It really would have been better if Severus hadn't thought too hard on what he'd done to Potter. Then the thing with Roloabo wouldn't have happened, Potter wouldn't have done the monumentally stupid thing he'd done (thus forcing Severus to do something equally stupid), and that little Hufflepuff girl would have been spared permanently green hair.
But then the other thing with Potter wouldn't have happened either, and that part was quite good. Really, really good, actually. So maybe—just maybe—things worked out the way they were supposed to. In a completely ridiculous Potter-luck sort of way.
Surprisingly, Severus could live with that.
"I've reviewed your tests." Johansson gathered the results and stacked them, clearing his throat at the same time.
Johansson received top marks at a private Wizarding school in Belgium and had an apprenticeship with one of the finest Healers in the Wizarding World, Max Von Heidelcreamer. His credentials were exemplary. Severus had sought him out specially to oversee his testing.
More throat clearing. "We did find some residual nerve damage from too much exposure to the Cruciatus Curse. I would recommend some physical therapy and a course of neural repair potions."
"What of the other curse?"
Johansson shuffled the test results. "About that. A few questions first, if I might."
"You are the dogged fellow, aren't you? I knew I'd made an excellent choice in you."
Johansson was professional and exacting with his staff, repeated tests for accuracy, and left no curse unturned. Severus was a hard man to impress, but Johansson had come quite close.
Johansson's jaw coloured a bright pink. He stacked the test results against his desk. "Thank you. Yes. Let me come right to it. Can you tell me a bit about your relationship with Professor Potter?"
"We do not have a relationship, Healer Johansson, we're merely work colleagues."
"Yes, well, how did he come to be in your rooms on the night in question?"
Severus shifted in his seat. "Just what are you implying?"
"I'm not implying anything. I'm merely trying to ascertain the circumstances leading up to the, uh, curse manifestation, as you see it."
"I suppose that's a permissible question. We were sharing an after dinner whisky in my rooms."
"Was that unusual? For him to be there? With you?"
"Not as such, no. In the beginning of his teaching, he often turned up—asking questions, shouting, making ridiculous accusations—but over time, he settled down and just turned up for no reason at all. I was quite valiant in my attempts to ignore him, but at some point realised it was futile to resist. He's always been difficult to ignore. We fell into a routine of sorts after that."
Johansson chuckled. Severus didn't see what was so funny.
"Er, sorry. Go on, then. What happened that night? Anything unusual?"
"I really don't see why this is important. I've told you what happened. What more is there to know?"
"Indulge me, please."
Severus sighed in exasperation. "Fine. No, nothing unusual. Not really, anyway. Well, he was annoying, of course. But he's always annoying—did you know that man still gets on that damn broomstick of his and does daredevil stunts on the Pitch for no reason at all? What would possess him to do that? He's going to fall off one day and break his neck and I'll be expected to whip up some miracle cure to keep him from drooling the rest of his life. And he's constantly arguing with me—politics, school administration, whether we should have chocolate biscuits. Merlin, he never stops. He actually has the audacity to believe he wins on occasion. Ridiculous."
Johansson cleared his throat.
"You said to tell you everything. I'm telling you everything. You'll just have to bloody wait for whatever it is you seem to think is the crux of all this."
"Of course, Professor Snape."
"As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted, it was a night like any other we've shared, but I suppose the topic of conversation was a bit different."
"We were discussing another colleague—that also wasn't out of place, but we usually share the same complaints and banter. Slughorn, the Frog Prince, for instance, Flitwick, the Flighty Fool, etcetera, etcetera. I, of course, came up with a brilliant description for our Muggle Studies teacher and Potter disagreed with me. We argued about it. He went on and on about that idiot's good points, causing me to stare incredulously at a man I thought actually had half a brain. He angered me to the point that I—well, you know what I did." Severus sniffed. "That's why I'm here, isn't it?"
Johansson shuffled the test results. "It sounds like you like him."
Severus blinked. "Who? Potter or the other idiot?"
"How dare—That's simply—I do not like him, Healer Johansson. What is there to like? Did you know that he nibbles his bottom lip incessantly? It's a wonder he still has one. And his robes are always in disarray, as if he's slept in them, and his preposterous sweet tooth is enough to drive a man to drink. Don't even ask about his breathing."
"I'm sorry, his breathing?"
"Yes, his breathing. It's intolerable. It's all through his nose, thus noisy. Take a damn Congestion Potion or open your mouth, that's what needs to be said to him. I've suggested it, you know. He just laughs at me, as if I'm playing coy with him."
"You seem to know a lot about him."
"Of course I do. I am an expert on the human psychological condition and what I don't learn from merely observing him, he flings at me with his unwanted conversation."
"Why indulge him? Why let him in at all?"
"Why do I get the feeling that you're more interested in Potter than me? Is that to be the story of my life? Potter at every turn, even when I'm the one footing the very expensive bill for your services?"
"That's not it at all. I just… it will help me explain these results with greater accuracy if I have a better understanding of how you feel about him, what the context of your, uh, working relationship is."
"I find him tolerable and he has good taste in whisky. What more do you want?" Severus snapped. "I grow tired of your witless interrogation. I've answered your questions, now what of the curse?"
Johansson stared balefully at Severus before clearing his throat again.
Dread curled deep in Severus's gut. It was worse than he'd thought. The curse was killing him. Nothing else could explain Johansson's hesitancy.
"Spit it out, man. Surely you've had to deliver bad news in the past."
"That's just it, Professor Snape. I've no bad news to deliver."
"I'm sorry, I believe I misheard you. It sounded as if you said something quite ludicrous. It sounded as if you said I was wrong."
"Are you seriously suggesting that you found nothing?"
"Are you sure you're interpreting the Aura Intrusion test correctly?"
"I'm quite certain that—"
"Let me see that," Severus said, snatching the test report from Johansson's fingers. "I'll have you know my aura is deep violet, not black. If you made such a dunderheaded mistake, it could skew the results entirely."
"I'm well aware that your aura is deep vio—"
Severus snatched more tests from Johansson's desk, tearing through them. "And what of the Neural Condition test, hmm? You can't possibly tell me that one fell within normal ranges, not after what I did to my colleague."
"With all due respect, I'm perfectly competent—"
"Competent? How could you possibly be competent? I should have known that you were a charlatan from the first moment I realised that you'd been privately trained. Not smart enough to get into Hogwarts, I suspect." Severus sneered.
"Now, look here—"
"You were still struggling with Babbling Beverages while my students were creating Draughts of Living Death and Wolfsbane. I can't believe that St. Mungo's would hire such an under-skilled Healer."
"That's quite enough, Professor Snape. I did a ten-year apprenticeship with Healer Max Von Heidelcreamer, the foremost Healer in the world on curse scarring and protocols."
"Another charlatan. No self-respecting Healer would be named Heidelcreamer. He's ether a milkmaid masquerading as a physician or the world's most unimaginative rent boy."
Johansson threw the remaining tests at Severus, brightly coloured parchments raining down like confetti. "Out! Out of my office! The only thing wrong with you is your complete failure and refusal to see what's right before your eyes."
Severus leapt to his feet. "There's a curse. I'm telling you, there's a curse."
"There is no curse."
"There has to be, because otherwise there's absolutely no reason why I grabbed Potter by his shoulders, planted my lips against his, and stuck my tongue down his throat."
Severus collapsed into his chair, head hanging, lank hair swaying with each puff of breath. He'd never been so embarrassed in his life. Except for the week prior when he'd molested Potter.
Johansson's chair creaked as he sat down again. "I'm sorry, but there's no curse. Whatever caused you to… to express your feelings for Professor Potter in such a way has nothing to do with any Dark curse. I had hoped that by exploring what happened that night, you'd see the truth. Have you considered that you're attract—"
"There is a curse. There has to be."
"There's not. I'm sorry."
Severus rose from his chair. He straightened out his robes and smoothed his hair.
Johansson attempted to shake Severus's hand.
Severus stared at him. "You, sir, are a swindler of the worst sort. I will see you sacked before this is over with. Gross negligence in the performance of your duties, failure to properly diagnose a life-threatening condition, and I'm seriously beginning to believe you've manufactured your credentials. Nothing else could explain your slipshod testing methods and analysis. There is a curse. You just can't see it."
Severus snarled under his breath. Potter was disturbing a perfectly good brood. A secret one in Severus's secret brooding spot. One about him, even.
He sighed repeatedly, hoping Potter would leave.
He didn't. He just stood there, scratching his ear and shifting his weight from left to right.
"What do you want, Professor Potter?" Severus asked, exaggerating his put-upon sighs to the point of asthmatic wheezing.
Potter faltered for only a moment. Damn Gryffindor recklessness. "Er, yeah. I wanted—"
"Your wants are of no importance to me. Can't you see I'm quite busy?" Severus folded his arms and leaned back against the stone wall.
"With what?" Potter asked, a bit of laughter rumbling through his voice. "Holding up the wall so that the castle doesn't crumble around us?"
"So very droll, Professor Potter. You must keep your students in stitches. Perhaps I was attempting to avoid someone." Severus left you unspoken and hanging in the air.
Potter ran his hand through his hair—a nervous habit that drove Severus mad.
"Look, I just wanted to talk with you about what happened a week ago. I tried to find you the next day, but the headmaster said you'd taken an immediate leave of absence for some Potions conference. I'm sorry for—"
"I apologise for my behaviour that evening. Our altercation was most unfortunate."
Potter ducked his head as if avoiding poisonous fumes from a deflating puffershell. "I don't know that I'd call it an altercation. It really was more of a—"
"Spare me. I know precisely what occurred. I don't need your garbled recitation to remind me. While you are vexing at any time—the way you constantly nibble your bottom lip and refuse the Vision Correction Charm, for instance—there was no excuse for my actions that night. Even if you did provoke them."
Potter's eyebrows shot above the rim of his ridiculous little schoolboy glasses. "I did nothing of the sort. Nothing I said or did provoked you to—"
"I should have known repetition would be necessary. No more about that night. And stop interrupting me. It's quite rude."
"I'm interrupting? I'm interrupting? You git, you've got no—"
"I believe that my grievous actions can be explained thus. A curse."
Potter's mouth snapped shut with the clack of his teeth. He tilted his head to the side slightly and blinked as if dumb. Potter's classic "I don't understand," expression. Severus was well acquainted with it, having suffered its frequent appearances over the years.
"Shall I repeat the words for you again? Slowly?"
"Just what are you implying, Snape?"
Ah. He'd hit a nerve. "There's no subtext here—not that you'd be able to spot it with the aid of a pictorial guide of literary devices—I've been cursed, you idiot. That's the only possible explanation."
Potter's brows knitted and his eyes narrowed to small, reptilian slits. The look was quite arousing. Which was precisely the kind of thing that he ought not to think about—this damn curse was going to kill him.
"I did not curse you, you bloody bastard. And if I had, it wouldn't have—"
"This is becoming tiresome, Professor Potter. Control yourself."
Potters hands balled into white knuckled fists. "Like you, yeah? Should I control myself that way?"
The words slung, feeling like a slap against Severus's skin. He took up the gauntlet and slapped back. "It was a curse. As I am completely aware at all times of any curses that have been hurled at my person, I could only have been cursed whilst unconscious."
"I did not drug you, you fuc—"
"Temper, temper, Potter. I didn't say you'd drugged me." Severus gave Potter a long, sly look. "You haven't the capacity for such potion making ability or subterfuge."
Potter sputtered and wheezed, no actual words forthcoming.
"Stop that. You look as if you're foaming at the mouth. Shall I put you down?" Severus moved to the side as Potter drew his wand, still red-faced and sputtering. "Put that away, you little beast. Now as I was saying before I was once again so rudely interrupted, I was unconscious during the final battle, so you see, there's the answer."
Potter's wand arm dropped. He blinked, his expression vacant.
"Don't think so hard—you're liable to break something in there," Severus said, gesturing towards Potter's head. "Though, I don't know that there's anything to break, so by all means, think away."
"Stop calling me stup—"
"Stop interrupting me. Now as I was saying before you opened your mouth and started spewing words, I was obviously cursed during the final battle."
"Impossible. We were all checked for—"
"A lingering curse," Severus continued as if Potter had not interrupted him yet again. "One that wasn't caught after the final battle. I had no control over my actions. I am not to blame in this unfortunate turn of events. You and your incessant lip nibbling and noisy nose breathing and permanently rumpled robes and hair are the real cause behind what occurred. Your irritating and unwarranted behaviour obviously activated the curse. There is no other explanation."
Potter's eyes shone with anger—another expression with which Severus was well acquainted. The light caught them just so, making them glow the green of wysap berries. The colour was quite beautiful. Severus's stomach turned at the thought of comparing Potter's eyes to anything.
"This—You—Unbelievable! You are bloody unbelievable," Potter spat.
"I beg to differ. I admit I was unsure myself, but can you find some other possible explanation?"
"Yeah. That you need your head examined."
"My head's been examined, thank you very much, and that experience more than any other made clear to me that you are the cause of my current problem."
"You fucking bastard."
"Switching tactics, I see. If only your intelligence were as creative as the foulness of your tongue."
"Fuck you, Snape," Potter said before whirling around and charging towards the general direction of his rooms.
Severus had the overwhelming urge to grab Potter by the back of his robes, throw him against the wall, and put him in his place through the creativity of his tongue and the pleasant sting of his nipping teeth.
Only a curse could make him feel such disturbing things.
There was something to be said for getting spectacularly drunk at half three in the afternoon. At least Severus hoped there was, since he was seriously considering it.
There was a knock at the door. Severus ignored it, instead eyeing the bottle of whisky with a speculative eye. With a bit of effort, he'd be able to finish it by five.
The knock sounded again. "Go away," Severus said, sure that it was Potter. He'd just poured his first drink when there came another knock, followed by a short burst of them. "Go away, Potter. I don't want to talk to you."
The knocking became insistent. Severus snarled and stalked over to the door, a tongue lashing poised on his lips. Potter always needed a good tongue-lashing. A thorough dressing down wouldn't be amiss, either. Perhaps a spanking or two. Wait—where was he going with this again? Ah, yes. Potter. At the door. Tongue-lashing.
"What have I told you about impulse control, you horrible little—ah, Headmaster Slughorn."
"Oh thank the gods, you've returned. Might I come in?"
Slughorn glanced behind him. "But it's very distressing, you see, I've—"
"I've my own problems. Come back another time. Next year, perhaps."
Severus made to shut the door, but Slughorn's unnaturally large foot stopped it from closing.
"What the devil?"
Slughorn glanced round the corridor before forcing open the door, pushing Severus backward and hopping across the threshold. He looked a bit like an overgrown toad—one that smelled of pineapple and chocolate.
"What are you—?"
Slughorn slammed the door behind him. His body sagged against it with his hands splayed either side of him. "You must help me, Severus. You're the only one."
"What are you on about?"
"It's just that… Oh, it's nothing, really," Slughorn said, a pained expression on his face. "Just a little thing. But something I need your help with. Right away, in fact."
Severus turned and walked back to his sitting room. "I told you, I'm not going to make that Penile Performance Potion, so if you'll excuse me, I have a bottle of whisky to drink before five."
"It's not about the potion, Severus," said Slughorn, following. "No this is far more serious. I've got myself into a bit of a fix, you see, and we Slytherins have to stick together, now don't we? Wait—whisky did you say?"
"Well aren't you going to offer me some? As an invited guest into your home?"
"That's quite uncalled for, I think. Besides, this whole thing is rather distressing. A wee nip might help settle my nerves."
"You're distressed? I'm suffering from a lingering curse and you're distressed? Spare me."
Slughorn gasped—a croaky little sound in the back of his throat. "A curse? Which one? Surely it's not fatal."
"They didn't find it."
"I'm sorry, what?"
"I wasn't at an emergency Potions conference last week. I apologise for the slight misrepresentation. I… I underwent an array of medical tests to locate the curse. Those idiots at St Mungo's couldn't find it. Not that I'm surprised. Third-rate Healers, shoddy credentials, a complete lack of organisation or protocol. It was as if I'd given myself over to Longbottom's care."
Slughorn shuddered. "It couldn't have been as bad as all that."
"It was. I know it's there, the curse. Lingering and festering and provoking me to do… sordid things."
Slughorn leaned forward. "Sordid, did you say?"
Severus closed his eyes for a moment, ashamed. "Yes."
"Sordid in the sense that, for example, you might fancy wearing women's knickers and 'accidentally' flashing the Slytherin Quidditch team?"
Severus blinked. "What?"
"Nothing. Never mind. Bad example, really." Slughorn hesitated, but there was a calculating gleam in his eye. "When did this curse occur? Sometime in the recent past, perhaps when we were gathering unicorn hair in the Forbidden Forest? Or that time in the corridor when you insulted my potion cataloguing ability. Then, perhaps?"
"No. The final battle. I'm sure of it. It's the only time I'd have been hit with something so Dark—something that would make me do such despicable things."
"Like, for instance, coating yourself in chocolate, adding bits of crystallised pineapple, and letting yourself into another staff member's quarters as a surprise?"
"Just what are you implying?"
"Er, nothing. Again, bad example, but… yes, you must be right. A curse. One untested, unseen before that moment. A prototype. One that was to be used against the targets of Voldemort's most vicious wrath. Only a few would have been affected. Like you and perhaps others that were in your vicinity, like, er me, or Minerva, bless her soul."
"You weren't anywhere near the final battle. As I recall, you were stuffed away in a little hidey-hole here, at the castle."
Slughorn stopped pacing for a moment, before resuming. "Yes, quite right, Severus, quite right. I was defending Hogwarts to the death and—well do you remember what happened after you fell in the battle?"
"I woke up in hell with Madam Pomfrey playing the role of the devil."
"No, I mean before that."
Severus cursed under his breath. "If you are referring to the very unfortunate fact that, as I understand it, you pulled me into the castle and dragged me to the Hospital Wing—the same event that somehow inexplicably vested you with headmaster status because of your heroism—then no, I don't recall. You see, unconsciousness tends to make me forget things."
"So you do recall. Good." Slughorn licked his lips and eyed the whisky bottle. "Feeling a bit more generous now, I suspect, eh?"
Severus poured a glass and knocked it back before slamming it on the table. "No. I don't share my whisky. You know that, Horace."
"Not even this once? Well, I certainly hope you're not a nasty drunk. But then, who could tell the difference?"
"Your point, Horace."
"Oh, well, yes. You see, after I dragged you into the castle, there was this ball of fire, no, sorry, a flash of light, yes, a flash. A bright, brilliant flash."
Severus nodded slowly, wondering for the first time if, perhaps, Slughorn might have a useful thought in his head. "Shacklebolt said something about that. He saw it arc towards the school. The assumption was that it was either a stray curse or residual spell discharge from the battle."
Slughorn leaned closer. "Did Shacklebolt form a conclusion?"
"He thought the light too focused to be discharge. He felt it was a stray curse."
"Yes, exactly!" Slughorn said with a solid thump of his foot. "It zoomed from the battlefield straight at us. It hit you, er, hit us both, I think. I mean, it did. Hit us both. I—I thought nothing of it at the time, but… I think you're right, old man. You've been cursed."
Events and consequences fell into well-ordered place. A sense of vindication washed over Severus. "Yes, exactly. I was cursed. You saw it."
"Rest assured, old man, I believe you. In fact… well you see that's why I came to you just now. I think that same curse has manifested in me and I've got to do some research. Perhaps borrow an Obliviation Potion or two. Maybe four, or five. Seven at the most."
Severus waved his hand in a way that made clear he didn't give a damn what Slughorn did. Or took. He'd been acting under the influence of the curse when he'd kissed Potter. There wasn't something else afoot. Now he just had to keep it from happening again.
Severus knew the second that Potter arrived for the Wednesday afternoon staff meeting. It was hard to avoid, really, what with the overwhelming smell of eau-de-schoolboy assaulting him. Potter still used Hogwarts issue soap and washing powder. Severus sniffed. The shampoo appeared to be new, however. Minty. Perhaps an attempt to tame that ridiculous, overgrown mop he called hair.
Amongst the smattering of conversation around the room, Severus—who was turned away from the door and from Potter—waited for his customary attempt at a greeting. Potter cleared his throat. Severus had the sneer pasted on his face before Potter could utter a word.
"Pass the milk, if you would, Edwin," Potter said.
Severus's sneer faltered for a moment before returning full-force. So Potter was going to play the "ignoring" game, was he?
"Certainly, Harry," Edwin Roloabo said.
Severus's lips pursed into a tight line. Roloabo was a stupid name. Especially given how often he had to hear it spewing from Potter's mouth. Roloabo this and Roloabo that. It was disgusting.
"I was wondering if you'd help with the telly project, Harry. While I'm reasonably familiar with it now, I don't want to make an arse of myself in class," said Roloabo, complete with a self-deprecating chortle so obviously false, a child could see through it.
"Of course. I'd be happy to. And don't sell yourself short—you'll get the hang of television soon."
Potter was thick as a plank.
"Wonderful. I'm rather busy the rest of the afternoon. How about tonight? Say, eight-ish? My quarters? I'll call down to the kitchens for some light refreshment."
The lasciviousness of Roloabo's offer rolled off in waves so strong, Severus was surprised Potter hadn't been knocked out of his chair. Surely the idiot could see what Roloabo was after.
"Er, sure," Potter said. "I imagine your rooms are less draughty than the Muggle Studies classroom."
"You've no idea," Roloabo purred.
Severus couldn't take it anymore. "What's this? The Muggle Studies teacher unable to grasp the basic concepts of his coursework? Tsk, tsk, Roloabo. Isn't this the third year running Potter's had to do your work for you?"
Roloabo's attention swung to Severus, his simpering smile replaced with a moue of disgust. "What would Tuesday mornings be without the running diatribe from Professor Snape? Once again, I find myself in your sights. Wonderful."
"Your idiocy makes it rather easy, I'm afraid."
"Shut it," Potter said, intervening. "I agreed to help Edwin because we're friends. Though I suspect the concept of friendship eludes you. Go back to your hallucinations and leave the rest of us alone."
"Thank you, Harry. It's nice to know that I'm supported."
Roloabo turned back to Severus. He looked him over, a peculiar, searching look on his face. It was unnerving. Severus didn't like it.
"And just as a reminder, my name's pronounced, Ro-lo-abo." Roloabo sniffed. "It's Italian, of course."
"More like Rolarseabo, if you ask me," Severus muttered under his breath.
Potter stomped on his foot. "Shut it," he hissed.
"I see you managed to make it on time, Potter. Surprising."
"Sod off," Potter whispered furiously before pushing his chair farther away with a loud scrape, almost knocking Flitwick off his seat.
"Tsk, tsk, Potter. Someone needs a Scourging Potion."
"And someone needs to sod off."
"Your lack of creativity knows no bounds."
"Let's begin, shall we?" Slughorn said from the front of the room, cutting off anything Potter would have said. Good thing, really. His witty repartee would likely have been little more than, "Sod off," troisiéme partie.
"Before we begin with the usual and customary, I'd like to bring up a grave issue. One of our esteemed colleagues confided in me that he is suffering from a very rare, unknown curse that has seriously affected his ability to carry out his day-to-day activities normally."
Severus went still as hushed whispers broke out through the staff room. Horace Slughorn was stupid. But certainly he wasn't that stupid, was he?
"What a load of rubbish," Potter spat under his breath, but loud enough for Severus to hear.
"Yes, I know," Slughorn continued. "A terrible, terrible tragedy. The staff at St. Mungo's is unable to make any determinations at this point—inconclusive, say the tests. There is ongoing research but… the curse could be permanent."
Another outburst of furious whispering followed, including a vicious snort from Potter. Severus would recognise that high nasal whistle anywhere.
"What are the symptoms of the curse, Headmaster?" Roloabo asked.
"It causes the accursed to act out of character, to do and say things that—were they able to keep some of their baser emotions and urges under control—would never, ever occur."
More furious whispering. Severus's stomach sank. Surely Slughorn wouldn't be stupid enough to name names.
"Who is it, Headmaster?" Flitwick asked.
Slughorn opened his mouth to speak. 'No,' thought Severus. 'No, no, no, you stupid, stupid little toad of a man!'
"Severus Snape," Slughorn said.
There was, of course, an immediate uproar. Severus was ready to kill. One little spell, two little words, that's all it would take, followed by a carefully designed plan of Obliviation spells or potions and a complicated Recorda Incantatem spell to switch his spell history with another person's wand. Roloabo's would do.
"And not just Severus, but me as well. We were both hit with the debilitating curse after the final battle. Severus had finally succumbed to his wounds on the threshold of the Entrance Hall, and I pulled him to safety, only to share his pain now that we suffer from such an uncontrollable and devastating curse."
Cries of sympathy drifted around the room. Severus continued plotting Slughorn's demise and delighting in fantasies of Roloabo in Azkaban.
"Now, I'm sure that you all remember the training we had at the beginning of term on the Discrimination Against Magical Persons and Creatures Act, or the DAMPCA for short.
"As you will recall, one suffering from such a disability as Severus and I do is granted a reasonable adjustment under the law. In this case, Severus and I are able to carry out our duties, but we may—at times—do or say things that, again, are totally out of character. I must ask all of you to disregard these acts and recognize them for what they are—the terrible after-affects of a lingering curse, targeting two war heroes who were ready to give their lives to the cause."
"Of course," Flitwick said immediately, followed quickly by the assent of every other staff member, save one.
"You can't expect us to believe that, can you? A lingering curse that's only made its presence known now? Years after the war ended? One that makes the supposed accursed do… things that we now have to accept and suffer through? To give them license to do whatever they want? When they want? All because of some fake curse? That's a load of crap, that's what it is," Potter said.
"Might I remind you that the DAMPCA has strict rules against harassment and victimisation. Your unkind and narrow-minded comments only reinforce the barriers against the employment of the accursed and I'll kindly ask you not to make them again. Any further threats and epithets will be subject to discipline up to and including immediate dismissal. Have I made myself clear?"
"You can't be serious," Potter said.
"Professor Potter, have I made myself clear?" Slughorn asked again, drawing himself up and leaning over his little podium.
"Yes, Headmaster. Perfectly."
And he had made it clear. Slughorn was a singularly brilliant Headmaster. Beyond brilliant, actually. Severus wondered how he'd never seen it before.
"And to Ms Hennessee," Slughorn said, "let me be the first to apologise for any misconception you might have got about my presence in your rooms last week. A consequence of the curse."
Yes, brilliant indeed.
A hand reached out, yanking Severus by the front of his robes into the small alcove to his left.
"What do you think you're doing?" Potter asked.
"I rather think I'm the one to be asking that question. Remove your hand from my robes this instant. This could be considered harassment, you understand."
"Not until you tell me the truth. Is this some Slytherin game, to see how many teachers and staff you can humiliate?"
Normally, Severus would have restrained himself—relying on words instead of fists. But that wasn't what he wanted to do at that moment. Feeling liberated by Slughorn's pronouncement, he pushed Potter's hand away and slammed him against the wall.
Potter tried to wriggle free, cursing like a foul-mouthed harpy as he kicked Severus in the shin.
"Stop it, you little fool," Severus said, pressing against Potter even harder, kicking his feet apart, and covering him with the whole of his body.
Potter made a sound in the back of his throat that—for some unknown reason—went straight to Severus's cock. Potter stopped trying to get away.
"Knew you wanted me," Potter said through a breathy moan that made Severus shiver.
"Want you to shut up, that's what I want," Severus said, pressing himself against Potter even harder—for what purpose, he could not divine. It was like his body had a mind of its own.
Potter panted with sibilant little hisses that made Severus's toes curl. Great gods, he was—he was debauchery personified, beautiful as only an overripe cloudberry could be.
Severus's hand rose to push the hair out of Potter's eyes, the gesture so disgustingly tender that when he realised what he was doing, he pushed himself away.
Potter's eyes snapped open. "What are you doing?"
Severus stepped out of the cloak of the alcove's shadows. The light in the corridor seemed over-bright and harsh.
"I should ask you the same. You heard Slughorn. I have rights and you're—you're victimising me," Severus said.
"Stop saying that. You weren't—we couldn't—you kissed me—"
"I kissed you because I wanted to shut you up. You kept going on and on and on about that idiot, Roloabo, and I wasn't going to stand for another second of it."
"I don't believe you, I—"
It was a split-second decision, one born of instinct rather than thought. Quick as lightning, Severus darted back into the comforting shadows, pinning Potter against the wall, biting and sucking the side of his neck until Potter moaned and scrabbled against him.
When he'd got his fill, Severus released Potter, watching him slump against the wall. The feel of Potter's body against him lingered.
"Had enough? Surely that proves it."
Potter licked his lips. "Yeah. It proves something, all right."
"Good. Then we are of the same mind about this."
It was hard to make out anything in the shadows, but Severus thought he saw a ghost of a smirk on Potter's face.
"'Course. See you," he said as he pushed himself away from the wall and left, his fingers brushing the side of Severus's robes.
There was something Severus was missing—he was sure of it. But he pushed it aside, concentrating on the hum of contentment settling around him. He felt lighter than he had in years. Perhaps this curse wouldn't be so bad after all. A smile played at his lips as he walked back to his chambers.
Severus took a bite of apple and surveyed the lake. He'd never thought to simply stop and admire the grounds surrounding the castle. A smile quirked on one side of his face as the giant squid tossed a selkie in the air.
Severus turned his attention to the sound of snapping twigs and trampled underbrush.
"…bloody wanker… can't possibly… fucking idiot!" Potter cursed as he kicked at a small boulder.
"I always knew you were a bully, just like your father. Boulders have feelings, as well," Severus called.
Potter looked around wildly, not spotting Severus. "Snape? Where are you? Show your face, you bloody coward."
Severus dropped an apple slice onto Potter's head.
"What the…?" Potter looked up.
Severus maintained his perch, refusing to acknowledge Potter.
"Snape? What the bloody hell are you doing in that tree?"
Severus dropped the apple core, smiling when it hit Potter in the same place.
"Ow! Stop throwing things at me and tell me why you're up there. This isn't some ploy, is it? More of that stupid curse?"
"Careful, Potter, I've run out of apple slices. I might start throwing rocks or tree limbs next. You never know what the curse might make me do."
"Get out of that tree!"
"I'm perfectly content here. Well, I was until you came charging into the clearing like a wild boarhound."
"Are you or are you not in that tree because of the curse?"
Severus thought about it. He'd never had an inclination to willingly climb a tree for the sole purpose of eating fruit and staring at the lake, but it had seemed—in the moment—the right thing to do. Clearly curse related, then.
"Yes, I believe I am."
Potter's answering smile was thin and sneaky looking. Severus was immediately on guard. "Why do you care? You've made it clear that you don't believe me or my more disturbing impulses."
"I wasn't aware that kissing me qualified as a disturbing impulse."
"You make it so easy, you know. Practically handing me insults on a Goblin-gold platter."
"Be that as it may, I think it's time for you to come down from that tree."
Potter withdrew his wand. Before Severus could defend himself, he was Levitated from the tree and plopped onto the ground with a thud. And a bounce or two.
"Sorry about that," Potter said, his smile still thin and sneaky. "I'm all thumbs when it comes to my spell work."
Severus got to his feet, his wand out and pointing at Potter's throat. "How dare you. That was an invasion of my person, and both harassment and victimisation in one horrendously stupid act. I'll see you sacked for this."
"Oh, I don't think so. You see, I was merely ensuring your personal safety. Because of the curse. Can't have our Potions master jumping out of such a tall tree to find out if he can fly, now can we?"
Severus's wand faltered. "What the devil are you talking about?"
"I'm your minder now, so I suggest you behave."
"The Board of Governors has deemed it in your best interest to have a Wizard minder to make sure you don't cause any actual damage."
"No, your stupid curse is preposterous."
Severus threw a rock at Potter, smirking as he scrambled to get out of the way.
"That could have really hurt me, you wanker. Stop throwing things! As your Wizard minder, I command it."
"Wizard minder? You think I believe you've been appointed as some sort of child minder?"
"Technically, I'm your personal assistant—an additional reasonable adjustment. I'm supposed to intervene when you're acting particularly daft. I prefer Wizard minder, though, seeing as how you're acting like a bloody child."
"Even if I believed you, which I don't, they never would have appointed you."
"That's where you're wrong. It seemed in our esteemed headmaster's opinion that making me your minder might help me understand the difficulties and challenges you face on a daily basis due to your curse."
"He wouldn't have."
"But he did. Though, it may have had something to do with the fact that I interrupted a meeting between him and Board Chair McTavish to lodge a complaint against you and this ridiculous farce or yours."
"Another complaint? You just don't give up, do you? Just like during the war when you refused to believe that your precious Dumbledore hadn't engineered his own death."
Harry marched forward, wand drawn and pointed at Severus's heart. "Don't you speak to me about the war or Albus Dumbledore. I was willing to lay aside—bloody hell! That's not what—What you did to Edwin is unforgivable."
"He deserved it." Severus sniffed. "Green suits him. And his ridiculous name."
"It's permanent, Severus. Don't you get it? He'll have green hair forever."
"I was well aware of the consequences of the spell when I cast it."
Potter shook his head. "Petty."
"You don't know all of the facts, Potter. Perhaps I was defending someone else's honour."
Potter stood dumbstruck for a few moments before doubling over with laughter. "You? Defending anyone's honour but your own? Now I know you're mad."
Severus growled and flicked his wand. Potter was tossed into the air and landed with a thump before being tossed around some more, ending up hanging upside down from a low-hanging tree branch. A fitting punishment for a Potter. His robes bunched around his waist, leaving his lower half exposed. A well-placed Sticking Charm kept him in place.
"Let me go. Let me down, now!"
"Why Mr Potter, I never would have guessed that you were one of those wizards who went without pants," Severus said, letting his wand trace the tip of Potter's half-erect penis.
"What the fuck do you think you're doing?"
"It's the curse." Severus affected a downcast expression. "I apologise for my inability to keep my urges under control."
"Stop this! Do you have any idea what you're doing? Turning a legitimate protection on its ear—protections that people like Remus and Bill actually need—so that you can justify your feelings for me. You are quite possibly the most self-absorbed, pathetic person I know."
"Don't talk to me about self-absorption. For more than half of my life I played the role of spy to two masters, never being allowed to consider myself at any turn."
"Your allegiance was to yourself, and no one else. I saw what you did."
Severus found Potter's confidence while dangling from a tree branch—his naked bits exposed for the world to see—supremely annoying.
"And I know what you did," he said at long last.
His poisonous rejoinder hit its mark. Potter looked away, his expression crumpling under the weight of guilt he'd never be able to get past. Severus understood that all too clearly.
"He made me," Potter said, his face still turned away.
"And he made me, as well. There. Something we can always share, just the two of us. We murdered Albus Dumbledore. With so much in common, I can see why you'd be desperate for my affection."
Potter turned back to him, his eyes glittering with such self-recrimination and loathing that Severus's heart skipped a beat.
"Let me go," he whispered.
"Let me go. Now."
Severus flicked his wand again, setting Potter down gently.
Potter shook his head and turned away. "We have an appointment with the headmaster at four o'clock. I suggest you arrive on time with your faculties intact," he said before walking back towards the castle.
"What on Earth for? And how dare you walk away from me."
Potter halted for the barest second before continuing on as if he'd never heard Severus at all.
Severus didn't bother with social niceties as he flung open Slughorn's door and strode in. He slammed his hands down on his desk, rattling the dishes of crystallised pineapple and chocolates. "What is the meaning of this?"
Slughorn continued reading his Potions Journal Monthly, his thin lips pursed in contemplation. He hadn't so much as blinked since Severus had arrived. He turned a page. "Ah, Severus. Only you have such a penchant for dramatic entrances. Mr Potter will join us shortly."
"What the—I demand to know what's going on. Potter spewed some ridiculous story that he's to be my minder."
"Personal assistant. We've had to find someone to take over his classes, in fact, so that he can assist you at all times."
Severus fell into the heavily stuffed armchair behind him. "This can't be happening."
"The Board of Governors demands it." Slughorn looked up balefully. "I'm to have my own, as well. I petitioned strongly for Ms Hennessee. Alas, I'm to get Hagrid."
"What could the Board of Governors be thinking?"
Slughorn waved a hand in the air. "Some spurious concerns about the safety of the children and staff from uncontrollable curse urges or some such nonsense. I highly doubt the Quidditch team was scarred in any way."
"Nothing. Nothing. Hypothetical, really."
Severus shook his head. "Potter teaches Defence. You can't just have some idiot come in and take that idiot's place. At least we know the depths and planes of Potter's idiocy. What's to stop some new idiot from Conjuring poisonous snakes and setting them on the students? Or casting Unforgivables at them as some sort of demented game of 'Dodge-the-Crucio'?"
"You're far too concerned about this. Auror Moody has come out of retirement to see to Harry's classes.
"I rest my case."
"It's only for a few weeks—just until the Board is satisfied that you're—we're—stable and that Harry has gained a better appreciation for your disability. Oh that reminds me, the house-elves have moved his things into your spare room."
"I don't have a spare room."
"Oh." Slughorn turned another page. "You do now."
Severus stood and slammed his hands down on Slughorn's desk, again making the small bowls of sweets jump and skitter. "No. Absolutely not. No. No."
"For the sake of magic, stop doing that. Is this some sort of curse induced madness?" Slughorn asked, pulling his pineapple and chocolate to safety. "You'll need to watch that. Next thing you know, they'll have you hopped up on Calming Draughts, and where would our dear, acerbic Professor Snape be then, hmm?"
Severus slumped back into his chair, pinching the bridge of his nose as he settled into an irritated huddle. "This can't be happening," he muttered to himself.
"What's gone wrong now?"
Potter. Those loathsome, dulcet tones burrowed into Severus's brain and dug in their pointy little heels, giving him a spectacular headache.
"Ah, Harry. I was just beginning to wonder what was keeping you," Slughorn said.
"Er, sorry, sir," Potter began as he sat to Severus's right. Ignoring him. Completely. Like a spoiled, recalcitrant child. "My rooms are locked. I assumed they've been jinxed, but I wasn't able to undo it."
Slughorn sat back in his chair and sighed. "Harry, do you recall what the Board of Governors required this morning?"
"Yeah. I'm to be this git's minder," Potter said, jerking his head in Severus's direction. Still not looking at him.
Slughorn gave a nervous chuckle. "Personal assistant, Harry. Personal assistant."
"What of it? And what's that got to do with my rooms?"
Severus—tired of Potter's silly, pathetic ignoring game—cleared his throat and waited for Potter to acknowledge him.
"We're to be roommates. Sharing my quarters. I imagine you've been given the small cupboard. The childhood memories that stirs must be heart-warming."
Potter stared at him, his jaw working up and down. He shook his head slowly.
"Oh, yes. Shall we draw up a schedule now for baths? Personally, I prefer to take mine in the evening. Oh yes, and I do hope you don't have a problem with nudity. I prefer to be au natural whilst reading my Potions journals. Aloud. Skipping about the small parlour for emphasis. Isn't it amazing how certain things keep moving even when you come to a stop?"
Potter leapt to his feet and banged his fists on Slughorn's desk. The dishes of sweets danced across the desk and falling off the edge before Slughorn could save them.
"Mr Potter, please!" Slughorn called, scrambling to save the rest of his treasures.
"Absolutely not! I will not share anything with that greasy-haired bastard!"
"You have to—Stop that! Good gods, it's catching. Get a hold of yourself, man!"
"Potter, you wound me," Severus said in an agreeable voice, watching as more dishes crashed to the floor, bits of porcelain and sweets flying willy-nilly.
"I will not," Potter said to Slughorn with a final bang of his fist. "I'll leave this school before I spend a moment longer with him."
Slughorn rose to his full, unimpressive height. "You will not. You do that, and you forfeit your Gringotts' vaults. All of them."
Potter's face paled.
"Ah yes, I see you remember that provision of your contract. The hubris and idealism of youth have worked against you, it seems."
Severus began to ask if this was a joke. No one in their right mind would condition their employment contract on the forfeiture of the entirety of their personal wealth.
"You can't hold me to that. These are intolerable working conditions. I will not be forced to spend another moment longer with him," Potter said.
Severus sighed. Of course no one except Potter would do so.
"As intolerable as he may be, your contract does not provide for a termination provision. Five years, Mr Potter. Five years as the permanent Defence teacher, or your vaults as recompense."
"You know that was only in there to break the curse. There had to be consideration for the bargain. That's the only reason I agreed to it, not so that I could be humiliated at every turn."
"Regardless of the intent, the provisions of the contract were quite clear. As distasteful as you may find your new position, it is necessary."
Potter nodded, his bearing that of the wounded, noble soldier off to battle. Severus thought he might be sick.
Slughorn sighed. "It's only for a few weeks, Harry. The Board is understandably nervous about an unknown curse running about doing unknown things. They have parents and staff members to reassure. That's all this is."
Potter nodded again, still looking wounded and broody. Severus shifted in his seat, nonplussed that his cock seemed to like Potter wounded and broody.
"If you're quite done discussing me as if I were some sort of laboratory testing animal, I shall retire to my rooms. Excuse me, our rooms. The newest Devious and Diabolical Potions Monthly has just arrived."
As predicted, Potter's face turned the colour of a spoiled tomato, his fists clenched at his side. Severus so loved goading him. Sometimes Potter baiting was the only reason to get out of bed in the mornings.
Just as quickly as it had come, the spoiled tomato red vanished, replaced by a speculative and cunning pale. Severus was immediately on guard.
"Headmaster?" Potter chirped with that insipid little lilt he used when he wanted Severus to freshen his whisky. "Since these are my rooms now as well, I assume I'm permitted to do in them as I would in my own quarters."
"That's right," Slughorn said, popping a piece of crystallised pineapple into his mouth.
Potter turned to face Severus, his smile vicious. "Good. I certainly wouldn't want my very good friend to feel as if he couldn't visit me."
Slughorn choked. "What did you say?" he asked in between coughs and thumps to his chest.
A swift, dangerous fury rose in Severus at Potter's next words.
"My friend. Edwin Roloabo."
Severus watched from a shadowed corner of his parlour as Potter moved in his things.
"He's not allowed," Severus said.
Potter ignored him, concentrating on his floating trunks.
"Did you hear me? He's not allowed."
Potter continued ignoring him.
"You're being very rude, I'll have you know. You're to be my personal assistant. I forbid my personal assistant from being rude. And from allowing that charlatan into my rooms."
Potter whirled around. "Shut up. And they're our rooms."
"You may have license here, but these are not your rooms. No rudeness. No lip nibbling. And no Rolarseabo."
"I told you to stop calling him that. If I recall, that's what led to this horrible mess."
"You're the reason we're in this mess and I say no Rolarseabo."
Potter set the last of his trunks down and strode over to Severus's corner, his chest heaving and colour rising in his cheeks. "You have no right telling me whom I can and cannot see. You had your chance."
Severus scoffed. "A chance? For what?" He leaned forward. "There was never a chance I'd want anything to do with the likes of you."
Potter stepped closer. "Prove it, then," he said, his mouth pursed into a smirk and his chin pushed out in defiance.
Potter, so churlish and brash—Severus wanted to wipe that third-rate sneer from his face. He'd slap it off—no, he'd knock it off with unkind words about Sirius Black. No, he'd—he'd—
Severus grabbed Potter by the front of his robes and crushed their lips together. Potter's muffled squeak became a full-blown moan as Severus bit at his bottom lip and coaxed his mouth open with his tongue.
It was like before—Potter, warm and soft against him, with a defiant tongue and demanding hands. Severus wanted more. Faint alarm bells rang in the back of his head, but he ignored them—was willing to ignore them for an eternity if only Potter did that delightful thing with his tongue again.
When Severus did nothing to stop Potter from pushing him against the wall and insinuating his thigh between his legs, he knew things had got out of hand—that damn curse had gone too far.
He pushed Potter away. Potter's eyes snapped open, confusion and surprise warring in them as he skittered backward. Resisting the urge to reach out and keep him from stumbling, Severus wrapped his arms around his chest—hugging himself.
Potter came to a stop a few metres away, panting, his head hung low. After a few moments, he looked up and stared into Severus's eyes, irrepressible Gryffindor hope sparkling within them.
He wiped his mouth with the back of his shaky hand. "When I said prove it, I meant leave me alone." Potter's voice was rough and dark. Tingles danced up and down Severus's spine. "Perhaps act like a normal person instead of a raving lunatic. But that—that certainly proves it, doesn't it?"
Severus looked away from hopeful eyes and reddened lips. "Yes, it proves I've been cursed. It proves that you keep harassing me, victimising me, while I'm in a vulnerable state."
Potter's laugh was abrupt and brittle. "Always the victim, aren't you?"
"You'd know all about that, having played victim most of your life."
"I don't know what the hell I was thinking," he muttered, glancing around the small living room.
"Finally, we agree on something."
Potter looked up, his gaze deeply green and earnest. "We used to agree on a lot of things. For a while there—"
Potter made a strangled sound in the back of his throat and closed his eyes for a few moments. He opened them and started again.
"You understood things. At least I thought you did." Potter took a step forward. "And then you kissed me and I wanted that, more than I care to admit. I wanted you. You can't even admit that you liked it, can you? You have to invent a stupid curse rather than admit that you liked kissing Harry Potter. You have to hex Edwin and forbid him from our rooms. Why can't you just admit it?"
"Admit what? That you're deranged? That Rolarseabo is an idiot? That I was cursed? That you keep provoking me? Just what would you like me to admit?"
"That you liked kissing me."
Severus couldn't help it. He laughed, a deep, bone-jarring laugh that had him doubling over. When he could finally stand upright, he looked up to see Potter turned to the side, looking like a kicked puppy.
Severus's gaze narrowed. "You can't be serious?"
The kicked-puppy-frown deepened; even Potter's eyes seemed overlarge and watery.
Severus snarled under his breath. He hated all of the vagaries of Potter's "Cuddle me, I'm wounded!" expressions. As of late, they caused his throat to close up and odd pains to jab at his intestines, stomach, and most unusually, his heart. It was like—like an allergic reaction. It made sense, really. Potter was nothing more than a common irritant, wallowing his way under Severus's skin and attacking his defences.
"I kissed you because you provoked me. In fact, I keep doing it because you irritate me beyond measure and I will employ any means to shut you up. Kissing seems most effective. This is your fault—all of it. If you'd just admit that, we could stop all of this from happening."
Potter ran his hands through his hair, muttering and cursing under his breath. "This isn't getting us anywhere."
"No, I daresay it's not."
Potter turned and opened one of his trunks. He rummaged through, coming up with a small journal and a self-inking quill. He opened it to the first page and began scribbling madly.
"What are you doing?" Severus asked, suspicion blooming and forcing him away from the wall.
Potter paused and looked up. There was that calculating gleam in his eyes that always made Severus nervous. The last time he'd seen it they'd played a Muggle drinking game all night, very little of which Severus could remember. He'd woken up to a slobbery tongue and deep scratches down his chest. Fang—however he'd come to be there—made for a terrible bed partner.
"You're sure the kiss was curse related?" Potter asked.
"Of course, you daft idiot, but that wasn't my question. What are you doing?"
Potter smiled—that thin, sneaky one again.
"Why won't you answer my question?" Severus asked, his eyes narrowing. "Tell me what you're doing."
Potter started scribbling again. "Just something the Board of Governors asked me to do." He paused and looked up. "Would you say it was a kiss, therefore an expression of affection, or more of an oral attack?"
"What you did just now. The thing that could only be caused by the curse. Kiss or attack?" Potter's tongue darted out and ran across his plumped bottom lip. He winced. "Definitely attack," he said before he started writing again.
"What the hell is that? Give it to me," Severus said, stalking across the room and snatching the book from Potter's hands, the quill scratching across the remainder of the page.
"Log of alleged curse related activity," it said at the top in Potter's near indecipherable scrawl. "November 1, oral attack on Harry Potter's mouth and person through Snape's teeth, lips, tongue, and hands. Location: Professors Snape and Potter's rooms. Explanation for aberrant behaviour: Curse compelled attack. Observable phenomena: Exhibiting signs of masochism (purposeful lip biting and tongue stabbing) and paranoia (terrified of the book), as well as grave delusions as to motivations (still claims not attracted to Professor Potter). Consequences—bloody lip, bruised mouth. No medical treatment necessary. Though Snape needs to be chucked into the loony bin. Corrective action: Will lock bedroom door to prevent surprise
kissing oral attacks."
"What is the meaning of this? How dare you write these lies about me. This constitutes defamation of character and impinges on my profession."
Severus had actually felt rather bad about kissing Potter. Again. But those thoughts bled away as righteous indignation boiled through him.
"My, my, my, Professor Potter, you're just piling on the causes of action, now aren't you? Forget forfeiting your vaults to Hogwarts, I'll have them in civil damages."
"They aren't lies and I'm required to keep the log," Potter said blandly, as if explaining something to a small, unruly child. "The Board of Governors has asked me to keep a detailed accounting of your curse related urges. According to you, your little attack was curse related, therefore it goes in the book."
Severus made to tear the page out of the book.
"I wouldn't do that, if I were you. I'll just get another one, and then not only will your oral attack be included, but so will your senseless act of vandalism."
Severus stalked forward. "Is this blackmail? Are you, say, trying to get me to acquiesce to the repugnant idea of Roloabo visiting my chambers?" Severus's heart pounded in his chest. The idea of Roloabo in his chambers—touching Potter—was just… well it was disgusting, is what it was.
Potter laughed. "No. He gets to visit whether I write down all of your curse activity or not. The Board of Governors assigned this task to me and I'm going to see that it gets done. I'll not lose my job over the likes of you."
"You were only too happy to give it up in Slughorn's office. Oh, but that would mean giving up all of your vaults." Severus threw the book at Potter's feet.
Potter reached down and picked up the book, hesitating in his half-crouch, his head hanging. "Throwing things isn't going to solve this either, Severus."
His voice was soft and comely. Severus had the urge to reach out and card his fingers through Potter's soft hair and nibble at his neck until he writhed in his arms. But that was one urge he refused to indulge—again, at least.
"We have to make this work," Potter said. He looked up, his face disgustingly earnest. "The Board of Governors—"
"Yes, fine. I understand all about them, but where were they, I ask you, when there was a three-headed dog running about; a massive, lethal snake snacking on students; and ridiculous games of chance and death going on here? Where were they then? Of course it's my curse that's got their knickers in a twist."
Potter chuckled, though it seemed against his will. "It's a new era, I suppose."
"Good riddance. I long for the good old days when trolls could waltz in unannounced and the headmaster set up all sorts of elaborate, pointless schemes." Severus paused. "Though I suppose that last bit hasn't changed much."
Potter laughed again, the sound rich and warm like Severus remembered. He shook his head. "I don't know what I'm going to do with you," he whispered.
And just like that, like every other time, "things" cleared between them—at least until they drove each other crazy and started attacking and shouting and, in Potter's case, kicking. Such a peculiar relationship they had. Relationship. Severus put the thought out of his head immediately.
"I'll tell you what you're to do, you're to assist me and write silly things in your silly book. You're to report to the Board of Governors, and things are to be just as they were before—"
"Before the… unpleasantness."
Potter sighed. "Something like that, at any rate," he muttered. Turning his full attention to Severus, he pointed and said, "And you're to stop throwing things."
"Throwing things may not solve anything, but it feels well good. You should try it some time."
And with his parting shot well played, Severus retreated, closing himself in his bedroom without giving Potter a chance to respond, without looking at him again. Those damn reddened lips were…were…distracting. He locked the door, wondering how he was going to make it through this mess.
"Severus, stop that. You can't throw peas at people."
"Really? Are you sure? I'm quite confident that I can, in actuality, throw peas at people." To prove his point, he lobbed one at Roloabo's head. Roloabo turned, a deleterious scowl on his face. Severus blinked at him innocently before turning back to his dinner. "See? I told you I could."
Potter sighed and pulled out the book, his quill deftly poised. He drew in a deep breath to ask his first question, but Severus cut him off.
"Yes, yes, it was curse related. Yes, I know throwing things doesn't solve things, but he deserves it, flouncing in and out of my quarters as if he had permission to be here."
"He does have permission, as my guest," Potter drawled, amusement flickering in his eyes, the way it always did when the issue of Roloabo spending time in Severus's rooms came up.
"You can't tell me you honestly like him. He teaches Muggle Studies, for Merlin's sake. It's not like he's a real teacher. What can the two of you possibly talk about?" he asked, his fingers creeping across his plate, snatching a green pea, and lobbing it at Roloabo's head again.
Potter sighed. "You've really got to stop doing that, you know."
Severus gestured towards the book. "Make your silly little observations and be done with it. We have potions ingredients to catalogue."
Potter's mouth twitched at the sides. "I'll have to remind the house-elves not to serve you peas in the future. Or other small, green projectile vegetables."
"It's quite fun, you know. Throwing things at people. You should try it sometime. Perhaps it would dislodge that rather large, self-righteous stick stuck up your ars—"
"Finish that sentence, and it's in the book."
Severus scoffed. "That hardly warrants a mention. What I did yesterday was far more book worthy, wouldn't you agree? I'm rather anxious to see what disturbing mental trauma you tied that one to."
Potter's lips twitched again. "Actually, that one's not in there."
Severus's knife clattered to the plate. "Really, Potter. Slipping in your duties already? It's only been a month. Tsk, tsk. The Board of Governors will be disappointed."
"I hardly think making scented bubble bath warrants—"
"Shut it, you damn fool!" Severus hissed, looking around wildly to see if anyone else had heard.
Potter did laugh then. "Afraid for the staff to know that there's a gentler side to Severus Snape? One that likes lilac scented baths? I wonder, do you fancy long walks in the moonlight, too?"
"Yes. With you floating behind me, trussed up like a Christmas ham, so that I can drop you in the middle of the Forbidden Forest with a little placard tied around your neck that says, 'Werewolf buffet, here.'"
Potter snickered. Severus was disturbed by this. A scant four weeks ago and Potter's fists would have been balled into quaking little fists of blind fury and he would have been screaming at Severus with that foul little tongue of his. Now he was snickering. And laughing. And pretending that everything was the way it had been before Severus had given into the curse the first time and kissed him.
He had to admit that a part of him missed the barbs they traded over meals in the Great Hall, whiskies in his rooms, and nights in the Astronomy Tower when neither of them could escape the profound guilt that only they could understand. They could banter and taunt and forget that the rest of the world existed. It was an uncomfortable truth that Severus often wondered what would have been so bad about a world occupied by only the two of them.
"Severus? You okay?"
Severus dropped his fork, the ache of the familiar hum of their relationship lingering. "Fine, Potter. I was simply thinking of all the work we have to do."
"You know, I've gone along with it so far, but being your personal assistant is really only to keep you from maiming students and staff. I haven't been given into your service as an ingredient preparer, cauldron scrubber, or cataloguer."
"Yes, well I have you in my clutches, now."
Severus had meant it to be funny. He'd expected a caustic rejoinder and a chuckle. Instead, Potter looked down at his food while a faint blush crept across his cheeks.
"Yeah, I suppose you do," Potter said, in that soft, comely voice of his.
Severus was paralysed with… something, he didn't know what, but it hurt and he didn't like it.
"Good, then there'll be no more arguments about ingredients. Just for that, I think I'll give you the newt livers to sort out."
Potter gave him a small smile in response. That wasn't what Severus wanted at all. He wanted Potter to laugh or scream or tell him to go to hell. He didn't like these soft smiles and creeping blushes. They unnerved him and made him think about things that were better left to teenagers in full hormonal bloom.
Potter stood and left the Great Hall. Severus could only stare, his mouth hanging open slightly as he watched him leave. His plate was still full of peas, but Severus had no desire to throw any of them.
Severus quite liked watching Potter tumble arse over tit.
"What the hell was that for?" Potter asked, scrambling to get to his feet and out of the wet snow.
"Shush, they'll hear you."
"Who? What are you talking about?"
"Bloody hell, they'll see you too," Severus said as he yanked Potter down again, watching him fall into the soft, wet snow once more.
"Stop doing that! What's got into you?"
"You've been conscripted."
"You've lost your bloody mind. I'm getting the hell out of here before you can drag me into your madness."
"You're not going anywhere," Severus said, grabbing Potter round the middle and keeping him below the large snowbank in front of them. "Stop that infernal wiggling. Look, do you not understand what conscripted means?"
"Conscripted to do what, exactly? Get thrown about in the snow until I'm a wet, shivering mess? I think I'd prefer to sort out the newt livers again, thanks."
"No, you idiot. To make the ammunition."
Potter stared at him with that blank, confused expression of his.
"Should we have the ventilation checked in the lab?" Potter asked, looking up at Severus, apparently not caring that Severus still had him round the middle.
Severus noticed, though. "There's nothing wrong with the lab," he said, letting Potter go. "Now start packing snow. We'll set up our munitions here," he said, pointing to a large square of ground outlined in small branches.
"What's going on? Is this some sort of twisted—"
Severus grabbed Potter's hand, jerking him forward so that his line of sight just cleared the snowbank. "See over there, in the trees?"
"Those boys have been milling about for ages."
"What are you suggesting? Some new form of punishment? That we pummel them into submission instead of taking House points?"
"No, you idiot. Look over there, to your left. Your other left, Potter. Yes, there. See those boys?"
"Good. Now you understand. Back to work with you. We have a lot of work to do and we haven't even begun talking strategy."
"Um, excuse me, but what does the first group of boys have to do with the other group of boys?"
"You really are exceedingly thick."
"Part of my charm, or so you seem to think, what with your constant reference to it."
"Stop that. You're getting us off course. One of your more infuriating talents."
"Fine. Since I'm thick and distracting, explain to me what the hell is going on."
"That first group of boys doesn't know about the second. They don't know that the second is planning a vicious, surprise snowball attack."
"How do you know that? Those boys could just be out enjoying the weather."
Severus shot Potter a look that all but screamed, "Thick. Plank."
Potter rolled his eyes and sighed. "Fine. What's that got to do with us?"
"Neither group knows about us. Those little miscreants think they can plan a surprise attack, but they don't know the first thing about it. I thought it might be fun. Give them a bit of a taste of their own medicine. And I can throw things. I do love throwing things."
Potter bit his lip, patting his pockets. He opened his mouth , but closed it a moment later. His hands fell to his sides and he shook his head, snorting. When he turned back to Severus, his eyes danced with mirth and a small smile played at his lips. Severus forgot to breathe for a moment.
"All right, then. What's your strategy?" Potter asked, balling snow and packing it tight in his hands.
Thirty minutes later, they were both pressed against the back of the snowbank, trying valiantly to hold in the laughter. Severus had been right—the boys never saw their surprise attack coming. One minute, the two groups of boys were pelting each other with half-hearted globs of snow and the next, they were defending themselves together from unseen foes.
"Are they gone?" Potter asked, twisting a bit and levering himself up.
Severus grabbed and pulled him down, tight against his side. "Don't! We don't want them to see us."
They waited a few minutes more, until the strains of yelping boys faded into the distance.
"I think they've run back to the castle," Severus said, only just realizing that he still had Potter tucked tightly against him and that neither of them seemed to mind.
"That was brilliant," Potter said.
"See? I told you that you'd like throwing things. You'd have made a fair beater, I suspect."
"Oliver Wood thought the same thing. But it was the Snitch I wanted."
"Yes, who could resist the brilliant glitter of the Snitch? You always struck me as a bit of a magpie."
"It wasn't that. It was… I dunno. Knowing it was meant to be mine, I guess, and going after it with everything I had until it was clutched tightly in my hand. Captured. Mine."
Potter looked up, his face flushed from the cold and exertion, his eyes brighter than Severus had ever remembered seeing them. He bit his bottom lip.
"Do you ever feel that way, Severus? That something was meant to be yours and that you—that you had to have it?"
Severus couldn't look away from Potter's lips and the way his teeth worried the bottom one and the way his tongue darted in and out, teasing. "I—"
"No, of course not. You're too hard on yourself."
You're not the man everyone thinks you are, you know. You're not even the man you think you are."
"I think you're rather brilliant, you see," Potter said in a rush of words, tipping his head back even further and straightening up, bringing his lips closer.
"Potter," Severus warned, his chest heaving from the strain of not leaning down and capturing those rough, reddened lips with his.
"I wish you could see that about yourself. I wish—mmphf!"
Severus couldn't hold back any longer. He leaned down and shut Potter up the best way he knew how. The kiss bordered on violent, but eventually they relaxed into it, their tongues and lips dancing together as if they'd done it a million times. He pulled Potter even closer as Potter's arms wound round his back. The world fell away.
Eventually, the frisson of desperation subsided and they were left with soft, gentle nips and presses of lips. Severus cradled Potter's head in his hands. His thumbs stroked across Potter's cheekbones.
Potter sighed. His eyes fluttered open and he stared at Severus, begging him for something. "So, tomorrow night? Dinner at the Cock and Swallow?"
Potter smiled. "We've got the kissing part down, now all we need to do is the dating part. So, erm, will you? Tomorrow?"
Severus felt fine tremors running through Potter's body. He looked away and cleared his throat.
"Okay, not tomorrow. The next night?"
"I'm sorry. It's—" For the first time, Severus couldn't bring himself to say it was the curse. "I'm sorry," he said again.
"Right," Potter muttered before he pulled away from him.
The loss was surprising. It was like all of the warmth in his body evaporated in a few jostling, awkward movements, leaving behind nothing but a bone-deep cold. He didn't understand.
"I guess that's it, then."
"Don't. Please don't. Let me have—just don't say anything else." Potter scrambled to his feet, carefully avoiding looking at him. "I'll, um, see you later. You'll be okay, yeah?"
Severus scrambled for something funny to say, something—anything—that would erase the look he'd seen in Potter's eyes. "I solemnly swear not to chop up any students for Potions ingredients. At least until you're there to assist me. As my personal assistant."
Potter snorted, but still didn't look his way.
"When shall I expect you?" Severus asked.
Potter shrugged. "Edwin's asked me to have supper with him in his chambers. Sometime after that, I expect."
A flash of anger bubbled up inside of Severus, spitting out as, "He's an idiot. A useless idiot."
Potter laughed, but it wasn't the usual, free sound. It was bitter and cold. Much the way Severus felt. Potter shrugged. "None of your business, now is it?" There was a flash of something in Potter's eyes. "Perhaps I'll invite him to the Cock and Swallow. What do you think of that?"
"As you've said, it's none of my business." It hurt Severus quite a lot to say that. The grinding of his teeth as he spat the words would require a trip to the dentist.
Potter's shoulders sagged and his head dropped. "I'll see you later." He turned and began the slow trek back to the castle, his eyes on his feet and his teeth worrying his bottom lip.
The ache burrowed deeper, festering in Severus's gut. He'd never felt more confused in his life.
They were talking again—Severus could hear them, out in the small sitting room. It was the third time that week. Roloabo said something that Severus couldn't quite make out. Potter laughed as if Roloabo was a clever man with a sparkling sense of humour. Severus tried to ignore them as he turned his attention back to his Devious and Diabolical Potions Monthly.
He'd just got to the really good part about oxidization of Murtlap leaves when Potter's laugh broke through his concentration. Severus slammed his journal shut and stalked out of his bedroom.
"It's ten o'clock. Time for you to leave, Roloabo. Potter needs his beauty sleep."
Roloabo looked over the back of the sofa, his brows knitting together. "Have you lost your mind? Oh, wait. Don't answer that. I'd rather not be accused of harassing you, thanks."
"It's indecently late. I insist that you leave."
"If we're being too loud, Severus, we can move to my bedroom," Potter offered, a sly grin on his face.
Roloabo seemed far too keen on the idea, what with his rapid leap from the sofa and his lascivious smile. Severus's blood boiled.
"No, Potter, what I want is for him to leave. You'll make just as much noise in there and I'll not have it."
"Fine," Potter said. "Edwin, why don't we go back to your rooms, yeah? We can finish our hot air balloon discussion there."
"Perfect. I've got a wonderful bottle of Muggle wine I thought we could sample, perhaps compare it to a few Wizarding versions?"
"Absolutely not," Severus said before Potter could accept. "He has classes quite early and, unlike yours, his actually require thought and focus. Plus, he'll throw up all over your shoes if you give him anything to drink."
"That's not true. Tell him it's not true," Potter bellowed, whipping his head back and forth from Roloabo to Severus.
"Shall we call Flitwick to settle the matter?" Severus asked.
"You absolute git! It was one time, and it was that bloody Goblin shite Hagrid insisted was like butterbeer."
"Nevertheless you threw up all over Flitwick's new slippers. He's still quite cross about it, you know."
"Did you really?" Roloabo asked, looking torn between amusement and sympathy.
"It doesn't matter," Potter seethed. "Go on, Edwin. I'll be along in a few moments."
"Yes, Roloabo, shoo. And remember, he can't hold his liquor. I for one refuse to be subjected to a cross Potter tomorrow. If I am, I assure you that there will be more than permanently green hair for you to contend with."
Roloabo covered his hair with his hands—now dyed to match its original brown colour—and ran for the door. "You are a wicked, spiteful man."
Severus smiled, which he imagined was quite frightening. "Yes. I am."
Roloabo made a squawking noise as he bolted from Severus's chambers.
Severus savoured his exit for a long while until the sound of a quill furiously scratching across parchment caught his attention. Potter was writing in the book. His lips were pursed so tightly that Severus couldn't even see them.
"That's not curse related, Potter. It's Roloabo related."
"I should have known you were simply acting."
"What are you on about now?"
"You know exactly what I'm talking about. For the last several weeks you've been—been—like you were before. Like we were before. And now—"
"And now, what?"
"Now, you're being ridiculous. You were completely unreasonable with Edwin, with me," Potter said, the jerky movement of his quill punctuating his anger. "You have absolutely no respect for me or for him. And you threatened to curse him. That goes in the book." Potter thumped the book with tip of his quill and slammed it closed.
"Of course I don't respect him, and I can't respect you if you tell me that he's somehow worthy of your time. I don't know what you can possibly see in that man."
"We're friends, Severus. I don't really have to see anything in him, I just have to get on with him, and I do. You know, people ask me that all the time. About you, I mean. How could I be friends with you? What could I possibly see in you?"
"It's not nearly the same. He doesn't just want to be friends."
"I know," Potter said, silence blanketing them.
"This is stupid," Potter said, making his way towards the door.
Severus caught his wrist. "You're making a mistake."
"So what? Why do you care?"
"Because from where I'm sitting, you wouldn't care unless you wanted me, too."
"You egotistical little bast—"
"Maybe you don't like the competition. I bet you figured that with Roloabo around, there's no way you could stand a chance."
"I could best him with one hand tie—"
"Well then, best him! Do something about it."
Severus didn't say anything. Potter seemed to take that as encouragement.
"We could try it, you know. One date. Just to see." There was that look again—the one that begged for something Severus didn't understand.
"When are you going to get it through that block of wood currently serving as your head that I've been cursed? How long is it going to take you to understand that? It's not real, this feeling—these feelings—they can't be real."
"Why? What's wrong with them? What's wrong with me?"
"I was never attracted to you before and everything about you irritates me, that's why. You're like ragweed. And not in the medicinal sense, either."
"You're not attracted to me, you just like to go around kissing me, is that it?"
"To shut you up! It's the bloody curse, Potter."
"Right. You're pathetic. Fucking pathetic." Potter yanked his wrist free and charged out of the room, slamming the door behind him.
Severus felt an overwhelming urge to run after him, haul him back into their rooms, and teach him a good lesson about slamming doors and calling him pathetic. He'd throw him down on the sofa, straddle him to keep him from getting away, grab his wrists with one hand and hold them over his head to keep him from throwing punches, and then he'd snog the bloody hell out of him to keep him quiet.
The real lesson would begin after that.
Severus groaned as moans, parting legs, and pearl-white teeth biting a plump bottom lip danced through his imagination. He shuddered.
"Get a hold of yourself, you imbecile," he muttered to himself, his hands clenching when Potter's bright expression and teasing smile wouldn't leave him.
He couldn't go on like this.
Severus stumbled into the Hog's Head and, after ordering his own little tray of whiskies, made his way to a small table in the back, intent on getting extraordinarily drunk. Potter was a complete bastard. Refusing to talk to him like a child, even in the face of Severus's overt conciliation. That chocolate croissant he'd left for Potter to stumble upon and devour should have cleared the air. But Potter, with his mulish little jaw and fiery eyes, refused even a nibble, leaving scraps of parchment that went on and on endlessly about chicanery and bribery. Severus was sure Granger had helped him write it. Chicanery—though Potter was the word's epitome—was quite lost on him as a concept.
And then there were the visions, the thoughts, and the traitorous dreams. Severus had had more sex, albeit of the solo variety, in the previous week than he'd had in years. It was quite disgusting, really. Potter had officially become a problem.
He was halfway through his third whisky when Roloabo sat at his table, his lurid pink drink spilling a bit, oozing down the side of his glass. Severus was certain he smelled coconut.
"We need to have a chat, I think," Roloabo said.
"Go away. And take that abomination with you. What did that poor bottle of rum ever do to you?"
Roloabo looked as he might leave, but he kept his seat. "No." He cleared his throat. "I think I'll stay where I am, thanks."
"I wasn't joking when I said that green hair should be the least of your worries." Severus's gaze flicked to Roloabo's hairline. "My, that brown dye just doesn't give the coverage one would want, now does it?"
Roloabo's hand flew to his hair before he got hold of himself. "You are a nasty, distasteful, rude, petty, bully of a man. How anyone can stand you is bewildering."
Severus raised his glass in salute before finishing it off in one long swallow. He slammed the glass down. "Given the limits of your vocabulary, you really shouldn't use all of your insults in one horrid string like that. What are you going to call me later when things really get going?"
"Stop this," Roloabo hissed. "Harry—he—he seems fond of you. Don't you even care about that?"
"Not an ounce of taste in him. Case in point: he says he likes you."
"He's Harry Potter, Snape. He's a dashing, young, lovely hero," Roloabo said with a reverence reserved for dead mothers.
"Just how much of that have you had to drink?"
"Enough to scrape together the courage to talk to you."
"Now that's refreshing. A simpering fop who admits his cowardice."
Roloabo squeezed his eyes shut and whimpered—no doubt gathering phantom courage. He opened his eyes again and smoothed the front of his robes.
"Don't you even care that you've—you've–wounded him with this little fit of yours?"
"That's his problem," Severus said, signalling for another drink. "I could care less about him." The words tasted like ground Ashwinder shells in his mouth.
Roloabo leaned in. "But that's where you're wrong. You see, in the course of watching Harry for the last three years, I've had the unfortunate experience of watching you."
"How flattering." Severus took a generous swallow of his freshened drink. "I haven't the faintest idea what you're talking about, but then again neither do you. I suppose that makes us good company on that score."
"The minute he walks into a room, your eyes are on him, cataloguing everything about him. If anyone gets near him or tries to engage him in conversation, you leap into the fray, distracting him with tasteless barbs and tacky insults. You can't stand the thought of anyone having him."
Severus's heart squeezed. He traced the rim of his glass with one finger, hoping Roloabo hadn't seen the grimace of pain flash across his face. "You're mad."
"I am not," Roloabo scoffed before slurping down the rest of his drink.
"You haven't the faintest idea abou—"
"He looks at you the same way, you know. I can't stand it," he whined. "Every time he sees you, or your name comes up, he gets this look in his eyes." Roloabo frowned, his lips drawn up as if he'd swallowed bitterroot. "It's very annoying."
The idea of Potter having a particular look in his eyes—on Severus's account—left him with an inexplicable sense of buoyancy. "Again, his problem, not mine," he said, merely because the words were easy, not because they were believable.
"Do you hate him? Is that it?"
"What an idiotic thing—"
"Then let him go. If you don't want him, let the rest of us have a chance."
"What, with someone like you, for instance?"
"Look, just stop interfering. I like him and he likes me."
"You keep telling yourself that. Perhaps an old man will come along and sell you some Muggle beans."
"Just stay out it, Snape. For the love of God, let him go if you don't want him. Actually, strike that, let him go even if you do want him."
Roloabo stood—a bit unsteady on his feet. He righted his cloak and nervously patted his hair. Severus watched him impassively.
"You know you're a very sad, angry man."
"Your powers of observation are astounding," Severus sneered.
"If you don't let him go, he'll end up like you. Is that what you really want?"
Roloabo didn't wait for an answer. Severus didn't think he could have given him one.
He grabbed another tumbler of whisky, glad that he'd thought to get so many.
Severus was beginning to wonder why he hadn't just ordered the damn bottle when yet another visitor sat at his table. Severus didn't look up, not sure he was game for any more surprises.
"Good gods, please tell me that you're not some damn do-gooding ghost here to show me glimmers and memories of my youth, or something equally excruciating."
"What was that, Severus?"
"Oh. It's just you, Horace. Thank the gods for that little miracle."
Slughorn reached out and pulled Severus's glass across the table. "Perhaps you've had enough."
"Perhaps there's not enough in all of Hogsmeade to be enough," Severus said as he swiped the glass from Slughorn's grasp and finished it off.
"Potter," Severus growled.
Slughorn slumped in his chair with a sigh. "Is he harassing you? Taunting you? Throwing hot tea across your lap? Screaming that he's going to apply for a restraining order or cut off your, erm, man's appendage?"
"No, nothing like—what?"
"Nothing, nothing. Just, you know, hypothetical examples."
Severus rolled his shoulders. "Hennessy will see you sacked if you don't leave her alone, Horace."
"What? I haven't the faintest—you're completely wrong about—Oh, bollocks! How did you know?"
"Are you mad? Do you think me stupid? Which is it? Seriously?"
"I don't know what's got into me."
"The curse, that's what. Isn't that right?"
Slughorn's gaze skittered to the side. "Yes, of course. Of course."
"It's that damn curse that's caused all the problems. Even Potter. Though he started this whole thing."
"Please tell me I'm not going to lose my Defence teacher. Please tell me that nothing has happened that will cause the Board to sack him."
Severus didn't say anything.
"He's harmless, Severus. Look, he's a bit like a puppy—all growl but no real bite, and even if he does, they're just little milk teeth. He doesn't have it in him. You, on the other hand, rip people to shreds in the space of a few, cutting words."
Severus closed his eyes and groaned, images of Potter's teeth nibbling his bottom lip, of kissing him, of that unreadable begging in his eyes that Severus didn't understand battering him from all sides.
"Severus? Are you quite all right? Has the whisky got to you?"
"No. No—I've somewhere to be, excuse me," Severus said, determined to get to the bottom of what was going on.
Severus listed through the door to his chambers, mentally cursing every iced-over cobblestone in the damn village.
He headed straight for Potter's room, but stopped when he heard Potter's voice floating through the door, along with Rolarseabo's.
"Potter, I'm not in the mood for guests," he called barging into Potter's room. He came to an abrupt stop at the sight of Potter and Roloabo sitting cosily on the small sofa. Cold rage boiled in his gut, eating away at him like acid as Roloabo's fingers stroked Potter's bare forearm.
"There you are," Potter said in his cool-as-you-please voice. "You gave me the slip again. I thought we'd have to go looking for you. Edwin thought he might know where to find you."
"You'd have to get dressed first, I'd imagine," Severus spat, his eyes roving over Potter's dishevelled appearance. "And cleave him from your body. What's he doing here anyway? Get out of my rooms, Rolarseabo."
"Shut it, Severus. That's going into the book, by the way. He's here at my invitation." Potter shifted his legs, his robes riding up and showing off his naked calves. "And we're just talking. Fully dressed, as you can see. On the sofa."
"In your bedroom."
"Yeah. In my bedroom." Potter cocked his head to the side, his pale throat bared. "You don't care, do you?"
"Because if you did have a problem, that would sound quite unreasonable to me. Wouldn't it, Edwin?"
"Yes, of course," Roloabo offered, smiling like a snake charmer. "Most unreasonable."
Severus felt a growl begin in the back of his throat, his eyes still fixed on Roloabo's fat, waxy fingers stroking Potter's arm.
Potter leaned across Roloabo and reached for his drink, wiggling his bottom just so. Severus's throat went dry. Roloabo stared at Potter's arse with a lascivious grin. "You've lost," he mouthed as he made a squeezing motion with his hands.
The growl that had been building in the back of Severus's throat leapt out, followed by a Stinging Hex that had Roloabo howling and leaping to his feet, knocking Potter to the floor in the process. Severus thought he heard a crack and a muffled yelp, but Roloabo's howling drowned out any other sound.
"He hexed me! Did you see that? Ow! Stop doing that, you greasy bastard! Put it in the book, Harry. That goes in the book!"
"How can he put it in the book, Edwin, when you've trampled him to death?" Severus asked, sending one more Stinging Hex Roloabo's way. Roloabo hopped from foot to foot, his hands cradling his bottom in an effort to alleviate the sting.
"What kind of wizard are you? You can't even mutter a counter-curse to a first year hex? Too many pink nightmares at the Hog's Head, eh?"
"How dare you!"
Severus ignored him. "Potter, get up off the floor this instant. There's only space for one histrionic idiot in this room and Rolarseabo's filled it."
"You're not supposed to call me that anymore! Harry put it in the book. It's in the book."
"Screw the bloody book, Roloabo. You deserve a bloody book of your own."
"How dare you. I was very frank with you this evening. You, on the other hand, are acting like a deranged lunatic."
"Shut it, before you lose your voice permanently."
Severus nudged Potter with his foot. "Potter? Get up off that floor this instant."
Potter groaned and struggled to get up before falling back down again.
"Potter?" Severus asked.
"Hurts," Potter whimpered.
"Harry?" Roloabo asked as he knelt down and reached out to touch him.
"Don't you touch him. You'll just kill him again, and then we really will be in a fix."
"I didn't—how dare you imply—you're the reason he's hurt. You and your out of control urges."
"Get the bloody hell out of the way so that I can get him to the hospital wing. You've obviously maimed him and it's up to me to see him set to rights," Severus said, gathering Potter in his arms, surprised at how right it felt to hold him.
"It's not up to you," Roloabo said, trying to snatch Potter out of Severus's arms. "He told me, you know. Told me that sometimes one has to let things go, let people go. Clearly he was talking about you. I was just about to suggest we have supper at the Cock and Swallow when you lumbered in here, shouting, carelessly hexing people. Even that bloody curse won't save you now."
Roloabo made a particularly vicious tug. Potter moaned and almost tumbled from Severus's grasp.
The realisation that he could lose Potter to Roloabo, that Roloabo could take him, caused Severus to say the strangest, yet most profound thing of his life.
"You can't have him! He's mine!"
Time stopped for just a moment as Severus pondered what he'd just said. That's right. Potter was his, had always been his and he'd be damned if he'd lose him now, especially to someone like Edwin Roloabo. Which begged the question of the curse, of course, but Severus put that aside for the moment. He had more pressing matters to attend to.
"Let him go. He's not a bloody thing," Roloabo said, pulling at Potter's arms while Severus kept hold of his middle.
"Remove your filthy hands from Potter right now."
"No. He's thrown you over for me. Let him go, you sodding bastard."
"No. Get off!"
And just like that, Potter tumbled from both their grips, smacking his head against the stone floor once again, falling unconscious.
Severus, who prided himself on quick thought and action, scooped him up in his arms and made a mad dash for the door.
Roloabo had the same idea. "Where are you going with him? Put him down. Now," he said, running after Severus.
"Stay out of my way. Your services are no longer needed," Severus yelled behind him as he made it around the corner and towards the staircase.
"You can't just take him away from me. We almost—We were about to—You've ruined everything!"
Roloabo caught up with Severus on the stairs, grasping at Severus's robes, trying to trip him.
"Stop that, you idiot. You'll kill us both, and then you won't have your precious Potter."
Roloabo let go, but only until they both reached the top of the stairs. He leapt to the side of Severus and grabbed Potter's arm, causing Severus to swing around.
"What the bloody hell are you doing?" he screamed, trying to stay on his feet and keep Potter from falling again.
"It's not safe for you to take him, what with that nasty curse of yours. You could chuck him over the side of the stairwell for all I know." Roloabo pulled Potter's arm, jerking Severus closer. "Let him go, Snape."
Severus pulled away, stumbling into the wall, knocking over a suit of armor in the process. The metal clattered against the stone in a series of jarring tumbles. Severus heard shouts of concern and the pounding of feet.
"Look at what you've done. They're coming for us, now," Severus said, pushing off from the wall and readjusting Potter in his arms. "Now get out of the way, or I'll do something you'll regret."
The sizzle of a curse whizzed by Severus's left ear. Instinctively, he started to drop into a defensive crouch, but couldn't with Potter in his arms. He couldn't even get to his wand.
"What do you think you're doing?" Severus yelled, charging towards Roloabo.
Roloabo paled and his wand arm shook. "Impedimenta!" he cried, the curse going wide, slapping against the wall before dissipating in a flurry of gold sparks.
Severus growled. "Try that again, and I'll kill you."
Pounding footsteps came closer.
"Pratinus Coloro!" Roloabo screamed.
Severus ducked out of the way, nearly dropping Potter in the process. The curse went wide once again. Severus expected to hear it smack into the wall, disintegrating into a mass of green sparks. What he heard instead was the shriek of a small girl.
Severus turned around. His jaw dropped at the sight. Before he could say another word, Slughorn—and the rest of the school, it seemed—came barrelling around the corner.
"What the bloody hell is going on up here?" he roared. "Why is Potter unconscious?" Slughorn turned around and gasped. "What's happened to that suit of armour? That suit of armour was a gift from the alumni class of 1652. It's from the First Goblin War."
But it was the wailing first-year Hufflepuff that really got him up in arms.
"What the—why is that girl's hair green?"
They all sat in Slughorn's office, staring at the floor while Board of Governors President Bertrand McTavish growled and ranted about the decay of modern educational standards. Potter, having just been released from the Hospital Wing earlier in the day, was still in robe and slippers.
"Right," McTavish began. "Three nights ago a school corridor was ravaged, a priceless suit of armour—a gift from the Hogwarts' Alumni Association—was toppled and damaged beyond repair, a teacher suffered a serious concussion, and a student was cursed with permanently green hair." McTavish rapped his knuckles on the side of his chair. "I want to know what the bloody hell happened."
"They were just having a bit of fu—"
"Shut it, Horace. Your smooth words won't fix things this time. I have students and parents to answer to. Great gods, why couldn't they have all been orphans like Potter, there. Then we wouldn't have to deal with this rubbish."
"Hey!" Potter said.
Severus said nothing, looked at nothing. He feared that saying anything—or looking at Potter—might undo him.
"None of you are talking, is that it?" McTavish asked.
Potter and Roloabo looked in opposite directions and Slughorn sighed dramatically.
"Fine. Let me tell you what I think happened. This all has to do with Snape. You attacked two professors, a priceless suit of armour, and a defenceless girl. A bit of a modus operandi issue, I think. What do you say to that?"
"He did no such thing," Potter said, going red in the face from his emphatic delivery.
"What do you know? You were unconscious," McTavish said, dismissing Potter with a wave of his hand. "For all you know, he was going to take you up to the Astronomy Tower and throw you off. He's been known to do that before."
"How dare you!" Potter spat, trying to get to his feet, no doubt about to say something that would get himself fired.
"Shut it, Potter. I'd prefer to have someone competent defend me."
Potter's expression was the worst sort of wounded puppy face Severus had ever seen. He turned to the side and ignored him. Perhaps Roloabo had been right. Perhaps it was better to leave Potter alone.
"It was Roloabo's wand that cast those curses," Slughorn offered, his eyes darting between the two teachers.
"Only because that evil bastard provoked me! He was stealing Harry," Roloabo spat.
"Enough," McTavish roared. He rubbed the back of his neck with his hand. "I'm tempted to dismiss the lot of you. Things aren't like they used to be, you know. I actually have to answer to someone now, and as such, Professor Snape, you are hereby dismissed from your employment and your rooms. Further, the school will not defend or become a part of any suit or criminal charges the Hufflepuff girl's parents or the Alumni Association wish to bring."
"Good riddance," Roloabo sneered, while Slughorn sputtered and stammered about the curse and reasonable adjustments and all sorts of other words that meant nothing now. Severus sighed and started to get to his feet.
"It was my fault!"
Everyone turned and looked at Potter, including Severus. What was that idiot up to now?
"What did you say?" McTavish asked.
Potter licked his lips and shot a sidelong glance at Severus. "I said—it's my fault. You can't sack him or send him to Azkaban, or whatever else you're thinking. It's my fault. I—I deliberately provoked him. I… knew about the curse and, um, victimised and harassed him anyway. It's my fault."
McTavish gasped and Roloabo nearly tumbled from his chair. Severus sat with his back straight, unmoving. A spark of something sharp and bright burgeoned in his chest.
Slughorn shot a desperate glance at Severus before addressing Potter. "Come now, Harry. That can't be true. You don't have it in you to do something so devious." Slughorn chuckled nervously. "Erm, right? Harry? You're just having us on, aren't you?"
"No, I'm sorry, headmaster. You see… erm… that is… yes. Right. The thing of it is—well, let me start at the beginning. You see, I haven't been able to stand Professor Snape for years now. And I—I lured him with my—" Potter made a flapping gesture with his hands. "—my… my…."
"Your what? Your impression of a duck?" McTavish asked.
Potter sighed and rolled his eyes. "My, erm, you know, my wiles, I guess. I used them to, uh, to trap him, you see. I was going to make him go mad with jealousy—with, um—with Edwin over there. And then the curse came about and I thought if I could get him riled enough he'd do my work for me. Get himself sacked. But it went too far as you can see, and he shouldn't be blamed for something I've done." Potter swallowed. "Especially given that… he's been… cursed." Potter choked out the words as if they'd kill him by their mere utterance. He glanced at Severus again—his expression as searching as Severus had ever seen it.
"You—you used me?" Roloabo squeaked, getting up from his chair and pointing a shaky finger at Potter.
Potter nodded. "I'm truly sorry," he whispered, meaning it. Severus knew. He knew every inflection of Potter's voice, what every rise and fall, every hitching breath, meant.
"This is ridiculous. If that's so, then you made me curse that little Hufflepuff!" Roloabo bellowed.
Potter's head snapped up, familiar defiance blazing in his eyes, his crooked little mouth open at the side and his foul tongue ready to flail Roloabo. But then his gaze flicked to Severus, and his eyes went glassy and his mouth closed. He shrugged. "I suppose so," he said, his voice cracking a bit.
Severus's eyebrows shot to his hairline, while McTavish hissed and Slughorn fell backward with a moan, his throne-like chair the only thing keeping him upright. Potter was trying to save him. The stupid little fool was trying to save him.
Roloabo blinked, his mouth going as slack as his arm. Clearly, he'd not anticipated Potter confessing to the crime. "But Harry, that can't—is it the concussion? Is that it? Are you still concussed?"
"No, I am not," Potter spat, shifting around in his seat like an agitated kneazle.
Slughorn—who seemed to rally back for a moment at Roloabo's concussion theory—slumped in his chair again.
"He'll have to be sacked," McTavish said.
"But Bertrand, surely this is just—"
"I understand your concern, Horace, but he has to be sacked. This kind of gross misconduct cannot be tolerated. Not on my watch. Do you have any idea how difficult it is for me to address questions about safety at this school? Do you?"
Slughorn waved his arms about, dismissing McTavish's concerns. "Honestly, a few minor incidents and it's as if the school's a dangerous mantrap, or something."
"A few—minor—Potter here was nearly killed by a Basilisk at age twelve," McTavish sputtered. "And now some poor little Hufflepuff will have to suffer green hair for the rest of her life."
"It's all right," Potter interrupted. He rose unsteadily to his feet. "I'll just… I'll just pack. I can be gone by dinner, I think. I assume that I'm permitted my personal effects."
Slughorn made that horrible moaning sound again. "The contract, Harry. The contract," he moaned.
Severus had forgotten about the contract, he'd forgotten nearly everything, so stunned that Potter would fall on his Gryffindor sword to save him. He intended to give up everything for Severus. Severus stopped breathing for a moment, the revelation's shock nearly toppling him. No one had—no one….
"Yes, but that's only my vaults and—"
"Everything, my boy. It covers everything."
Potter looked as though he might pass out. "Well, then. I'll, um, I'll just be on my way," he said, Transfiguring his slippers into trainers. He hesitated for a moment. "This means nothing will happen to Professor Snape, right?"
"He'll be required to have another personal assistant and I think a short sabbatical is in order, but you are essentially correct. Professor Snape's employ with this school is no longer in jeopardy."
Potter nodded and turned to leave. For good. It was as if everything had just caught up with Severus. Potter was leaving. He'd never be able to insult him again. He'd never be able to make up names for fellow teachers with him, or share whisky, or grouse about the state of his robes and hair. He was leaving and Severus couldn't imagine a life without Potter. Severus didn't want a life without him.
"Wait!" Severus yelled as Potter opened the door to leave.
Everyone turned to look at him, but Severus could only see Potter and the curious hope in his eyes. He couldn't let Potter do this. Severus thought fast.
"Two weeks ago, he was chopping bitterroot and his knife slipped, cutting him and causing him to bleed everywhere. He ruined the entire batch."
"I hardly think we need more reasons to sack him, Snape," McTavish said.
"No, you misunderstand. The idiot needed my assistance with his wound—he—he came in contact with a nick on my hand that I'd got just a few minutes prior, when his sneezing and ridiculously loud congested breathing startled me, causing my own knife to slip."
McTavish rapped his knuckles on the side of his chair. "Just what's going on here? Have you all gone mad?"
"Forgive me, Governor McTavish, but I've just realised that Potter's been cursed. He now suffers from the same tragic curse that the headmaster and I have bravely struggled with these last months."
Slughorn fell off of his toady throne with a great gasp of air.
"What the devil are you talking about?" McTavish demanded, while Roloabo shouted something extraneous and Potter stared at Severus with an intensity that made him want to melt into a large, warm puddle. One that Potter might take a bath in, hopefully.
"The curse. Headmaster Slughorn—a seriously accomplished Potions master in his own right, by the way. Have you read his intriguing article on identifying unicorn hair? The simplicity of it is positively ground-breaking."
"Er, right. Sorry, Governor McTavish. Headmaster Slughorn and I have been doing research late in the evenings on the curse."
Severus shot Slughorn the look, one that every Slytherin learned his first day in the dungeons. Slughorn responded with a discreet tug of his left ear.
"That's right. I nearly forgot, what with everything going on," Slughorn said. "Interesting discovery, McTavish. Seems the curse can be transmitted through the exchange of bodily fluids—in this case, blood. What would have been a minor lab accident at any other time became a grave day of consequence for poor Professor Potter." Slughorn shook his head and curled his fists. "Poor lad, he's been cursed."
McTavish blinked repeatedly before digging in his pockets for an old-fashioned linen handkerchief. "Good gods, it's catching," he muttered before covering his mouth.
Roloabo squeaked and scrambled to find his own handkerchief, but not before shooting a speculative glance Severus's way.
"This curse has become quite bothersome," McTavish said, his handkerchief billowing with each consonant. "You know, the DAMPCA only provides for a reasonable adjustment—it's not meant to be an indefinite protection. If you three keep going around cursing priceless historical artefacts and little girls, flashing lady's frilly knickers in front of the Slytherin Quidditch team—"
"—That was never proved," Slughorn interjected.
"—and using your wiles to garner sordid attention, I'm afraid all three of you will have to be sacked, starting with Potter."
Potter's shoulders slumped while Slughorn wailed about the unfairness of it all. Potter smiled at Severus—the half-melancholy one that always made the skin around his eyes wrinkle in an absurdly attractive way.
"That's it, then," he said, turning towards the door.
"Wait!" Severus cried again.
McTavish muttered under his breath, the handkerchief moving with each clipped syllable. "What now, Snape?"
Severus's mind raced. He couldn't let Potter go. "Sex," he blurted.
A stunned silence followed his pronouncement.
McTavish dropped the handkerchief, his expression drawn and wary. "Is this the curse? Is that what's causing these outbursts?"
Slughorn intervened. "Sex magic ritual!"
McTavish just stared at Slughorn, not even bothering to disguise his contempt.
"I… we… there's an ancient sex magic ritual that will reverse the effects of the curse. We've only just discovered it. Erm, right before the unfortunate incident in the South Corridor," Slughorn said.
Severus picked up the thread. "Yes, you see, Headmaster Slughorn and I were most concerned about the method of transmission and why the curse chose to act out in such amorous ways. After extensive research, we discovered an ancient sex magic ritual which will reverse the effects of the curse."
McTavish leaned forward, staring down his long, thin nose at Severus. "Which one? And before you answer, Snape, please remember that sex magic was a specialty of mine in the first war."
Severus fought the urge to shudder. "The, erm… the Arcado-rondo-ardondo Ritual."
McTavish sniffed. "I've never heard of it."
"Of course you haven't," Slughorn soothed. "It's, well, ancient. We were damn lucky to find it."
"I have an extensive library of books on sex magic, gentlemen, and there is no mention of the Arcadorondo—ar—ar—dondo Ritual. And all sex magic rituals are ancient—why in the bloody hell do you think people get away with performing them now?" McTavish rapped his knuckles against the chair. "Precedent. Nothing more. So, if you'll excuse me, I have release paperwork to prepare."
McTavish stood to leave. Severus felt his future—his life—slipping away from him.
And just as quickly, his fortunes reversed. Potter. Severus would know those sweet, dulcet tones anywhere.
"What the devil?" McTavish asked. "And stop shouting things. You're all giving me a headache."
"Sorry, sir. The book—the ancient sex magic book—er, it was written in Parseltongue. That's why—that's why you've never heard of it. Sir."
And just like that, life seemed to right itself again.
McTavish reclaimed his seat. "Just what are you saying?"
"I—I've been assisting Professor Snape and Headmaster Slughorn, sir, in their, erm, tireless research to find a curse for this most, uh, invidious curse." Potter paused.
"And?" McTavish asked.
Potter blinked. Oh god, not the blank expression. Not that one!
"And?" Potter asked.
"Oh. Well. You see, the, um, the ancient text that we—I—we found was written in Parseltongue."
"Yes, you've said that."
"Right. Right. I, um, I found it. Down in the Chamber of Secrets. There was, there was a secret library of Salazar Slytherin's beyond the actual chamber."
Bloody hell, he'd laid it on too thick. There wasn't a chance that McTavish would believe that rubbish.
McTavish sat back in his chair, his eyes wide. "I always suspected that he had a hidden library somewhere in the school, full of secrets and ancient spells. Well go on, boy. Tell me more."
Perhaps Severus had underestimated McTavish.
"Well, there's this massive snake carving along one wall. I had this feeling—like, like a premonition—that there was something behind the wall."
Potter stepped away from the door, his eyes sparkling and his hands waving about for emphasis. He was gorgeous—bloody gorgeous, and as silver-tongued as any snake could be. Severus could watch him lie all day.
"So I crawled up through the snake's mouth and when I popped out the other side, I was in a dark room."
McTavish leaned forward, hanging on every word.
"When I tried the Lumos charm, it didn't work. I had, er, another premonition and focused on a picture of a snake and said the charm in Parseltongue. Just like that, a giant fire roared into existence in the biggest fireplace I've ever seen. The room was filled with books. I started walking, my hand out straight, like a div—divina-, er sorry, a divining rod."
"Yes, and then?" McTavish said, his feet dancing in place. Even Slughorn looked impressed.
"Well, I felt drawn to a particular book. It flew into my hands and opened to the page that had the, um, ritual on it. I read it. Quickly. And realised that it was exactly what Professor Snape and Headmaster Slughorn had been looking for."
Potter's face crumpled a bit.
"What is it, boy? What happened?" McTavish asked.
"It's just that everything went so terribly wrong right after."
Slughorn gasped, despite himself. Even Severus felt drawn into the story.
"What happened?" McTavish repeated.
"I left with the book, of course. But as I pulled myself through the snake's mouth, the entire wall collapsed, forever sealing the library."
Perfect, sneaky boy. Severus wanted Potter more than anything in the world at that moment.
"Damn," said McTavish. "Right here, all this time. Perhaps we can hold a jumble sale and raise funds for an excavation at some point."
Severus and Potter exchanged a sly glance.
"Well, at least we've the book. Go on and fetch it. I'd like to see it."
Potter's eyes went round and his mouth popped open.
"The book disintegrated, I'm afraid," Slughorn interjected when Potter looked like he might be ill. "Rotten luck, Bertrand. We're just lucky that we were able to review the ritual and commit it to memory before it all fell away."
McTavish's entire demeanour changed. He glanced around the room, his beady eyes glaring. "Disintegrated, did it? How convenient." He got to his feet. "If that is all, I have paperwork to prepare."
"But Bertrand—" Slughorn said, scrambling to his feet.
"Horace, I can't believe you'd be a part of this nonsense. I'm sorry, old man, but it's a new era. These kinds of shenanigans can't be allowed to continue. If you'll excuse me."
McTavish turned to leave.
"Wait! It's true."
Everyone turned and stared at Roloabo.
"What did you say?" Severus said before he could stop himself.
"It's true, Governor McTavish. I saw the book. I found Harry collapsed in a corridor, a book with strange, swirling symbols on the front clutched in his hands. He—I'm so sorry, Harry, I know you wanted to keep this secret, but it must be said."
"Er, go on then," Harry said, shifting his weight back and forth.
"He was bloody and looked beaten. Small, crystalline tears poured down his sooty cheeks. He was muttering something under his breath about ritual magic. I bent down to hear him and could enormous waves of heat rolling off of him. It was a magical fever! I gathered him in my arms and spirited him to my chambers straight away, in hopes of bringing down the fever he'd obviously sustained when he fled the Chamber."
"Good gods, man, this reads like an adventure book! Go on, go on. What did you see? Did you look at any other spells in the book?"
Roloabo shrugged sheepishly. "I'm sorry, sir. I was…." Roloabo turned and looked Harry in the eye. "I was more concerned about Harry. I always have been."
Something passed between Roloabo and Potter, and then—whatever had been between them—finished. Harry smiled and Roloabo nodded.
Roloabo turned back to McTavish. "So you see, sir, the ritual is absolutely true. The, uh, curse appears to be curable, based on what Headmaster Slughorn and… Professor Snape have said."
"You're sure of this, Professor Roloabo? You'd testify to that if necessary?"
Roloabo swallowed. "I—I would, sir. I absolutely would."
McTavish eyed Roloabo up and down before sighing. "I suppose you'll want an award for saving Potter? A Special Service Award, or something?"
Roloabo beamed. "You're too kind, Governor McTavish." Roloabo hesitated. "Is that the one that comes with the all-expense paid sabbatical? To Tahiti?"
"Don't press your luck."
"Of course, sir. Forgive me."
"Well," McTavish said, turning back to the group. "That changes things. Great gods, things happen here quite quickly. It's amazing any of you are able to keep up."
"You'll find that many things—as ridiculous as they are—stay the same," Roloabo said. "And if you'll excuse me, I think that I'm no longer needed here."
As Roloabo left, Severus gave him a silent salute. There was honour among thieves after all.
McTavish exhaled loudly. "Is there ever a year when things go smoothly around here?"
"Oh Bertrand, it's a magical school. There's bound to be an incident or two," Slughorn said with a jovial chuckle.
McTavish snorted. "And you're sure this ritual will work?"
"Absolutely," Severus said. "Potter and I will be right as rain when we're finished."
McTavish nodded. "What about Horace? How's he supposed to get cured?" He turned to Horace. "Didn't you say earlier today that you and your assistant got tangled in some brambles the other day? Didn't both of you have to be treated in the hospital wing? Surely there was some contact there."
Slughorn paled spectacularly. "Hagrid? You want me to… Hagrid?" Slughorn started moaning again.
"Get a hold of yourself, man. It's ancient ritual magic, not a shagfest, or whatever you young people are calling it now."
Slughorn made a series of choking noises and went blue about the lips. Severus decided to put him out of his misery.
"I've reviewed the reports from the, er, bramble incident. There was no contact between them—none that could have transferred the curse."
"Oh, bother," McTavish said, while Slughorn looked ready to kiss Severus's feet. He thought briefly of allowing it, but there were more pressing matters at hand.
"I believe," Severus said, "that there was an incident several weeks ago involving a Ms Hennessee."
"One that would cause the curse to transfer?" McTavish asked.
"Yes. Quite. Er, don't you remember, headmaster?"
"What? Oh yes, of course." Slughorn's expression turned beatific. "She, erm, accidentally spilled hot tea across my lap, causing me to prick myself with my scone fork. A few more things happened—nothing of import, a minor squabble in the grand scheme of things—and then she slipped on the spilled tea and roughed up her knee. Naturally I helped her up, but must have touched her knee with my pricked finger."
McTavish rolled his eyes. "In exchange she'll want those new telescopes she's gone on and on about, no doubt." He shot an appraising glance at Slughorn. "And a financial bonus. All right, gentlemen. You have two days to get this sorted. Snape and Potter, I suggest you prepare your ritual room now and get on with it. I'd like this done before supper so that I have some good news for the Hufflepuff girl's family."
"Of course, Governor McTavish," Severus said, rising elegantly to his feet, refusing to smile at the goofy, excited grin on Potter's face.
"A few words of wisdom if you'll indulge an old man," McTavish said, clapping Severus on the back and leading him towards Potter.
"First, only use sea salt—the iodised version just doesn't hold the lust in the ritual circle as well. And lubrication is essential, of course, but stay away from the honey flavoured ones—ghastly after-effects, especially with any ritual involving Kinbaku or any other bondage discipline. Muggle methods for cleaning out the submissive partner in the ritual are quite effective, some even say pleasurable. Don't discount it, just because it's Muggle. And don't be lured by those fetching ritual knives. A good old-fashioned carving knife is just as effective and a bit sharper, too."
Potter looked as if he might be sick.
"We'll keep that in mind," Severus said. He slipped his arm around Potter's shoulder, pulling him close. "Come along, Potter. We've a ritual to complete."
Potter struggled to keep up with Severus as they made their way down to their rooms.
"What is it, Potter? We've got things to do."
"About that, are we really, I mean, are we going to have sex?"
Severus stopped abruptly and turned around, facing Potter. "Do I look like the kind of man that can afford to turn down free sex when offered?"
Potter nibbled his bottom lip for a few seconds. "I suspect I ought not to answer that."
"Good boy," Severus said, turning back and resuming his brisk pace.
"And the, uh, other things? We aren't… I mean, you're not going to chop me up into little bits, are you? I mean, we aren't really going to use any ritual knives, or anything, right?"
Severus stopped again and turned around. "Not unless you ask me very, very nicely."
Potter's eyes went wide at Severus's smile. He pushed Potter against the wall and bit and sucked the side of his neck, tonguing the mark until Potter was incoherent.
Potter's sigh sounded blissful. "I knew it, I knew it was worth it. All of it," he whispered, as if to himself.
"You did, did you? It could have easily backfired. We got lucky with McTavish in there. When this is all over, I think we need to have a little chat."
"Yes. You see, I like my lover to have an ounce of self-preservation. I don't fancy chasing you around the castle all day and night, preventing you from flinging yourself in front of errant spells, or giving up your vaults for something trivial, or nearly getting yourself sacked for the same thing."
"You're not trivial, Severus. You never have been."
Severus had to look away, the ridiculous lump in his throat making his eyes feel watery. "Yes, well, mind what I say. If you get yourself sacked, where will I be? I'll have no one to fuck."
Potter laughed, the sound glorious as it bounced off the walls and soaked into Severus's skin.
"Well we can't have that, now can we?" Potter asked, his fingers trailing lightly down Severus's arm.
"No, we can't."
"I think I need some incentive, though."
Severus's lips quirked up at the corners. "I can see I'm already having a positive influence on you."
"Hmm," Potter said before brushing his lips against Severus's.
"So what will entice you?" Severus murmured.
Potter brushed his lips against Severus's again. "Take a wild guess."
Severus captured Potter's lips with his. Potter moaned and pulled him closer, kissing him just as hard.
"Will that suffice?" Severus whispered, pulling back, but not letting Potter go.
"I'll consider it as a down payment."
"You demanding imp, you want more?"
"Oh yes, much, much more."
"You drive a very hard bargain, Potter, but I suppose the return on my investment merits such demanding terms."
Potter canted his hips, his erection brushing Severus's. "You haven't seen demanding, yet. And you should know, I'm very, very demanding." Potter canted his hips again and pulled Severus closer.
Severus groaned as a delicious shiver teased up his spine. "Of course you are. Could there have been any other possibility? You'll find I'm quite demanding, as well."
"I'm counting on it—fuck, Severus, just… just keep doing that."
Severus—with great reluctance—stepped away, surprised to realise that he was panting. "Unless you want to finish this in the corridor, however, we'd best get back to our rooms."
"For sex? We're going to have sex? And, er, more sex and stuff after that? For a long time?"
"Yes, Potter. What part of lover—oh, never mind."
"Brilliant," Potter whispered. Severus couldn't agree more.
Severus found he liked how shaggy and wayward Potter's hair was. It was just right for grabbing hold of and running his fingers through while he thrust deeply into him.
And the fact that he couldn't see anything without his glasses on was even better, Severus thought. Potter looked at him with a soft smile and hazy eyes, seeing him with emotion instead of sight.
But by far the best thing about Potter was that he didn't talk or moan during sex. He inhaled sharply when Severus touched him someplace sensitive, took hitching breaths as he came close to climax, and exhaled long and slow as Severus breached him. Each sound was as nuanced and expressive as any word could ever be.
And when Potter lay sprawled across the sheets—his hair sweaty and his body flushed with completion—Severus saw only perfection. No curse could account for such beauty.
"Ready to go again?" Potter asked, his voice rough and dark.
"Just what do you think I am?"
"Horny. Just like me."
Potter flipped over. "I suppose I am," he said over his shoulder. "What are you going to do about it?"
"Teach you a very thorough lesson."
Potter licked his lips. "Promise?"
Severus got on the bed. He always kept his promises.
"So, do you still think you were cursed?" Potter asked, his body curled around Severus's.
Severus stopped petting Potter's hair for a moment. "Yes."
"But it wasn't the curse I thought it was."
Potter looked up. "Oh?"
"Yes, you see, it was you that cursed me."
"I never did any such thi—" Potter started to say, trying to scramble to an upright position.
Severus held Potter tight against him, kissing him quiet.
"Are you quite finished?" Severus asked.
"I didn't curse you."
"Ah, but you did. You see, you infected me with your wretched hopefulness and affection." Severus hesitated. "I suspect it's a lifelong ailment."
Chastising himself for such a slip, Severus tried to amend. "A long-term one at any rate. Perhaps just a—"
Severus arched off the bed as Potter took hold of his erection and worried his right nipple with his teeth.
"You little beast," Severus panted. "Will have to teach you a lesson about decorum. Another one."
"You can try," Potter said between nips. "I suspect it will take a lifetime to teach me, though, what with me being so thick and all."
Severus laughed and then flipped them over so that he could teach Potter a lesson in begging, too.
He'd been cursed, most certainly. And the Potter curse was almost impossible to shake.
Severus hoped it never let him go.
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