Title: Lion Taming
Pairings: Severus Snape/ Harry Potter; Draco Malfoy/ Hermione Granger; Harry Potter/ Lord Voldemort
Disclaimer: Characters are alternate universe versions of JK Rowling's characters from the Harry Potter series.
Feedback: Yes, please.
Beta: the luscious Wintermoon2Archive: Part of the From Dusk till Dawn Severus Snape/Harry Potter Fuh-Q-Fest at Challenge: 77. AU - Draco Malfoy has come to Hogsmeade in search of education, but instead he falls for the beautiful younger daughter/son (character of your choice) of Albus Dumbledore. Problem: his Love has an older brother, Harry, who is possessed of a headstrong (and shrewish) disposition and Dumbledore has declared that his oldest must be married before he'll give the younger's hand in matrimony. Help arrives in the form of his father's old friend, Severus Snape -- a nobleman, sadly fallen on hard financial times, who has come to Hogsmeade in search of a rich spouse. Who, exactly, will tame who? (Diana) 10,000 words… starting…
The air was brisk, the sky was clear, and Lord Draco Malfoy walked with a purpose down the streets of Hogsmeade with his dear friend and traveling companion, Blaise Zabini.
"It is a rather beautiful area," said Blaise mildly, looking about the bustling town.
"It's charming," Draco replied noncommittally.
Blaise smiled at a few giggling witches as they passed and said airily, "The folk are friendly and seemingly happy, and my," he sniffed the wind indulgently, "The food does smell good."
Draco raised an eyebrow, unimpressed. "I think it is perfume that has gone to your head and not the aroma of fine cuisine. Come along."
They strode out of the village down a winding walkway that led through some rather uninviting woods and eventually to a rickety old gate.
"Your father had intended to send you…here... had you not been privately tutored? I find that rather hard to believe."
Draco narrowed his eyes in agreement, but said nothing. He stepped through the gate and sighed relief. As he looked around the landscape changed from frightening forest to rolling hills of luscious green. A shimmering lake danced in the breeze, glistening in the mid-afternoon sun. Beside it, on the tallest and broadest of the hills, sat a castle as majestic as Draco had ever seen, framed in a backdrop of snow-capped mountains.
Blaise smiled and exclaimed jovially, "Oh good! It was glamour after all!" He slung his arm around Draco's neck and pulled him forward down the cobblestone walk. Draco smiled despite himself.
"Get off me, you buffoon!"
"Temper, temper, my Lord," admonished Blaise.
Draco shrugged him off and continued down the walk, trying to look as important as possible. But as he neared the castle and looked out over the lake, his aristocratic mask dropped. Lounging with an enormous stack of textbooks was the most beautiful witch Draco had ever seen. He was mesmerized until Blaise snapped his fingers in front of his face.
"The drool is hardly flattering, Draco."
Ignoring his words, Draco clasped a hand on Blaise's shoulder and said, "In all the world, Blaise, have you ever seen such a vision of beauty? I must have died and gone to paradise to behold such a lovely creature."
"My Lord Malfoy!" grinned Blaise with his eyes wide, "I have never heard such words pass your lips!" He turned to look to the student, and then back to Draco, and then back again before seizing Draco's arm. "We must go talk to her at once!"
"Blaise, no!" he hissed, but he didn't fight very hard, and Blaise easily won. When they drew near the lake, Blaise casually fell into step behind his friend so that he would be the first to speak.
She looked up from one of the dozen or so books spread around her and brought her hand up to shield her eyes from the sun. "Hello," she said sweetly.
"How do you do, madam?" asked Draco, wishing he had said something less lame.
"Are you guests at the school?" she asked.
"No, actually, I am new to the school. I'm Draco Malfoy, and this is my good friend Blaise Zabini." Blaise nodded his head slightly.
"Oh?" she asked, quickly standing up. "You're a new teacher? It's good to meet you. What subject will you be professing?"
"Actually, I'm a new student," he said with a smile, and was pleased to note that her eyes widened excitedly.
"A new student? Well, that's wonderful! I mean," she said, blushing suddenly, "There's only one other student here my age. The others are all children. Are you pursuing your Masters?"
"No, I'm just taking a few classes in business and finance. My father passed on recently, leaving the Malfoy affairs to myself, and I'm afraid I don't quite trust our accountant. My father was a friend to Lord Dumbledore, and he has agreed to educate me in these matters."
"Oh, I see," she said. "Well it will be nice to have you here. Most students leave at 17 or 18, but some of us enter contracts with the school so that we pursue our entire education on these grounds." She began picking up her books; Draco and Blaise rushed to help her. "Thank you," she said. "It's a very intensive program. This place is my home, really. The headmaster is my father-of-the-mind. But," she leaned in secretively, "It does get quite boring sometimes without more people my age."
She grinned and Draco laughed, and then yelped and fell backwards, scattering the books he was holding. Out of nowhere, a lion had come bounding up. He leapt at the young men menacingly but touched them not, instead positioning himself protectively between them and the young woman. She laughed.
"You'll have to forgive him. He's rather over-protective, I find."
Malfoy and Blaise stood up from the ground. Both of their wands were extended in shaking hands. Draco lowered his tentatively. "Is this your pet?"
She laughed again. "Hmm, yes. This is my pet. A gift from my brother-of-the-mind, Harry Potter." She buried her fingers in the lion's mane, scratching him behind the ears and said in a baby voice, "Aren't you my ickle pet?"
The lion looked at her angrily, and then transformed into a tall and striking young man, who glared at her. "I don't appreciate that," he said.
"I know," she smiled. "Harry, this is Draco Malfoy, and Blaise Zabini."
"Charmed, I'm sure," he said, as though he was anything but.
Draco and Blaise both glanced up at the famed lightening scar on Harry's forehead, realizing that the stories were true—one of the stories, at any rate.
"Lord Harry Potter," said Blaise, flirtatiously stepping forward. "It is an honor to meet you. And might I say, you are even more lovely than your reputation dictates."
Harry looked on him as something loathsome, but made no reply. He turned to his sister instead. "We must get to class. Come along."
She waved her wand, and her books stacked themselves neatly in the air and floated next to her. "It was nice meeting you," she said as she turned to leave.
"Wait!" called Draco. "What is your name?"
"Hermione. Hermione Granger."
"Hermione Granger," whispered Draco as he watched the two return to the castle. "Now that is the name of a witch of high standing. Blaise, if I haven't married her in a year, kill me."
Over the next four months, Draco spent every second he could with Hermione. He was wary of her brother Harry, who lived up to his scandalous reputation as both an extraordinarily powerful wizard, and not one to cross.
Blaise visited often since he didn't have much else to do, being a young nobleman of leisure. He spent his first two visits trying to court the fiery Harry, and every visit thereafter avoiding him like manual labor. He spent as much time as he thought necessary spouting glowing praises to Hermione for all things Draco Malfoy—so much so that Hermione quietly asked Draco one night if he thought Blaise was in love with him.
Finally, in early December, Draco decided he had waited long enough, and he asked Hermione to marry him. If he had expected her to fall in his arms crying, "Yes, yes!" (which he did), he was sorely surprised when she instead furrowed her brow and turned away (and he was).
"I can't," she whispered.
Draco stared at her for a moment, quite sure he had misheard her. But since her suddenly closed-off behavior seemed to indicate that he hadn't, he asked, "What do you mean?"
She turned back to him and said sadly, "I've entered a contract with the school. I can't leave until I've completed my education."
"When will that be?" asked Draco at once.
"In seven years."
Draco braced himself against the wall, swooning. "I'll wait for you if I have to, but admittedly I'd rather not. Wait!" He looked up at her anxiously, "Do you even want to marry me?"
"Yes, of course, my love!" she exclaimed, clasping his hand in hers. "It's just that we take education very seriously here. It's a life-encompassing experience."
"Does one miss very much if they do not live here?"
"Well, not in terms of education, but in everything else—yes. Oh! It would be worth it if I could marry you, Draco, but I'm afraid I just don't have that option."
"There's got to be a way," he said, drawing her in. "I'll speak with the headmaster at once."
"My dear boy," said Dumbledore, "I have no control over it. Tradition clearly states that students under contract must remain here throughout their entire education, and only the most senior student has the option of marriage or otherwise moving off of the school grounds."
Draco looked away and huffed to himself, "Bugger tradition."
"My Lord," said Dumbledore with a twinkle in his eye, "Without tradition, what ever would happen to our fine wizarding society?"
Draco's silence was his acceptance of the point. Eventually, he asked, "Does Harry Potter have the most seniority?"
"Yes," replied Dumbledore calmly.
"And Hermione after that?"
"And when does Harry leave so that Hermione has the most seniority?"
Draco sighed. That wasn't much better. But suppose…
"If Harry were to marry, would he still count as having the most seniority?"
Dumbledore smiled. "No, his contract would be partially broken, and Ms. Granger would take his place as most senior student… But I must warn you, Lord Malfoy," he said quickly, "Harry has no intention to either wed or leave the castle grounds for other living arrangements."
Draco opened his mouth to argue that there was a possibility, but then he remembered of whom they spoke. "Of course," he said.
Dumbledore nodded. "So you have heard of Lord Potter's misfortune."
Draco unconsciously raised his eyebrows. 'Misfortune' was an extraordinarily nice way to put it. "I have," he replied.
"Then you understand why I am afraid you will just have to wait."
"So I suppose I have to kill you then?" said Blaise after Draco related his somewhat rejected proposal. Draco glared at him.
He had returned to Malfoy Manor over the winter holidays. He and Blaise were reclining in the sitting room drinking Midnight Cinderellas (fire whiskey and pumpkin juice). Draco was doing his best to drown in his sorrows, but Blaise would have none of it.
"Cheer up, man! It is sure to all work out. You did say yours was a match woven by the Fates, did you not?"
"Ah yes," said Draco sardonically. "But the Fates do have a rather twisted sense of humor."
"Maybe they're just trying to build character," said Blaise.
Draco shook his head slowly.
Blaise shrugged. "Not my best attempt, I know. Oh! I've got it!" He sat up abruptly with his latest idea to make his friend laugh, but never made it to the punch line.
The door from the front hall opened and Draco's manservant, Ronald Weasley, appeared. "Lord Severus Snape is here to see you, sir," he announced.
Draco looked over with interest. "Send him in."
Ronald disappeared and a moment later a dark, intimidating figure strode in. Draco rose to shake his hand, but upon entering, Severus Snape stopped and simply looked at him.
"Draco, it is good to see you, but I have come to see your father. Where might I find Lord Malfoy?" His tone was impatient and he seemed almost too sinister for words.
"I am Lord Malfoy now," said Draco calmly, lowering his hand. "I regret to tell you that my father has passed on some months ago."
"I had not heard," said Severus.
"Yes, you were in Africa if I am not mistaken."
"You are not."
A silence fell on them and Severus glanced around as though inspecting the room and finding everything distasteful. Blaise raised an eyebrow at Draco, who quirked only the most infinitesimal of smiles.
"Do sit down, my Lord Snape," said Draco politely. "Would you like something to drink? Tea perhaps, or something stronger?"
Severus sat down in a broad chair by the fire, looking stiff and uncomfortable. "Whatever you're having is fine," he said.
Blaise jumped up to mix his drink and Draco tried not to smile as he sat down to speak with his guest.
"I offer my condolences," said Severus finally.
"Thank you," Draco replied.
"It's a bit of a shock to hear. Your father was a great man."
"Indeed he was," said Draco. "Allow me to extend my condolences for your loss as well."
Severus nodded. "Thank you." Blaise handed him his drink and Severus took a large, thirsty swallow.
Blaise sat down nonchalantly and Severus began to cough and sputter.
"This is what you're drinking?!" he demanded, glaring at Blaise.
"Yes, my Lord," said Blaise with a smile. "A Zabini family recipe."
Severus shook his head. "I see that your height is the only manner in which you have grown up."
"I can grow facial hair now too!" he argued.
Severus coughed again, but Draco was fairly certain he was hiding a laugh within it. He took another drink.
"Lord Snape, how is business?" inquired Draco.
"Oh, do call me Severus!" he snapped back. "I knew you as babes when I was a lad, and I'll have none of this formality nonsense. And my business is in ruin, as you no doubt know. It is expressly what I came to see your father about." He drained his glass and held it out to Blaise for another, who complied quickly and with a grin.
Draco settled back into his chair comfortably. "My father already set you up in shop once. Why would he be inclined to do so again?"
"Your father helped me to organize my own fortune to set myself up in shop, and he stood supportive of me when I then spent that fortune and ruined my name trying to keep my husband alive. I loved your father like my own, and I believe he would have been inclined to help me."
"Are you disappointed to find me in his stead?" asked Draco.
"I am saddened to hear he has passed on."
"But you will not ask me for financial assistance."
"I would not dream of it."
"I would offer."
"I would not accept help from someone who urinated on my shoes when he was five."
"What if I were to promise not to do it again?" asked Draco coyly.
"Severus, you don't need Draco's money," interrupted Blaise. "What you need to do is remarry."
Severus scoffed and returned to his drink.
"I'm serious. It's been what? Five years nearly since you were widowed? And the fact that you have decided to stop drifting and return to business says to me that you are ready to move on."
Draco watched idly, wondering how far Blaise was going to shove his foot into his mouth this time.
"So find someone new," continued Blaise. "Someone who is overflowing with joy for life to counterbalance your loathing for it—which seems to have grown rather exponentially since I saw you last," he added. "Marry someone with money and status and use their fortune to set yourself up again."
"Blaise, I have neither the desire nor inclination to ever love again," said Severus dryly. "Alas, my Neville was a fool, but I loved him dearly and could never hope to have that sort of love again."
"Well then, not love," said Blaise. "But a business arrangement—with perks. You're young, dashing, well-traveled… Surely we could find you a sweet young thing. "
"I would frighten a 'sweet young thing,' Blaise. I have been told repeatedly that I am not for the weak of heart."
"Quite right," said Draco, toasting his drink.
Blaise narrowed his eyes, wanting very much to make his idea work. "Then we'll find you a right bastard!" Severus rolled his eyes. "A strong-willed devil who can take on Lord Snape in even the foulest of moods. Someone who doesn't mind adversity."
Draco's eyes lit up and he regarded his friend anew. "Blaise, that's brilliant!" he exclaimed. "Severus, I have a business proposition for you. I find I have need of a single man."
Severus turned to him abruptly. "My Lord!"
"No, no!" laughed Draco, waving him off. I need someone to woo a man so that I might marry his younger sister."
"Draco!" shot Blaise, horror-struck. Severus could not possibly miss the look on his face.
Draco continued. "He is lovely, and powerful, of quite some financial means, intelligent, strong-willed, and absolutely lacking joy in his heart! He's perfect for you and your business relationship."
"You want to pay me to 'woo' a young man?"
"No, I want to pay you to be my personal apothecary. I'll set you up a place in Hogsmeade to be close to me and get you started on your business. But if you should happen to succeed in wooing this wonderful man… as a wedding present and severance package from my services, I will fund the opening of your new potions laboratory and shop. Does that sound agreeable?"
Severus paused, pretending to consider. "Perhaps… But tell me first what has Blaise gawking so? What is the catch?"
"It's Harry Potter!" exclaimed Blaise, rather too loudly.
Severus nearly spilled his drink. "Harry Potter the Lion?! My Lord, surely you jest! The survivor of Lord Voldemort?!"
"One and the same," said Draco calmly.
"Draco, stories of his… controversy three years back reached me in the most remote location in Africa. The man is dangerous, clearly."
Draco scowled. "Don't be ridiculous. Hermione says most of the rumors aren't true, although granted she's never been forthcoming on which are… But it is rather unlike you, Severus, to show such fear of the unknown. Promise me you'll at least come and meet him. You can decide after that."
Severus stared into the fire for a long moment and then drained his glass. He turned back to Draco and noticed his vision was growing fuzzy from the alcohol. "When?" he said.
Two days later, Severus accompanied Draco to Yule at Hogwarts. Draco nudged him and nodded at the wizard who entered the hall a mere moment before the ceremonies began, and then swept out again the instant the festivities began. Severus never said a word to him, but when he left that night with Draco, he agreed.
"Severus, you're not nervous, are you?" teased Blaise as they strode down the walk to Hogwarts.
"No I am not," replied Severus sternly. "But it has been ten years since I have done any courting, and I rather don't know how to behave."
"Oh, that's easy," said Blaise. "Just be yourself—bitter and cynical and foul… generally ill-tempered. And when in doubt," he added, "He hates me with a passion. So find a reason to insult me."
"That shouldn't be too difficult," said Severus.
"Good, like that!"
Blaise led Severus up to the library where sat Draco, Hermione, and Harry at a table that was nearly overflowing with books. Draco was reading as though Hermione were not even in the room. Severus surmised immediately (and accurately) that the situation had entirely to do with Draco's compliance to Harry and Hermione's study habits, and not the other way around.
Severus made to walk up to the table, but Blaise stretched out a restraining hand and shook his head in warning, eyes wide.
"Draco," he hissed, very quietly.
Draco looked up and smiled, but shook his head slightly, pointing to the door. Blaise checked his watch and nodded.
He whispered to Severus, "It's almost time for dinner. He said he'd meet us there."
Severus had watched the entire interaction disdainfully. If he was here to be officially introduced to Harry Potter, it seemed counterproductive to walk away from him when he was seated not fifteen feet away. "Ridiculous," he muttered, and walked straight up to the table where Draco sat trying to cover his cringe. Blaise trailed behind.
"My Lord Malfoy," he said calmly, "I have completed the potions you requested, and have come to deliver…"
"For the love of Merlin!" shot Harry furiously. "Can you not see that we are trying to study?! Lord Draco, what on Earth were you thinking inviting your ruffian friends here during study time?!"
Draco looked up miserably, trying and failing to maintain his aristocratically indifferent sneer. But Hermione came to his rescue, "Why, Lord Severus!" she laughed. "It is so good to see you again! Did you enjoy the rest of the winter holidays?"
Severus smiled slightly and inclined his head, "Lady Hermione, I did, but I'm afraid it wasn't much of a holiday what with moving and setting up the new business."
"Yes, lovely," snapped Harry. "But would you mind leaving us now? Draco, you can conduct business on your own time." He looked up to Blaise. "Don't look at me like that, Zabini, you louse!"
"Harry!" gasped Hermione angrily. "You are being perfectly rude to our friends."
"They are no friends of mine and they are interrupting our studies, which I needn't remind you are the very reason we are here."
"No," said Hermione, "You needn't. But we can end our studies a few minutes early to entertain our guests."
"Very well," said Harry brusquely. "Entertain away. I am going to prepare myself for dinner." He rose and gathered his books with a wave of his wand, then turned to Severus. "It's been a pleasure, sir," he said with dripping sarcasm.
Severus raised a single, unimpressed eyebrow and simply replied, "Quite."
Harry paused for only a moment at the lack of reaction. Severus turned his eyes back to the table before Harry turned and stormed out.
Severus and Blaise were invited to dinner. Hermione and Draco sat on one side of the table, staring at each other lovingly. Severus sat between Harry and Blaise, which caused both men to sigh with relief. However, Harry soon returned to scowling upon realizing he'd rather not sit by either of them.
"Draco," said Severus midway through dinner, "About these potions…"
"Oh, yes!" said Draco. "I shall accompany you to your shop in town this evening and we can settle then."
Severus nodded, "As you wish."
"What have you ordered?" asked Harry as though making polite conversation, but Hermione knew better.
"Harry," she said, "That is not a question for you to ask. Quit trying to embarrass Draco."
"No, it's okay," said Draco. "A few potions for my mother. She's been having a hard time of it since my father died, so I asked Severus to brew her a few health tonics, a calming potion, and an Arabian Slumber."
Harry shot a look from Draco to Severus. Hermione asked sweetly, "What's that?"
"It's a variation of a sleep draught that helps those in mourning," explained Severus. "It's like a séance in your sleep so that you can communicate with the recently departed—say the things you had meant to say and what not."
"That sounds…" began Hermione hesitantly.
Harry cut her off with a scoff. "Arabian Slumber doesn't exist. Draco, your apothecary has taken you for a fool—not that I'm disagreeing. But really, Hermione. If your Potions scores had been better, perhaps you would know a mythical potion from a real one."
Severus turned to Harry. "I assure you it is quite real. I can brew you a batch if there is someone you'd like to contact…"
Harry rose abruptly and stormed out, leaving the table in an uncomfortable silence.
Finally, Hermione said quietly. "He's still in mourning. You couldn't have known."
"I should apologize," said Severus, making to rise.
"No," said Hermione, raising her hand to him. "Finish dinner. He doesn't like to be disturbed when he prowls the garden in the evening. Not that he'll bite," she said with a small smile, "But he can be quite fearsome in his animagus form."
Severus nodded once.
"Now," she said, returning the table to pleasant conversation, "Do tell me about your potion."
As after-dinner coffee was being served, Severus excused himself to go smoke. He made his way to the garden and was pleased to discover it was enchanted to remain warm even as snow fell on all other parts of the Hogwarts grounds. Severus sat on a small bench facing a hand-carved fountain made of stone satyrs playing, pouring water from large jugs, and generally having a good time of it.
Severus watched them enviously as he packed his pipe with herb from a small leather pouch as though he thought he was the only person in the area. He lighted his smoke and puffed indulgently. But at the faintest rustle, he was on his feet, his wand trained to some nearby elderberry bushes.
Like a flash of lightening, a large lion pounced from behind the bushes, landing deftly two feet from Severus. It let out a ferocious roar.
Severus lowered his wand. "Oh, it's just you," he said. "Lord Harry Potter of recent fame but current hermit-hood." He leaned down to pick up his dropped pipe and returned to his seat on the bench.
The lion let out another roar.
"Yes, I heard you the first time," said Severus calmly. "But I'm not leaving until I finish my smoke, and more importantly, until I apologize."
He inhaled his pipe deeply. The lion stepped forward until it was inches from Severus' face. It roared again so loudly that Severus could feel his bones vibrating. Severus politely lifted his chin and blew the smoke above the lion's head, purposefully revealing his throat. A lion that size could easily extract his backbone with a swipe of the paw, but Severus felt it important to make a show of feeling no fear of Harry's human or animagus form.
"As I was saying," he continued, "I want to apologize for my thoughtless comment to you at dinner. There are other ways I could have—and should have—argued the existence of the Arabian Slumber. I spoke inappropriately, and I do hope you'll forgive me."
The lion stepped back and transformed into a very angry Harry Potter. He glared at Severus with utmost loathing. "You are finished, then. Will you now leave?"
Severus was pleased to note that Harry didn't try any of his intimidation techniques that he used so effortlessly and effectively on Draco and Blaise. Severus held up his pipe. "I must also finish my smoke."
Harry pulled out his wand and with a flick of his wrist, the pipe flew into the fountain with a splash.
Severus summoned it back and dried it with another spell.
"It's a filthy habit," said Harry disdainfully.
"I would agree, were it tobacco."
"A drug then?"
"Hardly. It stimulates brain activity. I work best at night."
"You do no work. You're a fraud and you already admitted as much when you claimed to have brewed the Arabian Slumber."
"So sure are you? Your sister-of-the-mind is more willing to discuss truth."
"Stay away from my sister, you phony."
"I'm afraid I can't do that. She's asked me to tutor her in Potions. Her grades are not perfect and she therefore finds them to be abysmal."
"I'll expose you."
"Do what you must. I have a new shop in Hogsmeade. You can find me there. Good evening."
Severus stood and strode calmly to the castle.
Severus was in his laboratory three days later when a slight shift in the wards alerted him that someone had entered the main shop.
"We are not yet opened for business," he called as he emerged from the back room. "It will be another… oh, hello."
Just inside the door of the shop stood Harry, looking distinctly out of place. "Hello," he said.
"Come to expose me, have you?"
"Yes," said Harry simply. He walked forward with his hand extended. "Lord and Master Severus Snape, it is an honor to meet you."
Severus laughed sardonically. "It's been a long time since I've heard that one," he said.
"At nineteen, you were the youngest Potions Master ever, and a remarkably skillful and powerful one at that. With the assistance of the late Lord Lucius Malfoy, you became the most sought-after Potions Master in the world, accruing wealth to add to your already sizeable fortune, and earning an impeccable reputation, a spotless name, and respect in the potions world. All this by the time you were married at twenty-one."
"You've done your research, I see."
Harry nodded. "At twenty-three, your husband, Neville Longbottom, fell ill with Magical Fever, and you gave up everything you had to take care of him, much to the disappointment of your numerous clients whom you left high and dry. Is it true that you nearly succeeded in curing him?"
Severus scowled, his eyes distant. "I kept him alive for three years, if that is what you mean. But nearly succeeded? No. I failed completely. He is dead."
Harry was silent for several moments, before continuing softly, "You then disappeared for five years, apparently resurfacing only last month. So what brings you here?"
"I went to Lord Malfoy, but he had passed on. Draco offered me a position as his personal apothecary with the agreement that my payment would be his assistance in setting up shop once again."
"You could find a better patron than that fool."
"Surely. But I suppose I feel toward Draco as an older brother, and it had been nearly six years since I saw him last. Call it sentimental, but I have no other family."
Harry nodded. "Well, I must return to Hogwarts now. Good day."
"Wait," said Severus. "I have a delivery to make to Draco. Would you mind if I walked with you?"
Harry was noticeably hesitant. "I… suppose that would be all right," he said finally.
Severus had just completed a brew of night vision potion, so he collected two vials of it, supposing that Draco would not be opposed to accepting it under the pretence that he had ordered it. After securing the vials at his hip, Severus joined Harry for the walk to the castle.
They talked of potions and academics the entire way. Severus was pleased to have earned Harry's respect in this way so that they could have civil conversations. Perhaps the young man would agree to a proposal after all.
Draco accepted the potion gracefully and Hermione invited Severus to dinner. This time, he, Harry, and Hermione spent the entire meal discussing his craft. After dinner, Harry stayed on with him in the Great Hall for some time drinking coffee and milking Severus for all the information he could in his area of expertise.
When it was late, Severus said, "Don't you ever stop studying? Even while socializing, you are studying. Not that I mind," continued Severus with a smirk. "It has certainly been enjoyable speaking with someone so clever."
"That it has," said Harry with a smile.
"Why, Lord Potter, if you continue enjoying yourself and smiling and such, you are going to ruin your reputation."
Harry waved him off, but then froze. His face paled like death. "I must go," he said. And without further ado, he swept out of the hall.
Severus stood and walked calmly to the front door to make his way back to Hogsmeade.
Draco was waiting for him near the door, grinning widely. "Severus, I do believe you might have him. Hermione told me that this is the first night in three years that he did not go prowling the gardens!"
"Draco, I fear I may have misspoken just now."
Draco shook his head with a smile. "Don't worry about it. Everything will be just fine. I can feel it."
Draco felt differently the next afternoon while comforting Hermione. For the first time since Draco had known the two, Harry had made her cry.
A million curses at least coursed through Harry's mind in the first five minutes after his brief encounter with Draco and Hermione that afternoon. But that was as long as he could put off thinking, and once the curses stopped, his clever mind got to work, and he realized he needed to calm down and take someone into his confidence.
There were only three people on Earth who knew the truth about Harry Potter. One was himself, and he wasn't much good for company at the moment. One was Albus Dumbledore, who was more of a mentor than a friend. The third was Rebeus Hagrid, Hogwarts' gameskeeper. Harry went to find him.
In his large hut on the edge of the Forbidden Forest, Hagrid served Harry some tea and a large slice of the most delicious homemade cake Harry had ever eaten. Harry then proceeded to vent every single thing that was bothering him, and Hagrid listened patiently. After two hours, and the fifth verbal visit to the awful and presumptuous and brilliant Potions Master Severus Snape, Hagrid finally interrupted to speak.
"Harry, have yeh even thought about lovin' anyone since Tom?"
"No!" snapped Harry, but then he caught himself and said a bit more calmly, "No, I haven't. And I won't. I can't."
Hagrid nodded, but said reasonably, "Harry, it's been three years."
"Hagrid, there will never be enough time behind it for me. And regardless, time is no distance. As long as I have nights like last night, it will always be present to me, and you know that."
"Yea, I know that. There's just got ter be a way, is all."
"There is not. I'm best alone, and that is truth."
And so Harry kept his guard up during future visits to Hogwarts from Lord Snape. And he did not take advantage of the wealth of potions knowledge that was at his disposal, even though Hermione most certainly did. And Severus most certainly noticed.
Knowledge had been a sure way to earn Harry's respect and enter Severus into the ranks of the very small number of people whom Harry neither loathed nor terrorized. But it had not given Severus right of passage into the even smaller number of people for whom Harry seemed to hold a genuine affection. And Severus had no idea (though he watched them closely whenever possible) what linked those three people in Harry's mind to make them worthy of his care.
Albus Dumbledore had a shrewd mind, a firm hand, and seemed to guide Harry as a father might, which was no surprise as Dumbledore was Harry's father-of-the-mind. Rubeus Hagrid was caring by nature, gentle, loving, and the only person who could reel Harry in when he was in his most extreme moods. Hermione Granger was studious, sweet, even-tempered, and the only person Severus had ever seen succeed in making Harry laugh.
But they were nothing alike and Severus was at a loss over the next month as to how to proceed with his plans to 'woo' Harry. It was not until Draco and Blaise were talking idly in his laboratory one afternoon about Hermione's excitement over finally having someone her own age with whom to attend the Valentine's Day Ball that Severus developed a plan he could use to get Harry to spend time with him alone for an evening.
"Draco," he said so urgently that Draco and Blaise both startled.
"Easy, Severus," said Blaise. "I promise that you are quite intimidating enough without yelling so."
Severus ignored him. "Draco, you must demand that I attend the Ball."
"What?" asked Draco, looking rather befuddled.
"Demand that I attend the Ball—to make Hermione happy. So that there are people nearer your age there. And plead with Blaise to attend as well, but you must pull rank with me."
And with that, Severus rushed from his Hogsmeade shop straight to the library at Hogwarts. Predictably enough, Harry and Hermione sat at a table that was nearly overflowing with books. Severus strode up to the table without caution.
"Severus!" exclaimed Hermione with a broad smile.
"Lord Snape!" exclaimed Harry with an expression akin to panic on his face. "What are you doing here?"
"To what do we owe this unexpected pleasure?" corrected Hermione.
"Business, I'm afraid," responded Severus. He turned to look at Harry. "Might I have a moment of your time?"
Harry nodded once. His features were calm once again, but he looked at Severus somewhat suspiciously as he followed him to the hallway just outside the door to the library.
Without further ado, Severus said swiftly, "I have a favor to ask, my Lord Potter."
His tone was bored, but Severus knew Harry would hear him out. "You have rather a reputation about you of shunning all manner of social engagements," he said.
"Yes," agreed Harry. "And I have worked hard to maintain that reputation."
Severus smirked slightly. "Lord Malfoy has insisted that I join him at the Valentine's Day Ball this weekend. Apparently, the Lady Granger mentioned to him that it has been several years since she was able to attend the ball with her peers. He pleaded with Blaise and I to attend so that she might enjoy the evening to the fullest. When I refused, he insisted, as my employer, that I comply. And now I must attend."
"I was wondering if you would do me the favor of being my date."
Harry raised an unimpressed eyebrow. "I would rather eat the entire contents of your laboratory."
"That can be arranged. In fact, I find I would rather join you in such an endeavor than to attend the ball myself."
Harry's lips twitched and Severus nearly smiled to realize that Harry was fighting to keep his features stony. "My Lord," said Harry crossly, "I am not amused."
"No? Are you at least moved by my plight, and will you agree to attend with me so that I might leave quite early at the request of my date?"
"I do not wish to go at all."
"So much the better! You will be my date to not attend the ball. I will pick you up at six and take you anywhere you demand to go besides that blasted showcase of fancy emotions and financial excess. I am in your debt, Harry," he added in a low, personal tone. "Thank you."
Severus disappeared down the hall before Harry had a chance to say another word. Presently, Hermione stepped tentatively to Harry's side and found him gaping.
"What just happened?" she asked.
"I haven't the slightest."
Severus spent several hours preparing himself for the Ball. Dressed in his finest black robes and immaculately groomed, he cast all manner of impervious charms on himself so that neither snow, sleet, rain, mud—nor anything short of lava—would affect his attire in any manner.
Regardless, he made his way carefully along the path to Hogwarts where he found Harry waiting just outside the front door. He was dressed in resplendent emerald green robes that shone in the moonlight. His long hair was tied back neatly, and he seemed distinctly aware that he was an amazingly handsome sight. And he seemed distinctly uncomfortable about it.
"My Lord Potter," breathed Severus, searching for a suitable compliment.
"Don't you dare," said Harry, his voice slightly less cross than normal.
Severus nodded his agreement to Harry's request, but said, "Regardless, I feel I should ask you for favors more often."
Harry pursed his lips to keep from smiling, and Severus noticed a slight blush. "I will decline them all."
Harry narrowed his eyes. "I'll have you know that I held to your story and told Hermione that I agreed to be your date, but then decided against attending after all. She then forced me to dress as though I were attending the ball, despite my assurances that I would do no such thing."
"Harry," sighed Severus. "I am well aware that you agreed to this under protest. But as you have granted me this favor, oughtn't we attempt to enjoy a reasonably pleasant night?" He paused and then added, "It's not as though you have to spend the evening with Blaise."
Harry laughed suddenly, and Severus flushed. He had actually made Harry laugh! Only then did Severus realize that he had been trying to achieve that goal for over a month now, and he had accidentally stumbled into it. The feeling that swelled within him was marvelous—something like victory, or hope, or love…
But no, of course it wasn't, was it?
Severus smiled at Harry and offered him his arm, which Harry took rather awkwardly.
"The Hog's Head," said Harry decidedly, but then looked for a moment as though he regretted saying it. It was almost as though, in an attempt to make Severus uncomfortable, he had earlier thought of the place in Hogsmeade he could take Severus where they would look the most out of place in their fine robes.
Catching the look in his eye, Severus consoled himself that at least Harry was having second thoughts about his plan.
"Wonderful," said Severus. Arm in arm, they walked into the night.
When they entered the dirty little bar, the bartender called out, "Oi! Severus! You want the usual?"
Severus turned to Harry who raised an eyebrow at him.
"Harry, do you drink?" he asked.
"Well, seeing as how we're avoiding a prim social engagement, do you want to?"
Harry considered this. "Yes."
"Make that two!" Severus called out.
They made their way to a table in the corner, very much aware that every eye in the bar was on them.
"You come here often?"
Severus nodded. "Their corned beef sandwiches are to die for. In the afternoons, that's what Lupin, the bartender, means when he asks if I want the usual. But if I come in the evenings…" he gestured to the two drinks a waitress was bringing their way.
Harry sipped one gingerly, and then cocked his head with one eye squeezed shut. "That is the strongest Midnight Cinderella I have ever tasted," he said. "You drink this every night?"
Severus laughed. "Oh no! I eat here often enough, but no. Lupin likes to keep me in good graces, so he knows the drink I have recently come to favor. And everything's always on the house—in trade for supplying him with a rather expensive and complicated potion."
"What potion is that?" asked Harry, sipping again.
Severus waved him off. "Boring shop talk. Tell me about your studies."
Severus and Harry ate the most delicious corned beef sandwiches and drank the strongest Midnight Cinderellas and talked a great deal about a great number of things. And so it was that several hours later they stumbled quite happily and quite drunkenly down the winding lane that led back to Hogwarts.
But when Harry cracked the door, they could hear the music of a ball in full swing. "There's no way they'll let me sneak past," said Harry. "They'll want me to stop in a minute."
"Knowing you would hate to?"
Harry shrugged with a grin. "I suppose they think it's funny. Let's go to the garden."
Severus followed, saying, "If you promise not to change forms and eat me."
Harry snorted. "You know, you're the only person whom I've threatened in my lion form who did not run… or at least piss his pants."
"I spent some time in parts of Africa where there are lions a-plenty."
"Still, it's remarkable that you didn't even flinch. You must not have heard any of my stories."
Severus shook his head, which made the world spin madly. He slumped onto the same stone bench on which he had previously sat. Harry sat next to him.
"Hermione said you wouldn't bite, and she is a rather trustworthy person," said Severus, trying to focus his eyes. "But I have heard stories."
"Oh," said Harry, suddenly sullen. "You weren't scared? I mean, after hearing storeesunul… stories… and… all."
Severus shook his head and the world spun anew. "I didn't believe them, and certainly not after getting to know you. I mean, I don't. I couldn't."
"What do you believe?"
Harry seemed rather desperate, so Severus endeavored to choose his words carefully, which was no easy feat. "I believe… you survived a great tragedy."
"Severus." Harry put his hand on Severus' shoulder and leaned in pleadingly. "What do you believe?"
And Severus decided to tell him the truth. "I heard about a dozen different versions of what happened—ranging from you rampaging and killing up to twenty people, your fiancé included, to you merely witnessing his death. The one that seems most plausible as well as most likely to have caused so much controversy… both of those at once… is that your fiancé was killed by some great treachery and you sought revenge—but it could never be proven because you ate his murderer."
Harry laughed without mirth and Severus' heart ached for him. He wanted to end this conversation. He didn't care what Harry had in his past—however bad it was. He just wanted Harry in his own future.
And Severus cursed himself for being drunk when he finally admitted to himself that he was in love again.
"I'm glad that's the version you chose to believe," Harry said dryly and with bitter sarcasm. "The others are so boring or vulgar. That one gives me a roaring past."
"Harry, it doesn't matter…"
"It does matter, Severus. It does. Those stories have to exist so that people will leave me the hell alone. Do you think the world would let the most promising wizard of our time just hole up in a school to mourn if he wasn't shrouded in mystery and controversy and fear?! Dumbledore made up half of those stories! And it's all bollocks!"
Harry was staring at the ground, and then on his feet unsteadily, and then grabbing Severus' shoulders and piercing him with heartbroken eyes. Severus reached out to him, with everything he had, but he found that Harry was still just too far away.
"I can't love you, Severus. Merlin knows I want to, and you smile at me sometimes and I know you want to as well, but I can't leave here. I was locked away long ago, and my jailor won't ever let me free."
Severus stood suddenly and they swayed against each other, and then they were holding each other as though they were about to be ripped apart by death itself. They clenched each other tightly and breathed in shuddering gasps and then their lips met fiercely, and then Harry was gone.
Severus was a reasonable wizard. For that reason alone, his world did not crumble when Harry left him alone in the garden. He waited until the next day when he was good and sober and he went to the castle. Harry refused to see him, and apparently said all manner of disparaging things about him that were so bad Hermione would not repeat them. She was rather upset when she returned to Severus and asked him angrily, appealingly, apprehensively, and anxiously what had happened.
Severus said, "I don't know," and then returned to Hogsmeade.
And then his world crumbled.
He came to some time later. Draco and Blaise were speaking to him and Severus wondered vaguely at what point he had started drinking. All he remembered was great sadness. He didn't remember any actions following.
"Severus, it's not your fault, man," Blaise was saying.
"Of course not," Draco was agreeing. "Just forget everything. I'll still fund your shop."
"Forget everything?!" slurred Severus, looking up and realizing he was in the Hog's Head. He took a large gulp of a drink he suddenly noticed he was holding, and then continued, "You forget about Hermione, if it's so easy."
"Severus, it was just a business proposition," said Blaise reasonably. "It didn't work out. This lion is far too feral. Just let it go."
Lost in a sudden burst of anger, Severus was on his feet, his wand drawn and pointed steadily at Blaise's heart. But in reality, he stumbled over himself as he got up and fell unceremoniously forward. Blaise and Draco caught him and pulled him up.
"Lupin," called Draco's voice from somewhere nearby. Severus looked up and saw his face hovering close. "No more for Lord Snape." He looked down and for a moment Severus could have sworn it was Lucius Malfoy holding him up. "Come along, Severus," he said. "We need to get you home."
"I've lost too much, Lucius," he whimpered. "I should never have come back to England."
Blaise and Draco traded looks and helped Severus back to his apartment above his still unopened shop.
The door to his bedroom slammed open and Severus startled, looking up with wide, lost eyes at the intruder. He was sitting on the floor against the foot of his bed, surrounded by photographs of Neville.
"Lord Severus Snape!" shouted Hermione accusingly as she stormed into the room. "You will tell me right this instant what you have done to Harry! Did you give him the Arabian Slumber?!"
Severus just looked at her. Hermione towered over him and looked down at the pictures. She pulled out her wand and aimed it at him.
"Who is this man in the pictures?!" she demanded.
"Neville," he whispered. He cleared his throat and said a little louder, "He was twenty-six when he died, just a couple of years older than Harry. But in so many ways, Neville was far, far younger. And so was I. I fancied myself quite mature—a world-famous Potions Master… but I was just a kid. I grew up while Neville was sick. And I grew old after he died. And now I've lost Harry and I feel that I am twice widowed. Very soon I shall be ancient."
Hermione dropped to her knees before Severus, her hand covering her mouth. "You lost Harry… Merlin, you mean it's true? You and Harry?"
Severus shook his head ruefully. "There is no 'me and Harry.' Harry will not see me and I haven't the slightest idea why. It's the same as losing Neville to a disease that no one could ever understand. I had no right to fall in love with him. It was just supposed to be business. Harry Potter and Severus Snape. We would have made quite a match on paper. Who could have known what more there was? I for one would never have agreed had I suspected."
Hermione looked at Severus with her clever, calculating eyes. "You agreed to come here for the sole purpose of getting Harry to marry you, didn't you?"
Severus nodded morosely.
"Why?" she asked factually.
"So that Draco could marry you, of course."
"I see." Hermione looked down at a picture of Severus and Neville at age twenty-three or thereabouts—her age. He had been right. He had been so much younger. In seven years he had lost the cocky, goofy grin of a young genius in love.
"Severus, why did you give Harry the Arabian Slumber?"
"I didn't," he replied, his eyes vacant as he picked up the picture Hermione had been staring at. "He said he would never have proof that the potion was real because séances were for fools moronic enough not to let the past die when they had the chance. So he would never take the potion nor ever accept my word that it did what I say it does."
Hermione raised her eyebrows. "I see," she repeated. Then her eyes grew unnaturally wide and she whispered, "Oh. Oh no."
She left as suddenly as she came, and when Severus later reviewed their conversation in his head, he only grew more depressed, realizing that if she repeated it, Harry would know the depths to which Severus had sunk, and would lose all respect for him. Ever since Draco and Blaise had taken him from the Hog's Head nearly a week ago, Severus had been drowning his sorrows in more sorrows. But now he thought it might be time to start back in on the alcohol.
It must have been a few days later when Draco and Blaise threw him into his shower, and Severus wondered if they had undressed him, or if he had been naked when they came in. But as the cold water began to clear his head, he realized he was, in fact, still dressed.
"What are you doing?" he demanded.
"We've got to get you cleaned up," said Blaise.
"So you can win back Harry," said Draco.
Severus slumped against the wall of the shower, letting the water cascade over the robes he'd been wearing for several days now. "It's no use," he said. "I should just leave again. I thought I could come back, but I can't do this."
"Severus," began Draco warningly.
"I'm sorry, Draco. I've wasted your time and money. But I'm just going to go again."
"Go where?" asked Blaise.
"You're coming with us," said Draco. "And no arguments, Severus," he said sternly.
Night had fallen before Severus was clean and sober enough for them to leave for Hogwarts. He went with them uncertainly, repeating many times that Harry would not see him, that it was no use, that he should just leave.
"Damn it, Severus!" hissed Draco when they reached the Hogwarts gardens, "You've spent too many years drifting. I am not about to let you leave again—so suck it up, man! You love Harry and Harry loves you. We've just got a few things we need to sort out before you two can be together."
"But we'll take care of all that," said Blaise with a wink. " 'Mione said so."
"Hermione?" he asked, his hope swelling slightly.
They crept into the gardens, peering around for the prowling lion. When they reached the fountain in the center, Severus asked quietly, "What now?"
"Now we wait," said Draco, and Severus noted that he and Blaise were glancing around nervously. They were apparently still quite fearful of the lion.
Presently, they heard a loud rustling of footsteps, and saw Hermione, Hagrid, and Dumbledore approaching.
"What is going on?" asked Dumbledore seriously.
Hagrid looked at the three waiting by the fountain and admonished, "Hermione, what have you done?"
"What I do best," she answered with a smile. "Research."
"But what I told you…" Hagrid began.
"Remains a secret," affirmed Hermione. "But it helped me to figure out a few things, and that is why we are all here tonight."
Just then, a blood-curdling roar ripped through the quiet night, and Harry stalked into the area in his animagus form, teeth bared. Hermione stepped forward.
"Stop it, Harry!" she demanded. "You become human right now!"
The lion roared in response.
"I mean it," she said authoritatively. "This ends tonight."
The lion shifted into a scowling Harry Potter. His face was red and he looked ready to kill as he advanced once more, just as menacingly as he was in his animagus form.
"Get the bloody hell out of the garden!" he shouted almost hysterically.
"Hagrid told me the truth, Harry!" shot Hermione, and Harry faltered. He came to an abrupt stop, looking lost and helpless as he stared at his sister.
"Hagrid," he whispered, still looking at Hermione.
"Sorry, Harry," said Hagrid. "I didn't mean ter, it just slipped out."
"It's not his fault," said Hermione quickly. "I made him tell me."
"I didn't want you to know," said Harry meekly.
Hermione took his hands in hers. "Harry, I wish you had told me. But the important thing is that we can make this go away."
Harry shook his head, looking down. "No, 'Mione, we can't."
"Yes we can, but first," she grabbed Harry by the shoulders and turned him bodily, "You have to tell Severus the truth and apologize for your wretched behavior of late."
Severus stared at Harry, afraid to let himself hope everything would really be okay. Harry stared at his feet, afraid to meet Severus' eye. After a long moment, Severus felt his calm façade falter. He stumbled forward and fell to his knees at Harry's feet, taking his love's hands.
"Harry, you don't have to tell me anything," he said, looking up into eyes of intense sorrow such as Severus had only ever seen in the mirror.
Harry smiled weakly, and knelt down as well. "No, Hermione's right, Severus. You deserve to know the truth." He opened his mouth and began.
"Lord Voldemort, my late fiancé, was a powerful wizard. He was very great. Terrible, yes, but great. I feared and adored him, and pledged my life to him in matrimony. Soon thereafter, I began to discover that my powers were far more extensive than I ever could have imagined. I shared this discovery with Tom here in the garden, and he was furious."
Harry spoke as though he were exhaling a breath long held. "He said 'power was control' and that I would not control him. He said that since I was more powerful, it was clear he would only be able to control me by death, and he drew his wand…"
"Harry!" gasped Severus, clinging to Harry's arms.
Harry nodded. His throat closed but he choked out the words. "It was self-defense, really. We cast at the same time. My shield was more powerful than his Killing Curse, but nothing can stop that curse completely." Harry reached up absently and rubbed his scar. "The curse deflected back on him, killing him instantly."
"Except not entirely," said Hermione quietly from his side, and Harry shook his head.
"No, not entirely. The curse bound us, so he gained control after all."
"What do you mean?" asked Severus.
"He's with Harry in the garden," said Hermione. "And," she added, looking to Harry, "He comes to you at night while you sleep."
"Only if he feels our bond is threatened. Only if I do not come to the garden alone."
"Oh Harry," she cried. "All this time I thought it was just nightmares that I heard coming from your room. Why didn't you tell me?"
"It is my burden," said Harry, standing up and hugging his sister closely. "And I will be punished for having you all here tonight, but you were right. I needed to tell the truth."
"Harry," said Hermione into Harry's chest. "You never wed, so your soul bond to Tom is incomplete."
"I've been researching it all week. Because your soul bond is incomplete, your death bond is weak. That means that another soul bond could nullify it."
"What do you mean?"
"It will all be over if you marry."
Harry stared at Hermione blankly, unable to assimilate the information. But Severus was a bit quicker.
"If Harry marries, his jailor will be gone forever?"
"Yes," said Hermione.
"He'll be in peace?"
"You mean," said Harry, "I'll be free?"
"Yes!!!" she exclaimed.
Severus turned to Harry, grabbing him by the shoulders, "Marry me, Lord Potter!"
"Without doubt, Lord Snape!"
"Tonight! Now!" Harry turned to Dumbledore, "Father, will you?"
Dumbledore stepped forward, his eyes twinkling with joy. He pulled out his wand and turned to Severus.
Turning to Harry, he asked, "Do you—?"
Smiling proudly, Dumbledore flicked his wrist and a ribbon shot out of the tip of his wand, binding their hands. A flash of light blinded the witnesses as tendrils of energy encased the grooms, severing Harry's death bond to Tom. Severus and Harry met each other in a kiss, and missed the rest of the ceremony, as they were far too busy taking pleasure in each other.
It was perhaps luck then, that the ceremony had finished before they began divesting each other of clothing. The witnesses left blushing, the presiding wizard left laughing, and Lord Voldemort left the land of the living forever—leaving Harry and Severus alone to live happily ever after.