A pale sun was rising over Hogwarts as Harry Apparated to the edge of its grounds after having spent the better part of the previous several hours discussing Magical Theory with Snape. She had managed not to embarrass herself too badly, but she had to admit that keeping up with the conversation had been a bit daunting. Despite her lack of esoteric knowledge, or perhaps because of it, Snape had carefully explained various spells and processes that he felt might be of use to her as a professor.
But he was treating me like a student, she mused, pausing by Hagrid's cottage and wondering if she should stop for a visit. No, too early. If he's not asleep, Hagrid will be up to something in the Forbidden Forest. Besides, I don't want to have to explain myself, and I doubt he'll have any insight as to how I ought to go about wooing Snape.
On that score, Harry found that she knew absolutely nothing.
It was Sunday, and she was prepared—well, as prepared as she could be, all things considered—for her Monday classes, so Harry decided to walk into Hogsmeade. She was not at all tired, and she thought a walk might help her to clear her mind and to come up with a plan to seduce the Potions master.
Because talking about my classes with Snape will just make him think that Headmistress McGonagall is no better at finding competent professors than Albus Dumbledore was.
"This is going to be impossible, isn't it?"
"Well, good mornin'!"
"Oh! Good morning, Hagrid," Harry said, wrapping her cloak more firmly about herself and turning to regard the half-giant, who had a bag slung over his shoulder.
Upon closer inspection, something, or several somethings, appeared to be moving within it.
"Do I even want to know what you've got there?"
Hagrid chortled. "This's just somethin' for Professor Sprout's Sixth Years, an' nothin' to be concerned abou'. What brings you out so early?"
"Er, I couldn't sleep and thought I might take a walk. Talk to you later?"
"Not so fast there, Professor Potter. You're lookin' a bit col'. Would you like some tea?"
"No thanks, Hagrid. I think I've had all the tea I can stand, to tell you the truth."
"Well, no wonder you can't sleep if you've been up all nigh' drinkin' tea. Worrying about your classes, were you?"
"Is your . . . bag supposed to be making that noise?" Harry asked, hoping to distract her friend.
"They're out o' sorts because o' the engorgement charm."
"Professor Sprout's had you engorge something?"
"Yep. Black Flobber Worms—they're fanged to help 'em dig through clay. I've been out all nigh' collecting 'em."
"That's . . . nice," Harry said, hoping that Hagrid would not offer to show them to her.
"Would you like to see 'em?"
"No! I mean, I wouldn't want them to get out."
"Aw, they won't go far, the lazy buggers. Here," Hagrid said, setting down his bag and opening it.
Harry approached it carefully, and saw a glistening, moving mass of what appeared to be black leather tubes writhing around each other. "Wow. Uh, they really are . . . engorged, aren't they? Thanks, Ha—watch it! That one's trying to slide out," Harry warned, leaping forward to shove one of the worms back inside the bag.
As she did so, her cloak fell off her shoulders.
Hagrid brought down one large fist on the "head" of the escaping worm to stun it before shoving it back into the bag, and then turned toward Harry and demanded, "Wha' happened to you?"
Shit, Harry thought, scrambling to put her cloak back on. "Uh, just a classroom prank that got out of hand. I should be back to normal in no time, really."
"Does the Headmistress know abou' this?"
"Not yet. You know she's away, and—"
"You'd best come on inside," Hagrid told Harry, shouldering his bag and walking away before she could protest.
In no time at all, she had explained—everything.
"He wants you to woo him?" Hagrid asked, incredulous and angry.
"It's not as bad as it sounds."
"It's probably worse. I can't believe Snape'd do such a thing!"
"Have you told Hermione, yet? She could probably find a way to fix you."
"No, Hagrid, and I'm not going to because then Ron would find out and no doubt do something noble like offer to deflower me," Harry said in a rush, blushing furiously at the thought. "Promise me that you won't tell her, either."
"You aren't still carrying a torch for Ron, are you?" Hagrid asked, peering down at Harry as she blushed. "So you are, too. 'M sorry abou'—"
"There's nothing to be sorry about. I'm not in love with Ron, Hagrid—not anymore—I just don't want him to treat me any differently because I've suddenly developed breasts. That would be weird."
"Sure, I understan', but I still say that this whole business is wrong. How're you supposed to go about wooin' Snape when you've never even . . . ah, had the time to woo anybody?"
Well, that was polite, Harry thought, admitting, "I don't know."
"But you do know the papers will get wind o' this, don't you? There's a Hogsmeade weekend comin' up, and the kids write home, besides."
"Then I'll just have to be quick about persuading Snape to un-enchant me."
Hagrid appeared skeptical. "It's just not righ'."
"It is . . . what it is," Harry replied, through a yawn.
"Uh, huh. Say, why don't you take a nap? I've got to get the flobbers settled in Greenhouse One, an' that'll take me some time. I'll make you somethin' to eat when I get back, an' we can see abou' figurin' this all ou'."
Relieved that Hagrid was not pressing the matter, and suddenly too tired to consider why he was being so understanding, Harry agreed, and Hagrid took his leave of her, all the while muttering about how there "must be somethin' someone can do."
"There really isn't," Harry said, closing the door behind her friend and then stretching out on top of his cot.
When she woke up, the sun was going down and there was no sign of Hagrid. There was, however, a persistent knocking sound that she could not place. Shaking off her post-nap muzziness, she realized that someone was tapping on the cottage's door. Rising, she went to open it, but found no one standing there.
"I must have been dreaming."
"Ahem," came the sound of someone clearing her throat.
Harry looked down and saw a very short, very stout, very purple lady—that is to say, from her shoes to the hat upon her head, the woman was attired in varying shades of purple, one of which matched her deeply purple hair—very rapidly tapping her foot against the stone of Hagrid's front step.
"Oh, hello. May I help you?"
"Ah, yes. You are Miss Harry James Potter, late, a wizard, currently, a witch obligated under the most odd of circumstances to woo one Severus Sebastian Snape, reputation somewhat muddied, fortune annoyingly unknown?"
Pushing past Harry, the woman said, "Oh, there's nothing for you to be sorry about, that much is clear. Now then, my name is Laura Lilac Liltington, Head of the Courtship Division of Weasleys' Wizarding Wheezes' Love Department, and I'm here to help you."
Gobsmacked, all Harry could do was reach down and shake Liltington's outstretched hand.
"Sit, my dear, for I must acquaint you quickly with your object's file before we see to your make-over. We have precious little time to spare, for I understand that you're a professional 'woman', as well—an educator! How noble, indeed. And I hear that you were active in bringing about the end of the recent Above-Grounder unpleasantness, too."
"The what? Do you mean the War of the Second Rise of Voldemort?" Harry asked, giving the conflict its full title and wondering what Liltington meant by "Above-Grounder." "Are you a leprechaun, by any chance, Miss—"
"Mrs., my dear, Mrs. Liltington, and yes, I am of Leprechaunian extraction. I don't often travel above ground, you understand, but the dear Misters Weasley insisted that only the best courtship consultant would do for you, so here I am."
"Ah, you're here," Hagrid said then, ash he entered the hut.
"Hagrid! How could you have—"
"Now Harry, don't—"
"Mr. Rubeus Hagrid?" Liltington interrupted.
"You do understand the terms and conditions of the contract into which you entered on behalf of Miss Harry James Potter as set down by the Courtship Division of Weasleys' Wizarding Wheezes' Love Department, do you? that all negotiations between a courtship consultant and a courter must be private? The Misters Weasley explained this to you, did they?"
"Yes," Hagrid said, clearly flustered by the speed of Liltington's speech.
"Excellent. Now get out."
"But I live here."
"Out," the courtship consultant repeated, pointing emphatically at the door.
Harry found that she did not feel sorry for Hagrid at all.
"I'll come back in an hour, Harry. I've got to feed the thestrals, anyhow."
"Isn't Gordon helping you with that?"
"Tha's righ'. I'd best be—"
"Going," Liltington interrupted, as purple sparks flew from her fingertips.
Hagrid gaped, but he did as Liltington insisted.
"This is his house," Harry protested, as the door slammed shut.
"Yes, and Mr. Rubeus Hagrid offered the dwelling as our meeting point, as our private meeting point," the lady said, gesturing for Harry to sit down at the table before Hagrid's hearth and doing the same. "Now then, to business."
"I did explain to you that our time is short?"
"You did, but let me get this straight. Hagrid went to Fred and George—"
"The Misters Weasley."
"—and asked them to get help for me to woo Snape?"
"That one Miss Harry James Potter—you—be provided a courtship consultant and chaperone in her attempt to woo Mr. Severus Sebastian Snape—"the manipulative git"—for the purposes of retrieving her—your—"bollocks," yes, that was the nature of the agreement, and a costly business it is, too, so, as I said, we must begin."
"Do you do this sort of thing all the time?"
"Oh, no, my clients usually have all their parts. You're a first for me."
"This is 'a first' for me, as well," Harry told her, wondering what she would say to "the Misters Weasley" when next she saw them, and feeling grateful for Liltington's having insisted on so much privacy. I expect that means that Fred and George won't tell Ron. I hope so, anyway.
"I expect it is," Liltington replied, interrupting Harry's thoughts. "We'll begin with the standard questionnaire."
Harry opened her mouth to ask what that was, but Liltington just kept talking.
"Most of the requisite information has already been provided by Mr. Rubeus Hagrid and the Misters Weasley, but I must know whether or not you'd like to pursue anything further than retrieving your masculinity in your wooing of Mr. Severus Sebastian Snape."
Again, Harry tried to speak, but Liltington did not pause.
"You will understand, I'm sure, that I traditionally effect a marriage between the courter and the courtee at the end of my contractual obligations, that, in fact, marriage is my usual contractual aim. In your case, however, neither the Misters Weasley or Mr. Rubeus Hagrid could say for certain whether or not your desire was matrimony."
"Well, that's because—"
"I must tell you, Miss Harry James Potter, that to be contracted to see to it that a courter and a courtee merely consummate a relationship—no matter that it has to do with an un-enchantment—strikes me as particularly crass and disturbing. I hope you don't mind my saying so. I am one for straight-speaking."
"What was your question?" Harry asked, when she was finally certain the courtship consultant had finished speaking.
"Do you want anything more than your bollocks back, dear?"
"Oh. Well, I hadn't thought that far, to be honest."
Liltington pursed her lips in disapproval. "I see. Well, that's why I'm here, isn't it? Do you love Mr. Severus Sebastian Snape?"
Liltington removed a large scroll from a gigantic purple purse that appeared before her on the table as soon as she reached for it—it had not been with her before—and began busily writing upon it. "And do you find him attractive?"
"Uh, well, when he washes—"
"There are hygiene issues?"
"A few, I guess," Harry replied, trying not to giggle at how scandalized Liltington seemed.
"Miss Harry James Potter, I must ask you to take the matter before you seriously."
Sure, I'll take this ridiculous 'matter' seriously, Harry thought, but mumbled only a contrite, "Sorry."
"Do not mumble."
"Don't be that, either. Now, are you saying that Mr. Severus Sebastian Snape does not wash?"
"Well, he did yesterday. I think because of me, too."
"Oh, that's very positive, indeed," the woman said, proceeding to scribble something else on the scroll. "Now then, would you please stand up?"
Harry stood up at once before even thinking about it.
"Your make-over should be a simple matter of taming that hair of yours and finding you clothing that fits—and befits a professional woman. Dresses, I think, are in order."
"Dresses? But I'm a wizard!"
"You aren't at the moment, and if you wish to become one again, you'll listen to reason and acquiesce to the fittings," Liltington told Harry, snapping her fingers.
Instantly, a trio of lavender pixies flew from the courtship consultant's handbag and rushed toward Harry, buzzing about her as they measured her body with a long, gossamer thread before returning to Liltington and nestling in her bushy purple hairdo, presumably, Harry thought, to inform her of what they had learned.
"Yes? Yes, I see. Excellent."
"Twee, Twaa, and Twuu tell me that you're the perfect size to fit into the results of their recent experimental haberdashery that was rejected—rejected, can you believe that?—by one of our previous clients. There truly is no accounting for taste. I'll have the garments ready for you to try on tomorrow evening. Shall we meet here at say, seven o'clock? That should be enough time for me to have fleshed out the particulars of your wooing plan."
"You're making a plan?"
"Of course, I'm making a plan. The Love Department of the Courtship Division of Weasleys' Wizarding Wheezes is known for its attention to the smallest detail of every aspect of a courter's needs, and the Misters Weasley did insist that you have the best of everything provided to you as you sought to achieve your goal of . . . 'getting your bollocks back'," Liltington said, her tiny nose wrinkling slightly in distaste. Are you quite certain that you're not in love with Mr. Severus Sebastian Snape?"
"Yes, quite certain. This isn't about love, it's about—"
"Retrieving your masculinity. Oh, very well," the woman said, rising and stuffing the scroll back into her handbag. "Tomorrow at seven, then?"
"Didn't you say something about Snape's file?"
"Under the circumstances, I hardly think it will matter to you what's in that, but rest assured, I'll make available to you whatever information is pertinent as it becomes so. Good night!"
With that, the courtship consultant disappeared in a cloud of purple smoke.
Harry was still coughing when Hagrid returned, unrepentant about having called in "a professional," as he referred to Mrs. Laura Lilac Liltington, and more excited than was Harry to hear about what the courtship consultant had planned.
"But Hagrid, she didn't actually tell me anything about her plan."
"Well, at least someone has one, righ'?"
"I suppose—but when did Fred and George get into the matchmaking business?"
Hagrid chuckled. "There's no tellin' wha' those two'll come up with, is it?"
That's what I'm afraid of, Harry thought, smiling weakly.
"Cheer up, now Harry. You'll be back to normal in no time, and it'll all be done properly, too."
Harry was not at all certain that Snape would agree with Hagrid's assessment of matters.
But then, why should I care about that? He was the one who wanted us to get to know each other better, and I've no doubt that Liltington will see to it that we do. I just wish I knew how.
Harry received her first clue the next morning from the headline under the fold of the Daily Prophet: "PROF POTTER'S FEARLESS METHODS AMAZE MANY."
"Oh, shit!" Harry exclaimed, dribbling tea down her chin.
"This reporter," Harry read, noting with no surprise that the "journalist" was Rita Skeeter, "has learned of one of the exciting new instruction methods being employed by Miss Harry James Potter, heroine of the Wizarding world, and the youngest professor to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts in Hogwarts' history. . . . He/she found it appropriate to use himself/herself as an object lesson to illustrate the consequences of ill-thought spell-casting. . . . 'That's right', Deputy Headmaster Filius Flitwick affirmed, 'Professor Potter has been in consultation with Severus Snape on the matter of an area of Magical Theory relevant to . . . ah, the teaching of Defense . . . . Why, I expect that Hogwarts will have the best curriculum in Defense in all of Europe because of their collaboration'. . . . When this reporter asked the Deputy Headmaster if he meant to bring Snape on staff at the school, he had no further comment, but it seems clear that the former Potions master is still quite involved with his most accomplished student."
"Snape is going to kill me," Harry breathed, flinging the paper down and throwing on her clothing, while not even daring to think about what the Headmistress would have to say about the article—or her "experimentation with several disciplines."
She was about to rush through her door when a knock fell upon it.
"Professor Potter!" the stentorian tones of Minerva McGonagall's voice rang out.
Damn, Harry thought, opening the door to the Headmistress. "Good mor—"
"What's good about it? Have you and Flitwick run mad? And what's Severus about by—oh. Oh, dear. You really are a . . . a witch," Minerva said, stopping her progress into the room to stare at Harry. "I thought that was all just nonsense."
"It's only temporary."
"Is it?" Minerva asked, removing her gloves.
Harry saw that the Headmistress was still in her traveling clothes.
"I thought you weren't due back until Wednesday?"
"As if I could stay away with all this going on," Minerva declared, waving her gloves at Harry. "Besides, the Council on Transfiguration has never seen the like. Everyone kept asking me all morning—"
"It's only eight thirty."
"—since we began at six why I wasn't presenting on your little experiment in 'Magical Theory' since it obviously involved a Transfiguration component. I don't believe for a moment that you planned to alter your sex, so what happened? What does Severus have to do with any of it? And by the way, I passed Ron, Hermione, and Remus on my way up here. They are waiting in my office by now, but I thought you and I would discuss matters first."
Oh, that's just great. "Um, thank you?"
Minerva sighed. "Don't thank me yet, Professor Potter."
"Look, during class, one of my students—"
"The Gryffindor-Slytherin Seventh Years."
"Marcus Gordon did this to you?"
"He intended to do it to Ambrose—"
"Blakeney. Of course he did. Why those two don't just—oh, never mind—and you stepped in front of his spell, did you?"
Before Harry could respond, the door to her chamber opened and Severus Snape stormed in.
"Potter, just what did you do?"
"Severus! Don't you knock?"
"Forgive me, Minerva, but the provocation was great. I am not used to—"
"Rising this early? Or were you going to say something quite untrue about being the subject of praiseworthy publicity? Because the article did paint you in a rather favorable light."
"But why is there such an article?"
"I think that would be because of Mrs. Laura Lilac Liltington," Harry said, glad to have someone else with her as she explained things to Snape.
Minerva uttered an exclamation of dismay. "You don't mean that leprechaun, do you?"
"You know about her?" Harry asked, deciding that this was not a good thing.
"Fred Weasley introduced her to me not long ago and intimated that I might be interested in her services."
"Belt up, Severus. It's not funny."
"Did you take him up on his suggestion?" Snape asked, unrepentantly smirking.
"Of course I—would someone please explain to me what is going on?"
Turning to regard Harry smugly, Snape asked, "Miss Potter?"
Thanks a lot, you prat. "Hagrid found out about the enchantment—I wasn't going to tell anyone—and thought I might need some help handling matters. I mean, it wouldn't have looked good for anyone if people had found out that students were hexing each other during classes."
"Yes," said Minerva, "but what, exactly, do you mean by 'matters'? The school cannot afford bizarre publicity. The Board of Governors will—"
"Be perfectly delighted to know how well you're handling the necessary changes to the curriculum of the Defense course. I believe Scrimgeour has been agitating for some time to see that all of Hogwarts' courses were brought up to date," Snape interrupted, as if he had finally decided to help Harry instead of making things worse for her.
"I suppose, looking at it like that, you're right. But Harry, you surely didn't authorize Liltington to lie for you, did you? And just what kind of detention has Gordon received? Oh! And why would Hagrid have thought to engage the services of a courtship consultant on your behalf?"
"You're familiar with the fairy-tale about a frog being kissed?" Snape asked.
Harry gaped at him.
Minerva looked between them and pursed her lips.
"I gave Gordon Snape's old Potions text," Harry admitted.
"What?" Minerva asked, appearing shocked. "But—"
"She obscured the more dangerous spells," Snape explained, "not thinking that the one that altered her sex would be of any interest to a student."
Minerva snapped shut her mouth and glared at Snape.
"Why look at me like that? It was her doing."
"Now, Minerva, I—"
"Get out, Snape. Wait with the others in my office if you've the . . . the nerve. I wish to speak to Professor Potter alone."
"Unfortunately, I have an appointment to keep," Snape said, not looking at Harry.
Oh, no! Not with Liltington, Harry thought, watching the Potions master leave as quickly as he had come. "Shit," she said, when she and Minerva were alone.
"Is that man imposing himself upon you?"
Things were so far out of control that Harry could not even feel embarrassed as she answered, "Obviously not, Headmistress, or I'd have all the 'nerve' I needed."
Minerva looked at Harry for a moment, her lips twitching as she considered the other witch, and then she gave in to her internal mirth and began to laugh. "Oh, oh . . . if only . . . Albus were here," she gasped through her chuckles, before continuing, "I think . . . I know that he . . . would have enjoyed this situation immensely."
"What are you saying?"
"What am I saying? I can always tell Portrait Albus, now can't I? But perhaps not today."
"That's all you've got to say?"
"What else is there to say? You don't want my involvement in this mess, surely?"
"Well then, I shall leave you to conduct your 'affair' in peace. . . . Shall I tell the others to expect you?"
"No? You wouldn't like to explain? No, I don't expect you would," Minerva said, pulling her gloves back on. "I'm returning to the conference, but I expect that you or Filius will keep me informed of your 'collaboration' with Severus. And Harry?"
"Yes?" she replied, feeling sulky.
"Severus enjoys Shakespeare a great deal. I think you may wish to further your suit with the gift of a rare folio. I'm certain that Filius could direct you to the appropriate antique book shop, if you like."
With that, the Headmistress was gone, leaving Harry to think, I don't know if I like any of this. Damn the Courtship Division of Weasleys' Wizarding Wheezes' Love Department!
By the end of the day, Harry had received a letter from every member of the Board of Governors praising her for her ingenuity—and invitations from the two single wizards on the Board to dinner—they did not make her feel any better.
"It's uncomfortable! It clings. I'm not wearing it," Harry insisted later that night, as Liltington's pixies poured her into a gown generous of fabric, but stingy of drape.
"Codswallop. It's quite comely, and only accentuates your attributes. Move in it. You see?" Liltington asked, as Harry spun from side to side upon the fitting box. "You can move in the dress just fine. You'll wear it."
"I will not. I don't think I should wear any of these," Harry replied, waving her arms at the pile of dresses that the courtship consultant had insisted that she try on.
They all shimmered, or clung, or had alarmingly low necklines that were just a bit too high for her to reject them as indecent. They were also all so nicely tailored that Harry knew most witches would pay ridiculously high sums for any of them. It made her wonder just how much Hagrid was paying for Liltington's services, and that made her feel guilty.
He's only trying to help. I know I need it, but . . . but really, it's not like I'm planning on remaining a witch!
"Stop daydreaming and put this on," Liltington said, holding up a fur-lined, hooded cape. "This is nice and Yuletide-y. I think it will do for your first date."
"My what? Who said anything about dating?"
"You do wish to court Mr. Severus Sebastian Snape?"
"That means dating, my dear. Oh, it will be private, of course, but you'll still need to pursue the traditional means of wooing if you're to achieve your goal."
"And just what does that mean?"
"Why, it means that you'll have to drive him wild with desire for you. You must make him feel desperate to have you, or you'll never get your bollocks back, dear."
"And how am I going to be made desperate enough to have him?" Harry demanded, feeling a bit as though she had said something rude. He's not that bad.
Liltington giggled. "Twee, Twaa, and Twuu have already seen to Mr. Severus Sebastian Snape."
"Good," Harry retorted, suddenly very curious to see the wizard again. "I'll wear the clingy one, then. When's this date to be, anyway?"
"Why, in half an hour, my dear."
"I was under the impression that you did not wish to suffer your female form for long. Was I mistaken?" Liltington asked, as one of the pixies began to twist Harry's hair into what felt like an elaborate style.
"Don't be nervous. I've charmed the heels of your boots to be anti-tripping, so you'll be able to stride about as you're used to doing, and your hair will remain perfect, and your garments won't wrinkle—you can get up to a great deal of wooing and still look pretty as a picture."
"My appearance isn't what I'm worried about."
"It's the uh, dating. Snape said that he wouldn't . . . un-enchant me until I could give him my word that I desired his touch."
"Ah, yes. Typical of a man like that, I should think, but don't you worry. He'll be very handsome, himself. I'm certain that you'll approve of him."
"I . . . ow!"
"Twuu, do be careful."
"How can you tell them apart?"
Liltington favored Harry with a sympathetic look. "Above-Grounder vision, how do you go on? In any case, would it be possible to charm your eyesight and lose those glasses? You'd look ever so much more elegant without them."
"If it's all the same to you, I think I'll keep them," Harry replied, feeling as though everything were happening entirely too quickly. "Did you say before that you'd act as my chaperone?"
"Ah, yes. That matter. You know, if your object is the sex," Liltington said crisply, "perhaps my presence would be a distraction, but the Misters Weasley—and also their brother and his charming companion—did express a desire—"
"You've talked to Ron and Hermione? But you said—"
"It's not my doing that they were present with the Misters Weasleys when I met with them to discuss the arrangements this morning. Oh, and there was one other gentleman, too, a Mr. Remus John Lupin. Are you familiar with him?"
"Then that's all right. Now, the Misters Weasley wanted me to make absolutely certain, as did your friends, that you were entering into the un-enchantment of your own free will, and how I'm to ensure that to their satisfaction if not present on your date, I do not know. Any thoughts, dear?"
"I should have talked to them."
"You wish to speak to your friends?"
Liltington waved a hand at the door to Hagrid's hut, which opened to reveal Remus, Ron, and Hermione standing in front of a worried-looking Hagrid.
Harry thought she heard masculine giggling, as well, that sounded as if it had come from Fred and George, but she did not see them.
"Come in, please, and be quick about it, for we've no time to lose," Liltington instructed, standing back to admire the handiwork of her pixie seamstresses. "Lovely, my dear, quite."
"Cor!" Ron exclaimed. "You are a girl!"
"Of course she is, Ron," Hermione said, thwapping him on the back of his head. "Be sensitive!"
Ron's gaze locked onto Harry's bosom for half a second until Remus pulled up his head by the hair.
"Sorry," Ron said, looking anything but. "You can't blame me, can you? You've got—"
Hermione's glare silenced him.
"Oh, Harry. This is . . . unexpected. I knew when I read the article this morning that something untoward had occurred."
"Yeah, Hermione. That's one way to put it."
"And you'll have to kiss Snape in order to fix it?" Ron asked Harry, who blanched and looked to Remus for help.
"Er, say Ron," Hagrid put in, "I think maybe you an' I'd better make ourselves scarce. You've seen as how Harry's all righ', an' now—"
"Oh, no. I'm not leaving now."
"Yes you are, brother," Fred and George Weasley said as one, as they materialized just inside the door.
"I knew it. You were out there!"
"'Course we were," one of the twins agreed. "Customer service is just a part of—"
"I did say that time is short?" asked Liltington.
"Right you are, Ma'am," the twins replied, pulling a protesting Ron from the room.
"I'll uh, just go on with them, then," Hagrid said.
Hermione looked at Harry approvingly. "We lied to Ron, obviously. If anything comes of this, well, I'm sure Professor Snape will help you explain," she said, reaching up to give Harry a hug—Harry was standing on the dresser's block—before following the others out.
"Harry," Remus said, as Liltington stepped delicately away. "You've had an interesting few days, I'd imagine."
Harry snorted and stepped down. "This is a bloody mess, isn't it?"
"As messes go, this one is surprisingly bloodless—for the moment."
As the implications of Remus' words sunk in, Harry flushed. Oh, God. Kill me now, she thought.
"Sit down a second and let me ask you something."
"All right," Harry replied, carefully spreading her cloak and gown out as she sat on Hagrid's cot, having forgotten completely about the anti-wrinkling charm.
"Now, don't be angry with me," Remus began.
Harry's eyes widened. "About what?"
"I went to see Severus this afternoon."
"Well, you wouldn't see us, but Fred and George explained what had happened, and I had to be sure that you were all right, and I wanted to know what Severus' . . . intentions were."
"It was either me or Ron."
"Oh, God. I guess I'm glad it was you, then. What did he say?"
"Ron or Severus?"
"Both, I guess."
"Ron was furious—hence the kissing business—and Severus was surprisingly civil."
"He was also vague as to the particulars, and took some pleasure in telling me that he was not about to 'bruit a lady's affairs about' with me."
"But you seem to know everything, anyway—Fred and George?"
"Yes, and you shouldn't be too angry with them, or Hagrid, you know. They were looking out for you in their own ways."
"I know that, but Remus, I have to . . . and . . . ."
"That brings me to my question. No matter what Severus may have told you, the category of spell he wrought can be unmade by the application of another, more powerful charm. Of course, that sort of thing takes time to crafte, which means that you'd have to remain a witch for oh, at least a year."
Harry was indignant. "He never said anything like that to me. Wait, did you say it could take a year?"
"A year, minimum, but that won't matter if you don't truly mind Severus' . . . breaking the spell. Do you?" Remus asked gently, his eyes full of paternal concern. "I doubt you'd have gone along with all this if you were opposed to it, and, if you don't mind my asking, I'd like to know exactly why that is."
Harry looked down at her hands. Why didn't I ask for anyone's help? I could have, I know that. I . . . I probably should have, but . . . . "I uh, I think . . . ."
"You like Severus, Harry? I know that you fancied—"
"I did not fancy Ron!" Harry lied.
"I was going to say Draco Malfoy. I think you know that I know you did fancy Ron, more than that, at one time, even."
Harry blushed and said nothing. Shit. Shit. Shit! "Does Ron know that?"
Remus chuckled. "Of course not. What was that Hermione was always saying? Something about a teaspoon and emotional depth?"
"Ron's not thick," Harry loyally protested, turning to look at Remus. "He's just never had any reason to suspect, is all. I didn't think he'd understand, and then I got over him, and then—"
"You kept quiet because you were afraid. I know a little something about that," Remus replied, favoring Harry with a pointed glance.
"I guess you do, at that. Did . . . did my Dad know, about you and Sirius, I mean?"
"Sirius didn't want him to know, so he overlooked a lot."
"That must have been awkward for you."
"We were kids then. I would like to think that James and Sirius would have grown out of their . . . infantile behavior, but we'll never know, will we?" Remus said, looking sad.
Harry sighed. "He would have disapproved, then."
"No. Your father would have loved you no matter what. That, I know."
"How can you?"
"Because I wanted him to know about me. Who do you think I talked to about Sirius? Look, I've been meaning to talk to you for a while about this, but there never seemed to be a decent way to broach the topic. Your liking wizards? That's not a bad thing, and you shouldn't be afraid of losing Ron's friendship because of it. He's not 'thick', as you said, and you have to know he wants you to be happy. What I want to know is whether you've decided that your happiness might rest with Severus. If it does, and you want more time to work that out, you don't have to have him un-enchant you."
"I do like wizards, and . . . and Snape, in particular, but I don't think that he likes me—and even if he does, how will I explain it to Ron?"
"First, if Snape didn't like you, he would have broken the spell the moment you asked him and then mocked you for it after. From our discussion—and his actions—I think it's a safe bet that he likes you well enough. I think he's unsure as to whether or not you like him."
"I'm in this sodding dress, aren't I?"
"So you are. What a life you've had, eh?"
Harry smiled. "Luna will be after me again to write that book."
"I've no doubt."
"And I've a time-table to keep," Liltington said, approaching the pair.
"Was there a 'second'?" Harry asked, ignoring the courtship consultant.
"Only that Ron will understand—eventually. He's never liked Severus because of how the man treated you badly in the past, but if he sees him treating you well, Ron will come around."
"Let's hope so," Harry said. "Right, I'm ready," he told Liltington.
"Finally! Now then, Mr. Remus John Lupin, if you're quite satisfied that the courter has willingly placed herself in my hands, I must ask you to allow me to get on with meeting my contractual obligations."
"Of course," Remus said, walking toward the door. Before he opened it, he turned and asked, "Harry?"
"Yeah. It's okay, Remus. Thanks—for the chat—I mean. It helped."
"I'm glad to hear it, but I wanted to say one last thing."
"Make him work for it," Remus told her, grinning mischievously.
"Make him work for what, Miss Harry James Potter?" Liltington asked, as Remus pulled the door shut behind him.
"Oh, uh . . . ."
"Have you changed your mind then, about the nature of your goal?"
"Let's say that I may want to . . . expand upon it, a bit."
The courtship consultant clapped her hands together. "Oh, excellent news, indeed! Then you will require a chaperone!"