Title: Good Enough to Be Getting on With
Pairings: Girl!Harry/Charlie, Girl!Harry Snarry, others
Warning (highlight to view): For AU, mentions of past character death, and mild violence.
Word Count: 8971
Summary: This is the first story in the Verges and Variations Cycle, in which Snape and Harry work out the connection between themselves after a spell goes awry.
Disclaimer: This piece is based on characters and situations created and owned by J.K. Rowling; various publishers, including, but not limited to: Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books, Raincoast Books; and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Author's Notes: Because of my back-up snafu, I don't have the exact dates for this story. I do know, however, that it was completed and archived at Whole New Worlds by 30 September 2003. This is an unedited repost of the fic, which I still enjoy, warts and all. *g*
Stalking the corridors in the third month of the year following Harry's transformation, Severus felt compelled to inspect the halls near Gryffindor Tower. It was quiet there, save for the whisper of a shadow that he thought was Mrs. Norris, also on patrol. He decided to try the kitchens for students in search of mischief, and, in lieu of finding any, a cup of tea. He was walking away when it happened.
A shriek rent the air, and he turned to see three bodies come tumbling out from behind the Fat Lady's portrait. Severus drew back into the shadows out of instinct.
"Give a lady her dignity! Her beauty sleep! Some warning!" yelled the subject of the painting, which remained askew to afford a better view of the disturbance to its owner.
"It's all you worry about—Harry this, and Harry that—I hate you! I knew it!" Hermione Granger screamed at the top of her lungs, her hands full of bright red hair—some of it still attached to its owner's head.
Ronald Weasley, for his part, was trying to disentangle himself from the girl without harming either himself or her, or allowing her to harm Harry, who was squashed between them.
"Please, Hermione, it's not Ron's fault! I asked him to kiss me. He didn't want to! Why would anyone want to? I was just trying to figure it out. I swear!"
Severus thought that Miss Granger certainly had a facility for inspiring fear, and he would have found the scene comical had it not been for what he could perceive of Harry's face. Tear-stained, though she was not crying now, it held sincerity, terror . . . and angry looking red and purple blotches. To his irritation, he found that he could not take pleasure in the brat's predicament. He moved to interfere, but paused as he felt a hand on his arm. It was Minerva.
"Best let them sort it out for themselves," she whispered in a tone that carried with it both maternal anguish and resolve.
"You're right, you
freak. No one would want to kiss you; you're the
"That's the outside of enough, Hermione!" that young man yelled, suddenly seizing Miss Granger's wrists and rolling hard on his right side to separate the two of them from Harry. "You should be ashamed!"
"I should be ashamed? I should be? She's the slut—visiting boys in their rooms with nothing decent on!"
That, at least, was true, for Harry was wearing a short red cotton nightgown—no slippers, no robe. Snape felt uncomfortable having his attention drawn to so much of his least-favorite student, especially as his least-favorite student had become a preternaturally well-developed, charismatic young woman. He tried not to follow this line of thought, for he had always avoided fantasizing about the students. Fantasizing about this student would render his nights entirely too complicated . . . .
"I'll bet she liked you before the Change!" Granger yelled, pulling free of Weasley and standing up.
The boy flew up after her. "He—she—I—we—never—agh!" He squeezed his hands into fists and pumped them at his sides as if to anchor himself. "Look at her, damn you," he demanded when at last he could speak coherently. "Look at your friend."
Severus heard Minerva's swift intake of breath as she apparently did what Mr. Weasley had ordered.
Harry had crumpled into a ball underneath a window, attempting to shield herself from the other girl's gaze. Her state of undress wasn't the issue; she was wearing more bruises than most players sported after a Quidditch match.
"You did that to her, Hermione. You attacked her, not someone bad, and she didn't defend herself. If we were really doing something wrong, Harry wouldn't care what you thought. She would have fought you."
This adolescent logic seemed to turn an emotional switch inside Miss Granger, who squeaked out in distress, "Oh, Merlin . . . oh, Harry . . . oh . . . I'm sorry—"
"Yeah, I should say you are," Weasley spat, with uncharacteristic viciousness.
Granger, overcome with guilt and beginning to cry, fled back through the open portrait hole.
"Ah, Hermione," Weasley called, his own mood far from fixed. "I've got to go after her, mate," he said without even bothering to look at his friend before disappearing.
"Coming, dear?" asked the Fat Lady after a moment, only to close when Harry said nothing.
Harry was left crouched on the cold stone floor of the corridor, injured and abandoned.
The two teachers looked at each other at a loss as to how to proceed.
"I'm sorry," Harry whispered brokenly, and then great, racking sobs tore through her body.
Severus moved before Minerva could even react, sweeping toward the girl and removing his cloak at the same time. He knelt to cover Harry, and then drew her up into his arms to cradle her inside of them. He was perversely gratified when she did not pull away.
"That's all right, then. That's all right. Do not favor the unworthy with the gift of your tears," he whispered into her short, disheveled hair, rocking the girl against himself in an attempt to still her.
After a moment, when Harry began to realize in whose arms she was, she lifted her head and attempted to explain herself.
"That's all right, Harry. Truly," Severus assured her, pressing his lips to her scar for emphasis—only to pull away with a gasp as an arc of green-black energy pulsed between her mark . . . and his own.
He was not permitted time to process the meaning of this connection, for suddenly Minerva was there crooning comforting nothings into Harry's ear as she lifted the girl into a standing position. She made certain to keep the cloak firmly wrapped around her young charge.
"Thank you, Severus," Minerva said. "I shall take it from here. . . . Good night."
Chapter One: The Gift of Tears
Harry's long, black, glossy hair was bound in a braid that fell over her left shoulder and dropped past her broomstick toward the earth. She was high over Hogwarts, leaning into her handle and abstractedly making her braid swing in little circles. Today, she'd begin temporarily coaching the Gryffindor Quidditch team due to an unfortunate incident involving Martin Finch-Fletchley—Justin's younger brother—Miranda Frazier—the first witch to be born to a family of Squibbs in three generations—and several pots of improperly bespelled, bobotuber-pus-augmented, butterscotch pudding that had never been intended for the use to which they had put it. Harry giggled at the memory of finding the two Seventh Years underneath the Quidditch bleachers almost done in by pudding with a mind of its own, but her mirth soon faded. For today as well, Harry would be presented as the new Head of House Gryffindor.
A tear slid down her nose, dangled for a moment from its tip, and then dropped imperceptibly to the ground far below her.
"I miss you, Professor McGonagall," Harry whispered, straightening up.
Turning to face the school, Harry was surprised to see a dark figure on an ancient FireThorn 200 gliding purposefully, albeit uneasily, toward her in the increasing light of the dawn.
"Professor Snape," greeted Harry. "What brings you out so early?"
"You, actually, Professor—or should I say, Coach—Potter?" he asked, with only the barest hint of a smirk. Frazier and Finch-Fletchley owed the continued functioning of certain of their various parts to him, as he reminded them daily during their separate detentions.
"Don't worry. I'm not planning to sabotage the field before the Slytherin team gets here."
"Did I imply that I thought you were here bent on a nefarious purpose?" Snape half-snapped, though his voice held no rancor. He pulled his broomstick up close to Harry's so that he could both face her and steady himself. Their legs brushed at the knees.
Harry mused that it felt strange to feel warmth emanating from her once-feared Potions master. She would have reached down to rub the sensation of it deeper into her knee, but the gesture seemed too intimate to perform in front of Snape; although, of late, intimate gestures seemed more interesting when coupled with thoughts of him. Down girl! Harry thought, summoning the image of Sirius' face contorted in rage in an effort to quiet the thrumming of her blood.
Harry smiled. "Of course not, Professor Snape. Forgive my implication."
Snape gave a sarcastic nod of acquiescence, and Harry noted from his unusual proximity and quick glance down at the field that he wasn't comfortable being so high off the ground. It really was unusual to see the Potions master flying.
"So, what may I do for you this morning?" Harry asked.
I can think of several happy actions you might perform for me, thought Severus, struggling not to allow his desire to reach his eyes. It had been eight years since sixteen-year-old Draco Malfoy's ill-advised, but well-intentioned, wandless magic had both saved and changed Harry. In that time, Hogwarts' current Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor had grown into her lithe limbs and developed an intriguing curve to her mouth that Severus couldn't help but want to explore. That would be . . . inappropriate, he thought, damning himself for his perpetual feelings of disappointment.
"While I am not used to playing the messenger, I am doing so as a favor." He reached into his robes and drew out a letter, handing it to Harry. "Minerva asked me to give this to you when it came time for you to succeed her."
Tentatively, Harry reached for the letter. "Why didn't she give this to me herself?"
"Perhaps that is explained in her letter. I'll leave you to your privacy."
"Professor Snape . . . Severus?" Harry called.
Severus. "Yes, Harry?" Snape asked smoothly, returning to her side, trying to ignore the disconcerting way Harry's voice made his name echo in his mind.
"Thank you for keeping this safe for me. And please—call me Ree? You're the only one who doesn't, you know." While it was impossible not to think of herself as "Harry," referring to her by the feminine form of her given name had helped most of her friends to accept the Change.
"Ree," he acknowledged, allowing the diminutive name to roll across his tongue and into the air. It felt good to say it. It felt even better to be asked to say it. "Congratulations, Ree. I know you'll make an exemplary head of house."
"Thank you, Severus. Of course, no one will ever replace Minerva McGonagall."
"As, I am certain, no one will ever replace Ree Potter," Snape said, inclining his head in a dignified salute before gliding quickly off in the direction of the castle.
Harry knew that she'd never received higher praise in all her life.
Professor McGonagall's letter was crisply written in that lady's straightforward way:
"It will come as no surprise to you, I trust, to know that I have always felt towards you a motherly affection. You were a good boy, and then a good girl, under the most trying of circumstances. You have always made me proud. I know that Lily, and James, too, would have been proud to see into what a fine person you've grown. I take a little selfish comfort in knowing that I had a hand in your upbringing.
"As you take on new responsibilities at Hogwarts, remember that a firm hand should always be a kind one; consistency is a comfort to children and adults alike; the First Years are not growing smaller every year; and, as I told you before you stepped into your first authorized classroom, the children are more afraid of you than you are of them.
"Do not worry so very much about how the other teachers will view you now that you are a head of house. Whether you know it or not, you have earned everyone's respect. Should you ever feel the need of counsel, however, consider taking tea with Severus. Over the years, he's given me much about which to think—some of it worthwhile.
"Before I end my letter, I must burden you with a task. For years, I have been altering Albus' candy supply to prevent the man from suffering the ill-effects of excessive sugar intake. The spell you'll need to cast is Zuccarum Innocuus. It does not interfere with the flavor of sweets, despite what some may say.
"Please take care of Albus for me, dear; I know that he'll be lonely, now.
"You, of course, need not be so. I think you know what I mean. Be brave in every area of your life, young lady. I expect nothing less from you. Dating a glorified dragon-tamer, indeed! Charlie Weasley is a fine boy, but he'll never settle down properly, you understand.
"With love, and the certainty that you will do what is right,
Harry tucked the letter into her robes and began to cry. Professor McGonagall had said everything to her that she needed to hear, but, despite having had the courage to help vanquish Voldemort and his Death Eaters, Harry was yet afraid of many things.
Chapter Two: The Understanding of Unintimidatables
Charlie Weasley stood in the Hogwart's entrance hall looking like the favored younger son of a wizard king: barely respectable and effortlessly dashing. His increasingly long, thick red hair gleamed in a wave down his back, cresting above buttocks that looked as though they could have deflected flame. His boots, trousers, and vaguely tailored jacket were of russet-colored dragon hide, and the cotton shirt he wore boasted fine cuffs that flowed over his hands to mid-knuckle. He was even, Snape noted with grudging admiration, wearing a slightly faded embroidered waistcoat of red and gold thread that only further served to frame his strong form. I hate him, Severus thought as he pinned a tight smile on his face and entered the hall.
"Mr. Weasley," he acknowledged the younger man.
"Professor Snape! It's good to see you, sir," Charlie responded, extending his hand.
Gods help me, but he means it, thought Severus, surprised by the genuine friendliness he saw in the boy's face. He took Charlie's hand. "I take it that you have come to see Professor Potter on this most important of occasions?"
"Yes, sir. It's not every day that Ree gets to coach Gryffindor to victory over Slytherin!"
Snape opened his mouth to snap something withering, but then closed it. The Slytherin team had yet to be beaten this term.
"Just kidding, sir. I can't wait to see our new Head take her position at the High Table for the first time."
In truth, when a professor was elevated to the head of his or her House, no great ceremony was made of it. The Headmaster would make his or her announcement introducing the new head, all would be seated, and life at Hogwart's would continue as it always had. Of course, for the professor who assumed the position of an absent colleague, there was a certain level of regret and anxiety, which is why friends and family were always invited. And Charlie Weasley, Snape knew, was likely one day to be both to Harry.
An air of excitement emanated from the younger man, Snape noticed, as they spoke of polite subjects to which he paid just enough heed.
He is, of course, pleased to soon be seeing Harry again—Ree.
Thinking of her name made him want to smile, though he dared not do so. Severus found himself wondering when was the last time he'd permitted an emotion to play over his features in the frank open way of his former student, and missed something Charlie was saying.
"Forgive me, Mr. Weasley. What did you say?"
"I said," Charlie replied, flushing, "that Mum insisted I come alone tonight. She thinks it's high time that Ree and I get used to events on our own, and—"
"Charlie!" a bright, almost imperceptibly strained, voice rang through the hall. "You're here!" Harry exclaimed, rushing headlong into the man's now out-stretched arms.
Severus did not miss the redness of her eyes.
"Where else would I be?" he answered her, bracing as the slightly taller girl made contact. "I've missed you, Seek," he replied.
"Missed you too, Snitch."
"Yes, well. I shall see you both this evening," Snape said abruptly, striding from the hall before either Charlie or Harry could respond. You are an idiot, he told himself, as he made his way back to his rooms to repine in silence.
The Gryffindor-Slytherin scrimmage went better than expected, considering that each team had recently lost a player. After some tips from Harry to her team, which now included Frazier's alternate, Humbug Forrester, as Keeper, and a few words from Acting Coach Krum, the Flying instructor, to his team—Argyle Slizer having replaced Finch-Fletchley—the game had been rough but clean. Tied three to three, the Slytherin Seeker had caught the Snitch in a spectacular twisting dive, and both teams had cheered the winning one.
Charlie had been taken aback by this reaction. Ree had told him that, while the two teams remained competitive, they were not hell-bent on killing each other anymore. This could have been so because there were no longer any children of Death Eaters among the players, but, Charlie thought as he watched his girlfriend, it probably had more to do with the fact that she seemed to take an honest interest in the all the athletes. Indeed, as the day wore on, it became clear to Charlie that Ree and the other professors had done a great deal to foster goodwill amongst the Houses.
In her afternoon Defense Against the Dark Arts class, for example, Ree made a point of praising those students who were performing a repulsion spell especially well, and turned the classroom into a workshop with the more advanced students teaching the ones in need of help. And, rather than lord their prowess over the other students, the Slytherin and Ravenclaw Fifth Years whom she'd asked to lead the groups seemed genuinely interested in helping the others to do well—most of them, anyway. It was unlike any class Charlie had ever had.
"You love this place, don't you?" he asked her after her last student filed out of the sunlit classroom.
"I do. It's home," Ree responded, scooting up onto her desk to sit cross-legged.
She is home, thought Charlie. How can I ask her to change her life? But there was nothing for Charlie at Hogwarts other than Ree, and he much preferred the heat and excitement of the Carpathian mountains to the civilized disorder of "home." It had, in fact, been months since he'd seen his girlfriend. They had taken to indulging in a vigorous owling habit to remain close to one another, which left them free to immerse themselves in their respective careers.
Harry watched the conflicting emotions work Charlie's face, catching the surface thoughts of his mind with ease. She was sure now, in this quiet moment, what she had to do, even if she did not know quite how to do it.
"Do you remember what you said to me after I strained my hamstring when I was a Seventh year?" she asked him.
"Yes, well, you know what they say—'faint heart never won fair maiden'."
"And you made short work of my maidenhead, didn't you?"
"Stop it," Harry laughed, positioning Charlie to rest between her legs. "You said, 'Harry, you're a girl now. You've got to start reacting to men the way a girl should because they definitely react to you'."
"I was trying to teach you to protect yourself from the everyday evil that men do, not seduce you," Charlie replied, laying light kisses in Ree's hair.
"You stick to that story. It puts you in a special class of men."
"Men who aren't intimidated by me."
"Ree . . . ."
"It's all right, Charlie. I'm a 'special' case."
"I've always wondered if Draco did it on purpose—"
"No, he didn't."
"How do you know?"
Harry sighed and leaned into Charlie's chest a little more. She did not often dwell on that moment when, shortly after arriving on Platform Nine and Three Quarters to await her sixth train to Hogwarts, she found herself under attack by Lucius Malfoy. She had not noticed the man until he was upon her and they had disapparated to an empty and unfamiliar field, and she had not noticed much after that because then the kicks and the curses of the many hooded figures had begun to fly. She did, however, remember finding it strange to hear Draco's voice raised in that clearing just before everything in her mind went blank.
She woke up, and that was the problem. For when she had gone to sleep—been knocked into it, more like—she had most certainly been a he.
"Why do I have breasts?" Harry asked, stiffly trying to rise into a sitting position and trying to think clearly. Lucius Malfoy had just been beating her. Where did he go? she thought, feeling in the damp earth in which she'd awoken for her glasses.
Semi-hysterical laughter greeted her ears.
More laughter, great, gulping gasps of air, and the thud of a body falling near her were her only answers.
"Draco Malfoy, what the hell is wrong with you?" Harry demanded, orienting herself to face the overcome boy. At least she could pretend that everything was normal. As she shifted, and her balls did not, however, she began to feel that perhaps panic might answer. "Draco, are you . . . intact?"
"Oh, Potter—Harry—Potter . . . I'm a good deal more 'intact' than you are, mate—I mean, ma'am—oh, by the dark Gods . . . no," he spat, succumbing to tears.
Harry reached a tentative hand out to Draco, which he shrugged off. "No! Don't touch me!"
"I'm sorry, but . . . but what happened? Where's your father? Where are the others? WHERE DID MY COCK GO, DAMN YOU?"
"Right, that's right—damn me. Oh, this is just perfect, Potter—OWW!"
"Malfoy, tell me what your father did to me now, or I'll—"
"You hit pretty well for a girl," Draco said, lapsing into hysterical laughter.
"AGH!" screamed Harry, as she lunged at Draco, only to throw herself off of him in horror when, while rolling him on the ground and beating him, she felt his erection.
Draco stopped laughing. "Don't be flattered, Potter. I'm in shock."
Harry pushed the memory aside and looked at Charlie again. "Let's just say that Draco's interest in me was completely thwarted when I became a girl. I wasn't his intention to change my sex, you know. He just wanted to save my life."
"I've never understood that . . . ," Charlie said, leaving an opening for Ree to fill.
She decided not to notice that Charlie was asking about Draco's motives, and focused on what his actions had been that day. "I don't pretend to understand any of it, really. . . . Somehow, the life charm that Draco cast interfered with his father's death curse, and Mom's old protection turned my tail to sugar."
Charlie furrowed his brow.
"Muggles say that little boys are made up of 'sticks and snails and puppy dog tails' and that little girls are created from 'sugar and spice and everything nice'."
Charlie furrowed his brow and tried to raise his left eyebrow. Harry giggled.
"It doesn't really matter, anyway. Draco was right."
"Draco was right about what?"
"After he left Hogwarts—in a letter—he told me that, if I wanted to live, I could accept my life without having a reason for the Change."
"The Change matters enough to you that you almost never leave Hogwarts. How is that . . . acceptance?" asked Charlie gently. He'd never managed to get Ree to discuss this particular subject before, and as it was most likely his last opportunity to do so, he felt he might as well try again.
"Yeah, people definitely react to you."
They remained wrapped together and silent for a long moment.
"So, who else is on your list of Unintimidatables?"
Chapter Three: Zuccarum Innocuus and Something . . . Stronger
It was getting precariously close to dinner, and Harry was pacing outside the entrance to Professor Dumbledore's rooms, trying the name of every sweet she could think of as a password. "Chocolate Frog . . . Lemon Whistle-Stick . . . Crab-Apple Cream Puff—"
"Bran muffin," a strong voice said behind her. The door opened, and the spiral stairs began moving upward.
"Bran muffin?" Harry asked, stepping onto the stairs, too disturbed by the fiber of Dumbledore's password to worry about Snape interfering in her mission.
"It is not a good sign, I admit."
Harry had not seen the Headmaster for a few days, as he'd gone to London to make some final arrangements regarding Professor McGonagall's property there. It had been seven months since she had died, and many years too soon.
Without immediate healing, some spells lingered in the body and caused it to waste, and Minerva had absorbed too much dark magic over the course of the war. She was not the only Order member to be lost in this way, though it seemed the hardest one to bear. When Bellatrix Lestrange had killed Ron five years previously with a strangling spell—something he could have freed himself from had he not also been occupied with maintaining a protective ward around a pregnant witch and her other children, all of whom he had saved—Harry had felt like a limb had been rent from herself. But at least Ron had not suffered prolongedly. In the days preceding Minerva's death, Professor Dumbledore had been increasingly withdrawn and uncommunicative, saving any cheer he could muster for her alone, and knowing that there was nothing he could do to ease her pain.
"I see that you've brought Quann's Quad-Chocolate Bon Bons," Snape noted, following Harry into the antechamber of Dumbledore's office.
"I'm here to do a favor for Minerva," she replied, walking through the open door that led to strange objects, Dumbledore's desk, and Fawkes. The phoenix, fully plumed, was sleeping.
"I suspected as much."
"Why are you here?" Harry asked, looking around the room.
"I . . ." he began, and then stopped. Why am I here? Because I was coming to see if Albus had returned so that I could talk about you . . . again. Because I thought you might be here, as well. Because—"
"—You're doing it again."
"Getting lost in your thoughts when you talk to me. I must be terribly boring," she said, the right corner of her mouth curving provocatively. Making a show of taking out her wand and pointing it at a bowl of lemon drops, she said, "Zuccarum Innocuus!"
"I could accuse you of being many things, Professor Potter, but boring is not one of them," Snape offered silkily.
His response intrigued Harry.
"'Professor Potter'?" she asked, cocking a quizzical eyebrow at Snape and stepping closer to him.
He felt the challenge, and met it with a step of his own. "I expect congratulations are in order?" he asked, pleased that his voice remained neutral.
"Slytherin won today, not Gryffindor."
"I was referring to your impending nuptials to Mr. Weasley. My students speak of nothing else."
Well, faint heart never won fearsome man. "Why would my 'impending nuptials' cause you to revert to a more formal mode of behavior toward me, Severus?" she asked, impulsively extending her arm to tap the tip of her wand lightly against the other teacher's chest.
Insolence! Snape thought, his nostrils flaring in nervous anger. What does the woman think she's doing? "Accio wand!" he barked, snatching that object from the air. That will teach—"
"Accio Potions master!" Harry commanded, stretching her body to meet his.
Severus felt himself dragged inexorably toward Harry, pressed up against her form, and compelled to gaze down at her as she tantalizingly drew the palm of her left hand possessively up the right side of his body, over his shoulder, down his arm, and to his hand, removing her wand from his increasingly senseless fingers. He knew that he was shaking. He knew that he was aroused. He hoped that she could not feel either condition. There was a chaotic light dancing in her eyes, daring him to do . . . something, but he was not sure if he would be able to move if he tried, and he would not struggle.
In what he hoped was a dignified tone of polite disinterest, he asked, "How is it that you haven't lost your limbs, yet?"
The dark fire in Harry's eyes visibly dimmed, but she did not look away. Smiling ruefully, she said, "I haven't needed a wand since the day Voldemort died, Professor Snape. And this," she explained, stepping back and waving her right hand in an unenthusiastic flourish, "is nothing but a parlor trick." She tucked her wand back into her robes and turned on her heel.
Her spell released him when Harry crossed the threshold of the room, and Severus staggered forward and gripped Professor Dumbledore's desk to prevent himself from falling.
"An impressive display," came a disembodied voice from the apparently empty chair behind the desk. "Zuccarum Innocuus, indeed."
"Yes, dear boy?"
"You do realize that you're not visible?"
"Yes, well, I thought there might be kissing, you see, and I did not wish to . . . interrupt it," he replied unrepentantly, beginning to solidify in his chair.
Snape straightened up and glared down at the older wizard.
"All this skullduggery has made me rather hungry. Let us repair to my sitting room where I've a supply of lemon biscuits that may yet be untouched by the tender magic of good witches."
"I trust you have something stronger than lemon biscuits to offer me?"
"Indeed. Ree seems to have left me a box of Quann's Quad-Chocolate Bon Bons."
Snape groaned, but followed the older man without further complaint.
Chapter Four: Love, Death, and Lemon Biscuits
When they were settled in the cozy little room, Albus levitated a cup of tea to his guest, raised a lemon biscuit to his lips, and paused before biting into it to ask, "So . . . why wasn't there kissing, Severus?"
The younger wizard inhaled sharply and placed his teacup on a side table. Throwing his head back into the cushion and exhaling, he allowed his long lean form to relax into the upholstery while casually extracting his wand from his robes and surreptitiously pointing it at Albus' biscuit.
Albus popped the biscuit into his mouth and allowed it to dissolve on his tongue before he swallowed it, and then sighed.
"That was unkind, and it will not prevent me from having an answer to my question."
"This is an unacceptable conversation to be having about . . . a stu—a colleague."
"I think that you were going to say 'student', weren't you? The fact that you thought the better of it should tell you something."
The older man sighed. "Do you know that it took me fifteen years to work up the courage to speak to Merva of my feelings for her?"
"That is very different."
"Minerva was a grown woman when you met her."
"Actually, she was a sleek little cat," Albus said, momentarily lost in a memory. "I stepped on her tail . . . but that is neither here nor there. To return to your situation, I do agree that before you speak to Ree of your feelings, you must contend with the differences between your individual powers and . . . experiences."
"What do you mean by that?" Snape demanded harshly.
Albus raised his eyebrow at Severus' tone, considering carefully before he spoke. "Though lacking finesse in some areas of her life, Ree has experienced . . . much that you have not."
Severus could hardly argue the point. There had been more death than sex in his time with the Dark Lord, and before that . . . . In spite of this, Severus had a strongly developed sense of desire; he'd watched it demonstrated by students, by colleagues, by those upon whom he spied, and, of course, felt it within himself as a burning ache that never cooled. He thought of the wanton flame of Harry's eyes as she had held him pinned against herself. He was not sure what sort of lust had generated it, but it was the same fire that had wreathed her in power as she stood before the hordes of their enemy at the end with nothing but a phial and her wand as protection. She had drunk from the phial, and then drawn her wand down over her forearms, opening her veins. Her blood had painted her dress as it plashed thickly into a living pool at her feet and moved away from her in an undulating circle.
"I am not afraid of her, Albus . . ."
The Death Eaters had swarmed Harry, blocking her from his sight, and he had felt desperately sick as Neville Longbottom, Blaise Zabini, and others he did not know prevented him from going to her aid. Why don't you let me help her, damn you all? he had screamed. And then he had heard Harry chant something in what he knew must be a wizard tongue so arcane, so vile, that it would not have been found described in a tome anywhere in the Restricted Section.
". . . not intimidated by her knowledge, . . ."
He'd watched, horrified, as ropes of blood began writhing out from under the circle of Death Eaters, winding about their bodies, weaving through them. There had been a hissing on the wind that he had barely been able to recognize as Harry's voice. Parseltongue. The blood energy coiled together into a massive, gyrating viper that cast a shadow upon the sky, blotting out the moon over the Ministry of Magic. It found Voldemort and struck him down.
". . . nor jealous of her power."
The Dark Lord's skin had blackened and peeled back. His body had seemed to bubble over as liquefying bones and unrecognizable fluids. All the Death Eaters had died this way, spilling themselves into a congealed mass of viscera that strengthened the spell serpent, which turned on its caster and thrust through Harry's body in a wave of energy again and again and again. Listening helplessly as her commands turned to screams, Severus knew that the spell she was wielding was fueled by death, and that Harry intended to seal it with her own.
"I do not pity her for her choices, . . ."
He had struggled against the Aurors so violently that he had dislocated his shoulder, yet had been unable to escape them. Then, as Voldemort had dissolved, and Harry had, inexplicably, not, the shadow serpent dispersed into suffocating clouds of undirected magic. Severus had dragged himself to Harry and thrown his body over hers in an attempt to shield her. Grasping her head in his begored hands so that she would not crack it open upon the pavement, he saw that she had bitten through her lips . . . with a ragged set of newly presented fangs. It was then that he understood the full extent of her actions: Harry had taken his place.
". . . despite the fact that she takes too much upon herself."
He knew that it must have been Harry who had sent the snakes into his dungeons to steal his blood and weaken him, that she must have been unaware of the curse upon it.
"She is incautious, unprepared, . . ."
It had been Hermione Granger, haruspex and medi-wizard, who had deciphered a means of expelling the noxious energy from all of them after examining the remains of the Death Eaters, but Harry had lingered in a coma for months. Remaining away from her by day as one loved-one after another had the privilege of keeping the vigil at her bedside, Snape had slunk in late during the nights to pour down her throat every cleansing potion it was within his power to concoct. Despite the fact that he eventually cured her of the vampiric infection, despite the fact that she was thriving and he was alive, Severus found it impossible to discuss with her the sense of impotence and rage he had felt during this period.
". . . without those closest to her, she'd be dead."
It seemed petty and vindictive to be angry at Harry for taking away his choice, no, his right, to die in that spell, but his anger lingered to flicker through his exacting emotional control at unexpected moments. Dying with the Dark Lord could have been a release from the cold years he envisioned in his future. Dying in order to forever seal Voldemort from this plane could have proved to his detractors that he was worthy of their respect—and of redemption. Harry's actions had been meant as a gift. But Severus was unused to receiving gifts.
"It is difficult to know how to feel about what she did."
The fact was that Harry Potter, the brightest star of the Wizarding World, had attempted to give her life for the pariah of its masses; she had literally attempted to eat his death.
"And, in the end, I simply do not understand her."
No one had ever done anything selfless for Severus before. Albus' friendship was not to be taken for granted, but what Harry had done . . . what Harry had done seemed almost indecently intimate, and sometimes Severus felt that he remained angry because Harry giving herself for him had prevented him from giving himself for her.
And I do not know how else to show her that—"
"You love her," Albus said quietly.
Even the soft whispers from the portraits on the walls of the room stilled at this pronouncement.
"Love is not for one such as I."
"Frog balls, my boy," asserted the older man merrily, startling Severus out of his grim reverie. "Love comes to us as a gift, not a right," he continued, echoing the other man's troubled thoughts. . . . "Perhaps it is time for you to ask Ree why she was prepared to die for you."
"I do not imagine I could bring myself to ask that of the future Mrs. Charles Weasley, Albus."
"Ah. Well, that is for you to say."
"Albus, this conversation is moot. Charlie Weasley got there before me."
"Did he?" Dumbledore asked, helping himself to another lemon biscuit.
"Yes," Snape spat.
"Perhaps, but, as he engaged the Floo Network at Rosmerta's not long after I arrived there this afternoon, I expect he's not the rival you would have him be."
Severus' head snapped up as the irrational, treacherous fingers of Hope seized him and the room seemed to become too hot and too small. "Mr. Weasley was no doubt called away on business," he said in an effort to collect himself.
"No doubt. . . . Incidentally, I should tell you that I'm taking the liberty of arranging a party to be held after this evening's meal."
"What is the occasion?"
"Charmed dessert—rather I should say, too much dessert to charm," the Headmaster answered, his eyes twinkling mercilessly. "And I believe I shall require you to dance in lieu of any retribution I might feel necessary to exact for your interference with my lemon biscuits."
Snape straightened in his chair. "You cannot coerce love into being where it does not exist, Albus."
"True. Yet one might urge it to feel comfortable where it does."
Severus tried to glare, but he was too preoccupied to put the necessary force behind it. He stood up.
"Try to wear something festive to dinner, old friend."
As Snape strode off, he thought he heard a familiar voice admonish, "Do stop eating those before you ruin your dinner." He was soon too far away from the sitting room to hear Albus reply, "Yes, dear."
Chapter Five: Never Question a Haruspex
Harry was in the Owlery, attaching a letter to Hedwig's leg. She wanted Hermione.
"I'm such a coward," she said to Hedwig, who hooted softly at her. "Why can't I face this evening alone?"
For it seemed clear to her that Severus Snape was not interested in her, and Charlie and she had said their goodbyes earlier in the day. She did not regret having done so, but that left the results of her inexcusable behavior toward Professor Snape to deal with, and she was not certain if she could face the Potions master again. Sirius and Remus were staying away because of that evening's full moon—their weak excuse for not coming no doubt concocted for them by Molly Weasley—so she hoped Hermione would be able to leave off her research and join her. She decided to go back to her room and freshen up before dinner.
Hermione was sitting on her bed when Harry reached her chambers.
"How in Merlin's name did you do that?" Harry asked.
"I'm a haruspex, remember?"
"You were reading entrails about me?"
"I've expanded the profession to include other portents, Ree."
"Hermione. Whose entrails were you examining?"
"The entrails of an unfortunate rat that young Percy inadvertently disemboweled three weeks ago. It had died of natural causes, you know, but he wanted to bring it back to life. I'm not sure what spell he attempted, but when I found it split open and him crying his eyes out, there was enough left of it to know you weren't going to become Mrs. Charles Weasley—among other things."
Harry decided that the "other things" could wait. Hermione had become a powerful 'fortune lady', as her son called her, and her auguries always came to pass.
"Ron would have been proud of his son for trying to save the poor creature," she offered.
"Yes, Ron would have been," Hermione agreed briskly. "Fred and George, on the other hand, see it as an opportunity to cater to the two- to five-year-old demographic. They've been attempting to develop an exploding toffee rat ever since this happened."
Both women laughed. The joke shop run by the twins had been amazingly successful, and they had regularly sent Harry money to repay her "investment," as they referred to the start-up funds she'd given them. She used the money to support various causes, including Hagrid's rare animal preserve he'd begun on the grounds of Beauxbatons where his wife delighted in indulging his passion for dangerous creatures. "'Eee vill 'ave them," she would say, smiling adoringly at Hagrid.
"Thank you for coming, Mione. I'm . . . I'm sorry about not marrying Charlie."
"Well, I forgive you, but you still have to face Molly."
"Don't remind me."
"I won't have to. Now, let's turn our attention to your attire."
Harry stood nervously before the doors to the Great Hall. She was wearing a long flared dress of old gold velvet that boasted a modest scooped neck. As she moved, the faintest shimmer of green winked from the cloth. The effect of the cut and fabric of the dress was to tastefully display Harry's charms without offering an inappropriate invitation to observers. The long plait of hair that usually fell ignored and straight down her back to brush her calves had been coiled up on her head like a crown. Using magic, Hermione also had wound green and scarlet ribbons through the braided circlet before arranging them to fall as streamers over the remaining loose tresses of Harry's burnished hair.
"Oughtn't you to be in the Hall gettin' introduced instead of out here holdin' up dinner?" Filch asked, walking through the doors before Harry could respond.
Mrs. Norris trailed the caretaker without sparing a glance for the young woman.
Harry stuck out her tongue at the "cat." Mrs. Norris, who actually did sport one magical eye in the back of her head, made a rude gesture with her tail.
"Do you want the students to starve?" Hermione asked, popping out the doors and favoring Harry with an expression of amused impatience.
"I can't face him."
"Frog balls," Hermione replied equably.
"What did you say?"
"Frog balls," Hermione repeated. "Percy again, I'm afraid. It's what he says to indicate displeasure, disbelief, and disgust. He's simply in love with the phrase."
Hermione laughed. "I don't remember reading about them in Care of Magical Creatures, either."
"Oh, Potter you rotter. Frog balls, you're a daughter!" squealed Peeves in delight.
Hermione spun in Peeves' direction and snarled, "I will banish you if you even think about interfering with Ree this evening." Alarmed, the poltergeist sank through the floor without another word. And the Bloody Baron, who had been lurking nearby, glided past the young women to wink at Hermione.
"Are you ever going to tell me how it is that you do that?" Harry asked as she followed Hermione into dinner.
"No," her friend replied primly.
Chapter Six: All Good Wizarding Families Do It
Viktor and Hermione looked companionable together as they danced with the students in the Great Hall. The tables had been pressed against the walls, and were laden with treats. Albus sat quietly, surveyed the revelers, and sipped his wine.
Harry had been asked to dance almost immediately by Gil Gorechrist, a Seventh Year Slytherin of some not inconsiderable self-importance; he had almost fallen over when she had agreed. After that, it seemed that each Seventh Year male of every house was determined to try for his chance at a turn around the floor with Professor Potter, and Severus was becoming annoyed.
"Ten points from Gryffindor!" he announced sharply to Rhonda Freesia-Slaidon, a Sixth Year currently hanging on a female house mate in a most indecorous fashion. "And twenty points from Slytherin," he thundered across the floor to Miranda Frazier who was oblivious to the festivities as Martin Finch-Fletchley traced a Bertie Bott's Every-Flavor Bean over the blushing shell of her right ear.
Snape was seriously considering neutering Martin when he was distracted by someone crying nearby, and a small voice choking out, "That's all right, Marazelle. There's plenty of better boys to dance with." The small voice belonged to Wenda Watlings, a Third Year, and the tears to Marazelle Zabini, cousin of Blaise. Both girls were in Slytherin. Snape turned abruptly to see a Hufflepuff Fourth Year laughing as he walked away from the girls. Well, Albus did tell me that I had to dance, he thought.
"Now, now, Miss Zabini, it won't do to favor the unworthy with the gift of your tears," he chided gently, "not when there are better boys with whom to dance." He offered her his hand, which looked pearlescent against the blood red cuff of his evening shirt.
Wenda's mouth dropped open as her best friend giggled and placed one delicate hand into Snape's. Marazelle knew her Head of House personally, as his family and her own had enjoyed a long association.
"But Professor," she said more calmly, "I thought you only danced on holidays."
"And is this not a celebration, young lady? Do not argue with me," Snape ordered, beginning to dance a creditable waltz with his young charge.
Harry watched Severus' progress around the dance floor with relief. If he's relaxed enough to dance, perhaps he'll be willing to speak to me, she thought. She nudged Viktor, with whom she was now dancing, and suggested he might wish to cut in on the Professor.
"Mees Zahbeeni, vould you allow me?" Viktor asked, unable to look Snape in the eyes for fear that he would burst out laughing. The poor man had no chance, not with Hermione, Ree, and, he was almost positive, the headmaster plotting against his uncoupled state. Viktor enjoyed his own very much—though it had little to do with the solitude he expected the Potions master to crave—and of late he had been attempting to persuade Hermione to enjoy hers.
"Ooo! I'd love to dance with you, Viktor Krum," the now giddy Marazelle fairly yelled in the direction of the Hufflepuff boy who'd so recently slighted her.
It had the desired effect. Murphy Towson's friends did not let him hear the end of being "passed over" for Coach Krum all night.
Harry laughed gently as the other couple danced away, turning at last to look at Snape. "Professor, would you care to finish this dance with me?" she asked, dropping her eyes and blushing when he did not answer immediately.
Severus found this most encouraging. "Accio Defense Against the Dark Arts professor," he replied lightly, quickly sweeping Ree into his arms and out amongst the throng of amazed and parting students before either of them could change their minds.
They did not dance the regulation twelve-inches apart, as the conventions of both the waltz and most Hogwarts' chaperones demanded.
Hermione, who was sitting with Professor Dumbledore watching the dancers, turned to him, raised her glass, and clinked it against the mug in his hand. "I give them a few weeks to figure it all out," she said.
"I give them a few hours," he rejoined, a gentle leer lighting his eyes.
Hermione blushed and took a long swallow of her wine.
"Albus, stop teasing Miss Granger!" snapped a not-quite-amused voice from a rather crowded portrait just above their heads.
"Yes, dear," that gentleman murmured, sniggering drunkenly into his mug of butter beer.
Hermione, once more joined by Viktor, did not notice the exchange.
The following day's detention for Martin Finch-Fletchley found that young man nervously fingering the ingredients for an anti-conception potion.
"But, Professor Snape, Sir, I've never made such a complicated potion before. How can you ask me to mix the batch that will be used in the Infirmary?"
Severus grinned, and the shock of seeing that gentleman's sharpish white teeth caused Martin to drop the phials he was holding. They shattered most satisfyingly on the stones at the young man's feet.
"Five points from Slytherin for your clumsiness, boy," Snape said crisply, levitating a small broom and dustpan from a cabinet to hang in the air in front of his student. "You'll clean this mess without magic."
Martin immediately began tidying his mess with a disconsolate air. I'll never get this potion right.
"That is unfortunate, Mr. Finch-Fletchley, as Madame Pomfrey has informed me that we are quite out of this
particular . . . necessity."
Martin, already pale at the thought of having to explain how things stood to Miranda, experienced another pang of dismay as he realized that the Professor really could read his mind.
Severus settled down at his desk to pretend to read essays. Rolling up his sleeves, he barely noticed when the wretched Martin asked his permission to leave. It took a honeyed voice pouring from the door to his classroom to capture Severus' attention some hours later.
"Martin tells me that you have become . . . creative in your punishments. Perhaps I should endeavor to displease you," Ree teased.
Removing a small blue phial from an unseen pocket in his robes and holding it out to her, Severus smiled in satisfaction. "That should keep Madame Pomfrey well-supplied, I believe—unless you know of any reason why I might need to lay in a larger supply of this particular potion?" Merlin's beard! Did I just say that aloud?
"Professor Snape! Is there something you forgot to mention to me about the reproductive abilities of cursed vampires during my recovery?" Ree asked in full flush and mock horror.
Gods, so I did. Ignore it, Severus thought, not knowing if he meant the injunction to apply to Ree, himself, or both of them. Somewhat abashed, he pressed on. "Did I lecture you terribly after . . . ."
Ree leaned against the corner her former teacher's desk and took the phial from his hand. "You did, but your lectures have made me an expert on vampiric lore, cleansing potions, ingredient knowledge, and enduring . . . friendship, Severus."
"Ree," Severus said, extending his hand to her again, "can it really be true that you count me amongst your friends?"
"I've long thought of you as a friend, Severus," Ree answered, putting down the phial and taking his hand into both of hers. She lowered her eyes and with them traced the pale clean path of his forearm, following her gaze with a caressing hand.
At her touch, Severus lost his ability to breathe for a moment, but he could hear Albus' voice saying, "Perhaps it is time for you to ask Ree why she was prepared to die for you."
Perhaps it was.
"Why did you do it?"
She understood immediately what it was he was really asking, and that he had been able to ask gave her the courage to answer. She drew in a breath as she raised her eyes to his. "Because I couldn't bear the thought of being responsible for the death of the first man—no, the only man—I've ever truly loved."
Severus flung himself out of his chair and gathered Ree into his arms. Mine, he thought, searching her eyes for any sign of doubt.
"Yours," Ree assured him without hesitation.
"Always," Severus choked out before tears and kissing rendered further thought impossible.
Neither noticed the tiny crystal phial gently being pressed against their faces, nor when the classroom door swung quietly closed and clicked locked with a satisfied snap.
The phial disappeared into light blue robes as the Headmaster slowly materialized outside of the Potions classroom. I'd say that's definitely good enough to be getting on with, Merva, Albus thought, suppressing a desire to whistle as he walked happily down the corridor and turned the corner.
"Oh, Professor Dumbledore!" Martin Finch-Fletchley exclaimed as he almost collided with the old wizard. "Sorry, Sir, I was just going to see if I left my book bag in Potions."
"Indeed?" Dumbledore asked, noting that Martin had been headed into the dungeons from the main part of the castle. "Well, I would leave that until tomorrow. Professor Snape is figuring out the connection between two rather unique . . . ingredients in his laboratory just now. I am certain he would prefer it if you did not disturb his work."
Finch-Fletchley let out the breath he had been holding. "Of course, Sir. I'll do that."
"Excellent, my boy. Excellent. Tell me, would you care for a lemon drop? No, I expect not. You're a Bertie Botts man, is that not so?"
Martin blushed as Dumbledore chuckled kindly. "That's all right then, young man. A little zuccarum never hurt anyone."
And the gift of Love's tears is not to be wasted.