For once, Harry and Ron didn't like being the centre of attention. It made them feel uncomfortable, knowing that people were watching them and wondering about them, and asking themselves why they hadn't see it all along.
They would have been even more horrified had they seen the indulgent smiles that were sent their way when they slipped out of the Hall to find somewhere quiet to talk. How romantic, some thought, they can't wait to be together? Isn't it sweet?
They found a small room with a couple of chairs, and scowled at the occupant – some unknown and older Hufflepuff – until he took the hint and buggered off. Harry slumped dejectedly into a chair, whilst Ron paced backwards and forwards in front of the fire.
"You know, I'm surprised Hermione is so sure that Snape hasn't strayed. I mean, he's not as successful as us," Ron said modestly, "not with a face like that. But he has been around a fair bit."
"Maybe if we suggested it was someone else…" Harry screwed his face up in thought. "It's not as if Pansy is the most likely of partners. She's young, she's pretty…
"So's Hermione," Ron interrupted.
"… and married to Draco, and you know how fond they are of each other. It'd be more likely for him to be shagging Draco, when you think of it."
"I spose." Ron stared moodily into the fire. "Who else is there though?"
"It'd have to be someone older, really. Not someone who'd ever sat through a potions lesson – I think only Hermione is daft enough to ignore what a wanker he was at Hogwarts."
"How about McGonnagal?"
"Oh be serious Ron," Harry spluttered, laughing at the very idea. "She's all old and wrinkly. Besides I've always thought that she was knocking off old Dumbledore."
The boys were very careful not to think about that too hard: there were some things that were supposed to be private, even if they did involve the usually interesting topic of what lesbians might do in bed.
"I can't think of anyone who'd be prepared to put up with Old Snapey, long term," Ron said. "I can see him getting a shag – he can be quite slimy in if he wants something, and that could pass for charm if you didn't know what he was really like – but I can't see them going back for a second helping."
"I bet he's never had half the women he's supposed to," Harry replied. "You know how people gossip."
"Or, if he did, I bet he slipped them something in their drinks."
The boys considered the idea for a moment, and liked where it was going. Of course Snape had drugged her, because otherwise she would never have turned against them, not good old Hermione. It all made sense now: her offhand manner, the cool welcome and the sheer bad taste of taking up with the one man they loathed above all others. It also raised the delightful prospect of getting Snape into trouble – even into Azkaban – once the truth came out.
Harry had been quite keen on bringing down Lord Voldemort, but it was as nothing to his determination to get Snape for seven years of being sneered at.
"That's what he's done," Harry exclaimed. "He slipped her some potion on that first evening and has been taking advantage of her ever since."
"She did seem a bit funny," Ron replied, moving the theory from tentative conclusion to firm opinion on one leap. "Her eyes looked glazed, don't you think?"
"So we have to rescue her, don't we?" Ron asked rhetorically. "It's the decent thing to do."
They boys grinned. Now they had an excuse to do what they already intended to do all along: take their revenge.
The boys were hell bent on making Snape pay, but were a little less clear about tactics. They could, if they were feeling suicidal, challenge Snape to a wizarding duel but they weren't entirely certain that he knew what the Kingsbury rules – the guide to duelling etiquette laid down in the seventeenth century – were. If he did, it was only from the perspective of working out what rules his opponent would be following, so he could take advantage of their stupidity and hex them in the back.
Snape didn't play nice. In fact, he didn't play at all, and brought a level of concentrated fury to duelling that they, rather sensibly, did not want to face.
"Besides," Ron said gloomily, "even if we did manage to get one past him, Hermione would go all soppy over him as the injured party."
"True, true," said Harry. "Girls are funny like that."
"And then she'd hex us herself," Ron continued.
"And we couldn't hex her back; that would be wrong," Harry said, conveniently ignoring the fact that it was extremely unlikely that they would be able to.
"So what we want is something more, I dunno, subtle."
That seemed a sensible and prudent approach. The only difficulty was that neither of them were particularly suited for subtle or, indeed, thinking of any kind at all. Ronald had acquired a reputation for being a deep thinker and a strategist of the highest order on the basis of being able to play chess a bit. This rather overlooked the fact that he had a tendency to support Harry in whatever ridiculous idea he was currently propounding, follow it to its logical conclusion, and then push the envelope a little further, leaving Hermione to come up with a coherent plan to put their ideas into effect and to pull them up short when heading off at a tangent.
Harry was the Hero, and therefore wasn't obliged to think much. He was perfect Heroing material in that respect, and his brow remained unfurrowed from the effort of cogitation.
This meant that they were rather at a loss when it came to plotting, and still further at sea when it came to implementation. It could have saved them a lot of trouble if they had considered this inability to organise a piss up in a brewery – at the very least they would have realised how much they owed to Hermione and, perhaps, decide to treat her a little better - but they didn't.
"Let's look at it logically," Ron said. "The real problem is that Hermione is behaving oddly."
"So what we really need to do is to bring her to her senses."
"We are Aurors."
"Which means that we have all the common antidotes in our kit."
"Never go anywhere without them," agreed Harry. "I like where you're going with this."
"All we need to do is administer the right potion and she'll be back to normal."
"And once we explain what happened, she'll be livid with Snape, and his goose will be well and truly cooked."
"Oh yes," Ron nodded. "The only difficulty is getting her to take the potions. We can hardly follow her round the Hall offering her drink after drink until we hit the right one. Snape would get suspicious for one."
"So we have to get her on her own. Which is a bit tricky when she isn't talking to us."
"We could say we want to apologise or something," Ron suggested. "That might work."
"If it didn't, we'll just have to use other means to persuade her," Harry replied, his hand hovering over his wand.
"Yes," Ron said slowly. "After all, it is for her own good. In fact, maybe we'd better not give her any choice in the matter. She's a bit quick on the draw, and we wouldn't want to miss our chance. If she runs off and tells Snape, he'll have a chance to cover his tracks."
"Good point – from behind it is."
"Now all we have to do is find her."
It wasn't a good plan; it was a bad plan. However, it was their only plan. Disaster was lumbering towards them like a charging Rhino – far off in the distance, but gathering pace with every passing moment – and they were too stupid to get out of the way.
They had made the fatal error of coming to believe their own press, and were going to pay the price accordingly.
Still, no one could deny that they richly deserved what was about to happen to them, and Severus would be the first to insist that it was a lesson long overdue, though there would be a long queue of wronged women forming up behind him to endorse his opinion.
Hermione had noticed the boys leaving the room, but had said nothing about it to Severus. He would only gloat, and whilst that gloating was in many ways perfectly justified, if it continued for too long she would start to feel guilty about things, and be driven to defend them, and then he'd get stroppy, and it would all end in tears.
There were some topics that were best left alone until they were slightly more established in a relationship and had quarrelled about the unimportant things like socks on the floor and leaving the loo seat up. That way, they'd have had a bit of practice before they moved onto the big issues like Harry and Ron and snoring and coming home late from the pub. (She wasn't going to give up her Friday nights without a fight).
Severus was proving to be surprisingly good company. His Slytherins had an entirely different view of him compared to the rest of the world. To them he'd been helpful and supportive in a dry and sarcastic way, setting their first, faltering steps on the road to success and steering them away from involvement with Voldemort. It was disconcerting to find that there were people in the world other than her that actually liked him and were capable of carrying on a civilised conversation with him.
Some of his ex-students were equally disconcerted by her, and cast sideways looks at her, but any inclination to say something rude to her or about her was stifled in the face of Severus' protective manner. Which was probably just as well.
Towards the end of the evening an old pupil approached Severus and indicated that he had something he wanted to discuss in private. Hermione took the hint and excused herself on the excuse of getting something else to drink and took the chance to catch up with some of her old school friends. Soon there was a small crowd of her contemporaries gathered round her – she'd never been this popular at school, she thought wryly – making small talk about the weather with people who clearly wanted to ask about Snape but hadn't quite got the nerve to do it.
It took Ginny to ask the question that most people were thinking. "So, you're going out with Snape then?"
"Yep," Hermione replied, and was rewarded with a flicker of annoyance.
"Oh, come on Hermione, give," put in Lavender. "We want all the juicy details."
"Do you really?" she replied.
"Erm, no. Come to think of it. Not all the juicy details. Just some of them – where you met, and …"
"And what on earth you see in him," interrupted Ginny.
"That's a bit harsh," Lavender said weakly. "I'm sure Professor Snape has some good points."
The group turned and looked at him as one, and then turned back, largely unconvinced.
"At least he washes his hair now," Ginny said. "I'll give you that. But otherwise he's still a miserable git."
"He's cheerful when he's with me," Hermione said firmly.
"I'm sure he is," Ginny sneered.
Hermione had never been that close to Ginny, what with a year between them and Ginny's obsession with Quidditch, but there was no reason for her to be so snide. It shouldn't matter to her who Hermione chose to go out with, unless she harboured some idea that Hermione had spurned her brother in some way, which was ridiculous.
"Let's not talk about Severus," Hermione said sweetly. "We'll only fall out. How's Harry? Seen anything of him lately?"
The taunt struck home, as she knew it would, and Ginny flushed an unattractive shade of red.
"No," she replied. "Neither have you."
Hermione smiled and went in for the kill. "No, I haven't. But then I don't really want to."
Hermione was horrified to see tears well up in Ginny's eyes, to be quickly dashed away, before she turned and ran out of the Hall to find somewhere to cry in private.
"Oh bugger," Hermione said.
"She's never really got over it," Lavender said.
"So it seems," Hermione sighed. "I suppose I'll have to find her and apologise."
"I wouldn't worry too much," Lavender replied. "She was being fairly rude herself. Snape may not be her idea of the perfect man, but there's no need to tell you that to your face."
"I shall have to apologise though."
"I shouldn't let Professor Snape hear you say that," Lavender replied. "He'll think you're letting the side down."
Hermione smiled faintly. "I think I'll leave the biting sarcasm to him in future; he's better at it than I am. If Severus comes looking for me…."
"I'll tell him where you've gone, don't worry. Now go and sort Ginny out – and tell her to get some backbone!" Lavender replied cheerfully.
Hermione would have much preferred to return to Severus' side and spend the evening with him but, having upset Ginny, she supposed it was her duty to apologise at the very least. When she was younger she would have felt it was up to her to sort the girl's problems out as well, but time and experience had shown her that if someone was determined to eat their heart out over a boy they would, and there was nothing you could say to stop it. It was easier to persuade a House Elf that it wanted to be free, than to persuade a woman in love that her ain true love was black hearted scoundrel.
And what on earth did Ginny see in Harry that had made her pine for him for so many years? He nose was too small, he had stubby little fingers, and his voice was still a childish treble. He had no presence, no style, and no tendency to dramatic entrances. The chances are he'd be a lousy kisser as well. He looked like a dribbler.
Ginny hadn't run far – just to the nearest ladies' loo – and was bending over the hand basin bathing her eyes. "Oh, it's you," she said unenthusiastically.
Hermione smiled feebly. "Look, I'm sorry," she said. "I shouldn't have said that about Harry…"
"No, you shouldn't have."
"…but you shouldn't have started on about Severus.
Ginny picked up a towel and dried her hands thoroughly. "You really like him, don't you?"
"But he was such a pig to us when we were at school," Ginny said.
"He was," Hermione replied.
"You're going to tell me he's changed."
She wasn't going to say anything of the sort. He hadn't really changed at all. He'd probably always been nicer to adults than children so she was reaping the benefits of moving into that category, and he was certainly under a lot less pressure than during the rise of Voldermort so he didn't want to kill every second person that he met, but he was still arbitrary and tyrannical as a teacher. "He's not perfect by any means, but he'll do me just fine. At least he treats me with a bit of respect, which is more than that pair of idiots has been doing."
There was a moment when Ginny was poised between wanting to disagree out of family loyalty and the remnants of Hero worship, and facing the facts that the pair of them were idiots. She let out a long breath, put the towel carefully back on the rail, and said, "They have been prats recently. Mum's at her wits end with them."
"I can imagine." Hermione had tried to break herself of the habit of giving advice. People rarely listened to good advice anyway, but they did get upset and bitter about it being given, and even more so if you reminded them of the advice when everything had gone very clearly tits up.
'I told you so' was almost the Fourth Unforgivable.
Still, Ginny looked so lost and desolate, someone had to tell her the unpalatable truth, even if it did mean that she'd never speak to Hermione again.
"Look, if I were you," she began.
"I know, I know, you'd give him up as a bad job and get on with the rest of my life," Ginny interrupted wearily. "I've heard it all before."
"I was about to say, I'd bloody well make my mind up what I wanted, and then go out and get it."
Ginny blinked. This wasn't what she'd been expecting. "What do you mean," she said cautiously.
"Look, you want Harry Potter. I think you're demented and you'd be better off with someone else, almost anyone else actually, but if that's what you want stop crying in loos and start thinking."
"But what can I do?" she wailed.
"I don't know, but what you're doing now clearly isn't working. Change your tactics. Ignore the sod. If he thinks that you're always going to be around waiting for him like a good little girl, then there's no incentive for him to change his behaviour. Go out. Have fun. Either he'll come running when he realises what he's missing…"
"But what if he doesn't?" Ginny interrupted.
"Then you'll know where you stand once and for all, you can put him behind you, and get on with the rest of your life. At least you'll have had some fun on the way. Lots of fun, if you put your mind to it."
"I don't know…"
"Look at this way: what have you got to lose?"
"Nothing really," Ginny said slowly. "All right, I shall give it a try. It'd serve him right if I did ignore him."
"That's the spirit."
Ginny took a couple of deep breaths, murmured something unflattering about Harry under her breath, and smoothed her robes down over her hips. "Right," she said, checking her face for signs of crying. "Bollocks to him."
"No why don't we get mildly drunk and leer at some attractive young men?"
"Won't Professor Snape object?
"I don't think he'll mind who you leer at."
"You know what I mean."
"As far as I'm concerned Severus is an attractive young man, and I intend to leer at him all evening."
Ginny giggled, and giggled even harder when Hermione gave her a mock-glare of reproof. "Whatever you say, Hermione, whatever you say. I wouldn't dream of arguing with you."
"Good," she replied. "You should know by now that I'm always right."
"Not always," Ginny replied, "there was that time with McSweeney and the amazing disappearing cauldron."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "I can give you several good reasons why that wasn't my fault at all."
"Name two," Ginny said, opening the door to allow Hermione to leave before her.
Hermione had her head turned back to talk to Ginny, so she never saw the drawn wand or had a chance to block the muttered, "Stupefy!" and simply collapsed like a sack of potatoes.
Fortunately Ginny managed to slow her descent, and shove her to one side so that she ended up propped up against the wall rather than hitting the ground. "What the hell .."
"Don't worry, Gin, it's only us," came the cheerful voice of her brother.
"What do you two think you're up to?" she asked, glaring at the boys in turn.
"It's Snape," Harry said. "He's done something terrible to Hermione. We've got the full Auror's kit up in our rooms, so we're going to try a couple of antidotes and see if we can bring her out of it."
"If that doesn't work, we'll have to take her to St Mungo's," added Ron.
"She is going to kill you when she comes round," Ginny said. "Come to that, Snape is going to kill you when he finds out."
"I'm not frightened of Snape," Harry said hotly.
"And Mum is going to go spare," Ginny added. "Absolutely spare."
Ron, who had been moving forward to get a good hold of Hermione, hesitated. "Erm, do you think so?"
"Absolutely. You'll be doing your own ironing from now on," Ginny replied, casually moving for her wand to head off any foolish moves by the boys. Living with the twins tended to make you quick on the draw.
Ron threw Harry an anguished look, cowed by such an unspeakable threat, but Harry was unmoved. "We have to be strong, Ron. Hermione is more important than ironing."
Ron gulped, and then nodded. "I suppose you're right."
"Right, if you take the other side, and I grab hold like this…" Harry tucked Hermione's arm over his shoulder, and Ron did the same, "… then if anyone sees us, it will look like she's had a bit to drink and we're taking her back to her room."
Ginny watched the two of them struggling off down the corridor in blank amazement; they really had lost the plot. "Never mind Mum, Hermione is going to be furious when she wakes up," she said to herself. "I'd better get Professor Snape, or there really will be trouble."
Severus, having dealt with the delicate matter that Stebbings wanted to discuss (why people thought he was a purveyor of impotence potions, he would never know), was wondering where Hermione had disappeared to, though he wasn't about to start wandering round the Hall and asking where she was because that would be clingy and desperate.
He was somewhat surprised when Ginny Weasley made a beeline for him through the throng – Gryffindors didn't usually approach him at these events – but quickly assumed that she was going to have another attempt at extracting information from him on behalf of Potter and her brother.
"Professor, you've got to come quickly. Harry and Ron have kidnapped Hermione!"
He knew they were stupid – he'd spent the last ten years telling people they were stupid – but even he hadn't expected them to do anything so, well, stupid. It made Sterminous – whose last words had been, "Of course adding antimony to the mix won't make it explo…" – look like a genius in comparison.
"Kidnapped?" he asked, well aware it wasn't the most intelligent question to ask.
"Yes, kidnapped, as in abducted, as in taken against her will. You know. Kidnapped. Now what are you going to do about it?" Ginny asked in the same sort of tone he'd used on recalcitrant children over the years.
"Rescue her, of course," he replied, his brain on busy calculating how best to turn this to his advantage.
"Good. Well come on then," she said, jiggling from foot to foot in her anxiety.
"I think," he said gravely, " that we need reinforcements when dealing with two such desperadoes. After all, they might not even be Harry and Ron but dangerous Death Eaters masquerading as them, and we wouldn't want to put Hermione in danger would we?"
An evil grin spread across Ginny's face. "That's true. And coincidentally, their boss is just over there. Obviously he would be just the right person to help."
"And perhaps the Headmaster, as it is his school?"
Hermione regained consciousness slowly: she became aware of a throbbing head, and thought she might be in bed nursing a hangover, then there came the dull, pounding bass of two male voices, and she wondered who was with Severus, and why he hadn't given her a hangover remedy, and then the two voices resolved into Harry and Ron and it all came flooding back.
A long, long time ago she'd pondered what to do if ever captured by Death Eaters. Panic, had been her first thought, followed by Pray for Help, neither of which were likely to be very helpful.
If someone didn't kill you out of hand, she'd reasoned, they'd want either to ask you questions, issue grisly threats or engage in mindless torture.
So the best thing to do was to fake being unconscious for as long as possible. That would buy you valuable time, and allow you to be rescued in the nick of time (or possibly ten minutes earlier if you managed to drag things out for long enough).
She wasn't in any immediate danger from Harry and Ron, other than from spraining a rib laughing in their faces, but she decided to keep her eyes closed a little longer to see quite what they thought they were up to.
"I don't understand it," Harry was saying. "How can they believe we are gay?"
"Well I know I'm straight," Ron said. ""I can see why they might have doubts about you. Your hair is a bit long, and you do play that sensitive, tortured soul stuff a fair bit. It is a bit poncy."
Harry glared at Ron. "And being a Quidditch nut who spends all his time hanging round with other men is being butch, I suppose?"
"That's different," Ron said. "Quidditch is normal, and manly, and…"
"Are you saying that I'm not normal?" Harry said, interrupting Ron's thesis on Quidditch as a sign of Straightness.
"No, mate, I'm just saying that some people might think that you're a bit girly," Ron said soothingly. "Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course. But you know how it is."
"Obviously I don't know 'how it is'," Harry said coldly. "Perhaps you'd better explain it to me again."
Hermione opened her eyes – the two of them were so busy bickering they wouldn't have noticed if the Rhino of Doom had appeared. All she could see was a ceiling above her – she was flat on her back on a bed, and bound with magical ropes to stop her moving. Her wand, which should have been digging into her, was missing.
"Will you two stop bickering," she said coldly, "and untie me before Severus gets here. I'm not feeling very fond of you at the moment, but I'm sure that Poppy has better things to do with her Christmas holidays than reattaching your limbs."
"Oh good you're awake," said Harry, and two anxious faces appeared over her.
"Well spotted," Hermione snapped.
"Do you think that's a side effect of the potion," Harry asked Ron. "Being sarcastic?"
"I don't think so," Ron said, disappearing from view. There was the sound of riffling pages as he consulted a book. "Nothing in here about sarcasm being linked to a particular lust potion. Must just be spending time with Snape."
"Or having to deal with idiots," Hermione said.
"Definitely Snapean that," Harry said. "Our Hermione wouldn't say things like that, not about us."
"Bollocks. I've said much worse over the years," she said. "Now let me go."
"You'll just have to trust us," Harry said. "In a few minutes time you'll be wondering what on earth you saw in the Greasy Git."
"In a few minutes time that Greasy Git, as you so charmingly put it, will be bursting through those doors and wanting to know what the merry hell you think you're playing at and I hope you've got a good answer because you'll need one."
"I'm not afraid of Snape," Ron said, twitching a bit.
"Neither am I," Harry chimed in.
"No, you fancied him," Ron sneered. "All that time spent mooning over him in lessons; it wasn't hatred at all, was it? You fancied the arse off him."
"I did not," Harry replied indignantly. "I bloody did not. You take that back."
"Come off it, Harry, you spent all your time trying to get detention with him."
Harry, driven beyond human endurance by the foul slanders being thrown at him by his best friend, gave an outraged squawk and launched himself across the room at Ron, and tried to persuade him of the error of his ways by thumping him very hard in the solar plexus.
Not one to give in, Ron made a spirited attempt to knee Harry, now thrashing around on top of him, in the groin. The struggle continued, with lots of grunting and groaning, and stifled noises of pain, and then the door was blasted from its hinges with an enormous bang, and Severus stepped through followed by Ginny, Dumbledore and a strange man Hermione didn't recognise.
The two boys were so engrossed in their battle, that they barely registered the interruption and continued undaunted.
"Mr Potter, and Mr Weasley, if you could desist from this display of affection, I would be grateful," Severus said. "This is hardly the time or the place to be indulging in such behaviour."
The two boys looked up, frozen in place almost as effectively as if they had been Petrified.
"Oh bugger," said Ron.
"Apparently so," said Severus, and smiled like a fox who'd seen an unattended chicken passing by.
The two boys leaped apart.
"Severus, dear, could you let me free?" Hermione asked plaintively.
"I don't know; I can see all sorts of possibilities in that position," he replied, smirking.
The boys winced and began their Occumency exercises: clear your mind, clear your mind!
"That may be," she said primly. "But it's bloody uncomfortable lying here. I'm sure you're supposed to use silken ropes for that sort of thing, and preferably with warming and cushioning charms."
Ginny giggled, and was glared at by all parties.
Severus released Hermione from her bonds. She sat up, and rubbed her wrists and ankles to her restore feeling to her extremities whilst the boys attempted to justify their actions.
"It's not what it looks like, Guv.," Harry began.
"It had better not be. I expect my Aurors to be better behaved than that," said the stranger.
"We were just… Hermione was just helping us with our enquiries," Ron said, examining his feet as if they held the answer to the secret of the universe.
"And this necessitated kidnap?"
"No, sir," Harry said.
Well, yes sir," Ron said, deciding that honest was the best policy.
"And then brawling, like common criminals. Tsk. I'm very disappointed in you."
"Yes, sir," they chorused.
"I think the only thing to do is to pack you off on a re-training course," their boss said.
"Somewhere cold, I think, to cool your ardour."
Ron nudged Harry in the ribs and muttered something about 's'all your fault'.
"And if you two don't pull your socks up, I shall consider splitting you up."
"But sir!" Harry protested.
"You can't do that," Ron added.
"I think you'll find that I can do that, and I will do that."
"Now, Streffings, I can remember what it was like to have to come to terms with something that made you feel like you weren't like everyone else," Albus said. "I can see that Harry is deeply troubled, and, whilst he obviously has to be reprimanded for his foolishness tonight – I wonder whether he might benefit from some guidance from an older and wiser head."
Harry looked up, ready to leap at the chance of freedom – there were rumours about Streffings sense of humour that made Mad-Eye look sensible.
"I know you mean well, Albus," Streffings replied. "But we can't give them any special treatment."
"I wasn't suggesting that," Albus said kindly. "But I can remember what it was like to be young and confused about certain aspects of your life, and perhaps Harry – and Ron, of course – would benefit from talking things over."
Harry had never noticed before how much the Headmaster's eyes twinkled. He'd never really thought about colourful his robes were. He'd never thought about the fact that Dumbledore's name had never been linked to any woman.
Now he was, and going to Siberia – or Leeds – was suddenly looking attractive. Talking about his feelings to the Headmaster was definitely not a good idea. "No, that's alright, Headmaster," he said quickly, shuffling towards the door. "We should do whatever the Guv'nor says. That's right, isn't it Ron?"
"What, oh, yes, yes," Ron agreed hastily.
"I'm glad to hear it," Steffings said. "I'm going to knock the two of you into shape, if it's the last thing you do. Now get your stuff together. Now, gentlemen," he barked, propelling them into action.
The boys quickly packed, shrinking their clothes and stuffing them into a satchel. Harry blushed as he emptied the contents of the chest of drawers, and tried to hide his underpants from view in case it inflamed any of the men in the room into uncontrollable lust.
"Erm," he said. "I've finished."
"So've I," added Ron.
"Right you 'orrible pair of erks, get your arris down those stairs, before I dock you six weeks pay for being stupid in a public place."
They scurried out of the room as quickly as possible, and could be heard clattering down the stairs.
"Thanks for that, Severus," Steffings said. "I've been looking for a chance to take those two down a peg or two for years, and you've just handed me the opportunity on a plate. If there's ever anything I can do in return…"
"Just try and knock some sense into them," Severus said.
"I'll do my best," Steffings replied. "Sorry for the aggravation, Miss." He nodded at Hermione before ducking out of the door, and bellowing further instructions at the boys. His voice could be heard echoing round the castle, and when they looked over the banister, a small crowd had gathered in the Entrance hall to see what was going on.
Harry and Ron's humiliation was complete.
"I think they're going to find that hard to live down," Ginny said.
"I think so," Hermione replied. "It might even be the making of them."
"I doubt it," Severus said. "They will always be idiots. What they really need is some young woman to take them in charge and get them sorted out."
"Like, I did you, you mean," Hermione said, laughing up at him.
"Exactly like that," he said softly, putting an arm round her waist. "Though I must say that I've never been as foolish as that."
"Let us be grateful that they have the change to be young and foolish," Albus said. "There was a time when we didn't believe that that day would ever come."
Severus sighed, ruffling Hermione's hair, and pulled her a little closer. "I suppose, when you put it like that… It's still annoying though."
"When you reach my age, young Severus, you will realise that being irritated keeps the blood flowing and the mind active. If I hadn't had to deal with all these children, I think I would have popped off years ago."
"I shall bear that in mind, Headmaster, the next time some idiot blows up a cauldron," Severus said.
Albus merely twinkled at him. "Now, I don't know about you, but I could do with a stiff drink."
"That sounds, as always, like a bloody good idea," Severus replied.
And on that note they went down to rejoin the party with the warm glow of a job well done.
A/N I should also make it clear that Harry's unenlightened and inaccurate views on homosexuality are not those of the Author.