CHAPTER NINETY SEVEN:
"Harry," Minerva McGonagall smiled at him, and he smiled back happily.
"Minerva." Stepping forward, he clasped her hand in his. "How've you been?"
"Well, thank you," the Headmistress of Hogwarts gave her usual answer. "And you?"
"Busy," Harry laughed, letting her hand go and moving to stand next to her.
"Yes, I hear you've been in Egypt," the woman raised an inquiring eyebrow at Harry's companion.
"Only took four years for him to agree to go there," Harry grumbled, but his lover ignored him with the ease of long practice.
"Minerva," Severus Snape shook her hand briefly. "I knew I was right to veto Egypt all those years ago. Our next destination is Sweden – the weather will be far more agreeable there, I'm sure."
Harry muttered something under his breath and Minerva cracked another smile. "Quite right, Severus. I believe you take turns in deciding where to go next?"
Severus inclined his head, moving to stand next to his lover, close enough to touch, and looked out over the annual Hogwarts Fair. "Indeed. It has proven an interesting and fair decision." They stood on the front steps of the castle, watching the busy stalls and milling people spread out before them.
Minerva turned a fond eye out over the Hogwarts grounds herself. "I hear you made great progress during your time in Egypt," she said lightly, and saw her former colleague incline his head slightly.
"The Parseltongue Potion is nearing its completion, I believe," the Potions Master confirmed. "I require an ingredient from the Swedish Shortsnout."
Harry smiled happily, leaning slightly into his taller lover as the former colleagues caught up after several months without contact. He returned to Great Britain every now and then to check up on Black Manor and tended to visit friends while in the general area, but Severus rarely joined him on those trips. Harry had insisted they go to Hogwarts when Minerva debuted the first Hogwarts Fair, and now, three years on, he saw Astoria Greengrass standing among the other seventh years selling their graduating projects. She'd seemed very proud of her Ancient Runes project and was looking forward to experimenting with Muggle electronics in the summer holidays.
She, more than all other orphans at Black Manor, had taken to the Muggle world like a duck to water, dragging Draco Black along in her enthusiasm. After all, the two were dating, and Harry had been amazed at Draco's change of heart once the Pureblood came to the realization that Muggles weren't the beasts his father had made them out to be. Harry was pretty sure that Draco's short stint working in the Muggle world after graduation had been Astoria's idea, though.
Blond hair glinted in the sunlight and caught his eye, Draco Black leading Daphne Greengrass and Harry Junior through the crowd in search of his girlfriend. Harry wasn't quite sure how his younger counterpart and Daphne had gotten together, in the end, but he suspected Hermione of matchmaking. Not that he was complaining, especially when he could see how happy Daphne and 'Jarry' were together. Wrapping an arm around his own lover's waist, he searched the crowd for Hermione. If experience proved right, she should be… Yep.
A fond smile tugged at Harry's lips as he watched Hermione pick a leaf from Neville Longbottom's hair while the wizard poked around in the Herbology section. According to him, there was a very talented student graduating this year whose graduating project was a new type of magical plant that Neville wanted to get his hands on; judging by the other people rooting around, the shy herbologist had competition.
"Harry," a dreamy voice interrupted his musings, and he spun with a delighted grin to grab Luna Lovegood in a hug.
"Luna!" he exclaimed, twirling her around with a laugh. "It's been so long!" They rarely saw each other, since they tended to travel to different parts of the world, but they exchanged letters the most regularly of all Harry's friends.
"You're wanted in the dueling area," Luna smiled up to him, squeezing him close in a brief hug. "The Zimps say there's a few good duelers there this year."
"Oh?" Harry asked interestedly, letting Luna take his hand and lead him off. "I learned a few new curses in Egypt and haven't gotten to use them yet…"
"Professor Flitwick will like that," the sprightly young woman said pleasantly. "He always says that the other contestants use boring spells." The dueling competition had started up as part of the Hogwarts Fair, and anyone of age could take part. Harry had tried to stay out of it, feeling it wouldn't be for him, but Professor Flitwick had cornered him that first year and cajoled him into it. The diminutive professor had been a challenge, too, but Harry's combat experience had overpowered the dueling champion's skill, and now they squared off against each other every year. Harry and Severus dueled against each other wherever they went, but they were so familiar with each other by now that their duels were more like dances than actual fights, so Harry took advantage of his yearly duel with the half-goblin to try out all the new spells he'd learned over the past year.
Severus watched his younger lover fondly as Lovegood led him off to the dueling area, knowing that from this vantage point he'd have a decent view of the duel his lover was sure to have with Filius. He preferred to stay outside the bustle of the fair, apart from the many people milling around, but he didn't think he'd ever get used to the number of people who approached him during the fair. His last few months as a Hogwarts professor had achieved what years at the same post hadn't: The respect of his students, and now even students he'd never taught but who had heard of him approached him with compliments on his newest creations, samples of their own work, or even simply to pay their respects. It had been disconcerting the first year, but now Severus felt strangely content each time someone came up to him.
"I see your fan club approaching," Minerva interrupted his thoughts teasingly, and Severus looked over to where this year's batch of N.E.W.T. Potions students were walking up with vials and scrolls of parchment, come to ask his opinion on their graduating projects. It had become something of a custom among the graduating students to seek his approval, and each year he was careful to mention the most promising students to whichever contacts of his he thought most suitable. After all, he had done so much to stunt the growth of Potions development in Great Britain while under Dumbledore's influence that he really felt he had to do something to make up for it, no matter how small.
"I'll just leave you to it," Minerva excused herself, watching with a shrewd eye as her students began their dance around Severus. She couldn't help but think the change in him astounding – the Severus Snape she had once known would never have allowed students to mill around him, no matter what the reason, but this one gave each student his full attention and ensured they found themselves brought into the fold of potioneers if they had the talent. It was a rite of passage, and Severus handled it with more grace and tact than she would have once expected of him.
Sweeping her gaze over the Hogwarts grounds, she let a content smile rest on her lips as she took in the sight of her students, both current and past, enjoying the fine summer day. One or two waved at her, and she had loosened up enough over the past few years to wave back, reveling in the sight of little children gaping up at the castle they would go to school in one day.
Turning her gaze over to the dueling area, she felt a bittersweet emotion grip her at the sight of a young wizard holding his own against Filius Flitwick. So young, and yet…
She stood there watching the duel for several long moments before rousing herself and casting one last glance at the group of aspiring potioneers before descending into the fair. Britain had come a long way, and it was thanks to the two inspiring figures surrounded by younger witches and wizards aspiring to be like them.
"The best teachers are those who inspire," Minerva whispered to herself with a secret smile, and turned herself over to the bustle of her school. Those two were better teachers than she ever was, and she was deeply grateful for it.
Meanwhile, on a tower of Hogwarts three figures grinned excitedly as they set up the fireworks they had developed for their shop, the smallest one hopping around in anticipation.
"Shame it's not dark enough yet," one twin grinned, and Skip pouted adorably.
"But shouldn't we test one now, just to make sure we've set up in a good spot?" the other twin grinned back conspiratorially, and his two accomplices smirked or beamed depending on their nature.
"This one!" Skip pointed decidedly at one large tube, and both twins nodded with identical expressions of mock gravity.
"Of course. If you would do the honors," George swept a bow, and Fred dramatically stuffed his fingers in his ears. Skip fussily cleared her throat and smoothed out her WWW outfit before raising one hand.
"Bombs away," she said clearly before snapping her fingers, the firework exploding out over the Hogwarts grounds in a huge shower of sparks forming two gigantic words: