|snarryhols (snarryhols) wrote in snarry_holidays,|
@ 2008-11-21 10:00:00
|Entry tags:||fic, giftee: thescarletwoman, rated: pg-13|
FIC: Seen in Each Other's Company
Title: Seen in Each Other's Company
Word Count: 7,606 words.
Pairing: Severus Snape/Harry Potter
Warnings: Overuse of truffled quail eggs and smoked trout canapés.
Disclaimer: All Harry Potter characters herein are the property of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic. No copyright infringement is intended.
Summary: Severus Snape will put up with a great deal to receive his Order of Merlin -- even attend a seemingly endless series of Ministry galas and dinners in the company of Harry Potter.
Author's Notes: thescarletwoman, I took your prompt of "what happened after the Shack and the final battle" as the basis for this fic. My take is very likely far more humorous than the response other fanfic writers might create. Still, I really hope you enjoy this fic. I worked to honor your wish to have plot take a prominent place, so I hope you find the situation in which Severus finds himself compelling. Thank you to those who looked at earlier drafts of this story, and to those who provided helpful beta input. All mistakes remain my own.
There was an insidious glare trained directly on him when Severus opened his eyes.
It shone bright, so bright that its brilliant light spilled and washed over and overwhelmed him until he could see nothing but its power made manifest.
Oh, of course. The sun. How awful.
"Look who decided to join us," someone trilled, and he grimaced as he turned towards a gleaming white blur bearing down upon him. It seemed topped by an equally offensively white mass that could only be a wimple. He scowled at the undeterred and monochromatic approach of the entire ensemble.
"How do you feel?" a voice asked kindly.
At the touch of someone grasping his hand, Severus seized the wrist extended to him with a punishing grip. "Is this hell?"
"Of course not, Severus!" The person he had grabbed attempted to shake his hold. "You're in the infirmary, as I'm sure you well know."
"How would I know such a thing?"
"Well, you can see for -- hmmm. Can't you? Let me have a look --"
There was a sort of buzz, a barely discernible hum as what was presumably a wand passed over him.
"Is he awake?" a second voice asked, getting louder in the approach, all trembling in concern and anxiety.
Was it possible this day would get worse with each passing moment?
"He's regained consciousness, yes, but --"
"But what?" The second voice belonged to a man, he presumed, though the undignified cracking of the instrument on the last word betokened one who had only just attained adulthood.
The woman's voice again. The infirmary, she had said; Pomfrey, it was Madam Pomfrey who was speaking. "I haven't performed my full examination, Mr. Potter, so do kindly wait out in the hall until I permit Professor Snape --"
"Potter," he breathed. Potter, who he thought would surely be dead if by any miracle Severus himself outlived the Dark Lord's machinations. After all, Dumbledore had without question led him to believe Lily's son would have to give his life in order to destroy Voldemort at long last. But Harry Potter lived still, Harry Potter, for whom Severus had pledged his own life time and again.
Really, though, Albus had so readily and happily tricked everyone around him multiple times that Severus supposed he shouldn't be in the least surprised.
"You're alive," Potter's voice said, choked with emotion. Another hand reached out to seize Severus's, and an untidy dark blur that must be Potter's hair hovered into view.
"So it would seem."
"I . . ."
Severus leaned back as he realized with unease that the droplet landing on his hand must be comprised of at least one tear.
Obviously the day could get much, much worse.
"When I saw Nagini move towards you, I thought -- and then you said, 'Look at me,' but you fell back, and --" Potter's voice choked up again.
Even that brief description of what should have presaged his demise sent a chill through Severus. Why the boy thought it might be Severus's bosom wish to hear those dire circumstances recounted was beyond his accounting. "Yes, yes, I was bound for certain death, so much so that you abandoned me to allow my life's blood to drain away on the floor of that hovel. You needn't provide a summary."
"I can't believe you're alive," Potter insisted on saying unnecessarily. A second hand joined the first in tightening around Severus's until they produced from Severus's knuckles an audible crack.
In the background, Pomfrey huffed. "I suppose I'll have to continue my tests of Professor Snape's condition around you, then, Harry?"
"Oh! Oh, I'm -- I'm sorry. I should -- I'll just --"
His hand was freed. There was the slap of rubber against the floor as Potter's trainers obviously enabled him to flee the scene at a rapid pace.
"So much for the vaunted Gryffindor bravery," Severus muttered.
"Severus, please," Pomfrey scolded. "The boy has just lost many of his friends and seen countless others wounded. He's within his rights to act a bit emotional."
Severus grunted in reply.
"Now. I have administered every antidote and anti-toxin of which I am aware to treat the bite you received, but it may be we shall have to deal with some consequences even so. The Malfoys brought you here as soon as they were able after discovering you on the floor of the Shack, but of course any delay would have --"
"Prognosis?" Severus interrupted.
"I have more tests to perform. But my initial prognosis is that as a result of the venom's effect on your system before countermeasures could be taken, you are losing your sight."
He cleared his throat. "But I can see -- colors. Shapes. Light." He blinked, willing his surroundings to sharpen. "It must be very bright in here, I imagine, and that is making individual objects difficult to distinguish. I have only just awoken, after all. There is no reason to assume that given a few hours time, everything will not come into focus."
A gentle push leaned him back against what felt like a clutch of pillows. "Let me see."
This time, there was no mistaking the recent arrival to the infirmary.
"Ah, so you are regaining your sight? That is fine news! Poppy informed me there was a slim chance --"
"No." Severus coughed and adjusted himself on his pile of pillows. "It is merely that you posses a very distinctive voice."
There was silence. Then that same distinctive voice broke out into a laugh. A chair scraped along the floor towards Severus's bed, and the grey blob that must have been Kingsley's meticulously tailored suit took a seat.
"Snape, I came to see you as soon as I could spare a moment."
A hand grasped his, and Severus shook it in return the best that he was able. Nearly a week had passed since he had awoken, and in that time he had packed away a great many visitors. It seemed inadvisable, however, to eject a government official who might or might not hold Severus's fate in his hands. "Indeed."
"As Interim Minister, I have been occupied every minute since the Battle at Hogwarts. Meting out justice and rebuilding our institutions of course remain our highest priority. Even so, I wanted to make sure I was the first Ministry official to approach you."
"You mean there will be more?" Severus asked in alarm. He pictured an endless parade of grey blobs lining up to make grand declarations and shake his hand.
"Harry has told me the story of your bravery, the incredible risks you took to help him even while to all the world it looked as though you were Voldemort's loyal follower."
Severus shrugged. At least Kingsley's words indicated that he or any of his Ministry grunts were not planning to press any charges against Severus for his actions of the past year. That much was a relief, of course, but even such a reprieve could not make Severus willing to hear Kingsley rattle on for much longer. He could only hope that if he kept his own contributions to a minimum, the man would complete his speech and depart all the sooner.
"You have sacrificed a great deal, that much is clear," Kingsley went on. "You provided those struggling against the Death Eaters a tremendous advantage, though they did not know of your contributions. Though some vilified your name when you were widely thought the heartless murderer of Albus Dumbledore, this new administration will recognize the wrenching choices you had to face in order to achieve your goals. We will make clear to the public that the Ministry supports you and values the essential work you performed this past year."
"Good lord," Severus broke in. "You want something, don't you?"
Kingsley laughed again. "Your experiences have made you quite cynical, haven't they, Severus?"
Severus made a dismissive gesture. There was absolutely no reason for Kingsley to pander to him in this manner if he didn't hope to get something out of the encounter. "Why don't you tell me what it is?"
"We only wish to recognize your heroism, in awarding you the Order of Merlin."
For a moment Severus froze. "The Order of Merlin?"
He made himself inhale and exhale at a regular pace so as not to sway in an undignified manner.
"We expect that you will accept this award in person, naturally."
"You would also, I assume, join us in celebrating other heroes of this recent struggle."
"In point of fact, there would be a number of functions at which your presence would be appreciated."
"A number of -- then you have the wrong man," Severus replied. "If you are searching for an icon of the struggle against Voldemort, especially one who plays well at parties, you would do best to recruit Harry Potter."
The chair creaked as Kingsley obviously shifted. "I would like the both of you, if possible. And I would like you to attend these events together."
"You'll do it?"
"I don't see -- I don't imagine I have a choice."
Kingsley shook his hand with great vigor, and kindly left without saying another word.
When Severus was permitted to leave the infirmary and Hogwarts, he found Spinner's End an appropriate dwelling to accommodate his newly restricted sight. He knew the layout by heart, and those elements needing adjustment were quickly rearranged or secured with the aid of a few former students.
Surprisingly, he found Draco Malfoy a particular help. Draco arrived with more gossip and chatter than Severus thought appropriate, but he also manfully scrubbed cauldrons and volunteered to organize ingredients so that Severus might better find them by memory.
Severus initially wondered if Draco undertook the work to express thanks for various interventions Severus had made on his behalf during the past year. But a few conversations revealed Draco was merely bored, lacking a pastime or occupation because of his family's uncertain status.
"I don't see why Potter gets to be the one to take you to all of these events," Draco groused one day as he rearranged potions ingredients according to Severus's directives.
The first such event was to take place in two night's time. Severus counted himself extraordinarily lucky that he had not had to face Potter since that first day of his awakening, not even to coordinate their attendance together. Kingsley's assistant, Percy Weasley, had made all necessary arrangements regarding meeting times and dress codes for the first few affairs, and had assured him Potter would arrive for him not a moment earlier than strictly necessary.
"You could hardly do it, lacking as you are invitations to said events."
"Give it another year or two," Draco muttered. "Where do you want the crushed lacewings?" he asked in a louder voice.
"Ah, yes. Donations to St. Mungo's will pave any wizard's way to incredibly dull government functions eventually, I expect. At any rate, I imagine for Potter, being forced to escort me to one Ministry function or charity reception after another will constitute a most unwelcome punishment."
"There is that. He'll have an awful time with you, won't he?" Draco became decidedly more cheerful, humming as he fumbled through more of Severus's supplies.
There was a startled yelp. Ah, Draco had located the porcupine parts, then.
"Third cabinet, in the second set of drawers on the right."
"The lacewings. Don't tell me you are so focused on my unenviable social life that you have forgotten your purpose in coming here today."
"Oh! Right." A slide and a slam sounded as Draco dealt with the ingredients. "You will tell me all about the parties, won't you?"
"Every horrible detail."
"Thank you, professor." He sounded genuinely grateful.
At precisely half six in the evening two days later, Potter arrived on his doorstep, rapping for entry with a series of nervous staccato knocks.
"It's me," he said a bit loudly as Severus opened the door. "Harry," he added, louder still, leaning in for good measure if the lurch of scarlet and gold was any indication.
"Please leave off your shouting. I'll have you know that my hearing functions perfectly well."
"Oh, right. Sorry." Potter brushed past him to enter, though Severus had not invited him inside. "And sorry about, you know. Before."
"That first day, when I got a little -- when I went funny over you."
"It gives me great comfort to imagine it will never, ever happen again."
"Yeah, okay. It was just a tough time."
Severus said nothing.
"I had just died. For a short while, anyway."
"Hmm. Madam Pomfrey determined I was dead for at least fifteen minutes."
Potter made a strangled noise. "We're not going to compete over who was dead longer, are we?"
"Not when it is completely unnecessary." Severus took a deep breath. "Are we continuing on to our scheduled destination at any point in the near future?"
"Of course." Potter cleared his throat. "If you would . . ."
Severus sighed, reaching out to grasp the arm likely offered him. He had to reach a bit higher than expected, and when he had Potter's arm in his grip, squeezed it thoughtfully.
"You've gotten taller."
"Yes, well . . ."
Interesting how one could discern a blush even in the tenor of a few words, Severus reflected as they Apparated away.
The first night at the Ministry had been a terrible bore. Reporters from the Prophet and other so-called investigators had been invited. Only Potter's flat-out refusal to let them near him had kept the pundits from hounding Severus about the exact details of his activities as a spy.
Worse yet, there had been, according to what Severus had gleaned from the rhapsodies of the matron seated next to him at the dinner, several atrocious ice sculptures presiding over the whole affair. He counted himself lucky he had not been able to see them in any detail.
The following event, at Diagon Alley this time to commemorate its official re-opening, was deadly dull. Photographers were on hand to capture the ceremonies. Only Potter making some ridiculous excuse to indulge his inability to sit still had removed them from the scene, saving Severus from having to flinch away from the sharp flares of flashbulbs.
By the time Severus had attended over seven such events, he was cursing Kingsley and imagining increasingly colorful invectives about where exactly the Interim Minister could stick his Order of Merlin, First Class.
"Severus," Potter pronounced in greeting three nights later when once again he came to escort him.
"Are we on a first name basis? I had not realized I had invited you to take that liberty."
"I just thought -- we've been spending all these nights together --"
"Only because we are required to do so, Potter. Do not forget it."
"Fine. You could at least be pleasant."
"Oh, could I?"
Potter said nothing until they reached their destination. "I'll just get us a drink, shall I?" he snapped before leaving Severus's side.
Someone had sidled up next to him, and Severus turned before intoning, "Mr. Weasley."
"How did you know it was me?" Ronald Weasley asked in surprise.
"There is an offensive cloud of ginger hovering a half foot above my shoulder."
Weasley snorted in reply.
"Right, champagne," Potter said as he returned, pressing a flute into Severus's hands. "Sorry, Ron; didn't realize you'd got here, or I'd have brought you a glass as well."
"That's all right. I don't think I like champagne. Though I've never had it, so --"
Severus interrupted their insipid exchange. "They have no whiskey?"
"They won't bring the whiskey out until after dinner; you know that."
"Surely you could employ your status as a hero to convince the barman to open a bottle early for an old nearly-blind man."
"You're not old. After dinner. You'll be fine," Potter said impatiently.
"Haven't had to go to one of these yet," Ronald Weasley said in a nervous voice. "Mum made me put new dress robes on and everything. Hermione couldn't come, of course; she's still in Australia with her parents. So you'll have to tell me if I do something stupid."
"No," Potter said in reproof to Severus.
"I have not said a word."
"But you were going to, I could tell."
"He requested that we alert him to any grievous errors on his part."
"Severus. Be nice."
Severus did not correct Potter on the use of his given name, or laugh at the absurdity of anyone expecting him to be nice, but made sure his injurious sniff carried effectively. "At least tell me they're serving better hors d'oeuvres at this event than the last."
"Looks like the same old, same old. Waiters are bringing round those mini-quiches and the water chestnut starters. Oh, and the melon balls wrapped in prosciutto you said were a soggy disgrace. But they do have those truffled quail eggs you like."
"Get me a few of those, then."
"Just wait right here while I do, all right? No more wandering off onto the balcony, with me searching all over, worrying you've been kidnapped."
Severus waved a hand in the air to indicate his acquiescence.
As Potter stomped off, Weasley's shoes squeaked, indicating he was turning towards Severus. No words came, however, which prompted the uncomfortable thought that Ronald Weasley was studying him and thinking.
"What?" Severus asked finally.
"You and Harry. You sound like . . ."
"Like what? Finish your sentences, you foolish boy."
"He knows what sort of starters you like."
"We have been to an endless series of such evenings; of course he knows what hors d'oeuvres I like at this point."
"No, there's something else going on if Harry noticed that. Something more."
"How incisive you are in your assessments. Please do let me know when you have formulated an appraisal of the Ministry's latest foreign policies."
"Quail eggs." Potter took his hand and carefully helped him grip the small plate he had brought him, holding on for a moment to make certain he had it.
"Harry?" Ronald inquired.
"What's Hermione's favorite dish for pudding?"
"When there's a choice of puddings, what does Hermione take?"
Harry laughed. "I dunno."
"Known her for eight years and you've no idea," Weasley pressed.
"Why on earth would I remember something like that?"
"Please stop jabbing me with your elbow," Severus admonished Ronald.
"I asked around, and they're serving sole for the main course," Harry said in the silence which followed. "Your favorite. That's good news, isn't it?"
Despite himself, Severus chewed his next truffled quail egg with some unease.
"And then after speeches in the conservatory, Padma Patil consented to sing."
"Really? God, how completely dreadful." Draco laughed with delight. "Then what happened?"
"Are you not pleased now that you don't have to attend such goings-on?"
Draco huffed. "You sure you can't get me in to just one of them?"
"Why would I subject you to anything of the sort, when it is my fondest dream never to attend another myself?"
Severus did not need to see clearly to know Draco was now thrusting his sharp little chin defiantly into the air. "Perhaps Blaise can take me to the next reception as his guest."
"Blaise has been attending these charades, and has not seen fit to relieve me from my unwanted entourage of Potters and Weasleys? When you see him next, tell him I am most put out."
"Hmmm. He says you've been far too cozy with Potter for him to try interrupting your tête-à-têtes."
"I am required to attend with Harry. If I am seen alone for any length of time, one of Kingsley's minions ushers me right back to him so we can answer questions together or be observed representing the newly unified Ministry. There is nothing to it at all aside from that."
Draco made a pleased hum. "It's Harry now, is it?"
Severus scoffed at the idea. "Don't be absurd. I address him only by his surname."
"Of course you do." There was a trickle as Draco refilled their glasses with sherry. "Don't get all bent out of shape. Blaise only said that it looked as if you and Potter would soon progress from raising money for Squib Survival to announcing your engagement to be married."
"You have grown most impertinent since the Battle of Hogwarts," Severus snapped.
"Well, you're not my professor any more, are you?" Draco laughed.
"And it's not as though you have a great many friends you can freely abuse any longer," Severus shot back.
There was a strained silence.
Severus shook his head, remembering what had befallen Vincent Crabbe. "Excuse me. That was uncalled for."
"Good lord," Draco said in an awed whisper. "You really have been spending far too much time with Harry Potter."
"Ginny will be at this event we're attending tonight."
Potter had arrived in a whirr of nervous energy, jittering about while Severus gathered his cloak. But rather than presenting his arm so they could get the tedious task of Apparation over with, he had stopped short and cleared his throat, as if at last getting to the matter at hand.
After the abrupt declaration, Severus imagined he would next hear Harry could not fetch flutes of champagne and carry viands for him as per usual, as he would be occupied mooning about over Ginny Weasley and leading her through every dance the band played.
Severus felt his lips press together in distaste. Well, of course he disliked hearing such news. It did not mean he had become used to Potter's company or even desired it -- far from it. But it would be terribly inconvenient for him if Potter abandoned him the entire night to make eyes at his girlfriend.
He would simply endeavor to make other arrangements so that he was not cornered by tiresome chatty widows or left without food and drink over the course of the evening.
Really, though, there was no reason for concern when he was perfectly capable of taking care of himself. Just because he surprisingly found Potter less irksome than many of the other guests did not mean he could not manage quite well alone. And if the event would be even more tiresome without Potter's ridiculous conversation and bumbling solicitousness to scoff at, well. Severus had survived far worse.
Instead of putting Severus off, however, Harry continued with a rather odd observation. "It may be a bit uncomfortable, seeing Ginny there. I don't think she'll say much of anything to us, but I wanted to let you know in advance in case there's any awkwardness."
Severus drew himself up. "To us? Let me assure you, the details of your continued trysts with Miss Weasley are of no interest to me. I only request if the two of you must whisper confessions of undying love to one another in my general vicinity, you wait until after the whiskey has been made available."
"That's just it, though. They're not continuing."
Severus narrowed his eyes, even though the action did not help him focus enough to read Potter's expression. "What do you mean?"
Potter exhaled loudly. "I think she's a sweet girl, I really do." He paused. "Well, sweet and a bit violent sometimes, but that last bit is only when she's playing Quidditch, and there it comes in handy. I just don't think -- she's not the person I want to spend the rest of my life with." Potter gave a shaky laugh. "You know, it wasn't until I said it aloud to you just now that I realized the truth of it. Funny how that works."
There would be no change to their usual interactions that night then. Potter not only did not wish to court the youngest Weasley this evening but would likely hope to avoid her at all cost. All the better for Severus, especially if there were curried quail eggs to be had at tonight's tedious goings-on, and Potter at the ready to fetch them for him.
After what he deemed a suitable pause, Severus commented, "If you are done with announcing your personal revelations for the evening, perhaps we might --"
"I guess you never had to deal with something like that."
"I beg your pardon?"
"I suppose you never had to tell someone -- er -- I mean, you did want to spend your life with my Mum, if you could have, so . . ." Potter trailed off. "Sorry. It's not the same at all. I don't know what I was thinking, bringing that up. . ."
Severus frowned and busied himself with fastening on his cloak. "Obviously you were not thinking at all, asking such prying questions. But as this is typical behavior for you I don't know why you would evidence any surprise at your gaffe. Now, if we could depart as scheduled --"
"Look, I didn't mean to say anything to upset you," Potter interrupted. "It just slipped out."
"What makes you think you did upset me? Though it was extremely tactless for you -- be that as it may, I find your assumptions regarding my personal life most ridiculous. Why on earth you believe I have never had the experience of ending a relationship is beyond me."
"But you -- you were in love with my Mum. Weren't you? Your memories --"
"Being in love with someone does not exclude the possibility of spending time with others, as I'm sure you are well aware."
"You had relationships with other women?" Potter asked in a strained voice.
Later, Severus would reflect that he was not only upset (for whatever he had told Potter, he was discombobulated by the invasive tack the conversation had taken, not to mention Potter's clumsy delving for information regarding his mother), but also growing somewhat angry. After all, he had until a few moments ago been laboring under the presumption he would have to fetch and carry food and drink for himself that night. He felt certain that would have put anyone in his circumstance on edge -- particularly anyone obliged to act as an ornament to the polity at an endless series of horrible parties.
Additionally, he had partaken of a ridiculously light lunch in anticipation of the food to be offered that evening, and his stomach was close to making embarrassing noises. That in tandem with the earlier unpleasant miscomprehension was the cause of his increasing fury, he was certain; it had nothing whatsoever to do with his merely vague annoyance at tales of Potter's inane love life.
All the same, none of the potential reasons for his ire explained his foolhardy choice to blurt out the truth to Potter in hopes of shutting him up.
"No," Severus spat. "I did not have relationships with other women. But I had a number of relationships with men, and before you ask, all of those were ended by me. So think twice before presupposing anything about me."
"With men?" Potter fairly shouted.
For a moment Severus felt a surge of satisfaction at the shock in Potter's voice. Then he realized he was detecting an alarming listing of the dark-green-clad figure in front of him, almost as though Potter were about to collapse on top of him.
Obviously that wouldn't do at all. Potter could not get dizzy in his astonishment at the matter of Severus actually having a romantic past, not if he were supposed to Apparate them both to the Ministry without splinching them.
"Calm yourself! Must I fetch you a glass of water, and perhaps pour it over your untidy head?" Severus demanded.
"You never mentioned," Potter sputtered. "All this time, weeks of going to these things with you, and you never once said --"
"Considering it is entirely none of your business --"
"I never said such a thing."
The lounge creaked as Potter evidently swooned onto it. "All right. So you're attracted to women and men?"
"No." Severus moved to lean against the doorway, but made certain to tap his foot in impatience as a reminder of their impending departure.
"Only men, then?"
"Not that I owe you complete disclosure, but yes, that is the case. Now, are we ever going to leave for this evening's charade?"
"How in the hell did you expect to make a go of it with my Mum if you only like to sleep with men?"
Severus gave a long-suffering sigh. "We had a unique bond. It wouldn't have mattered."
"Wouldn't have mattered! That's ridiculous! Of course it matters!"
"How would you know?"
"Because I know!"
Potter was breathing heavily, and Severus found to his surprise that he was very nearly panting himself.
"This is absurd," he bit out through gritted teeth. "We must be at this function tonight, or no doubt Kingsley will send the entirety of the Auror unit after us. We shall leave this moment. I don't wish to hear one word to the contrary."
The thundering of stomping feet coming towards him told him Potter had acquiesced wordlessly. Severus's hand was seized without so much as a by-your-leave, and they Apparated at once to the event.
"I think it's smoked trout mousse they've spread on the cucumber slices."
"Well, don't eat them all yourself; let me try one."
After standing about uncomfortably for a good half hour, Severus had demanded Potter go fetch him what was on offer for starters. With the distraction of food, they had managed to get past their tense silence to their usual meaningless chatter, as if they had determined by mutual but unspoken consent to ignore the charged, odd conversation they had before arriving.
"That is rather good," Severus admitted once he had taken the offered appetizer from Potter's fingers.
"But here, try this one," Potter said, taking the next tidbit and placing it in Severus's reach. "They've got a sort of caviar on it, and --"
"Harry?" a thin girlish voice said uncertainly.
"Ginny," Potter replied in a strained tone. Or perhaps it was merely that his mouth was full of trout.
Severus blinked at the wash of lurid pink before them, no doubt the unfortunate tinge of Miss Weasley's dress robes.
"Ron told me you would be here tonight. I thought perhaps if I found you, we might share a dance," Miss Weasley said.
"Oh, well." Potter gave a nervous bark that was likely supposed to be a laugh. "You probably should ask someone else. You know how rubbish I am at dancing."
"Then maybe instead I could have a word with you. In private." When there was no immediate reply, she added, "Harry, please."
"Maybe another time would be better. I, er, think Kingsley wanted Severus and me to talk to someone in just a moment, a potential donor for the Hogwarts Fund. You know how much work we've been doing, encouraging people to give all they can for recovery efforts."
"No doubt," Severus said sourly. He had no foreknowledge of such an arrangement, but their roles in these little chats Kingsley and his staff set up for them at various gatherings had fast become rote.
"Yeah, you remember, right Severus?" Potter blurted with relief. Though there was no reason to do so, since dinner wasn't yet being served and he had no other destination to which he needed to lead Severus, he took Severus's arm. "So I can't speak to you just now, Ginny. You understand, of course."
"Yes, of course," Miss Weasley said bitterly. "You and Severus have to stay together. Mustn't leave Severus alone for a moment. Do you realize how long it has been since you spent time with me, Harry, just me and not with Ron or Neville or Luna and god knows who else so you don't have to deal with us being alone? Do you even notice how every evening I want to see you, you already have plans to spend it with Severus Snape?"
Potter's swallow was audible. "Please don't cause a scene."
Severus never wished with more intensity to see with clarity than he did at that moment. He had no idea in which direction he might best escape in to avoid the tirade clearly about to be delivered in response to Potter's words. But he did know he wanted to remove himself from the building altercation as quickly as possible.
"Don't cause a scene? Don't cause a scene?! You know, I should have listened to Ron when he tried to warn me!"
"Professor Snape!" a voice exclaimed at Severus's side.
He squinted. The voice was familiar, and the dark green robes (strangely similar to Potter's own tonight) suggested a Slytherin. But beyond that he could make no immediate identification.
"It's Blaise Zabini, of course," his new conversant added smoothly. "Might I borrow the professor from you, Potter?"
Potter's grasp on Severus's arm tightened. "I don't think that's --"
"Please do," Miss Weasley said with some force.
"Wonderful. Professor, we have so much catching up to do . . ." Blaise took Severus's free arm and steered him away.
"I must thank you for removing me from that row," Severus said in a low voice as soon as he judged they were a suitable distance away.
"It was the least I could do. Draco tells me you are most put out with me."
"Did he?" Severus cleared his throat. He had not actually expected the comment to be relayed, much less repeated verbatim.
"I had not realized you found Potter's company so tiresome." Blaise's voice could almost be described as playful; though why he should choose this subject about which to joke was beyond Severus. "From my vantage, it seemed the two of you were very companionable. But if you wish to be rescued from him, I will do what I can to oblige at upcoming events."
Severus scowled at the implication that he needed to be rescued. "Do not trouble yourself with such a mission. I am quite capable of taking care of myself."
"Of course you are, Professor Snape." There was a slight pause as Blaise maneuvered them to stand against a quiet corner. "Really, I don't know why I said anything about future functions anyway; soon it will hardly matter," Blaise continued.
"Why is that?"
"Well, after all, these galas and fêtes for the heroes of these recent struggles cannot not go on forever. Eventually the Ministry will begin to honor a different set of wizards for reasons unconnected to war and conflict, and you will be able to stay at home every night, entirely undisturbed by Harry Potter or appearances at official gatherings. The awarding of the Order of Merlin medals is what, two weeks hence? Everything should begin to quiet down right after that event."
"Yes, quite." Severus frowned at how doubtful the words sounded issuing from his lips. He would of course be glad to rid himself of Potter's escorting, and no doubt Potter would be pleased to find himself once again his own man. Once the Order of Merlin ceremonies passed, Severus's entire reason for participating in this painful social ordeal would pass with it. There was no reason whatsoever to feel a pang at the thought that this seemingly unending affairs would actually at last come to an end quite soon.
All of a sudden, Blaise switched topics. "How trying for you, though, finding your sight impaired. Is it difficult to cast spells?"
Severus stiffened. "No. For the most part, I hardly notice the hindrance. I can make out shades and shapes, and generally that is all that is needed for me to point my wand in the correct direction. Sounds and scents also help. Besides, brewing still occupies the bulk of my time, and that relies upon a set of skills I have honed in such a way that the problem of imperfect sight is not at issue."
"Ah, so you can make out enough around you to manage fairly well with everything else, getting around, dealing with other people, that sort of thing?"
"As I already said, yes."
"But I imagine you can't make out expressions easily."
"Obviously there is some impact from my injury," Severus gritted out. "You are correct in that I cannot scrutinize people's faces or observe fine detail."
"That must be quite difficult for a former spy," Blaise sympathized. "Not being able to watch the nuances of reactions to understand what those around you are feeling."
"Though you seem to have a perverse interest in my day-to-day life, I see no reason to pursue this thread of conversation. Let us discuss something else."
Blaise went on as though he hadn't even heard Severus. "Not able to observe expressions, hmmm. So you can't see, for example, that Harry Potter is watching us with the most ridiculous glare?"
"What?" Severus reached out and gripped Blaise's arm. "Whatever for?"
"Wouldn't it be intriguing to discover why?"
"Wait a moment," Severus interjected, feeling he had somehow missed something.
"Come this way, Severus," Blaise cajoled, tugging Severus closer until their sides touched. He actually slipped his arm around Severus's shoulders as he began marching them off in a new direction.
"What? What are you doing?" Severus asked in confusion. "I do not wish to be bandied about in this way, and I most certainly did not say you could address me by my given name. Stop all of this at once."
Blaise laughed suddenly, acting for all the world as though they had been exchanging ribald confidences. "How perfectly wicked of you to say so, Severus." He moved closer to Severus at the end of his sentence, touching Severus's cheek with a brush of his lips.
Severus felt himself jerk back to stare at the man by his side even though he couldn't see much of anything aside from Blaise's robes and the shape of his no doubt perfectly styled hair. "What on earth --"
"Are you all right?" Potter asked, suddenly at Severus's right side. He seemed to be breathing hard. "Is he bothering you?"
"He is acting most peculiar," Severus replied, edging away from Blaise and towards Potter.
"Oh come now, Severus; wouldn't you rather pass the rest of the evening by my side than have to endure the company of a Gryffindor?" Blaise's tone had become almost petulant at this point. "I'll make it worth your while," he continued in a low voice.
"Your behavior is highly irregular," Severus told Blaise severely.
"Come on, we'll go this way," Potter told him in a low placating tone, steering him in another direction.
"Very well." Severus allowed Potter to lead him off.
"I wonder what that was all about," he muttered as Potter guided him into what seemed like an alcove. It was dimmer than where he had previously stood. The noises of the gathering close by were dulled, as though there was a screen or some other block between them and the rest of the party.
"Don't worry about him; I'll take care of things if he bothers you again."
Severus frowned, but said nothing in reply. Then he surprised himself by asking, "How did your conversation with Miss Weasley proceed?"
Potter sighed. "Well, she yelled. And then she cried. And then she threw a drink in my face."
"Really?" Without stopping to think about it, Severus reached out to touch Potter's cheek, and then his hair. "You do feel slightly damp."
"I am, a bit." There was Potter's voice sounding strained again.
Perhaps Severus's sense of direction had been upset by Blaise so recently tugging him this way and that, because he very nearly felt as though Potter was leaning into his touch.
They remained that way for an awkward moment. Severus cleared his throat, and began to withdraw his hand.
Suddenly, there was a thundering bang! in the room beyond them. A woman shrieked.
Severus immediately found himself pinned up against the wall, Harry's body trapping him.
"What are you --"
"Be quiet," Potter hissed.
They stood without an inch separating them, trying to pant quietly.
Just a few feet away from them voices rose in confusion and dismay. No one continued to shriek, however, and there wasn't the accompanying noise of physical commotion, like people running from an obvious threat.
"No one should have seen us slip in here, so if something's gone wrong . . ." Potter murmured in his ear.
"Just wait another moment." Potter pushed against him slightly, as though to remind Severus to stay in place.
"Can you imagine, trying to enter a Ministry gala without an invitation?" a woman's voice sounded nearby.
"So like those Malfoys, always trying to insinuate themselves where they are not wanted," her male companion sniffed.
"Never mind that ridiculous boy; let us go find our places for dinner." Their voices faded as they moved away.
"What the hell are they talking about?" Potter whispered. His warm breath tickled Severus's ear.
Severus shivered, but then as he processed the conversation, let out a snort of laughter.
"What's going on?" Potter asked. He seemed confused but also amused. "What's got you laughing?"
"The Anti-Intrusion Charm," Severus answered. "They have to find some way to keep upstarts out of these desirable official events, so there's a charm in place to emit a small pop should anyone not on the guest list enter the space. Security keeps track, and when they hear the sound, they dispense of the problem, generally with no one the wiser. Draco Malfoy has mentioned to me time and again how much he wishes he could attend these gatherings, and based on what we just heard, he was indeed the one to set off the sound."
"But that was nothing like a small pop!"
"Yes, well, I imagine Draco was so keen to attend one of these ghastly events that once he was able to sneak into the Ministry building, he actually raced into the room at high speed, and set it off at an exaggerated level."
"You mean all that just happened because Draco Malfoy tried to gate-crash a Ministry party?"
Harry began to laugh. "Hardly subtle, is he?"
"Hmmm. And you know so much about subtlety, forcing me against the wall at the first indication of a problem."
"I had to protect you," Harry returned.
"I see." Severus manfully did his best not to smile.
"It seemed like I should return the favor, after all these years. To be fair, we didn't know what was going on. Something really dangerous could have been happening."
Again, neither of them moved. Severus shifted slightly, and then stopped at once when he realized that Potter was actually pressing against him with a blatant erection.
"Oh, sorry," Potter stammered, obviously recognizing his predicament at the same time. "I'll just -- er --" He began to step back.
Severus caught his wrists. "You really are not one to talk about subtlety, are you?" He pulled Potter closer, and felt an interested twitch in his groin as their bodies met once more. Various exchanges and moments with Harry Potter over the course of the last few weeks began to fall into place as he drew Harry near.
"I've tried to be subtle," Potter said plaintively. He placed a tentative hand on Severus's hip.
"You're very lucky I can't read expressions with ease now, or I am sure I would have figured out your game before this moment." Severus indulged himself by letting his hands skim down Potter's sides. He really was quite fit, just as Severus remembered and perhaps even more so than he recalled. Now that he had grown a few inches . . . Severus licked his lips.
"There was no game," Potter protested. He gulped as he slid his other hand to caress the nape of Severus's neck, as though fearing he would be pushed away but unable to stop himself all the same. "I didn't completely realize it myself until, well, until I realized why I was avoiding Ginny. But before that, even if I had some idea of how I was starting to feel about you, I thought you only liked women, and then --"
"Foolish boy." Severus wove his fingers through Harry's unkempt hair, tilting his head back and moving forward until their mouths met.
They kissed, Potter's hands continually grasping and releasing Severus's shoulders with a helpless motion as Severus turned something that had begun as soft and teasing to hard and demanding.
"Oh," Potter breathed when they parted slightly.
Severus brushed a thumb over his cheekbone, then over his kiss-swollen lips. "Let us leave at once."
Though of course he couldn't see Potter's expression clearly, he could imagine with a great deal of satisfaction how rumpled he must look and how wide those green eyes of his must be at the moment. As for the rest of him, well, Severus wouldn't need just to picture it much longer, not when he planned to map out Potter's firm body with fingertips, lips, and tongue, leisurely and thoroughly.
"You don't want to stay until after dinner, when they bring out the whiskey?" Potter stammered.
"I'm sure we can find something more compelling to sample back at my home, don't you?"
As Potter made enticing incoherent sounds, Severus led them out of the alcove and through the room beyond to the exit. After all, though he couldn't see details clearly, he felt assured he would be able to find their way.
*~* the end *~*