He rose from his nest of quilts and blankets promptly at six. There were nine squeaky floorboards between his bed and the bathroom.

He showered. There were three cracked tiles on the bathroom floor. He brushed his teeth with mint-flavored toothpaste and padded back into his room, where he put on a pair of gray trousers and a black jumper. He tucked his damp hair back with an elastic band.

He didn't look in the mirror. There was nothing to see.

Socks came next, then shoes. As he tied the laces, he caught sight of his nails. "Must trim those," he murmured, adding it to the list of chores.

The house was still dark and quiet. Outside his window, the first rays of sunlight melted away at the edge of the horizon.

For a moment, Severus Snape reflected upon life's little absurdities.

For a longer moment, he reflected on the larger ones.


His knuckles rapped on the closed bedroom door opposite his own. Severus bent his head close to the wood.

He heard a muffled curse and a thump. "I'm awake…! Don't come in!"

"Wouldn't dream of it, your majesty," he said. Snape rolled his eyes for his own benefit, turned sharply, walked down the hallway, and descended the staircase.

Warming charms kept most of the chill from invading the old farmhouse. If he stood in the proper corner, he would catch an icy draught, but most of them could be avoided with a little care. Severus stepped over the pool of cold air in the downstairs hall without having to turn on a light.

He didn't like the lights, first thing. He liked to let the house stay dark and quiet for as long as possible. It made the place feel more like the dungeons. If he closed his eyes, he could almost fool himself. Almost.

The sun peeped over the distant hills, lighting the kitchen with a friendly, orange glow. Perhaps he should've stopped to admire the sight, but there was tea to be made, breakfast, a once-over of the downstairs, and then the washing up before the people at telly (he still wasn't sure quite how the muggle contraption worked) put on one of their decent shows. He reached for his wand.

His pockets were empty.

He flicked the electric switch. The kitchen lit. He took out the kettle and filled it from the tap.

He made omelets loaded with mushrooms, peppers, cheese, and ham. Then he doused the whole mess in hot sauce. The bubbles made him think of cauldrons.

"That smells good," shouted his keeper from somewhere in the house. Judging by the thumping, he was trying to wrestle into his dress robes.

"Because you aren't the one cooking it," he muttered, and settled further into the kind of not-precisely-peace he'd achieved. It was soothing, pushing egg around the pan. He didn't think about starting the fire with a knob or wiping down windows with a dampened cloth. Nothing but bubbles and heat, the scent of spices, the coaxing of disparate substances into a harmonious whole…

Severus liked cooking.

Potter made his appearance as per usual, which was to say loudly. He was early for the eggs, badly dressed in garish yellow robes, and smiling one of those tremulous, I'm-determined-to-be-cheerful smiles. "That smells good, I was saying."

"I heard you."

"Oh. It does." Potter reached out to pick from the pan.

Severus couldn't resist rapping him on the wrist with the spatula. Just once, but hard.

"Ow! Hey."

"Some respect for my kitchen, Potter."

Harry gripped his welted wrist. "Didn't have to hit me."

Snape smirked. "You'll eat when it's done."

Potter's brow furrowed.

Severus wouldn't make it to three. One, two—

"When will it be done?"

"When it's done. Get the kettle."

When they finally did sit down, Potter tucked in with zeal, ignoring Severus' every attempt to make the food too hot or too spicy (but not so spicy that Snape would find it unpalatable). His eyes didn't even water. "Long shift, today."

"Mm." He made noncommittal noises. They helped move along conversations he didn't particularly want to be a part of.

"Kind that makes you want to stay home. Sometimes I think if I see another missing signature that I've got to hunt down, I'll go absolutely spare. They tell you in training that you've got to be ready for anything, you know, but they never told me it took so much paperwork. I must sign my name five hundred times in the course of a day. Maybe that's an exaggeration. …I just feel like it'll never end, sometimes."

"Quit." Severus dissected his egg.


"Quit. You hate it. Quit."

"I can't quit."

"There a law somewhere, says you have to be an Auror?"

Potter looked at him. "You don't understand."

"I was forced into a career I hated for nearly two decades. I'm afraid I must disagree with you."

Potter shook his head. "It's not that simple."

"That's your trouble, Potter. It is."

They lapsed into silence for a time.

"Going by the bookshop later," Potter said between mouthfuls. "Do you want something?"

Snape shrugged.

"I'll get you something."

He shook his head.

A fork slammed down. "Don't be a prat. How can I—what do you want?"

He stared out the window. "Kill me," he suggested mildly.

"No one's going to kill you, Snape. You're going to have to get used to that." Potter sighed and shook his head. His hair stuck straight up in some places.

"Get a comb," replied Severus.


The life of a house elf left a good deal of time for meditation.

Severus wasn't particularly fond of this. He preferred to work until it consumed all his mental and physical energy, then lapse into a few blissful hours of unconsciousness before having to get up and do it all over again. He wanted his thoughts to be as well worn as the rest of him when he crawled into bed at night. Menial chores never managed it.

He stopped scrubbing the floor when a pair of shoes presented themselves.

Severus strangled the sponge in his fist and didn't look up. "Tread on my wet floor, and I promise you pain."

Harry paused. "You're not supposed to be a slave, you know."

Severus resumed scrubbing. "Why are you here? Aren't you supposed to be at work? Or do they now pay you for popping in whenever you like?"

"I'm at lunch. I can get Dobby to do that."

"As I've said on occasions too numerous to mention, I do not wish to live with a house elf."

"Maybe he wouldn't have to live here. He could come on weekends."

He wrung out the sponge. "Then perhaps I'll concern myself with weekday grime. Oh! Like this," he said, employing the brightest and most cutting sarcasm he could muster. He bent back to scrubbing.

"It's been four years."

"What has?"

"You've been here four years."

"Have I." Severus spotted a bit of grit he hadn't seen before, caught between the floorboards.

"Almost exactly."

"And will be for the rest of my miserable life. Thank you, Potter, you really do know how to pick up a man's spirits."

"They're reviewing your case again."

He didn't mean to startle, but it happened anyway. His head snapped up. "Why?"

"Because I asked them to. Because it's time some things changed."

He paused. His knees were aching from scrubbing the kitchen and hallways. They had a mop, somewhere, but it only seemed to push the dirt around. Severus preferred bucket, sponge, and soap. It took longer and felt more like punishment. "Hoping to trade me for a certain Miss Weasley, are we?"

Harry frowned. "That's none of your business."

"I am being reviewed. I'd say it was my business."

"I mean Ginny. She's none of your business."

Severus smirked up at his guardian. "I did save her life."

Harry's frown deepened into a scowl. "You could say thank you," he snapped, and stalked past him, leaving prints on the wet floor.

"All their lives, actually," Severus called. "You know, you could say thank you, Potter!"

A door slammed.

Snape put down the sponge and sagged until his forehead pressed against the cool wood.


The telly people had a program called 'Port in a Storm.' It centered on three very attractive people in a coastal town who all liked to sleep with each other (and pretty much anyone else happening by). Oddly enough, everyone in the town also seemed to have a terrible and shocking secret.

"He's killed your father," Severus told the screen. The one good thing about the telly was that the actors couldn't hear you. It was a bit like having one of those posh, pre-silenced theatre booths where you could chat or crack walnuts the whole way through and not ruin the play for the man sitting two feet away. "Don't sleep with him. He's killed your father." He reclined on the couch, and had the oddest craving.

He wanted a cigarette.

He hadn't smoked in years. Quite likely, Potter wouldn't allow it.

The woman on the telly screamed.

Severus propped his chin on his hand. "Well, don't blame me. We've all been trying to warn you."


The floo whooshed.

Two voices rose from the parlor.

Severus began slicing the cucumber soundlessly, stopping the knife before it could thunk against the cutting board.

"—Never think about me! Me! You never ask what I want, you just assume. How could you do that? That's my family," the youngest Weasley shrieked. "How could you do that in front of my family?"

"They're my family, too."

"Yeah, well, last time I checked, Harry, you weren't a natural redhead. I mean—you're family, but you're not—family. I'm not ready, okay? Next time you decide to go and do something so stupid as propose without even asking me—"

"It was supposed to be romantic."

"Without so much as a warning? I don't want to get married, Harry!"

"I know that now," he replied.

"You could've done it anywhere else. At a restaurant, at work, anywhere. Instead, you wanted to make me look like the most rude, awful b—in front of everybody! Now I'm a hateful, evil person for wanting to spend a few more years on my career instead of marrying a man who treats me more like a kid sister than a proper girlfriend!"

The parlor went quiet.

Severus put down the knife and crept to the door.

"I can work on the sex thing."

Snape blinked. He couldn't have just heard that. It was like manna from heaven. If manna were blackmail material.

"No. I think I want—I want to stop this. I don't—Harry. You're our friend. You're like our brother. And that's all it should be."

There was a sort of choked noise. "I can work on the—it's just that I don't like it when people are really close, I c—"

"I'm going back. I'll tell them we both overreacted, we've had a discussion, and we're going to give it more time. Then, over the next couple of months, we'll start breaking it off, seeing other people."

"Have you met someone?" Harry asked. Accusation dripped from his voice.



Potter took the week off work.

"Pity. Hundreds of bored schoolchildren won't be forced to listen to a short man extol the virtues of staying in school and off the dark arts."

Harry put his head in his hands and sobbed out a breath.

Severus added more cayenne pepper to the mixture coating the chicken. The smell of spices hung thick in the air. "…Rather overshot that one," he grunted, finished the chicken, and served them.

Potter had the indecency to wipe his eyes throughout the meal.

Severus kept his on his plate.

"This is really good," Potter said. "You're a good cook."

Snape murmured an acknowledgement. He coughed.

"You keep the house really clean, too."

He swallowed. "Mister Potter."

"I'm utterly useless. At everything. I can't do anything right. Not even good enough to be a proper Auror—I sit at a desk all day filling out forms, and when I'm not doing that, I go to schools and read speeches that they've written for me. Might as well not wear the uniform. Might as well have strings attached. They could hollow me out, stuff me with straw, and pipe in a voice."

"Mister Potter."

"I had a girlfriend. Had. One. Probably never get another. Never have a family."

Snape's hands clenched around his cutlery.


He growled. "Of all the—Potter. You're young. You're rich. You may be short, but otherwise you've done well in the looks department." He stabbed at his chicken. It was too quiet, so he added, "Nor are you particularly intelligent, but I can't see how that would be anything but a positive boon to an up-and-coming Ministry professional."

"Are you trying to make me feel better?" he hissed. It was a slight improvement from the moping.

"You don't need to work, Potter. You have more than enough to modestly support a small, third-world country. You want another girlfriend? Write back to one of those well-wishers that continues to haunt you with letters. And if you want a family so sodding much, have one."

"Have one." Potter blinked at him.

Snape cut his meat. "Adopt. Buy one. Get yourself pregnant."

"Get mys…" His eyes bulged. "What?"

"You'd spend nine months without being able to see your testicles, but it's been done many a time before by bigger idiots than you."

Harry stared at him. He looked too horrified to cry.

Severus speared the chicken. "I do tea, Potter. Not sympathy."


Potter spent Sundays with the Weasleys. Or had. The extended visits became shorter and shorter, and one Sunday, Potter remained at the house in his pajamas.

"Not going to visit your redheaded friends today?" Snape asked as he folded the linens.

The young man looked at the folding and surprisingly did not suggest a house elf should come and attend them. He rubbed at the scar still gracing his forehead. Potter told interviewers that it no longer hurt, and the rubbing was just a habit, but the movement always made Snape itch to look at his arm to make certain the mark was still gone. "No," he said. "Do you need help?"

Before Snape could swat him like a fly, he grabbed the other end of the sheet and brought it up to meet the corners in Snape's hands. He stayed to help with the next, and the next.

"I passed my physical," said Potter.

"Oh?" It wasn't particularly interesting, but neither was the telly.

"Yeah. I still have to take one, even though I don't do field work. They passed me through on the last three, even when they shouldn't have. Know why I failed?"

"Haven't the foggiest."

"I was underweight."

The sheets billowed like sails. "I could've told you that."

"I knew it. But I've been eating," Potter said quietly. "So I passed, free and clear. …Guess I should thank you for making me."

"I don't have a wand, Potter; I can hardly make you do anything."

"You make sure I'm awake, you fix breakfast, you make dinner. I always have clean robes. I feel better now than I used to. Turns out," he snickered suddenly, "I have to go get new ones. The old dress robes don't fit anymore."

"Ballooning out at an alarming rate, are we?"

"Bring on the balloon. I'm tired of people shoving food at me."

They finished the sheets and began matching the socks. It didn't take long. Everything long and black belonged to Snape; all the short, bright ones went with Potter.


"What?" Potter's continued presence wasn't irritating, exactly, but it was odd.

"Do you hate it here?"

He sniffed. He rolled a pair of black socks into a ball. "That hardly matters. I'm not supposed to enjoy my sentence."

"Yeah, but. Look. We could've—you could've made life a lot more painful. Granted, you did flood the house that one time…" Harry trailed off.

Snape remained silent. Even on his deathbed, he would never divulge the details of the Washing Machine Incident.

"But, no harm done." He paused. "I'm feeling generous, Snape. You should take advantage. What do you want? You never ask for anything, except what goes on the shopping list. There must be something."

Snape shook his head.

"Come on. There has to be. Something. Anything. Try me."

Wait. "Cigarettes," he said.

Potter blinked. "Cigarettes? I didn't know you smoked."

"Obviously, I haven't in some time. I'd like to again, if it's all right with you, Potter." He frowned. "Well? You did ask what I wanted."

"Cigarettes." Potter frowned back. "I don't want the house to smell."

So much for that, then. "Never mind." He sighed.

"Wait. You can't go outside, I know. But—"

"Don't trouble yourself, Potter." Severus plucked the basket from the table. "I won't sully your precious nasal passages. Will you be dining here, this evening? I expected you to eat with your little redheaded friends. I've only put out enough steak to defrost for one." It would've been a brilliant meal. Loaded potato, asparagus, butter—but it was only fun to eat those sorts of dinners with Potter gone.

"I could thaw some more with my wand."

"Don't bother. I'll make the pasta."

"I could cook," offered Potter.

"You could melt the noodles to the pan, you mean."

Potter had the gall to look hurt. "I can cook. Just because you never let me doesn't mean I can't. You're always calling it your kitchen."

"It was either take over or surrender myself to take out."

"Take out is easier. I do work all day."

Snape bared his teeth. "Yes, Potter, and I do nothing. I spend all day lying on a velvet couch while house elves feed me peeled grapes."

"That's not what I meant! I just meant—if I was given the opportunity—I could cook. I used to be a good cook. I don't need my wand, either. My muggle relatives used to make me cook all the time when I was growing up." His lower lip stuck out.

Snape cupped a hand to his ear. "Potter, listen. It's the wizarding world's smallest goblin quartet, and they're playing just for you." He sneered. "Do make some feeble attempt at not feeling sorry for yourself all the time. It's quite dull, and you might get something accomplished." He hefted the basket and swept past Potter. "Excuse me. I have to rush right to my bubble bath. The servants are waiting to fan me."

He lingered on the stairs for a moment longer than he needed to.

Potter never took a parting shot.


The credits for 'Port in a Storm' always showed a ship on the sea, but the actual show seemed rather short on boats.

"One nautical story line. Is that so much to ask?" Today, it was. The main characters were embroiled in the same plot they'd been slogging through since he'd started watching the show.

Althea wanted to marry Charles, but Charles was in love with Kristine. For some reason, Althea decided to dull her pain by having vigorous sex in the backseat of an automobile (which didn't look comfortable at all) with a fellow named Robin. Robin said very little. He was obviously hired for his talent at being shirtless as opposed to his dramatic line delivery.

"None of you have a brain in your heads. If you were my students, I'd assign veritable rounds of detention. You would be forced to copy over the sexuality section of the 'Illustrated Guide of Magical Misfires' until the very thought of coitus would bring on nausea so crippling you wouldn't be able to leave the toilet."

The floo whooshed.

Severus scrambled for the little rectangle called the clicker and turned off the telly.

Potter marched in. He wore pale blue robes instead of his usual dress.

"Not a workday, Potter?" He half-heartedly straightened the cushions.

He tossed a plastic bag at Severus. "I'm thinking of quitting, to tell you the truth. It's a little tense down there these days."

Snape caught the bag. He opened it.

"I didn't know which kind you liked."

He sifted through the bag. There were packs upon packs of cigarettes.

"I'd rather you not smoke them in the house."

"I can't leave the house, Potter. That's why they call it house arrest."

"You can hang your head out the window, though." Harry beamed. "You said you wanted to smoke; those are the rules." His grin turned a bit nasty. "So. What do we say, Snape?"

Severus sniffed. "You forgot the matches."

"Such a git," Potter muttered, shaking his head.

Severus pretended not to hear it. He cracked open the seal on a red-striped pack and inhaled the scent.

As a peace offering, they would serve.


"We're officially broken up. Well, we were before, but now, it's public knowledge. Not that you care, but I thought I'd keep you informed," Potter told him, with the same sort of false brightness he wore for press photos. "Pass the chili sauce, please."

He did.

Potter spooned a large portion of the sauce onto his rice, meat, and vegetables. The meal could be made out of cardboard and Potter wouldn't notice.

Severus might have been offended, but he'd never been a man to appreciate blandness, either. Now that he didn't have to rely on his nose and his taste buds to tell him if he'd been poisoned, Snape enjoyed his food with a bit of bite. He poured a generous serving over his own plate.

"Heinrich and his mates are at me again to get you for an interview."

Snape frowned. "Who? No. No interviews."

"You might consider it."

"I might stick a fork in the toaster." He'd learned about that one the hard way.

"No matter that making an impression on some influential people would help you get out of here sooner."

"Arsenic would help me get out of here sooner." Making an impression would get him into prison. Not that he wasn't in a prison of sorts, but as prisons went—it could've been worse.

"Could be the difference between a few more years and life, Snape. Think about it."

"I don't want to think."

"Smoke until your lungs shrivel, then."

"What a wonderful suggestion, Potter. I think I will, after dinner." He ate neatly, in silent protest of the way his companion consumed his meal. Potter shoveled food down his gullet rather than properly chewing and digesting.

"…Could I come?"


Potter's knife and fork were poised above his plate. "Never mind," he corrected, ducking his head.

Severus paused mid-chew. "You want to smoke?"

"No. I. Well—it's not as if there's much else to do around here. Anyway, I've never smoked before."

"Expanding our horizons, Potter?"

"Dunno. Never mind." He fell to eating again.

He studied his guardian with a very small measure of pity. Potter must have been in a truly pathetic state to beg for his company. "Yes, all right. But no talking."

Harry nodded.


"Shallow breaths, first. Or you'll—cough." He thumped a hacking Potter on the back a little harder than necessary.

"I'm even pathetic at smoking," Potter wheezed.

"Everyone coughs the first time."


His eyes narrowed. "Yes."

"Okay. No need to get defensive."

"No talking, Potter." In the cold, their breaths steamed around the smoke. More than once, he caught Potter breathing only air, the cigarette dangling from his hand.

The second floor hall window was the biggest in the house. Severus looked down and considered the drop. Likely, it wouldn't kill him, and staying in hospital was worse than with Potter. Snow flurries had coated the piles of rotting leaves with a wintry slush that would make the failed attempt that much more unpleasant.

"We're like dragons," Potter whispered, and breathed smoke.


On Tuesday, Kristine fell down a well. No one could seem to get her out, despite the fact that they were all grown adults with lots of equipment, and she was conscious enough to tell the crews above all about the pipe that had fallen on her and kept her pinned down. Despite her dire circumstances, she was able to explain to Althea (in a shocking turn of events!) that she'd fallen in love with her.

Severus folded his arms. "This is just stupid."

"What's stupid?" asked Potter. He was underfoot again, perched in the window seat with a stack of mail to answer. Potter needed a bloody girlfriend, and soon, or Severus was never going to have any peace.


"Yeah, well, most people would agree with you, there. …I could get you more books."

"I don't want books."

"Why not?"

He clicked off the telly. "Books have nothing to offer." He stared at the pinprick of white light left in the center of the blank screen.

"And television does?"

"Telly will not waste my time with magical theory I will never be able to apply, potion advancements I will never experience first-hand, and the assumption that each and every wizard reading has the free use of a wand."

Harry paused. "There are muggle books."

"Diagon Alley carries nothing but pulp trash." Which was what he watched on telly...

"Bet muggle London has something."

Severus thought for a moment. Telly was getting incredibly moronic. "If you happen to pass a muggle bookstore, I suppose I might thumb through a few titles," he grudgingly conceded. But it was the last thing he'd accept. If he went on rolling over for treats, there would be no end to it. Potter might as well buy him a leash and collar.

"Fiction? Non-fiction?"

"I'm not familiar with muggle literature."

"He said, sneering."

He pressed the clicker and glared at Potter. "And I suppose you are? I've read a few muggle children's books, Potter, but since I became a wizard, I've read wizarding books. The implication that my unfamiliarity makes me in some way a bigot—fuck you, Potter."

"That's mature."

"Answer your fan mail. 'Dearest arse-kissing sycophant who believes I'm as tall as the press photos make me look'…"

"Why is it always the short jokes?"

"I did notice 'greasy' often prefaces 'git.'"

Potter was quiet.

He didn't trust a quiet Potter. Severus crossed his legs and arched a brow.

"All right. Fair play," he finally said, nodding.

Severus turned back to the telly.

Althea was very upset. She needed several close-ups to convey this.

"That is stupid," said Potter.



A difficult subject.

Difficult to manage in the echoing house. A proper wank, that is. A good, hard, door-locked, lubricant-aided wank—that's what he wanted at night. Not some furtive, below-the-covers groping.

He could have a wank while Potter was at work, but that would only serve to put him behind on his schedule, and there was no telling how undisciplined he would become if he allowed himself a wank and a nap every afternoon.

If his cleaning and cooking skills lacked, Potter would call in the house elf.

Severus shuddered at the thought. The days were hard enough to pass with the aid of chores. He could clean. He could cook. He could pretend that he was somehow still vital to some future plan. His life would never be his own, granted, but there was a possibility he could still contribute. Until then, he would maintain. He would master the (sadly) domestic spheres available to him. He would wait. He would scrub. He would stew.

Then, he would have a good, long wank as a daily reward, in the interest of preserving what little temper and sanity the war and Wizengamot had left him.

"Sodding Potter," he muttered. It was very hard to concentrate when he could hear movement through the walls. "Shut up," he ground through clenched teeth. He pulled at his cock gently, teasing it to hardness, and closed his eyes as he pressed his face into the pillow.

Oh, yes. That was it.

He conjured up a few different scenarios: nothing complicated or personal. Over the years, he'd found that the most effective fantasies were the ones most unlikely to happen.

For reasons he'd never fully explored, he really enjoyed the ones that involved working on, and alternatively being held prisoner on, a pirate ship. Tonight, he was the Captain. The first mate was reluctant, but fortunately in need of some strict discipline. He was just begging Severus to spare him the lash—

There was a soft knock at the door.

Snape groaned into the pillow. He stilled with his hand on his cock.

"Snape? Are you awake?" Potter's voice sounded through the wood.

He didn't speak.


He didn't make a sound.

Minutes passed, and Snape relaxed.

After some time (and a bit of progress lost), he resumed his activity. The first mate looked a bit like a slighter version of Kingsley Shacklebolt (goody-goody bastard that he was, he was still compelling in the looks department). Snape ordered him to his knees.

"That's right," he muttered into the pillow, thrusting into his fist. "You're going to suck me, and you're going to love it."

It didn't take long, even with Snape trying to keep his activities quiet. First mate Kingsley, it seemed, was a very eager bottom. So eager that he pushed his arse in the air and moaned for the Captain to do something about his hungry little hole. And what kind of a Captain wouldn't oblige his first mate's desperate plea for a nice, stiff—

A floorboard creaked.

Severus thrust against his fist, speeding the last few strokes until he spurted into his hand and groaned with satisfaction.

Afterglow was brief, but blissful.

Eventually, he groped on the bedside table for a tissue. That was when he noticed.

The door was open.


Snape frowned.

"Morning," mumbled Potter. He didn't look up from the Prophet.

That is, he pointedly didn't look up from the Prophet.

Snape's fury cooled. If Potter wasn't going to say anything, perhaps it was all right. He'd been under the covers, after all, and everyone had a wank now and then. Potter could hardly spread tales about barging into Snape's room and catching him doing anything unnatural. If a man couldn't have a go at himself under the covers in his own bedroom in the dark, where was he supposed to do it?

Severus sniffed loudly.

The crease between Potter's brows deepened. His Adam's apple bobbed.

"Sleep well, Potter?"

"Hnh? What? Oh. Yes." He looked up, then hurriedly back down.

The kettle was already warm. Potter had a bowl of cereal near his elbow. Severus considered making something hot for himself, but vetoed the idea. There were cold muffins in the icebox. "You're awake early."

"Yeah. I know. I mean. Yeah." He cleared his throat. "Couldn't sleep very well."

"You just told me you did sleep well, Mister Potter."

"What? Oh. …I guess I wasn't listening," Harry mumbled. "Busy day. I have to attend this internal investigation thing right off—that'll be loads of fun. Then I've got to go give a speech." His spoon scraped the bowl. "The worst part isn't even the speech, really. It's when people ask uncomfortable questions afterward, or when they try and take things. Or when I go into the office for an hour or however long beforehand, then I leave to go make the speech—which is part of my job, thank you—and they all joke that I'm skiving off work and going home, which is ludicrous. I'm there more than ninety-five percent of my colleagues. Seems like I'm always there." He cleared his throat. "So, yeah. Been thinking about that."

Snape nodded. "Wanking," he said quietly. He poured a cup of tea.

"What?" squawked Potter.

"Working," he said in a louder voice.

"Right." His teacup rattled against his saucer.

Severus sat down opposite. He hid his smirk in a section of the Prophet. "Oh, look."


"New study. Voyeurism is on the rise."

Potter pushed away his food. His cheeks colored. "I need to get going," he said. "I might be home late." He rose quickly from his seat and left. The floo whooshed, and everything was quiet.

Severus licked his fingers, turned the page, and then finished Potter's cereal.