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growing pains 00b

24. 7. 2011

"Will it?" Severus could barely get the words out; he was so mesmerized by Harry's expression.

"Oh, yes, count on it," Harry assured. Confusion seemed to touch his attractive face for a moment as they looked at each other. Severus tensed as Potter's mouth opened as if to question him, but an abrupt knock on the door broke the moment.

His skin felt strangely cold when Harry's hand released his chin.

They both turned as the door opened and Hermione's head popped in. "Everything all right in here?"

As Severus moved guiltily away, Potter grinned over at her. "Yeah. Don't worry, no stink bombs tonight." Harry turned back to him and gave him an encouraging smile. "I guess we'd better join the crowd."

Severus watched his companion get up from the bed and head for the door as though it were perfectly normal for two grown men to be caught sitting on the side of a bed staring into each other's eyes.

When he moved to follow, Hermione stepped up to him and softly said, "I'm sorry. Did my bad timing interrupt something?"

He could not credit how hopeful she appeared at the thought.

Severus resisted the impulse to snap. What he really wanted was to be seven years old again so that he could crawl into her arms and let her hug all his troubles away.

"No, we were just talking," Severus quickly assured.

"Ah," she said, sounding disappointed. "Come on. You barely touched your nut bread. Ron and Neville finished off their tarts and half of Harry's cake. I think your bread will be next if you don't get back to it."

"I'd best protect it, then," he answered as lightly as he could manage. Inside, he felt like he was falling apart.

But Hermione led him back into the brightly lit sitting room, sat him down in his chair with a fresh mug of tea and his nut bread, and took her seat beside him.

No one commented on his discussion with Longbottom. Ron, Zabini, and Longbottom all appeared to be caught up in a heated quidditch discussion at the table, which Potter was immediately hauled into.

Seeing how Hermione was staring off into space and not even attempting to follow the nearby conversation or pay any attention to the papers in her lap, Severus quietly called, "Hermione?"

It felt strange calling her that. For so many years she'd been either Miss Granger or Professor Weasley. But he couldn't go back to that. The formality would hurt her, he knew. Still, he would forever associate her given name with the woman who'd taken such loving care of him. It was an odd sensation to look at her out of his adult eyes, see her obvious youth, and still have all these filial feelings towards someone who'd been his student. He supposed it must be even more difficult for her.

"Yes?" she asked with a smile.

"Are you all right?" Severus softly questioned.

The smile quivered for a moment and then vanished into something sadder. "I miss my boys. I mean, I'm truly happy to have both you and Harry back as adults, but . . . there's a part of me that wishes we could have had it both ways – that your adult selves would be returned, but that we'd have still been able to keep your child selves. I'm just being silly, I suppose."

"It is hardly silly. You spent months caring for us. To have the children to whom you'd devoted all that time to simply vanish overnight must have been quite jarring," Severus said in a low tone. He wasn't used to dispensing solace, but he couldn't ignore her pain, not after all she'd done for him. "If it's any consolation, neither Harry nor I were eager for the restoration."

"I know," Hermione said. "I think that makes it even harder. But at least there have been some positive effects." His scepticism must have been obvious, for Hermione asked, "Tonight hasn't been too terrible for you, has it? It seemed like you were enjoying yourself."

After assuring himself that the others were still occupied with their world cup argument, Severus admitted, "I didn't think that I would be comfortable, but . . . it has been most pleasurable."

His words seemed to reassure her. "I was hoping you would like it. Your presence has had a real effect on Harry, thank heavens."

"How so?" he asked as disinterestedly as possible. The expression in her warm brown eyes told him that Hermione had seen right through his feigned indifference.

"Well, six months ago if Harry had been upset like he was when you arrived tonight, he would have spent the entire night brooding while the rest of us tiptoed around on eggshells," Hermione said. "You got him to laugh. That means a lot."

"He's not sleeping again," Severus reported in an even lower tone.

"I know. Can you see through that glamour he wears, too?" she asked.

He nodded. "He's reinforced it now, but when we were alone together before, it slipped."

"That happens when he's really tired."

"He's worn it before, then?" Severus questioned, wondering why he was so startled. If anyone had cause for sleepless nights, it was the young man upon whom so much of their hope had rested during the war.

Hermione snorted. "The real question is 'when doesn't he wear it?'"

"How long has that been going on?"

"Harry started using the glamour after Sirius died. Aside from those months he spent as a seven-year-old, I really can't remember a time since when he didn't use it," she told him, her concern evident.

"It's not healthy to use a glamour that frequently," Severus said. "It puts a constant drain on his powers."

"I know. Ron and I have had this discussion with him a million times. He's always had so much pressure on him that it's hard to press the issue, though."

"A glamour is no substitute for sleep," Severus said.

"I know," Hermione agreed.

"Well, that will change as of tonight, if I have anything to say about it," Severus said with his old determination.

Hermione's smile was back. "See, I told you something positive had come of it."

"Come of what?" a familiar voice asked from his left side.

Severus turned to see Harry, with the heavy sheaf of parchments under his arm, approaching his chair. Behind them, Ron, Zabini, and Longbottom were still absorbed in a hot debate about the aging Victor Krum's future in quidditch.

After the slightest of hesitations, Harry settled on the thick carpet between Hermione and Severus' chair. For a moment, it had looked like Potter was going to perch on the arm of his chair, as Ron was wont to do with Hermione. He was grateful Harry spared him that trial. It was bad enough gazing down at the unkempt head next to his right knee, without having Harry's thigh within easy reach.

"We were just discussing your sleeping habits, or lack thereof," Severus answered.

"Hermione," Harry began, his anger apparent.

"It's not Hermione's fault," Severus cut him off. "She is concerned about your well-being, as well she should be. You are going to stop using that glamour and get some rest, as of tonight."

The defiant glare was the same one Severus had faced every day as Potter's teacher. "Am I now? Who's going to make me?"

Keeping his calm, for to lose his temper with this man was to lose the fight, Severus replied, "I. You will either accompany me to my lab after we're through here of your own free will or I will petrify you, carry you down the main staircase, and force-feed you the potion like a recalcitrant three year old. The choice is yours."

Severus wondered if he were about to destroy their newfound friendship. The fire blazing in Harry's eyes threatened to carry over into an outburst. Severus knew from his time spent with Potter's child counterpart how close the battle was raging. He could see Hermione bracing herself in the chair across from his.

But after an eternity of glaring up at him out of those enraged green eyes, the ire deflated, replaced by something like amusement. "You would, too, wouldn't you?"

"In a minute," Severus replied, almost weak with relief at the diverted disaster.

"Thought so," Harry said with a self-satisfied smile. Harry turned his attention to the pile of parchments beside him and quietly said a moment later, "Besides, if you recall, I'd already agreed to take your noxious potion – in exchange for your help with my seventh years."

Severus had in fact forgotten.

Hermione shot Severus a grin and went back to her own work. After another moment or two, Severus did the same.

The remainder of the evening passed pleasantly enough.

The high point for Severus was when Harry leaned his back against Snape's chair arm for support.

"Am I bothering you?" Harry looked up and asked when Severus made to shift away to give Potter more room.

Bothering him? He could barely think. Harry's left shoulder was a warm weight against his right knee.

Despite his current problem coping, this wasn't an unfamiliar position. Often during the past four months when Severus would be sitting in this chair at night reading, Harry would come and stretch out on the rug in front of his chair like this and end up leaning against him, most times falling asleep with his head nestled between the chair cushion and Severus' nearest knee. But they weren't seven-year-olds anymore. This wasn't appropriate behaviour for Hogwarts teachers in a semi-public venue.

And yet, there was nothing overtly sexual about their positions. Harry was simply leaning against him. It was the suggested intimacy more than anything that was disturbing.

He opened his mouth to ask Harry to give him some room, but the vulnerable expression in those green eyes stilled his words. He seemed to hear Harry telling him in the bedroom that it was the first time he'd felt normal in days. So he closed his mouth on his protest and attempted to make do.

Lying to Potter for the first time in months, Severus shook his head 'no' and forced his gaze back to the second year homework he was purportedly grading.

At first the contact was distracting and incredibly arousing, but after a time, Severus grew accustomed to that fantastically warm body leaning so trustingly against him.

He couldn't help but note Longbottom and Zabini taking in the unique sight of Harry Potter sprawled at his feet as they returned to the couch and their own work. Severus hoped he'd have some time before the inevitable rumours started to spread and Harry's innocence would be spoilt. Severus knew that he should move away, but right now was the first time he'd felt truly at peace since they'd awoken as adults on Saturday morning. So he stayed put and tolerated the staring.

For his part, Harry seemed oblivious to the attention.

Hours later when they called it a night, Severus was nearly disappointed. There was a part of him that didn't want to leave the Weasleys' comfortable quarters. More than anything, he wanted to follow Harry back to the room they'd shared and fall asleep to the familiar rhythm of Potter's breathing after they'd laughed themselves silly over something inconsequential. But he conducted himself with dignity and managed to bid both Hermione and Ron a gracious farewell as he followed the others out the door.

"I'm glad you came tonight, Professor Snape," Zabini said with what appeared a genuine smile as the Weasleys' door closed behind them. "It was good to have another Slytherin around."

"I guess you guys do feel outnumbered," Potter commented as he struggled to hold onto his parchments and the pile of shrunken clothing he'd reclaimed from the Weasleys' guestroom before leaving.

"Hardly," Severus countered.

"How's that? It was four Gryffindors to two Slytherins tonight," Potter pointed out.

Severus exchanged a glance with Zabini and then drolly replied, "Four Gryffindors aren't any competition for any Slytherin worthy of his house, let alone two of us. I assure you, at no time were Professor Zabini and I outnumbered. Rather, it was the Gryffindors who were outclassed."

Neville Longbottom stiffened on Potter's far side, his fair skin turning pink with either embarrassment or anger. Severus waited for Potter to take issue with his statement, but Harry only shook with laughter and said in a playful, dreadful, fake American accent, "Them's fighting words."

"Perhaps you should wait until you are at less of a disadvantage to make such posturing statements," Severus warned.

"Hmmm?" Harry asked, seemingly undisturbed by the slight that still had Longbottom as scarlet as his house colours.

"Your wand is in your pocket and your hands are occupied at the moment. You're not in a position to fight anyone," Severus noted and then asked, "What are you – three years old?" before he removed his own wand from his pocket and flicked it in the direction of Potter's parchments and clothes, which seemed on the verge of tumbling to the flagstones. "/I>Wingardium leviosa."

Potter's burdens leapt almost gratefully from his arms to float in front of them.

"Now why didn't I think of that?" Harry questioned.

"I haven't a clue. Come along. I'll give you that potion we discussed. Goodnight." Severus nodded to the others.

"Goodnight," Zabini's laughing voice responded, echoed by Longbottom's uncertain one. They could hear a still chuckling Zabini say, "Come on, Neville, show me that cutting you were talking about," as they made their way down the hall.

Once he and Potter turned the corridor that took them clear of Gryffindor Tower, the laughter faded.

As they passed the Great Hall on their way to the stairs that would take them down to the Slytherin end of the castle, Harry softly asked, "Did I embarrass you before when I was leaning against your chair? You seemed . . . uneasy."

Uneasy now and unable to explain why, Severus carefully answered, "We aren't seven anymore."

"You keep saying that," Harry complained.

"I keep saying it because it's true," he snapped.

"So what I did was inappropriate because we're not seven?" Harry sounded genuinely confused and more than a little hurt.

Responding to that pain, in spite of himself, Severus replied, "Not inappropriate, as such. But perhaps ill advised."

"How so?" Harry asked.

"Have you never heard of decorum or propriety? We are Hogwarts professors. We must be conscious of our conduct." Severus snapped, despite his best intentions. Harry wasn't a child anymore. He shouldn't have to explain these things to a full-grown man.

"There wasn't anything improper in our behaviour," Harry hotly denied.

"Professors Longbottom and Zabini were both staring at us," Severus said.

"Of course, they were staring at us. They're used to us being at odds as adults. And neither of them have any right to be throwing stones, what with the way Blaise had his feet tucked under Neville's bum to keep them warm while they were staring at us. How is that acceptable and my leaning against your chair unacceptable?"

Severus started. He hadn't realized where Zabini's feet had been during that time. But, it hardly mattered where the other Slytherin's feet had been. All he'd been aware of was Harry's shoulder pressing against his own knee. Rallying, he shot back with. "Blaise Zabini was not a Death Eater."

"Why does it always have to come back to that with you?" Harry asked, seeming more concerned than angry with him at the moment.

"Because Voldemort's mark never leaves a person, not physically or socially. People immediately assume the worst about me because of my past, and my personality doesn't help matters," he honestly added. "The only way I have maintained my position for this long was by remaining free of scandal. I can't jeopardize my place here at Hogwarts, Harry, not for anything." The weight of Harry's stare was unbearable. After a momentary pause, Severus found himself confessing something he wouldn't have told anyone under pain of death six months ago. "It's the only home I've ever known."

But if he were to jeopardize that home, this man would be the temptation that destroyed him, he silently acknowledged.

Harry's hand touched his arm, stopping him at the top of the deserted stairs while Potter's parchments and clothes bobbed patiently at their side.

"I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking," Harry softly apologized. "But . . . you don't really think that either Blaise or Neville would spread false rumours about us, do you?"

"Longbottom has no cause to love me and Zabini is a Slytherin. No Slytherin can resist the temptation to stir the pot, as it were," Severus candidly assessed.

"Blaise Zabini is my friend. My secrets are safe with him. And Neville would die before he would do anything to hurt me."

"Such faith," Severus had meant to sneer the comment, but even he could hear the bewilderment in his voice.

"I know them as well as I know you," Harry said.

"You don't know me at all." This time Severus didn't have to work for the sneer. It surfaced quite naturally after so idiotic a statement.

Harry didn't react as if he were insulted, angry, or even particularly surprised by Snape's response. Catching his gaze and holding it, Harry softly questioned, "Don't I?"

His mouth went dry at the gentle inquiry. That stare was digging through his walls, piercing him to the soul. Very aware of his pounding heart, Severus tried to refute the other man's quiet certainty . . . and couldn't. If anyone knew him in this world, it was Harry Potter.

After the silence stretched out for an uncomfortable eon or two, Harry gave him a mischievous smile and said, "Best friends for life, remember? We're still alive."

Severus finally managed to swallow.

"Speak for yourself," he rasped.

"I will, and for you, too. You're alive. You're just too stubborn to admit it."

Or too scared, Severus wanted to counter, because it didn't feel like either stubbornness or pride right now; it felt like terror. But he knew he couldn't admit any of that, so he forced himself to rise to the occasion. Calling on every bit of acting talent he possessed, Severus forced a sardonic flair into his voice and questioned, "Sure of that, are you?"

"Entirely," Harry answered with totally irresistible cheek and started walking again.

Severus fell into step beside him.

After they'd gone down a couple of staircases, whose drowsing portraits never even stirred at their passage, Harry said, "I'll try not to embarrass you in public again. Though, I can't make any promises if it's just the group we were with tonight. I don't have any secrets from them. You're my friend now, so are they. You're going to have to learn to trust them."

"Am I?" Severus didn't have to feign his sarcasm this time.

"Yes, you are," Harry's voice was pure steel. "You're not going away; neither are they. The novelty will fade in a week or two. There will be no more staring. Until then, we'll manage. And I promise to behave in public."

"I will believe that when I see it," Severus said, for want of anything wittier. Harry's confidence in his friends and in his continued relationship with his former teacher was astonishing. If pressed to give his opinion, Severus didn't think their friendship had a chance of surviving the week.

"Actually, I was hoping you would give me the chance to prove it," Harry said as they left the stairs at the dungeon level and made for Snape's workroom where the sleeping draught was stored.

"Oh?" Severus absently questioned and then muttered the words to allow them entrance through his security wards. A softly uttered "Lumos," lit the torches.

Harry followed him into the empty lab. The sinks, worktables, cauldrons, and other potions apparatus were all fastidiously clean. Nevertheless, the place had a feel of neglect and disuse about it, as though this room where he'd spent so much of the last twenty-five years took Severus' absence these last four months as a personal slight. For his part, Severus couldn't swear the room didn't. Hogwarts seemed to have a rudimentary intelligence worked into its very stones.

"Yes," Harry continued. "First off, promise me that you won't say no right away."

Totally on guard now, Severus asked, "No to what?"

"Do you promise?" Harry cajoled.

Severus snapped, "Of course, I don't promise. What kind of fool do you take me for? Well, get on with it. Don't just stand there giving me that injured look."

Because if Harry continued to look at him out of those huge, pleading eyes, Severus knew he'd give Potter anything he asked for.

To his relief, nervousness turned Harry's gaze away from him. As if steeling up his courage – the thought of anything so serious that it gave this utterly fearless war veteran pause chilled Severus – Harry seemed to force himself to meet his gaze again. Nowhere near as self-assured as normal, Potter said, "Every Friday night, we usually go to The Three Broomsticks."

"We being?" Severus quizzed. He wasn't going to go, of course, but he was morbidly curious as to exactly what Potter did do with his free time since he no longer seemed to be actively dating.

"Tonight's group," Harry said, and, at Severus' pointed stare, amended, "And one or two others whom you know: Fred and George Weasley, and maybe Seamus Finnigan, if he can get away from his wife and kids for the night. The only strangers will be Neville's girlfriend and whomever Blaise is seeing this week."

"Longbottom has a girlfriend?" Severus couldn't help but gape.

"Yes. Her name is Melody. You'll despise her. She's fully as nice as Neville," Harry informed. "So will you come?"

"I don't like strangers, crowds, or pubs, nor am I a social drinker," Severus replied.

"You won't be among strangers; you'll be with us. And it's not just a regular drinking night. On Fridays Rosmerta has live music."

"As opposed to dead music?" Severus challenged. "At any rate, I would not call anything I have heard anyone in this school listen to music."

"It's not like the groups that perform at Hogwarts' end of year dances," Harry quickly promised. "This isn't music for kids. It's actually a Squib band that performs the music the Muggles of the Celtic Isles used to use to work magic. You won't believe the power they raise."

"Squibs can't raise magical power. That's what defines them as squibs," Severus spoke as if to a moron.

"They don't raise the energy. The music does. It's traditional Gaelic music. I know it's going to sound absurd, but you can feel the power vibrating through the room when they begin to play," Harry said.

"You're making this up," Severus said, intrigued.

"I'm not. Why don't you come and see if you like it. If it's not to your tastes, we'll leave," Harry promised.

"We'll leave?" Severus questioned.

"Yes, we'll leave," Harry confirmed. "If we're going to be friends, we have to find some common ground. I think you'll like this. If you don't, we'll tell the others that we only dropped in to say hello and then we can apparate to a Muggle bookstore that I think you'll like. It's open until midnight on weekends and has a café right in the bookstore."

Harry had obviously been giving this some thought. Severus' stomach fluttered like a battalion of Albus' butterflies had gotten loose in it at the idea of Harry racking his brains to think of things they could do together. And Potter hadn't done a bad job of it. The only thing that might interest him more than power enhancement and unusual books was a new potions apothecary.

"Will you think about it?" Harry asked.

Needing a moment to compose himself, Severus turned to his potions' cabinet without answering. Muttering the unlocking spell, he retrieved a large bottle of his sleeping draught.

"Well, will you?" Harry hounded as Severus rejoined him where he was lurking just inside the doorway.

Rallying his guards, Severus answered, "If you give me your word as a Gryffindor martyr that you'll take three tablespoons of this mixture any night you have difficulty sleeping."

"I already told you I would," Harry groused.

"Yes, but I would feel better about it if I had your word as a Gryffindor. As a Slytherin, I know how malleable promises can be."

"All right," Harry conceded with fire in his eyes. "I give you my solemn word –"

"As a Gryffindor martyr," Severus reminded.

"As a Gryffindor," Harry corrected, "that I will take your nasty potion whenever I can't sleep – providing it doesn't make me sluggish the next day."

"Agreed," Severus said.

"And in turn, you will think about Friday night?"

"If I don't see that glamour again between now and Friday, I will accompany you." He, too, could be gracious when it suited him.

"Just like that? No strings attached?" Harry sounded stunned.

"I told you that I would try to be your friend," Severus reminded, and then gave Harry the full truth. "And both of your suggestions sound intriguing."

The delight in Harry's smile was well worth the chance he took in being so forthright.

"Brilliant!" Potter beamed.

"Hardly. You know I don't react favourably to social situations. It could be a complete disaster," Severus warned.

"Or it could be as much fun as tonight was," his eternal optimist countered.

Severus wished he had the wherewithal to curse him, that damned faith irritated him so much.

"And if it isn't?" Severus questioned.

"Then we'll try something else," Potter said. Seeming to read through his shields, Harry quietly assured, "There's no pressure, Severus. We can go to the pub, or the bookstore, or make more mud castles in the quidditch pitch if we can't think of anything else to do."

Appreciating Harry's encouragement more than he could say, Severus dryly commented, "I'm sure Ron would be delighted by two or three more forts on his field."

"That's the spirit." Harry grinned.

"There's definitely some Slytherin in you somewhere. That was not a kind thought," Severus pointed out, feeling the corners of his lips twitching at Harry's expression.

"Who said Gryffindors have to be kind? We just have to save the world. They're not the same thing. Right now I'm working on saving our world," Harry admitted, something serious lurking beneath his joking facade.

"And if you fail?" Severus questioned, wondering how Harry would react when he finally was forced to recognize that he couldn't teach this old dog new tricks, despite all the good intentions in the world.

"I won't," Harry vowed.

"You realize you're insufferable, don't you?" Severus asked, feeling cornered. It was either strike out or crumble, and striking out had always been easier for him.

Harry simply grinned at him. "Then we're well matched, aren't we?"

Severus wished that he wasn't so weak. More than anything, he wanted to be able to turn away from Potter and have the comfort of his old numb life back, but he was fully addicted to the drug that was Harry Potter. Although he knew this man would be his ruination, he couldn't close Harry out.

After an extended pause during which Severus could find no answer, Harry's grin faded and he softly assured, "It will be all right, Severus." Without waiting for his reply, Potter quickly changed the subject. "Now, tell me again how much of this stuff I have to take."

Severus leapt at the reprieve. "I've written the directions on the label. But in case my suspicions prove correct and you really can't read, it says to take three tablespoons twenty minutes before retiring."

"Very funny," Harry said. "Will I be able to take it tonight? I had a couple of glasses of wine."

"Alcohol won't affect it, within reason," Severus answered.

"Thank you," Harry acknowledged.

"You're welcome. Now, it's late and –"

"We both have class tomorrow. I know. Maybe I won't be such a nuisance when I start sleeping regularly," Harry said.

"Chance would be a fine thing," Severus replied, setting Harry to chuckling again.

"Good night, then," Harry said, seeming reluctant to go.

Severus, whose entire body was aching with the desire to ask this man to stay, recognized the danger of such lingering. It was too late. He was far too exhausted to properly shield his true feelings, and Harry was far too perceptive.

"I trust you'll get some rest tonight," Severus said as he escorted the shorter man to the door.

"Thanks, I'll try. You, too. Sleep well. I'll see you tomorrow."

Severus gave a nod and finally shut the door behind his visitor. It was ridiculous, of course, but Harry seemed to have taken all the warmth out of the room with him when he left. With a weary sigh, Severus made his way to his quarters, which could be reached via a secret passage behind the far wall. He couldn't help but wonder what tomorrow would bring.


Tomorrow and the subsequent days proved a blur of activity and trials. Severus found his potions classes surprisingly up to snuff, all seven of them. Even though his fears of having to pound seven months worth of work into the cretins' heads with the three months left in the year were not realized, it was still incredibly taxing to step back into his daily routine. Although his students were proficient in the basics, none of his substitutes had covered exactly what he would have in his classes, and consequently, he kept running into unexpected roadblocks. He'd assume a particular potion or method had been taught, only to find a sea of terrified, bewildered faces staring up at him when he barked out an instruction that should have been perfectly clear at this point in the year, and, conversely, he'd find himself teaching things his substitutes had already covered. It was frustrating, but by the end of the week, he was getting a handle on his professional obligations.

Which was a good thing, because Severus couldn't help but feel that he had lost complete control of his private life.

That was mostly because he had one now. The nights of sitting home with a book or inventing busy-work research projects were apparently long gone. No longer did he have to plan out what he would do every night to keep from going insane from the ennui. Through no effort of his own, he found himself occupied nearly every evening. If Hermione and Ron weren't after Harry and him to visit, then Severus would inevitably find himself tripping over Potter as Harry attempted to assist him in whatever medicinal preparation he had used as an excuse to get some time alone. All those years Potter had spent in detention with him had apparently paid off, for Harry made a decent, if garrulous, lab assistant.

It never seemed that he was permitted the chance to catch his breath. And yet, as he struggled to adapt without losing either his temper or his sanity, Severus found himself thriving. Every day that bleak shroud of hopelessness that had surrounded him since his childhood seemed the tiniest bit lighter. That was almost as much of a miracle as the fact that Hermione, Ron, and Harry were still a part of his life. There were moments when Severus was honestly beginning to feel that he couldn't step into the loo without one of them accompanying him.

The change in his lifestyle was extreme, frustrating, and oft-times incontestably comical. Take his current situation, as a point in fact – a forty-eight year old man in shirt sleeves and trousers, standing utterly lost in front of his wardrobe as he stared in at dozens of seemingly identical black jackets and robes, attempting to decide what to wear on his big night out on the town. If he weren't so infernally nervous, he would have laughed at himself for the sheer idiocy of his dilemma. He wasn't one of his sixth year, female students. No one was going to care which of these completely dignified robes he wore.

"Hello? Are you here?" Harry called from the sitting room.

Severus almost groaned in dismay. Potter was early tonight, of course.

"Ah, there you are," Harry announced, entering the open bedroom door after the slightest pause. He was clothed in Hunter green tonight. The rich colour blended in well with the bedroom's Slytherin decor.

"Don't you ever knock?" Severus snapped, trying to ignore how Harry was staring around his bedroom with open curiosity. Seeing him here was too much like one of his late night fantasies for Severus' peace of mind. To keep the imagery associated with Harry in this place out of his thoughts, Severus focused on his disappointing wardrobe.

"You're Slytherin," Harry replied with a laugh. "I figured if you didn't want me to use your passwords, you would have changed the wards by now. What is it you're doing? You haven't got a boggart in there, have you?"

"Of course, I haven't got a boggart in there. I was . . . ." What was he going to say – that he was angsting over his clothing like a hormonal sixteen year old?

"Trying to decide what to wear?" Harry finished. Remarkably, there was no mockery in his voice.

Severus tensed as Harry came to stand beside him and peer into the open wardrobe.

Staring fixedly at the daunting row of dark garments, Severus softly said, "I was looking for something . . . " seeing no other way, he just said it, ". . . less funereal."

Harry chuckled. "Boy, did you come to the wrong closet! Don't you have anything that isn't black?" Harry reached in to dig through the robes and jackets. "Wait. Here's something. It's still mostly black, but at least it's got a touch of colour."

He watched Harry retrieve a burgundy and black brocade jacket that he hadn't looked at in longer than Harry had been alive.

"I've never seen you in this before. It's really nice," Harry remarked, holding the jacket up to the torches for a better look and running his hand over the expensive material.

"No, you wouldn't have. I only wore it once . . . more than thirty years ago now," Severus said, old memories that were better left dead and buried running through him as he looked at the garment.

"Sounds like there's a story there," Harry commented. Severus could feel him peeking at him with what Potter no doubt thought was surreptitious concern.

"There are many stories. All of them outdated, none of them worth the telling," Severus said, eyeing the jacket, wondering if perhaps enough years had finally passed for him to wear it.

"I'd still like to hear that story, if it wouldn't be too intrusive," Harry said, catching and holding his gaze.

To his utter shock, he found himself seriously considering the request. It was quite frightening, really, the things he would do simply because this man asked it of him, Severus acknowledged.

He'd never spoken of this. In all the long years, there had been no one who had cared enough to even ask. He stared into those waiting eyes, torn. It wasn't his nature to wear his heart on his sleeve, but there was a part of him that needed to be known by Harry.

Everything tightening up inside him, because this particular confidence would broach forbidden territory were he not extremely careful, he feigned indifference as he said, "There's nothing particularly interesting about the tale. The central character, as you no doubt have guessed, was a rather dislikeable outsider with more brains and vitriol than sense. In his seventeenth friendless year on the planet, someone quite charming and charismatic made friendly overtures to this pathetic misfit. In his loneliness and stupidity, our central character mistook teenage hormones for love. He purchased this extravagant jacket to wear on his first date after his intended mentioned that his normal black garb was not attractive. The jacket did the trick. Our misfit found himself carried away in a whirlwind of passion and was introduced to the sweet mysteries of life in a haystack halfway to Hogsmeade. After said tryst, the date became redundant and the pair went back to school."

"And?" Harry gently probed.

"What do you mean 'and'?" Severus asked.

"There's always an 'and' with you," Harry said.

Bowing to the inevitable, Severus braced himself and continued as implacably as possible, "And the next morning the besotted moron rose thinking he'd found true love at last. For perhaps an hour he was happy for the first time in his life. That changed at breakfast when he discovered his intended in hot pursuit of a new conquest."

"That intended guy sounds like a real loser," Harry declared, nonchalantly undoing all of Severus' hard work to protect his partner's gender by the judicious editing of pronouns.

"I didn't say it was a man," Severus snapped, unnerved by Harry's perception.

"You didn't have to." At whatever his expression revealed, Harry gave an exasperated sigh and asked, "You're not really going to expect me to believe that some girl, even a Slytherin girl, would take you for a tumble in a haystack on your first date and then dump you the next morning, are you?"

Put that way, it did seem unlikely.

Despite his irritation, Severus was glad to see that Potter didn't seem put off by the fact that he had been interested in another boy. For all that they knew of each other, they were still dreadfully ignorant of some of the most basic facts of each other's character. For all that he knew of Harry's likes and dislikes, Severus couldn't say with any certainty whether Potter preferred bedding men or women. The fact that Harry wasn't disgusted by this trip down memory lane was reassuring. So many wizards were prejudiced against same sex relationships that it made life most difficult for those so inclined.

"It doesn't . . . ." Severus started to ask and then clamped his mouth shut on the intrusive question.

"What?" Harry asked, seeming worried.

They really were from different worlds. If this were any other subject, Severus would have taken great glee in shocking Potter with his normal, savage bluntness, but his inhibitions wouldn't allow him to indulge in the brutal honesty he preferred. If he were blunt with the wrong person about this particular topic, he could well find himself out of a job, even though every instinct he had insisted that Harry would never betray his trust, even if Potter did disapprove of his choices. So, he searched for a diplomatic response, finally settling on, "The Wizarding World isn't normally very accepting of such deviations from the norm."

Harry met his gaze. "I know – from personal experience."

His blank, "Oh," was replaced by a more forceful, "Oh," as the meaning of Harry's words registered. Why it should surprise him so that Potter was like him, he didn't know, but for some reason, it did.

Severus swallowed hard, abruptly aware of the fact that he was standing alone with Harry in his bedroom, not ten feet from his bed, discussing their sexual preferences. The air in the room suddenly seemed very thin and hard to catch.

"I'm sorry that happened to you," Harry said after a silent moment.

It took Severus nearly a full minute to figure out that Harry was referring to his adolescent reminiscence. Somehow, he'd always imagined that the revelation of his sexual orientation would have more impact on the conversation, but Harry seemed to accept it as a given.

There was a part of Severus that couldn't help but be disappointed that Harry was looking at him exactly the same way he had yesterday. But, as he caught his reflection in the nearby mirror, he knew it wasn't any wonder. He was twenty-two years older than Harry, had been the man's teacher and/or nemesis for nearly twenty years, and, beyond that, there was the attraction factor, or, in his case, the lack thereof. No matter how often he bathed, nothing could remove the sallow cast his potion fumes gave his hands and face, and even though the hair he had tied back in a ponytail had just dried, it was so glossy as to appear greasy. And even if all of that hadn't been true, the fact was that the long-nosed, thin-faced man staring out of that mirror at him was just plain homely. There was no getting around that truth, ever. Clearly, Potter didn't even consider him dating material . . . nor should he.

Severus knew that he should be relieved, but the fact that he was so utterly unattractive to Harry still hurt, hurt so bad that he could barely credit it. But he was used to hiding killing blows. Putting on his best game face, he drawled, "Not as sorry as he was, I assure you."

"What do you mean?" Harry asked, still seeming to be stuck in comfort mode.

"There is nothing so dangerous as an enthusiast of the dark arts scorned," Severus paraphrased one of his favourite Muggle playwrights.

"What did you do to him?"

Severus shrugged. "For a year after that tryst, the feckless Lothario developed agonizing, pustulant boils on his penis every time he attained an erection."

Harry's face twisted in an intriguing mixture of horror and humour. Severus wondered which would win out. It had been a terrible thing to do to anyone, even if he were a Malfoy and fully deserved it.

At last, Harry asked a question Severus hadn't anticipated at all, "Where did you learn the spell you cursed him with? I've never heard of it, thank heavens."

"It's amazing how inventive a wizard's mind can be given sufficient stimulation," Severus replied.

"You created that curse?" Harry gaped at him. "At seventeen?"

"Oh, yes. I felt the occasion deserved something with a personal touch," Severus answered.

"Remind me never to get on your bad side, won't you?"

"Harry, you were born on my bad side," Severus countered, but he said it with a lilt in his voice and was pleased to see Harry smile at his tone. Not everyone would have been inclined to stay after that trip down memory lane.

"Well, obviously, you're not wearing this," Harry said. "I think we should burn it tomorrow. You don't need that kind of memory hanging around."

"Why wait?" Severus said, withdrawing his wand from his pocket and flicking it at the jacket. The expensive garment immediately burst into flames.

Harry released the coat with a startled yelp.

The smell of smoke and burnt silk filled the room before being dispersed by another wave of his wand.

Examining his uninjured palms once the jacket's ashes fell to the ground, Harry said, "You're good at controlled fire. I thought I'd burn to death the other day when you set those ridiculous curls of mine on fire during our duel."

"I did tell you I would," Severus reminded, meeting those dangerous green eyes.

"I thought you were joking."

"I wasn't," Severus said.

"So, I learned. And we still haven’t found you anything to wear yet," Harry announced, breaking their stare.

After another minute or two of hunting through Severus' clothes, Harry emerged with a completely black brocade jacket that could have been the twin of the incinerated burgundy one.

"Does this one fit?" Harry questioned.


"And there isn't any dark history associated with it?" Harry checked.

Touched by how upset Harry seemed by his reminiscence, Severus covered with, "Well, I believe I was wearing it on your first day at Hogwarts, but other than that, there are no unpleasant associations. It is, however, as funereal as the others."

"Just put it on, would you?" Harry urged.

Severus tried to control his shiver as Harry lifted his heavy ponytail and assisted him into the jacket. He froze when he turned to find Potter's wand pointed at him.

"Hold still," Harry short-temperedly cautioned and then flicked his holly wand at him.

Startled that he hadn't thought of it himself, Severus stared down at his jacket, which was no longer quite as funereal as it had been seconds before. Although it was still mostly black, the delicate, web work pattern of the brocade was now a rich intermix of green and silver threads – Slytherin's colours.

"Do you like it?" Harry asked.

"Very much so, yes. Thank you," Severus replied.

Harry turned back to the wardrobe, chose one of Severus' more formal robes, one with some stitching bordering the cuffs, neck, and front fastenings. Another flick of the wand, and the robe had the same green and silver stitchery running through it as the brocade jacket.

"There. I think we're ready now," Harry said.

Severus put on the robe and stepped up to the mirror to survey the effect. The crisp white shirt he wore was still a striking contrast with the mostly black jacket and robe covering it, but the hint of green and silver throughout caught the eye as plain black never could.

This wasn't something he would ever have thought to do on his own, since vanity was not one of his many faults. He rarely paid any attention to his clothing, beyond assuring himself of their cleanliness and state of repair. With a shock, he realized that Harry had effectively dressed him as Potter wished.

Given a free hand, this was what Harry had chosen for him – the style with which Severus was most comfortable. The only alterations were those slight touches of colour. He didn't know anyone else who could have resisted the temptation to totally remake him when presented with the same free reign he'd given Potter a minute ago. Harry could have told him to dispense with the outdated jacket that so few wizards wore these days, but which Severus felt comfortable in, and garbed him in a robe that outrageous lilac colour Severus had chosen when seven. But Harry had barely changed him at all. It was almost as though Harry really did like him the way he was.

Shaken by the thought, Severus concentrated on closing his jacket buttons.

"Are you all right?" his damnably perspicuous companion asked after a moment. "Was that 'story' you told me too painful?"

"Hardly," Severus was able to deny without lying too outrageously. "It's ancient history now. At any rate, I had the last laugh."

A glance at Potter's reflection in the mirror beside his own told him that Harry was unconvinced, but as Harry didn't press the point, Severus let the subject drop.

Finally, the last tiny button on his jacket was done and he was ready to go.

"We usually floo over to the Three Broomsticks," Harry said. "Then, if the weather's not too beastly, we walk back afterwards. Is that all right with you?"

Severus inclined his head in agreement and took a deep breath. He still wasn't sure about this.

"I've got floo powder. We can leave from here, if you want," he offered.

"Sure, let's go. Hermione and Ron should already be there. They always leave early on Friday to save our table. And remember – if you don't like it, we can leave."

He followed Harry over to the hearth on the far side of his bedroom. Severus took down the jar of shimmering floo powder and offered it to Potter.

Harry gave him a grin, took a handful of powder, clearly enunciated, "The Three Broomsticks Pub, Hogsmeade," and stepped into the green flames that leapt forth to transport him.

Taking a deep breath, Severus did the same thing. Flooing was fully as unpleasant an experience as he remembered. His stomach felt wrenched as the flames swirled him past seemingly hundreds of fireplaces down the dark and spiralling tunnel.

After what felt a dizzying eternity, he was spat out of a hearth in a crowded, brightly lit public house. There seemed to be hundreds of people crammed into the small area, Severus noted as he blinked owlishly around at his new surroundings and tried to maintain his feet. There was nothing more humiliating than being coughed out of a fireplace onto one's bum in front of a gaggle of laughing strangers.

Harry was standing to the side of the hearth waiting for him and stepped forward immediately to take his arm to steady him as he stumbled inelegantly from the hearth.

"Harry! Severus! We're over here!" Ron's deep voice called out over the din of the laughing crowd.

Unnerved by the sheer number of people crowding the small pub, Severus gratefully allowed Harry to steer him to a large table near the front of a small performing platform that had been erected in the back of the pub. There were three chairs, and two music stands on the flat stage, with a guitar and violin waiting for their masters to arrive.

Hermione, Ron, Neville Longbottom, Blaise Zabini, a couple of redheads that could only be other Weasleys, and an unfamiliar woman with a round face and honey-blonde curls sat at the large round table to the right of the performance platform.

Harry guided him into the empty seat beside Hermione and took the one beside his as a noisy barrage of hellos greeted them. They were in their usual mealtime seating plan, Severus noted with amusement. Harry and he were ensconced between the Weasleys, with Longbottom on Hermione's other side. The only difference was that the honey-blonde stranger was sitting where Zabini normally sat next to Longbottom and Zabini was one seat over, directly across from Potter. The Weasley twins were on Ron's far side, too close for Severus' peace of mind. There were two empty chairs between Zabini and the infamous two, which only proved his housemate's good sense, Severus thought. He'd have felt better himself if there were a couple of empty chairs or, better still, a continent or two between himself and that pair.

Once they were seated, Ron passed Severus a glass of golden cognac.

"Thought you'd need that about now," Ron winked at him and then poured Harry a mug of foamy dark ale from a pitcher that was sitting on the table with four empty mugs.

Murmuring his thanks, Severus tried to ignore the curious stares of his tablemates.

"Severus," Hermione said, "this is Neville's friend, Melody Jefferson. Melody, Professor Severus Snape."

"Good evening," he nodded to the stranger.

To his surprise, she gave him a wide smile that lit up her round face. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Professor Snape. I've heard so much about you."

He liked the note of curiosity in her voice and that she met his eyes unflinchingly. Glancing at Longbottom, who had turned pink to the ears at her remark, Severus gave a droll, "No doubt."

"To be honest, I was expecting the Grim Reaper," Ms. Jefferson confided, earning chuckles all around.

"I would refrain from making judgments just yet. Looks can be deceiving," Severus remarked, his dark tone sending her into open laughter. Beside her, Longbottom looked as though he expected his former teacher to turn his girlfriend into a frog.

"So, I've been told," she replied and then glanced over at her companion. "Oh, Neville. Really."

It would have been far too easy and too much fun to further embarrass his former student, but Severus had the sudden memory of Neville patiently explaining the properties of a poisonous plant to his seven-year-old self and was struck by a sudden burst of sympathy for him. This woman obviously meant something to Longbottom. It would be cruel to belittle him in front of her.

"I'm afraid Professor Longbottom had a difficult time in my classes. Hogwarts can be very demanding on its most gifted students," Severus said conversationally, the sudden silence at their table announcing how he'd shocked them all. "We have high standards, and only the very best can meet them, let alone excel far enough in their fields to be deemed worthy of teaching at Hogwarts after commencement."

There. He was Slytherin; he could lie with the best of them.

"I told you that you couldn't have been as bad as you let on," Ms. Jefferson said to Longbottom, who was gaping open-mouthed at Severus like a banked trout.

Severus quickly turned his gaze away, lest his laughter ruin all his hard work. Harry's expression didn't help his control any. He'd never seen Potter so completely astonished, not since his name had been announced as the fourth champion in the Triwizards' Tournament.

Behind him, he heard Longbottom stutter, "But I was that hopeless. Truly, I was."

Truer words had never been spoken, Severus thought in disgust. A Slytherin would have known when to keep his mouth shut.

"Why would Professor Snape lie about something like that, dear?" Ms. Jefferson asked in what was no doubt intended as a murmur, but which, perforce of the din raging around them, emerged as more of a stage-whisper.

"Maybe he's planning on killing him," Zabini helpfully added from across the table.

"Is that your plan, Professor?" one of the identical Weasleys asked from Ron's far side.

Snape studied the speaker. Red shaggy hair, brown eyes, curved eyebrows, long nose, sprinkling of freckles: the man in the black robe who'd spoken was the mirror image of the grey robed brother beside him. But time was when Severus had been able to tell the infamous duo apart. He racked his memory as to how he'd done it, finally remembering that George was the one who had a small group of freckles under his left eye that formed a tiny line. This twin had no line; hence it was Fred speaking.

"No, Mr. Weasley. Fred, isn't it?" At the other man's shocked nod, he continued completely deadpan, "I thought I would lull Professor Longbottom into a false sense of security and then allow Professor Hagrid's latest pet to do the job for me."

To his immense relief, the table exploded with laughter, even Longbottom joined in.

Once the group quieted, the other twin, presumably George, asked, "What is Hagrid raising now?"

Hermione sighed beside Severus and answered, "He calls them Bloodsquirting Mudgots."

"Do we want to know what they are?" Fred asked.

Ron said from his seat between Fred and Harry, "They look like mud-coloured maggots, and they squirt something that looks like blood, but smells like – "

"Ron, we've just finished dinner!" Hermione reprimanded.

"Well, you get the idea," Ron said, and finished with, "Oh, and they're nearly six feet long."

"Delightful," Fred admired.

"You would think that," Ron chided.

The subject of Hagrid's latest man-eating monster winding to a close, George looked over at Severus and said, "I must say it's surprising to see you here tonight, Professor Snape."

"George," Hermione said in a warning tone, her eyes hard as flint. Severus knew from her attitude that she must have had a talk with the twins about him.

Surprised to find that he was actually enjoying himself, Severus met George Weasley's mischievous brown gaze and calmly replied, "Not nearly as surprising as it is for me, I'm sure. I fully expected the pair of you to be locked up in Azkaban by now."

George's mouth dropped open as though he'd just been coshed with one of Hagrid's Bloodsquirting Mudgots. From the twins' side, Ron howled with laughter. "Score one to the Professor."

"We didn't know you had a sense of humour, sir," Fred said from between his brothers.

Severus turned his dark stare on the other twin, watched Fred shift as nervously in his seat as he would have done in class a dozen years ago, and then softly said, "I don't."

For some reason, that set both Harry and Ron's laughter off again.

Severus sipped his cognac and waited for the next verbal gambit.

But it was the other Slytherin who drew the Gryffindors' attention next.

With what seemed genuine curiosity, Harry asked Zabini, "Are you by yourself tonight, Blaise?"

"Yes, I thought it would be fun to go solo for a change," Zabini replied with such unflustered composure that Severus instantly knew that his housemate was lying.

"Yeah, right," Ron said, both he and Longbottom breaking into boyish giggles.

"Obviously, I missed something," Harry said.

"No, it was Blaise that missed something," Ron replied.

"Not something – someone," Longbottom corrected.

All eyes on him, the handsome Zabini sighed and explained, "I didn't notice Justin in the Seven Gables Restaurant."

"When he walked in with Claire," Longbottom added.

"Poor Justin," Harry said, although he didn't seem very disturbed.

"It was poor Blaise when all the shouting stopped," Zabini said. "I don't think I'll be able to set foot back in that restaurant for at least two months."

Hermione, sounding very much the teacher, said, "You got off easy. Be grateful you're still breathing. You wouldn't have been if it were me."

"Ah, but if it were you, fair lady, there would have been no need for anyone else," Zabini quickly replied with his most ingratiating charm.

"Sweet talk will get you nothing," Hermione giggled as she turned pink, all harshness leaving her attitude.

"Except a punch in the mouth," Ron growled from her other side.

"See, I'm cursed," Zabini lamented to Harry.

"You're not cursed. You're careless," Harry said. "Come on, have another drink. It can't be as bad as it sounds."

Potter poured Zabini another mug and passed it across the table to him.

Severus sat back in his seat and watched Harry converse with Zabini across the table as several discussions simultaneously started up. Despite Potter's initial judgmental words to Zabini, his attitude did appear to be quietly supportive as he worked to cheer Blaise up. Until that moment, Severus had never really believed that Harry should trust his housemate to the degree Potter did. He'd defend Slytherin House to his death, but he more than anyone knew how . . . dangerous his kind could be. Yet, watching the expression in Zabini's brown eyes as he spoke to Harry, Severus realized that Harry was very important to Zabini. He self-consciously recognized that he was just as guilty of prejudice against his own house as the Gryffindors were.

Hermione's hand touched his sleeve, drawing his gaze from Harry's animated face.

"I'm glad you came tonight, Severus," she whispered as he leaned in close to hear her.

Ron and Neville appeared to have been caught up in yet another noisy quidditch discussion, which they were having across Harry, Severus, and Hermione, while Ms. Jefferson was laughing at the Weasley twins' antics.

"Yes, well, Harry did take his sleeping draught as agreed," Severus said, for want of anything better.

"He hasn't worn that glamour in three days now," she said, visibly pleased. "Thank you. And thank you for coming tonight. It feels right having you here with us. I hope it hasn't been too much for you."

Reading her concern, Severus quickly assured, "So far it has been surprisingly tolerable."

She grinned. "In other words, you're enjoying yourself."

Severus gave a slight twist of his lips and nodded.

"I like your jacket and robe," Hermione said, giving him a mischievous look. "They're very dashing."

To his disgust, he felt his cheeks warm as they would have at such a complement when he'd been a seven-year-old in her care.

"Harry did it," he said nonchalantly.

"Ah," she nodded. She glanced over to where Harry and Blaise were hunched over the table talking.

He could see a thousand questions swirling in her eyes and braced himself for an inquisition. She and Ron knew his secret. Severus was fairly certain that Ron would be more than happy to forget that particular conversation ever happened, but Hermione had never been the type to hide her head in the sand. She surprised him, though. All she did was smile and say, "I'm glad to see things are working out so well for you both." At his sharp, enquiring glance, she leaned in and whispered in his ear. "I can't remember the last time I saw Harry as happy as he's been these last few days. He's even sleeping at night."

"It's the potion," Severus reminded.

"You keep telling yourself that," Hermione said with a totally infuriating, knowing smile.

Severus opened his mouth to respond, when a high-pitched, feminine, French accented squeal of "Harry, darling!" almost propelled him out of his seat.

He turned to look at the speaker and came face to face, as it were, with a pair of pink nipples peeking up out of a frighteningly stretched white lace bodice. Severus did his best to raise his eyes to the unknown woman's face, but her bosom was so large as to make that nearly impossible. He could feel Harry shrink back into his seat beside him.

"Hello, Adriana," Potter said softly.

"Where have you been? I haven't seen you in forever," the stranger complained in an irritating whine.

Severus finally managed to rip his eyes from her bosom and find her face. His heart sank when he took in her striking feminine beauty. Although her hair was as black as his own, her eyes were a deep, sapphire blue. Her skin was flawless, her looks so perfect that she didn't need the expertly applied make up that she was wearing. And her figure . . . even a man with such profound homosexual leanings as himself could admire her utter perfection. She looked like one of the female characters in those colourful Muggle magazines that the younger mixed blood students favoured. There was definitely some Veela in her. The gaze of every man at the table was riveted on her. And she was eyeing Harry Potter the way a starving wolf would raw meat.

"I've been pretty busy, Adriana," Harry said without a smile.

"Ah, but now you are not, ey?" her smile revealed two rows of pearly white teeth.

Severus couldn't help but make a mental comparison to his own yellowed teeth. This, then, was the competition, if he were to allow himself to actively pursue his interest in Harry, which he was not . . . as though he could compete with something like this, even if he'd wanted to.

"Is this seat taken?" Adriana asked, her delicate white hand stroking the top of the chair next to Zabini, who was staring straight at her bosom and making no attempt to divert his gaze anywhere else.

"Yes, it's taken," Hermione's sharp voice entered the conversation. "We're waiting for two more friends to arrive, so there isn't any room at our table." After a long pause, she added a totally artificial, "Sorry."

"Ah, too bad. If you'd like to join us, Harry, there is an empty chair at my sisters' table," her chin gestured to the right of the stage, where two blond vamps, a red head, and two more dark haired sirens all sat with adoring male companions, all of whom appeared completely enslaved by the women's beauty.





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