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Severus Snape was not pleased with Harry Potter.

Granted, he never was, but in six years, the magnitude of his ire had never even come close to what it was now. This year - the seventh, and (he hoped) the last - was the worst, because the Boy-Who-Lived had done the one thing that no one had ever suspected he would:

Harry Potter had managed to become friends with Draco Malfoy.

It was hell.

Potter alone, with his absolute disregard for the rules and Dumbledore’s endless supply of favoritism, he could have handled.  Draco alone, lacquered to a mirror finish with nepotism and Slytherin politics, he could have managed. Potter and Draco? A dynamic duo with more potential for chaos than the Weasley twins and essentially no oversight, not even the law - Severus dreaded the day they did anything of major legal consequence, because he was already suffering every time his godson showed up at his office unannounced to whinge that all the detentions Severus was handing out were cutting into his time with Harry.

‘Harry’.

Dear Merlin, he needed a drink.

Severus grimaced down at his desk, littered with work he hadn't mustered up the energy to do, and wished fervently he'd saved some Sobering Draught from the most recent batch - that way he could at least drown his pain in Firewhiskey. Alas, no such luck.

He was at least thankful that the initial impression - of Draco being infatuated with Potter - had proven false under scrutiny; Severus dared not imagine what the two would have been like as a couple. It would have been a dreadful sight on par with the very pair who had inspired Draco and Potter to become friendly in the first place: the Dark Lord and his Assistant.

In his darkest moments - no, more often than that - Severus wished the Dark Lord would just go back to open warfare. Because of course Potter had to go and become a fan of the accursed media franchise sometime during the summer; the boy was as avid a fan as Draco, which was saying something, given WhiteDragon was one of the biggest names in the fandom short of the stars themselves. And now it was all they talked about.

All of this, irksome as it was, would still have been.. tolerable.. if Severus didn't keep catching the two of them practicing Dark Arts in his bloody classroom-

(Which, incidentally, was why he was overseeing detention for both of them, right now.)

The Potions Master wanted to scream, but he would not give them the satisfaction of witnessing it. He kept his eyes on the first-year Defense essays and refused to acknowledge either of the so-called Despotic Duo where they were scrubbing cauldrons ten feet away; if either of them caught his eye they would try to piss him off so he’d send them out early. (It worked more often than he’d like to admit.)

It was the third such detention he'd assigned, now, a few weeks into term; and they all knew it for the impasse that it was. Because they also all knew there was no way to enforce Dumbledore's puritanical rules about 'acceptable' magic in the school: Draco was, simply put, Lucius' son, and Potter...

A tiny hole singed in the corner of one essay, spreading slow but steady like a cigarette burn until it reached the very edge of one messily written word on the page.

If the headmaster even believed such an accusation against Potter, he would most likely 'make an exception' for the boy after a long lecture and judicious application of disappointed blue eyes, and Potter would pretend at contrition, as he always did, and continue what he was doing while trying harder not to be caught. As he always did.

Severus blew out the smoldering parchment and rubbed between his eyes.

There remained a risk, minimal, but nonzero, that Dumbledore's recent stress with the Dark Lord's overt activities would boil over with a claim against Potter - and he would turn on the Boy-Who-Lived with extreme prejudice for the perceived betrayal of values. It had happened before, with Black: he'd pushed through a guilty verdict without a trial and thrown the man in Azkaban for over a decade.

(And there had been something different about the interactions between Potter and Dumbledore for a month or two, already, hadn’t there? The headmaster knew something about Potter that he hadn't told anyone - something serious, something to do with the War - the more Severus let himself consider the possibility, the likelier it seemed, and the Unbreakable Vow he'd sworn to protect the boy pulled at him in warning-)

So. Detention.

"Professor," called Potter, dragging him out of his thoughts, "is this cauldron still functional, or should we throw it away? The pewter's been corroded down into its component metals in several spots." He sounded lightly curious, even interested, which was not a tone Severus wished to hear from him or Draco; it never boded well.

"Oh, this one too!" Draco exclaimed, sounding equally fascinated. With cauldrons. "There's those restorative solvents, if we set up for a bit of alchemy," he said to Potter more quietly, "like in the episode-" and Severus looked up sharply from his desk now, to see them both examining Draco's cauldron with bright, wide eyes - lit with the faint gleam of illegal magesight.

He put his head in his hands.

 

The forlorn Potions-Master-slash-Defence-Professor was not the only one who’d taken note of Harry’s newfound friendship; but for much of September, he was the most informed. The other two-thirds of the Golden Trio had quickly come to the worst conclusion, and spent the intervening weeks in quiet conflict over what to do about it - most of the times Harry teased them for ‘canoodling’, they were actually arguing over whether to stage an intervention.

Ron was dead-set on telling Harry to his face that he had to stop seeing Malfoy. “He’s our sworn nemesis!” he insisted, time and time again when the subject came up. “Who knows what kind of influence he’s been?!”

It did explain Harry’s change in behavior over the summer, far better than Sirius and Remus’ vampire theory. The late nights, the edgy fashion sense, the clubbing and the drinking - it was just the sort of activity Malfoy and his cronies enjoyed, Ron proclaimed, associating with bad people, playing with dangerous magic, throwing money around on overpriced drinks and outfits-

(Hermione had tried explaining what 'class envy' was to Ron, but that lecture went in one ear and out the other.)

For her part, Hermione doubted that blanket-forbidding Harry from seeing Malfoy would even be acknowledged, much less heeded. She didn't approve, but there was no chance of that being enough to sway her notoriously strong-willed friend. They'd talked to Harry about his boyfriend over the summer, and been brushed off, hadn't they? He'd shown no signs of being love potioned, and he resisted the Imperius easily enough, so there had to be something he liked Malfoy for...

(Hadn't he gone extremely red the time they'd joked about sex? But it wouldn’t be just that, surely-)

Obviously Ron didn't like any of that line of thinking when she brought it up, so they continued watching Malfoy and Harry interact from a distance, waffling over whether to take action. It put something of a wall between them and Harry until nearly October, when Hermione happened to overhear the two troublemakers talking in a nearby classroom. She'd thought at first it was, well, something other than talking-

“-weird about it, Harry, everyone does it,” Malfoy was, predictably, whining. “It’s not a hardship, you used to do it all the time.”

Hermione had been walking back from NEWT Arithmancy at the time; she’d stopped dead in the middle of the corridor and gone and plastered herself to the wall, listening carefully.

“It’s not that I haven’t done it before,” Harry grumbled, “I just..”

“Then quit being so embarrassed and just do it,” Malfoy snapped, exasperated.

Hermione sometimes hated being imaginative, because it sounded like he was telling Harry to-

“I will, just laer, alright, obviously I’m not going to do it here-”

She covered her face, blushing fiercely, hardly daring to breathe.

“Excuses, Harry,” Malfoy singsonged, “just admit you can’t do it, I wouldn’t be surprised-”

“I can!” Harry bit out, with a sound like he’d slammed his fist on the wall. Then, a sigh. “It just feels weird doing it now, okay?”

What exactly felt weird? No, wait, don't answer that-

“Fine, fine, I won’t tease you,” Malfoy gave up. “But seriously, you calling all the staff ‘professor’ is getting weird, Snape’s definitely noticed…”

Hermione tuned out for a second, completely thrown. They weren’t talking about - fellatio? When she resumed paying attention, Harry’s voice had dropped to the nervous muttering he always used when someone called him out on his bullshit.

“..know it makes me sound like the biggest simp in the fandom, okay, but it just feels weird saying it in any other context now.”

“Pff. You can call other people sir without sounding like you’re talking about Him, Potter - it’s very easy when you aren’t thirsting like a desert at noon.” Hermione hid behind a statue as footsteps approached the door to the classroom the boys had been bickering in. “Someday, I swear,” Malfoy went on, chuckling, “I dare you to call the Dark Lord ‘Sir’ to his face, just to see what he says. At a meet-and-greet or something.”

Harry groaned. “I am not inviting comparison to Bellatrix.”

“More like Assistant,” Malfoy snickered, as their footsteps faded off in the other direction. Hermione stuck her head out from behind the statue to peer after them - there was no hand-holding going on, and they kept a normal distance between them, nothing about body language to suggest they were involved.

...Had she and Ron misunderstood?

The look on Harry’s face after dinner, when Hermione finally asked directly, said yes, they very much had. “You thought I was WITH him?” Harry choked on his pumpkin juice. “Godric, no,” he grimaced, “I have a type, Hermione, and Draco is Not It.”

“Oh? So what is it then” She teased, passing him a napkin to wipe up the juice he’d spilled on the table. “Tall, dark and handsome?” All three things Malfoy wasn't.

“Well, actually,” Harry scratched the back of his neck, flushing a bit.

But if it wasn’t Draco, then who was Harry’s boyfriend?

 

Elsewhere and elsewhen, a shadow lingered in the heart of London.

Rain had misted over the city as the sun set, magical and Muggle districts alike; the clouds still hovered overhead, heavy with the promise of more, and colder, and sent their chill breeze through the streets and alleys to jostle hanging streetlamps and call up fog to mist around pedestrians' ankles. Knockturn Alley had the worst of it: yellow light from its dusty lanterns quavered with the wind, casting all manner of strange shadows against the walls, so that those lurking between buildings could scarcely see into the street.

Thus they missed the figure in black who kicked up swirls of mist in his path down the Alley, undeterred by the weather; whose silhouette was framed in instants against shops' darkened windows. Some inside the shops did notice his passing - and shivered. For while it was not as though the stranger were dressed any differently than most clientele at this hour, there was something else, something threatening about him, that even glimpses conveyed.

The fog cleared with the turn of the weather, blown apart by another, colder gust, to unveil gleaming cobblestones, trod upon by black boots polished to an equal shine - just in time to catch the stranger setting foot on Diagon Alley. Cheery in daylight, the street had a much different cast when the sun set: shops closed at dusk, an old custom none had dared break with, so that the evening hours for many Diagon merchants were spent conducting business.

It was such business that had brought the shadow here.

He had not been invited, precisely, but that did not mean he was not awaited at his destination; so he did not tarry, but swept across the street, black cloak billowing, and slunk into the unlit gap between two buildings, to an unmarked side door, and knocked - three times, just above the knob.

All activity within the walls stilled at the sound. The shop owners exchanged a look, expressions gone equally tight with nerves: they had been notified only hours earlier of their visitor, not nearly enough time to gather their wits, but he was there, beyond the door. For a long moment, they waited for him to knock again.

He didn't.

But the air of danger did not lessen: still, he lurked beyond the door. Would lurk, as long as they made him wait, and that rudeness would cost them, they were sure-

Go open it, one mouthed to the other, and with shaking hands, he did.

He flinched, despite himself, to find their visitor on the other side of the door when it opened, only inches from the wood; the nervous smile he'd plastered on to greet him fell, in favor of simply standing back, to let the shadow in.

"Misters Weasley," greeted Assistant, as the door closed behind him without any touch from Fred or George. "Thank you for seeing me on such short notice. I hope I didn't interrupt anything scheduled for the day."

"N-not at all," George stammered, ears pinking in embarrassment at the slip. "We were surprised to hear from you-" more like terrified- "and didn't have anything that couldn't be moved, really." Merlin, he was rambling, Fred save him-

"This way," Fred spoke up, opening the door to the parlor they set aside, further back, for meetings. Assistant said nothing, merely nodded and followed him; the black cloak shimmered under the parlor's brighter lights, almost iridescent, and he took a moment upon entering the parlor to take it off and hang it on a provided hook - but the hood stayed. Of course it did.

The twins had seen Assistant before, on episodes of Professor Riddle; he was dressed much the same now, they thought, but somehow darker, as if the shadows obscuring his face weren't enough. The thought that crossed their minds, as he took a seat at the meeting table, was that those episodes didn't do justice to the aura surrounding the man. He was a cheerful, relatable student in counterpoint to Voldemort's more serious professor face - but that persona was shed offscreen.

"Would you care for a drink?" George asked, to break the silence. He was already reaching for the top-shelf stuff.

"That would be lovely, thank you," said Assistant, and his voice was warm but the rest of him was empty, devoid of body language just like Snape had described him to the Order. Coupled with the hood over his features, and the weight of his presence in the room, even the politesse came out sinister.

Fred poured three glasses of the fifty-Galleon Firewhiskey he and George had been saving for a Christmas gift. It smoked faintly in the open air, promising the burning heat it was famous for. Neither twin dared touch it while Assistant observed his glass. Was it not something he drank? Had they made a wrong move? This was the Assistant, currently the favorite subordinate of Britain's most infamous murderer, and he was here on business   and what if they got on his nerves, there wouldn't be enough left of them to fit in a thimble, they had seen clips from Dark Livestream-

(Fred teased George for being a worrywart, but in the confines of his own mind he worried much worse.)

"Oh, this is interesting," said Assistant brightly, sipping it. (The glass just disappeared beneath the hood, which was unsettling to watch even knowing it was magic.) "Sir doesn't drink much Firewhiskey, so I haven't had it. Thank you."

"Glad you like it," Fred squeaked. He coughed to cover it, then downed a mouthful of the Firewhiskey. (It did burn.)

Then, more silence. The twins exchanged a glance, but let it stand, sipping their drinks at about the same pace as Assistant did. They had had deals in the past with people who would finish two glasses before they were ready to talk, and with people who wouldn't touch anything they were offered, for a variety of reasons. (Mad-Eye, for example, was paranoid as fuck.) Assistant was somewhere in between; he seemed perfectly at ease saying nothing and just drinking his liquor at regular intervals.

At last, he set the glass aside, half-empty. "Ah, much better. I can finally feel my fingers again." He wiggled one black gloved hand. "Chilly out there tonight. Down to business, then, I suppose?"

Yes, please, thought George, wringing his hands under the table. Whatever this is about, let's just get it over with-

"You've likely received quite a bit of mail asking for Dark Livestream merch recently," Assistant began, and they nodded - more like a deluge. "Sir and I were hoping to make that happen on an official level; he sent me over with a proposal."

What.

They watched, astounded, as Assistant withdrew a fancy-looking scroll from his sleeve - particularly interesting in that there was no sign it had been there before. It was wrapped in black brocade, tied with a vivid green ribbon; the dark wooden caps holding it together were carved to look like skulls. No mistaking that for anyone else, thought Fred, even his mental voice gone faint.

"We hadn't been following the show too closely during the busy season," George admitted, "so the uptick in requests was a bit surprising."

"And 'sides that," Fred went on, "we'd've thought You-Know-Who would rather fill our graves than fill our pockets-"

"-given who our family are." So to say they were blindsided by the proposal was an understatement.

Assistant hummed, thoughtful, as he laid the black fabric out on the table and carefully unrolled the scroll onto it for them to read. The parchment didn't try to roll back up once it had been set down, like other documents they’d seen. "I'm not sure Sir cares," he said frankly, stepping aside to let them read. "Politics mean little to him against quality, even if he isn't much a fan of the love potion section."

(They winced.)

"The fans, meanwhile, are chomping at the bit for official merch; many of whom are already collectors of your line of miniatures." Assistant gave a small laugh; it sent a shiver down Fred's spine. "Myself among them. I'll give you some time to look this over."

And he sat back down, letting them read. George's eyebrows (or, well, eyebrow - one of them had been singed off earlier in the day) climbed higher with every line, and he grabbed Fred's wrist for stability. "Look," he whispered, pointing at a particular section.

"..Oh, damn," Fred said after a minute. He glanced up at Assistant, who was sipping the rest of his Firewhiskey and reading something on his phone. Did he know what this said? Or was he just an instrument of Voldemort's will, like Death Eaters were said to be?

Because this was an incredible offer. They were being given more than a month's profits in just R&D; the proposed thirty percent royalties were only marginally steeper than what the Chocolate Frog Company demanded for the 'privilege' of selling their product at the counter. And to sweeten the pot, half of the merch would be bought ahead of time to resell on the site, with only minor stipulations about reasonable pricing of non-limited edition merchandise-

George was a faster reader than Fred; when he choked, suddenly, going still at his twin's side, Fred was quick to skip down to the last section and read the additional incentive being offered to them: ..letter of referral to the Blackthorn Bazaar-

"We'll take it," Fred blurted out, louder than he meant to.

They had been trying to get into the Bazaar for longer than they'd had the shop - there were materials, ingredients, enchanted tools sold there that could be found nowhere else. The contract could have had only that, and they would've agreed.

"Excellent," said Assistant, tone suggesting a smile. He stood, retrieving a small black case from the same sleeve as the scroll. "Sir will be so pleased."

He set the case down on the table and opened it for them to see: there, on vivid red satin, rested a fine black quill. Gloved fingers held it out to them; goosebumps rose on their skin, even as Fred took it first, because there was no ink.

George watched his brother sign with faintly trembling hands, feeling like they were making a deal with the Devil, but Merlin, the Devil did good business. Assistant had rolled the last few inches of the scroll down for the signing lines; there at the bottom, gleaming in black wax, was the skull and snake seal of their new patron, and beside it in spidery, red lettering, the name. Lord Voldemort.

Then it was George's turn, signing with the same simple calligraphy they'd all learned from their Mum a decade ago, before Hogwarts. Mum would kill us for this, he thought suddenly, biting his lip. But when Fred passed him the quill, its Dark magic making his fingers tingle, he did not hesitate to sign as well.

Assistant offered them a spray of dittany and murtlap essence for the backs of their hands when it was done; unlike their brief experience with Umbridge's detentions, the scratches healed instantly without scars. Then he took off one of his gloves, revealing a fine-boned, pale hand of his own, and bent to sign on the witness line: Lord Voldemort's Assistant.

"Is that really your name?" Fred couldn't help but ask.

"Yep," said Assistant, popping the 'p'.

George hummed, thoughtful. "Almost makes it sound like you're married. Mr and Mr You-Know-Who." He laughed a little at the idea.

Assistant snorted, the most unintimidating sound they'd heard from him yet. "Now that would be a much different contract, wouldn't it?" Steadily, methodically, he put everything away: the glove back on, quill in its case, the scroll rolled up, capped, wrapped and tied. "Sir will have two copies of the contract sent here by tomorrow night for your reference, with the original in his safekeeping. If you need anything," he retrieved a triangular business card from the front pocket of his shirt, laid it on the table, "this is the business line. And if you would prefer to deal with me directly, my number is one digit higher. I've written it on the reverse side."

"Pleasure doing business with you," said Fred, offering a hand for a handshake. Assistant shook it, and George's when he offered his after.

Assistant retrieved his cloak from the hook, and let them walk him back out to the door he'd come in from. And just before he left, disappearing into the denser fog that had filled the street in the interim, he turned back to them and observed, pleasant as anything,

"I can see why Harry recommended you."

Then he was gone.

"How in the world," Fred looked to his twin-

"-does he know Harry?"

 

Voldemort was already watching the door to his office when Assistant opened it. "Excellent news, Sir," the man said, producing the scroll from his sleeve without delay.

"Indeed?" He sat back in his chair, content to watch Assistant lay out the parchment on his desk for him, kept clean by the layer of silk brocade used as wrapping. There was an art, a ceremony, to scroll-reading; he enjoyed it as the small luxury that it was, and Assistant had been pleased to learn from him as he was pleased to learn all things.

Red eyes found the signatures at the bottom: the merchants', yes, good, and then Assistant's, which provided a visceral satisfaction whose source he could not place. "I had expected them to negotiate more," Voldemort mused, a small smile dancing at the corners of his lips.

"The Bazaar cinched it," Assistant informed him. "The whole of it was generous, but they agreed the moment they saw that clause." He was leaning in over his shoulder, close enough for Voldemort to scent the Firewhiskey on his breath.

It wrinkled his nose, a little, to know Assistant had drank without him - he had expected it, but there was something he disliked about knowing Assistant had imbibed anything he had not given him, that anything from the outside world had touched the man. Voldemort passed him the glass he'd been sipping from for the past hour, a red wine from the case Assistant had previously enjoyed, and watched him drink it down without hesitation, a small pleased sigh escaping obscured lips.

"Thank you, Sir," Assistant said, leaning against his chair, the wine on his breath a small relief. "Shall I pour another?"

"Perhaps later," the Dark Lord demurred, making the necessary copies while the task was at hand. "These will need to be sent out in the morning," he said more to himself than to the other man, and was surprised when Assistant offered to deliver them to the postbox now, rather than later, so that they wouldn't have to be on his mind. "I forgot to check the postbox while I was on Knockturn earlier," he laughed, "walked right by it without thinking."

Voldemort watched him depart through the same door as he'd entered, a graceful sweep of black robes borrowed from his wardrobe. Assistant was a fine sight in his clothes, as he was in his own - as he was in none at all.

He contemplated that last thought, staring into the fire. His appreciation for the man was not new, and not limited to aesthetics; beautiful though Assistant was, it was more than that which had driven him to craft the Time-Turner he had gifted him at summer's end.

He had laid the silver chain about Assistant's neck, knuckles brushing on warm skin, and lain awake thinking of that touch for hours afterward; and when Assistant returned to him that evening with all the time in the world to spend together, he had then wondered - worried - if it would be too much, if he would exhaust his interest, and lain awake a second time.

But he had not grown tired of the man, not in days, weeks, a month, and neither did Assistant bore of him, as he had also worried he might. On the contrary: the Dark Lord could not help but want more of him, impossible as that was, and dedicated increasing portions of his schedule to Assistant's presence.

Alone in his office, Voldemort ran fingers through his hair and tilted his head back to stare at the ceiling. There was a possessive thing growing between them that he could not deny: it was slow, but it was there, and in moments like earlier, it burned. And Assistant, bless him, did nothing to discourage Voldemort from wanting to keep him always, as his own alone.

He closed his eyes, imagined. Assistant, his Death Eater, his Mark upon his arm. No - Assistant becoming his Death Eater, the very moment that he cast the spell. Voldemort always cast that bond with a wand, but in his imagination, the spell was channeled instead through his palm, the Mark emerging on a bare forearm, the racing pulse under his thumb as he pinned Assistant beneath him-

The Dark Lord breathed out sharply through his nose and opened his eyes, fascinated by the flush that had spread across his face at the implication of that thought. There was more possession there than he had anticipated; more urge, as well. He told himself it did not bear consideration: a visible Mark would render Assistant's other identity moot, whatever it was, and how many times had the man spoken of his fear should he be found out? Fear of ostracism from the few others he valued-

A very small part of Voldemort, that he had excised from conscious thought when he recovered his sanity, hissed at the knowledge that Assistant had anyone he valued more than him; wished to find such people and destroy them, or to possess their bodies and take their place. That maddened shred of his soul demanded all of Assistant's positive regard to belong to him, every warm feeling Dementors would feast on, and further, every cold feeling that was left. Voldemort acknowledged those intrusive thoughts and dismissed them, because he no longer succumbed to the weakness of singular obsession, did not want it.

He wanted Assistant, but only as much as Assistant wanted him back.

Still. The same side of him that thrilled every time they shared a bed after a drinking night, that drank in the sight of Assistant sprawled on his back, pale and lean against his black sheets, that had - on one occasion only - knelt over Assistant's sleeping form and imagined an ecstatic face beneath the hood, flushed, wide-eyed, lips parted on a gasp, or a plea, forming the name Assistant gave him-

"Sir-"

It could not be entirely ignored.

Perhaps that was why he did not consult Assistant before the announcement.

 

Sunday, 1st October, 2017.

Harry sank into the pile of beanbags next to Draco, watching the livestream they'd projected onto the wall. He wasn't the only one who used the Room of Requirement as a secret clubroom anymore: the DL fans in Hogwarts gathered here for every scheduled stream, posting their reactions in the spoilers channel as it aired. Soon, very soon, he'd be off to repeat the day, and pick up where the last lesson had left off. The October episodes of Professor Riddle were going to be all about soul magic, more demonstrative than practical, and Sir had been teaching him plenty ahead of time, too, so he would get to demonstrate a lot of the magic he'd been mastering.

Tonight's stream had been an excellent, gruesome watch, featuring one of the criminals who the Aurors hadn't been able to catch - a serial poisoner with no real pattern to his acts save a penchant for the very young and the very old. Sir had demonstrated counterspells to all the types of poisons the man used, from the careful work healers did separating the poison from the blood to the crude and painful methods used by the very desperate.

("Accidental magic," Sir murmured, "responds in this fashion to poison; it is understandably as traumatic to the mind as to the body..")

Now, he had set the remains aside, and spelled the mess off of the stone floor; Harry leaned forward, ever attentive, to hear the post-stream announcements for the upcoming week, ready to post them in the server for everyone to read. They would be posted on the main page of the Dark Livestream website as well, but that would be at midnight, hours away.

"This week marks the beginning of the topic many of my dear viewers have been waiting for in the Professor Riddle series: soul magic, and more specifically, necromancy. Tuesday's episode will serve as an introduction to the Darkest Art, with an easy set of aptitude tests to discover those with the talent.

"In its highest form, it is rarely seen in a century of wizards, even though it is not inherited - as rare as a True Seer, or more so. But there are many levels of ability, as there are with Dark Arts as a whole..."

Harry transcribed as he listened. Sir had given him a similar speech early in the last month - and you, Assistant, are at that level, a cherished rarity-

"..and lastly," the Dark Lord said, smiling, summoning a rolled-up scroll from the side of the room, "I have become aware of the petition circulating amongst our fans, which has reached seven thousand signatures as of last night."

The entire club's attention turned to the screen, drawing in a breath and holding it.

"I have given it due consideration," Sir went on, letting the scroll unroll and unroll, "seeing such interest from you all..."

Draco had a hand over his mouth, wide-eyed. Blaise and Theo's jaws had dropped. No way, Theo mouthed.

"..and so, at two million Galleons in cumulative donations, yes, I will kiss Assistant."

Harry dropped his phone.