"Look," said the Djinn, arms braced across his broad, golden chest, "I've already told you, it doesn't work like that. I'm not allowed to deal life, or death to any mortal creature. You need an efriit for that."
The man looked up from his (very fine) flask of brandy, which had been flowing un-interrupted for the better part of three hours, filling every glass, can, and jar the wizard could lay hands to without running dry. A simple bit of magic, really, but entertaining to watch his erstwhile master try and disprove it all the same. The wizard scowled over his wall of containers, as though he could ignite the Djinn through gaze alone. "You said three wishes, damn it! I want him dead!"
The Djinn, however, had weathered worse glares in his long service, and merely shrugged to show his disinterest. "I did not make the rules, oh Wizard of Obvious and Eminence Notwithstanding Your Unwashed State and Cold, Barren Choice of Living Space," the Djinn peered around the ramshackle hovel without a trace of derision in his amber eye -- a trick he knew would get right under the mortal's skin. "Perhaps my redoubtable master would like a hot meal? Or a bath of asses' milk, with slender, comely virgins to sponge his cares away?"
"And waste my last two wishes!" The man snarled, gripping the brandy decanter as he wobbled to his feet. "You won't gull me that way, you... you... this bottle had just better stay full, you duplicitous excuse for an atmospheric disturbance... oh bugger..."
"Master," the Djinn carefully tipped the bottle upright, stopping the amber trickle that was staining the man's rusty black robes. He was too old and venerable to give in to the urge to wrinkle his nose, but it was a temptation. "Let's just call the hot meal and the bath a gift, shall we? I'll even throw in some decent clothes if you will allow me burn these for you."
The man swayed suspiciously. "I'll still get two more wishes." Oddly, not a question.
The Djinn nodded. "Of course. Provided you stop asking me to kill that wizard for you." The man opened his mouth, and the Djinn held up a forestalling hand. "And no, I cannot bring the other one back from the dead either, and before you ask, I cannot make anyone fall in love with you. Rules are rules. Now then..." he turned, waved a hand at the bare room, and Fixed it.
The cracked, peeling walls disappeared behind lush swaths of aubergine and emerald silk, trimmed thickly in gold fringes and bright glass beads. Thick, lush carpets sprouted over the warped floorboards, woven through with the thousand herbs of paradise, rendered in stitches so fine that the tiniest coin would hide a hundred threads. A bathing tub reared up from the floor, gleaming metal and simmering stone, filled and steaming sweetly into the suddenly balmy air. Lanterns, bejeweled in amber and chalcedony dropped from the ceiling like ripe fruit, and arrayed behind the tub itself, stood five of the most succulent young maidens the Djinn could remember having seen. And in his time, he had seen a great many such sweetmeats -- he knew what a man of the world fancied.
His master stepped backward, jostling into the table as an alarmed squeak escaped his thin lips. "What the devil do you mean by this?" he slurred.
"Virgins," the Djinn replied showing his teeth as the girls tittered to each other. "As promised."
"But. They haven't any clothes on!"
"No," the Djinn agreed, "They haven't. You three -- your Master wishes to bathe. Help him to undress."
"No!" the man squeaked again, backing around the table as they came for him, and waving the brandy bottle as though it would dispel them. "Do not help me undress! Get away! Stop that, you little tramp!" But unfortunately for him, the Djinn's conjured houris were far nimbler than a lamentably drunken wizard. "Get them off me!"
"You do not like them?" the Djinn asked. "Perhaps with yellow hair?" He made the change, though he personally thought the pale pink things not nearly so attractive.
"NO!" the man bellowed, tugging frantically on his robes as the girls tried their best to get the clothing away from him. "I DO NOT WANT TO BE UNDRESSED BY NAKED GIRLS WITH ANY COLOUR HAIR!!!"
"Ahh," the Djinn nodded. "Boys, then."
And really, it was just another sort of sweetmeat, wasn't it? Even he could appreciate the long, tawny limbs; the sleek play of muscles over narrow hips; the delicate filigree of hair beneath the soft curl of a navel; the lashes, long and thick and dark over eyes as meltingly soft as any gazelle's.
The man on the floor froze, blinked, and took a swig from his bottle. The Djinn took this as a good sign, and waved the boys to their work. But no, as soon as they laid hands on him, the man resumed his howling and kicking. Really, it was a good thing those clothes were going to be replaced anyhow, given the twisting they were going through.
"No! Not boys either!" At last, the man let go of his bottle, but only so that he could hold his trousers onto his narrow hips with both hands. "I have been bathing myself for over forty years, damn you! I do NOT NEED ANY HELP!" He crab-scrambled backward until he fetched up against an overstuffed pouf in the corner, where he could shoulder himself upright again.
"With respect, my most potent Master," said the Djinn, eyeing the man's limp, greasy hair, discoloured fingers, and yellowed skin, "You really could use the help."
Again, that blazing glare, hot as volcanic glass under the desert sun, and this time, the djinn admitted privately to a tiny smidge of reservation -- the rising flush in the man's sallow cheeks looked dangerously dyspeptic, and every Djinn knew it was terrifically bad luck for a master to keel over, his wishes un-granted.
However, the building explosion was abruptly diffused when one of the boys slipped on a twig of wood underfoot, his ankle bells jangling as he narrowly avoided falling. With a blush, the boy dropped to one knee, scooped the stick up, and turned it over curiously in his smooth, nimble fingers.
"You," the man snapped his fingers and pointed at the boy imperiously. "Give that to me, you little wretch!"
But the expression that suffused the man's face when his servant gracefully settled to the floor before him, neck bent and stick raised high on his flattened palms, was anything but disgusted. Rather more in the neighborhood of desperately intrigued, actually. The Djinn congratulated himself on an excellent evaluation of taste as the sallow man took his stick and patted the boy's soft, dark hair gingerly, as though half-expecting it to explode.
"That one pleases you?" the Djinn prodded as the boy cooed and arched his neck into the caress.
"What? No!" the wizard snatched his hand away, blinking. The boy looked up with hurt surprise in his beryl-coloured eyes. "That is..." the man ran a hand into his greasy hair, and winced as it tangled around his knuckles. "He is tolerable, I suppose, it's just... Oh, all right, he can stay," he sighed at last as a very different sort of flush began to suffuse his cheeks. "But the rest must go!"
The Djinn popped his fingers, and it was so. The remaining boy grinned, teeth a flash of white between his full, soft lips as he ventured, "Thank you, oh my most amicable and incisive Master. I shall try to please you."
"I shall undress myself," the man yelped. He would have stepped back if he weren't already pressed flat against the wall. "You go over there, and... wait." The youth pouted, and that seemed to make the man far more comfortable with things, to judge from his sneer as he strode toward the bath. If only he hadn't stumbled over the rug fringes, it might have been a grand approach indeed.
He went headlong into the bath, sloshing milky water everywhere. The conjured boy yelped at the ducking, and then scrambled to save the man from drowning, somehow managing to get himself snared by a flailing arm and hauled into the tub as well.
And now that things were a sodden, milky welter of naked limbs, blushing cheeks, and creaking wool, the Djinn -- who had more than a little experience with these things -- figured his work was done there and he had earned himself a hookah break. He slipped into his lamp as the cursing gave way to strangled groans.
"Has this one pleased you, oh illustrious and potent Master?" the surprisingly limber boy panted some time later.
"What?" Severus blinked as the post-orgasmic euphoria began to dissipate and the meaning of those mumbled words registered. He scowled, and summoned another clean flannel from the pile, which didn't seem to be shrinking beside the bathing tub, and snapped, "Don't call me that."
The boy banged his forehead against the carpet at once. "This one is worthless, but obeys."
"You're very strange," Severus muttered, wiping at the sticky smears just cooling on his belly. "Get off the damned floor, and stop bloody groveling. Leave my feet alone!"
"But..." Insipid green eyes blinked up at him, and the wretch pouted as Severus twisted out of reach. "This one was certain Mas... er... He Who Commands All enjoyed what this one did with the feet before..."
"He who..." Severus blinked, confused. Then he rolled his eyes and reached for his brandy again. "Oh, for Merlin's sake, it's Snape, you bloody wretch. My name is Snape, and if you can't use it, then you may call me 'sir.'" Sweet Circe's tits, was that bottom lip actually trembling? He took a drink and sniffed. "What you did before was... tolerable enough," he allowed, "but I am trying to THINK now, and you are distracting me!"
"Oh." The boy looked down.
"Stop sulking," he warned. "Don't you dare cry, you pathetic wretch!" But there was no denying it; that soft, swollen bottom lip was trembling, damn the creature. Bloody second-rate conjurer, that's what the thing in the lamp was; summoning up scruffy, whinging little brats to distract him from its own shortcomings!
"Oh, bloody hell," Severus growled as the boy surreptitiously wiped at his cheeks. "Fine. Go find us something to eat if you can't stop yourself leaking from the eyes like that." He took another drink as the boy, all smiles now, hopped to his feet and jangled off toward the stove.
"I've got to figure out how best to use those last two wishes. That nebulous bit of idiotic ectoplasm persists in being as awkward and obstinate as -- oh." Severus blinked, startled as the boy bounded back to his side, balancing a loaded tray on his head. "That was quick. Where did you get yogurt? And lamb? I know I did not have olives in that cupboard!"
"This one is pleased to know the sapient and penetrating Sir is satisfied with this one's pathetic offering." Severus was too busy chewing to answer the ridiculous flattery with the sarcasm it deserved. "However this one merely opened the cupboard and found that the Djinn Whos Name Defeats All Mortal Tongues had provided the repast, oh my most virile and pulchritudinous... er... Sir."
He raised an eyebrow and stared. "Pulchritudinous."
The boy's bed-tousled hair flopped about, so eagerly did he nod.
"Your eyes are worse than your vocabulary," Severus sneered. "Perhaps you require spectacles."
No sooner had the words left his lips, than a pair of ugly plastic spectacles appeared on the boy's nose with an entirely too perky chiming noise. Severus yelped as his stomach turned flips at the sight. "NGYAH! No! You look like Potter! Take them off! Take them off at once!" That, of course, set off the dramatics once again. Severus gave the soggy wretch a nudge with his toe. "Oh, do get up. And stop crying -- here; eat a damned olive."
Well, at least the skinny little thing could manage to follow some directions. Though, no doubt Potter could be obedient enough, when offered food as well. All Gryffindors ate like starving thestrals, after all.
"Oh, my most beneficent and winsome Sir?"
Sighing as much at the interruption as the title, Severus spat out a pit. "What?"
"Who is this Potter? Is he the enemy of this one's most redoubtable and sagacious Sir?"
"Potter? No, more's the pity, for he could use a solid trouncing... or a sound thrashing..." Hmm. Now there was an entertaining notion. "Or better yet, both -" Severus gasped and flinched as he suddenly felt cool little fingers encroaching on his thigh. "Here, what are you... oh. I say." He spread his knees farther, and leaned back on the slouchy sofa to give the boy room. "Yes, I suppose you may continue that, if you-" He gasped at a brief flicker of pain. "Mind your teeth, boy!" There... oh yes, that was much better.
"No," Severus went on as the boy occupied himself. "Potter is technically my -- mmm -- my ally, in that his enemy is mmmmmy enemy as well. Unfortunately he's oh, perfect, just like that... he's a dunderhead and an idiot and a self absorbed, reckless, disrespectful, beautiful, oh god, beautiful -- Roll them in your hand -- always taking shortcuts, never doing as he's told, brave -" he panted, pinched his tingling nipples. "- frivolous brat... I've ever... if he manages to... kill the Dark Lord it'll... be a ... miracle --AH!"
The boy gave a happy wriggle between his knees. "Mphhmmmm...."
"Don't talk with your mouth full," Severus managed between gasps. "It's rude. What are you smirking for?"
With a moist pop and a smug glint of green eye, the boy pulled away, and licked his lips clean. "This one merely thought it was unfortunate for this Potter that he had not a fraction of my most feracious Sir's fortuitous astucity in finding a djinn to do his bidding."
Severus blinked, staring.
The idiot boy seemed to take that for approval, and offered up another dish. "Would my Sir like another olive?"
"I know what I want," the wizard said three days later, clean, fed, rested, sober, and shagged to within an inch of actually smiling on his own volition. (Leaving the conjured boy intact for the duration had been one of the djinn's better ideas, if he did say so himself.)
"Perhaps to keep the boy?" the Djinn suggested, showing his teeth in a grin as the homunculus himself, fast asleep and thoroughly debauched, snuffled into the pillows and rolled over.
The man's dark eyes flickered that way, but only for a moment. "No," he said, voice firm and resolute. "No. There is a boy -- black hair, green eyes. Not much older than," he waved negligently toward the bed and swallowed. "His name is Harry Potter."
"Ahh," the Djinn shook his head sadly, "I cannot give him to you. It is another rule."
Unaccountably, the man went pale with horror. "Good Christ, no! I do NOT want him! Not in any way! EVER!" The Djinn flicked his eyes at the sleeping boy, dark haired and exhausted, and decided to say nothing.
The man was not fooled. "I do not. Ever," he growled through his teeth. "Now, listen very carefully to me, because if you bollocks this up, my third wish will make you reconsider your definition of suffering..."
Harry blinked at the figure before him. He was fairly sure he wasn't dreaming, and he was also fairly sure he wasn't being hit with any sort of delusion curse, but… well, that sure as heck looked like a genie hovering in the middle of Grimmauld Place's kitchen. Like a dusky skinned, nearly naked, and very surly genie, from bejeweled turban, curling beard, strangely tattooed face and chest, to the way its legs faded to smoke a foot or so above the floor.
"Okay…" he said, nudging Crookshanks off the table, and sitting. "So you're supposed to help me. Wishes?" The genie rolled his eyes and Harry held up a hand. "Okay, that's pretty obvious. How many?"
"I don't believe I shall tell you," the genie sulked. "I do not have to, you know. I did not even have to reveal myself to you, only I become bored easily, and you look as though you'll be a better conversationalist than the company I have had lately."
Harry blinked. He always thought genies had to do what their masters told them to… but then again, he was pretty sure that telly genies weren't a really accurate sample. He wished fleetingly for a way to contact Hermione and ask her about this, but it was impossible. She wouldn't be anywhere near a floo for hours yet, an owl would take all day, and she wouldn't be allowed to come back to Grimmauld Place until the weekend, when she, Ron, and Harry would have to spend two more fruitless days searching for Voldemort's…
He sat back in his chair, blinked, and grinned. "Hey, d'you know what would help me the most?"
"Yes," the genie sighed, crossing its arms over its chest and reminding him unaccountably of Snape, "But I won't kill that Voldemort fellow for you, so-"
Harry waved him silent with a laugh. "No, that's my job. But you could go and bring me all the rest of his horcruxes, couldn't you?"
The genie looked hesitantly hopeful. "Horcruxes."
"Yeah. Random objects, each with a bit of his soul in," Harry explained, setting his teacup down so that the building excitement in his belly wouldn't make his hands tremble.
"Ugh," the genie shivered, "why would anybody do that?"
"Mad bastard with delusions of godhood's about the only reason I can think of," Harry shrugged, "Think you could find them?"
The genie looked insulted. "I can find a single grain of sand at the bottom of the ocean! A fleck of millet in a mountain of wheat! A teardrop in the ocean! You wizards have no idea of the might at my comm-"
"Okay, I believe you," Harry laughed, his brain wheeling with the possibilities. "You know, he has these people who follow him too. They're kind of a problem, even if he himself is gone. Think you could take care of them?"
Caught up short, the genie peered at Harry grudgingly. "Define 'take care of,'" he challenged, but there was a gleam of definite interest in his intensely black eyes.
Harry flexed his hands and began to grin. This? This was going to be good...
Two weeks later, the Djinn returned with a flash of light, a curl of smoke, and a wide, toothy grin to the owner of his lamp. "My Master," he rumbled as the man hastily pushed the conjured boy off his lap. "It is done."
"Oaf! Can you never bloody well knock? Wait. What do you…" the wizard blinked, hands pausing in their scramble to button up his jacket. "It is?"
"Beyond question, your Perspicacity," the Djinn replied, casually flicking his fingers at the man's robes to remind them of their long lost quality. He buttoned it all up just as an extra. "Potter's quite the clever little thing, isn't he?"
The wizard blinked again and his mouth dropped open. "Potter?"
"Dark hair?" the Djinn prompted. "Green eyes? Looks like your little pet there except for the Fate mark on his forehead and the implacable, almost-undead arch-enemy who never knew what hit him?" The wizard nodded, clearly stunned, and the Djinn beamed. "That's the one. You know, when you ordered me to assist him in any way he required, I truly thought I was going to be there for years while he worked his way through boys and wealth and pointless comforts -- teenagers usually are like that, you know. But your Potter managed it all in the standard three."
"Potter…" the man said again, is dark eyes drifting toward his brandy bottle as though seeking comfort in the idea that it was still full.
"He said to tell you 'thanks, but you're still a bastard,' by the way," the Djinn managed to say it without so much as a trace of smile, though it was no small effort. "I told him I'd do it as a favour, for him keeping it concise."
That got the man's attention at last. "What? You weren't to tell him I sent you!"
The Djinn cast him a warning glare. "I shall overlook your ignorance of the ways of the Ephemeral Nobility, oh my Master, and point out that he guessed on his own that you had sent me. That little matter of his not being in possession of my lamp might have given the game away, I believe."
The wizard, meanwhile, had erupted from his chair and begun fiercely pacing the length of the carpet, his robes snapping at each turn. "Impossible! He cannot have guessed it was me! Potter would sooner end my life than offer me a word of thanks! He thinks me a traitor! A murderer! The Dark Lord's faithful servant!" He waved his hands about his head, as though dispelling wasps, or possibly uncomfortable notions from the air.
The Djinn could not restrain the scornful noise which escaped him at that. "A gnat's fart, he does. Not even Voldemort -- who was no more than a vague wisp of shadow against the flagitious magnificence and utter, irredeemable profligation of some of my previous masters -- believed you were entirely his creature."
The wizard stopped dead in his circuitous tracks and glared. "Of course he did. I killed Dumbledore on his orders!" He let the protest trail off as he caught sight of the Djinn's slowly shaking head.
"Your boy Potter said not even my illustrious master's old compatriots in the Order of the Phoenix were hunting for you any more. Not since a captured villain confessed that he was under orders to bring your head to He Who Fancied Himself A Force Of Evil." Glimpsing the man's rapidly paling face, the Djinn summoned the ever-full bottle and pressed it into his Master's hand.
"My... head?" the wizard asked between drinks as the conjured boy whimpered and snuck closer to his legs.
"Your entirely singular and unforgettable head, oh paragon of perspicacity," the Djinn answered with a display of every tooth in his head -- which was a good many teeth indeed, "without regard for its accustomed support of your neck, if young Potter is to be believed."
The conjured boy squeaked, then fainted, and the Djinn fought a sigh. Homunculi were so bloody delicate -- hearts always giving out at the wrong moment, or falling in love, or catching fatal colds, ennui, or disfiguring rashes and just keeling right over. From the look of this one, it was a miracle it had lasted this long. He snapped his fingers, and the distraction evaporated with a quiet jingle of ankle bells.
The wizard, who didn't really look much steadier, hardly noticed. He stood there stunned, fingering his newly starched and crisply pressed shirt collar with morbid delicacy. Then with a frantic grunt, he shook his head. Shook it hard, as though velocity might dislodge the words from his memory. When that failed, he took another deep drink. "But for Merlin's sake why? The Dark Lord was to have believed me faithful! Albus' death was to have secured me as his right hand man, placing me in perfect position to..." another long pull at the bottle, ending in a gulping hiss which the Djinn sincerely hoped had not been a sob. Weeping humans were just so... moist. "And if the Dark Lord had been angry with me, why would he not have used my mark to summon me to punishment?"
"Ah. That was my doing, I'm afraid." Palms together, the Djinn sketched a humble bow. "I thought surely such a learned and wise Master as you would know that bathing in asses' milk will do that to certain kinds of magical bonds -- that's why so many rulers favour it, you know. I suppose I could put it back if you like." The Djinn did not bother to hide his grin as the man clutched his left arm to his chest and backed away, shaking his head.
"NO! No, I don't want it back," he said, unbuttoning his cuff frantically, and gaping in silence when he laid eyes on the fish-belly white skin of his forearm. "It's just..." he swallowed, and ran a hand through his recently-washed and scented hair. "I just don't understand why. How could I have failed to win his trust when I did everything right? Why did the Dark Lord doubt me?"
"Why would a wizard with a perfectly functioning soul decide to carve it up like a roasted pig?" the Djinn asked by way of reply, conjuring a handkerchief of cerise Assam silk, embroidered all over with tiny threads of copper and gold. The man waved it away without a glance. "It is an idle pursuit to assign sense to the senseless, oh my Master, especially when the senseless one in question is now entirely lifeless as well." He tipped a meaning look at the dark wizard, and added, "And since I have one more-"
"Well it's not a bloody idle pursuit for me, you pothering miasma," the wizard's voice was shrill with nerve and passion, spraying a fine mist of brandy into the air with each plosive burst. "I've got to outwit every surviving Death Eater now, just to keep my skin whole! You might just as well kill me now!"
The Djinn sighed, and shook his head. "Would that I could obey, oh my master, but I've already told you, I may not grant any wish of mur-"
The Djinn hid a smirk, and waited while the wizard tugged at his long black hair in frustration. It occurred to him that he might have informed his master that the Potter boy had already ordered him to enact a rather innovative and entirely delightful solution to the whole Dead Eater problem. But the man's frantic rictus and the way he couldn't quite manage to prise his teeth apart enough to form an actual word suggested he might not take much comfort in being the only member of that illustrious company who still remembered anything at all about magic.
Pity, that. The Djinn had rather looked forward to seeing his face when the news hit.
Instead, he conjured a soft, fluffy divan and shoved the near-hysterical wizard down onto it. Then he summoned the brandy bottle again. His master snatched it from the air and took a long pull.
"I want my life back," the wizard moaned once he paused long enough to take a breath.
Now that was more like it! The Djinn made a mental note to get all his future masters wound up and drunk as early as possible. "Who has stolen your life, oh my Master?" he asked, rubbing his hands together so the golden rings chimed against each other. "Tell me, and I shall pluck it from their hands at once!"
His master was drinking again though. "Who stole it? Lucius stole it. Black stole it! Voldemort stole it. Dumbledore stole it. My thrice-damned FATHER stole it! It's never been my own from the day I was born, damn it!" He pointed waveringly at the Djinn, and scowled. "You ask what I wish? Well I wish for what other people get -- life! Love! Happiness, without dozens of power-mad bastards trying to grind me up for their own gain! Can you bloody well do THAT, you asinine atmospheric anomaly?"
The Djinn paused to savour the irony before replying. "For the second time today, oh, my most auspicious and insouciant master, yes. I can do that." He spread wide his hands, ready to clap the matter into existence -- this wish was a bit too detailed for a simple wink, after all -- but the wizard was lurching up out of the sofa with a look of alarm.
"Wait! What do you mean, the second time today?" he demanded.
"Young Potter's final wish, of course," the Djinn took great pleasure in answering, now that the deal was at last done -- proper Wishes were, after all, immune to take-backs. "Though it was not directly related to the success of his mission, so I was not compelled to grant it. Still, I told him I'd take it under consideration, and seeing as how my Master has felicitously wished for the same thing..."
"What same thing?" The wizard's eyes were wide and panicked, his sallow face draining of blood as he staggered with fending hands toward the Djinn. "What did that little bastard say he wanted? You had bloody well better not turn me into anything unnatura-"
Grinning, the Djinn brought his hands together with a resounding bang.
It took Severus a dizzying moment to realize that he was in Spinner's End.
Gone were the sagging, lumpy sofa, the over-charmed recliner that had never matched anything, and the stained ottoman leaking fluff from the rip down the side.
Gone were the shabby end tables, the carpet so old that its original pattern had faded to grey, the bin-picked bookshelves and the cinderblocks which had always propped them upright.
Gone was the soot-shadowed, peeling wallpaper, the sagging plaster, the cobwebbed lamps and candle holders.
Gone were the books. Gone were the goddamned BOOKS! He whirled in a furious circle, and forced himself not to hyperventilate. There had to be an explanation...
Spinner's End's walls and ceiling now shone with fresh paint. The hardwood floors smelled warmly of lemon oil and beeswax, and glowed warmly in the bright sunlight that splashed through sparkling clean, crack-free windows. Through the kitchen doorway, Severus could see new cabinetry, an updated cooker, and a sash window where there had been a blocked-up chimney before. Even the non-Euclidean slant to the staircase had been fixed, the risers all the same height, new-varnished and gleaming.
It was eerie. That staircase had never been anything but teetering, gloomy, and dangerous for as long as he could remember it. There had been a dingy smear at hand's height along the wall all his life. Now there was a bloody handrail!
Severus was on the point of venturing up the stairs to see what other atrocities had been wrought upon his family home, when the fireplace gave a roar and a belch of high-grade floo powder.
"Hey, Tave," The second most unwelcome voice in the world echoed from the fireplace behind him. "Octavian, are you there?"
Severus's wand was dropping into his hand even as he turned and snarled. "Potter!"
"Yikes!" the laughing wretch did not remove himself from Severus' floo. "Okay, you're not allowed to call me that, Tave. You sound too much like your uncle."
Severus backed up as Potter stepped through, but only because he had no intention of letting the little bastard get close enough to try and grab his wand. "I haven't got any uncles," he snarled, but the reckless idiot just grinned again.
"Oh, you haven't, have you?" He pushed Severus' wand aside, "Then you'd better tell me who's bloody house we've been renovating all month, Octavian Prince. Because I'll be right narked if I fought my way through those vicious wards on the brewing room in the cellar for some stranger's bloody paranoia!" Then Harry Potter leaned close, stood on his toes, and kissed him!
Shocked beyond the capacity to duck away, Severus stood there and let him do it, too. Octavian Prince... Spinner's End... Uncle... Had Eileen even had a brother? And... where the devil had Potter learnt to kiss like that, anyhow?
A flicker of light and movement drew his eyes upward to the mantelpiece, where a mirror, gleaming and new, had been hung in pride of place. And therein was the mystery revealed. Potter's reflection was kissing a stranger; it might have been Severus' own self if he were suddenly to be reduced in age to eighteen or so -- long, straight black hair, dark eyes, sardonic brows and high-ridged cheeks, but... but the Snape nose was normal-sized, the sallow skin gone coppery and smooth.
Severus gripped Potter's back, earning a moan and a wriggle from the boy, and stared at his hands. They were still long and tapered, but now un-stained, his fingers thicker, stronger than he'd remembered. A red and gold ring winked from his left hand.
Yes, I can do that.
"That bastard!" Severus gasped once Potter backed away and let him breathe. The ring was garnet intaglio -- an ermine-speckled cross overlying a wide X, the whole cradled in rich, mellow gold. Around the rim, fine letters spelled out 'Prince Primus.' The Prince signet. The one supposedly destroyed by old Septimus Prince when his only child married a muggle. The one Severus had been told he would never have the right, nor the chance to wear.
He made a fist. "That complete, and utter bastard!"
"Shh. It's all right, I wasn't permanently damaged or anything, thanks to you." Potter, as usual, presumed he was the most important concern in the room. "That was bloody quick thinking on the limb-glue potion, in case I hadn't said so yet today," he flexed and wriggled the fingers of his right hand. "And anyhow, Snape wasn't really all that bad."
Severus, on the cusp of letting fly with his habitual invective, found himself hesitating... nay, actually thinking about whether he ought to tear the presumptuous, warm-skinned, bloody fabulous-kissing brat who was almost as tall as he was (and when the devil had THAT happened?) down a peg or two. Something was tickling the back of his memory. Some shadowy conversation Severus was fairly certain had never happened, murmured in a rumpled bed he was absolutely certain he had never helped Potter dishevel, and yet...
"I thought you told me he was a joyless, sarcastic, hateful old man," he found himself saying. Somehow, he had not quite let go of Potter, let alone sent the wretch sprawling as he laughed and linked his arms around Severus' waist.
"Well yeah, he pretty much was like that with me," Potter replied, nuzzling softly under Severus' jaw. "But then he had a pretty rough time of it, too; getting strung out between the Death Eaters and the Order, and having to deal with little bastards like Draco Malfoy, and Ron Weasley and me year in and year out..." Potter found his earlobe and nibbled. Severus actually felt the brewing invectives turn to syllabilic mush on his tongue as his cock hardened so quickly it actually hurt a bit. "Not to mention my dad and Sirius being complete arseholes to him when he was at school. Anyway, I can see how going through what he did would make anyone a bit... mmm..." Still exploring his ear, Potter turned Severus' back to the wall, and leaned. "Bitter..."
Far from protesting the entirely unwarranted designation and presumptive familiarity, Severus found himself yielding. No, responding to it like some eager, juvenescent youth; with trembling knees and tightening bollocks, a thunder of blood in his ears, and a rasp of incoherent nonsense on his lips.
The curve of Potter's arse -- Harry's arse, his mind insisted, -- fit exactly in his cupped palm, and his erection was a heated weight pressing into Severus' own. "Did..." Dear Merlin, how long was Potter's tongue, anyhow? He swallowed a whimper, and tried to distract the boy again before he could lose control and humiliate himself. "Did you not hate him then, if he was never kind to you?"
He felt a smile against his throat. "Yeah, but I grew out of it." Leaning up, Potter kissed him again, but this time it was only a chaste peck. "And anyway; I couldn't have defeated Voldemort if Snape hadn't helped me there at the end." Potter swept a bit of Severus' hair back behind his ear, tracing the still-damp skin there with his callused fingertips, and making Severus shiver all over again. Merlin, had he really been this undisciplined in his youth?
"Anyhow, if he hadn't transferred the life-debt and Spinner's End to you, we never would have ended up together." The boy's eyes were an eldritch hue in the slanting light; warm as Severus could not recall seeing them, open, unfettered, in love...
"So let's just say we're not speaking ill of dead War Heroes, shall we?" Potter's grin turned decidedly wicked as his chin tilted down. "Bygones be bygones, and all hatchets buried now that Snape's earned his Order of Merlin and his eternal rest, eh? Besides, if we get upstairs now, we've time for a quick one before the new furniture shows up."
With a tremendous effort of will, Severus mastered the surge of hormones Potter's suggestion, (not to mention his wickedly clever hand on Severus' erection,) brought on, and raised an eyebrow. "A quick one? Trust you to cut corners..."
But again, Potter only grinned. "Well, all right; quick for us, anyway. Think you can manage to get your wicked way with me in two hours, Mr. Prince?"
Severus -- Octavian, his mind insisted, -- grabbed Harry's face in both hands, and kissed those impertinent lips with all the thwarted, pent-up hatred... oh, all right, passion in his heart. "You," he gasped, between plundering kisses, "are the most provocative... puerile...aggravating..."
"Christ, Tave," Harry panted, pulling him off the wall and backing toward the staircase without ever once letting go. "Keep that voice up and you'll have to fuck me right here, because I won't make it upstAIGH!" He pitched backward suddenly as something spun away across the empty floor with a metallic clatter. Octavian caught Harry's arms and stopped him arsing himself, though a moment later, he'd no bloody idea why.
"Graceful as ever," he observed to cover his fluster.
Harry ignored him, turning to fetch the squat, cheap brass lamp he'd kicked. "Where the heck did this thing come from?" he wondered, turning it over. "'Made in Assyria.' Huh. Wonder how we missed this when we were boxing the books up. I thought we got all the weird, unidentified stuff boxed up and sent to Bill before we started painting."
"That's..." Octavian blinked, struggling to remember something... something important. Something about misery, and a mark on his arm, a chilly, drafty cottage, and a bottle of brandy that never went empty... "Give it here."
Harry did, and Octavian buffed at the bulging side with his sleeve. There were cuneiform letters incised around its filigreed base width, but he could not make heads or tails of them, nor of the seal-like sigil up near the top of the lamp. He turned it in his hands, struck by how old, pale and sour his reflection looked in the gleaming brass, and then he shrugged.
"Cheap trinket, I suppose," he said, and set it on the mantel. "I'll just chuck it out with the rest of the rubbish when we unpack everything later. Now," he turned back to Harry with a feral, hungry grin. "Where were we?"
"Aggravating," Harry replied, mock innocent as he backed toward the stairs. "Puerile, provocative, you nearly making me come in my pants with that fucking amazing, sex-on-the-hoof voice. Oh, and two hours. That sound about right?"
"Two hours?" Octavian replied, stalking after his lover. "Not nearly enough time for what I want to do to you, Potter, but I suppose it's enough to be going on with."
Harry's only response was to turn and charge up the stairs, Octavian not two steps behind him, their laughter making Spinner's End ring like a bell.