at the door.

"What are you going to do?"

Liltington called smugly through the walls, "There's nothing either of you can do!"

"Harry Potter should please be moving behind Winky now," the house elf told her, advancing on the door and calling, "You is to be going away at once, purple woman!"

Harry moved to stand behind Winky and drew her wand.

"I will do no such thing, you ill-tempered rat! I have a scheduled appointment which I mean to keep, even if Mr. Severus Sebastian Snape does not!"

The knob of the door began to rattle. It was then that Winky hurled her sparks ball, which struck the door and caused a corruscation of colors to spread over it, a corruscation of colors that began to be absorbed into the wood and then spread out over the walls.

Harry recognized a ward being placed, even though she had never seen the method of placement demonstrated before, while beyond the door, Liltington's sharp yelp of anger could be heard.

"Don't think for a minute you've won!" she yelled.

Inside, the tick-tock-ticking of the clock on Severus' mantle ceased abruptly.

"If he's late for his appointment, he is in violation of his contract!"

Winky giggled.

"What's so funny?"

"Harry Potter should be looking at the stopped clock."

Harry turned and did so. The hands were frozen at six fifty.

"His appointment was in this house at seven?"

Winky grinned. "It is not being seven in this house until Sir is at home again, Harry Potter," the house elf said, looking tremendously pleased with herself. "Winky is a good house elf."

Flabbergasted, Harry thought, Hell yes, you're a good house elf! "But, I'm not stuck in here at six fifty, am I?"

Liltington's livid face appeared in the front window then. "What an accomplished piece of vermin you are—but you can't stop time beyond these walls, and Mr. Severus Sebastian Snape's deadline is rapidly approaching. It's but a bit over three weeks before dinner!" she spat, before disappearing in a cloud of purple smoke.

"Shit," Harry said. "What does she know that we don't?"

"I is telling you, isn't I? Sir isn't coming back," Winky said, her ears drooping.

"It looks like 'Sir' was planning to go somewhere," Harry remarked, looking about the room at several open book cartons.

"Oh no, Harry Potter. Sir is asking Winky to fetch things from his hut."

"His what?"

"It is his thinking place and full of more dusty books!"

Harry smirked at how disgusted Winky sounded. "Dusting shouldn't be so hard for 'a proper house elf'," she said, picking up one of the volumes and studying it.

"Winky is knowing her duty, Harry Potter," the house elf snapped, snatching up another book and shelving it.

Harry sighed. Well, I suppose I'll just have to wait, she thought, rummaging through the boxes in search of something decent to read. Because A Treatise on the Use of Mushroom Spores as Stabilizing Agents in Potions just won't do.

~*~

Hours later, it looked as if Winky had been correct about Severus not returning, and a worried Harry Apparated back to the Three Broomsticks to discover that Ron, Hermione, Fred, George, and Hagrid had only just ordered dinner.

"That was fast," Ron said. "Where's Snape?"

"It wasn't fast at all, and I don't know—but he had an appointment with Liltington, which he missed, and now—"

"Wait a moment," Hermione said, interrupting Harry as she snatched up the contract and scanned it. "It's written here in the 'Verbal Agreement' section that Professor Snape is supposed to meet the courtship consultant at Spinner's End at seven, which is in ten minutes. There, you see? He has time. I'm sure he'll make it, so there's nothing to worry about."

"Yes, there is," Harry told her, and then she explained.

"House elves can stop time?" Ron asked, at the same moment that Fred and George exclaimed as one, "Wicked!"

Harry glanced at the clock above the tap. Five to seven. Where is he? "But it is—don't you get it? Liltington knows something about Severus that we don't," Harry said, panicking. "She thinks he's gone, and so does Winky. If he misses his appointment—"

"I'm not going to miss anything, Potter," Severus interrupted, slamming down a cage onto the table.

George snatched up the cage. "Are these Liltington's?"

"They were before they tried to—"

"Don't shake 'em abou' like tha'," Hagrid said to George, taking the cage from him.

"—waylay me," Severus completed, looking to Harry. "A word with you, please? I haven't much time."

"Um, you do, actually. Winky's frozen it at Spinner's End, and Liltington knows."

"Then several words, I should think," the wizard retorted, turning on his heel and striding off through the crowd.

"Well, so much for the handkerchief moment," Harry said in relief, as she turned to follow Severus.

This left Hermione having to explain what Harry had meant.

"It's from Othello . . . ."

~*~

"Would you please wait up? Where are you going?" Harry demanded, finding Severus several yards ahead of her once she exited the pub. "Severus, wait!"

He rounded on her. "Tell me the story of your life, Potter—of its myriad unfairnesses and bitter disappointments, and be good enough to tell me also if you list the thought of wedding me amongst them!"

"You want to talk about this here, in the street?"

"Silencio proximus!"

"Oh, right. Good thinking, that. What the hell are you going on about?"

"You were just complaining to your friends that—"

"I was just telling my friends that you were missing! I was worried about you, you git. I went to Spinner's End to invite you here, found you gone, and then Liltington showed up. I thought that something had happened to you."

"You were worried about me?"

"Yes. Why is that such a surprise? And where the hell have you been?"

"You were going to invite me to dine with you—and your friends?"

"If you don't believe me, you can always—"

Severus did not allow Harry to finish her thought. Instead, he grabbed her and pulled her into a kiss that began hard and rushed in the middle of Hogsmeade but ended tenderly and slowly before his front door.

"Show . . . off," Harry told Severus, pulling away when she realized that he had Apparated.

"I'd like to show you many things, Harry," Severus replied, brushing back her fringe and kissing her scar.

A thrill of need ran through Harry's body at his words. "Oh, this is . . . this is all so maddening, Severus. I want to get it over with and—"

"And what?" he demanded, pulling away.

"—shag you already!"

"Is that all you want from me, Potter? to be un-enchanted?"

Harry snorted and pressed herself decisively forward into Severus. "Ron told what my gift to you was, you suspicious prat. Would the magic have let me give it to you if I just wanted un-enchantment? I want you—your name, your children—and my bollocks back, damn it!"

"Do you? Just like that? In the space of a few days, suddenly you—"

"It is sudden! Everything is sudden! I mean, everything that happens to me has always been," Harry said, taking a deep breath and letting it out before testing a theory she had developed at Spinner's End. "Sebastian used to say that 'the speed of life's progress must be embraced, or it will run roughshod over you', and I think he was right. At least, it helped to think about things that way, once—I think you know when."

"I do, and did it? Potter, 'Sebastian' is a philosopher with far too much time on his hands to know anything of life's demands. You should not feel compelled to act based on anything that academic may have told you when—"

"Would you just stop it already?"

"Stop what?"

"Pretending. I know who Sebastian is now, Severus. He's you—or he was."

"What?"

"I've been doing a lot of thinking, lately, and I've decided that there is no way you'd've ever trusted anyone else to teach me Occlumency. It always felt a bit weird that Sebastian wouldn't call me Harry when he let me call him by his first name, and—"

"That is hardly evidence enough to—"

"He drank your brand of whisky. He never used his wand. He—you—had the same books!"

"How do you know that?"

"I looked at your library while I was waiting for you. A 'philosopher' could have no interest in A Treatise on the Use of Mushroom Spores as Stabilizing Agents in Potions."

"I don't see why not."

"Did 'Sebastian' know Professor Dumbledore?"

"No."

"Then why does the inscription on the front inside cover of Spores read, 'For a dear friend on his first year of proper employment'?"

Severus' ears pinked.

"There. I am right. Sebastian was you all along!"

"So what if he was? What does that prove, exactly?"

"That you cared enough about me to have risked your life teaching me how to save mine."

"Albus asked me to protect you at any cost."

"Professor Dumbledore didn't ask you to spend hours listening to me. He didn't ask you to be my friend, Severus, but you were—when you were Sebastian—weren't you? No wonder I felt so comfortable with you when we talked after I brought you Winky."

Severus sighed. "I befriended you under a pretext. Doesn't that offend you?"

"Honestly? No. What offends me is that you disappeared so suddenly. I went looking for Sebastian after the war. I was frantic when all trace of him was gone. Why'd you do that to me?"

"Because there was no other way. You never got on half so well with me, and telling you what I had done would only have made you angry."

"You're probably right—but you helped me—I would have forgiven you eventually."

"I couldn't risk your not doing so," Severus whispered, "because . . . ."

Harry stepped forward. "Because?"

"Because I wanted the memory of your not hating me," Severus admitted.

"Do you think I hate you now?" Harry asked, laying her hands against Severus' chest and gazing into his eyes so that he could see something of what she felt for him, something she was not sure she was ready to admit even to herself.

"You don't hate me."

"No—but I am worried."

"About what?" Severus asked, reaching up to clasp Harry's hands.

"About what might happen when you un-enchant me. You never kissed me when I was a wizard. 'Sebastian' didn't either, and I had a terribly obvious crush on him—that's why I thought he, I mean, you, disappeared."

"Bah. I knew I made that damn glamour too strong."

"Git—that's not it at all. It was after you saw my uh, dream about Ron during one of our lessons and then told me it was okay to be the way I was that I started fantasizing about Sebastian—about what it would be like to see him without having to worry about Voldemort and fighting and death. I really liked him, Severus. I really liked you."

"You 'really liked' a persona I adopted. I am not that man."

"You are when you don't think anyone will notice."

Severus sighed. "Perhaps."

"I'm still me, even though I look different."

"True. And as charming as I find you now, I'd like to see the return of your bollocks, myself," Severus replied, rubbing Harry's hands. "I found being in such close quarters with you very trying, indeed."

"That's only because you thought I was a brat."

"You are a brat—my brat."

Harry grinned mischievously. "If I'm such a brat, I guess I'll just have to start acting like one and making demands," she said, wrapping her arms about Severus' waist.

"Oh? And what is it you want?"

"To top?" Harry asked, on impulse. "Not all of your books were about Potions—some were very . . . inspiring. I can see the advantages of academics now."

"Don't get ahead of yourself, Potter."

"That's Harry to you, Severus Sebastian Snape—but I suppose you're right."

"I'm shocked to hear you admit any such thing. About what am I right?"

"I can't think about topping anyone without the proper equipment, now can I?"

"If you ever think of anyone but me after we're married, I shall—"

This time, Harry stopped Severus from speaking with a kiss.

"I won't, you know," she said, long moments later. "I won't, Severus. It's all been about you—this entire bloody wonderful mess—I give you my word: you're the only man I want touching me. Ever."

Whatever Severus was going to say then was lost in a choking cloud of purple smoke.

"Then you'd best get yourself inside to six fifty!" Laura Lilac Liltington exclaimed. "A lady could freeze out here listening to the two of you not professing your undying love. Really, how difficult is it a thing to say?"

Harry laughed and held Severus still, rather than allow him to turn on the courtship consultant. "Put your wand away. She's just doing her job."

"'Her job'? She sent her pests to—"

"That's right! I've just been doing my job, and a thankless one it is, too—losing my employees, being tricked by house rats, why I—"

"Have an appointment to keep," Severus replied, impatiently striding toward the door, opening it, and drawing Harry into the house.

Harry shut the door in Liltington's face and said, "We've also got ten minutes," as Winky appeared, the clock on the mantle began to tick again, and the house elf cried, "Sir! Oh, Sir is home!"