"That's Professor Potter to you, Mr. Gordon," Harry told the Slytherin Head Boy in damning tones, when he "caught" her wandering the corridors upon her return from Spinner's End.
"I'm sorry, Sir—Ma—what should I call you?"
"'Professor' will do," Harry replied, her jaw tightening.
"Yes, Professor. I'm sorry, I really am. I thought you were a student just now—and I didn't know what the spell would do, before. I was just trying to—"
"I know what you were 'trying', Mr. Gordon, and I think it would be easier on all of us if you would just ask Ambrose Blakeney up to Hogsmeade some weekend instead of fighting with him all the time."
Gordon blanched. "Blakeney's an arse! I'm not interested in—"
"Language, Mr. Gordon," Harry interrupted, using her best Headmistress McGonagall impression. "Why are you on rounds when I sent you to Mr. Filch for detention?" she asked, hoping that she sounded sufficiently professorial.
Standing before the much taller, and not too much younger Gordon, Harry felt anything but a figure of authority. She had been a student with him, after all.
"Filch—Mr. Filch, that is—just uh, he just laughed when I explained things to him, Professor."
Harry sighed. Bloody stupid Filch. "Right. You will report to Professor Hagrid tomorrow and inform him that I've volunteered you to help muck out the thestral stables until the end of term, is that clear?"
"Further, I'm deducting one hundred points from Slytherin for your use of an unknown spell. It was dangerous and foolish, and someone could have been killed."
"One hundred! But that's—"
"Remarkably generous of me, under the circumstances, I think. And Mr. Gordon?"
"Stop by my office at the end of your rounds with my copy of Moste Potente Potions. It's obvious to me that you aren't responsible enough to be trusted with an . . . annotated copy of that text."
Gordon looked stricken. "But then I'll fail Potions and be kicked off the Quidditch team! I'm already stuck in the Reserves, and you said yourself that I belonged in the line-up. Professor, please. I really didn't know."
"Well, now you do," Harry said, walking past her student in dismissal.
Harry turned to regard Gordon. "What is it?"
"If . . . if I could take it back," he began, taking a hesitant step toward her, "if there were something I could do to correct the matter," he continued, a look of calculation spreading over his features that was pure Slytherin, "you know I would. It . . . it would be an honor, in fact."
His offer flummoxed Harry, not least because, looking up into the handsome, over-confident face of Marcus Gordon, she found herself more than a little tempted to take him up on it—but she was not about to let the obnoxious, over-sexed prat know that.
"Are you trying to get yourself expelled?"
"What? No! I just—"
"That will be another hundred points from Slytherin, and unless your final Potions exam of the term is perfect, I'll retract my offer to write you a letter of recommendation to the Auror Corps."
Gordon's eyes widened in horror as he realized just how badly he had misjudged the situation, and he went flying down the corridor.
"Oh, don't be so hard on the poor boy," an amused voice replied. "He's going to catch hell for losing Slytherin their first place in the running for the House Cup, but I'm certain he'll think twice again before casting any 'unknown spell'."
Harry closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She had hoped to avoid the other professors—everyone, actually—but, of course, that had been a foolish wish.
"Good evening, Professor Flitwick."
"Good evening, Professor Potter. I do believe that Headmistress McGonagall will regret having missed all the excitement when she returns from her conference, don't you?"
Harry snorted. "That's one way to put it."
"Indeed it is. Perhaps you and I might discuss your situation?"
"Unfortunately, there really isn't any way you can help, Sir—I mean," Harry corrected herself quickly, "Filius."
Even though she had been teaching for over a year, she still found it awkward to interact with her colleagues as their equal.
"Harry," Filius said kindly, "I'm not unaware of the textbook to which you were referring. Who do you think confiscated it in the first place?"
I always wondered about that, Harry thought, asking, "How did I get it, then?"
"Why, I believe that you have Albus to thank for that."
Harry smiled. "I suppose I shouldn't be surprised."
"I daresay not."
"So, why did you take it from Se—from Snape?" Harry asked, beginning to walk toward her quarters in an effort to cut the conversation short.
"Severus had a habit of studying other subjects in my class which I found objectionable," the diminutive wizard told Harry, as he fell into step with her. "I expect you haven't encountered that problem, as your subject is so glamorous to the students."
"No, I can't say as I have," Harry replied, casting about for something else to say that did not involve herself. "Was Snape a good student? I mean, despite his lack of attention?"
"Severus was a brilliant student, which shouldn't be a surprise to you, I'm sure. After working so closely with him for so many years, you must know more than most of us about his disposition and nature."
"Why would you say that?"
"Ah," Filius half-murmured, stopping his progress. "I see that I'm going to have to work up to it slowly. . . . I never did have had occasion to tell you how proud of you I was when you returned to the Order to defend Severus' actions after finding him with young Malfoy."
Harry, Hermione, and Ron had discovered Snape at one of the Malfoy holdings in France four months after he had fled Hogwarts with Malfoy. Snape had been tending to Malfoy's injuries, injuries which he had received from Voldemort as punishment for not having killed Dumbledore himself. They had learned, during Snape's one-sided conversation with the dying Slytherin, of the late Headmaster's plan, and of Snape's terrible grief in having had any part in it. He had sounded near-suicidal before they had interrupted him.
"I know it must have been hard for you to have accepted that Severus was on our side."
"I didn't want to believe in him," Harry agreed, remembering how easily she had allowed herself to take comfort in the Potions master's presence then, despite her misgivings, and how relieved she had been when he had agreed to return to Voldemort to serve as a double agent, despite his own reservations.
Snape had risked everything. There was no denying that fact.
"Of course you didn't. But you, like Severus, ignored your own desires for the good of all of us—you have a great deal in common, I believe."
Harry flushed. "You think so?"
"Indeed I do, and that is where you should begin."
"Why, you don't think I surrendered that textbook without reading it, do you?" Filius asked pointedly, "and you did go and see Severus this evening, did you not?"
I wonder how many of the other professors know that? God, how am I going to explain this to everyone? "Yes, he's—"
"The creator of the spell. Yet, here you stand, enchanted still, which tells me that Severus must have decided not to . . . help you unless . . . ?"
"I agreed to uh, get to know him better, first," Harry whispered.
"Stubborn man—no less stubborn than you are, yourself—and just as lonely, too."
"Lonely? I'm not lonely."
"No?" Filius asked, cocking his head at her. "You do have friends, true, but you'll forgive me for noting that you've not seen much of them—much of anyone—since coming here to teach."
"Sure, but I've been busy, Filius—and it's not possible to celebrate forever."
The post-war round of frivolity in which the Wizarding world, and Harry's friends, had indulged had proved wearying to the young hero.
"Yes, you're quite right, but I daresay that Severus was not invited anywhere to celebrate. He has no true friends, now that Albus is gone. . . . I believe that you are the closest thing to a friend the man has left."
"I wouldn't say that—and I did invite him to come to the medals ceremony, but he refused."
"Did you invite him to come because you wanted him there, or on someone else's behalf?"
"Well, it's not that I didn't think of it myself, but I may have mentioned to Snape that Percy Weasley suggested to me it would look odd if he didn't—"
"There you go, then. He no doubt supposed that you felt compelled to ask him, and that must not have seemed like much of an invitation at all. I believe that Severus must esteem you, or his pride would not have forced him to decline your offer."
"I don't think Snape likes me at all. I think he's just playing with me," Harry admitted.
Filius chuckled. "Can you truly blame him? He must be rather embarrassed, himself, to have been the cause of your current condition—well, part of it, at any rate."
Harry had not thought of matters in quite that way, and did not know how she felt about what Filius had said. "Right. It was stupid of me to lend Gordon the book," she told him, hoping to distract him from offering any further unnerving opinions.
"I think it was a fine gesture. You've been very good to the Slytherin students since you began teaching here, and I, for one, appreciate that very much indeed. The rivalry between Gryffindor and Slytherin has been nothing but destructive, and Severus suffered badly because of it. As I said, I think that he needs a friend, and you're the ideal candidate to fill that position."
"Filius, we're talking about more than friendship, here."
"So we are, and I would suggest that you consider carefully why it was that you trusted Severus enough to go to him after your . . . disturbing experience, and proceed from there."
"If you've read the spell, then you know—"
"I'm a simple man and know very little, I'm afraid," Filius prevaricated, "but it seems clear to me that you must like the man, at least a little, or you wouldn't have sought him out. Miss Granger, if I'm not mistaken, is the friend upon whom you usually call in these situations."
Hermione was currently studying at the Spellcraftres' Guild, and Harry was startled as she realized that she had not once considered going to her for help.
Defensively, she retorted, "That doesn't mean I like Snape."
"No, but you do respect him. . . . Is he aware of that?" Filius asked, before leaving Harry alone with her thoughts.
When she surfaced from them, she decided that perhaps Filius, who she had discovered since joining the staff was a rather forceful advocate of good will amongst the faculty and Hogwarts' houses, something that she knew he took to be one of his unofficial duties as the Deputy Headmaster of the school, was correct in thinking that Snape needed a bit of looking after.
I wonder if Snape would believe it if I told him that he already has a friend here? she asked herself, as she took herself off to the kitchens.
"What is the meaning of this?" Snape asked Harry the next afternoon, as he opened his door to find her standing there with a house elf at her side.
He was looking almost well, she noted, and rather more clean than he had the previous evening. And, as she smiled brightly at the man to cover the nervousness she was feeling to be in his presence again, she thought that she detected the scent of some disturbingly rousing, citrus-based after-shave emanating from the wizard.
"I asked you a question," Snape repeated, looking curiously at the house elf who had followed Harry into his home.
"Severus Snape, this is Winky, a free house elf."
"Potter, this elf is hung over."
"You'd be the one to recognize her condition, I'm sure," Harry replied with feigned nonchalance, walking deeper into the room to stand by the unfired grate of the hearth.
Winky followed Harry's progress, spinning around and examining Snape and then his dwelling, her ears quivering in consternation.
"Winky is thinking that Sir's house elf must be very old," she said to the wizard, in a cautious and respectful tone.
"I have no house elf."
"But you is a great man!"
Snape snorted. "Potter, what falsehoods have you been spreading amongst Hogwarts' house elves about me?"
Harry shrugged and looked to Winky expectantly, inclining her head toward the wizard.
"Winky is not bound to Hogwarts, Snape Snape. They is paying elves there!"
"Ah, a traditionalist."
"A good house elf is serving always—without being paid—and Winky is a good house elf," she assured Snape, ignoring his sarcasm and continuing, after bowing formally, "Winky is unbound."
"That's a ritualistic phrase, in case you weren't aware of it," Harry explained.
"I know what she means, and I expect that I do need a house elf, but—"
"Winky accepts!" the house elf exclaimed, levitating herself in her excitement.
"Winky is being Sir's house elf if Sir is promising not to pay her."
"I would never pay you," Snape insisted, appearing quite taken aback as Winky began to twirl, a fire appeared in the hearth, and a duster materialized in one of the house elf's hands.
"What? You're the one who said the magic words, not me."
"Dust is being very bad for books, and Master Snape is having so many. Winky is—"
"Not to refer to me as 'Master'."
Winky's face crumpled. "Bad, bad!" she wailed, preparing to beat herself in the head with the handle of the duster.
But Snape prevented her from doing so by declaring, "Winky! If you wish to serve me, then do so. Clean, do laundry, make tea—but leave off torturing yourself. Any house elf of mine must render herself too busy for such a useless activity."
Harry grinned. It was unexpected to see the Potions master behaving so humanely.
Squealing with delight, the now-sober Winky began to whirl around the room in a frenzy of dusting, causing a great cloud of particulate matter to arise.
Coughing, Snape gestured for Harry to follow him through the door in the wall he had opened the previous evening, slamming it behind them.
"Stop laughing," he ordered, storming down a corridor lined with shelves to lead Harry into what looked like a room that had once been used as a laboratory. Throwing himself into a moth-eaten chair, he said, "I expect that you can conjure your own?"
"Sure," Harry replied, doing so with alacrity and then making herself comfortable by placing her feet up on the ottoman she had also created, while reaching out to tap the small table she found next to her.
A tea service promptly appeared.
"It wasn't me. It was your house elf. Feel free to thank me any time now."
"Why should I do that? I didn't ask you to gift me with—"
"Sir is forgetting," Harry teased, "that gifts is not being given by request."
"Speak properly, or I shall hex you."
"Right then, I'm here. What shall we talk about?"
"Perhaps the subject of why you believed that the gift of a house elf was necessary."
"Gifts are usually a part of wooing."
"Are they," Snape said flatly, charming the teapot to pour two cups and sending one floating toward Harry with a flick of his wrist. "I wouldn't know."
"You should probably be grateful for that. I received all sorts of strange things after the war from admirers, I guess you'd call them—people even sent me knickers."
Snape sipped his tea and then smirked. "You probably should have kept them."
Harry glowered at him and retorted. "Thanks for that."
"You're welcome," he replied, pausing a beat as his lips curled mischievously. "I kept mine."
Harry spat out her tea.
"I see that your first night as a witch has taught you nothing of lady-like behavior," Snape said, pulling a handkerchief out of the air and handing it to her.
Harry avoided his eyes as she took the square of linen and wiped her mouth. What little 'rest' she had got in bed before leaving for Spinner's End had not involved sleep. Her teacup shook in her hand as she remembered it.
"It must be quite fascinating, having such unfettered access to a body you can't possibly feel is your own," Snape essayed.
"I don't want to talk about it."
"As it happens, I do, and we are in need of a topic of conversation. Come now, Potter, you must have expected that I would wish to further my understanding of . . . Magical Theory by questioning you about the enchantment's effects," he said, gazing at her with what could almost be considered a dispassionate expression.
Nevertheless, the weight of his eyes on her discomfitted Harry. Cheerfully damning the compulsion component, she agreed."Fine. What do you want to know?"
"To start, I'd like to know about your physiological responses," Snape replied, his mouth twisting into a mocking smile. "Just how did you get yourself off?"
Harry's teacup—and the tea spouting from it—froze in midair between them.
"Your temper, I see, has not improved," Snape said, lowering his wand after unfreezing the tea and returning it to its cup, which floated down to the little table in between himself and Harry.
"Stop playing with me! It's none of your business what I—"
"Of course it is, Potter—and yours, as well—for if you succeed in persuading me to fuck you, I should think you'd want me to know what you liked."
"Spoken like a true gentleman," Harry spat. "I'd like you to stop being such a sod. This is difficult enough as it is."
"Don't say that," Harry said quickly. "I mean, if I can learn to wear a brassiere, you might be able to learn some manners."
"I meant that it was not possible for me to be anything but that which I am. In any case, we must talk about something, and I would like to know what you enjoy."
"Why? I mean—I'll just bet—but you'll have to wait until I persuade you to fuck me to find out," Harry retorted angrily.
"Your optimism is amusing."
The wizard's words sounded like a warning.
Harry sighed and forced herself to be calm. "Look, I . . . I just can't, all right? I'm not good at talking about . . . you know."
Snape leaned forward. "Perhaps you'd find it edifying to know what I imagined after you left last night—to further your understanding of how you might better woo me, of course."
"Why not just 'further' me into your bedroom and get it over with?"
"Because I could avail myself of the services of any Knockturn Alley prostitute if what I wanted was merely an impersonal, un-enchanting poke. If you desire to receive your cure, you'll have to at least pretend to make an effort at inspiring me, Potter. You certainly haven't come here to make friends."
Friends, Harry thought, remembering what Filius had said about Snape being lonely. How can I be friends with a git who can't even have a polite conversation? she asked herself, looking at the lines of sadness about the wizard's eyes. Maybe he does want a friend, but he doesn't know how to be one. Sighing, she decided not to rise to Snape's bait.
"I'm not going to fight with you."
"How terribly boring of you, Potter."
"I'd . . . like to talk to you—about something decent," she added. "I could tell you about my curriculum, if you like."
"I will admit that I am curious to know how you've been going on," Snape admitted.
"Are you? You could always have come up to the school. You've never been shy about asking me things before."
"The circumstances to which you refer were very different. You were my student and then my . . . compatriot. It was appropriate that I ask you things."
"You know, when we met to exchange information, we did talk about other things than Voldemort."
"Yes, to stave off the boredom of waiting for it to be clear to leave our meeting points. I did not assume that you would welcome my questions outside of that context."
"Well, perhaps I would have."
"I doubt it."
"Snape, I'm here, aren't I?"
"Because you have to be."
"That's not strictly true," Harry said, retrieving her teacup. "I mean, there is at least one reason for me to remain a witch."
"And what would that be?"
Harry colored slightly and almost elected not to respond. Why did I say that? Oh, what the hell. We do have to talk about something. "I uh, I like wizards."
Snape's eyebrows flew up in surprise to hear Harry speak to him of something so private; despite his previous teasing of her, he had not expected her to be so candid.
"Do you?" he asked, as if he had not known for some time—thanks to the interactions between Potter and Malfoy—of Harry's sexual orientation.
"Yeah, and it would probably be easier to date them if I stayed a witch. I mean, Ron would have to understand then, right?"
"Am I to understand that you have left off dating wizards because you fear the censure of your best friend?"
"Is that so hard to believe?"
Was I ever so young? Snape thought, considering again the problem of the anti-spell, for contemplating the bedding one so innocent as Harry suddenly made him feel like a satyr.
"I suppose not, but it doesn't speak very highly of your friendship that you haven't told Mr. Weasley about yourself. Surely you don't intend to deny your nature forever?"
Harry murmured something too low to hear.
"What was that?"
"I'm not sure. It's . . . it's awkward. Everyone expects so much of me. I don't . . . I don't want to disappoint people."
"Bah!" Snape exclaimed in disgust. "Don't be ridiculous. Did you bow to that imbecile Scrimgeour's 'requests' that you become the new face of the Ministry?"
"That's different—and what do you know about that, anyway?"
"I'm well aware of the Minister's lack of imagination. He, like most politicians, is more interested in appearances than in actual governing. In any case, Potter, you've always been your own man. I don't see why you'd allow the opinions of others to dictate your actions. You should see whomever you like. You're a hero. There would be no end of partners lining up to be with you."
"You're a hero, too, and I don't see you getting out there much."
"My situation is different. I am not liked in any quarter."
"Hence the knickers."
Snape snorted. "Yes, sent from bored house witches looking for the thrill of a response from the Order's scary Potions master. Such 'gifts' do not imply that my reputation is good."
"You never worried about your reputation when you were at Hogwarts."
"That was before I ki—"
Snape stopped speaking abruptly and poured himself more tea.
"Before you killed Professor Dumbledore," Harry finished for Snape. "Yes, but everyone knows why you had to do that, now."
"That was your doing," Snape accused.
"Yeah, so it was. I thought people should know the truth—the Headmaster would have wanted that."
"Despite your efforts to rehabilitate my reputation, I remain largely despised."
"No, you remain a git," Harry protested. "How can you expect anything else? You're the one who won't leave this place—or let anyone visit you."
"You're visiting me."
"That's because of the—"
"Well, sure—but why'd you think I chose to come to you, anyway?"
"Need I remind you of the 'compulsion component'?"
Harry sighed at Snape's sarcasm. "I'm trying to say that I don't despise you."
"What glowing praise."
"See? That's what I mean about your being a git. If you make it impossible for anyone to be nice to you, it's your own fault when they aren't."
"'There's no need for you to call me Sir, Professor'," Snape mimicked.
"Oh for—I didn't know anything about you, then! I was just a kid."
Snape raised an amused eyebrow. "And you're so mature now?"
Harry huffed. "Look, I may be young, but I'm not stupid. I understand how much you gave to the Order, how much you risked—how much you helped me—and I respect you for it. Would you just accept that, you great prat?"
"Oh, very well. I accept that I'm a 'great prat'."
"I was joking, Potter. Your sense of humor has never been particularly good, either."
Harry smirked. "I don't know. Bringing you a drunken house elf—there's got to be some kind of humor in that."
"You'll forgive me if I persist in thinking that any humor on that score was accidental," Snape said, though not harshly. "She was the only one who would agree to come here, wasn't she?"
Harry looked slightly abashed. "Yeah, well, she did, and that's something, isn't it."
Yes, it's "something," Snape thought, conscious of the dawning sensation of gratitude he felt toward Harry's apparent concern for him.
The gift of a house elf was a rare thing, indeed, because the beings were, for the most part, long-tied to families and, when given their freedom, they sought out households similar to their previous ones. No house elf, Snape knew, would have, on his or her own, looked upon his arrangements as being favorable.
"It was a kind gesture on your part," he told Harry, and was surprised to find that he meant every word.
Harry smiled. "Thank you."
"You're welcome," Snape said. You truly are.
Harry settled back into her chair and decided that perhaps the Potions master was not such an unbearable git, after all. "I could get used to this. It's nice having someone to talk to."
Snape permitted himself to smile. "But only about 'something decent'?" he teased.
Harry shivered. When he smiles like that, he's really quite handsome, isn't he?
This time, it did not disturb her to find Snape attractive.
"So, did you want to talk about my curriculum?"