Cursed Artefacts for Sale
An insistent hand shook Harry. His eyes blinked open to his darkened bedroom, a blaze of light pouring in through the door from the living room. Harry rolled away with a groan.
"Harry, wake up. It's four in the morning, and you will not make me late."
"For what… Death Eater meeting?" Harry grumbled. They were only ones sadistic enough to be up at this hour, he was sure.
Severus snorted. "The fool who wakes Lucius Malfoy before noon has both my scorn and deepest condolences for their surviving heirs."
Harry turned a little on his pillow. Sounded like there was a little history there, Severus? It wasn't all Cruciatus Curses among the Death Eaters he'd learned. Severus' old friends -- compatriots or partners in crime more like -- were evenly split between those who'd become Aurors and those who'd grown up to be Death Eaters. There wasn't a quiet bookkeeper amongst them. Harry filed the question away for when he wasn't too tired to be curious.
Then he remembered why Severus was waking him.
"Severus… thought you said that Auction opens at nine…."
"That's when it opens. We need to be there at five before the dealers sweep down on the ignorant and rob them blind."
Harry glanced up, bleary-eyed. "You want to protect them from crooked dealers?"
"No! I want to beat the dealers to it!" Severus ripped the blankets from the bed. "Now up."
"…snnrfg…" Harry curled up in the sheet with an unintelligible grumble, which could have meant 'I'll stay here, thanks.' It was just like Severus to leave out the minor detail about 'four am.' Harry was almost sure he'd never said anything about that.
"No, Gryffindor, you gave me your word -- if it's worth anything. I would have left already but I need your innocent face. Now get out of bed."
Harry gave a loud (and very fake) snore. He could almost feel Severus folding his arms as he stood over him.
"If you wish to come in your pyjamas," Severus said in a slow, measured tone, "that is your prerogative. But you are coming, one way or another."
That woke Harry up. It was an effective threat, considering Severus damn well knew Harry didn't wear pyjamas -- and hadn't since he left Hogwarts. They were inconvenient when you had a sex life.
"When are we leaving?" he asked.
"Half an hour. No -- since you've wasted time -- twenty minutes from now."
"Twen-- damn it, Severus! Why didn't you wake me?" Harry sat up and threw off the sheets.
"I did. Three times. You were milliseconds from a nude Mobilicorpus out the window into a snow bank." Severus smiled his odd crooked smile.
"You would enjoy that."
"No doubt the neighbors would as well," Severus purred.
Harry grabbed the nearest pair of trousers, left dangling over a chair from the night before. He eschewed underwear for the day. "Remind me why am I with a sadistic madman?"
"It is either my irresistible charm or incurable insanity on your part," he said.
"I vote option two at the moment," he said as he stepped into his trousers and jumped in place, buttoning them. "It's four bloody am!"
"Four-twenty, rather, and you have ten minutes -- Are those trousers clean?"
Harry didn't answer. He didn't have time to find a clean pair. Severus shot him a look of distaste.
"It's still dark out," Harry complained. The window could have been a wall for all he could see outside. "You are certifiable."
"Yes, well, collecting Cursed Artefacts is a registered form of madness in the Compendium of Wizarding Mental Disorders and Other Things That Make You Twitch," Severus said, "alongside most compulsions to collect. But it's very a popular one, and I intend to be there early to beat everyone else to it."
Harry didn't answer; he had launched himself at the bathroom and was hurriedly brushing the fuzz off his teeth.
"Naturally there is a cure. But as it involves not purchasing them any more, I am not interested." Severus paced. "Hurry up, Harry. They have a Mikady! Private bidding, by invitation only. Who knows what other priceless articles they've missed in that estate. Fools! If Albert hadn't told them, they would have sold it to some unappreciative -- and quickly dead -- Muggle for mere pocket change." His inky black eyes shone with a mad desire. "Bad enough we lost the Hope Diamond to a Muggle Museum."
Harry was already on their bed, pulling on his shoes; he was bare-chested and the toothbrush still dangled from his mouth. He long ago learned it was best to let Severus ramble when he got onto his favourite subject, just as Severus ignored his slavish devotion to the Quidditch section of The Daily Prophet.
The only reason Harry agreed to participate in Severus' little hobby was that Severus had (reluctantly, and with a heavy sigh) agreed to go with him to the all-important off-season AAA League trials for the Winbourne Wasps. They were trying out a new Chaser who was rumoured to be outstanding! He flew the classic 'Clock' maneuver like no one else, had a 23-0 record in school and if selected it could mean Winbourne's first shot at the Cup -- in thirty-five years! Well, given five years or so, more or less. It took time to move up from the minor leagues after all.
Harry couldn't understand Severus' depth of involvement with these Artefacts though. It struck him as kind of, well -- obsessive.
"-- they had an entire attic full!" Severus ranted. "Relative after relative disappeared and they didn't know what they had. Appalling, to not recognise the signs of a classic Mikady curse. Uneducated barbarians."
Harry rattled the hangers as he pulled off a clean shirt. White today, he thought. He was supposed to look innocent.
"-- and Mikady's very difficult to find. He was quite mad, more so than most. Cursed at random, friend or foe, gave them as Christmas presents, or to people on the street. One can't exactly search his enemies' estates for his best work as per the usual, do you see?"
Harry wondered idly what Severus planned to do about breakfast -- they wouldn't have time as it was. He tucked in the crisp cotton shirt, a gift from Severus. He really had good taste in clothes.
"-- and so subtle. Brilliant. Timed curses, which wouldn't deliver for years, intricate and smoothly worked into the object, barely detectable. All useable. None of these ham-handed modern curses that interfere with the basic workings of say, a wristwatch. Perfection."
So they were going to buy cursed watches? Harry had a momentary image of a man in trenchcoat. Harry swept on his cloak, as Severus pulled on his own cloak and broom riding gloves, wriggling his fingers.
"If Narcissa beats me to the Mikady, I will hex her myself. Gift-wrapped, with a smile."
Severus politely held the door for Harry.
It was cold outside. A spiderweb was traced by the lamplight in silver dew, and their breath made puffs of white cloud about them. On their tiny porch, Harry stepped over his Firebolt and stood alongside Severus, who straddled his own broom.
A sudden thought occurred to Harry. "Severus. If you gave me a cursed object for Christmas -- you'd tell me, right?"
"Harry. You know I would never respect you if you couldn't tell it was cursed in the first place."
He launched into the air. Harry stared after him a moment before following. That was not the most reassuring answer.
Harry thought he had never seen such a jumble of useless junk in his life.
A man had a sign over his dilapidated table, '18th Century Portkeys - Dangerous! Do Not Touch!'
"How can a dusty old portkey be dangerous?" Harry asked Severus, as they filtered their way through a surprisingly large crowd, given the hour.
"Well. I have a friend with a portkey to Atlantis -- broken amphora bottle. A little foolish to try it nowadays, wouldn't you agree? Unless you happen to be amphibious."
Oh. "You mean Atlantis really existed?"
"Presumably. Though I wouldn't try the portkey to find out. In any case, most of these aren't that exotic. They will probably just land you inside concrete walls that didn't exist back when they were made. They should be destroyed in my opinion, but people collect the most worthless dangerous clutter -- ah, here we are!" They turned the corner into a large warehouse.
Row upon row of wooden tables were set out, and merchants had just now started to set up their meagre displays. Every manner of transportation was in use, horses trotted down the aisles (Harry watched his step); a man in a turban was unloading trinkets from a hovering carpet (probably a grandfather clause on the carpet, Harry decided). A few enterprising wizards Apparated their entire display, with mixed results — a bookend was grafted to a quill set. They tried it again. Now the bookend was grafted to the table. One elderly woman was unpacking an extraordinary number of goods… candlesticks, teapots, knick-knacks… from her handbag. Her table was overloaded already and she appeared to have more in there. Harry paused to stare.
To his left another woman, dripping with jewellry, was telling her neighbor, "I say store everything wrapped in black silk. Preserves the vibrations of the curse."
"Rubbish, an old wives tale at the very least. Quality curses don't leak!" said her friend.
Harry realised that he had fallen behind Severus. He spotted the dark figure a few feet ahead, paused over one of the rickety tables. Severus sure stood out in a crowd, Harry observed; he towered over the blue-haired ladies. Harry trotted to catch up, dodging a pile of horse manure.
Severus glanced over his shoulder at Harry, speaking as if he hadn't noticed Harry had disappeared. "This cursed betrothal band will put you in a full body bind, careful. Oh, and here's a nasty little thing -- lovely choker. Do not put it on; it will actually choke you. A bit obvious, I think, but still elegant in its execution." Severus hummed happily around the collection.
He suddenly froze; his eyes narrowed. Harry followed his gaze to an elegantly coifed blonde woman on the other side of the warehouse, sneering at her house-elf who had a sizable armload of packages already.
"Narcissa…" The word was a hiss. While normally the two got along fine, when it came to Cursed Artefacts, Narcissa Malfoy was Severus' most bitter rival. Time and again, armed with Lucius Malfoy's bank account, she had outbid and outmanuevered Severus Snape on one treasure after another. Or so he claimed. It seemed a bit paranoid to Harry.
But if she did, Harry privately thought he owed her a debt of gratitude. Though he knew better than to mention it to Severus.
Narcissa glanced around suddenly, as if feeling the weight of their gaze, then spotted Severus and smiled brilliantly. She quickly shifted direction and came right for them; it reminded Harry of a hunting shark. Severus simply hunched, glaring as she sauntered around aisles, horse manure, flying carpets and odd rubbish with a proprietary air as if it were all rose petals at her feet. Her house-elf, face buried behind packages, staggered through some manure.
"Severus!" she called in a light voice with a graceful little wave, "how good to see you, such a wonderful surprise!"
She caught up with them and her eyes raked the table and fell on an amulet Severus held clenched in his hand. Hmm. Maybe Severus wasn't so far off after all. "Have you found anything you like?" Her smile was a bit too sharp to be called pleasant.
"Oh indeed," Severus had hunched by now into what Harry called his 'full crow' mode, his voice low and soft. "Moments ago I spotted an exquisite 'cock ring' with a well-placed Severing Charm, only two tables back. I'd say it would make an appropriate gift for Lucius." He smiled thinly.
A blue-haired lady behind the table choked, but Narcissa's tinkling laugh was both charming, and well-practiced -- if an instant late.
"You've always been so amusing, Severus." She waved a hand at the cluttered table. "But these are mere trinkets and baubles, aren't they?" The blue-haired lady frowned, unnoticed by Narcissa. "The real chase begins at nine o'clock, n'est pas?"
"Oh?" he said calmly. Several people bumped past them and Harry had to step aside. "I've no knowledge of anything special today. I was simply picking up a few items for Harry."
Harry sputtered. He hoped not! Severus spared him a quick glare, then returned a polite gaze to his nemesis.
"Oh, come now, Severus," Narcissa wagged her finger and gave him her most winning smile. She lowered her voice like a conspirator, leaning towards him. "I know all about the Mikady."
Severus' expression was carefully schooled. "Really?" He scratched his chin. "I'd heard it was a fake." Harry had to look at the ground to swipe the grin off his face. Narcissa's perfect smile faltered a moment, but her next was acid behind the mask.
"Oh. Well then. I suppose we'll miss you at the bidding -- Miggsy! Don't drop those!" she snapped at her house-elf -- it startled and nearly scattered the entire stack. "It seems such a shame that you'll miss it. I do so enjoy bidding against you, Severus. Come along, Miggsy!" And she swept away, her nose in the air.
Severus' eyes followed her sauntering back with murderous intent.
He muttered, "That woman wouldn't know a Mikady curse of it melted her face off and dissolved all her house-elves into a congealing pile of slime…." as he stalked towards an Egyptian-looking table.
What were they buying exactly?
"Death scarabs here! Get your death scarabs!" a man at the Egyptian table called. The bag in his hand moved and made vague skittering noises.
Harry gave him and the bag a cautious glance, and a wide berth as he caught up with Severus.
The Egyptian table was piled with gold and bronze objects, with a number of tall, skinny cat statues. One extended its leg and started licking itself. Out of the corner of his eye Harry spotted Narcissa cautiously circling back around to their last table. Moments later she'd picked up the amulet Severus had held.
He decided not to mention it.
Severus was prodding a crab-like brooch with his wand. It snapped shut and started chewing on the end. He casually flicked it off with an appreciative nod. It skittered off the table. "Hmm?" He glanced up.
The owner gave Severus a squinty, annoyed look and ducked under the table to catch the scampering thing.
"What you do with all this --" shit, crap, rubbish, Harry discarded the first words that came to mind "-- stuff anyway?"
Severus glanced about cautiously, and then murmured in his ear, "I break them." He smiled subtly and turned back to his study of the items on the table. "I take these curses apart… see how they work," he added in a barely perceptible undertone. "It's quite an interesting challenge."
Oh. That Harry could understand. Bill was a Curse-Breaker and he certainly seemed to enjoy his work. He looked at the displays with more interest and picked up a book. The pictograms on the page suddenly shifted and crawled, and then to Harry's surprise, changed to English.
Cool. It had its own translation spell.
The man with the turban bobbed up from under the table and asked -- rather brusquely, Harry thought, as he glanced over the edge of his book -- "Would you like to take home some of the wonders of our ancient and mysterious land?"
Severus said, "Ah, but I fear some of the 'wonder' has worn off over the years. For example, this…."
And the bargaining began.
The story had turned out to be a riveting adventure with supernatural heroism and just enough magic to keep it interesting. None of it was the dark arts (thank god) and Harry could really relate to the hero's self-reliance and cleverness. There were hints throughout that the hero might not be too interested in the bodice-ripping heroine and that maybe, just maybe, his elegant mentor might return his feelings. Harry turned the page. The plot was immensely complex. They were about to find out if…
Hands abruptly covered his eyes.
"I was reading that!" He brushed Severus away. "You can have it after I'm done." He had to know what happened next!
"Harry. That book has a low-level Willing Inertia Plebium curse. There is no end to it." Severus pried the little story from stiff unwilling hands. "It tells you everything you want to hear. You'll happily continue reading until you starve." He set the book on the table. Harry gazed after it longingly. "It was an effective distraction for an hour or two --"
An hour? Wait -- Severus let him be cursed?
"-- but I need you for this next one." Severus took his elbow and guided him away from the Egyptian display.
The story began to fade. In fact, he couldn't quite remember what it had been about, come to think of it, or why it had been so important.
"Aubric Snozebottle is a big fan of yours, oh Boy-Who-Lived."
He smirked at Harry's wash of irritation, and the last threads of the story dissipated. Severus would never let him live that title down.
Harry slumped on a table, propped up on one elbow, hand buried in his hair. His legs ached, his mouth was dry, it was cold in there, and he thought he might just be able out-curse any item in the auction at this point. He yawned broadly, which reminded him he'd been up since four bloody am.
Unfortunately, the only chair Harry had spotted had spikes sticking out of the seat. Which was probably the nicest thing about it.
"Severus…" he moaned, stretched and rubbed his shoulders, ignoring his promise not to complain. Probably Severus would whine through the entire Quidditch trials anyway. "…it's been hours. Please. Let's go home."
"Only one more," Severus said distractedly. Of course, he'd said that a dozen times already.
Severus strode between the rows with unnerving energy, as Harry unkinked his body to limp after him. He'd heard the insane had hidden reserves of energy. It was true, here was the proof. Briefly he studied the wooden floor wondering if it was safe to lie down under a table or something.
"This is definitely the last," Severus continued blithely, walking a little ahead. "We simply cannot miss the Mikady." His eyes lit with that weird greedy light that he always had over a particularly noxious potion, or when he cast the killing curse. Harry shivered.
"I heard it was a fake -?" Harry said with wan hope.
"Ha, ha, aren't you the comedian." Severus held a curtain on the back wall open for Harry. "Through here. And watch what you say."
The back room was warmer at least, but it was partially full of well-dressed people, Malfoy-types of the sort that always made Harry uncomfortable, as if he'd worn mismatched socks. They were standing around sipping wine and gossiping, and paid little attention to the new arrivals. A few nodded politely to Severus, a greeting he ignored. Everywhere there were red velvet drapes hung with black tassels and cording.
And then Harry saw them.
Rows and rows of chairs. He could almost cry.
"We get to sit down?" he whimpered. With his luck today the chairs were all for sale and he'd end up paying a million Galleons just for sitting on one.
But Severus politely gestured to a seat, a few rows from the back along the aisle, muttering something about strategic seating, blah blah blah, not being too far back that the auctioneer couldn't see you, blah blah, but still being able to see your opponents blah…
Harry didn't hear a word as he sank into his seat with relief.
And found himself bounced to the floor.
"You didn't think to bring your wallet?"
Severus sighed heavily and placed his money pouch on Harry's chair, talking to it (the chair or the purse Harry wasn't sure). "I apologise. The Neanderthal's with me."
Harry dusted himself off, fully awake now, looking at the chair with deep suspicion. He hoped no one had seen that.
"Don't blame the furniture," Severus said under his breath. "They can hardly allow anyone in who can't afford the proceedings, and you aren't on the guest list."
"Oh Severus…" A familiar sing-song voice behind them cut across their conversation. Severus cringed into his chair like an errant child, as he glanced up sideways at Narcissa.
"I'm so happy you could make it after all." Her smile was smug and superior as she made her way to the front row.
Well. Harry had to admit it was kind of stupid to lie when you'd be caught in just a few hours. Sometimes Severus' temper tripped him up.
The room stirred as the seats filled up around them. A tiny old woman with an enormous feather hat sat directly in front of Severus, clutching her pocketbook primly. Severus leaned to the side and muttered a curse under his breath. The feathers wilted slightly, but she had obviously defended her hat against shrinking. All the seats along the aisle were already taken. Severus muttered another curse, but several bees flew out of the hat, swooping by Severus warningly. "If she knows to ward her hat so thoroughly maybe she ought to just get another one…" he grumbled. Harry tried not to laugh. A younger fellow settled in next to Harry, wearing a dusty brown suit. Harry was a little surprised the chairs didn't bounce him, but his curiosity was interrupted by a sudden hush.
An stately wizard with a very long mustache stepped up to a podium and cleared his throat. Behind him was an elegant witch with bright red lipstick and way too much jewellery. Several carts rolled in her wake, swathed in fluttering red silk drapes.
She flicked her wand and a cart rolled forward. A squat statue, crudely shaped like a little dwarf with no eyes, climbed up onto the cart and began pulling off the silk. The wizard intoned:
"Thank you all for coming today. As you may know, many of the previous owners died of the curses assembled here." He paused for effect. "Others were less fortunate…."
The crowd tittered politely.
Severus leaned over to Harry, "Legalities. They always try -- and fail -- to make them entertaining." He indicated the little stone dwarf. "That might be for show, but if they must use a golem to unveil the Artefacts, then they are of a type triggered by both touch and magic. Particularly nasty." He clapped politely with the rest of the group at a pause in the wizard's speech. "As they ought to be at this level."
The golem suddenly stopped, glowed orange like a hot coal -- then shuddered and collapsed into a pile of ash. Someone gasped.
The witch calmly conjured a new golem.
"Fake," Severus muttered aside.
"I trust that this warning is well-taken," the wizard continued. "All of Artefacts here today are of the most deadly variety, and highest calibre. They are to be respected for their artistry, superior workmanship and destructive capacity."
He brightened. "Now. Our first item up for bid is from the estate of the late lamented Sophia Wagglesworth --"
"Bizarre woman," Severus sniped. With a slight chill, Harry wondered which of her prized collection had killed her.
"-- was a noted collector of unique New World Artefacts. This first malignant treasure is a late 1950's Andre Silex, from his minimalist period."
The drape was swept off, to reveal a squarish, metal box with two black levers on the front. Harry blinked at it.
A delighted murmur rippled through the crowd.
"It's quite rare, exceptional workmanship as one can expect from the American master, but it is prized particularly for its uniqueness." Harry squinted at him. "It was designed for his Muggle-born ex-girlfriend, who never did recover. All the working parts move properly in this devious masterpiece and it operates in a Muggle environment. A remarkable achievement from a contemporary Sorcerer." The crowd clapped with polite interest.
"It's a toaster," Harry whispered to Severus.
"Yes... I'm no fan of these 'Modern' Curse artists, but I'll admit that is an unusual piece of work," Severus mumbled, lifting his chin to study it. He had to lean around the large feather hat as the woman in front of him did the same. "I wonder what it does…."
"It toasts bread," Harry said with blank disbelief.
Severus shot him an irritated look. "Why Muggles can't simply hold their bread over a fire on a stick I'll never know."
Harry couldn't quite think of an answer to that.
"I strongly suspect that this 'toaster' by Andre Silex might be a bit more useful than a box, whose sole purpose is to toast bread." He scrolled through his catalogue, a long yellow finger running down the crabbed script. "Is it for poisoning, or perhaps… Oh. My." He sat up. "That is clever." He leaned to the other side of the feather hat. "I wish I'd thought of it," he said to Harry. "It's a Psychic Magnet, designed to draw poltergeists, zombies -- all sorts of household pests. One could haunt a house for generations with one of those. No one thinks to check the kitchen."
"…the bidding opens at six thousand Galleons…"
Harry nearly choked. Six thousand what? he mouthed to Severus.
"Appalling, isn't it?" Severus shook his head in mocking dismay. "Sophia must be spinning in her grave. Tsk. To think that they started the bidding that low." Severus looked well pleased.
"I warned her not to buy American."
It was a little like watching a horse race Harry decided, as the bids flew, growing higher and higher with each round. It was almost exhilaratingly wasteful. Instead of horses, these people raced to throw away outrageous sums of money on rubbish, whose only value he could see was that you could resell it for even more ridiculous sums.
Or Curse-Breaking. Harry glanced at Severus, who watched hawk-like but had only bid on the occasional item and, to his relief, bought nothing. So far. Spending tons of Galleons just to break a curse seemed a little, well… Harry cringed, and tried not to think of what the Weasleys could do with six thousand Galleons.
But by the time they reached the third cart, the astronomical sums ceased to have any meaning. Even an opening bid of twenty thousand seemed pathetic and cowardly to Harry. "Come on…" he muttered under his breath at one point at a particularly small offer. If they were going to bid they should at least be serious about it.
He was starting to understand families like the Malfoys. Which was a scary thought.
Many people here hadn't bid at all, he observed, but simply watched with bored expressions. Including, Harry noticed, the man in the shabby suit. He perked up with sudden interest as the last cart was rolled forward. Here for the Mikady, Harry suspected.
"And now, the crown jewel of today's event."
The crowd took a collective breath, and everyone was suddenly awake with interest. Severus leaned forward eagerly.
"This frog statuette was created by Alexi Mikady, in 1792…."
The cart drifted forward. The silk drape pulled back.
Severus sat up suddenly. His jaw went slack, dropped, and then his chin pulled in. Then he leaned forward again, peering at the object with a look of intense concentration, muttering charms under his breath.
The wizard cleared his throat.
"The bidding opens at forty thousand Galleons."
Narcissa's signature flare went up immediately.
"Forty-five to Malfoy… do we have fifty? Fifty for a work from one of our most well-known wizards is hardly a…" Another flare went up. "Bellingham. Fifty it is… Mikady work is exceedingly rare and most of it is still extant… Fifty-five to L'Enfant. Do we have sixty…? Malfoy, sixty… for a Mikady, a notoriously dark wizard who --"
The man in the shabby suit put his wand away, and sat with his arms crossed.
Severus slumped in his chair, shoulders limp. He raised his signature flare, but it seemed half-hearted.
"Do we have seventy? Seventy to Snape… do we have -- Seventy-five to Malfoy." Severus signaled again, a lazy wand gesture. "Eighty, eighty to Snape. Eighty-five? Noxburg, eighty-five. Malfoy, ninety."
The bidding continued, rising higher and higher, but now Severus made no move. Harry glanced at him puzzled. He had simply folded his arms and stopped bidding.
"Do we have one hundred twenty? Malfoy… one twenty. One twenty-five… one twenty-five…. going once…."
Severus raised his signal at the last instant. With an evil smile. "One fifty," he said calmly.
"Snape. One fifty. Do we have -- Malfoy, one hundred and fifty-five. Do we hear one hundred and sixty?"
Narcissa looked back at Severus, with a curious little frown. Severus smirked at her.
"One sixty -?"
Severus pursed his lips. Then shook his head. She smiled triumphantly and turned back to her prize.
"Going once… going twice… going three times," the auctioneer said. "Sold, to Narcissa Malfoy, for one hundred and fifty-five thousand Galleons. Congratulations, Mrs Malfoy."
There was polite clapping all around. The crowd began murmuring.
"As we are out of time, the Roth-Stromburg piece will be auctioned immediately, via sealed bid. Thank you all very much for coming." He bowed and stepped away from the podium.
The crowd started talking al at once as they stood and began gathering their cloaks and so forth. House-elves of every variety gathered bags and boxes and picked up dropped gloves. A small cluster of well-wishers collected around Narcissa Malfoy to congratulate her -- and to get a first hand look at her Mikady, Harry thought.
Harry was astounded and turned to Severus.
"What in the world… we're up at four am… we spent all morning here... just for this, and you barely even bid. You didn't even try to get that Mikady!"
But Severus ignored him as he pushed through the crowd towards the podium.
Narcissa carried the frog sculpture out a platter with a pleased expression. Her crowd of admirers surrounded her, cooing over her good fortune. "It's utterly lethal, I know…" she was saying, as he and Severus passed her.
Severus approached the auctioneer. "I'd like to see the Roth-Stromburg, if I may."
The old wizard smiled slyly, a dark glitter in his eye. Two other wizards and a witch also approached, tense with suppressed nervous excitement. Including the one in the brown coat.
"The current owner of the Roth-Stromburg," the old wizard said with a curious emphasis, "stipulated that only true admirers of the great master's work be permitted to bid. He disliked the idea of it going to someone who only wanted a name, who had no real appreciation of its value." The wizard gave a silky smile. "Follow me if you please." He crooked a finger.
Harry glanced at Severus and the three eager collectors as he trailed after them, mystified.
They entered a small room with a little circular table, draped in purple with a little cushion display. It was lit with a white globe, and on a cushion was a delicate woman's wristwatch, ticking quietly. Knowing glances passed between the four contenders. And a smile crept across Severus' face. They all seemed to understand something that Harry didn't.
Finally Severus breathed, reverently, "The Mikady."
Harry stared in shock at the old, pleased auctioneer. "You tricked everybody."
The wizard in the shabby suit cut in while Severus stared at the watch, mesmerized.
"Oh no. That was also a Mikady. His very early work from when he was a student -- 1792. That piece was exactly what they said it was," he sneered. "Naturally student work is valuable to see early development of talent." He wafted closer to the watch, as if drawn to it, while trying to stay cautiously back. "But this… this is poetry."
"Gentlemen… and lady," the old auctioneer bowed and withdrew several gold envelopes from a hidden pocket in his robes. The four accepted them eagerly. "This will be by sealed bid. May the best wizard -- or witch -- win."
Severus' eyes glittered. Harry had a feeling as he watched his quill quiver as it scratched along the little gold card, that this bid would make even Narcissa Malfoy flinch.
Moments later, after tapping the cards and checking them for various cheating charms, the wizard conjured a golem to solemnly bring Severus the Mikady watch. The other bidders congratulated him, hovered, and tried very hard not to look disappointed.
The man in the shabby suit patted Severus on the back, earning a glare.
"Naturally you will lend it for public exhibition, at least from time to time -?" he said hopefully. It was almost a question.
Harry took pity on the man and shrugged, "Well, if there's anything left I'm sure he wou--" Severus' quick elbow jab in the stomach cut him off. Harry choked, breathless.
He cut in smoothly, "Of course I would." And he made polite noises as he pulled Harry away.
Outside the auction, he pressed Harry up against a wall.
"You moron!" he snarled. "You nearly cost me the Mikady in there! Not to mention the very real possibility I could have been thrown out of these circles for good. Narcissa would love the excuse. Don't you ever, ever mention that I --" He glanced around, shifty-eyed "-- 'play' with them."
"You mean break them, don't you?" challenged Harry, shaking off his grip.
"Sh!" Severus' eyes widened, panicky and furious. "I shouldn't have told you." He threw up his hands and spun away. "You may be a wizard but sometimes, you are all Muggle. Bourgeois, pedestrian, barbarian Muggle. Harry… in that primitive world where you grew up, is there no art? No great treasures that are sacrosanct?"
"Art? You mean like the Mona Lisa, DaVinci's paintings and stuff like that?"
"Yes, yes, paintings, DaVinci. Now. Would anyone ever destroy this 'DaVinci's' work, paint over it perhaps?" he said. "Break it?"
"Then why do you do it?" Harry frowned.
"Because it's fun! I will never be able to duel these great Dark Wizards in person; they're all dead unfortunately. But in this alone, I can beat them." His eyes gleamed, and Harry thought of the cursed harp in their living room that they'd had for years.
"Well Severus, this Mikady sounds pretty good. But maybe you should finish the Anton harp first?" he teased.
"It takes patience." Severus pursed his lips.
The gravel crunched under their feet as they returned from the Auction. Severus had his damned cursed watch. At a ridiculous price, especially considering that no one could ever touch it. Even prepared for the worst Harry had been shocked. They couldn't use brooms or any magic around it, so they walked home brooms slung over their shoulders. At least Severus had bought dinner.
A sudden horrifying thought occurred to Harry.
"Severus. How many cursed items… are there — is there more than just that Cursed Harp lying around the house?"
Severus was eloquently silent.
"How many?" Harry asked.
"More than one."
Harry choked, and laughed nervously.
Severus ignored his response, as his eyes misted over. "I've been looking for a Grindelwald for years. I'm certain Dumbledore knows where I can lay my hands on one. He defeated the bastard after all. But he always changes the subject!"
Grindelwald? A cursed toaster from Grindelwald lying about the kitchen. Wouldn't that be just the thing. Thank god Severus never got close to that Dark Wizard.
Then another horrifying thought occurred to Harry. Oh no… he couldn't. He wouldn't. Harry was afraid to ask, but he had to.
"Is there anything from Voldemort?"
There was a slight, pregnant pause before he answered. "Yes."
Harry spun around and stopped cold in the middle of the sidewalk. "Damn it, Severus! Where is it?"
Severus turned to Harry, made a fist, holding up his left forearm. "On my bloody fucking arm, you idiot!"
"Oh." Harry didn't know if he should be relieved. Though he was. "Right."
They walked in thoughtful silence and starlight. On a Sunday night the streets were lit but deserted, and there was no moon.
"The spell I did for you, the Commisceo. That's technically a curse? Isn't it?" Harry wondered aloud.
"Yes, come to think of it, it is."
"So you have two curses on you. Mine and Voldemort's."
Severus grunted. "I appear to be popular."
"You know what that means."
"When you die, I'm going to make a fortune auctioning off your body up there." Harry grinned at him impudently.
He wrapped his arm about Harry's chilled shoulders. "You are a sick man, Harry. One of the things I like about you." Severus snorted. "Don't be in too much of a hurry. Neither of your curses have killed me yet. That devalues them on the open market."
Harry adjusted the broom on his shoulder to give him more room. "Severus, I just wish you would stop buying this shit. We have enough danger in our lives without deadly cursed things scattered around the house," he complained.
"Danger keeps me on my toes. That watch should prove a fine challenge. Mikady was one of the nastiest dark wizards of the nineteenth century. Far worse than the Dark Lord." He sighed. "They don't make them like they used to."
They arrived at their tiny house. Under the street lamp, Harry's eyes were wide with disbelief. "It goes. Now."
"My, I didn't know you cared…"
Then Harry caught the mischievous note in his voice and realised he was being teased. Harry gave him a sloe-eyed, mournful look, and Severus relented.
"Infertility. That cursed watch causes infertility," Severus explained. They continued up the walkway to their front door. Severus had to duck the awning on the front porch. "Hardly a concern of mine. I'm surprised at you, Harry. You should have more respect for me than that. After all, needless, hare-brained risks are your department."
Harry's eyes sparkled at him and he shook his head as he opened the door. It squeaked under his hand, and warm air rushed out. "Just so we have that clear."