The disbanded Order of the Phoenix was holding its first meeting in nearly a decade.
“It’s true, I’m telling you!”
“She really did it this time!”
“I don’t believe it.”
“Ask Remus…he was there!”
The werewolf nodded his head numbly. “I’m afraid it is all true.”
The past ten years had been kind to Lupin. His unexpected collaboration with Newt Scamander had produced the phenomenally successful “Light Creature, Dark Creature,” required reading at every school in the wizarding world. He was healthier, wealthier and quite a bit more at peace with the world nowadays.
He was not, however, very happy at the moment. “Ginny had his trunks packed and waiting on the steps when he came home tonight. She told him she’d finally had enough and -” There was an uncomfortable pause. “-It was...obvious that she’d been seeing someone else.”
“That’s a bloody lie!” Ron Weasley lunged at the werewolf. “Take it back!”
In an instant, a flash of red light streaked across the room. The ginger-haired idiot crashed to the ground like a rock.
“Apparently,” continued Lupin, returning the wand to his pocket, “the most recent object of Mrs. Potter’s affection is Oliver Wood.”
“But Oliver is married!” sputtered George.
“Our little Gin would never-,” protested Fred.
“Are you implying that my little girl would ever betray-”?
"Arthur, what part of 'in flagrante delicto' do you not understand?" Remus countered.
“I. DO. NOT. GIVE. A. RUSTY. FUCK.”
The room fell completely silent as Severus Snape rose from his chair and glared at Shacklebolt. “Why am I even here? With all due respect, Minister, do not abuse your powers again. I resent being summoned from my potions brewing in the middle of the night to listen to the adolescent drivelings of a Gryffindor soap opera.”
Kingsley rolled his eyes. “Give me a moment, Snape. This concerns you as well.”
“Just shut up for one minute.” The distinguished leader of wizarding Britain pulled out a scroll. “Where is he now, Remus?”
“Upstairs. Poppy’s given him a calming drought.”
“Excellent. So - down to business –“
“Once again, Minister…what does this have to do with me?”
The tall, black wizard seemed to savor the moment. “Oh, didn’t I mention it? You’re going to be babysitting Harry Potter for the next two weeks.”
“Are you out of your bloody mind?” Snape’s roar echoed throughout the old townhouse. “No fucking way!”
“Language, Professor!” hissed Molly Weasley.
Even though it was none of her business, everyone had to admit she had a point. Since the end of the war, the repressed potions master had developed a rather alarming fondness for profanity.
“I utterly refuse to ruin my summer-“
“Let me make myself clear," Kingsley began unrolling the parchment, "You WILL do this.”
“Who died and made you Merlin?”
“I do dislike pulling rank, Severus, but as the muggles like to say, ‘I am the boss of you.’”
There was snide laughter from the other Order members.
“Please,” the werewolf just had to put his two knuts in. “Harry is so distraught he might…injure himself.”
“Hello? St. Mungo’s?”
“’The Boy Who Lived’ in St. Mungo’s mental ward? The hero of the wizarding world at his most vulnerable? We certainly don't need another 'Bode Incident.' There are still enough dark wizards out there who would seize the opportunity to –“
“Whatever.” Black eyes narrowed. “Why aren’t you jumping at the chance to be useful, Lupin? You live for this shit.”
“I would do it myself, gladly, but Harry…” he sounded almost embarrassed. “He could always get around me. He’s suffered through so much; I can’t be stern with him. I’ve tried.”
“What aren’t you telling me?” Severus glanced around suspiciously.
The room fell silent yet again.
“Let’s be blunt here, Severus,” Minerva finally chimed in. “You can be counted on not indulge the young man. You cannot be…charmed.”
Ah. Well. That was certainly true enough. Severus had never subscribed to the Cult of Potter. He’d acknowledged the resourcefulness and raw courage that had almost single-handedly brought down Voldemort – but he’d steadfastly refused to worship at his holy shrine. Still, it was painful to realize that despite the fact he had been forgiven for his crimes, he was again serving yet another master. Bloody hell and damnation! Would he never be free?
“There is also the fact that the wards around your property are amongst the most powerful in Scotland, second only to Hogwarts,” Minister Shacklebolt glanced up from his parchment with a faint murmur “Floo access completely deactivated. Paranoid, are we?”
“It’s called common sense,” Severus sneered. “Are we going to be done anytime soon? I have delicate potions which require my immediate attention.”
“By way of a quid pro quo,” Lupin added, “the Hogwarts Board has agreed to completely fund the research and development of a definitive new potions textbook. The one you’ve wanted to write since we were students.”
The potions master perked up immediately. Replace the moldy old tome of that fraud, Jigger? Give those puling pubescent little pricks a decent text to follow in class? “How much funding?”
“Fifty thousand galleons.”
Snape twisted his thin lips. “I shall require an hour to prepare a guest room and adjust the wards. You may then have Potter portkeyed to my garden gate.” He swept from the room in a cloud of utter annoyance.
“So, Ginny really dumped Harry for Ollie Wood?” George finally spoke up.
“That’s an outrageous accusation!” Molly smacked the both twins on the side of the head.
“Mum! I didn’t say anything!” whined Fred.
“Nonsense. You two share the same brain.”
Hermione Granger was fussing over her dazed ex-boyfriend. “Ron, honestly! Violence is always your first reaction -“
“On the other hand,” George conceded, “I can see the attraction. Ollie always was quite the slob.”
“And bless Harry’s heart, but he’d drive anyone spare with his…ways.”
Those ways had come about as a complete surprise after the war. Before the death of Voldemort, Harry Potter had seemed like the average, slovenly, disorganized teenager. As much as his friends had known about his time at the Dursleys, it simply never occurred to anyone that he would embrace parts of that old, repressive life.
Now, Harry could never leave a bed unmade, a sink of dirty dishes or a lawn un-manicured. Everything needed to be clean and completely dust-free. Bottles and canned goods were arranged in alphabetical order. The corners of bed sheets must be folded at exactly the right angle, and mirrors must be completely clear from streaks. Monday was casserole day, and Wednesday was lamb chops. Probably the worst part, and it was something Ginny had never told anyone but Hermione (and Hermione would never tell another living soul) – was the fact that sex only took place every Sunday evening.
* * * * * * * * * * *
A still weepy and sullen Harry Potter shuffled into Snape's kitchen two days later. He sat at the long, old trestle table in silence.
"Sleep well, Potter?"
"I'd sleep a lot better without the handcuffing charm on the bed."
"Hardly," sneered the older man, "In your fragile state, we can't risk you hurting yourself, can we?"
"How many times I have to say it – I am not killing myself! Why can't you believe me?"
"No, I already told you yesterday. I won't run away...it's not as if I have anywhere else to be." He was on an indefinite leave from his research position at the D.O.M.
Snape irritably plunked down a plate in front of him. “They’re hot. Eat them before I Crucio you.
“Waffles? You made me waffles?”
“I made MYSELF waffles, Potter. Since you’re here, I simply added extra batter.”
“But you made waffles! My favorite!” The green eyes faded slightly. “Ginny knew I loved waffles, but she never made them. If I wanted waffles, I’d have to cook them myself.”
“Would you shut up and let me enjoy my breakfast?”
There was a pause. “You put chocolate chips in them!” Another pause. “Oh. Dark chocolate chips.”
“You’re actually complaining?”
“No, no, not at all! They’re lovely, of course, but milk chocolate chips would set off the flavor of the egg yolk even more exquisitely. Every year, on Valentine’s day, I make – made waffles in the shape of hearts and birds and roses -“
“Potter, are you gay?”
The younger man dropped his fork. “Why would you say that, Snape? Why? Do I look gay?”
“Well, you certainly sound gay.”
For the first time, the cockiness returned to Harry’s demeanor. “Yes, that’s how I killed Voldemort – I used a very special gay Avada Kedavra. “
“In the Dark Lord’s case, that probably made the curse twice as effective.”
“Are you saying that Riddle was-”?
Painful memories flooded Severus. “Let us end this line of discussion.”
“You brought it up, not me.” He shrugged through a mouthful of waffle and gazed out through the diamond-paned kitchen window. “Your garden needs weeding. I’ll find some old gloves.”
* * * * * * * * * * * *
“Potter, are you gay?”
Of all the words to ever come out of Professor Snape’s mouth – those four were the last he’d ever expected. Harry yanked viciously at another cluster of dandelions. Ginny had accused him of not being…interested. After they lay side by side together in the bed on Sunday nights, he could sense the accusation in her short, huffy breaths. It didn’t matter how much he loved her. It didn’t matter how much he nurtured and cherished her.
In the end, for Ginny, it all came down to the sex. Didn’t she see that love was about more than the act of sex? Well, apparently not. He’d come home unexpectedly from his job at the Ministry and walked in on his old quidditch captain and Ginny declaring their mutual love. The fact that they were screaming the words, in bed, naked at the time only made matters all too clear.
The hardest part was that the sex wasn’t what hurt the most. It was the fact that she loved someone else. Okay, there was that other thing: Seeing Oliver Wood nude and thrusting in utter ecstasy. It brought back fragments of memory from his Hogwarts days. The team showers after quidditch matches. He’d never seen another naked person before (partially clothed Dursleys mercifully did not count). Several times, he had…reacted in a most embarrassing way. He'd grabbed a towel before any of his teammates noticed. Harry had always assumed that he would have had the same reaction to a shower filled with nude girls.
“Potter,” a steely voice cut through his reverie. “Do you intend to murder all my basil plants?” Snape cast a shadow as he hovered above him. He had removed his robes in the morning heat. Rolled up white shirtsleeves revealed lightly tanned forearms and the straight ebony hair hung loose and damp. Black slacks clung to his lanky frame. He must have just emerged from the shower.
Snape in the shower! Snape in the shower! Snape in the-
Harry froze. “I’m so sorry!”
“Please be so kind as to get the fuck out of my garden. Now!”
Mortified, the younger wizard stumbled towards the house. Snape stared at his retreating figure with an odd glint in his black eyes.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
All right. Fine. So perhaps Severus felt slightly remorseful for exploding at the irritating Gryffindor. He graciously permitted Potter to distract himself with the preparation of dinner. As expected, those preparations were meticulous to the extreme.
“The vermicelli must boil for precisely four minutes with a tablespoon of sea salt... water, stirred clockwise every twenty one seconds.” Potter used his free hand to deftly crush a single garlic clove into the simmering Puttanesca.
Severus felt a frisson of pleasure dart up his spine. There was something so unexpectedly delectable about Potter’s painstaking attention to detail. Had the boy – no, correction – young man – applied himself so intently to his potions work; he might well have ended up with a mastery.
Not five minutes later, (“The pasta must be served immediately or the texture becomes unacceptable!”) Potter had dished up the most exquisite Italian dinner in his host’s memory. Simply out of courtesy, mind you, Snape summoned a bottle of his favorite Piedmont Dolcetto from the wine cellar.
“The perfect choice!” Green eyes lit up delightedly. “The hint of violet makes a sublime counterpoint to the olive.”
The other man gave a smug nod of acknowledgement. In truth, he was actually finding Potter's company more than bearable. The little pest had made himself rather at home in Snape's kitchen. Normally, he would have been supremely offended at such an intrusion – but now, after just two days, he found himself actually deferring to his young guest. It truly was a delight to watch him prepare a meal. Yes, the lad's presence wasn't entirely irritating.
"Oh, God!" Potter suddenly began to sob.
Ah, he had spoken too soon. "Shit, what now?" Snape demanded.
"Violets - we have a window box filled with violets at our cottage!" the sobbing continued. "Who's going to take care of them now? Ginny over-waters them. Without me there, they'll die!"
"Salazar's shriveled nuts, boy! What are you, queen of the fucking Hufflepuffs? No wonder the stupid little twat dumped you!"
"Ginny's not stupid. She's...she's wonderful and perfect in every way! I love her." There was a silence. "I did love her. When did you get such a foul mouth, anyhow?"
Snape summoned a second bottle with a casual flick of his wand. "I find it rather liberating to finally be able to say whatever I please."
"Professor, you always said whatever you pleased."
"No, Potter. In addition to playing a part, I always had to watch my words. There was always a fear of punishment. Now, I simply couldn't care less. It's quite...liberating." He smiled evilly. "The shock value is just an added bonus. More wine?"
Potter stared down at the remnants of dinner. "I don't want to be like this. I don't want to feel like this."
Snape carefully set his glass down. "Isn't it about time you cut the shit, and tell me what this is really about?"
"Ginny never...aroused me. I thought once we were married, and I was more comfortable – hey! Did you spike this with Veritaserum, you crafty Slytherin prick?"
"Hardly necessary - you want to tell me all about your sordid sex troubles. I'll just sit here, languidly sipping my wine and waiting for your startling moment of gay self-revelation."
"Gryffindor denial is so endlessly entertaining."
"You know, Snape. You seem to be rather...obsessed with my being gay."
It was Severus' turn to choke. "What?"
"Is that what this is all about? Do you swing that way? There were always those rumors at Hogwarts-"
"I am not obsessed, Potter!"
"Yeah, fine, whatever. Answer the question: Are you gay?"
"That is a personal matter between – what rumors?"
"Oh, you and Professor Lockhart during second year-"
A chair crashed onto the floor. "That preening ponce? That deluded charlatan! That felonious buffoon? Are you utterly insane?"
Harry shrugged. "Well, he was certainly interested in you."
Sweet Merlin, had the entire school known of Lockhart's abortive attempt at an illegal Valentine's Day love potion? Severus cringed at the memory. "Trust me when I tell you, Gilderoy may be in St. Mungo's for losing his memory – but I can think of two other items he no longer possesses."
Harry's face suddenly clouded over. "She wrote me my first Valentine, that year...a poem..."
Bloody crap! How long was this maudlin display going to drag on? Wait. Something seemed definitely "off" here. No. It couldn't be possible, could it? Severus drew closer to the younger man. He gazed into the deep, endless emerald eyes. Ah, of course! Why hadn’t he seen it before? It was so obvious.
Harry felt an involuntary tremor as long, callused fingers grasped his wrist and lingered on the pulse point. “Snape, what-“?
Abruptly, the older man sat back in his chair. "Potter, you've been cursed!"
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Two hours and three vials of blood later, Harry rolled down his sleeve. “Well?”
“It’s ingenious! A combined love potion and liquid derivative of Imperius.”
“But I’m immune to Imperius!”
“Put aside your ego for just one moment, Potter. No one is completely immune to a curse. This is it. What muggles call a ‘back door.’ Brilliant, really.”
“I don’t understand.”
Snape rolled his eyes. “Really? Perhaps it is because you don’t know fuck all about everything. And the last time I looked, you didn’t have the honorific ‘Potions Master’ in front of your name.”
“You don’t have to get snotty.”
“Of course, I do. Why ever would I miss such a wonderful opportunity? In any case, this much is clear: You have all the symptoms of magical withdrawal.”
“For Merlin’s sake, connect the dots, Potter! Who has had virtually unlimited access to everything you’ve eaten and drunk for the past decade? These potions are also absorbed through the skin, through plants, through clothing and bed linens…need I continue?”
Harry began to sob. “How dare you even imply that my beautiful, darling, precious Ginny would even be capable of…capable of…” A look of abject horror appeared on his face. “Oh, shit.”
“Quite right,” Snape agreed. “You have all the symptoms of obsessive adoration without the…er.. equally powerful sexual component. This was a love potion, not a lust potion. Stupid girl.”
“That’s why you asked me if I was gay?”
“It was just one possibility,” Snape admitted. “It could explain certain…difficulties in your intimate relations with your wife.” He cleared his throat hastily. “Be that as it may, I’m not a fucking marriage counselor, Potter.”
Harry stared down at his trainers. “It never occurred to me that there was any other way to feel.”
“All these years…I thought this was what a normal marriage was supposed to be. Like Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia.” Harry began to sob again. “Ginny! How could she? I loved her, my angel! I trusted my sweet little carrot top! My darling, beloved – oh, holy fuck! Please tell me there’s a cure, Snape! I sound like a flaming pussy!”
It was hard not to smirk. “Don’t worry, Potter. The chemicals should work their way out of your system within the next two weeks."
“I trusted her. She was one of my dearest friends.” The voice was rusted, heavy.
“So you were betrayed, used, ensnared and enslaved. Welcome to my world.”
“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you, Snape?”
“Excessively.” And the best part? I’ll have it all in my pensive.”
Harry shook his head in disbelief. “How could I not have known?”
“Because when you’re not killing evil overlords with ruthlessness and deadly cunning – you’re just another gullible idiot.” Snape moved to the large, workroom sink and began tidying up.
“I’ll help you.”
The young man’s eyes darted around the basement lab in delighted anticipation. “Those labels would be easier to see if you changed the print size by even a fraction. The fresh herbs haven’t yet been packaged and alphabetized. And when was the last time those cauldrons were buffed to a shine?”
The idea of Potter rapturously slaving away in his dungeon was incredibly erotic. Severus did his best to ignore the myriad sensations such a delectable picture evoked. He sighed. “Obviously, your manic obsession with housework and domestic organization is an aspect of Imperio I have never before witnessed.”
“I beg your pardon?”
Harry reached for an oilcloth cleaning apron. “It’s not part of the curse.”
“Pray enlighten me.”
It almost seemed as if the young man’s body quivered. “In the war. Near the end…when I was captured…” He struggled for the words.
“Go on,” Severus prodded softly.
“During those five days before you and the rest of the Order came to rescue me...Bella and Lucius had to keep me alive until…well, Voldemort had given orders. No one was to actually touch me, but they were permitted to…to play.
“I’m sorry, Potter.”
It made things easier, somehow, to tell everything at last. To tell someone. Even Snape. Especially Snape. It was far more likely that he, too, had suffered his own brand of torture at the hands of the very same Death Eaters. “You know the curses, right?”
“Unfortunately, I, too, have firsthand experience of them.” Snape twisted his lips, confirming Harry’s suspicions. “But five days?” It was unheard of to survive that long and retain one’s sanity.
“I couldn’t shut off the pain…so I started to compartmentalize it. Like…when I lived with the Dursleys and everything was so tidy. During each Crucio, I started to do another chore in my mind for Aunt Petunia. Mowing the postage stamp lawn to an exact 7.6 centimeters. Aunt Petunia was always strict about the grass…organize all the bottles in the spice rack...scrubbing down all the bathroom tiles with a toothbrush. Later when Lucius…when he started to…well, the point is, I’d start to polish all of Uncle Vernon’s dress shoes…buff them to a shine…” He drifted off. “The thing is – I feel peace in silly little tasks now. It’s…comforting…safe, somehow. I can’t really explain it.”
“You don’t have to explain. I get it, Potter. I’m not a moron.” But there was just the merest hint of tenderness in his tone.
“The point is, this neatness thing I do…it’s not part of any curse. I want to do it, Severus. I need to do it.” There was a significant pause. “And I’ve come to realize that more than anything, I enjoy doing it most of all…for you." He tentatively reached out a hand. "I'm not sure what comes next, but I'd like to find out."
For the first time in his forty-seven years, Snape was utterly at a loss for words. He took a step forward.