Chapter Five: Sudden Turns of Mood
Severus remembered the invisibility cloak first appearing to plague him when he could not locate the surfeit of giggles that had invaded the peace of his customary corner of the library. It was only when the little laughs had turned to moans and the charmed fabric had slipped away from James Potter's shoulders that Snape realized he had inadvertently chanced upon a tryst.
Why can't they employ the Astronomy tower as does every other rutting couple? he had thought at the time.
Before this moment, Potter had never paid Snape much attention, but the Gryffindor's general air of unworried hurly-burliness had been enough to drive the Slytherin mad. It had grated that an idiot like Potter should have had the favors of any girl he wanted when he could not even find a female lab partner in Potions.
The memory rose in Severus' mind.
"You're shedding your secret skin there, Potter."
James turned to face Snape while pressing his back against Lily Evans to afford her some privacy. He then quickly toed the cloak back into his hands and held it up to shield himself.
It was the sight of James' furious floating head that caused Severus to laugh out loud.
"You slimy, sneaking bastard! Sod off!"
"Only if you give us some privacy, Potter," the other boy replied equably, indicating Lily with a nod of his head. "Or was that an offer?" he leered.
"AGH!" James howled, leaping for the other boy and becoming tangled in his cloak.
Lily simply stood there unabashedly naked and stared at Severus in disgust.
The expression in her eyes helped alleviate the shadow of a serpent of guilt that was coiling in Snape's belly. Filthy Muggle trollop, he thought as Potter's falling head nearly smacked his retreating heels.
"I will kill you for this, you hateful prat!"
You might try, Severus thought, as he strode off with masterfully feigned indifference.
But of course it was Sirius who had attempted to murder him.
Shaking out Potter's cloak with a snap and pushing away the unwelcome memory, Severus contemplated a walk into Hogsmeade.
Exercise. The importance of it could not be stressed enough.
Rosmerta looked directly at him when he entered the pub, but he pretended not to see her. As he had been neglecting his lover for months, Severus hoped she would not bother with him now. Weasley had settled Harry into a private alcove in the back of the taproom, and they were speaking of general things.
"No, I haven't had occasion to be back on a broomstick. Why do you find that odd?"
Thus began the tiresome relation of tall tales about Harry's Quidditch career, so Severus contented himself by watching the girl's face. She seemed politely interested in what Charlie was telling her, but nothing more.
That made him smile, but the action momentarily confounded him. The muscles around his mouth had not stretched past a smirk in a great deal of time, and he felt their weakness.
What am I doing?
His thoughts were interrupted by the publican stepping on his left foot with her sharp heel.
Nothing of which Etiquette would approve, Russ, she admonished him before speaking to her patrons. "Could I interest you in some Winterberry Beer? I've just opened a barrel."
"Ah, excellent woman! I'd love one."
"Miss Potter?" Rosmerta asked.
"Judging by his reaction, I'd say I'd be a fool not to try it."
"And so you would be," the inn keeper replied directly into Severus' face as she spun toward the tap and gestured for two tankards of the brew. "I hope you enjoy it. I'm off to carve a roast for sandwiches."
The Potions master followed Rosmerta into the kitchen.
"Was it necessary to injure me?"
"Was it necessary to stalk a young woman in my home?" she asked while picking up a knife from the counter.
"I was not stalking Harry."
Slicing away thick slices of beef with easy strokes, she asked, "Do you truly imagine that Ree Potter would call it anything else?"
Severus did not respond.
"Do you even know what it is that you are doing?"
"Do you wish to enlighten me?"
"You are sitting in a pot full of water, and it is warming. Slowly."
"Would you dispense with your customary riddle-making and be clear for once?"
The after-image of Rosmerta's feral smile was still floating in Severus' eyes when he registered that the sleeve of his once-Marked arm had been sliced away to reveal the pale, restored skin.
"Was that gesture plain enough for you, or must I continue the lesson?"
Severus cursed himself for his error, thinking, Absence has made me shockingly careless of you, and thoughtless of your gift.
"True, but at least it is now plain to me that you no longer desire my protection."
"What do you want, Merta?"
"I want you to consider that the war is over, and that you are responsible only for yourself."
"I don't understand."
She put down her knife and stepped within a breath of Severus.
"Then I suggest you find a drier clime in which to ponder your situation before you find yourself in possession of boiled brains."
With that, she pulled him into a deep kiss and held him. When the red tears began to course down his face, she broke her contact with his mouth to trace each bloody streak with her tongue from cheek to socket.
Severus shuddered as he felt his lover's tongue lick the skin under his eyelids. When he was clean again, she thrust him away.
"What was given has been withdrawn. . . . I release you. . . . Now get out of my kitchen."
Severus did not quite flee.
Over the noise of the patrons in the taproom, a swell of clear laughter rose to wash over his heart. Before this he did flee lest the sound of Harry's happiness drown him. Outside of the pub, he permitted himself a momentary loss of control, breathing in and out great frosty draughts of air. He felt as flustered as he had the night Rosmerta had invited him back to her chambers to divest him of the few remaining shreds of virtue he had then possessed.
"And what do I have now?" he whispered to the snow.
It blew away from him in unconcerned waves.
"Oh, Professor Snappy is good!" Dobby exclaimed, clapping his palms together in glee. "Dobby will do as he asks for Harry Potter!"
The elf blinked out of sight, and Severus sighed heavily. Winky had "packed" his belongings with terrible speed; his chambers looked quite . . . abandoned.
"You are long overdue a vacation."
Albus. How very surprising that you should know everything. "Yes."
"Be good enough to drop me a line when you get to where it is you are going, dear boy."
"Would you like me to deliver that?" Albus asked, indicating a roll of parchment in the Potion master's hand.
"And do you have any clear notion of where it is you would like to go?"
"No, I thought I'd figure that out as I went."
"Ah, I see. Perhaps you'd allow me to help you on your way?"
"How might you do that?" Severus asked, but he received no verbal reply.
Rather, he found himself and his baggage standing in front of his family's ancestral home.
I did not wish to apparate here! he thought angrily. Wait, I did not apparate here--and there was no portkey--so how . . . .
Suddenly, it did not seem important how Albus had managed to send him to his family "home." The more pressing matter was getting away from it before anyone noticed him.
Professor McGonagall was waiting for Harry at the edge of the school's grounds astride a thestral.
"Good evening, Miss Potter. I thought we might have a chat."
"Of course, Professor."
Minerva McGonagall, in spite of her weakened state, was an intimidating presence, and Harry was loathe to say no to her. She was a bit confused when the lady led her down a corridor she had never before seen to a pair of red double doors with "iron-work" wrought of a green metal.
"Constant vigilance," the professor announced before the doors, which swung open to reveal a spacious hall flanked by two large windows.
The chamber was tastefully furnished in rich fabrics and heavy wooden furniture, and it featured a magnificent fireplace at its center. Harry could see other doors at intervals along the far walls.
"You will have the sunrise from that window," McGonagall said, indicating the panes to her left, "and the moonrise from that one. Do sit down by the fire."
Settling herself into a comfortable, green velvet chair, Harry accepted a cup of tea.
"Have you recently renovated your quarters?"
"Oh, no, dear. These aren't my quarters. They're yours."
Does she look nervous? "I apologize, Professor--"
"Call me Minerva, dear."
"Oh. Thank you. Minerva, I was under the impression that my rooms were in the dungeons."
"And so they were, but Professor Snape felt that you would be more comfortable with your own space. You have a kitchen, a workroom with connected storerooms, a bath, naturally, a small guest chamber and bath, a classroom--though why that is necessary with all of the space in here is beyond me--and, of course, a bedroom. Oh! You also have a rather large balcony that affords you a masterful view of the Quidditch field if you cast an Extendus Visio charm on yourself. That is off your bed chamber."
"I don't understand. Why do I have a classroom?"
"No one expects you to start right away, of course, but I know that Albus would like you to begin teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts when you are ready. . . . Cheese biscuit?"
Harry took the bread, feeling bewildered.
"Is that why . . . Sev--I mean, Professor Snape--has decided that I shouldn't . . . ."
"Severus recommended you for the position, dear."
"He did? I . . . I should thank him," Harry said, half rising. I've got to find out why he--oh! He must think, he must believe that I'll choose Charlie over him. "I should go see him."
"I'm afraid that will be quite impossible, as Severus has taken a leave of absence." And a good thing, too, she thought crossly.
A knock echoed in the room. Someone was at the door. Minerva looked at Harry expectantly.
"Oh! It's my . . . room. Come in!"
McGonagall took her leave as Sirius and Remus entered.
"I don't think you outstayed your welcome, no," her godfather assured her sometime later. "I think everything finally . . . caught up with Sev, and he needed to get away."
Remus added, "And he wouldn't have considered it hospitable to leave you alone down there. . . . Don't you like your quarters?"
"I haven't even seen them, yet. They're very grand. I can't imagine being used to such surroundings--and I don't actually deserve them, do I?"
"Whatever can you mean by that?" Sirius asked.
"I'm not a teacher here, am I?"
"Oh, you will be, one day," Remus assured her.
Suddenly, Harry felt trapped. Had everyone in her life--she tried not to laugh thinking about it that way--simply decided her future for her? She did not care for it. After a tour of her chambers, she feigned sleepiness and bid her family goodnight. When she was alone, she called one name.
"--and I don't feel it is unreasonable for the Ministry to conduct an enquiry into the disappearance of the woman who was the last person to see Lucius Malfoy alive," finished Kingsley Shacklebolt.
Arthur Weasley, Albus Dumbledore, and the Auror in question had decided that it would be wise if some members of the Ministry looked less favorably upon the Girl Who Lived in the aftermath of the war. It would allow certain . . . elements someone to contact if they desired to get up to mischief, and this would reveal the enemies that they all knew were out there. Arthur found himself wishing that Shacklebolt would not play his role of sceptic quite so convincingly.
"I'm afraid that I have to agree with Shacklebolt--in the interests of justice, of course. I know that Potter is innocent of Malfoy's murder, Albus, but there were . . . irregularities in her apprehension of him, and we need to discuss these issues," Arthur said.
"Unfortunately, even if we knew where Miss Potter was she would be in no position to assist with your inquiry. Her memories have not returned."
Balthazar Zabini, Blaise's paternal uncle, coughed loudly. He had taken Lucius Malfoy's place on the Board of Governors of Hogwarts' School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
"So you say, Dumbledore, but perhaps the situation has changed."
"In any case, I'll need to find her first," Shacklebolt insisted.
"Well then, if there is nothing else, I believe we all know what we have to do now," Ministry Weasley asserted.
No meaningful looks of any kind were exchanged in front of Zabini as the meeting ended.
Harry Potter had said that she would write to Dobby, so he had persuaded her to take Hedwig with her when she left.
The elf had noticed how reproachful of her master the owl had been, and had caught himself thinking that it should ram its beak into a wall for disloyalty before he remembered himself. I is free and so is the owl--and Harry Potter doesn't mind. The house elf did, however, find the anger of various members of the staff to be a bit overwhelming when his mistress was discovered to be missing and he was pressed about his knowledge of her whereabouts.
"Dobby is not to say where Harry Potter has gone!" the house elf insisted stubbornly.
It was the middle of November when he came to see the elf. Dobby was prepared to speak to Harry Potter's friend, but only because the man did not press him for any information about the girl. Indeed, he seemed to know all about her, and, wonder of wonders, he had brought a letter!
"Now, I believe Miss Potter was sincere when she requested that you write immediately to tell her how her godfather and Remus are faring in her absence."
"Dobby will do it now, sir!"
When he had finished writing, the elf excused himself to take his letter to the Owlery.
Intercepting Dobby's response to Harry was not as easy as the Auror had imagined. The strong brown bird was determined to retain its clew to the girl's whereabouts. Wings don't best wand, he thought, and soon, he was in possession of four new quills and one piece of parchment. He set down in a field in Hogsmeade to read his prize.
The noise of the hundreds of angry owls alerted Blaise to his arrogant presumption scant moments later.
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