Thank you for your reviews and follows and favourites. They mean the world to me, and I love hearing from you all. It has, however, been brought to my attention that some of my lovely story followers didn't received alerts for chapters 44 and 45, so I would recommend that you read those chapters if you haven't already.
It's all about to start kicking off again even if it doesn't seem like it...
Usual warnings apply: A bit of lemony goodness.
Love to Onecelestialbeing
I own nothing but my imagination and eyestrain. My beautiful muses belong elsewhere.
And So It Begins
"Professor Granger, can I have a word?" Harry called after his curly-haired friend as she walked towards the Great Hall.
Hermione stopped, turning quickly to face the Chosen One with a scowl on her face, and asked brusquely, "Of course, Professor Potter. How can I help?"
Harry wanted to chuckle soon as he saw her armful of books and parchment, but when he saw the scowl on her face and noticed that her hair was a little frizzier than usual―and knowing Hermione for long enough to know what frizzy hair meant―he told himself that teasing her now would not be a good idea.
"Where are you heading with all those books?" Harry inwardly cringed at how pathetic that question sounded.
"You stopped me to ask that?"
"—Well, I'm supervising study period, and I thought I'd do some studying myself. You should try it some time," she snarked.
Harry swallowed hard and nodded. "I suppose I'll have to start soon."
"Well, exams start in seven weeks. Do you need me to draw you up a study schedule?"
"Actually, that would be great. I just can't concentrate at the moment beyond teaching my classes, and I don't think I'm making a very good fist of those either because Severus seems pissed off with me. Every time I try to speak to him he's always got to be somewhere."
Hermione huffed, rolling her eyes as she pursed her lips in annoyance.
Harry was surprised by her reaction. "What's wrong?"
She gave an exasperated sigh. "He's not pissed off with you. But I'm certainly pissed off with him."
Harry looked perplexed. "Right. OK. Well, I'll stay out of that one, but the reason I wanted to speak to you is because... well, you know it's Halloween on Saturday?"
Hermione arched an eyebrow and nodded.
"I'm thinking of going to Godric's Hollow. I mean, I need to do some more decorating, but, you know it's the anniversary of my parents' death, and when we went to Spinner's End, Severus told me he's never visited Mum's grave―well he couldn't really before now― but with him being off with me, I wondered if―"
"You want me to ask him to go with you?"
"I don't know what I'd do without you," Harry effused.
Hermione let out a long breath before shaking her head. "I didn't say I would. This is between the two of you," she told him, turning on her heel, and continuing towards her intended destination. But then she stopped, and started walking back towards her bespectacled friend. "Actually," she continued, placing her books into his arms, "take these, and cover for me. I'll be half an hour. Charms texts are in there so do some reading. I need to see Severus before he goes to London."
Before Harry could object, Hermione was halfway up the corridor, hurrying toward the headmaster's office with her called 'thanks' still hanging in the air.
Hermione stormed into Severus' office, slightly thrown when she found that he wasn't at his desk. Instead, she was greeted by Obsidian, who was sitting on his perch behind the headmaster's desk, glaring at her with his friendliest stare.
As she approached him, the proud black owl bowed his head, and allowed his master's special familiar―this was how Obsidian thought of the young woman who had put a stop to the pair's long evenings of sitting in silence―to stroke him between the ears.
"Hello Obs, where's Severus?" Hermione asked in a tone that belied her anger.
"I'm up here," Severus called down from the mezzanine before appearing at the railing with a tome in his hand. "I wasn't expecting to see you before leaving," he said genuinely pleased to see her. "Everything alright?" He started to descend the staircase to greet his witch properly. "I thought you were supervising―"
He was suddenly stopped in his tracks as Hermione railed at him.
"You said you'd spoken to Harry! And don't give me that Slytherin bullshit about you did speak to him, but my question 'did you speak to Harry?' wasn't specific enough. You knew what I meant! He thinks you're pissed off with him, and―"
Severus felt a surge of anger rise within him, yet bit back the urge to growl out, 'How dare you come in here and speak to me like that!' Instead, he inhaled deeply, trying to calm himself even if his flaring nostrils and whitening knuckles on the handrail revealed just how angry he was.
But this didn't seem to faze his witch, who was stubbornly standing her ground, glowering at him whilst projecting her own angry thoughts.
When he was calm enough to speak, he tried to imbue the trademark Snape menace into his voice, but as the words came out he found it missing. In its place was a tone more akin to exasperation.
"And how exactly am I supposed to drop that into the conversation? 'Oh, and, by the way, Harry, on the night your mother was murdered, Dumbledore ordered me to Spinners End so that, in my grief, I could smash up my own property. The next morning, I was awoken from my drunken stupor by an untraceable owl carrying a box. And in that box was your mother's wand with a cryptic note reminding me that I indirectly had her blood on my hands.'"
Hermione exhaled forcefully, running her fingers through her curls. "I don't know, and, more to the point, I don't care. You need to speak to him, and you need to speak to him before the weekend."
"What do you mean?"
"Harry wants me to ask if you will go to Godric's Hollow with him on Saturday to visit her grave."
"Oh, for fuck's sake," Severus groused, lightly tapping his fist against the banister. "Alright, but I can't speak to him tonight. Invite him to our chambers tomorrow evening."
Hermione growled in frustration. "No! You invite him. And I think you should go to Godric's Hollow. Harry needs the last connection to his parents with him because, apart from me, he has no one else at the moment. And maybe you'll finally lay her to rest too," she spat, before turning to leave with hot, angry tears threatening to fall.
Severus was completely shocked by her outburst. "'Mione," he implored, descending the rest of the stairs quickly to reach her. "Where the hell did that come from?"
Scraping noises were heard from the portraits as the previous incumbents of the head's chair hurried away from what they were sure would be an awkward―if not embarrassing―conversation.
Hermione hung her head, and shrugged.
Black eyes studied her carefully as the raven-haired wizard began to run through everything he'd said to her since telling her that the wand she found was Lily Potter's. They hadn't argued; their discussions had been very open. He hadn't kept anything from her. He'd answered all her questions honestly, except for one. And it was that one employment of Slytherin wiles that had his witch accusing him of still harbouring feelings for Lily. But the truth was he simply had no idea how to raise the subject with Harry.
Since the start of their relationship, the two discussed Severus' past affections, but there had never been anything more than a little jealousy from Hermione. But what caused the intensity of this outburst all became clear as Severus observed the fat tears rolling her down her cheeks, the agitated fiddling with her hands and the pulling on her frizzy hair. She looked as if she wanted to scream, and he felt her magic pulsing. He wasn't sure how he was going to broach this either without having his bollocks hexed off.
He stepped forward, offering his hand. He felt it wise to placate her before producing any chocolate or the potion that Arthur had suggested to him.
"Sweetheart," Severus said softly, taking Hermione's hand. "You know that I don't think about her like that anymore. Yes, I loved her, but the important word there is loved because compared to you what I felt for her...it pales into insignificance. Lily's wand was put in that chest when I received it, and until you discovered it...well I hadn't forgotten it was there, but I wasn't keeping it as a memento of her. If anything―and as if I didn't have enough of them already―it was a reminder that I'd failed her.
"I admit I have been remiss not informing Harry, but I will concede that I don't know how to go about it because ultimately, no matter how many pardons and utterances of forgiveness I receive, I will never forgive myself for her death. And not just her death, but all the other deaths that I could not prevent. So, if you have any ideas how I should approach Mr Potter about this, then your assistance would be gratefully appreciated."
Hermione looked at their entwined hands, and choked out, "You do love me, don't you?"
"You know I do," he reassured, pulling her into his chest and encircling her in his arms. He whispered into her hair, "Are you alright?"
"I just feel so... I don't know how I feel," Hermione sniffed frustratedly.
Severus kissed the top of her head, and Summoned two vials; one was the calming draught he'd devised for her last month, the other was the magical stabilising potion. "Here," he whispered, pushing them into her hand, before placing his finger under her chin and raising it so that he could place a tender kiss on her swollen lips.
"Thanks," she whispered sheepishly. "How did you know?"
"I can count, and you may have given yourself away," Severus told her gently. He hugged his witch tighter, and when he heard her chuckle softly, he rested his cheek on the top of her head, wearing the expression of a relieved man.
Severus was grateful that the Board meeting had concluded promptly― despite Lucius' late arrival―as his thoughts kept drifting to his witch. He knew his procrastination had once again upset her, and he hoped her potions would have calmed her sufficiently to accept his planned apology when he got home. After all, he intended his apology to last late into the night.
The headmaster and the blond wizard walked through the main atrium at the Ministry of Magic, trailed by the surly wizard's Auror escorts―Sturgess and Purvis. Lucius had already noticed that Severus was not in the most communicative of moods, but had to ask, "Headmaster, do I have your permission to accompany you back to Hogwarts so that I may see Draco?"
"I need to ask your blasted permission to turn up at the bloody school, remember?"
"Oh. Yes, you have my permission," Severus drawled distractedly as he continued to stride, black robes billowing behind him, towards the visitor's entrance.
Lucius gave his friend a sideways glance before looking back at Severus' bodyguards. He jerked his head towards the wizard in black as if asking if they knew what was wrong. They just shrugged. Finally, Lucius sighed. "Knut for them?"
"It's nothing," Severus muttered before letting out a heavy breath. "Actually, I need to go to Flos, and...well I haven't...can you come with me?"
"What have you done now?" Lucius enquired playfully.
"Once again it is my own fault, but it has coincided with―"
"Ah, harpy stage?" Lucius interrupted him, trying to suppress his laughter. "Say no more," he continued, putting his hand on Severus' shoulder. "Lead the way, and let the appeasement commence."
"Well, if you take Hermione's own advice you will keep it simple," Lucius announced as they entered the florists in Diagon Alley, "but given the time of the month that probably won't wash."
Severus, who had asked his escorts to wait outside, glared at his friend as Flora, the owner, tersely informed the late arriving customers that she was closing in five minutes. For years, the sharp featured witch had run the small flower stall which stood outside of Madam Malkin's. She had taken advantage of the Ministry's war reparation payments, which were made to many of the small businesses in wizarding Britain's premier shopping district, and finally opened a shop.
"Apologies for our late arrival," Severus drawled, hiding the fact that he was feeling out of his comfort zone in the overpoweringly fragrant environment, which boasted an array of magical and standard floral offerings.
Flora's eyes suddenly lit up as she realised she had two of the richest wizards in the country stood in her shop. "Oh Headmaster, Lord Malfoy, I didn't realise it was you."
Severus rolled his eyes as the middle aged witch began to fuss over them. "Evidently."
The shop keeper quailed at the dark wizard's short, but sharp response, before pulling herself together and showing off her wide selection of blooms with a sweeping gesture of her arm. "How can I assist?"
"I believe the headmaster is looking for roses – Black Baccara if you have them," Lucius informed nonchalantly before turning to Severus and muttering, "they always went down well with Narcissa whenever placation was required."
"Fine," Severus grumbled. "I'll take some of those."
"And how many would you like, Headmaster?" Flora asked.
Swallowing hard, Flora tried to forget how intimidating these wizards were, and explained as calmly as possible, "Well, the number you give is symbolic. For example, six means devotion, fifteen means that you are sorry, thirty-six means that you cherish her, one-hundred-and-eight traditionally accompanies a proposal."
Severus whipped his head round to give the witch his full attention. "Really?"
The greying witch seemed thrilled to have imparted this new information to Severus Snape, and continued. "Oh, yes, the numbers are very―"
"I'll take thirty-six," Severus interrupted. "Thank you."
"Romantic fool," Lucius muttered, looking up at the ceiling to conceal his amusement.
Flora smirked as Severus narrowed his eyes at his friend, and said solicitously, "Excellent choice, Headmaster," before heading off to prepare the flowers.
"Yes," the blond wizard added, "if you'd chosen more she'd think you were up to something, and any less would be rather miserly."
"Your miserly flowers were gratefully accepted," Severus retorted.
"Thank you," Lucius snarled, his gaze falling to the floor. He sighed deeply while adjusting his cuffs. "I just―"
"You cannot dwell on it, Lucy."
"I know," the older wizard drawled softly. "Hermione's last owl said Fleur was well, and that is all I can ask."
Severus observed his friend carefully. Lucius' eyes had lost much of their recent mischievousness, and he looked as if sleep had been eluding him for a couple of weeks. "Indeed. Are you keeping well? You seem―"
Lucius shrugged, avoiding the question. "Pay up, man. I have a son to lie to, and your witch is no doubt eagerly awaiting your return."
Once Severus and Lucius parted ways from the office, the headmaster faced a slight dilemma. He had already Flooed once with the flowers, and having never bought anything like this before, he didn't stop to consider if they would withstand Apparating or another Floo journey. That left him with one option: he would have to walk back.
Of course, walking back presented its own issues. He knew he couldn't conceal the flowers in his robes, and he didn't want to shrink them. Also, should a student spot him carrying a bouquet of red roses, the invidious romantic gossip would spread through the halls like Fiendfyre, and he wished to avoid that headache. So, Disillusioning himself, Severus swept through the corridors, and when he finally walked into their living room the sight that greeted him brought a smile to his lips.
Hermione had fallen asleep on the sofa; her marking and quill had slipped to the floor. Her hair was splayed over the armrest, and Leo was merrily nesting in her copious curls.
"Leo, get down," Severus commanded in a quiet hiss, but when the white menace refused, he gingerly put the roses onto the coffee table and picked up their protesting kitten, who seemed to be getting bigger by the day. He held the fur ball up so that they were staring at each other unblinkingly.
A mewling and wriggling Leo was informed in a slow, measured drawl that, "Mummy's hair is not a bed." His paw tried to make a beeline for the tempting dark locks before him, but he was warned further. "And neither is mine before you start getting ideas."
Grudgingly chirping his understanding, Leo was rewarded by Severus pulling him into his chest and scratching the top of his head. Whilst this endearing scene played out, Hermione, sensing Severus' presence in the room, had woken and was smiling softly.
Severus arched his eyebrow. "I just rescued your hair," he said before letting Leo jump down. Severus knelt down in front of his witch, obscuring her view of the coffee table, and picked up Hermione's escaped parchments.
"Oh god, has he left hairs?"
"Well, assuming you haven't gone grey in my absence, I would say that he has," Severus said distractedly, reading one of the parchments.
Hermione ran her fingers through her locks, and grumbled about having to wash her hair as she stared at the clump of white strands now in her hand.
"No wonder you fell asleep," Severus declared playfully. "It appears that this bright spark used the Forgetfulness Potion before writing about it, thus forgetting how to write coherently. This has no discernible connection to the English language as I know it."
Picking up the quill, he was about to scrawl on it when Hermione warned, "Don't say anything cruel."
Severus pretended to be aggrieved before carrying on, and as he showed her what he'd penned, Hermione frowned as she read: 'Coherent sentences would be appreciated.'
"I said, don't say anything cruel."
"I don't believe I did," Severus protested. "You can't be soft on them. They won't learn otherwise."
"Well, I suppose you might have been mean and cruel and an utter bastard when you were my professor, but your comments did make some of us want to improve," she purred, leaning forward to kiss her wizard softly.
"I rest my case," Severus murmured against her mouth before teasing her bottom lip. Pulling back, he whispered, "May I make a suggestion?"
"Why don't I draw you a bath?"
"And what have I done to deserve this?" Hermione asked coyly.
"Nothing," Severus shrugged, "but I will admit that you were right earlier. I should have apprised Harry sooner."
Hermione's smile seemed to deliver the absolution that Severus didn't feel he deserved. She sat up, wrapping her arms around her wizard when she noticed the bouquet on the table. Her eyes widened. "Are those―?"
"Oh yes," Severus groaned as he leant back to pick up the roses. "These are for you."
Hermione's jaw dropped as she accepted the bouquet. "These are from Flos," she whispered before blurting out, "but you never buy―."
Her words were cut short as Severus planted a hard, lingering kiss against her lips. "I thought now was a good time to start."
"Thank you. They're beautiful," she admitted breathlessly, inhaling their heady scent before brushing her lips and fingers against the delicate, deep red velvety petals.
"As are you," Severus told her sincerely.
Hermione's cheeks flushed, and as she felt a surge of emotion rise within her, she pulled him down for a heated, tongue-twisting kiss. Minutes later they found themselves dishevelled and entwined on the sofa until Severus reluctantly pulled back and planted another lingering kiss on her lips. Clearing his throat, he moved to stand and stated huskily, "Right...I'lll run you that bath."
Hermione wasn't sure if she'd ever felt so relaxed. Her bath had been gloriously steamy and rose-infused, and now she was lying completely naked on their bed, being subjected to the most blissful massage.
"Oh god, this feels so good," she mumbled into the pillow.
Still wearing his shirt and trousers, Severus was sitting astride her legs as his fingers massaged her shoulders. The tightness in his trousers caused him to wince as he leant forward to purr in her ear, "I do enjoy spoiling you."
"Especially when I'm coming on, and you're trying to do some damage limitation?"
Her wizard chuckled but did not respond. Placing a gentle kiss between her shoulder blades, he whispered, "Turn over so I can do your front," before moving away from her body.
With a wicked grin, Hermione turned onto her back. As Severus moved towards her, she put her foot up onto his chest to stop him. "Define 'do your front'," she demanded seductively, her eyes burning into his.
Her dark-haired wizard arched an eyebrow as if he'd been challenged. With their eyes locked in passionate defiance, he grabbed her ankle, pulled her foot up to his mouth, and before she could protest, Hermione was wriggling and whimpering at the sensual onslaught Severus was inflicting upon her as he languorously licked and sucked each toe in turn. Just as she thought her hedonistic torment had concluded, she felt his hand wrapping around her other ankle, and she was once again lost in a melee of pleasure and ticklishness.
She shivered as soft kisses were trailed up her legs, Disappointingly for Hermione, he avoided her most intimate area, until a still clothed Severus kissed up her body, pausing to lavish attention on each nipple in turn. Now he was exploring her mouth.
"You've got far too many clothes on, Mister," Hermione whispered breathlessly, arching up against him.
"How observant," he muttered against her lips, before trailing kisses down over her chin and creamy throat, back down her body, taking his time to appreciate her reaction to each careful placement of his mouth. Again he avoided the apex of her thighs, but spreading her legs further, he moved down the bed and positioned himself between them.
"This is all about you," he told her, punctuating each word with a kiss to her inner thighs. Reaching his goal, Hermione gasped, flexing her hips as a soft kiss was placed upon her core. Licking over her slit with a long, flat tongue, Severus then gently repositioned her before spreading her folds and teasing her sensitive nub. Hermione bucked up as he alternated between lapping at her arousal, and sending shards of pleasure through her body as he suckled on her tight bundle of nerves. Her fingers were grasping at his hair and the duvet cover; her voice crescendoing, begging him not to stop. His fingers joined the raid on her sex that his mouth had started, and soon she was crashing over the edge, but that didn't mean Severus intended to stop.
Hermione was lost as her orgasm pulsed through her, yet her eyes flew open at an entirely new sensation as Severus' tongue moved from exploring not just one, but both entrances. She moved to sit up, gasping at the unfamiliar feeling, causing him to stop and look at her almost bashfully. "I can stop if―"
"Don't you dare," she growled, flinging her head back against the bed and begging him to continue.
Severus didn't want to push the boundaries of his exploration too far on this first foray. Hermione pouted, but he won her over by giving in to her request to undress and make love to her. Spooning his witch, he stroked steadily into her wet heat. He had to admit that he particularly enjoyed this position as it allowed his hands to pleasure her whilst lavishing attention on her neck and mouth. It felt like he was consuming her, pulling her into him as he held her against his body. And, as the tension rose between them, they both felt their magic mingling and crackling until her orgasm milked his from him, and it exploded around them.
Still tangled together, Hermione groaned, "We've trashed the room again. We should―"
"Not yet," Severus said roughly, "we'll sort it out later. Now, did you enjoy that?"
Hermione gave a contented sigh. "Uh-huh! But next time you do that, can you―?" She blushed as a sudden shyness came over her.
"Can I what?" Severus purred, revelling in the aftermath of his own orgasm.
"Well, could you maybe use your fingers to...you know?"
"I believe I know what you're attempting to ask," he chuckled, nuzzling her neck. "Perhaps I shall buy you some toys as well. Would you like that?"
"Yes, please," Hermione whispered before flashing him a wicked grin as she turned in his arms.
"I thought you would," he teased, capturing her lips softly. Pulling back, he tucked an errant curl behind her ear, and whispered, "I still can't believe my luck."
Hermione looked at him curiously. "What do you mean?"
"Well, that you're mine," he replied, kissing her forehead gently.
Tracing her fingers over his lips, Hermione looked deeply into his eyes before giving him a beaming smile. "And you're mine," she told him breathlessly, carding her fingers through his hair and pressing her lips to his. Slowly the kiss deepened, and they languidly explored one another's mouth until tiredness overwhelmed them.
Wrapping his arms around her, Severus smiled as Hermione whispered sleepily against his chest, "I love you so much, Sev."
Burying his nose in her curls, an equally tired Severus whispered, "I love you too," before sleep finally claimed them both.
"Merlin's beard! How are you ever going to learn about antidotes if you can't be bothered to read the text that I set?"
An exasperated Horace Slughorn was pacing in front of his desk in the Potions classroom, throwing a scroll at Theo Nott. "Your reading was to learn Golpalott's Third Law, and―"
"But Sir―" the eighth year Slytherin interrupted.
"Twenty points from―" Slughorn yelled before looking at the boy intently to check the House he needed to take points from.
Theo looked utterly bemused at his professor's behaviour, and glanced over at Ginny and Blaise, who just shrugged. But Mr Nott was not going to accept this points deduction when they had not been set any reading on antidotes or Golpalott's Third Law. After all, they had studied that in their sixth year under Slughorn himself. "Sir, can I finish what I was going to say, please?"
"What insolence is this? You will lose another twenty points, young man, and report to Mr Pringle for detention!" Slughorn hissed.
The atmosphere in the Potions classroom was full of confusion. Students threw each other questioning looks at the aggressive behaviour of their usually amiable professor, as well as wondering who the hell Mr Pringle was.
Blaise leant forward and grumbled in Theo's ear. "Bloody hell, he's worse than Snape today."
"And there's another one who will find himself in detention," Slughorn announced, waving a frenzied finger at Theo and Blaise before turning to Ginny. "And can I attribute Mr Snape's absence to you two falling out again, Lily?"
"Sorry sir?" Ginny gasped, her eyes widening as her shocked expression turned to panic. "Fucking hell, he's confusing me with my ex's mother," she whispered through gritted teeth to her boyfriend.
"Go and find him, Miss Evans," Slughorn commanded, before adding in a more gentle tone, "and please make up with him. You know he needs your support, and your marks always suffer when you two fight."
Ginny was still gawping at Slughorn as everyone else, except for Pansy Parkinson, began staring at points of interest on the ceiling or, failing that, on their desk. Imploringly she looked to see if anyone was prepared to help their obviously confused elderly professor. However, noting everyone's reluctance to assist, she grumpily stood and walked over to him, placing her hand on his arm. "You look very peaky, Sir. Are you feeling alright? Perhaps you should sit down."
"Ah, Miss Parkinson. Thank you, my dear. I do feel a little under the weather now you come to mention it."
"Let me help you," Pansy offered calmly whilst throwing concerned looks between Blaise and Theo as she slowly escorted Slughorn to his desk.
The professor patted the brunette's hand as he struggled to sit down. Even his infamous stage whisper proved difficult for him as he gasped out, "You are very kind, young lady."
At the back of the classroom, Ginny, still shocked at being mistaken for Lily, whispered to Blaise, "If he wants me to get Mr Snape, I'll get Mr Snape," before saying out loud for the benefit of the elderly Potions master, "I'm just going to find Severus, Sir. I won't be long."
She didn't wait for his reply, and once out of the room, Ginny began to run towards to the headmaster's office to alert him of the situation.
Meanwhile, Mr Snape was sat in his office, pinching the bridge of his nose, whilst Harry Potter bemoaned the very reason that his office was about to invaded by Miss Weasley.
"It's getting worse, Severus. He's lying about having to teach to get out of dealing with House issues during the day, and no one can rouse him at night. I don't want to complain―"
Unfortunately for Harry, the headmaster's sympathy quota had been used up when he had discovered a pyjama-clad Hermione curled up in an armchair, covered in a blanket, cuddling a hot water bottle with empty pain potion vials beside her on the coffee table.
"Evidently you do," Severus' sardonic drawl interrupted.
"I'm dealing with issues that Horace should be dealing with, and if this carries on I'll have to start sending students to you more often, especially when there are overnight incidents, and I don't want 'Mione hexing my bollocks off for dragging you out of bed every night."
Severus inclined his head. "I understand, but I can assure you I'm always available. Believe it or not, Hermione does understand that I am headmaster of this school."
"I know, but you know how overprotective she gets, and I'll be the one who gets it in the neck. And she's already told me off this week."
Severus smirked before admitting, "You're not the only one. Which reminds me; if you are available, come over this evening after dinner."
Slightly surprised by the invitation, and wondering if Hermione had said something to Severus already, Harry shifted awkwardly on his chair. "That would be...great."
Severus was about to speak when an unexpected vibration of the wards protecting Severus' office interrupted him. "We have company," he drawled just as a soft knocking was heard at the door. "Come in, Ginevra," he called, and the door opened tentatively to reveal a shocked and flustered redhead.
"How did you know it was me?"
"Because I am the headmaster and, therefore, omniscient," Severus shrugged. "That, and the fact I hear your knock nearly every other day when you come to see Hermione."
Harry chuckled. "Even I knew it was you, Gin."
"Gits!" Ginny exclaimed.
"Ah, Miss Weasley, you forget yourself. One of Hermione's best friends you may be, but in my office, you will show the appropriate respect. Besides, I was under the impression that at this time on a Tuesday you would be attempting to brew something."
"Apologies, Headmaster," Ginny grumbled. "We hadn't reached the brewing stage. In fact, I have no idea what we were supposed to be doing. Slugs―"
"Miss Weasley," Severus cautioned.
Ginny started again. "Professor Slughorn is acting really strangely. He had a go at Theo for not doing the correct essay, except he had, but the professor seemed to think he'd set us something else. He started taking points, and threatened to send Theo to someone called Mr Pringle?"
"Mr Filch's predecessor. Your parents would remember him," Severus informed her.
"Oh right. Well, he was yelling, and when Blaise said he sounded like you...sorry...he said that you would be getting detention because you weren't there."
Severus' eyebrow arched as he looked at the young witch. "Indeed."
Quickly glancing at Harry, Ginny continued. "It gets better. He confused me with...well, with Lily."
All the colour―not that much was there―drained from Severus' face.
Chancing a look at the wizard on the other side of his desk, the headmaster witnessed Harry's mouth fall open before he managed to choke out. "He what?"
With her ex-boyfriend continuing to stare at her, Ginny tried to gloss over the situation. "Yeah. Weird. Anyway, he told me to get Mr Snape, and said that when we fight it affects my Potions marks."
Slughorn's former pupil snorted, recalling the numerous times this comment had been passed. "Well, perhaps he might finally realise that was because when we had a fight, she had to do her own homework."
To the older wizard's relief, Harry chuckled before Ginny pressed on. "Anyway, Pansy managed to calm him; got him to sit down, but he didn't look well, and he said she was very kind."
"The situation is more serious than I thought if he is referring to Miss Parkinson in such terms," the headmaster mused. He walked to his fireplace, calling Madam Pomfrey to apprise her of the situation. "Now, Mr Potter, I must cut short our discussion as it appears that your concerns and this event may be intrinsically linked."
Harry looked concerned. "It would seem so," he said, standing to leave. "I'll come round about eight o'clock."
Severus looked at him curiously until it dawned on him what Harry meant. "Yes, that's fine. See you then."
"Bye, Gin," the younger wizard mumbled before leaving the room.
The headmaster's rolling of his eyes was caught by Ginny. "What?"
Shaking his head, Severus gestured towards the door. "Lead the way, Ginevra."
Ginny struggled to keep up with the headmaster as they headed to the dungeons. Severus was deep in thought, and Hermione's friend knew not to interrupt him. It was only when they were standing outside the Potions classroom that he spoke.
"We may be required to humour Horace if he is still confused and continues to call you Lily," he informed the young witch. "Therefore may call me Severus or, as a last resort, Sev."
"I do anyway...well, I don't call you Sev," Ginny sniggered as the tall wizard cocked an eyebrow at her.
A smirk graced the corner of his mouth. "Not to my face you don't," he said teasingly before opening the door with uncharacteristic gentleness.
"Ah, Mister Snape," Professor Slughorn called from the front of the class. "So good of you to join us finally. Twenty points from―"
"If I might, Professor," Severus started smoothly, "as you may recall, you asked me to brew extra Pepper Up for the hospital wing today."
"Oh yes, of course," Slughorn said vaguely, his brow furrowing in confusion, but Severus pressed on, knowing that an element of flattery would help focus the elderly professor's mind.
"I was actually on my way to see you as Madam Pomfrey asked me an interesting question regarding the effectiveness of Damocles' new potion in relation to a particularly delicate situation which will soon be upon us." Severus made sure there was enough venom in his voice when referring to the delicate situation to catch Slughorn's attention before continuing. "I admit my knowledge of the potion is somewhat lacking, so I suggested that she seek your counsel, and was just coming to fetch you when I happened upon―"
"At least, you didn't have a wasted journey, Lily," Slughorn chuckled, acknowledging the red-head standing at Mr Snape's side.
"No, I ran into him quite quickly, really," Ginny gushed, "and we would have been back sooner, but I did as you suggested and we sorted a few things out, didn't we Sev?"
The young witch cowered slightly at the warning contained in Severus' arched eyebrow as he glared at her. The pretence of his sixteen-year-old persona was transformed into his thirty-eight-year-old-bastard-self in an instant before his attention snapped back to Professor Slughorn.
"Sir, I believe that time is of the essence," Severus drawled, gesturing towards the door.
"Of course, dear boy. We cannot keep the dear lady waiting."
Slughorn stood shakily, and Pansy readied herself to support him if necessary as he walked towards Severus. Once they reached the headmaster, he gently placed his hand on the elderly professor's elbow, and mouthed to the Slytherin witch, Thank you, before engaging Horace in conversation.
Once the pair left, the students finally began speculating about what had just transpired. However, this was cut short as Snape made an excuse to pop back into the classroom. "What were you supposed to be doing today?
"Uses of mood enhancing potions," Blaise piped up. "But―"
Severus silenced the Senior Head Boy with his trademark sneer. "Pick two opposing mood-enhancing potions from Advanced Potions-Making; list their similarities and differences, expound your theories on how to improve the efficacy of each potion, and discuss the pros and cons of using controlled doses for medical purposes. Four feet on my desk by Monday."
The room was filled with a united groan, but the headmaster just smirked. "Oh, alright then...five feet. You may go back to your common rooms." With that, he swept away to assist his former Potions professor to the hospital wing.
It was a very drained Harry Potter who called at the headmaster's chambers just after eight o'clock. Since dinner, he'd been fielding questions in the Slytherin common room about Professor Slughorn's health, and the enormity of the situation was hitting him hard.
Unable to tell them the truth until the headmaster felt it appropriate, his calm explanation that Madam Pomfrey was concerned and that she wished to keep Professor Slughorn in for observation, covered up the reality. Harry had been called to the headmaster's office at four o'clock and found the other Heads and Deputy Heads of House awaiting his arrival. When the Defence professor was offered the position of Head of Slytherin House, he protested, stating that Horace would be right as rain in no time. However, the way Severus slowly raised his eyes to engage the younger wizard scared him.
In the past, Harry believed that making eye contact with Severus Snape was akin to having needles of ice pierce his flesh, but instead there was a resignation that he'd never expected to see in those usually defiant eyes. It was hard to hear the headmaster recount that after carrying out her diagnostic spells, Poppy was so concerned―and knowing that moving Horace to St Mungo's magically would be too dangerous―that she'd called for a healer to provide a second opinion. That healer, in turn, had called in another colleague to confirm the diagnosis.
The prognosis was bleak. Slughorn's mind was being eaten away by a growth deemed immovable either by magic or intervention. Once the medical staff had concluded their deliberations, discussions turned to the professor's care until the inevitable occurred. With the knowledge that the inevitable would occur within weeks, Headmaster Snape insisted that the appropriate arrangements would be made so that Horace Slughorn could remain at Hogwarts to be cared for by the only family he had.
Hermione opened the door and looked at her friend with a smirk. "You look like shit."
"Thanks! So do you," Harry retorted.
The curly-haired witch, who was still wearing black flannel pyjamas and had her hair twisted into a loose, messy bun, snorted. "I'm having a period, what's your excuse?"
Harry cringed at her bluntness, and walked past his friend into her living room. "Horace."
He took off his teaching robes and coat, undid his waistcoat and loosened his tie before collapsing down into an armchair whilst Hermione told him how guilty she felt for moaning about Horace herself.
Harry concurred, and thumped his head against the back of his chair.
"It wasn't meant to be like this, 'Mione. I'm the fucking Head of Slytherin. How did that happen?" Harry asked incredulously.
Hermione shrugged. "Why does anything happen?" Observing her messy-haired friend carefully, she asked, "Tea or something stronger?"
"Tea, please. If I have anything stronger, I'll end up falling asleep on your sofa."
Hermione sighed and called for Winky. She was feeling bad enough as it was today, but since Severus learnt of the situation regarding Slughorn, she'd had to cope with the full weight of his concern through their connection.
"Nice dress you have there, Winky," Harry remarked when the house-elf arrived, which caused her to blush.
"Winky thanks the great Harry Potter. Mistress gave me some cloth for my birthday, and I is making this for me."
Harry smirked as Winky turned to receive Hermione's order, which included a large box of chocolates and rounds of toasted ham, cheese and pickle sandwiches, but kept bashfully looking over her shoulder at the wizard who had just paid her a compliment.
"Is Severus back yet?" Harry asked, absentmindedly playing with the chair's armrest.
"He's on his way," Hermione informed distractedly, watching Leo as he padded into the living room before jumping up onto Harry's lap.
Harry acknowledged the cat with a soft, "Hello mate," and began stroking the scruff of the kitten's neck.
Hermione couldn't help but smirk as Severus walked in at that moment, and snapped Harry out of his reverie by drawling, "Hello, Pest, and how are you this evening, Leo?"
Hermione burst out laughing as Severus approached her with a cheeky grin on his lips.
Harry looked aghast at Severus' teasing, but that wasn't all that surprised him. It was the way Severus cupped his witch's cheek, asked how she was feeling and if she needed anything before kissing her gently. It was as if Hermione was the only person in the world to him in that moment. Harry had seen the two of them together before, but there was a tenderness in the irascible wizard's demeanour that he never thought was possible.
When Severus went to get changed, Harry whispered, "I can't believe that is Severus Snape sometimes."
"Oh, it's definitely him," Hermione chuckled as Winky returned with a tea service for three, a large box of the Belgian chocolate truffles that Draco always bought for her, and a plate piled high with Severus' favourite toasted sandwiches.
The witch sat in the middle of the sofa, and began pouring the tea as Severus walked back into the living room. He sat next to his witch on the side nearest Harry.
"How was the House meeting?" Severus asked the younger wizard, who was trying to extricate Leo from his lap after the kitten's claws had taken an unhealthy interest in his crotch.
"They're concerned," the new Head of Slytherin confirmed, wincing as something sharp grazed his right testicle.
"Leo, come here," Hermione commanded, noticing Harry's discomfort before giving him an apologetic shrug. "Sorry, he does that sometimes."
"Not to you he doesn't," Severus groused before turning back to the matter in hand. "We will leave the announcement until Friday. Minerva and I have discussed it, and believe that― aside from the fact I have business elsewhere for the next two days― this will give them the weekend to assimilate the news. As such, I ask that all Heads of House remain at the castle this weekend, although I will understand if you require a few hours away on Saturday."
Harry nodded, and was about to speak, but anticipating what he might say, Severus continued, "And in case you are concerned, I have decided to assist you with your House responsibilities until such time as a suitable deputy is available."
"In other words, you're stuck with him," Hermione huffed, rolling her eyes in annoyance. She knew he couldn't stay away from his House for too long, but that didn't mean she had to be happy that he was taking on more work.
This was not lost on Severus, and leaning forward to take a sandwich, he told her distractedly, "Well if it will appease you, my love, when you've finished your N.E.W.T.s you can take on the role if you wish."
Harry pretended to be put out. "Hang on, no one's worried about my workload, and I'm doing N.E.W.T.s!"
"Allegedly," Hermione teased him through a mouthful of chocolate truffle. "Anyway, I don't want to be a Deputy Head of House because even when I've finished my N.E.W.T.s, I'll still have my apprenticeship, and I wouldn't give up my pastoral role for anything. So, you're stuck with Severus."
Severus chuckled as the two friends continued to rib each other, but a sense dread began to creep over him as he knew he would soon have to speak to Harry about Lily's wand. Hermione sensed his unease, and knelt up on the sofa to force a chocolate into his mouth.
Despite his protest, he finally accepted the sweet offering, but he knew why Hermione had caused the distraction.
Are you alright?
I don't know how to raise the subject, he admitted bashfully.
Do it after we've finished our tea. You'll know what to say. You always do.
Harry smiled when Severus playfully grabbed Hermione and kissed her hard. What he wasn't aware of was the older wizard whispering in his girlfriend's mind.
Thank you, sweetheart, as do you.
The three continued discussing the events surrounding Horace until Missy cleared the tea tray away. Hermione looked up at Severus and reassuringly squeezed his thigh.
Covering her hand with his, the headmaster cleared his throat, and stated calmly, "Harry, there was a reason why I invited you over tonight―"
"Oh yes, and I need to ask you something as well," the green-eyed wizard countered.
"Well, you may find there is no need to ask me anything after I give you this―"
Severus Summoned the long wand box and levitated it towards Harry.
Harry looked between Severus and Hermione curiously before turning his attention to the box which he'd just accepted. He felt a strange sense of peace drift over him as if the contents were somehow calling to him. He traced a finger over the inlay of the lid, and was about to open it when he looked up at Severus and asked quietly, "What is this?"
"Before I tell you I need to say something―I need you to understand more than I've already let you see. I will not deny how important your mother was to me, and that everything I did from the moment I knew Voldemort had marked your family was to keep her...keep you safe."
Harry nodded before looking at the box again, as if inherently drawn to it.
"I did everything I could," Severus continued, feeling Hermione drawing soothing circles on his back. "I stalled missions, I carried information, I pleaded with the Dark Lord himself, and the entire time Dumbledore told me that you were all safe and that my work was essential to keeping you that way.
"On the night Voldemort attacked, Dumbledore called me to his office and informed me of your parents' deaths. He'd suspected there was a rogue spy within the Order for a while. In fact, he'd suspected Black, but despite my best efforts I couldn't confirm their identity or indeed their existence. I'd positioned myself at the Dark Lord's right hand―I thought I was his spy within the Order―and, yet he refused to confirm or deny Albus' supposition. He also didn't tell me that he'd discovered your location, or when he was going to attack. Of course, we know now who it was. But it seemed to me that everything I had risked had been for naught. I can't begin to tell you how I felt, except that I wanted to die. But you're not here so that I can try and salve my conscience. I need to tell you about what happened the next morning."
The raven-haired wizard cleared his throat again, hiding the fact that his voice was on the verge of cracking. Hermione was soothing him through their connection, allowing him to remain outwardly calm whilst she helped deal with his emotions.
"Dumbledore told me where you'd been living, and I left immediately. I have no idea what I thought I would achieve. I arrived at Godric's Hollow and saw someone disappear around the corner from the house. I ran after them, but they'd already Apparated away. When I went into the house you'd already been taken, but your parents, from what I could tell, had not been moved. I looked for their wands but couldn't find them. I even checked under her pillow."
"Why under her pillow?" Harry asked incredulously.
Severus looked at the floor, a watery smile appearing on his lips. "When she first got her wand, Lily was so excited that she slept with it under her pillow to prevent Petunia from playing with it. I remember my mother tried to dissuade her from the practice in case of an accident, but the habit certainly remained throughout her time here."
Harry chuckled, but his eyes were full of sadness as he realised how little he really knew about his mother.
Severus knew he had to press on. "I thought it was strange, but I was desperate to leave, and, when I returned Albus knew that my magic was too unstable for me to stay at Hogwarts, let alone teach. He also knew that I was likely to be arrested, and didn't want that to happen on school grounds. So he sent me to Spinners End to grieve. Minerva stayed with me that night, but after she'd left, an owl arrived carrying that box.
"In that box is your mother's wand. It was accompanied by a note which read 'You should have done more.' If you pull the top flap down, it should still be there.
"And whoever it was that sent this was right. I should have done more to protect her; she shouldn't have been in that position in the first place, and my biggest fear," he practically choked out, reaching back clumsily to grab Hermione's hand, "is that I won't be able to do enough this time."
"You're already doing more than enough," Hermione told him, kneeling up and putting her arms around his shoulder.
"At least you are honest with the students when you need to be," Harry admitted, opening the box before him carefully. Timidly pulling open the black velvet, he revealed his mother's willow wand.
Hermione's arms tightened around Severus as they both watched Harry pick it up. A single tear slid down his cheek as he caressed the wood, turning it over in his hands. He was completely absorbed by the fact that this was not only his mother's, but that it seemed to recognise him as an extension of her.
He's alright about this, Hermione told Severus soothingly.
Severus huffed. How do you know?
I know Harry, and you're giving him what he's always wanted.
No, you're giving him a realistic view of her, unlike Sirius and Remus who only seemed to see her through their rose-tinted glasses. You keep giving him Lily as you knew her, and you knew her better than anyone."
Are you alright about this? Severus asked her.
She kissed his temple, and whispered, Yes, I am.
Severus leaned into Hermione for a second as the couple observed Harry putting the wand back into its case. He whispered "Thank you," before asking, "but why are you only giving this to me now? You could have given it to me anonymously as Dumbledore did when he gave me Dad's Invisibility Cloak."
"To be honest, I put it in a chest at Spinners End, and there it remained. At first I kept it to remind me of how I had failed her, but, over the years, other worries overtook. And please remember that whilst Dumbledore lavished grand gestures on you, it was I who ensured your survival so that he could anonymously give you that bloody Invisibility Cloak."
Severus' voice was tinged with annoyance, but although Harry knew it was directed at Dumbledore more than himself, he still felt the need to mutter an apology.
Severus sighed. "Don't apologise. You may have been like your father, especially when it came to disregarding the rules, but in this instance I can't say I blamed you. If I had been presented with an Invisibility Cloak when I was eleven, I'd have been gallivanting around the castle myself. I just wouldn't have left tell-tale signs in my wake."
Harry smirked, but soon found himself sniggering as Severus recalled a staff meeting not long after he and Hermione had started at Hogwarts.
"―Minerva was furious with him. She accused Albus of acting like a child with a puppy; very happy to play with it, but the rest of us―especially myself―had to clear up all the crap."
He tried not to look at Hermione, who was trying hard not to laugh as well, but as Severus finished the anecdote the two of them burst out laughing, shortly followed by the headmaster himself.
Finally managing to control himself, Harry decided to open the box and look at Lily's wand again. He pulled the inside flap down, curious to see if the note was still there. The scrap of parchment was still there, but Harry's eyes widened.
"What's wrong?" Hermione asked anxiously. Hearing the concern in her voice, Severus looked over at Harry as well.
"I've seen this writing before in some of Mum and Dad's old things."
Severus wasn't sure if he wanted to know who it was that had mocked him all those years ago, but knew he was about to find out when Hermione asked, "Whose is it?"
"It's Pettigrew's handwriting," Harry told them.
"Give me that," Severus demanded, and looked at the scrawled note. "Are you sure?"
"Fucking bastard," Severus muttered angrily under his breath. His stomach rolled as he realised that it made perfect sense, and that Pettigrew―the weak-minded, opportunistic, traitorous bastard―had decided once again to twist the knife into the emotional wound he knew Severus had been carrying.
Harry gave a nervous chuckle. "I'm surprised you didn't recognise it?"
"Well, your handwriting recognition skills aren't exactly exemplary, Mr Potter," Severus sneered, trying to suppress his instinctive reaction to wallow.
Harry knew Severus was referring to his copy of Advanced Potions-Making, and couldn't help but laugh before he said, "I can't tell you how much it means to me to have Mum's wand, Severus. I suspect Hermione's told you that I'm going to Godric's Hollow on Saturday, and I'd really like you to come with me."
Still reeling from this revelation, Severus said distractedly, "Harry, I―"
"You'll come, too, won't you, Hermione?"
"If you want me to."
Severus cleared his throat. Quickly glancing at Hermione―who smiled encouragingly at him―before turning back to Harry, he stated calmly, "If it isn't too much of an imposition, then we will accompany you."
"I still find it laughable that the incantation was in a book of harmless stabilising spells," Pius chuckled into his coffee when the headmaster called into his office the next day.
The dark-haired wizard sitting on the other side of his mahogany desk scowled. "Since when has anything to do with Blood Magic been considered harmless?"
"Fair point," the older wizard mused before placing his cup on its saucer, and continuing. "But now that we know the incantation and its magical trace, how the hell are we going to detect it without raising suspicion?"
"Hermione has come up with an elegant solution, and the reason for bringing Arthur on board is that you and he have something in common," Severus informed his friend.
"Yes. It has to with the way you shake hands and wedding rings."
Pius looked at Severus sceptically. "Pardon?"
"She noticed that when you shake the Minister's hand―when you shake anyone's hand that you're ingratiating yourself upon― you use a two-handed handshake."
Pius' brow furrowed as he contemplated this. "Yes, I suppose I do."
"As does Arthur. Hermione said she always remembers how he first greeted her father with a two-handed handshake, and upon reflection she realised that it's how he always greets people. And, of course, you both wear wedding rings," Severus said, pointedly looking at Pius' left hand.
The Head of Magical Law Enforcement looked down at his ring finger, twirling the gold band around with his thumb. Even though he was living with Narcissa, part of him still felt that if he removed his wedding ring he was somehow betraying Alice's memory. He loved his witch, but he couldn't forget his wife overnight, and thankfully Narcissa didn't expect him to either.
The older wizard gave a wry smile. "Your witch really does deserve her title, doesn't she?"
"Which one?" Severus smirked. "Well, she's chosen the effects of magical signatures on the efficacy of potions as her main apprenticeship project, but she's adapted the idea so that your rings are charmed to vibrate after contact has been broken with the Minister."
"An excellent idea," Pius mused, "and by trying to get Arthur on board tonight, we have twice the opportunity to establish whether we are dealing with Shacklebolt or not."
He observed the slight wrinkling of Severus' brow, and his pensive, "I hope so," knowing that the headmaster was more worried than he was outwardly showing. "We'll get to the bottom of this, Severus. And Hermione will be kept safe."
Taking a plaintive sip of coffee, the raven-haired wizard said quietly, "That is all I ask."
"Oh, and it is interesting that you should mention Hermione's father," Pius mused. "I have in my possession a request from the Australian Ministry to assist them with a suspected Death Eater that they've captured, and I am required to take our Ministry's recognised Legilimens with me."
"When did that arrive?" Severus asked urgently.
"Whenever I decide to date it," Pius told him knowingly. "Hermione should meet with Simeon as soon as possible."
"Arrange the meeting. We'll be there."
Despite the Hogs Head being unusually quiet, the Head of Magical Law Enforcement and Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry cast strong Silencing and Muffling charms over the back room that had been hired out for the night.
"Here we go, three pints of the good stuff," Arthur Weasley enthused, handing the two wizards their drinks. "I bought your two Aurors a pint too, Severus. They did object, but you can't expect the poor sods to sit in a pub with just a gillywater in their hand."
Sitting down, Arthur took a long draft of ale before looking at the two wizards before him carefully. "So, as much as I appreciate the chance to escape Molly and Hermione this evening, I presume there's a purpose to this meeting?"
Severus smirked. Hermione was at The Burrow for her weekly magical control sessions, and whilst he knew her magic was not as out of control as it was last month, it was still slightly unpredictable due to her hormones, and Arthur indeed had a lucky escape by joining him and Pius for a drink.
"Well, yes there is," Pius said, sipping his pint before adding, "not that this isn't pleasant. We should do this more often."
"Indeed," Severus chuckled, "especially as both Arthur and I are abandoned by our witches on Wednesday evenings."
"Thank Merlin," Arthur muttered under his breath.
"Actually, Narcissa visits her sister on a Wednesday," Pius added.
Arthur held up his pint and proposed a toast. "To guilt and nag free drinking," which they all supported wholeheartedly.
Pius interrupted the reverie. "But to business, gentlemen. Arthur, we would ask that you take a wizarding oath that whatever you hear this evening will be kept between us, and is only to be discussed with those who know of the situation. Those persons being Severus and I, Hermione, Lucius, Narcissa, and―"
"Minerva, Harry, Draco and Miss Lovegood. Two others know, but I doubt you will have contact with them," Severus supplied when Pius looked to the headmaster to fill in the remaining names.
"If it's serious enough to require an oath then even Molly will not hear of it. My discretion is assured."
"As we knew it would be," Severus drawled as Pius cleared his throat.
"The situation is this, Arthur. We do not believe that the person sitting in the Minister for Magic's chair is Kingsley Shacklebolt," Pius matter-of-factly informed the red-haired wizard.
"What?!" Arthur exclaimed.
"Come now, Arthur," Severus began, "you've already intimated that all is not well in the Ministry and that Kingsley has changed."
"Yes, but I just assumed he was feeling paranoid about being temporary Minister and garnering support whilst casting aspersions on his rivals."
"It's still a possibility," Pius mused, "but his attitude toward the events at the Ministry Ball, the treatment of known Death Eaters, the dismissal of the threats against Severus and the so called traitors―they all raise questions."
"But we assumed that Yaxley was behind it, didn't we?" Arthur asked, looking perplexed.
"We believe Shacklebolt and Yaxley to be one and the same," Severus said impassively.
"How can that be? He's not constantly swigging from a flask. Is he under Imperio?"
Pius shook his head. "We don't believe so."
"But it can't be Polyjuice. I'm no Potions master, but―"
"No, but I am," Severus injected, "and I know a few things about the Dark Arts. It suddenly came to me that there is a variation of Polyjuice which was devised by Luciferan — a Fifteenth century Italian wizard."
"Never heard of him," Arthur shrugged.
"In many respects I am heartened that you have not," Severus smirked. "This variation allows, by the addition of fresh blood, the drinker to assume the identity of another for up to a year."
"Merlin's Beard," Arthur gasped. "And you know how to identify this potion?"
"We do," Severus confirmed. "Having identified the magical trace for the additional incantation which binds the blood to the base, we are now in a position to test the theory. The reason we're apprising you of the situation is because we believe that you can assist us, and because we also need your assistance with Ronald."
"Well, you certainly have me intrigued," Arthur confessed after taking another large gulp of ale. "Tell me more."
Pius and Severus briefed Arthur on the salient points as well as the possible connection at Durmstrang. Unfortunately, Arthur had to admit that it all made sense before surprising the two wizards when he said, "Didn't Dolohov go to Durmstrang?"
Severus looked at Pius. Dolohov had been with Voldemort since the very beginning of his first rise to power. Dumbledore often commented on the fact that the two were often seen together before Tom Riddle became Lord Voldemort, but now that Arthur mentioned it, something clicked into place for both dark-haired wizards.
"He wasn't captured at the ball, was he?" Severus asked Pius.
"No. Could he be Harkinssen?" Pius asked.
"No," Severus stated. "Given what Hermione and Krum overheard, Harkinssen wasn't in London, but we know Dolohov was. If this version of Polyjuice is flowing, then he could be Poliakov or even Sexton."
"Sexton? As in Harold Sexton?" Arthur asked.
The Head of Spell Detection and Reversal blurted out, "Bloody hell, but he's a jobs-worth!"
"A rapidly promoted jobs-worth," Severus told him knowingly.
"We still haven't found Nott," Pius mused, but suddenly realised that they were digressing. "We can speculate about the Durmstrang threat once we have established if Shacklebolt is who he says he is."
Arthur took another sip of his beer, and looking a little confused asked, "So how I can help?"
Severus told Arthur of the plan, and was relieved when the older wizard nodded his approval. "Trust Hermione to notice something like that. Well, that seems easy enough. When do you want to Charm our rings?"
"I can do the honours now," the headmaster informed them.
Both wizards removed their wedding rings and placed them on the table before Severus, who, with a flourish of his wand, cast the appropriate charm. The metal glowed brightly before settling back to its normal state.
"All done, gentlemen," Severus drawled, stowing his wand in one fluid movement.
As the two older wizards retrieved their rings, Arthur asked, "Now, how can I help with Ron?"
Pius shifted awkwardly on his chair. "As you are aware, Shacklebolt tabled a motion to reduce the sentences of many he summarily passed judgement on following the Ministry Ball debacle, and, as you know, Ronald is due to be released on Friday. Those who have also had their sentences commuted are due to be released next week. Therefore, I've been charged with visiting your son tomorrow in Azkaban to discuss the terms of his release. However, we also have a proposition for him. And for that I need you, or rather, someone posing as you, to accompany me."
Arthur raised his eyebrows. "I beg your pardon?"
Pius gave a frustrated smile. "It's not beyond the realm of reasonable thinking that you, as his father, might wish to accompany me to discuss certain terms of his release. For example, his living arrangements will need to be discussed in more detail―"
The red-haired wizard's brow furrowed. "But under the terms of his release he will be living with us for―"
"I know we've already discussed this, but no one else knows that we have," Pius interjected. "And in truth, it is simply a ruse to―"
"Will you be taking the Polyjuice?" Arthur asked Severus.
"So what do you want from my son?" Arthur asked defiantly.
Severus leant forward, his forearms and entwined fingers resting on the table before looking directly at Arthur. "Given your son's misguided involvement in recent events, I believe that, with the right inducements, Ronald would be invaluable to our cause if we could persuade him to return to Yaxley's fold as our spy."
Arthur lowered his eyes to the table, as he considered the headmaster's idea. "I suppose your presence at Azkaban would attract too much attention," he pondered.
"There is no reason for me to have anything to do with your son since I have been discharged my official duty to the ministry regarding him."
"But why Ron?" Arthur asked urgently.
Severus huffed out a breath. "Because he still has reason to bear a grudge against me, Hermione humiliated him in public, and his Quidditch career lies in tatters. He could very easily give the impression of being an even angrier young man than he was before. His seeking revenge would be understandable. We just have to convince him that working for us will be of more benefit to him than genuinely seeking out Yaxley."
Arthur shook his head. "Ron won't be easily convinced given the risk involved."
"I know," Pius said. "That's why I objected to him being released last week. I wanted to give him another week of incarceration to make him more suggestible."
"You did what?" Arthur snarled.
"Gentlemen, please," Severus interrupted. "Yes, there is risk. Spying is inherently dangerous. But I will oversee his training and give him the benefit of my knowledge. I know he can be impulsive, but I also know that he can be an excellent strategist. I may not like your son for numerous reasons, and he certainly has no love for me, but I know how he was brought up. I believe that given the chance to make things right, he will seize the opportunity. If I didn't believe that, trust me, I would not waste my time."
"We can offer him our protection, ensure that he's supported favourably throughout the media and clear his record," Pius added.
Arthur sat quietly for a moment, contemplating what he'd just heard. He felt utterly torn, but after a few moments of awkward silence, where Pius and Severus gave each other concerned looks over the tops of their pints, the red-haired, balding wizard spoke.
"My priority is, and always will be, my son's wellbeing. However, I also know that our world will not survive another serious threat so soon after the war. I'm not entirely happy about this, and the inducements are irrelevant, but you have my blessing to approach him."
With that Arthur extracted several strands of hair from his head, and placing the hairs into the empty vial that Severus promptly held out to him, said, "I'm putting my trust in you, Severus."
"And I will do my best to prove that your trust is well placed," the raven-haired wizard said sincerely, replacing the stopper.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Pius added almost too jovially. "Oh, and we'll need your wand. Send it to us in the morning and throw a sickie."
Arthur chuckled but then looked uneasy. "And what will happen if you cannot convince him?"
"I'll Obliviate him, and we'll leave," Severus stated matter-of-factly.
Arthur nodded. "All I ask is that you look after my boy."
"You have my word," the headmaster assured him, hoping he'd be able to keep it.
"Is Arthur on board?" Hermione asked, turning on her side to face a weary Severus as he slid into their bed.
Lying on his back, he turned his head towards her. "He is, although I don't think he's completely happy about it."
"Well, you are about to play Dumbledore with his son," Hermione snarked, running her fingers through his hair. "So are you ready for tomorrow?"
Severus was too tired to sneer, and chewing the inside of his cheek, pondered her question. "Not really. I had hoped to never set foot in that hell hole again. The thought of the place makes my blood run cold."
Hermione pressed a soft kiss to his lips. "No matter how bad it is, Sev, I'll be here waiting for you when you return."
"Promise?" Severus asked, his eyes burning into hers.
Kissing him again, Hermione whispered against his lips, "Promise."
A/N 2: Will Ron play ball?