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Chapter Three: Zuccarum Innocuus and Something . . . Stronger

It was getting precariously close to dinner, and Harry was pacing outside the entrance to Professor Dumbledore's rooms, trying the name of every sweet she could think of as a password. "Chocolate Frog . . . Lemon Whistle-Stick . . . Crab-Apple Cream Puff--"

"Bran muffin," a strong voice said behind her. The door opened, and the spiral stairs began moving upward.

"Bran muffin?" Harry asked, stepping onto the stairs, too disturbed by the fiber of Dumbledore's password to worry about Snape interfering in her mission.

"It is not a good sign, I admit."

Harry had not seen the Headmaster for a few days, as he'd gone to London to make some final arrangements regarding Professor McGonagall's property there. It had been seven months since she had died, and many years too soon.

Without immediate healing, some spells lingered in the body and caused it to waste, and Minerva had absorbed too much dark magic over the course of the war. She was not the only Order member to be lost in this way, though it seemed the hardest one to bear. When Bellatrix Lestrange had killed Ron five years previously with a strangling spell--something he could have freed himself from had he not also been occupied with maintaining a protective ward around a pregnant witch and her other children, all of whom he had saved--Harry had felt like a limb had been rent from herself. But at least Ron had not suffered prolongedly. In the days preceding Minerva's death, Professor Dumbledore had been increasingly withdrawn and uncommunicative, saving any cheer he could muster for her alone, and knowing that there was nothing he could do to ease her pain.

"I see that you've brought Quann's Quad-Chocolate Bon Bons," Snape noted, following Harry into the antechamber of Dumbledore's office.

"I'm here to do a favor for Minerva," she replied, walking through the open door that led to strange objects, Dumbledore's desk, and Fawkes. The phoenix, fully plumed, was sleeping.

"I suspected as much."

"Why are you here?" Harry asked, looking around the room.

"I . . ." he began, and then stopped. Why am I here? Because I was coming to see if Albus had returned so that I could talk about you . . . again. Because I thought you might be here, as well. Because--

"--You're doing it again."

"Doing what?"

"Getting lost in your thoughts when you talk to me. I must be terribly boring," she said, the right corner of her mouth curving provocatively. Making a show of taking out her wand and pointing it at a bowl of lemon drops, she said, "Zuccarum Innocuus!"

"I could accuse you of being many things, Professor Potter, but boring is not one of them," Snape offered silkily.

His response intrigued Harry.

"'Professor Potter'?" she asked, cocking a quizzical eyebrow at Snape and stepping closer to him.

He felt the challenge, and met it with a step of his own. "I expect congratulations are in order?" he asked, pleased that his voice remained neutral.

"Slytherin won today, not Gryffindor."

"I was referring to your impending nuptials to Mr. Weasley. My students speak of nothing else."

Well, faint heart never won fearsome man. "Why would my 'impending nuptials' cause you to revert to a more formal mode of behavior toward me, Severus?" she asked, impulsively extending her arm to tap the tip of her wand lightly against the other teacher's chest.

Insolence! Snape thought, his nostrils flaring in nervous anger. What does the woman think she's doing? "Accio wand!" he barked, snatching that object from the air. That will teach--

"Accio Potions master!" Harry commanded, stretching her body to meet his.

Severus felt himself dragged inexorably toward Harry, pressed up against her form, and compelled to gaze down at her as she tantalizingly drew the palm of her left hand possessively up the right side of his body, over his shoulder, down his arm, and to his hand, removing her wand from his increasingly senseless fingers. He knew that he was shaking. He knew that he was aroused. He hoped that she could not feel either condition. There was a chaotic light dancing in her eyes, daring him to do . . . something, but he was not sure if he would be able to move if he tried, and he would not struggle.

In what he hoped was a dignified tone of polite disinterest, he asked, "How is it that you haven't lost your limbs, yet?"

The dark fire in Harry's eyes visibly dimmed, but she did not look away. Smiling ruefully, she said, "I haven't needed a wand since the day Voldemort died, Professor Snape. And this," she explained, stepping back and waving her right hand in an unenthusiastic flourish, "is nothing but a parlor trick." She tucked her wand back into her robes and turned on her heel.

Her spell released him when Harry crossed the threshold of the room, and Severus staggered forward and gripped Professor Dumbledore's desk to prevent himself from falling.

"An impressive display," came a disembodied voice from the apparently empty chair behind the desk. "Zuccarum Innocuus, indeed."


"Yes, dear boy?"

"You do realize that you're not visible?"

"Yes, well, I thought there might be kissing, you see, and I did not wish to . . . interrupt it," he replied unrepentantly, beginning to solidify in his chair.

Snape straightened up and glared down at the older wizard.

"All this skullduggery has made me rather hungry. Let us repair to my sitting room where I've a supply of lemon biscuits that may yet be untouched by the tender magic of good witches."

"I trust you have something stronger than lemon biscuits to offer me?"

"Indeed. Ree seems to have left me a box of Quann's Quad-Chocolate Bon Bons."

Snape groaned, but followed the older man without further complaint.


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