Snape stood in Albus' office—he could never think of it as Minerva's—and stared at the former Headmaster's empty portrait. In his hands, he held a Time Turner. The Ministry had recalled all such devices during the war, but then, Snape had not exactly been working for the government at that time. After his bizarre encounter with Liltington's pixies, he was glad he had missed the notice to hand it in.
"Albus," he demanded again, and waited.
"He's off eavesdropping," the portrait of Phineas Nigellus told him.
"Well, make yourself useful and—"
"Ah, Severus! How good to see you, old friend—and looking so very well, too," Portait Albus greeted him, peering out of his frame to take in Snape's outfit of a silk cream-colored shirt, dark green trousers, an embroidered waist-coat of the same color, and a simply tailored black frock coat which ended in tails. "Those are fine boots," Portrait Albus commented, taking in the splendor of the thigh-high dragon hide boots of muted crimson that the wizard was wearing. "And has your hair grown longer, or have you cut it?"
"It's longer," Snape replied. "Those damned pixies charmed it and tied it back with a leather lace. I look ridiculous," he muttered, waving one be-gloved hand.
The leather was of a matching hide to his boots.
Portrait Albus smiled widely. "It's a rare pleasure to see you so proud of yourself, Severus."
"Don't encourage the coxcomb, man."
"Do be quiet, Phineas. I want to hear about these pixies and Severus' plans."
"Albus, if you knew what I was planning, you'd—"
"Wish you well—and I do know. The other portraits told me at once about Harry's predicament, and I saw her give Marcus Gordon your old text myself. I am curious, however, to know how you came to be so elegantly attired."
"You mean, you don't know everything? I'm shocked."
"Still so sarcastic? You'd best watch that unfortunate tendency in yourself if you want to woo Harry."
"I, woo her?"
"Why are you here? Never tell me you've come to ask my permission."
Damn. The old codger does know everything.
"Yes, damn it! Potter's only nineteen! Someone should give permission. Who else can I ask? I feel . . . ."
"Yes, Albus—ridiculous and guilty."
"Why ever not?"
"He must have come to you for help, isn't that right? Oh," Portrait Albus said, as another figure appeared behind him and whispered something too low for Snape to hear, "and I have it on good authority that Harry's being outfitted in a dress of all things. Further, there is a party of his friends coming down the corridor discussing that very thing. They seem concerned about your intentions."
"I know. Shortly after I left here this morning, Remus Lupin appeared on my doorstep—followed by a Mrs.—"
"Laura Lilac Liltington and her trio of helpers? Ah, yes, that would explain the pixies. What a charming woman. Do you know, I've engaged her services on Minerva's behalf?"
Snape almost choked to hear it. "How? You're dead."
"Quite, but as I neglected to write a will, my Gringott's vault is still embarrassingly full. I may not have been able to take my fortune with me, but I retain access to it, you see."
"As fascinating as that is, I want to discuss—"
"What did you tell Remus about your intentions toward Harry?"
"I told him nothing. It was none of his business."
"Yes, but what did you say?"
"I said that the brat wanted my assistance with un-enchanting herself—"
"—and that I was providing it. I then invited him to leave."
"Hence his arrival here."
"They're here?" Snape asked, looking toward the door in consternation.
"Oh, they won't be able to enter just yet, but tell me, what are your intentions toward Harry?"
"Did you truly try to set Minerva up with the help of that leprechaun?"
Nigellus answered, "It isn't good for a witch in her prime like that to brood. Fine-looking woman!"
"Thank you, Phineas. Severus? We haven't time for you to stall. Your intentions?"
"I haven't formed any beyond . . . ."
"Having a bit of fun with the boy?"
Portrait Albus sighed in amused exasperation. "I understand why it must flummox you to view Harry in light of the virginal young woman. Being the traditional sort, it must make it easier for you to consider pursuing the boy, rather than sitting home of an evening and missing Harry's company while—"
"Who said anything about missing Harry's company?"
"—drinking yourself into a stupor. Wasteful, that. But it would be a mistake for you to overlook the fact that Harry is a powerful wizard with internal resources far greater than many of us possess. Could you or I have handled the shock of losing our bollocks half so well as he has?"
"Your point being?"
"That Harry is young but not weak. He needs no one's protection, and it is his permission you require in order to woo him. Still, getting on better terms with his friends would be advisable, for he has always been a loyal young man, and such as Ron, Hermione, and Remus will always be a part of his life—a part of your life, should you elect to make one with Harry."
"I think you're assuming too much."
"I don't," Portrait Albus replied merrily, "and now I think I really must allow the others to enter, for this is Minerva's office now, and she did send them here. But Severus?"
"Try to see this situation in light of the splendid opportunity it is, and deal fairly with Harry and yourself. Treat Harry well. . . . If you do not, I will know."
Portrait Albus' words were a warning, but before Severus could respond to them, the handle of the door began to turn. Quickly, he spun his Time Turner on its chain and returned to Spinner's End where the sounds of buzzing could be heard on the other side of the door to his loo.
"Are you quite finished admiring yourself, Mr. Severus Sebastian Snape?"
He opened the door and glowered at Laura Lilac Liltington—and the noisome pixies clinging to her hair. "What now?"
"Why, now it's time for you to be off to the meeting point, while I see to it that Miss Harry James Potter is made ready. You understand the directions, do you? and you have your gift?"
"Yes and yes, though I do not understand why I should be gifting Potter with anything other than my company. He—she—is the courter, after all."
"Don't be difficult, dear. You know very well what you're about, I'm sure."
No, I don't, Severus thought, approaching the shelf upon which his decanter sat and preparing to pour himself a drink.
"None of that," Liltington insisted, "or I'll charm you to be ill if you ever look at spirits again. You need feeding up, and whisky will only ruin your appetite."
"Madam, I assure you that—"
"Is this not your signature under the addendum to the contract drawn up between the Misters Weasley and Mr. Rubeus Hagrid on Miss Harry James Potter's behalf," Liltington said, holding up a conjured scroll as a puff of purple smoke dissipated and continuing, "to the effect that you, Mr. Severus Sebastian Snape, desire to see a match made between yourself and the courter, making you a secondary courter and Miss Harry James Potter, in fact, a secondary courtee, and affirming your agreement to submit to whatever instructions I, Laura Lilac Liltington, the courtship consultant assigned to this case, and also to be regarded as a chaperone pursuant to my duties as a representative of the Love Department of Weasleys' Wizarding Wheezes' Courtship Division, should ask of you?"
"It is, but—"
"Further, you are aware, are you not, that having signed the addendum to the primary magical contract, thus creating the secondary magical contract, that you are now bound to an agreement that cannot be broken until your goal is met, or unless the primary courter decides to void the primary contract made on her behalf?"
"Yes, I do, however—"
"And you are no doubt aware that, should you fail to meet any of the obligations and stipulations of your contractual addendum, the assessment of magical penalties upon your head would be. Most. Dear. Indeed—not to mention immediate?" Liltington asked sweetly, though she grinned in what could be considered a feral manner at Snape.
It gave the Potions master pause to see the courtship consultant's teeth—purpled with age and quite sharp-looking—and he did not actually need to understand the undercurrent of leprechaunian warning in her tone in order to heed her injunction against the taking of spirits before dinner. He found himself regretting having not read the fine print of the document with which Laura Lilac Liltington had earlier presented him before his "make over." Despite this, he was still his own man, and that made him prone to be fractious.
"So you're saying that if I don't heed your 'advice' that I not have a simple before-dinner drink, I'll be in violation of my agreement?"
"Very good, dear. That's it, exactly."
"And what, exactly, would my penalty be for indulging myself?"
"Above-Grounders—you really are a foolish lot, aren't you?"
"Do answer my question."
Liltington smiled that unnerving grin at Snape again and said, "Let's just say that everyone needs to eat, Mr. Severus Sebastian Snape, and leave it at that."
Snape allowed his hands to slide off of the decanter and placed them at his sides—though he allowed his right one to hover reassuringly near his wand pocket. "Very well. I shan't spoil my appetite."
"Excellent. Now, have you your gift?"
"Yes, in my breast pocket."
"Then be off with you, my dear. Time is short, as I said."
"One thing first, if I may," Snape replied, as he walked to his front door and opened it.
"Just how are you being paid for your services as the courtship consultant on the primary contract?"
"I'm afraid I do mind your asking that, Mr. Severus Sebastian Snape. Are you stalling, by the way? For I would construe such behavior as a failure by yourself to—"
"I'll just be going, now," Snape said, stepping outside into the welcome, bracing cold and shutting the door relievedly behind himself before Disapparating to the meeting point.
Arriving in a clearing somewhere in the Forbidden Forest, he mused that the entry on leprechauns in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a text that Harry was currently using in her classes, could do with a thorough updating.