As Harry approached her classroom for the second time since becoming a witch, she could hear a murmured conversation taking place in one of the alcoves close to the door. She was late, herself, so she had no plans to tax the students hanging back; she did, however, decide to eavesdrop on them as she caught the thread of what they were saying.
"You mean it's our fault?"
And that's Gordon.
"Well, how the hell does one apologize for—"
"I already tried to, but she wouldn't have it."
"He, Gordon, and what did you mean by 'have'? Never mind. Professor Potter's not going remain transfigured, is he?"
"I don't know. I doubt it, but I still say that we've got to do something to make it up to her, and I've the perfect idea as to how—from the Professor's own lips, I might add, my suggestion comes."
Harry was tempted to interrupt here, but curiosity got the better of her.
"Oh?" asked Blakeney, rightly sounding suspicious.
"I said, come into Hogsmeade with me this weekend."
"The professor didn't tell you we should—"
"Are you calling me a liar?"
"Look, Professor Potter suggested—he suggested—that we should . . . try to end our differences over a butterbeer."
That's close enough, Harry thought, smirking.
"You know how he's always going on about 'civil interactions between and among the members of Hogwarts' houses' as being important. We're Seventh Years. I'm Head Boy. You're the captain of Gryffindor's Quidditch team. What we do matters, so I figure if we set a good example—"
"He'd appreciate it. All right—for the good of the school," Blakeney said, sounding smug, "I'll go into Hogsmeade with you this weekend."
Prat, Harry thought, increasing her speed. "Ahem. Gentlemen? It's past time you were in your seats," she said, walking through the door without looking at either Gordon or Blakeney. Stepping up to her podium, she greeted the rest of her students. "Good morning, class. I apologize for being late. Please turn to page one hundred and ten in Fantastic Beasts. Today—yes, Peters?"
"That's the section on leprechauns, but we're doing lethifolds."
"We're covering defensive charms against several dangerous creatures in this unit, Peters."
"But leprechauns aren't dangerous."
Another student raised her hand.
"Leprechauns are dangerous."
"How?" demanded Peters.
"Out of turn," Harry warned. "Miss Dollington?"
"Yes, Professor. Leprechauns are omnivorous beings who seek to entrap their uh, their food by getting their prey to sign magical contracts or to agree verbally to imprecise deals. They always rush through any conversation in an effort to keep their objects off-guard, and they sometimes end up eating them when said objects fail to meet their agreements."
"Very good, Dollington," Harry said, as many of the other students whispered to each other in horrified amazement. "That information isn't in your text, so how did you come it?"
"My Mum and Dad honeymooned in Ireland. They took an antiquities tour, and one of the spots they visited was an abandoned leprechaun burrow that turned out not to be so abandoned after all. Their guide, he was, he was eaten, Professor. He tried to negotiate taking the group farther into the burrow, you see."
"That's bloody awful!" someone exclaimed.
"Quite," Harry replied. "Dollington, do you happen to know what sort of arrangement your parents' guide made with the leprechaun?"
"No, Ma—Sir, I don't, but Dad said as how if I should ever encounter a leprechaun, I shouldn't speak to it."
"I think we can all agree that your father's advice was good. Further, I'd add that one should never interfere with a leprechaun's person or gold, and that under no circumstances should one sign a contract with such a being. But let's imagine for a moment that one has been foolish enough to engage a leprechaun in conversation and has become confused as to how to end the discussion, shall we? Today, we're going to consider some repulsion charms that will assist in . . . ."
Class went well, Harry thought, leaving it and walking toward the balcony at the end of the corridor. Stepping out onto the terrace, she took a deep breath and thought about her date with Severus.
The wizard had seemed a bit disturbed to learn about the darker nature of leprechaunian contracts, and it had made her wonder—once she was far away from Liltington's philtered ground—just why. Ron's thought that Severus might be wooing her back had begun to make sense, especially when she considered how dear the Potions master's gift to her had been.
A future. A partner—perhaps even a family—he offered everything I've always wanted and didn't think I'd live to see myself have, she mused, anymore than he probably thought he would. Severus must have signed something. Damn. There'll be consequences. I'm sure of it.
Harry was so worried about the possibility of "consequences" that—as soon as Severus had returned her to the castle's door and she had gone inside—she had contacted Fred and George and asked them to come to Hogwarts to discuss her contract. Fairy Tale Philter or no, the feelings for Severus she had experienced in the Forbidden Forest had lingered, and she wanted to make sure that she would have all the time she needed in order to put them in perspective.
"Oi! Professor! You around?" one of the twins called then.
"There she is, Fred."
Harry turned to find Fred and George cheerfully striding toward her.
"Yes," she said, feigning a glower.
"Aw, come on. Hagrid begged us to do something to help you, didn't he, Fred?"
"George. Leprechauns? The Love Department? The Courtship Division? How could you have been so stupid?"
"It's not stupid," Fred protested. "It's made as much money in its first quarter as an entire year of Skiving Snackbox sales!"
"But using leprechauns?"
"Oh, Liltington's our only one—and she's part goblin, though she doesn't look it, like Professor Flitwick."
"How do her bloodlines protect you from—"
"Liltington's signed an agreement with us to provide her services gratis for one year—in exchange for our having saved her life," said Fred.
"We can't say," George told her.
"That's a contractual no-no," the wizards said, as one.
"In any case," continued Fred, "we made sure to add language to the effect that she can't harm any kith or kin of ours."
"But Severus' isn't either."
"What?" the twins asked. "Snape signed a contract with Liltington?"
"I think he might have done," Harry said. "I don't suppose you've got a copy—"
"Right here," George said, pulling a scroll from his trouser pocket and unfurling it before scanning its contents. "Uh, oh."
"What?" demanded Fred and Harry.
"How much do you like our old professor, anyway?" asked George.
That evening, Harry found herself in the Three Broomsticks with Ron, Hermione, Hagrid, Fred, and George, mulling over the pickle of Severus' addendum.
"I don't see how it's a problem," Hermione was saying. "Harry can just void her contract, and Professor Snape's sub-contract won't be binding."
"It isn't that simple now," Fred asserted, "because Harry agreed with Liltington that she wanted to 'expand' upon her 'goal' in terms of wooing Snape. That's such vague language as to confuse matters considerably."
"Well," Ron said, "what does the contract actually say? Harry's part, I mean, about your agreement on her behalf?"
Hagrid coughed. "It's all abou' you getting your bollocks back, inn't?"
"Yeah, but there's language saying that Harry can't void the contract unless 'the object of the un-enchantment, the courtee, Mr. Severus Sebastian Snape, ceases to hold any appeal to the courter, Miss', and so on," George said, looking abashed. "Damn, Harry. I'm sorry."
"Right. It's not like you could just lie about Snape's not holding any appeal for you," Fred said, his expression grim. "It looks like you've got to get married."
"You two should have thought about things like this before making any agreement," Hermione told the twins in irritation. "Harry's had no kind of real courtship of Professor Snape, and nineteen's too young to be getting married!"
"Is it?" Ron asked.
"Oh, I don't mean for us."
"But you just said—"
Harry cleared her throat. "Don't start. Things are uncomfortable enough as it is."
"Ron," Hermione whispered, "we've been dating for ages."
"It seems to me that Snape wouldn't have given you that gift if he didn't want to, and if what my brother says is true," Fred said, looking at Ron while addressing Harry, "what you gave him means that you're more ready to get married than my future sister-in-law believes, yeah?"
"I really gave Severus a book about male pregnancy?"
"Yeah, mate. You did."
Harry sighed. "This is all happening so fast. I don't even know how wizards get pregnant!"
"I 'spose in the traditional way there, Harry," Hagrid told her, as everyone but Hermione laughed.
"If you lot start talking about 'arse-babies' again, I'm leaving!"
Harry spluttered. "What? What kind of tradition are you talking about?"
"Wizard pregnancy is . . . different than regular pregnancy, harder, too," Hermione answered, "and . . . and this entire situation is bizarrely unfair to you!" she exclaimed, reaching for Harry's hand and patting it.
Harry snorted. "Story of my life."
It was just before Harry had spoken that Severus—who had been drinking at the pub since his discovery earlier in the day that Winky had charmed all the alcohol at Spinner's End to water—had seen Harry and her friends. And, having begun to approach their table, he had come close enough to hear the end of their conversation at precisely the moment that Hermione had consoled her friend about the nature of her predicament. He was not so drunk that he failed to puzzle out Hermione's meaning, but was, in fact, too inebriated to hear Harry's response to this consolation as anything other than a rejection of him and his suit.
She—he—Potter doesn't want me, he thought, turning unsteadily and making for the door. She doesn't want my babies, either. Don't blame Potter—him—her for that—ugly brats they'd be, too, crying all the time—mustn't cry. No. Leave. That's right. Get. Out. Of. Here. Go away—far away—too far away to be eaten. Knew this was too good to be true.
"But you know," Harry continued, "Liltington's magic couldn't have made my gift to Severus be something I didn't want to give, and—"
"Nineteen's not too young to be married," Ron interrupted, still annoyed—and worried—about what Hermione had said. "Mum and Dad got married at seventeen."
"There's always a marriage boom after a war," George said, "and a baby one, too. Seamus and Susan already have triplets."
"And Oliver and Angela have little Fred," replied Fred, trying to look pleased but failing.
George punched him. "Get over her already, you git. You had your chance. At least you're a godfather."
Fred murmured something unintelligible.
"Speaking of godfathers," Harry remarked, "could someone please tell me why my de facto one has taken to wearing a bathrobe emblazoned with a tooth?"
"Aw, now aint' tha' nice?" Hagrid asked. "Good for your mum an' Remus, Hermione."
Harry balked. "No one tells me anything!"
"You said yourself you'd been busy, mate," Ron told her, draping an arm around Hermione. "'Sides, we only just worked it out, ourselves."
"I was informed this morning," Hermione said primly, "that Remus has perfect teeth."
"Yeah, and her mum has a sweet sub-basement."
"What? She does! It was a shelter during one of the Muggle wars. Remus's been living in it."
Harry did so, as well, but listened to her friends' continued ribald chatter with only half an ear, for she was considering several things at once.
It's good to have friends. I'm lucky. I shouldn't worry so much about the contract. Who says I'll get pregnant? And if I do, I guess it would be easier to be pregnant as a witch.
She shivered a bit at the thought, despite the logic of it, and then found herself wishing Severus were with her.
Winky or no, he's probably brooding over Ron's visit. I don't expect things are any easier for him than they are for me, but all he has are his bad habits and his self-imposed solitude—and things have been very stressful, these past few days. He shouldn't be alone. I should go and invite him to come here. I want him here, she decided.
"Excuse me," Harry said. "I think I'll go see if Severus wants to join us for dinner."
"Well, we are discussing his life, too," Hermione said.
"Yeah," Harry replied, Disapparating without rising from the table.
"Show off," Ron said.
"Impatient," Fred and George replied, leering.
"Don't look at us like that, Hermione," George added. "If we hadn't've—"
"Got the contract for Hagrid—"
"—on Harry's behalf—"
"Snape and Harry might never have got around to figuring out how they felt about each other."
"Tha's righ'," Hagrid agreed, before suggesting to the others that they not wait for Harry to return to order dinner. "Because I'm that hungry."
None of them noticed the very short, very stout, very purple lady sitting in the corner behind their table, the very short, very stout, very purple lady who was busily polishing a wickedly sharp-looking golden knife and grinning through her lavender-stained teeth at the Misters Weasley and their Above-Grounder kith and kinsman.
Laura Lilac Liltington, it must be said, again, was a lady of leprechaunian extraction. Gratitude was not a concept much prized by her family's Irish side, and as for the other, well, any Gringott's clerk could be relied upon to explain that, at one time—long before the current "Banking Age"—even sallow skin had been gold enough for any goblin.
"Time is short, my dears," Liltington murmured to the pixies nestled in her hair. "Time is very short, indeed, for one Mr. Severus Sebastian Snape, or I'm not a courtship consultant."
The pixies, independent contractors, all, tittered to think of their forthcoming "Below-Grounder" compensation.
Everyone needed to eat.