Thanks to everyone who stuck with me through TPA and TPJ. Now prepare for TPM!
The Potions Master
"So let's establish some ground rules," Snape said as he allowed his gaze to meet each and every child now present in the sitting room. "You will all go to bed at a decent hour, namely midnight at the latest. I will not have anyone running around past that time or there will be severe consequences."
Snape was glad to see that he still instilled fear in at least some of Harry's cohorts. Perhaps they would be able to keep the rest of the miscreants in line.
"Ms Granger, Ms Lovegood and Ms Weasley will be sleeping in the guest room at the end of the hall. Under no circumstances are you allowed to mingle with the boys after midnight. Break this rule and I will send you straight home, even if it is the middle of the night. Your door must always be open –"
Harry groaned loudly and he let his head fall back in exasperation.
" – And the lights must be on for as long as you're awake," Snape said, glaring at his defiant son. "I will tolerate no funny business whatsoever."
"Severuuuus," Harry whined, clearly annoyed with Snape's spiel.
Snape narrowed his eyes and glared menacingly before speaking in a tone of voice that many people who didn't know Snape all that well would consider dangerous. "Your parents have entrusted all of you into my care," he said softly, "And I will make sure that they do not have to regret that decision. I am well aware of what goes on in the teenage mind –"
"Merlin, that's enough!" Harry interrupted, hastily jumping to his feet. Hermione was stifling her laughter, covering her mouth with her right hand. Draco wasn't even trying to cover up. He simply chuckled in amusement.
For Harry's birthday party, Snape had agreed that he would be allowed having people over for a slumber party. The number of people he was allowed to ask had been limited but already, Snape was wondering if he had allowed just a tad too much. All in all, there were six people present which didn't seem like a whole lot but if you considered them to be young adults, it put everything in perspective.
The fact that Harry would invite Ms Granger had been a given. The fact that he had invited Ms Weasley had been nothing short of surprising. Subsequently, the redheaded girl had apparently bothered Harry about inviting Ms Lovegood as well which Harry had not refused for whatever reason. The youngest Weasley boy had also been a given but Draco had been somewhat less obvious.
While the boy had become a good friend in Harry's sixth year, there had been the most unfortunate events that had befallen the blonde and Snape hadn't been entirely sure if Draco had recovered enough on an emotional level to be a part of such an energetic occasion as this one. And yet, the boy had jumped on the opportunity and was among the first to confirm.
"Have I made myself clear or need I repeat myself?" Snape asked, crossing his arms.
"Yeah, we get it already," Harry replied, clearly wanting to escape this awkward situation as fast as he could. Snape redirected his glare toward the other children.
"Don't worry, Professor," Luna said dreamily, "I'm sure everyone understood. Harry's just a bit shy, that's all."
"Very well," Snape nodded, "Then I permit you to go to your room and do whatever it is that children to during a slumber party."
Not having to be told that they were free for a second time, the kids bolted upstairs to Harry's room, nearly tripping over each other in their haste. Only Luna had the common sense to walk like a normal person, waiting patiently for the pile of people in front of her to clear up before ascending the stairs as well, but not before waving goodbye to Snape with a somewhat disconcerting smile curling her lips.
When all children had disappeared from sight, Snape sighed deeply and sunk into one of his chairs. This was going to be a long night.
"Muffliato," Harry mumbled as he pointed his wand. Now that he had finally turned seventeen, he was legally allowed to use magic without any repercussions. And it's not as if Snape had told him that he wasn't allowed to. Harry passed around glasses of juice and chocolate biscuits as everyone either took a seat or laid down on the floor.
"What does he even think we'll get ourselves into?" Draco asked incredulously.
"Sex, I assume," Luna said matter-of-factly.
It came so out of the blue that Hermione sputtered helplessly into her juice while Ron all but choked on the biscuits he had already shoved in his mouth.
"Luna, that's mental!" Harry exclaimed, "There's six of us here! I doubt he would think any one of us would try anything like that with an audience."
"Unless he expects an orgy," Draco offered.
Ginny frowned in disgust. "That's going a bit far, don't you think? Let's just agree he has nothing to worry about."
"Naturally," Draco replied evenly, "The logistics simply wouldn't work."
"Yeah, that's the problem," Hermione replied sardonically, "Logistics."
"So, who's up for a game!" Ron interrupted, his face still red and tearstained from choking on the biscuits.
"A game sounds absolutely wonderful," Luna said airily. She leaned back and rested her weight on her arms, sitting cross-legged on the floor.
"Got anything in mind, Weasley?" Draco asked, gesturing for him to go right ahead.
"How about 'Never have I ever'?" Ron suggested.
"Do you even know the rules to that game?" Draco replied, "You're supposed to drink if you've done what is suggested. We have no booze up here."
"We have pumpkin juice," Harry suggested.
"I believe that the joy of the game lies in getting to know each other better rather than drinking ourselves into a stupor," Luna said happily.
Draco rolled his eyes at the airheaded Ravenclaw but she didn't seem to take notice. Either that or she didn't really mind.
"I think it sounds like fun," Hermione said, "Let's try it!"
"It's your birthday, Harry, so you should probably go first," Ginny offered.
"Well okay," Harry said. He lay flat on his stomach in his bed, his head propped up on his arms as he gazed thoughtfully at the ceiling.
"Never have I ever worn a dress," he said.
"Lame!" Ginny shouted but she took a sip anyway. So did Hermione and Luna.
"Okay, my turn," Ron said since he was sitting to Harry's left. "Never have I ever… seen a live Snallygaster."
"That's even lamer," Harry commented but he drank. So did Draco and Luna. Harry blinked. He knew that Draco probably had to drink but Luna as well?
"My mother used to be friends with one," Luna said happily, "Though she turned invisible when someone unfamiliar approached, she always showed herself for me."
"Sure…" Draco said, "If you say so. You're up Lovegood."
"Well, never have I ever kissed someone in a romantic sort of way."
Instantly, four faces became bright red as all five of the others sipped their juice.
"What?" Ron all but shouted, "Ginny, you kissed some bloke? Who was it?"
"And you kissed someone as well!" Ginny retorted, "Care to elaborate on that?"
"Way to go, Potter," Draco chuckled as he slapped Harry on the back, "Didn't know you had it in you. When was this?"
"Hey, don't look at me!" Harry exclaimed, "Hermione also drank. Why don't you harass her about it?"
"Oh, leave her alone, will you?" Ron said, "There's no need for this. We're all grown up here. Well –" he eyed Ginny disapprovingly "- Almost all of us are."
"There's only a year's difference between us," Ginny said haughtily, "It's not my fault that you're a late bloomer."
"Never have I ever," Draco jumped in, "Fallen in love." He grinned as if that was a good thing.
Once again, Harry, Ginny, Ron and Hermione all drank. Luna didn't but seemed quite happy about that. From the corner of his eye, Harry tried to gauge Ginny's reaction but didn't seem very able to place it. She was just blushing fervently but that could be because of a number of reasons. He was so caught up in staring at her that the didn't notice the awkwardness between Ron and Hermione.
When Ginny gathered her senses, she thought of her own question twirling her hair around her index finger as she did. Her beautiful red hair that gleamed like a summer's sunset, cascading down her slender neck.
"Never have I ever had a crush on a teacher," Ginny said. She grinned from ear to ear as she looked at Hermione, wiggling her eyebrows. Ducking somewhat, Hermione sipped her juice.
"What?" Ron exclaimed loudly, "Who?"
"Lockhart," Hermione admitted, "But that was before we found out he was a fraud."
"Anyone else?" Ron asked, looking around the room, "No crushes on Snape or McGonagall? Alright then, Hermione. You're up!"
"Never have I ever gone commando," Hermione said. The purebloods of the party frowned.
"What's commando?" Ron asked curiously.
"Not wearing any underwear underneath your clothes," Harry supplied.
No one had to take a sip, that time.
"Good to know," Luna said, smiling tenderly.
Harry scratched his hand absentmindedly, thinking of a new question.
"Never have I ever…" he stalled, "received an allowance."
Everyone took a sip, even Ron and Harry grinned victoriously. "Ah, see? I suppose I should be more Slytherin about this if I want to win."
"Is anyone even keeping score?" Hermione chuckled.
"I am," Draco said, "And I am winning."
"Oh, pish-posh," Ron said, punching Draco playfully in the shoulder. "Let's see. Never have I ever used Snape's given name."
Draco and Harry shrugged at each other before drinking.
It was Luna's turn again, "Never have I ever almost died twice in a year's time."
"Hold up," Draco said, "What qualifies as almost?"
"Be honest with yourself," Luna said, "If you feel you were in mortal peril at some point, you probably were."
All five of Luna's friends took a sip.
"You know, it would appear I'm rather good at this," Luna chuckled.
"You definitely know how to get to us," Ron agreed, "It's a good thing this stuff isn't fire whiskey or we would all be wasted already."
"We could always sneak a bottle from Severus' stash if you want to up the ante," Draco suggested slyly.
"Absolutely not," Harry objected, "Severus would throw a major fit if he found out."
"He won't," Draco said, "I'm a Slytherin."
"Well, he's the master of all things Slytherin," Harry countered, "He would know what you're trying to pull within minutes."
"Ugh, fine!" Draco said exasperatedly, "You're all acting like a bunch of Gryffindors!"
"Thanks!" replied the golden trio in unison.
"Which reminds me," Draco said, "Never have I ever been sorted into Gryffindor."
Four collective groans sounded before four outwitted Gryffindors took their mandatory sip of pumpkin juice.
"I wonder if the sorting hat would still put us in our respective houses if it needed to choose again," Ginny said.
"Oh, I will always be a Slytherin," Draco said proudly.
"I don't know," Luna said smiling brightly, "You can be very brave Draco. I've seen it! You might do well in Gryffindor."
Draco made a face in disgust. "Don't say that, Loonie! He groaned.
"Don't call her that!" Ginny shouted all of a sudden.
"Yeah," Harry agreed, "That's not nice."
"Oh, it's quite alright," Luna said happily, "Isn't giving each other nicknames something friends do?"
"Not those kinds of nicknames," Ginny grumbled, "Take it back, Malfoy!"
"Yeesh, fine!" Draco said, raising his hands in defence, "Sorry, Lovegood. I didn't mean that. Just don't sort me into Gryffindor."
"Oh, I could never," Luna said dreamily, "Only the sorting hat can do that."
"Never have I ever called anyone a mudblood," Ginny said haughtily. Draco flushed a bit but sipped his juice as he glared at the redheaded Weasley girl.
"Somewhat below the belt, don't you think?" He commented, "Perhaps you would do well in Slytherin."
Ginny huffed but said nothing.
"Never have I ever handed in an assignment too late," Hermione said cheerfully. The others groaned loudly and finished their drink.
"I've had quite enough of this," Ron said, "What about you, mate?"
Harry thought that the game might end up causing a fight between Draco and Ginny sooner or later and would rather prevent that. Naturally, he would need to pick Ginny's side and that would make Draco feel even more left out than he already was. No, better to call it quits now.
"Yeah, I guess," Harry agreed, "Any other suggestions?"
"Truth or dare is a classic," Ginny suggested, "I hear even muggles play it."
"Isn't that a bit cliché?" Draco drawled.
"Well, what would you suggest?" Ginny snapped, "Hide and go seek?"
"With Potter and his invisibility cloak?" Draco huffed, "Never!"
"Okay, Harry," Luna said, "Truth or dare?"
"I would go with truth," Harry said since he did not feel up to doing much of anything.
"Okay, Harry. What would you like to do once we're done with Hogwarts?"
"Luna!" Ron said, "What a waste! We all know he wants to be an Auror."
"I don't think that's true," Luna smiled.
Harry cleared his throat uncomfortably, swishing his glass of juice. It's true that for a year now, he thought that becoming an Auror was no longer what he wanted. He had faced enough dark wizards and creatures in mortal combat to last him a lifetime. And even though many people would argue that he was particularly good at duelling, he didn't think he wanted to make a living out of it anymore.
It was all well and good when there was still a very real chance that Voldemort – and after that, Lucius – were going to kill him. For a long time, Harry thought he wasn't even going to make it into adulthood. That made the statement that he wanted to become an Auror all the more frivolous and easy to say. It was – in his mind anyway – no more than wishful thinking.
But no. What he wanted now was a life of peace and quiet. He didn't want to endanger himself anymore and what's more, he didn't want to endanger the people closest to him.
When Harry noticed everyone was staring at him, he couldn't help but chuckle helplessly.
"I'm sorry guys," he said, "I guess I don't want to be an Auror. I've kind of had enough of that kind of thing, you know?"
"Of course, Harry," Hermione said, quick to understand. Harry was almost certain that he saw a flash of relief in her eyes.
"Then what do you want to be?" Luna urged, "Or haven't you thought about it yet?"
"I honestly have no idea," Harry said, "Is professional Quidditch player still an option?" Harry laughed at his own joke but was somewhat annoyed with his indecisiveness.
"I'm sure any team would be happy to have Harry Potter as their seeker," Ron shrugged, "Why not? Go for it!"
"You'll know when you know," Luna said, patting Harry gently on his knee. Harry glanced at Ginny who was looking at Luna with slightly narrowed eyes but not another word was said.
"I guess that makes it my turn," Harry said, "Er… Hermione, truth or dare."
"Truth," Hermione said predictably.
Harry was already smirking in triumph, "Well then. Earlier, it was implied that you had already kissed someone. Who was it?"
Hermione's eyes widened and her face went scarlet. Surprisingly enough, so did Ron's.
"Wait," Harry gasped in realisation, "No way! You didn't!'
"It's true," Hermione admitted, "It was Ron."
For a few seconds, no one said anything but then Harry couldn't help but laugh and soon, his friends joined in.
"Hold up," he said in between chuckles, "Was it a spur of the moment thing or is there more going on?"
"You could say we're sort of… dating," Hermione said as she looked shyly at Ron.
"Why didn't you tell me?" Harry asked, "Did you think I would be mad?"
"You had other things to worry about," Ron said easily, "For an entire year, some crazy murderer was after you – no offence, Draco – and the year before that was no picknick either."
"You've been together that long already?" Harry asked in disbelief, "How didn't I notice that?"
"You were preoccupied," Hermione shrugged.
"You're okay with it though, right?" Ron asked eagerly.
Harry thought about that for a moment. It was not as if he ever had those kinds of feelings for Hermione so it's not as if he was jealous. And even if he thought there might be a chance that their relationship could endanger their general friendship, he couldn't help but consider that they had apparently been going out for over a year already and Harry hadn't even noticed. If nothing changed for him, why would he be upset?
"Of course I am," Harry replied, "Just try not to get too affectionate in my presence, okay?"
"Deal," Hermione agreed easily. She looked around the room to decide on her next target.
"Okay, Ron," She said slyly, "Truth or dare?"
Ron regarded her with a calculating look before deciding. "Dare."
Snape had reread that same paragraph three times already and not a single word had registered. It was far too quiet in the house, even though he had asked the rowdy teenagers to keep the door slightly ajar. And they had done that. Snape had made sure.
He was no fool. He knew very well what it meant that he heard nothing but murmurs whenever he came close to Harry's room. He knew why he couldn't listen in to their conversation. The spell Harry had no doubt used was one of his own creations, of course.
Snape growled at no one in particular and took another sip of his fire whiskey.
It's not as if he wanted to listen in to Harry's conversations. He had no desire to be informed of which student dated which and in what way the teachers ranked from most handsome to ugliest. He did not care a bit about teenage angst.
But the fact that Harry had felt the need to keep his discussion private was precisely Snape's problem. What could possibly be important enough to keep hidden? If the things discussed were indeed harmless, why bother covering up?
Snape groaned. He had forgotten what it was like to be a teenager. Had he ever truly been one? He chuckled softly to himself and realized that whatever he thought unimportant might still mean the world to those inexperienced youngsters.
He was just about to resume his reading when he heard something. The rustling of robes. He sighed to himself but did not turn around. Whichever miscreant was sneaking about – clearly up to no good – would not be getting off easy. As he pretended to read, he could clearly pick up the sound of shuffling feet heading towards his lab. Oh, whoever it was, was in big trouble.
The door opened and the teenager in question disappeared. Snape put down his book, cast a disillusionment charm on himself and crept down the stairs. Down there, he came across a certain familiar redhead that had clearly not been spooked enough last Christmas. He was searching for something on the shelves, muttering under his breath as he read the labels.
Snape went to stand right behind him and cancelled his charm. Ron still had no clue though, so Snape crossed his arms and waited.
And he waited.
And he waited some more.
Eventually, Ron's reading skills alerted him to the potion he had been looking for which was an ageing potion for some reason. He took the vial from the shelf and turned around only to be met with the admittedly fearsome sight of the potion master looming over him, arms crossed and a scowl on his face.
Ron yelled loudly in response and dropped the vial. Snape -who was entirely prepared for that possibility – caught the potion and returned it to the shelf by slowly reaching across Ron. The boy didn't dare move a muscle.
"Mr Weasley," Snape said silkily, "You must have an excellent reason to break into my lab and steal an ageing potion."
Ron didn't say a word. He was leaning against the shelf and away from Snape as he trembled in terror.
"I'm waiting," Snape said coldly, "Or would you rather I feed you a few drops of veritaserum. I'm sure I have some lying about here somewhere."
"It was a dare, sir," Ron squeaked.
"Is that so?" Snape asked icily, "And who dared you to come here?"
Ron shrugged and stared back at Snape. For the first time, Snape saw defiance in the boy's eyes.
"Covering for your friends, are you?" Snape said, "Very noble indeed. But it's of no matter really, since you are the one who actually went where he doesn't belong. It would be best if I –" Snape paused for effect " – made an example out of you."
"You know, you could've been easier on Ron," Harry said at lunch. His friends had already gone home after a birthday party well celebrated, "It was just for a game of truth and dare."
"Are you suggesting that I let you miscreants do whatever you please simply because someone dared you to?" Snape asked incredulously, "I think not."
"I can't believe you fed him that potion, though," Harry chuckled, "Is there an antidote?"
"There is not," Snape confessed, "But it will wear off in a couple of weeks, I imagine."
Harry broke into laughter as he thought about Ron coming back from his unsuccessful mission. His hair had been tinted in every colour of the rainbow, changing colour at random. Depending on what, no one could figure out. Not only that, but Ron had only been able to speak in Limericks.
He had come up with the gem:
When I went downstairs for the potion
Of Snape's sense of mind had no notion
Was caught by the bat
And that friends was that
And what rhymes with potion is motion
Naturally, they all had been in stitches and everyone had done their best to strike up a conversation with Ron but he refused to say all that much for the rest of the evening.
"I'm sure Fred and George will love spending time with him now," Harry chuckled.
"I'm sure he will have learned his lesson after the potion wears off," Snape said, "And if not, I always have more."
"Please give me some to take to Hogwarts," Harry chuckled.
"And have you create a bunch of poetically challenged troublemakers?" Snape replied, "I think not."
"Suit yourself," Harry shrugged, "I can probably create something like it if I want."
"You should focus on your studies," Snape urged, "Not go about creating silly potions. Being an Auror is hard work and becoming one is no picknick either."
"Yeah, about that…" Harry said sheepishly, "I don't think I want to be an Auror anymore."
Snape raised a curious eyebrow. "Is that right? I have to admit that that's quite a relief to hear. Why not though? If you're insecure about your abilities –"
"It's nothing like that," Harry interjected, "I'm just tired of fighting. That's all."
"Yes, I would imagine so," Snape said thoughtfully, "Do you have any idea what it is you would like to be instead?"
"Maybe," Harry said hesitantly, "Could you perhaps tell me what it takes to become a potions master?"
And that is chapter 1 for you. We're off to a new start and are heading into a new adventure. I hope you will all share it with me.