Disclaimer: Anything you recognise belongs to J.K. Rowling. I own nothing, make no money from anything, and am writing this purely for personal enjoyment.

 

Chapter 6: Deserving

 

The weekend passed surprisingly peacefully. We picked a new book when we finished the first. Mr. Potter even expressed an interest in the more sophisticated techniques of cooking, and made a few meals under my supervision. We also took the time to buy our new robes.

Mr. Potter, of course, was not allowed to simply walk into Madame Malkin’s and browse her selection. Instead we were ‘treated’ to a long-distance fashion show. Once again, I wondered who was paying for all of this. Possibly Madame Malkin herself  - the commercial advantage of ‘buy the very same robe as HARRY POTTER!’

We settled on some of the more tasteful options. I chose a cloak that I could keep a decent supply of potions in; Mr. Potter decided on a light one. He claimed it gave the pair of us the best of both worlds. I told him it was a symbol of his reckless attitude to getting into trouble. He conceded it might be both.

It was amazing how quickly we fell into a daily routine. Mr Potter received a letter confirming Mr. Lethum’s story, and the invocation classes were set up for three weeks later. The other classes went much as expected.

We waited a bit anxiously to hear from Fletcher, but on the next Friday we had a note asking if he could come and speak to Mr. Potter and I.

“Congratulations, Mr. Potter.”

“Wait until we see whether I can maintain the new power balance,” he replied grimly.

We awaited him in a different sitting room – Mr. Potter had felt it best to keep to neutral ground. Just the top stooges arrived for this meeting, with their supporting cast of aides. They all did their best to pretend I didn’t exist without actually being rude enough to irritate Mr. Potter, which suited me perfectly.

Fletcher performed an interesting dance for a few minutes in an attempt to cut Mr. Potter away from me. Mr. Potter simultaneously, but far less obviously, stepped to prevent that from happening. Eventually, after some speeches from the mutual admiration society, he gave up and got to the point.

“We need your help. There’s a magic drain that’s been affecting a few towns. We know where it is, but our search wasn’t exactly – official.”

Some law breaking by the keepers of the law. Why was I not surprised? Still, the laws they had broken were the type that could be bought. Ah, the benefits of wealth and influence in practicing on the wrong side of the fence.

“While as far as we can tell it has nothing to do with You-Know-Who, it does need to be dealt with soon – cleaning up after it is taking up far too much of our operative’s time. We can sneak one or two people in without alerting anyone important, but no two of our operatives are powerful enough to disrupt this thing. You are. And I suppose Snape might be of some assistance.”

I had to bite my tongue to avoid making a scathing comment. Maybe I could renegotiate ‘pleasant’ to only apply to people who weren’t actively trying to stab me in the back.

“Yes, it is fortunate that we have some-one of Severus’s calibre on our side.”

I had to conceal a start. Mr. Potter sounded so sincere – not a single trace of sarcasm or offence in his tone. But I knew he wasn’t so naïve that he had not realised Fletcher was being insulting.

Fletcher wasn’t as successful on concealing his reaction. Mr. Potter ‘innocently’ asked him if he needed a glass of water. One of his aides interjected to offer Mr. Potter the plans, which gave Fletcher some time to recover his composure.

Mr Potter read the plans and passed them to me, seemingly oblivious to everyone’s disapproving expressions. The plans were actually quite good. I suspected it wasn’t Fletcher who’d come up with them. Moody, perhaps, they had his blend of paranoia and audacity. We weren’t going to be sneaking in through a window in the dead of night while all the alarms and defences were up. No, we were walking straight through the front door in broad daylight, dressed as muggle tourists. We would use no magic except to actually destabilise the device. There was an abundance of checkpoints, contingency plans, and emergency port-keys. Well, they couldn’t afford to lose Mr. Potter.

He raised his eyebrows. I half-shrugged and nodded.

“All right, we accept. It will be a good field test of how well we work together.”

 The plans became reality the very next day with few complications. An over enthusiastic guide tried to hit on Mr. Potter, but he very gently, and without haste, let her know that his interests didn’t lie in her gender. I approved – always act as naturally as possible when doing some-thing clandestine, it’s the easiest personality to fake.

The device was, if anything, more stable than they had told us. I pushed at its field, but I could barely rock it. Then Mr. Potter’s forces joined mine. No amount of practice could have prepared me for the impact of Mr. Potter at full strength. It was like trying to surf a geyser. I appreciated for the first time just how much restraint he usually operated with. With a wrench I focused my mind on disrupting the thing. A few seconds later it was completely unusable, and we slipped away from the building as quickly as possible.

To celebrate the small victory, Mr. Potter invited Mr. Weasley and Miss Granger to dinner. It made sense that he would want to share the experience with them, and it wasn’t as if I needed someone to ‘share my joy’ with. I cooked a rather more elaborate meal than usual – the ‘training wheels’ would have no cause to be insulting of me.

They retired to Mr. Potter’s study as soon as they arrived, which gave me the privacy to finish up.  I had just set up the dining room when Mr. Potter walked in.

“Severus,” he said gesturing at the three places in disapproval.

“What? You won’t be eating alone.”

He couldn’t honestly be expecting me to join them, could he?

“No I won’t. And you will be joining us.”

He was. It wasn’t completely unheard of for a Fidus Servus to join the table in more casual settings, but it wasn’t as if Mr. Weasley and Miss Granger would appreciate my company.

“Please, Mr. Potter. Don’t make me do this.”

“Severus, I do not expect you to become best buddies with Ron and Hermione over the mashed potatoes. I simply expect you to sit with us and be civil.”

Before I had a chance to reply, he was joined by Weasley and Weasley-to-be. I finished setting the table, and brought the food through in complete silence.

“You let him eat at the table?”

“Of course he eats at the table. Really, Ron, how could you ask something like that?”

Miss Granger was so determined not to treat me as a ‘servant’ that she was actually more offensive than Mr. Weasley.

I said as little as possible during the meal. Luckily, between Mr. Weasley jealous volubility and Miss Granger’s sniping condescension, my lack of contribution wasn’t noticeable. We were eventually finished and I was looking forward to escaping from this little display of adolescent insecurity.

“Smashing meal, Harry.”

“Yes, Severus is an excellent cook.”

“Ooh, ‘Severus’ is it. So, is he as good at you-know-what?”

“What?”

Mr. Potter sounded mystified, but I had been around him too long to accept this innocence at face value. I took a sip of water to prevent myself from saying anything Mr. Potter would regret.

“Ow! What was that for, Hermione?”

Mr. Weasley reached down indignantly to rub his shin. Good girl.

“What are you talking about?”

“Come on, you mean you haven’t taken him yet?”

“Ronald Weasley! I cannot believe your are encouraging Harry to rape…”

“It isn’t rape, Hermione!”

“Oh, no?”

The glass I was holding shattered. Everyone stopped talking and turned to stare at me.

“May I be excused, Mr. Potter?”

Somehow I managed to ask in measured tones.

“Of course.”

I fled to my room and slid down into a corner.

Rape. Such an ugly word. An even uglier action. Memories of watching, doing nothing, while… memories of walking away from rooms knowing… I watched as the blood from my hand eventually stopped trickling.

“Severus? They’ve gone.”

I didn’t move.

“Severus, about what Ron said…”

Mr. Potter was uncharacteristically at a loss for words. I guess that sometimes he was as innocent as he appeared. At length I realised I would have to speak.

“I’m sorry I reacted so badly. Mr. Weasley is correct. It is part of my duty. Should you choose to make use of that privilege, neither I, nor anyone else will object. And it’s no more than I deserve.”

“I won’t do that to you.”

“Of course you wouldn’t.” Of course he wouldn’t. “Who would want to touch me? I’m ugly and dirty and…”

“Severus!”

I was in no condition to maintain my usual control, and I cringed away from his anger. I hadn’t meant my comments to be insulting – surely that would count for something? Mr. Potter took a few deep breaths and began again in s strangely gentle tone.

“Firstly, I meant that I won’t do anything you don’t want to do. No matter what happened in the past, no one, and that includes you, deserves to be raped. And secondly, you’re not ugly. You’re beautiful.”

And I had thought I would never cry again.

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