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.

Credits: The idea that long hair is a sign of adulthood in the wizarding world is nicked shamelessly from Gatewaygirl. It just makes too much sense not to be true.

 

Chapter 9 : Birthday Celebrations

 

The next morning I woke up, dragging myself from the dream by strength of will. I was not a teenager. I would not allow myself to dream about a wet, naked Potter. My subconscious was simply picking images of him because I was around him so much. My appreciation of his lower back was entirely aesthetic. And the cold shower I took was solely to wake me up.

It also gave me time to contemplate the next looming disaster. Albus, in all his glorious wisdom, had decided to throw Mr. Potter a birthday party. After practically keeping him locked away for weeks, Albus was now inviting everyone Mr. Potter knew to a ‘soiree’ at Hogwarts. I had been forced to concede that the security, still in place from when Mr. Potter had been a student, did seem to be sufficient. And Albus himself would be there with his immense presence. So Mr. Potter would get his birthday party, and I would accompany him. But I was not getting him a present. I was a servant. Servants do not get presents for their masters. It would be inappropriate.

I took in a book to read during invocations, with the permission of Mr. Potter and the instructor, Madam Vocare. Despite being clearly uncomfortable, Miss Granger had decided to remain as a student. The arrogance of youth – I had long reconciled myself to not being skilled in all fields, and conserved my passion for where it would do the most good. It was a lesson Miss Granger would learn in time, if she survived that long.

After the lesson, Miss Granger indulged in some shameless fishing for gift ideas. I listened in purely for the amusement factor. I was NOT getting Mr. Potter a present. Thankfully, she had to leave after a short time. I had planned a picnic lunch, and I did not want to have to share it with her. Mr. Potter had mentioned that he had never really had the opportunity for a picnic, so for lunch, we were having a full wizarding spread.

We found a quiet spot on the grounds, and activated the blanket. We had some time before our next class, so I had brought along our book, and a music-ball. And of course all the traditional foods - quartered sandwiches, sliced fruits and vegetables with dips, salads, mini-sausages, mini-quiches, mini-pies, cold meats, cheesecake, fruit tarts, and so on. Mr. Potter showed such glee at each new container I opened that I shuddered to think how he was going to react to presents.

Seven hells, I would get him a gift. But something practical; not some ridiculous sentimental outpouring of affection. I actually had an idea of what I wanted to give him - a hair ribbon. He had started growing his hair out, as was appropriate for a wizard his age, and, defying all logic, it was becoming even more unruly. Oh, he wouldn’t need one of the industrial-strength ones I used, but he could do with a restrained formal one. Unfortunately, the best brand was the one the Malfoys used, but Mr. Potter would just have to live with the association.

At the next Invocations class, my reading was interrupted by a squawk from Miss Granger.

“That’s wrong. You have to bind spirits first, otherwise they’re just to unpredictable to deal with. Everyone knows that!”

“Well, everyone is wrong.” For the first time, I could hear actual antagonism in the instructor’s voice.

“The reason so many callings go wrong is because the caller lacks sufficient understanding for the spirits. Bound or unbound, if the offer is insufficient, the spirit will react badly. And the consequences for a bound relationship are far more long lasting.”

“You don’t know that! You’re just making this all up!”

“Miss Granger! You’re entitled to disagree with me, but please behave with some decorum in my class, or do not attend!”

“Fine! I’ll leave then. Coming, Harry?”

“Actually, no. Look, Hermione, I’ll talk to you later, all right?”

“Well!”

She swirled off, slamming the door behind her.

The infamous Granger temper – so that’s what it looked like. Mr. Potter apologised to Madam Vocare, his voice resigned. For this to blow up this close to his party was… unfortunate timing.

We went home to prepare for the party. I might have reconciled myself to giving Mr. Potter a present, but I wasn’t prepared to make a public spectacle of myself. Just before we were due to leave, I retrieved my gift from my bedroom.

“Happy Birthday, Mr. Potter.” I stood, stiffly uncomfortable, holding out my present to him.

“Severus! Wow!”

I didn’t know whether to feel insulted or pleased that he showed such joy in simply receiving it. He sat down, and carefully unwrapped it.

“It’s charmed,” I remarked, in case he hadn’t realised.

“This is great! Thank you! I’m going to put it in right now.”

After a few minutes passed without him reappearing, I looked in to see him still struggling. There was a trick to using enchanted ribbons, and Mr. Potter obviously hadn’t caught on to it yet.

“Here, Mr. Potter, let me help you with that.”

Seeing the look of relief on his face, I stepped forward, and took the ribbon from his fingers. I lay the ribbon across the palm of my hand, and gathered his hair loosely. It instantly calmed, allowing me to brush it into some sort of order with the other. I tied it off and spent a few seconds rearranging it before I realised I was making excuses to stay in contact. I backed off slowly, hoping he hadn’t noticed.

We completed the last preparations, and went through to Hogwarts. I hadn’t realised how unused to large groups of people I had become. Not that it had ever been easy, but Albus had always allowed me to duck out of social engagements early. But now I could not wander off to ‘patrol the grounds’. And they, knowing I no longer had any power over them, were more than willing to press in on me.

After a few increasingly tense hours, Albus manoeuvred me out of the crowd and suggested I go keep an eye on what was happening outside. He would remain to keep an eye on Mr. Potter. I slipped out the side door, an action reminding me of the countless times I had done this very thing in this very hall. What was new, however, was Mr. Potter following me. I turned to face him, shoving my shaking hands behind my back. Unfortunately, Mr. Potter had already spotted them.

“Severus, I think its time we went home.”

“Don’t be silly, Mr. Potter. It’s your birthday party, and you are clearly enjoying yourself.”

“But you aren’t.”

I shrugged. When had that made any difference?

“You go on ahead, and I’ll make my goodbyes…”

“Come, now, Mr. Potter, all of these people have come here for you. Are you really going to disappoint them by heading home this early?”

“Well, I insist you go home then, at least, and I’ll join you when I can.”

“Take your time. I don’t need a babysitter.”

My tone was sharper than I intended it to be. Good intentions were a poor match for tension and long-ingrained habit.

“Very well, Severus. You are excused.”

I bowed sharply, concealing my flinch. Within minutes I was safe in my room once again. I couldn’t bring myself to concentrate on my book, and with Mr. Potter gone, there was precious little else to do in the apartment. I got ready for bed instead – an early night would probably do me good. I lay staring at the ceiling, trying to control my twitchiness. After half an hour, I gave up and got up again.

I paced around. Damn it, I was not waiting for Mr. Potter to come home like a five year old sneaking into his parents’ bedroom after a nightmare. I had dealt with this type of thing for longer than Mr. Potter had been alive. I didn’t need him to hold my hand. How I dealt with my emotions didn’t impact him in any way.

I headed for the bathroom.

 

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