Prince CharmingChapter One

DISCLAIMER: I do not own Harry Potter or any character from the Harry Potter books. They all remain the property of J. K. Rowling.

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Anne Browning had absolutely no idea what Professor Slughorn wanted to see her about. She wasn't very good at potions and had barely squeaked by her O.W.L. in Slughorn's class with an Acceptable. All things considered, she couldn't tell a beetle from a bezeor and would have been perfectly happy with never taking Potions lessons again in her life. A fifth year at Hogwarts whose two major claims to fame were being one of Lily Evans' roommates and a certain talent for Transfiguration, Anne had been quite surprised to receive a note from a senior member of the faculty and the head of Slytherin House delivered by a house elf that morning before she went down to the Great Hall for breakfast.

Dear Miss Browning,

I would greatly appreciate your help with a confidential matter
and would be honored if you would come to my office at four this
afternoon to discuss it. If you are unable to come, please let me
know. Otherwise, I look forward to seeing you later today.

Please do not discuss this with anyone else.


Professor Horace Slughorn

Brushing her wavy brown hair into some semblance of neatness, Anne stopped worrying about Slughorn for a few minutes and picked up worrying about Lily again. Lily was obviously batty over James Potter but wouldn't admit it to herself. She'd always been quick to pop Potter's over inflated ego in the past and now that she'd actually allowed her suppressed feelings for James to come out she was like a third year in a tizzy about the Winter Ball. "Would James invite me?" "Would I go if he asked?" "What if he doesn't ask?" and similar babbling that was so uncharacteristic of the normal Lily that Anne was sure Lily was besotted by the handsome Quiddich player. Anne had wondered if Lily had been sweet on James for some time, given how often Lily had gone out of her way to put James down, so she was gratified to have her suspicions confirmed at last.

Lily was Anne's best friend, as well as Head Girl, and Anne—who was somewhat shy—enjoyed the extra attention she received from the other girls thanks to being so close to Lily. It was rumoured that several of the instructors thought Lily to be the brightest witch of her generation and Anne had seen plenty of evidence supporting that opinion over the years. Still, Anne enjoyed a few uncharacteristic moments of feeling superior to the otherwise always composed Miss Lily Evans because she wasn't temporarily in leave of her senses over a boy.

Smiling, Anne tugged at her sweater and smoothed her robes, giving herself a final review in her dormitory room mirror before heading off to her meeting with Professor Slughorn. Her eyes twinkled as she looked forward to more girl-talk with Lily that evening. Then she took a deep breath, put on a more serious expression and headed off to see what the Potions teacher could possibly want with her.

"Miss Browning," said Slughorn magnanimously, as he opened the door to his office. "So glad you could come this afternoon."

Anne just stood there, not sure what to do next.

The Potions professor gestured broadly and invited Anne to come in and sit down in one of the two overstuffed chairs in front of the fireplace by the far wall. Leaving the door open, he followed her and sat in the other chair, facing her. He removed his wand from his robes and gestured toward the fireplace, flicking it gently and intoning "Ignis!" A merry little fire quickly took away the slight chill of the mid-autumn afternoon.

"Would you care for some pumpkin juice, Miss Browning?" asked Slughorn. "Or perhaps some butterbeer?"

"No thank you, I'm fine," said Anne.

"I know your father, of course, from the Ministry," said Professor Slughorn. "Brilliant man, a marvel at creating enchanted artifacts."

Anne smiled. She agreed—her father was a marvel, though quite an absentminded one.

"His automatic spell storing artifacts can hold up to twelve pre-cast spells and release them one after the other," said Slughorn.

"I believe the latest models can hold up to fifteen," said Anne proudly.

"And it was my pleasure to help him with a special potion for quenching the metal of the automatics to make them strong enough to stand up to the extra magical stress," added the Professor. "I was pleased to do my part to provide our Aurors with the best tools possible to fight the good fight against You Know Who."

"I'm sure my father was very grateful for your help," said Anne, remembering that Professor Slughorn was far from as fond of direct speaking as Professor Dumbledore.

"Well then," said the Professor, more to himself than to her. "Press on."

"I would like to ask you for your help in a matter of some delicacy," said Slughorn, somewhat hesitantly. "I greatly appreciate your discretion in handling this situation," he continued.

"Of course, Professor," said Anne. "How can I help?"

"Were you planning to attend the upcoming Winter Ball?" asked Slughorn.

"I haven't given it much thought at this point," said Anne, who was far more interested in who Lily would go with than whether or not she would go herself.

"There's a student here at Hogwarts, a brilliant student, perhaps the brightest of this generation of students, who needs your help," Slughorn continued.

"I'm always glad to help a fellow student in need," said Anne, wondering why Slughorn was taking a roundabout way to bring up helping someone so smart that it could only be her roommate Lily.

"I'm so glad you feel that way," said Slughorn. "My finest student is far to shy to ask you to the Winter Ball himself, but I've watched him in class and in the Great Hall at meals and he always seems to be glancing at you. I'm convinced he likes you, and I know that he needs the social polish that attending a formal affair like the Winter Ball can provide. Young ladies are far more mature than young men at this age. I need you to do what he can't."

He? thought Anne. Not Lily. His finest student? Oh no, not Snape. Snape wasn't looking at her in class and at meals. He was looking at the girl sitting next to her—Lily! Even before Lily stood up to James Potter and the Marauding Morons when they had picked on Snape, the lank haired boy had worshiped Lily from afar. What have I gotten myself into?

"Fine, then it's settled," said Professor Slughorn. "You'll ask Severus to the Winter Ball."

Anne's jaw dropped an inch and Slughorn took it for a nod. Anne felt like she'd just been bludgered.

"Thank you so much," the professor continued, "I am deeply in your debt. And now, I'm sure, you have scrolls to write and must be to your work." He escorted her to the door and shook her hand enthusiastically as she left.

"Be sure to give my best to your father next time you see him," said Slughorn as he slowly closed his office door, leaving Anne standing lost and alone in the cold stone corridor.