It was two days since his imprisonment in a tank with murderous fish by a crazy Transfiguration Professor, but Harry barely had a chance to have even a quick word with Severus. There was a flurry of activity in the castle, and Harry found himself in the middle of it. The Aurors were constantly coming and going, interviewing the staff and students and generally putting on the appearance of efficient work after the fact, as they were wont to do. At least three reporters managed to sneak past the wards, reporting every sordid rumour the students (and some teachers) gleefully supplied them with. The double scandal was unlikely to leave the front page of The Daily Prophet any time soon. Last but not least, the Board of Governors descended on Hogwarts, led by Ethelred Farley, and Harry found himself in the unwelcome position of an intermediary between him and McGonagall.
Rowle was still in the aquarium, although when Harry last brought some sandwiches to her inside the trunk, Pansy assured that he would be out of it soon. Her hair was immaculate as always, but her eyes were red-rimmed. Harry suspected she hadn't had more than a few hours of sleep these past days. Pansy could hide how much she cared behind her sharp tongue and abrasive personality well enough to fool most, but he certainly knew better. McGonagall joined Pansy in the research as often as she could, but as the Headmistress, she was needed everywhere at once. She probably didn't have much more sleep than Pansy either.
Edgar and Emma spent most of their time outside classes with Rowle, and Talbott sneaked there once. Harry had dire threats on his tongue when he caught him coming out of the Doge's trunk during the lunchtime, but they turned out to be unnecessary. The boy was subdued, but his eyes shone with a newfound resolve. Pansy reported that the boys had reached an understanding, although she refused to divulge anything more. Still, Harry warded the office after that, which turned out to be a sound decision: other than curious students, the wards stopped unwanted reporters and helped shrink the ranks of some gawking professors and Board Members.
Antonia Burke came to see her son as soon as she received a note from Aurora, even though a trip on the Knight Bus took what little energy she possessed and left her collapsed on the Hogwarts steps. Harry loaned her his communication mirror so she could speak to Rowle from the hospital wing, and Bill enchanted her son's—previously Pansy's—counterpart to work underwater. Bill also got interested in Mrs. Burke's curse and extracted a promise from her to come to their office. Curses on people were Fleur's field of expertise, but he thought he recognised this one from the war. They might not be able to lift the curse, but alleviating the symptoms was a definite possibility. Afraid to raise her hopes up, Mrs. Burke nevertheless reluctantly agreed to come after her son was out of the trunk.
Finally, after two days of only brushing shoulders, Harry found himself exiting from Severus's floo. He had spent the last hour trying to find something decent in his Seer wardrobe to wear. After trying on and discarding everything he took with him to Hogwarts, he decided on the new jeans Pansy had bought for him, a green shirt and open robes he ended up asking Kreacher to bring him from home. Against all odds, Harry had come to love his poncho, but it was high time for it to go. He had shaved his beard the day before. Although he enjoyed the anonymity it got him, he had to come clean. He was also in a dire need of a haircut, but it would have to wait for a few days. For now, Harry did his best to wrangle his hair into a neat ponytail. It didn't look like it was going to stay there for long.
"I come bearing gifts," Harry announced, holding the bottle of wine in front of himself like a shield.
"Is that so?" Severus drawled, raising his head from the homework he was marking. Instead of his usual robes, he was wearing black slacks and a white button-down shirt, and his own hair was down again, almost reaching to his shoulders.
Harry tried and failed not to ogle him too overtly.
"Yeah. You seemed to like this stuff, and I had another bottle back home."
"Only you can throw around Narcissa's vintage like it's pumpkin juice."
"I'm not throwing it around, I brought it just for you," Harry said, handing the bottle over. Standing up from his desk, Severus took it. "Hey, how did you know it's from Narcissa?"
"It's from the Malfoy vineyard in France. Lucius and Narcissa have a list of important people they send a bottle for Christmases and birthdays. It used to be a great source of envy for some people to receive one," Severus's tone left little doubt as to what he himself thought of that. He went to the kitchenette table to open the wine.
Harry snorted and then frowned. "You didn't ask me about that the first time we drank it, though."
Severus studied him for a long time. "Well, you obviously weren't up to sharing your secrets. And besides, I already had my suspicions about you by then."
"You did?!" Harry spluttered.
"I would like to say I suspected from the start, but I didn't. I took a closer look at you when Draco's owl delivered that howler you dealt with so expertly."
"Oh." He didn't expect that.
"I still didn't recognise you then, but I did notice that you knew the school much too well for somebody who hadn't been here before. So I carefully approached Draco."
"I imagine your reaction then."
"Well, for one, I didn't realise that Draco had a habit of sending multiple howlers a day, or that his paranoia rivals Lucius's. But yes. I was quite... incensed." Severus turned away to take glasses from the cupboard.
"But you aren't mad anymore, are you?" Harry asked hopefully, stepping closer. "I can fight some more killer fish to atone for my deception."
That got him a snort. "That would only further prove your recklessness, arrogance and utter lack of common sense, as if anyone needs a reminder of that. However... you did defy my expectations," Severus said with his back still to Harry, hair obscuring his face.
Harry put his hand on Severus's arm.
"What is it that you want from me, Potter?"
"Anything. Everything. McGonagall asked me to stay as a temporary Defence Professor until she finds someone suitable. Maybe until the end of the term. We can take it from there."
"I don't want to end up in Azkaban after all this time for murdering the Saviour of the Wizarding World after this inevitably ends in disaster," Severus grumbled, finally turning to face Harry.
Who laughed and kissed him silly.
Thank you for reading! For more adventures of Harry Potter, P.I., check out the sequel, In Vogue.