Reward for Perseverance
Summary: After the death of Voldemort, both Harry Potter and Severus Snape join the Aurors. Harry struggles with a lack of respect from his co-workers, an attraction he cannot quash, and disappointment because the job he'd always wanted is not what he thought it would be. Snape struggles with Harry. Non-canon obviously because Snape has survived the war.
Warnings: This fic contains detailed descriptions of sexual encounters. Some of them are male-on-male. If any of this disturbs you, please hit the back button.
Disclaimer: Yeah, they're mine. Fooled you, right? They're really not.
Severus Snape sat at his desk in his tiny office, perusing the thick file in front of him, a cup of tea rapidly cooling at his elbow. He sighed as he flipped through the documents: complaints and letters of reprimand in number equal to the commendations and letters of praise and gratitude. This particular employee would be an enigmatic pain in the arse to any supervisor, but the history that he shared with this man added entirely new and unwelcome dimensions to their interactions.
Severus looked at the time piece on his desk and sighed again: late. He was always late. Just one more black mark to join the others contained in the personnel file which he now slammed shut. Five minutes. He'd give the git five minutes, and if he wasn't here by then, Severus would hunt his scrawny hide down and drag him here by the hair.
Four and a half passed before a knock sounded at the door. Without waiting for an invitation to enter, the door opened and Harry Potter sauntered his way nonchalantly into the room, a large, beguiling smile, which he probably hoped would help him in the minutes to come, plastered on his face.
"You are late," Severus snarled.
"So sorry," Potter responded, though it was clearly apparent that he wasn't, not at all. "Minister caught me in the hallway." He dropped into the chair in front of Severus' desk, again without invitation, and rested his elbows on his knees. "Let's get this over with, eh?"
This was Potter's annual employee evaluation. If either one of them still found it exceedingly strange that Severus Snape was Harry Potter's immediate supervisor in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, the day-to-day grind of the last five years of working together had dulled their previous animosity to a level of acceptance on Potter's part and barely-contained irritation on Severus' part.
But it hadn't been that way in the beginning. After the war, after Voldemort had been defeated, after the dust had settled, after Severus Snape's near-dead body had been retrieved from the Shrieking Shack and taken to St. Mungo's for another chance at life, after the Ministry had nearly arrested him in his hospital bed, and after Harry Potter had flown, literally, to his side with memories and vehemently supportive testimony, Severus Snape had been cleared of all wrong-doing and given the grateful thanks of Britain's wizarding population, an Order of Merlin, and a job offer. The Auror corps had been severely depleted in the last year of Voldemort's existence, and the new Acting Minister of Magic, Kingsley Shacklebolt, knew what he had in Severus Snape. So without having to go through the training that most aurors were required to undergo, Snape was installed as a supervisor in the MLE and was given a team of four to command.
Three of the members of that team, two male and one female, were young but experienced aurors, all in their late twenties and early thirties. The fourth member was Harry Potter, offered a place in the auror ranks fresh off his victory and without having completed his schooling or even sitting for any NEWT's. He'd been rushed through training, at the Minister's insistence, and had come to Snape's team very green but brimming with confidence in his own abilities, bolstered by the wizarding public, which adored every step he took, and certain that he'd finally realized his life's ambition. He'd been chagrined to discover that he was to report to Severus Snape, but, laboring under the respect he'd acquired for the man, he'd adjusted quite well to Snape's new role in his life.
Well, except for the very strange and inappropriate crush he'd developed on the man. And being the Gryffindor that he was, he couldn't keep these totally unexpected feelings to himself. Oh no – he had to confront Snape, offer himself up, practically throw himself at the older man. Snape, of course, had been appalled at the sentiment and the offer and had declined in no uncertain terms. He was far too old for Potter, they had far too much bad feeling in their past, he was the boy's supervisor, for Merlin's sake! What had the whelp really expected would happen? To his credit, Potter had taken the rejection well, as he hadn't really had any hope that Snape would ever see him as anything other than an irritating boy. But he'd made the offer, and once a year, on his own birthday, Potter had re-issued the invitation. Snape had no trouble turning him down each time.
"Yes, well, this could take a while," Snape responded, indicating the size of Potter's file with a wave of his hand over the stack of documents.
Harry sighed and flung himself back into the chair. "We're not going to go over every little thing, are we?" he whined.
"We will discuss whatever I feel is appropriate in order to evaluate your performance," Snape growled. He opened the folder again, removed a sheaf of papers, and pushed the remainder of the file away. "These are from this past year. I see no point in discussing anything that happened prior to your last evaluation, except as it perhaps relates to similar issues which have occurred in the past year or deficiencies which you continue to operate under."
The sigh Harry let loose now was louder than the first. Snape stared down his long nose at the slouching boy.
"We will get through this much more quickly without the dramatics. And for Merlin's sake, boy, sit up and try to at least act like a professional!"
Staring at Snape through hooded eyes, Harry slowly sat himself up straight, bringing his knees together and setting his hands into his lap. When Snape spoke in that exact tone of voice, that Hogwarts Professor, points from Gyffindor tone, there was nothing, literally nothing, that Harry wouldn't have done for the man. Had Snape known that, his life would likely be much easier.
"Thank you," Snape bit out. He separated the sheaf of papers in his hand into two separate piles. "These," he said, rattling the papers in his right hand, "are complaints which have been received, from other members of this department and by citizens, as well as the letters of reprimand which have been issued to you. We will discuss those first."
"I'd prefer to start with the other stack, if you don't mind," Potter said with a cheeky smile.
Snape ignored him. "I have broken these issues down into the following categories, in order of their seriousness." As he spoke, he culled smaller piles from the first and set them down on his desk. "Tardiness, failure to properly punch in or out, accumulation of inappropriate overtime, failure to file complete and timely reports, disrespect to co-workers, insubordination to superiors, and failure to follow directions in the field. Let us start with the tardiness. You have arrived late to your assigned shift on no less than thirty-five occasions." Severus had made notes prior to Potter's arrival here.
"Wow. That many?" Potter had the nerve to ask.
"Do you dispute the number? I have the records here to document when you punched in."
"No," Harry said. "If that's what the records say, it's probably right."
"As you are aware, after the tenth occasion on which you were late, your pay was docked. This occurred again after the twentieth and the thirtieth occasions. After the twenty-fifth, you were suspended for one day, without pay, pursuant to Ministry policy. Is all of this correct?"
Harry had to drag his eyes and his attention back to Severus. He'd been looking around the man's office, bored with the conversation. "What? Yeah, yeah. It's correct."
"What exactly do we need to do, Mr. Potter, to get you to arrive at work on time?"
"Well, if you'd spend the night with me, you'd be there to wake me up and get me going in the morning," Harry offered. "That might solve the problem."
Snape actually growled. "Leave it to you, Potter, to incur another complaint of insubordination during your performance evaluation!"
Harry shrugged. "You asked."
"I would suggest that a more pragmatic solution would be for you to invest some of your substantial fortune in an alarm clock! I am at a loss as to how to make you toe the line in this regard. Suspending you without pay is pointless, I know. Policy does not allow me to fire you for this. I am considering hexing you next."
Harry almost couldn't stop himself before saying he'd rather have an alarm cock, but thankfully he did, because that promised hex would surely be coming his way now. Instead, he laughed, somewhat nervously. "Policy allows that?"
"Though I know it will probably be pointless, so that we can pretend that we have made some progress on this issue, will you state for me that you will make an attempt in the future to arrive at work on time every day?"
"Anything for you, sir," Harry said cheerfully.
Snape bit back the retort he wanted to make in the interest of getting through this bloody meeting some time before lunch and made a note on the Ministry-prescribed form in the section entitled "Remediation Efforts".
"All right. Let us move on. The time clock, Mr. Potter. Are you unfamiliar with its location?"
"Nope. I know right where it is."
"Then can you explain to me how it is that on average three times a week, you do not punch out at the end of your shift?"
Harry shrugged. "I forget."
"You forget?" Snape repeated. "Are you three or twenty-three? Do you need a minder, someone to follow you about all day, reminding you to eat your lunch and pick up a loaf of bread on the way home and wipe your arse?!"
"Sir," Harry said with a mock innocent expression on his face. "Is that a sexually inappropriate remark? Because if it is, I'd like one of those complaint forms. I'm feeling a little harassed and unsafe in my workplace."
"Potter, you haven't the slightest idea of just how much I can make you feel harassed and unsafe if I put my mind to it, have you?" Snape warned.
Harry shivered dramatically. "Ooh, sir! That was definitely suggestive. I'm feeling really bothered now."
Snape slapped a hand down in his desk, loudly. "Potter, will you be serious!"
"Sorry, sir," Harry said, looking at little contrite this time. "I'll be good. And for the record, I promise that I will make every attempt to punch in and out like I should. Cross my heart and hope to die," he said, using a lone finger to draw an X across this heart. "I'd rather not stick a needle in my eye, if it's all the same to you."
"What?" Snape said, confused.
"Muggle expression, sir. Where were we? Are we up to the disrespect to co-workers yet, 'cause I've got a lot to say about that one."
"Oh, great," Snape muttered. "Something to look forward to. No, we're only up to overtime, though I suspect that the failure to punch out is what leads to the submission of so many overtime hours. And as you are not paid for unauthorized overtime, this issue is really more of bookkeeping problem. We will not waste any more time on that."
Harry said nothing. The fact was that the did put in a lot of overtime for which he was not paid. He liked his job, and he had nothing to keep him at home, so he tended to come in early and stay as late as he could get away with. Unfortunately, he often forgot to punch in when his shift was supposed to start or out when it was supposed to end. He hated going home to an empty flat. He'd thought on several occasions that maybe he should get a cat, just so there'd be someone there to talk to, but he hadn't broken down and done it yet. Maybe this weekend.
Snape broke through his wandering thoughts. "Your report writing, Potter, is, quite frankly, atrocious. Though this has hardly come as a surprise to me having been unfortunate enough to have to grade your essays in school. Your reports are routinely incomplete and at times make a mockery of the reporting requirement. For instance," Severus said, rooting through the pile until he found the document he was looking for, "this report states, 'I caught the bad guy and brought him to jail.' That's it. I know you know better than this."
"I was tired that night! That fucker made me chase him for six blocks through Muggle London!" Harry defended himself. "And then, when I brought him in, stupid Henry Baccardi in intake is on a floo call with his girlfriend, and I have to wait like twenty minutes while he tells her a hundred and fifty times that he loves her, but that he has to get back to work. So when I finally get the perp checked in, I come back down and get yelled at, by you, because I'm still here when I should have punched out an hour ago. So I wrote my report, and I punched out, and that was that."
"That is one example of many, Potter. Thankfully, this deficiency has a remedy. On Tuesday, next, you will attend a refresher course on report writing. It will take the entire day, so be prepared."
"You're kidding. Tell me you're kidding." There was little Harry hated more than wasting his time on Ministry regulation crap.
"Does this face look like it is kidding, Mr. Potter?" Snape asked.
Harry stared at him for several seconds, sorting through the many inappropriate remarks flitting through his head and because he simply liked staring at Snape. Finally, he decided it wasn't worth it, and he accepted defeat, his shoulders hunching. "No, sir."
"Good. I expect to see improvement in this area after your little refresher."
Harry smiled slightly, already planning his next report, which would be so filled with extraneous and minute detail that Snape would likely pull his hair out. (Harry's, not his own.)
"And now we come to the disrespect to co-workers complaint," Severus said, preparing himself for the verbal barrage he was about to receive.
Harry growled. "That areshole Malfoy! If he wasn't such a little prick, with such a huge chip on his shoulder, I might be able to tolerate him. He ponces around here like he owns the place. And I know his father has bought several key people here and keeps them in his pocket, but that doesn't mean . . ."
"Mr. Potter," Snape interrupted. "You would do well not to toss accusations like that around. You may find yourself in a heap of trouble so deep even you won't be able to charm your way out of it."
"All Malfoys are arseholes!" Harry stated emphatically. "It's like it's in their blood or something."
"That didn't stop you from testifying in Draco's behalf at the hearing."
"He did me a good turn, all right? You know all about that. He didn't give me up to Bellatrix and his father, when he had to know that was me. And his mother probably saved my life when she lied to Voldemort about me being dead. So it was only right that I did what I could for them. But if I'd known that they were going to let Draco into the auror academy, I probably would have cut my tongue out rather than speak up for him. And for the record, I don't think Lucius Malfoy regretted anything about his service to Voldemort except that he came out on the wrong side. Just like the first time, he used his money and his name to buy his way out of trouble."
Snape personally and privately agreed with Harry's sentiments regarding Lucius Malfoy, but he was smart enough not to voice them.
"Draco and his mother at least did something to redeem themselves," Harry ranted on. "What has Lucius done to demonstrate any type of remorse for all of the heinous acts he committed? Nothing! Not a damn thing! Yet he's accepted back into decent society, and nothing is ever held against him, because he has more money that any five decent people ought to have!"
"You are entitled to your opinions, Potter, but take my advice and keep them to yourself. As for the complaint, Draco says that you called him a 'pointy-faced ferret' in front of a group of first-year auror students. Do you deny that?"
"You know I don't," Harry said firmly. They'd talked this all through right after it had happened.
"Do you have anything additional to add in your defense?"
"Other than that Malfoy's a prick?"
Snape pretended to peruse the report. "Got that already," he noted dryly.
"No. He provoked me, just like he always days. Ron was with me. Malfoy's always getting his little digs in about his golden this, and his expensive that. He knows how Ron feels about that and he can't seem to resist twisting the knife."
"Yet Weasley said nothing. Weasley was able to control himself, act like an adult. It was you that felt the need to begin childish name-calling."
"He deserved a lot worse," Harry said.
"What would you do if I were to tell you that in order to remediate this little problem, you must apologize to Malfoy?"
Harry sat up straighter in his chair. "With all due respect, sir, I would tell you to fuck off, and I would quit."
Snape smiled a little in amusement. "I don't think I've ever heard anyone told respectfully to fuck off."
"Push me, sir, and you will."
Snape had known there was no way in hell Potter would apologize to Malfoy. Their stupid, petty feud, begun at Hogwarts when they were both eleven, had continued, following a brief suspension of hostilities immediately after the war, picking up immediately after Draco had been assigned auror duties after graduating from the academy.
"Stay away from him," was the only solution Snape had for the juvenile antics of the two young men.
"With pleasure," Harry said with relish.
"Insubordination," Snape continued through his list. "Do I need to tell you that every one of these issues you've had has been with me?"
Harry shrugged, not surprised. Snape was a hard-ass who took life way too seriously. If you couldn't tease people and joke around and laugh a little, with all the crap they saw all day every day, you'd go insane. Snape didn't understand that, and Harry seemed incapable at times of keeping his mouth shut. Plus there was the attraction that Harry felt toward Snape, an attraction that was always present and sometimes made it difficult for Harry to focus and keep his mind on appropriate things. He'd see Snape and get to thinking about how those long, lovely fingers would look and feel stroking over his naked flesh, or hear his voice and wonder what Snape sounded like when he came – was he a screamer, or a grunter, or one of those who could come silently? Snape would turn his head just so, and that curtain of dark hair would sway in just such a way that Harry's fingers nearly leapt into it of their own accord. And on those few occasions when Snape relaxed enough at work to take off his robe, and Harry could see the outline of what he knew just had to be an incredible arse, Harry's mind had immediately gone some place that strongly resembled a gutter. Harry had spent the last five years hoping that today would be the day that he and Snape would use the mens room at the same time and share adjacent urinals so that he could get a look finally at the man's package. In his fantasies, he offered to hold it for Snape. Snape, of course, said yes, and one thing led to another and . . .
"Potter, are you even listening to me?" Snape shouted.
Harry sat up straighter, wincing a little when his half-hard cock rubbed against the crease in his trouser leg. He reached down to surreptitiously adjust himself, lest the hungry little monster start poking up the front of his auror robe.
"Sir, yes sir!" Harry announced. "Listening, sir!"
"I have spoken to the Minister about your attitude. He begs me to give you leeway, says you do not really mean any harm, that you are just a young man still learning the ropes, that because you did not attend the full academy, you did not develop the healthy respect for the chain of command that most other aurors have. You may be able to charm your way through every other person in this place, but you have not charmed me, and if I do not see some improvement in this area, the consequences are going to become severe. Have I made myself clear?"
"Yes, sir," Harry said quietly. He knew that Snape disliked his blase attitude, that Snape thought he was arrogant and over-confident. And since he really didn't want to alienate the man, he vowed to himself to try and be more respectful and proper in his dealings with his boss.
"Good. That brings us to following directions. I think you know the incident I am referring to."
"Yes, sir. The arrest in Borgin and Burkes."
"Exactly. You were advised to maintain position on the street and to hold there until you were instructed otherwise. Instead, you left your position, entered an establishment that had only one exit, put yourself and the patrons of that establishment in unnecessary danger, and caused several hundred Galleons' worth of damage."
"But we caught the guy," Harry defended himself. "I'd been following him. I knew he was headed to Borgin and Burkes. I knew that a fight out on the street was going to lead to innocent casualties. I thought that cornering him inside was a better plan. And it worked, didn't it? We got him. And the only other person in the shop was Borgin, and he ducked behind the counter as soon as I drew my wand. And as for the damage, you know as well as I do that Borgin inflated that claim. A window was broken, by you, not me, and could have been fixed with a simple reparo. Just because the Ministry decided to pay that shyster shouldn't be held against me."
"Are you trying to tell me that the ends justify the means? That the process doesn't matter, as long as we get the criminal responsible for whatever crime has been committed? Did you learn nothing from Albus Dumbledore's offering you up like a pig to the slaughter?"
Harry bit his lip and looked away in consternation at the reminder of what the Headmaster had done to him all those years ago, starting when he'd been a wee babe of just over a year, placing him in a situation he knew was less than ideal in order to toughen him up, allowing him time after time to place himself and his friends in dangerous situations to prove his mettle, withholding from him critical information, all so that when the time was right, he could be basically given to a megalomaniacal madman with no guarantee that he would survive the experience. While on one level Harry understood why Dumbledore had done what he'd done, the part inside of him that would always be a little boy craving love and security would never forgive the old man for interfering with his life in that way.
Snape knew he'd hit a nerve, that the boy remained sensitive about this perceived betrayal on the part of the man he'd thought was a mentor, and his voice softened. "We follow directions for a reason, Potter. A plan is devised and put into action to minimize risk to all involved, including ourselves. We are no good to anyone dead. The flying by the seat of your pants approach is going to get someone killed, most likely yourself."
Relying on his instincts had always served Harry well, but he knew this was a fight he couldn't win. Snape was all about rules, and Harry just couldn't operate that way. Nothing ever went according to their well-laid plans, and when the shite started hitting the fan, that was when Harry was at his best, re-evaluating in microseconds and making decisions on the fly. You couldn't teach someone that instinct: they either had it or they didn't. And Harry had it in spades. No one ever appreciated that ability until it became personal.
"I admit that I deviated from my instructions," Harry said unapologetically. "You should probably write down that if the same situation were to happen again, I'd do the same exact thing."
"Think I'll keep that little tidbit to myself actually," Snape said, not surprised by the boy's attitude. They'd butted heads many a time, during the planning process for a mission as Harry offered ideas that were routinely belittled and vetoed by those with more experience and knowledge. Time after time, Harry'd been proved right in his opinions, and when the well-thought out plan had come unglued, Harry had kept his head, adapted well to changing circumstances, and, so far, had brought everyone home, including himself. But it was only a matter of time before something went horribly wrong, and Snape would be damned if he would be the one bringing Potter's mangled body back to explain to the Minister how the Savior had been killed doing something heroic and stupid. No, he would continue to protect the boy from himself, as he'd been doing for so long now.
"So, that's that," Snape said. "As for these . . ." he indicated the pile of positive things contained in Harry's file. "These are letters from the public, commendations you've received."
"Aren't we going to go over those, too, sir?" Harry asked disingenuously.
"Yes, let's," Snape said. "Here's a letter from someone in Kent. Seems you rescued her kitty from the top of a tree."
"Mrs. Barrington," Harry remembered fondly. "Sweet old lady."
"Oh, she was quite taken with you, as well. And another from a young lady who says you saved her from a pickpocket in Diagon Alley."
"Ariadne Whitford," Harry said, even more fondly. She'd been very . . . grateful to Harry when he'd returned her purse after a Mundungus Fletcher-like creep had stolen it in broad daylight in the middle of the street. They'd met later for a drink, and when she'd invited him back to her place, Harry hadn't thought saying no would be very polite.
There were several other letters from citizens whom Harry had come into contact with in the course of his professional duties. He seemed to charm people, young and old, men and women. He remembered the names of everyone he met and treated them respectfully and patiently. No problem was too small for Auror Potter to give it his undivided attention. Snape had to admit that Potter had a way with people.
"It is clear that your strength lies in two places, Potter. You have a knack for dealing with people, and you have an uncanny intuition when it comes to dealing with unscripted changes in plan. If you could improve yourself in these other areas that we have talked about, you have the makings of a fine auror."
Harry fairly glowed under his former professor's praise. "You think so, sir?"
"I do," Snape confirmed. "But you will not receive a positive evaluation from me until you learn to keep the small details in mind as well as the big picture."
"Thank you, sir," Harry said, pleased to finally hear some words of praise coming from the man's mouth.
"You are welcome. Now, because you have completed your fifth year, you are due a small hourly pay increase, and that will go into effect immediately. Do you have any questions regarding anything we have discussed here today?"
Harry shook his head.
"Then sign here, please, acknowledging that we have discussed these matters and that you agree to the remedial measures I have set forth."
Harry scanned the document quickly, to make sure that Snape hadn't slipped in any more exciting "re-training", then signed his name on the last page.
"You are free to go," Snape instructed.
"Thanks, Professor," Harry said, though he knew Snape hated it when he called him that. "Hey, I was thinking of getting a cat," he said as he made his way to the door.
"Perhaps you can train it to wake you up in the morning," Snape suggested.
"Ha. Very funny, sir."
"Don't forget the duty assignment meeting this afternoon."
"How could I forget?" Harry groaned. "Another chance to interact with my good friend Draco Malfoy."
"I shall sit between you, Potter, and strike your hands with a ruler if the two of you misbehave."
Luckily for the state of Harry's personnel file, Malfoy's team had already been given their assignment by the time Snape and his team filed into the conference room that served as the duty assignment room. They took their seats around the table and turned their attention to Angus Blades, the Head Auror. He was in his mid-fifties, with a square head, graying hair, and a pencil thin mustache marching across his upper lip.
Blades shot file folders across the table at all of them. As they settled in and began to read, Blades began to explain.
"Blue Dragon," he said. "The newest designer drug to have hit the Muggle world. Authorities there are struggling to keep up with where it's coming from and the effects of this highly addictive hallucinogenic substance. There are estimates that as many as one hundred fifty young people have overdosed on this drug in the last six months. Authorities are calling it an epidemic. It's been found in clubs, universities, even secondary schools. There is information in your packets that describes the drug's composition and also the effects of the drug and the symptoms experienced by someone who has overdosed. Severus, I suspect you'll be able to spot the reason why we're discussing this."
Severus nodded. "The valerian mushrooms."
"Exactly," Blades confirmed. As everyone else in the room was wearing looks of confusion, Blades went on. "Valerian mushrooms are strictly a wizarding fungus. Whoever is concocting this new drug has ties to the wizarding world. Our Minister and the Muggle prime minister are working collaboratively to locate the source of this drug and shut down the supply. To this point, the drug has not made its way into the wizarding world, but it is only a matter of time – there is a veritable fortune to be made. One use of the drug is enough to acquire an addiction, so it is obviously incredibly dangerous.
"Your assignment is to investigate where this drug is coming from. You will find in your packet a list of areas where the Valerian mushroom is known to grow. This list is not exhaustive, but should give you at least a starting point. The other avenue of investigation we have is a club in Muggle London known as," Blades curled his lip in distaste, "the Pissing Oyster. The first documented use of Blue Dragon took place here – a young man, a promising university student, was given the drug by an unknown person or persons at this club. From witness reports, the young man became paranoid, was muttering about being chased by bears, and ran into traffic outside the bar. The drug did not kill him directly – stepping in front of a moving lorry took care of that. But the hallucinations the young man was experiencing drove him to do what he did. Several instances such as this occurred in the early stages of the drug's appearance. Its manufacturers modified the formula somewhat to weaken it enough to allow a milder form of hallucination. Killing their clients was proving to be not quite as profitable as they would have liked apparently. So they've now got a formula that addicts their clients quickly and completely.
"So, you have all the information you need. Take some time to look over your packets. Formulate a plan. Come see me with questions." Blades stood up and looked around the room. "Anything else you have on your plates will take second place to this. We need to get a handle on this scourge before it infiltrates our world."
And he left them to discuss it amongst themselves.
"All right," Snape said with a sigh as they reorganized themselves around Snape's small office. "Let's divide this up. Declan, I want you and Riggs to begin searching out the source of these mushrooms. They are highly regulated by the Ministry and whoever is growing them would have to have the resources and the facility."
Declan Bromley, thirty-two years old and a former Slytherin, made notes on the pad before him. He was married, with two children, and very good at his job to a point. Typical of members of the House of the Snake, he refused to put himself at risk for anyone. He was a short, squat man, heavily muscled, with sandy blonde hair, a strong jaw, and jug ears. He was the only member of the team that Snape referred to by his given name.
Louisa Riggs, known as "Lou" to her colleagues, was Harry's favorite co-worker. He'd had a slight crush on her since he'd met her, a fact which he had confessed to her one night when the team had been out drinking. She hadn't felt the least bit threatened by his attraction and politely informed him that she and her partner of several years, her female partner, were very committed to one another. They'd become great friends, with Lou becoming like an older sister to Harry, always attempting to get him to settle down. Harry had been to Lou's home several times and liked Lou's partner, Sarah, very much. Lou and Sarah had met at Durmstrang, where Lou had attended school because her father taught Charms there. Lou had long brown hair which she always wore up in a tight bun, large beautiful brown eyes, and a pointy nose. Harry's very naughty imagination had often speculated what one could get up to with that nose. Lou was a solid and dependable auror, very practical and pragmatic and brave.
"Mainwaring," Snape continued, "we'll need your financial expertise on this one. Someone is making a large amount of undeclared money on this venture. Let's start putting out feelers for someone who seems to be living well beyond their means or who has suddenly come into a large amount of money. You have sources you might be able to tap into for this?"
"I do," Wilson Mainwaring confirmed with a nod as he, too, made notes. Mainwaring, twenty-nine years old and recently married with a child on the way, was a former Hufflepuff and fit the stereotype perfectly. He was willing to do whatever anyone told him, but had no real ability to think for himself. He was not the brightest of aurors, but he was a very pleasant chap. He had shoulder-length auburn hair, a button nose, and the brightest blue eyes Harry had ever seen.
"What do you want me to do?" Harry asked when it appeared Snape was finished handing out assignments.
"Potter," Snape said curtly. "Potter, what to do with Potter?" he mused.
"I'd like to check out this club, the place that Blades mentioned."
"And what do you hope to gain by that?" Snape asked.
"I don't know. Check out the lay of the land. See what I can learn, keep my ears open. It's the entry point for the drug into the Muggle world, so it would be helpful to learn who the players are and to observe the comings and goings of the place."
"Or you want a new place to go clubbing," Snape noted.
"No! That's not it!" Harry defended himself.
"Do what you will," Snape said with a dismissive wave.
Feeling affronted, as though his contributions to this team weren't deemed as important as everyone else's, Harry sat back in his chair with a huff. He sat there until the rest of his team had departed, then stood himself.
"You could go with me," he suggested shyly.
"You could go with me. To the club."
Snape stared at Harry down his large nose. "What are you suggesting?"
Harry immediately backtracked. "Nothing. I'm not suggesting anything. Just that you might want to go with me, that's all."
"I have better things to do," Snape declared haughtily.
Harry shrugged. He'd tried. "All right. Well thanks for thinking it over," he said sarcastically.
Before Snape could respond, Harry left his office. Before he'd reached his own desk in the large, busy room that housed all of the line-level aurors, he'd already decided who he was going invite to accompany him to the Pissing Oyster.
The Pissing Oyster was a bar like many others Harry had visited, both Muggle and wizarding. The music was many decibels too loud, and the lighting was nearly non-existent. After a quick look around inside, he returned to the sidewalk to wait for Eli to arrive. Harry hadn't seen Eli Lillibridge for over a year. They'd had a brief fling, a two-month period where they were exclusive to each other, but then both had moved on. They'd parted genially, and when Harry had needed someone to accompany him to this Muggle bar, Eli had immediately jumped to mind. His old friend had accepted without hesitation, and they'd planned to meet here at 8:00. At five past, Harry finally spotted Eli strolling toward him.
Harry smiled at the sight. He'd missed Eli. They'd had some good times together, but neither had been at a point in their lives where they'd been looking for anything permanent. Well, Harry would have been willing to settle down with Snape, but since the older man had absolutely no interest (yet), Harry was more than happy to entertain himself with short-term relationships, some of one night's duration, some even shorter, while he bided his time.
He'd told Eli that he'd be wearing a glamour tonight, so he knew his friend wouldn't recognize him until Harry made a move to introduce himself. Harry stepped into Eli's path of travel and smiled broadly.
Eli returned his smile as soon as he saw the man in front of him and realized who he must be, and the two embraced when Eli reached him, then kissed quickly and surreptitiously.
"You look wonderful!" Harry exclaimed, looking his old friend over carefully. Eli had always attracted Harry physically. He was taller than Harry by several inches (Harry liked his men taller, but his women shorter, as a rule), had dark hair that he wore just over his ears, and soulful hazel eyes. Harry was already hoping that he and Eli might make an entire night of this little expedition. When he looked into Eli's eyes, he thought Eli might be thinking the same thing, and he smiled even brighter.
"Shall we go in?" Harry suggested.
Eli nodded and led the way. Harry admired the other man's arse as he walked behind, then admonished himself to remember that he was actually working here tonight and to keep his eyes and ears open.
There was no door man, and when they arrived in the club proper, they discovered that the club was only at half capacity. Harry took a good look at his surroundings, locating the exits (a door behind the bar, a door in the right back corner of the club under a sign which read "Loo", a door off the left side of the empty stage that dominated the back of the room, and the door through which they had just entered). They looked around the room, then with a nod of Eli's head in the direction of a table in the corner, they crossed the dance floor and took a seat.
Harry cringed somewhat as he took in the club's color scheme: orange and brown. Strobe lights, only half of which were operating currently, lit the room in flashes of color. A disco ball revolved on the ceiling in the middle of the dance floor. Harry felt like he'd been transported back to the seventies.
Harry looked around at the people. They were all young, mostly neatly dressed, no Goth-types or people with an excessive amount of body art or piercings. There were a smattering of same-sex couples who were not attempting to hide the nature of their relationship, and no one seemed disturbed by the display. Harry breathed a small sigh of relief at this – he and Eli could be themselves tonight.
A waitress approached, and after giving their drink orders, Eli asked, "Wanna dance?"
"Sure, Harry said, and he removed his leather jacket and hung it over the back of his chair. He held a hand out to Eli, who took it with a bright smile.
Harry had been having a really good time. He and Eli drank and danced and drank some more, and while Harry had a pleasant buzz on, he wasn't anywhere near drunk. They'd been at the club for an hour when a man took to the microphone on the stage. Once the music stopped, the man spoke. "Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the Pissing Oyster. I trust you're all having a good time?"
The crowd responded with half-hearted agreement.
"All right, then. As you probably noticed when you came in, tonight is karaoke night." Half the room booed while the other half cheered. "As added incentive, you should all know that we're looking for a lead singer for the house band we're starting up. So if you've got any musical talent whatsoever, come on up. You never know where it might lead."
Harry and Eli sat and listened to their fellow club-goers as they took their turns at the karaoke machine. They booed along with the rest of the crowd at the truly awful, and clapped and whistled for those who gave a decent effort. Two more drinks in, Eli was trying to convince Harry to give it a go.
"Come on, Harry. I remember you singing in the shower. You're at least as good as the rest of these gits."
Harry blushed. He did like to sing in the shower, but he never thought he was particularly good. "Nah, I don't want to burst anyone's ear drums."
"Come on, Harry," Eli cajoled. "If you do it, I'll make it worth your while later," he said with a suggestive raising of his eyebrows.
"How much later?" Harry asked, his interest obvious.
"You want a blow in the loo?" Eli asked, a little surprised.
Harry laughed at his friend's expression. "Well, I wouldn't say no, but I think I'd rather have the whole works later, yeah? Your place?"
Eli nodded in confirmation. "Of course. You'll do it, then?"
Harry sighed, then nodded. "Only for you."
Harry stood up, swayed just a little, and leaned over to Eli. "I think I need a little preview of coming attractions."
Eli leaned forward and pressed his lips to Harry's. They kissed tamely for a moment, until their tongues joined the fray. The thorough snog left both men aroused. Eli leaned back and said, "Go. Or you won't get your reward."
"That blow in the loo is sounding better and better," Harry said before he weaved his way to the front of the room.
Harry performed a more than creditable rendition of John Lennon's "Imagine," and then, at the insistence of the crowd, crooned his way through "Piano Man." It was actually fun, and Harry was grinning from ear to ear as he returned to Eli amid back-slapping and clapping from the other patrons.
"You were awesome!" Eli shouted when Harry finally reached their table. Harry plunked himself down into the chair in a happy state of exhaustion.
"Seriously, Harry, you were really really good," Eli gushed.
"Stop," Harry requested, blushing. "Are you ready to go? I'm looking forward to my reward."
"Sure," Eli said, and he stood and grabbed his coat. Before Harry could even attempt to get up, a man approached their table. Harry recognized him immediately as the man who'd spoken on the stage earlier.
"You were brilliant, mate!" the man said, extending a hand to Harry. "I'm Miles – Miles Osbourne. I manage this place. You heard we were looking for a lead singer for a house band, yeah? I'd like you to come back for an audition with the band, tomorrow maybe?"
"Oh, listen, Mr. Osbourne – " Harry said, shaking his hand.
"Miles," he interrupted.
"Miles," Harry repeated. "Miles, I'm really flattered, but I'm just not that good."
"Not that good?" Miles parroted. "Not that good?" he asked again, raising his voice so that those surrounding them could hear. "What do you all think? Is Mr. –" he looked at Harry, obviously waiting for him to supply a name.
"Stockbridge," Harry supplied, providing his cover name. "Liam Stockbridge."
"Stockbridge," Osbourne continued, "good enough to try out for the house band?"
The crowd around them applauded enthusiastically.
"You see?" Osbourne pressed on. "They think you're good enough. Come on, mate. What have you got to lose?"
"My job?" Harry offered.
"You needn't worry about that," Miles assured him. "This is a nights-only gig. You can work during the day and do this at night. And not every night. Only Wednesday through Saturday, nine to one. Come on, just come in tomorrow, try out with the band – if you fit in, and you like them, and they like you, could be a fun way to make a few extra bucks."
"Look, Mr. Osbourne. I really can't. I appreciate the offer, but my friend and I were just leaving, so . . ."
"All right," Osbourne said, holding up his hands in surrender. He removed a card from his pocket and handed it to Harry. "If you change your mind, call me."
"All right," Harry said, stuffing the card into the pocket of his jeans. "It was very nice meeting you, Mr. Osbourne."
Harry nodded in acknowledgment.
"You enjoy the remainder of the evening."
Harry looked at Eli. "Oh, I intend to."
Harry pushed in one more time, burying himself to the hilt in the tight heat of Eli's arse, and came hard. When he'd completely lost all semblance of ability to stay upright, he dropped down onto Eli's back, driving the man below him to the bed.
"Jesus, Eli," he muttered. "Jesus."
Eli wiggled underneath him, and Harry rolled off him, cringing as his overly-sensitized cock pulled free. He collapsed to the bed, nearly boneless. Eli snuggled up next to him. "That was amazing," he said, kissing Harry's jaw. "You are amazing."
Harry turned his face so he could kiss Eli, and they lost themselves in the arousing sensations. After two orgasms (Eli had made good twice on his promise), Harry was pretty sure that he'd need a few hours to recover enough to go again. He didn't have a few hours.
He pulled away from Eli. "I gotta go," he said.
"Harry, it's late – or early," Eli said, looking at the bedside clock, which showed four-thirty a.m. "Just stay."
"Sorry, love," he said, punctuating his apology with another brief kiss. "Can't."
"Can't? Or won't?" Eli asked gently.
"Eli . . ."
Eli sighed. "It's all right, Harry. You haven't changed, I can see that."
Harry never took lovers back to his place. He never wanted them to stay after sex, because staying implied that the relationship was something beyond just the sex. And he couldn't get involved with anyone, not in that way, not while he was waiting for the one he really wanted. So he only went to his lovers' beds, or when that was impractical, to a hotel, or as a last resort, the loo of whatever pub he was in or the alley out back, but never to his own bed. That way, he could leave when the festivities were over, with the least amount of hard feelings.
"Sorry," Harry said again.
"Don't be," Eli assured him. "You're still waiting for him, then?"
Harry sighed. He didn't want to talk about his ridiculous, unreturned crush on Snape. "Yeah," was all he said. "Listen, I had a great time tonight. Do you want to do this again some time?"
Eli reached up and brushed hair away from Harry's eyes. "I've enjoyed seeing you again. And I'd like to see you again, but I'm leaving next week. Gringotts is relocating me to the Egypt branch."
"A promotion?" Harry said with genuine pleasure.
"That's awesome! I mean, I'm sorry we won't be seeing each other more regularly, but that's great for you. You so deserve it."
"You take care of yourself, all right, Harry? And if you ever decide that you're ready to move on, you give me a call."
Harry kissed Eli one more time. He was genuinely sorry that he wouldn't be seeing the man again. He was going to take Eli's hand, then realized that his own hand was covered with the other man's come. After a quick wordless cleaning charm, Harry squeezed Eli's hand, then got out of bed.
After a full breakfast at an all night-diner, Harry went straight to the Ministry. There were reports he hadn't finished, and after his little tete-a-tete with Snape yesterday, he didn't think it a good idea to push the man too far on this issue. The bullpen was nearly empty, with all of the night shift aurors not due in until the end of their shift at eight, and Harry put in a productive couple of hours finishing some reports, starting and finishing others, and even reading over some of the reports he'd already completed but not yet submitted, an endlessly-refilling cup of coffee at his elbow. He'd gotten absolutely no sleep last night, but he was young, right? he thought, stifling a yawn. He promised himself he'd go home directly after dinner tonight, alone, and catch up on some sleep.
He was collecting all of his reports neatly into a folder for submission to Snape when the man himself walked in. Harry took a moment to just enjoy the sight – Snape still made him go all weak and mushy inside (except the part of him that got all raging and hard). As the man strode toward his office, eyes down reading the front page of the Prophet, lean muscles powering that gorgeously lithe body under his robe, Harry swallowed the drool that had collected in his mouth. Snape looked up, spotted Harry, and his stride faltered just a little. It was obvious from the state of the man's desk that he'd been here for some time. Surprising.
Snape nodded at Harry once, then disappeared inside his office.
Harry reached down and adjusted his hard-on so it wouldn't be so obvious when he stood up. "Behave!" he whispered in the direction of his lap. "Wasn't last night enough for you?"
His cock jumped a little, as though saying a resounding "No!" Thoughts of his activities with Eli last night were hardly conducive to getting rid of his current state of arousal, so Harry picked up his coffee cup and sipped it placidly for a few moments, clearing his mind of everything. When he'd felt his erection subside a little, he dared standing up.
Grabbing the evidence of his productive morning, Harry made his way to Snape's office. The door was open, so Harry rapped on the frame, though he didn't see Snape at his desk. Where'd he go? Harry wondered. He'd seen him come in here just moments ago. The door moved, and Harry realized Snape had been behind it, hanging up his robe.
"Oh," he said. "Hi. I mean, good morning."
"Good morning, Potter. You are in early."
Harry held up the folder. "Reports. Got 'em all done."
"Up to your usual standard, are they?"
"Hopefully better this time. Be sure to let me know what you think." Like Snape had ever needed an invitation to do that.
"Hmm," Snape said.
Harry took a step closer to the man and extended the folder toward him. When Snape took hold of it, he really took notice of Potter's appearance. Unkempt, disheveled, hair disarrayed, wearing the same clothes as yesterday. His overly large nose twitched. The man positively reeked of debauchery: fumes of alcohol and sex rolling off him in waves.
Snape narrowed his eyes. "Are you drunk?"
"What?" Harry squawked. "No!"
Snape used his free hand to take hold of Potter's chin to force his eyes up to meet Snape's. Placid green orbs stared back. The eyes were red-rimmed and tired-looking, but they appeared clear and didn't show any evidence that Potter was under the influence of alcohol or any other substance. He'd been drinking, but whatever he'd had was clearly out of his system now.
"You reek," Snape said, "of sex and drink."
Harry had done nothing to pull away from Snape's somewhat offensive contact. "It could have been you," he said softly.
Snape stared down at him incredulously for a moment, then released his chin and stepped back. Ignoring Potter's last comment, Snape barked, "Get out of here and go make yourself presentable, lest I have yet another reason for complaint on your performance evaluation."
Harry could see that he had disconcerted the man, and he kept his tone light. "That would hardly be fair, seeing as my shift hasn't even started yet."
"While that may be true, you are here. And if you are here, you are representing the Ministry, which means that you should comport yourself accordingly, in action and in appearance. You know the way to the showers, I believe."
Harry stopped himself from inviting Snape along. "Yes, sir," he answered, somewhat subdued. As he made his way to the employee locker room, he asked himself why he did this – why he pined for a man who had made it plain on so many occasions that he was simply not interested in having a personal relationship with him. Why couldn't he just find some nice bloke, like Eli, or some nice girl, like that one he'd spent several really nice hours with one night last week (what was her name again?), and settle down? How long was he going to "save" himself for the man of his dreams, when said man had never given him one gram of encouragement?
Harry sighed when he opened his locker: no change of clothes. He'd have to cast a cleaning spell on the ones he was wearing and put them back on after he'd showered. He tossed his maudlin thoughts into the empty locker and began to strip.
Harry returned to the bullpen, scrubbed clean and mostly put back together, to find an increased level of activity. It was common at the time of shift change to have a larger amount of people moving in and out, but there was an underlying sense of tension that Harry felt immediately upon entering the room. He moved slowly to his desk, exchanging greetings with co-workers along the way, listening to the multiple conversations going on around him, trying to piece together what might be going on. Nothing he heard sounded out of the ordinary, and he was still wondering about the source of the strangeness when Lou arrived, slipping her robe off and dropping it over the back of her chair at her desk, which was next to Harry's.
"Morning, Lou," Harry said brightly.
"Morning, Harry. Just saw the boss on my way in. Meeting now, in the assignment room."
"What's going on? Have you heard anything?"
"I haven't, but I can only assume this has something to do with the paper this morning."
"The paper?" Harry repeated.
"Didn't you see the Prophet this morning?"
"No," Harry said. He'd eaten in a Muggle diner and come straight here afterward. He hadn't even caught sight of a headline. "What happened?"
"Some relative of the Minister died of an overdose."
"Let me guess – Blue Dragon?" Harry guessed.
"They didn't come right out and say it, but I'm guessing so, based on the fact that we're having an emergency meeting this morning. Which we're going to be late for if we don't get moving."
The remainder of Snape's team was already seated when Harry and Lou entered the room, and they wasted no time joining their co-workers. Harry felt Snape's eyes giving him the once-over, making sure he was presentable before the Head Auror, who was sitting at the head of the table. With a flick of his wand, Snape closed the door to the room.
"Last night," Auror Blades began, "Austin McCorty overdosed on Blue Dragon. He died in the early hours of this morning. Austin McCorty was a wizard, and he was the nephew our Minister of Magic. As this tragedy has struck close to home, the investigation which you were detailed with yesterday has suddenly taken on new importance."
At this point, Blades paused when the door opened, and Arthur Weasley stepped into the room. Harry smiled brightly at him – he still thought of the Weasleys as family, even though he and Ginny hadn't married as everyone had expected – and he'd been thrilled for Arthur when the man had been appointed Deputy Minister after the war. As a Ministry employee prior to Voldemort's downfall, and one who had been a member of the Order and whose family had contributed so much to the defeat of the monster, Arthur had been in a unique position when the dust had all settled. Kingsley Shacklebolt had stepped into the role of Acting Minister when requested to do so by the surviving members of the Wizengamot who had been able to prove where their loyalties lay over the previous years, and he'd been nearly unanimously elected to the post by wizarding society at large three months later. His first act as Minister had been to appoint Arthur Weasley as his deputy, a move that had met with approval almost as unanimous as his own.
Arthur returned Harry's smile, then said amiably, "Hello, all. Forgive me for being late. Please, Auror Blades, continue."
Arthur sat, and Blades continued. "As I was saying, Deputy Minister, our fledgling investigation into the manufacture and supply of Blue Dragon, an obvious wizarding creation, has acquired new urgency in the face of the recent death of the first of our kind. Austin McCorty was with friends last evening at the club called The Pissing Oyster." Harry started at this – McCorty had been there last night?
"He went into the loo at some point and met a man there who sold him a small blue pill. He told his companions that the man claimed that the drug would give him the best high he'd ever had." Blades glanced quickly at Arthur. "It seems that Mr. McCorty had been somewhat . . . daring when it came to experimenting with substances. He had taken the pill before his friends could question him about it or its side effects. Within moments, he began to complain that he wasn't feeling well. As his symptoms became progressively worse, his friends removed him from the establishment and took him home. After an hour, his breathing became erratic, he fell into a stupor from which his companions could not rouse him, and he was taken to St. Mungo's. He was declared dead shortly after arriving there. Postmortem examination revealed the presence of valerian mushrooms in his system. The dosage that others have taken with no fatal side effects somehow affected this boy more seriously."
"What time was he there last night?" Harry asked into the silence that followed.
Blades looked up at Harry, thinking the question somewhat unusual. He looked down at his notes. "He and his friends arrived there at approximately ten-thirty."
A shiver went up Harry's spine. McCorty had been there at the same time as Harry. "How old was he?"
"Nineteen last Thursday."
A moment of silence followed in which all contemplated the tragic loss of such a young life. Harry felt worse than the others, knowing that he'd been there. Had he known, perhaps there was something he could have done.
"Do you happen to have a picture of him?" he asked.
Again the Head Auror looked at his junior with surprise, but he did have a picture of the boy, so he dug it out of the file and slid it across the table to Potter.
Harry picked up the photo, and only needed a moment to look at it before he recognized the young smiling face in it. He had seen this kid at the club last night. He'd been part of a group of four, all male, that had sat two tables away from Harry and Eli. The young men had spent an hour or two there, dancing with various girls and talking and laughing, until they'd disappeared. A large lump of regret appeared in Harry's throat, and he gulped it down with a resolve to do what he could to avenge this needless death and those that had come before it.
Wordlessly, Harry slid the photo back to his boss. Blades returned it to the folder and looked around at all of them. "Severus has updated me this morning on what progress you've been able to make in the short amount of time you've had this case, and I want to thank you for your efforts." He glanced at Snape here, and Harry suspected that whatever was coming next was something that was going to surprise Snape, and not in a good way. "However, the decision has been made to take this case away from your team and hand it over to a more experienced team of aurors."
The dismay at this news was immediately obvious on the face of everyone present. No one like hearing they weren't good enough to do their job. They all looked at Snape, expecting him to defend their retaining this case. He didn't disappoint them.
"Sir, has this decision been finalized? Because if it has not, I would like to argue that my team has more than enough experience to handle this case. I would put them up against any other team in the Auror corps. They may be on the young side, but they are intelligent and dedicated, and I have every confidence that they will be able to not only establish who is manufacturing this drug and stop its further spread into the community, but also to build a case and bring to justice whoever is behind this."
Harry wasn't sure if everyone else felt the same, but he was sitting up straighter and nearly glowing under this praise that Snape had just heaped on them.
"I appreciate your defense of your team, Severus, and I'm not discounting their eagerness to prove themselves, but this case has developed political ramifications that it did not have yesterday. Because of who this boy was, the press is going to be paying particular attention to it, and the Minister has already expressed to me his desire to have the perpetrators brought to justice swiftly."
Harry sat back in his chair. This was so unfair! They'd had the case less than a day, and already it was being taken away from them. They hadn't had a chance to even get their feet wet, let alone gather any meaningful intel.
As Snape tried to plead his team's case, Harry shoved his hands into his pockets in agitation. His hand curled around a piece of paper in his right pocket. Curious as to what it might be, he drew it out and looked down at the card given to him last night by Miles Osbourne, and he suddenly sat up straight again. He had an in.
"Excuse me, sir," he said to Blades, interrupting whatever futile argument Snape was making.
All eyes turned to Harry now, and Harry could see the biting comment Snape was ready to fling at him for his interruption. Before Snape could get it out, Harry said, "I – It's just that – Last night I – "
He looked around the table. Maybe it would be better if fewer people knew what he was about to propose. He trusted his team with his life every day in the field, but this was different. He suspected he was about to anger them, but it couldn't be helped. "Could we perhaps talk in private?"
"In private, Potter?" Blades asked, his eyebrows climbing up into his receding hairline. "There's something you have to say that can be said only to me?"
"No, sir," Harry said, and he felt himself blushing. "Mr. Weasley can stay. And you, too, of course, sir," Harry said, looking at Snape.
"What's this about, Potter?" Blades snapped. "I haven't got all day to deal with nonsense."
Harry looked at Snape again. "It's about last night," he said. Snape was the only one who'd known he was going to check out the Pissing Oyster last night. He hoped the man would figure out that Harry wanted to talk about the fact that he'd been there last night, and he didn't want the entire team to know what he was about to reveal.
Snape understood immediately. He didn't know where Potter was going with this, but he trusted the boy's instincts enough to follow his lead, at least for a while. He turned to the other three members of his team. "Please wait for us outside."
All of them casting curious looks at Harry, his co-workers got up and left the table, closing the door behind them as they left.
"What is this about, Potter?" Snape asked. His indulgence could only be taken so far. Potter had better make his case fast.
"As Snape knows," Harry said, directing his comments to Auror Blades and Arthur, "I went to the Pissing Oyster last night, just to check things out. I saw Austin there," he said sadly. "I wish I'd known . . . Anyway, while I was there, they had a karaoke contest. My friend talked me into . . ."
"Wait, wait," Blades said, holding up a hand. "What is a . . . croaky contest?"
"Karaoke," Harry corrected. "It's when people sing along to music, usually in front of a crowd. It's popular in Muggle bars and at parties."
"And why do they do this?" Snape asked.
"It's just for fun. Sometimes it's a contest, and the person the crowd likes the best will win a prize. But last night, it was just for fun. Although the manager of the club announced that they were looking for a lead singer for the house band and encouraged anyone who might be interested in filling the position to give it a go. So my friend talked me into it, and I did it, and then the manager approached me and said he wanted me to come back this afternoon to audition further."
"Potter, how much did you have to drink last night?" Snape asked, his tone accusatory.
"Not that much," Harry defended himself. "Why? Do you think I'm making this up?" Harry tossed the card on the table. "That's his card. He gave it to me last night."
Blades picked the card up and examined it. MILES OSBOURNE, MANAGER, THE PISSING OYSTER. He looked at Harry, beginning to understand where the young man was going with this.
"What did you tell him?"
"I told him I already had a job and that I wasn't interested. But he told me to think about it anyway."
"What are you proposing?" Blades asked.
"Well, it seems obvious that I've got an in here that no one else is going to get. I wore a glamor last night. I'll wear it again, go back this afternoon, and get the job. Once I get it, I can investigate from the inside."
"You know, this actually might work," Blades said. "I don't see a downside, other than that you just aren't able to learn anything helpful."
"Why did you request the rest of the team be dismissed?" Snape wanted to know.
"I figured if I was going in undercover, the fewer who knew where I was the better."
Blades looked at him again. "Good thinking, Potter. Do it. We'll get a team around you to provide support to you."
"Sir, if I'm going to do this, I want my own team working the case as well," Harry said firmly. He didn't care if the boss thought he was being presumptuous. It was going to be his neck on the line, and he wanted people around him he could trust. "And I won't report to anyone other than Snape."
Blades looked down his nose at the confident young man sitting across from him. He had bollocks – he'd give him that. Snape was looking at Harry as well, wishing that the boy could just keep his mouth shut for a change. What difference did it make who Potter reported to, as long as he got into position to help in this investigation? He appreciated the show of loyalty, but it was just stupid to make it sound as though his participation was contingent upon his wishes.
But Blades appreciated the young man's boldness, and he nodded. "All right. Your team stays on it. Keep them looking into who's making this drug, Severus. Assuming Potter gets the position, we'll have to set up a way to keep in touch with him regularly, to pass along intel and to ensure that he is safely operating inside his cover."
"How will you explain his absence here?" Arthur asked, contributing to the conversation for the first time. "He can't very well work undercover and work a regular shift here."
Snape got an evil gleam in his eyes. "We'll spread the word that Potter was insubordinate to me. No one will have a hard time believing that. He will be placed on indefinite suspension."
"Oi!" Harry said. He didn't want everyone thinking that he'd been so disrespectful that he'd get suspended for it.
"Have you a better idea, Potter?" Snape asked smugly.
Harry couldn't think of one. He knew that once he got the gig, he'd have to start spending a lot of time at the club, and he couldn't keep his regular shift here at the same time. He'd be gone a lot, and there had to be some way of explaining that to his colleagues. Getting himself in trouble was certainly one way. He sighed. "No."
"All right then," Blades said, standing up. "Update me as soon as you can, Severus. Once we know he's in, we'll work out the logistics. And I think Potter's right – the fewer who know about this the better. I suggest it not leave this room."
Everyone nodded in agreement, and Blades left the room.
"Harry, you will take care, won't you?" Arthur asked, obviously worried. "This drug seems almost evil."
"I will, Arthur," Harry assured him. "I have no intention of touching the stuff. Don't worry."
"I won't be able to help it, I'm afraid," Arthur admitted. "Will you come to dinner on Sunday? Molly would love to see you."
"Sure. I'll be there."
With a warm, fatherly smile, Arthur Weasley left the room.
"Well, Potter, you pulled that one out of the fire," Snape admitted.
"I know," Harry said with a mischievous smile. "You can't decide whether to hug me or hit me, right?"
"Oh, that's never in doubt, Potter, I assure you." Despite his words, Harry could tell that Snape was pleased that he'd saved this case for them.
"Well, guess I better go out there and act like I've just been suspended," Harry said. "Can I call you names?"
"By all means," Snape said. " Give it your best shot." Snape held his hand out to Harry, palm up.
"What?" Harry said, confused.
"Your badge, Potter. If you're on suspension, you must turn over your badge."
"Oh." Harry's auror badge meant a lot to him. He unclipped it from his belt, looked down at it, and swiped at a smudge with the sleeve of his robe. He handed it over to Snape, feeling suddenly empty inside.
Harry stomped to his desk like a six-year old in the throes of temper tantrum. He threw himself into his chair and began rummaging loudly through his desk drawers. "Son of a bitch!" he muttered under his breath, but loud enough for Lou at the desk beside him to hear. "Can't believe he did that to me! Of all the . . ." He slammed a drawer loudly.
"Harry?" Lou asked carefully. "Is everything all right?"
"Is everything all right?" Harry repeated loudly. "No! Everything is not all right! That bastard just suspended me!"
"What?! Harry, what happened?" They had the attention of everyone in the bullpen now.
"He said I was insubordinate. He said I was disrespectful. He said I didn't appreciate the need for political maneuvering. Can you believe that? Me? I can play the game just as well as anyone else. But does anyone else get suspended? No! Just me! He's had it in for me since I was eleven years old, and now he gets off on exercising his power over me! Well, I've had it! Suspend me? Suspend me? You can't suspend me!" he yelled in the direction of Snape's office. "Because I QUIT!"
"Harry, calm down," Lou urged. "You're going to make it worse!"
"I don't care any more, Lou! I've had it!" He stood up and grabbed his robe. "Snape can kiss my arse, because I'm done with this shite! Have a great day, Lou!"
Harry threw his robe on , fastened it, and turned to go, his robe swirling and snapping behind him as impressively as Snape on his best day. Everyone watched him go, the bullpen watching his exit in awed silence.
From safely inside his office, Snape couldn't help but be impressed by Potter's sense of the dramatic. Then he shook his head – he hoped the boy knew what he was getting himself into.
Harry returned to The Pissing Oyster and found an entirely different scene than the one he'd witnessed last night. All of the lights were on, revealing what appeared to be a much larger room with somewhat dirty corners. Several men were on the stage area, setting up equipment and testing musical instruments. Harry approached them and was spotted by Miles Osbourne.
"Liam!" the man said, bouncing excitedly off the stage. "You came back!"
"Hi," Harry said, unable to stop himself from smiling at the man's enthusiasm. "Yeah, I came back."
"Great! Great!" Osbourne said, taking Harry's hand and shaking it vigorously. "Come on, I'll introduce you to the guys."
Osbourne led Harry to the stage, where he met the band. The drummer was Victor Middleton. He was shaved bald, short (not much taller than Harry) and stocky. He had six (Harry counted them) earrings in his left ear, none in his right, and a ring in his nose. He wore low-slung jeans and a black wifebeater which displayed the many and varied tattoos adorning both arms and his neck. Harry shook his head and winced at the overly tight grip the man employed. "Good to meetcha!"
"You, too," Harry said, shaking his hand out once the man had let it go. "That's quite a grip you've got there!"
"Sorry, dude," Victor said with a shy smile, and Harry couldn't help but smile back. Victor reminded him a lot of Hagrid.
"And this is Skinny Malone," Miles continued. "He's the lead guitarist, obviously." Skinny Malone was holding an electric guitar, and he was certainly skinny. Skeletal, almost. He scowled at Harry, but extended his hand, which Harry shook. Thankfully, Skinny didn't squeeze like Victor had, and Harry's hand was spared further injury.
"It's nice to meet you . . . Skinny," Harry said.
"Yeah, you too," Skinny grunted, and Harry could see gaps in Skinny's teeth where several seemed to be missing.
"And finally," Miles said, "we have Todd Goodfellow on the keyboard." Todd was obviously Goth, dressed all in black. His eyes and his lips were lined in black, and he had a teardrop tattooed at the corner of his left eye. Goodfellow nodded once, but made no move to shake Harry's hand or speak to him.
Harry, his hand halfway up to offer to the man, dropped it back by his side and said, "Hi," instead.
"All right," Miles said, rubbing his hands together. "The guys are just finishing setting up. We'll see how you all sound together in a few. Can I get you a drink while we wait?"
Harry looked at his watch. It was just after one. "Beer?"
"Beer I can do," Osbourne said. "Have a seat. I'll be right back."
Harry drew a chair away from the table and sat down, watching the strange fellows he was about to become involved with as they fiddled with amplifiers and wires and other things Harry had no names for. Miles returned moments later and placed a cold beer on the table beside Harry.
"Thanks," Harry said, picking it up and taking a sip of the refreshingly cool liquid.
"No problem. Hey, did I mention the free booze? If you're in the band, I mean."
"No," Harry said. "You hadn't mentioned that. But that sounds very attractive since I quit my job today."
"No! Not because of this, I hope," Miles said, waving his hand at the stage.
"No. No, it's been some time in coming. The straw that broke the camel's back, you know? This offer just came up at a good time, since I now find myself with lots of free time on my hands."
"Well, good for us, then!" Miles said brightly.
Harry took a long pull on his beer. "So what type of music are we talking about here?"
"Well, the boys can play just about anything. You probably noticed that we've got sort of a niche here with the seventies music and the decor. But we're a dance club, yeah? So it's going to be stuff with a beat. Nothing too heavy metal or head-banging – I hate that stuff myself. What do you think?"
"I'm game for just about anything," Harry said. "But once you hear me, you may decide to just show me the door."
Miles laughed. "I have heard you, Liam. And I'm really glad you came back."
"We're ready, Miles!" Victor called over.
"All right, Liam. Let's see what you got!"
Nervously, Harry made his way up to the stage. As he approached the microphone, he said, "I've never done this before, guys. Take it easy on me, eh?"
Miles suggested that they start out slow, so Harry sang the Beatles and Elton John and Phil Collins. They stepped it up a little with "I Want You To Want Me" which Miles loved and insisted they add to their set. Then they experimented for a while, searching for songs that fit comfortably into Harry's style and range.
Harry was amazed to discover that two hours had passed. He'd been having a great time with these guys. Despite their odd looks, they were really decent blokes, and incredibly talented musicians. By the time their session had ended, everyone seemed happy. Except for Miles – the man was over the moon.
"Liam! Guys! That was excellent! I think we've found our lead!" he said to the musicians, and they all nodded their agreement. "Welcome aboard, Liam!"
"Thanks. Thanks, all of you," Harry said, turning to his new mates. "You've made this incredibly easy. So what do we do now?"
"If you're willing to put in a lot of hours rehearsing between now and then, I'd like to have you open two weeks from Friday. You'll need to put together a set list that will get you through four hours, from nine until one. Take whatever breaks you need, but I'll expect you up there for the majority of that time. If you feel confident that you can be ready then, we'll start advertising. I'd like to have this place full for the big opening."
Harry looked at his bandmates, and they all nodded. They could do it. It had been much easier than he'd expected it to be, because it had been too much fun to seem like work. "I'm assuming we'll be here every afternoon until then. I hope we'll be here every afternoon until then."
"Oh, of course," Miles assured him. "This is gonna be awesome! But, Liam, we need to talk about your look."
"Yes. We want people to think you're hip. No offense intended, but you're a little white bread, man. We need to spice you up a bit. Get you dressed in something a little sexier. Do something with that hair. You know, go a little wild!"
"All right," Harry said. He already had some ideas about how he could fit in with this motley crew without getting too radical. "Let me work on that this afternoon. I'll come back tomorrow, and you can let me know what you think."
Miles shook Harry's hand warmly. "Welcome aboard, Liam. You are not going to regret this."
Harry sat on the floor in the hallway outside Snape's flat. He'd been here for fifteen minutes, waiting for the man to return home. At least, he assumed Snape wasn't home – he'd knocked, quite loudly, three times, and no one had come to the door. He marveled a bit at the fact that Snape had moved into a Muggle building. Harry himself lived in a Muggle flat, but he'd never expected that Snape would choose to live amongst Muggles like this.
He heard the bell in the lift ding and sat up straighter, hoping that Snape was finally making an appearance. The doors slid open, and the object of Harry's fantasies stepped off the lift, carrying a takeaway bag. His purposeful stride faltered when he spotted the man sitting on the floor outside his door.
"Potter. What are you doing here?"
"I needed to report in. I couldn't very well do that at the Ministry, not after being suspended."
"I told you we would set up a system for relaying information."
"But how were you going to let me know what that system was if we never talked?" Harry logically pointed out.
"Get up off the floor," Snape growled.
Harry scrambled to his feet.
"So?" Snape prompted.
"Aren't we gonna go inside?"
"This shouldn't take that long, surely," Snape argued.
Harry stared at him pointedly.
"Fine," Snape relented with bad grace. "Come in."
Snape removed a set of keys from his pocket, fit the proper one into the lock, and opened the door. Harry followed him into the flat, the smell of Snape's dinner wafting up his hungry nose. Snape set his bag on the table in the kitchen and turned to Harry.
"What is that in your ear?" he asked, startling Harry with the question
Harry's hand went automatically to his left ear and the three new piercings he'd had done this afternoon. He had two small hoops high on the top of his ear, and a snake fang hanging from the lobe. "Oh. These. Part of the new disguise."
Snape looked rather dubious.
"I kind of like them," Harry said defensively.
Snape rolled his eyes. "Report."
"Okay. So – I'm in. I got the gig. I spent a couple of hours at the Oyster this afternoon working with the band. They're really good." Harry paused and cast his eyes at Snape's bag of food. He hadn't eaten in a while, and the smell was making his stomach gurgle.
Snape ignored Harry's obvious hint. "What is the plan going forward?"
"We're going to try to open two weeks from Friday night. I hope we're ready. I've never done anything like this before. I've got a lot to learn. We'll be practicing every afternoon. But it's fun. I have to admit that."
"You're not in there to have fun, Potter. Have you discovered anything about the drugs?"
"Nah. I haven't been there long enough, and it's only been me, the band and the manager, Miles. But the more I'm there, the more I'll be able to look around without arousing suspicion." Harry gave one last longing look at the bag, then gave it up as a lost cause. "So how are we going to pass information?"
"We're still working out the details. For now, we'll just have to play it by ear."
"I have some ideas," Harry said. "But they won't work until we start playing. I'll let you know."
"So there's nothing else?"
"No. That's really it. Just wanted to let you know I was in. Unless you want to share that with me," Harry said with a gesture at the food.
"My mother taught me that to feed a stray animal encourages it to return."
Harry was immediately affronted – Snape thought of him as a stray animal! But that reminded him of something else. "Oh, I went and got a cat today!"
"You should get home to it, then. I bid you a good night. I believe you can find the door."
"Yeah, I'll try not to let it hit me in the arse on my way out," Harry said, hurt by Snape's dismissal. Snape turned his back on Harry to retrieve a plate from the cupboard, and Harry slipped silently out of the flat.
A letter arrived by owl for Snape at his flat two nights later. It was brief.
Opening for sure 2 weeks from Friday. Send someone under glamour wearing
blue scarf. I will make contact after the set is done. Stuff to report.
Harry had spent the last two weeks rehearsing for hours every day, listening to recordings at home, immersing himself in the music, and letting the talented musicians behind him guide him and teach him. In consultation with Miles Osbourne, he refined the look his new stage persona would require. As the days went by, he got more and more nervous until finally, opening night arrived.
Harry had a dressing room to himself in one of the small rooms in the back of the stage. It wasn't much – a wardrobe, a sofa bed, and a dressing table with mirror – with a tiny loo attached. He was nervous, and he paced back and forth in the limited floor space available. He felt ready – rehearsal this afternoon had gone very well. He knew the songs, and he was comfortable performing with the band. What had him nervously walking back and forth was the thought of the audience that would be added to the performance. He'd peeked out into the bar a short time ago, and the place had twice the number of people that had been here the first time Harry had come.
He stopped pacing long enough to check himself out in the mirror for perhaps the tenth time. He'd spiked his hair and dyed the ends of it an electric blue. He'd outlined the eyes of his glamoured face with a black pencil and rouged up his cheeks. His earrings glinted in the light. Because he still needed to be able to see (even with the glamour his vision was poor), he'd transfigured his glasses so they were smaller but still as round and blue-tinted (to match his hair). He wore a silver chain around his neck, its links the size of a cat's eye, fastened with a dragon clasp, an additional length hanging down to mid chest.
His shirt was sleeveless and see-through, made of a white gauzy material. Harry blushed again (for perhaps the tenth time) when he saw that his nipples were clearly visible through the fabric. But it was his trousers that were the most outrageous. They were blue as well, sequined and sparkly and tight enough to appear as though they'd been painted on. They did nothing to conceal the bulge at his groin, and he hoped fervently that nothing happened that caused him to get an erection, because there would be no hiding it. Although, he thought as he adjusted himself, there hadn't been room for him to wear any pants, so there wouldn't be much adjustment for growth in there either. A hard-on would be downright uncomfortable.
Harry had several other outfits like this, each as risque as the last. This was his new life: dressing like a whore and strutting about in front of strangers. He hoped it was as fun for real as it had been in rehearsal because this outfit might be his undoing.
A knock sounded on his door. Harry inhaled a large, calming breath, then said, "It's open."
Miles poked his head in. "You ready, kid? The crowd is – holy shite! Look at you!"
Nervously, Harry ran a hand down his chest. "Is this okay?"
"Okay?" Miles repeated, running his eyes up and down Harry's body. "Kid, if I wasn't straight, I'd be all over you. You look . . . edible."
Harry gulped. "Is that good?"
"That's better than good, Liam. That crowd is gonna eat you up! Let's go."
Four hours later, Harry was euphoric. He felt like he was flying, like he'd imbibed an illegal substance. That had been the most incredible four hours of his life. His nerves had disappeared completely as soon as Miles had enthusiastically introduced the band and the spotlight had shown on them. He'd thrown himself into the music with abandon, and within ten minutes, he was soaked in sweat, dancing and singing as though he'd been doing this all his life. Prior to this, flying a broom was the only thing he'd ever done at which he felt he had some natural talent. But this – this performing in front of others felt as natural to him as flying.
He hadn't wanted to take even a five-minute break all night, but the other members of the band had insisted. When they'd finally called it a night, at many minutes after 1:00, Harry stepped off the stage feeling as buzzed as if he'd been drinking the entire time. His skin was sparking with electricity and his pulse was racing, and he very much wanted to shag someone. He wondered who the Ministry was going to send to meet with him – with any luck it'd be someone he might be able to spend some quality time with in his dressing room.
When Harry descended from the stage and made his way toward the bar and the beer he desperately needed to quench his parched throat, several people approached him. One of them wore a blue scarf tied around her throat – Harry thought it was a glamoured Lou. Damn. They'd sent a lesbian.
Harry pushed his way through the crowd to the bar, where a mug was waiting for him. He drank off half of it before he turned to his colleague and took her hand. As soon as he could feel her magic, he knew he'd been correct in his guess, and he pulled her toward his dressing room. Several pairs of disappointed eyes followed the pair.
As soon as Harry had pulled Lou into his dressing room, he closed the door and placed locking and privacy charms on it. "Lou," he said, "I feel like I'm flying!"
Lou looked deep into Harry's fevered eyes. "Harry, are you on something?"
"No! Nothing! I just feel . . . so incredible. Like I'm soaring!"
Lou looked into Harry's eyes again until she was satisfied that he was telling the truth. Then she looked him up and down. "Harry, you look amazing. If I wasn't gay, I think I'd jump you right now."
Harry laughed loudly. "I'm getting that a lot today. And the way I feel right now, I'd probably jump right back."
"This is all a glamour?" she asked.
"No. I only changed my eyes, and my chin a little. And got rid of the scar, of course. The body's all mine," he said, running his hands over his hips and shivering a little at the sensation.
"So you actually pierced your ears?"
"Well . . . just wow. Do not show up to work like that. No one will get anything done."
"No worries. I've been suspended, right?"
"So what have you learned?"
Harry sat on the bed, trying to calm himself internally enough to focus on giving his report. "Since I've started coming here so much, I've started seeing Blue Dragon everywhere. I've seen the guys in the band take it after rehearsal. I haven't been offered any yet, but I assume it's only a matter of time."
"You're not planning on taking it, are you?" Lou asked, the warning tone in her voice obvious.
"Of course not. I'm not that stupid. I'll decline, as politely as I can."
"Snape told me to tell you that he's working on an antidote to the drug. If administered early enough, he's hoping that it will counter the immediate effects of the drug and neutralize its addictive qualities. But it's still in the experimental stages, so be careful."
Harry nodded his understanding. "Has he brought the whole team in?"
"Just me, so far. He thought the fewer who knew the better. I'll be your regular Friday night contact. I'll be here after your show, and we can exchange whatever information we have then. I'll change up the glamours, so I'll find a way to make sure you know who I am. If you need someone to come on a night other than a Friday, you're going to have to let us know. If for some reason we need to send someone other than me, I'll try to let you know in advance, but you may have to be alert for any changes in routine."
"Is there anything else, then? I'd like to get home."
"No, that's it. Say hi to Sarah for me."
"Will do. And, Harry? Please be careful."
"I will. Thanks for coming, Lou."
"I'm glad I did. You were amazing."
Harry saw Lou to the door and watched her leave. After she'd disappeared from sight, Harry realized that several of the people who'd tried to get his attention earlier were still there. One of them, a young woman with dark red hair, caught his eye and smiled. Harry smiled back and gestured her over. When she was standing in front of him, he raised his eyebrows suggestively and gestured back into his dressing room.
She smiled and nodded, and Harry followed her into the room. Without speaking, they both undressed. Harry was hard before she'd unbuttoned the first button on her shirt, and when they were both naked, he pushed her gently onto the bed, crushed his lips down onto hers, and frotted his needy prick in the wet folds between her legs.
"In," she moaned. "Put it in."
Harry's better sense beat his adrenalin-crazed hormones into submission long enough for him to retrieve a condom from his wallet, but once it was on, he wasted no time in burying himself to the hilt.
Saturday night was a repeat of Friday night's performance, except that there were more people in the club tonight. Unknown to Harry, present in the large and boisterous crowd was The Times' head entertainment reporter.
Harry decided after the show that the post-performance high was not a first-time phenomenon, but was going to be part of this whole package. He felt just as he had on Friday night: euphoric, unbeatable, super-charged. The crowd waiting for him after they'd finished for the night was doubled in size, and he looked them over carefully before selecting a tall, dark-haired man and taking him back to his dressing room.
The entertainment section of the Sunday edition of the Times contained a half-page spread on the band.
London's newest hot spot has actually been around for years. The Pissing Oyster on Gaunt Street has carved a niche with their seventies decor and musical stylings. Until recently, they have not offered live music. That has now changed with the formation of a house band which calls itself, fittingly enough, Liquid Pearl. The band consists of four members. Todd Goodfellow, veteran of three local bands at the young age of twenty-three, performs admirably on the keyboard. Viktor Middleton is a genius on the drums. And anyone who used to frequent McGillicuddy's in Leicester Square will recognize Skinny Malone's virtuoso performance on the guitar.
But the most exciting part of the band is its lead singer, newcomer Liam Stockbridge. Young and ultra exciting, Stockbridge's vocals are dead on, and he exudes sexuality with every note. The band's set list brought back many fond memories of a time gone by. The beat is rocking as the band covers such past hits a My Sharona (Knack); Ballroom Blitz (Sweet); I Will Survive (Gloria Gaynor); You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet (BTO); Smokin' in the Boys Room (Brownsville Station); It's Only Rock N Roll (Rolling Stones); Shake Your Booty (KC and the Sunshine Band); Peace of Mind (Boston); Hold the Line (Toto); Double Vision and Hot Blooded (Foreigner); Back Off Boogaloo (Ringo Starr); Burning Love (Elvis Presley); Saturday Night (Bay City Rollers); Falling in Love (Souther Hillman Furay Band); Life is a Rock (But the Radio Rolled Me) (Reunion); Whatever Gets you Through the Night (John Lennon); and my favorite, Clap for the Wolfman (Guess Who).
But Liquid Pearl proves they're capable of slowing things down a bit with Do Ya Think I'm Sexy (Rod Stewart), Magic (Pilot), and I Want You to Want Me (Cheap Trick), and even more with Got to Begin Again (Billy Joel) and My Eyes Adored You (Frankie Valli).
If the crowd of people, men and women, waiting to get back stage after the performance is any indication, Liquid Pearl is very popular with the locals. They perform at The Pissing Oyster from Wednesday through Saturday, from 9:00 until1:00, and I highly recommend that you check them out. I certainly plan on going back.
Miles called Harry, waking him up far too early on Sunday morning, nearly crying he was so happy. It took Harry some time before he was able to piece together what the man was carrying on about, but once he did, he stopped listening and collapsed back on his pillow.
"We've got a queue outside!" Miles said gleefully, just before Harry went on Wednesday night. "We've never had a queue!"
Harry finished spiking his hair, checking the blue tips out in the mirror. "That's great, Miles. Should be a great show."
Miles surprised the hell out of Harry by leaning over and kissing his cheek. "Kid, I absolutely love you!"
"Thought you were straight, Miles?" Harry teased.
"Not that kind of love!" Miles protested with a chuckle. "The till-is-overflowing kind of love."
Harry picked up the glass that was sitting on his dressing table, toasted Miles with the amber liquid, and emptied it in one go. "Let's go fill those tills."
"We've hired some muscle for the door," Miles told Harry gleefully the following night. "The crowd outside was getting a little unruly. You have been so much better that I thought! That story in the Times didn't hurt, right?"
"Sure, Miles. I need to get dressed now," Harry said pointedly.
"Oh, go ahead, kid. It won't bother me," Miles said with a vague wave of his hand.
Feeling slightly uncomfortable with the man's presence, Harry nevertheless pulled his jeans and pants off and donned tonight's outfit: skin-tight black sequined pants and an electric blue peasant shirt. He looked up to find Miles staring at him, but the other man looked away quickly when he realized he'd been caught. Harry blushed and turned away to begin his make-up.
"Well," Miles said, "I've got a million things to do. I'll just let you get ready."
"Great. See you after the show."
Immediately after the show, while Harry was in his post-performance euphoric state, but before he could select tonight's partner, Miles cornered him.
"I need to speak with you for a moment, Liam."
Harry's eyes continued to scan the crowd which had continued to grow after each night's show. He really didn't want to talk with Miles. He wanted to scratch the itch that was demanding satisfaction, and he was trying to decide whether he wanted the cute brunette with the big breasts or the tall, thin blonde with the goatee.
"Can't it wait, Miles?"
"No," Miles said, taking Harry by the elbow and steering him into his dressing room.
Harry impatiently pulled out of Miles' grip. "What is it, Miles?"
"I just wanted to . . . I'm worried about you, kid. I see you hooking up with someone new after every show. You're heading down a destructive path. I hate to see you throwing yourself away like this, that's all."
"Miles, I appreciate your concern, but if I don't do something with this . . . this energy, I'll go mad. So if you don't mind . . ."
"I have another way," Miles said. He held out his hand, and in his palm he held a small blue pill with a tiny dragon emblazoned on the side.
"What is that?" Harry asked, though of course he very well knew what it was.
"It's something new. I think you'll enjoy it. It'll take you higher than you feel right now," Miles promised.
"Thanks, Miles, but I'm kind of particular about stuff like that. And I don't want to get higher. I want to come down."
"Just try it, Liam. On the house."
"I appreciate the offer, Miles, really I do. But no. Now if you don't mind . . ." The ache in Harry's loins was getting stronger and threatening to overpower him. He needed release like he needed his next breath.
"All right," Miles conceded. "But if you change your mind, any time, you come see me. I can promise you an experience like you've never had."
Harry led Miles to the door and out into the hallway. In the time they'd been talking, the small brunette had gone. Thankfully, the tall blonde was still there, and Harry invited him back to the dressing room.
The crowd on Friday night was the largest yet. Harry scanned the post-show crowd for Lou but did not see her anywhere. He waited as long as his libido would let him, then selected tonight's partner from the ever-growing crowd.
Harry knocked on Snape's door the following morning. As much as he was enjoying his new lifestyle, it felt good to be back to his old self. He could tell that Snape was surprised and not at all pleased to see him there.
"Lou didn't show last night."
"Actually, she did," Snape countered. "She arrived at her usual time and was unable to get in. There was a queue into the street, she said, and the man at the door stopped letting people in at eleven."
"Oh. Big crowd last night," Harry offered, bouncing on the balls of his feet. "Can I come in?"
"Is that entirely necessary?"
"I need to make a report."
Snape sighed and resigned himself. "Come in then."
"I could go to Lou's if you'd rather," Harry said.
"You're here. Come in. Get it over with."
That was hardly a welcoming invitation, but Harry followed Snape in anyway. Harry smelled coffee brewing and briefly held out hope that Snape might offer him a cup. When he didn't, Harry launched into his report.
"I was offered Blue Dragon last night."
"Finally? By whom?"
"Miles, the manager. I'm guessing he must be how the drug is getting in."
"And do you know where he's getting it from?"
"No. There are people coming and going there all the time. I've been providing Lou with names, when I can get them, and photos. Have you seen them?"
"Of course I have. She passes everything you give her on to me. Meager though it may be."
"I'm doing the best I can," Harry protested.
"When you're not pimping yourself to the press. And the Muggles."
"I didn't even talk to the press!" Harry defended himself. "Didn't even know they were there." Harry couldn't defend himself from the other charge, since it was true that he was sleeping with someone different every night. "I'm only playing a part, you know?"
"And playing it very well from what I've heard." His tone was hard as nails.
Harry stared at Snape for a long moment. "Jealous, Professor?" he taunted.
"Don't be ridiculous." Snape waved a hand at him in dismissal. "Did you take the drug?"
"What? Of course not! I said thanks, but no thanks."
"Is there anything else?"
"No. That's pretty much it for now."
"All right then. Plan on seeing Riggs on Friday as usual. She will arrive earlier in the evening to avoid last evening's difficulty."
"Okay. Well, you have a good day, sir," Harry said, preparing to take his leave. He'd missed seeing Snape every day and was reluctant to break this contact. Snape had no such compunctions, and he led the way to the door.
"Do try not to embarrass yourself any more than necessary," were the man's parting words.
For the next few weeks, Harry submerged himself completely in the playboy lifestyle. He found he liked this life: sleeping in every day, getting up at noon and going to the club to rehearse, doing shows four nights a week and hooking up after each show with whichever man or woman drew him the most while in the throes of that strange euphoria he experienced after performing.
His only contact with his former life was his once-weekly meeting with Lou, when he passed on whatever information he was able to gather: the names and photographs of people Miles met with, his observations regarding the frequency of use of Blue Dragon. Miles was still offering Harry the drug frequently, but Harry had so far been able to decline without angering the man. Harry had discovered that the other members of the band, all three of them, were hooked on the drug. After every performance, they'd retire to their own dressing rooms and take the drug, and no one would see them again until rehearsal the next day. Harry had grown to like his bandmates, and he wished there was something he could do for them. From what he understood of the drug, though, they were already addicted and likely beyond any assistance he could provide them.
Today was Harry's birthday. He knew he was risking rejection, expected it even, but still he knocked on Snape's door. He hadn't seen the man in weeks, and he'd missed him with an ache he could feel in his bones. None of the people he'd been intimate with had even begun to fill the void that pulsed inside him for the want of Snape. He'd begun to despair that no one would ever be enough, that everyone he was with would fall short of the ideal he'd set Snape up to be, that he would never allow himself to actually bond with another human being because he was waiting for a man who would never want him.
But being the eternal optimist that he was, Harry was here, making his annual appeal. When Snape opened the door, Harry's breathing and his heart rate quickened, and he couldn't help the genuinely happy smile that crept over his face. Snape looked good.
"Hi," he said. "It's been a while. You look good."
"Potter. What are you doing here?"
"I wanted to talk to you. Can I come in?"
Snape looked reluctant, but he opened his door and led Harry into his sitting room. Harry wasn't sure he'd ever get an invitation, so he seated himself on the sofa and smiled up at Snape.
"So talk," Snape ordered.
"Well, today's my birthday," Harry began. He paused, in case Snape wanted to offer him birthday greetings. He did not, apparently. "So I thought I'd stop by and say hello and see how you were doing."
Snape sighed in exasperation. "Potter, when are you going to get over this incredibly inappropriate infatuation?"
"I don't know," Harry said honestly. "You think I haven't tried? You think my life wouldn't be easier if I could let myself get close to someone, anyone, but you? I've tried. I can't . . . I can't do it. It has to be you. I'm sorry," he offered, and he truly was, because he could see how much his confession disconcerted the older man.
"Has there been no one that you wanted more than night a with?" Snape asked in a surprisingly gentle tone.
"There was one bloke that I thought maybe . . . but even with him, there was something missing. He wasn't you."
Snape sighed. "Potter, what am I going to do with you?"
"You could take me back to your bedroom and have your wicked way with me," Harry suggested with all seriousness.
"That cannot happen," Snape said firmly. "I am old enough to be your father. I am your boss. Either of those facts alone should be enough to demonstrate to you how improper any relationship between us would be. Both of them together . . ."
"So is this another no?"
"It is another no."
And Harry knew he should feel crushed by this latest rejection, but one thing bolstered him. Snape hadn't said that he didn't find Harry attractive or that he didn't want to be involved with him. If the man felt that way, surely he would have said so. So the rejection didn't feel as final as it might have and left Harry with a tiny shimmer of hope.
"All right. I can respect that. Thank you for hearing me out."
"It is fortuitous that you stopped by, actually. Riggs will not be able to make your meet tonight."
"Oh. Is something wrong? Is she okay?"
"She is fine. It is her anniversary, and she and her partner are going to Paris for the weekend."
"Aw, that's nice," said Harry. "So who's coming tonight then? Or am I going without for a week?"
"No. As we've told no one else about your assignment, I will be there."
"You?" Harry said, pleased. "Cool. Wait a minute. Hasn't anyone wondered where I've been all this time? Doesn't anyone ever ask about me?"
"You have been placed on indefinite leave."
"Oh. What a terribly dodgy bloke I must be."
"Quite," Snape agreed. "Riggs has filled me in on the procedure for making contact with you after you have finished for the evening. I will ensure that I am there early enough to get inside the club. I will be glamoured and will have a spider tattoo on my neck," Snape said, indicating the spot where he planned to place the tattoo.
Harry had to force himself not to offer to lick the spider later, and then it occurred to him how difficult it would be to see Snape, to have him within arm's reach but not be able to touch him, when he was jacked on adrenalin.
"Okay. I should maybe warn you . . . after a show, I get a little . . . the show kind of pumps me up and I . . ." How could he explain how randy he got without scaring the man away? "Forget it. I look forward to seeing you tonight, then. Have a good day at work."
Snape led Harry to the door, and Harry gathered his courage and reached up on his toes to gently brush Snape's cheek with his lips. "For the record," he said softly, "your age means nothing to me." He stepped away from Snape and said, "I'll see you tonight."
Snape watched him go until Harry had disappeared inside the lift, then raised a hand to touch the spot where Harry had kissed him.
Snape sat alone at a small table in the corner of the Pissing Oyster. He had been unable to look away from the stage since the band had come out and begun the show. He'd known that Harry had altered his face so as not to be recognized, but he'd expected to see something familiar in the boy's face, sure that he would know Potter anywhere were he to meet him on the street wearing his glamour. And perhaps he would have found similarities in the two faces if he'd been able to get past the body long enough to study the face. Snape wanted to be appalled at the behavior of the man on the stage: the wholly unnecessary gyrating and shaking of the hips; the suggestive thrusting of the groin in the direction of the crowd; those incredibly tight, shiny trousers that left nothing to the imagination. Yes, he'd wanted to be appalled, but he'd only managed to feel . . . aroused. Unbelievably and achingly aroused. Shortly before 1:00, when he knew Harry was scheduled to finish his set, Snape forced himself to look away, so that he could get his body back under control before going to meet with Harry.
"Liam!" Miles said, corralling Harry as soon as he stepped off the stage. "Awesome show, as always! I need you for a few minutes, mate."
"Does it have to be now, Miles?" Harry said, trying to make his way backstage, his eyes scanning for a man with a spider tattoo.
"Kid, the owner wants to meet you," Miles announced. "So yeah, it's got to be now."
Despite the high he was experiencing, Harry knew how important this was. He'd been trying to surreptitiously find out who the owner of this place was since he'd come here. And now to have the opportunity to meet him – well, now he'd definitely have something to tell Snape, wouldn't he?
"All right, Miles. Where is he?"
"He's waiting for us in your dressing room."
The crowd around Snape numbered twenty-five or so and was very loud and boisterous, as though they were on some collective high. Snape knew what they were here for – he was here for the same thing. They all wanted to see Liam Stockbridge, the incredible young man who had just worked the crowd into a frenzy with his sensual performance behind the microphone. Snape marveled at the fact that Harry had this every night, this choice of beautiful young men and women, all ready to throw themselves at him, to offer him the gift of themselves. Harry had this, and still he'd come this morning and offered himself to Snape, a kind of reverse birthday present. What was going on in that boy's twisted brain that he couldn't see how old and washed up and unsuitable Snape was for someone like Harry.
Snape sighed, his frustration at Potter's behavior warring equally with his impatience – where was the boy?
Harry nearly gave himself away when he walked into his dressing room and saw Lucius Malfoy looking back at him.