Harry unbuttoned his Gryffindor Quidditch jersey and let it drop to the floor, his eyes never once leaving their target. Grabbing the bottom of his grey t-shirt next, he slipped it off over his head, revealing a toned chest and a smooth, flat stomach. Severus swallowed audibly as he stood, transfixed, his lips parting slightly.
Harry’s soft smile stretched into a lopsided and playful grin. He grabbed the front closure of his denims, but instead of undoing them, he simply hooked his thumb behind the waistband. Severus felt a flutter of desire stir his burgeoning arousal, imagining what lay underneath them and what he would like to do with it once he got his hands on Harry.
Reaching out, Severus hooked his own fingers behind the waistband of Harry’s denims, pulling him forward abruptly and into an embrace. Severus leaned down and pressed his lips to Harry’s, hungrily sucking Harry’s lower lip into his mouth, his whole body now singing with want.
He felt Harry’s hands circle his waist as he tangled his own into the thick, black hair. Harry inched closer, sneaking one of his warm, muscular thighs in between Severus’ legs, letting his body drift tantalizingly close. Severus took that as an invitation and pulled Harry tight to him, grinding absently against that firm thigh.
Inhaling deeply, Severus let the smell of Harry’s hair fill his nostrils. It was a sweaty, comfortable scent, hot from an afternoon of sunshine and Quidditch. He hardened further, his cock making itself known against the front of his trousers. He secretly wished Harry would unbutton him and slide one of those nimble hands around him, but he also wanted to take it slow so he could savor the experience and commit every detail to memory.
A faint pop! sounded somewhere in his consciousness, briefly distracting Severus from the task before him, and he was surprised to find that his eyes were closed. A sinking feeling he didn’t quite understand began to settle over him, which he rallied against in earnest when elements of the scene before him began to fade away.
A faint light appeared behind his eyelids, and as he became more and more conscious of that light, he thought he sensed a figure moving nearby, accompanied by a quiet, female voice. He made to open his eyes but immediately realized his grave mistake: he was waking up. And it had all been a dream.
Severus sat up suddenly, painfully aware that the reality now surrounding him didn’t include Harry at all, naked or otherwise, and noticed the figure moving in front of him was his house elf. He slumped back down onto the bed.
“Pokey is waking Professor Snape at six o’clock, sir, as Professor Snape requests.”
Severus grunted in response.
“I is bringing Professor Snape breakfast in bed, then?” the elf asked timidly.
Severus leaned up on one elbow and considered the elf for a minute, narrowing his eyes as he looked down his nose at her. There seemed to be a deafening silence hanging in the air – the space that only a dream can leave behind. He sighed deeply and swung his legs over the edge of the bed, but had to grab the sheets quickly to keep himself covered, realizing almost too late he was still erect.
“Professor Snape, sir…?” the house elf squeaked out, waiting for her instruction.
Severus sneered, not caring that it was an elf he directed it towards – an elf that took no interest in the affairs of humans and likely would not have understood his predicament anyway. Still, embarrassment had always caused him to act irrationally and he ended up unleashing some of his frustration on the poor, unsuspecting creature.
“Get out! You have done quite enough already!”
Pokey’s eyes grew large and horrified and she bowed repeatedly before Severus, murmuring her words almost like a chant. “Pokey is sorry to have offended Professor Snape, she is just wanting to help. Pokey has offended Professor Snape and must punish herself now—”
Severus cut her off, gritting his teeth. “You will do no such thing! Just. Leave.”
The house elf made a tiny squeak and wrung her hands over her ears nervously before scurrying into the antechamber and disappearing with the same faint pop! she’d arrived with.
Severus threw off his sheets and sat on the edge of his bed, putting his feet on the stone floor. The coldness of it jarred him awake, and he leaned forward to drop his forehead into his fingers, his elbows on his thighs, the curtains of his black hair swinging around to shroud his face. He sighed again. Another dream about Harry. He looked down at his erection with disgust, as though it had betrayed him.
It was a terrible thing to be lonely, he realized. Even worse was to pine for something unattainable and undeserved. His ill-fated attempt at a kiss with Harry had proven as much. The problem was, he’d had a taste of his desire; his temptation – and, foul beast that it was, was not taking kindly to being tamed.
Standing, he made his way to the bathroom, encouraging the door to slam with an abrupt shove. It suited his mood.
Back in his office, Severus shook off the memory again and tried to resume the work he had spread out on his desk. Piles of student essays were waiting for his pronouncement of their fate, his quill poised over them as though ready to strike. Re-focusing his eyes on the top parchment in the stack, he saw that a pool of ink had soaked into the fibrous paper, dripping from where his quill had hovered. He sighed and replaced the quill in its stand.
Harry was only two days into his trip to Australia and already Severus found he couldn’t stop thinking about it. He’d never been there himself but had always wanted to go. To top it off, neither had spoken about the kiss after last Sunday’s session – not that they’d really had an opportunity to do so – but Severus feared his impulsive behavior would only end up driving Harry away, that wedge of awkwardness eventually forcing him into the arms of someone else.
Scrubbing his face roughly with a hand, Severus sighed and got up from his desk. He needed a break. Sitting there was only inspiring a litany of disheartening and punitive thoughts, and he had had all he could take for one day.
Somehow Marcus had picked up on the fact that Harry tended to be around on Sundays and had begun hanging around Severus’ quarters. It seemed he was trying to avoid walking by too much, presumably to avoid arousing suspicion, but his tactic failed when, one afternoon late into Harry’s travels, Severus rounded the corner and nearly collided with him.
Surmising his Prefect’s proximity to his quarters on a day when he should be either patrolling the corridors or socializing with his peers, Severus looked down his nose at his sixth year.
“May I help you, Mr. Braham?”
“Oh, pardon me, sir. Yes. I…” Marcus swallowed. “I was wondering if you knew where I could find Hermione Granger.”
It would be an odd request for any of his students, least of all one who might stand to gain something by an association with someone so closely linked to Harry.
“I am afraid Ms. Granger has been gone all week – becoming the next Mrs. Weasley, I believe. What is it you require?”
A brief look of triumph crossed Marcus’ countenance, but he schooled it away quickly. Not quickly enough for Severus, however, who deduced its meaning quickly: Marcus had been trying to ascertain Harry’s whereabouts.
And I just offered it without pause. Sloppy, Severus, very sloppy.
“Well, she has been tutoring me in Charms, and I had hoped to meet up with her today to continue our work.”
Severus eyed him shrewdly, knowing perfectly well it was a bald-faced lie. As if his nearly twenty-year tenure as a professor hadn’t taught him how to spot one, the fact that Marcus was foolish enough to involve Hermione revealed his inexperience with subterfuge. Hermione was one of the most conscientious students Severus knew – and presently Head Girl – and if she had been tutoring a student, she most certainly would have informed that student of her pending absence from school and scheduled them accordingly.
For a brief moment, Severus considered calling Marcus’ bluff, but then decided better of it, as doing so would only make Marcus aware that Severus was onto him. No, better to let him trip himself up at another time.
“It appears you are out of luck for today.”
“Yes, sir, so it appears. Thank you, anyway.” Marcus nodded briefly and then walked back the way he had come.
As he disappeared down the hallway and out of sight, Severus couldn’t help feeling that, despite his unwitting efforts to abet Marcus in his plan, he felt some semblance of pride at the fact he had just been out-Slytherined by one of his own. Point to Marcus.
Savor it, my young victor, for it will surely be your last.
Two days later, a Tuesday, found Marcus standing to the side of the door to Professor Flitwick’s classroom, watching the seventh years file out. He was waiting for one student in particular who he had learned would be there.
If there was one thing Marcus prided himself on, it was his ability to strategize. He particularly excelled at it on the Quidditch pitch, as evidenced by the fact that Slytherin was currently unchallenged for this year’s Cup, but also knew it was what was keeping him one step ahead of Professor Snape.
“Hermione!” he called, quickly stepping over to her.
“Yes?” she answered, giving him a friendly but assessing gaze.
“Hello.” He stuck out his hand to shake hers. “I’m Marcus Braham, sixth-year Slytherin.”
She nodded. “A Prefect, yes – your name is familiar.”
Perhaps befriending her is not going to be as difficult as I thought. “Do you have a minute?”
After five minutes of rambling, meaningless conversation, where Marcus said little aside from edging closer to the topic Hermione realized he really wanted to discuss, she decided to cut to the chase. “Let me just stop you right there,” she started. “What is it you want to ask about Harry? It’s clear you’re not really here to see me.”
Marcus looked stunned for a moment, though whether that was because she had just called him on his antics or because he was really unaware of his single-minded focus, she didn’t know. He looked away for a moment and then smiled. “Am I that obvious?”
“Yes.” She was slightly irritated but couldn’t help a small smile at the look on his face. “Let me guess: you think being friendly with me is a way to get to Harry, right?”
Marcus spluttered, shifting back and forth on his feet. “No, I—”
“Or that I will give up some gossip about my best friend? If so, I’ll save you the trouble on both counts – it’s not going to happen.”
“Wow. You are really protective of him.”
“Yes. Now, if there’s nothing else, I’d best be going. It was nice meeting you.”
“No, wait! Actually, there was something I wanted to ask. Not about Harry,” he added hastily.
“Yes?” She didn’t bother hiding her impatience.
“I was wondering if you would be willing to tutor me in Charms. Professor Flitwick says you are one of his best students.”
Hermione smiled shrewdly as she appraised him, trying to dissect his motivations. This was way too convenient a request to be solely about academic achievement, even without their previous thread of conversation. Also, Marcus was a tutor himself and would be familiar with all the sixth and seventh year tutors. There were others – Margaret During, especially – that routinely outpaced Hermione in Charms. So why her? If it was a ploy to befriend her in the hopes of getting closer to Harry, she was already a step ahead of him. If it was to learn a charm or spell to use on Harry, she would also see that coming a mile away.
As she took in the expectant look on his face, she realized that even though there were other reasons driving his request, at least agreeing to help him academically would give her an opportunity to keep a closer eye on him – and that, for now, was enough.
“I do have a little time in my schedule. How about two nights a week, thirty minutes each, starting next Monday?”
“Yes, yes, that sounds great! Thank you!”
His overt enthusiasm about Charms confirmed he was excited for another reason entirely, and although she didn’t have a firm guess about what just yet, she at least felt reassured by the notion that she’d be there when it revealed itself.
The bell above the door tinkled merrily as Harry entered. It was a Wednesday morning and Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes was quiet except for a whistled tune that carried about the shop. There were no customers in yet, far as Harry could tell – precisely what he’d hoped for when he’d made the decision to visit early. Besides, they’d only been back from Australia for a few days, and he assumed there would be a lot to do to reopen the shop after its short hiatus.
“Oi! Harry!” came a familiar voice. Harry looked up to see George standing in the loft of the store, rearranging products on a rather wonky, rotating shelf.
“Hi,” Harry called back, smiling.
George promptly slid down the railing of a spiral staircase and came to a stop in front of Harry, a wide grin set on his face.
“What brings you in? No, wait, don’t tell me!” He stood back and regarded Harry, then pointed at him with a snap of his fingers. “Ron must have told you about our newest product. Come in to see it, have you? Spiffing! You won’t believe what we—”
“No, I didn’t,” Harry interrupted with a chuckle, holding up his hand. “I mean, I’m sure it’s brilliant. I just hoped to have a word. Is this a good time?”
“Well, seeing as there ain’t no customers in here for me to charm Galleons from, I’m all yours.” He spread his arms magnanimously, then swept them to the side to indicate Harry should precede him to the office in the rear of the shop.
“Where’s Ron?” Harry asked as they walked.
“I’ve moved him to the afternoon shift. We split things up so I could pop over to the pub for a pint or two in the evening.”
“Ah,” Harry mused, somehow appreciating the new schedule even more now that it meant he and George would be alone. He also understood what it was George didn’t say: that he was moving on with his life after Fred’s death and wanted to get out and socialize with others. Idly, Harry wondered if it was Angelina he was going to meet, as they’d certainly looked cozy at the wedding.
The office was small, but brightly lit. The doorway was flanked by two thin desks, laden with boxes, papers, quills and what appeared to be the remnants of some of their more unsuccessful products. The orange walls were covered with sketches on parchment, hastily scribbled notes, shipping receipts and the occasional glossy pin-up witch that grinned seductively as she flashed her breasts.
Harry chose the seat closest to the back wall and George leaned against one of the desks, his hands curled around the edge of it to either side of his hips.
“So, what brings you in, Harry?”
“Um… I had a couple questions about my tattoo.”
“Cor,” George enthused. “On with it, then.” He leaned closer with an eager look, as if he was excited to impart insider secrets about one of his favorite projects – and perhaps he was.
“Well, I was wondering… when you animated it, did you… do anything else to it?”
Harry noted the grin on George’s face and had to remind himself who he was talking to. Of course there would be ‘more to it’ – mischief was George’s middle name. He didn’t want this to turn into a guessing game, though, so he asked something more specific.
“Did you charm it so it reacts to people differently?”
“Yeah, o’course, Harry. It’s so you can steer clear of all the gits who just want a piece of your arse. Jolly fine thinking on my part, if I do say so myself.”
For a moment, Harry just sat there, stunned. “Oh. Thanks.”
“Don’t mention it.”
“But what do the different reactions mean? I mean, which one—?”
“Should you be looking for?” George finished, sliding down the desk to sit closer to Harry. He leaned over conspiratorially and whispered, “The kind where the phoenix wants to bask in the person’s touch, where it seems to want to crawl off your skin and onto theirs.” He walked two fingers up the side of Harry’s arm as he spoke.
Harry swallowed. “What does it mean if it reacts that way?”
George sat upright again, his tone more conversational now. “That they’re a match for you.”
Harry’s eyes went wide. “But… how does it… how would you…?” He closed his mouth with a snap and George chuckled.
“Trade secret, that.”
Harry just shook his head. “You’re bloody brilliant, you know that?”
“That’s the word on the street, yeah. Ruddy gossips.” George flashed his teeth in a cheeky smile.
“Why didn’t you tell me about this earlier?”
George seemed to ponder this for a second and then shrugged. “Dunno, actually. I suppose I didn’t think about it. It wasn’t meant to be a secret.” Then he grinned and nudged Harry gently. “But if you’ve noticed different reactions, that means you’ve had people touching it, you old dog!”
“Yeah, but it’s not what you think. Not really, anyway.”
George waggled his eyebrows. “Whatever you say, Harry.”
“Sod off,” Harry teased with a grin. Then he sobered slightly. “So, could you touch it then? So I can see what it does?”
George grinned wickedly. “And put my hands all over The Boy Who Lived? Why, I thought you’d never ask!” At the look of alarm on Harry’s face, he laughed. “I’m only teasing, Harry. Your dangly bits are not my particular persuasion.” He winked, causing Harry to chuckle nervously.
“Come ‘ere, then,” George urged, beckoning with a gesture. “Let me show you.”
Harry stood up and began unbuttoning his shirt, willing away the embarrassment at being under so much scrutiny. Once the fabric fell open, it revealed his bare chest. The phoenix was resting its head against the right side of his rib cage, as normal, but its one visible eye was open. George stepped closer.
“Ready?” he asked, and Harry nodded, looking down at the hand hovering close to his skin. When George’s fingers made contact, the phoenix immediately arched into his touch, opening its wings in one sweeping, graceful gesture and then folding them again. Harry gasped in awe and looked up.
“Keep watching,” George instructed.
When Harry looked back down, the bird winked at him.
“It winked!” Harry exclaimed, then laughed.
“Yeah, I had to put my mark on it somehow, didn’t I? It recognizes me as the creator of the enchantment, so its reaction to me will be unique. You should ask a few others to do this so you can see how else it responds.”
“Like Ron and Hermione?”
George nodded. “It’ll acknowledge your friends, sure.”
“Is there ever an instance where it won’t move at all for someone?”
“Yeah, but just Muggles. It reacts when it detects a magical signature.”
Harry nodded and then tipped his head with a slight purse of his lips. “So what aren’t you telling me? There’s more, isn’t there?”
George smiled. “Perhaps, but you’ll have to discover it on your own. I’m not going to spoil all my punchlines.”
Harry wasn’t sure he liked the sound of that. “It’s not going to do anything embarrassing, is it? Like turn into a pink flamingo or something?”
For once, George’s expression grew serious. “No. My enhancements were for your benefit only. I’m all for a good joke, as you well know, but I would never defile someone’s personal artwork. That’s sacred turf, that.” He nodded at Harry’s chest.
Something warmed inside Harry and he smiled. “Oh. Good. Cheers.”
Harry spent the rest of that afternoon trying to resist the urge to go track down his friends, but the need to know more about his tattoo’s reactions was driving him to distraction. When he finally felt he could wait no longer, he Apparated to Hogwarts. Luckily, he found both Ron and Hermione without too much effort. They were walking the grounds outside the castle, hand-in-hand. As Harry approached, he realized Ginny, Neville and Michael Corner were also with them, but had been obscured by the surrounding copse of trees at first glance.
Jackpot, he thought. He hoped asking people to touch him wouldn’t be weird; he just had to know, and this seemed like a good variety of people. He’d start with Ron and Hermione, as they would oblige him easily, and then see about asking the others.
Neville saw him approach first. “Harry!” came the surprised, warm greeting, followed by a swift hug.
“Hi, Neville!” Harry enthused, pleased to see his friend again for the first time in months. A chorus of other greetings occurred at the same time, and Harry nodded to everyone in turn.
“What brings you by, mate?” Ron asked.
Suddenly the sole focus of five pairs of eyes, Harry shifted nervously under their curious gazes, unsure if he would be able to ask anything at this point, much less this particular favor. He looked first to Hermione, who regarded him with an encouraging expression, and felt his confidence swell.
“I, um, have a quick favor to ask each of you, but you can say no if you want. It’d just be really helpful for me, if you wouldn’t mind.” He knew he was talking really fast, but when everyone started nodding their heads almost immediately, he allowed himself to relax a little.
“Of course, Harry, what is it?” Hermione offered.
Harry blushed slightly. “You all know about my tattoo, right?” Everyone but Michael and Neville nodded. “Well, I saw George earlier and he said the animation charm on it responds to people differently. So, I was just curious to see how it—”
“Say no more, Harry, let’s see,” Ron interrupted eagerly, rubbing his hands together. Apparently working at the shop had ignited a keen interest in seeing George’s specialty work.
As Harry slipped his wool coat off his shoulders and felt the chilly, November air breach the thin fabric of his shirt, he shivered, making a mental note to choose his venue better next time. Hermione must have caught the reaction, for she slipped her wand into her hand. With a large, arcing gesture and some mumbled words, a warming charm engulfed the lot of them.
She smiled with a shrug. “I wasn’t sure if the cold air would affect the reaction. I also included a subtle Notice-Me-Not charm so you won’t attract an audience while half-stripping in the middle of the grounds.” That garnered a few sniggers.
“Brilliant as ever, Hermione,” Harry said gratefully, to which she smiled.
Instead of removing his shirt completely, he just let it fall open and tucked it behind his shoulders. “All right, Ron,” he said. “You first.”
“What do I have to do?” Ron asked.
“Just touch it anywhere and we’ll see what it does.”
“Okay.” Ron stepped closer and everyone else craned their necks to see around him. He reached out a hand and touched four fingers to the neck of the phoenix. Harry held his breath.
As soon as Ron’s fingers made contact with his skin, the entirety of the phoenix glowed a deep blue and the majestic bird bowed its head. One of the girls gasped. Startled, Ron removed his fingers quickly, and the bird returned to its normal ink color and resting stance. Harry and Ron looked at each other and grinned.
“Blimey, did you see that? Did you feel anything?” Ron asked.
“Not really,” Harry said. “It was a little warm when it glowed, but not much. I think it’s supposed to be more of a visual thing, but I don’t know. That’s why I wanted you guys to test it.”
Hermione stepped over. “Can I try?” At Harry’s eager nod, she mimicked Ron and pressed four of her fingers below Harry’s ribs, right over the breast feathers of the phoenix. This time, it was everyone else who seemed to be holding their breath. However, if they were expecting something new, they were going to be disappointed, for as soon as Hermione’s fingers made contact with the tattoo, it simply glowed a deep blue and the bird bowed its head again in the same regal gesture.
“Huh,” Harry said, looking between Ron and Hermione. “I’m not sure why it was the same for both of you, but if it’s any help, that’s the first time I’ve ever seen that reaction.” He smiled hopefully while Hermione seemed to be contemplating it.
Ginny stepped up next. “Three’s the charm, right?” she asked. She practically had her palm against his side before he could even answer – something that Michael seemed to notice as well, judging by the slight scowl on his face.
Harry cleared his throat. “We’ll see.” But this time when he looked down to see what happened to the tattoo, he watched as it skittered away from Ginny’s touch and ended up somewhere on the back of his neck, according to Ron. Ginny seemed surprised, as did Harry, but then he remembered that was the same sort of reaction it had had to Charlie. At the time he only had a guess as to why it was reacting that way, but George’s explanation confirmed it: neither Charlie nor Ginny were a good match for him. He didn’t feel the need to tell Ginny that, though. No sense hurting her feelings any more than he probably already had.
“Why did it move away from me and not from Ron or Hermione?” she asked, a hint of a pout gracing her lips.
“I don’t know,” Harry lied. “George didn’t tell me what the reactions meant, only that it responds to people differently.” That much was true, at least.
Michael stepped forward now, whether out of curiosity about the tattoo or just to move Ginny away, Harry could only guess. Michael looked once at Harry to gain permission, and then at Harry’s nod, touched two fingers to the phoenix’s head. The bird promptly curled into a tight ball, tucking its long neck and head completely under a wing. It seemed to pulse once in a glow of dingy yellow, and then went still before returning to the blue-black ink.
Somehow even more confused than before, Harry blinked at Michael and then shrugged. Ginny stood with her hands on her hips, clearly assessing the tattoo’s reaction to Michael, and then Harry’s reaction to both. Hermione, on the other hand, was tapping her lip with a thoughtful expression on her face.
“Let’s see what it does for Neville, now,” she said, as though she was on the brink of an explanation. Harry hoped whatever it was, she would wait to share it with him in private. He caught her eye briefly to try and convey this, and she nodded almost imperceptibly.
Neville walked over and stopped in front of Harry, his expression somewhat troubled. “What if it doesn’t respond to me?”
Harry couldn’t help but smile. “It will – it responds to everyone with a magical signature. Try it,” he encouraged.
Neville seemed dubious, but regardless, he reached out a hand and hovered it over Harry’s skin. After a quick look at Harry, he concentrated on Harry’s side, perhaps feeling that would be the most polite place to put his hand. Once again, everyone leaned close to see, their mouths open in anticipation. Harry looked down.
As Neville’s fingers made contact, the entire tattoo once again glowed a deep blue and the phoenix’s head bowed in formal acknowledgment. Neville removed his fingers quickly, also seeming somewhat startled by the result, as though he expected it to burn his skin or something. His face belied any fear, though – he was positively beaming.
“Did you see that? It did the same thing for me as it did for Ron and Hermione!”
Ron clapped Neville on the back while Harry noted Hermione’s expression: she had figured something out. He’d recognize that clever smile anywhere. Eager to hear what she had to say, Harry cast about for some sort of excuse to get her alone. Fortunately, he didn’t have to think long, as the group began to disperse on its own.
Michael announced he had to get to his next class, and beckoned Ginny to join him. She seemed to leave reluctantly, but they both gave a friendly wave as they walked off.
“Me, too, actually,” Neville agreed, and ran to catch up with Michael and Ginny after saying his goodbyes, which always involved encouraging Harry to visit more often.
“Ron, I’ll catch up with you later at the shop; I’ve got to go see the Headmistress now.”
“Yeah, okay,” Ron said, and gave Hermione a quick kiss. “Later, Harry,” he added, before jogging up the hill towards the others. Harry turned to Hermione.
“You don’t really have to see the Headmistress right now, do you?”
“Of course not,” she said. “I could tell you wanted to hear my theory on your tattoo, so I decided I’d better send Ron along without me. You’re welcome, by the way,” she added with a smirk.
Harry laughed. “Thanks!” He buttoned up his shirt and slipped his wool coat back on. “Can we go somewhere warmer, though?”
“Why do you never dress for the weather?” she admonished half-heartedly and Harry made a face.
“I dunno, I guess I just don’t think about it. I don’t like cold weather.”
“We can have a chat in the castle; it’ll be private. I just need to stop by my rooms first and pick up something.” They walked together up the sloping lawn towards Hogwarts’ main entrance.
Harry realized then he had never seen the quarters for Head Girl and Head Boy before, but had always been curious. Rumor had it they were just smaller versions of what the teachers received, and those he’d seen. Well, Severus’ he’d seen.
He was suddenly struck with an urgent and peculiar thought, and it made his heart skip a beat. What would happen if Severus touched his tattoo?
After an impromptu tour of her quarters – small as they were, they were hers – Hermione and Harry headed towards the staff lounge on the fourth floor. While Hermione was not technically staff, Headmistress McGonagall had invited her to use the room whenever she liked, knowing it was often a private space, and one well suited to quiet activities.
The room was empty, so they made themselves comfortable in two squashy armchairs near the fire. Hermione pulled out the book she had retrieved from her rooms and turned it so Harry could read the cover.
“Farbentheorie?” he asked. “What the hell is that?”
She chuckled. “It means ‘color theory’ in German. I borrowed it from the Durmstrang library last month to assist with some Potions work I was doing, and—”
“You speak German?” he interrupted.
“No, of course not. This is the English translated text, but the title remains in German.”
“Oh. Okay. So you think the colors of my tattoo mean something?”
“Definitely. In most cultures, color is central to the representation of ideology, politics, religion, and so forth. The same is true in Wizarding culture.”
Harry seemed to reflect on this. “That makes sense, I guess. Sort of like the four Hogwarts Houses.”
“Exactly. Those colors were not randomly chosen, there is a meaning behind each one.”
“So you think George used color theory magic? Is there such a thing?”
“Yes – it is used in Potions, especially for medicinal purposes, but it shows up in other disciplines, too.”
“Professor Trelawney was always going on about color in our auras,” Harry offered.
Hermione snorted and then opened the book on her lap. She consulted the index first and then began flipping busily through the pages.
Harry leaned closer, his eyes alternating between her and the book. “Well?”
“Just a theory,” she mused.
“Care to elaborate?”
“Well, there’s more to it than just color, isn’t there? The tattoo reacts to people differently, and sometimes without the addition of color – like what happened for Ginny. The only thing I can figure is that somehow George spelled it to determine a person’s inner motivations, or perhaps their standing with you or something, and then have the phoenix reflect that in its pose or actions.”
“And I really have no idea how he did that. I’m sorry, Harry, you’ll have to get that out of him if you really want to know.”
“No, I meant what do the colors mean?”
“Oh. Well, from what I saw, it looks like the tattoo is confirming that myself, Ron and Neville are all loyal to you. That’s what dark blue signifies. Also, the bird bowed to us formally, which is an acknowledgment of respect. For Michael, there was a brief glow of yellow while the bird tucked itself away. Yellow is an attention-seeking color, so I suppose given your history with Ginny, he might feel like he’s competing for her attention. It could also be jealousy. Your tattoo didn’t skirt his touch, though, but it did become sort of unavailable. That might suggest he’s neutral to you. He’s neither loyal nor adversarial, he’s just… there. If that makes any sense. And Ginny… well, based on what you told me about Charlie, I’d say that neither of them are a good fit for you. A phoenix running away is a pretty good sign, I should think.”
Harry blinked. “You got all that from this afternoon?”
“Most of it, yes. It seems fairly logical, really, and I already knew a bit about what different colors mean.”
“So aside from blue, what other colors would be good?”
“Red or orange, or a blend of the two. Or any shade of purple.” She grinned again, although this time it was sly.
“Why, what would that mean?”
“Well, purple combines the loyalty of blue and the energy of red, so that’d be quite lovely to see. And the reds and oranges themselves mean desire, passion, sex, pleasure… love.”
As predicted, Harry blushed.
“I take it you haven’t seen that reaction yet,” she said.
He cleared his throat and turned to watch the flames flicker in the fireplace. “No.”
Hermione smiled gently at him even though he couldn’t see it. “You will, Harry. I know you will.”
Letting the slippery material of Harry’s invisibility cloak cascade over his fingers, Severus smiled slightly to himself. He couldn’t believe Harry had just handed it over without even so much as a ‘what do you plan to do with it?’, but then Severus wasn’t just anyone asking, was he? Perhaps Harry did trust him as much as he professed to during his sixth draught; his impassioned defense had certainly seemed earnest, and when had he ever known Harry to behave otherwise?
Inspecting the garment carefully, Severus discovered the cloak was like nothing he had ever seen before. Exquisite in its simplicity, it had a virtually seamless and weightless construction. And it was impenetrable, too, apparently. Professional curiosity having got the best of him, Severus tossed a variety of increasingly caustic hexes at it. The cloak absorbed them all with not even the slightest mark visible on the fabric – if the material could even be called a fabric.
He knew the lore of the Deathly Hallows, of course, and Dumbledore had said Harry had an invisibility cloak in his possession during his years at Hogwarts, but Severus never imagined the two might be one and the same. Moreover, he never expected he’d get the chance to experience it firsthand. It had been a stroke of good fortune that Harry had reminded him of its existence when he did.
Severus swung the cloak in a loose arc around his shoulders and let it cover his body. All but his head instantly disappeared. As he moved from side to side, the noise of the material was nearly imperceptible; his breathing would be louder. For lack of a better word, it was perfect.
After covering his head, Severus slipped out of his quarters and into the hallway. Although it was blessedly free of students, he still cast a cushioning charm on his feet so the telltale clack of his boots on the stone floors would be silenced as well. It was eerie, in a way, to move about in near silence. It felt ghostly; powerful.
The makings of a smirk turned up one corner of Severus’ mouth.
As he headed up a back passage to the fourth floor, he saw Professor Sprout reaching for the door to the staff lounge. Severus knew in order to enter the room, he’d have to slip in behind her, and so hurried on ahead. He managed to trail her close enough to remain undetected, but his gig was almost up when his shoulder grazed the closing door, causing it to slow enough that it almost came to a halt. Pomona didn’t seem to notice, however, and pushed the door closed as though nothing was amiss. Severus let out a slow breath.
A few other teachers had gathered by the coffee and tea service, sampling the afternoon’s pastries and chatting amiably about their classes. It was the reason Severus rarely made an appearance here – the last thing he wanted to do was discuss his classes after an entire day of being subjected to them in person.
Pressing himself against a far wall, so as to ensure no one bumped into him accidentally – invisible or not, he was still a solid form underneath the cloak – he watched his fill of colleague interaction with a certain detached amusement.
The more he observed, the more a particular thought kept forcing its way in. He’d had the thought before, but it seemed to be getting stronger and more insistent with time. His role as a teacher was feeling increasingly separate from him; disparate and foreign. It was no secret he was not passionate about his job – had never been, in fact – but until this school year, it had simply been a necessity; he’d never had the luxury to indulge such malcontent thoughts before.
A shuffle of teachers near him interrupted his ruminating and he saw they were all getting ready to leave. A quick glance at the clock on the wall told him it was likely for dinner. Severus turned to take inventory of the room and noticed only Professor Domhall would remain.
He made a quick decision to exit along with the large group and positioned himself just beyond their trailing wake. However, when he passed the back side of the fireplace, he stopped when he heard what sounded like Harry’s voice. Stepping around the far corner of the fireplace, an area that had previously been out of sight came into view. Sure enough, it was Harry. He was draped comfortably across a chair in front of the fire, talking with Hermione.
It was good to see him again, though the irony of spying on Harry with his own invisibility cloak was not lost on Severus. Still, as he stood there greedily looking his fill, he decided Australia must have been good for Harry. The bronzed skin and relaxed smile were a welcome sight, if not a stark contrast, to the emotionally overwrought and exhausted Harry he’d seen barely a few weeks ago. He seemed more content and robust now – and more alluring, if that were even possible.
The diminishing voices of his colleagues signaled Severus’ time was up, and he rushed to catch them. He only got a few steps before he froze again, this time at the name on Hermione’s tongue.
“Do you know Marcus Braham?” she asked Harry and he looked up at her.
Severus grinned in a self-satisfied manner. Unfortunately, it was only to be short-lived.
“Oh wait, yeah. He introduced himself to me in Hogsmeade once. Is he the one who plays Quidditch for Slytherin? The blonde bloke – the one the girls are always mooning over?”
“And the boys,” Hermione added casually.
Harry blinked. “He’s gay?”
“Huh,” Harry added, drifting in thought.
Severus scowled, but was forced to slip out of the lounge when Professor Domhall stood to make his exit. It was his last window of opportunity – one that didn’t come with a high risk of discovery, at least. There was no telling how long he’d have to stay to wait out Harry and Hermione, and, magic castle or not, doors that appeared to open on their own would garner attention.
Once free of the lounge, Severus stalked off in the direction of his office, casting his mind about for some sort of distraction that would prevent him from going to throttle his Prefect.
“Remember when we talked in Australia, and I told you Severus and I were working on something?”
“Yes?” Hermione sat forward, clearly interested.
Harry had wanted to tell her sooner, but knew with the wedding preparation (and then the actual wedding) Hermione had had enough things on her mind. But now, being alone with her in the lounge, it seemed like the right time. He proceeded to explain Evochi, and how he came to try it in the first place (although Hermione wasn’t impressed that he had been planning to leave England on his own), how Severus had hoped it would help Harry heal from the emotional effects of the war, as well as allowing him to meet his parents. He described what he’d experienced in his six sessions so far (though he skimmed over the two about Voldemort for the time being) and recounted some of the scientific conversations – including, and especially, the ones where he had contributed something to the process.
Harry couldn’t help noting the look on Hermione’s face as he spoke: for the first time in recent memory, Harry was teaching her something. It was, in fact, the first time he had told anyone about Evochi, and it had gone much better than he had anticipated. He had been expecting a lecture, but received only her rapt attention and warm encouragement. And, if he wasn’t mistaken, more than little awe for Severus. It gave Harry the confidence to consider telling Ron as well – at some point.
“Would you like to join me on my next session?” he asked.
For a moment, Hermione just sat there, speechless. “Really? I could do that?”
Harry smiled. “Yeah, really. I can see you’re interested, and honestly, Evochi’s the sort of thing you have to experience to understand. It isn’t something you can get from a book.”
“Oh, Harry, I’d love to!” she squealed. “Thank you!”
He would later swear that Hermione bounced for the remainder of the afternoon, though she would ardently deny it.